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A Time To Heal Chapter 8

Started by Evie, October 12, 2010, 01:13:03 PM

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Chapter Eight

   January 6, 1133
   Rhemuth Castle

   "What is wrong, my lord?"

   Dhugal continued to stare unseeingly at the fire in the hearth.

   "Dhugal?  It's almost time for us to go down for the Court and Revels...."  Mirjana gazed uncertainly at her husband, still seated in his study wearing informal garb rather than the attire one might expect a Duke to wear for a formal Twelfth Night Court.  "Shall I call for Séamidh and Aidan to assist you with your wardrobe?"

   The Duke of Cassan jerked his attention back to the present, looking up at his new wife with a strained smile.  "I'm sorry; I was...woolgathering.  No, I'll call for them.  Thank you for calling my attention to the time."  He stood, a shadowed expression crossing his features as he walked out of the room.

   A knock sounded on the apartment outer door.   Mirjana, already following Dhugal out of his study, turned in the opposite direction to answer.  Lady Ailidh stood in the corridor, Ciaran's and Aine Rose standing to either side of her and Jarrett and Trina in her arms.  "I'm here with the imps, then, God bless Lady Mhairi's soul!" she said with a grin as she entered the apartment.  "Please tell me she's not come to her senses and run off screaming?"

   Mirjana laughed.  "No, she's in the nursery with Mikhail and Duncan Michael, no doubt wondering what manner of madness has overtaken her in offering to watch the children tonight."  She waved a hand down the length of the apartment's inner corridor.  "Down that way, all the way to the end."

   "Got it!  I'll let her know that the Corwyn nursemaids have offered to combine forces, if she needs allies against this unruly lot."  Ailidh led her troops down the short length of corridor, somehow managing to look stunning in her Court finery despite the small army of urchins in her wake.  She returned much more quickly than Mirjana expected, startling the Duchess.

   "Woolgathering?"  Ailidh teased.  

   "I suppose."  Mirjana turned to face her, looking uncertain.  "What does it mean?  My lord used the same word just a few minutes ago."  She gave a faint smile.  "I can't imagine it has anything to do with sheep, though!"

   Ailidh laughed.  "No, it means to be lost in your own thoughts.  Except, of course, when it really does mean wool gathering."  The Border woman sobered as she studied Mirjana's face.  "What's wrong, Your Grace?"

   "Oh, it's just...."  Mirjana bit her lip, wondering how much she could confide in this woman of her household who had become a friendly acquaintance, yet Mirjana had sensed that her husband's Transha retainer still held something of herself back in reserve.  "It's my lord husband," she said at last.  "He seems...quite preoccupied today, for some reason, but he's not said why.  And actually, he's seemed a bit despondent all week, but today he's hardly said a word."

   A look of sudden realization crossed Ailidh's face.  "Oh!  No one's told you, then."  The red-haired woman sighed.  "Today was Dhugal's wedding anniversary.  For his first marriage, that is.  It would have been their fourth year."  A shadow flitted across her features.  "I should have thought of that and checked on him earlier.  God knows I had enough reasons to hate Twelfth Nights too, until my Ciaran was born these six years past, at least.  Certain dates can bring back powerful memories.  I don't suppose he can exactly skip Court, though.  Is Séamidh being knighted this year?"  

   "I don't think so...." Mirjana said uncertainly.

   "No, wait, the lad's but seventeen, isn't he?  Next year, then."  Ailidh glanced down the apartment corridor towards Dhugal's chamber, but the door remained firmly shut.  She looked back at Mirjana, giving her a careful study.  "You're looking well, Your Grace, if a little tired.  You wouldn't perchance be breeding yet, would you?"

   "I...."  Mirjana was spared the necessity of a reply by the opening of her husband's chamber door.  He stepped out, resplendent in the finery of a Border Duke, Séamidh and Aidan following close behind him.  Dhugal gave the two women a vague nod as he entered the central area, then stopped short to peer more closely at Ailidh.  

   "You look...different."

   "Aye.  This is what I look like when I've cleaned up a bit, combed the snarls from my hair, and don't have any bairns clutching at my skirts or latched onto my bubbies like leeches.  And you, a chara, look like hell."

   His lips twitched slightly in an almost-smile.  "You sound the same, though."  He offered his arm to Mirjana.  "Shall we head down, my lady?"

   "As you wish, my lord."

   Dhugal glanced back at Ailidh.  "Where's Jass?"

   "With the knight candidates from Cassan."  Ailidh arched an eyebrow at him.

   "Oh, aye.  Right.  I'd best have a word with them myself before Court starts."

   "Aye.  Shall I take Her Grace down to the Hall, then?"

   He nodded.  "That would probably be best, aye.  I'll rejoin you once the knighting ceremony is over, unless Kelson needs me up on the dais."

   Ailidh frowned.  "If he does, he's a blind man.  You're not thinking of staying through the Revels tonight, are you?"

   "Through the...?  Oh.  No."  Dhugal shook his head.

   "Good.    I'll have Jass pour some Ballymar whisky down you later."


   "Jesú, it's hit him rough," Jass said quietly to Ailidh much later that night, after he'd poured his Duke into bed and returned to his own apartment.  "An' tha' damned Court dinnae help matters either."

   "I saw the quiet conference at the dais before that third accolade," Ailidh said.  "What was all that about?"

   "Officially?  One o' th' Cassani candidates said it had been a lifelong dream o' his tae be knighted by th' King's own hand."  A wry smile.  "Unofficially?  One o' his brother candidates told me later tha' th' real reason he'd asked tae be knighted by Kelson was tha' he dinnae wish tae be given th' accolade by a Duke who had 'betrayed his own people' by marryin' a 'Torenthi witch.'  Apparently his da died at Llyndruth Meadows."

   Ailidh winced.  "That's not going to sit well with Dhugal once he finds out."  She bit her lip worriedly.  "He didn't overhear that, did he?"

   "Nay, he'd left th' Great Hall by tha' time.  Still, ye know if one Cassani is thinkin' tha' way, chances are there's a lot more thinkin' it an' no' sayin' it.  An' some who will say it, an' th' devil take th' consequences.  An' Dhugal's nae fool.  I think he knew wha' was up, but dinnae wish tae make an issue of it.  A candidate does hae th' right tae be knighted by his King's hand, after all, if th' King's willin' tae grant him th' accolade."

   "Aye."  Ailidh sighed.  "Well, at least the people of Transha are still in full support of him, though that presents its own difficulties, I suppose."

   "Aye, it does.  He cannae jus' surround himself wi' Transha men; it'll give th' impression he cares nowt for Cassan an' Kierney, an' tha's far from th' case, whatever folks may think right now.  Tha's no' an impression he can afford tae give."  He poured himself a shot of Ballymar whisky, then handed the flask over to Ailidh.  "An' it looks like I'm done wi' drinkin' wi' th' lads of an evenin' when we're back in Cassan, by the by."


   Jass took a sip of his drink.  "Dhugal's asked me tae head up Her Grace's entourage, at least whenever they have tae travel separately.  He says he needs a man he can trust wi' her security.  I dinnae mind, but it will mean needin' tae have my wits sharp at all times, I'm thinkin'."  He eyed the beverage in his glass somewhat wistfully, then grinned.  "O' course, I told Dhugal tha' if I'm no' spendin' my evenin's out wi' th' lads, I'll be spendin' them in bed wi' my wife, so if ye're no' ready for another bairn right away, ye'd best get yer friend Celsie tae stitch up a wee bit o' magic...."  He winked at his wife, who raised an eyebrow at him.

   "Jass MacArdry, if you give me another babe before the ones I'm tending now are even weaned, I'll be taking a few stitches to you!"

   He crowed with delight.  "Aye, somehow I thought ye might say tha'!"  Jass grinned and set down his glass to pull his wife close.  "I love ye, chuisle."

   "And don't think sweet-talk will help either!"  Ailidh tried not to smile, but the corners of her lips wouldn't cooperate, so she hid their betrayal by burying her face in her husband's shoulder instead, stifling her laughter in his warm skin.


   Dhugal lay in the darkness, staring sightlessly at his bedcurtains, unable to sleep despite his exhaustion and the copious amounts of whisky he had consumed as soon as he could decently tear himself away from his official duties.  The bed whirled slowly in the darkness as if being sucked down the world's slowest whirlpool, washing it away.  He wished the whirlpool would drain him of his turbulent emotions as well.

   A quiet tap sounded on the door.  A moment later, soft light streamed in.  The pale green luminescence of handfire illuminated a woman's face.  No, not simply any woman's; this one was his wife now.  His mind still held some dim awareness of that, even if the past few months still felt unreal to him, like some nightmare he might someday wake up from.

   A silent anger filled him.  Anger at Catriona for leaving him behind so soon, so suddenly, without any chance to prepare for the void she would leave behind.  Anger at Teymuraz for stealing his life from him, for the devastation he had wrought.  Anger at the beautiful young woman intruding on his private pain.   Anger at his people for their blind prejudices against an entire Kingdom for the actions of a few, committed nearly half his lifetime ago.  Anger at the whole world for continuing on....

   Anger at himself.

   The Torenthi lass crawled into bed beside him, curling up behind him to pull him close to her.

   "No' tonight, lassie.  I cannae," he whispered, lapsing into the Border dialect of his boyhood.

   "I know," she said quietly, soft lips brushing against his shoulder.  "I just didn't want you to have to grieve alone."  She stroked his hair, loosening its binding and starting to unbraid it.  "I know I'm not the woman you want tonight, but might I at least help you fall asleep?"

   He stared blindly into the dark shadows in a corner of the room.  "She never even saw our daughter!"  The words had sprung unbidden from God knows where.  Dhugal wished he could call them back, but they whirled slowly down the whirlpool draining away the rest of his life.

   "I'm sorry."  Wordless comfort blanketed him, easing its way into his mind, past shields too fragile now to hold the pent up memories and emotions back anymore.  Like a dam bursting under floodwaters it gave way.  Mirjana pulled her husband close, accepting the torrent, holding him tightly to keep him from being dragged further under by the crushing weight of his grief....

   Catriona's merry laugh sounded from the other side of the door.  Duncan smiled at the young squire who entered the room before him to announce his arrival to the King.  Kelson sat in his private withdrawing room, grinning at his blood brother, while Dhugal sat on the bearskin rug in front of the hearth, chuckling at Kelson's story.  Behind Dhugal, Catriona sat, unbraiding Dhugal's hair and running her fingers through the thick coppery locks.

   Kelson's gray eyes glanced over at Duncan, still standing in the doorway.  "Come in!  I was just telling Cat about Dhugal's misspent youth."

   "Which was what, just last week?" she teased, tousling Dhugal's unbound hair.  He laughed, reaching a hand behind him to capture hers, giving her fingers a light squeeze before releasing them.  She smiled, parting his hair to rebraid it, quietly singing a song in the language of the Isles as she reunited the three strands into one.

   "Don't tell me you priests of Shiele even have a prayer-song for the braiding of hair!"

   "Aye, we do!"  She tugged gently at his braided locks before holding out a hand for the leather cord she'd given him to hold.  "Three-in-one, like the Trinity."  She clubbed the end of the braid, binding it tightly with the cord, tucking the loose ends into the wrap once she was finished.  "See, we find teaching moments in everything.  There you are, then!"  

   Dhugal flashed her a warm smile over his shoulder as he leaned back slightly against her.  Cat's arms wrapped around him in a loose embrace as she looked up at Duncan.  "Kelson was just sharing the story about Dhugal's first time to serve the high table.  Poor lad!"

* * *

   A gentle shower, though the sun shone brightly overhead beyond the shimmer of golden light surrounding them.  The late summer air was warm, heating the falling droplets cascading down around them.

   "It takes a certain amount of control," the Lady of Llyr was saying, though Dhugal was only half listening as she spoke, his attention newly diverted to how the falling moisture was dampening her clothing, making it cling to her wet skin.

   "That spell's not the only thing taking a certain amount of control,
chuisle!" he teased, sending Catriona a swift vision of herself as he saw her.  She blushed, ending the water working with a self-conscious laugh.

   "I'm sorry; obviously I didn't think this through very well!"  She grinned as she turned her back to him.  "Fortunately there's another spell that should help with that."  Lifting her arms, she added a quick gesture to a softly spoken series of words.  A warm breeze began to encircle them both, whipping at their wet clothing and briskly caressing their skin until both were thoroughly dry again.

* * *

   "He's staying."

   The midwife sputtered in protest.  "But he's a
man!  It's not proper!"

   Catriona gave a short bark of laughter, wincing as a new contraction began.  "He's seen me in a shift and even less, and he's the one who put this baby in me; he can damn well stay to help me push him back out!"  She paused to take a few rhythmic breaths to ease the pain of her labor before continuing.  "My husband is a Deryni healer.  He might not be trained in midwifery, but he knows how to ease pain."  She gave the midwife a feral smile. "And if you don't let him help me, I'll ease my own pain by ripping your entrails out and stuffing them down your interfering throat!"

   Dhugal laughed.  "Ah, Cat,
a chuisle mo chridhe, that's not particularly helpful."  He gave the midwife an apologetic look as he moved to his wife's side, laying one hand on her tightening abdomen.  "Come now, son, give your mother a break; she's labored long enough."  He laid his free hand on Catriona's sweat-damp forehead, joining in link with her, wincing a bit at the contraction he now shared with her, although it was already beginning to ease its grip.  "Jesú, have they been that strong all day?"

   "No, they build.  But they've been nearly that bad for the past several hours, just growing more frequent.  I've had them nearly that strong since Nones, I think."  Cat glanced at the midwife for confirmation.

   "Yes.  I'm afraid this baby is taking his own sweet time," the midwife said, still looking none too happy at the presence of a man in the room.

   Dhugal continued his gentle probe through his wife's mind, finding the centers that controlled pain. As the next contraction began to build, he focused on blocking the pain, allowing just enough sensation of pressure to leak through so that his wife could concentrate on assisting the midwife's efforts.

   "Very good.  You're almost there, I think," the woman said behind him. "All right, once the next contraction starts, I want you to push."

   A half hour later, as the bells outside rang for Compline, the heir to Cassan, Kierney and Transha made his entry into the world.

* * *

   Catriona mashed stewed peas with the back of a spoon, then tried to feed the green mushy substance to Duncan Michael.  The infant's tongue pushed outward, ejecting the pasty peas.  Cat scraped the mess off her son's lips and tried again.

   "I don't think he likes peas," Dhugal said, chuckling.

   "Well, I can hardly feed him wine-braised coney, and he needs something solid in him.  He's getting too old for milk alone to satisfy him."

   "We're having wine-braised coney?  Let me guess...my father's dining with us tonight."

   She laughed.  "Yes, Duncan had a craving.  I swear if that man asks me for this dish one more time, I'm going to ask him when his baby is due."

   Dhugal grinned.  "He'd better
not be pregnant!  That would be a bigger scandal than me turning up as his long-lost son!"

   "Oh, I don't know.  I'm sure the Church of Gwynedd would look upon it as a miracle. The Church of Llyr definitely would!"  Catriona chuckled as she handed their messy infant to his father for a wipe-down before turning to answer the tapping on their apartment door.  "Just imagine the pain relief he'd need, though," she added as she opened the door to let their guest in.

   Duncan smiled down at her quizzically.  "The pain relief who would need?" he asked as he stepped inside.

   "You."  She favored him with an impish grin that grew at his startled expression.  "If you were to conceive, that is."

   "To conceive...of what?" the bishop asked warily.

   She pointed at his grandson, snugly held in the arms of his chortling father.  "One of
those little miracles!"

* * *   

   His wife studied her reflection in the polished brass mirror, tilting her head thoughtfully.

   "Come to bed,
chuisle," Dhugal coaxed.  "I've been famished for you all day.  Damn meetings!"

   She laughed softly as she turned to face him.  "I'll be there in a moment.  I'm just memorizing this shape before I lose it again."  Her clear green eyes teased him.

   "What do you mean, before you....  Wait—do you mean?..."

   "What would you like to name your daughter?"  Catriona's smile widened as she watched the myriad emotions on her husband's face.  It settled eventually on joy.

   "I.... Oh, Jesu, a daughter!"  He watched her cross the room to climb into bed beside him.  "So soon?"

   "That's an odd name, and rather long.  'Oh Jesú A Daughter So Soon MacArdry McLain' simply won't do.  Let's try another one."

   Dhugal laughed, drawing his wife into his arms.  "Well, give me a bit more time to think about it!"  He kissed her deeply, then drew back to look into her eyes with a grin.  "Shall we rock the baby to sleep?"

   She nuzzled his neck.  "Oh, why not?  When she's born, I'll just introduce you as the man who kept poking her on the head constantly.  She'll probably spend the rest of her life keeping you from getting a good night's rest."  Cat's eyes filled with mischief.  "We could name her Caldreana Ailidh...."

   Dhugal roared with laughter.

   Mirjana held her husband tightly as his tears dampened the soft linen of her night-rail.  The torrent of images and emotions was beginning to subside as Dhugal struggled to regain control of the flood.

   At last he managed to pull away, mentally if not yet physically, the shock of the sudden upwelling having a sobering effect.  "I'm sorry, Mirjana.  I never meant to loose all of that on you."

   "I know."  She stroked the loose hair away from his face.  "I never meant to unleash all that.  I was hoping just to ease you into sleep."  She studied him in the dim moonlight.  "I think it needed to come out, though, in some way.  You can't hold such feelings in forever, or they eat you up from within trying to get out.  Believe me, I know."

   "Aye."  Amber eyes studied her sadly, then Dhugal drew her close, kissing her tenderly.  "Thank you for trying to help."

   "Shall I try again?  I think now that you're in better control of your shields, I can get it right this time."

   He took a deep breath, heaved it back out in a sigh.  "If you like."

   She extended a tentative mind-touch once again, this time easing her way past deliberately lowered shields to touch the control centers governing sleep.  One soft brush and his eyes drifted shut, his body sinking immediately into a deep slumber, freed at least for this evening from painful dreams.  Mirjana waited for his breathing to fall into the natural rise and fall of deep sleep then allowed herself a few quiet tears of her own.


   January 7, 1133
   Rhemuth Castle

   "The Duke and his entourage will be leaving at the end of the week for Cassan."  Jass MacArdry stood at attention before his Duchess, carefully using his proper Court diction so she could more easily understand him.  "His Grace has asked for me to remain behind so I can head up your entourage here until he has reached Cassan and has been updated on the situation there.  If his journey is uneventful and he decides Ballymar Castle is secure enough for you, Ailidh and I will bring you and the children through by way of a Transfer Portal so you'll not have to endure over a week's journey by coach."

   "I understand his concern, Sir Jass, but my place is at my lord's side."

   Jass raised a dark chestnut eyebrow at Dhugal's lady.  "Your Grace, there is a possibility of danger to you.  I don't know if the Duke has told you about his people's history...."

   Mirjana nodded.  "I know.  But he is so very alone right now.  I cannot leave him to face all that hostility alone.  He's fighting a battle on two fronts, Jass—without and within.  He needs support."

   Her husband's retainer nodded.  "No one agrees with you on that more than I, my lady.  But if I might respectfully point out one thing—it would hardly be good for his state of mind if you or your son should be killed before you even made it as far as Cassan.  And it's a long journey over land, especially for young children.  Far better to wait until Dhugal arrives in Cassan, then join him by means of the Portal afterward if you must."

   She sighed.  "I suppose you're right.  But I shall join him in Cassan.  His people can't get to know me for who I really am if I don't dare set foot in Ducal lands."

   Jass gave her a faint smile.  "Well, that's for you and His Grace to hash out.  I'm just here to keep your soul housed in your body, not to argue good sense into you."  The smile turned into a chuckle.  "I don't know why it is that MacArdry men have such a habit of marrying stubborn wives!"

Chapter 9:
"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!


Poor Dhugal.  That's rough.

And poor Mirjana.  I have a feeling she's got a rough road ahead of her.
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

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


Waaaaahhhh :( :(

(But a little LOL at the Corwyn nurses joining forces with Cassan - there must be a heck of a lot of kids between those two nurseries by now! ;) )


Let's see....in the Cassani nursery, we currently have Ciaran, Aine Rose, and Jarrett MacArdry; Duncan Michael and Trina McLain; and Mikhail Furstan (technically von Brustarkia, but Mirjana seems to be trying to drop all reminders of Nikos altogether).  Brendan is now the newly invested Earl of Marley and has outgrown the nursery, but Corwyn's would still have Briony, Kelric, Grania, and (at least if we're continuing with the non-canonical universe) the twin boys Alkari is wishing upon poor Richenda.  Not to mention that Alkari says Richenda's pregnant again as of that first home visit to Corwyn Alaric made in the middle of the fever-flux plague, when Kelson allowed Portal travel again, but at least the nursemaids won't have to deal with that little blossom until March!   ;D

Yeah.  I think some nursemaids might be on the verge of vowing eternal childlessness, taking holy vows, and moving to a convent.  In Byzantyun.   ;D
"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!


LOL - I gave her a few more months' peace - baby (daughter #3, named Alyssa Zoe) not due until August!! Richenda has now placed an order with Celsie for several sets of 'special' bedlinen, pillows, cushions and probably even some new bed curtains ;)   As for the nursemaids taking holy vows and moving to a convent - there is a joke in Coroth that the castle has been on permanent war footing ever since the twin boys (now aged two) learned to walk (sorry, run!).   If Alaric and Duncan managed to get into trouble as children, 'twin Alarics' - aided and abetted by mischievous 4 y.o. Grania - are truly a terrifying prospect ...


August?!  Eep!!!  Good thing I didn't make any pregnancy references in Richenda's scene, then.  I'd have had to rewrite her from being visibly pregnant to not even showing yet.   ;D

Sophie's due to have her third baby in August as well, but I have to survive finish this story first before I can add to Seisyll's growing collection of gray hair....    :D
"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!