Everything surrounding the main entrance to Ombra castle was silent – eerily silent – as spectators awaited the arrival of their savior. Whispers were heard among the women of the surrounding villages. The safe return of their children hung on their lips, as well as the guilt for handing over the one man who was willing to sacrifice his life for the well being of total strangers. But… isn't that what a hero is supposed to do?
As the first rays of dawn stretched its warm arms over the land of Ombra, everyone fell silent, listening intently to the steadily growing sounds of hooves pounding into the muddy road leading to the castle. Soon, they all saw a figure come into view; it was the infamous Bluejay. He held himself high on his steed as he casually made his way forward. He wore traditional bookbinder attire with pride. Around his neck hung the specially crafted mask Batissta had made the previous night. He needn't wear it over his face, for everyone already knew what he looked like. There was no reason to hide. He stared straight ahead, his eyes never wandered. As he passed, he saw the sad, fearful faces of the women of Ombra. They hated seeing him go through with this, but the safety of their children was their primary concern.
Following closely behind the Bluejay's heels was Dustfinger. He rode proudly behind the infamous robber, ready to defend him with his life if need be. Murmurs could be heard amongst the crowd. They spoke of a more recent tale of the Bluejay in which a man who befriends fire follows loyally at the Jay's side, like a shadow, to help bring an end to the Piper's tyranny. Indeed, Dustfinger had now earned a new nickname: the Bluejay's Shadow. A proud title he wore on his sleeve, along with his heart.
Meggie and Teresa hid themselves well amongst the crowd. They didn't want Mo to see that they had broken their promise to remain in the Motley camp that morning. Resa felt weak in the knees and quite light headed as she watched her husband riding towards an almost certain death. Meggie, on the other hand, seemed a bit too calm under the circumstances. She held her mother's arm to support her as she stared unwaveringly at her father. Though she could hide it well, inside she was terrified for Mo's life.
Above the front gates of Ombra castle, the Piper, Milksop, Violante, and little Jacopo had been waiting anxiously for the Bluejay's arrival. Silvernose's mischievous grin widened when he saw his enemy approach.
"Welcome to Ombra Castle, Bluejay!" His mock greeting made Mo's stomach turn. "I've been looking forward to meeting you for quite sometime. I must admit, though, I'm rather surprised to see you in person. I had assumed you'd send a doppelganger in your place."
Mo's smile reeked of defiance. "I didn't take you for a fool, Piper. I already knew you couldn't be duped by such trickery. But, more importantly, I could never forgive myself if I stooped so low as to put someone else's life in danger in order to save my own. You, on the other hand, seem to have no qualms about jeopardizing the lives of others. You're nothing but a sick, twisted bastard who enjoys the suffering of others. Your time will come soon, Piper! And I will be there to watch you fall."
Everyone was silent as the Bluejay spoke of justice and the Piper's downfall. They stared in awe at their mysterious savior. Even Meggie and Resa were caught up in the moment. The man before them no longer resembled the once docile and kind Mortimer they once knew. The fury in his eyes was that of the Bluejay's – a man consumed by justice and a willingness to shed blood to achieve it. Mortimer's former self seemed completely lost now thanks to his newly found alter ego.
Silvernose clapped mockingly, "Such a noble speech one would expect from a hero. It's unfortunate, though, that it holds no meaning. After all, once you pass these gates, you are my prisoner, thereby rendered helpless to save anyone, including yourself. You only have yourself to blame. You came here willingly, knowing the consequences."
Mo's anger rose to a fevered pitch, "Enough of your nonsense! Release the children! We had a deal, Piper!"
The Piper raised a hand, "Not so fast, Bluejay. I demand to know what that dirty fire-eater is doing here. I do not recall him being part of our deal."
Before Silvertongue could answer, fire was already dancing up the castle walls towards the Piper and his guards. Silvernose took a step back and sneered menacingly at Dustfinger. The fire-tamer simply smiled as his hands commanded the flames masterfully.
"I am here to make sure you do not harm your guest. Call me the Bluejay's bodyguard, if you will. The flames are his friends as much as they are mine and I will not hesitate to prove that if provoked. Death has bound the two of us together. Wherever he goes, I go." Dustfinger warned.
Mo turned to his companion and smiled. He felt his entire being light up, as if it were glowing in the sunlight. For that single moment, he allowed his heart to beat a little faster. He still didn't know why, but these feelings always felt right somehow.
Such a moment was broken instantly as the Piper's temper flared. "Try that stunt again, fire-eater, and I'll have you both killed on the spot and all those little brats will be sent to the Silver Mines without hesitation! Got that?" He cleared his throat, dusted his sleeves of any remaining ashes, and regained his composure. "Now then, back to business. Bluejay, I will release the children in exchange for your surrender as long as your new fire shadow doesn't follow you inside. This is between you and me alone."
Dustfinger trotted a little closer to Mo, "That's what you think, Piper! I'll-"
"No, Dustfinger!" Mo's arm shot out to one side to bar Dustfinger's way. The fire-dancer stopped abruptly, startled by the harsh tone in Mo's voice. "He's right. This is between him and me. I cannot endanger the lives of those children any further. Plus…" he turned his head to face his companion, a small grin appearing on his weary face, "… I don't want you to get hurt on my account. I don't want to lose you, Dustfinger. Not again."
Dustfinger's heart leapt into his throat. "Silvertongue…" Though his mind was reeling, he found himself speechless and unable to move.
"Aw, what a touching show of friendship. It almost brings a tear to my eye." Silvernose chuckled mockingly.
Mo quickly turned his attention back on his enemy and yelled ferociously, "Shut the hell up, Piper! We have a deal, so release those kids at once!"
The Piper raised his arms pretending to be apprehensive, "Oooh, how scary! Fine, Bluejay, a deal is a deal. Open the gates!"
Not a moment later did his guards slowly open the old, creaky gates of the castle. Sure enough, waiting on the other side were all the children the Piper had kidnapped. As soon as the opening was wide enough, the children rushed out to greet and thank their rescuer. They gathered around him and his horse with open arms and wide smiles. Mo's heart melted as he looked at their innocent faces. He leaned his hands down so the kids could grasp them in gratitude.
"Enough!" The Piper barked. "Bluejay, fulfill your end of the bargain. Step through the gates. I am growing impatient."
Mo shot one quick death glare towards Silvernose before returning his gentle gaze back at the children. He asked them to move out of the way, but with little success. The kids refused to let their hero fall victim to the Piper like they had. With a deep remorseful sigh, Silvertongue slowly made his way past the wall of children. Many cries of protest arose amongst them.
"Go to your mothers, children." Mo gently ushered them. "They've missed you all very much. I have to go teach that bad Piper a lesson for treating all of you so poorly." Though they still protested, the infamous Bluejay continued on his way through the gates.
As soon as he was completely on castle grounds, the guards wasted no time in apprehending him. As the gates slowly creaked to a close, the last image everyone saw was of the Bluejay getting violently hauled off of his horse by at least a dozen of Piper's men.