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Author Topic: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven  (Read 7434 times)

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Offline Evie

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Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« on: September 27, 2015, 09:38:42 pm »
Previous chapter:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1581.0.html


Chapter Eleven


Early evening
En route to Eirian House
December 18, 2021


James Arilan grinned as a gleefully shrieking Heather O’Flynn catapulted herself towards him. In the front seat of Devlin’s car, Her Majesty burst into peals of laughter. He glanced up at the rearview mirror to see Devlin’s reaction to the hubbub and spied a mild wince on the priest’s illusory features. James wasn’t sure if Dev was reacting to the loud noise or to the rivulets of water trickling into his car.

“Oh dear! I’m so sorry, Father; we’ve not ruined your car, have we?” Sophia tilted her head towards their driver, looking concerned.

Dev gave her a reassuring smile as the cascade of water from the car wash finally stopped and hot air began to blow over the vehicle instead. “No harm done, Ma’am. It’s my fault; I’ve not taken this bucket of bolts through a drive-through car wash in so long, I didn’t realize it had got that leaky. I usually just get a light trickle now and again during a heavy rain.” Looking back over his shoulder at Heather, he grinned. “Are you all right? You could just roll down that window now if you need drying off.”

She stuck out her tongue at him. “You’re supposed to be the nice one!”

“Hey, I’m nice!” James protested.

“No, you’re not,” Heather teased him. “You’re a cad; we’ve already established this.” Despite her pronouncement, he noticed the Healer seemed to be in little hurry to move back to her own side of the vehicle. Then again, perhaps he shouldn’t read too much into that, it was wet, after all.

“I think there may be a box of tissues under Her Majesty’s seat,” Devlin told Heather, “if you want to mop up the worst of the mess.”

“Or you could just move completely onto my lap if you’d prefer,” James assured her. “I wouldn’t mind.”

“Thank you for offering. Such a gentleman you are,” Heather said in mock-solemnity as she reached for the box, straightening to dab at the droplets beside her with a couple of tissues before attempting to stuff the moist wad down James’ shirt. He laughed, easily fending off her attack.

“Hellion!”

“Cad!”

Sophia attempted a stern look at them but failed dismally. Glancing at Devlin, she joked, “Father, your children are misbehaving again.”

He smiled, shaking his head. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” The hot air ceased blowing, and the green light came on, signaling that the car wash cycles were complete. Devlin put the car in gear and inched forward.

“How in the world did a cad like you end up such good friends with an upstanding soul like Father Devlin?” Heather asked, half in jest but genuinely curious about their friendship as well.

James put a hand to his chest, feigning injury. “I’m upstanding! Sometimes, anyway . . . .”

“I’m sure it happens sometimes, but I actually wasn’t referring to your genitalia.”

“Heather!” Sophia stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the Healer over her shoulder before collapsing against the seat in tears of mirth at the gobsmacked expression on James’s face. Heather, suddenly remembering herself, not to mention the company she was in, looked mortified, clapping a hand belatedly over her mouth.

Devlin met her embarrassed gaze in the mirror and chuckled. “Left that filter at home this morning, did you?” Diverting the conversation back to her earlier question, he told her, “We met at boarding school. Saint Jorian’s Academy. We were both eight, I think. James was halfway up an apple tree, intending to steal some fruit.”

“And you talked him back down?” she asked, grateful to him for bringing the conversation back on track.

James began to laugh. Devlin caught his eye with a wry smile. “That’s probably what I should have done, but no. To be honest, I handed him my shirt so he could fill it up with enough for both of us. But the headmaster caught us at it, and our short lives quite nearly ended before the friendship could even begin.” He cast a sidelong look at the amused young Queen beside him. “And James has been dragging me into impossible situations ever since.”


Early evening
Patrick and Eilonwy Adams’ flat
December 18, 2021


Patrick frowned over the genetic data he was analyzing. What he thought he was seeing was impossible, or at least he could think of no logical explanation for it. Perhaps he was reading Alicia’s data incorrectly. Certainly he was no geneticist, but he had a somewhat greater understanding of her simplified transcription of the specific relevant traits of DNA coding and what it all meant than the average layman reading her report would have gleaned from it, having worked on analyzing these sorts of reports from her before. But either he had misinterpreted something, or else there was another mystery to work through quite aside from the question of which individual had been responsible for the Rhemuth Castle bombing. That question, he felt fairly certain, had been answered the moment he found Lloyd O’Malley’s name and genetic markers in the search results, at least if Maureen’s theory about the missing boy possibly being used as an inducement to force O’Malley into being an accomplice to mass murder had been correct. And even if it wasn’t, certainly Patrick could think of no other reason why a man who had been banned from the Royal Presence two years earlier had coincidentally happened to turn up at the Castle again at just the right time and day to end up dead.

That discovery should have left matters sorted nicely, but then Patrick had noticed one anomaly, and then another. Reeling from the implications of what he’d found, he picked up his phone, pulling up a number. The call rolled over to voicemail.

“Alicia, it’s Patrick. If you’re still in Rhemuth, can you pop by my flat for a bit? I don’t think I should explain over the phone, but I’m afraid it’s rather urgent.”

Returning to the spreadsheet once more, he sorted out the name and code string pairs that contained the Haldane genetic markers. There were a fair few on the list, given how many families had intermarried with the Gwyneddan Royal Family over the centuries, although how much or how little of that shared coding had been passed on to each successive generation tended to indicate if the Haldane heritage was current or at least of quite recent introduction or if it was more distant in degree. So the surprise was not that there were a fairly high number of Haldane trait carriers on Alicia’s list.

No, what Patrick found truly unsettling was that none of these Haldane descendants appeared to have been of quite recent enough descent to have been part of the current generation’s Royal House of Haldane, at least not when their identifying markers were compared to the markers filed in the Official Registry by their next most recent progenitor, Nigel III.  And that finding included, oddly enough, Her late Majesty Araxelle and the children and grandchildren who had died with her.


Early Evening
A flat near the Royal Hospital Rhemuth complex
December 18, 2021


“Oh, damn. I probably should return this call.” Alicia extricated herself from Karim’s arms as she picked up her phone from the nightstand.

“Nooo!” Karim rolled onto his back, although not entirely over to his side of the bed, she noticed. “Sweetheart, it’s the weekend, and for once we both have the same days off. Can’t we just enjoy some time together without work getting in the way?” He sat up slightly. “I assume it’s work?”

“Not exactly.  Well, I suppose it is, after a fashion; it’s Patrick Adams who’s called, and if he’s calling me after work hours after poring over the data I sent over to him, chances are he’s just stumbled upon Naughty Nigel’s little secret. No, that’s wrong--in this case it wouldn’t actually be Naughty Nigel’s after all, for once. Not completely, at any rate.” She gave Karim a consoling kiss. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Alicia!” Karim sat up fully as Alicia slid out of bed, gathering her clothing. “What are you on about?”

“A potentially muddled succession. I’ll tell you as soon as we know more, and assuming I’m allowed to. Right now I need to work out with Patrick how to do damage control if anyone else happens to notice the puzzle pieces have come up all wrong, at least until Her Majesty has a chance to weigh in on how she wants this sensitive information handled. She probably hasn’t a clue about the family secret, poor dear. The next Council meeting ought to prove quite interesting.”

“Your last Council meeting was ‘quite interesting’ as well. Please tell me you aren’t planning on meeting in the same location until your security has been upgraded.” Karim stood, looking worried as he gathered Alicia in a loving embrace.

She leaned against him briefly before pulling away. “We won’t meet there again until that’s been fixed, I promise.”


Late evening
Patrick and Eilonwy Adams’ flat
Rhemuth
December 18, 2021


“So it’s true, then? Queen Araxelle wasn’t a true Haldane?” Patrick Adams stared at his visitor in shock. He had hoped against all hope that he’d been wrong, that somehow he’d been misreading Alicia’s data all along.

“She was not.” Glancing at Eilonwy and Jen, who had been invited to join them in the discussion after they’d revealed their discovery to Patrick about the late Queen’s apparent lack of Haldane Empowerment, Alicia added, “And that is why the power assumption ritual failed to work in her case.  She did have a bit of Deryni talent of her own, and there were a few Haldanes in her family tree, on both the maternal and paternal sides, but nothing more recent than at least the best part of a century back, and not through the unbroken male line. She was definitely not Nigel III’s biological daughter.”

"Nigel was known to be a philanderer, but I’d never have guessed about Sybilla having had an affair, much less having a child from one," Patrick said. "I wonder if Nigel ever knew Araxelle wasn’t his?”

Alicia shrugged. “He may not have known--my guess is that he probably didn’t, unless he happened to double-check his daughter’s Registry data, and even then he probably wouldn’t have had a clue what he was looking at. Most people wouldn’t, and the technology was still in its infancy when Araxelle was originally Registered.  In any case, Prince Dolan was their heir and fully expected to become the next King, so it might have seemed more of a moot point at the time.”

Eilonwy glanced at Jen, then back at Alicia. “But that means if Her late Majesty wasn’t a Haldane, then none of her children were either.  And that means . . . .” Her eyes shimmered with tears. “Does Sophia know?”

Alicia leaned back in her chair. “Ah, now that’s the really interesting bit!  After I ran that report and noticed the . . . shall we call them anomalies? . . . I went ahead and pulled up Her Majesty’s Registry info to compare with the other results.  And unlikely as it might seem, Sophia actually is a Haldane.  She’s just not Nigel’s granddaughter.”

Patrick looked baffled. “So Araxelle had an affair with another Haldane? I suppose you must mean the late Duke of Corwyn, but I didn’t think--”

“Oh, no, wrong line of descent! She’s of Nigel’s line, definitely, she’s just not his granddaughter. She’s his daughter.”

Eilonwy looked decidedly ill.  “Oh, dear God!”

“And not by Araxelle, so not quite as bad as your mind has evidently leapt to--I know mine went there until I examined Her Majesty’s full genome more closely!  Whatever flaws Nigel had, at least he wasn’t that depraved, especially if he truly did believe that Araxelle was his own daughter.  No, Sophia is a Haldane through Nigel, but not through Araxelle. Which means that Araxelle was definitely in on the family secret, since she consented to pass Sophia off as her own child.  Which also means that if Her Majesty is not already aware of any of this, she should definitely be told, and as soon as possible. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes if somehow the Royal Family Secret gets out and she’s had absolutely no warning. Patrick, I trust you won’t be sharing any of this with the Chief aside from giving him the primary suspect that he’s looking for?”

“No worries there! I don’t feel a pressing need to give him any genuine fodder for his Deryni conspiracy theories. Handing over O’Malley’s name ought to be enough. And I don’t think you need worry about him stumbling onto the royal secret on his own; the man couldn’t find his own backside in the dark. How he ended up as Chief of A-T, I have no clue.”

“Nepotism.” Alicia gave a disgusted snort. “That and I’m told he made a competent enough DI at one time, before his wife left him for a Deryni and he went completely off the deep end. Though I’ve yet to be fully convinced he was ever all that competent to start off with.” Looking at Eilonwy and Jen, she added, “I know it’s a lot to absorb, and it won’t be an easy thing to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Lady Maureen has mentioned to me that the two of you used to be quite close to the Queen when you were all at university. Do you think, once you’ve been granted an audience with her, that you could find a way to break the news gently? Maureen told me you’re likely to be contacted once she’s safely installed at Eirian House, and I think this is the sort of thing that would be best to hear from a friend rather than a near stranger. It’s absolutely vital that she know as soon as possible, and preferably before she’s Empowered. The truth of her parentage would affect the royal succession, you see; as things stand presently, as the nearest legitimate heir to the House of Haldane through a male line, Morgan Haldane is now the rightful King of Gwynedd.”


Morning, Camberian Time
(Late Evening, RST)
Atherton Palace
St. Michael’s Province, Camberia
December 19, 2021 (Dec. 18 in Gwynedd)


“What do you think you are playing at now, Malcolm?” Aubrey Ivan Reginald Atherton-Haldane, King of Camberia, asked his younger brother. Not that Malcolm was all that much younger--about twenty minutes younger or thereabouts.

“Why, what I’ve always done, my prince--looking out for our best interests. Surely you cannot be objecting to broadening our power base? Expanding our influence?” Mal flashed a charming grin. “Perhaps even conquering new territory . . . or perhaps I ought to say reclaiming lost ones?”

“Without consulting me first?” Aubrey’s glare was filled with ominous warning, but Malcolm wasn’t too concerned. He’d taken his brother’s measure long before. Aubrey might be angry with him at the moment, but he was far too weak and sentimental to do away with his twin brother even for so grave an oversight. It was a weakness inherited from their forebear King Reginald Haldane, he supposed. Old Reggie had disowned and exiled his own dearly beloved firstborn son and that heir’s followers here to this god-forsaken continent halfway around the world after Prince Halbert had grown tired of waiting for his rightful due and had tried to depose the old King in a palace coup. Who’d have guessed that a ruler with one foot in the grave could have won the day against Halbert and his supporters, yet somehow he had--partly with the help of some busybodies styling themselves the Camberian Council, it had turned out, and partly through sheer dumb luck. But Reggie, like his latter day descendant Aubrey, had been a sentimental old fool. He had commuted Halbert’s and his followers’ death sentence for high treason, exiling them instead to the newly-discovered land those dispossessed lords and their ladies later named Camberia, because he couldn’t bear to put his own flesh and blood to the sword nor leave Halbert stranded on some distant shore to fend for himself without allies. So he’d given Halbert what that prince had wished for--a kingdom of his own, albeit not the one he had hoped to rule.  That had been bloody stupid of him, not that Malcolm was exactly complaining, given that he owed his very existence to Reginald’s soft heart and softer head. Had he been Old King Reginald, though, he’d have lopped off Halbert’s head without a second thought.

Malcolm shrugged. “I thought you’d be pleased, brother. If this works out, Gwynedd will be yours for the taking, and if it doesn’t, then at least we’ll have left that Kingdom weakened and destabilized, ripe for plucking at some later date.”

Aubrey seemed less than convinced. “And if it doesn’t, if the surviving Haldanes and their government manage to track your activities back to you and come to believe that you are acting on my command, you will have embroiled us in a war with Gwynedd, and just when I was on the verge of brokering a treaty with our natty little cousins. Have you thought about that?”

Malcolm picked up his mug of kofi, using his Deryni senses to cautiously probe it for any traces of poison before taking a sip. While he was certain Aubrey would not poison him, he couldn’t say the same of others at the Royal Court. “Thought about it? Certainly. But when have we not been at war against Gwynedd? The only difference is that for once it would actually be declared.” Personally, he’d nearly forgotten about the late Prince of Meara’s planned Christmas visit to Camberia and the new era of accord between the Haldane Kingdoms that summit had been meant to usher in.  Not that any such accord would have lasted, at any rate. It didn’t fit in with Malcolm’s own plans, which had been decades in the making.

“The other difference, you dolt, is that they might decide to lob a few warheads in our general direction and finish off what King Reginald left undone!”

“Well, that would be why I’ve destabilized their Kingdom for you in preparation for administering the coup de grace--which is in the works, by the way. I doubt they’ll be able to declare war until they get a new government sorted, which is apt to take a little time . . . time that they don’t have.”

“Time that they don’t have, why?”

Malcolm smiled. “Come, brother, the more you can plausibly deny, the better off you are, eh?”

Aubrey studied him for a long moment. “And what do you want from this? As much as I would love to think you are simply looking out for my best interests out of fraternal loyalty, I know you far too well.”

Malcolm laughed. “Well, really, isn’t it obvious?  You’ll be King over two kingdoms soon. You wouldn’t want to be too overextended, so you’ll need a viceroy for one, I’m sure.”

“And you’ll gladly move to Gwynedd, is that what you’re saying?”

“You’d have me out of your hair.”

“Hm.  Well, there is that.” Aubrey considered the matter. “You know, if you get caught at your little game, I shall have to publicly denounce you. You would end up disinherited, should that happen, so fair warning.”

“I won’t get caught. I’ve set up a human supremacist group to take the fall. Poor Araxelle and her brood got taken out by anti-Deryni terrorists; it’s in all the papers. You should read all the speculation in the news reports and hear the rumors gone rampant on the airwaves. Such a delightful spectacle. I’m half inclined to believe it all myself.”

Aubrey steepled his fingers, tapping them against his chin as he contemplated his brother’s unseemly glee. “Really, Mal, hasn’t your little vendetta against Cousin Nigel gone on long enough? The man’s been dead for two decades now, you must realize. Don’t you think blowing up all the little Haldanes was a bit harsh? And Araxelle was your darling Sybilla’s child, after all, or had you forgotten?”

“I hadn’t forgotten.” Malcolm’s voice went harsh. “Sybilla’s long dead; what’s done can’t harm her now. And as for Araxelle, she was Nigel’s spawn.”

“Are you absolutely sure? Think of the timing, dear brother.” Aubrey gave his younger twin a glacial smile. “Are you quite certain Araxelle wasn’t yours? Oh dear, I hope not! All my poor little grandnieces and grandnephews turned into pink mist and blown away . . . Poof!” He waved airily, amused by his own wit.

Malcolm felt a qualm of momentary doubt, swiftly quashed. He could not allow Aubrey to see even a fleeting moment of weakness. The King of Camberia might not be the more ruthless of the two brothers, but he could be predatory nonetheless.


Late night
The O’Malley residence
A suburb of Marbury
December 18, 2021



The Camberian agent scouted the grounds of the O’Malley family residence, looking for some item belonging to the young Deryni boy his master sought. Why it mattered whether a Gwyneddan boy lived or died, he had no idea, but knowing His Grace, it was likely he thought the little lad might turn out useful somehow.  Certainly a mind so young could easily be shaped into a useful tool; perhaps his master was looking at the long-range possibilities.  It was none of his business, at any rate. He just needed to keep his mind on the job at hand.

There were no toys left out of doors, no bicycle left to turn icy in the frigid weather. Damn Marley and its climate; he’d much rather have been sunning himself on a Camberian beach right this minute enjoying the midday heat than spend it poking about in the dark in godforsaken Northeastern Gwynedd with the winter wind howling around him!

Right, then.  If there was nothing outside belonging to the child, he would need to get inside. Fortunately the home appeared to be empty.  The boy’s mother, it seemed, had a night job. He had discovered this the hard way, by loitering around the neighborhood all afternoon waiting for the bitch to leave. It had certainly taken her long enough--he’d begun to fear she’d had the entire day off--but she had finally left the premises just an hour earlier.

Once this job was over, he was going to find a nice toasty chalet, preferably one with a hot tub.  Pulling his tool kit from his coat pocket, he worked his way to the rear garden and began to pick the back door lock.


Just after noon, Camberian Time (Just after midnight, RST)
Malcolm’s home in Jorian Heights
St. Michael’s Province, Camberia
December 19, 2021

Where is she? Alisandra should have reported in by now,
Malcolm Atherton-Haldane thought to himself as he paced the length of the warded balcony outside his windowed great hall. His phone vibrated in his back pocket and he yanked it out, hoping it was her check-in call, but it was just a task reminder he had set on his calendar.

Had it not been for the vast distances between Camberia and Gwynedd, he’d have been tempted to show up in Concaradine to check on her personally, but alas, Gwynedd was too far distance for even the greatest of Transfer Portal jumps to be made directly to even its closest border from his island kingdom. The energy cost would simply not be survivable, and even if he were to drain the energies of several others in the attempt, he would likely only end up eternally stranded in t-space for his effort.  Otherwise, of course, the first generation of Camberians would simply have popped right back home after their enforced exile.  Halbert could have just waited until his father’s household was asleep, re-entered Rhemuth through his home Portal, and killed them all in their beds. Wouldn’t that have been amusing?

He took a deep breath, summoning up patience. Doubtless she was just trying to make her way back home as discreetly as possible, avoiding the Gwyneddan Public Portal network with its reliance on that hellspawned Registry the Gwyneddan government insisted on imposing on its subjects. When her Caroline Whitfield persona was dominant, she was able to access the public network, being a Registered and naturalized Gwyneddan subject, but the Alisandra persona could not. Fortunately, Alisandra knew the signatures of a surprising number of private Portals which had no such restrictions--Malcolm’s shadow agents in Gwynedd had seen to that--but unlike those sleepers, she was far more valuable to him. He had invested a great deal of time and effort into her creation, and he wanted his asset back. He needed to know what was happening on the ground there.  Too much was hanging in the balance.

Besides, he missed her. She was amusing in bed. And it had been far too long since he’d been able to call her away from Whitfield’s side to return to Camberia on one of her “business trips.”

He felt sure that her mission to eliminate the Camberian Council had almost certainly succeeded, but it was hardly the sort of thing that would turn up in the noonday news. Clandestine attacks on top-secret facilities hidden by protective wards from all the world so very rarely did.  However, that business should have been sorted hours earlier.

He would wait one more hour. If she hadn’t checked in by then, he would awaken another sleeper to make discreet inquiries.


Just before midnight, RST
Eirian House
Chaplain’s suite
December 18, 2021


He didn’t belong here, Father Devlin felt, looking around the tastefully luxurious furnishings of the small suite that had once been inhabited by his predecessor in the Haldane Court, at least during the warmer months when the Haldanes had traditionally left Rhemuth Castle for their summer house. Predecessor seemed a particularly apt descriptor, unfortunately; Her late Majesty’s Chaplain Royal had been among the fatalities in the Rhemuth Castle attack. Fortunately few if any of the late chaplain’s personal belongings remained in these rooms, having been gathered and boxed to return to his grieving family prior to Devlin’s arrival, but it felt awkward nonetheless to be assigned to rooms so recently belonging to the departed. The suite was located adjacent to the Royal Chapel, however, so he could understand why it had been designated for his use for the duration of his secondment.

Eirian House had a greatly reduced staff during the winter months, yet that staff had rallied valiantly in the past few days to convert the fortified summer palace into a makeshift fortress, if not in actual stonework, then in the impressive level of magical protections (both defensive and offensive) and vigilant, heavily armed guards quickly mustered to aid in the Queen’s defense. Presiding over these efforts had been the Earl of Culdi, Her Majesty’s Lord Chamberlain, nearing his retirement years now, yet seemingly indefatigable.

Her Majesty and the Lord Chamberlain might have thought it a small, makeshift household. Devlin felt like he’d managed to get caught up in some smaller nation’s entire army! He had always thought Tre-Arilan quite grand, but he was convinced now that the whole of Tre-Arilan would fit quite comfortably within the wing of the summer palace that had been quickly made ready for the new arrivals. Fortunately, after the initial orientation, he had been left alone to settle in while HM was whisked off to give the changes in her home’s defenses a closer inspection and Heather had disappeared with James to God alone knew where.  ‘Giving her the private tour,’ James had informed him over one shoulder as they departed. Devlin certainly hoped that was the literal truth and not just his overly ardent friend’s idea of a euphemism.

Devlin finished towelling his hair dry and replaced the towel on its heated rack. A robe lay neatly folded nearby. He shrugged into it before exiting the bathroom. During his shower, a valet had unpacked his small suitcase for him, leaving it next to a chest of drawers near the foot of his bed. Clean underwear and his favorite sleep pants were laid out atop the bedspread, the top edge of which was folded down to reveal crisp sheets embroidered with the Haldane heraldic badge. A lump under the blankets at the other end assured him that a hot water bottle was quite likely tucked underneath the covers to warm his feet.

Exchanging the robe for the other clothing, he padded barefoot across an Eastern-style carpet of hand-knotted silk over to the prie-dieu and knelt to pray.


Just after midnight, RST
Eirian House
Chaplain’s suite
December 19, 2021


The pain was worst at night. During the day, there had been other things to keep Sophia’s mind off her grief--the plans for her move to Eirian House, instructions given to her Lord Chamberlain for contacting key personnel for her first formal Privy Council meeting once she was securely established there, inspecting the new palace defenses, and other necessary tasks, all of which kept her thoughts fully occupied. And then there had been the drive from Tre-Arilan to Eirian House and the fun of traveling incognito. Just the thought of the lively banter between her fellow passengers briefly brought a smile back to her face. There was some healing effect to laughter, she was certain.

But at night, when all was quiet and she was alone and allowed to be herself again rather than The Queen, the pain of loss came flooding back.

She couldn’t sleep. The very sight of her familiar suite had brought back a flood of memories. Hiding with Stefanie under the bed and stifling giggles as their nanny tried to find them. (Looking back, she imagined Nanny Bolton must not have been trying very hard, as she was certain she and Stef had been quite audible). Smuggling the dog in at night and trying to hide him from Mother. Then there was that time when Kelric had used his pocket knife to carve into an ancient wooden bench, “King Ifor’s little royal bum sat here.” Kelric’s little royal bum had been quite sore once Father discovered this defacement of a priceless heirloom, and the bench soon acquired a set of comfortable seat cushions to conceal the damage.

So she had sought refuge elsewhere, her steps eventually taking her towards the Chapel Royal. It was silent, dark except for the Presence Lamp, and she entered to light a candle for her family and pray for a few minutes at the prie-dieu. She found some consolation in the act, though her spirit was still restless afterwards. She ought to head back to her room, she knew. The coming day would be a busy one as well; she ought to get her rest while she could. But knowing that didn’t make actually doing so any easier.

As she entered the corridor, she saw there was a sliver of light underneath the chaplain’s door. On a sudden impulse, she knocked. There was a faint sound from inside, and after a few moments the door opened and the priest within looked quizzically down at her. “Your Majesty! Is everything all right?”

No, everything was not all right, Sophia realized once her mind finally managed to form a rational thought. She chided herself for giving in to her momentary whim. She had turned up in hopes of seeking solace and some sort of answers from a clergyman, not from this robed, appealingly clean-smelling man with . . . with bare skin where his shirt ought to be! She wasn’t quite sure where it might be safe to look, so she kept her gaze glued fixedly at eye level, which left her staring at his Adam’s apple.

“You’re not wearing your collar!” she blurted. It had been the first response to pop into her head, though once the words were out she wished she could sink through the floor with embarrassment. Father Devlin looked surprised, his hand instinctively moving towards his bare throat, then as she dared to look upwards toward his face, he grinned. That grin did not help Sophia’s equilibrium. Why couldn’t Lord Arilan have found her an old or ugly priest?

“I don’t usually wear it to bed, Ma’am,” he replied. “But if you will give me half a minute, I’ll go change.”

No, no, don’t bother, I was just leaving is what she meant to say, but somehow it came out as a squeaked “Usually?”

He gave her an uncertain look as she hoped to melt into the floor, the grin becoming an odd expression that she interpreted as the attempt to swallow down a laugh. “Well, there have been times when I’ve fallen asleep over a book, but other than that, it’s not my usual habit to wear my dog collar when I’m planning to sleep.” He shook his head, his amusement reaching his eyes now. “Is there something that I can do for you, Ma’am?” he prompted gently.

Lord have mercy, yes! she thought even as she took an involuntary self-protective step back from the doorway. She did not need to be thinking those types of thoughts about this particular man! Sweet Saint Camber, where was her mind tonight?  Was Lord Arilan’s libido somehow catching?  “I think . . . I’d better just go. It was nice to see you.  Father.” She took another step back, willing herself not to literally flee back down the hallway for fear he might think she’d gone utterly mental under the strain of the past few days.

She must have looked like a madwoman, for the grin faded into a look of concern. He glanced meaningfully towards the Chapel Royal, then back at her. “Give me two minutes,” he said, stepping back into his room. The door closed softly between them. She retreated to the chapel, sinking onto the nearest pew before bursting into tears.


Just after midnight, RST
Eirian House
The Chapel Royal
December 19, 2021


If there had been a lecture during his seminary studies on how to deal with distraught queens while underdressed and barefoot, Devlin certainly couldn’t remember it. He searched the room for the shirt he had worn earlier in the day, but it wasn’t where he had left it; perhaps the overly zealous valet had taken it off to be laundered. A quick inspection of the armoire in the corner revealed a spare shirt and trousers. He dressed swiftly, grabbing his collar off the nightstand and affixing it in place before heading towards the door. Would he need his stole? The possibility stopped him in his tracks, and he turned to rummage through armoire and chest of drawers until he found the travel kit he normally kept in his car. Pocketing the small stole kept folded neatly within, he headed down the hall towards the chapel.

He entered it to find the Queen wiping away tears from her cheeks, attempting to gather her tattered composure. He gave her another moment before stepping forward. As his shadow fell across her, she looked up, moving over silently in the pew to make room for him. He sat.

They sat in silence for a long moment before he ventured, “Rough day?”

She gave a watery laugh. “Rough day, rough night.  Oh God, I can’t do this!”

He nodded, waiting for a moment for her to clarify, but she didn’t. “What is it that you think you can’t do?”

“I can’t be . . .her!”

He pondered that statement. “You’re worried that you won’t be able to live up to your mother’s legacy?” Privately he thought that wouldn’t be so high of a goal--Nigel III, for all his glaring moral flaws, had been a more effective monarch--but that was hardly an opinion to share with a grieving daughter.

The young queen shook her head. “No, it’s not that.” She stared blankly towards the altar. “I don’t think I can live up to what everyone is going to expect of me. I was never meant to be Queen.” She traced the woodgrain of the pew back in front of them with a finger, keeping her thoughts to herself as he waited, although he could tell she was fairly bursting with them. At last she asked, “Have you ever had to do something that you felt sure was going to be impossible?”

It was his turn to sit in contemplative silence before answering.  “Yes.” The circumstances that had come to mind were deeply personal. He wondered if she meant to ask about them, and how much he would end up sharing with her if she did.  He had come a long way in healing from his wife’s death, but there were still some hurts he had never shared with another.  God, help me to know what she needs to hear.

“What was it, Father?”

He studied his clasped hands briefly before responding. “I lost my wife and unborn child several years back. For a while afterwards, I just felt like giving up on everything.  The mission, my ministry . . . even my life at times. It all just seemed so hopeless during those first, darkest days.” He thought about that time of intense grief before turning to her with a wry smile. “It was a very rough patch in my life, but not quite as impossible as it seemed at the time. The mission is thriving now, I’m still in ministry, and . . . well, obviously I’m still here.”

She laughed quietly. “I’m glad for that, especially the last part.” Turning to look more directly at him, she asked, “How did you get through the roughest parts? Especially at night?”

He thought back. “Don’t try to think too much about the long view, at least at first. Just take each day as it comes. Eventually you’ll be able to think more about the future again, but sometimes even thinking beyond the moment can feel overwhelming at first, so just do the next right thing. Or if you’re not sure what that is, at least do the next necessary thing. And pray, even if you don’t feel like it.” He considered that advice briefly, then chuckled as he added, “No, I probably ought to say pray especially when you don’t feel like it.” He gave her a sympathetic smile. “You’re having trouble sleeping again, I take it?”

She nodded. “My suite is so full of memories. I think maybe I should ask to be moved to different rooms, at least at present.”

“That could definitely help. I have a two room flat back at the mission--three if you count the loo. My housekeeper arrived at work some mornings to find me sleeping downstairs in my office chair. At least here you have more comfortable options.”

She smiled. “Let’s hope!”

“Is Healer O’Flynn’s room someplace close to yours?”

“I believe so, yes. Why?”

He laughed, looking around the Chapel Royal. “We Deryni know a spell that should help you fall asleep immediately, but it might be best if you get Heather to use it on you, unless you’re really desperate to fall asleep on a hard wooden pew. I wouldn’t recommend it, personally, having done that also.”


Just after noon, Camberian Time (Just after midnight, RST)
Malcolm’s home in Jorian Heights
St. Michael’s Province, Camberia
December 19, 2021


The phone rang. Malcolm snatched it up, stabbing at the Answer Call icon with his thumb. “Hello?”

The caller was not the person whose voice he had hoped to hear. “Your Grace, there has been a slight setback.”

He did not need rapport or even the use of Deryni powers to sense the strain communicated across the phone line. “What sort of setback?” he asked, his voice grim. “Is the boy dead?”

“Ah . . . no, Your Grace. At least, I couldn’t really say. I’m afraid I’ve not managed to find him yet.” At the ominous silence that greeted this admission, the caller rapidly added, “But I will! I just need a tiny bit of help with one small matter first, my lord.”

A longer pause. Let the minion sweat a bit. Malcolm took a deep breath, then another, before replying. “What sort of small matter?”

“I . . . ah . . .seem to have a police officer on my trail. He caught sight of me as I was attempting to enter the O’Malley home, and now I’m afraid I’m having a spot of trouble shaking him loose.” Malcolm heard what sounded like the sound of snapping twigs, followed by a dog barking loudly.

“Did you at least manage to get your hands on something belonging to the boy?” he asked.

“Not yet, Your Grace.” The voice was a frantic whisper now. “I know you said I ought to keep a low profile whilst here in Gwynedd, but if I might use my powers just this once . . . ?”

Incompetent fool.  “I have a better idea. Do you see that bright blue icon at the upper right side of your phone screen?  Press it.”  Malcolm closed his eyes, imagining the scene at the other end of the phone connection. The line went dead . . . .


Just after midnight, RST
A few blocks south of the O’Malley residence
A suburb of Marbury
December 19, 2021


The police officer held his flashlight in his left hand as he used that wrist to brace the pistol he held in his right. “Freeze!” he shouted. There was no answer, although he could see the man lying on the ground beneath a row of frost-covered shrubs.  “Keep your hands where I can see them!” he demanded as he moved closer.

Drawing nearer to the prone figure, he could hear a quiet, high-pitched whine.  Looking for the source of the sound, he spotted a mobile phone lying on the ground just beyond the burglar’s outstretched fingers. As he watched, the phone spontaneously combusted.

Keeping a wary eye on the flaming device, he circled around in the opposite direction, his gun still trained on the burglar. The man lay completely still, although now that he could see him from a different angle, something else seemed odd. The man’s features were contorted in a rictus of pain, and blood appeared to be trickling from his ears and nostrils.

The officer had a very bad feeling about the whole scene. He took one instinctive step back and then another, tucking the flashlight under his arm so he could reach for his radio to call for backup. Before he could press the call button, something that had been deeply buried within the burglar’s body exploded, releasing a small but deadly cloud of flying razor-sharp fragments of jerramán crystal mingled with splintered bone. The sound of his dog’s frantic barking was the last thing the officer’s mind registered before his soul exited this world.




Next chapter:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1589.0.html
« Last Edit: October 02, 2015, 10:16:20 pm by Evie »
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Offline Laurna

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2015, 12:09:03 am »
Malcolm Atherton-Haldane, younger twin brother to Aubrey Ivan Reginald Atherton-Haldane, King of Camberia, is a purely evil man! I am sure he has plans to do in his brother after all the other Haldane's are gone. How does he think the Gwyneddians well take him as their King.  Yikes!  :o And Araxelle might have been his daughter? Double Yikes!  :o  :o

You know you just made the royal family a genealogist's nightmare!  ( I love it, I can not wait to truly figure this all out. ;D )

As for the drive through burgers followed by the drive through car wash... LOL  All I can say is, I hope they had cash and no one had to pay with a credit card. 

Offline Shiral

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2015, 01:15:01 am »
Well, you sure got my attention with this one! Really wondering who Sophia's real mother was. And for that matter, if she and Stephanie truly WERE sisters, or if Araxelle had to stomach TWO non-daughters. And what about Morgan Haldane being the actual rightful next king....???

It clearly does not serve to be the incompetent servant of Malcolm. Sounds like a terribly painful way to go.

Melissa
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Offline NavaWazr

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2015, 01:32:32 am »
And I thought the previous chapters were packed... you've really written a tight story here. Love the car wash, wonderful way to include some modern humor and give that set of characters some badly needed laughter. I was glad to Sophia feeling more; was concerned earlier that she was still in shock. She has to get herself together with Malevolent Malcolm around. Speaking of whom, we finally start to see the bigger plot and possibilities of drivers. Who was Nigel really? Who was Araxelle really? Did Nigel know Sophia was his daughter? How will all this affect the power rituals? How will the new Morgan (sorry, I always think of THE Morgan as Morgan) fit into this puzzle that keeps getting more complex each time we get more clues?

The poor policeman. Did the dog survive? Malevolent Malcolm is most malicious.

(Nava Wazr is now hiding in a closet in Carbury's well-protected suite ...)
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 Demercia

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2015, 02:06:51 am »
Well, that is a bit to think about on a Monday morning!
The light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Offline drakensis

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2015, 03:02:17 am »
And all becomes clear, except not.

What a tangled skein.

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2015, 07:50:12 am »
Malevolent Malcolm is most malicious.

Nice use of apt alliteration's artful aid.

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2015, 10:22:32 am »
OK, I confess - for a moment I thought they were going through the car wash because Queen Sophie had spilled her Gold Lion milkshake in Father Devlin's car and this would be the fastest way to clean it up.  Silly me!  ::)

Evie, this is a fascinating chapter.  The story could unfold in so many different ways - I won't speculate; I'll just enjoy the adventure.

I never want to work for Malcolm - no security in employment there, and the retirement package is awful.  At least he did twinge at the possibility that he had caused the demise of his own daughter. 

I'm anxious to see how Sophie reacts when she learns the truth.
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 revanne

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2015, 10:55:22 am »
How will the new Morgan (sorry, I always think of THE Morgan as Morgan) fit into this puzzle that keeps getting more complex each time we get more clues?

The two Morgans, though separated by almost a millennium, are so linked in my head that I keep expecting the new Morgan to pull a sharp metal implement from his boot or his sleeve.
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
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As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    let the wicked perish before God.
(Psalm 68 vv1-2)

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2015, 11:19:57 am »

The two Morgans, though separated by almost a millennium, are so linked in my head that I keep expecting the new Morgan to pull a sharp metal implement from his boot or his sleeve.

He might yet.

Offline Laurna

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2015, 12:04:36 pm »

The two Morgans, though separated by almost a millennium, are so linked in my head that I keep expecting the new Morgan to pull a sharp metal implement from his boot or his sleeve.

He might yet.

I heartily agree. If the new Morgan is so like his namesake, I  think he would NOT relish the idea of being King. I think he will do everything he can to make sure he backs his Queen and help keep her on the thrown. It does squash my idea that he could marry Sophia, as now they are even closer cousins than they had been before. Darn that!  It is all good, Dev has her majesty's attention anyway. I am actually holding out for Jen and Morgan though I do not think they have even meet yet.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2015, 12:09:00 pm by Laurna »

Offline Elkhound

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2015, 12:19:18 pm »
I'm from West Virginia; marrying cousins is what we do.  (Sorry, I needed to say it before anyone else did.)

Offline Evie

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2015, 02:04:23 pm »
Malcolm Atherton-Haldane, younger twin brother to Aubrey Ivan Reginald Atherton-Haldane, King of Camberia, is a purely evil man! I am sure he has plans to do in his brother after all the other Haldane's are gone. How does he think the Gwyneddians well take him as their King.  Yikes!  :o And Araxelle might have been his daughter? Double Yikes!  :o  :o

You know you just made the royal family a genealogist's nightmare!  ( I love it, I can not wait to truly figure this all out. ;D )

As for the drive through burgers followed by the drive through car wash... LOL  All I can say is, I hope they had cash and no one had to pay with a credit card.

To be fair, I think Araxelle would have been equally horrified by that thought!

You should have seen my face when you first asked me for a modern Haldane and Morgan genealogy, LOL!  At least now I can share what I have without spoilers.  Or can I?  *takes quick peek at chart*  No, sorry, not quite yet. But soon.   ;D

And no worries, I'm quite certain that Sophia didn't whip out her Gwyneddan Express card to pay for those burgers!

Well, you sure got my attention with this one! Really wondering who Sophia's real mother was. And for that matter, if she and Stephanie truly WERE sisters, or if Araxelle had to stomach TWO non-daughters. And what about Morgan Haldane being the actual rightful next king....???

It clearly does not serve to be the incompetent servant of Malcolm. Sounds like a terribly painful way to go.

The convoluted family history will unfold in upcoming chapters, so those questions should be answered soon enough.

And yes, Malcolm may not be the best boss to have . . . .  ;)

And I thought the previous chapters were packed... you've really written a tight story here. Love the car wash, wonderful way to include some modern humor and give that set of characters some badly needed laughter. I was glad to Sophia feeling more; was concerned earlier that she was still in shock. She has to get herself together with Malevolent Malcolm around. Speaking of whom, we finally start to see the bigger plot and possibilities of drivers. Who was Nigel really? Who was Araxelle really? Did Nigel know Sophia was his daughter? How will all this affect the power rituals? How will the new Morgan (sorry, I always think of THE Morgan as Morgan) fit into this puzzle that keeps getting more complex each time we get more clues?

The poor policeman. Did the dog survive? Malevolent Malcolm is most malicious.

(Nava Wazr is now hiding in a closet in Carbury's well-protected suite ...)

So many questions!  Well, I'll pick out one of them to answer, but you'll need to wait for the rest.  Yes, the dog survived. I'm not entirely heartless. ;D

Well, that is a bit to think about on a Monday morning!

Wouldn't want your mind getting rusty while you're on holiday.

And all becomes clear, except not.

What a tangled skein.

Odd, that's exactly how I felt when I got to this part of the story!  For one thing, I didn't start off knowing Araxelle wasn't Nigel's child, or that Sophia is.  You know how characters sometimes hijack the story and run a different direction with it?  Well, that happened to me starting with the scene in which Jen and Eilonwy discovered Araxelle had never been properly Empowered, which at least partially answered one question for me ("Why was the late Queen so reluctant to use her powers?"), but raised totally new ones ("Why couldn't she be Empowered?" and "Was there some reason why the regalia has evidently been missing for all these years?") And as I pondered the implications and wondered if I'd need to go back and rewrite something to make Araxelle's motivations make more sense, several puzzle pieces clicked together in my brain, and I finally realized what the full backstory was.  Knowing that gave me an even clearer vision of where the rest of the story was going, and it practically wrote itself from this point out.  But this middle bit was the hardest, I think, since up until this point I knew how the story began and had a vague sense of where it was going, but didn't know enough of the background to know what direction it had to take to get there.

Malevolent Malcolm is most malicious.

Nice use of apt alliteration's artful aid.

I feel like I'm at an Anglo-Saxon poetry festival!  ;)

OK, I confess - for a moment I thought they were going through the car wash because Queen Sophie had spilled her Gold Lion milkshake in Father Devlin's car and this would be the fastest way to clean it up.  Silly me!  ::)

Evie, this is a fascinating chapter.  The story could unfold in so many different ways - I won't speculate; I'll just enjoy the adventure.

I never want to work for Malcolm - no security in employment there, and the retirement package is awful.  At least he did twinge at the possibility that he had caused the demise of his own daughter. 

I'm anxious to see how Sophie reacts when she learns the truth.

Yeah, that could be interesting.   ;D   
* Evie hums to herself softly


The two Morgans, though separated by almost a millennium, are so linked in my head that I keep expecting the new Morgan to pull a sharp metal implement from his boot or his sleeve.

He might yet.

I heartily agree. If the new Morgan is so like his namesake, I  think he would NOT relish the idea of being King. I think he will do everything he can to make sure he backs his Queen and help keep her on the thrown. It does squash my idea that he could marry Sophia, as now they are even closer cousins than they had been before. Darn that!  It is all good, Dev has her majesty's attention anyway. I am actually holding out for Jen and Morgan though I do not think they have even meet yet.

I can give you a partial genealogy at this point.  Sophia's great-grandfather is Morgan's great-great-grandfather.  So they are less closely related than Kelson and Araxie were, IIRC.  Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean either would be that amenable to a match between them, given the level of emotional closeness between Araxelle's children (including Sophia, since we can consider her as adopted into that generation of the family) and young Morgan Haldane.  They would consider each other almost more as siblings rather than distant cousins. As for Morgan's feelings when he learns of his place in the true succession, you will discover how much the current Morgan is like (or not) to his Kelsonian-era ancestor very soon.

Jen and Morgan, now there's an interesting idea for a match!  As it happens, they meet in the next chapter. At least I'm pretty sure it's the next chapter. Very soon, at any rate.  And yes, Devlin definitely has Sophia's attention, at least at the moment.  If I were to find a robed and freshly-showered Devlin on the other side of a door, I assure you he'd have all of my attention too!  I mean, you've seen Dev's picture, right? ;)

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Offline Marko

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2015, 07:45:27 pm »
Sounds like Nigel III got around even more than his ancestor from the 11th century, Donal Blaine.  Donal Blaine almost made himself Alaric Morgan's father IIRC.

Offline Evie

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Re: Balance of Power--Chapter Eleven
« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2015, 08:17:29 pm »
At least as much--according to the Codex, Donal had illegitimate children by several different women--although to give Nigel a bit of credit, at least his women were all quite willing, unlike poor sleeping Alyce who woke up just in time to stop Donal!
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