King Kelson's Brideby Katherine Kurtz
Speculation runs rampant throughout the kingdom of Gwynedd as to when, and to whom, King Kelson will finally be wed. As a rival monarch takes his/b>
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“Kurtz’s strengths lie in her patient accumulation of telling detail, well-articulated plots, and believable magics. Should bring the fans flocking, and attract newcomers too.”Kirkus Reviews
Speculation runs rampant throughout the kingdom of Gwynedd as to when, and to whom, King Kelson will finally be wed. As a rival monarch takes his rightful place on the throne of a nearby land, it becomes more imperative than ever that Kelson produce a long-awaited heir.
With the mystical Deryni blood flowing through his veins, Kelson can only hope for a woman whose power and conviction are equal to his own. Love is set aside for dutyand Kelson the king must make the choice that Kelson the man cannot….
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
“A good choice for most fantasy collections.”Library Journal
“This Deryni yarn should satisfy all the fans the series has accumulated during its thirty-year run.”Booklist
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Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord. -Proverbs 18:22
Marriage was very much on the mind of Kelson of Gwynedd as, later that evening, he paused before the door to the chapel royal at Rhemuth Castle, royally arrayed-though the marriage about to take place within was not any of those the Camberian Council had in mind. At twenty-one, he had been resisting the Council's "guidance" for a full third of his life, and would not have been surprised at the antipathy they held for the woman he shortly would lead before the altar.
Growing impatient, he glanced back at the squire waiting behind him and brushed distractedly at a bothersome wisp of black hair escaping from the queue at his nape, braided and doubled back on itself with a wrapping of gold. He had cause to regret the latter gesture at once, for the glint of gold on his left hand drew his attention to the narrow band gracing the little finger, next to a signet of his Haldane arms as king-a ring he had given to other brides in other times, one slain and another forever beyond his reach. But he must not let himself think of that; not now.
He straightened and drew a fortifying breath, determined not to let his disquiet show when the bride appeared. Mindful of his rank-and hers-he had arrayed himself in Haldane crimson for the small, almost clandestine ceremony shortly to begin. Though only a plain gold circlet adorned his brow, not the crown of state, the border of his crimson mantle was embellished with the emblems of his House: a favorite pattern of lean, stylized running lions, their legs and tails interlaced inan ancient design, echoing the larger lion rampant guardant worked in gold bullion on the breast of his tunic.
He smoothed the lion absently and drew another deep breath. Waiting beyond the door were a carefully chosen handful of his closest intimates, whose lives had long been intertwined with his: his uncle, his cousins, even the young hostage king, Liam-Lajos, who had endeared himself to the royal family during his four years of squireship under Nigel.
The Deryni Bishop Duncan McLain was also among them, though not as celebrant of the nuptial Mass about to begin-for this marriage would provoke controversy. Presiding instead would be Kelson's personal chaplain of the past year, a young Deryni priest called John Nivard.
Also within was Duncan's son Dhugal, Kelson's blood-brother and perhaps his closest companion. And standing across from Dhugal, her mere presence enough to tear out Kelson's heart, would be the woman who should have been his bride but had sworn never again to wed: Rothana of Nur Hallaj, here to witness for the golden-haired young woman who now shyly set her hand on Kelson's arm.
"Sire?" she whispered.
Nervous as any bridegroom, the king turned to smile down at her as he covered her hand with his, thinking that he had never seen her look so lovely.
"Courage," he murmured. "You are a bride to make any man proud."
She flushed prettily, the high color in her cheeks rivaling the pale pinks and creams of her bridal bouquet and the rose wreath crowning the mane of golden curls. Her gown was of silver samite, befitting a royal princess.
"Sire, you do me far more honor than I deserve," she said. "Not many men would-"
"Not another word," he said, with a shake of his head to silence her protestations. "The altar is prepared, and we have business there, I think. Shall we go in?"
Her color faded, but she nodded, briefly biting at her lower lip before turning her face toward the older woman waiting to open the door before them. The Duchess Meraude, Kelson's aunt, had dressed the bride and brought her to the chapel door, and leaned closer to gently kiss her cheek before opening the door and herself slipping inside to join her husband.
Kelson's appearance in the doorway with the Princess Janniver on his arm elicited a soft murmur of anticipation, quickly stilled, rather than the trumpet fanfare that should have greeted a royal bride. She had opted not even to have the choir Kelson could have summoned with a word, to sing the responses of the entrance antiphon. He could feel her trembling against his arm as Father Nivard began merely reading out the antiphon as the two of them walked down the short aisle.
"Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini."
"Qui fecit caelum et terram," the witnesses responded.
"Domine, exaudi orationem meam."
"Et clamor meus ad te veniat."
Our help is in the name of the Lord ...Who made heaven and earth ...O Lord, hear my prayer ...and let my cry come unto thee....
Kelson kept his gaze averted as they walked, not for the first time regretting the circumstances that required this marriage to be solemnized in private. But it was better than might have befallen the unfortunate Janniver, who had never asked for the fate that befell her en route to another set of nuptials some four years before. Though then betrothed to the King of Llannedd, both he and her own father had utterly rejected her following her violation at the hands of a now-dead Mearan prince.
It was Kelson who had avenged her, and who had found her a sympathetic refuge in the household of his aunt; but it was one of his former squires who had lost his heart to the shy and gentle Janniver, and who now stepped forward almost reverently to take her hand from Kelson's, adoration mingling with awed incredulity at his remarkable good fortune. Not often might a mere knight aspire to the hand of a royal princess.
With a nod and a smile at Sir Jatham Kilshane, Kelson set his hand briefly over their joined ones, then bent to lightly kiss Janniver's cheek before stepping back beside Dhugal. Father Nivard also smiled as he moved forward to greet the couple, inviting them to pray.
"Et cum spiritu tuo."
Only when the prayer was done and Nivard began to speak briefly about the institution of marriage did Kelson dare to lift his gaze to the other woman standing near the altar, now holding Janniver's bridal bouquet-the woman for whom he gladly would have sacrificed almost anything within his power, if only she might consent to the vows Janniver and Jatham shortly would exchange. Rothana of Nur Hallaj: a princess of ancient royal blood, full Deryni, and his match- and soul-mate on every level. Standing there on Janniver's other side, with dark eyes demurely downcast over the bouquet that should have been her own, she was gowned in the simple grey habit worn by the Servants of Saint Camber, whose patronage she had taken up following the birth of her son. Though the Servants were not a true religious order, she had covered the blue-black splendor of her hair beneath a nun-like fall of snowy wimple and veil, perhaps intending to remind him that she considered herself no more obtainable now than she had been when first they met-a vowed novice in the abbey where Janniver had broken her journey to another bridegroom never meant to be.
It so nearly had been otherwise. Herself as drawn to Kelson as he was to her, Rothana had tested the strength of her religious vows and eventually set them aside, intending to marry him, persuaded that her higher vocation lay in becoming his queen-and a queen for the Deryni.
But when faced with Kelson's supposed death, as all the court believed, she had allowed his cousin Conall to persuade her that she now should be his queen, and still a queen for the Deryni, and had married him, borne his son. It mattered not that their brief marriage, of less than a month, had been based on deceptions that had ended with Conall's execution as a traitor, leaving her free to marry again; Rothana had lost faith, and regarded herself now unworthy to be Kelson's queen.
Father Nivard's prenuptial exhortations concluded, and Kelson returned his attention briefly to the rapt bridal couple as Nivard now addressed first the groom, in the formal reiteration of betrothal that preceded the marriage vows.
"Jathamus," he asked, "vis accipere Jannivera hic praesentem in tuam legitimam uxorem juxta ritum sanctae Matris Ecclesiae?"
"Volo," Jatham breathed, his word of assent hardly audible for the joy welling in his eyes.
"Et Jannivera, vis accipere Jathamus hic praesentem in tuam legitimam maritum juxta ritum sanctae Matris Ecclesiae?"
"Volo," she replied, her eyes never leaving Jatham's.
They exchanged vows then, but Kelson hardly heard them. Even with Dhugal at his side, he had never felt so alone, never been more aware that, unless fate took a drastic turn, it was likely that he himself would never experience even a small part of the joy so obviously surrounding the couple before him. But he did his best to mask his own sorrow as the ring was blessed, the nuptial Mass celebrated, the bridal bouquet laid as an offering before the statue of the Queen of Heaven, over at the side of the chapel royal.
Afterward, when Kelson had led the bridal party to his own quarters for an intimate wedding supper, he set himself to play the gracious host as they dined on venison and roast fowl and poached salmon and savory pies. Three of his aunt's ladies-in-waiting had undertaken to provide musical accompaniment for the meal, and their sweet voices mingled with the gentle strains of lute and dulcimer that drifted through the open door to Kelson's bedchamber while the guests washed down their fare with ample portions of fine Vezairi wines brought up from the royal cellars. By the time the debris of the main courses was cleared away and the squires began laying out little cakes and honeyed dates and other dainties, he had let the wine blunt a little of his personal hopelessness.
He was seated directly across from Jatham and Janniver, on one side of a long trestle table laid out in the center of the withdrawing chamber adjacent to his private quarters. Meraude and Nigel flanked the happy couple, with Rory and Payne Haldane and young Liam ranged around the end of the table on Nigel's side, the young Torenthi king looking almost like another Haldane, save for the bronze glints in his clubbed hair. Under the indulgent eye of Rory, recently knighted, both younger boys had been partaking freely of the wine brought up from the royal cellars, and had elicited more than one raised eyebrow from Nigel.
A smothered snicker from Payne earned the pair a raised eyebrow from Kelson as well, but he made himself smile as he pushed back his chair and got to his feet, taking up his goblet. At least this part of his hosting duty would be a pleasure. Dhugal sat at his left hand, across from Duchess Meraude, with Duncan beyond him-and then Rothana, safely between him and Father Nivard. It was Meraude who had persuaded Rothana not to forego the wedding supper, since she was as close to family as the Princess Janniver could claim, on what should have been an occasion for family rejoicing on both sides.
Kelson cast a furtive glance in her direction as conversation gradually died away and all eyes turned in his direction, his thumb unconsciously worrying at the ring on his little finger-the ring she had cast into the moat before her marriage to another, believing him dead-recovered that next summer, through no little exertion of the powers of several of his Deryni associates. He knew she would not long linger, once the formalities of the meal had been concluded. Knowing his own sorrow, he knew hers hardly could be less.
"My friends," he said, putting aside the sorrow as he scanned the smiling faces upturned toward him, "it is now my happy privilege to offer a toast to Sir Jatham's fair bride. But before I do that," he went on, turning his focus on the pair, "I have something to say to the two of you." He set down his goblet and cast an inquiring glance at Nigel, who nodded minutely.
"My lady Janniver, I should first like to point out that I have given you to a husband I took great pains to bring up properly-which is no mean feat for a king who is hardly a year older than his squire." The droll observation elicited smiles and a few chuckles as Kelson continued. "I can assure you, however, that I regard Sir Jatham Kilshane as a credit to my court and to whatever bride he might have chosen. Little did I realize that he would choose a royal princess-though every bride is a princess on her wedding day."
Janniver blushed, Jatham ducked his head sheepishly, and gentle laughter rippled among the wedding guests.
"This leaves us, however, with an interesting point of protocol," Kelson went on. "It is long-established custom that a bride takes the rank of her new husband on her wedding day, no matter how exalted her birth-which means that you, my dear princess, rank now as the wife of a simple knight."
Before she could make indignant protest, a smiling Kelson held up a hand and shook his head. "Now, I know you'll say it doesn't matter, and I have the distinct impression that the two of you would be quite content to live together in a humble cottage somewhere in the woods," he continued, "but even for a simple knight and his lady, that's hardly suitable. Furthermore, it would require your departure from court, which is not a prospect I relish. Not only would I miss Jatham's useful counsel, but I would lose one of Rhemuth's loveliest adornments. I have, therefore, decided to remedy the situation in my own way."
He glanced again at Nigel, who had reached behind him to retrieve a rolled scroll adorned with pendant seals along its edge, which item he passed across to the king. Kelson did not unroll it; merely held it out to Jatham, who rose uncertainly to receive it.
"You don't need to read it now," he said, at Jatham's look of bewilderment. "I'm sure you see enough royal writs in my chancery that you don't need to read one on your wedding night." He favored Janniver with a fond smile before continuing.
"Suffice it to say that, with the consent and enthusiastic approval of the Duke of Cassan"-he gestured toward Dhugal, who bowed in his chair-"I have this day revived the ancient barony of Kilshane, in the earldom of Kierney, and have created you Baron of Kilshane." He ignored Jatham's look of astonishment and Janniver's little gasp of surprise. "This comes with a grant of the castle of Kilshane and all the rents and incomes thereunto appertaining. After all, you now have a baroness to support-though I'll still expect the pair of you to spend a reasonable amount of time at court each year. I would have made you an earl, Jatham-and I do hope to revive the old Kilshane earldom, which has long been extinct-but Nigel pointed out that it might be more appropriate to let you prove yourself as baron first."
Delighted laughter greeted this remark, along with a general pounding of hands on table in approval. A teary-eyed Janniver had risen to clasp her new husband's arm in adoring affirmation, and Jatham turned the scroll in his hands as if unable to believe what had just happened.
"No, not another word. The title is yours-my wedding gift to the pair of you. We'll confirm it in open court in the morning-or maybe in the afternoon, depending on what time you two decide to emerge from the bridal chamber," he added with a wink. "You needn't worry about the details. Your new overlord will organize what needs to be done."
"I will, indeed," Dhugal agreed, clearly delighted to be sharing in the king's largesse.
"I-Sire, we thank you most humbly," was all Jatham could manage to murmur, as the two of them sat down, exchanging still-disbelieving glances.
"You're both very welcome," Kelson said, feeling pleased with himself as he took up his goblet again. "Given what's just been done, then, I ask everyone to be upstanding for a toast to the bride's health." He paused as all of them rose in a scraping of chairs on stone, except for Janniver, who was dabbing at her eyes with the edge of a sleeve.
"I give you the bride: the new Baroness of Kilshane. May her life with her bold new baron be long and happy and fruitful." He lifted his cup. "To the bride!"
"The bride!" the others chorused, also raising their cups in salute before draining them.
When the toast had been drunk-and another to the king, offered by the now-recovering Baron Jatham-the guests settled back to nibble on the sweetmeats and candied fruits, while the bride fed the groom bits of honeyed cake and the wine continued to flow. Almost immediately, Kelson withdrew to his private chamber, dismissing the musicians with his thanks and a purse of silver and sending a page to request Rothana's attendance before she could depart. She came; but she clearly was uneasy to have been summoned away from the others.
"Thank you for coming," he said, when she had given him a formal curtsy and the page had left them-and before she could speak. "I wished to advise you, before I left for Torenth, that construction is nearly completed on the chapel to be reinstated for Saint Camber. I believe Duncan has been in communication with you, regarding its consecration. I look forward to the presence of the Servants of Saint Camber on that historic day."
She averted her eyes and sighed. "My lord, I have told you that I would be there on that day. But you must not continue contriving these meetings in private, which but cause us both pain. I have told you I will not marry again."
"And I must believe you," he said quietly. "I suppose that, in time, I must accept it, too." He sighed and dropped his gaze, unable to bear the sight of her with the candlelight gilding her cheek. "I cannot promise that my heart will ever accept it, though. How can you ask me to break the bond we have shared?"
"It must be broken, Sire," she whispered. "And you must forge a like bond with another, for the sake of your kingdom. The faith of your queen must never waver."
"The queen I would wed never broke faith with my kingdom, even when she thought its king had perished!" Kelson replied, looking up at her. "Can you not see that?"
She paled in the candlelight, her dark eyes like twin caverns burned in the pale mask of her face. "I see only that the one you would have made your queen lost faith in you," she said miserably. "You deserve better! Gwynedd deserves better!"
He closed his eyes and turned his face away, head drooping onto his chest as the breath caught in his throat. Only after a long moment did he find his voice.
"We must agree to disagree on this point," he finally said, bracing his shoulders again.
"Yes," she managed to answer. "We agree on that."
"Thank you." He swallowed painfully. "There is-another matter I would discuss with you. In this, perhaps you will permit your heart to soften. It concerns your son-who might have been our son."
She stiffened. "Sire, my heart is resolved in that regard as well. Albin is promised to the Church."
"Rothana, he is a Haldane prince. If that is his choice, if it is God's choice, then so be it-Haldanes have served thus before. But do not presume to make that choice for him!"
"It is the best choice," she said, "and better that, than that he should someday challenge your own line. And do not remind me that holy orders give no guarantee against the lure of secular pretensions-well do I remember the fate of the Mearan prince-bishop!"
So did Kelson. It was he who had been obliged to order Judhael's execution.
"Rothana," he said, "until I wed and sire heirs of my own body, Prince Albin Haldane is still my next kin after Nigel, no matter what you do. No cloister wall can alter that."
"And if you were to have no sons," she said, "I should be well enough content that he succeed you and Nigel. But you must have sons. And what I fear is that my Albin should someday be turned against those sons-sons by a proper queen...."
She turned her head away on a sob, and Kelson bowed his head again.
A proper queen ...She was his proper queen! He could not tell her how he had watched her that afternoon from a window that overlooked the castle gardens, as she and Janniver gathered flowers for the bridal bouquet, the two-year-old Albin trundling happily behind them with a wicker basket to carry the blooms-the very model of a Haldane prince, with his fair skin and pale eyes and shock of night-black hair. Whenever he saw the boy, Kelson found it all too easy to wish and even to pretend that Albin surely must be his own son, not the traitorous Conall's.
But by now he had heard the same arguments often enough from Rothana to know she was firm in her plans both for herself and for Albin; and with a sickly, sinking feeling, he feared he was starting to accept them.
"It-seems, then," he heard himself saying, as if from very far away, "that I must start thinking seriously about a- proper queen."
Her strangled little gasp told of the pain that statement cost her, as well as himself.
"I am-pleased to hear you say that, my lord," she said, her voice steadying after the first few words. "To say that I do not love you would be a lie-and you would know it-but we must, both of us, get on with our lives. I have made arrangements for my future, and for Albin's, and I-have made certain inquiries concerning your own. If-If you will hear me, I-believe I may have found you the queen you require."
"You have found-"
Shocked and stunned, he turned away from her, unseeing, not in rejection of her offer-for it bespoke a love beyond mere human yearning-but in dull recognition that what remained of their relationship was about to move beyond any hope of reconciliation. And there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
"Can there be no hope at all for us?" he whispered.
"None." Her voice was stark, strained. "But there must be hope for Gwynedd-and for that, you must have sons. If-If you will give her even half a chance, I think that the bride I would propose will please you."
"I am all too well aware of my duty to provide Gwynedd with sons," he said. "As for pleasure-"
He shook his head dismally, unable to go on, and flinched as she laid her hand gently on his forearm.
"My dearest lord, you have so much love to give," she murmured. "Whatever queen you take, you must share at least a portion of that love with her-for your own dear sake, as well as that of Gwynedd, and the princes you will sire, and the woman who will bear them. To do less would be to vow falsely before God's altar-and the King of Gwynedd that I know would never break his holy oath. Besides"-she released him and turned nervously aside-"the bride I have in mind is already known to you. You got on very well when you were children."
He blinked at her in mute astonishment. Then:
"You're speaking of someone I already know?"
"Well, of course. I would not see you wed a total stranger." She eyed him cautiously. "Kelson, I have not been idle while you have been pining, these past three years. After Albin was born, I took him to Nur Hallaj, so that my parents might meet their new grandson-for he is that, whatever else he may become. I returned by way of the Ile d'Orsal, for the Orsal's line are distant kin to my family. It was that summer that Gwynedd's envoys first approached your great- aunt Sivorn regarding marriage between your cousin Richelle and Brecon Ramsay."
"If you're thinking of Brecon's sister, Noelie, I only met her last summer, when she came to Rhemuth for her brother's betrothal-though my council would certainly approve of the match-as would her mother!"
"And being vexed with the pressures being brought to bear by both the mother and your council," Rothana said with faint amusement, "no doubt you failed to mark the Lady Noelie's interest in a different Haldane prince besides yourself."
"Kelson, Kelson, it is Rory she should wed, not you," she replied. "They were most discreet, but their mutual attraction did not go unnoticed by my uncle Azim, who has served as my good agent in searching out a bride for you. Oh, both will marry where required, for they are bred to duty, as we all have been-but think on it: a marriage between Rory and Noelie would further bind Mearan loyalty to Gwynedd, just as your council desires, with Haldane heirs to succeed them. And in the meantime, you could have an ongoing Haldane presence in Meara, for Rory might live there, where you could not."
"Rory and Noelie," Kelson repeated dazedly. "But it ...does make sense-especially if, as you say, there's an affinity already...."
She glanced at her hands, twining her fingers to stop their fidgeting. "It is a great blessing when needs of the state can be made to match desires of the heart," she murmured.
Her declaration immediately brought Kelson back to the original direction of their conversation, reluctant though he was to take it up again.
"You-said that I already know the woman you have in mind for me," he said quietly. He could not bear to ask the question that naturally followed on that statement, but at his hesitation, she smiled and sadly shook her head.
"My dearest prince, we must go on," she whispered. "Tell me truly, did you pay no mind at all to Richelle's sister?"
"Araxie? You mean my cousin? But she's all but betrothed to Cuan of ...Howicce." His voice trailed off as Rothana slowly shook her head. "She isn't?"
"A smoke screen, my lord. Oh, marriage certainly has been discussed at length-but not between the two of them. They regard one another as brother and sister."
"But-that isn't possible. All the court gossip-"
"-is precisely that, with as little substance as usually pertains to gossip. In fact, Cuan wishes to wed his cousin Gwenlian."
"Gwenlian?! But her brother hates Cuan! He'd never allow it."
"Indeed," Rothana replied. "Hence, the need for misdirection, in which Araxie has been only too happy to conspire."
Through his own stunned consternation-for his own cousin had never even crossed his mind as a possible royal bride- Kelson felt an accompanying tug of sympathy for Gwenlian, whose brother was the very same King Colman who once had been affianced to the Princess Janniver. But he was only vaguely listening as Rothana launched upon a clipped prŽcis of the convoluted succession laws operant in the United Kingdoms of Howicce and Llannedd, whereby the present heirs of Colman- still unmarried, after his broken betrothal to Janniver-were his sister Gwenlian in Llannedd, but their cousin Cuan in Howicce, since women could not reign in that land.
Araxie. His cousin Araxie. The notion was so unexpected that he could not, for the life of him, conjure up more than a vague recollection of what she even looked like, grown to womanhood, though he knew he must have seen her with Richelle the previous summer. Presentable enough, he supposed, for he would have noticed if she were not, but quiet and unpresuming in the shadow of her vivacious elder sister, who favored her Haldane blood and, as the prospective bride of Meara, had been the focus of the family's visit.
More vivid were childhood memories of a laughing, snub-nosed little girl with knobby knees and freckles and flaxen braids, who had romped with him and her sister and Conall in the royal gardens, and fled squealing and giggling with Richelle when he and Conall decided it would be good sport to tease and chase the girls.
"The thought that Cuan should inherit even Howicce is abhorrent to Colman," Rothana went on, "but the only way he can prevent that is by producing a male heir of his own, who would then take precedence over even Gwenlian and inherit both crowns. Of course, he must make a suitable marriage first-which is proving difficult, since no decent house will entertain his suit after his shabby treatment of Janniver."
This last declaration was delivered with some satisfaction, for Rothana was a staunch partisan of the wronged Janniver, even though the marriage just celebrated was a happy resolution to the princess's ill fortune.
"Meanwhile, did he know of it, Colman would do his utmost to prevent a marriage that would eventually allow Cuan to sit on both thrones," she concluded. "Did he even suspect, he would lock up Gwenlian, or worse. Hence, the illusion that an understanding exists between Cuan and Araxie."
"Then, she is not contemplating marriage with Cuan," Kelson said, after a beat.
"No, she is not. Nor with any of the other suitors who have, from time to time, sought her hand. Think of it, my lord: She is a Haldane, your distant cousin, so no one could take political exception to such a marriage-and there is Deryni blood through her mother's line. It may even be that she carries some form of the Haldane potential you possess."
Kelson thrust his hands through his belt and began pacing restlessly before the fireplace, hardly daring to look at her. In truth, not even his council had ever suggested his younger Haldane cousin as a potential bride, believing her already matched with Cuan. Nor had he paid her much note on that visit last summer, being focused on the Mearan match. Now he was beginning to recall brief glimpses of a tallish, fair, vaguely attractive girl who looked a lot like his Aunt Sivorn.
"My cousin Araxie," he finally murmured, feeling disloyal already. "I ...suppose she is grown by now," he ended lamely.
Rothana cast her glance heavenward with an exasperated sigh. "Men pay so little attention. Sometimes I truly do despair. Of course she's grown. She's nearly nineteen." Kelson cleared his throat, trying unsuccessfully to merge the blond imp of childhood memory with an imagined Araxie now become a woman, wearing the crown of Gwynedd's queen consort.
"Rothana, I can't do this," he said. "I confess that you've presented very sound arguments, but I-I really do hardly know her."
"You knew her as a child," Rothana replied. "You know her better than any of the other candidates your council has been pushing in your direction for the past five years. And you certainly know her better than you knew Sidana, before you married her."
Kelson flinched at this reminder of his slain bride, his hand closing unconsciously on the ring he had given to her and Rothana.
"It would still be a marriage of state," he said woodenly. "Besides, what makes you think Araxie would have me?"
"Because I have asked her," Rothana replied, only blinking at his look of startled panic. "Be assured, it was not a sudden whim-either the asking or her acceptance. But she has indicated her willingness, if you consent."
He was staring at her speechlessly, stupidly, unable to believe she had taken this upon herself.
"She is fond of you, Kelson-or at least of the boy you were," Rothana said softly. "I cannot think she will be any less fond of Kelson the man. You both could do far worse. She is intelligent, well-read, attractive-and a Haldane with Deryni blood, though not so much as yourself. But she has some ability emerging-and shields. My uncle Azim has been giving her instruction for some time."
Kelson hung his head, fighting the lump in his throat.
"You seem to have my future all planned out," he said bitterly.
"It is a future, for you and for Gwynedd," she ventured.
"For Gwynedd, at least."
"For Gwynedd and for Araxie and for you, if you will have it so," she amended. "And for children of your union. Without them, I cannot speak for the future of Gwynedd."
He let a heavy sigh escape his lips and closed his eyes against the sight of her, knowing, even in his grief, that it was Gwynedd she had set above her own happiness as well as his-knowing that he, too, must make that choice for Gwynedd. As the silence between them deepened, she dared to touch a hesitant hand to his sleeve, recoiling when he drew back as if stung, looking up, all his thwarted longing writ across his face for her to see.
"Please, my lord, do not make this more difficult than it must be," she pleaded, her voice barely a whisper. "Will you consider it?"
His heart shrank from it, every fiber of his being begged him to gainsay her; but a cool thread of logic and duty tugged at his will, bending him to hers.
"If-that is what you wish," he said dully, after a moment.
"I do wish it," she said very softly, blinking back tears as she drew herself up bravely, head high. "I am-told that you will be calling in at the Ile d'Orsal, en route to Beldour with Liam of Torenth," she went on. "She is there at the Orsal's court now, helping her sister prepare for the Mearan marriage. Azim is there as well, for he is to represent my father at the investiture in Torenth. You have to but request it of him, and Azim will arrange a private meeting with your cousin."
"Is it your intention that I should propose marriage at that time?" Kelson said, turning his face away from her.
"The opportunity is timely," she replied, "and you cannot afford any long delay. The ministers of Liam-Lajos will not delay to see him wed, as soon as he is back among his own people. The getting of heirs will be a high priority for him, and so it also must become a high priority for you."
"Rothana, please don't make me do this-"
But she only shook her head, closing her eyes to his entreaties. "You must wed, my love, and I cannot marry you," she whispered. "At least marry the woman I have chosen for you. She will make you and Gwynedd a wise and worthy queen."
What People are saying about this
“A good choice for most fantasy collections.”Library Journal
“This Deryni yarn should satisfy all the fans the series has accumulated during its thirty-year run.”Booklist
Meet the Author
Katherine Kurtz has been writing fantasy for well over twenty-five years. She is married and lives in a renovated castle in the south of Ireland.
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