By day, Shannon McNear is a homeschooling mother of eight; by night, a
writer—or at least, that's her intention. With four novel manuscripts
completed, she’s at work on two more, a fantasy and a historical. She
also currently serves as a women’s Bible study teacher, ACFW Southeast
zone director, and president of her local ACFW chapter.
The battle was over; the king lay dying.
Daymonde hovered in the shadows of the pavilion's inner chamber as the physician examined King Glenmarr of Nyland, then shook his head. They dared not even remove the arrows from the king's body, for fear of hastening his death. Naught remained now but to make the king comfortable.
Heads bowed, the physician and his assistant slipped out, leaving Daymonde, the king's champion, alone with his beloved monarch.
"My son. . ." Glenmarr's gasping whisper broke the silence inside the tent. "Daymonde, where are you?"
"Here, m'lord." Daymonde knelt beside the pallet.
Flickering candlelight reflected off the sheen of the king’s pale face, and silver strands glimmered in his long red hair and full beard. Pale blue eyes searched for Daymonde's as the king's hand groped toward him. Daymonde clasped Glenmarr's hand in his own and suppressed a wince at Glenmarr’s pain and weakness, surging through that contact.
"My son. Ever have I honored you as if you were my own."
Glenmarr drew a wheezing breath and coughed. "Take care of my kingdom."
"I will—do my best, m'lord." Daymonde cleared his throat, sought to forestall the charge he knew would come if he held his silence. "I will see that Fiona weds well."
The king's head tossed on the makeshift pillow. "Nay—you. I want her to wed—you."
The wish Daymonde had seen lurking in the king's thoughts for weeks at last became spoken word. Dismay clutched at his gut. The pit take this cursed war and those who had begun it. Glenmarr should have survived long enough to wed again himself and produce a male heir.
“M’lord, I—” Admonitions from the Book of the Law, embedded in Daymonde’s mind since boyhood, surfaced now. And yet not to rule you himself, for that would be too great a burden. . .. How could he reconcile his desire to please the king with obedience to a higher directive?
"I need. . .your assurance, lad."
He bent his head to Glenmarr's shoulder. "M'lord. You ask me to transgress the Law."
"Do I?" The king's voice was suddenly stronger. "I know nothing that forbids a man of the Gift to serve by providing heirs to the throne."
“Nay, not in so many words, but—”
"Does Fiona herself distress you? She is young, but will grow."
Daymonde squeezed his eyes against the memory of the slight girl, hardly more than a child, with her father's thick auburn hair and pale eyes. His stomach twisted anew at the thought of herawe and adulation in his presence. Not that others were any better.
Ach! The mingled blessing and curse of the Gift: the ability to see through others, to know the depths of virtue and vice. Many an eye-pleasing lass had a heart as black as night, while some who never drew a second glance shone with unseen light. Daymonde had searched far and wide for one lovely both inside and out, for he must wed sooner or later, to ensure the continuation of the Gift—
"My son!" The king's voice sharpened.
Daymonde lifted his head. How could he refuse, when he had sworn to serve Glenmarr with his very life? Mayhap the Stranger would be merciful in granting him contentment with Fiona—and after all, the Law did not explicitly prohibit a man of the Gift from wedding a princess.
"I will serve you in this, aye."
Glenmarr's long sigh caused Daymonde's heart to leap in fear, but the king’s pulse still beat in their clasped hands. "Fetch my chief captains, then. Prepare a last cup, and you will share it with me to seal the covenant you make."
The king's word fulfilled, half a dozen strong men of Nyland filed into the pavilion and stood around the bed as witnesses, clad in armor and mail with cloaks still wrapped about them against the bitter cold. Daymonde held his longsword unsheathed as he vowed to fulfill Glenmarr's last request. A servant filled the king's jeweled, gold chalice with the best Gemanian wine. Propped in the arms of two of his captains, Glenmarr drank, and then Daymonde.
The king held Daymonde’s gaze. "Keep her honor well."
With a last rattling breath, his spirit fled.
Daymonde stumbled out of the pavilion, into the ankle-deep snow and driving wind, through the camp and past the rows of tents until he stood near the rim of the glen.
He grieved not only the loss of a good and kind king, who had been as a father to him since the passing of his own. But now, with the decision past, a fresh horror gripped him. All his life, he had been told the place of the Gift was to serve, never to hold a position of authority, since power held too great a temptation even for those most disciplined in the precepts of the Law. The king's desperate plea did not dispel Daymonde's conviction that he had committed a great wrong. More than the disappointment of surrendering his dreams of marrying for love, the weight of the Law itself pressed upon him, condemning him for being so easily swayed.
He stared at the chalice still clutched in his left hand and the sword bared in his right. With numb fingers, he tipped the cup, spilling the last drops into the snow, then dropped the vessel and staggered forward a few steps, as if the draught had contained the bitterest poison.
Unmindful of his billowing cloak and the frigid night air, he stared unseeing into the evergreens, while tears mingled with the snowflakes and formed rivulets of slush on his cheeks.
To read more Bitter Chivalry make sure to return Nov. 2008 for another installment...