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Changes: Chapter 2 , Dilemmas

Started by DerynifanK, February 15, 2023, 07:42:46 AM

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DerynifanK

Fiona studied her reflection in the small mirror hanging next to her wardrobe. "How do I look?" she asked, turning to face her friend who was sitting on her bed watching her.

Isla smiled. "You look lovely as always. The new gown becomes you."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
"I have not purchased any new gowns in quite some time. Do you think it will draw Washburn's attention?"

"I don't think you need new finery to catch Wash's attention."

Fiona made a small adjustment to her veil, then walked over to sit beside Isla. "I am not so certain. He has not appeared to be in such a hurry to see me thus far. He arrived last night but never came into the hall to seek me out. His excuse? He wasn't properly attired, as if I cared about his attire. Then I saved a seat beside me at mass this morning, thinking we could have a walk afterward, but he never came. It was noon before we finally met. His excuse, he had to meet with the king. I feel that I am not a high priority for him."

Isla patted her friend's arm. "Have you asked him about events since his arrival? I heard he was delayed last night by stopping to give aid to a merchant who had an accident on the road and needed assistance, including healing, which took some time and resulted not only in his being late but also somewhat dirty and disheveled from his efforts. The page refused to admit him until his appearance was amended."

"That may all be true, but could he not at least have sent me a message telling me of his arrival and his hope to see me after he was changed? Of course he could but he did not." Fiona stamped her foot. "Then he was not at mass this morning and did not appear until noon! Does this sound like someone who is anxious to see me?"

"But Fiona, if he had to appear before the king, that had to take precedence, don't you agree? I am sure he wished to see you but he had to do his duty."

"Agreed. but again, why could he not have sent me a message telling me of his meeting with the king and asking if we could meet at the noon meal, perhaps go for a stroll afterward?  When he finally did appear and ask to meet after the noon meal, I could not agree as I had to assist Magistra Helena with her luncheon for the new students. It's not that I don't believe that he wants to see me, it's that I do not seem to be near the forefront of his thoughts. The need to see me does not seem  to be pressing. I feel like an afterthought which makes me question whether his feelings for me have changed."

Isla smiled at her friend. "Don't prejudge. Give him a chance to explain events and why they happened as they did. After all, he did leave for Rhemuth a day early but was delayed on the road. Surely the early departure indicates haste to arrive, and I'm sure his main intent was to see you sooner."Fiona smiled faintly but did not appear convinced.

A page knocked and entered the chamber. He bowed and said, "Lady Fiona there is a gentleman here asking for you."

"Tell the gentleman I will be with him directly." the page bowed and left, closing the door behind him.

Isla looked at her quizzically. "What are you waiting for? "

"I do not wish to appear overeager. Let him wait a little. Two can play this game." After a short waiting period, Fiona moved toward the door and opened it.  Moving into the corridor, she turned toward Isla. "Are  you coming?" The two girls walked toward the reception area, passing the closed doors of classrooms.

As they entered the main reception area, Fiona saw Washburn standing near the main door. He looked up and saw her. An eager smile appeared on his face as he took several steps towards her.  As they met, he bowed and reached for her hand. Fiona smiled back and curtsied,  but kept her hands at her sides. Washburn addressed her.  "I am here as promised to escort you to the evening meal. I am eager for us to spend some time together this evening. We have much to catch up on."

Fiona's soft voice was cool as she replied, "Indeed we do have much to talk about but there may be less opportunity for discussion than I had thought this evening. A new troubadour has arrived, and he is said to have the voice of an angel and also to accompany himself on the lute.Their majesties have requested that he perform this evening and invited everyone to listen to his music after the meal is over. All of us are anxious to hear from him, I know we will enjoy it. We may have to postpone our talk until tomorrow when we can have some time without interruptions."

Fiona handed him her cloak. "It's time we leave for the hall, we don't want to be late for the meal and I am quite looking forward to the entertainment."

 Wash draped it around her shoulders and helped her settle it so that it would protect her from the cold. As he fastened it at her neck, he leaned in and spoke softly.  "Might we meet after mass in the morning. We could have that walk we planned. I have so much to share with you, and I am anxious to hear about your tests and the completion of your studies."

Fiona placed her hand on the arm he held out to her. "Perhaps. We can break our fast together and discuss our concerns."  She looked around to see that Isla and Annabelle had joined a group of Schola students. They all moved toward the door leading out to the path that would take them to the castle.

As they entered the great hall and made their way to the tables where the Schola students were seated, Wash noted the many young men seated in the hall. He was aware that many eyes followed their progress, and he did not think they were that interested in him. Choosing the table where the Provost was seated, Wash helped Fiona to remove her cloak and seated her. He took the seat next to her as he was still considered a Schola student. Pages quickly stepped forward to serve the meal.  Fiona and Wash shared a trencher, Wash moving the choicest morsels  toward Fiona which she accepted with a smile, but the warmth and excitement he remembered were not there when she glanced at him. There was much chatter and laughter in the hall. There was certainly no opportunity for private conversation which Wash found frustrating. He did not understand the coolness that seemed to have grown between them. What had gone wrong?.

Once the meal was over and pastries and wine were circulated, it grew quieter as those present prepared to enjoy the music provided by the traveling troubadour. Fiona's eyes sparkled and her lips smiled as she  leaned forward in anticipation of such a treat. Wash thought she had never looked lovelier.

Once the music was over, the king and queen retired for the night, leaving those still in the hall to their own devices. There was movement as people began to circulate, chat and greet friends. Squire Robert approached them accompanied by an elegant young man. He addressed the Rector, the Magistra, and those seated near them, including Fiona and Washburn.. "May I present Prince Nivelon, son of the Grand Duke of Vezaire? He  has only recently arrived at court and presented himself to  the king. He is most interested in the Schola and hopes to learn more about it while he is here."  The young man bowed.

Wash had not paid much attention to the new arrival, but now he looked up to realize it was the popinjay he had seen dancing with Fiona the previous night. As the young man bowed gracefully to those with the Rector, his gaze seemed to linger on Fiona. Wash glanced at  her and noted her gracious smile and nod to the prince. It was certainly a warmer welcome than he had received.  Suddenly his supper felt like a lump of lead in his stomach, and he thought he would like to challenge the prince to cross swords with him or better yet punch him in the nose. However, he certainly couldn't attack a guest of the king. He had to respond pleasantly to the introduction and give no indication of his feelings.

They exchanged a few remarks then the Rector stood and summoned his flock to return to the Schola. As the students donned their cloaks and prepared to leave, the prince bowed and spoke to Father Nivard. "My father is most interested in learning about the Schola. I hope to have an opportunity to speak with you about it."

The Rector smiled. "I will be happy to tell you about the Schola. Make an appointment with my secretary." With that he led his flock toward the great door and the path leading back to the Schola.  Washburn walked beside Fiona but they said little. When they reached the entrance to the building, he asked, "I will attend mass in the morning. May I hope to join you there and after we break our fast, may we have that walk we planned?" 

She allowed him to take her hand and smiled at him, a little more warmly this time. "I will save a seat for you beside me and I will look for you there. We do have much to discuss." With that she followed the other students inside while he turned to follow the path back to the castle.

Washburn had no desire to return to the great hall, instead he made his way to the McLain quarters where he was staying with Kevin for the time being.  Kevin had not yet returned. As he removed his court clothes and prepared for bed, he considered what had happened that day.

Some time later the door opened and Kevin entered. He saw Wash lying on his back on the bed staring up at the ceiling deep in thought. "Greetings cousin. What are you thinking so deeply about? You look rather down. What's wrong?"

Wash looked up at him and scowled. "What can you tell me about that Vezairen prince who attended tonight's festivities? I have never seen him before. He claims to be interested in learning about the Schola for his father, the Grand Duke, but he looked to me to be more interested in the students, particularly the ladies. I did not care for the way he followed Fiona with his eyes. He seemed to be taken with her, and she certainly gave him a warmer welcome when he was introduced than she has given me since my arrival.  At the end of my audience with the king, we spoke briefly of Fiona. He certainly approves of her and of my desire to wed her, but he mentioned that I might now have some competition for her hand, although he did not mention any names. Is there something going on here that I should know about?"

Kevin studied his friend. "The prince is a recent arrival at court. He did present himself to the king but not much is known about him. He is the eldest son of the Grand Duke of Vezaire, and there is a rumor that he has come to Rhemuth seeking a Deryni wife. That might explain his interest in the female Schola students. He has not been here long enough to have shown any favor to any particular lady."

Kevin continued, "I can certainly see why he would be interested in Fiona. She is beautiful, accomplished, and about to graduate from the Schola, indicating that she has achieved a high degree of skill in using her Deryni powers. There has even been some mention that she might be offered a position on the staff of the Schola. They are in need of teachers, and she is very popular with the younger students. I have not heard any indications from Fiona herself about what she desires for her future. Most of the court seemed to assume that upon graduation the two of you would wed, but since there is no formal betrothal, he may feel it worth his while to pursue her." Kevin paused.

Wash resumed his study of the ceiling. "My main purpose in coming to court was to go down on my knee and ask Fiona to marry me. Everything I have done at the manor and with the Healing Center was done for her, with the idea that we would continue on together as man and wife.  Do you think she has grown so much that she no longer wants that for her future? Do you think she no longer cares for me as much as she once did? That is my great fear, that I will ask her and she will say no. Do you think she has any interest in this popinjay of a prince? "

"Kevin sought to reassure him. "I do not think she has ceased to care for you, but she has mentioned some concerns she has that you do not care for her as much as you did."

"Why would she think such a thing?'

"Perhaps you have been so busy and so absorbed with your work at the manor that you have failed to show her the kind of attention she expected."

"But she must know that I was doing it for her, so we could be together, and I could give her everything she deserves."

"How would she know that? Have you told her so? I know you corresponded, but how much did you say about your feelings for her? Did you perhaps take too much for granted."

Wash sat up and stared at Kevin. "Are you saying that she thinks I no longer love her?" He looked incredulous.

"I'm not sure, but I have noticed that she has recently begun to be more receptive to overtures from the young men at court, even engaging in a little light flirting. She does not appear to be serious, but certainly more friendly and interested than in the past. That could be partially the result of the completion of her studies and feeling that she has more freedom to explore new interests. She has not appeared to favor any of them but just to be enjoying the attention."

Wash asked in a hard voice. "What about this prince? Does she seem more interested in him? I can't believe she would find him that interesting. Surely she would not be attracted by his title? She is far too honest and intelligent for that."

Kevin smiled. "I don't think she is seriously considering anyone. I think she is just enjoying the attention and the freedom to explore new things after two years of hard study and work. But when you see her next, think about what I have told you, be open about your feelings."

"It would break my heart to lose her, but I am also concerned about her safety."

Kevin looked startled. "Her safety? Why? Surely you don't think that anyone here would harm her!"

"I am worried about this prince from Vezaire, not just because he might entice her away from me. His reason for coming to Rhemuth might not be just to find a wife. The man who kidnapped me, Feyd, has ties to Vezaire. He has continued to try to persuade me to join his Order, and I have continued to refuse.  I would not be surprised if this prince was an agent of Feyd, trying to use Fiona to draw me into his plans. I have not spoken of this with anyone but you, not even the king.  But I am concerned. I am to meet her at mass in the morning and I am hoping we will finally be able to have our discussion about our future.  Should I mention this?" he looked to Kevin as though hoping for advice.

" I would not speak of the prince. You have no evidence to support this suspicion. Just because he comes from a kingdom where this Feyd has ties does not mean he is acting for him. He may not even know him."

Kevin continued. "She has started to look around and enjoy the attentions of some of the men here at court.  As you have no doubt noticed, she is one of the loveliest ladies at court and attracts the young knights and squires like flowers draw bees. You need to find a way to convince her that rather than falling out of love, you are more deeply in love with her than ever. You might say something like  the changes I have made to the manor were done with you in mind. Every time I walked into the solar or the bedchamber or looked out where a garden is planned I would picture you there. I would picture you among the fragrant flowers and my heart would beat faster. I am sorry that I did a poor job of telling you this, but it is how I feel. You can't take for granted that she knows how you feel.  Ladies like to hear it said while you are holding their hand and gazing into their eyes."

"Tell her how much you missed her and how she has never been far from your thoughts. In fact you were so anxious to reach Rhemuth so that you might see and talk with her, that you left Morgan Manor early thereby missing the escort the king had sent to accompany you and causing his Majesty to be displeased with you.  You were not thinking of dangers on the road but only of getting to her as quickly as possible. See how she responds before you go down on a knee to propose." Kevin grinned at him. "Good luck!"

With that he extinguished the candles and settled down to sleep. He was soon snoring but Wash remained awake for some time, going over in his mind what Kevin had told him, what he would say to Fiona in the morning and how he would  persuade her to say yes to his proposal.







 
"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

Laurna

Thanks DFK, I love Kevin explaining to Wash just how he has gone so wrong in his method of courting lovely Fiona. I am certain Wash will take this lesson to heart and attempt to make right what has gone wrong.
May your horses have wings and fly!

DerynifanK

I certainly hope he will figure it out. I think he really just lacks practice. Remember before their adventure, he preferred jousts and tournaments and setting up training schools for those seeking knighthood to dances and playing the part of a courtier. He takes after Alaric that way. He may be a lot more interested now that he is in serious pursuit of a lovely young lady. Hopefully Kevin can help out.
"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

Laurna

#3

Washburn lay awake deep into the night, his mind churning with all that Kevin told him. How had he been so stupid as to not apprise Fiona of his deep and undying love. He had thought it went without saying and now realized just how far his intentions had failed. The simple truth was he had never felt this way about anyone before. To be on the verge of losing the one he desired above all others distressed him like no other thought could. He had believed he was being chivalrous, not wanting to harm Fiona's honor or expose her in any sort of danger until he was fully prepared to see to her needs and safety.

Certainly it has not all been for naught? I have not missed my chance so entirely? Wash pondered.

He may be only a baron in his own right, not a prince, but he was the son of a duke, and a past champion of the Tournaments of Gwynedd, and he was by no means a pauper. But he also wasn't this suave popinjay princling who flaunted his wealth and romanced the ladies with his slick, sweet, oozing charm. That wasn't Washburn's way, but perhaps he needed to brush up on his courting skills and win back his lady love.

Kevin seemed wiser than himself in these matters. Even though Kevin was a few years younger, he had two loving parents as his role model. Wash's beloved father Alaric had passed too soon to teach his youngest son what it meant to have a long and enduring relationship with his wife-- May his soul ever rest in peace-- and Wash wasn't really aware of how his two brothers managed to keep their marital bliss even with each having a passel of children under foot. Time to take this lesson from Kevin and put it to good use.

In the predawn hour, Wash was sitting at the writing desk, scribling words upon a page. Several crumpled attempts were at his feet. Morning light was entering the window when he put his quill down and gave his letter one last reading. It would have to do. It was not too long because he really wanted to say his true feelings in person, but hopefully long enough to get his chance to see Fiona alone after mass. He put his name to the bottom of the page and drew a rose in the corner next to his name. A little sand across the ink and then he was folding it and putting it inside his tunic next to his heart. It was not yet time for mass, but he thought maybe he could go out to the orangery to find a Haldane red rose to give to his lady love.
 
It took a bit, finding a blooming rose bush in a protected sunny corner of the royal conservatory. but he did find the perfect bloom and hoped the royal gardener would not catch him as he cut the stem free with his dagger.  He was walking back toward the chapel, whittling the thorns off the long stem, when a covered wagon rolled into the courtyard from the city below. He instantly recognized that wagon. He followed the tailor's wagon up to the side residential entrance into the castle, and then presented himself to the merchant who was ordering his two journeymen to lower the first of the chests down from the wagon.

"Master Donald Madon! It is good to see you. Is your leg giving you any trouble? Should I look at it again?"

"Nay, my lord! It is with my utmost thanks to you that I have no pains at all." The tailor gave Wash a warm hand shake and then quickly turned toward his two assistants, "Yes, that trunk and that trunk too. We will take those in first to deliver goods to those in the king's tower. No, put that trunk back, that is for the ladies in the queen's tower."

"I see you must have plenty of customers, and that not all your fabric was ruined in the incident two days ago."

"Thankfully, I did not lose any of my court fabrics that day. And yes, I have many noblemen and noble ladies vying for my wares. I hope that soon I will attract the attention of the king and queen, but until then, I am pleased to supply garments for such grand feasts as the king is going to give in the coming week. Perhaps, I could entice you in a new tunic? I have sewn a few extras to entice the nobility with."

"No, I am sorry, Master Donald but that is not where I need to spend my coin this season."

"Because you did me such good service the other day, I would not think to charge you for an item. Tell me what would be the color of your pleasure, greens or reds? I have tunics in both colors." Wash shook his head no, and the tailor frowned. "How can you turn down an offer of a free garment from Madon's Haberdashery?" Then the tailor noticed the rose in the baron's hand. "Oh, but I see, it is not yourself that you are thinking upon this day. Who is the lucky lady? Oh don't tell me, gossip will soon let me know." Donald laughed and called back to his boys. "On second thought lads bring that chest down here.'' The boys grunted and obeyed and soon the tailor was unlocking the box and fingering several delicate fabrics that had been made into lady's gowns. "Any of these for your lady love? It is the season of giving afterall."

Washburn eyed the garments speculatively. Not gold, he thought, that color would clash with her snowy hair, and not green, she had already had a gown of green from his mother. "Do you have something delicate and pretty like a veil?"

"I do my lord. I have just what you need, this cruseler veil; it is the newest style in Bremagne. It is made from the finest quality and softest snowy linen, all the ladies love the pretty goffered frills."

"Goffered frills?" Wash squinted his eyes at the delicate veil. It was nearly sheer white and edged all the way around in five very small layered ruffles and each of the ruffles was edged in a pale gold thread. "It is perfect, but I will not take it from you, here is some coin, take what you would normally charge."

"As you wish, my lord." Donald took only a few coins, fewer than Wash thought he should have. And then the tailor wrapped the cruseler veil in a square of fabric and handed it over to Wash. "Baron Morgan, think over what I said about a new garment for yourself to impress your lady.  I will be in the castle most of today delivering goods and taking new orders. I would be happy to take your measure."

Wash nodded. "I will consider it. Have a good day, Master Donald."

The bells for the chapel started to ring, and Wash knew he had to hurry along, lest he be late for mass. And he most certainly did not want to be late today.

*****

Fiona had arrived early to the royal chapel to save a seat near the aisle for Wash. Her friends soon arrived and sat at her opposite side taking up most of the bench. They teased her subtly but mercilessly about how she had dressed so carefully for this early morning mass.

The chapel was filling with the early rising residents of the castle. The king was sure to arrive any moment, and the mass would soon begin. Where was Wash? Fiona thought she felt someone watching her so she turned her head to look back down the aisle and then instantly regretted that she had done so. She saw a young man was watching her, and though she gave him no indication of a greeting, he acted as if she had invited him and he quickly bounded up the aisle and sat squarely in Washburn's saved seat without so much as a by-your-leave.

"You are ravishing this morning, my Lady Fiona." Prince Nivelon told her with a winning smile and a sparkle in his eye. "I am so happy to have found a place untaken so near the front. I hate being at the back of a church. It takes so much longer to get on with your day when you have to wait at the back."

"But this seat was saved..." Fiona started.

"Well if your other friends are this late, then they deserve to stand at the back. Don't you think so? Promptness does have its advantages." The prince marveled at some rather large stone in a ring on his finger. "The blue in this stone is nearly the same color as your eyes... Perhaps..." but what he would say was drowned out by the bells calling for the mass to begin.

Fiona feigned that Lady Isla had spoken to her and turned her back upon the prince, hoping against hope that he had not been about to offer her his ring.

"Good morning Lady Fiona. My lord, I believe you are in my place," commented a concerned but warm voice at her back. She turned around in time to see Washburn address the Prince of Vezarie with a rather forward nod indicating the prince should leave.

"You, sir, will afford me the privilege of Your Highness or Your Grace, anything less is an insult," the prince declared.

"I do apologize, your grace. The mistake was mine. But I do believe the lady was saving a place for me to sit beside her."

"She did not tell me that this was so," Prince Nivelon innocently claimed. "But now that the king has arrived and mass has begun, I can not possibly give up my place to a man of lesser nobility than I."

Oh he is so sure of himself, this princeling, Wash thought. Put him in the joust and I would teach him a lesson in humility. But the king was passing just behind Wash at that moment and he gave both men a stern glare. Wash knew it could not be he who started a fight. At least not here.  Fiona too was giving him a concerned look, willing him not to start something he might later regret. And the mass was beginning with a priest's prayer and Wash had run out of time. He reached into his tunic and pulled out the letter he had written and he took the fabric bundle from under his arm. He added the single rose to the gift, then purposefully, Wash leaned across the prince forcing the man to scotch his way back on the bench. Pleased, Wash handed his present to the beautiful young lady.

"My beloved Fiona, you are by far the loveliest and most adept lady in the kingdom. And I know you are not one to tolerate fools for long. I swear upon my honor that I am not one of those fools. I love you and if you would be willing to hear me profess my love, find me after mass, I shall be waiting for you." He placed his gift firmly in her hand, never taking his eyes from hers, even when he knew the man he leaned across was fuming with rage and about to make a bluster about his insolence. Then Washburn stood up, bowed to those on the bench and moved to the back of the chapel.

Fiona fingered the rose for a moment then set it in her lap as she opened the gift. A wave of delicate fabric fell across her knees and it gave a sparkle where the gold thread was illuminated by the torch light in the chapel. Lady Isla beside her gave a gasp of pleasure, unable to resist as she fingered the small rows of frills on the veil's edge. "I have never seen anything like it. It's so pretty."

But the unwanted prince at her other side only huffed, "White Linen? How mundane. I would dress you in silks of the brightest colors. I would see that your wardrobe is more rich and handsome than any in all the Eleven kingdoms. Lady Fiona, it is I that you should talk with after mass."  And then the mass was truly begun and no one could say more while the service was over. But Fiona slipped the letter out from under the veil and pretending tiredness, she leaned over and read the words.

My Lady Fiona,
I have been informed that I have been negligent in telling you my true feelings. I want to make that up to you. I must tell you that you mean more to me than any other person in my life. I dream of sharing my days and my nights with you. I want you beside me in all things; at the infirmary, sharing your skills with the young nurses and if you wish it, assisting me in healing. Decorating Morgan Manor, making it a place for a loving family and a home. Filling the gardens with beauty and elegance and carrying out our plans with a little of your tenacity and stubbornness. These are those things that I need you to share with me. There is a life full of riches beyond material things that I want to share with you. Can we find a place to talk and share our hearts desires?
           Your Dragonheart, Washburn Morgan


Mass ended and the king exited the chapel for he had a busy day planned. As the others made preparations to leave, the prince stood and moved to take Fiona's hand to assist her to stand. She feigned not to have noticed his hand by turning to assist Isla in straightening her gown. Only after the prince was forced to move away into the aisle as others wanted to pass by did she make her stand and slip past him with barely a smile. Nevilon stepped to be at her side but instead he nearly ran into the wide breadths of Lord Washburn's shoulders. Both men waited side by side pretending to not know the other was there waiting for her to choose. She was almost tempted not to choose, but the rose and gift were held in her hand and she could not say this did not impress her. She gave the prince a courteous nod but her warm gaze lifted up to where the baron stood tall and hopeful. She smiled at Wash and placed her hand on his arm. They proceeded toward the doors, leaving the prince, fuming inwardly, standing in the aisle.

*****

Prince Nevilon was annoyed that Lady Fiona did not accompany him out of the chapel after mass. He would find a way to win her away from that oaf of a lowly baron. If the King of Gwynedd had not been present, he would have challenged the man to a duel right then and there.  How dare that lout lean so close to his person. Nevilon refused to admit that the man's size and reputation had been a bit daunting in that moment. Would he really have dared a duel with that man? Maybe a duel arcane? But then would the king permit such a thing? He would need to find other ways to thwart his nemesis and win the fair damsel.

Nevilon entered his apartment and discovered the tailor was there with the garment that he had ordered. "It had better be of as fine a quality as you have professed it to be." The prince said menacingly.

The tailor only smiled and pulled out two very richly embroidered tunics. "Are these to your satisfaction?" the tailor asked with a low bow as he handed the garments over for inspection.

Nevilon was in the mood to rip them apart, but when he saw what had been made for him, he changed his mind and smiled. "These will do nicely. You can charge your fee to my father."

"It is not your father who has paid for these. It is another from Vezarie who would see you so richly attired."

"Another? What other? No one but my father knows I am here." The prince dropped the garments on a chair and looked straight at the tailor. The tailor had dismissed his journeymen and now the two of them were alone.

"This other knows everything.  And he also knows you are here against your father's wishes."

"He would have me marry a Furstan witch. But I will not bind my future kingdom with a family of lost power. I want a formidable woman to be my Grand Duchess, and I have found just the one. Perhaps you can make for me a jewel encrusted garment, one I can present to her on the twelfth night. Something that she will happily accept and will instantly wed me when she puts it on."

"I can do that, even encase the fabric with such an enchantment. But the warning I will give you does not come from your father. It comes from a man of much higher authority. Do not cross this man.  No one who crosses him lives to tell of it. He requests of you, nay orders you, to cease and desist your pursuit of Lady Fiona MacIntyre. You can charm and wed any other girl of your desire. But not her."

"Who is this man that you speak of? I take no orders from anyone in Vezaire other than my father. And he is an old man and soon will be dead in the grave, and I will soon be Grand Duke. Do not threaten me, tailor."

Donald Madon gave a knowing smile and then bowed with a flourish. As he bowed, he extended his hand which held forth a chain with a black inscribed amulet dangling from it.  Nevilon went to touch the amulet, but seeing the emblem instantly pulled his hand away.

"You? Here? I ...um, don't understand! ... Why? What could possibly interest the House of Baordah in whom I chose to marry?"

"Those who ask questions will not like the answers. Just do as the Master of the House requests. Leave off with the MacIntyre chit and forget the man you met today in the chapel. There are plenty of other fish in this sea, to dangle your bait. And if you do so, I will be happy to supply you with garments a plenty, and some even can be tempered with the proper bait."  Donald fingered a delicate lady's gown of gold silk, indicating that it would cost Nivelon nothing to get it. Nothing but his compliance to not chase Lady Fiona.

Deep in his mind, Nivelon wondered how he could succeed in getting everything that he desired.
May your horses have wings and fly!

Jerusha

"Your dragonheart,"  such a nice turn of phrase! 

I am glad our tailor is so helpful... ;D
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Blkdragon64

Love the story...keep it going... :)

DerynifanK

#6
Two Suitors

Fiona could feel the prince's eyes following her up the aisle. She was glad when they exited the chapel and took the path toward the castle. Neither of them said anything as they followed the crowd moving toward the Great Hall and the noon meal. They entered the great bronze doors but rather than enter the hall, they continued on toward the orangery where they might find a secluded corner where they could talk at last.

Entering the conservatory, Wash led her along a path among the plants to a bench in a corner somewhat shaded by tall plants. Here he stopped and turned to Fiona. "This looks a good spot for our talk. Do you agree?"  Fiona nodded and he took her arm to seat her, taking a place beside her. 

Wash turned toward her, smiling eagerly. "I am so happy to at last be able to speak with you. It has been very frustrating. I was so anxious to talk with you but things kept getting in the way. I was beginning to think our efforts were cursed."

Fiona gave a little giggle.Then her expression became serious. "I was beginning to agree. It seemed that every time there was a plan for us to meet, something interfered. I even wondered if you were less anxious to meet me than you said. The night you arrived, I had heard of your coming and expected you to join the festivities in the great hall but you didn't come. I saw nothing of you that night, nor did I hear from you. The next morning, I saved you a seat beside me at mass but you did not appear there either, and there still was no word from you. Finally you appeared at noon, but when you asked if we might go for a stroll after the noon meal, I could not agree as I had to assist Magistra Helena with her Schola luncheon. Finally, you did come to escort me to the evening meal that day. It seemed to take a long time for us to connect."

Washburn looked both concerned and sad. "I apologize for the missteps in my efforts to reach you. Please allow me to explain." He paused, studying Fiona's face. She was not smiling but she did nod her assent. He continued. "I was riding on the main Rhemuth road with my squire when we came upon an accident. A merchant had overturned his wagon and many of his goods had spilled onto the road. In addition he had injured his leg and there was a deep gash which required healing. It took some time to heal him, right his wagon and reload it.  Not only did it make me quite late in arriving, I was muddy, my tunic had a tear and his blood on it. The squire at the entrance to the hall took one look and refused to admit me until I got cleaned up. By the time I was able to summon Kevin to my side, the Schola party was already preparing to leave. He convinced me that my appearance might frighten you, and it would be better to wait until morning to seek you out."

Fiona looked at him with a frown. "But you did not appear the next morning either, though I saved a seat at mass for you. Nor did I receive any message from you to let me know you were here or what  was happening."

Wash looked at her sheepishly. "I am sorry for that. I did present myself to the king after I cleaned up the night of my arrival. Our talk was brief, but he made it clear he expected me to attend him first thing the next morning to present my report on the manor and healing center. There was much to discuss, and he did not release me until nearly time for the noon meal. I did go immediately to find you but you were already pledged to assist the Magistra that afternoon, so it was late afternoon before I could meet you to escort you to the hall for the evening meal."

Fiona frowned. "I understand what happened to interfere with our meeting. I do not understand why you could not send me a message to let me know of these events and of your intention to arrange time for us to be together as soon as possible. I did not feel that time with me was a priority for you."

Wash looked appalled. "That is not true. My main purpose in coming to Rhemuth was to be with you. I wanted more than anything to be with you, to hear what your vision for your future is after your graduation from the Schola, and whether I am part of that vision."

Wash reached for her hand but she pulled it back. "I have been concerned that perhaps your feelings for me have changed. Your letters contained less and less about your feelings and our future together and focused more and more on the work you were doing." He started to speak but she placed a finger on his lips. "We have had little time together since you began this project. I realize that it is very important but I have not felt that there is a place for me in it." Fiona lowered her eyes. "I have even wondered if you were falling out of love with me."

"Never!" he shouted. He grabbed her hand and held it tightly. "I will never fall out of love with you. In fact, my feelings for you have grown deeper. I know I have done a poor job of telling you what is in my heart, but everything I was doing at the manor and the Healing Center was for us, for our future together. Every time I went into the solar, or the great hall, or the bedchambers I would picture you there in my mind and long for the day when we would live there. And whenever I looked out to where I pictured the garden, I saw you there surrounded by beautiful flowers. There has never been a time that I did not think of you and long for your presence."

Wash looked into her clear gray eyes and saw them full of tears. "I have loved you since the first day I saw you, at your uncle's manor, when you flung yourself between my sword and Jaxom's, scaring me half to death. I want no other woman beside me." Wash slid from his seat and knelt before her on one knee. "Could you find it in your heart...."he began when running footsteps made him hesitate but he ignored them and continued, "can you find it in your heart too forgive my stupidity. Please accept my apology. I promise I will make it up to you and every day..."

A page in Haldane livery skidded to a stop before them and bowed. "My lord, my lord," he began breathlessly, demanding Wash's attention.

"Just a moment please."

"But my lord,"  the page continued to insist,  " the king requires your presence in his withdrawing room. It is a matter of some urgency."

Washburn stood and looked down at Fiona with a question in his face. Hadn't he just made a promise that she would come first? However, an urgent summons from the king could not be ignored. Fiona nodded and smiled at him. She understood and agreed.

Wash breathed a sigh of relief. He turned to the page. "I will come right away."

The page bowed and left the way he had come.

Wash looked down at Fiona. "Again events interfere. I must go to the king but I need your answer to one important question before I go. Am I part of your vision for your future? "

She smiled at him. "I do see you in my vision for my future, although all is not clear yet."

"We will continue our talk of the future, and I will finish that question I began before we were interrupted. That will be my highest priority. I hope to see you later today."  Wash kissed her hand then turned and strode away toward the exit.

Fiona  remained seated on the bench holding the hand he had kissed to her cheek.

                                                                       *********

Washburn reached the king's withdrawing room and gave his name to the guard at the door. 

 The guard  tapped on the door and relayed the information to the page inside who took a few steps forward, bowed and announced Washburn's arrival. The king responded, "Admit him." The door swung open and the page gestured for Wash to enter. Wash took a few steps toward the table where the king sat, stopped and bowed deeply. As he rose, he noted a second man in the room. This man was not overly tall, had very fair, almost white hair, and wore the blue and silver colors of Isles. Earl Iain Cameron  had arrived. His expression was serious with no hint of humor.
Kelson also looked concerned as he motioned Washburn  to approach the table at which he sat.

Washburn waited for the king to reveal why he had been summoned. He hoped he was not in trouble. He tried to think of anything he had done that would have precipitated this meeting. The king addressed both men. "I have received a warning from one of my most trusted intelligencers. He tells me there is a spy at my court, a man who was once involved with the Mearan rebels. He has not been seen since shortly after the end of that conflict but now he has surfaced here in Rhemuth."

Kelson continued. "He saw the man only briefly and his appearance had greatly changed, but he identified the man by a scar on his neck left by an old wound. He was able to provide a description of his current appearance. We assume he is here to collect information but to what end or for whom we do not yet know. I am most concerned by his presence because you will remember what happened the last time we were infiltrated.   Does his presence herald new problems for Gwynedd? I have already assigned two of my senior squires to keep a close eye on him. I need to know where he goes and who he meets. I will not be caught napping again!" Gray eyes flashed warning to the two men in front of him.

Sir Iain spoke thoughtfully. "I encountered him during the uprising but as far as we could determine, he was not employed by the Mearans. He disappeared during the battle for Ratharkin. Did your source have any idea why he would be here now or who might now employ him?" 

"He did not. In fact we are not sure where he has been  in the interval since the end of the rebellion.  My informant had no other information but felt that it was important for me to know of his presence, as indeed it is. Now we must consider possibilities and take steps to find out more about his intentions."

"Washburn, I summoned you because we know you are still of interest to our enemies. There are no indications that the rebels are trying to reorganize. Most of their leaders were  killed or are still imprisoned. However, we never tracked down Brioc. He may still be hidden away in those caves, or he may have escaped and be working to form an alliance with someone like one of the sons of Teymuraz. Or the spy could be gathering information for the man who kidnapped you before."

Washburn shook his head. "I do not believe that he intends to try to take me by force again. I believe he has another plan in mind. He hopes to persuade me to join his service. To that end, he does contact me periodically, however I have declined his requests and it has been some time now since I have heard from him."

Kelson replied. "Even so, you must be alert and take every precaution to avoid giving anyone the opportunity to gain control of you again. You are aware that I have assigned Sir Kevin McLain as your personal knight, and he will need to accompany you at all times until we sort this out. You cannot go off on your own unaccompanied, it's too dangerous right now.

"But your majesty..." Wash began.

Kelson held up a hand. "I know this will interfere somewhat with your intentions to propose to Lady  Fiona but we cannot take any chances, and you would not wish to expose her to any danger. Hopefully it will not be for long."

Washburn tried again to protest, "She already has some doubt of my feelings. I was trying to assure her that I love her more deeply than ever and I do hope to make her my wife. I was just beginning a proposal when I was interrupted by your summons. If I do not propose, what will she think? As you noted yourself, I have competition although I cannot believe she would ever have any real interest in that arrogant popinjay of a prince. How do I explain that we cannot go apart to be alone and that I must delay my proposal for now for her safety?"

"She is aware of what happened to you before." Iain reminded him. "If we explain that there is some concern about a new attempt and therefore you must take certain precautions, I think she will understand. We also need to keep her safe."

Wash looked doubtful. "If she feels there is danger, she will insist on helping to thwart any possible attack.  She is not afraid of danger and sometimes charges in where others might hold back. Her bravery is one of the things I love about her, but it could expose her to danger. She might resent being kept away for safety. I couldn't bear it if I were to lose her. "

Kelson gave him a sympathetic smile. "I realize your difficulty but I must insist that you follow my command until we can be certain of this spy's intent and to whom he reports. Again, I hope it will not be long." He then dismissed Wash to return to Fiona.

Wash bowed and left the room. Iain addressed the king. "Perhaps I can help explain things to Fiona. She can be very headstrong but she is not unreasonable. I have not spoken with her yet, but I will certainly do so as soon as possible. I will also seek out some of my sources to see what I can find out about our spy."

Kelson nodded his agreement. Iain then bowed himself out of the room, making his way toward his own quarters to map his plans for dealing with these new concerns.

                                                                          *******

Washburn hurried back to the conservatory, but Fiona was no longer where he had left her. He then checked the great hall but the remains of the morning meal had been cleared away and servants were beginning to set up for the noon meal. There was no sign of Fiona. He did not know where to look next, perhaps the Schola. However, mindful of the king's command, he returned to the McLain apartments to look for Sir Kevin.

The apartments were empty when he  arrived. He sat down on a bench near the window to consider what he should do next. He desperately needed to find Fiona and tell her what the king had told him and of his command to both of them. He fidgeted as he waited for Kevin to appear. Where was the man? Finally his impatience overcame him, and he decided he would go to the Schola to seek her there. That seemed the most likely place for her to be. He told himself there was no need for an escort, he was not leaving the castle grounds and there were always  lots of people coming and going there. Just as he stood and prepared to leave, the door swung open and Kevin stepped into the room.

"And where are you going?" He asked, frowning at Wash. "I thought you were not supposed to go about without my escort."

Wash frowned back, saying brusquely. "I've been waiting here for you to show up, and I had about decided not to wait any longer. I have to find Fiona to apprise her of what is happening and the limits the king has placed on us. I was going to the Schola to look for her. I did not see any risk there as I was not leaving the castle grounds and there are always many people around.."

"I don't think the king would agree. If you recall, you were previously kidnapped from inside the castle itself so I don't think you can assume anywhere is safe."

"Do you expect me to just sit here and do nothing? Where were you anyway? If you are to be my guard then you need to be with me.!" Wash was beginning to sound angry.

Kevin answered in a conciliatory tone, "I was with the king, receiving his orders regarding my duties. I wasn't sure where you were so I came here first to look for you. I know this is very difficult for you, but we both must follow the king's command and stay together. At least he has not ordered you to return to Morgan Manor with an escort of Haldane lancers with orders to follow you everywhere. If he finds that you are not following his orders, he just might do that. You certainly would not be able to see Fiona then. Do you want to leave her here with all the other young men, including that prince from Vezaire who has been showing so much interest in her?"

Wash ducked his head, looking abashed. "No, of course I don't, and I do understand the king's reason for what he has commanded. I will obey his orders. But I have had no chance to speak to Fiona or to explain what the king has decided regarding our future. I must have an opportunity to talk with her. If she thinks I am avoiding her or do not care enough about her, I could lose her. I could not bear that."

Kevin clapped his cousin on the shoulder. "I understand your frustration. If you wish to go to the Schola to seek out Fiona, I am ready to accompany you."

Wash grinned happily. "Let's go"

The two young men exited the apartment and headed for the doors that gave entrance to the castle and on to the path that led to the Schola.

When they reached the Schola building they entered the reception area, and Wash spoke to the young man on duty there. "Lord Washburn Morgan and Sir Kevin McLain to see Lady Fiona McIntyre."

"Please wait. I will see if she is here." He motioned to a page nearby. "Check and see if Lady Fiona is in her room. If she is not, check to see if she is in any of the classrooms."  The page bowed and left on his errand.

After a short interval, the page returned, bowed and reported. "The lady was not in her room. One of the other students said she left with Lady Isla and Lady Annabelle. Lady Fiona did not say where they were going or when they might return."

"You may return to your other duties." The page bowed and moved away. "As you heard, the lady is not within." The young man started to turn away.

"Wait!" The young man turned back. "May I leave a message for her?" Wash asked.

The young man nodded. He handed Wash a pen and a small piece of vellum on which to write his message.  Wash quickly wrote on the vellum, rolled it up and handed it to the young man. "I will see that she gets it"  he said as he took the vellum and pen from Wash.

"Thank you" replied Wash  who then bowed and gestured to Kevin. The two knights bowed, turned and left the building.

As they walked back along the pathway, Kevin asked, "What next, where should we look now?"

Wash shook his head. "I am not sure. I think I would do well to speak with Earl Cameron. He is her guardian. He arrived today and is aware of the situation. I think his advice would be most valuable. Let's return to the castle and I will try to arrange a meeting with him." The two men continued toward the castle.Two Suitors:
"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

Laurna

Oh Nicely Nicely Done DFK!
Only... to get down on his knee before his true love and still not be able to achieve his proposal... How very frustrating for the fellow. LOL.  I am starting to think there is a curse preventing him from following through with his greatest desire.  I hope Fiona can retain a bit more patience for the man to get it together.  LOVE IT!
Thanks DFK
May your horses have wings and fly!

Jerusha

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

DerynifanK

#9
The Meeting

The two young men hurried up the path to the great doors and entered. To one side, they could see the great hall where servants were busy setting up for the next meal.  "Where are we heading now?" Kevin asked, glancing sideways at Wash.

"Let's check the library." Wash replied. "We can kill two birds with one stone. They mounted the stairs and entered the library. Wash stepped up to the desk where the assistant currently in charge of the library sat. He asked for vellum and a pen to write a message which he then gave to a page to be delivered immediately to Earl Cameron.

While Wash was writing his message, Sir Kevin  wondered quietly about the library, noting who was there, but he saw no sign of Fiona or her companions. Once the page had departed with his message, Wash beckoned to Kevin and they left the library.  As they walked along the passage leading to the main stairs, Kevin glanced down, looking into the conservatory. He halted as he saw Fiona and her two companions now seated on a stone bench under an arch way. They were surrounded by several young men including the Vezairen prince. There appeared to be a lively conversation going on.  He gestured to Wash to look down. "Well, we have found Fiona but she is definitely not alone. What should we do now? Should we join them or wait until they separate?"

"Let's wait and see if they soon separate. I would rather not approach her in a crowd, especially one that includes that infernal prince." Wash frowned down at the group below.

After a short time, the group began to break up. The young men started to drift away, but the prince hung on until at last the ladies stood up and began to move toward the entrance. Nivelon said something to Fiona, but she shook her head decidedly. Finally, he bowed and moved away.

Washburn and Kevin quickly descended the steps and hurried after the three girls. "Lady Fiona!" he called. The ladies hesitated and Fiona turned to look behind her. When she saw the two men approaching, Fiona said something to her companions who moved away but stopped when they  were several steps away.

Washburn and Kevin  reached Fiona and bowed. Fiona gave them a quizzical look as she curtsied.  Washburn addressed her, "I have been looking for you everywhere. I need to tell you why the king summoned me. It affects both of us."  He took a deep breath and was about to continue when a page hurried up and bowed to Washburn, "My lord, I have a message for you from the Earl o' Isles." The page handed the message to Wash, waiting for an answer.

As Wash unfolded the vellum and began to read, a second page came up and bowed, addressing Fiona. "My lady, I have a message for you from the Earl o' Isles." He handed her a folded piece of vellum. Fiona looked up at Wash as she unfolded her message.

"Fiona, what does Lord Ian's message say?" Wash looked at her anxiously.

"I suspect it says the same thing yours does. I am to attend him in his apartments directly after the evening meal. Is that not what yours says also?

Wash admitted that his message was the same. "He was present with Kelson when I arrived in answer to the king's summons and was part of the discussion. He will need to discuss it with both of us. But I need to tell you what has occurred and how it affects us before we meet with him. We need to find a secluded place where we can talk. But first we must reply to Iain's message. Do you agree that we will go to him together?" Fiona hesitated a moment then nodded her assent.  They turned to the two pages and Wash gave them their reply.  "Tell the Earl we will  both attend him in his apartments as requested." The pages bowed and left together.

"Where is the best place to have our conversation? Is there any spot in the Schola that might work?' Wash looked at Fiona.

"Not really." she answered, "We might find a classroom not in use but we couldn't be sure that no instructor or student might need to use it."

"The library was busy when I looked through it to see if you were there, and you can never be sure who is listening." Kevin answered.

"It's too cold to try to go outside. I think we will have to resort to the conservatory. We should be able to find a secluded corner at the back there where no one will see us. What do you think?" Wash spoke to his two companions who nodded agreement.

The three moved along the paths leading to the back where the potting and planting areas were. They managed to find a spot with a couple of wooden benches where the gardeners did their propagating and potting. There was no one around and no signs of any work in progress. They settled on the benches.

Fiona viewed Kevin quizzically, not sure why he was included in this meeting. Wash intercepted her gaze. "Kevin's presence is part of what I need to tell you about my audience with the king. One of his intelligencers informed him of the presence of a known spy in his court. The man did not know what kind of information the spy was gathering or for whom, but it is obviously a cause for concern.  Kelson is determined not to be caught unaware again after what happened with the Mearan rebellion. A very close eye will be kept on him, where he goes, who he meets, what he does."

Fiona interrupted. "I understand the king's concern but how does it involve us?'

"One possibility he is considering is that the spy is in the service of the man who abducted me and made me prisoner, that he is plotting to gain control over me again. Also other enemies of Gwynedd are aware of my blocking power and eager to gain control of it through me." "Unfortunately, I am still the only Deryni with this ability. I have not as yet been able to find any other who is able to learn it although I continue to search. He feels that the risk is greatly increased until we are able to find out more about what the spy's purpose is here and to whom he reports. He has decided that I must be accompanied at all times by someone who can protect me, and he has assigned Kevin as my personal knight who must always accompany me. He has commanded me to remain with people and not to go apart alone. That makes it difficult for us because I cannot be alone with you to complete the question I started to ask you earlier." Wash looked at Fiona, trying to gauge her reaction to what he had said.

Fiona said nothing. He reached for her hand and held it in his. "You must know what I hoped to ask you. I was hoping you would consent to become my wife as I have dreamed of since we first met. But Kelson is also against any betrothal between us until this is resolved, and your guardian will certainly not give his consent as long as the king is against it."

Fiona's eyes flashed and her cheeks flushed red. "Why is he against it?" she said angrily.

"He has two concerns. First is your safety. He does not want you exposed to danger if an enemy becomes aware of our relationship and tries to get at me through you. If they were to try to kidnap you, he is sure nothing short of putting me in chains would keep me from pursuing them in order to free you. Remember what happened at Arx Fidei and how you were used to lure our party away, possibly into an ambush. He wants no repeat of that occurrence. He does not want a situation where you could be hurt or I could be lured into capture again."

Fiona jumped up from the bench and began to pace. "I was untrained then and did not know how to defend myself. I have learned much, and I would not be so easily taken. Not only can I protect myself, I can now help protect you. If there is danger, I will not be separated from you.!"

Kevin looked over at Washburn. "He said you would not take kindly to this intrusion in your affairs. He also said you are more inclined to confront danger rather than avoid it, and I must say I am inclined to agree. However, we must follow the king's command as he has not only our welfare but that of the kingdom in mind. It is possible that when we meet with Earl Cameron, he will have some ideas about ways we can resolve this more quickly."

Fiona spoke eagerly, "That is true. He must know of ways in which we can trap the spy and find out what he is up to. He can help us devise a plan."

"I am not sure to what extent he will want you involved in this." Wash sounded somewhat doubtful.

Fiona stamped her foot. "If he tries to keep me out, I will find my own way to get the information we need. Women have ways of getting information that men do not."

Wash started to reply, but they heard voices and approaching footsteps. The gardeners were returning from their lunch so it was time to leave the conservatory. They slipped quietly away by another path to part at the entrance to the conservatory. "We must go our separate ways now but we will meet by the stairway that leads to Iain's apartments after the meal. Agreed?" Wash waited for a response. Both of his companions nodded their agreement and they separated.

*********
Immediately following the end of the evening meal, the three came together at the foot of the staircase leading to Lord Iain's apartments. Wash gave Fiona his arm and together they all mounted the stairs and walked along the passage until they stopped outside the door of Iain's apartments. Wash tapped on the door which was quickly opened by his squire, Robert, who announced their arrival. He ushered them into the main room where Iain awaited them.

He smiled at them and gestured toward a table with several benches placed around it.  "I am glad you have come. We have much to discuss if we are to resolve this issue of the spy in our midst and the effect of his presence on all of us. Please take a seat." Robert began to pour wine from a jug which had been warming by the fire. He placed a cup at each place then replaced the jug. Iain addressed the squire.  "You may go about your other duties. I will call if I have need of you."  Robert bowed and left the room.

Iain stood at the head of the table and addressed the three of them. "I am certain that Washburn has told you of the presence of the spy and of the king's concerns about his presence, his intent, and his contacts. I know you will agree that we must make every effort to determine the spy's purpose in coming to court and to whom he reports."

He continued. "There are several possibilities. I have seen him before,  in Ratharkin just before it was retaken by the King's forces. He disappeared in the chaos of the battle and has not been seen since. We were never able to find a connection between him and the Mearans. And we have never been able to determine whom he serves or if he is free-lance, selling his information to the highest bidder."

"It is possible that Brioc has managed to escape undetected from the caves where he has been hiding and reach a place of refuge like Byzantyun where he might try to form an alliance with the sons of Teymuraz who continue to lay claim to the throne of Gwynedd. Of course he lost a major bargaining chip when his daughter was taken from him. We have seen no activity in Meara to indicate any intent to make another effort to make Meara independent. This man could be spying for Brioc but I doubt it."

"It is possible that he is serving Imre or Iksander directly, but I do not think that likely. They have their own agents who carry out their commands, and I see no reason for them to employ an outsider."

"It is possible that he is working for Feyd, the man who was responsible for the kidnapping and imprisonment of Washburn at the behest of Valerian, Teymuraz's son. Feyd is a high ranking member of a highly secretive order that claims to protect Deryni but also punishes those they deem to have violated their fundamental principles, often engaging in assassination. He is aware of Wash's blocking power and has sought to draw him into the Order."
 
"He might even be working for the Autokrator himself. He has long wished to regain a toehold in Gwynedd. And there are others who wish to invade Gwynedd and put themselves on the throne. It will not be easy to find the information we need."

"While we try to determine what his purpose is, it is important that we take steps to foil any nefarious plan he might have. Washburn might or might not be the object of his spying. I am aware that Wash does not think Feyd is behind this spying expedition, but the king does not feel we can take any chances. That is why Sir Kevin is assigned to accompany him everywhere and why he is not to go apart alone. We do realize that this command makes things difficult for you, and we hope it will not be too long. Any information you can gain for us will help shorten this time and contribute to the safety of the kingdom."

"I will follow the king's commands," Wash said, "but what else can we do to help?"

"The man we are interested in is calling himself Stefen Llewellan. He is a tall, thin man with dark hair and eyes. He has a jagged scar on the left side of his neck from an old knife wound. He is a trader in farming implements and travels through the countryside bargaining with the farmers. He has recently expanded his wares to include weapons such as swords and daggers and is here to display his new wares to the knights and squires at court. I am sure he will be most pleased to show you his goods and to tell you about them. He is also very sociable, ready for a drink or a joke. You might invite him to join a few of you for a drink. As I recall, he is very cagey and will not allow himself to drink too much. But even a reluctance to drink freely when others are doing so could be revealing. Cultivate him, get him to relax in your company and maybe he will let something slip." Iain seated himself on one of the benches and surveyed the three seated before him.

Fiona had so far said  nothing, but now she bounced a little in her seat, obviously anxious to speak. Iain smiled at her. "Fiona, I know you wish to be part of this undertaking, but I do not wish you to seek him out or try to engage him. We do not wish you to put yourself at risk, and I do not see any way you can be a part of it. I do not think you are in the market for any weapons or farm implements."

Fiona's eyes flashed but when she replied her voice was quiet. "Well I could be interested in a new dagger but I agree, he will not take my interest in weapons seriously. I might not be of much interest to this man, but let me pose a question. Are we certain he is the only spy here at court? Because I have reason to think there may be at least one other, one who would be completely unsuspected."

The three men looked at her in surprise.

She continued. "I am not at all sure of the intentions of Prince Nivelon. I don't think matrimony is his only objective."

"He is the heir to the Grand Duke of Vezaire, and his avowed purpose in coming to Rhemuth is to find himself a wife, preferably a Deryni wife. He certainly has seemed quite taken with you and has spent much time in your company. He says he is also interested in the Schola, or at least  his father is. Why do you feel that he might have an undisclosed purpose for his visit here, one he would rather not have known?" Iain gazed at her intently.

Fiona met his gaze frankly. "He does ask questions about the Schola, but he asks many more about Wash and especially about his Deryni powers.  He has not openly asked about the blocking ability but he often expresses interest in Wash and what he is doing at Morgan Manor and the Healing Center. For a man who is supposedly seeking a wife, he seems much more interested in other things, including Washburn. It may be just curiosity, and I believe he does regard Wash as a rival, but l think it would be worthwhile to find out more about him. I think there is more to him than meets the eye. I certainly could do that."

The three men were silent for several minutes, considering what Fiona had said. Kevin was the first to speak. "You want to be careful, Lady Fiona. The Prince is quite arrogant and certainly has a very high opinion of himself.  He would not take it well if he thought you were toying with him or did not sufficiently appreciate him. I do think he is seeking a wife, but I also agree that is not his only purpose here. It would not do to treat him lightly."

Iain responded also. "I agree that you must be very careful, Fiona. He has not approached me for permission to court you, but I have only just returned to court. Do you wish to be courted by the Prince?" Iain's eyes twinkled as he asked the question.

"No I do not," Fiona replied firmly "but it is not necessary to give him a refusal. I am sure you can find a reason to postpone any decision, my Lord,  at least until after Twelfth Night. You could point out that another has already sought and received permission to court me." She grinned at him as she spoke.

Iain stood and addressed them. "I have provided you with everything we now know as well as what we suspect. I believe you now understand the importance of this undertaking. We need to collect as much information as possible but we must take care not to give away our interest in any of those we suspect. If you find anything significant, let me know at once. We will meet again soon to review our progress. I will let you know where and when."

They all rose from their seats. The men bowed and Fiona curtsied. They left  the room together, Washburn and Kevin to escort Fiona back to the Schola and then to return to their quarters to plan their approach to Llewellan.

"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

Laurna

More intrigue!  I do love how Fiona likes to jump into the action and is not willing to sit back.  She is a good fit for Wash. But it looks to me like they might be heading for some trouble before twelfth night.

Nice chapter DFK. Thank you for moving the story along. Wash/me really needs to be more attentive.
May your horses have wings and fly!

Bynw

Having secured his leadership position. Fyed sits at the high seat at the table of other Masters of the Order. Tapping his finders rhythmically he watches them all for a moment before speaking.

"We have some potential problems that must be dealt with before they become distractions. There are rumors that Lord Brioc has survived in the caves in the Mearan highlands. He has insulted the Order and needs to pay for his insolence."

"Have some trackers to verify that he lives and find him. He is Human so it shouldn't be hard. And when he is found. Deliver his head to the Haldanes in Meara as a gift. And be sure there is no further issue of his body other than the daughter who is in the hands of the Haldanes."

"Our agents at the Haldane Court are to continue to watch Lord Washburn. And they are to see no one else attempts any abduction or harm to him given his unique gifts. Being a Morgan alone is enough for others to want him, add his Blocking ability and his value increase to more than a King's ransom."

"The goals of the Order will be completed in our live times if the dice roll in our favor."
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Laurna

And since when are the dice rolls NOT in Feyd's favor?   LOL
Nice little distraction, Bynw.
Brioc better run back into those hills, and fast!
May your horses have wings and fly!

Jerusha

Make sure there is no other issue?  Now that's an interesting thought.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Laurna

QuoteI believe he has ambitions to usurp the position of the Hort D'Orsal as leader of the group. He seems to have been encouraged in his aspirations by a man named Collos, who wields considerable power in the region.

I am doubly certain that this weapon's merchant did not go causally mentioning Collos by first name to a man like Sir Washburn without devious intentions. Is he baiting Wash? Is he purposely framing Prince Nivelon for some horrid deed that has yet to come to pass? And who does this spy really work for? If he knows about Collos, is he one of his minions, or is he a rival guild? There certainly can not be very many rivals to the Black Order of Death.

I love the interactions of Fiona and Ilsa.  And yes, Wash is a little jealous of the attention Fiona is giving to the prince.  But in his heart he knows his love for her will hold true, and hers for him.  Contrary to his youth, he is learning to be a man of patience.

Good story/chapter DFK.  I am so happy you posted this. and I look forward to more.
More Please!
May your horses have wings and fly!