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The Least of These--Part Four

Started by Evie, April 06, 2011, 02:38:21 PM

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   Part Four

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

   "Open up in the name of the Bishop!"

   I peeked through the shutters, feeling slightly faint as I saw the armed men standing outside our door, our father standing with them, his hands bound behind his back.  Stepping quickly back before anyone could catch sight of me, I glanced at Mama.  "They've got Papa," I told her.

   Her eyes widened with alarm.   She angled her head towards the back door, the one that led to the garden.  "Go, then, quickly!  Warn Master Rylan.   I'll make a show of fumbling with the door locks, but I can't hold them out for long; they'll break the door down if I do."

   I needed no further urging.  I ran to the rear of our home, pausing at the back door only long enough to take a furtive peek around the corner to see if the Custodes had entered the courtyard garden yet.  I saw no signs of forced entry at the street-side gate, so I dashed outside, praying that I might make it across the garden to the grotto unnoticed.  No one accosted me as I reached the grotto's entrance.  I breathed a quick prayer of thanksgiving before plunging through the solid-looking wall behind Saint Catulina's shrine.

   I nearly tripped over a seated boy, flailing my arms to regain my balance.  A woman caught me, helped me stay upright.  What's the matter, child?  I heard in my mind.  Are they here?

   I took a quick look around the narrow chamber, its shadows dispelled by nothing more than a single candle's light.  It was packed full, with people standing or sitting along the wall down its entire length, a few of the adults holding children in their laps or bundles containing all the goods they dared carry with them.  The youngest of the children all appeared to be asleep, much to my relief, for while the secret room was well camouflaged, I doubted it was soundproof.

   "The Custodes are here!" I whispered as loudly as I dared, trusting that the Deryni, with their mind-powers, would relay my message to the far ends of the chamber where my voice would not reach.  "They have Papa, and they've ordered us to allow them entry.  We daren't refuse them, so you must remain hidden here while they search the grounds.  Once they've left, I'll try to return to let you know."

   Master Rylan had reached my side by then.  He shook his head, his face pale in the dim light.  "No, Elena, it's not safe for you to go back.  Even if you manage to make it back to the house, you'd surely be questioned, and someone might think to take a closer look at the grotto and the secrets it conceals.  It's best if you remain here for the time being."

   My heart longed to be with my family, to know what was going on with them, but I knew he was right.  If I left now, I would surely endanger all that Papa had worked so hard for.  I nodded my agreement.  

   Rylan smiled encouragement at me, then turned to the woman who had helped me regain my balance earlier.  "Nora, I think we should blow out the candle, just to be safe."

   "The candle?  Why?"  I stared at him in alarm, feeling a slight shiver course through me, for I'd always harbored a fear of total darkness, and in this windowless room there would be no light available at all despite the afternoon hour.  And who knew how long we'd be cooped up in here?

   Nora complied even as Master Rylan took my hand, easing me to a spot on the floor.  There is a small peephole between this chamber and the grotto, he explained mind-to-mind.   It faces directly towards the grotto entrance.  We needed some way to ensure that no one was about and that it would be safe to leave this chamber, but there was a small chance that the candle's light—dim as it was—might have shone through the tiny chink and alerted an observant searcher to our presence within.  I promise the darkness won't harm you, Mistress Elena.  Right now there is far more to be feared from those moving about in the daylight.


   July 31, 918—St. Neot's Day, late afternoon
   The Secret Sanctuary, Stavenham

   All remained quiet for about a quarter of an hour.  Master Rylan and I took turns at the peephole, anxiously searching our limited view for any signs of movement. I felt sure that if it were safe for us to come out, someone would have been sent to notify us—Rose, perhaps, or maybe Papa himself—but no one came.  I knew the Custodes were quite likely questioning my family.  Had the authorities noticed my absence, I wondered, or were they even aware that there was a third daughter to be questioned?  Were they even now searching the grounds for me?

   As if in answer to my unspoken question, I saw the first soldier cross the courtyard, several yards away from the grotto entrance.  He wore the black cassocks and red and gold cincture of the Equites Custodes Fidei, although as I watched, more men came into view, some dressed as Custodes but others wearing the Bishop's colors.  Hired soldiers, then, perhaps men selected from Stavenham's citizenry, though their faces looked unfamiliar, so perhaps not.

   Two men entered the grotto then.  I left off looking through the peephole, terrified lest they should notice it, and drew the dark flap of cloth down over it, though surely it could not lend any more darkness than the pitch black of the chamber around me.  I could still hear them moving about on the other side of the wall, talking to each other and making the occasional tapping sound—perhaps the sound of a sword or staff tapping on stone?—as they explored the grotto.

   "Doesn't appear to be anyone in here," one man said.  "I don't think she's fled here; if she did, she didn't stop to pray."  A quiet chuckle.

   "Well, she didn't stop to light the candle, at any rate,' the other voice agreed.  "But you're probably right.  What's beyond this garden wall, though?"

   "Storehouses, a row of them.  I think the ones directly behind this land belong to McTavish."

   "That's what I thought.  They've been searched already, haven't they?"

   A loud clunk sounded against the wall right below my ear and I nearly gasped aloud, startled.  "Aye, at least the first has.  That's where we found McTavish.  I assume they've tossed the second and third storehouses as well by now, as well as that ship of his."  The voices sounded very close now, just on the other side of the wall.  "Well, this is new stonework right enough, but it doesn't seem to be anything more than it looks to be.  Whose shrine is that anyway?"

   A moment's silence, then a quiet laugh.  "Saint Catulina's.  Aye, just what you'd expect from a man with a surfeit of daughters and no sons.  Too bad it's not a shrine to that Deryni heretic; we'd have all the evidence we need to torch the place."

   A chuckle.  "What, we don't have evidence enough yet?"

   The men withdrew, their footfalls and voices receding in the distance.  I hugged myself against a sudden chill.


   I smelled the smoke before I saw it or heard the roar and crackle of the fire that caused it, but after a moment I felt someone moving towards the wall, and surmised it was Master Rylan risking a peek through the peephole.  After an interminable moment, my guess was confirmed as I felt his mind brush mine.  Sit, Mistress Elena.  It's best that you don't see this.

   If he'd hoped to allay my fears, of course that was the wrong thing to say.  "I need to see, Master Rylan," I muttered as quietly as I could.  "If I don't know what's happening out there, I may go mad."

   He mentally urged me to remain silent, but in answer to my protest he began to share the images of what he was viewing, the pictures flitting into my mind as vividly as if it were my eye pressed to the tiny chink in the wall instead of his.  My mind's eye saw Ivygreen, her roof ablaze, smoke pouring out of each window as the flames crackled loudly.  A few piercing screams echoed, all the louder for the silence surrounding me in the hidden chamber, but I could not see who they came from.  Was it my family, still trapped within my childhood home, screaming in terror as they faced their fiery deaths?  Or had my family been taken elsewhere before the fires were set, and were the screams simply the alarmed cries of neighbors fearing for our safety or their own?

   The rear door of my home opened, and someone ran out...a woman, her face and form smudged with soot and her hair drenched with sweat, yet despite that I recognized her.  It was Rose, fleeing for her safety, running through the garden towards us.  Towards the Shrine of St. Catulina.

   Silently, I began to pray, though even as I did so, I felt torn.  I wished my sister safe, yet I feared she would be pursued, and that her flight towards our hiding place would spell all our deaths.  If she were to simply disappear through the grotto wall in plain sight of a Custodes pursuer, he would know no miracle of Saint Catulina's had occurred to save the frightened maiden, and the grotto and warehouse would be searched more thoroughly, taken apart stone by stone if need be, until our secret chamber had been found.

   As if summoned by my fears, a second figure entered our line of sight at that moment.  A soldier, by his dress.  Not one of the Custodes soldiers, but almost certainly here at their command.  He swiftly overtook my sister, his long legs eating up the ground between them with little effort, while hers were hampered by her long skirts.  As she approached the entrance to the grotto, he reached for her, yanking her back and tossing her to the ground.  She lay winded from her hard fall, gasping for breath on the earth a mere yard outside the artificial cavern's entrance, her eyes pleading, one hand held out before her as if entreating Saint Catulina's intervention.

   The soldier grabbed her roughly, turning her face-up, forcing her to look at him as he pinned her to the ground.  I held my breath, praying he intended nothing more than capture of a fleeing prisoner.  Perhaps he would yet show mercy.  Rose was truly innocent; she had done even less than I had to assist Papa in harboring the Deryni fugitives—meager as my own involvement had been—aside from keeping silent about his activities.  Surely the Custodes would not condemn a dutiful daughter for not turning against her own father?  No, this man may be no Custodes himself, but he was here at the behest of their order, and surely the priests who had commanded this raid on my father's household would not condone wanton violence, much less a carnal assault against any woman, especially one who was captured while invoking the aid of Catulina, the patron of virtuous maidens?

   My sister's lips moved, and though I could not hear what she whispered, I thought I saw them form the words, "Saint Catulina preserve me!"  

   At that moment, another man stepped into view.  He, unlike the soldier, wore the long black gown and red and gold regalia of a Custodes priest and, if I was reading the regalia aright, one of high rank.  An Inquisitor, perhaps?  The older man frowned at the soldier who looked shamefacedly up at him, easing his body off his captive's, although not relaxing his hold on her enough for her to escape.

   The priest arched an eyebrow at the soldier, speaking quietly, though loud enough to be heard over the more distant crackling flames.  "When I said to take the prisoner, this was not precisely what I meant."  The voice fairly dripped with irony.

   The soldier swallowed.  "Beg pardon, Father.  I...ah...was carried away for a moment."

   Rose began to weep, racking sobs shaking her form.  "Mercy, Father!  Please don't let him hurt me."  The priest looked as if he might relent.   I released the breath I'd forgotten I was holding in a relieved sigh, thankful that Saint Catulina had evidently seen fit to rescue my sister in her time of need, even if her salvation had come in the unlikely form of a Custodes priest.  

   And then, just at the moment when it looked as if Rose might be spared, something fell from the neckline of her gown, the metallic oval glinting redly in the rays of the setting sun.  The priest's eye was drawn to it, and he frowned.  "What saint's medallion is that she's wearing?" he asked the soldier.

   Rose stared up at the priest, stricken.  The soldier turned it over, inspected the likeness stamped upon the medallion.  I buried my face in Master Rylan's shoulder, suppressing a groan.  

   "It's the heretic Camber MacRorie, Father!"

   The Custodes priest's eyes blazed with indignant fire.  He studied the two figures before him—the soldier and the maiden—stone-faced before pronouncing his judgment.  "Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis," he muttered with a curt nod at the soldier, turning his back on both and walking briskly away.

   Master Rylan stopped showing me the images after that, and judging from the turn of his body away from the wall, I gathered he had stopped watching as well.  But I needed no sight to tell me what was happening just outside the grotto entrance, for my sister's pleading cries and the man's mocking laughter told me more than I wanted to know.


   July 31, 918—St. Neot's Day, sunset
   The Secret Sanctuary, Stavenham

   The cries eventually stopped, fading into soft weeping, then a rustle of motion and the sounds of other men approaching.  Master Rylan risked another quick peek then, conveying to me through his Mind-Speech that they were carrying my sister away, although he still refused to let me see what he saw.  He sent me a glimpse of Ivygreen House, though, its charred shell still smoldering, though Stavenham's bucket brigade had put an end to the worst of the conflagration to ensure the destruction would not spread to the neighboring buildings.

   Come with us when we leave, Mistress Elena.  There is nothing left here for you now, and it's not safe for you to stay even if anyone remains who is able to harbor you.

   I bit back a sob, terrified that if I let loose the flood of emotion welling up within me, the Custodes would hear, would come back and unleash their terrible destruction on the rest of us who had remained hidden from their wrath.  I did not dare speak, but I thought my reply, hoping that Master Rylan would be able to hear my answer through the link he had established between us.  But...my family!  I can't leave them behind, not knowing if they still live or not!

   I will return once you are safe and find out for you.  But you must come with us.  If I can—if they are not beyond all hope of rescue—I will do what I am able to save your family as well.
Master Rylan brushed my brow lightly then, and as he did so, I felt a feeling of numbness sweep through me.  Not a physical numbness, but more of an emotional one, distancing me from the pain of what I was experiencing.  I knew that later, once the danger had passed, my feelings would doubtless return, would be just as intense as they had been before he touched my mind in that way, but for the moment I was as one watching from a distance, understanding what was happening but feeling as though it were happening to someone else.  It was relief of a sort.

   There were more shouts and cries outside, but they were distant ones.  Master Rylan surveyed the view through the peephole again, but he could not see any cause for the commotion.  Soon, however, we all felt the reason for the excitement, for the small chamber—already overly warm due to the summer heat and the crush of bodies packed within its limited confines—grew sweltering hot.  The snap and crackle of feeding flames began anew, this time much closer than they'd been before.   A feeling of dread surged through me just as the first tendrils of fresh smoke began to waft into the room.

   They've torched the warehouses, Rylan Mind-Spoke to me, confirming my fears.  We will be forced to flee soon, lest we be overcome by the smoke or be roasted by the rising heat.

   Around me, the Deryni fugitives struggled against the urge to cough.  Someone reached for my arm, groping down its length in the darkness until they reached my hand, and shoved something damp into it.  A woman's voice entered my mind.  Tie it over your nose and mouth; it will help screen out the smoke.

   I complied quickly, breathing a little more easily afterwards, though the makeshift mask was uncomfortable and I wondered what had been used to make it.  Can we not leave now? I thought, fearing we would all perish if we did not.

   It is almost dark enough outside now,
Rylan said after a moment, but if any movement is spotted within the grotto, the Custodes will return, and we'll suffer a fiery death either way.  Our only hope is the cover of darkness.  A few minutes more, I think, if we can hold out that much longer.

   My father's storehouses were mostly built of stone, though the roof and its supports were wooden, as were the crates containing various goods, some more flammable than others.  I hoped that the stonework would keep the building we were in from burning quickly, and that the roof would not cave in upon us before we could all escape.

   Someone whimpered quietly in the darkness.  I knew not if it was from fear or pain; already I could feel my skin begin to burn, as one who had stayed outside in the hot summer sun too long.

   It seemed a small eternity before Master Rylan said, It's time, I think.   The message spread silently throughout the room.  He gave me into someone else's keeping and strode cautiously through the wall.  I felt for the flap of cloth over the peephole, lifting it to see him standing at the grotto entrance, peering out intently into the dark courtyard beyond.  He gave a signal, and at that cue, the Deryni began to move out, entering the grotto in ones and twos, each stepping on a certain flagstone in the grotto's floor and disappearing from sight.  After a few such groups had fled, a hand gently took my arm, and a voice sounded in my mind.  We're next, Mistress Elena.  I followed the woman into the grotto and the great unknown.

Part Five & Epilogue:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=699.0
"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!


Aw poor Rose.  I suspect little Pippa will suffer a bad fate, too. 


In a few short hours all of their lives were irrevocably changed.  If Andrew had turned his back on his beliefs, he and his family would be safe and secure.  Fortunately for the Deryni, he did not.  But he paid a dear price.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


Poor girls.  I hope someone looks after Rose after what's happened, and she's not just turned over to more guards in prison, or worse.   Given that they have her father in custody, I don't think I like her chances - or his.   And lucky that Master Rylan managed to get the transfer portal constructed in time for this group to escape.


Just makes you wish the vilest fate possible for all the Custodes.  They are and were the scum of the earth.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


For those readers who have grown used to my "every three days" posting schedule, I will be out of town this weekend for my wedding anniversary, so I may or may not have wifi access on Saturday.  If I do, then I'll go ahead and post Part Five as originally scheduled.   If not, then hopefully it will go up sometime on Sunday, depending on when we get back into town.   :)
"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!


Good heavens, enjoy your anniversary and don't worry about us!

We'll be here when you get back.   :)
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany