Cedric & Daffyd
simultaneously sat up and woke up, his heart pounding. But he was no
longer running in hopeless flight from his enemies down a steep mountain
track. He calmed slowly when he saw he still lay in Geraint and
Elspeth’s cupboard bed in their cottage. Mireille lay on her side with
her face to the wall, motionless and still deep asleep. The room was
dark and everything was quiet. It was also very cold, so Cedric quickly
lay down again and pulled the blankets back up to his chin. The
bedchamber doorway was nearly within his arm’s reach from the bed, and
beyond the edge of the translucent blue wool curtain, Cedric could just
see the firelit kitchen. He stretched out to his full length,
appreciating the luxury of lying flat with his whole body supported by
the slightly lumpy softness of the straw tick mattress. It hardly
mattered that the top of his head and the soles of his feet pressed
against either end wall of the bed. Being warm and dry and not wearing
his filthy old clothes turned his simple resting place into a luxury
worthy of kings. The mattress itself smelled like a hayfield beneath a
summer sun, reminding Cedric at once of his mattress in the loft of his
parent’s old cottage, and his bed in the student’s dortoir at St.
Cedric sighed and ruthlessly shut out the memories of his student days as he had ever since he’d learned of the Abbey’s destruction. His being a qualified Healer had led to his being allowed to marry Mireille since her father never have consented otherwise. Everything he’d been then and everything he’d gained in those days before the Nyford massacre had been the result of his having studied at St. Neot’s. Even now, he and Mireille had had a good long rest in a safe refuge because the Gabrilites had once been kind to Geraint and Elspeth.
**I hope this house is buried in snow and will be until spring,** Cedric thought. With all his heart he wished that he and Mireille need never get up, dress and leave this kindly household. He forced himself to sit up and throw back the covers instead. The longer he lay here in warmth and comfort, the less strength of will he’d have for the return to their normal hardships. He’d left his clothes on top of a small wooden trunk, but when he couldn’t find them where he’d left them, Cedric conjured a ball of handfire to illuminate the room.
Mireille woke up and rolled onto her back in the bed. "Must we get up already?" she whispered, rubbing at her eyes.
"I’m afraid so, Miri," Cedric answered. "It must be full dark by now, and the wind has dropped."
"Oh not yet," Mireille pleaded. "Come back?" It was half question and half command.
"The longer we wait the harder it will be to go," Cedric answered. His teeth were beginning to chatter in the cold room and he could not see his clothes or Mireille’s anywhere.
"Oh Ced, please come back," Mireille whispered. "How long has it been? This may be our last chance."
"That’s no way to talk," Cedric told her sternly, turning to look at her. "The Custodes haven’t caught us yet."
"I meant in a proper bed," she murmured. She pushed the bedclothes down around her waist then held out her arms to him. Cedric bounded back into bed beside her. Their interlude of passion was as brief as it was unexpected, and it left both of them panting.
"That’ll keep me warm halfway down the mountainside," Cedric chuckled.
"That’s what I intended," Mireille whispered back, stroking his shaggy hair.
But they could both hear footsteps coming down the passage toward the bedroom, and a timid knock at the doorframe.
"I’m here," Cedric answered.
"I’ve mended your clothes, and there’s supper ready when you are. Geraint is harnessing the donkey to take you the first few miles on your way," Elspeth informed him. "You’ll find the clothes just outside the curtain, here."
"We thank you," Cedric said. "We’ll be out directly." Both of them climbed out of the bed now. Mireille remade the bed while Cedric picked up their stack of clothes. Elspeth had indeed mended all the small tears and holes in their breeches and tunics, and she had brought other clothing as well. Cedric pulled on a tunic of coarse but soft, densely woven brown wool over his old tunic. It had plainly been made for Geraint for it was too short and broad for his torso. For all that, it was in better repair than anything he owned, and was much warmer. His boots had disappeared too, replaced by an old pair of Geraint’s. They were just a bit too short for his feet, but the leather would stretch, and the soles were stout and whole with several months of hard wear left in them. When he was completely dressed, Cedric felt almost warm and very nearly respectable. Mireille too wore what must have been another old tunic of Geraint’s although it hung and flapped on her thin body. She stroked the fabric almost reverently.
Elspeth was just tucking a round of cloth-wrapped cheese into his bundle when he and Mireille emerged from the bedchamber. Six small loaves of journey bread lay on the kitchen table beside her, obviously bound for the same destination.
"Have you rested well?" Elspeth asked when they approached her.
"Very well," Mireille answered, without avoiding the other woman’s glance or blushing. "Mistress Elspeth, we thank you for your generosity. The food and shelter and now the clothing – it’s all too much, really."
Elspeth shyly wrapped up the journey bread in another cloth, tied the four corners together and placed the bundle in Cedric’s pack on top of the cheese.
"We can spare them, and your need is far greater than ours," she replied. "Neither Geraint nor I could send you out on a night like this without some proper winter clothes, at least. It isn’t very much really when there are so few Healers left now.
"Geraint will be finished with the donkey in a moment." Elspeth finished, shaking her head as if to dispel a sorrowful memory. "Supper is ready too."
Once again, Cedric and Mireille sat down on the bench by the hearth and ate the food Elspeth gave them. The hot, savory stew was mainly composed of winter vegetables and flavored with a bit of side meat. It was delicious and satisfying, warming them inside and out. Elspeth gave them both a second serving. All too soon the door opened to admit Geraint, muffled in a rabbit fur hood as well as his goatskin cloak.
"The moon has risen and we should be on our way," he said. "It’s five miles down to the crossroads, and it can be a dangerous journey in the dark."
"We are ready," Cedric answered. He rose and gave Elspeth his empty bowl, reluctant to leave this warm hearth. Mireille too stood up and together they pulled on their cloaks and stooped to pick up their bundles. Elspeth laid a second cloak of dark gray wool over Mireille’s shoulders.
"I can’t take your cloak, too, Mistress. You will have need of it through the winter, surely," Mireille protested
Elspeth only shook her head, and pulled the leather loop around the horn toggle closing in a gesture that did not brook refusal.
"I have another cloak," she insisted, catching Mireille’s hands in her own. "And I have four stout walls and roof where you have none, dear child. It won’t defend you from danger, but at least you won’t freeze before you and your man find another refuge."
Impulsively, Mireille flung her arms around Elspeth and squeezed her tight.
Cedric blinked. Even in the days before the Nyford massacre, Mireille had not been given to impulsive gestures of affection. Geraint only smiled and waited patiently.
Faintly embarrassed, Cedric picked up his bundle – which was a good bit heavier and bulkier than it had been twelve hours before. Then, as Mireille released Elspeth, he set it down again and embraced their hostess also. As he did so, he slipped his right hand around to the back of her head, gently but insistently taking control of her mind for just a heartbeat as he kissed her forehead in gratitude.
**By the time Geraint comes home tonight, you both will have forgotten us, and that we were ever here,** Cedric commanded. **Consider it the only fit thanks we can render for your goodness and Geraint’s. And you will forget that I ever touched your mind or gave you these instructions.**
"Must it be so?" Elspeth murmured when he’d released her, still aware for the moment. "We wouldn’t dream of betraying you to the Custodes."
"I’m afraid it must," Cedric said. "I know you wouldn’t deliberately betray us, but not even Custodes can force you to reveal what you honestly don’t remember. We will always remember the two of *you*, though. We would not see you brought to ruin for your kindness to us."
He turned away and shouldered his bundle once more, suddenly feeling the urgency to be gone again. Mireille picked up her bundle, and drew up both the hood of her old cloak and the new one that Elspeth had just given her. With a last smile to Elspeth, they followed Geraint out the door.
The cold night almost shocked the breath from Cedric as soon as they stepped outside. Clouds hid the tops of the nearest peaks, but the sky was clear and starry directly overhead. Geraint had already broken a path through the new snow and they followed him down to the donkey cart waiting on more level ground below. The little two wheeled cart was a tight fit for two tall adults although Geraint had cushioned the bottom with a layer of straw, and had provided blankets to cover them. Once Cedric and Mireille were settled, there was no room left for Geraint to sit.
"Nay, I’m used to walking distances," the goatherd said when Cedric offered to walk instead. "Rest your feet while you can, friends. But stay quiet I pray you. There’s the danger of avalanches after a heavy snow like today."
So Cedric and Mireille huddled together under the blankets in the cart while Geraint led the donkey. Cedric tried to be grateful for the chance to rest his feet and legs for a few miles, for the little cart was not comfortable. It felt like riding in a child’s toy being jerked and dragged over rough ground at the end of a piece of rope. They went uphill at first, traveling straight for a brief while on a path along the top of a mountain ridge, well above the timberline. The moon had come out from behind a cloud, turning the new snow to fields of silver and dense blue-black shadows. Cedric was in no mood to appreciate the scenery, for he felt horribly visible and vulnerable in this too brightly lit world with no shelter in sight. It seemed to him as if he and Mireille had become giants, easily seen by every pair of hostile eyes in the Gwynedd should they happen to look up at this particular path along the spine of the Lendour Mountain Range. He longed to get out of the cart and bolt down the mountainside to the relative shelter of the wooded slopes below. He was sure that he and Mireille could walk faster than the donkey was moving now, and the movement would have kept them warmer than sitting still on a night like this. He kept silent and wrestled with the temptation to tell Geraint that they would walk after all. It was good sense to conserve their strength while they could and still keep traveling. Soon the path dipped down again, and stunted trees appeared to either side of the narrow, winding track. Once they were back down in the full woods, Cedric breathed easier. The path was steeper now, and the air was a little warmer, the snow thinner. Within another hundred yards down the track, there were only patches of snow dotting the muddy ground beneath the trees. Mireille was looking at them too and she frowned.
**It must have only snowed in the highest mountains, today,** she said mind to mind.
Cedric nodded, knowing what she had not said and not liking the implications. The snow had slowed them, lost them a day of travel and perhaps shortened their lead over their pursuers.
**We’re rested and fed, at least. And we’ve got food and warmer clothes, now,** Cedric answered. We’ll just have to keep going, and keep hoping we can stay ahead of them. THEY still have to get over the mountains, themselves, and perhaps it will snow again before morning.
They huddled together for warmth and reassurance, both of them listening hard for hoof beats in the distance. After their near capture in his own village, Cedric no longer wished to risk trying to hide from the Custodes in the mountains until Spring. Even now, their pursuers wouldn’t be easily shaken off by the first real snow storm of the season.
On the positive side Cedric felt far more hopeful than he had a bare twenty-four hours before. More than the new clothes, boots and food, finding unexpected friendship and help when he’d been at the lowest ebb of his hope and spirits had fed his soul and Mireille’s too. And the practical nature of Geraint and Elspeth’s gifts gave Cedric the courage to consider a bold new plan.
He took Mireille’s hand in his and caught her eye. **We have a decision to make about where we go next, Miri,** he told her. I’ve got a plan, but getting to where I’m thinking of going may be dangerous.**
**Where are you thinking of?**
**I think we should try to reach Corwyn as soon as we can. You remember Baron Etienne’s Healer, Josquin? He was born in Coroth, and I think his family still lives there. They would help us get established there if we can just find them when we arrive.
**Furthermore, Duke Taysan of Corwyn has a reputation for discreetly sheltering Deryni, particularly within the Ducal court and in his capital, Coroth, but also within his duchy at large. We could even try to get to the Forcinn States by sea since Coroth is right on the Southern coast. At very least, Duke Taysan and his men won’t actively try to hunt us down and kill us.**
In the darkness, Cedric could just see Mireille. She smiled uncertainly, new hope in her face.
**I suppose I could bear that, Ced,** she replied. **Do you remember? I suggested Corwyn when we first decided to leave our cave, but you said it was too far away for us to reach safely.**
Cedric shrugged. **That was when I thought we could find someplace to hide here in the mountains until Spring and then go on to Coroth, he answered. Right now, I think our best chance lies in trying to get to Coroth as soon as we can.**
**How far away is it, do you know?**
**From here and on foot I believe it’s about two long days travel South-east to the Corwyn border, and from there another two or three days to Coroth itself but I’m not completely sure.**
**Not far at all, then!** They were passing beneath a thinner patch of trees and the fretted moonlight made Mireille’s face a lantern of new hope.
**Aye, but don’t rejoice too soon,** Cedric sent back. **We still have to *get* there.**
The brightness faded from her face at his tone.
**The distance isn’t the problem,** Cedric went on. **But we’re going to be crossing a very well populated area between here and the Corwyn border. The central plain has some of the best farmland in Gwynedd, especially here at the Southern end, so there will be lots of farms and villages and consequently, lots of people. It’s safest to assume that the Custodes will have established a presence there, particularly in the larger towns. I’m sure they’ll have spent most of their time making the local people hate and fear us even more than usual.**
**But we’ll be traveling in the flat lands,** Mireille sent back much subdued now. **Easier going for us, and we should be able to make better time than in the mountains.**
**Aye and the traveling will be even easier for men on horseback able to travel openly and in daylight,** Cedric answered. **And no forests or mountains or caves to make hiding places for us. Even if we make it across the Corwyn border, we could still be captured by the Custodes. Duke Taysan doesn’t know we’re coming or that we even exist. Even if he did, once the Custodes had captured us, there’d be nothing he could do for us even if we were taken prisoner within sight of Coroth itself. His own position is far too precarious. He controls an important seaport, and that’s why the Regents have let him be for the present. They *won’t* leave him alone if he makes too much of a fuss about the Custodes or their methods.**
Mireille turned her face away from him, staring back up the mountain trail the way they had come. She had that frozen deer look on her face again. **You always do save the worst news for last,** she sighed at last.
**We’re not caught yet,** Cedric returned. **And if the journey to Coroth is risky, I still say it’s worth it to try. But I had to make you aware of the danger once we’re out of the mountains.**
"Let’s go there, then," Mireille whispered. "There’s no safety for us in going anywhere else, Heaven knows."
Cedric placed a finger on her lips and jerked his head backwards toward Geraint leading the donkey.
Another few yards down the track, Geraint stopped the cart. The trail they were on continued to wind beneath the trees, but a new track forked off to the right, leading more steeply downhill yet.
"We’ve reached the crossroads," Geraint called back softly toward them.
Cold and stiff, Mireille and Cedric climbed out of the cart and retrieved their bundles.
Cedric came forward and extended his hand to Geraint who clasped it willingly. Once their hands had made contact, Cedric swiftly took control of Geraint’s mind, giving him nearly the same orders as he had given Elspeth to forget himself and Mireille by the time he’d reached home.
Plainly aware although he’d hardly had time to blink twice, Geraint only nodded his acceptance.
"We could not have asked for a kinder friend or more generous helping hands in our need than yourselves," Cedric told the older man awkwardly. "Be assured that we’ll never forget the two of you."
Geraint nodded again. There was no fear in what Cedric could see of his face, muffled in the rabbit fur hood, just acceptance.
"The right hand path will take you down to the foothills and from there it will pass within ten or fifteen miles North of poor St. Neot’s as the crow flies. The way on foot is somewhat longer," Geraint told him simply. "God speed to you both friends, and may you find a safe haven at your journey’s end."
"Goodbye", Mireille whispered. "Thank you for everything."
Geraint inclined his head to her, then turned the donkey around and started back up the track. He paused one last time to wave at them over his shoulder. Cedric and Mireille lifted their bundles onto their shoulders and started down the right hand path into deeper woods. The path curved down and angled to the left. Geraint was soon lost to their sight, and even the donkey’s hooves and the rattle of the cart wheels had disappeared in the winter night.