Chapter Twenty-Five Rhemuth Castle—Chapel Royal
November 18, 1136
Lady Ćdwige knelt before the Coroner of Rhemuth in the presence of a jury of witnesses, her eyes defiant as she finished her recitation of her crimes. She gazed up at him as she repeated the Oath of Abjuration. "I swear on the Holy Book that I will leave the realm of Gwynedd and never return without the express permission of my Lord the King or his heirs. I will hasten by the direct road to the port allotted to me and not leave the King's highway under pain of arrest or execution. I will not stay at one place more than one night and will seek diligently for a passage across the sea as soon as I arrive, delaying only one tide if possible. If I cannot secure such passage, I will walk into the sea up to my knees every day as a token of my desire to cross. And if I fail in all this, then peril shall be my lot." She paused at the end of her speech, then added. "Is that it, then?"
"That's the full oath, yes, my Lady," the Coroner confirmed.
"So I'm free to leave now?" Ćdwige pressed.
"No." The Coroner gave a grim smile as the abjurer's eyes widened.
"No?! Why not?"
"Because you don't know where you're off to yet, now do you? And besides that, I believe you still have a few items of the Crown's property in your possession."
"A few….What do I have that belongs to the Crown?" Ćdwige eyes snapped blue fire. "The King's already stripped me of my rightful title and manor! Does he mean…." Her mouth dropped open in horror. "He doesn't mean to rip my child from my womb, does he?"
"Jesú, no!" The Coroner looked taken aback by the question, as did the King himself. Kelson stepped forward to address her.
"Lady Ćdwige, for the sake of your unborn child, We give you this last chance to reconsider your decision. He is
the rightful heir to Eddington, after all, or at least he shall be if he lives and thrives, and for his father's sake, if you will give up this mad scheme and submit to Our authority, We will spare your life until his birth."
"And only until then? I think not!"
Ćdwige snorted. "We'll take our chances, thank you. If you want the sniveling little brat once he's born, I'll send him back to you in the keeping of a wet nurse, though you'll
have to pay for their passage since you've left me destitute. I'll certainly have no use for a baby without Eddington!"
Kelson's lips tightened as he studied her gravely. "So be it, then. Should you give birth to a live son, We will make provision for him to be returned to his rightful inheritance once he is strong enough to make the journey, but We can promise you no more mercy or forbearance than We've already shown." He glanced at his Queen. "Araxie, this woman's clothes and shoes belong to the Crown. See that she returns them before she leaves the Castle grounds." He turned to look at his Coroner. "And from which port shall La—shall the fugitive be departing Our realm?
The Coroner studied Ćdwige sourly. "I had thought the Port of Stavenham would be a fitting departure point, Your Majesty."
"Stavenham?" The steel gray eyes gleamed. "Indeed."
Ćdwige paled. "Stavenham?!" she squeaked. "But…why not Desse?
Stavenham's all the way across the Kingdom! It's even farther than…than Coroth, isn't it?"
"Quite so," the Coroner agreed, a faint smile beginning to appear at the woman's discomfiture.
"But…there's no way I can walk all the way to Stavenham before the wintry weather closes the ports! That's hundreds of miles away, and it's already the middle of November!"
"So it is. I imagine you'd better walk quickly, then, and hope for an early spring thaw." The man raised his hand. "After
you've changed your clothing and built the cross you must bear on your journey. Ladies, I trust you'll not let the fugitive out of your sight while she does so?"
The Queen and her ladies, several Deryni among them, murmured their assent. Princess Rothana stepped forward bearing the folded gown of coarse sackcloth hastily stitched together for the occasion.
"Very well, then. I'll be waiting along with the Royal Guard just outside the chapel door. The Widow Ćdwige still needs to make her own cross to bear along the way, so once she's decently garbed in sackcloth, just call out and we'll escort her to the courtyard." He raked the stunned woman before him with an assessing look and added, "Don't hesitate to cry out if she gives you the least
bit of trouble, no matter what state of undress she might be in at the time. No need to risk your own lives to protect the modesty of a rabid she-wolf." He turned on his heel, following in the King's wake, the other male witnesses in the room all following suit.
Once the men had retreated down the corridor toward the Great Hall, Kelson turned back, his gaze scanning the faces of his courtiers until he found one in particular. "Marley, attend me." He walked on through the upper end of the Hall and into the withdrawing room just beyond the dais, Earl Brendan following close behind.
At a nod from the King, one of the royal squires closed the door to allow his master greater privacy with the young Earl. Kelson sat, but Brendan continued to stand, attentively awaiting his instructions.
The King sighed, studying the younger man for a long moment before speaking. "Brendan, I have a mission for you and your retainers. It's likely to be tedious and not much to your liking, though there's no help for that. More to the point, if you feel for any reason you need to recuse yourself from this task, I need to know that now and not later. I'm given to understand that at one time you might have been…perhaps forming a tentative sort of attachment to Ćdwige of Eddington?"
Brendan's cheeks colored slightly, but he held the King's gaze steadily. "Only very tentative, Sire, and not really much of an attachment. I was
attracted once, but not seriously so." He gave Kelson a sheepish smile. "She was rather free with her kisses, and I'm afraid I lacked the self-discipline to avoid taking some advantage of that. But there was nothing between us that would prove an impediment to me offering her safe escort to Stavenham, if that's what you're asking me and my men to do."
Kelson shook his head. "Not exactly. I do intend for you to follow Ćdwige, though at a discreet distance and not for her protection. She forfeited her rights to that or any other aid when she decided to claim the right of sanctuary. But it's a long journey from Rhemuth to Stavenham, and the Widow Eddington isn't the sort to abide by the rules for very long. She may well decide to try to take some sort of advantage of others along the way, whether directly or indirectly. She's already proven that she'll not hesitate to use her Deryni powers unlawfully if doing so will gain her some advantage, and even if she doesn’t go quite that
far once she thinks she's a safe distance beyond Rhemuth's gates, she might decide to steal food and clothing or someone’s horse in order to travel through the Kingdom faster. If, during her journey to Stavenham, she should prove a danger to others along the way or commit some other sort of crime—and I've little doubt she'll try something
sooner or later—your task is to arrest her and bring her back to Rhemuth for trial." The King gave his liegeman a grim smile. "Her claim of Sanctuary only covers her previously committed felonies. I have the right to have her re-arrested should she commit any new ones along the way."
"Jesú, my guess is that she’ll barely make it past the City gates!" Brendan gave a short laugh. "Might I add a few extra men to my number then, preferably Deryni? Ćdwige is likely to put up a major fight if I have to re-arrest her."
"No doubt she will, and yes, I have a couple of men I can spare for a few days. I doubt the woman has enough patience, much less sufficient survival skills, to get much further than that before making some misstep that will allow you to bring her in without violating Sanctuary law. Even leaving the main route to Stavenham to take some alternate path would count as a deviation from the Sanctuary laws and would give you grounds for an arrest." Kelson leaned back in his chair with a slight smile. "Once she makes that misstep, whatever it might be, that’s when you and your men will move in, Brendan." The smile faded. "Do your best to take her alive, if you can. Ćdwige may care little for her own child, to take such a risk with his life rather than waiting until after his birth before making her run for sanctuary—surely she must have known I wouldn't have sent her to the headsman's block before her lying-in, much less unshriven—but I'd rather not see the Eddington heir-apparent lost needlessly if that can be prevented."
Brendan nodded. "That makes my task a bit more difficult, of course. Ćdwige certainly won't be concerned about hurting me or my party if we try to take her, so that will place our side at a disadvantage." He chuckled. "And we didn't exactly part on the best of terms; I doubt I'd be able to convince the lady I've followed her in hopes of a parting kiss. But what if she puts up enough resistance to become a danger to other people? I might not be able to stop her without putting her child at risk, much as I’d hate to.”
“I know. And if that’s the case, so be it; do whatever becomes necessary. I simply ask that you take reasonable precautions, but if killing Ćdwige is the only way you can stop her from endangering anyone else, than I’d rather have only one innocent’s life on my conscience than the lives of many.” Kelson studied the young knight before him. “Would
you be able to kill her, if it came down to that? I know it goes against the grain a bit, taking up arms against a woman, and especially one you once had some level of closeness with, even if it didn’t run so very deep. It’s not too late for me to ask someone else, if you aren’t absolutely sure you can do whatever might end up being necessary.”
Brendan considered the offer for a moment, then nodded. “I could do it, Sire, if I absolutely had to, though I hope it never comes to that. If the worst happens, I might spend a sleepless week or two wondering what I might have done differently, but you’re right, she’s not likely to simply leave the Kingdom peacefully, nor do I imagine she’ll ‘go and sin no more.’ If she’s not stopped, she’ll just continue to do anything and everything she can to gain and hold on to power, if not in Gwynedd, then in some other kingdom. And if she continues to misuse her Deryni gifts along the way in order to do that….” The young Earl of Marley sighed. “I’d really rather not see an anti-Deryni uprising now that we’ve finally reached a decent level of accord between humans and Deryni throughout the Kingdom.”
Ćdwige scowled as she bound together the two pieces of wood she’d just collected with a few lengths of reed to form a crude cross. Her sackcloth gown itched despite hanging too loosely upon her frame. One might think it was sewn for an elephant, she groused, although only in her mind; she might be pregnant, but she was hardly that
huge yet! Though she might well be by the time she made it all the way to bloody Stavenham. Tears pricked at her eyes at the thought, though she blinked them back proudly. She wouldn’t let this lot see her weeping; no, she was stronger than that!
The first thing she’d do, once she was safely beyond Rhemuth, would be to get rid of this itchy shift. Surely even peasant clothing would be better than this, and if she could acquire a decent enough dress, she could perhaps convince a laundress that she was some noblewoman’s tiring maid sent to pick up the week’s laundry, and make off with even finer garb. There had to be some way to pass herself off as someone respectable, even if she had to pretend to be of lowly birth for a short while. Not too
low, of course. A merchant’s daughter or something, perhaps. She might be able to fall in with a group of travelers if she did that, which would offer her greater safety along the way. Though why would a merchant’s daughter be traveling on her own? All right, a merchant’s widow then, perhaps returning to her parents’ home in hopes of being in her mother’s tender care during her lying-in. Or something. She was sure she’d come up with a reasonable enough story once the opportunity arose. And it would, eventually. Throughout her life, such opportunities had always managed to, and while she’d never managed to get herself in such a dire predicament before now, Ćdwige was certain her luck would turn favorable again once she was out from under the prying eyes of the Gwyneddan King’s hopelessly deluded and idealistic Court.
And really, now that she stopped to think about it, why should
she go all the way to Stavenham after all? The Coroner and his jurors were hardly likely to follow her to see if she did as she was bid, now were they? No, she’d travel just far enough out to be sure they were no longer watching her progress, and then she’d turn and make for Desse, just as she’d always meant to do. Just as the Coroner would have told her to do himself if he’d had even half a brain in his head. Stavenham! Ćdwige snorted in disdain. Let him
walk all the way to Stavenham in the bloody wintertime, if he was so keen on the idea. She
had a better plan.
With a forbearing smile, she hefted her cross and followed her persecutors towards the Castle gatehouse.
Sextus Lord Braxton awaited the arrival of his squire, Jemmy Kitchener, at the Castle’s southern gatehouse. Beside him stood his wife, cradling their young son whose dark violet eyes curiously peered up at the castle’s battlements over Avisa’s shoulder.
The knight smiled as he reached a fingertip up to brush a strand of cat hair off his son’s moist cheek. “Been after the Basilica cats again, I see,” he commented.
Avisa laughed. “Oh, yes. Poor Pouncer! I’d set Jordan down on the floor in Bishop Duncan’s study and had only turned my back for a few moments when I heard a distressed mew, and when I turned again, your son had the poor creature cornered and was either trying to nurse or teethe! And just when she thought she was finally free of kittens for good.”
Sextus raised an ebony eyebrow at his wife. “And why is it that he suddenly becomes my
son when he’s finding mischief to get into?” He slanted a distracted grin at her, but his gaze drifted beyond her to his approaching squire, who was leading two horses, one of which was his own unflappable Murray. Murray bore a diminutive rider who waved in their direction as the two youngsters and horses approached. Baby Jordan’s eyes lit at the sight of the familiar arrivals, and he began to coo. His father chuckled. “No, son, you can’t eat my horse too. You’ve had quite enough animal hair in your diet for one afternoon.”
“He doesn’t want to eat Murray, silly,” Grub said as she dismounted. “He wants his big sister!” Ten year old Grub reached her arms up to take her baby brother from Avisa, who gladly relinquished the lively little weight. The girl turned her cheek up for her father’s kiss. “You’ll be careful on your mission, won’t you, Six? No taking any stupid chances!” She glanced back at Jemmy without waiting for Sextus’s answer. “You hear me, Jemmy? You take good care of him. If Six dies and I hear it’s because you let him do something stupid, I’ll kill you in your sleep, see if I won’t!”
Jemmy’s brown eyes danced as he grinned down at her. “I live in fear! I guess I’ll just have to manage to drag your father back in one piece somehow, just so you can’t make good on your threat.”
Sextus reached down and caressed the top of his daughter’s head, knowing that her bluster masked a degree of genuine worry. “I’ll be fine. And it’s the knight who’s supposed to watch over his inexperienced squire, you know, not the other way around.”
“Um hm,” Grub muttered. “Except we all know
you. And you really do
need to start being more careful, because you’ve gone and popped another
loaf in Mumsy’s oven, so she’ll need you back home safe and sound to help keep the boys busy so she can get more rest.”
The knight gave his wife a startled glance. Avisa blushed, looking torn between embarrassment and laughter. “Darling, there are more ladylike ways to refer to that…um…particular condition. Let’s practice more polite phrases when we get home tonight, shall we?” At her husband’s curious look, she gave a confirming nod. “I wasn’t absolutely certain until last night. I meant to tell you once you got back.”
“Well…um….” Sextus gave her a sheepish grin. “Can you at least say if we’re having a boy loaf or a girl loaf?”
His wife laughed. “I don’t know; it’s not baked enough yet for me to tell. I’m quite sure we’ll end up with one or the other, though.” She approached Murray’s side, standing on tiptoe as he bent to give her a farewell kiss. “Go on, love, the Earl’s waiting on you.”
“Marley can cool his heels a few moments longer,” Sextus murmured as he nuzzled his wife briefly. “You’re prettier than he is.”
Avisa grinned as she took a step back. “There are several young ladies at Court and in the Schola who might disagree with you, I’m afraid. Brendan Coris has more than his fair share of admirers.” She reached out to pat Murray’s shoulder. “We’ll see you when you get back. I’ve decided to stay at Braxton House until the weather turns fairer rather than try to make the trip back to Kinlochan this time of year, and the Rector says that if you’re agreeable to Amanda remaining behind after the Christmas holidays, she can begin her studies in the next term. But we can discuss all that once you return.”
“I don’t think Bishop McLain knows what he’s up against, letting in Grub,” Jemmy teased, grinning as the young girl stuck her tongue out at him. He turned his horse to follow Sextus’s lead. The guards at the gate opened it to let the men ride out, and knight and squire rode forth to join the Earl of Marley and his retainers.
Rumor had spread like a roaring fire throughout the City of Rhemuth, so when the fugitive ventured forth from the main gatehouse of Rhemuth Castle, she found a large number of the populace had turned out in force, the teeming throngs lining the King's Way in hopes of catching a glimpse of the felon who had dared to defy their monarch by claiming sanctuary in his own Chapel Royal. Ćdwige had enough sense of the theatrical to avoid preening for the crowds. Instead, she kept her eyes demurely lowered to the cobbled path before her, only turning her face at a slight angle to allow her golden tresses to stream behind her in the crisp breeze so her youthful beauty could be seen to best advantage and bowing her back a slight bit more under the wooden cross she bore. If people chanced to make mental comparisons between the injustice of her plight and that of Lord Jesú as he bore His own cross through the streets of faraway Jerusalem, and were to grow angry with their heartless King, could she really help that? It wouldn't be her problem, of course; she'd be living in Bremagne or perhaps Fianna by the time the common folk would get enough gumption up to do more than stir and murmur, but she suppressed a smile at the thought that she might, in some small way, still manage to have some part in dethroning the petty young princeling.
A rotten apple flew through the air, landing on the hard stone just in front of her, fermenting pulp splashing onto the hem of her garment. Ćdwige looked up in time to see one of the King's Guard ride forward to chase off the peasant churl who had thrown it. She scowled at the knight. No doubt he'd deliberately delayed doing anything to stop the man in hopes that the ruffian's apple would hit its mark, and only pretended to pay heed to his purported job of enforcing the Coroner's orders that she be allowed to leave the City without fear of injury or attack. Hypocrites all, the King's courtiers!
Ćdwige plastered on her most helpless expression of injured innocence and returned her attention to the road before her, stumbling onward, hoping that someone might feel moved enough by pity for her plight to follow and lend her some aid once the King’s men had done their duty by her and returned to their liegelord.
Ćdwige had no sooner passed through Prince's Square than the Earl of Marley and his men, accompanied by Lord Braxton and his young squire, started down the King's Way several hundred yards behind her, maintaining their discreet distance both from the object of their observation and from each other. They were dressed as common folk rather than as two noblemen flanked by liveried retainers, for in a hurried consultation with each other earlier in the day, while the Widow Eddington was still making her final preparations for embarking upon her journey, Sextus had pointed out to Brendan the futility of trying to shadow Ćdwige inconspicuously while dressed in clothing suitable for a King's Court, and the younger man had readily agreed that it would be best for their party to dress in less noticeable clothing. As mounted men, of course, they could hardly pass for the humblest sorts of rustics, but they'd managed to dress down enough to be taken for merchants at a brief glance. Rather prosperous merchants, to be sure, but not so much as to stand out too
obviously among the City's crowds. Of course, once they drew closer to her, their fugitive would recognize some of them right off, especially Brendan, but that could hardly be helped.
Ćdwige continued on, past St. George's Square and the Cathedral and beyond that, onward along the King's Way towards the Fish Market and eventually through the Bishop's Gate. As they rode through the gate themselves, the night watch closed it behind them. Their quarry remained oblivious as she walked on, her steps now drawing her closer to St. Joseph's Abbey in the near distance. They continued to follow in the gathering darkness as the young woman before them walked onward, northeastward up the Via Romana, beginning the first leg of the journey towards Ramos and Valoret. It was the most direct highway towards Stavenham, and for the men in the Earl's party at least, it was also familiar enough ground, for much of the same route led to Marley as well.
The terrain grew more hilly just beyond the city's environs. Ćdwige's steps began to flag, and Brendan wondered if she was beginning to tire. He imagined she must be exhausted by this time and would surely be looking for someplace safe to shelter for the night before too much longer, although there was a chance she might choose to use a fatigue banishing spell instead. As he watched and pondered what she might decide to do, he saw a small band of shadowy figures ride out from behind a low hill, stopping directly in the young woman's path. He suppressed his instinctive urge to intervene, sternly directing his men to hold back while they assessed the situation. She did not appear to be under any sort of immediate attack, at any rate. It appeared that Ćdwige and the leader of the other party were conversing at length.
Then the horseman held out what appeared to be a flask to the young woman, who accepted it, drinking from it rather greedily from what Brendan could make out, although even Deryni-enhanced senses could not pierce the night's darkness well enough for him to be certain of what he saw by this point. He gave a signal to his men to spread out, and they continued moving forward cautiously, remaining vigilant, under orders to observe but not make their presence known. Their quarry appeared to need no rescue at the moment, and even if she did, they could not legally go to her aid. Not yet. But if Ćdwige were going to commit some breach of the sanctuary law, it would probably happen in the next few moments, and once that happened, his men would be more free to intervene. Then they could make their arrest, or even more than one if that proved to be necessary, and if they happened to save the wily young vixen's scheming little life in the process, she might even be grateful, if only momentarily. Any gratitude would have worn off by the time they brought her back to Kelson, of course, but Brendan could live with that.
He caught Sextus Arilan's eye and nodded towards a shadowy hillside, casting a quick burst of thought in his direction. Arilan nodded and turned to give similar silent direction to his squire. The two rode on, taking a different path forward from the young Earl's.
Chapter Twenty-Six: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=871.0