“So,” concluded Inga, “what you’re telling us is that there is no hope of freeing our loved ones?”
“No, when Vortigern comes tomorrow, your men will be handed over to him – for a blood price.”
“And Vortigern will kill them as he pleases,” murmured Inga. “He will get his revenge upon Ambrosius.”
“How has Ambrosius offended Vortigern so much?” asked Megisa.
“Have you met Ambrosius?” asked Inga.
When Megisa nodded, she said: “He and Vortigern had a… disagreement,” she said, with a sorrowful smile.
“A disagreement?” enquired Megisa.
“A bloody one…”
“Oh,” said Megisa. “But when I went to Ambrosius and asked him to kill Hargotrix, he refused.”
“What did you offer him in return?” asked Inga.
“Why, his freedom – and that he could rule the Durotriges in Hargotrix’s place – yet he refused! I don’t understand why.”
“Well, it’s taken me a long time to know him better,” said Inga. “He was just being Ambrosius…”
Megisa gave an angry shake of the head. “God help me, if I was younger, I’d attempt it myself! But he would not let me get that close now,” she murmured. “Kill my own son? It’s unnatural, isn’t it? What mother would even contemplate such a deed?”
“Why then?” asked Inga.
“Why?” Megisa’s voice wavered, as she visibly struggled to control her emotions. “I could tell you that he’s a thief, that he’s a liar and a rapist, or that he treats anyone who doesn’t worship him as dirt. And I could give you other reasons too, but I would need only one: he killed his brother, my elder son, who was king before him. That is cause enough for me. He robbed my son of his life and his rightful place; he was a good king, who cared what was happening to the Durotriges. If I died killing Hargotrix, I would die content.”
“If only Ambrosius understood what his captor was like-”
But Megisa grimaced in sadness. “No, I fear not. He knows the sort of man my son is, but he will not hear of killing him – perhaps he has changed his mind, but I can’t get in to see him now…”
Inga glanced at Ishild and they exchanged a look of grim determination. “Could you get Ishild and I close to him?” asked Inga. “Because, if you could, we will kill Hargotrix.”
“What, you two slight girls?” Megisa’s bitter laugh pricked at Inga’s pride.
“We can do this!” she declared.
“I’ve done far worse,” growled Ishild.
“But you would have to get very close,” protested Megisa. “With Hargotrix, there’s only one way a girl could do that – and I won’t allow you to be so reckless!”
“It’s our choice, not yours,” said Inga.
“But you’ll be searched for weapons, girls,” pleaded Megisa. “Please don’t even think about doing this.”
“We’ll never free our menfolk as long as Hargotrix rules,” said Inga. “So, either we do this with your help, or without it.”
With a heavy sigh of resignation, Megisa nodded. “Very well, if you’re sure… I’ll arrange for Gabinus to get you in as whores…”
“But make sure it’s clear that we only… work together,” instructed Inga. “You can tell him that two girls give greater pleasure than one!”
Megisa looked shocked. “What made you even think of such an idea?”
With a shrug, Inga looked her in the eye and said: “Well, lady, I have a little more experience as a whore than you might think…”
“Very well then, I’ll make the arrangements,” agreed Megisa, “but it will have to be before Vortigern arrives – and that means tonight.”
“The sooner the better!” said Ishild.
“But remember, never let slip that you know Ambrosius – for, if you do, Hargotrix will take pleasure in killing you while your lovers watch… ”
“Poor lady,” said Inga, after the old woman left. “I think we rather shocked her!”
Ishild darted a smile back at her, but Inga knew the girl well by now: Ishild was good at hiding her true feelings – except of course where Arturus was involved.
“Let’s not persuade ourselves that this will be easy,” Inga cautioned. “Are you sure you’re prepared to go through this? After what you’ve been through already? We risk all in this.”
“I’ll willingly risk all to save Arturus,” she replied. “And what did we come here for, if not to risk our own lives to save theirs?”
Inga embraced her companion and murmured: “We need a plan…”
“You didn’t do very well with the last plan, did you?”
“No, I suppose I didn’t – how I wish Ferox was here…”