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part four

Apeliotes Island

As he hit the floor, throwing himself forward in an attempt to avoid the missile aimed directly at his torso, Arthur tried desperately to assess the situation.

Not a single one of Set-Merut’s missiles had struck their target. The approaching Per-a’a Nakht forces seemed to be enclosed in an invisible barrier which deflected any attacks right back on the attackers; neither arrows nor magic could penetrate it. Recognising the futility of hurling more missiles, Arthur had ordered the archers to fall back and brought the infantry lines forward and the gates to the wall lifted. If Per-a’a Nakht’s forces could be concentrated through the small gate, then the Set-Merut warriors should be able to overpower them if they formed a strong enough line of defence. That plan had been doomed to failure from the first, since the gate would not, could not open. Presumably Gwythr had placed some kind of spell on it, for the obvious purpose of stranding the islanders on the beach, ready to be picked off. Arthur had changed tactics again by ordering one group of men to try and break a hole through the wall, but thus far – worryingly, since the wall was only made of wood and should cave easily under the men’s metal weapons – it had proved a force to be reckoned with. Arthur had his suspicions about that.

The King pulled himself to his feet and began walking slowly across the beach to the shore for no other purpose than to appear confident and in control. Mentally he reached out for Aura, but for the first time ever he came up against a solid block. It felt as if a sheet of glass had been placed between them; he could still see Aura through it, but he couldn’t touch her. Was this Gwythr’s magic, or was the deity so far away that she was beyond his psychic reach?

There was no more time to think on it. Much to his own surprise, Arthur suddenly sank to his knees and his arms fell rigidly to his sides. The action was completely involuntary, and when he tried to move he found himself quite unable to do so. A quick sideways glance confirmed his suspicions as he saw that the entirety of the Set-Merut army had fallen to their knees in a similar position; clearly, Gwythr was not in the mood to fight. A wave of helpless fury surged through the King but he kept it neatly under control, determined to keep a clear head even as his enemy stepped off the boat onto the shore. Gwythr took the scene in with a single insolent glance before turning to assist his beautiful but deadly second-in-command, Selene, off the boat. The rest of Per-a’a Nakht’s army were leaping off their own boats, leering at the motionless islanders but not touching them – obviously, they had been ordered not to. As his eyes raked over them, Arthur saw something which made his heart sink. Tucked under the arm of one of Per-a’a Nakht’s men, quivering with fear and very clearly a prisoner, was Blue.

“People of Shaman,” Gwythr’s magnified tones held a definite quality of triumph in them. “I have come before you to expose to you a villain, a traitor and a pretender to the throne.” He stopped in front of Arthur, surveying him with an air of disdain. “Your self-proclaimed king is nothing more than a usurper and a law-breaker who defies the legitimate authority to satiate his ever-growing hunger for power. As the founder of royalty and the one true King and God of Shaman, it is my duty to bring peace to you all and rid you of the pretender once and for all. On this day and in the presence of you all, I hereby sentence Arthur to death by hanging, drawing and quartering, a sentence which shall henceforth be carried out at dawn tomorrow morning.”

Arthur squared his shoulders but kept quiet, focusing all his energy upon trying to think of a way out of this situation. He doubted he could reply hotly even if he wanted to, since judging by the collective silence Gwythr had put some kind of spell on the islanders to prevent them from voicing their objections. The ancient fairy moved away from him, strolling slowly through his enemy’s army.

“You have been misled by the lies of pretender-kings and mentally unstable deities,” he continued soothingly. “I stand before you today, your saviour, ready to rid you of these evils. Together we will make a new Shaman, so that our children will never know war or hate. I understand that it is not so easy for you to shed your old loyalties so quickly, misplaced as they were, so I generously offer you twenty four hours with which to make your decision. Those who choose to join me will receive complete amnesty for their war crimes and will be rewarded with the gift of one coin. Those who choose to remain loyal to the pretender will join him at the gallows. Return to your places of residence to think it over; as of now, a curfew is in effect. Any fairy caught outside their house will be hanged at dawn with the pretender.”

Against his will, Arthur felt himself rise to his feet, turn and walk towards the gate, which had magically sprung open. All the members of Set-Merut were silently walking in the same direction, which indicated to him that they were still under the spell. After they passed through the gate, the rest of the islanders headed back towards the village, but Arthur swung involuntarily to the right. He recognised this route as the one which led to Set-Merut’s sturdy, stone prison. The prison which, so far, had never held anyone.

There was nothing to be done. Not without a divine being to counter Gwythr’s magic, at any rate. Poppy and Penguin couldn’t summon divinity at will, Mallos and Aura were still missing in action (Arthur was beginning to suspect that both had been taken prisoner already, since it seemed unlikely that Gwythr would risk attacking while they were there) and Blue was being held captive by the enemy. The little sprocker spaniel hadn’t the confidence or the courage to use magic to break free which rendered him utterly useless. Arthur was not the type of man to give up on anything, but as he walked compulsorily into the cell and felt thick, steel manacles click shut over his wrists and ankles, he felt an uncharacteristic sense of hopelessness. It wasn’t over yet, but as the grin on his pretty gaoler’s face indicated, it was probably the darkest hour.


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