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Derry's Wedding



Chapter  4

First Strike

The long, wet day after a night of less than sound sleep had left Derry tired, but he didn't ever recall being so tired that he didn't even realize he was in danger until he woke to feel the hard edge of a sword pressed to his throat, his hair gripped by a powerful hand.

Almost simultaneously, he heard Dacia's cry and a fierce growling voice: "I'll have yer name, man, and I'll know what it is yer doin' in this hut wi' ma daughter!"

"Father! It's Sean! Lord Derry!" Dacia was on her feet now, pulling at her father's shoulder. "Don't hurt him! We did naught but sleep!"

Lord Michael shifted his grip on Derry, who had gone limp when he realized who held him. The Earl of Drumaere got to his feet and hauled Derry up with him. "Sleepin' in a way hut, Dacia? I'll have an answer from ye, Sean O"Flynn. What possessed ye to bring ma daughter to a way hut?" His sword no longer pressed against Derry's neck, but his tone was still far from friendly.

"My Lord Michael I was run in by the rain and hail, and Dacia as well "

"Aye? Daughter?"

"It's so, Father, and a good thing I came along when I did. He was lighting a fire with a bunch of remsatt."

Lord Michael snorted. "Good God, boy! Have ye forgot all I tried to teach ye?"

"I don't know as you ever told me anything about it, m'lord. Anyway, Dacia saved me from it "

"Aye, then. And just what were ye doin', Dacia, out on the mountain alone in the rain?"

"I thought to make St. Genevieve's, Father, as Sean did, too. But the rain was too hard. What are you doing here? It's barely light."

"Raiders in Crieff. Burned a cot and stole five good horses. We lost the trail in the scree. They're bound to be headed for Dimarl Pass, though. Gregory's taken some by Hathnel, and I came across Eldar Dun." He frowned at her and Derry impartially.

"Only to find ma unwed daughter in the way hut with a known rogue like ye, Sean O'Flynn. Get yer sword, man. Ye ride wi' me. Dacia, you go wi' Ethan and one o' the lads. They'll see ye safe home."

"Aye, Father."

Like Derry, she moved automatically to obey her father. Derry for his part hadn't even thought; he had just started buckling on his sword. As he gathered up his saddlebags and cloak, his eyes met hers for a long moment. He had anticipated a long, pleasant ride to Caer Dinan with her that day. He sighed inwardly. He'd come to find out what was happening on the Tolan border; it seemed it was time to go to work.

As the sun rose, Derry followed Lord Michael up a treacherously steep incline, very glad he'd had at least some sleep and wishing he'd had more than the scant breakfast of bread and cheese he'd eaten as they rode. The clearing sky promised a warm day, but the rain had left the trail slick, and it took all his skill as a rider to keep his horse from going down in places. The Eldar Dun was the shortest way to the Dimarl Pass, he knew, but he wondered if it was the fastest under these conditions.

They rode as fast as the trail allowed, and by an hour past sunrise they had reached the final approach to the pass itself. Lord Michael pointed to a stand of pine to the left of the trail. "Amos, ye an' Noel an' Edgar hide yerselves in there. Sean, Tanner, coom wi' me. We'll see if the devils coom for the pass!" He led Derry and the other man into another thicket on the other side and further along the trail, and they turned, swords loose in their scabbards, to watch and listen.

The older man kneed his horse close beside Derry's and spoke softly. "Weel, lad I'm sorry for the greetin' ye got," he said. "But I didn't know 'twas ye in there wi' Dacia. Saw her mare, o' course. Didn't know yer own horse. Not a bad bit o' horseflesh, that."

"He's champion, m'lord. I'm glad you decided to give me a chance to explain myself. I can't think why I was so deep asleep I never even heard you before you had me by the hair and neck."

The older man chuckled. "Likely that empty wineskin o' yers. That and the remsatt together."

"Aye, well " he stopped as the older man raised his hand, and he heard it too the sound of horses moving as fast as the rough terrain would allow. Drawing his sword, he moved forward with Lord Michael and the other man to the edge of the thicket. The sounds of the approaching riders grew louder, and then he saw them and felt the adrenalin hit his bloodstream.

There were more than a dozen men in the band, well armed and riding warily for all their speed. He shot Lord Michael a glance and received a grim nod in return. The older man sat quiet but tense until the band was past the first thicket where his other men waited, then spurred his horse into the open.

"Stand!" the earl roared. "Ye've violated ma borders, ye bla'guards! Ye'll go no further!"

It was a hot and nasty little skirmish. The leader spurred his horse toward Lord Michael, but Derry couldn't see what was happening to anyone else, for he had trouble enough of his own. Three of the raiders made straight for him, and it took all his attention to keep them at bay. Lord Michael's patrol was badly outnumbered more than two to one and despite their occupation as border raiders, these louts fought like trained soldiers. Derry parried a sword thrust from one of them on his right, raised his shield against a second on his left, then dodged from the third coming in on his flank. The rest of Lord Michael's patrol was similarly engaged.

Derry heard a horse scream and a man yell in pain, but he was too busy to know why. A lucky blow he knew it was luck left one of his opponents without the use of his sword arm for a few minutes, and that gave Derry time to drive toward the most dangerous of the three attacking him, a huge man in chain mail. The two exchanged blows, and a ribbon of fire shot across Derry's left shoulder as his enemy's sword touched him. Grimly, he clenched his teeth against the pain and wheeled his horse to meet the next blow.

A shout from Lord Michael was suddenly answered by another from the trail below, and even over the noise of the fight, Derry could hear more riders approaching quickly. The raiders heard them, too, and they abandoned their fight in a headlong run for the pass ahead of the reinforcements. Derry would have ridden after them, but Lord Michael caught his reins.

"Nay, let 'em go, Sean. Ye're hurt, an' so's Noel there. We'd ne'er catch 'em, that's sure. Through the pass is Tolan and God knows what else. Here, man! Get down off yer horse. Ye're bleedin' like a pig."

"I'll live, m'lord," Derry said, but he dismounted while the older man held his horse. "It's not deep, just bloody."

I'll have a look," the earl insisted. Another of the men had also been assisted from his horse and was lying on the ground now, moaning as another bent to see to a wound in his thigh. Derry sat as directed on a boulder and began to remove his shirt while Lord Michael dug supplies out of his own saddlebag. He was already bending over Derry's shoulder when Gregory's patrol arrived. Derry knew his friend's voice as he heard the other dismounting behind him.

"Sorry, Father," Gregory apologized. "The rain washed out half a mile of the trail above Hathnel. We had to go the long way about."

"Aye, weel ye came fast as ye could, then. Look who turned up just in time to get hi'self sliced."

"Hullo, Gregory," Derry grimaced as Lord Michael began cleaning the cut on his shoulder with something wet and cold that stung like new fire.

"Sean! Good God, where'd you spring from? What a time to choose for a long overdue visit! I've only been inviting you for eight years or so! Is it bad, Father?"

"Nay, he'll live. Hold still, Sean. Let me bandage it up."

Derry was a little startled by Gregory's obvious surprise at seeing him, but not entirely so. Lord Michael obviously had not told even his son and heir he had sent to the king and requested Derry's presence to see the situation on the border. That, he figured. was just like the old man. He had always kept his own counsel. He didn't know why Lord Michael hadn't told Gregory, but he could only assume there was a good reason, and as he was there in answer to the earl's summons, he had no choice but to play his game. He nodded at Gregory in reply to the other's question.

"Well, don't you think it's time I finally accepted one of your invitations?"

"I do! Where did you find him, Father? Surely not in the pass?"

"Nay," Lord Michael said as he began to wind a bandage around Derry's shoulder. "I found him i' the way hut on Eldar Dun wi" yer sister Dacia."

There was no amusement in his tone, Derry noted. Gregory's eyes widened in alarm, then narrowed as he gave Derry a hard look.

"Don't look at me like that, Gregory. Do you take me for a complete fool?" Derry protested, wincing as Lord Michael pulled the bandage tight and tied it off. "We both got run in by the rain and hail just before dark. We ate supper and went to sleep."

"Is that all?"


"You're lying," Gregory said flatly. " I know you better. You've never been alone with a girl you didn't at least try to kiss, Sean."

Lord Michael gave his son a glance and turned a cold look on Derry. "Is that so?" His eyebrow arched, and Derry recalled with a pang that Lord Michael had always read him like a book. Even if he could have fooled Gregory, he wouldn't dare try with Lord Michael. He gave his friend a sour book before he admitted, "All right. I kissed her. She did save my life."

"Lit hi'self a fire wi' remsatt," Lord Michael said before Gregory could ask. "Damned fool thing to do, Sean." He paused for a beat. "So ye kissed her."

"I did, m'lord. You must know she's beautiful–"

"Aye, and I know your reputation as well. Is that why you're here, then? Lucas came back from Eastmarch two days ago an' said he heard a tale ye got sent from court for some such thing."

Derry hadn't counted on his cover story reaching Lord Michael before he did himself, but he hadn't left Rhemuth immediately. To give the story credence, he had spent a couple of days encountering hard stares and pointed avoidances from several ladies and dodging down corridors and alleyways to avoid their irate male relatives. He'd also had to detour through his home demesne at Derry to deliver some deeds and other documents to his sister, who managed the estates there for him. It was clear the story had beat him to Caer Dinan, and he wondered if Lord Michael knew it was only a cover. His heart sank as the Earl of Drumaere went on.

"He said the king an' Morgan both suggested ye get as far from Rhemuth an' Coroth as ye could until the furor died down."


"Is that true, Sean? What did you do?" Gregory asked.

Derry caught Lord Michael's warning look and answered with a shrug.

"It was a misunderstanding, Gregory. I was drunk–"

"A drunk, as well as a libertine," Lord Michael sighed. "Weel, I'll not turn you out, nor o'er to any outraged fathers, Sean. But ye stay away from Dacia, or I'll carve yer tripes out." He put his medical kit back in his saddlebag. "We've done all we can here this day. Let's go home."



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