Cedric & Daffyd
noon, more than four hours after leaving St. Neot’s, Dafydd lifted his
head to see Sir Andrew stop his horse, and Cedric taking another
face-first spill on the muddy road. He winced. He’d sat his own horse
all morning, torpid with his despair and the merasha. The jolting of his
horse’s rough gaits made his head twinge, and didn’t help his nausea
whatsoever. Bad as it was to have to ride briskly over bad roads for
several hours under the influence of Merasha, Dafydd knew it was far
worse for the other two on foot. Sir Andrew had been toying with Cedric
all morning, slowing suddenly, or deliberately veering into his path,
forcing him to break and then regain his momentum, or giving the rope
around his neck precisely timed jerks to throw him off stride and make
him fall. Which was easy to do to a man full of merasha with his hands
tied behind his back. Cedric had already taken at least three bruising
spills before this latest one, and was coated with mud all down his
front. Sir Wynton, now in charge of Cedric’s wife appeared to be
content to force her to keep moving at the same unyielding pace with no
respite. She was staggering with exhaustion now and appeared to be
keeping on her feet only by sheer force of will. She lagged farther and
farther behind, and was now quite literally at the end of the rope
tethering her to Sir Wynton's saddle.
Dafydd glared at Sir Andrew’s back, longing for the power that would blast him from life. Hardly a fitting sentiment for a Gabrilite trained Healer, Dafydd knew. He no longer cared, now that his and Sian's lives were as good as over.
**Wise of him to give me merasha,** Dafydd thought bitterly. **He must know that I'd kill him right now if I could, and take as many of his men down with me as I could, too. What I want most in this world right now is to see that man dead.**
Dafydd was through with expecting such a boon.
"Halt," Sir Andrew ordered, just as they reached a more level stretch of trail along side a noisy stream. "We’ll water the horses and take a quick meal here before continuing."
Dafydd saw Cedric’s wife drop to her knees as soon as Sir Wynton's horse had stopped, her head bent low as she sobbed for air.
"Get up, get up FitzHamon, I think it’s time you had a bath," Sir Andrew teased. "How fortunate that there’s -"
Dafydd looked up sharply. Everything had gone very quiet for a just heartbeat. Sir Andrew had ceased speaking -- he flung his head back even as he slid from his horse to the offside. The horse screamed as it too collapsed to the ground on the right hand side even as Cedric frantically rolled away to get out from underneath it.
But Dafydd had no more attention to spare for that. Something struck him hard in the chest, bowling him backwards off his horse at the same moment. He landed on his back, stupefied with astonishment to see two long, white feathered arrows in his chest. The last thing he knew was a second of searing pain before the blackness.
To Cedric, the morning had been a torment both physically and emotionally. Sir Andrew’s toying with him, forcing him to break stride or turn or fall and then rise just when he’d achieved some momentum had been more exhausting than maintaining a steady pace all morning. Hardened as he was to walking, every muscle in Cedric’s legs burned, he was more footsore than he’d been in all his weeks of wandering. The pace had given him a stitch in his side that felt like a dagger in his ribs. The ropes around his ribs themselves made it difficult to draw an adequate breath. The ropes chafed his neck and his bound wrists as well. He was panting for breath, sounding like a badly winded horse in his own ears. Sir Andrew was kept just enough slack in the noose to allow him to breathe. Furthermore, he was wet and filthy from the several tumbles he’d taken into the sloppy mud, and now shivering because of the keen wind. All of these discomforts were exacerbated by the misery of the Merasha. It felt as if his brain was flopping loosely about in his head as he was forced to jog along, enduring bruising blows against the inside of his skull with every jouncing stride. Cedric never dreamed that anyone under the influence of Merasha could have successfully kept upright and ambulatory until this morning. The Custodes of course, would have a fine-tuned knowledge of what various strengths of Merasha doses would do to a Deryni, since they used it so much.
**They must have judged what they gave us to a turn,** Cedric thought bitterly. **Enough so that we could do nothing to them with our powers, but not so much so that we’d be so physically helpless that they'd have to let us ride, too.**
From what he could tell, Mireille was finding the journey just as miserable although she was out of his sight and forced to trot along between Sir Andrew and Sir Wynton.
Cedric was desperate for this journey to end, even while chilled with the dread of what would happen when they did reach Valoret. They would not be allowed to escape, he was sure, and the merasha would never be allowed to wear off to the point where he and Mireille could use their powers. This was the end - he’d either be forced to work as a slave and collaborator for his enemies just as Dafydd had been, or he and Mireille would die in some terrible way.
**Dafydd**, Cedric thought. He would have spat out the bitterness in his mouth had he not been so dry. **He could betray us to this, and then look me in the face!**
He collided with the side of Sir Andrew’s horse as once again his captor veered to the right, deliberately trying to knock him down. Cedric struggled for balance wildly, then he did fall heavily to the mud, giving his right knee a painful twist at the same time.
"Halt," Sir Andrew ordered, just as they reached a more level stretch of trail along side a noisy stream. "We’ll water the horses and take a quick meal here before continuing."
Next, Sir Andrew gave Cedric’s neck rope a twitch. "Get up, FitzHamon, I think it’s time you had a bath," Sir Andrew teased, sounding amused. "How fortunate that there’s -"
Sir Andrew’s voice stopped with no warning, and for just a second everything was silent. Then there was a soft, but menacing thump, that made Cedric crane to look up and behind him. Sir Andrew was falling silently from his horse to the offside, an arrow protruding from his throat The horse screamed and it too began to fall. Frantic to get out of the way, Cedric away from them both, and just avoided being crushed by the horse’s body. Sir Andrew’s body fell diagonally over his thighs. Around them, more Custodes knights and their horses were falling pierced by arrows, the horses whinnying a cry or two from the men as the arrows bit them, and then everything was quiet.
*Terribly* quiet. Whoever or whatever had attacked Sir Andrew’s party, they had been efficient and deadly. Cedric squirmed desperately to get free and see what had become of Mireille, almost strangling himself on his neck rope in the process, forcing him to lie still instead. Most of the noose rope binding him to Sir Andrew’s saddle was caught beneath the body of the dead horse. In any case it was impossible for him to rise with his right arm trapped beneath his body and his hands tied behind him, even if Sir Andrew’s heavy body were not draped over his thighs. Cedric lay still, struggling to breathe, praying that Mireille might still be alive too. He could see nothing but a close up dorsal view of Sir Andrew’s horse. The attackers had killed all the horses too, which Cedric thought passing strange. Common thieves or bandits would surely never do that - not with the use they could get from seven healthy warhorses - or the price those horses could fetch at any horse fair in Gwynedd. But Cedric realized he really had no choice but to wait and see what the newcomers would do.
**We can hardly be worse off now than we were with the Custodes,** Cedric thought as his already blurry vision faded still more. The enemies of his enemy might even prove to be his friends.
**Perhaps they will even set us free…**
His first sight upon coming round was of a dagger blade neatly cutting the rope around his neck. Fingers were working at the tight hangman's knot, a voice cursed softly in frustration, and then suddenly the knot gave way and the noose was removed. Cedric lay on the ground, sucking air into his desperate lungs. His vision cleared slightly. His rescuer was now shifting Sir Andrew’s body off of his legs, although they made no move to untie his hands yet. He was able to lift his head a little farther without the noose to hamper him. Men were now moving among the dead Custodes, and two of them knelt beside Mireille. They removed the noose from her neck and were in the process of freeing her hands, but she was lying completely still on the ground with her eyes closed, her face dead white. Then Cedric saw the arrow in her side.
"No, dear God please no!" Cedric whispered.
The taller of the two men beside her turned to look at him. He wore a hooded black cloak, his face mostly in shadow. He had very keen, piercing grey eyes, and Cedric could just see a fringe of pale gold hair above his forehead. He exuded power and authority as Sir Andrew had, but of a far more benevolent sort - Sir Andrew had been the dark side of this man’s coin.
"She’s not dead," he told Cedric simply, his voice kind. "And her wound isn't serious enough to kill her. I promise you that she will be healed when the Merasha is out of her system." He gestured to someone just behind Cedric.
Almost at once, Cedric felt the ropes binding his arms and hands slip loosely away. Presumably that same someone helped him to his feet from behind. Cedric was embarrassed at the peculiar, disobedient way in which his legs were behaving, forcing him to lean hard on the man supporting him as they turned away from the dead horse. His hands tingled and burned painfully as sensation returned, although he was shivering all over from the cold.
"Go ahead, it's all right to lean on me," his companion and rescuer said. His voice was pleasant, he sounded quite young, but the arm supporting Cedric was steady as a statue’s. "It’s amazing you’re able to walk upright with all the merasha they gave you."
Cedric had to turn his head to see who spoke to him. The man was at least a head shorter than he was and perhaps a few years younger. He too wore a dark hooded cloak, and the rest of his garments were forest green. He had a bow and a quiver slung over his back.
"Who are you?" Cedric whispered, glancing around to see some other dark hooded shapes moving around the dead Custodes. "All of you?"
"We’re _your_ friends if not friends to Custodes knights," the young man told him as he tried to steer Cedric off to the left. "My name is Jesse MacGregor."
But Cedric had stopped to stare at Dafydd’s body lying in the muddy road just ahead. He lay on his back with one arm flung out to the side, the other draped over his body, held close together by his manacles. The back of his head was cushioned by the muddy road. Two big hunting arrows were deeply embedded in his chest although there was very little blood. But for the arrows, he looked strangely peaceful lying there, as if he were safely home in his bed studying his bedroom ceiling, for his still open dark eyes studied the grey sky. Cedric lurched toward him although he was sure Dafydd must be dead with arrow wounds like that. He collapsed at his Dafydd's side and touched his shoulder, then shook him more boldly. Dafydd’s head lolled to the side, his slack expression unchanged. Cedric touched his had to Dafydd’s carotid artery, but felt nothing.
"Or friends to this man," Cedric’s helper said as he squatted down beside Cedric.. Cedric jumped -- he’d forgotten the young man until now.
"But he was a sniffer," Jesse went on resignedly. "And potentially, he was a danger to us all."
"He was my friend," Cedric whispered. Now that the danger was over, Cedric noticed how thin and ill Dafydd looked, and how his open eyes looked even more deep-set and shadowed than they had in their student days. Evidently Dafydd had come in for a beating from his jailors not long ago, for his face still bore some yellowish bruises. A reluctant traitor then, and one who had been cruelly betrayed himself. Cedric’s eyes stung with unshed tears. Aside from Mireille, Dafydd was the only person who had ever made Cedric feel protective. A joke really, for Dafydd was widely acknowledged as one of the top Healer students at St Neot’s. Even though few of his fellow students could have identified him in a crowd. Mild, inoffensive Dafydd who had a gift for anonymity and staying out of trouble and doing his best to keep Cedric out of it, too. What odd malign fate had brought him face to face with his oldest friend today in such circumstances that he’d wanted to hurt Dafydd in his anger? And then parted them forever? If only his rescuers could have known how much Dafydd deserved to live!
"Your friend?" Jesse asked in puzzlement. "Did he not betray you and your wife to the Custodes?"
His fingers still clumsy from the slow return of circulation, Cedric reached out and closed Dafydd’s eyes, then turned his head straight again. He touched the manacles next, but without his powers, he could not open the locks.
"Yes. But before that, he was my friend," Cedric said. "Please, will you take those chains off him?"
"Of course, if you wish." Jesse reached out and both locks clicked open and Jesse pulled them away.
When Cedric saw the chafed, raw skin around Dafydd’s wrists where the chains had rubbed him, he wanted to seize the manacles and hurl them out of his sight into the woods as far as he could. He felt far too weak to throw anything successfully just now, so he contented himself with folding Dafydd’s hands on his breast beneath where the arrows had pierced him.
"Why have you done this?" Cedric could not stop the sobs that began to shake him. "What will happen to him now? What will happen to *us*?"
"Come have something hot to drink," Jesse coaxed, pulling Cedric to his feet. "There are things we have to do before we leave this place. But you’ve had a shock and should come and rest before we go on. I’m quite sure you need it."
Cedric allowed himself to be towed away from Dafydd's body this time. He sat down his keeper planted him with dull, childlike obedience. Tears ran from his eyes one after another falling as fast as he wiped them away. He hardly noticed the warm cloak that was draped over his shoulders. Jesse had to curl his fingers around the leather cup of hot wine, then steady his hand so he could drink without spilling it all over his muddy front.
Both the relief and the grief were setting in in earnest. Cedric did not know what to do or how to react. All he appeared capable of doing was to shake and weep. His head still hurt abominably, and the wine was not helping to settle his nausea. And he was tired - tired down to his bone marrow. He did not resist the firm strength of the friendly hands that guided him from his seat to a bedroll on the ground a little ways through the trees. Mireille already lay in another bedroll and beneath an extra cloak beside a little fire. Cedric’s shaking gradually stopped at last as he warmed, but even as weary as he was, he found himself unable to sleep. Finally he sat up and looked around, still well wrapped for warmth in the blankets and cloaks. Now that the shock had somewhat passed off, he felt abnormally clear-headed and wide awake. He and Mireille were alone and free, and in the company of other Deryni. The kindness these people had shown them plainly meant they were not considered prisoners. Evidently he and Mireille were not yet destined to become Custodes collaborators as poor Dafydd had been. Cedric began to shiver a little then. Under any other circumstances, how happy he would have been to see Dafydd again! But any joyful reunion was now impossible thanks to these same rescuers.
He turned his head back over his shoulder, wondering what the other Deryni were up to. Surely, men like this were not common bandits and cutthroats. There must have been a reason why they’d acted as they had. What Cedric saw fixed him to his spot, staring incredulously at what was happening.
All the Custodes men and horses were now gathered on a great bier although that was really an inaccuracy as there was no wood. They supplied both the fuel and the bodies of their own funeral pyre. Dafydd's body had been laid on the top of the heap, although some one had pulled out the arrows. Still not over his drugging, Cedric could not help but feel the thrum of magic in the air. It made the ground beneath his feet shiver, as if the mountains had become a great drum. His rescuers were gathered around the pyre, all of them with their arms upraised at their sides. The tall blond man who had earlier assured him Mireille was still alive was evidently the leader of this band of rogue Deryni. He had flung his hood back on his head, revealing his priestly tonsure. Another fair, younger man stood to his right, with his own arms upraised. Jesse, Cedric’s helper, stood to the left, with three others only vaguely visible on the far side of the pyre. Cedric could not see any of them very clearly - they all appeared to have blurry edges. He was not sure if this was the Merasha in his system or whether they were all warded, or both.
"Saint Michael, keeper of the flames of Heaven -- _Incendio_!" The leader cried. He pointed his two hands palm to palm directly at the piled bodies. A nearly colorless jet of flame forked from his fingertips to the bodies, igniting a colorless fire almost at once as his companions did the same half a beat behind him. Slowly, he separated his hands and moved them apart, the fire spreading to either side in correspondence. When it met the flames to the right and left, the bonfire glowed in earnest. The six Deryni around it moved back, for the heat was intense enough for Cedric to feel, several feet farther away. But those who minded the fire kept their eyes intently upon it as it burned.
As Cedric watched from his safe vantage point, he saw the pale flames take on colors at each quarter. Red-tinged in the South for St. Michael, blue for St Gabriel in the West, green in the North for Uriel, gold in the East for Raphael. Slowly the blue washed out the other colors, and then gradually turned turquoise, then green, as Dafydd's body caught the blaze. Although the flames were very pale, and gave off almost no smoke, at the heart of the blaze, Cedric could swear he saw it glow Healer’s Green where Dafydd burned. Whether it was the manipulation of those who minded the blaze, or whether Saint Gabriel Himself was giving Dafydd a final tribute, Cedric could not tell.
What he did see was that this magical fire was not only hot but extraordinarily swift. Even the hottest natural fire would have taken several hours to burn the bodies of so many men and horses, and the smoke would have been stinking as they burned. But, in half an hour the magical fire had done it’s work, leaving behind only a clean, sharp smell and a scant patch of powdery white ashes where the fire had burned.
Cedric lay down again, revising his estimation of his and Mireille's prisoner status. It was not really fear, for strange Deryni captors _had_ to be better than being the captives of the Regents or the Custodes. But these people had ambushed and killed an entire Custodes party, and then disposed of the bodies of both men and horses by magical means, leaving almost no traces behind. They would hardly dare let him and Mireille go free now unless they could assure themselves that they would not be betrayed. He closed his eyes with a great weariness, deciding to let matters take whatever course they would, from here. He felt far too exhausted, sick and too deeply grieved to be making any kind of decisions for a good long time.