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The Secret Son -- Part Three

Started by Evie, February 03, 2022, 09:14:13 AM

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Part Three

January 3, 1108 – afternoon
Maryse's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

Lannie felt Maryse's forehead before turning back to Countess Adreana in alarm. In a low voice, she said "I'll need towels an' water in th' basin. No' cauld water fresh frae th' well, mind, lest she tak a chill." She glanced around, spotting a jug of water that Maryse kept on hand for her daily ablutions. "Tha' should serve."

"I'm sae cold, Lannie," Maryse whispered. "An' me belly aches somethin' fierce!"

Adreana moved the small table with the basin closer to the bedside, Yvette meekly carrying the jug, having successfully argued with her mother earlier that she should be allowed to help despite her maiden status, not wanting to be parted from her sister in Maryse's time of need. Their mother had given up the fight, too exhausted from the events of the past few days to hold her ground, and acknowledging that an extra set of hands was needed to deal with this unforeseen complication. "There's extra towels i' the kist," Adreana told her, taking the water and pouring it into the basin as Yvette turned to open the small chest that sat beside where the table had once been, pulling out an armful of folded linen.

"Set those tae soak i' th' water, then wring one out fu' weel an' hand me it," Lannie ordered, moving Maryse's hand when she would have plucked at her wool blanket to draw it further up her body. "Wheesht, lass," as Maryse started to protest. "I ken ye feel cauld, but yer body's burnin' wi' fever, an' we need tae draw th' fire oot." Taking the damp towel from Adreana, she folded it and lay it across Maryse's forehead. "Anither," she ordered, which Yvette supplied. This towel, Lannie folded and lay upon Maryse's chest, the dampness spreading into the finer linen of Maryse's chemise.

"Me head hurts fierce," Maryse told her. "Please, c'n I hae some willow bark tisane?"

Lannie considered the request. The willow bark would help ease the pain, and it was clear to her that Maryse needed the relief, yet it might also make her bleed more freely. Thus far, Lannie hadn't noticed any more bloody show than might be expected in the hours after a child's birth, but she wasn't sure what was causing the sudden spike in fever that the girl was experiencing. Had she retained some piece of the afterbirth? Lannie had checked earlier and hadn't noticed any piece missing, but maybe her old eyes had missed something.

"Yvette, was th' afterbirth chucked oot wi' th' rubbish earlier?"

"I dinnae ken. Why?"

"Gae find it, if ye can. There's summat I need tae check." Lannie briefly weighed the benefits against the risks of giving her patient the pain and fever relieving concoction she asked for. Deciding that the risk of hemorrhage was probably lower than the risk of death by fever, this many hours after childbirth, she called out an additional order over her shoulder. "An' hae Bessie Cook brew oop some willow bark tisane."

Yvette ran off to look, leaving Adreana and Lannie to continue ministering to her sister.


July 15, 1107, late night
Maryse's and Yvette's bedchamber
Transha Castle

The sisters lay in their shared bed, Maryse recounting the events of her wedding to Yvette. "Sae then, we exchanged oor vows. Duncan gave me his cloak clasp as a token o' his love – it's in me kist th' noo, hid under me spare towels, sae Ma wouldnae see it an' ask after it – an' I gave Duncan...remember tha' shiny stone tha' ye said matched my eyes?"

"Th' bead ye put on a necklace? Aye, I recollect tha'. So tha's why I've nae seen ye wear it since Culdi. I wondered if ye'd lost it. An' then Father Geordan pronounced ye man an' wife?"

Maryse shook her head. "Nay, we thought tae ask 'im a' first, but we were afeared he'd refuse, or tell th' Duke, so we dinnae daur tell 'im. But we said oor vows afore the Presence Lamp an' th' Blessed Sacrament, an' asked God tae be our witness. Duncan says there's some theological term f'r it, but I f'rget it. 'Per verbal Deo presenti' or summat. It means we asked God tae be oor witness, an' sae it's bindin'."

"Sae, like handfastin', then?"

"Aye, I s'pose," Maryse said uncertainly. She knew that in more remote parts of the Borders, where some villages only saw a circuit priest every so often, couples would unite by handfasting until the priest could reach their village. She thought maybe that what she and Duncan had done was somehow different, but she wasn't sure, and as far as she was concerned, it mattered not. What she knew in her heart of hearts was that Duncan was a man she could trust to do right by her, else she'd never have married him in the first place.

At any rate, Yvette seemed unfazed by the revelation, to Maryse's relief. "An' then wha'?"

"An' then...weel..."  Maryse giggled, turning away slightly. "I hardly need t' tell ye wha' cooms after a weddin', ye goose! But o' course, tha' wasnae in th' chapel! We had tae steal awa' tae th' stable loft. Nigh got caught too, afore we got there, by one o' th' Duke's men checkin' on th' horses afore headin' inside f'r th' nicht, but at last it was quiet, an' we could sneak intae th' stable tae hae oor privacy."

Yvette went silent for a few long moments, until she could contain her curiosity no longer. "Wha' was it like, ye an' Duncan thegither, after ye were wed?"

She blushed in the near darkness as Maryse turned in their shared bed to stare at her, her incredulous expression clear enough in the pale moonlight streaming in through the window. "I mean, no' all of it, o' course! None o' me business, tha'! Jus'...ye ken...did it hurt?" Yvette bit her lip, hoping she hadn't caused too much offense, but at the same time, while life in a crowded castle didn't lend itself to leading too sheltered a life, there were certain aspects to young love and married life that, as a newly marriageable fourteen year old, Yvette knew she would learn about soon enough, yet she wished she was more prepared for it all than she was at present. And as awkward as it felt to ask her sister about something so deeply personal, how much more awkward would it have felt to ask Ma!

Maryse's expression softened as she realized her sister was asking out of innocent curiosity, mingled with a natural sense of anxious trepidation, not out of a prurient desire to know details about her intimate life that were no one else's concern aside from Duncan's and God's. She gave her sister a reassuring smile.

"Aye, it hurt a wee bit. But...it was right nice too."  She gazed up at the ceiling, thinking back. "I liked bein' held an' kissed, an' feelin' like..." Maryse tried to think of how to describe the heady feelings of those all-too-brief yet intense moments in her husband's arms. "Like I was th' mos' beautifu', an' th' mos' wanted, an' th' mos' cherished bride in a' th' world. Tha' part of it was sheer bliss."  She frowned as other memories came back to her. "But it was a' too quick, an' we were both sae afeard th' hale time. Afeard tae be found oot, tha' is. No' afeard o' each ither." She smiled again, her expression growing tender. "I could ne'er be afeard o' me Duncan. He kent I was anxious, an' did his best tae be gentle." She glanced over at Yvette. "So aye, it was a wee bit uncomfortable, but I think only a'cause we were both sae new at it. He says he'll mak it oop tae me th' next time, when we're openly man an' wife an' c'n learn thegither at oor leisure." The smile faded, and Maryse clutched her sister's hand. "Och, Yvette! If only there was some way tae ken if there'll e'er be a next time! There has tae be; Da cannae gae on bein' angered a' th' McLains f'rever!"


March 25, 1107, late night
Culdi Castle
A dark stairwell

The menfolk had returned to Castle Culdi, but the joy that had arisen in Maryse's breast upon seeing their return had swiftly transformed into shock, grief, and the ice cold knife's edge of fear. The close camaraderie that had once bonded the McLain Duke and his retainers with their Transha neighbors had been sundered by a singular act of violence that had resulted in the death of her brother Ardry, tanist of the MacArdry clan. It had also resulted in a second death – the execution of the McLain retainer who had slain him – for the MacArdry men were hot for blood, and only by swift justice would their anger be satisfied. Nay, not even that act could wholly assuage it, for tempers ran high on both sides of the conflict now, though at least the Duke's willingness to pass swift judgment on the man whose rash actions had cost the MacArdry heir his life had averted a blood feud from instantly breaking out between those loyal to either side.

The McLain men had their own cause for bitterness as well, for despite one of their number having been the killer, it was felt by many that the act was not wholly unprovoked, and that Ardry MacArdry had been equally to blame, having started the brawl which resulted in his death.

Now the MacArdry men were preparing to ride out of Culdi with their womenfolk at first light, a condition of the tense agreement between Caulay MacArdry, half wild with grief and rage at the loss of his heir, and the grim Duke Jared, none too pleased at having to execute a man who, up until this unprecedented rash act, had heretofore served him loyally and well. But a life for a life was the law this act called for, and having looked into all sides of the matter as objectively as he was able, Duke Jared was unable to discover any extenuating reason to pass lesser sentence on what, despite its beginning as a tavern brawl, had soon developed into outright murder. For according to the testimonies Jared had been given by eyewitnesses, in the end the death appeared to have been no mere accident. Ardry MacArdry had been deliberately done to death, and all over the charms of a tavern wench!

Maryse's mother and the youngest MacArdry sister, Ianna, were in their guest bedchamber, Adreana pale with shock and grim-faced as she rocked the sobbing girl in her arms, while the child's nursemaid finished the last of their packing. In the adjoining room, Yvette checked under the bed and various other corners and nooks to see if anything had been left unpacked. Maryse had already packed all her belongings away, save the gown and chemise she wore, feeling as though she were no longer a person acting on her own volition, but some odd clockwork creature wound up to move on its own. She could not feel, just then. She dared not feel.

The pressure of holding her emotions in such tight check for fear they'd burst and consume her completely felt overwhelming. She could no longer remain in this room with the walls closing in tightly around her; she had to flee. Flee to the only refuge she could think of, the only place in this earthly heaven suddenly turned hellish where she might be safe. She needed to be with Duncan. Maybe he would know what to do, and if not, maybe they could work it out together.

Yvette's back was turned. Maryse chose that moment to slip away, fleeing down the dark corridor, yanking open the door at the end that led to the back stairs. She thought this way might lead  towards the Ducal rooms, towards where Duncan was most likely to be found, without needing to cross through the Gallery or main corridors where she might be more likely to be intercepted, forced to return to her chamber. Feeling her way down the narrow stairway in the darkness, she eventually reached a level area. A second door at the bottom of the steps opened outwards, she recalled, and she felt for the latch, cautiously opened it and peered out into the darkness of a courtyard, looking to see if it was empty, but then a shadowy figure emerged from around a corner. Maryse started to shrink back, but then nearly swooned from sheer relief. It was Duncan, heading towards the very doorway where she stood, doubtless on his own quest to join her.

Seeing her, he darted through the door, closing it swiftly behind himself before enveloping her in a desperate embrace. In the darkness of the servants' stairwell, they clung to each other for comfort.

"Ma says we're leavin' a' first light," Maryse eventually confided with a sob.

"I heard." Duncan held her tenderly, stroking her hair as she buried her face in his shoulder. "I'm so sorry about the loss of your brother. About...everything."

There was a short silence, her hot tears soaking the linen of his shirt, then a tiny sniff. "I loved me brother, aye. But he's an idjit. It's nae excuse t' kill 'im, but I cannae say I'm surprised he cam tae a bad end. MacArdrys hae fierce tempers, but Ardry's ran hotter than most."

"Aye, and unfortunately among the Border folk, we share long memories and longer grudges as well. McLains and other folk who follow us too, not just the MacArdrys." Duncan uttered a humorless laugh. "What a mess!" He kissed the top of her head, felt her small start of surprise, then the warmth of her petite body leaning further into his embrace. He sighed.  "I'd meant to ask permission to wed you once our fathers returned, Maryse, but under the circumstances, this seems hardly the most prudent timing to ask them.  Or you. But...would you be willing?"

"Och, aye!" He felt her shift in his arms, felt the softness of her cheek come to rest lightly against his chin. He tilted his face downwards, sensing rather than seeing her upturned face in the darkness that concealed them, her soft breath guiding his lips to hers for a kiss.

A plan came to him then. "Then marry me, Maryse. Let's not wait for them to come to their senses; who knows how long that will take!  Wed with me tonight."

He sensed her bewilderment. "But...how?!"

The plan formed in his head. "You know that tiny chapel past the garden? Near the garden where you showed me your necklace. My family's memorial chapel."


"Meet me there, as close to midnight as you can. We can say our vows there before God's Holy Presence." His voice started to rise with excitement, and he had to remind himself to speak quietly, lest anyone hear them through the courtyard door. "They can try to part us, Maryse, but they can't part us forever. Not if we're man and wife before God. Both my kinsmen and yours are angry with each other now, but the anger can't last forever. Once it's safe for us to reveal our secret, I'll come for you then."

"But...who will wed us? Do ye think yer chaplain would keep secret aboot us exchangin' vows?"

Duncan considered the idea briefly, but it would never work. He felt sure Father Geordan would consider it his duty to warn the Duke of their plan, not daring to marry off a Duke's son without permission. "No," he said with some reluctance in his voice. "I think for it to remain secret, we're safest if only God is our witness."

"But then, how c'n we prove it e'er happened?"

Duncan cupped her cheek with his palm. "Maryse...do you trust me?"

"Aye, wi' me life!"

"My heart, if we consummate our marriage afterwards, that would be the seal to our sacrament. If the worst should happen before I can get back to you – if Earl Caulay tries to promise you to another man – you can tell your mother about us. Surely she knows your heart well enough to know you'd never give yourself to me without proper bonds of marriage between us first. And...well, I've heard there are ways women can check for evidence that you've...been with me."

"Oh."  It was a tiny sound, more quiet exhalation than actual utterance. Duncan wasn't sure if he heard sudden comprehension, perhaps even a tinge of embarrassment or bashfulness, but what he was certain he didn't hear was shock or fear.

"Will you marry me, Maryse?"

A soft kiss, butterfly light, landed on his chin.  "Aye. I already tolt ye tha'." Her arms tightened around him. "Jus' promise ye'll come f'r me as soon as ye can."

"As soon as it's safe, aye. Remember, the tiny chapel by the garden. As close to midnight as you can manage. I'll wait in case there's some delay, but we can't wait too long, because your family rides out at dawn."

"I'll be doon as soon as I ken Yvette is sleepin' sound."

Duncan had a brief internal struggle with himself, but there was one more risk that he must take. A sign of trust he needed to show to this strong young woman who had shown such trust in him. He hoped he had gauged her heart truly, and that what he felt he ought to share with her, if they would share lives as one together, would not end up being a rash act that would plunge him and his family to their doom.

Cupping his hand, he produced silvery handfire. "Are you certain, Maryse? If you don't feel you can wed with me, knowing me as I truly am, tell me now."

She blinked a few times, her eyes adjusting to the sudden light, but there was only the gleam of reflected handfire in her amber eyes, along with a flicker of curiosity. "Does it hurt?" she asked him.


She gave him an exasperated look then, cuffing his arm lightly. "Dinnae be daft then, Duncan McLain! O' course I'll wed wi' ye! I love ye. Put tha' out th' noo, lest anyone see light shinin' through th' planks o' the door, or they'll catch us afore there c'n be a weddin'!" She bounded up the stairs, joy radiating from her despite her sorrows, blowing him a kiss from the top landing. "Midnight!" she whispered down to him.

Despite the great worries that threatened to consume them both, at that moment Duncan felt light as a feather.


August 1, 1107, morning
Adreana's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

Adreana frowned as she helped Maryse with the back lacing of her gown. Mercy, the lass was growing! She'd just let out the side seams of this one a few weeks earlier, yet now Adreana had trouble pulling the edges of the opening close enough together to prevent a wide gap that revealed more of the thin linen chemise beneath than was seemly. There was simply not enough fabric left in the seams to let the sides of the gown out further.

"Maryse, lass, I dinnae ken how ye're puttin' on weight sae quickly," Adreana said with some asperity. "It's like yer th' one eatin' f'r twa instead o' me!"

Maryse burst into tears. Adreana sighed, working on gentling her voice. She'd been frustrated, but hadn't meant to hurt her daughter's feelings, though Maryse had been so moody of late, it was difficult to guess what might set her off. "Dinnae fash yersel', yer still a bonnie wee thing, jus' no' sae wee as ye were. An' some men prefer a lass wha's pleasantly plump, if tha's wha's got ye sae oopset."

The tears turned into racking sobs, which was quite the opposite effect of what Adreana had intended, nearly causing her to draw back in alarm, although now she suspected she had some inkling of what was affecting her daughter so. "Maryse," Adreana said gently, turning the girl and pulling her into a warm maternal embrace. "I'm sae sorry. In th' past few months o' me ain grief an' feelin' puirly wi' the new babe growin' in me, I havenae spared enow thought tae how difficult this summer must hae been for ye." She patted her daughter's back awkwardly, her more practical temperament not lending itself well to an ease and facility with words like her more sensitive daughter had, yet she knew she must try to understand the lassie's mind for Maryse's sake. "I think...mayhap last spring, ye had some hopes tha' young Laird Duncan might offer f'r ye. I'll confess, I had me ain hopes f'r th' match, f'r he seemed right ta'en by ye, and ye wi' him as well. But it's a'right, me heart. He's a braw lad, aye, but far frae th' only man oot there. Yer Da will mak ye a fine match once he's back frae Meara, an' I'll look tae steer him t'wards one o' yer ain likin'. Ye neednae wed th' first man yer Da taks a likin' tae f'r ye, if ye dinnae like him yersel'."

Maryse shrank back from her mother, mute horror in her eyes. At last she managed a protest. "Nay, Ma, I cannae!"

"Weel, ye cannae hae th' McLain lad the noo! Caulay'd no' hae it, wha' wi' yer brother's body barely havin' had time tae cool in 'is grave!" Adreana retorted hotly, her patience beginning to wear thin. "Show some sense, lass! It maun be many a year afore yer Da wi' be minded tae even speak kindly tae a McLain again, let alane gie his daughter tae un."

"He needn't gie me awa', then, nor find me a man neither, f'r Duncan's a'ready offered, an' I've a'ready wed him! We wed thegither tha' last night i' Culdi, afore Da made us ride oot a' dawn." Maryse glared back at her mother, a fierce light in her eyes. "Da cannae keep a marrit wife awa' frae her husband f'rever, nae matter how wroth he maun be wi' th' McLains! I'm right grieved o'er Ardry mesel', but none o' tha' was Duncan's fault!"

Adreana stared at her daughter in shock, her mind awhirl. This was a complication she wasn't sure how to handle. Then she had a thought that gave her a glimmer of hope.

"Yer richt, Ardry's death wasnae Laird Duncan's fault," Adreana said, working to remain calm. "But I dinnae think yer Da will be able tae see tha' as we do. No' now, mayhap no' ever. A'right, lemme hae a think. We could talk tae Father O'Ruane, find oot wha's needed tae get the' match annulled. Ye're a maiden lass, nae a widow free tae gie herself awa' wi'oot consent, sae wi'oot a consummation, th' vows c'n likely be dispensed wi'...."

"I'm bearin' his babe, Ma!"  All the fight went out of Maryse as she gave a shuddering sigh, looking beseechingly at her mother like a frightened child needing comfort. "Ye're no' th' ainly woman wha spent tha' last night i' Culdi in th' arms o' th' man she loves, needin' an' givin' solace."


March 25, 1107, near midnight
McLain family mortuary chapel
Culdi Castle

"Before Thee as my Supreme Witness, my Lord and my God, I make this solemn vow: That I take this woman, Maryse, as my lawful wedded wife, forsaking all others until death do us part." The Presence Lamp gleamed brightly, that and a faint sheen of moonlight the only illumination in the tiny chapel, for Duncan had not dared to light any candles that might betray their presence to any McLain or MacArdry folk still awake who might have spied a brighter light's glow from outside. Still, it cast enough light for Maryse to see the mingled love and awe in her beloved's eyes as he regarded her upturned face.

He had dressed with care, wearing McLain colors, for despite the enmity which had sprung up between their houses, he had wanted it known to her and before God that at least this McLain man loved and would cherish this MacArdry woman. Fumbling with his cloak clasp, he paused, his gaze leaving hers briefly so he could unfasten the pin from his clothing. Taking her hand in his, he gently laid the clasp upon it, tightening her fingers around the ornament shaped like the head of the sleeping lion of the McLains. "I give thee this token of my love and take thee for my wife, and hereto I plight thee my troth." Maryse recognized the brooch. He had worn it once before, a few days earlier, when they'd ridden out together. She had woven a ring of hair – one strand of her own and one strand of his – shaped around her fingertip and woven around horsehair to give it strength. Duncan had asked if he might have it, opening a hidden compartment in the brooch to conceal it for safekeeping. She supposed in a sense it could be considered a betrothal ring, though he'd not yet asked, and at the time she had never guessed she would be marrying Duncan mere days later.

Maryse tucked the cloak clasp away within her belt pouch, not daring to wear it yet lest she forget to take it off later, and it be spotted by one of her kin. She bowed her head, lifting her shiral necklace over it, and placed it around Duncan's neck, tucking it into his shirt so it lay next to his heart. "I tak thee as me wedded husband," she replied. "I give thee this token as a sign o' my love, an' hereto I plight thee me troth." Like him, she had dressed with care also, wearing the rose colored gown she knew he especially liked, her white-gold hair flowing down her back as befitted a maiden bride, bound at the brow with the metal fillet adorned with primroses that her Da had commissioned as a present for her fourteenth birthday, as she'd entered young womanhood, and the Earl her father had wished to bestow her with a courtly gift befitting her station as the Lady Maryse, eldest daughter of the Earl of Transha.

There was no priest to officiate a nuptial Mass or to pronounce them man and wife, only the Blessed Sacrament and the light from the Presence Lamp with its warm glow. Maryse could have been content with only that, but Duncan decided something more was needed. Crossing over to the tabernacle, he took out a ciborium, bringing it back down to the altar step with him and kneeling before the altar. Suddenly she understood his intent – if no priest could be trusted to solemnize their vows and perform the Mass, they would instead share this holy sacrament with one another.

She dropped to her knees beside him. "This is my Body, broken for you," Duncan told her, adoration in his eyes as he broke a consecrated wafer in two and offered her Holy Communion. Maryse took the offered half on her tongue, her eyes brimming with tears. Then, after an uncertain glance at him and his nod of permission, she took the other half with trembling fingers and did the same for him.

"This is my Body, broken for you," whispered Maryse.

Next chapter:  https://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=2848.0
"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!


This is beautiful Evie. I'm already half through a box of tissues. You make their love shine through and it is so sad that they will be parted.  You make it all so real and it makes me wish there was some way to bring them back together although Ii know there is not. Romeo and Juliet in Gwynedd with a similar tragic outcome.
"Thanks be to God there are still, as there always have been and always will be, more good men than evil in this world, and their cause will prevail." Brother Cadfael's Penance


Beautifully written, Evie, though bittersweet, knowing what is to come and what is not.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


Now Maryse and Duncan truly do have witnesses-  All of us are present for the magic and mystery of vows and marriage that can not be denied. I am proud to be such a witness and to share their joys and their fears. 
Thank you Evie. This is most lovely indeed.
May your horses have wings and fly!


It's a lovely sad story, and all the more so since we know what will happen. Thank you for writing it.

And I loved the wedding pledge.