Second Chances: Part 7: (PG)
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction. No copyright infringement is intended, no profit has been made.
Covington Cross and the characters belongs to Thames, Reeves, and Gil Grant, not to me.
Sir Thomas rode like a madman across the windswept of the Barbicon. His stomach turned when he remembered how only a few months before he had almost lost his daughter to Mullens' horrible son, and how his menacing neighbor had coveted this land. Now it was Mullens who had taken the woman he loved, and he had to get her back. He only hoped he could reach her in time. He felt a strange sort of confidence knowing that his children were riding beside him. Normally he would have wanted them as far from John Mullens as possible, now however, he needed them close by. This was not going to be easy. As Thomas looked beside him he saw the anguished face of Sir Robert Leland. Thomas knew that Lelend was also worried about Elizabeth, but he reminded himself that if not for him, she would not be in the danger she was in now. She would be safe at Covington Cross with him, and they would be celebrating the joining of their futures. He hated Leland for taking that from them.
Beside Sir Thomas, Robert Leland kept his horse up to pace with that of his rivals, although his mind was elsewhere. His guilt overpowered him, and he could think of nothing but what Elizabeth was going through. His mind conjured up one dark image after another which he tried to push from his thoughts to little success. It was his fault. How stupid he had been to come back. She had been happy and safe, he should have left her alone to live the life she had created for herself. Even if it was with Thomas Gray. Now he faced the very real possibility that he may have caused her death. Robert gripped a tiny leather pouch at his side. The documents within held the key to Mullens disgrace, the evidence he had not had time to show to the king. Now he would gladly give them over to this enemy, gladly give his own life, if only his Elizabeth would be safe.
Mullens castle loomed forbodingly in the distance as the small raiding party pulled up their horses. To charge forth swords brandished would mean suicide. This called for a subtle ambush.
"This way." Cedric ordered, and rode off toward the swamp that bordered the far castle wall. Thomas looked on at his youngest son shocked at his fervor.
Richard shrugged his shoulders and called to his father as he followed Cedric. "Trust him. He knows the way." The others complied and followed as well.
Leading their horses through the muddy underbrush the Grays and Leland finally caught up with Cedric who was making his way toward a bramble. To their surprise someone was waiting for them.
"I knew you would come this way." Alexandra said stepping out from behind an ancient tree. The Gray's relaxed visibly for they knew she would not betray them.
"We've come for..." Cedric began.
"Lady Elizabeth." Alexandra interrupted. "I know. I overheard my father talking about it, and I was sure you would not be far behind."
"Please tell us where she is, my dear." Sir Thomas begged. It never failed to amaze him how kind and gentle Mullens' daughter was, and he genuinely liked the girl.
"She isn't here. My father is many things, but he is not a stupid man." She informed Sir Thomas.
"Certainly." He agreed. "He would never incriminate himself so openly."
"I can take you to where they are keeping her. I followed them. It isn't far." The young girl offered.
"Thank you." Thomas tried to smile. "Have you seen her?" He pleaded anxious for information.
"Yes." Alexandra reported. "She looked so frightened." The girl eyed at Leland comtempuously, and then returned her attentions to Sir Thomas. "I'm sure she knows you're looking for her."
"I promised her I would always come for her." Thomas said letting his guard down for a moment. It was then that Robert Leland realized just how close the bond was between his wife and his onetime friend. "Please, quickly let's go." Thomas said urgently.
Cedric helped Alexandra onto his horse, and climbed up after her. The group hurried out of the swamp barely noticing the brambled that tore at them, and the mud that flew up under their horses hooves. They also did not notice the horsemen that left Mullens' castle just after them, headed in the same direction.
Thomas knew this area well. He had played here as a child. The overgrown forests had made a fine arena to test in growing knightly skills. The ruins of a once great castle had always seemed to call to him. The hulking overgrown shambled would somehow tell him stories of day past, and of the knights that had protected England even before his time. He was certain is was easier to be a knight back them. Before business and politics made everything so complicated. There had only been king, and country, and lady love. This thought brought him up short. Lady love, his love was somewhere in that sad decrepid place, and he prayed she was safe.
The Gray's along with Robert and Alexandra climbed down from their horses, careful not to make a sound. They had to plan their onslaught. There could be no margin for error. Together they crouced low in the tall grass. Thomas instictively took the lead as his children looked to him for guidance. The old knight had not seen battle in many years. This was one he had no intention of losing, and it surprised him how quickly and assuredly his skills were awakening. Armus and Richard watched their father with awe, each eager to learn anything he had to teach. Cedric and Eleanor saw a chance for glory and were anxious to start fighting.
"I will go with Sir Robert. We will enter from the back, there is old passage way to the outside there. We will search for Elizabeth." Thomas began. "Armus, you and Richard take the left flank, Eleanor and Cedric will take the right. Your goal is distaction. Get them chasing shadows. That way they will let down their guard. Hopefully long enough for us to find Lady Elizabeth and get her out of there."
"What should I do?" Alexandra questioned, her eyes wide and innocent.
Thomas looked gratefully at her. "You have already done so much. I won't risk your life. You stay here where you will be safe."
"But..." She started to protest. However the look on the elder Gray's face told her that any argument would be in vane. She gave Cedric a kiss and held him for a moment. "Good Luck." She wished him. " Good Luck to you all." She said to her companions, as they started for the ruins.
Armus and Richard easily gained entrance to the old castle. They crept undetected along its ancient passageways. The brothers seemed mere shadows on the wall. They had obviously learned alot from their father, more than they knew, for they were instinctively moving and surveying just as he would. They had heard no sound, had seen no one yet, but knew that around any corner could be one of Mullens' henchmen, or Lady Elizabeth. Armus was thankful for the occasional hole in the wall which let in just enough light to see. The moss covered floor was slippery and dangerous and unlike Covington Cross there seemed no rhyme or reason to the layout of this castle. He had the strange feeling they were walking in circles.
Finally, they reached a tiny uneven stairway. Richard motioned for them to go up and Armus agreed. A few steps from the top they heard voices, and pressed themselves flat against the wall. Two huge, burly men passed just feet from them, but did not detect them. The brothers heard what the men were discussing.
"Now that's a fine lady." The first one said.
"Ain't she though." The second thug agreed. "Beautiful."
"Yeah. Can't remember when I seen such a good lookin' woman. Wonder if Baron Mullens'll let us have a little fun before we have cut her throat."
Richard wanted to spring on the men. He had not realized how fond he was Lady Elizabeth until all of this had occured. Now with those creatures speaking of her in such a way and the thought of her being subjected to such a horrible end his heart broke. Not only was she his father's love, but she was his friend, and he would not let anything happen to her. It was Armus who held his brother back from pouncing on the two men, who were even now making their way down the dim passage.
Silently the brothers krept from their hiding place in the stairwell, and followed the two men only inches behind. Suddenly in one fluid motion both Gray brothers, grabbed the men and with arms around necks held them tightly until they stopped struggling. Then they dropped the heaps to the floor. They were not dead, but they would not wake up any time soon. Silently congratulating themselves the brothers turned and moved in the directions the men had come.
Eleanor and Cedric were also making their way along a dark, dank corridor on the other side of the castle. Their eyes struggling to focus in the dim light, they jumped at everysound, and every shadow. The two were less experienced than their brothers but they were just as detemined not to let their father down. Eleanor's mind raced. Try as she might her thought would not be still and they provided her not comfort.
"Cedric." She whispered. "What if she's...you know...dead?"
Cedric turned on his sister. "Don't even think that." He ordered in a barely audible voice. "She's not dead. She can't be." He thought of how their father would react, of how the entire family would react. The truth was, at times he felt that he was the only one of Sir Thomas' children who liked Lady Elizabeth. How could he tell his brothers and sisters that he couldn't even remember their mother, and that Lady Elizabeth was the closest thing he had ever had to a real live mother. So many times he had lain awake trying desperately to remember Anne's face, her voice, her laugh, or just her smile. But he could not, having been only a baby when she died. Lady Elizabeth had given them all stability and grace. The kind he had never known until she came into their father's life. He would not give that up easily, nor would he easily give up the only motherly figure he had ever known.
Sir Thomas and Sir Robert stalked the deserted halls in stony silence, each thinking of one thing, Elizabeth. Thomas prayed that she would be waiting for him around every turn, but she was not. Deeper and deeper into the castle they trudged, climbing stairs, and descending them. Freezing at noises, and hoping to run into the children, and not Mullens' goons. Thomas's anger seethes just beneath the surface. It mattered little to him what happened to Robert, but he could not let himself think of the terrible fate that could befall Elizabeth. He thought of how much he loved her, and of how many times he had unthinkingly hurt her. He wished he could now have all those times back, hoped that she knew how deep and strong his feelings were for her. He willed love to her, his mind trying to reach out to hers, telling her that he was here. He could feel her it seemed only inches away, he hoped she could feel him.
Coming to a double passageway, Thomas whispered. "We'll split up." He was unable to stand being in the presence of Sir Robert any longer. "Don't you let anything happen to her." Thomas ordered.
"You either." Leland commanded.
"Don't worry. She was just fine before you showed up." Thomas growled before making his way down the hall.
Through an open door, long off it's hinges Richard and Armus finally spied the reason they had come, Lady Elizabeth. Guarded by three more men, she was tied to a chair in the middle of an empty cold room, her mouth bound with a gag. They could see her fear even from their distance, they could tell she was trembling, but trying her best not to show it. Their father would have been proud of her.
Before they could even formulate a rescue plan the brothers were brought about by a slight noise behind them. Turning with swords raised they were relieved to find Cedric and Eleanor. At once they raised their fingers to their lips and motioned toward the door. Their younger siblings knew immediately that Lady Elizabeth was inside. Eleanor motioned them against the other wall, and taking a loose pebble from the floor threw it down the hallway.
Chaos broke loose in the chamber. One of the men shouted something vaguely close to a swear, and they came streaming out into the hall one by one. They knew that it would be their heads if they let their hostage be rescued. They did not see the ambush that awaited them. Before it was over, Eleanor had singlehandedly knocked one of the men out cold, Cedric was thrown to the floor, and Richard's sword had sparked against the wall. It was Armus who threw the final blow, his powerful arm crashing against the last man's temple rendering him unconcious.
The Gray's rushed inside to where Lady Elizabeth's face washed with relief. Cedric, recovered from his wounded pride, and Eleanor quickly untied Elizabeth, and Armus and Richard helped her up. She was shakey and unsure in her step as they held onto her, but her mind could think of only one thing.
"Where's your father?" She pleaded.
"He's around, he's looking for you. We found you first. " Eleanor smiled.
"John Mullens is here. We have to find him." She said urgently. "He'll stop at nothing to protect his name. He was never going to let me go, and he knows Thomas is aware of his secret."
Together the Grays and Lady Elizabeth rushed out of the room. Worry for Sir Thomas marking their every step. They knew he could fight well, but Mullens was fighting for his life, and even in the best of days he was the most unscrupulous man in England. He would think nothing of the chance to kill Sir Thomas to protect his secret, and gain revenge for his son's death in the bargain.
Robert crossed the threshold of the Great Hall before realizing where he was. His skills as a knight had lately taken a back seat to the dash and run tactics of a bandit and it showed. He also did not realize who was waiting in the room for him.
"I knew you'd find your way here." John Mullens said calmly. "There's something about a beatiful woman in danger that brings out the hero in a man." He laughed. "I've succumbed to that a few times myself. Then they succembed." Mullens villanous laugh echoed off the cold walls.
"You evil monster." Robert seethed. "If you've hurt her. I swear I'll..."
"You'll what. Run like you did before?" Mullens looked at him malevolently from the shadows. "What was it like abandoning your wife and children?"
"I had no choice, you saw to that." Robert defended his choice. "I left so they could live."
"Well, now your both going to die. You see I simply cannot have it any other way. Unfortunately she now knows my secret." Mullens informed him.
"Where is she?" Lelend shouted.
"You'll join her in due time." Mullens answered. "First things first. I believe you have something I want."
Robert tore the leather pouch from his belt and threw it at Mullens. "Here take it. Just let her go." He begged.
Mullens tried to hide his satisfaction as he greedily pawed through the contents of the bag. His self congratulating smile gave him away. "Well now I would hate for this to fall into the wrong hand."
"I imagine you would." A voice shouted from the doorway. It was Sir Thomas.
"Gray!" Mullens swore, his sword flickering with dull light as he held it ready.
Thomas walked stealthily into the Great Hall, as Robert finally saw the openning to bring his sword to challenge Mullens. The two once great knights stood side by side again, just as they had done in battle. Now, however, their enemy was one, and their prize was the same.
"Where is she?" Thomas was shaking with rage, forcing his words through clenched teeth. He moved inch by inch closer to Mullens unsure what he would have to do, but willing to do anything.
John Mullens stared at Sir Thomas in through the shafts of light filtering through the holes in the ceiling. Cooly, he snapped his fingers. At that someone stepped from the shadows, someone unseen until now. It was the Scotsman who had helped Mullens betray his king all those years ago. "Kill them." He grinned.
The man jumped at Sir Thomas who immediately took his familiar fighting stance, deflecting blows from the Scotsman huge blade. He had no time to think of Robert. He had to live to find Elizabeth. It was Mullens who wanted Leland, and he wasted no time lunging at him with his sword, on the attack. He had to make sure Leland never left this room. There was too much at stake. Robert suddenly realized he was woefully out of practice in blade to blade combat. Over the years he'd had very little use for a defensive posture. People seldom fight back when being relieved of their possessions at knifepoint.
Metal echoed in the hall. Great clangs rung through the air. It was not just a battle for their own lives, but for Elizabeth's as well. Sir Thomas was easily winning his duel with the Scotsman. He had already drawn blood and the foreigner was beginning to tire. Across the room Robert was losing his battle. Each blow deflected, each sing and miss was weakening him. He had blood in his eyes. He wanted revenge for all the years Mullens had stole from him, for Mullens threat against his family, for his kidnapping of Elizabeth. Robert Leland wanted his life back, and this was the only way, from the man who took it. He fought until his sides ached, and every muscle in his body begged him to stop. Still he kept going. The sweat stung his eyes and blinded him. Still he went for more. Mullens blade had pierces his body in several places and still he fought. He would fight forever if he had to.
It was John Mullens who would have the deciding blow that day. With a quick jerk of his arm he threw Robert off balance, and with a mightly thrust buried his blade deep in his opponents stomach. For a moment Robert kept fighting, unsure that he was cut. It only took a tenuous step to prove that his strength had drained from his body like the blood that now poured onto the cobblestones. He stammered for a few moments and fell crumpled onto the floor, his body wracked with pain. His mind could only see one thing. Elizabeth's face. He called out to her in the incroaching darkness.
Near the door, Sir Thomas was retrieving his sword from the chest of the fallen Scotsman. He turned to see if he could assist Robert, but was met only with the sight of Leland's motionless body strewn across the floor, and the sound of footsteps retreating quickly down the corridor. John Mullens knew he would be no match for Thomas Gray. Thomas hurridly ran over to Robert and knelt beside the fallen knight.
"Robert?" Thomas questioned, his eyes anguished as he tried to pull Leland up. It was true he had wanted this man gone. He had wanted Elizabeth to himself. Now, however, as he struggled to comfort the dying man, all he could see was the friendship they had once shared and the life that had been taken from him so many years ago.
Robert grabbed Thomas's wrist. "Find Elizabeth. Save her..." He choked as the blood bubbled up into his throat.
Thomas knew he had to go find Elizabeth, but something in him, perhaps honor, made fight leaving Robert here to die.
"Go!" Robert ordered. Suddenly he grew very quiet and his eyes grew far away. He whispered another order to Sir Thomas. "Take care of her."
Thomas looked at Robert with respect and admiration in his eyes. Leland knew he was dying, and still all he cared about was Elizabeth. Thomas understood exactly how he felt. "I will, I promise on my life." He vowed. Thomas layed Robert back down on the stones as gently as he could. He then stood up and forced himself not to look back. His sword held high he ran from the room to find the woman he loved.
Outside the Great Hall the sounds of footsteps echoed through the passageway. Armus, Richard,Cedric, and Eleanor were consumed with getting Lady Elizabeth out of that horrid place, and with finding their father. Along the endless corridors they had run, afraid that each step would bring them face to face with a hired killer, or worse Mullens himself. Finally they seemed to be nearing the end and they saw light filtering in ahead of them. It was Eleanor who gasped as the entered the Great Hall. She was the first to see the body that layed on the floor, and feared it was her father. She was wrong. Lady Elizabeth knew right away.
"Robert?" She breathed. She felt light headed and sick as she walked toward him, the Grays following her. They knew she needed to see him. As she reached him she could see the pool of blood in which he lay. His own blood. His face was pale and gaunt. He did not move. "Robert?" She said again disbelieving, as she knelt beside him. Lifting his head she cradled him in her arms. "Oh Robert," was all she could say. "Why did you come back?"
The Grays stood in silence. They understood why Elizabeth needed this time with Robert. She had once loved him. He was the father of her children. The two of them had never had a proper goodbye when she thought he was dead the first time. The knew that Elizabeth was completely in love with their father. However, Armus, Richard,Eleanor, and Cedric realized that she shared a history with this man, and his loss would be felt deeply. They let her have her final few moments.
As if he had been waiting for her Robert groaned and openned his eyes, to everyone's shock. A smile floated across his face, and came to rest in his eyes as he looked at her. With all his strength he lifted his hand and touched her face. "My Dove." He struggled.
"Shhh, don't try to talk." Elizabeth hope in vane. "Well get you help." Her tears fell across his cheeks.
"No, my love." Robert said choking on the words.
"Robert." She cried.
"You love him don't you?" He asked.
"Yes." She confessed.
Robert grew silent for a moment his eyes traveling far away. "You did love me once, didn't you?"
Elizabeth swallowed the sob that crept to her lips. "With all my heart." She said.
"Tell the children I love them." Robert begged, feeling weakness overcome him. Elizabeth nodded her compliance. Of course she would tell them. He had died for them, twice.
"Kiss me...one last time." He asked. She could not refuse him. She brought her lips to his, and allowed him his dying wish. No sooner had they touched than did Elizabeth feel the life leave his body. With a great sigh, Robert Leland was gone. He had died in the arms of the woman he loved. The woman he had given up everything for, even her. He had died where he had wanted to, in her arms. Elizabeth did not notice the blood stains on her dress or face as she lowered her face to his chest and cried.
Thomas had no luck in chasing Mullens, he had fled the castle taking the only evidence of his dealings with him. Thomas was certain that whatever Robert had brought to implicate Mullens would be burnt to ashed within the hour. Without that everything else was circumstantial. Even Thomas's word, and that of his children and Lady Elizabeth's would not hold up in court. No one would believe Mullens innocence, but no one could prove his guilt either. With that thought Thomas decided to concentrate instead on finding Lady Elizabeth. He hoped the children were safe, and that she was safe with them. It was then that Thomas was brought up short by a noise behind him. He turned and held his sword at the ready.
The sight that greeted him was that of his smiling children and Lady Elizabeth. She rushed into his arms. "Thomas." She sighed, at last safe.
Thomas could not find words. He held her close to him, afraid that if he let go something else would try to take her away. He felt her breath, revelled in her hair against his face, and embraced her softness.It was like losing everything and having it given back to you. He never wanted to let her go. Elizabeth raised her head and it was then Thomas could see she had been crying. He could also see the blood stains on her face. He knew she was crying for the life of a man she had once loved. He was also certain of his love for her, and her's for him. For a moment she layed her head on his chest, his hand stroking her hair. Finally he picked her up in his arms, and followed by his children took her home, to Covington Cross.
It had been a week since that awful day at the ruins. Thomas had reported his knowledge to the king, who agreed that there was nothing he could do, but would watch Mullens closely. Robert had been lain to rest in his proper grave, and Thomas and Elizabeth had spent every moment together. Today Elizabeth was getting her strength back, as she and Thomas sat together in the solar. He was reading poetry to her as she nestled in his arms. He was amazed how much he loved her. There had been a time he was certain he would never love again, and the strength of his feelings for Elizabeth almost scared him. However, what scared him more was the thought of ever losing her again.
"Elizabeth." Thomas interrupted himself.
"Yes." Elizabeth sighed contentedly.
"I don't ever want to lose you again." Thomas blurted out, surprised at his candor. "I know what that is like now, and I can't live with even the possibility."
"You're not going to lose me." Elizabeth smiled happy at his confession.
"No, I'm not." Thomas agreed. "I was going to bring this up the day we were to return from the shore. With all that's happened I thought I should wait a bit, but I can't wait any longer."
"What is it?" Elizabeth asked sitting up.
Thomas helped her sit up and then taking a deep breath slipped off of the lounge to kneel on the floor infront of her. "I love you, Elizabeth Leland." He said taking her hand and looking deep into her eyes. "Marry me?" He begged.
"Thomas." Elizabeth gasped shocked. She had dreamed of hearing those words from him.
"Is that a yes?" Thomas asked unsure.
Elizabeth took his face in her hands. "Yes, Oh Yes." She gushed. He pulled her to him and kissed her passionately and deeply. Soon she would truly be his wife. There was no telling what wonders their future would hold.
Outside the door of the solar Armus, Richard, Eleanor, and Cedric smiled widely together, happy for their father, and for Lady Elizabeth.