Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 13 - Part 4
Isolde stared at the cup of
wine before her. In the nearly four weeks Prince Festil had been working
with her she had learned much. Perhaps too much. It seemed now her mind
had a will of its' own.
She could unfasten any lock, create fire from a cold hearth and make light without heat with barely a thought. Her shields were the equal of anything her teacher had thrown at them. Just this morning she had been instructed to conjure a snowstorm out of a nearly cloudless sky. A blizzard now howled around the windows.
The art of projecting her memories into a basin of water or a cup of wine was proving more difficult. Not because she was unable to place the pictures where she wanted them, but because invariably Albion's face appeared on the surface of the wine. No matter what she sought to show he was there; in the scene in a market, riding through the autumn woods on their way to Rhemuth, playing at the Samhain fire in Derry.
Wasn't it bad enough she had to see him with his golden princess, showing every evidence of marital happiness, day in and day out? Must she also see him in her dreams?
Annoyed with herself Isolde left the cup of wine sitting on the table and stalked out of the library. She was restless, needing some release from the tension of continual lessons and reminders of her broken heart. Unfortunately her own storm had locked her away from the best remedies for her turbulent mood. Both the gardens and the stables were beyond her reach now.
She passed the great hall. The sound of a lute expertly played warned her Albion must be there, no doubt with Sophia by his side.
Her feet turned to the hall before she thought to stop them. As she had expected, Albion sat near the king's chair, his lute in his lap. Sophia was beside him, her hands full with the tunic she was embroidering. Both Sophia's father and King Festil were watching the newlyweds, their heads nodding together.
Albion glanced up and caught her looking at him. Isolde could not miss the expression in his eyes, love and longing plainly writ. No doubt they were directed at his bride. In the four weeks since his marriage he had made no attempt to see her, to speak with her. She might not exist.
The lute changed its' tune and found the chords of another melody. The longing strains of a song of love tore at her emotions. Isolde turned and sought the chill of the gallery, relishing the cold and seclusion over the warm comfort of a hall where she was indeed the outsider.
The windows of the gallery rattled with the force of the storm. Isolde let the howling wind sweep her away, swallow her up in its lonely cries and carry her back to Derry. How she missed the soft hills, the pine forests, the people she had grown up with.
"There you are, my lady. I have been searching for you most diligently." Lord Nicklos smiled as he entered the gallery.
Isolde forced herself to remain calm and gave him an obligatory curtsy. "You have found me out, my lord. I fear I sought solitude. All the excitement of the past weeks has tired me.
"And you are far too fair a flower to be allowed to languish alone here in this cold. I have a Yule gift for you, sweet lady." Before she could stop him he swept his other hand from beneath his cloak.
To Isolde's amazement he held a single blooming red rose.
Lord Nicklos must have read her mind, or perhaps he guessed her thoughts from her widened eyes. "There are gardens in Torenth, sweet one, where the roses bloom all year long. I thought to bring a bit of summer to brighten your days."
"I thank you for your intentions, my lord, but it was unnecessary." Isolde stepped back when he advanced. "There is naught between us to prompt the giving of gifts."
"And there should be." Niklos pursued her, step for step, until she reached the end of the long gallery. "You know His Highness wishes it. I regret my earlier brutish offer, and I am sure you are yet offended by my coarseness. But understand, I had no idea you were more than the country maid you seemed."
"And am I to assume you mean to offer me marriage now rather than a simple tryst on the wrong side of the blankets?"
Isolde knew her words had hit the mark when he flushed. "You speak bluntly for a gently bred lady. I like that, for it allows me to be blunt as well and saves us much time. You are a most suitable wife for a man in my position. I have wealth to offer you, power you may relish can be gained from becoming my lady. What would hold you back I fear I cannot understand."
He blocked her escape completely, but Isolde felt no fear. Anger at his assumptions flared in her, and it was a welcome relief from her former brooding. Let him no longer think she was helpless!
The storm increased its force as she allowed her shields to flare silver around her. "Only this, my lord. You sickened me when first we met and my impression has not changed. I would not wed you if my last chance were a convent!"
"The king has decided we shall wed, Lady. The choice is no longer yours to make." Nicklos tossed the rose at her feet. "And should you choose to protest further I shall more than enjoy taming the shrew into a compliant wife. You must decide how difficult you mean to make this."
"Think you to force me?" Isolde tightened her shields as his mind quested out. "You may find you have more than you can manage in that, my lord. I ---"
"There you are, Sir Nicklos!"
Nicklos wheeled as Young Hugh entered, looking much winded and grinniing. The boy spoke before the Deryni lord could tell him to leave. "His Grace the prince has asked for you, Sir. It's good fortune I found you here."
Niklos muttered something Isolde knew must be a curse in his native tongue. "I will see you later, Lady," he told her as he nodded to Hugh. "As soon as His Grace is done with me. Think you well on your answer."
Only when he was gone did she relax her guard. Noting Young Hugh had made no attempt to leave she frowned at him. "Will you not need to help Lord Nicklos find the prince?"
"Why? Prince Festil only muttered something about how he had not seen the idiot." Hugh's grin widened. "I was passing by, m'lady, and couldn't help overhearing. Thought you might need a diversion."
"Thank you, Hugh, but I need more than a diversion. I need a permanent defense."
Young Hugh matched her stride for stride as she walked up the gallery. "You aren't happy here, are you , m'lady?"
"It's not a matter of happiness. I simply don't belong." She noted his tousled hair and rumpled clothing. "Though you seem to be fitting in well enough."
He blushed. "It's not what you think, m'lady. Some of the squires offered to teach me to wrestle. As the council chambers weren't being used just now it seemed the chance was perfect."
"I'm glad you have found friends here." Her words were both painful and genuine.
Hugh stopped where he was. "And you wish you could go back to Derry, don't you?"
"I do." It felt good to admit it to someone. "But how could I in this storm, even if the king would allow it."
"I know a way, m'lady. And you wouldn't have to stay that long. Just enough to get away from that brute who's chasing you." When she nodded for him to continue Hugh lowered his voice. "Have you learned how to travel by portal yet?"
"I have. It was one of the first things His Grace showed me."
"There's a portal in Derry. I shouldn't be telling you this," Hugh added, looking a bit guilty. "My lord and Sir Josce made it when they were there. I helped them. I can show you where it is."
Isolde quickly read his memories and found the location of the portal in the crypt. The familiar place was easy enough to see. She had never tried to use a portal alone, but the time seemed perfect.
"Thank you, Hugh. Promise you will not tell any where I've gone?"
He nodded. "On my honor. And, m'lady? Don't think badly of my lord Albion," he added as she turned to leave. "This wasn't his fault."
"I know it wasn't, Hugh." Isolde turned back and ruffled Hugh's coppery curls as she had when he was a small boy. "There are some things that are not meant to be."
Isolde returned to her chamber alone. It took no time at all to bundle a pair of her old gowns into a satchel. She slipped the warm woolen cloak over her shoulders. Dressed as she was no one who saw her thought anything amiss. She seemed no more than a servant leaving the castle on some lord or lady's errand.
The cathedral smelled of incense and wet wool. Isolde made reverence to the Presence with only half her attention before she brushed past a frowning sexton and found the transfer portal in one of the side chapels.
A moment later her stomach rolled as she felt the floor drop from beneath her feet. When the world steadied again she was standing in the familiar crypt. As the light from the portal faded she felt Derry welcome her home.