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Author Topic: A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 10  (Read 3023 times)

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Offline Alkari

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A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 10
« on: July 22, 2010, 02:32:57 am »
Previous chapter:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=516.msg2162#msg2162

Chapter 10.

“How does he do that?” gasped Kathryn, applauding as one of the tumblers executed an amazing series of twisting leaps in front of them.

“Don’t know.  Just don’t ask me to try it!” laughed Richenda, “After the riding I did today, I’m not sure I can even touch my toes.”

“I’m not sympathetic at all.  You turn up on a magnificent horse.  When you’re not keeping up with the hounds, you’re chatting to dukes and bishops.  Even the King says hello to you.   Half the young men at court got glazed looks in their eyes whenever they looked at you.  There are several ladies who are very jealous, you know.”

Richenda rolled her eyes, then giggled.  “Well, I’m sure I didn’t behave improperly.  And they can’t be very worried if I’m chatting to Father MacLain and a few bishops, surely. Especially as one of them’s my uncle Cardiel.”

“What about the young one with the dark hair and nice eyes?”

“Bishop Arilan?” Richenda looked surprised.

“Is that who he is?  Mmmm – what a waste!”

“Thought you were happily married!”  Richenda pretended to be scandalised.  

“Nothing wrong with looking at nice scenery.   Anyway, the Duke of Corwyn isn’t a priest.   And he’s not married.”   Kathryn looked sideways at her friend.

“No, he’s not.”  Alaric Morgan as a priest? She suppressed an urge to laugh.  He hadn’t yet appeared in the hall for dinner: only the King, Prince Nigel, Meraude and Duke Ewan sat at the high table.  

“Well?”   Kathryn lowered her voice.  On her other side, her husband Peter was talking to several of his friends.

“Well, what?  Doesn’t the Duke count as nice scenery? Don’t women look at him too?”

“Well, of course.  He’s very handsome.  And rich.  That’s not the point.  You talked to him.  Several times.”

“Why shouldn’t I speak to him?   He’s always been very kind to me.”  Richenda kept her voice light.

Kind to you?  The Duke’s …

The conversation was mercifully cut short as the musicians struck up a merry reel, and Kathryn’s husband Peter claimed her hand for the dance.  A voice said “My lady Countess?” and Richenda turned to find Lord Torsin smiling at her.

“My lady, may I have the pleasure of this dance?”

Of course he could: before she knew it, Richenda found herself in the crowd of other revellers, holding hands in a circle.

How long was it since she’d danced like this? Thoughts of Alaric went out of her mind as she skipped and stepped, turned and dipped, and became caught up in the fun of the evening.  Lord Torsin claimed her for the next dance as well, and then to her great surprise, Lord Burchard bowed and asked her to partner him for Galton’s Galliard.   Kathryn, now dancing with one of her husband’s friends, flashed her a quick smile from the neighbouring set.  Well, she can’t complain if I am dancing with the Earl of Eastmarch, though Richenda.

They resumed their seats as a brightly clad pair of jugglers took to the floor.  Pages kept the wine flowing, more platters of food were brought out, and the noise grew ever louder as drink and the heat from the fireplaces took effect.   Richenda noticed that Alaric and Father Duncan were now sitting at one end of the high table, talking quietly. I wonder will I get a chance to speak to him?

Richenda sipped her wine, letting the conversation flow around her as friends came and went.  The music and dancing started again, and she was startled to see the King and several council members taking part in one.  Kelson was partnering his aunt Meraude; Nigel was dancing with a pretty young woman who looked to be around eighteen, while Alaric’s partner was a sturdy middle-aged lady whose wedding ring flashed on her left hand.   “Who are those ladies?” she murmured to Marie Burchard.  “The ones with Prince Nigel and the Duke.”

“Lord Rhodri’s youngest grand-daughter with Prince Nigel – you know, the Lord Chamberlain.  I think the woman with Morgan is the wife of one of his barons – I saw them talking at Twelfth Night.”

Richenda nodded and settled back to watch the dance.  Kelson appeared poised as he matched steps with his aunt, but she suspected he was slightly nervous.  She felt sorry for him: he was still barely fifteen, and every unmarried woman between the ages of twelve and thirty, not to mention their mothers, would be eying him hopefully from now on.  Blue-clad Nigel was smiling at his partner, carefully treading out the measures of the dance in the disciplined courtly manner expected of a warrior duke.  

And Alaric – well, there were more than a few female eyes on him, she knew.  His tunic tonight was dark green velvet, almost black in the torchlight, with subtly rich embroidery around hem, neck and sleeves.  His slim black belt was almost invisible, but she knew there’d be a court dagger never far from his right hand.  In contrast to the black hair of Kelson and Nigel, Alaric’s head shone in silvery gold.  And he was graceful: there was an innate elegance to his movements that could never be taught even by the finest dance-masters.  His partner was smiling and he seemed to be paying attention to her, but whenever the movements of the dance took them apart and he turned outwards, Richenda realised he was also quickly scanning the crowd.  The practice of a man well-used to watching for enemies.  Or searching for someone.

His glance moved to their table, and she leant forward slightly.  Their eyes met in the briefest, most searing, of touches: there was no need for mind-speak.  He never faltered in his movements, but her whole body tingled.  She settled back, content to watch the dance come to its conclusion.   She knew he’d find her.

*     *     *  
 

“Morgan, you’ve already had three dances this evening with her ladyship.  May I at least have the pleasure of her company for one, before the night is out?  My lady Countess, would you do me the honour?”  Kelson grinned at Alaric, and bowed gravely to her.

“Of course, Sire.  I am honoured.”  Richenda curtsied, surprised.

“I yield to my king’s wishes.”  Alaric flourished his own bow, and winked.  “I shall go and fend off the other ladies vying for your attention.”

“They used to be all after him,” sighed Kelson as they took their places.  

“But the crown of Gwynnedd is a greater prize than a ducal coronet,” she said softly, taking his hand lightly and stepping out the first sequence.  “Besides, haven’t ladies been chasing him for years?”

Kelson chuckled.  “Yes.  Obviously with no success.  Morgan’s very good at getting out of formal court functions – Father Duncan says he even tries to escape them in Coroth.  I sometimes wish I could.  Pardon me - that's not very appropriate for a king to say."

“Understandable though, Sire.  Alas, you do not have that freedom.”

“No.”  He was silent through the next few movements.  “I’m not really used to this sort of attention, Lady Richenda.  I mean, I know I’ll have to marry some day, but with everything else …”.

She lowered her voice sympathetically.  “You haven’t given it much thought yet, and you’d rather have time to make up your mind.   And, forgive me for being so bold, Sire - you wish they’d stop undressing you with their eyes.”

He looked startled, then grinned boyishly.  “I’ve heard it put in much less delicate terms, my lady!”

She laughed, and they finished the dance in light-hearted accord.  

Kelson handed her back to Alaric at the end of the dance; as the musicians were replaced by a highland troubadour singing favourite ballads, she found herself sitting beside Meraude at the high table.   A page filled her goblet with light wine.

“My aching feet!” murmured Richenda ruefully.  “After the hunt, I thought to be somewhat less active this evening.   I may not be walking in the morning.”

“You do seem to have taken the eye of several people,” replied Meraude dryly.  “Lord Burchard is not known for his love of dancing, and I saw him with you several times.  And as for Alaric Morgan …” She let her voice trail off, eyeing Richenda with a slight smile.

“What have I done now?”  Alaric asked, settling into a chair on her other side.

Meraude sighed.  “For a man who often hides at the merest mention of a dance, you’ve been conspicuously sociable this evening.”  

“Dearest Meraude, I am merely starting the year on my best behaviour.  A model duke in fact.  I’ve danced with at least six different women, including Lady Parkton.  For which I deserve an award for bravery.”

“How many of her daughters did she offer to you this time?” chuckled Meraude.

“Only three.  Her eldest is now betrothed to some poor knight up in the Purple March.  But she keeps hinting to me that the climate in Corwyn is so much nicer than up north.”

“It certainly is.  Though I don’t know that you’d welcome Lady Parkton in residence as your mother in law.”

Alaric grinned wickedly.  “Oh, I’m sure I could accommodate her in a spare dungeon somewhere.  The rats wouldn’t worry her – they’d run away.”

“Is she really that bad?” inquired Richenda.  

“Worse!”  He sighed theatrically.  “You know that St George was given a choice – fight the dragon or marry one of her daughters.”  

Both women started to laugh.  “Alaric, why on earth did you dance with her then?” said Meraude.

“Because she practically flung herself into my arms, and it was impossible to fling her back without starting a riot.  Besides, tomorrow I can attend Mass feeling almost virtuous.”

Richenda nodded knowingly.   “So dancing with Lady Parkton should count as a form of penance?”

“Yes.  Perhaps you could recommend this to your uncle?”

Before she could answer, the far end of the hall erupted in cheers and whistles.  Tankards were banged on the tables, there were whoops and yells.  Someone started a well-known bawdy drinking song, and a young couple climbed onto a table and started to dance.  Alaric got to his feet, peering down the hall at the participants.

“I think the evening is going to get rather noisy from now on,” said Meraude quietly.  “Richenda, it has been a long day and I think my husband and I are going to retire.  Do you wish to stay, or can we escort you to your chambers?”

“No, I’m more than happy to leave – I’ll probably sleep for a week.”

“Alaric, what about you?   Does that group need supervising?”

“Not by me.  I think it’s fairly harmless, and there’re a couple of cool heads nearby.  I’ll turn in too.”

Richenda glanced across to where Kathryn was sitting, but her friend was leaning against her husband and watching the dancers.  Not worth going to say good night.

They left the hall accompanied by Kelson, Duke Ewan and Lord Rhodri; the Lord Chamberlain waited politely with Alaric and Richenda as the others took their leave.    “My lady, I assume that I can rely on the Duke of Corwyn to see you safely to your chambers?” he twinkled.   “I confess all those stairs are a little much for me at this hour of night.”

“I’m sure His Grace will protect me adequately.”

“Then good evening to both of you.”  Lord Rhodri chuckled, bowed slightly to Alaric, and departed in the direction of the kitchens.

Alaric smiled, and offered Richenda his arm.  “Then we are left to brave the stairs ourselves.”
 
 “I think my legs are about to give out,” she sighed, as they reached the first landing.  “I am SO tired.  If I fall over, you might have to carry me the rest of the way.”

“T’would be my pleasure!”  He paused to grin at her.   “Shall I carry you gently as befits a lady, or just toss you over my shoulder as captured booty?”

“I’m not sure the latter would enhance your reputation.”

“But helping a lady in distress is my courtly duty.”   Before Richenda could reply, he’d bent to lift her lightly, easily, and started up the last flight of stairs.  

Alaric!”  She steadied herself with an arm around his neck.  “What are you doing?”

“My lady, I hope your ankle will not be too bad – I can call a physician to attend you if you like.”    He’d reached the top of the stairs and started along the corridor.  Mercifully, no one else was in sight.  

You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? she sent, relaxing and trying not to laugh.

Of course.  I can even offer to massage those sore muscles.

Dearest, I am so tired after today that I’m going to fall asleep the minute I lie down.  

You don’t think my massage would wake you?

Yes – for just as long as it takes for me to kiss you good night – and then I’d fall asleep.

I could make that kiss last a very long time, you know.”


They’d reached her door, but he didn’t set her down.  “Is your maid still awake?”

She probed inside, finding no sign of Joan or Lily in the day room.   “Not right here, but they may not be asleep.”

Alaric carried her inside and set her down in front of the low-burning fire.  She gestured, flaring the mantelpiece candles into life, then touched a finger to his lips and moved stiffly to the inner rooms.  A few moments later she returned.  “I made sure they’re both asleep – for a while at least.”  

“Good.”

“Alaric, I really am going to have to say good night.  I haven’t hunted or danced like that for a long time.  It was a wonderful day, but truly, I’m stiff and sore all over.”

He smiled understandingly and took her hands.  “Where do you hurt most?   Back, shoulders, thighs?”

“Yes to all those,” she said ruefully.  “I had a warm bath before dinner, but I think it only delayed the inevitable.”  

“I think I can help with that.  Sit down.”   He half-pushed her into a chair and stood looking down at her.  “Trust me, Richenda.  I’ll have to – touch you – but please trust me.”

She stared into grey eyes that were no longer laughing, but serious and concerned.  “What are you going to do?” she whispered.

“Heal those sore muscles.  Link with me – it will probably be easier - but just stay with me, don’t try to do anything.  Trust me.”

He set his hands lightly on her shoulders; their minds linked, and she allowed herself to settle into a neutral, receptive state.  She became aware of a slow warmth, a soft floating feeling, as though she was suspended in a state of being and yet not being, of a strange power that she had never before experienced.  She knew that his hands had moved softly from her shoulders to linger down her back; she sensed them travelling lightly to pause on her hips, then move to her thighs and knees before gliding back up over her arms to rest briefly on her head.  

The contact dissolved, and he stepped back, taking several deep breaths.   “Is that better?”

Richenda lifted one arm and flexed it, then stood and stretched.  The stiffness had completely gone, there was no pain.  Amazed, she bent this way and that: she had never felt so well, so alive.

“So it’s true.  Uncle Thomas didn’t imagine it.”   She shook her head, the enormity of what he’d just done almost too bewildering to comprehend.  “Alaric, when?  How?  I don’t … the old healing powers have been lost, everyone knows that.”

He shrugged.  “Since Kelson’s coronation.  A long story.  And not for tonight.”  He smiled wistfully.  “Duncan can heal too.  A couple of half-breeds who don’t really know what they’re doing half the time.  Strange, isn’t it.”  

“God sometimes does strange things.  He works in ways we can never understand.”  

“God’s work.  Perhaps.  I’d like to think so.  Sometimes I wonder about our powers.”  

She stroked his cheek tenderly, brushing a lock of hair back from his forehead.   “The Lord himself healed.  How should those powers be anything but good?  Thank you.”

He caught her hand and kissed her palm, before leaning in to kiss her lips.  “You should get some sleep now.  The healing will be better for a night’s rest.   I hope to see you tomorrow, though I’ve got a lot to do.  Good night, my love.”

“Good night, dearest.”    She watched him leave, and stood for a long time staring into the embers of the fire before going to rouse Lily for assistance with her gown.

__________

Next chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=518.0.


« Last Edit: February 19, 2011, 05:12:53 pm by Alkari »

Offline AnnieUK

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A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 10
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2010, 03:26:22 am »
So how did Ewan resist a parting shot?  I bet he thought one, though ;)

Offline Alkari

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A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 10
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2010, 03:33:40 am »
Dear old Ewan had had more than enough to drink that evening. ;)   And Kelson shepherded him away.   So he didn't really notice that it was Morgan's old friend Rhodri who made up the threesome ...   Meraude, however, Is Not Blind. 

Offline Evie

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A Gryphon by the Tail Chapter 10
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2010, 09:02:30 am »
Poor Kelson!   :)

Something tells me having a Deryni Healer around is much handier--not to mention potentially more fun--than having a massage chair.  Though if Richenda wants to trade, my neck and shoulders are feeling a bit tight at the moment....   ;)
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