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Author Topic: A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 1  (Read 19645 times)

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Offline Alkari

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A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 1
« on: June 21, 2010, 08:14:44 am »
Author's note:  To the world at large, it may have seemed as though the marriage of Corwyn's Duke and the Dowager Countess of Marley was a simple political match, a convenient way of re-marrying a traitor's widow to a man whose loyalty to the Crown was unquestionable and who could be relied upon to raise the future Earl of Marley in suitable fashion. Those closest to them knew otherwise.  But Deryni mind-linking or not, the couple needed some brief time to meet and court after the formal period of mourning for Bran had expired.  And so it was that His Majesty King Kelson invited Richenda to attend Court at Rhemuth for the Twelfth Night ceremonies in January 1122, when - most conveniently - Richenda's younger brother William FitzEwan was to be knighted ...

    
A GRYPHON BY THE TAIL

There were tears in Richenda’s eyes as she watched His Royal Highness, Prince Nigel Haldane, bestow the accolade of knighthood on her younger brother William.  Judging by the murmurs of approval as William rose to stand proudly before the royal Duke, golden spurs now glinting at his heels, it seemed that her own disgrace had not extended to her family.   She lowered her shields to send congratulations to William, and felt herself wrapped in his awe and pride, and the corresponding joy of their father Richard FitzEwan and brother Murdo.  

It seems only yesterday that he was a muddy little boy racing around on a piebald pony,” she sent to Murdo who was once more holding Brendan, lifting him so that he could see his uncle and grandfather over the sea of heads.

Yes.  All the family fledglings have now spread their wings.  Though alas, one has found herself somewhat battered from storms.”   Murdo smiled wryly and sent his sister a brief surge of love and reassurance, before turning back to watch William and Richard resume their places as another candidate moved towards the dais.  The Great Hall was crowded for this, the lavish ceremony held at Twelfth Night at which such honours were bestowed.  Hundreds of torches and lanterns shed golden light on the rich gowns and jewels, and somehow made the belts of the new knights an even purer white.  Overhead, the banners of the great houses and families of Gwynnedd hung in all their glory, occasionally swaying slightly as the air currents moved.

One banner was no longer there of course.  The blue and gold arms of Marley had been removed when the King returned to Rhemuth last summer, and there were no young men of Marley here to be knighted this day.  Richenda knew there were several now of age, but for all that he had shown the promised mercy towards those who had followed their Earl into treachery, His Majesty King Kelson would undoubtedly wait at least a full year before showing that Marley’s men were again worthy of public honour.  A more poignant acknowledgement of last summer’s tragedies had been the precedence accorded to three young men from Cassan and Kierney.   Survivors of the carnage wrought by the troops of Torenth and Marley at Rengarth, this trio had been the first to be knighted, and the cheers rang long and loud through the Hall as they stood before their King and the Royal Duke.  To the left of Prince Nigel, Monsignor Duncan MacLain, now Duke of Cassan and Earl of Kierney, had bowed his head in brief prayer, the loss of his father and so many of those he’d known since childhood obviously all too fresh.  Standing as usual at the King’s right hand, Alaric Morgan had also joined in this brief mourning for a man whom Richenda knew to have been both his uncle and guardian.

The last candidate was now moving forward, and Richenda could feel subtle relief rustle through the assembly.  Court ceremonies generally required long periods of standing, and it would be good to move more freely once the celebrations began.  Not that I will be engaging in many social activities, she thought wistfully, smoothing the skirt of her simple dark blue gown.  The Countess of Marley would be regarded by most with a mixture of hatred, disdain and suspicion, for all that she had accompanied the King’s army from Dhassa and later been publicly exonerated by His Majesty.   And the fact that the Duke of Cassan had also openly acknowledged her with grace and gentleness would do little to assuage the anger and grief of those families who had lost loved ones because of Bran Coris’s actions.

There was one further item of Court business however, and silence descended again as the King now moved to invest Lord Burchard de Varian as the Earl of Eastmarch.  Another County that has been tainted by recent treachery, she thought, remembering that the previous Earl, Ian Howell, had assisted Clarissa of Tolan to assassinate King Brion.  The applause following the ceremony showed that this latest appointment met with universal approval, Lord Burchard too having escaped from Rengarth the previous summer, fighting his way out with a ragged company of more than fifty men to later rejoin their King.

“Mama.”  Brendan tugged urgently at her hand, and Richenda bent to hear his whispered request.  “He needs the privy”, she murmured to Murdo, and quietly shepherded Brendan out of the hall in search of the necessary convenience.

She hadn’t planned to come to Court for Twelfth Night, intending to spend the winter months quietly at the old stone manor house on the outskirts of Marbury.  She and Lord Derry had been working with the new regency council, and she had expected the young Earl to be the one summoned to Rhemuth, even though it was but a few weeks since his own arrival in Marley.  Derry had brought with him a deliciously passionate letter from Alaric; she had read and re-read it, falling asleep with it under her pillow at night like any lovesick young maiden and hiding it under a Deryni spell during the day to keep it from servants’ curious eyes.  For all that Alaric Morgan was a member of the King’s Council, and therefore entitled to write to Marley on official administrative matters, personal correspondence between them required considerable discretion, and she fully expected that each letter from him would need to sustain her for some time.  

But Derry also carried a missive from the King, formally requesting “the pleasure of your Ladyship’s attendance at our Court for Twelfth Night.  It is our understanding that your younger brother Lord William FitzEwan will there be presented for knighthood, an honour that should be witnessed by all his family.  Our Council would also be pleased to later discuss certain matters pertaining to Marley and its administration, and to receive such advice as you may be able to provide. Suitable accommodation has been arranged for you and your son in the palace.”   To ignore such a request in the King’s own hand would have been unthinkable, even if it had not contained a Deryni message in his seal.  “Alaric Morgan will be here of course. I am sure you will find opportunities to spend time together.”  

Alaric Morgan will be here of course.  As she waited for Brendan to finish, Richenda found herself smiling at the memory of that message, and the idea that their young King was so obviously delighted to play his part in their romance.  Apart from Kelson himself and Father Duncan MacLain, she wondered whether anyone else in Rhemuth knew of it: perhaps Prince Nigel and his wife, the Duchess Meraude, who had been unexpectedly kind to her and yesterday had ensured that Brendan was soon playing with other young children in the palace.  Alas, there had been no opportunity to see Alaric yet, as Richenda and her small party had only arrived in Rhemuth two afternoons ago, reaching the palace just as flakes of snow started to fall in earnest.  She had spent the previous day settling in, and trying to get her bearings in this place she’d never visited.

Brendan reappeared, and Richenda bent to adjust his clothing.  He’d managed quite well for a four-year-old, but tunic and hose still needed some straightening.   “Are we going back to Court?” he asked.  ‘Will we see Uncle William?”

“Yes dear – we’ll go and find him, and then I think you might like to go and play with some of the other children.”   She took his hand, following the noise of festivities back towards the Great Hall.

“Will I have to call him Sir William now?”

“No, of course not, when we are just a family.  Uncle Murdo is a knight, and you call him Uncle, don’t you.  But when you are older and you serve as a page, you will have to call them Sir when you are in public.”

She located her family across the hall; it took her several minutes to rejoin them, pushing her way through the crowd and trying to keep to the more shadowed stretches so as to avoid any attention she might attract if she’d moved across through the throng   Minstrels were playing a lively dance, royal pages were circulating with refreshments, and there were bursts of merriment and occasional cheers from little groups celebrating the occasion with friends and family.   I probably won’t be recognised anyway, she thought, as I’ve never been to Court in Rhemuth.  And it’s unlikely there’ll be many of Bran’s close acquaintances here either.    Even so, it was better to keep a low profile and avoid notice if possible.  

The next half hour or so was spent with a succession of FitzEwan family friends and acquaintances coming to exchange greetings and congratulate William.  Wine was drunk and tasty morsels of food accepted from large platters offered by numerous pages, some of whom looked barely able to carry them.  Brendan was being remarkably well-behaved, eating his share of food, asking the occasional question but generally just watching; apart from the occasional awkward moment when she herself was introduced, matters proceeded pleasantly enough.  She was just thinking that it was time to take Brendan back to the nursery when the inevitable happened.   Lord and Lady Trimmett knew her family, as they owned lands bordering manors that had been part of her marriage dowry to Bran.  Bran had shared the FitzEwans’ low opinion of them, once describing Lady Trimmett as “a sharpened pitchfork with a snake’s tongue and no brain”.

That tongue was now directing its venom towards her.  “ … and I cannot think what you are doing at this Court.  How dare you show your face here after what your husband did?  I must say, Baron FitzEwan, I am surprised that you of all people would permit this.  Has your daughter no shame at all?”   Richenda clenched her fingers and kept her eyes averted, desperately longing to make a suitable retort, and wondering what her father would reply.

“I am sure that His Majesty will be most interested to hear your opinion about his invited guest.”

The voice was low, but would have cut through a dozen layers of chain mail.  Richenda looked up, then instantly sank into a deep curtsy.  Lady Trimmett was doing the same, while the men all bowed respectfully.   How had she not sensed him arrive?

“Your Grace,” she murmured, reaching for Brendan’s shoulder and directing him into a bow.  

Alaric Morgan wore the black and red of King’s Champion for today’s formalities.  Black boots and hose, richly embroidered black tunic showing glimpses of a red silk shirt, a black velvet cloak with crimson lining, heavy gold chain of office and a gold ducal coronet.   Only the whiteness of his knight’s belt and the sword in a well-worn scabbard relieved the starkness.  He was extremely well shielded, but the sense of power radiating from him was almost tangible.

There was dead silence.  “The Countess of Marley is attending Court at the personal invitation of His Majesty.”  

Richenda raised her eyes slightly, but did not dare look at Morgan.  Lady Trimmett clearly wished that the floor would swallow her from under the Duke’s implacable gaze; her husband stood by helplessly.  Richenda was aware of others outside their little circle listening avidly and suppressed an urge to laugh.

“I … I am most sorry, Your Grace.  I – I was not aware of the situation.”

“It is not me to whom you owe the apology.”  

Murdo touched her hand briefly as he stood beside her.  “I always said someone should cut out that woman’s tongue.  The Duke of Corwyn no less - it will be all round Court by evening.”  

Lady Trimmett swallowed, cast a terrified look at the Duke, then stepped forward to curtsy in front of Richenda.  “Please accept my deepest apologies, Your Ladyship.  I – I should not have made those remarks.”

“Thank you, Lady Trimmett.  Apology accepted.  You were not to know that His Majesty had most kindly invited me to attend my brother’s knighting. ”   Richenda took perverse delight in being gracious.

“Indeed.”  Morgan turned to Lord Trimmett.  “It appears that your lady wife has unfortunately become over-excited at today’s festivities, Lord Trimmett.  Perhaps a period of quiet repose would be of benefit?”

“Of course, Your Grace.”  Lord Trimmett took the hint.  He seized his wife’s arm, and with deep bows to Morgan and the FitzEwans, the pair backed away and made a hasty exit.

Quiet repose indeed!”  Murdo’s glee rippled once more.

Morgan watched the Trimmetts depart, then turned back to her and bowed.  “Lady Richenda, I am deeply sorry that you had to endure such rudeness.  It was a very poor welcome to Rhemuth, especially on such a happy occasion.   And my warmest congratulations to you, Sir Knight.”  He smiled at William, who bowed in turn.

As normal conversation resumed around them, Richenda performed the introductions.   She could feel her family’s interest in the Duke, and sensed his own shields adopt a more neutral stance.  He greeted Brendan too, bending to shake the boy’s hand, and solemnly assuring him that yes, he was indeed a Duke.  Brendan would hardly remember their last meetings more than six months ago.

“I believe you have been serving with the Earl of Rhendall,“ said Morgan to William.  “He mentioned your name to me earlier.  I do not recall either of you at Court here in Rhemuth though?”

 “No, Your Grace,” replied William.  “My brother spent four years as a page and then squire at the court of our aunt, the Princess Sofiana of Andelon.   I did spend some months here in Rhemuth when I was twelve, but returned home when our mother died.  I later served with the Earl of Rhendall, although since last summer I have been assisting Lord Burchard de Varian.   Or I should say, the new Earl of Eastmarch.”

Morgan smiled.  “Yes.  A brave man and an honour most richly deserved.  A challenging post for you in future, given the need to keep watch on our borders with Torenth.”

The FitzEwan men murmured their acknowledgement.  “I am not sure that anyone really trusts their promises of peace,” observed Richenda’s father quietly.  “Prince Alroy is but young, and his family is not exactly known for mutual loyalty.”

“No indeed, Lord Richard,” agreed Morgan, watching as Murdo once again hoisted Brendan into his arms so the boy could look around better.  “The Torenthi royal court does seem to excel at the art of intrigue.”

“And unexpected deaths, it is also rumoured,” said Lord Richard.

“Then we must hope that Prince Alroy remains in good health,” said Richenda softly, reaching out to brush back a lock of Brendan’s hair.

 “I believe we all share the Lady Morag’s undoubted interest in her son’s welfare,” Morgan replied dryly.  “One hopes that all her brothers are of like mind.”  He smiled at Brendan, who was gazing with interest at the Duke’s hands.

 “Is that a dragon on your ring?”  he asked suddenly, pleased to find this adult paying him attention.

“Please, Your Grace,” corrected Richenda gently.

“Please, Your Grace.  Is it?  Is it a dragon?”

“No Brendan, it’s a gryphon,” Morgan said, holding out his left hand so the boy could see the ring more closely.  The green gryphon glowed against its black background.

“What’s a gryphon?”

“It’s a fantastic beast – a mixture of a lion and an eagle.  It’s my family symbol.”  

“Are all gryphons green?”

“I don’t think so.  But the Corwyn gryphon is.  Although some people like to make it gold, when they stitch it on clothing.”  

“What’s the other one? On your other hand.  Please,” he added hastily, seeing his mother’s stern look.  “Why do you have two rings?”

“That’s the Haldane lion, the lion of Gwynnedd,” replied Morgan, still smiling as he now offered his right hand for inspection.  “It was given to me by His Majesty on the day of his coronation.  Look – you can see the lion there on that wall hanging, behind the King’s throne.”   He pointed to where the Haldane symbol reared up in all its golden glory.  “And I wear both rings, because the gryphon is my family crest, and the lion one is because I am the King’s Champion.”

Brendan stared at the banner solemnly, then returned his attention to the Duke.  “What’s the King’s Champion?”

“It means that I have sworn my life to serve and protect the King of Gwynnedd,” said Morgan gravely.  “As I have always done.”

“Brendan, that’s enough questions I think,” said Richenda, catching the many emotional layers behind Morgan’s simple words and not wishing to have the conversation turn to matters involving loyalty.

“Nay, my Lady,” said Morgan reassuringly.  “Asking questions shows an inquiring mind and an eagerness to learn.  A future earl does well to have such qualities.”

“Do you have a banner?”  Brendan seemed to have developed a sudden interest in heraldry.

“Yes, it’s that one up there.  See – the black one with the green gryphon.  Like my ring.”  Morgan pointed up and across to the left of the hall, where Corwyn’s banner hung dark and proud at the front.   Despite the golden embroidery and jewels on its wings, the gryphon had a richly mysterious air.

Brendan compared the banner with the ring.  “Is it a magic gryphon? Like a dragon?” he asked suddenly.

Heavens! In open court and talking to Alaric Morgan!  “Ssssh, dear,” said Richenda, hastily touching her finger to Brendan’s lips and sensing her family’s shock.  “You mustn’t say that word out loud, not with so many people around.”  

“Why?”  

What a question! Richenda suddenly wished that she’d taken her son to play with the other children rather than returning him to the Hall.   She glanced around, hoping that none of the people nearby had overheard.  But if her father and brothers also seemed slightly disconcerted, Corwyn’s Duke was not.   He bent forward slightly and spoke in a low voice.

“Because Brendan, many people are afraid of magic.  They don’t understand it, and people are often frightened of things they do not understand. So until you are older, it’s very important that you only speak about it with your mother – or with your other family,” he added, glancing at the FitzEwans.  “And you can always ask me, but only very quietly.”

“Oh.”  Brendan considered this carefully.  “But is it a magic gryphon?” he whispered, glancing between Morgan and Richenda.

Children and their persistence!  Murdo jogged Brendan and adjusted his hold, looking slightly alarmed.  Richenda bent over in order to chastise her son.  

“Of course it’s magic.”   Alaric’s hand brushed hers very swiftly, giving a glimpse of mischievous humour.  

“Are you sure?”  

“Yes.  It’s my gryphon, so I’m sure.”

“What does it do?”

“Well, not much here in Rhemuth.  This one works best in Corwyn.”  

“And that one?”  Brendan pointed up towards the Corwyn banner.

“Hmmm – that one mostly wakes up at night.  Only if you watch very, very carefully, you can sometimes catch it moving around during the day … see.”    Morgan waved his right hand casually as though demonstrating all the banners of Gwynnedd’s nobility to the boy, and to Richenda’s mingled delight and horror, the gryphon flapped its great wings and swished its tail.  And she was sure the jewelled eye winked.  Once.  

Morgan’s face was carefully composed, and he could have been talking about the weather.   His shields were impenetrable.  Only the slightest glint in his eye indicated his relish at metaphorically tweaking a gryphon’s tail in the middle of Rhemuth palace’s great hall.    

“I saw it!”  whispered Brendan in childish delight.  “I saw it move!  ”

“Of course you did,” murmured Morgan, bending closer.  “Only you mustn’t ever say that.  Promise?  It’s a very special gryphon.”   Brendan nodded solemnly, and Richenda gripped his shoulder firmly.  She chanced a look at her father and brothers: their expressions indicated that they were having a hard time believing what she knew they had seen too.

“It is indeed fortunate that the smoke from all these torches may lead ordinary people to imagine certain things, isn’t it Your Grace?”  she said lightly.  If anyone in the hall had noticed it …

“Good day, my lady Countess.  And my lords.”  Father Duncan MacLain had approached unnoticed, although judging by the swift glance exchanged between him and Morgan, the latter may have been aware of it.  

“Your Grace.”  Richenda found herself once again curtsying, truly thankful for this form of Heavenly intervention.  As her father and brothers bowed, it was Morgan who performed the introductions.   Father Duncan congratulated William in turn, made appropriately polite remarks about today’s events, and exchanged pleasantries with Richenda about her trip from Marley to Rhemuth in winter.   “I’ve been in Culdi myself these last weeks,” he said, “and after this recent rain, some of the roads would have been impassable for a carriage.”

“I think we were fortunate,” replied Richenda.  “I brought most of our baggage on packhorses just in case, and I rode on horseback for much of the way.  But the carriage was only bogged once.”  

And you didn’t even have Alain the hunter to rescue you!  Alaric’s mental touch bore more than just amusement, and Richenda hoped she wasn’t blushing too obviously.  The man could turn her insides into a confused and boiling mess without any effort.

“I hope you are as lucky on your return,” Father Duncan said.  “How long are you planning to stay in Rhemuth, my lady?”

“At least a week, Your Grace.  Lord Derry and I have prepared some reports for His Majesty and the Council, and I understand that His Majesty wishes to discuss them before I return.  There are still a number of matters to be resolved.”   Duncan nodded.  “Besides, Brendan and I have seen too little of my family in recent years, so we are enjoying their company while we may.”   She suddenly realised that any mention of family reunions might be extremely painful both dukes, and wished she could withdraw her last comment.  

But neither man seemed to take offence, and the talk moved on to how crowded Rhemuth was, and a discussion of its best inns.  Brendan leant against her side, and she stroked his hair gently.  He’d really been very good, but would need a nap this afternoon.

“Father?”  Well, at least he’d got that form of address correct.

“Yes Brendan?”

“Do you have a special ring too?”

Enough! Richenda had no desire to see whether Duncan MacLain had any sort of ring, or whether Cassan’s sleeping lion on its banner might stretch out a paw, or even worse, wake up suddenly and roar.  

“I think it’s time you had a rest,” she said in a tone that brooked no argument.  “Afterwards you can play with the other children before we attend Mass.  Duke Alaric, Duke Duncan – please excuse us.  I have enjoyed our conversation, and I am quite sure Brendan found the explanation of heraldry most enlightening.  Father, I will rejoin you all later.”   She curtsied slightly, acknowledged their bows, and propelled Brendan away as briskly as possible before he could ask any more questions.  

*     *     *

Chapter 2 here:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=509.0
« Last Edit: September 02, 2011, 08:50:49 pm by Alkari »

Offline AnnieUK

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2010, 09:14:32 am »
We really are shadowing each other at the moment, Alkari!  This one will fit nicely with something I'm playing around with (see, you lot have got me hooked).  I was wondering whether to continue mine to Twelfth Night court, but I guess I won't now. ;)

Offline Evie

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2010, 11:46:22 am »
I loved this!  Especially Alaric's bit of mischief even under the somewhat formal circumstances of being introduced to Richenda's family.  And I can easily imagine Duncan doing his utmost to be openly welcoming to Richenda in hopes of easing her entry into Court society and making it publicly known that the Duke of Cassan doesn't hold Bran's treason against Bran's widow.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline AnnieUK

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2010, 05:30:42 pm »
Alaric is good at schmoosing when he needs to though, eh?  And Duncan will be trying to smooth the way, I'm sure, after the dramatic confession in HD.  Alaric has fallen head over heels in love?  D'oh!  Totally missed that one - busy, dontcha know?

Offline Alkari

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2010, 05:51:27 pm »
Quote
Alaric has fallen head over heels in love?  D'oh!  Totally missed that one
I know.  It was extremely difficult to realise that on reading HD  ;)    Richenda didn't say a thing about her feelings, and nor did Alaric ...


Offline AnnieUK

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2010, 05:58:20 pm »
Yup, HD is next on my re-read list.  Bring on the crackle!!  :D

Offline kirienne

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2010, 09:20:11 pm »
Another wonderful story :=) I Love it when my favorite duke is  being mischivious, adn this has made me fall in love with prescious little Brendan as well. Thanks for sharing.
Now, more please?

Offline Elkhound

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2010, 02:22:16 pm »
"A sharpened pitchfork with a snake's tongue and no brain."  Wonderful phrase.  I've known people like that.  And boy, did Alaric give her a comeuppance!

Offline Alkari

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Re: A Gryphon by the Tail
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2010, 05:37:58 pm »
Thank you - I enjoyed writing this bit.  Alaric Morgan in full protective mode, especially where it concerns the love of his life, does not need sword or Deryni powers to be rather terrifying  :D




 


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