Chapter SevenBut ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the Earth
At first Roisian thought little of the summons from her mother to the great hall. Her father had been diligent in sending regular messages back to Laas to inform his family of his wellbeing. As his heir presumptive she sat upon the council of state to whom these missives were formally addressed to.
Only when she saw faces pale and the officials of the court bowing deeply towards her were her suspicious aroused.
“What news?” Her twin stepped innocently past Roisian as she faltered. “Has father won another victory?”
The men parted without voice to reveal their mother and a travel-stained messenger. She stood tall and pale-faced, resolute and yet in some way that Roisian could not assess, diminished somehow.
Gathering herself, Roisian touched her sister’s shoulder and gestured for her to go to Urracca’s side. She herself ascended the dais and stood before her father’s throne. “I surmise that you are the bearer of ill news,” the princess forced herself to say. “I am come now, tell me all.”
The messenger fell to his knees. “Oh, Your Highness. The news is dire. I… I must inform you that your father lies dead.”
Roisian had felt herself steeled somewhat since Culdi against this. The numbness that took her voice taught her otherwise.
“It’s not true!” protested Annalind. “It can’t be true.”
“Please sister. Let him speak. Now sir, speak truly to me. How has this come to be?”
The man looked up at Roisian. “My lady he fell in battle. Our army was caught at the Cleyde by that of Cinhil, who is son of Gwynedd’s King. Prince Jolyon fought valiantly but reinforcements came unheralded upon our flank and he was struck down. Some say that it was a Haldane knight who slew him and others that it was the Baron of Marlor.”
Roisian couldn’t call to mind where Marlor was but decided it hardly mattered.
“Good knight,” intervened Lord Stuart, her father’s… no, now Roisian’s Constable. “How stands the prince’s army? Indeed, who leads them now?”
The knight lowered his head, gaze upon the flagstones of the hall. “The greater part are dead or scattered, my lord. The Earl of Kildaren commands the greater part – perhaps a thousand strong – and sends word that he will seek to cross the Cuille at Trurill. Lord James Ramsay - your pardon, Earl James – felt this unwise and with some hundreds marched south to try crossing the mountains south of Culdi.”
Earl James? Yes, of course, for Lere Ramsay had died some days before. She had been ashamed at the relief she felt. It seemed now so small and so far away. She felt her eyes prickling.
No. Father had entrusted her with the responsibility to be his heir. Her first act as Meara’s sovereign could not be to burst into public tears.
“I feel sure that the council has further questions for you, sir,” Roisian managed to force out. “My mother and sisters must prepare the court for mourning and there are many matters of state to be addressed. Pray gather such officers of the court that have not already arrived to give me their formal oaths and offer counsel here after the noon hour.”
There was a rustle of clothes as the assembled men bowed to her. “God save our princess,” Stuart said in the hush.
Holding her head high, Roisian went to her mother and Annalind, the two still clutching each other, and drew them with her out of the hall.
“Oh Roisian, what shall we do?” Annalind demanded.
“We will do as your father would have wanted.” Their mother took Roisian’s hand and kissed her cheek. “That was well done, my dear. Jolyon would be so proud of you.”
Roisian nodded gratefully and let her mother hold her, tears spilling free at last down her cheeks.
“Annalind, go ahead and have the maids lay out mourning dresses for us.” Her eldest daughter’s tears seemed to bring Urracca back from her own grief. “We shall need veils and –“
The bell tower began to toll slowly and sonorously , informing the people of Laas and all around the town that death had touched the family of their prince. At the sound, Urracca faltered. “Oh how shall I tell Magrette that her papa will not come home?”
“I will tell her,” Roisian promised. She took a handkerchief and wiped at her tears. “Please mother, go with Annalind. She has always been the most highly-strung of us and she will need you more than any of us.”
“Oh my dear. I shall be there for you too.” Urracca clutched at Roisian. “The lords will press you hard, Roisian, for each will think to rule Meara through you. You must be strong though and remember that your Torenthi prince will come for you once he has avenged your dear father.”
“I will be strong, mother.” God grant me that strength, for I know not where else I may find it now.
The new-made dowager rested her forehead against Roisian’s. “I know you will, dear heart. Just mind your mother’s words,” she added, seemingly innocent of the irony in the statement, “And all will be well at the last.”
“Sire, the armies of the Pretender are ravaging the lands.” Custus Howell was little older than Prince Jaron but with the death of his father Ivaar confirmed the boy was now rightful Earl of Eastmarch and one of the most powerful men in Gwynedd. “Lord Kennet, my uncle, sends words that his army has sent out bands of men to seize all food in their path. Those villages that bow their knees to Marek as king are told that it is their tribute to him while those that do not are put to the sword and the village burned.”
“The peasants are fleeing the land and the harvests for those who remain will be a meagre yield. I fear that the armies of the east will be only our first trial, for famine follows on their heels.”
Urien nodded his head wearily. “Famine follows war, Earl Custus. We must pray that plague does not also ride on the heels of the armies. You may rest assured that what may be done for the plight of Eastmarch and all other lands to suffer in this war shall be done.”
Duke Tresham scratched at his beard. “Does your uncle also write of where Marek’s army marches?”
“Aye, Your Highness. He reckons they march towards the Falling Water River, to reach it not far from Saint Piran’s Priory.”
The Earl Marshal frowned. “They’re well advised then. We’ve broken the bridges along the river to slow the advance but there’s a ford near Saint Piran’s that we can’t do much about.”
Custus leant over and touched the map. “Just there, sir. A little south of the priory. The nearest village is Schilling, on the west bank. It’s a broad ford, wide and shallow. There’s little that can be done to block that.”
“Only men can block it.” Tresham looked at the map. “My son Geoffrey and Earl Becan are already marching south along the Falling Water. With less than two thousand men they can’t do more than slow down Kyprian’s armies but there’s no place more likely for that then this Schilling ford.”
A hammering at the door drew Donal away from his place beside the King and he threw it open to reveal the unexpected but welcome sight of a bright-eyed but haggard Malcolm Haldane and Anscom Drummond, both mud splattered by the road and the old priest looking almost grey with exhaustion. “Your Highness! I hadn’t looked for you to arrive so soon.”
“We had to change horses and ride through the night, I must speak to my father.”
Donal stood aside. “Sire, Prince Malcolm has returned.” He shot an inquisitive look at Anscom before taking his old teacher’s arm. *You look half-dead.*
*I’ve learned that fatigue-banishing spells are no match for youthful enthusiasm,* Anscom replied dourly. *By the time we passed Ramos I was almost ready to prepare myself for last rites. We have the Eye though, and some more good news.*
“There’s been a great victory on the Cleyde.” The young prince was speaking slightly more loudly than was perhaps proper and with a keen eye, Donal saw that he was leaning on the table. “Prince Jolyon is dead and his army fleeing back to Meara. Cinhil’s sent a report –“ He produced a letter, still sealed. “- but the courier broke his leg near Tarleyville so I brought it with me.”
Urien accepted the letter and passed it to Duke Tresham to break the seal and read. “Tell me what you can, Malcolm. Our last news was from Keene MacEwan warning that the Kierney forces had been scattered and he was marching west to support Cinhil.”
“Cinhil’s well, father,” Malcolm offered hasty reassurance. “The courier said that he wasn’t even wounded. Jaron was in two skirmishes near Culdi but he’s fine too and missed the battle at Cleyde. Cinhil’s left his wounded at Marlor and he’s marching east with every able man as fast as he can.”
“That’s a great relief. Does that change the situation, Duke Tresham?”
“Aye.” Handing the letter back to the King, the Duke of Claibourne turned the map a little. “The prince wants to halt the Torenthi before they reach Valoret and with his army then I like our chances. Archbishop Marcus, the ecclesiastical levies are mostly assembled from what you said earlier.”
“All but a detachment from Dhassa. Bishop Leontius is marching north through the Lendours with Earl Euan to concentrate at Caerrorie. We’ve had a great many volunteers from the goodly tenant farmers around Valoret, so we are bolstered in numbers and in faith.”
“Hmm. And no news still from Corwyn. I’m sorry, Sire, but it seems that Duke Jernian may have betrayed us.”
“I wouldn’t wish to say that of any of my Dukes but if you are right, Tresham, then we’ll be able to repay him in due time. For now, we must focus upon Kyprian and Marek.”
“You’re right of course. My apologies. M’lord Archbishop, I’ll have our levies here and your men march north on the west bank of the Falling Water. The river bends east towards Saint Piran’s and then west again north o’ the Ford. Even if they get across, we may be able to catch them in the cup the river forms. The road east from Grecotha goes that way so it’s ideal for meeting with Prince Cinhil’s army.”
“I’ll send word to Bishop Leontius to join us there as swiftly as he can then.”
“Aye. And Earl Euan too. So now it’s all a matter of how long Geoffrey MacEwan, Becan Coris and Braham de Traherne can hold them at Saint Piran’s and the ford.” The Duke shook his head slowly. “They’re steady,” he said as much to himself as he did to the rest of the council. “They’re steady men.”
Urien looked at Donal and the knight nodded his understanding. With the armies about to march this would be to all practical purposes their only opportunity to activate the King’s potential.
“We have some busy days ahead of us then,” the King announced. “Save for those with unavoidable duties we should all rest well, for we will have many long days and weary nights ahead of us. Before then, Archbishop, I would think it mete that you ask God’s blessing on our purpose.”
“Of course.” Archbishop Marcus rose to his feet and beckoned his fellow Archbishop from Rhemuth to join him.
Anscom’s face was dourer than ever as he climbed the stairs up King’s Tower to the royal apartments. A few hours sleep had mended his demeanor so Donal was at a loss as to the cause of this fresh upset.
“What now?” he asked in a low voice as he gestured for Anscom to wait. “You taught me yourself not to take anger into a ritual.”
“Aye, I know.” The old priest took a deep breath. “It’s just… the garderobe down there.”
“What about it?”
“There’s a Transfer Portal there! I could have avoided a long, hard ride and risking my life on that boat if we’d known that.”
“It makes sense really. The Festillic Kings used these chambers once, so they’d have wanted one nearby – but far enough from the apartment that it couldn’t be used against them.”
“In a garderobe?”
“It was probably rebuilt later.” Anscom sighed. “Well at least we know now. I trust you won’t mind if I use it to make a discreet departure from Valoret once we’re done. Sooner or latter someone will realise I’m not from any order of the Church of Gwynedd and questions will be asked.”
“I don’t mind in the least. It’s probably for the best you didn’t arrive that way though. Can you imagine the fuss if you’d arrived and some poor fellow was making use of it?”
Anscom’s lips twitched. “That probably wouldn’t have been easy to explain,” he conceded, his annoyance fading. “And tampering with someone’s memories wouldn’t have been the ideal first step on arrival.”
Donal nodded and then gestured for him to step back as the door to the apartments opened.
“That will be all tonight,” Urien instructed his squires. “Sir Donal will see to anything further I need until morning.”
The two boys bowed and exited the royal bedchamber, one of them giving Anscom a curious look. The old man raised his hand. “Bless you, my son.”
“Bless you, father,” the squire replied automatically.
“Father Andrew is here as the Prince’s confessor, Jerome” Donal explained quickly. “Just until formal arrangements are made.”
Satisfied, Jerome followed his fellow down the stairs. Rather than placing guards at the King’s door, Donal had taken the opportunity of arranging to post the guards at the bottom of the stair, pointing out there was no other way in and the small antechamber of the old tower wouldn’t really leave room for more than a single guard anyway.
Inside the chamber, King Urien sat by his writing desk while Prince Malcolm stood at the window. “Have you explained this to the prince, Sire?” asked Donal carefully.
“You intend to grant father the powers of a Deryni, like yourself.” The doubt was evident in the young prince’s voice. “I understood Deryni to be born, not… empowered in this fashion.”
“We are born as we are,” Anscom explained, going to where a jug of wine rested on top of one of the chests that held the King’s wardrobe. “With our own strengths and weaknesses, the latter including the need for long and sometimes challenging education to bring forth to its full potential. While your father… and perhaps yourself… are heirs to a similar legacy, it’s one that differs in some respects.” He uncapped the jug, sniffed and then nodded in satisfaction. “I realise you’re fresh from a Custodes seminary and they’ve always had strong feelings upon our kind, but you’ve had far from the full story.”
“We don’t have time for that story, do we?”
“No, Your Highness. If you prefer not to participate…”
“No.” Urien shook his head and beckoned to his son. “I’m sorry Malcolm but in this case I must insist. Cinhil isn’t here and there are too many uncertainties. As your father and as your king, I need you to accept at least to accept the potential for you to bear these powers. You may never need them, but if I fall in the days to come it may fall to you to pass them on to Cinhil or even to wield them yourself.”
Malcolm bit his lip. “I understand the threat the Festil’s pose but…” He looked to Donal and Anscom before his father. “Is this the only way?”
“There are those who believe God bestowed this potential to your House,” the knight told him. “Entrusting you with the means to protect Gwynedd from another Festillic Interregnum and also not to abuse these powers as they did. I can’t tell you if that’s true, but I can tell you that without them, your father will be fearfully vulnerable.”
“I don’t know what I’ll tell my confessor about this.”
“If you feel you must confess it, then do so to Father Anscom before he leaves.” Urien’s voice was firm. “Then Donal won’t be guilty of misleading my squires. His vows are as valid as those you may take one day, even the Archbishops have agreed that the Church of Bremagne invests its priests with the same duties and authorities as we do here, even if they’d prefer that the Bremagnians not extend the investiture to Deryni.”
Anscom took a taper, lit it in the fire and began lighting candles, praying under his breath as Donal rolled away the thick Kheldour carpet that covered much of the floor. The knight moved the tall candelabra’s to mark each of the four Quarters and then, within the space so circumscribed he trailed a white thread, marking out a circle save for one gap. Taking his sword he laid it carefully with the tip touching the thread and extending the hilt into the circle like an open door.
With the candles lit, Anscom passed them to Donal and as the knight placed one in each candelabra the priest moved filled a bowl with holy water from a flask he’d obtained earlier. Slowly he walked around the outside of the circle, scattering droplets of water with his fingertips, head lowered in prayer.
Donal waited until the line had been completed, droplets of water clinging to the wooden floor. Then he walked smoothly to snuff out the other candles in the room until the chamber was lit only by the four candles and the glow of the fire.
“Donal will ward the circle,” Anscom explained quietly. “But before you enter, please drink from these.” He offered king and prince each one of the three goblets that had been left with the wine. He held a third himself but made no move to drink.
“Is this… just wine?” asked Malcolm nervously.
“No.” Anscom’s voice was matter-of-fact. “There’s a small sedative in it. Not enough to put you to sleep but enough to dull some of your senses… and open certain others.”
Urien sipped from his own goblet and made a face. “It’s no way to treat a good vintage.”
Donal smiled sympathetically at Malcolm’s hesitation to do likewise, remembering his own doubts the first time he participated in such a ritual, no older but far better prepared. “Do you really think we’d go to all this trouble if we were planning to poison you, Your Highness?”
“I suppose not.” Malcolm tossed back the wine and almost choked on it, the three older men careful not to laugh at him.
Donal ushered the King to pass through the gateway he’d left in the circle and stepped aside to let Anscom guide the prince after him. All three knelt in prayer, Anscom placing the goblet he’d brought before on the stone and laid beside it the Crimson Lion, the Eye of Rom and the other items he’d prepared. Looking up the priest nodded to Donal.
Lifting his sword gently, Donal carefully didn’t let the tip leave the thread, instead very carefully tracing the line of the circle once more upon the stone as he moved slowly, ceremoniously towards the eastern candle.
“Saint Raphael, Healer, Guardian of Wind and Tempest, may we be guarded and healed in mind and soul and body this night,” he whispered, dipping his head in submission. When he raised his eyes the candle’s light seemed to have shifted slightly from the usual pale flame to something more golden.
Then to the south, the sound of his sword’s tip on the stone the only sound that accompanied him. “Saint Michael, Defender, Guardian of Eden, protect us in our hour of need.” This time when he looked up, the candle glowed a warm crimson and he felt the flow of power building both outside and within the circle, knowing that he and the sword he bore were still a bridge between the two.
To the west and the words spilled from his lips, head ducking in reverence. “Saint Gabriel, Heavenly Herald, carry our supplications to Our Lady.” It didn’t surprise him that the candle light flickered blue but he caught the sound of a gasp of surprise from Malcolm.
Donal braced himself for the last of the four Guardians, that of the north. “Saint Uriel, Dark Angel,” he invoked the presence. “Come gently, if you must, and let all fear die here in this place.” Now Donal closed the circle at last, seeing silvery light spring up around the line he had drawn as his sword tip at last left the thread and scraped across the floor to touch the point from which he’d begun.
Raising the sword before him in salute, its weight seemed multiplied – as it surely should – and it was with relief that he lowered it once again, across the gap in the thread, leaving the circle closed but yet with a gate that could be opened again at need.
He turned to the three within the circle. “We stand outside time, in a place not of earth. As our ancestors before us bade, we join together and are One. By Thy Blessed Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; by all Powers of Light and Shadow, we call Three to guard and defend us from all perils, O Most High. Thus it is and has always been, thus it will be for all times to come. Per omnia saecula saeculorum.”
“Amen,” whispered Anscom, Urien and even Malcolm and they crossed themselves with him.
Anscom rose and turned to the king. “Urien Owain Rhys Michael Haldane. Thou has been consecrated to the service of thy people. I speak now for your father who was consecrated before you and for the Kings and forefathers before him. I say to you, do not fear.”
Taking a pin he gently drew the king’s hand forward and pierced it. Removing the pin, Anscom took the Eye of Rom from beside him and squeezing the flesh until a droplet of blood fell into the great cabochon ruby of the earring. “Though the cords of the nether wold enmesh thee, though the snares of death surge about thee, thou shalt fear no evil. With his pinions the Lord will cover thee, and under His wings thou shalt take refuge.” He made the sign of the cross over the King’s head. “In Nomine Patris et Fils et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”
“Amen,” the king whispered.
Anscom placed his hand upon the royal brow again in further, more personal, blessing. A look of comprehension appeared on Urien’s face before the priest moved to Malcolm where he pricked the son’s thumb as he had the father, again touching the Eye of Rom to prince’s blood and then doing the same with the Prince’s signet ring.
And then he lifted the ring and Eye of Rom together, placing them within the waiting goblet. This, unlike the others, was filled with not wine but holy water obtained from the Royal Chapel earlier in the day.
Donal shivered as he saw the old man stand. He’d merely, if that could be said of any working like this, invoked the presences outside the circle as wardens to protect them from malign influences. Now Anscom would invoke them again to do far more than only that.
The priest raised up the goblet to the east. “Thou who forms the light and create darkness,” he whispered. “Thou O Lord that art the font of all holiness, we ask thy blessing upon thy servant Urien. In humility we come before you in supplication, begging your supplication in what we must do this night.”
Holding the goblet in one hand and extending the other above it, he extended it in offering towards the golden candle. “We pray Thee now send thy holy Archangel Raphael, O Lord, to breathe upon this water and make it holy, that they who shall drink of it may be worthy to master the element of Air. Amen.”
Donal trembled as Anscom lowered his hand from the rim of the goblet to secure it in both hands as a wind leapt up, stirring even his border braid and ruffling the ebon locks of the Haldanes. White hair flew around Anscom’s tonsured head like a halo as the storm swept down upon him… and then it was past and there was a sense of completion to it as the last trace of the wind, ripples in the water, faded.
He expected Anscom to continue but instead the priest gestured for him to take the goblet, confidence in his face. Reverently, Donal obeyed and held the goblet as Anscom had, in offering, he extended it towards the red light in the south. “We pray Thee now send thy holy Archangel Michael, O Lord, to instill this water with the fire of thy love and make it holy, that they who drink of it may be have the strength to command the element of Fire. Amen.”
The knight felt his hand above the goblet drawn aside by another and fire glowed a handspan above the goblet, a sphere of fire so bright that he feared himself blinded for a moment. Then with a hiss the egg-sized flames descended into the waters which seethed and bubbled for moments after.
Anscom gave him the smile of a proud teacher and took the cup once more, signalling that Donal should move around him to the north. Facing west, the priest raised the goblet to the blue candle. “We pray Thee now send thy holy Archangel Gabriel, O Lord, who rules the storm waters, to fill this cup with the rain of thy wisdom, that those who drink from it may justly call up the element of Water. Amen.”
In the centre of the circle, Malcolm gasped again and Donal saw the king take his son’s hand in comfort. It was the western quarter that had startled the prince before, perhaps suggesting that in some way Malcolm possessed in himself a greater sensitivity to the element of Water or one of the other associations of that quarter. Thunder rolled and a gentle rain fell upon them all, soaking Anscom’s hair around his skull.
This time Donal was ready when Anscom passed him the goblet, though he found the outside running with beads of water. He raised it high this time, facing towards the north and the green candle that marked the last of the Quarters. “We pray Thee now, O Lord, let Uriel, Thy messenger of darkness and of death, instill this cup with all the strengths and secrets of earth that they whom drink from it be invested with the virtue to direct the element of Earth.”
The Eye of Rom and the ring shook within the goblet and Donal used both hands to hold the goblet steady as the room seemed to shake fiercely around them. Anscom fell, caught by Malcolm who impulsively threw his arms out to spare the Deryni a potentially disastrous collision with the stone floor. The floor itself was trembling beneath Donal’s feet and he had to flex his knees as if on a ship in order to remain steady until at last the tremors faded.
With a sigh he moved his hand back above the top of the goblet and offered it to Anscom once the old man had risen to his knees.
“Thank you Donal. And thank you, Prince Malcolm.” Anscom took the goblet between his hands and lowered his head in prayer. “O Lord, Thou art holy, indeed, the fountain of all holiness. Through this sacrament we consecrate again your servant Urien as protector of his people. Give the king Thy judgement, O God, and Thy righteousness unto the king’s son.”
For an instant the priest’s face was transformed, to one unfamiliar to Donal, the white hair replaced with silver gilt and the eyes more serene and compassionate than any the young Deryni had seen. “The cup is ready, Sire. Drink. By this mystery you shall come to the power which is your divine right, as king of this realm, and even so shall you instruct your son and his brothers also should that need come to pass.”
Donal blinked at the apparition that seemed to have replaced his teacher. Urien, for his part, seemed oblivious and reached up to take the goblet. Without hesitation he placed it against his lips and tilted it back, pouring the contents into his mouth until he had to lower it and gasp for breath.
Anscom, himself again, took the goblet back. “How do you feel, Sire?”
“I…” Urien shook his head. “I’m not sure. There’s something different but…”
“Remember, this only sets the potential in place for you. We’ve yet to activate the powers.” The priest tilted his head in thought. “They have always been there but until now you’ve had no means to use them. What we’ve just done is like creating a lock that you can use to open yourself to them. The next step is to give you the key.”
Urien looked at him and then squared his shoulders. “How do we begin?”
Anscom held out the goblet. “If you’d take the Eye of Rom?”
The king looked at him askance and used two fingers to reach into the remaining contents and fish out the earring. Anscom accepted it and set the goblet aside before fastiduously wiping the jewel dry. “You’ve not worn anything on your ear since your coronation so we’ll need to pierce it again.”
Urien smiled and swept his hair back from over his right ear to reveal that it had already been done. “I knew this was coming,” he explained wryly. “It was no secret I’d sent for the Eye of Rom so there’s nothing suspicious in my having my ear pierced in readiness.”
“Well that spares us that step.” Anscom reached forwards and carefully secured the ruby in place with the golden pin. “Is that comfortable?”
“Yes. So now that I’m wearing it...?”
“It’s a requirement, not the key in and of itself.” Anscom lifted the Crimson Lion from where it had rested through the ceremonies so far. “It’s what you do next that will serve as our key.”
“What do I do with it?”
“There’s always a test of courage.” The priest looked slightly pained. “You’ll need to pierce your hand with the lion’s tooth.”
“The lion on this brooch faces me, Father Anscom. It has no tooth I can pierce myself with.”
“Yes it does.” The old priest reached forwards and guided the king’s questing fingers to the clasp on the back, three inches of gleaming gold.Next Chapter