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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Fifteen

Started by Evie, August 01, 2011, 09:15:45 AM

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   Chapter Fifteen

   July 4, 1134
   Rhemuth Castle

   We sat in a small antechamber high in the King's Tower, waiting to be admitted into the King's presence.  That is, Avisa sat patiently waiting; I, feeling more restless, was pacing in front of a small window, peering out occasionally at the cityscape below us, beyond the castle walls.  From here, I could barely catch a glimpse of the rooftop of Kinlochan House, where the dowager baroness and I were once more in residence, having returned to Rhemuth from Chateau de Moreau just three days earlier.  Now that we were planning on merging our families and, God willing, create more children someday, I felt a renewed urgency to locate a larger Rhemuth residence for us and our growing household to live in whenever our duties called us back to Gwynedd's capital.

   I was restless in part because I felt no small twinge of trepidation over our private visit to Kelson this day.  This was no simple courtesy call, after all.  As regent for baronial lands within Kelson's Duchy of Haldane, any marriage Lady Avisa might wish to contract was subject to Royal approval, at least until such time as her son grew into his majority.  And as her own dower property at Godwyn Hall was also in Kelson's duchy, and any man Avisa might wed would become the lord of that manor by right of his wife, Kelson was bound to want some say in Avisa's choice of a husband even had she not been the regent of Kinlochan.  I knew the King well enough to suspect he would never use his Royal authority to order Avisa or any other lady to wed according to his own wishes and regardless of her own unless the need were great; however, that didn't necessarily mean he'd never use it to tell a lady whom she couldn't wed, if he felt the match unsuitable.

   Up until quite recently, I'd have felt more secure in the knowledge that, whatever other men might assume about me, Kelson had taken my measure well enough to know me better than most, and that he'd not deny me the desires of my heart in this matter.  But that was before the debacle of the Levington mission, and I didn't know how much of that matter—if anything—had reached his ears yet.  Hopefully all he'd heard was that the maiden had been returned to her father's home, and the matter was now closed.  

   A squire wearing a tabard in the royal colors appeared at the door.  "His Majesty will see you now," he told us.


   Kelson looked up from his writing desk as we entered the chamber.  His gray eyes swept over us as we made our reverences.  As the Haldane gaze rested on Avisa, he smiled, waving his hand in a gesture for us to rise.  "My lady, I understand you have private business to bring before me?"

   Avisa straightened, looking only slightly nervous.  I had a quick flash of memory of the terrified fourteen-year-old maiden she'd been the first time she'd ever entered the King's presence.  Gone was that frightened child now, though her manner was properly deferential as she faced Kelson.  "Your Majesty, I do."  She took a deep breath.  "For the sake of myself and for those lands which I hold of you, I would request a boon."

   One of Kelson's brows rose slightly as he glanced at me, then turned his attention back to my lady.  "Indeed.  What sort of boon, Lady Avisa?"

   Avisa glanced up at me with a tender smile, then turned back to the King.  "I would request the privilege of being allowed to marry a man of my choosing."

   Both of Kelson's brows rose.  He shot me another glance, his face otherwise expressionless, then looked back at Avisa.  "I see.  Anyone I know?"  Was it just my imagination, or did just the faintest hint of a smile lurk in the corners of his lips?

   Avisa looked mildly disconcerted.  A blush rose to her cheeks.  "Sir Sextus Arilan, Your Majesty."  I could sense her struggle to say my name matter-of-factly as she glanced at me.  To me, her eyes seemed to say quite clearly, He's standing right here in front of you, you royal numpty!

   "Ah.  Sir Sextus.  Of course."  There was definitely a gleam in Kelson's eye now, I could tell.  "Forgive me, my lady, but I've been given to understand you've quite recently engaged Sir Sextus as steward-in-training for your Rhemuth property, so I didn't wish to assume the reason for his presence at your side."  The Haldane gaze speared me.  "As it happens, I have some personal business of my own with Sir Sextus, and while it pains me to keep a lady waiting upon my answer, I shall need to resolve that business before I can know what reply I should give to yours.  Perhaps you could withdraw to the antechamber again for a short while so Sir Sextus and I could speak privately about the matter?  I promise our discussion shouldn't take very long."

   Avisa shot a quick look at me, her discomfort growing.  "I...of course, Your Majesty."  She dipped into a deep curtsey.  

   Kelson gave her a reassuring smile.  "You've served me most faithfully and well in these past few years since Baron Edgar's death, Baroness Avisa.  Don't fret; I shall do my utmost to take your personal preferences into consideration while I decide on the matter, though please understand that the best interests of both Kinlochan and Godwyn Hall must come first."

   She nodded, though she still looked worried.  "I understand, Sire."  Avisa straightened, and a squire stepped forward discreetly to usher her out of the Royal Presence.


   As soon as the door had closed behind them, Kelson's gaze returned to my face.  "Sir Sextus," he said evenly, "I believe you're a little late reporting back to me on the Levington matter, are you not?"

   I watched him warily, wondering how much he already knew about that.  "I...uh...can get that report to you by the end of the week, Sire.  We've just...um...been traveling around quite a bit of late...."

   "So I gather."  Kelson studied me with interest.  "I trust that a previous betrothal to Lady Jennet is not going to prove an impediment to any hopes Lady Avisa might harbor in that regard?"

   My cheeks flamed.  "No, Sire, none at all.  Any...ah...rumors of such a pre-contract between Lady Jennet and myself are quite spurious.  The lady was...um...at one point hopeful she might be able to maneuver me into such a match, but....um, no, Your Majesty.  Hell, no!"

   If Kelson was amused, the only hint of it was a slight crinkling at the corners of his eyes.  With a start, I realized he'd been Truth-Reading me as I spoke.  Had some word come back to him, then, of Lady Jennet's claim to a betrothal in Countess Celsie's court, or had Kelson just managed to hit upon that awkward question by happenstance?  No, surely not.  He'd heard something, I just didn't know exactly what yet, or from whom.

   "Well, that's good.  Good to know you've not taken complete leave of your senses."  Was my mind playing tricks on me, or was there slightly more emphasis than usual on that drily spoken word 'complete'?

   "You...ah...have met the lady, then?" I asked him, trying to look nonchalant.

   "Yes.  Quite recently, in fact."  How recently, though, Kelson left it up to me to guess.  He leaned forward in his chair, studying me with narrowed eyes over steepled fingers.  I swallowed.  Years of observation told me this posture, coming from Kelson Haldane, was not a good sign.  "Did you incur any greater expenses than usual while locating and securing Lady Jennet and returning her to her father's care?"

   I shook my head, wondering where he was going with this line of questioning.  "No more so than usual, Your Majesty."

   "Not even during your sidetrip?  I understand you gave Lady Jennet the scenic tour back to Levington from Desse.  By way of the Earldom of Derry, it seems.  A bit of a cross-kingdom tour, isn't that, or do I need to refresh my knowledge of Gwyneddan geography?"

   Ohcrapohcrapohcrap!   "I...ah...may have encountered a few difficulties along the way in persuading the lady to return to her father.  She is...um...a rather bloody-minded sort."

   Kelson nodded.  "Which is why you ought to have been perfectly matched to deal with her.  I would like to hear, in your own words, please, and preferably laying out the logic in a way my simple mind can understand—assuming anything remotely resembling logic ever entered your thinking—exactly why you felt the Countess of Derry needed to become involved in the Levington matter."

   Sarcasm ill becomes a Haldane, but as this particular Haldane happened to be my King, I could hardly share that observation with him.  Not that I didn't feel free to speak my mind before this man at other times and under different circumstances, but this day, far too much was riding on his good opinion of me.

   And that good opinion, I knew, rode on me taking responsibility for my own actions, no matter what the potential consequences might be.  I knew that, yet the next words I spoke were the hardest truths I'd ever had to say to Kelson Haldane.

   "There was no logic in my decision.  I screwed up, pure and simple.  I acted on the urging of my heart rather than following my head.  The maiden didn't wish to wed, and after seeing her suitor, I could understand why.  I realize now there were better ways of dealing with the situation, but at that moment when I had to make a choice to intervene or to simply ride away, it wasn't Lady Jennet I was thinking of.  It was my sister Javana, and the hell she lived in for seven years all because my brother and I thought we knew what was best for her and gave her to the wrong man."  I stared at the ground, feeling sheepish.  "I didn't want to feel responsible for any other woman being trapped in an odious marriage, even if it was a lawful match to a man who was simply repugnant, not criminal.  Not even that woman."

   He leaned back, still watching me intently, and the corners of his lips twitched ever so slightly, but aside from that, I couldn't begin to guess at his thoughts.  His mind was thoroughly shielded from me.  "I guessed it was something of that sort.  You've served me quite well over the years, Sextus, so this seemed quite out of character for you, even given your...ah...rather unorthodox means of handling your missions at times.  Tell me, though, have you a penchant for wearing hairshirts?  Flagellating yourself in the privacy of your chamber for your many sins?  Perhaps fasting on bread and water for months on end while kneeling for hours on the stone floor of some musty undercroft?"

   I stared at him, utterly baffled.  "Me?!  No, Your Majesty.  Why do you ask?"

   His lips twitched again, this time softening his expression into what might almost have been a smile.  "Because I would imagine traveling all the way from Kinlochan to Derry with both Lady Jennet and Lady Avisa must have been a quite singular form of self-mortification.  And Lady Avisa still wishes to marry you?"

   My heart warily started to beat again.  "Unlikely as it might seem, Sire, apparently she does."

   "Hm."  Kelson rose, turning his back on me to walk over to the window, staring out at the cityscape below.  "As much as I'd hate to disappoint a lady, there's a possibility my Council might have some problem with that."

   My heart stopped anew.  "Might I ask why, Sire?" I asked once I could speak again.

   He turned his head partially, not quite facing me, though he watched me over his shoulder.  "Those who know you far less well than I do are likely to say that you're nothing but a wastrel.  A mere fortune-hunter hoping to improve his standing in life by marrying above his station."  He turned then, raising a hand to silence my objections before I could voice them.  "And yes, it's hardly unusual for a man of lesser estate to seek to improve his fortunes through an advantageous marriage—in fact, it's quite expected—so no need to rail about the hypocrisy of such an objection being levied against you.  The difference, you see, is that most such men, in addition to marrying well, also actively seek to cultivate the respect of other men at Court so that the rewards they gain in a good marriage are more likely to be seen as merited, not undeserved.  You, on the other hand, have never really cared all that bloody much what anyone else thinks of you, aside from myself.  Have you?  Or at least if you have, you've done your damnedest not to show it."  The Haldane eyes stripped me to my soul.  "Even your own brother and uncle underestimate you.  You attained your majority nearly half your lifetime ago, yet they still treat you like some rash youth.  Why?  Because you've made little effort to show them you've grown past that stage of life.  If I were to venture a guess, I would say that among all of your relations, only your sister Jashana has any notion that there's much more man to you, hidden in your depths, than what you care to show the world on your surface."

   Kelson allowed me to reel in shock for a long moment, absorbing the verbal assault, before continuing on.  "Quite fortunately for you, Lady Avisa also apparently sees someone different when she looks at you.  She looks beyond the masks and posturing to the real you.  The Sextus Arilan that you damn well need to start letting others see if you ever want them to see you as worthy of such a wife.  How she ever figured out there was anyone in there worth bothering with, I have no idea; Lady Avisa's far too bright to be simply taken in by a handsome face or a charming personality for long, though, so she's bound to have caught a glimpse of something worthwhile in you despite your best efforts to conceal it."  He gave me a wry smile.  "There some fine gold under all that crap you pile on so thickly.  Start letting it shine through, man."

   I shuffled uncomfortably.  "I'm not sure I'd know how to make myself over into the perfect courtier at this point, Your Majesty.  I have little patience with Court games and politics, and that's bound to show through."

   "So don't play them then." Kelson gave an amused snort. "God knows I wouldn't if I didn't have to.  I'm not telling you to change who you are, Sextus; I'm simply saying you wouldn't be in this predicament right now if more people actually knew who you truly are, rather than just the man you pretend to be.  If you don't want them to see you as Sextus Arilan, Sir Seisyll's lesser brother the unworthy wastrel who is hoping to find his fortune under a woman's skirts, then don't be that Sextus they're expecting to see.  Show them Sir Sextus Arilan, the man who rightfully earned his belt and spurs, and who hopes to earn the right to wed a prize of a lady as well."  He raised an ebony brow at me.  "You would consider Lady Avisa quite a prize, I hope, and not simply due to her land and wealth?  If not, then forget everything I just said; she deserves someone who can properly appreciate her."

   "I'm not seeking her hand because I'm hungry for her lands, Sire.  It's a love match."

   He nodded.  "Good.  She deserves some happiness."  Kelson returned to his seat, picking up one of the documents on his desk to give it a quick skim.  "So, when are you planning to have the banns read?  Or do we need to hammer out a proper betrothal agreement first?"

   "When am I...?  But...." I stared at him, utterly confused.  "I'd wed with her tomorrow if I could, Sire, but...didn't you just say the Council would likely be opposed?"

   Kelson glanced up from his reading with an expression that on any other man I'd count as a smirk.  "Indeed, I'm sure several of my Councilors will be.  Quite fortunately for you, the decision of whether to approve Lady Avisa's marriage to you or not isn't theirs to make, but mine."  He set the document back down.  "Nigel would back you, if anyone were to make a serious objection; he, at least, had enough of an opportunity during your squire years to test and know your true mettle.  And although you've only been in Lady Avisa's service for a short time, the latest reports from Kinlochan would prove to most men's satisfaction, I should think, that you're capable of accomplishing far more than wenching half the night while overimbibing pints of stout."  He raised a brow at me. "I've just amused you.  How?"

   I bit my lip to keep from laughing.  "I'll own to an overfondness for the pints of stout from time to time, but wenching for half the night might be a tad excessive, even for me, especially if I've been consuming copious pints of stout.  I'm twenty-seven now, not sixteen."

   "Yes, thank God!"  Kelson rolled his eyes.  "No need to warn the chambermaids about you anymore."  He gave a mildly amused snort, shaking his head. "There's one more matter, Sextus, that we need to settle before I can give your lady her answer."

   "What matter, Sire?"

   The King sighed.  "I've never properly rewarded you for your years of service to me, and most especially for your handling of that matter in Caerdraig last summer."  Even in the privacy of this tower chamber, I noticed he did not allude to Baron Walter's execution directly.  Not surprising, since even though his squire remained discreetly just beyond earshot and was well trained not to spread anything he might happen to overhear—indeed, was almost certainly under Deryni controls that would not permit such a breach, even by accident—Kelson clearly intended the matter to remain secret even from his own household.  "I realize you had your own personal motivations as well; nonetheless, you took a great risk in handling that matter, and I'm not simply referring to the physical dangers.  Normally such service as you've shown me would have been rewarded long since, and in a much more public manner; however, due to the nature of those services, it's been hard for me to find a way to suitably reward you yet find some reasonable justification for that reward that would satisfy public curiosity.  And I must have some justification, you know; otherwise, simply bestowing favors upon you for no apparent reason would smack of unmerited favoritism, which would breed jealousy.  And your damn wastrel act hardly helped matters at all.  What would the Court have thought?  Good things come to those who behave badly?"  He gave me a wry grin.  "But on the other hand, if I'm to have half my Council think I've lost my bloody mind in approving your marriage to Lady Avisa, I may as well remove all doubt by giving you a wedding present.  We'll call it that, at any rate.  Though privately, you and I will both know that you've long since earned it for your service to the kingdom, even if I can't make that a matter of public record.  Those who choose to think more charitably of my sanity can look at it as a token of my esteem for your lady, if they prefer."

   "I....What sort of 'wedding present,' Sire?"

   He glanced down at the document again.  It was a map of the Duchy of Haldane, I now noticed.

   "How does Braxton sound?"  He looked back up at me.  "It's not far from Godwyn Hall, only an hour's ride distant, and the manor was until recently held by Sir Spencer Casey, but he died without issue and with no close relations to inherit after him, so the property has reverted to my keeping."  The gray eyes gleamed in mild amusement.  "While I don't mind having the extra income, I'll gladly spare it if having your own manor will help to keep you occupied and out of mischief.  More so than Lady Avisa is already planning on doing, that is.  Especially since I suspect her method for keeping you out of mischief is quite likely to result in sons, and they'll require something to inherit."

   I grinned.  "There is that consideration, Sire.  And I'm honored by the 'wedding present.'  Quite honestly, I'm simply grateful you've granted permission for the wedding, but having land of my own to bring to the match will help make my situation less awkward.'"

   "I considered making you sweat a month or two longer to make up for that debacle of a mission you just carried out, but Lady Avisa doesn't deserve that.  Still, Sextus, if you ever make the sort of muck-up of one of my missions again that you did with the Levington case, you can expect the consequences to be far less pleasant next time around."

   I nodded.  "Yes, Sire."  A sudden thought hit me.  "Do you happen to know if Lady Jennet will be wedding Lord Benedict the Younger after all?  I believe that was her father's latest choice for her."

   "I believe so, yes."

   "Hm.  If you're considering a wedding present for them as well, I'd suggest a set of spaulders for Lord Benedict."

   Kelson arched a brow at me.  "An unusual choice.  Might I ask why?"

   I slipped the neckline of my tunic and undershirt off one shoulder so he could see what was left of the bruising from Lady Jennet's bite.  "Unless she likes him a hell of a lot more than she liked me, he'll probably need the armor."


   At a nod from Kelson, the squire at the doorway exited, returning in a few moments with Lady Avisa.  She looked worriedly from the King's face to mine, then relaxed visibly as I gave her an encouraging smile.  The squire closed the door behind her.  Kelson beckoned to her to come forward and she did so, dipping into a low curtsey as she entered the invisible circle of the Royal Presence.

   Kelson walked around to the near side of the desk, gesturing for her to rise.  She straightened, glancing at me again.  "Baroness Kinlochan," he said formally, "is it your intention to take Lord Braxton as your wedded husband?"

   "Yes, Si—"  She stopped suddenly, looking puzzled.  "Lord...Braxton, Your Majesty?"

   Kelson chuckled.  "Forgive me, my lady.  I meant to say Sir Sextus Arilan, Lord Braxton."  Gray eyes grinned down at her.  "That scapegrace standing next to you."

   "Oh!"  Her smile lit up the room.  "Yes, Your Majesty, I will.  With all my heart."

   "I daresay he feels the same, but let's ask him."  Kelson turned towards me.  "Sir Sextus, do you intend to take Lady Avisa as your wedded wife, and will you promise me you'll handle this responsibility far more capably than you handled the matter of the Levington chit?"

   I gave a reluctant smile at the dig as Avisa burst out laughing.  "Dear God, I certainly hope so!"

   "The usual answer is 'I will,' Sextus, but I'll take that as a 'Yes.'"  Kelson glanced at his squire.  "Would you send for Father Nivard?" As the youth bowed and left the room, the King added, "Technically those statements of intent should qualify as a betrothal already, especially since they've been witnessed, but it wouldn't hurt to formalize them with more standard vows made in a priest's presence.  And in the meantime...."  He pulled an empty sheet of parchment from his desk and picked up a pen.  "Let's see if we can work out some reasonable betrothal contract between us, shall we?"  Kelson gave me a shark-like grin.  "I shall, of course, be negotiating in favor of the lady's interests, so don't give me cause to gut you, Sextus."

Chapter Sixteen: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=747.0
"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!


Eek at the royal dressing down, but *sighs* at yet another rogue biting the Gwyneddan dust.  Is poor Sextus going to have to get dull now, to keep Kelson happy?


LOL!  I doubt Sextus would be capable of that even if he tried; it goes against his personality too much.  I'm certain Avisa will do her best to make sure he doesn't get settled and boring.  After all, it's in her vested interests for him not to get dull, given that she'll be spending the rest of her life with him.  Kinda takes all the fun out, when she fell in love with him precisely because he wasn't dull!   Fortunately becoming a bit more responsible isn't necessarily synonymous with stodginess.  After all, I somehow manage to act my age when it's required to keep my children eating and living indoors, yet in the immortal words of my son, "Mom, you're a bit weird, but at least you're not boring!"  ;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!


Well done!

Grub will still be there to keep life entertaining, and I doubt she would be as happy if Six suddenly became the epitome of courtly virtue. And the rest of the Arilan clan would expire on the spot!

To be a fly on the wall when Uncle Denis and Seisyll get the news.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


You haven't got too long to wait for that "fly on the wall" wish, then.  Sextus is looking forward to introducing his new bride-to-be to the rest of his family....

...and Seisyll might come the closest he's ever been to a dead faint in that chapter, although probably not for any reasons one might imagine! 

"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!


A right-royal dressing down from Kelson indeed!   
QuoteThere some fine gold under all that crap you pile on so thickly.  Start letting it shine through, man

I trust that kernel of truth about his behaviour has penetrated Sextus' brain (which hopefully is now located between his ears!) - but I doubt that "fine gold" behaviour will ever mean "boring".  So Avisa and her King Tree and swimming in the creek are undoubtedly safe :)


May Avisa and Sextus have long and happy marriage!
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Seisyll might have cause to wish his brother and future sister-in-law were a little more boring next week in Chapter Sixteen.   :D

Chapter Seventeen will wrap up this story, although I've got another one currently in progress, one partly written and waiting on the back-burner, and have a mental outline started for a follow-up story to the one I'm writing now (assuming it doesn't simply end up added on to my current story).  You can all blame Alkari for that follow-up story idea.  Sometimes she throws some interesting twist out there and I don't manage to run away fast enough to avoid it, and then it burrows its way into my brain like some parasitic organism and all hell breaks loose....  ;) 

So hopefully there won't be too long of a silence from me between the end of this story and the first posted chapters of the next one.  :)

"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!


Uncle Denis will officiate at the wedding, I'm sure; how else will he be sure that Sextus will be properly married off?

Grub is a little old for Flower Girl, but not quite old enough for Junior Bridesmaid.