Author Topic: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass  (Read 1440 times)

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Offline DoctorM

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The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« on: August 24, 2019, 09:35:13 PM »
Author’s Note:  This is the second piece of an AU story about a very different post-1120 Gwynedd where the coronation challenge at Kelson’s coronation went rather differently--- very differently. There are characters and background here that go back to some stories in very, very early issues of Deryni Archives and to my own much younger days. I’m not quite sure exactly where I want to take this, but input would be appreciated.

Arrows and Glass

A clear, bright morning at Valoret, and the Shadow Queen is considering arrows.

Down at the far end of the close, her shots are in a tight group at the edge of the first inner ring of the target. Slightly high, slightly left of the bullseye. It’s the grouping that counts. Lionel and her father had told her that when she was a girl, and it’s what Christian had told her later: once you get the arrows all in one spot, moving the spot’s the easy part. She flexes her wrist and reaches down for another arrow.

She’s all in dark green this morning, a high-collared robe in Eastern style, close-fitted, dark-cuffed, something in silk brought out of wherever the farthest East is. She knows what the Haldane boy’s publicists say about her, one thing among many, and probably the least offensive—- Madame Deficit, they call her, the witch-queen spending her conquered subjects into poverty to put fine silks, scandalous raiment, on her back. She likes the idea of scandalous raiment, and she’ll have to find more of it, lower-cut, higher-slit, things that emphasize how shockingly tall she is. Charissa has always spent time on her image, but, no, she’s not draining her revenues into her wardrobe. The money goes to hire light cavalry, to pay men-at-arms, to pay bribes and buy loyalties.

The arrow hits closer in; a second one hits almost touching it.

There’s polite applause behind her, and she turns to look.  There’s a little knot of courtiers and petitioners there around Burchard de Varlan. Eastmarch’s brother-in-law—- the last Eastmarch, not the new Duke of Marley and Eastmarch she’s made out of Bran Coris. The last Eastmarch. She won’t say the name; that’s one promise she’s made herself. No one at Valoret who values his career ever uses the last Eastmarch’s name.

She considers for a second. She supposes she should do something for Burchard. He'd come over early— picked a side and stayed loyal. Fought against the Duke of Cassan in Meara, fought against Torenthi incursions into the Rheljans. He hadn’t asked for any of the Eastmarch lands  so far, and he’d had the clear good sense not to invoke the Howell name. If he’d done either, she’d have fed him to Bran Coris without a moment’s hesitation. She reaches down for another arrow. Do something for Burchard— she’d find lands somewhere where he’d have to keep showing his loyalty. She isn’t about to give him time to start wondering about Eastmarch revenues and what it would be like to be an earl.

She sights down the courtyard and looses another arrow. There’s applause again, and she doesn’t bother to look back.  Of course there’s applause. Well, it’s good to be queen. It’s good to be queen even if there’s usually something else added to the title: Shadow Queen, mostly. Witch Queen,  sometimes. Since the fires at Rhemuth, Mad Queen.

Shadow Queen she’s never minded. The girl in the shadows—- she’d been that half her life.  The first night, her first night as a queen, she’d spent barricaded in a side chapel at the cathedral, the sound of fighting still too close. She remembers the fires in the city, and the sound of coloured glass shattering in the heat and falling into the nave. Bodies everywhere; they hadn’t got those cleared away for days. Messengers coming and going—- who was alive, who was dead, who’d fled the city.  Christian carried inside, soaked in blood from the great cut Alaric Morgan had put into his side, her Healer and a pair of press-ganged Haldane physicians bending over him. Her gown streaked with soot, changing under someone’s cloak into shirt and hose and riding boots. Her hair loose and matted with blood, not all of it her own. Blood on her face from the cut across her nose—- Haldane guardsman, flung dagger. She’d always thought her Moors had borne the man down and slaughtered him, but it hadn’t been worth asking. She thinks that it wasn’t a bad exchange, a broken nose and a faded scar to be queen.

She sends another arrow down the close. The sound has stayed with her these last four years— almost five. The last Eastmarch announcing himself as Queen’s Champion to Alaric Morgan and the Haldane boy, and then the sound of the arrow, and Eastmarch’s eyes widening as the shaft went in between his shoulder blades and came out through his chest.

Everything after that was…fragments. Like the razor-edged pieces of glass raining down onto the flagstones inside the cathedral. She’d seen Eastmarch sag and fall and she’d known— there were black and gold rings painted on the arrow, the Falkenberg colours, Christian's colours. Her guards had folded round her, and she knew. If it had been the Haldanes who’d killed Eastmarch, if her Moors and Brennan de Colforth, her guard commander, hadn’t known, they’d have had her down on the floor, shielded by bodies and thrown cloaks against more arrows. They’d known, Colforth and the Moors, and she’d known too in a moment— the galleries filling with a rush of armed men in black-and-gold scarves, her own troops joining them. Haldane guards pushed aside, halberds and daggers clashing in corners and along the walls. And Christian in the great doorway, stepping past Eastmarch’s body—- she thought he’d kicked it, at least once.  What had she felt? Anger, yes—- they’d gone behind her back, Christian and Marc Aurelian and Colforth and her Moors. Anger against them all. And then pride— Christian pointing with his sabre at Kelson Haldane and Morgan of Corwyn, Christian whose face neither Corwyn nor the boy knew, and saying over the roar of voices, I am the Queen’s Champion.

After that, nothing was connected. She’d read accounts of what happened, monks and poets who’d never been there describing it all. Charissa touches her nose, fingers the white line across the bridge. She remembers the day, remembers the next week, only in broken bits.

The duel— she remembered that as a swirl across the nave, the blades catching the light. First blood to Christian, a thin cut along Morgan’s forearm. She remembered that instant with a fierce pride— however not? And she remembered the end of it, Morgan’s sword going through leather and mail into Christian’s side. Christian had sagged, gone down on one knee, then pushed himself up, the Moorish sabre tight in his grip. She remembers Morgan’s sword coming up, ready to sweep down for a final, killing blow, everything so slow in her mind’s eye. And the sound of something horrifying, something dark and wild— her own voice shrieking, and then the feel of it, of everything Deryni inside herself coming up into her hands and eyes. Morgan hesitating, turning to look at her, their eyes meeting. And then her voice shrieking out NO! and the power surging out of her fingers. Corwyn’s shields forming, rising up to meet her fury, and then blue light and the air filled with the scent of lightning. Corwyn gone, thrown back off his feet, and then Aurelian pointing in his own rage, shouting out Faucon! Faucon! and her own voice rising up, too: Tolan! Tolan!

And from the gallery, arrows and the sound of the steppe bows that Christian’s horse-archers used. Behind her Tolan Guard and the Moors surged forward, and all through the cathedral blades came out and women screamed.

Everything so slow and hollow, the aftermath of the arcane strike, but she remembers stumbling forward, the stiletto sheathed inside her sleeve coming clear, shoving at her guards, trying to reach Christian.

She remembers the dead, remembers the pools of blood. Remembers one of her Moors dead with a great slash down the side of his head, remembers a dead Haldane guard falling from the gallery, remembers someone in an earl’s finery dropping to his knees with two arrows in him. There were Deryni among the crowd, and she remembers the feel of shields and strikes in the air, remembers the panicked crowds trying to find exits, and the growing noise from outside as fires took hold in the city.

Oh, good to be a queen, yes. Crouched over Christian’s body, stiletto in her hand, eyes wild, Aurelian trying to tell her that there would be Arjenol troops coming, that the fires were keeping Haldane reinforcements at bay, that he had an Arjenol Healer with him, that they wouldn’t let Christian die. She’d swept blood-matted blonde hair from her face and asked: Morgan? Kelson? Aurelian had shaken his head. Gone, alive or dead.

That first night, with Lionel’s men arriving by Portal in twos and threes, with Bran Coris her new ally, grinning over a promised dukedom, and Tolan men-at-arms holding the castle and the cathedral, Aurelian had come to her with something heavy and gold in his hand. Madam, he’d said, the crown of Gwynedd. She’d looked down at the thing,  battered and dirt-streaked, and she’d closed her eyes. She’d looked at Christian lying wrapped in bandages and looked out at the fire-shadows dancing past the windows. She'd turned away from the thing. No, she’d said. Not queen of Gwynedd. Something else. Queen of something else.

The Shadow Queen shifts her grip on the bow.  Oh, good to be a queen. Queen, now, of Tolan and the West. Almost five years now. Burchard and the others were applauding again, applauding an arrow in the bullseye. She'd had them melt it down, the crown that Aurelian had handed her. She had her own crown, now, one that had belonged to the second Festil, back long ago, an antique crown now for something new.  Not for Gwynedd. Not that. Tolan and the West. That was hers.

Do something for Burchard, and why not? She’d taken Rhemuth, held it for a year or so, lost it. And now there was Valoret and the lands she’d taken. Now there was this—- Valoret, arrows in the morning, and the sound of applause. All she had to do was keep it.

« Last Edit: May 21, 2020, 08:50:12 PM by DoctorM »

Offline drakensis

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Re: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2019, 05:05:08 AM »
Very impressive.

Offline revanne

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Re: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2019, 08:17:35 AM »
Interesting- I found Christian to be a very sympathetic character in the short story in which he appeared (the name escapes me). And there is always more than one point of view.- good to have more from Charissa's.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46 v1)

Offline DoctorM

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Re: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2019, 10:46:52 AM »
Thank you!

Offline Jerusha

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Re: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2019, 01:14:59 PM »
IIRC (and I might not) I believe the story was Lover of Shadows.   A very interesting point of view.

And so is this one!  I hope you keep writing it; I am enthralled.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Offline DoctorM

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Re: The Two Kingdoms: Arrows and Glass
« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2019, 04:58:37 PM »
Jerusha--- thank you. And I will be seeing what I can do with these, as well as things related to "Season of the Sword", my other old Deryni Archives story, set at the time of Iomaire and just after.


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