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part seven
IP: 86.31.96.14

Warning: the plot part below continues to be emotionally charged and deals with themes some reader might find upsetting.


“Where the hell did they all come from!?” Morgana demanded of Flynn as they stepped back into the wall of guards blocking the pirates’ progress along the corridor.

“Some of them escaped the cells,” Flynn panted, falling back to let the next row of fighters take the front row. “Aura knows how they managed it, but there weren’t this many down there!”

Morgana shook her head. The Battle of the Peaks had been a distraction after all. They’d been foolish; they’d all assumed the danger had passed. “What I want to know is how more got in without anyone noticing?”

The captain shrugged, bewildered. “And what on Shaman do they want?” he asked.

It was an excellent question, but it wasn’t one she’d had much chance to think about. Morgana froze; footsteps pounded along the corridor behind them. She drew her knives, ready. Any hope that they were reinforcements died the moment they rounded the corner; a wall of dark colours and leather, not gold and scarlet.

“Back ranks!” Morgana shouted, raising her voice above the din, “Incoming!” The back lines of the block of soldiers obeyed, turning to welcome the newcomers with lowered spears. “Your family, Captain?” Morgana asked Flynn, adjusting her grip on her knives. The guard shook his head again.

“Henry’s with them, he’ll keep them safe.” She nodded, thinking of her own brothers as the assault of the first gang of pirates broke against the guards’ formation like a wave punching rock.

Morgana’s daggers flashed and blood splattered the walls.

The pirates were more numerous and less tired that the castle troops. Attacking from either side, they managed to break apart the block of guards and the battle spread out along the corridor. Morgana cut her way through them, fire and blade until she reached the end of the hall. She glanced around the corner, along the lead-up to the tower stairs. Bodies lay slumped against the walls, a few in uniform, but most clad in the ragtag attire of pirates. A group of them had fallen around the door to the tower. Suspicious, and on the look-out for danger, Morgana crept closer. The first pirate, the one closest to the door, had died the cleanest: a single wound to the neck. His fellows had been less lucky and had put up more of a fight against whoever had killed them. The one furthest from the door had been stabbed multiple times in the chest. There were enough wounds to have taken him down and then some, either by someone very angry, or very scared. They’d left a bloody handprint on the opposing wall, and the air hummed with the acidic stench of vomit.

A new cry distracted her from the scene as a group of six pirates rounded the corner and spotted her. They thundered along the corridor, grinning and taunting. Morgana said nothing. She raised a single long-bladed knife and met their smiles with her own. More pirates followed not long after, but they brought more guards with them. Morgana spotted Mordred through the crowd, locked in a battle with a large man with an ill-kept beard. Turning away, she led her opponents further down the corridor, away from the door and bodies, to where the ground was clearer underfoot. They followed willingly, like dogs trailing a wounded hind, until she had almost reached the window. Morgana struck out, landing a kick in the nearest man’s stomach and slashing at another’s neck. She followed after her blow as the first pirate staggered backwards, taking him out with one clean blow. The second man clutched at his neck, his back up against the window. Morgana reached for her magic and sent a wall of fire flying along the space between them. The glass of the window shattered as the pirate fell back through it and disappeared from view.

Satisfied, Morgana turned back just in time to see a familiar figure leave the tower and disappear through one of the opposing doors. She shook her head. No, it couldn’t have been. Mordred was further down the corridor. She could see him fighting a blonde-haired pirate with a club. He was right there. Morgana edged towards the door and pressed her ear against the wood. There were muffled voices on the other side.

”Kraar?” she thought, reaching for the raven’s mind. He answered quickly and she felt his thoughts connect with hers. “Third floor, west wing, fifth window. Get me a visual.”

Mordred opened the display cabinet, and placed the dagger back carefully before locking the lid with the keys at his belt. On his left Jefferson stood wringing his hands. He was anxious.

“You sent men to find the boy, yes?” Mordred asked him, “I’d say he can’t have gone far, but he shouldn’t have made it out of the tower in the first place, should he?”

“There were men on the door Cap--” Jefferson began. He stopped when Mordred raised his hand for silence.

“There were incompetent low-lifes on the door,” he responded calmly, extracting a handkerchief from his pocket and cleaning his hands, “I trust they can be relied upon to find my brother’s whore? You think they can manage to handle unarmed women and babies? Is that about the level of their skills?”

Jefferson bit his lip. “Captain, I…”

“No more screw ups,” Mordred said firmly, setting the handkerchief on fire with his magic. It was ash by the time it reached the floor. “By the end of tonight, Jefferson, I want all of the loose ends taken care of.”

Footsteps sounded on the other side of the door. Morgana retreated back around the corner and out of sight. She waited, her heart pounding in her chest as Jefferson emerged from the room. He was followed out by a stranger with auburn hair and golden eyes and together they disappeared down the corridor, back towards the fighting. Mordred was still fighting pirates. She could still see him moving in and out of sight. A trick? An illusion? She edged along the wall and slipped into the room, closing the door behind her. Making a beeline for the display cabinet, she fumbled with the keys on her own belt and unlocked it with shaking fingers. She reached for the dagger and closed her fingers around the handle. The visions began almost immediately; a series of flashes, snapshots of memory of an injured bleeding king and a terrified prince. Her stomach turned over. She almost dropped the dagger in her haste to replace it inside the cabinet.

Morgana ran down the corridor, her thoughts tumbling over one another in their hurry to be heard. How could he? How could she have been so stupid? So naive? So utterly taken in? What about Tristan? Oh God. Tristan. She started to run, her heart pounding in her chest. The corridor was filled with men she didn’t know, each of them with blades in their hands.Morgana kept a tight grip on the handles of her knives, but whilst the pirates she passed fixed her with curious looks they made no move to harm her. She kept running, pushing through the seething crowds.

A pirate was thrown with considerable force out in front of her and collided with the wall. He slid down it, a trickle of blood dripping down his chin. She stopped and stared down the corridor he’d emerged from. Morgana’s gaze settled on a well-built man, and her heart cried out in relief: Mace. Pale and wide-eyed she ran down the empty corridor to meet him. She felt his hands touch her waist but slipped free, grabbing hold of his hand. She dragged him a little further down the corridor and behind a tapestry. In the privacy of the secret passageway she finally managed to speak, keeping a tight grip on his hand. His eyes looked her up and down, searching for injuries.

“Do you trust me?” she asked him in an urgent whisper, “I’m going to ask you to do something and I need you not to ask why or what I’m going to do.” She waited for him to nod. “I need you to find Tristan and get him out of the castle, take him somewhere safe, somewhere hidden and wait until you hear from me. He won’t want to leave, Mace, but you have to make him. Any means necessary.” She reached up, kissed him full on the mouth, and then turned on her heel and disappeared back behind the tapestry.

---

Somehow, Josephine managed to find him in the chaos.

They were trained for extractions, but Mace had never expected to conduct one without a team, without a plan, without any foreknowledge whatsoever of the situation he was entering. And he'd never expected that he would have to rescue someone he cared about. Tristan was barely more than a boy, he was heir to the throne, he was precious to Morgana... Mace couldn’t stop to dwell on the stakes. He would get the prince out of there or he would die trying. He could not look Morgana in the eye again if he were to fail her.

The echo of her kiss was a distraction he couldn’t afford.

Stealth was key; the entire castle seethed with pirates and, exhausted as he was, the odds were not in his favour. He held his sword and dagger at the ready, jogging down service passageways whenever he could. He dispatched any pirates he encountered as quietly as possible. Fortunately, there were plenty of narrow, unadorned shortcuts in the west wing. They were not empty… or at least, they were not empty until Mace was done with them. For once, he was grateful that comms were not in use on Shaman; the silence of his victims would have rung as loud as an alarm bell, if there'd been anyone to listen.

They came to a door – Mace pressed his ear to it, and with some effort, managed to slow his breathing. There were at least two pirates on the other side. He nodded to Josephine, and eased the door open painstakingly. Then, together, they dragged the two men out into the doorway and efficiently cut their throats. Mace closed the door behind them as they entered the hall.

The main hall of the west wing was far quieter than it should have been – he'd expected to find more pirates harrying the royal family's rooms. There were two only, slumped on the ground outside Nimueh's suites, unconscious and bleeding out from multiple wounds to the trunk. Mace barely spared them a glance as he looked further down the hall, and slipped through the door. He found a sword pointed at his face. A woman – Nimueh, Mace supposed – gasped somewhere inside the room.

Mace froze, looking hard at the blade, at the hilt, and at the hand holding it. The prince’s face was bone-white, his hands slick with blood and shaking. There was blood on his shirt, but no accompanying tear. Mace had seen the prince’s expression before – countless times, on countless faces. There wasn’t time to ask what he'd endured.

"It's me, Tristan," Mace said calmly, but the boy only blinked, his glazed eyes oddly bright. "Tristan, listen to me, I'm getting you out of here. Do you understand? We have to leave. Right now. Put up your guard."

"No." Tristan's voice was a broken whisper. Beside him, Celidon growled and whined. “I have to go back to him. He might still be… he might…” His eyes seemed to drift in and out of focus, divided between the present and whatever he’d just seen. “I have to find whoever did this. I have to stop this.”

It’s a coup, Josephine whispered in his mind. Gods, Mace. Something has happened to the King.

His eyes shifted briefly to Nimueh, weeping silent tears and wringing her hands. Her horror-wide gaze flicked between her grandson, and him. I think we know what happened to the king. But Morgana… Morgana knew something more. “Do you trust me?”

"There is nothing more you can do here, Tristan,” Mace said. “They will kill you if you stay. We have to go." He took a single step forwards putting the sword inches from his throat.

"I can’t." The prince seemed focused on the singular conviction and a muscle in his jaw feathered around the word. Mace's own jaw tightened, along with his grip on the dagger. Any means necessary.

"Sorry, kid. No time to argue."

With a practiced motion, he brought his sword up along the prince’s sword to lock it at arm's length, reversed his grip on his dagger and swung it, pommel first, hard into Tristan's jaw. It was a clean knockout – the prince sagged sideways and backwards, and Mace had to drop his sword to grab him by the shirt and prevent his fall. He heard Nimueh’s shriek as a green blur launched itself towards him. Fortunately Josephine was there to jump between them. She hissed and growled as the Cu-Sith's teeth sunk into her shoulder. The familiars parted, their hackles raised.

"I'm trying to save him," Mace grunted, picking Tristan up in a fireman’s carry, sheathing the dagger and retrieving the two swords from the floor. Josephine bared her teeth until a sharp look from her fairy rendered her tight-lipped. Cel's eyes were as wild as Tristan's had been. But Nimueh was still as a graveyard angel, her face hardened to marble, and her tears drying on her cheeks. “My lady, we have to go now. I will protect you and Tristan, but we can’t stay here. The castle is completely overrun.” He took a step towards her, but she raised a hand to stop him.

“My son…” she breathed, her voice cracking over the word. Something in Mace crumbled; he could not make both of them follow him. Nimueh smiled sadly. “You’ll guard Tristan? With your life?”

“I will,” Mace swore.

And with that he backtracked out into the hall, through the door and over the bleeding bodies to the service passageway. His steps were heavier than he would have liked, burdened by the weight of the man-sized teenaged boy. Tristan groaned, half-conscious.

"Hang on, my King."

Written by Merlin and Dema



Replies:
    • part eight -
    • part nine -


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