01 Uninvited Guests
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
          Hall of Seasons  

Muddy November


By: Bernadette

Chapter  1 of Uninvited Guests





"The patrol said they were still a few miles outside the city when he saw them, Kelson. How much longer will we be waiting out here?"

    Kelson grinned at his cousin Rory as the squire peered toward the main gate of the castle courtyard. Both were clad in warm, fur-lined cloaks, and their breath steamed in the freezing air. It would have been far warmer to wait in the main hall for his guests, but he had missed his friends over the late summer and autumn when they'd returned to their home demesnes to supervise the harvest.

"It won't be much longer," the young king pointed out. "After the time it took to get my mother to stop harping on my insistence on surrounding yourself with Deryni, " he quoted, "I figured Dhugal and Duncan would have gotten to the market square."

    Rory shared a rueful grin with his royal cousin. Despite the miraculous return of Kelson from the terrible misadventures of his knightly quest, and the use of Deryni powers to protect his life and his throne, Jehana was in a confusing state of alternating denial and near acceptance of her unique nature. It made anyone in her presence distinctly uncomfortable and he was glad, after all, that Kelson wanted to wait for his blood brother and spiritual father on the steps.

    A commotion arose near the gate and the king turned his attention back to the portal. Men at arms on mud-splattered horses, bearing the colors of the Duchy of Cassan appeared two by two. Then there came the pair that Kelson waited for. He barely gave them time to dismount before thudding down the stone steps.


    The newest Duke of Cassan and Kierney and Earl of Transha grinned widely beneath his bushy red moustache as he offered his homage to his ruler and best friend. Impatiently, Kelson motioned him upright and embraced him, thumping his enthusiastically on the back.

"It's so good to see you! And Father Duncan! Come on inside and get warm. How were the roads?"

"Filthy, as usual for this time of year," commented the bishop as he began to strip sodden gloves from his hands. "At least the snow has held off. I expect your birthday court will be crowded with visitors since the passes are still open."

    Kelson nodded as he led them into the great hall to the massive fireplace. Rory, joined by his younger brother Payne, assisted the guests with the removal of their outer garments while servants provided all with steaming tankards of mulled wine.

"I don't expect any visitors for Torenth, but I know I'll be dealing with some touchy border issues from up north. And it seems that there's some new group of bandits in the Lendours. I've offered some of my troops to assist Dhassa to get them out of there. They've attacked twelve different pilgrimage trains since July."

"Not good," Duncan responded, flexing cold stiffened fingers. "We didn't have any problems coming down from Culdi."

Dhugal grinned as he took a seat next to Kelson, while Payne pulled off his riding boots.

"I think any possible thieves were scared away from the notorious Deryni duke and his father, the Deryni bishop."

He slipped his feet into the soft indoor boots the squire provided and sighed.

"I don't mean to be facetious, Kelson. I know with the good weather holding off until this last week, the bandit groups stayed active longer than usual. We did send out punitive parties over the summer and managed to take care of three of the bands near Culdi."

    Duncan was looking more his usual urbane self as he warmed up. He sipped at his wine, the amethyst on his hand glittering in the light from the big fireplace and the wall torches.

"Will Morgan be here before your birthday celebration next Saturday?"

Kelson nodded.

"He said in his last letter that he and Richenda and the children would be here by next Friday without fail. They probably left yesterday. Hmmmm. I wonder if Morgan's had banditry problems near Coroth?"

Morgan had his daughter Briony perched on the saddle before him, snuggled up in the folds of his fur-lined cloak. The little girl was singing a nonsense song, happy to be with her father instead of in the horse litter in which she and her nurse were traveling. Next to them rode Richenda when the trail was wide enough. Little Kelric had remained home in Coroth, deemed too young to withstand the rigors of the winter journey. He probably had the castle staff revolving around his little finger, Morgan thought with a smile.

    The first day of the trip had been uneventful, stopping for the night at an abbey guesthouse, and leaving after dawn mass and a plain fare breakfast. The morning had been fairly easy travel, the roads in good condition. But clouds were massing in the west, and snow was expected in the highlands before dark.

    By noon the expectation of the storm had become reality, snowflakes drifting down, at first sporadically, then in an increasing fall. Derry, who had been riding in the van with the men at arms, came cantering back to consult with him.

"There's a clearing just ahead where we could set up tents, your grace, or, according to Mansard" he nodded to one of the soldiers who had accompanied him, "Three miles onward is an abandoned priory. The buildings haven't completely fallen in, and it might be a better shelter than the woods."

Morgan looked at the stolid man at arms.

"Is it right on the road?"

"Almost, yer grace. There's a screen of trees between the path and the site, but it's nowt' more than a stones throw."

"Take us there."

    They moved forward against the snowfall and the increasing wind. Briony clung to her father, burrowing closer as the weather got worse, and he thought momentarily of handing her back to her nurse to ride in the horse litter. But the girl was warm enough where she was now, and it was better to keep moving to get to real shelter.

    Although it was midday, the sky was dark and gloomy. Between the poor lighting and the snowfall, Morgan was surprised how quickly Mansard turned off the road onto a narrow, ill-kept track. Richenda's mare close behind him, he guided his own horse after their guide, peering ahead. The screen of bare tree trunks parted and the masses of old monastic buildings loomed before him. The man at arms waved and pointed wordlessly to the nave of the old church and Morgan urged his mount toward the promise of shelter.

    As he moved into the shelter of the old stones, armed men appeared out of the shadows, some grabbing for the headstall of his horse, others taking the storm dulled senses of the guards unawares. Morgan hauled back on the reins, causing his stallion to rear while he attempted to draw his sword. Briony screamed as she grabbed onto his tunic, trying to keep her seat. More bandits appeared out of the ruins and by sheer numbers were overwhelming the men at arms. One of the attackers that surrounded Morgan lunged at him, deftly avoiding the stallions hooves. The Duke of Corwyn laid about him with his sword, but was unable to keep the bandit from dragging his beloved daughter from his saddle.



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