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A Leap of Faith - Chapter 23

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AnnieUK:
July 3rd
Llyndruth Plain


I left the tent pondering what Joseph had told me.  A lot of what he had said about Bran was no surprise to me – I had suspected as much.  I had seen a ruthless streak in Bran on occasion during our marriage and although I had wanted to think better of him, I could well believe that he had taken an active part in what had happened.   Joseph had been unable to say whether he thought that Wencit could have used magic on Bran to make him act this way – some small glimmer of hope that I could cling to.  A faint chance that he had not lost his humanity entirely in the past few weeks.

I returned to my tent to find a letter waiting from my uncle.  He asked that I be ready to leave the following day, with the first company of the ecclesiastical army to return to Dhassa.  That too was no surprise, but I would be strangely sad to leave.  I missed the comforts of the manor, or even of the quarters in Dhassa, and Brendan was increasingly hard to entertain chafing as he was under the restrictions placed on him in camp, but Alaric was here, and I had no idea when we would meet again.

Sister Luke and Brendan returned shortly after, the good sister flustered and upset.  Brendan was protesting at being brought back early, but seemed fine otherwise, so I was anxious to find out what had caused Sister Luke’s distress. 

“Brendan, go through and play with your toys a moment, will you?  I’ll be there to play with you in a moment, and if you’re a very good boy I may be able to find a treat for you.”

“Oh, my lady,” said Sister Luke when he was safely out of earshot.  “I never thought they would take it out on a child, and while I was looking after him, too.”  Her voice turned to a sob and she dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief.

My heart plummeted – was this the start of what I had dreaded?  I had hoped so much that we could get safely home to Rheljan, or even Marley, without Brendan being aware of what had happened.

“It was one of the soldiers, my lady.  I suppose most everyone knows now that you and young Master Brendan are here, so it doesn’t take much working out to know who a small boy in the camp must be.”  She blinked away more tears and took the offered seat. 

I sat beside her.  “What happened?”

“Some soldiers were talking – I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they looked at the young master when they said it.  Then as we passed them, one said ‘You mark my word, bad blood will out,’ and spat on the ground.”

My poor boy – damned already in so many men’s eyes by who had fathered him.  I realised that if I couldn’t protect him from an idle word – even here amongst my uncle’s army –there was a good chance that he would overhear something worse before we were safely home.  I was just glad the soldier hadn’t referred outright to his father.  But I felt my hand had been forced and I had to tell him at least some of what had happened before I was ready to do so. 

Brendan was playing happily with his toys when I went through to the inner tent.  I had found him the sweetmeat I had promised him – treats were few and far between, in this camp full of soldiers, but were still available if one knew where to look.  I watched him play for a moment, his golden hair flopping down into his eyes and being brushed away with an impatient gesture that had been one of Bran’s, then braced myself to destroy his little world.

***

I was sitting by Brendan’s bed when Sister Luke announced Alaric’s arrival that evening.  I had finally got Brendan settled and was stroking his hair as the redness slowly faded from his cheeks and eyes – he had cried bitterly when I told him his papa was never coming home.  I had stayed strong for his sake, refusing to cry despite my anguish at my child’s pain.  I had to be both parents to him now, and show him the strength that Bran would have taught him.  He had some idea of the concept of “never”.  He knew he never saw Rhiannon now, but his memory of his sister faded from day to day, where his memory of Bran was still fresh and strong.  It would go hard on him, this loss of his father.

When in the past he had been troubled by childish nightmares I had always given him something of mine to hold, and the scent of me seemed to help him sleep more soundly.  Tonight I had given him the soft veil from my hair and he rubbed it against his face, being comforted by the silky smoothness and sniffing the lavender oil with which I often fragranced my belongings.  He had fallen asleep so, with the veil clutched in one hand pressed against his cheek and the other hand flung up beside him on the pillow.

Alaric took in the situation at a glance – the red-rimmed eyes and the tear streaks on Brendan’s face.   He came to stand at my shoulder and offered a hand, which I took gratefully.  Just that small act of comfort was a help.

We stood in silence, looking down at my fatherless boy.  Then I said, “He will forget him, you know.  He’s only four.  I scarcely remember anything from when I was that young – vague impressions, maybe, but nothing really clear.  He will have to cope with people hating and mistrusting him because of a father whose face he cannot even call to mind.”

Alaric said nothing.  I suppose nothing he could have said then would have been fitting.  But he drew me to him, until my head was resting on his shoulder and his hand was on my back.  And then the tears came.  I had held them back for Brendan’s sake but the dam finally broke, there in his arms.

All of it - Bran’s death, Rhiannon’s birthday, trying to find the words to explain to Brendan, our return to Dhassa on the morrow and my fear for the future the Brendan and I now faced - it all poured out into those bitter tears that I shed on Alaric’s chest.  His arms crept around me to hold me closer, and his lips gently kissed my hair.

Ah, Jesú!  Brendan still clutched the veil I had been wearing, and my hair was unbound. 

Alaric noticed my reaction and put a finger to my lips to hush me, his eyes filled with amusement.  “It’s beautiful.”  He stroked one golden curl that was framing my face and tucked it gently behind my ear.  “Leave it.  There’s only Sister Luke and me to see and she has turned a blind eye to other things that have been...unconventional .”

So he held me tightly and stroked my hair before leaving to sit in the outer tent while I composed myself, splashing my face with cold water to wash away the tears and calm the redness of my eyes.

Sister Luke had set out wine, and he was sipping thoughtfully at his when I returned. 

“I hear Cardiel is starting to move his men out tomorrow.”

I nodded.  “And Brendan and I go with the first company.  We will stay in Dhassa until my uncle returns, and then I mean to go to Rheljan for a time.  I think Brendan needs family around him before going back to Marley and the memories of Bran.  At least his grandfather and his uncles will help me distract him, and he has always loved Murdo.  Maybe Murdo can take Bran’s place, somewhat.”

“The King and I will see you off, of course.” 

That gnawing pain in my chest.  I was leaving him.  After tomorrow, when would I see him again?

“What have you told the King about...”  About what?  Us?  Could I assume there was an “us”, even after the past few days?  “...about our meetings?”

“Nothing outright, but I’ve dropped a few hints.”  There was a hint of mischief in his smile, strangely incongruous with his courtly manner.  “From the questions Kelson is asking me, I think he has his suspicions – maybe he can’t quite believe that someone has finally won the heart of the bachelor Duke of Corwyn!”

“Have I really won your heart?” 

“Can you doubt it?  I grin like a lovestruck boy every time I think of you.  It’s quite embarrassing, actually.”  He laughed outright at that, eyes glittering in the candlelight.  I loved the sound of his laughter – there had been precious little to laugh at these past few days.

“I spoke to Joseph earlier.  I think Kelson would be interested in some of what he had to say.”

“Hmmm?”

“Should I show you?  Would it be easier?”

Alaric looked intently at me.  “Are you sure you want to show me?  You could show Kelson yourself, you know, before you leave in the morning.”

I wasn’t ready to link with the King yet, only just getting used to sharing with someone beyond my family, and it would be less painful to show than to tell.  I held out my hand and in a heartbeat or two we had slipped into rapport.

He let out a shocked gasp as we broke the link, releasing hands as we did so.  The true depth of Bran’s treachery had shaken even him.  There was pain in his face as he looked at me and grasped my hand again, fervently.  “Indeed the families of Donnelly and Chawston will be taken care of.  They were brave men.”

“And the others?  Bran’s commanders?”

“It’s up to Kelson, but I would imagine they would be allowed to live, though I’d imagine they will be closely watched from now on.  Kelson will almost certainly require their oaths from them and he will truth read them, of course.  I think he is of a mind to be as merciful as he can, while not leaving vipers’ nests in Marley.”

I was glad.  I had feared wholesale executions of Bran’s friends, and returning to a Marley in fear of further retribution from the crown.

As if he caught some hint of my thoughts, Alaric said, “It is likely that Kelson will order higher taxes on Marley for a time, to help compensate Cassan and Kierney for the losses they have suffered.  Many families there will struggle to cope now, with fathers and sons gone.”

“I know.  Marley is fortunate that it comes out of this with its menfolk intact, bar a few.  It is right that we should put right what has been done.  We will manage, and I will have the regency council to assist me, in due course.”

 “The regency council may take some months to set up.  Such things are never decided upon swiftly.”   He stood and held his arms out to me and I went to him gladly.  “You must be brave, my dear.  This will be hard on you, and on Brendan, but I promise you it will be all right in the end.  I don’t know how, or what may happen in the meantime, but you will come through this.  You are so strong – stronger than any woman I have ever met, save my mother, I think.  Any woman who will fight to keep her child as you did, even against her own husband, has an inner strength that many would struggle to find.  There will be days when you wonder if you can cope, but you will.  And Kelson will support you.”

I had not missed the reference to my attack on Bran.  He could accept it, then.  Maybe even understand it a little.  “I’m not sure I can do this alone.”

 “I know.”  He drew back a little, his hands on my shoulders, and looked earnestly into my eyes.  “Dearest, I intend to suggest to Kelson that he appoint Lord Derry to help you in Marley.”

My last image of Lord Derry had been of him pressing his hand over my mouth while my son was wrenched away from me.  How could Alaric even *think* that this was a good idea?

Some part of my horror must have communicated itself to him.  “That was not done willingly, I assure you.  Let me show you.”  He held his hand out to me, and sent an image of him plunging into Derry’s mind – finding Wencit’s magic there and releasing his friend from its thrall.  I caught the nature of the compulsion, some small hint of what Derry had endured in captivity and his anguish when he realised what he had done, and shuddered.  This was Deryni magic at its worst – forcing people to act against their natures and to the detriment of others.  I had to accept that Lord Derry would never have acted so, without this duress being put upon him, and wondered again whether magic had played its part in my husband’s defection.

“I would trust him with my life.  He knows what he did and is distraught.  This would give him a way to prove himself to you.  He is desperate to redeem himself in your eyes.”

I was trembling as I gave a short nod.  Trust would be difficult for me in that quarter, but Alaric must have his reasons for the suggestion and him I trusted implicitly.

“Ah, I must go.  I have a company of Torenthi soldiers to see on the road tomorrow and Kelson will wish to know this information from Joseph.  Did he tell you that he is putting Saer de Traherne in charge of getting them home?  He is a good man, Saer.  Brother of Duchess Meraude, and Earl of Rhendall  for nearly three years now.  When do you leave?”

“Early.  As soon as we may – I think my uncle means us to be back at Dhassa by nightfall.”  My eyes brimmed with tears again.  Alaric took my face in his hands and kissed me, and the hurt and the fear fell away like a cloak shed on the ground.  All I could think of was him, and us, and the feeling of him close to me.  I had never felt like this with Bran.  Maybe the Andelonian poets had got it right after all.  I breathed him in – leather and wood smoke – and tried to commit every last part of him to memory, that I might remember this moment always.

Evie:
Poor little Brendan!  And ouch, yes, learning to trust Derry again will be a bit of an uphill road at first for Richenda.  I imagine at this point, if you told her that her future children would be calling him "Uncle Seandry," she'd look at you as if you'd grown two heads....   :D

Elkhound:

--- Quote from: Evie on January 11, 2011, 12:51:55 pm ---Poor little Brendan! 
--- End quote ---

Exactly.  One's father is one's father.  He may be a good man, or a bad one.  He may be a wise man or a fool.  But he is one's father, and no uncle or stepfather can really take his place.  And whatever Bran's faults--and they are legion--we know that he loved Brendan very much and was as good a father to him as he knew how to be.

Alkari:
No one is saying Bran didn't love Brendan.  Though becoming a traitor wasn't exactly a brilliant legacy to leave to him, was it - as Richenda says to Alaric in HD, she and Brendan would be saddled with the name of a traitor, regardless of the outcome of the battle.

And losing a parent at any age is tough, so of course it is 'poor little Brendan' here.  He had no idea of what his father had done, just that his father was dead and wouldn't be coming home.  

Rather than debate the extent of Bran's love for his son, or indeed both his children, it's probably better to say:  Wasn't Brendan fortunate to basically have two men who were 'fathers' to him, and to grow up in what was obviously a happy family.  He had a little brother whom he obviously loved, and at least two sisters where we can assume the same.  And a stepfather who did the best he could to be a father, and who treated Brendan as one of his own children.  In that society, there would not have been too many men who would have been as willing to love and raise the son of a traitor as Alaric was.

Evie:

--- Quote from: Elkhound on January 11, 2011, 09:17:23 pm ---
--- Quote from: Evie on January 11, 2011, 12:51:55 pm ---Poor little Brendan! 
--- End quote ---

Exactly.  One's father is one's father.  He may be a good man, or a bad one.  He may be a wise man or a fool.  But he is one's father, and no uncle or stepfather can really take his place.  And whatever Bran's faults--and they are legion--we know that he loved Brendan very much and was as good a father to him as he knew how to be.

--- End quote ---

Absolutely!  The relationship a child forms with his or her father is vitally important.  It affects so many areas of their development.  A son usually relies on his father to be the primary role model by which he learns how to be a man; a daughter relies on that father/daughter bond to teach her how to relate to other men as a young woman.  If the father/child relationship is healthy, the child is more likely to grow up with a healthy self-image and the ability to form healthy relationships with others.  If the father/child relationship is unhealthy, this can cause a great deal of damage to the child.  Sometimes that damage can be minimized if the child is exposed to other male role models that he or she can form a bond with, but that doesn't always happen.  (And of course the mother/child bond is equally important, but in slightly different ways.)

One thing Bran did right was to love his son.  It may have been about the only thing that man did right, but it was a very important thing.  That love probably made it much easier for Brendan to bond with Alaric later when he would need a stepfather's strength, love and guidance, because Brendan already understood what it meant to be loved by the first protective figure in his life.  Unfortunately, because of the many things Bran did wrong, he left his son a mixed legacy, and Brendan will now have to live down the memory of his father's traitorous actions.  But because he had his father's love and acceptance in his formative years, it will probably be easier down the road for Brendan to learn to forgive his father for the bad things he did.  And that ability to forgive will be essential to Brendan's own healing and recovery.  So yes, Bran's actions will harm his son--that's pretty inescapable--but by loving Brendan he also gave his son an important tool in his ability to emotionally survive and recover from that damage. 

That's why I reacted so strongly to Bran's neglect of his daughter, though--if she'd lived, she wouldn't have had even that much of a good legacy from Bran to equip her to deal with the aftermath of his actions.  And the damage that an unhealthy father/child relationship can do is just as profound as the benefits that a healthy father/child relationship can have.  So in a way, it might be a small mercy that Rhiannon didn't live long enough to be affected by Bran's treason, though maybe she'd still have been young enough that Alaric would be able to compensate at least somewhat for those early years of paternal neglect and indifference.

Every week, I minister to women who are survivors of various forms of abuse, and I'm one of the few women in the group who grew up with a healthy father/daughter bond.  Not only has working with this group over the past few years given me a renewed appreciation of that paternal love, it has helped to confirm that it was in part my father's love for me that helped keep me sane and reasonably emotionally and mentally healthy despite some severe childhood traumas that could have been far more damaging if my father had not been a part of my life.  Having that healthy relationship has helped me maintain a marriage for 22 years, and given me insights I might not otherwise have had in raising a son.  So I'm happy to celebrate the thing that Bran got right.  If only Bran had gotten more things right, Brendan might not only still have his father alive and part of his life, but he might also have had one he could actually feel as proud of as an adult as he did when he was just four. Of course, that would have left Richenda still married to a man who didn't love her and didn't seem all that inclined to learn how, but that's a whole 'nuther topic.   :)

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