Sword of a Saint
Chapter 9 - Part 5
Valerian stepped forward, her stomach
reeling. She had done the best she could, and surely Dom Queron would
"I could not summon the energy to mend his leg." Her voice trembled even to her own ears. "I tried, but I just could not manage it. I ---"
"Enough, Sister." Dom Queron held up a hand to silence her. "Even were you at your best, a compound fracture is difficult to mend without assistance. You've kept the ends of bone straight, the wound in clean and your patient is comfortable. You did very well.
"I am more concerned about you. How are you feeling?"
"A bit tired, that's all." Why was he asking about her when Michael lay wounded on the bed? "Should you not attend to your patient?"
"You are also my patient, Sister. I am concerned for you and your child." Dom Queron waved her to the opposite bed. "Sit. I wish to assure myself you are doing no harm to the little one. You look like walking death."
Reluctantly, Valerian sat and relaxed her shields slightly. Dom Queron's touch was light, practiced and not threatening as he examined her vital functions and checked the health of her daughter. His presence in her mind did not disturb her unduly, and that surely was a good sign.
Still, Valerian found herself comparing the older Healer's touch to Michael's. Dom Queron's mind did not alarm her, but neither did it excite her the way Michael's firmer and more powerful presence did.
At last Dom Queron broke the rapport and rose with a satisfied smile. "You seem to have weathered the journey as well as can be expected. I shall, however, speak with your Sisters and see to it that accommodations are made for your condition. You cannot continue to exhaust yourself daily and expect to deliver your child safely come winter."
Valerian nodded. "I had hoped to keep my secret a bit longer. I suppose it cannot be helped."
"No, not if you want to birth a strong child and keep your own health sound. In a few weeks, two months at the most, your condition would become apparent to all around you in any case." Dom Queron turned to Michael, clearly ending the conversation before Valerian could think of a reason to protest. "Now, let's get this fellow back on his feet."
Mending the broken leg took very little time and almost no effort on Valerian's part. Dom Queron asked her to monitor Michael's vital functions while he mended the shattered bone and torn flesh. Watching the miracle unfolding and taking no part in it tore Valerian's heart in two. She wanted more than anything to assist, to touch the wonderful magic that now seemed permanently cut from her life. Instead she held herself back, watched Michael's even breathing and cursed her own uselessness.
When Dom Queron lifted his hands from the newly mended leg she seized her chance and fled the wagon. The outer ward of a formidable looking keep bustled with activity. A blacksmith struck sparks from a piece of glowing iron in a shop built against the stone curtain wall, while several women in a weavers' shed gossiped as their looms rattled busily. Several children shooed a flock of geese toward the inner bailey, observed by two smiling guardsmen who leaned casually on their spears. Everyone was clearly enjoying the soft, clear spring day.
Sister Agnes and her companions stood near a sturdy building set a bit apart from the busy yard. A thin man in plain black robes stood talking with them, nodding now and then in apparent agreement. Valerian started to join them. Before she managed three steps the jingle of bracelets and coins warned her of Yasmina's approach.
The dark skinned concubine blocked Valerian's path. She indicated the wagon Michael lay in with a thrust of her chin. "How is he?"
"Sleeping yet, but Dom Queron has Healed him. I've no doubt he will be his usual self by evening."
Yasmina tossed her head as if to dismiss the very idea. "Ya Muntquim has not been himself since you joined us. Why should this evening make any difference?"
Something in her tone chilled Valerian. Even though she knew Yasmina was not Deryni she tightened her shields in defense. "I don't know what you mean."
"Do you not?" The dark woman laughed, but the sound was bitter. "Than you are either a fool or an innocent. Ya Muntquim has never deviated from his set purpose, not for anything or anyone. That is what makes him the jewel in the hilt of the Grand Master's scimitar. Now his mind wanders down paths it has no need to walk."
"I'm hardly responsible for that."
"Are you not?" Yasmina waved her jeweled hands in a gesture of pure frustration. "Why do you think he fell into that hole? It was not the birds in the trees he was watching. And why did he steal that drab rag you wore over your hair?"
"To exasperate me, I have no doubt." Valerian fought to dismiss the other woman's words. Unfortunately she half believed them, and she knew without expending the energy to Truth Read that Yasmina believed them entirely.
"Hah! You are a fool indeed. Is it also to exasperate you that Ya Muntaquim has not been with me since we found you? That he pays me no attention, where he was a most energetic companion?"
Valerian's heart fluttered wildly. She should not care if Michael had avoided this woman's company, but somehow the thought that he had not visited his former lover made the spring day seem brighter and warmer.
A guttural growl warned her Yasmina was not finished. "You are a fool indeed! Any woman with sense would thank her luck that such a man showed an interest in her. She would bathe herself in perfume. Dress in something attractive. Or at the least, smile at him! You do nothing!"
Before Valerian could form an answer to the flood of criticism, Yasmina stormed off toward a cluster of men in weathered chain mail. The clatter of jewelry and tinkle of coins on the scarf she wore tied about her waist punctuated her words all the way across the yard. Valerian stood for a moment, her mouth open, unable to catch her breath. She glanced down at her gray wool habit, badly stained from their two week journey. Did she really look so drab?
What was she thinking? Her appearance should not matter. Had she not foresworn all concern for what the world thought of her when she made her vows?
What was happening to her?
Valerian firmly put such thoughts from her mind and hurried to join her Sisters. Sister Agnes's eyes narrowed as she nodded her greeting, a sure sign of danger. Sister Therese's pinched cheeks sank further behind her puckered lips.
Valerian braced herself for a lecture. It really wasn't fair! She could hardly help it if an arrogant brute ordered her confined to a wagon instead of letting her walk with the rest. Besides, she hadn't spoken to him often. He slept most of the journey.
Sister Agnes nodded to her again. "Now that you have finally joined us, Sister, allow me to introduce Father Ignatius. We would speak to you, if you will be so good as to follow us."
Valerian nodded and trailed after the priest and her Sisters, feeling as if she were walking to her own execution.
The Grand Master of Assassins accepted a cup of wine from an unusually attractive slave. He sipped the wine, then passed the cup to his visitor. The slave poured a second cup and bowed out of the chamber.
The Grand Master waited until his visitor sampled the wine and smiled in appreciation of the fine vintage. "I am honored you chose to visit, my lord."
"Your hospitality is much appreciated." The visitor set his cup aside with a thin smile. "However, I fear my master did not send me on a pleasant mission."
"Oh?" This was indeed a surprise. Few men felt confident enough to offer even mild criticism to the Assassins Guild.
The envoy nodded solemnly. "My master has noticed little progress in Gwynedd, and he is most disturbed by this lack of attention to his concerns."
The Grand Master focused his attention more directly on the messenger. "There is much unrest. That was the task your master set for us."
"Perhaps you misunderstood my master's request."
"I misunderstood nothing." The Grand Master felt anger build behind his shields. However satisfying it would be to release his frustration by blasting this fool into oblivion, he knew he must control himself. There would be plenty of time to vent his fury once the business was concluded.
The messenger rose. From the way he held himself it was clear he was of noble birth, no doubt one of the lesser Furstans of Torenth. "Let me make my master's wishes perfectly clear. My master would invade Gwynedd and redeem the land for its rightful ruler. To that end, the defenses at the border must be sufficiently weakened so that my master will not loose too many of his men before he faces the Haldane. My master would have this accomplished before the Haldane's heir is born. It is very easy to lose a small child in the chaos of an invasion."
"As your master's family has good cause to know well."
The messenger's cheeks reddened. "My master has paid you handsomely for your services. He does expect you to do the job you were set. You must remind your people where their attention is to lie."
The messenger swept from the chamber without waiting for the Grand Master's reply.
The Grand Master fumed for a moment at this arrogance. Then his anger settled into cool action. Clearly the man he thought of as Mikhael Ya Muntaquim was allowing his personal feelings to interfere with the Guild's interests. That could not be allowed. And, just as clearly, Ya Muntaquim would not be easy to stop. The men with him were among the best trained, young though they might be. Fifteen men might have the chance of stopping them, but it would be a near business. And fifteen assassins were sure to be noticed. No doubt the client would be just as upset if the Grand Master revealed the Guild's presence in Gwynedd.
That left him one option only. He must send someone Ya Muntaquim trusted to remind the fool of his task.
His decision made, Grand Master Khuzaymah summoned Hassan. Fortunately, Hassan understood his duties well and was prepared to leave immediately. The Grand Master emphasized the necessity of this mission and, most important, the vital importance of neutralizing a troublesome leader should he not see reason.
After Hassan left, Grand Master Khuzaymah returned to his bench and finished the wine he had so casually set aside. He still remembered reading the mind of the bedraggled, lost and orphaned boy who had become Mikhael Ya Muntaquim. At the time he had believed the youth held potential, if directed with care. How tragically right he had been.