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part four
IP: 86.31.96.14


Royal Docks, Shaman
Early Afternoon

“A flute?

Croe frowned at the diagram in her hands, studying the notes penned in Mordred’s fine handwriting along the margins. She looked up at him beneath her brows, dubious. He was unruffled. The picture of command.

“Stranger objects than instruments have held great power,” Mordred said, “and I have been researching this problem tirelessly, for months. It is said the flute’s song can lull even god-like creatures to sleep. If Therait sleeps, his magic sleeps with him – he will not be able to sustain the flood. And without the flood, the pirates’ fleet will be rendered useless.” He nodded in the direction of the crew as they hurried aboard the Seahawk, and accepted a letter from a messenger that appeared at his elbow. His eyes drifted impassively over whatever was written there. Then he folded the paper carefully, tucked it into a pocket. “I discovered the location of the flute only recently, but am confident we will find it. In light of the circumstances, do you have a better idea?”

“I’m not a blood-hound. I should be going to the Peaks with your troops.”

“To do what?”

“Kill pirates,” she exhaled, as if this were so obvious it pained her, “many of them.”

Mordred smiled charmingly, lacing his fingers together. “You are a bounty-hunter, not a soldier. As our bounty-hunter, are you not required to go where you are asked?”

“You’re asking?”

“If I know where the flute is, it is possible they do too. We must find it first if we are to win this battle.” Mordred paused. “Consider it an opportunity to show my brother you are able to play by the rules.” Croe stared at him, in that surgical way of hers, cold and hard as steel. Calculating. Assessing. Then she nodded grudgingly, and followed him up the gangway to the ship that had once been the Warbird. Now it was a falcon, the jesses firmly in Mordred’s grip. Croe stood to the side as he ordered the sails trimmed, the lines cast off, the anchor raised.

They sailed for what seemed an arbitrary point on the map, then made wide circles while divers swam down to a seamount, barely visible even though the water was still and clear. The operation was methodical, systematic; Croe was surprised when they heard a shout of confirmation not long into their search. When was a crew ever this disciplined? She tried to remember a time when her faction had been so organized, and could not… despite their open fear of her, despite her reputation for brooking no arguments.

A padlocked chest was raised and dragged aboard, so crusted in mussels and fronds of seaweed it must have been down there long before the flood. Someone cleaved the lock with magic. Inside, a nondescript wooden flute lay wrapped in silk and velvet. It was perfectly dry, and perfectly clean. Even without being played, it seemed to emit a faint tone, like a fading bell. Mordred lifted it delicately and turned it in his hands. Then he nodded to his first mate, who bellowed orders for the crew to return home – they all fell to their work as smoothly as drilled soldiers. Croe watched them, unblinking, then fixed her gaze on Mordred. He was smiling at her, faintly.

“Shall we test it?”

She frowned at him, unease blooming in her gut. There was a sound behind her, like a dog-whistle, a shower of sparks...but Croe couldn’t take her eyes off Mordred as he raised the flute to his lips, and played. Her jaw and fists clenched, and she fought to keep her eyes open. The blood in her veins seemed to freeze and slow.

As her vision went dark, she felt his hand fall gently on her shoulder, pushing her backward into the portal. It snapped shut behind her like a thunderclap.

Then there was silence on the ship. The sails snapped in a conjured wind.

---

The Castle, Shaman
Early Afternoon

The war room was still buzzing when Mordred returned, holding the flute in both upturned palms, like an offering. But the conversation paused when he entered.

“Is that it?” Tristan asked, frowning at the unassuming instrument. Mordred nodded.

“It is. But we’ll need to get close to Therait to use it. Very close.” He set the flute on the table, over the open ocean on the map beneath. The faces of those gathered looked grim. “What happened while I was gone?”

Henry and Flynn exchanged a look. “I managed to get a hold of my pirate contact,” Henry began, looking between his brother, Mordred and the King. “Their accounts are strange. Some of them seem to think their captains made the decision to join the raid only after hearing that everyone else was underway. Those initial reports, that all the factions were organized and unified…”

“We think something else might be going on. The attack on the Peaks may be some kind of misdirection,” Flynn finished, shaking his head at the map. Arthur was pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. Most of those gathered were looking at him, waiting.

“But, there is an attack,” Tristan reminded them. “It might be a smokescreen, but we can’t just ignore it. Lord Anapa said there would be hundreds of deaths.” He turned to his father, his hands splayed on the table, “you said we can’t just sit here.”

“We can’t,” Arthur stated, giving his son a hard look, “and we won’t. Whatever they are planning, we have to protect our people. But we need to be prepared for another attack.”

“And there is only one target that makes sense,” Mordred added grimly, looking at each of them in turn. The King nodded.

Here.

“Mace and the Alliance guards just arrived at the Peaks,” Morgana announced, entering the room with Kraar on her shoulder. “The captains are on their way, but some of the pirates have already made landfall. The situation could get out of hand very quickly. Is that it?” She was breathless as she reached the table, indicating the flute with a tilt of her chin.

“It is.” Mordred answered again, with a bit less enthusiasm than the first time. He and Arthur shared a meaningful look. “I’ll hold the fort,” he assured him. Arthur exhaled, nodded. “Morgana, the flute will work, but we need to move fast if we want to save the village. Will you go with Angmar?”

She nodded to him, resolve hardening her gaze to flint. “Of course, brother.”

“We’re all counting on you,” he said softly, closing his fingers over her elbow as she passed, “be careful.”

---

The King’s Ship, Shaman, Open Ocean
Early Afternoon

Tristan stood at the bow of the Igraine, leaning against the rail as he watched his uncle’s dragon shrink into the distance, a black silhouette against the gathering storm. He could no longer see Morgana, but had watched her climb up onto Angmar’s back in the castle courtyard, just before the teleporters in their guard had sent him and his father instantaneously to the deck of their ship. Agitation gathered in his belly like too much wine. That was sensible, considering the circumstances, but still unsettling.

He could hear his father’s voice on the quarterdeck, sounding close though he was far behind him, the words carried forward on the wind. Talking to the navigator and the first mate, Tristan supposed – he couldn’t quite make out the conversation. It sounded tense, but not angry. Must be nice, he thought. His hand tightened on the rail, damp with seaspray being cast up by their rapid pace.

The conversation stopped; there were footsteps, different than the rapid gate of the sailors scrambling between the masts. Tristan did not turn as Arthur came to stand beside him, looking instead at the horizon, and the distant outline of the Peaks as they coalesced out of the haze. His father took an audible breath.

“I’m giving you command of E Company,” Arthur said. Tristan turned to look at him, surprised. “With Captain Henshawe. He’ll follow you, Tris, but listen to his advice, all right?”

“Yes, sir,” Tristan agreed, stiffly. He liked Henshawe. He was a grumpy old git, but he was fair. Arthur nodded, satisfied.

“Don’t take any unnecessary risks, hold your line, remember everything you’ve been taught, and remember your men are counting on you. You don’t need to play the hero.” Tristan nodded, but irritation stirred anew in the pit of his stomach.

“That was never my intention,” he muttered. At his side, Arthur sighed his special Tristan-is-being-difficult-again sigh. It set the prince’s teeth on edge. “And one day, you’re going to have to stop treating me like a child.”

A silence fell between them. Tristan looked back out towards the mountains; they were closer. They had nearly reached the beach.

“I know, Tris,” Arthur said at last, “just… just do everything you can to come back with all your limbs attached. That’s all I’m asking.” The king leaned forwards, and tapped Tristan’s temple with his finger. “Listen to this,” he said, before moving his hand down over his son’s heart, “and this. And you’ll be fine.”

Tristan nodded, suddenly unsure of what to say. He was spared having to think of anything when his father was called back to make last minute orders before they made landfall. The men were hurrying over the deck, preparing the anchor and the longboats, checking armor and taking up weapons. One of them approached Tristan carrying his helmet and his sword belt.

He strapped them on with his eyes trained on the harbor. Their green was stark against the helmet’s steel.

Written by Dema and Merlin




Replies:
    • part five -
    • part six -
    • part seven -
    • part eight -
    • part nine -


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