I felt my muscles seize up, and I took a breath to steady myself. Cyric was watching me with concern, and I forced myself to keep my chin up.
“Is it wrong of me to visit my dear cousin?” I asked, forcing a small smile. He laughed, but the concern remained on his face. Do I really look that bad? I wondered.
“Not at all,” he said. “My wife will be delighted that you have come. She’s in the upper chambers right now. Phillipe will show you to her, if you so desire.”
“That would be wonderful,” I murmured, sinking into a curtsy. “Thank you, my lord.”
A servant stepped forward and paused at the door, waiting for me. I rose and followed him, firmly holding on to Mordred by the hand. As I walked down the corridors after Phillipe I allowed my gaze to wander, searching the shadows for demons and attackers.
I knew that my fear was rediculous here on Cyric’s land, but I couldn’t help myself. I was tense and frightened, and my behaviors reflected that. Phillipe stopped and knocked on a door, and Mordred and I pulled to a halt behind him.
“Come in,” Kellan’s voice issued from behind the wood. Phillipe bowed to me as he held it open for us, and I stepped inside.
Kellan always brought her own personality to any room she visited, and that was especially obvious now in her own apartments. It was a small cozy room with brightly colors tapestries hanging on the wall. Exotic momentos from her travels with Cyric were displayed in places of honor around the room, and the furniture had a rather Romanesque look to it. Despite the cool spring weather the room was comfortable because Kellan had a small fire burning in the fireplace to fight off the chill, completing the cozy impression perfectly.
“Morgan,” Kellan said, shooting up out of her chair and dropping her needlepoint. “I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon. What brings you here?” As she spoke she crossed the room and pulled me into a hug.
“I-” my voice caught, and Kellan held me at arm’s length.
“Oh, dear,” Kellan said. “Why don’t you take a seat?” Her face showed concern as she led me over to a cushioned couch.
“Mordred,” I murmured. Kellan glanced down at him, where he was clinging to my skirts, and then back to me. “He doesn’t know, and I’d rather he not hear.” Kellan nodded.
“Phillipe?” she said, turning to the door. “Summon Nurse, will you?”
“Would it be possible to summon a priest?” I asked her quietly.
“And fetch Father Philemon, please,” she added. Phillipe bowed politely and exited the room.
The door closed firmly behind the man-servant, and Kel turned to face me. Her expression softened slightly as she studied me.
“You look like you’ve barely slept,” she commented. “Are you well?”
“As well as one can be,” I answered.
“And how is Mordred?” she asked, smiling at him. He smiled back shyly and tried to hide behind my skirts.
“He’s healthy and happy,” I said, trying to free the material of my petticoats from his hands. “Come now, Mordred. You know your cousin Kellan. There’s no need to be shy.”
“Mordred, don’t you trust me?” Kel asked him, grinning slightly. “I had two little boys, just like you, but they’re all grown up now. Would you believe it?” He blushed slightly.
“How are your sons?” I asked, straining to relax to the small talk. “Are they doing well? And have you found wives for them?”
“They’re doing quite well,” Kellan said. “And no wives yet. I dare say that my elder son wishes that we wouldn’t find him a wife yet.”
“So he has a female acquaintance?” I asked, smiling. Kellan nodded, pursing her lips slightly. “That reminds me of someone else. I was har companion for a year, you know.” A smile spread across Kel’s face and she laughed.
“My mother used to say that I would have a child just like me,” she said. “I suppose she was right.”
“I suppose so,” I murmured. Just then there was a tap on the door, and Kellan rose.
“Come in,” she called. The door opened and a mousy looking old woman entered the room.
“You called, my lady?” the woman said, curtseying stiffly to Kellan.
“Yes,” Kel said. “Would you be so kind as to take Mordred to the nursery and keep an eye on him for a little bit?”
“Of course, my lady,” the nurse said, offering Mordred a hand.
“Go along and play,” I told him, gently steering him over to the woman. “I’ll come and get you before you know it.”
He looked a little unsure of himself, but he did as I’d told him. As soon as the two of them had left the room, Kellan turned to face me.
“What is the reason you came?” she asked. “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”
“Yes,” I said. Shame welled within me, and I struggled for words for several seconds. “There is something wrong. Kellan-” I paused again and closed my eyes.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I won’t continue to rent from Merlin,” I said, looking her in the eye.
“No? Whyever not? It was such a generous arrangement,” she said, surprised.
“Last night-” Again my shame gagged me, preventing me from telling Kellan. “He-“
“What did he do, Morgan?” she asked, crossing the room to sit beside me.
“There was a demon,” I managed finally. “He summoned a demon. But before that-” This time a sob choked me.
The tears came from no where, it seemed. Kellan moved to hug me, offering me a handkerchief.
“It’s alright,” she whispered, lifting my chin so that she could look into my eyes. I tried to look away, feeling like I was drowning in my overwhelming shame. I was dirty. I was no good. Merlin had taken my purity, my innocence.
“No,” I whispered, trying to hide my face from my cousin. “It’s not. It can never be alright.”
Someone knocked on the door, but Kellan didn’t move from where she sat this time. I hastily dried my face, not wanting the wrong person to see me in this state.
“Enter,” Kellan called, letting one of her arms return to her side while leaving the other pressed against my back.
An elderly priest entered the room, bowing slightly. As he shuffled across the floor, I realized that he was not actually bowing, but that he was so stooped with age that he gave the impression of doing so.
“Father Philemon, thank you for coming so quickly,” Kel said. “Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you, Lady Kellan,” he said, his voice gentle and kind. “But what have you called me here for?”
“My cousin requested that you be sent for, Father,” Kellan said, glancing at me. “This is the Lady Morgan.”
“How do you do?” he asked me politely, taking the seat opposite us.
“I wish I could say that I was well,” I said, feeling a little more clam in the presence of this holy man.
“Morgan was a sister in the holy order,” Kellan explained to him, trying to make conversation.
“Were you?” he asked, smiling at me. “How coincidental to meet a sister here.”
“I am no longer part of the holy order,” I said, trying to calm myself. “I left when I adopted one of the children under the abbey’s care.”
“I see,” he said. “I highly doubt you called me here on a social visit, Sister Morgan. Is there something wrong?”
“Yes,” I whispered, feeling the tears coming. “I’ll do my best to explain.”