Chapter Fourteen: The Darkness Before Dawn

‘Well well, if it isn’t Alexander Fortuno. We meet again.’
‘Captain Negan’
‘It’s Major now, actually.’
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Sadly, Mr. Carrera here happens to have more loyalty to the Crown than to his friends.’
‘What?’
Fortuno gasped in surprise. Miguel had betrayed him? The sorcerer did not meet his gaze, and turned away, leaving the room, silent as the grave.
‘Take him to the coach.’
‘And what about the men who attacked the fortress?’
‘Round them up, and then hang them at dawn.’

Alexander was silent as the ship took him back to England. His staff had been taken by Negan, who kept it in his cabin, unaware of its true nature, he seemed more afraid that Fortuno might use it to bludgeon him with it. Miguel never visited him, which was just as well, as Alexander would probably have strangled him. The only visitors he received were the silent sentinels who brought him a few scraps of food or a small jug of water or ale, though never enough to get him drunk, which Fortuno lamented. At least he would have forgotten his worries for a few hours. He spent the lonely few days thinking of Weaver’s manor in Nottingham, the vile Griffon, and Miranda…especially Miranda.
The Elder Conclave had gathered in secret in their Hyde Park lair. Freya, the Elder from Denmark, had just finished placing the protective wards on the entrance, and Elder Bernard cleared his throat.
‘Now, we’ve all heard the rumours and our esteemed colleague Elder Nikolai has confirmed that the manor in Nottingham has been taken over by William Griffon. We have sent in several of our ilk to assist, but they have all been unsuccessful. Griffon’s power has reached its former height and we must act quickly if we are to…’

At that moment, a gramophone began playing loudly, which disturbed the convened elders, none of whom remembered turning it on. Immediately, a tall, thin man seemed to materialise in the room, wearing an Inverness coat over his emerald dress jacket, red waistcoat and tan trousers. A great white falcon perched at his shoulders, its steely gaze surveying the councillors. This was Edward Hartnell, the Castellan of the Conclave, adjutant and leader of their defensive task force, with the falcon Caldeum, his brave and loyal familiar. Hartnell spoke in a soft undertone that belied no hint of his emotions.
‘Forgive the intrusion, but our position has been compromised. We must leave immediately.’
The councillors swiftly began to exit, but as they reached the blackness of the Park at night, the music seemed to swell.
‘Who has the strength to break the wards?’ asked Serapus.
‘Me.’
The elders looked up to see Griffon and three black hooded acolytes drifting towards them out of the night sky.
‘Griffon.’
‘Bernard. Vladimir. How delightful to see you again.’ The elders reached for their staffs, but their attacks seemed to pass through Griffon unharmed, and he laughed. The silent acolytes mirrored his movements exactly, as if they were all puppets on the same set of strings. This was merely an avatar, a simulacrum of the real Griffon, which enabled him to deliver his message without fear of being attacked.
‘Have you not the courage to face us yourself?’
‘And leave my prisoners unguarded? We are not all as foolish as you…. didn’t you think to change your meeting place after all these centuries?’
Griffon’s avatar laughed.
‘No, I am not here to fight. I am merely here to tell you of my upcoming nuptials. I would invite you, but I wouldn’t want you ruining the reception. Every sorcerer that treads my soil triggers the death of one mortal. I hardly think I need to give you a demonstration.’
‘You’ll fail Griffon, you’ll still fail.’
‘And who’s going to stop me? I have your errand boys on the way right now…ready to pay the penalty for your foolishness. But don’t worry, I’ll let you observe. You’ll get to watch as I reduce the great Fortuno to dust.’
As he spoke, the ‘great Fortuno’ was being forcibly escorted from the ship to a small coach at Liverpool port. The soldiers were taking no chances; the driver was armed, as were the two men sitting atop the coach. Negan and Miguel sat opposite Fortuno for the journey, the Major’s eyes always on his bounty. When they finally arrived at Lord Weaver’s manor, none of the men assembled spoke. They walked towards the building in silence, into the dark stronghold of William Griffon, master of the Necromancers.
William Griffon sat behind the oak polished desk with an enormous smile on his face, so much that any onlooker would just see a man who was ecstatic to be getting married. He was dressed in a fine wedding suit that had come all the way from London. On a perch beside the window sat Cornelius, his ever watchful familiar.
‘Ah, Major Negan, delightful to see you again. And I see you’ve brought a guest. Welcome Mr. Fortuno, to my humble abode.’ He gestured for Negan to place Fortuno in the chair in front of the desk.
‘I presume you know why I have assembled these fine people to my home?’ Fortuno did not reply, nor did he meet Griffon’s gaze. The necromancer stood up and leant towards him, resting an arm on Fortuno’s shoulder as a father would do to his son.
‘Oh, poor Alex. To have your heart and your life broken in such a short time. And to have lost your dearest friend to the Crown. Or was it to the love of young Miss Weaver? My my…love can make fools of us all.’
Miguel stood silent behind his former friend, his eyes fixed firmly on his shoes.
‘Jonathan, escort Mr. Carrera outside for a moment.’
‘Yes sir.’
When the two men had left, Griffon sat down at the desk, and looked Fortuno directly in the eye.
‘I hope you won’t take this too personally. I couldn’t ask for a finer woman to stand at my side when I make the world how it should be, and I’m sorry that it just happens to be the woman who caught your particular fancy.’
‘And at what point do you intend on releasing her from your influence?’ Fortuno replied grimly, his voice cutting, but low as a whisper.
‘Once the Conclave is defeated and Bernard King begs me on his knees to rejoin them. When sorcerers are free and she can be proud of what I’ve done, then she will be free.’
‘What about Alice? What would she have made of all this?’
This caught the necromancer off guard, and his acerbic air disappeared.
‘I loved Alice, more than you could hope to comprehend. But Alice is gone now… and immortality is a lonely road to walk alone.’ He stood up, and began pacing the room. ‘I’ll be frank with you then, it is personal. You’re Bernard King’s shining star, and if I had to lose my wife and son because of his stubbornness and pride, then he can watch helplessly as his protégé is destroyed.’
‘You won’t succeed Griffon. I swear, on everything I hold dear… you won’t live past today.’
Griffon did not reply. He called for Negan, who returned promptly, without Miguel, and stood at attention behind Fortuno’s chair.
‘Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but then I’d be late for my own wedding.’ Griffon patted Fortuno on the shoulder, before walking to the door, but before he left, he stopped and turned back.
‘Oh… and Major? Ensure that he is presentable for the ceremony…my bride would be very upset if her day wasn’t…absolutely perfect.’ There was an unmistakable trace of menace in the necromancer’s voice before he left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Jonathan Negan had waited patiently outside as his new ally spoke with Fortuno. Life had been good to him over the past months. Following the duel, the man who had called himself Lord Savernake had taken him aside and explained that the two men were impostors and that he was an agent of the Government who had been tracking them across the country. The entire Weaver household had been ruled as threats by Her Majesty, and Negan was required to stand as sentinel over the manor, receiving a pay increase and promotion as his reward. But these were nothing to Negan, serving his country and monarch whilst being offered the opportunity of hunting down criminals was reward enough. Alexander Fortuno was a fugitive from British justice, and Negan had no qualms about using the underhand methods required to take him in. And if capturing the fugitives also helped him catch a notorious smuggler, well, that was fine by him.

Hundreds of miles across the ocean, Captain Sherman Fraser and his crew ascended the gallows with their heads held high. They had all had a good run of life, and were determined to face execution with bravado. At least, this was the view of the older sailors, the ship’s boy and several others had not seen their fill of the world, and held back tears as their heads were placed in the nooses. As the official read out their crimes, the men took one last look at the rising sun.
‘May God have mercy on your souls. Proceed.’

The hangman dropped the lever and the trapdoors fell… and so did the ropes, seeming to magically loosen themselves from around the gallows frame… At that moment, a burst of cannon fire hit the wall of the fort, and the observers were thrown to the floor. When they looked up, the condemned had vanished.

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