had been riding for days. Although all three young men were used to long
days in the saddle, their muscles still ached and Tieg was complaining
loudly that they should find a place to bed down for the night. The
three were returning from Valoret after meeting with Archbishop Ailinn
MacGregor ostensibly to brief him on the latest situation at Rhemuth and
the trouble Richard Murdoch and Iver MacInnis could cause since their
return to the capital.
Since the installation of the Kheldour lords Duke Graham MacEwan and Earl Sighere as prime regents for the young king Owain, Ansel MacRorie and Jesse MacGregor had occasionally acted as confidential messengers between the Dowager Queen Michaela and her Deryni allies. Tieg was along for the ride this time since word had reached the Sanctuary’s occupants that Archbishop MacGregor had discreet need of a healer. Although Queron Kinevan wanted to be the one to accompany Ansel and Jesse, Joram had refused, citing Queron’s deteriorating health and the important work that the Camberian Council still needed to do. A delighted Tieg had then been informed that he would be accompanying Jesse and Ansel on patrol.
Jesse MacGregor, once the Master of Ebor and a formidable practitioner of Deryni magic reined in his horse and signaled the other two to do the same. In a tightly focused burst of mental energy he sent his warning to Ansel.
**There’s something going on up ahead.**
Ansel held his hand up as he felt the brush of Tieg’s query against his shields at this sudden stop. Hearing the faint sounds of battle ahead himself, he sent back to Jesse.
**I hear it. From the sounds of it, doesn't sound like it’s anything major. Could be some bandits have come upon an unsuspecting merchant. I think we should proceed cautiously and check it out. If it is bandits, the merchant could use our help. I don’t needlessly want to endanger Tieg, but being so close to Dolban, I don’t want to take a chance that it may be the MacInnis sprat’s troops out to harass innocent travelers either.**
Acknowledging Tieg’s urgent pressing on his shields, he apprised Tieg of the situation and cautioned him to hang back unless he was attacked by the bandits.
**Promise me, Tieg, that you’ll stay out of it unless it’s a life and death situation!**
he added. Sighing, and taking longer to respond than Ansel would have wanted, Tieg reluctantly Sent his word tinged with all the disappointment of a fifteen year old spoiling for his first taste of real battle.
Sensing Ansel had taken care of Tieg, Jesse shifted in his saddle and drew out his sword, noting that Ansel had done the same. With a nod, he cautiously urged his mount ahead. They came upon the skirmish in a clearing where preparations for setting up camp had been interrupted. Three horses were tethered to nearby trees and a young girl of about nineteen or twenty was cowering behind her horse, trying to escape the notice of the knights.
Two borderers were valiantly trying to hold off seven well-armed men dressed in the livery of the current Earl of Culdi. They were both desperately trying to unhorse as many of the seven they could to better their chance of survival. Four of the horses had some cuts, but the knights were still able to maintain control of them.
**MacInnis’ dogs!** Jesse Sent with all the loathing and disgust he felt for that Clan reverberating unadulterated through Ansel’s mind. That hatred found a kindred spirit in Ansel whose hereditary lands and title had been usurped by the Manfred MacInnis and his kin. Trying hard, but failing miserably at dampening his own hatred, he answered Jesse with a vehemence that shocked even him.
**Yes! I can feel my skin crawling! Let’s take care of this rabble!**
Spurring his horse ahead, Ansel joined the fray just as he saw the younger of the two borderers take a glancing blow that was meant for the older man. He charged at the two knights closest to the borderers and managed to strike one of the knights in the head with enough force to cleave part of his head clean through. The unfortunate knight toppled off his mount and landed with a sickening thud before the other one was able to wheel his horse around.
As the man whirled his horse around to face the interloper, the borderers realized that their fortunes had suddenly taken a turn for the better. Making the most of the opportunity presented, Murray was able to thrust his sword into the side of the nearest horse. As it went down screaming, the knight was able to tumble out of the way of the dying horse and turned his attention to the man responsible. Murray was able to hold his own for a while, but he was not as well-armored as his opponent and the knight was able to cut through the leather and wound his sword arm. Murray dropped his sword as he staggered back and fell to the ground, howling in pain and clutching the wounded upper arm.
By this time, Frederick MacMurray had recovered enough and with a cry of “Da!!!!” he attacked the knight who was about to deliver a killing blow to the fallen man. Distracted by the cry, the unhorsed knight whirled around and parried the first five or six blows. He was able to strike a glancing blow to Frederick’s side before the son avenged his father by driving his sword deep into the knights stomach. He then thumped down on his knees next to Murray and tried to staunch the bleeding.
“Da, are ye alright?” he enquired, his face etched with fear and worry.
“I'm fine, lad. Help me move back a bit so we don't get trampled.” he said, wincing as pain shot through his wounded arm when he tried to get up. Gingerly grasping the other arm, Frederick helped his father move away a bit from the horses.
“I’m sure glad tae see someone is tryin’ tae help us! I dinnae think we’d hae survived without their timely aid. I wish there were some way tae get to Tiarna.” he said as he surveyed their immediate surroundings. But they were still too close to the battling men and as one of the knights turned his horse towards them, Frederick picked up his sword and started attacking the horse, trying to bring it down.
The remaining knights were now trying hard to control horses who were starting to get crazed with the smell of blood all around them. Jesse and Ansel were having the same problem. Then, suddenly one of knights wheeled his horse around and headed towards the trees where the girl was trying to hide behind one of the tethered horses.
Ansel was unable to pursue the man since he was busy parrying blows himself. He was finally able to find an opening and knock the sword of the knight’s hand. As the man howled in anger, Ansel struck the man’s chest, driving his sword deep near the heart. Grimly, he pulled out his sword and whirled his R’Kassan around to meet the remaining knights as the dead knight tumbled out his saddle.
Meanwhile, Jesse who had been able to break away from his opponent, was charging towards the knight who was trying to get the struggling girl up on his horse. She was vainly trying to twist out of the way of the offending man, but he had her by her skirts and she was dangling dangerously a few feet off the ground. Suddenly, she raised her head up, turned around and pummeled the knight in his groin with both fists with all the strength she could muster. She was putting up quite a fight for someone who had been quivering behind her horse just a few seconds before. The knight weaved as he almost lost his seat. Before he could recover, Jesse lunged towards him and cut the man down with a well-timed slash of his sword across the man’s neck. Bright red blood spurted from the wound, showering the girl as the hand that held her slackened and she fell away.
As the girl tumbled to the ground, Jesse wheeled his horse around and extended a hand to help the girl stand up. She looked up at her savior, two apprehensive pools of emerald staring at him. Jesse smiled grimly as he bent down to help her steady herself.
“Are you alright? Can you stand up?”
Shock and surprise replaced her apprehension as she felt Jesse’s light probe brushing against her shields. “You’re Deryni!” She gasped, as her shields slammed shut with such force, that Jesse let go of her arm.
“As are you!” he exclaimed, stunned at the discovery. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he tried again. **Who are you? And what are you doing here?**
She sighed as the words echoed in her mind. She knew she was Deryni, but she had never been trained properly in the use of her abilities. Her parents had taught her what they could, but once the persecutions had begun in the south, they had forbidden the children's display of any Deryni abilities. After taking a moment to compose herself again, she touched his hand as she looked up at him with those amazing emerald eyes that caught and held his under their spell.
**Thank ye for comin’ tae my rescue. But, before I tell ye who I am, who might ye be?** she sent boldly.
**My name is Jesse MacGregor, my father Gregory is the attainted Earl of Ebor and was a trusted advisor to King Cinhil. Now will you tell me who you are besides being an utterly bewitching and bold lass?**
Jesse’s faintly amused response swirled around her mind. Smiling and continuing with the mind-speech, she told him.
**I’m Tiarna, eldest daughter o’ Murray, Captain o’ the Guards at Lochalyn Castle. That’s my Da and brother Frederick. We were headed back tae Eastmarch from Rhemuth an’ my brother’s knightin’ when we decided tae rest here for the night. We had just tied up the horses when we were attacked.** she responded, pointing to the remaining knights who were surrounding the mounted Ansel and the two borderers.
Jesse lingered a moment longer to ascertain Tiarna was indeed alright before he headed towards Ansel. He lunged his sword at one of the MacInnis knights who was harrying Ansel and drove it deep into his spine ensuring that the man was dead before he hit the ground. Ansel’s heartfelt Thanks echoed in his mind as he pulled out his sword.
One more to go, he thought grimly as he saw Ansel lob off the head of one of his opponents. Jesse edged his horse towards the remaining knight who was bending down, slashing at the young borderer. Just before he got there, the young man crumpled to his knees and curled up in a fetal ball as the knight struck the final blow, crushing the borderers head. Jesse’s sword avenged this outrage as he drove it deep into the knights back, severing his spine. The knight fell forward with a gurgled cry suddenly stilled as death overcame him.