Lady Marian Rowena Lyon gritted her teeth as the palfrey picked its way down the steep mountain trail. Although the beast was gentle with a normally smooth gait, the treacherous surface of the descent from the Culdi highlands turned the ride into a nerve-wracking, jolting experience. As bits of gravel skittered beneath her mare’s hooves, she murmured a prayer under her breath for a safe arrival in the valley below. The fact that there were several other ridges for the party to cross before the journey’s end was something she put from her mind. One mountainside at a time was all her barely adequate equestrian skills were up to handling.
There was a sudden clatter of hooves behind her, and she stifled a shriek as the palfrey shied. Clutching at the horn of her saddle, she barely kept her seat as her escort, Lord Raleigh of Parjor recklessly rushed his bay stallion past her on the narrow trail, back to the lead position after consulting with the steward who was in charge of the small baggage wain that trailed in the party’s wake.
"Milady! Are you all right?" The gray-haired, neatly capped maid who rode behind her on a sturdy mountain pony cried out, concerned.
"Yes, Magda," she reassured her old nurse as the mare calmed and resumed picking its way in the wake of Edmund, one of the six soldiers that Raleigh’s father, Baron Parjor, had assigned to accompany his younger son and herself to the wedding. The stocky borderman had halted, ready to grab for the palfrey’s harness if necessary, but resumed his own mount’s progress once he’d realized things were back under control.
At least it’s not a horse litter, Marian Rowena Lyon consoled herself as they moved slowly, but steadily onward. She would be grateful to stop for the night even if it would mean having to listen to Raleigh stamp about, shouting his opinion on the news he’d heard from one of the monks who ran the waystation at the top of the pass.
A natural place to hear news brought by passing travelers on the Culdi highland trail, at the waystation the monk had spoken of the discovery, 'trial' and execution of a hidden Deryni family in a nearby village. His lurid descriptions of the family’s deaths, from father to youngest infant son had been echoed by Raleigh during a brief stop for water and to rest the horses, destroyed Marian’s appetite for the journey bread and cheese that made up the midday meal. He’d finally desisted after noticing the distress his recitation was causing her; attributing it to 'the weaker, sentimental feminine nature'.
But she knew he’d be gloating over the capture and deaths for days, fueling his rabid hatred of 'the accursed race'--a hatred exceeded only by that of his father, Baron Parjor.
The sky was beginning to fade towards dusk and she wondered if they’d make it to the bottom of the pass by full nightfall. She urged her mare to pick up the pace a bit, despite her nervousness, and concentrated on the footing immediately before her.
Thus she was surprised when, with shrill borderer calls, armed men appeared from behind the boulders and underbrush that lined the trail sides. With horror she watched as a raggedly dressed ruffian blindsided Edmund, knocking the soldier from his horse. The guard managed to get his hands on his weapons as he hit the ground, but he only got in a few blows before another attacker smashed a mace into his skull.
Marian fought an urge to retch at the sight as she clung to her rearing mount. The terrain hemmed them in; there was nowhere to flee. Behind her came the shouts and clash of steel as the servants and men at arms fought the bandits. Still clinging to her dancing steed, she stared through the thickening dusk to where Raleigh was besieged by a good half-dozen border bandits. Even as she watched, the young lordling was overcome and pulled from his abruptly collapsing stallion. Someone had apparently slit the beast’s throat.
The borderer who’d killed Edmund was grabbing for the palfrey’s harness, using his bulky weight to drag down the terrified horse’s head. As the forehooves touched the ground, other hands were laid upon her, pulling her down to stand, trembling, in her captor’s grip.
They dragged her down the trail, past the gruesome remains of two of Baron Parjor’s men, to where Raleigh had disappeared beneath the blows of his besiegers.
Copyright 1998 Bernadette Crumb