The Worlds of Katherine Kurtz

FanFiction => Laurna's FanFic => Pretender's Gambit => Topic started by: Laurna on March 21, 2017, 05:16:41 am

Title: Other Era Deryni FanFic - Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Laurna on March 21, 2017, 05:16:41 am
The significant events in the histories of the Kingdom of Gwynedd are well documented in the fabulous multi-series of the Deryni by the originating author Katherine Kurtz. These stories are further outlined in the Codex Derynianus, written by Katherine Kurtz and Robert Reginald. Like a family diary and a well worn history book, the integral lists of people, places, and time stamps of the Eleven Kingdoms are found within the Codex pages, including events not detailed by the Deryni novels.

Of interest to this story, several entries within the Codex Derynianus can be found covering the events that shaped the history of the Eleven Kingdoms during the years of 983 to 985. The accounting of these years belongs to Katherine Kurtz.  My desire here is to enjoy a story of personal interest about two Deryni brothers from the Earldom of Lendour, Lord Muir Dauyd Cynfyn and Sir Washburn Iliff Cynfyn, in and around the events that occurred in these years that helped shape Gwynedd from Camber’s era to that of King Kelson’s. How did the Earldom of Lendour (the only remaining known Deryni earldom in the nearly all-human Kingdom after the enactment of the laws of Ramos) respond to the crises that began with the Pretender's Gambit, an exploit by the Torenthi Pretender Imre II to retake the crown from the Haldanes? History tells us of two years of conflict ending in a battle at the stronghold of Rengarth. What part did Lendour play, and how did the powerful Independent Duchy of Corwyn come to join its larger western neighbor? What force brought the Deryni Dukes of Corwyn to kneel to the rule of Gwynedd’s crown, when for the hundred years prior the House of Corwyn had befriended the Festils?

*Special thanks go to Evie for her insightful and humorous editing.*

Pretender’s Gambit - Chapter One
The second of September in the Year of Our Lord 983
North of the Iomaire Plain, East of the Rhendall Mountains

“The Pretender’s ensconced at Old Argoed!” yelled a rider at full gallop, his blue Eastmarch banner whipping from the top of a pike set in his stirrup. He reined in directly before the Earl of Lendour. “Pretender’s at Old Argoed. We have him, my lord,” the rider declared while waving the pole and banner toward the northwestward mountains and the setting sun. With as quick a motion as he had stopped, the scout spurred his charger, racing up the column of warriors. He stopped short before the Earl of Carcashale at the head of the next cavalcade where he yelled his discovery once more. Again the scout galloped forward, north to the head of the score of armies where the grand banner of a golden guardant rampant lion on a scarlet field rippled from the winds that blew across the Iomaire Plains. At the head of this great army rode the man who led them all to reclaim that which had been assailed—Nygel Rhys Owain Haldane, King of All Gwynedd.

“That will take days off our forced march,” remarked Lendour’s first Lieutenant, Sir Artimus Calvarian. He rode a dark bay at his Earl’s left, beside the column of Lendour’s elite cavalry. “Two days less by my reckoning. I for one will be glad not to make the full march to Marley.” For until this moment that had been the army’s destination; the Torenthi invader, Imre II Furstan-Festil’s last known position had been in the northeastern Earldom of Marley, where he had burned the city of Marbury and devastated its people.

The Knight Captain of the Lendour levies urged his black warhorse to come shoulder to shoulder on the opposite side of the feisty grey stallion which Earl Muir Cynfyn rode with ease. Sir Washburn Cynfyn greeted his brother and Sir Artimus with a wry smile. “Does the devil take us for fools?” he exclaimed. “If Satan himself were to sit in that old forsaken valley of Argoed, I’d say let him have it. The soil is tainted and the water undrinkable. There is no need great enough to fight anyone on that rough terrain!  We’ll be making our stand at the Dancing Stones of Tarleton. I am sure of it. We’ll cut this Pretender off from his supplies and tease him until he comes down and faces us on the plain.” The younger Cynfyn brother grinned at the prospect.

In height and bearing the younger brother differed little from his liege lord; the difference between them as they rode side by side was the contrast of white vs. black. The earl favored white with splashes of red, while the man just a few years younger and a little broader of shoulder had recently adopted black with small splashes of white and red heralding him as heir presumptive of Lendour. Washburn failed to note his liege lord’s stern glare. Instead, he was considering his foe’s grand error. He laughed and then declared, “This will be Imre’s undoing!”

The Earl of Lendour had a youngish face under his helm; his skin was fair with a four-day growth of sparse blond hair on his chin. One that would not make a good beard for many days yet to come; that is, if he did not have his squire scrape the stubble off his chin when time and fresh water could finally be found. His youth disappeared with the weight of fresh concerns. He pulled his warhorse further from the hearing of his men as they marched by. Kneeing the grey destrier to turn on the haunch, Muir came around to face his two best men. His next words held tension in the undertone. “You underestimate the zeal of our King! He won’t have us hold on the plain waiting to starve our enemy out.  Oh, no!” Muir scowled, coming in closer between the two men he trusted most. “The whole court wants the murderer of Brian Coris brought to justice, some even want his head on a spike. Our good King Nygel may not seek that type of vengeance, but he can not sit idly by while Torenth plunders his lands. You know as well as I that Nygel is not like his father; he is not a patient man. No, I fear this will not be a siege. Trust me when I say our King will have us marching up that valley to confront Imre at dawn.”

“No, he won’t!” and “That’s suicide!” protested both men at once.

Washburn and Artimus looked at each other and then back at their earl, dismayed. “Muir, you need to impress upon him what folly that would be,” Washburn forewarned. “This many men, climbing through the rocky footing leading up to the Argoed silver mine? It will be a tragedy! Imre will have the upper hand. His archers will be ready! The river down the center of the valley is riddled with boulders. The only passage for our knights is nearest the southern hills, close to ambushing archers who will assuredly be hiding in the low brush on the ridge.  The valley above the cascade of small falls is large enough for a battle, but….” He took in a deep breath. “They’ll pick us off one by one before we even get there. That’s why he chose it. Oh, no! We need to pull the wolf out of his den! Bring the fight out into the open where we have the advantage.”

“Do you know a sure way to bring him out?” Muir asked, looking expectantly at both knights. There was silence between them. “That is what I thought.”

“They can not last there for long,” Sir Washburn finally offered. “Not with the numbers we have been informed they have. The tailings from that old mine have tainted the land. The Michaelines were not there for long before they figured that out. In a hundred years, no more than a small holding has survived, and that is a bit north, far in the hills above the mine.”

Muir nodded, considering what he knew of the east side of the Rhendall Mountains. He admired his younger brother, who each summer had ridden the kingdom's eastern border and its checkpoints. Sir Washburn was experienced in the border skirmishes that frequented the Coamer Mountain passes between the Kingdom of Torenth to the east and Gwynedd to the west. Up until three weeks ago to this day, there had been a peace treaty between the two greatest of the Eleven Kingdoms, forged by King Uthyr of Gwynedd and King Arion of Torenth these thirty years past. Regardless of that treaty, old habits never truly die. In the three years since Uthyr’s passing, Torenthi marauders had been testing the passes, pillaging villages before rushing back home. This time, it was much more than just plunder that they were after. At least seven thousand men, and presumably many more, had invaded the Earldom of Marley. They’d put the city of Marbury to the torch and slaughtered its people, including its respected earl, Brian Coris. Days later, news brought by Brian’s youngest and only surviving son reached the King's ear in Rhemuth. Enraged, the King of Gwynedd called on his lords and gathered his forces.

Nygel Haldane was a charismatic man. He had his people's loyalty and he had cause. The men of Gwynedd flocked to his side. In the shortest time possible, he marched his amassed host east to Valoret. There he stopped for just a few days to allow Lendour, Carcashale and a number of small baronies to join him. The full host of Gwynedd marched east and then north, eight thousand men strong. They were four days out from the inspired blessing given by the Archbishop of Valoret, Primate of all Gwynedd, and now their prayers from that blessing were answered. Their quarry was in their sights. So how in the name of heaven were the Cynfyns going to rein their king in long enough to coax the black dog from his hole? In a siege, they would soon have this Pretender’s head. It just wouldn't be on a spike the following day, like some of the Lords of Gwynedd had envisioned. Muir knew he had to try to make the other lords see reason. 

“When we come to the Dancing Stones— I am certain that is where we will camp tonight— see that the men prepare their gear and then insist that they get their sleep. They are going to need it. When you’ve seen to that, Wash, follow us to the royal pavilion. Perhaps by then, if I have not convinced His Majesty, you can put in your wisdom. The Haldanes trust you.”

“The youngest Haldane does, Prince Cluim; he and I have fought side by side before. But the oldest Haldane, he is not a seasoned warrior. Muir, he is like you, a leader of men, a learned man who inspires his people, a sovereign whom his lords will follow into the very gates of Hell. But unlike you, he is rash. I believe he would charge straight into Hell without being certain he had a way out. It is Prince Cluim whom you need to talk to, it is he who has the knowledge of the field. Convince him to bring our king around.” His eyes lifted upward, over the heads of the army as it marched by. Nearly in sight, to the west, just a little bit farther on the north-leading road, was the river of Argoed as it cascaded off the Rhendall Mountains. Even in September there would be shallow waters running. Very little grew at the edge of this river's course, a testament to the water’s lack of potability.  Fortunately, the Tarleton River ran near, to the east. Those waters would freely quench the thirst of Gwynedd’s army, so long as they stayed encamped at the Dancing Stones. “We could hold a siege forever, but I can promise that the enemy would not be able to withstand one for long.  Not with Imre holding thousands of thirsty men and very little good water for them to drink.”

Muir’s jaw clenched, considering battle vs. siege. Determined, he set his shoulders wide and straight. “Sighere Howell will be at the Stones already. He knows his own Eastmarch better than anyone. I’ll enlist Sighere to speak with His Royal Highness. The three of us can voice our strategy as one and make the council choose the wisest action!” the Lendour Earl declared even as he tugged the reins of his destrier. Muir spun the grey around; a nudge of the spurs and Mystic Morning was charging north, the way the Eastmarch herald had gone.

Sir Artimus Calvarian waved urgently to the earl’s squire, a young man in Lendour colors over his father’s border plaid. Together the two galloped after their liege lord. Washburn watched proudly as the Lendour banner unfurled in the leap of squire Roger McLain’s courser. The blazon of Lendour snapped free in full display, catching the light of the setting sun as it raced north after its earl, passing scores of men who made up the greatest army Gwynedd had ever amassed. Argent, stag mature with multi-pointed antlers, rampant, gules. The might of Lendour was strong and ready for what lay ahead.


It was near Compline when Sir Washburn finished his last round of the Lendour levies. They, unlike the many other battalions, were quiet and bedded down for the night. As he paced through the camps of Claibourne and Cassan, he heard laughter and singing. The men were not drunk. Fortunately, nothing stronger than small beer was handed to all the men-at arms, but they were giddy on the adrenaline of pre-battle. Many a young man knew nothing about war; to them, this was like a stag hunt or the tournament games. Wash shook his head sadly, knowing reality would come as a great shock to many in this camp come morning. King Uthyr's reign had brought peace to the land for decades. Peace is a wonderful state until the moment one gets compliant, and then suddenly the enemy has burst down your back door.

Washburn approached the Royal Pavilion, displaying his device to the guards who stepped aside, allowing him to enter.  The space before him was filled with armored men, all standing, all looking forward toward a long table where the Haldane King and his council debated the best maneuvers for the coming battle. It was apparent that it was to be a battle, for Nygel was outlining his plan of where he wanted each battalion and what he expected from every man.  As Wash worked his way closer to his Earl, he saw a roughly sketched map laid out which was continuously being used for reference. Lord Muir was at the farthest end of the long table. His face was red, his lips pressed inward containing his dismay. Wash inched his way closer to his brother.

“Claibourne, you’re with Eastmarch, here. You know these Rhendall Mountains, your mounts are swift. You'll spearhead this campaign. Ainslie, this is your home, coordinate your guard with Sighere’s. Find us a trail to get over these side hills. Use the best handpicked men you have. I want this southern hill cleared of enemy, so our men can get through.”

“Aye, Your Majesty,” came a voice of Sir Javyl Ainslie near the far side of the Pavilion.

There were rumblings through the men about who had the first go at the Pretender’s army. Nygel ignored them and continued on. “MacAthan, where are you?” The king looked over his shoulder to his personal aide. “You'll prepare my guard. Drummond and McLain, you're both with me.” Washburn looked across the room at the two men, Corwin Drummond and Stuart MacAthan, who were always seen to stand at the king’s back. Drummond was a nephew of Dowager Queen Michaela, Rhemuth’s Grand Dame. MacAthan had married Drummond's sister and was therefore also family. The third man closest to the king was the Laird of Leanshire, Duncan McLain, a tall borderman just entering his fifth decade. He had aligned himself to the royal council by marrying his son to Lady Nerina Fitz-Arthur Quinnell, a daughter of the Cassan Duchy. Andrew McLain, who stood just as tall beside his father, was Prince Cluim Haldane’s brother-in-law by marriage. The rumors at court had the two sisters, Lady Nerina and Princess Swynbeth, as close and their husbands in good standing with one another. Therefore, the men Nygel chose as his personal guard were men considered by Nygel to be family. 

Lords Drummond, MacAthan, and McLain were all highly respected men from King Uthyr’s reign. All three remained steadfastly loyal to the Haldane son who now held the crown. Washburn himself did not know well the older men who flanked Nygel’s side, for they had held themselves above the Deryni lords of Lendour.  It was their sons whom Muir and Washburn had practiced with on the field and had earned enough respect from to be considered equals. It was Sir Andrew and Sir Krispin that Washburn looked for behind the shoulders of the older men. Both knights looked concerned, yet they remained silent, unwilling to counter the king's decision; they gave Muir the occasional glance of empathy showing they thought as he thought, but had no say as it was their fathers who had the king's counsel. Wash gathered that Muir's request for siege had not been looked upon favorably.

“Is there no turning from this madness?” Washburn whispered in his brother’s ear.

Disgustedly, Muir shook his head. With needle precision, he sent a mental accounting of the earlier arguments between the lords. The debate for a siege had ended with the vehement words of the Duke of Cassan. “You Deryni Lendourians have just proven your cowardice,” Tammaron Fitz-Arthur Quinnell fiercely accused, not bothering to conceal his hatred of all Deryni. “Either that or you are spies for the Torenthi. Which is it? Stand up and fight, or get the hell out of our Kingdom. By right of law the king should revoke your nobility, here and now.” A huge uproar had come after that-- some defended Lendour, but most did not.

Washburn was favorably surprised to see it was both generations of MacAthans and McLains who were Lendour’s greatest advocates. Muir had been surprised by the older men as well. Drummond, however, stayed steadfastly hardened against Lendour. His word alongside Cassan’s was enough to strengthen the king's desire to ignore the advice of a siege and plunge forward to destroy the Pretender on the morrow. “It is we who have God's blessing! It is Gwynedd whose lands are defiled! Therefore, we the Lords of Gwynedd have the inalienable right to defend what is ours. All who fight well tomorrow will earn the crown’s respect. We will have our victory before the day is done. And I will know who fought well and who fought poorly; titles can be gained or titles can be lost on the battlefield. Come tomorrow, prove yourselves worthy of this challenge,” their King decreed. “Know that I will know who does not.” The Knight Captain bristled at these last words.

Muir placed his hand on his brother’s wrist. Don’t start a ruckus! We are just two men out of fifty. Everyone is armed, and they could so easily rid themselves of Gwynedd’s last Deryni Lords. Let's not give them cause. Washburn subdued the heat rising in his veins. He searched the room, looking from face to face. It was the men from Cassan who looked back at him with contempt.

Meanwhile, Prince Cluim was committing his Carthane troops as back up to Eastmarch. But too quickly, the King shook his head in rejection. Rebuffed, the prince squirmed under His Majesty’s gaze.

“No, brother,” the King denied him. “I need you on the north flank, here.” He pointed to the map where the valley was wide but impossible to traverse due to the thousands of old, rolled, foot-sized stones.  “Carthane and Lendour, you’ll hold our back.”

“Forgive me, Sire,” Muir held out his hand in protest. “Lendour has the largest of your cavalry, all highly trained men. I offer our service to spearhead this battle with Eastmarch on the south side.”

“A minute ago, you didn’t even want to go into battle,” spat a gruff aging man standing behind the Duke of Cassan. “You’ld rather have us sit on our hands while our enemy mocks us.” Sir Glynway Heavysege the Earl of Pelagog stepped forward with a calculating smirk.  He stood beside his liege, the Duke of Cassan, who twisted his weathered old lips to display his amusement.

“Lendour wants this Pretender as badly as you,” Washburn claimed as he came to the side of his Earl. The two Deryni men, like gladiators of ancient Rûm, towered over most in the confines of the pavilion. Their presence usually garnered respect, though often times fear, for every one of the king's knights had reluctantly bent his knee to the younger Cynfyn’s skill in the last tournament games.  “If we are to do this thing on the morrow, then let us do it right. Give Lendour the lead into the valley.” Again there was an uproar.

Whatever Cassan’s reply, no one heard it over the din. The Eastmarchers voiced their desire loudest. It was their land that been burnt, it would be they who would have their revenge on the enemy first. The men of Cassan then collectively called out louder than the others, demanding they have the second wave; they argued that they had the largest infantry and therefore had the best ability to get large numbers over the rocky defile. Higher in the valley, where no trees had grown for more than two centuries due to the leachings of the old mine, there would be room for thousands of men to maneuver; it was getting there on horseback that was the trouble. The bordermen were convinced that men on foot would win the day rather than cavalry. Both Muir and Washburn verbally disagreed.

Nygel Haldane gave a grim smile to the heated debate. It was a long while before men’s voices died down to the king’s raised hand for quiet. He reiterated his original marching order. Last, he said, “My brother, Carthane and Lendour have the northern flank. I want no stragglers escaping!” He then addressed the prince on a more personal level.  “Cluim, you are not my heir, but you are still my brother. We dare not risk two Haldanes at the center of this battle. When you are needed, I will call on you.” Then in a confident voice, he called out,  “I want Imre! For Brian Coris and all of Marley! His murderer must be punished and justice must prevail! Time to lop off the head of this Pretender and serve it to the devil, au flognarde!”

A deafening cheer enveloped the Royal Pavilion. The king waited, looking pleased. He closed the war council with words reiterated, “M’lords, we have God's blessing upon us from Valoret, and we'll have the heaven-sent sun rising at our backs. We shall wipe the world clean of Festils before noon! You have your orders.” He turned on his heel, retreating behind a canvased-off corner set aside for his personal use. Drummond and the older MacAthan followed close behind. 

Men’s voices once again were loud and exuberant at the ideas for gaining victory in battle. They milled around the pavilion shaking each other’s hands as if they had already won. Muir held Washburn back, as his captain was intent on confronting Lord Heavysege who was conversing with Duke Tamarron and one Estevan de Courcy, a brother-in-law to the duke’s son. Instead of confronting them, Muir nodded toward the far corner where Lord Ainslie was speaking privately to Earl Sighere. Let us see if we can offer our services to work with Ainslie and his ‘handpicked’ men for the southern trails, Muir Mind-Spoke. We might yet have a chance to get our best men on that battlefield.

Just as the brothers moved forward, Sighere Howell nodded to Ainslie in agreement and then turned to others as the local baron withdrew from the pavilion. Prince Cluim just then called for Sighere’s attention. After a word, the two men stepped to the back of the pavilion. They quickly moved out through a flap in the canvas into the night. The Cynfyn brothers were not far behind.

They followed the prince and earl to the edge of the Eastmarch encampment, but there the two brothers were stopped by guards even as they watched the two men ahead of them disappear into the Eastmarch Pavilion. It took two messages passed forward by sentinels before the Cynfyn brothers were admitted under the canvas of the Eastmarch colors. When they did enter, before them were four men studying a detailed map of the upper Iomaire plains.

“Your Royal Highness, M’lords,” Muir greeted. “I have come to offer the services of Lendour and, personally, my Captain in your pursuit of the trails spoken of by our king. I have a wealth of resources that are at the moment ill-used and therefore in need of re-apportioning.”

The two higher ranking men looked pleased by Lendour’s offer. Baron Javyl Ainslie and a younger man of similar appearance shared a dubious look between them. When they would look to the prince for guidance, Cluim stepped back with a palm turned down over the map.

“The king appointed you this assignment, Lord Ainslie,” said Prince Cluim. “You’re to handpick the best men you know who will succeed, men you trust explicitly. Do you trust these men?“ Cluim offered no personal opinion. His concern was strictly to give Ainslie the authority to accept them or not. Battles, he knew, were won by the highly motivated, not necessarily the highest skilled.  Although the skill of Lendour was not in question, in a legion that freely accepted Deryni they would be an asset.

Ainslie was not tall, but his eyes were strong under a snarl of brown wavy hair. He looked at Muir straight on. “Cynfyn, is it your intention to stand against the Torenthi invaders and take down their leader, Imre, while offering your sword to protect the men of Gwynedd? Can you prove to me you are King Nygel’s man and not one of Imre’s spies, as Cassan would lead us to believe?” Muir should have been insulted by such a demand on his loyalty, but then a brush of shields touched his. He knew he was being Truth-Read by a trained Deryni.

The knowledge of that fact took him aback; he bent down on one knee and offered his most sincere response. “I, Lord Muir Dauyd Cynfyn, son of Erwin, Earl of Lendour, have before and will again offer my life and my sword to my King, Nygel Haldane. Under those terms of loyalty, I will lend you my sword and my men to see that Gwynedd endures. I am obliged to leave my main force on the northern flank as my King ordered, but I have enough men that I can send some out.  Just tell me where my men can be used to the most good to bring victory.”

Washburn too knelt down, his sword pulled forth from his scabbard, holding it vertical with the quillons as a cross. “Our family has been loyal to the Royal Haldanes since the time of the Restoration. Though I know in past years it may not have been apparent, as before my knighting in Rhemuth there had not been a Cynfyn at the capital since before the Restoration. That lapse is corrected! As my liege lord has pledged himself to the king, so have I, and now I too offer all that I am to support Nygel Haldane and bring an end to this murderer, Imre.” Washburn was now certain that Ainslie and his son were Deryni, as both Truth-Read the brothers and both nodded that they accepted what had been said. It was clear that Prince Cluim and Earl Sighere were not even aware of the test they had passed, but they approved of the reaffirmation of Lendour’s loyalty.

“Very good, I accept your offer of loyalty and swords. I have two missions that will require good men for both.” Ainslie spread two fingers wide on the map laid before them on the table. 

Earl Cynfyn stood, taking a step closer, noting the quality of the map and the locations indicated. “I surmise then that you need this south ridge taken as well as this north ridge by the mine. Although, is there a route from here to the north ridge that isn’t indicated on here? Very nice map, by the way; I'm surprised you did not give this to the king,” stated Muir with a keen eye on the detail laid out before him.

“I offered it,” Sighere replied, for the map was his. “He claimed it was too detailed to have his lords review. It would easily distract them when they need only concentrate on the one valley before the Argoed mine.”

The prince resumed his perusal of the map, quite interested in it, even if his king had not been. Cluim did not mind that the Cynfyns studied it as closely as he. “I love my brother, but in this, he has faults.” After a minute, he put his finger over the north ridge and followed the second riverlet that stretched from there to join the river at the floor of the valley just before the mine.  “If we can get here, we can double the count of cavalry on the battlefield without breaking horses’ legs on all those damnable rocks out here. Is this the only road that leads to the ridge?” Cluim followed the line that indicated a road going north through a pass in the hills.

“Yes, that is the pass between my Keep and the old mine. It’s a bit overgrown for its lack of use, but a good path nonetheless. This, right here,” Lord Ainslie pointed to a faint line, “is the road from my Keep leading north to Marley. It joins the Iomaire Plain up here. Whoever goes that way will have a bit of a ride ahead of them, but it can be ridden by dawn.  First, however, we need to determine how best to take the southern hillside. That will be key to the opening of the battle.” The older Ainslie pointed to the valley before the Argoed mine. “These wavy lines indicate the area of boulders surrounding the river's course; they are hazardous at best. Cassan has it right that only infantry can get over this while out of reach of the enemy's arrows on the southern slope. Horses can traverse this road four abreast, if they do not have a rain of arrows upon their heads.” The local lord pointed to the narrowness of the rideable pass on the valley entrance’s south side. “We will first have to take the south slope before we send our forces in.”

“I take it this is the trail His Majesty was talking about, then?” Cluim asked.

Lord Javyl nodded. “We have determined that a few hundred archers are hidden among the trees along this ridge. I plan to lead a group from here.” He pointed to the map a bit further south. ”That will get us to this ridge. From there, we will go on foot. I will need skilled trackers to find the enemy and arms to take them out.”

“Trackers, I have,” Muir said with consideration. “I am fairly proficient in tracking and I have a few, umm, men of similar talent, shall we say, who can offer their skills in that area.”

“And I have foot soldiers and archers who can back up your trackers and replace the enemy in their hidden positions,” Prince Cluim offered.

“I accept.” Lord Javyl nodded with approval. “We will need a full sweep of the ridge by dawn. We can offer Eastmarch a signal when the way is cleared.”

“Indeed, Lord Sighere, you will have that signal.” Muir smiled, glad for something more to do than just sit back as Gwynedd’s last flank.

“Good,” said the prince. “That is the first step to getting our spearhead onto the valley floor.”  Cluim turned an amused smile to Earl Sighere. “I presume the Countess of Eastmarch will want you alive to welcome your firstborn into the world. I heard tell that she is only a few days from her lying-in.”

For the first time that night, Sighere’s eyes danced in the lamp light. “Aye, she is. M’lady will curse my soul if I get killed before the child is born.” The five men around him snickered at that.

“I think the lady in question is not likely to curse you, m’lord, though I dare say she would mourn you heavily and her heart would break to be widowed.” Washburn said this as an aside, almost to himself.

“That’s right,” Sighere perked up. He stood straighter, looked quizzically across at the Lendour Knight. “You know my Countess Evelyn. She has mentioned you a time or two.”

Sir Washburn bit his lip, uncertain how much the Earl of Eastmarch knew about his near relationship with Lady Evelyn. Back in the days of youth, before he had understood the full responsibilities of his race, he had asked for her hand in wedlock. Neither his father nor her father had approved the match. That had hurt much; he’d believed he loved her. Her father, however, wanted his beautiful daughter to be placed higher in the kingdom than an earl’s second son could become. Wash’s father was no better, wanting his second son to make an alliance outside of the men he had already befriended.  Nearly a decade had passed since those days. Wash had since married, learned what it was to truly love someone, and then survived the all too abrupt loss of his love; that was the indelible mark his wife Camilla had left on his soul with her passing. Still, in his way he loved Evelyn, just not in a way that Sighere would likely be jealous of if he knew.  At least that is what he tried to convey. “I...I… wish you and her a healthy child and peace in our time to raise him… or her,” Washburn uncharacteristically stammered.

“Her father was a friend to our father,” Muir broke in, covering his brother’s lapse. “With a kind of rivalry between them. Lord Calvarian claims that his success of marrying his daughter to Earl Sighere Howell—that is, to you— is his greatest achievement.” All the men smiled at that. Old Baron Gabel Calvarian, a vintner, was not much of a warrior in his aging years.

“Indeed, Gabel can rejoice at his daughter's good fortune, and I know he will be quite pleased with his first grandchild,” Washburn chimed in. “So which is it to be, an heir or an heiress?” Washburn asked, stumbling through the words to find his composure.

“You know perfectly well, regardless of old wives’ tales, no one can tell that until the tyke is born.” Sighere laughed, his eyes betraying his hope for a son.

“But.…” Washburn hesitated. Deryni women usually knew the gender of their child well before they were born. Was it possible Evelyn did not tell her husband the baby's gender because it was a girl? But he still would have insisted on knowing if he knew she would know. Perhaps it was because she had not told him how it was that she would know such a thing. Had Sighere never guessed that his wife was Deryni? Washburn’s thoughts paused. Damn! Sighere probably did know, but it was Washburn’s error to bring forth such a question that could expose an innocent lady to the condemnation of others. A glance at the frown Muir gave him confirmed that he had been a fool. Very few people, fewer than Washburn had thought, knew that Sir Artimus and his sister Lady Evelyn were of the Deryni race. At a glance it was obvious the Ainslies did not guess the nature of the Countess of Eastmarch until that moment. Washburn inwardly cursed himself for betraying a hidden Deryni family. Baron Calvarian held good cultivated lands once under the rule of old Mooryn, though the name of his forefathers had changed. The noble birthright of a great-uncle who was known to be Deryni had been revoked by the Statutes of Ramos; the land had been given to a distant nephew who was human.  Not so distant, not so human, if the truth be known. Washburn’s thoughts rambled on for a moment, focused on the dark-haired beauty who was soon to give birth to another man’s child. He accepted life's fate with a little sadness for himself, but then found himself smiling for her happiness.

When the knight captain looked up, he realized Muir had redirected the discussion to talking over their attack on the north ridge. Sighere thankfully did not seem to hold Washburn’s lapse against him, at least not in this present company.

“Aye, Your Highness, my son Rhylen can lead you around to the north road,” Lord Ainslie was saying to Cluim. “The Argoed Keep was burnt two days ago, but we had good warning and all my people hid in the hills above.  As I said, this path from the keep to the old mine is in sound enough condition to travel.” He pointed to the map. “The last descent is steep, but horses with sure footing can get down it.”

“I will head this part of the campaign,” the prince proclaimed, receiving dissenting looks from the men around him. “I will not sit this out, as my brother would have me do!” he steadfastly stated. While ignoring everyone's sudden protests, he asked, “How long will it take to get there?” 

“About a three hour ride to the keep and an hour to the mine. It is a long, steady climb up to the keep, and then a descent to reach the stream north of the mine.” Lord Javyl drew his finger along the path on the map as he spoke.  “There’ll be no time to make it by foot. It will have to be all cavalry, and the mounts will need to be in good condition. But I think you can get several hundred riders or more to this point before being seen.” He pointed again to the north ridge. “After that, it will depend on how many sentries Imre has on his side door.”

“Washburn! You’re with our prince. I trust you will keep him safe,” Muir ordered, deadly serious in his gaze toward his brother. His eyes lightened as he turned back to his prince. “Are you sure it is wise to put yourself in the center of battle? The king will have all our heads if you get harmed in this.”

The prince only laughed. “You just try to keep me from it! Besides, Jasher is the heir, and he is safe in Grecotha with the brotherhood of Saint Willibrord. If all fails, he will be a ruthless king to avenge us.”

All five men looked at their prince, surprised. Few had seen the middle Haldane brother at court in years, not since Nygel’s coronation. It was easy to forget that Cluim was not the King’s heir.

“We won’t fail,” Sir Washburn said. “I'll have three hundred mounted riders ready to meet you on the north road here, an hour past midnight.” He pointed on the plains a bit north of the Dancing Stones.

“Very well, I have two hundred cavalry from Carthane that I can add to our campaign. Sighere, you can count on us coming down from the north to back up your lines coming up from the east. We will squash the enemy between us!”

“I will count on your coming. Don’t be late!” the Earl of Eastmarch demanded.

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Appendix "Who is who in 983",2024.0.html (,2024.0.html)
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: revanne on March 21, 2017, 10:10:51 am
Wonderful story Laurna. I was so enthralled that it was a horrible shock to come to the last paragraph. More soon please.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Evie on March 21, 2017, 10:30:07 am
Nice to see our Cynfyn men in action once again!  :)
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: revanne on March 21, 2017, 10:44:00 am
I'm wondering how much Deryni blood remains in the Drummonds and whether they have any awareness. If so, why the hostility to the Deryni brothers of Lendour unless it is fear of being "outed", to use a modern expression.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Laurna on March 21, 2017, 11:40:14 am
Wonderful story Laurna. I was so enthralled that it was a horrible shock to come to the last paragraph. More soon please.
Thanks Revanne.  Tuesdays, I am aiming for posting on Tuesdays.

Nice to see our Cynfyn men in action once again!  :)

This time the brothers are defiantly in the thick of it. Just so everyone knows, Evie has put in a lot of editing. *Evie you are the best!*

I'm wondering how much Deryni blood remains in the Drummonds and whether they have any awareness. If so, why the hostility to the Deryni brothers of Lendour unless it is fear of being "outed", to use a modern expression.

You'll get a little tidbit to answer this soon and a bit more in the second story.  ;D
So glad to have perked your interest, Revanne.

Gadds! I thought I was going to have heart failure after I posted this last night. Took an hour or two to settle down.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Evie on March 21, 2017, 04:00:36 pm
*Evie you are the best!*

/me dons her "Best in Show" medal and woofs proudly.  ;D
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Jerusha on March 21, 2017, 06:41:17 pm
Woo hoo!  The Lendour brothers are back!  Laurna, I am so looking forward to the next chapter.  Although I am sure the battle will not go as planned....

And the story behind Corwyn joining with Gwynedd - be still my heart!
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: DerynifanK on March 21, 2017, 08:36:30 pm
This is enthralling. It was a shock to have it stop. I will be anxiously waiting for the next installment. Love seeing the Cynfyn brothers in action.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Laurna on March 22, 2017, 01:06:40 pm
Woo hoo!  The Lendour brothers are back!  Laurna, I am so looking forward to the next chapter.  Although I am sure the battle will not go as planned....

And the story behind Corwyn joining with Gwynedd - be still my heart!
Morning Jerusha, I'm happy to give you another look see at the Lendour brothers. I have to admit I am a little partial to Alaric's ancestors.  ;)

Do battles ever go as planned? Maybe for one side, but never for the other.  Which side will be which?....

This is enthralling. It was a shock to have it stop. I will be anxiously waiting for the next installment. Love seeing the Cynfyn brothers in action.

Thank you, DerynifanK.  A little more tweaking and one more read through and next Tuesday... we are to battle.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: drakensis on March 23, 2017, 02:39:14 am
I was rather hoping from what you posted recently to see a story of this era, great to see it.

The tenuous position of the Cynfyns and the inexperience of so many Gwynedd lords... I suspect both will be addressed rapidly.
Title: Re: Pretender's Gambit - Chapter One
Post by: Laurna on March 24, 2017, 12:30:51 pm
I was rather hoping from what you posted recently to see a story of this era, great to see it.

The tenuous position of the Cynfyns and the inexperience of so many Gwynedd lords... I suspect both will be addressed rapidly.

Good Morning Drakensis. Glad to have you join me. The next chapter is still in the last phase of tweaking.(My tweaks to Evie's dismay ;)). Rapidly indeed. The motivation and moral of the defenders is the key.
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