Chapter SeventeenFor we have not an high priest which cannot be touched without the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
For all his occasional presumptions, Rhiryd Kincaid was at the least reliable. Rosian dined at the high table that evening, alongside her mother and sisters and saw he’d placed himself next to Lord Zygmunt at the high table, well placed to escort the Torenthi to meet with her after dinner – and no doubt to insinuate himself into that council if given the chance.
The meal was ostensibly to welcome Bishop Briand back to Laas, so Roisian had given him pride of place at the table, at her right hand while her mother and sisters sat to the left. This engaged her mother’s attention swiftly to the matter he’d been sent to attend to in Gwynedd and the news that it had been agreed in principle that Jolyon’s body could recovered without concession was greeted with mild cheer.
“I’m inclined to think sending a galley north would be the wisest way to handle this,” Roisian suggested thoughtfully. “It would avoid the risks for a party travelling through the borderlands while they’re as unsettled as Earl Loren’s reports indicate.”
“But what if the galley sinks?” asked Annalind nervously. “They do, you know. Father could be lost below the waves forever along with anyone we send.”
“Only occasionally,” her mother said with the assurance of being the only woman at the table ever to have travelled by sea. “And I gather that summer is perhaps the safest time for a voyage.”
Briand nodded thoughtfully. He’d played at ignorance of the message he’d brought all evening, saying his return was only to consult upon suitable details for the party to be offered safe conduct into Cassan. “The nature of sending one ship would also act as a guarantor to Bishop Haldane that we’re not attempting to abuse his safe conduct. There are some fairly firm restrictions to how many armed men can be aboard a galley besides the crew.”
“Crews can be quite large though – easily fifty men.” Urracca leant forwards to speak past Roisian. “Would this Haldane feel sufficiently secure in letting one of our galleys enter their harbours?”
“Given advance notice of which harbour it was, perhaps so.” The Bishop sipped at the cup of mead that had been served to him. “I think the plan has merit, Your Highness. Would you like me to propose such a plan?”
“Are you sure he doesn’t want anything in exchange.” Annalind frowned in perplexity. “It seems most unlikely he’d be so poor a bargainer. Surely he must want to gain something from this.”
“I suppose I could offer him the return of a certain tapestry if it would make you feel better.”
Annalind stared at her sister in mortification. “Roisian!” she protested.
“Annalind isn’t entirely wrong. Perhaps the Haldane’s position is weaker than we think and his conciliatory offer is intended to mask this with confidence.”
“That isn’t implausible.” Briand cupped his chin. “If… and I merely raise this as a possibility… if Jashan Haldane were expecting reinforcements for his forces then prolonging the negotiations might be in his best interests. On the other hand, his unexpected generosity may indicate that he’s happy to resolve the matter and not particularly concerned what we might do.”
“I,” Urracca placed her hand over her heart, “Believe my dear Jolyon’s body being in Cassan reminds those there that he, not the FitzArthur-Quinnells, was their rightful prince. Men may even flock to where he lies and in sending him home to Laas, the Haldane wants to undercut that sentiment.”
Briand shook his head. “I can only say that there was no indication of that sentiment at Culdi, my lady.”
Roisian looked to her mother. “I’ve invited Lord Zygmunt to meet with me after dinner, mother. I would be pleased if you would join me. I’m sure Annalind can care for Magrette this evening.”
Annalind perked up. “Is there news from the east?”
“I don’t know, but I hope to find out. Lord Zygmunt is a Deryni after all, he may have sources of information that we do not.”
“I hope you weren’t planning to meet him alone.”
“Not at all, mother.” Roisian tapped her mother’s hand. “I know better than that. I’d like Bishop Briand to chaperone and I’m considering inviting Rhiryd Kincaid as well.”
“Hmm. Yes, that might serve.” Urracca turned to look past Annalind at her youngest daughter. “You’ll be good for your sister, won’t you Magrette?”
Once the last course of the meal had been served, Roisian indicated she would be withdrawing to the solar to confer with the Bishop and her mother, leaving the more boisterous of the court to entertain themselves. She gave Rhiryd a nod as she passed him and he returned the gesture before turning to Lord Zygmunt.
Roisian had barely settled herself next to her mother on the cushioned sill of a window nook when there was a knock on the door. One of the maids opened the door and admitted Lord Zymunt. Rhiryd slipped in after the Torenthi lord, his face in an innocent expression that did not suit it.
“Chairs for Lord Zygmunt and Bishop Briand please,” Roisian asked the maids. “Lord Rhiryd, I trust you won’t be offended if I ask you ensure the door remains secure. We will be discussing matters of state after all.”
The young lord bowed floridly and leant against the wall by the door, hand not at all coincidentally resting on the hilt of his sword.
“This all seems most mysterious,” Zygmunt said with a smile as he took his seat. “Should I consider this meeting to be had in confidence?”
“That will depend upon what you have to say, good sire. Roisian knew that what little light remained in the sky would be coming through the window behind her, leaving her a silhouette against the glass. “It is my understanding that Deryni such as yourself have means of gathering information from far away that we mere humans lack.”
“We have our own constraints, Your Highness. However it’s true that under the right circumstances it is possible for us to travel far or even, as you suggest, communicate with our brethren.”
“Then I would suppose that arrangements are in place that allow you to maintain communications with your King that do not depend on couriers crossing or circling Gwynedd to reach us here in Laas.”
The Deryni nodded. “It wouldn’t be true that I’m in constant contact with my lord, but it’s true that I’m regularly contacted from Beldour or – while His Majesty is in the field – from King Kyprian’s headquarters. I assume there’s some reason that this is pertinent.”
“I assure you that all will become clearer.” Roisian leant forwards and looked over to Briand.
The Bishop nodded. “I do have one further question, Lord Zygmunt. When was the last time you received such a contact?”
“Only two days ago, as it happens.”
“How fascinating.” Briand leant towards Zygmunt. “You might imagine we have our sources within Gwynedd – the product of a long history of cross-border raiding and other relationships. I doubt it would surprise you to learn that I’ve been taking advantage of these sources while ostensibly merely negotiating with Bishop Jashan Haldane.”
Zygmunt’s shoulders tensed and in response Rhiryd straightened. “Oh?” the Torenthi asked. “Should I be led to believe that you’ve hear some wild rumours that are of concern to you?”
The Bishop gestured with one hand to indicate uncertainty. “A little better than rumour, Lord Zygmunt, but not an entirely reliable source either.”
Urracca smiled thinly and Roisian could tell that she was fuming at not being informed previously of this. “Why don’t you let Lord Zygmunt know what we’ve heard, my dear Bishop.”
“Of course, my lady.” Briand touched his pectoral cross. “It’s said that King Marek slew King Urien some three days ago and was then slain in turn. Beyond this, that King Kyprian has now been forced into retreat by Urien’s son.”
Zygmunt was about to reply but Briand held up his hand.
“I would stress, three days ago. The day before you were last in contact with your master so it seems to me that if this is the case then you should well aware of if, Lord Zygmunt.”
“Perhaps this is no more than rumour though.” Roisian kept her voice sweet and innocent. “If there was nothing of significance to inform us of then it’s quite reasonable that Torenth’s ambassador wouldn’t seek an audience with me to inform me of the progress of the campaign – or to inform me of his King’s response to my proposal that my marriage to Prince Nikola be brought forwards.” Steel entered her voice. “What was his reply to that, Lord Zygmunt?”
The Deryni coughed in embarrassment. “Very well, Your Highness. You’ve trapped me neatly.” He half-turned his head to Rhiryd. “You won’t need to draw that sword, young sir.”
Hesitantly Rhiryd looked to Roisian who nodded with a calm she didn’t feel. Had she made a mistake in cornering the ambassador? Who knew what a cornered Deryni might manage?
“It’s quite correct that Urien Haldane lies dead, as does King Marek. Who fell first I couldn’t say, but if your source says it was Urien then who am I to disagree?”
“And the rest?” asked Urracca coldly.
Zymunt smiled thinly. “Alas, I must inform you, Princess Roisian that your betrothed fell in battle the day before Urien. I believe that the matter of your marriage date is therefore no longer of concern.”
“And your King is in retreat, his army ruined? There is, in short, little chance of a renewed Torenthi march into Gwynedd this year. Which leaves Meara isolated and easy prey to Cinhil Haldane.”
“Quite so, Your Highness. Since Prince Nikola is no longer in need of a bride, you can see that Meara is no longer a priority to my master.”
“And my other daughter’s fiancé?”
“Prince Marek junior, if he still lives, is heir to his father’s claims upon Gwynedd, my lady. I can only say there that as of two days ago he was alive. There is, I must confess, some possibility that this is no longer the case. Whether he will wish to uphold the agreements made by his father I could not comment. Meara has, after all, proven somewhat less than helpful as an ally.”
“You dare!” hissed Rhiryd. “Mearans bled and died for our alliance!”
“And thousands more of Torenth have done likewise. The fact remains that Meara arms crumbled at their first serious opposition while Torenth fought three days inflicted great losses upon Gwynedd before being forced to retreat. Had you succeeded in forcing the Haldanes to maintain a substantial army in the west then success might not have eluded us on this occasion. As you couldn’t even manage that…” He shrugged eloquently.
Roisian’s eyes narrowed. “I surmise that you’ve been spending some part of the last two days arranging a swift departure back to Torenth, Lord Zygmunt.”
He bowed. “You surmise accurately, Your Highness. And if I may correct you, I may now style myself Count Zygmunt - my cousin Otakar was among those slain in the fighting, along with his only brother.”
“Since your master has discarded us as allies, Count Zygmunt, you may consider your welcome within Laas at an end.” Roisian gestured to the door. “Lord Rhiryd, please see the Count out. He has until dawn to leave Laas. After that moment his status as herald is revoked and I would imagine there are loyal lords in Meara who might take exception to his king’s decision.”
Zygmunt bowed his head. “For what it is worth, Your Highness, I suspect that your children and Prince Nikolas would have blended the best of both your Houses. Alas, it was perhaps not to be.”
The door closed behind him and Rhiryd before Urracca turned on Briand. “And why is this the first that I’ve heard of this news?”
“Because I’ve only just returned to Laas, my lady.” He yawned. “Please excuse me, as I grow older I find I’ve less energy.
“Dinner was far too public to inform you, mother.” Roisian drew her feet up beneath her. “And as you can see, had we waited then the Count might well have fled before informing us of what we now know. It was essential to confront him as soon as possible.”
“But now Meara stands alone…”
“Being honest, mother, we have always stood alone. It is only now that we are aware of it.”
“There are other reports I did not reveal to the Count.” Briand folded his hands. “The Haldanes, having defeated the Torenthi, are sending reinforcements to strengthen their garrisons along our border. Since Torenth’s ambassador has confirmed other news from this source, we can take this as a fact. I am hardly a war leader but it seems that this will bode ill for any further offensive action on our part.”
Roisian nodded. “Mother, I will need time to consider how to respond to this change in our circumstances. I think it best we sent Lord Rhiryd to inform his father – it is best he can speak to someone who heard Zygmunt himself.”
“Rhiryd’s presence has always implied a degree of his father’s support for your position,” warned Urracca. “Sending him away may appear to leave your alliances among the lords in some disarray.”
“I’m sure he’ll be aware that this also leaves him a new opportunity to become more influential within Meara.” She touched her cheeks and was surprised they were still dry. “I am no longer betrothed after all and we must consider that Annalind’s betrothal could be no more secure. A young and ambitious lord at the court at this moment is a potential danger – and at least for that reason we can be sure he’ll share the knowledge with only his father for the moment. The last thing he’d want is some rival lordling to sweep into Laas with a warband in tow.”
She turned to Briand. “Pray sleep well, Your Excellency, I shall need your council upon the morrow.”
“And when will you sleep, Rosian?” asked her mother.
The princess turned and looked out the window at the setting sun. “I leave it to you to break this news to Annalind. I fear sleep may elude me, with such matters to dwell upon.”
Since accepting Cinhil’s guise, Donal had been forced to refrain from accepting any communication from the Camberian Council. If they knew he was conscious and able to respond then they wouldn’t accept the story that he lay comatose – currently being carried into a guest chamber of the Royal Palace – and thus might question who was in his guise.
If the current masquerade was revealed then the backlash against the Deryni would be almost unimaginable – every church in Gwynedd would declare Donal a heretic and traitor using magic to try to usurp the throne for himself and by association that all other Deryni were guilty of the same crimes.
It wouldn’t be the Council’s wish to provoke that of course, but that assumed that they were able to keep the secret – Bethwyn’s possible fate suggested that any one of them might fall into the wrong hands. And of course, the very risks might have led them to pressure Donal to end the pretence immediately – with all the inherent risk of a permanent rift in relations with Malcolm.
“Sire.” Walther dropped to one knee. “I offer my condolences for the death of your father.”
“Thank you, sir knight. You’re… Euan de Cynfyn’s cousin are you not?”
“Walther, sire. Your father sent me to investigate Duke Jernian’s loyalties and I regret that I was unsuccessful in determining them. I followed his forces north and reached the Schilling ford only after you departure.”
“Duke Jernian appears to be most capable of keeping his loyalties in question. Dare I hope that your cousin’s condition improves I know his injuries were most dire, but he clung to life so fiercely when last I heard that hope did not seem lost.”
“I regret it is not so.” Walther hung his head. “His health was failing when I arrived and I confess that I delayed in riding south to Valoret so that I could remain with him in his final hours.”
“I think no man could justly fault you for compassion to your kinsman.” Donal sighed sadly. “You have my condolences, Gwynedd will sorely miss your cousin.”
“As they will your father.” Walther looked uncomfortable. “Sire, I fear I must speak boldly despite having served you less well than poor Euan. I crave a boon of you.”
Donal looked around. “That is indeed bold of you at this moment, Sir Walther.”
“Aye, you want his time now but where were you when we fought at Killingford?” demanded Banan Coris.
“I regret the timing greatly, but I realise Your Highness is very busy and I might have no other chance to approach you.”
The faux prince raised his hand. “Gentlemen, this is not a meeting of the royal council or a court where I hear petitions. I will assure you that both shall be taking place before tomorrow evening. In the meantime we have ridden far this morning and spent the afternoon laying my father to rest. This evening I would like to reserve for dinner with my brothers and to compose letters to others of our kin, not least to my dear mother and daughter. I must therefore seek your forbearance.”
He saw Malcolm stiffen sharply and placed one hand on the young man’s shoulder, directing what he hoped was a suitably stern and princely looks at the Earl and Walter… who might be an Earl himself now, Donal couldn’t recall the exact succession to Lendour save that Euan had no children and only a single sister.
It seemed to work and the lords gave him space as the royal party walked away.
As they left the Cathedral Vasco joined them, carrying a casket that contained the State Crown. Malcolm used the distraction to touch Donal’s hand. *That knight was a Deryni!*
*I know. He’s an… associate of mine. He tried probing you?*
*Not as such – at least, if he did he wasn’t pressing hard. Just a brush against my shields.*
*It’s not easy to enter someone’s mind without physical contact. I’m still not sure how whoever it was managed to strike at Cinhil – perhaps some focus or a tremendous source of power. Walther’s quite gifted though. It’s likely he hoped you’d lower your shields enough for him to communicate with him.*
They had to break off the conversation for the procession back to the Royal Palace, but as they walked Donal weighed the risks. Walther might not recognise the shape-shifting on ‘Donal’ but he’d certainly realise that there were no shields and that the mind beneath was gone – something quite at odds with what had been encountered when the Council had reached out to Donal in unison.
Once the four of them reached royal apartments, he looked over to Jaron. “You look exhausted, Jaron. Why don’t you take a nap before dinner?”
Jaron coloured at the words. “I’m fine, Cinhil. I can manage.”
Taking the hint, Malcolm rubbed his brow. “Perhaps you are, little brother, but some rest sounds heavenly to me.”
“Perhaps it’s because you’ve been lazing around in the seminary instead of getting some exercise.”
Malcolm responded by catching his brother by the shoulders and they mock-wrestled for a moment before the door until Jaron slapped his brother’s hip in surrender. “Perhaps I am tired if you can beat me, Malcolm. I’ll see you for dinner though.”
“I’ve some vague recollection of being a squire myself,” Donal replied with what he hoped was a touch of Cinhil’s dry humour. “Don’t worry, I know better than to keep a growing young man from his meals.”
Jaron turned back down the stairs and Donal opened the door into the chamber – the same one in which he and Anscom had opened Urien to his powers and set the potentials for Malcolm – signalling that Vasco should follow the youngest prince.
“That was smoothly done,” he observed once Malcolm closed the door behind them.
“He should sleep until dawn, or until someone wakes him.” The young man walked over to sit on one of the chests. “How much of a problem is Sir Walther likely to be?”
“If he manages to get his hands on your brother’s body he’ll know something’s not as we’re pretending. And he’s persistent – following Jernian across half the kingdom should tell you that.”
“Do you trust him?”
Donal sat down in a well-stuffed chair. “For himself, yes. But that doesn’t mean I can be sure of trusting everyone who might have a chance to find this out from him. For that matter, once we’ve carried out the exchange, it’d be safer if you removed my own memories of the last few days.”
Malcolm flinched. “Isn’t that too close to what was done to Cinhil?”
“It’s not entirely unrelated, but I may commune with other Deryni in the future and it would be unfortunate to have them learn of this even after the effect. It’s not really very different from what you just did to Jaron.”
“What about Vasco? He’ll remember it and he doesn’t have the defences that a Deryni has.”
“Sir Vasco has no excuse for losing a week or so of his memories. He’s also less likely to be asked about this but if he’s willing then –“ Donal broke off as the door opened to admit the knight in question.
“Prince Jaron is soundly asleep,” he reported and then glanced at them both. “I’m sorry, did I catch you both in mid-conspiracy?”
“I believe the time’s come for Prince Cinhil to depart the stage,” Donal advised.
Malcolm opened his mouth, thought and then hung his head. “You’re right. You were probably right back in Schilling, but I… I needed the time.”
“Losing a father is hard, Sire. Losing a father and suddenly becoming the heir to a Kingdom must be even harder. But we can’t maintain the deception any longer. It’s already going to be harder with your brother not being in the royal apartments. We need to end this and make sure it’s never discovered.”
Vasco nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. It wouldn’t be out of character for Prince Cinhil to visit the wounded and we’ve all been maintaining long hours. If he’s visiting Sir Donal and collapses suddenly his condition could simply pass as exhaustion.”
“That would probably pass human scrutiny. They aren’t the only ones who may investigate though, so would you be willing to accept some… assistance in protecting the information?”
The knight looked uneasy. “That would depend what you have in mind, Sir Donal.”
“It’s rather personal, isn’t it?” admitted the Deryni. “I think we can trust you not to speak of them willingly, but with this even a Deryni might not learn of it if they question you.”
“You mean the same way you learned that King Urien was looking into activating his magical legacy. Is that a likely risk?”
“There’s a Deryni at the court already. At the moment he’s probably more curious about my own condition but it would be best not to take chances. I’ve asked His Highness to block my own memories entirely – it’s perfectly plausible I’ll have no memories of what happened while I’ve been in a coma.”
“You’re willing to have that done to you?” exclaimed Vasco in dismay.
“It’s the only way to be sure.”
“Well if you’re willing to do that… how can I refuse?”
“I appreciate your willingness.” Malcolm rose and bowed to the two knights. “I realise you won’t remember this, Sir Donal, but I promise that I will never forget.”
Roisian lit a candle before the altar and dropped to one knee. Is this really for the best? she wondered. I’ve not spoken to anyone of this course of action but…
However little I like the idea, what other path is as promising?
Nothing sprang to her mind.
Mother will hate this and so will Annalind. But what alternatives are there? Hope the threat – no, not a threat, the actuality of Gwynedder invasion – binds Meara together? Or that Cinhil Haldane washes his hands of us and lets us slide into civil war, my sisters and I tokens among the lords?
I need a husband and that husband has to have the power to compel the submission of the rest of Meara. Nothing else will do and there's only one place I can go for such a husband now that Torenth has washed its hands of us.
Father, take this cup from me! I don’t want to throw myself on the mercy of the man who killed you!
“Your Highness… I’d not expected to find you here at this early hour?”
Roisian turned to see Father Ithel staring at her in surprise from the door.
“In truth Father, it’s more a late hour than an early one. I expect Bishop Briand will be here soon as well.”
“A late hour? Did you not sleep last night, child?” the old priest asked.
Roisian lifted her crown from her head and placed it on the floor before her. “While father lived I did not know the weight this brought with it.”
“And no husband to help you bear it now. Ach, I’m sorry, Your Highess,” he added as Roisian felt a tear upon her face. “I did not think before I spoke.”
“I do not grieve for Prince Nikola. I never met him and now I never shall. But I must now choose a husband for myself and…” I am full of fear. But some confessions a princess may not make even to those who understand all too well.
Ithel shook his head. “Can I help you?” he offered.
“When Briand comes I will have confidential instructions for him. I’d be grateful if you could be sure we’re not interrupted. And more so if you could be my witness.” Roisian smiled sadly. “I’m going to anger many people here in Laas, I think. But at least they will know it to be my decision and no others.”
“Aye, I can do that.” Ithel squared his stooped shoulders as best he could and then knelt to lift her crown and restore it to Rosian’s head.
Roisian’s candle had burned down only a finger’s breadth when Briand arrived and Ithel closed the chapel door behind the Bishop, taking out the rarely used key and locking it too.
“I’m ready to return to Culdi, Your Highness.” Briand settled himself in one of the front pews and Roisian moved to sit across the aisle from him. “We’ve discussed arranging a merchant ship to bring your father home rather than a galley. Have you had second thoughts or is there something more you’d discuss?”
“Yes. Not second thoughts that is – I accept the advice that a galley isn’t the best choice for travel around the cape at Ballymar and I’ve ordered certain officers of the court to see that a suitable ship is prepared.”
“Then you have something else in mind, Roisian?” he asked gently.
“Yes, Father Briand.” I could still back down, she thought. But no… Meara demands more of me than that. “When you speak with Bishop Haldane, I’m authorising you to negotiate a marriage through his good graces.”
“A… marriage, Your Highness.”
“Yes. My own. If his nephew is amenable then I offer him peace with Meara and am willing to seal this by offering my hand to a Haldane prince.”
“Your Highness! If Cinhil Haldane himself didn’t slay your father than it was surely one of his army that did so!”
“I am aware of that.”
They stared at each other in silence until Father Ithel cleared his throat. “Perhaps the Bishop would be more able to do your wishes if he understood your reasoning?”
“Perhaps you’re right.” Roisian turned her eyes to the altar. “Meara is facing a civil war. Without a strong prince in Laas, the clans would turn to squabbling as they have so often, but with no prince at all – and we both know how few will accept my ruling in my own right for longer than it takes to settle a husband upon me – they’ll fight for control of myself and my sisters. Our husbands will be rivals for primacy over the other lords, regardless of father’s wishes and God alone knows how that will end.”
“Perhaps if I had a strong and able husband, one outside their eternal rivalries, and my sisters were married safely off to foreign lords, that could be averted but then too I must make peace with Cinhil. King Urien was gracious enough but now he is dead and we must be tainted in his son’s eyes as allies of the Torenthi who killed Urien.”
“Then by marrying him…”
“Ideally, I would wed one of his brothers. Both have seen war and a Haldane prince as my husband or son could reasonably call on aid from east of the Cloomes beyond anything the lords could raise in opposition. For his part Cinhil would gain Meara as… not precisely a vassal but clearly subordinate to him and no longer a potential ally to Torenth. There’s no possible way the House of Festil would stomach a Haldane-led Meara as an ally even if such a Meara would consider the Festils as allies.”
“And your sister’s marriage? She is still to wed Marek of Festil – the new Festillic heir it is said?”
“Even if he still lives, which may not be so, the treaties which were sealed by that betrothal are voided in any case. I will renounce that arrangement. As her elder and as the head of my family I have that authority.”
“That won’t do her prospects any good for another marriage.”
“We need not address that matter unless Marek is known to live. You can offer the Haldanes my undertaking to do so if need be so long as they are willing to arrange a suitable marriage for her well away from Meara if it becomes necessary.”
Briand nodded bleakly. “You have truly steeled yourself to this.”
“Better a princess suffer than her principality. And if it is the way of men to shed their blood on the battlefields for their crowns is it not also the way of women to shed their blood in the marriage bed and in birth for that same cause?”
“Your father, I begin to suspect, would be proud of your resolution, Your Highness. If appalled by the need.”
“Thank you for the sentiment.” Roisian studied her hands. “It’s possible of course that he will decline in general or in specifics. If he has no interest in marital ties to Meara then we have little recourse. If he merely feels that he does not wish one of his brothers to wed me then it would be… less ideal but also acceptable for me to marry a Gwynedd noblemanof suitable stature – a close alliance to a Duke or Earl might offer sufficient stability.”
“And if he proposes to wed you himself?” Briand gripped the edge of the pew. “He is a widower, after all, and a few years older than your late betrothed. That would involve the permanent union of Meara to Gwynedd.”
“And also a matter of church politics.” She smiled wearily. “How would you feel, your excellency, to look for spiritual guidance to an Archbishop in Valoret rather than to the Primate in Sirhowy?”
“I would have to pray for guidance on that matter, Your Highness. Though at least the Church of Gwynedd, like that practised in we western kingdoms, is derived originally from that Bremagne so the theological matters would be at least less complex than those of having a prince who took spiritual direction from the Patriarch of Beldour. But you have avoided my question.”
“It is said that he was a kind husband and remains a devoted father to his daughters. If Cinhil Haldane requires my hand as the price of peace then agree immediately.”
The chambers that housed the wounded were lit only by torchlight once they arrived. Vasco took one of several torches lying ready and lit it from one of those in a wall-sconce before leading the way. At this time of the evening there were only a handful of attendants – what had been done for these men had for the most part already been done and now all that could be done was to wait and see if they recovered.
“Hundreds here and more still at Schilling and the nearby monasteries. So much of Gwynedd’s blood spilt for my family,” murmured Malcolm.
“Saint Piran’s was similarly burdened with Torenthi soldiers who couldn’t join the retreat,” Donal reminded him quietly. “They and those who died did so because of the Festil’s ambitions, not your own.”
“Is it worth it?”
“I doubt all the tales of abuses under the Festils are only legend,” Vasco answered.
Donal shook his head. “Camber of Culdi – Saint Camber – was one of the Festillic king’s highest councillors and a great lord in his own right. He believed, if legend is true, that the Haldanes could have reconciled human and Deryni without oppressing either.”
“And this is the result?” asked Malcolm, sweeping his hands out to indicate the sleeping men in cots, most missing at least one limb.
“The burnings on one hand, the laws that would execute fifty innocent humans for a Deryni slain on the other.” Donal shrugged helplessly. “The only end can be if we learn to live in peace and the Haldanes have been among the few bastions of that moderation. Perhaps one day…”
Vasco saw a shadow move ahead of them, by the door up to the stairs. “Who’s there?” he called out, shifting the torch to his left hand and stepping forward boldly.
Walther de Cynfyn stepped out of the shadows. “Sire.” He dropped to one knee before Donal. “I was visiting some of the Lendour men among the wounded.”
“We’re on a similar errand. I don’t recall any Lendour knights being among those on the upper floor though.”
“They aren’t,” the Deryni replied easily. “But a personal friend of mine, Sir Donal MacAthan, lies there.”
“Sir Donal was my father’s aide, was he not?”
“Aye.” Walther didn’t rise from the floor. “It is for him that I make petition, Sire. I am told he lies comatose after a head wound – you may be aware that recovery from such a state is rare.”
“Alas, that is true.”
“My lord, Sir Donal has been comatose for days. If there is any hope it flees swiftly. I beg your permission to take him to a physician I know of across the Southern Sea in Vézaire.”
“You’re discussing travelling for days by land and then a sea voyage,” Vasco exclaimed. “Do you think Sir Donal would survive such a journey?”
Walther bowed his head. “No, Sir Vasco. My cousin Euan did not make issue of his Deryni heritage, but I presume you know of it and we have our ways. I know that Donal was of aid to you against the Festils and if you will let me I can take him to Vézaire in hours.”
“Sir Donal was privy to certain of our father’s secrets,” protested Malcolm. “How do we know this isn’t a ploy to take these secrets from him while he’s helpless.”
“Are those secrets truly worth the life of your father’s loyal knight?” asked Walther challengingly.
Cinhil – Donal – placed one hand on Vasco’s shoulder. “Enough, raised voices will rouse the men here and even were these matters suitable for public discussion they need their rest. I will consult the physicians on the morrow, Sir Walther. If Sir Donal does show no improvement then I will consider your proposal then.”
“I only hope then,” the southern knight observed, rising to his feet, “That the added hours are hours that my friend can afford.”
Vasco gestured for Walther to move aside. “Then we all have something to add to our prayers this evening.” He unlocked the door and bowed to Donal and Malcolm.
“If Sir Donal lives to chide me for my suspicions then I will be well pleased,” the seeming-prince offered to Walther in consolation before moving past him and up the stairs, Malcolm behind him.
“Do you think he’d already been up here?” asked Malcolm once they’d reached the top of the stairs. “The door was locked.”
“That’s no obstacle to a trained Deryni. He’s had time since we saw him in the Cathedral would he have had time to find out his location and arrive without drawing notice?”
“I may be able to offer some reassurance,” Vasco offered with a smile. The princes had been necessarily preparing for their father’s funeral procession so he’d been responsible for ensuring the comatose Cinhil was brought to a private room. He led them to the door now and knelt to touch the edge of the doorframe. When he straightened, a single hair was upon his finger.
“I notched door and frame before I left and placed this hair in both notches,” he explained. “It was still here so unless someone noticed it and deliberately replaced it, no one’s opened the door since I left.”
“Your wits are as good as magic, my friend,” Donal congratulated him. “I would have been hard-pressed to manage the same and certainly Walther would have noticed such a trap.” He moved inside and examined Cinhil warily. “Damn. I look terrible.”
“He still lives though.”
“How about below the illusion?” asked Malcolm.
Donal shrugged and then knelt beside the stricken prince, placing both hands upon his chest. “We’ll have to find out.”
The illusion had been merciful – Cinhil’s body was shrunken, days of no food and little drink having pared away at his flesh.
“I’ll probably look far too healthy,” the Deryni sighed. “There’s nothing else for it though. I’ll be as confused as anyone once you’re done – there’s no use my using another spell to appear less fit.”
Vasco handed his torch to Malcolm to keep watch with – it would take the two grown men with their full strength to dress Cinhil in his proper, regal splendour and then move him from the bed.
Once the prince was laid out in the finery, Donal helped carry him out into the corridor and then went back and laid out on the bed. “I suppose now I’ll never work out why Imre of Festil called out to Saint Camber when he died,” he murmured.
“Didn’t you tell me that your disguise had slipped while you were fighting him?” Vasco asked.
“Yes… just before that. Why?”
Vasco couldn’t help but smile. “Donal, while we were researching how to activate Urien’s powers I came across a picture of Saint Camber in the royal library – in Talbot’s Lives of Saints. You actually look very much like him – with the light under that dome your pale hair could easily be taken for the silver-grey Camber’s hair was described as.”
Donal sat up in surprise. “He thought I was Saint Camber?”
The knight spread his hands. “Well one moment he’s fighting a Haldane prince and then the face changes… it even fits one of the early miracles ascribed to him.” A bishop cursed by one of the Festils had worn Camber’s face briefly and when it faded the curse was also gone, or so Vasco recalled. “I’d show you the book but you won’t remember that.”
“Actually… I’d be grateful if you would. Say I mentioned Camber’s name in my sleep or something.”
Vasco raised his eyebrows. “Is it important?”
“I have absolutely no idea.”
Malcolm gestured for Donal to lie back down. “We don’t have much time now. Open your shields to me. I’ll leave you primed to sleep deeply for another day or so and let Walther de Cynfyn have you in the morning. That should confuse any link between Cinhil collapsing and you waking – this mysterious physician of his can take the credit.”
“Good luck, Sire.”
The young king-to-be placed his hands to Donal’s brow and the knight’s eyes closed, breathing settling into a peaceful rhythm.
“Bother!” Malcolm snapped as Vasco closed the door.
“There was something I was going to ask him about – from the second day of the battle at Killingford. I don’t know if he’ll remember what it was now!”
Vasco gave him a stunned look.
Malcolm sighed. “Well hopefully it wasn’t important.” He stood over his brother and reached down. “Goodbye Cinhil. Give my love to Albina and Micole.”
And Cinhil Haldane ceased to breathe.Epilogue