Lucas had lost all sense of time. He had no idea how long he was here already, but he guessed it was less than a day, but more than twelve hours. It was dark now outside and he had been brought here when there still had been daylight. But he could not be sure entirely. He had lost consciousness several times since the torture had begun. It had been a cycle of being bitten by that pet snake of Morgana, screaming in pure agony because of the hellish pain the venom of that beast induced, passing out when the pain became too much for a human being to endure and waking up when Morgana threw another bucket of water right in his face before the torture began anew.
His throat was hoarse from the screaming and his entire body ached, twisting and turning from time to time in spasms that were the aftereffects of the snake's poison. He was still chained to the ceiling and by now his wrists were red and even bleeding slowly from having his weight hung on those iron chains every time he passed out.
He had not known what to expect from Morgana's torture methods, but some part of his mind had told him that it could not possibly be worse than the things his Russian interrogators had put him through. He had soon be proven wrong on that account. The snake, the Nathair, had made him feel pain the likes of which he had never experienced before. And worse than the pain, which he had come to learn to bear over eight years of being in physical pain for almost all the time, were the flashbacks it caused. It was as if he had been dragged back into his own personal nightmare in which his FSB tormentors warred for dominance with the distrust of his colleagues, Harry's disappointed expression and Elizabeta's desertion. All this left him screaming, begging for mercy. He was aware that Morgana asked questions, but even if he wanted to answer them, he just couldn't do anything else than scream.
Unconsciousness had become a blessing, something to look forward to, but it never lasted long. Morgana would always wake him by throwing water into his face, triggering flashbacks of the waterboarding sessions right away. As it turned out she had not been aware of his fear of water before she had begun to torment him, but she had soon found out. There was just no way he could control his reactions around water, not so soon after Russia. And the witch had taken a pleasure in the panic she caused him, sometimes splashing water in his face for what felt like hours at a time in an attempt to get him to talk, before she returned to her snake again and the whole cycle began again.
So when he slowly started to come around for what surely must be the hundredth time, Lucas expected the water or the pain. But neither of them came. His body ached and twisted in spasms of cold and after pains, but in comparison to the other torture the witch had put him through, it was nothing at all. In Russia he had learned to ignore these minor pains. Had he not he would have died long ago. And Lucas North clung to life, hoping and praying that Harry Pearce would come and get him out before he died as a result of his injuries. While I live, I hope.
For a moment he hoped that sometime between his passing out and his coming around Section D had barged into the hovel, had killed Morgana and transferred Lucas to the nearest hospital, but he knew that was not what had happened the moment he felt he was still hanging from the roof.
But something had changed. In prison he had learned that this could either be good or bad. Sometimes his interrogators had other more pressing business to concern themselves with or they were thinking up something that was even more terrible than what they had done to him before. Most of the time it had been the latter, but yet he always hoped it was the first. Being forgotten about was always preferable just after a torture session.
Slowly he became more aware of his surroundings. He had his eyes still closed, but he could hear voices some distance away from him, one of them male, one of them female. The female voice he could identify immediately. He had heard Morgana's voice enough to know it when he heard it.
The male voice was the trickier one. Lucas was one hundred percent certain he had never heard this one before in his life. And that was bad. Sometimes in Russia they would bring in a new interrogator to try and get him to talk when all other things seemed to have failed. His heart was already beating faster when he realised that Morgana, being on the run and in hiding from the patrols from Camelot, was in absolutely no position to bring in another interrogator. Not that she needed to anyway. The witch appeared to be very skilled at the art herself.
He could all too clearly recall Harry Pearce's words when they had spoken in his office. Morgana is one dangerous witch, the head of the section had said. Lucas remembered shrugging it away. Back then he had felt like he was on top of this operation and his boss's lack of faith in his abilities had hurt him more than he was ready to admit even to himself.
But now, weakened by Morgana's idea of hospitality, chained to the leaking roof of her hovel, he had to admit that Harry may have made a far more realistic assessment of the situation than he himself had done. He had seen what Morgana was capable of in that barn and he had still underestimated her. By now he should have known that was the worst sin an officer in the field could ever commit.
But the man in the room was still unknown to him, as was the voice. But he sure was excited, or anxious about something. Lucas could not bring himself not to listen in on their conversation. Weak and chained up he might be, but he was still a spook. Their lot just couldn't help themselves. They had a need to know.
'The time to strike is now, Morgana,' the man said. By the sound of it he was trying to persuade Morgana to do something. He sounded both excited and desperate at the same time, leading the Senior Case Officer to believe that his attempts to convince Morgana had been unsuccessful thus far. 'Camelot is ripe for the taking. Arthur sent a message that he has gone away for some time and there'll be no telling when he will return.' The man's voice rose with every word he spoke. 'The council is eating out of my hand now. If you were to invade today, the throne would be yours.'
It was only then that Lucas fully registered what it was that this man was saying. His thoughts were still blurry, but it helped to actually use his mind for something useful. It cleared his thoughts and banished the physical pain to the back of his mind, allowing him to overlook his discomfort and focus on the operation.
Because that was what this was. It may not be an official operation – Harry had most certainly not authorised this – but if he was in a position to obtain valuable information then he would be a fool not to take this opportunity. There was after all still a chance that his colleagues would learn his location and would come barging in at a moment's notice. Colleagues are okay. They had proven that before and he had to keep faith that it was still true. And while he was still alive, he would keep on hoping that they would find him and bring him home. Because if he could not hold on to that belief, he was as good as dead already.
So he forced his eyes open, trying to see who he was dealing with here. There were two people in the room. One of them he could identify as Morgana right away. She was still in the same dress that she had been in when Lucas had first met her. In all that time she had never even worn something else, leading the spook to wonder whether she just had the one dress. It would make sense, he supposed, taken into account that she was in hiding and had obviously not a lot of money to spend. For a royal she was remarkably poor. But what she lacked in money, she made up for in determination.
Her companion was a man who age wise could have been her father. He was relatively tall – although Lucas believed that he would still be taller than the stranger – with dark hair. He had his back turned on Lucas, so there wasn't much to be seen. His clothing was dark, at least his trousers and cloak, which was all he could see for now.
Based on what he had said Lucas had no trouble whatsoever establishing that this was the traitor Merlin had mentioned that first night he had been in London, the traitor they needed Section D to catch. His breath caught in his throat. If either Morgana or her accomplice became aware of the fact that he was not as unconscious as they believed him to be, there would be hell to pay later, he was sure. Morgana might even decide to kill him right away to make sure Lucas could never tell his secrets to another living soul.
So yes, he knew that accomplices were something akin to a pay-as-you-go phone to Morgana: you bought them, you used them, you dumped them, after which you could buy yourself another. But it was obvious from what he had heard so far that a great deal of her schemes depended on this man and if he indeed had the council eating out of his hand, then that would explain why. This man was clearly not even anywhere near to outliving his usefulness and this witch would not risk this plan getting blown out of the water as well.
Lucas all but completely closed his eyes again, leaving just a narrow opening through which he could follow the proceedings without getting caught spying. It was hardly any effort at all. In Russia he had perfected the art, appearing unconscious in order to put off the torture as long as he possibly could. He kept his body still, head half down on his chest, giving every appearance of the passed out spook.
That was a good thing too, because Morgana chose that moment to turn around and cast a disapproving look in his direction. 'You're a fool, Agravaine,' she told the traitor. 'If we take Camelot now, then Arthur will remain free.'
'We can find him later, my lady,' Agravaine stressed. 'And if we have Camelot in our power, we will have a strong basis from which we can strike out. We will have the power of an entire kingdom behind us.'
Agravaine. Lucas was sure he had heard that name before, but it took him some time before he could remember where he had heard it. But then he recalled Arthur saying to Merlin that Agravaine would take good care of the kingdom while he was away, using it as an argument as to why it was a good idea to stay in London and assist on the operation to bring down Morgana and Hogan.
Later he had asked Arthur who Agravaine was. He had heard the name before, but his memory stubbornly refused to provide him with the information he had been looking for. Arthur had informed Lucas that Agravaine was his mother's brother, who had come to Camelot after Morgana's treason and his father's sickness to help Arthur lead the kingdom. The Senior Case Officer remembered Arthur speak of how much he appreciated the help his uncle offered him.
But his uncle wasn't on his side at all now, was he? Because here he was, plotting to overthrow the kingdom with Morgana. And Arthur had no idea at all of what was going on. For all Lucas knew Agravaine was one of the few people the king of Camelot trusted unconditionally.
'You are forgetting that the people will never accept me as their rightful queen as long as Arthur is still alive, my lord.' Morgana dismissed the option without as much as a second thought, not unlike she had done when Lucas had pretended to want to torture Arthur for information. It confirmed what he already thought about her: other people's opinions and ideas were not important at all to her. Only her ideas and opinions mattered. 'As long as Arthur is alive they will never bow to me. They will always be ready to rise up against me at the smallest notion. We'll need to kill Arthur first if we want to rule over Camelot. We must leave the people with no other alternative than me.'
Agravaine threw his hands into the air in exasperation. 'My lady, we have no idea where Arthur is. We could be wasting a perfectly good opportunity!' The excitement had left his voice entirely now.
But Morgana's face twisted in a smirk that rivalled Ros's most threatening look. She could as well have written dangerous across her forehead. The result was the same. 'Ah, but that's where you're wrong,' she said. 'I do know where my dear brother is hiding.' Slowly, but purposefully she strode across the room towards Lucas and he forced himself to go completely still, hang in his chains even when every muscle and nerve protested against the maltreatment. Self-preservation won out. If Morgana discovered that he was not as unconscious as she believed him to be, he'd be dead. 'And this man will lead me straight to him.'
He closed his eyes as she came to stand next to him. Morgana's ice-cold fingers brushed across his cheek in an almost gentle gesture. It took him all he had not to shy away from the touch, to keep up the pretence that he was still unconscious. The witch's hands moved to the tattooed eagle on his chest, her fingers following its shape. She had seemed fascinated by his prison tattoos before, probably because she had never seen them before, Lucas suspected. He had given her a clue that there was a hidden meaning to most of them by translating the Dum spiro spero one for her, but she had not asked about it any further. He imagined she had more pressing concerns.
'Who is he, my lady?' Agravaine sounded curious as well as slightly suspicious.
'My key to killing Arthur Pendragon,' Morgana replied curtly. Interesting. She did not seem to want to let Agravaine know where he was from or in what way she believed Lucas could be useful to her. She was keeping secrets from her own ally. And if he ever got out of this hellhole, that might be an angle of interrogation worth pursuing. Because Lucas North may be opposed to physical torture, but he was definitely not above using emotional torture to get a suspect to talk. 'He is just a bit loath to part with his secrets, but he will yield them to me, one way or another.' There was something infinitely threatening about those words and the voice in which they were spoken and it took Lucas every bit of self-restraint that he possessed not to break his cover by shivering under her touch. That would give him away in an instant.
'But, my lady, you cannot stay here much longer.' Lucas had to keep his eyes closed, but he could hear the panic in the man's voice. 'Emrys already found you here once before. As soon as he learns that you are keeping the man you want to use to get to Arthur captive, he will surely come to his rescue!'
For Morgana these words might be bad news, but for Lucas they were like a breath of life, a flicker of hope in an otherwise dark situation. He recalled a conversation in the meeting room that felt like another life entirely, when Merlin had told them all he knew about Morgana, everything that could possibly be of use in their attempt to stop her from blowing countless more people to kingdom come. Merlin had told them that Morgana was terrified of his old man disguise, which Merlin himself called Dragoon the Great, but Morgana knew as Emrys. He had mentioned that he had duelled her not that long ago and that he had won. Agravaine's words seemed to suggest that this duel had taken place right here.
Merlin knew of this place. And surely the warlock must have realised by now that Lucas was never a real traitor. He would know where to look for Morgana, even if no one else did. Help could already be on its way. And he would need to hold out until then. He knew he had to.
'I will have to deal with this pathetic man first.' Morgana's grip on his arm tightened. She had been absent-mindedly tracing the tattooed chain on his arm, but clearly her ally's words had enraged her in some way. 'But rest assured, Agravaine. Once I have what I want from him I will move to the Isle of the Blessed. Not even Emrys would dare to attack me there.'
Lucas stored that name away for later use, keeping his mind on the dynamics of the conversation. If Agravaine's sigh was anything to go by, he was less than pleased with that decision. But he otherwise kept his silence, indicating that he was not about to question his mistress's decisions. That told the Senior Case Officer all he needed to know about this relationship and the hierarchy in it. Morgana was in charge here and Agravaine would have to do as she told him to.
He wondered what the witch did to keep the nobleman on side. It could not be money, since she didn't seem to have any. He briefly considered a forced relationship, with Morgana using her magic to keep him under control, but he dismissed that thought almost right away. There was some affection, genuine affection in Agravaine's voice even if the feeling clearly wasn't mutual. Could it really be that this traitor cared for this witch? Lucas found it hard to believe that anyone in his senses could harbour warm feelings for this woman, but he still had yet to meet anyone from this day and age who hated Morgana entirely. Even Arthur, who was so hell-bent on capturing Morgana and putting an end to her crimes, had not been able to look at her without regret.
Agravaine must think he had something to gain from allying himself with Morgana, the spook decided. What that was, was as of yet undecided, but it must be something big if he thought he would never get it from remaining on Arthur's side.
'As you wish, my lady,' the traitor said in the end. It sounded remarkably like a submission to Lucas's ears.
Morgana's hand left Lucas's skin and the spook almost exhaled in relief, but that was a mistake he would not be tempted to make. 'Then you have your orders, my lord.' It was a clear dismissal. 'And you had better keep me informed of every single development, Agravaine,' she added in a sharp tone. 'Or else you're more than welcome to take his place.' She stabbed the eagle on Lucas's chest with her finger.
'My lady.' It was an acknowledgement, a greeting and a confirmation all at once. Ten seconds later the spook could hear the door open.
The door was not even fully closed again before the next bucket of water hit Lucas straight in the face. The screaming replaced the logical analysing. He was back in hell again.
Arthur was kneeling behind some bushes, peering down into the small valley below. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon and the light was sparse in here. But he guessed that was nothing new here. This valley was so deep inside the forest, surrounded by tall trees and bushes. The king of Camelot didn't think that any sunlight ever came down here. In a strange way it felt like a perfect hideout for the most dangerous witch Arthur had ever encountered.
Because that was what Morgana was. Up to the moment he had her cornered in that barn she had also been the sister he had grown up with, for who he felt a lingering affection, but he had seen the look of pure evil she had directed Merlin's way when she had been threatening to take the king with her. And that had told Arthur everything he needed to know about her. The woman he had known was gone. Maybe she had been killed by Morgause's brainwashing or maybe it had been her fear of persecution because of her powers that had forced her to become this cold and ruthless woman. Arthur didn't know, but neither did he really care. Whatever it was that had made her like this, this was the woman, the witch they needed to deal with and the fact that she still had one of his men inside that hovel of hers was infinitely more important than Morgana's motivations.
'That's it?' the Section Chief asked.
Merlin nodded. 'That's it.'
Arthur was still startled by his servant's changed appearance and voice. Merlin had come here in his old man disguise. It was one of the strangest thing Arthur had ever seen in his life. One moment it had been clumsy Merlin standing in the middle of the Grid, the next he spoke a spell and they all found themselves looking at this old man in red robes and a ridiculous long beard. And yet it was still Merlin. Now that he knew the younger – or now distinctively older – man's secret, he really thought it should have been obvious all along. The eyes were still the same and when this older version of Merlin smiled, it was an exact copy of Merlin's most mischievous grin. The manner of speaking was the same too, although Arthur had learned before that Merlin-in-old-man-disguise just blurted out everything that he wanted to say, in short, everything he could not say when not in disguise.
'And you're sure she is in there?' Ros urged.
That gained her an annoyed look from the warlock. 'I am not a seer,' he protested. 'And I can't look through walls either.' He was definitely boiling over with indignity.
'Shame,' Ros commented. The Section Chief had appeared singularly unimpressed by Merlin's transformation. She still treated him with a mixture of wariness and resignation. She had taken Merlin's failure to protect both Lucas and Arthur hard, harder than Arthur himself seemed to have done. Harry had called it Ros's loyalty towards her team when Arthur had asked about it on their way back to Thames House from the Home Office. It was how she operated.
And it was an attitude Arthur recognised in himself. Had he not thought likewise then he would not be here now, risking his life to get Lucas out of that hovel in the valley below. Because he would indeed be risking his life. Harry had not seemed happy about it, but he also had to admit that there was no other way and so this operation had been authorised. Arthur would, accompanied by some CO19 men in disguise, move near the valley, making a lot of noise that would alert Morgana to their presence. The CO19 men were dressed up as Camelot knights, but with guns hidden underneath their cloaks, since everyone involved was convinced that they would be no good at all with swords and crossbows.
Arthur knew he should be nervous or a bit frightened, but he wasn't. Once, some years ago, he had told Merlin that he didn't get nervous. Now, that wasn't true of course. He did get nervous, but not now. He could not afford to while Lucas was still in danger.
'Are you quite sure that you can fight off Morgana in case she decided to come barging on?' Ros asked sarcastically. Since the barn debacle she seemed to question Merlin's abilities in general.
Merlin sent her a angry stare. 'I did it before,' he said indignantly.
'Just not within my line of sight,' the woman countered easily.
The alliance between those two was one of necessity. It did most certainly not mean that Ros had forgiven Merlin. Arthur even doubted that this particular word was in her vocabulary. Ros was a lot of things, but she was not the forgiving type.
The two of them would have carried on bickering had they not been distracted by the sounds coming out of Morgana's hovel. They were screams of pure agony and Arthur had no problem whatsoever identifying the owner of the voice that made the screams. He remembered that one night he had stayed in Lucas's flat vividly. When the spook had been dreaming he had screamed in a similar fashion. He had screamed as if someone was torturing him.
Arthur was quite sure that that was exactly what was happening to his new friend. The Senior Case Officer had never struck him as someone who would easily be persuaded to let others know that he was in pain. He was more prone to put on a calm façade, making everyone believe that he was perfectly at ease and relaxed. Or he would hide behind that smile that Merlin called creepy and threaten the other.
But there was no calm whatsoever. The cries coming from that hovel spoke of pain beyond imagining, of agony and desperation. The king of Camelot was not even sure he wanted to know what his half-sister must be doing to him to extract such sounds from the spook. He did however suspect that there would be a good deal of magic involved in whatever it was that she was doing.
It made bile rise in his throat. Less than pleased as he was with Merlin's recent actions, he would not come back from his earlier assessment that magic could be used for good as well as evil. And Merlin may be a paranoid idiot when it came to Arthur's safety, the king was quite certain that Merlin only used his powers to kill when there was no other choice. This, whatever it was that Morgana was doing right now, that was misuse of the gifts she had been given.
Arthur was by now seriously considering changing the laws concerning magic as a result of Merlin's revelation, but this was enough to give him pause. How many of the sorcerers out there would be like Merlin and how many would be like Morgana? He feared the answer to that question.
If the pale colour of Ros's face was anything to go by she too had realised what was going on. Her hands were clenched into fists. But her face was carefully wiped clean of every emotion, making it almost impossible to tell what she was thinking or feeling. In that first night Ben had informed him that Ros had ice-water in her veins rather than blood and in situations like this, Arthur tended to agree with him. It was her colleague, her friend as well if Arthur had guessed right, in there, but yet Ros's reaction would never have told him that had he not known it already.
Merlin's expression would best be described as horrified. For all his destiny to protect Arthur, he had never witnessed torture. He had killed, of that Arthur was convinced, even as he had been unable to get a straight answer out of him. But torture was another matter entirely. Arthur had never done that himself, but he had seen it done. As son of Uther Pendragon he had been forced to. He could deal with it, even as the thought was not exactly one he was comfortable with and he would avoid it if he could. Ros had doubtlessly tortured people herself. It was one of those things that Arthur really did not want to know. There were more than enough rumours swirling around about the Section Chief already, varying from killing someone with a fork to squeezing some poor man's private parts in order to get him to talk. And Merlin had mentioned that she had thrown hot coffee in Hogan's lap out of what appeared to be pure spite. The Section Chief too would be able to deal with the idea of people being tortured, even if she was passionately opposed to the notion of her colleague being the one that was tortured.
But Merlin was as innocent as a baby in that respect and Lucas's cries of agony had him stare at his two companions in shock. 'We should act now,' he told them. There was a hint of accusation in his voice, the question as to why they had not yet done something clear as daylight in his eyes.
'The cavalry will be here in five minutes,' Ros reported. 'We cannot go in before they arrive.'
The three of them had gone to scout the area and the back-up would follow them a quarter of an hour later. Without them it would be foolish to act and Arthur knew that. It would be suicide if he were to go in alone, but he wanted to, if only to end Lucas's suffering. He had really come to consider the man a friend and having him go through what he was going through now set the king's teeth on edge. He hadn't felt as useless and powerless in quite a long time.
'We can't wait!' Merlin protested, far too loud.
Ros was clearly about to lecture the warlock on protocol, a speech Merlin would never listen to, but the timely arrival of Arthur's modern bodyguards in knight outfits saved her the necessity. And Arthur was grateful for it. The sooner they could go in, the better it would be.
Ros still ignored Merlin though, addressing Arthur instead. 'You know what to do?'
Arthur snorted. They had gone over the plans until he could literally reproduce them in his sleep. 'Of course I know. I'm not an idiot.' No matter what Merlin likes to think.
The Section Chief didn't seem to think this was worth replying to. Instead she nodded. 'Good. Let's get to it.'