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A Time To Heal Chapter 3

Started by Evie, September 24, 2010, 01:30:40 PM

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Chapter Three

   November 25th, 1132
   Rhemuth Castle

   Dhugal returned to his apartment after a long afternoon spent wrangling over one tedious matter after another on the King's Council.  His most comfortable slippers sat beside the hearth, warming by the fire, and a fur-lined robe was draped carefully over his favorite chair, although of his new wife there was no sign.

   That was a relief.  It still felt odd to him to walk into these unfamiliar quarters, now shared with a stranger, and to think of it as his home.  Or, at least, his home here at Court.  Even harder to become accustomed to was his new wife's anxious eagerness to please him.  She said very little—although her Gwyneddan was fairly fluent and her comprehension quite good, Dhugal suspected she was shy about speaking in what, for her, was a foreign language—but those disconcerting eyes kept following him around the room as he took note of the small changes she had made, the little comforts she kept offering up, as if silently begging him to accept her offerings.  To accept her.

   Not that he had much choice in that anymore.  She was, for better or for worse, his wife now, whether he was having difficulty wrapping his mind, much less his heart, around the concept or not.  And, to be fair, he had to admit she was working very hard to learn the ways of her new people.  The previous evening, she had shyly appeared in the doorway of his study in a new gown, cut in the latest Rhemuth fashion, and a Gwynedd-style veil under a simple circlet.  Duchess Richenda had helped her with the sewing for both, so that she could learn how to cut others from the same pattern.

   Dhugal handed his cloak and coronet to his page Aidan, then wandered over to the doorway of an adjoining room.  Mirjana looked up at him from her seat on a cushion on the floor of their small solar, carefully piecing together a new tunic for her Mikhail and a similar one for Duncan Michael.  The boys sat nearby, entertaining themselves in setting up a battlefield with toy soldiers.  Dhugal suspected that's what Mikhail was attempting to do anyway, although the lines of battle kept changing unexpectedly because Duncan Michael's wooden destrier—a gigantic beast of legend compared to the scale of the tinier warriors—occasionally wreaked havoc as Duncan Michael galloped it wildly over the assembled ranks.  As the leading rank of soldiers toppled over once again, the older boy looked up at Dhugal with a long-suffering sigh, then grinned as an idea struck him.  A moment later, one of Mikhail's soldiers went airborne, sailing from the toy trebuchet directly at the destrier.  Duncan Michael's pudgy toddler hand paused in mid-motion as he gaped at the small warrior rebounding off his giant mount, then he giggled.  Dhugal suppressed a chuckle and started to back out of the room.  His wife's voice stopped him.

   "My lord, are you hungry?  Would you like for me to have food sent up?"

   They had, over the past week, been taking most of their meals in private rather than in the Great Hall where, on the one evening they'd made an exception, they'd found themselves the focus of stares and quiet whispers.  Mirjana had even attempted to cook a meal once—to his surprise, since noblewomen rarely did their own cooking, even though most were at least somewhat trained in the skill so that they could more effectively manage their kitchen staff.  Catriona had enjoyed hearth cookery, so he had grown somewhat accustomed to the occasional wife-cooked meal, but Llyrian cuisine was far different from that of Torenth, and after her first attempt, Mirjana had given up.  She had been unable to find some of the necessary ingredients in Rhemuth, she'd told him, and therefore the stew she'd tried to make hadn't tasted right.  She'd apologized profusely, eyes downcast as if expecting a rebuke.  Honestly, he'd not noticed anything amiss with the stew except that it seemed slightly bland, though that could well have just been in his own perception.  His appetite seemed to be lacking of late.

   "I'm not all that hungry.  Have you and the lads eaten?"

   She looked strangely disappointed for a brief moment, but then she ducked her head, focusing  on her sewing project.  "Not yet.  We only returned from the gardens a short while ago."  She glanced at the boys briefly, then put her sewing down, rising gracefully to walk closer to the doorway.  "Your son is...quite advanced for his age," she whispered once she'd reached his side.

   Dhugal glanced at Duncan Michael.  "How so?" he whispered back.   "Or should I ask, what has he done now?"

   She watched the younger boy, just a couple of months beyond his third birthday, as he played with her son.  "We walked around the fish pond today.  Duncan Michael wanted me to see how the fish follow him around the edge of the pool."

   The boy's father suppressed a laugh.  "Yes, he's a born leader...of fish, anyway.  I probably should have warned you."

   Mirjana smiled, surprising him.  It was the first genuine smile he'd seen from her, and it caught him off-guard, but a knock sounded on the apartment's outer door just then, interrupting the moment.  Young Aidan crossed the outer chamber to answer the door.  The visitor was another page—this one in Haldane livery, bearing a message.  

   Dhugal read the note swiftly, then bowed towards his bride.  "Duty calls, I'm afraid.  Go ahead and order dinner up for yourself and the lads, if you like, but I may not be back until quite late.  Aidan, you needn't attend me; you're free for the rest of the evening."

   The boy bowed deeply, a big grin on his face, and scampered off.

   Mirjana nodded, her expression uncertain.  "Should I...wait up?"

   He understood the unspoken question behind her words, caught the silent anxiety in her eyes.  "No, there's no need," he answered.  The words sounded more curt to his own ears than he'd meant them to be, and he fought down a twinge of annoyance with himself as she visibly flinched.  "I really don't know what time I'll be back," he said more gently, "so at least one of us might as well get a decent night's sleep."

   It was a truthful enough answer, not that he thought his new wife was Truth-Reading him.  It was, however, also an evasive one.  Deep down, Dhugal was grateful for the summons.  He'd not been able to bring himself to revisit his bride's bed again since their wedding night.  He'd hoped she would be grateful for the reprieve, but it seemed she was as hopeful for a second son as he was.

   He'd not changed his mind about wanting a spare heir.  He just wished there were some easier way to get one, some way that didn't require imposing himself on the anxious young woman he'd wed in such haste, it hadn't even occurred to him to wonder until far too late how his rash decisions would affect her, would change her life just as radically as they'd changed his.

   Sometime soon, he knew, he ought to make another attempt, but it was difficult for him to bring himself to the task when every sight of the lady filled him with deep regret for his own folly.

   "Good night then, my lord," Mirjana said.

   "My lady."  Dhugal extended his hand towards his wife, lifting the hand she offered him to his lips and bestowing a light kiss over it.  As he turned to go, he thought he heard her quiet sigh behind him.


   The castle was nearly silent by the time the Duke returned to his quarters that night, with most folk already abed.  Thus it was that Dhugal had no trouble hearing the quiet sound of weeping as soon as he entered his apartment.

   He briefly considered ignoring it, considered moving silently past the closed door muffling the sounds of her sobs, reluctant to intrude on her private grief.  But then the sounds suddenly stilled, as if she'd heard or sensed his return, so he remained in the corridor between their bedchambers, unsure of what would be the better course—to inquire if there might be something he might do for her, or to leave her alone.  He had no idea which action she would prefer.

   His innate sense of compassion won out.  He couldn't imagine falling into an untroubled sleep with his woman sobbing in the next room, and him with no idea why.  He could at least check on her, and if she preferred to be left alone, she could tell him so herself.  

   Dhugal rapped lightly on the door.  "My lady?"

   After a moment, he heard her soft footfalls approach, then the door opened.  Red-rimmed eyes, their black lashes spiky with moisture, looked up at him.  Mirjana attempted a welcoming smile as she tightened an oversized cloak around herself, looking more like a upset child than a grown woman.  "My lord has need of me?"

   He shot a quick glance towards the nursery farther down the corridor.  That door was closed, and no sounds came from within, but all the same, he kept his voice low.  "Is there anything I can do for you, Mirjana?  I...um...You sounded like you might be in distress, a short while earlier."

   She dropped her eyes, taking a step back from the doorway to allow him entry.  "Nay.  That is, there's nothing you can do, but thank you for asking."  Her lips trembled, and she clamped them together, fighting for control.  "I never meant to disturb your slumber."

   "I wasn't asleep; I'd just returned."  Dhugal studied her disconsolate face, wishing he knew what to do to help his sorrowful young bride.  "I imagine you're rather homesick," he guessed.

   She shrugged.  "Sometimes."  She gave a wan smile.  "I haven't really had a home for years, though; it's hard to miss what one barely remembers.  It's not that."  Mirjana turned to gaze out her bedchamber window at the roofs of the City, visible beyond the Castle walls.  "Today was my daughter's second birthday," she whispered.  "Or it might have been.  I have no idea if she's even still alive."

   It took a long moment for the words to make sense to Dhugal, but once comprehension sank in, it hit him with the impact of a swift kick in the gut.  "You have no idea?  But...How...?"

   She turned to face him.  "My hus—that is, Lord Nikos took her from me."  She sank onto the window seat, staring at her hands.  "It was my fault.  I didn't want to drink the potion again, so I told him I was bearing a second son.  He was away when she was born, so he didn't know until she was three months old.  He came home unexpectedly while I was bathing her...."  Mirjana bit her lip, trying to still the quaver in her voice.  "He was very angry.  He hit me, I think—I don't really remember everything about that night—and when I regained consciousness, she was gone.  He told me the next morning he had sold her."  The green eyes filled with tears.  "I pray every night and morning that he found a childless couple who wanted a daughter, or that he lied and killed her outright.  Even that would be preferable to the alternatives in the markets of Byzantyun."

   Dhugal closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to think of any alternatives that would be worse than death for a three-month-old baby to endure.  He found himself moving towards his grieving wife, slowly sitting down beside her.  "That wasn't your fault, Mirjana.  You might have deceived Nikos, but selling his own child was unconscionable.  I'm sure you never foresaw that."

   She shook her head.  "I didn't, but I should have.  I'd been married to him long enough to know that he had no pity, no mercy."

   He took her hand in his, clasping it gently.  "You said he made you take a potion?"

   Mirjana nodded.  "I caught with child twice after Mikhail was born, but both times, it was a daughter.  Nikos made me drink a draught to rid me of the child so he could try for another son sooner.  The first time, I didn't know what he was making me drink—just that it was bitter and that it made my stomach cramp.  But then I miscarried.  The second time...."  She blinked away tears.  "I knew what it was that time, but he forced it down me anyway.  So the third time, I lied."  She stifled a sob.  "I can have sons, though.  I had Mikhail!"

   "Aye."  Dhugal drew his wife close, stroking her hair as she buried her face in his shoulder.  "It's not your fault, lass."  A sudden chill swept through him, and he straightened slightly to study her.  "That's why, when I first offered for you, you told me you'd accept my offer if I promised not to be angry at you for any daughters we might have?"

   "Yes."  She gave him a wobbly smile.  "You said you cherished your daughter.  I...had a father like that once."  She swallowed.  "I knew if you were kind enough to love a girl child, you would probably be kind to my son as well, even though...he has less of a birthright than even a girl now."  She bit her lip, the tears threatening to overwhelm her again.

   That was definitely a topic Dhugal wished to avoid, for truly he had little comfort to offer for Mikhail's plight.  He could only hope the lad would feel the calling of a true vocation in the Church when he was older; that seemed the easiest way to secure a future for him.  Perhaps, if gently steered towards the Servants of Saint Camber, he might eventually discover an affinity for the religious life.  That would be a more likely path to a secure future than the life of a knight errant or a man-at-arms, which were the best options that Dhugal would be able to provide for him.

   "What was your daughter's name?" he prompted, steering her gently away from her other worry.

   "Gia," she whispered.  "Gia Anoushka Arianna Furstána."  He noticed once again how she defiantly left off the "von Brustarkia" surname from her first marriage, as if not acknowledging the child's full parentage would erase all reminders of Nikos completely.  Not that he could blame her for the attempt.

   He nodded.  There was little hope of finding any trace of the child now, at this late date, if she even still lived.  But he'd ask Seisyll Arilan to look into the matter anyway, if he ever had a chance, or if he knew the right contacts to look into the matter for him.  He figured that would be unlikely, with Byzantyun half a world away, but as long as they were still searching for Teymuraz, they might as well keep eyes and ears open for news of a three-month-old infant girl sold a year and nine months ago.   A Deryni girl, although most people wouldn't be able to detect any difference, so Dhugal doubted that detail would be especially helpful.  Arilan had a daughter of his own, though; he'd understand Dhugal's need to ask, even if the odds of finding the child were nearly hopeless.

   They sat in silence together for a while in the window embrasure of the dimly lit chamber, Dhugal holding his wife close in the comforting circle of his arms, stroking her hair.  There was so much he didn't know about this woman, so much sorrow she had already seen in her young life, just now reaching the end of its second decade.  Again, he regretted the additional pain the rashness of his over-hasty action was bound to bring her, once the news of their marriage got back to his people, though hopefully any sorrow her marriage to him might bring her would not compare to the extreme hurts heaped upon her by her late and unlamented first husband.

   "How did you end up married to Lord Nikos?" he asked quietly.

   She remained silent a few moment longer, then pulled away slightly, pushing a stray lock of hair away from her face.  "He and Duke Teymuraz—this was during the Regency years, so Teymuraz was still Duke of Brustarkia then—they were visiting my father's lands in Arjenol en route to visiting Duke Mahael.  I had just entered my fourteenth year.  Lord Nikos saw me and decided he desired me for his wife, but my father would not consent."  The dark lashes fluttered downwards.  "He would not give me where I had no wish to wed, and besides that, he thought me overyoung for marriage still and would not have given me yet even had I been willing."  She inhaled a long, shuddering breath.  "So our guests continued on their way, conducting whatever business it was that they had set forth to do, but on their return trip to Brustarkia they came back through my father's lands unexpectedly, catching him off-guard.  Teymuraz put my father to the sword, and Nikos...."  She pressed her fingers to her lips a long moment.  "He stole me away.  He told me that if I would not wed with him willingly, there were other ways to make me more willing to wed.  Ways that would make me unsuitable for marriage to any other man who might offer, so I'd have to accept his suit."  She shook her head.  "I was young.  I knew no better.  But had I known what life with Nikos would be like, I'd have refused him even after...."  Her voice broke.  "But I was afraid.  My father was dead, and with no hope for a better marriage to a decent man, how else would I survive?"  She shrugged.  "So I went with him.  Still unwilling, but too scared to do otherwise.  And within a few short weeks, I was with child, and I dared not run away after that, for Mikhail's sake."

   Dhugal's eyes turned to amber ice.  "Lady, had I known earlier and were it within a man's power to do so, I'd have killed Lord Nikos twice over for your sake.  No woman should ever have to suffer so."  He cradled her head against his shoulder.  "And what of Mikhail?  Did Nikos also mistreat your son?"

   "Oh, no, Jesú be thanked!  No, Mikhail was the light of his father's eyes."  A wry smile.  "That was Nikos's one redeeming grace.  He could love a son, in his own crude way at least.  But even so...."  She looked up at him, her eyes thoughtful.  "Your Duncan Michael respects you, but he is not afraid of you, I don't think.  Nikos, on the other hand....  Everyone feared him, especially if he was in one of his rages.  Everyone except Teymuraz, at least.  Even, sometimes, his own son."

   Dhugal tucked the information away for future reference.  He had noticed the lad watching him warily at times, as if waiting for him to explode.  Now he had a better understanding of why.

   Somewhere from the heart of Rhemuth, a clock tolled the hour.  He gently withdrew from Mirjana, standing and lifting her hands to his lips.  "It's very late, my lady.  I should let you rest."

   She looked up at him, a faint look of—was it disappointment?—warring briefly with acceptance in her eyes, but then she nodded.  "Yes.  You will need your sleep, if you will be in meetings again tomorrow.  And...."  She blushed, looking down at her hands still resting in his.  "I think the unpropitious time of month is nearly upon me."

   The unpropitious...?  It took him a moment to realize what she meant.  "Oh.  Well.  That's all right.  All the more reason for you to rest."  He fought the urge to flee, made himself meet her eyes with a smile and a gallant bow instead.  "Do try to get some sleep, Mirjana."

   He left, making his way down the corridor to his own chamber nearby.  But for him, sleep proved to be just as elusive as his peace of mind.

Chapter 4:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=503.0
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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


QuoteHe'd not changed his mind about wanting a spare heir.  He just wished there were some easier way to get one...

So get Ciaran to remind Dhugal that the way you get babies is for mummy and daddy to go to market and pick out one they like!

Although buying a baby in a market might be a tad insensitive, given Mirjana's previous experience.  :(


Quote from: AnnieUK on September 24, 2010, 01:53:07 PM
QuoteHe'd not changed his mind about wanting a spare heir.  He just wished there were some easier way to get one...

So get Ciaran to remind Dhugal that the way you get babies is for mummy and daddy to go to market and pick out one they like!

Although buying a baby in a market might be a tad insensitive, given Mirjana's previous experience.  :(

* Evie nearly spews soft drink all over monitor ...  ;D

Um, yeah, unless he happens upon a two-year-old Deryni toddler named Gia at market, I'd strongly advise against that option! 
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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

kirienne (RIP)

It's quite a tight spot the two of them are in, but I hope it works out as well as it can for all of their sakes. That poor girl, having to endure such cruelty in such a short span of years, I do hope she also gets to experience joy.


Hopefully with this recent talk with Mirjana, Dhugal's relationship with his stepson will improve.  Dhugal will be the great father figure that Mikhail deserves and needs.  Mikhail could not have a better male role model than Dhugal.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Quote from: derynifanatic64 on September 25, 2010, 09:03:58 AM
Hopefully with this recent talk with Mirjana, Dhugal's relationship with his stepson will improve.  Dhugal will be the great father figure that Mikhail deserves and needs.  Mikhail could not have a better male role model than Dhugal.

Interesting you should mention that.  While little Mikhail is still, for the most part, a sweet little boy, he did absorb a few attitudes from his late father that will have to be unlearned, as you'll see in an upcoming chapter.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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