Author's note: I meant to post this last night but had a minor crisis to deal with and it slipped my mind. My apologies. Also, please note there is a major time skip here. ~DR
Chapter 3 — Peril and Intervention18 July 1138, outside Rhemuth
Bishop Duncan McLain had gone out for a ride, riding through Rhemuth from St. Camber’s Chapel northeast toward the center of the city then on a more easterly route down Church Street and out Fairgate. Once outside the city walls, he crossed Maiden Field and neared a forested area. He was enjoying the summer sun himself, but thinking his horse might welcome the cooler shade, he turned slightly south to head toward the Molling River to allow his horse a drink from the river. Under the trees at the river’s edge, he tethered his horse where it could reach the water and sat on the bank, simply enjoying a few hours away from his responsibilities.
He was thus very startled when someone he could not see and barely heard came up behind him and cracked him on the head hard enough to knock him unconscious.
He awoke an indeterminate amount of time later in what smelled like a barn with a sack over his head so that he could not see. He attempted groggily to move his hands and remove the sack but found his hands were tied behind his back. Upon trying to move his legs, he realized his ankles were likewise tied together.
Duncan heard footsteps crunching in the hay, and suddenly the sack was forcefully yanked off his head. He realized it must be after dusk, because he could see no better with the sack off than on. Someone forced a cup to his lips, and being thirsty, he drank. Very shortly, he realized that was a mistake, as the ale was poisoned with merasha, and his mind grew foggy and confused. He realized, dimly, that he was being moved, as the sack went back on his head and two people lifted him, one holding his bound feet and the other carrying him under his arms. He was placed into a wheeled conveyance of some sort, a wagon by the ride, and the wagon took off for parts unknown. After some length of time—Duncan could not decide how long with his drugged brain—the wagon stopped, and he was roughly hauled out of the conveyance in the same manner he had been put in the thing in the first place.
Someone removed the sack from his head again, and he thought it might be near dawn, as he could barely make out the candle-lit shapes of people. Another cup was brought to him and he was forced to drink, though since the merasha-laced ale, he was unwilling. As his mind cleared a bit, he realized that this ale had not been tainted. Someone wanted him at least somewhat clear-headed now.
The sack was thrown back over his head, and he was left either alone or with a very quiet guard in what smelled like another barn or stable. As his mind began to work again, he became very alarmed and tried without much success to calm himself. Panic would serve no good purpose, but he could barely keep himself from screaming.
Suddenly, he sensed a kindly presence in his mind whose nearness calmed him and reminded him of something that had happened years before. On the night before his ordination, Duncan McLain could not sleep. He lay in bed, restless but trying not to move so as not to disturb the others who would be ordained in the morning who were probably at least trying to sleep. He was very anxious, knowing that he, as a Deryni, should not be seeking ordination, and he was very worried about the day to come. He looked over at a corner of the dormitory, not sure what had drawn his attention until a dim shimmer of light appeared, in which stood a young man of about his own age, dressed in a white ordination cassock. He was of average height and medium build, with brown hair and very kind brown eyes, and he was smiling gently, looking directly at Duncan in his bed. As if he were “hearing” Mind-Speech, Duncan sensed a light tenor voice in his mind.
“You do not know me, my son, but you will one day. Know that God is with you, this night, tomorrow, and always. Be blessed in the light of the Lord. Rest now,” the figure said, raised his hand and made the sign of the Cross over Duncan, and faded away. Duncan’s eyes widened, wondering what had just happened, but he suddenly—finally—felt sleepy and drifted off to a restful sleep, awakening early on his ordination day feeling both peaceful and excited.
The same presence who had calmed him before his ordination seemed to be here now, calming him once again, whispering gently that God was with him and that salvation—earthly salvation—was coming. Duncan was not sure exactly what was happening, and he had no idea who was with him, but for some reason he could not define, he trusted the kindly presence and managed to slow his breathing.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~20 July 1138, early morning, Coroth Castle
His Grace the Duke of Corwyn awoke a little before dawn, wondering why he was up before the sun. He rolled over in bed, facing now away from his wife, and realized then that a corner of his bedchamber was dimly lit, and the figure of a young man stood in the pale light. An old memory surfaced, and he recognized the glowing figure and stared in awe at someone he knew to be long dead.
“Your Grace, you must awaken! Your cousin the bishop is in grave danger. He has been abducted and taken to Sheele, and his life is in peril. You must get to him as quickly as possible to help find and save him before it is too late,
” the apparition said urgently. Alaric realized that the figure was speaking to him in Mind-Speech, because his lady Richenda lay still soundly asleep, apparently undisturbed until the figure vanished and Alaric threw off the bedclothes.
“Darling, what’s wrong?” Richenda asked groggily as she sat up. Rather than answering aloud, he took her hands and imparted the information that he needed to contact someone in Rhemuth straightaway. She realized he was holding something back, but before she could protest and insist on the whole story, he released her hands, got out of bed, and threw on a shirt and breeches as he walked out the bedroom door.
Alaric went immediately to his study, wherein lay a large crystal of shiral. Forcing himself to calm down and center, he focused on the crystal, Calling the lady Rothana in Rhemuth. To his surprise—and alarm—she was awake and receptive.
“Your Grace, why are you contacting me this early in the morning?
” she asked without preamble as she appeared in the crystal in wimple, veil, and grey Servants of Saint Camber robes.
“My lady, I think there is something gravely wrong,
” he began.
Rothana interrupted him. “In that you are absolutely correct. Bishop McLain is missing. He went for a ride yesterday afternoon and did not return. A student found the horse he took from the basilica stables tethered by the Molling River but no sign of the bishop.
It took Alaric very little time to make his next decision. “I’ll be in Rhemuth as soon as I can get there. I’ve been told—it’s a long story—but I’ve been told he’s being held at Sheele. Can you contact someone in Valoret and see if they can investigate?
Rothana’s image in the shiral nodded. “Of course, Your Grace.
“Thank you very much, my lady,
” he said and ended the contact. He returned to his bedroom and his visibly upset wife. Quickly explaining the whole story to her in rapport, including the visitation by the apparition of a Deryni priest martyred in his boyhood, he told her he was going to Rhemuth via Portal to investigate and hopefully intervene in time.
At that moment, their rapport, easily established by years of marriage, was broken by the appearance of the figure again. This time he spoke audibly to them both.
“Your Grace, you must not waste time in Rhemuth. You must go directly to Sheele. Take a Portal to Valoret and ride for Sheele with all haste. Your cousin’s life depends upon it,” Jorian de Courcy said urgently. Alaric nodded in affirmation to the figure as it disappeared again, and Richenda turned away from him to collect and pack spare clothing for him.
“Get some food from the kitchen before you leave,” she said, no longer angry with him but clearly unnerved; however, her practical side was functioning now. “I’ll pack you some clothes to take, and for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your ward cubes—or your Saint Camber medal so you can tell me what’s happening.”
After less than an hour, Alaric stood next to the Portal he had finally constructed on the ground floor of Coroth Castle, kissed Richenda good-bye, stepped onto the Portal square, and disappeared for the Portal in the sacristy of All Saints’ Cathedral in Valoret.
In Valoret, a young clerk was startled to see a tall blond man wearing an unconventional green and black tunic appear in the sacristy a bit after dawn.
“Hello,” Alaric said kindly. “I’m sorry if I frightened you, but I need to get to the stables as quickly as I can.”
“Um, my apologies, my lord, but who are
Alaric extended his hand with the ring of the King’s Champion on it. “Sorry, lad, I don’t have time for long explanations. I’m the duke of Corwyn, and I need to get a horse as soon as possible.”
The clerk nodded his head and gave the duke directions to the stables from the sacristy. Of course, he knew the name and was intelligent enough to realize that if the duke of Corwyn was in that much of a hurry at this early hour, it had to be a matter of life and death or state security, possibly both. He was curious, of course, but he knew better than to bother Morgan. He bowed politely, which Alaric barely saw as he nearly ran for the stables.
The stablemaster greeted Alaric with a fine horse, already saddled and ready.
“Why, thank you. I’m surprised—”
“Don’t be,” the stablemaster said. “Lady Rothana spoke to the Archbishop—well, to Father Drummond, who got His Grace—and the Archbishop’s guardsmen are at your command, Your Grace.” Alaric’s eyebrows raised in surprised approval, and he thanked the stablemaster again before leaving the stables, where he promptly—and almost literally—ran into the Captain of the Archbishop’s guard.
Recovering, he explained the situation quickly to the captain.
“What do you need of me and my men, Your Grace?” the captain asked.
“I need you to follow me to Sheele, but I think I should find Bishop McLain on my own. If I leave you outside the estate, can your men remain there quietly until I Call for you?”
“Call for us?” the captain asked, sensing the emphasis on the word “call.”
“Yes. I will give you a pendant of Saint Camber. It will tingle when I’m trying to reach you. Take it in your hand, and I’ll be able to speak to you in your mind, even though you’re not Deryni.”
The captain looked first surprised, then impressed. “Very well, Your Grace. Give me the medallion, and we’ll be on our way.”
Once outside Valoret’s northernmost city gate, Alaric rode hard for the estate of Sheele with twenty of the Primate’s guard behind him, arriving at the outer boundaries of the earldom within two hours of taking horse. Realizing that surprise would be essential to the success of his rescue mission, he dismounted and tethered his horse to a tree near a small spring. Instructing the guardsmen to remain there and be as quiet as possible, he continued northward towards the estate proper. For a moment Alaric wondered exactly where on the grounds Duncan was being held, and then he felt Jorian’s saintly presence again in his mind, sending him a mental picture of a dirty, unused stall in the stables.
There in the stables, Duncan lay, head aching and mind still somewhat muddled by the merasha, in the dirty straw. There were two men nearby wearing no livery and bearing no resemblance to anyone Duncan knew. The bishop had no idea where he was or who had abducted him until, of all people, Calder of Sheele appeared in his line of sight. The older priest was immaculately dressed in a crisp black cassock, and his eyes glinted with hatred.
“Finally I have you,” the older man began in a voice seething with loathing. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since you escaped Archbishop Loris in Meara.” He paused for just a second. “You helped them rob me of my see, you’ve profaned the sacrament of Holy Orders, and you’ve polluted the MacArdry line with your Deryni seed.”
Duncan’s eyes showed his surprise and alarm, but his voice was well modulated. “Your own treachery is the reason your see was taken from you—”
“You and your king and your kin, it’s your fault,” Calder interrupted him, then coughed harshly and spat greenish bloody phlegm near Duncan’s feet. It crossed Duncan’s still merasha-muddled mind that perhaps Calder had meant to spit on him and merely—and luckily for Duncan—missed. “And I’m dying. I’ll never regain my rightful place, and you at least in part are to blame. If I must die, I’m sending you to Hell before I face God.”
At that moment, they all started, hearing a sound outside the stables. “Go find out what that was,” Calder barked at the other two men. Turning back to Duncan, he drew a knife and advanced on Duncan, continuing to rant as the bishop tried to gather his mind to protect himself at least, but the merasha—or the growing hangover from it—kept him from accessing his powers.
“You have no right to be a priest, never mind a bishop, and how dare you promote your accursed Deryni cause by teaching
children to use those devil-granted—”
Calder’s speech was cut off by what sounded like another cough, and then he abruptly fell forward, collapsing into the horse-soiled straw at Duncan’s feet, a dagger protruding from his back. Duncan’s eyes widened, first wondering how that had happened, and then in grateful realization of exactly how. His cousin Alaric stood in the door of the stall, his hand relaxing from a throwing stance.
“Oh my God,” Duncan began. “I’ve never been so glad to see you in my entire life.” Alaric grinned hugely and leaned over to untie Duncan’s hands and feet, then he helped his cousin up.
“Can you stand?” he asked as he was trying to get Duncan to his feet. Duncan wobbled and leaned on Alaric for support for a moment, fighting dizziness from the head injury and merasha hangover.
“I can, I think, but probably not for long,” Duncan said.
“All right, here, sit here,” Alaric said, helping his cousin to a saddle on the ground, where he could at least sit somewhere besides a bed of fouled straw. From his vantage point near the stable door, Duncan could see the bodies of the two men who had been guarding him for Calder; dead or unconscious, Duncan could not say and at the moment did not much care.
Alaric took his Saint Camber medallion in his hand and Called the waiting guardsmen. Instructing the captain to send a man back to Valoret for a wagon or carriage for Duncan, he asked the rest of the men to join him at the stables.
Just as the guardsmen reached the stables, several other men blustered in. The leader, whom Alaric recognized as Kenward, the Earl of Sheele, looked around in some surprise.
“What in hell has been going on here?” he demanded.
“Your—well, how was
Father Calder related to you?” Alaric began.
“A cousin,” Kenward returned shortly.
“Your cousin, then, abducted mine and was going to kill him,” Alaric stated plainly.
“I don’t believe that,” Kenward spat. “My cousin was dying anyway; a priest wouldn’t have risked his immortal soul—”
“Then how did Bishop McLain get here in this state?” Alaric asked, waving a hand toward his disheveled, dirty cousin, whose head, in addition to being covered in dirt and worse, was bloodied from the blow he had received outside Rhemuth.
“I have no idea, but you murdered a priest, you Deryni hell-spawn, and now you’re trying to justify your acts with this outlandish story!” Alaric’s brows raised at Kenward’s epithet.
“Really now? And whose account do you think King Kelson will believe, given that the Archbishop of Valoret sent his men—” The duke waved a hand again to indicate the archbishop’s guardsmen. “—To help rescue Bishop McLain?”
Kenward seemed to deflate at the mention of the king and the Primate of All Gwynedd.
“The facts are on my side, Sheele, as are the king and the Church,” Alaric continued.
“How did you get here?” he blustered weakly, and Alaric realized through his own anger that something beyond the obvious was not right.
“That’s not really any of your concern, and I’d like to know just how much you knew about your cousin’s plan here,” Alaric snapped.
“I didn’t know a damn thing,” Kenward bit off, but Alaric knew immediately that the Earl was lying.
“Really?” the duke said scornfully. “Everybody in Gwynedd knows I’m Deryni, and anybody who knows anything about Deryni knows that we know when someone is lying. The king himself uses that power all the time. You
can expect a summons from the Archbishop. Since your cousin abducted and intended to kill a bishop, this will be a matter for the ecclesiastical courts, but I am quite certain the king will take an interest too.” The duke turned to the captain of the guard. “Delegate a few men to stay here and make sure no one conveniently disappears before Archbishop Bradene can investigate and decide how he wants to proceed.”
The captain nodded and began barking orders to his men. Four guardsmen walked to where the two henchmen lay outside the stables. Lashing their hands and feet together, the guardsmen lifted the unconscious men. One man was lifted to the back of the captain’s saddle and tied there so he would not fall off during the trip back to Valoret. The other was tied to the lieutenant’s saddle.
Two of the younger guardsmen helped Duncan to his feet and he staggered, one arm around each of their shoulders, out of the stable. The guardsmen helped the bishop to the area where Morgan had left them and the horses, and the duke sat beside his cousin on the clean grass.
“I can tell they hit you with merasha. Let me see if it’s worn off enough for me to do something about that head injury,” Alaric began. Duncan nodded, and Alaric rested his hands on Duncan’s shoulders, carefully entering rapport. The merasha had in fact worked its way mostly out of Duncan’s system, and Alaric took a careful look at his cousin’s skull just under his tonsure, near the bruising and bleeding. The bone was cracked but not badly broken, and there was no brain injury other than a concussion, which Duncan could recover from easily, though he would probably have a very bad headache for several days. Alaric very gently moved his right hand from Duncan’s shoulder to the head wound and Healed the injury, though Duncan would probably still suffer a headache for a while, just hopefully a lesser one.
“Cousin, you desperately need a bath,” Alaric said, almost on a laugh after he ended the rapport. “But, I think we’d better postpone that until Bradene sees you. I want His Grace to know how badly you were hurt and how close you came to being killed before we clean you up.”