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Melissa: King Kelson’s Bride

Started by Evie, January 20, 2017, 01:37:26 PM

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In the summer of 1995, I was tremendously excited if somewhat confused to find a record in Forthcoming Books in Print for King Nelson's Bride by "Katherine Kurt." In the nine years since finishing The Quest for Saint Camber, I had been seething with impatience to find out whether Kelson and Rothana would or would not get back together.

Just sloppy typesetting, I thought. It can't be much longer now.

Just as well for my peace of mind that I am not clairvoyant. A little less than a year later, I learned also from reading Books In Print that publication of King Nelson's Bride had been canceled. My heart crashed and burned right there on the bookstore floor. With the real, live actual publication of King Kelson's Bride just a matter of weeks a way now, you may imagine the excitement of my state of mind.

Just from reading the prologue we learn quite a lot about one major plot thread of KKB. It doesn't appear that Liam's welcome home to Torenth will be entirely warm or joyous, even from his own family. From Kelson's point of view, Nigel directly protected Liam from at least one assassination attempt and by keeping him in Rhemuth, both Kelson and Nigel protected Liam from further death threats while he was underage and vulnerable. Kelson is the first Haldane king to have a true opportunity to change the relationship between Gwynedd and Torenth from wary hostility in either war or peace to a more constructive friendship and trust, and he has made the most of Liam's presence in Rhemuth. During his four years at the Haldane Court, Liam has been treated as a cross between an honored guest and a foster son and brother by the Haldanes. Liam behaves almost like a member of the family in Chapter One, so Kelson's plan seems to have worked. How well his and Nigel's efforts will pay off once Liam returns to Beldour remains to be seen.

But two hundred years of mutual hostility aren't so easily wiped out. Since Wencit's defeat and death in 1121, the Torenthis have had to swallow the indignity of having to pay fealty to a Haldane King as their overlord and that doesn't look likely to end any time soon. From Morag's point of view, Liam was taken hostage in Rhemuth, and has been forced to live among their enemies who have done all they could to indoctrinate him against his own people in the intervening four years. Will she be getting her son back as a competent and independent if young Furstan King, or has Kelson turned Liam into a Haldane puppet?

If Morag's feelings about Liam's homecoming are mixed, Duke Mahael of Arjenol, who has been the effective ruler of Torenth since Wencit's death, can't be looking forward to it at all. What grown man of proven competence as a leader and fond of the borrowed power bestowed upon him would be enthusiastic about turning it all over to an untried boy of fourteen even if he is the rightful King of Torenth? When Mahael ceases to be regent of Torenth, Teymuraz will also lose his regency of Mahael's Duchy of Arjenol. By what criteria will they judge Liam's fitness to rule Torenth when he returns? Their concerns about his years in Rhemuth must be very similar to Morag's. Furthermore, Liam's brother and heir Prince Ronal is only ten, and would require another four year regency should anything unfortunate happen to Liam. To Mahael and Teymuraz, this may be even more compelling than Liam's loyalty. Questions do remain about the circumstances of King Alroy's death five years before however, even if nobody dares to bring the allegations into the open. But if Liam should die when he's just come of age – the same age at which his older brother died – those questions will be louder and far harder to dodge.

Moving on to Chapter One, Kelson has plenty of troubles of his own in Rhemuth. After three years of yearning for her, he finally realizes that Rothana has at least one more "no" in her than he has a "please?" It's tempting to speculate what Rothana's response to Kelson's tenacity might have been had he been any other man than the King of Gwynedd. It is true that King Kelson's Bride will have to be a royal lady with a reputation above suspicion, and measured in her own uncompromising terms, Rothana's own reputation is not up to that high mark. But is honor truly her chief objection? In the past three years, she has surely proven her personal integrity to everyone else's satisfaction. Especially since those who know her count her as more sinned against than sinning even if she is a traitor's widow. By now, Kelson's council is probably so desperate to see him marry, that they'd consent to his marrying Rothana, Conall's two year-old year-old posthumously born son and all. Indeed, little Prince Albin is evidence that Rothana is fertile, and strong enough to bear Kelson more heirs, which is the single greatest reason for royal marriages.

I think it's more likely that however much Rothana might love Kelson the man, he is too inseparable from Kelson the King and all the obligations that would inevitably come with marrying him. Being queen of any land is a heavy responsibility, and a lonely, exposed position however many privileges might come with it. Rothana may claim that she wishes to spare Kelson and Gwynedd from the controversy of marrying his own treasonous cousin's widow, but its probable that she'd just as soon spare herself from that notoriety, too. The arrangement with Araxie may even be Rothana's way of getting Kelson off her back at last without wounding him more than she can help.

Rothana's proposal that he should marry Araxie is painful enough for Kelson. Only the knowledge of his duty can make him take the idea seriously if with no joy in his heart. If he does not remember Araxie except as a child, we the readers do not know her at all yet. What does she feel about this match? I am sure that Rothana was as candid with Araxie as she could be about how matters stood between herself and Kelson. After three years of court gossip, it wouldn't have been possible to hide very much of that story, anyway. So Araxie knows from the outset that she is not Kelson's love, nor even his first choice as a wife. Indeed, she has been so thoroughly overlooked as a queenly candidate that he never would have considered her but for Rothana. The duties and the sometimes uncomfortable prominence of being a queen can hardly be less of an issue for Araxie than for Rothana. Added to that is the very real prospect of loneliness in marrying a man who wants and loves someone else. Fools may rush in, but according to Rothana, Araxie is no one's fool.

Araxie is a Haldane princess, and she has no doubt had some very realistic if unromantic lessons in her life regarding what would be expected of her when she married. So she is willing to take a risk on Kelson. To be fair, marrying him will have as many advantages as drawbacks. In Kelson, she will have a healthy, handsome husband near her own age. This will no doubt be a great help when it comes to the dynastic side of her duties. They knew one another as children and can become reacquainted as adults, so she doesn't have to start her married life with a complete stranger. Kelson is kindhearted and honorable, so she need not fear brutal or boorish treatment from him. Araxie will never lack for worldly importance or material comforts as Queen of Gwynedd. Kelson's status as the most eligible match the XI Kingdoms must also add a certain fillip to accepting him in Araxie's eyes.

Katherine stated that King Kelson's Bride was less about the question of who Kelson will marry as how his and Araxie's relationship will develop between their first meeting and their wedding day at the end of the book. I imagine at very least that Araxie will go to her wedding as one of the best protected royal brides in Haldane history. Haunted as he is by Sidana's murder at his first wedding, Kelson is unlikely to take any chances with Araxie's safety. He will be reassured that at least there is no Prince Llewell present this second time around.

There are Mearans at Kelson and Araxie's wedding, however. But Mearans of a very different sort than Llewell Quinnell. A decade after Malcolm Haldane married Princess Roisian of Meara, King Malcolm permitted his younger sister-in-law, the Princess Magrette, to marry Lord Edward Ramsay of Cloome in return for her renunciation of her rights to Meara and her personal oath of fealty to him. Magrette and her husband then settled in Cloome and raised their family in relative peace and stability while Princess Annalind and her Quinnell descendents spent the next ninety years fighting over Mearan rule with the Haldanes. With the now childless and widowed Princess Caitrin Quinnell too old to breed more heirs and immured in a convent for the rest of her life, the Quinnell line is extinct for all practical purposes. And Meara has dropped into the laps of the Ramsays. Sir Jolyon Ramsay is described in the prologue as "a simple knight, descended in the male line from a cadet branch of a rather minor earldom at the back of beyond." Even if Jolyon Ramsay is not such stuff as princes or great warriors are made of, he appears to know the history of his land, and is practical enough to draw certain conclusions from it. Every war the Quinnells fought with the Haldanes has ended the same way: hundreds of dead Mearans and Haldane men, and the continuation of Haldane rule in Meara. Jolyon, who will return to Meara with a new Haldane son-in-law and daughter-in-law in tow may simply have decided that marrying the Haldanes is a far better long term solution for Meara than continuing to fight them. It will be interesting to see what sort of reception his decision will get from his countrymen. There may be Mearans whose attitude toward the Haldanes is not unlike Hannibal's who swore never to be at peace with the Romans. To those men, Jolyon will be seen as a traitor and a coward. But Princess Annalind herself was more feared than loved in her day. Meara is a land of clans and just barely united enough to gather an army to fend off direct threats to their lands. Perhaps the Mearans too are tired of fighting fruitless battles for independence and care little about who the rightful Prince of Meara might be as long as they can live without undue interference from him.

At the end of King Kelson's Bride, Gwynedd, Torenth and Meara appear to be in a rare state of temporary peace and stability. Living "happily ever after" does not make for exciting literature, however. With Katherine as the mistress of their destinies, I think Kelson and Araxie can expect to live in "interesting times" the next time we visit them in Gwynedd.

Melissa

Head, Department of Wishful Thinking
You can have a sound mind in a healthy body--Or you can be a nanonovelist!