FanFiction > AnnieUK's FanFic

A Leap of Faith - Chapter 20

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July 2nd
Llyndruth Plain

I didn’t sleep much that night.  The tent felt so lonely with only Sister Luke and me there, and Brendan’s empty bed, the bedclothes still rumpled since neither of us had the heart to straighten them, was a constant reminder of my missing child.  

I prayed that Brendan was with Bran, and safe.  My darkest fear was that Bran and the rest had spirited him away deep into Torenth and I would never see him again, even if Gwynedd triumphed.  My instinct was that Bran would want to keep Brendan close to him, but the worry still gnawed away at me.

As the night wore on I dozed fitfully, vivid dreams waking me shaking and troubled.  The camp started to stir well before dawn, all of the men getting battle ready in case of treachery.  

My uncle had been told of Brendan’s abduction late the night before, and he had come straight to my tent then to offer me such comfort as he could before retiring.  In the morning he celebrated Mass for the king and his closest friends and then returned to pray with me.  He guessed what this would cost me with my husband on one side, my own loyalty on the other and my poor child caught in the middle.  He could never have guessed the full extent of my warring emotions, though – my worst nightmare made real, with my husband and Alaric to face each other in magical combat.

The army was arrayed in its battle lines when I rode out with Uncle Cardiel to await the departure of our combatants.  Everyone was edgy.  The air was heavy, and the sun had risen blood red that morning.  Many had muttered of omens but for like as not the Torenthis also watched the skies anxiously.  It was cool for a July morning, and all were wrapped in cloaks, gazing anxiously across the plain to where the Torenthi forces were camped.  We knew that similar preparations must be afoot there – did Bran have Brendan with him?  Had he told him anything of what had happened?  What reason had he given for why I was no longer with him?  I prayed that I would see my son again before the day was out.

We heard the shouts – “God save King Kelson” – before we saw the combatants.  The four of them unarmoured, as is the rule for formal duel arcane, and looking composed, if tense as they rode forward, Alaric to the king’s right, with Father Duncan beside him, and Bishop Arilan to the king’s left.  A thought kept nagging at my mind –was Bishop Arilan there to provide  the support of the church in the absence of a fourth Deryni, or was it possible that he could be Deryni also?  Could we both have been keeping a secret, all those times in Dhassa?

I couldn’t bear to look at Alaric as he passed me on his white destrier.  I wanted my last true memory of him, if that was what it was to be, to be of his kiss before he left the previous night.  I did risk a glance at Father McLain and with my look I silently begged him to come back safely and bring my son and my love back with him.  

As the four rode out we fell in behind and rode a little way out with them, then they and their squires rode on.  They dismounted and the squires brought their horses back to wait with us for the conclusion of the duel.

From over the hill to the north came four riders, dressed in white and gold and riding white horses – surely the Camberian Council?  Most trained Deryni have heard at least a rumour of the council, but I had never knowingly seen a council member, certainly not in his or her official capacity.  

The council members went to their compass points and raised the wards – a huge protective dome over the combatants and themselves, to protect those of us on the outside from any stray magic, but also cutting us off visually from them, so until the dome was dispersed we would be without any idea of what was happening within.

If we had thought the tension was high before, losing sight of Kelson and the others increased the stress even more.  We had no idea what was happening – were they fighting already?  Were there casualties?  Was Bran alive yet?  And Alaric, how did he fare?  Were they trading spells, checking each other out, or was the inside of the dome alight with flame and energy?

The time dragged – minutes lasted for hours as the battle presumably raged hidden from us within the dome yonder.  Each breath seemed an effort as we watched apprehensively, our tension conveying itself to our mounts.  How much longer would we have to wait to learn our fates?  I had been on the inside of a warded circle many times, but rarely on the outside waiting anxiously while magic was performed and it was frustrating that we could see no hint at all of what was happening within.  No flashes or blaze of light betrayed magical powers being used, and still the circle glowed resolutely across the plain, concealing its secrets.

The men grew restless behind us, shifting foot to foot and muttering uneasily, even more in the dark than I.  They understood battle – the clash of metal on metal, the squeal of injured horses, the moans of dying men and the ground slick with blood – but that the fate of two countries was being determined within this shining dome was incomprehensible to them and they were all on edge.

The company commanders started to ride back and forward, urging them to hold fast and maintain their readiness in case the Torenthi forces should advance.  I had no doubt that Kelson would keep his word, if the duel went our way, but would Wencit?  Nothing I had heard or seen of the Torenthi king thus far gave me much faith in his promises.

Without warning the ward circle dispersed.  My uncle leaned forward, murmuring a prayer to himself and I gripped tight to my reins, knowing that the next few moments would reveal our fate.  I sat rigid on my horse, barely daring to blink as I stared towards the combat area.  My blood had turned to a river of ice and I shook as I watched and waited.  

When we saw Kelson and his companions emerge from the circle a little sob escaped me and I bowed my head and gasped “Praise God.”  Yes, all four were safe and standing in a huddle waiting for the squires to bring their horses.  A rumble of speculation spread through the soldiers behind us – they were unsure exactly what was happening and reluctant to celebrate prematurely.

The squires rode out and Kelson rode to us, mounted this time on Alaric’s white and carrying the Haldane banner, with the other three behind him.  He stood in his stirrups and raised the banner aloft, prompting a roar of approval from the Gwynedd troops.  

Alaric rode up beside him and they exchanged a few words, apparently reminding Kelson that he should go and accept the surrender of the Torenthis.  A detail of men formed up from the Carthmoor and Corwyn lines to support the king and his companions.  The group turned and rode across the divide between the two armies, our men still bellowing their triumph, stamping their feet and smashing weapons to shields in a deafening din of victory.

At last I breathed more easily.  I had seen him and he was safe, although he had not looked for me, caught up as he was in the aftermath of the combat and absorbed in his concern for the King.

And then I realised.  Bran is dead.

No-one could leave the circle until all of one side were dead, so my husband even now was lying there, where the circle had been.

I began to tremble, the reaction to the events of the morning finally taking its toll.  I swayed in the saddle and put my hand to my forehead, suddenly shaking and distraught.  My uncle drew close to me.  “Richenda, are you all right?”

I nodded, barely keeping my emotions under control.  He placed a hand on my arm, his face close to mine, concerned for me.  “You are so pale, child.  Did you eat this morning?”  I hadn’t.  My stomach had churned when Sister Luke brought me breakfast, and I had pushed it away untouched, unable to think of eating.  “Come, Richenda.  I know this is hard on you, but you must look after yourself, my dear.   Let’s go back to your tent.”  His voice was gentle but I could hear the worry in it.  I supposed he was taking my reaction as grief for Bran.

But I wouldn’t move, stubbornly remaining where I was, staring intently out towards the bright banners and plumes of the Torenthi army.  Brendan was out there somewhere and I cast desperately out for him once more, to no avail, tears pricking my eyes.  The Torenthi lines were no more than a half mile from us, but it felt like half a world away.  

When Uncle Thomas saw that I was not to be moved, he spoke quietly to a squire, who returned with bread and cheese and a cup of small ale which my uncle gently urged me to eat, not allowing me to refuse this time.  I ate and drank numbly, still staring into the distance, the churning of my stomach gradually stilling with food inside it.  

The time crawled by.  The horses grew restless and so did the men, shifting and grumbling in their places, unable yet to fully celebrate victory and a peaceful return to their families and loved ones.  

I wondered what was happening across the plain.  Surely Father Duncan would be concerned with reclaiming his father’s body and those of the other Cassan men executed the previous day and securing the release of the other hostages.  The Torenthi commanders would be consulted in due course to arrange the dispersal of their forces back to their own lands and I was sure that the Marley men would be held for a time while Kelson established who would take command there, now that Bran was gone.  So many military and political decisions to be made, affecting so many people, but all I was concerned with was the fate of one small boy – a pawn in the game, but the most important piece for me.

Then as I stared, a figure set out from the Torenthi lines.  He was clad all in black, on a black horse, and as he came closer still I could make out a tiny figure in front of him.  I slid from my horse, my uncle dismounting beside me.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and I stood with my hands clasped to my lips, hoping against hope that Brendan was safe.  

Alaric rode towards us as fast as he dared with his precious passenger clasped firmly to him.  Brendan’s red gold hair shone in the morning sun, and I thought he had never looked as beautiful to me.  Alaric passed my son down to a squire and dismounted himself, then he came to me with my sweet boy held safely on one hip.  “My lady,” he bowed slightly and lowered his voice.  “He is unharmed, if a little confused.”  

“Thank you, my lord Alaric.”  It came out as little more than a whisper, and I could feel the tears running down my cheeks, as I clasped my son so tightly to me that I thought I would never again let him go.  

As Alaric set off to return to the King’s side, I was touched that his first thought had been of Brendan, yet aware of the distance there had been between us in that moment.  I knew in my heart that that had not been the occasion to address what had just happened and that he needed time to absorb what had occurred in that circle before sharing it with me.  In time I would know, I was sure, but neither of us were ready to share that just yet.

Brendan wrapped his arms snugly round my neck.  “Why are you crying, Mama?”  He was pale and tired-looking.  I wondered what he had experienced and what lasting effects it might have had on him.

Uncle Thomas took me gently by the elbow, guiding me back to our camp and into my tent.  I carried Brendan in my arms, and this time his weight was precious, rather than a burden.  Uncle Thomas left me with Brendan, assuring me that he would be back soon, after he had seen the King.  Sister Luke hugged Brendan warmly, tears on that dear lady’s face too, and then discreetly left us.

Brendan was ravenously hungry, as usual, and his first thought was for food.  Then we cuddled up on my bed and he chatted for some time about his trip back to the camp on the big horse.  I hoped that this would be his main impression of the whole affair, but he wriggled free of my arms, turned his face up to mine and said, “I saw Papa.  Where is he?  And where is the nasty man that scared me?”

I put a finger to his lips to shush him and wondered briefly whether to remove his memories of the past few hours.  “The nasty man is gone, Brendan.  He won’t scare you any more.”  I wrapped him in my arms and held him as tight as I could while I wondered what the right words would be to tell a little boy that his papa was not coming home.   Thankfully, for now, reassurance and half an answer sufficed for him, and he snuggled back down into my embrace.

Uncle Thomas returned shortly, so anticipating the way the conversation might go, I asked Sister Luke to mind Brendan in the inner tent.  After my uncle had asked after me, and reassured himself that Brendan was none the worse for his experience, he turned the conversation to my future plans.

“I want you to know that you are welcome in Dhassa for as long as you care to remain there, my dear.  I don’t know if you have thought much beyond today, but I have enjoyed having you and Brendan there, and I’m sure Denis would miss his cardounet opponent, if you left.”

“I haven’t considered it, Uncle.  I suppose my choices are Dhassa or Rheljan or Marley, although I’m not sure I want to return to Marley quite yet...”  Bran’s face suddenly flashed before me, and I wondered what had happened to his body.  “What has been done with... the Torenthi combatants?”

 “Wencit and Lionel have been reclaimed by the Torenthis, to be returned to Beldour for burial.  I am sure that the king will want Denis or me to arrange a simple ceremony for Rhydon, and I expect him to be buried where he fell.”  He glanced over at me, gauging my reaction, and picked his words carefully for the next part.  “I could ask Kelson for Bran to be returned home, if you wish it.  He may not agree, but he is sympathetic to you and Brendan, for the most part, and he might be inclined to be lenient.”

“No, let him lie there too.  I wish no special treatment for him – he made his own choices.”

Uncle Thomas  nodded slowly.  “Would you wish to attend the funeral?”

“I will, Uncle, but I think Brendan will not.  He is resilient, as small children tend to be, but I would rather he was somewhere familiar before I explain to him what has happened.

“Of course, my dear.  I shall inform the King.  In fact, I shall go now, in case anything is done without your knowledge.  I shall return shortly.  In the meantime, I suggest you enjoy that son of yours – I can’t tell you how relieved I am that he is safe.”  And with a squeeze of my hand and a quick smile, he ducked out of the tent and was gone. Chapter 21

What a tough time for Richenda!  It's good she has her loving uncle there so she's not all but forgotten in the post-duel confusion and sorting out.  And yes, despite how busy and emotionally exhausted Alaric must be, I can see how he'd make returning Richenda's son to her as early as possible one of his top priorities.

Returning Brendan to her like that said "I love you" louder than any words.

All's well that ends well--Mother and child reunited. 


--- Quote from: derynifanatic64 on January 08, 2011, 03:15:02 pm ---All's well that ends well--Mother and child reunited. 
--- End quote ---

Thank you for your dismissal of the importance of a father in a child's life.  I suppose you'd be really happy if biologists were to come up with a way for women to have parthenogenic daughters and we could dispense with the male gender altogether.


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