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Derry's Wedding

  

 

Chapter  12

What Dreams May Come Must Give Us Pause

 
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, Sean."

"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 crushed nuts.

"Real food," he remarked appreciatively, spooning up the stew. "I'm tired of beans and hard tack and cheese. Soldiers' rations get old in a hurry."

"Aye, that's exactly what Gregory said when he came in," she smiled. "He said there was a skirmish almost the first day you were out."

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 him--"

"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."

"No," 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 eating me."

"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 memory.

"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 again."

"I can make you a sleeping draught."

"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 senselessness?"

"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 . . .

 

 

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