The Most Relucant Bridegroom
Deryni Summer Challenge 2002 Entry
By: Katy Colby
Rhemuth 1633Albin Haldane, Prince of Meara, Lord of the Purple March and heir to the throne of Gwynedd, shrank back against the wall of the stable and held his breath. From the cobbled courtyard beyond he could hear shouts and cries of welcome. The sounds set his teeth on edge.
He risked a quick glance around the doorframe. Gilded carriages stood before the palace steps. Outriders were dismounting, while footmen held the doors and waited to assist the noble occupants out. The yard was full of the rustle of silk, the snap of leather, and the tinkling of silver bells on the women's gowns.
Sweet Saint Camber! His father well and truly meant to kill him!
*What ho!* The voice of his closest friend and companion, Jathan Morgan, echoed in his mind. *I've found you at last! Fifty shillings are mine.*
**Fifty? Is that all the king offers?* Albin left his concealment and gave his friend a broad grin. *I would have thought it would be a hundred at least.*
"I wager it might be five hundred if you keep the old man fuming for another hour." Jathan leaned his tall frame against a stall and grinned. "So what led you here? We've been set to search the gardens, the kitchens, the library --"
"Don't be daft. He knows I would not be in the library."
Jathan laughed. "Precisely what I said, but my lord father pointed out that would make it the perfect hiding place for you, since none of us would look there. I even checked the shooting range. Nearly got my head blown off by some idiot who didn't know how to handle his pistol."
Albin laughed as Jathan rubbed at one ear. "Did you set the fool on his arse for it?"
"Would have liked to, but I couldn't. It was your brother." Jathan struck a pose of exaggerated hauteur, his lips pursed into a bow, his blonde brows raised nearly to the unruly locks of his hair.
"So where did you get those clothes?" Jathan plucked at the sleeve of the tattered shirt Albin wore.
The prince shrugged. "Found them in the laundry. I suppose they belong to a stable man. I couldn't hide in here in a velvet doublet now, could I?"
"Albin, this is ridiculous." Jathan propped one long leg against a bench and fixed him with a serious look. "They are only women."
"Only women? Bloodsucking leeches, you mean. Twittering and simpering and waving their bosoms at me everywhere I turn!" Albin sank onto the bench and threw up his hands. "It's like some sort of demented cattle show with me as the prize stud. I've had enough of it."
"So you said the last time. The lady was most offended, as I remember."
"And did you see the lady's portrait? That painter ought to be hung for treason, as should the model he found to impersonate his subject." Albin shuddered. "That had to be the first dowager princess I've ever met. If she had a tooth in her head it was a false one."
"All right, so teeth are important to you. Would you care to check mine?"
Albin pretended to examine Jathan's mouth. "Very nice indeed." He sank to one knee. "My darling, would you do me the very great honor of becoming my most beloved consort?"
When he caught Jathan's hand and kissed it, Jathan leapt back, laughing hysterically. He knocked a bridle from its peg and it fell in a clatter of bit and rings. The noise nearly drowned out their laughter.
"Well enough, my prince. I do see your point." Jathan caught himself on the edge of the stall and held his belly as he gasped for breath. "But you must marry sometime, you know. You are nearly twenty and three. You've lasted longer than any of your predecessors, even the renowned Kelson."
"And look who is giving advice to me. The renown lecher who has yet managed to evade the clutches of every eager mother who isn't chasing after me."
Jathan's face fell in a look so exaggerated Albin nearly choked on a new bout of laughter. "Forgive me, my prince. I feel it is my duty to give our fathers something in this world to agree on."
"That they despise their sons?" Albin leaned against the stall, his laughter subsiding. His brother's big gray gelding eyed him placidly as it munched hay.
*Why can't Father see that I am not like him?* The thought came out before Albin could stop it. He glanced at his friend. Jathan returned a wave of understanding and sympathy.
*He's given his life to duty, to the complete lack of everything else.* Now that he was talking seriously Albin decided to bring out all the feelings he'd kept inside. The stable seemed a safe place, where they were observed only by the horses. *I doubt he even noticed when Mother died. Or that he was ever young enough to want to enjoy life just a little.*
*Let's be fair, Albin.* Jathan joined his prince on the stall. *You and I enjoy life more than a little. Our fathers can't accept that we've got at least forty years ahead of us to be serious when they are reaching the end of their lives.*
*At least yours gives you a bit of trust. You've had command of the Spirit for four years now.*
*Only because I always bring back a good cargo and a safe crew.* Jathan grinned rakishly. *Did I tell you about the last trip we took? We laid over in Tralia to wait out a blow, and there was this little place near the docks. I kid you not, this wench ---*
"Your pardon." A sweet voice with a Bremagne lilt interrupted their conversation.