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       King Javan’s Year, p.1

           Katherine Kurtz
 
King Javan’s Year


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  Also by Katherine Kurtz

  The Deryni Novels

  The Chronicles of the Deryni

  Deryni Rising

  Deryni Checkmate

  High Deryni

  The Legends of Camber of Culdi

  Camber of Culdi

  Saint Camber

  Camber the Heretic

  The Histories of King Kelson

  The Bishop’s Heir

  The King’s Justice

  The Quest for Saint Camber

  The Heirs of Saint Camber

  The Harrowing of Gwynedd

  King Javan’s Year

  The Bastard Prince

  The Childe Morgan Trilogy

  In the King’s Service

  Childe Morgan

  The King’s Deryni

  Other novels

  King Kelson’s Bride

  King Javan’s Year

  The Heirs of Saint Camber, Volume Two

  Katherine Kurtz

  For

  Lester del Rey

  with affection and gratitude

  CONTENTS

  PROLOGUE FOR HE MUST REIGN, TILL HE HATH PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

  —I CORINTHIANS 13:25

  I AND I WILL GIVE CHILDREN TO BE THEIR PRINCES, AND BABES SHALL RULE OVER THEM.

  —ISAIAH 3:4

  II BEHOLD, I COME QUICKLY: HOLD THAT FAST WHICH THOU HAST, THAT NO MAN TAKE THY CROWN.

  —REVELATIONS 3:11

  III THESE THINGS HAST THOU DONE, AND I KEPT SILENCE; THOU THOUGHTEST THAT I WAS ALTOGETHER SUCH A ONE AS THYSELF.

  —PSALMS 50:21

  IV BEHOLD, I HAVE SET BEFORE THEE AN OPEN DOOR.

  —REVELATIONS 3:8

  V FOR THOU HAST MAINTAINED MY RIGHT AND CAUSE.

  —PSALMS 9:4

  VI SEPARATE THYSELF FROM THINE ENEMIES, AND TAKE HEED OF THY FRIENDS.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 6:13

  VII THEY COMPASSED ME ABOUT ALSO WITH WORDS OF HATRED; AND FOUGHT AGAINST ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.

  —PSALMS 109:3

  VIII RIGHTEOUS LIPS ARE THE DELIGHT OF KINGS; AND THEY LOVE HIM THAT SPEAKETH RIGHT.

  —PROVERBS 16:13

  IX A PRUDENT MAN CONCEALETH KNOWLEDGE.

  —PROVERBS 12:23

  X I WILL TEACH YOU BY THE HAND OF GOD: THAT WHICH IS WITH THE ALMIGHTY WILL I NOT CONCEAL.

  —JOB 27:11

  XI WHO COVEREST THYSELF WITH LIGHT AS WITH A GARMENT.

  —PSALMS 104:2

  XII IN A TRANCE I SAW A VISION.

  —ACTS 11:5

  XIII SURELY THOU HAST SPOKEN IN MINE HEARING, AND I HAVE HEARD THE VOICE OF THY WORDS.

  —JOB 33:8

  XIV AND WHY STAND WE IN JEOPARDY EVERY HOUR?

  —I CORINTHIANS 15:30

  XV SURELY I WILL KEEP CLOSE NOTHING FROM YOU.

  —TOBIT 12:11

  XVI LET US EXAMINE HIM WITH DESPITEFULNESS AND TORTURE, THAT WE MAY KNOW HIS MEEKNESS …

  —WISDOM OF SOLOMON 2:19

  XVII FOR THE HAND OF THE ARTIFICER THE WORK SHALL BE COMMENDED.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 9:17

  XVIII FORGET NOT THY FRIEND IN THY MIND …

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 37:6

  XIX OBSERVE, AND TAKE GOOD HEED, FOR THOU WALKEST IN PERIL OF THY OVERTHROWING.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 13:13

  XX FOR THERE ARE CERTAIN MEN CREPT IN UNAWARES.…

  —JUDE 1:4

  XXI HE THAT DELICATELY BRINGETH UP HIS SERVANT FROM A CHILD SHALL HAVE HIM BECOME HIS SON AT THE LENGTH.

  —PROVERBS 29:21

  XXII FOR THOU, O GOD, HAST HEARD MY VOWS; THOU HAST GIVEN ME THE HERITAGE OF THOSE THAT FEAR THY NAME.

  —PSALMS 61:5

  XXIII DELIVER HIM THAT SUFFERETH WRONG FROM THE HAND OF THE OPPRESSOR; AND BE NOT FAINT-HEARTED WHEN THOU SITTEST IN JUDGMENT.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 4:9

  XXIV I SAID IN MINE HEART, GOD SHALL JUDGE THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 3:17

  XXV AND ANOTHER DIETH IN THE BITTERNESS OF HIS SOUL …

  —JOB 21:25

  XXVI GO NOT AFTER THY LUSTS, BUT REFRAIN THYSELF FROM THINE APPETITES.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 18:30

  XXVII A BROTHER OFFENDED IS HARDER TO BE WON THAN A STRONG CITY.

  —PROVERBS 18:19

  XXVIII MINE ENEMIES REPROACH ME ALL THE DAY; AND THEY THAT ARE MAD AGAINST ME ARE SWORN AGAINST ME.

  —PSALMS 102:8

  XXIX HOW LONG SHALL THEY UTTER AND SPEAK HARD THINGS? AND ALL THE WORKERS OF INIQUITY BOAST THEMSELVES?

  —PSALMS 94:4

  XXX BUT A SORE TRIAL SHALL COME UPON THE MIGHTY.

  —WISDOM OF SOLOMON 6:8

  XXXI FOR THEIR HEART STUDIETH DESTRUCTION, AND THEIR LIPS TALK OF MISCHIEF.

  —PROVERBS 24:2

  XXXII LET US CONDEMN HIM WITH A SHAMEFUL DEATH.

  —WISDOM OF SOLOMON 2:20

  XXXIII THOU HAST PUT AWAY MINE ACQUAINTANCE FAR FROM ME.

  —PSALMS 88:8

  XXXIV HE SHALL DIRECT HIS COUNSEL AND KNOWLEDGE, AND IN HIS SECRETS SHALL HE MEDITATE.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 39:7

  XXXV HE SHALL SERVE AMONG GREAT MEN, AND APPEAR BEFORE PRINCES; HE WILL TRAVEL THROUGH STRANGE COUNTRIES.

  —ECCLESIASTICUS 39:4

  XXXVI MARRIAGE IS HONOURABLE IN ALL, AND THE BED UNDEFILED.

  —HEBREWS 13:4

  XXXVII LIVE JOYFULLY WITH THY WIFE WHOM THOU LOVEST ALL THE DAYS OF THE LIFE OF THY VANITY … FOR THAT IS THY PORTION IN THIS LIFE, AND IN THY LABOUR WHICH THOU TAKEST UNDER THE SUN.

  —ECCLESIASTES 9:9

  XXXVIII NOW THEREFORE PERFORM THE DOING OF IT.

  —II CORINTHIANS 8:11

  XXXIX THEREFORE LET US LIE IN WAIT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS, BECAUSE HE IS NOT FOR OUR TURN, AND HE IS CLEAN CONTRARY TO OUR DOINGS.

  —WISDOM OF SOLOMON 2:12

  XL A PROUD LOOK, A LYING TONGUE, AND HANDS THAT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD.

  —PROVERBS 6:17

  XLI AND THEIR KING SHALL GO INTO CAPTIVITY, HE AND HIS PRINCES TOGETHER, SAITH THE LORD.

  —AMOS 1:15

  XLII AND THE REVOLTERS ARE PROFOUND TO MAKE SLAUGHTER, THOUGH I HAVE BEEN A REBUKER OF THEM ALL.

  —HOSEA 5:2

  EPILOGUE OUR INHERITANCE IS TURNED UNTO STRANGERS, OUR HOUSES UNTO ALIENS.

  —LAMENTATIONS 5:2

  PREVIEW: The Bastard Prince

  APPENDIX I: Index of Characters

  APPENDIX II: Index of Places

  APPENDIX III: Partial Lineage of the Haldane Kings

  APPENDIX IV: The Festillic Kings of Gwynedd and Their Descendants

  APPENDIX V: Partial Lineage of the MacRories

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  PROLOGUE

  For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

  —I Corinthians 15:25

  A little past dawn of a June morning already promising uncompromising heat, the dark-haired child whose job it was to check the pigeon roost clambered up the last few rungs of the ladder leading up from the room below and cautiously emerged on the tower’s flat roof, keeping low.

  The old square stone tower set on this barren hillside was assumed by local folk to be derelict. Twisted shrubs the size of small trees grew from a gap partway up one side, and what remained of the crenellated battlements looked ready to tumble down at the first good storm. In fact, the tower provided cover for a variety of clandestine activities whose scope would have surprised and shocked most of the human folk who lived in this remote area.

  Young Seanna MacGregor and the pigeons were a small part of one of those activities. Several dozen of
the dark-striped grey birds ruffled and chuckled to themselves behind the roost’s restraining mesh of knotted cord as the sun’s white disk cleared the eastern horizon. Seanna squinted against its brightness and scooped back sweaty wisps of hair that had escaped from her dark braid. Not a breath of air was moving. Usually no birds came in during the night, but this morning two were sauntering along the edge of the tower’s parapet, striped necks bobbing back and forth as they pecked for grain and twittered and cooed to the other birds.

  Trying to avoid any too-quick motion that might frighten them, the ten-year-old began creeping quietly toward the nearer of the two pigeons. Practiced little hands soon had the first bird captive against her chest, so that she could pull the curl of vellum out of the little wooden cylinder tied around the bird’s leg. Her dark eyes widened as she read the brief message, and after stuffing it in a pocket, she slipped the first bird into the cage with the others and went after the second.

  The second message proved to be the same as the first—insurance, no doubt, to make certain that at least one of them reached its destination. Glancing over the tower’s parapet to the yard below, Seanna looked for and spotted her favorite brother over by the tumbledown stables, watching a groom lead out a big, rangy bay that looked out of place in such mean surroundings. Not bothering to put the second bird into the cage, she released it onto the parapet again and started back down the ladder, sniffling back tears.

  Below in the yard, standing next to a bearded man in a farrier’s leather apron, the outlawed son of the outlawed Earl of Ebor turned a critical eye on the mare being trotted back and forth outside the stable. Jesse MacGregor was not a tall man, but his compact frame was muscled and hard. At twenty, he had been a warrior for almost half his life. Flecks of gold stirred in the depths of brown eyes that missed very little. The sun had bronzed his olive skin and put brassy lights in the brown hair tied back in a queue. Over a full-sleeved white shirt of gauzy linen, open at the collar, he wore riding leathers of a dusty cinnamon color, almost the same shade as the callused hand he raised to point at the mare’s front feet.

  “Look there. Do you see it? She’s still favoring the near front.”

  “Aye, she is,” the farrier agreed. “I’ll try weighting the shoe one more time, but we won’t have any hoof left to nail it to if we don’t get it right this time.”

  “Well, do what you can,” Jesse replied. “Thanks, Ned.”

  As the farrier took the mare from the groom and led her back into the barn, Jesse turned at movement from the direction of the tower and opened his arms to the slight, anxious form in boy’s attire who came hurtling across the yard to tackle him around the waist, dark braid flying.

  “Hey, Seanna Madonna, light of my life, what’s wrong?” he asked as he realized she had been crying.

  “Two birds this morning,” she said, raking a slightly grubby sleeve across her eyes. “They both had the same message. He’s dying, Jesse.”

  Stiffening slightly, Jesse hugged her closer for a moment, stroking a comforting hand down the dark hair, then took the two slips of parchment and headed back across the yard to the tower and a succession of hidden passages leading downward.

  The tower was a gateway to the last bastion of the outlawed Order of Saint Michael, though the Michaelines themselves were long gone as an order. Nearly two decades before, the underground sanctuary had served as headquarters for the Deryni Camber MacRorie and his associates, many of them human, who had ousted the Deryni King Imre of Festil and restored the human line of Prince Cinhil Haldane to the throne of Gwynedd. Since Cinhil’s death four years before, it again had become the hub for a combined human and Deryni resistance, this time led by Camber’s son Joram.

  For King Cinhil’s eldest son and heir, not yet twelve when he came to his father’s throne, had never managed to shake off the influence of the powerful human lords who had been his regents during his minority. Legislation pushed forward in the very first year of young Alroy’s reign had revived old resentments of Deryni privilege and excesses by focusing them through the lens of religious conviction that Deryni and their magical powers were evil. It was that legacy which had forced Joram and Jesse and their colleagues underground and which drove them in their ongoing efforts to see the balance set straight.

  “Two birds this morning,” Jesse said without preamble as he entered the underground library where Joram was working. “The messages are identical—and not what we wanted to hear.”

  Joram was already scanning the curl of parchment Jesse had handed him, and allowed himself a heavy sigh as he sat back and looked up at the newcomer.

  “I can’t say I haven’t been expecting this,” he said. “Sit down, sit down. I’d hoped we might make it through the summer, but—” He shrugged and shook his head. “Well, we’ll just have to move our plans ahead. Will you send the other copy on to Ansel?”

  Jesse nodded, wiping a sheen of perspiration off his brow with the back of a sunburned hand. Even in the relative cool of the underground Michaeline sanctuary, clad as he was for the summer heat, the air seemed close and still. He found it mildly comforting to note that even the usually fastidious Joram had loosened the collar of his black cassock.

  It still jarred Jesse not to see Michaeline blue when he looked at Joram. Since the suppression of the Order, Joram increasingly had taken to wearing the plain black working cassock of an ordinary priest—not that much was ordinary about Joram MacRorie. Though Joram now was into his forties, with most of his waking hours taken up in the coordination of their various efforts, he still managed to convey the keen, battle-ready image of the Michaeline knight he once had been.

  Like the old Michaeline blue, clerical black set off Joram’s lean form to perfection, dramatic contrast to the famous silver-gilt hair. It had gone more silvery than gold, perhaps, in the last few years, but he still wore it short-cropped for battle ease, with the small, coin-sized Michaeline tonsure shaven at the crown—a reminder, if primarily to himself, that he remained a Michaeline in spirit. The blue eyes still missed nothing, but a fine network of tiny lines around them told of new stresses that had not been his in the old days, when he had served his famous father as secretary and aide.

  Joram heaved a heavy sigh and ran both hands through the silver-gilt hair, then sat back wearily in his chair.

  “The timing on this is rotten,” he said, “but then, I suppose so is dying.”

  “Do you think it’s time to call in Queron and Tavis?” Jesse asked.

  “I’m afraid so. I wanted to minimize any movement that might jeopardize their cover, but we knew this was only a matter of time. Contact Queron and tell him what’s about to happen. I don’t see how it can be more than a few days. Ask him and Tavis to come as soon as they can do so without arousing suspicion. If it becomes more urgent than that, we’ll let them know. At least we’ll have gotten our part in motion.”

  Jesse nodded. “I’ll try to get through at midday. It may have to wait until tonight, though.”

  “Can’t be helped.” Joram crumpled the curl of parchment into a stiff little ball, then opened his hand to gaze at it sitting on his palm. After a few seconds, it burst into flame with a bright flare and a pop that made Jesse start.

  “So, for poor Alroy,” Joram whispered as he tipped the burning parchment off his hand. “The king is about to be dead; long live the king. Let’s just hope it’s the right king.”

  CHAPTER ONE

  And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them.

  —Isaiah 3:4

  King Alroy was dying. The Healer Oriel had tried to persuade himself otherwise for days, but the sweat-drenched sixteen-year-old fretting feverishly under even a single layer of limp sheeting was no longer even conscious much of the time—though there were occasional lucid moments.

  It was during one of those lucid moments, earlier in the day, that Alroy had rallied enough to ask that his bed be moved into one of the ground-level rooms opening onto the castle gardens, whe
re the windows might admit a little breeze. A breeze had come, with the setting of the sun, spilling the heady perfume of roses into the room, but there still was little enough respite from the heat, even this late at night. Summer had arrived early this year, and with uncharacteristic harshness. These first weeks of June had seemed more like August at its worst, the air still and stifling, heavy with humidity. Even the usually proper Oriel was stripped down to breeches and a thin linen shirt, open at the throat, the full sleeves pushed well up above his elbows.

  A young squire offered a basin of cool water, and Oriel wrung out another cloth in it, touching the back of one hand against his royal patient’s cheek before laying the cloth across the brow. Alroy Haldane had never been robust, and fever had burned away what little spare flesh there once had been on the boy’s slight frame, so that what remained resembled all too closely the stark planes of the effigy even now being prepared to lie beneath Rhemuth Cathedral. The sable hair, cut short around his face, was plastered to his skull like a glistening ebon cap.

  The king moaned and stirred a little, teeth clenched as if against a chill, even though the fever burned still, and the heat of the summer night as well. The court physicians had given him syrup of poppies earlier in the evening, when even Oriel’s feared Deryni powers had not been able to stop a particularly bad bout of hacking that seemed actually apt to end in the king coughing up part of his lungs. He slept now, but his breathing was labored and liquid-sounding; Oriel, like the king’s human physicians, knew that the king’s illness and his life were drawing inexorably toward their close.

  “He—isn’t getting any better, is he, sir?” the squire whispered, turning worried eyes on the Healer as Oriel wrung out another cold compress. The boy’s name was Fulk Fitz-Arthur, and he was two years younger than the king. His father was one of the lords of state waiting for word in the anteroom outside.

  Oriel sighed and shook his head as he changed the compress, pausing then to set his fingertips to the king’s sweat-drenched temples. Though he had no doubt what he would find, he sent his Healer’s senses deep into the ailing king, reading again what he already knew, to his heart’s despair—that the boy’s lungs were nearly eaten away with disease and filling with fluid. Court gossip had it that the boy’s father had perished of a similar ailment, with Healers far more skilled than Oriel helpless to save him.

 
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