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Derry's Wedding



Chapter  6

The Substance of Ambition

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.

"Ah, Sean!"

His volume was calculated for the parade ground, not the hall, and certainly not for Derry's aching head.

"How's the shoulder? Keevan, lad, bring Lord Derry some food. We've blood sausages today. Ye used to love ‘em!"

Derry went pale at the very idea.

"Oh, no. Please, my lord," he groaned. "I couldn't."

Lord Michael's eyebrow quirked in amusement.

"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?" Derry protested.

"I need to see Ellis," Lord Michael shrugged," and I want to talk to ye. Alone."

Derry looked up at the last, quietly spoken words.

"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 vile."

"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 long way."

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 the stables."

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 looked brighter.

"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 already."

"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 remedy."

"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 command."

He fished Kelson's letter out and handed it to the older man.

"That's what this says, more or less."

"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 Michael laughed.

"Well, it just chanced your letter arrived the day after my birthday. I got a little drunk–"

"A little?"

"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 after ye?"

"And brothers and uncles and cousins. I really hoped to beat the rumors here, but I had to stop in Derry."

"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, m'lord?"

"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 say?"

"Someone's mounting an army–and feeding it."

"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 claim?"

"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 father was."


"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 pound harder.

"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 a walk.

"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 passes–"

"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, the better."

"How did he do this? How did no one know?"

"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?"

"No. But–"

"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 better."

"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.



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