Hey all! Sorry again for the delays in updating, but it IS getting updated when I can, so I hope you are still enjoying this story, especially as it is winding down! (2 chapters to go!) Thanks to all who have been supportive, encouraging, and understanding. You're the best! And without further ado...
Summary: The trap has been set, but for far different prey. And old faces from the past return...
Tapestry of Deceit
Sir Erik drove his heels into his horse's flanks, urging the beast to run faster, faster than it had ever run before. His own men were struggling to keep up, but Sir Erik paid no heed, his gaze was hardened and focus on one thing only:
Upon returning up the hill, Jacob, who had emerged from the wagon his father had told him to hide in, stood ready, holding a sword to his side, as if he were planning on going into battle. However, the boy's face paled when he saw the look in his father's eyes.
"What's wrong? What happened?"
"We were fooled," Erik growled, deep and menacing, as he wasted no time in mounting his horse.
Jacob's brow creased with confusion, but a cold chill ran down his spine at his father's icy words. "Fooled? What do you mean? What about the pirates? The cave? The stolen treasure?"
"Your mother and your siblings are in danger!" Erik roared, thrusting his heels into the horse, causing the animal to rear up and give a cry to the storm covered sky. "We should never have left!"
Erik didn't turn back to look at his son, he only turned his horse towards Winterbourne and rode with great haste, not waiting for his men to catch up. Good God, how could he have been so blind!? Damn his foolishness! He had not been thinking, he simply heard the names of de Coleville's brats and immediately set out to Valmour, without properly examining that scroll!
It was so obvious now that neither Peter or Michael had written it. It was so obvious now as to who it was written by, and his heart hammered in his chest as he imagined that bastard invading his home, threatening his family—
If any of them are harmed, then God be merciful for I will not be!
The horse screamed and sped only faster as he dug his heels in harder, the rain from the storm lashing at his armor, the wind howling against him, as if trying to slow him down, but nothing, not even the devil himself, was going to slow him down now.
Hold fast, Christine, hold fast! I'm coming!
Christine could barely keep up with Antoinette. She raced after her, but it seemed as if God had given the older woman wings! However, Christine froze dead in place, and nearly stumbled when her ears were filled with the horrifying sound of Helena's scream. Oh God above! She gripped her skirts and raced towards the sound, realizing that it was coming from Sir Erik's bedchamber! "Helena!" Christine shouted. "Helena, I'm coming!" Antoinette had already disappeared into the chamber and Christine was close behind. "Helena!" she shouted again, needing to hear the girl's voice, needing to hear some sound of life! She pushed her way into the chamber, and froze in place.
Darkness. The chamber was incased with darkness. She could hear breathing, but she couldn't see a thing!
"Helena! Helena, it's me!"
Only breathing, but no answer.
Christine felt her blood turn to ice. Someone was in the room, that was for certain, but she had a terrifying feeling that it was not someone she knew…
"Antoinette?" Where was she? Christine had seen her enter the room! "Helena, answer me right now!"
Helena's scream erupted the air, just giving Christine enough time to turn her body away from the oncoming attacker who had hidden themselves in the shadows behind the door.
Christine gasped and stumbled backwards as her attacker missed her, just barely. Lightning from the outside storm illuminated the room, and Christine swore her heart stopped when she looked up and took in the sight of a cloaked figure, standing above her, their arms raised over their head. Christine lifted her eyes to the figure's hands, and gasped as the lightning caught the glint off the attacker's dagger.
"NO!" Christine screamed, shooting her foot out and kicking the attacker in the stomach. The figure groaned in pain as they stumbled backwards, and Christine immediately scrambled away, her eyes searching the darkened room for Antoinette and her daughter.
"You filthy bitch!" the figure muttered, before quickly rising, gripping the dagger menacingly.
Christine stared at the figure, confusion hitting her as she listened to the villain's voice. However, she had little time to comprehend what she had heard, for the figure was already advancing upon her, the knife held high and ready to strike.
"LEAVE HER ALONE!" Helena shouted, rushing out from where she had hidden herself, holding what looked like a silver candlestick, and swinging it with all her might against the attacker's leg.
A howl of pain erupted the room as the figure doubled over, clutching at their leg from where Helena had struck them. Christine immediately scrambled to her feet and moved towards the young girl, but in the process tripped over something large and heavy.
Christine quickly rose to her hands and knees and bit back a scream as lightning filled the room once more, revealing that the object in which Christine had tripped was in fact…Antoinette!
"She stabbed her!" Helena wailed. "When she entered the room, she came out from behind the door and stabbed her!"
Christine stared at the broken figure of Antoinette, her eyes wide with horror as she took in the sight of blood, flowing from the woman's back, causing the poor woman to struggle with her breathing.
And then something dawned upon Christine, something Helena had said.
Christine lifted her eyes to the dark figure, which was straightening their body and glaring back at her from beneath the cloak.
The voice, the strange voice that she had heard.
It had belonged to a woman!
"I guess the cat's out of the bag…" the figure grumbled, before throwing the hood back and revealing a cascade of fiery red hair.
The exact color as Helena's…
No…it was not possible! It couldn't be her…could it?
Helena leapt to her feet and attempted to run in the direction of Christine, but the woman was faster, reaching out and grabbing the girl by the hair, causing Christine to cry out just as her daughter cried out in pain.
"MAMA!" the girl wailed, tears rolling down her face as she looked to Christine, her eyes pleading for her to help her.
"NO!" shouted the redheaded woman, who only yanked harder on Helena's hair. "I am your mother! NEVER ADDRESS HER AS SUCH AGAIN!"
Christine felt anger fuel her veins, and she leapt to her feet, her eyes narrowed slits as she glared at the villain before her. "Get your hands off my daughter!"
"SHE'S NOT YOUR DAUGHTER!" the woman screeched, before giving Helena's hair another cruel tug. "She's mine! She belongs to me! I conceived her, I birthed her, and she is from my flesh! MY BLOOD FLOWS IN HER VEINS!"
"And my love beats in her heart," Christine spat.
Helena gasped as she felt the blade of the dagger touch her throat. Beatrice's eyes never left Christine's. "I would rather see her dead…than in your care!"
The woman was mad! She was willing to slaughter her own children! "Why are you doing this?" Christine asked, praying that someone from the great hall had heard Helena's screams, and would come running to Sir Erik's chamber any minute.
"When word reached my ears that Sir Erik had taken another bride, I had to see for myself! What sort of creature would willingly sacrifice herself before the beast's altar?"
Christine felt her eye twitch at Beatrice's cruel words. "He is not a beast."
"Really?" Beatrice cackled. "So it's true then. The impossible has happened! You are in love with him!"
Christine said nothing, she simply held the madwoman's gaze.
"I must say, I was surprised," Beatrice chuckled. "I mean, the girl who was to be his first wife was quite beautiful…if you like that sort of pale thing," she grumbled. "And of course, I was his great passion," she vainly purred. "And yet here you are, this plain brown thing, hardly worth gazing at—"
"She's beautiful!" Helena hissed, and without warning, slammed her foot down on Beatrice's boot, causing the woman to cry out in pain, and giving Helena enough time to run to her true mother. Christine snatched up the girl in her arms, and without looking back, ran towards the secret door, praying that they could escape the madwoman through the secret passages and find help.
However, the door was already open…and it was not unoccupied.
Christine slammed into the intruder's chest and gasped as she gazed up at a man's face…or what she could see of it. For the face was hidden behind a scarlet scarf, save for the eyes, which looked like two black pools from which nothing escaped.
"Ah, Lady von Desslar, I am so pleased to meet you at last..." the man greeted, his vice-like hands already holding fast to her shoulders. "Allow me to introduce myself; I'm the one they call…The Jackal."
Cold tears soaked Christine's tunic, but she said nothing, only cuddled the little bodies closer to her breast. The entire castle was in an uproar; servants had been captured and bound together, and the guards lay dead in pools of their own blood. One such body was just behind her, but Christine did her best to shield the children from the gory sight, as well as fight the nausea that threatened her own stomach.
The man with the scarlet scarf was barking orders to his men, while the woman dressed in the black cloak…Beatrice…stared back at her from the other side of the great hall, her blue eyes two narrow slits filled with fury and hatred.
Christine only tightened her hold on Helena, as the other children wept, clinging to their mother, moaning for their father.
Oh Erik, she softly prayed. Hurry home to us!
"Anything!?" demanded The Jackal to one of his men.
"Nothing, boss. We've searched high and low and have torn this place apart—"
"Don't lie to us," Beatrice grumbled, momentarily turning her gaze away from Christine and the children. "This castle is immense, you've barely begun your search."
"Aye," the man in the scarlet scarf growled. "And don't talk to me about tearing this place apart…" with that, he grabbed hold of an old wooden cabinet and threw it to the ground, causing the piece of furniture to shatter into a hundred pieces. "THAT is tearing the place apart!"
The other children whimpered and Christine tightened her hold, trying her hardest to not show fear, when in truth, she had never been so terrified.
There he was, standing before her, in the flesh. The villainous pirate who never showed mercy, the man responsible for Sir Erik's scars…he was alive!
But how can that be? Erik swore he killed him, he ran him through with his sword and he watched as his body fell over the cliff. Erik swears he saw the body, smashed and bloodied upon the stones below! How can he be standing here now? Surely it's not possible!
"You look rather puzzled, milady," the pirate chuckled, his eyes falling upon Christine. A shiver of disgust coursed through her as she felt his eyes undress her.
"I am merely curious as to what it is you are looking for," she stated through clipped lips.
The man chuckled, before folding his arms across his chest. He was tall, but by no means broad or muscular the way Sir Erik was. His body was lithe, with a long torso and even longer legs. His clothes were brown leather, and he wore a black scarf atop his head and black gloves upon his hands. Truly, every part of his body was covered and encased in some sort of fabric…save for his eyes.
Dark, devilish eyes…just like Sir Erik described.
It was those eyes that had chilled her when she first ran into him. They looked eerily familiar, like something out of nightmare. He caught her by the shoulders and twisted her around, until she was facing the inside of Sir Erik's bedchamber. Beatrice was there, her dagger ready to slit Christine's throat, but The Jackal stopped her, telling the very agitated Beatrice that she must wait, at least until they got what they had come here for. This cryptic message continued to haunt Christine as he led her not through the passage, but down the steps towards the great hall! Was he mad? Surely he knew he would be captured! But it was not the same great hall that Christine had left only minutes before. In it's place, was a blood bath, with dead bodies, crying servants, and screaming children. Anne and Ophelia were huddled together, holding all the children tightly, as The Jackal's men roused servants out of the kitchens, the laundry rooms, the pantry, and any other room they could find, forcing them into the great hall, and binding them to one another with thick ropes. Some servants resisted, and those that did were killed immediately. All the guards were slaughtered, even those that threw down their weapons in surrender. It was terrifying, bone chilling chaos, and The Jackal was loving it.
Christine and Helena quickly joined Anne, Ophelia, and the other children, but The Jackal's men took Anne, and tied her up with the other servants. Ophelia sat only a few feet away, holding her own boys just as tightly as Christine held her children. Fear gripped Christine's heart when The Jackal ordered his men to begin searching for some mysterious item, and should they find any other servants, to feel free to slaughter them; he had enough prisoners. Robert and Meg and their baby were not in the room! They were still somewhere within the castle! Oh God, please, be merciful!
"News reached my ears but a few days ago that Sir Erik von Desslar brought back a large…shipment, shall we call it, of goods…goods that had been stolen by the Baron de Coleville."
Christine stared up at the madman, jolted back to the present by his words. "I find that ironic; a thief attempting to take the moral high ground."
The Jackal merely chuckled. "Oh my dear, I am not taking any sort of high ground. Nay, it is one item in particular that was once of the baron's household that holds specific interest to me."
Christine's brow furrowed. How was this man so acquainted with Pierre de Coleville?
"What is it that you seek?"
Beneath his scarlet mask, The Jackal smiled. "A map."
"A map?" Christine had not seen every single item that the servants had unloaded from the wagon that Sir Erik had brought back, but she did not recall any maps in the de Coleville's household. "A map of what, exactly?"
"A treasure," Beatrice informed, stalking towards Christine, her dagger lazily sliding up and down her thigh. "A treasure hidden somewhere in this—"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" The Jackal bellowed, glaring at Beatrice in disbelief and anger. Apparently he did not want Christine or anyone for that matter to know the whole story. He simply wanted this so-called map and whatever treasure it led to.
Charles, who was clinging to his mother, now felt anger kindle in his heart and rise in his throat. "Just wait till Papa gets back!" he shouted, attempting to lift his chin and sound brave, despite the fact that he was trembling. "You'll be sorry then!"
The Jackal eyed the young boy through narrowed eyes, and Christine's hold on Charles only tightened. "Is that so?" The Jackal asked, approaching the huddled family and crouching until he was at eye level with the boy. "You think your father will rescue you and stop me?"
Charles felt his insides go cold at the terrifying way the pirate stared at him, but he silently nodded his head, while feeling very grateful for his mother's protective touch.
The Jackal only chuckled, before rising to his feet and tousling the boy's hair. "Ah, youth. They are so easily led astray by dreams and falsehoods."
Christine couldn't stand it anymore, she couldn't stand this fear of the unknown, and frankly, she was tired of being made to feel like a prisoner in her own home. With newfound courage, she lifted her chin and spoke sternly to the pirate who had his back turned on her. "You're a coward!" she accused to his back. "You imprison servants and terrify children rather than face a band of warriors! You're a sniveling coward!"
Beatrice was the first to approach Christine, looking ready to backhand the girl, but The Jackal stopped her, much to her surprise. "You're going to let her speak to you like that!?"
The Jackal gripped Beatrice's wrist and glanced lazily at Christine. "Her words are the only weapon she has; they mean nothing to me, and they certainly aren't worth the reaction you were willing to give."
Beatrice glared at the pirate, before freeing her wrist from his iron hold. Her eyes then went back to Christine, narrowed and filled with hatred. Christine met the other woman's gaze, refusing to look away despite how intense Beatrice's stare was. This woman had made Sir Erik's life a living hell! Her seductions, lies, and ultimately her betrayal had nearly ruined him! He had given her his heart, he had believed himself in love with her, deeply, passionately…and she threw everything that he offered back into his face. Because of her, he had become cold, aloof, and some would even say heartless. Because of her, the world saw him as a monster.
Beatrice's narrowed eyes became tiny slits as she stared back at Christine. "What?" she demanded, her arms folding across her chest. While she would not admit it, it did unnerve her to have this woman stare at her so. "What, you ugly little toad? You wish to speak to me? Ask me a question?" a grin began to spread across her face, and her voice quickly grew haughty. "Are you curious to know how I survived my executioners? Where I have been all these years?" she purposefully thrust her breasts forward and tossed her head back, allowing her long, fiery red hair to glimmer in the candlelight. "Or are you feeling jealousy? Knowing that Sir Erik loved me first, knowing that you will never stir the same sort of passion in him the way I—"
"Nay," Christine interrupted, tilting her head just slightly as she gazed upon Beatrice. "I was actually feeling great pity for you."
Beatrice's haughty smile disappeared with those words. "Pity?" She spat the word as if a fly had just flown into her mouth.
Christine simply nodded her head. "You cling to the past because you think it gives you power, when in truth, you cling to it because you are lonely…and you can't understand how he was able to move on and offer his heart to another…while you are trapped with the agonizing weight of your ill decisions."
Beatrice was furious. "Agonizing weight?" she asked, through clipped lips, her hands balling into two tight fists.
"Aye," Christine whispered. "You broke his heart, so you will never know the kind of love that he once felt for you again. And you abandoned your children—"
Beatrice practically leapt at Christine, her claws bare and ready to gauge the girl's eyes out, but The Jackal was faster, and as he had before, caught hold of her, and held the woman away, despite her struggles and screams of anger.
"CALM YOURSELF OR I WILL HAVE YOU BOUND LIKE ONE OF THEM!" he shouted, cocking his head towards the cowering servants.
Anne shook her head as she watched the scene take place. "Hellish harpy," she muttered under her breath.
Beatrice finally managed to calm down, at least long enough for The Jackal to release her. However, as soon as she was free of his hands, she lurched forward, and without warning, snatched Helena away from Christine and the other children, dragging the screaming girl towards her.
"HELENA!" Christine shouted, rising to her feet and fully prepared to launch herself at Beatrice, but this time it was she who was stopped, by one of The Jackal's men who came up from behind her and grabbed hold of her waist. "HELENA!" Christine continued to struggle, despite the oppressive hold of her captor.
"MAMA!" Helena screamed, giant tears streaming down her cheeks as she struggled against the imprisoning arms of Beatrice.
"I AM YOUR MOTHER!" Beatrice shouted, shaking the girl as if that would somehow make her understand and obey. "NOT HER, ME! YOU WILL CALL ME 'MOTHER', DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?"
"PLEASE!" Christine desperately cried, looking to The Jackal, as if somehow he would show mercy upon them. "PLEASE, SHE'S ONLY A CHILD!"
"YOU PROMISED ME!" Beatrice shouted, turning her wild blue eyes upon the pirate. "YOU PROMISED ME THEY WOULD BE MINE!"
Christine's face paled at the madwoman's words. Good God, was she intending on taking Jacob and Helena away?
The boy was still missing, and Christine knew now that she had to come to the conclusion that the boy had run away to be with his father. Earlier she was terrified at the idea, but now she was praying that it was true, that Jacob was in Sir Erik's presence. Oh Erik, please hurry home!
It seemed at this moment Beatrice had made the same discovery. "Where's MY son!?" she demanded, her hold on Helena not lessening one bit.
Anger fueled Christine's veins as she gazed back at the woman with pure hatred. "I don't know," she growled.
"LIAR!" Beatrice shouted. "TELL ME WHERE HE IS, NOW!"
"NO!" Christine retorted, angry tears falling down her cheeks as she spat her words back at the vile woman. "EVEN IF I DID KNOW I WOULDN'T TELL YOU!" she glared at the woman and felt venom fill her throat. "And if he were here, he would spit at you and turn away; he would be ashamed—"
"ENOUGH!" The Jackal roared, tired of this mellow drama. "YOU will be silent," he growled, pointing a finger at Christine. "And YOU," he snarled, looking at Beatrice, "will leave this place and return to the ship."
Beatrice's eyes widened at the pirate's words. "I am NOT leaving without my son!"
"The boy is clearly nowhere in sight!" The Jackal bellowed. "You have the girl, now go!"
Christine gasped and the other children wailed at the thought of their sister being taken away. "NO! No, please, don't do this, please, I'll do anything! Take me if you must take someone, but leave her be!"
"SILENCE!" The Jackal roared, his dark eyes fixing a cold stare on Christine. "If you're not quiet I'll let my men have their way with your maid servants, and I know you wouldn't want that," he growled, menacingly. Christine felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach and she glanced over her shoulder as several of The Jackal's men sneered and chuckled, while the young maids whimpered in fear.
"LET HER GO!"
All eyes flew to the young boy who leapt to his feet, despite Ophelia's protests, and launched himself at Beatrice in order to save Helena.
Ophelia's scream filled the air as Beatrice kicked her booted foot out and sent the boy skidding across the floor, coughing up blood.
"KARL!" Helena cried, her eyes wide with fear and amazement at what the boy had just tried to do. Now he lay crumpled on the floor, his mother and brother rushing to his side and weeping over his unconscious form.
The Jackal groaned and shook his head. "I trust we have now satisfied all heroic intentions, yes?"
Christine glared at the villain, wishing she had something to throw at his head. Where was Erik? Where were her husband and his band of warriors? Were they truly all right? Had this really been a reverse trap, a plan to lure them away from Winterbourne so the pirates could lay siege upon the castle, or were their actual cutthroats in Valmour, waiting to sabotage them? Oh God, please, bring him back to me!
"Take the girl and go!" The Jackal ordered, his eyes thin slits as they glared at Beatrice.
"I want my son!" Beatrice retorted.
"And I want my map!" The Jackal growled. "But I have lived with disappointment before, and have learned the value in waiting. YOU will also learn such a lesson!" he snapped his fingers then, and two of his men approached Beatrice, looking as if they were fully prepared to drag her away if need be.
"You bastard," she spat, glaring at The Jackal before shaking the oafs' hands off her shoulders. "I will manage on my own!" she snarled, before turning her back upon the lot of them, and stalking out the door of the great hall, dragging a wailing Helena with her.
Christine glanced up at the pirate, who was eyeing her carefully, no doubt looking for any excuse he could to make his threat from earlier a reality. She kept her mouth closed, but her eyes remained focused on the child, praying that Helena could hear her thoughts and know that she would soon be safe, that she would be returned to her family and home, safe and sound, so help her God.
"We still haven't found anything, boss!" grumbled one of The Jackal's men who entered the great hall. "We've done as you said, torn and thrown furniture all about, looking at every crevice, every cranny, and in every passage that you suggested…and yet we still haven't found anything that looks like a hidden chamber or staircase!"
Christine's eyes widened at this revelation. Hidden chamber of staircase? So this mysterious treasure that Beatrice had mentioned…was it actually in the castle!?
The Jackal looked extremely irritated at his men, both for their bad news and for their revealing words. "Keep looking," he barked, before turning away. "We're not leaving this place until we find it!" His eyes then flew to Christine, taking her by surprise with his stone hard stare. "Where is it!?" he demanded.
Christine looked confused. Did he think she actually knew something about this secret treasure!? She had only just learned of such thing now!
"WHERE IS IT!?" he demanded again, and without warning, rushed towards her, releasing her from the iron grip of his henchman, and threw her down upon the ground, until he was hovering menacingly over her. "TELL ME WHERE IT IS!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" Christine shouted over the cries of her children. "I don't know of any treasure, or secret chamber!"
"Not that," he snarled, before kneeling down and leaning over her, his words dripping with venom as he glared at her. "The map; where is it!?"
The map? How was she supposed to know? He had told her it had come from Baron de Coleville's house, but in the brief time when she had overlooked the items Sir Erik had brought from there, she had found no map. "I don't know! There was no map in his belongings!"
"Don't lie to me!" The Jackal screeched, his deep voice changing suddenly. Christine looked up at him with wide, curious eyes. That voice…it sounded familiar…
"I just learned that Baron de Coleville had it hanging in his home all these years in plain sight for all to see! And your husband took it!"
What on earth was he talking about!? A map that hung in his home for all to see? But that wasn't true, she had worked in Pierre de Coleville's home since she was a child, she had never seen a map hanging on any wall in any part of that castle—
No. It couldn't be…surely he was not referring to…to that?
"This tapestry was given to me by my mother, your grandmother, and her mother gave it to her, and one day, I hope you can give it to your children. It's a very special tapestry, as you can see, for it tells a unique story, a story that your grandmother told me that I am now going to tell you. A lovely young maiden had fallen in love with a handsome knight, who lived in a faraway castle in the north. She wanted to marry this knight, but before she could find him and tell him of her love, she learned that he had been captured by a horrific ghost, and was being held prisoner within a tower of the dark castle, tormented by evil spirits and grotesque demons. Only true love could save him, and because she loved him so, she was determined to face the monsters, and save her knight. And so she went to the castle, and she was terrified by it's forbidding presence! But she swallowed her fear, and bravely entered the haunted place, fighting the demons that lay inside, vanquishing the spirits that tried to stop her, until she finally reached the tower where her beloved was kept prisoner."
"Then what happened, Papa!? Was the ghost inside!?"
"Aye, that he was, my sweet. She came face to face with the terrifying ghost…but the ghost was not what she was expecting!"
"You mean he was more hideous than she imagined!?"
"He was quite hideous, yes, but the ghost was in fact…her beloved knight!"
"OH! Was a spell cast upon him!?"
"Aye. An evil magic brought upon by the demons; a magic that made the knight only half of a man, and kept him locked in darkness. But the maiden loved him deeply, and despite his monstrous form, declared her love for the ghost and kissed him…"
"And did that break the spell!? Oh please, Papa, don't stop! What happened!?"
"Oh Christine, my anxious girl. Aye, the spell was broken, and the knight was restored to his human form, thanks to the love of his lady fair. And together, they ruled their tiny kingdom in love, peace, and prosperity, all the days of their life."
"And is that them? There, on the tapestry, overlooking their kingdom from the high tower?"
"Indeed my sweet, indeed. That is the knight and his love, in their castle by the sea, surrounded by their fields of roses."
"Oh Papa, is this a true story? I hope it is…"
"Well…your grandmother's family come from the north, and that is where the sea is. So perhaps, Christine, perhaps it is a true story…"
"I hope so. I would love to meet a knight one day like the maiden."
"I'm sure you will, my brave, pretty heroine. I'm sure you will."
The memory left Christine shaken. It was just a bedtime story, one that her mother turned into a song to comfort her when she had nightmares! It wasn't true…was it?
"Apparently de Coleville had acquired the map from an old servant," The Jackal grumbled with disgust, interrupting Christine's memories. "A servant who had connections to a northern estate!"
Christine paled at this revelation. And even more so at the memory of the words that were exchanged to her husband, when he had inquired about the tapestry's history.
"My great-grandmother on my father's side made it. She worked for a nobleman in the north, and had created the tapestry for her master, but as a reward for her many good years of service, he commanded that she keep the tapestry, and pass it on to her children…"
Was it possible? Was her family's tapestry more than just a beautiful piece of art? Was the purpose for its creation to reveal something hidden? A cold shiver coursed through Christine; where exactly had her great-grandmother worked, while she had lived in the north?
"You know something…"
Christine's eyes flew to the pirate, who was watching her intensely and suspiciously. "You're mistaken," she lied. "I don't know how much you know about me, but I used to work in de Coleville's home, and I can assure you that I never saw a map hanging on any wall—"
"DAMN IT, CHRISTINE, IT WAS IN PLAIN SIGHT!" The Jackal screeched, his voice suddenly changing once more. "I KNOW IT WAS, I NEVER PAID ATTENTION TO IT, BUT IT WAS HANGING THERE IN THE GREAT HALL ALL THOSE YEARS, AND I KNOW THAT SIR ERIK TOOK IT, AND YOU WILL TELL ME WHERE IT IS, NOW!"
Christine stared in horror at the madman who was screeching over her, who's eyes had suddenly become a chillingly familiar demonic brown, and whose voice had filled her nightmares ever since she had gone to work at Pierre de Coleville's castle.
"Who are you…?" she whispered, a part of her screaming the truth while the other part of her wanted to deny it, wanted to not believe that the man of her worst nightmares was standing before her in the guise of a pirate.
"Does it really matter, milady?"
All eyes and heads turned to the doorway of the great hall, where a tall, blonde man stood, lazily leaning against the doorframe.
"He's a villain…and in truth, they're all alike."
"Sir Raoul!?" Christine gasped, stunned by the man's sudden appearance, and even more so by the carefree way he spoke. Was he an accomplice in all this? Had he come back now, to join his partner, after fooling Sir Erik and his men to leave Winterbourne unguarded?
However, these questions were quickly proven wrong when The Jackal's voice rang out throughout the great hall. "SEIZE HIM!"
Raoul's lazy stance quickly changed into one for attack, and while five large, burly looking pirates charged at him with clubs, daggers, and swords, the blonde knight easily dodged their attacks and returned to them fatal wounds that left them gurgling and bleeding upon the stone floor.
The Jackal stared at Sir Raoul with horrified astonishment as the man easily killed five of his strongest men. Raoul only smiled before bowing his head, his eyes never leaving those of The Jackal. "I thank you, sir, it's been quite some time since I had the opportunity to slay some scoundrels." His smile then faded, as if it had never been there in the first place, and he raised his sword, his hazel eyes penetrating those of the pirate. "Now…release Lady Christine and her children."
The Jackal eyed Sir Raoul carefully, while drawing his own sword, but instead of attacking, merely paced the length of the room. "Are you ordering me, sir?"
"Aye," Raoul growled, scraping the blade of his sword against the ground before him.
The Jackal chuckled. "I've heard about you," he mused. "In fact, I find it most…interesting, that a man who dedicated these past few years of his life towards seeking vengeance upon a former friend, a man who, I think we can both agree, ruined your life and your chance at happiness…is now here, defending his wife and children," he glanced at Christine before cocking an eyebrow. "Was Sir Erik's first wife not enough for you? Are you also plucking her too?"
"DAMN YOU!" Raoul snarled, before launching himself at the scarf-wearing pirate, but his sword instantly clashed with one of The Jackal's men, and immediately Raoul found himself surrounded by a group of thugs, each thirsty for blood, and each prepared to kill for their master.
Christine screamed as one of the villains attempted to hit him over the head with a club. "LOOK OUT!"
Raoul ducked just in time, and the club came crashing down on another pirate, blood spurting from his cracked skull. The fight continued, and Sir Raoul fought with the pent up rage and passion he had been purposefully suppressing all these years until he came face to face with Erik. But Erik was not his enemy, not as he had once been. They had been great friends once, and perhaps, by saving his old friend's wife and children, he could find redemption for his traitorous acts.
The Jackal watched in disbelief as Raoul fought his men, slaying one, and then the other, and it seemed that no matter how many charged in attack, the blonde knight managed to outwit them, before throwing a deadly blow. "Idiots!" he shouted. "He's only one man! Can you not defeat one man!?"
The Jackal whirled around and gasped, as suddenly, the ropes that had been holding the servants, mysteriously came loose, and several of the men, and even some of the women, including Anne, leapt to their feet, ready to join the battle. The source of the shouting came from a bearded man, standing at the back of the room, holding what looked like a long, heavy piece of wood, and was using it as a weapon to fight off attacking pirates. On the ground, cutting through the ropes that bound the servants, was a servant girl with copper-colored hair.
"MEG! ROBERT!" Christine shouted, relief flooding her as she gazed upon her two dear friends, who were freeing and rousing the other servants into battle. Once their restraints were cut, the servants grabbed hold of anything they could find that could be used as a weapon (mainly broken pieces of furniture) and joined the attack, shouting Winterbourne and Sir Erik's name as they did so.
The Jackal couldn't believe this. His men! Men who were known for their ferociousness, who caused terror to tremble in the hearts of villagers, who were the source of all sorts of nightmares…were being defeated by kitchen servants!?
He threw his head back and let out a roar of disgust, before reaching down and grabbing Christine by the hair and hauling her up to her feet.
"MAMA!" Charles and the twins shouted. As soon as the fight broke out, Ophelia had gathered the remaining children and was holding them close with her own in a corner. "MAMA!" they wailed, struggling against Ophelia's hold as they watched The Jackal fling Christine, by her hair, into the arms of another pirate.
"TAKE HER TO THE SHIP! NOW!"
The man didn't argue, he grabbed Christine and threw her over his shoulder and held her fast, despite her kicking feet, pounding fists, and screams of protest.
The children wailed, Ophelia screamed, and several servants, including Anne and Robert, attempted to rush after her, but were stopped by a new onslaught of The Jackal's men. Raoul lifted his head when he heard Ophelia scream Christine's name, and with a grunt of determination, ran his sword through one of the men in the thick throng of attackers, and bolted from the chaos to pursue the captured lady.
However, he barely made it into the courtyard, before he found his path blocked by The Jackal himself.
The storm had stopped while The Jackal's men were rounding up the servants and searching the castle, but overhead, thunder threatened to open the heaven's once more, and release its tempest upon the world.
Raoul took a step towards the pirate, and bowed his head ever so slightly, as if out of politeness for what was about to take place between them. "For a dead man, you seem to be in remarkable good health," he snarled, lifting his sword, inviting his opponent to come closer.
"Thank you," The Jackal chuckled, also bowing his head. "For a dead man, you seem to fight very well."
Raoul returned the chuckle; only his was dripping with sarcasm. "I was taught by the best," he growled, testing his footing. "And you sir?"
"Me?" The Jackal returned the question.
"Aye," Raoul murmured. "Were you also taught by a skilled swordsman? Or at the very least, by one who once wore that same scarf you wear now?"
The Jackal's eyes narrowed, and Raoul could tell, despite the man's hidden face, that he had struck a nerve.
"I'm just saying," Raoul explained, "that for a man who's sailed the seas, raped, pillaged, and plundered every port from here to Spain, and was seen to have fallen to his death after a mortal wound delivered from the Black Knight…you hardly look as if you've aged a day."
"Oranges," The Jackal explained. "They do wonders for the skin." Without warning, he launched himself at Sir Raoul, roaring as he went, his sword clanking with Raoul's blade, sparks flying as the fight began.
The Jackal was not strong, not in the same way that Raoul or Sir Erik were strong, but he was fast, devilishly fast, and he wielded his sword like an expert. Raoul believed that Erik had killed The Jackal all those years ago, but whoever this…this imposter was, fought just like the villainous pirate. So like him that it was chilling!
The clash of swords caused Christine to lift her head from the pirate's shoulder, and she gasped as she watched The Jackal and Sir Raoul engage in fierce combat. Each man was a master with his own sword, each moved with grace and agility, and each lashed out at the other, and countered the other's attack with skill and coolness. She remembered how Erik had told her that he had spent many hours, when he was a boy, helping Raoul strengthen his skills with a sword. Indeed, she could see her husband's talent in every movement of the blonde knight.
A streak of lightning filled the sky, and Christine watched the bolt fall to the earth, somewhere in the far off distance. However, her eyes did not lift, nor did her body attempt to thrash against her captor.
Thunder filled her ears…but it was not thunder caused by the sky. Nay, for in the distance, near where the lightning had fallen, she saw the source of the thunder, and it was created by hundreds of charging horses, each galloping at high speed up the road towards Winterbourne.
Both Raoul and The Jackal froze as Christine's scream pierced the air. Raoul looked to the distance, and felt hope rise in his chest at the sight he saw. It was the first time in a very long time, when he was grateful to see Erik.
The Jackal threw a curse to the wind, and lashed out at Raoul with his sword. A hiss of pain escaped Raoul's lips as he felt the sword dig into the flesh of his arm.
"BURN IT!" The Jackal ordered his men. "BURN IT AND RETURN TO THE SHIP!"
His men, who were busy fighting and killing those that attacked them, stopped their actions at the sound of their master's order. Immediately, they began retreating, but not before throwing oil to the ground and upon the furniture and in the hay outside the stables, and throwing candles and torches on top of it, creating a hellish blaze that would char the skin off anyone who stood too close.
The Jackal turned to retreat with his men, but was stopped when Sir Raoul's sword clanked with his own. "We're not through," Raoul grunted, pulling his sword back and moving swiftly, aiming for the pirate's chest.
The Jackal was faster, and managed to side step the attack. "Oh please, give me a worthy adversary—AHHH!"
The Jackal screamed as he felt a blade cut into his shoulder from behind. He staggered forward and turned around, clutching his arm as his eyes filled with the terrifying sight of the Black Knight.
"If you insist," Erik growled, before launching himself at the pirate. Sir Erik's men flooded the courtyard, and dismounted their steeds, many of them engaging in combat with The Jackal's horde, while some joined the servants in attempts to put out the fires.
"Erik von Desslar," The Jackal hissed through his scarf. "I've waited a long time to extract my revenge."
"You'll just have to continue your waiting in hell…which you shouldn't have left in the first place!" Erik roared, before clashing his sword with that of his old enemy.
The Jackal growled as he counted Sir Erik's attack. "I would LOVE to finish this now," he snarled, "but I think it's best to inform you about a certain lady?"
Her scream tore his heart in two, and Erik's masked face paled as he looked up and saw her being dragged away by several of The Jackal's men. All thoughts of fighting his enemy were gone; Christine was all that mattered!
"CHRISTINE!" Erik roared, pushing his way through pirates and his own men, trying to chase after her, trying to reach her, but the horde seemed to only grow and push him back, keeping him from his precious goal. "CHRISTINE!"
"ERIK, LOOK OUT!"
Erik spun around just in time as Raoul shouted his name, missing The Jackal's deathly blow that would have sliced him in two if the sword had made it into his side. Anger and rage fueling him like never before, Erik lurched towards his attacker, slicing, slashing, and cutting the air with every blow. The Jackal's sword was fast, but it was struggling to keep up, and a grunt of pain escaped his lungs when Raoul moved in from the side and purposefully kicked at the pirate's wrist, causing him to drop his sword and fall to his knees.
"Finish him, Erik!" Raoul urged. "It's your right to do so! I'll go after Christine, I-HULGH!"
Erik lifted his eyes, and gasped as Raoul fell to his knees, his skin paler than any shade of white Erik had ever seen…and when he fell, he was able to see what had caused the blonde knight to collapse.
She stood there, the fire around her dancing and glowing with her hair. In her hand she held a dagger, soaked with blood…and on her face, she wore a smile. A deep, wicked, evil smile…
"Hello, lover," she purred.
Erik couldn't speak; he was too shocked. BEATRICE!?
"What's the matter?" she asked, before taking the dagger and wiping the blood off with the hem of her gown. "You look as if you've seen…a ghost?"
Beatrice only giggled. "Sometimes, the dead come back…"
It was enough of a distraction for one of The Jackal's men to come from behind him and smash a club over his head. Erik fell to the ground, groaning with pain, while his unseen attacker and Beatrice helped the wounded Jackal to his feet, and more or less carried him off in the same direction the other men had gone.
In the distance, he could still hear Christine's screams…
She was pleading for him, pleading for her hero...
Erik gritted his teeth and attempted to rise to his feet, but the wound to his head made him dizzy, and he only slumped further into the mud. "Christine…" his vision was blurry, he could barely make out the pirates that were disappearing over the horizon. "Christine…"
It began to rain then, and as if they were ghosts that appeared in the mist, the rain seemed to envelope the horde until they had vanished completely from sight, washing away their footprints, removing all traces of their presence…
He had failed. He had made a vow that Christine would never have anything to fear, that he would protect her, that no harm would ever come to her…
And he had failed her.
Erik groaned and rolled over onto his stomach, attempting rise to his hands and knees. He lifted his heavy head and looked up to see Anne, kneeling over Sir Raoul, whose breath was coming in short, raspy gulps. "Raoul…" he whispered, remembering how Beatrice had appeared behind him, and how the dagger she was holding was soaked in blood.
"Raoul!" Erik scrambled to his feet and quickly went to his old friend, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of the puddle of blood that the blonde knight was lying in, the puddle growing and spreading with the falling rain. "Raoul…" Erik fell to his knees, and carefully moved his arm under the other knight's shoulders, gently lifting him to examine the wound.
A curse escaped his lips. The wound was deep, and Raoul's entire back was soaked in blood. The knight groaned in pain, and Erik quickly lowered him back to the ground, before bringing his fist to his mouth and biting the knuckles, cursing his old enemies and fighting back the emotions that swelled in his heart.
Erik never had any brothers, and yet now…he felt as if he were losing one.
"I…I…I'm s-s-sorry, I…I c-c-couldn't s-stop them…" Raoul coughed, before wincing deeply from the pain that shook his body.
Anger filled Erik then and he fought the urge to reach out and shake his old friend. "WHY!?" he roared, his golden eyes blazing. "WHY DID YOU COME BACK, YOU FOOL!? I GAVE YOU YOUR FREEDOM! I—"
"Exactly," Raoul interrupted, his own eyes locking with Erik's. "And my freedom…is mine…to do with…as I like…" he coughed again, before turning his gaze away.
Erik shook his head, amazed and perplexed by his friend's actions. Was it just a few days ago that Raoul had come here, wanting to kill him? And now he was lying in the mud, dying, because he had tried to defend Erik and his family? It made no sense…
"Do you think…?" Raoul began, before going into a coughing spasm. Erik bit his lip, trying to keep his emotions at bay as he waited out Raoul's cough. "Do you…do you think…that…that God will f-forgive me for the wrong that…that I have done?"
Erik's hand clasped the other man's shoulder. "If God can send me an angel, one who loves me despite my face and all the wrong doings of my past…then yes, I think God will forgive you," he paused before murmuring, "I know I have."
Raoul smiled at this, and reached up and grasped Erik's hand on his shoulder. "That's why I came back," Raoul whispered. "I did you great evil, Erik…I…I wanted to do something right…I…I only wish…I could have done more—"
"Rest your voice," Erik interrupted, not sure if he could handle hearing any more. "You need to save your strength—"
"Don't…" Raoul groaned. "I'm ready for death…I know that now."
Erik could only nod his head, grief flooding his being as he looked down at the broken man before him, a man who had fought so valiantly and bravely. "I will write to the King," Erik softly whispered. "Your name will be cleared…and you will have a hero's funeral."
Raoul smiled at this, his eyes beginning to drift shut. "Thank you, old friend…but…my only wish…is to see her…"
Erik knew Raoul meant Elizabeth. "Aye," he whispered, squeezing the man's shoulder. And then…an overwhelming sense of need to explain something to his friend came over him, and Erik found himself leaning down, until his mouth was at level with Raoul's ear, and he softly whispered, "you were right. Sarah and Sabrina are Elizabeth's children…and…and yours."
Raoul's eyes widened slightly from Erik's revelation, and as the masked man lifted his head to look into the other knight's eyes, he was surprised to see a peaceful smile spread across Raoul's lips. "Thank you…" he whispered, his voice even raspier than before. "For that…and for…for being the father, I could never be…"
He lowered his head then, and allowed his eyes to drift shut. A few more breaths escaped his throat…and then…the rise and fall of his chest stopped…and the hand that had grasped Erik's…went loose.
"He's dead, my lord," Anne whispered through her tears.
Erik gazed down at the man who he had wasted so much of his life hating…and who now, thankfully, was able to make amends with before his death. Yet that amends could have lasted for far longer, had he not been a stubborn fool…and had old ghosts of his past not been resurrected to commit their evil.
"You will be avenged, my friend," Erik growled, before slowly rising to his feet and turning his head in the direction The Jackal and his men had retreated. His golden eyes were slits filled with hatred, and his hands were balled fists filled with rage.
By attacking Winterbourne, war had been declared. And by taking Christine…The Jackal and all his horde, had just sealed their doom.