Derry's patrol rode into Caer Dinan after
nine days of duty on the passes. They were tired and glad to be back,
Derry especially. The past several nights had not been good ones for
him. What sleep he had gotten had been fitful and disturbed. He was
tense and out of sorts; even the morning training sessions had not
relaxed his raw nerves. He was tempted to leave Norton, the sergeant,
with the job of seeing the horses stabled and the men quartered, but
his lifetime of training asserted itself over his personal desires,
and he saw to his responsibilities before his own needs once again.
With the horses and men all taken care
of, Derry turned at last toward his own quarters. He wanted a bath, a
shave, and two solid weeks of sleep after this first long patrol and
the skirmish with Henrik's troops the week before. He would settle for
less, he knew, but he thought longingly of just crawling into bed once
he was clean. Instead, he went down into the hall, where the men were
eating. This time he was glad he had not sent someone to bring food to
his quarters as he has thought of doing. Dacia was seated in one of
the window embrasures mending a doll for one of Bethany's children,
but she saw him and smiled, and some of his weariness lifted.
Dacia sent the child off with her doll
and came to sit beside him as he took a place at one of the tables.
She herself poured him a cup of wine.
"Ach, you do look tired,
"I don't wonder. I haven't had
a decent night's sleep in a week. Sleeping on the ground isn't as easy
as it used to be. I guess I'm just getting old."
"No, you aren't
old." She sat as one of the boys
brought Derry a plate of rabbit stew, one of his favorite meals. There
was also fresh bread and some sort of sticky sweet with honey and
he remarked appreciatively, spooning up the stew. "I'm tired
of beans and hard tack and cheese. Soldiers' rations get old in a
"Aye, that's exactly what
Gregory said when he came in," she
smiled. "He said there was a skirmish almost the first day you
He nodded. "Aye, right at the
top of the Eldar Dun, where it forks off toward Lambert Hall. Not too
bad. Bruises and a few minor cuts. They got worse than we did.. I was
pleased with the patrol. When does your father get back?"
"Two more days, I think Gregory
said. I have yet to figure out the schedule."
He smiled faintly. "That's the
whole idea, that it not be obvious who is where at any given time.
It's hard to set up ambushes if you don't know who's likely to turn up
or from where."
"Aye, I understand that.
It's just hard to keep track of who'll need a clean bed for the
night," she smiled. "But Mother
seems to know, so I don't fret."
"She's a marvelous woman,
Lady Gwyneth." He couldn't seem to
stifle a yawn. "Sorry."
"You need to go straight
to bed, Sean. You really do look tired. There are great circles under
your eyes." She paused a beat. "You're
having nightmares again, aren't you?"
He scowled briefly. "Who told
you? No, don't bother to answer. Geoff. Drat the boy, I told
"Not to tell me. I know. He
told me that as well. He's that worried about you, Sean. Don't you
dare scold him for telling me."
he sighed. "I won't scold him. I must have scared him half to
death last night. I woke up screaming because I thought a caradot was
"A caradot! No one's seen a
caradot in centuries, Sean!"
"I have," he
said grimly. "And felt the damned thing wrapping its tentacles
around me while I struggled and screamed and couldn't move. It was a
nightmare, Dacia, but it felt as real as you are yourself."
"Oh, Sean. Why a caradot?"
He looked away for a long moment before
he reluctantly met her eyes again.
"I can't say why now, but I
know the source goes back to Cardosa. It's one of the things Wencit
used to frighten me then. He threatened to feed me to the caradots,
and to make his point he summoned one up. Not, I think, a real one,
but I didn't know that then. It was real enough to scare me senseless,
struggling to get away from it, and I couldn't because I was tied to a
chair. The nightmare was much the same. I was tied down and couldn't
get away, and I knew it was going to eat me. It was horrible."
He could not repress a shudder at the
"No wonder you were screaming.
Geoffrey was afraid."
"I don't doubt it. I was, too.
I'm hoping to get a few nights of decent sleep before we go out
"I can make you a sleeping
"I don't think I'll need it,
I'm so tired. But I appreciate the offer, anyway."
Derry and Gregory met in the study to
coordinate their intelligence reports and mark down what had happened
where as much as they could. Gregory had been at Caer Dinan two nights
and looked fairly well rested. Derry hoped he would be as well. Lord
Michael's complicated and complex plan had all ten patrols moving in
and out of Caer Dinan every few days, so that two patrols of twenty
men were at the Castle at all times while eight were in the field to
guard the four main and many small passes into Tolan. They moved about
rapidly, each commander aware of his own schedule, at least, though
not that of others. The idea was to make it as difficult as possible
to track the movements of any one patrol.
Derry's patrol had eaten when they
reached Caer Dinan at mid-afternoon, so he wasn't really that hungry
when he came to the hall for supper. He told Geoffrey just to bring
him a small portion of meat, some bread, and a cup of wine. The one
advantage he saw to his own schedule right now was that Lord Michael's
own patrol was not at Caer Dinan, which meant he could sit by and talk
to Dacia under the more benevolent gaze of her mother, not her
father's intimidating stare.
Geoffrey returned with another plate
for Dacia, and Derry saw her exchange a long look with the boy. "Are
the two of you plotting against me, Dacia?" he asked as the
boy left to get his own supper. "Planning to drug me into
"It's a thought, Sean. You look
exhausted. A mild sleeping draught wouldn't hurt you."
"I'd rather not, Dacia, please.
If there's any kind of alarm, I need to be alert."
"I know that, but you can't go
on without any sleep, Sean."
"I'll try it tonight on my own
terms, please. I think it will be all right. Really I do."
"Aye, well. You know you can
ask for one if you want it."
"I do. Will you do something
else for me, though?"
"Aye, if I can."
"Play me something on that
gitar of yours. I've missed hearing you play."
She smiled at him. "Aye, I'll
do that after we eat."
Derry did not linger in the hall for
more than two songs from Dacia's gitar, though he would happily have
listened to her play for hours. He was exhausted, however, and he knew
Geoff was as well, and he knew the boy would not go to bed until he
had. So he said good night to the lady, signaled the boy, and went to
his quarters and got into bed. He was asleep almost before his head
settled on the pillow.
The dream began the same way those for
the past week had begun. He was back in Cardosa, tied to a chair, with
Wencit of Torenth grinning evilly at him, taunting him. The sneer on
Wencit's face was bad enough, but his mocking words were even worse. "Why
do you try to resist me Derry? You know you can't win. I own your
soul, don't you remember?"
"You don't own my soul!" Derry
shouted, though his voice sounded weak and pitiful to his own ears.
"No? Well, perhaps not. I don't
actually care about your soul, Derry. I own your mind instead. I own
your integrity. That's far more useful to me than your eternal soul.
What is between you and God or you and the Devil is your own affair,
and I don't give a damn what happens after you're dead. I want you to
liveľand suffer. You do suffer, don't you, Derry? I want to see you
suffer." A sudden hard grip on his wounded shoulder sent
Derry into a near faint, only to be slapped hard across the face with
a riding crop. "Pay attention, Derry. I want you to feel every
bit of pain you can stand, and more." Wencit held up a ring. "You
remember this, don't you?"
Derry could only shudder in
remembrance, and Wencit chuckled at his reaction.
"I see you do. But this is only
a beginning, you know. There are far worse things in my little
treasure chest here." He turned away and took something from
the chest. Derry saw that it was his own broken sword, in fact, as
Wencit turned back to him. "Your sword is useless now, isn't
it? You can't fight anymore. You're as broken as the sword is."
"Useless . . .broken. . ."
The words echoed amidst evil laughter as Derry's dreamscape shifted
and he was in battle with Bran Coris and a ring of enemies with only a
broken sword as a weapon. He was beaten to the ground; he felt a sword
split his side as it had in Rhemuth Castle on the night before
Kelson's coronation, felt his life's blood ebbing away. . . then
became aware that he was back in Esgair Ddu, chained to the
wall of a cell and unable to resist as Wencit, once again, put a knife
in his hand and laughed when he could not turn it on either Wencit or
himself. The iron ring Wencit held this time did not fit his finger
but was a slave's iron collar that weighed heavy on his collarbone as
Wencit clasped it about his neck.
"You are my slave, Derry, and
you must do my bidding. You know you have to. You know you will."
Derry struggled, pulling at the collar,
but it was locked on, and there was no key to remove it. Weeping in
despair, he took the sword that Wencit thrust at him and turned to see
his liege lords, the Duke of Corwyn and the King of Gwynedd. Their
backs were to him, and the iron collar pressed so on his throat that
he could not speak to warn them.
"Kill them now, Derry,"
insisted Wencit's voice. "Kill Morgan and Kelson, and seal our
pact in their blood."
It was so easy. Neither Morgan nor
Kelson was aware of him, and one sweep of the razor-edged sword was
all it took. Weeping still, Derry fell to his knees as the blood on
the sword stained his hands as well as the blade, and Wencit's
shouting laugh of triumph rang in his ears . . .