Chapter FourteenO LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
With the king’s permission, Donal had spread his pallet out in a corner of the royal bedchamber and he’d foregone supper to avoid the grounding effect that being fed can have upon a person. Instead he finished cleaning his boots and then those of the three Haldanes while he waited for the expected contact.
He was just about to see if there were any other mind-numbing chores to take care of when he felt the expected flicker of contact.
Quietly he stretched out upon the pallet and brought his shields down far enough to identify those making contact. When he was certain it was his fellow Councillors, their combined mental efforts magnified by the great shiral crystal that hung above their gathering place, he lowered them further.
*My apologies that I couldn’t converse with you earlier. I’m sure Judicael and Walther understand my reasons though.*
*The time may come when you may need to decide between your various loyalties,* warned Anscom. *But that doesn’t matter now. We have a small crisis on our hands.*
Donal tried to grasp their meaning and then realised that he was short one member of the council. *Is something wrong with Bethwyn?*
*That remains to be seen.* Judicael’s mental tone was concerned. *She went back to her home after our gathering earlier and hasn’t returned. Nor have we been able to contact her through our normal methods.* Which would be anything but normal by any but Deryni standards.
*Out of your contact or simply not replying?*
*The former. Which leaves regrettably few possibilities. Ebor’s volunteered to visit her home by Transfer Portal as soon as we’re done here, but for now it could mean the worst.*
*The worst I can imagine, Judicael, would be for her to be an active traitor who’s subverted the oaths of office we all accept. I don’t believe that of Bethwyn,* Camille observed somewhat peevishly. *Although on a personal level, I fear she’s either in very grave danger – or beyond all mortal danger already.*
*The latter was rather more my concern.* Judicael touched Donal’s a little more deeply than the others for a moment. *You seem to be healthy enough so I hope you have better news on your own front.*
*We’re near the Schilling ford over the Falling Water. The army have taken to calling it the ‘Killingford’ which should say much about how savage the fighting is.*
*As you’re alive I take it it’s not going against the Haldanes.*
*They’re all alive so far. There was a nasty moment yesterday when King Urien and Duke Tresham were attacked with magic by one of the Torenthi. Fortunately it was over quickly and the notion that it was God’s intervention is holding up. Unfortunately Tresham didn’t survive.*
*Losing a senior commander would definitely count as unfortunate.*
*It’s more than one commander, Judicael. Around a third of the army is dead or wounded and the only senior commanders left beside Prince Cinhil are Tresham’s younger son Keene MacEwan and Baron Danoc – he’s been elevated to Earl incidentally. Even the Episcopate’s been hit hard – the Archbishop of Rhemuth and Leontius of Dhassa are missing in today’s fighting, dead or captive we don’t know. The only good thing is that the Torenthi have been hit just as hard and the Prince’s men burned a lot of their supplies today.*
*Unfortunately I have more news, which may not be good.*
*What now, Walther?*
*The Corwyn levies are only a few miles south of you. Duke Jernian’s leading them and he’s keeping his cards very close to his chest. Not even his own son knows what he has in mind.*
*Oh in Christ’s name!* Donal contemplated the possibilities inherent in that – some beneficial to the Haldane cause and also of Gwynedd’s remaining Deryni, others much less so – aware that the Council had doubtless considered all these possibilities already. *Is there anything we can do to sway him?*
*Jernian’s stubborn.* Camille sounded sad. *His father Arion was open to reason – quite a number of Deryni managed to escape Gwynedd through his good offices – but he’s always been more wary of anyone infringing on his… freedom of action might be the best way of putting it, or perhaps autonomy. Cluim’s demands forty years ago struck at the root of that and any attempt on our part to approach him from a position of authority would likely cause precisely the reaction we don’t want.*
*What about his son?*
*Ah, Stiofan. I have hopes for that young man. But as long as Jernian clings to life, Stiofan de Corwyn won’t betray him. Fidelity runs deep in that one.*
*That suggests one solution.*
*Ebor!* Judicael sounded more shocked than surprised.
The Connaiti Deryni’s tone was truculent. *We were all thinking it.*
*Are we assassins now?*
*The other side don’t scruple – we all know Bethwyn’s probably dead and most likely mind-ripped for everything they could learn from her despite the geas that enforce our Council oaths! You tell me, Donal. How much would the Corwyn levies affect the situation there at this Killingford of yours?*
*That depends which side he came down upon. And I doubt Lord Stiofan would favour the murderers of his father.* Donal shook his head. *I understand your reasoning but it’s the first step down a slippery path and I’m not confident I could maintain my balance doing that.*
*I should certainly hope not.* Judicael’s presence faded for a second before returning to full strength. *We should end this now. Ebor has an investigation to carry out and Donal needs his rest.*
*I certainly can. Will you be able to keep an eye on Jernian?* he asked Walther.
*I’m working on that. One of the old portals at Caerrorie is intact – it’s safe enough, the old manor was abandoned years ago – and if I can borrow a horse from the current manor, well one man should be able to travel faster than a small army.*
Judicael prepared to break the link. *If it looks too dangerous, join Donal with the Haldane army, your cousin should be able to vouch for you.*
Donal couldn’t help but feel a momentary horror at the thought of Earl Euan and then shame that he hadn’t mentioned this already.
*What?* asked Walther.
*Earl Euan was seriously injured this afternoon. He isn’t expected to survive.*
Bootless, Vasco picked his way across the chamber towards where Cinhil was sleeping. Rather than crowd the one bed further (although Prince Jaron was sharing a tent elsewhere), the prince was lying on a pallet in the opposite corner from where Sir Donal slept. In deference to the possibility of another dawn attack, Cinhil wore a metal-studded brigandine beneath his blanket, which probably hadn’t done much to help him sleep easy. Doing the same had left Vasco with several sore spots where he’d shifted against the studs as he slept.
“Your Highness,” he murmured and shook the prince’s shoulder.
There was no response. He shook again and this time the prince rolled over slackly onto his back. His eyes were wide open and staring vacantly.
“Dear God!” Uncaring that his voice had risen, he checked for a pulse and was glad to find it was steady, if slow. “Your Highness!”
“What is it?” Malcolm sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Sir Vasco?”
Urien rolled over and opened his eyes. “Another dawn attack?”
“No. There’s something wrong with Prince Cinhil!”
Kicking back the blankets, Urien got out of the bed and dropped to one knee next to Vasco. “Cinhil? Wake up son.” He touched the prince’s brow and the vacant eyes widened sharply, but only for a second. The face, still lacking Cinhil’s usual intentness started to redden and his breathing shortened to gasps.
“He’s choking on his tongue!” exclaimed Vasco. He forced Cinhil’s jaw open and probed with two fingers, holding the tongue down.
Urien helped him roll Cinhil onto his side, where he was less likely to choke. “Malcolm! Wake Sir Donal!”
There was a rustle as the young man rushed to do so and a thump followed by an annoyed grunt that suggested the prince hadn’t tried to be gentle in his methods of rousing the other knight.
A moment later Donal rounded the bed wearing only shirt and britches. “What’s the matter?”
Urien raised his hand to gesture for Vasco to let him explain. “Sir Vasco couldn’t rouse him. I tried to reach out to him but I couldn’t find anything.”
“Nothing? That’s impossible.” Donal gestured for the king to move aside and give him access. “As long as he’s alive…”
Vasco looked up hopefully at him. “He’s got a pulse.”
“That’s something.” The northern knight placed one hand on either side of the prince’s head and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed and after a moment Vasco realised he and Cinhil were breathing in perfect unison.
“Is Cinhil… going to be alright?” Malcolm asked in a small voice.
Vasco looked at Donal and then at the young prince. “I hope so, Your Highness.”
“Sir Donal has far more experience of magic than I,” Urien added.
“This was magic? Couldn’t he just be ill?”
Vasco spread his hands. “Did he suffer a blow to the head yesterday? Those can be dangerous.”
“Wouldn’t you know? Weren’t you with him?”
“Not every moment of the day, Sire.”
Urien reached to smooth his son’s hair but drew back when he realised he might interfere with whatever Donal was doing.
At last Donal gasped violently and removed his hands from Cinhil’s head.
“What did you do? Is he alright?”
Donal drew his hands across his own face before answering Malcolm. “I didn’t do anything to your brother. Although I should have insisted he receive the same initiation we gave you at Valoret. Then he’d have at least had shields.”
“What are you saying?”
The Deryni met Urien’s gaze with deep sorrow. “Cinhil’s been mind-ripped.”
“What… what does that mean?” asked Vasco.
“Almost exactly what it sounds like. But how could they have done it? We’re in the middle of a camp with guards all around us!”
“But you can fix this? You can make it right?”
“He can’t,” whispered Urien, his voice almost as hollow as Cinhil’s expression. “Cinhil’s mind is shattered. Even if we could stir him to some sort of consciousness, he’d be insane.”
“I wish to God I was wrong.” Donal leant forwards, weight on his hands. “How!? How could this have happened!?”
“How do we know you didn’t do this?” Malcolm darted backwards, pulling his sword from where it lay upon a chest. He drew it from the scabbard with a rasping noise. “You were in this room all night.”
“Put the sword down, Malcolm.” His father glanced briefly at the young prince, his heir now, Vasco realised with a sick feeling. “Sir Donal had nothing to gain by such an act.” He turned to the knight. “You understand that I have to be sure?”
“Do what you must.”
The king’s placed one hand on the Deryni’s head and then touched the other to his face. Donal inhaled sharply and Vasco saw his pupils dilate. Whatever was happening, Urien wasn’t being gentle.
A heartbeat and it was over. Urien nodded. “My apologies, Sir Donal.”
“You had to be sure,” agreed Donal. “Do you want to be sure, Prince Malcolm?”
Vasco felt sure he was no less confused. “You can do that?”
“No, I can’t. You know I only have the potential.”
“We haven’t broken our fast yet and the power lies ready within you. Your father or I can bring it out and then you too can put me to the test.”
Urien looked at Vasco. “Do we have time?”
“Not long, sire. I came to tell the prince that the Earl of Danoc is moving his men across the ford now. I suppose -” He fought back a sob. “I suppose I must tell him he’s in command now.”
The king opened a small casket and held up the Eye of Rom. “I was wrong to insist you have the potentials set against your wishes, Malcolm. But without them, you might be dead too. For all we know, Jaron might also be dead.”
“And whoever did this could know everything Cinhil did about the army’s strengths and weaknesses,” added Donal in thought. “Damn them!”
“We underestimated both their ability and their ruthlessness.” Urien met his son’s gaze. “I won’t force you on this but I recommend it.”
“What do we tell the army? Cinhil is well-loved.” Vasco spread his hands. “When he was at their head yesterday they smashed the Torenthi lines. Gillis Gillespie is respected but everyone knows he’s a cautious man.”
“And Cinhil knew him very well. Now the enemy do too, they’ll understand every move he makes. If they attack now…”
Donal’s words hung in the air, letting each of them conjure the image of the Gwynedd army – demoralised by having their leader struck down within his own tent and their every move predicted by the enemy commander – facing a frontal assault like the one that had struck them the first day at Killingford.
“You’ll have to take command yourself, Sire. They wouldn’t expect that.”
“What they wouldn’t expect would be Cinhil in place and ready to lead the army.” Urien reached down and closed Cinhil’s eyes. “Will he… his body… will it linger?”
“Some hours… perhaps even a few days… Whoever did this was thorough – usually ripping is short and savage, leaving the victim’s body in agony. He took his time though – probably didn’t want let anyone realise what was happening. He isn’t feeling any pain, that might let the body survive longer.”
“I’ll do it,” Malcolm whispered. “Show me how.” His pale eyes blazed. “And then I want to find the man who did this and destroy him the way he did Cinhil.”
His father handed him the Eye of Rom and went back to the casket to find the Crimson Lion. “Donal, can you manage a circle here?”
“We don’t have time for a full warding circle.” Donal returned to his own saddlebags. “I can manage something though.”
“Dice?” exclaimed Vasco when he saw what Donal produced.
The other knight shook his head. “The dots are decorative – it’s useful to have people think they’re only dice. These are Ward Cubes.” He laid them on the floor, sorting the four ivory dice against each other in the centre. “Clear away my pallet please. We don’t have much room to work with.”
Obediently Vasco moved Donal’s saddlebags to lie next to Cinhil and then rolled up the pallet and stacked the blankets on top of the saddlebags. He saw Donal place four ebony dice around the others, positioning them at the corners of the square he’d formed.
One at a time the Deryni touched the white dice, mouthing a word each time and somehow causing them to glow with an inner fire. Only when he stepped closer could Vasco tell that he was counting upwards in latin. As he touched the last of the white dice and murmured “Quarte” the four dice seemed to meld into a single white square.
Donal smiled and then gestured he should move back. “Quinte.” The first black dice also glowed, this time with a darkling light. One at time he lit each. “Sixte, Septime, Octave.”
“Is that the ward?” Malcolm, now wearing the Eye of Rom on his right ear looked at them with equal fascination to Vasco’s.
“Let him work,” chided Urien.
Donal lifted the first white cube, breaking the square he’d formed, and placed it – prime upon quinte – on top of a black cube. There was a muffled click as the two came into contact. “Primus!” the Deryni commanded and the pair took a uniform silvery glow.
Three more times he did this until there were four small pillars of light before him.
“The four quarters,” Donal confirmed. “It isn’t as formal as the wards we raised previously but we don’t have the time – or a consecrated priest – so this will serve. Hold a moment as I move them a little further apart and we can begin.”
Once the four little silvery lights had been moved to the four cardinal points of the little space did Donal move back and let Urien lead Malcolm through the gap between the northern and eastern pillars. “Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus,” he repeated and then in a commanding voice: “Fiat Lux!”
Blue light flickered around them like a dome, sealing king, prince and Deryni away from the knight who guarded the door.
“Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be clean,” Urien prayed over his son. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”
Malcolm closed his eyes and joined his father. “He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Donal added his voice and when he nodded reassuringly, from outside the dome Vasco joined the others in reciting the psalm, recognising how fitting it was with Cinhil lying dead in all but body behind them.
“For thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Donal looked to Vasco and nodded to the door. Vasco returned the nod in understanding. It wouldn’t do for anyone to enter the room right now. Moving aside he placed one booted foot to block it from being swung open by any intruder.
He expected that Donal would take the lead now, but instead Malcom knelt before his father, placing his hands between the kings in fealty.
“Malcolm Congal Aidan Julian Haldane, thou art my beloved son and thou art mine heir.” Urien’s voice trembled at that admission of fact but his hands were steady. “Thou hast drunk from the cup of power and thy spirit has been prepared as a vessel of the kingship that is to come. With thou bear this power as a shield for thy people, as a sword against their enemies?”
“Volo.” I will.
“Wilt thou wield this power and all others with restraint, remembering always thou art the servant unto God in the protection of Gwynedd?”
“Wilt thou pass on these charges and duties to your own sons, as I pass them now to you, to repay duty with respect, loyalty with honour and disgrace with just punishment?”
Once again the prince murmured his assent and Urien released his hands, unpinning the Crimson Lion from his shirt. “Reach out then and take your birthright from my open hands.”
Reverently Malcolm lifted the golden brooch only to falter as he felt its weight and the long golden pin. “Through my hand, as you did?”
“The power lies within your blood, passed down through five generations before you. But it takes more than blood to make a righteous king.” Urien knelt now and embraced Malcolm before shuffling as far back as he could within the confines of the Ward. “It requires courage of us too.”
Malcolm nodded in understanding. Rather than holding brooch in one hand as his father had he placed it upon the floor, pin upwards and brought his right hand down to rest upon it, the tip of the pin dimpling his flesh.
Then he forced his hand down and the golden pin skewered through the flesh, rising, bloodied, between his thumb and forefinger.
Vasco started as Malcolm cried out, head thrown back.
“What was that?” came a puzzled enquiry from beyond the door.
Leaning against the door, Vasco forced his voice towards neutrality. “Nothing to worry about.” He looked back to the small circle and saw Malcolm curled on the floor, Urien and Donal standing over him. If it wasn’t for his light hair, it might almost have seemed that it was Prince Cinhil was standing by the king – he and Donal were of a similar height although the Deryni’s shoulders weren’t quite as broad.
They waited - what else could be done? - and as he watched Vasco’s mind seized upon the image. Surely, were he able, Cinhil would be standing by his father under these circumstances. But that wasn’t possible now – he looked to the pallet at the other room where Cinhil lay. Everyone would be expecting the prince to be joining Earl Godwyn soon and…
With a gasp Malcolm relaxed at last and Urien gathered his son to him.
“Ex tenebris te vocavi, Dominie.” Donal extended his hands, palms downwards. “Te vocavi, et lucem dedisti. Nunc dimittis servum tuum secundum verbumttum in pace. Fiat voluntas tua. Amen.” As he commanded, the light faded from the pillars, leaving only four little stacks of two dice each.
“You can put him back to bed for the moment.” The Deryni sighed. “I could wake him but with the shocks he’s already had this morning, perhaps it would be best to give him what little rest we can leave him with.”
Urien nodded, placing Malcolm on top of the bedcovers. “I’d better break the news to Cinhil’s officers.”
“I don’t suppose…” Vasco shook his head. “No, forgive me, I’m being foolish.”
“What is it?”
“Well it wouldn’t convince the prince’s officers, but most of the men haven’t seen the prince all that closely and you said yourself, the last thing the Torenthi would expect would be for Cinhil to be right where he ought to be.”
“Are you suggesting we strap Cinhil into his armour and tie him to the saddle somehow?” exclaimed Donal. “That’s –“
“Not Cinhil.” Vasco smiled sadly. “I was thinking you’d probably fit his armour near enough and with his visor down…” He held up his hands in apology. “I’m sorry, it’s a foolish idea. We’d have to bring too many people in on it or you’d give yourself away every time Cinhil was asked for orders.”
“Not really feasible,” agreed Urien. “It’d certainly be a nasty surprise for the Torenthi though and it would give us the chance to break the news to the other officers at a better moment.”
Donal raked his fingers through his hair. “I… could probably pass myself off as Cinhil for a little while,” he admitted cautiously. “Not for long of course – I don’t know His Highness well enough to act like him towards everyone, but if it’s just a matter of his face and voice…”
“You can do that?”
“It isn’t easy – shapechanging’s considered esoteric even by most Deryni. Isn’t it something the Haldane powers inform you of?”
Urien shook his head slowly. “No, you’ve surprised me there. Perhaps we should go through exactly what Deryni can and can’t do at some time. It’s possible there are more gaps in my knowledge than I realised.”
“What makes you think that I know everything a Deryni can do? The purges didn’t just kill Deryni, you know. Entire libraries of our lore were burned and some families took magics they’d developed and never shared to their graves. However in this case that might pay off for us – it’s possible the Torenthi may not realise anyone could do something like this.” Donal turned to Urien. “Are you sure about this? It’s… not a dark magic as such but taking your son’s face without his consent is at least dubious.”
The king lowered his head in thought and then nodded. “I know what you said but we’d better wake Malcolm. He may not approve but he’d be justly concerned if he suddenly sees Cinhil up and around after all of this.”
To their surprise however, Malcolm was far from disapproving of the idea. “In a way, it gives Cinhil a chance to strike back from beyond the grave. We could even feign a wound of some kind later today to explain his death. God knows how the army would react if they learned some did this to him.”
He’d also suggested an addition to the scheme, with Donal changing not only his own face but Cinhil’s, ensuring no one entering the room would realise there were two Cinhils – one on the field and one lying incapacitated.
It gave Donal a strange feeling to look down and see his own face on the pallet, eyes vacant and uncomprehending. Seeing his expression – Cinhil’s expression, hopefully – Urien reached down and the body relaxed into sleep.
“Will it last?” he asked. “The spell I mean?”
“His own energies are sustaining it for now. It may mean he dies sooner but…” Donal shrugged uncomfortably.
“He could have died in battle yesterday or fighting the Mearans.” Urien looked older than his admittedly weighty years. “I’ve outlived so many of my children already. I thought Cinhil at least would be an exception.”
“I don’t suppose he confided any strategies for today?”
Malcolm helped Donal into Cinhil’s arming tunic and started lacing it closed. “You said the Torenthi will know everything that’s been discussed. It’s better we don’t prompt you with anything he – anything you had in mind, isn’t it, brother?” He yanked the straps tighter on the last word. “Sorry, it needs to be a bit tighter than… than it used to.”
The door opened and Vasco returned with one of the royal pages. “William, this is Sir Donal.” He pointed at the pallet. “He must have taken a head wound we didn’t notice yesterday.”
“Shouldn’t he be moved over to the other wounded, sir?”
Urien shook his head. “Moving men with head wounds is a chancy business, young William. I don’t mind sharing my chamber with a man honourably injured in my service. There’s nothing much that can be done for him except wait, but it wouldn’t be right to leave him alone.”
William bowed, the movement showing a fresh scar with stitches behind his fringe. “I’ll be glad to watch over him while I tidy your rooms for you, Sire.”
Vasco took over helping Donal into Cinhil’s armour, sending Malcolm to assist William with Urien’s armour. Rather than risking the fit of plates around his chest, he instead helped him into mail and a sturdy jack of crimson-dyed leather over it with only greaves and vambraces.
“Take that as a reminder not to ride into the thick of things,” Urien cautioned Donal.
Donal recalled something Cinhil had said at one of the war councils. “I’ve learned my lesson from yesterday. I’ll stay where I can be found by messengers.” He shot a look at Vasco. “And where you can find me too, Vasco.”
“I’d be terribly grateful, Your Highness.”
The four of them – Urien and Vasco with plate around their vitals, Malcolm like his brother in mail and leathers – exited the house to find Earl Godwyn waiting with their mounts.
Donal had to remind himself not to offer the salute that would usually be Godwyn’s due. “Is everything well… cousin?”
“A heavy mist still, cousin.” Godwyn stroked the whiskers on his upper lip that couldn’t quite be called a moustache yet. “It’s unseasonable and Earl Gillis is concerned by pickets reporting much activity in the Torenthi camp.”
“They might be pulling out but let’s not count on that.” Donal walked towards Cinhil’s R’kassi stallion and the highly strung war horse threw its head up and side-stepped suspiciously.
Naturally it would be his horse that’s the first to get suspicious. The Deryni reached to the horse’s nose and patted it, offering the animal reassurances to sooth its ruffled sensibilities. It would be cause for immediate concern for the prince, one of the finest horsemen in Gwynedd, to be rejected by his own mount.
With the steed calmed he mounted and looked over at Godwyn. “Earl Gillis isn’t the only nervous one this morning and there may be good reason. It’s possible the Torenthi aren’t giving up just yet. Are all three divisions across the river?”
“Duke MacEwan’s were almost across. I expect Sir Ebor will be about to reach the ford.”
Cinhil nodded. “Send a fast rider and order him to hold this side of the ford with room for you to pass him.”
“I’m changing our deployments – I want you on the left, not Sir Allen. And if the Torenthi are coming you’re to swing out left and work your way around their flank.”
“That’s risky if their cavalry’s as strong as it was yesterday,” Godwyn warned.
“You handled them roughly yesterday. I’ve every faith you can do the same today. If you’re cut off from the ford, keep working around them and head for the Lendour highlands.”
“The Lendours…? Your Highness…”
Donal nodded. “I trust you to act appropriately to anything you find there, Godwyn. You did Gwynedd and Carthane proud at Culdi, now do so again.”
Godwyn drew his sword and clashed it against his shield in salute. The riders with him did the same, a cacophony of support.
Donal waited until the Earl had turned away and then looked to Vasco. “Messengers to the Earl of Danoc and Duke of Claibourne, Sir Vasco. We’d better let them know I’ve changed the deployments and I want them to move back towards the river if the Torenthi do launch another attack. Sir Allen’s men can hold them at the river and the other two divisions will be facing the left flank of the advance.”Next Chapter