Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Derry's Wedding



Chapter  22

Beat Down Unawares

As Henrik gloated to Dacia of his expectations of Derry's rescue attempt, Derry himself was waiting impatiently for his scouts to return. A grim Colin Grant sat staring out toward the trail the scouts had taken, while a brooding Sextus Arilan paced from horses to trail and back again. The long twilight of the summer evening was fading slowly into darkness much too slowly to suit Derry, who felt ready to burst with the pent up energy of his frustration and need to act.

This day had brought such a mix of wonder and anguish that he could hardly sort it out. San Te's revelations and suggestions had filled him with awe and curiosity. He had felt the energy he was able to harness, to gather in his own being and release at will. That he could do this still seemed somewhat unreal, but he accepted the fact that he could do it. As with all the other things he had learned from the strange monk, this was something he now realized had always been within his power; he had only to learn to control its use.

He wasn't so sure about the other suggestion from San Te, however. Derry was not the most devout of Christians, but he knew full well the Church taught that each person's soul was unique and that when the body died, the soul returned to God or, if a person had done evil in his or her lifetime, to the Devil, the soul thus delivered up for eternal torment in hellfire. That notion was scary enough to make him shudder, but it was a familiar notion, at least.

The suggestion that his soul was one that had seen many lives was unfamiliar and somehow even more frightening. To continue living an endless procession of lives was rather daunting. At least in one lifetime, a person had a chance to choose his path, whether to Heaven or Hell, and a chance to get there. The way he understood what San Te had said, the Eastern belief held that everyone eventually would reach Heaven, but it might take many lifetimes of suffering to do so, and bad choices in one lifetime could mean having to start over at the beginning of the long road even if one were near its end. That was not a comforting thought.

Having just absorbed the news that San Te thought Derry had been his own master, long since dead in a previous lifetime. Derry had found Dacia missing and then learned the horrifying news of her capture. In the turmoil of mounting a search-and-rescue party, San Te had found him and put the staff in his hands.

"Take this, Sing Hi. You may need it."

"But Master--"

"It holds energy from many owners. Whether you yet believe what I have said or not, you know how to draw on that energy now. It may aid you in a time of need more than any other weapon."

Derry had taken the staff somewhat reluctantly, a little wary of its innocent, smooth wood. He had already felt the power within it and wondered if he did, indeed, have enough strength and experience to control if he tapped it.

"Will you not come with us, Master?" he had asked.

"No, Sing Hi. Mine is the part of teacher and counselor, not warrior. I think I may be more needed here. Your pupil is not pleased to be left behind. I shall see that he comes to no harm through his desire to be part of the fighting."

Derry had nodded gratefully. He knew Geoffrey was anything but happy to be ordered to stay at Caer Dinan. He had wanted to protest Derry's orders but had bitten back his words because Derry had been adamant and already angry. San Te might well need to stop the boy from doing something foolhardy.

"Thank you, Master. I will do my best to prove myself worthy of this gift."

"It is but the return of something you once gave me. No, I see you do not yet accept that fully. Well then, take it as a gift, Sing Hi. Use it well. Bring home your lady."

"That I fully intend, Master."

They had found young David McIvers and the guardsman both unconscious, the guard with a large lump on his head. David was not injured but was showing the aftereffects of merasha dosing. His face was deathly pale, and he could barely stand, let alone fight. He was also very close to tears over his failure to protect his sister and the other ladies.

The boy's highland cant was heavier than usual in his distress. "There were easy twenty o' them, m'lord," he told Derry. "And all armed heavy and around us before anyone could ha' known. They went straight for the ladies, first off. It was planned, sure, for that very purpose."

"They meant to capture them, not injure them, then."

"Aye, m'lord. The leader had Katie by the hair wi' a knife to her throat. There was naught I could do but drop ma sword when he told me to."

"You'd only have got her and yourself killed if you'd tried to fight, lad. They dosed you with the merasha too, then?"

"Aye. I'm not much trained, m'lord. Our Deryni blood's not so strong; our grandmother was Deryni, but that's all. It was enough, though. God, poor Katie! She's never had any but the most basic training either."

"We'll find them, David," Colin assured the young man. "And we'll make Henrik pay for his part."

"Aye. I'll go along if ye'll have me."

"No, lad," Derry had told him. "You go back to Caer Dinan with poor Rolf here. You're barely able to stand even now, and we have to go as quick as we can."

David had hated the order to stay behind as much as Geoffrey had, but he had nodded in reluctant agreement. "Aye, m'lord. I'd only be a hindrance to ye."

"I'm sorry, David, but yes, you would today."

And so they had ridden on. The raiders weren't particularly subtle about their way; the trackers found the trail easily enough and had led them through one of the small passes high up, one that was not on the main patrol circuit because it was narrow and uneven. However, it led into Tolan, and that was where they were now, waiting for the scouts to return and tell them more about what lay ahead.

The first warning they had was a gasp from Sextus Arilan. His pacing arrested, he spun toward the trees behind them but not quickly enough to avoid the rush of the assailants. By the time he let out a yell, they were everywhere, and both Derry and Colin were fighting for their lives. Derry was just gathering the energy from around him when a hard blow with a club from behind sent him staggering into the path of another attacker.

A sickening crunch and a terrible pain at his temple were simultaneous. He was already unconscious before his body hit the ground.



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