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Offline DoctorM

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Two Kingdoms: Rings
« on: April 17, 2020, 03:15:16 PM »
Author’s Note: This is the sixth piece of an AU construction 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.  As always, input and comments are very much appreciated.


TWO KINGDOMS: RINGS


A bright, clear, cold morning in early spring at Rhemuth, and Duke Lionel sweeps up the stairs and past the royal guards. The Shadow Queen and her women are in an upper hall, and her chamberlain announces him and bows him in. The Shadow Queen is pacing the center of the hall, looking at gowns mounted on forms. There are dressmakers and seamstresses, too, ranked all along one wall, waiting for the queen’s judgment.

The queen’s women watch him as he comes by. He smiles and nods back. He’s had invitations, more or less obvious, from most of them, both before and after the news that his  own marriage was being disassembled had reached Rhemuth. Well, the last six months have been about headings and hangings, about cutting himself away from his brother-in-law’s plans and policies, about disentangling himself from being marriage kin to Wencit of Torenth. Invitations haven’t been a bad way to get through a season of fire and changing alliances. 

The Shadow Queen looks back at him and stretches out one long, slender hand. “My lord of Arjenol,” she says.

Lionel bows and comes back up. He brings her hand up to be kissed.  He grins at her. “Your Grace,” he says. “Unless you’ve decided to be Your Majesty after all.”

She grins back at him. “Your Grace still works. But I’m always Charissa to you.”

She steps back to him and they embrace. The duke kisses her on each cheek and holds her out at arms’ length. She’s in high-collared grey this morning, blonde hair falling loose halfway down her back. “Well, look at you,” Lionel says. “About to be made an honest woman.”

Charissa makes a face. “I never understood why being married makes you honest,” she says. “Of course, I never understood why chastity had anything to do with being virtuous.”

Lionel shakes his head. “You’re dangerous to be around, Tolan. But I’m glad to be giving the bride away.”

Charissa pulls him around and nods at the gowns. She holds onto his arm and leans her head on his shoulder. “Tell me what you think. There’s one for the ceremony, one for the celebration, one for when I start announcing honours. Help me pick.”

Lionel looks at the gowns. “All very Eastern. Good lines, I think. You’ll look like you’re queen somewhere out east-of-east. They’ll all make you look hellish tall and thin, mind.”

She grins again. “Which Christian likes.  And, you know, I’m an Eastern girl at heart.”

She’s the same height as the duke, and he looks over at her eye to eye. “Well, I’ve heard from Jandrich. About half the Netterhavens are with me. Probably Lorsol, too. Maybe you’ll have allies out east.”

Charissa squeezes his arm. “And how’s your brother-in-law taking it all? About you defying him? About siding with me?”

Lionel shrugs. “Wencit wrote me. About half of it was threatening me with all sorts of horrible deaths, and the other half was about how much of other people’s land he’d give me to stay loyal.”

“And what does your wife say?”

“Morag? She’s written me, too. Mostly telling me what bits of me she’s going to cut off and what animals she’ll feed them to. Demanding that I give her back the children, of course.”

Charissa laughs. “You married Morag and you think I’m the dangerous one.”

“Well, Morag snaps and snarls, but you’re the one who did kill a king.”

Charissa presses her head against the dark silk of his jacket. “WIth my own hand.” She closes and opens one fist in front of herself. “I’m proud of it. Killed the man who cut my father’s head off.“

Lionel looks over at her.  “In case you ever wonder, I was proud of you, too.” He looks at the gowns and gestures. “That one, by the way. The dark green. Wear that at the wedding. Dark red at dinner, and the white when you’re handing out titles.”

“I like the green.  That’ll work for the wedding.  What’s my betrothed doing today? What’s he going to wear?”

Lionel shakes his head. “I’m not ruining any surprises. But probably something martial, something maybe Eastern, maybe something with Moorish hints. He’s with Aurelian. They have old books— court ceremony guides from forever ago. He wants to get this right for you. Aurelian has him practicing.”

Charissa looks back at the gowns. “He’ll do it right. He likes procedure and ritual, Christian does.  What about you, Arjenol? Ready to give me away?”

“You’re the most implausible wedding pair in the last hundred years, but I’m happy for the two of you. You two belong together. Not that your father’s ghost isn’t having a fit somewhere.”

Charissa tightens her grip on his arm. “Marrying Christian? Dear God, no. I was supposed to marry a prince or at least a reigning duke. By the way— it could be you getting married tomorrow. When I was a girl I thought you were the handsomest thing I’d ever seen. I pestered my father to marry me to you.”

“Except that my father already had me set to marry Wencit’s sister.”

“And my father was aiming at marrying me to Beldour royalty.” She laughs. “And then one day when I was thirteen and my father was dead I looked around and saw someone I hadn’t thought about before. And when I did, everything changed.”

“You didn’t marry into Beldour, and I’m glad for that. Killing one king is all any girl should have to do.” He looks back at her women and at the dressmakers ranked along the wall and back at Charissa. “Just because I’ve never asked…it is just one, no? You weren’t behind what happened to Aldred?”

Charissa tilts her head and holds his eye. “That wasn’t me. I knew it was about to happen, but it wasn’t me. If he’d ever touched me, I’d have done it, though. Done it myself if I could. Or if he’d tried to kill Christian.” She jerks her head at her women. “I don’t really care who knows.”

Lionel shakes his head. “Your poor ladies-in-waiting. What they must have to hear.”

She pulls herself closer to his side. “I’m sure they have you at night to help them over the shock.” She reaches up to touch his head “And what in God’s name have you done to your hair?”

The duke shrugs. “Cut the queue off. Tired of it. And I need a new look for a new title.”

Charissa’s voice changes. “You’re going to claim Torenth?”

“Oh God, no. I won’t say my son might not be king one day, but I’m not after Beldour right now. I don’t need to sound over-ambitious. Not when I need allies against Wencit. Not when you and I both need them. But I might not be just duke soon.”

“Meaning?”

Nagyherceg, maybe. Grand Prince. Or Főherceg— Archduke.  I’m damned if I’ll be Wencit’s man any more. New title seems right. And I’m following your lead, girl. Festil d’Arjenol. No more Furstan.”

“I like Archduke. Archidux. I like the way it’ll look in your signature.”

“I like the way Wencit’s face will look.” He points at the gowns. “The dark green for the wedding. That one’s you.”

She sighs. “You’ve been acting as older brother to Christian and me both these last dozen years or so.  You give good advice, Arjenol. I’ll wear the dark green.”


******

The bishop is from Tigre, south and west of Tolan proper. Not, Christian thinks, a bad choice. As little as the Church— East or West —likes the Shadow Queen, bishops from both have been sparring for weeks over pride of place. All about prestige, of course. Tigre’s border country, up on the Rheljan edge near Eastmarch, and the Church there has kept Eastern ritual but still uses Latin.  Christian suspects that the great bishops and abbots on both sides of the Rheljans look at Tigre as vaguely pitiable, a hill country diocese too hapless to be declared schismatic or worth any missionary zeal to either Church.

They’re doing this in a chapel at the castle.  The great cathedral where Charissa fought her way to whatever crown she’s claiming is being saved for her formal coronation.  That’ll be a kind of exorcism, too— driving out the Haldane ghosts, driving out the past and everything she’d had to do to become queen.  He thinks of Charissa holding his hands in hers, her eyes fixed on his. You have to know, she’d said, you have to know what you don’t need to know. Those things will be gone, too.

Christian leans on the cane he’s still using and looks over at Aurelian.  His second-in-command looks back and nods.  Christian has spent the last week being outfitted for this.  Like the morning before a battle, being armed and armoured  before dawn.  Like the morning last November, standing just outside the cathedral doors in leather and mail, with Aurelian twitching his sword belt and collar into proper form: You’re fighting for a queen. You’re the queen’s man. You have to look it.

I’m the queen’s man. Today and forever after.

He’d stood once at fourteen in front of his dead father’s horsemen and tenants and been made Lord Falkenberg of Caer Curyll. In Bremagne at twenty-one he’d stood in front of the king and been made lord of Veira.  Six months ago he’d stood in front of the Haldane court with a Moorish sword in his hand and told them who he was. This was more. Today he’d stand and he’d be the Shadow Queen’s choice. Whatever else he might be, today he was the one Charissa had chosen. He was the one who’d be at her side.

Still with a cane, yes.  When he’s first used it, Charissa had looked at him and the way he handled it and laughed. That’s got a blade in it, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, I’m damned well getting you one.  That’s your look, I think. 

All in midnight blue this morning, silk dark as nights on the steppe, the collar high and stiff and worked with silver, the robe styled as Eastern as anything Charissa favours, midnight blue all edged in black velvet.  Aurelian is beside him all in grey and black, standing as his koumbaros at his side.

She comes down the patterned Komnene carpet with Duke Lionel keeping step at her side. She’s in green dark almost enough to be taken for black. She’s all cheekbones and sapphire eyes above the high, stiff collar.  Blonde hair unbound and uncovered, all set off by the silver witch-light she’s under. She draws up next to him and  lets the aura fade. She looks sidelong at Christian and smiles. Inside the chapel the bishop and his aides and the easterners among the guests are singing the ektenia, the litany of marriage for the couple.

They step off together, Lionel and Aurelian each a half-step behind. At the threshold the bishop waits. He nods to Aurelian, and Aurelian produces the rings in a polished box. The bishop blesses the rings and blesses Aurelian as koumbaros.

The gold ring on the fourth finger of the left hand for each of them, then slid off and handed to Lionel, who slides each ring onto the other’s left hand. The bishop tells them that they’re betrothed in the eyes of the Church, and that they wear each other’s rings: whatever weaknesses each may have, the strengths of the other will fill the gap. The bishop blesses them and beckons them into the chapel.

Inside the chapel are the witnesses. The new Duke of Marley and Eastmarch, of course. Bran Coris is there, though not his wife. Three of Christian’s Gordon cousins, uneasy so far south of the Northarch Gulf.  A lord or two from the Lendours and Rhengarth, brought in to show that at least some of Gwynedd’s nobles had seen the virtues of accepting the new order of things. 

There’s an Arjenol face or two as well— the duke’s reminder that Christian’s mother had been an Arjenol, even if illegitimate. 

Representatives from Kulnán and the Marluk country, too,  lands the queen’s father had held. 

For a royal wedding, it's austere and private. It’ll be the formal coronation when the queen’s intelligencers and Aurelian’s agents will take note of who’s attending and who isn’t.

They move into the center of the chapel and they turn to face one another. Charissa pulls a ring from her right hand and holds it up. She whispers to him over the sound of prayers: This is the one that always matters. It always has. Silver, flecked with tiger’s-eye. Inside the ring is etched Outremer, beyond-the-sea. It’s the ring he’d given her when he was eighteen and taking the Falcon Horse south into the Forcinn, his first time in command on his own, his first time out into the greater world.

She holds her left hand out and Christian takes the gold ring off. Charissa slides the silver one onto her bare finger and Christian slips the gold onto her right hand. He’s worn the twin of the silver ring for these last eight years, and he moves it from his right hand and lets Charissa move the gold ring from left to right. He holds up his left hand with the silver ring.

It’ll always matter, he says. This one, always.

The Tigre bishop is standing there waiting, and Charissa nods. She and Christian join their right hands and the bishop wraps his stole around them. Through a ring was authority given to Joseph in Egypt, he says. Through a ring Daniel was glorified in the land of Babylon; through a ring the true identity of Tamar was discovered; through a ring our Heavenly Father showed mercy on the Prodigal Son; for he said, Put a ring on his finger.

Charissa draws in a breath and holds Christian’s eye. I, Charissa Aymarine Festilliana of the Tolan Festillic,  duchess and queen, marry this man of my own free will. I am not promised to another, nor have I any reservations of mind or spirit.

Christian looks back at her. I, Christian-Richard Evgeni Alexander of House Falkenberg, lord of Caer Curyll, marry this woman of my own free will. I am not promised to another, nor have I any reservations of mind or spirit.

The bishop is still praying: O Lord, join these thy servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh.  Charissa hasn’t moved her gaze.

Behind them, the deacons pass the crowns to Lionel and Aurelian—- flowers white and red, woven through with silvered wire into wreaths. The bishop takes each in turn and holds them over Christian and Charissa, places the wreaths on their heads, and speaks: The servants of God, Charissa Aymarine Festilliana and Christian-Richard Evgeni Alexander, are crowned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The bishop turns to the witnesses and intones:

The servant of God Charissa Aymarine Festilliana is married to the servant of God Christian-Richard Evgeni Alexander in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour.

There’s more— the bishop holding up a common cup for each of them to sip from, the wine rich deep Komnene red, but neither of them hears any of it. They’re led around the chapel in procession, Lionel and Aurelian holding the flower crowns over them.  Bran Coris leads the little group of witnesses in applauding. Even the ones who know nothing about Eastern ritual know enough to applaud when a queen takes a husband.

After the final blessing Charissa turns to him and leans down and takes his face in her hands. It’s a long kiss, with Aurelian and Lionel managing to keep the witnesses off. Charissa’s smile is dazzling. And how’s your day going so far? she asks.

*******

She’s all in white that evening, coming up from dinner with the flower crown still on, coming into a hall filled with anxious nobles waiting for the ceremony they care about. She exchanges the wreath for the refurbished antique crown she’s taken up as her own— the second Festil’s crown, Aurelian had told her once. There’s a trestle table filled with pens and inks and heavy scrolls. Wine out of Arjenol and Fianna all through dinner, but she knows how to do this.  Her guard commander carries in a carefully-polished sword,  and lays it on the table.

Three pounds, Christian had told her. An ordinary longsword only weighs three pounds, You can handle one all night.

Bran Coris first, of course, confirmed as Duke of Marley and Eastmarch, charters signed and sealed giving him all the last Eastmarch’s other lands in northeast Gwynedd, too.  She has to give Coris this much: he knows how to arrange his face. You can see his mind working, adding up revenues and rights, but he manages to look solemn enough. The last Eastmarch could never keep a feral look off his face.

She runs through other grants and honours and awards quickly and efficiently. All good staff work, she thinks— Tolan chancery staff brought south, her own people plus the men Aurelian has been recruiting here in Rhemuth. She’s signing her grants in green ink and letting her signet flash over her name. A handful of earldoms changing hands, a few more new ones created, a clutch of knights and minor lords promoted up to new honours and estates, manors given out to men who’d distinguished themselves in the fighting at Rhemuth or on her new kingdom’s borders against the Haldane boy and Wencit of Torenth both.

There are only two things that matter to her this evening, only two moments that matter.

Marc-Friedrich Aurelian kneels to her and she balances the flat of the sword on his collar and raises one eyebrow. They smile at each other and she taps the flat of the blade on each grey-clad shoulder. He pledges his loyalty and she lifts the sword away. Rise then, she says, Aurelian duke of Carthmoor.

He takes his feet and grins. Of course, there’s already a duke of Carthmoor…

Charissa shrugs and grins back at him. That, she says, would be your problem.

Match Aurelian against Duke Nigel, against the Haldane boy’s uncle. Let’s see who ends up  in Nyford, drinking the good wine. Her money’s on Aurelian.

One thing more to do, and the most important part of the evening, the most important part of more than she can say, here on a day she’s planned for in her head since she was a girl. She thinks about the days in her life that have mattered. There was a day when she was eleven, watching her father die on Brion Haldane’s sword. At fourteen, a bright cool spring day on the Tolan moor, stretched out on a riding blanket with Christian, scrambling to get her boots and hose off while the two of them kissed. A grey, rainy day last autumn, the air sparking with Deryni power, feeling Brion Haldane’s heart in her hands, feeling it stop forever. And a night soon after, Marc Aurelian handing her a crown in a blood-streaked chapel while Rhemuth burned around them.  All those days, and now this.

The sword is in her hands, and she’s looking at the two rings she’s wearing, gold and silver,  rings she’s more proud of tonight than the crown she’s taken. Christian looks up at her, all dark eyes and raven’s-wing hair cropped to a near-spiky brush. She taps him on his shoulders and brings the sword up into salute. Rise then, she says, Christian-Richard de Falkenberg, Prince of Kheldour.

He takes his feet, grimacing as his weight shifts on his left side, She leans to kiss him and takes his hand. She turns to the audience, and makes sure to catch Coris’ eye. This is my prince, she says, and the first nobleman of the kingdom.  Does anyone need to say anything?

Her voice is her Witch Queen’s voice, ice and steel, practiced for years. And no one has anything to say.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2020, 08:56:52 PM by DoctorM »

Offline DerynifanK

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Rings
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2020, 09:44:29 AM »
A masterful scene of the wedding, very well done. I am impressed, especially with the ceremony itself. Although I have to admit I like KK's outcome of the duel in the cathedral better. But this is very well done. It must have taken some research to construct the language and the Eastern ceremony.
"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

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Rings
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2020, 10:36:55 AM »
A masterful scene of the wedding, very well done. I am impressed, especially with the ceremony itself. Although I have to admit I like KK's outcome of the duel in the cathedral better. But this is very well done. It must have taken some research to construct the language and the Eastern ceremony.

I've been at both Russian Orthodox and Uniate ceremonies, and I do like them. 

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Rings
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2020, 02:57:03 PM »
A wonderful scene, masterfully written.  More, please!   ;)
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Offline DoctorM

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Re: Two Kingdoms: Rings
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2020, 03:44:59 PM »
A wonderful scene, masterfully written.  More, please!   ;)

Thank you! I'll definitely be doing more!

 


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