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The Least Of These--Part Three

Started by Evie, April 03, 2011, 12:44:45 PM

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   Part Three   

   July 30, 918--morning
   Ivygreen House, Stavenham

   "Hurry up, Pips, we're going to get to market late if you keep dawdling."  Rose tapped her foot impatiently as we waited just outside for our youngest sister to catch up with us.  The market would be open for most of the day, of course, but Rose preferred to visit the merchant stalls as early as possible before the goods were picked over by so many customers that the best choices would be gone already.

   Pippa paused in the middle of our street, frowning at her belt pouch.  "Oh, bother, this is the one with the hole in the seam, isn't it? Where's my other pouch?  That's the one with my farthings in it!"

   "Oh, for heaven's sake!" I exclaimed.  "Pippa, you must take better care of your things.  Your new pouch is on the sideboard next to the entryway to the kitchen."

   I don't recall putting it there," she said with a slight frown.

   "That's because I did, because you'd left it on the floor and I was tired of tripping over it.  I figured you'd see it there as we walked out."

   Pippa rolled her eyes at me, flouncing back inside.


   July 30, 918—midday
   The Port of Stavenham

   "Look, there she is!"  Pippa jumped up and down on the dock excitedly as she spotted the flagship of Papa's small merchant fleet in the distance, her stately sails billowing as they caught the wind.  Excelsior moved slowly but steadily closer to shore as we girls watched.  She would remain in port for the next ten days while the crew unloaded its current cargo and reloaded her hold, spending a few days resting with their families before setting forth again for Torenth.   When she set forth again, Papa planned that she would also be carrying a few extra passengers, some of whom would not be listed on the official ship manifest.

   Of course, Pippa knew nothing of that plan, but Rose and I exchanged a look over her head.  She had learned just the day before that Jamie and his family would be aboard that ship when she left port again, hoping to make new lives for themselves someplace where they might live in greater safety than could be found anywhere in Gwynedd.  While Rose yearned to go with them, she had already exchanged betrothal vows with Rory.  They were due to wed at the end of August, on Saint Augustine's Day.  At any rate, she could hardly have hoped to steal away on one of Papa's own ships; the entire crew would have known who she was!

   "Yes, that's definitely Excelsior," Rose affirmed, forcing a smile at Pippa's excitement.  "But she probably won't dock until a bit later today, and we'll only be in the way if we stay here while they try to unload.  We can come back by tomorrow and see if Captain Blumenthal will allow us aboard, if that's what you're hoping for."

   "Oh, I just want to see what they brought back," Pippa told her, her eyes shining.  

   Rose laughed. "Well, that's easy enough found out.  Just ask Papa; I'm sure he'll be glad enough to show you what his factor has brought back with him once they're done offloading the crates into our warehouses."

   My sisters continued to talk, but my thoughts wandered as I watched the ships in the far distance, deceptively small against the vast expanse of ocean before us.  I wondered what it would be like to live out there in the lands beyond that shining sea.  The world seemed so huge, as I stood there on that crowded pier looking out at the distant horizon, and I felt almost dwarfed into insignificance in comparison.  Not for the first time, I wished I'd been born a son, that I might be allowed to travel beyond Stavenham into those distant lands where Papa sometimes wandered even now that he had other men to carry out his business ventures for him.  Women rarely traveled, not unless their husbands did and were willing to bring them along.   Traveling was much more difficult with womenfolk in tow, Papa had informed me gently when I'd once broached the subject as a young child.  Unless one had friends to stay with all along the way, accommodations were apt to be rough and quite unsuited to gently-raised maidens and decorous wives.  Still, Mama had managed to convince him to take her on his travels a time or two when she was yet a young bride, so there was still hope for me to see some of the world.  I should just have to take care to marry a merchant, one indulgent enough to cater to my whim to see more of the world than just Stavenham and its close environs.

   My sisters were turning away from the approaching ships, their steps taking them back  towards our father's storehouses.  I followed reluctantly behind, stealing a few envious glances back at Papa's ship and the ones already docked in port, their busy crews offloading cargo or loading crates and passengers.  It was not that I wished to be like Jamie's family, forced to leave a home I loved to seek better fortune elsewhere.  Like most women, I wanted a home and stability.  Still, was it wrong for me to occasionally want a little more?

   "Elena, keep up!"  Rose had stopped, her impatient look turned towards me now.

   I waved at my sisters and quickened my steps towards our properties.


   It was just outside of Papa's storehouse that Pippa asked the innocent question that would change all of our lives forever.

   "Is Eglantine a Deryni?"

   Rose looked over at me, startled, answering our sister in a hushed whisper.  "No, of course not!" she assured Pippa, though she and I both knew her answer to be a lie.  "You mustn't say such things, Pips!"

   "Maybe we should head home," I said uneasily, glancing around quickly to see if anyone had overheard.  I didn't see anyone too close by, but we'd just passed an open doorway, and who knew who might have been standing just within?  "Mama will be expecting us home soon anyway," I added, trying to act casual so Pippa wouldn't sense she was being maneuvered and ask outright what the rush was.

   "But Eglantine can start fires with just her fingers!" Pippa insisted.  "I saw her do it just this morning, when I went to ask her if we had meat rolls left over that I could wrap and carry to market in my pouch.  The stove had gone out and she had to relight it."  

   "Hush, Pips!" Rose hissed, looking stricken.

   "You must have imagined it," I soothed, for Pippa was beginning to look mutinous.  "Sometimes, if a person holds the flint just so, and it's a small piece, it's hard to tell they're holding anything."

   "I know what I saw," my baby sister declared.

   Rose gave me a despairing look over Pippa's head.  "You're right, Elena, it's time we were getting back.  We've lessons to finish before Papa gets home this evening."  Swiftly she herded us back towards Ivygreen House before Pippa could say anything more, though as we walked quickly along the boardwalk, I thought I saw someone watching us at a window.  I hoped whoever it was had not been paying heed to our conversation, but a shiver of fear ran through me nonetheless.


   Eglantine's face paled as Papa questioned her about her use of magic in the kitchen that morning.  Our kitchen maid was a bit simple-minded, but not so much so that she could not grasp the peril we were faced with now that Pippa had asked her questions about Deryni magic out in the open, where strangers might have been listening.

   "I dinnae mean nae harm, Master McTavish!  I couldnae get th' kitchen fires tae light wi' th' flint an' steel—I ain't use tae it yet, y'see—an' everyone had left th' house a'ready, so I dinnae think nae-one would see me!  I dinnae ken th' young mistress hae come back till after tha', master.  I ken no' tae use me powers wi' th' bairn aboot, but she was off tae market, I thought!"

   Papa excused Eglantine from the room.  His gaze met Mama's, looking worried.  "Well, what's done is done.  I suppose we must hope for the best but plan for the worst.  Hopefully no one overheard the girls, but just in case, I'd best let Master Rylan know."  He rose from his chair.  "We'll have to figure out some way to move the Deryni out of kingdom ahead of schedule, though Jesú knows I don't see how that will be possible, with only one ship in port and it still laden with cargo!  Maybe Rylan will have some ideas, though.  I don't think we can afford to wait another week, not now.  I've promised three families transport, not to mention Rylan, the four new storehouse hands, and now Eglantine shall need to leave as well, but that's far too long for them all to hide in cramped quarters, and there's too much risk of discovery if they stay."  He glanced at me.  "Elena, come with me.  If we do need to summon the families, I may need your assistance.  Rose, the secret room will need more provisions in case our evacuees have to remain hidden for longer than a day.  Please help your mother in seeing to that."


   "It's my own fault," Papa said gravely, after informing Master Rylan of what had happened.  "I've sheltered the child so much, knowing her to be the curious sort and not trusting in her discretion if she were to find out about what we've been doing here, that I failed to convey to Philippa what harm such questions could pose if asked openly."  He buried his head in his hands.  "And how do I explain to a child that what pious-seeming men say from the pulpit is not always what they live by, at least where you Deryni are concerned, but just because they don't match life to words doesn't mean that the teachings themselves are wrong?  I've tried to teach my daughters how to serve a God who said to 'love your neighbor,' but how do I stand fast against ordained servants of that same God who now tell us that a man is no longer our neighbor if he's Deryni?"  Papa sighed, looking back up at his hired man, who simply leaned back against the warehouse wall, his face impassive.  "The world changes, Rylan, and the Church's teachings along with it, it seems—or at least the teachings of certain churchmen—twisting with every shift in the wind.  Yet if there are no absolute Truths to stand upon anymore, no beliefs on which we can rely to guide our moral compass, then what have we left to us but chaos, with only those in power to dictate to us what is 'right' in their eyes and the defenseless left to their mercies?  No, no matter what the Church might be saying this week, nor how many new orders like the Custodes spring up to enforce more fashionable views, I cannot—will not—believe that 'love thy neighbor as thyself' no longer holds true, and that we are not all children of the same loving Father."  He shook his head.  "I'm sorry, Rylan.  We've put you and yours in a precarious situation, I'm afraid.  What can I do to help make things right?"

   Rylan pondered the situation, then spoke at last.  "I have an idea, Andrew, but I'll need the help of other Deryni to do it.  There is a way that Deryni can create a Transfer Portal—it's a bit like a magical gateway—from one location to any other place where a Portal has already been created, if the user knows of another Portal to go to.  I can build one here, if you'll allow me to, and it would allow Deryni to escape from here in a manner that no human pursuer could ever follow, unless he were aided by another Deryni who knew exactly where we were going and how to get there."  He studied Papa, his eyes solemn.  "I know you accept my people as we are, and that you understand that at least some of our powers are innate gifts we are born with.  But I also know how uneasy you are about overt uses of ritual magic, and not simply because of the risks to us all if we're discovered.  Would your conscience be flexible enough to allow us to use our magic to create such a means of escape, given our great need?  We would not require you to participate, but I would rather not create such a Portal on your property against your consent."

   Papa nodded.  "You have that, Rylan.  Do whatever it is you need to do."  He paused.  "Where would you build it, though?  I imagine you'd need to put it someplace private, but easy to get to quickly."

   "Yes, and also someplace where others coming after us might be able to find it."  Rylan gave my father a wry smile.  "We're hardly going to be the last Deryni to come through Stavenham looking for passage to lands beyond, after all.  And assuming no one reports little Pippa's words to the authorities, you'll still be here to guide them.  But carrying Deryni passengers on your ships is far too great a risk for us to ask of you anymore, my friend.  If you have a Transfer Portal on your grounds, I assure you there will be at least a few Deryni who would gladly take advantage of such an asset, at least if they know of other Portals they might safely go to.  May we use your grotto?"  Master Rylan glanced at me for the first time with a faint grin.  "I doubt the Custodes would think to make too painstaking a search of a shrine to St. Catulina.  Virtuous maidens are so very rarely a threat to the Kingdom, after all.  And it has the added virtue of being convenient to both the hidden room in the warehouse and your home, so if you and yours are in need of a quick escape, some of us could carry you through to a place of safety.  Though hopefully it won't ever come down to that."  The Deryni gave Papa a look of deep respect.  "I know how much you stand to lose here, Master Andrew, and how much you've risked for us already.  Thank you."

   "I only wish I could do more," Papa said, shaking his head sadly.


   July 31, 918—St. Neot's Day, afternoon
   Ivygreen House, Stavenham

   The next day started uneventfully enough.  As morning turned into early afternoon, we all began to breathe easier, hoping the threat of discovery had passed.  After the noonday meal, Papa ventured forth to his ship and to his warehouses as usual, ostensibly to see how the offloading of Excelsior's cargo was coming along, although I suspected he also planned to check in with Master Rylan at some point to ensure that all of the Deryni in their care had been notified of the potential danger and were hidden safely away, ready to move on to new locations and new lives as soon as night fell.  A few had stolen away the night before, Rylan had informed Papa, taking advantage of the newly created Portal to escape as soon as the opportunity arose, yet some had chosen to remain behind for one more day—Jamie's family among them—so they might have a few hours more to pack their most cherished possessions in haste and permanently sever their last remaining connections with their lives here in Stavenham before stealing away to Papa's shelter under cover of the remaining darkness, the last of the stragglers arriving to the secret sanctuary just before dawn.  A few had brought with them other Deryni heretofore unknown to our family—friends and relatives of theirs who also wished to steal away to safety.  Among those remaining, it had been agreed that they would all leave Stavenham together, in ones and twos as the Portal would allow, but all departing for the same place, at least at first.  Several of the remaining Deryni were women and children, and the menfolk among them felt they would be safer traveling in numbers, so that even the widows and orphans might have the protection of armed men should the need arise.  Master Rylan had told Papa that he would be going through the Portal last, and that once everyone had been settled into new places of safety, he might even return to Stavenham from time to time.  For there would be other Deryni fleeing to Stavenham over the following days and weeks, he was sure, all needing some safe way to travel to the havens beyond our port, and Rylan was willing to assume the risk of showing them where the Portal was and escorting them to safety if need be.  All our family would need to do would be to look the other way if Deryni happened to steal through our back garden under cover of darkness.

   That, at least, had been the plan as Papa and Master Rylan had discussed it at length the night before, as Deryni were arriving and saying their farewells before departing, or else settling into the secret chamber to await the coming nightfall and the planned exodus.  But that plan, as plans are wont to do, came to naught with a few sharp raps upon our door and the cry, "Open up in the name of the Bishop!"

Part Four:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=696.0
"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!


I have an awful feeling Jamie and his family should not have stayed behind that one more day.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


Ah yes, the loose lips of little children  :(    How horrible to have to worry all the time about what you say and where you say it, and whether any words of yours will be overheard even in the street.

I don't like the sounds of things for poor young Eglantine at the very least, even if the Bishop's men can be persuaded that the family as a whole did not know about her.


One little slip of the tongue can be fatal.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Couldn't they get one of their friendly Deryni to blur Pippa's memories a bit, or to put a geas on her that she couldn't talk about it?


Sure, that's entirely possible, but unfortunately that wouldn't undo or unsay anything that's been done and said in public already.  Unless Elena was simply imagining that person standing and possibly eavesdropping at the window, they had at least one potential witness, so blurring Pippa's memories now could prevent her from blurting out anything further, but it's a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.
"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!


If Pippa later couldn't repeat what she had said, or remember what she had seen, then the evesdropper's testimony would be called into quesition, wouldn't it?  I believe the expression is 'plausible deniability'.  Unless anyone making futher inquiries had a 'Deryni Sniffer' to force the issue--and these were rare enough that they wouldn't be called in for every random suspicious remark, surely--the matter would end there, wouldn't it?


The matter might end there, yes, but then again, so would the story!    ;)

Even if she couldn't remember what she'd seen if cross-examined later, she's given sufficient cause for the Custodes to make inquiries.  If the house and grounds are searched, and everyone else in the family questioned, there's a high probability that either incriminating evidence will be found or that someone would crack under the stress of an inquisition.  Plus, these aren't highly rational times we're dealing with, or times in which ordinary citizens could expect certain police procedures and protections we often take for granted today.  This was a time when anti-Deryni sentiment was at fever-pitch, and paranoia was running rampant, so an 11 year old saying something that incriminating and suddenly 'forgetting' would raise just as much suspicion.  Even more suspicion would fall on the family if they asked to question Eglantine, and either they produced her and she failed a merasha test, or else they couldn't produce her and therefore it would be assumed they helped her escape...and that would give them more cause to tear the place apart looking for her.

Even in our own recent history, it only took one "snitch" reporting to the Nazis that the Ten Boom family (one of the real-life families this fictional one is based on) were hiding Jews and other political 'enemies' for their home to get searched, and even though the hidden people weren't discovered and I doubt the family volunteered the information that they were hiding anyone, the Nazi regime managed to find enough evidence against the family to send them off to concentration camps anyway.  (And also, speaking of history, look at the Salem witch trials to see how even with a lack of evidence aside from forced confessions, things can go disastrously wrong in a time of mass hysteria.  In 918 Stavenham, which was only recently the bishopric of the head of the Custodes Fidei, the infamous Paulin of Ramos, anti-Deryni sentiment would have been at fever-pitch, and doubtless there were certain people so worked up over it all that they were finding demons and Deryni under doilies, as the expression goes.)

But besides the in-story reasons why I think they'd continue snooping around, there's the storyteller's reason.  So I'm glad you brought the question up, since it gives me a chance to articulate something that I've sort of instinctively known and done for years, but haven't really put into words until I got to thinking about it again this morning.  Sometimes what makes for the most satisfactory conclusion--the 'neat solution'--to a real-life dilemma is not the same thing at all to what makes a satisfactory solution to a fictional dilemma.  In fact, I'd go as far as to theorize that it's almost never the same thing, and here's why.  To have a Story--one that truly sticks with you and is memorable instead of just being a mere anecdote of events that happened at a given point in time--one needs to have conflict and crisis.  If that conflict and crisis are resolved too quickly and easily, then you might have an anecdote, but you don't truly have a story.  There's not enough emotional investment in what is happening for the reader to care about the outcome.  In real life terms, if the Nazis had simply knocked on the door of the Ten Boom home and asked a few questions, or even if they did just a cursory search and then said, "OK, must have been a mistake; you're off the hook," that would have been a wonderful and quite satisfactory end of things for the family's point of view, but I doubt a book and a movie would ever have resulted from that, nor do I think the Dutch people would have been so moved by this brief blip in their history that they'd turn the Ten Boom home into a museum.  It's the fact that there wasn't a neat, quick ending to the crisis that turned it from being a brief, lamentable incident to becoming a Story.  And people start to care when there's a Story.  You want to see what happens next.  Will the characters manage to overcome the crisis and survive?  If so, their victory means much more and is more emotionally satisfying if they had to overcome greater odds rather than smaller ones.  Or will the characters have a tragic ending?  Again, if what they struggled against and failed to overcome is more significant, we grow more emotionally invested with those characters, so the story has more impact.  So from the fiction writer's standpoint, we sometimes have to step back and not think "what would satisfactorily resolve this situation in real life?" but "what would make this a more gripping and therefore a much more emotionally satisfying Story instead of just a brief glimpse at a moment in some fictional people's lives?"  Now, granted, you can't ignore real life altogether and have a story that resembles real life.  Deus ex machina solutions rarely satisfy.  But as one writer I deeply respect advises, "Figure out the worst thing that could happen to your character(s) and then see what happens.  How do they handle it?  Then lather, rinse, repeat."  It seems to work well for her, given the number of Hugo and Nebula awards she's got on her shelf, so I'm a major believer in that writer's tip.  You can pretty much take it to the bank that if there's some easy way out of a story problem and some other way out that might take the characters to Hell and back, but will make for a better read in the long run, I ain't gonna let them off light.   :D

Now, aren't you glad I'm just writing stories and not running a Deryni RPG campaign?   ;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!


Adding to what Evie said - we don't even have to go back to Nazi Germany.  Look at some of the Iron Curtain regimes, with the activities of the Stasi in East Germany, or the KGB in the USSR.  A simple remark overheard in a subway, mention of something to a friend or even family member who had been coerced into turning informer - the idea of  "plausible deniability" was irrelevant and generally IMplausible.  At best, you were put on a 'watch' list, at worst, well ... they didn't burn you at the stake, but a holiday in the labour camps was all too often a living death.  And in the McCarthy era in the USA, you weren't put to death or locked up - you just lost jobs, careers, colleagues, got blacklisted, etc.  Good people were publicly humiliated and pilloried on the flimsiest of 'evidence'.


"You can pretty much take it to the bank that if there's some easy way out of a story problem and some other way out that might take the characters to Hell and back, but will make for a better read in the long run, I ain't gonna let them off light. "

And that's why I'm still worrying about Javana, let alone Elena....and still reading.......   :)

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


And still commenting, so thank you for that!   It's readers' comments that help keep me motivated to continue writing, so I appreciate every single one.  Sometimes I might disagree with a particular opinion or viewpoint (which is perfectly fine...total agreement on all things would get boring!), or sometimes I can't address a comment too directly because it would give away parts of the story in upcoming chapters (the comments to Possessed had me in stitches at times, because some of the guesses about what would happen to Walter were so close and yet not quite there), but I value them all.  :)

The same "do the worst thing to your characters and see how they deal with it" principle holds true even with more lighthearted, comedic stories, as hopefully you'll see if I can ever get Sextus's story far enough along to start posting some chapters.   ;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!