Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 10 - Part 4
Isolde tucked her feet
beneath her on the padded window seat. Now the drink was wearing off she
began to feel the chill seeping through the cold stone walls. If only
she were back in Derry, where the smaller rooms were far easier to heat
than these great halls.
As she flexed her fingers to warm them she smiled. Albion seemed so certain all would be well. Perhaps within a month or two she would be his wife. That idea warmed her to the tips of her toes.
"Greetings, Lady Isolde. Heard the news?" Ivo and Hugh stopped beside her. The boys were sweating despite the cold, and from the look of the bruises both wore they had been practicing swordplay in the armory.
Perhaps Albion sent them with a message of his success. She forced herself to appear calm. "What news? I've heard nothing all day."
Hugh brushed his dripping hair out of his eyes. "Oh, my lady, there's a great stir about. Seems bandits have attacked Sheele. Killed the lord and his family, and looted the place, they did."
"His Majesty is being informed now," Ivo continued as Hugh paused for breath. "He's bloody furious, I can tell you. Calling for immediate action."
The joy drained from Isolde. She knew without being told that the bandits were the same group her brother led. And now they had killed a Deryni lord.
The awful law Festil had in place would, she did not doubt, come into play now. Fifty hostages for every Deryni killed. Fifty innocent people whose only crime lay in the station of their birth.
Holy Mother of God. She dared not go to the king with what she knew. Even if she did not suffer his wrath for her long silence, whatever else he did Brandonn was still her brother.
But how could she allow innocents to die so her kin might continue in his madness?
Josce crossed the hall, looking concerned. "Lads, My Lady? Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing." Isolde gathered her composure and stood, doing her best all the while to appear calm. "I've just had a piece of awful news."
Josce took her hand before she could stop him. "I am truly sorry. Would you like to go somewhere quiet? Perhaps the gallery would serve, if we cannot go to the gardens."
"Thank you, no, Sir Josce. I will just go to my chamber to collect myself." And gather her cloak. Isolde decided then and there she had to try to stop this. She must convince Brandonn to give up this senseless struggle. She knew she could do it if only she could find him.
She headed for her chamber. It would take little time to change into more practical clothing, grab a cloak and boots. Then she must saddle her horse and leave the city without gathering undue attention.
A gaunt figure slipped from the shadows to block her path. Distracted as she was with her own mission Isolde nearly ran into him headlong.
"Lord Lajos!" She fumbled with her skirts as she managed a short bow. "Do forgive me. I was distracted and did not see you."
His smile held more ice than the wind beyond the walls. "So I noticed, my lady. Might I ask where you were going in such a hurry?"
"To my chambers. I --"
He held up a hand to silence her. At the same moment the aged Deryni lord allowed his shields to flare in the dim corridor, bathing him in crimson. "It matters not to me. I am, however interested in your intentions here. Why came you?"
His accusing tone fired Isolde's temper. She caught her lips between her teeth for a moment and reminded herself how powerful this old man was. She dared not offend him, no matter the provocation.
"Your king ordered me brought to Rhemuth, my lord. I had little voice in the matter." "Did you not?" Lajos' eyes narrowed dangerously. "I do not believe you, lady. I have had far too much experience with the duplicity of your kind."
"Forgive me, my lord, but as I do not know you I can hardly be blamed for what you might have experienced from others." Isolde lifted her chin and glared at the old man, though her stomach clenched in instinctive fear. "I have never played you false, nor will I. That is not my way."
"Perhaps." Lajos's thin lips narrowed still more. Then he mouth hardened into in implacable line. "Leave this place before you foul my lord's plans beyond repair, Lady"
"I shall, as soon as His Highness will permit." Isolde stepped back and around Lajos before the old man could stop her. "If you will excuse me, my lord, I will disturb your day no longer."
By the time she reached her chamber Isolde was running, her skirts lifted nearly to her knees in her haste. It took only moments to change from the ornamented velvet gown to one of serviceable wool. She ignored the new velvet cloak lined with warm mink skins and instead ruffled through the chest at the foot of her bed. Her old wool cloak would serve her far better for this journey.
A few moments later she was heading for the stable, intent on saddling her mare as quickly as possible. Just as she reached the solid wooden doors someone caught her arm and stopped her in her tracks.
Ivo shook his hood out of his eyes as he bowed. "Forgive me, Lady Isolde. My lord Albion would have me bring you to him."
Isolde's heart gave a glad flutter at these words. Surely this meant Albion had been successful in his audience with the king.
But, though she desired more than anything to go to him now she knew where her duty lay. She must stop Brandonn before he destroyed more innocent people in his madness.
She gave Ivo a reassuring smile. "I have an errand that cannot wait. Please tell your master I will join him as soon as I return. It should not take long."
Ivo frowned, clearly not fooled. "Where are you going, Lady? You look dressed to ride."
"And I will be. Do you not think me capable?"
Ivo nodded. "Assuredly, Lady Isolde. But you are not in Derry now. You have no escort." "And what escort would I need for a simple errand?" Isolde folded her hands and did her best to appear calm. Please, she whispered in silent prayer, let him return to Albion so I may be gone.
Ivo stared at the stable door for a moment. Then he nodded to himself. "I will be your escort, Lady. My Lord Albion would not wish less of me."
Seeing there was no alternative, Isolde nodded. "Then fetch us two horses so we may be on our way all the faster."
They left the castle and city behind them without incident. Isolde led the way toward the distant forest. Only as they passed beneath the shelter of the trees did Ivo stop. From his expression Isolde knew he sensed something was wrong.
"My Lady, what errand can you find here?" The young squire frowned at the somber trees dripping with cold rain. "I see nothing of interest about. Let us return to the city."
"I cannot, Ivo. I bid you go back, if you will, and tell your master I will be just a little longer."
The boy looked hesitant. His eyes darted back down the path the way they had come. "Lady, I ---"
An arrow whistled through the barren branches and struck Ivo with a sickening thud. Isolde shrieked as the boy's eyes rolled back in his head and he toppled from his mount, dead before he landed in the ankle deep leaves.
As quickly as Ivo fell the woods came alive. Isolde was surrounded by cloaked men armed for battle. One of them took the reins from her trembling hands while another caught Ivo's horse.
Without a word they led her into the woods. By the time they stopped the light had faded to a dim twilight that served only to enhance the shadows.
Isolde spent the ride fighting to control her fear. She knew she must bide her time, for she could never escape surrounded by so many armed men. If she dissolved into the despair she felt she would be no good at all when her chance came.
The brigands led her to a ruined village in the heart of the forest. A dozen or so thatched huts clustered around a small chapel, all in various states of disrepair. >From the look of the ragged thatching, nobody had lived here for several years.
Men walked about, intent on various errands. From the size of the village Isolde guessed there must be about thirty raiders in the band.
Her captors led her to the chapel. Inside one of them lifted her cloak from her shoulders while another caught her wrists and held them firmly. As they stepped into the sanctuary she glanced around in shock.
The church had been transformed into living quarters. A bridle hung from one of the niches, draped over the figure of a saint. A pallet lay on the floor before the ornamented cabinet where surely once the sacred host had been stored. The high altar was reduced to a table that now held her brother's dinner.
Brandonn set a gold chalice down slowly as she was led to him. His ruined face broke into a demonic grin. "Now this is a piece of luck. I was about to send a message to see if you would meet me, and here my men bring you to dinner." He raised the chalice again in toast. "Happy chance!"
Isolde managed not to shudder as she watched her brother drink from the sanctified cup. "Brandonn, we need to talk. I came looking for you."
"And so you found me. Won't you join me for dinner? You must be starving." He gesture to the altar. Roasted chicken and apples sent out delicious odors.
Isolde's stomach rolled. "Brandonn, this is not like you. Let us talk a bit in privacy. Then we can eat."
Her brother slammed the chalice down and tore a piece of chicken from the bird. Grease dripped on the paten he was using for a plate. "Eat!" he bellowed, his voice echoing in her ears. "Then we can talk!"