NaNoWriMo Day 18 Part 1
posted at: 11/19/2014

The two guards stood in the cavern's entrance, momentarily confused. When they set off after the rabbit, they hadn't expected to find a large cache of supplies and the Queen Mother stowed away in a cave. The larger of the two removed his helmet and held it in his hands as he stepped forward. "Excuse me, ma'am. We don' mean ya no harm or anythin', but we were hopin' we could take ya back to the camp. It'll be more comfortable for ya there." He offered her a hand, to help her over the smooth stones of the cavern floor. Matilda briefly considered resisting, running away, telling them that she'd rather stay in the cave, but she could see that it would be useless so she just accepted the guard's outstretched hand. "And if ya don' mind, we'll need to be takin' yer pet there, too. Cap'n sent us af'er that rabbit."

The other guard chimed in. "Do ya think it's alright, Clive? You know Cap'n said we'd get double rations if it wasn't hurt. Is it hurt?" He looked to Matilda. "Hey, do you think it's hurt?" 

Clive turned to his companion. "Mind yer manners, man. Tha's no way to speak to a lady. Ya can go over and ge' it and we'll bring it back either way."

The smaller guard walked over and picked up the unconscious Herford. He put his ear to the rabbit's chest and breathed a sigh of relief. 'Oh! It's alright." He spotted Reginald. "What's that bird thing?"

"Ya have a lot of pets, ma'am. Would ya like us ta bring that one, too?" Clive asked.

Matilda nodded. "Yes, that would be fine. Thank you."

The group now made their way out of the cave. Clive offered to carry Matilda over the rough patch leading out of the entrance, but she declined and stumbled along as well as she could on her own. When they made it out into the woods, the guard who had picked up Herford removed the wizard's staff tied to his back and held it up. "What is this?"

"Wha'ever it is, it don' belong ta you." Clive turned to Matilda. "Ya want yer toy or wha'ever it is back, ma'am?"

"Yes, Clive. That would be wonderful. Thank you." She answered.

"Well, ya heard her, Flin. Give the thing back."

Flin handed the tiny wizard's staff to Matilda and she put it into a pocket of her travelling clothes, hoping desperately that she wouldn't lose it. Herford would never forgive her if she did. She reflected that maybe there was a reason that wizards didn't normally shrink their staffs. But they weren't normally rabbits either.

They made their way slowly back to the hunting camp--which was in the process of being packed up for a return to the castle. Amaranth had informed the Captain of the Guard that there was no Qilin and the hunting party had decided to break camp and head home. The prince was stalking around the camp in a rage vainly threatening anyone who crossed his path with life imprisonment or whatever else he thought of at the moment. He did not like being made a fool of by anyone but himself. Especially not twice in one day. When he had heard that not only had Mrs. Weisgarber, Pete, and Amaranth thrown a net on him, they had also concocted the story of the Qilin to do so, he decided that the trio shouldn't be hanged, they should be thrown into the dungeon and tortured slowly.

His mood seemed to improve when Matilda and the two guards returned to the camp. He stopped mid-stride and a slow, shark-like grin spread across his feet. "Hello Mother." He said with a hint of mocking superiority.

Matilda stood as straight and tall as she could and looked her son in the eyes. Everyone else in the camp seemed to have halted their work to watch this confrontation. "Hello Charles."

"It's good that we've found you. The servants were so worried when you wandered off." Charles stretched and leaned against a nearby tree. "I think they were afraid you'd hurt yourself. I heard one of them saying that you had drowned in the moat."

Ignoring her youngest son, Matilda turned to the Captain of the Guard. "Herman, have you seen Cindy Weisgarber and her son? There would also be another boy with them."

Captain Herman opened his mouth to answer, but the prince didn't want to be ignored. He cut in to the conversation. "Oh, the peasants. We caught them this morning. They're due to be sent to Frederick as soon as we return to the castle."

The Captain didn't appear to be pleased by this. He raised both eyebrows, then contracted them, but remained silent. Instead, Matilda spoke. She kept her voice even, but her heart was beating quickly and she had to fight down her anger and her fear for her friends. "Charles, you are not the king. You have no authority to judge them."

The prince stood up straight and clenched his teeth. "You'll see what I have authority to do." His hands were fists and Matilda took a step backwards. Charles continued. "They're worthless peasants and they attacked me. They will not go unpunished."

"They're under my protection. George will have to judge what happens to them." The Queen Mother said.

The prince let out a disdainful laugh. "Your protection? Everyone knows that you can't even take care of yourself." He looked around at the watching crowd for support, but no one returned his gaze; except for the Captain of the Guard--who's brows had lowered even further. The prince looked away quickly from his glare. Recovering his composure, Charles tried a different tactic. "And I have proof that you've commited treason!"

There was a collective gasp throughout the camp, followed by murmuring. Prince Charles went on with satisfaction. "That's right. I have proof that you murdered Francis and you sent your peasants to try to murder me, too."

Matilda closed her eyes and shook her head. She suddenly felt weighted down and at least twenty years older. What had happened to the sweet, bright-eyed boy who had bounced on her knee? "Charles, you're being absurd..."

But the prince shouted her down before she could say any more. "It's not absurd!" And he turned to Captain Herman, pointing at the Queen Mother. "Tie her up!" The Captain hesitated but the prince insisted. "She's dangerous to herself and everyone else. She's been accused of treason. Tie her up!" The prince considered for a few seconds. "And gag her." There was a murmur of disapproval from the watching hunting party and the prince glared around at them in anger.