• Welcome to The Worlds of Katherine Kurtz.


Latest Shout



July 19, 2024, 11:45:01 AM
Is RC on a Windows server?
  • Total Members: 178
  • Latest: Zorro
  • Total Posts: 28,056
  • Total Topics: 2,752
  • Online today: 45
  • Online ever: 930
  • (January 20, 2020, 11:58:07 AM)
Users Online
Users: 1
Guests: 16
Total: 17
Welcome to The Worlds of Katherine Kurtz. Please login.

July 20, 2024, 10:14:47 AM

Login with username, password and session length

A Time To Heal Chapter 18

Started by Evie, November 16, 2010, 11:33:00 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Chapter Eighteen

   March 12, 1133
   Ballymar Castle, Cassan

   "How is she?" Jass MacArdry stood outside the ducal bedchamber talking to the duke's personal physician.

   Master Alexander closed the door behind him.  "Her Grace is sleeping.  I gave her a mild draught to ease her into slumber and it should also help with the muscle aches once she awakens again.  I'm more concerned at this point that her grief might cause her to lose her unborn child as well."  He frowned.  "Any word back from Kierney yet?"

   Jass nodded.  "A return message go' back just a short bit ago.  Th' Duke is on his way home, bringin' th' dowager duchess an' a few o' her maidservants wi' him.  He says th' folk in Kierney are havin' th' same winter contagion we've go' here, sae th' Lady Margaret's nae less likely tae catch it if she comes here than if she stays."

   Master Alexander nodded.  "We'll take some extra precautions in any case, and keep her well apart from the sick-rooms until it's had a chance to run its course."  The two men continued on together to the ducal nursery, where Nurse Baillie, looking exhausted, let them in. 

   Duncan Michael lay sleeping on a pallet, his eyes still puffy from crying.  The physician gently reached for the boy's wrist, checking his pulse, then nodded his satisfaction after a short time.  He carefully tucked the boy's hand back under his blankets and straightened, looking at the nursemaid.  "How has he been doing?

   "About as well as can be expected, I s'pose," she whispered, "considerin' th' circumstances.  He's had an awfu' fright, poor lad, an' he was whimperin' in his sleep just a bit ago, afore ye came in.  An' when he's awake, he's clingy an' wants his Ma, but I dinnae expect she's in any condition just now either...."  Her voice trailed off briefly as he shook his head.  "An' it's hard tae know in any case if it's th' Duchess Mirjana he's askin' after or his real mother.  He still remembers th' late Duchess."

   Master Alexander's eyebrows rose.  "Does he?   I know it's been less than a year since Duchess Catriona's death, but he was so young at the time, it hardly seems likely he'd remember her well after all these months."

   Nurse Baillie shrugged.  "Well, who knows?  They're Deryni, after a'; tha' might make some difference.  All I can tell ye is wha' I've seen an' heard, an' I've heard enough frae young master tae think he does remember Duchess Cat, at least a wee bit."  Her eyes shone with tears.  "He was askin' Father Stiobhan if his real Mama will be takin' care o' wee master Mikhail now tha' they're both in Heaven taegither, jus' like Mikhail's Mama takes care o' him here."  Baillie dabbed at her eyes.  "I tried tae make out at first tha' Mikhail was just sleepin' in th' next room, but Duncan Michael knows better.  There's nae sense in tryin' tae lie tae a Deryni lad, even if he's nobbut three."

   Jass glanced across the chamber at where his oldest son lay asleep, Trina and Jarrett lying to either side of him.  "An' Ciaran?  Does he understand wha's happened?"

   The nursemaid turned up her palms.  "It's hard tae know for sure, but he's been more quiet than usual, an' last night he woke up cryin'.  He knows Mikhail is gone, but I dinnae think he understands exactly wha' tha' means yet. "

   The physician also turned his attention to the other sleeping children.  "Any new signs of contagion?  Fever, cough, sneezing?"

   Baillie shook her head.  "None today.  Duncan Michael was sneezing a bit when he was first returned tae th' nursery, but tha's stopped now, an' he's had nae fever.  I think he just caught a bit o' chill bein' in th' cold water.  I've kept warm possets in him tae try tae stave off anythin' worse, an' th' same f'r Master Ciaran."

   "Good job.  Alert me if there are any changes in the children's health—if any others start showing signs of contagion, or if they show signs of any other sort of decline.  Some level of anxiety and despondency is to be expected, of course, but if it grows extreme, I need to know."  The physician's dark eyes flitted back to the nursemaid.  "And don't forget to take care of yourself, either.  I know that might be difficult right now, with you being the only nursemaid healthy enough for nursery duty at the moment, but if you need assistance, or especially if you feel like you're becoming sick, I'll have a word with Lord Daivi about reassigning one or two of the maidservants to the nursery for the next few days, at least until Lady Mhairi is back on her feet again, or Lady Ailidh can be spared to return.  Aine Rose doesn't seem to have been hit very hard, so I'm hopeful that both will be able to return to the nursery in a few days."


   March 13
   Ballymar Castle

   The Duke of Cassan, along with his small retinue of Cassan and Kierney men and the Dowager Duchess Margaret and her maidservants, rode through the gatehouse of Ballymar Castle in the mid-afternoon.  Lords Deveril and Daivi met them in the Great Hall, updating them on the latest happenings that had transpired since the first messenger from Ballymar had been sent to Kierney with his sad tidings about the boys' misadventure and Mikhail's fate two evenings earlier. 
   Dhugal slipped away as soon as he could extract himself from attending to those most urgent questions that couldn't be put off, leaving the settling-in of Margaret's household to Lord Deveril's capable hands and heading upstairs to his private chambers.  He opened his bedchamber door.  Mirjana was nowhere to be seen.

   He checked the solar, but she was not there.  Instead, a sleepy Caoilainn, her eyes red-rimmed from crying, informed him that the Duchess had stirred from her chambers only once that morning, to retrieve Duncan Michael from the nursery.  He was still with her, she believed, although the young tiring maid had been freed of her morning duties after that, so she had retreated to the privacy of the solar to rest, having been too worried about her mistress and too grief-stricken over young Master Mikhail's loss to sleep well that previous evening.

   Dhugal retreated, starting to turn towards the nursery, but a sudden thought made him pause.  Instead, he retraced his steps to his bedchamber, walking through the room until he came to the arched doorway on the other side of the bed from the room's main entrance.  He opened the door and peeked in.

   They lay in the former Duchess's bower, two sleeping forms curled up against each other in the middle of the canopied bed, Mirjana's arm draped protectively around his son as they nestled together.  Duncan Michael clutched a small wooden toy against his heart, a brightly colored knight wearing the colors of Marley.  With a stab of guilt, Dhugal remembered he had not yet found the time to repaint the toy as he'd promised his stepson that he would.  He had thought there would be plenty of time for that upon his return from Kierney.

   He sat gently upon the edge of the bed, moving quietly to avoid waking the sleeping pair, and brushed a lock of copper-bronze hair out of his son's eyes.  He closed his own eyes, establishing a mental link with his child, viewing Duncan Michael's memories of that tragic afternoon two days earlier.  Once he had seen the events for himself, he blurred the boy's recollections slightly in order to help alleviate some of the lingering fear.  His son's body relaxed even further in its slumbering state.

   He moved his hand towards Mirjana, but before he could do any sort of assessment of her state of mind, she stirred, her eyes fluttering open to stare blankly in front of her for a moment, until recognition slowly stirred and she looked more directly up at him.

   She sat up, glancing around the chamber self-consciously.  "Duncan Michael was asking for his mother this morning, and of course I could not bring him to her.  But I remembered you told me once that she used to bring him to this bower when he was feeling fretful, so I thought maybe being in her former chamber might help him sleep."  She lowered her gaze.  "I hope you do not mind."

   "I don't mind," he assured her quietly, moving his hand down to clasp hers.  "Are you...all right?"  It seemed a painfully inadequate question under the circumstances, but Dhugal didn't know how to express the myriad of thoughts and feelings welling up in him at that moment.  Kelson had always been the one who seemed to know just the right sort of thing to say at just the right time.  His own father had that gift as well; a fitting enough talent for a man called to the priesthood.  Dhugal considered himself more a man of action than of words, but in the face of his wife's profound loss, he hardly knew what action he could take that would help to ease her pain.

   Mirjana shrugged.  "I hardly know anymore, my lord.  I eat, I sleep...."  She looked down at the sleeping boy, tears welling up in her eyes.  "I try not to let myself think too much, or feel, but it is very difficult."

   Dhugal thought back on his own grief after Catriona's death, the following months seeming like endless dreary years to him, going through the motions of life while still emotionally closed off from truly living it.  He studied this woman before him, this wife who had come to him a stranger, this fragile being perhaps stronger and more courageous in her own way than any other he'd ever known, who had somehow worked her way past his emotional barriers, teaching him how to live again.  How to feel again.

   He stood, walked around to the other side of the bed where his son would not lie between them, and enfolded her in his arms.  "Mirjana...my heart...I am truly sorry."  He lowered his shields, sharing with her without words what he was unable to express with them, allowing himself to be truly known by her for the first time, holding back nothing of himself aside from what few memories he judged might cause her more pain.  After a long moment, she gave a quiet sob, lowering her own shields to share her own heart more fully with him, drawing comfort from him even as he shared the burden of her inner anguish.  At last, both of them spent, they fell asleep in each other's arms, bound together by a new sense of intimacy more powerful than any mere physical closeness they'd ever shared.


   March 14
   Ballymar Castle solar

   The dowager duchess entered the castle solar, her maid Agnes solicitously assisting her as she shuffled slowly into the room leaning on the wheeled walking frame the carpenter in Kierney had built for her once it became apparent she might need some support as she relearned how to walk after her recent apoplectic attack.  Margaret moved towards the nearest chair, lowering herself onto it gingerly.  Agnes moved the walking frame out of her mistress's way, yet still within arm's reach so that the dowager duchess could easily avail herself of it again once she was ready to leave.  Turning towards Mirjana, she gave the Duchess of Cassan a deeply deferential curtsey, surprising her, for Mirjana remembered the maidservant as one who had left Ballymar to join the dowager duchess's household when Margaret had departed for Kierney, not wishing to remain in service to Ballymar's new Torenthi mistress.

   Mirjana rose briefly, pushing a platter of tempting sweetmeats across a small table to the end closest to the dowager duchess, for she had heard that Duchess Margaret's appetite had waned somewhat and that the physician was urging her to eat more. 

   Margaret eyed the platter with a wry smile.  "I imagine Master Alexander is after you to eat more as well," she said, giving in and allowing herself a nibble of one dainty fruit pastry.  "I am given to understand that you are expecting another child in the early autumn?"

   "I am, my lady."  Mirjana bent back over her needlework.

   The older woman studied the young Duchess thoughtfully.  "I heard about the loss of your son.  I am truly sorry.  I have no children of my own, alas, but I imagine the coming of a new child, no matter how greatly desired, cannot make up for the loss of one that a mother has already come to love."

   The younger woman nodded, her eyes downcast.  "It cannot."

   Margaret's eyes filled with compassion for the grieving mother and shame at her own actions towards her.  "I wronged you when last we met, and for that I owe you an apology.  Meeting you stirred up a great many old griefs and grievances I had believed long buried, and because of that I judged you unfairly."  The older woman studied her hands.  "I had thought, given your Torenthi origins and the circumstances under which you married Jared's grandson, that you were not to be trusted, that you would not be a loyal wife to Dhugal nor a trustworthy mother to the heir born from his first Duchess, for I could not imagine that you would put the needs of Cassan over your own personal interests.  I was clearly mistaken."  She took another bite of the pastry, considering how to broach what she knew to be a sensitive topic, yet she felt compelled to understand what drove this enigmatic young woman her late husband's grandson had married.  "Talk among the household says that you could have saved your own son first, but that you chose Duncan Michael instead.  Might I ask why?"

   The Torenthi woman's eyes flashed as she looked up to meet the dowager duchess's gaze.  "They were both my sons.  Duncan Michael became my son the moment I married the Duke his father.  I did not think at that fateful moment, 'which son shall I save?'  What mother could make that choice?"  Tears filled her eyes.  "I simply saved the one who seemed to be in greater danger, hoping I could reach him first, and I was not able to reach the other one in time." 

   Agnes, Margaret's maid, looked stricken.  "Begging your pardon, Your Grace, but there were such horrible rumors going round when you first came to Ballymar, folks believing the Duke would be found dead in his bed someday, leaving you as regent, or that you'd kill the young master and set up your own son in his place.  It's all utter nonsense, we know that now, but please forgive us for having believed it!"  She ducked her head.  "My father was hanged by King Wencit's men.  I shouldn't have blamed you for that, but I did, and I was right beastly to you when you first arrived.  It's just that I was so angry and frightened, I didn't know what to think.  We all were."  She turned scarlet.

   "I would never think to betray the Duke my husband," Mirjana said quietly, "who gave me the chance to rebuild my life when it had fallen into ashes.  Nor would I ever harm any of his children, or wish to strip Duncan Michael of his rightful inheritance.  But I did not purposely sacrifice my own son to save your ducal heir, though if that is what the people of Cassan must believe in order to think me truly loyal, then let them think what they will; I care not anymore.  I can only tell you that if I could have saved both children, even if it meant my own death, I would have.  I was a mother before I ever became a Duchess, and it is there where my heart lies."  She smiled sadly.  "It matters not to me now if Cassan ever accepts me or not.  All I ever hoped for was a home where I could live in peace and have some small measure of happiness."  She rose and made a quiet exit, unable to bear the condolences of the other ladies any longer, well-meant though she sensed them to be.


   March 14
   Ballymar Castle, the Duchess's Bower

   Dhugal was painting the finishing touches on the knight's shield when his wife entered the room.  She stared at the wooden toy in shock and dismay.

   "I do not understand.  Why have you painted Nikos's arms on my son's toy?"

   Dhugal gave her a quick, startled glance, feeling chagrined as he realized he should have spoken to Mirjana about his intentions first, but the idea had come to him while she was out, and he had simply acted upon the impulse, not thinking through what her reaction to his actions was likely to be.  "I haven't," he assured her.  "Well, that is, this armorial device might have once belonged to Lord Nikos von Brustarkia, but he forfeited the right to them, aye?"  He glanced down at the wooden knight, hoping he could express in words what had simply felt like the right thing to do, the most fitting way he could think of to honor the young lad who had done his best to protect his younger stepbrother.  "Mirjana...."  He shook his head, feeling a bit helpless.  "Mikhail never lived to be knighted.  There's nothing I can do about that.  By legal right, I can't even grant him the armorial bearings which should rightfully have been his to inherit...." He raised the knight he held, with its freshly repainted shield.  "But I promised the lad I'd help him repaint his knight's shield with arms more fitting...."  The Duke's voice choked with emotion and he stopped, unable to go on.

   Mirjana realized with a sense of wonder that her husband shared her grief for her son, even if his way of expressing it was far different from her own.  "He would be honored that you considered him worthy to bear those arms in your service, I am sure," she assured Dhugal, her voice growing thick with tears as well.  "He thought you most heroic."

   He favored her with a faint smile.  "I thought his hero was 'Sir' Brendan?"

   She gave a tearful laugh.  "Yes, him as well.  But Brendan doesn't have the disadvantage of roses on his shield.  Poor Duke Dhugal, having to carry a garland of roses off to battle, not to mention a lion who's sleeping on the job!"

   Dhugal set the toy down carefully to dry, gathering his wife into his arms and holding her tenderly as they honored their lost son together through shared memories.


   March 15
   Ballymar Castle Chapel

   Mikhail Mahael Vasily Furstán von Brustarkia was sent to his final rest in robes of snowy white, fragrant rosemary and ivy placed around him in token of his innocent purity and integrity, a small wooden knight tucked into the crook of one arm.  Father Stiobhan, vested in surplice and white stole, officiated at the funeral, another priest carrying the aspersory filled with holy water.  Father Stiobhan sprinkled the body with holy water and began the antiphon, the repetition of verses from the Psalms and the responses of the congregants as they processed into the private chapel of Ballymar Castle.  The procession was led by the cross-bearer, carrying a cross with no shaft, symbolic of the child's incomplete life cut short long before he could know the fullness of the seasons of human experience.

   The castle's private chapel was full, the grieving family and a few of their closest friends gathered together in the upper gallery while the rest of the Castle household and others wishing to pay their respects were gathered on the ground floor.  Bishop Duncan sat in the upper gallery, dressed in the clothing of a nobleman's son and not as a bishop today, for he was not visiting Cassan in his official capacity.  For that, he was truly grateful.  Even though he had barely had a chance to get to know the young boy whose life was being commemorated, today he wished to be simply part of the family, not the officiant for yet another family funeral.  God knows he'd endured far too many of those already!

   The coffin was set down a short distance before the altar, four lighted candles placed around it.  Father Stiobhan led the congregation in the blessing of Mikhail's body, chanting the Kyrie and beginning the Lord's Prayer, allowing the gathered mourners time to continue the prayer silently, contemplating it in their hearts, before sprinkling the child's body a second time and incensing it then continuing with the rite of blessing.   Duncan's mind registered the comforting cadences of the familiar rite on one level, but after a short while his attention moved to his son and his wife.  Dhugal, holding Mirjana's hand, whispered something to her quietly; her face, completely veiled in mourning, turned towards him as he spoke.  Duncan noticed that she was wearing the Eastern style of veiling that she had favored when she had first come to Rhemuth.  Under the circumstances, he could understand why; the Torenthi veil offered her more privacy in her grief.  Dhugal lifted his wife's fingers to his lips, bestowing a brief kiss on her fingertips before clasping her hand between both of his own.  He turned his attention back to the priest below, though before he turned away, Duncan noticed that his son's eyes were filled with more than mere concern and kindness when he gazed at his grieving wife.  No, if he wasn't mistaken, his son had learned how to love his new bride.  Duncan felt a slight twinge, but he was also glad for the young couple.  Mirjana would need a husband's strength, someone she could trust with everything in her heart over the coming days as she struggled to cope with this new loss, and as for Dhugal, Duncan was grateful he had been able to pick up the shattered pieces of his life and start afresh after Catriona's death.  Duncan was still learning, in his own way, how to come to terms with that loss.  Grief, he had discovered over the years, was such an individual thing, and everyone coped with it in his or her own way.

   His way, unfortunately, took him along a lonelier path than his son's.  But that was hardly a new road for him to travel either.  He had been down it once before, after he'd learned of Maryse's death, and had faced very similar struggles and questions, arguments with God in that dark night of the soul, but had come through in the end forged stronger, if a bit more scarred.

   Man was not meant to be alone, Cat would have argued.  On this point, Duncan had to agree.  He made a mental note to seek out Alaric once he returned to Rhemuth.  Alaric had returned to Coroth in late February, but would surely be back in Rhemuth within the next week or so, returning with his family in time for Easter Court.  It had been a while since Duncan had taken the opportunity to spend a quiet evening with his cousin, chatting over a pint or three.

   Forcing his attention back to the present, the bishop realized that Father Stiobhan had finished with the prayer of blessing, and it was now time for the funeral procession to continue down to the family crypt.  The singing of the antiphon began anew, the psalms of praise ascending heavenwards, a celebration of the young life now returned to his Creator, the chants of priest and congregants proclaiming joy and the hope of eventual reunion despite the present grief of loved ones left behind.


   March 25 (Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation)
   Chapel Royal, Rhemuth

   Duchess Mirjana paused briefly to light a votive candle before the shrine of the Virgin Mother whose holy day it was before moving towards the prie-dieu to offer up her prayers.  With a start, she realized someone was already there, although the man rose to his feet just at that moment, turning towards her and looking equally surprised as he recognized who was behind him.

   "Father," she murmured as she smiled at Duncan through her veil.  "I do beg pardon; I had not meant to startle you.  I can return at another time."

   "No, I was finished."  The bishop's blue eyes studied his daughter-in-law in concern.  He bowed over her hand.  "I heard you had arrived in Rhemuth just last night.  I hope you're doing well—under the circumstances, that is—and that Easter Court won't prove too taxing for you.  I'm sure Kelson would have excused your appearance this year, given your recent loss."

   Mirjana shook her head.  "There is no need.  I did not wish to leave Cassan much earlier; Mikhail's birthday would have been on the nineteenth, just four days after his funeral, and I could not have borne to have come to Rhemuth then.  We spent the day privately.  But Dhugal needed to be here on this day."  She glanced at the other lit candle on the votive stand.  "I am certain you understand.  Today was his first Duchess's birthday, and since she is interred here...."  She gave an expressive shrug.  "Dhugal is taking the children to pay their respects to their mother.  And I, too, pay mine in my own way."  Her clear green eyes, so similar to Catriona's, smiled up at him.  "Will you be officiating at Easter Mass tomorrow?"

   He nodded.  "Not here, but at Saint Hilary's, yes.  I'll have the sunrise Mass." 

   "How appropriate."  Mirjana studied her father-in-law for a long moment, noting the sadness in his eyes.  She felt a sudden kinship with him that had little to do with her marriage to his son.  "I shall look forward to that, then," she said softly.  "This is my nineteenth Easter, but I feel like I have never understood its true meaning until now.  When I was a young girl, our chaplain spoke on Easter morning about the hope and power of the Resurrection.  I thought I understood what he meant about the power of it—a risen Savior would be a most powerful miracle, would it not?—but I never truly understood what he meant by the hope until now."  Her eyes filled with tears.  "I miss my son nearly every waking moment.  His loss hurts, but it's not a hopeless kind of hurting.  There is more than just this pain-filled life, isn't there, Father?"

   He smiled.  "I believe there is."  A rueful chuckle.  "Let's hope there is; I've certainly spent a lot of years hunting up a cold trail if we're both wrong."

   "I have faith that we are not, yet even if we are, at least I know my son's life was not in vain."

   Duncan thought of his grandson, still alive because of young Mikhail's actions, and slowly nodded his head.  He drew the young woman into his arms, holding her close.  His new daughter-in-law was so very different from his first, yet with her words he felt a little of the pain of his soul-friend's loss begin to ease.  "No, it wasn't in vain.  And yes, Easter is a celebration of life and hope.  Sometimes, in the midst of life's tragedies, even a bishop needs reminding of that."  He kissed the top of her veiled head tenderly, causing her to give him a startled look.  She glanced over her shoulder self-consciously. 

   "There is no one who would misconstrue, I hope, since you are a respectable bishop...."  Her cheeks, only dimly glimpsed beneath the Torenthi style veil she still wore, turned a dusky shade of rose. 

   Duncan chuckled, glancing at the ducal coronet she wore over her veil, then back into her eyes.  "You're the Torenthi duchess of Cassan and I'm your Deryni bishop father-in-law with a legitimate son I abdicated my ducal title in favor of.  Chances are we'd be well enough recognized here in the heart of Rhemuth.  Who else in Gwynedd has a family history that confused?"

   Mirjana laughed, taking a step back from her priestly father-in-law.  "At least in Torenth no Duke has an aunt for a sister.  Even Imre and Ariella didn't manage to complicate the Furstán lineage that badly, my lord!"

   He raised his eyebrows, then gave her a teasing grin.  "At least the McLain family tree actually forks, my dear lady!"  The bishop took his leave, a smile still lighting his eyes.  Behind him, Mirjana knelt to offer up her prayers, entreating a Heavenly Mother to watch over her precious son Mikhail and her other son yet unborn, and adding her prayers for the peaceful repose of that other mother whose children remained in her care in this life here below.


   September 19, 1133
   Ballymar Castle

   "Congratulations, Your Grace!  You have a fine, healthy son."  The midwife handed the freshly bathed and swaddled baby to his proud father.  "And what do you plan to name this one?"

   Dhugal glanced at his tired but happy wife for confirmation.  "His name is Jared.  Jared Liam Mikhail MacArdry McLain."

   A slight shadow of sorrow crossed Mirjana's features at the reminder of her firstborn son, but she nodded, smiling up at her husband.  They had discussed various name options during the preceding months, but had kept coming back to the same three. 

   Dhugal returned his newborn son to Mirjana, who cradled him to her breast, stroking the fine black hair above his brow, so like her eldest son's had been when he was born.  The dark-lashed eyes fluttered open, revealing eyes of an indeterminate color—not quite the usual blue of most newborns, yet not dark brown like Mikhail's had been even from birth.  The tiny lids closed again, preventing her from making a closer examination.  No matter, they would settle on a color soon enough.  Mirjana hoped he would have his father's eyes.  That amber shade would look quite striking in contrast with the jet black of his hair.

   Now that the new mother was safely settled back onto her comfortable bed, the midwife moved to the other side of the Duchess's bower to allow the couple a bit more privacy, turning her attention to sponging off and breaking down the birthing stool instead.  Dhugal perched on the side of Mirjana's mattress, gazing fondly down at his sleepy wife and nursing son.  "Shall I let you rest for a few hours before I bring the little hellions in?" Dhugal teased the tired mother.  "Duncan Michael's quite looking forward to meeting his new 'birthday brother,' and Trina's tried to run off from the nursery three times this morning looking for you.  Lady Mhairi's about ready to lock her up in the dungeon, I think."

   "I should try to catch up on my sleep, then," Mirjana agreed.  "Maybe you can bring them up to see us after supper."

   "All right, then."  Dhugal glanced across the room, but the midwife still had her back turned.  He bent briefly to brush a kiss across Mirjana's lips, then stroked a finger through his new son's hair.  "I love you, sweeting."  The words were still hard for him to say out loud, but he could say them now.  Mirjana had needed the words, and as for himself....

   He had needed Mirjana.  Not for the reasons he'd thought originally, although he was grateful for the birth of his spare heir.  No, he had needed her healing touch.  And so, for that matter, had Cassan and Kierney.

   The Deryni healer smiled down at his wife.  There were ways of bringing about healing—whether to a man or to his people—that had nothing to do with medical knowledge or Deryni powers.  Mirjana had taught him that.

   Life goes on, with both its sorrows and its joys.  What mattered most was how one chose to live it.  Even Mirjana's firstborn, young as he'd been, had managed to grasp that simple fact.

   Dhugal had merely survived for a while after his first wife's death, but now he chose to live, taking each moment as it came.

   He touched his newborn's cheek.  Jared turned his small face upwards, opening his eyes to meet his father's gaze.


"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!


Awwww.  Poor Mikhael :(  But at least a note of optimism in a sad ending.


Poor little Mikhail!  He so wanted to be a hero - and he was. :(    Very nicely done, with a beautifully bittersweet ending.


Nice way to bring the story to a close, Evie.

What's the next project? :)
"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.)


ROFL! Geez Louise, woman, let me catch my breath first!  Besides, after all I put these poor characters through, are you sure you want to turn me loose on another set? ;D

I have the opening paragraphs written of a Sophie story also featuring Duncan and Father Nivard, which dovetails nicely with this one in terms of timeline since it begins at the same Easter Court mentioned in this chapter and ends in August shortly before Duncan's grandson Jared's birth.  And it should turn out much shorter than this story was, so I can hopefully finish it long before the holidays drive me insane.  (Yes, I know, that's a short trip and I'm already in the parking lot! :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!

kirienne (RIP)

*sniff, sniff* Where are those darn tissues when I need them.....
Oh this was handled so sweetly. Poor little Mikhail really did become the hero he longed to be, and he looked after his little brother just like he promised.
I wish the sad little family much joy in future stories *hint, hint :-) *

Very well written, this entire story!!


Sad ending, but a great story!  Well done!
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Thank you all for following the story!   :D  It was a difficult one to write, not just because of the many inherent problems with Dhugal's marriage to a Torenthi (and a Furstana at that!) that had to be resolved by the story's end, but also because despite my rep as a torturer of characters, I grow extremely fond of them, so it's quite painful for me to harm or kill one off (especially a child!) even when the plot demands it.  However, I couldn't see any logical way around that ending.  As Alkari rightly pointed out back in August:

QuoteRegardless of any grumbles caused by a too-quick remarriage (in many people's eyes), I can't imagine that a Torenthi widow with a 4 y.o. son will be particularly welcome in Cassan or Kierney.  If Richenda had troubles for a while in Corwyn, then you can at least treble the likely animosity for Dhugal's new wife.  Even worse will be the fact that Mikhail doesn't have any lands of his own - Brendan at least was heir to Marley, but there'd be more than one person in Cassan/Kierney / Transha worried about handy childhood accidents to Dhugal's son.   Dhugal wants some 'spare' heirs because he is worried about the possibility of something happening to Duncan Michael - I wonder if it has occurred to him that by marrying Mirjana, anything that happens to his son, regardless of whether it is a genuine accident or illness, will be seen by many people as caused in some way by her?  After all, Torenth has a history of 'convenient accidents' to members of its royal family ... 
(Comment to TKS Ch. 9.)

I could imagine other ways by which Mirjana might be able to ultimately convince at least some of the people of Cassan and Kierney of her complete loyalty to Dhugal, but the laws of primogeniture are so firmly entrenched in feudal society, I couldn't think of any way for poor Mikhail to ever gain the people's trust.  Unlike Brendan, who had his own inheritance, Mikhail would always be the elder (step)brother of an Earl and later a Duke, but with no lands of his own and no title--unless he could somehow earn one--higher than that of a knight errant.  Even if he didn't have a single jealous bone in his body, I couldn't think of any way he'd be able to convince his society that he'd be content to remain a loyal vassal of his younger sibling(s).  And even if Liam-Lajos were to see fit to restore Nikos's lands and title to Mikhail as his rightful inheritance, they'd be Torenthi lands and title, and that could cause some major conflicts of interest.  The people of Cassan might rightfully wonder where his highest allegiance lay.

So I went into this story knowing that I was writing about a little boy who would probably end up needing to die, whether through some accident or by assassination, but even knowing that from the outset, I grew fond of the child anyway.   I had to.  A character's death is pretty meaningless otherwise, if no one cares about the character, and if the author doesn't care, chances are the character won't be well-developed enough for the readers to care either.  Writing the final chapters was quite emotional, because even as I was writing those last scenes, I wanted to go back and change the outcome.  But I had to stay true to the story.  Especially after killing off another character I was deeply attached to (Dhugal's first Duchess) in order to set up the conditions that made this story possible (another death I didn't want to write and that I had many an internal argument about, but this story just would not shut up and leave me alone!), I couldn't see copping out on the ending to this story just because it would be painful to write.  Catriona might have risen from her grave to throttle me!   ;D

As for joy in future stories, we already know that Duncan Michael and Ciaran grow up into healthy young men, since they made an appearance in The Rustic Prince.   I have future plans for them, as well as for little Jared.  And Mirjana will eventually have the daughter she longs for.  I've promised her that.   As Duncan or Father Stiobhan might quote from the Book of Psalms, "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning."  :)
"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!


I didn't like this the first time around. Mirjana was not the wife I'd pictured for Dhugal. By the end of the story I'd decided she was ok. I just finished rereading it and I enjoyed it this time. By the way, how does one pronounce Aidilh?
I don't just march to the beat of a different drummer...I dance to a beat no one else can hear :)


Annie would be the expert here on how to pronounce "Ailidh" (she's the one who suggested the name in chat when I was looking for an "A" name with that general sound), but IIRC it's something like "AY-lee," with that first syllable rhyming with "hay" or "bay" rather than with "eye."

And I'm glad to hear that Mirjana has finally grown on you, or that her story has, at least.   :)
"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!


I think chapters should be prefaced with a "kleenex" code.  Having discovered this site recently, I am getting caught up.  All I can say about this WOW.  I loved how Mikhail bonded with Dhugal and the leaps he made overcoming the biases from Nikos. 

Thomas Hill


I'm glad you liked the story (enough to keep reading it until 4:00 am?  WOW right back at you! ;D )  It was a difficult story for me to write on so many levels, but it's one of the ones I'm happiest with in retrospect.
"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!


Forget the Kleenex.  I need the towel. 

The true mark of a great author is for the reader to be so affected; to laugh and to cry with the participants.

Thank you Evie
Thomas Hill