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A Leap of Faith - Chapter 16

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AnnieUK:
June 30th
Dhassa to Llyndruth Plain

The army was to leave before dawn, so the rest of the night passed in a whirl of confused packing and arrangement-making.  My uncle must have been woken in the night also, and thank heavens, he had agreed to me travelling with him, for word came from him that Sister Luke would travel with us to be nurse for Brendan and lady’s maid for me.  He assured me that a tent and such furnishings as could be packed at short notice would be made available.  He had sent a short personal note too.

“My dearest Richenda, I am so saddened and shocked at the news.  Believe Kelson when he says he holds you in no way responsible.  He is an honourable man and will keep his word,” and at the bottom instead of the signature with elaborate flourish and the seal of the Bishop of Dhassa, was the single word “Thomas”.

At first light Sister Luke, Brendan and I had a simple breakfast.  “Are we going back to Marley, Mummy?”

“No dear, we are going with the King and the armies.  Won’t that be grand?  You can watch all the soldiers marching.”  I tried to sound enthusiastic and light-hearted for my son’s sake, but in reality I was sick at heart.

“Will Papa be there?”

“He is with another army, darling.”  Strictly the truth, but not in the way I wanted my son to take it.

“Can I watch the soldiers fighting?”

“I don’t think the King will want a little boy too close by if there is any fighting.” I smiled apologetically at Sister Luke.  “I’m afraid he is rather obsessed with soldiers and horses.  If you ever need to distract him, show him one or other of those, and if you can summon up a soldier on a horse you will be his friend for ever.”

Sister Luke smothered a laugh and cleared away the debris of the breakfast before we prepared to leave.  Although it was June, that early in the morning the air was chilly and damp, so we donned light cloaks and went down to the square in the centre of the city that our room had overlooked on our first night in Dhassa.

I scanned the crowd, but couldn’t see Morgan anywhere - unsurprising with the number of men and carts and horses to get on the road.  One of his lieutenants found me, though, and directed me to the litters which were for our use.  Litters are never my favourite means of travelling - they are cramped and sway unpleasantly, but they can travel where carriages cannot and I had no complaints.  The lieutenant also pointed out a horse provided from the Dhassa stables for me, should I prefer to ride.  I recognised the horse, for I had ridden her on occasion during our weeks here, when I accompanied my uncle.  I thanked the lieutenant and told him that I would certainly ride if at all possible, if Brendan would stay with Sister Luke without giving the poor Sister palpitations.

The first rays of the sun were just showing over the horizon when the leading detachments formed up and started to leave.  The Haldane flag fluttered proudly in a stiff breeze, and the first horses strode out through the Dhassa gates.

Our litters were to be towards the back, near the supply wagons and the carts with the tents and such furnishings as were to be transported with us, so we waited our turn to depart.  

As we passed the entrance to St Senan’s Cathedral, I bowed my head and sent a short prayer to St Raphael for my safety and that of my loved ones.  As we passed the cathedral doors many of the soldiers doffed their caps and crossed themselves, doubtless sending up prayers similar to my own.  How many of them would see Dhassa again, I wondered.

After the drama and lack of sleep of the previous night I dozed alone in my litter, being soothed by that same swaying that would normally leave me queasy.  Brendan, despite his early morning, was his usual lively self in the litter he was sharing with Sister Luke, at least for this part of the journey.  I did feel guilty leaving Sister Luke to look after him while I dozed, but that redoubtable woman managed to keep him entertained until midday when we used some of the provisions that we carried with us to have a scanty meal.  

It was sweltering in the litter by then and I envied the riders their freedom of movement.  In the heat of the afternoon Brendan finally gave in, jaded by excitement and lack of sleep and by then Sister Luke was glad to sleep too, so I was left the only wakeful one of our party.

Unexpectedly, the front of the column called a halt.  The king had ordered a forced march until we reached Llyndruth Plain, the soldiers eating and drinking provisions that they carried with them as we went, so this was a surprise to us all.  

I pulled back the curtain and asked a nearby soldier if he knew the reason for the delay.  He glanced at his companions, who shrugged and shuffled uncomfortably.  “I don’t know, my lady,” he replied awkwardly, with a hint of a bow, “sounds like the scouts have spotted something that needs checking out.  They will pass word down the column if it is a lengthy delay, so the men can get some rest.”

Word evidently came, since a few minutes later the men removed their backpacks and sprawled out on the turf to rest weary limbs.  

Seizing the opportunity to stretch my legs I eased myself from the litter.  The ground rolled beneath me as blood rushed into cramped legs, but it was good to be able to relieve tortured muscles, and get some fresh air.  One of the men from the supply wagons fetched a folding camp chair down from his cart “Here y’are, m’lady.  If we are to stop awhile you might as well be comfortable.”  

Comfortable wasn’t the first word that came to mind, but it was far better than nothing, and I had him place it on the far side of the litter, where I would be shaded and out of the way if horses or men needed to pass.

A rider passed the lines of men.  “We’re to stop here a bit, lads.  Make the most of it.” Cheers came from many  – some of the men were already asleep where they lay, taking advantage of the chance to rest while they could.  

“How long, do you know?”

“Duke Nigel’s men are building a funeral pyre, so an hour or so,” his face twisted as he recalled what he had seen “or two, maybe.”

“What’s been happening up there, then?”

The rider shook his head.  “Bad things, man.  Terrible things.  We’ve found some of the Cassani troops down there,” he waved an arm “in the ravine. Stuck on spikes and made to stand like a troop on parade.”  He swallowed with difficulty. “And they’ve all been hacked about, but the tears on their clothes don’t match the wounds on their bodies.  And worst of all,” another pause as he struggled to keep his composure, “some are saying as they’ve no heads.  Their  helmets just stuck on their shoulders, like.”

The men gasped, and suddenly one of them remembered my presence as I sat quietly behind the litter, aghast at what I was hearing.  

I heard awkward shuffles and a low voice saying “Ah, man, there’s a lady and her son in the litter.  D’ye think they overheard?”

Yes, I had heard all right.  I was suddenly queasy, and it was nothing to do with the previous swaying of the litter or the warmth of the day.  Was this Bran’s work?  And if so, had I ever truly known my husband at all?

 If Bran had done these things, then my being here would be useless.  Kelson would never forgive him, no matter what fancy words Bran came up with.  Treating the dead like this was beyond contempt and no-one would deal with him now.

“Aye, and they are Bran Coris’s wife and child,” said another low voice.  “What will you bet me that he’s behind this?”  Rumbles of agreement came from the others in the party, quickly muted in case I overheard.  

“I just hope that Duke Nigel’s men can get them all decently seen to.  Then the bishops can say the words for them and we can all get away from this accursed spot.”

As the afternoon passed the smoke from the pyres started to rise, thick and black.  The wind carried the smell away to begin with, but as time went by it reached us all: an acrid, greasy smell that clung to clothes and hair.  As the soldiers were gathering their things ready for the order to move out, another lone rider made his way towards me – the Corwyn lieutenant who had aided me earlier.

 “His Grace Duke Alaric sent me to see if you were all right, my lady.  It must be dreadfully hot in the litter – do you and your son have enough to drink?  Can I get you anything?”

I was pleased to think that Morgan was thinking of me even as we travelled.  I knew that he would be attentive to any woman with whose care he had been entrusted, but I hoped deep down that it was more than that.  I was tempted to cast my mind to the head of the column, to see if I could detect him there, but I did not dare risk him becoming aware of my touch.   Caution was still my best policy.

“As a matter of fact you can.” I returned to the lieutenant, “Could you find the horse that His Grace provided for me?  I should like to ride for a time while my son and his nurse are sleeping.”

“Of course, my lady,” and with a nod of the head he wheeled away, returning minutes later with a fine bay by the reins.  

The wagoner who had provided my chair came to reclaim it, but said no word and did not raise his head as he did it.  He ducked the smallest nod he could get away with without outright rudeness and encouraged his team onward.  He was seemingly having as little to do with the Countess of Marley as possible after recent events.

The army continued its journey, but it was a slow start.  As each company passed the pyres they stopped and the soldiers bowed their heads in respect to their fallen comrades.  Underlying the sadness and the fear burned a fierce determination – the people who had ordered this horror must never be allowed dominion in Gwynedd.  

As the afternoon drew to a close, my uncle dropped back to speak to me.  It was nice to have some adult conversation as I rode, although we carefully avoided the topic of the funeral pyres we had left smoking behind us at Rengarth.  I had hoped to seek his counsel about how best to win Bran over, should the opportunity arise, but I think we both knew that this was hopeless now and his name was never mentioned.  He apologised that he would not be able to dine with me that night, for he intended to make his way around the camp, offering such reassurance to the men as he could, praying with them and hearing such confessions as they might wish to make on the eve of battle.  

My uncle was tense, having evidently seen much more of the butchery of the Cassani troops than he would have liked, or wished to share with me, and our conversation was sparse and uncomfortable until we drew near Llyndruth Meadows and he returned to the head of the column, and to King Kelson.


http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=630.0  Chapter 17

AnnieUK:
And the background paragraphs to this chapter, which I would love to have been able to do :

***

Alaric stormed into Kelson's rooms and threw down a map in front of him, jabbing a finger at the point that marked Dhassa.  "You see this, Kelson?  This is Dhassa, and this..."  he moved his finger north-east and pointed again, "this is Llyndruth Plain.  Even allowing for there not being a dot to mark where we are going, that's about a hundred and fifty miles."  

He rolled up the map and tapped it across his palm, pacing the room as he did so.  "At this latitude at this time of the year you are looking at sixteen, maybe sixteen and a half hours of sunlight.  So if we forced march there in a day, allowing a couple of hours at dusk to set up the camp, that's a speed of well over ten miles an hour you're expecting these poor sods to keep up.  That's like a decent marathon runner running six marathons in a row with full kit on his back.  With no food or drink stops.  And without allowing for two hour stops for anything unexpected *coughs* beheaded and impaled bodies *coughs*. Ain't happening, boyo, and if the author objects then refer her to me.  I'm only Lord General of the Damn Armies - doesn't my say count for anything any more?"

***

Those elastic roads are at it again. ;)

Elkhound:
I read somewhere that J.R.R.T. used his British Army Officer's Manual from WW I to calculate how far his characters could march and/or ride in a day.

Evie:
* Evie falls over laughing and nodding at Alaric's "elastic roads" rant! ;D

Alkari:
Voiceover from Prince Azim:_
I believe that the ancient Airsid had the facility to make some roads function in much the same way as Transfer Portals.  It is said that they could 'fold time' or something - though there are no records of that in Anviller archives.  Perhaps this is one area of ancient Deryni magic that will have to be rediscovered?


Alaric snorts: 
Well, if you're telling me that the ancient airsid could march whole armies around the place in a single day, with all the horses, wagons and equipment - hmm, just hand me another flagon, will you?  I think we both need it.


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