Author Topic: The Killing Season Chapter 8  (Read 3775 times)

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Offline Evie

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The Killing Season Chapter 8
« on: August 27, 2010, 10:59:32 pm »
Chapter Eight

   Rhemuth Castle
   July 18, 1132

   Dhugal MacArdry McLain sat in his liegeman's apartment, cradling his six-week-old daughter Catriona Ailidh in his arms, studying her sleeping features.  The child was the image of her mother, the honey-gold fuzz atop her head glistening in the firelight.

   “She seems to be thriving,” he said at last, looking up at Sir Jass.

   “Aye.”  Jass MacArdry settled onto the bench next to his chief.  “Ailidh says she's a good strong nurser.”

   “I hope it's not taxing Ailidh too much, tending to Trina and Jarrett both?”

   “Nay.  Lady Mhairi's been a help as well.  An' th' other bairns like cooin' at her, especially Aine Rose.  She's already askin' when we can go tae market for a sister.”

   Dhugal's lips twitched slightly despite his somber mood.  “Oh, is that where babies come from?”

   “Oh, aye!  Ye should hae been here th' day Ciaran was explainin' th' facts o' life tae her an' Duncan Michael.”  Jass's whiskey-colored eyes gleamed with mirth.  “He says tha' Nurse takes th' oldest bairns out tae play, an' while they're gone the mum an' dad go tae market an' pick out a likely lookin' babe.  If it takes 'em a while tae decide on account o' fussin' an' arguin', the older bairns might even get tae spend th' night wi' Nurse, in which case there's sweetmeats and candied fruit tae look forward to.”  He grinned.  “Though why he thinks his da and his mum would fuss over th' choice, I have nae clue.”

   A reluctant smirk.  “Is there much you and Ailidh don't butt heads over?”

   Jass laughed.  “Nay, but only because th' makin' up is so much fun!”  Remembering the other reason for his liegelord's visit, he sobered, studying  Dhugal for several long moments.  “So, ye're thinkin' o' offerin' for th'  traitor's lady?” he finally asked.

   Dhugal nodded, not meeting Jass's eyes.  “She has nowhere else to go except for back to Torenth, and I wouldn't put it past her late husband's enemies to kill her and her son.  Or past his allies to try to recapture her and turn her over to Teymuraz.”  He sighed.  “And Graham's right; my own succession is far from secure yet.”

   “But yer heart's no' in it,” Jass observed.

   “No.”  Dhugal pressed a tender kiss on his daughter's brow and stood, walking across the chamber to lay her down in her basket.  He turned back to Jass afterwards.  “I've had my love match, though.  I doubt I'll ever find another.  That doesn't change the facts.”

   “Ye could give yerself more time tae grieve, though,” Jass said quietly.  “Yer a man, Dhugal, no' jus' a Duke.”

   “I am.”  Dhugal stared out the apartment window at the tower where Kelson's prisoner waited to hear of her fate.  “But I'll have to marry again eventually—if not now, then later.  And I know....” He broke off, blinking away sudden tears until he regained his composure.

   “Aye?”  Jass's voice was soft with sympathy.

   “The longer I put it off, the harder it will be for me to do what I must.”  He sighed.  “No, Jass, if I'm going to have to wed again, at least I can choose someone who has need of a husband's protection.  Not just pick a bride from the usual lot of women hoping for a Ducal coronet.  If I can meet the needs of my lands and serve Kelson's current need at the same time, so much the better.”

   The door opened.  Ailidh entered, an arisaid draped over her shoulders and her three-month-old son, who was loudly announcing the advent of dinnertime under the soft woolen tartan covering.  A tiny booted foot kicked his mother in the ribs as she crossed the room to check on the sleeping baby next to Dhugal.  “Oh good, four down for the night then, one to go.”
   “Trina's already sleeping through the night?” the Duke asked in some surprise.

   “Well, she'll wake again in a couple of hours, but then she usually has a long stretch until dawn.  Then Jarrett here will wake her with his wail announcing to the universe that he's starving to death.”

   Dhugal poked a finger into one pudgy leg emerging from under the blanket.  “Yes, because I can see how much you starve him.”

   Jass laughed.  “Aye, she's fattenin' him up tae drive 'im tae market at harvest time.”

   “Nay, we'll just stick an apple in his mouth once he's got teeth, then serve him at High Table since, like his da, he likes being the center of attention,” Ailidh added with a grin at her husband.  She sank onto a nearby chair, looking tired but content.  Jass walked over to massage her shoulders beneath the thin shawl.

   Dhugal watched the pair fondly, though with a slight twinge of envy at their obvious happiness.  Jass leaned over to get a better view of his wife's face.  “Dhugal's considerin' offerin' for th' Torenthi lass,” he told her.  

   “The Torenthi….”  Ailidh’s eyes gray-green eyes widened.  “Dhugal MacArdry, dinnae be daft!”

   The Border Duke raised an eyebrow at his retainer’s lady.  “I’m not simply the MacArdry anymore, Ailidh, I’m the McLain as well.  And as much as I’d love to, I can’t go to market to get a second son.”  A shadow crossed his weary features.  “I don’t even have any guarantee that my first son will survive me.  Hell, none of Cauley's true sons even lived long enough to get sons of their own.  Is it any wonder he dropped dead when he thought he'd lost me as well?” He sighed.

   “Well, Duncan Michael’s healthy as a horse now, if ye want tae take a quick peek in at him!”

   “And Catriona was healthy as a horse also a month and a half ago.”  Dhugal’s voice softened slightly.  “Life doesn’t promise us any tomorrows, a chara.”

   Ailidh wilted slightly.  “I suppose not.  But Dhugal…you’ve just lost Cat, and there’s no doubt that you loved her.  How can you even think about bedding another woman so soon?”

   Dhugal leaned against the wall, closing his eyes in pain.  “I can’t, Ailidh.  I have no idea how I’m going to bring myself to do that.  I just know that I have to.  Not only do I need heirs, Cat made me promise to remarry.”  He opened his eyes, looking miserable.  “I don’t suppose I need to actually marry right away, just….I don’t know.   Soon.”

   “Cat asked you….”  Ailidh’s eyes turned moist.  “Sweet Jesú, Dhugal, she hadn’t the right to lay that burden on you!  It had to have been the fever talking.  As if simply being a Duke and an Earl twice over weren’t pressure enough!”  She blinked angrily to clear her vision.  “Though Jass isn’t a Duke and has no shortage of heirs, so if he re-weds when I’ve been gone less than a year, I’ll haunt him so fierce he’ll have to wear an armored codpiece to save his best bits!”  She shot her husband a warning glare and sighed, drawing a satisfied Jarrett out from under her arisaid and handing him over to his father to burp while she re-laced her bodice beneath the tartan covering.  Jass stuck his son under one arm, the careful manner in which his hand supported the infant’s head belying the seeming casualness of the hold, and made a leisurely stroll across the room towards the stack of clean rags next to Jarrett’s cradle.  The lad’s mother rolled her eyes at Dhugal, then shot a look back at her husband.  “Jass, that’s a baby, not a football!”

   “Aye, he weighs too much tae be a proper football,” he agreed, glad for the change of subject.  “I’d hurt my foot tryin’ tae kick ‘im across th’ village green.”  Jass grinned.  “Dhugal, ye want yer future pages tough, aye?”  He draped one of the rags across his shoulder and hefted his son up to burp him.  Jarrett rewarded him with a moist belch and a suspicious sounding sputter from his swaddled end.

   His father looked at him askance.  “I dinnae suppose ye’d like our lad back?” he asked Ailidh.

   “Nay, not at all,” she said with a fierce grin.  “You’ve faced down the Mearan army and survived Conall Haldane in one pisser of a mood.  You can survive a breech-clout changing.”

   Dhugal chuckled.  “I think I’ll flee while I still can, in case mine decides to do the same.”  He bent to kiss Ailidh on the cheek.  “Can I bring anything for you or the children tomorrow?  More swaddling cloths, perhaps?”

   “No, I’ve enough of that, though perhaps some fine linen for a few shirts and a coif would serve.  Duncan Michael’s hit a growth spurt, and Trina will need a new coif; I caught Aine Rose teething on the ties of her current one.  While Trina was still wearing it, of course.”

   “Of course.  I’d not expect otherwise from the Terror of Transha’s daughter.”

   A discreet knock sounded on the door.  Dhugal, crossing the room in that direction anyway, answered it. A page in royal Haldane livery looked up at him hesitantly.  “Message for Sir Jass, Your Grace.  Am I at the wrong door?”

   Dhugal stepped back.  “No, you’ve come to the right place.  He’s a bit busy at the moment; I’ll bring it to him,” Jass’s chief said, taking the sealed parchment from the lad.  “Thank you.”

   The page bowed deeply and scurried off.  Jass looked up from changing his son’s soiled breech-clout long enough to tilt his head towards his wife.  Dhugal brought the parchment to Ailidh, then turned to leave.  Before he’d quite reached the door again, a sharp gasp made him pause.  

   Jass too had straightened, his every sense on instant alert.  “What’s th’ matter, Ailidh?”

   Ailidh turned stricken eyes towards her husband.  “It’s yer Da.”  Tears shimmered in her eyes.  “Sir Judd’s been struck down wi’ th’ fever-flux.  Yer Ma says they buried ‘im on Tuesday last.”


     Rhemuth Castle
   July 19

     Duke Dhugal MacArdry McLain knelt before his King in the King’s private chamber.  The Haldane’s puzzled eyes flitted to his Queen and back to his Border Duke again.  “You’re rather formal this evening,” Kelson noted, his gaze taking in Dhugal’s more meticulous than usual attire.  “Has Christmas Court come early this year?”

   “We could all wish,” Dhugal said drily, “since that would mean we’d have had several frosts by now to kill the damned mosquitoes.”

   “Bishop Arilan has an idea about that, actually,” Kelson said somewhat cryptically, studying the man before him with increasing bewilderment.  “Dhugal, we're in private.  I'll tell you Arilan's idea if you'll tell me why the hell you're kneeling.”

     Queen Araxie stifled a laugh.  “The formality is a bit baffling coming from a man who's been up here many an evening whittling his blood-brother's ego back down to a normal size.”

     Dhugal gave them a fleeting half-smile, then turned serious again.  “I've come to ask a boon.  Or perhaps to offer you a favor.  I suppose it's a bit of both, depending on how one views it.”  He paused, suddenly looking nervous.

     “What sort of a boon?” Kelson asked, completely lost.

   The Border Duke took a deep breath.  “Kel, I need to marry again.  You have a prisoner in need of a husband.  Well, in need of a protector, anyway, but it amounts to the same thing.”

   The King stared at his blood-brother.  “You can't be serious!”

   “Actually, I am.”

   “ don't have to do this.”  Kelson ran his fingers through his raven hair in agitation.  “You adored Cat; I know you can't possibly be ready to marry again so soon!”

     “I'd be lying if I said I was eager.  But I'm able and, more to the point, I need to.”  Dhugal frowned.  “Kel, what if this attack is only the first of many Teymuraz is planning?  Not just the attempt on your life, I mean, but all of it?  The weather-working, the plague....”

     “All the more reason to track down the man quickly and put an end to it all,” Kelson said, his gray eyes narrowing.

     “I've no complaint with that plan at all,” Dhugal agreed, “except that there's no guarantee that we will, at least right away.  And in the meantime, I think it's likely that we can expect more such attacks—maybe not the same in kind, but similar in ferocity—until either the man is dead or enough of us are for him to achieve his ends.  It's not going to end with a truce.”

     “No, it's not.  But what has any of that to do with you remarrying?”

     “Kel, just because we're young, that doesn't mean we're immortal.  If I learned anything in these past few weeks, I've learned that.  It's bad enough that, if anything were to happen to me in the next dozen years, my Duchy and two Earldoms would be in need of a regency council until my sole heir comes of age.  But that heir is also barely out of infancy himself, which means he's even more susceptible than I am.  My only other heir after him...well, that would be my father again, wouldn't it, which brings us back full-circle again, given his lack of other heirs....”  Dhugal shook his head.  “I need at least another son to secure my line; more than one, if I can get them.  And that's going to be difficult to do without a wife.  And given our current circumstances, I don't know that I can afford to wait until I feel like marrying again.  What if I never do?”  Dhugal looked up at Kelson, the bleakness of his emotions showing in his face.

      The King sighed.  “Have you spoken to Duncan about all this?”

      Dhugal nodded.  “Yes.  He's as thrilled about it as you evidently are.”  A half-grin, not quite reaching his eyes.

      Kelson turned to his wife for support.  “Araxie, help me reason with him.”

     The Queen regarded Dhugal thoughtfully.  “ might not be such a bad idea.”  At Kelson's look of surprise, she flushed slightly and added, “Oh, I agree that the timing is awful—I wish the circumstances were completely different, that Dhugal didn't have the necessity, or at the very least had the luxury of more time before making this sort of choice!  But it's just....”  She sighed.  “Kelson, remember, I did a very deep reading of the Lady Mirjana's mind—even more so than Dhugal did.  I think a marriage between them could eventually end up being...well, not merely mutually beneficial, but even mutually satisfying.”  She smiled faintly at Dhugal's stunned expression.  “Oh, maybe not a marriage of the heart like you had with Catriona—certainly not at the outset, anyhow.  Though I think you might achieve some level of accord later.  And there's no doubt at all in my mind that it could be quite healing for Lady Mirjana.”  She took the Border Duke's hand.  “Dhugal, you are strong enough to give her the protection she needs, yet you are also kind; a gentle man with a healer's heart.  Think of what her life has been like, these past four years!  She's likely to be quite skittish of you at first.  You'd need to be very patient with her—she'd not only be adjusting to a different man, but also to a different culture and a very different life from what she's been used to.”

     Kelson looked dubious.  “I understand the benefits for Lady Mirjana, but I'm more concerned about Dhugal's well-being.”

      “Of course you are, love.”  Araxie smiled at him.  “And Dhugal could, of course, spend his next few years living in the past, mourning over might-have-beens as you once did.  Or he could choose to look forward and create a new life for, again, you eventually learned how to do.  Which choice made you happiest in the long run?”

   The King shook his head, gave his wife a rueful smile.  “Choosing you.  But there's got to be some middle ground that's neither as extreme as either a mere six weeks of grieving or a full three years of refusal to let go of the past.”

      “Certainly!  And it would be unrealistic for any of us to expect that Dhugal's grief is going to run its course instantly, whether he marries in three years or tomorrow.”  Her gray eyes focused on the Duke.  “Though you weren't planning on marrying immediately, I certainly hope?”

     “No,” Dhugal said, giving her a faintly bemused smile.  “Although I was planning on approaching the lady tomorrow to offer for her, and given our current circumstances, I think it would be better to marry sooner than later...assuming Kelson will allow me to.”

   Kelson snorted.  “Would there be much chance of me talking you out of it?  If I deny you this marriage in hopes you’ll come to your senses, you’ll just turn around and find some other Ducal-quality brood mare whose pedigree I can’t possibly fault, won’t you?”   

     “I’d rather not think of it in those terms,” Dhugal said, wincing slightly.

     “That’s what it boils down to, though,” his blood-brother countered, a gleam of challenge in his eyes.

     Araxie sighed.  “At least this ‘Ducal-quality brood mare’ is a Furstána, which means she bears the potential for giving Dhugal very powerful Deryni heirs. If we’re going to reduce Dhugal to being a mere stud in the Cassani and Kierney stables and Mirjana to being a mare with fine bloodlines, which I’d much rather not.”  The Queen’s voice held a keen edge.  “Do try to remember there’s a woman with feelings at the other end of this whole discussion.  She may not want to remarry after all.  There’s a possibility—however small—that she might find being returned to Torenth preferable to having to marry Dhugal, especially since she knows nothing about him.  Life with Nikos von Brustarkia certainly would’ve given her no great desire to risk repeating the experience!”  She raised a brow at the two men.  “You were planning on giving her at least that much say in the matter, I hope?”

   “Of course,” Dhugal said, his voice sounding weary.  “I just want another chance to father heirs, Araxie, but that hardly means I want to become the poor lady’s jailer and rapist.  If she's not willing to accept me, I wouldn't force her even if Kelson would allow it.  And I know he'd never permit that; I'm not barking mad!”  He scrubbed his face tiredly with one hand.  “May I offer for her, Kelson?”

   The King sighed.  “She is a Furstána, not to mention the King of Torenth’s cousin as well as his subject, which means you’ll need to ask Liam-Lajos as well.”  He tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.  “If Liam consents, I won’t forbid the match, but I also won't allow anything binding before Christmas Court.”

   Dhugal turned pale.  Araxie, her eyes widening, interposed, “Oh, dearest, not Christmas Court!”

   “Why not Christmas Court?  That will be six months after the Duchess of Cassan's death, and five after Lord Nikos's...though under the circumstances, at least our Court is less likely to expect his widow to be too bereaved.”

     “Well, yes, that's all true, but....”  Araxie mind-sent Kelson her memories of her first Christmas Court in Gwynedd just four years earlier.  Catriona, High Lady of Llyr, approaching them privately for permission to renounce her birthright and marry their Duke of Cassan....  Catriona's joyful entry into the Great Hall of Rhemuth alongside her brother and nephew, to escort her heir to Llyr into Kelson's keeping as a squire and to make formal offer before all assembled for Dhugal's hand in marriage....  The fierce light of pride in his bride in Dhugal's eyes.... The Lady of Llyr's clear voice echoing through the Hall...“I choose Dhugal Ardry MacArdry McLain, Duke of Cassan and Earl of Kierney and Transha, and High Lord of my heart, to walk all paths with me, and I with him, for all our days”.... “Maybe just a little earlier instead?” the Queen pleaded on the Duke's behalf.

     Kelson sighed, feeling a headache coming on.  “All right, not Christmas.  November, then.  You're still in mourning, Dhugal, and at least technically so is the Lady Mirjana, if you've forgotten.”

   Amber eyes clashed with steel gray.  “I realize that, Kelson!  Sweet Jesú, there's hardly a morning I don't wake up and reach for my wife before the memory returns; you bloody well think you have to remind me?” Tears stood in his eyes.  “And as for the Lady, her husband's body has barely had time to cool!  I know she'll need a bit of time before she’s ready for another marriage.  So do I; dear God, Kelson, I can hardly even look at a woman right now without seeing my dead wife’s face staring back at me!  All I'm asking for is permission to offer now.  Please credit me with some decency!”

   Kelson opened his mouth to reply.  Araxie touched him softly on the arm.  He closed it again, clenching his jaw for a moment, before adding.  “Dhugal, it wasn't your love for Catriona I was questioning, merely your timing.  You're making a life-altering decision in the throes of fresh grief.  I agree it would be best if you remarried eventually.  I'm just trying to ensure you don't rush into a marriage you'll regret later when you're thinking with a clearer head.”  He sighed.  “But in any case, you shall need to ask Liam-Lajos.  I don't intend to give even a minor royal of the House of Furstán in marriage without the Furstán King's express consent any more than I'd allow him to start offering Haldanes to his courtiers without mine.”

     “Then do I have your consent to use one of the Transfer Portals to go to Torenthály?” Dhugal asked.  “I’ll try to be back before nightfall.”

   Kelson’s lips tightened.  “You do.  I was planning on sending you there anyway on another matter, so I suppose you might as well take full advantage of the trip.”

   “Another matter?”  Dhugal looked surprised.

   “A message to Liam-Lajos concerning Bishop Arilan’s idea for ridding Gwynedd and the closer parts of Torenth of all these damned mosquitoes and, not coincidentally, the fever-flux as well.  Here’s what he’s proposing….”


   July 20
   Royal Library Annex, Rhemuth Castle

   Sophie entered the Royal Library Annex at Rhemuth via Transfer Portal, nearly landing on its librarian in the process.

   “I do beg pardon!” she exclaimed, her startled green-gold eyes meeting another pair of equally startled sea green ones.  There was a moment of surprised recognition, and then both Deryni laughed, the librarian enfolding the new arrival in a brief hug.

   “You’re welcome to drop in anytime, Lady Sophie,” Father Nivard joked, “though next time, try not to bowl me over in the process.”

   “And was I supposed to scry first to make sure you wouldn’t be walking right past the Portal stone at the exact second I come through?” Sophie teased.  She pulled back, taking the priest’s hands in her own as she studied his face, her expression growing more somber.  “How have you been, John?  I would say you’re looking well, but then I’d have to go to confession for lying.”  Her lips twitched in an almost-smile.  “I heard the fever-flux hit hard here in Rhemuth.”

   “It has, and is still doing so,” her friend confirmed.  “We’ve been…exceptionally busy of late.”  His eyes darkened.  “Seisyll told us of your loss.  I’m truly sorry.”  His expression grew tentative.  “How is his brother doing?”

   “On the mend finally, praise be to God!” Sophie said.  “Actually, that’s why I’m here, to give Seisyll an update, as well as to find out why we’ve not had word from him in the past few days.”  Worried eyes looked up at John’s face.  “He was supposed to come home a few nights ago, but we’ve not heard any word from him since the 16th, not even in a dream-vision, which tells me either something unusual has come up and he’s been too busy to contact us, or….”  She bit her lip.  “Tell me he’s not fallen ill or been injured!  Surely the King would’ve sent me word?”

   John Nivard shook his head.  “No, he’s fine, sweeting.  There was an attempt on the King’s life on the 16th, so Seisyll has simply been very busy during the day.  And doubtless also too drained of energy to summon up enough focus to contact you at night, though I wish he’d thought to ask me.  I could’ve gotten word to you, if I’d realized you were worried.”

   Sophie wilted in relief.  “Oh, good!  That means I can break the happy news about his brother to him and then kill him!”

   The priest laughed.  “No, Sophie, you’d certainly have to confess murder, no matter how justifiable.”  He looked over his friend’s changed appearance, frowning slightly.  She appeared a bit too frail for his liking, her normally bright eyes shadowed with recent loss.  “I understand your children are still in Lady Javana’s keeping.  Maybe, with Sir Sextus on the mend, you should stay in Rhemuth for a while.  I’m sure Sir Seisyll would be glad to have you close by, and you could get a bit more rest here.”

   Sophie shrugged.  “Mayhap.  But I have a household to manage, and it’s really not fair to leave it all to Jashana to run. She’s been through just as much lately.  We all have.”

   Father Nivard raised an eyebrow at her.  “Not just as much, I’m certain.”

   “She came quite close to losing a brother last week, John,” Sophie said a bit sharply, taken aback by the priest’s contradiction of her statement.

   “Which would be a great blow, yes; believe me, I know.  But you’ve recently had the fever-flux yourself, not to mention you also miscarried a child, both of which have taken as much of a physical toll on you as an emotional one.  Sophie, who is caring for the caregiver?”

   She opened her mouth to reply, found herself shutting it again.  Tears began to well up in her eyes.  “Maybe I could use a few nights of decent sleep,” she said quietly. “Not that I’m likely to find that in Seisyll’s bed.”  Her cheeks turned rosy with mortification as she belatedly realized she’d said the last statement aloud, but her friend merely chuckled.

   “On the contrary, as busy as the King has been keeping your husband this week, you’re more likely to find him nodding off at odd moments whenever he’s able to keep still longer than five seconds.  Just make sure he doesn’t fall down the garderobe shaft.”

   A peal of laughter echoed through the Library annex as the ridiculous image flitted through Sophie’s mind.  


   July 20
   Tower Keep, Rhemuth Castle

   The Haldane Guard stepped aside to allow the Duke of Cassan entry to the prisoner's cell.  Dhugal found the Lady Mirjana wringing out her son's tunic over her small wash-basin.  She lay the damp garment across the narrow windowsill before sensing his presence and turning to drop into a deep curtsey.

   Dhugal glanced at the small boy, playing with a few tiny pebbles in a corner of the cell, clad in his wrinkled shift, and frowned slightly.  “My Lady, are you....Is that laundry?”  He indicated the damp tunic in the windowsill in confusion.

   She nodded, her eyes downcast.  “We did not have time to pack any belongings when His Grace of Corwyn took us into custody.”

   “Well, yes, but....”  His voice trailed off as he thought back on the days since then.  “Forgive us, my Lady.  It's been a very stressful past few days for all of us, but we never meant to leave you ill-provided for!  I'll see to your need at once.”  He stepped back towards the door briefly to issue a directive to the guard in a low voice.  

   When he turned back to face the Torenthi woman, he found her standing next to her son, who was now on his feet and staring at Dhugal curiously.

   “Mikhail, this is the Duke of Cassan.  How does one greet a Duke, son?”

   The boy's big brown eyes stared up at Dhugal for a moment, and then he swept the man a grave bow.  Dhugal returned the courtesy, inclining his head at just the proper degree for the lad's lesser rank, yet still with all appropriate ceremony.   Mikhail ventured a grin.  Dhugal, after a brief moment, smiled back.

   “I have a son,” he told the Torenthi boy.  “His name is Duncan Michael.  'Michael' is the same name as 'Mikhail,' only in Gwyneddan.”  

   The boy looked up at his mother, his face a study in confusion.  There was a brief exchange between them in rapid Torenthi.  Looking apologetic, she explained the problem to the Border Duke.  “I'm afraid my son has only a little knowledge of the Gwyneddan tongue, but he is learning.  I believe he is having a little trouble with...that is to say, Your Grace, he's only ever heard....”  She blushed, looking uncertain of how to explain.

   The Duke chuckled.  “I believe you're trying to say he's never heard a Border accent before.  It's all right; I'm not offended.” The amber eyes crinkled at the corners.  “If you think I have an accent, wait until you've met my retinue.  Don't worry, he'll soon grow accustomed to it.  Though there's the danger you may end up with a little Torenthi who sounds like a Transha lad.”

   Lady Mirjana risked a shy laugh.  Dhugal walked over to the cell's bench, waving a hand towards it in silent invitation for her to sit.  Her smile faded, her expression turning uncertain again as she did so.  He took his seat on the other end of the short bench.

   “My Lady, two matters bring me here today.  The first matter is this—as of today, you are no longer a prisoner of the Crown of Gwynedd, but a ward under the King's protection, at least for the short term.  Therefore, as soon as proper accommodations can be prepared for you, you'll be moved from the Keep into a regular apartment.” He glanced at the window slit.  “Where you will not be insufficiently supplied or required to do your own laundry.”

   The King's new ward looked relieved.  “Thank you, Your Grace!”

   “As to the second matter.”  The Duke suddenly looked less comfortable.  He glanced at what he could see of the veiled woman's face.  Given the similarity of her eyes to those of his late wife, that was no help.  “There is one condition to your continued stay in Gwynedd, and it is one that has been decided based on mutual agreement between Kelson and Liam-Lajos.  If you would remain here in Gwynedd, you must agree to marry someone who will stand as surety for you.”  The dark lashes fluttered downwards as the young widow dropped her gaze.  “You are not required to marry, however.  Should you rather not, then Kelson will still provide you with his protection for the duration of the immediate emergency, but afterwards you will be returned to your own liegelord's keeping.”

   “For the duration of the immediate emergency....”  Mirjana repeated the words in a near-whisper.  “What does this mean, Your Grace?”

   “Until things settle more or less to normal again.  No recent attacks, the plague running its course....”  He gave her a wry smile.  “Of course, when it comes to the plague, you might well be safer in Torenthály anyway.”

   “Not from Teymuraz.”  Mirjana stared at her hands.  “Who would your King give me to?  I know no man of your Court.”  Her eyes grew slightly moist.  She blinked a few times rapidly until the moment passed.

   Dhugal glanced away briefly, feeling his cheeks warm.  “Actually...both His Majesty  of Gwynedd and His Majesty of Torenth have given me leave to offer for you, if you would be willing to have me.”  As her eyes widened, he added swiftly, “You needn't give an answer right away.  Just...consider the offer?”

   The Torenthi widow stared at him.  “What manner of man is Kelson of Gwynedd,” she asked finally, “that he would seek to reward an assassin's widow offering her a Duke?!”  What he could see of her face reflected her confusion.

   The Duke in question gave a self-conscious laugh.  “Well, it's not quite like that.”  He tried to figure out how to explain.  “My Lady...Lady Mirjana...I'm newly widowed myself.  My Duchess died of the fever-flux just six weeks past—well, almost seven now—while giving birth to our daughter.  And like you, I have a son also, although mine is younger; he won't see his third birthday until Michaelmas.”  He shifted uncomfortably on the hard bench.  “You find yourself in need of a protector, someone who will stand as surety for you in Kelson's Court.  I find myself in need of more heirs.  In less uncertain times, I would wait before remarrying, but as things are....I dare not wait too long, my Lady.”  He folded his hands in front of him, staring at them to avoid looking at her, wondering what must be going through her tightly-shielded mind.  “But you needn't feel you must accept my offer.  It is not the King's command that you wed me, my Lady, nor would I wish for you to feel forced in any way.  Nor do we wish for you to feel you must rush into the decision.  The King would not permit a wedding between us nor any other binding agreement before late autumn, at any rate.”

   “ very sorry for your loss, Your Grace.  It is...unfortunate that your wife was only able to give you a daughter instead of the son a man longs for.”

   Dhugal shook his head.  “No, not unfortunate at all; I am quite blessed that she left me a daughter to cherish.“  He smiled sadly.  “It's only a problem in terms of the succession.”

   The clear green eyes gazed at him in astonishment.  “You...cherish a daughter?”

   His amber eyes met her gaze.  “Aye.  Why would I not?”

   “Then...if I were to accept you, and I bore you a daughter instead of a son, you would not be angry?”  Mirjana stared at him doubtfully.

   “My Lady, of course not!  It's not like that's something one can pick and choose.  Though, granted, I'm hoping for sons as well, for my lands' sake.”   

   Mirjana's eyes dropped to her hands, which started to tremble.  “I...was not allowed to have any daughters,” she explained, blinking back sudden tears.  “If you truly mean that...then I will accept your offer,” she said quietly.  “I will do my best to give you the sons you need, if you will pledge on your sacred honor that you will allow me to keep our daughters.”

   Sweet Jesú, what did that bastard Nikos put this woman through? “I gladly swear it, My Lady.”

Chapter 9:
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 05:14:32 pm by Evie »
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The Killing Season Chapter 8
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2010, 06:46:01 pm »
My home internet is down and the service provider can't send someone to fix it until tomorrow, so no new chapter or long posts tonight. :-(  Hopefully the problem will be fixed before KK Chat tomorrow; otherwise I'm limited to checking for posts & PM's via cell phone.
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