Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
          Hall of Seasons  







Derry's Wedding



Chapter  11

Stepping Into Shadows

A fortnight of intensive training had turned the twenty men assigned to Derry’s patrol into a unit, he felt. The other commanders also felt their troops were as ready as they were going to be.

"It’s not as if we don’t have men who can fight," Alex McGowan said as they sat in the hall at table. Alex, now Baron Waverley, had arrived more than a week earlier with about twenty men as well as his wife, Dacia’s sister Bethany, and their three children. He’d been happy to see Derry back at Caer Dinan. "They can all fight. It’s just getting them to work together, and I think they’re as ready as they’re likely to be until we get into a real skirmish. You can only drill so much."

"Aye, that’s so, Alex," Lord Michael agreed. "And it’s time we moved out. There’s no way we can keep two hundred men a secret for long. Nor the fact that we’ve only that many. I want us movin’ out beginnin’ tomorrow."

Lord Michael had already outlined his rotation plan for them; each patrol would move out of Caer Dinan to one of the main passes into Tolan, but on such a random-appearing schedule that no one could possibly predict who would be where at any given time. Sometimes there would be two patrols on each pass, sometimes not. Each patrol would rotate back to Caer Dinan every few days, so that at least two patrols were there at all times. Lord Michael had given each commander his own schedule, and Derry had decided not to try to comprehend the whole plan. He would deal with his own and be glad not to worry about the rest.

Lord Michael continued his outline. "Gregory, Sean, Lucas, Alex ye’ll go out first to the four passes. Then Toby, Colin, Jacob, and Darrell. Nathan and I will be the last out, and we’ll go from there. Ye all have yer own schedules; stick to them unless there’s trouble. Ye all know the distress calls; they’ll sound from one pass to the next if ye need help. I doubt Henrik’s goin’ to post many men on the passes; I doubt he thinks us as big a prize as Marley. He’ll be movin’ troops toward the plains, not frettin’ overmuch about us."

"I hope he’s right," Gregory muttered to Derry.

"So do I," he agreed. "God help us if he brings five or six hundred men through those passes."

"Amen to that."

The patrols had been riding out for drill every day for a fortnight, so the town didn’t get unduly excited to see them departing again; It was not until the day ended and not all the patrols returned that the town of Caer Dinan realized that their men had gone to war. That had been one of Lord Michael’s goals as well, to keep the spies in the dark for as long as possible. By the time the spies realized it, Lord Michael had his roving troops deployed, and the passes were essentially closed to the two-way traffic that had been occurring previously.

Derry and his patrol reached their campsite in mid-afternoon. They had ridden a winding path along the edge of the lake and up into the hills. Now they camped within site of the Undola Pass, yet not so close as to be ambushed. They would patrol that section of the Eldar Dun trail between the way hut and Lambert Hall for the first three days, then move on to a second location for the rest of their first field duty period. Derry walked the camp as the men set it up, checking the picket line for the horses, the outer perimeter for any obstacles.

"Dig the fire pits good and deep,"he reminded the men performing that task. "There’s no way to hide the fact we’re here, but let’s not give them an easy target, either."

Geoffrey followed at Derry’s heels, like a good and dutiful squire. About the boy, at least, Derry was no longer worried, though he understood now why Sir Adam had been driven nearly to distraction by his constant questions about the reasons for doing things. That was the only frustrating thing about his attempts to teach the boy the forms of Tan Che and other things he had learned from San Te. Derry recalled with chagrin the end of one of their sessions the previous week.

"But, why, m’lord? I don’t understand why this move always follows that one. Why am I doing all this ‘groundwork’ as you call it rather than learning how to use my sword?"

Derry gritted his teeth harder for each question until he rounded on Geoffrey. "I don’t know, Geoff! Why do you always have to know 'why'? Can't you just do it as I show you?"

He whirled and stepped away, his breath coming out in a rush. He tried to calm himself as he turned back. "I'm sorry, Geoff. I just don't have all the answers you want. Please let me try to explain things to you, and just try to follow along with what I am showing you and save your questions for the end, all right??"

He raised his eyebrows hopefully on the last words. Geoff looked miserable, about to start apologizing profusely once again. Derry cut him off before he began, saying, "Don't, Geoff. It's not your fault; there is nothing for you to apologize for. I think I need more training myself if I am ever going to give you the training you need. I don't know the answers, and I need to learn them. I see that now."

Having apologized to Geoffrey had not lessened his feeling of failure. Dacia had found him later that day, still feeling out of sorts. Sensing his mood, she had not teased or slipped away but had sat down beside him and listened as he poured out the story of the frustrating session.

Derry shook his head as he considered the problem. "There's just so much I don't understand, Dacia. I wish I had answers to his questions. I just didn't learn enough myself."

"Why did San Te leave you only partly trained, Sean? You and Father both say he's a great teacher. But that's not sound teaching, to leave the job only partly done."

Derry shook his head again. "I think that's not quite fair, Dacia. I - I think he left because I stopped asking questions. I learned enough to control my fears, and that was all I really wanted then. You can only teach someone what he wants to know. If you try to teach something he's not interested in, you're only wasting your own time. So it's my fault, not his."

"But he did say he thought you'd meet again."

"Aye he did. Next time I'll have sense enough to ask more questions."

At dawn the next morning, Derry and Geoff were up for their daily session, and by the time the sun was fully up, the whole patrol was mounted and moving out along the east-running trail that met the Eldar Dun above the main trail to Lambert Hall. They had hardly gone a mile from the campsite when the scouts Derry had sent ahead were back, eyes bright–and with a prisoner trussed up like a fowl for roasting.

"Look what we found, m'lord," one of the scouts grinned, "sneakin' about lookin' for trouble."

"I'd say he found some," Derry grinned back. "How many?"

"About thirty, m'lord. Making for the pass. Look to have been raiding down toward Triune. They've a good few cattle with 'em."

"All right, then. Let's go. You all know what to do. Make your training count, men. Geoff, you stay by me. Don't engage anyone unless you absolutely must."

The boy looked disappointed but nodded. "Aye, m'lord."

They had practiced the drill a dozen times at least in the past fortnight, and now the patrol divided itself neatly into two groups, the first dividing further to flank the enemy and move in from behind once the raiders topped the hill just ahead. Derry's half of the patrol drew up into two lines and drew their swords quietly, then sat silent, listening for the raider band's arrival.

The Tolanese men, leading the stolen cattle with ropes tied to saddles, crested the hill to find Derry's men grinning and brandishing their swords. The cattle complained as they were forced to halt when the Tolanese stopped moving. The raiders, several on foot, warily eyed the setup they had walked into. The leader of the band glared at his own scout, still trussed up and now guarded and sullen at the rear of Derry's patrol. The leader glanced back with a scowl in time to see the flanking patrol members moving into place behind his own men, thus neatly surrounding his entire band.

His face flushed red with anger, the leader drew his sword and spurred his horse directly toward Derry, who sat in the center of the first line before him, clearly the leader of the patrol with his arms blazoned on the shield he held. Derry readied himself for the blow, glad his shoulder wound was healed now. He moved forward but did not anticipate the man's strike at horse, not rider.

Trained for battle, Derry's horse escaped the worst of the blow, but the movement unseated Derry, fortunately, for the horse couldn't dodge and stay on his feet too; he went down with enough force to have broken a rider's leg had he still been in the saddle. Derry rolled clear and came up on his feet, furious now, and saw his opponent also unseated as Geoffrey drove his own mount into the Tolanese.

In two strides, Derry reached the man and stopped him from striking at Geoff's horse. "Good work, Geoff!" he called. "Back off now!" He growled at the other man, "Fight a man, you dog of Tolan, not a boy!"

The Tolan man was good; Derry gave him that. They exchanged equal blows for several minutes, oblivious to the other fighting going on around them. Derry was coldly calm now, a sense of ease in each move he made. His mind was concentrated and calm, his movements confident. Too much confidence, maybe, for the other man was good, and he had a heavier sword that suddenly rang hard against Derry's, which couldn't take the impact this time. It fell broken from his hand, and Derry found himself with the other's sword at his throat.

A broad and evil smile showed beneath the big man's thick black mustache. "Hold, Drumaere!" he roared, and glanced around to see that his command was obeyed. "Your leader's my prisoner--" he began, but the smile faded as his sword arm was suddenly numbed by a blow and the sword fell ringing to the stony ground. He lunged forward to grab Derry only to find him gone.

The sound of a footstep was all the warning he had as his legs were abruptly swept from under him and he landed roughly on his back, the breath knocked from him. Gasping, he looked up the length of a long sword blade now leveled at his own throat. It was his own sword, and the hand that held it steady belonged to a grim Sean Lord Derry. The blue eyes were cold and hard, but a sudden grin–a wickedly amused one–crossed Derry's face. "Care to rephrase that?" he asked lightly.

Their leader fallen, the Tolanese decided that the better part of wisdom was to leave as quickly as possible, and Derry signaled his men to let them go. "Let them spread the word in Tolan that Drumaere is no longer easy pickings!" he exclaimed.

The cattle, scattered in the melee, needed to be rounded up and headed home, and in addition to the captured scout and the fallen and now bound leader, there was another wounded Tolan man. These three had to be remanded to Lambert Hall for confinement. Meanwhile, the patrol would regroup and repair any damages to their own gear. Derry saw Geoff already collecting his shield and the broken shards of his sword. He grimaced over the loss of his own sword but hefted the one he had taken from the Tolanese leader and told one of the men to bring him its scabbard as well since his own was a good two inches too short for the weapon. It would do until he had a chance to replace his own blade. His men had suffered only a few minor cuts and some bruises, excellent for a first engagement. Derry was very proud of his entire patrol and told them so.

"We've come through the first encounter well, men. We'll face worse, maybe, but next time we won't be new at it. I commend you all."

The tall, lanky sergeant, Norton, gave him a smile. "I'm thinkin', m'lord, ye might better teach us all that fancy work ye did on that fellow. He never knew what hit him is what I think."

Derry laughed a bit. "Well, I'll do what I can. That move was a fairly simple one, really. When he turned his head, I just stepped up close behind him on the side away from the way he was looking. It's called the Shadow Step. You stand in the other person's shadow and he can't see you. Then you just sweep his feet out from under him." He grinned and shrugged. "It worked in this case, though mainly what we all need to do is what we did today. Stick together, watch out for your comrades. Let's get these three off to Lambert Hall. Sir Versil will keep them safe enough until Lord Michael sees to them, I expect." And the prisoners were put on some of the sumpter horses for the ride, hands bound. A detail of four men was sent to guard them, and the rest of the patrol gathered up the cattle and drove them back toward the Hall as well.

n a high mountain fortress on the other side of the border, a tawny-haired man with eyes like a fox took his hand off the large shiral crystal on the table before him. He was not interested in Lambert Hall or its prisoners but in the man who had sent them there. He called for the guard who stood outside the door.

"Yes, your Grace?"

Henrik of Landur, erstwhile Duke of Tolan, smiled a mirthless smile.

"I want to see that fellow that was with my father at Cardosa. Bring him to me."

"At once, Your Grace." And in only moments, the door opened after a knock. "Tybalt the jailer, Your Grace."

A burly, grizzled man entered, bowing to the man who so resembled the Torenthi king who had once employed him as jailer and torturer.

"Your Grace,"

>"You were at Cardosa, weren't you, Tybalt, when my father held Sean Lord Derry there at the Esgair Ddu?"


"Aye, Your Grace, I was. A mighty tough customer, Lord Derry, at least to ordinary torture."

"But my father employed other means, did he not?"

"Aye, he did, Your Grace."

"And did you witness any of these–other means?"

"Aye, Your Grace. I did that. Clever man, King Wencit."

"As am I, Tybalt. Come, sit here by the fire. I need to know what my father did to Lord Derry. I want to take the knowledge from your mind. Are you afraid?"

"I've served under Deryni all my life, Your Grace. I'm not afraid to help you as I did your father. What is it you want me to do?"

"Sit before the fire, Tybalt, and look into the flames. Listen to my voice only." Henrik moved to stand behind the chair while Tybalt sat. He placed his hands on the other's shoulders. "Now just look into the flames. Listen to my voice and relax. Drift with the flames. . ." The jailer slipped into trance as if he had been doing it for years–as perhaps he had. Henrik smiled grimly as he sensed the sewer that was the jailer's well of memories of tortures and abuses. He let himself sink into trance as well in order to learn which shadows of the past would most unsettle the all-too-competent and confident Sean Lord Derry.



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