Crispin, still in his own form, slipped into the pew and knelt down next to Perrin who took one look at his face and guessed; "Bad news?"
"The worst," Crispin muttered into his hands. "They voted for conviction. Loris is coming to collect Morgan now."
"Loris!" Perrin hissed between his teeth.
Loris was very well known to all three of them for his Deryni persecutions up north. Trouble was they also knew why he hated magic and magic users and that there was more to it than sheer prejudice. Loris, regrettably, had had personal experience of Black Magic while Bishop of Stavenham in Kheldour. And knowing the sort of atrocities he must have seen it was hard to entirely blame him for his hostility. The Lleasilli – worshippers of the old, dark gods - were enough to make even a Deryni doubt the rightness of his powers.
"What if he doesn't surrender?" Aoibhell asked.
Crispin grimaced, "I can't see that happening, can you?"
Perrin nodded rueful agreement, "He's not going to outlaw himself until he's left with no other choice."
Aoibhell snorted; "Men and their silly rules!"
Had Princess Roxana overheard that opinion she would have agreed emphatically. She could not believe her eyes when Duke Alaric marched tamely into the Council chamber, a bound prisoner. And Kelson looked positively grim as he took his seat at the foot of the long table. The milling crowd hastily settled down and Roxana noted with approval that the Master had chosen a seat at Kelson's end of the room just feet from where Duke Alaric was standing. She had no doubt at all that if worst came to worst he would be able to get Morgan out. If it came to that it would be her job to handle Tant-Jehane. She looked at the back of her aunt's chair and cautiously tested the link she'd established between them. Jehana remained unaware of the intrusion. Roxana would have no trouble taking control if she had to. It was almost frightening how easy it would be. How could Tant-Jehane have left herself so vulnerable? She didn't even have normal human defenses!
Archbishop Loris laid the official writ on the table in front of Aunt Jehana with a bow. "Your Majesty, I have served the Council's write and procured the prisoner as you commanded." He turned to take a sword from an attendant. "I now present the prisoner's sword as proof of his surrender to the just summons of the –"
"Archbishop!" Kelson was on his feet, eyes blazing.
"Your Highness?" Loris answered warily.
"You will bring the sword to me, Archbishop," Kelson ordered, voice crackling with command. "General Morgan is my prisoner."
Loris, sword still in hand, took a step towards the prince, recovered himself and turned uncertainly back to the queen. "Your Majesty?"
Jehana was glaring at her son. "Kelson, if you think –"
"His Excellency will bring the sword to me, Mother," he said crisply. "By law and custom it is my right. I am still head of this Council, if only in name."
"Very well," Aunt Jehana impatiently waved Loris toward the other end of the table. "But that won't save him, you know."
"We shall see." The prince sat back down, nodding cool acknowledgement of the Archbishop's bow as he placed the disputed blade on the table in front of him. First honors to Kelson! He promptly returned to the attack. "Uncle Nigel," he said, eyes locked in a level stare with Aunt Jehana. "I believe you were given strict instructions to delay the Council meeting until I could arrive. Perhaps you can explain?"
Prince Nigel gave the queen a look of barely veiled triumph. "Indeed I can, Your Majesty. I did try to inform the Council that you had asked for a postponement but there were certain others who ignored that request. Her Majesty the queen informed us that you were engaged in more important matters. She insisted we begin without you.
Aunt Jehana looked away from Kelson's frown. "Is this true, Mother?"
"Of course it's true!" she answered, still avoiding his gaze. "There were things to be done, Kelson – things that should have been done a long time ago. At least your Council shows some common sense. You're precious Morgan was convicted by a vote of five to four."
How much sense that showed was debatable to say the least! Roxana saw Kelson bite back a sharp retort. He breathed then said quite calmly. "Very well, my lords, I see that nothing I can say will change your minds at this point."
The princess shot a nervous glance at Duke Cathan. He was leaning back, deceptively relaxed in his chair, his eyes fixed on the prince's profile. Did Kelson have a plan? The Master seemed to think so. Roxana looked back at her cousin.
"I would ask one indulgence before I pass judgment on this case, however. I shall require each of you to re-cast your vote as you did before," he said and Roxana frowned. How would that help? "As I understand it you are questioning General Morgan's fidelity to Crown and Church," Kelson continued. "I should like to know who believes this patent lie." The princess hid a grin. That was putting them on the spot all right! She thought gleefully, Kelson had just made it very clear that Morgan's enemies would be counted as his. And he would be king in fact as well as name after today.
The Earl Fallon rose to face his prince, visibly uneasy. "Are you challenging the findings of your lawful Council, Your Highness?"
Yes! Roxana thought fiercely.
"Not at all," said Kelson. "I merely wish to reassure myself that your verdict was, indeed, secured by lawful means."
Lawful but not just, was Roxana's silent comment. She saw Duke Cathan's lips quirk as he picked up the thought.
"Come, gentlemen, we waste precious time," Kelson was saying. "How say you? Is Morgan, indeed, a traitor and a heretic? Uncle?"
Prince Nigel stood to reply. "Lord Alaric is innocent of the charges, Your Majesty."
One by one the lords of the Council repeated their votes: Earl Bran, guilty; Earl Ian, guilty; Bishop Arilan, innocent; Duke Ewan, guilty. Kelson skipped over his mother to ask the question of Archbishop Corrigan:
"Guilty, Your Majesty," he said –giving Kelson the kingly style Roxana noted. "We have not even begun to catalogue the sins of the Deryni!"
Roxana suppressed a growl. "A simply 'guilty' is sufficient, Archbishop," Kelson snapped equally annoyed. "The entire race is not on trial here. One man is. A man, I might add, who has done much for Gwynedd."
"Who has done much to Gwynedd!" Corrigan retorted.
"Enough, Archbishop!" Kelson silenced the prelate with an icy Haldane glare and moved on down the table. "Duke Jared?"
"Not guilty, Sire."
"And Lord Kevin?"
"Innocent, Your Majesty."
Kelson turned that wide Haldane glare on his mother. "I know that Lord Derry also voted for acquittal, so that makes – five to five. I hardly think that constitutes a conviction, Mother."
So that was Kelson's game, Roxana thought, enlightened. But would he be allowed to get away with it?
Not if Aunt Jehana had anything to say about it. "Lord Derry was not permitted to vote. He is not a member of this Council."
Roxana bit her lip and chanced another look at the Master. Duke Cathan was sitting upright, eyes still intent on Kelson but with a hint of smile in their depths.
Kelson's eyes narrowed. Aunt Jehana and a couple of the other lords flinched. That look on his father's face had meant trouble. "Very well," he said calmly. "I had intended Derry to vote in Morgan's place in his absence, but since Morgan is here now, he can vote for himself. I think there will be no question how his vote goes."
Roxana nearly laughed out loud at the looks on the Council lords' faces. "Morgan cannot vote!" Aunt Jehana sputtered. "He is on trial."
Kelson's eyebrows rose. "But he is still a member of the Council until convicted, Mother," he explained in a patient tone that would have goaded any woman to fury. "Until and unless his powers and prerogatives are stripped away by lawful action, you cannot deny him his vote – especially since he was not even allowed to speak in his own behalf." Roxana saw Duke Cathan, and a few others nod agreement to that. Morgan should have been allowed to present a defense – for all the good it would have done him.
Aunt Jehana leapt to her feet red with anger. "And if you cannot deny him his right to vote, neither can you deny me mine! Since you decided to join us and assume leadership of the Council I am no longer so bound. And I say Morgan is guilty as charged which brings your vote to six to five against him. Your precious Morgan is doomed, Kelson! What do you say to that?"
Roxana looked reproachfully at her aunt, on the other hand Kelson had asked for it using that tone with her. She glanced at her cousin; Kelson was sitting back in his chair blank faced with shock. Then at the Master, what now?
Cathan was watching Morgan. The Duke's head and eyes were lowered, even at this distance she could almost hear his mind working, formulating a plan. She glanced back at the Master. Did he have some plan of his own or were they to follow Duke Alaric's lead? Their eyes met. The latter, they would support Duke Alaric's move when it came. Roxana moved closer to her aunt's chair resting a hand lightly on its arm.
"My lords," Kelson was saying in a weary, defeated voice. "It seems we have lost," he included Morgan and Nigel as well as himself in a vague wave. "I-I would beg your indulgence in one more matter before I pronounce sentence, however. I would request that the full charges against General Morgan be read out first. Are there any objections?"
"Of course not," Aunt Jehana resumed her seat putting her shoulder in easy reach of Roxana. "Lord Ewan, would you read the charges in their entirety?"
Poor Ewan looked as if there were any number of things he would rather do but dutifully began to read; "To His Grace, Lord Alaric Anthony Morgan, Duke of Corwyn and Lord General of the Royal Armies –"
Roxana braced herself, ready to seize control of her aunt the instant Duke Alaric moved, in the meantime wondering vaguely just why Kelson had made his request. It looked like a ploy to buy time… Abruptly she remembered what day this was, and exactly why the coronation had been scheduled for tomorrow. She looked at the Master and saw he too had guessed what Kelson was up to. Heaven grant the indictment was long enough!
It was - barely. Just as Duke Ewan sank gratefully back into his chair the Basilica bells sounded the hour. One…two….three….four…
Roxana rolled her eyes. Kelson hadn't had to wait at all! It only went to show one should always keep track of the time. Her cousin rose; "My lords, Your Majesty," he said formally, bowing to Aunt Jehana. "We have heard the charges against our general. We have also heard the wishes – indeed the demands – of the Council in this matter. However it pleases us to consider one further item of business before pronouncing judgment on the accused."
Roxana blinked as murmurs broke out around the table. She hadn't been expecting that. Why didn't Kelson just tell them exactly what they could do with their charges and dismiss the case?
"It has occurred to us," Kelson continued conversationally, "that our ranks have recently been saddened by the loss of our good and loyal servant, Lord Ralson of Evering." He crossed himself piously and the lords followed suit but Aunt Jehana didn't move, hands clenched tensely on the arms of her chair. "Therefore we have decided to appoint a new Council lord to fill his place."
"You cannot do that!" Aunt Jehana cried rocking her heavy throne as she sprang to her feet.
"We are, aware of course," Kelson continued as if he hadn't heard, "that Lord Derry can never replace Lord Ralson, but we are certain he will bring his own measure of devotion to that honored post. Sean Lord Derry."
The Council erupted as the young lord got uncertainly to his feet, looking to Morgan for support and receiving an almost visible shrug in answer. The protest continued, growing louder, and Kelson pounded the table for order with the hilt of Morgan's sword.
Aunt Jehana's voice rose high above the men's; "Kelson, you cannot do this! You have no right. You know you cannot appoint a new councilor without the approval of the Regents. You are not of age!"
Roxana clapped a hand over her mouth. Oh poor Aunt Jehana!
Kelson gave his mother a frighteningly hard, chill look. "Lords of the Council, my esteemed mother has apparently forgotten that it was precisely fourteen years and one hour ago, in another room of this very palace, that she brought into this world a son: Kelson Cinhil Rhys Anthony Haldane; that, as her labor ended, the royal physicians placed me in her arms – and the bells tolled three in the afternoon!" the queen collapsed into her chair and Kelson continued: "And you, my lords: the reason for our coronation tomorrow instead of today has apparently slipped your minds, also. As you are well aware, royal writ decrees that no king of Gwynedd shall be crowned in his own right until he has fully reached legal age. Since I was not due to each that legal age until three this afternoon – too late for a coronation, you must admit – the ceremony was scheduled for tomorrow. But I rule today!"
And that was that. Derry was summarily sworn in and predictably declared his lord innocent. Only then did Kelson employ his authority to break the tie, acquit the Duke, cut his bonds, return his sword and sweep out of the room with Morgan and Derry in attendance. Go Kelson!
The moment the door closed behind the three the room again erupted in exclamations and arguments. Roxana looked at her aunt, still frozen in her chair, and some of her elation leaked away. Tant-Jehane's hands worked and unshed tears gathered in her eyes. For her this was not merely a political defeat. How would any mother feel if her son defied her to side with a man she regarded as mortal enemy to them both?
Roxana slipped her hand into Jehana's as it unclenched. The queen looked at her startled, then forced back the tears to smile reassuringly into her niece's concerned face and got to her feet. The two of them walked out of the room hand in hand past temporarily silenced, bowing councilors. And the brazen doors closed behind them with a hollow boom, cutting off the sounds of renewed debate.