Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 12 - Part 3
They returned to the chapel
to find Josce drying his hands on a length of linen. From the embroidery
on its edge it might once have been an altar cloth. The rest of the
piece was torn into strips, soaked in wine and laid over Albion's
Josce shook his head when they walked in. "It's no good. If I were trained I might be able to do something, but with whatever they've given him I can't even begin to fix the damage. Maybe tomorrow I'll have better luck."
Festil picked up the wine bottle that sat on the altar and took a long swallow. He grimaced. "So why are you still able to function?"
Josce shrugged. "They apparently did not know what they were doing, so I let them think I was still drugged and they missed giving me a couple of doses. I've got a devil of a headache, but other than that I seem to be fine."
"And how long have you known you could heal?" The prince's voice carried an edge of danger. "Our kingdom needs healers desperately. If you'd shown any sign of the talent --"
"I would have been put into a school my father could not hope to pay for." Josce tossed the rag onto the altar. "And by the way, that's communion wine. Consecrated, I think. Whoever left this place left it in a hurry."
"And, rotten as it is, we need something to sustain us." Festil swallowed another mouthful of the wine and handed the bottle to Connal. "I seriously doubt God will mind."
Isolde knelt beside Albion. He appeared to be sleeping, for which she was grateful. She settled herself on the floor near his head and leaned against the wall, exhausted.
A heavy cloak hung from the figure of a saint in a niche above her and to her left. She was cold. But she was too tired to move.
"You should get that cloak." Albion's voice echoed her thoughts. He looked at her, a shadow of a smile on his lips. "Can't have you catch a chill."
"You should be asleep." Goaded by his words Isolde retrieved the cloak and laid it across his legs. "Besides, you need this more than I do."
"No. The cold feels good." Albion struggled to kick off the covering when she did not immediately remove it. "It numbs the pain. I think that poison is helping, too. I can't feel much."
"Do you want some of that wine?"
"Hell no. My stomach wouldn't hold it." He drew a slow breath and waited until she settled beside him, wrapped in the cloak. "Isolde, I --"
"Don't even say it." She took the hand he reached toward her. A wave of dizziness and nausea assaulted her as she felt his sickness, but she did not release him. "I know. You killed King Ifor. And you did not tell me."
"Yes, I did. It was my arrow that ended his life, but at least my shot was quick and clean. I should have told you." "I knew you were there. It matters not to me."
"But there is more." Albion shuddered and lay silent for a long while. Whatever was bothering him Isolde knew it was serious. She felt his despair.
"I was at Ifor's court for half a year before the invasion. It was I who lulled his fears. And it was I who gave Festil the layout of the city, the date of the First Fruits festival, and the hour best to attack."
"You were a spy." Isolde shivered.
"I was. And now I pay my penance, for I am haunted by my father's ghost."
They sat silent for a time. Isolde struggled to reconcile the loving man she knew with the sort of creature who could betray a family to their deaths.
"My father was asked to go to Arjenol, to ingratiate himself in the ruling house and open the way for invasion. He refused. And he was given the death reserved for traitors in Torenth. It took him three days to die."
Distorted images flashed into Isolde's mind, carried through the tenuous link with Albion. He was a small child, terrified, crying as he watched his father impaled on a stake facing the home their family shared. He heard his groan of agony when the stake settled into the hole dug for it.
Then strong hands tore at Albion's clothing. Another stake was brought. A second hole yawned beside the first.
She realized she was seeing Albion's memories, complete with the terror of a seven year old facing his own death. She tried to break the link but could not. Her love for him bound her to watch to the end, to understand.
A young man, very much like Prince Festil save for the style of his hair and beard, stepped between the child and the stake. "Let us not be hasty," he said to someone she knew must be in authority over this horror. "With the proper guidance he could become a loyal asset to Our kingdom. Let us raise him, Father."
And she wept with relief as the young Albion was hauled to his feet. The sentence was commuted. After being forced to watch his father die he was taken to Beldour and his mother sent to a convent for the remainder of her life.
"I'm sorry." Albion's hand flexed in hers. It might have been a hug, had it been stronger. "I did never think to show you that, but it seems I've no control."
"It seems we've much in common. Both of us raised by strangers." Isolde told Albion of Brandonn's last words. Bringing them out eased the pain, for she felt the sting of her brother's rejection deeply.
She looked down. Albion was deep in sleep, his body relaxed, his breathing even. Exhausted beyond belief, Isolde closed her eyes. Soon she, too, slept.