Sorry for the delay everyone! The school I'm working in has had a whole heap of inspections, the Year 6's have had a bunch of tests and I've been busy prepping for those!
Anywho, here's Chapter 3, and I really hope you enjoy it! Thanks as always to Cori for being my fabulous beta, and to you my readers for reviewing my work!
WARNING! There's quite a bit of graphically detailed violence, more so in the middle part of the story than anything. So please, if you don't like blood, gore and detailed violence, then don't read it! Otherwise, feel free to read and review!
PROTECTING THE INNOCENT
For all of Galwaine's height, he felt like a small boy among the statuesque kings of Camelot. There was Nathaniel Pendragon, the first Pendragon to ever have ruled Camelot, and the first king to have declared magic lawful; Tobias Pendragon, the sixth King of Camelot who famously disappeared for three weeks to return with the loyalty of three nations; and Joseph Pendragon, who infamously declared war on the six surrounding nations out of madness but then successfully sent them crawling back home. And then there was Galwaine, a tall, dark haired blacksmith from a small village. Not the sort of comparison he liked to make about himself, especially with a raging battle going on around him.
Galwaine was at the opening that led down into the tunnel that ran down to the vaulted area where the women and children were safely housed. To his left were the dead kings of Camelot, and to his right, the animated suits of armour that stared out with sightless eyes. Both groups were dressed in full battle dress, with sharpened weapons. The sound of leather gauntlets tightening on sword hilts made Galwaine's skin crawl and itch, and his hand tightened on his own sword. Galwaine wore little more than a makeshift chest piece to protect his vital organs. Again, not a comparison he wanted to make while staring death in the face.
Looking out at the courtyard where Arthur had given his address earlier, Galwaine's mind drifted to William. Galwaine wondered how his partner was holding up and yearned to hold William in his arms and rush him away from the danger that surrounded them. Instead, he was here, at the front of the tunnel as the first line of defence for the women and children. And for William. A small smile graced Galwaine's lips as he remembered fondly the first time he met William, under the roots of the willow tree with William trying to rescue a fallen lamb. That one moment had set in motion the best two and a half years of Galwaine's life, and Galwaine was determined that there would be many more years of happiness to come.
"Clear the way!"
Galwaine's head snapped forward as two men, with torn clothes and bloodied faces, bounded forward with a man held between them. There was an awkwardness in the way that the men carried the other, and as they passed by Galwaine, he immediately saw why. The poor man, no older than twenty-five summers was writhing about in their grasp, with blood leaking from where his right leg used to be. A few cuts and bruises adorned his face and all Galwaine could do was stand by and let him pass.
"Out of the way!"
This time, a shrieking and screaming pierced the tunnel as two more men, this time knights, held another knight upright between them. Galwaine's stomach lurched and acidic bile rose in his throat. The man in question was missing his legs from the upper knee down, with blood gushing from the ripped flesh. Blood was spilling from a gaping wound in the lower chest cavity and as the three knights passed by, the man's head slumped forward and silence fell in the tunnel. For a brief moment, the knights' steps faltered before resuming — although Galwaine knew they would be taking their burden not to the infirmary, but to lie with the other dead.
Galwaine whispered a few words of prayer, hope and strength and turned back to face the front of the tunnel. The floor had just begun to shake and small cracks began to form in the tunnel walls. Some of the animated armour suits stepped forward, as did some of the kings, as men ran straight past the tunnel entrance with swords raised and crying out orders. Galwaine had a bad feeling about this and his gut was telling him to get back further down the tunnel, more towards the infirmary doors, if not inside the infirmary itself. Something bad was coming, something they weren't prepared for.
"We need to move down the tunnels," Galwaine spoke up and Tobias Pendragon turned around to stare at him, a hint of madness in his eyes.
It was a simple enough question but Galwaine was unsure how to respond.
"I... I don't know how to explain it, sire," Galwaine answered, uncertainty in his voice, "I just know that we have to get deeper into the tunnels."
Tobias considered Galwaine quietly for a moment, making the giant blacksmith fidget on the spot. Gabriel turned to Nathaniel and Joseph, before nodding at them. Galwaine watched with astonishment as the two kings pulled down their visors on their helms.
"What are you doing? We have to go down the tunnels... protect the women and children!"
Tobias regarded Galwaine before pulling down his own visor as more men and knights ran past the opening of the tunnel.
"We're going to the fight, young blacksmith," Tobias stated. "If we stay here, where there has been no threat so far, many of our men and allies will lose their lives."
"And if you go out there, they'll still lose their lives!"
Tobias nodded curtly. "True, but at least out there, we'll be making a difference, no matter how small our contribution." Tobias sighed. "You're asking us to stay based on a feeling, something that most men get the first time they see real combat. I can't do that, not when we could provide the last bit of force that may tip the battle in our favour. I'm sorry."
Galwaine didn't know what to say. Maybe Tobias was right, maybe he was just experiencing these feelings because it really was his first time of seeing such bloodshed. Maybe his worrying for William was making him see hidden dangers that didn't really exist. But what if you're right? Galwaine's inner voice whispered, What if something bad is on its way, and you're the only line of defence between it and the people you're supposed to be protecting?
"Please, you're making a mistake," Galwaine pleaded and grabbed hold of Tobias's lower arm. The dead king turned back to look at Galwaine. "I know I'm not wrong, please, stay. You must believe me."
"I'm sorry." Tobias pulled his arm free and unsheathed his sword. Holding it in the air, he rallied the dead kings and suits of armour to him. "For Camelot!"
Galwaine watched in despair as Tobias Pendragon lead the group of dead kings and suits of armour out of the tunnel, their chain mail and metal armour gleaming in the flashes of lightning. He took a few hurried steps forward, right hand on the hilt to his sword, and stopped. After a moment's hesitation, he turned around and went back into the tunnel, tightened his grip on the sword hilt. He repeated this pattern several more times, each time a bit quicker and more uneasy than the last. The only thing that didn't change was the feeling that something bad was coming.
Letting out a growl of frustration, Galwaine stopped pacing and closed his eyes, trying to restore a bit of calm amongst the chaos around him. Galwaine slowed his breathing the way William had taught him, but he still felt on edge. Just then, his skin began to chill and a coolness swept over his body like a blanket. The tips of his fingers tingled and his muscles felt stiff and frigid. Opening his eyes, Galwaine saw the tunnel walls beside him were covered in a thin film of frost, sparkling crystals glistening in his eyes. A small puff of icy breath floated in front of his eyes and a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach grew within him.
Don't turn around. Whatever you do, don't...
Yet even as Galwaine thought that, he could feel his feet very slowly shuffling around and he unsheathed the sword. More puffs of icy breath floated upwards and Galwaine's eyes widened in fear as his blood ran cold. There, at the front of the tunnel entrance, stood two men, one of whom Galwaine knew was Alexander, if Merlin's description was anything to go by. The other man, whom Galwaine found strangely captivating, held a bow with a nocked arrow. In one swift motion, Alexander unsheathed his sword and charged at Galwaine.
The air in the close confines of the tunnel was uncomfortably thick and clammy with the scent of sweat and fear of the twenty men standing near William. There was only enough room to stand side by side in rows of three, and William stood at the back, closest to the large wooden doors they were there to guard. For behind those doors stood the infirmary, housing all of the women, children and injured men. More importantly, Gaius and Hunith were there. William felt a swelling of pride at having been chosen by Merlin for such an important job, and no amount of uncomfortable sweat or fear would make him move. Even if he did feel as though the shadows were darker than normal and had human form.
William took small comfort in the knowledge that Galwaine was at the top of the tunnel, but that small comfort quickly turned into worry. Galwaine was their first line of defence against anything that threatened the rest of them, but if Galwaine fell...
No, William thought firmly, Galwaine's going to be fine. He has the dead kings of Camelot for help, and those creepy animated suits of armour...
"Did you see that?"
William glanced quickly over to where the oldest man of the group, John, stood, right beside the flickering torches. All of the other men were looking to where John was pointing, which was about two hundred paces away from them. A second pair of torches flickered there.
"What did you see, John?" William asked and stepped forward. As he did so, William couldn't help but feel as though the shadows really were trying to take on human form.
"There were two men, right by the torches over there," John stated and took a step forward. "They were carrying someone... it looked like he had a leg missing or something. Then just as they passed the torches... something... reached out and grabbed them."
Some of the men began to laugh nervously.
"I'm serious. Something got them." John repeated defensively.
William stepped forward, resisting the urge to avert his gaze from the flickering torches ahead of him. For a moment, William thought he saw the shadows around the torches thicken and he could see solid human shapes. Blinking and looking back, the shadows looked like any other dark shadow in the tunnel.
"We should stay here, by the torches," William commented and the group of men turned to look at him. Never before had so many looked at William to listen to him, and William felt a pang of self-awareness that caused him to fidget on his toes.
"Don't tell us you believe him," one of the men exclaimed.
"Especially when it's a well known fact that John has always seen things that aren't really there," another man contributed.
"I think that we should be careful," William answered and the men snorted in disagreement. "We don't know what could..."
"Exactly! We don't know anything, because it was only John to see this strange disappearance!"
Just then, the faint rumblings and vibrations of the ground shaking around them interrupted the dispute. William placed a hand on to the wall closest to him for support and instantly drew it back, for when he touched it, it felt icy cold like the grave. William pressed the tips of his fingers to his lips to confirm what he had felt, only to taste something acrid and rotten in his mouth. He spat vehemently on the floor and felt everyone's eyes on him.
"The wall... I leant against it when the ground started to shake. When I did... it was deathly cold and tasted foul," William attempted to explain, only to receive looks of scepticism and disbelief.
One of the men touched the wall beside William and licked his fingers. "The wall's not cold and it tastes like rock..."
A piercing scream echoing down the tunnel caused everyone to spin around, hands going to their weapons. After a few moments, the scream ceased and deadly silence filled the tunnel. All that could be heard was the heavy panting and footfalls of two men. William managed to get a clear view of the men coming around the bend and into the light of the torches. The man in the middle was missing his lower legs and a large hole looked as though it was ripped through the man's torso. William noticed, with a sickening feeling in his stomach, that a thick, black trail was dripping along behind the man. The two knights plodded along as though unaware of the unfortunate sight trailing behind them and William wished, just for a moment, he too had that blissful ignorance.
Right on the edge of the torch light, the two knights suddenly stopped in mid-step. Without warning, they dropped their dead comrade and drew their swords.
"Hey!" John cried out and took a step forward. "What are you doing? What's going on?"
What happened next would haunt William for the rest of his days.
The two knights turned so that they were back to back with each other, one facing the way they had just come, the other the way they were supposed to go. William watched with alarm as the way back up the tunnel became thick with blackness, just as the torches began to flicker as though to go out. As one knight went to grab one of the torches, something solid sprang from the shadows and landed atop of him. The cry of alarm never came from the fallen knight as the solid shape back-handed him viciously while the other knight was suddenly yanked forward by an unseen force, away from his fallen comrade.
Everyone began to back up against the doors, just as the sickening noise of crunching bone bounced off of the stone walls. William watched as the knight that had disappeared came running out of the blackness with an ear piercing scream, minus his right arm. The knight that had been pushed to the floor scrabbled backwards and they all watched as the one-armed knight suddenly fell to the ground.
"Help me! Please, God, help me!"
The knight stretched out his one remaining arm in desperation, and William instinctively moved forward to go to the man's aid. John, however, grabbed hold of William's hand and pulled him back.
"Those shadow things... they might not have noticed us..." John whispered hoarsely. "We're no good to anyone if we're dead... no good to the ones we're supposed to protect."
William watched helplessly as the knight that had scrabbled out of the way began to run towards them, only to be suddenly stopped and suspended in mid-air. A strangled gurgling sound blossomed from the knight and William could see something dark oozing out of the man's open mouth. William raised his hand to his mouth and fought the urge to gag for fear of alerting the demons that were toying with the knights. But what if they know we're here, William couldn't help thinking. What if they're just showing off what could happen to us?
The suspended knight suddenly began to convulse and William saw a large shadow step up behind him, almost blocking out all of the light from the dim torches. The effect was surreal, the demon and knight having a fuzzy yellow halo around them. With one swift motion, the demon ripped the knight's head off, but not before the other knight, the one without the arm, screamed for help once more. William turned his head away and began to hum childhood lullabies to himself, behind clenched eyes, as his body shook with fear, while the other men packed in more tightly around him in an attempt to stay well out of the demons' way.
The sound of ripping bone and screams of the last knight filled the air, as did the stench of freshly spilled blood. Then, as quickly as it started, the noises and darkness disappeared. Slowly, oh so slowly, William opened his eyes.
"Where did they go?" William asked quietly and looked to John for answers.
"I don't know," John answered, took a few steps forward before turning back to face the group. "See, I told you something was..."
John never got to finish the sentence as, without warning, a large, solid hook erupted through his chest, spraying William's face and the others with his blood. John was yanked backwards and his screams filled the tunnel and everything erupted into chaos as the remaining men began to run up the tunnel.
William took three steps forward before stopping as he saw the men being chased and dragged into the shadows, their screams filling William's ears even as he clamped his hands over them. He reached out for the torch opposite him and then backed himself up against the wall, right beside the other torch. Tears of fear and despair stung William's eyes as the salty droplets slipped down his cheeks. The torches ahead of him, where the bloodshed had all begun, now flickered out and he was left alone in the darkness. Taking his sword out from its scabbard, William began to hum the childhood lullabies once more as he felt the shadows turn to close in on him.
The infirmary was a hub of noisy commotion, despite the battle raging outside. Children played in corners with wooden dolls for the girls, and sticks and stones for the boys. Friendly competitions between the children made things interesting, until a girl broke down in tears or a boy ended up with a bloody lip. Then, the older women with greying hair and slight hunches, who were looking after the children, would chase away the troublemakers, much to the glee of the children, who just saw it as another part of their game. The younger women were at the sides watching this going on and as they tidied the dusty infirmary and readied poultices, they had small smiles on their faces. Chatter from the women rose and Hunith talked amicably with groups of women as she and Gaius made sure everything was set up for when the casualties began coming in. All in all, everything looked as though things were in order, which was more than Jack could say for the group of men that were supposed to be under his command.
The men ranged from the sixteen-summers old boys who thought they were going to be the best fighters, to salt-and-pepper haired men who had seen well over forty summers and thought they knew everything. There were about twenty of them in total, but to Jack, it felt as though there were fifty men arguing instead of the twenty. The argument had been going on as soon as they heard sword clashing with sword, the metallic sound floating down through the small windows and vents located around the cavernous infirmary. The younger men wanted to go out and fight, proclaiming that Arthur had forced them to be down here because he thought they were inadequate and useless. The older men, however, argued that they were safer down here protecting the women and children, and that battle would come to them. The remaining few men, who were aged in between the two main groups, tried to remain neutral for as long as possible. Jack watched the arguing with mild frustration from a wooden bench, just outside of earshot, but close enough to hear that the men wanted Jack to decide their course of action. Jack rubbed his temples as he felt a headache coming on.
"Here, drink this."
A small goblet was held in front of him and Jack blinked in surprise. He hadn't even heard the man approach, let alone noticed him stand right in front of him. Looking up while stretching his hand outwards, Jack stopped midway to look at the man who had offered him the drink. The man had fiery red hair, as bright a red as a roaring fire in the height of winter. Deep green eyes looked down at Jack and a tiny smile danced across full lips, while dark stubble created a handsome shadow across a square jaw. Jack felt a momentary swelling in his breeches before pushing the thought to the side, so as not to embarrass himself when he stood up. While everyone's outside fighting to the death, I'm in here wanting to be intimate with a stranger I've never met before, Jack chided mentally as he accepted the goblet with a small smile of thanks. The stranger sat down beside him.
"Thank you," Jack smiled again and the stranger returned the smile. "I don't think we've met before, but I'm..."
"Jack," the stranger stated and Jack nodded. The man held out his hand. "I'm Matthew."
Reaching across his body with his free hand, Jack shook Matthew's hand, which was marginally larger than his own.
"It's nice to meet you," Jack said and quietly took a sip from the goblet, while looking over at the gaggle of men still arguing, "Although I'm not sure a goblet of water will be enough to stop a headache from coming."
Matthew smiled sympathetically. "I guess it's the price you pay for being what they consider to be a leader down here."
"I'm not a leader..."
As though on cue, the group of men suddenly turned and walked over to Jack, with the slightest hint of menace in the way that they walked. Jack stood up and braced himself as the two apparent leaders for the different points of view stood in front of the others.
"Jack. Tell these... children... that Arthur gave us an important mission to do and that's why we're here in the infirmary."
"No, tell these old men that we've been sidelined so that the rich can take all the glory!"
Taking a deep breath, Jack pinched the top of his nose, wondering what he could say to appease both sides, without insulting either. I'm just a tailor, Jack thought, not a leader. As Jack stepped forward, Matthew stepped to be behind him and Jack felt a small moment of comfort to know that someone appeared to be on his side at least.
"I hope that for all of your disagreements, you all can agree on three things," Jack began and the men quietened. "First, you all know that the women and children need protecting from the battle going on above us."
A murmur of stubborn agreement rippled through the group.
"Second, you all know that before the battle is over, demons from your darkest nightmares will be trying to break through those doors."
Jack indicated to the ones over his shoulder, which had a large wooden post stretched across horizontally. He watched as the men nodded quietly.
"Third, and perhaps most importantly, if Arthur didn't trust or believe in your abilities as expert swordsmen and fighters, would he really have put you here if it meant risking the women and children?"
The men looked at each other then.
"I understand that each of you want to prove your worth, to show your king that he was indeed wise to put you chosen few here. I also understand that you want to be part of the fighting, to protect any brothers, fathers, or family that are being attacked. But what use are you dead?" Jack asked and stepped forward. "We have good men out there, in the tunnel..."
Screams of sheer pain and fear suddenly pierced the air, instantly silencing the activities of the infirmary. Jack slowly turned to face the wooden doors, as more screams echoed through into the cavernous room. The men behind Jack took a few shuffled steps forward, as women began to scoop the children up and hurried them into the back recesses of the room. Within moments, quiet crying from the children filled the infirmary while Gaius tried to get Hunith to go to the back as well.
"Help me! Please, God, help me!"
That scream caused the men to suddenly jolt into action, surging forward in a unified attack on the door. Jack and Matthew managed to get to the doors first and began to push back the men who were now all trying to get out. A few of the men grabbed hold of Jack and began to pull him away, and one managed to hit Matthew square in the jaw, sending him sprawling to the side in a daze.
"Don't go out there!" Jack yelled and went to Matthew's side. "Whatever it is that's out there, whatever it is that's making them scream, you can't open the door! That's the only thing that stands between it and us. Please, don't do it!"
None of the men turned to look at Jack, though, as they began to lift the heavy piece of wood that was holding the door shut. Strained grunts and groans rose from the men as they grappled with the beam before dropping it to the side. The men backed away, pulled the doors open with them and ran out into the darkness.
Scrambling to his feet, Jack managed to run a few paces before he fell to the floor, legs pressed firmly together as Matthew held on to him. Jack began to kick at Matthew's legs as the women tried to push the heavy doors shut, his hands scrambling to push himself up off the floor. Matthew pushed Jack back down and jumped to his feet, helping the women close the door. As Jack righted himself, Matthew was slamming the wooden beam back across the door.
"What are you doing?" Jack shouted in a mixture of exasperation and desperation. Jack ran at Matthew and thumped him hard on the chest with a balled fist.
"I'm protecting the innocent," Matthew replied hurriedly and caught Jack's fist in his hand. "And that includes you, Jack..."
Sudden high pitched screaming suddenly filled the air again and the floor began to shake and tremble, small rocks and stones on the floor jumping about. Jack braced himself against the door with his back, just as Matthew did the same. Looking down at the floor, Jack fought back the urge to throw up as a river of blood began to leak through under the door. Slow at first, the dark red liquid oozed over the dirty floor and Jack closed his eyes. He felt a stronger hand take hold of his own and squeeze it, while Jack thought, William... Galwaine... Oh God, please, no...
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