Chapter TenAnd he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshapat, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
2 Chronicles 20:15
Donal threw open the door to the king’s chambers and saw that none of the occupants were awake. Unceremoniously he dragged the covers off the house’s one bed and shook Prince Jaron by the shoulder.
“What? I’m awake!” The young squire rubbed his eyes and sat up. “What?” he asked again. “Sir Donal?”
“Get your father’s armour ready!” snapped Donal and reached over past the boy to swat Malcolm on the head. “You too, Prince Malcolm. The Torenthi are here.”
“Here?” exclaimed Jaron, wriggling out from below Donal. “But they’re -“
Urien sat up sharply, woken by the roar. “Sir Donal?” Without waiting for any further he reached up to the bed board and lifted the state sword from where he’d left it as he slept.
“King Kyprian stole a march on us, Sire. They hold the ford and if we’re not very quick they may reach the camp too.” Donal stepped back and saw that Jaron had taken the King’s arming tunic and had it ready. “Quickly, Sire.”
Throwing his legs off the bed, Urien took the bottom of the arming tunic and pulled it over his head. Fortunately he’d slept in shirt and breeches. Donal took the king’s feet and pushed riding boots onto them, then retrieved greaves and buckled them over the boots as Jaron wrestled a mail-shirt over his father’s head.
“This will have to do.” Urien stood and turned so Donal could tighten the buckles at the back. “Fetch my surcoat, Jaron.”
On the other side of the bed, Malcolm had pulled on his own arming tunic and snatched up the surcoat from the top of a chest. “I have it. Jaron, get dressed,” he instructed and pulled helped his father don the silk surcoat, the royal colours of Gwynedd bright despite the early hour.
Donal picked up his own mail from where he’d left it at the door and tried to wrestle it over his head hastily. Urien took hold of the armour and helped him don it. “Jaron, go to Duke Tresham, he’ll need all the help we can give him today.”
The boy seemed about to protest but had the sense to refrain when he saw the king’s expression. “Yes, father.” He handed Donal the sword-belt he was holding and left the chamber.
Buckling a well-made leather brigantine around himself, the young prince looked to his father. “Sire?”
“Take my horse and ride west,” he ordered sharply. “Find Cinhil’s camp and tell him what’s happened. Duke Tresham might have sent a messenger but you’re from me, do you understand? Tell him…” Urien twisted the Ring of Fire from his finger. “Give him this, the Lion and the Eye of Rom. If things don’t go well, you know what to do.”
Urien pulled him into a brief embrace. “You can. It’s in your blood. Now go.”
“I wish we’d time for you to don better armour,” muttered Donal as he followed the King out of the chamber. The household knights who’d been asleep in the other room of the small house commandeered for Urien were also armoured, seizing weapons and filing out of the house. “At least take this.”
Accepting his helm, a golden coronet of lions secured around the crown, Urien joined the crowd of knights and once he was out of the house he donned it, stepping aside from the door as he secured it below his chin. “Gentlemen,” he ordered, waving at the knights around him. “This is no time for ceremony. Today Gwynedd needs our swords.”
“Raise the king’s banner!” called Donal.
“This isn’t my banner,” Urien corrected him and as the banner bearer removed the leather cover from the silk banner, the king seized the pole. “Or at least not mine alone. This is the banner of all Gwynedd!”
With a cheer the knights followed their King as he swung himself into the saddle with the energy of a man half his age. What they saw from the edge of Schilling was enough to chill their veins however.
The ford was clear of the living, but only because hundreds – thousands – of Torenthi men-at-arms had already crossed and were advancing up the slope. The shoreline was heaped with bodies – some wearing the same colours as the living men-at-arms but others in the drab of the peasant levies that the Archbishops had called up from the most faithful of their congregations.
Others in that drab still stood, interspersed with Lendour men and the Carthmoor levies in a thin line from the shore upstream to the front of the village, not far from where the knights had assembled. To the right another line was forming and Baron Danoc could be seen bringing his men to order.
“We’ll stand here,” Urien declared. He lowered his voice and looked at Donal. “I don’t see the Duke of Tresham’s division.”
“They’re probably still coming up.” Donal’s own eyes swept across the battlefield, taking in the details. In the far distance another column of Torenthi could be seen approaching but it would be some time before they reached the ford. “I see the colours of Lorsöl, Jandrich… and Tolan.”
Urien raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, still low in the sky ahead of him. “Is this Marek himself?”
“I think it might be. See that band of knights behind their centre? The man at their head wears a surcoat quartering Tolan’s colours and Gwynedd’s.”
There was a clatter of hooves and the Duke of Claibourne moved up alongside the royal knights, followed by his own guards and Jaron, who hung back.
“Two, perhaps two and a half thousand,” Tresham grunted. “We have their number but there are more coming. Once Earl Godwyn has his men mounted we may be able to drive them back to the water.”
Donal nodded dubiously. Then he spotted movement just upstream of the ford, one of the bodies he’d thought dead rising unsteadily to his feet, a naked sword in one hand. “Oh Jesu, it’s Piran!”
“Sir Piran!?” exclaimed Jaron, moving forward to his side while Donal hastened to uncase his bow.
“He’s alone down there, he doesn’t stand a chance!”
Sure enough, he must have been spotted for the man who might be Marek pointed and four of his companions turned their horses towards where Piran stood.
Donal raised his bow and nocked an arrow although he knew it was hopeless. If the four knights were alone, perhaps, but Piran wasn’t even wearing armour.
There was a cry from the left and Donal turned his head to see a mounted man burst from the Lendour lines. A black cassock billowed where it wasn’t held in place by a jazeraint and the arming cap the rider wore had been painted episcopal purple. He was making directly for the shore and seemed not to care one whit that a block of Torenthi were in his path.
More shouts arose and the lines to the left seemed to break up as riders and men on foot followed the apparently crazed bishop. Then a trumpet sounded in unambiguous command and the entire line started to charge forwards.
“That’s torn it.” Tresham spurred his horse forward. “We have to support them now!”
Donal barely heard the Duke’s words. He released his arrow and was beginning to draw a second before the first had reached the head of the knight nearest to Piran.
The horse fell and the man riding it spilled forwards over the head onto the stones of the riverbank. Piran’s sword flashed and then he dropped to one knee, dragging the dead knight’s shield from his arm.
A second knight tumbled sideways out of his saddle as Donal’s next arrow caught him below the left shoulder, just behind his shield.
Piran took a blow from another knight on his purloined shield and darted forwards to confront the last of the four, stabbing the tip of his sword into the sensitive nose of the horse. The horse balked and Piran slashed the saddle strap, dismounting the knight.
The third knight had brought his horse around but Donal had loosed again and the arrow buried itself in the beast’s flank and it fell sideways, the knight having to throw himself into the water to avoid being crushed beneath his own steed.
Before the last knight could rise, Piran was upon him, smashing his shield into the man’s helm and then driving his sword down. It pierced the throat but then must have wedged itself for Piran jerked it once, then released the hilt and scrambled to retrieve the knight’s own fallen sword.
He was in time to parry the third knight’s sword and Donal turned his bow, a fourth arrow nocked as the bishop reached the Torenthi lines. The first man in the raging cleric’s path fell with the arrow through his throat and the bishop met the next with a horseman’s mace, bringing it down with impressive force on the man’s helm.
“By God, I don’t think I’ve seen an archer your equal,” exclaimed Tresham. He shook his reins and as Donal looked up he realised the Haldane footmen to the right were also now closing in. He thrust his bow hastily back into its case and unhooked his shield from the pommel of his saddle.
“Is there any way I can persuade you not to join the charge, Sire?”
Urien looked at the Duke and smiled slightly. “Tell me honestly you don’t need every sword right now.”
“Aye, if that fool bishop had just waited until Earl Godwyn or the Division o’ the Right had arrived.”
“I’ll be sure to pass that on to Bishop MacArt.” Urien lowered his visor. “By your lead, Your Highness.”
Drawing his sword, Tresham raised it high and then swept it down towards the leading edge of the Torenthi advance.
With the slope slightly in their favour the band of armoured knights crashed into their counterparts among the enemy, heavy war horses crashing against each other and Gwynedd’s banner flying above them.
Somehow, in the first clash of arms Donal was swept away from Urien and Tresham. He ducked his head below a sweeping axe strike and blocked a weak lance thrust from a knight in Jandrich colours with his shield. Not wasting time trying to fight them he bulled his way forwards into a gap, pushing towards the banner and relying on the knights behind him to deal with the enemies.
He exchanged blows with a man-at-arms in Lorsöl colours. The Tolan knights seemed to have been hanging back with their lord but the cavalry of the other two contingents had become mingled in the melee.
With a savage blow that sent the other man reeling, sword dropping from an arm that might be broken, Donal pushed past and saw at last his king and Duke Tresham exchanging blows with a contingent of fully armoured knights under the banner of Jandrich.
Duke Tresham rose up in the saddle, shield broken or discarded, for he held his sword in both fists as he brought it down with deadly force against the man facing him, cleaving into the gap between gorget and breastplate.
Recovering his balance the Duke seemed about to press on but with a vengeful shout, the man at the centre of the knights threw out his hands and a blaze of crimson fire encompassed but the Duke and his steed for an instant.
Urien shouted out in anger as the doughty Duke’s horse fell and bore its rider to the ground. Donal was hardly less shocked that the rider had been so foolish as to resort to a blast of raw power. Unlike more refined spells, the conjuring would take its toll swiftly and as the remaining Claibourne knights saw their master fell they closed in on the Jandrich knights, axes and swords already dripping with blood.
The Deryni seemed to reel in his saddle and then flared his shields defiantly. “Haldane!” he screamed and a second bolt of power leapt forth.
Donal gasped the first syllables of a counterspell, knowing as he did so that he was too late and too far away, but Urien didn’t falter. His sword swept around and a crackling nimbus of power absorbed the spell. For a long and terrible moment Urien held that power steady, blade pointed directly at the spell’s caster and then the energies of the spell rolled back upon the same path and the man screamed briefly as he was blasted from his saddle.
For a brief instant there was a shocked silence as both sides wrestled to grasp what they had seen.
Spurring forwards to Urien’s side, Donal seized the banner pole, his hand over Urien’s. “God has sent his blessing down to guard the Haldane!” he cried out.
“A miracle!” a second voice proclaimed.
They pushed forwards with renewed energy and the Torenthi knights fell back, fighting knee-to-knee. The banner of Jandrich fell and Donal saw its bearer, tears pouring down his face, dragging the fallen body of the Deryni back behind the remaining knights.
Urien let the battle push forwards, sitting next to Donal with their two hands upon the banner pole.
“You did it, sire.”
“Did I?” He shook his head. “God, I had no idea what I was doing. It just… came to me. There was no time to think.”
“He struck first. If you hadn’t acted you’d have ended up like Duke Tresham.”
“Yes. Poor Tresham. First Geoffrey and now him.” A thought seemed to strike the king and he looked at Donal. “Where’s Jaron?”
“I…” Donal let go of the banner and looked around him. After a moment, he saw Jaron at the back of the lancers, stabbing a spear past one of the embattled Haldane knights into the side of a Torenthi man-at-arms. “He’s well, Sire. See there, to the right?”
Urien nodded and shook Donal’s hand gently off the banner. “Thank you, Sir Donal. Have him find Baron Danoc and tell him he’s in command now. And I want you to ride back and see what’s keeping the Division of the Right.”
“By Jesus, ‘tis a killing ford down there,” exclaimed Sean-Seamus as he and Vasco took their first look at the Schilling ford.
Horses splashed through the shallows, threading their way between fallen men as Haldane Lancers filed back across the river to form up around the royal banner not far from the water’s edge. Border archers shot volleys over the river, the shafts falling among lines of spearmen pressing upon what was clearly a shrinking perimeter on the eastern bank.
The river south of the ford was red with blood.
Only a few horse lengths behind them, Cinhil drew his sword with a slither of metal on metal as he took the scene in. “Archers forward!” he ordered sharply. “General MacEwan, hold the rest of your men back just out of arrow range of the far shore. I want you in reserve if the Torenthi try to force the ford.”
“Aye, Your Highness.”
Cinhil walked his horse forward, a few steps to clear his view. “Malcolm, go down and find out who’s in charge down there. Take Sir MacArdry with you.”
The highlander looked questioningly at Vasco who nodded. The short borderer had attached himself somehow to Vasco’s personage after the battle on the Cleyde but somehow didn’t seem to grasp that he was also subordinate to the prince – or ‘the young Haldane’ as Vasco had heard him style Cinhil.
“Vasco, how many Torenthi do you see on the other shore?”
He made a rough count of one of the bands and then of how many bands in the entire force. “Perhaps fifteen hundreds facing our right, I see the banners of Tolan and Lorsöl among them. To the left a thousand foot and behind them as many horse, with Arkadian colours and the banners of Furstán princes. The centre… I can’t tell clearly, sir, but not less than those on the left.”
“That sounds right to me. By God, we’ll be doing well to bring our men back across the ford safely.”
Vasco nodded grimly. “We couldn’t have got here sooner. Keene’s men are exhausted as it is.”
“I know. I know. But to still… I could have come ahead with Godwyn’s cavalry.”
“And that could have left you dead somewhere in that.” Vasco pointed down to the ford. “There’s no knowing what could have happened, my prince. And we’ll need the surgeons you arranged in Grecotha. In fact I think we’re going to need them very badly.”
Cinhil bared his teeth at the very thought of the Rector of Grecotha University, who'd banned students from leaving their studies to join the army. His claims that it was his responsibility to keep the young men from picking up bad habits or from backsliding hadn’t impressed anyone but with Bishop Jashan busy on the Mearan border there had been no one in a position to force him to let the men go.
A few score men probably wouldn’t make much difference on the battlefield but putting a surgeon’s kit in the hands of that many men with at least a year’s training as physicians was another matter and Prince Cinhil had given the Rector short shrift.
“The McLain brothers can secure the border well enough with Ardal MacArdry and his liegemen to support them. If I’d known, Uncle Jashan could have handled the University as well as I could. Better perhaps, he probably wouldn’t have ended up needing to threaten the Rector.”
“Oh I wouldn’t call what you said threatening, Your Highness. After all, if he’s so unworldly that he thought he could keep the students from following a real prince off to war when you were right there then he probably would have found being dragged all this way by his ankles a spiritual experience. Mortify the flesh to elevate the spirit, isn’t that what they say?”
“I doubt the surgeons would agree with that sentiment.”
Below lancers had finished crossing the river and a good number were continuing up the slope towards the camp. As they came closer Cinhil saw that most were wounded and the exceptions had wounded men riding pillion behind them.
“You’re right,” Cinhil added. “We need the surgeons.” He rode forward and Vasco’s heart swelled as the wounded men – men with every cause to be dispirited – instead raised a cheer as they saw the prince. “Where are you taking the wounded?”
“The Bishops’ camp.” One of the men in the fore pointed upstream. “The surgeons are there.”
“Sir Oliver, have our own surgeons report there.”
The named knight turned his horse and cantered back towards the supply wagons that had accompanied Cinhil’s column.
“Prince Malcolm has told me you were attacked at dawn. I need one of you to tell me what has happened since. The rest of you go on and take our wounded for treatment.”
One mailed knight, drying blood staining one side of his face and his sword arm secured in a crude sling fashioned from his surcoat, waved the others away. “The surgeons won’t have time for small hurts like mine. Not while others need them more.” He sidestepped his horse towards Cinhil to let those behind him pass. “Sir Theophilus Genlis, at your service.”
“Your house has served we Haldanes well already. You’re a cousin of Earl Zion, who died at Rengarth, are you not.”
“I am.” Sir Theophilus shook his head. “Alas, I am also cousin to his brother Maurice, but I have cleaned our house of that stain.”
“What stain is this?”
Theophilus bared his teeth. “He was among the knights of the Pretender, sire. Serving the same man who murdered his brother!”
“But no longer from what you say?”
“Not unless he can serve Marek without his treacherous head.” The knight slumped. “I cannot explain his choice, Your Highness, only swear that he is an aberration. His brother was true to the end or else Marek wouldn’t have killed him.”
“He accounts to a higher court now. But how went the battle otherwise? Who has command?”
“Baron Danoc commands, sir.” When Cinhil blinked, Theophilus added quickly: “By order of your father, after Duke Tresham fell.”
“Tresham is dead?” Cinhil glanced back towards the Claibourne men he’d brought with him and in particular to their leader, Duke Tresham’s younger son Keene.
“He is. It’s said a Deryni among the enemy struck him down with sorcery and that the King avenged him.”
“Loyal MacEwan. This war takes a toll. But the enemy have been beaten back.”
Theophilus nodded and grimaced. “The northern levies fought with great fury at news of the Duke. It turned the tide and the Pretender was forced back across the river. If it were not for the reinforcements that keep joining his lines we’d have broken them, Your Highness.”
“But clearly he does have reinforcements. Danoc has ordered you back?”
“I believe so. At least, Earl Godwyn ordered us to gather those wounded we could and bring them with us back across the river. I don’t believe he would have ordered that if it wasn’t the Baron’s command.”
“It was a wise choice.” Vasco looked across the river where blocks of Gwynedd soldiers had been pulled back to form a new line nearer the ford. “It’s hard for men to fall back and leave wounded to the mercy of the foe. Knowing they have been carried to safety will help there.”
The Torenthi surged against the Gwynedd line and it collapsed, men running back to join the new line or past it to cross the ford. Some cast away spears and shields to run faster, while others backed away grimly, facing towards the Torenthi.
A horn sounded and a gap opened in the Torenthi right. Their cavalry rushed through, cutting through the fleeing men. For a moment it seemed as if they would drive directly into the new line but there was a rattle of arrows through the air and landed among the leaders of the charge. Men and horses fell, those behind them having to turn aside or trample their own fallen.
“Good timing then. Gillis Gillespie knows what he’s doing.”
Before another charge could be mounted, the new line solidified and then steadily shortened as it backed towards the ford.
“I see Marley’s banner there. And those of Rheljan and Eastmarch.”
Vasco nodded. “Baron Danoc must be relying on their anger to hold them together as the other lords pull their forces out.”
“I think we may owe this day as much to that anger as to his cool head.” Cinhil nudged his horse forwards. “I’ll not confuse matters by taking over from him this late in the day but I can at least make a start on getting the men reorganised.”
The state crown of Meara hadn’t seemed so heavy when Roisian first wore it. Of course, she’d been wearing it for most of the day now.
“The lords aren’t used to the idea of their prince being a princess,” Urracca had warned that morning. “If you let them, they’ll run the country around you. The regalia will act as a reminder every time they see you.”
And so Roisian wore the crown, even though the weight was giving her a headache, and since her father’s sword hadn’t been recovered from the battlefield an ancient sceptre clearly modelled upon a rather functional mace lay on a cushion before her on the table. If the sword of the nigh-legendary Mear mac Quinnell was never recovered then the sceptre used by his great-great-grandson Janus was almost as valuable a symbol.
Of course, Janus had been the last prince to rule a united Meara, the power struggle between his son and brother having sundered the principality into Meara under Roisian’s ancestors and Cassan under their cousins. Roisian would have preferred the sword as a symbol if it could be reclaimed.
Reclaimed into her own hands, that was.
“I’m sensible of your courage in offering to act as my envoy to Bishop Jashan,” she answered Loren Kincaid. “But as the commander of our armies in the north, I cannot in good conscience risk that the Bishop may find some excuse to detain you.”
The Earl lowered his eyes. “My lady, I’m touched by your fears on my behalf but I feel it my duty to your father, who was almost a second father to myself, that his body be returned to lie beside his brother and his father here in Laas.”
“Knowing how keenly my father felt upon the subject of Cassan I have no doubts, my lord; that being laid to rest amongst his and my northern cousins would not disturb him. The time will come to return his bodily remains to Laas, but he would little thank us for treating with a Haldane at this hour.” Roisian looked down the table to where the chief of King Kyprian’s emissaries to Meara sat as a guest among the assembled lords of Meara. “Lord Zygmunt, I must enquire now of you, what news you have of your King’s armies in Gwynedd?”
Lord Zygmunt, a younger son of one of Furstán’s numerous cadet-branches, stood and bowed in courtly fashion. “Most gracious princess, my King and his generals, among whom is of course your betrothed, the noble Prince Nikola, Duke of Arkadia, were upon my last news triumphant upon the battlefield at the Priory of Saint Piran. Having bypassed the Lendour mountains, this places them to strike south upon the Haldane’s northern stronghold of Valoret.”
“A most favourable situation,” Roisian agreed. “It is no time, my lords, for us to turn aside from the alliance my father has forged with King Kyprian.”
“I am sure Kyprian would understand the importance of bring your father home, your highness.”
“Earl Kildaren, I assure you that it is my intention that a suitable officer be sent to Culdi to negotiate upon that point. But it seems to me that even should Urien Haldane suffer the loss of Valoret or even should he lose his own life that House Haldane will remain a trenchant foe and as an ally of Torenth I shall ask of you and of our well-respected Earl of Cloome –“
James Ramsay, now invested in his brother’s place, stirred at his own seat.
“- to command Mearan’s forces in the field in the months and years to come. That being the case it seems unwise to me that you be hazarded in this fashion. Instead I will instead ask that Bishop Briand send a suitable priest to act as our emissary. Bishop Jashan, being a churchman himself, shall respect the overture all the more for being carried by a man of the cloth. This will also underline that the embassy’s purpose only of seeing that our dead, both my father and those who died fighting for his cause alongside him, may lie at rest.”
“I would be honoured to act as your emissary myself.” Briand of Ratharkin, the Bishop of Meara, touched his pectoral cross and bowed his head.
Roisian smiled slightly. The rotund bishop was not often at court, spending much of the year riding a circuit of the cathedrals and major churches of his see. “Your Grace, I shall rely upon you.”
Lord Stuart cleared his throat. “Your Highness, may I propose now that we move on to discuss related military affairs. Following the sad losses in battle upon the Cleyde, many of the border clans are reporting that they lack the number of fighting men needed to suppress banditry in the highlands.”
Roisian saw the expression on Lord Zymunt’s face and had to fight to keep from flushing. Meara, far from being a powerful ally to the Torenthi now appeared to be unable to even maintain order within their own borders. “These would be the same border lords who objected to my father reinforcing our army with Connaiti mercenaries?” she asked coolly.
“That is largely correctly, your highness.”
“It’s likely that there has been an upswing in banditry in the north-west,” conceded Earl Loren grudgingly. “There are undoubtedly deserters from both armies trying to live off the land. And the Haldanes have left most of the border under the watch of their own Highland clans. It’s as likely as not that half these attacks are meant as payback by MacArdry and MacInnis lordlings.”
“And I can’t but help but suspect,” Lord Stuart replied drily, “That there might be a temptation by some of our own lords to pursue some feud against their own neighbours.”
Maybe the headache wasn’t merely a matter of the crown’s physical weight, Roisian thought as border lords started to shout objections. Rather than shout for silence, something likely to be lost in the furore she lifted the sceptre off the pillow and then let its weight carry the head down to strike the table loudly.
“Your pardon, my lords,” she said mildly as all eyes flicked to her. Best not to try doing that too often or they’ll start ignoring that too. “However I was unable to hear Earl Loren. As commander of the northern armies, securing our borders would fall under his responsibilities.”
“Ah, yes your highness.” The Earl hadn’t even been trying to speak up, but being left on the spot gave him little choice. “Some two hundred of your father’s mercenaries are mustered at Kildaren. I propose to use them to reinforce the border lords. I’m sure they’ll be happy to provide food and other supplies for the Connaiti while they’re driving these bandits back across the border.”
“It could also free up some of the border lords to strike back into Gwynedd,” suggested James of Cloome. “They’ve surely taken no fewer losses than our own – it was the Claiborne men that turned the tide and they’re gone east.”
“Well spoken, Earl James. Will the border clans of the east be doing likewise?” suggested Kincaid.
This is all very well as long as Torenth wins or at least keeps the Haldanes busy in the east, Roisian thought as she let the men discuss the military details. But if they lose I don’t think we can look to them for support. My only security is the betrothals and that may be too thin a cord to bind Kyprian to our protection.
She looked at Zygmunt for a moment. Perhaps it’s time to suggest that Prince Nikola and I wed sooner than originally proposed. Having a husband to act as my general rather than Earls with their own interests would be almost as valuable as tying Kyprian to me as my father-in-law.
The Falling Water no longer ran red as Donal’s horse stood knee deep in the waters, but bodies still heaped the shallows. Ahead, the Torenthi herald – like Donal unarmed save for a lance that supported a pennon of white silk – reined his horse to a halt.
“I am Torval, Count of Sostra,” he declared haughtily. “Does the Haldane send a man of rank to treat with King of Torenth?”
“Sir Donal MacAthan. I ride at my King’s right hand.”
Torval sneered. “I did not expect a Duke, but to send not even a Baron? But perhaps Urien has too few now to spare one?”
“If all you’re minded to do is exchange insults I can do that, but my King sent me to offer a truce that we can both collect our wounded and our dead. You can send back to your king for instructions if you’re not empowered to speak for him on that.”
“If one of my knights spoke so impertinently I would have him flogged!”
“Then it’s fortunate for me I’m not one of your knights, nor likely to ever be one.”
Torval’s hands twitched on the reins and his horse sidestepped sharply, ears pricking up before he stilled it. “I’m empowered to reply to that. My master - Kyprian II of Torenth, Kyprian the Conqueror – offers Urien Haldane a truce of the moment, from this hour until sunset. Until that hour let no man of either army cross to the opposite shore, nor carry into the ford any weapon saving blades less than a handspan in length.”
“Does King Kyprian offer terms for the recovery of our dead and wounded upon the eastern shore?” Donal kept his voice level.
The Count shook his head. “He does not, for they are rebels against their rightful liege, Marek Festil, King of Gwynedd.”
That ruthless snake! “Then in reciprocation, no terms are offered for the dead and wounded of Torenth upon the west shore. The other terms you’ve stated are within my authority to accept in the name of King Urien and of his general, Prince Cinhil.”
“Then let us swear oaths to that effect.” Torval opened his saddlebag and produced a crucifix. Bringing it to his lips he kissed it. “I, Torval of Sostra, swear before God in the name of my King that a truce exists between the hosts of Torenth and Gwynedd and the army of the usurper Urien, upon the terms stated. Let my soul be damned to perdition if the truce be broken.”
Despite the slur upon Urien, Donal nodded in acceptance. He’d Truth-Read the count as he spoke and the man was at least sincere. Bishop Faustin MacArt had loaned him his pectoral cross for this purpose and he lifted the small crucifix, wrought of silver thread twisted into complex knotwork, to his own lips. “As servant to King Urien of Gwynedd, Donal MacAthan swears that the truce with the King of Torenth and the Pretender Festil shall be upheld upon the agreed terms, my soul and my lord’s forfeit should we prove false.”
“On the morrow, I shall look for you on the battlefield, MacAthan,” warned Count Torval as he turned his horse.
“Then look beneath the royal banner of Gwynedd and I shall watch for Sostra’s colours too.”
The two nodded in a vestigial politeness before parting.
Donal didn’t have to ride far for Cinhil had given up Tresham’s headquarters at the Schilling inn to the surgeons and was instructing his officers from above the ford, not far from where his father had charged from that morning.
“What news?” he asked calmly as Donal approached.
“We have a truce until sunset, Your Highness. No one is to set foot on the opposite riverbank and those on the ford itself can have only knives up to a handspan in length. He wouldn’t bargain for those on his side of the river.”
“I thought he might not but we had to ask. My lord Archbishops, will your levies take charge of gathering the dead? I’ll detail men to go with them and carry any wounded they found up to the surgeons.”
John of Benevent nodded wearily. “I will set them to that, Your Highness. With your permission I’ll join the priests ministering to the dying. Archbishop Marcus and Bishop MacArt can remain here to offer their council.”
“You have both my permission and my blessing, primate.” Cinhil turned to MacArt, to whom Donal was returning the cross. “I’m told you raised the camp against Festil’s attack this morning, Bishop. Gwynedd owes you a great debt.
The itinerant Bishop hung his pectoral back around his neck. “Those are kind words, Your Highness, but you should direct them to the young knight who carried word to me. If he hadn’t done so and then returned to the ford to lead the first defence…”
“My father is fortunate to be so well-served. Do you know the knight’s name and whether he still lives?”
MacArt shook his head. “I don’t know, sire. He was struck down by the Torenthi at the ford but I later saw him rise from the waters as we rallied to drive them back. When last I saw him, four of Tolan’s knights were assaulting him and I know not what became of him.”
Donal cleared his throat. “If we saw the same man, Your Excellency, then it was Sir Piran ap Coran – a knight in the service to Earl Godwyn. He survived those four knights at least but I lost track of him after that.”
From beside his son, King Urien leant forwards. “I seem to recall that your remarkable archery had something to do with Sir Piran’s survival. Find out if he lives, Donal. Such valour deserves reward.”Next Chapter