Speak to the Devil

Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan Read Free Book Online

Book: Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dave Duncan
    Bishop Ugne said the same—that the fault must lie not with the countess but with the Speaker who had cursed her. His own efforts to remove the curse had failed utterly. Madlenka was convinced that the Satanist had been either Count Havel Vranov, the Hound of the Hills, or someone in his employ. Now he was at the gates with an army, and the constable, Karolis Kavarskas, was going to let him in. Vranov just might recognize that the countess retained some vestige of her late husband’s authority, but he would spurn any attempt by Madlenka to assert her rights. An underage female orphan had precious few rights anyway.
    The count’s bedchamber at Cardice was a large room by Cardice standards, and a luxurious one for Jorgary. It had glass in its windows, rugs from Syria, and chests made from the cedars of Lebanon. The wall tapestries were of Flemish weave, depicting mythical scenes, faded now. Here her father had slept and here he had died, ending his line. Women could not inherit titles. No woman could be lord of the marches.
    So now Sir Karolis Kavarskas, that most hateful constable, claimed to rule in Count Bukovany’s place, “until His Majesty appoints his successor.”
    Or until Havel Vranov decided to appoint himself. Why else was he riding up the Silver Road with hundreds of men at his back?
    “How long now before they open the gate?” Madlenka demanded.
    Giedre peered through a clear spot in the lozenge-paned window to see how far sunlight had descended Mount Naproti. “Very soon, I think.”
    Knuckles rapped on the door. “Madlenka, my child?”
    Madlenka knew that sonorous and melodious voice. “Please enter, my lord bishop.”
    Both women curtseyed as Bishop Ugne strode … um … waddled into the room. His voice was the best part of him, and his appearance never failed to disappoint. Even when swathed in many layers of ecclesiastical vestments of blue and cloth-of-gold, he was too short and dumpy to impress, and his towering miter made him look top-heavy. His face was ruddy and chinless, so dominated by a massive curved nose that Madlenka was invariably reminded of a parrot she had once seen for sale in the spring fair. It had clung to the side of its cage very much the way the bishop’s soft white hand clutched his tall crozier.
    The castle women distrusted the bishop and the numerous female servants he had brought with him. There were whispers that his housekeeper was his mistress, her sister was another, and his two young nieces were actually his daughters. Ugne was of noble blood—son, brother, and uncle of dukes—and had no doubt paid a high price to purchase his office, and that was another grievous sin. Everyone knew that the Church was corrupt; the Jorgarian clergy were probably no better or worse than any others.
    Surprisingly, Father had rather approved of Ugne, on the grounds that most of his predecessors had refused to reside in this bleak mountainous diocese and had preferred to delegate their duties to vicars. Petr had approved too, for the very different reason that he ranked Ugne as the third best horseman in the county. He was also an enthusiastic hunter and had, by God’s mercy, been present to administer the last rites on the day Petr was gored.
    He glanced meaningfully at the bed curtains.
    Madlenka shook her head. “No better.”
    “As the Lord wills. Now, daughter, why do you summon me with such frantic claims of urgency on a Sunday morning? It is everyone else’s day of rest, but to those of us who do the Lord’s work, it is a busy one.”
    Her note had explained the problem. If he did not consider it important, what was he doing here in the castle in his full vestments?
    “Count Vranov, that’s why! He crossed the border with a small army last night. One of Father’s vassals … one of the tenants from up nearthe forks of the Hlucny rode in after curfew last night to report that a sizable troop of Pelrelmians had ridden by his fief. He saddled up and trailed them,

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