Spending all of his time at court was, in the end, quite boring from Melkin’s point of view. There was only so much you could do when every day was a continuous feast. He was learning how to act at court and how to play the game of intrigues, but he took no joy in it. Lately he had started to play the harp at the request of some of the ladies and he hadn’t performed half bad, even though he had no skill to talk about. He was steadily getting the hang of it all, but, not being there by choice, he felt restless. The food was excellent, the wine was excellent, the entertainment was excellent and yet he missed Hindon and the more simple way of life that it offered. He knew that his wife and children also missed their home. The only one that seemed completely content was Brynach, who now enjoyed more frequent games with prince Mark. This was also the part that Melkin himself enjoyed the most about court; playing the strategic games that some of the knights were quite skilled at. And so, chess was how he had started to talk more frequently to sir Morcant.
It had taken them a while, almost five months, to realise that their fathers had known each other. After that, the pieces fell into place rather fast. Melkin learned that sir Morcant was the rightful heir to Swallowcliffe, a manor just a brief ride from his own, and that the current vassal knight there had falsified his right of ownership.
Melkin was taken aback by these news of dishonesty by sir Tudwal, but was not necessarily surprised. Sir Tudwal had never stricken him as a particularly honest man, and he knew that count Roderick would take the act of falsifying his papers as a grave insult. Thus Melkin and sir Morcant swore to help each other out. Melkin would vouch for sir Morcant to count Roderick, and sir Morcant would use his influence to relieve them both from King Idre’s court.
Melkin was surprised to see how easily sir Morcant seemed to play both chess and the game of intrigue. Sir Morcant seemed to know exactly who to talk to, in what manner, and he also had the connections to actually do so. The fact that Melkin himself understood what sir Morcant was doing to relieve them from duty surprised him even more. How the intrigues worked seemed to come more naturally to him the longer the year progressed. In the end, sir Morcant managed not only to relieve himself from his household duties, but also Melkin and another knight named Cynan.
When they left, the three knights discussed that it would probably be for the best if they did not visit king Idre’s court for a while (if ever again). Word had reached them that he was not pleased with the forfeit at his own game.
Ever since the birth of Melkin’s forth daughter, lady Nest had become more and more distant, which became clear during their journey home. During their voyage his wife spent most of her time staring at the horizon, which left Melkin to care for the children. Between Ceri falling ill during their journey and the newborn Aquilina, Melkin had little time to sleep. When the snowstorm hit them on their final days of travel, he started to question whether God wanted him to reach home at all that winter.
Fortunately for the group of travelers, the seven lineage men who were now residing at Hindon rode out to greet them easing their final stage of the journey. Melkin was relieved to reach home and felt for the first time in two years that all would be well. But it wasn’t.
Melkin had thought that Nest’s condition would improve once they’ve reached home, but she grew more distant every day. She completely left her duties untouched, and looked strangely at the babe who she had given birth to. The air in the long hall grew strange, and because of the bad weather, all in the household knew that something was wrong with the lady of the house.
It was also quite crowded in the longhouse. Melkin had almost forgotten that so many of his relatives had chosen to come and support him the year before he left for Bretagne, and this year another lineage man had chosen to come and help out. With the bad weather there was currently not much they could do, but they tried to lighten up the mood with stories and games.
However, one day, as they were retelling the story of the three brothers and the kid, lady Nest started to cry and just didn’t stop. Melkin tried his best to comfort her, but when nothing could change Nest’s state of mind, he finally took her to the abbey to try and bring her some peace. He was afraid that the children would be devastated to see her go but the continuous strange behaviour of lady Nest had scared them and so they were somehow relieved, all except for Indeg, lady Nest’s daughter from her previous marriage.
“We want to go outside!” Indeg would tell Melkin every day, and Melkin would tell her that if she wanted to dig through five feet of snow she was welcome to. She really wanted to go to Saint Evasius Abbey, and Melkin knew that, but he was reluctant to let her go. Finally one day he said:
“I know you want to go and see your mother, but she needs rest and solitude.”
Indeg had clammed her mouth shut in anger and then shouted:
“You don’t even like her! You just sent her away because she was crying!” Indeg was crying herself.
“Now you’re being unfair, Indeg.” Melkin had said looking the six year old girl up and down. “ I care for your mother, and I do hope that she is well enough to come home soon, but until then she needs some time alone.”
“You can’t tell me not to go and see her!” screamed the girl then. “You are not my father!”
The silence that filled the room then was filled with tension. Melkin eyed the girl who looked as surprised by her own words as she looked angry. She had a point, Melkin knew, but still… If he wasn’t her father then who was? Who would pick her husband and pay her dowry? Who would defend her honour until that day, if not him? He knew what she was feeling though; even if he never would have said it himself to his stepfather Corwyn, he had at times felt like an outsider in the Cellydon family.
“I am your father,” he said firmly. “Do not think that you can deny being part of this family that easy.” He picked up the harp that lay next to Aquilina’s crib. He had been playing it to calm the babe last night.
Indeg made a small jump as he put it down in front of her as if he would have hit her with it.
“Here,” he said and gave the harp to Indeg, “You want to make her well, right? Well then, learn to play Oh, mother rest a while. When you can perform it I will take you to go and see Nest so you can play it to your mother.”
Indeg took the harp hesitantly looking at the intricate strings, pouted her lips and nodded through the tears.
A few days later the bad weather broke, and the snow stopped falling. The other children spent most of their time outside, building snow castles and playing. Indeg spent her time inside, trying to play the harp to the best of her ability. When spring came she had learned the song, and Melkin took her to the abbey. He knew that lady Nest was still far from recovered, but at least the task had given Indeg something to occupy her time with.