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Author Topic: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen  (Read 4928 times)

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Offline Evie

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Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« on: November 01, 2015, 07:16:10 pm »
Previous chapter:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1600.0.html

Chapter Eighteen

Almost Midnight CST
(Almost Noon, RST)
Atherton Palace
St Michael’s Province, Camberia
December 22, 2021


“An Accession Proclamation via the Internet. Welcome to the modern age,” King Aubrey of Camberia drawled as he lolled back against his padded headboard to watch the Gwyneddan broadcast on the large wall screen. “Too bad for your schemes that Sophia Haldane’s security staff is handling the broadcast in-house rather than allowing in the regular news crews. You could have just walked right on in with the Camberian camera crew. ‘Lights, camera, action . . . Ka-BOOM!’”

Malcolm Atherton-Haldane snorted. “Right. I doubt that. They’re not entirely stupid.” He sat at the foot of Aubrey’s bed, his expression tense. “I’m surprised they’re even bothering with this formality; the December 16th broadcast made by the little bitch and her pet duke ought to have taken care of the legalities. ‘I proclaim myself still alive and your Queen, yadda yadda yadda.’ I suppose they’re growing careless, willing to become more public, which is to my advantage of course. Or maybe little Sophia just can’t wait to hold hands with all her little lordlings and Council wenches and have them pledge their fealty and undying loyalty.” He rolled his eyes. “Stupid Gwyneddans and their love for ceremony.”

“You’re missing your chance, brother; too bad you can’t just drop a bomb right on top of their roof and do away with the entire lot in one sitting,” Aubrey remarked.

“Thought about it, but their security is too tight to get my sleepers within range, not to mention their wards are so powerful that doubtless every insect within a mile of Eirian House has scurried away from the world’s largest bug-zapper by now,” Malcolm said, “and also I didn’t receive confirmation until yesterday that they’ve moved the Royal Nest to Eirian House. Could’ve been Valoret, after all, or some other location. Coroth, even. I wonder if the Haldane pups are going to set up house together and breed?  That would be nice and tidy; only one Haldane line to hunt to extinction rather than two.”

Aubrey pursed his lips in thought. “Now there’s the angle you ought to pursue, at least once things settle a bit and Sophia’s security grows more lax. Marry Sophia, and any children you sire on her will consolidate the bloodline nicely. Then you can just pick off the Corwyn line at your leisure.”

“I already have two wives,” replied Malcolm. “I hardly think the Gwyneddan wench will be amenable to becoming Wife Number Three.”

Aubrey laughed. “Well, I wasn’t exactly suggesting that you ask her!”

“She’s hardly my type.”

“I know she’s not--far too dark-haired and Nigel-looking for you to imagine yourself shagging, I suppose--but you could always close your eyes and pretend she’s Sybilla, or even that pretty assassin who used to serve as your concubine. Where is your little sidepiece these days? The model. What was her name again . . . Shara? Shera? Yes, that’s it. Pretend she’s Shera. Or just rename the Haldane bitch ‘Gwynedd.’ You’ve always managed to get it up at the thought of possessing Gwynedd.”

“You’re a git, Aubrey.” Despite himself, Malcolm found himself smiling.


Noon
Eirian House Great Hall
December 22, 2021


“Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy our late Sovereign Lady Queen Araxelle Sofiana Jehane of blessed and glorious memory, by whose decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Sophia Morgana Anastasia: We, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these Her late Majesty's Great and Privy Councils, with other principal ladies and gentlemen of quality, with the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and citizens of Rhemuth, do now hereby with one voice and consent of tongue and heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Sophia Morgana Anastasia is now, by the lamentable death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Sophia the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm, Princess of Meara, and Lady of the Purple March, to whom Her lieges do acknowledge all faith and constant obedience with hearty and humble affection, beseeching God by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Princess Sophia the Second with long and happy years to reign over us.” The Lord Chamberlain paused before continuing to thunderous acclaim, “The Queen is dead; long live the Queen!”

The hearty acclamation following the Lord Chamberlain’s proclamation continued for many long moments before dying down, but as it became apparent to all the assemblage that their new monarch wished to speak, the hubbub faded into an expectant hush. Sophia stood before her throne, waiting for the voices to grow still before speaking.

“By the sudden deaths of my dear family, I am called to assume the duties and responsibility of sovereignty. At this time of deep sorrow it is a profound consolation to be assured of the sympathy which you my people feel towards me and to my remaining family, the Duke of Corwyn. My mother was our revered and beloved head as she was of the wider family of her subjects. The grief which her loss brings is shared among us all. My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than that I shall always work, as my mother did throughout her reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my people. I know that in my resolve to follow her shining example of service and devotion, I shall be inspired by the loyalty and affection of those whose Queen I have been called to be. I pray that God will help me to discharge worthily this heavy task that has been laid upon me so early in my life."

Jen marveled at the difference between Sophia at the present moment, as she stood before her assembled Great Council and Privy Council, and the distraught young woman only those of her innermost circle had been allowed to spend time with and comfort just the day before. Whatever words of wisdom or absolution that the Queen’s chaplain had shared with her the previous night must certainly have helped, for despite her continued sorrow there was no trace of the previous day’s distress in the Queen’s demeanor now. No, despite her simple yet elegant mourning dress of deepest black, Sophia the Second of Gwynedd looked every inch a Haldane sovereign at this moment as she proclaimed her accession to the throne before her assembled councillors and--by means of live Internet broadcast--to all of her subjects and the rest of the world beyond the walls of Eirian House.

She stole a peek at the Duke of Corwyn, dressed in the finery of his McLain mother’s ancestral tartan, with its green, black, and white sett which closely echoed his own Corwyn colors. There were some men who looked completely in their element in a Border dress kilt and some who were unable to pull off the look, Jen mused, and fortunately Morgan Haldane fit into the former category. His black Border jacket was adorned with the blue sash and badge of the Ordo Sanctus Michaelis, the historic descendants of the ancient Michaeline Knights of legend, and somehow the ceremonial sword he wore at his side managed to look not at all out of place in this modern age. As he turned to watch the Queen, Jen spied the handle of his sgian dhu and suppressed a giggle, wondering how many other weapons the Duke had managed to conceal on his person on that particular day and if he’d driven the security scanning team utterly mad yet. She had to admit, the present-day Duke of Corwyn made for quite a dashing sight; surely the Darkling Duke of Kelson’s day would be proud of his twenty-first century heir. She fancied he would be, anyway.

The Queen glanced up at the Lord Chamberlain, catching his eye, and the old Earl nodded. “Will Morgan Haldane, the Duke of Corwyn, please present himself to do homage and swear fealty unto Her Majesty?”

 The Duke divested himself of sgian dhu and sword (thus answering Jen’s imagined question), handing these over to the Queen’s armsmen who stood near him on the dais, and stepped forward on cue, dropping to one knee before his cousin the Queen. Sophia, moved by the emotion of the moment, smiled as she blinked back sudden tears, stepping forward to clasp both his hands between her own in the age-old position for accepting a liegeman’s homage.

“I, Morgan Alexander Haldane, Duke of Corwyn, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship. And faith and truth I will bear unto thee, to live and die against all manner of folk, so help me God.”

“And I, Sophia of Gwynedd, hear and shall not forget, nor fail to reward, that which is freely given:  fealty with love, valor with honor, and oath-breaking with swift, sure justice. Now rise and go in Our esteem.”

Morgan kissed the ring on Sophia’s hand and stood, bowing his head before walking to one side of the dais, where the Lord Chamberlain stood beside a desk holding an open registry. He signed the book and returned to his place beside and slightly behind the Queen.


Just after noon
The Royal Astari Hotel, Rhemuth
Penthouse suite
December 22, 2021


Peter Astari leaned forward to peer more closely at the video feed streaming live over his internet-capable TV screen. “Maureen, is HM wearing the Ring of Fire?”

The Lord Chamberlain called up the other members of the Ordo Sanctus Michaelis, so another minute or two passed before Maureen was able to get a brief unobstructed view of Sophia’s hands. “I think it just might be!”

Peter grinned. “I hope it is. Can you tell if she is wearing the Eye of Rom with it? I can’t tell with the way her hair is falling over her ears.”

They both watched intently for several minutes before giving up. “It’s no use. I doubt we’re going to get a clear view of her ears today, what with her hair down over them and her head bowed so much while the Court is swearing fealty. Perhaps I can ring up Eilonwy later tonight and find out for sure,” Maureen replied. “I wonder where the Ring finally turned up?”

“Maybe Devlin would know,” Peter said.

“Maybe Father Devlin knows but can’t tell us,” Maureen countered. “Remember, his holy vows supercede his oaths to the Council.”

“True, though as he reminded us just last week, not everything he hears and sees is bound by the seal of the confessional. But you’re right, it might be better to ask Eilonwy, especially since she’s in the Queen’s trust and in a position to broach the subject of setting the Haldane potential--that is, if that’s not been done already.”



Shortly after noon
A middle-class neighborhood
The Earldom of Derry
December 22, 2021


“Is that the new Duke of Corwyn?” Frances O’Flynn fanned herself briskly with a section of the morning news as she and her family watched the images on Heather’s laptop screen. “Lord love him, he’s a handsome lad! Just like his father, God rest him.”

“Isn’t he, though?” Heather agreed somewhat absently as she finished folding one of her daughter’s blouses.

“Is that Eirian House, Mummy?” little Aderyn asked as she put a pile of folded blouses into her open suitcase. “Is that where we’re going to live? It’s beautiful!”
 
“Well, it’s where we’ll be staying for the next little while,” Heather allowed. “I don’t know that we’ll actually be living there, at least not on a permanent basis, unless that’s what the Queen decides she wants, but I’m needed at Eirian House just now, and it’s also closer to the RHR, so I may be doing double duty for a bit.” She picked up a pair of jeans and held it up to her daughter’s waist. “Mercy, you’re growing like a weed!” Setting that pair to one side, she pulled a longer pair out of the laundry basket and began to fold it.

“Who’s going to take care of Nan while we’re gone?” Aderyn asked, giving her grandmother a worried look.

Frances smiled. “Don’t you worry about me, petal! It’s a great opportunity your Mum’s got before her, and no mistake. I’ll be just fine. I might even take a bit of holiday once you two have gone; Aunt Minnie has been asking if I’d like to spend a few weeks with her in Dhassa, and I may just take her up on the offer for a week or two. They say the Holy City is lovely.”

“You really should, Mum,” Heather encouraged her. “Even by car, Dhassa’s not all that far away.”

“Not far! It’s almost two hours by car! How can you tell me that’s not far?”

Heather laughed as she handed the folded jeans to Aderyn to put into the suitcase. “Mum, I work in Rhemuth! Dhassa’s just in our back garden compared to Rhemuth.”

“Aye, I’ll grant that, but you take the Public Portal network to get there, don’t you?” With a decisive nod, Frances turned back to the laptop screen. “Oh look, they’re calling up the rest of the Ordo Sanctus Michaelis now!” She sighed dreamily. “Too bad they’re not in full ceremonial kit today, with the capes and such. A fine sight, that!”

Heather shook her head, smiling. “Maybe you should be the one going to Eirian House.”

“Oh no, I’d make a complete goose of myself. I doubt I’d manage to get a full sentence out of my mouth without stammering, especially if the likes of him turned up!”

Heather glanced up at the screen in time to see Lord Arilan step forward to kneel at the Queen’s feet. She looked away quickly, her cheeks heating, thinking the sight of James Arilan in formal morning dress ought to come accompanied by a Surgeon General’s warning.

“Mummy, you dropped my skirt,” Aderyn observed. “Why are you pink? Are you having hot flushes like Nan does?”

Frances, fanning herself with the newspaper again, just laughed.



Early morning, CST
(Early afternoon, RST)
Atherton Palace
St Michael’s Province, Camberia
December 23, 2021 (Dec. 22 in Rhemuth)


“Did you notice the Haldane regalia?” Aubrey asked his brother once the streaming video broadcast had ended.

“I noticed the ring,” Malcolm confirmed, “and for a brief moment I thought I caught a quick flash of red when she turned her head to one side, although it could have just been a regular ruby or garnet earring.”

“Right,” said Camberia’s King, “because it’s customary to wear red earrings with mourning black.”

Malcolm pursed his lips. “You do have a point. I wish I could see that frame again, though. What I glimpsed didn’t appear to be glowing.”

Aubrey reached under his pillow for a remote control. “Fortunately, I recorded it.”

Malcolm grinned. “How’d you manage that?”

“Special software. It records any incoming video and allows you to play it back afterwards, even if it’s officially restricted to prevent downloading. Or even, as in this case, if it has been specially encrypted not to allow recording software to capture it without a passphrase.”

“You cracked Eirian House’s passphrase?”

Aubrey gave a mirthless laugh. “Don’t I wish! No, but my techs found a back door. This recording isn’t likely to be very clear, though hopefully it will serve.” He found the file he was looking for and pressed Play, then Fast Forward. “How far into the ceremony was your brief glimpse?”

“Almost to the end.”

“About how far from the end?”

“Maybe five or six minutes.”

Aubrey scrolled swiftly through the captured video footage until he reach a mark ten minutes from the end of the broadcast. He clicked Play again.

To Malcolm’s disappointment, the recording appeared nearly ghostly, the image flickering at times. “That’s no good.”

“I warned you the picture quality would be lacking. Still, it might not be totally useless. Tell me when you think we’ve nearly reached the place.”

They watched in silence for a few minutes, then Malcolm said “I think it’s just about here.” Aubrey picked up the remote, pausing the image, then began forwarding through it in one second increments, freezing each frame for a moment before proceeding to the next.

After another minute, Malcolm said, “There!” On the screen, hidden behind a curtain of Sophia’s hair, there was a crescent of red showing through.

“I would say we’ve found our Eye of Rom,” Aubrey affirmed. “Do you notice anything interesting about it?”

Malcolm grinned. “It’s not glowing. The stupid chit probably has no idea what it’s for!”

“I’d say that’s likely. Probably Araxelle never got around to telling her that the Haldane powers require activation.” Aubrey gave the screen a smug smile. “Poor dear.”

“Lucky me, you mean. This should make my work all the easier,” Malcolm gloated.

“True.” Aubrey stifled a yawn and switched the TV off, placing the remote on his bedside table. “All right, it’s way too late; I’m going to sleep. You’re welcome to stay the night. I’ll even lend you a dark-haired concubine if you wish; I got one just last week who looks an awful lot like the little Haldane bird. Could be fun.” He arched a brow at his brother.

Malcolm grimaced in distaste. “Thank you, but I think not. A bedmate who reminds me of Nigel Haldane would hardly be one to take my fancy.”

“Your loss.” Aubrey shrugged, waving him towards the door. “Good night, sweet dreams of conquest.”

Malcolm gave a courtly flourish in his direction and left. Aubrey waited a few minutes, lost in thought, before cracking the door open to speak to his armsman.

“Did His Grace retire to his quarters for the night, or did he slip off elsewhere?”

“He went straight to his rooms, my Prince,” the man replied.

“Good,” said the King of Camberia. “Fetch me the new girl. I think I’d like to celebrate my little cousin’s Accession after all.”


Mid-Afternoon
Eirian House
December 22, 2021


“I think I may never be able to move my fingers again!” Sophia muttered as she allowed Eilonwy to assist her out of her dress. She fell onto the bed, flexing said digits experimentally.

“Sore?” Jen reached out her hand. “Want me to massage them for you?”

“Would you please?” Sophia closed her eyes, enjoying the welcome relief of the massage as Eilonwy replaced the dress on a hanger and hung it out of the way.

“Jen, did Da teach you how to use your powers for pain relief?” Eilonwy asked.

“That’s not a Healer talent?” Jen asked, surprised.

“No, it’s a fairly basic skill. Healers are much better at it, of course, but any Deryni can learn how to manage general achiness.” Eilonwy walked over to take Sophia’s hands. “Jen, link with me so you can see how I do this. Sophia, I think you could benefit from Seeing what I do as well, even if it’s still a little beyond your capability yet. If I may, I’ll establish a shallow link with you too so you can feel what I do as I’m doing it.”

“Yes, please.”

Eilonwy used a simple pain management spell to erase the lingering achiness in Sophia’s fingers from nearly two hours of receiving homage from her Court, followed by the handshakes of councilors and peers wishing to offer their personal condolences before the Queen finally exited the palace Great Hall and all but fled back to her personal apartment.

“That better?” Eilonwy asked as she finished and extracted herself from their shared link, although the question was mostly rhetorical since she’d already felt Sophia’s aches ease for herself.

“Much, thank you.” Sophia reached up to remove the Eye of Rom from her earlobe and the Ring of Fire from her finger. “Could you put this back in my safe?” She gestured towards the open wall safe nearby.

Eilonwy replaced the two pieces of regalia in the wooden box that had held them for the past two decades and closed the safe door, which was concealed behind a framed painting. “If I might ask, why did you wear those two pieces but not the Crimson Lion?”

Sophia fell back onto her mattress. “I figured a huge brooch would look too conspicuous against my black dress, but on the other hand I thought some people might have an eye out for me to wear at least some of the regalia today--the ring at the very least--so I figured I’d wear the other two pieces. I don’t imagine anyone could see much of the Eye under my hair, could they?”

“I didn’t even notice it until just a few minutes ago,” Jen assured her. “But you’re right, it’s possible some of the older courtiers might have looked to see if you’d wear the regalia, so it’s probably for the best we found it in time.”

“Yes,” said Eilonwy, “though now that you’ve worn them in public, it would be best if we had the Empowerment ritual as soon as possible, just in case anyone did happen to get a clear view of the Eye of Rom and noticed it was missing its customary inner light.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Sophia said, sounding tired. “Though part of me wishes I could just sleep the rest of the afternoon away. I don’t suppose I should throw off my sleep schedule so badly, though.”

“It’s probably best if you don’t.  It would be better to wait until everyone’s gone to bed before attempting the ritual, and it would be better still to have at least His Grace of Corwyn’s help, and maybe one or two other Deryni as well.  Healer O’Flynn, maybe?  Though perhaps a small change of scenery would do you some good. It’s not too awfully cold outside yet; we could bundle up and have a walk in the gardens or something,” Eilonwy suggested.

“Maybe,” Sophia said, sounding unconvinced, although she sat up, sliding off the bed to peer out her window towards one of the courtyard gardens in question. Although the earlier crowd had thinned significantly, there were still enough people strolling through the garden to make her hesitant. A flash of red coming through a doorway caught her eye, and she paused to watch as Father Devlin and her cousin exited the palace, making their way across one of the paved paths toward the Chapel Royal.

Jen joined her. “Is that His Grace of Corwyn and that utterly delicious looking chaplain of yours?” she joked.

As if he’d somehow sensed their eyes on him despite being well out of earshot, Father Devlin chose just that moment to glance up toward their window, causing Sophia to leap back abruptly, nearly bumping into Eilonwy who had come to look also. “Sorry!” Sophia apologized with a self-conscious laugh. “I shouldn’t be peeking at windows dressed only in my slip.”

“From outside I doubt anyone can see you,” Eilonwy assured her. “They’ve got the brightness of full daylight out there and it’s comparatively dark in this room, so anyone would need better than Deryni vision to tell exactly what you’re wearing. Or in this case, I suppose not wearing.” Catching a look at Sophia’s face, she laughed. “You’re blushing!”

“I am not!”

“Yes, you are,” Jen teased. “That is definitely a blush. Now what I’m wondering is, are you just blushing because you’ve been caught standing at windows in your unmentionables, or could it be that we need to find you a female confessor for those moments when your present chaplain simply won’t do? ‘Father, bless me for I have sinned; I missed nearly all of your homily because I was staring raptly into your bonny blue eyes, thinking of how nicely that red cassock sets off your dark hair and praising God you’re not vowed to celibacy like the priests of Bremagne.’ I can see how that might be a problem.” She ducked the pillow the rosy-cheeked Queen swung at her head.

“Really, stop!” Sophia tossed her pillow back onto the bed. “It’s not funny at all.”

Jen glanced uncertainly at Eilonwy, then back at Sophia. “I’m sorry, I was just joking. I didn’t mean to offend.”

“No, it’s not that,” Sophia sheepishly admitted. “It’s just that it’s a little too close to the mark for comfort. I suppose a female priest might be a wiser choice under the circumstances--certainly it would be easier--but the reason I chose Father Devlin . . . .  Well, it has nothing at all to do with how he looks, although I’ll admit he’s quite nice to look at.” She looked up sharply. “But that does not leave this room!”

Eilonwy smiled. “We promise not to go around stating the blatantly obvious fact that your chaplain is nice to look at. I think your Court can figure that out on their own without our help. I’ve even twigged to it, despite being a happily married woman.”

Sophia laughed. “Not exactly what I meant, but thank you.”


At roughly the same time
The Queen’s Garden
Eirian House


A movement behind the open curtains of one top floor window caught Father Devlin’s eye, and he glanced up at it just in time to see a female silhouette draw back beyond his view. He thought that section of the palace might contain the Queen’s apartment--yes, a quick look around to get his bearings made him sure of it. He hoped she was doing well this afternoon. She had held up wonderfully at her first Grand Court, in his estimation, not that he was the best judge of such things.

Morgan, sensing the priest’s sudden inattention to their conversation, followed his gaze upwards. “She did well,” he said, as if he’d Read Devlin’s thoughts.

It was probably just as well that the Duke hadn’t done just that, Devlin reflected behind tight shields, because those thoughts had been tinged with perhaps a bit more wistfulness than was quite healthy for a man to be feeling towards a woman who was not simply his sovereign, but also the beloved baby cousin of a man who, quite frankly, Devlin suspected could be terrifying if his protective instincts were stirred up. He certainly did not intend to be the one to stir up that hornet’s nest! “I thought so too,” he replied, careful to keep his voice neutral.

“I understand that you’re a trained Deryni,” said Morgan. “Lord Arilan praises your skill most highly, especially when it comes to ritual magic.”

“Lord Arilan may be biased, sir,” Devlin admitted. “We trained together.”

“Perhaps,” said Morgan, “although I don’t think he’d risk HM’s safety simply on the basis of a boyhood friendship.” At Devlin’s surprised look, he smiled. “Yes, I took the liberty of having you vetted.”

“Understandable,” Devlin said, glad he’d apparently passed whatever inquiries the Duke might have made.

Morgan took a seemingly casual glance around, though Dev suspected it was anything but, before leaning toward him to add in a cautiously low voice, “The Queen has informed me that she told you about the significance of the Haldane regalia. It would be helpful to have the assistance of a Deryni priest. Lord Arilan trusts you, and I trust Lord Arilan. Mostly. Tell me honestly, Father, are you enough of an adept to participate in an Empowerment ritual?”

“I am, sir.”

“Good. May we use the Chapel Royal?”

“Absolutely. When did you have in mind?” Devlin asked.

“Tonight. I need to confirm the plan with HM, but I’m thinking around midnight would work best.”

The priest nodded his assent, ruefully wondering if life in the Haldane Court would ever allow him a decent night’s sleep again.


Roughly the same time
The Transfer Portal Room
Eirian House


“Good afternoon, Healer O’Flynn and Miss O’Flynn,” an Eirian House guard greeted Heather and Aderyn as they stepped off the marble Portal stone together. Too well trained to rely solely on visual identification, he also waved a scanning wand over both of the new arrivals before permitting them to walk through the weapon sensor gate one at a time.

“How do you know my name?” Aderyn asked as she walked through the gate.

The guard smiled, allowing the child to peek at the roster on his tablet. “See there? That’s your name, isn’t it?” He touched a stylus to a box beside it.

“Yes, and there’s Mummy’s,” Aderyn informed him. “Don’t forget to tick her box too.”

“You’re right, I mustn’t forget that,” said the grandfatherly guard, looking charmed as he touched his stylus to the second box. “Healer, if you’ll step to the right, I believe the Lord Chamberlain is sending someone along shortly to escort you to your rooms.” Glancing down at Aderyn, he added “And to show you where the palace schoolrooms are, young miss, if you will be continuing your stay past the Christmas hols.”

“Will we, Mummy?”

“I don’t know yet, pet,” Heather replied quietly. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

A familiar figure strode into the room. “It’s utter chaos out there, Sims. Lord Culdi’s going in three directions at once, and nattering on about someone down here needing a guide because of Miss Kendall turning up sick, so I said I’d pitch in . . . .” He stopped short as his gaze landed on Heather. “Hello, is it you needing a guide?”

“Is Miss Kendall in need of my services?” Heather asked at nearly the same time, not sure if she was sad or relieved that Lord Arilan had managed to find time to change into less formal clothing since her brief glimpse of him on screen earlier that morning, although he still looked dangerously appealing in the more casual black knit sweater and charcoal trousers he wore now.

“No, I doubt you can help; she’s come down with flu, from the sound of it. Lord Culdi’s already packed her off to bed with directions to treat the symptoms until he can have a physician sent over.” Noticing the young girl standing beside Heather, he paused briefly in surprise before meeting her eyes again in silent inquiry. The Healer glanced away, fumbling with her suitcase with one hand while taking the child’s hand with the other.

“Here, let me help with that,” he offered, stepping forward to assist with carrying their luggage.

“Are you a knight?” the girl asked. James glanced down at her curiously. Her features were Heather’s in miniature, although her hair was nearly as dark as his own and her black-fringed eyes were more green than blue. With a start, he realized she could almost pass for his child, despite the complete impossibility of that.

“I am,” he answered, smiling to conceal his confusion. She had to be somewhere around nine or ten, he guessed, although he wouldn’t have guessed Heather old enough to have a child that age. Then again, he supposed she must be--at least barely so--if she’d been a Healer for long enough to have earned Karim’s professional respect. “How did you guess?”

“We saw you on the telly this morning,” the child informed him. “My Nan thinks you’re handsome.”

“All right, ah, what’s our room again?” Heather prompted the guard, an apparent attempt at a diversion that might have been more successful had she not caught Sims trying to choke down a laugh.

The man eventually got himself under control without strangling. “Queen’s Wing, Lord Arilan. The Green Suite.”

“The Green Suite. Yes. Well. Shall we?” James led the Healer and her child out of the Portal Room and down the corridor towards the Grand Staircase.


Later afternoon
Eirian House grounds
December 22, 2021


“So, has His Grace of Corwyn spoken with you yet today?” James ventured.

Father Devlin, having forsaken his cassock for the moment in favor of a comfortable pair of old jeans and a warm sweater, idly selected a flat rock to skip on the surface of one of the ornamental ponds gracing the parklands just beyond the formal gardens of Eirian House. “Yes,” he answered.

“About the Empowerment ritual?” James persisted, just to ensure that he and his monosyllabic friend were actually on the same page. Knowing Dev, ‘Yes’ could equally well mean ‘His Grace said hello to me in passing.’ He’d learned not to assume. Sometimes he thought Devlin enjoyed giving him cryptic answers just to be annoying.

A slight tug at the corners of Devlin’s lips confirmed James’ suspicion. “Yes,” he answered, skipping another rock on the pond’s surface.

Two could play at this game. “And?” Let’s see him find a one syllable answer to that one!

Devlin shot James a sidelong glance, his eyes crinkling slightly with suppressed laughter, and merely shrugged.

James threw his head back, beseeching the heavens for patience. “Would you fancy a midwinter swim, because you’re this close!”

Dev’s laughter broke free. “Yes, he spoke to me about participating in the ritual tonight. Midnight, in the Chapel Royal, if he’s not confirmed with you yet.”

“He hasn’t, but I’m actually the one who suggested the time and place when we discussed it earlier, before the Accession Council. And also the one who suggested that he ask you to participate.”

“Yes, he hinted as much.” Dev skipped a third rock. This time the rock made it all the way to the opposite bank of the pond. He smiled in satisfaction.

“Did he say who the other participant would be?” James asked.

“No, but I’m guessing the most likely choice would be Eilonwy Adams, especially if Lady Maureen has had a chance to speak with her in the past week about bringing up the subject to HM, and surely she would have by now. Although I suppose His Grace might choose a Healer instead, since we have one in residence at the moment.”

“Yes, I saw. I helped her get settled in. Them.” At Dev’s look of question, James added, “Did you know Heather has a daughter?”

“Does she?” Devlin studied his friend. “And that bothers you?”

“No!” At Dev’s raised eyebrow, James elaborated, “I mean, no, it doesn’t bother me that she’s a mother, it’s just . . . .”

“Just?”

If James had been holding a rock at that moment, he might have been tempted to skip it across Dev’s thick head. “Well, generally when there’s a child in the picture, there’s usually a man as well.”

Dev nodded, his lips twitching in that maddening not-smile. “Usually. At least at some point in the process.”

“Damn it, Dev!”

The smile broke free. “You fancy her, don’t you? Well, she’s not married, if that’s what’s got your knickers in a twist. Though I don’t get the impression she’s particularly looking for another relationship either,” Devlin warned, his expression growing serious again. “At least not the short-term sort you’ve made a speciality of up till now.”

“I never said I was looking for . . . Wait, how do you know she’s not married?”

That damned impish look again!  “I asked her.”

“You . . . ?“ Oh God, surely Dev’s not interested . . .  “Why?”

Devlin laughed. “You’re such fun to wind up!” Shaking his head, he added, “I helped get her living arrangements sorted. HM didn’t know whether Heather just needed a single room, a family suite, or something in between, so I offered to make the necessary inquiries. I’m not poaching on your preserve.  But if I might make a suggestion, please keep in mind that if there’s not a man in the picture anymore, that means either he’s dead or one of them chose to end the relationship. If she’s a widow, then she had the expectation of a lifelong match cut short all too soon. If she’s divorced, then no matter whose choice that was, she’s had some heartbreak that doesn’t need exacerbating. And if she’s never been married, then the last thing she needs is another man in her life to use her without taking care not to hurt her. You need to watch your step.”

“So, is that your not-so-subtle way of telling me I need to keep my trousers zipped?”

“No, that’s my not-so-subtle way of telling you that if you don’t, then don’t look to me for sympathy if you muck up this relationship and the Healer performs an amputation of the Arilan pride and joy.”

“Oh, thanks! For whatever it’s worth, Dev, I wasn’t planning on hurting her.”

“James, James! You never plan to hurt anyone; you simply do. This time around, try simply not.”


Later afternoon
Eirian House stables
December 22, 2021


“Your Grace! Were you planning on riding?”

Morgan pivoted in mid-stride, his gaze travelling up to meet Jen DeLisle’s. She appeared to be quite comfortably mounted astride one of the Queen’s mares, looking entirely at ease. Definitely not her first experience with a horse, then.

“That wasn’t my original intent, but I suppose I could be talked into it. Henry said HM was headed this way.”

“She was, and now she’s headed that way.” Jen pointed to a bend in the road ahead. “She and Eilonwy are just up ahead. Join us?”

“Give me just a few minutes. I’ll catch up. Was she headed for any destination in particular?”

Jen laughed. “Yes, away. She just needed to get out of the palace for a bit. But don’t worry, we’ll stay well within the warded area. I can tell HM that you’re planning on meeting us. I think she said something about heading for some stone formation . . . .”

“Ah, yes--the Gazebo.” Morgan smiled. “I know right where that is. It’s not really a gazebo, and it doesn’t even look like one, really, except to youngsters with overly active imaginations. It’s more like . . . well, you’ll see soon enough.” Looking at her horse then back up at her, he added, “So, do you know how to handle that thing? It’s not exactly like driving a car.”

“Hm. Let’s see, I point this end forward and the kicking end back, and try not to run over pedestrians? Requires lots of maintenance; expensive to feed? Seems just like a car to me.”

He chuckled. “All right, just don’t fill her up with petrol.” Morgan waved her on.

Several minutes, a quick change of footwear, and a freshly saddled horse later, he caught up with Sophia and her two ladies-in-waiting. It hadn’t been difficult; at the pace they were riding, he estimated they might reach the small grouping of standing stones that was their alleged destination by early July. “If those horses go much slower,” he called out as he approached them, “they’ll be walking backwards!”

“We were waiting on you,” said Sophia. “You’re welcome!”

He drew up alongside the ladies, who picked up their pace slightly now that he had caught up with their party. “So, do you own horses at home?” Morgan asked Jen.

Horses, no. And own, not exactly. There’s one on my Gran’s farm she lets me ride, though.”

“Ah, that explains it. That’s where you learned how to ride, then?”

The Americian made a sound that might have been a brief laugh or perhaps just a huff of air, it was hard to tell. “No, I learned at summer camp. Mom and Pop packed me off to one camp or another just about every summer until I turned eighteen, and most of those camps had horses, so I got lots of riding practice.”

He sensed he’d veered close to a sensitive topic, so he decided to steer back onto what he hoped might prove a safer course. “But you’ve kept in practice since then on the family farm?”

“My grandmother’s farm, yes. She loves horses. And dogs, cats, birds, and pretty much any stray beast that wanders up.” This time her smile broke free, a truly dazzling sight compared to the more restrained version she’d only half conjured up while referring to her parents.

“Does she have a particularly strong talent for animal rapport, then?”

“For a human, yes.”

“Ask her what her grandmother’s horse is named, cousin,” Sophia said, a suspiciously amused twinkle in her eyes. Eilonwy started to laugh.

“I’ll bite. What’s the horse’s name?” he asked, his wariness growing as Jen, too, appeared to be fighting off laughter.

“Alaric,” she answered after a moment. “Lovely black stallion.” At his slow headshake, she added, “We had a Morgan too, but he had a bad tendency to bite, so Gran ended up trading him.”

“So I’ve a bad-tempered Americian horse as a namesake? That’s just grand. Tell me he had a smooth gait at least.”

“Oh yes, he gave a great ride, but such a nasty temper!”

Morgan chewed on his bottom lip, his shoulders shaking, as Sophia exploded into laughter beside him. After a moment, he commented, “Oh God, so many things I could say to that, but every single one sounds like some tawdry tabloid headline! Sophia, could I please have that as my epitaph someday?”

“Depends. I’ll want a second opinion from your Duchess first,” the Queen answered, “since I can only personally vouch for the latter quality.”

“So, moving right along from wayward stallions and my sex life, as much fascination as those topics may hold amongst tabloid journalists and Americians, I’ve made arrangements with Father Devlin to secure the Chapel Royal for tonight. Around midnight, if that would work for you?” Morgan arched a questioning brow at Sophia.

“This is for setting my Haldane potential?” she asked.

“Yes, and for Empowering you fully. I don’t see any reason to delay, and several reasons not to put it off any longer than we must. Father Devlin is a trained adept and has expressed willingness to assist in the ritual. I was thinking, if you agree, that Lord Arilan could also lend a hand, and as for the fourth participant . . . .” He glanced at Eilonwy in silent question.

“I would be glad to help,” she assured them both, “and actually, I’ve brought up the topic with Sophia already, but wasn’t certain who else might be available to assist, so I’m glad there’s already a plan in the works.”

“Yes, so am I,” said Sophia, “if only to stop Eilonwy and Jen from nattering on endlessly about the need.” She smiled to let her friends know she was just teasing.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Jen asked.

“That depends; how well trained are you in esoteric magic?”

“Not very,” she admitted even as Eilonwy shook her head. “I’ve read a great deal about its history and theory, but I only have what training and practice Sir Will was able to teach me before he died, and we were only just starting to cover the basics of ritual magic.”

Morgan nodded. Looking at Eilonwy, he asked, “Does she have enough knowledge to observe safely and serve as a doorkeeper?”

“She could do that,” Eilonwy acknowledged.

“All right, then, how about this plan, Sophia? Father Devlin, myself, Eilonwy, and Lord Arilan at the four quarters, with Doc here as gatekeeper within the Chapel and your armsmen guarding the doors from the outside. I’m thinking it might be best to have a Healer on hand also, if Miss O’Flynn would be available.”

“We could ask her,” Sophia agreed, “although I believe she brought her daughter back to Eirian House with her, so she may not wish to leave a young child alone in a strange room on her very first night.”

“Not a problem,” Morgan assured her. “Did you forget we’re Deryni? That’s what sleep spells are for.”




Next chapter:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1609.0.html
« Last Edit: November 06, 2015, 10:23:08 pm by Evie »
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

--WARNING!!!--
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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2015, 07:55:14 pm »
Oh dear - I worry about what Malcolm is plotting now, and what support his sinister brother will provide.  The empowerment ritual needs to happen as soon as possible.

Handsome portrayal of Morgan in a kilt, with sword at his side and the sash of the  Ordo Sanctus Michaelis.  I know what I'll be dreaming of tonight!

So many romantic pairings - will they grow, develop and last?  One can but hope.  And now Heather has a daughter -- interesting indeed.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Offline NavaWazr

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2015, 10:30:09 pm »
Eeek, very worried about those Atherton-Haldanes!
Love the bantering, the romantic pairs are coming together. Worried that there is more tragedy coming up. Thrilled an Empowerment Ritual is on the schedule. Amused by Sims. Snorted with laughter at the horse named Alaric conversation. Concerned about the O'Flynn family- will Malcolm go after them? Grateful that you write and you share your stories with us.

I realized that I wanted to be Deryni, would have loved to be another niece of Uncle Azim, perhaps living on a Fianna vineyard.... but I'm a never wazzer

Offline revanne

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2015, 07:58:00 am »
"“Not far! It’s almost two hours by car! How can you tell me that’s not far?”
Glad to see you've got a proper small country perspective in here  ;)

Nice to see the relationships beginning to develop.
"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts."
As You Like It.

Offline Demercia

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2015, 09:25:47 am »
Another wonderful chapter, cheered up a grey raw cold English November day.  And yes, get Sophiacempowered asap
The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Offline Demercia

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2015, 09:48:18 am »
Sophia empowered, I have not invented a new ritual!
The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2015, 09:54:33 am »
Eeek, very worried about those Atherton-Haldanes!

They make the canonical Festils and the Lannister-Baratheons look positively cuddly.

Offline Laurna

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2015, 10:28:46 am »
Thank the heavens and all the Deryni energy over the centuries that Eirian House is under the protection of the  World's Largest But Zapper. If it wasn't for this WLBZ, those traitorous, murderous, evil-minded Atherton-Haldanes would have found a way to get to our good Haldanes already. Stay vigilant my friends.

Love all the interactions. Love that the people have real-life pasts and that small complications enter into the picture: Heather and her daughter, Sophia and Dev's unsolicited attraction, James being lectured on relationships by his friend, and Jen's Black Stallion named Alaric (I laughed at that). Life is never perfect, but that is was makes it beautiful.


Offline Jerusha

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2015, 09:28:06 pm »
Now that I have read this through the second time, I'm hoping we don't have to worry about Aderyn, sleeping under a benign Deryni sleep spell, while some sleeper under Malcolm's orders roams Eirian House at midnight looking for a pawn....
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline Evie

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2015, 10:45:03 pm »
Oh dear - I worry about what Malcolm is plotting now, and what support his sinister brother will provide.  The empowerment ritual needs to happen as soon as possible.

Handsome portrayal of Morgan in a kilt, with sword at his side and the sash of the  Ordo Sanctus Michaelis.  I know what I'll be dreaming of tonight!

So many romantic pairings - will they grow, develop and last?  One can but hope.  And now Heather has a daughter -- interesting indeed.

Fortunately you won't have to wait too much longer to see how the ritual turns out, if it's scheduled for that night at midnight. And I quite enjoyed the mental picture of Morgan Haldane wearing McLain tartan.  As to the romantic pairings, we shall see. The course of love might not always run smooth, of course.  Heather's daughter came as a surprise to me, although I quite like her scenes in the story and am glad she decided to show up.

Eeek, very worried about those Atherton-Haldanes!

As well you should be!  Muahahahaha!

Quote
Love the bantering, the romantic pairs are coming together. Worried that there is more tragedy coming up. Thrilled an Empowerment Ritual is on the schedule. Amused by Sims. Snorted with laughter at the horse named Alaric conversation. Concerned about the O'Flynn family- will Malcolm go after them? Grateful that you write and you share your stories with us.

Honestly, my favorite bits of any of my stories are when the characters start bantering in my head. That's when I pretty much just have to sit down and take dictation, because the characters' personalities have come alive and they have taken over.  I would think Heather's Mum is probably safe; there'd be little reason for Malcolm to take notice of a middle-class widow living in the Derry area.  Or were you more worried about Heather and Aderyn?  Being in Royal Circles now might put them in closer proximity to danger, I suspect.  We shall see.

"“Not far! It’s almost two hours by car! How can you tell me that’s not far?”
Glad to see you've got a proper small country perspective in here  ;)

Nice to see the relationships beginning to develop.


I learned all about proper small country perspective from my on-call expert in Modern Gwyneddan Culture.  ;)

Another wonderful chapter, cheered up a grey raw cold English November day.  And yes, get Sophiacempowered asap

It was pretty gray and wet here too. And Sophia hasn't too much longer to wait.

Sophia empowered, I have not invented a new ritual!

LOL!  You know, if you click on the subject line of your post (or just find it in the forum thread), there should be an option to "Modify" appearing in the upper right hand corner.  Just use that to edit any errors as you spot them.

Eeek, very worried about those Atherton-Haldanes!

They make the canonical Festils and the Lannister-Baratheons look positively cuddly.

Incest may be one of the few things the Atherton-Haldanes have stopped short of, so at least the Lannisters have them beat there.

Thank the heavens and all the Deryni energy over the centuries that Eirian House is under the protection of the  World's Largest But Zapper. If it wasn't for this WLBZ, those traitorous, murderous, evil-minded Atherton-Haldanes would have found a way to get to our good Haldanes already. Stay vigilant my friends.

Thanks to that lovely typo, I now have this vision of the Eirian House wards diligently zapping Malcolm and any of his prying sleepers in the but(t).  Works for me!  ;D 

Quote
Love all the interactions. Love that the people have real-life pasts and that small complications enter into the picture: Heather and her daughter, Sophia and Dev's unsolicited attraction, James being lectured on relationships by his friend, and Jen's Black Stallion named Alaric (I laughed at that). Life is never perfect, but that is was makes it beautiful.

This was a fun chapter to write, because I much prefer character-driven, relational scenes over the more plot-driven ones, never mind that the plot is necessary for there to be an actual story rather than just a series of character vignettes.

Now that I have read this through the second time, I'm hoping we don't have to worry about Aderyn, sleeping under a benign Deryni sleep spell, while some sleeper under Malcolm's orders roams Eirian House at midnight looking for a pawn....

Well, Malcolm did say that his sleepers couldn't get past the aforementioned World's Largest Bug/Butt-Zapper, so hopefully that will remain the case for at least a while longer than the less than 24-hour period between the time he made that statement and when the empowerment ceremony is scheduled to take place.





"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2015, 12:05:09 pm »
True, but I got that same feeling I had when they turned into the drive-thru at the Gold Lion - "Wait - maybe this is not such a good idea!"  :o

Looking forward to the empowerment.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline Laurna

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2015, 02:34:03 pm »
Quick question.  When the people say HM in conversation, are they really saying Her Majesty, or the actual letters H.M.? Is this a modern accepted abbreviation in England? I always say to myself "Her Majesty" when I read it.

Offline Evie

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2015, 04:29:09 pm »
It's a casual abbreviation, and yes, it's said "H M."  They wouldn't address her that way in person, of course, or at least not in a formal context (I can imagine one of her friends saying "Pass this wineglass over to HM, would you?" in a private setting like her personal apartment, though in that context they'd probably just say Sophia), but might refer to her in casual conversation that way rather than saying "Her Majesty" all the time. Now, whether it's "aitch em" or "haitch em" might depend on what part of the UK Gwynedd you live in.   ;D
« Last Edit: November 04, 2015, 04:33:58 pm by Evie »
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline revanne

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2015, 04:39:35 pm »
Firstly a disclaimer.. I don't move in the exalted  circles where Evie's characters move so I don't know for certain how she would be referred to by those close to her but still deferential.  If I'm talking about the Queen she tends to be simply "The Queen ". However HM -as the letters aitch em- is an accepted abbreviation -possibly  from it's currency in official bodies. So we have HM Gov for the Government,  HMRC for the revenue,  HMI for school inspectors. Our Church treasurer usually refers in full to "Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs "but that's usually when she's had another run in with officious bureaucracy,  other wise it's usual just to use the initials.

Referring to Sophia  as Her Majesty in full each time would strike my ears as odd and overly formal.

Likewise HRH -aitch ar aitch- would be used for other members of the royal family -however as Evie has killed all of those off it doesn't arise in BoP.

From time to time I muse on how odd it will be when HM refers not to  Her Majesty but His Majesty but that is virtually out of living memory now.
"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts."
As You Like It.

Offline drakensis

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eighteen
« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2015, 02:16:35 am »
There was an anecdote I recall reading of a military meeting shortly after the death of King George VI where someone from the MoD was sitting in and every time that an officer referred to anything as the King's ____ he would interject that it was now the Queen's ____.

The joke was the man asserting that "KMR" was now "QMR", not being aware that "KMR" stood for Kit Maintenance Requirement.

HM doesn't change the initials, although I wouldn't have thought the abbreviation to that would be used very often except in writing. Verbally it doesn't shorten Her/His Majesty very much (three syllables down to two, no more so than saying 'the Queen').



On another note it does seem that the government of Gwynedd is getting along very well without Sophia seeming to participate very much. In the short term she's not had much chance to, but it does suggest that the power of the crown has diminished over the years, much as it has in the UK although probably not via the same road (local versions of the Glorious Revolution, Hanoverian Succession, etc).

One might expect the Republicans, such as there are, to make much of the succession tangle between Morgan and Sophia.

 

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