The time it takes to get from UNCLE headquarters in New York to a stank and bitterly cold dungeon in a Thrush satrap is approximately two days and four hours, give or take a few minutes. At least that's how long it had taken Solo and Kuryakin to make that trip, including customs at Heathrow Airport, a sleepless night in a less than stellar hotel and a drive out of the city and right into a trap.
Neither one of them knew exactly where they were at the moment, save the description of their gloomy cell. It was stone and mortar, in the best European castle tradition. The guards all wore strange costumes that weren't anything like the normal Thrush attire; instead they were in gear more indicative of Robin Hood's gang. They were in tunics and leggings (not tights), with leather strapping to hold guns and knives. Their boots were similar in style and era, and some of the more unfortunate ones actually wore little caps similar to the one sported by Errol Flynn when he was swashing and buckling in the movies. All in all, it was a bit bizarre.
Nothing, however, was more attention grabbing than the woman who seemed to rule this little playhouse. She was attired in a dress fit for...well, not Maid Marion, to be sure. The bodice was tightly constructed, with a plunging neckline well suited to her ample endowments. The skirt, although full, was snug around the hips before it bloomed out into a swirling riot of fabric and lace. Add to that the fact that she was a knockout with deep chestnut colored hair and green eyes, full lips and a too perfect nose. Napoleon was nearly convinced that he should try and seduce her; take one for the team, so to speak. Illya, on the other hand, viewed her as he did Angelique: with suspicion and disdain. Her beauty aside, she was not to be trusted nor should she be taken to bed by either of them, and much to Napoleon's dismay she had seemed to favor the blond during her initial appearance.
"You know Illya, I do think that it might be advantageous to us if one of us could get close to her. Don't you?" He asked the question knowing full well what his partner's response would be. Illya never thought it was a good idea, and the UNCLE Chief Enforcement Agent was pretty sure that the Soviets did endorse using sex as a bait in certain situations.
"Napoleon, she is the enemy. If she should deign to bed one of us, it would not be to fill us in on her plans. Nor would it be in any way to our benefit...concerning our situation, that is. It would, obviously, have some other benefit". He huffed in a particularly Illya like way, rolling his eyes heavenward as though to invoke a wiser being.
Napoleon wasn't convinced.
"Perhaps. Then again, what could it hurt...hmmm?" Both men stared into the other's eyes, unbelieving that he should be so unyielding in his opinion. Within a few minutes an opportunity presented itself as the lovely mistress of the castle was announced and ushered into their cell.
"Ah, gentlemen, you look rather well today, all things considered. I apologize for the necessity of your accomodations. As it happens, rooms have been prepared for you upstairs; something I hope you will both appreciate and enjoy". She had a lovely voice that lilted with a mild brogue, although it was not quite identifiable to either of the agents. "I don't mean to appear ungrateful'...Napoleon turned to his most charming smile, his voice like honey...
"Would you mind telling us why, exactly, we are here. Not that we don't appreciate your hospitality". It was effortless, the way he served up the question as though it were an invitation to dinner. The woman smiled in return, lowered her eyes demurely and from somewhere in the depths of that skirt, she brought out a whip. "Mr. Solo, I thought you knew. You are here for me to choose. Thrush has seen fit to embrace me and my vision for England; a more modern vision that will dispel the antiquated notion of this monarchy. My England needs a leader who can, pardon the obvious illustration, whip them into shape and make this a great nation once again. I am that woman who can lead this island nation back to a place of importance in the world".
Illya's expression never changed, his blue eyes remained fixed on the woman as she continued speaking. Napoleon's mouth gaped and closed, then opened again to form a question.
"But, what does that have to do with us?" He tilted his head to one side in a gesture of confusion, sliding his vision momentarily to get a look at his partner who seemed not the least bit phased by any of this.
"Ah, yes...well I need someone to rule alongside of me. And, like it or not, the two of you are head and shoulders above anyone in Thrush. You are both cunning and intelligent, physically fit and, I hope you don't mind me saying so, quite handsome. It remains to be seen, however, which of you is the most...shall I say, compatible with me. Of course, that is not the only criteria, and there will be something of a competition in order to finalize my decision".
Now Illya was concerned, stunned and dreading what he assumed to be the inevitable end to all of this. Of course she would choose Napoleon, in which case he would either be sent to Thrush Central as a prize, or she would kill him. It was always that way, it seemed. He did not feel very optimistic about the outcome here. The only acceptable thing would be to escape.
"Mr. Kuryakin, you don't have anything to say?" She looked at the slightly built Russian, wondering how he would fare in a fight with the taller American. She wondered about some other things as well...
"It occurs to me that we do not yet know your name. Perhaps we could start there, as most well bred people would".
"Ha, you mock me then. Do you assume that I am not from among the noble families of this nation? You are wrong! My father comes from one of great importance, although thought to be wiped from the English landscape, and therefore I was kept from my natural inheritance. I am in pursuit of justice, Mr. Kuryakin, as I suppose you might be as well. Is there not some inkling of royalty among your family tree?" She had researched both of their backgrounds, and it was a fluke that her two top choices should be UNCLE agents, and partners at that.
"A woman in my position cannot depend on simply meeting the right man. I must choose the right man, and he must be capable of all that lies before us. This kingdom will be mine. It is rightfully mine to possess".
With that she turned and left the cell, offering no more explanations or details of the coming days. For the present, they were stuck until an opportunity availed itself for escape. Now they had the added responsibility to stop this woman before she killed someone...someone like the queen of England.
Within the hour the two UNCLE agents were escorted to their new accomodations. Each room was furnished with elegant English antiques, beds that were fit for kings, or queens, as well as wardrobes filled with period costume. It was with a great deal of chagrin that Illya opened his to find a variety of ruffled shirts and leather breeches, knee high boots and brocade vests. It seemed that m'lady had chosen his look to be that of a romantic; she seemed to have gotten that wrong.
Napoleon's wardrobe contained clothing more in keeping with noble houses and men in power. He found elegant waistcoats and breeches, stockings and shoes with buckles. Little did he know the role he was playing, nor had he any clue as yet to his partner's assigned identity. They would soon learn, however, that in order to survive this they would indeed find it necessary to assimilate the characters as though in an undercover role. Illya reluctantly dressed in his rakish ensemble, pausing in front of a chaval mirror to take in the image reflected before him. The leather breeches were tight, revealing rather more than he wished to see or display; the white muslin shirt was open to the middle of his chest, accented by a single ruffled collar. The sleeves were voluminous, ending at the wrist and then billowing with another ruffled bit that covered most of his hand. Knee high boots completed the ensemble, one that managed to capture his personality perhaps better than a plain black suit. He was temporarily transfixed with the image of himself in another time, another life...
A knock came at his door, one that he recognized as his partner's. They had been given the freedom to walk about this castle, at least on this floor. He crossed the room to the sound of that knock and opened it, surprised at the vision that was his friend. Napoleon was dressed in knee length tan breeches and a red waistcoat that came to about mid thigh. His shirt was high collared with a lacy cravat, and long full sleeves that had similar lace trim at the wrist. He was wearing white stockings that came from beneath his pants and were puncuated with black shoes adorned with large buckles. Quite fetching for someone living in the 18th century. For a spy, it might prove to be a bit of a problem.
"Ah, so I see we have been adorned for the play we seem to be in". Napoleon took in his partner's costuming, noting that he seemed to have been given a more swashbuckling role. His mouth tensed a bit as he contemplated briefly what that meant for the long run...
"And you, it appears, are to be the better placed man in this new order. Her remarks about Russian nobility are not reflected in my apparel". Illya motioned his friend into the room, bowing with a flourish worthy of the other man's appearance. Each of them took another moment to take in the transformation that had been accomplished merely by changing their clothing, similarly wondering what it all meant.
"I believe that we must go along with this until we can figure out what it is she is planning. Our costumes would indicate that we are in the time frame of your American revolution. Here in England, King George III would have been on the throne, although hopelessly insane at around this time. I think I must be a pirate or highwayman. I can't possibly be respectable". Illya was puzzled by his role in this, but foresaw the competition to which their hostess had alluded. She apparently foresaw the battle to be between the classes, or at least a supposed class distinction.
"Illya, what do you think she has in mind? Is it possible that she is going to try and assasinate the queen? And if so, how does she figure that it would be possible to take over the government? Thrush is full of megolomaniacs, but this one seems too...too farfetched even for them". His brown eyes were searching his partner's face for some type of answer, hoping that the pragmatic Russian had come upon a line of reasoning to unravel that which was unreasonable.
Instead of an answer, the blond merely shrugged his shoulders and returned the somewhat lost look in his eyes.
"I don't know. We are here in the most unlikely position of being pitted against one another in order to gain a role in her new kingdom. She is undoubtedly mad, albeit beautiful; still, she is mad. Our best hope is to find a way out of here without having to do mortal combat, which I fear is her plan for us". Judging by their respective outfits, the advantage would seem to be in Illya's favor. His rather rogue appearance would seem in contradiction to the more tame, and respectable image conferred upon his "rival".
Napoleon thought that over a minute, then nodded his head in agreement. They would have to outwit her and possibly charm her as well. He had no illusions about her possibly yielding to charm alone, but he wouldn't engage in a battle to the death opposite his friend. She would not overtake them with something that obvious.
"Alright...let's play this out for now. Hopefully we have some time before this "battle" takes place. In the meantime, we might have just enough liberty to try and find the weakness in this operation".
The first day was spent wandering the expanse of the castle. Each room held what appeared to be family treasures, and portraits hung in the hallways that indicated a long and illustrious lineage. Whether or not it was her lineage was a question that remained unanswered, although she had indicated that her parentage was noble. The two agents surmised that it was this real or imagined connection to the throne that was her boast of legitimacy. It occured to Illya that she might indeed have a line of ascension that, should all of the other candidates be illiminated, would put her in a queue outside the throneroom. As outlandish as it might appear, people had planned and executed these types of methodical assasinations in the past, and Thrush would have no qualms about it now. Their plans for world domination could easily include something akin to royal genocide.
"Napoleon, how many places do you figure she would need to jump in order to land in line for the throne?" The brown haired man looked stunned, having no idea of the royals' numbering system.
"I haven't any clue, my friend. You're the one who normally takes care of the numbers. Do you think she is actually in line for the British throne? That just seems too incredible". He shook his head in disbelief at the notion of what it would take to eliminate an entire generation or two of royals.
"I don't know, but something makes her think it's possible. This isn't just anarchy she's after. She actually believes that she has a right to this, and that would indicate her planning to eliminate the competition. I just don't understand how we come into this. Certainly she could have chosen elsewhere...and without the costume changes". Illya rolled his eyes once again, demonstrating his impatience with the charade. Leather was hot, and with nothing beneath these breeches he shuddered to think of what he might find when finally out of them. He would request another type of pants when next he saw M'lady.
As it happened, that opportunity came rather quickly. She was, in fact, on her way into the main hall to meet them for another of her little "talks". They needed to be informed of her intention to both observe and interpret their respective roles in her scheme. She was descended from royalty, although not in a line that was viewed as being appropriate for the throne. It was not her fault that she had not been able to make her claim on her family's heritage. That was going to change now; she would have her inheritance and the English throne. Her life would make romance novels appear slack and uninteresting. This was real, and her ascention to power would forever change the future of her country; that and her alliance with Thrush. Between them, England would rise again to the global power it had once been; The British Empire would claim it's place in the world.
These two men had been chosen because of their superiority over all others she had observed. Thrush had little to offer when compared to Solo and Kuryakin. She needed someone with their stealth and cleverness, as well as their intellect and accomplishments. The bonus of what the physical attributes offered pleased her, as did the prospect of seeing them vie for the right to sit by her side and sleep in her bed. She would be queen, and one of these two would reign with her as a favored and valuable prince, much like the current arrangement between queen and husband. Never king, though. She would not share her throne.
"Good day gentlemen. I see you have found your wardrobes and dressed according to my wishes. Thank you. I must say, you dazzle the eye in these outfits. Have you ascertained the purpose of these, by any chance?" The question confirmed what Illya had said earlier; they had been typecast, somehow, and were fulfilling her idea of who they should be in an historical sense. It was outrageous, and yet he was somehow pleased to be in the guise of the proletariat rather than nobility. It suited his socialist outlook.
"M'lady, I suppose it should please us that you have taken so much care in our appearance. You seem to have..uh, captured us in these particular garments, rather well". Napoleon had to admit that they were in keeping with their individual tastes. Illya would never have approved of such a meticulous and natty wardrobe. It suited him, however. Likewise, he would not have felt comfortable in the look Illya sported, although it fit him perfectly. Even his hair was better suited to how he was dressed.
"Mr. Solo, you do look elegant in that ensemble. And, Mr. Kuryakin...I suspect you feel rather brazen, do you not?" She was looking at the blond in a very appreciative, if not slightly reckless manner. His pale complexion seemed to compliment the look, as though a painter had achieved the tones and shadows of flesh and fabric. The blue eyes were stark against his skin and hair, and the white of his shirt. She was aware that her heart was racing, and of an involuntary shudder as she settled her gaze on him; she forced herself to look away. Both men took note of this and flagged it as valuable information for the days ahead, and the plan they must be making for their escape.
Illya took especial note of it as he realized his inevitable part in this. Perhaps he would not be banished to Thrush Central after all, although the prospect of the alternative caused a shiver down his own spine.
Napoleon also had a similar shiver of acknowledgement; his partner was her choice. Escape was essential, and soon.
M'lady changed her focus and began to speak to them again:
"My father's family is descended from King George IV, from his daughter Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. It was a conspiracy of his brother William's people to steal the child that she bore and spread the lie that the babe was stillborn. He was not!" M'lady was giving a narrative on her origins, defying history and creating a ludicrous account of a royal lineage that was considered by all accounts to be extinct. George IV had no surviving heirs and his brother had assumed the throne upon his death. She still had not revealed her own name, prefering the moniker of M'lady, which was used by all of her staff and also the two UNCLE agents. They assumed that she would tell them eventually; all Thrush people talked about themselves endlessly. It was only a matter of time.
Illya listened for as long as possible before asking the obvious question:
"M'lady, how is that history has neglected this revelation concerning the king's grandson? And how is it, if I may ask, that you have this knowledge and yet have never taken it to to the proper authorities?" He had no faith in this story, and could not support her in this madness even if it were true. Napoleon was captivated by the tale, but no more invested in it as truth than was his partner. Their main concern now was to formulate a plan that would take them out of here and stop whatever action this mad woman was envisioning. A pity for someone so beautiful to be so completely bonkers.
"Mr. Kuryakin, your question is a legitimate one. All I can tell you is that my account is true. And even though my mother is not a royal, my father was; he passed on this history to me with the admonition to guard it until such time as our name could be reinstated to the throne. Now is that time". She was serious, and her eyes betrayed an obvious affection for the father who was no longer here to watch his daughter proceed with the plan he had no doubt planted in her mind. She was carrying out his agenda, not her own.
"M'lady..." Napoleon hesitated as he tried to wrap his mind around this scenario...
"I know we've asked this before, but why us? Neither one of us is British, and certainly not royal. How can we fit into your plans when we are so obviously unsuitable?" His expression was one of guileless charm, with no betrayal of his anxiety or desire to be gone from her castle and her plan.
"Mr. Solo, I have no need of royal lineage now. That I possess it is enough, and what each of you bring to me more than compensates for any lack of what has been imposed in the past. I mean for this to be a new beginning". She looked at each of the men and motioned for them to approach her...much like a queen might entreat her nobles to come before their monarch. Illya and Napoleon did as they were bade, glancing at each other and wondering what might come next.
"I have chosen you both, and one of you will remain here with me. The other, to my great regret, must continue on without his friend to Thrush Central. That I have already stated. Now is when we will begin our work of determining who it shall be. I should like to spend some time with each of you, and first will be you, Mr. Kuryakin". Both men had expected this, meaning that the work of escape would go to Napoleon. Since they had been given the freedom to roam about, he would set to work on finding a way out. Perhaps the attitude prevailed that all present simply obeyed M'lady's commands, making the security a little slack. He certainly hoped so.
With the obvious insinuation that he was now dismissed, the brown haired man bowed gracefully to the woman who would be queen, acknowledging his partner with a casual salute. He then turned and left the room, careful to observe the placement of the guards and the length of the hallway. He might be able to just walk out of here.
"So, my dear Mr. Kuryakin, what do you think of this?" Surely she didn't mean to make him analyze what was going on between them. Illya needed to keep her busy in order for Napoleon to have a chance to get out. It was what they had agreed on. The lot had fallen on him to remain and...he wasn't certain what he was doing, or what she wanted from him. As he was contemplating the situation, she took his hand and began to speak:
"I will not presume, Mr. Kuryakin, to take you to my bedchamber. Does that make you feel more at ease?" She smiled at him and noted that a bit of color rose in his cheeks. He was a beautiful man, almost more than she could bear right now.
"I find you very attractive, as you have already noted, I am sure. Perhaps..."
At that moment, Illya decided the best he could do was to kiss her, and so he did. He placed his hands on either side of her head and drew her mouth to his, the kiss almost reverential in it's tenderness. She responded by encircling his waist and pulling him closer to her body, returning the kiss and deepening it as she sought to explore his mouth. Gasping for air, she pushed him away suddenly and slapped him.
"Did you think to take me like that?" It was so unexpected, Illya stepped back even farther to remove himself from her reach. Just as suddenly as the slap, she took his hand and began to walk out of the room and into the hallway. She kept a grip on him as they headed for what turned out to be her bedroom, the large double doors framing a view of an imposing four poster bed that was lavished in velvets and satin; plump and welcoming, it beckoned for them to come closer. She closed the doors behind them and ushered the wary agent to the bedside, coaxing his arms up in order to remove the shirt. He obliged her and began to undress her as well, not an easy task given the layers of fabric through which he found himself plunging. They fell onto the bed, hands searching and mouths exploring, searching...
"So, I take it you are not angry with me..." The breathless inquiry came as she pounced onto his body, her hands roaming the length of his torso, down to the hardening cock that her body longed to consume. It was with some effort that he remembered his part of the plan; not only her hands sought him, but her mouth as well. Her hunger for him was intoxicating, and even though the blond had his part to play in this, having been chosen first, the obvious pleasure to which he now felt inclined was overwhelming. It would not be difficult to play this part, all things considered. He needed to give Napoleon time to find his way out and make a path to the authorities. His mission, his duty as it were, was here with M'lady. Whatever she chose to do, he would cooperate. How bad could it be? And then there was no more Napoleon, no more UNCLE, only M'lady and what she was doing to him...
Two hours later they lay sprawled across the bed, spent from their lovemaking and basking in the afterglow. She had turned out to be decidedly more athletic than the Russian anticipated; while she lay sleeping in the contented repose of one well satisfied, he was exhausted more than sated. He had always considered himself able to keep a woman happy in bed...repeatedly happy. This one...he didn't think he was getting too old to keep up...he laughed to himself. Well, he'd done that alright, but she wasn't satisfied until he thought he would pass out from the pleasure and the torment of it. He hoped Napoleon had gotten away. Although, he wasn't sure he wanted him to hurry up about it.
Napoleon Solo wasn't a man who shirked in the face of a challenge. This place was not invulnerable, either from the inside or without. Now that they could see where they were located and had the run of the place, he realized that he could just make his way out of a window and across the parkland with very little obstruction. He hadn't found any security devices that would impede his escape, nor were there many guards. This operation looked to be a low priority as far as Thrush was concerned. He began to wonder if she really had any backing at all. If that were the case, he had to figure that she was someone's pet, and as such did not merit a full fledged contingency of Thrush personnel. With that in mind, he decided to just try walking out the front door. There wasn't anyone there to guard it, and nothing indicating an alarm to alert the staff. He donned his hat and snatched some car keys that were on the entry table, and walked out the door. It was unbelievably easy, and he began to wonder if he shouldn't just go back and get his partner and them take leave of the place together.
He decided not to do that, just in case...well, just in case. Better to let Illya handle M'lady while he made his escape. He would bring back reinforcements and they would wrap this up. He could get used to this.
M'lady roused a bit from her sleep and sought out her lover in the waning light. He was asleep now, his blond hair glinted by the streaks of the setting sun. His face was peaceful and so youthful that she caught herself feeling almost guilty for having taken him. And indeed, it was she who had done the taking. He was a marvelous lover, his hands working magically over and in her body. He had musician's hands, so nimble and creative in playing with her, strumming and stroking until she cried out in agony; a beautiful aching that came in response to the touch of his fingers, his mouth and tongue...and finally, all of him. She fairly sang in her moment of total and complete ecstasy. Somehow she knew he was the one, and that perhaps he might even love her...love his queen. All of her dreams were coming true, and he would be there beside her while she reigned over her beloved England.
Illya felt her watching him, and then felt her hands running over his body...again. Maybe it would be better if Napoleon were to return quickly. He wasn't sure he could do a repeat performance for this woman. He was ineffably tired at the moment.
"Mr. Kuryakin, you were quite wonderful". Her smile was filling her face, so he believed her when she told him he was wonderful, however...
"My name is Illya, don't you think you should call me by my first name?" She looked at him questioningly.
"I'm not sure that would be proper. I hardly know you". She was serious. Illya guffawed at the reply.
"Are you mad? We've just been making love for the past two hours, surely we can be on a first name basis". He shouldn't have called her mad. That was probably a mistake, he was thinking...
"You...you call me mad? You are impudent, and you will pay for that!" 'Unbelievable. How do these things happen to me?' He thought it, but kept his tongue before actually saying it aloud.
Just then there was a buzz on the night stand. She picked up a phone and listened as a hurried explanation was given from the other end. Her eyes turned on Illya and she began to back out of the bed, tearing the sheet off and wrapping it around her body while he remained naked and uncovered, sinking into a knowledge of something bad about to happen.
"It would appear that Mr. Solo has escaped. I have to believe that you were aware of his intentions, and have kept me here in the hopes of allowing him more time to reach the authorities and bring them down on me. Is that correct, Mr. Kuryakin?" Oh, how to answer that...
"I was not aware that my partner was gone. Do you now doubt me, M'lady?" Blue eyes looked at her with an expression of such innocence and hurt that she almost bought it. Instead she picked up the phone again and called for a guard to come in and fetch the blond and escort him to the dungeon.
"There's a dungeon? Not just a cell, but a dungeon?" He knew something like this would happen. Now all of the bad stuff was going to begin, and of course Napoleon wasn't here to share it with him...of course.
Illya was allowed to dress, rather hurredly though, and was escorted downstairs to the dungeon. It wasn't the worst he'd seen, although the accoutrement to varying types of torture were present, much to his chagrin. He ran into that emotion quite a lot, it seemed. For the present he was hanging from the rafters, his booted feet barely touching the flagstone beneath them. There was a definite foreboding in his mind, as images of M'lady and her whip began to emerge from his memories of their earlier, unromantic meetings. 'Now would be a good time for Napoleon to show up', his thought wandered to the prospect of being rescued from yet another dire situation.
Napoleon was, at that moment, making contact with UNCLE headquarters. He had driven the short distance into London; as it happened they were not far from the city's center after all. A curious shopowner had allowed him the use of the phone and his call to the London office had put them into motion. He would lead them back to the castle, which turned out to be an estate that belonged to an absent owner. M'lady, her name still unknown, was squatting, so to speak, on someone else' s property. There was no indication that Thrush was actually involved in this affair, nor did anyone have a knowledge of this woman and her wild claims to the throne. The CEA began to think it was all nothing more than the wild delusions of a deranged woman who just happened to be beautiful and crazy. He wondered how Illya was getting on with her, and decided she might be deluded enough about her aspirations to do him some harm once it was clear that his partner had escaped.
M'lady entered the dungeon with a mixture of royal indignation and regret. She had truly favored the handsome young blond, and was loath to punish him for his deception. Marring that body would be a shame, although she had noted during their time together that he already had scars that ran across his body...that taut and pleasing body. Oh, she flung off the memory and the image of him lying naked beside her, of his hands on her as they explored every part of her...
"You, Kuryakin, have failed me. You took advantage of me as I was trusting you to join me in my quest for the crown. I envisioned you beside me, and all the while it was a ruse to let your partner escape. You must be punished for that egregious behavior. I trust you understand why". She hated what she must now do, but would not be deterred simply because of what they had shared. A queen must not yield to the pleasures of the flesh when it meant that justice would be ignored. He was a traitor to her throne and her bed. It would not do to let that go...
She walked behind him and took out the whip, once again removing it from the folds of her billowing skirts. Illya was able to see just enough of her by turning his head slightly, and anticipated the lash when it came down on his back. The sting of it threatened to elicit a small cry, but he held it in. Better to not let her see him weakened by this, perhaps she would relent if she considered him brave, by some obscure standard.
Another one landed, the ferocity of it increased; he couldn't keep himself from voicing the pain. She lashed out at him time and again, drawing blood and ripping the muslin fabric into shreds on his quivering frame. Her emotions were driving her now, the loss of love requiring the thief to suffer as she was now suffering. He had stolen her dream, the fantasy of a loyal companion; her resoluteness in the pursuit of this phantom kingdom was somehow diminished in the wake of his betrayal. After a dozen lashings, she collapsed to the floor in anguishing cries of surrender. Illya hung limply, nearly unconscious but aware of her weeping. In the midst of his own physical anguish, he felt a thread of compassion for the woman as she lay limp and abandoned to her grief, her tears a testament to her very real pain. It was hard to fathom why this event should wreak such havoc in her stoic plans for gaining the throne. It was as though the emotional turmoil had jolted her into saneness again, causing her to have a startling glimpse of her own madness.
Illya had just enough strength left to hoist his legs up to the beam on which he hung. He hooked them around so that he could release the pressure on his wrists, working to untie the ropes that bound him. Accomplishing that, he reached up to grasp the support and then gingerly lowered his legs and dropped to the floor. Every nerve in his body responded to that, and his back was on fire from the gashes the woman had inflicted. He nonetheless reached down to embrace her, letting her head rest on his shoulder as he settled himself next to her, his own emotions torn by the inconsolable agony of her weeping.
As they huddled there atop the layers of her skirt, Napoleon arrived with the troops from London headquarters. The resistence had been neglible, most of the men on duty easily disarmed and persuaded that their sojourn in history had ended. The sight of M'lady,(who Napoleon had identified as Sarah Jones of Wales), and his partner gave him a temporary shudder; Illya's back was ribboned with red streaks beneath the shredded shirt, and was seated upon the outspread skirts of the weeping woman. It was at once romantic and disturbing in it's connotation. Illya looked up at his partner, his eyes betraying his own confusion as they entreated his friend for a moment more in hopes of regaining his own composure. The senior agent relented, motioning the approaching agents to finish the other tasks at hand, securing the house and transporting the very cooperative prisoners. He would leave Illya and Sarah for the time being, recognizing that in spite of her recent delusion, some type of connection had been made between the two people he now observed.
Two days later found Illya released from medical, still favoring his back as he avoided leaning against anything harder than a feather. Sarah Jones had been remanded to a psychiatric hospital pending a hearing and recommendations concerning her future. The Russian winced when reminded of the two days he had spent with her in that house, and Napoleon avoided asking details of him. Whatever had occured would remain unspoken, at least for now. As it had turned out, she had at one time been affiliated with Thrush in some capacity, although what was still unclear. The grand illusion of a royal destiny had begun to infect her mind, causing the powers above her to cut her loose without terminating her permanently. She wasn't a threat, and there was apparently at least one man who had still hoped to retrieve her from the delusions she held, and win her back somehow. He had allowed her the minimal staff and the continued fantasy of her heritage. When she managed to capture the two UNCLE agents, a promise of help had been given from Thrush Central, although it was merely a ruse to gain possession of the two highly prized men; they would have been on the premises within hours had Napoleon not returned with his reinforcements and seized the house and it's occupants. Once again, Solo's luck had prevailed and saved both him and his friend, in spite of the physical abuse that Illya had endured. Better bandaged than buried.
"So, Illya my friend, are you packed and ready to head for home?" Their plane was scheduled to depart in less than two hours, leaving them time to get some lunch and still make their flight. Illya responded with a decidedly flat inflection in his voice, something still gnawing at him concerning their strange encounter with Sarah, M'lady...
"I am ready and yet...' he hesitated as he conjured an image of the lovely young woman with whom he had shared, if only briefly, a romantic encounter he would not soon forget.
"I wonder what will happen to Sarah. She seemed to come to her senses in the end of it, although it took throttling me with that whip to do it. I suppose it served a purpose if viewed in the larger sense of things". Certainly it should not be necessary for them to be flayed with a whip in order to achieve balance in the world, and Napoleon thought it very generous of his friend to not be enraged at the situation. Still, the man was an enigma.
"Let's get some lunch. I could go for some English fish and chips and a large ale right about now. You on?"
The grin crept onto the blond's face, his features taking on yet again that ageless expression.
"Yes, I think that sounds quite good actually. And then home...back home again".
The two men walked out of their hotel and into the waiting taxi. They would have their lunch and then head for the airport, making that transatlantic flight once again. Upon arrival each of them would have time to try and digest the events of the past few days; one of them caught up in the near fantasy of his experience, the other one sometimes dreaming of what might have been...