Britney ne’er made it back to the cottage the following day on her own accord. She was indeed welcomed back to Locera with open arms, yet there was no time for her to even sneak into the library. From the moment she stepped foot onto the fortress, Britney was bustled here and hustled there. Scarlet was the first person to greet her upon her return but Britney noticed a slight awkward glance shared between her and Byron, when she arrived.
“Thank you, Byron, for retrieving me lady-in-waiting. I trust ye will not decide to leave us again, Britney?”
“Nay, me Lady. I am truly sorry for leaving you. I swear to you I will ne’er leave again!”
“Good. Now come along. We have prepared a feast to honor yer return!”
Scarlet pivoted on her heels and walked into the fortress without turning around once. She knew she had to find some way of getting Britney alone so she could make her talk about where she hid the stones. That night, she decided, she would make her move. But until then, she would enjoy the evening, without her husband by her side.
Algernon had become very distant these last few days, ne’er speaking to her at the evening meal, ne’er asking her to take a stroll with him through the garden anymore. He ne’er even touched her when they lay in the same bed at night! Scarlet was quite sure the other knights and their ladies noticed his silence towards his wife but could not and would not speak up against his actions. Byron’s presence next to her broke her thought and made her turn around.
“Me Lady, if ye do not mind me saying so, ye look as if you could use some rest,” he replied.
“I am fine, Byron, really, I do not need rest,” Scarlet answered. But her legs gave way underneath her and she collapsed into him.
“Scarlet, ye need rest,” he repeated, picking her up and cradling her in his arms.
“Byron, what be wrong with me mistress?” Britney asked. Byron gave a start when she spoke, forgetting she was there beside him.
“Yer mistress is very tired,” he explained, “and she needs to be taken to her bedchamber to rest.”
“Well, I can fetch Algernon for--.”
“’Twill not be necessary, Britney. I will bring her meself.”
Britney was taken aback and also hurt by his forceful words. She had ne’er known Byron to be harsh and also had ne’er known her mistress to be alone with any knight save her husband, whom she noticed was nowhere to be found at the moment. Something very strange is going on here, she finally concluded to herself. She watched somewhat broken-hearted, as her beloved knight carried her mistress up to her bedchamber.
He carried her carefully to her bedchamber and placed her gently on the bed. She stirred once when she was laid down but he soothed her back to sleep by caressing her locks, the same technique he had used on Britney. He pulled the blanket up to her chin and was about to leave when her voice made him halt in his tracks.
“Must... find... answers,” she breathed very sleepily. “Must... destroy... power of... gems.”
Byron did not understand the reason behind her words but he sat next to her on the bed anyway. He lightly pressed his lips to her forehead-she felt warm to the touch. He carefully brushed her hair away from her face. She stirred and slid her hand up to meet his, kissing his palm as she did so. He pulled his hand away, not wanting her to believe he was someone else, and she opened her eyes in response.
“Byron!” she exclaimed, eyes wide.
“Where be me husband?” she demanded.
“He is not here, me Lady,” Byron answered, lowering his eyes to the floor. This time ‘twas he who could not look into her eyes.
“How did I get here?” she questioned, looking around at her surroundings.
“Ye fainted me Lady. I carried you here.” He remained still and unyielding, not wanting to catch a glimpse of her eyes yet again, for fear he would not be able to pull away.
“Byron, look at me,” she demanded. Byron obeyed and slowly turned his head up to look at her. “Thank you, me ‘champion’,” she said.
Without warning, Scarlet leaned up to kiss Byron’s unsuspecting lips. Byron could do naught but return the kiss, for fear of disrespecting his mistress. Byron wanted to break away from this dangerous liaison but something held him back. ‘Twas Scarlet who ended what she had begun.
“Nay!” she said, pushing him away from her. “This should not be!”
“But me Lady,” Byron pleaded innocently.
“Nay!” she returned sternly. “’Tis naught more than mystical fancy!”
“I ashore ye, me Lady, ‘tis no mysticism here, but not pure love neither.”
“Love?” she questioned. “What care ye for love? Ye who would claim to be any lass’ champion in order to bed her! Ye know naught of love!”
“Me Lady, I have loved more that life itself!” Byron countered.
“And who be this so-called love?” she questioned.
“I-I cannot say,” he stammered. “Forgive me, me Lady, but I-I have other tasks at hand to attend to.” Byron quickly got up from where he sat, bowed once, and left the bedchamber without another word.
* * * *
Britney had no time to steal away into the library that day. From the moment she stepped foot onto Locerian grounds, she was whisked into the hands of fellow maids. Her tattered clothes were taken away, her body was cleaned, and a fresh new bodice was cleaned for her to don.
“Ye look lovely, me lass,” Sera commented, making her twirl around where she stood. All the other maids stood there watching her, scrutinizing her every move.
“Um, Sera, if you are finished, may I excuse meself?” Britney asked, wanting to get away from the situation.
“Nay, Britney, you are to stay here, with us. Me Laird has proclaimed a feast in yer honor this evening so we must prepare for yer grand entrance!” Sera exclaimed.
Britney sighed once but ne’er complained or asked to leave again. She was a prisoner among these women, not a friend, and would remain so until she could find a way to disappear. If only she had cast a spell over Byron when she had the chance. Then, he would be under her command, and he would do as she asked.
“I need to speak with Britney!” a masculine voice with a heavy Scottish tongue broke her thought. Britney turned and came face to face with the Laird of Locera.
“Me Laird, what be ye want with me?” Britney answered, not looking into his eyes.
“Leave us!” he commanded the other maids. Without saying a word, they all bowed and left the room.
“What do ye want?” Britney spat as soon as the door was shut behind the last maid.
“Britney, I know what you are and why ye’ve come back to Locera!” his rage overcame him.
“What are ye talking about, me Laird?” she questioned, biting her lower lip.
“I saw the same look of yer eyes when me sister returned to Locera many years ago!”
“What?!” Britney exclaimed, stumbling backwards.
“You are the same as me sister-a sorceress out to get revenge against me wife!” With a lunge, his powerful arm cracked a slap across her face, causing her to fall to the floor and cry out in pain. When she finally looked at him, Algernon was no longer there and Eric stood in his place.
“Eric, how did you--?” she exclaimed.
“Quite easily actually!” he commented. “’Twas easy enough to copy an exact image of ‘his-high-and-mighty’ and enter the fortress! And ye being the li’l fool that you are, ye fell for the trick of mirages once again!” Eric’s laugh was harsh and painful, almost unbearable for Britney to hear.
There was a knock at the door and a shout from the other side; Eric was gone. Britney tried to stand but found she was too weak. She finally crawled to the door, unlocked and opened it, and collapsed into the arms of whomever was there at the door.
“Britney, what has happened?!” exclaimed a female voice. Britney looked up, tears staining her eyes, and was caught by surprise.
“Scarlet!” she said.
“What has happened? And why ye be cryin’?” she asked her, bringing her to her feet.
A tiny voice whispered into Britney’s ear, “If ye tell her, ye will pay! If she finds out yer plans, ye will die!”
“’Tis naught, me Lady. I-I just stumbled and hit me foot,” she replied and lowered her head to face the floor.
“Are ye sure?” Scarlet questioned, suspiciously.
“Aye, that I am,” Britney said, not wanting her to see the fear in her eyes.
“Aright, Britney, I believe you. Now, before I leave, I have one more question for you,” she said.
“Where be the gemstones?!” Scarlet demanded flatly.