The guards marched us up the passageway, keeping their swords raised and following us in a close formation, to assure we did not attempt any escape. I looked forward, searching for some chance I could retrieve my weapon, any weapon. But no such luck; Ross’s captain marched some distance ahead of us, bearing my sword as well as his own. Cast ahead as it was, my gaze passed over Set. His head turned, just enough that I could catch the slight smile on his face. I ground my teeth, forcing my expression to remain stolid.
This close. I had been this. Close. To finally ending it all, ending him! And Kearney just had to be so sacrificing and understanding, didn’t she? Of all the crazy stunts…
Enough. She doesn’t understand, and she doesn’t know. And for her sake, she never will.
I took a deep breath and tried to quell the bitterness that roiled within me, fighting with resentment.
Come on, focus. This isn’t getting either of you free.
I stared ahead, attempting to discover the elusive scent of a path I had felt. But whatever path it was, it did not require any actions soon.
Our travel in silence through the castle lasted longer than it had felt. Not five minutes had transpired before we were marched into Campbell’s throne room, which at the moment was occupied by Campbell himself seated on his throne, Ross, who stood several yards away from him, and a small force of guards. Campbell rose from his seat at the sight of us, and a smug smile of malice spread across Ross’s face. Our company came to a halt, the guards forming a tighter circle around us as Ross’s captain stepped forward, offering my sword to his overlord.
“Well, well, well…” Ross said as he took the blade in hand, admiring the light dancing across the polished blade.
“My lord, the final guardian knight to oppose us was caught attempting to free the lady Kearney and kill lord Set. His sword, pathseeker, the last of the blades, I believe.”
At this comment, I raised an eyebrow. You wish.
Campbell smiled, folding his arms and stepping down from his throne with a confident gait. Ross spoke with exultation.
“Brilliant, Set, brilliant!”
The captain stepped back with a slightly annoyed expression, but said nothing. Ross finished admiring his prize and walked toward where I and Kearney stood with our hands bound. I watched him, keeping any emotion from my face.
No spike; we should be fine. He means to gloat, not execute.
The smug look on Ross’s face spread to his tone of voice as he spoke.
“So you’ve failed again, MacDonald. Not the nicest feeling, hm?”
I allowed a small smile to touch my face.
“As they say, lord Ross, the day is always darkest before the dawn. I would ask, however, what you plan to do with us?”
Set stepped forward, but did not interrupt. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Kearney give him a particularly nasty glance, and I restrained a smile.
Ross raised my blade, letting it rest on my shoulder, lightly, but I knew all too well how dangerous the weapon could be, so close to my throat.
“You, I plan to deport. Your power, while not directly dangerous, irks me greatly.”
I raised an eyebrow, keeping my voice as respectful as I could manage in my reply.
“I do hope you won’t allow me to escape so easily next time. I had to restrain several laughs at the blunders your guards made, in their… “deployment”, to assure I remained a captive.”
Ross did not respond as I’d hoped, merely answering my question.
“Oh, no. No such mistake will be made again, I assure you. Your ever present shadow will be right beside you the entire way there and back,” he said as he motioned toward Set. I glanced in his direction, and Set gave me a devious smile. Biting back a response, I asked my next question with a guarded tone.
“What of the lady Kearney, then”
Ross turned to look at Kearney, appearing to think on this question. Kearney narrowed her eyes into a dangerous glare. However, Ross did not speak, but Campbell did for him.
“Her, we will need to… extract…. military information from. While you, with your forces fled or destroyed, pose no threat to us, she still has half an army out there. What’s left of it, that is. Knowing where it is will make removing the threat so much easier.”
Campbell had stepped forward to give this answer, and I fixed a steady stare on him. For a few moments, he stared back, but glanced away, unable to hold it. Ross nodded in affirmation of Campbell’s words.
“For the lives of her brothers, I’m sure she would pay any price.
Kearney stiffened, even as I glanced at her in an attempt to warn away any visible reaction.
Ross gave a slow smile that spoke of cruelty in mind.
“Ah, I see… there I can see fear.”
Kearney shifted her gaze from the warlord to the wall behind the throne, assuming an impassive stance.
“Small wonder; you are no stranger to it,” I retorted.
Ross gave me an annoyed glance before walking past me to stand in front of Kearney, to speak to her directly.
“Perhaps I should kill one of them just so your debt is paid. Then you can bargain for the life of the other.
My ears perked up at this comment. Debt?
Kearney turned her gaze to look at Ross and responded with a tense tone of voice.
“His death wasn’t my fault.”
Ross’s stare hardened, as did his own tone.
“He would not have been where he was that night if it were not for you. I will have justice!”
“You had justice with the first life you took from our ranks!” Kearney responded with equal heat.
“This isn’t about justice, this war itself is NOT about justice. This? This is greed.”
In a snap of anger, Ross slapped her across the face. Kearney dropped to a knee at the blow, swaying, and I jumped forward to keep her from falling any further. Ross’s fists clenched, fury showing plain on his face. I stared at him coldly.
“The path of vengeance holds no resolution, Ross; only destruction. And with it, loss of honor.”
A blow to my back sent me reeling to one side. I coughed, struggling to rise, and heard Set’s voice above me.
“Another word, captive, and your companions will suffer for it. Lord Ross did not give you leave to speak.”
I glanced up to look at Ross, but found no change on his face.
“Ask your pathetic rulers about ‘honor’”, he growled.
Kearney remained as she was, recovering fully before moving. Ross seemed to regain, at least in part, his lost composure, and turned to Set.
“I want that one deported as soon as possible. Put the ‘queen’ in one of our special cells. She won’t take long to break. Oh, and send out a messenger to tell Sir Damien to kill one of the brothers, I don’t care which one.”
Kearney jumped up and leapt toward Ross, but two of the guards reached her first, restraining her attempts to reach him. Ignoring her outburst, Set bowed to Ross.
“We can leave as soon as my forces fully return from routing the rebels that fled to the valleys. Where do want him kept until then, my lord?”
I rose to a crouch, but made no interruption. Any outburst now would only result in further forceful silencing.
“Put him somewhere nearby. Maybe he can convince her to give up the location of the army before we have to waste too much energy. But keep a guard by both of them.”
Set nodded. “I will see to it. Guards, take them both.”
I felt two pairs of hands grasp my arms, and I allowed them to pull me to my feet. This was still the way, I could feel it, and I did not fight their grasp. Kearney, however, struggled against the guards dragging her until another joined them in an attempt to restrain her. I smiled slightly, but it was dampened by what had just transpired. Even if I could feel it, I could not see how we would escape now.