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The Secret Son -- Part Five

Started by Evie, February 07, 2022, 08:57:25 AM

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Evie

Part Five

November 1, 1119, late afternoon
Approaching Caer Howard
Between Transha and Rhemuth


It had been just under a year since Dhugal had last passed this way. He thought back to that morning when one of Prince Nigel's squires, looking unusually somber, had sent for him. Dhugal had worried as he'd reported to the withdrawing room where he'd been summoned. Had he somehow been remiss in his duties as a royal page? His blood brother Prince Kelson had assured him that he hadn't been, although the young prince was no wiser than Dhugal as to the reason behind the unexpected summons. Kelson had accompanied him as far as the doorway, but no further, for although he was the royal heir and Rhemuth Castle was his home, he was also a royal page and not immune to reprimand from the Iron Duke his uncle, for Kelson had duties of his own he must attend to.

So it had been with some trepidation that young Dhugal had entered the room to find Prince Nigel standing beside a stranger dressed in the stark black of mourning, aside from a brightly colored plaid in a sett that Dhugal vaguely recognized but couldn't quite place. The man turned to study him curiously as the prince beckoned to Dhugal to approach.

The man had inclined his head courteously, crouching down afterwards so that he was closer to Dhugal's level as the boy entered, looking over at Prince Nigel in confusion. The prince introduced the two. "Dhugal, I'm given to understand that you have not yet had the opportunity to get to know your sister Yvette's husband, Peray, Lord Howard. Lord Howard, this is your brother-by-marriage, Dhugal MacArdry."

Dhugal had given his eldest sister's husband a polite bow, still baffled as to why meeting his kinsman by marriage had required a royal summons. He had a few unclear memories of Yvette, who he vaguely remembered had doted on him in his early childhood, but who had married and moved away from Transha when Dhugal was only five, a few years before Dhugal had been sent to Rhemuth to enter royal service.

His brother-by-marriage had pulled a letter from inside his jerkin, the parchment sealed with Earl Caulay's seal. "I am very sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, and that we should meet again under such circumstances," Lord Howard told Dhugal as the boy cracked open the wax seal and quickly scanned the letter written in his father's familiar hand. The letters writ upon the page looked more shaky than Dhugal recalled the Earl's penmanship being, yet the writing was still unmistakably his own.

Dhugal looked up at the visiting nobleman, feeling dazed. "My mother is dead?"

"I'm afraid so, lad. Countess Adreana had been feeling unwell for a few days. One morning, she simply didn't wake up. We've been given to understand her passing was very peaceful," Lord Howard had assured him. "The Earl has entrusted me with providing you an escort home, so you can pay your final respects to her and also visit your family." With a glance upwards at the royal prince, he added, "Prince Nigel says you should be able to catch up with your page training once you return. I can bring you back to Rhemuth when I come back for Christmas Court and Twelfth Night."

Dhugal nodded. He felt more stunned than grief stricken, though he supposed the tears would eventually come. "I should go pack," he finally managed to reply before he was given leave to depart.

Now it was just a little short of a year later, and Dhugal experienced an odd sense of déjà vu as, once again, his sister's husband escorted him back to Transha due to another family tragedy, the death of his brother Michael. Only this time, Dhugal did not know when he would be able to return to Rhemuth, for with Michael's passing he had become the tanist and heir presumptive to Transha, and Earl Caulay's health had begun to fail. It was only a matter of time before Dhugal would lose him also, so now his duty lay with learning how to be a leader of men, although he was still a boy, only eleven years old.

Approaching the next to last stop in their journey, the small band of travelers rounded a bend, and Dhugal caught sight of Caer Howard, Lord Howard's home, in the distance. Peray sent one of his retainers ahead to alert his wife of their imminent arrival. Here, they would spend the night before setting off the following morning to travel the remaining distance to Transha.

#

November 1, 1119, early evening
Caer Howard
A bedchamber


Yvette, Lady Howard studied the child who would all too soon become the Earl of Transha, though at present he simply appeared as the exhausted boy that he was. Peray had adjusted his usual pace of travel to accommodate the young page, for while Prince Nigel's tutelage in the warrior arts had well primed the lad for his future role as Earl and clan chief, it was the rare child of eleven years who was accustomed to spending as much time in the saddle as they had done this week, so Peray had shortened the number of hours spent on horseback daily. That had added an extra two days to their travel time, but at least Dhugal was less likely to become saddle sore that way, or so Peray hoped at least. As far as Yvette could tell, Dhugal seemed to be holding up well.

He has Maryse's strength as well as her eyes, Yvette thought to herself.

"Da will be verra glad tae see ye," she told the lad, "An' Caldreana will be overjoyed."

"To have me home so she c'n pester me?" A quick grin brightened up the freckled face momentarily, making Yvette laugh. She had noticed when he'd first arrived at Caer Howard that he had acquired the more crisp, precise sounds of a Rhemuth Court accent in his years away from Transha, but as he'd started to feel more at home in these unfamiliar surroundings, the broader brogue of his early childhood was beginning to creep back in.

"Quite likely. She's no' changed much in tha' regard, I'm afraid."

"It won't be the same, though, wi'out Ma an' Michael there."

Yvette's smile faded. "Nay, lad. It willnae be. But it will aye be yer hame."  She stood. "Tha' reminds me, I hae summat f'r ye." Leaving the room for a few moments, she returned with a small wooden box. "Ma wanted ye t' hae this."  She handed Dhugal the tiny coffer.

Dhugal traced a finger over the carved wood, then lifted the lid. Inside the box was a folded scrap of linen which clearly wrapped another object. With a questioning look at Yvette, he unfolded the fabric, discovering a cloak clasp inside, pin facing upwards.

He pulled this out and turned it over to find the ornament was crafted to resemble the head of a sleeping lion. Dhugal couldn't remember ever seeing his mother wear it. He turned a curious look back up at Yvette.

Yvette pondered what to tell him. Caulay was still unaware of Dhugal's true parentage, for the time had never seemed right to Adreana to inform him of Maryse's marriage. Though if Caulay happened to spot the sleeping lion of McLain on Dhugal's plaid, he would have good reason to question where it had come from. Dhugal was now the Transha heir, McLain or no McLain, because even though he wasn't Caulay's true son, he was still the nearest male kinsman to Caulay among the MacArdry clan, and a grandson could inherit the Earldom as well as a son. Yet Caulay, though his anger had abated somewhat over the years, still held some traces of his old bitterness against his McLain former allies. Ardry's death had created a lasting scar.  Yvette decided a half truth would be the best explanation under the circumstances.

"Yer Da gae this tae yer Ma when they wed. It was 'is marriage token tae 'er. She wanted ye t' hae it tae remember 'er by.  'Tis a bit grand f'r a young lad like ye tae be wearin', though, so mayhap it be best if ye put it oop f'r th' noo. There'll be time enow tae wear it when ye're grown. It should look right nice w' yer Court finery."

"I like it," Dhugal told her with a smile, "but ye're right, I've no' much use for it yet. I'll keep it for when I'm older." He began to put the clasp away, but noticed that there was still another object wrapped in the unfolded end of the linen. Unwrapping this end, he pulled out a small flat metal oval. Turning it over, he discovered it was a frame, encircling a portrait of a young woman.

Yvette, disconcerted, worked to hide her emotion as Dhugal turned his face up to her. She had forgotten Ma had included that in the box.  "Tha's Maryse," she told him. "Did yer...did Ma ever tell ye aboot her?"

"Our eldest sister?" Dhugal studied the portrait carefully. "I wondered wha' she looked like. Her hair was fairer than Ma's, or even Caldie's."

"Aye." Yvette's eyes grew misty. "Pale white gold, Maryse's hair, an' it shimmered in sunlight."

"How old was she?" Dhugal asked. "When she died, I mean."

"She was nobbut sixteen," Yvette answered.

"So young." Dhugal looked all too serious for a child of his years.  "Like Michael and Ianna, and all th' others. It seems odd that of all the children Ma and Da had, only me an' you an' Caldie are left." He sighed, and Yvette remained silent, not knowing how to respond.

"Were ye close, you and Maryse?" he finally asked, breaking the silence.

Yvette laughed. "Aye. We were closest in age an' thick as thieves. A bit like ye an' Caldie were when ye were weans."

Dhugal looked back at the portrait he held, then pressed it into Yvette's hand. "Ye should keep it to remember her by."

She wanted to argue, insist that he keep it for himself, but couldn't think of what argument she could make to persuade him without revealing its significance.  Yvette sighed inwardly.  "Weel, 'tis yers if ye e'er change yer mind. But as it happens, I was a'ready minded tae paint a new un, since I'm better at paintin' th' noo than when I first learnt th' art as a young lass. 'Tis a larger portrait I hae in mind, t' hang oop in th' Lang Gallery. Peray says he'll get me th' pigments an' canvas f'r it frae Rhemuth. Once I'm done wi' tha' un, ye can hae this un as a keepsake, since I've nae need f'r twa."

#

December 15, 1124, late evening
Duncan McLain's temporary quarters
The Bishop of Meara's Palace, Ratharkin


Bishop Duncan McLain, now viceroy in Meara at Kelson's command in the aftermath of the recent Mearan War, had spent the better part of three hours poring over various taxation records with his son and Lord Lieutenant, Earl Dhugal MacArdry (not yet formally recognized as a McLain), with an eye for how best to reallocate resources to help rebuild parts of Meara that had fared badly in the various recent conflicts, between the havoc wreaked by rival factions of Mearan rebels and Mearan loyalists, and the war against Gwynedd which had created additional damages. The common folk of Meara had suffered greatly in the previous few years, and now it was Duncan's duty not simply to maintain the peace, but also to attempt to set things to rights and restore order where at present there was still a great deal of chaos and uncertainty.

But both men were tired, between studying the record books for hours and having spent the earlier part of the day before that riding through the countryside around the city, not so much for pleasure (since they knew better than to let their guards down despite the war being formally over) as to better acquaint themselves with the territory. Duncan set the account books back on their shelf with a sigh of relief as his son poured himself a goblet of wine.

"Fianna?" Dhugal asked, arching a bronze eyebrow at his father as he stood with the decanter poised above a second goblet.

"Aye, that sounds good." He sank down into a cushioned chair in front of the fireplace, accepting the goblet that Dhugal handed him. There was a second chair nearby, but the seventeen-year-old ignored it, choosing instead to sit on the soft carpet, sprawled out near his father's feet, his boots propped up on the hearth. It brought back a memory, causing Duncan to chuckle.

"I was all gangly arms and legs at your age too. You're going to catch up with Alaric in height if you keep growing."

"Ye say tha' as if it's a bad thing," Dhugal joked back.

"You never know. It might make you an easier target to hit."

"Well, ye ken, it's no' Alaric's height tha' makes him a walking target, it's tha' gleaming bright beacon on his head he calls 'hair'."

Duncan laughed.

A knock sounded at the door. Surprised and slightly wary, for the two men weren't expecting anyone to show up at Duncan's personal chambers at that hour, Duncan started towards the door as Dhugal silently rose to his feet, hand drifting down towards his belt knife just in case it might be needed. It was unlikely to be. This deep within the bishop's palace any intruder would have had to pass several guard stations before reaching the Viceroy's quarters, for the palace was heavily fortified, yet there had been an incident just a week earlier with one of the castle's servants who hadn't been properly vetted, and who had turned out to be one of the Pretender's former loyalists with a grudge against "invaders" sent from Rhemuth. So it was better to be overly careful than not careful enough, Duncan decided, at least until things were better settled in this part of the Kingdom.

Standing just a little beyond blade range from the doorway, also poised for quick action should it be needed, the bishop warily called out, "Enter!"

A young boy wearing General Gloddruth's livery entered, a taller figure standing in the corridor behind him.  "Kyle O'Shiele, Your Excellency," the boy announced with a bow.

Duncan flashed a quick, surprised grin. "Come in!" Nodding at the young page, he added, "Thank you, you may go."

As the page left, the unexpected visitor entered the room, pulling off a snow-dampened cloak and draping it over one arm as he dropped to one knee before the bishop, clear green eyes sparkling with mischief as he bent to kiss the episcopal ring, then stood, the guise of a young man in his early twenties shifting into the equally familiar but more feminine visage and form of the Banoidhre of Llyr, albeit still clad in tunic, shirt and trews tucked into snow-dampened boots.

"Jesú, it's cold out! Kelson couldn't have appointed you Viceroy of Fianna?" Catriona joked.

"The Fiannans might object," Duncan responded drily as he welcomed his anamchara with a brief hug. "What are you doing back again so soon?"

"Dispatches from Kelson, including one containing an official response you needed before December's end, so I told him I could turn around and come straight back, rather than him sending another man out." She reached into her leather messenger bag, handing Duncan a small stack of correspondence before turning towards Dhugal, who took her damp cloak to spread it before the fire, turning away slightly to conceal his sudden flush as he worked to get his own surprised pleasure under control.

"I swear you've grown at least another inch or two in the few weeks I've been gone, mate," Catriona observed, giving Dhugal a quick once-over as she took one of the seats next to the hearth. "Looks like Mearan fare is agreeing with you, although if you miss Transha home cooking, you'll be happy to know that Kelson has agreed to your request for a brief leave," she said, directing the latter statement at both men. "I'm to remain here to assist Generals Gloddruth and Godwin in your absence, and to lend a backup Deryni presence while you're away, should one be required." At Duncan's upraised eyebrow, she added, "Not that I intend to actually reveal myself as Deryni unless there's the utmost need."

Duncan resumed his seat across from Cat, picking up the goblet he'd abandoned earlier and taking a sip, Dhugal poured a third goblet for their guest before settling back down onto the carpet, though with his back to the fire now, sitting cross legged and mostly silent as he listened and observed the easy camaraderie between his father and this mysterious young Llyrian woman whom Dhugal had first come to know as one of Kelson's scouts during the recent war, disguised as a man only a few years older than himself.

"Good," Duncan replied. "Did Kelson mention the reason for the trip?"

"No, but I assumed our dashing young Earl of Transha here might actually need to – oh, I don't know, go actually govern Transha in person for a few days or something?" Cat smiled archly down at Dhugal, who grinned back.

"Well, yes, there's that too," Duncan agreed with a slight chuckle. "His birthday is coming up soon, so he'll also want to celebrate that with the Transha folk. But in addition to all that...." He glanced at Dhugal, his expression sobering. "Right now, only a few people are aware of Dhugal's true parentage, but I want to acknowledge him publicly before the Court at Rhemuth as my son and legal heir as soon as that can be arranged, and his clan deserve to hear the news from him first before that happens. We'll need to head back to Rhemuth by the end of February at the latest, since I have to go before a bishop's tribunal on the first of March to prove Dhugal's legitimacy, if I can, to the tribunal's satisfaction." He took a deep breath, let it back out in an explosive sigh. "God willing, there won't be any difficulty in proving he's my legitimate heir. Even if the judgment goes against us, I can cede my lands to Kelson to bestow Cassan and Kierney as he wills, and Dhugal could inherit from me that way. But I'd rather it be openly known and acknowledged that Maryse MacArdry and I were validly wed before she died and I entered holy orders, not just for the sake of my own reputation, but for Dhugal's sake. Kelson wants to grant him the accolade at the knighting ceremony on March third, which will be more difficult if Dhugal is still publicly presumed to be my bastard son."

"Hm. Yes, that would present more difficulties, sadly, not that it would be Dhugal's fault even if he wasn't legitimate. I still can't fathom your mainlander customs sometimes. I would have thought bastardy would provide more of a cause to revoke a father's knighthood, if he has one, rather than preventing one for a son who was never given a choice in the matter." She glanced at Dhugal. "You'll be eighteen in January, then?"

"No, seventeen." He ducked his head, feeling a bit sheepish.

"None of that," she chided gently, prodding his leg with her booted toe. "I've seen you in battle; the belt and spurs are well deserved. I can't imagine anyone will wonder at Kelson wanting to knight you a year early." Dhugal flushed with pleasure as Cat turned her pale green gaze back towards Duncan. "Who has been selected for the tribunal?"

"Archbishop Cardiel presiding. Bishop Wulfram de Blanet as devil's advocate. Bishop Arilan as my personal counsel."

"Denis is arguing your case? Oh, you'll definitely win."

"Because he's that great as an advocate, or just because he likes to argue?" Duncan's eyes held a knowing gleam as he took another sip of his wine, awaiting her answer.

"Yes," she replied, her voice drier than Dhassa's worst wine.

Duncan smiled, lost in thought as he stared down at his wine goblet, turning its stem idly between his fingers. At last, looking back up at Cat, he added, "Dhugal is also taking me to the MacArdry family crypt so we can pay our respects to my late wife. And so he can visit her grave for the first time since learning that Maryse is his mother."

"Ah." Her expression softened. "Aye, a chara, I hope that provides some closure and healing for you."

"Will Kelson need you to return to Rhemuth as soon as we're back, or will you be remaining here in Ratharkin longer?" Duncan asked.

"Well, I suppose that all depends on whether you've got someone else you trust to act as courier for you. I've certainly no objection to staying here until the icy roads melt." Cat grinned, handing Dhugal her goblet as she stood and reached for her damp cloak. "I'm off to bed," she told them, her features and form transforming once again into those of her male guise. "I assume my bunk in the guardhouse barracks hasn't been reassigned in my absence."

"In the...?"  Dhugal turned to his father in confusion. "I thought Cat was assigned a private chamber?"

"Oh, Duncan offered to billet me in private quarters when we first arrived here. But I'm a simple scout, remember? It would look odd if I were to merit special favors."

"Don't even try to out-stubborn The Kyle, son," Duncan warned, shaking his head in pretended sorrow. "That's a battle you're unlikely to win." His blue eyes gleamed in bright amusement at her. "Besides, I suspect our Lady of Llyr enjoys any chance she gets to be just one of the lads again."

#

January 3, 1125
MacArdry family crypt
Transha Castle grounds


The Earl of Transha had arrived home a couple of days earlier, much to the joy and excitement of his household, retainers, and other clan folk. Duncan's reception, much to his relief, was more welcoming than he had feared it might be. Whatever hostilities against the McLains the MacArdry folk might have harbored since Ardry MacArdry's death nearly two decades earlier had faded over time, so there were only a few wary reactions, mostly from older warriors who had been part of that small group of loyal retainers who had ridden out with the old Earl and still remembered Caulay's original heir. And of those few, they were inclined to believe that their present Earl was likely more fit to lead them than young Ardry had ever been, so they were well enough inclined to let bygones be bygones, now that old Caulay had passed beyond the cares of this world and into the next.

Dhugal had originally shared the news about his true parentage with only a small number of trusted retainers like his loyal ghillie, Ciard O Ruane, but upon this return home, he sounded out others to see if, like those who were more personally loyal to him, those too would be willing to accept him as clan chief despite not being Caulay's actual son, although as his grandson he was still of the blood. He knew there was a slight chance they might not accept him as the MacArdry clan chief, no matter that Kelson had already acknowledged him as Transha's Earl, which could create some awkwardness, but it soon became apparent that no matter his parentage, nor even if some Transha folk assumed he was born on the wrong side of the blanket, they still saw him as their chief, and it wouldn't take some Lowlander court decree or Church tribunal to convince them of his worthiness to lead them. And as to whether or not he might someday also become Duke of Cassan and Earl of Kierney as well, that mattered not to them either, so long as he continued to lead his Transha kindred impartially, wisely, and well.

So it was with even more of a festive mood than usual that the household began preparations for Dhugal's seventeenth birthday celebration feast, though in the early part of the afternoon, after Dhugal had made whatever last-minute decisions that had been requested and given approvals when needed, he and Duncan finally managed a chance to slip away from the hustle and bustle in the castle, and make their way to the crypt reserved for the Earls of Transha and their immediate family.

Dhugal unlocked the heavy door, holding it open for his father and then leaving it propped ajar to take advantage of the sunlight streaming through the doorway to light their way. The sun was fairly low in the sky, but not too low. He gauged that they'd still have good light for at least the next couple of hours, not that they would need it for that long.

Duncan stepped inside, stopping just a few feet in to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior of the vault. His fingertip traced the carving of a small stone casket that looked relatively recent.

"Ianna," Dhugal informed him. "I remember playing with her as a young child, before I was sent to Rhemuth as a page. She died of the yellow skin, I think, before I ever got back here."

Duncan, his eyes better adjusted to the light, took a look around, seeing more child sized tombs clustered near young Ianna's. He shook his head. "Someday, if we ever manage to get a Deryni Schola established, I want to bring in a trained Healer to revive the healing arts. Adreana and Caulay must have suffered greatly, bearing and losing so many children before they ever had a chance to reach the flower of full adulthood, or entering it only to die shortly thereafter." He turned to face Dhugal. "I can't bear to think how I would feel if I lost you!"

"Aye. It was hard for Caulay and Adreana – for Ma especially – to talk about them. Some of the weans, I never even had a chance to meet, being away at Rhemuth. Kelson is more of a true brother to me than any of my blood kin ever were." A wistful expression flitted across Dhugal's face. "Maryse is this way." Even now, after months of knowing, it was difficult for Dhugal to think of Maryse as his mother, having never known her even as the sister he had been raised to believe she was. It was easier for him to simply refer to her as "Maryse," rather than think of a more fitting maternal title to call her.

He led his father to a tomb adorned with a garland of carved primroses, the same floral design that had ornamented the metal fillet that had bound her hair on her wedding night, nearly eighteen years earlier. Duncan's eyes misted as he noticed the similarity.

"I'll leave you alone with her," Dhugal told him, stepping out quietly.

Duncan stood next to Maryse's tomb, his hand resting on the chiseled stone, head bowed, his lips moving in silent prayer. He stroked the peaceful features of the marble effigy that lay atop the closed lid. It resembled Maryse a little bit, but not as Duncan remembered her, though not through any fault of the craftsmanship. It simply lacked that spark of spirit and joy he associated with Maryse.

Laying a hand on one of the carved arms crossing her heart, Duncan whispered, "I'm so sorry, my sweet, gentle, compassionate Maryse! I never foresaw any of this, never meant to cause you harm, though I thank you with all my heart for our son. I wish I could have been there when you needed me. I hope you managed to forgive me at the end."

His amethyst ring winked in the setting sunlight. Through the open doorway, inexplicably for a cold January afternoon, a butterfly flew, landing silently a mere finger's breadth from his outstretched hand, wings furling and unfurling slowly for a few brief moments before it flew away, disappearing from Duncan's wondering gaze back into the heavens.

#

February 24, 1125
The Great Hall
Caer Howard


Duncan and Dhugal had left Ratharkin a few days earlier, and having stopped back by Transha to take care of some brief business and pick up some of Dhugal's MacArdry regalia, they had proceeded southwards towards Rhemuth. The tribunal to look into the matter of Dhugal's legitimacy was scheduled to begin on the first of March, giving them just enough time to make the long trip back to Rhemuth and get settled in at the castle before the proceedings would begin. And after that, hopefully Dhugal would be knighted very shortly thereafter, providing the tribunal's decision went in their favor. And possibly even if it didn't, or so Kelson had hinted, though how he intended to defy societal disapproval to knight Dhugal in the face of a negative outcome, Dhugal had no idea and hoped he wouldn't have cause to find out.

Their first overnight stop along their route was at Caer Howard. It had been a few years since Dhugal's last visit to his eldest sister's home. His aunt's, rather. Even after several months of knowing the truth, Dhugal's mind still took a moment to make the mental switch.

The travelers were escorted into the Hall, the steward offering the men and their retinue some wine and light refreshments along with the opportunity to warm up by the roaring fire on the hearth. After a few minutes, their small band of retainers left their lords to their private talk while they went with the household staff to establish where they would bunk down for the night and make arrangements for travel fare to take with them on the next leg of the journey south. Only Duncan and Dhugal remained by the fire.

They heard light footfalls descend from the stairwell leading up to the solar. Turning in that direction, they saw Yvette, moss green eyes wide in her pale, freckled face as she approached them.

Duncan was dressed in his well worn riding leathers, with little adornment to denote his rank as either Duke or Bishop aside from a travel coronet of stamped leather and his amethyst ring. So he was startled as Yvette dropped to one knee before him, bending to kiss the ring he belatedly remembered to offer her.

"Father, f'rgi'e me! I hae done ye a great wrong," she whispered, her voice trembling.

Duncan was puzzled at first. If Yvette had wronged him in some way during those long ago spring days they'd spent together at Culdi, he could no longer remember how. Dhugal, however, stiffened beside him, starting to bristle with indignation.

"You knew!" Dhugal accused her, his temper starting to flare. "And you never said anything, to him or to me!"

Duncan understood then. He laid a calming hand on his son's arm before assisting the lady before him to her feet. "You're the one who gave Dhugal the cloak clasp?"

"Aye."

"Thank you." He searched Yvette's face, seeing traces of the girl she once was in the woman she was now. "And yes, I forgive you. You did what you felt was best to protect Maryse's son, and perhaps to protect me as well, and I'm grateful."

Maryse's sister wilted in relief.  "Thank ye, Yer Excellency."

"Duncan. We're family now."

"Aye, I s'pose we are."

"I'm guessing Peray must have told you the reason Dhugal and I are headed back to Rhemuth."

"Aye. I hope ye prove yer case. I'm right proud o' th' lad, howe'er things turn oot, but i' would be easier on 'im in th' Lallands if ye're successfu' wi' it."  Yvette turned towards the staircase. "I've prepared ye a chamber at th' ither end o' th' gallery."

They ascended the staircase, exiting through an arched doorway onto a gallery that overlooked the great hall. At the other end of the gallery, just before the turn leading to their guest chamber, hung a large portrait, breathtaking in how perfectly it captured the youthful beauty of Maryse, forever sixteen. Duncan recognized the painting immediately. He'd seen the preliminary sketch for it many years earlier.

"She's beautiful, Yvette! I see how far you've come along with your artistic talent. Maryse would be very pleased, I think, with how it turned out in the end."

Yvette turned to look back at him and Dhugal, standing shoulder to shoulder as father and son, her expression softening. "Aye, Duncan. Despite how it a' turnt oot, I daresay she'd be right pleased."


###

"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

DerynifanK

#1
A lovely end to a lovely, if bittersweet, story and a nice transition to the next stage, the Bishop's tribunal.  Very well done.The butterfly was a sweet touch, Maryse's blessing for her husband and her son.  I do think they were preparing to celebrate Dhugal's seventeenth birthday, not his eighteenth, but otherwise perfect.  Thank you, Evie, for sharing it
"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

DesertRose

Darn you, Evie!  You've made me cry over something I've known about for years!  ;)

Lovely story, beautifully written.  I really liked seeing Maryse as a spirited girl who captured Duncan's heart, and Yvette is, in a way, the heroine of the story, since she kept her sister's secret until it was safe for Dhugal.
"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.)

Jerusha

#3
Just the right ending to this story.   And the butterfly was the perfect touch, tying the present back to the past.  And yes, in the end, Maryse would have been "right pleased" with father and son.

I do seem to remember someone besides Alaric who had a problem with a bright beacon on his head called hair.   ;D
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Laurna

Between Butterfly wings and Yvette's lovely painting of her sister, you have me all in tears again.
This ties in all the pieces so wonderfully.  Bittersweet as DFK says, but so real and lovely.
May your horses have wings and fly!

Evie

#5
Quote from: DerynifanK on February 07, 2022, 02:57:27 PM
I do think they were preparing to celebrate Dhugal's seventeenth birthday, not his eighteenth, but otherwise perfect.  Thank you, Evie, for sharing it

Yup, that's why Dhugal corrects Cat's misperception (even though I'm sure he'd have preferred for her to assume he's older than he actually is, given that he's smitten by an "older woman," Catriona being around 22 at this point in the timeline. ;D)  Normally the accolade was bestowed after a candidate turned eighteen, but in Dhugal's case, his actions in the war had earned the honor for him a year early.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

Evie

Quote from: Jerusha on February 07, 2022, 03:50:42 PM
I do seem to remember someone besides Alaric who had a problem with a bright beacon on his head called hair.   ;D

Well, true, though at least the "bronze" part of his "copper-bronze" hair color would tone it down a fair bit more than Alaric's gleaming gold hair.  ;D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

Evie

#7
Thank you all for following along!  I really enjoyed writing this story and getting to know Maryse a little bit more than we got to see of her in the few brief snippets revealed in canon. I have been curious about what sort of girl would have won Duncan's heart so thoroughly that he would walk away from what, based on everything else we see in the canon, clearly ended up being a genuine call to priesthood. Given Duncan's integrity, which I'm sure was fully formed even at so young an age, he wouldn't have turned his back on his vocation just to satisfy a momentary (albeit quite natural) desire for a sexual relationship or a romance, so there had to be some deeper basis for an attraction between them that would cause him to doubt, even if only temporarily, that he was actually meant to be a priest.

As I got to know Maryse better through writing this story, it struck me that despite how very different Maryse, Catriona, and Helena were on the surface, there are some underlying similarities between the three. Like Duncan's mother, all of these women are strong, courageous, spirited, intelligent, and deeply spiritual, although they manifest these qualities to differing degrees and in different ways. I think if Duncan had ever been free to remarry, that would have been his "type" that he most naturally gravitates towards.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

Evie

Quote from: Evie on February 07, 2022, 04:22:05 PM
Quote from: DerynifanK on February 07, 2022, 02:57:27 PM
I do think they were preparing to celebrate Dhugal's seventeenth birthday, not his eighteenth, but otherwise perfect.  Thank you, Evie, for sharing it

Yup, that's why Dhugal corrects Cat's misperception (even though I'm sure he'd have preferred for her to assume he's older than he actually is, given that he's smitten by an "older woman," Catriona being around 22 at this point in the timeline. ;D)  Normally the accolade was bestowed after a candidate turned eighteen, but in Dhugal's case, his actions in the war had earned the honor for him a year early.

Oh, never mind, I found the other reference I think you were referring back to.  I thought I had corrected that in the master copy before copy/pasting it here, but I guess the corrections didn't save.  It's fixed now.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

revanne

So beautiful. It was the "forever sixteen" that did for me.


And trust Yvette to have the last word.


Thank you for your generosity in sharing such talent with us.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46 v1)