Moira wept like an abandoned child – she was still little more than a child poor darling. Chestnut curls tumbled forward over her shoulders to hide her face as she bent almost double in her agony. Thorne Hagen, sitting on the bench beside her patted her back in a vaguely consoling way his babyish face puckered in painful empathy. Poor creature! He'd expected her to take it badly of course but, oh dear, how he hated to see a woman cry!

Finally Moira straightened up, pushing damp curls away from her devastated little face. "Please, my lord, let me stay! I've been discreet haven't I? I'll wait as long as I must and only come when you call –"

"And what kind of life would that be for you, my dear?" She opened her mouth to protest but Thorne overrode her. "And even if I didn't care far too much for you to treat you so, I couldn't take the chance. I must not offend my new wife." He worried his lip. "I need this marriage, Moira. I have enemies – dangerous enemies. Alliance with a ruling house is the only thing that will keep them at bay.

"But the council –"

"I'm not on the council anymore."

Her eyes went wide. "Your enemies are that powerful!" she breathed in horror. "Are they…are they Deryni?"

Thorne nodded gravely. "I am afraid so."

Her hands rose to cover her mouth, dark eyes wide above them; "Oh, my lord!"

"So you see how very serious my situation is," he continued soberly. "My dear, surely you can't think I'd send you away if it wasn't a matter of life and death – for both of us!" He was sorry to see what was left of her color drain away as the words sank home but it was only a slight exaggeration, and all for her own good of course.

"They- they wouldn't – I'm only human -" she managed to falter after a moment of pure shock.

"I very much hope not," he answered. "But I can't be sure." His shiver was quite genuine. "They are ruthless, my dear – and I would never forgive myself if any harm came to you through me." That was no exaggeration. This sweet child was very dear to him. He'd given a lot of thought to her future. Her security and happiness mattered.

Moira lowered her hands to her lap, clasping them tightly, acceptance in her face. Thorne breathed a subtle sigh of relief. No more tears and pleas thank God! "What do you mean to do with me, my lord?" she asked submissively.

"I've arranged a good marriage for you -" He raised an admonishing finger as she opened her mouth to protest; "No, my dear, no arguments! You know as well as I do it's the only way."

Her head drooped. "Yes, my lord."

"I've chosen your husband very carefully," Thorne continued. "His name is Roet de Payne – Sir Roet - he's one of King Colman's heralds and brother to the steward of my Howicce lands. He's got a nice little manor of his own near Lusk and a townhouse in Pwyhelli as well. He's not so very young, but then you like older men don't you, my dear?" He twinkled encouragingly at her and she mustered up a small, damp smile in return.

Then the full implications of the match struck her. Thorne watched in satisfaction as color came back into her face and the dark eyes began to glow. "A knight…a landed knight, I'll be a lady."

He patted her clasped hands. "And carry the rank beautifully I don't doubt."

Suddenly her face clouded. "Does he know -?"

"Everything," Thorne assured her. "And he doesn't care a whit. I showed him your portrait you see. There'll be no reproaches – ever." It had taken only the slightest of mental nudges to make Roet fall hopelessly, helplessly in love with that picture. In fact Thorne had barely had to employ his powers at all. Moira's lovely face had done most of the work for him. His little sweeting would not only spend the rest of her life as a fine lady – and an ornament to King Colman's court – but she'd be coddled and cherished like the rare flower she was.

Oh but how he'd miss her, his sweet, his darling Moira! But he really couldn't risk upsetting the little duchess and, after all, Henriette was a pretty young creature too. He could have done worse, much worse. "Now," he said aloud. "You're going to need a nice trousseau. You must do your new rank credit, my child."