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A Time To Heal Chapter 11

Started by Evie, October 22, 2010, 11:00:27 AM

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Chapter Eleven

   January 25, 1133
   Ballymar Castle, Cassan

   Dhugal studied his wife's sleeping form in the early dawn light streaming through their bedchamber window.  Something about it seemed vaguely different than it had been when she'd first surprised him by appearing in his study in Rhemuth just over a month earlier, clad in only a loose blanket.  He wasn't entirely certain, but he thought she might be with child.  Though surely she would have said something to him once she knew... If she knew....

   She shivered in the cool air, and he pulled the blankets back over her, rising briefly to add some more wood to the fireplace.  Surely she would recognize the signs of early pregnancy by now, he thought.  She'd conceived four times during her marriage to Nikos, after all, even if he'd only allowed two of the pregnancies to continue to full term.  He must be imagining the changes he'd thought he'd seen.  Wishful thinking could play tricks on a man's mind, he supposed.

   He returned to her side, sliding under the blankets to pull her close.  She turned to nestle into him, lending him welcome warmth to dispel the chill of the room's air.  

   He slipped a hand down to rest lightly low on her abdomen and cast out with his senses.  No...wait!...there was another presence!   A tiny form moving deep within Mirjana.  A tiny Deryni life, connected yet separate.   And, if Dhugal was not mistaken, male.

   A sense of awed wonder suffused Dhugal.  Another son!  Why hadn't Mirjana told him?  Had it been a daughter, he would assume she was afraid, that her memories of Nikos were still too fresh in her mind for her to believe his assurances that he would be delighted by a girl child as well as by a boy.  But if this were truly the son he believed the child to be, that only deepened the mystery.  

   Mirjana began to stir.  Dhugal moved his hand away from his growing son, sliding it around to pull his wife closer to him instead, awakening her with a tender kiss.

   Her eyes fluttered open and a smile dawned.  "Hello, my...husband."  She gave a self-conscious laugh.

   "You started to say it again, didn't you?" Dhugal teased, amber eyes gleaming.  

   She blushed.  "I'm getting better.  I only called you 'my lord' once last night."

   He grinned, raising an eyebrow at her.  "Oh, was that a form of address?  I thought it was just an exclamation."  He chuckled as her blush deepened, moving a lock of hair aside to nuzzle at her neck.  "Let's see if I can make you slip up again, mother of my child."

   She stiffened in his arms slightly.  He pulled back, studying the expressions flitting across her face.  Her eyes darkened with the old anxiety he thought he'd long since managed to dispel.

   The black lashes dropped, shuttering her feelings behind a mask.  Dhugal suppressed a sigh.

   "What is it, chuisle?  Surely you don't think I don't want this baby?"

   She shook her head.  "No," she whispered.  "I bear a son.  I know you were hoping for one."

   "Aye."  He stroked her hair, wishing he knew what was going on inside her mind, but it was too tightly closed off for him to read anything using his Deryni senses.  His eyes told him that she was still anxious though, even though she had managed to summon up a smile.  "Then if it's not that, were you just wanting to wait a bit longer before you told me?  I know we're still not past the danger months; we've not been married long enough for that.  Are you worried that you'll miscarry?"

   She shrugged, the facade crumbling just enough for him to realize she was on the verge of barely contained tears.  Dhugal struggled to understand what could be causing the reaction.  Another thought occurred to him.

   "Sweeting, were your other labors difficult?  Is it childbed you're afraid of?" If so, he could hardly hope to convince her that her fears were groundless.  Many a woman died in childbirth.  Dhugal pushed down a qualm of his own at the thought.  He would, of course, find her the very best of midwives and would be there at her side himself to ease the pain of her labor, should she want him there.  

   She shook her head, burying her face in his chest with a stifled sob.

   Dhugal was utterly baffled.  "What is it then, a chuisle?"

   She looked up then, blinking back tears, looking equally confused.  "What is this word, akwishla?  What does it mean?

   He gave her a startled look, then laughed, brushing a tear away from her cheek with a kiss.  "It means 'pulse,'" he explained.  "As in 'A chuisle mo chridhe'...'O pulse of my heart.'" Dhugal gave her a self-conscious smile.  "We tend to be a rather poetic lot here in the Borders."

   "'O pulse of my heart.'"  Mirjana considered the phrase.  "It is quite lovely."  She bit her lip, not meeting his eyes.

   "And so are you, a chuisle."

   Her tears began to fall then, slipping down her cheeks like a gentle rain.  "But I shall grow soon, and you won't desire me anymore."

   "I....What?"  Dhugal felt, if anything, even more lost.  "Is that why you didn't want to tell me?  You thought I'd not want you anymore?"

   "If I already bear your son, you can't give me another until I've recovered from bearing this one!"  The tears fell faster.

   "Well...yes...that's certainly true...."  Realization dawned.  "Mirjana...."  He fumbled for words.  "I don't simply desire you for the children you can give me."

   "I know you need heirs...that's why you married me...."

   He stopped the flow of words in the best way he knew how, with a kiss, coaxing her without words into believing him.  Her body eventually relaxed against his with a long, shuddery sigh.

   Sweet Jesú, how hadn't he seen this?  Theirs hadn't even been a standard courtship, much less a love match from the outset; no wonder she thought he'd gladly set her aside now that she'd done her duty by his House!  He had thought she would have figured out by now that, no matter how their marriage had started out, he was just as eager for her now as he had ever been for a second heir.  Perhaps, truth be told, even more so, for as much as he wanted this child, the possibility of losing a second wife in childbirth sent a sudden flood of ice water through his veins.

   She needed the words, he suddenly realized.  And he had never actually said them.

   "It's not just another son I want, but you as well."  And even as he said the words, he knew they would help to ease the wounds he had inadvertently caused, but they were not the ones she truly longed to hear.  But he wasn't ready to say those words.  Not just yet.

   He also had wounds that were still healing.

   But he could show her again how he felt, at least.  He hoped that would be enough for now.


   January 28
   Ballymar Castle

   "No, no, Duncan Michael, you swing it this way!"  Mikhail patiently showed the younger boy how to hold the toy sword properly, then guided the toddler's hand through the swing until the edge of the wooden sword blade hit the target area on the pell.  "Now you try without me."

   This time Duncan Michael's swing had more control.  The blade made contact with the pell in the desired area.  Mikhail jumped up and down in glee.  "See?  I told you that you could do it!  You cut it that time, you didn't just smack it."

   Dhugal's son looked confused.  "I din't cut it."

   "Well, if you had a real sword, you would have.  You did it right that time."  Mikhail patted Duncan Michael's back.  "Can I do it now?"

   The younger boy handed him the toy sword, settling down onto the nursery floor to watch.  Mikhail took several practice swings and thrusts at the pell.  Sir Jass hid a smile.  The older boy was far from expert himself, but he had the general idea.  He glanced at the other children in the castle nursery.  Ciaran was prancing about with his little sister Aine Rose seated on his back, whinnying loudly while she giggled.  Jarrett and Trina sat together on a blanket, contentedly teething on separate ends of a hobby horse.  Lady Mhairi caught his eye with a sigh and a wry smile, kneeling to finger a wad of wet woolen thread out of Jarrett's mouth.  He had evidently started feasting on the horse's mane.  

   "He'll eat most anything, that one," Lady Mhairi joked.  "I caught him trying to eat my bed last night."

   Jass laughed.  "Jarrett tried tae eat yer bed?!"  He grinned down at his youngest son.

   "Oh, aye." She pointed at the bed frame behind her.  "Those are his teeth marks on the lower leg."

   The knight shook his head, bending to lift the infant high.  The baby crowed with laughter as his father held him aloft.  "Son, there's better uses for a pretty lady's bed than tha'!  Here, let's hae a look a' those new teeth."  He used a fingertip to gently pry Jarrett's mouth open, peering at the pearly white baby teeth his son had recently acquired.  "Aye, two atop an' two below."  He glanced at Mhairi.  "He'll be gnawing down trees an' buildin' dams next."

   "I don't doubt it."

   Jass set his son back down on the blanket.  "Well, I'm here tae take two o' these wild beasties off yer hands.  The Duke needs a word wi' his lads, if they're done hackin' th' enemy intae wee bits."  He glanced down at Duncan Michael and Mikhail.  "Are ye up for a visit tae yer Da, laddies?"  A chorus of assent greeted his words.  He grinned.  "We're off then, Mhairi."  He glanced around the nursery.  "No junior nursemaids on duty this morning?"

   She shrugged.  "They'll be up in a bit.  I sent them off to fetch a noonday meal for the children."  Ciaran looked up hopefully at that with an even louder whinny, making her giggle.  "And there's another son of yours who will eat most anything, Sir Jass."

   "I'll send tae the stables for some hay," he said, winking at his firstborn, who laughed.  "And once Ailidh comes by tae take over, ye need tae get out an' about a bit, m'lady.  Get some fresh air, take a walk, go charm some lovelorn lad who'll wed ye an' give ye bairns o' yer own."

   Lady Mhairi chuckled.  "No, I think I'll pass.  After a full morning of tending wee MacArdrys and McLains, retiring to a convent sounds a lot more inviting just now!"


   "How is Lady Mhairi?"

   "Considering holy vows."

   Dhugal looked up sharply, then grinned at the twinkle in his retainer's eyes.  "Rough morning?"

   Jass shrugged.  "She didn't say, though it seems my youngest is destined to turn into either a beaver or a termite."  He looked down at the giggling lads beside him.  "Do either of you lads eat beds?"

   "No!" they chorused, chortling.

   "Good.  There's hope."  Jass glanced at Mirjana, sitting quietly beside her husband, and offered her a quick smile.  "Shall I leave you two with this stalwart pair of swordsmen, then?"

   "Aye. We'll take our chances," Dhugal answered.

   The Transha man bowed and left, closing the solar door behind him.  

   "Have a seat, boys," Mirjana said, smiling down at them.  The two plopped down obediently onto the short bench across from hers, looking up at her and Dhugal curiously.  Duncan Michael's feet, barely touching the floor even though he was perched on the edge of the child-sized bench, kicked idly.  Mikhail, glancing at the Duke his new step-papa, sat up straighter, showing that he could sit still even if little Duncan Michael couldn't yet.

   Dhugal hid a smile, turning it into a light cough instead.  "Your mother and I have some news to share with you lads."

   "Is it 'bout dinner?" Duncan Michael asked hopefully.  

   Mirjana gave a startled laugh.  "No, but if you two haven't eaten yet, I can have that brought up presently.  Have you?"

   "Not yet, Mama," Mikhail supplied.  "Nurse Baillie and Nurse Maeve were sent down to fetch it fifteen-eleven minutes ago, but Sir Jass came to fetch us first."  He glanced at Dhugal.  "Is it about a pony?" he guessed.

   Dhugal shook his head, chuckling.  "I'm afraid not."  He took Mirjana's hand, lightly kissing it before turning back to the boys.  "Though it will be another type of new addition to our household, much tinier than a pony.  Sometime in the autumn, probably not very long before Duncan Michael's next birthday, you will be getting a new baby brother."

   The boys looked at each other.  "Will he be littler than Jarrett?" Mikhail finally asked.

   "Oh, much smaller," Mirjana told him.

   "Oh.  Well, that's not much fun."  Her firstborn looked disappointed.  

   Dhugal smiled.  "I suppose you're right; he won't be able to play with you much at first.  But he'll grow and become more fun later."

   Duncan Michael's brow furrowed in confusion.  "Will you have another new mama?"

   The two parents looked at each other with equal bafflement.  "What do you mean, son?" Dhugal finally asked him.

   "You know, Da!  You got married to a new mama and bringed home a brother."  He pointed to Mikhail.  "How are we going to get the other one?"

   Mirjana stifled a giggle.  "No, sweeting.  I'll be the new baby's mama too."  Sweet Jesú, does the child think you'll bring home a new wife for every new baby? she Mind-Spoke to Dhugal.

   I wonder how well a Ducal harem would go over here in Cassan? Dhugal teased back.

   "Will this baby go away like Gia did?"

   Mirjana looked stricken.  "You...remember your sister?" she finally managed, tears filling her eyes.

   "No, son," Dhugal answered quietly, taking Mirjana in his arms.  Her child watched in bewilderment as she burst into sobs.  "He will always be ours, just like you and Duncan Michael will always be."

   Mikhail frowned thoughtfully.  "Even if we're bad?"  Big brown eyes studied his stepfather gravely.

   "Even so.  Why do you ask?"  Dhugal sensed from the boy's intent expression that more than simple curiosity lay behind the question.

   Mikhail glanced uncertainly at his weeping mother.  "My papa told me I must always be a good boy, because bad children get sold to the gypsies.  Like Gia."  His eyes filled with tears.  "I'm sorry, Mama; I didn't mean to make you cry.  Was Gia a bad baby?"

   Mirjana shook her head.  "No."  Her voice was muffled by Dhugal's shoulder.  "Your sister was good.  She was far too little to be bad.  Your papa just...."  She could think of no explanation to offer Nikos's young son.

   Mikhail jumped up from the bench, running over to hug his mother.  "Mama, please don't cry!  I'll be good.  I'll be good enough for both of us; maybe that way the gypsies will bring Gia back for you even if she was just bad by mistake!"

   She pulled away from Dhugal, bending to scoop her son into her arms, burying her face in his hair, still sweet-smelling from his bath of the night before.  He was still her baby, this little man-child wanting to act so grown up.  So innocent still in most ways, and yet not completely unscathed, touched by certain ugly aspects of life no child should ever have to know.


   One of the kitchen lads brought up the midday meal, supervised by Lord Daivi, the seneschal's youngest son.  He checked the food thoroughly, sampling small portions of it before pronouncing it fit to be served to the Ducal family.

   Dhugal looked startled.  "Do we not have another taster, Daivi?" he whispered once Lord Deveril's son was in earshot.

   "Aye, we have, but he isn't so well known in these parts."  The man gave his Duke a grim smile. "So Father has let word get out that all food brought up from the ducal kitchens will be tasted by the seneschal's own household from now on.  He's hoping that might prove a deterrent for anyone with...certain ideas."  The man glanced at the two young boys, enjoying their meal oblivious to the grown-ups' conversation nearby.  "The other man still watches the food preparation and does the first tastings down in the kitchens, so the food is getting checked twice over."

   Dhugal sighed.  On the one hand, he could understand Deveril's reasoning.  The seneschal had been a loyal steward of Cassan for several generations, taking on his role as a much younger man when Andrew had still been Duke, and continuing on in Jared's household, Duncan's, and now serving in his as well.  Deveril had the near-universal respect and affection of everyone in the Duchy, and that extended to his family as well.

   On the other hand, though, what if that were not enough of a deterrent?  Dhugal could hardly imagine having to approach Lord Deveril some evening with an apology.   What in the world would he say to the man if the worst were to happen?  "I'm sorry about your son, my lord; it appears the stew meant for me was tainted"?   His lips tightened.  "Is there not some other way, Daivi?"

   The man gave a rueful chuckle.  "If you think of one, Your Grace, I'd be glad to hear it."


   "I'm sleepy, Mama Miri."  Duncan Michael curled up beside Mirjana and snuggled into her side, dark bronze lashes drooping over his clear green eyes.  

   She stifled a yawn, draping an arm around Dhugal's heir.  "Are you, dear one? So am I."  She gave her husband a slight smile.  "I think it's nap time for both of us.  Shall I bring the boys back up to the nursery?"

   Mikhail looked disappointed.  "Oh, must I, Mama?  I'm not the least bit sleepy!"  He stifled a yawn of his own.  "At least not very much."

   Dhugal chuckled.  "You need a nap also, lad.  But if you'd rather stay up a bit longer, I suppose I could let you visit the stables with me before you have to go back upstairs."

   Mikhail's dark brown eyes begged permission from his mother, who laughed.  "Go on, then.  Just remember to be very well behaved around the horses.  No jumping around, no yelling..."

   "I know, Mama!"  He fidgeted beside the doorway, impatient to be off.  "And don't go under them or behind them.  I'll be good, I promise!"

   "I'll keep a close eye on him," Dhugal assured the boy's mother before looking down at Mikhail with a faint grin.   "Come along, son."  He led the way out, Mikhail eagerly following along at his heels.  "I don't suppose you've been let out of the nursery long enough to see the new pony yet, have you?"

   He glanced at the boy, his grin growing as Mikhail's eyes grew huge.  

   "I have a new pony?!"

   Dhugal laughed.  "Well, no, not just yet, but someday you'll have your own.  This one is very gentle, though.  I think she'll suit for both you and Duncan Michael to practice riding on until you're ready for one of your very own."   

   "Duncan Michael is still too little to have his own pony."

   "Yes, he is.  He's over a full year younger than you.  But that means you'll be able to help him learn."   

   Mikhail nodded.  "He's good at learning stuff," the boy agreed.  "He's pretty smart for such a little tyke."

   Dhugal nodded, barely managing to hold back a laugh at the objective appraisal coming from the more worldly four-year-old.  

   "Do you have a lot of ponies?" the child asked.

   "I have a fair number.  Ponies handle the mountain trails better than horses do here in the Border country.  They're sturdier and have surer footing in this terrain."

   Mikhail nodded.  "I'm going to have fifty-a-hundred ponies when I grow up."
   "'Fifty-a-hundred', hm?  That sounds like an awfully big number.  Remember, ponies are pretty costly, especially in those numbers, and you'd have to shelter and feed them as well.  Are you sure you'll need that many?"

   "I will once I'm a Duke!"  Mikhail smiled sunnily up at his step-father.

   Dhugal slowed his footsteps.  This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have within earshot of the Cassani stablemen, so it was best gotten out of the way quickly.  "I understand your Papa had hopes of making you a Duke someday, but do you understand how Dukes are made, Mikhail?"

   The boy shook his head.

   "Well, the most usual way is if one is born into it.  The oldest living son of a Duke will become a Duke as well once his father dies.  Or if his father gives up the title to pass it down to him, though that happens only rarely," he said, thinking of his own father and his special circumstances.  "But one has to be born into a Ducal family for that to happen.  That's how Duncan Michael will become Duke of Cassan someday, once I am dead."

   The brown eyes regarded him solemnly.  "But I don't want you to die!"

   Dhugal gave him a reassuring smile.  "Oh, I'm hoping I shan't have to for many years yet.  But we all must do so sometime, so hopefully when that time comes, Duncan Michael will have lots of practice in managing my lands already.  But it's an awfully big job for one man, and he'll need a lot of help, especially from his loyal brothers.  You will be a loyal brother, I hope?"

   Mikhail nodded earnestly.

   "Good.  Now, unfortunately I only have one Duchy to pass on, and I'm only allowed to pass it on to my eldest son of my own bloodline.  Which means, of course, that even though your baby brother will also be half-Cassani, he won't be a Duke either."   Dhugal paused, gathering his thoughts in preparation for broaching the more sensitive topic of Nikos's aspirations.  "Mikhail, I know your Papa had hopes of giving you the very best life he could—all Papas hope for that, I would imagine—but do you happen to remember what your Papa's title was?"

   Mikhail nodded proudly.  "He was Lord Nikos von Brustarkia!"

   Dhugal nodded.  "That's right.  And as it happens, Brustarkia is a duchy in Torenth, but your father was never the Duke of Brustarkia.  He served Teymuraz, who used to be the Duke of Brustarkia, but he isn't a Duke of anywhere in Torenth anymore.   And in any case, even if Teymuraz were still the Duke of Brustarkia, your father couldn't give you that duchy because it wasn't his to give."

   Mikhail wrinkled his nose.  "I remember Duke Teymuraz.  He's cross a lot and has stinky breath.  I don't like him much," he confided.

   "That's all right; I don't like him at all," Dhugal sympathized.  "It would be difficult to find anyone in Gwynedd who does, actually."  He regarded the little boy quietly for a moment.  "Did your father ever happen to mention how he'd hoped to acquire a duchy to give you?"

   The child nodded.  "Duke Teymuraz was going to give him Arjenol.  Or maybe Corwyn."

   "I see."  Dhugal stopped, crouching down to look Mikhail in the eye.  "But you understand, son, those lands aren't Teymuraz's to give either.  Arjenol belongs to your cousin Duke Matyas now.  He has a little boy of his own to pass it down to.  And Corwyn belongs to my cousin Duke Alaric Morgan, who has a son named Kelric who will be Duke there someday.  So Teymuraz had no right to promise either duchy to your father.  Only a King can give lands to someone who wasn't born to them."           

   Mikhail remembered something else.  "Duke Teymuraz wants to be King of Gwynedd."

   Dhugal nodded.  "Aye, and of Torenth too, I'll warrant.  But again, those Kingdoms aren't rightfully his either.  Gwynedd belongs to King Kelson, who has a son just a little younger than Duncan Michael who will be King Javan someday.  And your cousin Liam-Lajos is King of Torenth.  He doesn't have a son yet, but even if he never does, I'm certain he won't want to give Torenth to Teymuraz.  He doesn't like Teymuraz either."  That, Dhugal surmised, had to be the understatement of the century.  "If King Liam-Lajos were to die without sons, then Torenth would go to his brother Prince Ronal-Rurik and his sons."

   Mikhail's eyes filled with tears.  He blinked them away hastily.  "Then what am I going to be Duke of?"

   Dhugal's heart went out to the little boy.  "I'm afraid that's not a very realistic thing for you to hope for, Mikhail.  But there are other options for you.  Most sons of noblemen—even of Dukes—end up as knights.  A few of them decide to become priests instead, and some of those end up as bishops someday.  And there are others who become scholars and administrators, because Kings and landed nobles are always in need of learned men to advise them and to help them run their households.  If a knight has no lands of his own, he becomes what is called a 'knight errant,' in the service of the King or perhaps in a Duke's service.  Sometimes a knight errant can be so good at their job that their liegelord will grant them manorial lands, and they will become a landed knight."  Dhugal looked around as if to make sure no one could overhear him, then whispered.  "Truth be told, being a Duke can be a bit of a headache.  Sir Jass is a landed knight.  He'll tell you that's much simpler!"

   Mikhail pondered this.  "Is it really hard to learn how to be a Duke?"

   The Duke of Cassan gave a dry chuckle.  "I've made a right muck-up of it at times."  He smiled down at the boy as he began walking towards the stables again.  "It's much like being a Lord or a Baron or an Earl, just on an even bigger scale."

   The boy nodded.  "Duncan Michael will have a lot to learn to be a Duke someday, won't he?"

   "Yes, I'm afraid he will."  Dhugal tousled the lad's hair.  "Can I count on you to help him with that?"

   Mikhail bit his lip.  "He needs to learn how to ride a pony first, though, doesn't he?"

   Dhugal chuckled.  "Yes.  That would definitely help.   By the way, the new pony's name is Blossom."  He opened the stable yard gate.

   "Blossom?"  The boy looked indignant.  "What kind of name is that for a proper mount?"

   The Duke laughed.  "A perfectly fine name for a first pony!  She's not a destrier, son.  You can name your own warhorse when you're older."

Chapter 12: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=591.0
"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!


Poor little Mikhail :(  Dreams shattered and he's only a wean.

kirienne (RIP)

Oh I sure did enjoy this chapter. Looks like the ducal family is beginning to bond nicely.What a roller coaster  ride of emotions this one is, had me laughing one minute and crying the next. Poor Mikhail, promising to be good enough for both of them. I could see how hard Dhugal found it to find the right words as he had to dash his step son's hopes of being a duke.  Poor Mikhail, having to have his hopes dashed like that so early in life, but I do hope he'll be a good and loyal big brother.


Poor little Mikhail.  It's hard enough finding out that your father was not the wonderful person you thought he was, but then having your own dreams shattered - particularly those that your father had planted - that's tough indeed.  Nicely handled by Dhugal - and LOL at "Blossom".  (Whom I bet is gentle enough, but with a good stubborn streak on occasions!! )