Chapter ThirteenFor we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual weakness in high places.
Tambert FitzArthur-Quinnell, Duke of Cassan, High Chancellor Gwynedd and commander of a quarter of the Gwynedd Royal Army was dead.
It couldn’t, Piran thought, have really happened at a worse time.
“Where’s his second?”
“Sir Allen was with the Cassani pikes.” Sir Llewell, the Duke’s aide, gritted his teeth as Jaron wrapped his wounded arm with bandage and tied it off. The man wouldn’t be wielding a sword with that arm for a while. “We haven’t heard from him since we entered the camp.”
“And since he’s not here,” Piran asked patiently. “Who takes over?”
“The Duke’s not even stopped bleeding!” spat Llewell. “Have you no shame, man?”
Jaron nodded. “The Torenthi have reinforcements and the right wing’s collapsing. No one knows where Cinhil is.”
“We don’t have time for your grief.” Piran looked around. “In the absence of Sir Allen, I think we can safely say that Prince Jaron takes precedence over everyone here.”
“He’s but a boy!” Llewell studied his bandaged arm and then the startled squire.
“He’s third in line to the throne. That cuts through any questions of precedence. And there’s no time for arguments.”
Llewell looked at Tambert’s body and slumped. “You’re… not wrong. What are your orders, sir?”
Jaron glanced at Piran and then squared his shoulders. “Sir Llewell, take four men and carry the Duke back to our camp. Everyone else, spread out northwards and order every one of our soldiers you come across to rally to…” He lifted the Cassani banner from where the pole had been thrust into the ground. “Rally to me under the Duke’s banner. I’ll be west of the camp.”
“May I suggest you keep a few men with you to get you started,” suggested Piran mildly. “We’ve just seen what can happen if someone’s caught off guard here.”
“Good thinking. Find me an escort, Sir Piran. I’ll stay with Sir Llewell’s men for now.”
Piran bowed. “Of course, Your Highness.”
“There’s the Haldane!”
Sean-Seamus words dragged Vasco’s attention to the left and he saw a familiar dark head of hair – unhelmed for no good reason – above the line of one of the tents, followed by at least a score of knights and men-at-arms. Dragging his horse’s head around, the knight spurred his horse into a reckless gallop around the tents to join his lord’s side.
“Vasco!” Cinhil laughed in what seemed to be relief as he saw them. “I thought I might have lost you for good there.”
“It could’ve gone that way, Your Highness. I’m just as glad it didn’t.”
The prince nodded. “We need to rally the men and push on. We’ve forced Kyprian out of the camp but –“
“Sir, I believe things have gone poorly on the right flank and the men are scattered all over the camp. If Kyprian launches a counter-attack right now this could turn into a debacle.”
“He’s certainly forming up for one.” Cinhil rubbed his face. “I didn’t consider what fighting inside the camp would mean.” He looked around. “Alright. We need to find out what’s happened to the right flank.” He turned to the knight behind him. “Arthur, ride back to the men we left at the edge of the camp. Have them comb through the camp east to west and gather up all of our men they found outside the western edge of the Torenthi camp.”
An evil look crossed Sean-Seamus’ face. “Ye might find it hard to stop them looting,” he warned. “Best have them fire the camp as they go.”
Cinhil gave him a shocked look.
“Even a damned fool knows tha’ for a sign tae stop looting,” the borderman told him insouciantly.
Vasco nodded reluctantly. “He’s right, sir. We can’t hold the camp but we can deny it to Kyprian. Without the supplies here, he’ll have to pull back.”
The prince studied the two of them and then glanced upwards at the sky before ordering: “Sir Arthur, have the men put the camp to the torch as they sweep through it.”
“As you command, Your Highness.”
Cinhil nodded and watched the knight ride away for a moment. “Very well, gentlemen, let’s see what state the right wing is in. Sir Sean-Seamus, can you lead us out of the camp?
“I’m nae a knight, sair, but I kin do that.”
“That’ll be good enough for now.” Cinhil rode up next to Vasco as the short highlander led them through the morass of tents.
With a memory honed by navigating the hills and glens of the highlands, Sean-Seamus brought them swiftly out from among the tents, lean-tos and horse-stands to the same muddy field where they’d broken the initial stand of the Torenthi.
“There are enemy banners to the south,” Vasco observed almost immediately.
“And my father’s banner even closer.” Cinhil kicked his horse into a canter and overtook Sean-Seamus, approaching the royal banner which Vasco now saw was held by young Prince Malcolm.
“Cinhil!” The King’s face relaxed a measure as he saw his heir. “When even Kennet Howell couldn’t find you, we feared the worst.
“It’s my own fault for not realising we’d be out of touch inside the camp. Did Earl Danoc take charge?”
Urien nodded. “He has. His own division and the pikes of Cassan are forming a line halfway to the ford we can regroup upon.”
“A wise choice. I’ve sent word to my own men to fire the Torenthi’s camp and regroup here, but I’ve heard nothing from Euan and Tambert.”
“Euan’s horse are our only screening force to the south.”
“I see Tambert’s banner.” Malcolm pointed to where a familiar blue and white banner was just visible.
“He’s moving in the right direction then.” Cinhil observed, seeing the banner was plainly shifting westwards through the camp. “Father, can I leave you to tell Tambert to lead my horse and his own men back to Danoc’s line? I need to help Euan pull the right wing together.”
“Of course, son.”
“I’ll ride with you, if I may.” The Archbishop of Rhemuth turned his horse away from the King’s party. “The ecclesiastical levies are amongst those in disarray.”
“You’re welcome at my side, Marcus,” Cinhil agreed. “And you also Bishop Leontius,” he added as the gentle Bishop of Dhassa followed his superior, accompanied by a several ecclesiastical knights.
“I hope my prayers carried some weight yesterday.” Leontius crossed himself. “Today they may recall our people to their duties.”
Sean-Seamus made a clucking sound deep in his throat. “Should ye nae wear some armour at least, Yer Grace?”
“I am armoured by God’s hand, Sir Knight.”
“Why does everyone think I’m a knight?” Sean-Seamus muttered to Vasco as they rode south.
“It’s your noble demeanor,” Vasco replied drily. “Perhaps King Urien should knight you. You’ve served him as well as most can claim over the last few weeks and it’d avoid confusion.”
“I dun think th’ borders a’ ready fer a Sir Sean-Seamus MacArdry.”
“When we’re done here there’ll likely be another campaign in the west. I doubt King Urien means to let the Mearan’s remain allied to Torenth, with the way it’s made trouble for us this year. Unless Prince Jolyon’s heir renounces the alliance, the borders may have changed by the time we’re done there.”
Euan de Cynfyn was in no state to express relief at the arrival of Prince Cinhil. He was only held in the saddle by Faustin MacArt’s right hand on his shoulder and the bishop’s left hand gripped his own reins and the Earl’s. Two arrows had punched through his mail below the ribs and the fighting men there knew how ill that bode. Though he must have been in agony, Euan said nothing and his helm was dented above one temple.
“He took a blow to the head before I could get to him,” the militant bishop growled. “I don’t know what damage that did but he was in no state to guard himself with what the horse-archers had already done.”
“Are you in charge here?”
“As much as I can be, yes.” MacArt nodded to the circle of Lendour and Carthmoor men around them, interspersed here and there with the church’s levymen. “I can’t say what’s happening in the camp though. The Festil’s cavalry have been harrying us since the Earl fell but I think their main effort is against the rest of the right wing.”
“You’ve done well to keep your men together,” Cinhil assured him. “We’re regrouping the army on the Earl of Danoc’s men east of the ford. Take these men back to join them. Euan needs the help of our surgeons if he’s to have a fighting chance.”
“What about the men still in the camp?”
“They’re my responsibility now, Bishop.”
“With respect, Your Highness, the entire army is your responsibility.” Vasco grimaced as Cinhil glared at him. “We’ve had too many difficulties with you out of reach in the Torenthi’s camp already. There are any number of knights here you can send to withdraw the remaining men of the right wing. You’re the one man we can’t afford to lose in there.”
Help came from an unexpected quarter. “Sir Vasco is right, Your Highness.” Marcus des Varreaux held up his hand. “For the most part the men in the camp are the levies raised by myself and my fellow bishops. They are our responsibility and we will see to them. You should accompany Father MacArt and his command back to the rest of the army.”
Cinhil slumped in his saddle. “I am well reproved,” he admitted. “Very well, Your Excellency. But take a dozen of my lancers with you. There are many of our enemies still in the camp and you may need their protection.”
Arkady woke to see the sky darkening above him. For a moment he couldn’t understand where he was or why he had been sleeping away the day but even as he felt the aches and pains resulting from hard fighting the memories flooded back.
“My lord.” Árpád dropped to one side. “Don’t try to rise. You almost caused your own death trying to hold Prince Nikola back from God’s hands.”
“Then he is dead.”
“He is among the angels of God, Your Highness. You know you will see him again when the Almighty gathers you too to his side. But he would not want you to hasten the day.”
“God is cruel to take him from this world so soon. It should have been me, Árpád. It should have been me who died. The axe was meant for me.”
“Your Highness, had you perished your brother would have forever blamed himself for not saving you. But God the all-wise must yet have plans for you in this world.”
Árpád offered him a cup and held Arkady’s head as he sipped from it. The contents were sour – strong spirits of some kind cut with the juice of lemons – and the prince grimaced but he drank it to the dregs. “Our men?”
“We rally, your Highness. Some seven hundred horse and almost a thousand of our foot. Your father rallied his own men beyond the camp and King Marek’s column returned to turn the tide.”
“And the Haldane?”
“His army holds both sides of the ford now and with the camp burned we have lost much of our supplies. Your father has ordered that we stand firm for now and the Haldanes seem to have no interest in attacking again.”
“That’s sensible of him.”
“Your father or the Haldane?”
“Both of them. We know the young Haldane’s quality now as a general and he’s shrewd. Without our supplies we’ll have to retreat east – he’s nothing to gain pressing on. Nor would we accomplish anything with our forces in order.”
Arkady rubbed his face. “I expect there’ll be a conference of father’s captains for me to attend.”
“He’s sent no word.”
“Has anyone told him about Nikola yet?”
“I sent word and he ordered your brother’s body be brought before him.”
The prince scowled. “Aye. Then I should go too.”
“You’re in no state to ride.”
“I’ll walk if I have to, Árpád. If father will lay Nikola’s body before the lords of Torenth then I shall be there for him.”
Árpád reached over and touched his fingers to Arkady’s temples. It shocked the prince to find his shields unsteady against even such a light touch but his captain’s mind touched his own only gently. “Very well, Your Highness. I’ll arrange a litter to carry you though, and food first. You’ll need the grounding if you’re to face your father without more rest.”
“Why did you let them go alone!?” demanded John of Benevent angrily. “What prince are you to leave two of my bishops unguarded in the clamour of battle?”
“They had their own knights and a number of my lancers with them too.” Cinhil folded his arms and his dark eyes locked on those of the Archbishop. “And it was their choice to enter the camp not mine. I would have ridden there had they not forbidden it!”
“Did two priestly men overpower you then?”
“That is enough!” thundered Urien. “Grief and fear have enough reign over our camp without two of the finest men in Gwynedd tearing at each other like dogs.”
Prince and Archbishop fell silent, still each directly angry looks at each other.
Vasco stepped between them. “Your excellency, all agreed that the commander of the Royal Army should not be risked again by seeking to rally those of your levies within the camp. Only the Prince felt he could be hazarded so and had reason not swayed him I feared greatly that I might have to force him to abandon that course.”
“And yet Marcus and Leontius could go with not a word from you, Sir Knight?”
Vasco bowed his head. “To lay hands upon my lord would shame me, my lord Archbishop. But to lay these blood-stained hands upon godly men would be to damn myself, would it not?”
John studied Vasco for a long moment. “I doubt the Torenthi had similar qualms, Sir Vasco. But perhaps you are right. And I must confess I think you would have been hard-pressed to restrain your prince alone.”
“He’d hae nae been alone,” came a mumble in a borderer’s accent.
Eyes flicked to Sean-Seamus who scowled defensively.
John sighed. “Forgive me, Your Highness. My anger is not truly with you and it was unworthy of me to blame you. Marcus would have his way and I wish only now that Leontius had restrained him as your own loyal retainers would have done you.”
“Indeed.” Cinhil bowed his head. “We can perhaps hope that they still live. Their rank and station may convince King Kyprian that they have some value to him alive.”
The king placed one hand on his son’s shoulder. “There are many of our men whose fate we do not know, Archbishop. Your prayers, along with those of Bishops MacArt and d’Aphienne, for all those men including your own episcopal brothers would be greatly appreciated.”
John bowed his head. “We have a great many to pray for, Sire. But we shall forget none of them.”
“Speaking of those losses,” offered the Earl of Danoc. “We’ve a rough count of the men now. The fit to fight at least. We’ve no clear count of the wounded, dead and missing so far.”
Gillis nodded obediently to the prince. “My own division and Duke Keene’s are unscathed of course and we’ve more than nineteen hundred men each – there are enough lightly wounded to bring that back over four thousand in total in a few days.”
“Duke Tresham’s Cassani took very few losses, but there were more than two hundred dead among the other levies of his division. Sir Allen has them well in order but he’s asked to retain Prince Jaron as his second.”
“Jaron’s not even fourteen yet!” protested Urien.
“He managed to extricate quite a number of men from the camp though,” pointed out Danoc. “The men respect him.”
Cinhil shook his head. “I don’t see any harm in leaving him with Sir Allen but we can’t place the responsibility to be second for almost fifteen hundred men on his shoulders.”
“May I suggest Sir Piran ap Coran?” offered Godwyn. “I attached him to the Duke’s division after he was dismounted this morning and he gets on well with Prince Jaron. God knows, Piran’s distinguished himself well enough already.”
“He’s still quite young.”
“You trusted me with a squadron, Sire,” Godwyn reminded Cinhil. “And Sir Piran’s a year or two older than I am.”
“You make a good point. Very well, Sir Piran it is.” Cinhil looked at Gillis. “And now the Earl of Lendour’s division.”
“The Earl’s division suffered at least half our overall losses, Your Highness. Barely a third of the church levies from two days ago remain. In addition, Bishop MacArt is unquestionably valiant but he’s not a military man. My recommendation is to disband the division. Spreading the best of the men from the church’s levies between my division and Duke Keene’s will make good some of our losses while Sir Allen adding the Carthmoor and Lendour men to his will bring him to roughly the same numbers. The rest of the Church’s levies can be put to work helping tending to our wounded and any of a thousand and one other jobs around the camp.”
“I see.” Cinhil considered and then nodded. “Very well then, we’ll do as you advise. Combined with the remaining Haldane Lancers, that leaves us around seven thousand men and at least we’re in control of the ford. I don’t think we can leave our men on the east bank overnight though.”
“If we move Kennet’s pickets forward I can reinforce them from my men,” offered Keene MacEwan. “They’re all rested and keeping a presence on the east bank puts a little more pressure on Kyprian’s army.”
Looking around the improvised council, Cinhil nodded. “Alright. But have everyone ready at dawn. As soon after that as possible I want our men formed up for battle on the east bank. I’m not necessarily going to offer battle but if we look ready and Kyprian’s still picking up the pieces then he’s more likely to consider retreating to more favourable ground.”
“Sir Allen will need somewhere to encamp his men,” warned Danoc.
“He can take over our camp,” offered Godwyn sourly. “It was set up for a thousand heavy horse and we’ve not even half that many left. I can move over into the encampment of the ecclesiastical levies – their own losses will leave space.”
“Alright, but be careful not to spark a riot. I don’t want fighting over space within the camp.”
Godwyn nodded. “I’ll talk to Bishop MacArt then.”
“That would be best.” Cinhil glanced around. “Alright. There’s a lot to do before the sun sets so… tomorrow’s order of battle will have Danoc’s division in the centre, MacEwan’s on the right and Fitz-Osberne’s to the left. Cross the river in that order and Earl Godwyn will have the heavy horse as a reserve on this side of the ford. I’ll stay with him to begin with but I promise not to get drawn forward and out of contact again if we do come to battle.
Kyprian embraced Arkady fiercely when he saw his son. “Some reports said you and Nikola had both fallen.”
“It came closer than I liked.” Arkady returned the embrace. “Nikola saved my life.”
“Your wing fought bravely. I wish I could say the same for the captains of the centre. They failed me for the last time. Those without the dignity to at least stand and die against the Haldane will pay the price for that at dawn.”
“That seems overly hasty.” The prince shook his head. “We’ve enough dead already.”
“The men need to know that even the highest of their officers will be held to account for failing them.” The king shook his head. “I have made my decision, Arkady. Duke Kamien and Count Maurin have done well and the Patriarch can lead the levies from the lands of our Holy and Apostolic Church.”
“As you would have it, father. I see the camp has suffered.”
His father’s jaw tightened. “Even my own tents pillaged by those thieving Gwynedd men. Our royal cousin Marek has surrendered his own tents to me – an act of kingly generosity on his part, for his column contributed greatly to driving the Haldane’s lackeys off.”
“For once we should be glad he’s so sparing of his troops on the march. Had he gone further south…”
“Making a virtue of his vice.” Kyprian released Arkady. “Come. Your brother has been laid out to rest and then we must confer to decide upon our plans for the morrow.”
The new camp had been laid out south-east of the old one and with few exceptions the tents in the central portion belonged to the contingents from Tolan and other parts of Torenth that were strongly allied with Marek and House Furstán-Festil: Tigre, Jandrich and lesser northern domains, but also a sprinkling of Kyprian’s southern vassals. The houses that ruled the latter had taken fewer losses from the northern wars and many younger sons were swayed by the chance to improve their fortunes through service to Marek.
The last two days had depleted those once replete bloodlines but still Marek was surrounded by his partisans in his father’s tents while Kyprian’s own closer allies now found themselves camped further from their king.
Nikola lay in state, a fresh surcoat having been found from somewhere, the arms of Arkadia quartered by the hart of Furstán. With the wounds covered only the ivory-like hue of his skin gave away that he couldn’t arise at any moment to wield the sword his pale fingers held against his breast.
“He was the best and most noble of us,” Arkady murmured, crossing to stand over his brother.
“All who knew him would agree with you.” While his father stood in black at his side, Marek Festil had only donned a cloak of black wool over the blue and white he preferred. “Nikola has hallowed this land with his blood. When the war is won I shall build a church here in his name, that all who pass by shall know the great debt the Kings of Gwynedd owe to the House of Furstán.”
“Build your church.” Arkady’s voice dropped to near a whisper. “But Nikola shall not lie here on foreign soil. His lancers, those who remain, have sought my permission to carry him back across the Rheljans and then to Torenthály where he may forever rest among his ancestors. I have granted that request and should any man gainsay me - yea, even you cousin - then I swear by the great Phourstanos I shall forever count them as my enemy.”
“Calm yourself, my son” Kyprian stepped forwards as colour rose in Marek’s cheeks. “All will be as you have both said. Nikola’s body shall be entombed at Torenthály and his church shall stand upon this bloodied field. Now embrace each other as cousins should.”
Marek swept forwards and the two gripped each other by the shoulder. “Pray let us sit,” Marek suggested, indicating his father’s tent. “You press yourself too hard, cousin.”
Satisfied he’d won his point over Nikola, Arkady let himself be drawn into the tent and seated upon a camp-stool next to his father. Duke Imre stepped closer and murmured condolences Arkady barely heard before bowing formally to Kyprian.
“My lord King, the loss of supplies today during the burning of our camp is a most telling blow against us. The Haldane has placed us in a position where we cannot reasonably press deeper into Gwynedd for now. Nonetheless we’ve savaged his own army and many of his lords have fallen.”
“Within perhaps two days, the army must move closer to Cardosa, from which we can receive fresh supplies and reinforcements. It must be presumed that the Haldanes are aware of this and will consider that they hold an advantage, and yet we also know that Urien Haldane and all his living sons are with the army.”
“What are you proposing?” asked Count Maurin. “That we launch another attack?”
“Subject to some refinements, yes.” Imre spread his hands. “We have more than six thousand men still hale and fit to fight and supplies sufficient to delay our withdrawal by a day. Shatter the Haldane’s field army here, slay the Haldane or at least some of his sons and we’ll leave Gwynedd hamstrung for the rest of the summer at least.”
“One last roll of the dice, to win or lose it all?” suggested Arkady. “After all, if all four Haldanes of the immediate royal family are here, so too are the only men of the Festil’s senior line – the only men at all since the junior lines have only daughters at this time.”
“I would not be here,” Marek proclaimed, “Were I not willing to put everything I have and everything I am at risk to see the usurping descendants of a forsworn priest removed from Gwynedd’s line.”
Arkady’s lips curled. If the first Cinhil Haldane had sinned in being absolved of his priest’s vows to assume the throne of Gwynedd, the same could equally be said of another, earlier king of Gwynedd. Marek and his house claimed Gwynedd by their rights as senior descendants of Blaine Furstán-Festil, the fourth Festillic King of Gwynedd – but Blaine himself had been absolved not only of a priest’s vows but of those of an archbishop before he replaced his decadent and childless elder brother as heir to Festil III.
But the comparison died before he could voice it, for Nikola was not there to be confided in.
“And while chances there are, we can strike one telling blow tonight,” Marek continued. “The tragic death of Duke Ygor yesterday proved beyond doubt that the Haldanes possess some arcane power and we’ve long suspected a cabal of Deryni acting to empower them. One of that cabal we’ve known the identity of for some time and last night I ordered that they be taken, no matter the cost and interrogated for all information they could provide upon the Haldane power.”
“Meaning you no longer have any leads from which to investigate this council?”
Marek shrugged. “A necessary risk – the Haldane matter takes precedence in my eyes. There was some hope that our prisoner could be induced to identify the rest of the conspirators but alas powerful geas were set to protect them. There were none such to protect knowledge of the Haldanes however and we can now confirm that not only is Urien Haldane gifted with certain capabilities, but that one of his sons has been prepared for similar initiation.”
“I fail to see how this is good news,” grunted Kyprian.
“Ah, but my uncle, the prince so prepared is not the elder prince. Cinhil Haldane, the general of the army we face, has no arcane protection at all. And that, my lord, gives us the opportunity to strike tomorrow at an army that has lost its commander.”
There were some in-takes of breath at the audacity of the proposal. King Kyprian was not among those who reacted thusly. “Are you proposing an assassin be sent into the enemy ranks?”
“Not at all, your majesty. Cinhil Haldane can be killed from here. This very tent if you so desire. Or perhaps worse than killed, for death alone would be small repayment for the deaths forty years ago of your family and mine.” Imre placed his hands together as if in prayer, touching his fingertips against his chin. “To reach out across some miles and touch a man you’ve never met may seem unfeasible, my lord Kyprian. But we have at our disposal tools that make it entirely feasible: two men well acquainted with Cinhil Haldane, men from whom every iota of energy may be stripped ruthlessly and turned to this purpose.”
No one spoke within the tent. Arkady doubted if any even took a deep breath.
He could almost see the moment when temptation tipped the balance for his father. “Tell me more.”
Imre gestured sharply and guards brought forth a pair of men, hands bound and stripped to their undergarments. “Permit me to introduce you to their eminences, the Archbishop of Rhemuth and the Prince-Bishop of Dhassa. Senior members of the Gwynedder’s church - and thus not only rebels against my son but also complicit in the deaths of many of our fellow Deryni by burning them at the stake.”
The duke spread his hands. “Through their memories of the Haldane I’m confident that I can reach out and touch his mind despite my own lack of familiarity. To reach out thus would usually require the support and strength of others to bolster my efforts but it would be unthinkable to exhaust our officers so on the night before they must command in battle. But here we have two men whose survival is of no consequence at all – for if they live to see the dawn I believe my son means to see them meet the fate they’ve condemned so many Deryni to in the past.”
“And I will, whether they see the dawn or not. I’d rather burn them alive but the bodies will do.” Marek stood from his stool and dropped to one knee before Kyprian. “All this is within my grasp and my father’s, King Kyprian. But you have been our patron and our shield these many years. You have lost a father, a brother and now a son – all martyrs to freeing Gwynedd from the Haldanes. And thus we humbly offer this gift to you: the opportunity to slay Cinhil Haldane or even to destroy his mind, leaving him nothing more than a worthless husk.”Next Chapter