Cedric & Daffyd
woke with a jerk in the dark kitchen, and immediately reared up on one
elbow, listening. The main courtyard was undeniably filled with horses,
and he could hear at least one rider rapping out orders, signifying the
presence of other men as well. He jumped to his feet and ran for the
door leading to the old kitchen garden. They would search the buildings,
he was sure. With any luck they wouldnít start in the refectory hall,
but he and Mireille might have only seconds to get out of here, and God
only knew if they could evade capture when they did.
The stiff door latch yielded at last to the pressure of both Cedricís hands, but the door did not move outward more than a few reluctant inches. In despair, Cedric hurled his shoulder at the door and pushed with all his strength. The door eased open a little farther to the sound of clattering stones on the other side. But the opening was still too narrow for even Mireille to pass through it although he could see the door had indeed been blocked by rubble from the kitchen garden wall.
Perhaps if we both push, Cedric thought and turned toward Mireille. To his amazement, she still lay by the hearth, asleep, and by the look of it, in the grip of one of her old nightmares about the Nyford riot. He leaped toward her, hoping to keep her quiet, but not quite quickly enough.
"Mortes! Tous sont mortes!" Mireille shrieked.
Cedric collapsed at her side, clapping his hand over her mouth to stifle any more screaming.
Miri! Hush The courtyard is full of men! He listened in dread. the men in the courtyard outside had gone silent.
Mireilleís eyes flew open, instantly aware and full of terror. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph," she whispered, her lips barely moving. "Is itÖdid they hear?"
"You in there!" a manís voice called. "Come out here!"
Iím afraid so, Cedric answered. Come, quickly. Maybe we can still get away if we can open the door to the kitchen garden.
Both of them jumped up and ran over to the door, beating and pressing on it in near panic. The door suddenly gave another six inches but with a loud creak and the screech of rusty hinges
"I definitely heard that," came a manís voice from the refectory. "Thereís someone here all right."
"It came from over there in the kitchen," a deeper voice answered.
Go, quickly! Cedric urged, pushing Mireille toward the narrow opening.
And leave you?
Miri, weíll both be captured if you donít hurry!
She nodded and began to struggle through the opening. Thin as she was and even squirming with all her might, the opening was still too narrow.
"Itís no use," she panted "I canít fit -"
"Well well, what have we here?" A hand clapped on Cedricís left shoulder and the cold flatness of a long dagger blade was slapped against the right side of his neck. He could see the Custodes livery on the second knight clearly and froze, letting his hand fall to his sides, to avoid any immediate violence. They were two armed knights, trained to fight, while he had only a belt-knife for a weapon. Mireille had no weapon at all. Her eyes were frightened pits of blackness in her pale face. The second knight grabbed her by the upper arm and hauled her away from the door, swinging her around, holding the tip of his own dagger to the front of her throat.
"Sir Andrew will want to talk to the two of you I think. Heís been on the trail of a Healer from Nyford these past three weeks. Would you have any knowledge of a fellow called Cedric FitzHamon?" asked the man who held the dagger to Cedricís throat.
"I? Iím no Healer, sor," Cedric mumbled, careful to avoid the knightís eyes. "Please, míbrother aní I only took shelter here fer the night -"
"Oh get a move on, and save your breath for Sir Andrew," the knight snorted. "Come on, come on, you donít keep him waiting. Walk forward both of you, and keep your hands where I can see them."
Dear God, Cedric, what can we do to get away from them? Mireille asked as their captors marched them through the refectory.
Right now thereís only one thing we can do - try to brazen it out. But I think they know who I am. If I tell you to run, run and donít look back.
You wonít get rid of me that easily.
Miri, I think this is the end, donít you see? If I knew you were free, I might be able to stand it.
I know it is. But it would give me no comfort to be free and alone, wondering what was happening to you.
And what good will running do me? she continued. I donít know this country, and how do I evade mounted men, assuming that I get away at all?
Cedric had no time to answer this as they had just come to the refectory doorway. He and Mireille were shoved through it by their captors. It was not a large Custodes party, but quite large enough to completely outnumber the two of them. Besides the two who had captured them, there were another four knights waiting, and a seventh man who appeared to be unarmed, sitting his horse a little way behind the mounted knight who watched their approach.
"Found them in the kitchen, Sir Andrew," announced the taller of their captors. He still held his dagger against Cedricís neck.
"This one claims theyíre two brothers who just happened to take shelter here for the night."
The man addressed as Sir Andrew brought his big black a few paces closer to where Cedric and Mireille stood captive on the steps, beckoning the unarmed and hooded man forward as he came. The second man advanced until he sat stirrup to stirrup with his superior. But he neither lifted his face, nor threw back his hood.
"Youíre either a brave man or an idiot to try to play me for a fool," he told Cedric in a pleasant, conversational tone. "But the truth will serve you better in the long run."
Cedric said nothing but studied the Custodes knight under lowered lashes. Tall, muscular, and with a scabbarded broadsword strapped to his saddle. Very fit, and no doubt a trained swordsman and fighter as all his men must be. Two had stationed themselves on a line for the empty gateway arch leading out of St. Neotís and the other two stood squarely between Cedric and Mireille and the church door. Six of them, and anyone of them would have been a formidable opponent all by himself for Cedric. Together, they gave Cedric no hope of escape, unless it was by keeping his temper and using his wits.
The knight called Sir Andrew had pale green eyes, and dark hair barbered severely short. He had the look of a man accustomed to his privileges and accustomed to being obeyed. But Cedric viewed the man at his right with even more dread, for he could only be a sniffer to go unarmed in this company. He prayed Mireille would say nothing. Of course, it was possible that the sniffer had already sensed their conversation while theyíd been marched through the refectory. He forced himself to relax and keep his eyes focused on the ground.
Cedric remained silent, letting Sir Andrew take the initiative, himself determined to volunteer no information.
Sir Andrew stared at him for a long time in silence. Then casually reached over to his right and yanked the hood back from his companionís face. "Do you know this man?" he demanded.
Cedric stared up at Dafydd for a heartbeat then quickly looked down again to hide his shock and dismay. But Sir Andrew had been watching for just that reaction.
"No, m'Lord," Cedric mumbled, gazing at his toes.
Sir Andrew laughed, and the sound made Cedric go cold with fear.
"Oh, Iím quite sure you recognized him," Sir Andrew told Cedric in the same, pleasant voice. "As I said before, the truth will serve you better here. And in all your future dealings with me, for that matter."
"Never seen him before in my life, m'Lord." Cedric was encouraged that he could manage the firm tone of voice even when this badly frightened. "Míbrother and I, we only stayed here thí night -"
Sir Andrewís eyes had gone a cold poisonous green when he dared glance up at the man. "Lies on top of lies, FitzHamon." The conversational tone was gone, replaced by soldierly harshness. "Very, very unwise. Local, God-fearing folk fear and hate this place with good reason, and avoid it whenever possible. If you spent the night here, you are plainly in sympathy with those pagan Gabrilite pigs, and most likely Deryni yourselves."
"Thatís not all, Sir Andrew," Mireilleís captor reported. "I can tell a hart from a hind - this lass ainít a brother to anyone." He shoved Mireille to her knees on the steps before him and pulled the hood back from her face. Then he grabbed a fistful of her hair, dragging her head up and back so that Sir Andrew could get a good look at her. Mireille looked shocked beyond fear, too blighted to even fight the knightís treatment. Exposed to the pale daylight in this all male company, Mireilleís gender was immediately evident. Cedric took a step to his left, but knight behind him pressed the dagger blade harder against the side of his neck.
"More Deryni perversions," Sir Andrew said, eyeing Mireille with disdain.
"Sheís my wife!" Cedric spat.
"Or your whore," Sir Andrew shrugged. "It scarcely matters to me. But at least we seem to be getting nearer the truth here. Very near, the truth, in fact.
He turned to Dafydd. "Yes or no, Dafydd. Is this Cedric FitzHamon?"
Dafydd gave a heavy sigh and for the first time he met Cedricís eyes. There was shame and sorrow in his face, and also resignation. "Yes, my Lord. This is Cedric FitzHamon."
"You-" Cedric snarled, and stepped forward. In that moment, all he wanted to do was haul Dafydd off that horse and hit him until his arms were heavy. At once, his keeper locked an arm around his neck from in back, yanking him off balance.
"Croeso ffanwyl, Cedric," Dafydd added sadly. "Try not to hate me any more than you can help. They have my wife to hostage for my cooperation." Dafydd lifted his hands and pulled the chain between his manacles taut with a rattle of the iron links. "I did not want to betray you."
"With that established, I think we should secure our new prisoners, and be on our way," Sir Andrew said, good humored once more. "Adam, Emmet, Merdan, go assist Wynton -- "
Cedric leaned back suddenly with all his strength, elbowing his captor in the stomach as they both went down on the uneven steps. Sir Wynton grunted and dropped his dagger as Cedric had hoped, but even unarmed, he was dangerous, and moved with almost blinding speed. He had a tall, burly build and was plainly an experienced fighter while Cedric was underweight, weary and had had no training as a fighter of any kind. He fought very much as heíd fought his older brothers in his boyhood - with his feet and elbows and fists, and a panicked determination not to give in. For a while he prevailed against Wynton and his companions, but they were everywhere, and all of them trained fighters.
"No, noooo!" he heard Mireille scream.
Cedric craned his neck to his left to see what had become of her, and the momentary distraction from his own defense allowed his opponents to pin his arms and legs. Between Emmet and the one addressed as Merdan, Cedric saw Mireille, her upper arms held tightly from behind by her captor while she struggled fiercely to avoid the jab of a metal something in Sir Andrewís hand. She went rigid as he jammed the tool into the side of her neck, her eyes wide with fear. Then she slumped to the ground with a moan. Sir Andrew tossed a coil of rope to the knight whoíd held her before turning to Cedric, dipping his little metal implement into a pottery jar.
Cedric immediately began to squirm and kick again as best he could under the combined weight of the knights whoíd pinned him. Touching Mireilleís mind, he felt the merasha in her system at once. Her eyes were closed and her jaw was set, teeth clenched, her face frighteningly pale.
Cedricís attention left Mireille as he saw the same little metal pricking tool in Sir Andrewís hand coming toward his neck. Sheer panic gave him enough strength for a mighty heave. He managed to get his right leg free and kicked out savagely at one of the knights, catching him in the chin with his knee. It would be difficult enough to get out of this mess with her under the influence of Merasha, but if he let them dose him with Merasha, they were truly done for.
"Hold him still," Sir Andrew ordered. "Donít want to dose myself with Merasha, although once weíre back in Valoret, Iíll make up for all the lost sleep youíve caused me on this miserable hunt, FitzHamon."
Cedric gave one last desperate squirm to avoid the needles, but the knight behind him seized his chin and wrenched his head up. Cedric felt the bite of Sir Andrewís tool at the side of his neck. At once, his head lolled to the opposite. His head began to throb almost as if one of the great church beams had fallen on it, while terrible queasiness brought him to the verge of dry heaves. He nearly lost his scant meal of the night before as his captors made him sit up and yanked his hands behind his back to bind them. Cedric shifted his legs, desperate to get a purchase on the ground - anything to keep struggling. The motion forced him to swallow hard against his nausea, and he almost blacked out from the appalling pain in his head.
"This handy thing is called a "Deryni pricker," Sir Andrew explained, holding it low where Cedric could see it and smiling.
Cedricís eyes tracked to it, but his vision was already beginning to tunnel down and grow blurry. His head hurt as badly as if some one were using a battering ram against his forehead. They were wrapping the long end of the rope around his ribcage now, pinning his elbows at his sides. Another man plucked his belt knife from its sheath.
"If you donít want to see too much of Deryni prickers, Iíd advise you to
co-operate with us from the outset," Sir Andrew went on, toying with the narrow metal tube, rolling it between his finger tips and thumb.
"Of course, Iíd advise cooperation in any case, FitzHamon. Weíve been looking for you for a very long time, and naturally, youíd best make sure our efforts were worth the trouble."
Cedric closed his eyes and bowed his head, the final illusion gone. There would be no escaping Custodes knights with orders to get him to Valoret. He would be forced to work for them, he knew. He and Mireille would be separated - rarely if ever allowed to see one another. And all because heíd had the sentimental urge to see St. Neotís one last time. And Dafydd -
He was unceremoniously hauled to his feet, and a noose was fitted over his head, the hangmanís knot at the front. He could not see Mireille, and could barely stand upright. Cedric spraddled his legs for better balance although his upper body weaved back and forth. With his hands tied behind him and his arms pinned to his side it was difficult to maintain any kind of steadiness. Especially while turning this way and that, looking for Mireille.
"Keep up a good pace with our horses, and youíll be fine," Sir Andrew said with obscene cheerfulness as he tied the opposite end of Cedricís rope to his saddle.
Cedric did not deign to look at him. Instead, he managed to focus on Dafydd for a moment, the otherís face looking as dark and wavery as if Cedric were seeing a reflection of it at the bottom of a well. Dafyddís face was full of grief and shame, but he met Cedricís eyes nonetheless.
Cedricís tongue was as thick and dry in his mouth as a piece of toweling. But somehow, he hawked then spat in the general direction of Dafyddís horse, even though leaning forward to do so all but overbalanced him.
Dafydd flinched, obviously understanding the response, and looked away. Just for a moment, his shoulders shook under the thin black wool.
"I had to do it, Cedric," Dafydd said in a trembling voice. He turned back to Cedric who could barely make sense of what he said.
"Sian, my wife -- they would have burned her in Valoret and made me watch if Iíd refused. Hate me by all means -I do myself -- but I would have you know why Iíve betrayed you."
Cedric was silent, far too sick and miserable to be able to commiserate right now. And silent too because he doubted he could express his understanding of Dafyddís reason in the circumstances.
"Letís get out of here. This place depresses me," Sir Andrew broke in. "Mount up!" He swung into his saddle, and gave Cedricís rope a good yank. Cedric stumbled painfully to his knees on the stones, only just catching his balance before he sprawled face first to the ground.
"Weíll have to hurry. Youíre wanted in Valoret, Dafydd, and Iím sure you wouldnít want your wife to face her fate all alone."
Still on his knees, Cedric glanced up at his captor and then at Dafydd. There was a terrible smugness on Sir Andrewís face, and horror in Dafyddís eyes.
"No." Dafyddís whisper was hoarse with outrage. "She said that if I cooperated, she would live! You promised!"
Sir Andrew laughed, and both Cedric and Dafydd recoiled at the ugliness of the sound.
"I? When did I ever promise you anything of the kind, Dafydd? Your wife was told what she was to say to you to ensure your cooperation. But she didnít have all the necessary information. You were only told what would happen if you didnít cooperate. She couldnít tell you that she would die at the stake no matter what the outcome of this search turned out to be."
Dafydd doubled over in his saddle, and his scream was the cry of some tortured animal. He looked as sick as if someone had shot his entire body full of undiluted Merasha.
"Bastard!" he finally managed to gasp, his red face mottled with patches of whiteness. "You bloody, bloody bastard!"
"Be careful Dafydd." Sir Andrewís voice was as cold as Midwinter. "Or youíll only make this worse for yourself."
"Worse!" Dafydd nearly screamed it. "How can it be worse?!"
For an answer, Sir Andrew drew out his little needle tool again, and jabbed Dafydd in the forearm with it.
"Thatís one way," Sir Andrew replied calmly. He gazed coldly at Dafydd, as he reeled in the saddle, obviously now under the influence of Merasha. Cedric huddled on his knees between their horses, not daring to move lest he attract the attention of either man downwards
"I must protect myself and my men from your Hell-spawned magic in case you decided to do something foolish to help your friends, " Dafydd," he said. "And remember, the only thing left in your control now is to mitigate the circumstances of your own death, to some slight degree. Being drawn and quartered is not a pleasant death, but I would remind you that itís over faster than burning at the stake."
Sir Andrew snapped his fingers at one of his knights, and the man instantly rode forward to snap a leading rein onto the bridle of Dafyddís horse.
"Of course, if youíd rather burn with her, that can be arranged."
Dafydd flinched and looked away, swaying in the saddle, eyes heavy lidded and fingers twined in his horseís coarse mane to keep his balance.
"No, eh? Your love isnít quite strong enough for that, is it?" Sir Andrew taunted.
When Dafydd turned back at last, tears were streaming from his eyes. But he looked down at Cedric rather than at Sir Andrew.
"All for nuh-nothing," he whispered down at Cedricís bent head. "I betrayed you thinking that at least I would save her life, but it was already too late for that. God help us both - Cedric Iím so sorry!"
From somewhere off to his left, Cedric heard Mireilleís strangled sob at this pronouncement. At least they havenít killed her, he thought. Then wondered if it might have been better if they had.
"Get UP!" Sir Andrew snarled at Cedric, giving his rope a yank. "FitzHamon if you value your life, youíll obey me instantly. Youíve seen how I deal with defiance. Itís best not to test me."
"You canít fight them hard enough or long enough," Dafydd whispered, little caring what punishment it earned him now. "Better to submit than to break your heart, because eventually, theyíll break you anyway."
"I will indeed break you, FitzHamon. And Iíll start with your neck if you donít stand up now," Sir Andrew told him.
Cedric struggled to his feet at the second yank on his rope.
"This has been a most satisfactory morning, but I want to be in Valoret by sunset tomorrow," Sir Andrew told his men. "A nice brisk pace I think, to show our guests what serving the Custodes truly means."
Weaving on their feet, separated by a pair of mounted knights and cruelly bound, Cedric and Mireille were hauled out of St Neotís at the ends of ropes. Dafydd, his horseís head tethered to Sir Emmett's saddle, was forced to ride behind them, watching their unsteady progress with grief, himself sick with Merasha, helpless to help any of them and filled with fear at the fate that awaited all of them in Valoret. None of the three Deryni had the strength to look back at deserted St. Neotís as the company rode out through the empty gate arch.