Chapter 20 of Uninvited Guests
sat dejectedly in a corner of the inn's common room, his hands clasped
loosely about a nearly empty mug of ale. His normally cheerful eyes were
shadowed and his shoulders slumped. Thus far, he'd remained on the
fringes of the efforts to get the troops to Dhassa and the planning to
rescue the Duchess and Lady Briony-until this morning when he'd gone
down to the docks. He'd held back as Prince Rory greeted Morgan as the
Duke stepped off of the ferry; suddenly unable to face his liege lord as
Morgan's enraged words echoed again in his brain. "I'll kill
you!" He'd trailed along behind the pair, well away from the
men at arms who had once been his to command in Morgan's name, cursing
himself for a coward.
He upended the tankard and drained it dry as memories of the previous night's nightmares replayed through his mind. Fueled by his guilt ridden imagination of what Alekseyevich might be doing to Richenda and Briony, the horrific images burdened his waking hours and he'd turned to drink to blur them. It wasn't working.
Derry sat the tankard on the table beside him and bowed his head in his hands. A familiar voice, one of Morgan's escort, carried across the taproom, sneering and contemptuous as he recounted the ambush. "-And, Lord Derry, a fine vassal he turned out to be-betrayed the Duke the same way he played traitor before-letting that thrice damned bastard take Her Grace and the Lady Briony. Actually BEGGED the Duke not to send him in Her Grace's place. Coward!"
Despite the fact that he'd been calling himself worse in the endless hours since the abduction, Derry went hot with rage, and he gathered himself to stop the soldier's mouth with his fists-then froze in his seat as a hand was placed firmly on his shoulder.
"My Lord Derry." The voice was accented strangely, yet was familiar to him, and the tone was kind. "He isn't worth it. Come with me and we shall discuss a way for you to redeem yourself-if only in your own eyes, but hopefully in all." The Marcher lord looked up into the bronzed face of Lord Azim There was no mental compulsion nor physical force, yet Sean Lord Derry found himself rising and following the Anviller up some stairs to a room off the gallery.
Once the door was closed, Azim quickly explained what had happened in the King's chamber and of the plan. "I need fourteen more good men besides yourself; who won't balk or panic if taken through a transfer portal and who are capable of instant obedience."
Derry's heart rose at the prospect of being able to help, then plummeted. "His Grace won't allow me to come. He said that he'd kill me the next time he saw me-and he meant it."
"Perhaps he did mean it when he said it. All men-and Deryni-say things that they mean sincerely at the moment when they are in the throes of passionate rage. When their cooler natures return, they regret their words, but often do not know how to make amends for them."
Derry sadly shook his head, "If you'd heard him, my lord-" He took a deep breath and then continued, "I will go. As to the other men-" He sat down at the small table in the chamber with the Knight Anviller and helped assemble a list of names in short order, which Azim recorded on a scrap of parchment.
As Derry pushed away from the table, Azim bowed to him. "If you would be so kind as to summon these men to this chamber in one hour's time, I will report our choices to the King." He sketched a sign of blessing too Derry and strode through the door, heading for the room where Kelson and Alaric Morgan waited.
Morgan's agitated pacing carried him back and forth across the apartment while Kelson quietly watched. Duncan and Valentin, his features once more those of Prince Rory to keep the deception secret from outsiders, had gone, at Valentin's request, to speak privately. "I pray to God that we can trust this Renaud-"
"What choice do we have? He's our only link to get to them. Azim was right in that there's no way we can mount an assault on that island. Even in the best weather of summertime it would be difficult with as much chance of failure as success." The king reached for a chunk of bread from the platter of food the innkeeper had delivered to them. As he picked at the crusty morsel, he wondered aloud, "I wonder how Lord Azim knows of him? By reputation? I'm sure that Arilan has never heard of him. Can you imagine what the Council will be doing when they find there's another-apparently trained-Healer out in the world?"
"Unless he's full Deryni, probably nothing." Morgan didn't attempt to hide the bitterness he felt. "Where's the vaunted Council now? This Alekseyevich-Zinovy-is no half-breed. Why aren't they doing anything about him?" The Duke slammed his fist into the wall, cracking the plaster and making Kelson wince.
"Because they've never heard of him. He'd never overtly used his Deryniness in an such an unethical, destructive manner before where the Council's writ runs." Azim's voice preceded him in the door. "As to Renaud, I know of him because one of my knights traveling in West Tralia was approached by his family and asked to assist in finding the missing couple. Until I received that report, my Order had no idea that a family of Healers had survived over these years. If we had known, we would have offered them our protection and this tragic circumstance might not have occurred."
He laid a piece of parchment on the table before the king and continued. "These are the men who will be accompanying us tonight."
Morgan strode over to the table and looked over Kelson's shoulder at the list. His brow furrowed as he read the first name and he glared up at the Anviller. "Lord Derry is NOT coming on this mission. I will not allow it."
Azim met his eyes evenly and quietly said, "He is a good fighter, has experience with transfers and, more importantly, has a need to atone for what he sees as his previous failure. He will not disappoint you, my lord Duke. Other than yourself, there is none who desires the safe return of your ladies more than he."
Kelson remained wisely silent, letting the two strong willed men work it out for themselves. After several long seconds, Morgan threw his hands up in the air and acquiesced. "Just keep him away from me." He walked away from the table to stare out the window once more.
A worried voice came through the high window that connected Prince Rory's cell to Richenda's. "Your Grace? Are you all right?"
Carrying Briony in her arms, Richenda moved to stand below it and called up softly. "Yes, Rory. Renaud has-decommissioned-Alekseyevich for now. We're trying to figure a way out that won't alert the guard."
Rory was silent a moment. "I'll make a fuss over here and get his attention. Then you can sneak up behind him and knock him out."
Renaud looked up from where he was stooping over Alekseyevich's still body. The villain's key ring and knife glittered in the Healer's hands as he pulled them free from the belt. "That's a good idea. Give us just a minute and start making noise."
He handed the blade to Richenda and heaved the body up over his shoulder.
"Why are you bringing him?" Her voice was suddenly cold.
"We might be able to deal with one guard, but not a group of them. He's our insurance to get out of here." He shifted the body to a more comfortable position, and called over to the prince. "Go ahead, your highness. And we'll have you and Crispal free shortly. And Elise too."
Rory began to rattle his chain and started to shout, describing the guard's antecedents in less than favorable terms, bringing a blush to Richenda's cheeks with his wording. A distant expression crossed her face as if she listened to something far way and she abruptly nodded. "He's moved to their door." She took a firmer grip on Briony and pushed the cell door open, letting Renaud step out ahead of her.
Fortunately the hinges were well oiled and didn't alert the soldier who was in the process of unbarring Rory's cell, apparently to force the prince to shut up. He didn't hear Renaud's soft steps and fell in a clatter of weapons and armor, a surprised expression on his face as the Healer touched the back of his neck, just above the collar of his leather brigandine.
"He'll sleep for awhile," he explained to the Duchess as he finished opening the door. He handed her the ring of keys. "I don't want to let this one out of my hands. One of those should fit the ankle cuff."
In short order, first Crispal and then Richenda and Rory appeared through the gaping cell door. Rory had a slight limp, but appeared otherwise healthy. He armed himself courtesy of the sleeping guard and turned toward Renaud. "So now, how do we get out of here?"
"First, we get my wife." Renaud jerked his head down the torchlit corridor and headed toward the pertinent door. "Then we find the transfer portal. And that's going to be hard, because I don't know where it's at."