Cedric & Daffyd
MacRorie huddled deeper into his cloak, hands buried in his armpits and
stamped his cold feet for warmth as he waited impatiently for Jesse to
return. The tiny ruined cabin that he and Jesse had discovered and
repaired over a year ago was cheerless and uncomfortable, good mainly to
keep off rain and snow but not a place where any person of good sense
would want to spend any time. Its chief virtue was that it was well nigh
invisible in the rugged landscape, not easy to find either by himself or
Jesse. As far as Ansel knew, they were the only two people who knew of
its existence. They'd taken good care to keep the outside of the hut
looking dilapidated although they'd enlarged both doorframe and hut
sufficiently to allow their horses to take shelter inside with them.
Both to keep them warm and to keep the unlikely sight of good horses
tethered outside a hovel from betraying their presence within.
Something white flew past Ansel’s eyes and burst apart on contact with the post of the open door. Ansel crouched instinctively, his sword half out of its scabbard before he realized it was only a snowball.
Jesse be careful can’t you? Ansel sent, not at all amused on account of his instinctive fright.
"There’s not a soul around for miles," Jesse answered, coming in. "Snow’s hip deep and has a nice, icy crust and it extends most of the way down the western slopes." He pointed to his snow caked boots as evidence.
"You sound like you’re complimenting your father’s cook for a well prepared meal," Ansel accused, although he grinned.
"Complimenting us both for a good night’s work is more like it. We’ve bought ourselves some time to lose those Custodes, and I say we should be on our way as soon as we can. There’s another storm on the way today if I’m any judge of weather – a real one this time."
"I hate to think what my late, sainted grandfather would say about our night’s work," Ansel said as he followed Jesse to the back of the hut where their horses were tethered. "Uncle Joram would thrash us if he knew we’d been weather working."
Jesse sighed. "Ansel, we went over all of this last night." He picked his saddle up off the floor. "You know I revere Joram. He’s everything a priest and knight should be, but sometimes I think he disapproves of everyone. And that includes your late, sainted grandfather!"
Ansel nodded and picked up his own saddle. "I know. And I do agree that bringing on a snowstorm was much the lesser of two evils than getting ourselves captured by the Custodes with all the things we might be forced to tell them."
"I still think that." Jesse's voice was firm as he lifted the saddle onto his mare's back and slid it into position. "And Joram would do far more than thrash us both if we were to lead the Custodes to the Haven, putting everyone and everything he’s worked for in danger.
"God knows the Custodes would do much worse than thrash us all if they were to find our hiding place. I have no wish to be tortured for information or burned at the stake as a heretic. It isn’t as if a mountain snowstorm in December is an unnatural thing. We just encouraged it a little in a good cause."
Ansel heaved his saddle onto his gray gelding’s back, and ducked under its belly to catch up the girth.
"All right, all right, I’m convinced," he chuckled. "I’m just as glad to skip the burning and torturing myself. We had a narrow enough escape yesterday."
"That Custodes sniffer let us go," Jesse said soberly as he finished buckling the girth straps. "If he’d said one word at the inn yesterday, we’d be prisoners right now. That could have meant the end of everything Deryni in Gwynedd."
"He gave us a head start, anyway and I’m grateful for that much. But why did he betray us after we’d left?"
"We don’t know that he did," Jesse pointed out after he’d finished bridling his mare. "Someone else might have done it to curry favor with the Custodes. If a Deryni sniffer deliberately keeps silent to protect another of his kind when we're present and might be easily captured, it would hardly be in his own best interests to betray us after having allowed us to escape."
Jesse and Ansel now led their saddled and bridled horses out of the hut in single file, pausing to look and listen for a long time at the doorway, making sure they were alone. Pale silvery sunlight lit the unbroken snow although the sky was nearly black overhead. Every pine tree carried a heavy load of new snow, and the roof of the hut was blanketed with it.
Well, which direction? Jesse asked.
East and just a bit South as we climb, Ansel answered. Then turn North on the other side of the crestline. He mounted and turned his gelding's head in the recommended direction although he waited for Jesse to mount behind him.
Is it safe to follow an established path?
Is it safe not to when it’s going to snow as hard as it will a little later? Ansel pointed at the cloudy sky. No sense losing our way and running right into the people we’re trying to avoid.
True, and I doubt even Andrew McMahon will make much headway behind us through all that snow today, Jesse answered. Especially not with more coming down on top of it.
Out of long habit, the two Deryni rode under the cover of the trees as long as they could, both for the concealment the trees offered and the thinner snow. When they were eventually forced to break a fresh path through the deep new snow across an open meadow, Ansel went first as his horse was the larger and heavier of the two. They climbed steadily all morning through a light snowfall, seeing no one but themselves and hearing nothing but the wind. Both of them felt uneasy nonetheless, and did not speak aloud for every sound was loud in the winter hush. At noon, they had nearly reached the crest line of the Lendour Range, so they stopped in the lee of a large boulder for a quick meal break.
After he had eaten, Jesse squeezed around the boulder and looked back and down the way they had come.
Ansel came around the rock and crouched down beside Jesse. Through the light snow, he could see the meadow they had crossed five hours ago. Seven black specks could be clearly seen against the whiteness, following his and Jesse’s unfortunately clear path where it cut diagonally across the open space.
We have to do something to lose them, and quickly, Jesse said. I think its about to start snowing much, much harder, don’t you?
Ansel nodded reluctantly. And to think I used to be afraid of Willimites as a child. Next to the Custodes, the Willimites seem positively benevolent.
The two young men slipped back around to the scant shelter in the lee of the big boulder, feeling tremendously exposed to the eyes below. Not bothering to waste time on setting wards, the two young Deryni set their hands on one another's shoulders, heads bowed and eyes closed, concentrating hard. The sky grew darker over their heads and the wind rose from a sigh to a whine. Snow piled on top of their hoods, and along their arms and shoulders as smaller flakes began to spin down faster and harder from the sky. Jesse and Ansel gripped one another’s shoulders tightly, eyes shut against the sting of the cold, concentrating only on the strength of their spell.
There, Jesse said at last That should slow them down for the rest of the afternoon.
Let’s go, Ansel agreed. and they simultaneously pulled apart and out of their trance. All that could be seen to their left was a wall of blowing whiteness. To the East, the snow was lighter, allowing for some visibility but still heavy. Once mounted, Ansel and Jesse looped opposite ends of a single rope around each of their belts to keep them together through the storm. Despite their longing for a headlong gallop to leave their would be captors behind, they were forced to move far more sedately on account of the dangerous track and bad visibility Ansel could feel the tug and release of Jesse behind him, and thought he would never see a better example of making haste slowly in his life.