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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 32 INTO THE DARKNESS

INTO THE DARKNESS

As they rode home after waving off Ullyses, and discussing as they went the extraordinary episode which ended in my going along for the ride, and concluding that all things considered I might be better off where I was, the Queen and the Councillors were stopped by a troop of horse, and 'requested' to go with them.

"Supposing we decline your 'request'?"

"Then, Your Majesty," answered one wearing the stripes of a sergeant on his arm, "I shall have to tell you that you are all under arrest. Please do not make things unnecessarily difficult for yourselves."

"Nor for you?"

"As you say, madam."

"For what are you arresting us?"

"We are taking you into protective custody."

"From whom, or from what, are you protecting us?"

"We are merely obeying orders, Your Majesty."

"And if I as your Queen, and the King's Regent, order you to allow us to return home unhindered, what then?"

"I shall have to say, madam, that I take my orders from General Wishbone."

"But in the absence of the King I believe that I am head of the Royal Army, and that I might outrank even your general."

The uncomfortable sergeant was beginning to bristle.

"We'd best do as he says, Your Majesty," Morag said quietly.

"We are hardly able to oppose them, madam," said Medoc.

Cilla knew well that the Councillors had more concern for her than for themselves. "You are right, my friends. We shall obey. But the dog may have his day,"

"The dog, madam?" asked the Councillors in unison.

"Something in one of my husband's plays. Take us to prison, Sergeant, if you must."

As she rode beneath the battlemnts of Draxy Palace, Her Majesty took some comfort from the 'real sympathy' shown on the faces of sentries: it was when she and her companions reached the stable yard, and dismounted on instruction, that the nightmare began in earnest. The seargent marched briskly to an iron studded door set in the wall of the main building, and knocked. The door swung open and out came three men, two of whom, in the Queen's words, "had the power to terrify merely by looking at you." The third man, the former Royal Usher, looked more abashed than threatening in the presence of his former mistress, especially when she said to him "You, too, Bluto?"

The large, fat faced, fat bellied, brutal looking leader of the gang growled at the sergeant, "You can leave 'em with us."

"On whose orders?"

"Mine will do, but 'ow about 'er Grace's? Do you want to argue with 'er?"

Now the sergeant was probably a decent enough sort of chap, but he had his wife and children to think about; with a sigh expressing disapproval, if not a readiness to actually do anything, he remounted his horse and rode off with his platoon.

"You two, see to these!" Bagwort barked. "You can leave 'er to me." Medoc and Morag were bustled through the doorway. "You won't be seeing them again, lady, I can promise you!"

"You dare not harm them!"

"Oh I dare alright! But I won't. Don't bother your pretty little head about them. It's you 'as 'as to worry!"

Bagwort grabbed the Queen by the shoulders, swung her round, and began pushing her towards the still open door.

"YOU! Keep your filthy hands to yourself!" A furiously striding Captain Terson bore down upon the startled Bagwort, who let go of his charge.

"And who, in the name of all that's foul, are you?" the Captain roared.

"I answer to 'er Grace."

"You'll answer to me if you value your health!"

Bagwort, finally recognising authority when it literally had him by the throat, bleated, "Yes, sah! Captain, sah!"

"Now, what's your name, you snivelling toad?"

"Bagwort, sah, at your service."

"Not at my service you're not! If you lay another finger on Her Majesty, if you presume to speak to her, or even offend her by your miserable presnce, you will answer not to the Archdraxite, but to me!" Terson half drew his sword. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Sah!"

"Now, get out of my sight!"

Bagwort scuttled away.

"Are you hurt, Your Majesty?"

"No, Captain. Thank you."

"I had no idea."

"That I was to be arrested?"

"I knew that you would be coming here, madam. But I had not thought that...Her Grace..."

"Would have meant it to be like this?"

"I had thought better of her."

"Do you really not know that vile man?"

"Majesty, I do not."

"So you say. But how may I be certain it's not part of a plan?"

"Madam?"

"You know, Captain - hard touch, soft touch, nasty man, nice man - it's in all the best Draxy novels."

"Yes, I am sure it is. But all I can say is that it is no plan of mine."

"Diken would believe you, I think. You are a bit of hero of his, I believe."

"Diken is a good boy, madam."

"What would he think of you if he knew you were putting me in prison?"

"I think he would very likely hate and despise me."

"We live in difficult times, Captain."

"Indeed. It would not, of course, help you, Your Majesty, to know that I have no liking for my present duty?"

"I cannot honestly say that it woukd."

"That man will not come near you again, madam. Her Grace shall know ny absolute determination on the matter."

"Shall I trust you?"

"I hope that you may."

"Then I will."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I am afraid that I shall now have to take you to your quarters."

"My cell, you mean."

"I have tried to ensure that you will be as comfortable as possible, madam."

"But there will be a lock?"

"Regrettably so."

"Lead on, Captain. I believe that you at least have behaved honourably."

****

The Archdraxite was 'filled with outrage' by what Terson told her. She had been meaning to have a word with him about the 'new men', but she'd been 'so very, very busy, what with one thing and another.' Bagwort had 'gravely exceeded his brief', and he would be disciplined. Such a thing 'would never happen again.' The Captain expressed himself 'pleased to be so reassured.'

Captain Terson was a gravely worried man. He was seriously having to question where lay his loyalties. He needed to have a word with someone. Soon.

kelson.philo's picture

Intrigue abounds. Will the

Intrigue abounds. Will the journey be worth it? Will their home be forever changed, for good or for ill?