Cedric & Daffyd
never get to Corwyn at this rate," Mireille said. It was late in
the afternoon of their fourth day since leaving Geraint at the
crossroads. "We've been circling around and around getting nowhere.
I thought you knew these hills."
"Mountain trails are *like* that Miri," Cedric said. He managed to make it an exasperated sigh rather than a snap. "We're considerably farther down the mountain than we were this morning. Feel how much warmer the air is?"
Mireille's snort sent a gust of steam into the clear air. The sky above them was deep azure, the late afternoon light a brilliant red-gold. But for the leafless trees and the sere, colorless grasses, spiking here and there from the rocky trail, it might have been a summer sunset. To Cedric, the very brightness of the afternoon made him far more conscious of the bone-piercing chill as he would not have been on a gray day.
"Let's keep going," he said in a more patient voice. "It's nearly sundown already and walking will warm us until we've found someplace to take shelter for tonight." They had given up on traveling at night, for the Eastern slopes of the Lendours were far steeper and more treacherous than to the West, and a fall could have meant injury and disaster to one or both of them. They dared not conjure handfire in the open for fear of who might see it from afar.
"We may as well," Mireille agreed, her very tone an apology of sorts. "We certainly won't get to Coroth by standing still." She smiled as she said it and Cedric felt a somewhat cheered and a little more hopeful that getting to Corwyn might be possible after all. He'd felt a little less hopeful with each new day - conscious only of feelings of pursuit and impending disaster. The mountains seemed almost reluctant to let them escape to the flatlands between the Lendour Highlands and the Duchy of Corwyn. He'd hidden these fears from Mireille as best he could even as he wondered if she felt the same way. As if locked in a conspiracy to protect one another, they'd barely spoken in the last few days, and then of inconsequentialities. If they did not admit the danger existed and pressed ever closer on their heels, perhaps they could still evade it.
They trudged on with Cedric in the lead. He kept his eyes down, more aware at each step that he'd walked this particular trail before, but could not remember why it was so familiar. But when the path forked, he instinctively veered over to the left hand fork that rose gradually until it bent out of sight between a pair of tall granite boulders a short way ahead.
"Should we not take the right hand fork? That at least leads downward," Mireille asked, hesitating just before the Y of the trail.
"For a little, but then the trail ends in a few yards just above some cliffs. There's no way down that way."
Mireille followed him, a tiny frown between her brows. "Ced, how do you know that?"
"That the trail ends. For the last mile or so, you've been walking as confidently as if you'd been here before."
"I have." Cedric frowned. "This trail is almost as familiar to me as the trails near my village. But I can't really remember." He shook his head. "There should be a spring about a half mile further on. We can refill our water bottles."
The promised spring sheeted down, over and between the boulders to their left in a tiny waterfall, and across the trail in a stream no wider than the length of Mireille's forearm.
"The water's very cold," Cedric told her. "But there's no better drinking water in Gwynedd than from this stream."
"First the path, now the spring," Mireille said. "You *do* know this place."
"There's a little pool in the rocks up above the path," Cedric told her. "Cold enough to freeze a man's privates!" He grinned at Mireille's roll of her eyes.
"That didn't stop us, though. Dafydd and I spent as many hot summer afternoons as we were allowed in that pool - "
Cedric froze all at once.
"What is it?" Mireille looked up from her filling water bottle.
"Miri. I remember exactly where we are now," Cedric whispered. He rose and hopped over the stream, striding down the path until all at once they were past the boulders and looking down on a long, sloping valley, nearly as broad as it was long. Near the center of that meadow, the fire-blackened remains of stone buildings rose like broken teeth from colorless gums. Through the light screen of bare tree branches and from this height, Cedric could almost make himself see the familiar walls of St. Neot's as they had been a few short years ago.
"_That_ was St. Neot's Abbey," he told Mireille quietly. Without waiting to see if she would follow, he started down the last steep switchbacks of the trail down to the valley. He could not say what compelled him, but only knew he had to see St Neot's for himself now even if he never came this way again.
He and Mireille stood uneasily together in the main courtyard a short time later. The hush was absolute and in the red sunset, everything looked coated in blood. Moss and dead grasses squeezed up between the paving stones of the courtyard at their feet. Broken stones, dead tree branches and rubble were strewn everywhere. Very little was left of the western wall of the old Abbey church, and the broken remains extended only a little way above his and Mireille's heads. The rounded stone arch over the burned out doors was broken and open to the sky at the top of its curve. An old bird's next perched at the top of the wall, but there was no sign of any birds. There wouldn't be this late in the year, Cedric realized. Nor could he see so much as a mouse. A decomposed pile of sheep droppings near his foot suggested that shepherds might still pass this way, but not recently. He and Mireille were the only living beings in all of St. Neot's.
Uneasy, Cedric tamped down the memories that threatened to well up. He wandered over to the arched doorway to the church and passed through it, his right hand automatically straying in search of the stoup of Holy water through long habit. His fingers only paddled empty air. The carved alabaster scallop shell that had once held the Holy water lay smashed on the ground. Cedric walked up the ruined nave, most of which was open to the sky, although there was some vestige of a roof left over the choir. One of the huge ceiling beams had broken in two and fallen slantwise across the nave. Cedric pressed closer to the left hand wall and ducked under the beam. A stride behind him, Mireille did the same. Cedric was grateful for her silence. The flagstone floor underfoot was littered with pale dead oak leaves, twigs and acorns when before it had always been swept and clean. There was even some bright green moss encroaching at the corners of some of the great stone rectangles. Through the broken clerestory windows along the top of the nave walls, Cedric could see the great oak tree that stood outside the north eastern end of the church. Those branches that had been closest to the flames were charred and dead. Several smaller blackened branches had fallen inside the church walls. But the tree itself still lived, he was glad to note. The last dead leaves of autumn still clung to its living branches. Students had been forbidden to climb the tree, but that had never stopped him. Or stopped Dafydd either. The entrance to what had been the Lady Chapel now led to a paved floor almost covered in dead leaves and a rough semi-circle of stone wall that ended at knee height. Nothing was left of the former chapel roof. But the sunlight flashed on something bright blue on the floor ahead, and Cedric went to pick it up. The lonely fragment of sapphire blue glass was almost buried in the thick layer of dead leaves on the floor. It had a sword-sharp edge, drawing blood from his fingertips.
"What was this place?" Mireille asked. Although her voice was soft, it made him jump in the silence of the ruins.
"The Lady Chapel." He showed her the shard of blue glass. "Once, it had twelve windows, all with this blue glass in them. When the sun shone in here in the mornings, it was almost like being under the sea." He swallowed hard and wiped his sleeve over his eyes. "The soldiers must have done quite a job of smashing them the night they destroyed the Abbey."
Mireille tilted her head at him, eyes sympathetic even though her lips smiled. "For a man who can barely be dragged to Mass once a week, you seem awfully well acquainted with this church and it's Lady Chapel."
Cedric shrugged. "My father always said that priests were fine for marrying and burying but were to be avoided at all costs the rest of the time. When I first got to St Neot's, the change in the atmosphere was a tremendous shock. There were times when I felt as if a little more holy silence might kill me. I daresay the Gabrilites thought I was the sand in the oyster's shell, too, but they couldn't turn me away after Baron de Courcy had already paid for my first year's keep.
"As to this Chapel, I *should* know it. I had to scrub the floor in here often enough."
"_You_? Scrubbing the floors?" Mireille's smile was frankly incredulous.
"I was lucky the Gabrilites didn't believe in the scourge or I'd have no skin left on my back," Cedric answered, almost smiling at the memory. "But they were great believers in personal humility and in the dignity of work. I scrubbed this floor in penance so often that Dom Edouard used to roll his eyes and groan 'not you again!' whenever I was brought to him for disciplining.
"Strangely enough, scrubbing the floor of the Lady Chapel was how I met Dafydd. We were both made to do it on the same day. If you put two eleven year olds together to do the same task that they don't want to do, they'll either kill each other or become friends for life."
"Obviously, you and Dafydd didn't kill one another," Mireille said. "Do you know what became of him?"
"After our studies were finished, his father sent for him in Llannedd," Cedric said. "He'd wanted to stay in Gwynedd, but I daresay he's better off there, even if his father's still squeezing every mark he makes out of him to repay the expense of his training at St. Neot's."
The last of the sunset light was gone, and suddenly, the quiet of the deserted ruins felt ominous to them both. Everything had gone pale blue-grey to deep blue-black in the early evening light.
"Cedric, shouldn't we be finding someplace to take shelter for the night?" Mireille prompted. She was shivering though well wrapped up in her cloaks.
Through the random black lace of the dead tree branches overhead, Cedric could just see the white dot of the evening star. He felt reluctant to leave St. Neot's in spite of, or perhaps because of all the memories it called up in his mind.
"Cedric?" She reached out and touched his sleeve.
"We *should* be finding a place for the night," Cedric agreed automatically. "The thing is, I don't know if we'll find better shelter than at St. Neot's anywhere very close."
"You want to spend the night *here*?" Mireille looked deeply unhappy as she glanced around them.
"Well not _right_ here perhaps. But there's bound to be some part of the Abbey complex that's less ruined than this chapel. Let's go look." He held out his hand to her, and was relieved when she clasped it although she still looked skeptical. The long ruined nave looked sadder in the crepuscular light than it had at sunset. Both of them were glad to emerge into the open courtyard where they'd come in. Cedric led the way confidently over to the doorway of the old refectory hall which looked to be in somewhat better repair than the church. It was, although a gaping hole showed in the roof where a heavy burning something had crashed through it about midway down it's length. Although the walls were intact, the fire had gutted the inside of the hall. The great refectory table had been utterly destroyed in the blaze, it's last charred remains lying broken on the floor. The long, ruined room still smelled strongly of smoke. Mireille wrinkled her nose, looking even more unhappy than she had in the Lady Chapel. It was dark in the hall, although the hole in the roof made a paler rectangle on the paving stones below.
"Is there *nowhere* else?" Mireille pleaded. "If we spend the night in here, I'll be having nightmares all night from the smell of the smoke."
Cedric's conscience jabbed him. Of course Mireille would hate spending the night in any room where there had been a fire what with her memories of the burning on the day of the Nyford riot.
"The kitchen is in through that door," he said pointing to a man-high black rectangle at the back wall of the refectory. "Let's see if that's any better."
It was black dark in the kitchen for it's roof and walls were intact. Cedric quickly conjured handfire. By it's light, they saw the fire had done some damage in here too, but the smell of char was far less. Other than being empty of all furniture and all the cooking paraphernalia that had once hung from the walls and ceiling, the empty kitchen of St. Neot's looked positively homey compared to the rest of the ruins.
"We'll sleep dry and be out of the wind at least," Cedric offered as he walked over to the great hearth and set his bundle down. "If we collect some wood, we could even have a bit of a fire if the chimney will still draw. Will this do for the night?"
Mireille nodded although she still looked less than overjoyed at the prospect. She kept glancing at the blackness of the doorway behind them.
"Do you - do you suppose the Abbey is haunted?" she asked in a rush as she joined him by the hearth and set her own bundle down.
"Only by Gabrilite ghosts," Cedric said lightly, although he felt a chill tingling down his spine at her question. "The Gabrilite Order was sworn to non-violence even in self-defense. Given that philosophy in life, I hardly think they'll do us any harm now that they're dead."
"*Peut-etre*," Mireille muttered, looking unconvinced.
They built a very small fire on the great, fire-blackened hearth, and shared some bread and cheese from Cedric's pack. The food Elspeth had packed for them which should have lasted them at least half of their way to Corwyn was almost gone, Cedric realized with dismay. Getting out of the mountains had taken far longer than he'd anticipated. Almost as if he'd been compelled to come to St Neot's without realizing it.
After they had finished the scanty meal, Mireille soon lay down to sleep her head pillowed on her bundle and her cloak drawn close around her upraised knees. She was exhausted enough to fall asleep with no trouble despite the cold night, but Cedric felt restless. He too lay down close to Mireille, but all he managed was a light doze from which he frequently woke, never being sure he'd really slept. He was pulled back to full consciousness by the chime of bells some time later in the night. Cedric was on his feet and moving through the refectory before he realized St. Neot's was as silent as it had been before. The quiet virtually pressed against his ears as if he were too deep under water. In this empty ruin it was impossible for him to have heard the old bells chime, summoning the Abbey to the chapel for Compline. And yet here he was awake, and heading toward the Abbey church with the undeniable feeling of having been summoned. He cupped his hand and produced a sphere of handfire to help him pick his way through the black refectory, and kept moving toward the door.
Outside the entry courtyard was silent and empty under a large, bright moon. There were no spheres of handfire drifting toward the ruined door other than his own, but Cedric had a strong sense he was not alone here, however deserted the ruins appeared to be. He went into the chapel, once again feeling for the stoup of holy water to his right, and still felt nothing. The almost roofless nave was flooded with moonlight and obviously deserted. He walked up the aisle and made his reverence before the altar, uncovered and quite unlit by any presence lamp save that of his handfire. He saw now what he hadn't noticed earlier - that the great slab of white marble that topped the huge altar was cracked in two along the top, and that the edges were chipped and broken from the repeated blows of maces and battle axes. Here and there, he could see other stone and wood carvings had been damaged in the same way. But moonlight bathed the marble looking nearly as white as the flawless linen and silk altar cloths that had always been draped over it during Cedric's student days.
Cedric brushed away leaves and twigs to make a smooth place for himself on the floor and knelt. There he waited with his head bent over clasped hands with his eyes closed, not knowing at all what to expect. He told himself he was being foolish and that he ought to go back and rest in the kitchen. Mireille would be frightened if she woke up and discovered he was gone. But still he knelt, hands clasped and eyes closed, his mind quiescent.
**Adsum Domine: Me gratiam corpora hominum sanare concessisti..**
Cedric's eyes snapped open and his head reared up. The voices had been faint as if from a long distance away, but they'd sounded as real as the bells had earlier. He strained to pick up the singing voices again, but only heard the wind in the trees.
**Come back!** he implored. **Let me hear you, let me hear *it*, just once more.**
Straining for the singing, Cedric could only hear his own heartbeat thudding in his ears. In earlier, happier days, Cedric had found the transition from his very physical, matter of fact life as a peasant boy with two older brothers to fend off to the hushed, highly spiritual life at the Gabrilite monastery jarring. He'd been a restless student all through his training although he'd learned to hide it better as the years progressed. But he'd still left the Abbey precincts either with - or without - permission as often as he could. But he could yet remember the first time he'd heard the Adsum Domine sung, and of the absolute spell it had cast over his heart. Dafydd too had always been content to kneel in silence and listen, both of them feeling that perhaps they too were a small part in the great mystery.
**Dominus lucis me dixit: Ecce: Tu es infans electum meam, donum meam ad hominem. Ante luciferum, multi ante in utero matris eras, Anima tuam me sancitur aetatis ex mente. Tu es manus sanatio mea super hoc mundo, Instrumentum meum vitae et potestatis sanationiae...**
Cedric made no move this time, but simply sank back on his heels as he accepted the voices as they washed over him. He kept his eyes closed remembering St. Neot's as it had been. The clean, near white stone walls, with pale blue, rather aqueous light flowing through the blue-tinged windows to light the inside of the chapel, for the Archangel Gabriel's element was water. Here and there the light would flash on a Gabrilite cross - four equal length slightly flaring arms within a circle set in gold among the stones. Everything, even the wood of the choir stalls was pale subtle, almost colorless, the students and monks alike clad in plain white robes. The monks were identifiable from the back by the length and color of each four- strand braid.
As Cedric listened, he began to identify individual voices within the invisible choir. The profound basso of Dom Arnaugh, sounding as if he were pulling the notes not only from his body but from the Earth itself; the mellow baritone of Dom Callan, and the pure, silvery tenor of an elderly monk off to the right whose name Cedric had never learned.
**Cum manibus consecratus, fractum restitude. Cum anima consecrata, tende et pacem meam da.
Adsum Domine: Totus ingenibus meis ad pedes tuos proponeo Adsume Domine: Tu es Creator unius de rerem totum Tu es Unus Omnipartus, Qui Lucem et Umbram regit, Donator Vitae et Ipse Donum Vitae. Adsum Domine: Omnis existentia mea ad voluntatem tuam ligatur. Adsum Domine: Ad ministerio tuum consecratur, cum viribus Conservare aut interficiere cingitur Duce et regere servum tui, Domine, ab obnibus tentationem, Ita ut honor purus et donum meam incontaminatus sit...**
The last notes of the Amen faded away slowly, finally indistinguishable from the wind. Cedric remained where he was, reluctant to open his eyes and break the spell. He knew he was alone now, more truly than he had been before he'd heard the bell and the voices. When he looked up at last, the moon no longer shone on the altar. Everything was blackened and dead, and the silence was the silence of death and ruin. He rose, wanting to be away from here, conscious of how frozen and stiff he was after kneeling motionless on cold stones for so long in the dead of a winter night. His handfire was the only spark of light in all of dark St. Neot's as he went back inside the refectory. No bells, no voices, and no feeling that any Gabrilite spirits still lingered here in the remains. He could not be sure if he had even heard the Adsum sung tonight, or whether it had only been the strength of his memories and longing that made him think he had.
Mireille still lay motionless, fast asleep before the tiny, banked fire in the kitchen. Shivering, Cedric lay down beside her, pressed close for what small warmth her thin body offered. He lay awake, listening for a while longer, as he used his old Healing skill to bring his body temperature back to somewhere near normal. He remembered nothing more of the rest of the night.
At dawn, Dafydd was simultaneously shaken roughly awake and hauled to his feet in the in the Custodes campsite. The morning was misty and grey, with glittering frost covering every surface. The campsite was damp, chill and miserable.
Fully awake as soon as his feet had found their purchase on the ground, Dafydd was brought to Sir Andrew who occupied the only tent, his guard shoving him forward from behind. Dafydd's chains rattled as he walked, the iron rasping against the raw patches beginning to form on his wrists. Dafydd was stopped just outside the tent entrance. He and his keeper waited until Sir Andrew had broken the ice on his washbasin and splashed cold water all over his face.
"We're going up to investigate that broken-down Abbey of yours as soon as we break camp," Sir Andrew told Dafydd, although he didn't bother to turn and face him. "Sir Wynton thinks he saw someone with a torch moving around up there last night."
At these words, Sir Andrew did turn to glance at Dafydd. "Could it be FitzHamon, do you think, Dafydd?"
"I don't know, My Lord. I sense nothing at this distance. For all I know, it could have been a shepherd."
Sir Andrew smiled one of his more dangerous smiles. "I don't think so. Local folk hold that these ruins are haunted, and they avoid Deryni ghosts even more than they do human ones. And who else but a Deryni would dare spend the night where so many of their kind died? No doubt they wanted to celebrate their pagan blood rites."
Dafydd stood silent. As he'd lain among the snoring knights last night, he could have sworn he'd heard the old Abbey bells chime. A little later, faint and far away, he'd heard men's voices singing. He hadn't been able to hear the words, but had realized very soon he was hearing the old Gabrilite Healer's Adsum Domine Hymn.
**It must all have been a dream,** Dafydd thought. **I wanted to hear the Adsum again so badly, that I let myself believe it was real.**
"Answer me, you wooden-eared Deryni!"
"Not a shepherd," Dafydd agreed automatically. He knew Sir Andrew wanted him to accuse the Gabrilites of pagan perversions, or even of celebrating the Black Mass, but he stayed silent. What could such a man possibly understand of the holiness that had been destroyed?
The camp was broken with the customary Custodes efficiency, and soon the party was riding up through the valley towards the Abbey, two abreast on the narrow road. The burned, broken walls were indistinct in the grey mist and distance at first, their forms emerging slowly, the tall trees near the Abbey walls looking like dark sentinels.
"We ought to have investigated last night," Sir Wynton argued with Sir Andrew a few feet ahead of Dafydd's horse. "It will be a miracle if anyone's still there."
"This is a fine time for you to think of *that*, Wynton," Sir Andrew said irritably. "Last night you were saying 'oh, we can't go up to St. Neot's after sundown - it might be *haunted!*' After you'd said that, there was no getting any of the other lads to go *near* the place last night!"
Sir Wynton had no reply to this.
Dafydd eyed the buildings as they approached, his heart feeling swollen with pain. The years spent learning his Healer's craft here had been the happiest of his boyhood. He had to admit the ruins of St. Neot's looked downright eerie swimming out of the morning mist. If the restless souls of murdered Gabrilite monks lingered anywhere, this was the likeliest place. But he made no sound either of grief or of indignation as they rode closer along the old road to St. Neot's and the damage became more obvious. Not even when they rode past the small cemetery and he saw that some of the smaller gravestones had been knocked over did Dafydd say a word. The hooves of all their horses made a great clatter as they rode through the broken gates and stood in the courtyard between the church and the old refectory hall.