This story is the sequel to The Pretence of Strength. Some foolish people have asked me for a continuation of Jonathan's adventures, so here it is. In this story he will fall in love and find himself in a mess of trouble, the two not being entirely unconnected.
If you haven't read PoS, most of the backstory you will need is explained as you go along, as I've made it as self-contained as possible. All you probably need to know is that Jonathan is a juggler/acrobat who is part Gwyneddan and part something else (maybe Torenthi or R'Kassan) who spent several years in a travelling troupe and got into a mess of trouble then too!
If you have read PoS (thank you!) this new fic didn't work with the epilogue that I attached to it, so I've taken the epilogue down from the site. PoS now ends with Jonathan's return to Desse and Father Michael. Jonathan has been in Desse for a year and a half, or thereabouts, and is ready to move on with his life until something happens to disturb things a little.
I hope you enjoy his continued adventures, but for now I'll tantalise you with a little prologue...
The Deryniverse is the creation of Katherine Kurtz and she is generous enough to allow us to play with her toys a little.
They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit. Job 15:35
PROLOGUE : late Autumn 1124
Jozsef's fingertips beat a rapid rhythm against the door frame at his back. What in blazes was taking the man so long? Jozsef had tied his rowing boat to the end of the jetty before the tide turned and the waves now crested well below the high water mark. Torenthis were about as popular as a whore with the pox in Coroth at the moment and if he was caught sneaking ashore when he had his orders to stay on board it wouldn't go well with him. As for the reason for his meeting, well, it was enough to say Jozsef would prefer the city watch knew nothing of it. Traitors and rebels kept to the shadows and transacted their business in secret.
The thump of a walking stick on the wooden boards caught his ear and he peered into the darkness for the first glimpse of his Coroth contact. Whatever hold his master had over this lame Gwyneddan his choice had been a good one. Crippled or not, they had used him several times before and he had never disappointed. This was his biggest task yet; Jozsef hoped it wouldn't find him wanting.
"You took your time," hissed Jozsef. "I sent the lad for you ages ago. I need to be back on board before anyone notices I'm gone." He spoke good Gwyneddan, albeit with a heavy accent.
The lame man grumbled his way into the doorway and leaned against the wall, propping his stick beside his right leg. "I don't move fast. Winter's on its way and the damp and cold gets into this blasted knee and makes it worse than ever. What's afoot?"
"We've got a job for you," said Jozsef, dangling a purse in front of him. "Half now and half when the job's complete."
The other man's eyes glittered in the moonlight and he snatched the purse, weighed it in his hand, then loosened the drawstring and peeped inside, evaluating the amount it contained. A muscle in his cheek twitched as he attempted to suppress a smile and he secreted the purse under an old worn cloak which had been decent quality at one time but now was decidedly the worse for wear. "What's to be done?"
"A fire. We need a warehouse burned, over yonder on the quayside." The Torenthi jerked his head over to the west side of the dock. The lame man glanced in that direction. The warehouses stood close together over there. It would be hard to burn one down without bringing the rest with it. And the city watch patrolled the area regularly watching for thieves. There were rich pickings to be gained there for the few brave souls who made it past the night watchmen: spices and other exotic imports changed hands for good money in the shadier taverns in Coroth. You risked swinging at the gibbet outside Coroth's city walls if you were caught, but there were always those prepared to take the chance.
"Risky. Whose warehouse?"
"Man called Sandor. Torenthi merchant. You know him?"
"I know him. Decent man. Pays a fair wage. Why're you burning out one of your own?"
The Torenthi spat on the ground. "Because he trades with you. The man's no better than a collaborator growing rich off trade with Gwynedd when our people are shamed and our country made to grovel to your Haldane whippersnapper."
"So why should I do your dirty work?"
Jozsef smiled, showing a gap in his teeth, the result of a narrow escape on a smuggling trip a few years earlier. "Because you hate Torenthis for all you take our money. I can see it in your eyes, Randall. You despise me, but I keep your purse fat so you keep coming back for more."
Randall ran a nervous tongue over his lips. He knew there were more Deryni in Torenth than in Gwynedd. Was Jozsef Deryni? Were his thoughts giving him away even now? He swallowed hard. "When?"
"Next full moon. He's expecting a shipment of silks in a couple of days before. Two days leaves time for the delivery to get here with some slack in case it's late, but not enough time for him to ship it back out again." Jozsef grinned. "Nice shipload of silk will burn well and it will near bankrupt him to lose it. And with luck it will be put down to anti-Torenthi feeling here in Coroth. That ought to embarrass the Duke and stir up some trouble along his borders." The man's look conveyed his satisfaction at the cleverness of the ploy.
"Full moon is a couple of weeks away. When do I get the balance of my money?"
"Someone will be in touch. You'll get your money, never you worry. Get the job done and don't get caught. That's all we ask." He made to go, then turned back, a smile crinkling the edges of his eyes. "Oh, I almost forgot. It might be worth being around the harbour wall tomorrow morning early. We've left a present for His Grace the Duke in the water so I 'm hoping it's found before we set sail on the tide; I want to see the reaction to it."
Randall loitered down at the quayside from sunup the next day. As usual ships' crews bustled about preparing to catch the morning tide: a last flurry of cargo being loaded and sails being checked. The owners of the small rowing boats used to tow the larger vessels clear of the quay and out into the deeper water made ready and young boys scurried about aloft, rigging monkeys earning pennies for checking the ropes while high above the decks. All appeared normal until a shout rose from one of the lads, sitting astride the yard and pointing beyond the yardarm to an object bobbing on the waves a few ships lengths away. "There's a body!" he shouted, "A body in the water!"
One of the rowing boats made its way out to where the lad still pointed, and watchers on the seafront could see the men pulling something on board. Murmurs went around: speculation as to whether the person was alive or dead. A sailor maybe, drunk out of his skull and fallen off the dockside the previous night, or the victim of a murder dumped into the harbour in the hope the tide would carry the evidence out to sea before it was discovered. The men in the rowing boat had no shortage of volunteers to help them carry the corpse - for corpse it was, with a slash through its throat as broad as the width of a man's thumb – up the harbour steps to city level. The onlookers crowded round, eager to gawp and guess by what means the man had met his fate, and a boy ran for the watch. The Duke would be notified of murders such as this, but there were processes to comply with: procedures to be followed.
He had been dead several days, by the rank smell of putrefaction already driving the spectators away gagging and retching, but in the water only a few hours according to those who knew about such things. The local fish population had only begun to discover food potential in the soft tissues of his mouth, eyelids and nose. No, he had been dead long before he hit the sea. There was nothing to identify him about his person – no distinguishing marks or jewellery - and he was dressed like all the local men in breeches and a loose shirt. He was barefoot. Maybe his killer had taken a liking to his boots.
Randall lurked on the outside of the crowd, risking an occasional peek to try to see if he knew the man. He was sure he knew the man's killer. Behind the crowd, a cog flying the leaping hart pennant of Torenth pulled slowly away from the dock. A man leaned on the railing of the ship, watching with evident pleasure as the crowd milled around the body on the ground. He saw Randall watching and inclined his head a touch, then turned to go below.
So who the devil was this man Jozsef had gone to such lengths to get rid of? He obviously intended the body to be found; he had said as much the previous night. Was the man's death a threat or a warning, and if so to whom was it directed?