Unwelcome Traveling Companions
Chapter 2 of Uninvited Guests
Briony wailed as she was torn from Morgan's grasp.
"NO!" Morgan roared.
He lunged to his left, desperate to catch hold of her again, but the man who'd grabbed Briony backed away swiftly, his dagger blade held to her throat.
"Briony!" Richenda cried.
She spurred her mare horse forward, but one of the brigands grabbed the bridle and forced her back. Briony sobbed and struggled in her captor's ungentle hold. He shifted her so that her body protected his heart and held her fair head against his unshaven face, the knife edge still held to her throat.
Morgan glared in impotent rage. He dared do nothing to the man with weapons or his powers for fear of hurting Briony. Behind him, Morgan sensed Richenda was about to jump down and try to wrest their daughter from the ruffian's arms.
**Stay on your horse!** he ordered.
**We're that much more vulnerable afoot.**
"Morgan tell your men to drop their weapons and put up your sword,"
a deep, foreign-accented voice ordered off to his left. It was the tallest of the bandits who spoke.
"You too, Lord Derry. We have you outnumbered by better than two to one, and I assume you've noticed my archers."
Morgan looked around swiftly. They were significantly outnumbered, and there were at least twenty kneeling bowmen around the periphery of the ruined church. Their crossbows were aimed directly at him and at Richenda and Derry. More archers stood outside, their longbows identically aimed. At least for the moment, fighting their way out would only make a bad situation worse.
Resigned, Morgan gestured to his men to obey and reluctantly sheathed his sword though he kept his hand on the hilt. The men obeyed, but formed a tight protective circle around his horse and Richenda's, but the bandit leader's attention had shifted. Two of his men came into the ruins, shoving Briony's nurse and Richenda's maid before them. Both women looked frightened, and Richenda's maid clutched Richenda's jewel box to her chest, but none of the bandits tried to take it from her. The tall bandit was speaking to these newcomers in a low urgent voice.
**Thank God we left Kelric at home!** Richenda sent to Morgan.
**Aye,** Morgan returned.
He wouldn't let himself look over at his terrified daughter.
**Richenda can you hear what they're saying?**
**They're speaking Bremagni,** she told him after a moment.
**The leader speaks it fluently, but I'm sure he's not a Bremon. He's probably Torenthi, but he could be from even further East than that.**
One of the bandits kept shaking his head in response to his leader's words, and finally spread out his hands in a gesture of futility. The tall bandit scowled at him.
**That man is no ordinary bandit,** Morgan told Richenda.
*He addressed me by name, and he doesn't seem interested in your jewels which would be one of the first things an ordinary highway thief would want.**
**I noticed that. But what could he possibly want with Briony?**
**I intend to find out.**
Morgan turned his full attention on the man who held them prisoner.
::Temporarily:: Morgan thought grimly.
The man had gone to great lengths to make himself look disreputable, but Morgan was sure he was of the nobility. His head was high and proud and his carriage was upright. He'd given his orders with the confidence of a man who is accustomed to being obeyed. He wore ancient greasy dark brown riding leathers, very old boots and his cloak was tattered and weather stained. He had several days growth of beard, but his light brown hair had been trimmed and shaped recently by a skilled barber though it was uncombed and unwashed at present. A careful mental probe confirmed the presence of powerful shields.
The leader looked over at Morgan then, obviously aware of his mental touch, and started back toward their horses.
"So you left your heir safely at home in Coroth. D'hommage," the man said. "At least it's a shame from my point of view."
He smiled at Morgan, showing slanted green eyes and large even white teeth before he veered to his left where Briony and her captor stood.
"It would have been better for this little one if you'd left her at home, too."
He stroked one wet pink cheek with the back of his hand. Briony shrank from his touch and cried harder.
"A pretty little creature, so obviously well-loved,"
the bandit purred.
A low growl of protest sounded from Derry and the rest of the Corwyn men. Only the arrows aimed at his chest and throat kept Morgan from diving at the bandit leader right then.
"Leave her alone!" Richenda cried. "What sort of man threatens a helpless child?"
"Hold your tongue woman. My business is with your Lord. Speak again and your children will grow up motherless."
That threat made Richenda back down, but Morgan could feel her seethe with barely suppressed fury and fear behind him.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Morgan asked.
"I can't give you my real name, but for the duration of our association, you may call me....Alekseyevich."
"And what do you want, Alekseyevich?"
"She's only an incentive for you to do as I ask without doing anything rash. Do exactly as I tell you and she will be returned to you unharmed. Refuse me or play me false and she will die. Possibly in a very unpleasant way."
Morgan just sat his horse and waited, staring hard at Alekseyevich.
"I want King Liam of Torenth. In addition, I want that usurping Haldane bastard who dares to call himself Overlord of Torenth. Bring them to me inside of a week, and Lady Briony will live."
Morgan said nothing. Alekseyevich reached out to touch his mind and encountered only resistance.
"Perhaps I needed your heir after all, to compel you," he said softly. "Ah well, it's a poor plan that can't be adapted according to need."
He gestured to the two men who held Richenda's mare.
"Get the Duchess off her horse and bring her here to me."