Previous chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1734.0.html Chapter Two
April 23rd. The nave of St George’s Cathedral, Rhemuth.
Heads were turning. Discreetly of course. One did not incur the wrath of one of the foremost dukes of the realm, still less if said duke were possessed of Deryni powers. The Church now taught that they were of God and not the devil, but old habits and fears die hard.
Richenda wished fervently that she had not granted the children’s nurse the day off; that she had not acceded to Alaric’s wish to bring the children to the cathedral; that protocol did not insist that they were at the front where all eyes could see them; indeed that she were anywhere else but here.
Yesterday’s family idyll had gone the way of most idylls since Eden. And even then, it was Eve who had somehow ended up with the blame. Trying hard to be fair even in the heat of her rising embarrassment and temper, even as Richenda thought this she acknowledged that most men would have been far less understanding than Alaric. Over-excited and over-heated, Kelric had spent a fretful night, troubled by vivid dreams of “nasty man hurting our Gryphon” and finally working himself into a state of distress that his normally competent nurse had been unable to calm. Linked as she was to all her children, Richenda had finally brought the distraught child into their own bedchamber, wrapped the comfort of her mental presence around him and bedded him down on a truckle bed where soothed physically and emotionally he fell asleep. By then, though, Alaric had betaken himself to the couch in his office. His kiss and hushed “Goodnight, sweetheart” were affectionate enough on the surface, but the frustration of unassuaged desire was tangible even without the “Maybe I’ll try that cold shower trick of Duncan’s”
which he let spill from his thoughts to hers.
Left alone in the Ducal bed, she too had only slept fitfully, the thought of the amused rebuke that her lack of mental discipline over the stirrings of the flesh would have brought from her mentor Azim only served to drive sleep further from her. Despite her best intentions she was, too, unable to entirely quell resentment that Kelric, normally such a loving big brother, had taken the absence of the year-old Grania, at home with her nurse in Coroth, as a chance to enjoy being a baby again.
When the time came to rouse the children, Kelric had fallen into a deep sleep and was all too reluctant to leave the warmth of his bed. Trapped by the noblesse oblige which had been instilled into her from a child, and even more by her own sense of fairness, it had not been within Richenda to withhold from nurse Evie the promised treat of a day’s unexpected holiday, and she had even managed a smile for the nursemaid. It had been the last smile of the morning.
Alaric had come into the bed-chamber on his way to Mass in the Cathedral and had gently chided at his wife’s deshabille, “The Mummers will start at midday and it will be discourteous to be late.”
Briony, who had the genuine devotion not unfamiliar to sensitive, imaginative children, and who often accompanied her father to Mass, had not unnaturally expected that she would do so on such a special day. Alaric’s well-meaning “Not today, sweeting, your maman will need you to help with Kelric” had managed in one casual utterance to upset Briony by the refusal and Richenda by the suggestion that she could not manage her own child. The more so since it was true. Too well-trained to make a fuss, Briony’s brusque management of her young brother did nothing to calm the already fractious Kelric. Although she could not have said why, Briony knew somehow that Papa did not really feel comfortable in Church and she felt that she should be there to keep him company. Richenda tried hard not to pry into her older children’s thoughts but Briony was not yet skilled enough to keep her resentment shielded, and so helped innocently to turn her mother’s exhaustion into anger.
Harried and in no fit state, or so she thought, to enter the House of God, Richenda had been further flustered by the salutes of the guards at the entrance to the Cathedral. In the general melee of those leaving after Mass and those arriving for the Mummers’ play, she had hoped to make a discreet entrance but was thwarted by the well-meaning shout of the sergeant, “Give place, there, for her Grace the Duchess!” which had caused embarrassed citizens to fall over themselves in their haste to obey at the same time as making respectful obeisance. Taking a firmer hold of the still whining Kelric, Richenda had at first not noticed Briony slip to the side until she saw her being lifted up, with great care and respect, by the officious sergeant, so that she might sign herself with the holy water in the stoop. Those around had stopped and stared with approving smiles at the sweet sight of the pious child; Richenda had hastily followed suit, but would not have been too surprised, given her state of mind, to feel herself scalded as the water touched her flesh. Unfairly, but she was beyond fairness, she had Mind-Sent to Briony “Stop making a show of yourself”
, and could have wept at the tight-lipped hurt that she saw on her daughter’s face. Finally reaching Alaric’s side, it had taken all her self-control not to thrust the children at him and run, though she had been somewhat mollified to see that Alaric had kept his promise and begged leave from Prince Nigel for Brendan to be with them.
All might yet have been well had the Mummers not chosen to introduce their play with a long rigmarole telling the history of the Cathedral, “to give due honour to all yer nobles and gentles ‘ere on this ‘oly day.”
Quietly but insistently Kelric spoke, “Papa, want to see our Gryphon”. When Alaric shushed him he spoke more loudly, “Papa, want to see our Gryphon!, Papa…!” “For heaven’s sake Alaric show him your ring!”
“Here he is, Kelric, here on my finger. Sit quietly now on my knee and listen to the man.”
But Kelric was uninterested in the incomprehensible words which did not seem to his four- year-old mind to be worth all the effort involved in getting to Church. Instead he began loudly to retell to his father what he could remember of Briony’s tales of the brave Gryphon. Richenda cringed with inward embarrassment as heads began to turn in their direction and she and Alaric silently fired accusations at each other; “You said my ring would keep him quiet!” “I said he was too young to bring!”
Kelric was now well into his stride and beginning to shout in his excitement, which only served to draw yet more attention, not least because for those near enough to hear, his tale seemed far more exciting than the turgid recitation of noble patrons of St. George's Cathedral.
Finally the hapless speaker seemed to come to the realisation that he had lost his audience and finishing on an abrupt note declared “Your Excellency, Your Graces, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, behold now before your eyes, the wondrous tale of St George and ‘ow aided by God, he slew the wicked dragon.”
There was a pause just long enough for all to hear Kelric say loudly: “Are we going to see our Gryphon now?”
“Hush now, and watch the Mummers.”
Despite their irritation with each other Alaric and Richenda spoke almost together, as one in their hope that Kelric’s attention would finally be caught. Certainly he, and everyone else, was startled into silence as a ragged man burst into the nave from the south transept, at full tilt and wheezing as though his lungs were about to burst; dangerously close on his heels came a burst of flame and a fearsome roaring noise. Sobbing, the terrified man flung himself at Duncan’s feet as he sat in his chair on the edge of the chancel steps and clutched his cassock. For a moment the shocked congregation seemed unsure whether this was part of the play or some unforeseen calamity -- though an unperturbed Alaric unbent enough towards Richenda to Send “I might have known my dear cousin, his Excellency the Bishop, would allow his sense of the dramatic to get the better of him”
-- but fears were calmed when the man continued in ragged bursts of speech:
“O my Lord Bishop, help us, help us, for the love of God! Are there no brave knights left who will slay this foul worm? Our maidens are sacrificed, our young men are slain. Have pity, my Lord, have pity!”
As he spoke he cast looks of desperation back towards the transept from where came at erratic intervals further roars and bursts of flame - also a great deal of whispered cursing from those operating the bellows and trying to direct the burning sticks dipped in pitch, so that the flames flared away from their holders and through the gap in the specially erected screens into the nave.“I wonder, does Thomas know of Duncan’s attempt to burn his Cathedral down? It's one way to get a new one, I suppose.”
Alaric was now enjoying himself, and Richenda too was beginning to relax, though all she Sent back was “Shh, you’re as bad as Kelric.