“I want Hargotrix!” shouted Ambrosius, the words catching in a dry throat, already hoarse from his previous attempts.
As before, there was no response from outside the hut, though he knew at least one guard must be there – more likely two.
Dragging himself to the entrance on badly-callused hands, he used a door post to keep his balance, as he shuffled out past the linen sheet and glanced around at the nearby buildings.
“Hargotrix!” he bellowed once more – loud enough for the devil to hear.
He sensed the blow coming, rather than saw it – a cudgel that began its journey from just outside his field of vision and aimed to crack into his head. Ducking under it proved a major success, with only the cost of a grazed forehead. But, as he congratulated himself and swivelled to face his assailant, a second guard struck him down from behind.
The sudden impact of ice-cold water hurled at his face shocked him, aching and groaning, back to consciousness. Though his head hurt, it appeared that his persistent demand had been granted for, looking down upon him with unconcealed contempt, was Hargotrix.
“I truly wonder why Vortigern is so keen to have you in his hands,” grumbled Hargotrix. “He told me you were a fearsome warrior, but I’ve-”
“I’m flattered,” mumbled Ambrosius, whose interruption earned him a sharp kick under the ribs.
“I’ve seen nothing yet that persuades me you are anyone special at all,” said Hargotrix.
“I’ll have to try harder then,” said Ambrosius, before a second, harder kick landed.
“Well, try not to provoke my men into killing you, because as long as you stay alive, I get my payment. Vortigern is on his way now – he’ll be here within two days. But, Roman, if you leave this hut again, I’ll have you whipped until you’re standing in a pool of your own foul blood!”
Hargotrix already had his back turned when Ambrosius asked him: “What about your mother? What does Megisa think about your actions?”
When Hargotrix turned slowly back, ashen-faced, to face Ambrosius, he was holding himself as tight as a barrel of fish.
“That old hag is no concern of yours,” snarled Hargotrix, eyes bulging with indignation. “Vortigern didn’t say you had to be able to speak; so, mention her name again and I’ll have your tongue torn out!”
The King of the Durotriges stormed out of the hut before Ambrosius could utter another word – which, he reckoned, was just as well in case he was tempted to bait the man further.
When the guards went out, Arturus asked: “And what was the purpose of all that, Dux?”
“The purpose was several-fold,” Ambrosius told his comrade, giving his bruised ribs a gentle rub. “I wanted to have another look outside – to remind myself exactly where in this place they’re holding us.”
“And what did you learn?”
With a satisfied nod, Ambrosius replied: “I learned where the stables are – and how far away the gate is – not very far, as it happens.”
“But what was all that about his mother?”
“As you’ve seen, Hargotrix – as I suspected – is strangely afraid of his mother.”
“But surely he could snuff out one old lady if he wanted to,” argued Arturus.
“Ah, but we’ve already seen that it’s not just her son that fears her; I suspect that ‘one old lady’ wields a lot more influence than we know, or understand.”
“I don’t see how,” concluded Arturus.
“Let’s see what Lurotriga has to say about her when she comes tonight – if she comes…”
Ambrosius waited all evening into the small hours of the night for Lurotriga but in the end he had to concede that he had frightened her away after all. But then, just as he had settled down to rest, he was awoken by the arrival of Catoriga, accompanied by one of the guards who had clubbed him down earlier. The latter’s presence warned him that this was by no means a personal visit.
“Expecting someone else?” asked Catoriga. “Well, Lurotriga isn’t coming to you tonight – or any other night.”
“What’s become of her?” he growled.
“Oh, such concern for the woman,” said Catoriga. “But don’t worry: she’s quite safe – just helping my husband to father an heir, I should think; because he really was very angry to discover how she’d deceived him.”
“If harm comes to her…”
“Oh dear, no unlikely threats, please – oh, and Hargotrix said to remind you that Vortigern will be here very, very soon. Sleep well, Roman.”