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Pretender's Gambit - Chapter Six

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Pretender’s Gambit - Chapter Six
The evening of the fourth of September in the Year of Our Lord 983
The chapel at Shanbogh Village

“If you enter this house as deserters, I will hear your confessions,” called a disembodied voice. The sound came from an archway in the middle of the north wall of Shanbogh’s small church. That archway was closed by a heavy curtain, a curtain that was seen to move, thusly betraying the man who called out behind it. “Know that your penance will not be to your liking; I will ask you to bow before your lord and beg forgiveness!” The statement was a bold one, which seemed at odds with the short figure of a priest who stepped out from the curtain and into the chapel proper. The three warriors, who had just entered the chapel’s vestibule, pulled off their riding gloves and tucked them into their belts. They bowed with respect to the approaching priest, who was dressed in simple black, his cowl pulled to the edge of his face. The priest held a small wooden crucifix in his hand, which shook with a mild palsy. The manner in which he clutched the cross gave the impression he needed shielding from the imagined evil doings of the newcomers. “If you do not accept this penance, then be on your way!”

Sir Dillon took the lead of the three, allowing Sir Washburn to stand behind and observe. “Good father, we are not deserters, I assure you. Have such men come through here today?”

“Yes, a few have,” answered the priest, and then added as if in apology, “I did heard their confessions, and then I administered my penance.” He toughened up, straightening his back. “Each of them has returned to their lord for his judgement.” This priest under his cowl displayed a long, crooked nose. When he brushed his cowl back, the warriors were surprised to see that the priest was a youngish man. He stared at each of the three newcomers with furrowed eyebrows. “You lot look like deserters to me, not a wound among you. You don’t have the look of soldiers defeated in battle.”

“You know of Gwynedd’s defeat?”  Washburn asked.

“Yes, my son. The others who came before you told me of it. If you are not deserters, who may you be? What do you seek? Know ye that this is but a poor house of God. There is nothing here to steal.”

“We will not steal from you, good father,” avowed Sir Dillon, holding out his empty palms toward the priest. The priest took a step back when Dillon moved forward. “We are here to pray, father.” Stepping closer still, Dillon reached out, but the priest was already backing up to a votive stand. Following, Dillon dropped his hands and meekly asked, “Can I dare to hope you will not find us impertinent for seeking solace before God’s Altar?”

“Ah, well then...” responded the priest, appearing more assured as he stepped to the far side of the stand. His features visibly softened as he released his crucifix on its leather thong and passed his hand near three prayer candles that were half burnt down. “You are in the right place. Now that I look at you, I see that you are blooded. Most certainly you are here to honor the souls of your companions lost in battle, yes? Come forward, please! Give The Lady her offering, and allow her to hear your prayers and intercede for you on behalf of your prayers for those souls.” He waved a hand to the side table where unspent candles stood with a basket of small coins. When Sir Dillon willingly dropped a similar small coin into the basket and then reached for a candle, the priest cleared his throat and shook his head in displeasure.  Dillon dropped a second coin in the basket before the priest smiled. “The Lady thanks you for your generosity. Sir?” He inclined his head, his smile turning to a frown as Vince shook his empty purse. He then gave the tallest warrior an almost violent glare before Washburn opened his purse to spill enough coins to obtain two more candles. “When you are prepared, I will await to hear your confessions and give absolution,” the priest said with a nod toward the curtained archway. With a backward step, he retreated from whence he had come.

I want so very much to put that absurd little man to sleep,  Dillon sent across to Washburn.

Indeed, these small parish priests are an odd lot, Washburn agreed. Shall I do the duty, or do you still wish to give it a try?

Dillon huffed aloud, while stating in Mind Speech, Good luck with that.

First, however, each man lit his candle and bent knee to make fervent, honest prayers for the souls of all those lost this last day. Washburn didn’t even notice when Vince stood and turned to watch the curtain on the north wall. “I… I will make confession first,” Vince whispered, catching Washburn by surprise.  He stepped away quickly, before the captain’s hand could reach out to stop him. 

“No, Vince,” the Knight Captain called, interrupting Dillon from his prayer, who then looked about anxiously.  The soldier passed beyond the curtain, even as Washburn rushed to intercept him. For a brief moment Washburn could see beyond the curtain: the priest was standing in his sleeping room, his purple stole hung down the front of his robe, his cross held out before him, and his other hand was indicating Vince should kneel. When the curtain fell back into place, the captain grasped the fabric with intentions to intervene, until Dillon’s hand touched his shoulder, stopping him.

“After everything, let a soldier have his piety,” Dillon said.

“I don’t like it,” the captain replied, feeling a wrongness all around him.

Dillon’s brows raised in mirth. “Captain, you’ve become too cynical. Perhaps you should make confession before making the fellow sleep.”

“Perhaps,” agreed the captain with a hint of skepticism. That distrust turned stronger when a few moments later the young soldier exited the curtained area exuding an idealistic calmness.

“See, it will be good for you.” Dillon smirked, ignoring the captain’s fierce glare. He laughed, stepping away quickly, pretending to busy himself with looking for the things they would need later that night.

Washburn ignored his friend’s amusement. He parted the curtain and found the priest had stepped to the back of the room where he was fumbling with a pitcher of mead and an earthen cup. The priest jumped at the sound of the warrior's footsteps. With a shaking hand, he poured himself some mead. “Did your leader send you here to kill me?” The cup came near to his lips, but his hand shook so violently that some of it spilled onto the floor.

“No, he did not. Why would you think that?” Washburn asked, stepping closer.

“You don’t look like a man ready to confess his sins,” rebuked the priest. Then as if changing his mind, he offered his cup to the imposing knight. “Perhaps some mead will ease your temper. You saw many die on the battlefield, yes? Perhaps you took many lives too? Confession would be good for your soul, my son. And this brew would be good for your nerves,” the priest claimed.

“I don’t think either will reverse all that has happened in this last day,” Washburn chided.
“No, it won’t. But it will help me help you,” the priest said most assuredly, giving the cup over to the warrior.

As the captain touched the cup, the priest’s slim fingers brushed against his. In that slightest of contacts, a ramming force battered against Washburn’s vigilant shields. The tall knight groaned from the assault, a Deryni ambush far greater than seemed possible from this diminutive priest, a vocation Washburn now greatly doubted. Had he not been on his guard, about to use a similar power—one with much less deadly intent—the fake priest might have had him. Instead, the little man realized his misjudgement and jumped away quickly, diving under Washburn’s clenched fist and flinging the contents of the cup into Washburn’s eyes. The captain, momentarily blinded, turned to catch the annoying little man, but his fist only struck the cup, sending it to shatter against the floor, while the priest made his escape through the archway.

An intense burning from more than a sweet brewed mead caused Washburn to grab at the curtain, tearing it down and rubbing his face with the fabric. He squeezed his eyes closed desperate to take the sting away. When he did manage to open his eyes, he blurrily saw Dillon with sword drawn, cornering the priest to his left, near the altar. Vince was there too, his dagger in his hand. But then there was a flash of light on the dagger’s blade as Vince yelled out in Torenthi, “Éljen a király Imre!” In that instant the soldier’s dagger turned to attack Dillon from behind.

“Dillon!” Washburn warned, leaping forward, yet too far away to block the attack. The Lendour lieutenant was fast to take the warning. He ducked down just in time to let the blade ripe his tunic but skim along his chainmail. The lieutenant’s sword, in response to the litany of Torenthi curses from the young soldier, swung his blade around to disarm this man who had been his companion.

“Don’t!”  Washburn yelled even as he changed direction, cutting off the escape of the false priest. “Vince is mind controlled! Don’t kill him!”

Dillon gave a guttural yell of frustration as he slammed the side of his sword down on the soldier’s wrist, feeling bones break as the dagger fell free from the youth’s fingers. “Sorry!” he yelled even as he pushed Vince to the ground, the Deryni’s free hand slapping the human’s head back, allowing him quick access into his companion’s mind. The hollering of Torenthi curses abruptly ceased.

For Washburn the Deryni fake-priest proved more agile than his earlier act gave him cause to expect.The captain’s blade slashed at the man as he dodged backward out of the sword’s path. “What was in that cup?” Wash yelled as he backed his assailant to the altar. “Merasha?”

“Rare drug, that,” countered the little man. He swung up to stand on the altar’s surface, leaping over Washburn’s next swing. “Wish it had been. You’d be wishing you were dead! I would oblige!”

“I’ll thank Saint Camber then!.” Washburn’s eyes continued to burn as he blinked. He made a wide swing at the false priest, who leaped over his head. Only Wash didn’t have to see the man to know where he was. With his left hand he grabbed the priest’s robe, pulling fabric and man out of the air and slamming him onto the mosaic floor.

This time it was Dillon who yelled “Don’t kill him!” as Wash struggled to hold the Deryni down, while Dillon slammed the side of the man’s head with the hilt of Vince’s dagger.

“You sure you didn’t just do that?” Washburn asked, sitting back on his haunches catching his breath, again rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, yet the stinging didn’t let up.

Dillon’s fingers felt for a pulse in the man’s neck before being reassured. “Not this time.”

Even as Dillon pulled rope from the curtain stringers to tie the man’s wrists and feet, Washburn stumbled almost blindly back into the priest's rooms to find a bucket of well water in which to submerge his face and rinse his eyes.  The coolness relieved the burning. He came up blinking fervently and found his sight improved. Back in the main church, Dillon called to him, “I’ve got our imposter secured. Captain, can you see what you can do about Vince? Is he a Torenthi spy too? He certainly could swear like a native.”

“Yeah, I heard that,” Washburn said as he walked back into the nave seeing the room much more clearly. “I suspected he could speak Torenthi yesterday. But if he is sympathetic to Imre, then he has been very good at hiding it. Plus he didn’t avail himself of any opportunities that have arisen since then. No, there has to be another explanation.”

Reading Vince was a simple task of centering down, bypassing the private thoughts of a young soldier and finding the man’s family history of a Gwynedd merchant for a father and a Torenthi peasant woman for his mother, a woman who liked her curses. Washburn shook his head, understanding why the young man was so desperate to make a life away from home. In another search, he found the Torenthi Deryni’s meddling, and he spent a long moment to dislodge those compulsions and then wipe away the memory of betrayal. Before he woke Vince up, he took extra time to splint the soldier’s wrist and to wrap it with torn bits of the curtain.  Then he let Vince wake up slowly. The young man instinctively cradled his wrist to his chest, mumbling, “What happened?”

“Maybe someday I will tell you about it, but right now, if you think you can stand, we have the King’s arrival which we need to prepare for.”

“I don’t think I can handle magic,” Vince instinctively claimed as Washburn helped him to his feet.

“Nonsense, the best is yet to come.”

The men spent the next few hours preparing the chapel and seeking the few items Washburn’s brother had specifically requested. Pen and parchment were easy enough to collect. Opposite the priest’s quarters on the middle of the southern wall was a matching archway with another woolen covering. This curtain, pulled back, revealed a hollow alcove half the thickness of the wall. A drain in the floor confirmed this was the church’s piscina. Carved into the stone above the drain was a set of stone shelves closed by wooden doors. The aumbry was locked and the key was nowhere to be found. The aumbry was certain to hold the items they would need for Jasher’s power assumption ritual. Washburn was considering turning his powers upon the lock when Dillon’s distant call distracted him. Out in the graveyard, next to a tall gravestone, they found the real priest who lay unconscious, yet miraculously alive. Miraculously indeed, because the search turned up three other bodies—dead—near another set of gravestones. Those men were Gwynedd soldiers. Impossible to tell if they had been deserters or not, but they had indeed been submitted to the false-priest’s penance and they had met with the justice of His Lord. Washburn hoped His justice for those souls had been kinder than the false-priest’s penance had been. Dillon was furious, wanting desperately to submit the Torenthi Deryni to the same induced self-stabbing.

Although Washburn was as sickened by the means of these deaths as was his lieutenant, he had to hold Dillon back. “This is for King Jasher to contend with. Besides, our prisoner may provide information, and I believe that neither you nor I will have a conscience about how we obtain it. But not now. With what we have yet to do this night, I would rather not be contemplating torture.”

While the two knights arranged the dead men for proper burying in the morning, Vince was the one who helped the real priest restore his dignity. Even with one hand, Vince was able to help the old father change and have a bite to eat. With a meal of bread and cheese, Father Reynfred told the story of how he had provided shelter to a feeble-looking man who had claimed sanctuary, only to be subdued by him when the man asked for a blessing. Washburn was sympathetic. Events such as these gave a black mark to the Deryni race. It was good that the Father would never know how Washburn then used his benign powers to blur the priest’s memory, an act which, if known about by the ignorant, would be considered as equally condemnable as the Torenthi’s form of murder.

Not trusting the pitcher nor the cask the mead came from, Washburn tossed all of it down the garderobe. He was certain a sedative or perhaps even a poison had been added to the pitcher, but Wash wasn’t about to test the cask to find if it was tainted or not. The burning that had filled his eyes earlier was enough to convey the mead’s taint.  Dillon joked about how bloodshot they were, but at least the pain had receded.

Now, to find a source of untainted wine which would be needed for the actions of the night ahead. Apparently the Torenthi had enjoyed the last of it, for none was to be found. Washburn sent Vince into the village with coin in hand to buy what he could. What the young soldier returned with what was a locally made vintage, a deep red with a strong aftertaste, but it was good and it was clean. Washburn, with an inheritance of a vineyard cared for in the off-season, knew a little something about the pressing of a good wine.  He took a moment out to think about his lands next to Baron Calvarian’s land. If he had been able to marry Lady Evelyn in his youth, then some of the baron’s good vineyard would have been her dowry, and Wash would have added the ancient variety of Mooryn grapes to enhance his own pressings. Maybe when Arty inherited his father's barony, he would sell him some land. Old Calvarian certainly was not about to sell it to him, not after he had been denied the baron’s daughter’s hand in wedlock.

Finding the key to the aumbry hanging from Reynfred’s cincher, they borrowed it to open the locked cabinet. Within, Washburn located that which he needed: a filled earthenware vessel sealed with beeswax. Inscribed upon the hand-sized jar was a cross and two fish, symbolic of the holy water that would have an integral part in the ritual to be performed that night. Also found within this cupboard were other earthen vessels holding the host for next Mass which Washburn left untouched. There too was a gold chalice, its sides worn smooth with use. This seemed out of place in this poor village surrounding. It was obviously a treasured item, one of antiquity, here to serve the priests of Shanbogh for decades, nay, even centuries. The impressions upon the gold were benign, only the faintest hint of conflict came from long, long ago. The more he looked around him, the more he came to realize just how old this small chapel must be. The mosaic floor under the dinge of time was ornate, with four Celtic knots depicting the compass points. The walls were as thick as a man’s length of arm, and the ceiling rafters were of the heaviest beams with centuries of thatch above.

For what they intended to do this night, no better location could have been found. With the church secure, the Deryni captain found a quiet peace as he sat down upon the mosaic floor. He allowed himself to relax, taking in the ambiance until he heard the clop of horse's hooves on the ground outside. 


Three horses arrived, carrying four persons: the Earl of Lendour, the young knight Krispin MacAthan, the pious new King of Gwynedd, and on the saddle before him, the Dowager Queen. After all the discoveries of hidden Deryni recently revealed, Washburn found it amazing yet understandable that “Maman Mika’—the favored name that Jasher used to refer to his grandmother— was Deryni as well. She had been born a Drummond after all. This further explained the marriage of Healer Jerusha to Mika’s brother, Cathan. So Corwyn Drummond and his sister Kyriella, Krispin’s mother, were full Deryni. So many questions left to be answered.  If time was ever to be found, the story of how these High Deryni survived in those years of Gwynedd’s Harrowing under the noses of the regents of that time would prove most profound.

Vince and Dillon took charge of the horses and thereafter positioned themselves to guard the village church doors. A quick relay from Wash to Muir told of the events upon their arriving here. Muir took a moment to check their captive, who remained unconscious and locked in a small closet. A little enforcement from Muir ensured the Torenthi Deryni would not wake. When time was less pressing Muir agreed with Washburn, no matter the means, that butcher would give up the information the kIng most desperately needed.

That would be for another time. Currently the members of the king’s party needed their full attention on the mystical event about to commence. Of the ritual for empowering a Haldane King, only the Dowager Queen had participated in this before. Like a spinner of tales, the elderly queen revealed that this was her fourth empowering. She mentioned bits and pieces of her other experiences, even mentioning how the empowering of her toddler son, Owain, had been accomplished within a warded circle surrounding her royal bed. Following this comment, she grew silent, unpinning a large brooch from her gown. She cupped the brooch in her palm. It was more than a piece of jewelry. In a curious way to honor such an old memento, she touched it to her forehead. No, Washburn realized that was wrong. Michaela did not exactly honor those harsh days after her husband's death; rather, she listened to the emotions embedded within the enameled lion brooch. Whatever it was that she sensed brought a fresh set of tears to her eyes. 

Slowly she lowered the brooch, clenching it tight within her fingers. She stood tall, looking up at her grandson who towered over her. “What we do here,” she said softly, “is what was set into practice by men who saw oppression and tyranny all around them.” She lifted up Jasher’s hands in hers, gaining strength in her voice. “They found hope in the last surviving member of the old Haldane regime. They gave Cinhil Haldane a power to throw down tyranny, which he succeeded in. He had three sons and he gave them each that same hope. But greed of a different form tethered their power and strangled each of those sons into an early grave. Despite these greedy men, the Haldanes survived.” The old queen nodded her head defiantly. “You see, my Rhysem, he had broken free of his bonds, and he set a better future for his sons— my sons—Our two sons. They did well to guard this kingdom. That future and that power is what we pass unto you,  the great-grandson of Cinhil. You are Haldane; it is your path to step into the light. And that light will shine bright, blinding your foe and giving others hope when they think all is lost.”

“Hail to our king!” affirmed Muir, echoed by the two other men in the church. Before continuing with the preparations, all the men acknowledged with respect the experiences of their Dowager Queen.  It would be her knowledge and Muir’s instruction revealed by Nygel before he died that would lead them to success. For none would even contemplate what failure could bring. As the preparations continued to cleanse the space both physically and spiritually, Krispin, too, shared a certain familiarity. It had been members of his family who had worked with Mika in this before. Washburn admitted to being the most novice when it came to ritual magic. Although Jasher too had little experience, it seemed. That is, until Mika released a childhood memory, revealing how all three Haldane sons of Uthyr had been prepared when very young. Recognition showed in Jasher’s eyes as he watched his grandmother lay the Haldane Lion brooch on an altar pillow placed near the center of the mosaic pattern on the floor. Muir added the Eye of Rom to the pillow, an item King Nygel had insisted Muir take upon his death. The dowager pulled forth a chain from about her neck. Its length had lain inside the neck of her gown. She revealed what she had hidden next to her heart, the Haldane Ring of Fire.

“How did you know to bring that?” Jasher asked of his grandmother, watching her place the ring next to the other two items.

“I didn’t know, but my heart was breaking, even before the men arrived from the battlefield. I didn’t dare to take the chance to leave anything behind. Just as I ordered our Healer to mix this before we left.” She pulled from a small pouch at her side a blue vial and set it on the pillow next to the regalia.

Almost instantly, Jasher balked. “I’ll not go into this with a muddled mind.”

Wash and Krispin were busy gathering the thurible and the aspergillum to began the warding when they stopped to see what Jasher would do. Muir too stopped as he poured wine from the bottle into a clean earthen cup. Like Washburn had, Muir gave the wine a taste before he handed it across to the Dowager Queen. Mika only smiled at her grandson’s steadfast refusal. She placed the cup next to the pillow, then lifted up the blue vial over the red libation.  “Like father, so like the son, and now the same in the grandson.” She smiled in remembrance as she tipped up the blue vial, spilling the crushed dried herbs into the wine. “Do you think any one of the men before you went into this without some resistance? My Rhysem balked hard, troubled that he would succumb to the drugged haze of his early reign, and unto him I said then as I say to you now, ‘Don’t be silly, it is for your own good. It won’t even make you sleep; it will only help you relax a little.’”

Almost as if seeing his grandfather through Mika’s eyes, Jasher felt a touch of awe as he took the cup from her fingers. His hand was trembling. Nevertheless, he drained the cup in one long draught, wiping his mouth with the back of a hand before setting the cup down.

“Good man,” Mika said. The preparations for her grandson’s Empowerment had reawakened old memories of her lost love, memories which she now shared with her grandson.

Krispin continued the preparations by removing the wax seal over the consecrated earthen jar. He poured most of the contents of holy water into the gold chalice, then handed the chalice to Muir before pouring the rest inside the aspergillum. To be certain that no Torenthi taint marred the contents, Muir poured a droplet of the water into his cupped hand and then tasted this too. Assured, he nodded for Washburn and Krispin to continue setting the confines of the warding, using the markings in the mosaic as a guide. The tiles outlined a perfect circle inclusive of the four Celtic knots which marked the compass points. The humans who lived here must not have had knowledge of what each celtic knot depicted. The mosaic would never have survived the last few decades if any human had known. In old Norse lore, the seals stood for the elements, which in turn represented the four archangels who guided them.

Three passes around the circle were made, invoking the guardianship of Heaven. Muir made the first pass, censing the circle with the sweet smell of frankincense wafting from the thurible. Krispin made the second pass, asperging the participants and the four seals with the sprinkle of holy water. Washburn finished the last pass around the circle, tracing a red ribbon of power along the floor, leaving his sword on the floor to make an opening if needed. Muir moved to the very center beside his king and then raised his hands palms upward. The scarlet glow of a transparent wall lifted from the floor to a dome high over their heads. “We stand outside time, in a place not of earth,” the earl chanted. “As our ancestors before us bade, we join together and are One.”

“Amen,” replied each of the participants. The power of the ward the Deryni raised was not all of their own making. Long ago this chapel had witnessed a similar warding, and the power in the very floor itself still lingered. There was not time to discover what had caused this residual energy, yet it seemed to have endured for a great length of years. Both Muir and Wash agreed that sometime in the future they would very much like to return here to investigate further.

At the very center of the floor, the king remained standing with the vigilant Dowager Queen. Although it was becoming apparent that his stance was becoming unstable; he was in need of a balancing point, which Muir gladly offered with an outstretched arm. “Do you want to sit?”

“I think that I shall, before I fall,” Jasher said, his knees nearly buckling as they eased him to kneel beside the altar pillow which held the items they would soon use. Muir knelt beside him, picking up pen and parchment, laying them on the floor before him, and then scribing out the words that came to him verbatim from King Nygel’s instruction. Washburn only partially watched that which proceeded next. Instead, he directed his attention to the tiles of the elemental seal depicting Earth, the seal of the Archangel Uriel. He knew he was the one to stand in the North, and he would be the one to call upon the essence of so great a Mystery. He would not outwardly show it, and it was not really fear that he felt, but rather an indebtedness to the archangel for his having survived all that had befallen him in his life until this day. He pondered that he was not worthy to call upon the archangel of life and death as he so planned to do. But then Maman Mika passed by him. She brushed her hand across his cheek.

You needn’t fret so, Sir Washburn.  It is not your deeds that will be judged here today. Though I doubt the heavens would find your deeds wanting. She raised an eyebrow to him. I learn what I can of the men who endow my court. Do not fear for yourself, do not fear at all. Find hope and hold on to it. We seek the blessing of the archangels, a blessing that will give Jasher the power to protect our Kingdom from tyranny without and within, she Mind-Spoke with surety. Hope is the best weapon against evil.

Washburn blinked his bloodshot eyes, then closed them, Mind-Whispering, I shall hold tightly to Hope, Madame. She moved beyond him with but a faint smile as she continued on her path around the circle to stand in the south. How had she known his concerns? Perhaps it was only the misinterpretation of his swollen eyes, yet he concluded she must hold an innate sense of understanding, a sense that allowed her to survive in the ruthless court of Gwynedd. Above all, it was her compassion that touched his heart.

Satisfied with the preliminaries necessary for that which was to come next, Muir helped Jasher stand, keeping a hand on the king’s elbow until he had regained his balance. The cabochon ruby of the Eye of Rom shone newly-placed in the king’s ear lobe. The air held the faint scent of burnt parchment, which Wash had witnessed signed, blood-sealed, burned to ash, and then those ashes placed in the holy water that filled the chalice relic. The earl backed away from the king. His hand held the chalice before him. Thus, he found his place in the ritual opening position of the east.

Muir took in a breath, closing his eyes to center his soul. “The words I speak now were passed on to me directly from our late king. Our Dowager Queen has confirmed with me that this is the form with which she is most familiar. The tradition of some things is best unchanged.” He bowed his head in homage, his voice turning to an inner passion. 

“O Lord, Thou art holy indeed: the fountain of all holiness. In trembling and humility we come before Thee with our supplications, asking Thy blessing and protection on what we must do this night.” Muir opened his eyes and lifted the chalice high. “In the name of the light arising, do we summon Thy holy Raphael, Heavenly Physician, Guardian of Air, to witness this rite and bring healing of minds and souls and bodies.”

Washburn had never heard the prayer of supplication put just so before. There was power here that was called upon. It encircled Muir’s hands, a breeze that churned the air, that whirled ever tighter, merging to form a wisp of brilliant gold which spun just above the chalice, one that descended slowly into the water contained there. Then it disappeared and all was silent. Muir smiled as he passed the chalice from his hand to Mika’s out stretched hand. Taking the relic, she too raised it before her.

“O Lord, Thou art holy, indeed: the fountain of all holiness. In the name of Light increasing do we summon Thy holy Michael, Protector, Wielder of the Fiery Sword, to witness this rite and protect us in our hour of need.” A vision of fire erupted from her hands. It shone in a pale glow that coalesced to a brilliant blaze. Consuming an unseen source, the flame continued its danced above the chalice, every flicker making it smaller, until only a shimmer descended into the water within the relic. When the flame was gone, Michaela gave a deep sigh of satisfaction. Then she handed the cup to Sir Krispin, who took it up with a nervous deep breath.

“O Lord, Thou art holy, indeed: the fountain of all holiness. In the name of Light descending do we summon Thy holy Gabriel, Thy Herald of the Heavens and Lord of Water, to witness this rite and carry our supplications to Our Merciful Lady.”  Lifting the chalice even higher, willing the slight shake in his hands to cease, Krispin's fingers touched the blue hue that surrounded the chalice. The essence of power lifted above his hands and center above the cup. Beads of water vapor came together to form a torrent of tiny tear drops. Those drops fell to join the waters that were held within the cup. Krispin smiled with appreciation of the power he had felt. His hand passed the chalice onto Washburn, who stood with no small apprehension on the northern mosaic design which represented much, much more than Earth. He raised the chalice before him, surprised to find the words he was about to say came as naturally as if he had known them all his life.

“O Lord, Thou art holy indeed: the fountain of all holiness. Let Uriel, Thy messenger of darkness and of death, instill this cup with all the strength and secrets of the earth, that they who shall drink hereof may justly command the element of Earth. Amen.”

All would swear that in that moment the earth trembled.  The stone chapel groaned at the faint movement; the candelabras hanging above the transept rocked on their chains.  The royal Ring of Fire, which Wash now realized was within the chalice, vibrated at the bottom of the cup. A hollow tinkling sounded of metal against metal. It could have been his hand shaking but he would swear he was holding still. A green light hovered around his hands, then centered above the chalice, focusing to form a brilliant gem of emerald which lowered slowly until it touched the water’s surface and disappeared therein. 

The younger Cynfyn gladly handed the chalice back to his brother, nervous of the power he had called forth.  As Michaela had, Muir only smiled at him, then turned all his attention to the man standing in the center of the circle. He had watched vigilantly, turning to witness each prayer as it had been called and had seen each power that infused the holy water.

“Your Majesty,” Muir said, stepping forward toward his king whose gaze locked onto the chalice and what it held. “This vessel which I hold is potent with far more than water, ash, and Haldane blood. Although you are not yet anointed, you are the rightful heir, and therefore the legitimate King of Gwynedd. Drink of this vessel and do not resist what comes from its power. It would not be in Gwynedd’s best interest if you did.” He handed the chalice across to be held uncertainly in both of Jasher’s hands. Jasher looked hesitantly into the smoky water not quite ready to be so trusting. A gasp from his maman turned him around. Everyone looked up to see Mika’s eyes widen. She stared not at her grandson, but at the young knight in the west.  Even Jasher turned in time to see Krispin shudder and his eyes roll upward. As if coming from him, an apparition of light and mist appeared. The light settled into the form of a cowled figure floating above the mosaic floor. The figure's right hand lifted palm upward, gesturing to the king. Jasher’s eyes were wider still as he lowered himself to his knees in homage. All witnessed the ghostly man place a finger upon the King’s forehead, then the hand moved down to the king’s chest and then from right shoulder to left shoulder giving blessing. Perhaps even a spiritual anointing, as a spot seemed to glisten on the king’s forehead where he had been touched. Even if it was only perspiration, the effect was not lost on those who watched. The apparition then placed both his hands over Jasher’s hands, cradling the king’s grasp upon the chalice, entreating him to drink from the cup. Jasher did, swallowing the whole amount of water until only the ring remained within the cup.

The king’s face flushed a deep crimson, his eyes squeezed closed from the sudden onslaught of perception. But it was momentary, and after a moment of shaking he opened his eyes, seeing still the ghostly figure before him. The cup dropped from weakened fingers, tipping over when it hit the tiled floor, the ring with in spilled out to fall into the tunic around his knees. The apparition pointed toward the ring with one hand, while stalling the others in the circle with the flat of his other hand to keep them from coming forward and retrieving it for Jasher, for they could see where it fell which Jasher could not.  The King fumbled with one hand, blindly searching for the ring. At last he touched it, picked it up, and jammed it on a finger of his left hand. Again his body shook from increased power, but again his focus was fleeting.  When he opened his eyes this last time, he saw the true form of Saint Camber, for that is the only one who it could be. Camber pointed to the pillow with the lion brooch upon it. Even as Jasher scrambled to fall next to the pillow, the ghost dissipated into the floor beside where he lay. Jasher grabbed up the lion brooch in his right hand, thumbing out the sleek length of the needle-like clasp. Before any of the three who had never witnessed this before could guess what he intended, the king yelled, “Don’t touch me!”

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he called with a cry, “Not my will but Thine be done!” Then he jammed the clasp through the center of his left palm, screaming at the agony of it. In that moment, for just a flash of insight, Washburn thought he saw the gossamer forms of winged Others lift their hands to give their blessing. They were gone in the same instant that he saw them, leaving him to wonder if it had been imagined.

What had not been imagined was the shrill of pain that echoed around the warding when the gold clasp pierced sensitive flesh. The four Deryni rushed closer yet stayed clear of the man who fell sideways in convulsions.  “What have I done?” Muir cried out, terrified he may have killed the man he had giving his loyalties to.

“We do what has been done before,” the old dowager said softly. Her features looked even more old and frail than her years in the red glow of the warded dome. “We do what must be done to preserve our kingdom from those who would see us enslaved for their benefit, not ours.” She then fell to her knees an arm span away from her grandson, whose body was easing from its seizure. “I am sorry, so sorry, this should not have come to you. But you will see tomorrow why it is that it must be.” When finally the king lay nearly as still as death, Michaela reached out a hand and touched the brow of the pale face. Muir knelt down beside her, feeling the Haldane’s strong pulse, and sighed. He lifted up the left hand and brooch, wincing as he pulled the brooch free. Michaela was prepared; she had known this would happen. She pulled out ointment and cloth from her pouch, and she dressed the wound once it was wiped clean.

Exhausted beyond all measure from everything that had brought them to this place, Washburn went about dispersing the wards and clearing the chapel of their doings. After it was all done, he murmured to his brother that he swore he could sleep for a week.

“Lord, that we could all sleep that long.” Muir repeated.

“Will it prove to be worth it?” the younger brother asked.

“Aye, it has to be,” Muir replied. “Rest now. You have until dawn, then we must be back at camp and see that the enemy does not infiltrate our lines.”

Thus it was that the five slept in a huddle beside the altar in the small Shanbogh church. Although they were aware that Dillon and Vince stood watch at the doors, they felt a comfort of protection, as if the very floor would see them safely into the morning hours.
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Nicely done empowerment ritual, and a little bit of a mystery to deal with as well.

Oh my, oh my, this has certainly been worth waiting for!

And a nice touch to include a treacherous, Torenthi Deryni in the mix.

I have always admired Micheala, and it was nice to see that she is still a source of strength for the Haldane kings.

Wonderful chapter with lots of surprises. I was relieved when the first priest turned out to be an imposter, as he was distinctly creepy.
Nice container for the holy water☺

Wonderful chapter, worth waiting for but raised a number of questions. What information will they get from that murderous Torenthi? Want to know more about Vince. Also want to know more about that church and what has gone on before. The ceremony and the appearance of St Camber fascinating. This gets better and better.


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