Cedric & Daffyd
then what happened?
Ansel winced at the coldness of Joramís voice even through the long distance psychic link.
We kept riding through the snow for the rest of the afternoon, Jesse replied. We made the best time we could.
Yes, North and heading right towards the Haven! Joram said. We canít afford to have an experienced Custodes Fidei hunting party led by the likes of McMahon complete with their own Deryni sniffer roaming around in the mountains anywhere near our hiding place.
Where would you have us go, then? Ansel argued. Do you want us to be captured, Uncle?
You know I donít want that! Weíve already lost far too many good people!
Iím sorry, Joram sent in a calmer voice the next second. You couldnít have known the Custodes would show up at that inn, and of course I donít want to either you or Jesse to be captured by them. But the problem remains.
I donít think weíre their only target, Jesse said. They wouldnít be this high up in the mountains at all if they hadnít already been searching for someone else. Especially not this late in the season. The snowfall will have covered our tracks, so perhaps if weíre too difficult to find, McMahon will go after his original targets and we can get away.
This is possible, Joram conceded. But we canít afford to assume that he will do that.
Ansel and Jesse were silent. Each knew their most immediate duty to the others was both to avoid capture, and equally to avoid leading their enemies to the Michaeline Haven.
And if he keeps following us, what do you recommend we do, Uncle?
It was Joramís turn to be silent although it didnít last long. Try to make it to Dhassa by late this afternoon, Joram finally ordered. Niallan says thereís a transfer portal in the Cathedral in the first side chapel just east of the transept on the south side of the choir. It will be easiest for you to reach it if you go to St. Senanís for Compline tonight. Sit in the darkest part of the church you can find along the South aisle then make your way to the chapel when the Office has just ended. No one will question your being in the cathedral and saying a quick prayer if youíve just attended the Office. Use that portal to get to the keeill. Weíll be waiting for you.
Weíll be there, Ansel agreed. Until tonight.
Be careful, and may God protect you both, Joram sent just before dissolving the link.
Joram opened his eyes in the keeill proper, and saw that the grimness of his own mood was reflected in the faces of Queron, Bishop Niallan and Gregory of Ebor. Gregory in particular looked appalled. Small wonder when heíd just heard that Ansel and Jesse, his own eldest son, had spent the day before being pursued through the mountains by Sir Andrew McMahon of the Equites Custodem Fidei. All four men were silent for several minutes, none of them wanting to be the first to break the silence by acknowledging this newest danger.
Gregory suddenly slapped the table surface with the palms of both hands. "Iíve warned them about going to inns!"
"Theyíre still free, Gregory," Queron pointed out. "While I donít ordinarily condone weather working, Iíd say they put it to extremely intelligent use to put the Custodes off their trail, yesterday."
"And theyíve both shown tremendous courage and presence of mind," Niallan added.
"Aye, I know it." Gregory sighed deeply. "Iím just shaken, thatís all."
"So am I," Joram said. "It was entirely too close a call to suit me."
"Well, what now?" Queron said.
"What else can we do but wait for them to join us tonight?" Niallan said. "Getting to the Cathedral portal in Dhassa will be no easy task, though."
"Especially not if they have Custodes after them. Theyíve got a Custodes Abbey in Dhassa, havenít they?" Gregory asked.
"Yes, but not a very large or important one," Queron said
"Sufficient for their purposes, should Ansel and Jesse be captured," Joram said. "But simply being a Deryni in Dhassa is hardly more dangerous than being in an inn taproom with Sir Andrew McMahon and his sniffer. I suggest we all give a prayer or two that they can get into Dhassa and the Cathedral unnoticed."
"Waaait?! Praaaay!?" Gregory roared, shooting up from his chair. "What splendid, helpful suggestions. If thereís ever been a time when we should act, itís now!"
"What do you propose we do?" Joram said
"I propose that we take steps to make sure that Sir Andrew McMahon will disappear in the Lendour Mountains with his sniffer and his entire hunting party and never be seen or heard from again. Let the Custodes wonder what became of their prize hound!" Gregory began to pace, fists clenched at his sides.
"Are you proposing we keep them prisoner with altered memories?" Queron asked. "Weíre not equipped to feed seven extra Ė"
"No, I do not propose we keep them prisoner, even for five minutes," Gregory said in a calmer voice though it still shook. "Weíll have to kill them, Queron. Itís the only way."
"I donít see any such need," Queron replied. "And a great deal of wisdom in not drawing any more Custodes attention to possible Deryni activity in the Lendour Highlands than absolutely necessary."
"Donít see!?" Gregory positively spluttered. his white face mottled with red. "Donít ssseeee!? No being a Gabrilite, I suppose you wouldnít!"
"Being a Gabrilite has never Ė "
"Youíre both right," Joram said. His voice was quiet and forceful and he gave Gregory a warning look. "We now have to decide where the greater risk lies."
Gregory sat down again, carefully as if his chair might collapse beneath him.
"I apologize, Queron," he said, his voice quiet although still tense. "Youíve been a Gabrilite all your life, and Iíve always admired their non-violent philosophy, and God knows I admire you."
Queron nodded acknowledgement.
"But Iím not a Gabrilite!" Gregory burst out again. "Iím an earl, or I was, and Iíve been a warrior since I could stand upright and wave a toy sword. I find it galling to wait and hide, doing nothing while I know whatís happening to our people in the outside world."
"And youíre upset, knowing that your eldest son and another young man you love nearly as much are in danger from our enemies," Niallan said. "Might that be clouding your judgment now?"
"It might. You must pardon me if Iíve no wish to see my son and Ansel in the hands of the Custodes Fidei.
"But this is not only about the danger to the two of them," Gregory continued in the same tight voice. "If that were my only concern, Iíd never let Jesse poke his nose out of doors, times being what they are. Whatever my fears for his safety may be, Iíve allowed him to ride abroad, doing his part to help save what remnant we can of our people.
"In order to do that, he and Ansel need to be able to move freely, and to remain anonymous. But theyíve recently been in the same room with Sir Andrew McMahon and his sniffer. Jesse actually touched the man, and other members of the party may have noticed them too. Even if Ansel and Jesse were to lie low for several weeks after returning to us tonight, they could well be recognized should they encounter McMahon and his men again. If McMahon didnít recognize him, that sniffer surely would!"
"But thereís always been the danger that something like this would happen," Niallan argued. "If we killed everyone in Gwynedd who might possibly recognize and betray our people, weíd be far worse murderers than the Regents."
Gregory took a deep breath, obviously struggling for control, his face beginning to look mottled again.
"I think itís McMahon himself that has Gregory upset, am I right, Gregory?" Joram said. "I certainly donít want him to come anywhere near the Michaeline Haven. But you have yet to convince me why we must put ourselves at risk to kill them."
"The risk will be even greater if we donít, Joram. Think what might be happening now if Ansel and Jesse had been captured the day before yesterday."
The other three men met Gregoryís eyes in turn, all of them shrinking from the thought of Ansel and Jesse in the hands of the Custodes Inquisitor General, and his assistants who knew how to painfully extract information.
"I donít doubt that Ansel and Jesse would hold out as long as they could, but sooner or later everyone talks for the Inquisitor," Gregory said. "And what the two of them know would put literally everything we do at risk.
"For one thing, the Custodes and the Regents would learn about the existence of the Camberian Council. And you can guess the things theyíll assume about a self-governing body of Deryni mages! Theyíll learn the truth about the Revan and the Baptizer Cult, so that will end that method of saving our people. Theyíll learn about the existence and the location of the Michaeline Haven, and not only that, but about Trevalga as well. Trevalga isnít just my manor in the Connait anymore. We had to build a village around it before the manor became too overcrowded to shelter everyone. Some of our people are round pegs in square holes, but everyone has done their part willingly. They understand Trevalga is their only refuge for the foreseeable future, especially if we lose the use of the Haven. If the Regents and Custodes find out about it, theyíll not rest until weíre dead and Trevalga has been destroyed."
Gregory paused for breath. "With no safe refuge anywhere, the Deryni will ultimately cease to exist in Gwynedd."
Joram nodded with a somber look on his face. "But Gregory, they did escape."
"It was entirely too close a call!" Gregory snapped. "And weíre not the only ones at risk. If you wonít think of our people and of ourselves, think of Prince Javan."
Joram leaned forward with an intent face. "Yes. If the Regents should learn he had even been in contact with us Ė"
"Hubert would order his death in a heartbeat," Gregory finished. "Carrying out the order would be all too easy for the Custodes with Javan already at Arx Fidei Abbey. A convenient pillow to Javanís face, and there goes all our hope for a more just rule in the future. Not to mention the life of our very promising future King."
"I ought to be kicked for having forgotten Javan even for a moment," Joram said after a brief silence. "Youíre right, of course, Gregory. Sir Andrew McMahon is too great a danger to us all to be allowed to live."
Niallan nodded his assent. "Iím convinced this is necessary also. God have mercy on their souls."
"Iím afraid even I agree," Queron nodded. "Which is no credit to my years of Gabrilite conditioning towards non-violence."
"These are ugly times, Queron," Gregory replied. "Which sometimes require otherwise principled men to act against our consciences."
Queron gave him a very wry smile. "Some mystics I have known would argue that the uglier the times, the closer we should hold to whatever principles we possess."
"Ah, yes. But before this becomes too much of a discussion on philosophy, we still have a few things to talk about," Joram said. "Weíre in agreement that Sir Andrew and his men need to disappear, but not as to how we should carry this out. Did you have anything specific in mind, Gregory?"
"It will have to be an ambush, since we must obviously do this as quickly and as quietly as we may. Who are our best archers?"
"An ambush," Joram agreed. "We canít afford to risk any of them escaping or the whole thing will have been pointless. Nor can we use our arcane powers, or the sniffer may give them warning."
"The snifferÖ" Niallanís voice trailed off. "Can we not find a way to spare him? To bring him into our fold and have him work on our behalf instead of our enemies?"
Gregory frowned. "Why would we wish to? Heís betrayed our people!"
"But he didnít betray Ansel and Jesse." Niallan pointed out. "All he would have had to do is look at McMahon, and they would have been taken prisoner. Had that happened, we would be having a very different conversation here today, if we were even still alive to have it."
"Niallan, we canít risk it," Joram said. "We donít know what kind of man he is, at heart. And what of his family? Heíll rightly be afraid for them, while weíre strangers who will tell him that we canít afford to take the risk to set them free. He may try to do something rash to rescue them and be recaptured. Then where are we? Worse off than ever!"
Niallan sighed. "Put in that light, I see that we canít help him. But I find it regrettable."
"I pity him," Joram answered. "But Iím afraid he must die with the others."
The planning of the ambush continued well into the afternoon. Queron and Niallan eventually excused themselves to attend the evening office, leaving Joram and Gregory hard at it.
"I just hope we find them before they find us," Joram said at last. "This is going to be a big risk, Gregory. Weíll only get one chance."
Gregory smiled back. "Iíve never known a Michaeline who didnít know his strategy, Joram. Particularly not you."
He leaned closer to Joram, and there was a conspiratorial gleam in his eyes. "I couldnít say this in front of Queron, Joram, but let us admit it between ourselves. Weíre warriors, and we canít always patiently turn the other cheek while our people are being slaughtered. Youíre looking forward to actively striking a blow against the Custodes as much as I am, arenít you?"
Joram looked up, startled. "Ió" Then he shut his mouth feeling foolish.
"The priest in me tells me I should deny that, Gregory. But Iím a Michaeline knight yet. The answer is yes."