EpilogueBehold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51
Somewhere between the Grande and the Curry Rivers, Prince Marek had realised he was being pursued and turned east with a small party while the rest of his command continued towards Rengarth.
“He must have been making for Carcashale,” Stiofan concluded as he lowered his spy-glass and turned to Airlie. “Either to try the pass at night or hoping the castle there would stay loyal to the Earl who pledged himself to his father rather than the Earl who was murdered.”
His son nodded. “If the peasants hadn’t told us a party of knights was riding this way he’d have made it.”
“Do you understand why they told us?”
“Because they’re loyal to the Haldanes?”
“That’s part of it, Airlie. But why are they loyal to them? I doubt any of them have ever even laid eyes on Urien or his sons.”
Airlie pointed to the village below. “I think some of them must have laid eyes on Marek though – or at least a part of his army.” Wooden buildings had been reduced to ashes and stone ones had mostly lost their roofs to the same fires, now replaced with improvised shelter from the weather.
“Aye. Let that be a lesson to you – the Festils ravaged the kingdom they wanted to claim, the Haldanes did not. It takes little to hold the loyalty of the small folk once you have it – but abuse them and they will have their revenge in the most surprising of ways.” Stiofan twisted in his saddle and waved for his men to move ahead.
The party making their way up the valley and past the village came to a halt as they saw dozens of horsemen crest the rise to their left and start spilling down the slope towards them.
Some turned their own horses to flee but Stiofan had brought enough remounts to be confident his horses were more rested than theirs. Probably the decision not to take any was to reduce the chances of their tracks being spotted, he decided.
“Bring down their horses,” he ordered sharply as a file of horse archers caught up with him – less burdened with armour they could outpace the destriers of the lancers.
The sergeant at the head of the file struck his chest in salute and his men uncased their short recurve bows.
Four horses fell to the first volley of shafts and more than half the Torenthi knights reined in and held up empty hands in surrender. If escape wasn’t an option there was no point in their losing valuable horses they might be able to retain through paying a ransom.
Not all were willing to face that fate though and three more horses and one of the knights lay dead before the Corwyn horsemen had the rest of the party surrounded.
Stiofan waved forward a squad of men to separate those who’d surrendered first from their comrades. None of them seemed likely to be Prince Marek – he would be around Airlie’s age and they all seemed to be fully grown. “Take off your helms,” he called out. “My most noble sovereign, Cinhil Haldane, King of Gwynedd; has decreed that those who surrender will be treated in accordance with the laws of war.”
“To who are we surrendering?” called out one of the men who’d been more stubborn.
“To Lord Stiofan de Corwyn. Which one of you is Lord Marek Furstán-Festil, son of the self-proclaimed king of Gwynedd.”
A pale boy removed his helmet. “I am Marek, rightful king by succession to my father. Spare my men and I will surrender.”
Stiofan, who had been Truth-Reading the boy shook his head. “Even if that was true, you have no bargaining position. I admire your courage rather than that of your lord but surely you should be aware you cannot lie to a Deryni.”
The youth dropped his head in defeat and another rider moved to the fore. He wore no surcoat but his armour was clearly of a finer craftsmanship than that of the first. “Your house rules Corwyn only because my ancestors made it so, Stiofan de Corwyn. My squire has been more loyal to me than the Dukes of Corwyn have to their sworn overlords.”
Given his father’s decisions of late Stiofan felt his face tighten at that accusation. “I salute his courage and his loyalty. So I’ll offer you this.” He swept his eyes across the knights. “Those of you who dismount and disarm will, with two exceptions, be held for ransom. Given the alternative,” and he nodded to the archers, “I don’t recommend you decline but the choice is yours.”
“Lord Marek’s squire… what’s your name, boy?”
“Young Fyödor will have my safe conduct back to Torenth to take the necessary messages to your families.”
The boy seemed inclined to protest but Marek shook him a quelling look. “Since I doubt I’ll be able to repay his loyalty, I thank you for offering him that mercy. I take it that I am the last exception.”
The young prince nodded. “My kinsmen died in duel arcane with the Haldanes. Since I believe you will agree I am heir to Tolan, will you accept my challenge as an equal? We are both Deryni lords.”
Stiofan drew his sword and pointed it back down the valley to the village. “I have one question for you. Your father gave the orders for that and for many other villages to be destroyed the same way. Did you have any part in carrying out those instructions?”
Young Marek met his eyes. “As God is my witness, I did not.”
He nodded. “If you had, I’d have handed you over to the villagers to hang.”
“And my challenge?”
“I refuse. You will die today. The only mercy I may offer you is the services of a priest and to die by the sword, your body to be buried honourably.”
“Imre III, my great-great-grandfather was cut into pieces and displayed across Gwynedd.” Marek slumped in the saddle. “Very well. Lay down your arms.”
“Lay them down!” he shrilled. “If I cannot live as a king then I will at least die like a prince should. And no fair prince would let his men die for no purpose.”
One at a time the knights around him left their saddles, removing their swords and hanging them by the swordbelts from their saddle bows, until only Fyödor remained at Marek’s side.
The prince unbuckled his swordbelt and handed it to the squire. “One last gift, in lieu of the knighthood I’ll never be able to grant you.”
Stiofan turned to Airlie. “Take the boy aside but don’t disarm him unless he gives you trouble.” He looked back to his men. “Someone bring the priest forward.”
“You’re going to do it here?”
He nodded. “I don’t see any point in riding you halfway across Gwynedd to make a spectacle of this.”
While Marek gave his last confession and removed his armour the men spread out in a rough circle. The Torenthi knights were allowed to stand witness under guard, as was Fyödor. The thin clouds high in the sky were being blown from the west across the mountains into Torenth. The sun was high and bright.
Stiofan leant back, hands resting on the crosshilts of his sword, and watched the sky until he heard footsteps. He looked up and saw Marek. The young man was trying to hide his fear but as a father he could tell.
“I won’t ask if you’re ready, but if you need any longer with the priest…”
“He’s done everything he can. Call your executioner.”
Stiofan shook his head and raised his sword before him in salute. “This duty was given to me, Lord Marek.”
The boy nodded and looked up at the sky before kneeling and lowering his head.
For a moment Stiofan saw Airlie in Marek’s place. He touched the tip of the blade to the young prince’s shoulders and then raised it high. “You might have made a better king than your father would have.”
“I suppose we’ll never -”
The downstroke of Stiofan’s sword cut short Marek and his final words.
Amid the hanging gardens of Beldour, the courtiers of Torenth didn’t circulate as they once had. The priests had elected Timotheos of Ortenbourg as the new Patriarch but preparations for his installation took them away from the royal court. Meanwhile the noble houses were busy attempting to determine who succeeded to the estates and titles of the dead.
Since in some cases that matter depended on establishing exactly who had died first, that would take longer than electing a new Patriarch. Some cases, where testimony conflicted, would have to be brought before the king and no one wanted to do that until he’d calmed down.
“So what did father say?”
Zimri shook his head. “He’s talking about calling for additional levies from the garrisons in the northern and eastern borders.”
“Byzantyun may not invade since the Autokrator is our cousin,” Arkady conceded. “But north? Is he mad? It took us almost thirty years to drive them back and now he wants to open the door to them again.”
“It’s only a matter of time until Gwynedd sends an army across the mountains and invades us. We need an army to stop them.”
“Another army to be slaughtered… and how are we going to pay for this? Fighting a war is like taking the money in the treasury and throwing it all into the river. The money looted from the north has been spent. What’s he going to do, demand additional taxes from families already mourning after this debacle?”
“He’s the king.”
“For now,” Arkady said with considerable weight.
Zimri paled. “You’re talking about our father.”
“I’m talking about limiting the damage he’s causing.”
The younger surviving brothers looked to their elders. “Arkady… you’re talking about peace with Gwynedd.”
“That’s right, Andruin.”
Kirill shook his head. “They killed Nikola. And our cousins!”
“I’m aware of that.” Arkady leaned forwards and glared into Kirill’s eyes. “And I defy you to tell me you were closer to Nikola than I was. But he wouldn’t want this either. What are we fighting for? There isn’t even anyone for us to put on the throne of Gwynedd – all that’s left is Marek’s daughter and Duke Imre’s sisters.”
“There are cousins too, in the house of Mór,” Zimri disagreed.
Arkady walked over to the nearest balcony. “Count Zygmunt has returned to Medras. I’ve ordered him to send a herald to the Haldanes… in the name of Arkady, King of Torenth.”
There was stunned silence.
“I don’t intend to harm our father if it can be avoided. But if any of you intend to defend him from me I suggest you push me now.”
He looked back after a few moments. “No, I didn’t think so.”
“What have you offered them?” asked Kirill quietly.
Arkady refrained from adjusting his court robes. It wouldn’t do to look nervous after all that. “Return of the border fortresses we took – and Cardosa, which will give them control of that pass.”
“That still doesn’t give them any reason not to invade us – it’ll even make it easier.”
“The Haldanes have been hurt almost as badly as we have. They’ve no surety of winning a prolonged war against us… and I’ve offered them a surety that we’ve no further cause to fight against them.”
“What surety do you mean?”
Zimri froze. “The Festils… they don’t have any male heirs, but the women…”
“The first thing I did on returning to Beldour was to take custody of Salentina Furstán-Festil. As Marek’s last remaining child she and any children she has are the heirs to the Festillic claim on Gwynedd. So long as Haldane controls her, we’ve no cause to rally behind – both claims are out of our hands.”
His brothers looked at him.
“So who else supports this?” Kirill asked at last.
“Torval of Arjenol – father shouldn’t have had his uncle executed. The Counts of Sostra, Fathane, Medras and Kulnán have pledged their support and Nikola’s officers from Arkadia are my officers now.”
“Truvorsk too.” Zimri folded his arms. “So what’s the plan?”
Arkady reached into his robe and produced a writ of abdication he’d drawn up in preparation. “I’ve already signed this as a witness. Now you do the same.” He looked each of his brothers in the eyes one at a time. “Then father signs it. Even if one of us has to hold the quill for him.”
“Should I be concerned you were listening to my mumbling while I was comatose?”
Vasco shrugged. “It wasn’t an entirely instant thing, we thought you were simply sleepy that evening. It wasn’t until you didn’t wake up the next morning we realised something was the matter.”
Donal rubbed his face. “I can’t blame Malcolm for being angry with me. We weren’t on the best of terms before that and this….”
“I’m sure he isn’t angry with you.”
“I was supposed to be helping his father and when he needed me the most I was asleep.”
The other knight took his shoulder. “That isn’t your fault. I know he’s a bit distant but taking the throne so suddenly – it’s a lot of weight on his shoulders. If he was really angry, do you think he’d have named you one of his honour guard for tomorrow?”
“Perhaps not, but…”
“Are you blaming yourself?”
The Deryni paused and looked out of the nearest window. “Perhaps I am. The last thing I remember clearly is previous day – serving as Cinhil’s herald to the Torenthi. I suppose a knock to the head wouldn’t do my memory much good, but...”
“You were at Urien’s side for the next day too. I wouldn’t say you were in the hottest fighting but I don’t believe he had any complaints.”
“I suppose not.” Donal tilted his head to one side. “I don’t suppose you know what happened to the Count of Sostra? From what he said when we met as heralds he was going to come looking at me on the battlefield the next day.”
Vasco frowned in thought. “I think he was commanding part of the Torenthi retreat on the third day. I’m not sure what happened to him after that, I don’t think he was on the list of those captured… no, his column refused a demand for surrender and fought their way back to their camp. Unless he was injured then, he’s probably back in Sostra now.”
“Oh well. I suppose some business can remain unfinished.” Donal gestured to the library door. “So what did you want to show me?”
Inside the library Vasco went unerringly to a shelf in one corner and carefully pulled free a heavy tome. “Talbot’s Life of Saints. This volume was copied not long after the Haldane Restoration.”
“Oh?” Donal frowned. “Why that one, particularly??”
“Because I’ve had a look at the copy in the Archbishop’s library – copied out almost twenty years later – and there’s an interesting omission in that version.”
Donal raised his eyebrows. “After the Statute of Ramos you mean?”
“Precisely.” Laying the tome down on the desk carefully, Vasco paged through it reverently before pointing out one specific entry. “Saint Camber of Culdi. Defender of Humankind. Kingmaker. Patron of the responsible use of magic.”
“I can see why he doesn’t appear in later copies. So why do you want to show me this?”
Vasco turned the page and to reveal a portrait of the Deryni saint. “You kept mumbling his name that evening.”
I must have been thinking about the Camberian Council, Donal realised. Thankfully Vasco doesn’t know their name to make the connection. He looked down at the page and then started as he took a closer look at the face.
It has been drawn by an artist who’d met Camber in life, according to the supplementary note – a face that seemed a little too young for an Earl who’d been almost sixty at his death, with kind eyes and a head of shoulder-length grey hair. But if the hair were silver, not grey…
Camber, by the descriptions in the family records, had had the same golden hair that still characterised some of the MacRories’ descendants – including Donal himself – and as he aged it had supposedly silvered. Allowing that grey might have been a limitations of the artist’s palette…
It could be the face that had replaced Anscom’s, months ago in the royal chamber in Valoret.
“He was buried at Caerrorie,” Vasco noted, reading from the text. “But when his tomb was opened later no body was found. His son claimed to have reburied him, fearing the tomb would be a target for Camber’s enemies, but he never revealed where and many believed he’d been bodily taken into heaven after his death… Camber’s son may have been prescient.”
“Don’t look at me. Scrying for the future is nothing but a myth as far as magic goes. So I was talking about Camber?”
“You were. Does it bring any memories back?”
“Not of that night, no.” Donal looked down at the book again. “Would it surprise you if I said I thought I felt his presence when I helped activate King Urien’s powers?”
“Sir Donal, there isn’t much about that entire business that didn’t surprise me.”
Donal wasn’t the only member of Malcolm’s honour guard of course. Perhaps to make a point, the new king had made a point of picking the knights almost equally from those who’d distinguished themselves in battle and the unconfirmed heirs of nobles who’d fallen in the war. Donal had looked for young Gillis de Traherne, who should surely have deserved a place after his sagacity at Saint Piran’s only to be told the young Earl of Traherne had fallen on the last day at Killingford and so his place was taken by his uncle.
Malcolm rode at the head of the procession of course but Jaron was only a horse’s length behind him and to his right, both young Haldanes wearing tunics quartered in crimson and gold under light cloaks of white silk. The state crown sat on Malcolm’s head, covering what was left of his clerical tonsure but the only difference in their garb was the white belt of knighthood around his waist, for it was the unanimous decision of the knights present that their young king, though more than a year short of the eighteen years usually a requirement, was more than worthy to receive the accolade of knighthood.
At the same ceremony, a bemused Sean-Seamus MacArdry had received his own knighthood so that he too could ride in the honour guard as well.
The knights behind them rode in a column of four that filled the road as they passed between cheering crowds and buildings bedecked with banners for though Rhemuth had loved their old King, they had taken the young and handsome Malcolm to their hearts.
Donal found himself in the centre of the second rank – flanked to the left by Vasco and the right by Sir Piran and Sir Allen. As they turned a bend he looked back and saw behind the knights of the escort the next party within the procession – white canopies carried above the leaders and the banners of many kingdoms behind them.
“Did you ever think you’d see this day?” asked one of the new earls who rode in the first rank.
Donal turned his head back and saw Walther de Cynfyn in a less muted version of the Lendour livery than he’d once been accustomed to. “Not as things have played out, no.”
“No more did the rest of us,” agreed the aged Mellish O’Flynn who was now left to replace his nephew Tamlynn as Earl of Derry. “We’ve yet to see how the rest plays out though.”
The great doors of Saint George’s were open but no Archbishop stood ready to welcome him for the Curia had yet to decide upon a successor to the fallen Marcus des Varreaux, much less his superior John of Benevent in Valoret. That would be something that Malcolm would have to push them to decide on and swiftly but for now Jashan Haldane stood to greet his nephews, flanked by vigorous and perhaps ambitious Faustin MacArt, both bishops in cassocks of an imperial purple beneath their snowy white cassocks and stoles.
Like the shepherds of men their croziers marked them as, each of the two princes of the church ushered one of the two Haldane princes into the cathedral where more clergy waited – a crowd of candle bearers, choristers and boys swinging censers that spread the scent of incense before the two young men as they marched under episcopal direction towards the altar. A coronet sat upon the altar and Donal spotted the moment that Jaron saw it, his head snapping around towards his brother who favoured him with a smile perhaps a hair to sly to befit a king – although the gracious wave of his hand was more befitting that rank.
“So the rumour is true then – Prince Jaron will wear a duke’s coronet before the day is done?”
Vasco nodded in response to Piran’s question. “Well he is the heir presumptive until Malcolm has a son of his own. It would be expected for him to be granted some lands when he comes of age next month.”
Malcolm and Jaron took their places on the altar steps and the knights obediently filtered under the direction of Bishop MacArt to take their places to the right of the Haldanes.
The solemn Te Deum that had greeted the Haldanes was replaced by a silvery fanfare of triumph and the choir turned their voices from the welcome due a king to that of a queen.
Queen Jaroni had veiled herself to hide tears as she led the next party through the transept and then stood aside to wait for the escorts to their places. For this was not her day save in that special fashion of a mother.
Roisian of Meara, tall, slender and blonde, was upon the arm of her great-uncle King Théofrid of Bremagne. She held her head high and there were gasps from some of those within the cathedral who had not yet realised how fair a princess Malcolm was to wed.
A second canopy approached the door and Princess Rhetice had shed the grave demeanour she’d worn since the news of Cinhil’s death had reached Rhemuth. She was smiling gladly as she stepped aside to join her grandmother at the door and the friend she had led within continued forwards upon the attendant arm of Count Zygmunt.
She, like Roisian, was blonde but the murmur that went up at Salentina Furtsán-Festil’s arrival was not at her beauty but at her bloodline. Apparently fearlessly she walked past the stalls to stand beside Roisian.
Jashan Haldane stepped forward from the altar and spoke briefly to the two brides and then, placing one hand upon each of their heads he spoke, not to Roisian or Salentina but to all those present. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. So said our Lord and Saviour and so shall we take these courageous daughters of God into our hearts as the seal of peace.”
And then he turned to two Haldanes and began that most ancient and blessed of the Church’s rites, for today was not the end but a new beginning.Appendices