BtQC – Chapters 21 and 22
The next day was more of the same, with King Alfonse lying in state the Great Hall and Queen Alamara at his side, greeting mourners and making arrangements for the grand funeral service that would occur in a few days. Since many of the dignitaries and officials had already made their way to Locallen upon word of the king’s impending death, there was no need to delay the funeral, and through it all Alamara’s quiet strength, dignity and regal bearing continued to impress Brenna.
Baron Machieve appeared early in the day, greeting the queen civilly albeit coldly. After paying his respects to the king, he settled into a corner of the hall, surrounded by supporters. Brenna eyed him with suspicion, but other than shooting her a haughty glance, he seemed to behave himself. She was glad, too, because she dreaded having an ugly confrontation with him in the Great Hall in front of the assembled mourners.
Around midday, Brenna slipped away to write up an official announcement of the king’s passing to be conveyed to all the Abbeys, trusting Torrie to hire messengers to deliver the news. King Alfonse had been a benevolent supporter of the Abbeys throughout the kingdom and she knew that word of his crossing would be of great concern. She needed to send word to Garan at Charcond as well, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. She desperately wanted to go to Garan herself, but felt that Alamara needed her at the castle and was afraid to leave her friend for fear Machieve would do something while she was alone. She said a silent prayer to the Goddess, asking for guidance, and when she returned to the Great Hall, she had her answer.
As she entered the Hall, she saw Alamara speaking with a distinguished-looking older knight. His silver-white hair and close-cropped beard were full and thick, and his broad shoulders and strong arms belied his age. There was an air of confidence and accomplishment about him, although not of pride or vanity, and Brenna found herself liking him immediately, even though she hadn’t met him yet. As she approached Alamara, the queen turned and smiled, reaching her hand out and drawing Brenna into the conversation.
“Oh, Brenna, I’m glad you’ve returned. This is Sir Briance, one of the king’s oldest and most trusted friends,” Alamara said.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Briance said. He took Brenna’s hand, bowing over it and brushing his lips against it lightly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, priestess,” he said. “I was just telling Her Majesty that my household and I are at her service and stand ready to support and assist her in any way she should require.”
Brenna blushed at the attention and then had a flash of recognition. As another visitor walked up to pay her respects to the Queen, Brenna leaned close to Sir Briance and said, “My lord, may I speak with you privately?” Briance agreed and offered her his arm, leading her to an empty bench at the side of the hall. When they were seated, Brenna asked, “Did you once have a squire named Garan Lyons?”
Sir Briance blanched but recovered quickly. “Indeed, I did. I saw him through to knighthood but have not heard from him for many years. Have you word of him?”
Brenna hesitated for only a moment before continuing. Something told her that Briance could be trusted to keep her confidences. “Indeed. He is at the inn at Charcond. His Majesty’s final words to me were that I should send for him. He felt that Sir Garan would be able to protect the Queen from those who would oppose her ascension to the throne.”
Briance considered Brenna’s words. “I have no doubt that Garan would keep Her Majesty safe from harm at all costs, were he to return,” he said, “but there is the matter of his banishment from the castle. He was, shall we say, a convenient political scapegoat.
“The King forgave him on his deathbed and charged me to insure Garan’s return. I will attest to it myself,” Brenna said.
“Were there others to hear this?”
“Only Her Majesty and I were at the King’s side, although there were servants in the room as well.”
“Ah, more’s the pity. Machieve and his cohorts will not be convinced. Still, if the Queen is threatened, there is no one I would trust more than Garan to protect her. What can I do to help you?”
“Would you go to Charcond and urge him to return?” Brenna asked. “I have not sent for him because I was not sure who to trust with the errand. Something tells me, however, that my confidence is well placed in you.”
Sir Briance stood and bowed slightly. “It is, priestess. I will do as you ask. My lady wife and I loved Garan as our own son for longer than you have been alive, I should think, and she died of a broken heart when he was sent away from the castle, may the Goddess bless her soul. For her, for you, and for Her Majesty, I will return with Garan.”
Brenna stood then and took Briance’s hands in hers. “Thank you, sir knight. May the blessing of the Goddess be upon you.”
As Sir Briance left the hall, Brenna returned to the Queen’s side. She felt a surge of excitement knowing she would soon be reunited with her beloved, but also knew that it would be more important than ever to find out what had happened to cause Garan to be banned from Locallen Castle those many years ago. As she glanced around the hall, her gaze settled on Machieve and his cronies, and she saw that he was staring at her with a look of cold calculation. Evidently, he had observed her conversation with Briance and she worried that he might try to do something to stop the knight on his errand. “Surely, a knight can protect himself against a pompous ass, though,” she thought with a smile, turning back to Alamara.
Later that evening, as Brenna and the Queen went back upstairs to retire for the night, Brenna knew that she must broach the subject of Garan. “Your Majesty,” she said, but at a pointed glance from Alamara, began again, “Alamara, I need to ask you about Sir Garan. I have sent Sir Briance to find him and bid him return, as the King has charged me, but I want to understand what happened that caused him to be sent away.”
They were crossing the threshold into Alamara’s rooms and she sighed heavily. “Oh Brenna, I was young and foolish. There was nothing to it, I assure you, but no one would believe me, not even Alfonse.”
“Nothing to what, Alamara? What happened between you?” Brenna’s heart was in her throat. Was her friend in love with Garan too?
They settled into their customary places on the couch and floor and Alamara began her tale. “When I first came to the castle, there were those who still mourned Sonnette and thought that the king had made an unwise choice to select a common farm girl to be his queen. While no one would be foolish enough to make an overt threat against me, there were many then as now who would not mourn my untimely demise.” A rueful smile played across Alamara’s face as she continued. “As Sir Briance was a trusted advisor to the king, he suggested that a tournament be held in my honor, with the victor becoming the Queen’s Champion, who would also act as my protector against those who might wish me harm. Sir Garan Lyons was a newly minted knight of Locallen and a darling of the court at the time. He was handsome, dashing, brave and highly skilled in both the ways of the court and of the tournament field, so naturally he won the day and the dubious honor of being my babysitter.” She paused, lost in memories.
“Go on,” Brenna urged, eager to hear the remainder of the tale.
Alamara’s lip quivered. “Oh Brenna, you must understand. I was still a girl, caught up in the fantasy of being the queen. It was a harmless flirtation, I assure you.”
Brenna struggled to keep her expression neutral and her tone even. “Were there … improprieties?”
“No, nothing like that! My heart has only and ever belonged to Alfonse! You must believe me!” Alamara grasped her friend’s hand, imploring. “Garan was my constant companion. He had the rooms next to mine, the ones you are in now. Alfonse was busy, distracted with the drudgery of state affairs.”
“Alamara, tell me what happened.”
“It was a tenuous time for Alfonse. He and Sonnette had married as much for political convenience as for love. Her family was powerful. It still is. Having her sit the throne with Alfonse brought stability to the realm, but when she … died … the rift began to grow once more. When we fell in love and were married, Alfonse thought it would appease his political rivals since he had chosen a queen who had no prior affiliations. But they had hoped to put another of their kin on the throne again and they made their disapproval of me known quite clearly albeit subtly.”
“What happened with Garan?”
“It was after a grand ball in honor of my birthday. There had been dinner, dancing, revelry. It was magical.” Alamara’s expression grew wistful. “Alfonse spent most of the evening talking with dignitaries, but Garan was the perfect companion. We danced and laughed and he made sure my goblet was always full. As I look back on it now, I know there were scandalized glances and whispered rumors, but at the time I was too naïve and full of the moment to notice or care. When the evening was over, Garan escorted me back to my chambers. My head was fuzzy from too much wine and I really don’t know if I walked or if Garan carried me upstairs and put me into my bed. The next thing I remember, and I swear to you by all the gods, Brenna, this is what happened, there was a … figure … perhaps a man … I don’t know … but someone or something standing next to my bed. I screamed and then Garan was there.”
Brenna was beginning to understand what might have happened to cause Garan’s banishment. “Go on,” she said.
Alamara began to cry. “I was so frightened. I told him what I had seen, but there was no one there. Garan held me, soothed me. The guards burst in with torches and swords. Alfonse was with them. I know what it must have looked like, his new wife and most trusted knight, half undressed and embracing in her darkened bedchamber. I tried to explain, but he was so angry, so hurt. The guards combed the halls and the grounds, but no intruder could be found. He had to send Garan away, don’t you see? People would talk otherwise, and his rivals would have another weapon in their fight against me.”
Brenna sat back, not sure what to think of the tale. “But if there was nothing between you, if you remained true to Alfonse …”
“I tried to tell him, to reassure him of my love for him alone, but he was adamant that Garan must go. Oh, Brenna, you do believe me, don’t you?” Alamara started to cry again.
Brenna moved to embrace her friend, her thoughts whirling. No wonder Garan had refused to pass through Locallen’s gates with her and had spoken disparagingly about the castle and court throughout their journey. At the worst of it, he’d been falsely accused of taking liberties with the queen, and at the very least, he’d been a convenient political scapegoat. Still, there were many unanswered questions, the one most disturbing to Brenna being whether or not Garan had had or still had feelings for Alamara.
“Do you think he forgives me?” Alamara asked through her tears.
“Hmm?” Brenna was still lost in her own thoughts and pulled herself back to the present. “Garan?”
“No, Alfonse. Did he die still believing I had dallied with Garan? I tried to be a good wife, a good queen for him. I tried to prove my love for him. Do you think …” her voice trailed off as sobs shook her body.
“I am sure he forgave you and Garan at the end,” Brenna said. “You heard him yourself. He admitted he was wrong and charged me to find Garan and bring him back to protect you. And his last words to me as he crossed was that he loved you.”
Alamara pulled back to look at Brenna, searching her face for a long moment before smiling through her tears. “Yes, I believe you, Brenna,” she dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, “but will Garan come? I have had no word of him for years. I would not blame him if he never wanted to lay eyes on me ever again.”
“He will come. Sir Briance will see to it.”