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Author Topic: Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight  (Read 2772 times)

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Offline Laurna

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Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight
« on: April 30, 2018, 12:54:06 pm »
Pretender's Gambit-- Chapter Eight

(Previous chapter-- http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,2205.0.html)

“Ask the Lady Jerusha Drummond to attend me, as soon as may be,” His Majesty Jasher Haldane requested of Lord MacAthan even as he was dismounting from his grey destrier. 

The word of the Haldane party’s return had traveled through the camp faster than the horses had galloped in.  The elder royal councilor was head among the men who bowed down at the war pavilion entrance to receive their new king. MacAthan turned on his heel to do the king’s bidding, yet he was stopped by the king’s more personal address. “Stuart, let me say how glad I am to see you about.” Jasher stepped closer to the man who had been a valued member of both his brother’s royal council, and that of his father’s. Stuart’s continued loyalty was to be rewarded. The royal hand of friendship came to rest upon MacAthan’s shoulder. The closeness between the two men was obvious, even to Washburn who could not recall seeing both men at court at the same time, not in years: it may have been as far back as Nygel’s crowning. It was clear that Jasher respected the elder MacAthan. “You had me much worried, last evening. I feared I might have lost a man of good judgment. Judgment I sorely will need in the days ahead.”

“I offer everything that I am to you, Sire. I thank the hand of heaven that I am still able to do so. But what of you? You ask for the Healer. Are you injured?”  Lord MacAthan’s inquiry hinted at a deep concern. Jasher was quick to give reassurance with a pat on the older man’s shoulder. That was enough for Stuart to relax; there was some other reason for the king’s request. Jasher gave no hint at what that might be. Instead, as the king stepped past, MacAthan bowed his respect. With a somber expression, he followed Jasher within, knelt briefly with the Haldane before the recumbent form of their late king, and then himself rose silently to back away and disappear behind a curtained-off portion of the pavilion. The King had not yet risen when Stuart stepped back out having relayed his message to the lady secluded behind the curtain. It was apparent from the wetness in the corners of the councillor's eyes that Stuart’s heart was still reeling from the knowledge that he had survived, when his beloved King Nygel had not.  Sir Krispin was quick to step up to his father’s side, grasping his father’s hand in thankfulness for just that.

Washburn had no doubt that the son shared the events of the previous night with his father. This in itself brought out the question of how much the older MacAthan knew of his wife's ancestry and his son’s half-Deryni blood. It appeared that the Lady Kyriella’s Deryniness had not been a secret held from her husband, she being the Healer Jerusha’s daughter after all. Also the ability of MacAthan’s son seemed of no consequence to Stuart either. Washburn was thinking he was going to need to chart that family dynamic, if he was ever to understand it. The Drummond’s, the MacAthan’s, and the Haldane’s were intertwined by marriages and by blood.  Even as Washburn was thinking this, Lady Jerusha’s son, a man who too had hidden his Deryni blood, General Corwin Drummond, hobbled forward, a squire at his side to aid in his walking.

Corwin Drummond bowed as Jasher stood, giving his new king his respect. To Washburn’s onlooking gaze, the general looked poorly indeed, but at the least, the man was alive and he was standing. Drummond shrugged off the squire’s helping hand and balanced precariously by his own energy upon a halved, wooden pike. Below the hem of the general’s tunic, one foot and one calf were clearly seen, yet it betrayed that there was no second. Drummond’s complexion was ghostly pale, yet even so, as had MacAthan, the general of Gwynedd’s Haldane Lancers was revived at the sight of a Haldane. “I am yours to command,” Drummond proclaimed.

“I would command you back into bed, if we had the time to further nurture our wounded, but I fear that time is running short, and we must get this camp moving toward the protection of Grecotha’s walls. Do you feel up to that task?” Jasher asked.

“I do. I will see that we are ready to move out.” Drummond was already nodding to the men near at hand to send out the orders that the camp was to be made ready to move.

“Good man,” Jasher said, pleased at the abruptness that emptied the pavilion of most of the men who went out to pass the word that Gwynedd’s levies would again be on the road to Grecotha. “Now, We have personal business to see that justice prevails. I am told that the Lady Drummond, your mother, has something that can help in a way that no other can supply.”

“Justice?” the general queried. “Sire, my mother has been working through the night,” Lord Drummond tried to explain. “She is getting much needed rest, and I hesitate to call for her.”

“Ah! Yes, I understand. It will wait. Tell me….” but his words were cut short by a frail feminine voice coming from the curtained area.

“How can I serve you, Your Majesty?” the venerable lady requested. Before Jasher could answer, the Dowager Queen broke away from the men, put a hand to Lady Jerusha’s back, and escorted the Healer back behind the curtain. It was clear that Michaela felt her plans were too important to reveal before so many onlookers.

If Jasher took offense to his grandmother’s assertiveness, he did not show it. “Women will have their secrets,” he mumbled. Instead, he clapped Lord Drummond with an open embrace. “Corwin, do you know how good I feel in seeing you up! I must tell you that if you had not advised your nephew to fetch his grandmother, I fear that neither you nor Stuart would have been well enough to greet me this morning.”

“Aye, to that I agree. I can tell you that I was reluctant to send MacAthan’s heir back into the belly of the beast. Know that I would not have risked him for my own sake. I hoped-- we all hoped-- that there would be enough time to save Nygel. Forgive me; in that, we failed.”

“That was not a failure of your making, nor of Krispin's lack of speed.” Jasher’s gaze briefly turned back to where Nygel lay. “We could not have come here any faster, unless we could fly.” Giving a sigh, he looked away, back to the men still living. “The positive outcome which stands before me outweighs the risks taken. If I can get us all back to Grecotha, even better for it.”

“Aye to that,” Drummond said with a nod. “I shouldn’t tell you, but there was a moment, just a moment, mind you, when the dawn lightened my surroundings, and I awoke thinking this could not be heaven, not with the glow of red canvas overhead; well, it did cause me to think I must be in that other place. Then I woke further, hearing familiar voices, and it was then that I realized I was still in the mortal world. And glad of it, I might say. Though, now I am questioning why God saved me. How is it I can still serve Gwynedd? I can not say.” Drummond frowned, feeling half a man, his hand brushing the thigh that had no calf nor foot below it.

MacAthan came forward then. “The way you always have, brother, with a keen wit and a sharp mind. A Haldane King needs these as much as he needs fighting men.”

“That I will indeed, now and in the future,” Jasher said to both men. “While we wait on the women, give me report of my levies.”

The report was not a good one, but the numbers were not as bad as Washburn had thought of them from the night before.

“Prince Cluim is out among the men. When he returns, he will have even greater detail of what remains of our army,” Stuart added.

There was a stirring from behind the corner curtain. The fabric pulled aside to reveal the court ladies, both fully veiled and cloaked as they had been when they had first arrived the day before. The dowager queen was the first to step forth. One hand extended from the folds of her riding cloak, carrying a half cup of wine. Close behind the queen came the elder Healer. In one hand she carried a black vial and in the other a small pouch of herbs.  “We have what you requested, sire,” the Healer announced.

“That pleases me,” Jasher affirmed. He nodded to Wash, his gaze stern; he would tolerate no aggression from their prisoner with the ladies present. The Lendour captain paced out of the pavilion, back into the sunlight, to take possession of his prisoner from the temporary watch of the king’s guard. “Attempt anything, and I will kill you where you stand. Then I will Mind-Rip you of every last detail about this invasion of the Pretender, no matter how shielded those details may be,” the Lendour captain threatened, even as he tested the bindings around the Torenthi’s hands at his back.

“You’ll get nothing from me,” the Torenthi boasted. “Just kill me and stop wasting both our time.”

“Hah! You’ll wish your ending was that easy!” the captain claimed, even as he pushed the man forward. At the pavilion entrance, his prisoner was flanked by Lord Muir and Sir Krispin.  Any Deryni trickery would be negated instantly.

The wiry little man gave a seething glare toward the hated Haldane who had declared himself king, when it was King Imre’s victory which had rightfully earned that rank this last day.  Then his gaze looked past the king to the items held outward in the veiled women’s hands.  He scoffed at the black vial in the Healer’s hand, thinking he recognized what they intended for him. “Merasha will do you no good. It will only muddle my mind and the mind of anyone who tries to read me. Hah! You will never learn what I know,” he said defiantly.

“In that you are wrong,” the veiled queen stated. She turned with the wine cup, allowing the other lady to add a pinch of herbs and to unstopper the black vial and pour its contents into it. A momentary hiss was heard as the ingredients intermingled. Washburn grabbed the man's head in a vice grip as the queen squared her shoulders and stepped determinedly up to the prisoner. “For Nygel,” she decreed as she poured the drugged wine down the man’s forced-open mouth.

The Deryni tried to fight back then, his body retching and squirming in the captain's firm grasp. Washburn’s concern turned to the queen, who was determined to get the last of the contents of the cup down the man’s throat. Wash shouted a warning as Michaela stepped even closer, her off hand reaching to the back of the prisoner’s head as if to help hold him still.  Fearful that she was about to get hurt, Wash strengthened both his physical hold and his mental capabilities around the man's head and his inner shields.

Then suddenly… the Torenthi  had... No shields.

Washburn’s mental force plunged deep into the man’s mind so abruptly that the prisoner gave a yell of pain. Wash pulled back, stunned, his eyes and his mind questing for any residual shielding that should not have disappeared so quickly with any drug. It was as if the spy was totally human, never a moment of Deryni training in his history. The Deryni Lendour Captain turned a surprised gaze to the veiled lady before him. Her hand grasped his hand in a firm grip, she knew he had guessed things were not as they appeared. In that touch, Wash instantly recognized the touch of Lady Jerusha Drummond. It was the Healer and not the queen who stood there veiled before him.

How? he whispered to her.

Her response was ardently mind spoken to him alone. There are some Healer talents that no one need know about. This secret must be kept, from your earl, even from the King.   It was a secret so deep that the women had chosen to switch their clothes and cast a spell to copy each other’s voices so that no one would guess what really happened here. Make me that promise, here and now. Or the same fate awaits you.

Taken aback, Washburn hesitated before responding again in mind-speech. It is that important?

It is! Do you promise?

I swear on my house and on my honor that no one will know of this.

I will trust you, stated the Healer. She stepped away then, dropping the wine cup to the carpet, and with a show of disgust she stepped her booted foot down upon it to shatter the ceramic. Now the drug’s residuel could not be used on another, so at least the men who watched would think.  But Washburn knew differently. There had been no drug at all. Whatever drugs the Healer had brought with her had been sedatives and healing salves, and all of that had already been used on the wounded she had tended to during the night.

Not wanting to see what happened next, the two court ladies returned to the curtained-off sleeping area. The king did not even question their retreat. His intense focus stayed on the prisoner.

“Tell me what plans Imre has made.” Not even realizing the power of Truth Saying that he put forth with the question, Jasher was as surprised as everyone was when the prisoner answered in a factual monotone.

“Imre’s strike force is to take the old Capital of Valoret while your army is laboring to hold Grecotha.” Tears welled up in the Torenthi’s eyes, he knew a fate worse than death had happened to him. He had no resistances left to him.  His mind was as open as a babe’s for all to read and there was nothing he could do to stop his confessions.  It was the Earl of Lendour who stepped up to make an in depth reading of the prisoner’s mind. No longer needed to hold the man down, Washburn stepped back. Muir quested for a moment with fingers over the prisoner’s eyes. He looked up, surprised at what he discovered, but he did not question the process that allowed him to fully Mind Read this man without any blockades. Then he was back to the business at hand to learn all that the man knew. It took only a few minutes before Muir completed his task, grimacing in disgust, and then took a step back with a deep intake of breath.

“Well?” Jasher demanded.

“It is a ruse, that Imre’s army is chasing us. There are but a handful of men dogging our retreat. The Pretender’s true goal is Valoret. He intends to take the city that was his grandfather’s capital and then establish new portals there to bring forth the full might of the royal armies of Torenth. He is marching south through Ebor to get to Valoret. If he captures Valoret, we will have lost a vital path between us and Rhemuth. We can not afford that loss.”

“We will not let him get anywhere near Valoret!” the king howled in anger. Jasher looked up to find Prince Cluim had arrived at some point during the interrogation. “How many man can you put together to ride out to Ebor? We must have a force strong enough to counteract Imre’s plans.”

“I can gather enough to hold the Red River Pass and the valley of Ebor. If we can get the reinforcements from Archbishop William’s episcopal forces, we can hold off the Torenthi from making any further bid west.”

“It must be done,” Jasher stated. He turned his back from all watching eyes, making his internal  calculations of their numbers. “I will get the wounded to Grecotha, we will form a blockade there. Cluim, you will take the best of our army to protect Ebor.  We will need the men of Eastmarch. We need them here. There is no protecting the east at this point. They are lost if they do not retreat to either Grecotha or Ebor. Who can ride out and get the word to the marcher lords? I want no Gwyneddian left in Eastmarch or Kheldour. We will win their homes back, promise them that. But not now, they must come to defend the passes that lead further into Gwynedd. Who among you can ride fast and make this plea?” Several men voiced agreement. But it was Washburn who stepped forth most valiantly.

“I know the plains of Iomaire and the Rheljan mountains better than most. And I can relay messages back to you via my brother. With a small group we will slip back to Inform Lord Sighere of your orders. We will see that the smaller estates are convinced to retreat.”

“I won’t envy you the task. The marchers are a stubborn lot. They will believe they can hold their own through the winter, and perhaps they can. But I need them here. Not islands of holdouts inaccessible to no one. Captain, this task is yours. Gather your team, I will expect to hear your success from your brother in no more than a week’s time.”

Washburn made a quick bow. “It will be done.” He looked up at his brother, who nodded his approval.

“Muir, stay,” the King requested. “I need to learn all that you have learned from our prisoner. Cluim, MacAthan, Drummond, we haven’t much time to split the levies. Attend me. Gentlemen, we have to make this work. Send out that I want all the nobles here in one hour.”

As an afterthought, Washburn nodded toward the prisoner. “And his judgment?”

Jasher pointedly looked at the kneeling, pathetic Torenthi prisoner. “How many men did you murder or cause to kill themselves on Gwynedd soil?”

The prisoner hesitated for a moment, not because he was resisting the King’s Truth-Saying power, but because he was counting. “Five since Marbury. Fourteen in all on Gwynedd soil.” Clearly the man was tortured for betraying himself and his Pretender king.

“As the rightful King of Gwynedd, I hereby sentence you to be hanged until dead by the nearest tree. Your soul to be given into God's hands for just punishment. MacAthan, see that justice is carried out immediately, and let it be known that We have the power to defeat this Pretender....” He spat after saying the title. “He is a false knave who threatens Gwynedd and our people’s existence! The Haldane’s will prevail and all the Kingdom of Gwynedd will be returned to peace and prosperity. So, I do avow!”
« Last Edit: April 30, 2018, 02:54:38 pm by Laurna »

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2018, 01:16:44 pm »
Well done, Lady Laurna, well done!
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Offline revanne

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Re: Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2018, 02:47:29 pm »
Brilliant Chapter. Took me entirely by surprise - I almost felt sorry for the man. Only almost though.
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    let the wicked perish before God.
(Psalm 68 vv1-2)

Offline drakensis

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Re: Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight
« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2018, 01:11:13 am »
Now that's a surprise, and a new application of that particular ability.

Very useful

Offline Laurna

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Re: Pretender’s Gambit--Chapter Eight
« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2018, 02:05:36 am »
Thank you, Jerusha, Revanne, and Drakensis.

I am glad this particular Healing ability could be used without reveling the talent. I realize Healers must only use it to not cause harm. But as it saved the Lendour brothers from the very true risks involved with breaking down the prisoner's shields, the Dowager Queen saw it as a blessing. Lady Jerusha saw it as a passive method to discover the truth without causing physical harm to the prisoner. If the prisoner condemned himself, than that was between him and the king.


This is the end of this story line. Part two of Pretender's gambit will take up with the aftermath of this first autumn of war. The stories title will be For Honor, for Love, for Faith, it is half written and soon I hope to begin posting it.
Thank you again for reading.

 

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