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Healer’s Inheritance- Chapter 7- A Wish for Lady Evelyn

Started by Laurna, November 11, 2014, 04:39:55 AM

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Previous Chapter : http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1327.0.html

985, December 25
Castle Cynfyn
Feast of Christmas

Countess Melina of Lendour settled her girdle across her stomach. She smiled at the cradle where Euan lay sleeping and then back at her figure in the mirror. Not many women got their figure back after three births. This being her first triumph, she was pleased to discover that nursing led to more than a happy growing baby. Not that Muir would have commented had she not lost that little tummy bulge. Just so long as she did not become too thin; she would not want to look like a starved waif and become less attractive in his eyes. At the moment she hoped that was not a concern. The Earl was so overjoyed with his wife and his new son that she was sure he was blind to all the less than attractive details that went with childbirth, nursing, and the caring for a newborn babe.

Melina let slip a contented smile as she studied her reflection. Perhaps no one else would notice those well-earned circles under her eyes. She might be tired every minute of the day— quality sleep seemed to be a notion that was elusive at best— nonetheless, she was the happiest she had ever been. As happy as the day she had wed Muir Cynfyn, a promising knight of the realm and heir to Lendour. Her son was like his father, healthy and strong. Since the moment Euan opened those blue, questing eyes of his, he had shown the greatest of interest in the world that surrounded him. All it took was a cooing sound or a soft tickle on his tummy to bring about that toothless baby grin which had both mother and father equally captivated.

The grief after each of the countess's first two stillbirths could not be allowed to overshadow this cherished new life. Those poor innocent babes— how cruel life was! Neither of her two daughters had survived delivery; the first born too early and the second with the cord about her neck. The all too recent anguish from that last birth had been enough to frighten the countess when she got pregnant this third time. She had been so careful, doing all the right things. As her belly grew more heavy, her hopes seemed to be renewed with every passing day. She was sure her prayers had been heard, at least up until that fateful moment when she slipped on the wet steps outside of the castle hall, and then all seemed to drop away into tragedy. But it didn't! By the end of that day, the heavens had favored her with true mercy and blessed her with the miracle of a son. This little boy filled her heart, a singular joy that was echoed in her husband's eyes. How many men would have come to their wife's side during the event of childbirth to give a part of himself to ease her fear and her pain? Very few noblemen, she was sure.

To honor her husband and her son this night, Melina chose to adorn the gown she had worn six years before when she had knelt before the Bishop to give her vows to the Heir of Lendour. The gown, made in her homeland of Nur Hallaj, was of fine wool, in a shade matching the ruby shining on her left hand. The fabric was interspersed with figured leaves and small birds done in goldwork embroidery. Since her wedding, white fur had been added to the edges to hold back the cold mountain air.  Unlike on the day of her wedding, her figure from motherhood filled out the upper portion of the gown quite pleasantly. She was sure her husband would find no objection with her looks this night.

Lady Lisa came forward with a soft veil. "I think we will let your hair shine like that of a maiden's. Let the revelers admire your youth and beauty," announced her companion as she placed the veil to cover only the back of the countess's auburn hair.

"I am not quite as young as my dear new sister," Melina said with a nod. "I do not need to compete with her beauty."

"Not compete, my lady, stand above. You are as beautiful as she, and more so. You are radiant in your happiness.  I dare say, the Earl and his Countess will astound the gathering at the feast tonight."

"I need only to astound Lord Muir. It is his shining eyes which are all that I need. It's Lady Jessamyn's first Christmas with us, I'll not begrudge her the attention." Melina retrieved from her jewelry box a golden stag brooch which Lisa assisted to pin at the center of her neckline. "Should you not be dressing Jessa tonight? I thought you were taking it upon yourself to train her up."

"She is with her mother. They'll be parted on the morrow, I thought it best to not interrupt their last day together." The older lady frowned. "Though I may have made a mistake. When I excused myself, saying I was attending you this evening, Baroness Kyriell requested Lady Evelyn's presence. I am sorry my lady. If I had anticipated that request, I would have made an excuse for Evelyn as well."

"Pray, tell me why? Evelyn and the baroness have become friends. Why this frown?" the countess inquired, wondering if she detected a touch of jealousy. "It is good for Evelyn to break away from her solitude. Her friendship with the dowager has lightened her mood."

"My Lady, you should be as concerned for Evelyn as I am. She should not be forced to stare into the face of her lost dreams so soon." Lisa shied away. Worry, possibly even anger, seemed to cross the ladies face. Her shoulders tensed as she blurted out, "Her abuse of my empathy is bad enough, but to put Evelyn so near the cause of her dashed prospects is...is outrageous!

"Who has abused you? You cannot mean the dowager Baroness... are you talking about Jessa? I don't understand. You know how I dearly love our innocent novice. If there is something that has happened, you must tell it to me," the countess requested in surprise.

"I— I don't wish to say anything against the Knight Captain's choice in a bride, but from what I learned last night, this girl is not the innocent that she claims to be. She has deceived me and, in so doing, has abused my friendship. She...." The older lady stopped as concern crossed Melina's face.

"Deceived you? Are you sure?"

"Last night, I learned...." The dowager's voice turned to a whisper. She leaned in close to the countess. "...That Jessa is Deryni! I have even learned that she can Heal. Her illness....it was a lie!"

"Oh...." Melina looked closely at her friend. She had wanted to tell her the truth before, but she knew from experience that sometimes even those she thought she knew well could not be openly trusted with some secrets. With this secret discovered, it was time to earn her friend's complete loyalty. She inwardly prayed that it need not be forced. "I am sorry, my dear, dear Lisa. What you have learned was hidden from everyone. It is a secret that the earl asked to be kept. Do not blame Jessa."

"But, I was the one who cared for her!" The dowager tensed as she tried to explain. "After the fire, I befriended her and protected her from the nunnery. Thinking her an innocent caught in a drama, I cared for her like she was my daughter. I stood up for her even as Evelyn cried in her room. Poor, dear Evelyn! Right then, I should have used my influence to dissuade Sir Washburn and let the girl go back to the convent."

"Lisa! Please! Lady Evelyn has fully accepted that my matchmaking was not to be. She has no regrets. As for your empathy, believe me, Jessa would not abuse it. And don't think for a minute that you could have turned Wash away from the direction of his heart. Neither Evelyn nor I would have tried that." The countess took both of the older lady's hands in hers.  "If it were not for the loyalty of your family--you, your son, and your grandson--always putting yourselves forward to protect the people of my family, the worst could have come to pass a long time ago. I thank you for protecting Jessa, and I thank Robby for coming to Sir Washburn's aid. I see their happiness as reward for bringing my sweet Euan into this world a healthy babe." The notion of that not having happened sent a shiver down Melina's spine.

Lisa did not need to be Deryni to feel Melina's fear. "I don't understand." She looked over at the cradle with the little boy sucking a finger in his sleep. "Euan is healthy."

"Come sit by me. I have much to tell you about those days not so long ago. It would be easier for me to show you than to use words. You deserve the truth. Please...." Melina patted the bench at her side.

At first grudgingly and then with more assurance, Lady Lisa came to sit beside her friend. The dowager had experienced rapport before, but a small trepidation for magic still stemmed from her childhood when priests and high nobles condemned the Deryni race. That was before she had married Baron Donneral and experienced at first hand the loyalty that was shared between these two families.

Not wishing to abuse Lisa's trust, the countess slowly moved her hand to touch the older woman's forehead. With gentle fingers, she pulled Lisa's head to rest against her shoulder. The rapport between them was shallow, but sufficient to let knowledge and images flow from one to the other. It seemed Lisa had not been aware of Euan's Healing at his birth. She had suspected the nun from the convent, Sister Vivian, to be Deryni and to have the power to control Melina's pain, but that was all.

"Then Sister Vivian is not Deryni?" Lisa whispered.

No, she is not, but surely that tells you how much Vivian cares for Jessa, the countess answered through the link. She is willing to take the risk onto herself to protect a Deryni Healer. You must understand how rare Healing is. That is why Muir and I want to do our part to keep her safe. And that is nothing compared to how our Knight Captain feels. Since she Healed him, he has become a great puppy whenever she is near. The countess's words were followed by a good-natured image of the earl's brother; here was Washburn sporting a smile which many had not seen in years.

Lady Lisa's misgivings over the match which was not to be for Lady Evelyn was eased by this knowledge. "I noticed that too. Jessa really did Heal him? Robby had let slip once or twice that something deeply connecting had occurred between Wash and Jessa, but whenever I questioned him, he changed his story. I did not know what to believe. After the men came home from the war, none of the women could understand why Washburn's eyes never fell upon Lady Evelyn, not in the way everyone expected of him."

"Aye, a man's heart does not always follow the path it is placed upon. I do not regret the outcome, and neither should you. I still have hope I will find our dear Evelyn a fine husband. Before our warrior King goes through his 'Stud Book' and hands her off as reward to some family he needs allegiance with." Melina huffed at the impossibility that her friend could make a good match that way. Lisa immediately agreed on that account. "I am glad this is no longer a secret from you. Although, now that you know, would you permit me to give you a little protection to keep this knowledge safe?" 

Lisa knew this was a part of learning the secrets of the Deryni. She agreed to the safeguard with a nod. Melina deepened their rapport and shielded the knowledge just shared from anyone else's prying touch. A brief sweep of Lisa's emotions showed Melina that time might still be needed for Jessa to regain Lisa's trust, but at least her companion no longer felt deceived.


Jessa managed to survive the two youthful ladies-in-waiting fussing over her person. All through the bath, the dressing, and the combing of her hair, the two giggled and teased each other over which of the squires were more likely to lead them in the carole, at least if their guardians could be given the slip. Jessa's silence seemed to encourage their banter. Soon they were commenting on the good qualities of each squire, qualities that made the married woman blush. Their gaiety did start to ease Jessa's mood, especially when they brought her wedding gown into view. They said it was her mother's desire to see her dressed just so. The young ladies had no notion of the allure; all Jessa's hopes were embodied in its gold silk. Wearing it once more was like slipping back into the dream, a dream where reality held no dominion. 

Jessa left the privacy of the wardrobe in a state of felicity, her troubles buried for another time. She found her mother in the guest solar conversing with an elegant dark-haired lady.  Jessa had seen the Dowager Countess of Eastmarch in the presence of Countess Melina before, but she was rarely there when Jessa arrived, so they had not yet formally meet.

"Ah, here is my daughter now. Jessamyn, please come. You're just in time, my dear, as the men are coming to escort us down. But before we go, I wish to acquaint you with Lady Evelyn. I want you and her to be friends."

Jessa curtsied before the widowed countess. "It is my honor to greet you, Countess Evelyn."

"Lady Jessamyn, greetings! I was thinking that it was time when we should meet. I am sorry that I was indisposed and I missed your wedding. I understand that it was an enchanting event, and that you were beautiful. Seeing you dressed so, I will say you are even more lovely than the stories told."

"I had heard you were ill, I am sorry. Many people said they missed your presence in the Cathedral that day. I pray that you have recovered, and that no more sorrow passes your way," Jessa said with head bowed.

"We all have sorrow in our lives at some point. It is how we live forward that defines who we are," Evelyn replied. "It is for the sake of my child that I endure." The lady's smile softened.

"Jessa," Lady Elzia chimed in. "Did you know that Evelyn is Sir Artimus's sister? That she has... shall we say... knowledge which might help you in your path of learning." Elzia gestured for her daughter to sit between them, but the news took Jessa by surprise.

"I did not know. I thought Sir Artimus was a guardian, but not your brother. Then you are..."

Evelyn let her shields flare, a soft blue aura surrounding her face. "Yes... We ladies of Deryni blood need to stand together and share our knowledge. I think there is much we can teach each other."

"I would like that," Jessa said with a shy smile.

Her mother took Evelyn's hand and then Jessa's hand, bringing them together. There isn't time to explain, but I do hope you will become friends, I wish I could have gotten you both together sooner.

There was a ready calm that surrounded Evelyn in their rapport. She willingly shared the love she held for her daughter, that little girl who was always at her side. Jessa passed across the happiness she felt for Evelyn for having such a sweet child, but then her own sadness crept to the surface. She was forced to lessen the sharing for fear her concerns would be known.

Evelyn felt Jessa's turn of emotion, but she did not understand it. I will enjoy your friendship, Lady Evelyn told her.

And I yours, Jessa replied even as she bowed her head, feeling shame at her inability to open up more. The new barriers of her mind were an unaccustomed obstacle; she needed to learn to share herself without sharing all of herself. The knowledge may have been hidden, but the pain was not. How could she have more than the shallowest of rapport without revealing her despondency? For it was evident that her mother had said nothing of her troubles to the widowed countess.

After Evelyn's hand had dropped away, her mother admonished her. Jessa, surely you can be more civil than that!

"I am sorry, Lady Evelyn," Jessa responded with normal words. "It was not my intention to be so abrupt.  Perhaps on another day when I am less tired and more settled here. I really do look forward to spending time in your good company."

"It is quite all right. I can imagine it has been a great change from where you were before. A change for the better, but tiring none the less. I had a similar experience when I married Earl Sighere. Perhaps I can help you, you only need to ask." Evelyn's smile was warm, letting Jessa feel less ashamed.

"My lady," Jessa curtsied before the countess. "You honor me with your offer."

Cecilia entered the room at that moment, excitement filling her smile. "The men are coming up the stairs," she announced.

"Very well, ladies; we have a feast to enjoy!"


Fanfare, trumpeted from the balconies, announced the arrival of the Earl of Lendour to the Christmas Feast. The glory of the pageantry was traditional; the people expected it, and their lord and lady happily acquiesced to the formalities.   Lord Muir was a proud man as he stepped before his people. His lovely countess was at his side, and his closest family and friends were at his back.  Making his way toward the main table, Muir gave warm salutations to many as he passed them by. The countess mirrored her husband's joy with heart-felt greetings. It was with honest respect that the people of Cynfyn bowed to the Deryni couple, one of but a few of Gwynedd's nobility known to be of that race.

For all the denunciation of Deryni in recent decades, the mountain people of Lendour were not of the same mind as their lowland cousins. They accepted their earl with affection. It was a harsh landscape that they lived in, and they knew and trusted their noble lord in ways the lowlanders would not understand. The earl, as had his father and his uncle before him, had not and would not knowingly break that trust. It was a symbiotic relationship that had survived two centuries and with care would last into the future. As proven tonight, when all of the castle residents were invited to the feast, from the highest born to the lowest hand, only the guards on duty, the kitchen servants, and the pages serving were not finding their seats in readiness for the lavish repast that was about to be served. And as for all of those who did serve tonight, there had been a hearty luncheon earlier in the day, so that none would be deprived.

As the earl's family rounded the head table to find their places, the sound of cups pounding the wooden table tops grew loud. Muir let the sound drum on for a moment before he raised his hand in greeting. "I thank you all for joining us on this night of glory. You do my family honor by celebrating with us," he called as the background noise quieted. "This has been a hard year. We have lost many friends in a war not of our making. But these friends and comrades did not sacrifice themselves for naught; their honor and indeed all of yours have in this year made the kingdom safe. Gwynedd has prevailed and Lendour has proven its worth once more in gallantry, skill, and loyalty. For this, I thank each and every one of you." He held his hands out to the gathering and nodded his gratitude. A goodly cheer encompassed the hall. "Tonight, we rejoice in the birth of our Lord. Let us be merry and live to the fullest what life has to offer. Let's not waste one moment longer without toasting to life fully obtained."

"Hear! Hear!" cheered the revelers with goblets held high.

The earl nodded to his chaplain. "If you would, please, give us a blessing for this feast we are about to partake."

Father Emesto stood and gave his blessing to those in the hall. When all had said "Amen", Muir called for the food to be served. "Lord Steward Ohlin, please!"

The earl brought his goblet to his lips and took a hearty taste of his wine as the Steward gave a bow and tapped his staff against the floor. The crowd cheered as the kitchen archway filled with movement: the first two squires came forth carrying a platter of roasted boar dressed in apples and sauce. Behind them came two dozen pages, all carrying platters laden with rich holiday foods.

The boar was placed upon the table before the earl for breaking. Squire Robby stepped forward with jeweled carving knives in hand and a solemn expression on his face. This was his first time carving for the earl and though he was young, he was being honored today to perform such a duty, a duty he took quite seriously. With a slight shake in his hand, he carved the first slice into the meat. With a careful breath, Robby steadied his hand. The following cuts were smoother as he had been trained. The first morsels of savory roast were served on the earl's trencher and a ladle of apple and wine sauce was offered and accepted at the earl's pleasure. All cheered, for the feasting had begun.

The boar was moved aside to be offered for each member of the high table, while other hearty dishes were walked past the revelers in the hall for each to take his want. For every hungry soul there was plenty to eat: boar and pheasant, mutton and fish. Plates of tubers and vegetables drenched in honey and nuts, kale and bread stuffing, sweet pastry pies and cakes. Talk was light as all turned their joy to the delicacies before them.

"I may steal your master cook," stated Baron Jathurn after a taste of a particularly savory dish. "If you find him missing tomorrow, you will know I have bribed him to come south with us,"  the baron jested with the lovely Countess of Lendour who had honored him by having him sit at her side.

"I think it would take much to coax Master Cairn out of his kitchens," replied the countess with a smile. "He rules the ovens like a king rules his kingdom. Not many venture into his domain without finding themselves laden with some task. Be prepared to stir the stew kettles before you even have a chance to have your offer heard."

"Surely, countess, you have never been made to stir the kettles," the baron teased.

"Oh, yes I have, good sir. And I am proud to say I will do it again if I must to keep your bribe from stealing our cook away."  At the engaging smile of surprise from the baron, Melina merrily laughed. It felt good to laugh, a laugh of pleasure which brought many smiles to the faces around her.

"You have me, my lady, I will offer Master Cairn my regards for a feast well laid and nothing more. I would not wish a beauty such as thee at any labor. You are the star in Lendour's sky."

"Now you flatter, my lord." Melina blushed.  "Your sister has become the newest star in Lendour's night."

Jathurn leaned forward to view his sister sitting beyond the Knight Captain's right hand. Though she was dressed elegantly and her smile was soft and pleasant, she seemed a little tired or perhaps distant, judging from the look in her eyes. "I dare say my sister is not quite recovered from last night's ordeal. For tonight, her star does not shine as brightly as yours." Jathurn's gaze continued down the table, and he smiled a greeting at the lady in sapphire who was the other shining star at the high table. "Only one other seems to rival your captivating spirit, dear countess. The Lady Evelyn has been introduced to me by my mother. And I have wondered if I dare be so bold as to ask after her."

The countess raised her eyes and studied the intentions on the baron's face. "Of the lady in question, I am glad to see her smiling; she is deserving of so much more than she has." Melina looked down to the end of the table, beyond Washburn and Jessa, to the right of Sir Artimus. "Hers is a sad tale, one I had hoped to remedy with a fresh beginning once the war found its finish. My desire had been to reintroduce her to one who had been made a widower just as she has been widowed. I had thought, perhaps, that sharing their mutual losses would put their hearts on the mend."

Melina looked down the table for a moment in thought before she looked out across the hall with a nod of acceptance. "Cupid had other plans for one of those broken hearts. Today, I see that heart healed and made whole." Melina made a point this time to not look back to where Sir Washburn sat as she said this. "I do not regret for a moment that my plans did not work. Still, I am very protective of Lady Evelyn, as is Sir Artimus. You will have to make your case with him if you ask after her."

Jathurn watched the countess, a little surprised. "You had wished to see her betrothed to your husband's brother? I understand Sir Washburn lost his first wife three years ago, and that Lady Evelyn's husband died at the beginning of the war by Torenthi arms. Is that right?" he asked to confirm what he'd heard.

Melina swirled the wine in her cup with a sad expression on her face. "Yes— in another time and another place, I had hoped to make her a match worthy of her good spirit," she said quietly. "Please understand," she quickly added. "Not for a minute do I regret the love Wash and Jessa have found in each other."

The baron considered the countess's words for a moment before surprising her with his thoughts. "Your praise of the lady speaks volumes for her disposition. I do not inquire for myself, I am happily married," said the baron in reply to Melina's sudden interest. "I inquire for my brother, who is in need of a good wife, a Deryni wife. One who could share what a human wife can not, and perhaps assist him in the energy needs that his work requires."

"There is Cecilia," the countess offered. They both looked down toward the end of the table where the young woman sat, her full attention was given to the minstrels at the end of the hall.

The baron smiled. "She is not quite the wife for a man with a demanding career. My brother is a Healer and he needs a strong spouse, like the strength my sister has found in Sir Washburn. Sir Ellison is a good man, hardworking, and loyal to a fault. He will make a good husband when he finds a good woman to marry, there just have not been many Deryni women available to choose among. In our time here, I have spoken with Lady Evelyn, and I have seen a passion that she and my brother might share. Would you permit my brother to write to her to see if they have common interests?"

"I will permit it if Sir Artimus approves. But I warn you I will not see this lady heartbroken again. And know that her daughter is very important to her. Even though you are Jessa's brother, be aware that I am not above retaliation when it comes to protecting those I hold dear."

"I never wish, nor do I intend, to incur your wrath, my lady," Jathurn replied sincerely.

"Very well." The countess smiled. "This is a happy night indeed. I look forward to seeing what the spring unfolds."

Next Chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1336.0.html
May your horses have wings and fly!


Hopefully everything will work out well for Lady Evelyn, even though the match might not be what Countess Melina and Lady Lisa had originally hoped for.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


The story weaves around the ladies of Cynfyn - all have had trials, but hopefully all will find a happy future. It was nice to have more Melina in this chapter - I would like to know more about her and Muir beyond what we have seen so far.  Another story, perhaps? 
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany