Sword of a Saint
Chapter 7 - Part 4
Bishop Niallan Trey pursed his lips
but said nothing. Joram wished the older man would begin the
conversation. Perhaps having someone else speak would set his own
thoughts in order. Unfortunately none of the men gathered in the small
chamber was saying a word. He knew they were waiting for his impression
of the newcomers, but he could not himself decide what that impression
was. Dom Queron sat staring at a spot on the table. Joram could sense
his shields tight about his mind. Whatever Queron was thinking, he was
not sharing it.
At last, Niallan sighed. "Joram, if you're in need of exercise I think a walk in the woods would do you far more good."
Queron's lips tipped in a smile.
"So what did you think of our new firebrand?"
"I think we've got a problem on our hands."
Queron nodded as if he expected this conclusion.
Joram folded his hands behind his back and gave up trying to force his thoughts into any logical order. "I watched them most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon. They must be extremely confident of their abilities, since much of what they did could easily have turned deadly."
"Well, confidence was always one of that boy's best qualities."
Joram stared at Queron. Niallan opened his mouth and shut it again, clearly as surprised as Joram.
Niallan recovered from the shock first. "You know Lord Michael?"
Queron nodded. "I remember him as a boy, though of course he's changed a great deal since then. He was a student at Saint Neot's for a couple of years, but he left a year before Cinhill died. Went home for Christmas and never returned, with no explanation."
"So you do remember him." Joram stopped pacing and rounded the table to face Queron. "Who is he? And where's he been for the past what, nearly twenty years?"
"As to the last, I've no idea. If he didn't look so much like his father I would not have recognized him at all, but I studied with his father. Donald was always a quiet fellow, better than average talents but I thought he should have found a calling."
"Never mind the father." Niallan leaned across the table. "What do you know about the son?"
Queron chuckled and stared at the table for a moment, clearly reliving an amusing memory. "It might be quicker to show you. Joram, could I bother you for a glass of wine?"
Surprised by the request, Joram filled a cup from the small carafe at the end of the table. Queron took the cup between his hands and settled quickly into a trance. Images flickered on the surface of the wine. Joram stared, realizing he was seeing through Queron's eyes.
The image faded as Queron ended his trance. Joram found himself staring at the blank cup of wine, fighting the urge not to laugh. He knew he was seeing the boy Michael had been, defiant and self willed, badly in need of discipline. Clearly he had found discipline somewhere. The time and effort needed to perfect the military arts Joram had seen that morning was not usual for someone who sought immediate gratification. Queron sipped the cup of wine. "I thought, at the time, that the boy was misplaced. He clearly had the Gift, but his temperament did not lend itself to long study. And he was always getting into scraps like that."
"Well, he clearly found a place for himself." Joram considered the matter a moment before he spoke. "Perhaps if the situation were explained in a less confrontational manner he might listen. Say, over a good dinner."
Niallan nodded. "That seems like our best option. And if he won't be reasonable, we have enough merasha to subdue him for some weeks. Will his companions give us trouble?"
Michael's men were the least of Joram's worries. "I believe if we subdue their leader the rest will cooperate. That's usually the way these groups work." Please let the man be reasonable. "Do you think we need to bring the rest of the Council into this?"
Niallan nodded. "They must be told, but we should not wait to act. Besides, who knows how some of them will take this? Think what hotheads Jesse and Ansel can be."
"I know. That's what scares me." Joram jammed his thumbs beneath his belt. The gesture was supposed to bolster his resolve. Instead, in this case it just made him feel ridiculous. "Well, I suppose supper is as good a place for a gentle conversation as any other. I'll go invite their leader to dine with me."
Michael leaned back against the tub. The bath was cooling, but not yet uncomfortable. He let his mind wander as Yasmina stretched one shapely leg over the rim of the tub and ran a bathing brush down her calf.
"You are paying me no attention." Her voice held a definite pout.
He lifted his head. The movement took more effort than he would have thought possible. "Yas, you're beautiful. As always. But right now I'm just not in the mood." He chuckled as she added a petulant twitch of her shoulders to her theatrical huff. "It's what comes of being surrounded by holy brothers. Why don't you try Dev or Adrian?"
"Because I am not interested in a boy." Yasmina stood and reached for a towel. "This is the first time in more than six months we have not had to post a guard around our camp. I hoped to take advantage of our safety."
Michael sighed. At any other time, he knew he would have enjoyed being the target of Yasmina's attentions. Now her voluptuous charms were not at all appealing. "Maybe I'm just a bit tired," he suggested, only half believing it.
She actually laughed, though the sound was bitter. "If you believe that, Ya Muntaquim, then you are a blind fool. Why you do not simply take what is before you I will not begin to guess. Would it be so difficult to tell the one you think of how you feel?"
That brought Michael upright so quickly water splashed out of the tub. Irrational anger that Yasmina could so easily discern where his heart wandered blended with a desperate fear that she might tell others what she suspected.
"Speak no more of this!"
Yasmina laughed again. "Do you fear that the lady will not return your affections? Or are you merely angry that I read you so well?"
"Just forget what you suspect." Michael settled back into the water and forced himself to appear calm. For a human, Yasmina was entirely too perceptive. "I order it."
She laughed again.
The leather curtain over the door rattled. A moment later, Gregory of Ebor's grizzled head poked around the makeshift covering. "Might I get a word wi' ye, lad?" The worried frown on the older man's face combined with the strong border accent clouding his words told Michael something must be very wrong indeed. "Yasmina was just leaving."
The concubine gathered her clothing and flounced out, tossing her head sharply. Lord Gregory's amusement carried through a low chuckle. "There goes a fine figure of a woman." Michael nodded and stood. He wasn't going to discuss anything important sitting in rapidly cooling water.
Lord Gregory handed him the remaining towel. As their hands touched, the older Deryni lord sent an urgent thought against Michael's shields. Michael immediately loosened his protections to allow the older man in. Clearly this was something they dared not allow any to overhear.
**Sorry to barge in like this, lad. But you'd best be warned of trouble.**
Lord Gregory gave him a mental wave of frustration. **From some of my own comrades, I'm afraid. There's them that think you need more caution in what you're doing. Joram's planning to reason with you tonight.**
There had to be more to this 'reasoning' than simple conversation. **And if I do not choose to cooperate?**
**Joram's not thinking on a fair fight, lad. He's got merasha an' a few of his Michaelines to convince you to remain his guest for a few weeks.**
**How do you know this?** Michael let Lord Gregory feel his suspicion and a trace of underlying anger. If the older man meant to trick him Michael wanted him to think the matter over more than once.
Lord Gregory nodded, showing no sign of nervousness. **I happened to pass a door that was not as closed as it should have been. I'm not ashamed of a bit of eavesdropping.**
Michael heard truth in the older man's words. **Why are you telling me this?**
Lord Gregory softened his own shields. Clearly he was inviting Michael to do more than truth read.
**Because I'm thinking your way may be our only hope. If we Deryni don't start fighting back with some real resistance, we'll be wiped out in Gwynedd. Niallan and Joram are more attuned to court politics, and they're cautious men by nature. I'm not.**
Michael accepted the older man's honesty immediately. **I'll take the warning. My thanks.**
**If ever you need help, lad, I've an estate just across the borders of Connaitt. You'll always be welcome in Trevalga.**
The curtain rattled again. Michael wrapped the towel around his hips and stepped out of the tub before answering. Lord Gregory leaned casually against the wall. From the look of him, they might have been discussing the merits of horse breeding.
A servant entered and bowed rather stiffly. "My lord Michael, my master asks that you join him for dinner this evening. He wishes to thank you for the service you have done us, returning Brother Trystan safely."
Lord Gregory raised his eyebrows. Clearly this was the ambush he had just warned of.
Michael nodded, keeping his shields tight and close in case the servant was Deryni. He wasn't about to risk finding out for himself whether the man could read him or not. "I will look forward to meeting your master. When and where shall I arrive?"
"I will come and fetch you when the meal is laid, my lord." The servant bowed again and backed out of the bathing chamber.
"Looks as if I'd best get dressed." Michael reached for a clean pair of breeks he'd laid on the low stool. "I thank you for the warning, friend."
"My pleasure." Lord Gregory paused at the door. "Lad, sometime you're going to have to let your stallion have a go at a few of my mares. I've got some beauties that would throw him proud colts."
After Michael finished dressing he gathered his men, Yasmina and the slaves together. They quickly understood why they should stay close to the wagons that night and not be caught inside the Haven. If he needed a quick departure Michael wanted everything in place.
Michael tightened his shields against the tension pulsing through his mind. The servant led him through the dark old corridors, on a path apparently predetermined to confuse him. No doubt Father Joram, whoever he was, intended to begin their meeting by intimidating his guest. Michael was not about to be controlled so easily. When the servant opened a heavy, iron bound door at the end of the last long corridor, he felt nothing but confidence.
The room was lit by many more candles than were truly necessary. Father Joram stood behind a long table covered in linen and set with tall silver candelabras. Four other men sat around the table, all wearing the blue of Michaeline brothers. When he first met the older man, Michael had sensed the swordsman beneath the priest's cassock. Now, seeing him dressed in the clean blue of a Michaeline knight, a white leather belt circling his trim waist, Michael knew his impression had been right.
Father Joram waved Michael in. "Please join us, my lord. You are, after all, the guest of honor."
Michael favored the men with a short bow as he entered the room. One of the Michaelines immediately rose and handed him a glass of red wine. A quick sniff and a mental probe proved this cup was not drugged, so Michael raised the glass to acknowledge the room and sipped the wine. It was a good Fianna vintage.
The fair haired knight extended his hand in a gesture of friendship, but his eyes remained guarded. "We have not met as yet, but I've heard much of you from Father Andrew and Brother Trystan. Brother Trystan, incidentally, believes you are Saint Michael incarnated."
Michael smiled and tightened his shields. None of the others had tried probing him as yet, but he wasn't about to allow them the first chance.
"Well, aside from a name I doubt I share much with the saint." Michael took the Michaeline knight's handshake. "I fear I may have been a bit short with you this morning. My apologies."
"Think no more of it. From the look of you and your men, you must be exhausted." Father Joram motioned toward the table. "Shall we enjoy the food while it's hot?"
As if on cue, several servants entered bearing platters of roasted meat, steaming bread and glazed apples. Michael took the chair to Joram's left, and was immediately surrounded by the other Michaelines. Joram waited until all were served before he turned the conversation in the direction Michael had known it would go.
"My lord, I've asked you here tonight only in part to thank you for rescuing Brother Trystan and Sister Valerian. In truth, I would wish you to consider carefully what I spoke of earlier. Many lives may depend on your answer this night."
**Including my own?** Michael kept the thought to himself.
"You see, Deryni must tread carefully in Gwynedd under the current conditions." Father Joram was coming to his point so gradually that Michael was tempted to demand he get on with things. To cover his impatience he drained his wine cup. One of the Michaelines immediately refilled it.
"If we live quietly, attracting as little notice as possible, it may be some of us will survive to see a better day." Joram passed Michael a basket of warm bread. "To that end, we here have taken steps to assist those who wish to escape to the safety of Connait, Torenth or Meara."
"You mean Trevalga? Lord Gregory already mentioned that place to me." The meal was rather salty. Michael reached for the wine. Joram's eyes flickered as Michael raised the goblet to him. "Your meal is excellent. It isn't often I get the chance to eat like this." He drained the cup.
Joram looked at the table as he continued speaking. "Yes, Trevalga is one of our locations. I'm not surprised Gregory mentioned it. He is rather proud of what he has built there.”
"But it is not those who escape the madness of those in power that concern me now." Joram finally looked Michael in the face. "It is those who will not, or cannot leave. You cannot continue inciting the fury of those in power. It is the innocents who will suffer, even if you escape."
"Exactly what are you asking me?"
Joram folded his hands on the table as if he were lecturing a student. "You must understand, Lord Michael, that it is not only our own people who are in danger. The Haldane King and his family are virtual prisoners of men who wish nothing more than to keep the crown hostage and gain power for themselves. If you continue on your present course, you will be responsible for not only the extermination of the Deryni in Gwynedd, but possibly the end of the Haldane line. I cannot allow that to happen."
"You sound as if you care more about your precious king than about your people." Michael lifted his empty cup, the salt in the meal becoming unbearable.
Joram took the flask from one of his Michaelines and refilled Michael's goblet. Immediately Michael sensed merasha in the cup. No doubt one of Joram's companions had drugged the flask when Michael could not see him. Michael considered tossing the wine in Joram's face. Then he decided to hear the man out. He'd not taken any of the drug in several days, so this little bit should pose no problem. Michael sipped his third goblet of wine. He carefully controlled the merasha, walling its effects safely within strong shields. The alcohol in the wine was far more dangerous. He was drinking more than was prudent.
Joram nodded, his gaze riveting on Michael's face. "I have a definite interest in the royal family, that is true. I was, in part, responsible for their restoration."
"And what will you offer in exchange for my cooperation?"
Joram pursed his lips while he appeared to consider the question. Behind him, Michael sensed the others shifting position.
After a moment Joram spoke. He sounded defeated. "We could offer you safety, perhaps at Trevalga or one of our other locations. No doubt your men would be interested in land. We could arrange for at least a small farm for each, I think."
Michael set aside his cup and shoved the chair back. It was time to let this officious Michaeline know what he would and would not do. If he waited much longer, he was going to be too drunk to defend himself.
"We aren't interested in land, Sir Joram. My men and I are in Gwynedd for one purpose and one alone. We came for revenge against those who destroyed everything we loved. Your precious Haldane among them."
"You cannot blame Rhys Michael for things that happened years ago." Joram looked shocked. "He has not held the throne for two years yet. He cannot be --"
"Sins of the father, Father. Is that not what your God called justice?"
Joram nodded. Michael braced himself for action.
"I am sorry you are so recalcitrant." Joram looked truly grieved, but resolute. "I hope you will forgive me this, but I had your wine drugged. You will be held safely for several months, until the situation settles down. I assure you your men will come to no harm, but neither can I allow you to continue as you have been."
Michael picked up his goblet again. It was better than half full. Enough to distract at least one of his opponents.
"I think not, Father. Though you are, of course welcome to try."
Michael hurled the wine at the Michaeline closest to him. The drugged liquid struck the man full in the eyes. The knight shook his head to clear his vision. In the moment of distraction, Michael seized his chair and swung it at the two behind him. The heavy carved oak chair cracked as it struck. One of the Michaelines went down immediately, stunned. The other staggered, but recovered and drew his sword.
Michael lunged at the armed man. The fellow who had caught the wine jumped for Michael's back, but the merasha was already starting to sedate him. Michael dropped to one knee, lowering his shoulder and sending the drugged man into his companion's blade. The wounded Michaeline screamed, but Michael judged the blow was not fatal. There were three left, including Joram who had, thus far, remained out of the fight. Michael gathered his power and loosed a ball of brilliant green light at the nearest Michaeline.
The man's shields flared. As he deflected the blow, Michael drove his fist into the chin of the sword wielder. The Michaeline crumpled so quickly he must have a glass jaw. Joram and the remaining Michaeline both dove for Michael. He stepped back, caught both men and rammed them together like apple dolls. Both men dropped, stunned. Michael stood, panting and sweating, his head pounding from too much alcohol and merasha in the center of the room
His anger still raged even after the fight was over. How dare this arrogant nobleman dream to order him about? No doubt he'd be back, as soon as he woke up. Unless Michael left him a message he could not ignore.
Smiling grimly, Michael pulled his dagger from his belt. The blade was unmistakable, wickedly curved and black as his own soul. It was the finest steel the Forcinn smiths could produce. It took little effort to brace Joram's tall frame against a chair. Once this was done, it was even easier to drive the dagger into the seat a scant inch from Joram's exposed throat.
**Let him think on that!** Michael stormed out of the room. No doubt tomorrow would bring the fury of the powerful, but at least now all knew he would not take their orders.