Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 10 - Part 2
Connal smiled to himself as
he wiped the sweat from his eyes with the back of his sleeve. Revenge
was indeed sweet.
The chapel still remained as he remembered it, quiet and still and full of the deep thoughts of scholars and clerics. Rhydon had installed a great statue of Saint George, complete with gold washed armor and a gleaming sword of silver beautifully embossed. Obviously the usurper considered George a protector, for the statue sat in an alcove that had once housed the Blessed Mother of God.
Saint George now faced the wall. The heavy statue had taken some time to turn, but Connal found the effort well worth it. He completed his task by removing the thick candles from their iron candlestands, extinguishing them and replacing them upside down. Yes, revenge could be sweet. And vastly entertaining.
Now for more profitable work. He headed for the castle.
Not one of the servants paid him any attention as he strode through the halls. He could hardly suppress a grin. So long as these people were worried about their own futures, careful never to upset their lord, they paid no attention to anyone else.
Connal slipped into the ducal library and shut the door behind himself. He meant to discover what use Rhydon planned to put that restive pack of mercenaries to. Not one of his spies had managed to discover the plan, and now that the money to pay this army was gone the situation was becoming dangerous.
The polished oak table where Connal's father had once kept the estate's accounts was covered in a huge map of the eleven kingdoms. Markers made of ivory, lead and copper weighted portions of the map and left other parts to curl in on itself.
Connal whispered a quick prayer to St. Anthony. Surely that worthy fellow helped him find exactly what he was looking for so quickly. When he smoothed the map flat he understood the pattern all too well.
This was a military campaign of massive proportions. Ice filled Connal's stomach.
Lead markers massed on the borders of Tolan. More of the same were grouped in Gwynedd, and a smaller cluster lay in Corwyn along the sea. Single copper markers sat on Arjenol, Trallija, Moorwyn, Howicce and other lands where Connal knew the Furstain crown had alliances or conquests.
The rest of the eleven kingdoms were marked with ivory. Small discs lay in odd places where, Connal could only assume, armies waited unsuspecting. Larger pieces marked the capitals and royal residences.
Saint Michael's Sword! These Deryni were planning to rule the world!
The library door squeaked. Connal jumped, pulling the map half off the table. Markers clattered to the floor as he pulled his dagger and prepared to defend himself.
Melissande smothered a smile behind one slender hand. The soft glow of her candle threw intriguing shadows over her face and the thick golden braids that hung over her slender shoulders. "So I find the ghost here, spying on my lord's plans?"
Connal sheathed his blade and released a long, tense breath. "What are you doing sneaking about?" The question sounded ridiculous as he asked it. She lived here, after all.
"I came looking for some poetry to take to bed. Instead I find the source of our recent trouble."
He shook his head at that. "I am not bringing you trouble, lady. Only justice."
"Justice for some. Deeper trouble for others." She set the candle down and straightened the map. "Rhydon knows you have a spy among us. At least one. He questioned the kitchen boys, the stable men, the laundresses --"
Connal seized her shoulders and pulled her up to face him. "What did he do to them?" His heart pounded like thunder.
Melissande's eyes widened. "Naught more than threaten. He struck a few, but left no more than bruises."
Connal realized how hard he was gripping her. Her bones felt as fragile as a bird's wing beneath his calloused hands. He relaxed his grip but did not release her. Instead he stepped around the table so they stood toe to toe.
"I did not mean to frighten you." His hold became a caress. "I fear your tale surprised me more than it should have."
Her hands covered his and stroked him in response. "I think I could never fear you, though I know you are no ghost. You would never harm the helpless."
"Lady, you know me not at all." When she leaned her head against his chest, desire made Connal shudder. "I am far from a paragon knight."
"Nay, but whoever you are you care for those who cannot care for themselves. I hear the tales the servants tell, the reports of my husband's men when they return empty handed." She smiled, pressing her cheek against him more firmly. "You have quickly become a hero, my Lord Shadow."
"Aye. A hero, Lady, if it pleases you. But no saint." The scent of her hair drew him down until he rested his lips atop her head. "I am not made of stone, Mellie."
Her shoulders shook a bit. "My lord, you make free with my name and still I do not know yours."
"Before your husband came to Corwyn, I was Connal McQuillion, heir to this land."
She stiffened at the name. For a moment he resisted her effort to pull away. Then, when he released her she looked up with eyes wide in wonder.
Her hand rested against his tunic, as if she wished to assure herself that a heart still beat in his chest."We were told you died in Gwynedd. That you lay in a mass grave with the rest of the Haldane's supporters who resisted to the last."
The intimate touch pierced Connal like a spear. He bit his lip, letting the pain clear his mind and focus him on what he should be thinking of. The map, the plan beyond anything he had dreamed his enemies thought to achieve.
When he drew a steadying breath her scent filled his senses and he knew he was lost.
Melissande snuggled against him again as if she belonged there. "I am glad you survived," she whispered. "Rhydon would run mad if he knew. I wish I could tell him."
"Don't you dare." Connal barely suppressed a chuckle as he imagined Rhydon's rage.
She shook her head. "I will not. The less I see him the better, though he presses me sorely of late."
"He wants a son."
She stiffened. "How did you know that?"
How could he have been so stupid? He felt a blush rising in his cheeks as he sought the right words for confession.
"Two weeks past I was in his chamber. When the two of you burst in I hid in the surest place I remembered. The top of the bed."
Melissande paled. "You heard?"
"I could not help it."
"And what must you have thought?" Tears hovered on her eyelashes. "Oh, God. You must have thought --"
"That that brute bastard should be flogged for what he was doing to a beautiful, spirited lady." Connal brushed a tear from her cheeks with his fingertips. The satin touch of her skin made him shudder.
"And I thought how I would love to have you in my arms," he continued, unable to stop his tongue. "How I would hold you close and protect you from the cruelty of this world. And I wondered how a Deryni could touch my heart so when I hated every one of your race.
"And most of all, I wished with all my heart that I would have the chance, just once, to prove to you that not all men take pleasure in a woman's pain."
As he spoke Connal let his hand slide slowly down her spine. When it came to rest on the curve of her hip she shivered. Golden light briefly flared around her, sparkling off her hair. Her eyes closed, and her head tipped back just a bit.
The invitation was unmistakable. Connal claimed her lips with passion and possession that could never be denied.
After endless moments he pulled away, just a bit. "Not here," he whispered. "I'll not lay you on a cold floor for this."
Her answering smile removed any lingering doubts Connal had. "My chamber is just above us. I know Rhydon will not join me this night."
"The king surely will not deny me his attention for a third day." Albion tested the tone of his lute. "They will call the banns for us by tomorrow's Mass."
Isolde grimaced. "I think you are yet a bit flat on the lower strings."
"You're probably right. You have a fine ear, my lady." When she leaned her head against the stool he sat upon he leaned closer and whispered, "among other delightful parts."
Albion glanced at the cup on the floor beside her. The cold, damp day warned of snow to come. Braziers warmed the hall and servants filled every cup with hot, spiced mead to keep off the lingering chill.
Perhaps Isolde had had too much of the mead. She must be tipsy to be giggling like a milkmaid.
He retuned the lower strings and tested the pitch. At last satisfied he let his fingers find a simple tune.
Isolde sighed. Her longing for her harp was as clear to him as if their minds were joined. For the space of three chords Albion debated telling her she would soon have another.
Then he pushed off the thought. It would be a far better surprise, and perhaps a fine wedding gift.
Isolde rose gracefully. She lifted her arms and accompanied the music he made with light and graceful steps.
Albion's fingers followed their own paths on the strings as he watched her, mesmerized. Her slender form and sure movements were more alluring, more enticing than anything he'd seen in an R'Kassai harem.
He let his imagination take flight as he watched Isolde dance. The reality of her surpassed anything he could dream.
Not that he had not dreamed of her. That admission made him feel like a green squire.
Other ladies joined Isolde in her dance. Albion forced himself to concentrate on his music. Though the entire circle of dancers moved in time to his rhythm, he played for Isolde alone.
He jumped, startled, as someone tapped his shoulder. With a jarring dissonance the music ended.
Ivo gave him a short, nervous bow. "Forgive me, Sire. His Highness sent me to fetch you."
Albion forced himself not to jump for joy. "No harm done, lad. If you will put this away for me I will join His Highness directly."
And with a boyish grin for Isolde he was off like a shot.