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Cedric & Daffyd



Chapter I




  The lightest of psychic brushes touched Cedric’s Fitz Hamon’s mental shields as he was buying the next month’s supply of potatoes in the marketplace.


Cedric froze for a second, longing to turn his head to figure out where that touch had originated. Instead, he produced two grimy copper coins from his worn leather belt pouch and paid the farmer’s scrawny son for the potatoes. For a Deryni in Nyford in Anno Domini 919, it could well be fatal to acknowledge a stranger’s mental touch in any way. Cedric knotted the neck of the potato sack before slinging it over his shoulder with the two others that already rested there. Being born and bred in the country and of peasant stock, Cedric hated cities in general and Nyford in particular. It carried too many terrible memories of the massacre of 916.

Mireille was negotiating the price of some windfall apples from a fruitseller two booths down the row. Cedric stood aside and waited for her as patiently as he could. She glanced aside at him, obviously feeling his tension but he shook his head. They needed the food and it would look suspicious if she were to just walk away in the middle of striking her bargain. But they also needed to disappear unobtrusively from the main marketplace and quickly. Finished at last, Mireille followed him past a row of stalls then ducked quickly into the gloom between two vendor’s tents and down a narrow dark alley which was an old shortcut they’d found to get them out of the main square quickly.

**What’s wrong?** Mireille asked mind to mind when they were several streets away, and moving toward the Eastern gate out of Nyford.

"Someone touched my mind in the marketplace, Miri," Cedric said in a low voice, keeping his face expressionless. Nothing attracted unwelcome attention in public like whispering people with worried faces.

"Let’s get out of the city before whoever it was has figured out we’re gone and tries to follow us."

He caught Mireille’s flare of alarm mind to mind although she said nothing aloud. They kept walking steadily, not speaking and resisting the temptation to look over their shoulders to see if they were being pursued. They looked like two brothers in their shabby men’s clothing. Mireille was tall and thin, and in the too-large tunic her figure was not noticeably feminine. She kept the hood of her capuchon up to keep her face in deep shadow. Both of them sighed in silent relief as they passed the city gates unhindered.

Well hardened to walking long distances, they kept up a steady mile- eating pace up the road along the riverbank. They were even more relieved when they turned off the main road and disappear among the tree trunks of the wood to their left. Close to home, Mireille ducked out of sight in the hollow stump of a huge, burnt out tree while Cedric continued alone. They always approached their hiding place one at a time. That way, if one of them were to be trapped, the other could come to help or at least escape. Cedric jumped off the raised creek bank and bent low beneath the tree branches that overhung the creek. To his left, the creek bank rose steadily from waist height to nearly ten feet overhead had he been standing upright. But Cedric stayed low, paying attention to his footing for the round stones were slick with moss and water. The creek chattered over its stones making it impossible for anyone to hear his approach. Mireille must be carefully shielded, for he couldn’t sense her at this distance. Satisfied that there was no one else near, Cedric eased around a large boulder then tossed his sacks up on top of it. His fingers and toes easily found their familiar footholds in the boulder’s rough face until he was level with the opening of their cave. The sand he’d piled in the opening was undisturbed by hands or feet, so he crawled in with the sacks to wait for Mireille.

She came just minutes later, handing him her sacks before crawling through the small opening. There was just enough level floor inside the cave for both of them to lie full length to sleep at night. They could sit inside without bumping their heads on the sloping rock above. It was damp and dark and had been their refuge for two years.

"Ced, what happened in the marketplace?" Mireille asked. She sat next to him and took his hand in her thin one that was still pretty despite grime and broken nails.

He gave the hand a gentle squeeze. "There may be a sniffer after us, Miri. We’ve got to leave this place while we have the chance."

Mireille looked somber as she considered this. "Mightn’t it have been Josquin?" she asked.

Cedric shook his head. "Josquin doesn’t know we’re here and he’d never come to Nyford even if he did. I’m afraid the Regents and the Custodes haven’t given up on finding me after all. Tomorrow before sunup we must be away from here."

Mireille was quiet for some minutes before answering. "Are you sure that’s the best plan? Nobody has ever discovered us here, and if we sit tight and don’t go into Nyford for a while, maybe they still won’t find us."

"I don’t want to go either, Miri. But I’d rather run than be captured by the Custodes. The bastards will never give up, you know that."

She looked at him with haunted eyes. "Would they burn us, do you think?"

Cedric let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to kiss the top of her head. Her short tight black curls hid the burn scars on her scalp but not the pink streak of scar down the back and left side of her thin neck. She’d been badly burned on the day of the Nyford riot when she’d tried to pull her father’s body out of the flaming ruins of his wine shop. She never spoke of it, but now and then the old nightmare woke her screaming in the night. Burning at the stake was the most common punishment meted out to Deryni by the Custodes. If Cedric thought of it with sick dread, it was far worse for Mireille who knew the pain of burning from personal experience.

"Burn us or force me to serve them by keeping you hostage for my good behavior," he said truthfully. "If I refused, they’d certainly kill us. That’s why we ran away the first time they came after us."

"The thought of traveling frightens me almost as much as getting caught, Cedric," she answered. "People are always suspicious of strangers. If we’re in danger here, it seems to me we’d be no safer on the road with no known hiding place to run to."

"It’s go and stay alive to wonder, or cower here, wondering when they’ll come to get us," he said. "They have a sniffer. If they come after us with hounds as well, it would be a simple matter to find this place."

"Where shall we go, then?" Mireille's voice was not quite steady.

"East to the Lendour Highlands, I think."

Mireille tilted her head up and gave him a skeptical look. "You were born in those Highlands. Mightn’t the Custodes expect you to go there?"

"They may, but I know the mountains far better than they do. There are all kinds of little hole in the hill places where we can hide from them. And we won’t have to worry so much about the local people betraying us. I’m one of them, and hill folk don’t like lowlanders. Nor are they very impressed by the might of the church or the crown.

"Winter is coming on, too. I don’t think even the Custodes will want to spend the whole winter tramping around in the mountain snows looking for people they can’t find."

Mireille looked troubled. "But we still have to get there, Cedric. There are other places we could go. Meara or Mooryn. Or Carthmoor perhaps."

"They don’t like Deryni in Meara anymore than they do in Gwynedd. Both Meara and Mooryn are too far away for us to reach safely, anyway. And Carthmoor is a Crown Duchy now. We’d be no safer from the Regents there than we are here."

Mireille sighed, looking around their cave with sad eyes. "It’s a terrible thing to be this hated," she said finally. "Sometimes I wonder if restoring the Haldanes was worth the trouble it’s brought us, Cedric."

"Imre was no bargain, Miri. Remember that tax he levied to turn Nyford into his new capital? Every time your father heard Imre’s name he used to spit on the ground. On his worst day, King Cinhil was a better administrator than Imre at his best. The Festils did themselves in through their own stupidity and arrogance."

"Peut-etre," Mireille muttered, her expression stubborn. "But we didn’t realize what would happen when King Cinhil died, did we? Bad as Imre was, he was still better than these wretched Regents. If he were king now, you and I might have a real home, and you’d have your proper honor as a Healer. My father and your entire family would still be alive and so would all the other Deryni who used to live in Nyford! God alone knows how many more of our poor people the Regents and Custodes have done to death."

"Miri…" Cedric let his voice trail off in resignation. He couldn’t deny a word of what she’d said. "We’ll drive ourselves mad if we dwell on how our lives should have been," he said. "Right now the Regents are looking for us, and if we don’t want to die too, we’d best disappear while we still can."

Mireille straightened on her knees and kissed him lightly. "’Whither thou goest, I will go’," she quoted. "I only hope you’re right."



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