Princess of Meara
proved to be quite cozy, and much more enjoyable than the formal affair
Branwen had been expecting. A servant set a small table in front of the
fireplace. Apparently Rhys employed some of the best cooks in the
kingdom. After an appetizer of escargot in a light pastry, the servant
brought out the main course, grilled wild duck breasts marinated in
sherry. Rhys proved to be an entertaining host as he regaled Branwen
with stories of his travels. After he graduated from college, Rhys
explained, he decided he would retrace the travels of Campbell de Broun.
"I first read his Travelogue in a class with Professor Reginald at
Valoret. I donít know who I enjoyed more - Campbell de Broun or Count
"I didnít know you went to Valoret! I wanted to go there, but all the heirs to the throne in the past 150 years have gone to Grecotha. Itís impossible to fight tradition when youíre heir to the throne." They traded stories for a while, with Vera joining the discussion with her experiences at Dhassa College.
As the conversation waned, a servant brought in dessert - a dark chocolate torte, the richest Branwen had ever tasted. She looked at Rhys after she took her first bite. "I might just have to issue a royal decree that your pastry chef must come work at Rhemueth Castle, Your Grace. My weakness is love of chocolate."
"Love of chocolate is never a weakness, Your Highness, and I would love to work at the Castle."
"Duke, Deryni, world traveler, storyteller and creator of fabulous desserts - is there anything you donít do, Rhys?" As soon as she said the words, Branwen wanted to grab them back. I sound like a fawning school girl, she thought.
Shortly after dessert, Vera announced it was time to leave. "After all, we donít want the press to gossip about how late you stayed with the handsome and eligible Duke!"
Later that night, Branwen gave up trying to sleep and wandered through the halls of Rhemueth Castle. When she reached the Portrait Hall, she stood in front of the portrait of Kelson I. "Who were you?" she thought. "I thought I knew. Now I donít know." The portrait just stared back at her. "Typical dead guy. Maybe I should go find a portrait of St. Camber. At least he talks to me!"
Leaving Kelson, she wandered to the oldest parts of the castle. When she was a child, she loved to explore these old rooms. Without thinking, she opened an ornately carved door. Startled, she realized she had come to the small chapel dedicated to St. Camber. The room was dark and there were no electric lights. She found matches in her pocket and light a candle on the wall. The Presence Light was lit, and the two candles cast shadows on the wall. Branwen sat in the front most pew trying to gather her thoughts. She played her meeting with Rhys and Vera over and over again in her mind. "That didnít really happen. I didnít really hear Vera in my mind. I was overwhelmed by the excitement of the day. Be honest - I was overwhelmed by my attraction to Rhys." She turned her eyes to the Presence above the altar. "What do you want from me? Who are you? Iím so confused. I donít know what to believe anymore. I didnít think I believed in God or in saints, but I spent last night talking to a saint. Now Iím spending tonight talking to God." Branwen sank to her knees in despair. "God, I donít know if youíre there, but if you are, hear my prayer. I am so lost. Iím going to be queen soon. I donít think Iím ready, but I canít stop it. Rhys and Vera have this hope that Iíll be a Deryni queen. I donít even know what it is to be Deryni." Branwen began to weep, overwhelmed by the future bearing down on her. * Clear your mind.* Branwen looked up, but no one was there. * Clear your mind. * she heard again. Branwen forced herself to relax, deep breathes calming frayed nerves. As Branwenís mind began to clear, she felt that someone sitting beside her. She turned and saw the cowled figure who visited her the night before. "Somehow" she said, " I knew Iíd see you here."
"You believe in me now," said Camber.
"At this point, I donít know what to believe. It seems like youíre talking to me, and I feel a little better talking to you right now, so I guess I do believe in you. So, if you are St. Camber, why are you talking to me?"
"You might say Iíve always been interested in the fate of the Haldanes. Iíve always been interested in the fate of the Deryni. Now two fates are joined in one person."
"You. Right now you are very confused. Your father is dying and you have suddenly found that you are part of a race you never believed existed. But it is important to not let the confusion control you. I have always found that meditation and prayer to be of great comfort in times of turmoil. This may help you."
Camber handed Branwen a small, amber colored stone. "Itís called shiral crystal. Concentrating on it can focus your mind and enhance meditation."
Branwen accepted the stone. "Iíve never been very good at meditation - I never really believed in it."
"You keep talking about what you do not believe in. What do you believe in, Branwen?"
"You mean now or before? Before yesterday, I believed in what I could see, or touch or hear or smell. I believed in what could be proven through scientific tests or logical deduction. Now, Iím starting to believe in a race that has magical powers, a saint who has been dead for 1000 years and a God whom I cannot see, touch, hear or smell. Tomorrow - who knows what Iíll believe tomorrow."
"Then we shall take todayís beliefs as a beginning. Branwen, your fatherís death will be but the first of many trials. You will need this beginning faith to sustain you and give you the courage to continue. You have friends, both known and unknown who will support you and teach you."
"Rhys and Vera."
"Yes, Rhys and Vera, and others that you havenít met yet. Learn from them, seek their help. Most of all, remember that you are not alone."
Branwen looked down at the shiral crystal. When she looked up, Camber was gone. "If Iím not alone, why do I feel so lonely?" Branwen slipped the shiral into her pocket and left the chapel.
She had no sooner gotten into bed when someone banged on the door. "Your Royal Highness - itís the King. You must come now." She sprang out of bed and opened the door to find her fatherís secretary looking frantic. Branwen grabbed her robe and followed him down the hallway.
Her father was surrounded by doctors and advisors. One look at him convinced Branwen that he was nearing the end. The young Bishop of Rhemueth finished Last Rites and bowed her head in prayer. Dr. St. Mark looked at her and shook his head slightly. "Ladies and gentlemen, let us leave the king and princess alone." As they all left the room, Branwen knelt at her fatherís side and took his hand.
"Papa, Iím here." Sobs threatened to choke her voice, but Branwen forced them back.
"I know. Gwen, Iím so sorry. Iíve left you so unprepared." The kingís weak voice trailed off. Branwen bowed her head, silent tears falling on the bed. "Thereís things I should have told you, but I didnít think youíd believe them. Why should you when I never did." Suddenly the king looked in the distance. "Heís coming for me. Gwen, I see your mother." He covered her hand with his other hand and suddenly Branwen "saw" what he was seeing. Her mother, her grandfather and a line of Haldane kings stood waiting to greet her father. Then she felt a brush of air, almost like wings. Her father sighed and then Branwen saw with her own eyes that he was gone.
She closed her hands over his, and sobbed. She and her father had been close all her life. Now she was truly alone. A voice came unbidden to her mind * Remember, you are never alone.*
Branwen folded her fatherís hands on his chest, caressed his cheek one last time and went to the door. She opened it, and the people waiting in the outer room rose.
"The King is dead." Branwen said quietly. The men and women bowed their heads as the Bishop of Rhemeuth led them in the prayer for the dead.
As the prayer ended, Vera entered the room. She quickly crossed the floor and embraced Branwen. "Your Highness. Is there anything I can do?"
Not knowing how her words echoed those of another heir, Branwen nodded and said "First of all, send for the Duke of Corwyn."