Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 6 - Part 2
followed deer trails and cart tracks through the rough lands for the
rest of the day and well after nightfall. It was full dark before they
saw the walls of Dhassa looming before them.
Albion stifled a sigh. The last thing he wanted was undue attention. "I suppose I must rouse a guard to let us through the gates."
"Why?" Connal's grin flashed in the moonlight. "There's a better way in, if you're willing. Just don't let it be known what you are. There's quarters of this city Deryni don't go near."
"There's quarters of this city no sensible man will go near," Albion retorted as Connal led them around the walls. When he finally saw what he was looking for and headed for the city Albion felt a tingle of apprehension.
The city wall opened over a river that flowed out, carrying the waste from the row of tanneries and butcher shops near the east wall. Connal approached the opening, which was guarded by three of the largest and stupidest looking brutes Albion had ever seen. They resembled large Barbary apes, with jutting jaws, sloping foreheads and arms that dangled nearly to their knees.
Unfortunately they were also armed with large clubs, double headed axes and numerous roughly made blades stuck in their wide belts.
Connal advanced cheerfully and addressed the brutes by name. A low, urgent conversation followed. Before Albion could decide to extend his senses and discover what they were saying, McQuillion waved them closer.
"I've explained to Rolf here," he paused to indicate the largest of the three guards, "that we've a loyal man here wounded by brigands." Here Connal winked. "Understand, he thinks it was your kind did this. They will let us beg sanctuary at the cathedral. No doubt His Excellency will send us a healer."
Albion tried hard not to admire the cool young outlaw for his judicious use of truth and subterfuge. He failed miserably. "Let us go, then. No doubt, the sooner we get this man to a healer the better off we'll all be."
Connal shook his head. "I may trust you, Deryni, but not all of your kind. My men stay out here, where it's safer." He directed the last to his companions. They gave him looks of pure mutiny.
"My lord, we go where you go." One of the two outlaws spoke at last. From his stance and the tone of his voice Albion knew this outlaw would die for the man he still called "lord". "We don't trust these outlanders."
"Peace, Kevin. I will be inside a chapel in a free city. Where could I be safer?" Connal patted the man on the shoulder as if they were old friends. "Besides, if you are right what could two of you do? You will give me more help by staying free."
Once the outlaws reluctantly agreed and they settled on a meeting place after those going into Dhassa returned, the wounded soldier and his escort set off for the city walls. The street they entered was completely dark, without so much as a torch to light the unpaved muck track.
Albion drew a breath and wished with all his heart he hadn't. The place reeked of offal, blood and entrails.
As much as he detested doing it, Albion extended his senses. The second level of sight all Deryni had told him they were indeed in butchers' row.
Connal led them past several more streets, as if he knew well the path they traveled. Albion smiled as they moved from butcher shops to a cluster of tanners, then dye-lots. Finally an acrid tang in the air said to all they were near the goldsmiths'. Here the streets were well paved and far cleaner, although the air was no easier to breathe.
"We're near the cathedral now," Connal whispered as they slipped into the shadows to avoid the night watch. "His Excellency made certain the winds wouldn't carry the smells of the jewelers into his prayers, yet he likes them working near enough to make commissions for the Church easy to deliver."
"Sensible," Albion thought.
"Just keep a watch for the guardsmen. They don't take kindly to anyone skulking about in the dark." Connal chose that moment to loosen his sword in its scabbard. Then he waved to the men leading the horse. "Come on up. We'll make for the cathedral now."
He stepped into the main street with seeming confidence. Unfortunately his nervousness radiated so far Albion knew every Deryni within three streets could sense it.
They were within sight of the cathedral when two liveried guards blocked their path. Clearly the guardsmen had not expected to find anyone on the street. Their shock lasted only an instant.
Connal made good use of it. He shoved the nearest of Albion's men toward the church. "Take the horse! Run!" "'Old!" The Bishop's men reacted quickly. Their long pikes swung to a ready position as they shouted for aid. Clearly these men knew what they were doing. "State yer business."
Connal drew his sword. Clearly he thought they would have to fight their way out of this. "We're only seeking sanctuary."
"After the curfew? Ye'll wait in the ghaol fer yer safety I'm thinking."
"I'll not. The church is open to all." Connal took two steps toward the cathedral. "You're welcome to try and stop us."
The guardsman smiled.
Albion decided this was getting them nowhere. The time for subtlety was over. "Stay your hands, both of you," he commanded as he stepped into the wavering light. His aura shone around him as he extended his hand. On the middle finger of his right hand the ducal signet ring of Tolan glittered.
The Bishop's men froze. Slowly it dawned on them that Albion was a person of great importance, one they must not disrespect however they might feel in their hearts about the invaders.
The guardsman who had spoken first stepped forward and bowed stiffly. The others relaxed, yet remained watchful.
"My lord, forgive us. It be our duty t' clear the streets after dark. We meant no disrespect, my lord."
"None taken. I commend you for your diligence, and I shall tell His Excellency I am most pleased with your attention to your duty." Albion flashed Connal a smile as he noticed the outlaw gaping at him.
"I am about His Highness's business," he continued with the same inflections of self importance he'd practiced at the court in Torenth for all the years of his upbringing. "We have a badly wounded man who carries information we must have. Kindly inform His Excellency we are here and bring his healer to the cathedral with all speed."
"It shall be done, my lord." The guardsman snapped another bow before he motioned to his men. "Ye, fetch 'Is Excellency's healer. Ye, escort 'Is Grace and the rest o' 'em to the chapel immediately." The youngest of the guardsmen sprinted off on his errand. The other, an older man so scarred he seemed to have been carved from weathered wood, bowed to Albion.
"Ye'll 'ave no further trouble wi' Teig leadin' ye," the guardsman commander assured them. "Wi' yer permission, I'll go wake 'Is Excellency myself."
Albion nodded. Teig led them to the cathedral directly. They passed several more patrols along the way, but none stopped or questioned them
Albion's men-at-arms had reached the top steps of the cathedral with the wounded man. Several of the Bishop's guardsmen surrounded them, weapons drawn. Neither of Albion's men had a blade bared, but they looked as if they were prepared for a battle.
*Stay steady,* Albion sent to them as he approached. *Just go on inside. We will follow.*
As his men obeyed, Teig shouted to be heard over the clamor. "Wha' in 'Ell do ye think ye're doin'? Can't ye see these are 'Is Lordship's men? Let 'em pass, damn yer eyes!"
The cluster of city guardsmen parted instantly. Clearly Tieg was someone they either respected or feared.
Albion led the party into the cathedral. His men had laid the wounded man near the altar rail. As he and Connal approached, the door to the sacristy opened. A short, slim man with a leather satchel stepped into the chapel. From the green wool cloak thrown over his long nightshirt, Albion knew this must be the Bishop's healer.
The newcomer acknowledged them with a short nod. "I understand I have a patient here? Yes, there he is." Without so much as an introduction the Healer knelt beside the wounded man and laid his hands on his patient's chest. A soft green-silver light enveloped both of them.
"Doesn't say much, does he?" Young Hugh commented as he watched the Healer work with rapt attention. Clearly the boy was not used to even so benign a use of Deryni powers.
The Healer shifted his position and laid his hands on either side of the unconscious man's head. The silver-green glow intensified until it became too bright to look at. Then, slowly, the Healer seemed to relax and the light faded.
When the aura's glow dimmed Albion knelt beside the Healer. "I thank you for his life, my lord."
The Healer folded his hands. "Don't thank me yet, Your Grace. Head injuries are the worst to deal with, and he's been given rough handling getting here. The blow came to the back of his skull, but I have the bleeding stopped and he's sleeping now."
"And I must ask you one more service. I need to know what happened when he was attacked." Albion licked his lips and used the interval to summon the right words to convince the Healer. "I could do it myself, but I fear I might disturb something that ought not be touched while he heals."
"And reading his memories is so important you would invade the man's mind without his consent?"
Albion nodded. "He may never wake, my lord. You said so yourself. The danger that attacked him threatens the peace in Gwynedd, and I must use whatever means God gives me to meet this threat. I have His Highness's commission in this."
"Do as he asks, Jorian." A rich voice spoke quietly behind them, but with the authority of one used to being obeyed. Albion turned and saw the Bishop of Dhassa standing there, a gilded robe of fur lined wool enveloping his corpulent form. A simple cap covered tousled grey hair. Clearly His Excellency had not bothered to dress properly before coming.
The Healer bowed so deeply to the bishop his head nearly touched the floor. "Your Excellency, as you ask it, I shall."
"Only the attack, mind, my lord." The bishop's stern words were directed at Albion. "If you wish more you must wait until this man is conscious. He is now under the protection of Holy Church, and in Dhassa that means me."
The Healer slipped back into the wounded man's mind. From the expression on his face Albion realized the memories were not easy to face, even if they were easy enough to find.
"This entire trip is ridiculous." Jorian spoke the memories aloud as he felt them. "Captain Rodgers finally calls a halt. I secure my horse, then turn to the woods. I need to relieve myself."
"A bit too much detail, if you ask me," Connal muttered.
"I remove my helmet. It's got a dent in it I need to get fixed. I can do that when we reach Derry and deliver this bloody summons to some upstart lordling. As I reach the edge of the trees something strikes me in the back of the skull. I collapse with a thousand stars before my eyes.
"They attack from all sides. We must have ridden right through them, and they let us get comfortable before they struck. My eyes are still open, and I watch my companions die. I cannot move to aid them."
"Do you see the leader of this group? Can you describe him?" Albion held his breath for the answer.
Jorian's jaw trembled. Sweat dripped from his chin. " He shoves back the hood of his cloak to wipe away sweat from the battle. God help us all," he whispered hoarsely. "He's a monster. A corpse raised from the dead by dark magic! He must be."
Behind him, Albion felt Young Hugh tense. Connal laid a hand on the boy's shoulder.
Jorian drew a deep breath and continued with better strength. "The outlaws take everything they can use, horses, weapons, even our cloaks. The leader is talking, and I can hear him. They plan a hard ride for Derry. They will arrive for the festival next week.
"And they don't know I am not dead."
Jorian slumped over the wounded man. Albion shook off the horror the tale had left in him and looked at his companions. Of them all only Young Hugh met his gaze. The boy's eyes said only too clearly "I told you so."
Albion grasped Jorian's hand and sent a large draught of his own strength into the exhausted man. The Healer roused and gave him a look of thanks. He touched his patient's forehead briefly. "I've left him deep asleep, Your Grace. He needs to heal, and that's the best way."
"Good. He's answered my question and given me valuable advantage." Albion rose and stepped from the group. "Your Excellency, I think you know what must be done."
"I do." The bishop nodded, his full lips thinning. "We have heard horror tales of these raiders. Until this night I laid most of it to the frightened imagination of their victims, but Lord Jorian is the most level headed man I know. I believe at times even the Mystery of the Mass does not affect him."
"Then perhaps an extended time with Our Lord might be good for him," Albion suggested as Connal approached.
"I agree, as I was thinking the same thing. He will take a sabbatical at a cloistered priory, under a vow of silence."
"But that won't keep the stories from spreading." Connal voiced Albion's greatest fear. "Tales are already running wild. You can't take every survivor into service, nor can you, Your Excellency, lock them all away in cloister." His eyes darkened to smoldering coals as he faced Albion. "Still think this thing's human?"
"I know he is. Or was. That's not the important point now." Albion returned Connal's steady regard, yet he felt the man's challenge. "Man or demon, we must stop him."
"And he's heading for Derry. And Isolde."
Albion nodded. "And he thinks some festival will give him what he wants, whatever that is."
"Samhain. The festival's called Samhain. It's a harvest festival," Connal explained when Albion frowned in confusion. "There's food, dancing, drink. It's a chance to relax once the work is done."
"And if Isolde holds this festival this year she will be exposing herself to these raiders." Albion fought the urge to strike something in frustration. "She won't hold it, surely. Not with her father recently dead."
Connal shook his head, his mouth set in a grim line. "Oh, she'll have it all right. It got canceled last year, thanks to you lot. She'll feel she must celebrate this year for her people. And put herself in harm's way."
"Do you think I missed that point?" Albion gave the bishop a quick nod. "With your permission, Excellency, we will try and catch these brutes now that we know where they are going."
"Go with God's speed, my sons." The bishop raised his hand in blessing. Before he could finish, Albion and Connal were out the door, matching stride for stride.