Richenda leant back in her chair, stretching her neck and rueing the protocol which demanded that her hair should be held under a veil even in the height of summer. Even with the windows open and the drapes partially drawn against the bright sunlight it was over-heated in the room on this summer's day and looking around at her menfolk she saw that they were struggling to stay focused - or in truth to stay awake. And they were neither encumbered by female attire nor a pregnancy.
They were all close to her; Alaric, her beloved husband, and far more that than he was her lord; Sean Derry, one time aide to Alaric (and she suspected sharer in mischief that was better safely kept in the past), now Alaric's trusted lieutenant in this his Duchy of Corwyn and become as a younger brother to them both; and the one for whose benefit this briefing was taking place, Brendan, the one good thing to come from her first marriage, Earl of Marley by right of inheritance and much more significantly by the generosity of the king. On the morrow Marley's regency council would meet. Richenda was regent for her son during his minority, although increasingly he sat in on at least some of the council meetings, and she and Alaric had decided that it would be good training for Brendan if the four of them met privily the day before to explain for him the details of some of the issues which would be discussed on the next day. Given the privacy of the meeting Richenda could have gone unveiled, but that would have undermined the importance of the proceeedings which she was keen to impress upon Brendan.
But enough was enough. Alaric had no formal role here and so she did not need to defer to his ducal authority. Straightening in her chair, she tidied the papers before her and smiling at Brendan spoke the words he had been longing to hear for some time; "You've done well, but I think you should go and find the other squires now. I believe I heard some mention made of a trip to the shore - off you go now." Brendan remembered himself well enough to bend to kiss his mother's hand, then sweetly her cheek, bow deference to his step-father and acknowledgment to Derry, but then he was off.
What Richenda needed now was for Derry and Alaric to take themselves off so that she could rest, and ideally without her having to admit to her weariness, for to do so would subject her to Alaric's anxious concern. Well meant, but very wearing, although he knew better these days than to suggest that her condition in any way effected her abilities. Sean caught her eye and rising to his feet sketched a mock formal bow, "My lady, do I have your permission to take your lord out of your hair?" Without waiting for a reply he turned to the Duke and said "Morgan, please would you put that new black stallion through his paces - I'm desperate to ride him but old Deir says that "'Is Grace must 'ave t'first turn, lad!" Morgan needed no persuading and was on his feet making for the door to shed his ducal finery in favour of his black riding leathers when both men were stopped by a choking sound from Richenda. Rushing to her side, at first Alaric thought that she was shaking with sobs and turned to rebuke Derry for the insenstive suggestion that they should both abandon her to go off and enjoy themselves. Derry, always Richenda's protector from the early days when she had been unjustly suspected of disloyalty, met his Duke's gaze squarely and simply shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of perplexity.
Turning back to his by now heaving wife, Alaric was little reassured to see that she was in fact nearly hysterical with laughter. "My love, what is it?" he asked gently, but then added more sharply as his anxiety grew, "Feel free to share the joke with us!". But Richenda simply shook her head and struggled unsuccesfully to regain her composure. Though Richenda was now pregnant with Alaric's third child, he was no more at ease with the mood swings that her pregnancies brought, and fearing to suggest something that would turn her laughter into rage, Alaric tentatively took her hand and suggested that he should fetch Duncan. Derry, deciding that this was a situation best sorted out between husband and wife, began to edge himself towards the door, only to be stopped by a gesture from Morgan, and a look which plainly said, "Don't leave me alone with her like this!".
Richenda clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms while fiercely biting her lip, and managed to stop laughing enough to speak. "I'm sorry, Sean's mention of a black stallion broke my dream. It was a bit of an odd one - just a breeding woman's fancy. Don't mind me, love, carry on and get yourself ready for a great ride." Unaccountably she blushed scarlet as she said this and refused to meet her husband's gaze. Alaric felt that something didn't add up here - he would have only spoken of a breeding woman's fancy if he had felt himself in need of a tongue-lashing - but he was happy enough to make his escape. He would have been less happy if he had heard the dream that Richenda then shared with Derry - a strange vision of the future, where a woman with unseemly clothing and an almost impenetrable accent spoke of a black stallion named Alaric and a bad-tempered mount called Morgan which gave a lovely ride.