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Pretender's Gambit- Chapter Four

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Pretender’s Gambit - Chapter Four
Rhemuth Castle

The Knight Captain of Lendour awoke an instant later, his stomach settling after the Portal jump from Ainslie’s keep. He sensed Rhylen’s mind withdrawing from his and was not certain how deep the younger Deryni’s control had been. Instinctively, he knew the pain within his head was not Rhylen’s fault, but rather from being bashed in the helm by a crossbow. Still, the young man’s exuberance to make the Portal jump and take both his comrades with him had left both those men dazed. Washburn found himself on his knees on a carpet in the middle of a small room; this was not where he had expected to be. He had thought they would end up in the sacristy of Saint George’s Cathedral within the city of Rhemuth, but this did not have the feel of the Cathedral.  He placed one hand down on the carpet to balance himself and found the signature of a strong Portal that tingled under his hand. This one was not warded, he could use it if he needed, but where in the heck were they? Vince too was disoriented, staggering away from the center of the room to distance himself from the nature of their escape.

Rhylen remained at Washburn's side, “I’m sorry,” he whispered, “I didn’t mean to.…”

“You got us out of there, didn’t you? Under the circumstances, I’m glad you managed to get us here. So where is here?” The answer did not come right away. Both men remained kneeling, both too fatigued to make the effort to do more than breathe. Three of their number sat comfortably on the sides, eyeing the two Deryni men with curiosity. If any of them had reservations about the method of getting here, wherever here was, none but Vince seemed to share their concern. But then none of them had been attacked nor yanked unceremoniously through the Portal.

After a moment Wash tried to stand, only succeeding in a groan. He brushed his hand to the side of his helm, finding it cracked and dented. Although the metal had likely saved his life, he found it useless now and pulled it off his head. Even the ringed-mail coif was discarded as it, too, rubbed the raw spot that was rising as a lump just above his ear. Thankful for the thick, wool-stuffed cap he wore under all, Washburn found no blood, only a rising lump which he gingerly touched with his fingers, wishing he could will the pain to subside.

“That was too close,” Rhylen said, finding his feet and then helping the larger man stand.

“Tell me, do you believe your Portal’s warding to be strong enough to withstand a Deryni in the enemy camp from breaking it, then sensing where we’ve gone and following us through?” Wash asked. “Should we get reinforcements?” He looked around the room to get his bearings. “I presume we are in Rhemuth Castle.”

“Aye, we are,” the young man affirmed. “I don’t think anyone can break that warding anytime soon, even if they have a highly skilled Deryni among them. That Portal was empowered and warded by my grandmother’s uncle. The story handed down states that it was his gift to her when she married my grandfather, Robert Ainslie.  This uncle, you see, had been a Michaeline Knight of the old order. Sir Joram was his name. You may have heard of him.” The young man looked across at the knight captain for signs of recognition. Washburn had an inkling that the name sounded familiar. He should have recalled how and why, but at the moment his head was throbbing and his concentration was wavering. So long as he was assured he didn’t have to fight the enemy following them through the Portal, he was unconcerned enough to just let Rhylen talk on. “Joram was many things to many people, and when it came to making a Portal in the old Argoed tower and then warding it, he proved to my family his mastery of the Arcane. It is an intricate spell that he weaved; it won’t permit most Deryni to use it, but it allows blood relatives to use the Portal with ease. After fifty-five years, no other has managed to overpower the safeguards. Unfortunately, as times have been hard, there are not many left whom I can call blood relatives.”

“I understand you in that,” Wash said, finally gaining his feet and stepping to the side of the room. Of his own family living, he could only name two others-- his brother the Earl, and an aunt living at Saint Clare’s Convent. Neither Muir nor Washburn had succeeded as yet in begetting an heir. It occurred to him that this sudden conflict could bring an end to their house. Not that the council of Gwynedd would mind. They would likely squabble over Lendour’s lands like a pack of dogs being thrown a bone, the strongest and meanest vying for the King’s favor to earn such a reward. That would be a sad day for the mountain people of Lendour who prospered under Cynfyn guidance. They did not seem to mind the brothers’ Deryni blood like most of the lowlanders of Gwynedd did. 

Wash found a filled earthen pitcher and bowl on the stand near the wall.  Leaning over the bowl, he rather eagerly poured the fresh water over his head, letting the coolness slow the hardening lump he felt. He ran his fingers through his wheaten hair, grateful to rinse away the dirt and sweat of the last day. Getting the same idea, the men around him divested themselves of their helms. Here in Rhemuth they were safely away from the battlefield, though even for Washburn, it was hard to think of themselves as being secure.

It wasn’t too long afterward when Sir Krispin MacAthan stepped into the room, and only then did Wash realize the knight had been gone. “We have an audience with the Dowager Queen. She will see us with her ladies in attendance in her solar. Make yourselves presentable. Captain, what happened?” Krispin asked at the last, noticing the bruise already darkening the the captain’s right eye.

“We were attacked,” Rhylen explained. “The captain took the blunt end of a crossbow to the head after saving me from its loosed projectile. I didn’t say thank you, yet,” he said back to Washburn.

The captain gave the young man a lopsided smile. “Yes you did. When you and Vince put those bishop murderers down and did what was needed to get us out of there, that was good enough for me.” Running fingers through his wet hair, Wash pulled some of his hair forward to partially cover his eye and the knot at the side of his head. “Gentlemen,” he said straightening his back and brushing his tunic in place, “let us attend the noble ladies of Rhemuth.”


In the second hour after midnight, the first men to arrive in Rhemuth directly from the field of battle entered the ladies’ sanctuary. They were dirty and rough, weary from days in the saddle and hours of long use of their swords. Yet as men of honor, they bowed low to the women who entered the solar in hastily girdled robes and veiled hair. Captain Washburn knew several of the ladies at court through his wife's appointment as lady-in-waiting to the now-deceased Queen Mother, Grania MacInnis Haldane, who had survived her husband, the late King Uthyr by two years. Grania had been a soft-spoken, diligent Queen seeing to the needs of those nearest to her and to her family, including three surviving sons and two surviving daughters. With profound sadness, Washburn would never forget the evening of the Queen Mother’s death, for on the following morning his wife took to her childbed in distress.  Mere hours later, the Lady Camilla MacEwan Cynfyn, with their newborn son who was to be named Iliff Cynfyn, joined the Queen Mother in heaven.

Putting aside his sorrow at the sight of the noble ladies, the captain bowed low to those who had once been companions to his late wife. He had rarely seen any of them since those hard days, having needed to escape his grief by running errands for King and Earl across the Kingdom. Of the women who entered the solar, he recognized the elderly, vivacious Lady Jerusha Drummond, widow of Lord Cathan Drummond, which made Jerusha the sister-in-law to the aging Dowager Queen.  A woman of middling years came to stand beside Jerusha, grasping the older woman’s hand tightly as she looked over the men bowed before them. This was Lady Kyriella MacAthan, daughter of Jerusha but also the mother to Sir Krispin. Kyriella acknowledged her son with a quivering, worried smile, relieved that at least her son was safe, but concern showed on her face as she wondered why her husband, Stuart MacAthan, was not among these men. Entering the solar slowly to stand behind these two ladies was the eldest of them, the Lady Richeldis MacInnis, mother to the late Queen Grania. Lady Richeldis was a woman of stories, having seen so much in her long years. Teaching life's lessons to the young gave her purpose and joy. On the opposite side came to stand the younger royal ladies of the court. Lady Swynbeth Haldane, Countess of Carthane, wife of Prince Cluim, stood as a pillar beside the others. Her hair, red in the candle light, could be seen loosely braided under her coif and veil falling in a length nearly to the floor. She had mothered many Haldanes and was currently breeding with what was rumored to be twins. The two princesses holding tight to Countess Swynbeth’s arms were Princess Graziana, youngest daughter of the late King Uthyr— she as yet was unmarried, having not yet reached eighteen— and the second youthful princess, who appeared the most nervous of all the women, by Washburn’s reckoning must therefore be the Princess Cassia, daughter of Lludd II King of Llannedd. She was betrothed as second wife to His Majesty Nygel of Gwynedd. Their wedding day had been set for the feast day of Saint Michael, a mere five and twenty days away.

As chatelaine and Grand Dame of Rhemuth, the last to enter the solar was Her Majesty Michaela Drummond Haldane, Dowager Queen and stalwart of the royal house. With seventy-six years of experience, married once upon a time to Gwynedd’s King Rhys Michael Haldane in what she would often claim to be far too few years in her young adult life, Michaela was the personage all the noble ladies of Rhemuth esteemed. Called Mika by these ladies in attendance to her, the Dowager Queen had never once faltered in her support and loyalty to her husband, then to her two sons, and now to her grandsons. She came to the forefront of the six other noble women of her household. Though diminutive in stature, she stood tall in her crimson gown, eyeing the warriors with cautious concern. If she was anxious, she hid it well, unlike the others who looked upon the men with dread.

“Sir Krispin MacAthan, do you lead these men?” She raised a hand to him and bid him come nearer. “Pray tell me what it means that you are here?”

MacAthan, stepped forward, bent a knee to the floor and bowed his head low. Preparing with a deep breath to disclose his purpose, he finally looked up but only as far as the hem of the dowager’s gown. “We met the enemy in full at the old mine of Argoed, on this last morning. We had discovered the evening before that the Pretender was ensconced there. In the predawn hours, we gained the hills north and south of the mine, thanks to the skills of His Highness Prince Cluim and the warriors of Carthane and Lendour. Into the center of the valley marched Eastmarch, Claiborne, and Cassan. The battle was well fought in the morning hours. We were certain of victory.”

“And…?” Her Majesty encouraged when the young MacAthan hesitated.

“We had the field, Ma’am,” he said, his eyes looking higher to her hands at her side. “The sun was high. Carthmoor, Carthane, Carcashale and Lendour joined with Haldane to relieve the early morning fighters. It was brutal then, Gwynedd slaughtering the Torenthi like rats in a cage. We had them on the run, we were sure of victory.…”

Again the Dowager Queen had to encourage him to continue on. All the ladies around her had their breaths held.

Still unable to meet her gaze, Krispin revealed, “The devil hides his treachery for when it will do the most damage. When we were near to annihilating our enemy, they charged out from tunnels we’d long thought had been collapsed. They doubled their number and came at us in full force.” The younger women gasped, tightening their grasps on each other’s hands.

“Tell me, MacAthan, why is it that you are here and not my grandson with your father at his side?”

“He would be here, if he could,” Krispin said with a painful breath, then finally found the courage to look up at the Dowager, his concern evident on his face.  “Our good King Nygel is wounded, a crossbolt in the belly. I pray he lives still. My father is wounded, lying upon a cot beside him.” There were cries from the women even though they tried desperately to hold back their tears. “Lord Corwin Drummond has also been wounded in the leg. It is by his bidding that I come here using the fastest means available to entreat that you release the Healer of your household into my care. I will see her to our king who needs her Healing gift desperately. With the assistance of Lord Rhylen and Sir Washburn, we intend to ride out from Grecotha before dawn.”

With tears dampening cheeks, the women acknowledged the other two noble men who stood behind MacAthan. Washburn’s heritage was known to all. They knew him to be of the unfavored race of Deryni, yet he had proven himself a loyal knight in the king's court. No one questioned his purpose in this quest. Few, if any, of the women looked his way. Instead, it was to Rhylen Ainslie whom the women offered a grateful nod. And it seemed to Washburn’s surprise that none of them flinched at the idea that Ainslie had the ability to get them to Grecotha to ride out “before dawn.”  And then it came to him the Countess of Carthane was a cousin to Rhylen, her mother being the sister to Rhylen’s father, the late Javyl Ainslie. Immediately, he prayed the Healer — who he was beginning to suspect was one of the ladies in attendance— would not be the Countess Swynbeth. He would not wish to be responsible for her in her late stage of breeding. No matter what man lay dying, such risk to an unborn Haldane, especially twins, could never be justified.
“Then I fear time is of the essence,” the Dowager was saying. “Good men of Gwynedd, we must have a little of that time to prepare. Go to the hall, there will be food waiting for you there. Rest yourselves while we gather what will be needed for our Healer to travel.  I assure you, the wait will not be long.” As the men bowed low, the women departed the room, all hugging each other close. A wailing from one, possibly the King’s affianced bride, could be heard as the door closed. The seven men left the room, saddened by the hurt they had caused. They were led by pages to the main hall and a table where a warmed pottage was dished out for them, with bread hastily warmed on the hearth.

The men ate in silence. There was nothing for them to say. Each was caught in his own reflection of what could have been and what was to be. At the end of the meal, two ladies entered the hall, both slender under heavy riding cloaks and veils that concealed their identity. At the least, neither appeared to be the Countess of Carthane. A number of pages followed them carrying canvas bags packed with supplies. The men gratefully took up the bags, hefted them on their shoulders, and then led the way in silence back to the corridor of the Royal Library and the sleeping room beyond. To Washburn’s amazement, neither lady seemed surprised to be escorted to there.

Baron Rhylen shared what he knew of the Portal signature at Grecotha. Washburn was familiar with it, and the taller of the two women nodded under her veil that she was able to take the Portal to that location without the men’s assistance. Rhylen with Krispin and one man-at-arms went first, the two women next. Wash did not have time to decide just which of the ladies had joined them. He had three minds to confer with to make the jump a success.

“Vince, you saved me from a beating back there. I owe you. So, tell me, are you with me in this?” he asked cautiously, not wanting to have to resort to subduing any of the men.

“I am, Captain,” said the soldier, far more assured than he had been earlier in the night.

“Very well, let's do this. Stand just here.” They arranged themselves close on the room’s carpet, looking at the sheathed dagger the captain held up like a cross. “Hands on my hand. You come with me of your own free will. Good,” he said as each of them touched a part of his fingers that encircled the hilt.  Wash closed his eyes for a moment to wish away the persistent throb at the side of his head. Perhaps it was that which made opening his shields an arduous task. “Study the gleam in the ruby. See the torch light reflecting within the gem’s center,” he encouraged them. Taking his own advice, he opened his eyes to look into the depth of the red gem. As each man strengthened his focus, Washburn reached out mentally to unobtrusively take control. The men visibly relaxed as the Deryni’s touch encompassed each of them. When he was sure he had all three, in a blink and a slight lurch they were elsewhere. They found themselves standing in the red glow of a sacristy lamp, in a room off to the side from an elaborate altar which could be seen through the open door. This would be a chapel at the University of Grecotha.


To awaken a monastic house is never a thing to take lightly. To awaken the monks and lay knights of the Order of Saint Willibrord is akin to lighting a fire under the barracks at Rhemuth Castle’s gatehouse. Doing so at the hour which fell halfway between Matins and Prime left not one man sleeping, not even a yawn could be detected among the suddenly awakened brethren. The stirring had come very soon after Sir Krispin had confronted a monk who investigated a noise he had heard in the church proper. That the monk accepted the appearance of seven war veterans protecting two cloaked, lithe female figures was a thing in and of itself amazing. When the man heard that their king was in need, the monk immediately deferred to his superior, who came into the church irritated and blurry-eyed, but who moments later set the bells to tolling and criers to running the closter halls, rousing everyone.

No one would question how the small group entered their midst. Those of the Order of Saint Willibrord were not of the faint-hearted when it came to dealing with varied peoples and varied cultures.  Their religious houses were tasked with spreading the faith and teachings of the Holy Lord to the lowly, the poor, and even the wealthy of Moorish worshipers. They traveled to Andelon, R’Kassi and the Anvil of the Lord, each member required to spend time in a daughter house before returning to teach what they learned at the University of Grecotha. Thus, many were scholars and scribes, but some also were bold defenders of those who would spread the Word of God. These human defenders were similar in militant strength to that of the once renowned Order of Michaelines, an order currently outlawed in Gwynedd due to Deryni influence. Of the lay knights of Saint Willibrord, it was expected that none of the number would be Deryni, but there was no order of condemnation for such a heritage so long as the quest for Holy Orders was not attained. Yet magic even here was considered morally questionable, an aberration, if used, which could tempt one to stray from the Lord's path. So it was that the abbot set the newcomers to kneeling and reciting the angelic salutation before being admitted into the house proper.

“Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum...” Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…. In voices strong the nine repeated the abbot's words, even as the bells from the tower rang out the call-to-arms.

Once allowed into the colonnades of the University, Washburn watched with interest the preparations of this well-disciplined order. Many were of merit, being of noble birth from all of Gwynedd and the western kingdoms.  One such man was called forth; in instant recognition, the nine bent knee to Prince Jasher Owain Cinhil Haldane, Earl of Culdi and heir presumptive to the throne of Gwynedd. Here was the king's brother, a lay knight of Saint Willibrord. Jasher was prepared to take Holy Orders as soon as his elder brother had an heir who reached the age of majority. Sadly King Nygel’s eldest son, the Hereditary Prince Corban Haldane, had recently died at the age of ten of a consumptive complaint. His second son, Prince Quinnell Haldane, had not lived beyond his early years. And then even further grief followed when Queen Susanta passed away in childbirth, leaving behind three young girls without a mother. Jasher was hopeful that his brother’s new betrothed would produce an heir to the throne of Gwynedd, thereby allowing him to turn his full loyalties to the Church. That thought was dashed from Prince Jasher’s mind when he heard of his king’s wounding. Fierce in his loyalty to family, he requested his brethren follow him to assist the king. In two hours’ time, the men of Saint Willibrord had readied their supplies and were riding out of the gates of Grecotha. Similarly, masters and students of the great university were awakened, and the city become alive, readying to give aid to the defeated forces who would retreat to their gates.

Washburn Cynfyn had also used the early morning hours wisely to find his man Kent Carston, who ran the relay stables for Lendour in Grecotha. Kent had quality mounts for the displaced small group. With the comfort of embroidered stuffed cushions, the two ladies were set before the saddles of the riders Sir Krispin and Sir Washburn. Their identities remained unknown to those who escorted them. What Washburn could decipher was that both were of advanced years and both had shields held firm against inquiry. Washburn would not intrude; in time, he was sure he would learn who the women were. He knew not even which one of them was the Healer. The lady handed up to sit before him was strong in her presence yet delicate in her structure. He feared the ride ahead would be too hard for her to manage. Once they had trotted out of the gates of Grecotha and a steady pace was set, he made certain he absorbed all the jarring from the uneven road. One arm held the reins while one arm secured the lady before him about her waist. It did not take long for her to relax into his shoulder and move with the evenness of his courser's canter.   

The last of this long night dwindled away with two hundred riders encouraging their mounts at the fastest pace they could endure. The darkness waned, but their fears grew. What would they find when they finally rejoined the retreating, defeated army of Gwynedd?

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Wonderful chapter again. So are there two healers? One is clearly Jerusha  ( take a bow, my lady) but who is the other?  Good to have a mention of Joram even if only as a memory.


--- Quote from: revanne on April 11, 2017, 05:02:34 AM ---Wonderful chapter again. So are there two healers? One is clearly Jerusha  ( take a bow, my lady) but who is the other?  Good to have a mention of Joram even if only as a memory.

--- End quote ---

The other lady could also be there to serve as a chaperone, as it would hardly be proper for a lady to go traveling through the country alone with only a group of men for escort. Even given that there is extreme need for a Healer's services, and they are venturing into a potentially dangerous war zone, the proprieties must be observed.  Because, y'know, Jerusha at that age was such a femme fatale that all those stalwart young knights' virtues would be in danger....  Oh wait, the protection was meant to go the other way around, I think!  ;D

Vivacious, femme fatale - oh how I like this chapter!😁

Seriously, I enjoyed the family backgrounds.  Waiting anxiously for the next chapter


--- Quote from: revanne on April 11, 2017, 05:02:34 AM ---So are there two healers?

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Considering the family relations involved it is not an impossibility.
--- Quote from: revanne on April 11, 2017, 05:02:34 AM ---Good to have a mention of Joram even if only as a memory.

--- End quote ---
Just for you Revanne did I ask Rhylen to give mention of his great uncle Joram. I am glad that you noticed.

--- Quote from: Evie on April 11, 2017, 08:08:29 AM ---
The other lady could also be there to serve as a chaperone, ... the proprieties must be observed.  Because, y'know, Jerusha at that age was such a femme fatale that all those stalwart young knights' virtues would be in danger....  Oh wait, the protection was meant to go the other way around, I think!  ;D

--- End quote ---

LOL  :o LOL  Oh Dear!  ;D

--- Quote from: Jerusha on April 11, 2017, 11:47:47 AM ---Vivacious, femme fatale - oh how I like this chapter!😁

Seriously, I enjoyed the family backgrounds.

--- End quote ---

My Lady Jerusha, you have Washburn's protection, I assure you: however, perhaps I should be reconsidering who needs protection from who.  ;) ;D


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