that case, I shall make you the following pledge: Joram, Rhys, if we can find this Haldane heir; and if heâs not an imbecile or worse; and if he agrees to let us work with him; and if we adjudge him to be more worthy than the present man who occupies the Throne of Gwyneddâthen perhaps we can begin to think of ways in which such a change might be accomplished. But you must, as you promised, keep me apprised of your progress at all times. You should also keep in mind that your brother Cathan is under constant scrutiny, and may eventually be endangered by anything we do. So you must not go beyond a mere search unless all of us agree that such action would be best for Gwynedd.â
Joram and Rhys exchanged glances, and then Joram turned back to his father. âYour terms are more than reasonable, sir. And we had already agreed between us that Cathan would be safest if he knows nothing of this for now. If you have no objections, we thought to ride to Saint Piranâs Priory later this week. Two of our candidates are there, and perhaps we can eliminate one or both of them at the outset.â
âYouâll not reveal anything at this time?â Camber queried.
âNo, sir. Weâll only deliver the news to the proper one that his grandfather is dead and asked to be remembered in his prayers. Does this meet with your, approval?â
âI have no objections. When will you be back?â
âWithin three days, if all goes well. Itâs a dayâs ride each way, andââ
There was a great baying and barking in the yard outside, and then a muffled pounding at the outer gate. Shortly, the inner door swung open to reveal one of the household servants, with another man behind him, the wolfhounds rubbing happily against his legs.
âMy lord, itâs young Jamie Drummond to see you,â the servant said, barring the way with an arm across the doorway.
âJamie, lad, come in and join us,â Camber said, standing and extending an arm toward the newcomer. âPull up a chair and share a glass of wine. I thought youâd forgotten your promise to toast Michaelmas with us.â
âI hadnât forgotten,â he said, striding across to kneel and kiss Camberâs hand formally, the dogs at his heels. âI was attending to a matter of some urgency. Iâve brought news from the capital, from your son.â
He pulled out a sealed packet and handed it over to the older man, then hooked a stool with his toe and pulled it closer to the fire, nodding greeting to the others. âYouâd best read it,â he said, as Camber stared at him curiously. âCathan sent me with all haste.â
Without further delay, Camber broke the seal and scanned the contents of the letter. His face was grim and solemn as he passed the parchment to Joram.
âCathan has been unable to stay the execution of the first two hostages tomorrow,â he said, snapping his fingers for the dogs to lie down. âHe will continue to press Imre for a reprieve, but he does not hold out much hope. Coel Howell, the kinsman of Cathanâs wife, is urging reprisals against the Willimites, and is convinced that Rannulfâs murderers were part of a Willimite plot. He will not hear of a reprieve, nor will he permit Imre to consider it.â
âFather, couldnât you plead the peasantsâ cause to Imre?â Evaine whispered.
Camber shook his head wearily. âNay, child. If Cathan, whom Imre loves, cannot persuade the kingâs favor, what chance have I, who rejected Imre when he gained his crown? No, it must be Cathanâs work, if our peasants are to be saved.â
He glanced at all of them, then crossed his arms carefully and stared at one slippered toe protruding beneath his robe.
âBut this is not totally unexpected news, I fear: Cathan also wishes us a joyful Michaelmas and drinks to our health. I think it only fitting that we should drink to his.â