80 ~ Lares

Jourd’Althea, 3rd Primera

It was only a matter of time, Lares knew.

Despite their speed in crossing the channel, time had run out.

Harbourtown had just appeared on the horizon when Lord Exsil Vis’ ships had caught up to them. Lares had been ready, however, and the first ship had been dispatched with a few well-placed flaming crossbow bolts. He’d felt no remorse as the ship had fallen, burning, into the sea – only relief.

Soon two more ships came upon them, and Lares loosed more fiery arrows in an attempt to sink these ships as well. The crews were too fast, however, and they got the fires put out before the flames could spread.

Merry gave the order for oars to be lowered, and the ship moved faster, away from the cannons of the approaching Vocan navy.

They were not much closer to safe harbour, however, and Lord Exsil Vis’ ships had oars, too. And more men to man them, Lares knew. Soon Merry’s ship was sandwiched between the Vocan ships, and before a surrender could go up the BOOM of cannons rent the air, followed soon by the sound of splintering wood.

Lares ran up to Merry. “I’m down to a handful of arrows, Captain, and those cannons will destroy us before we reach harbour.” Merry regarded Lares expectantly, a captain awaiting news he knew he wouldn’t like. “Surrender,” Lares said, unable to believe his own suggestion. “It’s the only way we’ll survive.”

“Never,” Merry said. “Death first.”

Lares bowed and acquiesced, knowing arguing with Merry on that point was useless. He turned back to the crossbow and got a few more arrows ready.

This time he managed to get the sails of the port enemy ship, and the crew was suitably distracted by the fire for him to swing the crossbow around to concentrate on the starboard ship. He aimed carefully, and when he had the main mast’s sails in the crosshairs he reached to set fire to the pitch-soaked arrow, and stopped – something on the ship had caught his eye.

Maurice.

In a trice Lares had up his musket instead, and was readying to fire it at the hated lord of Voco. He moved to the railing and aimed at Lord Exsil Vis’ back. His finger slid over the trigger, and, ready to squeeze, he…

Stopped dead as Maurice turned, for the lord held his lady in front of him. Lares lowered his weapon.

Maurice looked at Lares then, and smiled. He shoved Hope in front of him as he walked to the railing, and Lares watched in horror as Maurice held Hope over the water, his pistol held to her temple.

He was stuck. He could not kill Lord Exsil Vis without killing Hope. Of course Maurice knew that.

“Stout-Heart,” called the lord of Voco, and Lares’ blood chilled at the tone of voice the man used. “I know what you want, Stout-Heart. Think you I’ve not noticed how you look at my lady? Think you I am that stupid? I’ll let you take her, Stout-Heart. I know that’s what you want. You can have my lady. Just give me my daughter.”

Hope didn’t even struggle in the man’s grasp – just gave Lares that same pleading look she’d given before he’d left.

“I’ll make no deal with you, Maurice,” Lares shouted, finding his voice back from wherever it had run off to.

Lord Exsil Vis shrugged, and cocked his pistol. “Then your Lady Hope dies.”

Lares felt his heart stop. Hope. God, no. Hope or Anala. A horrible, impossible choice.

He felt his gaze sliding over to the entrance to the hold, belowdecks where Anala recovered, still unconscious. His gaze stopped as it locked with Mara’s – she stood at the hold entrance, and the look on her face said she’d heard the entire exchange.

Tormented, Lares looked back at the Lord and Lady Exsil Vis, and saw tears running down Hope’s face.

He was sure tears were running down his as well. Hope. His beautiful Hope.

It was easy to know what she wanted, what would please her. It was not so easy to do that.

If doing what pleases her, kills her…. Could he live with her gone from the world? Can my heart survive?

He stood, hovering between the two unthinkable futures, unable to decide, vision blurred by salty tears, so distracted by his emotional torture he did not notice the flash of silver in Hope’s hand until it was too late.

The knife flew from the waistband of her dress into her hand, and with one last look at Lares she plunged the dagger into her heart. Their eyes met as the light left hers, and he could see her final words to him.

I’ve made your choice. Save my daughter.

She was dead. Her body fell limply into Maurice’s arms, and Lares refused to see the lord gather up his lady tenderly.

Twin screams of anguish rent the air, and Lares realised one must belong to him. Rage and pain filled him and he aimed his musket at Lord Exsil Vis, denying the clear sight of Maurice’s sorrow, the tears that ran down the older man’s face.

He squeezed the trigger, and the rebound knocked him back. He recovered in time to see Maurice, unhurt, carrying Hope’s dead body into the hold.

He screamed again, a word that sounded like an animal trying to say “no”, and reloaded, though he knew he could no longer hit the object of his hate. He aimed instead at the captain of Lord Exsil Vis’ ship. A report sounded, and when Lares recovered from the recoil he saw the man fall, blood on his shirt.

He smiled a small merciless smile, and ran back to his crossbow. Within minutes he’d emptied the flaming bolts into the two ships, catching decks and sails and sailors on fire. While the crews tried desperately to put out the flames, he took up his musket again and was firing on any sailor in range. He watched his fellow Vocans fall, but his satisfaction at their deaths did not fill the Hope-shaped void in his heart.

Soon he was out of musket balls and he dropped the weapon at his feet, for it was useless now. That was it. They were done with long-range. They had to gain the harbour or fight on board the ships.

He looked at Merry, sure the man knew this, and saw the captain was looking west with something akin to fear and determination in his eyes. Lares followed the line of Merry’s gaze and felt a block of ice settle around his heart at what he saw behind them.

Coming up on their rear was an armada of Vocan ships.

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