The Queen of Meara
Chapter 47 - Part 1
Spring had not yet returned to Rhemuth plain
in mid-February, but this winter had been as mild as the previous one
was fierce, almost as if fall had never ended and intended to blend
itself right into spring next month or so. The plain itself rippled
golden green in the rare winter sun, strikingly beautiful as it
stretched for the horizon. Home, Mairona sighed to herself as she
leaned on the castle wall to ease her back. Her huge belly made the
position awkward, but it relieved the growing cramps. In the outer ward
below, masons were laying out lines at St. Hilary's where Kelson's
Camber chapel would soon be built. Farther out on the plain, just
outside the city, carpenters were raising the small cluster of buildings
that would temporarily house the Schola Deryniana until more permanent
quarters could be built. Everything was going smoothly. Well, almost
Her initial reception at Rhemuth had a decidedly icy chill, especially from the Queen Mother. Kelson had never made public her act of treason, and officially, her time in Druimfada was spent trying to rebuild her town, but rumors ran as rumors will. Even though Kelson had made it clear that anyone wishing his favor would treat his queen with the honor and respect her station deserved, there had been whisperings and sidelong glances wherever she passed. She had wished mightily for Ailín's company that first month home, but Dhugal had wanted to take her on a progress through his lands, introducing his people to their duchess in Cassan and countess in Kierney and Transha. Now they had settled in at his childhood home in Transha by the northern sea, deep in his beloved borders, and Ailín was likely to remain there until their son was born.
It hadn't mattered the first few weeks they left Druimfada, because she and Kelson had journeyed to Laas, the ancient Mearan capitol. There he once again presented her as Viceroy of Meara, this time to all of Meara's greater lords. Her reception there wasn't quite as passionate as in her home of Druimfada, but they did warmly welcome her as one of their own. Only then came the trials of Rhemuth.
At least Gwenhwyfar had remained friendly, and Meraude, Nigel, and their sons warmed eventually as Kelson made it clear that she was freely forgiven and unable to deceive him any longer. That was the hardest loss—the freedom of privacy. However, the alternative was powerless exile, heart-wrenching loneliness, and permanent separation from her daughter if she were born safely. That was no alternative to Rhemuth, with Kelson and his circle of family and friends, who were gradually accepting her again.
Richenda had turned genuinely warm, now that she and Morgan had taken up temporary residence at Rhemuth in preparation for the royal princess' impending birth. Her renewed friendship was probably at Meraude's promptings, for the two had long been close. Both duchesses would certainly assist when the time came for Mairona to take to childbed. Morgan, though—he seemed friendly enough, but occasionally she caught him looking at her askance. Mairona supposed it couldn't be helped. He was Kelson's sworn Protector, after all, and she had flirted with regicide. At least Morgan's Healing skills might come in handy if the birth didn't proceed normally. The struggles and dangers of childbed were surprisingly frightening for one as accustomed to peril as she was, and it was immensely reassuring to have the Deryni duke on hand.
So much had changed—and she missed Fergal terribly. She would never forget the haunted, desperate look of betrayal on his face as she stood by Kelson and renounced her oldest, dearest friend, or the glimpse of grief and horror in his eyes as his dagger found her instead of the king. Fergal had worked to gain her the Crown of Meara, according to her original encouragement, and then gotten hopelessly lost when she decided to walk another, greater path. It was not to be helped, though. Given the same choice a dozen times over, she would choose no differently. If Fergal had trusted her and loyally followed her lead instead of pursuing his foolish dream of marriage, he would yet live.
Things had even changed between her and Kelson, though it wasn't all bad. The naïve, carefree abandon and unquestioned trust they had once relished privately with each other were long gone. On the other hand, they no longer took anything for granted. Each small moment was treasured for the gift it was, which brought a quiet joy that ran deeper than the initial reckless passion that flamed hot their first few months together. The scars between them were still tender, but in their healing they had somehow knit closer together with a greater respect and understanding of each other's needs as husband and wife as well as king and queen.
Sighing, Mairona focused her attention back on the school under construction. Rothana had found three teachers among the Servants, and Mairona had persuaded Duncan to share his Healing skills if any Deryni were found with the proper potential. She herself would instruct, when time allowed, and of course, Rothana would teach. There were too few trained Deryni in Gwynedd to quibble about the inappropriateness of a lady acting as tutor to young men as well as girls. Archbishop Cardiel had handpicked three clerics to teach less esoteric subjects, such as Latin, Greek, history, and philosophy. Now the search was on for suitable pupils, and if St. Camber were with them, the school would open before the summer was over. Deryni scholarship would once again live openly within Gwynedd's borders.
Mairona's thoughts were interrupted when she sensed her husband approaching behind her on the wall walk, and she smiled softly when he enfolded her in his arms, wrapping his cloak around her.
"A stóirín," he whispered as she snuggled against him. "What are you thinking?"
"How so much has changed, Kel," she answered, groaning in pleasure when he released her to dig his knuckles in her painful back. "Our mad journey together all began right here, the day I arrived in Rhemuth."
"Nay," he chuckled. "It all began when you stormed my hall, disregarding all protocol to stare me straight in eyes. I think I knew even then that I was looking at my queen."
Smiling, Mairona leaned heavily into his hands, encouraging him to push harder on her ribs. "Ahhhhh," she breathed as he seemed to hit the right spot. "I love you."
"I love you," he responded as he turned her around, twisting over her immensely swollen abdomen to kiss her. She met his lips warmly, but pulled back short, grimacing as her body stiffened and her hands went to her belly.
"What is wrong?" he demanded. Her face showed surprise.
"I have been having pains for days, but now—" She grimaced again. "I believe little Evaine may want out."
"Is everything happening all right?" Kelson asked nervously.
"How should I know? I have never done this before!" Mairona snapped, then instantly softened. "I am sorry, I should not be so sharp, but this frightens me. You had better see me to my chambers if this is starting in earnest."
He first took her in awkward embrace, offering his own fear over her fate in childbed, which claimed nearly half of all mothers. Once they had found strength in their shared anxiety, he helped her down the stair, held her arm across the garden, and followed with a hand on her as she ascended the Queen's Tower to the solar. There he once again took her arm as she cast about for one of her ladies-in-waiting. "Gwenhwyfar?"
"I am here, my queen," the girl answered, coming forward.
"Dear, summon Richenda and Meraude, and tell them the child comes. Then keep everyone else away. I would not burden others with my temper."
"At once, my lady." She curtseyed quickly and ran off.
"Kelson, help me to my bedchamber before you are chased out," Mairona demanded. He supported her while she navigated the short distance to her rooms. As she moved to settle on the edge of her bed, he knelt beside her.
"What can I do?" he asked, fidgeting.
"Stay with me until the duchesses arrive," she said, "then pray for us."
"I promise—" he started to reply, but was interrupted when the door burst open and Meraude rushed in.
"That was quick. You must have already been on the stair." Mairona gave her a strained smile, then went taut as another pain came.
"How are you, dear?" the older woman asked, taking her hand.
"Hurting at the moment," she gritted through her teeth, then relaxed as it passed. Meraude turned to her nephew.
"Nigel will keep you company in the hall if you wish, Kelson," she said pointedly. He knew it to be a dismissal, for this was a matter where women ruled even kings.
"Thank you, Aunt," he replied, then leaned forward to kiss his wife on the forehead. "May the Lord God and St. Camber keep you safe," he whispered before leaving.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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