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The Secret Son -- Part Four

Started by Evie, February 05, 2022, 09:05:30 AM

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Part Four

December 25, 1107, evening
Maryse's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

Maryse knelt at her devotions, praying for her husband as well as for the babe now growing large within her tiny frame. Belowstairs, the rest of the small remnant of her household which remained behind at the Castle while the MacArdry men were away were engaged in a more subdued and less festive Christmas feast than was customary at Transha, doing their best to make merry in the absence of beloved husbands and fathers. Adreana had sent Yvette upstairs earlier with a trencher piled high with choice morsels, but Maryse had little appetite for it.  In her chamber, awaiting the days before her labor came upon her, Maryse felt Duncan's absence keenly.

As the autumn chill had required the putting away of linen gowns for woolen ones, Maryse had been able to hide a thickening waist and expanding belly under loose-fitting wool gowns and her arisaid, the plaid shawl wrapped around her to conceal the loss of her maidenly slenderness. But at last the day had come when it was not possible to hide her pregnancy so easily any longer, so she had spent the past month sequestered in her family's private rooms, the story given out to anyone who asked that Maryse was ailing and needed to stay abed until she recovered. Yvette and Ianna had both caught some mild congestive ailment in the weeks before which had seen both restricted to their sickbeds, although both had since made a complete recovery, but the fortuitous timing had lent credence to Adreana's tale that Maryse had taken ill as well and was simply taking a little longer to regain her strength.

Maryse, therefore, was resigned to remaining out of sight, quite literally in confinement, until after both her own expected babe and the one Adreana bore had both entered the world. Then, perhaps a few days after the rest of the household were informed of the birth of Adreana's twins, and once both mothers had recovered enough to return to normal activities, she could emerge from seclusion. It would not be long now, she knew. Lannie had assured her that her time was very close.


January 1, 1108, shortly before dawn
Adreana's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

"I see th' head a-crownin', my Lady! Gie us a right guid push th' noo!"  As Adreana bore down once more, Lannie guided the newest wee MacArdry into the world, breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the infant emerged looking hearty and hale. Lannie had seen all of the MacArdry bairns into the world during her years as a midwife, but not all had survived their birth, and of those that did, a few had already died untimely deaths. Lannie was glad to have happy news this time to share with her patient.

"It's anither girl, my Lady, alive an' kickin'! And an active wee bundle she is," Lannie added as the slippery babe squirmed in protest at the midwife's ministrations. She cleaned the baby swiftly before wrapping her in swaddling. "Maryse! Yvette! Ye hae a sister!" she called out. "Coom greet 'er while I'm finishin' wi' yer Ma."

Adreana's two oldest daughters entered the room, from which they'd been banished since late the previous evening. Their mother had told them they should get their rest, but Maryse had suspected that Adreana, knowing Maryse's time of laboring was nearly upon her as well, had not wanted her daughter to witness anything that might frighten her or give her cause for concern. Nor had she wanted her younger, unwed daughter to see anything that might put her off the idea of marrying someday, out of fear of childbearing. The girls were anxious nonetheless, for while they could not see what was happening from their adjoining bedchamber, they could hear what was going on behind the closed door all too well.

"Wheesht, Lannie!" Adreana admonished. "Keep yer voice doon! We've yet anither bairn tae birth afore th' rest o' th' household c'n ken aboot their arrival. If they hear ye heraldin' the first birth days afore th' second, there's nae way we c'n pass 'em off as twins!"

Lannie nodded, feeling chagrined as she passed the newborn to the eldest sister.  "Aye, my Lady. Lady Maryse, lemme cut th' cord first, then ye can steady the wean on yer Ma's breast while I mak certain th' afterbirth passes proper."

Maryse waited the few brief moments that it took for Lannie to bind and cut the tether connecting the newborn to her mother, then brought her baby sister to her mother to suckle. "What name did ye decide on, Ma?" She sat gingerly on the edge of her mother's bed, suppressing a wince as an odd cramp briefly seized her back muscles.

Adreana sat up with Yvette's assistance, the younger sister helping to prop her up in the more upright position with extra pillows. She took the infant, settling back into the pillows, and began to nurse. "Caldreana, I'm thinkin'. Like 'Caulay' an' 'Adreana' rolled intae one."

"That's right nice, Ma," said Yvette, "but a mouthful o' name for sic a wee bitty thing. I'll call 'er Caldie."

Adreana smiled, suddenly weary to her bones, though a strong abdominal pang reminded her she was not yet quite done with her labors. One final push, and Lannie caught the afterbirth, giving it a careful inspection to ensure that none of it had been retained, where it might cause complications for Adreana later.

"Right, then, there's tha' sorted!" said Lannie with mingled satisfaction and weariness in her voice. "My Lady, when yer feeling oop tae it, we c'n strip these bluidy sheets an' get ye ontae fresh uns sae ye can rest. I'd like tae get them scrubbed, boiled, an' dried afore Maryse needs 'em."

"In the dead of winter?" Maryse questioned. "They'll tak fore'er tae dry," she added, looking doubtful, grimacing as another brief pang seized her back and she moved a hand behind her to rub at it.'

"Tha's a fair point," allowed Lannie. "I s'pose if push comes tae shove, I c'n just sponge 'em down right quick afore yer ain labor starts, but it would be good tae gie them a good boilin' if there's time."

"Can't Maryse just use oor ain sheets when 'er time cooms?" Yvette asked, her freckled nose wrinkling as she studied the bloodied sheet her mother sat upon..

"An' ruin perfectly spotless uns? Bed linens be right dear; I dinnae think yer Ma would thank ye f'r stainin' an extra set, no' tae mention th' gossip a second bloodied sheet would cause amongst th' washerwomen! What am I tae tell 'em, tha' yer Ma felt a need tae switch beds a-tween pushin' oot ane bairn an' th' next?" Lannie looked over at Maryse again, who had shifted positions, looking uncomfortable. "Ye feeling' a'right, lass?"she asked.

"Och, aye. I slep' wrong las' nicht, methinks," Maryse answered her. "I've nae lain proper in me bed since me belly started swellin' big, sae it hurts most mornin's th' noo.. I may gae back an' hae anither lie-in, oncet I've helped ye strip th' bed."

"We didnae sleep weel las' nicht f'r Ma's pantin' an' yowlin'," Yvette added.

Lannie glanced at Adreana, already on the verge of falling asleep. She, too, could use a long rest. "Lady Yvette, tak the wean afore yer Ma drops her." With a weary sigh, she glanced back at Maryse. "Go on back tae yer ain bed, then. Yvette an' I c'n handle remakin' this'n. A breedin' woman needs 'er rest."


January 1, 1108, early evening
Adreana's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

"Lannie!  Lannie! Come quick! Maryse's wet hersel', an' she says her belly's gripin'!"

Yvette's urgent whisper woke the midwife up at once. She sprang up from the trundle bed, dressing swiftly in the dim light. Stealing a glance at the Countess's curtained bed, she deliberated whether to wake Adreana, but then decided the woman needed more sleep, having had a completely sleepless night undergoing the rigors of childbirth at an age that often required a greater amount of rest and recovery time.

"I ken My Lady doesnae want ye seein' naethin' tha' will afright ye, Lady Yvette, but I cuid use yer help wi' th' settin' oop, a' least. C'n ye assist wi' tha'?  Then I'll tend tae yer sister while ye keep a guid eye on yer Ma f'r me. She'll nae likely need much except f'r her sleep, and f'r ye tae bring Caldie tae her when she wakes an' needs tae nurse. Ye c'n handle tha' much."

"I c'n do tha' an' more besides, if ye need me," Yvette affirmed, following the midwife to Maryse's room and feeling quite grown up with the responsibility entrusted to her.  As they entered the adjoining room, they found Maryse sitting on the close stool, looking anxious.

"Help me change oot th' sheets an' get Maryse comfortably situated, Lady Yvette, then ye c'n leave tae tend tae yer Ma. It's likely tae be some time until th' new wean arrives.  First births usually tak a bit longer." Lannie gave both girls an encouraging smile doing her best to hide her weariness from them. "Right, lassies, let's get tae work!"


January 3, 1108, Late night
Maryse's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

The midwife pulled Adreana out of the room, out of earshot of Maryse and her anxious sister, though Maryse at least was so spent with pain and exhaustion, Lannie's words might not have registered on her anyway.

"The cold compresses are nae workin' tae bring th' fever doon, but I daur no' gie 'er more willow bark tisane, she's bleedin' too free as 'tis! Th' bleedin' ought tae hae slowed by th' noo, but it hasnae, an' th' fever's gang sae high, she gaes delirious wi' it an' th' pain. Sometimes th' pain abates an' she's more lucid, but tha's nae a'ways a guid sign. An' noo her belly's gang sae distended, she's haein' trouble drawin' breath." Lannie's tired eyes filled with tears. "I'm right sorry tae say it, M'Lady, but I think it's best tae call f'r the priest tae shrive 'er while there's still time."

Adreana gave her a terse nod, momentarily unable to speak. She reentered the bedchamber, staring mutely at her two oldest daughters, so very dear to her, the younger bending to sponge her sister's brow, the fingers of her other hand entwined with Maryse's.

"Yvette." Adreana's voice felt like it came from a great distance. "Run fetch Father O'Ruane, quick as you can."

Yvette gave her a startled look, her mossy green eyes registering sudden understanding and alarm. Glancing down at Maryse, she asked, "Is she – ?"

"Dinnae tarry!" Adreana barked sharply.

There was the briefest of pauses while the urgency registered, then Yvette was off with the swiftness of an arrow taking flight.


January 3, 1108, just before midnight
Maryse's bedchamber
Transha Castle Keep

The Last Rites had been performed and Viaticum administered, though Father O'Ruane had been doubtful at first that Maryse would be able to receive the Blessed Sacrament. She had managed to rally long enough to receive the blessed sop of wine-soaked bread the priest had fed her on a spoon. Her energy completely spent by the effort, she closed her eyes, falling into a swoon almost as soon as she had swallowed it down.

Some amount of time later – Maryse knew not how long, for time was meaningless to her now – she opened her eyes to see her mother and sister sitting on either side of her, Adreane holding baby Dhugal in her arms, nursing him. Despite her weakness, Maryse managed a shadow of a smile.

Turning her gaze towards Yvette, who was openly crying now, she whispered, "Tell him...."

What Maryse intended Yvette to tell, and to whom, drifted away with Maryse's final exhalation as her amber eyes widened at the sight of dark iridescent wings and a brilliant presence, unseen to the others in the chamber, arriving to transport her soul Home.


June 1, 1108
McLain family solar
Culdi Castle

Vera McLain stood at one of the mullioned windows of her solar, gazing out unseeingly at the landscape below, a letter in her hand. A motion in the distance caught her eye, and after a few moments she realized it was a horse and rider, heading for the castle gate. A few moments later, she realized it was Duncan, home from Grecotha.

Normally his return from university would have been a happy occasion for them both, but Vera worried that he would be even more stunned than she was by the news she'd just received. Briefly she considered not telling him immediately, perhaps waiting until he was about to leave before breaking the sad news. But Jared would almost certainly be around to see their son off again. No, it would be better to be the bearer of bad tidings now, while Jared was briefly away from home, so that any sorrowful reaction Duncan might display at the loss of the young lass who was his friend – and who, it had briefly appeared, might eventually have become more – might not inadvertently reawaken his father's continued ire at any reminder of the MacArdry clan.

She turned away from the window, taking a deep breath to center herself and regain her composure. A few minutes later, her son burst into the room, his exuberance bringing a smile to her lips despite the sorrowful news she had prepared herself to share.

"Maman, I'm back!" Duncan caught her up in a hug, briefly lifting her feet off the ground. "And you'll never believe...." He sensed her inner turmoil then, setting her down and taking a step back to peer intently at her face. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly.

Vera took a deep breath. "A peddler has just brought news from Transha, son. This past winter, the MacArdry sisters caught some form of affliction. Yvette and Ianna came through it quickly and without mishap." She took her son's hands in her own. "Maryse...expired of the fever on the third day of January."

"No...." His eyes were blue fire in the pale backdrop of his face as they searched her face, reading the truth of her words.

"Son, I am so very sorry."

"NO!" The anguish in his voice echoed through his psyche, the lightning swift force of it causing his mother to take an involuntary step backwards. Vera recovered her balance, reaching out for her grief-stricken son, intending to hold him in a comforting embrace, but in that brief moment he'd already turned and fled from the room.


June 1, 1108
McLain mortuary chapel
Culdi Castle

Duncan lay prone on the cold stone floor before the altar, his hands stretched to either side of him, forming a cross. He had worn himself out with weeping by the time Father Geordan arrived to find him there, and now simply lay there, exhausted.

The priest sat on the ground beside him, laying a hand on the lad's shoulder, but said nothing, simply offering Duncan his silent commiseration and giving him space to grieve. At last Duncan pushed himself up to a sitting position, wrapping his arms around his knees and burying his face between his crossed arms atop them.

"Maman told you?" His voice sounded hollow to his ears.

"She did, aye."

"I should have been there for her. I should have..." Duncan whispered.

"And caught the fever also?" Father Geordan said mildly. "I can't see how that would have been helpful for poor Maryse." He sighed, laying his hand atop Duncan's bowed head. "I'm very sorry for your loss. She seemed a delightful lass, with a bright spirit, from my brief encounters with her."

Duncan lifted his head, turning slightly towards his spiritual mentor. "Father, I need to make my Confession."

The priest nodded, unfolding his purple stole, brought along in case it might be needed. Kissing the golden cross embroidered at the back of it, he slipped it around his neck.

Duncan crossed himself. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession." He glanced briefly towards his confessor, who remained silent, waiting, puzzled by the growing torment in the young man's eyes. At last, Duncan blurted out, "I think I'm the reason Maryse is dead!"

The sudden revelation was an abrupt jolt to Father Geordan's composure. He worked swiftly to control the momentary incredulity that must surely have shown on his face. "Son...I can't imagine how you've come to that conclusion! How do you figure that could be the case?"

Duncan stared fixedly at the altar before them. "I wed with her that last night she was at Culdi, before Earl Caulay took them back to Transha." He traced a crack between the floor stones with his finger. "We exchanged our vows and took the Blessed Sacrament here on this very spot. At the time...I believed it was the right thing to do. We loved each other, and...I believed I'd been mistaken in my vocation, that I was free to marry her." He stared up at the crucifix above them. "Once all the anger between our families died down, I had thought to confess the matter to our fathers then and claim her openly as my wife. I only left for University last autumn because not doing so would have caused my parents to start asking questions that it wasn't safe for me to answer yet. They still thought I meant to be a priest."  He swallowed hard, closing his eyes briefly. 

"But once I resumed my studies, the doubts resurfaced. I began to wonder...had I made the right choice, or had I let my love and desire for Maryse cloud my thinking, perhaps even blind me to God's will in the matter? Did I turn my back on a vocation that was actually real?" Tears shimmered in Duncan's eyes again. "Father Geordan, did God kill Maryse because of my disobedience?"

"Oh, son!  Oh, my dear boy, how you must be hurting!" Father Geordan pulled the trembling young man into his arms, holding him close. "No, son. Aye, God is sometimes stern in his discipline, but He is also a loving and merciful Father. I believe if He meant to chastise you so harshly, His aim at you would have landed true. Maryse would not have been the one made to suffer simply to atone for your sin.  And if she believed you truly free to wed with a clear conscience, then she married you in all innocence." Brushing the damp hair away from Duncan's face, he said, "Son, look at me. We are all, every one of us on this journey we call Life, mere mortals who are not promised any tomorrows on this side of Heaven. Death is but one of the painful consequences of living in a fallen, broken world."  He sat silent for a moment, lost in thought, then added, "When you and Maryse first parted, you had every intention of reclaiming her later, aye?"

Duncan nodded. "Aye. As soon as it seemed safe."

"Anything could have befallen either of you, though, before that happened. If not the fever that took her, then it could have been a slip down the stairs, or you might have had some illness of your own or an accident, or have been beset by brigands on the way to Grecotha or returning to Culdi. We live in faith that we will see another day and make promises based on a future we can only dimly predict, but sometimes life takes a turn we never foresaw. Though thanks be to Jesú that He has already won the victory over Death, even though we still live as in the final skirmishes of a battle whose outcome has already been decided. Separation from our loved ones is painful, even agonizing, but it need not be final."

"My head knows that. My heart...Oh, Father, I'm full of so many doubts right now!"

Father Geordan nodded. "Sometimes when the road is darkest and the way unclear, the only way to continue on is by feeling your way forward one small step at a time."

Next chapter: https://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=2851.0
"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!


So sad and so beautiful. I love Father Geordan who is so full of wisdom and comfort. I'm not sure that Duncan ever completely forgave himself for not trying harder to see Maryse again although he did not know about the pregnancy, nor for many years about his son. You have done a wonderful job with this story, especially bringing Maryse to life. It was clear why Duncan fell in love with her, a bright spirit indeed. And if you see a sudden spike in the profits of Kleenex, you will know why.
"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


Poor Maryse, and Duncan, and even Yvette.

I wonder if Father Geordan is part of the reason Duncan wants to be a priest; he could do far worse for a mentor.  What a lovely man and priest he is.
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)


Yvette is still yammering away at me, wanting a sequel story of her own. And I'm glad Father Geordan is coming across in the way I'd hoped he would. Those are the scenes I had the most anxiety about writing, because I needed them to be just right. I figure Duncan's family chaplain would have been his strongest spiritual influence as a very young man still trying to discern his true calling, and would likely end up being a strong role model for him to try to emulate once he entered holy orders. So I wanted Father Geordan's scenes to reflect that. I think the strength of Duncan's faith, his courage to follow his convictions, and his deeply compassionate nature owe just as much to his early spiritual formation under Father Geordan's mentorship as they do to Jared and Vera's caring upbringing.
"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!


So very moving, Evie, and worth all of the work to make these scenes just right.  Masterfully done. I do hope Yvette gives you a good, strong nudge about a story.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


My it is so hard to read when my eyes are melting with tears.  Maryse looking at her babe and then at her sister and saying "Tell him" totally set me off.  it took me a while to read the rest.
I think your telling of Duncan & Maryse's story is masterfully done. I am glad there is more so that it will not end on this note.
May your horses have wings and fly!


There is one more part to this story, and since Yvette seems to have more to say, there might eventually be a sequel story following Yvette's life after the trauma of losing her sister.
"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!


Thank you for sharing this story, Evie--I think Jasta would approve! I am sure Father Geordan was a strong early influence on the priest Duncan would become. Some of the things Duncan says to Dhugal in the novels sounds remarkably like what Geordan says here.

Since Dhugal grew up believing Caulay was his father by the time of The Bishop's Heir, clearly Yvette never got her chance to carry out Maryse's wishes. You know we're going to want to know why, right? ;)Write, woman write!

You can have a sound mind in a healthy body--Or you can be a nanonovelist!


So beautifully told.
I love how you have pictured Maryse for us, gentle but full of spirit, and I like to think that some of her loving courage remained with Duncan even though their time together was so short.

Geordan is the priest we would all hope to have in our darkest days, and I am sure his example stayed with Duncan when he had to endure other much less compassionate or godly clerics.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46 v1)


Well, you know, there's still one more part to this story, so let's see how things play out in that final section. While it's true that Dhugal didn't learn the whole truth about his parentage until the events in TBH, Duncan would never have known to suspect anything at all if it weren't for a certain piece of jewelry.... ;-)

I thought about Jasta while writing this, and really wished I could share it with her. She had gone mostly inactive on the forum before I ever joined, so the only one of my stories that I know for sure she read was "In Pulverem Reverteris," which I told her about on Facebook since I thought she would like that one. I very recently copied the text of that from here to send to Katherine in case she wants to add it to her anthology, and noticed Jasta had commented on it.

My own callings are to different sorts of ministries than the priesthood, but Duncan and now Fr. Geordan have become sort of literary mentors for the sort of compassionate care I want to reflect towards others.  (Though sadly don't always quite manage!)
"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!


Quote from: Evie on February 05, 2022, 07:11:14 PM
There is one more part to this story, and since Yvette seems to have more to say, there might eventually be a sequel story following Yvette's life after the trauma of losing her sister.

Yes, please! I didn't even know Yvette existed befor reading these stories, but now I want to know more about her, and, perhaps see young Dughal before he gets sent to court.


I didn't know she existed either. She was just one of those anonymous names in the Codex, and it wasn't until I asked if Maryse had any other named sisters beside Caldreana that I found out about all the other unknown siblings.  (I knew about Ardry and Michael previously, but not about all the younger children that Caulay and Adreana lost over the years. My copy of the Codex has gone missing, so this story would not have been possible without the help of Laurna, Nezz, DesertRose, Revanne, and probably a few others who supplied answers to my constant frantic inquiries in the chatroom about things like "Which MacArdry girls would have been born and still alive in 1107?" or "What day did Duncan and Maryse get married?"  (BTW, there are two completely different answers to that one. It's one of the few known instances where the Codex and the novels seem to disagree, though for some logistical reasons I ended up going with the Codex date, since the novel's dating was much more vague.)
"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!


I think that the compassionate and caring words and wisdom that you gave to Father Geordan are reflections of your own faith and I'm betting that you do provide that kind of care when needed. I don't think you could write him as well as you did if those were not your beliefs. He is certainly the kind of person I would want for my parish priest if I could choose.
"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


What a beautiful tale, Evie! So lovely and so sad at the same time. Loved it!
Judy Ward
You can buy a pretty good dog with money but you can't buy the wag of its tail.


Reading this story has kind of been like reading/watching Romeo and Juliet: the tragedy is coming, you know it's coming, and there's absolutely nothing one can do to stop it or change the outcome. And for some reason, the jumping timeline intensified that feeling for me. Well done. :)
Now is life, and life is always better.