Week 18, Infiltrating the Palace
It is now Tuesday, the 20th of May. Cantrel and David went shopping for clothing and armor. Later, Tom, David, and Fogi went ferreting out gossip and discovered that the big shindig at the palace this Saturday is the 14th birthday of the queen's nephew -- his coming-of-age. There will be a special mass at the cathedral, and the commons will be allowed to watch the parade formed by the resulting processionals. Some petty-kings and nobles will be visiting.
Dr. Wu set up pre-established telepathic rapport with Cantrel, then supplied him with forged papers signed by a fictitious seneschal of Lord Greystoke's, and a quasi-genuine Greystoke seal.
Aphron went to an armorer and a tailor and asked questions about the Greystoke and Warfield family arms and heraldry. in the process, he learned that Lady Warfield has recently had a child after years of childlessness. (This is Rhodri-3 from our first and future visit to Gwennedd.) The tailor wrote Aphron a letter of introduction to a herald, and the herald told him the new child's name was "Rhodri." Verification.
Wednesday. Cantrel presented himself at the palace with his semi-phony papers. He asked for the captain of the guard. On meeting the gent, he was charming as all get out. Still, custom demands a little testing of any new hires. While a page took the papers away for verification, Cantrel was given his choice of weapons for a practice bout. He chose morning-star as the nearest available equivalent to his nunchuks. He and a sparring partner then resorted to the lists.
Cantrel was knocked out on the first round. [Bad dice.] He recovered consciousness and suavely asked for two out of three falls. He was granted this and soon knocked his opponent down. On the third round, he knocked him clean out. So thorough was this belated victory that Cantrel modestly asked the captain if they had someone better. A mysterious noble, who had been watching the sparring, volunteered to fight.
The captain called to a guard, "George! Get the Earl Marshal some padding and a practice sword." (The EARL MARSHAL ? This is the military equivalent of a prime minister.) Cantrel acquits himself very well with the Earl Marshal, connecting a few times and defending himself with an interesting blend of flail skill and karate. Folk are mightily impressed, not least the Earl Marshal. The bout ends with suave courtesy on both sides. And Cantrel is hired. ("Did you see that?!" he hears whispered. "That guy got three good hits on the Earl Marshal!")
On being hired, Cantrel was given a sword -- purely ornamental so far as he was concerned, but they want him to learn to use it.
That evening, he was assigned guard at the king's table. Very nice for the new man on the team. After the first course, the Earl Marshal (who must have a name but I've forgotten it) introduced Cantrel to the king. "He's very good with that flail. Dances well, too!" Cantrel ignores this little dig and is charming at the king, making a few hints about hopes for promotion. The EM remarks on all this aplomb to the king, just in case His Majesty missed it. All this is quite a step up from getting yourself KO'd in the first round.
Meanwhile, Tom and Fogi hire on with a wainwright and Wu gets a position as assistant to the palace infirmarian. David hires on with the royal foresters.
Thursday. Cantrel gets his first sword lesson from a sergeant who, in the manner of sergeants throughout the universe, makes it a somewhat painful and humiliating experience.
Friday. Pfusand and Lorelei present a realistically crumbled letter of recommendation and get hired onto the kitchen staff. (They do not use those names, of course. Their names, credentials, faces, and species are all forged.)
Cantrel received a present: a sword, scabbard, and belt, all very nice, with a note reading, "In anticipation of your quick mastery of this skill," signed by the ever-lovin' EM. He is assigned guard at dinner again and, you may be sure, wears his pretty new sword.
The guests are starting to arrive by this time, and one of them flirts with Lorelei. (Our two medacious ladies have already risen from scullery maids to serving wenches.) The cook inquired after her whereabouts at the end of the evening, and Pfusand reported that she was last seen with Lord X. "They always pillage the help when it's time to clean up," the cook remarked.
Saturday. Lorelei made a point of showing up promptly for breakfast duty. She apologized to the cook who forgave her, acknowledging that Lord X outranked him. (Lord X also left Lorelei a nice gold ring. Hmm.)
Cantrel got in the guard for the cathedral service. Tom, Fogi, and Aphron watched from the sidelines, as did Victoria. She is now passing as a young woman of the merchant class. Tom slipped out the diadem tracer, but found that nothing had moved. The segment is not, for instance, being worn as a piece of jewelry by any of the royals.
Early in the ceremony, a young noble accosted the king, kneeling before him and begging for a hearing. The king and the Earl Marshal muttered together, then the EM raised up the young man and escorted him away, not unkindly. Cantrel overheard him imploring on behalf of his brother. The EM said the king would hear him later, and gently turned him over to a high-ranking cleric.
After mass, and after the subsequent meal, the king held a short court. The mysterious young noble there explained that his brother was defending some folk suspected of being Deryni. The mobs and vigilantes had now included this brother on their black list, and the higher nobles had given no help. The man feared for his brother's safety.
Cantrel once more overhears. The man's name is "Delany." Barrett Delany was the blind Deryni we sought out nineteen years from now. We know from the books that he was blinded defending a group of Deryni children. Odds are that this is the catastrophe now shaping up. We intend to stay well away from it.
The king feels he cannot give any military aid, but sends an inspector.
Later in the day, Cantrel asks his sergeant what it takes to make the rank of sergeant. Time, multiple skills (such as swordsmanship), and a few spectacular deeds don't hurt.
Meanwhile, out in town, Aphron learns that there are no significant internal tensions, but people fear attack by the Marluk of Tolan, a Deryni ruler of a neighboring realm. (The Marluk will, in fact, assassinate the king in about two years, and in turn be killed by the king's son, Brion.)
Lorelei got picked up again at dinner, and managed to get a bit of a tour around parts of the palace as a result. Bedrooms, mostly, of course....
Sunday. We went to church.
Monday. We could have re-boarded the pantope at dawn, but had no reason to. The Earl Marshal again sparred with Cantrel, and only got in one good blow against him. Afterward, he got very friendly and stood Cantrel an ale. He understood Cantrel was looking for opportunities. Well, cough uh, yes. He was permanently assigned to the dinner guard.
Aphron went drinking with some off-duty guards and tried to run a Deryni suggestion spell on them. He failed on one and grossly offended him (though fortunately the guy didn't realize any magic was going on). But he succeeded on another and was given a tour of the more public parts of the castle.
A week went by.
Sunday again. Cantrel was in the guard escorting the king to the cathedral. He spotted an assassin moving through the crowd, readying for his knife for a strike at the king. He threw a knife into the man's throat and cried the alarm. The Earl Marshal dove in after him and got a knife through the hand. The EM ordered Cantrel to interrogate the fellow (while the EM pulled this blade out of his hand). Cantrel threatened to start amputating fingers.
EM: "Not torture. Interro--"
Assassin: "For Tolan!"
He then struck Cantrel in the neck and died.
EM: "I MEANT to keep him alive for later. Oh well. We found out the main thing."
They then limped off to get patched up. Cantrel naturally asked for Wu, and got much the better healing job. He recommended the new assistant to the EM.
We're infiltrating like crazy, but we aren't being very inconspicuous about it.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.