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Labors of Love, Part 1

Started by Evie, November 24, 2010, 02:16:14 PM

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Labors of Love

   Part One—Annunciation

   March 25, 1133
   Rhemuth Castle

   "Oh, damn!"

   Father John Nivard stopped short just inside the entrance to the secret library annex.   The speaker had her back to him, but the priest readily recognized both her form and voice.  He suppressed a smirk at what, from the lady in question, was blistering language indeed, and wondered what had happened to raise her ire.

   "Having trouble finding a good book?" he asked, chuckling as Lady Sophie Arilan whirled to face him, her cheeks burning.

   She gave him an abashed smile, lifting a filmy oval of diaphanous white fabric.  "It's this dratted veil.  I was hoping to wear it to Easter Court, but it won't stay pinned."

   That's what was different about her!  With a start, the priest realized that he hadn't seen his friend unveiled in years, not since her marriage to Sir Seisyll nearly seven years earlier.  The long braids that cascaded over her shoulders were just as dark and lustrous as they'd been when she was a maiden of eighteen, though she sometimes wore them wrapped in decorative braid-cases as was fashionable among married women nowadays.  Not always, though.  Like his late sister Elizabeth had once done, Sophie often wore her thick braided locks unadorned, allowing its natural beauty to show rather than hiding it under ribbons or other silken fripperies, except of course for the head-covering that all married women wore outside the privacy of their bowers or bedchambers. 

   "So there is a top to your head still," John teased.  "I've always wondered what you women hide under those scraps of linen and flimsy bits of silk."

   Sophie laughed as she attempted to pin the slippery silk veil back onto her chin and head straps.  "I'd almost rather have a tonsure, I think.  There'd be no pins to lose."

   "No, you'd just have to shave a perfect circle at the top of your head, too far back to see it properly in any mirror," he said with a grin.  "You're sure that would be less trouble?"

   "At least that would be my tiring maid's problem, not mine!"  Sophie frowned as a jewel-headed pin slipped back out of the fine silk, falling onto the floor.  She bent to pick it up with a long-suffering sigh.  "I should have picked a different sort of silk or a fine linen for this veil, but this fabric looked so beautiful on the bolt.  I had no idea it was spun and woven by the imps of Hell!"

   The priest laughed.  "Somewhere there's a silk-worker who would be highly offended to hear herself referred to as an imp from Hell.  Thankfully she's not within earshot." 

   "You don't happen to have a mirror close by, do you?"

   "Why, so I can admire myself reading and sorting books in the Library?  I'm afraid not."  John chuckled.  "But my sister had a similar problem with one of her veils.  You might try her solution." 

   "Wearing the headstraps over it?  Hoof glue?  Or did she just end up nailing the veil directly to her skull?"

   The priest chortled.  "Nothing that extreme.  Here, let me show you."  He took a step forward, frowning in thought as he tried to remember how his younger sister had once arranged her hair.  He reached out tentatively, stopping a few inches short of actually touching the nearest braid, and drew a vague sort of loop around Sophie's head with his finger instead.  "She sort of wrapped that braid up and around her head like so, and the other braid in the opposite direction, and had her maid sew them up with ribbons somehow, and then pinned the veil to that instead."

   Peals of feminine laughter filled the library annex.  "Are you drawing a halo over me, John?"

   Father Nivard smiled sheepishly.  "It would probably be easier if I just showed you, if you don't mind?"  At her nod of acquiescence, he took the long braids and wrapped each around Sophie's head to form a sort of plush brown coronet.  "Elizabeth's tiring maid somehow sewed her braids up and around her head like this, using ribbon and some kind of a large blunt needle, if I'm remembering correctly.  I don't know what the style is called, but once the hair was all up, Elizabeth either pinned her veil to the braids or maybe into the ribbons wrapped around them, I'm not sure which."  He gave a self-conscious chuckle as he released the braids, allowing the silken masses of hair to drop back down over Sophie's shoulders.  "Can you tell I wasn't called to be a tiring maid?"

   "You certainly weren't called to be my wife's!"

   John took a hasty step to one side, turning to face the new arrival standing on the Transfer Portal stone.  Seisyll Arilan raised a sable brow skyward at him.  The priest felt his face flame.

   "Seisyll!"  Sophie's hazel eyes shot daggers at her husband.  "John was only trying to be helpful."  She thrust the silken oval of veiling at him.  "Here, maybe you can get it to stay on.  Be sure to pin it to the veil straps and not to me."

   The blue-violet eyes shot skyward as if imploring Heaven for strength.  "Sophie, go change the veil already!  Can you not use the one you wore to Twelfth Night Court?  That was pretty."

   "It was until your son used it for a kite," Sophie agreed.  "And my other silk one still has purple spots on it from when Stefania tried it on with jam-coated fingers.  Sadie never could get all the stains out."

   "What's wrong with linen, then?" Seisyll asked almost plaintively.

   "It's Easter Court!" Sophie said, her voice incredulous, as if the question were so stupid she could hardly imagine it warranted an answer.

   The priest studied his boot-tops, sternly suppressing a smile.  He was sympathetic to Seisyll's puzzlement—he had no idea either why it would matter so much to Sophie what sort of veil she wore to Easter Court—but he didn't want to risk Seisyll misconstruing his amusement.  "Would the silk veil stay pinned if you wore linen bands under it?" he ventured.  "I think it's the slip of smooth silk against silk that's causing at least part of the problem. The polished metal pins haven't enough friction to hold them in.  Something with a bit more texture might help."

   "That...might work."  Sophie looked thoughtful.  John was obscurely grateful she hadn't dismissed the idea—and him—as being barking mad.  "It's worth a try."  She glanced at her husband.  "I'll be back directly."

   Seisyll nodded, his lips tight, arms crossed in front of his chest.  He stepped aside, allowing his wife access to the Transfer Portal.  "Don't take too long."

   Sophie disappeared, leaving the two men behind in the annex.  They studied each other for a few long moments, the priest finally breaking the silence between them.

   "I do apologize if I appeared to be...overly familiar with your lady.  I imagine that must have looked very awkward from your perspective.  I was truly just trying to describe a hairstyle, and not doing a very good job at it, I'm afraid."  Father Nivard gave Seisyll Arilan an abashed smile.   

   The blue-violet Arilan eyes gazed unsmilingly back at him for another long moment.  Seisyll sighed heavily.  "John, I trust my wife.  For that matter, I mostly trust you.  But has it occurred to you that the three of us are far from the only people who use this Annex and Portal, and that what I walked in on might have looked a lot more compromising to someone else who doesn't know both of you so well?  I have allowed her friendship with you to continue because I believed that if I could trust any man with my wife's reputation, I ought certainly to be able to trust a priest."

   The priest averted his eyes, swallowing uncomfortably.  "I truly meant no harm, Seisyll; I just didn't think it through."

   Seisyll nodded.  "I know you didn't.  That's why we're still talking, and you're not lying on the bloody floor."  He leaned back against one of the annex walls, giving the other man a wry smile.  "So.  Now that that's settled, has Sophie already told you our news, or did she get too sidetracked by that damned veil?"

   "News?"  John thought back.  "No, she didn't mention anything.  What sort of news?"

   A shimmer above the Portal stone announced Sophie's return.  "I'll let her tell you herself.  Sophie, did you forget why you wanted to come through the Annex in the first place, sweeting?"

   Sophie glanced at her husband, blushing slightly at the twinkle of mild amusement that had crept into his eyes.  "Oh!  Yes, I got...distracted."  She laughed slightly, turning to catch John's eye.  "Your idea's working well so far.  The linen has a much better grip on the veil pins."

   "Court starts soon, Sophie.  The news?"

   Her cheeks turned rosier.  "Right!  Well, ah...we...that is, Seisyll and I...we're going to be having another son in late summer, around the middle of August, and...um...what do you think about the name 'John Denis'?"

   It took a moment for Sophie's question to register; another one for John Nivard to stop staring at her, dumbfounded, and answer.  "I...ah...."  He glanced at Seisyll.  John was such a common name; surely he'd be flattering himself to think they'd be naming their child after him!  No, it was probably a family name.  "John Denis Arilan.  Yes, it sounds...quite nice, actually, but wouldn't his great-uncle Denis prefer for his namesake to go by 'Denis John' instead?"

   Seisyll snorted.  "I suggested that briefly, for diplomacy's sake if nothing else, but Sophie's right, the names sound better the other way around."

   Father Nivard covertly studied Sophie.  She seemed in good health now, radiant even, but he was reminded of her very recent bout with the fever-flux just under a year past, and her subsequent miscarriage of another son, one which would have been born just this past Christmastide had he survived his mother's illness.  He'd lost his baby sister Elizabeth to the fever-flux in that same fateful month, though at least she'd been safely delivered of her last child just over a month before she succumbed to the illness, and although he'd not had a chance to meet his youngest niece yet, family letters had assured him that she still thrived.  He had lit many a candle in prayer over Elizabeth's safe deliverance through childbirth, only to lose her to the contagion that had taken so many Gwyneddan lives over the past spring and summer, her life slipping away so quickly that she'd already been buried before he ever received the news that she'd even taken ill.

   He was happy for the young couple standing before him.  He had known that Sophie in particular was eager to add to her small family, and that Seisyll also had hopes for a second son to help secure the Arilan line.  But he suspected he would be spending the upcoming months wearing out the velvet kneeler pad on his prie-dieu nonetheless and burning a great amount of beeswax with his prayers for the expectant mother's safe deliverance from the travails of childbirth.


   March 26—Easter Sunday
   St. Hilary's Basilica, Bishop's study

   "Christus resurrexit!"  Sophie smiled up at Duncan from the doorway of his study.

   "Vere resurrexit!" he replied with an answering smile of his own.  "Come in."

   Sophie did so, giving the bishop a curious look as she realized he was wearing non-priestly garments.  She was so used to seeing him in the episcopal purple robes of his office, finding him in an ordinary black tunic and chausses seemed a bit odd, even though the cut and quality of the garments were quite suited to his noble birth.  "Did you not officiate at the Easter Mass this morning?"

   "Oh, I did.  I had the sunrise Mass.  But I thought this outfit would be better suited to spending a quiet day with the family.  Dhugal and Mirjana are back from Cassan, along with my grandchildren.  And, by the by, your friend Ailidh is here with her family as well."   

   Sophie's face brightened.  "Oh, good!  I've news for Ailidh.  And for you as well...actually, it's more of a favor to ask."  She blushed slightly.  "But I don't wish to hold you from your family, if you're on your way out...."

   "Not for another hour or two."  Duncan gestured towards a chair.  "I've a little time to spare, and it's good to see you again.  How is everything at Tre-Arilan?  I've a birthday present for my little sweetheart somewhere...."  He turned away, his eyes scanning the room until his gaze fell upon a small box.  "Ah, there it is!  And how old is Stefania this year?"

   "Six years old," her mother told him with a smile.  "As of two days ago, St. Gabriel's Day."

   "Ah.  No tendencies towards Deryni healing gifts, though?"  The Deryni bishop grinned.

   Sophie laughed.  "No, but she'll play with or in water every chance she gets, splashing around like a little duck!"  She took the tiny box the bishop handed her.  "So, may I peek, or must I wait until Steffie opens it?"

   "You can go ahead and peek, and let me know if it's suitable or not.  I actually found that a few years ago, but thought it best to wait until she was old enough to wear it instead of trying to eat it."

   "Now I am curious!"  She opened the lid.  Beneath it, nestled on a velvety cushion, was a small silver ring, two Trinity knots flanking a tiny oval iolite cabochon at the center.  Sophie glanced up at Duncan.  "Oh, it's lovely!  She'll feel quite grown up wearing it, I'm sure."  She tested the size on the tip of her smallest finger.  "I think it should fit her now," she said, "though we'd best save it for special occasions.  I'm afraid she might lose it if I let her wear it daily."  She smiled up at her friend who had somehow, over the years, ended up turning into almost a surrogate grandfather for her children, filling a void left empty by her own father's sudden death in the early days of Seisyll's courtship of her.  "Thank you.  Though you know I think you spoil my children dreadfully."

   He shrugged.  "Someone has to.  Tell Steffie that's her Court ring, and that she needs to save it for visits to Rhemuth.  And as for the fit, the back of the band is plain, so I imagine it should be easy enough to resize as needed.  I thought the gemstone looked like a perfect match for her eyes."  Duncan poured Sophie a small goblet of sekanjabin.  "And has Jamyl been practicing his letters?"

   Sophie laughed.  "Well, he started out doing so, but I fear he got distracted."  She reached into her belt pouch, pulling out a tiny book of wax-coated tablets to hand to him.  "You'll recognize those as the writing practice tablets you gave him last month."

   The bishop nodded, opening the carved ivory cover and glancing at the first of the wax covered pages.  The first letters of the alphabet were dutifully if clumsily inscribed in the first couple of leaves, but the letters soon gave way to a series of crude sketches.  Duncan tilted the wax pages towards the light in an effort to make out what they were.

   "You might need a bit of help interpreting those," Sophie told him, rising to look at the book over his shoulder.  "That one is a sword, and this one is supposed to be a horse.  And I'm told that the man with the rather jauntily tilted helmet is meant to be Seisyll holding a lance."

   Duncan laughed.  "Yes, I can see Jamyl's likelier to grow up as a knight than as a scribe.  Though I suppose that's just as well, since he's Seisyll's heir."  He flipped the thin waxy tablet, grinning at the next inscribed figure.  "Well, this one's obviously female!  Tell me that's not meant to be some sort of pagan fertility goddess?"

   Sophie choked back a giggle, blushing slightly.  "Actually, that's meant to be me," she explained, trying to maintain a straight face. 

   The bishop's gaze glanced briefly over her rather more willowy form, a look of unholy mischief dawning in the striking blue eyes.  "Well, either the lad is prone to exaggeration or he's got a vision problem.  Or did you just wean him too early?"

   Sophie's eyes widened.  "Duncan!"  She lifted the ring box, making as if she meant to lob it at his head.  "Don't make me have to explain to the King tonight why the Kingdom is suddenly short one horribly cheeky bishop!"

   The man roared with laughter, raising one hand as if to ward off an incipient blow.  "All right, I'll stop!"  The impish expression subsided to a fond smile.  "What favor was it you wanted of me?  You mentioned one when you first arrived."

   Sophie tugged at a fold in her skirts, suddenly nervous now that the moment was at hand, though she knew she had no cause to be.  "Well...Seisyll and I are expecting another son in August...."  She glanced up at Duncan, who said nothing, merely raising his brows inquiringly.  "We've decided to call him 'John Denis.'"  She smiled sheepishly.  "Actually, I thought about naming him 'John Duncan,' but as Seisyll pointed out, Denis is family...."

   Duncan chuckled.  "Yes, he is.  And I'm certain he'll be honored to have a namesake.  And I'm equally honored just to have been considered."

   Sophie took a deep breath.  "Oh, good!  In that case, I hope you'll feel equally honored...that is...would you consider being his godfather?"

   "Assuming Seisyll agrees, yes, I would be delighted."  The smiling eyes studied the expectant mother.  "And what was John's reaction to finding out he's having a baby named after him, or have you told him yet?"

   "Oh, we have.  He seemed a little nonplussed."  Sophie grinned. 

   "You realize, saddling the wee tyke with a name like 'John Denis,' you're all but predestining him for the Church?  Should I find him a miniature cassock?"

   She laughed.  "Well, if he ends up having a priestly calling, I'll not mind.  And I don't imagine Seisyll would either, just as long as Jamyl ends up marrying and producing heirs for Tre-Arilan.  Though if this baby ends up like his older brother, I wouldn't start looking for that cassock just yet.  I saw Jamyl blowing kisses at the chambermaids yesterday morning."  Sophie rolled her eyes.  "There's one not destined for a life of celibacy!"

   Duncan chuckled.  "He's how old again?  Three?"

   "Yes.  God help me, though; he's his father's son through and through.  I may have to lock him up in a tower once he reaches manhood, at least until he's safely wed."

   He gave the young woman a reminiscent smile.  "Oh, I seem to recall a certain maiden not so many years ago who offered a bit of a challenge to a young knight bent on courtship, but she ended up settling him in the end."

   Sophie suppressed a grin.  "Only because I was so impossibly dense and naive, I didn't realize he was wooing me, and I'd not call Seisyll all that settled even now!  Sometimes I think his only domesticated quality is that he lives in a house."

     "Oh, he could be worse.  He could be just like Sextus."  The bishop's eyes held a teasing sparkle.

   Sophie gave him a look of mock-horror.  "Oh no, absolutely not!  I love my brother-in-law dearly, but if he'd been the last man alive in Gwynedd and offered for my hand in marriage, I'd have had to move to another Kingdom or enter a convent.   Or possibly both!"

   Duncan smiled. "Well, I'm glad that wasn't necessary, but should you ever consider entering lay ministry, we're always in need of more teachers here at the Schola."

   Sophie stared at him.  "You're asking me to teach?  But...you know I'm not formally trained, and most of what I know about the Deryni arts has come from being married to an Arilan for almost seven years.  Seisyll would be far more qualified, or even Sextus, if you could get him to commit to anything." 

   "That's all right; we've got a few teachers now who are qualified to teach on a more advanced level, but there's always a need for more tutors to give one-on-one guidance in the basics, and you're certainly qualified enough to handle that.  Just think about it.  I realize with another baby on the way, you might not be ready or able to commit to any sort of full-time responsibility until he's old enough to do without you for a few hours at a time, but even occasional help would be useful."  Duncan smiled winningly.  "And I already know you're patient with children."

   "I'll have to talk it over with Seisyll."  She studied him, a ghost of a smile tugging at her lips.  "This isn't just a sneaky ploy to get me to visit Rhemuth more often, is it?"

   He laughed.  "Well, there's that too.  But no, daughter of my heart, we really could use your help."


   March 27
   St. Hilary's Basilica, Bishop's study

   "Having a good Easter Monday, John?"  Duncan studied the younger priest seated across from him.  Father Nivard looked unusually tired for so early in the afternoon.

   "Yes, mostly.  Sebastian was at Court yesterday; that's the first time I've seen him since Elizabeth's death last year.  He brought tidings from home, as well as a portrait of the new baby.  Well, not so new anymore; she's nearly a year old now."  He handed the bishop a miniature painting.  "I think she looks a bit like Elizabeth around the eyes, though her coloring is Sebastian's."

   Duncan looked down at the portrait, then back up at his friend's face.  "I can see that.  Those look like Nivard eyes."  He handed the picture back to John.  "She looks like a charming little lady.  What's her name again?  Johanna, wasn't it?"

   "Yes."  John Nivard smiled faintly.

   "For a childless man, you're not exactly short on namesakes."  Duncan grinned.  "I hear you'll be sharing one with your former mentor Denis."

   The young priest blushed.  "So I hear." Looking somewhat discomfited, he changed the subject.  "How did your own family visit go yesterday?"

   Duncan leaned back in his chair.  "Well enough, I suppose.  It was good to have a bit of time with Dhugal again and to get to know Mirjana a bit better, and Trina's learned how to pull herself upright and walk after a fashion, as long as she has things to hold on to, so keeping up with her is a bit of an adventure."  He smiled briefly, though the expression was swiftly replaced by a fleeting shadow of sorrow.  "Duncan Michael's a bit quieter than usual, though I suppose that's to be expected given his recent ordeal.  For once, he had no interest in going to visit the fish pond.  He was mostly content to sit in his 'Papa Duncan's' lap.  And of course, given Mikhail's death just a couple of weeks ago, everyone was a bit subdued."  He sighed.  "I think Dhugal is planning on staying in Rhemuth for a few weeks longer, for Mirjana's sake, then taking his family home by way of Transha and Kierney, in part so she can get to know his other lands and households, and in part to give her a bit more time to heal emotionally before they return to Cassan.  He definitely hopes to be back in Ballymar well before the baby is due, though.  He wants the next Jared McLain to be born in Cassan."

   "That certainly seems fitting, since the last Jared McLain was Duke of Cassan.  Hopefully the new Duchess will have an easy enough time with his birth."

   Duncan's perceptive gaze studied his younger friend.  "You're worrying about Sophie, aren't you?"

   John looked away, his color rising.  "I suppose I am, a bit.  Aren't you?"

   The bishop considered the question.  "A little, though I think I'd have been much more concerned if she'd gotten with child again several months ago, before she'd fully recovered from the fever-flux and her miscarriage.  She's in good health now, though, as strong as she was when she was expecting Stefania and Jamyl, and she had little trouble with either of those births."  He smiled.  "I get the impression from her that the early months of sickness bother her far more than the labors of childbirth, since at least that's gotten out of the way fairly quickly by comparison."

   "I suppose that's one way to look at it, though morning sickness so very rarely kills women."  John stared gloomily into the hearth fire. "I know I haven't the right to worry, and that it's all in God's hands, but right now it's a bit hard for me to put that bit of theology into actual practice."

   Duncan's brows rose.  "Well, worrying might do no one any good, but certainly any friend might be excused for feeling some concern.  It's not as if the dangers don't exist, they just needn't become overblown."  He smiled at his friend.  "If you were riding off to war, there'd be cause for some concern in that case as well, but would you want Sophie fretting over your safety every moment, long before you even reached the front lines?"

   John Nivard gave a dry snort of amusement.  "If I'm ever sent into battle, it will only be because the walls of Rhemuth Castle are under siege and the King is desperate to press every live body into military service!  There's a reason, besides being a third son with a love for scholarship, why I decided to enter the priesthood."  He offered up a wry grin.  "I take your point, though."

   "Better at taking up the sword of the Spirit than live steel, are you?  I'll let Kelson know.  That way, if we're besieged, he can assign you to a duty station atop the Keep where you can rain Scripture verses down at the enemy." 

   Father Nivard laughed, his good humor restored.  "You're such a bastard, Duncan!"

Chapter 2: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=604.0
"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!


Hence why you wanted to know if "dratsab backwards" would be allowed LOL.

Nice interplay between John and Duncan, both of whom I think would be entertaining company, and LOL at John's entry into hairstyling.


Sounds as though Rhemuth nearly lost a bishop twice over - Sophie and John on trial for murdering Duncan?  LOL.

Nice start to the fic, and John's feelings for Sophie are delicately shown.  Judging by Seisyll's reactiomn, seems Rhemuth nearly lost a priest as well  :(


Both John and Duncan have to survive; I've still got Parts II and III to post!   :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!