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A Leap of Faith - Chapter 22

Started by AnnieUK, January 10, 2011, 11:45:51 AM

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July 3rd   
Llyndruth Plain

I was brought to see Joseph in a tent on the outside of the camp.  A guard stayed discreetly by the opening, for which I was grateful, as I found myself strangely nervous of him.  If Alaric's faithful Derry had helped to steal Brendan away, what might Joseph do?  And then my heart fluttered - hadn't Alaric said that Joseph had asked to see me?  What if Bran, fearing that the game was up, had left a similar compulsion in Joseph's mind?  Had Bran primed Joseph to kill me after my attempt on his life in Kelson's tent?

I glanced over my shoulder to where the guard stood, rigidly alert and watching us intently.  Far enough away not to overhear our conversation but close enough to save me if it came to it – I hoped.  I wished for a moment that Alaric could have accompanied me - I would have felt safer with him here - but I knew that being alone with me would help Joseph to speak more freely.

He stood as I entered, and bowed.  "My lady."  His appearance shocked me.  He had aged years since I had last seen him, that day at Stonelyn.  He looked pale and gaunt, and his face was like a death mask, thin and lined.  

I sat, and bade him do the same.  I had never truth-read Joseph before but that was my mission today – to answer all the questions I had about Bran's defection to Wencit, and to help Kelson in any way I could by bringing him the information that he needed about Bran's commanders.

All my questions ran through my head – about Bran, about the massacre – but the only thing that I could say was, "Are you well?  Are they treating you all right?"

"Aye, my lady, we are getting our regular campaign rations.  We can move about within our camp, but not go beyond it.  The king is not making being disgraced prisoners too burdensome."  His eyes dropped at those words, and I felt his shame as if it were my own.  Truly these men had followed Bran into Hell, but why had he led them there?  

"What happened, Joseph?  Why did Lord Bran do this?  What made him break his oath?"  My voice cracked at the end, and he flinched at the sound of it.

"I don't have all the answers, my lady, and as God is my witness I have asked myself those questions over and over.  But I can tell you what happened, as near as I can remember and maybe you can make your own mind up."

He collected his thoughts a moment, and told me of Wencit sending a parley down from Cardosa, and Bran going to meet with him.  He spoke of hostages and sleeping draughts and a good many more things besides.   When Bran came back, said Joseph, he claimed to have Deryni powers and that Wencit had promised him a dukedom.  I could guess which duchy Bran had designs on – it would have given him great satisfaction to be the next Duke of Corwyn – although I found it ironic that after his all his ranting he had bragged of Deryni magic.  It seemed that he craved power, wealth and influence, regardless of their source.

"Could Wencit have used magic to enslave him?"

"Well, my lady, I don't rightly know how you would tell that.  He seemed just like Lord Bran in most ways, yet..." he searched for the words, "...harder, more ambitious, though he had always been ambitious, even as a lad.  He showed a ruthless streak to him that I hadn't seen before, as if he would stop at naught to get what he had been promised."

So far he spoke truth, or at least what he believed to be the truth.  "And the men?  Did they follow him willingly, this new ruthless master of theirs?"

"At first, my lady, yes.  We had sat there for weeks by then, with the tension mounting and the men muttering about why the Claibourne army was sitting so far north, when everything pointed to Wencit coming straight down the Cardosa pass at us.  The men believed that Wencit and his men would walk right over us – that we had no hope of holding out against them.  Despite whatever Lord Bran and the commanders could say to encourage them, talking of defending Gwynedd and protecting our homes and our families, his army was defeated already.  They would still follow him, for sure, for love of him and pride in Marley, but without much hope of seeing those homes again.  They set their minds at ease by saying that they had sworn their oaths to Lord Bran and were duty-bound to follow wherever he led, but the truth is that they were scared half out of their wits."

Even a week earlier I would not have understood the feelings of which Joseph spoke, but having sat and watched Kelson and his friends ride out across the plain to meet Wencit, I had an inkling of what it must have been like.  I had felt sick, wondering if death would come to all of us that day, if I would ever see my father and brothers again and what sort of country I would live in if Brendan and I had been spared and Wencit ruled in Gwynedd.

"So they joined Wencit willingly because they stood more chance of being on the winning side, then?"  I asked, wondering at the fickleness that would make them desert their country in its greatest need.

"Not willingly, my lady, but the uncertainty and the anxiety had been relieved somewhat ."  His forehead furrowed.  "I'm not sure I understand, and I was there, but I felt it myself – a relief that the waiting was over and that things would be decided one way or the other soon.  Do you see?"

I couldn't honestly say that I did, but he told the truth, and I could see in his face what this honesty cost him, for he had loved Bran dearly.

"And when you came upon the men of Cassan and Kierney, what then?"

The grief that crossed his face then made me want to weep for him.  "That was badly done.  They say that in war all is fair, but to disguise our intent like that, and to fall upon our countrymen...  Ah, my lady, how could Lord Bran do such a thing?" He hovered on the brink of tears, and sat with his head bowed.  He covered his face with shaking hands and drew in a shuddering breath.

"You have to believe me, my lady, when I say that many of the Marley men cried even as they fought.  They would still follow Lord Bran, but he lost their respect that day.  They followed because they had sworn an oath and they would not break theirs even if he had broken his."  

So the common men had not been behind him, then.  Kelson would be glad of that at least.

"Then when it came to... dispose... of the bodies..." his voice trembled and he looked at me with despair in his eyes, biting his lip to stop the tears.  "My lady, I can't speak of what they did to you, but do you know?"

The pungent smell of wood smoke and death seemed to fill my nostrils again. "I didn't see it myself, but I heard about it.  And I saw the funeral pyres as we went past."  

"We knew you were coming when we saw the smoke from the pyres.  At least they were decently dealt with and not just left for the birds and wild animals."  He shuddered.  I remembered the birds circling the plain and was relieved that we had taken time to do this last service for these men.

"Was it Bran that suggested... the mutilation of the bodies?"  God help me, but I had to know this.

He froze, desperately not wanting to tell me that my husband had been capable of such an atrocity, and finally mumbled "Aye, my lady".

I had known deep down inside that it had been him.  That he had called on some submerged darkness in him in his eagerness to show his worth to Wencit.  

Joseph shuffled and looked at his feet.  "Lord Bran ordered the Marley men to see to the bodies – setting them up for King Kelson to find.  Not a man of them was comfortable doing it, and many did what they did with tears streaming down their cheeks.  I saw several good men take themselves a distance away to spew in the bushes.  But they were afraid, my lady.  Lord Bran had been so well loved, and they would have done anything for him, but through devotion and loyalty.  Now they were afraid of what he or his Deryni friends might do to them.  Some of them had heard that Deryni could take your mind away – leave you alive but senseless  - and they feared him terribly.

"Two of the men, devout men both, would have nothing to do with the desecration of the bodies.  They flatly refused, though their lives would be forfeit.  Lord Bran heard of it, and ran the one man through with his sword.  The other tried to run, but guards brought him back and Lord Bran spitted him too."

"Who were the men?  Did I know them?"

"Eoin Donnelly and William Chawston, my lady.  Eoin was son of one of the maltsters from Marbury.  He had just married this winter past, and his wife is expecting their first child around Christmastide.  He was so excited – he spoke of little else.  And William was one of Lord Bran's regular soldiers.  He had a wife and three children, the youngest only a year or so old."  He choked back a sob, trying to cover it with a cough.  "They were good men, my lady, and he cut them down in cold blood for refusing to do what no good man should be asked to do."

"Did he have the men behind him still, or was he alone in following Wencit?"

He hesitated.  "I was not present for all of Lord Bran's conversations, yet sometimes a trusted clerk may remain in meetings unnoticed.  I saw him with his commanders and listened to their conversations." He observed me cautiously, eyes still brimming and his emotions barely in check.  "They went along with him, my lady, through loyalty and through fear and maybe in some small part in hopes of reward in the end, yet I would say that the excesses were Lord Bran's idea and came from his mind alone."

"Thank you, Joseph.  I can't say that you have told me what I wanted to hear, but I understand a little better now, and when Brendan asks about his father when he is older, I will know the truth of it, not rumour and gossip."

"What will happen to you and the young master now, my lady?"

I could give him good news on this at least.  "Tell the men that a Coris will still be Earl of Marley, Joseph.  The king has been most generous and has promised that Brendan will be confirmed as earl, with a regency council ruling for him until he can assume his title.  I shall be heading the council on his behalf."

Joseph beamed.  "That is good to hear indeed, and the men will be heartened by it."  He sighed and looked entreatingly at me.  "Will we be allowed to return home, my lady?  The men want to try to put this behind them and to see their wives and children."

"I am sure that Lord Bran's commanders will be spoken to and dealt with appropriately, but the King has guaranteed the safety of the others.   And I shall ask the King to provide for the families of Chawston and Donnelly.  It would not be right that their wives and children suffer hardship because of their bravery."

When I left the tent, Joseph seemed restored, at least in part.  His head was held higher than before and he could meet my eyes as I bade him farewell.  A hint, only, but hope at least that pride could be restored to Marley – though who knew how long would it take?

Chapter 23  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=639.0


Very well written.  Poor Joseph and the other common soldiers of Marley, caught between forsaking their oaths (which they might have felt in peril of death and eternal damnation for) and following orders they'd doubtless have feared would lead to the same result either way!  I'm glad Kelson understood the situation well enough to show leniency to the rank and file, though those men will have to live with their memories the rest of their lives.  :(
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


Yay!  Thank you :D

This is the fourth stage of the (seriously steep) learning curve that this fic took me through :
1.  OMG!  Uncharted territory - what the *heck* do I do with it?
2.  Phew!  Back into safer waters where KK has told me what happens.
3.  OK, fed up working round KK now ;)
4.  Yay!  Uncharted territory!


LOL!  I told you writing original characters and not having to dovetail events closely with canonical events would be much easier!  :D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!