We were on our way back across town, comparing notes on the places we had seen. "I suppose it's down to the chalet or the villa," Luke chuckled, leading the way back down the stairwell of the waterfront apartments. In the street, he stopped so suddenly I walked right into him. "Merlin and Jessica?"
I couldn't help but laugh at his reaction. And I had to admit the idea amused me as well. "That is what Andy said."
"Of the two people least suited to..." he muttered.
"Some might say the same of us," I blithely pointed out, taking his hand.
Luke rolled his eyes. "We're different. Merlin..." He looked suddenly chagrined and falls quiet.
I felt a small flash of concern at his sudden silence. He usually only did this when he'd come close to telling me some uncomfortable fact about his past. The last time it had been his revelation about his... relationship with Dara. "What is it, Luke?"
He looked a little sheepish. "Don't take this the wrong way, but when it comes to women, your brother is a weiner."
I snorted in amusement, as much at the concept as to cover my relief that there wasn't another tidbit like the last. It's not that anything he had to say would make me love him any less, but his worry that such past encounters might come back to haunt him did bother me. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"Well... he's been... taken advantage of? I dunno," A slightly pained expression flashed across his face, and I got the impression saying this to Merlin's little sister wasn't exactly easy.. "His track record isn't good, and the way he deals with his problems leaves something to be desired."
I rolled my eyes and sighed deeply. "Must run in the family. Maybe as the only girl of the Corwin line, I'll break the streak." Hell, maybe nothing. I damn well would.
He laughed warmly, and squeezed my hand. "I can only hope, Quinn."
Not long after that I felt the Trump. It was, as I had expected, Random. "Your majesty," I greeted him as I let the contact flare to life.
He gave me a sarcastic smile, and I felt my face flush red. Indeed, he had not forgotten our argument...
"I nominate Quinn as our spokesperson," Connie piped up when Random asked us our side of the story.
Random glanced over at me. "Well, since the rest seem to think you should speak for them, why don't you start from the beginning."
Shooting Connie a dark look, which he blithely ignored, I took a deep breath. "Three nights ago, Connie, Simon, Locke and I all awoke in Dworkin's cave..."
It took almost an hour to weave the tale, with assistance from Simon, who used one of his spells to illustrate our adventures, and with a small detour when the cards we found in Fiona's room were mentioned. "Um, we activated the one with the guy," Connie had piped up when we told of the cards, "and now he's running around with a butcher knife."
Next to me, Luke just shook his head in consternation, as Benedict surprised us all by claiming the mysterious man to be his brother, Michael. He would not elucidate more, so I finished our tale, ending at the interrupted duel.
And then Jess told her story of Uncle Cain. Caine. Not one of those her father had named as trustworthy, but he had been gallant and kind enough to her.
The somber quiet was broken when Random paused in mid-sentence, and a moment later, pulled Darien in. My brother glanced about at the assembled folk, a ghost of a smile crossing his face as his eyes met mine. "I am here to act as a representative for Lady Lewella."
I smothered a laugh. I should have known Darien would find a way to get himself involved in this meeting without blowing his cover.
I walked slowly up the hill to the castle, mulling over what Elistan had told me, and what my options were now.
He had seemed somewhat surprised when I slipped into his office, though I think he is becoming used to a member of the family seeking him out for advice.
We exchanged pleasantries, but I soon came to the point. "Remember, Father, when I first came, and we discussed the eventual possibilty of my joining the Church in some capacity?"
He nodded, smiling slightly. "Indeed I do, Quinn."
I took a deep breath. "Well, the events of the last week have given me cause to do a great deal of thought, and events have also given me the time to do it." I was fidgeting, I knew, but forged on. "Father, I want to convert. I want to become part of the Church."
I think I did take him by surprise, but he seemed pleased once he was convinced that I was indeed comfortable and settled with my decision.
We spoke at length of the choices available to me, and of all, despite his minor discouragement, I felt most drawn to the Ucordi. Of the other two, I could not see myself falling in comfortably with either camp. While I am a healer of some regard by training, the idea of closeting myself with a mysterious group of women... No. That is not me. And The "Light-Bringers..." I do not disparage Father Elistan's vocation with them, I am not the evangelical sort. The Word find each person as they wish, and it is not my job to tell them so.
But the Knights of the Faith, there is what I am. He was gentle in his discouragement when he saw my interest in that branch. "It is rare that a Knight is ever Ordained. They are, I must admit, the catch-all for those who cannot make it within the rest of the Church hierarchy."
"Rare, you say, but not unheard of," I pointed out, and then told him of the details of my former days as a reverand. I was a knight of my faith. It is all I know.
"You may profess yourself as a special case," he mused after I spoke to him of my life in the Ernan Church. "I would hate to see you have to start all over, or be forced into a niche that you are not comfortable with, just to become a part of us."
As would I. Having spent all my life devoted to a Church, and having risen far in its ranks, the thought of going back to those days as an acolyte is somewhat disappointing. And the thought of having to be someone I'm not, just to serve, made me shudder. The other concern is my status as a royal. He was unsure if that would be to my benefit, or detract from my case. I must look, and see when a royal was last connected to the Church as closely as I intend to try.
But perhaps I could make my case as something different. Perhaps, I can make a case for the Knights, or at least some of them, to become a force of note within the Church, true protectors and warriors of the faith, not just ham-handed, single-minded, sword-wielding religious zealots...
"I will tell the others of your interest," Elistan had said. "And you will have one voice who speaks for you in all this, no matter what."
I cannot even begin to thank the good father for all that he has done for me. And to give me his unconditional support as he has... He has become to me in this stage of my spiritual life what Damien was to me during my time in Erna. A mentor, guide, and friend beyond compare.
Perhaps it was the direction of my thoughts that caused me to detour up farther up the side of Kolvir. It had been too long since I had given devotions, and with my decisions made, I felt it was time to start.
I had never been to the Grove before, and as I entered the quiet glade that opened out onto an ocean-facing cliff, I decided that I should have rectified that long ago. The serenity that hung about the place wrapped about me comfortably. Even though she had not been seen since Patternfall, it was as if I could feel a presence here. "Your great-grandmother says hello," Dworkin's words from one of our talks came back to me in the tripping laughter of the stream that tumbled down the rocky slope.
I strode, for the moment, past the elegant marble statue of my great-grandmother that graced the center of the clearing, to stand at the edge of the cliff. I closed my eyes, letting the sea-scented wind wash over me for a long time before I returned to the Unicorn's image and fell to one knee to pray. The statue's wide base was littered with small gifts, flowers - offerings to one even more a god than the family she created.
I bowed my head. I fear, my lady, that I have only to offer you the protection of my sword, the strength of my belief, and the depths of my soul.
All I that I can give to you is my faith...