Princess of Meara - Chapter 3
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Princess of Meara

   

 
 

Chapter III 

 
 

 

 
 

 
     
  Branwen woke in a cold sweat. It was that dream again - the dream of a man, lying on what seemed to be a funeral bier with a coverlet of string and stone. Underneath the bier was carved "Hic jacet Camber Kyriell MacRorie, Comes Culdi." Branwen knew enough Latin to know that it read "Here lies Camber Kyriell MacRorie, Earl of Culdi." No more reading ancient history before bed she decided.

Unable to return to sleep, Branwen put on her robe and slippers and went to the palace kitchen to get something to eat. She startled the footman on duty. "Your Highness" he objected, "you had only to ring and I would have brought you a tray." The Princess of Meara smiled and wished him good night.

Branwen walked down the hallway lined with portraits of her royal ancestors. Haldanes had ruled Gwynedd for over a thousand years, with only two interregnums to break their reign. Her fatherís portrait was most prominent, which was only fitting for the current King of Gwynedd, but Branwen preferred the older portraits. As she looked at her favorite, she thought again of her strange dream. She always connected the old St. Camber with the Kelson Haldane who ruled Gwynedd in the 12th century; she knew Kelson had felt a personal connection and had worked to restore Camberís sainthood. Someday, probably soon, her own portrait would hang where her fatherís was now. Her father was dying of cancer; no one outside the palace knew this, but the end would come sooner rather than later.

She looked at Kelsonís portrait again. What a great and noble king, she thought. Eight hundred years ago, kings and queens were important, defending their kingdom against many enemies. She looked in the mirror hanging behind the portrait. The black hair and dark eyes that had long been a trait of the Haldanes looked back. What did she have to look forward to when she was queen? Opening shopping malls and wondering what the press was saying about her latest clothes or latest boyfriend.

She returned to her suite and settled back into bed. Certain that she wouldnít be able to sleep, she picked up the book she was reading before she went to bed. Codex Deryianus was a strange title. The mysterious book arrived in the dayís mail. Normally, Branwen wouldnít have seen the package. She was usually busy opening pensionersí homes or giving speeches for one of the many charities of which she was patroness. Today had no scheduled appearances and her chief secretary had the day off so she decided to spend some time in her office catching up on her mail. The letter with the book had read "I know of Your Royal Highnessís interest the history of the Haldane restoration and the history of the reign of Kelson I. This book, apparently a present for Kelson I, was recently discovered in a desert. The area was once known as the Anvil of the Lord; the book is remarkably well preserved." The letter was signed "Brother Theophilus."

Remarkably well preserved, she thought. Probably a hoax - another scholarly effort to prove that a magical race called the Deryni once existed. Her guess was "Brother Theophilus" was Dr. Kurtz, or Dr. Reginald, two PhDs from Valoret who believed that Deryni nonsense. They probably made up this Codex and are hoping sheíll come out in support of their bizarre theories. According to Kurtz and Reginald, these Deryni had mystical powers that could summon the archangels to their bidding. They could even read minds, work magical spells and heal the sick and wounded. Even Kelson I was supposed to have been Deryni, or part Deryni. According to tradition, the Haldane line was somehow invested with this Deryni power. Amazing what people used to believe! Even more amazing that people still believed it in the beginning of the 21st century. Branwen was considered something of an expert on Kelson I, and for her to agree that the Deryni existed would be quite a coup for Kurtz and Reginald.

And yet, Branwen thought back to the ritual that her father performed 10 years ago when she turned 14, the traditional age of adulthood in medieval Gwynedd. According to him, every king of Gwynedd performed this ritual on his heir. Until very recently, only men could rule Gwynedd. It was only about 70 years ago that her grandmother Evaine was named heir to Kelson V. She didnít remember much of the ritual - just some weird Latin incantations and then her father piercing her ear. She touched the gold hoop earring remembering the pain of the needle. She wanted both ears pierced, but according to tradition, the kingís heir had only one ear pierced. Her father said he was just repeating what his mother had done to him. Branwen never thought much about it. Just a silly tradition that probably meant something once upon a time.

Suddenly, Branwen had the feeling that she wasnít alone. She turned slowly and saw a man sitting at the end of her bed. Dressed in a gray robe, his head had a cowl pulled over it, obscuring his features. Somehow Branwen knew that if he pulled the cowl away, he would have gray eyes and gilt hair, close cropped and tonsured. The man on the funeral bier.

"I donít know who you are, or how you got into my room, but I just have to ring this bell and security will be swarming all over you." she said, trying to not let fear shake her voice.

"Who do you think I am, Branwen Princess of Meara." the apparition asked.

"I donít know." she said aloud. She thought "Youíre probably some delusional psychopath escaped from the local asylum"

The apparition smiled. "I assure you, I am no psychopath. Some have called me Saint Camber of Culdi."

Branwen felt faint. She knew she hadnít spoken, but somehow he could read her thoughts. "I donít believe in saints" she finally managed to say. "Iím not even sure I believe in God."

He only smiled. "The time will soon come, your Highness, when you will be Queen of Gwynedd. When you were 14, your father prepared you for what is about to happen, even if he didnít know it. Already your Deryni and Haldane heritages are showing themselves. You can read a manís heart and know the truth, you can banish fatigue..."

"Wait a minute" Branwen protested. "I admit I can usually tell when someoneís lying, but thatís just because Iím a good judge of character. As for Ďbanishing fatigueí, Iím just in good health. Thatís hardly proof of magical heritages!"

"Perhaps. Tell me, what do you remember of your mother?"

"My mother? Only vague things. She was beautiful and she used to sing me to sleep. She died when I was very young. I canít believe Iím sitting here discussing this with you! Iím going to call security." But Branwen didnít pull the bell cord.

"Your mother was beautiful. She was also very well educated in her heritage, an education you would have had if she had not died so young. Your mother was Deryni."

"Right. And my fatherís really Peter Pan." Branwen awoke the next morning, well rested but oddly unsettled. She shook off her "visitation" the night before as just an odd dream.

She had just finished brushing her teeth when she heard a knock on the door. "Come" she called, knowing who was on the other side. The door opened, and a woman carrying a tray with steaming coffee and bagels walked in. "Good morning, your Royal Highness. I thought we could review your calendar while you ate breakfast." She put the tray down on a small table, sat in one of the overstuffed arm chairs next to it and pulled out an appointment book. Branwen poured two cups of coffee, offered her secretary one of them and sat down in the other arm chair.

Vera MacAthan was a not-unattractive woman with very blond hair in her early 30s. She had been Branwenís secretary since the Princess first assumed official royal duties about six years earlier. Eight years older than her boss, Vera quickly became confidante and friend, as well as a valued and trusted aide.

"Your schedule is light today, Gwen. In fact, youíll be spending the whole day in Coroth. Remember, the new Duke of Corwyn invited you to the 800th anniversary celebration for St. Camberís School." Vera looked up in alarm. "Are you all right? You look like youíve seen a ghost"

Branwen almost choked on her coffee at the mention of St. Camber. "A good choice of words, Vera. I had the strangest dream last night about, of all people, St. Camber. I must have been thinking about todayís events and my subconscious transferred that into my dream. Yes, thatís exactly what happened." But even as the young Princess tried to convince herself, she felt even more unsettled.

Vera smiled so slightly that Branwen didnít even notice it. "A dream about Camber? How odd. You never struck me as being the religious type." She refilled both coffee cups. "How was your day yesterday? Anything interesting in the mail?"

"Funny you should mention that. I got the oddest book yesterday." Branwen went over to her nightstand to retrieve the Codex. Her back was turned, so she didnít see Veraís smile. "It came with a letter supposedly from a Brother Theophilus but I really think itís those two looneys from Valoret."

Vera frowned. "I donít think you should call them looneys. They are respected historians in their field! But, letís get back to todayís events."

"You will arrive by helicopter at the school at 10:15. Youíll be formally greeted by the Duke of Corwyn and the Headmaster. Hereís the schedule of events. After a day of concerts and award ceremonies, youíll take tea with the Duke, the Headmaster, his family and select faculty and students. Then, dinner at the ducal palace and a late flight home."

Branwen skimmed the schedule. She loved going to school events. The children were always so excited. "Have I met the Duke? Whatís he like? I remember his father; he was an aide to my father for many years before he died. "

"You may have met the current Duke when you were both children. Heís about 30, rakishly good looking and unmarried. The press will have a field day!" Branwen groaned.

Several hours later, Branwen found herself in the library of the ducal palace. The day had been a great success. The children were enthusiastic and everything went off without a hitch. Vera had been right about the press. The photographers practically climbed over each other to get pictures of the single Princess of Meara and the single Duke of Corwyn together. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Vera had also been right about the Dukeís rakish good looks. He was tall and blond, with gray eyes that seemed to pierce her soul.

Now Branwen was waiting for the Duke in his library. The other dinner guests would be arriving shortly but the Duke had offered her a tour of the house before they arrived. He had been called away to the phone just as they reached the library.

She was stunned as she looked at the collections displayed around the room. Some of his pieces were more than 800 years old! She bent down to get a look at a manuscript in a case just as the Duke entered the room.

"Like what you see?" The Duke smiled at Branwenís enthusiasm. "Like it," she said. "This is amazing! This is the ĎBallad of Bronwen and Keviní written by the troubadour Gwydion ap Plennadd. I was named for her, you know. My mother loved that ballad." Branwen sighed. "What a romantic and tragic tale."

The Duke nodded. "My mother used to sing it to me quite a bit. Iím related to both Bronwen and Kevin, you know."

Branwen looked around. "And this painting! This Kelson I! Is it the original?" Again the Duke nodded. "My ancestor was a close friend of Kelsonís. Duke Alaric commissioned the painting. You have a copy of it in Rhemueth Castle."

"Yes, I know. It was copied after the Great Fire destroyed the portrait in the Royal Collection. If I recall correctly, legend has it that your ancestor was supposed to be one of those Deryni who used his magical powers to save Kelson from uncounted threats to his throne." Branwen laughed.

"Legends often have their basis in truth." Branwen turned, surprised at his tone in response to her joke. She gasped as she saw the Duke surrounded by what seemed to be a golden flame. That sight was the last sight she saw as she collapsed in his arms in a dead faint. When Branwen came to, she was lying on a settee in the Dukeís library. Concerned voices whispered behind her.

"I shouldnít have done that. I shocked her. I am an idiot." Duke Rhys sounded worried.

"Donít worry, sheíll be okay. Sometimes you have to be dramatic for her to notice." a womanís replied.

Branwen sat up, startled beyond belief. "Vera?"

"Here, your Royal Highness. Drink this. Itíll make you feel better." Vera MacAthan handed the Princess a glass of Fiannan wine. "I guess you are wondering whatís going on."

"Going on? Is something going on?" Branwenís attempt at a joke fell flat. I didnít know you were going to be at the Dukeís dinner. Apparently thatís not the only thing I didnít know."

Vera knelt next to Branwen. "Rhys and I are old friends, nothing more. And, as he so dramatically demonstrated, we are Deryni. As are you."

"Donít be stupid. Iím not Deryni. Youíre not Deryni. Thereís no such thing as Deryni!"

*Yes, you are, I am and there are.* Vera reached out, not with her hand, but with her mind. *Can you hear me?*

Stunned, Branwen shook her head. "This canít be happening. This is not happening." And yet, Branwen knew it was happening.Trying to regain her composure, she turned to the Duke. "Your Grace, please forgive my fainting."

The Duke laughed. "It is I who should beg your forgivness, Your Royal Highness, for my overly dramatic nature. And, please, call me Rhys."

This time Branwen laughed. "No, Vera was right. Sometimes you need to hit me over the head to make me understand. I will confess that it will take some time for me to fully understand what just happened. Youíve just told me that I am something that I do not, er did not, believe even existed. Why are you revealing this? Why now?"

Rhys cleared his throat. "Actually, my family has been trying to tell your family this since the Second Restoration. If you recall your history, the Torenthi invasion that started the Second Interregnum was finally overthrown after about fifty years. The new king, Jashan, had been raised in secret by anti-Deryni zealots. They had managed to convince him that Deryni were the root of evil, that Deryni had plotted with the Torenthis in the invasion. Many Deryni were killed. Then, in an effort to rewrite history, the new king and his allies declared that Deryni donít exist, that they were mere myth and superstition. My ancestors managed to hold onto Corwyn only because the Duke at the time was instrumental in returning Jashan to power. Overthrowing the duke would have started a civil war. However, Corwyn was ignored for many years; the duchy fell out of favor and the dukes began to downplay their Deryni heritage as a way to hold on to what they had."

Branwen looked puzzled. "Well, thatís a bit different than I learned in school, but continue."

Rhys moved to a small picture on the wall. Muttering a few words, he moved the picture with a wave of his hand. Behind it was a small opening from which he pulled a wooden box. Crossing over to the settee, he sat beside Branwen.

"My ancestors continued to practice Deryni ways in private, with the hope of someday being able to restore the Deryni to their full place in Gwynedd and with the prayer that someday a Haldane would embrace her heritage fully." Rhys handed the box to Branwen. "Weíve been keeping this for you for a few hundred years."

Branwen opened the box. Disbelief warred with shock on her face and for a minute Rhys though sheíd pass out again.

*********

"The lost regalia of the Haldane kings. It was lost during the Second Interregnum. I canít believe you have this! How long have you had it?" Branwenís tone was almost accusatory as she picked up the Eye of Rom and the Haldane Brooch.

"When it was obvious that Rhemuth would fall to the advancing Torenthi hosts, the Queen of Gwynedd gave the regalia to the Duchess of Corwyn. They had both taken refuge in Rhemuth. The Queen refused to leave Rhemuth, but insisted that the Duchess flee. The heir to the throne, only 4 years old, had already been taken away by the Bishop of Valoret. The boy was raised in exile by the Bishop and his successor who was anti-Deryni . The Queen was murdered by the Torenthi forces. The Duchess of Corwyn and her children were able to remain in Corwyn, which never was taken by Torenth."

"Why now? Why are you telling me all of this?"

Vera answered. "Gwen, your father is dying. Soon youíre going to be Queen of Gwynedd. Weíve talked about this before, you and I. You donít want to be a figurehead, just opening Parliament once a year, reading someone elseís speech. Hereís your chance. Youíre half Deryni - you can restore the Deryni to their rigthful place, make it possible to teach our children openly, to practice our rituals without fear of persecution or ridicule."

Rhys joined the appeal. "Almost 200 years after being overthrown the Torenthi royal party is beginning to regain support. Even now the exiled Duke of Torenth is gathering power. He and many of his supporters are fully trained Deryni. I donít need to remind you what theyíve done to Gwynedd in the past!"

Branwen laughed. "Your Grace, even if I believed in Deryni magic, Gwyneddís army is the most advanced in the world. What good are magic spells against our technological forces." But even as she laughed, Branwen was troubled. Torenth had long been an enemy. Would the added strength of a Deryni king be able to defeat Gwynedd? Would she not have the responsibility to protect Gwynedd with all her might?

Rhys touched her hand. "Your Highness, Iím afraid weíve overwhelmed you. Iíll call for dinner and letís talk of other things."

"But have the other guests arrived?" Branwen asked.

Vera laughed. "There are no other guests - it was all a ruse so that we could have this conversation! I just hope the press doesnít find out that you had a private dinner with Rhys. Theyíll have you married in no time!"

 
     
 

 
 

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