Though I should trust Merlin—he is my master, after all—I run into the forest to make sure. Her lean-to is unoccupied. I find some of the sheep wandering around, untended. She really must be gone. What was she doing in the village?
“She wasn’t in the village,” Merlin says. “He came here on his own to take her.”
“Because he knows you’ll come after her.”
“You’re damned right I will! I’ll follow her to the underworld itself.”
He puts a hand on my shoulder to steady me. “That won’t be necessary. Not if we’re careful. He’s not going to kill her until he has to.”
“Then let’s go! Vanish us to wherever he’s keeping her.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Of course you can! You’re Merlin! Wave your hand and let’s go!”
He smiles at me like I’m a small child who’s done something amusing. “I misspoke. I could vanish us there, but that would be foolish. We saw only a portion of his army. The rest are with the prisoners. If we simply vanish into their midst, things will get bloody. We must take our time, wait for the right opportunity to strike.”
“That’s all well and good, but it’s not your woman he’s got, is it?”
“That’s very true, which is why you must trust me. You aren’t thinking clearly.”
“Why shouldn’t I be? I love her!” It’s at that point I realize I haven’t said that to Beaux in a long time. I really ought to have. “I’m sorry, master. I’ll do what you ask.”
“Good, my friend. Gather some supplies. We will head out after them as soon as possible.”
“Can’t you just conjure us up some food?”
“I could, but Artr needs a few moments. His father is dying.”
“The chief is dying? Can’t you save him?”
“His soul has already crossed into the underworld. Only a shell of his body remains.”
“Oh, I see. I suppose I’ll go gather some supplies then.”
Artr takes off his helmet so he can watch his father die with his own eyes. Though it’s not very warriorly, he starts to cry. He leans against his mother for support. “I’m sorry, Father. I couldn’t save you.”
His mother squeezes his shoulder. “You did what you could, son.”
“It wasn’t enough. I should have been here. I should have protected him.” Artr looks down at the ground.
“Your father was proud of you. He knew what a strong and wise ruler you will become.”
“I don’t deserve to be chief. A man who can’t protect his family shouldn’t rule.”
“There’s no way you could have known what would happen. You’re not a conjurer—”
“You see!” Greetha shrieks. She gestures to the fallen bodies with one of her dried bones. “This is what happens when you consort with outsiders! See what this Merlin has brought you! Ruin!”
Artr gets to his feet. He clutches the Spear of Justice. “Leave this place, old woman. You are not welcome here.”
“But she’s right,” Bleeth’s wife says. She squats beside her dead husband. “This never would have happened if we hadn’t allowed that outsider here.”
“If we hadn’t, then we all would have died of plague,” Artr says. “This woman isn’t a conjurer or a healer. She’s a fraud!”
But more of the villagers join in with Bleeth’s wife and voice support for Greetha. “The chief was a fool to trust Merlin,” one says.
Artr turns on the woman. “How dare you speak ill of my father before his body is even cold! My father was a wise and noble ruler. He allowed Merlin to stay because he knew this fraud wouldn’t save us.”
“Maybe he caused the plague,” someone else says. “He brought it here with him from the outside.”
“Nothing like this ever happened before he showed up.”
“You see, Artr, your own people have seen the truth. They see that we need to return to the old ways.”
Artr tightens his grip on the Spear of Justice. He holds it inches from Greetha. The point doesn’t glow the way it did around Elgar. She’s not evil, just misguided. With a sigh, he lowers the spear.
“I swear I will return those the Demon has taken captive. Then, if you wish Merlin and I to leave this place, we will.”
“I am sorry, Mother. Now, I must go.” Artr stalks out of the village, perhaps for the last time.
TO BE CONTINUED...Celebrate Black Friday with the search for the Black Demon!