Cedric & Daffyd
lifted his head from his pallet. Someone was coming down the stairs
leading to the storeroom. More than one person, in fact. His night’s
rest was at an end, for the storeroom was illuminated by a thin shaft of
daylight from the lone window. He should sit up and at least try to look
alert he knew. He ached, if not as much as he had last night, and for
all his hours of heavy sleep through the night, he was still exhausted.
The storeroom door opened abruptly, almost hitting Dafydd in the face. A small, thin woman was thrust through it hard enough to make her shoulder bump into the wall.
"I advise you to make him see reason for both your sakes, woman," Sir Andrew’s voice ordered. "You have one hour." The door slammed shut again and the bolt rasped shut. Dafydd’s new companion made a choking sound deep in her throat, and lifted her hand to rub her shoulder where it had collided with the storeroom wall.
The familiarity of that motion made Dafydd’s heart stand still just for a minute. It was not possible that Sir Andrew was allowing him to see his wife especially not out of favor as he was now. And yet –
"Dafydd!" Sian gasped then threw herself at him.
He clutched her, imprinting her very bones against his own body. She caressed his mind with her own, her head resting on his shoulder where it made a right angle with his neck, her thin arms binding him like ropes. Dafydd squeezed his eyes shut and just held her tight, saying nothing aloud although their minds were fully engaged and entwined. Sian’s presence here was a miracle he didn’t feel like questioning right away.
Gradually he became aware of the unwashed sourness emanating from her body and her faded green kirtle. Once she had smelled of clean air and both the fresh flowers she grew and the dried flower posies she’d sold in the marketplace in Rhemuth Town. Her head was uncovered and the light brown hair was lank and greasy for lack of washing. It was still as tidy as she could make it though, and she still wore it in a braided coil at the back of her head. But it had once shone like a fall of brown waters in sunlight.
They pulled apart then, and gazed at one another as starving people gaze at a feast. The pale cold light from the window was merciless to Sian’s, slender oval face. Her gentle plumpness, smooth petal pink skin and raspberry pink lips had vanished altogether. She was gaunt, every bone and muscle showed, the pale lips were dry and cracked. Her straight nose which had always been a bit too long for perfection, looked narrow and sharp as a dagger blade now. Her pallor was that of a woman who had long been locked away from all natural daylight, and her face was awash with her tears. A bruise spread across her left cheek just above the corner of her mouth. On her thin wrists, Dafydd could see the reddened marks of the ropes they’d used to bind her hands. Only her amazing pale green eyes were as he remembered them, although the long dark lashes were spiky and wet.
Sian tried to smile at him although her lips trembled too much for her to control them. There was grief in those green eyes as she gazed at him. The harsh light was as unkind to the changes in his face as to hers.
"Dewi, you look exhausted and ill," she whispered. She delicately touched his bruised jaw. "What have they done to you?"
"Everything," he whispered. "I am ill, Sian although its mostly from dashing around in the cold and wet all autumn." He smiled at her, not caring how much it hurt his jaw. "How are you, cariad?" He reached up and touched his fingers to her bruised cheek calling up his healing powers. The bruise disappeared, although it took longer than it should have. Before his strength was entirely gone, Dafydd enclosed Sian’s rope-burned wrists in his hands to heal them as well.
"I’ve been better." Sian managed a weak, watery smile. "But I’m right enough in the circumstances, Dewi. In time one can almost get used to captivity. Aside from never seeing you, boredom is the worst of it, I find."
"How is it that you’re here now? Why is Sir Andrew letting us see one another?"
She avoided his eyes as she settled back onto her heels. "You ask me that?"
"Yes. He never does things without a reason, especially not if they benefit me in any way. Why are you here? You were being held in Valoret."
"I was brought here this morning to reason with you," Sian said.
Her voice was so soft, Dafydd had to lean closer to hear her, both their hands intertwined.
"Sir Andrew said they’re hunting Cedric FitzHamon. Is it true?"
"He’s not happy with the way things have gone, Dewi," Sian said in the same faint voice. "He thinks you’re deliberately putting him on the wrong track to protect Cedric."
"Sir Andrew’s no fool," Dafydd agreed. "Worse luck."
"So you are protecting Cedric."
"I must, cariad. All through St. Neot’s we were best friends. Outside my family and you, he was my closest friend. I can’t help them capture him and I won’t. I wouldn’t betray an old stray dog to live my life. And Cedric’s not alone; I think his wife is traveling with him. Would you have me betray them to our fate?"
"Oh Dewi, I understand," Sian whispered. "Truly, I do! And I love and admire you for it." Two more tears overflowed her eyes but she wiped them away quickly with the back of one hand, before bending to kiss the back of Dafydd’s right hand and hold it to her damp cheek. She would not meet his eyes.
A brush of his mind against hers immediately firmed her shields against him. Even so, she had not been quick enough to completely hide her fear. More than fear -- she was in terror.
"But…?" Dafydd prompted her, making his voice as gentle as he could.
Her sob was a little hiccup of misery. Tears were streaming from her eyes again when she lifted her face to him again.
"But the trouble is, Dewi bach, the Custodes will kill me if you don’t betray them."
Dafydd closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, which was as comfortless and unyielding as the reality Sian had just thrust back upon him. Had he been mad to forget the danger to her if he failed to satisfy their captors?
"Dafydd, I beg you, do as Sir Andrew says," Sian spoke when Dafydd had been silent for some minutes.
"Do you know what you’re asking?" Dafydd murmured. "How can I face Cedric, when he’ll know who has betrayed him to this slavery?"
"I told you they will kill me if you don’t, " Sian whispered, still not daring to look him in the eyes. "I didn’t tell you how they’d do it." She lowered her shields and her terror hung in the air between them, almost as visible as steam from a kettle.
"What – what will they do to you?"
"If Cedric escapes because you let him, or even if he escapes and it’s not your fault, they’ll burn me, Dewi. Right in front of the Cathedral in Valoret, and all the other hostage families will be required to watch. They’ll bring you back to Valoret and make you watch me burn, too. After I’m dead, you’ll be drawn and quartered."
She looked up at him then, pale green eyes huge with fear, her white face glossy with tears. "Can you look me in the eyes now and betray us both to those deaths? You could not!"
"No." Dafydd said at last. "I couldn’t." He let his hands drop to his sides in defeat, and closed his eyes. It shouldn’t have been possible to feel as ill and as angry as he did right now. Sick with anger, truly, and numbed by defeat. Evidently it was not possible for a hostage Deryni sniffer to protect those he cared for most whatever he’d told himself back in Nyford on the night the hunt for Cedric began. But even his miserable existence would be better for Cedric than the death that would face Sian as the price of his disobedience.
"Dewi I’m so sorry!" Sian flung her arms around him and hugged him hard, her head on his shoulder.
"Please, please don’t hate me for asking you to do this! I could bear dying if they were only going hang me, or even use the garrote as they did on poor Honoria Carmody and her children.
"But not the burning. I couldn’t stand that!"
"Darling girl, I could never hate you," Dafydd said, his arms finally coming up to hold Sian again. "It’s just that they’ve won, haven’t they? The bastards have won."
Sian nodded. She was still crying, and her face was as bleak as Dafydd’s own mood.
His heart overflowed with tenderness. "You’ve always been the most tremendous weeper," Dafydd said, desperate to try to make her smile. "Just like a leaky bucket."
"Now at least I have something to weep for," Sian answered. "I hate the thought of your having to betray your closest friend for me. But –"
"I couldn’t bear to watch you burn, Sian," Dafydd whispered. "Forgive me for having put you at risk at all."
"Of course I forgive you," she said. "You did it out of loyalty to Cedric and to keep him from being a prisoner as we are."
"Now it seems I can’t protect any of the people I love. Betraying Cedric won’t set you free, it will only keep you alive. And Cedric will hate me. I think this life will be worse to him than death. And his wife whom I’ve never even met -- Dear God! Why did I ever leave Llannedd?"
"You left Llannedd because you couldn’t get along with your father," Sian reminded him. "No independence was possible with him insisting that you live beneath his roof with no more rights than a child, and his demanding that you should turn all your earnings over to him to repay him for your education at St. Neot’s.
"And anyway," she pulled back and summoned a very faint smile from somewhere deep in her memories. "If you had not come to live in Rhemuth, then we should never have known one another or have been married."
"Would that that had been so, cariad."
She dove at him and shook him hard. "Never say that! Never deny what we’ve been to one another, or I’ll shake all your teeth out!"
"You can say that when marrying me has brought you nothing but trouble?"
"We had one happy year together," Sian ventured. "Some poor souls never experience a day’s happiness from their first day to their last.
"And I’m just as Deryni as you are, my good sir. Don’t flatter yourself that only you could have made me fall foul of the Regents and the Custodes! Even if we had never known each other, I still might be dead or a prisoner on account of being Deryni. But there are some who still have a tiny reverence for Healers. Being your wife probably protected me, too."
"I should have taken you back to Llannedd after our wedding then," Dafydd sighed. "We could have settled down in Kilgruff on the coast and away from my family. We’d be safe, I could have built a practice as a Healer, and you and I might have a house and children by now instead of–"
"Stop," Sian, put her fingers to his lips, then kissed him on the mouth. "We’ll go mad if we think of all the things we should have done and won’t be able to do together.
"As for children," she said brightly, "I’ve never liked children. Even if you survive having them, they ruin a girl’s figure. They’re always underfoot when you’re busy and crying or noisy when you want a bit of peace and quiet. They eat all your food and outgrow their clothes, and then run off and get into fights with other people’s horrid brats! Never wanted any, myself."
Dafydd began to laugh which quickly brought on a fit of deep, harsh coughing.
"You’re a terrible liar, Sianny," he was finally able say in a weak voice when the fit had passed.
"All the same, I’m glad we’ve no children in our circumstances," Sian said softly. "Not when the Regents and the Custodes could use them as weapons against us. And to be locked up in tiny rooms, never allowed to run about outdoors in the sunlight is no life for children."
"It’s no life for anyone," Dafydd said. "I’m sorry that you’ve been condemned to this because of me."
I said it before, I’m as Deryni as you are Dafydd, Sian replied mind-to-mind. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I could only be satisfied with a Deryni husband. Even then, I never dared ask God to send me a Healer. You’ve brought me joy, Dewi. It’s our enemies who have condemned me to live in a prison and forced you to work against our own people.
I love you, Sian.
She did not respond in words, only reached out to caress his mind with her own, shifting to sit in his lap, then nestled close to him. Dafydd did not know how long they stayed in one another’s arms, melded together mind to mind. He simply treasured these few moments of grace – the last he ever expected to experience for what remained of his life. Sian’s physical warmth added to his own, and her bony shoulder was the most comfortable resting place for his aching head. Even her weight on top of his legs was a comfort as was the strength of her skinny arms. She still had some curves to her figure at her breast and hips and the feel of her was still pleasant beneath his hands. But he must not be distracted by desire. Not when there was so little time left to them.
The sound of many booted feet on the stairs pulled them both back to normal awareness at the same time.
"Not yet!" Sian whispered, clutching Dafydd closer. "Oh, Dewi do you think we’ll ever meet again?"
The boots stopped at the storeroom door, and the bolt rattled.
"I doubt it. I never expected or hoped for this meeting, Sianny."
"The Lord bless and protect thee, cariad." Sian kissed him desperately one last time, her tears starting once again.
"And you, heart of my heart."
The door opened, and Sir Andrew came in with four of his knights.
"On your feet." Sir Andrew made a curt gesture at Sian and Dafydd. As soon as Sian was fairly on her feet Sir Andrew grabbed her arm and dragged her away from Dafydd.
"I trust you’ve made the situation clear to him, woman?"
Sian averted her wet eyes, lips trembling. "Yes, my lord."
"Good." He shoved her at his men. "Bind her and take her out of here," he ordered over his shoulder.
Dafydd tried to catch Sian’s eye a last time as Sir Wynton roughly bound her hands behind her back, longing for either the strength or the courage to blast their captors with magic in a last, hopeless bid for both their freedom. Sian only stared at the floor, her head bowed, tears on her cheeks. She glanced in his direction one last time as Sir Wynton and another knight hauled her backwards out the storeroom door by a fistful of hair.
Goodbye, my heart.
"Now that you know what lies at stake for both you and your wife Dafydd, you will obey me unhesitatingly, yes?"
Dafydd forced himself to pay attention to Sir Andrew. Not quite quickly enough. His reward was a painful jab in the solar plexus with the end of Sir Andrew’s riding whip.
"Yes…my lord," Dafydd choked as soon as he was able.
"You’re not very enthusiastic Deryni. But no matter. From now on you will withhold no further information from me. Correct?"
"No, my lord."
"No?" Sir Andrew loomed closer, dark brows frowning.
"I mean no, I will not withhold any further information from you, my lord."
"That’s better." Sir Andrew’s smile was downright dangerous. "And yet, it’s plain that I’ll need a new sniffer soon. I hope that FitzHamon will prove more ready to my hand than you have been. You’ve just barely been useful enough to me to be worth the trouble."
May Cedric soon make you wish you had never been born, Dafydd thought bitterly. Very soon, he’ll certainly wish I hadn’t been.
"To remind you of your status, you’ll wear manacles from now on," Sir Andrew resumed. "You have sacrificed what little trust I once placed in you. Adam, Emmet, hold him."
The two younger knights pinned Dafydd to the storeroom wall while Sir Andrew fixed his fetters to each wrist in turn. The heavy chains dragged Dafydd’s arms down at once.
"Naturally you will not allow these chains to hamper your effectiveness in any way, will you?"
"No, my lord," Dafydd answered in a dull voice.
"Good. Eat what we’ve brought you. We’ll be riding out in half an hour."
Sir Andrew and his remaining companions left, locking the door behind them.
Dafydd sat back down on his pallet examining his chains. The fetters at his wrists were of rough forged iron about one inch wide and far too thick for even a healthy man to break. They were separated by perhaps eighteen inches of sturdy chain. The fetters were loose enough to slide up and down his wrists, pinching his flesh. Their cold roughness bumped unpleasantly against his wrist bones, but they were too small to slide off over his hands. The locks themselves would present no difficulty to a Deryni as well trained as Dafydd. But that was not the point. He had to wear them whether he could escape them or not. The manacles were large enough that their absence would be noticed at once if he tried to be rid of them. And no doubt if he did, Sir Andrew would only find a worse pair for him to wear.
Dafydd lifted his arms to shoulder level feeling the weight of the chains. then let his arms drop again in despair.
How will I manage these? The manacles would have been bad enough if he’d been healthy. Because of his physical weakness, simply walking across a room already felt like wading chest deep against a strong current. The only thing Dafydd felt fit to do today was to lie flat and sleep as much as possible. But in half an hour he must ride out with his captors in the December cold, truly prepared to betray Cedric this time. And all because of Sian’s fear. How in the world could he go on living after this morning?
Dafydd shook his head hard. He’d already been absurdly selfish at Sian’s expense, putting her at risk in the vain hope that he could actually help Cedric. How ridiculous – to believe that he could actually help anyone anymore.
Forsaking all others, Dafydd reminded himself grimly. All the other wedding vows he had made Sian were now moot given their enforced separation. This was the last thing he could ever do for her, so at least he ought to do it without blaming her or thinking bitter thoughts of her.
Dafydd reached for the bread that had been left on the floor for him. He’d need all his strength today. To his surprise it was fresh baked, soft and still warm from the oven beneath his hands. He took a bite, then let the memories pressing on him well up in his mind:
Winter mornings at St. Neot’s and the warm smell of fresh bread in the refectory. And Cedric’s endless finagling and wheedling with the baker monks for a little extra bread as the sparse Abbey rations felt scarcely adequate to the tall, lanky boy with his insatiable appetite…..
A rainy spring afternoon, a snug, warm cottage where Sian kneaded bread dough at her work table, her hands white with flour and her forearms dusted with it half way to her elbows….
An evening in mid-September, himself sitting on a bench beneath the low eve of their cottage, tired from his day’s round of calls, watching Sian as she wandered through her garden, dead-heading her roses and marigolds here, sprinkling water at the roots of her thirsty patch of cornflowers there. Occasionally, she’d glanced back at him over her shoulder and smiled, both of them companionably silent in the contented hours between supper and bed. Behind Sian in the distance across the river, Rhemuth Town and the high walls of Rhemuth Castle were bathed in red-gold light from the late sunset. That last evening of freedom, neither of them at all aware how completely their lives were about to change…
The bread forgotten in his hands, Dafydd rested his head on his knees and wept for all he’d lost as he had not since childhood.