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part three
IP: 86.31.96.14


A secluded cottage at the edge of The Peaks, Shaman
This Morning

“You’re sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable at the castle?” Arthur asked, running his fingers through her hair. He sat up a little to kiss the top of her head and then leaned back against the pillows. She lay in his arms, her head resting on his bare shoulder, and he could see her smiling. The bed itself was rustic, a large mattress set on the floor and covered in layers of furs and blankets. The top sheet was light. It caressed the bump of her stomach before stretching up the point where she clutched it to her chest. Arthur smiled too.

“Sure? No,” she replied, glancing out the small window towards the water, “but this is home.” She looked at him. “Besides, there’s nothing quiet about the castle. This is private and secluded. It’s been your escape from all the stress lately, hasn’t it?”

She had him there. Arthur sighed and nodded. He would have felt better if he could have kept her close, and given her everything she could possibly need. In the castle she’d have a four poster bed, servants to wait on her and cater to her cravings. He could have had his doctor visit her daily to check that everything was going well. He could have worried less. But it was quieter here. He thought after the months of flooding they’d endured he’d have been sick of the sound of the waves, but here... here they sounded like peace.

“Less escape…” he teased, “more brief respite. I get back and realise exactly what I’ve been running away from.” Arthur slipped his hand out from behind his head and rested his hand on her stomach. He felt the baby, their baby, kick. “And what I’ve been running to.

“We’ll come to the Castle when the activity will be less stressful,” Ciara reassured him, letting go of the sheet to cover the king’s hand on her belly. “I promise.”

“Will you at least let me send you a midwife?” Arthur implored. “It’ll be your time soon and I would feel so much better if I knew there was someone here taking care of you…” He nudged her leg with his. “Since you refuse to let me help.”

“I never said that.” Ciara scoffed with feigned offense. “I said I won’t return to the castle. You can take care of me any time you are here.” She nudged his leg back. “But yes, I would appreciate a midwife.” The baby stirred anew beneath his fingers..

“I also brought a gift for the baby,” Arthur added with a smile. He reached for the pocket of his trousers, which lay crumpled on the floor and pulled out a string of beads. Ciara watched curiously and smiled when the rosary was held out. “If I can’t be here to give it in person,” he said thoughtfully, “at least some part of me will be here. And our baby will always have it.”

Cautiously, Ciara lifted the beads as though they were the most precious object in the world, and leaned in to kiss Arthur again. “We ought to think of names instead of just saying the baby.” she chuckled.

“I like Edward, for a boy?” he suggested after an idle pause.“What do you think?”

“I like it.” Ciara nodded. “And if it’s a girl? Isobel?”

Arthur nodded, “Ned or Isa. I’m happy with those.” He turned over onto his side, supporting his head in his hand as he looked across at her. “Do you think this one will listen to me more than the last one?”

“Of course.” Ciara answered. “At least for a couple of years between the age of four and twelve.”

“That long, huh?”

A distinctive pop sound alerted Arthur to the sudden arrival of a scroll of parchment, floating in the air just above the bed. He frowned at it and Ciara groaned.

“What now?”

Snatching it from the air he unrolled it and studied the contents. His frown grew more severe.

“I am so sorry, Cia,” he said, folding back the covers and slipping out of bed, “I have to go.” He picked up his trousers from the floor and pulled them on, casting around all the while for his tunic. It was draped over the back of a chair on the opposite side of the room. After pulling it on too he hurried back across the room, leant over the bed and kissed her.

“It’s Tristan,” he explained, when he’d pulled away again. Arthur handed her the scroll so she could see for herself, and then hurried to the door. “I’ll send the midwife, and I’ll be back tonight. I love you.”

The door slammed shut. “I love you too.”

---

The Castle, Shaman
Noon.

Arthur pushed open the front doors of the castle and marched inside. “Where is he?” he demanded, looking around at the gathered guards. There were more than usual, all of them exchanging glances and serious expressions. “Where is he?” Arthur repeated, making eye contact with the nearest captain. Captain Fawkes shifted uncomfortably.

“Upstairs, Your Grace, in his rooms.”

Arthur nodded and headed for the staircase. He paused on the third step and looked back.
“Find Lord Mordred and Lady Morgana and ask them to make a start on sorting this mess out. Tell them I’ll join them as soon as I can.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

He continued up the staircase, frowning at the carpet. Taking a left as he reached the landing he followed the corridor past the family chapel and up a second flight of steps. When he reached the family corridor he spotted Celidon’s great bulk lying across Tristan’s doorway. The Cu-Sith sat up straight when he saw Arthur coming. His green fur was stained with something dark; whether blood, mud, or something else Arthur couldn’t tell. The king paused to knock and then changed his mind, his heart thumping furiously. Throwing open the door he marched across the threshold.

Inside he found Tristan sitting on his bed, with Thoth cross-legged on the floor beside him. They both looked a little worse for wear, but they both appeared to have four working limbs. Spotting his father, Tristan jumped off the bed and stood, his eyes downcast. Thoth rose to his feet more slowly, and glanced back and forth between Arthur and his friend.

“Are you alright, Thoth?” Arthur asked, his voice pleasant if a little strained as he tried to hold back his temper. Thoth frowned back at him, a defiant glint creeping its way into his eyes.

“We didn’t do anything,” came the reply. The smaller of the two boys folded his arms and scowled. Tristan glanced across at his friend, winced, and then stared back at the floor.

“You’re not in trouble, Thoth,” Arthur replied with all the patience he could manage. “Are you alright? You’re not bleeding? No broken bones?” Thoth shook his head.

“I’m fine.”

Arthur nodded, relieved. “In which case, I wonder if you’d mind giving my son and I some privacy?” Thoth seemed to hesitate. He looked to Tristan. The prince nodded and even managed a small smile.

“Alright,” Thoth said at last. He picked up his jacket off the bed and walked past Arthur. The hinges creaked as the door opened and Tristan and Arthur stood quietly as he swung closed again.

Arthur was the one who broke the silence.

“And you? Are you hurt?” the king closed the space between them, “look at me.” Tristan raised his chin and green eyes met grey. A large bruise was forming on the left side of his forehead, another on the curve of his jaw. A small trickle of dried blood ran down towards his ear from beneath his hairline but he seemed reasonably intact. Good, he could jump straight to the telling off.

“I thought we would be past this kind of thing by now, Tristan.”

“Yes, sir.” The boy dropped his gaze back to the floor; he was well-practiced. A noise of frustration forced its way out from between Arthur’s teeth.

“This isn’t that kind of conversation, Tristan. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been here over the years, and nothing I say ever seems to make the smallest difference! I stand here, I tell you you’ve done something stupid, which is pointless in and of itself because ninety percent of the time you already know it! Then you mutter a few yes sirs whilst staring at the floor, and nothing changes!”

Tristan wasn’t looking at the floor any more. His guard was up, his forehead creased in an all-too-familiar frown. Arthur could see him thinking. He’d been wrong-footed, no longer sure how the conversation was going to go, and reluctant to say anything until he’d worked out exactly what was going on. Good, Arthur thought, he’d learned something at least.

“You’re not stupid, and you’re not a child. You know I don’t send guards to keep an eye on you to stop you from enjoying yourself, you know why they’re there. They keep their distance, they don’t report back to me on what you’ve been up to. I’ve been doing my best here, Tris. I need you safe and I need you not doing things that hurt other people.” He sighed. At some point during his last tirade he’d started pacing, but he couldn’t remember ever making a conscious decision to start.

“What if someone had died?” Arthur asked. “Not you or Thoth, but someone else. One of the people you and I have a duty to protect? I know you. You’d feel terrible, we’d have a legal problem bigger than this latest mess with your grandfather, and then you’d have a problem when you became king. How could you ask people to trust you to do everything you need to do as a ruler when they can’t even trust you to keep them safe?”

“I was trying to keep Thoth safe!” Tristan interrupted. “What was I supposed to do? Let them kidnap him? Let that woman hypnotise me?”

“No, Tris,” Arthur conceded, “your heart was in the right place, I know that, and I love you for it. Answer me honestly though, son. Did you, for one moment, stop and think about anyone else in that tavern before you did what you did?”

“I still don’t understand what you’d have had me do instead!” Tristan retorted stubbornly, his voice increasing in volume. “I’ll just wave Thoth off on a nice one-way trip to Auran-nutter HQ next time, shall I?”

“If you hadn’t given your guards the slip on the docks you’d have had back-up,” Arthur sighed, fighting to keep his own voice calm. “There would have been other people around who could have helped you control the situation...”

“I’m not psychic!” Tristan interrupted before he could finish. “How was I supposed to know they were going to be there? It’s alright for you telling me what I should have done after it’s all happened! Retrospect a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You weren’t there! You were off, Christ knows where, shacking up with your whore!”

“Tristan!”

There was a knock on the chamber door.

“Why is nothing I do ever good enough for you?” Tristan muttered under his breath.

“Tris…”

The knock came again, louder, more insistent. Arthur winced.

“What?” he called back, irritated. He looked sadly at his son as the guard pushed his way into the room.

“Pirates, sir. They’re heading for the Peaks, and they’re armed for war.”

---

Arthur ran along the corridor and Tristan ran after him.

“Go and find Mace and Lord Anapa; tell them what’s happened and ask them to come,” the king instructed the guard as they reached a crossroads.

The door to the war room was open. People were running around inside carrying maps and charts, or pushing the blackboards away from the walls. Whatever they had been doing, they all paused when Arthur entered. Silence fell.

“Fill me in,” Arthur said, looking to his brother and sister, both of whom were leaning against the round table in the centre of the room.

“We got reports from a couple of our spies that the pirates were gearing up for something big. You’ve got ships leaving an inlet packed to the nines with captains and crews we’ve never known to work together before,” Mordred answered, not missing a beat.

“I’ve got ravens watching them as we speak,” Morgana added gravely. “Early intelligence suggests they’re heading for the main settlement on the Peaks. They’re going raiding, Arthur. The people there don’t stand a chance.”

“How much of a head start do they have on us?” Tristan asked, stepping out of the doorway and crossing the room to stand beside his uncle. He deliberately avoided making eye contact with Arthur. Dred glanced between them and then sighed.

“We’ll never catch them. We have a couple of crews docked there already, but not enough to fend off this number.”

“No, you won’t,” a solemn voice said from behind them. Anapa stood in the entrance way with a serious expression on his young face. “I am sensing three hundred and ninety-five potential deaths within the next twelve hours.” Arthur’s heart sank.

“Dred, summon the captains and get them to prepare whatever ships we have available as quickly as possible. However late we are, we can’t just sit here.”

“Yes brother,” Mordred nodded opening the side door. He slipped past Mace just as the older man entered. He was breathing hard from running.

“Mace,” Arthur said with a nod of greeting, “any chance you can get Alliance guards over to the Peaks? Now, if possible.”

“Yes, sir,” Mace promised, “I’ll send word back once I have boots on the ground.”

“Take Chip with you!” Morgana called after his retreating back, nodding to her smaller raven who obediently swooped out after him.

Arthur looked around at the people left in the room: Tristan, Anapa, Morgana, Flynn, a handful of the more competent noblemen, and an assortment of senior guards.

“As for the rest of you…” he began heavily, “we are going to need a better plan.”

Written by Merlin & Edel.




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



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