Sword of a Saint
Chapter 8 - Part 1
The first warmth of
spring touched the walls of the royal stable in Rhemuth. Sunlight glowed
on the freshly groomed coat of a large bay gelding tethered in a small
paddock. The graying whiskers on his soft muzzle tickled Rhys Michael
Haldane's hands as the big horse lipped oats from his hand.
Rhys Michael ran his fingers beneath the gelding's bridle and scratched his jaw. The horse blew softly and stepped closer, clearly enjoying the attention.
"You haven't been out enough this winter, boy," the king whispered. "You're getting stable-sick, just like me. Now that the weather's turning we'll go for a good run in the sunlight. Would you like that?"
"No doubt he would." Tammeron leaned against the fence. "We'll see if we can't fit a long ride into your schedule in the next week or so."
"Thank you." Rhys Michael ignored the rush of resentment the conversation caused. He should be grateful his councilor-cum-jailer might allow him any pleasures at all. Only within the past six months and after much good behavior had they permitted him access to the horses. Riding was one thing he truly enjoyed.
Still, something in Tammeron's manner put Rhys Michael on edge. Determined not to show his nervousness, he turned to his other companion. Cathan Drummond seemed interested in a long bit of straw he was twirling between his fingertips.
"Mika's feeling better. She's actually keeping her breakfast down most days."
Cathan's shoulders shook as he suppressed a laugh. "Glad to hear it, Your Majesty. How's her temper?"
Rhys Michael shrugged. "About what's to be expected. She goes from laughing to screaming as fast as the weather changes."
Tammeron stepped around them. "Sire, I did have some business to discuss with you this morning. It concerns the rebel who has been inciting unrest so violently in recent weeks."
"I've outlawed the man." Rhys Michael patted the gelding. The animal's steady presence was somewhat reassuring. "What more do you think I can do?"
Tammeron's lips thinned. "We think you might know a bit more than you are letting on, Sire. You have heard, of course, that the Earl of Culdi had an encounter with this fellow recently."
Rhys Michael had indeed heard of the incident. At the time he had laughed so hard he spilled a cup of wine on the carpet in his chamber. The resulting stain still made him smile.
Tammeron's eyes narrowed slightly. "Lord Manfred got a good look at the fellow. Questions have been raised, Sire, that concern you directly."
Despite the warm morning Rhys Michael suddenly felt chilled. "Me? I've had no contact with rebels, Tammeron. You should know that."
Tammeron turned his attention to the gelding. "You know, Sire, I have been thinking for a long time about the disposition of this horse. He has served us well, don't you agree."
"Of course." Rhys Michael fought to keep his hands from clenching the fence too hard. Tammeron would no doubt notice his heightened agitation and, he was certain, use the knowledge to his own advantage.
But where was this conversation going? "I remember learning to ride on this fellow. He has a fine steady gait."
"He does indeed." Tammeron nodded to someone standing just inside the stable. Before Rhys Michael could ask why the fate of an old gelding was so vital to the kingdom the stable door opened wider. Archbishop Hubert emerged, followed by Rhun of Horthness and, a spectral figure in the dark robes of the Ordo Custodes Fidi, Paulin Sinclair. A lean blonde man fighting to control a string of vicious hounds and a swarthy fellow carrying a wickedly curved blade followed the great lords, but stepped into the paddock while their companions surrounded Rhys Michael.
Sensing a change, the gelding trembled. Sweat broke through his coat. His eyes rolled nervously.
"As I said before, Sire, questions most dire have been raised concerning your loyalty and the true leanings of your heart in this matter." Tammeron's lips thinned as he took the gelding's bridle from Rhys Michael. "To be blunt, a marked resemblance exists between yourself and the outlaw leader. Your appearance is close enough to his that he might, in fact, be your blood kin."
"That's ridiculous." Rhys Michael stepped back from the rail. Paulin stood directly behind him and forced him to remain where he was. "My brothers are dead."
"So long as you continue to believe that and act accordingly, Sire, you should have no worries." Tammeron handed the gelding to the swarthy man as he spoke. The man's expression reminded Rhys Michael of a skull's grin.
Tammeron leaned on the railing as the gelding was led to the center of the paddock. "We just wanted to remind you what will happen should you cease to be of use to us, Your Grace. You see, the man you outlawed may in fact seek to free you from what might be called our guidance. Alternatively, he might want the crown himself. Either outcome is not welcome among your council.
"And we can always use your fate as an example to your heirs." Tammeron nodded to the men in the paddock. "Think on that."
Strong hands seized both Rhys Michael and Cathan. The two were forced to face the small enclosure, unable to look away from the spectacle.
The swarthy man placed his hand on the gelding's nose. While the horse stood, trembling and still, he drew the curved blade across its belly. Then he stepped back, releasing the horse as the handsome blonde freed the hounds.
The gelding shrieked and tried to run. It's hooves tangled in its own entrails. It stumbled as the hounds tore at its flanks and seized its guts. Agonized screams and savage growls filled air already thick with the stench of blood and bowels as the gentle horse met his fate.
Cathan spewed the contents of his stomach all over Rhun. It took all Rhys Michael's strength to maintain royal dignity and avoid the same embarrassment.
Not until the hounds had finished eating the gelding alive were Cathan and Rhys Michael permitted to leave the paddock. By then the horror of what he had been forced to witness left Rhys staggering, trembling and sweating.
If the council believed he was in league with the Deryni rebel, Rhys Michael knew he could count his life in weeks at best. His beloved queen was in as much danger as he, for in a matter of months she would be delivered of their child. Once the hoped for royal heir was safely out of her body, Michaelia was a powerful pawn in the hands of the powerful men who controlled the crown.
As Rhys Michael and Cathan Drummond staggered down the passage to the royal apartments, they brushed past the newest of the Queen's ladies. The girl, barely out of childhood, stumbled as the king shoved past her. Intent on reaching his chamber where he could throw up in peace, Rhys Michael gave no thought to the girl he pushed out of his way.
The girl, however, used the contact to good advantage. In the brief contact with the king she read all that had happened in the past half an hour. The horrible spectacle, the threats, the concern of the great lords and the ruthless measures they were willing to use to protect their power.
Rhysel Thuryn delivered the armful of linens she held, then immediately sought a place of solitude. The small, dark chamber set well into a wall had once been used to house prisoners their captors wanted forgotten. Now empty, Rhysel found it most convenient. The dead did not frighten her when there were living monsters to confront.
She concentrated all her energies on reaching Joram. It was some time before he answered, and when he did she nearly broke contact. Her uncle was clearly, violently angry. More angry than she'd ever known him.