The Bargain

Chapter 13

Gwaine stepped forward. He wasn’t sure if she had recognized him, but there was something in her eyes that hinted it. ″Ina?″ he asked. She turned to look at him. ″Gwaine!″ she exclaimed and her face lit up. He wasn’t sure if he should smile and hug her, but she ran forward to him and jumped into his arms, all of a sudden full of energy. She held on to him tightly and squeezed until he couldn’t breathe.

She let go of him and he looked at the rest of the group, who were staring at them. ″Well this is my sister,″ Gwaine said and shrugged his shoulders. ″You mean the one that you called an evil toa-″ Percival started but Gwaine shushed him before he could finish his sentence. His small sister put her hands on her hips and gave him a look. Gwaine decided to play along so he pushed her a bit and she tried to resist laughing but couldn’t. Merlin gave Eira a look and she nodded. Gwaine didn’t mind teasing people, especially girls.

″Ina, this is Percival, Merlin and Eira,″ Gwaine introduced each member of the group along with the other knights. His sister looked delighted to see that she wasn’t the only girl. Gwaine wasn’t sure what Eira’s reaction to his sister would be, but she didn’t show anything particular, she just smiled. Then he recognized what was in her eyes. Relief. She must have been nervous. The rest of the group seemed surprised at his sister’s presence, but the looks they gave Gwaine showed that they didn’t seem to mind if she joined their group. Gwaine looked at Percival and he nodded approvingly. ″We’re actually headed to Caerleon as well,″ Gwaine said, not sure if he should be happy with her being there. He had never really stood close to his sister, and since he had left home when he was a teenager he hadn’t seen her grow up.

One of the knights offered her his horse, and she smiled but declined. She quickly replied that she had her own horse a few steps away and went to get it. Gwaine rolled his eyes at Percival and they laughed before they mounted. He looked at Eira and she seemed to look more eager now. Ina returned with a horse that was small, just like her. It looked well-groomed and fed, and so did his sister. He wondered where she had been, and if what she had said about finding their mother was true. He looked at Eira. She seemed like she wanted to be alone, so he steered his horse closer to his sister. ″Nice horse,″ he commented.

″Nice patrol,″ she replied and looked admiringly at one of the younger knights, the same one that had offered her his horse. She winked at the knight, trying to get his attention, and he tore his gaze away from the woods for a few seconds and looked at her. She smiled and he turned back to the front. Gwaine rolled his eyes at her and she spoke, ″So this is where you’ve ended up after all these years.″ She had seen the crest of Camelot on the saddle of his horse; the knights didn’t wear anything else to show who they were in case they needed to hide their identities. Gwaine thought back to when he had left home as a teenager.

″It hasn’t been that long, you’ve only just turned twenty-one,″ he replied, recognizing the fact that every year since he had left home, he had laid awake on the night of his sister’s birthday and thought about his family.

″I haven’t seen you in eight years Gwaine. You were a wild teenager back then. And I’m only two years younger than you,″ she said, and didn’t wait for his reply. ″Mother went to Caerleon to talk to Queen Annis about a week ago. Since the king is dead she thought that maybe his wife would be more considerate and let her stay in the kingdom.″

″What’s wrong with the village we lived in?″ he asked, surprised at his mother’s change. But then again, he had never really payed attention to her opinion on their village.

″Since you had left long ago and I wanted to go on my own adventures as well, she wanted to go to the place where our father had spent most of his time. She wanted to meet people that had known him,″ Ina explained. Gwaine nodded. He kind of pitied his mother, she didn’t have anyone in their family left to spend time with. He kind of missed her as well. ″So you’re going to find her?″ he asked, remembering what she had said. ″Yes, I was hoping to almost settle down somewhere in the kingdom, maybe settle down with someone special,″ she said and raised one eyebrow at Gwaine and glanced at the handsome young knight she had been looking at. He was about to roll his eyes at her and wish her good luck, but then he realized that she was a lot like him. Maybe it was passed on. Or maybe she had looked up to him ever since they were little.

He heard a familiar voice behind him and smiled. Eira trotted up alongside him and greeted Ina again. They started talking a bit, so Gwaine decided to talk to Percival and let them bond, even though they were very different. Percival looked like he was in a good mood so Gwaine poked him with the back of his sword. Percival laughed and remarked that Merlin had some work to do on the bluntness of Gwaine’s sword. Gwaine replied that Percival was blunt.

Eira looked at the short and small, fierce girl that reminded her so much of Gwaine. She clearly wanted to talk so Eira made an effort to get to know her.

″So you’re the girl of the group. All the knights must be jealous,″ Ina said mysteriously.

Eira wasn’t quite sure if she meant Gwaine, or knew that they were together.

″What do you mean?″

″You’re with Gwaine. I mean, they must see you two together. Not everyone has it so easy to find a girl as Gwaine does,″ she said and laughed. Eira laughed too and replied, ″I only know that Percival has someone. I don’t know about any of the others.″

″What about the one with the dark hair and blue eyes?″ Ina said and motioned towards Merlin. ″That’s Merlin, he’s a close friend of everyone here,″ Eira explained.

″Oh I’d like him as a close friend,″ Ina said flirtatiously but then continued. ″But my eyes are on that one,″ she said and pointed to the youngest of the knights; he was very handsome.

They giggled and Eira realized how much she had needed someone like this. Ina and Jetta weren’t the closest to friends she had ever had, but they had potential. Even though it was a bit strange that she was Gwaine’s sister.

″So how long is it until you can find the Helix?″ Ina asked all of a sudden.

Eira was about to reply but then she realized something. She became tense.

No one had mentioned anything about the Helix to Ina.

Eira tried to act like she hadn’t noticed anything and shook it off. ″Oh I didn’t know that you knew! Well, a few days hopefully. We’re invited to one of Queen Annis’ famous banquets in the castle first.″

Ina didn’t seem to notice Eira’s thoughts, but she paid careful attention to Eira’s words about the banquet.

″Oh yes, I know! I think I’m going to stay in Caerleon with my mother when I find her. You have to be careful at her feast. She has a new advisor and from what I’ve heard he’s very attractive. Gwaine gets some competition,″ she laughed and brought the conversation to a more casual level again.

″The advisor may be attractive, but I think my heart will always stay with Gwaine,″ Eira replied and smiled. Gwaine turned around dramatically at the sound of his name. ″What will stay with Gwaine? I’m not carrying anyone’s bags if that’s what you mean,″ he said loudly. Percival said something inaudible and they broke into laughter. Eira gave Ina a look. ″You know what? Spend a little time with my brother. I’m going to be brave today,″ she said and fearlessly trotted up to the knight she had been looking at. The knight smiled when he saw her and Gwaine rolled his eyes. Eira decided to give his sister a chance before she started becoming suspicious because she of all people knew that it was unfair.

It had happened to her a lot recently.

Eira looked at Gwaine who was staring in fascination at the gates leading onto the path to the castle of Caerleon. She watched as recognition crept upon both his and his sister’s faces. She wondered if their mother was somewhere in the kingdom and if Gwaine would get to meet her again. The Queen was aware of their arrival, so the guards opened the gates to let the eight people on horseback through the massive gates.

Eira was assisted by Gwaine when she dismounted, and they carried their bags together as the grooms took their tired horses. A tall, young and handsome man walked down the steps to greet them and Ina nodded excitedly at Eira. He was the advisor. He introduced himself and proudly showed the group main bits of the castle. A servant came and led the three other knights to their chambers, all of them looking tired from the journey. Another servant showed Percival and Merlin their rooms, and Gwaine was asked if he was to share with Eira. They both nodded and waved to Ina. She turned around and quickly made her way down the steps they had come up and Eira guessed that she was going to look for her mother. The servant unlocked their chambers and they entered. There were two rooms, one was quite big and in it was a large double-bed with blue covers and embroidered pillows. Eira and Gwaine both just stared in awe at the luxury that the Queen had welcomed them with. There were cushioned chairs and a nicely polished table and even a big, stone fireplace. ″The banquet will take place tomorrow in the late evening. You are welcome to stroll around the castle and the city. Queen Annis welcomes you warmly,″ the man servant said politely, slightly bowed, and left.

Gwaine looked at Eira, both of them still astonished. ″They must not know what status we have, he bowed! Even if it was just a little bit, he still did!″ Eira explained excitedly. She strolled around the room, lifting her skirts and acting like she was a princess. Gwaine played along. He bowed deeply and kissed her hand. He met her eyes and made a face. ″Who am I now?″ he asked and poshly kissed his way up her arm. ″Oh how I would love to say that I desire you, my rich and beautiful lady! I wish to say that I want to drown you in gold and riches! But my posh, irritating servant-likeness pulls me back!″ Gwaine said in a voice that could only belong to one man and Eira laughed until she had to pull herself away from his desperate grip. She sat down on one of the blue, cushioned chairs and held her stomach, sore from laughing. Gwaine didn’t give up. Instead, he tickled her and she laughed harder and begged him to stop, and he replied that he would only stop when she answered who he was imitating. ″George! It’s George!″ she screamed and fell off the chair onto the floor, unable to stop laughing. Gwaine nodded and laughed too, until Eira put her hand over his mouth. ″We can’t act like this, Annis will arrest us!″ Eira said and calmed herself.

″Or George. What if he is watching us right now?″ Gwaine replied and Eira gave him a look. She left him there and unpacked their bags while Gwaine decided to explore the chambers further. There was a large closet, just like in Camelot, and Eira almost immediately felt at home. She was with Gwaine, so she didn’t need to worry about much. Just the bandits. She wondered if they would be able to reach them within the castle’s walls. Then she remembered Ina. Over the days that they had been traveling, Eira had grown more and more suspicious of whose side Ina was loyal to. But she was also getting closer to her and understanding her more and more, and they also felt like close friends. Eira felt confused about who this small, fearless girl really was, and she hoped that she could use their newly found friendship to change the side Ina had taken.

Suddenly, she heard something clatter on the hard floor. She went closer to where the noise had come from, and saw Gwaine standing by the wooden table, a blank expression on his face, as if he was in a trance.

″Gwaine? Are you alright? Did you push that vase off the table?″ Eira tried, but Gwaine didn’t reply. She went closer, and touched his arm. He suddenly jerked his head up, ″His room must be here.″ His expression changed when he met Eira’s confused eyes and he took her hands, excited. ″My father was a knight of Caerleon. His chambers must still be here. He was one of the main knights,″ he explained.

″Annis must follow the same rules we have in Camelot. If a knight is killed, his closest family shall be given the right to take whatever they want from his chambers,″ Eira replied, not quite understanding what Gwaine wanted.

″How about we go there tomorrow? We have the whole day,″ Gwaine said. Eira nodded, but before she could ask him any more, there was a knock on the door. ″It’s George!″ Gwaine exclaimed and pretended to hide behind Eira. She laughed and shoved him to the door. It opened and Gwaine stepped back, surprised as two servants entered with plates of food. Eira and Gwaine just stared at each other, once again astonished at the neat table set with food. The servants left briefly and the door closed. Eira studied the plates and realized how starved she was. Gwaine sat down and reached for a knife, but Eira lightly touched his hand and then sat down without a word.

She inspected the food, some of it was warm, and there was meat and bread and vegetables. ″What, you think she poisoned it?″ Gwaine’s confused eyes met hers and there was disbelief in his voice.

″Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that Annis is being so welcoming? I think the food is fine, though,″ Eira said blankly. She almost didn’t recognize herself. She realized that she had become much more cautious than she ever had before, and she was unsure if it was good or bad. The food tasted like any other meal they had had in Camelot, and Annis had made sure that her guests would be satisfied. Gwaine commented that it was almost better than the food back home, but then again, it was Gwaine, and he could eat just about anything.

They continued and he as usual talked about almost everything that was on his mind. When his words leaned towards their plan and the Helix, Eira tried to change the topic. Even though she felt like she was being paranoid, she didn’t want to discuss it in Queen Annis’ castle.

″Does Annis even know why we are here?″ Eira asked Gwaine, who was still stuffing food in his mouth. Eira gave him a disapproving look.

″I doubt she knows about the Helix. The information was in one of Gaius’ strange books, and no one quite knows where they come from. If she tries to ask us about that or the reason for our being here, we’ll just have to say something that doesn’t sound suspicious. And we all have to say the same thing,″ he explained.

″We have to tell the others that as well,″ Eira replied and smiled.

″No secrets that only we know,″ Gwaine said and laughed.

″Even though there’s quite a lot,″ Eira replied and thought of the memories they shared.

They finished the food and a while later, the servants returned and left with many compliments for Queen Annis and the kitchen from Gwaine and Eira. It was important to be proper guests as well.

Eira couldn’t find a screen to change behind, but it didn’t bother her because there was only Gwaine in the room. He was already changed, well shirtless, and busy trying to move all of the extra pillows and covers off the bed without making a mess. Eira looked down at her wounds. There was a quite large scar on her leg, but it wasn’t red anymore. She didn’t know if it would ever go away.

The memory certainly wouldn’t.

She managed changing without a maid and organized her clothes so that the room would be somewhat tidy and neat. Jetta had been very kind and lent her some trousers and blouses, even though Eira prefered her old dresses.

Gwaine finished piling the bedclothes on a drawer, and smiled amusedly when he saw her organizing.

″You brought the purple dress, right?″ he asked.

″Only because you wanted me to. I’ll wear it at the banquet tomorrow and then you can look at me,″ she replied, teasing him.

″It’s a shame you only change once or twice a day though,″ Gwaine said, gave her a wink, and she laughed. He came closer and put his arms around her.

″Are you sure you’re going to be able to handle her advisor tomorrow?″ he teased.

″Only if you show me that you’re better than him. He has quite a lot to offer,″ she replied, and both of them knew that it was a complete lie.

″Oh those were some dangerous words, my lady, are you sure you can deal with their full consequences?″ he said, pretending to be serious and she nodded.

″Well then,″ he said, grabbed a plate that the servants had left, and shook the fruits off so that they rolled around on the table, almost rolling off of it.

″Arm yourself carefully,″ she said, grabbed a hanger from the closet, and laughed.

″Are you sure you can fight in that?″ Gwaine asked challengingly and pointed to her nightgown.

″I’m not going to take it off if that’s what you mean. Or should I say want,″ she replied determinedly and he dramatically pretended to be disappointed. She smiled and circled him.

Eira woke up in the morning, the image of the leader bandit’s blue eyes in her head. Despite her playful battle with Gwaine in the late evening, she had dreamt nightmares that she couldn’t remember, only stray words spoken in a gruff and menacing voice telling her to hurry up.

Gwaine had made it very clear that he wanted to go see his father’s chambers in the castle as soon as possible, and after that they would gather the whole group and discuss what and what not to say at the banquet that evening. Eira hoped that Ina wouldn’t be there. She was trying to decide if she should confront her and question her about the bandits. If the girl would confess to siding with them, Eira would do everything she could to change Ina’s mind.

If not, then Eira stood no chance against the possible, unpredictable bandit attack. She sighed, unsure of how quick she should be in her confrontation. She sat up, and promised herself one thing.

She would confront Ina today. She snapped out of her thoughts when she heard a loud knock on the door.

Gwaine woke up from his deep sleep and opened his eyes. He suddenly felt wide awake when he remembered that he was going to see his father’s chambers. He didn’t know what he hoped to find, or why he was so excited. His mother had probably already been there, but he didn’t think that she would take anything. He didn’t think that he would either. Gwaine wondered if his sister had found their mother, and if he would get to see her at all. She would probably be glad to see him, and there was no way she could be mad at him when he was a main knight of Camelot.

He heard Eira’s voice by the door, and it sounded like she was speaking to someone. Gwaine slowly walked to the door, it was quite early for visitors. Eira was there, already dressed, and she was talking to the young man they had seen on the steps the day before. The man smiled when he saw Gwaine, and held out his hand. Eira looked at Gwaine disapprovingly and Gwaine realized that he was shirtless, so he backed away to quickly put on a shirt. He returned to the door and met Eira’s satisfied look. ″I am Isaac, Queen Annis’ advisor. You must be Sir Gwaine, right?″ he asked cheerfully and Gwaine nodded before they shook hands.

Eira gave Gwaine a look and laughed. This was the man everyone had been talking about. He was Gwaine’s height, quite handsome, and looked kind. He also looked like the type of person that dedicated themselves to their work. ″You don’t happen to be Ina’s brother, do you? She looks a lot like you!″ Isaac said and Gwaine nodded again.

″Exactly how do you know Ina?″ Gwaine asked, surprised that Isaac seemed to know his sister so well. ″We were from the same village, we were good friends. I take it you had left to somewhere when I got there. Then Ina left as well, and I became Queen Annis’ advisor. But Ina was here just a few weeks ago as well,″ he explained.

″Right,″ Gwaine said. He gave Eira a look and she nodded, confused. Gwaine’s sister had said that she hadn’t been in Caerleon since she had lived there, and the time Isaac had said sounded like too recently. ″I should get going and introduce myself to the others in your group. I’ll see you later,″ Isaac said goodbye and left.

Eira tidied up a bit while she and Gwaine discussed the times Ina had mentioned. They thought of several theories, but decided that it was probably just Ina or Isaac getting mixed up and that they would ask one of them later.

Eira stopped moving her bag and looked up. ″Gwaine, you want to go alone to your father’s chambers, right?″ she asked him quietly.

″Unless you really want to come along, I would prefer to be alone,″ Gwaine replied and Eira nodded understandingly. She almost sounded relieved, as if there was something that she had wanted to do. But she also sounded unsure, and Gwaine knew better than to ask. Eira seemed happier in the castle than outside, and she even talked more often. He hoped that she would stay like that over the next few days that they would use to travel to the Helix, because her mood affected Gwaine more than he thought it could.

He agreed to meet Eira in the early afternoon, and went to find his father’s chambers. He stopped to ask for directions, because he had no idea how many main, privileged knights Annis had, or if even more special people were given chambers to live in. One guard who noticed that he wasn’t from the castle led him to a section for the main knights. Gwaine walked down a bright hallway and stopped when he reached the penultimate door. He looked up. Above the door was a metal plate with his father’s name engraved in it. His hand carefully reached for the handle. It was locked, of course. Gwaine spun around and called for the guard that was slowly walking down the hall in the other direction. Gwaine showed him a piece of parchment and explained who he was, so the strict guard unlocked it after some hesitation. Gwaine closed the door after entering, he wanted to be completely alone. The sound of his boots on the stone floor echoed around the room. The room was almost identical to the one Gwaine and Eira were staying in. It was also like Gwaine’s back in Camelot. It wasn’t very different to any other castle chamber in fact, but because of who it belonged to, it felt special. There was a table and a cushioned chair by the window facing out into the forest. After hesitating, Gwaine sat down in the chair and looked out of the window. He imagined his father sitting there, and thinking about his life as a knight for Caerleon. Maybe he thought of his family. Gwaine had never met him. Or maybe he had, but what disappointed him was that he couldn’t remember. He looked down at the desk, and changed his opinion about his mother taking things. There were no papers or anything left on the wooden surface, and Gwaine wondered if his mother had taken meaningful things like letters. There was also a closet, and he wasn’t surprised when he found it empty. There was almost nothing in the drawers or on the table in the other corners of the room.

One wall of the chamber was almost bare except for a large fireplace, but it had more colors and adornments than the one Gwaine and Eira had. The stones were decorated and Gwaine wondered how much Queen Annis really valued her knights if she allowed special things like making a fireplace decorated. Gwaine’s curious eyes traveled to the medium sized painting hanging on the wall above. In it was a landscape, a forest in one corner of the painting, and a river flowing through rolling hills in the other. There was a sun rising in the middle of the painting, with strange sparks around it. It didn’t quite look like a normal sunrise, and Gwaine couldn’t help letting his finger brush against it. His fingers trailed over the landscape, and he felt the unique texture that the artist had carefully designed. He looked for the artist’s name and signature somewhere in the picture, but couldn’t find it. Gwaine suddenly felt the urge to move the painting. He had no idea why, but his hands lifted the painting off its hooks on the wall and carefully placed it on the table.

There was a small, thin slot in the wall, and Gwaine opened it without hesitation. There was a dark opening in it, and it turned out to be more like a drawer. He reached inside and felt his hand grasp a hard handle, and he pulled it out. The handle engraved in details belonged to a sword with an almost perfect balance. Gwaine studied it and moved it around in his hand, pretending to circle an invisible enemy. He wasn’t sure if this was his father’s only sword, or if it had even belonged to his father. As he looked at the elegant sword more closely, he saw something written on the part of the blade closest to him. ′For my son, Gwaine’. Gwaine almost dropped the sword out of shock and surprise when he saw his name, and knew for sure that the sword had belonged to his father. He didn’t even know that his father had known his name. He shut the slot and returned the painting to its place. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with the sword, but decided to keep it instead of leaving it in the wall. Luckily he had two scabbards, so he stuck the sword in his spare one. He didn’t mind two swords, even though he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to risk using it in case he would lose it. It felt different possessing something that had been his father’s, and it was almost like his father had meant for him to open the slot and find it. He wondered if he should go to the chambers again with his sister, and maybe their mother would come along too. Gwaine felt satisfied with his discovery, so he exited the chambers and locked them with the key that the guard had entrusted him with. He walked down the hallway and then another, trying to memorize the way the guard had taken him, hoping that it would be useful to know. He decided to visit Percival and Merlin’s chambers and let Eira deal with what she wanted to.

Shortly after Gwaine had left, Eira had decided to find Ina. She knew that she was probably staying with her mother in the city, so she stopped and asked a servant with a guest list for the banquet. She said Ina’s name and to Eira’s surprise the servant replied that she was staying in the same hallway as the advisor. Eira thanked him, but she was still confused. That section of the castle was for important people, but maybe Ina and the advisor were closer than she first assumed they were. There were servants and cooks running around, stressedly giving orders and instructions or carrying plates and cutlery and chairs. The kingdom looked like it was preparing for quite a lot of guests later that evening. Women dressed in fine gowns and jewelry passed and waved to Eira and she became aware of how casually she was dressed. She was the female representative of Camelot, she couldn’t be seen looking like Camelot consisted of only peasants. Her business with Ina would have to wait, so Eira turned around and walked back to her chambers. She couldn’t change into the purple dress yet, so the blue one would have to do. She could wear the necklace Gwaine had given to her to look more proper and a bit fancier. She called for a female servant, and one quickly came. She helped her change and braided her hair with flowers. Eira looked at herself in the mirror, and decided that she looked better. She quickly left again, and headed straight to the advisor’s hallway with some help from the signs. She knocked on the door to a smaller chamber, hoping that her friend was inside. Ina opened the door, and Eira stepped inside. She didn’t pay attention to the room, and turned to face Ina. She was wearing a dark dress and looked happy to see Eira.

″Are you alone?″ she asked and Ina nodded.

Eira prepared herself for the words, and knew that she had to say them, the accusation was her only chance. She took a deep breath and looked into Ina’s eyes.

″I know that you are working with the bandits.″

She begged for her friend not to act innocent because it would only make it harder, but she did. ″I don’t understand what you mean. What bandits?″ Ina said and Eira tried to remain calm.

″You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve noticed your questions, and your behaviour. You seem to be awfully interested in the Helix,″ Eira said slowly, hoping that her friend wouldn’t notice how tense she was.

″How do you know about them?″ Ina replied, but she didn’t fully give in.

″I met them. They hurt me. But you should know that already,″ Eira replied bitterly.

This time, Ina’s confusion looked different. ″I didn’t. I knew that a group from Camelot was traveling to find some magical item, but I had no idea who you were. Or that Gwaine was in it,″ Ina confessed and looked sad. Eira knew she wasn’t lying.

″But why? Why betray your friends, your own brother? He was happy to finally see you again! Why spy for those bandits?″ Eira asked the questions that had puzzled her the most.

″Are you the only one that knows?″ Ina asked, almost whispering as if someone else was listening. Eira nodded. Ina sighed unhappily.

″My family wasn’t exactly rich. We could live, but just barely. When my father died when Gwaine and I were little, we were left penniless. His job was the main source of income, but when that money ran out my mother had to start selling things. Gwaine tried to find a job, and then left in hopes of being one less person to support. I think it helped my mother and I more than it helped him. But he still enjoyed life. Gwaine doesn’t need money now, he’s a knight. And he has you. But my mother and I still need money. That’s what the bandits offered,″ Ina explained, thinking back to her struggles. Eira believed her, but she understood her even more. She knew what it felt like to be tempted with something you really wanted, even though the task to get it is almost unbearable.

Before Eira could say anything, Ina continued, almost urgently. ″There is also another reason,″ she paused, looked into Eira’s eyes and took a deep breath.

″I think...I think I’m pregnant.″ Ina was on the verge of tears and her news made Eira feel like she had dipped her fingers into freezing water. Her mouth opened, but she couldn’t form any words. Ina’s eyes pleaded her to say something, and tears started running down her cheeks. Ina couldn’t possibly be lying, because she took Eira’s hands and held them against her stomach, and Eira felt the small bump. ″Who...who is..?″ Eira tried to ask and Ina burst out crying. ″I don’t know! I...I’m with Isaac, and I’m begging that it’s his child...but...the leader of the bandits...against my will..,″ she sobbed and Eira gasped. If the child belonged to the leader bandit, there wasn’t much Ina could do. Eira pitied the poor girl. She was mature and old enough to have the baby, but she would live a terrible life if the father wasn’t Isaac, the man Ina apparently loved.

She hugged Ina and held her close, trying to comfort the girl in an impossible situation.

If it were Eira, she couldn’t even imagine what she would do. ″There’s only one way to find out,″ she told Ina and saw sparks of hope light up in her frightened eyes. Eira thought carefully about her next words. ″Ina. I will make you a deal. And I will help you, if you help me. I will help you find out whose child the baby is, and I’ll guide you through the entire time and the consequences,″ Eira said and Ina tried to smile. She started to thank Eira but Eira interrupted her, ″but only if you promise to turn on the bandits. And to tell me any information about their attack. Fight for us. Surprise the bandits when they least expect it. Otherwise, we won’t succeed. And Camelot will never recover. We will all die. Gwaine will die,″ Eira said and the power of her words struck herself as much as Ina.

She met her friend’s suddenly petrified eyes, and panicked. Terror-stricken, she suddenly realized that Ina was holding a crystal that was on a chain around her neck, similar to but much bigger than the one Eira had found planted on her dress.

It was glowing. The door was blown off its hinges and three bandits came charging in, but their leader wasn’t with them. ″You! You betrayed us!″ they screamed at Ina and she screamed. One of them grabbed Ina’s arms and started pulling her away and Eira realized that Ina had been trying to take the crystal off because the bandits could see through it. She had wanted to agree to Eira’s deal. Another bandit grabbed Eira. He shoved his hand against her mouth and his nails dug into her skin and she screamed as loud as she could for help. How had they gotten into the castle unnoticed? They had probably used magic.

To escape was all she could think about. She kicked frantically, bit into the bandit’s hand, tried to use her arms that were twisted in an impossible grip behind her. Ina cried and pleaded her for help, and then everything happened so quickly. Guards came running into the room and stopped the three bandits. Eira got loose and tried to reach for Ina, grabbed her arms, and pulled her from the bandits’ tight grip. They held each other and watched, still terrified, as the guards dragged the bandits away. They stood there, panting and trying to calm down. Eira could still feel the bandit’s rough hands holding her and her arms were sore.

Suddenly, Ina realized something and her shocked expression turned into an excited smile. ″Eira! Do you understand what this means? If the leader didn’t come, it means that he hasn’t seen my confession! He still thinks that I’m working with them! As long as those three are in the dungeon, no one can tell the other bandits! We can still surprise them when they attack!″

Eira almost screamed with delight and the two girls hugged each other even tighter. There was a big chance that the other bandits could find out about Ina’s betrayal, but it was a risk they were prepared to take. ″Now, let’s take the first step in trying to help you,″ Eira said and smiled. She would help her friend, and her friend would help her. Eira suddenly realized that they had very little time before the banquet. She took Ina’s hand, helped her stand up, and led her out of her chambers.

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