Arthur paced up and down the length of his room, swinging Excalibur absentmindedly. He was desparate, so desparate, to have his vengeance. As soon as Drustan came he would kill him, and then he could concentrate on Agravaine.
He paused, the emotions threatening to overwhelm him. Everyone he had ever been close to was dead, apart from Gwen. And even she was locked up. Maybe she’d lost her mind.
He shook his head, trying to dispel such thoughts. He had to get her back. It was too late for Merlin, but he could save her.
He heard footsteps coming up the stairs and started. Maybe it was Drustan! He tensed, Excalibur raised, quivering with anticipation, as the door swung open.
Mrs. Howden walked in, holding a wooden chair, and Arthur slumped, disappointed. He returned to his pacing, all but ignoring Mrs. Howden’s chatterings.
“It’s not much of a chair for your clients, but it’ll do till you get a fancy new one.” She place it in the corner of the room. “It was me poor Evoric’s chair, it was. Sat in it all day long he did, after his leg gave out.”
She surveyed the room, looking critically at the long chest, which was the sole piece of furniture. “Bit bare, isn’t it? I never did like a bare room. Oh well, we’ll find some nice little knicknacks.”
Arthur swung round, unable to contain himself any longer. “Why doesn’t Drustan come?” he snarled, “’Before the week is out’, that’s what he said.”
Mrs. Howden sighed exasperatedly. “And who says the week is out yet? It’s only Friday!”
Arthur growled and began pacing again. Mrs. Howden watched him anxiously,
“Easy now,” she said gently, as though talking to spooked horse, “Hush, love. I keep telling you, what’s your hurry? Keep your thoughts nice and calm. Wait.”
Arthur ignored her and continued pacing, only stopping to punch the wall in frustration. She tried again.
“Hush, love. Think it through. Once it bubbles, then what? Watch it close, and let it brew. Wait.”
Arthur calmed slightly and sat in the chair. Mrs. Howden, pleased, gazed around the room again. “I’ve been thinking flowers – maybe daisies – to brighten up the room.” Arthur didn’t respond. “Don’t you think some pretty daisies might relieve the gloom?” she coaxed. There was still no response, and she sighed.
“Ah, wait, love. Wait.” she told him.
“And Agravaine?” Arthur growled suddenly, “When will I get to him?”
“Can’t you think of nothing else?” cried Mrs. Howden, “Always brooding away on your wrongs what happened heaven knows how many years ago!”
Arthur turned away with a hiss.
“Slow, love,” Mrs. Howden sighed again, “Time’s so fast. Now goes quickly – see, now’s gone! Soon will come, soon will last. Wait.”
Arthur relaxed again, and Mrs. Howden placed a hand on his shoulder gently.
“Don’t you know, silly Mr. D,” she chuckled gently, “Half the fun is to plan the plan! All good things come to those who can wait.”
She looked around the dark room again. “Gillyflowers, maybe,” she said absently, “Instead of daisies. I don’t know, though. What do you think?”
hadn’t heard a word, his mind still on his vengeance. He thought of running
Agravaine through with Excalibur, and smiled docilely.
“Yes,” he whispered.
Mrs. Howden beamed, pleased to have got a response from him on the subject of flowers.
“Gillyflowers, I’d say. Nothing like a nice bunch of gillyflowers.” She took Excalibur from him and gently laid it on the chest of drawers.
Footsteps thundered up the stairs. The effect on Arthur was electric. He jumped up, and Mrs. Howden hastily gave him Excalibur back.
But the door swung open to reveal William. Arthur slumped down again.
“William.” He greeted the younger man disinterestedly.
“Mr. De Rege !” cried William, “I’ve paced Sowers Street a dozen times with no success, but now the sign – in business already!”
“I congratulate you,” William smiled warmly, and turned to Mrs. Howden. “And..er..”
William smiled again. “A pleasure, ma’am.” He turned back to Arthur. “Oh, Mr. De Rege , I have so much to tell you! I have found the most beautiful and most loving maid that any man could dream of! But there are problems. She has a guardian so tyrannical that she is kept shut up from human eye. But this morning this key fell from her shuttered window.”
He held up a key excitedly. “This is the surest sign that Guinevere loves me and -”
“Guinevere?!” Mrs. Howden gasped.
Arthur sat frozen in place. It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be...
“That’s her name, ma’am,” William grinned, looking slightly taken aback by her reaction, “And the abominable man King Agravaine. As I said, a monstrous tyrant. But Mr. De Rege , once he has gone hunting, I’ll slip into the castle and plead with her to fly with me tonight. When I have her -”
He hesitated, and stepped forward, staring imploringly at Arthur. “Can I bring her here, till I have hired a horse and cart to speed us to Camulodunum? Oh, Mr. De Rege , if I could lodge her here, just for an hour or two!”
There was a pause, as he gazed at the inscrutable Arthur.
“Bring her here, love,” said Mrs. Howden after a moment.
“Oh thank you, thank you, ma’am!” He looked back to Arthur.
“I have your consent, Mr. De Rege ?”
Arthur unstuck his jaw. “The girl may come,” he replied stiffly.
William’s face lit up, and he grabbed Arthur’s hand and shook it enthusiastically. “I shall be grateful for this to the grave!” he cried, and turned to shake Mrs. Howden’s. “Now I must hurry. The king will be leaving soon.”
He ran away, and turned at the door. “My thanks! A thousand blessings on you both!” And with that he was gone.
Mrs. Howden turned to Arthur, eyes wide. “Guinevere!” she breathed, “Who’d have thought it! It’s like fate, ain’t it? You’ll have her back before the day is out!”
Arthur frowned, reluctant to get his hopes up, but inside his thoughts were racing.
Guinevere…she’s coming back to me….
“For a few hours?” he said out loud, “Before he carries her off to the other end of Albion?”
Mrs. Howden snorted. “What, the sailor? Don’t be silly! As soon as she sees you, she’ll forget about him! Let her bring him here and then, seeing as you’re so hot for a little…” she drew her finger across her neck, “That’s the one to kill, dear.”
Arthur frowned again. It sounded so simple, but he knew from experience it wouldn’t be. He did want to be the one to rescue Gwen, but he couldn’t risk Agravaine seeing him in the castle.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he missed the small scowl on Mrs. Howden’s face, and how reluctantly she had spoken about Guinevere’s rescue.
As she turned away from him, the door swung open again, and Arthur spun around. Adamoli and Evan were standing in the door, the former staring around the bare room in distaste.
“Good morning, Mr. De Rege ,” he said, and then bowed extravagantly, “and to you, bellissima signora.” He kissed Mrs. Howden’s hand.
“Well, how do you do, signor, I’m sure.” she replied hesitantly, unsure of how to respond, seeing as she had badmouthed his elixir just a few days before.
“A little business with Mr. De Rege , signora,” Adamoli said smoothly, as Arthur glared at him. What was he doing here? What did he want? “Perhaps if you will give the permission?”
“Oh yes,” she replied, flustered, “I’ll just pop down to my pies.” She stopped on her way out and surveyed Evan. “Oh lord, look at the poor thing!” she cried, “Don’t look like it’s had a kind word since half past never!” She bent down and smiled kindly at him. “What would you say, son, to a nice juicy meat pie, eh? Your teeth is strong, I hope?”
Evan beamed, and Arthur felt a bit sorry for him. He hoped the boy was hungry enough to not notice how they tasted.
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” Evan cried, and Mrs. Howden smiled and took his hand, leading him downstairs.
Adamoli barely noticed his assistant leaving, as he was still gazing intensely at Arthur.
“Mr. De Rege .”
Adamoli grinned suddenly, and when he spoke, the strange
accent was gone, and a commoner’s accent, something akin to Mrs. Howden’s, was
in its place. “Peter’s the name when it’s not professional,” he sneered, and
looked around the shop, “Not much, but I imagine you’ll pretty it up a bit.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. So the man was a fraud – that was no surprise. But why was he here?
Adamoli – or Peter – held out his hand. “I’d like me five gold pieces back, if you don’t mind,” he said with a devious grin.
Arthur glowered at him. “Why?”
His irritating grin didn’t waver. “It’ll hold me over till your clients start coming. Then it’s half your profits you’ll hand over to me every Friday. Share and share alike! Alright, Mr Arthur Pendragon?”
Arthur froze, his mind racing. How did he know? Had he recognised him? If he had, would other people?
“Why do you call me that?” he asked very quietly.
“You don’t remember me,” Adamoli remarked, “Why should you? I was just a down and out lad you hired for a couple of weeks – polishing armour, moving targets and such like – but I remember that.” He fixed his eyes on Arthur’s sword. “Excalibur,” he breathed, “Knew it was you as soon as I saw it. There was no way you or that pet sorcerer of yours would let anyone else get hold of it, so it had to be you.”
Arthur clenched his fists at hearing his friend talked about as though he was nothing.
“Arthur Pendragon, the king who was exiled from his own country.”
The anger inside Arthur was growing.
“So, Mr. De Rege ,” Adamoli sneered, “is it a deal or do I run down to the castle for my dear friend King Agravaine?”
For a long moment Arthur stood staring silently at him, and Adamoli chuckled nastily.
“You foolish-a boy,” he taunted, laying the fake accent on thick, “You think-a you smart? Tomorrow you-a start working for me, yes? You unnerstan? You like-a my plan -”
Arthur leapt forward and seized Adamoli by the throat, cutting off his jibes. He forced the other man against the wall and squeezed his neck, ignoring the weak defences.
Adamoli’s arms flailed wildly as his eyes began to slip closed, life seeping out of him. Arthur held him effortlessly, his face neutral, as though he hadn’t quite registered his actions yet.
Suddenly he heard the pounding of feet on the stairs, and Evan’s high voice calling out.
“Signor! It’s late! The tailor, sir!”
Arthur stopped dead at the sound of the boy’s voice. He looked around wildly and saw the chest in the corner of the room. He ran to it and opened the lid, and dragged the half-dead Adamoli to it and stuffed him inside, slamming the lid shut just as Evan burst in.
“Signor, I did like you said. I reminded you…the tailor…” He trailed off and looked around in bewilderment. “Oh. He ain’t here.”
“Signor Adamoli has been called away,” said Arthur calmly.
“Where did he go?”
“He didn’t say. You’d better run after him.”
“Oh no, sir,” Evan replied, looking worried, “Knowing him, sir, without different orders, I’d best wait for him here.”
He crossed to the chest and sat on it, and Arthur’s heart leapt. One of Adamoli’s hands was sticking out of the chest. Arthur plastered a fake smile on his face.
“So, Mrs. Howden gave you a pie, did she, my lad?”
“Oh yes, sir. She’s a real kind lady. One whole pie!” He leant back, his hand going perilously close to Adamoli’s. Arthur started forward edgily.
“A whole pie, eh?” he smiled, as he moved carefully moved forward, “That’s a treat. And yet, if I know a growing boy, there’s still room for more, eh?”
“I’d say, sir!” Evan patted his stomach enthusiastically.
Again, his hand was on the edge of the chest, moving towards Adamoli’s. Arthur’s heart nearly stopped when he realised Adamoli’s fingers were stirring, feebly trying to clutch Evan’s. He jumped forward and pulled Evan up and off the chest.
“Then why don’t you run downstairs and wait for your master there? There’ll be another pie in it for you, I’m sure.” Arthur grinned, a little manically. “And tell Mrs. Howden to give you a nice big tot of gin!”
Evan’s face lit up. “Ooh, sir! Gin, sir! Thanking you, sir, thanking you kindly. Gin! You’re a good man indeed, sir!”
He sprinted out the door and down the stairs, and Arthur crossed quickly to the chest. With swift ferocity, he pulled open the chest and yanked the moaning Adamoli out by the hair. He looked the other man in the eye for a moment, and then plunged Excalibur into his heart.
Agravaine and Drustan rode through the forest in
comfortable silence, on the way back from a successful hunting trip.
“Drustan,” said Agravaine suddenly, “I have happy news for you.” He took a deep breath and smiled. “I have decided to marry Guinevere. Next Monday.”
Drustan sighed inwardly, and smiled back at his master with gritted teeth. “Ah, sire, happy news indeed,” he replied unenthusiastically. In truth, he had expected this for some time, but he was not as delusional with love as Agravaine. He could see Guinevere’s hate for her captor, and marrying her would only lead to trouble for the kingdom. But he wasn’t about to be the first to break it to him.
“Strange, though,” Agravaine continued, “When I offered myself to her, she showed a certain…reluctance.”
Drustan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Was Agravaine really that stupid? He had killed the woman’s friends and family, as good as killed her husband, and stolen her kingdom, all in one day. Then he had locked her up for twenty years. Of course she was “reluctant”!
“But that’s natural enough for a woman of her honour,” the king was saying, “Now that she’s had time for reflection, I’m sure she will meet my proposal in a more sensible frame of mind.”
Drustan made a noncommittal noise of agreement, and they rode on in silence.
Gwen paced her room nervously. Agravaine and Drustan had
gone hunting; where was the sailor? She needed to talk to someone, anyone,
about Agravaine’s proposal. What if he had changed his mind? What if he’d been
killed? What if –
The door creaked open slowly, and the sailor’s head poked round the door.
“Sir!” cried Gwen, and she pulled him into the room and shut the door. “Did anyone see you?”
“No,” replied William, and Gwen locked the door swiftly. “We have to be quick, they may be back soon,” she told him. He sat on the bed, staring at her in awe.
She paced the room a few times in agitation and fear, and then turned to him. “He – Agravaine – means to marry me on Monday!” she cried desperately. “What am I going to do? I’d rather die!”
William’s heart ached for this poor, beautiful woman. “I have a plan,” he tried to tell her, but she was too worked up to listen.
“I’ll take poison on Sunday, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll get some poison.”
“I have a plan -” William tried again, but she stopped pacing suddenly to stare at the door.
“Was that a noise?” she whispered urgently.
“A plan -”
“I think I heard a noise!”
“It couldn’t be, he’s in the forest, he’s hunting today,” she tried to reassure herself, “Still, I heard a noise. Wasn’t that a noise? You must have heard that!”
William stood and grabbed her shoulders, and turned her to face him. “Kiss me,” he said gently.
Gwen smiled shyly. “Oh, sir,” she whispered. She could hardly believe her luck. Here was a kind, brave man, who was willing to help her escape Agravaine.
“Ah, miss,” he smiled back.
But Gwen turned away again agitatedly. “If he should marry me Monday, what shall I do? I’ll die of grief!”
“We fly tonight -” William told her, but again she wasn’t listening, wrapped up in panic.
“It’s Friday, virtually Sunday, what can we do with so little time?” She whipped around again. “Behind the curtain, quick!” she hissed, and pushed him towards the back of the room, looking anxiously over her shoulder. “I think I heard a click!”
“Tonight -” William tried, but he let her push him towards the curtain.
“It was a gate, it’s the gate,” she was saying desperately, but stopped in realisation. “We don’t have a gate…Still, there was a – there! I heard another click! You must have heard that -”
“It’s not a gate,” William cut her off softly, “There’s no gate. If you’d only listen, miss, and…” He trailed off, staring into her terrified eyes, and felt an overwhelming need to protect her. “Kiss me,” he said again.
Gwen stared at him, the message of what he was saying slowly beginning to sink in. “Tonight?” she said cautiously.
“You mean it?”
“The plan is made, so kiss me,” smiled William.
“Oh sir,” she laughed breathlessly, but her expression turned melancholy. “I’m so afraid…”
“Don’t be scared,” William whispered, “Tonight, I’ll steal
Gwen smiled as she realised that Arthur would want this. He
wouldn’t want her to be trapped, alone and miserable. “Sir,” she said
hesitantly, “I think I loved you, as soon as I saw you. It didn’t matter that I
didn’t even know your name…”
“It’s me you’ll marry on Monday, that’s what you’ll do!”
Gwen laughed delightedly at the prospect of freedom. “And gladly so!”
“St Dunstan’s, at noon!”
“I knew I’d be with you one day, even not knowing who you were,” she beamed, and then frowned again as she remembered her earlier thoughts. “I feared you’d never come,” she told him sadly, “That you’d been called away, or killed, or caught an illness, or were in jail, or trampled by a horse, or gone to sea again, or arrested by the -”
William shushed her soothingly. “I’m here, Gwen. I won’t
Gwen grinned again. “Kiss me,” she said. “Quickly!”
“You’re sure?” asked William hesitantly. She laughed and nodded.
William beamed, leant forward, and kissed her lovingly.
Back in the forest, Agravaine was still struggling to understand Gwen’s feelings towards him. “Surely the respect that she owes me as her king and guardian should be sufficient to kindle a more tender emotion,” he told Drustan.
There was pause, and then Drustan thought of something. “Excuse me, my lord; may I request permission to speak freely?”
Agravaine nodded graciously.
“My lord,” he said carefully, “Perhaps if you were to win her over? Show your devotion to her in a fight, maybe?”
“You mean a duel?”
“Exactly, my lord. You could challenge the most skilled fighter in the land to a duel, and hold it in her honour. Such bravery and valour is enough to win any woman’s heart. When you are standing, triumphant, over your opponent’s body, she will see how much you love her.”
It would never work, Drustan knew that, but Agravaine was sure to think it was going to, and he may receive a reward for the idea. Besides, he loved duels. There was always a banquet involved.
They entered the citadel and rode towards the castle.
“It’s a good idea, Drustan,” Agravaine mused, “But I have never been a good swordsman. What if I lose?”
Drustan paused, and then the solution came to him in a flash. “Fret not, my lord,” he announced, “I know a place. A swordsman of great skill. You could have some lessons with him, learn some fancy techniques so you look the part, and then pay him to fight you and lose! You’ll dazzle Guinevere until…” He paused dramatically.
“She bows to your every will.”
“That may well be so,” smiled Agravaine. They reached the courtyard and dismounted their horses, and servants came over to take their horses and their prizes from hunting.
“And where is this miraculous swordsman?”
“In Sowers Street, sir.”
They entered the castle and walked towards Gwen’s room, but Agravaine paused, his hand resting on the doorknob.
“Perhaps you may be right, Drustan.” He walked away from the door. “Take me to him!”
Drustan beamed. “His name is De Rege ,” he told Agravaine, “Adalet De Rege .”
Inside the room, Gwen and William sat together, discussing their plans, completely unaware of the danger they had narrowly avoided.
“We’d best not wait until Monday,” William was saying, “We’ll marry on Sunday!”
Gwen nodded, her smile lighting up her beautiful face.
“Saturday would also do,” she giggled.
“Or else tonight!” agreed William.
Gwen turned again to the door. “I think I heard a noise,” she whispered, but with less urgency than before.
“Don’t be afraid, Gwen -”
“I mean another noise!”
Gwen turned back to him, and her face relaxed. “Oh, never mind,” she smiled, “Just a noise, it was just another noise. Something in the street. I’m being silly.”
William smiled at her fondly. “You mustn’t mind. Soon we’ll leave here. We’ll go to Lutetia, in Gallia, on Monday!”
They kissed again, and talked quickly and excitedly about their plans.
“What shall I wear? I daren’t pack!”
“We’ll go by horseback…”
“I don’t need to pack! With you beside me, I won’t care what I don’t have…”
“Then sail to Gallia…”
A sudden thought occurred to Gwen. “I’ll take my purse, though – I have to take my purse. It never leaves my side.”
William frowned, confused. “Why take your purse? I’ll buy you a new one.”
Gwen hesitated. Arthur had bought her the purse, many years ago. It wasn’t valuable, but Agravaine had taken everything that Arthur had given her, and she’d only managed to hide the purse. It was the only thing she had that reminded her of him, but she wasn’t sure how the sailor would react to that.
“Someone bought me it, a long time ago,” she said finally,
“You mustn’t think that I’m a fool. It’s very precious to me.”
William smiled. “I’d never think you a fool, Gwen. But you can leave it all behind, start again!”
Gwen didn’t speak for a moment, and William sighed. “I have a place we can go tonight, to hide,” he said gently, and watched her face slowly light up with her smile again.
Gwen decided to forget about the purse, for now. She would concentrate on their plans for tonight. “I loved you even as I saw you,” she told the sailor again.
“And I you!”
“It didn’t matter that I…” Gwen trailed off as she realised something, and laughed out loud. “…still don’t know your name!”
“William!” he laughed.
“William!” Gwen cried with delight, and danced around the room in happiness. “I’ll marry William Sunday! That’s what I’ll do, no matter what!”
She ran back to William and kissed him. “I knew you’d come for me, come to rescue me! I knew it!”
William hugged her to him. “Marry me, Gwen,” he breathed, “Favour me with your hand. Promise that you’ll marry me on Sunday.”
The two of them kissed again, and lay in one another’s embrace, unable to speak with happiness.