The November wind whipped ten-year-old
Edmund Loris' hair and cloak as his horse galloped down the
snow-covered path. A glance at his father's drawn features revealed
his concerns about chasing this particular outlaw. But the man in
question had stolen food from Lord Baldric and must be brought to
"Is he really Deryni?"
Edmund wondered if he really wanted to hear his father's answer.
"We fear so," Alvyn Loris replied. A shadow crossed
his gaunt features.
"Can they corrupt our souls?" Edmund asked.
His father shrugged.
"That I can't say. But I'm prepared to fight him, if
Edmund knew many Deryni had been burned at the stake but he didn't
know how they had been captured.
A cold smile fluttered across Alvyn's thin lips.
"I've dipped my blade in a special potion, known to harm
He broke off and pointed toward the bushes.
At first Edmund saw nothing but rustling branches and suspected
that an animal had brushed against them. But then he noticed the
footprint in the snow. His father dismounted and headed up the steep
trail, leaving his horse. After a moment, Edmund followed, picking his
way carefully up the rocky path.
"Stay back!" His father hissed, but Edmund pushed
forward. They climbed steadily, then paused as the path turned
abruptly. Edmund stumbled and clutched a tree trunk to avoid falling
over the precipice. His misstep proved fortuitous however, for he saw
the small group camped in the valley below.
"There." Edmund pointed. His father eased his long frame
closer and peered down.
"Stay here." Alvyn backtracked a bit, found a slightly
less steep side of the cliff and lowered himself over the edge, using
rocks and trees to help him descend the steep incline. Edmund watched
but followed his father's orders.
His father tiptoed across the snow, staying in the shadow of the
pine trees until he neared the small camp. A boy, perhaps a year or so
younger than Edmund, suddenly appeared from the opposite direction,
carrying sticks. He shivered and Edmund noticed that his thin,
tattered cloak provided little protection from the cold wind. He felt
a sudden stab of pity for the boy, although he wondered if Deryni
children deserved pity. After all, the priests called them the devil's
spawn. Yet the boy looked like almost any boy with whom Edmund might
play or attend school, though his clothes were far more shabby than
those worn by any of Edmund's acquaintances.
His father moved forward and grabbed the boy. The boy screamed and
squirmed, struggling to escape. He kicked Alvyn hard in the stomach
and started to run, but Alvyn's dagger hurtled through the air toward
him. The boy stumbled and the dagger entered his thigh. He twitched
and squirmed as he fell forward. Blood stained the snow crimson.
Edmund gasped, for he had not expected his father to attack the
child. He was so stunned by this turn of events that he failed to
notice the woman who entered the clearing until he saw the surge of
blue fire and saw his father tumble into the snow.
"My son did not hurt you… Why attack a mere boy?"
The woman approached the inert form of Alvyn Loris.
"Der...Deryni thief!" Alvyn spat.
"He stole food because we were starving. Men like you
burned my husband two weeks ago. I'd have done the deed myself, but I
only just gave birth. Would you really have a baby starve to death
simply because it happens to have Deryni parents?"
"Spawn of Satan!" Alvyn's face contorted in agony.
Terrified, Edmund hurled himself down the cliff and raced to his
"What have you done to him?" He demanded, staring
at the Deryni woman.
She shook her head sorrowfully. "What has he done to my
Startled, Edmund turned to look at the boy, who had vomited in the
snow. "I -- I don't know. A drug on the blade..."
The woman nodded. "Neither know nor care, do you?"
She moved to her son and gathered the injured child in her arms.
"Please God, not a fatal poison."
"But what about my father?" Edmund found the
woman's prayers shocking.
The woman sighed. "I only meant to protect my son. Alas, he
"Edmund...Edmund..." Alvyn's voice sounded weak.
"Father? How badly are you hurt? What can I do for
you?" Edmund knelt and searched for visible wounds, but found
Alvyn laid a trembling hand on Edmund's wrist. "Take care
of your mother...and…" A spasm of pain wracked his body and
he convulsed for a moment, then lay still.
"Father?" Edmund ran a hand over his father's cold
forehead. "Father? Oh, Father." He blinked back the
sudden, hot tears and swallowed hard.
After a moment, grief turned to anger. Flicking his dagger from its
sheath at his wrist, Edmund looked around, intending to bring his
father's murderers to justice. But they had disappeared and he sat
alone in the snowy clearing and rapidly falling dusk.