Once Upon a Time
The Princes made their way slowly back to King Adrian's castle. Dean would rather have gone after Azazel along with the soldiers that had been sent to apprehend him, but Sam had begged him to stay near, in case any other visions should manifest themselves, and in his weakened state after the battle, he needed Dean's additional energy to reinforce the images and sustain him with his strength.
They were met in the Great Hall by Jessica who quickly became agitated on seeing Sam being practically dragged along by his older brother.
"Has something happened to Samuel?" she asked Dean worriedly."Has he been wounded?"
"Na, he's just exhausted. His visions took a lot out of him. He needs to lie down for a while and then he'll soon be back to his old bitchy self," Dean joked, but he too was worried for his little brother and hoped that a few hours rest was all it would take to bring him back up to scratch.
"Come, there is an alcove with a cushioned bench here in the corner of the Hall. Samuel can rest there for now. I will give orders for it to be screened off so he will not be disturbed."
Dean nodded his assent, and soon Sam was stretched out on the long wooden seat, made more comfortable for him with extra cushions and a quilt, brought by the scurrying maids as they jumped to Jessica's orders.
"I can sit with Samuel if you wish to rest and refresh yourself, Prince Dean. I will send one of my ladies for you if he awakes," Jessica offered, as Sam had fallen into a deep sleep as soon as his head had touched the pillows, his soft breathing regular and even.
"Thank you, Lady Jessica," Dean replied formally, "but I prefer to remain by my brother's side. I would not be able to rest anyway until I am sure that he is well."
She was about to protest but when Dean turned his eyes to hers, she saw that it would be useless; Dean had no intention of leaving his brother's side.
She sighed inwardly.
She would have liked nothing better than to gaze her fill at Samuel while he was asleep, but her time would come. She was determined to have him; no other eligible young man had caught her fancy as he had, but her feminine instinct told her that Sam would never be truly hers, for the bond between the two brothers was so strong as to be nearly visible.
She sighed again. She would have to settle for whatever part of himself, Sam was willing to give her.
"Very well. If you need anything you will find one of my ladies-in-waiting near by. Just call out to her."
Dean just tipped his head, his eyes drawn back to Sam. Nothing was as important as his brother's well-being; nothing, and that included potential sisters-in-law and even Azazel himself.
News of the defeat of Azazel had reached the Castle Town of Lawrencia, brought back by those men who had been courageous enough to follow behind the soldiers and watch the course of the battle as it unfolded.
The Castle was soon thrown into chaos as John's subjects, emboldened by the news of the usurper's defeat, attacked the small garrison that Azazel had left to govern the town, easily overcoming them; aided by the fact that the majority were mercenaries, fighting for money and all too ready now to change sides, as they were not going to receive any more payment from their defeated ex-employer.
In the meantime, Ellen, made her way furtively to the royal quarters, looking for Mary.
She had been surprised and relieved when she had seen King John alive and in the company of Bobby, Garth and the Jester and she couldn't wait to give her Queen and friend the news.
She had heard of Azazel's spitefulness towards Mary, the Castle being a hot-bed of gossip, where almost nothing could be kept secret, and so she desperately wanted to be the bearer of such good tidings.
She knew she had to be careful, however, for those two witch-daughters of Azazel were still around and although they were young, they were well-experienced in the magic arts, or at least that's what they all had been led to believe.
She need not have worried, however, as they too had been captured and stripped of all their amulets and other magical trimmings, and tied up in the court-yard with all the others who had held faith to Azazel
She knocked on the door to the Royal chambers.
"Mary," she called. "It is I, Ellen. Open the door. I have wonderful news to tell you. Azazel has been defeated. He will not return. Mary, do you hear me?" Ellen was becoming preoccupied at Mary's silence and she was relieved as she heard an answering voice.
"Ellen, The door is locked. That demon always took the key with him when he left and I've no idea where he keeps it. "
" Don't worry, I'll have you out of there in no time, " Ellen assured her.
She quickly called the castle locksmith who soon had the lock off.
Ellen burst into the room and stopped, shocked at the sight of the Queen, her face bruised and swollen.
"Oh, my God, Mary! What did that brute do to you?" she gasped, appalled.
""Don't worry, my dear friend," Mary said consolingly, as she came forward to embrace Ellen. "It's nothing that can't be healed with time. It looks much worse than it is."
But the queen held on tightly to Ellen, needing her comfort and Ellen supported her friend with encouraging words and her soothing presence.
When she felt Mary pull back, she led her over to a bench beneath the window and brought her up to date on what had been happening.
She couldn't contain herself as she blurted out that John was alive and that she had seen him with her own eyes. She expected Mary to be over the moon at the news, but Mary only nodded.
"Mary, you knew that John was alive even although we were all told that he had been killed, didn't you," Ellen asked puzzled.
Mary smiled ruefully.
"Oh, yes. I knew. How do you think that he made me agree to everything he asked, including the bigamous wedding. He was clever enough to understand that I would never have gone along with his plans if he had nothing to hold over my head. He probably thought that he could control me by threatening Sam and Dean but when they escaped it upset his plans, and so he kept John alive to make sure that I would be the obedient little woman in order to keep my husband safe, and that's exactly what happened."
Ellen felt her heart break at Mary's words and she squeezed her hands comfortingly between her own, not wanting to imagine what the Queen must have suffered at that demon's hands,
There was nothing she could say to make things better. Only time and perhaps John could do that.
She informed Mary of the outcome of the battle that had been fought on King Adrian of Arkansia's lands, and of how the reports told of a great victory by his vastly inferior troops.
The observers hadn't been able to explain it, except to say that Adrian's soldiers always seemed to anticipate and counter-act the movements and strategies of Azazel's generals.
She also told her of the revolt of the Castle-folk, and the capture of Meg and Ruby, not missing the expression of utter dislike passing over Mary's face at the names of the two women.
With an abrupt movement Mary pulled away from Ellen and stood up.
"I must show myself to the my subjects," she declared. "They will have need of me until their King is returned to them and until my sons come home."
"My lady, would you not wait until your bruises are less visible?" Ellen objected.
"No, my subjects have a right to see how Azazel treated their Queen. These are my battle scars to be exposed to the world side by side with those of my subjects."
Ellen knew better than to argue with her headstrong Queen and she followed her down to the court-yard where she addressed her people.
In the forest, the being who had taken the four runaways to the safety of her little cottage, cocked her head. The danger had passed, her guests could return from whence they had come. She called to them as they sat on the fallen tree-trunks scattered around the clearing.
"Come, my handsome ones! My baby-sitting duties are at an end. I will lead you back to the forest. Your presence is still needed in the world outside my Realm."
The four men just looked at each other. They had no idea where they were, and any time they had tried to walk out of the clearing they simply ended up back in the same place, as if they had walked in circles.
The woman hadn't harmed them and she had saved their lives when Azazel's men and dogs had been practically upon them, so they had no reason not to trust her now.
Once again they set off Indian style, one in front of the other, this time going in a straight line and leaving behind the strangely coloured hues of Visyak's realm for the more normal greens of their own familiar forest.
"You are back in Lawrencia, the danger has been vanquished and you are free to go home." She turned to go but John's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Just who are you?" he asked.
" I have told you Winchester that you can call me the Spirit of the Woods. That will suffice for you to know."
"Why did you help us?" John continued unfazed. The Winchesters were made of stubborn!
"I was asked to lend a hand in keeping you safe temporarily, and that's what I did." She answered vaguely.
"What sort of answer is that?" John insisted, his quick temper begining to rise.
"It's the only one you will get from me," she replied as her arm dissolved into mist while in John's grasp.
The other three just watched in amazement as one moment she was solid, and the next nothing remained but empty air.
Rufus was the first to speak.
"There are things that we do not yet understand John. I have seen my sister Missouri and her husband Frank do things that go beyond what we can see or believe. We must just chalk this down to one of those events."
John examined his empty hand where a second ago he had felt a pulsating arm under his grasp, and nodded at Rufus' words. There were many things that men could not give an explanation for, he would add this to them. It would remain a question mark in his mind forever.
"Come, we must get back to the Castle. Visyak said that the danger was over. Let's go and assess the situation," John urged as the four men hastened away from the strange place.
While Sam was recuperating his strength, Dean had gotten up from his stool and had begun pacing back and forth, his mind going to Sam's last vision about Azazel's whereabouts, wondering if King Adrian's soldiers had managed to capture him.
He stopped his pacing for a second to examine Sam's sleeping body. His brother seemed to be breathing normally and he debated with himself whether to leave him for a while to go and get an update on the situation with Azazel.
He didn't want the shit-head to get away; he wanted to get his hands on him and strangle him with his bare hands for what he had done to his family and to his peaceful subjects.
He must have been projecting his thoughts more violently than he realised, for he heard the drowsy voice of his brother.
"I'm glad I'm not Azazel," Sam quipped weakly. "I would hate to be on the receiving end of all that murderous fury that you're transmitting, brother."
"You're a right one, Sammy," Dean's voice was a mix of anger and incredulity. "Don't tell me that you're feeling sorry for the black hearted brute now!"
"Oh, I couldn't care less about him, I'm worried about you, jerk! All that pent-up anger can't be good for you, Dean," he added as he pulled himself up into a sitting position
"Hey, don't move, I'll give you a hand," Dean rebuked him, as he helped Sam slide his legs onto the stone floor.
"I'm fine, Dean," Sam bitched as Dean fussed over him. "All needed was rest, I feel much better now," he assured as he tried to get up, but falling weakly back onto the bench again.
"Right," Dean replied annoyed. "You'll get up when I say you can, got that"
"What's with the orders. I know how I feel."
"Yeah, well, you didn't see the state you were in when I dragged your ass back here, so I'm entitled to be worried about my pesky little brother!"
"I'm fine Dean" Sam replied again, as he turned his wide eyes on his brother, knowing that Dean would comply with the request he was going to make if he insisted enough.
"I want to go home, Dean, back to Lawrencia. I'm ready, I swear I'm fine! I'm just a little woozy but nothing else. Please Dean. Let's go home."
Sam looked at him so beseechingly that Dean's lips moved before his brain and answered yes, while his brain when it caught up, scolded him for giving in so readily to his brother's pleas.
Dean sighed. "Okay, Sammy. You win! Let me just go and see if there is any news on Azazel. Don't move, I'll be right back."
"I promise , I won't go anywhere," Sam vowed, happy to content his brother now that he had gotten his way.
Not long after Dean had exited the little private alcove where Sam had been sleeping, Jessica stuck her head round the tapestried screen.
"Samuel, are you feeling better? I saw your brother leave and I know he wouldn't have gone if you were still asleep."
Sam smiled at her, and her heart did a somersault.
"Thanks, Jessica. I'm feeling a lot better now. All I needed was some rest," he assured her.
"I'm so glad Samuel. Will you be well enough to attend dinner with my parents and I this evening?" she asked hopefully.
"Um.. I don't think so, as Dean and I are anxious to get back to Lawrencia to see how things are; now that it is safe."
He saw Jessica's face fall and he tried to cheer her up." Don't worry though. There will be time to catch up on things when everything is back to normal. Perhaps we will have more time to talk and get to know each other better."
"I would like that very much Samuel," she whispered earnestly.
"Just call me Sam," he answered laughingly."It's only our tutor Master Murphy that still calls me that."
"Sam," she repeated. It suits you so much better."
Sam's cheeks grew rosy at her scrutiny and he was glad when his brother burst back on the scene.
"Hell and damnation, he escaped Sam," Dean declared angrily. "I'm going after him, before he gets away altogether."
"I'm coming too," Sam affirmed, just as heatedly. " I'm not letting you go out there on your own, Dean, with no-one to watch your back."
Dean listened with a sense of warmth as his little brother asserted his right to protect him, his older brother, in the same way that Dean had always protected Sam, and he saw clearly the man his shaggy haired little brother had now become.
Nevertheless, Dean opened his mouth to protest but he recognized the stubborn set of Sam's jaw and knew that there was no way of changing his mind.
The two princes rode out through the town gates of Arkadelphia, past the jubilant citizens who were celebrating their lucky escape from being overrun by Azazel, and turned their steeds towards home.
The afore-mentioned Azazel crawled out from under the hay in which he had taken shelter. He couldn't understand how his far superior army had been routed by such an inferior one. There had to be some black magic at work. Some powerful witch or warlock had come down on the Winchester's side, for his defeat could only be the consequence of that.
Now, here he was hiding in a run-down stable having to flee for his life but they wouldn't get away with this. He would cut his losses for now but he would be back and when he did he would have no mercy on the Winchesters and their subjects; he would slaughter every last one of them!
He could hear a commotion in the distance made up of horses and men. They must be looking for him but why come here. How could they have known which direction he had taken from the battle-field?
He slipped furtively out of the stables and made his way into the forest at the rear of the inn. There was definitely magic involved but he would get away just the same
As fate would have it, Azazel wasn't destined to escape for he had the gross misfortune to cross paths with four very revenge-filled men who just happened to be trekking through those very woods intent on getting home.
When John saw the incredible vision of Azazel popping out before him from a grove of bushes, he could hardly believe his eyes or his good fortune; whereas Azazel could scarcely believe his bad luck.
Time stood still for a moment as the men stared at each other. John was the first to recover from his surprise as he stretched out a strong hand and took Azazel by the throat before he could even pull out his sword.
"The fates have seen fit to give me this gift," John smiled lazily and dangerously, as Azazel quaked at the look in his eyes.
The princes made good time as their horses galloped with all speed towards Lawrencia. They had been away from home for many days and the longing to get back increased with every league that the horses covered.
Azazel had evaded the troops sent out by King Adrian and so the brothers had decided to go home first to check on the situation. They didn't want to dwell too much on what they would find. They knew their father was dead but they knew not the fate of their mother.
Azazel would just have to wait for now.
"Dean," Sam called to his brother as they rode side by side. "My last vision told me where Azazel was, but if he escaped, shouldn't I be getting another one to show me where he's gone now? If we were supposed to catch him why am I not getting anything."
"I've no idea, Sam," Dean replied over the thundering of the horses' hooves, " but if you never get another vision in your life, I'll be more than happy. I hate the way they weaken you so!"
Sam felt a warmth inside at his brother's words; Dean had always put his well-being above everything else. He was the best big brother in the world, but he vowed he would rise to the occasion by becoming the best little brother in the world too.
" Come on Dean. I bet I'll pass through the gates of Lawrencia before you".
"Are you challenging me to a race, Sammy?" Dean yelled back.
"You bet slowslug," Sam laughed, as he spurred his horse on ahead.
The citizens of Lawrencia had observed their Queen in horror as they noted the bruises and swelling on her face; their anger against Azazel building up even higher as everyone swore to be the one who would bring him groveling before their Queen, but Mary tried to calm them.
He would be caught eventually and made to answer for his crimes.
She ordered that all those who had committed atrocities on her people be thrown into the dungeons until she decided what to do with them, something that the townsfolk were very happy to do.
"What shall we do with these two witches my Lady," one of her personal guard who had just been released from the cells, asked her.
"Take them to the tower and lock them securely away, making sure that they have nothing with them but the clothes in which they stand. I will deal with them when I have time."
She turned to Ellen. "Make sure that the maids search them thoroughly, everywhere and I mean everywhere!" she ordered as the two girls were dragged away, spitting and struggling like two wild cats.
As the day drew to a close, some semblance of normality returned to the Castle. The people counted their losses but there was a smile once again on their faces.
Mary and Ellen had returned to the Queen's quarters and were deep in discussion about the day's happenings and about what steps to take to make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again, when the soldiers on guard heralded that two horsemen were approaching the gates.
The two women exchanged glances and quickly made their way down to the courtyard. "
"Open the gates," the guards called. It's the two young princes!"
Mary rushed toward the gate-way. Her sons were safe and she would soon have them in her arms.
They rode in to the yard, tall and strong and her heart melted with love for them.
"Mother, are you all right?" they asked in unison, as they threw themselves onto her in a three-way hug. She just hung on. She was just fine. She had her sons back whole and healthy, at least going by the strength of their hugs.
"Uh, boys!" she managed to get out at last, "it's two against one here. I have to breathe you know," she joked as they let go, apologizing for having nearly crushed her to death!
"I see you two are all right, God be thanked. Let me look at you. How you've grown!"
"Mother," Sam smiled, "we haven't been away long enough to have grown any taller than what we were before, and anyway Dean won't get any bigger than the short guy he is now!"
"Hey watch your mouth, Sammy. Quality over quantity any day. You're only a couple of inches taller, so shut up!"
"I see that some things never change," Mary smiled as she looked on fondly at their bickering.
"Mother, what has happened to your face?" Why are you so bruised?" Dean asked concernedly.
"It's nothing, I ..I fell down the stairs but I'm fine now. " she lied. This wasn't the time for explanations. They would come later. For now she was just glad to have her sons back.
"Hey you two, how about a hug for your auntie Ellen, eh" she interrupted, as first one then the other enveloped her in their strong arms." Your mother's right you know, there's something different about you two but I can't quite put my finger on it."
The brothers exchanged glances. The visions could wait for another time. This was a moment for celebrating, or not!
"Mother," Dean began hesitantly. "We ...we.. heard about father. That he died at Azazel's hand."
Mary just smiled, overjoyed that she could give this wonderful news to her sons.
"Your father is not dead. It was a lie that Azazel put out for reasons of his own. John will be here soon, of that I am sure."
The brothers stared at her with relief and love in their eyes. They had their realm, their mother and now their father back.
They would not let them slip through their grasp again.
Dean turned to Sam. "Thanks little brother!" "Thanks to you Dean, I could have done nothing without your strength to hold me up," Sam smiled back holding Dean's gaze.
Dean nodded, as their mother and Ellen looked on bewildered at the Princes little exchange; but then Mary thought to herself, her sons had always lived in their own little world and she was fine with that. If they wanted to explain they would.
The next morning, the guards announced another arrival as five men on foot appeared at the Castle gates, and once more a joyous alarm was given. "It's the king. The king and Sir Robert with ...Azazel!"
The Royal family debated what to do with Azazel; none of them were inclined to plead mercy for him.
He had killed many of their subjects and hurt the Queen, and the brothers remembered the horrific slaughter of of James the Weaver and his entire family, that terrible day that they had returned from the swimming hole to find their world turned upside down.
"He has to die!" Dean growled angrily, "for all the people that were killed by him and his men, and for what he did to our mother and to you."
He looked individually at the persons who were gathered around the table in the Great Hall, composed of the King and Queen, Bobby, Ellen, Garth, Rufus, and a delegation of those who had had members of their families killed during the invasion; each nodded his or her head.
"So be it," King John decreed his hand holding that of his beloved wife. "The execution shall be carried out tomorrow at midday."
Azazel was duly tied to a post in the yard as each of those who had lost someone, one after the other, plunged Sam's ancient oriental dagger into his body, leaving the last turn for the Queen who plunged it viciously into his heart, watching as the life left his eyes.
The King ordered full celebrations to last a week, and that all his subjects should enjoy themselves as much as possible.
Rufus' services were engaged for the entertainment, and Misssouri and Franck were dragged down from their hidden valley to join in, Franck agreeing to resuscitate some of the old tricks that he used to perform in his travelling show, and a messenger was sent to Arkansia to get Ash and Pamela.
If she and Dean were seen sneaking off for a bit of privacy, no-one took any notice, except Sam who smirkingly put it by for future baiting of his big brother.
He himself was occupied with Jessica as she had insisted with King Adrian that they come for the celebrations, having no intention of passing up this opportunity to spend time with Sam.
Sir Robert was the only one hard at work, designing new security methods. He would make sure that nothing like this ever threatened Lawrencia again.
Down in the court-yard the traitor who had let Azazel and his troops into the Castle joined in the celebrations, although in his heart celebrating was the last thing he wanted to do!
The old man sat at the table drinking the free ale that King John had ordered should be on offer, free of charge, to all and sundry for the entire week. He looked up at the Castle, a satisfied smile on his face.
"Father," a well-known voice at his shoulder called to him. "Here you are. I've been searching all over for you."
"Well, now you've found me, my son," he answered calmly."Is there something wrong back home that you have come to search me out?"
"No, It's just that you have been absent for a while and everyone was wondering where you were. I see you are once again observing your two protegeés. How did they perform this time?"
"They have never let me down so far," the old man replied. " I am very pleased with them."
"You spend more time here watching them than attending to our own problems, father."
"That is why I have left you in charge, my son. You enjoy overseeing our daily routine, while I prefer looking at the big picture."
"Very well, if that is what you wish," the younger agreed.
"Come take a tankard of ale with me. It's actually rather refreshing. Bring another tankard for my son here barkeeper," the old man called out.
"Father, you could rustle up an ocean of the ale if you wanted to," his son murmured in exasperation.
"But here I don't have to do all the work and then it tastes much better when it's brewed. I will be going up to the Castle to pay my respects to the Royal family later. Would you like to accompany me?'"
"Maybe some other time," the younger man replied unenthusiastically. "I had better go home before some stupid squabble breaks out amongst the others. I'll have that ale some other time."
"You do that," the old man replied, his mind back on the Winchesters and all that their future would bring.
XXX The End XXXX