A/N: Obviously, from the title, something really bad happens in this story, but before you sentence me to the guillotine for killing Percy, at least read the end! I can't give anything away here, but you might end up forgiving me after all. One last note - I reference multiple books in the Scarlet Pimpernel series in this story. Most of them are vague enough that they don't qualify for spoilers but are better if you have previously read the series, but if you haven't read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (obviously) or "Sir Percy Hits Back" (maybe even "Eldorado" if your memory serves you too well) you will be exposed to some serious spoilers. Read those first and then come back! Special thanks to Baroness Orc for the very helpful beta :)
Read and enjoy! Reviews always appreciated!
Chapter One: The Chase
Sir Percy Blakeney was determined. If he was going to die he was not going to be trapped inside a miserable and dark prison cell, stripped of his humanity, wavering on the edge of insanity. No, it would be in the open air, under the light of the moon, with the sky above him, freedom coursing through his veins, and a fresh breeze in his face. Blakeney had been imprisoned before by his enemies and had absolutely no wish to repeat the experience – that was why he ran now, his feet pounding swiftly upon the dead grass. It was a desperate situation in which Chance had decided to shave off that one unsightly hair that the Scarlet Pimpernel was so famous for having the talent of catching hold of, leaving him to catch in vain. Oh, but it had been glorious sport! As the musket balls whistled past his head, Blakeney recalled the incidents that had led up to his current predicament...
It had been the plight of two innocent little girls. Their family had already been executed, and it was deemed that they should be brought up in misery, taught to be godless and vile, raised by those who despise goodness – indeed, it was not an uncommon occurrence in those days. However, the Pimpernel and his band of men were always ready to defend those who were not strong enough to help themselves and so they had set out to rescue these children. Armand Chauvelin, agent of the Republic of France and sworn enemy of the Scarlet Pimpernel, was ever dogging the Pimpernel's movements throughout the country and was always watching for a chance to trap him. He had seen his chance in these two girls as a means for capturing his gallant foe and had laid his plans well. Blakeney had been aware of the trap, but did not let it deter him from his purpose. Had he not worked his way in and out of traps before?
As he had done so many times past, he wittingly put himself in harm's way, and as he had done an equal number of times before, he had succeeded. The girls were snatched in the night from their captors and safely off with their rescuers before Chauvelin's men had even realized what had happened. However, what had made this night different from any other adventure was that Chauvelin had not overlooked a single detail this time. He had anticipated his enemy's schemes and soon had an entire squadron of soldiers riding on the heels of the two who had sought to spirit the girls away. There had been no time to double back, not a spare moment to engineer some trick or ruse to throw the pursuers off, it was just hell-for-leather as Blakeney and Dewhurst whipped their horses to a frenzied speed, each holding closely a weary little girl. The soldiers' horses were gaining - with such relative ease that they did not even bother to fire their guns - and Blakeney had only been able to think up one plan. It was not his most brilliant, but perhaps was his most selfless – or foolhardy – and it was the only way he could manage the rescue of the girls. Flinging off his coat into the faces of the closely pursuing horses caused enough of a distraction to startle them and buy him the few seconds he needed. Bidding Dewhurst to follow his lead he slowed his horse to a trot, enabling him to hand the girl he had been carrying in front of him to his friend. This left Dewhurst with both children and he arranged the sisters carefully on the front of his saddle. The two speedily spurred to a gallop again, their recovered pursuers once again on their tails.
"Continue to the Daydream with Holte and Everingham as planned, Tony!" Blakeney had ordered Dewhurst. "It is me they want, with any luck I can shake them and join you later!"
Good old Tony, Blakeney thought to himself, he had obeyed so well, even though he would scarcely be able to bear leaving his chief to fight alone. After his friend had gone ahead, Blakeney had then turned his horse off the road in hopes of luring the pursuers off. At first it hadn't worked, as the soldiers were unable to distinguish in the darkness which of the two were the Scarlet Pimpernel, and they had continued to pursue Tony. Blakeney had observed this and had ridden to the crest of a hill, his horse rearing from the abrupt halt, as he called out as loud as he could muster,
"Chauvelin! I do believe it is me you want! A nous deux, Monsieur Chambertin! A nous deux!" He laughed an echoing inane laugh.
Chauvelin had heard the cry, one he had often used himself toward his foe. Pulling his own horse to a halt he had rallied his men, pulling away from the rapidly disappearing Dewhurst, safe with his young charges. Chauvelin had looked at the impudent man now daring him to follow. The challenge was exactly what Chauvelin had hoped for. He cared not whether the girls lived or died, his sole purpose had been to capture and destroy the Pimpernel, and now there he was before his very eyes.
As soon as Percy had attracted the attention of his enemy, he had turned his horse and galloped away. Chauvelin and his men pursued him hotly. They now started firing on him with their pistols and muskets, eventually shooting down Blakeney's horse. Blakeney, agile as a cat, suffered no injury from the fall and had set off running, leaving him in the predicament he was in now. He had a tolerable headstart, but it was clear that options were disappearing quickly as a man can only run so long on foot with horses in pursuit.
"Running like a demmed fox before hounds," he muttered as he ran. Foxhunting had been something of a favorite pastime for him back in England, however, now as he was running for his life before the bloodthirsty pack behind him, Blakeney couldn't help but feel sympathy for the poor creatures that were hunted down and killed. He was not unlike one of them now, a cunning fox or powerful stag that must throw his enemies off his trail at all costs.
His quick mind was racing now to find some means for evading his pursuers – a chance to double back, an impenetrable hiding place, a convenient disguise – but there was nothing in this field. Nothing but that high, iron-wrought gate up ahead, now that might be of some use. It would be locked, of that he was sure, which would infinitely serve his purposes. He was soon upon it and with the speed and strength that had so often before defied his pursuers, Blakeney had pulled himself up and over the gate. Chauvelin and his men were forced to a stop as they reached this obstacle. No horse could jump a gate that high. Scrambling and cursing, they found their own way over this inconvenient impediment, leaving their horses behind on the other side. Chauvelin and his men now pursued Blakeney on foot, the soldiers pausing every so often to discharge their rifles at the now more distant figure, who had – despite the soldiers' advantage of being somewhat fresher than he – managed to increase the gap between them from sheer ability and will-power. Chauvelin himself was not quite as spry as he had once been, and under ordinary circumstances would have been left far behind by now, but the thrill of the chase had lent vigor to his thin frame and he kept pace as well as any of the soldiers – even to the extent of outdistancing a few as he was not encumbered with the weight of weaponry and ammunition.
Chauvelin did not stop his men from shooting. Even though nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to see his enemy's head drop from the knife of the guillotine, the simple knowledge that the Pimpernel was dead or at least severely wounded and in his power was a victory Chauvelin was not about to make the mistake of letting pass. As it was, the sight of Blakeney running before them was quite a soothing balm to the wounds his pride had received at the hands of that man.
The great breaths of air Blakeney had to take in were now beginning to burn in his lungs but were also strong with the scent of the sea, which could not now be many yards away. He could picture in his mind's eye, the Daydream, anchored safely offshore, awaiting the reception of the young refugees. Perhaps he might reach it as well. The shoreline was soon reached and Blakeney descended the rocky incline in great, agile bounds. It was the rugged coast of Calais, quite near the place where Chauvelin and the Scarlet Pimpernel had first matched their wits against the other, marking the beginning of a long series of embarrassing defeats for Chauvelin. Marguerite had been so brave that night, Blakeney recalled, he must try to live now, for her sake. It would be infinitely wrong to take the cruel absences he made so often from her presence and turn them into such a permanent thing as death.
He reached the water's edge and paused. There was little sound this night, naught but the crash of the waves and the lone cry of a sea mew, the soldiers had ceased their shooting as they needed their hands to be free for descending the steep rocky decline.
His pause had been of the briefest of instants before Blakeney had made an equally brief scan of the moonlit beach. He quickly assessed what his location must be and considered how far he would have to go before he reached the Daydream. A little ways from him was moored a rowboat – something that might prove invaluable to him if he could but launch it in time. Blakeney sprinted for the boat as the soldiers and Chauvelin were still occupied in their climb. The boat was tied to a post with rope, and as he had no knife with which to cut, he knew it would be of no use to waste valuable time in attempting to untie the cord, tightened with the tugging of the drifting boat. Chauvelin and his men were now nearly on the beach, several kneeled and aimed their rifles as the others continued to run on ahead, hoping to make good his capture now that he was supposedly cornered.
Blakeney ran a little ways further and dove into the dark and cold surf, striking out with powerful strokes. He made it quite evident that he would soon be out of range of his enemies' rifles if nothing were done soon.
The soldiers had fired their guns as their quarry made this unexpected move and in a few moments, all gathered at the edge of the waves, temporarily uncertain of what should be done next, watching as the one they sought put more and more distance between them. Most of the group, Chauvelin included, couldn't swim, and the others could only do so very poorly. Chauvelin roused his men from their stuporous gaze and said, "Launch the boat, you idiots! He's getting away!"
The men did as they were told. Three had to be left behind, as there wasn't enough room in the boat for all of them. They were then given strict orders to ensure the Pimpernel didn't try to double back to shore. Chauvelin sat at the bow of the boat as the soldiers pushed it past the surf and started to row. He discovered that he was sitting on a lantern, which he promptly lit, and held out over the water to seek his enemy in the shroud-like darkness. He could just make out the silhouette of Blakeney's head some distance away, and his arms as he reached for each stroke.
"Faster! Row faster for God's sake!" he hissed to his men and fixed his pale eyes on that now not so distant figure. He could not escape, not now! Not when he was this close! He was so close to victory, Chauvelin could almost feel it, but he had felt this way, many times before, and every time, he had been duped and victory had been snatched from him. "Not this time," he seethed under his breath. "Not this time!"