Chapter 8 – The Portraits of KingsRhemuth Castle
Duchy of Haldane
January, 1132“If you make me laugh, I will drop this basin in your lap!”
Jäna de Tehryn smiled sweetly at her brother as she carefully dried her hands on the towel and then draped it over Jared’s arm. He bowed slightly, careful to hold the basin steady and not spill any of the water, and brought the basin forward to his father. Again he bowed slightly and brought the basin closer.
Baron Jerrill nodded his thanks and then rinsed his hands more vigorously than his daughter had, forcing his son to steady the bowl. As he raised his dripping hands from the bowl, the young page shifted enough to bring the towel draped on his arm closer to his father so the old baron could grasp it without dripping more than needed on the floor.
“Neatly done, Jared,” Jerrill said with a smile.
“Thank you, My Lord,” Jared replied formally and gravely moved on to the next table.
“They are doing very well, Papa?” Jäna asked.
Jerrill looked across to the other side of the hall where Justin was serving similar duty with basin and towel. “It will be better when they stop moving like little wooden soldiers in page’s livery, but yes,” he responded, “they are doing well.”
Jäna smiled and watched the twins as they finished with the last of the guests and left the room under the watchful eyes of one of the senior pages. Most of the guests that had journeyed to Rhemuth for Twelfth Night court had left, though several of the senior members of King Kelson’s council still remained and had joined the king and his queen at the high table for the evening meal. Her father had only had to remind her once not to stare at the high table and to eat her portion of the meal. Tomorrow they would be leaving for Tehryn and she wanted to drink in every detail to relate to Lady Amah when they reached home.
“Kitten,” Jerrill said, tapping her arm lightly to get her attention. “I have some business to attend to before I retire for the evening. Lady Livia will see you back to our rooms. I won’t be late.”
“Yes, Papa.” Jäna looked across to the next table, where Lady Livia sat in conversation with one of the young Tehryn knights. Lady Livia had spent a lot of time in the company of this particular knight the last couple of days. Jared and Justin had moved to the pages’ barracks the night before, and Jäna was in no hurry to spend the rest of the evening alone with Lady Livia.
“Papa,” she said with sudden inspiration. “May Lady Livia take me to see the portraits of Gwynedd’s kings? You said I could see them before we leave.”
The old baron thought for a moment and nodded his agreement. The portraits were hung along the long hallway that linked Rhemuth’s great hall with the chapel. “I think that is an excellent idea. There will not be time in the morning.” He motioned for Lady Livia, who smiled and curtseyed to the knight before coming to take charge of Jäna.
Jäna was pleased to be allowed to see the portraits and pleased that her father had instructed Livia to make sure she allowed Jäna ample time to study them all. The young knight offered to accompany them as well; Jerrill had no good reason to deny the offer, so he agreed. Jäna thought he would be a good distraction for Livia so she could take her time with the portraits.
They strolled to the end of the great hall, Jäna on one side of Lady Livia and the knight on the other. They were taking longer than Jäna would have preferred, because Livia took the opportunity to make sure other ladies of the court whom they passed noticed the knight escorting her, stopping once or twice to introduce him. Jäna now understood that he was Sir Cecil Duncoate, son of one of her father’s landed knights who held a manor in the western part of Tehryn.
Finally they turned right into the hallway, and Jäna had no further interest in the knight. The long hallway was lit by fat candles set in sconces mounted in between the windows on the courtyard side. The portraits were arranged along the opposite wall, the line broken every so often by a heavy wooden door. There was no one else in the hall at the moment; the doors were all closed, and it was too early for anyone to be making their way to the chapel for Compline.
Jäna stopped before the first portrait, a likeness of King Kelson in a crimson robe with the Lion of Gwynedd shining gold across his chest. He was standing straight, his hand resting on a table beside the royal crown that sat in the center. It was a good portrait; it certainly looked like the king with his raven black hair and grey eyes, but the eyes stared blankly above her head at the wall behind her. Except for the exact resemblance, it was nothing like the king she had watched earlier that evening. That king had seemed to enjoy the company around him, talking with those closest to him and very attentive to the queen. He had said something at one point that had caused the Duke of Cassan to burst into laughter and the queen to smile. The king in the portrait was stiff and remote, nothing like the real king. His Majesty needed a better painter!
She moved down to the next portrait, the one of King Brion Haldane. He had the same raven hair and grey eyes, but wore a close-cropped beard. She studied it and decided she liked her father’s full beard better. She noticed a large cabochon ruby hanging from the king’s right ear. She moved back to King Kelson’s portrait and confirmed he wore one, too. Jäna continued down the hall to King Donal Blaine, noting that he also wore a ruby earring. She also noted that Lady Livia and Sir Cecil had slipped into one of the darkened doorways; Jäna would have all the time she needed.
She moved on down the hall, studying kings unfamiliar to her, yet all with the same Haldane style. All had the same ruby earring, and Jäna was now convinced it was the same earring in each portrait. She was almost at the end of the hall now, approaching the chapel. She vaguely noticed the man that entered the hallway from the door near the chapel that granted access from the courtyard. He opened the door next to the last portrait and stepped inside the room. She looked down to the other end of the hall. Lady Livia and her knight were still lingering in the far doorway. When she returned to join them, Jäna would have to decide whether to sneak up on them quietly, or make sure she announced her arrival well before.
Jäna looked at the last portrait. It was King Cinhil, the same king as in the mosaic in Saint Camber’s Chapel. The mosaic didn’t show the silver hair at his temples that the portrait showed. Jäna thought the eyes were kind, and maybe sad….
“My Lady,” said a man’s voice very quietly and very near to her ear.
Startled, Jäna looked up into the face of an unfamiliar man.
“My lady,” he said again, smiling, but still very quietly. “There are more portraits here.” He motioned to the last door that now stood partly open. “Would you like to see them?”
Jäna shook her head no, and quickly turned to return to her escorts, no longer concerned with whether she should surprise them or not.
Jäna had not taken a single step before the man grabbed her from behind, one hand covering her mouth so she could not scream. He pulled her through the open door and into the room beyond, closing the door quietly behind him. He lifted her up, and she kicked at him with her legs. His hand was large and it covered her nose as well as her mouth, making it hard for her to breathe.
“You just relax now, and stop struggling,” the man said. “You will make a fine message for the king.”
Sir Cecil Duncoate pulled back from the kiss he was enjoying and listened. In spite of the interlude he was enjoying with Livia, he thought he had heard something. “A moment,” he said, smiling down at her and turning to look out the doorway and down the hall. He saw no one there, and stepped farther into the hallway.
Lady Livia smoothed her hair and then also stepped forward to look. “She has probably gone into the chapel to have a look in there. She will be out shortly.”
“Ah then,” Sir Cecil said, pulling the lady back into the doorway. “Let us enjoy the remaining time, then.”
Baron Jerrill de Tehryn stopped in the middle of what he was saying to the man beside him, gave nothing more than a curt nod, turned on his heel and all but ran out of the great hall, his hand reaching for the hilt of his sword.“PAPA!!!!”
Jäna’s mental cries had reached her father; they had also reached two bishops, two dukes and a king.
Bishop Denis Arilan, already moving in the general direction of the hall that led to the chapel, reached the entrance just after the old baron. Bishop Duncan McLain, who had been discussing some ideas for the schola with Archbishop Cardiel, turned and hurried after him. Duke Alaric Morgan sprinted past his cousin, and Duke Dhugal MacArdry McLain was catching up. Only the realization that he was needed more to restore calm in the great hall kept King Kelson of Gwynedd in his seat at the high table.“PAPA!!!”
The cry sounded more desperate now, but Jerrill had reached the chapel end of the hall. He kicked the door open with one booted foot; Jäna’s struggles had prevented the man from locking the door behind him. The door swung open, hard enough to bounce against the frame, and the man inside moved back toward the far wall, his left arm wrapped around the still struggling Jäna, his right hand over her mouth. As Jerrill strode inside and stopped to assess the situation, Bishop Arilan slipped inside, moving along the wall to get closer.
The man removed his right hand from Jäna’s mouth and reached for his sword. Jäna dug her fingernails into his left hand and wrist, stronger than he would have expected, thanks to her training with her brothers. Startled by the unexpected pain, the man hesitated in his reach….
It was all the opening the Bear of Tehryn needed. He gave his opponent no chance to shift his daughter in front to use her as a shield. He slashed upward with his sword, driving deep into the exposed armpit. The man wore no mail under his tunic and the baron’s sword bit deep. The man dropped Jäna to free his left hand to reach for his dagger.“ROLL!”
Jäna rolled as her father commanded and was immediately scooped up by Bishop Arilan, who shifted her as best he could behind him, one hand half-raised to assist if other defenses were needed.
They were not. Baron Jerrill’s sword chopped down on the man’s wrist with the dagger only half drawn, nearly severing it from his arm. The man collapsed to his knees and then to his side, a pool of blood forming on the ornate rug.
Alaric Morgan re-sheathed his sword and moved forward into the room. “I don’t think he will live long for questioning,” he said. “I will get what I can.” He knelt beside the man, avoiding where the blood continued to soak into the rug, and positioned his fingers on both sides of the man’s head at the temples.
The man’s eyes widened in fear, but all he could manage was a weak “no” before the eyes became vacant.
The crowd at the door had grown. In addition to Duke Dhugal and Bishop Duncan, Sir Cedric was standing somewhat helplessly in the rear, and Prince Nigel had joined them. He had been with the pages when Jäna had called for help; only the sharpness of his command to her brothers to “STAY PUT!” had kept them where they were.
Baron Jerrill looked across at his daughter, still held protectively by Bishop Arilan. “Are you hurt?” he asked.
Jäna didn’t answer; she was looking in morbid fascination at the pool of blood beside the man as Duke Alaric continued his probe.
“Jäna!” Jerrill allowed just enough sharpness in his voice to force her to look at him. “Did he hurt you?”
A slight jostle from the bishop helped to pull her gaze away from the scene on the floor. “No Papa,” Jäna said. “You heard me and came.”
“There may be a bruise or two,” Arilan said. “She hit the floor pretty hard.”
“I am all right, Papa. Truly.”
“Jerrill,” Nigel said, entering the room. “Why don’t we send her to Meraude while we deal with this?” He caught sight of Brendan Coris, Morgan’s stepson and squire, who had joined the growing crowd in the hallway. “Brendan can escort her back.”
Bishop Arilan set Jäna down gently, and Brendan came forward, offering his arm to properly escort her. Jäna set her hand upon it as expected and left the room at his side, Lady Livia joining them outside the door and following meekly behind.
Morgan removed his hands from the fallen man’s head and, almost as an afterthought, closed the man’s eyes. He began to search the man, going through the man’s belt pouch and checking his clothes. He paused to look closer at the left side of the tunic, above the breast.
“Find something?” Bishop Arilan asked.
“It looks like there was a badge removed,” Morgan answered, tracing a ragged outline with his fingertip. “It looks like it was hastily done.” He unlaced the front of the man’s tunic and reached inside, thinking the man may have kept the badge on his person rather than taking the time to dispose of it.
“Got it.” Morgan studied the badge for a moment, shook his head and handed the badge up for Prince Nigel to see. “I don’t like this, not at all.”
Prince Nigel took the badge and looked at it in disbelief. It was the falcon badge of Warin de Grey.