The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.18LR Manley
Jared racked his mind to think of what had happened since he had stumbled into Sophie’s room in Warwick hospital. He remembered the fear and chaos at Heathrow airport and the futile struggling against Mordalayn’s iron grasp. He thought about the removal of the tracking sigil and the horror as it had fought the exorcism. He remembered the soldiers on the dock and the poor man who’d been taken by the lake’s guardians for his attack on them. Then his thoughts turned to the runaway thief in the dusty streets that Mordalayn had saved and then….
His head snapped upright. Oh God, what was the man’s name?
He racked his brains for the little scruffy man’s name and then it came to him.
Taking a deep breath Jared went, “Scious, Scious, Scious, Scious….Scious.”
He looked around, half expecting the room to dematerialise in front of them and for them all to wake up back at the Cherubs. But…nothing.
“Worth a try,” he said to himself. “Might have guessed…”
There was a loud crack and ahead of them the air split open as if cut with a sharp knife. A brief, millisecond of blue light spilled from the slash and suddenly a man burst forward from it. He was flung forward and staggered as if coming to a sudden stop after running and looked around bewildered. His hat flew from his head and he grabbed it back.
“My oh my,” he said and patted his pockets then his arms and legs as if checking they were still in one piece. “Who calls Scious away from his supper?” He looked at the imprisoned boys in front of him and a look of concern crossed his features. “Dear oh dear, you poor people. Hello young man,” he said addressing Jared. “Never thought you’d need the help of one such as I.”
Bue had snapped alert and he stared at the newcomer. “Can you release us?” Jared asked quickly.
Scious scratched his head. “Of course, of course, of course. Anything for my friend,” and looked around. Seeing the mechanical levers near to him he looked at the boys. “Does this release you?”
“Yes, but be careful. The one on the far left retracts the floor,” Jared replied.
Scious tutted and pulled the levers one at a time. The chains detached from the bracelets and one by one they were released. Bue and Jared fell to the floor and collapsed. They rubbed their sore wrists and shook their numb hands to get the blood flowing again.
“Now we need to get you out of here so we do,” Scious muttered, scratching his head under his hat again. “It really is most inconvenient you summoned me while I was eating. Had to quickly grab my hat, never go out without my hat you know.”
“We need to find Mordalayn,” Jared said and Scious smirked.
“The warrior? Your friend? Of course, he stopped those horrible men from hurting me. We must indeed find him.”
“How do we get out?” Bue asked, his eyes still swollen from crying and his voice croaky from where he’d been shouting.
Scious looked around the gloomy room. “Stand next to the door,” he said.
Bue and Jared followed his suggestion and he stood next to the levers and then yanked hard on the one to open the pit. With the same deafening grind the triangles retracted into the surrounding floor. Scious ran and stood next to the boys. Within a few seconds they could hear a key being frantically turned in the other side of the door and as it swung open two guards ran in.
The guards ran to the empty chains and the open floor, confused. As they ran forward Scious pulled Bue and Jared through the open door and slammed it, turning the key in the lock smirking triumphantly. The two guards thudded into the door on the other side and began pounding on it, shouting furiously. Scious raised the large bunch of keys then placed them in a large pocket in his coat.
“Come, we have to go,” he whispered and moved up the corridor, the guards still hammering on the door.
Jared looked around. The table next to the room they had been in was bare. Only a flagon of wine and a couple of mugs plus a crude dice game. Light flickered in the stone corridor from lanterns on the walls. The place was dank and gloomy, moss in scattered patches on the floor and walls. The corridor ended just beyond the door to their former prison. No one else was about.
“We need to get out of this place now,” Scious said as they moved away. “People will be coming soon.”
“No, we have to find Mordalayn we can’t leave him here,” Jared replied. He turned to Scious and looked imploringly to the little man. “Can you help us find him?”
Scious bowed. “But of course, of course, of course my young friend. Your friend is a friend of Scious’s too so he is. It would be my honour and my pleasure.”
“Where would they have taken him?” Jared asked, glancing left to right to check no one was coming.
“I would suggest that the king would have taken him to the games.”
“Games?” Jared asked confused.
“This isn’t just a prison,” Scious said frantically. “This is also the place where the king has his sports. Nasty sports though they are.”
Jared still looked concerned. Bue said quickly. “They’ve taken him to the arena?”
“Would say so young master, would say so,” Scious answered, bobbing his head again, the feather in his hat waving madly.
Jared paled. “We have to get him out of there. Can you do it?”
“Like I said, always happy to repay a debt, but my debt is for one repayment only. Scious takes all of you or some of you, but I do not come back once I go.”
Bue spoke up. “Show us the way,” and gestured for Scious to lead. He scurried on ahead, the shouting and pounding on the door becoming fainter and fainter until it faded away. The corridor was narrow and now there was no sound apart from their own foot falls on the uneven stone.
As they passed a small closet in the wall Bue shouted. “Wait!” He reached inside and pulled out his prize bow and the quiver belt, still full of quarrels. Inside there was also their backpacks. “Our stuff,” he said unemotionally and began tossing out the packs to the others. Jared saw Bue’s face was grim and cold.
As they reached the end of the corridor Scious raised his finger to his lips, gesturing for them to be quiet. “We mustn’t make a noise but I can get us out of here.” He reached down and withdrew the big bunch of keys. He squinted at them and after a moment grunted. He inserted a big rusty key into the lock of the wooden door. After a few seconds of fumbling he cackled triumphantly and grabbed the handle, yanking it and the door swung open. Peering round the frame cautiously he beckoned the others to follow him.
They stepped into a more brightly lit but still relatively gloomy hall with tall cylindrical stone pillars supporting the roof. The light filtered in from above from a huge round window in the ceiling and from various doors that led off from the main area. Scious looked back at them and whispered to them. “There is one guard here but he’s asleep. Make no noise.”
They slipped out the door and crept slowly past the snoring guard. He had a tankard in his hand and nearby was a flagon of wine, nearly empty. His helmet was on the table next to him and he snuffled as they tiptoed past him. They froze as he stirred but breathed a sigh of relief as he simply slumped into a more comfortable position and carried on snoring. Scious led them to a door on the far left past the guard and after checking they were all present he opened it very quietly and they all went through. “We need to get upstairs,” he said, shutting it behind them. He tapped the side of his nose with his index finger and winked at them, “Scious’s nose knows,” and tittered at his own joke.
As he went to move on Bue grabbed his sleeve. He had loaded and cranked his bow. “Where does this go?” he whispered.
“To the next level young master, where the games are held so they are.” He gestured to the room they’d just left. “The other doors lead to the rest of the jail. You were in a special room. We needs to get past the guards on the next floor.”
“Can you do that without us being seen?” Bue asked him looking doubtful.
Scious looked hurt. “Oh yes! Sneaking is one of my better things.” He moved up the spiralling staircase, his feet falling silently on the steps. Bue and Jared looked at each other then moved to follow Scious.
“Not so close to me!” Harrod whispered angrily as the frozen figure of the priest crinkled into immobility in front of him.
His partner grunted and returned the jewel to his pocket. The old priest who had stopped them as they were about to enter the hub was now swathed in ice. Harrod waved his hand in front of the old man’s face, looking a little concerned.
“You’re only supposed to stop them not kill them Crow. We need them later. No one else knows how the magic here works.” He tutted, a frown creasing his brow.
“He’s not dead,” Crow answered crustily. “Although he might have a cold when he wakes up.”
Harrod stared again at the eyes of the iced man in front of him. They were frozen open in a shocked expression. He shrugged. “Whatever. Now…let’s get this done.” He beamed brightly, his carefree demeanour returning.
Crow winked at him and they both drew the hoods of their priestly robes over their heads and Harrod knocked loudly on the door with the tip of his staff.
“Open in the name of the queen and all that is joyous in Alegria,” he shouted in a high tone.
“Don’t overdo it,” Crow hissed as the locking bolt was pulled on the other side.
The door opened a crack and a pair of suspicious eyes peered out. “Yes?” a voice croaked quizzically. “What do you want?”
“Tidings to you errr…exalted brother of our most beloved brethren,” Harrod said, grinning brightly, his pearly white teeth showing. Crow nudged his arm as the old man on the other side peered doubtfully at him. “We bring grave news of Our Lady and must speak to the Prime Guardian immediately.”
“Oh really,” the old man said, his eyes tightening even further. “Well, in that case you need to tell me the daily password don’t you.”
Harrod’s smiled slipped a fraction then he beamed again. “Brother of our most wonderful and precious world of loveliness, in our haste we forgot to find it out. Please bring us the Prime Guardian so we may deliver him this most urgent and pressing of messages for his exalted ears only.”
There was a pause and the eyes narrowed again. “There IS no daily password. Nice try!” The door slammed again and the lock was shoved in place. Harrod scowled and they could hear the sound of running feet plus muffled shouting.
Crow pushed him to one side. “Trust you to gild the lily” he hissed and drew another crystal from his robe. Stepping back he spoke a few words and with a whoosh the crystal glowed and the door vanished into dust.
They stepped forward, the powder from the disintegrated door making them cough and saw several scared priests gawking at them. All were dressed in white and gold robes and all stood around a huge tower, squat at its base and rising up and up into the ceiling high above where it tapered to a finer and finer point before vanishing. It glowed a dark green at its base and as Harrod and Crow strode nearer the priests started to scatter.
“Gentlemen we come in peace, we leave you in pieces,” Harrod said brightly, then adding to himself, “I’ve always wanted to say that.” Crow removed a third crystal from his pocket and turned, dropping it in the open doorway. It expanded sideways and then flashed upwards. Looking like some bright form of shiny, grey chewing gum it completely sealed the doorway. Then he took his other stone and turned to the nearest priest who raised his hands in shock. Blue light flashed from the crystal and the man was frozen, immobile. His hands were still raised as if in surrender.
“Deal with them I need to find the Prime,” Harrod yelled as the priests shrieked and scattered while Crow started to stalk them round the vast room, immobilising them one at a time.
Two priests stood in front of a wooden door, ornately carved and although terrified were clearly not going to move without some form of persuasion.
“Now gentlemen,” Harrod said calmly. “Let’s be reasonable.”
They shook their heads and he sighed. “CROW!!”
With the other priests despatched, Crow made his way over and without hesitation turned his crystal on them.
“Thank you kind sir,” Harrod said and with a shove, pushed the immobile forms aside. They hit the ground with a bump and tinkle of loosened ice chips.
The door opened. An old man with a white beard and a robe stood there, fearless and composed. Crow and Harrod hesitated and the old man looked at them. “What is it you want? I am no threat to you.”
Harrod beamed again. “that’s good to know. We need you to activate the summons signal for your absent ruler. If you would be so kind.”
The Prime Guardian stepped forward. Crow took his arm and pulled him to the marble barrier that encircled the huge grey pillar. At one section was a stone tablet, held in place in a horizontal frame. Crow pushed the priest up against it roughly and Harrod tutted. “Now, now Crow there’s no need to be so…pushy. This gentleman is here to help us. Aren’t you?”
“Our Lady is unreachable now,” the Prime Guardian informed them calmly. “Even if I activate this, there’s no guarantee that….”
“You let us worry about that, there’s a good chap” Harrod said patting his shoulder.
The old man swallowed hard and placed his hands over the tablet. The lines of writing etched into the stone began to glimmer and then flow, mingling and merging, criss crossing in patterns.
The priest softly spoke a few words and the words stopped weaving and formed together. The base of the pillar changed from dark to bright green. Light sped up it and within seconds the whole thing glowed.
“Forgive me My Lady,” the priest said, closing his eyes.
“I’m sure she will old chap,” Harrod assured him jovially and turned as Crow brought out his crystal once more. There was a crackle of energy as the priest was encased in ice.
Harrod rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Now…how do we get out?”
Mordalayn was restrained, tightly and with no possibility of free movement or struggle.
King James had ordered way before the Caracalic came through the Shimmer, that the warrior was to be securely clapped in irons from the moment they had hands on him. Now he was in a tiny one man cell. Iron bracelets secured his wrists and ankles and the chains attached to his arms were retracted into the walls, pulled to the limit of their reach. His legs were manacled together and his neck was secured by a collar with two chains either side, also running into the walls. The cell was almost pitch black. Mordalayn made no sound and his face was impassive. He gave no sign that he was in discomfort. His tri-blade was gone as was his pack. He waited, his mind concentrating on being serene. The news from the messenger had to be taken back to Alegria immediately and as only he had heard it he had to remain calm if he hoped to ever get out of this place.
The door in front of him suddenly opened and the light flooded into the tiny space. He did not squint against the brightness.
“Ahhhh, the Queen’s Sword,” King James said in a mocking tone. “Caught like a fish in a net.”
Two guards were either side of the king, looking nervous as their monarch approached the imprisoned warrior. As the king moved forward they quickly moved, to flank him. Sidestepping to remain slightly ahead, hands on their swords, ready to defend their ruler.
The king sensed their unease and chuckled. “Calm down my good fellows, this warrior has lost his teeth.” He walked up to the imprisoned figure, who glared at him silently. He held up Mordalayn’s sword in its faded, red leather sheath, the straps dangling. “You won’t be needing this any more. However as I’m sure you’re aware, one of my guards lost a hand trying to withdraw it from the scabbard.”
Mordalayn smiled thinly.
“Booby trapped swords
Mordalayn looked at him and spoke for the first time. “Next to every peaceful ruler there needs to stand a warrior of steel.”
King James smirked and glanced at his guards “That’s very good. My, my…such eloquent poetry from a hired thug. Did your little queen think that one up?” Adjusting his grip on Mordalayn’s large sword he snapped to his guards. “Come!” he barked and clicked his fingers. The guards backed away, not meeting Mordalayn’s relentless stare and backed out the door, gratefully slamming it behind them.
King James moved up the stairs from the cell and turned to one of his guards. “Are the other prisoners ready?”
The guard answered quickly. “Yes your majesty, we have the traitors ready. Plus those that were on guard duty in the inner chamber when the spies breached our defences.”
“Good, good,” the king said absent-mindedly then grinned. “Well, there’s not a second to lose.”
He walked quickly up the wide marble steps to a much bigger set of double doors. Two guards bowed as he approached and the doors swung open, inward. King James walked into a private balcony and two of his counsellors were there. They turned as the door opened and bowed their heads. He walked past the lavishly ornate, golden chair. As he stepped up there was a roar of cheering. He stood and raised his arms, then slowly lowered them to rest his hands on the cool black marble in front of him.
Below him was a circular floor completely covered in a vast metal grill. Surrounding the floor was a tall wall about eight metres high, curving to enclose the entire area. Seated behind it in curving rows of stone benches were around four hundred men in armour. They cheered loudly as the king greeted them and with a crash of heels they stomped their heavy boots on the floor. On the fourth stomp shouting as one voice “KING JAMES!!!.”
The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen by LR Manley / Fantasy have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes