The Most Relucant Bridegroom
Deryni Summer Challenge 2002 Entry
By: Katy Colby
The silver studs on Jathan's
leather jerkin snapped against the wainscoting as he slid slowly down
the wall, he laughed so hard he held his midsection, shaking all the
while and gasping for breath.
"It's not that funny," Albin muttered. "Jesu, Jathan, how can you laugh. I finally find a woman I could spend the rest of my life looking at and she's a nun!"
"I'm . . . sorry . . . Al. Truly, I . . . am." Jathan settled to the floor and stopped laughing with obvious effort. His long, deep breaths echoed in the still gallery. "It's just that I've never, ever seen you like this before. You look like someone hit you over the head with a church."
"Not a bad comparison." Albin ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. Now that he had removed the tight queue his hair hung in loose curls to his shoulders. "An, Jathan, what am I going to do?"
"Who knows? Perhaps the lady will not be so unwilling as you think." Jathan leaned against the wall and glanced up at the portraits lining the wainscoted length of the gallery. "Ever wonder what they would say?"
Albin considered his ancestors. The paintings gazed at him with universal disdain. At the moment he was looking at his great-great-grandfather, Rhys III. The man had the same thin nose, sagging jowls and narrow eyes as Albinís father, and brother. Only the color of those eyes resembled Albin's. All the Haldanes seemed to share an odd, smoky gray shade.
Beside Rhys III was Albin II, who, when his portrait was painted, seemed to have gone to fat. The face beside him showed the heavy influence of Festil blood in a narrow face, long nose and wavy hair.
Albin walked down the gallery, contemplating the portraits. Each one gave him a look devoid of passion, joy or life. The master painters had not managed to capture the soul of the subject, not even once.
Then he paused near the end of the gallery. Kelson I, dead more than four hundred years, looked out of a heavy dark frame. This king's face showed the same lines of age as all the rest though he had been barely 30 when he died.
Not much older than I am now, Albin thought.
Still, Kelson's eyes showed life. The master had captured tiny flecks of gold and silver amid the gray. For just a moment Albin thought the face in the portrait might smile.
*Albin? What are you thinking?* Jathan's mental voice nudged him out of his reverie.
"Just wondering what he would have done."
The door at the far end of the gallery crashed open. Before Albin turned he knew his father stood there, in his usual towering rage. "Albin Brion Cinhill Haldane! I want a word with you!"
Albin glanced at the far end of the gallery as Jathan rose, poised for flight. Unfortunately, that path was blocked by the brawny form of Jathan's father, the Duke of Corwyn.
*We're up for it now.* Jathan's voice held a hint of mental laughter.
*Can you not be serious?* Albin winced as he watched their fathers advance like a pair of boars on wounded hounds.
*What can they do? Disinherit us?*
*Nay, my friend. Disembowel us.* Jathan's mirth was infectious. By the time their fathers reached them, Albin was fighting back laughter.
He gave his father a respectful nod. "You wished to see me, Sire?"
King Donal Haldane braced his fists on his broad hips and faced his son. His curled wig shuddered in time with his sagging jowls and quivering chin. Clearly he was furious.
"What were you thinking?" Donal waved a be-ringed finger in Albin's face. "I had to make excuses to Our royal guests! You knew you were to stand beside me to welcome them!"
"Forgive me, Sire. I thought ---"
"You did not think! You rarely do, save of your own pleasure!" Donal lifted his chin and glared down his long nose. "I am sore tempted to pass the Crown of Gwynedd to your brother, Alroy. He at least can manage to fill his duty when necessary."
"As you will, Sire." Albin bowed again and fought the seething anger that threatened to burst from his mouth in a rush of unwise words. "I would be quite content with Meara and the March."
"Hhrumph!" If anything, King Donal seemed more furious than before. "I will do no such thing. Never, never has a prince of Gwynedd shirked his duty regardless of his desires! Our ancestor, the great Cinhil, did give up his heart's calling for service to the Crown. Since then every one of your predecessors has placed the needs of Gwynedd ahead of his own wants. Every one until you!"
*I think we overdid ourselves this time,* Albin sent in a tightly focused thought to Jathan.
*Why did you not say something at the time?* Jathan's reply came in the same tight thought.
*Why didn't you?* Between his father's ridiculous image and his friend's mirth Albin was hard pressed not to laugh in the King's face.
Jathan gave a mental shrug. *I was preoccupied overdoing myself.*
"Do you not realize your line must be secured with heirs?" Donal ceased shaking his finger at his son and concentrated on glaring. "Do you think you can wait forever? You will wed one of the ladies here in two weeks' time, mark my words! If I have to have you dragged to the cathedral bound in chains, by God's favor you will do as I tell you!"
"Why? So that I can be trapped into the same sort of union you and Mother shared? Or, rather, did not share?" Albin faced his father, his eyes narrowing as he seized his chance. Jathan and the Duke of Corwyn were forgotten as he finally said things he'd been holding back for years.
"Did the pair of you share more than whatever coupling was necessary to produce Alroy and I? Did you even notice when she died? Do you think of her ever, now that she is gone?"
Donal's bowed lips thinned. "My queen is not part of this."
"She definitely is. For God's sake, Sire, you refer to her as your queen. Was she ever more than that? Was she ever a wife?"
"And what business is it of yours?"
Albin sighed in exasperation. "I want more than a queen out of a lifetime union. I want a wife. Someone who shares my interests, someone whose company I would choose over all others."
"You want to fall in love."
"Yes. Is that so much to ask?"
"So do so. Now." Donal pointed to the gallery door. "Pick one of those lovely ladies and fall in love with her. It should not be so difficult."
How could his father be so dense? Albin turned away, the weight of the difference between them making him stagger. "If you think it so simple we have no more to talk about."
"I will agree we have no more to discuss. You will bathe yourself and prepare to welcome our guests in proper fashion. On the morrow we are taking the ladies on a picnic. You will make yourself agreeable as I wish, and I will hear no more complaints."
Donal snapped his fingers. Four guardsmen appeared in the doorway. "To make certain you adhere to my wishes you will remain under guard until tomorrow's revelry. Have I made myself clear?"
Albin glanced at Jathan. Jathan shrugged, his lips turning up as the Duke of Corwyn seized his shoulder and thrust him down the opposite end of the gallery.
There was no way to escape his fate now. Albin allowed the guards to take him to his chamber, feeling as if he were being led to the scaffold.