Link to previous Chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1459.msg12461.html#msg12461
Morgan had woken before dawn feeling more relaxed than in many months. Richenda slept peacefully beside him; whatever else might be strained in their relationship the linking of mind and body in the act of love was always deeply satisfying for both of them. He had intended to slip out of bed and dress quietly without waking her. He was as eager as Derry had been to see the fruits of their breeding programme; besides – apart from being the cause of their first meeting –horses, and all that surrounded them, were a place where he and Derry could interact on level ground.
In this intention however, he was thwarted by his own tenderness. He was unable to resist reaching across to Richenda to plant a kiss on her brow. Gentle though it might have been, the physical contact awoke her and she snuggled close against him, reaching out to pull his arm around her. He moved to pull away –“I was about to get dressed, love”, - but knew himself defeated by her reply: “As my lord pleases, of course.”
Admitting to himself when he was beaten, he heaved a long sigh and relaxed into her arms. “Have I really been that bad?” Richenda said nothing and simply smiled in that way which totally undid him. “Insensitive I may be, stupid I am not,” he said, in the mock stern tones that worried her not a bit. “Sean is bowing low to me – and by now I’ve learnt to reckon just how irritated he is by the depth of his bow--, and you call me “My lord” in the privacy of our own bedchamber. I give in. Shall you hear my confession? I admit to having been horribly ill-humoured since I returned from Rhemuth. Do you forgive me, or should I fetch my St. Camber medal and call for Duncan?”
Richenda gave no verbal answer but it was some time before Morgan thought again of his original intention. He mind spoke to Richenda, “Do I have your permission to arise now, milady? I really would like to see whether Saffra’s foal is all that we had hoped for. Whether it’s a colt or a filly, it should be a beauty given the lineage.”
In a quick burst of information, he sent to her the foal’s pedigree, of which he and Derry were so proud, going back several generations on both sides, and was somewhat deflated, if hardly surprised, by the feeling of amused and tolerant disinterest which he received in return. “Off you go then, love, go and play with Derry.”
He stood leaning over the door of the loose box and really did not know whether to laugh or cry. What was that phrase Denis Arilan was wont to quote at him? - “Man proposes; God disposes.” Something had clearly gone very wrong with their careful planning, though he sincerely hoped that heaven was not keeping so close eye on him as to interfere with his horse-breeding programme. Saffra was as beautiful and serene as ever, the birthing had clearly gone well, but homely was the kindest epithet that could be applied to her foal. And where was Derry? Most probably drowning his sorrows in a local tavern if one could be found open at this early hour. Not that Morgan blamed him; he would have been inclined to do the same himself save that getting drunk in a street tavern, in his own capital, was an option hardly open to a Duke.
“Mornin’ to you, surr!” It was the voice of Deir, his head stableman; senior now in years and experience, he had originally worked for the father of Morgan’s fellow royal squire and friend, Paget, across in The Connait. Morgan had, as he had promised, bought some of his first horses from their stable, and being impressed by one of the stable hands had lured him across to Coroth with promises of fine horseflesh. It had been a good choice for both of them, and Morgan found freedom in the fact that Deir regarded his employer’s pedigree as a Duke, as far less impressive than those of the horses in his stable.
“It’ll be the little people,
you mark my words. Taken her littl’un for a changeling, most like, and planted one of their own nags in its place. Powerful wicked magic, they have, the Leprechauns
, you need to watch your dealings with the likes o’them.”
The grin that went with these words told Morgan that he was being teased, that something was going on that he didn’t quite get. Normally he would have hated that feeling, but he was totally disarmed by being warned against someone else’s “wicked magic”. How good that felt! Even given that those who hailed from outside Gwynedd were in general less leery of Deryni, even given the loyalty that his household had always showed towards him, still it felt good!
Still absurdly pleased, Morgan countered,
“I could always Truth Read you, you know, to find what it is you’re hiding with that nonsense!”
“Aye, you could that and welcome,” came the unimpressed reply. “Or you could bring to mind that today is All Fools Day and go up to yon farm stables, where a homely wee lassie is laying along of a colt that never came from her womb. And just mayhap you’ll meet with that young divil Derry, always supposing he doesn’t make off when he hears you coming, scared that you’ll be giving him down the banks.”
Derry, by this time, was indeed feeling just a little apprehensive. He had not been able to hide his mischief from Deir who seemed to haunt the stables day and night, looking to the welfare of his beloved charges. And Deir doubtless would point Morgan in the right direction. Derry had no fear that Morgan would take his wrath out on any of the stable hands, for if the truth be told, he could himself learn from Morgan’s example in the gracious treatment of underlings. The business a few years back with that juggler fellow from Desse – Jon had been the name, he seemed to remember – had taught him that. But given Morgan’s mood in the last week or so, he was not entirely sure how he would take being the butt of an April Fool.
He had slipped out of the outer door of the tack room as Deir began to speak and was now leaning over a partition in the farm stables feasting his eyes on the beauty of Saffra’s colt, all the while listening out nervously for the Duke’s footsteps. Quiet sarcasm, he thought, would be the worst; then he would really know that he was out of favour and would have to tread very carefully until Morgan’s humour was restored.
“Sean Seamus O’Flynn! I’ll have your bloody guts for garters! You nearly stopped my heart back there!” – Ah, it was going to be fine. Derry carefully remained where he was, trying to contain his laughter, only to be grabbed by the shoulders and spun round to face his liege lord. As he looked into Morgan’s face he doubled over in fits of mirth, only to be clutched by Morgan who was equally stricken. Helpless with laughter the two held onto each other as though they were again the young men that they had once been, or the friends, which despite everything which should have stood in the way, they still were.