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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered--Chapter Ten

Started by Evie, June 27, 2011, 09:42:11 AM

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   Chapter Ten

   June 16, 1134
   The village of Swinford, the Duchy of Haldane, dusk

   "Can't we just stay the night here at an inn?"  Lady Jennet said with a wistful sigh as she and Lady Avisa stepped out of their coach to stretch their legs after being cooped up for several long hours of travel.  "I'm tired of sleeping in bedrolls, even yours, Sir Sextus."

   I willed down a blush, wondering if the maiden knew how damning her last statement had sounded.  I had, of course, given her free use of my bedding during our earlier travels together, but I had spent those evenings curled up inside my own cloak for warmth, quite scrupulously keeping to my own side of our shared bonfire in our warded camp-spaces.  I risked a quick glance at Lady Avisa's face.  She merely cocked an eyebrow at the lady of Levington but said nothing.

   "No, I'm afraid it's out of the question," I replied.  "There's a convent another five miles down the road, if you'd prefer to spend the night indoors, but an inn is no place for ladies to put up for the night."

   "Not unless you're also willing to put ou—" My daughter, seated before me on Murray, glared up at me as I hastily popped my hand over her mouth.  

   "High Table manners, Grub," I reminded her softly, "with no Fox and Hounds language."

   "But we're not at High Table!" she protested as I released her.  "And I didn't curse, not once!"  Indeed she hadn't, though the daggers in her eyes spoke volumes about her feelings for the baron's daughter in our company.

   Lady Avisa's lips quirked slightly at our quiet exchange.  She turned to Lady Jennet.  "What Amanda is—perhaps a shade too indelicately—attempting to explain is that we've no assurance of privacy in an inn.  Quite likely the rooms are all full up at this time of the evening, so we'd be obliged to share beds with other customers.  That's little more than an inconvenience for men traveling alone—at worst, you'd have the nuisance of your bed-partners sharing their lice or snoring too loudly—but for ladies, I trust you can see the impropriety, not to mention the inherent dangers, of bedding down with complete strangers."

   "Oh."  Lady Jennet frowned in thought.  "Well, surely the innkeeper could arrange for us to be in the same room, so we'd not have to sleep with strange men?"

   I chuckled.  "And sleep four to the bed?  I suppose my reputation can't suffer much more harm for it, but yours might."

   "Besides," Avisa added, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "we'd still be sleeping with a very strange man.  No, I'd say it's best to press on until we reach the convent."

   "But then where would Sir Sextus and our men-at-arms sleep?"  Jennet batted her lashes at me.

   "The convent would have a guest house," I told her.  "The Kinlochan guardsmen and I could stay there, and there'd be no problem with you, Lady Avisa and Amanda spending the night in the convent dormitory if they've beds to spare.  Or we could simply set up camp, if you'd rather not continue that far tonight.  I agree real beds would be more comfortable, but we'd be reaching St. Mary's well after dark if we press on, and the dangers of meeting brigands on the road increase tenfold once the sun has fully set."

   "I'm not afraid of brigands," declared Grub.  "Six is a knight!"

   "Yes, but I'm only one knight, and brigands are like wolves, tending to travel in packs."

   "We're not as unprotected as all that!" Lady Avisa protested.  

   It was true enough that she'd had the foresight to ask a few of Kinlochan's men-at-arms along on the journey, but still, a greener lot of soldiers I hadn't seen in some time.  The four Kinlochan lads she'd managed to muster at short notice had less battle experience between them than I'd had by the time I was a sixteen-year–old squire newly returned home from the Mearan campaign.  Bringing Lady Avisa's men-at-arms along had created a new dilemma for me.  I would have preferred the protection of a warded encampment during our sleeping hours, yet I was reluctant to give an open display of magic in front of a company of men whose thoughts regarding Deryni powers I had no knowledge about.  Granted, I had used my powers around Lady Jennet when I'd first apprehended her and several times afterwards, but the first occasion had been due to necessity, and once she'd known what I was, there was little point in trying to conceal my powers from her.  And Lady Avisa would certainly not have objected; in fact, she might well have welcomed the opportunity to learn from me.  But I had no wish to find myself fighting off an attack from one of her earnest young guardsmen, overzealous to protect his dowager baroness from the 'evil Deryni' in their midst and completely unaware that his liege lady was herself Deryni.

   No, the protection of her loyal band of men-at-arms, rusty in their fighting skills though they might have been, would have to serve.  Should we fall under attack, I'd use my defensive powers—arcane and otherwise—then, and let the dice roll as they would.  But hopefully it would not come to that.  

   Has Kinlochan no knights or better trained guardsmen than these, my lady? I asked Avisa by Mind-Speech, not wishing her lieutenant to overhear.    

   She looked startled, but replied in kind after a brief moment. Oh, certainly!—the knights who hold manors for my son among them, of course, and a few others—but I didn't feel the barony could spare them for this journey. She glanced at me apologetically.  Edgar lost several of his best fighters during the Mearan campaign, I'm afraid, and without more experienced warriors to advise and teach them, the younger men-at-arms who have grown up since then have perhaps received short shrift in their training.  Master Gerard gives them opportunities for practice, of course, but not being a fighting man himself, he's not able to supervise their training.  Mayhap you can help bring them up to speed once we return to Kinlochan?

   I pondered the matter.  What you really need is a full time master-at-arms to supervise their practice, my lady.  I can work with them, if you wish, but there wouldn't be enough hours of the day for me to devote as much time to that as they'd need and still train as one of your stewards.  Shall I look into the matter of securing a good master-at-arms for you instead?

   She looked relieved.  Would you, please?  Edgar had planned to hire one—he said he'd grown too slow to tend to the matter himself—but after his death, there was so much else to tend to, I hadn't got around to that task yet, and quite honestly, I've no clue what to look for in a good fighting master.

   I added it to my mental list of things to do once Lady Jennet was safely settled.  Truth be told, having some other matter to ponder besides my three troublesome females was somewhat of a relief.


   We ended up deciding to make camp while there was still enough light left to leave the main road and scout out a good location for one.  I sent two of Lady Avisa's men-at-arms ahead to do just that.  They returned shortly, having found a spot close by which they felt to be both suitable and easily accessible by coach, and after inspecting the spot for myself, I agreed.  To my surprise, as soon as the rest of our party arrived there, the Kinlochan crew unfastened one of the large bundles affixed to the coach, which I discovered—once it was unwrapped and erected—to be the late Baron's battle pavilion.  

   Lady Avisa smiled at me.  "We might have to rough it, but we won't be completely deprived of creature comforts."     

   I nodded my approval, walking around the pavilion to inspect it as the Kinlochan men-at-arms secured the last of the support poles in place.  It looked to be in good condition still, despite the years of disuse since the Mearan campaign.  As I exited the large tent, I saw Lady Avisa commandeering one of the men, directing him to help her unload a smaller bundle and a large wooden chest.  Shortly thereafter, carpets were unrolled to provide flooring to keep bedrolls and pallets off the damp earth.  A few oddly shaped pieces of wood fit neatly together to create rough yet serviceable stools and a bench, and the large chest, once opened, revealed other shaped wooden boards which, assembled, converted the hinged chest itself into a bedframe and canopy with the Moreau arms carved upon the side of the chest now serving as a headboard.  I raised my eyebrows, impressed.

   "Edgar ordered it from a master carpenter from Llannedd.  He was quite proud of it," the dowager baroness said with a wistful smile.  "He hated to see it relegated to storage after his return from Meara, so he had it set up in my bower for a while, with a feather tick spread over the old camp mattress to make it softer."  Her fingers deftly wove the ropes through the sides of the bed frame to support the mattress which would lie atop them.  "I didn't think the featherbed would travel well, so we shall have to do without tonight."

   "It's fine work, my lady," I told her, doing my best not to envision her on it.  My tightly shielded mind might have betrayed me nonetheless, as she turned away suddenly, a light color blooming in her cheeks.  

   "I'll hang an arras down the middle of the pavilion so that you and the rest of the men might have greater privacy." I knew this to mean so she and Lady Jennet, and perhaps Grub as well, could sleep well-shielded from the gazes of the male contingent of our party.


   It was agreed that the men would take turns on guard duty, two of the men-at-arms staying awake until Lauds, and the other two awakening at that time to take over the guardianship of the campsite until Terce, which had been judged sufficiently early to allow for most of a full day's travel during daylight hours, yet not so early that the guards who had taken the earlier shift would be forced to continue on with insufficient sleep.  I had opted to join the first group of men in guarding our site, because I gauged the late night and very early hours to be the most likely time for any assailants to strike, while the darkness of night was at its fullest.  Thus it was that I found myself standing guard outside the entrance to our shared pavilion while two of the Kinlochan men patrolled the perimeter, just beyond the area easily seen by the light of our small campfire.  

   All remained quiet and peaceful for the first hour after the ladies and the second shift of men-at-arms had retired to their rest.  A duet of quiet snores assured me that the two men had wasted no time in falling asleep, and on the other side of the arras I sensed two occupants of the camp bed in slumber as well.  Of the third, I sensed no sign at first, but then I realized with a start that she was not only wide awake, but standing quite close by.

   I turned in time to see a hand pull the flap of fabric covering the pavilion's entrance aside.  Lady Jennet peered out, breaking into a bright smile as she spotted me.

   "My Lady, is something wrong?" I asked her, my voice pitched low to avoid awakening anyone inside the pavilion or drawing the attention of the guards patrolling the camp's perimeter.

   "Wrong?"  The lass giggled softly.  "No, Sir Sextus, no more so than usual, at any rate."  She let the flap fall back into place, moving closer to my side.  "I think I've figured out a solution to my problem.  But I'd need your help with it."

   I was all attention.  "What sort of help, my lady?"

   The baron's daughter beamed up at me.  "It occurred to me that I needn't move all the way to Derry at all."

   "That would be fine with me, my lady.  I take it then that you've figured out a way to convince your father not to marry you to Lord Odwyn?"

   She moved closer with a coy smile, stroking my sleeve.  "Well, no, but it occurs to me that there might be a way to convince Lord Odwyn not to accept the offer.  What if...well...he were to form the impression that I had become...ah...quite unmarriageable?"  She laid her cheek against my chest.

   I took a sudden step back, wondering when the night air had turned so hot.  "Wait...are you...Lady Jennet, what exactly are you asking from me?  Am I supposed to take you back to Levington and claim we've had a dalliance?!"  I stared at her in alarm.

   "Well, I was alone with you for three whole nights, after all," she purred.  "Four, if you include the journey from Desse."  

   Alarm turned to horror.  "Might I remind you, my lady, that on the trip from Desse to your father's hall in Levington, you were more ready to scoop my bowels out with a rusty spoon than consider even feigning a dalliance?"

   She laughed.  "Oh, I know, but I'm quite over that now!"  Emerald eyes smiled up at me through thick lashes.  "You're really not so bad, Sir Sextus."

   I thought back on the boorish Lord Odwyn, hoping that he wasn't her sole basis for comparison.  "I'm really not so good either, my lady."

   Lady Jennet dimpled up at me.  "I imagine some women might beg to differ."  She moved closer, nearly backing me into the pavilion wall.  "I know I'm going to have to give myself up to a man; there's no help for it.  Given a choice, I'd much rather that man be you rather than Lord Odwyn.  Don't you want me?"  She allowed her cloak to slip off one shoulder, revealing a glimpse of creamy skin veiled only by filmy cambric.

   "I...um...."  How by all the archdemons of hell did I get myself into this fix?  Certainly my body was up for the idea, but contrary to Lady Avisa's expectations of me, I do occasionally use the head upon my shoulders for something more than a hood warmer, and that head was urging me to flee for my life and livelihood.    

   "Lady Jennet, did you get lost looking for the cesspit?"  Lady Avisa stood just at the pavilion entrance looking out at us, her smile glacial.  "Come, dear, let me walk you out to it. You shouldn't wander out unattended, and my steward has other duties to attend to."

   "Yes, I...ah...should get right back to those," I affirmed, edging away.  Thank you, I added silently to the dowager baroness.  She drew Lady Jennet away towards the sheltered cesspit we'd dug at the periphery of the camp, not deigning to reply.  I was thankful the pit was shallow, dug just deep enough to serve for a single evening's use.  I hated to think my night's duties might end with me having to haul a baron's wayward daughter out of a camp necessarium.


   June 18
   Millford-on-Molling, Duchy of Haldane

   I studied the map I had brought with me, for we were close to the Lendour Mountains now, and I had a decision to make.  We could remain on the north side of the river Molling, veering north slightly at river's end to travel through the mountain pass just south of St. Foillan's until we reached the plains beyond, then travel southeastwards through Lendour towards Corwyn until we reached the Earldom of Derry.  Or we could cross the Molling at this point and head southeast towards Dhassa, and from there continue on towards Derry on a more southerly route.

   I had reasons to wish to avoid the latter option, my uncle Denis, the Bishop of Dhassa, being foremost among them.  Yet I knew that if I avoided seeing him now, I would only be forced to do so later, for once I saw my sister Javana at Countess Celsie's sanctuary, she was nearly certain to inform our uncle of my visit and the reason for it.  And he would doubtless guess that I had avoided him on purpose, for while the more northern pass was currently the closer means of traveling through the Lendour Mountains, it would take an extra day's travel to reach Derry once we were beyond them if we took that route.

   No, there was no help for it. If I had to encounter Denis sooner or later, I would rather opt for sooner and get it out of the way.  Besides, he was less likely to come down hard on me in front of a rapt audience.  And, the welcome thought suddenly occurred to me, Dhassa had a Transfer Portal.  Perhaps the final leg of the journey could be made even shorter if I didn't have to travel the entire way with a coach and horses and a party of seven others.  Denis had visited Javana at the Sanctuary on several occasions, I knew, and he'd used his private Portal in Dhassa to get there, so it stood to reason there had to be another Portal somewhere close by Countess Celsie's Sanctuary, if not actually on the premises.  And what Denis knew, he might be persuaded to share, given the right incentive. I was willing to bet that half a day in Lady Jennet's company would prove to be a compelling enough incentive. If naught else, I could throw myself upon his mercy and claim the lady had offered me inducements to sin, and that I needed swift and sure deliverance.  It would, after all, be the absolute gospel truth.


   June 20
   Bishop's Palace, The City of Dhassa

   "You've done what?"  The Bishop of Dhassa looked at me as if I'd lost my senses completely.  Given that this had been the most common reaction to my stated mission over the past few days, I was beginning to believe that maybe I had.

   "Well, it seemed to be a good idea at the time," I muttered defensively.  "Especially after...well, you know...Javana's disaster of a marriage...."

   Denis buried his face in his hands.  "Sextus, this is quite entirely a different sort of matter, and you know it!  For one thing, the chit isn't even formally betrothed yet!  There were plenty of possible solutions to her problem that don't involve abduction."

   "Well, technically I didn't abduct her.  She came willingly, you realize."

   My uncle rolled his eyes.  "She can't give legal consent to her own abduction, you idiot.  She's a maiden, under her father's authority.  She may have the legal right to grant consent to her own betrothal or to withhold it, but I assure you she has no leg to stand on when it comes to removing herself from her father's authority altogether, unless there are extenuating circumstances for removing her from his guardianship. Something far more compelling than his wish to give her to a legally eligible husband, that is.  Has he tried to kill her?"

   I gaped at him.  "Well, no...."

   "Has he forced her into his own bed?"

   "Has he...?  Hell, no!"  I stared at him in shock.  

   His jaw tightened.  "Don't look so astonished.  It happens, unfortunately.  So, has he done aught improper towards his child aside from selecting a husband of dubious quality for her?  Tortured her, perhaps?  Willfully starved her?  Beaten her with a rod thicker than his thumb?  Allowed Lord Odwyn to rape her in an effort to coerce her consent to the marriage?"

   My stomach churned at the thought.  "No, none of that."

   "Then on what grounds do you expect Countess Celsie to grant her asylum?  The lady is neither a widow nor an orphan, nor does she appear to have any other extenuating circumstance which might allow for her admission to the Countess's sanctuary.  Unless...."  Denis steepled his fingers, lost in thought.  "The Saint Nicholas Sanctuary for Widows and Orphans is adjacent to the Sisters of Saint Mary Magdalene convent and works quite closely with it.  I don't suppose your young baggage has any vocation to the religious life?"

   I thought of her seduction attempt four evenings previously and stifled a laugh.  "I rather doubt it, but at this point she might actually be that desperate."

   The bishop glared at me in reproof.  "A genuine calling, Sextus."

   I shook my head.  "She doesn't strike me as particularly pious, nor do I think she has an aversion to the idea of marriage in general, just an aversion to this."  I sent him my mental impressions of Lord Odwyn.

   Denis blanched.  "Jesú!  I can hardly blame her.  Compared to him, you're a model of deportment."  I suppressed a grin at the dubious compliment.  Coming from Denis, it could almost pass for high praise.  He sighed.  "Your sympathy is understandable, Sextus, but if Lord Garulf of Levington finds that to be a suitable mate for his daughter, I'm afraid there's little we can do.  Did you even attempt to persuade him otherwise?"

   "Attempt to persuade him that his best hunting buddy would make a poor choice of son-in-law?" I countered skeptically.  "What do you suppose my chances of convincing him would have been?"

   He raised an eyebrow at me.  "You're Deryni, aren't you?"

   I gaped at my bishop uncle.  "Are you suggesting I should have planted a suggestion or tampered with his mind?  Isn't that unethical?"

   He snorted.  "As if that's ever stopped you before."


   June 21
   Bishop's Palace, The City of Dhassa

   Denis remained unconvinced that bringing Lady Jennet to Countess Celsie's sanctuary was likely to serve any useful purpose.  However, as I'd already come this far, and with my daughter in tow, he could hardly see refusing to help us along the final leg of the journey.  After all, it had been nearly a year since I'd last seen my sister, and she'd not met her eldest yet newest niece yet, although I knew Seisyll had sent her a letter informing her of Grub's existence shortly after I'd brought my daughter home to Tre-Arilan.  God only knew what Seisyll had said in that letter, and what impressions Javana might have formed from it, but completely aside from my hopes of unloading Lady Jennet into the Countess's keeping, I was hoping to spend at least a few minutes with my eldest sister.  Why, I wasn't sure.  Javana and I had never been especially close; I had always had a better relationship with our sister Jashana.  But Javana's unhappy marriage had estranged her from the rest of the family for far too long, and I hoped that enough time and healing had taken place for that breach to be mended.

   Thus it was that I was able to win our uncle's grudging offer to escort myself and some of my party along the rest of our journey to Countess Celsie's Sanctuary.  He went ahead, leaving shortly after breakfast to ensure that Countess Celsie was apprised of our imminent arrival and that our party would be welcome.  Half an hour later, he returned, a surprised and somewhat unsettled look on his face.  "Countess Celsie has graciously given her consent for me to bring you through her private Transfer Portal.  She says she would be delighted to grant you an audience."

   "Wonderful!"  I studied Denis's bemused expression.  "What's wrong?"

   "Oh, nothing," he said rather absently.  "It's just...when I mentioned that it was you making the inquiry, she burst into laughter.  It took her several minutes to compose herself."  His gaze focused on my quizzically.  "Have you a previous acquaintance with the Countess of Derry?"

   I was equally puzzled.  "Just barely.  I remember when she first came to Rhemuth, before Seisyll called me back to Tre-Arilan to tend to the day-to-day matters there so he could be at the King's full disposal during Christmas Court that year, and I've spotted her a few times at Court since her marriage to Derry, though mostly from a distance.  Sophie knows her far better than I do; they served as ladies-in-waiting in the same household.  Did she mention why she finds my visit so amusing?"

   He shook his head.  "Nary a hint."  

Chapter Eleven:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=734.0
"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!


Yeah, like I said - what can possibly go wrong?  Errrrmmm.....


I loved the dialogue with Denis and can hardly wait for the arrival in Derry.   ;D
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany


Oh, there's even more Denis dialogue to come in the next couple of 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!



If my 17 month old niece, whom I just got back from visiting this weekend, could read--her only reply would be:  UH, OH!!
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Quote from: AnnieUK on June 27, 2011, 10:13:21 AM
Yeah, like I said - what can possibly go wrong?  Errrrmmm.....

LOL - in Evie's stories, ANYTHING!  One can almost feel sorry for Sextus ...;)


Sextus' heart is almost always in the right place.

Other parts of him, however. . . .



But...but...he was good in this chapter!  Good, I tell you!   :D

Well, "good" for Sextus, anyway....   ;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!


QuoteI added it to my mental list of things to do once Lady Jennet was safely settled.  Truth be told, having some other matter to ponder besides my three troublesome females was somewhat of a relief.

Some men would say that 'troublesome female' is a tautology.  And some women would say the same about us, I'm sure.

For all that, I don't think that many of use would want to adopt the system of that tribe in the South Seas I read about long ago, where all the men lived on one island and all the women on the other and they got together about four times a year.


Yeah, while reunions might be rather fun, losing so much delightful scenery for most of the year would pretty much suck.  Not to mention how useful men can be at opening jars with tight lids and reaching those items on the top shelf of the pantry...   ;)

Next chapter might come out tomorrow, as Monday is a US holiday and I'm likely to be fairly busy for the earlier part of the day and on the road returning home during the later half of it.
"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!


In one of JRR Tolkein's unpublished accounts of Elvish society, he said that while the baking of bread was chiefly the province of elf women, the men did most of the other foods.

One commentator said, "I guess Elves eat a lot of barbecue, pizza, and spaghetti bogonese, then."


LOL!  My poor future daughter-in-law is going to get awfully tired of pepperoni pizza and ramen noodles, then!   ;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!


We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Quote from: derynifanatic64 on July 02, 2011, 04:25:34 PM
How can anyone get tired of pizza?

Easy.  Work for Pizza Hut for three years and four months.  You'll get thoroughly sick of pizza, even the smell of it.  I did, in my uni years.  :)
"If having a soul means being able to feel love, loyalty, and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans."

James Herriot (James Alfred "Alfie" Wight), when a human client asked him if animals have souls.  (I don't remember in which book the story originally appeared.)