Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 11 - Part 1
Connal slipped from
Mellisande's chamber in the early hours. It took all the control he
posessed not to whistle as he adjusted his tunic and ran his fingers
through his hair. The night before proved to be one of discovery and
He was certain now that he had found his perfect mate. The quiet and shy Mellisande proved to be an eager bed partner, once she got over the fear left by past experience.
So intent was he on the memories of the night before he barely heard the voices in the library. One of them he recognized as Rhydon's. The others he did not know. The conversation sounded urgent.
As quietly as he could, Connal slipped up to the door of the library. Whoever closed it had not done a thorough job. The door stood just barely open, with enough of a crack for him to both hear and see through quite clearly now that he was paying attention.
Rhydon stood near the desk, a silver goblet in his hand, his face a mask of fury. Facing him was an old man in a long tunic of rich velvet and a fur lined cloak. The wizened fellow was speaking urgently, and gesturing wildly at the map on the table and at a young fellow kneeling bound between two guards.
The luckless prisoner seemed to be the focus of Fhydon's wrath. As the old man continued to speak, Rhydon slammed the cup on the desk. Wine sloshed over the map and several of the markers scattered.
"Does your father think I cannot handle my part of the bargain?" Rhydon siezed the prisoner by the front of his tunic and shook him like a rat. "First he sends his fool with his messages, now you are here to spy on me and report to him whether or not I am able to cooperate!"
"His Grace my father knows nothing of this." The prisoner's voice wavered as he spoke. "I came of my own accord. Connal shook his head at the man's tone. Perhaps he was drunk. Even slurring his words, his voice still carried the hautier of royalty born, even slurring his words.
A blade slid from it's sheath with a whisper. Rhydon smiled. "Then perhaps we should dispose of a troublesome spy in the most expedient manner."
The prisoner actually lifted his nose into the air. "You dare not, my lord. I am a prince of the blood royal." "And there are many to replace you."
Connal leaned against the corridor wall. Now he was fairly certain he knew the prisoner's identity. Given the man's age and the haughty tones of his voice he could only be the eldest son of Gwynedd's usurper.
So why was Rhydon, ever loyal to the house of Furstain, intending to kill his master's heir? It made no sense. And worse, what should he, Connal McQuillion, do about it?
The old man stepped between them. "Stay your hand, Your Grace. Do not toss away opportunity given so freely." "What opportunity?" Rhydon lowered the long, thin knife he held. "I see a problem to be disoposed of." "Of course, Your Grace. But if we kill His Grace now, we will miss the opportunity to discover why he came here. It is, of course, possible he was sent by his father, in which case there could be serious trouble should he disappear permanently."
"And he says himself his father knows naught of his presence here." Rhydon did not lower the knife even as he directed his attention to the old man. "Should our plan be revealed before its time I think Festil will not take the brunt of the fury that will fall like rain from Heaven."
"It will count nothing against us should we take a moment and assure ourselves that his father did not send him." The old man took the knife from Rhydon's hand, ignoring the furious glare he received. "After all, he is no threat to us now."
Rhydon appeared to think for a moment. Finally he nodded. "It is true enough what you say, my lord. I suppose it will do no harm to hold him for a day or two, but when that time is past he's mine. Mark that!"
The old man bowed slightly. "I will well, Your Grace. Now I think we must take His Highness to his lodging and finalize our own intentions. You must be ready to move within three weeks time, Your Grace, or all will be for naught."
"Don't worry for me, my lord. My men will do as they are expected to. As for this one," Rhydon glared at the captive prince, "he may well find himself feeding worms by week's end."
"You forget the penalties for regicide." The prisoner struggled to rise. Only when Rhydon nodded assent did the guards allow him to gain his feet. "Both you and you lady wife will pay the consequence for your reckless actions."
At that threat Rhydon laughed. "Forgive me, Your Highness, but you seem to forget which of us is going to talk with your father and which of us is going to talk with the rats in my dungeon. I fear no retribution. And you had best make your peace with God, for it is from him alone you may find mercy."
The captive prince tossed his head in a pathetic effort to look unmoved. Unfortunatley his head wobbled like an unbalanced top and the gesture cost him what balance he had. He fell to his knees with a groan, then toppled face down to the floor.
As the guards hauled their noble prisoner toward the door, Connal glanced around for a good excuse to be in the corridor. At the far end he spied a bucket of water and a long brush. Obviously one of the servants had been cleaning and abandoned the chore for something more important.
Connal picked up the brush just as the library door opened. The guards carried their prisoner with businesslike precision, giving no thought to the servant set to scrubbing the wall with a long handled brush. Only when they passed did Connal pause to consider his next move.
No doubt Rhydon and his elderly compnaion were discussing something in the library at this very instant. However much Connal wished he could overhear their conversation his good sense warned against it. After all, how long could he wash the same spot on he wall without being noticed?
For a moment Connal's sense of fairness warred with his need for revenge. He could rescue the son of Gwynedd's usurper, and reward their family's barbaric actions with kindness, or he could let the fool rot in the dungeon.
Then again, there was the possability that the prince now held in the castle's one cell stood as strongly against his father's actions as Connal did. If nothing else, he obviously was no friend of Rhydon's. That made him Connal's ally, at least for the moment. Connal dropped the brush into the bucket and headed for the dungeons. Nobody bothered to question him when he caught a torch from a bracket and descended the narrow, dark stairway.
He could not resist a smile. All it took to maintain a disguise was the simple art of looking like you belonged doing whatever you were doing. Hell, he could probably pass for a doxy in a waterside tavern if he had a mind to.
The cellars beneath Coroth Castle were darker and narrower than Connal remembered. Rooms his mother had kept filled with dried fruit, salted and smoked meat, sacks of grain, were now nearly empty. The door to a room his mother had once used to store bolts of fabric stood open, only a few rolls of linen cloth left on the shelf.
Clearly something was hurting Rhydon more than he'd thought possible. There was not enough food left in Coroth to sustain the household for another month, let alone the rest of the winter. He saw no evidence of the sweet comfits that should be here for the upcomming Christmas holidays.
The empty larders brought Mellie's sweet face to his mind before he could stop her image. Whatever else happened he would see she had some Michaelmas treats.
He hurried on along the passage. A sharp turn warned the neatly cut corridor became a tunnel hewn from rough rock. At the far end a narrow laid grid of bars turned the end of the tunnel into a singel cell without a window.
There was a glowing ball of bluish light hanging in the air just outside the bars. One guard slumped against the wall, staring at his fingernails. The prisoner lay on the cell floor, unpadded by so much as a layer of straw.
This was simply too easy. Connal pulled the long knife from his boot top, pressing the blade against his leg as he drew it to dampen the sound.
Knife in hand he approached the guard. The man seemed to be snoring lightly. Connal rested the tip of his blade against the man's throat. The guard did not flinch, nor did the pattern of his breathing change.
Too big a risk to leave him alive. With one quick motion Connal sliced the guard's throat, cutting both artery and vein. The man slumped forward, blood gushing over his tunic as he died without a sound.
It took no more than a moment to wipe the blade clean and replace it. Then Connal examined the latch that fastened the grillwork over the end of the cell. A portion of the grill was held in place with iron bolts. They were easy enough to remove.