Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm just visiting. I am making no money from this and really just write because the alternative is unthinkable.
NOTE: Forgive the interminable delay in getting this posted. My West Wing muse was monopolizing my time. It's still clamoring for attention, so I thought I would try to get this out while it wasn't looking.
Battle Won, War Begun
Diana sat in her litter as it was carried away from battle. The clang of swords, the shouts and cries of dying men made a nightmare of the ride. Longinus was sure to be angered at having come so close to possessing that boy prince. She herself would have been glad to make slaves of the lot of them. How better to humiliate these barbarians than to make their self-proclaimed leader a slave? Even as she thought this, she wondered if turning Conor into a slave would make a martyr of him as surely as killing him would. That they could not afford. Rome was already furious with her that she still requested troops and provisions and could not claim to have won the island.
She blamed Longinus for the continued failure for she could see now that he had always had his own agenda. He had, at first, been searching for that cursed spear. Now, he held these people, and Conor specifically, responsible for his continued life. She could not understand what was so bad about an immortal life. She'd long hoped it was a secret Longinus would be willing to share. Queen Diana, the Immortal. She played with the title in her mind, losing herself in the possibilities it presented.
The litter inexplicably stopped. By the sounds, she knew they were still too close to the battle. The curtain to her right was drawn back revealing Longinus, now astride a horse.
"Come now, Queen. We ride." He reached out for her hand and pulled her roughly onto the back of his horse.
Diana held on for dear life, wondering if she should be more concerned about where the ancient Roman was taking her, or why he was taking her.
Ronan and Michael rejoined the battle, viciously attacking any Roman that looked as if he were even thinking of following Fergus. It seemed only a short time later that they heard Dermot give the signal to break off the fight and return to The Sanctuary. They broke into a run, catching up to their friend where he stood by a tree holding horses for them.
Ronan eyes one horse suspiciously. "That looks like a Roman horse."
Dermot shrugged. "His rider won't need him anymore." He gestured back towards the battleground, which was growing more and more silent by the moment. "The Romans retreat. They do not even try to follow!" His excitement at their victory gave way to concern as he heard a voice call out to them.
Caitlin reigned her horse to stop in front of the trio. "Did Fergus get away?"
"Aye, that he did. He rode off with Conor some time ago. They must be back to the Sanctuary by now." Michael gestured in the direction of home.
Caitlin nodded, and, without another word, urged her horse into a gallop wanting nothing more than to catch up with her companions.
Diana and Longinus rode for a long time, galloping at such a speed that Diana was sure she'd fall from the swift steed. The landscape went by in a blur, but even had it not, Diana was sure she would never have recognized where they were heading anyway. The entire island seemed to be no more than trees, rocks, streams, and hills to her.
Longinus stopped the horse as abruptly as he'd stopped the litter. He dismounted, leaving her where she sat. Taking in her surroundings, Diana could see no point to their ride. "Longinus." She called to him, but his attention was not on her. "Longinus!" Her voice grew louder as her patience thinned. "Where are we? Why did you bring us here?" She slid from the horse's back and stood before him.
Longinus, an expression of infinite world-weary loneliness on his features, allowed himself to see Diana. He pointed to a cave to the Queen's right. "There!" He pushed her towards the mouth of the cave. He continued pushing her every few feet, ignoring her demands that he stop and explain himself until they stood in a cavern. It was eerily lit with a cross behind a stone pedestal. The chamber seemed to hold a chill aeons old. Torches still burned in sconces on the wall, as if only recently lit, but, Diana sensed, no mortal hand had lit them.
Longinus grabbed a torch and flung it to the ground. It did not go out, but lay sputtering in the dirt.
Diana took a step backward. The torches, the chill, and the eerie, otherworldly feel of this chamber terrified, as, she realized, did Longinus. She fixed her wide, fear-filled eyes on him, and spoke in hushed tones. "Longinus, what is this place?"
Longinus turned to face her, hatred burning in his face. "Can't you guess, Diana?" He took a few steps toward her, but she stepped back keeping the distance between them. "You're a smart woman. Can't you?"
She refused to speak.
"No?" He laughed a humorless laugh. "This, Diana, is where it happened. He pointed at the stone steps that led to the pedestal. "I lay right there, begging." He said that last word bitterly, harshly, as if it were responsible for his predicament. "He would not kill me, though I pleaded, though I begged. God alone knows what he did with the Spear."
She stepped towards him now, thinking to reason with him. "Longinus, we may yet find the Spear ourselves. Conor didn't keep it. If he has hidden it, we can make him tell us where it is"
He sneered at her, momentarily, then, his expression changed. His eyes remained hard and cruel, but his face was expressionless, almost slack. "No. I came here only to remind myself that this prince has denied me my one chance to die. He has probably destroyed the Spear." He looked up at the great stone cross. Regret flashed in his eyes, but was gone before Diana noticed it.
As he stared at the cross, she heard the words he whispered, and her very soul quaked with fear.
"I will make him suffer," he vowed. "I will destroy this island and let him live to see it burn. Longinus imagined, in great detail, what he would do and how Conor would react when he was done. He wanted to show the vision to Conor, to be there and watch him as he saw his friends, his life, his land engulfed in flames. Then, Longinus began to laugh, a hollow mirthless sound that chilled Diana to the marrow of her bones.
Conor awakened to find himself in familiar surroundings. The Sanctuary. His own dwelling. Fergus sat by his bed staring expectantly into the lad's half-opened eyes.
"Fergus?" He was surprised to find it a little easier to speak now than it had been back at Dar's village. He moved slightly to take his friend's hand. It pained him to do so, and he winced from the effort it took to force his muscles into what should have been an unconscious movement. Still, just the ability to move at all was enough to bring a smile to his lips.
"Conor," Fergus' delight at seeing Conor awake was apparent. A grin split his face from ear to ear and his eyes twinkled with glee. "How are you, lad?" His concern had not lessened just because the boy could open his eyes. He had seen the effort it cost his prince to speak and to move his arm. Conor would be a while longer recovering.
Conor, as usual, had thoughts other than his own well being. "What happened?" His brow furrowed as he tried to force memories that were not there. "I remember you singingthat's all."
Fergus laughed. "I'm surprised you remember that much!"
Sudden concern forced Conor's body upright, and the pain it caused made him cry out. Fergus stood and gently lowered him again to the bed. "Caitlin...Tully" He said no more, afraid to ask the question because he so feared the answer.
"They're fine, lad." Fergus' voice had dropped to the softest of whispers. It was an old trick he'd mastered early in his life. He had told tales round the campfire long enough to know that Conor would be forced to lie very still in order to catch every word. "Rest now. Everyone's right where they should be."
Fergus was gratified that Conor actually closed his eyes and seemed to drop off to sleep almost immediately. Covering him with a blanket, Fergus left Conor's chamber with a stealth and grace that belied his size and profession.
Once outside, Fergus' face turned hard, unforgiving, and stony. He had nearly failed again. Those sods had nearly killed Conor. He would never allow anyone come so close to taking the boy's life again. He'd vowed to protect Conor, and that was a vow he held more precious than even his own life. From this point on, woe to the man who even looked threateningly in Conor's direction. Unconscious of it, Fergus' hand fell to the hilt of his sword.
Caitlin and Tully, seeing Fergus leave Conor's chamber, ran to his side. Conor had been asleep for days, and the pair had grown more and more concerned that he might never awaken. "How is he?" Caitlin's eyes betrayed a moment of fear and deep concern for her injured friend.
Fergus gently touched her shoulder. "He's resting. I think he'll be fine." No sooner had he spoken those words, than a startled scream and a loud thud met their ears. In a moment, the trio was racing for Conor's chambers.
Conor had fallen out of bed, blanket tangled around his legs. His struggles lessened as the movements proved too much for his aching muscles.
Fergus helped Conor up to bed. By now, the young man had realized he'd been dreaming, but the reality of it clung to him making him doubt he was yet awake.
"What was it, lad?" Fergus, having known the prince since he was a child, had certainly seen him on the throes of nightmares. In all of those dreams, even in the recent ones since the death of his family and Claire, never had Fergus heard him cry out like this.
Conor slowly settled himself onto the bed. "It was nothing. A dream. That's all."
Unwilling to accept that answer, Fergus urged he boy to tell him more. When he refused, Caitlin found something to say about it. "Conor, let us help you. I have heard screams like that before, from the Roman's slaves. Tell us what you dream."
Tully nodded. "Galen once told me that if you don't give voice to your fears, they'll gain strength and power until they control you."
Conor looked at each of his friends, instinctively knowing they would not leave him alone until he answered them. Reluctantly, he described the images that had awakened him. "The landthe hills were aflame. The rivers and seas boiled. The trees were torches lighting up the night sky. People were on firesome running. There was no way to escape, and nothing I could do to help." He paused, not really wanting to continue, but Fergus raised an eyebrow, and that was all it took. "The worst part was" For a moment, it seemed he would not, could not continue. Then he pressed on, words tumbling to escape as though in a hurry to escape his mouth before his courage faltered and they were swallowed down, dark and silent. "The worst part was that, above it all, I saw Longinus. He had caused it all. He did it to hurt me. He was laughing as if it were some kind of joke." Fear fled from his face, surpassed by determination, anger, and conviction. "I cannot let him. I will not let him destroy everything just because he hates me!"
"Conor, it was a dream." Caitlin's whisper caught his attention more surely than a shout would have.
"I hope you're right." Somehow, hearing the echo of that laughter in the back of his mind, he knew there was at least a chance that Caitlin was wrong.
Weeks later, the stiffness all but gone, Conor walked to the practice field where Fergus was already leading the warriors through their drills. Conor had been proud of them when he'd learned how they'd attacked the River People and the Romans. They'd gotten away clean. IT was an amazing thought that these men and women from tribes all over the island were learning to fight side by side instead of against each other. He saw Dermot help Stephen up after the mad stumbled. Dermot's attitude had changed since they'd rescued Conor. He was less aggressive with his friends, yet, from what Conor had been told, he'd fought like a man possessed. He had even attacked the Romans who had been guarding Longinus' litter. Longinus had last been seen galloping away with Diana perched behind him.
He brushed aside thoughts of the Roman Queen and her ancient companion. For the first time, Conor thought there was a chance. If other tribes learned of how they'd defeated the Romans, they might decide to join the Confederation of Tribe after all. United, they could defeat the Roman Army. He was sure of that, for no one fought more ferociously or more determinedly than the Tribes once they found a foe.
He inhaled, happy that he could finally breathe deeply. He'd been told that his ribs were healing. His body felt much better, if a little out of shape from lack of activity. He stood a moment before joining his people on the practice field. They fought like soldiers with a victory behind them. They fought well. For brief moment, he imagined the field, warriors and all, engulfed in flame, but he shook it off. Longinus, even if only in a dream or vision would not defeat him. Whatever it was, Conor was sure, at most, it was only a possibility.
The reality was here and now. The land was not burned. It was alive. The land was green and lovely, with beautiful rivers and streams carrying life across it. The land was vibrant, verdant, and victorious. He was only hear to keep it so. He allowed himself a small smile as he strode toward Fergus. He'd defend the land with his life; the land, these people, his family. That was what they all were now.