Disclaimer : The Deryniverse and all its characters belong to Ms Katherine Kurtz. Where I have used actual dialogue from her books no breach of copyright is intended – it is just used to tie in to her creations and allow the events to be seen from Richenda's point of view.
All events not in the books Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate and High Deryni are purely speculative and my ideas of how things beyond the books may have occurred.
This fic contains *major* spoilers for the events of Deryni Checkmate and High Deryni.
Barony of Rheljan - March to September 1116
If you had asked me a few years ago what I imagined my husband would be like, my answer wouldn't have been much like the man I actually married.
Bran was handsome all right, and an earl to boot, but he fell short of my ideal man by some distance. He wasn't Deryni, for a start, so I would have to continue hiding my identity, not only from the world outside, but also from my husband.
And I didn't love him.
I had hoped for a love match, but from childhood I had known that an arranged marriage was a strong possibility. As girls my friends and I had giggled over our dreams for our futures, while knowing that in all likelihood that the best we could hope for was a marriage in which love would develop over time, or at least a comfortable companionship. My friends and I would not even be guaranteed spouses near us in age – many widowers looked for a second or even a third spouse, and plenty of young wives found themselves with stepchildren close to their own age, or even older. But the poetry I had studied at my aunt's court in Andelon had shown me true love and the heart's great passion, and I longed to experience that for myself.
So when my father told me that he had arranged for me to marry Bran Coris, the Earl of Marley, it looked like an attractive proposition. There had been disputes over some lands on the Marley borders, dating back to when Bran's father had been earl, maybe even before that, and I had even heard talk of taking the dispute to the king, so a marriage with those lands and a little more as my dowry neatly solved that problem. My father decided that it saved the risk of losing them altogether if the judgement went against him.
Actually, the match had much to recommend it. I would not be too far from my parents' home in Rheljan, so I would be able to see them occasionally, an earl was a good catch and as my father pointed out, the Earl of Marley was eminently suitable.
"He has been earl since he was eighteen, and he's ... what ... twenty, now. He is a fine military man and promising strategist, by all accounts. He has King Brion's favour, and has taken his father's place on the king's council. You may get to be presented at King Brion's court, Richenda."
Twenty years old, and a friend of the king! So no middle-aged widower for me, and the possibility of being presented at court made marriage an exciting prospect. The FitzEwans had been quietly loyal to the crown for generations, without any of them coming to any particular attention or advancement, although we had a good reason for that. My family stayed in the background, concealing our Deryni background and our abilities from any unwanted attention. So I while I had spent time in Andelon, I had not been to King Brion's court at Rhemuth, nor had any prospect of doing so, and marriage to Bran Coris promised me access to a world I had only dreamed of before.
"Have I met him, father?"
He narrowed his eyes in thought. "I don't think so. I know his father has visited before now, but I don't recall young Bran being with him. Bran visited not long after his father died, but you were in Andelon then. And I've never taken you to Marley with me, so no I don't think you have, unless maybe when you were children."
"What is he like?"
"He is comely enough I suppose, as far as I can judge these things. About my height, maybe a shade taller, brown hair... I don't know, Richenda. I haven't looked at him in the sort of way you mean. Though I can show you how he looked last time I visited Marley."
We slipped easily into rapport, and I viewed Bran through my father's eyes. I saw a tall man with dark hair, gold-flecked brown eyes and a neatly trimmed beard. Not merely comely but handsome, with a slight swagger to his walk and the confident air about him of one who has been born to privilege. He was slow to smile, but when he did smile it lit up his whole face – he had a nice mouth, I noticed.
He raised an eyebrow. "So, favourable first impressions?"
"At least I'll recognise him when I meet him," I smiled. "So when do I get to meet him?"
"Well...ah... you may not, at least not until the wedding. Bran has to be in Rhemuth for the next while, but he is keen for the marriage to go ahead and has agreed it on the basis of your portrait. He has come into his inheritance much earlier than he expected, with his father dying so suddenly, and he is keen to ensure that there is a Coris heir for Marley as soon as possible, especially with the Torenth situation the way it is, and Bran likely to be in the thick of it when the time comes." He paused and then acknowledged the unease he must have been feeling from me, "I know it's not what you hoped for, my dear, but your mother and I think he will be a good choice for you."
And then I met my father's eyes and asked the question foremost in my mind. "Is he Deryni?"
He shook his head, his blue eyes kind and gentle as he dashed my hopes. "No, child. The Coris family are human through and through."
"Does he know we are Deryni?"
"No. I'm sorry, Richenda, you will have to keep our secret. But marrying into a family known to be human will help you conceal yourself. With your ancestry you can't afford to come under suspicion or things could go badly for you – for all of us. At least an earl's wife should have some protection if things get difficult for Deryni in Gwynedd again." He took my hand and spoke earnestly to convince me. "He's an ambitious young man, with the ability to match his aspirations and he could do well for himself."
I used mind speech frequently at home with my family, and was able to use such others of my powers as would not bring us under scrutiny, but I would have to shut off that part of me entirely if married to a human who was unaware that I was Deryni. Most of my unease came from wondering if I could learn to live that way, denying my abilities to conform to what my husband believed me to be?
I wondered if he were actively opposed to Deryni, or if he would turn out to be a man such as I might in due course entrust with my secret, and that of my family. I hoped so, but Gwynedd had few such people, even now, and I would not dare to tell him unless I could be completely sure that my parents and brothers and I would be safe.
"Bran being away until the wedding does mean that we get to have it here rather than in Marley, and you know how your mother hoped to have it here with Father Idris officiating. You can have Avisa and Leonora attend you if you want, and it will be lovely for all the townsfolk to be able to see you wed – you know how fond they all are of you."
True enough. I had hoped that I would be able to be wed in the abbey here, with the priest who had known me from babyhood to marry me. The wedding date had been set for a few months time in June, when the passing of the winter cold and spring rains should give us some more balmy days perfect for a wedding celebration.
My mother and I set to straight away preparing for the wedding. I had some of my trousseau already prepared, but my mother and her ladies went into a fever of sewing, and soon I had many beautifully stitched items to take to Marley with me.
Of course the most important item would be my wedding dress, and much debate ensued among the ladies as to which colour I should wear. My colouring favours my father's kin, with my red gold hair and blue eyes, so I naturally suit either blue or green, but many are against green for a wedding dress since much of the north views green as an unlucky colour. So we settled on cornflower blue silk to symbolise purity and I because I knew I could look stunning in the right shade of blue – I wanted to make a good first impression on Bran.
I had the final fitting a few days before the wedding and my mother cried when she saw me. The fine fabric swirled as I moved and I felt like the most beautiful woman in the world. The dress had a wonderfully full skirt – heaven forbid that Bran would think we had skimped on the fabric – and it was more luxurious than anything I had worn before, even to court in Andelon. My new life promised to be so exciting, and I could hardly wait for it to start. Wife, Countess of Marley, and please God, a mother soon after.
As Father Idris performed the wedding ceremony and the Mass which followed, I studied the stained glass of Saint Gabriel in the apse, with his blue robe and his halo of light, so reminiscent of the Deryni aura. I had always loved this window and Gabriel had long been my favourite archangel, so I tried to fix it in my memory, committing all its details to heart. Gabriel is the guardian of the heart and the emotions and despite the demure exterior required of all ladies of rank I do still have my reckless moments. My father blamed it on my red hair, inherited from his side of the family and declared my impulsiveness would get me into trouble one day.
As I made my vows and celebrated the nuptial mass, I glanced cautiously at Bran and I prayed fervently that I might come to love the stranger kneeling beside me and that we would have a long and happy life together. If I had known then what would befall us, how different my prayers might have been.