Chapter EightBehold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
“Are you serious?” Malcolm exclaimed. “He can’t do that! No one could possibly miss an injury like that.”
“I’m not suggesting he push it through his palm, Prince Malcolm. It’s likely your father will need to hold a sword soon and, alas, we have no Healers any more to close such a wound. The flesh between the thumb and his first finger should suffice. But he has to do this and he has to do this himself.”
Urien raised his eyebrows. “So this is my trial?”
“We’re dealing with considerable power, Sire. Anyone in contact with you would also be in contact with that power and we’ve no guidance on what the consequences of that would be. At best it could simply fail entirely. At worst…”
“I see.” Urien looked back at Donal. “It would be a shame to come this far and then fail at the final hurdle.”
“It’s likely you’ll find the aftermath disorientating to say the least,” Anscom added apologetically. “Having never witnessed this before, I can’t be more specific. All I can promise you is that it will awaken nothing within you that isn’t already there.”
“In that case,” he gestured for them all to move as far back as they could from him within the bounds of the circle.
The trio moved together before where the blue light of Gabriel’s candle still glowed while Urien moved closer to Raphael’s candle in the east. Donal prudently took a firm hold of Malcolm’s wrist, the prince barely noticing in his concern.
Urien toyed with the brooch a moment, steeling himself for the act, Donal thought; before taking it in his right hand and touching the tip of the clasp to the flesh. “Nothing so far,” he noted for their benefit. “Courage, Malcolm.”
And then he thrust the clasp home with a single sharp movement.
The king gasped and when he looked towards them again his eyes were glassy and clearly fixed not upon them but upon something only he could see.
“What have you done?” Malcolm whispered in dread. “What have I let you do?”
The Eye of Rom glowed softly in the darkness of the room though, its light spreading slowly across the kneeling king until he was illuminated entirely in gold before them, the lines of age seeming to fade away.
And then the light flickered and was gone. Urien slowly fell forwards and to one side, sprawling upon the stone floor.
Donal released Malcolm and the two of them went to the king’s side. While the prince carefully pulled the brooch clasp out of his father’s flesh, Donal checked his pulse and peeled back one eyelid. Fortunately the former was strong and the latter dilated normally.
“Is he well? Did it work?”
“His pulse is strong. As for the rest, we won’t know until he wakes. And that might not be until morning.”
“I’d rather not take you word for that.” Malcolm crossed his arms defiantly. “He told you to set my potential too, but I won’t let you do that until I know you’ve not addled his wits.”
“Are all the Haldanes this stubborn?” asked Anscom bluntly, looking over at Donal.
“No, he’s still growing into it.”
Anscom shook his head and then knelt to touch Urien. “Well everything seems in order, I don’t suppose there’s any harm.”
Grey eyes popped open and Urien seized hold of Anscom’s wrist before equally suddenly he released it. A slow smile crept across his face. “This… yes, I understand now.”
“You do?” asked Anscom. “What do you understand?”
“All of this.” Urien spread his hands to indicate the ritual circle. “It’s remarkable… as if I’d always known but now…” He pulled himself up to a sitting position. “You said it was a like a key but it’s more like drawing back a curtain. It reveals things I never saw before.”
“I imagine you’ll find Mass in the morning quite the experience,” Donal warned. “I remember how I grew to appreciate it more as my own education progressed. But for you that may happen all at once.”
The king rose and enfolded his son in his arms. “It’s alright Malcolm. There’s nothing to be afraid of. This is the legacy our family has carried for a hundred years already. God grant that I don’t fall to the temptations the Festils did with their own powers.”
“History suggests that your ancestors found it best to be judicious in their use of it,” Anscom said drily. “Which may be difficult upon the battlefield but I always thought half the stories from the battlefield tend to exaggerate feats of heroism anyway.”
“Which will probably be fortunate.” Urien folded his arms. “And when were you planning to reveal that you were Corwin Drummond’s son? I might not remember you well, but he was at court quite a bit when he was around his age. The resemblance is uncanny.”
“I wasn’t planning to at all.” Anscom gave Urien a look that was similarly stubborn. “I left Gwynedd for a reason, Sire. Your Church would rather I burned at a stake than that I wear this cassock. How can I call Gwynedd home when that’s the case?”
Urien lowered his head. “I don’t suppose I can argue against that. So what do we do next?”
“Well I believe you wanted Prince Malcolm’s potential set. Unless you’ve changed your mind about that?”
When Urien shook his head and started to rise, Donal put one hand on his shoulder. “You should probably sit this one out. What you’ve done so far may have taken more out of you than you realised.”
“You could have warned me you wanted me to call on Michael and Uriel for you. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Anscom nodded as they descended the stairs towards the hidden Transfer Portal. “I’m sorry about that. Calling on Raphael took more out of me than I realised. I don’t do ritual work on that scale often these days, even the Bremagne church would prefer a Deryni priest doesn’t make too obvious use of his magic. I almost fainted while I was passing Urien the goblet. That probably wouldn’t have reassured young Malcolm.”
“I think almost sitting on him when I called Uriel probably accustomed him to the idea you weren’t in the best of health.” Donal paused, thinking of the face he’d seen in Anscom’s place at that moment.
“Is something the matter?”
“No. I’m tired too and I’ve got a long ride tomorrow.” If he broached the matter now, at best Anscom would want to talk about it well into what remained of the night and he might even take offense. Better to reflect on it later when he was more rested.
Anscom stopped at the bottom of the stairs and then took Donal’s hand. “We’ve done good work tonight I think. We’d better make sure it’s properly documented though. There’s no knowing if Urien or Malcolm will live to pass on the means of activating their potential to the next generation of Haldane kings.”
“It is looking rather like the same circumstances that led to the information being lost the last time.”
“There is one more thing.” The priest looked serious. “I understand Prince Malcolm expects to return to the seminary if he survives the war.”
“I’ve really had no opportunity to discuss that with him. You’ve spent more time in his company than I have.”
“Hmm. Well do what you can to discourage that. I suspect the Church has some means of screening out Deryni who try to take Holy Orders. They did when I was considering it years ago, even identifying a few who had no idea of their heritage. They were all burned of course, for attempting to violate the Statutes of Ramos.”
“You think that whatever they do could detect the Haldane potential. No, that can’t be true. His uncle was ordained as a priest – he’s a bishop for God’s sake!”
“But he didn’t have the potential set the way we have in Malcolm. And what if he’s brought to full potential? He’d almost have to do that if he takes on initiating Prince Cinhil and it’s entirely possible that the similarity to Deryni powers might be apparent to careful testing. I can think of a couple of possibilities and it would be very embarrassing to have a Haldane prince mistaken for a Deryni.”
“To put it mildly! How in the world am I supposed to shake him loose of wanting a career in the Church?” Donal pushed open the door to the garderobe. “For that matter, should you be suggesting that? You’re a priest, you should encourage religious vocations.”
“If it keeps him alive and the Haldanes in power then I’ll gladly answer to God for that one. But in the meantime, see if you can dangle some temporal temptations in front of him. He’s titular Duke of Rhemuth and for that matter, he’s a young, healthy and eligible young man. If that doesn’t suggest any possibilities to a man your own age then I’m afraid for the future of the MacAthan family.”
“Are you seriously suggesting that I try to play matchmaker –“
Anscom stepped onto the stone slab of the Transfer Portal and vanished without so much as a farewell.
“- for a royal prince?” Donal groaned and then closed the door of the garderobe. Might as well use the place while he was down the stairs anyway.
The royal pavilion of King Kyprian was less ornamented than those of many of his noble vassals. Years of campaigning had taught the King of Torenth that while humility and poverty might be churchly virtues, the efficiency of his captains could almost always be judged to be an inverse proportion to the ostentatiousness of their field gear.
Strong willed and strong tempered by nature, Kyprian had elected to emulate the officers he prized most in their field habits. More than one courtier had suffered the rough side of the royal tongue over suggestions that he might want something more befitting his station.
Long familiar with his father’s habits, Prince Arkady didn’t make any adverse comment as he was ushered through a tent serving as antechamber and then through beneath an canopy to enter the larger tent that served his father as a throne room in the field.
Sat upon a field stool and wearing his arming tunic under a surcoat in the back and white of the Furstáns; the barrel-chested Kyprian seemed no different than he had done five or even ten years before. “Tell your son that supporting his claim to Gwynedd is one thing but if he wants it he’ll have to do more than march around bullying peasants,” he snapped to his brother-in-law.
Duke Imre remained knelt before the king. “I’ve written to him on that topic already, Sire. May I have your permission to ride south and remind him of his responsibilities personally?”
“You may. Tell Marek I’ll be at the Priory of Saint Piran by dusk in two days but I’ll march not one inch further – not an inch, I say! – until his army has arrived.”
“It shall be as you say, my King.”
Kyprian grunted as if to say ‘of course’, rose to his feet. “Oh stand up, Imre. It’s not you I’m annoyed by. If you were in charge there you’d have brought those troops up here by now. Marek’s got a few things to learn and better you teach him those things than I.”
The Duke of Tolan’s smile was sardonic as he rose and the two men embraced before the Duke backed away with a low bow.
Kyprian’s face creased into a smile as he saw Arkady. “Aha! And here’s a young general who’s learned his trade well,” he added loudly enough for Imre to hear clearly. “Well done fighting Eastmarch, my son. A short sharp battle and you’re right on my flank where you’re supposed to be.”
“It was my honour, father. I understand you intend to encamp on this side of the Falling Water River until cousin Marek joins us.”
“Precisely so. We could press on but the men’ll be better for a day or two to gather their strength. And given the news from the west, the Mearans proved little distraction to Gwynedd so they’re likely to have reinforcements of their own before we reach Valoret.”
“That being the case Sire, there could be an argument for pressing on before the reinforcements arrive.”
“There is, but having the river at our backs would leave us in a tricky position, young sir. We don’t have to force the river there if they’re defending it in force, we can swing north or south and they’ll have to move to meet us. And,” he stabbed one finger towards the side of the tent, symbolically towards the army, “with our hardened troops, we can outmarch them in either direction.”
Arkady bowed resignedly. He had a degree more leeway with his father than most of the other officers but only by a degree. “I am guided by your wisdom, father.”
Kyprian returned to his stool. “So, still no news of the Haldanes themselves? The Mearans claim that Urien’s son led the army that defeated them but has no one seen them facing us?”
“I’ve received no news of them,” Arkady admitted. “The prisoners we’ve questioned claim that the Earl of Rhendall leads the army in front of us and the Earls of Kheldour and Marley are marching a conjoined army south out of Marley.”
“So I’ve been told. And it’s the Earl of Lendour in the mountains to our south. Urien’s son may have some fire in his belly but it seems that Urien himself lacks that.” Kyprian slammed his fists down on his knees. “Thirty years I’ve waited for this, thirty years! If the hordes of the North hadn’t risen, I’d have done this then and placed Imre on the throne. Damn the Norse anyway!”
“His grace of Tolan has many qualities to admire,” Arkady admitted. “But of his elder son… well, you spoke of him when you arrived.”
The king growled. “War has a way of showing a man’s quality. He seemed well enough in the north but only as captain to his father, not with an army of his own. Perhaps as well for a vassal king for he’ll not stir himself enough to be a trouble to you, but as a general… pah. He claims to be ‘stamping his authority’ on his kingdom. Well until Urien and his sons are dead it won’t be his kingdom.”
“If you’ll pardon me for saying so, father, I suspect he’ll be a drain upon the strength of Torenth for if his conduct now is any guide he’ll spark rebellions at every hand.”
“A war every few years will keep your armies strong. See how the Haldane’s forces crumble? Urien has waged no wars in his reign and lacks seasoned officers and generals to do his will? If Marek must call on us then we may bring the manhood of Torenth to full flower expeditions to support him, aye and reward them with lands at his expense. It would not displease me to have the northern lords that lead Urien’s armies against us now replaced with men more loyal to my sons than those of Marek.”
Arkady spread out a map in his mind. “Between that and Nikola ruling as Prince of a reunited Meara, the north would bow to Beldour and Marek would leave his eldest son only the old Haldane lands and those west of the Eiran River.”
“You see it, don’t you?” Kyprian smacked his knees again. “I’ve offered Jernian autonomy in Corwyn and with a little pushing, Marek will grant his younger son the same in Eastmarch, limiting his authority east of the Lendours. Thus we need not concern ourselves that he or his son Festil will grow over-mighty.”
“Has Duke Jernian agreed to your terms then? I had not heard he had replied to your overtures.”
“The old man is a cagey one, I admit, too wise to place aught in writing. He’s been nothing but warm to my heralds though and the last news from Fathane is that the camps of his army along the Western River hold at least a thousand men. If he’d gone north then Marek would have to turn and face him, giving him better excuse for his slow pace north, but since he hasn’t done so I believe we can count on him.”
Arkady frowned. That news should be fairly current since Count Fathane, whose lands lay along the Torenthi side of the Western river was a Deryni himself. He’d not met Count Lipold himself, for he’d been too young to campaign in the northern wars but his father Mihaly had been an accomplished sorcerer and seasoned campaigner, his rule sadly cut short by a northman’s axe three years ago. “Aye, best that he not be in place to bother Marek’s flank then. If his royal highness of Gwynedd is this slow without serious opposition, Corwyn’s levies being on the field would probably lure him further south.”
“Rather necessary in that case, so let’s be grateful to the good Duke’s steady qualities and discontent with his Haldane overlord.” The King rose to his feet. “Now unless my nose deceives me, the cooks have a bullock well roasted and seasoned. You can meet my officers as we dine, there are some promising young men you should have your eye upon for the future.”
While the Arx Fidei’s grand architecture had underlined the power of the anti-Deryni forces within the Church, the ancient priory of St Piran’s had been a major seat of the Ordo Verbi Dei for almost as long as Gwynedd had been a kingdom. Kings and dynasties rose and fell, the Gabrilites, Michaelines and even Custodes had had their days in power but through it all the Ordo Verbi Dei had remained.
Donal could feel that power, quiescent for now, beyond the priory gates as Urien led the royal party past them and into the army that spread across the fields and pastures that fed the monks.
The monks would face a lean harvest this year, perhaps needing support of their brother communities across the Kingdom, for armies were not by their nature kind to the lands they rested upon.
“It seems that Kyprian’s vigour might have deserted him,” Urien observed, “I thought we’d little chance of reaching Braham’s army before the Torenthi arrived.”
“A small group on horses move far faster than a whole army, Sire.” Donal glanced around him. “It’ll be several days before Duke Tresham has all the eastern armies concentrated here and we’ve still no news of when Cinhil will arrive with his army.”
The King nodded calmly. “Still, when we left it seemed possible that the Earl would have been driven back to the river before we reached him. And those are northern banners I see, so the men of Marley have arrived and Kheldour too.”
With the royal banner flying, their arrival was no surprise and not only were the three Earls, accompanied by the younger brother to the unfortunate Earl Ivaar, Kennet Howell, ready to receive the king but cheering men lined a path through to the centre. They shouted homages to Urien as he rode past and the Haldane slowed his horse to wave his hand to men who had until now probably never laid eyes on the king whose throne they fought to save.
Swords clattered on shields while spears and bows waved wildly in the air as the little party moved through them, the shouting and the sound of metal blades on wooden shields making it almost impossible to hear men speak.
Reaching the centre of the camp, Urien looked around and gestured for Donal and those with him to dismount, though he himself remained in the saddle, raising both hands above his head, which remained lowered until after long moments, something resembling peace settled upon them.
“I have never sought war for Gwynedd,” he declared, raising his voice. “Only that you and your families live in peace and prosperity as God desires for all his children. But there are men of evil ambition who have broken the peace in the name of their avarice. And thus there are men such as you, men who train to arms and war to drive back these evils.”
“Sons of Gwynedd, men of fierce Eastmarch and loyal Marley, men of the mountains of Rhendall and coasts of Claibourne! If there is sorrow that we must come together to wage war then there is also pride in my heard that so many worthy men stand ready to defend Gwynedd. I am told that Kyprian of Torenth, and his son, who slew Earl Ivaar, march upon us from the East.”
Earl Braham raised his voice. “Aye, King Urien. His vanguard is only miles hence and tomorrow he shall be upon us.”
Urien nodded. “My thanks. He will come then. And I shall be here with you. But tomorrow shall not be the day that we halt him.”
“No!” He raised his voice over the tumult. “That day will come soon. But to us, you who will stand with me tomorrow, is given a sterner charge.”
“Even now armies are marching eastwards for that great day. Duke Tresham, my faithful Earl Marshal, has called armies forth from Valoret, from the Lendours and from the south together. In the west, my son Cinhil has defeated the Mearans and his army races towards us. Together, they and we shall have victory.”
“But that day cannot be tomorrow. Our victory tomorrow is one of time. Kyprian will be forced to pay for his progress – not in blood, though that shall be shed I do not doubt, but in time. When we give ground, this hallowed ground, it will not be in fear – for I look around me and I see you have none of that baseness. It shall be in victory. For while we stand together in his path, he will be slowed and the strength of Gwynedd builds behind us until at the last we drive him from our land once and for all!”
Donal didn’t think he was the first to raise the cry: “A Haldane!” but he shouted it as eagerly as any. There was a magic to kingship he and Anscom could never have given to Urien, but it was to Gwynedd’s great benefit that the King had never lacked it.
Urien dismounted and clasped hands with each of the Earls in turn, then clasping Kennet Howell’s hand as he did the same for him.
“It won’t take long for King Kyprian to learn what you said,” Becan Marley warned in a low voice.
“He needs to gather his forces too.” Urien similarly kept his voice down. “Near a third of his army is still east of the Lendours and he hasn’t much of a supply train with him. Geoffrey’s father tells me it’s likely he’ll only commit his vanguard against us tomorrow.”
Kennet rubbed his chin. “That will still be a strong force. More than our number and for the most part mounted.”
“A retreat won’t be a problem.” Braham studied the horizon. “But keeping it slow and steady could be. If Kyprian sends out light horse at our flanks he might well cut us off from the river and if that happens even the best men will be tempted to rout.”
“It’s your army, Earl Braham. I can’t claim to have great experience as a general. What do you suggest as a solution.”
“Well we’ll not match him for cavalry…”
A younger man in the same livery as Braham cleared his throat. “Your pardon, father, but didn’t you always say that the best guard against cavalry was a solid line of infantry.”
“As long as the flanks are anchored, yes.” The earl looked around. “It’s not so hard in mountains like those of my lands but we don’t seem to have any convenient terrain here, particularly if we have to march as we go.”
“What I had in mind was, what if we have four lines, each anchoring the other’s flanks.” The young man hesitated and then took his sword and sketched a rough square in the dirt. “You see? Four lines, each facing outwards. If anyone tries to turn the flanks they just run into another line.”
Kennet nodded. “I see it, good thinking, Sir Gillis. If we use the space between them to hold our supplies then they’ll be safe… perhaps some of our horses too, although that might leave us little room.”
“I think for the most part our horsemen will be needed as scouts.” Braham chewed his lip and then thumped his son’s shoulder proudly. “Yes, it’s a good chance. Archers and supplies on the inside, we’ll have to dismount most of our knights to reinforce the corners – those will be vulnerable points. But this will at least keep our flanks closed and that’s the biggest risk of sparking a route.”
“And what if Kyrian decides to break the formation? A charge of knights could smash the line…”
“Not if the line holds true, Earl Becan. Not if the line is solid. Horses have more sense than to throw themselves onto a spear. And my men won’t break, not with the King watching. Not after what he said today.”
Kennet tapped his chin. “He’d have to bring forwards infantry to try to grind us down. And since his majesty has given us full permission to make a steady retreat, they’ll be wearing themselves out not just trying to fight our men, but also to do so while we’re walking slowly away from them.”
“It’ll be demanding on the discipline,” conceded Braham. “But that’s the beauty of letting Kyprian’s light cavalry – Moors probably,” he added with a shudder, “- move around the flanks. Even the biggest fool in the army will realise he can’t hope to get away alone so the only hope is to stay together.”
“Well this brings back memories.” Nikola screened his eyes with one hand as he looked at the army deployed to face them.
“And not a blessed one of them is a good memory.” Arkady knew that his brother, like himself, was thinking back to the fir-clad and almost impenetrable mountains of the north. These riverlands were almost as far from such a vista as the southern deserts but the formation of men that faced them was almost exactly the same as the sort of shield wall they’d faced scores of times in long and painstaking campaigns. “I wonder if it’s a coincidence or if someone crossed the northern sea and took service with the Haldanes.”
“It could go either way, but I saw Byzantyun footsoldiers doing much the same so it’s hardly a tactic unique to the north.” Nikola glanced around. “Think they left their rear unguarded?”
“If so then they’ll regret it. Suleiman and five hundred of his brother Moors are out there and you know their view on Christians offering to surrender.”
Nikola raised his voice in conscious register of the accents of the southern deserts. “’Surrender, my lord? I’m just a poor but honest Moor, what do I know of these Christian ways?’”
“It’s not funny, Nikola. They do know better but father refuses to rein them in.”
“They’re like the rest of us. Offering for quarter up the north was asking for a knife in the back – or any of the other horrors they reserved for their captives.” His brother raised one gauntleted hand. “I know, I know. We’re not in the north any more but habits are hard to break. And if father isn’t pushing them to show more restraint it’s not as if he’s chiding you for doing so.”
Arkady nodded. “Thank you for the reminder. Speaking of which, is that banner near the middle the one I think it is?”
Nikola shaded his eyes again. “Hard to be sure with the wind so low but…”
As if in response to his words a gust of wind swept across the Gwynedd army and for a moment all the banners streamed out as plain as day.
“If you thought you’d seen the Haldane lion, gold on a crimson field, then I’d have to agree. And I don’t see any differences on the heraldry to mark a son or brother.”
The two princes exchanged looks. “Unless they’ve made some grievous error in their deployment, I’ll need a herald.” Arkady beckoned to one of his aides. “We have to maintain the courtesies after all, and there’s no use trying to crack that without a good number of our heavy foot.”
“I wouldn’t say no to some catapults too. Do you think father would mind waiting a day or two to bring up the field engines?”
“I tell you what, Nikola. You go and ask him. I should be able to hear his opinion from here, it’s only a couple of miles.”
The herald returned with the words of King Urien well before a suitable number of infantry companies had been brought forward.
“The Haldane is happy to speak with you, Your Highness, but as the stated purpose of your presence here is to overthrow his House and replace him with, to use his words, an usurper, he’s disinclined to come forward and meet within reach of your bows. He suggests that if you’re willing to advance as boldly as your armies have so far that he’ll meet with you and no more than two aides at a distance of no more than two hundred yards from his own position.”
Nikola shook his head. “That’s a goodly distance for a bow but not an impossible one. All it would take would be one fine archer in their ranks, brother…”
“To make you heir apparent in my place?” Arkady shook his head at the thought. “Only a fool would think that doing so would improve his position.”
“We don’t know for sure that the Haldane isn’t a fool, when it comes to war at any rate.”
Arkady looked at the herald. “What do you make of him? Is he a fool, or at least unversed in warfare?”
The herald shook his head. “I can’t speak for his competence as a commander, Your Highness, but the Haldane greeted me chivalrously and seemed very much in command of both himself and of his men. My sense is that he knows he cannot hold the position long against our greater number and would be pleased if he could make us spend time talking to him rather than in battle.”
“That hardly signifies now, we’re going to need that time anyway.” The prince looked at Nikola. “If he thinks that killing me will lead to an immediate attack, he’s unlikely to try anything. And the chance to get a feel for him now could make all the difference later once father takes the lead.”
“At least let me go in your place,” offered Nikola proposed. “Losing you might not endanger the succession but it would demoralise our forces and I’d not wish to be the one explaining to father why you got stuck with an arrow – or struck down by magic if the tales of Haldane magic are true.”
“I’m sure the men would follow you as readily as they do me. You’ve always been the one of us looked on most kindly.”
“It takes more than being liked to lead well. Our brother Zimri put it best I think when he said that our soldiers might follow me into hell but that with you in the lead they would be led back out of Hell in triumph.”
Arkady’s cheeks pinked. “Zimri had a bad case of hero worship at the time. I only hope he’s grown out of it by now.” He looked to the west again. “Besides if I’m out there he may assume that there’s no one of rank in charge here to be moving the troops up and preparing an assault.”
“If that’s the case, dear brother, then he won’t have reason to think that any treachery will be met with an immediate and punishing assault, so by that logic…”
The elder of the two princes threw up his hands. “Oh have it your own way, Nikola. But understand that if anything goes wrong out there then there will be an immediate attack, whether the rest of our companies are in position or not. And I’ll be in the front rank.”
“I’ll try not to do anything reckless then.”Next Chapter