Chapter ElevenWe must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.
In the royal chamber, such as it was, Cinhil looked up as Vasco entered. “What news of Cassan?”
“The Duke’s column has made good time. They’re camped perhaps a mile west of us, behind the next hill. Duke Tambert felt it might serve better than crowding them into our camp now and there’s less chance the Torenthi will learn of his arrival tonight.”
“Adding…how many men are still with him?”
“Eighteen hundred – his own Cassani and the levies from the Purple March.”
“Seeing them join our ranks in the morning should shake up any plans the Torenthi have.” Cinhil nodded in satisfaction. “We’ll need them badly. Our right wing is in tatters.”
“The northern levies have taken the brunt of the battles here, I hear.”
“And they’ve paid a heavy price for that. Everyone here did this morning, getting caught unprepared cost the army dearly. If we didn’t have so many wounded I’d pull the army back to Tambert’s position – Kyprian would almost have to follow and we could force him to fight with the river at his back. But Marek would massacre them as rebels against him and I can’t abandon loyal men to face that.”
“Then we stand here. The ford’s wide but it’s still defensible and after being driven back despite surprise yesterday, Kyprian’s men might hesitate to cross it a second time.”
The prince rose and walked to the fireplace, still cold although a fire was laid and ready to light. “We’ve given him the initiative too much. He could hold the ford with one wing of his army and swing north or south, force us to follow him.”
“He has to feed his men,” pointed out Vasco. “It’s a long way back to Torenth and every supply column needs guards, weakening his army.”
“Or he sends out more foragers. Custus and Kennet Howell are already looking at a famine in Eastmarch with the way they’ve stripped the countryside.”
There was a knock on the door and a moment later Malcolm opened it. “Cinhil, Baron Danoc’s outside and awaits your pleasure.”
“Good. I want to speak to him.”
Malcolm nodded. “Father said he wanted to speak to you in private, when you had the time.”
“I see. Did he say what about?”
“No.” The young prince grimaced and looked at Vasco before adding. “I think it’s about… Deryni matters.”
“Sir Vasco has been taken into our confidence on that matter.” Cinhil rubbed his face. “Come in and close the door. Father told me that he and Sir Donal were going to try to awaken the powers our ancestors are supposed to have once he reached Valoret.”
Malcolm nodded. “I know. I was there. It… wasn’t anything I expected it to be.”
“I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary at all. There are Deryni burnings almost every year – although sometimes I wonder how many are really Deryni and how many are innocent victims of hysteria whipped up by irresponsible men. Or ambitious men – there are some memoirs father showed to me after I was knighted, written by our great-great-grandfather’s brother about the way the Royal Council operated during the reign of the Restorer’s sons. My point is though, Deryni are as mortal as anyone else.”
“My teachers told me that to use those powers were damned. But when Sir Donal and Father Anscom were… doing what they did, it was clear they thought everything that they did came from God.”
“It’s easy to believe that God wants the same things you do, Malcolm. Something I’ve come to suspect over the years is that it can be hard to tell sometimes if you’re listening to him or just too hard to yourself.”
“Isn’t that what priests are for?”
The elder of the two princes gestured for Malcolm to sit down and the boy obeyed, studying the table-top. “You’ve spent the last two years in a seminary, brother. Has it brought you closer to God?”
“I’m not sure. But I’m not ordained, Cinhil. I’m not even a deacon yet. Maybe that’s where the difference lies.”
“You’d be better speaking to one of the Bishops – or Uncle Jashan when you get the chance. I’ve never felt that vocation.” He shook his head and then raked a stray lock of black hair back from his face. “I don’t think that that’s what’s really bothering you though.”
Malcolm looked up and Vasco was struck by the thought that he had the Haldane eyes, the same shade as his father, lighter than Cinhil’s. “It was almost as if they were sanctifying father once more as King and…” The words burst forth: “Forgive me, Cinhil, they invested me to bear the powers when he was gone. I didn’t want to but father insisted and they… they should be yours. You’re the heir, not I!”
Cinhil’s jaw worked silently and he looked for an instant at Vasco.
“It seems we’ll be working well into the night. Could you arrange more candles?”
“Of course.” Vasco opened the door and left the two royal brothers alone, as they clearly wanted. His own mind was a whirl. Malcolm had been forced to participate in this… rite? Early lessons from the village priest conjured images of Donal and a man robed as a priest conjuring devils to serve the king, but surely Urien would have had no truck with such an act.
But still, investing whatever power was called up in Malcolm was a worrying step. Was it a sign that Malcolm, not Cinhil, was Urien’s chosen heir?
Then another thought struck Vasco and as he stood in the doorway he had to rest his weight on the frame for a moment.
Or was Malcolm intended as another layer of protection for Cinhil, keeping the heir to the throne protected from direct magical influence. Overheard phrases from the discussions in Rhemuth suddenly held a new light. If the Church decried Urien’s powers, might the king be willing to sacrifice not only himself to sate clerical anger but also to set up a secondary Haldane line as protectors to their royal cousins who could thereby avoid the stigma of using magic themselves.
Scores of candles were scattered around the chamber, occupying shelves and candelabra’s as well as the centre of the table as Cinhil called the war council to order.
Piran saw Sir Donal standing behind King Urien’s chair at the head of the table and the knight gave him a wry nod as he took his own place behind Earl Godwyn. Between earl and king sat Prince Cinhil at his father’s right hand. Unlike most of the officers and aides the knight behind the prince, Sir Vasco, wore full armour like the guards flanking the doors.
“Thank you for your blessings upon us, Archbishop Marcus.” Cinhil’s face was more drawn that when Piran had last seen him in the Purple March. “I’ll begin by saying that while I blame no one for the difficulties our armies faced this morning, we can’t allow them to arise again.”
“I’ve appointed Lord Kennet Howell to arrange pickets along the river – and across it if any of his men can get across without drawing notice. Lord Howell will report directly to me and if he instructs any of you ready your men and respond to attack, you may assume he has the authority to do so. I’m making each of you responsible for appointing officers to oversee your camps in shifts through the night.”
Having let that sink in, Cinhil turned down the table to look at Baron Danoc. “Gillis, you’re still in command of the centre but I’m taking the cavalry under my own command. Earl Howell and his company from Eastmarch will be transferred to reinforce you and the young Earl will be your second. In addition, if anything happens to me, you’re next to command the army unless the king specifically relieves you.”
“I understand, Your Highness. Thank you for the trust you’re placing in me.”
“Thank you for the service you’ve rendered, Earl Danoc.”
Gillespie’s eyes widened sharply at the change in title.
“Letters patent are being drawn up,” Urien confirmed, the first time he’d spoken. “It isn’t too far to say that without your leadership we might now be in retreat towards Valoret. It is the privilege of kings to reward such service as it deserves.”
“And it is much deserved.” With that said, Cinhil turned to look at Keene MacEwan. “You’re next after Gillis, Keene, as well as taking over the right wing from your father.”
The new Duke – for his elder brother Geoffrey had finally succumbed to his wounds at some point in the day, the death unnoticed for hours as the battle raged and surgeons focused on saving those lives they could of those carried from the battlefield – bowed his head. “Aye. With your permission I’d like to name young Gillis de Traherne as my second for the right.”
Heads turned to the new Earl of Rhendall, who flushed. “If the Earl of Marley doesn’t object.”
Becan Coris shook his head. “’Twas my proposal, Gillis. Marley will follow you.”
“You’ve shown your quality,” Becan’s twin brother Benan agreed from behind the Earl. “And your father has much to be proud of you.”
Cinhil nodded his approval too. “As the Eastmarch levies will be under Earl Gillis’ command, I’ll add the Connaiti to the right wing as well. You’ve marched with them this last week so I’m sure you can manage them.”
“If, God forbid, it should be necessary,” he continued, “then upon Duke Keene’s death the command of the entire army will go to the Duke of Cassan. For those unaware, Duke Tambert and eighteen hundred men are a mile or so west of us and will be joining us in the morning. Since his son-in-law Lord Arnall has been left in Cassan to deal with any further invasion by the Mearans, I’ve sent Sir Allen FitzOsberne to make him familiar with the ground and act as his second.”
There was a sour muttering from Osberne FitzOsberne, the young Count of Lindestark and cousin to the named knight. He was politely ignored by everyone at the table save for the Coris brothers who glared him into silence.
“And finally, on the left wing, Earl Euan remains in command and will take charge if all the aforementioned generals are dead or unable to lead the army. In that case, Earl Euan, I suspect you’ll be inheriting a terrible mess so I offer my sincerest apologies in advance.”
“While I hope your apology is never merited, Your Highness, I’m honoured to serve. Bishop MacArt – after promising faithfully to lead no more sudden charges on the enemy – has agreed to serve as my second as well as commanding the ecclesiastical levies.”
Piran turned to look and to his shock saw the lean, grey-haired cleric he’d met that only that morning (it seemed so much longer ago) nodding in rueful agreement. “A moment when passion overcame caution,” he confirmed and, catching Piran’s gaze, he stood and bowed. “God, I’m pleased to see, has seen fit to preserve you, Sir Piran.”
Feeling his cheeks burning, Piran was relieved of his embarrassment when the prince nodded as if there had been no interruption. “As said before, I’ll take personal charge of the cavalry in the centre and Earl Godwyn will act as my deputy. He has my full confidence and of course the services of the famous Sir Piran.”
“It was the men of the ecclesiastical levies who held the ford, Your Highness. I was simply in the right place at the right time.”
“Don’t be so modest, Piran.” Godwyn half-turned in his chair. “You were in the right place at the right time outside Culdi too and more importantly both times you did what needed to be done. If you keep doing that then it’ll exceed my resources as a mere Earl to suitably reward you.”
“To spare Sir Piran more blushes, I’ll change the topic,” Prince Cinhil steepled his fingers in front of him, “I’ve given some thought to our next move.”
“Respectfully, Your Highness, even with the Duke of Cassan’s arrival we’re outnumbered by the Torenthi and we’re in a good defensive position. By move though, you seem to imply that you plan… well, movement. Surely it would be better to stand in the camp for at least another day or two. Despite gaining surprise I reckon the Torenthi losses were as heavy as our own today. The next time they try to take the ford we’ll bloody them badly – perhaps enough to put the numbers in our favour for the first time.”
“Nothing you’ve said is wrong, Earl Euan. But we cannot assume that Kyprian will try to force the ford again. Even if he thinks his edge in numbers is much greater than it is for now, he must be aware that further reinforcements will reach us eventually and that he could lose another thousand or more men by attacking.” Cinhil rose to his feet. “But there’s more important thing that that, gentlemen.”
“Since the beginning of the year, Kyprian of Torenth has been the one calling the tune and all we’ve been able to do is respond to his actions. If we wait here then we’re leaving him the chance to change the terms of the campaign by swinging north or south to ravage more of Gwynedd. But if we move first then he’ll have to dance our tune for a change.”
“And what… uh… tune do you have in mind?” Gillis de Traherne enquired carefully. “We have to assume he’ll be prepared against the possibility of a counter-attack.”
“Particularly if we go at dawn.” Keene tapped his chin. “But if he thinks that we’re going to stand then he might start thinking about moving part of his army north or south which would wrong-foot him and perhaps leave some companies of his army out of position to respond.”
“Good thinking. And let’s be honest, our men need a little time to prepare and attacking at dawn would put the sun in our eyes. No, you and I seem to have a similar thought in mind, Keene.” Cinhil tapped on the table with his fingers. “What I had in mind was to have the Duke of Cassan’s division march directly through our camp to assault the ford. If they can form a… schiltron, it’s called I believe, then their pikes will be a nasty shock for any Torenthi horse that try to break their lines. Particularly his Moors – I saw their kin in R’Kassi and with their blood up they could easily make a serious mistake.”
“It’s a shame there’s not a better man in Corwyn,” grumbled MacArt. “Kyprian wouldn’t be half so dangerous if he had to keep his Moors in the south to face the Gryphon banner.”
“Duke Jernian’s action or inaction can be addressed another day. For now, gentlemen, we have an attack to plan.”
“Your Excellency.” Piran knelt to kiss Faustin MacArt’s ring as the council broke up, the details of the plan for the next day hammered out. “I’d like to apologise if I wasn’t properly respectful when I burst into your camp this morning.”
“There’s nothing to forgive.” The Bishop touched the ringed hand to Piran’s head in benediction before letting the knight rise. “The courtesies due a prince, whether temporal or of the Church, are made for men not men for those rules and the moment hardly allowed time for such things. I’m only glad I’d been awake for the dawn mass.”
“I led a lot of your congregation to their deaths.”
“That is the burden of men like you and Prince Cinhil.” MacArt took his arm. “If you have the need for some spiritual counselling I think Earl Euan can spare me for a few minutes. Just between you and I, he may be a little angrier with me about this morning than he suggested.”
“This morning,” a familiar voice with the accent of Claibourne interjected, “The good Bishop decided to charge the Torenthi right all on his own. Euan de Cynfyn is a stout fellow but when half his command decided to chase a Bishop into the enemy I think there’s some small chance he might feel he’s been a little undermined.”
“Indeed and I’ve apologised most remorsefully to him. I had no idea the Mother Church’s levies would follow me.” MacArt thrust his arms into the sleeves of his cassock but his expression was more aggrieved than penitent. “I’m a man of God not of Arms. It’s not given unto me to know that men will follow me into battle.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, Your Excellency, why did you charge the army on your own?”
“Well if you must know, I saw a young knight I’d sent down into that Golgotha about to be set upon by four of those foreign devils.”
Piran’s eyes went wide. “You…”
“A good shepherd is responsible for his flock, Sir Piran.” MacArt crossed himself. “But praise God you survived.”
“God and some very fortunate arrows,” Piran admitted. “And I’m really not holy enough for God to have sent the arrows personally.”
“Well not God, precisely.” Donal looked a little smug.
The younger knight grinned in comprehension and held out his hand. The two of them clasped forearms. “I can’t think of many bowmen who could have taken those shots.”
“Perhaps the Good Lord helped. Who knows, but the Bible tells us that he moves in mysterious ways.”
“The Earl of Lendour can’t be too angry with you, if he appointed you his second,” offered Piran in a transparent attempt to change the subject.
MacArt shook his head. “He wasn’t spoiled for choice. With half his force made up of ecclesiastical soldiers it had to be one of the Bishops with the army. Both Archbishops are planning to accompany the king tomorrow and Vespian d’Aphienne already volunteered to take charge of the ministering the wounded.”
“What about Leontius Quadratius? The Bishops of Dhassa are formally princes anyway and Lendour falls in his diocese. Not that I’m not entirely happy with you were chosen but it seems odd he wouldn’t choose the Bishop he knows best.”
MacArt smiled self-depreciatingly. “Leontius is a fine Bishop, perhaps one of the best of us. But Euan knows him too well and my brother of Dhassa is too good a priest. When he saw the levies fighting at the ford yesterday, he dropped to his knees and started praying for understanding between us and an end to the bloodshed.” He shook his head. “I’m less worthy than that, a little too much man and too little priest, but perhaps that’s what the situation calls for.”
Piran nodded. “There’s one thing I don’t understand. Why are both Archbishops going to ride with King Urien tomorrow?”
MacArt smiled. “Some say our good King may be a saint.”
“Do they have some specific reason for that?” asked Piran.
The bishop nodded to Donal. “You would have been there, Sir Donal, riding with the king when that foul Deryni sought to destroy him with his magic.”
“He succeeded all too well with the Duke of Claibourne.” Donal observed bleakly. “But yes, I was there. One of the Jandrich knights, perhaps the Duke himself, burned Duke Tresham down with magic. He tried to do the same to King Urien but the King raised his sword and the spell turned back on itself to destroy the one who cast it.”
“Some say that it was the sword, others that the King bears some ancient protection from the Interregnum,” MacArt explained. “And of course it’s been claimed for years that as sanctified Kings the Haldanes receive the direct protection of the Almighty from the wiles of the Deryni. The Archbishops will be accompanying the King to watch for any further miracles… and to add their own prayers to whatever guards him of course. The maledictions of a consecrated Archbishop must have special power, after all.”
Across the river the pavilion of King Kyprian was lit far more brightly than all the candles in Cinhil’s war council could have accomplished as Patriarch Abraam led a requiem mass for the flowers of Torenthi nobility that had fallen in battle.
While Kyprian took precedence among the mourners, King Marek flanked him at all times with a court robe over his bandaged wounds.
“The attack may have failed,” murmured Nikola under his breath. “But one can’t say it was for lack of courage on Marek’s part.”
Árpád nodded. “I’ve made enquiries and there are several witnesses who saw him unhorsed during the charge to try to rescue the Duke of Jandrich from the Haldane. He’s lucky he wasn’t killed – he was near the front and he could easily have been trampled to death.”
“I’ve never called him a coward, or even doubted his skill at arms. He’s still as vicious as a weasel.”
Arkady and his companions fell silent as they filed past the bodies of Ygor Furstán, Max-Echehardt Haberlingen and their sons. The place where the two dukes’ close relatives were conspicuously empty save for Ygor’s brother. Having genuflected before the Patriarch and the bodies, Arkady and Nikola offered their condolences to the hollow-eyed new duke.
“Who inherits Lorsöl?”
“There’s an uncle I think. I don’t know much about him. I’m more interested in the other rumour. Urien Haldane was supposed to have slain Ygor in a duel arcane.”
“Nothing so formal,” Árpád reported. “It’s more that the late Duke tried to blast him down with conjured fire and somehow it was turned back upon him.”
“Marek can’t be happy to hear that.”
“Which part: that Urien survived or that he used magic?”
“Neither is particularly good news for him.” Nikola shrugged carelessly. “I’m glad I had an excuse not to face the Haldane in a duel now. That would’ve been a very nasty surprise.”
“You were going to face him in a duel?” asked Arkady in surprise. “When was this?”
“Didn’t I mention it? It was when I was your herald to him at Saint Piran’s.” He thought. “No, sorry. I forgot to mention it - getting hit on the head must have knocked the thought out of my head. He offered to settle the battle with the two of us against he and one of his men rather than seeing both sides take heavy losses. I didn’t think father would accept that as binding though so I couldn’t follow up on it.”
“Probably he wouldn’t have, no. So the stories about the Haldanes are true – in part at least. I wonder how the Church of Gwynedd feels about their king using magic.”
“I hardly think he can make regular use of it. But then, it would be difficult to be king without that. I hate to think how difficult it would be to judge cases in Arkadia without being able to Truth-Read.”
“They seem to manage. And when was the last time you were in Arkadia to judge cases instead of leaving it to your steward?”
“February… I managed to get away from court for a week or so. You were busy helping father with the hunt for more Haldane spies after that business with the Makrorys.”
Arkady nodded. “Perhaps with today’s defeat father might be more open to the concept of calling Urien out for a duel arcane.”
“I’d rather you didn’t put yourself at risk.” Nikola shook his head. “It could be Urien can’t do much more than protect himself – it’s not as if Ygor was using any sophisticated magic against him – but we don’t know how far his powers extend.”
“I was thinking more that Marek might be put forwards. He’s the rightful King of Gwynedd so who better to face the usurper?”
Nikola shrugged. “I can’t see that father would be upset by the idea being broached. And I’d rather see that duel fought than try taking my Arkadians across the ford. Those Kheldour men fought like devils.”
“Perhaps they knew they were fighting the same men who killed the Earl of Eastmarch. The northern lands of Gwynedd are mostly ruled by the descendants of Earl Sighere, the last independent rulers of Eastmarch. They’ve been allies for generations.”
“Perhaps you’re right. At least Arkadia is far enough from the borders of Gwynedd that I don’t have to worry about them launching raids on my demesne to avenge themselves.”
Arkady spread his hands. “They might need to raise a new generation first, they surely bled enough against us before they fell back across the ford. We’re getting away from the point of Haldanes with the power of Deryni though. Unless they’re Deryni themselves… that would explain a lot.”
“Whether they’re Deryni or not, they must have to go to a lot of trouble to hide their lessons. You know how much scrutiny we were under as boys, everyone wanting to see what the young princes of Torenth were made of, guards to make sure we didn’t come to harm, priests and teachers wanting to mould us… can you imagine how hard it must be for them to hide the fact they’re being taught the magics their Church forbids.”
“Perhaps we’ll have a chance to find out.” Arkady mused, stroking his chin. “That’s another matter to raise to father – the Haldanes must have built up a library unless they’re limited to the most basic of magics. Letting us raid it would be the least we can ask of Marek for all the aid he and his family have received from us over the years.”
Árpád coughed uneasily. “We may see other changes in the Haldane’s armies now that their Earl Marshal is dead.”
Nikola snapped his fingers. “Yes, I’d forgotten – it’s sure that he’s dead?”
“Well perhaps not, but he was on fire when last seen and that was early in the day. If he lives then he’s unlikely to be in any condition to command. And even if he is, Urien’s heir is his chief general and his banner was seen while our heralds agreed the truce to collect our wounded and dead from the ford.”
“Cinhil Haldane. We don’t know his character well. He defeated the Mearans though, so he can’t be entirely inept.”
“Come now, brother. That’s your future principality you speak of. Surely they have the merits that only an entirely competent general could have bested them.”
Nikola gestured uncertainly. “On the one hand, if the Mearans are great warriors then we now face a general of genuine accomplishment. On the other hand, if Cinhil is only mediocre then what does that say about my betrothed’s people? Either way I lose.”
“Well, either way you also win.”
Nikola shook his head. “Perhaps it’s a little of both. Tomorrow perhaps we’ll find out, at least about Cinhil Haldane.”
“Sir Vasco,” Donal raised his hand in greeting as he went to the door of the king’s bedchamber.
The other knight touched his gauntleted hand to his chest but as Donal reached for the door handle he put the hand out to stop him. “I’m sorry, but you can’t go in.”
“Why not? I’m supposed to attend on the king.”
“He’s in a private conference with his sons. I’m not allowed in either.”
Donal blinked and then rubbed his face. “Well ours not to reason why.” He went back and pulled a chair away from the table and sat in it. “I hope you won’t be offended if I take the opportunity to rest my feet.”
“You can rest your eyes too if you want. His Highness didn’t confide on his reasons for wanting their conversation to be private but he said they might be a while.”
“No.” Donal rubbed his eyes. “If I close my eyes then I might not open them again until morning. I’m astounded Urien has the energy for a long conversation.”
Vasco nodded. “You didn’t manage to break your fast until well after noon either. Do you want any of the stew? There should be some left in the pot.”
“Maybe later.” Donal leant forwards on the table and then started violently as a heavy bowl thumped down next to his head. “What!”
“It’s later.” Vasco sat opposite him. “You dozed off for a few minutes.”
The contents of the bowl were more mash than stew – heavier on grain than on meat or vegetables – and at best lukewarm but once he had a spoonful in his mouth, Donal realised he was ravenous and devoured it as if it was the best meal he’d ever had.
“Hunger is the best spice,” Vasco said sagely. He pushed a cup over and uncapped a flask. “Wash that down.”
The wine was stronger than Donal expected. “Shouldn’t this be watered?”
“I don’t think the water down by the river is the best to use at the moment.”
“You’re probably right.” He tossed it back. “Somehow when the bards sing of war they seem to omit talking about being tired or hungry.”
“Well they are bards. Those wouldn’t be very inspiring topics for a ballad.” Vasco picked up a cloak. “Get some sleep. Who knows how early you’ll need to wake in the morning.”
“Aren’t you tired? You made a forced march today.”
“I didn’t wake as early.” The other knight shrugged. “Or fight a battle either. Don’t worry about it. I’ll wake you if the king calls for you.”Next Chapter