“What will you do, Dux?” asked Arturus, after the old woman had left.
“Why do you still call me ‘Dux’?” grumbled Ambrosius. “I’ve no rank and haven’t had for months.”
With a shrug, the youth replied: “But I’ve always known you as Dux…”
“Habit then – just habit…”
“Alright then, but still: what will you do?”
Ambrosius hardly needed any prompting from Arturus, for it was the only matter on his mind. “I’m still thinking about it,” he replied.
“Not much to think about, is there? Not if you ever intend to get out of here.”
Ambrosius moved closer to his young companion. “You think I should accept Megisa’s offer?” he asked.
“Well, what choice is there?”
Ambrosius made no reply.
“You’d be a king,” said Arturus.
“Aye, but only if I murder a king!” said Ambrosius. “And king of what? A tiny tribe who have somehow survived the end of Roman rule and now live in a scatter of rustic hovels? Is that to be my reward for murder and oath-breaking?”
“It’s what you decide to make of it,” said Arturus. “You’re always talking about recruiting more men anyway – so why not these folk?”
“What? These folk who hold us prisoner? What makes you think they would welcome me as their king anyway?”
“Megisa says they’re divided – that many would welcome you as king,” said Arturus.
“Megisa says a lot! But I’m not sure we can trust her any more than her son,” said Ambrosius. “She could be a deluded old woman and, for all we know, there’s not a single man out there who would support me against Hargotrix.”
“I suppose,” muttered Arturus.
“Alright, my young friend,” said Ambrosius. “Let’s say I do it. Let’s say I kill this Hargotrix. I’ll also have sworn before God to marry Lurotriga, so what do I say to Inga – who I am pledged to for all my days?”
“But you’re not actually married to Inga, are you?” said Arturus. “So, it’s not as if you’re marrying two women.”
“How does that make any difference?” cried Ambrosius. “Whichever woman I choose, I’m forsworn. Either I betray the woman I love, or I break my oath to Lurotriga.”
“Inga will understand that you had no choice – to stay alive!” insisted Arturus. “Inga doesn’t want you dead! Anyway, you could marry Lurotriga and still, you know, be with Inga…”
“Which just goes to show how little you understand, lad,” said Ambrosius. “Try this then: how do you think Ishild would react, if you rode into Badon with another girl and told her you were married but that she was welcome to hang around for the occasional fumble when you felt like it?”
For a moment Arturus was silent then he conceded: “I think she’d probably kill me!”
“So,” said Ambrosius, “now you see.”
“I’ve always understood that, Dux,” argued Arturus, “but that’s the second problem. Whenever we’re in deep shit, you always say: ‘let’s deal with the first problem first.’ Every time, that’s what you say. And surely the first problem now is staying alive!”
With a rueful grin, Ambrosius realised he could not fault the lad. It was always hard when someone used your own arguments against you. And there was some weight to what he said, for Inga was not his wife. Was he prepared to sacrifice the youth’s life, as well as his own, to preserve his promise to Inga?
And what of Lurotriga – was she merely a tool in the hands of Megisa? Yet Megisa was right too, up to a point, for that was Lurotriga’s place in the world. It would not be the first marriage alliance in which she had been used as a lure. She had clearly been eager to play her part the other night when she did her best to excite his interest. And she was undoubtedly a beauty; he could not deny he felt some attraction to her.
If he agreed now to marry her, then he would have to go through with it, for the first act of the new king of the Durotriges could hardly be to set aside the woman he had sworn to marry. But marrying Lurotriga meant rejecting Inga; and, after all they had endured together, it would be like cleaving his soul in two.
So, he faced the age-old dilemma: did he act for the one he loved, or for the good of all the others who were relying upon him?
In a few hours, he would have to decide between love and duty. But it was ever thus…