Inga’s despairing hand slid from the knife hilt, her wild lunge slamming her into Hargotrix’s chest. When her head struck something harder than flesh or bone, she realised the wary king was wearing a breastplate. Though Hargotrix shot out a restraining hand, her oiled body slipped from his grasp to roll down onto the dais beside his chair. His guards, too slow to stop her initial assault, now sought to redeem themselves by capturing her.
Knowing she could move fast when she had to, Inga still hoped to escape, but something was badly amiss. As soon as she moved, the royal chamber swayed alarmingly, but still she managed to stagger to her feet. When Hargotrix caught her by the arm, she lashed out blindly, feeling her nails rake across his face. Cursing, he released his grip on her. She tried to run, but after several, unsteady steps, fell headlong. Powerful arms raised her up and Hargotrix, clutching at his bleeding face, railed his venom at her before she passed out.
Ice cold water stung her face and her weeping eyes blinked open in shock. Even now, the world was still swaying around her. To and fro she lurched, almost passing out again with the pain of her arm muscles tearing and her shoulders afire with agony. Only then did her dull senses register that she was hanging in mid-air, suspended by a length of coarse rope, bound around her wrists, and tied to a roof beam above her head.
“Ah, the murderous Saxon awakes!” proclaimed Hargotrix, touching his scarred cheek. “We don’t get many of you Saxon bitches around here and those we do get, don’t live long.”
“Who’d want to live under your rule for a moment?” groaned Inga, her voice a rasping croak .
“I was suspicious of you from the start!” he declared. “I always see where betrayal lies and I never lowered my guard. Ha, I was certainly too quick for a slow-witted Saxon.”
“You were lucky, not swift,” Inga spat out the accusation. “The gouged furrows on your face tell the world I’m not so slow!”
But defiance came at a price and her sluggish reactions were amply demonstrated when she failed to evade a spear shaft cracked against her head.
“Your last few moments will be a little easier for you,” advised Hargotrix, “if you keep your whore’s mouth shut.”
“If you’re going to kill me!” railed Inga. “Just do it! Stop talking about it and do it.”
“Oh, we can’t do that yet,” laughed Hargotrix, “for that would spoil all the pleasure – and I seem to recall that you promised me a lot of pleasure.”
“I came here to kill you!” snarled Inga.
“Yes, I saw that,” said the king, “but then I asked myself why. Why would a strange woman- even a foolish Saxon – just turn up in our settlement and murder its king? I thought: she must have a reason…”
“I‘d heard all about you from some of those who’ve fled your reign,” declared Inga.
Ignoring her reply, he said: “Then one of my warriors saw you hanging there and said he’d seen you before… when we attacked that abandoned village and… well, I’m clever enough to work out the rest.”
Deflated, Inga could think of no more sharp barbs to hurl at him and remained silent.
“So we’re waiting,” continued Hargotrix. “And I’ve summoned as many of my loyal folk as I can, to wait with me. Any idea what – or who – we’re waiting for?”
She wished there were no tears adorning her reddened cheeks, proclaiming her despair. Yet, in some twisted way, it gave her strength, knowing that he would come.
“Ambrosius will come,” she murmured.
“Oh, I’m certain of it!” laughed Hargotrix. “And he’ll be here very soon, I’m told…”