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Author Topic: Season of the Sword (Part 2) - A Revision  (Read 109 times)

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Offline DoctorM

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Season of the Sword (Part 2) - A Revision
« on: December 03, 2019, 09:13:58 pm »
[This is the second part of my revision of “Season of the Sword”. I’ll note that I wrote it when I was so very young— very much another world. For the record, now— the Deryni fanfic I’ve had in my head since the long-ago days of Deryni Archives is mostly told via the House of Falkenberg— Deryni who came west to Gwynedd with the first Festils and have stayed loyal. “Season of the Sword is set at the beginning of ‘Saint Camber’.  I do encourage comments, and I’d love to hear what you think.]

Season of the Sword - Part Two

The horsemen moved across at the canter, turning down the center line and shooting at the crest of the curve. The quarrels thudded into the scarecrow targets at the far end of the yard. The riders kneed their horses back around, bracing the crossbows against one hip to redraw. They swept back in a right-hand turn. The breeze caught at their surcoats, black against the dust of the yard, the white wolf of Daerborne on their chests.

Courcelles leaned over the fence rails. “You don’t see mounted crossbows in Gwynedd these days.”

Morgánn de Falkenberg pulled his horse out of line and let it walk back over to the fence. “It’s what they do in the Forcinn,” he said. Cheaper than real men-at-arms, and you can keep the Bremagni back out of lance reach. They’re all wild for economy, the city senates.” He tossed his helmet and crossbow down to his squires.

“It’s all horse-archers in Arjenol and R’kassi,” Courcelles said. “Eastern bows match anything a longbow can do. You need bows like that.”

Morgánn reached down for an ale tankard from one of the squires. “Who’d teach them? I’ve never been that far east. Fianna, the Forcinn, Bremagne a bit. That’s  what I know.  That and Grecotha. I’ve seen a R’Kassan bow, just never shot one.  And we won’t need range in the mountains; it’ll be all about shock.  We’ll have to batter our way back home.”

Courcelles signaled for ale. “You should get your moneylender father-in-law to send you to East with the caravans. You’d love the East.” He nodded at the line of crossbowmen. “Well, look at it. You get to marry your heiress down South, and you’ve got mounted crossbowmen out there. It’s a hell of a thing for a university boy.”

Morgánn shrugged. The sleeves of his jazerant stood out from the black surcoat.  “Show me a a clerk who doesn’t think about heiresses. They’re greedier than barons. Every priest in Gwynedd is down at Valoret, sucking around the Michaelines and fingering the silverware. He looked out at the riders. “Ricardo brought up all his knights and men-at-arms and every infantry archer we could buy. And I have my mounted crossbows. Well, you didn’t have to go to university to learn to count.  We need every edge we can get if we want to get through this and have more than a couple of squires left when it’s done.”

“I know.” Courcelles looked past Morgánn across the yard. “There aren’t a lot of us, not even now. This war’s over in one battle. I brought up all mine, and that’s not so many. Carismont and Kincardine came with real armies, but there won’t be enough. There just won’t be. Too many Torenthi, too many Westerners.”

Morgánn shook his head. “You’re as bleak as my brother, Rainier. Clever Ricardo’s been brooding since Easter.” He took a long draught of ale, “Here’s  a fact for you. Priests are boring people. Believe me about that— that’s why they threw me out of Grecotha. Boring people—- we ought to win just over that. Nobody who’s as boring as Anscom and Cullen and Culdi should get to overturn a throne. Anyway—- we’ll have to cut our way down, but you and Ricardo don’t have to start singing dirges just yet.”

Courcelles clapped gloved hands together and laughed. “Now there’s a young man with an education and a lady-love with silver between her legs. Well, somebody’s got to be the optimist, I suppose. At least you’re not one of those damned Westerners.” He looked hard at Morgánn. “By the way, your fellow damned soul is back. He’s been Kincardine’s spymaster down in Gwynedd. Seems he’s good at it. And your Magister Damien is going to be the new Healer-Royal.”

“Now, there’s something.” Morgánn grinned and ran a hand back through close-cut black hair. “If Damien’s back, there’s somebody worth talking to in this place. Someone worth gambling with, too. Three years at Grecotha, and he knows how to lose money and smile.”

“Sometimes I think your brother should’ve let the priests hold whatever little court they had in mind for you two. I’d have ridden all the way up from Nyford to listen to the two of you. Though God alone knows what you and my cousin were supposed to have really done at Grecotha. Whatever it was, you two managed to cause more trouble than—-“

“Than Ricardo did at Valoret?” Morgánn’s smile was dazzling.

“Dear God,” Courcelles said. “It staggers the mind, you and my cousin at thirty-five. You’d have been a bishop by then and Damien would’ve been rector at Grecotha. You two would’ve corrupted half the Church and bankrupted the other half. It was worth the bribes to see the bishops’ faces when no one was talking about charges any more and everyone was  keeping secrets, but… It would just be a lot easier if you were both just ordinary ne’er-do-wells. You have too many flashes of talent. Mounted crossbowmen  and rich Jews for you, spymaster and court healer for Damien. You need more consistency.”

Morgánn reached out for his crossbow. “Well, you know, you and Ricardo might end up in exile somewhere and I’ll be married to a Carminha and I’ll have Damien running spies all over the Forcinn. You two will slinking around Nimur of Torenth’s court and who’ll be the ne’er-do-wells then?”

He pulled the string back and locked it down. Behind him, Courcelles shook his head and sobered.

“Conference tonight,” Courcelles said. “Carismont’s having Damien report to all the great lords— meaning us and not the Westerners and the Torenthi. Carismont’s rooms, after dinner. May’s at an end. We have to march soon enough.”

“Good enough,” Morgánn said. “We can burn out Grecotha for St. John’s Eve. I don’t think I’ll miss it.” He turned back to the riders in the yard and stabbed out a black-gloved finger at the lead. “Goddamn it, Langenay, are they supposed to be a lot of Connaiti or are they horsemen? If they have to use the reins like that, they shouldn’t bother riding!”  He kicked his horse back around.

Courcelles called out after him, “You always manage to have the best-looking women and the ugliest horses. I’ve no idea how you do that.”

Morgánn grinned back. “You go to hell, Rainier.”

He kicked his horse into a canter and drove him down the yard. The reins slid down one wrist as he brought the crossbow up. The quarrel slammed into the chest of the target and bits of straw stuffing flew out into the dust.

“With your knees!” he shouted. “You can ride without your hands for two bloody minutes, can’t you?”

***

“—-Saint Agnes Eve,” Damien was saying. They were playing tiles that evening in a corner of the Earl of Carismont’s quarters. Damien reached across to top off Morgánn’s wine cup. “I came out of the Connait in dead winter. Heard the news at Cashien: the king dead, Ariella running for her life, MacRories and Michaeline priests everywhere. Some monk calling himself a Haldane prince. I thought about going back to Bremagne—- a Healer’s never out of work, and a green cloak and knowing how to use cold steel makes you a rare commodity. But I mean, well…Rainier thought I needed to be serious for once in my life. So I came up to Beldour with Kincardine, and here we are.” He raised his wine cup to Morgánn de Falkenberg. “Snowstorms all across the mountains and nobody there to meet us but Carismont’s outriders. Kept telling myself I could be down South sleeping on silk.” He looked down at the tiles. “Bleak damned winter.”

Morgánn turned up a tile. “Three in White, darling. Fourteen, and it’s my trick. And you’re just bored, You haven’t had anyone to lose money to, down in Gwynedd. Cheer up, I’m happy to take your silver.”

Damien dealt the tiles again. They glistened in the candlelight, slick black and white. The tiles were supposed to be like faces of warding cubes. Damien looked round the room. “Oh, well—- you and Forcinn Jews are the only people I lose money to. There’d be a moral there, if I’d gone to more lectures.”

“Oh, lectures. Or playing tiles with me or the Seixas factors. There’s always something better than lectures.” He turned over a Ten in the Black. “What’s life like down in fair Gwynedd this spring?”

“It’s raining in Gwynedd. Ah— L’Estoille: my trick, this time.”

“My lords, my lords!” Up at the head of the table, David de Carismont was pounding on the planking. He leaned over the great unrolled maps, grey and massive, sad-eyed, still straight-backed at fifty-nine. His captain-general’s chain glittered. He looked down the table at them, counting off the names.

“This should not be my place, my lords. The Earl of Gran-Tellie was the king’s captain-general, and rightly so. But Santare died most valiantly last Christmas at Valoret, fighting rebels when the coup happened. I’m captain-general now, and it’s time to go to war. We’ve only a few days left in May, and I want to present Her Grace with  our plan of campaign before June begins. This is a…disparate…army, and I should like to ask the advice of certain of you.”

Kincardine put his hand on Carismont’s sleeve. “David.” He gestured at the faces round the tables. “What my lord of Carismont is trying to put so delicately is that we’re the ones who can be trusted. We’re the old Festillic retainers, Deryni or not. We want the Torenthi and the westerners kept out of this. They’re not to be trusted with planning the war.”

Richard de Falkenberg looked up from the maps. The others were nodding or looking off uneasily. He watched the faces: grey, loyal Carismont at the head of the table; black Alasdair next to him in Kincardine crimson and silver. Young Strathclere was looking off, still uneasy in what had been his father’s golden earl’s chain. Three earls only, all marcher lords from the northwest. The Strathclere lands were next to the Camerons’, and Robert de Strathclere’s father had coughed himself to death at Martinmas. The Camerons would’ve carved up his lands, whichever way he’d chosen. It was all wrong, a hell of a thing to say in the middle of planning the war: whom do we trust in our own ranks? Nobody wanted to be the first one to name names.

Three earls, and then the southern lords: Courcelles, Gilbert de Szent-Kiraly, Michael Imredy, Ranulf FitzWilliam, Kenneth FitzAlan, Brian de Szent-Endre, Stefan Viskovics-Barany, Imre FitzRichard. He tasted at then names on his tongue: southern and eastern all mixed together. Names from the Great King’s retinue, families that been awarded the rich lands of the Gwynedd South.

And Morgánn at the end of the tables, next to Rainier’s cousin Damien de Corayne—- Kincardine’s spymaster, all in Healer’s green, the two of them sharing some private kind of laughter. Other faces, never mind the names. Younger sons, younger brothers, solemn older faces. Maybe twelve of us who count, twelve of us and Damien de Corayne, sitting there to draw our maps for us.

“—rewards for honest service,” Carismont was saying. “But all that too many of them see is that war begets wealth. They’ll fight for lands and titles, but that won’t get us to Valoret. Everyone who broke faith with Her Grace will forfeit his lands, but we can’t let the others go haring off to carve out estates until the war is won. I won’t have men running off by the score to look for Michaeline gold.”

Imredy raised a hand. “What do we do about the Torenthi?”

“Send them down into Eastmarch,” Courcelles said. “They’re like bloody locusts. I’ve seen them in the East.”

“I think Rainier’s right,” Kincardine said. “They’re ruthless enough, but they’re only here for loot. Most of us have manors between here and Valoret. I’d sooner have Connaiti sell-swords loose on any land I held.”

Carismont nodded. “That’s God’s truth. Torenthi soldiers have a reputation for hard fighting, and I’ve never heard of King Nimur keeping men who can’t fight. But they’re outsiders and they’re for gold. Everything they carry off goes out of Gwynedd and it’s lost forever. We have too many outsiders and titled cattle-lifters with us as it is, The Torenthi, I think, we’ll use in the van when we meet the rebels. It’s only loyalists we need to hoard for Valoret.” He looked down at Damien de Corayne. “My lord of Kincardine has had his intelligencers in Gwynedd the past weeks. Magister Damien?”

Damien half-rose and brushed his hand over the map. “It’s raining in Gwynedd. That first.”

Carismont looked at the blue-inked lines of rivers crawling north to south on the map. “It’s late in the season for rain.”

“Nonetheless,” Damien said. “Nonetheless. It’s been a swamp in a good part of Gwynedd since April. Spring came before Easter, and then the rains started to fall. Not every day, but heavy enough to flood the roads out of Rhemuth town. Steady rains towards Valoret. It’ll be a ruined harvest this year. The rebel provisioners are paying famine prices for grain. They’re having trouble bringing up their levies.”

“Well, there’s some justice.” Falkenberg reached for more wine. “They’ve had it all their own way far too long.”

Damien tapped at map markers. “Eastmarch is going to be there. He’s gotten whatever he’s been bargaining for. His son Hrorik—- one of his guard captains is one of ours. The two younger sons are raising men all through the Lendours.”

“Kheldour,” Kincardine sighed. “That’s what he wants. We’d have been fighting him for Kheldour and Rhendall this year anyway. He’s a greedy man, Sighere is.”

“He’ll wait,” Falkenberg said. “He’ll come and he’ll wait. He’ll come in force, but he’ll wait ’til it’s all but over before he jumps. If we win, he’ll turn round and march south on Mooryn.”

“He won’t wait.” Carismont sat back down. “He won’t wait to see. He wants the north country more than he wants to see Heaven. We couldn’t offer him Kheldour even if we wanted. But he won’t bring quite all his men. He’ll leave  a force to cover the Torenth border, and then he’ll bring all the rest to support Culdi.”

“Oh, they’re sure Sighere will be there,” Damien said. “They aren’t guarding the Eastmarch roads. Their marshals and purveyors are provisioning for about three thousand total. Not many archers, though. The west country’s cut off by the floods. If the rains keep up, they’ll have trouble getting more men-at-arms up. If it clears off, well…”

“Christ in Heaven.” Kincardine grimaced, He was doing numbers in his head.  He looked over at Carismonth and shook his head.

“Magister,” Carismont said, “where do you have your numbers from?”

Damien looked over at Kincardine and opened one hand in a question. “My lord?”

Kincardine nodded. “Tell him.”

Damien leaned forward. Very quietly he said, “One of Torcuill de la Marche’s captains.” He sank back into his green Healer’s cloak. He kept his back to most of the lords. “He’s not lucky at tiles. One of the clerks on the Earl of Culdi’s staff has a…vulnerability…for handsome pageboys. There’s a lawyer on the Michaeline grandmaster’s staff; the Lord d’Alcara has him running to Concaradine to try to borrow money from the Seixas bankers. The Jews know everything.”

“You trust them, Magister?” Carismont looked from Damien to Kincardine. “Your spies can be trusted?”

“Within reason. And I trust the Jews. The Seixas and the Carminha favor us. I trust them on this. I think Morgánn of Daerborne would support me on that. So would his brother.”

Two of the other lords laughed. Szent-Endre raised his wine cup in a toast. “Oh, they would. Of course they would.”

Falkenberg glared over at them. He looked back to Kincardine and shrugged.  “The Forcinn merchant houses know everything. And I think, yes, the Carminha won’t be lending much to Culdi and Cullen.”

“One more thing you should know,” Damien said. “The rebels are planning on being two to our three without Sighere’s men. They think we outnumber them.”

“What a surprise for Cullen and Culdi.” Kincardine looked at the map markers grouped around Cardosa. “No gold for the rebel spymasters.”

“We should be more.” Carismont was fingering his silver captain-general’s chain. “We should be everyone but the MacRories and the Michaelines and the the Camerons. They all swore oaths, all of them. They’d have been here in King Blaine’s day. In the third Festil’s time, the whole of the baronage would’ve been here. Loyalty doesn’t count these days.” He ran a finger over the map. “I’ve known Camber MacRorie all my life—- led armies with him. It’s hard to think of him as a traitor. His son was a courtier; I could believe it about his son. But he has a great name. He has them all there with him.”

“Not all of them,” Kincardine said. “Not even most, I think.” He moved a hand over the map. “Count the numbers, David. I think most of them are waiting. They’ll look for a winner before they ever leave their castles. Most of them will be prudent before they’ll ever think about treason and loyalty.”

“They’re greater fools than they know, then,” Carismont said. “We’re only half of us Deryni here.  But they’re all families from the Conquest. If we lose, there’s this mock-Haldane on the throne. They’ll all be swept away, Deryni or not. All the petty little local lords will rule Gwynedd, and they’ll destroy everything the Great King created. Alasdair, they swore loyalty before God. Prudence is just very quiet treason. All the Michaelines in the kingdom can’t keep God from punishing treason.”

“My lords.” Courcelles was moving markers over the map. “My lords, if we go into Eastmarch, we can break Sighere. If he hold Rengarth and Carbury, the Kheldishmen will come out of their bolt-holes. They’re more afraid of Sighere than they are of this jumped-up monk of Culdi’s. Kheldish knights, lake country knights— that’s a lot of men-at-arms to march on Valoret next spring.”

Carismont shook his head. “No. I’m sorry, Courcelles, but no.” He reached out to move the markers south and west to the mountain passes. “There’s no money to pay the Torenthi much longer, and our westerners won’t keep their nerve up into the fall. It’s a bleak thought, but my lord Kincardine and I are agreed. We have to move on the capital at once. There’s only one battle in this campaign. We go to Valoret this summer or we don’t go at all.”

“Coldoire,” Falkenberg said. “We go down through Arranal to Coldoire. Force the passes. Coldoire’s where I’ll go down.”

Kincardine looked over the lords’ faces. “Daerborne’s right. There’s nothing to be done but to do it straight out. Horsemen through the Arranal, infantry through Cardosa Defile. We come out onto the plain here— at Iomaire. And the royal party—“

“Stays at Cardosa,” Carismont said. “We can’t hazard Her Grace— hazard the Queen —in the field. Alasdair, you might take the infantry down. I’ll take the Torenthi with me through Arranal. I want our kind commanding, and I don’t want men parceled out. The old blood stays together. If the westerners ride off, if they break, I want some kind of army left in the field and not a lot of running men in twos and threes. Daerborne commands the scouts, Daerborne and Courcelles.”

Falkenberg looked down the table at Morgánn. “Don’t you act bored. Get your crossbowmen and let’s go to war."
« Last Edit: December 05, 2019, 05:58:56 pm by DoctorM »

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 2) - A Revision
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2019, 02:23:42 pm »
I got half way through this and had to tear myself away to do some things that needed to be done.  My reward was coming back to it this afternoon.   :)

I am enjoying this immensely, but I sometimes have trouble keeping some of the characters straight in my head.  Probably because we have so rarely seen the other side and we know the Haldanes so well.

Looking forward to the next installment.
From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night...good Lord deliver us!

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Offline DoctorM

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Re: Season of the Sword (Part 2) - A Revision
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2019, 05:55:29 pm »
Thank you! I've been fighting off the 'flu, but I hope to have a couple more pieces done through the weekend.

A lot of the characters are my own. When I wrote this, I didn't want to trespass too much on KK's characters, but I still wanted to have a cast of characters that could flesh out the Other Side.

 


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