Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 6 - Part 4
felt as if his belly had been dumped into a well. He drew long breaths,
all the while telling himself he had no reason to feel as he did. After
all, Isolde was not his, would never be his. He should be pleased that
Josce was making such good progress.
Still, every fiber of his being screamed denial.
Staying away from Isolde obviously had not worked. He still wanted his best friend's woman.
He should have known. Over the past week the scent of lavender, a whisper of warm wind, even the sound of a stream was little enough to remind him of her. At night his normal imagination ran wild. She invaded his dreams.
Albion forced himself to focus on Josce, and the business at hand.
"These raiders are more than simple bandits. They have fallen to attacking royal troops."
"When did this happen?" Josce frowned. "Not in the time we've been here, I trust?"
"Two nights past, but not here. Twenty men sent from Rhemuth were ambushed. Only one of them survived, and he's not likely to talk for some time."
"Then how do you know it was the same band?"
"In Dhassa, the bishop's healer read his memories. Unfortunately that good fellow thought the same thing Young Hugh believed. The raider leader is a monster, at least in everyone's opinion."
"So what happens now?" Josce leaned forward, seemingly prepared to leave immediately. "Has the tale spread?"
"Fortunately, His Grace had the good sense to keep the idiot healer quiet. But our luck won't last much longer." Albion paused, then asked the question most on his mind. "How is the castle garrison?"
"Better than I expected." Josce's smile said more than his words. "The main problem is a lack of men, not lack of training."
"The whole of Gwynedd suffers that affliction."
"And there are some who do not wish to take orders from a Deryni," Josce continued as if he had not heard. "I think I am winning them over, slowly but surely. And I might say the same with the lady of the manor," he added with a smile Albion wanted to strike from his face.
"Just remember, we are on the King's business here. So keep your head where it belongs."
"And I thought that the King's business involved me winning the lady's heart." Josce's smile faded. "You have been nothing but testy since we arrived. Why don't you go fetch your lute and relax a bit? You need it, and so do the rest of us."
The idea was almost too appealing. Albion considered it for a long moment. "A bit much effort for an instrument, don't you think?"
"It isn't as if we don't have enough men to draw the power from. And you can create a temporary portal without much trouble, you know. Not that I wouldn't mind having a permanent one installed here. I doubt there is one within twenty miles."
Josce laid a hand on Albion's shoulder. "Let us gather some of our men. With ten or so we won't draw enough from any of them to matter. We can have your precious lute and be back here in time for dinner."
They had no wish to make the portal obvious, and so avoided the more traveled portions of the courtyard and the chapel. Fortunately the family crypt was unlocked and sheltered. That site was ideal, from Albion's point of view, as few of the castle's residents visited the dead with any regularity and anyone using the portal could come and go without being observed.
It was also large enough for twelve men to gather comfortably. In less than an hour he and Josce gathered ten of their men, including Young Hugh. Of the group only Young Hugh had never seen magic worked this way before.
"We've a bit of luck today," Albion explained to the boy as he drew a soft velvet bag from his pouch. "There are enough Deryni present to keep everything under control without my having to marshal all the energy myself.
"You asked about these cubes some days ago," he continued as he spilled the wards major into his hand. "Now I'm going to show you how they work. Don't ever touch them, not even to pick up the bag unless I tell you to. Understand?"
Young Hugh nodded. "So what do I do?"
"You stand next to Sir Josce and relax your mind. He's going to draw some energy from you, and I am going to combine that with the contributions of all the rest to create a transfer portal. You should not notice anything beyond a vaguely tired feeling that will pass in an hour or so."
Albion set the wards without further comment. When at last the silvery ring of light extended itself to enclose the dimensions he wanted for a small transfer portal he motioned Josce and the rest to enter the circle. Then he stood, guiding the flux of energy over and around them.
Josce joined him in the center of the circle, along with two of their knights who were well trained and easily capable of working this magic. Each of the men in the center of the circle guided the energy of two others as Albion guided the forces together. In a few short minutes the tingling beneath their feet told them there was a living portal pulsing in the center of the crypt.
Albion dissolved the wards and dismissed his men. When only he and Josce were left standing in the semidarkness he considered what he had done. The portal was still glowing faintly as the magic settled into its new location. In the faint silver light he saw the shrouded figures of Isolde's ancestors like sentinels watching them.
"Want me to come with you?" Josce's voice revealed the strain of the recent working, even if he still held his shoulders straight.
Albion shook his head. "Why don't you just keep a watch here. I'm only going straight there and coming straight back. With any luck I can get my lute and be back here before I am missed."
"As you will." Josce sank down to the ground, his back against an empty stone slab.
The transfer portal tingled as Albion stepped onto it. He felt a brief sense of vertigo, then he was stepping out of the portal in the sacristy of St. George's. After the chill damp of the crypt, the waves of heat from the banks of votive candles struck him like the blast from an oven.
In less time than he would have believed he traveled from the cathedral to the palace and slipped up the servants' stairs. His chamber was a small corner room near the family quarters. He hesitated in the shadows as a pair of guardsmen passed, then halted again to avoid Lajos who was hurrying by on some urgent errand with a bundle of scrolls in his arms.
He paused outside his door and sent his mind into the latch. The trap he had triggered before leaving for Derry was untouched. No one had tried to enter his room without his permission, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Albion pushed open the door and shut it again. His lute still lay where he had left it, inside a leather travel bag at the foot of his bed. The instrument felt solid and reassuring when he closed his fingers around it.
"I wondered if you would turn up?"
The familiar voice made Albion jump inside his skin. His shields tightened briefly, then relaxed. He turned and bowed low to the man who stood in the corner. "Your Highness, I did not see you there."
"Of course you didn't. Your mind was a thousand miles away once you thought you were safe." A younger version of King Festil straightened and shook out the short woolen cloak that had bunched uncomfortably while he waited for his friend. "When Father's message did not reach you I worried."
"We discovered your father's messengers barely two days ago, along the Dhassa road. Unfortunately all save one were dead." Albion laid his lute back on the bed, sensing an extended conversation. "What is happening that was so urgent?"
Young Festil advanced until scant inches separated them. He stared directly into Albion's eyes and switched to mind-speech. *We may be observed at any time, and this is most urgent. Father and Uncle Lajos are in an uproar. Father has drained two of the human servants talking with Beldour, and he hasn't stopped yet.*
*What's so important?* Albion felt his gut tighten with apprehension.