Algernon could stand it no longer. Every minute that he did not make a plan of action, the Sorceress’ power grew stronger. Every minute he waited to attack, meant more time for Melinda to cast her spells. His plan of action, he knew, must be one that would not and could not fall apart at the flick of Melinda’s arm.
He called for his best clansmen, aside from the four Melinda had graciously stolen. He told them they were to surround this fortress, this Castle Baroche, until there was not a space left for Melinda to escape. He told them to be prepared for just about anything, from fire to monsters to fire-breathing dragons-there was no telling what Melinda had up her sleeves.
And so on that evening, Algernon rode out to the place that he thought only existed in minstrel’s tales. He rode out, on that dark-descending crisp winter’s night, to destroy the evils of Scotland and reclaim his Lady Fair. His clan followed in close pursuit, eager for a battle, yet still fearful as to what to expect for Melinda. Yet what they saw just after they reached the ridge overlooking the valley shocked them all, even Algernon.
The castle was indeed in the heart of the valley, where Algernon had often been told it was as a child. Even its outer walls possessed a darkness about them, their bricks a heavy shade of gray. Four large towers stretched high into the sky, which too seemed to be covered in a thick blanket of mist. Sitting atop each tower were four gargoyle statues, each with its own menacing look to it, ready to attack any trespassers.
Guarding the front gates were two cement statues of great hounds, almost as menacing as the gargoyles. They too seemed as though they could come alive at a moment’s notice. Algernon spoke quietly to his chief in command, who seemed more distant today than in any other battle.
“Byron!” Algernon repeated sharply.
“Aye?” Byron shook himself out of his trance, his mind obviously on other things.
“Byron, pay attention! If ye misunderstand me order, it could mean the lives of yer clansmen!”
“I am sorry. ‘Tis just that me mind be somewhere else today,” Byron said solemnly.
“We shall get her back to you safely, as we will also have our Lady back to our homeland safely. Now, pay attention!” Algernon stated.
“Aye, Captain,” Byron replied.
“Now, take half the clan and bring them down into the valley to the west. Make sure that yer men cover the entire south and west walls. I will take the rest and cover the walls to the north and east. Tell yer men to leave their horses and travel on foot. ‘Twill be less of a chance of being heard,” he ordered.
“And, Byron?” Algernon stretched out his arm.
“Good luck, godspeed, and I will see you when this battle has ended, on either side.” Byron grasped his arm, reassuring his pledge and rode off to instruct his men.
Algernon dismounted and spoke softly to the remaining clansmen. He tried to keep his voice steady and demanding, yet he knew that half of these men would not return from this battle alive. Before he went into battle, he always made the clan speak a silent prayer. After the prayer, he quietly led the clan down into the valley.
* * * *
“How sweet!” Melinda mused from where she sat atop her throne in the great hall of Castle Baroche. “Me precious brother has decided to attack me fortress and rescue his whore!” she said looking over at Scarlet, who had been led into the hall earlier, and was now chained at her wrists and ankles.
“He will come to me rescue!” Scarlet cried, struggling against her bondage.
“But only after he sees me take possession of yer heirloom and you lying dead before me feet!” Melinda retorted, getting up from where she sat and walking over to where her other captive stood.
“And we shall see how much love yer precious Byron has left for you!”
“He has no love for me anymore,” her captive sobbed sadly, lowering her head to face the ground.
“Than I believe he has left ye to die!” Melinda cackled, a sound echoing through the great hall.
“So be it,” her captive whispered, on the brink of tears.
“Have faith, Britney,” Scarlet whispered to her.
“I do not think I gave you permission to speak!” Melinda raised her eyes to Scarlet.
“Do ye think I care whether I have permission or not to speak?!” Scarlet challenged.
Melinda tried to counter her remark but found she could not. She attempted to grab at the amulet tied around her neck, but was caught by surprise. The emerald began to glow bright and sent a shock directly to Melinda’s fingertips, causing her to jump back from Scarlet.
“Ye li’l witch!” she cried out. “Ye shall pay for that! Mark me words well! Ye shall pay dearly!”
Melinda stormed back up to the throne and peered down into what seemed to be a cauldron of sorts. As she peered into the water, she could see Algernon encircling one side of her castle, Byron on the other. She chuckled slightly to herself as she watched intently as both parties merged silently toward her domain, unbeknownst that she followed their every move.
“Me Lady!” a voice broke her concentrated stare.
“Ah, Eric, just the man I wanted to see!”
“Aye, me Lady? Whatever would ye wish of me?” he questioned.
“Escort yer lovely bride to the grand bedchamber,” she commanded. “I am quite sure ‘twill be a fitting place for ye both!” she smirked.
“Aye, me Lady,” Eric answered, also with a smile on his face, from ear to ear. He went over to Britney and grabbed the chains that bound her wrists. “With pleasure!” he added more quietly than before.
“No!” Britney shouted, struggling without success as Eric pulled her away.
“’Tis a pity yer beloved is not here to save you!” Melinda called after her, laughing all the while.
“Why must ye torture her so?” Scarlet intervened. “’Tis me you want, not her!”
“Quiet whore! I am the Sorceress of Scotland and I will torture whomever I please! Now, how can I torture you? Aye, by making ye watch yer family perish, one by one!”
“But me family has already perished!” Scarlet tried to protest.
“Aye, but ‘twill be so much of an enjoyment to watch them die again!” the Sorceress said as she waved her arm over the cauldron, creating an image above, for all to see.
Scarlet was taken aback by the image she saw. She was again transformed back to the hideous battle in which she lost both mother and brother to the spoils of war. She was again brought back to the pain she felt when she turned around and both bodies were lying limp. The pain in her heart, more unbearable now than before, shot through her body like an arrow immersed in poison.
Melinda watched with joy as Scarlet’s knees grew weak and her body began to lose its strong stance. With a flick of her wrist, the image changed, from the battlefield to the open meadow, with the mountains behind it. She watched as Scarlet forced her eyes to remain open as she watched her sister and her father both die painful deaths.
“Have you had enough, Scarlet?” the Sorceress replied, quite satisfied with her feet of magic.
“Nothing ye may do to me can hurt me!” Scarlet declared defiantly.
“Then I have one more image for you to see, but let me warn you, ‘twill seem too real to believe!”
Melinda flicked her wrist one more time and a new image came into focus. This time the mirage was not of any family member but of Algernon and his clan. All were approaching the castle, silently creeping towards its walls. With another flick of her wrist, the Sorceress shot a bolt of lightning into the image, causing some of Algernon’s men to fall out of the way.
Scarlet could not believe her eyes. The last death she would witness would be Algernon’s! And one by one, Melinda was slowly killing off his men, right before her very eyes! She struggled now even more against her bondage, but much to no avail. The chains were too tight and began to cut into her wrists, causing blood to trickle down to the floor. Time and time again, the Sorceress would flick her wrists, making another group of clansmen fall the ground, dead.
“Me Lady!” Eric’s voice interrupted Melinda’s concentration.
Melinda turned her attention to Eric before she spoke. “What be wrong now?! And where be yer ‘bride’?” she bellowed.
“’Tis what I wish to speak to you of,” he replied, somewhat childishly.
“Whatever is the problem?”
“I do not know exactly how to put this, but--.”
“Just tell me!” she shouted.
“Well, when I unlocked her-chains-she-tried to escape out the door. I-grabbed her arm and threw her down onto the bed. She slipped past me, but I-cornered her by the windowsill.”
“Get to the point, Eric!” Melinda said sternly, her impatience growing.
“Well, she-fell out of the window,” he said solemnly, casting a glance at Scarlet, who gasped in horror.
“Excellent!” the Sorceress hissed. “One less prisoner to worry about!” she said looking at Eric. “Come now, Eric, do not be glum! ‘Twould seem ye had a thing for this wench!”
“Nay, I did not!” he protested.
“Good! Now back to destroying--.” Melinda’s sentence was cut short when the door to the great hall was flung open and her brother stood in its place.
“Good evening, me sister!” Algernon replied.
“Algernon!” Scarlet shouted.
“Eric, take care of her! I will deal with me brother!” Melinda commanded. Without a word, Eric grabbed Scarlet about the waist and hoisted her over his shoulders.
“Put me down!”
“I am truly sorry I must do this, Sister, but I must follow orders,” he replied.
“Algernon!” Scarlet shouted.
“Byron!” he replied. “You go after Eric! The rest of the clan and I will take care of Melinda!”
“Aye, Captain!” Byron replied. Then he quickly added, “But what about Britney?”
“Connor will stay with her until help can be reached! Now go!” Without another argument, Byron left in pursuit of Eric.
“Now, Melinda,” Algernon turned his attention to her, “prepare to die one last time!” he said, drawing his sword.
“You are such a fool, Brother! Do ye not know that I have foreseen the future?! Do ye not know that I be not the one who dies this day?!” she shouted, at the same time casting a bolt of electricity towards his men.