Sword of a Saint
Chapter 9 - Part 2
Fergus's voice was drowned by a roar
of sound in Michael's ears. For an instant the world went black, studded
with flashing lights behind his closed eyelids. His spine twisted in an
arch of agony as the broken ends of bone were pulled into place. When he
managed to draw a breath he felt Fergus and Adrian lashing four thick
sticks around his calf with strips of cloth. His heart raced in his
ears. Every sense seemed sharper than normal, and he feared he would
vomit before they got his head raised above his stomach. Valerian
whimpered, drawing his attention from his own misery. Both her fists
were shoved between her small, white teeth. She looked as if she'd just
witnessed an execution.
Both ropes were slipped beneath Michael's arms, and with Fergus and Adrian steadying him he was pulled out of the pit. The two slaves seized his shoulders and dragged him to solid ground. He lay gasping, trying in vain to control his own pain and wondering why he was having so much trouble.
Valerian knelt beside him. "Don't worry. I'll have this mended easily."
Michael nodded and immediately wished he hadn't. His head swam with the slight movement. Instead he focused his attention on the way the late sunlight shone off her riot of fiery curls. She must have left her veil back by the stream. No doubt she would remember it once they were back at camp. He would have to be quick in sending someone to make the drab rag disappear.
Valerian closed her eyes, drew a long, slow breath and released it. She managed to center herself, but the simple accomplishment took far more effort than it should. When she gathered the Healing core pulsing in the back of her mind it seemed as heavy as lead and just as unmovable. Fighting through the difficulty, she reached out to Michael. The shattered bone and damaged flesh lay beneath her hands. It should have been easy, after all. She had mended such injuries many times before. This time, however, nothing happened. A faint greenish glow enveloped the wound for the space of a heartbeat before it faded. Valerian tried again, and had no better result. She glanced at Michael. He smiled at her. She wished she could sink into the ground.
"I'll try one more time." She tried to sound confident as she gathered herself for another attempt. "I'm sure it will happen now. I'm just a bit rattled."
"You're exhausted." Michael forced himself up on his elbows. His sensuous lips whitened at the movement, but his voice remained strong. "You couldn't even heal yourself, let alone manage something like this."
"I know you're in pain, so I forgive you." Valerian's lips tightened painfully as she fought to keep her voice at an even tone. "I am a perfectly competent Healer. I can manage this."
"You could if you hadn't walked and worked yourself into the ground these past two weeks." Michael turned his head slightly. "Fergus!"
Fergus was just climbing out of the pit. Immediately he came to his master, looking worried.
"Best have the slaves carry be to one of the wagons. Sister Valerian will join me there for the remainder of the journey. Have Adrian look after Asmodious. The rest is in your charge."
What did he think he was doing? What would the Sisters say if she closed herself in a wagon and rode the remainder of their way? Valerian opened her mouth to protest, even as a small voice in the back of her mind told her that everything else Michael had commanded sounded sensible. It would be silly to protest one of his orders if the rest made sense.
The expression in his dark eyes warned her he would welcome no resistance. "Now, Sister, isn't Obedience one of your vows? It really wouldn't do to fight me, would it? Besides, you have to attend me until we reach Trevalga."
Valerian opened her mouth and shut it again. Damn the man! He seemed intent on making her life more difficult.
Father Joram MacRorie blinked back tears as he stared at the smoldering ruins. Beside him, Ansel swore roundly. Teig Thuryn, who was too young to have any memories of the village of Caerrorie, merely gaped.
Three buildings had been set alight by the orders of Manfred MacInnis, Earl of Culdi. The doors had been blocked, the windows shuttered to prevent the inhabitants from escaping. MacInnis had sat upon his horse and watched, swilling wine from a skin and savoring the tortured screams of the terrified villagers, until the roofs caved in and the cries fell silent.
Now the Earl and his men were gone. The villagers stirred about the ruins, apparently dazed by the brutality they'd witnessed. It did not help that one of the buildings burned had been their church, though fortunately no one was inside it. Teig started toward the village. Ansel stopped him immediately.
"There's nothing we can do."
Despite the cool spring day, Joram noticed his nephews were both sweating.
Teig's voice sounded shrill, even though he kept to a whisper. "Maybe someone survived. I can ---"
"None did." Joram let his shoulders slump. "Even if, by some miracle, someone lived through that, the last thing these people need is more trouble from MacInnis. No, we stay out of it."
"But I'm a Healer!" Teig protested, still straining against Ansel's hold.
Ansel tugged his cousin's sleeve. "Then obey your oath. Do no harm!"
Teig glared as he jerked his arm free of Ansel's grip. "I may not have Queron's learning, but I am well enough trained to handle these injuries! If you think so little --"
Joram's patience snapped. "And you aren't thinking at all, boy!" He caught Teig's shoulder and forcibly turned his nephew away from the scene of destruction.
"Should you throw caution to the wind and go down to that village, you would only bring them trouble. Even if, by some miracle, someone survived that conflagration and you Healed them, MacInnis would hear of it before the day was out. What do you think he would do then?"
Teig's stubbornly set lips tightened.
"I'll tell you what he'd do." Ansel flanked Teig's other side, preventing the younger man from pulling away. "He'd send his men, at the very least, with orders to bring you back. If they didn't, no doubt he'd have commanded them to start killing people until the village gave you up. How long do you think they'd protect you? A matter of moments?"
"And once they had you, you would pray for death." Joram guided Teig through the woods, away from the village as he spoke. Anguish and rage warred within him over the destruction of the place he'd known so well. "MacInnis sees torture as a sport. They'd kill you eventually, once you'd betrayed every one of us."
Teig's shoulders slumped. He pulled away from Joram and Ansel, but continued walking with them without comment. Maturity came with hard lessons, Joram thought as they reached their tethered horses. Ansel was already old for his age, and young Teig grew daily wiser in the cruelties of the world.
Joram's mind drifted as he rode from the destruction of Caerrorie to his encounter with the recalcitrant Lord Michael. The younger man's rebellion might be said to cause the Great Lords to react irrationally, dangerously and violently. Then again, perhaps it only gave them an excuse for actions they wished to take anyway.
Could the Cambrian Council have been so wrong? The thought nagged at the back of Joram's mind. They had moved carefully, taking their time and patiently evaluating every situation. Yet, for all their caution they had managed to save few.
In a few months, Lord Michael and his band of rebels had caught the attention of the Great Lords more firmly than anything had in nearly twenty years. The former Regents were diverting troops, energy, resources and untold amounts of worry to capturing a group so small they could hide almost anywhere. In the meantime, the Deryni remaining in Gwynedd had a chance to escape if only they would take it. A better chance than they'd had since Cinhil died.
Joram gave himself a mental kick in the seat. Even if Lord Michael's way was the more effective one, that did not make the raging destruction of defenseless humans right. More important, after the disastrous dinner party, Joram doubted the lad would ever give him a chance to apologize.
If he was thinking of someone old enough to shave as a lad, he must indeed be getting old. Joram grimaced and focused his attention on keeping the journey back to the Haven safe. It would do no good if he and his nephews were taken by any MacInnis men who might be prowling the roads and woods. He had enough guilt on his conscience without adding his nephews' imprisonment.