“And, lo, behold, she that is the Second Apostate.
For as he the First had raised the Rose
So shall she send the Rose to dust.
And the Queen of Air and Darkness will rule once more.”
“This, my young lady, was written long ago, well before your good Roman army came to this Isle. The wild Celt, the deposed, had known for a long time that my mother would come to liberate the Isle of the Mighty.” The speaker, a tall, comely man with golden hair, flashed a wicked smile at his prisoner. “You see, the good folk of Irene are simply freedom fighters.”
The young highlander struggled, vainly, with her bonds; her hands were tied behind the chair in a way that her exposed breast was thrust out before her, her ankles tied to the wide legs exposing her genitals. The action only produced a weak chuckle from her captor. At least it was it only him this time, she thought. He was always the ironic definition of a gentlemen, even with her exposed like a toy as she was, he treated her always with respect. Unless she raised her voice. Always demure, she told herself. Raising her voice would only make him call in the others.
She could no longer bear the thought.
She had cried when alone, which wasn’t often, but her pride had not been broken. A MacFeegle must never show weakness, she thought. Never.
“Ah. She returns. Excuse me, my young lady. Mother is home yet again, and I must attend to her.” He stopped at the door. “She’ll want to meet you.”
The door slammed shut as her heart began to pound. Her. The Queen of Air and Darkness. Her captor was one thing; sure, he was evil incarnate, the unholy result of an incestuous union, but he was still just a man. She saw flaws in his fragile ego, saw his sore subjects (his birth only being perhaps the most tender), and she saw how she could beat him. But her. The young lady doubted that her captor’s mother was even human anymore. Hadn’t the Merlin defeated her once already? Was she, like so many of the poor souls roaming cursed Albion, one of the undead?
The door opened; and all thought was lost.
Everyday Mericet grew more homesick.
Everyday Mericet grew more at ease with the Fourth Wall.
He couldn’t explain how he was able to relive his own life; fighting once again alongside with people he had known for years now, but who had only known him for a few scant weeks. The loudmouth soldier of fortune was never more dead in those weeks Mericet spent with the Fourth Wall.
And they had indeed fought. Along with several other new recruits, he had helped relive the defenders of a remote outpost called “Caledonia” against an attack by a band of Norse bandits and thieves. The old war, even in such a remote and meaningless setting, felt good to fight once more.
Everyday Mericet grew back into Mertel’s life.
However, the question remained unsolved: why had Arawn granted him the Rose Sword? To what purpose was he destined to wield it? All the Innconu had given him wide birth and respect whenever he came back to Gothwaite or Wearyall; but when he had stopped one to ask them about what his claim really meant, it was akin to speaking to the dead.
Yet his powers grew. His skill with the Sword of Roses gained considerably, and with Binge at his side, the two literally tore through any obstacle or enemy. He wielded Arawn’s power with gentle authority, became more aware of the subtle power of his new God’s workings, and spent many an evening discussing theology with Binge.
However, no answers were not to be found.
The war had been taken to the frozen northlands, as the effective Albion counter offensive now focused on reclaiming Merlin’s Staff. The Generals of the Albion army were particularly interested in taking Grallerhorn Faste since hearing the Infiltrator reports of what other treasure lay guarded in the keep. The infamous Horn of Valhalla and Hibernia’s captured Cauldron had powered the mystic power of the Norse, Camelot’s leading professors at the Academy conjectured that should those same relics lay within Caer Myrddin, that they would have a similar effect on Albion’s magical might.
Albion had taken Bledmeer Faste, the first line in Midgard’s defenses, but now had the crucial task of taking the first of four keeps in the Jamtland Mountains, called Nottmoor Faste. The keep would be invaluable as it cut off Albion’s toe hold on Midgard soil from the rest of the realm. It had not proved an easy task, however. Camelot’s army had camped a few leagues off the fort, but the defense stood stalwart, and time was running short, as reports of a Midgard relief column put the second army as close as Blendrake. Barlyic had volunteered his forces to assault Nottmoor in a do-or-die attack on the fort.
Needless to say, it was a somber Fourth Wall that held camp that night.
“Now, the guard routes are… here. Here. And here. We’ll need a force to keep them occupied while Barly’s team takes the gate,” Matt reported. His longbow, always strapped to his back across his shoulders, was torn and even burned in a few places, a testament to what he had done to obtain that information.
Barlyic looked at the map. “Okay. I want two teams; Jonaleth, take Divino and Rhiva. Binge, hmm. Take Mericet and Ellymay, intercept the second patrol. I want you to engage them, then draw them back to the keep. Join us when you’re done, we need every body we can get to keep the defenders off the walls.”
Mericet nodded. He had always loved siege warfare; though not particularly suited for it, his ability to adapt to ever changing situations had always seem him through. He was eager to see how Arawn’s might would lend itself to this type of fighting.
With Binge in the point, they ran out north from the keep’s perimeter, keeping an eye out for Matt’s landmarks and for any sign of enemy action. Mericet was confident that they could take on any stealth or small attacks, with Binge’s strange but unwavering devotion to the Christ, and Ellymay’s inexplicable power to conjure up the very earth to shield them, they would need only fear an attack in force.
“Something’s not right.” Mericet stopped suddenly. He moved, cautiously, his attention quite visibly focused on a lone tree. Binge and Ellymay followed close behind, glancing at Mericet’s attention and each other. Mericet smiled. It had worked. A small disturbance of the air, a little warning to his left, and his foux inspection of the tree had drawn his prey out. A cleaver bore down on Elly out of nowhere, but not before the air around him blistered and burned with the wrath of Arawn. A Norseman yelped in pain as his body materialized from the shadows, and his cleaver only deflected off the sheath of earth that Ellymay had conjured. Binge was right here, however, and drove a solid thrust of his staff into the Shdowblade’s side. The north man began to swing again as Mericet’s shield came barreling into his body, stunning the would be assassin.
Mericet’s mind was a sea of sullen red as he drew the Rose Sword and swung in a style he had never used before on another human.
He was ecstasy. He was life itself. Tugging on the red cord now wrapped around the neck of the Norseman, he could feel the power of Arawn within him as he drained the very soul from his enemy. He sang out in joy… this was the promise of the Rose Sword, this immortality, this theft of life. He released his grip even as the man fell dead at his feet, his skin black.
Ellymay turned around and threw up. Binge just stood, his eyes not judging, but searching every feature of Mericet’s face. He met the friar’s gaze for a while, but his eyes soon dropped to the ground, unable to meet his friend’s face.
“It’s ya style, Mericet, to do those things we may not particularly enjoy.” He sighed, and took out his earthenware jug and raised it to his lips.
It shattered as an arrow whizzed by Binge’s face.
Mericet searched the trees and saw a toothy Kobold drawing back a bow for a second shot. He focused his power and imagined, just as he had learned on the first day, the things soul fleeing down to Arawn, bit by bit. His hand shot out with a gesture as his power wracked the thing over and over, preventing it from drawing another shot.
“You know who that is. MOVE!” They turned to run, as a white wolf sprang from a nearby bush, its teeth bared for the kill, but Ellymay’s barrier held true. The wolf backed up to spring again at her unprotected body. Again, Mericet’s shield found home and stunned the wolf. “No choice, Binge, get her out of here!”
“LIKE BLOODY ELL I WILL!!” Mericet had never seen his friend so angry as he charged the little bowman, but he stopped when the Kobold disappeared into the shadows. Binge began to bite off curses.
“Binge, let’s get out of here, he’ll be back!” Mericet yelled as he finished off the wolf. He noted in the back of his mind that he didn’t have the same level of satisfaction from stealing the wolf’s life. “There!” he pointed to a run down hunter’s lodge. Ellymay lifted her hands to the sky as the wind began to blow at their backs. Aided by the wind, they sprinted to the cottage, eyes never standing still.
It was not much of cottage, just a main room what looked to be some sort of storage room in the back that they had not checked out. Winded and wounded, the three needed to rest first. Mericet had boarded up some of the windows, but knew that upon leaving the building, they’d have to confront the hunter that was surely stalking them. Binge sat in the corner, tears in his eyes as he held the handle to his jug, now just a ceramic loop and a few broken shards.
“No beer… must get… beer…. must…” Binge muttered.
“Quiet, Binge. He’ll be back.”
“What was that?!” Ellymay jumped up. She seemed quite frightened, more than Mericet (or Mertel, for that matter) had ever seen.
“No, no I heard something… in there.” She pointed to the closed door at the back of the room. Mericet got up and slowly approached the door. He put his ear to the door.
“Someone’s … crying?” Mericet took his face from the door. “Hello?”
A frightened gasp came from behind the door. “Uh… hello?” came the gamine reply.
“She’s one of ours.” Mericet turned to Binge. “Binge, the door is locked, can you knock it down for me?” The friar didn’t answer, just stood staring at the jug handle in his hand. “Bloody hell…. Elly, stand back.” He slammed into the thick log door, not budging it one bit. Mericet rubbed his shoulder. “Oh bloody hell indeed.” He took up the Rose Sword.
“Uh… Mericet?” Elly raised her hand, sheepishly.
“Uh… I don’t think a whip is going to do much.” Mericet smiled, but didn’t turn his head when Elly gasped as the Rose Sword solidified into metal. The cord wrapped itself around the blade, the grip became a handle, the rose-shaped pommel hardened, the guards grew from the hilt as if alive, and the Sword of Roses became real.
“Like I said, Elly. Stand back a bit.” Elly dutifully, fearfully, backed up as the Rose Sword grew to its full length. The sound of metal on metal was deafening as Mericet sliced the lock.
The Rose Sword fell to its normal state, glowing a very satisfied red as Mericet slowly opened the door. He gasped as he saw a young highlander woman, stripped naked, tied to a chair in a lewd position.
“Bloody… Elly, get in here, Binge, now!” They both gasped as Mericet had. Binge said a quick and quiet prayer as his healing power washed over the young lady.
Mericet grabbed a blanket that was laying on the floor near the girl, with the Rose Sword, he cut her bonds, and covered her with the blanket. Ellymay sighed sadly when she saw the blanket. “Oh no,” she cried.
“What is it, Elly?”
“That’s a tartan. Look at the colors, Binge.” His eyes widened. “That’s Gaelis’ clan…”
to be continued…
“And, lo, behold, she that is the Second Apostate.