Atonement Part 7
The Nemesis Legion made good time despite traveling cross country over arid, baked land. The full moon, which earlier had provided useful glimpses of the Palace was now a source of worry as the group scanned the night sky for signs of pursuit.
For several hours, they made good their escape and it looked as though they would, remarkably reach the shoreline undetected when Caledus spotted a shadowy silhouette cross the moon.
‘What is that?’ he exclaimed, his voice shrill.
All five froze in their tracks, before scrambling for what little cover they could in the natural depressions in the barren earth, whilst Caledus once again removed the Iridescent Cube, deepening the shadows cloaking the group.
‘I hope it is enough,’ he muttered.
Nevertheless, despite feeling vulnerable and exposed, the five pushed on, faster than ever as the breeze began to bring the salty tang of the sea and with it, potential safety.
‘What more did Tuan say about your rendezvous,’ demanded Caledus, addressing his question to Ajax and Heraclief.
‘Nothing,’ responded Heraclief. ‘I have told you all he said.’
‘Let us hope he is good to his word and preferably accompanied by the druid too,’ said Caledus, a caustic sting to his words.
Dawn was breaking as they entered more fertile ground and crested the final climb. They were greeted by the sight of the blue horizon. The shoreline was a beautiful white but which extended both left and right as far as the eye could see.
‘Now what?’ said Corinius, a note of disappointment in his voice.
‘Let us reach the beach first. Quickly. Hopefully the druid and knight are simply taking cover. Indeed, this would be their most likely strategy.’
Though the group continued to scan the horizon both behind and out to sea for signs of pursuit, they felt collective relief as at last, their footsteps met the soft resistance of the beach.
Just then, Vulcan pointed to the south and flying low over the hilltops, sped a remarkable sight. Two figures, sat on top of a carpet!
‘De Glanvill?’ asked Heraclief, his voice incredulous. ‘It looks like his magic carpet.’
The group waited, weapons and spells at the ready, just in case as the carpet circled and then landed not more than thirty yards from their position and the breaking surf, which left a thick foamy tidemark on the white sand.
Dismounting, two figures approached.
The first was indeed Ranulf de Glanvill. The bald, elderly Chief Justiciar looked troubled, his eyes bloodshot as though from lack of sleep and his long grey beard, unkempt and dirty. Nevertheless, despite his tired façade, the same piercing grey-blue eyes, which had so struck both Ajax and Heraclief on their last meeting, remained as intelligent and watchful as ever, seemingly taking in each member of the Nemesis with quick glances.
On closer inspection, de Glanvill wore voluminous robes of thick midnight blue silk, embroidered in silver thread with runic patterns at the hem and at the breast resplendent with three lions passant guardant of his master the King. Blood stains were splattered across the robes and as he drew closer to the group, they could see speckles of blood on his face too! He walked with the aid of a slender staff of ebony, perfectly smooth and engraved throughout its length and glowing silver runes. He also wore a silver ring with a large diamond on his right hand, and an ancient mithril band of Celtic design on his left.
‘Well met, the Nemesis Legion,’ he said in his noble, commanding voice, which remained firm and strong, despite his disheveled state. ‘Caledus, Merlin told me that your group had passed through the ‘sanguinem porta’ he said, using Latin. ‘Your aid, as ever, is appreciated by the Crown.’
Caledus nodded theatrically in return.
Turning to Heraclief and Ajax, the Chief Justiciar cut straight to the chase.
‘Time is of the essence. The bait, months in the planning and set within Catakaroum has been taken but the Black Queen has struck back using greater force than we had anticipated. Subsequently, I was sent in the stead of Tuan and Merlin.’ De Glanvill paused, his piercing eyes glaring at the two Fellowship friends. ‘I do hope that this incredibly risky and expensive diversion was not a waste of time. Where is the Young King and Chaplain?’
‘We have them,’ said Ajax proudly. ‘Well actually Caledus has them within a magical item.’
The relief on de Glanvill’s face was palpable and the tension in his shoulders relaxed just as he let out a long, tired sigh. ‘That is good on many counts not least of which in mending bridges with the Church, my boy. Well done.’
As de Glanvill spoke, his companion approached, standing like a great rock behind the older man. Glancing over his shoulder, the Chief Justiciar, beckoned to the newcomer.
‘Let me introduce my bodyguard for this mission and my saviour during the titanic battles fought in Catakaroum. The Young King’s right hand man and mentor, William Marshall.’
The knight in question removed his visor revealing dark, curly black hair and breathtakingly vibrant turquoise eyes, which smouldered with energy and charisma. He was tall and sinewy; chisel faced and handsome.
Dressed in magnificent chromatic full plate armour, which gleamed in the early morning sun, he removed his shortsword, an archaic looking weapon for one of such stature, which looked to date from the bronze age.
The scabbard looked equally incongruous and both blackened as though by fire. On his left hand, he wore a matching bronze band, unadorned, save for some tiny runes, which gleamed like tarnished scratches on the surface of the metal.
Positioned on his left shoulder, a magnificent shield the like of which, none of the group had seen before. Made, as though from gold, the shield was emblazoned by an image of a dragon, resplendent with white hot eyes, represented by two almond shaped diamonds.
Crouching onto one knee, despite the obvious effort, in his heavily padded greaves, his extraordinary eyes looked to each member of the group.
‘If it is true that you have returned my beloved Lord into our bosom,’ he proclaimed in an awe-inspiring voice, as though talking to the heavens, ‘then I, William Marshall, knight errant, pledge my gratitude with this sword, Xiphos: a Spartan artifact and say unto thee, that should any of you call for my aid, then God willing and with God’s speed, I will ride night and day to stand at your side.’
Just then, de Glanvill gestured for silence, suddenly looking out to the sea with suspicion. Remarkably, the tide began to instantaneously change, the water rushing away as though withdrawn by an unseen power. For a few seconds, the entire group stood dumbfounded watching this remarkable spectacle, although the Chief Justiciar’s eyes suddenly lapsed into a trance like state, his eyes rolling back into his head. The others looked on uncomfortably but Caledus quickly reassured everyone.
‘He is using his foresight.’
Suddenly de Glanvill snapped out of his reverie, eyes suddenly wild with panic.
‘Quick, to the Carpet. Now! We are under attack. Run, your lives depend on it!’
Caledus was fastest to react with Heraclief close behind. Ajax and Vulcan flanked the elderly but still remarkably fleet of foot, de Glanvill, whilst the gallant Marshall dropped back to protect the much slower, Corinius. Up ahead, the carpet seemed to rise up from the beach of its own volition.
The group had taken only a few strides when overhead, they heard a single chord being plucked, as though on a harp. Instantaneously and before any of them could protect their exposed ears, a sonic detonation slammed into them.
Ajax, Corinius and Heraclief had all been knocked onto the soft sand of the beach. Vulcan and de Glanvill tried to help Ajax back to his feet, whilst Caledus did the same for Heraclief and Marshall went to the aid of Corinius. Utterly stunned by this attack, the group could now see that not more than 30 yards above, flew one of Morrigan’s mechanical constructs. The creature was like a giant crow but protected by a suit of armour.
However, on the creature’s back, her white hair resplendent in the morning sun and her eyes red raw, as though from tears, was strapped Vayana Moonlight, her magical harp in hand.
Scanning the sky, de Glanvill seemed to sense that the attack was not yet finished. ‘Protect your ears! Incoming…’
He was unable to finish the warning before the sound of a flute struck, accompanied by a second detonation, although this time partially muffled by the protective position assumed by the group. Looking up, a second giant knight became visible, this time with the sorcerer of the Scarack Filidh, Mara Mac Keth strapped onto the back of the creature, her flute in hand.
Both giant crows were now speeding past and wheeling in the air, clearly readying for a second attack.
Back on the ground and despite the second attack having not had the same devastating impact as the first, the group slowly evaluated their wounds.
‘Ajax is down,’ shouted Vulcan. Crouching onto the sand, he felt for a pulse and could feel only the faintest sense of life. ‘Healing! Now!’ he barked.
Suddenly, William Marshall was transformed into a blazing beacon of light. ‘I am with you brother,’ he bellowed.
The form of Ajax began to glow and was even lifted a few inches above the ground before suddenly, his body convulsed, as he screamed out, oxygen once again filling his lungs. Shocked and dazed having touched death, the young Vesuvian was close to hyper-ventilating as he tried to calm his accelerated heart beat.
The group, still in a state of shock, first from the two aerial attacks and then the near-death experience of Ajax, had little time to recover. Out at sea, the ocean had risen up into an impossibly large wave, which now rushed in towards them, blocking the rays of the sun. A deafening surge of water as though the tide had surged like a rearing stallion, startled the seven figures on the beach, as they were dwarfed by a forty-foot-high wall of sea-water, which roared towards them.
‘Marshall, your shield.’ screamed de Glanvill, panic in his voice.
Sprinting forward, William Marshall slung his left arm forward in a defensive position, whilst simultaneously crouching down, his left poleyn digging into the sand for purchase. ‘Get behind me,’ he bellowed to the others, his voice barely carrying above the din of the ocean, as it surged ever closer. On his command, a 15ft aura of translucent energy was projected from the shield, much like a force-field.
Once again, Caledus was fastest to react and was able to crouch down next to the knight, helping brace his body for the impact of the wave. Behind, Heraclief, despite his severe injuries, threw himself full length to land just behind Caledus within the protective perimeter of the shield. The Chief Justiciar, calling out a word of protection in Latin had just enough time to summon a second layer of protection with the entire group instantly surrounded by shimmering white light. The stunned Ajax, supported by Vulcan made it behind de Glanvill, with Corinius just behind when the wave struck.
The sound of the tsunami as it struck land was like nothing else the seven had heard before. It both defeaned and blinded them too all else and had it not been for the prodigious protections of the shield and de Glanvill’s spell, the group would certainly have been swept to their deaths. As it was, both Marshall and de Glanvill were pushed to the limit, desperately holding on against the colossal power of the tidal wave, before both slumped forward in exhaustion, the magical protection of both shields utterly spent as the wave finally passed.
Shocked and desperately trying to stand against the force of suddenly gale-force waves, a vile, dripping and desiccated creature emerged from the sea, a terrible, nauseating stench filling the beach with its arrival.
Caledus, Heraclief and Ajax had seen this beast before, only hours earlier when visiting the second tower of the Palace. A desiccated and rotting carcass of a small, green dragon!
‘An Oilliphéist,’ warned the sodden de Glanvill, as he fought his way back onto his feet. ‘Beware the speed of this evil sea serpent!’ his voice boomed over the din of the crashing, white crested breakers.
The creature’s bony talons bit into the soft sand, bracing itself against the power of the waves. On its back, two figures jumped down to face the stunned onlookers.
The first, a face immediately recognisable to both Heraclief and Ajax. The third member of the Scarack Flidh, Eircc, the equally speedy and deadly magister.
Beside him, thumping down into the water with a great splash stood a huge demon! A cold, uneasy feel emanated from him. Towering over 8ft in height and with equally proportioned girth, the demon’s eyes reflected only the darkness of the abyss, as he looked at each of his seven opponents in turn, through a grotesque helm and mask: part crown; part skeletal jaw. A glowing ruby crystal, encased in platinum was fixed over his heart, whilst his entire body was protected in extraordinary, glossy black armour: seamless and without linkage, the fluid surface like adamantine transformed into quicksilver, which shifted with the swaggering movement of his monstrously muscular chest. He had a broad, chiseled face but reflective of a cruel beauty. Across his back was connected, as though magnetically held in place and without a scabbard, a huge mithril greatsword with three blood red veins running down from an unusual, spherical crosspiece.
‘Darius,’ said de Glanvill, his face grimaced, as though in pain, ‘what further evil is this?’
The demon’s head rolled back, a spine-chilling, guttural laugh drowning out the sound of the waves.
‘You old fool,’ he retorted, the disdain in his response, dripping like blood from his sneer. ‘Is this the best that the Angevin Kings can throw at us? A ragtag collection of thieves, led by a defeated knight and geriatric simpleton.
Well, I say this to you seven. Come ahead and taste the sting of my sword, Ichor.’
As Darius finished his words, the giant crows were once again bearing down on the group.
At last, the seven finally entered the fray with Caledus extending his talons before unleashing ten electrifying lightning bolts. Each blasted into the rotting carcass of the Oilliphéist, bits of bone splitting under the onslaught from the Nemesis leader.
‘Avert your eyes,’ instructed Marshall.
Suddenly, the knight was surrounded by a blinding white light, as the others looked away. Darius screamed out in pain and rage, as the light seemed to momentarily engulf him too.
‘To me. To me!’ boomed the demon, backing away a few steps into the sea his eyes clearly blinded from Marshall’s attack.
De Glanvill forced home the narrow advantage won by the knight. Using his diamond ring, he unleashed a dome of silvery light which repelled the sea dragon, screeching, further back into the sea.
Eircc attempted to fill the gap created by the slight retreat of his Lord Darius, reaching into his robes before revealing a telltale Sithe incendiary. With a smirk on his handsome face, he threw the fizzing black grenade into the centre of the group. Ajax, still not fully recovered was still able to avoid the explosion, as not for the first time, his boots saved him from the attack, as he threw himself theatrically to the side, tumbling sidelong into the frothy water.
Caledus, Marshall, Corinius, and Vulcan were less lucky, as the metallic shrapnel exploded within their vicinity, each knocked backwards by the force of the impact.
Vulcan, angered by the attack tried to get forward but his weight and bulk, plus the constant crashing force of the waves pushed him back and he could make only slow progress toward the enemy.
Darius, slowly recovering from William Marshall’s light attack, called upon an electrical forcefield, which seemed to crackle from his armour, surrounding his entire form.
Ajax, finally seeing a brief respite used the healing from his daggers, the power surging up through the water to fill his limbs with fresh energy.
Overhead, the leading construct provided Vayana with the opportunity to once again use her harp. However, this time, rather than a sonic explosion, the group instead felt an irrational icy fear. Most of the group shrugged off the magical effect, save for Heraclief and Corinius. The sorcerer, shrieking in fear, turned and started running away from the battle, whilst Corinius simply fell forward face first, into the sea.
Vayana’s attack was followed immediately by the sorcerer, Mara Mac Keth. She extended her finger, attacking de Glanville but the Chief Justiciar was quickly able to shrug off the attack, as the giant crows once again sped past before beginning to circle.
Ajax, seeing Corinius submerged in water was the first of the companions to reach him. His mask was knocked into the water revealing for the first time, the face of Corinius himself. The man underneath had only one left ear and his face contained at least two horrific scars, one having created a deformity in his lip. He was deathly white and unconscious. ‘’Corinius collapsed, I can’t feel a pulse!’
Marshall, turned away from the battle ahead and called back to Ajax. ‘Allow me.’
Once again, as with Ajax earlier, the knight was ablaze with light, which he slowly transferred across to Corinius. Vomiting sea water from his lungs and gagging, Corinius sat up, supported by Ajax who was trying to drag him back onto his feet, whilst re-positioning the mask.
Seeing the predicament of the group and fearing that Darius would soon recover from the blindness inflicted by William Marshall, de Glanvill once again raised his voice above the stormy waters surrounding them. ‘We must get away from here. The carpet is our only hope.’
The giant crows had completed their circle and once again turned to face the melee. Caledus was suddenly surrounded by darkness, as though calling some kind of shadow based power into operation.
To the left of the group and seemingly of its own volition the carpet was now racing towards the seven, swooping low.
Marshall, removing a crucifix around his neck, pointed his metal gauntlet straight at Darius. Once again, he was successful in his attack, as a single beam of light shot out from his finger, the demon screaming in pain.
Enraged and shaking his head, Lord Darius was finally able to shake off the impact of Marshall’s previous attack, seeing clearly once again, despite the smoke rising from his suit of armour. Speaking a single word of command, the broadsword shot into his hand, gleaming blood red and the massive demon began to advance.
The seven companions could feel the nauseating power of the sword, even from distance as Lord Darius closed the gap between them.
The carpet reached de Glanvill, the old man skillfully stepping up and onto the Persian rug before sitting cross-legged close to the front. From within his robes, he removed a rectangular mirror.
Elsewhere, with a cruel grin on his face, Eircc reached for a throwing dagger, launching it at Ajax. It just missed before returning to the magister’s hand.
Vulcan was the second to reach Bisath Sihr ad Sultan, jumping up beside de Glanvill, frustration etched upon his face, having not scored a blow against the enemy.
Ajax was hot on his heels, leaping upward before cartwheeling onto the carpet with a stunning show of acrobatic skill. ‘Heraclief,’ he screamed, pointing to the fleeing figure of the sorcerer.
Just then, the Oilliphéist reappeared from the sea, surging forward and slowing just long enough to allow Darius the opportunity to levitate upward before jumping down onto the creature’s rotting back.
Caledus dragged Marshall back from the advancing threat both men close enough to reach the safety of the hovering carpet, as de Glanville skillfully re-positioned the carpet to accommodate the knight and Nemesis Legion leader.
Exposed and alone, Corinius tried desperately to bridge the gap dividing him from the carpet but the massive carcass of the Oilliphéist intervened. Sinking the great jaw downward, it snapped out, razor sharp teeth tearing through flesh and bone, ripping the torso from the legs of the Nemesis scout. His body, cleaved in two sunk beneath the waves just as the dragon reared upwards triumphantly after the kill.
‘Yes, my pretty Shannon,’ screamed Darius, his obscene muscles flexed in celebration. ‘Cowards, you turn and flee, like frightened children. Leaving, so soon? But you have yet to taste the sting of sweet Ichor.’
Shielded by the dragon, Vayana’s construct was able to appear at the very last moment, the Priestess disguising her throw before launching an incendiary. It landed on the carpet but with a deft flick, Caledus was able to kick the grenade away before it detonated close at hand lessening the shrapnel impact. Despite the outstanding work of the Venetian, de Glanvill cried out, blood pouring from the side of his face, a shard of metal having connected. Concentrating, his head momentarily bowed, a faint white glow surrounded his body, the cut on his face healing over even as the others looked on.
With a tiny shard of black glass in her hand, Mara was next to act, a malevolent hatred reflected in her eyes. A jet-black energy shot out striking Vulcan in the armour.
‘Agh, it’s burning me,’ he shouted, desperately trying to remove his breastplate. Ripping off the rerebrace protecting his upper left armour arm, a rune began to glow on his exposed bicep, as a light spread across his body, providing relief from the pain of Mara’s spell.
The giant crows, rather than circling both swung their giant wingspan to the side, attempting to cut Heraclief off from help as he continued to run further up the beach, albeit beginning to slow, as though tiring.
‘Come on,’ screamed Ajax. ‘We need to help him.’
The carpet accelerated, quickly outdistancing the crows, as they were slowed by the weight of riders, whilst out of water, the Oilliphéist was less effective and also could not keep pace with the speeding carpet. Heraclief turned to face the others just as the carpet reached him, with Vulcan and Caledus reaching down to haul him onboard. His hands still shaking with fear, Heraclief shook his head, clearly still profoundly effected by the spell of Vayana.
Gaining altitude at breakneck speed, de Glanvill once again began to chant, his walking stick held out in his left hand. The silver runes on his ebony walking stick began to glow, dimly at first but with increasing brilliance before they all disappeared from sight, although in reality they continued to speed through the air.
The giant constructs pursued for a while but with no quarry visible, they soon circled back towards the beach.
De Glanvill did not waste much time before looking below for a likely landing place. Finding nothing suitable, he sped back towards the beach albeit much further down the coast. Eventually, he found a sheltered inlet and landed the carpet.
As the six survivors touched down, a predictably sombre mood ensued.
’I’m very sorry for your loss. For all of you in The Nemesis Legion. said de Glanvill, respectfully. ’I’m sorry he was cut off from support. Even for me, I had not envisaged the full extent of the attack to come.
Sadly, with the return of Darius, the odds rise in favour of the Black Queen, should we even be able to mount a serious invasion of her territory. I have much to ponder. But first, we must escape this accursed realm before we are attacked again.’
Using the mirror still held in his right hand, he lifted it up trying to catch the rays of the sun. At first, nothing happened but as time passed, a reflected window of golden light began to form, like the frame of a great work of art. Within, the interior of what looked like a church began to materialise.
‘We return to England. Be quick,’ said de Glanvill.
Caledus stepped forward first but hesitated, making the sign of the cross. ‘Oh Corinius my friend, I am sorry to leave you in this realm of darkness.’ He then walked into the golden light and disappeared from view.
Heraclief was about to follow when he stumbled, the blood now visible on his travel stained, emerald cloak.
William Marshall quickly moved to catch him, supporting him as the two walked together through the golden doorway, Marshall’s healing light visible as they disappeared.
‘Hurry,’ implored the Chief Justiciar as he spied a black dot on the horizon coming towards them. ‘Ajax, Vulcan. Now!’
’I’m sorry Corinius, ‘said Ajax sadly, stepping forward. ’Rest assured, you will be avenged.’
Seconds later, first Vulcan and then Ranulf de Glanvill, stepped through the golden light, before the mirror turned to dust in the old man’s hands. ‘Alas, that we do not have more of these precious items from the Dark Ages but that is the last and only with a single use. A quick escape from the realm of darkness will not be as forthcoming should we ever need it again.’
The six newcomers found themselves in a magnificent, vast cathedral nave. The interior was dark, illuminated only by the light of candles, lit either side in alcoves positioned perpendicular to one another.
‘Welcome to Canterbury Cathedral.’ introduced de Glanvill.
A group of priests were gathered around the alter, clearly disturbed by the sudden, bright intrusion.
‘We come in peace, brothers,’ reassured de Glanvill in a loud, ringing voice. ‘Some of you know me. I am Ranulf de Glanvill, Chief Justiciar to the Henry Plantagenet, Second of that Name. I need to speak with the Archbishop. Brother Peter, is that you?’
Visibly relaxing after de Glanvill’s explanation, one of the priests approached, with the Chief Justiciar moving to the side. The two quickly spoke in hushed tones, before Brother Peter rushed off on an errand, presumably to find the Archbishop.
It did not take long before the group was shown rooms in which to change, given their sodden and injured state. Food, water and a delicious mug of ale was brought by the monks. Having changed and eaten, Heraclief and Ajax sat together sitting quietly toward the back of the nave, admiring the wondrous glass windows above.
“I’ve been thinking about what comes next,’ began Ajax. ‘You know, after all this,’ he said vaguely, gesturing to everything around him. ‘I overheard you speaking to Caledus before the Shadow Cloaks turned up, so I know you’ve given this some thought too.’
Heraclief nodded, staring ahead into space. ‘What are your thoughts?’
‘Ordinarily, I would like to stay and fight,’ began Ajax. ‘There is much still to do and I miss my other friends. Storm, Tector and Sophia.’ He hesitated as though selecting his words carefully. ’Equally, the Nemesis Legion risked a great deal for me and that is even more the case after the death of Corinius, for which I confess feeling a sense of guilt.
Ajax, wiped away the tears, which flowed freely from his burning eyes.
‘I am happy to return to my homeland on the one condition that if summoned by the Fellowship, I must fulfill my duty.’
Heraclief waited for a while, giving his friend some time to recover his composure.
‘I think the summoning of the Fellowship and then returning you to Naples are things that Merlin can do. He is the keeper of the summoning stone and he also has the power to return you from whence you came. When there are times when we are required, then we are members of the Fellowship but the rest of the time we are part of the Nemesis Legion. Don’t forget that Corinius took over from your father after the assassination. With his death, there is a vacancy in your city of Naples. Responsibility and family duty calls you my friend.
Also, I think Caledus has a point.’ Heraclief turned to face Ajax. ‘We have done very well in the North, to survive as long as we have but the death of Corinius has really exposed a truth that we have ignored for too long, namely that we are somewhat out of our depth. Corinius may have paid the price but it could have happened to any one of us.’
Heraclief stood, pacing as though delivering a speech long in the making. ‘You are entering a new phase of your life. You need to find people that you can trust. Who knows, perhaps you can call upon your old friend Ulric?’
Ajax smiled, looking up to the tall sorcerer. ‘I have been thinking about Ulric much of late. Yes, that is a good idea. I will write to him, later today perhaps.’
‘You will be taking on a leadership role. Until now, you have followed. First Uther, then I and now Caledus. But the time is ripe for you to become a leader, of your own group.’
‘But I am only nineteen!’ replied Ajax, a note of uncertainty in his voice.
‘A teen who has already seen more combat action than some knights see in an entire lifetime,’ laughed Heraclief. ’You have struck blows against all three of the Witches! You will soon be twenty. Now is the time to consolidate your power base.
Plus there is one more question to consider.’ Heraclief looked sideways at Ajax. ‘What of your Mother?’
Ajax nodded. ‘Indeed.’
The two sat in silence for some time, contemplating the implications of their conversation. Finally, Ajax came to a sad realisaton. ‘What of you my friend? Will you be a part of what I build in Naples?’ already aware of the answer before Heraclief responded.
‘Would that I could,’ sighed the sorcerer. ‘But I have responsibilities too. I must return to Rome. But fear not, just as Merlin summons us together from time-to-time, so too does Caledus. There is much for you to learn about the great powers of this world but as often as I can, we will explore that world together, as I did with your Father.’
‘What were the responsibilities of my father? In Naples?’ asked Ajax.
‘That explanation, I will leave to Caledus,’ responded Heraclief. ‘Though our order is far more complex than you yet perceive, as you will find out soon enough,’ he smiled. ‘But first, my advice is to find out why your Father was attacked in the first place? Justus and the three fire mages provide an obvious staring place.’
The following morning de Glanvill called together both Heraclief and Ajax to join him in a small study that he had requisitioned. Sat together for several hours, the Chief Justiciar interviewed the two, writing down as many details as he could, pertaining to the Dark Fortress, home of Morrigan the Black.
Having first thanked and then dismissed Heraclief, de Glanvill asked for Ajax to remain in the chamber. Not long afterwards, he returned with a priest, wearing simple scarlet, rather than brown robes but with a religious artifact in hand, that made the Vesuvian feel sick to the stomach. The Whithorn Crozier!
Despite the humble garb worn by the man, Ajax did not need de Glanvill’s introduction to know whose presence he was in. Standing from his chair, he bowed slightly, studying the newcomer a little more carefully, given his seniority.
‘Inquisitor Raphael,’ said de Glanvill assiduously, ‘may I introduce to you, his holiness, the Archbishop of Canterbury.’
The figure in question was in truth a rather unremarkable looking man, particularly as he wore none of the finery displayed by the Archbishop of York. His light brown eyes looked judgemental and something about his rigid body language immediately made the young Vesuvian feel uncomfortable.
The Archbishop walked across to stand in front of Ajax, before placing the crozier carefully and with great reverence on the table. ‘I see it is not the first time you have seen this great artifact of the Church?’ he said, in a softly spoken voice.
‘I also hear that at the bequest of our brother in the North, Roger de Pont L’Evêque,’ he said, selecting not to use the formal title, ‘that you were named an inquisitor of the Church?’
‘Yes Archbishop,’ replied Ajax. ‘Though because of my many duties, I have been unable to fulfill this role fully to date.’
‘Really?’ retorted the Archbishop. ‘I would have thought that for most young initiates such an extraordinary power, granted to so few, when let’s face it, you have received no former Monastic or spiritual training, would have represented the greatest calling of their life. Yet for you, not so?’
‘It is a great honour but robbed when she cheated me of my reason.’
‘Ah, you speak of the White Queen. The Chief Justiciar has spoken very eloquently on your behalf. Although your name seems to be ever changing. In the church you are known as Raphael, reborn after your baptism at Vindolanda Lake, forsaking your heathen name of Manzio. Yet I hear that in the presence of the Venetian, you are known as Ajax. You seem to me a man of many faces. I wonder, which face I am talking too?’
Ajax looked to de Glanvill for help but the Chief Justiciar was clearly unable to intervene, though his face reddened slightly, as though hot or slightly flustered.
Ajax glanced back towards the Archbishop and was met by a glare of cold hostility.
‘My point is this, boy. Is your faith simply an act designed to gain favour with the Archbishop of York? The role of inquisitor seems unbefitting to your current goals.’
‘I have been thinking about such things Holy Father and I believe that my faith is beginning to strengthen,’ said Ajax, a little uncertainly.
‘Beginning to believe!’ roared the Archbishop. ‘Beginning to believe for an inquisitor of the Church. This is surely a jest, in poor taste. Beginning to believe, is not good enough.’
Turning to de Glanvill, the Archbishop shook his head. ’I’m sorry Chief Justiciar, I know this boy has performed admirably and I daresay with great bravery in your most recent quest but I do not believe he is ready for atonement. Besides which, true forgiveness, comes from a higher authority than me. Both here on earth and in the heavens. I will defer this decision but will write a letter on your behalf, including my own doubts, to the Holy Father in Rome. You will go with all haste and only he will be able to attest to your atonement. Do you understand?’
‘Yes,’ replied Ajax, more than a little crestfallen.
‘Furthermore, said the Archbishop, gesturing once again to the crozier. I brought this holy relic with me to remind you of your sins, albeit under the influence of the wicked creature in residence to the far north in Orkney and Caithness. But I would also reassure you that we have candidates for a new incumbent as wielder of the crozier and as our Bishop of Whithorn and the Outer Isles. A decision I will make. Alone.’
Ajax did not miss the emphasis placed on this final word but did not understand the significance of the Archbishop’s intonation.
’I will pray for you, Manzio of Naples. I do not call you Inquisitor for I do not believe you are suitable for this role but greater powers than I will better judge your status within the Church. If you are a true Christian, then I pray that upon our next meeting, I will call you by the name of Brother Raphael, as baptised. But you must earn that name first.
Now I have many duties to complete this day. Chief Justiciar, please dine with me before you travel North. There is still much to discuss.’
With a curt nod, the Archbishop left the room, leaving only de Glanvill and Ajax.
‘Well, I confess, that didn’t go quite as well as I’d anticipated,’ he said, patting Ajax reassuringly on the back. ‘Rather unfair I might add, after all you’ve done in the North. However, politically, the death of Christian made things very complicated. Plus, as you probably guessed, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York, have something of a history.’
The Chief Justiciar glanced toward Ajax from under his bushy, white eyebrows as though to gauge the Vesuvian’s reaction and resolve.
‘What will you do now? Before Rome of course,’ he added.
‘May I speak with Caledus?’ responded Ajax.
‘Of course, privately I take it?’
De Glanvill seemed happy to vacate the room and suddenly appeared to be in a great rush. "I will be leaving, tonight but wanted to make sure that you’d at least met with the Archbishop first. Do not take his words to heart.
I have a strong feeling, nay, I have seen that you still have a crucial part in what is to come. Whilst for I, I would discover what has become our forces in Catakaroum, not least of which your friends, Tuan and Merlin. Then we decide if an attack is viable directly on the Queen’s power base.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.’ (Proverbs 3:6)
With that and a warm embrace, the Chief Justiciar left Ajax to ponder all that had been said. However, he didn’t have long before the familiar, dark cowled Caledus arrived, accompanied by another Priest. None other than John Comyn, back on his feet although unsteady and supported by Caledus.
‘I wanted to come and thank you in person,’ said Comyn, his voice thin and raspy, not unlike Corinius.
The thought saddened Ajax, though he tried not to show this to the Priest.
‘It took great bravery. What you did to save me. If you are ever in need of my help, come to Dublin and ask for me.’
Comyn turned as though to leave but then remembered something. ‘Oh, I’d like to give you this.’ He handed a small vial of crystal clear liquid across the table.
’Use it wisely. A healing potion from the Church. It was given to me so as to help in my recuperation but I feel you will need it more than I.
May God watch over you. Bless you my boy.’
With that Comyn left the Nemesis pair alone.
Caledus sat down opposite Ajax, his taloned fingers coming together, elbows rested on the table and as ever the satirical grin etched upon his silver mask. His head turned sightly to one side.
‘Now, Ajax. I believe you have something to tell me?’