Chapter TwoAnd ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet.
Sir Piran ap Coran was woken by a strangled cry. Sitting up he saw the source curled on the pallet next to him. “Sir Donal?”
The other knight didn’t wake until Piran reached over at took his shoulder. With a gasp Donal’s eyes snapped open. Even in the dim light that filtered through the window at this hour, Piran could see his comrade’s face was covered in sweat.
“Donal, are you awake? Are you alright?”
“I… Just a nightmare.” He shook his head and ran his hands through the starkly cut blow of blond hair that capped it. “Thank you for waking me.”
“You look like you’re about to be sick,” Piran told him frankly.
Donal took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t think so. I’d better get to the privy though, just in case.” He scrambled to his feet only to sway alarmingly.
With a sigh Piran pushed his own blankets back and stood. “I’ll make sure you get there safely. I don’t think Earl Godwyn would be amused if you fell in the privy head first and drowned.”
“You have a charming imagination, Piran.”
The two knights put on their boots and cloaks over their nightshirts and with Donal shaking off Piran’s helpful hand made their way down the inn stair to the yard behind. While Donal went to the privy, Piran drew a bucket of water from the well in the corner of the yard and splashed his face. The cold finished chasing away the cobwebs of sleep and he looked up in some amazement at the tall stone and brick buildings of Rhemuth.
Rebuilt a century before and with rigorous laws to prevent the flimsy construction that left other cities burned down with tedious regularity, the ancient capital of Gwynedd was well known by the sobriquet ‘the Beautiful’. It dwarfed the port of Nyford, Piran’s only previous experience of a city.
Donal accepted the water bucket and soaked his sleeve before rubbing his face clean of the sweat. “Thank you, Piran. I needed that.”
“You’re welcome. Do you think there’ll be any food ready if we ask at the kitchen?”
“I know squires are always hungry but most of us get over that when we’re knighted.”
Piran shook his head. “I was thinking more about Earl Godwyn. He’s not been knighted yet after all.”
The older knight chuckled at having his jibe turned back on him. “There is that. It can’t hurt to ask. I’m sure the royal court will serve a feast fit for their master but it’s a good few hours before then.”
The pair found the kitchen fires lit and the cooks at work already, happy to provide a platter of cheese, fruit and cold meats from the previous night’s meal that their noble guest could break his fast in privacy.
“I’m well served that the two of you rose early to fetch this for me,” the young Godwyn declared as he sat down to eat. “Do you know if my brother has woken yet?”
“I saw none of his retinue,” Piran answered. “And there was no noise when we passed the Duke’s door.”
Godwyn nodded. “Owain was always fonder of the evenings than the mornings. I think we’ll make an early start today and attend Mass at the Cathedral before we go to court.”
“I understood that your brother was hoping you would accompany him to his meeting with Chancellor Tambert before noon,” murmured Donal.
“I’m sure he does hope that, but Owain lets it slip his mind that while his overlord is King Bresal, our uncle King Urien is mine. This is my first time at Court since I was invested two years ago. I don’t intend to arrive on his coat-tails.”
The two knights exchanged looks and Donal nodded. “Then with your permission, sir, I’ll prepare your clothes now and we can depart early.”
“Eat first,” the Earl reminded him in a lower voice, gesturing at the platter. “You brought more than enough. Besides, I hear Prince Cinhil will be overseeing arms practice this afternoon. It wouldn’t do to have you and Piran fainting from hunger.”
“We older men –“ Donal, at the doddering age of twenty-five, was the oldest of the three by far, “Don’t need to eat as much as those still growing.” He sliced section from the cheese though and selected an apple, cutting it into quarters. “And, I beg your pardon, my lord, but I have had news last night from my kinsmen in the east. It’s said my cousin Blaine is in poor health. May I linger at the Cathedral to pray for him?”
Godwyn blinked. “I didn’t know you had kin in the east, Donal. Aren’t you from Claibourne?”
“Most of my kin are, but some went east after the death of King Jasher forty years ago. We’d had lands in the Lendour highlands at one time.”
“I’m sorry to hear of his ill-health then. Particularly when the King will want all able-bodied men he can. Yes, you have my permission to pray as long as you feel the need. And I’ll include him in my own prayers, if you don’t mind.”
“I’m sure he’d be pleased, my lord.”
Dressing in warm woollen britches and tunics, the three men finished the food on the platter, washing it down with cups of small beer. Piran stepped out to check there was still no noise from the rooms occupied by the Duke of Pirek and his entourage of Howiccean retainers. There were the first rumblings from his door so they hastened down the stairs, Godwyn shrugging on a heavy red cloak with the badge of Carthane as the clasp.
Donal passed Piran his sword before the two knights donned their own cloaks – plainer garments, the MacAthan’s lined with a border plaid and Piran’s with a slightly faded black he could reverse if there was need for mourning garb.
At the door Godwyn turned in the direction of the Cathedral only to turn sharply again through a narrow street. “Is something wrong, my lord?” Donal exclaimed as he quickened his pace to keep up.
“I just spotted Lord Lludd – that violet tunic is unmistakeable – heading this way. He must be here to confer with Owain before the King holds Court. Llary of Llannedd must be even more concerned about Urien ordering all his vassals to have their levies ready for a call to arms than Bresal is.”
“King Llary isn’t married to one of Urien’s sisters.” Piran ran after the other two, hoping he wouldn’t lose his way between the tall buildings. It wasn’t possible to see landmarks like the Royal Castle or St George’s Cathedral with buildings three or more storeys tall on every side of the street. “And his kingdom’s just across the Eiran estuary from Gwynedd. In his shoes, I’d be wary too.”
“It’s ridiculous though. Urien’s past fifty and he’s been King longer than any of us have been alive without going to war once. Does King Llary think –“ Godwyn turned again and Pirek, with relief, realised he could see the spires of the cathedral ahead. “- my uncle simply woke up one day and decided to declare war on a whim?”
Donal smiled. “With all respect, my lord, King Urien hasn’t readied his armies in this way in just as long. Without any recent precedent Llary must wonder at the reason. And he has Lludd as one of his advisors – the man’s never got over Urien marrying your royal cousins off to Bremagne, Fallon and Jaca instead of Llary’s brother Cadell. He’s been suspicious ever since.”
“Well hopefully the Chancellor can put his mind at rest. Otherwise I’ll find my levies watching the Eirian all summer while the Royal Army is fighting the Torenthi.” The Earl adjusted his velvet cap as they entered the plaza before the Cathedral.”
Donal waited until he was sure the young Earl and Sir Piran had left St George’s Cathedral before beginning to pray seriously his cousin. Poor Blaine. It was kind of Godwyn (and Piran) to offer prayers for his recovery, but the most that could be hoped for now was that God was less concerned by suicide than the liturgy of the Church suggested. If the Torenthi knight hadn’t been fast enough… well, it didn’t bear thinking about.
He’d picked a spot with forethought to watch the door to the sacristy. Archbishop Marcus des Varreaux hadn’t been long removing his outer vestments but the priests who’d assisted him weren’t so pressed for time – Marcus was likely headed to a meeting of the Royal Council this morning, a temporal need that didn’t weigh on his juniors so much.
Still, one at a time they left to pursue their other duties, leaving only the Sacristan to finish securing the sacred vessels. Donal, still thinking of the cousin who’d been almost a younger brother to him during the two years he’d spent as a student with the Torenthi branch of his extended family, didn’t begrudge the priest the time. Still, it was with some relief he saw the black cassocked man leave at last, closing the door behind him.
The morning light didn’t well illuminate the door and it was the work of a moment for the border knight to slip into the shadows. If anyone wondered where he’d gone from there, well clearly it couldn’t be through the securely locked door into the sacristy.
The lock snapped shut as cleanly as it had opened to Donal without the need for anything as mundane as a key and he turned away. Familiar with the room from other visits he moved to an alcove and a moment later there was no evidence he’d ever been there.
Far to the north he reappeared in an antechamber to a room long lost to the knowledge of humankind. Indeed, it was possible that they’d never been aware of the great octagonal chamber beyond the hammered metal doors. There was no other entrance to this chamber or the greater one but by Transfer Portal, though perhaps that had not always been the case.
There being no formal gathering Donal would have been surprised to find the rest of the Council behind the door. Still, matters standing as they did it had been agreed that one member or a trusted subordinate be waiting in readiness in case of need so the presence of Father Anscom Drummond was no great surprise – although it would have been to most.
With Deryni barred from religious office and his own family too prominent at court for his vocation to a foreign church to be hidden, Anscom had arranged to be seen aboard a riverboat that overturned on the Eirian. Most aboard had reached the shore but Anscom and three others – all strong swimmers – had been presumed dead when in fact they made it to a waiting ship and embarked for more tolerant lands.
“Shouldn’t you be at the royal court?” the aged priest asked mildly, blowing gently on the words he’d just penned to dry the ink. “You know how important it is to have someone close to Urien right now.”
“This may be more pressing. Blaine contacted me last night. He didn’t have time for me to ask questions but… well. It seems the Festils were onto him.”
“Is there any hope he escaped?”
“I don’t believe so. And that’s not the worst news.”
“What could be worse?” Anscom rose and started to pace. “Kyprian hates all of House Haldane with a passion. If he suspects Blaine of collusion with Urien then he’ll not make his death a kind one.”
“He didn’t suspect him of being a Haldane spy. Blaine told me the Festils know about the Council.”
Anscom froze, face paling. “He claimed what?”
“They were specifically looking for someone reporting to the Camberian Council.”
“Oh god!” Anscom leant heavily on the chair. “How could they have…? No, we’d better call the Council together.”
Donal took his seat and the two of them focused their attention on the silvery crystal that hung suspended above the table.
It took long minutes before anyone joined them at the table. Called unexpectedly it could hardly have been otherwise. The first to arrive wore a black cassock over what was plainly a brigandine although he’d at least had a chance to lay aside sword and other weapons.
“I’m glad you’re able to attend, Father.” Donal bowed his head to the warrior-priest in reverence due and in return felt his head touched in blessing.
Father Judicael, once a Bremagne baron and now a senior member of the Knights of the Anvil took one of the two seats reserved for the Council’s Coadjutors and smiled wearily. “I’ll no doubt have to answer to my superiors for the sudden absence but at least I can tell them a little of the truth. You don’t have that luxury, Donal, so this must be urgent.”
“It is. But I’d rather not go over it more often than I have to.”
Bethwyn O’Sullivan arrived next, setting aside her satchel and a broad-brimmed straw hat. “I was working on my garden,” she answered Donal’s amused look. “Talicil doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
“I think he’s more used to seeing you dressed for formal occasions,” the other woman on the council chided, having been only a short distance behind. Silver-haired and stooped, Camille d’Vaudemont took the seat opposite Father Judicael as his fellow Coadjutor and carefully unfolded a fragile set of eye glasses to peer dubiously at the papers Anscom had been drawing up. “Is this what you’ve called us here for?”
“No, I was drawing up some notes when Donal arrived.” Anscom started to reassemble his papers away from Camille’s attention. “I got the impression Ebor wouldn’t be able to reach a transfer portal easily – he said he wasn’t at Trevalga – so we’re only waiting for Walther.”
As if prompted, the door swung open to admit Sir Walther de Cynfyn, who looked around and nodded to no one in particular before sitting down next to Donal. “Is there trouble in Rhemuth?” he asked their youngest member. “I got the impression you were behind calling us in so urgently.”
“Trouble yes. But not in Rhemuth. You might recall I had a source of information from the Beldour court?”
There were nods.
“I’ve had another report from him. The last report he’ll ever make, unless I miss my guess.”
“Do you want to share it?” suggested Judicael. “If, as you say, he’s out of contact then anything we know about him now hardly matters.”
Donal nodded. “I think that would be best.” He stretched his hand out over the table so they could all touch him. “It’s ugly.”
“We’ve all seen ugly before,” said Bethwyn sadly and she gave his hand a little squeeze before shifting her grip to leave space for Anscom and Camille to take hold.
Lowering his shields, Donal brought forwards his memory from the night before, of being contacted by Blaine and of the words that had hurled him into nightmares: *Cousin, beware! The Festils know of the Council! They know -!*
There had been far more than words in that tangle of images of course. Blaine’s thoughts and those Donal had had on receiving them were laid bare. And besides that, of course, was Blaine’s fear.
Walther sighed and sat back on his chair. “Well that’s a miserable business.”
“Is that all you have to say to it?” asked Anscom. “The Festils finding out about the Camberian Council opens us up to being directly targeted by them. None of us are safe.”
“It was only ever a matter of time before they learned of us. We can’t remain a secret and still be effective amongst the Deryni of the west and south. They’re far too scattered.”
“From the heraldry that was Imre of Festil’s second son your cousin was grappling with.” Camille’s voice was mild. “I don’t think Festils will consider any information they receive from Blaine to be worth the price they’ve paid. If he isn’t dead now he’s as good as.”
“What do you mean?”
The old woman eyed Bethwyn carefully through her eyeglasses. “My dear, you’ve never seen someone being mind-ripped. I have. I recognise it.”
“He did what!”
“Extreme situations lead to extreme reactions.” Walther rubbed his temples. “Be honest, Bethwyn. It’s nothing they wouldn’t have done to him – except slower and probably in a far more excruciating fashion.”
Donal leant forwards. “I don’t think they know for sure who any of us are – except possibly their source of information. That’s someone we need to identify as soon as possible. Beyond that we’ve lost our best access to the Torenthi Court. I know Ebor’s been working to discover what’s happening from the Mearan side of this alliance but Torenth is the real threat.”
“The other part is that Torenthi agents will be looking for Deryni close to King Urien,” warned Judicael. “You’re going to need to be very careful, Donal. They don’t even need to strike at you directly. Just drop the word in the ear of the right priest and you’ll be whisked off in front of an ecclesiastical court on charges of witchcraft and heresy. Assuming you’re not just burned by a mob.”
“Someone has to be close to him. At least until we have some idea if he can defend himself from the Festils.”
“Nothing new there, I suppose?”
“I haven’t even had a chance to meet him yet. And I can’t exactly ask him outright if his father passed down the secrets to the Haldane powers to him. Can you imagine the way the Church would react?”
“Don’t even joke about it. We know there’s at least a trace of Deryni blood in the Haldane line through the Drummonds three generations back, but that’s a thin reed to fall back on. If the Festils bring sorcery to play he could be as helpless as anyone else.”
“In which case I don’t see that we have much choice but to see he has support when the time comes. Even if that support are revealing themselves to the Church.”
“You’ll be asking a lot of anyone to do that,” Walther warned. “It’s not just them, it’s their entire family that would be at risk.”
“Better that than to see the Festils back on Gwynedd’s throne. Everything Blaine told me about Marek suggests he’d refuse any suggestion of compromise with the Church, with the nobility and with the peasantry too for that matter. I don’t think he has the slightest clue of the sort of holocaust he’d be sparking if he succeeds in taking power.”
The yards around Rhemuth Castle were full of men and boys in war harness as Godwyn and Piran arrived. Harried officers were trying to bring order to them but the jostling for position – everyone wanting to be closest to Prince Cinhil when he emerged from the keep, made the task an impossible one.
“Do you want to try to get into the great hall?”
“I don’t think that will be much better.” Godwyn looked around and then gestured towards an archway leading around to the gardens. “Let’s try going around there.”
Going through the arch they were confronted by a narrow passage between the back of the armour buildings and the perimeter wall of the gardens. “There should be a gate here, somewhere.”
“There is indeed.” A lean knight a little older than Piran, with a tanned face and wearing a red surcoat over his jazeraint stepped out of an alcove. “However the gate is guarded, gentlemen, so if you’d be so good, perhaps you could return to the yards… unless, of course, you’re going down to the river gate below us in which case don’t let me get in your way.”
Godwyn cleared his throat. “Actually, I was hoping her majesty might be in the gardens as is sometimes her custom at this hour. She’s my aunt by marriage and since I’m newly arrived in Rhemuth I felt I should pay my respects.” He adjusted his cloak to make the Carthane emblem more evident.
One eyebrow arched and the knight smiled thinly. “Meaning that you’re one of the King’s nephews. I’ll enquire on your behalf. Let’s see, that would make you… no, you’re not Duke Owain so you must be the Earl of Carthane.”
Godwyn bowed somewhat jerkily. “Quite so.”
The knight reached out and rattled the door latch for attention before entering into a hushed conversation with someone on the other side. Piran caught his master’s name but not the rest.
“I’m deeply sorry, Earl Godwyn,” the knight said earnestly. “The Queen is dealing with a wild princess at the moment and if we open the garden door she’ll get into the crowd out there and who knows how long it would take to catch her. She’s invited you to dine privately with her and several young ladies of the court tomorrow at mid-day though, if that would be an acceptable alternative.”
The Earl coughed and Piran thought he saw his ears redden. “I’d be honoured to dine with her majesty tomorrow.”
The knight grinned. “Chin up. Prince Jaron generally acts as page for her at such functions so you’ll not be the only eligible bachelor there.”
“Jaron! Oh good lord, he must be almost fourteen now. I hadn’t realised.”
“I suspect it’ll be just as busy tomorrow but if you come here at about this time we should have Princess Rhetice cooped up somehow and I can let you in.”
“Thank you, Sir…” Godwyn’s ears reddened again. “Your pardon, I believe we may have met on my last visit to Rhemuth but I don’t recall your name.”
“Vasco de Varian, my lord. I was attending on Prince Cinhil when you were invested as Earl in your own right.”
“I’m pleased to meet you again, Sir Varian. Is his highness well? I understand he was visiting his sisters over the winter.”
“His highness is in fine health and excellent voice, as I suspect many of your peers in the yards are likely to find out soon. If I might make a suggestion, the Baron of Danoc is overseeing some archery practise for the squires and pages outside the city today and Prince Jaron will be with the other squires. If you want to make a good impression on Prince Cinhil then learning you’re hard at work already is much more likely to succeed than his spotting you in the throng out there.
"I'm glad I agreed to you visiting our allies in the south. Without that I don't think you'd have spotted half the problems we're having without seeing R'Kassi's armies."
Cinhil raised his goblet towards his father. "I could live with the problems if we weren't about to fight a war. I hate to think what this is doing to the treasury."
"You let me worry about that." Urien's hair had been lighter than that of his sons even before it began to silver at the temples. That had been ten years ago and the threads of silver had invaded the rest of his hair over that time. "Keep your mind on Marek of Tolan and Kyprian of Torenth. We're not running short of funds and I can raise more as needed. That's the legacy of a lifetime of peace, more so than the state of the Royal Army."
Vasco stepped forward with a jug and refilled both men's goblets with more wine. For the sake of security the King had elected to dine with his heir in the Royal Council’s chamber, attended only by a single aide.
“We’ve over a thousand men here already and they’re beginning to overflow Rhemuth.”
“Tambert tells me there’s a similar problem in the west. I’d be amazed if the northern lords aren’t having the same problem.”
Cinhil sipped from his wine. “Have we heard anything from Duke Jernian and the other southern lords?”
“About such problems? No, but Coroth is a large port city. It’s more able to support a sudden influx of people than most towns are.”
“I was thinking more about the numbers.” Sifting through the heaped reports on the table he finally found the tally of each force. “Between Cassan, Kierney and Culdi they’ve mustered nearly as many as we have, with smaller levies still coming in. The Kheldour Lords are assembling at Eastmarch and they’re promising more. With the same from Duke Jernian that comes to four thousand, perhaps five thousand once all the levies are in.”
“It sounds like a formidable host, but forty years ago, the combined armies of King Malachy and Imre of Festil numbered twice that.”
“And we don’t know if they’re going to assault the northern passes into Eastmarch or swing south into Corwyn. Between them and Meara we can’t afford to concentrate the army in one place – even considering the likelihood of plague sweeping through the army if we bring them all into one place.”
“I’ve appointed you supreme commander of the Royal Army, Cinhil. You’re the closest thing we have to an experienced military commander – except Richard McInnis.”
Vasco winced at the thought. The Earl of Kierney had served his cousin King Jasher loyally and faithfully in the darkest days after King Nygel was killed by Imre – grandfather of the current Duke of Tolan – but he was past eighty now and said to be half-blind.
“If I thought I was the better man to make these decisions, son, I’d be making them myself,” the King continued. “We both know that I’m not. You have my trust and whatever you decide I’ll back you to the hilt.”
“Then I’ll take you at your word when it comes to the treasury. Once it’s closer to campaigning season I’ll want to send a delegation to the Connait and see how many mercenaries we can hire. The more of them that are in our service, the fewer Jolyon of Meara can hire. Vasco, fetch me one of the maps, please.”
Setting aside the jug, Vasco lifted several heaped reports and found the parchment that bore an inked out map of Gwynedd and its immediate neighbours. The prince accepted it and handed him the tallies he’d been looking at to place alongside the other reports.
“The Festil’s own lands are here in Tolan so a thrust through the Coldoire pass will let them push an army into the Plain of Iomaire. It’s worked for them before.” Cinhil ran his finger down the line of the mountains that separated Gwynedd from Torenth. In the north they were called the Rheljans and in the south the Coamers but they formed an almost unbroken chain dividing east from west. “They could try the high passes at Cardosa, Carcashale or Rengarth but they’ll have to wait later in the year for that. Or they could bring everything south, amass their forces at the Twin Rivers and push around the Coamers to take Coroth.”
Cinhil looked at Urien and silent communication seemed to pass between them. “That places Duke Jernian in a very difficult position. Coroth is difficult to reinforce quickly without pulling troops off the Torenth border and rushing them down the Grande River.”
King Urien sat back and drank deeply from his goblet, Haldane-grey eyes fixed on his eldest son.
“We can’t afford to let Marek destroy our forces piecemeal and we can’t concentrate to meet him without knowing his route. That means the border forces will have to remain flexible and try to slow him down without being taking heavy losses, buying time for the rest of the army to arrive. What if… yes, that might work.”
“What do you have in mind, son?”
“There must be enough ships at Concardine and Desse to move a substantial force by sea. We’d have to worry about Torenthi war galleys near Coroth, but they could reach Trevas in days if the attack does come in the south. Or if it is the Coldoire route then… hmm, I’m not sure how long it would take a ship to go up the Atalantic and reach the Gulf of Kheldour compared to marching them there.”
“It’s a long way around, my lord,” Vasco observed politely. “I suppose it would depend on the weather. But at the least the ships could move provisions for men and horses so the army itself could make a forced march.”
“Good thinking. Someone will need to speak to some of the merchant captains who know the waters. We could certainly use the Gulf to move troops assembling at Ballymar and Claibourne quickly to wherever they’re needed. We might be able to do the same from Stavenham, although that’s close to the Northern Sea. The difficulty there will be in getting word to them in a hurry – carrier pigeons might do but I don’t want to rely on them. We’ll need mounted messengers as well.”
“That’s one area Marek has an advantage over us,” mused Urien. “Deryni.”
“The old folk tales of them turning into birds and flying across kingdoms in days? I didn’t think you believed in the Church’s wilder stories about them.”
“Not birds, Cinhil. But the Deryni – and some of our ancestors too, including your namesake – were able to communicate over great distances, and sometimes even cross those distances using what are described in Transfer Portals.”
“Those same folk tales claiming the Haldanes are granted the power by God to stand against the Deryni witches? I’ve never noticed such powers, father. Although honestly I’ve never been threatened by a Deryni either. The poor devils are usually lucky if they can live a peaceful life without their neighbours blaming them for everything from poor weather to the state of their livestock.”
“Like most tales, Cinhil, there’s a sliver of truth behind them. I’ve never enjoyed those powers either but grandfather had a touch of the uncanny. I was barely old enough to serve as a page when he died but it was quite impossible to lie to him. And King Nygel had something of the same once he took the crown.” He lowered his voice. “It’s well known my uncle died of a dart to the belly but father always swore that it was sorcery that turned the tide against at Argoed that day. While Nygel lived, the men were defended against the powers of the Festil but once he was carried from the field…”
Vasco watched his prince examine his father over the rim of his goblet. “That’s a remarkable claim, father,” Cinhil said at last.
“Oh yes. I’d not wish to make such a claim in front of the Archbishops, or any of the Curia except perhaps your Uncle Jashan. But there are some tantalising hints in the royal papers. Suggestions that the first Cinhil Haldane defeated the tyrant Imre not with steel but in a duel of magic, that his son Rhys was mortally wounded duelling with Imre’s incestuous bastard Marek under similar circumstances. We Haldanes are no Deryni, but we’ve stood alongside and against them at times. Is it plausible that we could have done so without magic of our own?”
“I hadn’t given it thought, in truth. Have you ever found any trace of these powers in yourself?”
Urien shook his head slowly. “From what little I can make of the references I’ve found there was some ceremony – either as a child or upon coronation, perhaps both – to bring forth these powers. And before you ask, no, my father never mentioned such a ceremony to me. Perhaps knowledge of it was lost with his brothers both dead in battle. If the men they entrusted to help my father assume their legacy were also lost in the battles… well.”
“Then unless you can find some guide to them, the point would seem moot, father. The Festils are undoubtedly Deryni and will have others in their train but I’ve never heard that their magic renders them immune to swords and arrows. Whatever advantage they may have of them, we can put our faith in God and in steel.”
“I trust you won’t be offended if I continue to investigate the possibility though?”
Cinhil pushed his chair back and circled the table to kneel before his father. “Sire, you are not only my father but my King. The trust you have placed in me I return wholeheartedly. If you can indeed assume the powers that once guarded our Haldane ancestors then that would be a great reassurance, but I cannot rest our plans upon success on a venture whose chances I can’t even guess at.”
“Wisely spoken, son.” Urien looked up at Vasco. “Have I shocked you, Sir Vasco, in discussing such matters? I’d not wish to prick your conscience too far, or to shock your confessor too greatly.”
“As to the latter, my lord, when I confess my sins it is my sins alone that the good Father will hear. I wouldn’t presume to make confession of another’s actions – most especially those of my King or my Prince.”
“Subtly spoken. But it disturbs you, does it not? Many would say that to seek such powers is to venture into witchcraft and who would follow a king who does that?”
“To judge by Torenth, quite a considerable number, my lord.” Vasco looked down at the map on the table. “I won’t lie and claim that I’m at ease with the notion, my lord. But in truth what I know of the Deryni is mostly, as his highness says, old folk tales. I cannot judge if these are the same powers I’ve been taught damn the Deryni to perdition.”
“Most will assume that they are.”
“Sire, you’ve ruled Gwynedd for more than thirty years.” Vasco spoke slowly, trying to place his tumbling thoughts in order. “If you were seeking these powers for your own sake, you could have done so at any time, could you not?”
“I could indeed.” Urien smiled thinly. “So that I seek them now will excuse me in God’s eyes?”
“I cannot speak for God, Sire. But I find it difficult to construe that the Almighty would condemn a king for seeking to do more in defence of his people, even if the Church might claim that it imperils your soul.”
Cinhil, having watched this with what appeared interest, placed one hand on Vasco’s shoulder. “Be careful there, Sir Vasco. Suggesting that the Church’s position may not exactly reflect the will of God is a perilous step to match our own. I don’t think I need to ask further oaths of you, but you understand that this matter is best never spoken of beyond the three of us.”
“I’m honoured to be in your confidence, my lord.”
“It’s we who are honoured by your faith in us.” Cinhil removed his hand. “I wouldn’t be offended though if you sounded out your fellow knights about the Deryni. If anyone does know more about what we can expect them to do – or of any who might dare to assist us in countering Kyprian and Marek’s sorcerers – then I’d be glad to hear from them.”Next Chapter