Read Hand of the King's Evil - Outremer 04 Online

Authors: Chaz Brenchley

Tags: #Fantasy

Hand of the King's Evil - Outremer 04

Hand of the King's Evil - Outremer 04
Book Jacket
Series:
Outremer [4]
Rating:
Tags:
Fantasy

SUMMARY:
In the fifth book of Outremer, a heretic people threaten the fragile peace-and a renegade state becomes the battleground.

Chaz Brenchley
has made a living as a writer since he was eighteen. He is the author of a dozen novels for adults, and one book of short stories; he has also published three books for children and some poetry. He lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, with two cats and a famous teddy bear.

Find out more about Chaz Brenchley and other Orbit authors by registering for the free monthly newsletter at
www.orbitbooks.co.uk

Also by Chaz Brenchley

The First Book of Outremer: TOWER OF THE KING'S DAUGHTER

The Second Book of Outremer: FEAST OF THE KING'S SHADOW

Hand
of
th
e King
's
Evil

THE THIRD BOOK OF OUTREMER

Chaz Brenchley

www.orbitbooks.co.uk

An
Orbit
Book

First published in Great Britain by Orbit 2002

Copyright ©
2002 by Chaz Brcnchle
y

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

Visit the se
ries website at
e
www.outremer.co.uk

All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN I 84149 035 0

Typeset in Garamond by M Rules Printed and bound in Great
Britain by Mackays of Chatham pl
c

Orbit An imprint of Time Warner Books UK Brcttenham House

Lancaster Place London WC2E 7EN

This one's for Jean and Roger, who liked the books so much they built the website.

1

The chapel had been altered since he was first here, last here, since he'd belonged. Fifteen years ago, that was, and hard years they'd been for him: years of exile, for all that he'd been back in his own country and serving his own liege lord. They had stripped him naked and sent him away from this place, had turned their faces from him and closed the gate behind him as he stumbled out. The taste of that shame was fresh and bitter still in his mouth, fresher even than the ever-fresh memory of cold rain against his skin as he'd run weeping down through the dark, down and down, heedless of the height and danger of the road. He'd cut his feet on sharp stones, bruised his shoulder against the wall of rock and felt neither cuts nor bruises, only the wind and the rain and the immeasurable shame. A young man then, he'd thought his life was over, he couldn't live with this. He had been judged and condemned, and rightly so. If he'd missed a turn, blinded by the night and the rain and his tears, if he'd fallen from the road it would have been the God's sterner
judgement on him; no one would have cared, none in the castle and himself least of all.

Fifteen years. When he was driven out they'd still been building, raising new walls higher than the old; this chapel, like everything in the original fortress, had been left all but untouched for lack of time or men to work on it. He remembered the rough raw plaster where heretical mosaics, Catari blasphemies had been chiselled out by the pious men who first won the Roq and claimed it. The word then was that it did honour to the God, when the very walls of His chapel showed how they had been wrenched free of black religion and consecrated to His service.

The word must be different now. It was called the Knights' Chapel these days; he supposed the knights had paid, or their families or sponsors. They must have paid handsomely. He knew little of such matters - in Elessi they kept their chapels simple, white walls and dark wood, only the candles' flames to stand in the eye and remind a man of his God - but the lamps and vessels on the altar here were silver where they were not gold, and he knew the value of that. The walls had been plastered and the plaster painted; everywhere he looked he saw images of the saints and their deaths, or else images of the God's victory here and throughout the Sanctuary Land. The glory of Ascariel glimmered gold behind the altar. Even the candle-stands were silver, and all the silver was chased.

It was all alien to him and he liked none of it, but he came here none the less. The great hall was too public and too familiar, it held too many memories. Every day since his arrival at the castle he had come, leaving at first his men to their ale and his lady to whatever entertainment she could find or make; he had spent hours on his knees in the darkest corner he could find, relying on cap and shadows to obscure his race from all but the God. There were few to see, in any case. They might call it the Knights' Chapel, but the knights used it seldom. Brothers came in sometimes, alone or in pairs, for private prayer and meditation or else for confession; their murmuring voices offered little distraction and no one gave him more than a sidelong glance, no one challenged his right to be here.

Only the once had he been singled out, had he been spoken to directly. That had been a challenge, perhaps, though not to his presence in the chapel: to his faith, rather, and to his betraying soul. His reply had been a confession, but nothing that could soothe or cleanse.

Still, the encounter had gifted him with hope. So he still came to the chapel daily, he still locked himself in private prayer like a man who walked a wilderness alone. In many ways he was alone, more so than he had been these fifteen years; his lady charge was gone, and his troop after her. She'd slipped his guard and run with strange companions, heretics and worse. Her lord husband had led the search for her, with Marshal Fulke of the Ransomers hot at his side; different spurs drive different men with equal fire.

No trace had been found, no tracks, no rumours of their passing. At last the baron had gone back to Elessi, and taken all his men with him; only Blaise he'd left at the Roq, 'in case she should return, sergeant, in case she should be found. A familiar face to greet her, and sharp eyes to watch her welfare
...'

Sharp eyes to watch her straying feet he'd
meant, and Blaise had understood him perfectly. Twice now she'd slipped her guards and fled, shaming her husband in the eyes of all; she shouldn't be allowed a third adventure, but gossip said that the preceptor of the castle had an eye for her beauty, and would make an unreliable custodian. It was wisdom to leave a man of Elessi, to be sure that she could be kept until she was collected.

It was cruelty to name Blaise as that man, to leave him so alone beneath the burning-glass of his own disgrace. The young baron couldn't know that, though; if his uncle the elder baron knew, he kept his counsel.

Blaise had been offered a private chance of redemption, right here in the chapel; that was all he had to cling to. The conversation was burned into his brain. His faltering confession, the history of his time within the Order, and then:

I
was stripped naked and sent into exile, Magister. Forbidden the habit, and the service of the God And I, I have lived with that all this time, but I do not think I can bear it any longer.'

'You must. When you endanger a brother, you betray the Order. There can be no remission.' 'No, Magister. I know.
But...'

'But that is not to
say
that you cannot serve the God, or the Order. Many men do, who do not wear the habit.' 'I am no knight, Magister.'

'No, but we have other servants yet. The time is coming, when we will need more fighting men than are sworn to us; I dislike to accept mercenaries, but when I must I will
.
Will you fight with us, brother, when that time comes?'

'Not for money Magister!'

'Well, you may do what you will with the pay I cannot put you in a habit, but I can put a sword in your hand and give you a place in the line, if you will take it.'

'Yes, Magister. I will take it. And thank you.'

'I
am not
finished yet. That time will come, but it is not here yet. Will you serve me and the God in the meantime? Without a habit and without pay without honour or recognition, in secrecy and obedience even when you hate what it is that I ask you to do?'

'What will that be, Magister?'

'It may be this, it may be that. I cannot say I do not explain myself, but I want private serva
nts, sworn to me in silence. Will
you be one among them?'

'Magister, I will'

'Good. Listen for
my
voice, then, and obey when you hear it. The time will come. Serve the Lady Julianne, and serve her well, until I call you; then serve me better
...'

And so he had waited out his time, enduring day by day, hour by hour, moment by terrible moment. He had exercised his body and his horse in order to be ready whenever that call should come, regardless of the pain it cost him to ride or sweat among the brothers, where he was no brother now. Otherwise he had held himself apart, as a guest ought. He attended the noon service whenever he could bear to, praying in the gallery with other strangers; he fetched his meals from the kitchen and ate in solitude, in his own rough quarters; and every day he came back to this small chapel, to spend hours on his knees before the God and to hope, almost to pray for another visit, another conversation with the one man who could save him.

Almost, he had given up hoping. Almost he thought he had been forgotten or dismissed, that the chance once offered had been wi
thdrawn again. But he did devoutl
y believe in second chances, his faith required it; the God s sign glowed before his eyes, a path that turned and turned and came back always to the centre.

And so he did come back always to the chapel, even on his darkest days, at his most despairing; and so at last he was rewarded.

On his knees in the shadows and the silence, his belly clamped around its perennial hunger — he lived like a guest but ate like a brother penitent, bread and porridge and no meat, no midday meal, no satisfaction - and his mind clamped around its perennial sense of loss, he heard the whisper of a robe that brushed the floor. He tried piously, hopelessly to pretend that this was not what he had been listening for, that his thoughts had been entirely on the God and not at all on his surroundings; railing in that, he only waited for the bitter disappointment that must surely follow, that he had grown quite accustomed to over the weeks of his waiting, when the newcomer proved to be of interest surely to the God but none to him.

The soft sounds came closer, till he could hear the footsteps beneath the robe, till he could hear even the man

s quiet breathing. He held his own breath, still not quite daring to hope; the man knelt beside him, and murmured a brief prayer in the old tongue.

Then, at last, Blaise rifted his eyes to look And saw in the lamps' glow what he had dreaded not to see, even now: the robes of a master, the baldi
ng head above defiantl
y uncovered before the altar of the God, the thin pale face turned towards him.

'Magister
...'

'Sergeant. Are you still willing to do as you said, to serve me?'

'Yes, Magister. Of course.'

'Good. I have a mission for you.'

'Magister, I have been ordered to remain in the castle here, against the Lady Julianne's recovery
...'

'She will not be recovered now; or not to this place. She is long gone from here. You are right, though, you must defy your lord's command to obey me. Will you do that?'

It required barely a moment's thought. 'I will.'

'Listen, then. There is disease abroad in the Kingdom, a plague that no medicine will cure; I believe that it is a curse from Surayon, the Folded Land. There is also a man who follows this plague from town to town. He heals, he says by the touch of a saint

s hand; he says he is no saint himself. He also preaches, and he is gathering an army of the poor and dispossessed about him.'

'To what end, Magister?'

'I do not know; but he preaches against Surayon, as all true believers must. I want my man among his people, Blaise. I want to hear everything he says, to see everything he does. His army is nothing, a peasant rabble, a joke; but he may be a weapon I can use
...'

Part One

Other books

The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp
Destination: Moonbase Alpha by Robert E. Wood
South Wind by Theodore A. Tinsley
Accidental Cowgirl by McGinnis, Maggie
The Big Dip by Melanie Jackson
El cura de Tours by Honoré de Balzac
The Vengeful Vampire by Marissa Farrar
The Bubble Gum Thief by Jeff Miller