Still somewhat stunned by what San Te had
revealed to him about his own talent, Derry had gone looking for Dacia.
He wanted to talk to her about all that San Te had just shown and told
him. He had been looking for a good twenty minutes before he finally
found someone who had any information as to her whereabouts, but it
was not information that pleased him when he finally heard it.
"What do you mean, she left the
town gates over an hour ago?" he demanded of the hapless soldier
who had answered his question to that effect.
"Why, m'lord–she rode out wi'
Lady Kathleen an' Lady Amalie an' two men-at-arms. Well, young David,
Lady Kathleen's brother, was one o' them."
"I see." Derry's voice had an
edge to it that made the man wince. "And just where were they
going, did anyone say?"
"Oh, aye, m'lord," the man
said, relaxing a bit. "Lady Dacia said there'd been a message
from Partham that one o' the women was in a bad way, birthin' early,
and she was sent for, and Lady Kathleen as well."
Derry took a deep breath in an attempt
to control his irritation. A hard birth at Partham would indeed be
cause for Dacia to be called, but why hadn't she at least told him?
That independent streak that drove her father to distraction wasn't,
he could tell, going to be much easier on him.
"Very well. Thank you, Sewall.
I'll just send a few more guards after them. Partham's not too close
to the border, but in these times--"
Actually, Partham wasn't close to the
border at all, and Dacia had been glad of an excuse to leave the
castle. Having been virtually pinned there for more than a month, she
felt a need for release. Having Lady Vivienne in residence harping on
and on about her obligation to marry Sir Sextus Arilan was almost more
than she could bear, too, especially in light of her exchange with
Derry the previous day. A message that she was needed at Partham had
been just the excuse she needed, and she hadn't even thought of
telling Derry that she was going.
Amalie had been with her in the still
room when the message arrived; Dacia hadn't yet managed to get from
her cousin whatever it was that was bothering the girl, but she had
thought the ride would do Amalie no harm. Besides, Amalie was
experienced at caring for new mothers and babies, having seven younger
siblings at home. She was also trying to learn about midwifery and had
been on several other such calls with Dacia, so it was natural for
Dacia to ask her. The expectant mother was from Partham village on
McIvers lands, so naturally she'd feel Lady Kathleen ought to be
there. Dacia had found nothing odd in that request, either.
The three ladies and their
escort–Kathleen's brother and a man-at-arms hadn't really given much
thought to the possibility of any serious mishaps, what with the
roving patrols guarding the border and with Partham being well out of
harm's way. That, of course, had been a mistake.
The ambush, when it came, was swift and
fierce. All Dacia managed to do was send a stab of alarm toward Caer
Dinan, but she'd had no time for anything else, for their attackers
outnumbered them about four to one, and there was no time even for
arcane defense before she found herself held at knife point.
That would have been a small matter if
there hadn't also been knives at Amalie's throat and Kathleen's.
Neither of the other girls had enough training to defend themselves by
either mundane or arcane means, and Dacia alone couldn't fight over a
The leader was obviously the one
holding Kathleen at knife point, for he shouted at David, "Drop
that blade, young McIvers, or watch yer sister die!"
Dacia saw David's anguish as he was
forced to yield. "Dose ‘em all, men," the leader
continued. "Half these hills are Deryni of some sort, they say,
so make sure they all get a swab o' that stuff His Grace gave
Dacia didn't have to guess what the
"stuff" would be, though her mind reeled at the thought. One
of the men opened a jar and smeared a generous amount of ointment on
her exposed arm. Almost at once a wave of nausea swept over her.
She had undergone merasha training, but
never under the stress of being held captive by an enemy. The surface
absorbed sort wasn't as potent as that taken in a drink or directly
into the bloodstream through a cut, but it was potent enough.
She held onto consciousness long enough
to hear the leader say, "Leave the boy and the guard. His Grace
wanted the women only, not the cub. If they don't react to the stuff,
knock ‘em senseless wi' yer sword hilt. We'll be away before they
come to, and that's all we want."
Back in the solar at Caer Dinan, Lady
Vivienne sat beside her relation, Lady Gwyneth, and complained on and
on about the lack of courtesy of the younger generation. Lady Gwyneth
wasn't paying much attention, using her need to watch her needlework
as an excuse not to maintain eye contact. Suddenly, she gasped in
"What is it, Gwyneth?" the
older lady demanded. "Did you stab yourself?"
"Dacia!" Lady Gwyneth
exclaimed. "Oh, no!"
"What? Where is the girl,
"It was an ambush! Rosemary, get
Lord Derry! Now!"
Several of the younger girls had felt
Dacia's stab of alarm as well, and now the wave of merasha disruption
that cut it off, and the room was in a turmoil. Rosemary was on her
feet at once, face pale, eyes wide.
Lady Vivienne, well shielded and not in
the least affected, ordered imperiously, "He's nothing to do with
Dacia! Get Sir Sextus instead."
Lady Gwyneth had the mildest of tempers
and seldom did anything to cause controversy or hard feelings, but she
was also the mistress of the house and not the least bit intimidated
by her older cousin.
"Lord Derry is commander while my
husband is not here, cousin. It is his place to see to the violation
of the borders, and his place as well to see to the safety of all of
us here. Get Lord Derry first, Rosemary."
"Yes, Mama," the girl
answered and hurried out the door.
As it happened, both Derry and Sir
Sextus were in the hall when Rosemary burst in and gasped out her
message. They arrived together at the solar, both pale with worry.
"What happened?" Derry
"Dacia went out to Partham--"
her mother began.
"Yes, I know.' His tone was still
"It was an ambush, Sean."
"She and Katie and Amalie–all
captured. Dosed with merasha as well."
Merasha! Derry, human that he was, went
even paler at the thought. He had heard enough of it to know what it
did to anyone of Deryni blood. He had even used it himself to keep
Princess Morag quiescent during the several hours that Duchess
Richenda had been in labor when Lord Kelric was born. He felt sick
just thinking of it.
"Damn! I knew it sounded
Sir Sextus had also gone even paler at
the news. "They gave them merasha? Was it this Henrik?"
"Who else would it be?" Lady
Vivienne snapped at him. "Don't be a fool, Sextus. You must go
"Where did it happen, Lady Gwyneth?"
Derry interrupted. "Any indication where they might be
"No, I'm sorry. There's that deep
defile just after you leave the main road to head up to Partham. There
were a lot of them, and they dosed them as soon as they could."
"Damn, damn, damn!" Derry
swore. "Forgive me, ladies. Arilan, get your sword if you're
coming with me!"
"Sean, you can't--"
Lady Vivienne interrupted.
"Lord Sextus will go after his
betrothed bride–and is better equipped than you to deal with this
Henrik, Lord Derry!"
To everyone's surprise, Sextus Arilan
rounded on her hotly.
"Lady Vivienne, you and the
precious Council have meddled in my life and Lady Dacia's for the last
time. It's plain to anyone with eyes that she's in love with Lord
Derry, and he with her! And much as I admire her, Lady Dacia has a
rescuer; Lord Derry will go after her. As the son of Jamyl Arilan, I
will not be dictated to as to whom I will or will not marry. He would
never allow it, nor will I. Lady Amalie is out there, God help her,
dosed with merasha. I've loved her all my life and played the fool
never to tell her so! Come, Lord Derry. The sooner we go, the sooner
the ladies are all home safe!"
And despite the seriousness of the
situation and the fear he felt for Dacia, Derry couldn't help but take
a small grain of pleasure from the stunned look and the speechless
state of the haughty Lady Vivienne de Jordanet. He thought he would
give the haughty lady one more surprise to put her off balance. He
grabbed Sextus by the sleeve, halting his exit. Gathering energy into
his palm and setting it to glow there like a pale blue gem, he looked
at the lady and said, "Lord Derry is not as helpless as you
think, my lady."
His eyes boring into Vivienne’s
widened ones, he allowed the energy to sparkle in his palm for a
moment more. Then he closed his fist letting go of the energy, and ran
out the door dragging an open-mouthed Sir Sextus.