Cedric & Daffyd
you telling me that six armed Custodes knights completely failed to stop
two unarmed peasants?"
Sir Andrew’s outraged shout roused Dafydd from his uneasy doze within the blacksmith’s shed. He was very warm sitting this close to the forge, but perhaps that was only his incipient fever. He leaned back against the shed wall again, still asleep if Sir Andrew happened to look his way, but opened his eyes just a slit to watch. What he saw almost made him smile. Five of the six knights in Sir Andrew’s command stood in a shamefaced line before their infuriated superior, the same sickly embarrassment at their failure showing in all their faces as a frowning Sir Andrew paced back and forth before them.
"Where’s Merdan?" he barked at Sir Wynton, his second-in-command standing at the end of the line. He had to shout to be heard over the Smith’s hammer blows on the horse shoe back at his anvil.
"Ah-he’s indisposed," Sir Wynton hedged.
"How indisposed?" Sir Andrew persisted. "He was in perfect health this morning, so why isn’t he here now?"
"We found him on the ground, sir," one of the younger knights, Sir Pereland said. "He was the one guarding the horses today. He was lying there on the ground without a single horse about when we found him. Those two Deryni drove off all the horses-"
"Deryni?" Sir Andrew pounced. "You’re sure?"
"I saw the horses standin’ about at the end of the street. Then this bright green ball of fire flew at them and just burst in midair, and the horses ran off."
"That’s Deryni magic, all right. It has to have been FitzHamon," Sir Andrew muttered, and drove one fist into the palm of his other hand. "God, to have him slip through our fingers in front of the whole village when we might have had him in custody this minute!"
The knights all hung their heads, none of them daring to speak.
"So our horses are run off. So what’s the matter with Merdan - did the Deryni kill him?"
"No sir," Sir Wynton took over again, with a sidelong glare at Pereland. He’s breathing, and he’s got a strong heartbeat. He’s just flat unconscious, and we can’t rouse him. We’ve really tried, too."
"Giving those Deryni time to escape, no doubt. If you had pursued those two down the street and questioned them when you first saw them instead of letting them walk away, there’d be no need for us to have this conversation. Instead, they’ve escaped, making fools of us in the presence of a lot full of filthy peasants!" Sir Andrew snapped. "Not only that, but they made their escape on one of our own horses which you stupidly let them steal from us. Now that they’re no longer on foot, they’ll also be able to lengthen their lead and make better time over all. " He turned his back on his men, and slashed at the long dead grass near the shed door with his riding crop. The controlled fury in his movements made Dafydd thankful to be beyond his reach.
Sir Andrew calmed himself quickly and turned back to his knights. When he spoke his voice was icy with anger, but had resumed its normal crispness.
"I’m seriously displeased with you all for this morning’s wretched showing, but I suppose there’s no use dwelling on the point now," he said. "We need to be away from here and quickly. The longer FitzHamon's lead, the harder he’ll be to find. Go round up the horses.
"ALL of you go round up the horses, Wynton," Sir Andrew growled when his second in command did not leave with the younger knights. "Be sure the Grand Master will know that you let two Deryni slip through our fingers. If you’d only used your head, we might be heading back to to Ramos with FitzHamon safely in our power this minute. If you work hard for the next few days to redeem yourself in my eyes, I might soften that report a bit. But only if you get out of my sight right now."
Sir Andrew watched Sir Wynton disappear around the corner of the house, shaking his head in his disgust. He was still playing with his riding crop, and the speed with which he whacked it against his calf made Dafydd sit very still in the hopes of going unnoticed.
"Half the morning," Sir Andrew muttered furiously. "Haven’t you finished shoeing my horse yet, man?"
Tabor the smith left his anvil, the still-warm horse shoe in one hand, his hammer in the other, and there were six nails lined up in a row across his lower lip. He was about Sir Andrew’s height, but his light brown hair and beard were long and shaggy as a sheep dog’s fur. There were many gray hairs in both hair and beard, and his face was very lined, particularly about the eyes and mouth. His chest, arms and shoulders were dense with muscles though, and unarmed as he was, he held his hammer in his right hand as if it were a weapon. By the look on his dour face, he didn’t think much of Sir Andrew.
"Can’t be hurried," said Tabor. His speech was slurred by the nails between his lips. "Not if it’s to be done right." He ran one big hand down the horses’ near foreleg, then bent to pick it up and support it between his knees in a fold of his leather apron.
Dafydd watched the first nail pounded in. After all the smith’s work, the shoe was still a little too large for the hoof. It would suffice for the present, but the horse would have to be shod again and soon.
**These village smiths,** Dafydd thought. **And these rough mountain roads. It will be a miracle if the horse doesn’t cast that shoe within a week.** He smiled slowly at the thought.
"And what are YOU smiling about?"
Dafydd looked up startled into Sir Andrew’s angry face, just before Sir Andrew’s fist boxed his ear. He tumbled over sideways, falling off the bench to his knees on the hard beaten earth floor. Sir Andrew dragged Dafydd to his feet by a handful of hair and dragged him over to the forge, forcing Dafydd’s face close enough to feel the heat of the bright red coals. He twisted Dafydd’s right arm up and behind his back with his free hand.
"If I should learn that you deliberately helped FitzHamon escape this morning, I should be very angry, Dafydd," Sir Andrew whispered.
"M'Lord, how could I?" Dafydd gasped. "I never knew he was here, I was asleep!"
"You have no business sleeping!" Sir Andrew shouted. "It’s your duty to be alert, damn you!.
"I suppose you didn’t help FitzHamon deliberately," Sir Andrew said in a calmer voice. "But if you’d done what sniffers are meant to do, I’d be on my way to Valoret with a valuable prisoner and the credit of having finished the task I was set. I’m remarkably upset about that, Dafydd."
Dafydd wriggled desperately against Sir Andrew’s hold, trying at least to lift his face away from the heat of the fire. His boxed ear was ringing, and Sir Andrew was almost crushing his ribs against the edge of the forge. It was no use.
"Hurts, does it?" Sir Andrew asked in a dangerously soft voice. "Have a care, Deryni. The next time you fall asleep when you should be working, I’ll make you a whole bed of hot coals to lie on. Let this be a reminder to be more attentive towards your duty."
Sir Andrew untwisted Dafydd’s arm from behind his back, and shifting his grip to Dafydd’s forearm, thrust the Healer’s right hand into the fire and held it there for a full count of three.
"Aaugh!" Dafydd’s reflexive backward jerk was strong enough to both get his hand out of the fire and to send Sir Andrew reeling backwards to collide with the hindquarters of his startled horse.
"Here now!" Tabor objected.
"Sorry," Sir Andrew said, regaining his balance and straightening.
Dafydd collapsed to his knees, his burned right hand hugged against his chest. He gripped his right wrist with the left hand as if the tight hold could cut off his pain. He rocked back and forth, sucking in air between clenched teeth.
"Deryni….he deserved what he got," Dafydd heard Sir Andrew tell Tabor.
While Sir Andrew was distracted, Dafydd forced himself into his Healing trance. Sir Andrew had not given him permission to heal himself, and there was bound to be a price to pay, but better that than the threat of his hand festering. Once fairly into his trance with his pain blocked, Dafydd forced himself to survey the damage done. His raw red fingers were worst, having been deepest and longest in the fire, but the red, blistered skin of his palm was bad enough. The back of his hand was red and tender to the touch, but the burns weren’t nearly as angry. Slowly Dafydd caressed his left hand over his fingers and open right hand, growing new skin where he passed, taking away the heat and angry redness, and making the blisters disappear. Melting away the burns on the back of his hand took hardly a moment. He put his hand to his right cheek and soothed the faint burns there, although there was nothing he could do about the singed hair at his right temple. His hand tingled with the sensitivity of new skin but all the pain was gone so Dafydd came out of trance. He glanced up at Sir Andrew, wondering if he’d noticed what he’d done, but Sir Andrew’s attention was on Tabor at present.
"You ought to be thanking us, you know," Sir Andrew said coldly to Tabor. "We’ve cleansed your village of the taint of Deryni magic."
"Aye an’ now we have to walk five mile to for the flour to bake our bread since our miller is dead."
"To tolerate the presence of Deryni is close to blasphemy, peasant," Sir Andrew returned. "The Deryni pollute and corrupt everyone and everything they come near. You are complicit in their evil if you fail to help eradicate it. Your very soul has been tainted by your association with them!"
"Neither Roderick FitzHamon nor his family ever tainted a soul in their lives," Tabor replied coldly. "An’ this son o’ his that you’re tryin’ to hunt down is a _Healer_. The whole village was proud of him. Baron de Courcy himself paid for the lad’s keep while he was trainin’ at St. Neot’s. Now Cedric’s bein’ hunted like an animal, his whole family’s dead an’ St Neot’s is a ruin. An’ you tell me about how evil the Deryni are?"
Dafydd bit his lip to keep himself from making a sound. While he rejoiced to hear his own feelings spoken aloud to his jailer’s face, he was appalled at the smith’s daring. Isolated as this village was, the smith might not have heard the stories of Custodes brutality. Men of more wealth and circumstance than a village smith, even titled lords did not dare speak against the Custodes for fear of being branded a heretic and the consequences that went with that accusation. The smith could not know how dangerous it was to speak frankly to a Custodes Knight.
Sir Andrew crossed himself with a shaking hand. "This village must be exorcised," he hissed. "Clearly, you are all cursed from your prolonged exposure to those Deryni!"
Tabor untied Sir Andrew’s horse and tossed the reins at him in a motion of pure contempt. "We don’ want your Custodes priests, nor your exorcisin’ nonsense in THIS village, " he said. "You’re not wanted here yourself. I’d advise you and your bumblin’ brethren to leave while you still can."
Sir Andrew’s face was red with his fury. "We are going now," he told the smith. "We’ve got a fugitive to hunt. But I’ll be back, and this village will be cleansed of evil, smith. Mark me! And when you see us again, commend your soul to God."
"Evil to those that think it," Tabor retorted. After taking Sir Andrew’s coin in payment, he stalked past them both, and left the smithy shed through a stout door. Dafydd had a brief glimpse of a tidy cottage kitchen beyond the door just before Tabor banged it shut behind himself.
Sir Andrew was stunned to silence, his face filled with bewilderment. He was so used to inspiring fear by his mere presence that he no longer had any idea of how to react to open scorn. He noticed Dafydd watching him, and went scarlet.
"Get up, get up," he muttered. "We’re leaving. But by God, that man will sing a different tune when he’s arrested as a Deryni sympathizer and a heretic!"
Dafydd felt cold inside as he followed Sir Andrew out of the smithy shed. He knew far too well how right Sir Andrew was in this instance. As soon as Cedric was safely captured, Sir Andrew would come back here, bringing more knights, inquisitors, interrogators and torturers with him. All too soon, the smith would bitterly regret the fate he’d brought down on his neighbors with his plain speaking. Exposed to such torture and fear as they’d never experienced in their lives, the villagers would confess to anything and accuse anyone for a respite from the interrogation of Custodes inquisitors. Last summer, Dafydd had seen an entire village in Rhenndall wiped out in just that way as person after person was accused, arrested, tormented and made their own accusations in turn. The memories sickened him still.
**And who will the Custodes go after when the last Deryni in Gwynedd is dead?** Dafydd wondered bitterly. **No doubt they’ll have to find some new heretics to hunt down and kill!**
Hopelessness overwhelmed him for a moment. It seemed to him that there was no escape for these people or for Cedric, just as there was none for himself.
"Go and find Sir Merdan," Sir Andrew ordered. "He’s unconscious, and I want him on his feet and functioning again by the time we leave, is that clear?"
"And see if you can confirm whether it was FitzHamon who attacked him, Dafydd If he did, he’ll pay dearly for attacking a Custodes knight when we catch up with him. I’m going to see if those wretches have managed to round up any of the horses, yet." He mounted his own horse and rode off.
Dafydd continued down the street to where Sir Merdan had been left in charge of the horses when they first arrived at the village shortly after dawn. The young knight was still unconscious, although he had been propped sitting up against the wall of the last house by his comrades. His head lolled as Dafydd knelt beside him, and set his hands to either side of Merdan’s face.
**Open to me, and show me what happened**, Dafydd commanded. It was a simple matter to isolate and read the young knight’s most recent memories.
**He’d been guarding the horses at the end of the street, while his companion knights fanned through the village and questioned the villagers about the two Deryni they were hunting. Merdan leaned against the wall of the last house, feeling bored and useless. What use was it to watch for fugitives he’d never seen? Any one of the shabby, cowed peasant men in this village could be FitzHamon for all that Merdan knew.
**He paid little attention to the voices calling in the street behind him, but turned suddenly as two villagers came hurrying around a corner and almost ran him down. All three of them froze and stared at each other. Then the taller of the two sprang at him so swiftly that Merdan had no time to even reach for his dagger. Merdan’s last conscious memory were of a thatch of shaggy light brown hair and a pair of pale greenish hazel eyes burning into his with an unnatural brilliance, before cold fingertips touched his forehead and the world went black...**
Merdan moaned a little at the memory, but Dafydd pushed him back down into unconsciousness for a moment more. He tried to coax finer detail from Merdan’s memory of the face, but he already knew the identity of Merdan’s attacker. During their student days at St. Neot’s, he and Cedric had partnered each other far too often in their psychic discipline exercises for Dafydd to ever mistake his old friend’s psychic imprint. Even experienced briefly and secondhand that unique identification made a man’s face hardly matter. The blurred glimpse proved very little really - hundreds of men in Gwynedd had hazel-green eyes and light brown hair like Cedric’s.
**And now it’s time for me to deal with you, Merdan my lad,** Dafydd thought. None of his Gabrilite masters would condone a Healer tampering with another man’s mind, and Dafydd had to shut their imagined reproach resolutely out of his mind as he nudged Sir Merdan’s natural incompetence to a more pronounced state. It was a slight advantage that would not harm Merdan and might well make the difference between freedom and captivity for Cedric and his companion. His resolve to protect Cedric had already led him to tamper with other people’s minds in various small ways in the past week -- no point in being overcome with conscience about it now. All the same Dafydd felt a pang at how easily he rationalized this latest intrusion. The Dafydd Cedric had known at St. Neot’s would have been aghast at the suggestion that he intrude in another person’s mind, let alone set unwanted instructions for that person.
**And what does it say about me that I’m so easily able to set aside vows I considered holy and binding five years ago?** Dafydd wondered bitterly. He shook his head and returned his attention to Merdan. His corruption in the name of survival was yet another sin to count against the Custodes Fidei.
**Count to ten and then come back to consciousness,** Dafydd ordered Merdan. **While you will follow my instructions, you will forget that I gave them. Nod if you understand.**
Merdan nodded once, eyes still closed. Dafydd released him and stood, still watching him. Ten seconds later the knight’s eyes fluttered open, and he groaned.
"What happened?" Merdan asked, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.
"I’m afraid Sir Andrew will be asking you that question," Dafydd said. "It seems that FitzHamon drove off all but one of the horses and he and his companion escaped the village on horseback about half an hour ago."
"Blast the luck!" Merdan exclaimed. "He’ll have me flogged to my bones for that when we get back to Ramos!" He ran one big hand through his cropped sandy brown hair, his bulgy blue eyes frightened.
Dafydd felt no pity for Merdan although he knew how a painful a Custodes flogging could be. He had seen the young knight’s casual cruelty toward all people Merdan considered inferior. This category included all people not of the nobility or of the Custodes order. Merdan didn’t just search homes, shops or wagons, he broke dishes, cut featherbeds and bedclothes to ribbons with his sword, dumped clothing on the floor and knocked over furniture in the course of his work which he enjoyed far too much, as far as Dafydd was concerned. Only his fear of Sir Andrew stopped Merdan from pocketing whatever small valuables or sums of money he found.
Hoof beats approached, and Merdan climbed to his feet hastily, brushing dirt from his cloak and the seat of his breeches as Sir Andrew reappeared. Behind him came several other Custodes knights leading the horses.
"And what have you to say for yourself, Merdan?" Sir Andrew asked.
"I was guarding the horses as you ordered Sir. I heard Sir Wynton calling something, but before I could go to his help, they appeared."
"FitzHamon and his companion."
"A companion?" Sir Andrew bent a malevolent look at Dafydd. "I thought he was alone."
"As did I, sir," Dafydd answered. "This is the first time I’ve suspected FitzHamon had a companion with him."
"I wasn’t addressing *you*," Sir Andrew told him coldly. "Merdan?"
"There were definitely two of them, although I could only see the taller one clearly. He jumped right at me, and I was startled -didn’t have time to draw my sword before he touched me. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, and Dafydd had just roused me."
"After all your weapons training as a Custodes Knight, an unarmed peasant took you by surprise?" Sir Andrew sighed. "Why didn’t you draw your sword as soon as you heard Sir Wynton calling?"
Merdan went bright red and studied the ground before him intently, unable to meet his superior’s eyes.
"Never mind for now. What did this man look like?"
"Tall," said Merdan promptly. "He hadn’t shaved for several days I think, so he had the beginnings of a beard. Light brown hair, very shaggy and uncut. He had green eyes. When he jumped at me, those eyes glowed, sir, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop him although I wanted to!"
Sir Andrew glanced at Dafydd. "Sound like FitzHamon?"
Dafydd nodded reluctantly.
"All right, mount up all of you," Sir Andrew ordered. "We’ve wasted enough time here and now we’ve got two Deryni to catch instead of one. Let’s move!"