Friends & Traitors
Chapter 3 of Uninvited Guests
Morgan gripped the hilt of his sheathed sword as he met the nobleman's eyes.
"No! I will not leave my wife in the hands of bandits, no matter the consequences. If you want an additional hostage, choose another."
Alekseyevich matched gazes with him for a long moment. During the painful silence, Morgan's men eased their daggers in their sheaths, well aware that their remaining small arms would be of little use, but loyal enough to their lord and lady to think the effort worthy. The bandits also held back now, though clearly ready to renew the attack at their leader's word.
At last, Alekseyevich threw back his head and laughed.
"Very bold. I can assure that if you do as I say and your wife doesn't cause me any trouble, she should have little to fear. Though I can see why you're not anxious to let her out of your hands. She is enchanting, indeed."
Morgan narrowed his eyes, little reassured by this praise.
"As I said, she is not an acceptable choice."
"So you did. Well, then."
He looked Morgan's men over casually, arching an expressive eyebrow.
"I've heard you and the Lord Derry are quite close. He might even prove the better hostage. And certainly he'd be less...troublesome among my men than any woman. Most especially a Deryni one, trained by the Prince Azim."
**He knows entirely too much,**Richenda told her husband.
Morgan was interrupted as Derry kneed his horse closer to his side.
Alekseyevich smiled sardonically at Derry.
"Yes, he'll do. You have one week, as I said," He told Morgan, gesturing for Derry to dismount. "And I strongly advise you not to tell anyone of our meeting. I have a highly placed ally with access to that pretender's court. If you try to warn anyone, have no doubt that I will know of it within the day."
Although alarmed by the man's prediction, Morgan could not help sighing his relief; though the situation was still grave, it was no longer desperate. Of course he couldn't turn over Kelson and Liam, but surely the bandits wouldn't hurt a small child in the meantime. And Derry was quite capable of handling himself in such a situation. But the more time he could gain now, the more opportunity he would have to effect a rescue later.
"Even if I could do as you ask, it can't be done within a week. In this weather, with this many men, it could easily take me that long just to reach Rhemuth. And it could take me some time to bring Kelson out here. It's just not humanly possible."
"But you and I aren't human, are we?" Alekseyevich grinned at Morgan, as if relishing a shared secret. "I think we've haggled enough. One week."
He gestured peremptorily to Derry.
"Morgan. . . "
Derry made no move to obey the bandit leader.
Morgan glanced over at Derry for the first time, to see that he was trembling as if with fever, his face deathly pale.
"What is it, Derry?" he asked. "You know I won't let you come to any harm."
"Morgan, I can't do it. I won't - I can't! Not after. . . You KNOW he's Deryni!"
Derry's mount shifted in confusion as his unsteady hands clenched the reins.
"What! You dare. . . "
Morgan's disbelief harshened his voice as he confronted his aide.
"My lord, I can't! Don't make me!"
Morgan hissed in disbelief, starting to draw his sword, but Richenda stayed him, her hand on his arm.
"Alaric, no! I have to stay with Briony anyway. We can't leave her all alone with them."
She shifted into thought, her words for him alone.
**And Derry's right. He has no defenses against a Deryni. I can protect Briony from them. Maybe I can even get her out. . .**
She let her thought trail off.
** You don't really believe that.**
**No. But I don't think Derry CAN do this. And I don't blame him. We know what he went through, what Wencit must have done to him. They won't harm me.**
Richenda glanced over at their daughter, now silent and exhausted in the soldier's grasp, before meeting her husband's eyes again.
**And we don't have any choice.**
**Richenda. . . **
Morgan kneed his mount to move it closer to his wife's, pulling her against him in a desperate embrace. As he drew back from her, he took a silvery object on a chain out from inside his tunic, drawing it over his head.
**Here. . . the spells on this should help protect you. And you should be able to use it to reach me.**
He drew back further still to kiss her hand, sliding his mother's Saint Camber medal into her palm.
Richenda slipped the medal into her belt pouch as she swung down from her horse. She lead her horse over to Derry, squeezing his hand gently as she gave him the reins, though he wouldn't look at her. Then she walked over to her captors, her back straight and her head high.
Morgan yanked savagely on his rein, wheeling his horse around to leave the clearing. His men hastened to follow. He set a breakneck pace for several hours through the falling night and the quickly mounting storm, only stopping at the urging of some of his men, who had appointed Mansard as a reluctant spokesman.
"I know yer Grace is afire to get ta Rhemuth, but it cannae be done t'day,an' iffen we all die in this, yer wife and bairn are sure tae die, too!"
Morgan glared at his man
"I'm not trying to get all the way to Rhemuth. Just to the portal at Dhassa. And I don't recall asking your advice."
His men glanced away and shifted on their horses, but Mansard was bolder than the rest.
By now the storm had worsened beyond even the ability of Deryni senses to penetrate. Morgan looked around the circle of his men; they were all apparently in agreement with Mansard though afraid to argue with their lord Then he spotted Derry, hanging back from the discussion, and still holding the reins to Richenda's mare. Kicking his horse over to him, Morgan yanked the reins away.
"You damned traitor!" he spat. "You owe me your life three times over, and you show your gratitude by betraying her!"
"Mi'lord, I never meant. . . " Derry's voice was small.
"I'm not your lord."
Morgan looked beyond Derry, at the raging blizzard.
"Go to Father Nivard at the cathedral in Dhassa. Tell him to take you to Rhemuth. Tell Kelson what's happened. You owe me that."
Morgan swung off his horse, starting to take his saddlebags off.
"If I ever see you again I'll kill you. And I swear to you, Derry, if either Richenda or Briony comes to any harm - you'll wish you WERE back in Wencit's hands."
Morgan turned his back on his former aide, starting to set uphis own tent with the help of several of his men. His other men dismounted and started making camp in the snow ridden fury; one of them shoved past the young Marcher lord, while several others snorted in disgust. They all ignored Sean Lord Derry as he rode slowly out, disappearing into the storm within a horse length.