[Note: Lady Celeste ("Celsie") de Chervignon and the Contessa Constanza ("Stanzi") d'Alcara di Fianna were first introduced in the following stories, to be read in this order:
Demoiselle in Distress, Chapters 1 - 3
Maidens of Mayhem, Prologue - Chapter 31]
The Demoiselle and Derry
Sean Earl Derry stood at the Coroth docks, watching the latest shipment of horses from R’kassi being unloaded. His eyes were trained on a magnificent bay stallion being led to a nearby yard.
“Gorgeous conformation! I wonder how much that one's going for?” he wondered aloud as he watched the groom close the gate behind the handsome beast.
“He's not for sale,” a silken female voice said behind him. “I've just purchased him for five-hundred Andelonian sovereigns. But I'm hoping to get a return on that, if you're willing to wait until I can breed him. I have a mare in my stables who is nearly that impressive, and I'm looking forward to seeing the foals she drops.”
Derry whistled under his breath, not taking his eye off the horse. “Only five-hundred? I imagine that
took quite a bit of bargaining!”
A soft chuckle. “You have no
idea. I thought I was going to have to offer my firstborn child for a while there.”
The Earl chuckled, turning to view the speaker. Long, lustrous gold hair fell in a cascade of curls, framing features belonging more to an angel than mortal woman. Celestial blue eyes smiled up at him. She looked vaguely familiar to Derry, but he couldn't place her at first, much to his chagrin. He couldn't imagine having met and then forgotten any woman so captivating. She was, if anything more exquisite than the horse. And that was saying quite a lot, coming from Lord Derry! I'd have taken you up on that offer, if you'd let me sire it!
was Derry's initial thought. Fortunately his brain switched back on before he actually uttered the words. She looked to be a highborn lady, whoever she was. Certainly few commoners would be able to spend five hundred Andelonian sovereigns, even on prime breeding stock. In either case, he certainly didn't wish to give insult.
He stared at her in shock. Something about the tilt of her head, the blue of her eyes, and the faintly shadowed dimple in the smile she turned up to him all added up into a memory that had finally clicked into place. “Lady...Celsie?”
The smile grew. “Yes.” She held out her hand. Derry bowed over it, planting a kiss on the fingertips out of sheer reflex, for once again he'd momentarily forgotten how to think. Finally, he managed to get words out again. “I thought you were in Andelon?”
Celsie laughed. “Well, I was
! But I'm back now. My home is here, you know.”
Derry, upon learning that the Lady Celsie intended to pay a visit to Coroth Castle before returning to her own lands, offered to escort her there, as he was heading back there himself. Celsie made arrangements with her groom and several stable lads from her manor to convey the new stallion back to Chervignon, then had one fetch her own mount, a beautiful pale gray mare Derry immediately recognized.
“That’s the one I found for you just before you set forth for the Court at Andelon, is she not?” Derry asked.
“Yes, this is Aelfscine.” She smiled her thanks as Derry gave her a leg up into the saddle. “And she’s served me quite well. Thank you for acquiring her for me. I’ve added a couple more to my stables since then, but Aelfscine is still my favorite.”
“The name means ‘elf-shine’ or 'elfin beauty,' does it not, and in the Old Tongue?”
“It does.” Her blue eyes teased him gently from her perch above. “I see you’re educated as well as decorative.”
Derry laughed as he took his own horse’s reins back from a waiting groom and mounted. “Why do I get the feeling you hear that a lot more often than I do?”
“Because you’d be right. Men—even many who ought to know better—often don’t seem to expect a woman to know much beyond how to manage their own demesne, and seem surprised when we do
enjoy learning for learning’s sake.” She rolled her eyes. “And those who do see women as capable of intelligent thought sometimes don’t get much beyond considering that as an asset in breeding bright sons.” Celsie grinned. “The statement sounds rather odd when made to a man, though, doesn’t it?”
Derry smiled. “Indeed.” The two rode side by side up the road towards Coroth Castle. “So, what have you named that awe-inspiring stallion?”
Celsie’s grin grew as she flashed a look of pure mischief at Derry. “Oh, that one’s called Seandry.”
Derry gave a surprised laugh. “’Seandry’?! Why?”
Celestial blue eyes assessed him with an amused gleam in their depths. “Why? Hm….” She turned her gaze forward, pretending to ponder the question, or possibly how to answer it. “Let’s just say….Stanzi and I might have celebrated a little too
freely after I made that purchase. Vézairi port is lovely stuff, but oh, what it does to one’s head the morning after!” Celsie laughed.
“You and Constanza both
named him?” Derry colored slightly, deciding it was probably best not to ask for their specific reasonings. They rode on for a short while in silence, then Derry asked, “How is
“She does well.” Celsie tilted her head at him, as if trying to decide whether to add more. At last, she offered, “She had another offer of marriage last month, but the last I heard, she was still considering it. He would be an excellent match for her, if she chooses to accept him, but she’s still undecided.”
He nodded, studying the cobbles ahead. “I wish her every happiness,” he said quietly, “whatever she chooses.”
“So do I. The man loves her, but…she’s still not sure.” She spared him another look. “And I’m not sure if it helps his suit or not that he looks a little bit like you. But there’s at least one point in his favor.”
She sighed. “He’s not only able to offer her marriage, he’s quite eager to. That may bring her around in time, if nothing else does. Stanzi may like to think of herself as self-sufficient, but deep down, I think she’s been quite lonely these past few years.”
They came around a bend in the road, and the Castle gates came into sight. Celsie beamed. “Oh, how I look forward to seeing the Duke and Duchess again! I imagine the children have grown quite a bit! Little Kelric would be toddling now, wouldn’t he?”
Derry laughed. “Running, actually. Every
where. He's just turned four.”
“Four? That hardly seems possible! Then Briony would be getting to be quite the little lady, which means Brendan…. Oh my, he’s nearly to manhood now, isn’t he?”
The Earl shrugged. “Well, he still has a few more years before that
, but yes, he’s eleven now. And he’s had to act in a man’s capacity already, at least once,” he added, telling Celsie of young Brendan’s role in helping to avert the assassination attempt on the Kings of Gwynedd and Torenth the previous summer.
“Thanks be to God for that
! Of course, with Alaric Morgan’s example to follow, it’s little wonder the lad’s growing up to be quite the hero.” Celsie smiled. “His Grace casts a long shadow, but I’m sure Brendan and Kelric will both live up to his legacy in time.”
“I’m glad you
, at least, don’t see the Marley ‘taint’ when you look at Brendan, though fortunately for him his actions last summer helped to set a lot of other people’s minds at ease in that regard,” Derry noted.
“Oh, goodness no, why would I?” Celsie said, looking genuinely baffled. “Bran Coris may have sired him, but Brendan can hardly be held culpable for the man’s actions, and Alaric Morgan has been far more of a true father to him, having had much more of a hand in the raising of the lad by now.” She slanted a look at Derry and a gentle smile. “So, when are you
going to be siring little lads and lasses of your own, ‘Uncle Seandry’?”
He gave her a rueful grin in return. “Everyone and my mother asks me that question.”
they? And especially
your mother?” She laughed. “I imagine they do.”
Derry surreptitiously scanned Celsie’s fingers for signs of a ring. “And what about you? Have you married yet, or are you betrothed?”
She shrugged slender shoulders. “Neither. No time, really; I’ve been concentrating more on my training, and then this past year on learning my responsibilities towards Chervignon. Master Derwin’s worked quite diligently on my behalf, but it’s hardly fair to him for me to expect him to take over my duties completely. I’ve had several offers. Some have been…decent enough fellows, I suppose. Others….” She laughed, a soft rippling sound. “I think I’d rather slam my fingers in a door. Repeatedly. Less pain involved.” Celsie grinned at Derry. “Promise me, Sean, that if you ever work up to proposing to a woman, you won’t do so by first trying to ply her with wine, then telling her that you hope to fill her belly with babes every year of her fertile life! I love children, but sweet Jesú I hope that’s not my only
purpose for existence!”
Derry burst into laughter. “No, I can’t imagine that’s a very appealing proposition from a woman’s point of view!”
“Indeed not!” Celsie slanted a sidelong look at him. “Getting the babes might be a pleasant enough occupation, but giving birth to them is rather more difficult work, I should think. And he never once
offered to bear half of them himself, either.” She smiled. “I imagine he’d have been a lot less enthusiastic about a full household, if that
Derry chuckled. “Quite likely.” He reined his horse in at the castle stables, dismounting and handing his horse’s reins over to a stable lad, then helped Celsie down from Aelfscine. She rested in the circle of his arms for the briefest of moments, all soft yielding curves which unexpectedly set his heart to racing, but then she broke from him with a delighted cry as her eyes fell upon the children playing nearby and the woman with red-gold hair sitting close to them.Chapter 2: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=529.0