Submitted by Archaeon
Where does the story begin?
A better question would be “where does it end?”
The coach pulls away into the night, its lone occupant crying softly into the velvet cushions, while a solitary watcher turns on his heel and walks away, saying to himself,
‘Yes, I could have done something…’
A black shape flittered between the shadows, ever vigilant to keep out of the guard’s line of sight. It reached an overhanging roof and, with practiced ease, swung itself up and onto the tiles, seconds before a guard walked past. The figure breathed a light sigh of relief and disappeared into the night.
A woman sat at a mirror, combing her hair in the light of two candles. She had been at it for a few minutes now, clearly an evening ritual before turning in to sleep. Getting close, one could have seen that her hair was jet-black, a start comparison to her pale skin. Sighing softly, she turned and walked quietly to her bed. If she had turned a little earlier, she would have noticed a black shape slide in front of the moon, getting closer to her open window. She gently pulled back the sheets and slid under the blankets, falling asleep almost instantly, her breath nothing more than a whisper.
A head peered in the open window, looking down from above. It disappeared and the black-clad figure appeared shortly after, dropping noiselessly to the floor. A quick check of the room revealed no obvious traps, so the figure crept soundlessly to the bed and pulled out a dagger, its blade blackened to prevent it glinting in the dim light. With a much-practiced gesture, the figure brought the dagger down towards the woman’s chest.
Inwardly, Mordred smiled but outwardly, his face revealed nothing. He moved carefully, not wanting to betray his position to the rest of the guards. He made his most potent move if the night.
‘Straight flush, read ‘em and weep boys.’
Mordred grinned triumphantly as he lay the cards down. The other guards groaned and tossed over chips from their diminishing piles to add to his mountain. He swept them up in a bear hug, still grinning like a fool.
Mordred opened his mouth to ask if they would stay for one more round when he heard a noise, not one associated with his mistress’s usual action.
He started up from his chair, knocking it to the floor. The other guards blinked slowly, for they had not heard any noise. He turned sharply and leapt up the stairs, ignoring the shouts behind him.
As he ran up the stairs, he flexed both hands and made them into fists, feeling the weapons hidden in his sleeves spring out. Glancing down to check they were functioning properly, this is what he saw:
On his left hand, a large blade shaped like an arrowhead was positioned above his fist, the point two inches past his knuckles. In his right hand, he felt the reassuring weight of his pistol bow, a crossbow as small as a dagger but capable of firing its six inch bolt fifty feet accurately.
Reaching the door, he lowered his shoulder and charged it down, startling the assassin before he could finish his task. Not wasting any time, Mordred raised his bow and fired at the hand holding the blackened dagger. But the assassin, moving with unnatural speed, shifted his hand in time so that the bolt only hit the blade and send it spinning to the ground.
The clattering of the metal hitting the floor awoke Mina. She let loose an almighty scream that alerted others to the presence of an unknown figure in her room. Her eyes flickered between her loyal bodyguard Mordred and the shadowy figure standing over her, fear and shock evident in her face.
Mordred gathered himself to charge at the intruder when the assassin held up his left hand, gesturing for him to stop. Mordred paused momentarily, unsure of what his meant.
But that moment was what the black-cloaked assassin needed.
As he held up his left hand, the assassin felt the hidden throwing knife slide into the concealed palm of his right hand, handle first. Then, in an underhanded manner, he threw the dagger at Mordred and with the same motion, leapt out the window head first.
Mordred reacted too slowly and grunted in pain as the knife pierced his left shoulder, just at the edge of his chain mail vest. He was just reaching to pull the dagger free as his fellow guardsmen reached the door, weapons at the ready. Mordred directed them to the open window as he staunched the flow of blood with a handkerchief. Mina rushed to his side and laid her hands on his injured shoulder, murmuring a small healing prayer.
‘Don’t worry about me, ma’am’ he said, a concerned look on his face as he quickly scanned his charge for any visible signs of injury. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Of course I am’ said Mina, her prayer finished and the wound healed. ‘I will always be safe as long as you’re around.’
She smiled at Mordred, the kind of smile that lifts hearts and erases bad thoughts. He could not help but smile back at her; both lost in each others eyes. Mordred blinked suddenly as he realised one of the other guards was saying something to him.
‘Yes, what is it Raag?’
Raag scratched his stubble thoughtfully, fully aware of the feeling between Mina and Mordred. But he chose to say nothing, as he would only hurt two people he cared deeply about.
‘There is nothing there, sir. He must have fallen to his death’ answered Raag, sensing something different between his boss and her bodyguard.
Mordred nodded and dispatched the men to search the surrounding grounds, knowing in his gut that they would find nothing. When they left, he walked over and picked up the fallen dagger, peering intently at the handle. He felt a slight pressure at his side and noticed Mina had joined him.
‘What is it?’ she asked, looking at the blackened knife.
‘An assassin’s dagger’ said Mordred, pointing at the blade. ‘See how the blade is blackened? That is so no light will reflect off it and alert others to his presence. But the design and the craftsmanship of it makes me want to think that this cost someone a pretty penny.’
Mina shivered as she looked at the blade and, reflexively, Mordred put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. Unconsciously, Mina snuggled in, trying to keep warm. Raag watched all of this out of the corner of his eye, looking out the broken window. He waited until Mordred had led her back to bed and tucked her in before turning and speaking.
‘I think we should post a man outside the door, just in case he comes back.’
His answer came as a nod from his boss as they walked down the stairs, one remaining to take the first shift.
But nothing came during the rest of the night, except for the usual bats, cats and drunken singers on the streets below.
The assassin leapt from rooftop to rooftop, moving with practiced ease. He approached the house of respected citizen Seluril Darkleaf, and, using a pair of daggers, scaled the bricks to an open window four floors up. He paused just below it, glancing around to see if anyone saw him. Satisfied that no-one was watching, he levered the window and slipped in. He carefully approached the bed and, in the fleeting moonlight, a man-sized shape was outlined. Carefully, not wanting to make any sudden movements, he raised his hand to head height, dagger at the ready.
And slipped it into a sheath at his belt.
Seluril sighed as he took his black clothing off, disgusted at tonight’s performance. He carefully folded them and, along with the dagger, placed them into a locked chest at the bottom on his lavish closet. From the closet he chose an expensive-looking bathrobe, hidden amongst the expensive suits. He found himself wishing for a brandy and so glided to his liquor cabinet and poured a glass, swallowing a large mouthful without thinking about it. He stared thoughtfully out the window, brandy in hand, wondering what went wrong this night. Had he really made a sound that the blasted guard had heard? Or had something else caused him to come up? Sighing inwardly, he mentally planned another attempt later in the week.
A soft knock on the door startled him from his planning. Barker, his butler, entered, dressed immaculately for this time of morning.
‘I heard you walking around Milord’ he said, bowing slightly. ‘I wondered if perhaps you would like something to eat. Cook can be roused…’
Seluril shook his head in response.
‘No, thank-you Barker. Might I ask why you are dressed so well at…’ he glanced at the ornate clock on the wall ‘1:30 in the morning, while I wear this robe and my bed-clothes?’
‘It is not the done thing to appear before his employer looking dishevelled.’
‘Ahh… but it is alright for me to look dishevelled in front of you?’ countered Seluril, a smirk appearing on his face.
‘You may dress as you please Milord’ said Barker, also smiling slightly. ‘You need not be dressed as I at this time of the morning. Might I enquire as to how tonight’s… adventure went?’
Both men had known each other for the better part of 25 years and do had no need to treat each other as master/servant when alone. Seluril trusted Barker with information privy to no-one else.
‘Not well Barker, not well at all. Some… guard,’ he spat the word out as if merely thinking it turned his stomach ‘got in the way and I had to leave else I be discovered.’
Barker nodded, knowing that it was better that he remained silent. He knew his master liked to talk, and so let him.
‘But, and this is a big “but”, I have seen a way that will allow me to get rid of that “high-and-mighty” woman without killing her or that fool of a bodyguard. And I need never go there at night again.’
Barker smiled, knowing this would involve others going into the room and doing the deal for him.
‘Shall I send a message to “Her” now, or wait until the morning, sir?’ he ventured.
Seluril shook his head, still working out some minor details.
‘No, give her a call in the morning and remind her to come tomorrow night. I shall tell her myself.’
Barker bowed and pulled the doors closed as he backed out. Walking back to his room, he made a small note and turned in for a few hours more sleep.
Morning came with the usual sounds of roosters crowing and people setting up shops on the streets. Many people were already up though as their jobs required. Mordred was one of them. He was currently overseeing the itinerary for today. It was an average one, a trip to the countryside in the morning followed by a dinner with some other important people. He sighed, and thought how nice it would be to have people wait on him and foot all day.
He shook his head, clearing it of idle thoughts and, after a brief argument with one of Mina’s advisers about travelling times, turned to check on the lady personally.
He found her alone, sitting in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection. He paused in the doorway, knowing she couldn’t see him from this angle. He stood there and watched for a second or two before stamping his feet heavily and generally making some noise, giving her time to compose herself.
‘Already Milady?’ he asked, sticking his head though the doorway.
She looked sideways at him now standing, now standing by her bed, selecting an outfit suitable for today from some the servants had laid out.
‘Almost. Tell me, which do you think is better: the red or the peach?’ she asked, holding both dresses out for him to see.
Mordred paused, knowing this was unfamiliar territory for him to be in. Mina watched him quizzically, noticing his mouth opened and shut several times before he began to stammer an answer.
‘I… I… I don’t really know… Milady’ he managed to force out. ‘It isn’t my place to say.’
Mina smiled at him and said ‘I know, I was just teasing. On your way out, send Isis in, will you? She can makes a better decision than you.’
Mordred bowed as he left, signalling the maid to go in as he walked from the corridor. He paused by the carriage to notify the others of Mina’s progress and then pulled Raag aside for a brief talk.
‘You know the drill, Raag. Two man teams. No hero’s. If they see anything suspicious, report it in and wait for backup. I do not wait a repeat of last night, you hear me?’
Raag nodded, knowing there was more that just professional caution for his employer.
Mordred watched the carriage leave, knowing deep in his heart that as long as Ol’ Raag was around, no harm would befall Lady Mina.
And he was right. She returned mid-afternoon to get ready for a dinner hosted by Seluril Darkleaf. It was the usual event, a charity for some sort of needy; the kind rich people do once in a while to ease their conscience.
Mina chose a light cream gown for the evening, matched with pale make-up, highlighting her beauty. She insisted that Mordred get dressed up and accompany her.
‘I do not want to be left alone, not even when surrounded by so many!’ she had argued.
Mordred had resisted her for a few minutes but soon realised that is was pointless to fight her. She would always get her way.
He was struggling into his suit when Raag opened the door to check on him.
‘The carriage leaves in five minutes, sir. Will you be ready?’
‘Of course I will be’ snapped Mordred, wrestling (and losing) with his bow-tie.
‘Allow me, sir’ said Ragg as he straightened the tie.
The two men looked at Mordred’s reflection in the mirror silently, each wondering what the night would hold. Mordred broke the spell by coughing and suddenly looking away. He reached for his sword but Raag got to it first.
‘Now, sir, you know you can’t go in armed. What will people think?’
‘I don’t care what people think, Raag! It is my job to protect her and how will I do it without a weapon?’ he said angrily.
‘I take it you are going unarmed’ Raag said, tapping the side of his nose subtly.
Mordred caught the gesture and said loudly
‘Of course I am. Like anyone could sneak a weapon in’
He turned and Raag heard the “clink” of metal as the back of Mordred’s hand hit the door handle. As the two men walked to meet Mina, they exchanged a knowing look.
Lady Mina was waiting for Mordred and they both caught their breath upon seeing each other. Raag waited a few seconds before coughing lightly and suggesting that they leave now as not to arrive late.
The journey was thankfully short, with many quick glances traded when they thought the other wasn’t looking.
They felt the carriage slow and then stop outside a large house. A man dressed in a plain but elegant suit opened the door for the pair to disembark. Mordred hopped out first and held his hand to help Lady Mina out. They walked, hand in arm, up the stairs and entered the giant entryway.
Already it was filling up, as many people arrived minute. The two great staircases rose up either side of the circular room and met at the sides of a balcony, overlooking the main doors. A great score of people walked and talked as they climbed the stairs to meet others at the balcony. Mordred took a glass of wine from a passing waiter for Mina but chose water for himself, knowing he had to keep a clear mind.
Mina and Mordred mingled, with Mina doing most of the talking with Mordred close behind her, ever watchful for danger. He was, after a few false starts at conversation, passed up as Mina was talking and laughing merrily, as if nothing had happened in the last twenty-four hours.
The talking stopped as all the clocks struck 9:00pm as the same time. When the chiming stopped, a round of applause broke out as people showed their appreciation for the accuracy. During this applause, Seluril Darkleaf made his appearance, only lengthening the applause. He raised his hands for silence, and eventually got it.
‘My good fellow, it is great to see so many wonderful people in one place’ another round of applause. ‘I know that with all of you being here, we will be able to make a difference in some unfortunate souls life’ more applause broke out.
He then made a long speech about he loved the city and all the people in it, but Mordred wasn’t listening. He was watching the way the man moved. Seluril looked to have a grace about him, like he knew where every one of his steps would land, and how to avoid tightly packed areas of people. After a while he noticed that the speaking had stopped and clapping had begun. Mordred started to applaud to blend into the crowd. He watched as Seluril descended the stairs, moving effortlessly through the crowds. What he didn’t know was that he had seen Lady Mina and was trying to get to her.
Mordred was just about to say something to Mina when he noticed Seluril waving to them. He hurriedly shut his mouth.
‘Lady Mina, so good to see you here’ Seluril said, hugging Mina briefly. Mordred later swore that he saw a glint in Seluril’s eye at that time. Seluril released his hug to hear Mina’s answer.
‘I am well, as always. Thank-you for asking. This is my… adviser, Mordred.’
Mordred politely stuck out his hand and Seluril took it, both squeezing the other a little harder than usual, a simple show of male superiority.
‘A pleasure to meet you Mr. Mordred.’ Seluril said, briefly diverting his attention from Mina. ‘Tell me, my Lady, what do you think this city really needs?’
Mordred tuned out the words spoken as he looked around the room, searching for other faces he should keep Mina from. He saw, among others, two people who should never be in the same room as each other, even one as huge as this, let alone with metal utensils within arms reach.
The first was Mistress Seramine, known leader of The Shadowwalkers. Of course, she had so many contacts, politically and… otherwise… that she, nor any close associates, had even had formal charges lain upon her. In most cases, the witness had been too scared to come forwards or even been killed before a formal interview could be conducted.
But tonight, she was tastefully wearing a deep purple gown, almost black, cut up the leg to mid-thigh. It also revealed much of her bust, but in a classy way. Draped around her shoulders was an expensive looking fur, possibly from a werewolf, Mordred noted, noting the colour. He watched her laugh and chat with the other posh people as if she had never killed anyone.
His eyes lingered on her for a second more than he felt appropriate before shifting his gaze to her main rival, Countess Niamh.
Almost a stack comparison to Seramine, Niamh had a white gown on, one that didn’t reveal as much as he competitor’s, but enough to show that she was more respectable. She had no shawl draped around her neck, for one would’ve hidden the magnificent necklace she bore. At the centre of the necklace was a large ____, set in silver, with smaller _____ either side. She too was talking and laughing with people nearby to her, but most likely on how her many generous donations to the city had been used.
Mordred watched, fascinated, as both women were obviously aware of the other, stealing glances when her opponents back was turned.
He turned back to Mina and Seluril just in time to see them hug and part. Mordred took Seluril’s hand in farewell as the public figure moved on, stopping briefly by Seramine long enough to whisper a few words to her. Mordred idly wondered what he said but thought nothing of it as he followed Mina to where the food and beverages were being laid out. He helped himself to some small sandwiches and a mug of coffee in an effort to stay awake amongst this boring crowd.
Four hours passed and Mordred was bored out of his mind. He had been listening to Mina and Niamh discussing the overcrowding and homeless situation for the past forty minutes and, while the seemed engrossed in it, he was wishing for his eighth cup of coffee. He was saved his trouble by Seluril, who rang a loud bell and motioned for everyone to be quiet.
‘My good people, thank-you for coming tonight to my humble home,’ a round of applause broke out and Seluril motioned once more for silence. ‘As you all know, all proceeds from tonight will go towards the construction of more houses to help slow the population issues. Already I can see your rides pulling up outside so I will not keep you further. Thank-you once more!’
The crowd cheered and clapped for Seluril as he descended the stairs to see people off. Once he had reached the great doors, the applause dimmed as the guests stopped clapping to shake his hand and thank him in person.
Mordred watched helplessly as Seluril and Mina hugged, knowing that the glint he saw in Seluril’s eye was real as he saw it once more. When he shook Seluril’s hand, he applied enough pressure to see Seluril raise an eyebrow slightly. Mordred reached the carriage and held it open for Mina, pointedly not looking at Seluril. He hopped in after her and motioned for the driver to take them home.
Seluril watched on as the carriage carrying Mina and that damned guard left, trapped by the queue of people wanting to shake his hand and thank him for a lovely evening. He endured thirty minutes more of shaking hands and accepting gratitude before Barker appeared by his side and whispered in his ear:
‘She awaits your company in your office’
Seluril nodded to him and managed to see the last few guests out before heading to a smallish room on the east side of the hallway. In there, resting comfortably in a leather seat was Mistress Seramine.
‘Don’t get up’ he said mockingly as he entered. ‘I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience.’
Seramine said nothing in reply, meeting his gaze without falter. He found that he couldn’t meet her gaze for very long and so looked down to his desk as he sat and shuffled a few papers.
‘I take it there is a reason you called me her tonight?’ Seramine asked, looking bored with the prospect of a late night out.
Seluril nodded, selecting a sheet of paper from the stack in front of him and handed it wordlessly to her. He watched he eyes as she scanned it quickly.
‘Yes…’ she said finally.’ It can be done, but do you want it done so soon?’
‘Is there a problem?’ Seluril asked lightly.
‘No, but it will cost you extra, you realise that, right?’
Seluril nodded, already anticipating this and produced a small, heavy bag that “clinked” with the rich sound of gold. He placed it on the desk and prodded it towards her gently.
Seramine cast a quick glance to it before flicking back to the paper in her hands, re-reading certain passages. As she got mid-way down, she paused and tapped a paragraph with an exquisite fingernail.
‘Are you sure that you want the scene to be manipulated in such a way?’ she asked, mentally selecting a team for the next nights operation.
‘Yes. I cannot stress enough that I require the scene to be exactly as described. It is the only way to make sure he leaves.’
Two nights later, Mordred was escorting Mina from an outing she had just finished with Sir Darius, a well respected pioneer in the field of architecture. He was trying to raise finance for a new, low-cost housing solution. The plans had been checked and double-checked by independent surveyors and was awaiting funds for construction to begin. Mina had kindly promised to have some money donated in the morning so work could begin ASAP.
Mordred was walking to the side of Mina, with two guards ahead and two following, protection in case something unpleasant should leap out of the dark shadows.
As they walked through one of the poorer streets at Mina’s request, Mordred found a begging bowl thrust into his face. He looked past it to a face lacking in teeth but more than making up for it in halitosis.
‘Spare a silver for an old ex-miner. I ain’t eaten in days’ the non-descript figure said, his speaking muffled by coughing.
Mordred motioned the others on as he fished in his pocket for some money. He looked around absently as he pulled out some spare change and noticed that no-one else in his party was being accosted for money. In fact, the other beggars were carefully watching them pass. He hurriedly threw a couple of coins into the bowl, not caring what they were, and was about to follow when a hand grabbed his arm and stopped him.
‘Now, now Mr. Mordred. You wouldn’t want to get your friends hurt now, would you?’ said the beggar, all trace of sickness and frailty lost.
Mordred tried to pull away but the beggar was strong.
‘Who are you? What do you want?’ said Mordred, his eyes watching shadows detach and move to surround him.
‘Irrelevant questions, Mr. Mordred, therefore I will give you no answers. Suffice to say, we have our target… you’ said the impostor.
Mordred’s mouth opened to rebuff but he was shoved back into the middle of the street. He saw the four figures clearly as they stepped into his path.
‘Goodbye, Mr. Mordred’ said the first figure as he turned and walked after Mina, holding Mordred’s sword up for all to see.
Mordred took a deep breath and released it slowly as he looked into the hooded depth of the figure in front of him, he heart oddly calm.
And so he lunged.
Reaching behind him, he drew his assailant’s sword from the sheath and sliced the man in front of him open from gut to throat in one swift motion. As the sword was exiting the first victim, he turned it into a downwards action, burying it in the neck of the man to his left. He grabbed that mans half-drawn sword and fended off three quick swipes from the remaining two.
Sidestepping inside a swing, Mordred grabbed the wrist holding the sword and turned the blow upon its owner, leaving Mordred free to wield two swords and face the remaining man. His last attacker stared right back at Mordred, sword held in an offensive stance.
Then he ran for it.
The last hooded man had almost made it to the corner as one of Mordred’s swords, thrown over-arm, pierced his neck. He was dead before he hit the ground. He never saw Mordred sprint past him after Mina.
Mina was getting slightly worried as to where Mordred was, but took some comfort that she still had four loyal bodyguards around her. She heard the padding of feet behind her and turned to see him jogging up behind her, looking slightly puffed. Mina felt her heart skip a beat as she saw he was a bit ruffed up.
He slowed his pace and walked up to Mina, hand holding his scabbard, containing his sword, away from his belt.
‘What happened?’ asked Mina, her eyes searching Mordred for any signs of injury.
‘Some thugs though it would be fun to impede my progress. Don’t worry,’ he said, taking in Mina’s concerned look. ‘I just roughed them up a little. Their wounds will heal in a week or so.’
Mina sighed in relief and was about to suggest they continue to her manor when she thought she saw his eyes flicker to either side, as if judging the distance from himself to the guards. She was about to speak when he lunged, blades carefully concealed in his hands buried in the necks of two guards. As the others began to react, Mordred punched the third in the nose, driving a bone fragment into his brain and killing him. He turned to the last and, with a flurry of quick sword-swipes, had last guard hand- and headless.
He turned slowly to Mina, a single drop of blood running the length off his blade and smacking into the ground, and smiled.
It was not a nice smile, but rather a smile intended to instil fear and drain confidence. It was the kind of smile that a shark wears perpetually. He opened his mouth to speak and for a second his outline wavered, as if it was falling apart. He shut it quickly and tried the effect of the grin again.
He was so focused on Mina that he had not heard the real Mordred charge up and shoulder-tackle him, knocking him off to the side and ruining the magic weaved on him. The outline flickered and disappeared, leaving the form of the beggar who had stalled Mordred earlier. He recovered his balance quickly and turned sharply to Mordred, sword at the ready.
Mordred raised his own sword in a defensive stance as the beggar/assassin lunged. From that moment on, Mordred knew he was outclassed. Blow after blow rained down and it took all of Mordred’s skill just to defend himself. How, he wondered, was he going to stop the man if he couldn’t even touch him?
An unseen punch broke Mordred’s nose for him as he tried to stop the assassin from cutting his head off. But he did manage to catch the assailant on the knee with a sneaky kick, damaging the joint and reducing movement.
He wheeled around and tried to get himself away from Mina as several blows slipped past his guard and hit his chain-mail, leaving bruises for the morning. One of the blows his upper right arm and set off his pistolbow, the bolt firing through his shirt and in a random direction. He felt himself, slowly but surely, begin to tire and knew that it was only a matter of time before a swipe put him down for good. He shuffled backwards, still on the defensive, past a fallen body of one of his guard, lying facedown with a puddle of blood pooling from his neck.
And Mordred slipped in it.
Falling backwards, he let out a short cry of alarm as he fell, sword tumbling from his hand as he sought to brace himself.
The assassin grinned and plunged, planning to finish Mordred off and get back to the task of carving up the pretty lady.
But the slip had been feigned.
Mordred clenched his left fist and felt the blade slide into place. He carefully dodged the assassin’s blade and punched upwards.
The attackers grin turned into a howl of anguish as he discovered his injured knee couldn’t bear his weight and he toppled forward, right onto Mordred’s fist.
The small blade pierced the skin and slid easily between two ribs, striking the heart. As it continued to beat, the heart only sliced itself further on the small blade, its actions slowing and finally halting.
Mordred pushed the corpse off himself and sat up. He reached for his nose and shut his eyes. He braced himself and reset his nose with a “crack” that echoed in the quiet streets. He picked himself up and limped over to where Mina had fallen.
And noticed the crossbow bolt sticking out of her chest. It was the bolt that had fired from his own bow when he took a blow to the arm.
Heart pounding, Mordred ignored his own wounds and, with Mina clutched close to him, ran the few remaining blocks to her manor.
Turning the final corner, both Mina and himself leaking blood, Mordred saw Duke Montoyik’s coach waiting outside, the Duke himself talking with Mina’s staff. Some of them noticed Mordred and cleared a path for him to get inside.
Mordred carefully lay Mina down and, still ignoring the pain he felt, called for healers to attend to her wounds first. Only when her breathing had stabilised did he allow himself to be treated.
As he finally took in the scene, he noticed Duke Montoyik was standing over him, face red with anger.
‘What the hell have you done? Do you not realise that is my daughter? Have you lost all common sense?’ he thundered.
Mordred waited until the Duke had paused for breath before attempting to answer his questions. Surprisingly, the Duke listened as Mordred spoke of how he had been delayed, how the impostor had threatened Mina and how he had defeated him.
But the Duke would have none of that.
‘I don’t care if you got there eventually. What matters is that you should never have left her side. Effective immediately, you are dismissed from this service. You will have thirty minutes to collect your gear and then you are to leave the premises. Get out of my sight.’
‘Father… wait… don’t…’ struggled Mina, trying to raise herself up on her elbows to be seen. ‘Don’t do that. Please.’
‘I’m sorry sweetheart’ the Duke said. ‘There is no other choice. You will accompany me back to my manor and stay there until your wounds have fully healed. End of discussion.’
He turned and motioned for his men to load Mina onto the second carriage carefully and make sure she can travel.
Mordred could only stand on helplessly as the staff left the street, either returning to the manor or boarding carriages and leaving.
Mina lifted herself into a sitting position and looked one last time out the window at Mordred as he stood solemnly still.
The coach pulls away into the night, its lone occupant crying softly into the velvet cushions, while a solitary watcher turns on his heel and walks into the gloom, saying softly to himself
‘Yes, I could have done something’
“Clap, clap, clap” came the sound of someone clapping slowly and deliberately, as if wanting to be heard.
Mordred froze, hand darting to his sword, eyes trying to locate the source amongst all the echoes.
‘Really, I must congratulate you’ a voice rang out, its echoes bouncing off every surface. ‘Injuring Lady Mina. Alienating yourself from your most stable job. If I didn’t know any better,’ here the voice became more like a smirk, ‘I’d think you had planned all this.’
‘Enough! They were accidents,’ growled Mordred, his temper shortened considerably after tonight’s events. ‘Show yourself coward’
A figure stepped out from underneath an overhanging roof, a crossbow help nonchalantly.
‘Throw down your weapons,’ said Seluril, stepping into the light. ‘I am an expert marksman and will hit you before you could move.
Mordred angrily threw down his sword and raised his hands in submission. Seluril chuckled.
‘And the nifty little blade and pistol-bow that you conceal in your sleeves. Oh, don’t look so surprised,’ he said, noting the gloom surfacing on Mordred’s face. ‘I know more about you than you realise. Now, quickly please.’ He gestured with the bow and watched as Mordred slipped the concealed weapons off.
Seluril watched on, eyes glinting in the dark, and he cocked his head as if thinking.
‘Now, the real question that is going through your mind is “Does he have any other weapons?” ’ He chuckled while saying this. ‘Of course not, a bow is all I need to stop you, because you are all alone now…’
Mordred growled, hands still above his head, watching Seluril step ever closer.
‘Also, you’ve given me Mina, whenever I want to get her. And let’s now forget you. Calmly… coolly… entirely without incident’ said Seluril, stepping behind Mordred, crossbow aimed at his neck.
‘No,’ said Mordred, all anger gone from his voice. ‘Not without incident’
Mordred dropped quickly, hitting the ground face-first, right by his sword. Seluril almost wasted his bolt but managed to restrain himself not to fire it prematurely.
Grabbing his sword, Mordred sprung up like a cat.
Right into the sights of Seluril’s crossbow.
‘Goodbye, Mr. Mordred.’
Mordred lay on his back, opening and closing his mouth in silent agony, the bolt protruding through a hole forced in his chain mail. He managed to look down and see the blood coming from the wound was dark, never a good sign. He lay his head back and saw Seluril lying a few feet away, sword stuck up to it’s hilt in his upper chest.
Mordred felt his body grow numb, the pain he was feeling lessen. He closed his eyes briefly and then opened them to the see the gloom surround him.
He closed his eyes one last time and let darkness take him away.