Looking back on those three days that I was in charge of the household, I’m still not sure how I survived. Within an hour of Uncle’s leaving the youngest twins (who were four at the time) got into a fight over whose toy was whose, Linette (who was five) had gotten scratched up her arm by the barn cat, and Caedmon (who was three) got stuck in the privy.
After I had settled the fight, stopped the bleeding and rescued a crying Caedmon from the privy, I laid down some rules. No one would touch any animal without permission. Anyone caught in a fight would help with chores. And the bigger children would always assist the younger ones in the privy.
Thankfully Devin backed me up on these rules, and anytime a new problem arose, he’d assist me. By the time the three days had passed, we had made a good undefeated team, and an extremely exhausted duo.
We left for Brittany early on the morning of the fourth day, the little ones riding in the wagon with the last of Kellan’s dowry. I’m fairly certain that we made an odd looking procession to those that might have seen us. Seven little children rode in the cart, talking laughing and crying, surrounding the chest of finely embroidered clothes and household items. Personally, I think that it was the sight of so many children that protected us from being attacked by highway robbers.
I rode beside the cart, feeling the need to stay close to the children. On the other side of the cart rode the cousin closest to my age, Caelan, a boy of eleven. Ahead of us were his older brothers, Devin and Belanus, while their twin sixteen year old brothers rode behind us, dressed in their respective squire uniforms.
We rode all of that day, and arrived at the ancestral home of Duan Cyric just before nightfall. Aunt Mary was waiting for us anxiously, and as she scooped up Rose, who was only two, she began showering her children with kisses. I hung back, ensuring that their things were unloaded with care, and that nothing had been missed.
“Morgan,” she said sharply, and I looked up.
“Yes, Aunt Mary?” I asked, afraid that I’d done something wrong. She surveyed me for a moment and then motioned for me to come closer.
“I owe you thanks for protecting my babies,” she said. “Now, there’s stew for everyone inside. I imagine that you’re famished.”
“I am,” I whispered, my voice barely audible in comparison to the shouts the children gave up. I stole a shy glance at Devin, and then spoke up. “Aunt Mary, I couldn’t have cared for your children without Devin’s help.” The look on her face was one of surprise, and it quickly changed to satisfaction.
“Honesty is indeed a good virtue to posses,” she said. “Come and eat now.” With that she led the way into the palace.
The king of Brittany, Kellan’s father-in-law to-be had a smaller palace than my father, even though we had called ours a manor house. Maybe it was just because so many people had come for the wedding, but it was positively cramped.
All of the relatives were not helping Kellan at all. She spent most of her time sitting in the midst of her older family members, looking sick.
Aunt Mary noticed this, too, and she began lacing all of Kellan’s drinks with a tonic for the nerves. Kellan went about her days, subdued and pale. On the last night before the wedding, Kellan slipped into my chambers.
“I can’t do this, Morgan,” she whispered, crossing the floor quickly to my bed, which I had been laying on, reading. “I can’t do it.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?” I asked, setting aside my book and sitting up. “It will be easy.”
“Everyone will be watching,” she said, beginning to cry. “I can’t marry him. I don’t care for him.”
“It’ll be alright,” I said, reaching out for her. She was only a year older than I was and that night all of our differences were gone. “Maybe you’ll even grow to care for him. He’s not that bad, either.” Kellan hid her face in my shoulder, still crying.
“I’m scared, Morgan,” she whispered. “I’m afraid of what’ll happen after tomorrow.”
“It’ll be alright,” I said, not sure of what else I could say or do. She had her duty to fulfill, and I had mine. I understood what she was feeling, and remembered my own fear that had brought me to my uncle’s home.
I had fled from my fate, but she wasn’t able to. I had taken my life into my own hands, but her father and her fiance held hers. In that moment I felt nothing but pity for her.
“Kellan, I’ll be here for you,” I whispered. “It’ll be alright. He’ll care for and protect you.”
“But I want to be loved,” she said. “I want to be treasured. How can he do that if there is no love?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered, hugging her. “I don’t know.”
“Can I stay here?” Kellan asked. “For the night? I don’t want to go back to my room, or to be alone.”
“Of course,” I said, rolling out of bed and putting my book on a side table, by the chair I had in my chamber.
Kellan stayed with me until breakfast time the following morning, when her oldest sister came to fetch her. The ceremony was to take place mid-afternoon, and would be followed by much feasting and revelry.
I didn’t see her again until she entered the church. She was a vision to behold in her wedding garb, drifting down the center aisle of the church.
As her veils were lifted, I could see that her skin was whiter than usual, and her eyes were tinged with red and pink, from crying. Kellan’s lips trembled as she said her part, kneeling before the priest.
“In nomen Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctii,” the priest intoned finally, finishing the ceremony. Kellan and her new husband rose and left the church, followed by their families.
From there we went to the feasts and dances that had been arranged for the night, and it was there that Kellan got the chance to approach me. She caught me by the arm, looking sick with herself.
“Moran, can you tell Deverall that I love him?” she whispered, clinging onto my arm like I could somehow save her. “Tell him that I will not forget him.”
“I will,” I said, looking into her eyes. She seemed to be resigned to her fate now, but it was a hopeless, heartbreaking resignation.
“Oh, Morgan,” she whispered, throwing her arms around my neck. “I wish I was as brave as you. I wish I could have stood up for true love.”
“I didn’t know what to say to that, so I simply hugged her back. A moment later her husband, Sir Cyric, approached us, and she let go of me reluctantly.
“Lady Morgan,” he said, tipping his head in my direction. “I have come to fetch my lovely bride for a dance, if you don’t mind.”
“I-” I hesitated as Kellan slipped her arm through his dutifully. “It would be wrong of me to deny you your wife.” He laughed and bowed slightly to me before he led Kellan away.
We only stayed in Brittany another day before we left for my uncle’s lands. In that day I was summoned to Uncle’s presence.
“Morgan, you are of a marriageable age,” he said, as soon as I had closed the door behind me. “And I couldn’t possibly expect you to stay on as a companion for each of my daughters. We, your Aunt Mary and I, have discussed the possibility of arranging a marriage for you, and providing part of a dowry if that sounds like an appealing option to you.”
I froze. In a heartbeat all of my fears were back. I couldn’t be married. I was still young. I was free, and I wasn’t willing to give up that freedom.
“I don’t believe that’s the-” I started, my mouth suddenly dry. “Uncle, please-” I couldn’t think of anything to say that would convince him. Aunt Mary, who had been standing behind Uncle, stepped forward.
“Morgan, darling, it is a woman’s lot in life to be married, and to submit to her husband,” Aunt Mary said. I felt like everything was coming down on me. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears, and I couldn’t breath in enough air.
“Please,” I whispered, my heart pounding. “I’ll stay until Leslie has been married. I don’t mind. Please.” A pleading note had slipped into my voice, and I couldn’t help it.
Aunt Mary studied me, disapproving, but Uncle Cadman nodded, calm. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I knew that I had bought myself three more years. Three precious years of freedom and safety.