Sword of a Saint
Chapter 3 - Part 7
Fergus pulled his mare
up beside Michael's mount. A wide grin set his freckles dancing. "That
last was simply too easy."
Michael nodded. The latest attack had been, in his opinion, the best. He and Fergus had taken the places of priests in the confessional boxes in the Abbey Church of the Paraclete, in Valoret. Three of the black robed Inquisitors had walked into the penitent's chambers, to emerge with glazed eyes and blackened faces, unmistakably dead. Michael's two remaining men left the victims at side altars, to be found by their students after Michael and his group were gone.
Two nights past a traveling tinker had given the tale to what he thought was a simple band of gypsies. Apparently Archbishop Hubert had exorcised and re-consecrated the Abbey Church with as much ceremony as he could manage to haul his fat body through. The tinker said it was not enough. The students were frightened. Everyone was frightened.
"Too easy indeed, perhaps it's time we gave them some idea of what they face."
"I don't like that look one bit." Fergus shifted in his saddle until he faced Michael. From his expression, he intended serious talk. He switched to a more private form of communication. **Are you sure we're doing the right thing, Mick?**
Michael opened a fissure in his shields to allow his friend inside. He felt uncertainty mixed with the loyalty and friendship Fergus always radiated. The new emotion put him on edge immediately.
**What makes you hesitate?** Michael fought to keep his annoyance at Fergus's defection from his mind speech. **I thought you wanted to destroy those bastards as much as I do. Or is it the money we took that bothers you? I assure you the dead won't come back for it.**
**Don't doubt me there. I want them all dead. Especially the fat prelate in Valoret.** Fergus's fury carried heat with his thought. **And the tax money is nothing but spoils of war. But what I'm asking is can the cost be too high? We've seen a lot of corpses since we came back.**
**Do you think I don't know that?** Michael tried not to remember the rotting bodies hanging in cages along the roads, the cold ashes of pyres where Deryni died at the hands of the Crown. The ruined abbeys and burnt out villages. **It gives me even more reason to butcher every human breathing.**
**Listen to me, Mick. I'd not suggest this aloud in front of the lads.** Fergus pulled off his riding glove and caught Michael's hand before Michael could protest. A moment later and Fergus strengthened the link between them with the touch of skin on skin.
**Our attacks are making the killing worse. They're lashing out at any Deryni they can find, those Crown bastards.** Urgency gave Fergus' words speed as he continued. **Unless we do something to protect our own kind there won't be a Deryni left alive in Gwynedd. And I don't think they'll stop there, either.**
**Perhaps it won't come to that.** Michael scrambled for some defense against his friend's logic. **Surely the Festil in exile will return when the Haldane's weak enough.**
**Look at your history, Mick. You know how the Festilsí have treated conquered Deryni. Hellfire, our people might be better off dealing with Hubert and Rhun!**
**So what are you asking me to do?** Michael pulled his hand away and glared at Fergus. Not another of his men would dare question him so. He let Fergus have liberties the others could not command because of friendship. Perhaps now was the time to stop it.
**If you want to take command, just say so. I'm ready for a duel any time you name. And I will need no second!**
**Hell no, I don't want to take your place. I'm asking you to think on what we're about here.** Fergus's jaw tightened behind his heavy woolen balaclava. **While we're about culling the predators, why can't we save a few of the lambs.**
**I don't follow you.** But Michael was very afraid he did.
**Let's stop being so secretive. Tie our attacks to their murders. Let them know that we aren't just randomly killing their men, we're avenging our own people.**
Michael gave a bitter mental laugh. **While we're at it we can rescue widows and orphans. Maybe drag crying kittens out of trees for old hags. Why not? But what do we do with the helpless waifs we rescue? Throw them back to the wolves?**
**I never suggested we do any more than save their lives if we can. Give them some of the coin we take and let them fend for themselves. The strong will survive.** Fergus pulled off his balaclava and continued the conversation aloud. "Me Da always said 'don't leave a mouse in a trap. If he's smart enough to avoid the cat he might just help you out some day.' "
A breath of icy air saved Michael from finding an answer. He glanced to the west. Dark clouds rolled from over the plains, bringing with them an early night and the threat of snow.
"I think we'd best make speed for the forest. I don't like the look of that storm and the lot of us together won't be enough to turn it." Michael stood in his stirrups and sent a sharp command to the rest of their small band. "Looks like the weather's going to give me time to think on what you've said."
As they reached the trees the storm began. Icy drops of rain mingled with soggy snowflakes that soaked through their thick wools and weighted the leathers they wore to protect themselves. Michael and one of the slaves struggled to erect a rough shelter of hides and branches for the horses while the rest blocked the wagon's wheels and pitched a pair of small tents.
By the time the sun set the storm had settled in, indicating it would rain and snow for the rest of the night at least. Secure in the dry wagon, Michael checked the edge of his sword and smoothed several nicks with an oiled stone. Among the many advantages to being Deryni, the best tonight was the ability to keep watch from a dry seat.
Sir Hugh Sinclair drew rein and pulled his cloak more snugly about his neck. "We stop here for the night," he shouted as his squire scrambled to hold his horse so he could dismount. "This weather looks to worsen."
"Easy enough, we'll make Valoret tomorrow anyway, with good travel." Rolf grimaced at the sky. "It just means we make Vespers instead of Lauds."
"And miss one of my dear uncle's rehashing of Hubert's diatribes. Pity that, but it can't be helped."
Rolf's grin mirrored Hugh's thoughts so perfectly he briefly wondered whether his demon-bred friend was reading his mind. It was well worth spending a night in the cold and wet to avoid hearing his Uncle Paulin growl on about the glories of deprivation and the splendor waiting them all in the next world.
There were pleasures enough in the present to interest him well. Hugh's attention focused on their captives. The Deryni monk had sunk to the ground. If he wanted to lie in the freezing mud let him. Hugh would just have to ensure he was not allowed to expire before they reached Valoret. Quite apart from the added attractions of executing a living prisoner, they had no horses to spare for transporting a corpse.
Their other prisoner kept her feet, though she looked decidedly bedraggled. Heat surged through Hugh's loins as he thought of the evening to come. The little nun had provided lively entertainment the past four nights. No reason to forgo one final evening's amusement.
Truth to tell, he would not mind keeping her for a mistress if there were a practical way to manage this. She would be kept drugged, of course, as she was now just enough to keep her accursed powers under control. Even without those abilities she kept her regal air and put up a lively struggle. Not even Rolf, who enjoyed inflicting pain as much as most men enjoyed women's other delights, could seem to touch her spirit. Hugh gave credit where credit was due. The nun had fire.
He licked his lips in anticipation and watched her stiffen her spine as he approached. She turned her head away and stared at the trees as he touched a light kiss to the base of her throat. He relished the way she flinched beneath the filthy blanket he had given her to cover the remains of her shift.
"How about a special treat this night, as it's our last on the road?" Hugh whispered the words against the delicious curve of her ear. "I will call for a bath in my tent, and you can wash away the horse dung before we enjoy ourselves."
The little nun caught her rosebud lips between her teeth. Her eyes flashed lightning behind the glazed expression the merasha gave. She said nothing however, but held herself like a queen.
Hugh chuckled. He decided then to keep this woman from the Church's justice, at least for a time. She would be spectacular, bathed and gowned as her beauty and spirit demanded. He would enjoy the challenge of schooling her spirit into proper gratitude.
"Tell me you would not appreciate the chance to be free of the mire you wear."
She lifted her chin a fraction of an inch. "If it saves me your attentions, my lord, I prefer the company of horse dung!"
Hugh laughed as he shouted for his squires to heat the water for a bath. "Let me put it this way, my dear witch. If you would spare yourself Rolf's full attentions, you will bathe and see that I am well pleased. I would hate to have to listen to your screams a third night."
When the girl drew a long breath and, with obvious effort, allowed her shoulders to slump Hugh knew he had won. Victory over her stubborn pride added pleasure to the evening even before the real entertainment began.
"I think she agrees. Glad I am to see it." He gave Rolf a smile his friend returned, and why not? His companion knew well Hugh would share the bounty as he always did. My lord!" One of the men at arms came running from the edge of the camp. "There's a messenger found us from Valoret, says it's important."