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The Least of These--Part Two

Started by Evie, March 31, 2011, 09:15:24 AM

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   Part Two

   June 24, 918—Midsummer Day
   Ivygreen House, Stavenham

   "Happy eighteenth birthday, darling!"  Mama beamed at Rose as she laid a cloth-wrapped bundle before her.  Rose's eyes lit up at the sight of the forest green package; she had been admiring that fabric at Stavenham Market just a fortnight earlier, thinking it would make a lovely overdress for the cooler months.  I had shown it to Mama later, figuring if she'd need to wrap Rose's actual present in something, it might as well be something Rose would gladly make full use of.

   "Do open it, Rose; there's more there than just the green wool," Mama advised.  Pippa leaned forward eagerly, wanting to see what lay within the folds of fabric.  Rose carefully untied the woven trim that bound the bundle together, rolling it up neatly for use later, and unfolding the green wool.  Nestled within was an undergown of fine silk damask in a paler shade of green, folded neatly alongside a chemise of fine cambric, stitched at sleeves and hem with fine embroideries.  And within all of these lay a small Book of Hours.  I had been with Papa when he'd commissioned it in the springtime of the previous year.

   "Oh, Mama, there's so much!" Rose exclaimed, overwhelmed by the small bounty which lay in front of her.  She lifted the chemise to have a closer look at the fine stitchery ornamenting it.

   "Well, I shan't have my firstborn around to spoil for much longer, shall I?  Soon you'll be married, with a husband and home of your own and, God willing, your own babes to spoil in just a few years."  Mama patted Rose's hand.  A slight shadow flitted across Rose's features for a moment, but she smiled bravely to dispel it.  

   "Yes, I suppose I shall," she allowed, folding the cambric chemise carefully and laying it back on the table.  I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for her.  Rose would not be marrying her childhood sweetheart Jamie after all, despite her hopes and pleas; Papa had accepted another offer for her hand instead, and had made the announcement to the family at the beginning of the month.  Rose had been tearful and mutinous at first, but Papa had refused to budge, so after a short time her anger had turned to resigned acceptance.  At least she would not be marrying a complete stranger, nor would she be forced to leave all she knew to follow a husband to some more distant town.  No, Cousin Rory would serve well enough, if she must wed someone other than the man she'd hoped to have.  He was our mother's cousin—a Montrose rather than a McTavish—and had always been most kind and attentive during his occasional visits to our home, bringing sweetmeats and small gifts he had pick up from distant ports during his frequent travels, for Rory Montrose, like our Papa, was a merchant whose small fleet of ships carried our Kheldish woolen goods to the northern ports of Torenth and the Norselands, bringing back Norselander furs and Torenthi wine, silks and spices.  Rose had always liked him well enough, although he did not stir her heart as Jamie had.   

   Pippa gave Rose the veil that Mama had helped her cut from fine linen, and which she had carefully hemmed and embroidered with the stitches Mama had taught her over the winter months, which Rose studied admiringly with many words of praise and encouragement for our little sister, and then it was my turn.  I shyly handed her the book that Papa had given me the parchment to write, and had taken to the bookbinder a fortnight before so that the gift could be ready to present to Rose this morning.  It was a small collection of stories I had dreamed up to while away the long evenings, set down in ink and illuminated to the best of my abilities, which were—alas—quite modest.  Rose proclaimed herself quite pleased by my efforts, though, so I was well content.

   Mama handed my sister a small velvet pouch.  "Rory wished you to have this.  It was his mother's."

   Rose took the gift, dutifully opening it to pull out a folded note and a string of coral prayer beads ornamented with a cloisonné medallion of the Holy Virgin, the iconography inlaid in the Torenthi style.    With a wan smile, she read the note aloud to us.  "I regret that I am unable to spend your natal day with you this year, though I look forward to spending many more such celebrations with you in future.  I should be back in Stavenham within the month, and look forward to seeing you then.  With fond affection, Rory."  Her fingers trembled slightly as she poured the loop of beads back into the pouch, handing it back to Mama.  "They're lovely, Mama.  Perhaps you should store them in your lockbox for safekeeping?"

   "I could, but don't you wish to wear them on your belt?"  Mama's warm brown eyes looked disappointed.

   Rose shook her head.  "They're far too dear to wear around the house; I'd be afraid I'd break or lose them.  Perhaps I'll wear them to next Sunday's Mass, though; they are quite nice, and Cousin Rory was very kind to send them."
   Mama sighed softly, knowing the true reason for Rose's reluctance to wear Rory's gift, though she said nothing further.


   Afterwards, we were excused from the table to pursue our own entertainments, Mama having released us from our usual duties and studies for the day in celebration of Rose's birthday, though we were expected back before sunset, for no well brought up maiden would dream of venturing forth after nightfall without a parent's or chaperone's company.  Indeed, even with such company, it was rare we ventured out at night at all, for it was safer to travel through the streets of Stavenham during daylight hours, and most shops closed at sunset anyhow.  Occasionally we might wish to attend a mystery play or watch a troupe of traveling acrobats or a jongleur in the market square, but again, such delights were normally attended during the daylight hours, so there was little reason to chafe over an early curfew.  What would three young maidens do in Stavenham at night, at any rate?  There was little else to do at those hours besides play gambling games and overindulge in strong drink at some tavern, which—even if we'd been inclined to destroy our reputations as well-bred young women by indulging in such pursuits—Papa would certainly not have allowed us to do, for fear we'd ruin our chances at marrying well, if at all!

   "Would you come with me to the shrine?" Rose whispered to me as Pippa took her leave of us to run outside and play with her friends.  

   "Right gladly," I told her, "though if you're planning to plead your case before Saint Catulina again, I'm afraid it's hopeless.  I fear she may be taking Papa's part in the argument.  Perhaps, if it's Jamie you're still hoping for, you'd best take your petition to Saint Camber instead."

   "Shh," Rose cautioned, looking hastily about to make sure no one had overheard.  "He's been declared a heretic now, you know," she added in a voice so low I could barely hear her. "If the wrong person should overhear you, they could report you, and you might end up getting flogged."  We walked around to the courtyard gate, entering the back garden.  "Though look at what Jamie gave me for my birthday."  She reached into the neck of her gown, pulling out a small medallion.  I peered more closely at the tiny oval glinting in the summer sunlight, examining the likeness upon it and the lettering inscribed around the edge.

   "Jesú, sister, don't let anyone see you wearing that!"

   "Oh, I shan't," Rose said, tucking the medallion of Saint Camber securely away within her bodice.  "I shall keep it well hidden.  Not even Rory shall know I have it.  Oh, why did he have to offer for me?"

   "He's always liked you best," I reminded her.  "It's hardly a surprise he should ask Papa for you, now that you're of an age to wed."

   "Oh, I know.  I like him well enough too, but I don't love him."

   "You could learn to, though."

   Rose looked unconvinced.  "Mayhap.  But it's still not too late to pray for some way out of the match."  She stopped at the doorway to the new grotto, admiring the structure.  "Papa's laborers did a fine job of it, didn't they?  I do wish I could convince him that Jamie would suit as a husband.  After all, Papa has no sons now, since our brother died three years ago.  If Jamie were to wed me, he could be trained to help manage Papa's ventures, and would be in a good place to inherit them once Papa is gone."

   "Deryni aren't permitted to own land anymore; you know that," I reminded her.  "Jamie's only still got a roof over his head because his father is human."

   "So let me inherit the land, and Jamie could inherit the business.  There has to be some way, Elena!"

   I shook my head. "I doubt it would be as simple as all that.  Besides, what if your children end up being Deryni?"

   Rose's eyes welled up with tears.  "If we all lived as humans, and Jamie left off using his powers, who would ever know?  Oh, why must you spoil everything, Elena!"

   I looked away glumly, ashamed of myself for having upset her, and on her birthday of all days.  "I'm sorry, sister.  I'm just trying to be the realist here.  But who knows, miracles might still happen.  I do wish you happy, though, no matter what you might think."

   "Then pray with me anyway?"

   I nodded.  We entered the grotto, each of us lighting a candle before kneeling reverently before the small shrine to Saint Catulina.  Rose's lips moved in fervent silent prayer, doubtless petitioning the saint to intercede for her so that she could wed her beloved Jamie.  After a moment, I closed my eyes and added my own petitions.

   We had just finished our devotions and stood when a quiet sound startled us.  I suppressed the urge to leap back as Papa appeared before us, seemingly through the rear wall of the grotto.  A moment later, another man miraculously appeared—the Deryni laborer, Master Rylan.  They looked as surprised to see us there as we were to see them, Papa crossing himself hastily as if we'd given him a great fright.

   Master Rylan arched his brow at Papa, a wry smile crossing his face.  "Well, I suppose that answers the question of how soon you should tell your daughters about our latest project."


   "Do not tell Pippa about this," Papa cautioned us.  "She hasn't learned enough discretion yet to be trusted with the secret."

   "We won't," I assured him, glancing back and forth between him and Master Rylan, whose faint smile betrayed no hint of the mystery the two were about to disclose.

   "I'll keep an eye on the garden," Master Rylan offered, stepping forward to stand next to the grotto's entrance.  I stepped closer to Papa, feeling a bit self-conscious about the Deryni man's unexpected proximity to me.  The first time I had seen him, I had assumed him to be older than Papa, but now that the sunlight from the garden highlighted him, I realized that what I had taken to be dull graying hair on that first meeting had been nothing more than rock dust covering the natural color and shine of dark brown hair.  Construction on the grotto's stonework had long since ended, though, and now I could see that the Deryni was younger than I'd first thought.   No mere youth, of course—not if he was a fully trained Deryni Healer—but hardly Papa's age either.

   "All right, then."  Papa beckoned to me and Rose, appearing nervous.  "This way, girls."

   We both stared at him, for 'this way' looked to lead straight to the cavern wall, but Rose eventually took a tentative step forward.  I followed her lead, staring in disbelief as Papa took Rose's hand and—as far as I could tell, at least—brought her straight through the wall.  They vanished from my sight briefly, then Papa returned alone, reaching for my hand.  I took his, feeling his strong fingers clasp my trembling ones, and then he led me through the wall as well.

   Although as I passed through it, I realized it wasn't a wall, or at least, it wasn't a solid wall as it had appeared to be.  Certainly there was some sort of barrier there, for I felt a tingling of energies and a slight resistance as I passed through the space where I had expected a wall to be, but the barrier let me through it nonetheless.  As I stepped through, I found myself in a small chamber, several yards long from side to side, yet no more than three feet separated the barrier I had just come through and another wall in front of us, one which looked to be made of solid stonework.  I reached out and felt it.  Yes, this part of the second wall was just as solid as it appeared to be.  

   I glanced at Rose, who stood next to a small table on which a lamp sat, the sole illumination in this hidden corridor.  Her eyes were huge in her face.  I imagined mine must have been as well.

   "What is this place, Papa?" Rose asked, "and how were we able to walk through the grotto wall?"

   Papa turned to face us both, his eyes solemn.  "This is a hiding place, a secret sanctuary for Deryni who need a refuge until they can escape Stavenham.  It is becoming too risky for them to remain here any longer, now that the Custodes Fidei are actively seeking out even those Deryni who have given up the use of their powers.  I've been able to get a few out of the Kingdom on my ships, though more show up in the port every week, seeking work, seeking shelter, and most of all, seeking to avoid the notice of the Custodes.  Two weeks ago, I had my workmen seal off one end of our warehouse that abuts the garden wall to create this hidden chamber.   It's narrow because we couldn't afford to make the inside of the warehouse look noticeably shorter than the outside, but several people can conceal themselves in here if they have to until we can get them onto the next of my ships to leave port, or until they decide to escape Stavenham some other way.  It's cramped quarters, but better than a prison cell or, worse, death at the stake."

   "But...isn't it dangerous to help them, Papa?" Rose said, looking frightened.  "Surely, if they're running away from the authorities, they must have committed some crime!  It's no crime to simply be Deryni, is it, Papa, if one doesn't use magic?  It's only their magic that's been declared anathema, I thought...."  I wondered if this was the first time she'd ever fully realized what peril her beloved Jamie was in simply for being what he was.

   Papa shook his head.  "No, my darling.  That might officially be the case still, but more often than not now, Deryni are being denounced and falsely charged with all manner of crimes in order to provide an excuse to defraud them, or even to execute them, for no reason other than hatred and fear of their kind.  Which is why you must keep this chamber in the strictest confidence, not breathing a word about it to anyone, not even your mother.  She is aware it exists, but I have not told her where to find it, for her own safety.  I wouldn't have told you, except that you happened upon my secret, and besides that...."  He gave a wan smile.  "Well, it's best that someone besides me should know of it.  Master Rylan knows, of course, and the few Deryni workmen he enlisted to help build it, but they will all be on their way to safer harbors soon, God willing."

   I felt a small frisson of fear, wondering if Papa feared being caught at his dangerous game of smuggling Deryni passengers or crew out from under the watchful eye of Custodes soldiers, who certainly must be guarding the ports vigilantly if things had gotten as bad as Papa believed they were.  Was that why he wanted to pass on his secret to someone else, so that we could continue his efforts if something were to happen to him?  It was a thought I couldn't bear to think about, so I hastily diverted my thoughts to the other question at hand.  "You said you would explain about the grotto wall."

   "Ah, yes.  That was Master Rylan's doing.  It will let Deryni through and humans of my bloodline alone, but will keep all others out unless a Deryni brings him through it."

   "It's magic, then?"

   Papa studied the wall behind me thoughtfully.  "I don't know if the wall itself is magic, or if the magic lay merely in the making of it. But for all intents and purposes, yes, I suppose it is."

   Rose turned pale, crossing herself.  "Papa, you mustn't get caught!"

   He smiled.  "I intend not to, sweeting.  But you both understand the need for utmost discretion?"

   We both nodded.

Part Three-http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=693.0-
"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!



"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!


Shark infested gravy.  A very brave family in very dangerous times, and definitely in harm's way.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


Gravy???   LOL.  Poor Rose and Jamie.



Custard curdles, gravy gets lumps!  :)

Either way, I don't think this mixture of events looks very promising for the family or for Master Ryan  :(   


The year 918 isn't the best of times to be a Deryni or a Deryni supporter.
"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!


But it does seem to appear that 918 is the year of Gravy.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Quote from: Alkari on March 31, 2011, 03:54:01 PM
Custard curdles, gravy gets lumps!  :)

Not my gravy, it doesn't!  My late mother was a great cook, but even she admitted that I made better gravy than her.  My secret?  I don't use flour, or even cornstarch, to thicken it.  I use tapioca powder.