Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 11 - Part 3
Mellisande did her best to
hide a smile as she left her chamber. She knew she had slept late, and
doubtless would find much undone thanks to her laziness.
Her conscience pricked her for missing the morning Mass. After all, for nearly a week she had borne a mortal sin on her soul. Somehow she did not care. The nights in Connal's arms were too wonderful, too exquisite to give up for anything.
She paused as the corridor turned to the stairway that led to the main hall. Smiling, she rested a hand on her stomach. Nothing looked different, not yet. But Mellisande knew without question something had changed.
*Welcome to the world, little one.* Her mental whisper carried no farther than her womb. *I dearly hope your father likes girls.*
That thought brought another, one that chilled her blood. She must entice Rhydon to her bed soon. If he thought she carried another man's child Mellisande knew she could count her life in seconds.
The idea of bedding Rhydon brought bile rising in her throat. She knew she was no more than a few hours into the pregnancy, but she swore already she was morning sick.
The sound or running feet and rattling chain maile assaulted her. Rhydon was shouting at the top of his lungs, cursing the air blue. Mellisande lifted her skirts and ran to the stairs.
Her husband stood in the hall, holding on to one of the carved chairs and bellowing threats at his men. The soldiers scattered about with as much order as ants when the nest has been stepped upon by a careless foot. Beside Rhydon, the wizened Lajos gave urgent directions in far calmer tones.
Fortunatley for whomever had caused the chaos the staff were too overwhelmed by Rhydon's bluster to understand what Lajos was saying.
Rhydon's fury only increased at the inefficient response to his orders. He siezed a clean linen tablecover and jerked it free. Pewter platters and silver candlesticks clattered to the floor. Lighted candles rolled about, setting the rushes aflame where they landed.
Mellisande hesitated. She knew she should attempt to calm her husband and put the situation to rights. Unfortunately doing so would put her at almost certain risk for a blow or two. She now had a child to protect from his brutality.
Better to let him spend his wrath on those who could get out of the way. She turned back to her chambers. There was more than enough sewing and weaving to keep her busy this morning.
A shadow moved as she opened her door. Mellisande froze. Cautiously she stretched out her mind, seeking the intruder's identity.
Connal's presence immediately reassured her. *It's only myself, with a companion in dire need of help. Don't give us away.*
*Of course I won't. But what did you do to make Rhydon so angry?* Mellisande reached them in a few steps. The niche in the corridor did not conceal the two men completely.
Connal's grin nearly drove her to screaming. He looked as if he were having the time of his life, despite the swelling bruise that covered most of the side of his face. "I think I've upset His Grace a bit, mo chirde. Couldn't be helped, really."
"And would you avoid provoking him if you could?"
Connal dropped a quick kiss on her thinned lips. "Not for a hundred soverigns. But I really did have a good reason this time." He caught his companion by the collar and pulled the man straight. "Allow me to introduce Festil Furstain, at the moment a rather pathetic specimine of manhood."
Mellisande had only seen the Furstain Usurper of Gwynedd a few times. The resemblance between father and son was so clear she would have recognized the prince without the introduction. She managed a hurried curtsy and bowed her head. "Your Grace, we are honored."
"Don't be so honored. Your husband tried to kill him. At the moment he's little better than a sodden sot, again thanks to your lord husband."
The prince gathered himself at these words and made a brave try to stand straight. "My lady, I fear I may have . . . inconvenienced you. I . . ."
"There they are!" The shout was the first clue any of them had that they were discovered. Mellisande turned to see three armned guards pounding down the hallway, with Rhydon hot on their heels.
Before she could move, Connal siezed the prince and bolted in the other direction. When more guards blocked the far end of the hallway he thrust young Festil through the only open door. They were trapped in the library.
Mellisande scrambled after them. She reached the library door bare seconds before Rhydon and the guards. The men thrust her out of the way as if she were an inconvenient broomstick.
Connal stood with his back to the wall, a short sword in one hand and a wicked looking knife in the other. A scant step behind him the prince of Gwynedd held a thin bladed dagger. The guards surrounding them clearly had no intention of accepting surrender, nor did it look as if Connal meant to offer it.
Rhydon actually chuckled. The sound made Mellisande want to retch. "Caught like the rats you are again, my lords. Or should I call you the Prince of Shadows?" He waved his hand in an exaggerated salute, stumbled and nearly fell on his face.
Connal's grin never wavered. "It seems fair odds to me. A McQuillion facing four mummers' idiots. Good sport."
"Good sport for me." Rhydon stepped forward. "Stand back, the rest of you. Give me a clear field."
Unable to stay away, Mellisande stepped toward them. Her heart thundered in her throat. She could not watch Connal die, not like this. There must be something she could do.
Rhydon slowly drew his dagger. He let the wavering light from the tall windows play along the honed edge. His grin widened until his face resembled a demon mask. Then he extended his hand, and one of the guards passeded him a sword.
Connal lept forward. The tip of his sword whistled against Rhydon's face. When he recovered his stance a thin trickle of blood gleamed on the blade. "First blood's mine!"
Rhydon's eyes narrowed. He lunged at Connal.
Mellisande thrust her fist into her mouth to keep from screaming. She knew well how skilled her husband was, had watched him often in the training yard toying with a prisoner, slicing the wretch apart by bits and pieces.
But Rhydon was overbalanced. He stumbled like a drunkard and Connal stepped out of his path with a mocking laugh.
Rhydon recovered himself and lunged again. This time his sword missed Connal by inches. A luckless guardsman screamed in agony as Rhydon's sword buried in his belly. Connal stepped in as Rhydon struggled to recover himself. A thin line of blood traced the base of the Deryni duke's throat. The men at arms howled rage, nearly drowning the horrible cries of the slowly dying man. Rhydon rose like a wounded boar, roaring his fury. His aura blazed blue as he leveled the sword blade at Connal. Then, with a wicked gleam in his eye he changed his target and directed the sword at the dazed Prince Festil.
Mellisande's hand closed around a solid brass candlestand. Before she considered what she was doing she shoved through the crowd of armned men. Thinking only that she must protect the prince, who after all had no hope of defending himself, she struck the side of her husband's head.
Her blow was feeble. The candlestand was far too heavy for her to wield effectively, but it threw Rhydon off balance. Connal launched himself at the duke in the same instant, knocking Rhydon to the floor.
Rhydon shuddered once. A horrible gasping gurgle came from his throat. Then, with only the dying guard's moans to break the silence, the sword and dagger slipped from his nerveless fingers and he lay without breathing, unmistakeably dead.
Mellisande stared in horror. Her heart pounded in her throat. She gripped the candlestand as if it were a part of her hands, unable to let it go. Dear, sweet Mother of God! What had she done?
"Move!" Connal shoved Festil ahead of him through the stunned guards.
Mellisande did not follow them. She stood, as if rooted to the library floor, clutching a candlestand and staring at Rhydon's twitching corpse.
Connal had no idea why Rhydon had died, but he was not about to question his good fortune. Apparently Rhydon's men were as confused as Mellisande was. It would not be long before they recovered, and once they did he knew none of them had the chance of a rat in a trap.
Fortunately Festil seemed cooperative. The prince stumbled into the corridor. Connal shouted for Mellisande, then, when she still did not move, he siezed her about the waist and lifted her off the floor.
Her weight was barely enough to slow him down. They raced down the corridor and out onto the battlements, with Prince Festil stumbling along in front of him.
By the time they reached the battlements Connal knew their luck had run out. Shouts of enraged men at arms followed them from the library.
The moat shimmered far below the walls. It was their only chance. Connal shoved the prince off the walls and jumped for the moat, holding Mellisande close to protect her from the fall.
The moat was liquid ice. Mellisande shuddered and whimpered. Connal took that as a good sign, since it was the first reaction she'd shown to anything. He kicked hard for the surface and swam for the far bank.
Above them confusion reigned on the walls. Some of the guards shouted for bows, but no arrows flew. Festil struggled to his feet and they bolted for the forest.
Connal shephearded his two companions through the forest and into the town. By the time they reached Patrick's waterside tavern the sun was setting and his entire body felt numb from cold. Still, he knew he was by far the better off of the three of them. Prince Festil slowed them all down by retching violently twice along the journey, and Mellisande moved like a wooden doll, without seeming to notice where she went.
Patrick dropped the damp rag he was using to clean the tables when they burst into the tavern. The few patrons set down their mugs and gaped at the little group. Only when a drop of fridgid water fell into his eyes did Connal realize he had ice in his hair.
"Wha' in the 'ell ? . . ." Patrick caught Mellisande as her knees buckled. "Yer Grace, 'ave ye lost yer mind?"
"Probably." Connal managed to reach a bench by the fire before his own legs refused to hold him up. "It's been a very long day, Pat."
"So much I'd 'ave guessed. 'Ere now." Pat pulled Festil's frozen tunic roughly over the prince's head and tossed it to the floor without regard for the rich fabric. "Jen, fetch some blankets. Move, girl!"
Connal allowed Pat to pull off his tunic and cloak. The fire's heat scalded his bare skin. He closed his eyes and let the flames soak into his frozen limbs. A few minutes later someone pressed a steaming cup of mead into his hands.
He swore he could hear teeth chattering. Whether they were his own or his companions' he did not try to guess.
When at last he opened his eyes he saw Festil curled next to the hearth, wrapped in sheepskins, shivering uncontrollably. Mellisande sat at the other end of the bench they shared, staring at the fire and not reacting to anything despite the ice crusting her lusterous braids and clothing.