Sword of a Saint
Chapter 2 - Part 6
Michael broke the link and lifted from the
kiss, wishing he could rinse his mouth. Fortunately, now that she was so
near her goal the lady was careless. She would receive the fate she
deserved, as would her prince. They reached the palace in good time.
Michael gave his slave care of the "injured" stallion and
headed for the great hall.
It was a simple matter to switch the king's ornate goblet with Prince Philip's slightly plainer one. A servant protested, but Michael reassured him smoothly and sent him on his way. A small jest on the prince, after all, and His Majesty knew all about it. In fact, the king had suggested it.
It took so long for the kitchen staff to prepare the great heron that the sun had set by the time dinner was announced. Michael took his place beside the prince and carefully watched the servant pour the wine from a silver carafe. The bishop gave a much abbreviated blessing with the scent of the roasted heron drifting enticingly through the hall.
The King lifted the cup before him and took a long swallow of the wine. Michael felt Christina tense as he set the cup back down and indicated the meal should commence. On Michael's other side, Prince Philip seized his own goblet and swallowed the contents in one gulp. Before he could set the goblet down, Michael shot to his feet. One of Philip's sisters was raising her cup to her lips.
The servants were just bringing the heron, laid upon a silver platter surrounded by roasted onions and apples. Cries of delight from the hungry courtiers nearly drowned Christina's gasp as Michael vaulted the table with one lithe movement. The bit of clowning distracted the princess enough that she set her goblet down without tasting it. To prevent any other innocent from courting death in their wine cups Michael approached the King and swept an exaggerated bow. The King's eyes narrowed dangerously. Clearly he was in no mood to have his dinner interrupted.
Michael rushed on before the offended monarch could speak. "Forgive me, Highness, but I am overcome with admiration for the beauty at your table. I would present the tiercel who gave us this fine heron to the lady who would steal my heart."
The Queen leaned close to her husband and whispered something. The King chuckled and nodded to Michael, his foul mood dissolving as a servant began carving the heron. Michael glanced at Christina. From the way she was preening, he knew she expected to own his fine hunting bird with his next words.
Instead, Michael approached the princess and dropped to one knee. "Sweet rose of Bremagne, will you allow me to present you with the bravest bird in all the Eleven Kingdoms?"
Before the princess could answer, Philip rose, clutching his throat. He fumbled for his goblet, found it empty, and seized Christina's cup. Wine dribbled out the corners of his mouth as he quaffed the entire goblet, seeking to cleanse his throat.
The King frowned as servants rushed to aid the gagging prince. "I think you play a more dangerous game than you realize, sirrah! Do you toy with a lady above your station or do you simply seek to disturb our dinner?"
Michael gave the king a respectful bow. "For the best of reasons, Sire. Only two cups on this table did not contain poison this night. Yours was one of them, and the other has just been emptied by the culprit who sought your death. Sadly for him he first drained a poisoned cup and will soon die."
The King glanced from Michael to Philip. By now the prince could no longer stand. He lay, tearing at his own throat with desperate fingers, his tongue swelling and darkening as he gasped for each agonizing breath.
"And what makes you say that my son would see all his kin dead this night?" The King raised his voice so his words could be heard throughout the hall. Clearly he believed Michael, and just as clearly he wanted the facts understood by all assembled.
Michael allowed himself the luxury of a smile. "Look at the cup you drank from, Sire. Had I not switched them the clean goblet would have gone to its rightful owner."
One of the servants fetched the goblet in question. The King's lips thinned as he saw Prince Philip's crest emblazoned upon the shining silver.
"Stop!" The royal command came just as a bishop, his robes stained with spilled wine, knelt beside the dying prince.
"You will not shrive a wretch so unnatural he would see his own father dead." The King waived the prelate back with an expression that might have done well on an executioner. "Nor will I permit his accomplices to have the comfort of the Church before they meet the same end as their master. I assume he was not alone in this?"
"No, Sire." Michael cast a glance at Christina where she sat, trembling, unable to rise. "For your answer look to the one who shared the other un-poisoned goblet with me. She wears a ring on her left hand, a sapphire that will give you all the proof you need.".
Christina tried to slip the ring off unobtrusively as she rose and curtsied to the furious King. Unfortunately her fingers were swollen from the day's hawking. The ring would not come off.
"There's no need to struggle, my dear." The King gave Christina a smile that would have cracked glass. "We are certain you will protest your innocence, and We trust Our inquisitors to find the truth once you are put to the question. And you, my lord, are owed Our thanks. Your reward will wait you on your ship." The King eyed Michael with such a look Michael knew he was dismissed from the meal. "We will see you have transportation at morning tide."
Michael returned to his Guild to claim his reward. The sum was the first of many. At the same time Grand Master Khuzaymah handed Michael his share of the gold he also gave Michael a new name, to mark his progression in the Guild. From then on Michael Cameron would be known as Mikhael Ya Muntaquim, Michael the Avenger.
He began the training three youths, all older than he, recently come from Gwynedd. Fergus joined them often, though he too had passed his apprenticeship. They worked together with one purpose in their hearts. They would return and destroy those who had shattered their lives.
Rumors drifted through the Anvil of the Lord, tales so bizarre many did not believe them. They spoke of a new order of religious knights in Gwynedd, men whose goal was naught less than genocide. A priesthood of butchery directed against any Deryni unfortunate enough to fall in their path. Michael believed the tales entirely. Had he not watched the beginnings of this nightmare attack his family?
And so the years passed and his wealth grew. Michael gained for himself a home among the desert people. He acquired a palace in an oasis, once the property of one of his victims. His stable filled with fine horses. He invested large sums in trade ventures and money lenders that assured he would double whatever he risked. Eight years passed before Grand Master Khuzaymah summoned Mikahel to his study. The Grand Master's face was grave.
"Years ago you expressed a desire to return to Gwynedd and avenge your family. Is that still your will?"
Hardly daring to hope his wish would be granted, Mikahel nodded. The Grand Master laid his hands on the inlaid table before him. "Word has come to us that recently that Javan Haldane, the King of Gwynedd, has died. His younger brother, Rhys Michael, has been crowned but he has no heir and seems a weak ruler. The power in the land rests in the same hands it lay in when you left, a council of regents. We have a client most interested in seeing this power base broken," the Grand Master continued as he spread a map of Gwynedd on the table. ‘The time seems ripe for your desires and our client's to mesh. You will take the men you have trained and whatever supplies you need. In one week you will take ship to Torenth and enter Corwyn through the Comer Mts. Our client desires that you cause as much destruction as possible, with particular attention to the border country and the knights loyal to Gwynedd's king."
Mikahel nodded. The unspoken message that Torenth lay behind this venture hung loud in the air. "Is the ultimate aim that I kill the Haldane king, Grand Master?"
The Grand Master rolled up the map and stared at Mikahel before he answered. "Would that bother you?"
"Not in the least." The Haldane Cinhil had done nothing to aid his family, and from the tales he'd heard from the men he had been training the king seemed as bent on their destruction as any of the men who actually attacked with sword and flame.
"The answer is no," The Grand Master at last answered, shaking his head to emphasize the point. "Our client wishes the king left for himself alone. No other is to touch him nor to cause him any harm. Your mission is far more complex and difficult. You must destroy the cohesion among the council. What will you need for your journey, apart from your men?"
Now the matter came to mundane details Mikahel felt a sense of relief. He could arrange such things in his sleep. "We will take one spare horse apiece, and our weapons. Food we can acquire in Torenth. Some coin will be needed. All of us are accustomed to the weather there, but we will take heavy cloaks and warm boots. It will be winter before we cross the mountains. And I will take Yasmina."
His last words made the Grand Master chuckle. "One woman alone for five men? Were it not that woman I would say you were mad."
Mikahel shrugged. "Some women are born to the harem. She will serve us well enough. I think two others to tend to our gear and cook for us."
The Grand Master nodded. "You will have all you ask for. And may Allah attend you on this journey, for I doubt we shall see any of you for some time. You are not to return until the Haldane is overthrown."
"So now he will return to Gwynedd." Uriel gave Michael an expectant look. "Eight years work accomplished. Are you satisfied with the results?"
"Well satisfied, at least with his skills." The archangel nodded, emphasizing the point to himself as much as to his companion. "He is everything I could wish in a soldier."
"And you intend to lead him to your Michaelines?"
"That was always my plan." Michael turned to the narrow window in the Grand Master's private quarters. Beyond the intricate screen the sun was dipping low over the distant mountains. It seemed somehow fitting. One passage closed, another opened.
"What thought have you given to his heart?" Uriel's words came slowly, as if the dark angel feared provoking an argument.
Michael raised his eyebrows and waited in silence. He could discover the answer while his companion elaborated the question.
"I have stood at the lad's shoulder day after day for eight years," Uriel continued after a moment's pause. "You have indeed seen him turned to something that may be able to battle the monster unleashed on Gwynedd. But you have taken no care to see he does not become as fearsome a monster himself."
Michael drew a long, slow breath. He could delay his answer no longer, but he had no good one to give.
"There are several of my servants still in Gwynedd," he said at last. "More than enough, I should think, to guide his heart to its proper path. I shall see he meets them as soon as I may."
::And I,:: the dark angel promised himself silently, ::will take steps of my own to set this matter right.::