Authoress note: Once again, I apologize for the amount of time I take to update. Inspiration doesn't always come, and when life doesn't go according to plan, it is even harder. If there is anyone still interested in this, I thank you for your patience and dedication. Please enjoy!

»«»«»«

Chapter 31 – The injustice of it all

A wave of nausea rolled through her as she slowly opened her eyes. It was dark, so dark that she couldn't see a thing. Blinking rapidly, she tried to ease her weight onto her left elbow to reach a sitting position, but the side of her head exploded with pain and dizziness forced her back down.

Inhaling sharply, Kaila tentatively reached for the side of her head and grunted as her fingers found the sore spot; when she removed her hand, it was coated in something wet, which could only be blood. Closing her eyes again, she tried to remember what had happened.

Faint recollection stirred inside of her… The market, she had been in the market with Jonathan… He had let her go and she had returned to the horses. And then… everything had gone black. Someone must have followed her and hit her from behind… But she had not seen anyone, and now she had no idea where she was; she had been careless.

Bracing herself, Kaila reopened her eyes; gradually, she began the agonizing task of sitting up. It was not easy, and it took some time, but at last the dizziness subsided and she was able to risk a look around; a thin line of light was visible in the other end of what now appeared to be a small division. The light came from the small gap between a door and the hard dirt ground.

The room had no windows, or so it seemed to her, but she would have to inspect it further in order to be sure; she refused to sit idly by until someone returned. After a few tries, Kaila was standing on her feet, hands outstretched in front of her body; she began groping her way blindly through the room.

The wall to her right had no window and when she reached the door, she tugged at it experimentally; it was made of solid wood. Determined not to give up, she proceeded to the wall on the other side, but the result was the same. Ignoring the sick feeling that was beginning to grow in her stomach, Kaila examined the division one last time.

A sob of frustration rose in her throat as she returned to the door, realizing it was her only way of getting out. But how would she get it to budge? There was nothing inside the room that could help her with the task. And then she didn't know what was behind the door, and if she tried to force it open, it might attract unwanted attention.

She did not know for how long she stood with her back turned to the door, desperately trying to think of a way to escape, but suddenly she could hear voices. She swung around to face the door and then held perfectly still a moment, listening.

A shadow stepped in front of the door and Kaila retreated a few steps; apprehension gripped her body as the heavy door was unlocked and then opened a fraction. A voice that sounded vaguely familiar rasped: "Get away from the door if you are near it!"

The light that streamed in hurt her eyes and Kaila raised an arm to protect them, taking another cautious step back at the same time. Someone stepped inside the room, and when her eyes finally adjusted to the light, Kaila lowered her arm and glimpsed her captor for the first time.

»«»«»«

Black… everything was going black… It was as if he was being sucked into a void of swirling darkness and he had no control over it. And then everything was still and the world slowly took shape again; he was no longer in Galbatorix's throne room, but the place where he now stood was equally familiar.

To his right was a beautifully carved desk, which faced a high window, and on the opposite side stood a four-poster bed. The dark stone walls and the scarce furniture gave the room a cold feeling. It was a place Murtagh had not seen in many years, but he remembered it clearly.

With a sense of dread, he walked over to the desk, where piles and piles of books rested precariously on top of it. Curiosity urged him to touch them, but a deeply rooted fear prevented him from doing so. He should not be here… He would not be pleased. It was forbidden, and if he was caught…

It mattered not that he was no longer a child and that this was happening inside his head; being in this room evoked nothing but the darkest of memories.

And then he heard heavy footfalls and turned around to face the door, which was concealed by crimson drapes. When the curtains parted, Murtagh's nostrils flared in anger and his stomach twisted with a mixture of revulsion and fear. Morzan…

With pale skin and thick black hair, dressed all in black and with Zar'roc strapped to his belt, Morzan strode into the room with a wine cup on his left hand. His eyes were glossy and his steps uncertain, and it was clear that he had been drinking for a while. Murtagh watched motionlessly as Morzan unstrapped Zar'roc and let it fall carelessly to the floor, and then made his way onto the bed, where he barely managed to sit without falling over.

Unable to stay still a minute longer, Murtagh cautiously approached Morzan as he took another sip of wine. Morzan stared right through Murtagh without seeing him, but his gaze seemed to scorch him from the inside. An involuntary shudder rippled through his body as he stared down at his father's restless blue eyes; it was as if he was looking down into the eyes of a beast that yearned to be unleashed.

He did not know for how long he watched Morzan draining his cup with a distant expression, but just as the older man took his last sip, his demeanor changed; his eyes became alert and his lips contorted into a wolfish grin. Murtagh frowned, but then his ears captured the faintest sound of steps coming from the other side of the curtains. His eyes darted to it and his heart sank; a little boy's head was peeking through the curtains.

He looked so young, so blissfully ignorant of what pains life would throw at him as he grew up… An ache began to build in Murtagh's chest, so raw and deep that it was almost impossible not to cry out; to see his own self at the age of three woke up feelings inside of him that he long thought dormant. To see the little boy he once was in comparison to the man he had become…

But the little boy he was now seeing would not stay innocent and untouched for long… And even though Murtagh knew what would happen next, and that there was nothing he could do to stop it, he still wanted to shout for the boy to go away, to run from that place, to go back to the arms of his nanny, back to where it was safe. But the boy pushed the curtains aside and walked in, his face glowing with curiosity and excitement, and Murtagh could only watch in horror as his own fate unraveled.

Zar'roc still lay on the floor by the drapes, and little Murtagh's eyes were irrevocably drawn to it; his small hands clenched and unclenched, eager to touch the beautiful crimson sword. "Pick it up." The harsh voice startled the boy, and his eyes turned to his father's back, suddenly wary. He knew he should not be here, he had been warned to stay away from his father's chambers, but his curiosity had taken the best of him.

"I said, pick it up!" Morzan repeated, a bit more forcefully this time.

Little Murtagh shuddered, looking from his father's back to the sword by his feet. "But… Mama said I can't play with swords…"

"Well, your mother is not here now, is she?" Morzan roared, dropping the empty wine cup, which hit the floor with a loud clank. "Pick it up and bring it here, boy!"

A gasp escaped the boy's lips as he bent over to grab Zar'roc; Murtagh watched as his old self strained to lift the heavy blade, tears gathering in his eyes. "It's… heavy… Papa… help… me…"

At last, Morzan got to his feet, and turned to look at his son; the little boy had barely lifted the sword from the ground and when his father rose, dropped it in alarm. Morzan took three steps in his direction and he retreated three steps in response, until he backed into a wall. "You are pathetic, boy", Morzan said in a low, poisonous voice that sent a chill up Murtagh's spine.

A sob escaped the young boy's throat, and then another, until he was shaking uncontrollably, tears spilling from his terrified blue eyes. Unfazed by the boy's tears, Morzan murmured a few unintelligible words and Zar'roc leapt from the ground and flew to his hand. Scared as the boy was his eyes still widened at the sight of magic, and his sobbing reduced significantly.

Morzan let out a bark of a laugh; there was a hint of menace in his eyes as he stood with his hand on the pommel of the sword. "Is this what you wanted to see, boy? Magic?"

Slowly, little Murtagh nodded and his hands rubbed at his eyes to dry the tears. "C-can I see m-more?"

"You want more, do you?" Morzan asked with an odd gleam in his eyes. The young boy nodded, stepping away from the wall. "Alright then, I will show you something you will never forget…"

Grown up Murtagh watched, petrified, as Morzan used the ancient language again, but this time it was to lift Zar'roc in the air and to point it at his three year old son. The boy's eyes fixed on the sword, unsure now. "Papa… I don't like this magic…"

Zar'roc began vibrating in the air, and the boy turned his back on it and fumbled with the curtains to part them, but before he had a chance to do it, the sword obeyed another of Morzan's commands and flew through the air. The sound it made when it crashed against Murtagh's back was nauseating, and the room was filled with the young boy's screams, but still they were not loud enough to drown the demented laughs coming from his father's throat.

The older version of Murtagh fell to his knees and his cries mingled with the boy's. So much pain… so much loss… He was crying for the injustice of it all, for the life he could have had if only his mother had chosen to protect him instead of Eragon.

Eragon... his brother's life had been blessed compared to his. And even now, he stood a free man, one that was admired and respected by so many people throughout Alagaesia.

"It should have been me and not you, Eragon! It should have been me!"

Sucking on a deep breath, Murtagh opened his eyes and was surprised to find himself back in Galbatorix's throne room. He could feel the hard ground beneath his back, and as he looked up, his eyes met the King's curious stare. A low hiss escaped his throat as he straightened up and dusted himself off, his cheeks burning red with anger and humiliation. "How did you do that?" he snarled at the King; the memory had felt as real as the room into which he had awakened.

"It is not so hard, once you have learnt enough about one's mind", Galbatorix replied smugly. "I can make you see whatever I wish you to see, whether it is a memory or a fake reality."

"But how- I didn't even feel your presence in my mind", Murtagh blurted out. "Did you feel him, Thorn?"

"No, not at all", came Thorn's swift replied from outside the castle's walls. "Murtagh, if he can get inside our heads and we don't even feel him…"

"I know… but how is it possible?" Focusing his wary eyes on the king, he repeated the question. "How did you do that? How come I didn't feel you poking around in my head?"

Galbatorix smiled knowingly as he said: "It is a very useful skill, is it not?" he mused, tapping a long finger against his chin. "So much can be accomplished by exposing a man to his deepest fears and hopes… For instance…"

He walked past Murtagh and headed for his throne, and as Murtagh turned to follow him, he was hit by another wave of darkness. This time, he saw himself and Thorn standing in the middle of a crowd; people bowed respectfully as they walked past and their admiring stares followed them as they continued on. And just as quickly as the vision had come, it had disappeared. Murtagh shook his head, trying to make sense of what he had seen. "Did you-"

"Yes, I saw it too", said Thorn in a puzzled voice.

"Stop messing with our heads", Murtagh said to the King, who simply observed him from the throne with a strange light in his eyes. "What do you hope to accomplish with this?" he added in a shaky voice. "I know that what you showed me is not real, so why bother? And why bring up the past, your Majesty? What difference does it make?"

"What difference does it make?" Galbatorix repeated, leaning forward on his seat. "I showed you what your life was and what it could be, Murtagh."

"My life – mine and Thorn's – will never be like that", Murtagh replied impatiently.

"And why is that, Murtagh?" Galbatorix inquired in a velvety voice.

"Because I work for you", Murtagh said simply. "The Empire has no love for you, as you well know, your Majesty."

"And why is that, I ask you again, Murtagh?" The Dragon Rider shrugged in response. "Because they are being misled… Your brother and the Varden are fooling the people of Alagaesia. For centuries, I have struggled to keep the peace, but they chose to ignore that for their own selfish purposes! They decided I was an unfit ruler, and all of my attempts to bring them to reason have failed. You know this, Murtagh! You once thought my plans for the Empire were a good thing, did you not?"

It was hard to stay focused when Galbatorix was using his most persuasive voice, but Murtagh knew better. He inhaled and exhaled a few times and his mind instantly began to clear. "I… once did, yes, but not anymore."

"Why not?"

"You can't be trusted, Galbatorix. You lie and you manipulate, and when that isn't enough, you force people to do whatever you please", Murtagh said in a bold voice. He was past caring about the consequences of his actions, and with Thorn's support, he pressed on: "Why are you even wasting your time trying to convince us of something we will never believe in? All you have to do is command, and we shall follow your orders as any obedient little soldier would do."

"I expected more of you, Murtagh", the King said in a disappointed voice. "I expected you to understand that just because I can force you to do as I please, it doesn't mean I wish it to be so. Nothing would bring me more joy than to have you by my side, not because of the oaths I made you swear, but by your own choice."

"I am not my father", Murtagh replied with a bitter laugh.

"I am very much aware of that", Galbatorix said in a stern voice. "Morzan never questioned my orders, and I didn't have to force him to do anything. He was stronger and a much more skilled Rider than you."

"Too bad he is dead and you have to settle for me, isn't it?" Murtagh shot back, unable to control his rising bad temper. He hated being compared to his father, and to be called weak.

Galbatorix seemed to find his outburst amusing. "Direct your rage toward more deserving people, Murtagh. I know that you don't see it as such, but from where I am standing, I did you a favor. I gave you the one thing you always wished for, didn't I?"

Admittedly, Galbatorix had given him what he had dreamed of since he was little, although he had done so at the cost of his freedom: magic. But of course he would never admit that out loud, he would not give the King that satisfaction.

Murtagh's lack of response did not unsettle the king in the least; he continued on in a voice that was smooth as silk. "As good as your father was as a Rider, he lacked something that you seem to possess to a certain degree."

"And what is that?" Murtagh inquired, raising a brow.

"Control", Galbatorix replied, clenching his left hand into a tight fist.

Murtagh's laugh echoed in the vast chamber. "Control? You think that I have more control than my father?"

"Your father was a natural born killer, Murtagh. He was happy to slaughter everyone who crossed his path, whether it was a foe or not. He was great at torturing people, but that was not a quality I could use to rebuild a devastated Empire. Your outbursts are those of a small cub compared to your father's, and you do not slay people just for the pleasure of it, so yes, I think you have enough control to help me fulfill my vision."

Murtagh opened his mouth and then closed it; Galbatorix's reply had not been what he had expected. "But… besides that, you also said that I wasn't strong enough and that you wanted to tell me something you had never shared with anyone else. What is it?"

"I think I have given you and Thorn much to think about for today, so I will let you go for now." Murtagh nodded, but Galbatorix raised a hand to stop him from leaving. "I will request your presence tomorrow afternoon, though, and that is when I will reveal everything. Also, I expect your final answer by then as well."

"I have one question and then I'll go", Murtagh said thoughtfully. Galbatorix nodded once to signal he was listening. "Even if we say we are on your side and want to help you of our own free will, we will still be bound by our previous vows?"

"Yes", the King answered at once, but as Murtagh opened his mouth to argue, he added: "Think of it as insurance, Murtagh; I need to be sure you and Thorn won't simply disappear once I give you permission to leave. But-" he continued, as the Rider tried to interrupt him again, "- consider this: if you decide to help me of your own free will, the reward will be… remarkable."

"Does he mean-?"

"I don't know, Thorn, but I dare not ask him. Wait for me in the courtyard; I'll be there as soon as possible." To the King, he said: "Until tomorrow then, Majesty." As he made his way out of the room, he could feel Galbatorix's assessing stare following his every step.

»«»«»«

Kaila let the hand fall away from her eyes, but she could only make out a dark shadow by the door. "Who are you?" she blurted out, before she could stop herself. "What do you want?"

There was no reply as the man crouched with a jug of water on his left hand and a short blade on the other. When the jug was on the ground, he slowly straightened up, never leaving her out of his sight. He drew a deep breath and then retreated, closing the door as he went, leaving Kaila in darkness again.

When her eyes adjusted back to the gloom, she made her way to the door and kicked the jug hard; the water jumped in every direction and soaked her boots, but Kaila didn't mind. She would not drink or eat anything brought by the man; there was no way of knowing if he had put something in it. If she wanted to have a chance to escape, she would need a clear mind.

»«»«»«

They were surrounded. The men wore ragged clothes and their blades had seen better days, but they all shared a determined look.

"Bloody thieves", Aidan spat out, raising his sword protectively and looking around frantically, hoping for an escape. "Stay close to me, Katherine!"

"You stay close to me", the young girl shot back, despite the cold grip of fear that was slowly taking hold of her.

"Put your weapons down and we won't hurt you", a man with a crooked nose said, stepping forward. Katherine and Aidan narrowed their eyes, but didn't lower their swords. "Come on now, we don't like to hurt child-"

Katherine's blade whistled through the air as she slashed out at the man. Aidan cursed under his breath and went after her, cutting down anyone who crossed his path. Katherine was just a few steps ahead, facing the man with the crooked nose; Aidan lunged forward and buried the sword on the man's side. "Run, Katherine, run!"

Panting, Aidan pulled out his sword from the crumpled body and followed Katherine through an opening. The other men chased after them, yelling curses and threats at their backs. Katherine risked a glance back and her eyes widened as she realized how close they were. "Where… is… Tornac?" she panted, but Aidan only shook his head.

They ran until their lungs ached, dodging trees and brambles, too scared to stop, but too tired to keep going. At last, Katherine began to slow down; Aidan grabbed hold of her hand to pull her along, but Katherine refused to continue. "I-need-to-breathe-"

"We… can't… stop now…" Aidan pleaded. "Keep moving… RUN!"

The men had caught up to them; Katherine bolted, praying to the gods that she still had some strength left in her body. Where were Tornac, and Murtagh, and the others? They should have heard them by now. They had to go back… When Katherine turned to her side to speak to Aidan, she realized that he was not there; they must have run in opposite directions when the men had found them.

Even though she wanted to turn around to go looking for Aidan, she knew she had to keep running. There were too many of them to fight against, she stood no chance of winning. To her right, a flash of blue caught her eye; there was a river running below. Looking back, she could see her pursuers were lagging behind. With only split seconds to decide, Katherine lunged for the steep slope that led to the river, and stumbled down onto the edge of the water.

The current was too strong there, but it was either that or facing the men. The water was icy cold as she flailed about in the shallows reluctant to go in any further, but then her legs were hit by something hard. She gasped with pain and slumped forward, hitting the water with a loud splash.

"So, I managed to escape my pursuers by entering the river, but it almost cost me my life. I still have a nasty scar where the log hit my leg."

"But you survived…"

"But I survived… If Tamara had not found me and cared for me, I wouldn't be able to say as much." Tears blurred Katherine's vision, but she quickly blinked them away. She cleared her throat and then continued: "I never told her who I really was… She died thinking I was a common girl, whose parents had been killed by burglars."

"This house… was it hers?" Morcant asked kindly, looking around at the threads of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling.

"Yes… She taught me everything I know about the healing arts."

"How did you came to know what happened to Aidan on that day?"

"Through Murtagh", Katherine replied with a small smile. "I have much to thank him for as well. He saw me a couple of years later, in Dras-Leona's market. Tamara and I would often travel between cities to look for rare plants, and Murtagh was staying in a nearby property, owned by a Lord who was in charge of his education at the time. He didn't believe it at first, when he saw me, but he followed us around the market nonetheless, the stubborn fool."

Her tone was more affectionate then annoyed, which made Morcant smile in return.

"When Tamara left me alone for a few minutes, Murtagh saw an opportunity and came to talk to me. I did my best to explain to him what had happened in those short minutes and begged him not to tell anyone that I was alive, and he promised he would keep my secret safe. Before we parted ways, I told him how to get to this place, and then we said goodbye, believing we would never see each other again. He found me here, many years later, when he and Tornac tried to escape from Urû'Baen. He told me all about Tornac's death and where I could find Aidan if I ever wanted to see him again…" Her voice wavered, as if it was too painful to go on.

"Well, that was quite some story", Morcant said in a stunned voice. "Thank you for sharing it with me… I can only imagine how hard it is for you to remember."

"It seems like all I do lately is remember", Katherine replied with a bitter smile. "I have been hiding for far too long, Morcant, but I have decided to change that; my brother will no longer haunt my steps."

"Pray that he does not haunt Kaila's steps as well, child. I fear that every step she takes away from Murtagh is a step closer to Lord Art…" Morcant said in a tired voice, rubbing his eyes with shaky hands.

"You should rest awhile, before Aidan gets here. There will be much to discuss, decisions to be made… I will call you when he arrives."

"Yes, yes, I could use a little nap", Morcant agreed with a nod. "Oh, don't bother, I can do it alone", he added, as Katherine was about to rise to help him up the stairs.

"Morcant…" Katherine called out, just before he went up.

"Yes, child?"

"Kaila will be alright. I know it."

"Thank you, Katherine." Slowly, but steadily, the old man made his way up the stairs and disappeared into his room.

»«»«»«

Murtagh walked across the courtyard and knelt next to where Thorn's head lay, pressing the palm of his right hand against his snout. "Shall we go for a ride?"

Thorn nudged his Rider's hand affectionately and replied: "Yes… I always seem to think with more clarity when I'm up in the air." He waited until Murtagh was secured to the saddle and then gave a mighty beat of his wings and took to the sky.

Dragon and Rider savored the cold air for a moment, allowing their thoughts and feelings to flow freely across their mental bond, sharing their hopes, uncertainties and fears. No words were needed, for they could see clearly on each other's minds what the other was thinking. Galbatorix could not be trusted, that much they agreed on, but while Thorn insisted on defying him…

"What have we accomplished by doing that?" Murtagh argued, pulling his hood up to cover his head. "We keep challenging him, and for what? I am tired, Thorn, so tired…"

"I know, my friend, I know, but this is exactly what the King wants. He wants us to believe that we have no choice but to trust him, that he is the only person that understands us and cares for us. The moment we lose hope, is the moment he wins."

"The reward he spoke of… what do you think he meant by that?"

"It was just another empty promise, Murtagh."

"How can you be so sure?"

A low growl escaped Thorn's throat. "When was the last time he kept his word?"

"He said he would make me powerful, and he did…"

"At the cost of your freedom…"

Murtagh lapsed into a thoughtful silence while staring at the back of Thorn's head for a long time. "His ideas for the Empire are not so bad, you know?" he said at last, almost reluctantly.

"I know… I don't doubt his ideas, Murtagh; I just don't think he will follow them through once the Varden are defeated. I do not think that his cruelty and his thirst for control will be so easily vanquished, that is all."

"He will be expecting our decision tomorrow. Do you think that there is a way to convince him we are on his side, even if we're not?"

"No, I don't think there is. We saw what he was capable of today; he would tear our minds apart to make sure we were telling the truth."

"What do you think he saw in our heads?"

Even as Murtagh uttered the words, Thorn could see clearly what he dreaded. "We protect our secrets well, Murtagh. If you want to keep Kaila safe, you have to bury her deep in your mind, so deep that even Galbatorix can't find her there."

An emptiness like Murtagh had never felt before gnawed at his heart, but he knew that Thorn was right; the best way to keep Kaila safe was to put as much distance between them as he possibly could.

»«»«»«

Katherine breathed a secret sigh of relief as Aidan walked inside and looked around. She had feared he would not come, but he had kept his word. "Are you hungry?"

"You can cook now?" He sounded genuinely surprised.

For a second, Katherine looked as if she was about to snap, but then she relaxed and grinned instead. "I guess you are about to find out. Take a seat, I'll be right back."

Aidan unfastened his cloak and tossed it over one chair before sitting on another. Katherine returned a minute later with a bowl and a chunk of hard bread, which she placed in front of him. "It smells good…" Aidan peered at the contents of the bowl and then dunked the bread on the broth and took it to his mouth. "And it tastes good!"

Katherine smacked him on the back of his head, but she had to bite down on her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing. She had missed him so much, but she hadn't realized just how much until that moment. This banter felt familiar, safe; it was the same way it had been while they grew up.

Aidan continued eating as she went around the table to sit opposite from him. "When did you learn how to cook?" he asked with his mouth full.

"When Tamara took me in, she taught me a lot of things."

"Was this her house?"

"Yes. She didn't have any children, so when she died…" Katherine shrugged but her expression darkened. Aidan only nodded. Desperate to change the subject, Katherine asked: "Did you make the arrangements we agreed on?"

"Yes, everything is taken care of."

"Good… I should go and get Morcant…"

"Wait… why don't we let the old man sleep a bit longer?" An expression she couldn't read flashed over his face but quickly disappeared.

"I suppose we can let him rest a bit longer…" His eyes lingered on her long enough to make her uncomfortable so she dropped her gaze to the table. The silence that followed was heavy with the words both wanted to say, but where too scared to utter.

»«»«»«

"I don't know", said the man through bloody lips, and he yelled when his captor kicked him. "Please, I really don't know." He looked up, dazed, and his eyes found the figure shrinking in the corner. "Agatha, please, you are better than this…"

"You don't understand-"

"Quiet, both of you!" He cracked his knuckles and began pacing around the room. "I cannot fail again; I cannot fail again… He'll kill me, oh, he'll kill me…"

"Tristan, please, if you let me talk to Jonathan, I can persuade him-"

The man pacing the room stopped and fixed his beady eyes on Agatha; she winced at the madness she saw in them. "You want to get all the credit for yourself, don't you?" he hissed, but Agatha shook her head. "Yes, you want to be the one telling him what he wants to hear!"

"All I want is to help you, Tristan. We both have our reasons to please him, remember?"

Tristan jabbed his finger at Agatha. "If he", he flicked his chin at Jonathan, "tells you something, you will share it with me?" Agatha nodded. "And you will let me be the one delivering the news?"

"Yes, of course. All I want is for him to release my granddaughter. Can you ask that from him?"

Ever so slightly, he nodded, but a momentary flick of anxiety in his eyes confirmed her worst fears. It was too late… She swallowed the nausea that rolled through her stomach.

"I'll- I'll do that, but get him to talk first." Before heading out, Tristan made sure that the ropes binding Jonathan were still secure.

He had not been gone a minute when a little gasp escaped Agatha's lips and her eyes began to brim with tears.

"Agatha?"

She came to kneel beside the tied man with a cloth in hand to wipe the blood from his face. "I'm so sorry, Jonathan, I was a fool", she told him sincerely. "He had my granddaughter and I thought… but it doesn't matter now…"

"What do you mean?"

"She is dead, Jonathan, I saw it in Tristan's eyes. I thought that if I did everything he wanted, he'd spare her…" Her voice trailed away; the tears were falling freely now.

"I am so sorry, Agatha…"

"He lied to me, Jonathan; he promised me she would be safe as long as I did as he said. I thought I was protecting her, but now she is gone…"

"Who is this man?"

Even though they were alone, Agatha still lowered her voice. "Lord Art." The very name seemed to instill terror in her. "He is a heartless man, a monster! He made me spy on Kaila, told me to follow her every move. And today… I had to make sure she didn't get away."

"But she did get away, didn't she?" He saw the answer in Agatha's eyes even before she opened her mouth to speak.

"Tristan was waiting for her by the horses, and he hit her in the head… she is being held in another room…"

"Why?"

"I don't know, Jonathan, but Lord Art wants her very much."

"We have to help her escape, Agatha."

"Have you lost your mind? Do you have any idea how powerful he is?"

"You said it yourself, he is a monster. He killed your granddaughter, Agatha; can you imagine what he will do to Kaila?" His voice was firm but gentle. "It is too late for Giselle, but it doesn't have to be for Kaila."

"I can't, Jonathan… I- Tristan is coming back." She straightened, wiping the tears with the sleeve of her dress.

"Please, Agatha, do the right thing."

But Agatha only shook her head.

»«»«»«

"Don't do it."

"I need to know."

"Murtagh-"

"Jonathan didn't return, Thorn; no one has seen him since this morning."

"It has only been a few hours-"

"Something is wrong, Thorn, I can feel it!"

"I understand your concern, but Kaila's safety is no longer in our hands. We have to trust that she can handle herself." Thorn paused to let what he had said sink in. "You know I'm right, Murtagh."

"Yes, Thorn, but that doesn't make it any easier", he said with a trace of bitterness in his voice. His reflection returned his stare from the depths of the well; he looked pale, tired and irritable.

Thorn's head hovered over his rider's as he too peered at the dark waters below. "You should have protected her against scrying…"

"I thought about it, but in the end, I just couldn't do it. I want to see her again…"

"And you will, just not like this." Taking his silence as agreement, Thorn nudged his rider gently on his back. "You are doing the right thing."

"I am not sure if there is a right or wrong in this situation, Thorn. I only hope that my weakness doesn't put Kaila in more danger than she already is…"

»«»«»«

She was sitting against an invisible wall; her face was ashen, but determined. She had changed considerably in a small amount of time, and he knew she would not be as easy to intimidate as before.

Pain and threats would not work, he was sure. No, he knew what bothered her was her concern for the safety of others. His eyes stayed on her crouching figure a minute longer and then he cut the spell.

To be continued…