Steeped in sorrow, Megisa walked, leaden-footed, past the accusing glare of the torches illuminating the enclosure. Why did every careless flicker of fire seem to veer towards her? Perhaps the wayward flames sought a kindred spirit, knowing she was damned to burn in the eternal furnace of hell. Because, whatever the outcome, there could be no redemption… no forgiveness for her.
Approaching the entrance to the hut where the Romans were incarcerated, she was met by the sullen stares of the guards. They were both her son’s men, so all they saw, when they looked at her, was a dead woman walking. Like Ambrosius, she would not survive long after the coming of Vortigern; with the backing of the high king of Britannia, Hargotrix could also remove, at last, the troublesome opponents that she had encouraged to believe in a miracle.
When the guards stepped grudgingly aside, she eased back the linen cloth and entered.
Ambrosius and Arturus were, of course, expecting her and, for once, they sat together but this time she did not sit down. The discourse would be brief and, she feared, not especially pleasant – but then matters of life and death were rarely pleasant.
“I need your answer,” she told Ambrosius, “your… final answer.”
But even when she uttered the words, she already knew what the answer would be – not from Ambrosius’ expression, for he never gave much away. But his response was written all over the disconsolate face of his comrade.
“Same answer,” confirmed Ambrosius. “Give me a weapon and I’ll do my best for all of you, but I’ll not swear to marry Lurotriga. If Hargotrix gets in my way, then he may fall; but I shan’t seek him out.”
So, there would be no willing alliance with Ambrosius and, without it, the death of Hargotrix would only plunge her people into bloody strife. No doubt others would step forward to replace her son, but all would be driven by greed and a lust for power. Such pretenders would rule the Durotriges no better than Hargotrix.
Yet… his death would apply a long-awaited salve to her open wound, for the murder of his brother would, at last, be avenged. So, in the end, she too would abandon any noble idea of bringing hope to her people and act only from the base motive of personal revenge.
Eyes closed, Megisa took several slow breaths to steady her shuddering, old heart before delivering yet more lies – lies to haunt her to a bitter grave.
Taking out the knife she had concealed in her voluminous robe, she tossed it down to Ambrosius.
“At least you may now die with a weapon in your hand,” she said. “I would have helped you, Ambrosius – helped you to be a king…”
“The knife will be enough,” he told her and she wondered at his bravado.
“You believe you can escape without my help?” she asked.
“I always believe, lady – and I made a promise to you and Lurotriga – I’ll get you out with us if I can.”
With a dismissive shake of the head, she replied: “Don’t bother about me.”
“Where’s Lurotriga?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “You’ll have to find her.”
She turned to go, but there was still that one, cruel, barb to let fly.
“You’re not even the only prisoners here now, it seems,” she murmured, “but I don’t expect you care about any others.”
“What others?” he asked.
“No-one you’d know: just a couple of wretched Saxon girls, but he’s probably bedding them both by now…”
Without waiting to observe his reaction, she swept aside the linen sheet and left. Left? No, she took headlong flight out of the hut, past the startled guards outside. Stumbling away into the night, she sought some dark place to crawl into, to die – because that was what she deserved.