Chapter 3 - Part 5 of Sword of a Saint by Katy Colby
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Sword of a Saint



Chapter 3 - Part 5


"Great bloody burning Hell!" Manfred McInnis's shout rattled the glazed windows of the Archbishop's apartments. He followed the verbal outburst by hurling the dispatch he had just received toward the hearth. The parchment fluttered and fell short of the flames, further building Manfred's temper.

"Really, Manfred. Control yourself." Manfred's brother Hubert, Archbishop of Valoret and Primate of Gwynedd dared give him the omniscient expression he so detested. "You are spoiling a fine dinner."

The other two men sitting at the table snickered. Manfred glared at his fellow councilors as he retrieved the parchment. "See how well you take this latest affront." He felt a moment's satisfaction as he dropped the parchment in Hubert's lap. "Never mind the money we lost. If you think those cowering peasants will give us a straight answer you've been sniffing too much incense."

The Archbishop spent several minutes perusing the parchment. His jowls shook and reddened as he read the terse account of the incident at the Black Stag. Manfred accepted a cup of wine from a trembling servant and used the time to gain control of his raging temper. Perhaps his brother would die of apoplexy. That would at least make the rebels' constant and increasingly effective pestering somewhat worthwhile.

At last Hubert let the parchment fall to the floor. "Your officer seems to be a bit fanciful. I'd replace him, were I you."

"My seneschal, as you well know, is the most level headed man either of us has ever met. Hell's teeth, he doesn't even believe in God."

"Then there should be no difficulty here." Hubert shifted in his chair. The polished leather creaked beneath his weight. "A simple fire, nothing more. Unfortunate but there you are."

"Did you ignore half that message?" Manfred waved his cup at the fallen parchment. Wine slopped over the rim, staining the linen covering the table. "Those flames were blue! No natural fire burns blue. And no fire burns away coin, but we recovered nothing from the ruins save corpses. This smacks of Deryni workings."

"Blue flames?" Rhun, Earl of Sheele clamped his jaw in an expression that warned all his mind was working faster than most men's "I thought you had a sniffer with your collectors to prevent just such an attack."

"I did. One of the Custodes Inquisitors, too. Unless you believe a Deryni can work after being dosed with merasha? They were sticking everyone who walked through the door."

"Well, they must have missed someone."

"Don't you even start that." Tammeron Fitz Arthur, who had thus far remained silent, leaned across the table and nearly set the sleeve of his embroidered doublet into the spilled wine. "Given what's been happening the past few months we don't need to be quarreling among ourselves."

"I am not quarreling. I am attempting to control what might be a fatal weakness." Rhun's eyes narrowed as he glared at Tammeron. "I don't notice you suffering any from these attacks. Perhaps you don't care what is happening to the rest of us."

"I certainly do care. I simply do not attempt to untangle a knotted cord with a mace." Tammeron leaned back in his chair, looking annoyingly relaxed. "What do we know so far of these rebels?"

"Not much unfortunately," Manfred finished his wine and returned to his seat. His heart pounded from the burst of fury and he struggled to catch his breath. "They target both civil and Church authority. They strike without any attempt to avoid catching peasants in their attacks. And they seem to vanish without a trace."

"What's more, they have a definite taste for the theatric." Hubert folded his hands over his belly as he stared into the fire. "Turning our men's faces black was a stroke of brilliance. That bit of butchery is still being whispered in the streets."

"More important, people cross the streets to avoid brushing against our Custodes." Manfred grimaced. "I've even seen signs made against the Evil Eye, though never openly."

"So, what have we got?" Tammeron ticked the points off on his fingers like an annoying tutor. "These rebels know where to strike and how to damage our relationships with the common population the most thoroughly. Given that we all agree there is no divine or demonic intent here I think we must assume we are dealing with Deryni."

Hubert snorted loudly. "My men are all armed with merasha on their shafts. Can you say there are Deryni who can operate their accursed powers while drugged? Or do you suggest there might be humans who aid the Devil's minions in destroying us?"

"Either seems possible," Tammeron replied evenly. "Though I think the second the more likely. Whichever is the case, we may be in more trouble than we ever dreamed."

"Deryni unaffected by merasha?" The possibility made Manfred's stomach clench. "No. That's impossible." He glanced at Hubert and Rhun. Their pale faces and whitened knuckles showed they, at least, felt the same fear he did.

"I agree." Hubert glared at Tammeron. "Let's not make fools of ourselves over a bit of temporary trouble. These must be human traitors aiding the Deryni outlaws we've been hunting for years. They will be dealt with."

"And quickly," Rhun added, wiping his eating knife on the linen tablecloth. "I think the villagers who survived the attack might answer a few questions, if we offer to forgive the taxes they still have not paid."

Manfred nodded. "Of course, we'll still collect from them after we've gotten all the information we can. I'm not going to allow my purse to run short of that coin. But first I'm going to ask Paulin about that nephew of his. He seems very good at getting to the bottom of a situation quickly."

"Yes, get him." Hubert waved for a servant to clear their dinner away. "I want answers, and I want them now."





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