16 Uninvited Guests
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Looking Northward


By: Dennis

Chapter 16 of Uninvited Guests




  Duke Mahael's gaze remained on the door through which the man calling himself Alekseivitch had departed for a quite a while. His expression was a trifle smug. A very useful man, he thought to himself. Men with grudges were always useful, and although Mahael hadn't figured out why, it was clear that this fellow Alekseivitch hated Kelson of Gwynnedd. And with their plan ready to move into the next stage, soon Mahael would be rid of his rival, his troublesome nephew... and an erstwhile tool that could prove dangerous if left alive.

"Did you want a glass of wine with me or am I interrupting an important bit of gloating?" The voice held a sardonic edge and the handsome face of the man who had just entered held the faintest hint of a sneer.

"Momentarily, Teymuraz," the Duke sighed. "And I was not gloating, as you so baldly put it. I was merely considering the chain of events that our friend Alekseivitch has set in motion."

Teymuraz Furstan d'Arjenol, the third of old Duke Mahael's sons, stood to inherit Arjenol should his brother find himself dead or on the throne of Torenth. In fact, he stood for most things. He claimed that sitting made him uncomfortable, when in fact, he believed that looking down on others made them uncomfortable. Tall and lean, with dark and exotic features totally at variance with his Furstani heritage, Teymuraz placed a crystal goblet on the small table next to his brother's overstuffed chair and returned with his own glass to his customary spot, his back to the wall opposite the duke. An air of dissolute indifference surrounded him, hiding a keen intelligence and a cold ambition to match.

"I don't like this, Mahael."

"We've been over this before, brother. This man will eliminate our rivals, and I will be King of Torenth. Ronal will be your puppet in Gwynnedd, and you will be Duke of Tolan and Arjenol as well. Alekseivitch will be eliminated before he can pose a threat."

The duke sipped contentedly at his wine, having already checked it for poison. This ritual had become something of a game, since each was aware of the other's ambition, but neither wished to lose the excellent company provided by the other. The brothers were far closer to each than to the oldest, that vain fool Lionel, whose death was regarded as the just fate of the terminally stupid, or the youngest, Matayas the Sickeningly Pure, who was as noble and naive as the Haldanes pretended to be.

"I just don't think you know enough about this man, Mahael. He claims to hate the Haldanes, but gives no indication why. And he produces a Healer who can block Deryni talents, a thing unheard of except in legend. I don't understand this man, and I don't like using people I don't understand."

Mahael smiled thinly. "That is where we differ, brother. He is a tool and his function is obvious. Why wait to use a tool just because you don't know where it came from--"

"Netterhaven," the younger man broke in. "He comes from Netterhaven. I finally found that much out. And apparently, he's been to Eistenfalla. Odd for a Torenthi Deryni, wouldn't you say?"

"Hmmm... that is somewhat odd." Mahael paused for another sip of wine and a thought. "Do you think the Northmen may be moving against us? It changes things." He lapsed into thoughtful silence for a moment before something occurred to him and he smiled. A slow evil smile.

"Perhaps it changes things for the better, Teymuraz. Perhaps you will be King of the North before we're through."

The other man thought for a moment before he too smiled.

Alekseivitch returned to his rooms to bask in the warm glow of success before sleeping. He performed his evening ablutions mechanically, thinking all the while how simple it had been to get the Duke to agree to his plan. It never ceased to amaze and delight him that otherwise clever men refused to credit that their servants might be as quick of wit as they. Slipping into his pallet, he pulled the sleeping furs around him and dozed off to pleasant thoughts of turning the tables on the Duke of Arjenol and the power that would be his after that.

Deeply asleep, he wasn't aware of when his dreams began to *turn*. The walls of his sleeping world began to take on shapes not of his own creation, and his consciousness began to *alter*, sleeping mind dancing to the tune of another.

He did not awaken, but found himself conscious in a dark plain. Formless shapes loomed in the distance intimidating for their size and mystery. Black clouds raced in a dark grey sky. And his summoner stood before him, wreathed in silver mists. Not for the Deryni such magics, but neither was this Deryni unmanned.

"What do you wish of me, Njall? All things proceed according to plan, as we agreed months ago." He just barely kept the irritation out of his voice. Better that than the fear, but revealing neither was far preferable.

The mists were designed to hide Njall's features and his heavy accent hid whatever inflection might be read, but Alekseivitch fancied he heard anger in the voice. "Just confirming our agreement, Nikola. You know my reasons for agreeing to help you."

"Who better? I created most of them."

"Indeed you did." Even the accent could not hide the anger now. "You separated me from my wife and son and expect me to trust you when you say you will bring them back to me. I have done your will, so where are they?"

Gazing into the shifting mist, Alekseivitch could imagine the features lurking beneath; the braided silver hair and neat beard covering a strong, jutting chin, and most of all, the piercing blue eyes. He shivered, knowing real fear for a moment as he imagined those eyes cutting to the depths of his soul. His calming voice belied his feeling.

"Patience, Njall. All in good time."

"Patience?! Patience?!" Disconcerting to hear such a roar from the gray fog that was Njall Esstvensson in this place. "I tell you this, Torenthi, on the honor of my longfathers. I will do your bidding, but you will return my family unharmed, or you will beg me for death before Iam done with you."

As he finished, the mist began to flow towards the other man. Alekseivitch began to scream, but the mist surrounded him, choking his breath off, squeezing his neck like strong hands. He gagged and tried to struggle...

...and woke, dawn's light streaming in through the small window and lighting the sweat-soaked pallet. Quickly he ran through calming meditations until he was ready to face the day with no fear. Although he did scream again when he saw his reflection in the looking glass, complete with a livid red scar around his neck, as if someone had tried to choke him in his sleep with their bare hands.

Rory and Richenda had been in quiet consultation through most of the night, discussing the circumstances of their plight, possible escape attempts, and, occssionally, the mysterious boy Crispal. Little new was learned on the first two fronts, but a surprise was forthcoming on the third.

"Eistenfalla? The boy's father is a Northman?" Richenda's whisper was incredulous. Rory nodded, though she couldn't see. "That's what he says. He says he was born in Netterhaven, which is where his parents met."

Now, hours later, Richenda was still puzzled. "A Northman? There's a pattern here that I can't see." Still worrying at it, she finally dropped off to fitful sleep, wondering what part this strange boy would play.



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