Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 5 - Part 1
The rain had stopped, but
mist hung heavy in the air. Their mounts threw clods of mud into the
suffocating darkness as they ran. As he had no other directions to
follow, Albion extended his senses and scanned for human forms as they
They crossed the river and dashed through the still smoldering village. Corpses of slaughtered animals steamed in the chill night, further fouling the air that already stank of slaughter. The raiders were long gone.
Deryni senses were not needed to find them when at last they caught up to the raiding party. The sounds of pitched battle carried through the fog, magnified and distorted in the faint light of early dawn.
*Sounds like we're arrived second,* Josce sent from a few feet to Albion's right. *Shall we split the troop and come at them from both sides?*
*Go quickly,* Albion replied as he motioned half the men to follow Josce. *And stay quiet.*
*Right. Let off a burst of light when you are ready for us.*
It took more time than Albion would have liked to maneuver men and horses through the woods. He barely had a moment to glimpse the battle in progress before he sent a blast of power into the sky. The brilliant red light showed a ghastly scene.
Isolde's men clustered in the center of the battle, fighting back to back. The maneuver had bought them enough time for rescue to arrive, but had Albion not come so quickly they would have been slaughtered. The raiders, in contrast, moved like a seasoned army, efficient and ruthless. Whoever trained these outlaws, he was no simple soldier.
Albion engaged two of the raiders immediately. It took all the skill he had to keep from being caught between them and spitted like a Michaelmas goose. He let his aura flare about him as he parried one blow and dodged another, thinking to distract at least one of his attackers.
It did not work. Apparently these men had experienced Deryni before.
Albion back peddled desperately as his opponents pressed him harder.
A treacherous root snagged his foot and he fell, hard. His sword slipped from his hand and slid over the wet ground out of his reach.
He rolled away and braced himself for the cut he could not escape.
The clash of steel on steel told him some friend blocked the blow.
Albion seized his sword and rose in one smooth motion. Done toying with these villains, he sent a fireball that incinerated both his opponents instantly.
The battle was dying quickly now. Raiders were disengaging and fleeing into the trees on every side. Albion sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Powers-That-Be in general and looked about for his rescuer.
To his shock a youth with tousled red hair and a scattering of freckles stood beside him. The badly notched sword in the boy's hand told Albion he was looking at his savior.
The youth regarded him warily, and did not lower his blade. Albion decided to make the first attempt at peace. He extended his free hand and managed a decent smile. "I thank you, lad."
The youth nodded, but the wary look remained. "Did you see it?"
By his speech the boy was no common crofter. "See what?"
Fear shadowed the lad's eyes. Oddly enough, Albion sensed it was not himself, nor even his Deryni power the boy was afraid of. No, the youth wore the look of one who has glimpsed the unholy.
The lad glanced toward the trees where many of the raiders fled.
"You did not see him? The monster that led them?"
"Monster?" Albion had been called that by many of the humans in Gwynedd since the invasion. Instinct warned him to have a care here. It was unlikely the leader was a disgruntled Torenthi, but hardly impossible.
"Aye, m'lord. A best from Hell itself, wi' the cleverness and cruelty of the Devil. I saw him, I did." The lad lowered his sword at last as if realizing the fight was over and he was safe. "I was this close to him." A gesture indicated half an arm's length.
"What's about?" Josce joined them, wiping his sword on a scrap of wool cloth. "Who have you found?"
The youth answered before Albion could. "They call me Hugh Ross, m'lord. Young Hugh to some, as it's my grandsire's name also." He glanced around, clearly looking for someone. "Is he with you?"
"Your grandsire? Nay, lad. He's fine enough," Albion added as concern puckered the boy's forehead. "He's just a bit old to ride at speed. No fear."
*Josce, the boy has a tale of a monster.* Albion glanced at his friend to make certain the message was received. *We should read him and see the details.*
*Agreed, if he's willing. He's been through a lot.* Josce hesitated, then added, *What will you do if he's not willing?*
Albion did not want to think of that. The idea of forcing a traumatized human to submit to what might conceivably be called rape sickened him. Still, he needed the information the boy held in his mind and could not justify delay.
Best cross that bridge when it came. Albion faced the lad as if he were a man and his equal. "Young Hugh, you are a fine hand with a blade. I thank you for my life, and what's more, your king thanks you for saving his kinsman."
Young Hugh's grin widened. "Had I known you were kin to the usurper I'd have let 'em have at you, m'lord."
"Be that as it may, you have earned gratitude for your courage." Albion chose to pass the remarks off as the result of stress after battle. He'd have a word with the boy about keeping his tongue later. "And now, I must ask you for yet more courage. I need to see what you saw of this monster."
"And how would you do that?" Some of the color drained from Hugh's face, but he stood his ground.
"I would read your memories, with your permission."
"And what if I do not give it?"
Albion sighed. He let his aura flare around his head again to emphasize his power. "I could just do what I need to, you know. You could not stop me. I ask your permission."
Young Hugh appeared to consider his options. At last his shoulders slumped though he kept his back straight as a sling staff for pride's sake. "Aye, you could. You will go no farther than tonight? I have your word?"
Josce offered the hilt of his sword. Encased in the grip a shard of bone glinted in a crystal setting. "Lad, this is a splinter of bone from Saint Stephen, the first to die for Christ. Will you accept an oath made upon it?"
When Hugh nodded, Albion laid his hand over the crystal. He felt the presence of the saint like a shadow behind and around him. Then sacred hands enclosed his and he knew all were ready to hear him.
"I swear upon this relic I shall do no more than observe the events of the night past. Nor shall I change nor disturb anything in your mind, Hugh Ross of Derry."
The boy nodded. "Good enough, m'lord. What must I do?"
As Saint Stephen slipped away Albion motioned for two of his men to join them. "They'll make sure you don't fall, lad, as there's nowhere to sit in this muck. Just relax your mind, draw a deep breath and think of something pleasant."
As he spoke, Albion took both Hugh's bare hands in his. He stretched his mind into Hugh's and easily found the thought that brought a dreamy smile to the lad's face. He almost laughed as he saw a glimpse of a fair haired girl with the beginnings of what promised to be a full figure washing clothes in a stream.
Then he moved past the musing and located what he needed quickly.
Through Hugh's eyes he saw the night before. He woke in a well made hut, to the clatter of hooves and the screams of his neighbors. His grandfather tossed him a short sword and buckler. The weapon felt familiar in his hands. He knew well his own skill, and was certain he could handle whatever was out there.
He dashed out the door and charged the first foe he saw, a huge brute wearing a chain mail hauberk and dented helm. The man wielded a wicked curved sword with one hand, easily fending off farmers armed only with sickles and hay forks.
Hugh shouted a challenge that narrowed the raider's eyes. His foe was big, easily double his weight, but without his ease of movement. Hugh slipped under the man's guard and sank his sword into the brute's gut. Warm blood gushed over his arm.
Albion felt Hugh's revulsion as the raider screamed. Blood sprayed from the man's mouth as Hugh twisted his blade and pulled it free before he could contemplate his action. Shock froze him in place. He could not look away as the man died.
"Hugh!" His grandfather's desperate shout shook him back into action. "Guard yourself!"
His grandfather held three of the raiders off, but Hugh could see he was tiring fast. He raced to aid his grandfather, slashing his way through tow more of the raiders. Neither man took a fatal wound, but both were slowed by his blows.
Then, without warning, something struck his head from behind. He fell to his knees, the world spinning around him as his sword slipped from nerveless fingers.
Muddy boots of good quality stopped before him. He raised his head to face his fate as a man would.
A dark cloak of good wool swathed the form of a hard muscled man from head to calves. The hood obscured his face, save for a bit of a jaw shadowed with stubble. Two eyes shone from the darkness of the hood like glowing red coals.
Sweet Saints and Angels! He faced a demon.
The cloaked figure gestured. Hugh was seized from behind, his arms wrenched behind his back. The thing leaned closer and spoke in a deep, rattling voice.
"You cost me a man today, boy. It's your duty to replace him."
Then terror tore screams from his throat. He was thrown on a horse, his hands securely bound. One of the raiders mounted behind him. They set of at a gallop, leaving the cries of the villagers and the stench of burning homes in the darkness.
Helplessness and fear overwhelmed him as he was carried away. He cried like a girl, ashamed all the while as the tears streamed down his cheeks. The raider chuckled and teased him for his lack of courage, which only made him cry the harder.
Albion broke the connection. He found himself shaking, sweat running in an icy trickle down his spine. The lad's far and shame still echoed in his mind. But then, what he'd experienced would have been enough to terrify many a grown man.
Albion felt the touch of Josce's mind. *What happened,* his friend asked through a wave of concern.
*I'll tell you when we're back at the castle. Better yet, I'll show you.* Albion turned his attention to the boy, Hugh. From the dazed expression on his face he was only just coming out of the trance. Or perhaps it was simple exhaustion.
For certain, Hugh believed the thing he had faced was a monster created by the new Deryni king to frighten his human subjects. The lad's story would unsettle the common folk, at the very least. At worst, rebellion had begun from far less.
So the boy could not be allowed to tell his tale until Albion discovered the full truth. He did not doubt the raider captain was a man, whether human or Deryni, but helpless peasants might well believe the worst.
He laid a hand on Hugh's shoulder. 'Lad, from what I saw tonight you are beyond brave. Never have I witnessed a finer display of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. I thank you."
Young Hugh bowed, though clumsily. "Aye, M'lord. My grandsire would want no less of me."
Albion gave him a smile. "Then would you be willing to enter my service this night, Hugh Ross of Derry? I am in need of a squire and would gladly have you to train."
"Squire?" The word seemed to shake the weariness from the boy's shoulders. He stood straighter, his eyes bright in the dawn light. "Me?"
"I do not see why not. If you serve me well who knows what fate will bring? It's not unheard of for a man to be knighted for service with less skill and courage than you've shown this night."
The boy said nothing, but his jaw dropped and hung open. Albion took this as a good sign.
Josce tapped lightly against his mind. *You don't need another squire. What are you thinking?*
*I can't let this tale out until we can see the truth behind it,* Albion replied, glancing at his friend. *As my squire he'll have to keep quiet. I'll need that sword again.*
Josce offered the sword, hilt first. Albion took it and held it before Hugh. He centered his shields and concentrated until the sword began to glow with an unearthly light.
"Place your hand on the blade, if you are willing to enter my service. Speak your oath so all may hear." The direction was unnecessary. Hugh laid hi hand on the sword without a moment's hesitation.
"I swear to serve you, sir, with all my skill, in my life or in my death. No other lord will I serve save by your direction. So say I, Hugh Ross of Derry, son of Justin, son of Hugh."
"And this do I swear upon these Holy Relics: I will teach you all I know of the ways expected of a knight so that in good time you may take on such a fate as God in His wisdom plans for you. I will provide you bed and board, three suits of clothing per year and two pairs of boots. You shall have a horse, arms and such equipment as you station shall have you bear from my own purse. So say I, Albion Cammeron, Duke of Tolan.
"Now, Young Hugh, I've two duties for you to begin immediately." Albion spoke in his best brisk manner, a voice not to be taken lightly.
"First, do not speak of this night to any save with my direct permission."
Hugh nodded. "As you will, m'lord. And the other?"
"Find yourself a horse. We return to Derry straightway."