The magic was breaking free again.
Its music sang along Gair’s nerves as if they were harp-strings, a promise of power thrumming through his fingers. All he had to do was embrace it, if he dared. He pressed his face into his knees and prayed. ‘Hail, Mother, full of grace, light and life of all the world. Blessed are the meek, for they shall find strength in you. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find justice in you. Blessed are the lost, for they shall find salvation in you. Amen.’
Line by line, verse by verse, the devotion tumbled from his cracked lips. His fingers twitched for the familiar shapes of rosary beads to keep the count, but he had lost his place long ago. When the words faltered, he hugged his knees tighter to his chest and began again.
‘Now I am lost in a place of darkness O Mother I am fallen from thy path guide me once more …’
Music still whispered seductively in his ears. Nothing drowned it out, not prayers, not pleas, not even the few hymns he could still remember. It was everywhere: in the rusted iron walls of his cell, in the rank sweat on his skin, in the colours he saw in the dark. With every breath he took, it grew a little louder.
Silvery chimes rang in the air. Gair opened his eyes and they
were seared by a light so bright, so white, he had to shield his face with his hands. Through his fingers he saw two figures, clothed in brilliance. Angels. Holy Mother, angels sent to carry him home.
‘… bless me now and take me to your side let me be forgiven of all my sins …’
On his knees, Gair waited for the blessing. A backhanded blow across his face sent him sprawling.
‘Save your chants, hidderling!’
Another blow flung him hard against the iron-plate wall. Pain exploded in his temple and the music shivered into silence.
‘Gently, now. He has no power to harm you here.’
No. He had no power. The magic was too wild, too unpredictable to belong to anyone for long. He didn’t need iron walls to be helpless. Slumped on the floor, Gair clutched his pounding head.
Blessed are the lost
Silver-spurred boots crossed his line of sight, rowels chiming. Not bells. No robes of light, just the white wool surcoats of the Lord Provost’s marshals. Iron manacles snicked round Gair’s wrists and the marshals hauled him up by the chains.
He fell back to his knees as the cell wheeled crazily around him.
Cursing, a marshal drove his boot into Gair’s rump.
The other marshal clicked his tongue. ‘It’s a sin to take Her name in vain, you know that.’
‘Heh. You swore yourself to the wrong House, my friend. You preach like a lector.’ Another kick. ‘Up, witch! Walk to your judgement, or we’ll drag you!’
Gair lurched to his feet. Out in the stone-flagged corridor, sunlight lancing through high windows blinded him again. The marshals took position either side of him with their hands under his arms, half steering him, half supporting him when he stumbled. Scabbards slapped and spurs rang as more marshals fell in step behind.
Endless blurry corridors. Stairs that tripped him and tore at his bare toes. No time to rest or catch his breath; he had to walk or
fall, and he had fallen so far already. Out of the Goddess’ grace, out of Her hearing, no matter how many fragments of prayers still skittered through the void the magic had left inside him.
‘… be a light and comfort to me now and in the hour of my death …’
A gauntleted hand cuffed the side of Gair’s head and a yank on his chains pulled him on. Wider hallways now, panelled in wood. Marble tiles underfoot instead of bare dressed stone, and hangings on the walls. One final turn and the marshals halted. Dark doors towered ahead, flanked by smudgy figures carrying long banners. A breath of air stirred the fabric, and Holy Oaks flamed as thread of gold embroidery caught the sun.
Recognition sank like a stone into Gair’s gut. Those doors led to the Rede Hall, where the Knights held their councils and ceremonies … where the Order gave its judgements. His knees buckled, and chains clattered as he put out his hands to stop himself sprawling on the polished floor. Inside him, a whisper of music stirred and was still.
Judgement. Too late to hope he might be spared; too late to hope for anything but forgiveness.
Oh Goddess, look kindly on me now
Ahead, the massive doors swung noiselessly inwards.
From the curtained alcove above the doors Alderan could see the length of the Rede Hall, from surcoated sentries to the many-leaved bronze Oak above the Preceptor’s chair, glowing in the sun that was streaming through the tall windows. His perch was high enough above everyone’s eyeline to be safe, provided he did nothing to attract attention to himself, but it was still a risk being there.
The benches either side of the hall were crowded with hierarchs, magnificent in their formal scarlet – a full house, as close as
he could count, full of rosy cheeks and well-padded arses, gossiping and nodding and fluffing their feathers.
Alderan’s lip curled.
These are the inheritors of Endirion? The First Knight must be weeping in his grave
From a side door came a pair of clerks, sober as ravens in their black robes. They took their seats at desks facing each other across the hall before the Preceptor’s chair on its dais, the prosecutor sorting his papers, the scribe setting out pens and ink to record the day’s proceedings for the archives. A moment later, the Preceptor himself entered the hall.
Ansel’s angular frame was as upright as ever, but his thick hair matched his white robes, and the hand that held his staff of office was knobbed and twisted by arthritis.
So at last he’s met a foe he cannot vanquish. The hero of Samarak, finally brought low by time