Author Topic: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight  (Read 464 times)

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Online DoctorM

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Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« on: March 07, 2020, 04:12:06 PM »

Author’s Note:  This is the fourth piece of an AU construction about a very different post-1120 Gwynedd, one 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 yet, but all input would be appreciated.

There are voices in the dark. Fragments of sentences rush past him like wind through steppe grass.  He falls through them and the sound of the voices hisses behind his eyes.

Somewhere beyond wherever he is, voices are coming down hallways, coming down stairs, touching at the farthest edges of his mind.

Hands move him in the dark. He feels his body shift, feels touches against skin,  feels metal scraping across his face, feels water on skin. The voices whisper over him, circle round his own thoughts.

There’s a song amongst the hiss of words. He knows the song, knows the story of a lost princess, knows the voice singing it in the dark, remembers her voice running through his life:

Tomorrow at this hour
She will be far away
Much farther than these islands
On a lonely western bay…

Don’t let me be alive, he thinks. Not if she isn’t.

Christian opens his eyes  and he’s alone. He’s in a bed, draped in a sheet softer than any he’s known. A coverlet in dark grey wool, too. The fingertips of his right hand brush over it: something expensive. To one side, a table with a pitcher. A chair by a window.

He’s alone in the room, and he turns his head to the light falling in though an unbarred window.  I’m alive. I’m in a room, not in a dungeon.  He knows what that means, what it has to mean.  He lets himself fall back into the dark, back to the sound of voices inside his head.

When he opens his eyes again there’s sunlight lying across him. Winter light, and he can feel the chill outside. Something else, too, a dark grey scent, the scent of ashes and woodsmoke coming in from whatever's outside.

He shifts his body and pain rushes up his left side. He gasps and presses his head back into the pillows.  He reaches under the sheets and runs a tentative hand along his side.  All down his ribs and onto the hipbone the bare flesh is something cold and slick. It feels like a wax seal on a letter.

I was opened up. They melted me shut again.

Healers’ work, he thinks. 

There are shadows flickering on the walls in the corners of the room, and inside his head there’s the idea of something like summer lightning. Warding cubes. He knows that. There are warding cubes here. He’s shielded against anything Deryni. There’s the pain all down his side, but there are things he knows now. Unbarred windows, fresh sheets, the warding cubes guarding him.  Whatever happened, he knows who brought him here.  Easy enough to infer that. What he has to do to work back to the rest of the story.

Christian can hear them now, voices coming closer, feel the sense of things moving through the dark. It must be afternoon, now. There’s the rustling of figures moving, sounds outside his head as well as inside. Then one voice, crisp and clear, out there just inside the room.

You lot, she says. 

He knows the voice, knows every one of her inflections. You lot—- out! He can feel it in his head, her fingers snapping, a gloved hand pointing to the door. Doctors— out! Nobody comes in!

Something moves, over where the window is. He hears a sigh. “You’re alive,” she says. “I know you are. You might as well open your eyes.”

When he does, Charissa is there. She’s in a chair by the window, half in shadow. She’s in something Eastern, something dark, something with a high collar.  Long, unbound blonde hair falls over her shoulders. He pushes himself up, past the pain in his side.

His mouth is dry. “I’m alive,” he manages. “Both of us are.”

“Both of us, “ she says. “Just barely.”

“You’re queen,” he says.

“I’m queen,” she says.

He can’t see past her out  the window. “What’s happened? This is still Rhemuth, isn’t it?”

“Rhemuth,” she says. “We have the castle and the city. It’s mine, what’s left of it.”

“How long have I—-?”

“Long enough. You lost a lot of blood. Too much blood.”

Too many things to know, too many things he needs to know if he’s going to be alive.

“Where’s Morgan? Where’s the Haldane boy?” His voice is still a rasp.

“Alive,” Charissa says. “My people tell me they’re both still alive. We think they’re down in Carthmoor country right now.  Regrouping, I suppose.”

“Who’s here now—- for you, I mean?”

“Lionel’s here,” she says. "Arjenol’s with us. Lots of Arjenol soldiers came in by Portal.  Marley’s with us, too.”

He has to think about that for a moment. “Bran’s with you. Why?”

Charissa shrugs. “I gave him Eastmarch. Told him he could be a duke, too.”

“Bran. Good. He’s always wanted that.”

“I have a question,” Charissa says. “Now that you’re alive. The last Eastmarch. That wasn’t you who put the arrow in him, was it?”

Christian shakes his head. He’s not sure he wants to try to meet her eyes. “I told Aurelian to pick someone, pick somebody who wouldn’t miss. As long as Eastmarch was dead, I didn’t care who or how.”

“He was going to die anyway,” Charissa says. “I wasn’t going to let him live out the day.”

“I wasn’t going to let him fight for you.”

He says that and he knows, knows what else he has to say. “I failed you. I stood for you and I failed you.”

“No. You’ve never failed me.” Her voice is soft.  “When I saw you there in the cathedral, when you faced off with Morgan…I was so proud of you. If you start staying you failed me, I swear I’ll come over there and hit you.” Charissa’s voice changes. “But we need to talk, you and I. You need to hear this.”   

“Morgan put a sword into your side,”  Charissa says. “I thought about something that evening.  I thought about letting you bleed to death and then putting up a hero’s statue to you.”

He looks away. “That’s not the worst idea in the world.”

He can’t see her through the sunlight, but he can see her figure, rigid in the chair.  “I couldn’t do it,” Charissa says. “I could never do that. I can’t be without you. Not ever. But I thought about it, just for a minute. You need to know that. You went behind my back. You conspired behind my back. You and Aurelian and my Moors and Brennan de Colforth. You went behind my back.”

“I couldn’t let you go alone. I couldn’t let you go with Eastmarch.”

“I was going to kill him. All he had to do was fight Morgan.”

It comes out in a rush. “The whole idea, the idea of the duel, that was just all so stupid. Even if Eastmarch had won, they’d have killed you. How could they not? Who hands over a crown because somebody loses a duel?”

She’s quiet for a moment.  “You’re a horse archer. You’re not a swordsman. But you decided to fight Alaric Morgan.”

“Why not? Win or lose, Aurelian had his orders: kill everything that moved that wasn’t in your colours or mine. Win or lose, you know? I’d leave you that much— buy you time to be queen. Buy you time to marry somebody for an alliance.”

“You’re not dead. I’m queen and you’re not dead. I’m not letting you go anywhere.” 

Christian lifts his left arm. Pain snaps along his side, hipbone to ribs to shoulder. “You’re queen now. You need allies. You don’t need—“

“Go ahead,” she says. “Finish saying it. Say that I don’t need you. Just think about how much it’s going to hurt when I come over there and hit you.”

He can’t meet her eyes.  “Where’s Aurelian?”

“Valoret, I think.” She tilts her head to look at him. Charissa pulls her gloves off and tosses them onto the table. “Lots of Haldane lords ran north. Lots of churchmen, too. Aurelian went after them. It sounds like he outrode them. Got to Valoret before they could shut the gates or put up a defense. My intelligencers say there was a bloodbath in the city. All along the roads, too. He’s busy putting heads on spikes.”

“He’s thorough. He’s always thorough.”

“Master Aurelian has a reputation here, too. When you can walk, we’ll go up on the walls and I’ll show you what’s left of Rhemuth. Was that your idea or his, setting fires?”

“You needed a distraction. Something to keep the Haldanes from trying to get soldiers to the cathedral. I told him to make sure they’d be too busy to interfere.”

Charissa unfolds herself out of the chair in a rush of long legs. She looks out the window.

“He set the city granary towers on fire,” she says. “They say it was beautiful— like clouds of fire coming up.  All that burning chaff drifting over the city like a fog. Maybe the wind changed, maybe he likes seeing things burn. Fires went everywhere— all over everything. The warehouses on the riverfront, even some of the ships in the river.  The city burned for days. Maybe a third of it’s gone, maybe more. Maybe half. The first night, you could read outside at midnight by firelight. Hot winds everywhere— all the glass windows in the churches cracked in the heat. Lots of looting, mobs all over. Everything still smells like smoke.”

Christian tries to imagine it, Rhemuth in flames. Towns burning, fortresses burning— he’d seen that in the East and on the Moorish frontier in Bremagne. Never a city, though.  Never anything like Rhemuth. 

Aurelian looking over a map of Rhemuth with him, marking out sites where they’d send fire-raising parties— he remembers Aurelian’s voice, quiet and precise, talking about winds and weather, about how narrow the streets were, about where the cloth merchants had their warehouses.  He thinks about warehouses filled with imported silks all in flames. They’d have burned in a rush of colours, in blues and greens and reds. He can see it in his head, see the colours over the river, see docks collapsing and ships trying to warp out to escape.

Christian closes his eyes. “I told him that if the Haldanes won, if you lost, I wanted them to hurt. I wanted them to taste ashes. He’s always been thorough.”

Charissa reaches down for something on the floor by the chair. “I like that,” she says. “I like it when you’re like that.  I need that part of you.  I need you keeping me queen.”

She turns back to him. She’s holding a heavy flask. “Brought this,” she says. “ Uisce out of the Connait. And now there aren’t any bloody cups.”

He has to grin at that. “Bloody cups,” he echoes. “At least you didn’t say your usual word. You’re a queen now. I’ve heard you swear like a cavalry trooper.”

“I’ve been sleeping with a cavalry captain for a long time,” she says. “Of course I sound like a horse soldier.”

He opens his eyes and sees her next to the bed, sees her looking down at him. His heart freezes.  “Your face—- oh God, what happened to your face?”

She waves her free hand over it. “Somebody threw a knife. Caught me across my nose.  Broke it. Cut me.” She sits on the edge of the bed and bends over him. “Am I all disfigured?”

Christian reaches up with his good hand to touch her cheekbone, touch the end of the scar. His hand shakes. He tries to grin again. “It’s horrible. You’re a monster.”

Her smile is all fine white teeth.  “You’ll just have to put up with it, I expect.” She leans down to kiss him and stops halfway. “Do not— do not —lick the scar.”

It hurts to laugh.  Of course it does. “I’m going to lick the scar.”

“You’re so predictable about some things. Not that I mind.”

Charissa pulls the stopper from the flask and tosses it onto the table. She takes a long drink from the flask.  She’s sitting there, sleeves pushed up,  tracing a finger over the stubble on his jaw. “You’re alive. I let you live and now I have to think about what to do with you.”

“We have to get you allies. We have to fight the Haldanes; we’ll have to fight Wencit, too.”

She hands him the flask. “I think I have plans for you.”

The uisce is amber fire. He can barely breathe. “When I can walk, when I can ride…”

She takes the flask back. “When you can get up,  you can get down on one knee and ask to marry me.”

“You’re a queen now. I’m not—‘’

She sets the flask on his chest. The coverlet pulls taut over the melted wound. “It’s really going to hurt, what I’ll do to you.”

“I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. You’re everything to me. It’s just—“

“Maybe I’ll be the one. Maybe I’ll get down by this bed and be the one who asks.  Maybe I will.” She lifts the flask to drink again. “Besides, I’m used to being on my knees to you. I like it.”

“Quit. You shouldn’t be saying—“.

“Tell me you’re ashamed. Say that and I swear I’ll hit you with this bottle. I’ve been with you half my life. Everything I’ve ever done with you, I’ll own to. I’m proud of it all.”

He puts a hand on her. “You have to think like a queen.”

She leans down to kiss him again. “Right now,” she says, “right now and just for a little while all the rules are suspended. Right now I can do this.” She runs a thumb around his lips. "A káosz minden ajtót kinyit. That’s what they say: Chaos opens all the doors. I can get a priest in here. I think there must be a few locked up someplace in this castle. Maybe even a bishop or two left alive.”

“Think of the  story. The queen in somebody’s bedroom, asking him to marry her.”

“Then you ask. I’m pretty sure I’ll  say yes.”

He pulls her down next to him. His left side aches and it’s hard to use his arm. He looks at her and takes a breath. “Marry me. It’s no more stupid than everything we did at the coronation. Marry me.”

Her kiss tastes of uisce. “I’ve been planning on that since we were fourteen. I didn’t marry a couple of kings so I could get to this with you.  So, anyway— yes. Always yes.”

Her head is on his shoulder. She’s still taller than he is, and he feels the length of her down the bed. “I remember, “ he says, “I remember that I used to sleep with a duchess of Tolan. Now there’s a queen in my bed. I suppose I’m coming up in the world.”

“I’m going to make you earn it.”

It hurts to get an arm round her.  “I went behind your  back, and I’m sorry. But I couldn’t not be the one who fought for you. I’m still going to be the one. Just…you know I’m here forever, right?”

“I know. I’ve always known.” She kisses him. “I suppose we’ll tell Lionel about this. Let him be the one to give the bride away. Get Aurelian back down here to stand with you at the wedding once he’s through cutting off heads. And then we’ll see about Morgan and the Haldane boy. I let you live, you know?  So you do have a lot to do.”
« Last Edit: May 09, 2020, 08:54:56 AM by DoctorM »

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2020, 04:41:39 PM »
This is magnificent!  Please continue on.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Online DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2020, 04:49:32 PM »
Thank you! I will be working on this AU. I enjoy the characters a lot.

Offline DerynifanK

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2020, 08:04:52 PM »
This was fascinating although I have to admit that I prefer KK's version of the result of the coronation confrontation.  Charissa may be Queen, but of what? She appears to be busy destroying the kingdom she wanted to rule. However, I do really like the interaction between Charissa and Christian. Festils and Falkenburgs do not seem to be a good combination, certainly not for Gwynedd.  Will be interested to see where this goes.
"Thanks be to God there are still, as there always have been and always will be, more good men than evil in this world, and their cause will prevail." Brother Cadfael's Penance

Online DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2020, 08:45:29 PM »
I think she wants a kind of revenge against both Gwynedd and Torenth, and that she has a vision of creating something new out of the fragments. We'll see about that.  I hope Charissa and Christian do make a good couple. I think I fell a bit in love with Charissa a thousand years ago when I first read KK. But I do hope to hold your interest.

This was fascinating although I have to admit that I prefer KK's version of the result of the coronation confrontation.  Charissa may be Queen, but of what? She appears to be busy destroying the kingdom she wanted to rule. However, I do really like the interaction between Charissa and Christian. Festils and Falkenburgs do not seem to be a good combination, certainly not for Gwynedd.  Will be interested to see where this goes.

Offline Laurna

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2020, 10:01:47 PM »
Laurna wrote-
I fear I am one with Morgan's way of thinking when it comes to Charissa. She oft Brion, and challenged his son. She is a witch of the worst sort, at least in my book. Nevertheless, I like your Christian. He is loyal and seems a good fellow.  Am I right in guessing that Christian is a descendant of the Falkenburg's from your first story? Interesting if it will lead to a very different out come than what happened 200 years prior.

DoctorM's reply- (not sure how this ended up on the same tab.)

Oh, absolutely a descendant. And both Christian and Charissa (see "Faces and Hands") are very much aware of that.

I do suspect that killing Brion Haldane is something she sees as her duty...and that from the time her father died (I believe she was eleven) she'll have had people reminding her of her father's death and urging her to avenge the family name.

Christian's loyalty to her is absolute. That's always a given.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2020, 12:00:09 PM by Laurna »

Offline revanne

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2020, 10:22:14 AM »
I love this - though I hate to think of what has happened to Rhemuth (and Duncan, what have you done to Duncan?). Looking forward to more of the story.
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Online DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Smoke and Sunlight
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2020, 06:11:49 PM »
Revanne--  I suspect we'll see Rhemuth very soon. Duncan, now... I hadn't thought about him, but...I just might hint that he's alive and well... We'll see. It's springtime here and I'm in a mood to write.


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