A Michaelmas Mystery
Deryni Summer Challenge 2002 Entry
By: Melissa Houle
“I still don’t know how
you managed to persuade my unruly children to sit still long enough to
have their portraits painted, my Prince.” Alaric Morgan looked up from
his rapt examination of the pair of richly framed miniature portraits of
Briony and Kelric, and smiled across the table at his King.
“Blatant bribery finally carried the day,” Kelson answered cheerfully. “Where do you think Kelric’s new fleet of toy boats came from? And Briony’s doll family expanded somewhat, as well. Copious amounts of gingerbread were consumed by them both, I must further admit. And the painter got double his normal fee.”
Morgan laughed and looked back at his birthday gift. “With everything you had to think about this summer, I’m amazed you thought of this as well.”
“Richenda was a most helpful co-conspirator,” Kelson replied. “In fact, she did most of the bullying, persuading and bribing. My part was to keep you out of the way.”
“I have all of you to thank, then,” Morgan said. “I’m very glad to have these portraits of them as they are now. I’m prepared to swear that both my children changed hugely in just the two weeks we spent in Beldour.”
“Pardon me, Sire, but the Lord Azim is here,” Ivo Hepburn said, approaching the table and bowing to his lord.
“He apologizes for his intrusion, but insists that he must speak with you on a very important matter.”
“If Azim says it’s important then I’m sure it must be,” Kelson said easily. “Show him in, Ivo.”
Ivo went and opened the door to admit the Anviller Knight. “Prince Azim, Sire, Your Grace.”
“I thank you for seeing me before the feast, my Prince,” Azim. He made his customary graceful low bow, his right hand brushing his heart, lips and forehead to both King and Duke. “I apologize for my lack of notice, but it truly is a matter of grave importance, and one that is best not discussed in the public atmosphere of a feast. Liam-Lajos may be in danger.”
“You’re always welcome in Rhemuth, my Lord Azim,” Kelson replied. “What is the nature of this danger?”
“I have reason to believe we Anvillers have been playing host to a spy,” Azim answered grimly. “One in the former employment of Mahael, and now of Teymuraz alone.
“He has been an initiate and a novice of my Order these past two years,” Azim continued. “A very promising young Adept in the arcane sense, and also at his weapons training. His name is Ibrahim ibn Majid, and he claimed to have been a recent convert to Christianity.” Azim looked grim. “Recent, but never very enthusiastic, and as I think back on it, I should have suspected him all along.
“But the heart of the matter is that he disappeared from Djellarda a fortnight ago. I now have reason to suspect that he may be in Rhemuth, and he must be considered dangerous.”
“This man is in Rhemuth, but Liam is in danger?” Morgan blurted. “I would think Kelson would be the one in danger. Teymuraz wouldn’t mind seeing him dead, either.”
“King Liam,” Azim repeated. “Although I suspect you’re right that the King must be vigilant tonight, Alaric. Beldour and Torenthaly were both scoured for any sign of Ibrahim, but turned up nothing. Even if Teymuraz can’t use them himself, he could have given the portal locations and signatures to Ibrahim. Even when we studied the likeliest portals in Beldour, we couldn’t detect any sign that Ibrahim had used them.”
“Wonderful, then we quite probably have a Muslim assassin hiding somewhere in Rhemuth,” Kelson sighed.
“And a very skillful Deryni one my Prince, in the employ of a man who wouldn’t mind seeing you dead, as Alaric pointed out,” Azim added. “That is why I came in person tonight.”
”While your welcome is never in doubt, I can’t say your news is particularly welcome this time, Azim.” Kelson gave him a grim smile. “Nonetheless, the warning is much appreciated.”
“It is to the benefit of all that Ibrahim should be stopped, Sire,” Azim answered. “Yours, Liam’s and that of my Order. Quite aside from my personal feelings about the waste of both your and Liam-Lajos’s lives and your combined potential to do good for your people, there is also the stability of both Gwynedd and Torenth to consider.
“And there is knowledge unique to the Anvillers that we do not care to have go beyond the walls of Djellarda, as it would be valuable to our enemies. If possible, I should prefer to take him back with me alive, but if he cannot be captured, then he must be killed.”
Kelson nodded. “So be it. Can you describe this man-“
“Swift, no! Drop it, you bad dog! Oh you little fiend, come back here!”
Araxie’s voice floated out to all of them from her chamber. The curtains rustled in the doorway as a fuzzy brindled greyhound puppy came bounding into the room with something red in his mouth. His tail wagged provocatively as he went down in a play bow before them, just begging to be chased around the room.
He was followed closely by his Royal mistress, dressed for the Michaelmas feast although missing her coronet and veil yet.
“Help me catch him, Kelson!” Araxie pleaded. “The little wretch has one of my new dancing slippers!” She displayed the pointed toes of her left foot, as yet covered only with white silken hose.
Swift thought it was a splendid game, and managed to elude his four pursuers for some minutes, until he was efficiently cornered by Azim and Kelson and relieved of the by now gnawed and soggy slipper. The toes were particularly damaged, and one of the puppy’s fangs had put a hole right through the soft thin leather.
“I’m sorry darling,” Kelson said. “We didn’t get it away from him quickly enough. Have you another pair to wear tonight?”
“Oh, of course,” Araxie said as she looked at the ruined slipper with disfavor. “Scores of pairs. But these were specially dyed to match my gown.” She waved a hand at her silken skirts that were the rich, lovely red of pomegranate seeds. She shook the slipper at Swift. “Bad dog, Swift!”
The puppy crouched down and whimpered, rolling his eyes appealingly at Araxie, his tail thumping on the floor.
Azim chuckled softly. “He knows how to appeal to a judge I think, even when the evidence of his guilt is in her hand!”
Araxie turned and smiled at her teacher. “Lord Azim! I did not expect to see you this evening. What brings you to Rhemuth?”
Azim bowed low before her and returned her smile. “I wish I could say it was to celebrate Michaelmas with the new Queen of Gwynedd, but I’m afraid a more serious matter has brought me here.”
Araxie raised her eyebrows in question and was quickly told of the matter at hand.
“Bishop McLain, Sire,” Ivo said, standing aside quickly to allow Duncan to enter the room.
Duncan hurried in, giving his king and queen a distracted bow, nodding greeting to Azim and Morgan. He glanced hastily around the room as if looking for one more person, then his expression took on a look of definite worry.
“Duncan, I was wondering when you’d show up,” Kelson said cheerfully. “What’s the matter?”
“Good evening My Prince, My Lady,” Duncan said, turning to face Kelson. “I have to say I’m disappointed not to find Dhugal here. He’s not in his quarters, and I’ve not seen him all day except at Mass in the cathedral this afternoon. He promised he would come and see me after Mass, but he never came. Have any of you seen him?”
“He dined with Araxie and me last night, and I’m sure I saw him during the procession to the Cathedral and back,” Kelson said slowly. “But I haven’t really had a conversation with him today.
“I asked him something as we were all leaving the Cathedral,” Araxie added. “He just muttered some excuse and hurried away from me. It was certainly not like him to do that, but I didn’t think anything more of it until now.”
“I think I saw him having some ale with other young knights in the garden late this afternoon,” Morgan said. “But that was from a distance. I haven’t talked to him all day either, although I know he came to Mass and back, afterwards.”
“Very odd.” Duncan was now looking downright worried, and Kelson frowned, trying to remember where he’d last glimpsed Dhugal.
“He was kneeling behind us in the choir during Mass today,” Kelson said thoughtfully. He glanced at Araxie and she nodded her confirmation. Normally, he’s just down a place or two to my left.”
“It’s so strange,” Duncan sighed. “One would think he was trying to avoid all of us.”
“We’ll find him, Duncan,” Kelson reassured the Bishop with a squeeze of his shoulders.
“I think in the light of the news I have brought My Prince, that finding your friend is an excellent idea,” Azim said quietly. “To assure us that he is well and safe, above all.”
Duncan turned to Azim. “What are you implying, my Lord?”
Azim’s news of Ibrahim was quickly told to Duncan, who scowled.
“Ivo!” Kelson called. “You, Dolfin, Davoran and Niall go look for Duke Dhugal at once!”
“Wait a moment, Sire, young man,” Azim said quickly holding up an authoritative hand. “Having your squires help us look for the Duke is a wise idea but it may be too dangerous, especially for the younger ones.
“Do not confront the Duke, when you find him,” he warned Ivo. “Simply come back and report to His Majesty where you saw him and what his state appeared to be.”
Ivo glanced at Kelson who both nodded confirmation and waved dismissal.
“Kelson, Dhugal may already be down in the Great Hall,” Araxie pointed out, placing a light hand on his arm. “They’ll be getting ready to serve as soon as we arrive. That seems like the likeliest place to start looking for him.”
“Ye-es,” Kelson, agreed slowly, distracted from his concern for his foster brother. “And you and I will have go down soon, ourselves. It is Michaelmas after all, and people will talk if we don’t show up for your first major court occasion as queen. Nor do we want the whole court to know about this Ibrahim, I suspect.”
Azim shook his head. “Best that the fewest possible people know.”
“I’ll go finish getting ready, and then we can go down,” Araxie said. She disappeared back through the curtained doorway leading to her own quarters.
Nigel, Meraude, and Payne were waiting for them in the small anteroom off the Great Hall waiting for them to arrive before making their own appearance within.
“Yes, I’ve seen Dhugal today, but not to speak to and only as briefly as the rest of you,” Nigel said thoughtfully when Azim’s news had been reported to him. “He’s already seated at the high table inside. I think perhaps he’s had a bit too much to drink this afternoon, but otherwise he seems all right to me.”
Duncan’s worried expression lightened a trifle. “If the young fool brushed me off to go drink with his companions and then show up drunk for a Court feast, he’ll surely hear about it from me,” he said. “But I’m too relieved that he’s safely accounted for to growl at him much.”