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Author Topic: Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision  (Read 425 times)

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Offline DoctorM

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Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision
« on: December 07, 2019, 04:16:00 pm »
[Part 4 of the revised "Season of the Sword".]



Season of the Sword (Part 4)


In the tower the air tasted of sorcery. All the way to the royal apartments Falkenberg had felt it, the taste of rain on sea air. He could hear it somewhere in his thoughts, the hiss of wind through salt-grass.

In the corridor the royal guards came to attention as he approached. New faces, with tawny surcoats sewn with the gold lion’s claws of the Festils. Eastern faces, he thought, faces from the Great King’s Conquest tapestries.  He nodded as he went past, and a silent chamberlain bowed him through into her workroom.

Ariella was standing in cold witch-light,  pacing alongside the table, sprinkling water from a ringed hand onto the bright colours of an unrolled map. The air in the room had the scent of summer lightning.  She was whispering, the words harsh and spiky, something from old stories of the Deryni past. She scattered the last of the water across the map and flicked her fingers. The drops rattled across the heavy surface of the map, across the names of the towns of central Gwynedd. She clenched her fist in a final gesture and turned to face him. He bowed.

“Your Grace.”

“Richard.” The lines of her face were drawn tight, and there was steel inside the ashes of her voice.  “It’s raining in Gwynedd,” she said. “It’ll be raining in Gwynedd ’til we meet our traitor earl and the priests.”

The taste of rain faded away. There was something else there, now. Maybe just the lemon scent of the perfume she wore. He looked at the map with with blank eyes.  “If you say it will.”

“This is what I can do,” Ariella said. “This is my part in it. I have to fight for this.”

Years ago, the first time he’d seen her— at court, walking in a garden close on his brother’s arm. Her ladies-in-waiting were perched on benches, watching with smirks on their faces. He’d thought most of them had their own tales of Morgánn to tell. Maybe they’d all share stories with the princess— he’d wondered what that would be like. He’d never have seen the woman in front of him in that girl in the garden.

He looked at the map. “Water on a map and weather curses.”  She believes this. She believes in it, in weather magic and curses.  He looked back to Ariella, afraid for her, looking for hysteria in her eyes. “Lady, I know less than nothing about these things. My brother’s the scholar.”

The corners of her mouth drew down. “A lord of old Deryni blood who doesn’t know sorcery?”

“If it rains in Gwynedd, Lady, it rains. That’s all I can say.”

“You don’t think I have the ability to do this.” She tapped with her rings on the table edge. “You don’t think I’m able. You think I can’t be part of the fight.” Each word fell like water onto granite, eating away at the rock.

He shook his head. “You’re the heir to the royal house. If anybody can make it work, it should be a Festil. I just don’t know. I never needed to know. It’s all of it so…I don’t know the word. I can set wards, I can do an aura or handfire. But, you know, I don’t Heal, I don’t kill with a thought. I’ve been in a Portal twice in my life and both times spent the next day sick as a dog. It feels like jongleur’s tricks, most of it.  It was never any use to me.”

“You govern Daerborne without the Deryni arts? I can’t decide whether that makes you sound arrogant.”

He shrugged. “I never saw the need. Looking into men’s minds to decide which peasant gets a pig? I hold court, I listen, I make decisions. People pay taxes so I’ll make decisions. I’m their lord. I listen and nod and make decisions for them.  Lady, I was never meant to be an adept. I ride a horse between two points. If I have to kill, I do it with a sword or I send down South to hire a hand with a knife. I hawk, I have ships built, I collect taxes and give justice. Sometimes I read; occasionally I ride out to fight. Sorcery doesn’t set prices in the south. It’s never won a battle. So it’s nothing much to me.”

She looked down at the map. “What does mean something to you, Richard? What does being Deryni mean?”

Falkenberg shrugged. “It means I’m one of the Conquest families. It means our kind built everything in Gwynedd I care about. It means that I stand with the Festils.”

She came out from behind the table. “You’re loyal to the idea of my family. You’re loyal to the idea that the Festils rule in Gwynedd.” Not a question— she had the voice of royalty more than her brother ever had. Princes didn’t ask questions about loyalty.

“The Conquest families are Deryni. I believe in a Festillic Gwynedd. And I’m always loyal to you.”


“You’re Daerborne, aren’t you? My brother keeps talking about cutting your head off.”

The first thing she’d ever said to him, standing in a doorway at Valoret, looking down at him and the game board he’d set up. He remembered what she’d worn and what her eyes were like. But…chess or backgammon? He couldn’t recall what he’d been playing.

He’d stood and bowed. What had she said? “I know your brother Morgann, of course. The two of you don’t look a thing alike. I wonder what that means.”




“Loyal to me. I’m glad for that, Ricardo. I’m glad it’s you standing there and not…”

“If you’re going to say Morgánn, he’s loyal to the Crown. It’s a family thing.”

“But you’re the one who’s loyal to me. That matters.”

Falkenberg looked up at the witch-lights curling above her. “You sent for me,” he said. “Not just to watch you drip water on a map. What’s happened, Lady?”

Ariella looked back at the map. “Two days, I’m told. You’re commanding Carismont’s scouts. You and Courcelles ride out in two days. I wanted to see you before then. There’s something I need.”

“I’m here to serve. Just ask.”

“It’s not a courtier thing. I’m about to ask you to give me the rest of your life. And your family’s.”

He thought about laughing. “Unless that's about you asking me to marry you, I thought I’d already given you the rest of my life when I showed up here at Easter.”

Ariella took a breath. “Explain to me about incest. Tell me about that.” Her hands clenched in the black folds of her skirt. “Carismont never asks; he wouldn’t know how. Kincardine cares about the succession, and he’ll just never admit to anything that interferes with it. Tell me what you think.”


She’d come to him at Daerborne, arrived with almost no warning and only a bare handful of attendants. The next morning she’d taken him out on the edge of the dunes, riding hard. They’d been walking their horses when she’d said it. She’d looked straight ahead along the path and said it quietly enough: “I’m pregnant.”

He’d never had a girl say that to him before. In truth, there hadn’t been that many who could’ve said it. Morgánn had gone through ladies at court like a whirlwind, and the same here at home. Most of the women in his own life had been girls he’d paid for from brothels just above the middling sort, girls who knew how to deal discreetly with problems.  He wasn’t going to pretend to be surprised; he wasn’t going to pretend anything. “Tell me what I can do,” he’d said.

“You aren’t going to ask if it’s yours?”

“You’d tell me. You and I don’t dance around things.”

She took a breath. “You know whose it is.”

For a heartbeat he thought she meant Morgánn, and he’d felt all his plans for Daerborne and an alliance with the Carminha dissolving. And then he knew. Maybe he’d known all along.

“Oh God, Ari, oh God. I’m so sorry.”  He’d stopped and put his hand on her arm. “Are you going to…”

“Go through with it? Yes. Yes. I love him, Ricardo. He needs me. He needs me to make him believe in himself. I’m the one who can do that for him. I can give him that.”

“He can’t acknowledge it. You know that. If you…if you need to have someone named, you can  say it’s mine.”

“He’d exile you. Seize your lands. He only needs a reason to have you killed.”

“He won’t kill me. I’d have to go overseas for a while, though. But there’s something going bad in Gwynedd. Something ugly’s going to happen. He’ll need the ones like me when it does. Who’s he going to trust otherwise? Coel Howell?”

She’d smiled for the first time that morning. “I’ll tell him it’s Coel. That affair was a mistake in my life I’d love to see erased.”


“There’s nothing to say. I’m not some bishop, some doctor of Church law.  I don’t get to judge. I worried about you; I still do. You’re not a monster. Whatever you did with Imre is over. You have a son and whatever anyone says, you’re the only one who can say whose he is.” He shrugged again. “I’m your friend. Tell me what you need.”

Ariella nodded toward the floor. “This is what I need.  Take a knee, Richard. Do this.”

Looking up at her, he could think only of her eyes. At court they’d been hazel, a colour for flirtations. Tonight they were dark as his own. The rain scent in the air came back and her eyes held him.

She reached down to pull his hands up between her own, her fingers biting into the bones of his wrists. There was light all around her, the silver of aura-light.

“I want this oath from you,” she said. “Repeat it: I, Richard de Falkenberg—-“

“—lord and viscount of Daerborne—“

He followed her through it, his voice crisp and clear as it had been when he was eighteen, kneeling before her father at Valoret.

“—do hold faith to the House of Festil for all my lands and honours—“

“—and from this day forth do become your man in all things.”

She let her breath out. She raised his hands higher, the marks of her fingers deep in his skin. “More,” she said. “I need one more thing from you. Say this for me: I do swear loyalty to the blood of the House of Festil, male and female, legitimate or not. now and in all its generations.This I do for myself and my heirs, now and forever.”

“Before God,” he said. “For myself and for all the House of Falkenberg, now and forever.”

Ariella released him and the silver aura faded away into nothing. She turned back to the map and ran a finger along the southern coast and the Daerborne lands.  “I used you from the start,” she said. “Not just the way I always used men. I mean, I used you for that, too, and to make my brother jealous when you came up to court. But I used you for your loyalty, and because I needed a confidant. I may be using you up altogether in a few weeks. “

“I’m there to be used, Lady. That’s what the military barons are for.” He got to his feet. “At court— all those court games never bothered me. I’m not clever enough to suffer if people make witty remarks about me. Court’s all  a game. And I was young that first time. Flattered by the attention. I didn’t mind being used.”

“Think about this,” she said. “Seventeen living earls in Gwynedd. Three of them came. Only three. I have all the numbers by heart. Out of all the barons, thirty-nine came. You came, and Carismont and Kincardine and the southern ones. But the rest, all the ones we cherished and favoured, they’re all at home with the traitors or just waiting for a winner. I used you so much, Ricardo. A way to annoy Imre— annoy Coel and your brother, too —back then, and a way to guard my son now. Marek will need you. I know that. You’re always there to be used, aren’t you?”

“For you, always. For the Crown, too.”

She put a finger on the line of the road from Nyford to Valoret. “I should’ve made Imre pay attention to you. Had him set you ferreting out what the Michaelines were doing. You’d have been better at it than Santare. You were wasted at court.” She looked over. “You’ll be off to Coldoire.”

“That’s where it’ll start. This thing ought to be over one way or the other by Lammas.”

“By Lammas, you may regret ever letting me call you to Cardosa.”

Falkenberg shrugged. “By Lammas I may be worrying about which new palace in Valoret I’ll keep my hawks at.”

“Daerborne’s by the sea,” Areilla said. “You could run there, hide, then take ship to Fianna or the Forcinn. You could end up that way at Lammas, too. If it’s Valoret, though, there’ll be a place for you. I should’ve paid more attention to you then, paid more attention to what posts you’d be good at.”

He looked at the line of the Lendours on the map. Drops of water lay in beads west of the mountains. “That’s all after Lammas, Lady. There’s still a war to live through. We have to get to Valoret.”

She touched his sleeve. “I was right about one thing, back at court. You weren’t much like the other young lords. God knows you weren’t like your brother.” She said, “I always wondered if you’d ever ask— about which of you was better.”

He shook his head. “In bed, you mean? I’d never ask.  Morgánn always is. Fact of life.”

The corners of her mouth drew down. “Don’t make assumptions.”

He laughed and tapped with two fingers at the lines of the Forcinn littoral on the map. “Maybe I am wasted not being at court. But you were wasted at court in Imre’s day. He should’ve been at some backcountry barony and you should’ve been queen.”

“I’m going to be queen,” Ariella said. “Gwynedd could’ve survived Imre. It won’t survive what’s coming— the native houses coming back, the priests and traitors and the nothing little upstart lords. Not and be worth living in. If I win— after we win —it’ll be a new court. A Deryni court, and all the old, loyal blood there. Imre…Imre was bored being king. He thought everything would always be there for him, lords and lands. Imre forgot that we’re a conquest kingdom. It’s a new world after Lammas. A grim autumn, Daerborne: all the gold goes to headsmen. Watch how the spoils go round, watch who gets what. I want it to be like the Great King’s court again— after Lammas."

« Last Edit: December 20, 2019, 12:30:51 pm by DoctorM »

Offline Jerusha

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Re: Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2019, 07:54:40 pm »
Oh my, oh my.  I have always had a soft spot for the Falkenbergs since your first stories.  There is something about their personas I can relate to.  Looking forward to more.
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 4 ) - A Revision
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2019, 09:45:04 pm »
Thank you! I think the next installment should take us to Iomaire.

Offline Laurna

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Re: Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2019, 10:41:57 pm »
You scared me with this chapter. I am not able to read Ariella's motives and I worry that she truly intends to "use Up" our dear love sicK Richard. It is likely due to decades of anti- Festil thoughts, but I do not Trust Ariella.
I did lover her weather crafting and that Ricardo/Richard did not believe that she was the one making it rain.

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2019, 10:03:18 am »
I think that they trust each other. He's obviously in love with her, and I think she's at least honest with him. She wants his support, and she wants to know that someone she trusts will be there for her son, but she does care about him and doesn't want him thrown away.  Let me know how you feel about the nest two parts.

Offline DoctorM

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Re: Season of the Sword (part 4 ) - A Revision
« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2019, 08:52:34 pm »
You scared me with this chapter. I am not able to read Ariella's motives and I worry that she truly intends to "use Up" our dear love sicK Richard. It is likely due to decades of anti- Festil thoughts, but I do not Trust Ariella.
I did lover her weather crafting and that Ricardo/Richard did not believe that she was the one making it rain.

I think that they trust each other. He's obviously in love with her, and I think she's at least honest with him. She wants his support, and she wants to know that someone she trusts will be there for her son, but she does care about him and doesn't want him thrown away.  Let me know how you feel about the nest two parts.

 


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