Author Topic: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision  (Read 173 times)

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Offline DoctorM

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Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« on: December 02, 2019, 07:18:20 pm »
[This is a revision of a story I placed long, long ago in Deryni Archives Nr. 7 and Nr. 8. That’s almost a lifetime ago. However, I found copies of the original Deryni Archives issues not long ago and decided to re-work the story. It’ll be done in two or three pieces. The time of the story is two centuries before my Two Kingdoms sketches, or just at the beginning of “Saint Camber”. I hope you’ll let me know what you think.]

Season of the Sword - Part 1

On Ascension Day the heralds read out the proclamation of war at the mercat cross in Cardosa. The fortress chapel was too small to hold the knights and lords, and at midday they assembled for Mass in the inner court. The Daerborne men were in the fourth rank. Falkenberg could look out past the shoulders of Carismont’s men to the grey of the mountains beyond the fortress walls. They’d all come in armour, and he rested his hands on the crossguard of his sword and let the blade take his weight. The bishop was from Rhendall, and Falkenberg closed his eyes and listened to the odd taste in the Latin.

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For thy goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.

So high in the mountains, the sky was a pale silver-blue. He looked out to the line of the Lendours. Late May, and at home along the coast it would’ve been hawking weather.

All around him voices took up the Credo. He knelt on the flagstones, one hand braced on his sword. Steel scraped on stone, and heads bowed atop mailed bodies like salt grass blowing along the dunes at Daerborne. The others prayed, and he thought of hawking. He looked down the line for his brother. Morgánn was at the edge of Kincardine’s men, his quilted Southern armour pale in a sea of dull mail. Morgánn whispered to the man on his right. He held one hand out flat and slashed down with it— a falcon diving on its prey. Falkenberg looked away from the Mass and thought of lannerets turning in the air over the salt marshes.

The bishop raised his hand in benediction. The knights crossed themselves a last time and began to drift out of the court. Falkenberg caught up his sword and fastened it over his shoulder. He cradled his helmet in the crook of his arm and turned after his men. He looked up the heavy dark tower of the keep. Shadow flickered at an upper window. The fourth level was the royal apartments, and he could see the white face looking down at them from there, alone in the narrow window.

The feast of Ascension went on through the whole of the afternoon. The knights overflowed the tables in the great hall, and the latecomers and the landless men sat in the rushes along the wall and shoved the dogs out of the way. The Rhendall bishop sat ignored on the dais; Carismont and the castellan sat together, deep in speech. By nightfall, most of the knights and lords were blind drunk, and men cursed at the pages and servers and slept on the floor.


Falkenberg ground his palms against his eyes. He was sitting on the edge of one of the tables; dogs prowled for scraps under his place at the bench. He twisted round. FitzWarin was standing next to him, trailing half a dozen of his knights. Falkenberg shoved a platter down at the dogs and gravy splashed onto the rushes. He looked up.


FitzWarin looked down at him and shook his head. “Strathclere said you were here, you and you clever brother both. I saw you out at Mass.  Some people said you wouldn’t be coming, but there you were, praying for an earldom like everybody else.”

“Of course I came. There’s no way I wouldn’t have come.  And I was praying to go eat.“

FitzWarin hooked his hands in his belt and laughed. “Well, of course you did. Everybody knows why.” His knights laughed along with him in a dutiful chorus. They might have been six of the same man: broad-shouldered and thick-chested, reddish-blond hair bowl-cropped over their ears. Western blood, up from the river basin around Rhemuth.

FitzWarin snorted. He leaned down over the table and tapped one fist against Falkenberg’s shoulder. “You know, Daerborne, I was damned well disappointed out there. Damned disappointed.”

There was no wine left. Falkenberg looked round for a page and saw only FitzWarin with stains across his tunic. He pressed his fingers into his eyelids.

“Disappointed in what?”

“Well, all you damned Deryni, Daerborne. Bishop in from the lake country, Deryni lords all up front watching. I thought there’d be something mysterious, some Deryni ritual. Just another boring Mass, though. And I thought she’d be there. Thought you might want to be her escort.”  FitzWarin laughed again and thumped his hand on Falkenberg’s shoulder.

I do not have to do this. I do not have to be polite. I do not have to be pleasant. He pushed himself up off the table. Let Morgánn be pleasant to them. I’m damned if I will.

“Christ in heaven, Gilbert,” he said. “Do you have to be such a great fool?”

Say something. Let one of them say something about why I’m here. Let one of them say something about her. He felt the heaviness of the wine behind his eyes. Say something, someone.

“Daerborne. FitzWarin.”

A hand came down on his elbow. He looked back. Rainier de Courcelles was behind him, all in Southern silk, his collar stiff with gold thread. Courcelles leaned in toward FitzWarin, his voice soft.

“Make a scene,” he said. “Go ahead. Carismont will have anybody’s head who starts fighting. Bear that in mind.” He took Falkenberg’s arm. “There’s supposed to be Fianna wine somewhere. Let’s go find it before these damned Westerners drink up anything good.”

Falkenberg pushed past FitzWarin’s knights. “You’re still a goddamned fool, Gilbert.”

Courcelles pulled him out into the corridor. “Your brother’s not here,” he said, “and your men are all drunk or gone. You looked like you needed rescuing.”

Falkenberg leaned back against the chill of the stone walls. “Oh, your timing’s very good. They always amaze me, our fellow barons, and they shouldn’t. Any time you go up from the coast, it’s like this. You remember: Maldred’s hunting parties, Easter at Jowerth Leslie’s…”

Courcelles shrugged. “You only got here at Good Friday. I came with Carismont; we were here a lot before that. It’s like Christmas court for most of them: eat and drink ’til you’re blind and wait for the presents to be handed out.”

“Goddamn Gilbert.” Falkenberg tried to laugh. “All the priests and the time-servers and the traitors are down at Valoret, and all the boors and idiots and high-born cattle-thieves are here. Is that the way it goes?”

“We do have a lot of them.” Courcelles looked over at him. “Gilbert never could keep his mouth shut. I thought he was starting to talk about things you didn’t need to hear.”

“Nothing I wouldn’t have fixed.”

“Like I said—- you needed rescuing.” Courcelles looked down the corridor and breathed out. “Christ Jesus, the stench. They aren’t even getting close to the garderobes. There’s supposed to be a caravan in from Beldour. Do you want to go look for good wine, or do we just stand here in the reek?”

Falkenberg tightened the laces at the throat of his tunic. He shook his head clear. “Let’s go look for wine. Maybe we’ll go to war before I drink myself to death.” He looked back at the doorway to the great hall. “They’ll ruin this, Gilbert and his kind.  And I don’t want to listen to what they think about her.”

“I know.” Courcelles nodded, all blue silk and gold in the witch-lights. “I know.”


Falkenberg sat back against the curve of the wall and looked at the altar. The chapel was old as anything in the mountains, round and not cruciform.  It was a northern thing, too, austere  and empty. Morgánn had told him about churches in Bremagne, all gilded statues and painted walls. This place was like death: you only came face to face with God in emptiness.

He drew up his knees and rested his arms on them. Down in the great hall they were still drinking; her messenger must’ve had to elbow his way through them to look for him. He had his own flask of wine and he reached down for it.  Fianna wine, and the taste of it was Southern-bright; red Gwynedd wine only smothered your mind. He looked up at the cross and the single Presence candle.

For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners…

Forty days at Cardosa. We have to go, we have to march. We’re eating our own hearts out here. He was still clear-headed enough to remember the verses: The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight.

He tried to think of what to say to whatever Presence was there behind the cross.Too many things to say, really. Gwynedd is our kingdom, God. We fought for it, we held it. It’s ours, the military barons, the ones who came over with the Festils. It doesn’t belong to the priests and the traitors. We gave it to the royal house. It’s ours, not the Michaelines and the Gabrilites, not this monk-king . It’s ours. God who made steel, God behind the throne and the headsman’s axe, it’s ours.

Other things, too. Things he could never have said to his brother or to Courcelles. I came here for her, too. I came because I couldn’t not come. It’s not just about Daerborne and being the Festils’ man; it never was.

“Daerborne. Richard.”

The door closed behind her and pale witch-light folded round her. He pushed himself up onto one knee.  “My lady princess.”

Ariella was leaning back against the narrow side door. All in mourning black, pale and drawn. “Not ‘my Queen’?” She stood without moving, looking down at him from the edge of the shadows.

He looked up. “My Queen.  I’ll have to remember to call you that. It does fit you.”

“It doesn’t matter tonight.” She looked at the candle burning next to the altar. Her face was pale as ice; the skull under the skin lay close. “Kincardine has to keep reminding me that I’m queen now.  Even if a lot of people wish I weren’t.” Her hands clenched in the folds of her skirt. “Funny thing. I’m not even sure I should be here. I take Mass in private these days. Something about mortal sin. I’m excommunicate in Gwynedd these days.”

He slid back down the wall and reached for the wine flask. “You aren’t as bitter as I’d be.”

“I’ll be bitter enough when I’m back at Valoret.”

“Not about the war.”

Ariella sighed. “I’m just tired about the other thing. It’s like having a scar across your face, and everybody’s trying so hard to act like they don’t notice.”

She crossed to him. “I needed to see you. It’s a weakness, you know? You make a good confidant. You always did.” She reached down for the wine flask. Their hands brushed.

“I have your letter,” she said. “Sealed at Daerborne on 9th March. Half a dozen lines. Acknowledging my proclamation at Candlemas. So many men-at-arms, so many archers, so many foot. Arriving by Easter. Your Latin’s harsh, you know.”   She folded her skirt and slid down to sit next to him.

“You shouldn’t do that. Don't sit on the floor. You’re queen, now.”

“You can say Ariella tonight.”

“When I wrote you, I mean…you knew I’d come, didn’t you?”

“You I never doubted. I knew you’d be here. You didn’t even try to bargain. Not very baronial, Daerborne.”

“Ari, you asked for men. I told you how many I was bringing, and I had them here on Good Friday. My brother’s the one who writes fine Latin.  Being here for you is what matters.”

“Forty days,” she said. “You haven’t asked for an audience. You only talk to Kincardine.”

“You’d send for me if you wanted me. Kincardine knows me—- I’ve known Alasdair all my life.”

“People keep telling me it’s odd for you to be here.” Her hands opened and closed in the dark. “You never loved my brother, Daerborne. Not exactly a secret. It was a famous quarrel, you and Imre.  At the end, he wanted your lands distrained and you locked up, and you had half the military barons on your side. Even Santare was with you.”

He shook his head. “That was just about rights to land and money. Your grandfather signed grants  about the Daerborne lands. Imre thought he could just tear them up.”

“Daerborne the legalist. You know that was never all of what it was about.”

“I know. I wasn’t going to back down on that part, either.”

“He hated you for that part more than for the revenues.”

“I’d have fought for him, though. Just like I’ll fight for you.” He balanced the wine flask on his knees. “I never hated Imre; it was never like that. I swore your brother an oath when we crowned him. I never thought of turning on him.” The wine tasted of spring, of afternoons, of the hedgerow country in Fianna. “It’s hard to think about now. Santare was with me, Cathan MacRorie and Anscom the Archbishop backed your brother.”


He shrugged. “That's how it turned out.”

Ariella put her hand on his arm. “I’ll say this just once. I told him I’d leave court if he moved against you, if he had you arrested.”

Falkenberg grinned. “Did he throw things?”

“Threw things, broke things.  But that was all…before everything changed.”


Ariella took the wine from him. “Richard— you didn’t ask to see me. You haven’t come asking me for patents and lands. That makes you one of a very few. I’m spending my days being royal: giving away lands I don’t have. I came looking for you tonight.  I don’t want you to do this for nothing. It’s civil war this summer, and I want to give you something. I won’t keep taking from you.  You’re viscount of Daerborne; tell me what House Falkenberg wants. An earldom? Offices? Daerborne’s on the coast— do you want all the port wardenship? Tell me whose lands you want.”

Ashes and northern winds, he thought. At court they said her voice had been like velvet and iced wine, a lamia’s voice full of the promise of silken bedrooms and fatal skills. All in black now, the flesh drawn too close to the bone around her eyes., her voice gone to ash.

He wrapped his arms round his knees and looked out at the candle and the altar. At Michaelmas, before everything, she’d worn the brown and gold of the royal house. She’d danced with Cathan MacRorie, with Morgánn. And then she’d danced with him half the night, throwing it all in Imre’s face. No languid cruelty in her voice that night, or in the morning next to him. Ashes, now.

I don’t want to see her eyes.

He leaned his head back against the stone. “I’m not after an earldom. I’m marrying off my brother into money down in the Forcinn, and I’m building quays at Daerborne. In three years or so I’ll have half the Fianna trade at my docks. Ari, when we burn out the Culdi lands I’ll take anything I can lay my hands on. But what I want is for things not to change. I want Daerborne back, I want a Festil on the throne. No Culdi and this monk he says is a Haldane.”

“I think I want you to have more.”

He held up one hand. The silver of his signet ring caught at the witch-light around her. “Ari—- my grandfather’s grandfather had Daerborne from yours. We had Daerborne from the hand of the first Festil himself. Everything I am I owe to the House of Festil. Everything in Gwynedd, the cities and the cathedrals and the borders—- your family did that. My kind took Gwynedd from the old Haldanes for your family. I’ll always stand with the Festillic. And I’ll fight for you.”

She put her hand on his arm. “I won’t use you up and throw you away. You need to know that.”

“Your brother wasn’t much of a king, Ari. But we could live with that, for one reign. It wasn’t theirs to change, Culdi and the Michaelines. I liked things the way there were. I don’t want Gwynedd changed all around. You’re the heir. You’re the strong one. You should’ve been on the throne all the time. Imre could’ve been lord in someplace like Rhendall or Concaradine where he couldn’t hurt anything. and you should’ve been queen.”

Ariella pressed her forehead against him. “I’m the heir to it all, now. And I’m my brother’s relict. I’m his widow. I can’t go to Mass in this chapel and so I’m up here playing the ghost. I spend my days pledging earldoms to greedy little lords. Richard, I loved him. I won’t regret any of it. Especially my son. I won’t regret you, either. Not ever. It’s my son, though—- they’ll never let him inherit, will they?”

“No,” he said. “They won’t. In the Connait they’re supposed to marry brother to sister to keep royal blood pure. But they won’t have it here. I mean, God knows the Church won’t. Or the lords.”

“No. When I have to talk about my son, everyone’s face changes. Kincardine is bone-loyal, and he does care about me, but even Kincardine gets this look like he’s trying not to be sick.”

Falkenberg closed his eyes. “Your son’s bastard-born. That’s a fact. But if you swore that his father was…someone…not Imre…and you could get that someone to take an oath about it, then…”

“Stop. You made me that offer once before. I’d be proud if he was yours. I’ll say that once, and I’ll always mean it. But he’s royal, he’s Festillic, he’s the only thing I have left.”

She rose and went to kneel at the altar. She crossed herself. “Daerborne—- Richard —-when it’s time, support my son. He’s the Great King’s blood, the first Festil’s blood. He deserves a place, a title somewhere. A bastard prince, but he’s still a prince. Support him.”

He pushed himself to his feet. “If he’s your father, if he’s you, if he’s you and not Imre, I’ll back him all the way to the end.”

“He will be. I know that.” She looked up at the cross. “Leave me, Daerborne. I have to creep in here in the middle of the night to pray for Imre and my son.”

He put his hand on the door. “We did come, Ariella. The southern lords, the old military blood. Your brother was a fool, Lady, but he didn’t lose the crown. The MacRories and the Michaelines plotted to come take it from him. We never deserted you.”

“Some of you,” she said. “Some of you.”

The corridor outside was full of her guards, royal knights shadowed and massive in surcoats with the royal arms. They watched him go down the stairs, their eyes flat and empty.



« Last Edit: December 03, 2019, 12:42:00 pm by DoctorM »

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2019, 08:30:36 pm »
This has become very interesting indeed.  Please continue on!
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

 -- Old English Litany

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2019, 08:41:02 pm »
I shall indeed! It should run to 3 or 4 parts, if only because my typing is slow and I need to take breaks!

Offline revanne

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2019, 06:23:55 am »
I love these stories that come from another angle. I was only supposed to have time to glance at it and you drew me right in. Looking forward to the rest.
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    let the wicked perish before God.
(Psalm 68 vv1-2)

Offline Laurna

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2019, 01:49:10 am »
An intriguing point of view.  Is this the spring when Ariellia sends rain storms over Iomere Plains to slow down the Gwynedd forces?

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 1): A Revision
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2019, 05:52:49 pm »
Ah, yes--- it *is* that spring! And we'll be talking about weather magic in a bit. I hope you'll keep reading along!


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