The Madness of the Wicked
The twenty-odd brigands had
fallen on their ten victims as the road passed through a small ravine.
They were obviously not happy to see twice their number in battle-eager
clansmen descend. Some actually turned their backs on their quarry,
obviously less than impressed at their fighting skill so far. The
borderer warriors were much more lethal.
The MacArdrys split into three groups; one led by Dhugal, one by his deputy Ciard, and the last by Kelson, who drew the great broadsword on his back. It was easy to separate the rag-tag outlaws from their better-dressed targets, and they were all surrounded too quickly for any chance of escape.
Kelson personally dispatched two of the bandits impassively as he charged in, then came upon a third and hesitated. This new one was still a boy, about thirteen or fourteen by the looks of him, stark fear in his eyes. He was merely human, and radiating so much panic at the thought of impending death that Kelson couldn’t help but pick up on his thoughts. The boy lunged awkwardly at him with a long dagger, which Kelson deftly turned aside. Another attempted thrust was countered, and Kelson rolled his eyes at the lad’s ineptness as he reversed his broadsword to clout the boy soundly over the head with its pommel. The boy crumpled to the ground, but no serious harm was done.
The bandits were quickly eliminated where they stood fighting, or taken prisoner as they tried to run away. Dhugal’s deputy Ciard was seeing to the outlaws still living, so the copper-haired laird turned to the rescued victims.
“Geoffrey!” he stated in astonishment, only now recognizing his wife’s father. “Are ye injured?”
Kelson glanced over when he heard that name, and saw that the party set upon did indeed contain Ailín’s father. He must have been coming to pay his respects on the birth of Caulay. Kelson didn’t think he could possibly be recognized, armed as a borderman and branded with the MacArdry tartan, but he wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t have to put his crown back on any sooner than necessary.
A little Deryni persuasion guaranteed that his mount would be more interested in grazing where he was than trying to run away. Assured that the pony would remain where he was, Kelson dismounted and knelt by the boy he had knocked out cold. He stripped off a gauntlet and spread his fingers over the lad’s face, sinking into the boy’s mind with a deep breath. First, he confirmed that there was in fact no permanent damage done, and thankfully, Dhugal’s Healing skill would not be called for. Next, he turned to the boy’s history.
The lad was called Niall, and had been taken from a small village in Cassan when these outlaws killed both his parents. He had hated living with them, serving them, but he really had no choice, for he was alone in the world. There was also a deep interest in arms and fighting skill, but the brigands had never taught him anything useful, since they understandably doubted his loyalty. Perhaps that could be used. He was a little old to start serious arms training, but if he were determined enough, he may be able to catch up with his peers.
With a gentle psychic nudge, Kelson prompted the boy to wake as he removed his hand. Young Niall blinked rapidly, willing his eyes to focus, then started scrambling when he saw that the man hovering over him was not one of his band. Kelson subdued him expertly, but as kindly as he could manage as he decided to see just how passable his practiced burr was. No use in confusing this peasant lad with the endless coils of dynastic ties and relations, or why a lowlander king would be riding patrol dressed as a MacArdry.
“Nah, lad, dinnae fret yourself. If we meant to kill ye, ye’d already be dead.”
Niall stilled, trying to assimilate this turn of events, but he was too frightened to speak, so Kelson continued.
“If I free ye, will ye behave yourself?” he asked. The boy nodded, and Kelson sensed truthful intentions, so he let go.
“Why?” Niall finally choked out.
Kelson gave him a charming smile, the one that beamed his substantial charisma. “Weel, if ye were one o’ these brigands’ offspring, ye’d fight a whole lot better than ye showed. That means ye’re likely spoils o’ war for this lot, an’ a reluctant member o’ their band. Is that true?”
Niall nodded, hanging his head. “They killed me parents.”
“An ye ha’e nowhere else tae go,” Kelson finished for him. Before he could continue, his attention was captured by Dhugal jumping off his horse and kneeling by a still body. Kelson removed his helmet. “Niall, lad, hold my helm and keep tae my side if ye’ve nae wish tae rejoin your former friends.” He handed the headpiece over to the boy, a visible sign that Niall was under his protection. With that, Kelson was striding over to his blood brother to see if he could render assistance, not looking to see if the boy heeded his warning.
“Laird Dhugal,” Kelson greeted, falling to his own knees. “Can I render ye assistance?”
With a questioning glance, Dhugal raised an eyebrow at Kelson’s continued charade as a borderer, then he lifted the other eyebrow at the outlaw boy who stood nervously behind, clutching Kelson’s borrowed helm.
“Aye, it would be appreciated,” the border duke agreed finally. “My patient here is sore wounded, an’ I could use your strength.”
Dhugal hadn’t exaggerated. Another boy lay unconscious on the ground, this one from Geoffrey’s party by the look of him. Blood oozed out of a nasty skull wound, and spilled from another slash on his left arm. Geoffrey himself hovered nearby, looking none too pleased as Kelson slipped into easy rapport with Dhugal.
“Please, my lord, I beg you to let a more-conventional-surgeon tend to him first,” the Lord of Kilshane said, his tone more a command than a plea.
*Shall I take care of him?* Kelson asked his blood brother.
*Nah,* Dhugal returned. *I can handle Ailín’s dear auld father.* His golden eyes pierced Geoffrey with their intensity. “If we wait to bring him to a more conventional surgeon, your son is like to die. I will not let that happen when it is in my power to save him.”
Son. So this grievous boy was Ailín’s younger brother, the one who had tried to kill Dhugal. Kelson almost snorted at the irony as he felt Dhugal settle in to draw on his Healing skill, and caught the faint hint of unseen hands resting on Dhugal’s and guiding them as his own potential flowed and mixed with his blood brother’s, lending strength to the working. The arm wound was handled first, since it was pumping out blood the fastest. Dhugal quickly closed it to a bright pink scar before moving on to the head injury.
While the border duke was completely engrossed in the Healing, Kelson’s attention wandered back to Geoffrey, who was growing increasingly restless in his displeasure, and hovered ever closely like he was thinking of interfering. “Ciard!” Kelson called for Dhugal’s deputy. “See tae Kilshane, will ye?” As his focus turned back to assisting Dhugal, he caught the grizzled borderer swooping on young Conor’s father. Without his interference, Dhugal could see to the boy’s skull fracture.
Kelson had fallen back with Ciard as they returned to the castle. He knew there was no love lost between Dhugal and his vassal Geoffrey, and he had no intention of complicating matters between them by revealing his presence. Kelson didn’t much like the Lord of Tirkeeve himself-first, from his brief exposure during Dhugal and Ailín’s wedding when Geoffrey only warmed to the match after he remembered Dhugal’s relation to the King of Gwynedd; second, when Dhugal confided to him that Geoffrey had senselessly beaten and terrorized his daughter. His mind turned of its own volition to tiny Evaine, and how he would fight to his last breath to keep his infant daughter safe from harm. How could any father treat his child so cruelly? Kelson had little tolerance for greedy, malicious power-grubbers, and for now it was best to stay back and not to stir already rough waters between Geoffrey and Dhugal even higher.
Glancing behind him, Kelson took note of the boy Niall, who rode double with one of the MacArdry warriors. Idly, he wondered if the MacArdry clan would adopt the poor lad. The close ties and fierce loyalty between clansmen would give Niall a semblance of the family he had lost. If not, Mairona could certainly use him in Druimfada. Her garrison had been depleted dramatically in last summer’s conflict, and her captain Seanin was recruiting boys to train as replacements. There would be no trouble finding Niall a safe home.
Looking back ahead, Kelson examined Ailín’s brother Conor. Thanks to Dhugal’s ministrations, he was now riding on his own, though his face looked pale when he turned his head, and looked like he wanted nothing better than to get to Transha and fall off his horse into a bed. He couldn’t blame the boy, after what he’d been through.
Story also located at the Author's website - Brenwell Manor
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