He did feel better after a bath, but Derry
was nowhere near ready for Lord Michael';s booming voice nor his offer
of food. He got both, however, when he found the Earl of Drumaere
eating heartily in the hall.
His volume was calculated for the
parade ground, not the hall, and certainly not for Derry's aching
"How's the shoulder? Keevan, lad,
bring Lord Derry some food. We've blood sausages today. Ye used to
Derry went pale at the very idea.
"Oh, no. Please, my lord," he
groaned. "I couldn't."
Lord Michael's eyebrow quirked in
"Nay, I suppose ye couldn't, at
that. Bring Lord Derry some porridge, Keevan. Not too much honey in
it, mind. Ye must eat summat, Sean. We're goin' to Craeburn."
‘To Craeburn? Today? Bur why?"
"I need to see Ellis," Lord
Michael shrugged," and I want to talk to ye. Alone."
Derry looked up at the last, quietly
"More alone than the study?"
"Aye. E'en so. Eat up now,"
he continued as Keevan placed a dish of porridge in front of Derry.
"Yer stomach'll stay put, if ye took that dose of Dacia's. Tasted
like sewer scrapin's?"
"Is that what it was? It was
"Something she learnt from one o'
the sisters at St. Genevieve's, though why nuns need to cure hangovers
I don't know and refuse to ask. It does work, though. Eases the head
and settles the stomach, so ye can eat and ride. Craeburn's a good
Craeburn was that, all right, a good
three hours from Caer Dinan. There had been blood feuds between the
two ancient fortresses for generations, until a Grant lord had married
his daughter to a McKelvey heir and sworn fealty to the Earl of
Drumaere. Now there were bonds of marriage and military alliance
stretching back several generations. Colin Grant, a few months Derry's
junior, had trained with him at Caer Dinan in their youth, and the two
had stayed close friends, for Colin had served under Brion for several
years, then under Morgan in Coroth until his aging father had called
him home two years ago, to take over the majority of the work at
Craeburn. As a boy, Derry had often ridden to Craeburn for a night or
two with his friend, but never with a massive hangover. The trails
were rough, to say the least, in some places.
"How is Lord Ellis?" he asked
now, giving the Grant patriarch the courtesy title. Technically, as
Baron Craeburn, he was only Sir Ellis, but locally he the Craeburn
leader was always called "lord."
"Ellis is old, Sean. He'd not have
sent for Colin if he'd felt up to handlin' things himself. But he's
still a power in his own right, so I want to let him know what I've
learned and'what I plan to do. I'll need Colin here, an' he has to
know that." Lord Michael stood up. "I'm done eatin'. Finish
yerself, but don't rush. I've a few things to see to. I'll meet ye in
He signalled to Keevan and strode from
the hall. Derry finished his porridge, though he wasn't all that fond
of it. He know he'd be hungry before he got to Craeburn if he didn't
eat now. When he had done, he returned to his room to put on his
spurs, sword, and cloak. He also tucked Kelson's letter into his
tunic, then went out into the passageway, pulling on his gloves. He
almost bumped into Dacia, also dressed for riding.
"Well, good morning," he
smiled. "Are you going to Craeburn as well?"
The prospect of the long ride suddenly
"Nay, to Lambert Hall, with
Mother. Why are you going to Craeburn?"
"Your father's idea. He wants to
see Lord Ellis, and he's taking me along for the pleasure of my
company or the torment of my head; I'm not sure which. Dacia, you are
a wicked woman, having Morris ply me with that whiskey so. I've never
had a hangover to match this one."
"Did you not take the cure?"
"The sewer scrapings? Aye. My head
still aches, and now I have to ride to Craeburn as well."
"You are such a baby, Sean,"
she was laughing at him as they reached the stables.
"This is no baby," Lady
Gwyneth corrected, smiling as he bowed to her. "It's so good to
see you, Sean. But we must go, Dacia. Ethan's waiting for us
"Aye, Mother. Good-bye, Sean. Have
a good ride; it'll clear your head. Try not to let him get sliced up
again if you can help it, father. He doesn't take well to the
"I surely hope he won't need
slicing up today, daughter. Come on, Sean. We'll ride down to the
gates wi' the ladies."
Half an hour later, Derry did feel
better. The first part of the trip to Craeburn was over a good stretch
of road along the northern side of the lake, and he and Lord Michael
had kicked their horses into a brisk canter. The fresh air had cleared
his head, and as they slowed to turn onto the trail that climbed away
from the lake, he decided that he felt reasonably well. Lord Michael
seemed to read his mind.
"Nothin' like fresh air for a bad
hangover, lad. Let's talk."
"Aye, m'lord. I'm yours to
He fished Kelson's letter out and
handed it to the older man.
"That's what this says, more or
"Aye? Does it also say how much of
the tale Lucas heard is true?"
"Well, no," Derry admitted.
"Depending on what he heard, some may be."
"He heard you were dragged before
the Privy Council and given a royal dressin' down. True?"
"That part is true. It was to make
it seem credible that I should need to lurk in the mountains for the
summer, as you requested. My lord Morgan also ordered me to stay out
of Coroth until he could soothe the ruffled feathers there."
"What really happened?" Lord
"Well, it just chanced your letter
arrived the day after my birthday. I got a little drunk–"
"Well, a lot. I couldn't tell you
what I said if you had your sword to my throat, m'lord. So Lord Dhugal
spread a few rumors of what I'd said, which I couldn't deny–"
"Aye. And the irate fathers were
"And brothers and uncles and
cousins. I really hoped to beat the rumors here, but I had to stop in
"So ye got publically ordered out
o' Rhemuth and Coroth. And privately?"
"I have the king's leave and my
lord Morgan's to stay as long as you need or want me, m'lord."
"Weel, I'm glad o' that. I've
learned a good bit more since I sent for ye. I had suspicions then;
now I have facts. There's eyes and ears to be bought on both sides o'
the border, y'know. I wanted ye here wi' some reason not to do wi'
Tolan for the sake o' those Tolan's bought on this side. First thing
ye'll need to do, Sean, is write the king what else I've learned. Yer
letter will carry more weight in council than ma own. I'm seldom at
court, and most o' the council don't know me. They do know ye, even if
they think ye a randy lout just now."
"Just what have you learned,
"Aye, weel–ye saw yesterday, did
ye not? Tell me, Lord Derry. Common bandits?"
"No," Derry answered without
hesitation. "Soldiers, well armed, well trained." "Aye.
And they raid after two things. Food and horses. What does that
"Someone's mounting an army–and
"Aye. That's what I was only
suspectin' before, but ye can lear a great deal for the right price.
There's a right good-sized army tucked away over there, maybe five
thousand men, and more comin' in every day, so I'm told."
"Five thousand? Good God! Whose
are they? And to what end?"
"There's the question I had. An' I
don't like the answer I've heard, nor will ye or the king, I'm sure.
Who holds Tolan now?"
"Some regent or other, isn't it? I
know Charissa had no direct heir."
"Nay, she did not. But that line
was founded on the wrong side o' the blanket, so is it any great
surprise another bastard's claimin' Tolan as his own?"
Derry let out a low whistle.
"Who is he? And by what
"He's called Henrik o' Landur. His
grandmother was the Marluk's own aunt, his father's sister."
"So he is a male heir to the line.
Will Liam accept that claim?"
"He cannae, without Kelson agrees.
And he won't want to, even if Kelson would, because of' who Henrik's
"Aye. I'm told ye've only to see
him to know, that he's the very image o' the man, for all his father
never acknowledged him."
"Who, my lord?"
"Henrik of Landur is the bastard
son o' Wencit o' Torenth, Sean."
Derry pulled his startled horse to a
sudden halt. He felt the blood drain out of his face, felt his heart
"Wencit! Dear God!"
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes,
drawing a deep breath to steady his nerves. When he opened them again,
he met the compassionate gaze of Lord Michael..
"That–that's unsettling news,
m'lord. I–I thought I was done with Wencit once and for all. I-I
suppose you know about that?"
"I know enough, from Colin and
others, aye. I only found out less than a week ago who this Henrik
really is, Sean. There was no way I could warn ye. That's why I
stopped ye in the pass yesterday, lad. I'd not see ye in Henrik's
hands, knowing what Wencit did to ye."
"I thank you for that, m'lord.
What do you think he's planning?"
He slapped the reins on his horse's
neck to start him walking again. Lord Michael also urged his horse to
"What he wants i' the end is
Gwynedd and Torenth as well, but he means to start wi' Gwynedd for
revenge for both Charissa and her bedeviled father, and for Wencit as
well. He aims to draw Kelson into a fight on the plains o' Marley,
protectin' young Brendan's interests there. Neither Kelson nor Morgan
can refuse that fight, and e knows that. He may be a bastard, but he's
no fool. So he also knows he cannae leave Drumaere's passes unguarded,
lest we bring an army up through them behind him in the mountains. He
has to know Lord Dhugal's a mountain man and brings mountain-wise
troops to the fight–and I'd be right glad to have him come, too.
Drumaere's not so big as to raise all the men it'll take to defend our
borders, let alone go through the passes to visit any damage on Henrik."
"There are four main
"Aye, but we cannae leave the
smaller ones unguarded, Sean. Ones and twos at a time can do harm wi'
a torch or a knife, and there's easy two dozen places a man alone
could cross that border."
"Damn! And Kelson will have to
have an army in Marley."
"Aye, and the quieter gathered,
"How did he do this? How did no
"He's timed it well, Sean. No one
was lookin' at Tolan last summer, not wi' Liam bein' crowned and then
Kelson gettin' married. He's been sending troops in for months, small
groups. I'd say they're getting ready to march on Marley within the
month, and that means we're in for it sooner."
"All too true! How much of this
have you told Gregory?"
"I've told him little enough, an'
I can see yer wonderin' why."
"Yes, I am. He's your son–"
"Aye, an' I trust him like I do
myself. But ye haven't yet met Meagan, have ye?"
"Now she's a right sweet girl,
Sean. Don't take me wrong. But girl is right; she was but fifteen when
they wed, and she's not as–mature–as she might be. Not that she'd
do ought to hurt anyone on purpose. But she talks without thinkin' who
might be hearin'. And I told ye, there's eyes and ears both sides o'
the passes. It's a grievous hard thing to ask Gregory to keep secrets
from his own wife, so I've not told him much, not even that I sent for
ye. He'll know well enough when the fightin' starts, and I'm hopin'
it'll help Meagan grow up a bit and learn to mind her tongue
"What else do you want of me,
m'lord, other than to write the king?" Derry inquired.
"I want ye to be one o' ma patrol
commanders, Sean. I want at least ten good patrols, and I don't have
ten commanders with experience without ye. Ethan's a good boy, but
he's had no experience for this sort o' fightin.' I thought I'd send
him to Rhemuth wi' yer letter and offer him to the king or Morgan for
whatever they can use a young knight for. Maybe to do part o' yer own
duty wi' Morgan?"
"He'll put him to work,"
Derry grinned. "I can guarantee that."
"Aye, I'll warrant. That way he
gets some experience, and I don't shame him by puttin' him under
command o' someone else, and him already two years knighted."
"It sounds like a good plan,
m'lord. I'll write my lord Morgan as well as the king."
"Aye, I hoped ye might do that.
Come on, let's get on to Craeburn. Ye can catch up wi' Colin while I
talk to his father."
The Earl of Drumaere moved on ahead on
the trail, and as Derry followed, he realized with a sudden smile that
his headache was gone.