18 Uninvited Guests
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Shifting Shadows


By: Susan

Chapter 18 of Uninvited Guests  




"So what do we do now?" Rebecca repeated, ashen-faced. Valentin sighed heavily and studied the floor, mentally tracing the intricate designs in the tiled floor. "We do what we must," he whispered.

"Meaning what, exactly?" Rebecca reached out and placed a trembling hand on his shoulder.

"I must go to King Kelson and his friends and tell them the truth." Valentin's words echoed hollowly in the small chamber.

"Oh, God, no!" Rebecca shuddered. "They'll kill you, Val."

"Maybe not." He tried to sound hopeful. "I possess information they need, about Alekseyevitch and his tactics, if not his location. And I'm sure they'd like to know more about the shape-change spell. If I swear allegiance and explain why I've done as I have, they might accept my help." 

Rebecca shook her head. "If they don't kill you, either Alekseyevich or the Master will. Sooner or later, someone will uncover our secrets. This dangerous game can't go forever."

"I won't betray you or Crispal."  Valentin lifted her chin and met her tear-filled eyes. "But I _will_ tell them I acted to protect an innocent child and the woman I love. Alaric Morgan will understand that, at least." He managed a small smile. "Besides, Morgan wants his wife and daughter rescued. I might be able to help him there."

"How much do you think Renaud told them about us?" Rebecca brushed away a tear with one hand while the other clutched Valentin's shoulder as though she feared he would disappear at any second.

"Renaud doesn't know that much about us *to* tell. He refused to help with the shape-change, so he's never merged minds with me." Valentin pulled Rebecca closer. "And he's Alekseyevich's prisoner too. He wants to escape as much as we do."

Rebecca nodded. "Logically, I know you're right and that your plan is sound." She gulped. "But I'm so afraid, Val!" 

Valentin gathered Rebecca up in his arms and kissed her deeply. Slowly he released her. "I'm scared too, Becca. More so than I can put into words. But I know what I must do."

 Rebecca swallowed hard and glanced away, unable to meet his pain-filled eyes. "If anything happens to me, Becca--" "Don't think that way!"

"We must consider all the possibilities." Valentin didn't want to consider that alternative either, but he knew he dared not overlook anything. "If I-- " The word "die" stuck in his throat. "If I fail in my mission, I want you to go back to your father. Beg for his help if necessary. He may hate me, but certainly he cares about his grandson."

"My father? No, Val. I can't! You know that. And you know why." Rebecca shook her auburn curls vehemently. "I'll continue our mission. No matter what." At his stunned look, she added, "I have a few other resources, too. And I won't hesitate to use them if it becomes necessary."

Valentin nodded, wondering what she meant by that cryptic statement. But he had no time to pursue the matter. "I must go now, before Kelson's men find and arrest me."

Rebecca nodded and swallowed hard. Valentin bent and kissed her a final time before changing back into Rory. "Be careful," Rebecca whispered. Valentin nodded, managed a wan smile, and strode out of the hideaway, back rigid with determination.

Rebecca stood staring after him for some minutes, trying to collect herself. Would Valentin still consider Crispal an innocent if he knew who his real father was? She believed her would. Crispal could not help his heritage and Valentin had always adored the boy. *But I should have known better,* Rebecca thought to herself. *If I had never gotten involved with Zinovy in Netterhaven, we might still be living safely in Eistenfalla. Valentin and I might have married by now. Although Anderik might still be alive.* She wondered again if Zinovy had murdered her husband and the man the world believed had fathered Crispal, just as she feared he would kill Valentin if he knew the extent of their relationship. But would he harm his own son? He would certainly keep Crispal from her, Rebecca reflected, again wondering what she had ever seen in the handsome young Northerner. She supposed that youthful naiveté had colored her perceptions. Much as she hated to admit it, her father had been right about Zinovy. But forcing her into marriage with Anderik had not destroyed their love. Zinovy had managed that all by himself. But perhaps, if necessary, she could remind Alekseyevich of their time together and tell him the truth. But would the Master then use the boy to force Alekseyevich's cooperation, hoisting Alekseyevich on his own petard?

"Where the Hell has he gone?" Kelson stared angrily at the corner where Rory had been sitting. "We'll have to send some guards out after him." 

Morgan shook his head. "I think not. If he has the ability to change identities, he's likely already shifted into another persona. He obviously caught some of our conversation with the Healer and fled." 

Kelson glared at him. "Which means this traitor is somewhere in my entourage and have no idea how to find him?" 

"Surely we can track him down somehow," Dhugal interjected, crossing to the window and staring out across the fields.

"I don't know about that." Duncan moved to stand beside his son. "I don't know much about this shape-change spell, but the one person I ever met who used it managed to live another man's life for six years. I don't think there are any clues to the user's identity or the fact that he's using this spell." 

Morgan nodded. "Coram successfully masqueraded as Rhydon for years. He also appeared to us as Camber more than once." He glanced down at his hands, aware that they had raised a spectre all preferred to leave sleeping. "But we don't know how he did it or where he learned the spell. I've never heard of anyone else using it. But then I don't suppose we'd know, would we?" 

"Sweet Jesu, that's a scary thought!" Kelson twisted his fingers around the hilt of his sword. "You're suggesting half my court could be traitors disguised as my loyal retainers."

"I doubt that." Duncan crossed the room and laid a hand on Kelson's shoulder. "I had the impression the shape-change is rather difficult. I doubt that very many trained Deryni exist who would have the ability or knowledge to attempt that sort of thing."

"But we both know of several who might." Morgan ran an absent hand through his tousled golden hair. 

"Surely you don't think the Camberian Council is behind Richenda and Briony's capture?" Duncan sounded incredulous.

"I --" Morgan sighed. "I don't think so. Not the Council has a whole anyway. But maybe a renegade member, in an act of defiance like Tiercel de Claron training Conall. Or someone else one of them trained. The Council has never liked me very much."

"I can't believe they'd sanction taking hostages though." Kelson grimaced. "I suppose we'll have to talk to Arilan about this, though. Unless we manage to find Rory...or whoever he really is."

"Perhaps--" Duncan began, but a knock on the heavy wooden portal interrupted him.

"Who is it?" Kelson demanded. "I left orders that we were not to be disturbed."

"I think you'll want to see me." The door opened and Rory entered. For a long moment no one spoke. Morgan glanced at Kelson, but the King continued staring at the man impersonating his cousin. Finally, Morgan spoke. "Who are you?"

Rory's face turned ashen, but he sounded calm. "You know that I'm not Rory. I want you to understand that I had few choices. And I've hurt no one." He met Morgan's eyes. "I had nothing to do with your wife and daughter's capture. I swear it."

"Show us who you are." Kelson's voice took on a brittle edge. The man's image blurred suddenly, then settled into place. A tall, dark-haired man and angular features stood before them. Sapphire eyes blazed in his pale face. "My name is Valentin," he said. "And I've done what was necessary to protect the woman I love and her son. I never had any malice toward you, Your Highness, or any of the rest of you."

Alaric arched a brow. "You expect us to believe someone forced you to impersonate a royal prince? Where is Rory anyway? Is he --?" 

"Alive and probably held captive with your wife and child." Valentin took a deep breath. "As far as I know that is. I've been in Rhemuth for some weeks, so I can't say what may have happened since then."

 "I suppose you're the spy in the court Alekseyevich referred to when he took Richenda and Briony? Or are there others?" Alaric glared at Valentin. "I assume he meant me. I don't know of any others. I'm sure no others are using the shape-change spell."

"Why? Is the spell that difficult?" Kelson asked.

Valentin nodded. "It takes a great deal of energy and can prove quite exhausting. And you have to integrate the memories of the person you're impersonating, if you're to succeed."

"And just what would have constituted success? Killing us all and handing Alekseyevich the Gwyneddan crown?" Dhugal took a menacing step toward Valentin.

"I'm not sure what Alekseyevich's plan entails. But if he wanted me to slit all your throats while you slept I'm sure I could have accomplished that long ago."  Valentin glanced around at the stunned looks. "I said could not would.   I wouldn't have done that, even had they asked that of me. All I've done is observed and reported." 

"Plenty to consitute treachery and warrant a traitor's death," Kelson muttered.

Valentin nodded and sank to his knees before Kelson. "You have every right to have me hanged, drawn, and quartered, my Lord." His eyes beseeched the King's. "However, I think I might prove more valuable to you alive. You want to rescue the Duchess and her daughter, and I want to rescue my lady's son. Alekseyevich doesn't know that Renaud contacted you, but he will figure it out very quickly if I don't contact him on schedule. And then Renaud will die too, and perhaps..." He trailed off, letting the noblemen draw their own conclusions.

Morgan's face remained stern as he reached out to Kelson with his mind. *Kelson, he said he must contact Alekseyevich. Perhaps we can use him to get to Richenda and Briony.*

*But can we trust him?* Kelson sent back while studying Valentin's earnest face.

*Can we afford not to trust him? He has told the truth so far.* Morgan knew this decision lay in Kelson's hands, yet he longed to use anyone and anything who might help him rescue Richenda and Briony. He dared not think long about either of them or might lose his composure. Silent moments passed and Morgan knew Kelson had mentally asked Dhugal and Duncan's opinions.

Finally Kelson spoke aloud. "Valentin, if that really is your name. I would like to believe you could help us. But I need to do more than Truthread you before I accept your offer. Will you let me probe you deeply?" Valentin nodded and Kelson placed his hands on the young man's head. After a few moments, he motioned for Morgan, Duncan, and Dhugal to join him. *He's suffered much and he truly loves this woman and her son. He's afraid of Alekseyevich, apparently with good reason.*

Morgan nodded grimly; his mental probe confirmed that Valentin had not assisted in the kidnapping and had definite resentments toward Alekseyevich and powerful, mysterious other force.

"Very well," Kelson said after they had withdrawn from Valentin's mind. "You will continue your charade, except that now you will work for us and tell Alekseyevich what we want him to know. Is that clear?"

Valentin nodded. "Thank you, Your Highness. I promise to serve you well." 

"One more thing." Kelson met the fiery blue eyes squarely. "We encountered a shadowy, powerful other force in your mind. Who or what is that?"



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