45a - Chapter 45 - Part 1 - The Queen of Meara By: Martine A. Lynch
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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 duchess.”

“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 Mairona.”

“Do you regret marrying her?”

“Nah.” Dhugal’s 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 distasteful?”

“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 think.”

“Bloody hell!” 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 will grow.”

“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 growing worse.”

“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.”

“Thank 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.

“Princess,” Mairona greeted.

“Your Highness,” Rothana returned softly.

“Kelson told me of your kind words in Rhemuth, when we were parted. I thank you,” Mairona offered.

“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.”

“I agree,” Rothana replied. “I am content that he has found happiness.”

“Good,” Mairona sighed. “Tell me, if things had fallen out differently, what did you wish to achieve for Gwynedd as queen?”

Swallowing visibly, 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 happen.”

“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?”

Rothana’s breath 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.

Shuddering, Rothana 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.”

“Perhaps,” 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.”

“I know.” 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.

“For the Servants?” Kelson asked.

“Partially,” 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 resurrected?

Rothana and Mairona turned as one to Cardiel, who was just behind them, and must have overheard their conversation. He smiled and nodded the Church’s support of their plan, raising a hand in benediction of their cooperation.

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