Sword of a Saint
Chapter 7 - Part 1
They turned down a narrow track as
the afternoon sun faded into twilight. The brush of a strange mind
probing his shields set Michael's every nerve on edge. He immediately
signaled Fergus, Adrian and Devin to box in the wagons. It was small
comfort that they were already moving into position, apparently having
felt the same touch.
At the front of their line, Lord Gregory grunted. "A bit jumpy, aren't you. We're almost to the Haven. That's my son you're feeling."
Michael nodded but did not relax his guard. He dropped into place at the front of the first wagon. Yasmina picked up the reins, her full lips disappearing between her teeth as she scanned the trees.
A heartbeat later four men stepped into their path. One, a tall, well made fellow whose fair hair shone in the scant light available, caught Lord Gregory's bridle. "We wondered when you'd be back, Uncle Joram was more than a bit worried."
"Your uncle worries too much in his old age." Lord Gregory chuckled and waved Michael forward. "We've brought back a few friends in need of shelter. Since they were responsible for saving our errant Healer, I thought hospitality the least we could offer."
Michael kept to his place beside the wagon. A cautious scan of the newcomers revealed no open hostility, but that might be as much a ruse as the truth. Two of them were mere humans, their minds showing only caution and a strong desire to return to the warm fire they had been forced to leave. The other two were well shielded Deryni.
The blonde man gave Michael a brief nod. "I understand your caution, friend, but I assure you there is no need for it. If Lord Gregory says you're all right, you're most welcome. I am Ansel MacRorie, if introductions will make you feel any better."
Before Michael could reply, Yasmina tossed her head fitfully. The jangle of her earrings, chains and coins caught everyone's attention.
"I say we all get out of the night. If they meant to hurt us, they would have tried already." Her words, delivered with an unusual petulance, made the rest of the men chuckle.
She was no doubt right. Michael nodded. "We accept your offer of a bed for the night, and gladly. There are some here who will welcome a bit of safety. Is there room for our horses, or must we use a portal to reach your warm fire?"
Ansel laughed. "No, there's stable space for the horses right enough. You'll have to hide your wagons outside, but that should not be much of a problem."
The Michaelines left without delay, apparently feeling they were no longer required. Ansel and the other Deryni, who seemed about the same age as Devin, climbed into the wagons and took the reins from Yasmina and Valerian. Michael noticed with some relief that Valerian disappeared into the back of the wagon the moment the red haired youth stepped up to the seat.
It took very little time to conceal the wagons and retrieve what was necessary from the storage chests. Michael rescued his sitar and flute, and slipped three more knives into sheaths strapped to his arms and beneath his boot.
While he was arming himself, Valerian carefully folded two of the shifts he had bought in Valoret and the blue gown. Her slim hand caressed the soft wool and silk fabric as she laid them on the cot she had been using.
"I will see you get the rest back as soon as I am with my Sisters again." Her words caught in her throat. Could she be upset at the thought?
Michael allowed himself to think so. "Keep them. They were a gift to you."
She shook her head. "I cannot, and you know it. I will never wear them again."
"Nor will I."
She did not move as Michael closed the two steps between them. He caught her chin on one finger and tipped her face up to look him in the eye.
"I guess you'll be retreating from the world for a while." Damn! Michael felt his throat closing around the words.
She lowered her eyes. "I will not regret what has happened. But I would wish some of it away, if I could."
"Does Fergus know?" He hated himself for asking.
She shook her head. "It would not matter to him, I think."
"It might." Michael shifted his hand to cup her cheek. Her soft skin felt cool against the hard calluses on his palm. "It would matter to me. Valerian, I . . ."
"Say no more." She stepped back as if he were scalding her. "I do not wish to hurt you with words we will both regret. Let it be."
Then she was gone, and Michael was left standing alone in the wagon feeling like a fool. Damn him anyway! How could he make a fool of himself over the woman his best friend seemed set on?
And what did one woman mean? There were a thousand of them out there, all the same once the lights were out.
He slammed the door as he left the wagon. Barely had his feet touched earth before Lord Gregory pulled the red haired youth over to him. "My lord, I'd introduce to you my son. Jesse, this fellow is the best swordsman I've ever seen in all my life. He puts any Michaeline I've seen yet to shame, even Joram!"
"High praise indeed." The red haired youth's teeth shone as he grinned. He gave a small bow and held out his hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, my lord. And you are . . .?"
"Just Michael." He returned Jesse's handshake firmly. "Hungry Michael, if it comes to that."
"We can see to a meal easily enough." Jesse led both men and horses into a stable with a low ceiling, sturdy stalls and plenty of good hay.
Brother Trystan broke into a wide smile as a lean man stepped into the narrow hallway. The newcomer was wrapped in a cloak of deep green once reserved for trained Healers. His seamed face brightened as he approached Brother Trystan and Valerian.
"Brother, thank God and all the saints you return safely to us!" The man held out both hands as if he would embrace Trystan. "I was out of my mind with worry."
Brother Trystan dipped his knee and bowed. This was Valerian's first clue that the man was someone to be respected. Immediately she followed her companion's lead and bowed low.
"I apologize for the distress I caused you, my lord. I assure you, were the situation not one of life and death I would never have considered leaving."
"But you did go, even when I expressly forbade the trip."
Brother Trystan nodded. "The woman had been my patient for many years, my lord. Would you have done less?"
The older man was silent for a moment. From the way his eyes crinkled, Valerian knew he was considering Brother Trystan's question carefully. At last he shook his head. "I would have gone also. But I would expect some censure when I returned, and you will not escape. You might have endangered us all."
"True enough, my lord." Brother Trystan bowed again, then stepped back and gestured to Valerian. "My lord, I acquired some companions during my journey. Allow me to introduce Sister Valerian, who fell victim to the same fate as I."
Valerian bowed again, then touched her lips lightly to the hand the older man offered. She felt some nervousness, but to her surprise she had no desire to run screaming from the man's presence. That thought cheered her.
"Sister, this is Dom Queron Kinevan, once head of the Servants of Saint Camber and a skilled Healer. My lord," Brother Trystan lowered his voice, "the Sister has had a rough time of it. She needs a Healer's touch, and I think some time to recover herself."
"Both can be easily arranged." Dom Queron raised Valerian to her feet. His brow creased for a moment as he studied her face. "Sister . . . Valerian, did you say? May I ask where you are from?"
"I was once in service at Saint Cecilia's, in Claibourne." Valerian felt her cheeks warm as he continued to stare at her. "Needless to say, my lord, I am now without a house."
Dom Queron must have realized he was making her uncomfortable, for he shook himself and nodded in acknowledgment. "Of course, Sister. You are most welcome here. It so happens we have four other Sisters from my own order we were about to send to safety. It will be a simple matter to delay their journey for a few days so you might join them.”
"For now," he continued as he gestured for both Brother Trystan and Valerian to follow him down the narrow hallway, "I believe Fiona will be able to make you comfortable. Unfortunately our only female Healer is still too young to be of much service, Would you allow me to examine you and do what I can to ease your injuries?"
"Of course, my lord." Valerian did not even consider refusing his offer. She would make certain this Fiona, whoever she was, remained in the room with them.
Dom Queron smiled. The expression removed at least ten years from his lined features. Valerian immediately felt she knew him, though she was certain she had never before met this man.
"When you've rested, I wonder if you would be good enough to spend a bit of time with our youngest adept?" Dom Queron opened a door and motioned Valerian through. The room he led her to was small, furnished only with a bed, a single chair and a low table. It seemed clean and comfortable, and at the moment that was more than enough.
"I would be glad to, my lord."
"I'm glad. I know Jerusha will benefit from your company. The Healers she has encountered thus far have all been male, and I know she will enjoy meeting a woman who shares her talent."
Dom Queron closed the door after promising to send Fiona immediately. Valerian conjured a globe of handfire to light the room and sank onto the bed. How could Dom Queron know she was a Healer? And why did she feel she had met him before?
Valerian did not have long to brood over the mystery presented to her. The young woman called Fiona appeared so quickly she guessed Dom Queron must have Called her, carrying towels and soap. Valerian followed her to a small chamber, where a steaming tub provided a welcome bath.
Some time later, thoroughly bathed and dressed in a plain shift and tunic borrowed from one of the Religious Sisters, Valerian returned to the chamber she had been given when she arrived. Dom Queron and Fiona followed her inside.
Dom Queron motioned her to the only chair available. He stood, hands folded, looking as uncomfortable as Valerian felt. "I understand this may be a bit awkward for you, Sister," he began hesitantly. "But, due to the nature of the attack you suffered I would like to examine you. Just to be certain there are no, um, . . . lasting damages."
Valerian fought the urge to bolt from the room. No doubt, this very reaction explained Fiona's presence in front of the door.
Common sense told her there could be no harm in this. After all, Dom Queron seemed a decent man, and it wasn't as if she had to disrobe. Fiona's presence added reassurance. Still, she felt the waves of terror rising inside her.
Dom Queron ignored her nervousness as he ran his hands over her limbs. "Let me know if this hurts. I can't feel much with your shields so tight."
Valerian nodded and tried not to shudder as she felt the older Healer's mind probe her muscles and joints. To protect herself, she retreated into the farthest corners of her mind and lost herself in the complex patterns of an herb garden she dreamed of laying out some day.
Unbidden, she found herself inserting images in the normal layout of flowering beds and neat gravel paths. She stood beneath the large shade tree that was always the center of her pattern, but this time she was not alone. Strong arms held her close against a broad chest lightly dusted with wiry hair.
Annoyed at Michael's temerity, Valerian jerked herself out of her imagination. How dare he invade her most precious dream with his unwelcome presence? And why did the thought of sitting in a garden with him not seem unwelcome? Far from it, she found her cheeks flushed and her palms sweaty.
Dom Queron released her hand, crossed to the bed and sat on it. From his expression, Valerian guessed something must be seriously wrong.
"What is it?" She hoped the answer would explain the strange turn her mind had taken over the past week. Perhaps there was a cure, some medicine or mental exercise she might use to reclaim the order she craved.
Dom Queron glanced at Fiona. As if responding to a signal, the other woman knelt beside Valerian. The silent support she offered was as troubling as the older Healer's silence.
At last, Dom Queron folded his hands and straightened his shoulders. He drew a breath, but released it without speaking.
Valerian could stand the tension no longer. "Am I to die, then?"
"Of course not." Dom Queron shifted as if the bed were made of nails. "Sister, I examined your body as thoroughly as I could. So far as it is possible to tell, you've suffered no permanent damage."
"Then what is worrying you?"
He stared at the floor. "Surely you have recognized the signs, Sister. You are yourself a Healer."
When she shook her head, he continued in a rush. "It isn't your fault, you know. Never blame yourself. Whatever conventional wisdom may say, no woman can be held responsible for the results. If she . . ."
"What are you trying to tell me?" Valerian nearly shouted the question.
Dom Queron leaned toward her. "Sister, you are pregnant. About two weeks along, from what I can tell. You carry a healthy daughter. Surely you sensed her presence?"
The words hit Valerian like stones. She sat, staring at the wall, terribly aware of each breath and beat of her heart. She was with child. Of all that could have come from the attack, never had she considered this. Indeed, she believed most surely that no woman could conceive without pleasure. All known medical wisdom agreed on this fact. How often had she counseled women who came to her desiring a child that they must relax and try to enjoy their husband's attentions? Now those words came back like ghosts, tormenting her with her own advice.
Fiona squeezed her hand gently. She must have been speaking, but Valerian heard not a word.
Dom Queron gave her what might have been an encouraging smile. It did not reach his eyes. "You will need to take some thought to the path of your life now, Sister," he said gently. "You have several options, but your time is short."
"There are always alternatives, Sister. Of course, you can stay with your calling if that is your choice. I've no doubt we can find a wonderful family to adopt your child as soon as she is born. There would be some penance assessed, but it should ---"
"Penance?" The word cut through Valerian's shock and stirred her anger. "What for? I've done no sin. I was the victim!"
Dom Queron nodded soberly. "I understand, Sister. But by the rules of our vows, you must submit your soul to cleansing if you are to remain a Religious. I doubt you will be assigned anything too arduous, merely a symbolic atonement before your churching."
Valerian bit her tongue to stop the horrible things she wanted to shout. After all she'd suffered, now they expected her to pretend she was guilty of enticing her attackers? This was simply too much.
Fiona squeezed her hand again. "You don't have to choose that path, Sister. You could marry, you know. There's many a man who'd have you. You're lovely, young and strong. Surely you could ---"
"No. Never." Valerian shook off the gentle touch and rose. She needed to put some distance between herself and all this well meaning but cloying sympathy. "I could never go through that. Besides, I have taken my final vows. Only a bishop can release me."
"And we have two within easy reach who would be more than happy to do so."
"No!" Valerian walked around the small table. With the solid piece of furniture between herself and the others, she felt a bit safer. "Please understand, what man would have a wife who could not fulfill her marital duties? I will not, can not, ever submit to such as that again."
Fiona rose gracefully and nodded. "I understand. You need a little time to think things through. You're shaken, and this has only added to your shock. It's quite understandable."
She opened the door and turned back to Dom Queron, who remained sitting on the bed as if he knew not whether to further this unwelcome conversation. "Let us leave Sister Valerian to her own devices for a few hours," Fiona suggested with more force than Valerian would have dared use when speaking to so exalted a man. "I'm sure she'd be better for a nap before dinner."
"Thank you. I think I will try and sleep." Valerian closed the door behind them and sank onto the bed. Sleep was as distant as the moon.
What was she going to do? She knew well what happened to unwed women who bore children. One of the nuns at Saint Cecilia's had come with child when Valerian was barely old enough to understand what must have happened. The nun had been thrown from the abbey, sent to live in the village in disgrace. The child's father would not admit to his part in the disaster, and the wretched woman was forced to earn her bread in the only way she could. She became the village whore.
Valerian could never accept such a fate. But could she submit herself to a penance she knew in her heart she had not earned?
There was a third choice, a small voice reminded her. Yasmina had given it to her with the small bag of herbs. None need ever know.
The thought of committing a mortal sin revolted her. Yet, what other answer was there?
No! She could not kill an innocent.
She had no other choice. How could she bear to carry the fruit of a rapist in her body?
Valerian closed her eyes and forced a corner of calm in her mind. From that bit of safety she drew a steadying breath and whispered, "Blessed Mother of God, what am I to do? Help me."
But no answer came.