Shannon McNear lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her husband and eight children. She’s been writing one thing or another since third grade and has completed five novels. She’s currently at work on a contemporary romance, a historical set in 1780’s South Carolina, and a fantasy, the story of her heart. She has served in worship and women’s ministry, as ACFW’s Southeast Zone Director, and as president and treasurer of her local ACFW chapter. Glimpses of her life can be found at http://shenandoahdawn.blogspot.com.
“Why? Why have you said nothing all these years?”
Calla sat across from him, the stillness of his body at odds with the crackle of his mindvoice. His face remained hard, the eyes glittering. Heavy waves of gold, also his mother’s legacy, fell fashionably to just below the clean-shaven chin.
Nothing visible to indicate he was Daymonde’s son and not Rydane’s. Certainly nothing to indicate the true state of his heart, safe behind the iron veil of his Gift.
Now that the initial shock of the young man’s reappearance had passed—the Androvian retinue had departed yesternoon—Daymonde eased back in the cushioned chair, keeping his posture calm and unperturbed. He spun the chalice in his fingers and watched the play of light across the jewel-studded gold. “ I. . . could not. Could not do that to my wife and children.” The words lashed his conscience as soon as they were out of his mouth.
Calla’s eyes narrowed—a deep green like his mother’s, oh aye, Daymonde remembered. “And I was not also your child? With a far greater claim upon you, if what Lord Altnik has told me all these years is true.” One eyebrow arched. “Or was that, too, a lie, like the illusion of integrity you maintained after that night with my mother?”
Daymonde suppressed a shudder at the edge in Calla’s voice. What could he say? Nothing would answer the accusation the young man—aye, his own son—leveled against him.
“After all, what importance is the Law, and how much less the Gift, against the need to maintain appearances. Aye, Father?”
A profound sadness squeezed Daymonde’s heart. He lapsed into mindspeech. Oh, my son . . . son of my Gift! Why indeed?
Calla’s chin came up. Was I so beneath your notice, then?
Nay. But—surely you did not lack for a good teacher in Altnik?
Hardly a flicker in Calla’s eyes. He was not you. He was not—my own father.
The silence settled between them, pressing upon Daymonde. Still, speech failed him.
A word, Father. Just one. That is all it would have taken.
I . . . am sorry. So sorry.
Why now? Do I remind you of her? Of what could have been?
The crushing grip of pain tightened inside Daymonde’s chest. Blessed Stranger, if I could only go back . . .
And then what? Would you choose differently? Calla snorted. I wonder.
Daymonde sat up and downed a gulp of wine. Would he truly? For a moment the thought returned, as it had many times over the years—rather than wed Fiona that next day, what if he’d taken Sheena and fled? True, it would have meant robbing Rydane of his wife, but he’d have reared Calla himself. Surely that would have honored the Gift better than having never acknowledged the boy at all.
At the least, he should have openly faced the truth when Calla’s Gift came to maturity.
The ache did not ease, and he winced. “I like to think I would.” He drank again, hand trembling. What ailed him, besides grief?
“No. I think not.” Calla rose to his feet. “It is too late, Father. Too late for regrets, too late for might have beens.”
Breathing was an effort now. And—was the lamplight dimmer?
The gleam in Calla’s eyes made it all clear.
“Oh, my son—what have you done?” Blessed Stranger, let it not be so!
A tiny smile lifted the corner of Calla’s mouth. “By your own admission, I am not your son. If I were, if I truly meant anything to you, you would have claimed me long ago.”
Daymonde dragged a breath into burning lungs. “I would gladly take it all back.”
“There is no more time.” The smile full blown, Calla turned away and silently exited the private parlor.
Daymonde’s heartbeat filled the quiet, clamoring with disbelief and panic, until a shout echoed from far down the corridor outside. “The king! The king is unwell—send for a physician!”
Blessed, blessed Stranger, have mercy . . . have mercy.
This time it was Finmarr who burst through the door—his eldest openly acknowledged son, disappointed so many years ago with the knowledge that he would not carry Daymonde’s Gift. He hurried to Daymonde’s side. “Father! Here, lie down. More wine?”
“Nay—no wine.” Stretched on the floor, he reached for Finmarr’s tunic front. “My son, listen.”
How bitter was that address, in this moment.
“What is it, Father? Who has done this?” Suspicion rimmed his thoughts, and memories of old politics dimly understood. “Is it Rydane?”
“I—” His breath came too sharply, too fast for thought, much less speech. His heart beat slowly, painfully, as if it were turning to stone. “Not Rydane—but Calla.”
Finmarr drew back, blue eyes wide.
“Aye, son. Calla . . . is your brother. Forgive . . .”
Finmarr’s gaze filled with tears. Horror, disbelief, fury, all fell in a hot rain upon Daymonde. “How could this be?”
“I—transgressed.” He forced the words out. “I thought I could tread the edges of the Stranger’s Law, but—I could not.” He kept his gaze locked with Finmarr’s, despite the agony. “Remember. Remem . . . ber the Stranger. His Law. Forgive. I wronged . . . you. Your mother.”
Finmarr drew in a long, noisy gasp. “It was true, then . . . Rydane’s queen?”
He could hardly bring himself to nod.
“That—unspeakable cur.” Finmarr’s face contorted. “To bring her here, and then—”
He did not speak of Calla, but Rydane.
“Nay—not Rydane. But Calla. Rydane was . . . innocent.”
Finmarr slowly shook his head, still unbelieving, vengeance gathering inside him like clouds before a storm.
The room darkened at the edges, until only Finmarr’s face was visible.
Ah, Blessed Stranger, where are you? Has it all come to this? I did not—did not wish for this! I cannot die yet, knowing Finmarr is bent on war . . . I cannot—