“Are you sure this is the right path, lady?” asked Gabinus.
Since Megisa couldn’t recall the faithful soldier ever questioning her before – upon any matter – his hesitation gave her pause for thought. She already knew that dangling the young Saxon girls before Hargotrix was heinous and unforgivable. Yet, what else was she to do? Stand by and allow her son to destroy the Durotriges? So, as a last resort, she would do the unforgivable, if it was the only way she could bring him down.
“Just do what must be done,” she instructed Gabinus.
“Lady,” he acknowledged and left her.
Shortly, he would sow a seed with Hargotrix’s grovelling acolyte, Egestinus – the king’s provider of slaves and whores. Gabinus would hint that two young Saxons might be procured, should the king be interested in more exciting bedfellows. Interested? She knew her son’s vices all too well; he would be on those poor girls like flies onto shit.
Though the very thought of it revolted her, she consoled herself with the knowledge that it was merely an insurance. She still hoped to persuade Ambrosius to help her, without the need to involve the girls at all. So, thrusting all thoughts of them from her mind, Megisa hurried to the hut where the two Romans were imprisoned.
On the pretence of checking Arturus’ wounds, she was granted access to the prisoners. How Hargotrix must have wanted to keep her from the Romans, yet to forbid her entry would have raised unwanted suspicions among those who still supported her. Even her son knew there were some who resented his corrupt and arbitrary rule. Such people were praying that Megisa could conjure up a way out of their predicament though, as each day passed, her own confidence was waning fast.
Having given Arturus’ wounds a cursory inspection, Megisa gathered her linen gown about her and sat down on the bare earth beside Ambrosius.
“I bring news,” she said.
“Good,” he said. “Arturus and I don’t get out much these days.”
“Catoriga has betrayed Lurotriga.”
“That’s not news,” he replied. “Catoriga took much delight in telling me that herself.”
“That’s not my news,” she told him. “Hargotrix was not pleased with Lurotriga.”
“Hardly surprising,” conceded Ambrosius.
“My son wants Lurotriga for himself – and the possibility of you supplanting him there quite… enraged him.”
“Has he hurt her?” asked Ambrosius.
His immediate show of concern for Lurotriga gave Megisa hope, making it easier to feed him the lie. “She was most cruelly treated.”
“Beaten?” he asked.
“Violated…” Megisa looked away, distraught – not, as Ambrosius probably imagined, because of the alleged harm to Lurotriga – but from the shame she felt for misleading him so cruelly.
“But nothing took place between us…” he said.
“Hargotrix wouldn’t believe that, despite Lurotriga’s protests. I’ve told you before: he’s a brutal master…”
“But I can do nothing against him while I’m in here,” argued Ambrosius. “Give me your help to get out and I swear I’ll take Lurotriga with me – you too, if you wish.”
“This is not just about Lurotriga, or me!” hissed Megisa. “This is about the Durotriges people. We need a leader – man who can overcome Hargotrix. So we need your help; and you need ours. There must be a bargain struck here, Ambrosius – and very soon. Agree to kill Hargotrix, marry Lurotriga and you will rule the Durotriges.”
When he made no reply, she pressed him further. “Is the price of your freedom so very high? I’m offering you kingship!”
“Aye, but a kingship bought with murder and marriage,” he replied, and she could hear the bitterness in his voice.
“Don’t be a child,” she declared. “All kingdoms are won by murder, marriage or both!”
“But I’ve already told you: I don’t want to be a king.”
“Perhaps you don’t,” she replied, “but you do want to be free, don’t you? Vortigern arrives tomorrow and, once he does, we won’t be able to help each other at all!”
Getting up to leave, she said: “I’ll return this evening for your answer. Think hard upon it, Ambrosius.”
Megisa did not return to her home, but instead went to find Gabinus. With time running out and Ambrosius clearly reluctant to take up her offer, she decided that she must set her sights a little lower. If Ambrosius baulked at killing Hargotrix then she might need to set the Saxon girls upon the task. Once Hargotrix was dead, perhaps Ambrosius might yet be persuaded to replace him. It was a vain hope, born of desperation, for the likelihood was that both girls would perish the moment they showed their hand, with Hargotrix surrounded by so many body guards.
Damn Ambrosius and his precious honour! This was his fault! If only he would help, she need not endanger the girls at all.
But, if he would not, then the sooner Inga and Ishild were introduced to Hargotrix, the better.