Authoress Notes: To spideydance – Actually, there's a bit more Bernard. Just a little, but I can't let him go!

What You Should Have Been Watching

The house was in sight, if house it was, hacked from the rock like a great dark wound. Septimus tethered his horse a distance away and gestured for Bell to be silent, then took her hand. Together they approached the lair.

Bell's mind was alight with fear. She could scarcely believe that they were about to attack a witch, commit certain suicide for the sake of a necklace! Or, rather, Septimus would attack the witch; Septimus would be killed… She cursed the Old King, cursed the house of Stormhold, cursed Primus for not being there to help them, cursed herself for not dragging Septimus back days ago. He looked round at her with his emerald onyx eyes, questioning, reassuring. She nodded, once. There was no going back.

As they got closer they saw that someone else had gotten there first. A boy, slightly foppish in his high boots and shining hair, was looking in through a high window. Septimus let go of her hand and snuck up to him, then – quick as an eel – pressed a knife to the boy's neck.

'Who are you?' he demanded. 'What business do you have here?' The boy froze, but glanced down at Septimus' exposed hand. His eyes alighted on the number seven tattooed there.

'Septimus,' he stated, then in explanation: 'I knew your brother, Primus.' Septimus narrowed his eyes and moved closer.

'Unless you wish to meet him in the afterlife I suggest you answer my question; what are you doing here?'

'I might ask you the same thing,' the boy replied without flinching. Septimus looked down to see the boy's knife to his stomach.

'Ah,' he breathed. Carefully he removed his blade from the boy's throat; very, very carefully. There was a movement behind the boy, but he had his eyes on the prince and saw nothing. Septimus' own eyes flickered to the left of the boy's face, and he smiled.

'You have a keen eye,' he commented. The boy looked smug.

'But what you should have been watching,' murmured a voice in his ear, 'was the other knife.'

The boy felt the point of something very unfriendly dig into his back. Septimus smirked.

'Put the butter knife down, lad,' he said. The boy moved it away from the prince's gut. Bell took it from him and stepped back. When the boy felt the unwelcome pressure be removed he looked around to see a pale woman with an air of grim determination about her angular face. She smiled, a little apologetically, which rather ruined the effect.

'Boy, this is Isabel, my servant. She has more than one weapon about her person so I would recommend you don't try anything creative. What's your name?'

'Tristran Thorn.'

'Good. Now, what have we here?' said the prince. The three of them turned as one and peered through the smeared glass. Inside the window they could see a large, cluttered chamber that looked as if it had been left to rot for centuries. A rather dumpy hag was berating a tired looking woman to the right, and in the centre was some sort of sacrificial altar – with a girl strapped to it. Two other crones busied themselves about her bindings. Isabel, Tristran and Septimus crouched down out of sight.

'There are four of them. Do as I say, we may stand a chance,' muttered the prince. 'Tristran, you come with me. Bell, you stay out here.' Bell swelled with protest.

'No!' she hissed. 'I'll help you, Sep.' He frowned darkly.

'Stay here. That's how you can help me. That is an order.'

Tristran saw the girl was about to argue and in desperation said:

'Why doesn't she stay in the doorway, in the shadows? That way she'll be with us but out of sight.' Septimus hesitated, and then nodded. Bell grinned. The two of them started to rise.

'Wait!' Tristran yelped. 'How do I know you can be trusted?'

'You don't,' answered Septimus simply. 'Why, do you have a choice?'

'No,' glumly replied the boy.

'Well then,' said Septimus, with a wicked gleam and a nod to Bell, 'let's go.'

It was to be the last time Septimus and Bell spoke in their lives.

*

I decided to go with the book spelling of 'Tristran' because I'm quirky like that.