The catastrophe of the e.., p.20
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.20

           LR Manley
 
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  “GET OFF!!!” the man shouted, terrified as the second bell tolled. Others around them winced, knowing full well the price for having two on a plate at the end of a round. The two men thrashed madly, knowing only one could survive but neither strong enough to dislodge the other. The third bell tolled with cheers from the spectators as they waited eagerly for the blue flames. Silence fell as expectation reached its peak and then…nothing happened.

  King James stood, furious as his pleasurable diversion was halted. The two struggling men finally halted and let each other go. The others looked around, unsure if this was part of the games or not. There were jeers and booing from the audience. King James turned to his nearest advisor and snapped angrily, “Find out what happened down there. I want whoever’s responsible in the arena with them!” 

  The advisor gulped and moved to the doorway behind him. King James looked at Kloee, trapped in her glass coop, and grinned as she hovered inside, hands on her hips, glaring furiously at him. “Don’t worry little thing,” he chuckled. “You’ll see your friends soon enough.” He eyed Mordalayn’s sword and his mood abated somewhat. Regardless of having his fun spoiled, the boy would be ready to spill everything he knew by now and the victory against Alegria was nearly complete. 

  The creature killed the flame control. “The arena is now safe,” he said. There was a grinding noise as the plates again began to rotate and murmurs of confusion could be heard from the soldiers seated above. The creature grabbed a handle and pulled down hard. The grinding stopped, the plates frozen once more. 

  “Raise the maintenance portcullis on the right of this room,” Scious said.

   The creature stared at him with petrified eyes and pleaded. “Could you erm…make it look like we tried to stop you? We Chupateen will end up in there too if King James even imagines we didn’t at least try.” 

  “My pleasure,” Scious said beaming, “Now, open the portcullis.”

   The creature moved to a set of glistening steel valves on the wall and began to twist one hard. Bue and Jared moved to the small open entrance to the arena floor. As they turned there was a couple of thudding noises and groans. Scious smiled, wiping his hands briskly, the Chupateen unconscious behind him. “Call the Caracalic over, he has one chance to make it so he does,” he whispered. “There are bowmen all around the walls, yes bowmen.”

   As the hubbub increased and the King glared angrily around him, the combatants looked about anxiously. A few still believed this was part of the games to torment them, but others realised something had gone wrong. The crossbow men lined on the walls had lowered their weapons and were glancing around baffled. Mordalayn saw Kloee in her glass prison and as he wondered what was happening a small gate rose up across from him. Looking over, he saw Bue’s face in the shadows behind it. Bue beckoned to him and then pointed up and around, indicating the danger. Most attention was now on the king as people looked for answers in their confusion. Bracing himself, Mordalayn tensed his muscles ready to jump. 

  From the angle they were at Jared could just see the royal box with Kloee’s glass dome perched on the balcony. He prodded Bue. “Can you break the glass and free her?” he asked. 

  Bue looked up and his face creased. “I’d rather put a bolt through James’ss neck,” he replied bitterly. 

  “We don’t have time,” Jared replied. “Can you smash the glass with a shot? Then she can come with us.” 

  “What do you think?” Bue replied and raised his bow.

  As King James sat waiting he pondered what might have gone wrong. His prisoners were securely chained, with no access to either their weapons or magic. Those who had embarrassed him would be dealt with accordingly but he knew the system that powered the arena was sturdy and reliable and had existed for hundreds of years. The arena itself had fallen out of use due to Alegria’s pacifism and dislike of such spectacles. Faced with a neighbouring kingdom so powerful no ruler of any other realm had tried to continue with such practices. Forever in Alegria’s shadow. Well, not any more. 

  As he turned to look behind him to see if his advisor was returning there was a crash and the glass of the domed cage next to him shattered. Acting on reflexes, he hurled himself back out of his chair and down on the floor, face down with his arms over his head. Kloee flew up angrily from the shattered remains. As the remaining guard moved towards her, she hurled her hands out and a blinding flash of light erupted from her palms. The guard shrieked, temporarily blinded and dropped his spear.  

  “Nasty, horrid, horrid bully!” Kloee shouted pouting and flew to where Mordalayn’s sword was resting. It glowed yellow and she flew up and out over the arena with the huge weapon floating next to her. 

  “Here! Over here!” a voice shouted and she frantically looked around to see Jared and Bue shouting at her from behind an iron grill in the wall. A couple of crossbow bolts shot past her. The bowmen on the walls were recovering their composure and Jared and Bue ducked down as quarrels ricocheted off the wall and iron bars in front of them. One or two passed into the engineering room to clatter off the walls. 

  Mordalayn saw his chance and sprang lithely across the floor. King James stood up and shouted to the bowmen. “STOP HIM!!!” As the Caracalic bounded over the grill, bolts sprang from the weapons and whacked into the floor around him. He leapt for the small opening just as Kloee flew through it with his sword and grunted in pain as a bolt thudded into the flesh of his left arm, above the elbow. 

  He slid through the gate and Scious grinned at him. “Hello there sir, I told you Scious honours his debts.” 

  In the arena every soldier was on his feet and there was a pounding on the locked door of the tiny room. “Hold hands please everyone, you too little miss,” Scious said to Kloee who glared at him but hovered between Bue and Mordalayn. The Caracalic snatched his sword from her and threw the strap over his head before taking her tiny hand in his. “Now off we go.” Scious gave a big smile and with a flash of diamond light they were gone.

  King James strode down to the dungeons, his wary guards at his side. The king was furious and no one wanted to say or do anything that might further provoke his wrath. The two Chupateen who had been operating the arena mechanisms had been found unconscious and it appeared they had been caught by surprise. Uncharacteristically forgiving, the king had simply walked away when faced with their explanation. One they had given while gibbering with fear and rubbing their sore heads. As the king reached the dungeon levels two guards bowed and quickly opened the doors. Marching through he made for the main cell area. Four guards surrounded the terrified dungeon master. 

  King James looked at the man and then at the guards. “Found him asleep your majesty,” one said. “Other two are trapped in the abyss room. The prisoners have escaped and their weapons and belongings are missing.” 

  King James glared at the fear stricken jailer and looked around the room. His eyes bored into the kneeling man. “Were you asleep?” he enquired in a friendly tone 

  “Errr…no, I mean yes your majesty. Please forgive me.” 

  “But of course I forgive you. Am I not a kind and benevolent king?” 

  “Oh yes your majesty of course you are.” 

  King James smiled and gently placed his hand on the man’s head. “You were obviously tired, we all need a nap now and then. Even those guarding prisoners for their king. How could any man judge you for dozing off like that?” 

  He turned to his guards. “Assemble the Daggers and send the signal to our spies in Alegria. We march in one hour. Our plans are not hindered by this setback.”

  He turned back to the jailer. “Now. What shall we do with you then?”

  Chapter 28

   

  They appeared in a field, the moon in the sky above them throwing a milky glow over the tall grass. Jared wobbled uncertainly on his feet, his stomach doing flips from the magical jolt. In contrast to the shouting and chaos of the arena, this was peaceful and his ears were ringing in protest after the bedlam of
the last few minutes. 

  They all breathed out in relief and slowly let go of each other’s hands. Kloee flew up and perched herself on Jared’s shoulder. Mordalayn quickly scanned the field and Bue looked Jared up and down. “You ok?” he asked, looking concerned.

   “Fine I guess, you?” 

  Bue smiled but even in the moonlight Jared could see that the other boy was hurting inside. He reached over and placed his hand on his arm. “He gave his life for you because he wanted to,” he whispered. 

  Bue shook off the hand and turned away.  

  Mordalayn checked his wound and grunted when he saw it was only a graze. He looked at them and then to Scious. “Where are we?” he snapped at the little man.

   “About four miles from Alegria good sir,” Scious replied pointing to lights in the distance, sparkling like jewels in the velvet night.

   “Could you not have taken us nearer to the castle?” Mordalayn growled.

   Scious looked hurt and replied defensively. “I saved your lives good sir, Scious keeps his word so he does, oh yes he does. Had to land here so we did, I’m not an alchemist, can’t just take you kind sirs just anywhere. We could have materialised into a building or even a horse. Would sir like that? Being merged with a horse?”

   He looked indignant and Mordalayn stared at him for a long moment. “You are right. My thanks little man. Your gesture will not be forgotten.” 

  Scious beamed and then bowed. “I bid you good night gentlemen…and lady,” he bowed again to Kloee who narrowed her eyes at him. “Scious will be on his way.” With that he scurried off in the direction of the trees and in a few seconds he was gone, only the sound of his feet could be heard, until that too faded.

   “We need to move,” Mordalayn said. “Alegria is four miles to the east, the castle another seven from there.”

   He began moving off to the road at the edge of the field, the grass rustling against his clothes, slinging his sword over his shoulder he tied off the sash and Bue and Jared exchanged worried looks and then ran after him. Kloee flew behind Jared and cast a glow in front of him to light his steps.

   “For you young master,” she said, eager to please. “A light so you don’t trip and hurt yourself.”

   “What are we going to do when we get into the city?” Jared asked confused.

   Mordalayn continued walking. “Steal some transport and get to the castle as soon as we can.” As he made it to the wooden fence at the edge of the field he vaulted over and made straight for the road, Bue and Jared struggling to keep up with his long strides.

  Milus Forsinavue was bored. His master was still busy inside the tavern and he had no doubt he’d have to help him get into the carriage when the time came. The old man was spending more and more of his evenings here and sometimes didn’t leave until the tavern closed. The job wasn’t so badly paid but the lack of activity dragged Milus down and frustrated him. He looked at the sky and saw that dawn was not too far away. He decided to make certain everything was tidy. His master tended to get irritable unless his private coach was kept in immaculate condition. Whistling softly he jumped down from the cab and walked around to inspect the vehicle. The four horses had been fed and watered and he patted the nearest one as he walked past it. He took a cloth and began wiping the surface of the exterior, lifting off the few smudges and dust streaks that had appeared since the last time he checked.

   As he bent down to begin wiping the spokes on one of the large wooden wheels he heard the sound of footsteps. He could see three pairs of legs approaching him through the gaps in the wheel. He straightened up and made his way around to the other side.

   “Good evening gentlemen,” he said cheerfully, hoping for some conversation to relieve the boredom and then recognised the tallest figure. “Takoba, my respect,” he said, touching his hand to his forehead.  

  Mordalayn stopped. From the tavern there were voices and the sound of laughter. Life carrying on as normal for the people of Alegria. There were very few people about in the dark street, only a woman further up emptying dirty water into the gutter who looked at them disinterestedly and then went back into her house, shutting the door. Further down were a couple of people walking, one supporting the other and both laughing occasionally. In the distance a dog barked then was silent.

   “Do I know you?” 

  Milus smiled. “Oh yes. Milus Forsinavue. Former coachman to the council of Alegria. Recently fallen on harder times…at your service.”

   Mordalayn paused for a moment as he looked at Milus. “I need your coach. I don’t have time to argue and if you try to stop me you will fail.” 

  Milus looked puzzled for a split second then looked at the closed door of the tavern and back at the group in front of him. 

  “Whatever.” he shrugged “I take it this is important if the Queen’s Sword wishes to steal a common coach…albeit a very nice, clean and well looked after one.”

   Mordalayn was silent. 

  The man shrugged again. “Fair enough, I never really liked this job. I might as well take you. You steal this coach I’m out of work anyway.” He looked at the Caracalic’s companions. One was a bewildered looking young boy of about 11 who looked foreign. The other was about 13 and had a hard look in his eyes. Slightly behind the younger child was a glowing, hovering fairy who frowned at him as he looked at her. 

  “Young miss,” he said, again touching his hand to his forehead as he acknowledged Kloee, who pouted even harder.

   He stepped up into the cab and gestured for them to get in. Mordalayn swung the door open and Bue and Jared struggled on board. Milus turned back and looked through the small hatch behind him. “Where we off to then?”

   “The royal palace, stop for no one,” Mordalayn replied and Milus cracked the whip. The horses moved off as the first rays of sun pricked the sky.

  Chapter 29

   

  The carriage swayed to a stop at the watch tower beyond the bridge to the palace. The bridge was vast and beneath it was a drop of awe inspiring depth that led to the forests and fields far below. Milus cracked his whip and brought the horses to a trot but before they had stopped, the door opened and Mordalayn jumped out. The startled guards at the bridge jerked to attention. “Takoba,” they said saluting. He quickly glanced at their uniforms and identified the guard captain. 

  “I need to see the council now,” he snapped and the confused officer cleared his throat to reply but Mordalayn was already walking to the captain’s tethered horse. He quickly untied it and swung himself lithely up into the saddle. He turned back. “Escort the passengers and this man to the palace. I will meet you there.”

   Before the still startled officer could respond Mordalayn kicked the horse with his heels and charged down the long, wide bridge to the palace half a mile away. 

  The thundering hooves faded. The guard captain looked up at Milus who gave him a half smile and then to the faces of the two boys and the fairy peering at him from the window of the coach. He turned to one of his men; “Ride with them, escort them to the council chamber.” The soldier saluted and climbed up next to Milus who cracked his whip again and the horses moved off. As the carriage retreated one soldier turned to the captain. “What was that all about sir?” 

  The captain shook his head. “I have no idea, but whatever it is I’ll wager it’s very bad news.”

  Jared and Mordalayn faced the council. Bue and Kloee had been told to wait outside and Milus Forsinavue was tending his ex-master’s horses. 

  Unlike the first meeting this one was in a large oval room with a large oval, wooden table in the centre. Since the absence of the queen most of the council were living in their designated quarters and had been hastily roused by the palace guard. Messages had been sent to the absent members but as this meeting was not planned it was doubtful any would attend before it was over, even by Shimmer. There was not one tired face amongst them. The urgency was paramount even though the assembled council was incomplete, five
chairs sat empty. The councillor Lighvoor went to speak.  

  “May I call this meeting to order and…” he began but Mordalayn stepped forward. 

  “We do not have time for pomp and ceremony Lighvoor,” he snapped, looking round the table. 

  Lighvoor’s voice trailed off. Then after a pause. “You are right Takoba, please say what you must.” 

  Mordalayn stepped to the far end of the table and placed his clenched hands on the polished surface. “Anghofio have a spy amongst us that knows secrets only the innermost circle of priests, myself and Our Lady are privy to.” 

  There were murmurs of shock and he continued. “Your mission to send spies to Anghofio was a success; they found what we needed to know, albeit at a terrible price.” 

  The murmuring increased in volume then the rat faced general Degrezen spoke. “Forgive us for not informing you of that mission Takoba, there was no time.” 

  Mordalayn did not look at him. “There is no need to explain your actions to me general. I trust this council implicitly and regard all actions and decisions as for the greater good.” 

  “What was the information they found?” the one eyed woman asked in a lilting voice. 

  “The Anghofians placed spies here. They now know how to summon the Queen. As I stated before, only a handful of people know of Our Lady’s true origins and more than half of them are in this room now.” 

  More murmuring and again Mordalayn spoke. “While you all know that this can be done, none of you are aware of how. Which means someone in the priesthood has betrayed us. If they are able to activate the signal to summon her then they can trap her when she arrives.” 

 
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