The ride to Caer Dinan was unremarkable
except that during the two brief stops they made to rest and water the
horses and eat what passed for a noon meal, Derry got the
uncomfortable feeling that Lord Michael was watching him with stern
disapproval. He could feel the unnerving green eyes of the lean, fit
earl boring holes between his shoulder blades and shivered slightly.
"What's wrong, Sean?" Gregory
asked at that point.
"Your father's staring daggers at
me, Gregory. I'm feeling unsure of my welcome, I guess."
Gregory glanced briefly in his father's
direction, then spoke quietly.
"Never doubt you're welcome, Sean.
But don't cross him where Dacia's concerned."
"Gregory, you know I'd never hurt
"Not on purpose, Sean. But you
watch yourself, and I mean it. If anything's changed over the years,
it's that he's got stricter than he was–especially with the
"Because of Helena?"
Gregory gave him a sharp look.
"Dacia told you? Aye, so you watch
yourself, my friend."
It was mid-afternoon when they finally
reached Caer Dinan, the walled town that lay at the foot of the causeway
leading to the keep, an ancient mountain fortress held for at least the past
three centuries by one branch or another of the extensive Clan McKelvey.
Derry had learned much of its history as a boy, and he had explored its
ancient (and more modern) haunts from the battlements atop the tower to the
lowest tavern in the town. The battlements had been a duty post; the tavern
had earned him a week's worth of extra night duty on top of them when Lord
Michael found out about his excursion to the gaming room of the little
establishment. In any case, he was more than glad to get down off his horse
and collect his gear. Gregory led him up the newel stair to a finely
appointed room that even had a bathing chamber and a necessary.
"No dormitory?" Derry smiled.
"The way your father's been looking at me, I expected to be turned over
to the guard captain or the student master, at the very least, for proper
"Ah, Sean–he's not that stern. He's
treating you the same he would me or any of my brothers if he'd caught us in
a way hut with a girl. He'll forgive you. He's just reminding you to mind
"Well, it's working. God, I'm tired, and
I ache all over."
"You lost a good bit of blood from that
cut." Gregory sounded concerned. "I think Mother will need to look
at it, Sean. You'd better have a good stiff drink of whiskey to ease the
"That doesn't sound like a bad
idea," Derry agreed.
Gregory left and returned in a few minutes
with a bottle and a cup. "Here, solace yourself, Sean. I'll send
Derry poured a cup of the amber liquid. He'd
sampled it years ago, but he generally drank wine; whiskey wasn't that
widely available outside the Rheljans, and it had a kick to it. But right
now he was tired and sore, and he didn't really care. He sipped at the stuff
while he removed his boots and then his tunic and shirt. He was
uncomfortably aware that the bandaging had not stopped all the bleeding, and
he was contemplating his stained tunic and shirt morosely when the door
opened behind him. He turned, expecting Lady Gwyneth, but was surprised to
see Dacia instead, carrying a bag of supplies and followed by a servant he
remembered as a much younger man. He smiled at her.
"So you made it safe home."
"I did. Safer than you, it appears. Sit
down here by the table, Sean."
She indicated a stool. He sat while she laid
out supplies and Morris filled a basin with water from a boiler by the fire.
"Best give him another shot of that
whiskey, Morris," Dacia said. "This bandage has bled through. I
expect I'll need to stitch him up. I'll have to go get a needle and some
Morris poured another shot into the cup and
handed it to Derry.
"Drink it fast, m'lord. So it'll hit yer
blood and dull the pain when she starts sewing ye up"
Derry nodded and tossed off the drink,
coughing a little. "Strong stuff," he managed after a minute.
"Aye. Best take another, though. This is
from the best still in the mountains, m'lord. Ye won't find a finer bottle
He poured more of the stuff, and Derry drank
this one down a bit more easily. His throat felt a little numb, so it didn't
bother him as much as the other had. He held out the cup, and Morris poured
again. By the time Dacia returned, he was not really feeling any pain
anywhere, but when she stripped off the blood-soaked bandage, he hissed in
"Have a care, Dacia! That hurt!"
"Wait ‘til I start washing it up if
you think that smarted," she said, and did.
She was right. Even through the haze of the
whiskey, he felt the cleaning. The whiskey had affected him, though. It had
destroyed what stoicism he possessed about pain.
"You're torturing me, Dacia. Where's
your mother? She wouldn't abuse me!"
"For a fighting man, Sean Derry, you're
being a big baby. I'm not hurting you. Mother's tending to Noel, of course,
for he's injured a great deal worse than you are. Hold still, now. Morris,
give him another shot of that whiskey and then hold him still so I can sew
Derry heaved a great sigh and drank the
whiskey. He really wasn't in that much pain. He felt something cold on his
shoulder, recognized the scent of something he'd seen physicians use. But
his eyes were giving him trouble; he was seeing double. He closed them
briefly and found he wasn't inclined to open them again.
"Don't let him fall off the stool,
Morris, while I finish these stitches. Ach! His head will likely ache worse
than his shoulder tomorrow," he heard Dacia say.
"Aye, likely so, m'lady. He don't seem
to have much head for liquor."
He wanted to protest, but it was too much
effort. He didn't feet the needle stab him at all. In fact, he didn't feel
anything. Feeling returned with a vengeance. His shoulder ached slightly,
pulling tight where the stitches held the edges of the cut together. That
was just slightly uncomfortable. But the anvil blows in his head were
indescribable. He gave the far-too-cheerful Gregory a baleful glare once he
decided it really was Gregory and not a grinning demon come to beat on his
head from the outside as well as the inside.
"What in the name of God is in that
stuff?" he managed to whisper.
"Don't be blasphemous, young man,"
Gregory said, in perfect imitation of his
father's oft-repeated reprimand during their youth. His laughter was far too
"I may never move again."
"You'd better. Father wants you up, and
if you don't manage it on your own, he'll come haul you out himself. You'll
feel the better for a bath and a shave."
"Only if I drown or the barber cuts my
throat," Derry muttered, but he let Gregory assist him to a sitting and
finally a standing position.
"This is your fault, Gregory, and that
diabolical sister of yours, and that devil Morris. They poured it down
"Now, Sean. What a thing to say of a
lady. Come on. Morris has your bath ready."
Derry gave him a dark look.
"What's he going to do to me this time,
pour boiling water over me? The man's a fiend."
"He's a good servant. Here he is,
Morris. Clean him up before Father sees him."
"I will, Sir Gregory. Ye can count on
Derry allowed Morris to help him into a tub
of blessedly warm water, but he viewed the cup the man handed him with wary,
"More poison?" he asked.
"Nay, it'll ease yer head m'lord. Lady
Dacia sent it."
Derry took the cup and sniffed. It didn't
smell like poison, but then, neither had the whiskey. He decided he might as
well drink it. There was no way he could possibly feel worse. He'd had a few
hangovers in his day, but this one was probably the worst he'd ever have. He
might even give up drinking altogether after this. He gulped the stuff down.
It tasted awful, but he didn't much care. He had to face Lord Michael and
wasn't looking forward to it in his present state. This day was off to
almost as good a start as the previous one, when he'd woken up with a sword
against his neck. He sighed gustily. It looked like he was in for a long