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Author Topic: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)  (Read 2467 times)

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Offline Evie

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Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« on: May 11, 2012, 09:13:22 am »
   Chapter Twenty-Seven:  Epilogue

   Saint Hilary’s Basilica, Rector’s Study
   December 15, 1136


   Duncan McLain, Auxiliary Bishop of Rhemuth, grinned widely as he lowered the letter he was reading.  “Mirjana’s been safely delivered of another daughter,” he said aloud.  “She was born on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, ten days ago.”

   The study’s other occupant looked up from her examination of one of the ancient manuscripts that Father Nivard had brought by for their perusal earlier that afternoon.  “That’s wonderful!  Does your son mention what they’ve named her?”

   “They’ve christened her Kelwynne.  Kelwynne Maryse MacArdry McLain.”

   “A namesake for Maryse, then.  She’d be glad of that, I imagine,” Helena said, smiling at the joyful grandfather as she reached a hand up absently  to rub at her aching neck.  

   “Yes, I imagine she is,” Duncan said.  Noticing Helena’s discomfort, he arched an eyebrow at his beloved.  “You’ve spent quite enough time bent over that manuscript and not nearly enough moving around.  Shall we take a break?  Maybe we can walk out for just a bit.”  He stood, casting his senses beyond the chamber briefly as he walked toward her, stopping behind her bench to lift the lower edge of her wimple just enough to slip a hand beneath it and ease the tension in her taut muscles with his supple fingers, sensing both with his fingertips and through the link between them where her muscles were most tense.  She leaned back into the massage briefly, her eyes drifting shut as he applied Healing energies to the kneading motion of his fingers.

   “It’s growing a bit late for a walk on the Castle wall, isn’t it?”  Helena murmured.  “Although that does sound delightful; it’s been a while since we’ve managed a proper outing together.  Tomorrow, mayhap, if you’re not too busy then?”

   He spared a brief thought for the next day’s schedule.  “I might be able to rearrange things to free up a little bit of time.”  He sensed Brother Everard heading up the corridor towards them and ceased his ministrations, settling onto a nearby stool instead and pulling another one of the manuscripts closer.  “Did that help ease the tension a little bit?”

   “It did.  Thank you.”  

   A sandy-haired head peered into the study.  “Master Janos’s apprentice stopped by earlier this evening and asked that you be given this,” Brother Everard informed him as he handed the rector a small leather-bound diptych of wax tablets.  “He said it contains the ingredients and proportions for the potion that the wolf’s head Royce of Pardiac used to temporarily disrupt Ædwige’s use of her powers when she made her flight from Rhemuth last month.  The brigand apparently didn’t reveal all of his secrets when the King’s Guard apprehended him last week, but he revealed enough for Master Janos to piece together the rest of the formula.”

   “Ah, yes.”  Duncan untied the thin leather thong securing the elaborately carved ivory covers and peered at the notes inscribed on the thin wax inside.  “The King was rather curious about that tincture, and he’s far from the only one.  The women charged with Ædwige’s care would much prefer a conscious prisoner who can look after her own hygiene, I imagine, and this tincture added in with a less powerful sedative than the King’s physicians currently have her on ought to keep her awake enough to take care of her own basic functions while still preventing her from being able to access her Deryni powers.  And maybe now Sextus Arilan will stop pestering me for daily updates on Janos’s progress.  Thank you; I’ll be sure to share this formula with them once I’ve deciphered Janos’s scribbling.”

   The Schola’s scrivener nodded and left, hardly sparing a glance at Helena.  Duncan turned to her in mild surprise.  Is the romance over? he teased.  Everard didn’t even look at you the entire time he was here, much less give you calf eyes!

   Helena suppressed a grin. I’m afraid I gave him too much of a taste of what he thought he wanted, she explained.

   What do you mean?

   She stifled a laugh.  I agreed to go walking out with him a few days ago and spent most of the afternoon filling his head with far more than he ever wanted to know about Airsid esoteric practices and the mathematical principles underlying ritual magic.  Oh, and comparative theologies.  I have you to thank for that last topic.

   Duncan grinned.   Happy to have been of service, then.  Though I’m a bit jealous, I think; that sounds like my notion of a perfect afternoon with you!

   Helena smiled back. I figured it would, especially if we could throw a horse or two into the picture along with a hamper of food and a flask of Fianna wine or some ale.  I think it was all rather above Everard’s head, though, poor dear.  The last time I saw him, he was casting a few speculative looks at the greengrocer’s daughter.  She may have even been looking back.

   “Good,” Duncan said aloud, his Deryni senses assuring him that Everard was now well out of earshot again.

   “We’re alone again?” Helena asked quietly, barely above a whisper.

   “For the moment,” he affirmed.  “Or at least as alone as we ever seem to manage.”  The sound of playing children filtered through from outside the Basilica walls, and he gave her a wry smile.

   “Good.  In that case….”  Helena tilted her head at him.  “I’ve been wondering, and I suppose it’s as good a time to ask you as any, what are we, cariad?

   He gave her a puzzled and somewhat amused look.  “Deryni?”  Duncan grinned.  “What do you mean, heart?”

   She laughed softly.  “I meant, what are we to each other?  That is…well…we can’t ever marry, obviously, and we’re certainly not lovers.  At least not in the way people generally mean by that.”  Her cheeks turned slightly rosy as she dropped her gaze from his.  “But we’re also far more than just friends.  So what would you call two people in our position?”

   “Ah.”  Duncan pondered the question.  He wasn’t certain how to answer it.   ‘Friends’ or even ‘best friends’ both seemed rather weak terms to encompass all that they had become to one another.  Their relationship was much more intimate than that now, yet ‘intimates’ seemed to imply a far greater physicality to their union than either of them would allow, given their circumstances.  ‘Anamchara’ had other connotations that had been far more applicable in Catriona’s case than in Helena’s; it implied a ‘soul-friend’ of a somewhat different kind, a spiritual mentorship of sorts.

   But wait….Perhaps he had an answer for her after all.

   “We’re soulmates, heart.”

   She nodded.  “Soulmates,” she repeated, testing the sound of the word.  “Yes, I think that works.”   She rose.  “Well, I suppose I’d better head back to the Tower before Tessa comes looking for me.  Shall we take that walk tomorrow, and if so, when and where did you have in mind?”

   Duncan considered the question.  “I have a brief bit of business at the Cathedral tomorrow, and as I recall, you wanted to poke around a bit in the Episcopal archives.  What if I accompany you there, and once I’m done with my business we can return to the Castle together by way of Market Row?”

   She laughed.  “Only if you leave your coin pouch at home, Duncan McLain!  It’s too close to Twelfth Night, and I know you!”

   “That’s fine.  I’m the Auxiliary Bishop of Rhemuth, after all; I’ll just have the tradesmen send their bills to me here.”  He favored her with an impish grin as she walked toward the study door.

#

   Rhemuth Keep
   April 1, 1137


   The pains racked her entire body, and Ædwige bit a knotted rag to keep from screaming.  They’d taken away the sedative they’d been forcing down her until now, damn the bastards—that might have helped to dull the pain, only the midwife had said she needed her full energy to push this brat out of her—so the King had ordered that she should not be given more until after the child was born.  But the royal physician had given her another draught instead, one that she’d gulped down greedily in hopes that it would help to ease the waves of torment that rippled through her abdomen, but it hadn’t.  It was just that same damnable sorcha-laced wine that the brigand Royce of Pardiac had given her.  Well, not the exact same wine—that had been used up long since—but the same formula he had once used on her to prevent her from accessing her Deryni gifts.  Even at this moment, with her body racked with labor pains, the King refused to allow her the full use of her faculties.

   It was probably just as well.  Had she been able to call up the necessary energies, Ædwige might have set fire to the entire bloody Keep in her impotent rage at her helpless state—a prisoner at the mercy of a sadistic Court, kept behind locked doors on the uppermost floor of an impenetrable tower, and worst of all, trapped in a woman’s body in the most vulnerable state she could imagine any woman ever being in.  Damn Gilrae’s soul to eternal perdition for doing this to her!  

   Another contraction nearly made her cry out, and she bit the rag again, this time tasting her own blood.  She’d been in labor now for hours; she had lost count of how many.  Had it been two days already since the first mild pains began?  She was certain that more than one full day had passed, yet no matter what she did, this baby would not come.  A birthing stool had been brought in, and when the child continued to tarry, they had tried twisting her this way and that, and even forced her to walk around the room ceaselessly, in hopes that the exercise would speed her labor and ease her pain, as if she were some colicky horse.  At last she had nearly collapsed from exhaustion, and they had allowed her to return to her bed, her head propped up with pillows, but still Gilrae’s brat would not come.

   It was a wonder he was not yet dead, she’d labored so to bring him forth, with so little result, yet still she felt his life force, felt the occasional movement within her belly even now, though only faintly.  Was this somehow Gilrae’s revenge upon her, somehow using his child to kill the woman who had once killed him?  She wouldn’t put it past him, but no, surely that had to be a mere fancy.  Such a thing was impossible, even for a Deryni, and Gilrae was no Deryni.

   Another pain racked her frame, and this time a scream escaped her despite her best efforts to stop it.

#

   “Your Majesty, we’ve done all we know to do, but the problem is that the mother is quite small framed and her baby is too large to fit through her narrow hipbones.  She’s quite likely to die from exhaustion trying to push him out, and her lengthy exertions are harmful for the child as well.  If she dies first, we might be able to save her son if we cut him out of her womb quickly, but there’s no way to know for sure.”  The Court’s senior midwife curtsied deeply before the King, her face haggard.  

   “How much longer do you think her body is likely to keep trying to birth the child before it gives up entirely?”

   “That’s hard to say, Your Majesty.  The woman is a fighter; that much is in her favor.  But for every extra hour that passes, the child grows weaker.”  She paused, looking as though she was pondering something she was reluctant to say, then told him, “The alternative, if you’d prefer to try to save the mother, is that if the child should die within her womb, we can then try to cut him up inside of her and bring him out piece by piece.  Though even then, there is a great risk to the mother; sometimes in our efforts to deliver her of the dead child, we end up doing mortal harm to her in the process.  However, it’s sometimes the mother’s only chance of survival if a child dies within her and she is unable to bring him forth the usual way.”

   Kelson buried his face in his hand, feeling a bit queasy.  He was glad Araxie wasn’t here to hear this; she was with child again.  He wished he didn’t have to listen to this litany of complications that could threaten not merely Ædwige of Eddington but any woman of childbearing age if the conditions were just right—or, he supposed in this case, if they went entirely wrong.  But he collected his composure; he had a choice to make.

   “No, the utmost priority should be to save the child if at all possible.  Don’t forget that the mother’s life is already forfeit, even if she should survive the birth.”  He considered the options, sighing heavily.  “If she is heavily sedated again, would you be able to cut the baby out quickly?”

   “We could, I suppose, but….”  The midwife looked uncertain.  “I’ve never cut a child from a living mother, so I haven’t any practice in sewing a mother back up again.  You’d need a surgeon to do that.”

   “I have Deryni Healers I could call upon if need be.”

   “Aye, Your Majesty, that might well work, if she doesn’t bleed out first, but even with the best precautions, I’m not sure I could guarantee she won’t sicken later from a purulent wound, if not childbed fever….”

   Kelson nodded.  “I think, under the circumstances, that will be the least of her worries,” he reminded the woman as gently as he could. “ She won’t be remaining alive long enough for such complications to be an issue, just long enough to face judgment for her crimes, assuming she survives this birth.”

   “Oh.   Why yes, of course.”  This time it was the midwife’s turn to look vaguely ill.  “We will do what we can to spare the child, if it’s not too late already.”

   “That’s all I ask.  Thank you.”

   He dismissed the midwife, who followed her escort out of the withdrawing room.  Kelson glanced up at Duke Dhugal, who stood nearby, having witnessed the exchange in mute silence.  He gave his old friend a wry smile.  “Have I done the right thing?” he asked.  “I’m half tempted to just let the woman die in childbed, or at least from the aftereffects of such a birth, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to see this through, aren’t I?”

   Dhugal settled onto a nearby bench, gave Kelson a sympathetic smile.  “Aye.  No matter what you do, I suppose the choice is going to be a right bitch.”  A corner of his mouth quirked as a sudden thought occurred to him.  “Just like Ædwige, come to think.  Although at least this way, you’ve given the wee lad a fighting chance.  And there’s no way you can allow Ædwige to live, not after all she’s done, not knowing what she’d continue to do given half a chance.”

   “No, I can’t.”  Kelson grimaced.  “Although a public execution of the sort I’d planned for her coming on the heels of such a birth is going to make me look like a right tyrant, isn’t it?  No matter how well deserved it is or how much she’s done to earn it, there will be those who will only see what she’ll want them to see—a lovely young woman who has endured the most hellish travails of childbed any woman might fear to experience, and who survives the ordeal—assuming she does survive it—only to face another sort of hellish end.”  He shook his head.  “I almost hope she doesn’t survive the midwife’s knife.”

   “She might not.”  Dhugal clasped his hands between his knees, studying them for a long moment.  “You know, Kel, just because the fiery stake is the traditional form of execution for high treason, that doesn’t mean it’s the only option.  You’ve made an exception before.”

   Kelson looked up sharply.  “I have, but I also told Ædwige I’d show her no further mercies.”

   “And so you have.  Though I’m thinking there might be another form of execution that would be, if anything, more fitting to the lady’s crimes, not to mention that since it will remind the populace of her previous offenses, it will be less likely to generate public sympathy than seeing a woman recently delivered of child bound and burned in the public square.”

   “I’m certainly open to suggestions.”

#

   Rhemuth Castle
   April 3, 1137


   Ædwige felt numb both physically and mentally as she was led forth before the King.  She was still too weak to walk, and so she’d been carried outdoors into the upper bailey of the castle, where a small crowd of witnesses gathered.

   “Would you like to make your confession before a priest before you meet your end, m’lady?” Master Jankin the executioner asked her.  It was standard practice to make the offer.  She’d been given other opportunities to have a priest brought to her—none, of course, to visit the Chapel Royal or any other consecrated ground!—but had not availed herself of those previous opportunities, even when she’d been offered a chance to seek atonement for her sins as her first labor pangs had begun.  But this would be the final time she would be asked, so the executioner repeated the offer, just in case she was too drowsy from her sedation to understand what he had said the first time around.

   But Ædwige’s understanding was clear enough on that matter.  No, she had no need to repent of any sins, for she had committed none.  God would accept her as she was, and would certainly understand what she’d had to do, she was convinced of this now, and had no more fear of meeting death unshriven as she’d once had.  Was it just a few months before that she’d sought out Father Shandon and instead found Father Nivard?  It felt like another lifetime ago.  What a silly child she’d been to worry so!  There was nothing wrong with anything she’d ever done; the fault lay in the rest of the whole bloody messed-up world.  But God would understand.  Either that, or He wasn’t the all-knowing and good being she’d always been taught, and if He wasn’t, then Heaven wouldn’t be worth bothering about, would it?  If there even was a Heaven.  Whatever happened to her, though, and no matter where she ended up if there really was an afterlife, at least Ædwige would have one consolation:  she’d got there on her own terms.  And that’s all that really mattered in the end, wasn’t it, being free to live her own life as she wished?  This wasn’t the way she’d hoped things would turn out, but they'd never managed to control her, so in a different sort of way she’d still won.

   "I don't need a priest.  I have no guilty stains upon my conscience."  You have no conscience at all, she thought she overheard someone mutter, but she ignored him.

   A flask was brought to her.  She stared at it uncomprehendingly at first, then laughed.

   “What, you think my powers will suddenly return when the flames are burning all around me?  I’m not stupid enough to think you’re offering to put me into even more of a stupor so I won’t feel the pain!”  She’d had to concentrate to get the words out without slurring, yet she’d managed.  Another victory.

   “No, Ædwige.  This is your final choice.  You can die at the stake, as you were originally sentenced.  Or you can choose this other option.”

   She stared at the flask, then tore her gaze away to look quizzically at the King, her eyes bright with hatred.  “You said no more mercy, remember?”

   “So I did.  And I assure you, I still stand by my word.”

   She returned her attention to the flask.  “What’s in it, then?”

   “Mortweed tincture.”

   Ædwige paled, but took the flask with shaking fingers and brought it to her lips.  They couldn’t kill her.  They weren’t worthy to.  She’d take that victory from them as well.

#

   Her bitterness was all-consuming now, like an icy inferno.  No, not simply her own bitterness but the potion’s as well, the foul taste of the tincture making her grimace as it went down, the liquid burning her way into her core like a shaft of frost, then spreading out with frigid fingers to chill her entire being.

   She fell, although she didn’t feel herself do so, but her eyes, frozen open, suddenly found themselves fixed upon blue sky.  Was this how Gilrae had died?  It felt horrible, though not nearly as bad as it might have.  There was little pain to speak of, simply a growing cold numbness.

   She supposed her breathing would stop first, and then her heart, but when both continued, she grew confused.  She attempted to glance at the King, at anyone who might be able to explain what was happening to her, but her eyes remained locked on the sky.

   “It’s a older dose than the one she gave her husband, I’m afraid,” she heard a woman’s voice explain.  "The apothecary said this batch was mixed two seasons ago, and that it might take longer for it to be fully effective, but it was all he had left in stock.  He's taken to formulating less lethal poisons for use in rodent control."  Did that voice belong to Sister Therese, perhaps?  That would make sense; of all the women at the Castle, she’d know the most about poisons and dosages.

   “But it will still work?” she heard the King’s voice ask.

   “Oh yes,” the woman replied.  “Eventually.  No one survives mortweed poisoning at this concentration.  Though she may linger in this state for another few hours before the very end.  Or possibly even a day or two.  I really couldn’t say; I’m afraid I’ve got far more knowledge of curatives than of poisons.”

   Ædwige felt the cold spread completely throughout now, and even her staring eyes within their sockets felt like twin spheres of ice, though at last her vision began to dim, until the clear blue sky above paled to frost gray and then to black.  Yet through it all, as her mind seemed trapped within her frozen body, her hearing still remained.

   "Sire," she heard another voice say, this time a man's voice.  "If it should please Your Majesty, I would request a boon.  It has to do with the disposition of my late brother's widow's body and how justice might be rendered towards Eddington."

   "If your request is just and within my power, Lord Robert, I will consider it.  What is it that you wish?" she heard the King answer.

   Her brother-in-law spoke up again.  "I ask that Ædwige be entombed this very day."

   A slight pause.  "Perhaps you didn't understand what the infirmarian was telling us, but I'm afraid your former sister-in-law is not yet dead."

   "I realize that, Your Majesty.  And neither was her house guest Sister Helena when Ædwige sought to bury her alive on manorial grounds.  That murderous act and her manipulation of our steward's mind to aid her foul purposes reflected badly upon the hospitality of all our household, and it was a slight upon the family honor that I would see rectified.  I only ask that the vicious bi—that Ædwige be treated accordingly to how she treated others during her life.  I believe that is just and fair, Sire."

   Ædwige wanted to scream, but of course she could not.  Her body was no longer her own.

   A longer pause, then "Do you wish her returned to Eddington, to be buried in your family's crypt?"

   "No, my liege.  Her own blood kin may have her back, if they're willing, or she may rot—or given the circumstances, not rot—in a pauper's grave for all I care.  She might not survive the trip back to Danos.  Is there no tomb in Rhemuth where she may be safely interred at least until her soul has departed her body?"

   Another voice spoke up then.  "Her father has already stated that he'll not accept her back.  We had planned on interring her remains in Potter's Field."

   A pauper's grave, with not even a proper marker to show others where she lay?  Buried beside common beggars and the like?  Ædwige's mind struggled to protest, but her body was already still as death.

   A female voice, tinged with horror, "Your Majesty, I think Ædwige can still hear us!"

   The touch of a mind brushing hers, quickly withdrawn.  "Yes, she's still fully aware.  Sister Therese, are you absolutely certain that death is imminent?  Her soul won't be trapped in this state for more than a day or two at most?"

   "No more than that, Your Majesty.  Probably not even that much.  Perhaps no longer than poor Helena had to lie half buried, wondering if she'd survive to see the morning light."

     A longer pause.  "So be it, then.  Lord Robert, I shall grant your boon.   Master Jankin, have the grave made ready."

#

   Rhemuth Castle
   April 5, 1137

   
   "I know that you have been given great cause to resent and even hate the woman who gave this child life, Lord Robert," the King said to the regent for Eddington, "but as he is now the heir to Eddington by right of his late father's birthright, I must ask if you are certain you will be able to give him the true and loyal service due to your brother's blood-heir if I give him into your keeping as your ward?

   "I so swear, Your Majesty.  He may have been bred on that she-wolf Ædwige, but he is still Gilrae's son, and that redeems him in my eyes.  I vow by all that is holy that I will raise my nephew as if he were my own son."

   Kelson of Gwynedd Truth-Read his subject's words and found no trace of guile in them.  He glanced at the Earl of Danoc, nodding in satisfaction.  Danoc stepped forward.

   "Your Majesty…Lord Robert…if it should meet with your favor, I would be willing to take the boy into fosterage at my own Court when he is old enough, so that he might be well trained up in the duties he'll be expected to learn both as my vassal and as the future Lord of Eddington."

   The elderly regent for Eddington smiled at his lord and longtime friend.  "I believe Gilrae had intended to ask you to be the lad's godfather, Earl Aubrey.  Would you be willing to accept that responsibility as well?"

   The Earl looked away briefly, blinking away sudden tears before he answered.  "Your brother was not merely my vassal, Robert, he was a dear friend, as you well know.  I…would count it an honor to stand as godfather to his son."

#

   Rhemuth Castle—the Duke of Cassan's apartments
   April 15, 1137


   "So, now that Easter Court has come and gone, how much longer will you be in Rhemuth before you head home to Cassan?" Duncan asked his son.

   Dhugal grinned at his father over his tankard of ale.  "Why, are you tired of seeing me already?"

   Duncan laughed.  "You know I'm not!"  He cradled his youngest granddaughter Kelwynne against his shoulder, one hand stroking the downy cap of raven hair that crowned it, watching with rapt fascination as her tiny rosebud lips suckled the air even as she slept.  Helena had noticed earlier that the baby's eyes appeared to be turning even more vibrantly blue than the more grayish-blue quite commonly seen on newborns, and she suspected that Duncan's youngest grandchild had inherited his vivid McLain eyes.  As she watched, he leaned over to brush a tender kiss on the infant's petal-soft forehead and carefully handed her back to her mother.

   Across the room, his elder granddaughter Trina looked up from where she was playing with her brothers Duncan Michael and Jared. "Sing us another song, Da!"she called out.

   "Nay, I think it's someone else's turn to sing or play.  You've got your hands free now, Father; I think it's your turn, isn't it?"  Dhugal passed the gittern he'd been playing earlier, placing it within Duncan's reach.  "Sister Helena, would you pass him the quill, please?"

   Duncan picked up the stringed instrument, placing his fingers experimentally on its short neck as he accepted the plucking quill from Helena.  He glanced up at Dhugal.  "I've not handled one of these in so long, son, I'm not sure I even remember how to play one."  

   "If you've got a bone whistle, he can play that well enough," Helena offered.  "I've heard him."

   Duncan grinned.  "Only if you don't mind hearing 'The Merry Maids of Ballymar'!  It's the only song I remember how to play on it!"

   "Well, I don't have a bone whistle handy," Dhugal said, "but I can play 'The Merry Maids of Ballymar' on the gittern well enough if you want to sing along.  That should make a nice change of pace from your usual plainsong chants."  Amber eyes teased the bishop over the tankard's rim.

   "Dhugal!"  Mirjana stared at her husband, looking torn between amusement and horror.  "The children!"

   Duncan roared with laughter.  "I think not, son.  At least not until well after your weans are in their beds, and you’d probably need to get me quite in my cups first if you expect me to belt that song out in front of the ladies!"  He took a sip from the half-empty tankard beside him before shooting his daughter-in-law a teasing glance.  "And perhaps not until your wife is well enough recovered from Kelwynne's birth to deal with you again after your mind's been filled with bawdy ballads!  I wouldn't want her to kill me."

   Dhugal gave him a look of injured innocence.  "Well enough recovered?  Jesú, it's been four months already, Father; Mirjana's not that fragile!"

   "Sister Helena, would you like to see the lovely cambric and lawn I picked up at Rhemuth Market yesterday?  Come, children, let's show Sister what we found at Market, and then you can kiss your Papa Duncan goodnight and start getting ready for bed," Dhugal's young duchess said brightly, her cheeks flushing a becoming shade of rose.  Helena stifled a laugh, shooting the two men an admonishing glance as she stood to follow the younger woman out of the room, the two younger children following obediently if rather reluctantly in their wake.  Seven-year-old Duncan Michael lingered wistfully in the doorway, looking back at his father with a pleading look until a nod from Dhugal and a pat on the bench seat beside him brought a grin to the oldest boy's face and he scurried over to his sire's side, grateful not to be sent off into exile with the womenfolk.

   As the door closed behind them, Helena heard Duncan pluck out a few experimental notes on the gittern as he began to hum a lilting Border melody.

#

   “Father tells us you are planning another visit to Llannedd to visit your family during the summer break,” Mirjana said quietly as she handed baby Kelwynne and the two older siblings over to a nurse for their nightly ablutions.   “Will you be leaving as soon as the Schola term is over, or waiting until closer to the beginning of the next term?”

   Helena ran an admiring finger over the duchess’s newly purchased fabric.  “Oh, earlier, I should think!  I waited until nearly too late in the break last summer, and ended up missing the first week of lessons before my return.  Princess Rothana was gracious enough to cover those classes for me, but I should hate to presume upon the other magistri’s good will again this year, so I was thinking of leaving for Llannedd as soon as the term ends in early June.”  

   “Ah.  Then will you be staying in Llannedd the entire summer, or is it possible you will be back in Rhemuth by the early part of August?”

   “I…haven’t actually planned that far ahead yet.”  Helena tilted her head at Duchess Mirjana curiously.  “Why?”

   Dhugal’s wife gave her a shy smile.  “If you are back by then, and should like to escape the southern heat, you would be very welcome to visit us in Ballymar.  At least I think we are planning to spend August in Ballymar; we might be at Castel Dearg in Kierney instead, but in either case, the heat should be a fair bit milder there than here in Rhemuth that time of year.”

   “It would definitely be cooler up north than in Llannedd!” Helena agreed, a bit puzzled by the unexpected invitation, for while she quite liked the young Duchess of Cassan, Mirjana was still more of a friendly acquaintance than a close personal friend.  “Are you sure I wouldn’t be in the way, though?” she asked.

   “Oh no, I should welcome another woman’s company!”  Mirjana blushed slightly.  “I’ve had a few years to grow accustomed to my lord’s land and people, and I’ve made some friendships in Cassan and Kierney, but every time we visit Rhemuth, I always miss it when it comes time for us to return home.”  She shrugged.  “There are more ladies at Royal Court…at least, more here that I share common interests with, but most have their own homes to return to as well at the end of the High Court seasons.  So it would be most pleasant to have a house guest during the middle of the year, between our visits to Rhemuth.”  

   Helena nodded, gave Mirjana an empathetic smile.  “Yes.  I remember what it was like for me when I first moved to Joux.  It was easier for me to make friends at Court than after my marriage, when we returned to Gaston’s castle.  The womenfolk there were ready enough to offer me welcome, but there were only a few of them, and his lands were rather isolated.”

   “Then, you will come?”  Mirjana smiled back.  “Father is planning on visiting us around that time also.  I am sure he would enjoy showing you his boyhood haunts.”  The duchess’s gaze held hers, her lovely ice-green eyes searching Helena’s face.

   Helena fought back a blush.  Was that why Dhugal’s wife was inviting her to visit?  Did they know, or perhaps simply suspect, the depth of the bond that had grown up between her and the Duke’s father?  “I…will think on it, Your Grace, but…are you certain I shan’t be intruding on a private family occasion?  Father Duncan takes his holidays away from the Schola so very rarely, and…well, it might look rather awkward if we were to both go up to Cassan together.  Others might misconstrue.”

   Mirjana nodded, glancing back at the closed door beyond which her husband and his father sat.  The plucked strains echoing back at them, Helena suddenly recognized, were the opening notes of a love song she’d heard sung at Twelfth Night feast by a visiting troubadour.  Duncan—if that was still him playing the gittern—plucked at the notes inexpertly but competently enough, and she could barely discern the low tones of quiet singing through the thin wooden door between them.  She called her attention back to what the duchess before her was saying.  “Yes, I realize that it might cause talk if he were to invite you to travel to Cassan with him, but I am inviting you instead.  You may plan your visit for a few days earlier or later than his if you would prefer.  Though I should think he would very much enjoy it if your visits should happen to…overlap a bit.”  Mirjana gave the older woman a tentative smile.  “If you are worried about what anyone in Cassan or Kierney might think, I would of course arrange for you to have guest accommodations in a separate wing of our apartments from where Father normally stays when he is visiting.”

   “That…would definitely help,  Your Grace.”  In more ways than one! Helena thought.

#

   They walked back to the Basilica through the castle parklands together afterward, enjoying the return of relatively mild evenings and starry skies after the blustery cold and cloud-shrouded nights of winter.

   “So, did your son ever get around to telling you when he and his family are planning on heading back to Cassan?” Helena asked.

   “At the end of this week,” Duncan told her, “although they’ll be stopping for a couple of months in Transha along the way.”

   “Her Grace invited me to visit them in Cassan or Kierney at the height of the summer,” Helena told him.  “At around the same time as your visit.”   She sensed a start of surprise through the link between them.  Ah, so he hadn’t orchestrated the invitation, then!  She risked a quick glance up at him.

   “Did she now?”  Duncan looked thoughtful for a long moment, then his features broke into a sheepish grin.  “Good.”

   They continued to walk together in companionable silence, a proper distance between them yet inextricably linked soul to soul.

# # #
   
« Last Edit: May 11, 2012, 09:30:20 am by Evie »
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Jerusha

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2012, 10:18:46 am »
Such satisfying conclusions on all fronts - but I hope I never give you cause to orchestrate my death!  Ædwige deserved it, but I'm a little surprised Kelson went along with the entombment.  On the other hand, wasn't he advising you on this?   ;D

Duncan and Helena reached that state of contented companionship I was hoping for (though on a higher level than just companionship, to be sure.)  I am certainly content with your excellent story!  :)
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: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2012, 10:56:23 am »
Yeah, if Sister Therese had told Kelson, "She's likely to linger in this half-death state for weeks, months, or even years with her soul trapped between worlds," he'd have vetoed the idea in a heartbeat, because that would have been too close to what happened with his own father.  But since he had assurance from an expert that Ædwige would be well and truly dead in a couple of days at the very most, and more likely in just a few hours, he was more willing to allow the convicted poisoner and would-be burier-alive of Sister Helena a couple of doses of her own medicine, so to speak.  And yes, Kelson did advise me on much of that subplot, although Dhugal unexpectedly tossed in his tuppence, and Lord Robert...well, I wasn't too surprised to find out about the execution by poisoning, but the idea of burying her while she was still alive came out of left field for me too!   :D

And the "what are we?" conversation in that first Duncan and Helena scene is one of the very few that was pre-planned nearly from the outset.  I had a few lines of that dialogue pre-written as an end goal to aim for, although like anything else I attempt to foresee or pre-write, it got modified quite a bit before the final version.  As for the last two scenes, those kind of snuck up on me.  In fact, I was planning on continuing that last scene just a little longer, and had something in mind for what would have happened next, but as I was typing what ended up being the final line of the story, Duncan said, "No, that's a perfect way to sum us up; just end it there."  So I did.

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the story and the way things turned out.  Since I've been hammering away at this one since last August or slightly before, I think I'm going to take a breather for a little while to recharge my batteries, although I do have five chapters of a future Duncan Michael story already written (most of which was written before I even started this one, but then I realized it would be helpful to know what happened in this story first before I completed the other one!) that I intend to finish and post at some later date once I'm feeling more refreshed and ready to tackle another story.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Alkari

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2012, 10:58:10 am »
Nasty but suitable end.  Reminds me - have you seen the original Dutch version of The Vanishing?  

And good for Mirjana and her 'understanding' of matters   :)

Offline Evie

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2012, 10:59:26 am »
Nasty but suitable end.  Reminds me - have you seen the original Dutch version of The Vanishing?  

No, I haven't.  Should I look for it?  (And I assume it's subtitled, given my utter lack of Dutch?)
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Alkari

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2012, 11:02:01 am »
Yes.  Infinitely more horrifying than the US remake.      (I'm currently working on my hexes against the likely US remake of Headhunters   >:(

Offline AnnieUK

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2012, 12:37:14 pm »
I'm a little surprised at Kelson agreeing to the entombment too, but given that his original proposition was burning her at the stake, he's obviously got his ruthless ruler hat on.

Another cracking story. Enjoy your writing rest.

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2012, 02:00:21 pm »
A most satisfactory conclusion.

Offline derynifanatic64

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Re: Visionaries--Part Two--Chapter Twenty-Seven (Epilogue)
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2012, 09:50:54 pm »
An excellent ending!  FINIS!!
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!

 

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