Category: Chain Stories Stories

A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 15

by deathlynx©

This story is part of a chain. Although it can be read on its own, parts of it may make more sense when read in order of the chain. However, I highly recommend reading all of the chapters anyway. I hope you enjoy! Please take the time to vote. If you have enjoyed this please recommend these to your friends.

* * * *

There should be far more people here!
Rebecca had been a handmaiden of the queen, yet there were scarcely more than half a dozen people present at her grave. And one of them is the priest to perform the services! Cedric knew the people had been poisoned against her because of the spell of the cursed wizard, but there should have been more people in support of the queen.

Cold eyes swept across the gathered people. Prince Drest stood back slightly from the queen. At one point the would have chosen to hold the queen through her troubles, but such was no longer the case. Instead, it was Muriel who held Evelyn as she knelt and cried by the fresh turned earth.

Cedric also knew that it should be he, not Muriel, with a comforting arm about Evie's shoulders. The two had been friends so long and had shared the double loss of recent times. None could better know the pain and loss she suffered better than he. But propriety left the role of compassion to the former, and current, handmaiden ~for Muriel had taken up the post while another suitable maid could be found.

Propriety was not the only reason that Cedric stood apart. Deep within his core floated a void of pure rage. It radiated ice into his veins that burned with the need for action. A helpless, hopeless need, for despite all of his promises and vows he knew of no way they could defeat The Specter that Walks.

Lord Dorr paid the priest and led him away. That was another man that Cedric hated. The man had survived the very same attack that had stolen his love, his life, away from him. In some irrational way that made her death his fault. If he could survive then why couldn't she!?

Finally, Cedric's gaze turned to the last of the small party. Eric stood solemnly by the grave and lay a single rose carefully across it. Rage flared once more as Cedric wondered if the man, so loose with his trousers, had seduced the maiden.

Yes, there was plenty of rage to go around. The only people who received none where the last two to remain by the grave after the others had all wandered off. Cedric looked up and met Evelyn's eyes. Lack of sleep and too many shed tears had left them red and puffy, but even that, even the obvious pain and loss could not manage to break through the wall of ice and fill the gaping hole. But at least the void did not lash at her, once his closest and best friend, with its tendrils of black hatred.

Finally even she left, guided away by Muriel. The guards closed about them as they reached the edge of the cemetery. Even they had wanted nothing to do with the funeral. Cedric knew that some of them, maybe even many, had whispered behind closed doors the very same words that the stupid zealot uttered as he sliced her with his poisoned blade. Satan's Whore.

Cedric knelt and stared at the headstone. At least the priest had not thought of her in such a manner. He had not only permitted her to be buried on hallowed ground, but had performed the rites himself. He felt responsible for her death, as well he should. It had been outside his church that she had been stabbed, and by a member of his flock. The Fatherless goat had even thought to be doing God's work.

Cedric didn't know what 'God's work' was anymore. Evidently it included the abuse, sullying and murder of an innocent and good woman. The priest had made platitudes about His grand design, but Cedric only had one thing in mind. Vengeance. Justice for all those that had died. In that, he found more sympathy for the pagan spirits who were supposed to roam the lands dealing out fiery death to those who had earned it.

Finally, Cedric himself stood and looked around. The dark energy within him found a new target. The man who was supposed to be his brother-in-arms. John was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't been at the funeral, and had barely been home the night before; apparently only long enough to get a quick meal before he was out again.

He had known how Cedric felt about Rebecca. His betrayal hurt more than anything. He should have been there to see her buried. That he wasn't there sent a very bad message to the rest of the world. With Evelyn and both knights by her side, Rebecca's honor couldn't be questioned. However, without one of the knights, the other two could simply be declared to have let their sentiments get the better of them.

"Clearly John was smart enough to recognize the whore for what she really was." Cedric spat out the words he knew all of the gossipmongers would say. He knew that John didn't honestly think she had been tainted, that she had been an innocent victim of the wizard's ploys, but that left one unalterable question. Where the hell is he!?

* * * *

If Cedric was beyond introspection, then John was overburdened by it. He knew he felt an unreasonable guilt over Rebecca's death, but the knowledge did nothing to assuage the feelings. There was no reason for him to have followed her, no reason he should have been there to aid his brother-in-arms, but he couldn't help but react to Cedric's obvious pain.

What was worse, he knew he should be at the funeral for so many reasons; to support his friend, solidarity to cleanse Rebecca's reputation, and simply as a necessity of his new position. The problem was, he didn't know if he could handle it. He'd known people who had died before, of course, but never truly personally. How could he deal with a cemetery? He had to be a man, but he'd liked Rebecca. He knew in his heart that she'd been truly innocent, and it was such a tragedy.

He was being a coward and he knew it. Knowledge hadn't kept his restlessness in check. What was worse, he somehow found a way to rationalize his fear. He even knew that his current path was little more than an excuse.

That wasn't entirely true though. Cedric was convinced that Bagdemagus was behind Rebecca's death somehow. John wasn't so sure. He'd seen how his suspicious mind could get the better of him; after all Drest certainly wasn't the arch-villain he'd once though. But if his friend thought so, at least John could humor him. It was unarguable that The Specter that Walks needed to be dealt with, and soon.

John had neglected to mention the run in he'd had with Bagdemagus in town. With everything important going on it had slipped his mind, especially since it hadn't been anything concrete. But while it wasn't the wizard's lair, it might be important. At the very least it gave him something constructive to do.

John cursed his cowardice as he stumbled through the woods. With his background, he wasn't exactly the most proficient tracker. He was also aware that he made far more noise walking here than he did slipping from shadow to shadow within the town and castle limits. He knew for a fact that he had passed the same tree at least three times.

John shook his head and concentrated on what his grams had told him of the woods. Unfortunately, there had been no walls, streams or paths to follow in the direction he had seen the wizard heading. To make matters worse, the trees were close enough together that he couldn't really find any two points on the horizon to keep him moving in a consistent direction. There was more than enough for Bagdemagus to ride his horse, but sight was impaired. If this was a trick by the wizard, it was likely just a naturalist one rather than anything magical.

His frustration was mounting. As excuses went for his cowardice, this one would be fruitless if he didn't find anything. In an effort to calm down, he sat on the offending rock. A quick scan of the surrounding woods showed the direction he came in from, also the double loop he'd made into the small section from two different directions. That made it harder to determine which direction he came in from, but he remembered the shape of the rocks his first time.

John's eyes widened. The backtracked path looked relatively straight, while the other two wandered far more off course. Even if he found the place, he doubted he would be able to find his way back out of the forest, much less lead anyone back to his place. But there was a key in an old story told by his grams.

Most of those stories revolved around long lost princes hidden in outhouses. Those were always his favorites. His dreams of being that prince matured as he did, and led to his current fate as a queen's champion.

But this story was one of the few different ones. The tale of two kids lost in the woods who find an evil witch's house. John felt a slight kinship there, but was determined not to make the critical mistake they made. No breadcrumbs for him.

John hurried back to the town and quickly borrowed a number of long lengths of twine from the fishermen, used to repair their nets. As expected, he was able to easily find the rock once more. He quickly set about tying one end to the rock and looped more over his arm, while the rest he kept in a bag slung over his other shoulder. He would need to add lengths as needed.

With the rope held taut, John began to back away from the rock. A smile began to creep across his face. The rope would help not only to keep him from getting lost, but made sure he remained in a straight line. The final blessing was that it helped him with his overall sense of direction. Unlike a town, the woods held no natural straight lines along the ground. Now he could sense the general direction he was headed.

The biggest concern was his overall awareness. John had to make sure that he focused backwards in order to keep on track. Unfortunately, that meant anyone or anything could sneak up behind him. He could only hope his reactions were up to the challenge should anything occur.

Whenever John reached a tree he quickly tied the line to a branch in order to keep the direction constant. While this helped to keep him on track, he suddenly realized that the whole plan increased the chances that The Specter would realize someone was on his trail. He needed to speed up.

Virtually running backwards, he never saw what hit him square in the back. With a single fluid motion, he dropped the rope and bag and drew his sword. John's face burned red as he fumbled to halt his attack on the defenseless wall behind him.

John cursed his luck. Somehow, he'd gotten himself turned around despite all attempts otherwise. He looked around hopelessly, as he sheathed his sword once more, and sighed. The apple orchard, the stream, this was just the old mill. It had been abandoned for generations. The stream had dried up and prevented enough grain from being ground.

Strangely enough the wheel seemed to be turning fine. He didn't know much about mills, but this one seemed to work as well as the newer one close to town. John certainly understood how a closer mill could be advantageous, but why would everyone know that this one was such a hazard. There wasn't a child in the town who hadn't heard tales of the kid who had died here because the rotting wood of the wheel collapsed to dunk him, then spun to trap the poor soul underwater.

John tested the front steps. Although slightly warped, it all looked perfectly sound. He was getting more suspicious with every moment. How was it that all of those stories could be so adamantly held when the truth was so obvious? All one ever needed to do was come out here and see for themselves. Okay, so he had never been here before himself, but the chances that no one came out here, ever, was pretty poor.

With this places obviously safe condition, and it's horrid reputation, it was a perfect place for someone less than savory to hide. It could very well be Bagdemagus' lair, but if not it was very likely to be someone's, whether smuggler, poacher or thief. With a cautious hand on the hilt of his sword, he stepped forward and loudly knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he pushed against the door. Although there was no obvious lock, or even a handle, the door refused to budge. Although John knew he was good at hiding, he wasn't a thief. He had no idea what a hidden lock, or whatever, would look like much less how to get past it.

He could break down the door, but that would leave clear evidence that someone had been there. If, for some reason, the queen chose to put off an expedition back here, the owner would have plenty of time to move out, whether it was Bagdemagus or someone else.

There was a window easily accessible however. Just off of the side of the porch, above a well stocked pile of chopped wood ~how could he have assumed it was abandoned? As he dexterously climbed the pile, he noticed the cloth covering the window was in relatively good condition, not moth-ridden at all. Although it covered most of the window, there was a small corner that had caught on something to reveal a slight glimpse of the room.

John leapt off of the wood pile. It didn't even shake for all of the weight and force of his jump. What he saw in the room confirmed, for him at least, that this was the building he sought. He couldn't identify even half of the strange tools and implements that he saw with but a quick glimpse of the room, but they certainly looked like tools of magic.

John scooped up the bag and rope and began to stuff it back in on his way through the woods. He wouldn't need it again to find the place, now that he knew where he was going. Well, in truth, he might not be able to find it again but certainly someone from the castle knew these woods better than he did.

This was too important to let the wizard know anyone had been there. Bagdemagus certainly had not been home, but maybe he would return before John could summon the guards.
* * * *

Cedric thought his rage could grow no larger, but he'd been wrong. John's eyes were wide with panic as Cedric grabbed his tunic and slammed his back into a wall. If Cedric had been in his right mind, he would have realized that only shock permitted him to toss around the much stronger man.

But he was nowhere near his right mind. "YOU KNEW ALL THIS TIME!?" This went far beyond failure to show respect for an innocent woman, of avoiding Rebecca's funeral. This was outright inattention that bordered on negligent treason!

John cringed before the smaller man's wrath. "O-only a vague direction. And I didn't know it was where he worked, I swear!"

Cedric slammed the man once more into the wall and ran for the stables. As he passed, he waved for guards to follow. If John had just followed whatever lead this was a week ago, they would have settled everything. Rebecca would not have died! He spared John only enough attention to make sure he followed. He might now share some of the blame of her death but he still needed the big man to lead him to his vengeance.

When he reached the stables he pushed past the grooms and straight to the horses and began to ready for the ride. "John has discovered the wizard's lair. He is going to lead us there and we shall deal with this menace once and for all. Is that understood?"

There was a chorus of "aye"s. The guards hadn't even waited for an explanation but went about saddling their own mounts the moment Cedric had. When he mounted up he clattered impatiently into the courtyard to await at least a majority of the group he'd assembled.

Unsurprisingly, John was already awaiting even Cedric. He had been accustomed to the place and the task of preparing horses quickly after all. Cedric's anger faded slightly as he noticed the same determination tempered impatience in the other knight's eyes that burned through him.

A small voice whispered that he would no more have thought the matter urgent than John had. That only hindsight provoked this anger. Cedric pushed the thought aside for later. For now he needed his indignation and outrage. He would build it as a wall against the cowardly wizard's magic.

Not soon enough, they were off. As John settled in beside Cedric, he tried to explain that Bagdemagus had not been present when he'd left. It didn't matter. Cedric was sure that justice would be his.

John finally gave up and moved off to ride with the guards. This didn't matter either. John had revealed the location in hopes that someone knew a way back there. Cedric knew the man was useless in the wilderness, but at this point the fact lent him no excuses. Cedric was not the fastest rider of the group, however and a number of guards had raced past to scout ahead. Both he and John had cautioned them not to get to near the mill, lest they reveal the approaching storm to The Specter.

Ahead, the advance guards had stopped and dismounted. Cedric judged they were still only halfway to the mill, and fumed over what might have slowed the men. Unfortunately, whatever it was, would undoubtedly require the knights' attentions. As they approached the small pool, he called ahead. "What is it? Why did you stop?"

The guards stepped aside to reveal a man, or rather a corpse. He appeared to have been dead only a few days, a week at the outside. The burns on his clothes told the tale of his death most acutely. Cedric shot an accusing glare at John. "And this wasn't enough to inform you that the wizard's lair was near!?"

John shrugged calmly from his saddle. "I did not come this route. I went by way of a rather large rock, that's all I know."

Cedric rolled his eyes is disgust for the man's simplicity. "Come! We can investigate this on the way back. First we need to deal with the wizard himself." Though when he turned, he rode at a much more cautious pace.

His anger began to seep away beneath a weight of confusion. If Bagdemagus could lance a man with fire or lightning, as he obviously had the man in the pool, why would he use poison for Rebecca? The answer to that was simple. It was the same reason he had run the guard through so many months ago, or had used agent after agent. He liked to prove how extensive his reach was. He could demonstrate how helpless they all were.

But more important was the question of why he would use a mill, and a broken down, hazardous, one at that? Someone as powerful as the wizard surely would have a better lair than that! A tower, or perhaps a keep; anywhere he would need not fear an assault of arms, for surely even a powerful wizard must be vulnerable to a massive enough force of arms. Although Cedric began to fear even that was specious.

"Hey!" Cedric looked up in surprise. John's horse paced back and forth and his eyes darted to Cedric and then past him. "Hey!" Confused, Cedric followed the other knight's eyes and realized that the rest of the guards had reigned in haphazardly behind him. They all held looks of slightly fearful introspection.

"Do you honor your queen with your service? Or do you label yourselves cowards?" Many heads jerked up in anger at John's accusation. Cedric had no idea what had transpired, but anger began to flow once more through his veins. "Listen to me! The true coward lives not far from here. More so than that poor soul back there, he has condemned himself by this! He has a spell around this place to keep people from bothering to notice!"

If Bagdemagus was in residence, likely John's shouts were enough for the man to hear. But that didn't matter. Cedric realized that the speech had brought around almost all of the remaining guards, and had served to bring his own determination back. And still John continued.

"He fears discovery, not because of inconvenience, but because of mortal peril. His blood has been drawn. We have seen he can be hurt! What we have only discovered this year, he has known his entire life and carefully crafted to disguise from the world. He can die like any other animal. And like the animal he is, he is both most dangerous, and most threatened when in his lair. He has much to fear! For now we near his lair. Now we will confront him!"

Category: Chain Stories Stories