Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 8 - Part 3
was dusk before Connal ventured near the castle. Fortunately for him,
very little had changed. The guards still hugged the same spots on the
walls, where the wind did not bite so sharply. And the rough spots on
the otherwise sheer granite curtain wall had not been smoothed.
He grinned as he slipped into the solar in the master's chambers. A fire crackled merrily in the hearth his mother had insisted on putting in barely a year before she died. The great bed stood as it always had, draped in heavy velvet and tapestry. Even the solid cover of carved oak was draped in fabric to block the drafts and soften the outline of the wood.
Connal crossed to the window ledge. The stone his father had loosened was still in place. When he checked beneath it, two leather sacks lay where they had when last he'd been in the room. The gold coins, the jewels his mother had worn in better times, all were safe.
He wrapped his fingers around one of the sacks. Then he hesitated. This wealth belonged to his family. Why in hell should it pay for an interloper's mistakes?
Connal replaced the stone and began a search of the trunks. He was in luck. The first of the massive banded trunks he opened contained several sacks of coin along with rolled scrolls and maps.
Heavy footsteps echoed in the corridor. This chamber was the only one at this level of the tower. He was trapped.
Alarm drove speed into Connal's limbs. He dropped the lid of the trunk and leapt for the bed more out of instinct than thought.
The cover of the great bed had always held his weight. When he was a child he used to scramble up there and listen to his father discuss matters great and small with advisors and generals of the king. Later he used the vantage point to discover what went on between men and women, with his father and a serving wench as unwitting teachers.
Now the wooden cover creaked at his weight. He wondered if he'd gained a few stone since last he'd been there.
Barely had Connal positioned himself before the door crashed open. Someone stumbled and fell against the bed, rattling his perch. One of the slats slipped a bit, giving him a narrow view of the bed below and a portion of the room.
A woman lay where she had fallen. She stared at something with a look Connal recognized as controlled terror and resignation combined.
When a calloused hand struck the side of her face she neither flinched nor tried to defend herself. The blow turned her head and knocked the plain silk veil askew. Locks of golden hair slipped free and shaded her eyes.
Without knowing the man in the room Connal wanted more than anything to slit his belly open slowly.
A rough voice tore through the silence. "When were you planning to inform me?"
The woman's shoulders shook. Connal knew she was controlling herself with an effort that was near to breaking her. "My lord, I thought not to bother you with such trifles."
"Trifles? The lack of a son to keep my lands after I am gone is no trifle, wench!"
Rough hands hauled the lady to her feet. Connal saw the man now, and recognized him instantly. He had seen that face time and again, in dreams brought back by wine and the darkness of nights in the forest.
Rhydon, that was his name. The man who had, upon order from their king and with help and blessing from the usurper Festil, slain every man, woman and child of Connal's kin.
Connal gripped the hilt of his dagger until blood seeped beneath his nails. He could slay the man here. A short drop, no difficulty compared with some of the things he had been forced to do in the past year and more for his own survival. A blade in his exposed back and Rhydon, Duke of Corwyn by right of murder, would live no longer.
Rhydon obliged Connal by thrusting his face a scant inch before the lady's. "Did you think I would not have you watched? I learned this morn your courses began yesterday. Yet you feared so to tell me you cowered in your chamber."
"My lord, I beg you. Have patience."
"Patience?" Rhydon shook her then until her head bobbed helplessly on her swanlike neck. "I wed you, took you from your father's house where you had little beyond food for the next meal! The price I paid for your scrawny body dowered your sisters into useless laziness in some Bremagne convent! You owe me, wench!"
The lady raised her head then. A flash of spirit lit her eyes. "My lord, when you wed me I was but ten years. I cannot be blamed if you were displeased with what you purchased, for I had not yet my full growth."
"And now?" His voice mocked her, but he did at last release her.
She remained steady. "I pray daily for a son, my lord."
"Perhaps if I were to take you upon the altar of yon chapel your prayers might be better heard. Or perhaps if you prayed a bit during the effort in my bed. All you can manage is to lay beneath me like a fish pulled from the water a day past."
She flinched. Connal decided then and there he would emasculate Rhydon ere he opened his belly.
"My lord, I ever endeavor to do as you wish. I ---"
Rhydon's hand shot out to catch her by the throat before she could finish. "I am the last of a proud line, wench! For the service my family has given the Furstan clan over the generations I was given this rich prize. The pitiful human who held it last left so many sons it took near a day to slay them all.
"I give you one month more, lady." Rhydon released her. His last words fell like shards of granite. "If you have not conceived by Christmas tide I shall put you aside. None will fault me for ridding myself of a barren wife!"
Heavy footsteps and a door slamming told Connal Rhydon had left the room. The lady collapsed on the bed, shaking with the emotions she would not release.
Connal relaxed his hand and waited, silent, until she composed herself and left. A plan formed in his mind as he watched the slender duchess arrange her veil, straighten her gown and brush the tears from her cheeks.
His smile stretched his cheeks. Revenge would be too simple, too sweet to pass by. He would strip Corwyn of every ill gotten valuable, every prize of conquest.
That would be better justice than death for the avaricious Rhydon.
When at last the lady departed Connal slipped from his hiding place and returned to the chest. He gathered two sacks of coin and stuffed them into his tunic. More would make him too ungainly to slip over the wall.
But this was only a down payment on Rhydon's debt. He would return for the rest, and for satisfaction in more ways than one.