Sean Lord Derry groaned as motion like an
earthquake shook him. A voice like the angel of doom assailed his
"My lord? Lord Derry? Wake up, my lord!"
Derry pried his eyes open and immediately wished he had not. Light
stabbed them like hot needles. Groaning again, he flung one arm across
them to stop the sensation.
"My lord, are you awake?"
The voice again insisted, and he realized it was no angel's
summons, but the boyish voice of Brendan, Lord Marley. The blaze of
red he had seen in the brief instant his eyes were open was the
crimson livery Brendan wore to denote his service in the royal
"You must get up, my lord. The king wants you," Brendan
Without lifting his arm from his eyes, Derry croaked,
"Brendan, tell the king I'm dying. Send for Bishop McLain to ease
me into heaven."
"You're not going to die, my lord. You're only a little
incapacitated from all that Vezaire port you drank last night. Don't
"I don't remember anything, Brendan. If you won't send for
Father Duncan, please go away and let me die in peace."
"I'm sorry, my lord, but the king was most emphatic. He wants
There was noise like a waterfall, then chains clanking. An arm slid
under his shoulders and levered him more or less upright. A cup was
pressed into his trembling hands.
"Bishop McLain said for you to drink this. You'll feel better
Derry doubted that, but he drank anyway. He recognized the taste of
Father Duncan's favorite hangover remedy, having sampled it before
under similar circumstances. He groaned again, but he was at least
"Why does the king want me, Brendan?"
"He didn't say, my lord, only to come fetch you. Are you
"That is a relative term, my boy. Being better doesn't
necessarily mean I am good.. I expect I'll live, after all–much as I
might regret it for the next few hours. See if you can find me some
clothes that look a bit better than these, will you?"
The boy grinned and moved to rummage in the wardrobe while Derry
staggered to the necessary. By the time the Marcher lord came back,
looking at least a little less haggard, he found clean clothes laid
out on the bed and accepted the boy's help in changing into them. His
head throbbed with every slight movement, but at least he felt almost
human once he was dressed in clothes he hadn't slept in.
Brendan had even done a quick clean-up on his boots and knelt to
help Derry put them on. He grinned up at this man whom he had always
"Did you have a nice birthday, my lord?"
"I'm not sure. The details are rather hazy."
"Lord Dhugal said you had a grand time, though. You were
dancing with everyone. And singing."
"Lord Dhugal has a strange idea of fun. Have you heard me
"Yes, my lord," the boy laughed. "I doubt you'd ever
have made a minstrel. It's a good thing you were born an earl's son
The boy's eyes sparkled in fun.
"There, my lord. Are you ready now?"
"I am. Let's go see why the king has called me from my
Kelson Haldane was at ease on this bright morning in late March.
The unpredictable weather of March had, in this year after Kelson's
marriage, decided to bring an early spring to the plains of Gwynedd.
The day was so warm already that the fire on the hearth of Kelson's
private study wasn't really needed. The king lounged in a comfortable
chair, talking with his closest companions: Dhugal MacArdry McLain,
Duke of Cassan and Earl of Kierney and Transha; Alaric Morgan, Duke of
Corwyn and King's Champion; and Bishop Duncan McLain. All four men
looked up as a knock sounded and the boy Brendan entered.
"Lord Derry, Sire," the boy announced, and bowed his way
out as Derry entered.
Derry ignored the amused looks of the king and his companions,
aware that his hangover was evident to them even without the use of
their Deryni senses.
"Sire," he bowed. "My lords."
"Sit down, Derry," Kelson said, waving him to an empty
chair. "Feeling better?"
"Feeling is not better, today, Sire." He took the empty
chair, sitting gingerly.
"I see. Have some ale?"
Derry closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "Ah–no, thank you,
Sire. I think I will skip the ale. Water, perhaps?"
Trying hard not to laugh, Dhugal poured water into a crystal goblet
and passed it to Derry. Derry accepted it and drank carefully.
"Derry, tell me about Lord Michael McKelvey," Kelson
said, serious now.
Derry was surprised at the request. "What would you like to
"I really don't know the Earl of Drumaere at all, Derry,
beyond his reputation for being a fine swordsman and a good fighter.
It's a small earldom, and a long way from Rhemuth, buried deep in the
Rheljans like it is. I only remember Sir Gregory, his son, a little, I
know he was here for some years, but I had little contact with him as
a boy, and he returned home right after my coronation. So I want to
know more before I act on this information."
He picked up a parchment from the table beside his chair and handed
it to Derry, who glanced over it quickly.
"Lord Michael thinks you need to watch the borders with Tolan?"
"Well, I'd say he'd know if anyone would. His border with
Tolan isn't that long, but he knows them as well as any man alive.
He's never trusted the Tolanese, so he watches the border like a
"Alaric says you spent some time in Drumaere as a boy."
"Aye, Sire. Lord Michael and my father were friends. I spent
part of each year for five years there, from the time I was about
twelve until the year before I was knighted. Lord Michael was almost
like a father to me."
"He suggested you come as my representative, you see. And he
wants some cover story so the locals won't be suspicious enough to tip
the Tolanese. That's why you, because you were a boy there, and they
know you. But he suggested it needs to be one that's told widely
enough that those locals with outside contacts could confirm it."
"That makes sense, Sire. The people up there are loyal to Lord
Michael, but they're suspicious of strangers. And especially
"What sort of cover story would work, Derry?"
"Well, I could go to recommend someone for training with him;
he only takes a few boys at a time, you know, but he's very, very
"That would hardly require a long visit. He says he wants you
there for the summer, at least."
"I suppose I could have a row with my Lord Morgan?" Derry
glanced at him.
"No," Morgan objected. "Too many people know about
the last one, Derry. They heard me swear I'd never distrust you
The look that passed between them was full of emotion, for that
incident had been one of the worst times either of them had ever
suffered through. The weeks of their estrangement had nearly killed
Derry, and the events leading to their reconciliation had almost cost
both of them their lives.
Derry nodded in acceptance and gratitude. "Aye, that's
"I have an idea," Dhugal suggested with a grin.
"Let's hear it,. Kelson turned to his foster brother.
"We can use his birthday party as a reason," Dhugal
grinned, eyes bright.
"How, son?" asked Bishop McLain.
"Derry, do you remember all the things you said last
Derry shook his head. "I don't remember anything I said or did
"Then if certain rumors began to circulate, that you had made
remarks about certain ladies of the court, here and in Coroth–"
Dhugal suggested. "You could hardly deny them, could you?"
The others began to laugh, and even Derry grinned, a bit ruefully.
"It would work, I expect. Just don't make them all hate me,
Lord Dhugal. I want to be able to come back eventually, you
"You can rely on me, my lord," Dhugal grinned.
"Do avoid mentioning any married ladies, Dhugal," the
king said. "We don't want a pack of angry husbands out for his