The Queen of Meara
Chapter 45 - Part 1
Kelson urged his
mount to stretch out further as he raced Dhugal along Druimfada
River’s banks. They were finally on their way to Druimkyriel, but the
two young men had tired of their party’s slow pace dictated by
Mairona’s pregnancy. To get his blood moving, Kelson had challenged
Dhugal to this contest. Kelson seemed to gain on his lead, but as they
approached a line of trees Dhugal pulled ahead by half a length, and
that was how they finished.
“You would not do
so well if I were on one of my own steeds,” Kelson proclaimed as his
horse blew out its nostrils.
“I did that well
when we were children!” Dhugal shot back, a grin splitting his face.
“We were still on
ponies, then!” Kelson returned. “Shall we rejoin everyone?”
Dhugal nodded, and
they turned their horses back, letting them walk to recover from their
effort. “So, how are things going with Mairona?”
“Better than I
expected,” Kelson responded thoughtfully. “There are moments when it
seems we were never apart, so I suppose there is hope for the future.
There is still much hurt to mend, but there is no denying or discounting
the power of the bond between us. I am only now realizing that I was
missing a part of myself. You must know what it is like, Dhugal, when
you were separated from Ailín while we were in Eastmarch and then here
at first in Meara.”
“I do not think
so,” the border duke countered. “I hold Ailín in high affection,
and she makes for fine sport in bed, but I do not think we share what
you have. Ailín is still so young, and was ill-prepared to become my
“What do you
mean?” Kelson looked at his blood brother with concern.
“She is—like to a
skittish doe, poised to flee through the wood. She was taught to fear
Deryni, only to find she is one herself and now surrounded by us. I know
she was not treated kindly in her father’s house, and she mightily
fears—I do not know what. Abandonment? Displeasing me?” Dhugal
sighed. “Occasionally I see a flash of spirit when she is comfortable
with her surroundings, especially when she thinks she is alone with
“Do you regret
coppery border braid flopped as he shook his head. “She is a sweet
little sparrow. I am grateful that I saved her from the cruelty of her
father’s house and a marriage to Lord Drostan, for it is believed he
killed his late wife.”
“Drostan is three
times her age, is he not?”
“I believe so,”
Dhugal returned. Kelson snickered. “What?” the border duke demanded.
“Ailín was to
marry a man who could be her grandfather, and found the idea
“She called him an
old drunken lout, and she was being kind. My own words for him would not
be fit for gentle ears,” Dhugal informed Kelson, who snickered again.
“I still do not see what is so funny!”
“Faced with Drostan,
she finds she has captured your attention at my wedding feast. Let me
see—old heavy-handed Drostan, or the dashing young eligible Duke of
Cassan, blood brother to the king? I wonder who seduced whom in my
gardens?” Kelson laughed. “She may have more promise than you
Dhugal exclaimed. “It never crossed my mind! She seems so timid most
of the time.”
“She is only
fifteen, Dhugal, and may not even know what you expect of her. If her
father has treated her unkindly—well. I remember how Princess Janniver
feared all men at first after she was violated at St. Brigid’s, then
abandoned by her intended husband and her own father. If Ailín has
lived with cruelty her whole life, is it any wonder she is timid when
she is afraid? Give her guidance, with patience and kindness, and she
“I hope she will
have the time,” Dhugal murmured.
“What do you
mean?” Kelson asked anxiously. His blood brother sighed sadly.
“She has been ill
for several weeks, and tries to hide it from me. She will not see a
physician, and my Healing skills cannot help with disease. I think it is
“I am sorry,
Brother,” Kelson replied softly, reaching across to lay a hand on
Dhugal’s shoulder. “We will be returning to Rhemuth in a few days.
Once there, I will order her to see my physician, and she cannot refuse.
Let her be angry at me, for if she is gravely ill she will need you.”
Brother,” Dhugal whispered back.
As the king and Duke
of Cassan raced each other far ahead, Mairona quietly mulled over her
thoughts. Should she, shouldn’t she, should she—aye, it was for the
best, and no use in dawdling. “Ride on,” she told Ailín and Saraid,
pulling her horse over to the side and holding it back as the party
passed her by. Rothana eyed her warily as she approached, and nearly
looked aghast when Mairona urged her mount in line with hers.
Rothana returned softly.
“Kelson told me of
your kind words in Rhemuth, when we were parted. I thank you,” Mairona
“You are kind,”
the princess returned. “I only spoke true of what I observed in his
words and manner.”
“Such honesty is
rare,” Mairona commented, “and that kindness is rarer, especially
between two such as us.” She gave a half smile. “Kelson longs so to
restore the cult of St. Camber, and I know that as a Servant of St.
Camber and a Haldane by marriage, you are like to spend much time in
Rhemuth. I do not wish to begrudge you your place in Kelson’s life. I
cannot say this was always true, nor that it is easy, but you are his
cousin now, and there is much you can do to help. Rivalry between us
will only work to his detriment.”
Rothana replied. “I am content that he has found happiness.”
sighed. “Tell me, if things had fallen out differently, what did you
wish to achieve for Gwynedd as queen?”
Rothana’s eyelids fluttered as she called upon a lifetime of training
to remain calm. “I wished to help Kelson restore the Deryni schools
that flourished in Camber’s time. All the Servants desire to see this
“Then you may lead
the Servants to make it so.”
Daring to look at the
queen, Rothana’s fingers fluttered briefly on her reins. “You ask
me?” she wondered huskily.
“Who better? Kelson
will be well occupied in assuring that Torenth is stable enough for
Liam’s return to his people. I will be distracted for the indefinite
future keeping my own Mearans in line following Gwynedd’s Crown, and
unable to give proper attention to the school’s founding. You have the
vision, you have the Servants, and you have ties in the Forcinn States,
where Deryni and their learning are not feared today. If you can bear to
be at Rhemuth with more frequency, and tolerate working with me, perhaps
you may help Kelson fulfill one of his dreams after all.”
Closing her eyes,
Rothana dipped her head as tears squeezed between her lashes. She could
never be Kelson’s wife, but could the love she still bore give him one
of his fondest dreams? “It would be my great honor,” she whispered.
Mairona smiled kindly, wondering at the sympathy she felt.
“It is nigh on
impossible to stop loving him, is it not?”
caught, and her body jerked as she examined Kelson’s queen, looking
for the source of this observation, its intention. Had her shields
slipped? Just how good was the queen’s Deryni training?
“I have tried and
failed myself,” Mairona continued.
bid her tears to cease and batted them away from her eyes. “I have
been Called to serve God, and learned most painfully that it is foolish
to question that vocation.”
Mairona saw Kelson
and Dhugal coming to rejoin the party, so she decided to end this
awkward phase of their conversation. “Everything works to His purpose,
as I have recently learned through prayer. My royal blood from the
Quinnell ties is much too diluted to have ever caught Kelson’s
attention on its own. If I had not been hailed as a Pretender Queen and
party to treason, I would never have gone to Rhemuth and Kelson would
not have been able to offer Meara a queen of its own people to bring
peace. Perhaps if you and Kelson had never loved each other, there would
be no one to fulfill his dream of making Gwynedd the seat of Deryni
knowledge and learning.”
Rothana breathed, startled to hear such wisdom from one outside the
Church. “I thank you.”
Dhugal had fallen in
by his wife’s side, but Kelson continued back. Rothana’s eyelids
wavered when he reined in by his queen.
“Seeing the two of
you with heads bent together is enough to give me grave cause for
concern,” he jested with feigned grimness. Rothana was taken aback,
but Mairona saw through his play and gave him a game grin.
“Aye, we are
engaged in plots and intrigues by the score!” she returned, then her
face fell in horror when she realized the implications of her words as a
haunted look simultaneously flickered across Kelson’s face. “I am
sorry,” she whispered. “I did not mean it that way.”
Securing his mount’s reins in one hand, Kelson reached the other
across to caress her arm briefly, then urge her own hand away from the
reins to be enfolded in his. “I encourage you to use your abundant
talents at intrigue to my favor, so long as I am kept informed.”
“We were about to
discuss the need for a suitable land grant,” Mairona continued, taking
her hand back with a small smile.
Servants?” Kelson asked.
Mairona confirmed. “I believe the princess has agreed to a partnership
with me.” She turned to Rothana, prompting her to continue. The
princess’ eyes glittered as she spoke.
“Her Highness has
asked me to lead the Servants in the founding of a Schola Deryniana, an
it pleases my lord king.”
Kelson looked at
Rothana in astonishment, then at his wife as he laughed in even greater
amazement. “This pleases me greatly,” he assured Rothana. “With
the two of you working together, and my patronage, how could it fail? I
will grant you whatever you need.” Still laughing, he spurred his
horse to a trot so he could rejoin Dhugal ahead, thinking that perhaps
not all dreams had died. If this one still lived, what else could be
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