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Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Final Council

It took two days for all the sorcerers to arrive in America, and the former Arbiter was silently dismayed to notice that there were far fewer than he had hoped for. Still, he arranged for them all to meet that evening on a field some miles from the town where he had called them from. Griffon had slain many of the pure sorcerers, but a few remained, having taken refuge from the storm that had taken Europe. There was Jeffrey Holmes, once the prison warder at Serapus’ castle and a trainer of sorcerers during the first war, Matthew Dent and his partner Brittany Rose, Alexia Bishara, daughter of the late Elder Cassim, and Caroline le Fleur, a sorceress and healer from England. Most comforting to Simon was the arrival of Edward Hartnell, formerly the Castellan, who had survived Griffon’s attack having been hiding out in South America with his wife Eilish and her brother Edmund. Hartnell had sent his familiar to gather more troops upon his arrival. However the sorcerer and former official was wracked with guilt, he had been unable to attend the Conclave’s meeting where the councillors had been massacred and the security detail had been left to lesser men.
‘If I had been there… perhaps things would have been different. I could have stopped Griffon right there…’
‘There’s nothing you could have done Edward. But perhaps now, we can make things right.’
He ascended a small hill overlooking the field in order to gain a better view of the assembled masses, who were indulging or nostalgic reminisces about the past rather than facing up to the terrifying reality of the present. Simon took a deep breath and spoke clearly, causing all assembled to stop and listen.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have called you here at a most troubling time. The Elder Conclave is no more, and though there are reports that some of them may have survived, we cannot count on their leadership and guidance any longer. Sorcerers all over Europe and Asia have been massacred. And yes, the rumours are true; William Griffon is the one responsible.’
There was uproar from the assembled sorcerers and sorceresses at this comment, and Liberthine had to shout to return order to the proceedings.
‘William Griffon is responsible, and he is hell-bent on annihilating anyone who stands in his way. We must stand together against him, or divided we will fall.’
‘You must be crazy Simon!’ came a voice from the crowd. ‘If Griffon has done that much damage then he must have at least three hundred men on his side.’

‘Closer to five hundred.’
Simon turned to face whoever had just spoken. He almost leapt back upon seeing the skeletal form of Miguel Carrera, who looked as if he was using every last reserve of strength just to stay sitting upright in his wheelchair.
‘Miguel? We thought you were…’
‘No. He sent me here… to tell you where our fates will be decided.’
‘Miguel… what happened to Rosemary?’ His companion sighed wearily, and coughed. His voice was thin and rattled as he spoke.
‘She’s… he has her.’ Miguel coughed again, more heavily, and his equally fragile familiar continued in his stead.
‘He’s gathered together all his acolytes from across the globe… all the students from the Facility… summoned creatures from beyond… and you’re the only ones left who can oppose him.’
The sorcerers all began to speak at once.
‘We’re two hundred and fifty men at the most; we’ll never manage to…’
‘There’s still a chance of getting away before morning, we could…’
Simon sighed heavily, before raising his umbrella and firing a bright light into the air with a bang. When the sorcerers were silent, he intoned gravely:
‘There will be no more running. We face them at dawn.’

The crowd of sorcerers began to disperse, hastily setting up temporary camps in the field before preparing for the upcoming battle. Simon Liberthine remained where he was, thoughtfully staring off into the distance. Why couldn’t Griffon have left them alone? He had been alive for centuries, but he hadn’t lived a day of his life until arriving in New York. He had got used to life at the nightclub, grown fond of his young wards and… though it brought a blush to his cheeks to admit it… the woman who showed them so much kindness. The former Arbiter sighed. He had been unnecessarily blunt with her… if he survived, the first thing he would do was to go back to the city and apologise. If he survived… He was a bureaucrat, not a warrior, even in his mortal disguise he was a missionary, never raising arms against his fellows; his duty had been to save his neighbour, his flock. And now look at him. The leader of an exhausted, disorganised, hopelessly outnumbered resistance against William Griffon’s trained necromancers, the students of his academy and all their unnatural legions. For the first time in his life, Simon Liberthine prayed for himself.
‘Please…help me… to save my family … to defeat Griffon … to make things right.’
Because he knew that only a miracle could help them now.

Simon was not the only sorcerer who was trembling as the day drew to a close. Jason Fortuno entered his tent and sat down on the camp bed, his head in his hands. He had never been in a real battle before… despite all the training he had received at the Facility, hours of drilling , practice with the swordmaster and the endless demonstrations of practical sorcery, he could not feel more unprepared. This was all too real, and there was so much at stake.
‘Jason?’
He looked up, startled, to find Bianca standing over him.
‘Hey. You er… ready for tomorrow?’
Bianca smiled and sat down on the edge of the makeshift bed. She tried to hide the fear in her voice and her heart.
‘As ready as I’m ever likely to be.’ She put her hand on his shoulder, and he relaxed.
‘It’s been a funny couple of months hasn’t it?’
Jason chuckled despite himself.
‘Well, that’s certainly one way of putting it B.’

He kissed her, tentatively at first, before they both fell into a deep embrace. All those years of torment, all those fears of tomorrow vanished for just a few precious moments.

Jason Fortuno walked alongside the roadside, a change from the glade he usually saw in his dreams. He did not know where he was going, he felt as if he were moving on automatic pilot, as though his legs had their own momentum. He started. The hooded figure was there again, his blue eyes glaring down at Jason, his arm poised to strike. But then the figure looked up, gave a scream of terror and vanished.
‘Jason?’
Jason turned. There was a man standing behind him, the same man who had appeared that night in the Facility, and later in his feverish dreams induced by Griffon’s sedatives.
‘Dad?’
The man smiled.
‘That’s right. You’ve grown into a fine young man… I always knew you would escape somehow.’
‘Dad… I’m frightened. Tomorrow, we face Griffon and I’m just going to freeze…I look at everyone… Simon, Bianca, Mr. Carrera… they say we can win but I see it in their eyes. We’re doomed.’
Alexander placed a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.
‘Don’t be afraid. You have my stubbornness and your mother’s fighting spirit.’ He grinned. ‘I believe in you. Do what your father never could.’
He began to slowly fade, and Jason reached out, but his hand passed right through his father.
‘No… don’t go… I need you.’
Alexander smiled sadly.
‘I’m always with you Jason. Never forget that.’
‘Dad!’

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Chapter Seventeen: Birth and Death of an Immortal

One hundred and twenty years later, Alexander Fortuno and the former Miss Miranda Warwick stood in a stone courtyard, watching the red sun set behind the mountains. They had spent many years trekking across Europe, removing all traces of Griffon’s former acolytes from the Earth, partly so they would not be disturbed by any old enemies, but also so that the Conclave might deem it fit to forgive Alexander one day and allow him to return to England. Alexander had passed the Gift to Miranda, granting her immortal life, and, now that their enemies had been defeated, the two immortals could be at peace.
The couple were at that moment living in a small, medieval town in the Umbria region of Italy, where they were enjoying a quiet existence of a café owner and his wife. Ten months following their escape from the Elder Conclave, they had managed to be reunited with Miguel and his new wife Rosemary, who had, surprisingly, been let off lightly despite his crimes. It seemed that the Conclave had been weary, and had followed procedure out of duty more than any real motivation. The influence of Vladimir Serapus as Deputy of the Conclave certainly contributed in Miguel’s favour, and Miguel’s role in bringing about Griffon’s defeat had also helped hugely. Whilst they would arrest Fortuno if he returned to England again,
they were not about to devote time and resources to finding him.
The Italianate-Spaniard had been sentenced to have his staff broken, a symbolic gesture
of his ban from sorcery, and he had been summarily banished from England for one hundred years. Rosemary received the Sorcerer’s Gift shortly afterwards, and the two of
them had moved to a small village on the Spanish Coast with their three children, Luke, Alonso and Mia, one of whom was just a toddling infant, although Rosemary was already
expecting their fourth child. Alexander and Miranda had been the only witnesses to the
couple’s marriage, an event that Fortuno was greatly pleased about, not only for his
friend’s happiness, but also because he felt that Miguel often needed someone to rein him
in. Rosemary’s father Lord Weaver had died peacefully in 1902, extremely fat but extremely content with the life he had lived.
As the last traces of sunlight disappeared behind the Umbrian mountains, a band in the courtyard began a soft Italian love song on their mandolins. The singer, a round faced man in his forties, winked at Alexander as he began to sing. The song reminded Alexander of the years past, and as he looked deeply into the eyes of the woman for whom he had risked everything to bring back from the dead, he was at peace for the first time in years. They began to dance around the courtyard, silent, their faces expressing what words could not.
Alexander dropped to one knee.
‘Miranda Warwick, will you marry me?’
‘Oh Alex, of course I will.’
‘Will you love him, cherish him and forsaking all others be faithful to him, as long as you both shall live?’
‘I will.’
‘May the Lord in His goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with His blessings. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
You may now kiss your bride.’

Alexander lay sleeping across an inflatable water bed, not noticing his bride reach up and release the air from it, causing him to drop, startled, into the swimming pool.
They spent days under the Mediterranean sun, caring about nothing but each other. They visited Miguel and Rosemary in Spain, where the two men chased each other across the beach like children, whilst the women stretched out under the hot sun, trying hard not to get splashed.

‘Alex… I’m pregnant.’

The words drifted past as the lovers danced around the courtyard. The singing stopped, but the music played on, and so they did not notice the seven hooded men that approached them, moving silently from the darkness. Before the two dancers could react, the tallest of the figures fired two perfect, silent shots that pierced their chests. He grinned beneath his hood and nodded to the two men next to him, who picked up the fallen couple and carried them off into the night.

When Alexander awoke, a man was looking at him with an air of dark curiosity. He had silvery hair, and octagonal, black tinted glasses.
‘Who…who are you?’
‘Shhh.’ The man gestured behind him. The room looked like a hospital, with pale yellow, tiled walls and a white ceiling which had paint peeling off it. The man had been gesturing to a figure on the bed that was doubled up in pain. He tried to get up, to reach her, but his arms were tightly fastened to the chair, and his head still felt groggy from being tranquilised.
‘Miranda…what have you done to her?’
‘I’m not to blame for her predicament sir. You are.’ He indicated Miranda’s swollen stomach. ‘Don’t try to resist me, or she’ll be in even greater discomfort. Understand?’ Alexander did not respond. The man curled his lip.
‘Understand?’ Fortuno managed a brief nod. ‘Good. Now give Dr. Mutor some quiet.’
Dr. Mutor was a tall, bony, man with thinning brown hair. He was holding Miranda’s hand and whispering something to her that Fortuno could not hear. It was then he realised what was happening, and he fell silent. Next to him stood two tall, muscular attendants whose faces were covered in surgical masks.

‘It’s coming sir.’ The Doctor had a soft, pleasant voice which held more than just a trace of weariness in its tone.
‘Very good.’
Mutor reached for a thin syringe, but the man stopped him.
‘But surely sir…’
‘No.’ There was such finality in this single word that the Doctor ceased immediately. Miranda’s cries became more and more pained and Fortuno felt like crying with her, enraged at his own helplessness.

The following morning, the son of Alexander Fortuno and Miranda Warwick was born, after a painful five hour labour. The tall man left following the birth, and Dr. Mutor immediately began to do his best to make Miranda feel more comfortable. Alexander was also weary, but it was his mind, rather than his body which had suffered. Now he was staring at his newborn child with a mixture of pride and misery, knowing that he may never get the chance to hold his child. The tall man returned and sat down in front of Fortuno, regarding him coolly through his dark glasses.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Now now.’ He gestured in Miranda’s direction. ‘She’s just been through labour. We don’t want to distress her further.’
‘What do you want with us?’
‘I want your son.’
‘Why? What has he ever done to you?’
‘Nothing. But soon, I shall have need of him and I can’t have you interfering with my plans.’
‘You’ll regret this day mortal.’
‘Oh I think not Mr. Fortuno, I think not. Now, perhaps you’d like to name your son before he vanishes from your life.’
Fortuno did not answer.
‘Wait for your wife to wake up. Give me a name and then it will all be well.’ He spoke in the manner of someone comforting a young child, but with a cruel mocking tone to his voice. He then left, leaving Fortuno to brood over the impending loss of his progeny.

‘Jason. We’ve decided to call him Jason.’
The tall man nodded. Dr. Mutor was holding the newborn baby with a resigned sadness.
‘Very well. Say your farewells.’
Miranda kissed the baby’s head, sobbing uncontrollably as she did so. Alexander also kissed the baby’s head as his wife had done, but instead of weeping, he glared at the tall man. If it were possible for a gaze to pierce flesh, the man’s head would have been reduced to pulp. Dr. Mutor carried the baby away, doing his best to keep it quiet as he left the building.
‘Right, now I shall bid you adieu. Mrs. Fortuno.’ He bowed with mock courtesy, and forced Fortuno from the room, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck.
‘Alex…nooo!’
The tall man threw Alexander to the floor and followed him through the doorway, waving at Miranda as he did so. The attendants followed him, slowly closing the door.

Alexander Fortuno tried to rise from his knees as the tall man separated him from the two people in the world he loved the most. He cried out in anguish, but it was no good. The tall man pulled a gilded dagger from his jacket.
‘We shall see if you bleed as easily as the rest of us.’
‘Just tell me this… why?’
The man leant in, and whispered in the sorcerer’s ear.
‘I give you a chance to make a difference. Choose wisely.’ he said, moving away. The sorcerer’s eyes widened, before he shook his head and closed his eyes.
‘Well, I offered you the choice. So now, your charmed life comes to end.’
He pulled the dagger swiftly across the sorcerer’s throat, standing back to avoid the spray of blood.
‘Goodbye Alexander.’ He turned and walked off down the corridor. ‘Dispose of him.’

Alexander did not regain conciousness as he was impaled against the wall of the cellar. Even a gallon of petroleum failed to rouse him as the two brutish attendants went about the grim and nigh impossible task of destroying an immortal. Whilst the mutilations, immolations and explosions resulted in no trace of a body being left behind, it is possible that his spirit had left some while before.

That was 1973.

Chapter Fifteen: The Wedding

Fortuno was numb as he was dressed in a wedding suit, roughly shaven and escorted to the small chapel a short way from the manor. He was thrown onto the front row, between the shackled Lord Weaver and the morose Miguel. Weaver gave him a brief look of acknowledgment but said nothing; Miguel did not even look up. Next to Lord Weaver sat Dr. Emerson, who visibly had to prop his friend up, for the Lord of the Manor was so emaciated he could barely support himself. Griffon stood at the altar with an oblivious priest, unaware of the circumstances that had brought about this particular marriage. Nor did he notice the aura of menace surrounding the smiling Jonathan Negan, or Griffon’s lieutenant, Maurice, who stood at the back of the manor in an ill-fitting suit. The numerous officers and acolytes, including the dim-witted Scriven, had all been hastily dressed to suit the occasion, and some of them appeared to be truly getting into the swing of things. Then, the organ began to play and all eyes turned to the back of the chapel.

There, walking gracefully up the aisle in a beautiful white gown was a radiant Miranda, followed by Rosemary Weaver as the maid of honour. No one in the pews seemed to notice the faraway look in the bride’s eyes, or disdain emanating from the bride’s other escorts. And, not even Griffon noticed the small black cat that had crept into the chapel and made his way round the edge of the seats towards Miguel Carrera. The priest waited for the procession to reach the altar, before beginning the ceremony.

‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered her today to witness the marriage…’
Fortuno closed his eyes. He could only presume that Griffon was making him witness this marriage as a final insult before he dispatched him. He would enjoy the bride’s virtue before eliminating her as well. It would have surprised Fortuno to know that these presumptions were completely wrong.
‘Do you, William Steven Griffon, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?’
Griffon looked straight at Fortuno before replying with confidence.
‘I do.’
‘And do you Miranda Sophia Warwick; take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband…?’
Miguel looked at Alexander.
‘In sickness…’
Alexander looked back at Miguel.
‘…and in health…’
The shackles began to loosen.
‘…until death do you part?’
Alexander leapt from his seat, his heart pounding furiously.
‘You forgot something Father.’
Negan ordered his men forward.
‘You forgot to ask if anyone objected to this union.’
Griffon reached for the staff in his belt, which had extended.
‘Well, I most certainly do.’
Everything happened at once. Miguel took advantage of Negan’s distraction in order to retrieve a blade from the scabbard on the unsuspecting soldier next to him and throw Alexander his staff, which extended in mid air. The sorcerer gripped it just in time to block a bolt of energy that Griffon had directed at him. The soldiers followed behind Negan, drawing their swords. All of them were too distracted to notice the mist clear from the bride’s eyes as she fell towards her friend, who caught her seconds before she hit the floor.
‘Sirs, cease this madness! We are in a house of God!’ shouted the priest, accosting Griffon.
‘Well, give him my regards.’ Snarled the Necromancer, viciously pushing the priest back against the pulpit, knocking him unconscious. Once again, his handsome mask flickered, this time for longer than an instant. He then fired another blast of energy at Fortuno, sending him crashing back into the wall of the chapel. Negan and Maurice had reached the front but were set upon by Miguel, wielding a rapier that flashed in the light as he fought off four foes at once. Fortuno picked himself up from the broken pews.
‘Rosemary, get them out of here!’ Fortuno yelled, blasting a ball of fire at Griffon, who deflected it towards the ceiling.
‘But the ceremony’s not over yet.’ Griffon growled, his eyes flashing a dangerous, necromantic black. ‘Not getting cold feet are you dear?’
At this remark, Fortuno yelled and leapt towards Griffon, his staff glinting brightly. As the two sorcerers duelled, Miguel knocked the clumsy Officer Scriven into the lectern, causing him to stumble and knock himself unconscious. Negan lunged forwards as his opponent was distracted, but the Italianate-Spanish duellist seized Scriven’s sword in his other hand and deflected the blow. He quickly cast a glance at Fortuno, who had been using his staff to hurl several organ pipes at Griffon. Two of them were deflected but the necromancer was sent sprawling by a third. He forced a wave of energy at Fortuno in retaliation, but missed, sending his own lieutenant into an unconscious heap.

The two battles became more ferocious, Miguel and Negan slashing at each other with cat-like agility, the remaining officers having been quickly dispatched by the athletic sorcerer, whilst Fortuno and Griffon proceeded with a little less grace, blasting at each other with deadly arcs of energy.
‘So impolite of you to interrupt my wedding day.’ Griffon said, dodging another white hot ball of flame. ‘And I was so looking forward to married life. Ah well, if I can’t have my day of happiness, then neither can you!’

Yelling the last few words, Griffon leapt out of the back window, shattering it into fragments. Fortuno scooped up the sword from one of the fallen soldiers and leapt after him, rage contorting his handsome face. When the necromancer noticed his pursuer, he snarled and directed his staff at the lightning rod on the roof, bringing it crashing down through Alexander’s chest. He threw blast after blast of energy at him. But the sorcerer did not stop. He did not care that the necromancer was his superior in every respect; he would slay him, not for honour, not for the Conclave, but for revenge. Turning on his heel, William Griffon ran, for the first time in a lifetime, his heart was filled with fear.

Back inside the chapel, Negan took advantage of the distraction caused by Griffon’s dramatic exit by stabbing Miguel straight through the heart. To the Major’s surprise, his foe merely turned and removed the rapier as if it were a minor inconvenience.
‘Major Negan, this is…pointless. You’re failing to see the true enemy here.’
Negan hesitated.
‘Not only have you broken the laws of the British Empire…but you and your ally are clearly abominations against God. I cannot allow you to live.’
‘Cannot allow? What choice do you have?’ Miguel’s voice grew cold, his amiable features barely masking the soul of a man who had lived with Hell for six months. Negan shrank back further, petrified as Miguel moved slowly towards him, his voice lowered to a harsh whisper as he spoke.
‘You human beings… always ignoring the bigger picture. He had to mesmerise others into obeying him, but you… you fell into line of your own accord. He’s going to kill all of you the moment he’s finished with Miranda, he’s going to kill Rosemary…don’t you see?’
‘I am…only doing my duty.’
‘No… you have perverted your duty. Redeem yourself; help me, if not for my sake, then Rosemary’s.’
The Major slowly got up.
‘She wants you.’
‘Is that more important to you than her life? You call yourself an agent of the Queen.’ Miguel’s voice dripped with contempt. ‘Help me…’he held out a hand. ‘Or die.’
Negan scowled, pulling himself together.
‘Very well.’

Miranda Warwick could remember precious little of the past six months. After Alexander had fled, William Griffon had been recuperating at the manor, though it seemed as though he was completely fine. He had come to her with flattery and extravagant gifts, claiming that he would make her his wife, and that they would be together forever. He had seemed charming, and she almost felt tempted to accept, but something had felt deeply wrong. She had refused, and he had turned on her. At first, she believed he was going to assault her, but then… all she could remember before the wedding were his eyes flashing a cold blue…

She turned to her mistress, who, like the rest of the captives, was running through the forest without looking back. Rosemary Weaver was unhealthily thin. She had not been under Griffon’s influence, yet she had witnessed the fall of her father, her friends, and her entire life as they all became Griffon’s playthings. Her only company had been Miguel, bright, handsome Miguel, who had comforted her in the dark days. He had hugged her, and assured her that everything would be well again, that Alexander was all that the necromancer wanted. He had explained to her about the sorcerers, before feigning submission to Griffon, making an oath to bring his old friend back to Nottingham, or suffer Rosemary’s execution for his failure. And now, all of Griffon’s plans were unravelling, but Rosemary Weaver was still afraid. Because there was a chance that her hero, her Miguel, would not make it.

Fortuno pursued Griffon, running as if the Devil was on his heels. The necromancer stormed through the forest, scanning, searching for his fiancée. Eventually, he spotted her, fleeing with the rest of the servants and a good deal of the guests. His familiar, Cornelius, flew ahead, guiding his master through the wooded labyrinth. As they reached the glade where he had been reborn, Griffon gave a great leap and caught his bride by the arm. She hit him hard in the face, but this only made his advance more determined.
‘That’s no way to treat your future husband.’ He laughed and kissed her deeply on the lips with a surprising tenderness.
‘I’m not an evil man. I simply have the misfortune of having objectives in life that clash with those of my peers. Give it time… you will learn to love me.’
‘I will never love you. You killed people for your own pleasure, and you were going to force me to marry you through some cheap trick. And no amount of mesmerising or sweet-talking will make me forget that.’
She slapped him hard across the face, but he caught her by the hand before she could move again.
‘It’s over Griffon.’ Yelled Fortuno from the lip of the glade. The necromancer stood up.
‘Oh no Alexander. It has only just begun.’

Fortuno leapt forward, driving his sword towards Griffon’s chest… and plunged it deep…into the heart of Miranda Warwick. There was a horrible silence, before Fortuno gave a yell of primal rage and thrust his staff into Griffon’s face. The necromancer did not blink; he was staring, shell-shocked at his fallen fiancée.
‘Go on… do it.’
A great ball of fire engulfed Griffon, leaving him screaming and cursing in pain before disappearing into dust, his staff clattering weakly to the floor. Cornelius, his constant companion for most of his life, sat down forlornly on his fallen master’s staff, blinked in confusion and then vanished into thin air.

Fortuno rushed to Miranda’s side, propping her up on his weary arms. Blood was seeping through her white gown and her face had turned pale as her life began to ebb away.
‘Come on Miranda…hold on…’
Miranda coughed weakly and smiled sadly at Alexander.
‘It was…an accident…’
‘I was stupid…reckless…’
‘But…you came back for me…’
And with that, Miranda Warwick died. Miguel ran up to his friend’s side, followed by Major Negan. The fleeing servants had heard the anguished cry of Fortuno, and had turned back, approaching warily.
‘Oh… Alex. I’m so sorry… but there’s nothing we can do. She’s gone.’
Fortuno grimly shook his head. He turned his head slowly, and Negan shrank back, the sorcerer’s eyes had turned as blue as Griffon’s had been.
‘Yes…’ He said coldly, calmly, rising to his feet and walking over to where Griffon had been. ‘But not for long.’
‘But… Oh…Alex…Alex no!’
But it was too late. Alexander had seized the fallen Griffon’s staff and began to chant under his breath.

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.

Chapter Thirteen: The Raid

At midnight, Carroll, Fraser, Miguel and the crew met at the dock, outlined the battle plan, wished each other good luck and vanished into the night. Fraser and the crew got to work setting about a distraction, removing several large barrels from the ship. During the unloading of their cargo, Davenport dropped one of the heavy barrels on his toe and received a clout from Fraser for his troubles. They reached the front of the fort, where two men stood on guard.
‘This area is off limits to civilians, what do you want?’
‘We’re here with a delivery.’ Fraser replied, staring the guard down as his men lined the barrels up in front of them.
‘I don’t know anything about no delivery. Leave ‘em here.’
‘As you wish sir.’
The crew placed the barrels in front of the guards and moved off slowly. In the darkness, the guards did not notice the look of satisfaction on Fraser’s face as he bid them good night. Nor did they spy the thin cord of rope trailing out of one of the barrels.

Carroll and Miguel followed the wooden walkway along the side of the fort as they waited for the signal. Fortuno took a look at Miguel, who had taken a long length of rope from his belt. He looked every inch the pirate, wearing only the sword from his gentleman’s attire. Fortuno also noted that since that had met in the bar, Miguel had avoided his gaze.
‘So, how did calm quiet Alexander Fortuno end up with a pirate like Sherman Fraser?’
‘He’s not a pirate.’
‘Officially, no. Unofficially, he’s a much a pirate as you are… sorry…were a sorcerer. Not that there’s nothing wrong with that walk of life.’
‘Of course. When did you first meet him…and how did you end up here?’
‘Twenty… or was it thirty years ago, I got him out of a spot of bother during the Mexican war with the Americans … As for Virginia, I’ve been coming here since Ratcliffe landed; it’s the perfect place for an enterprise like this. I simply told my good friend the Captain to meet me here as soon as possible and bided my time.’

Miguel seemed guarded and closed against Fortuno; he spoke in a low voice and did not say more than was necessary. He glanced towards the Fort, where the crewmen were walking away, the guards oblivious to what was going on. Miguel gave a slight chuckle, before swinging the rope in a circle over his head and hooking it onto a spike that was part of the fortress wall.
‘So how did you find me? Fortuno asked after a long silence.
‘In spite of what you may think, the Conclave has long been aware of your whereabouts. They have a spy on Fraser’s ship apparently, which might explain how you managed to get on board so easily.’
Fortuno briefly began to wonder who that might be, but he brought his thoughts right back to the matter at hand. He wanted answers.
‘Miguel, why didn’t you try to contact me before?’
Miguel said nothing, before gesturing to Fortuno, who tightened the rope with his sorcery. He hadn’t seen his friend in such a dark mood since once during an excursion to France, the details of which were between God, Miguel and his confessor, Simon Liberthine.
‘Miguel? Did you deal with Griffon?’
Miguel pulled the rope tight, before pausing for a moment. He spoke slowly and deliberately.
‘After you left, Griffon took over the manor. From there he has begun to systematically kill anyone who defied him or tried to escape, using the Marines as his puppets.’
‘He hypnotised them?’
‘No need. Our friend Captain Negan is still tied by some perverse sense of duty; he has loyally kept his guard at the manor.’
‘Why? What does he hope to accomplish?’
‘He has…commandeered the manor; Griffon lets him run it like a prison. To round up the undesirables and criminals of this land and bring them to justice, he says. A real paragon of virtue is our friend.’
‘And the Conclave?’ Alexander asked, shooting a glance at Fraser and his men, who had quickly ran for cover.
‘The Conclave has so far sent five men to investigate the problem, two of them were killed, and the other three are now Griffon’s acolytes. He has…powerful methods of persuasion.’
He paused, before tying the other end of the rope to a mooring post.
‘And what about…’

Fortuno did not get to finish his sentence, because at that moment, an enormous explosion shook the dock. When Fortuno picked himself up, Miguel had already climbed to the top of the fortress. Fortuno followed, and joined Miguel at the top.
‘What about Miranda? She wasn’t…’
‘No, she wasn’t one of the ones who tried to escape. Her fate is… it’s much worse than that.’
‘What do you mean?’
Miguel took a deep breath before replying.
‘At the end of this month, Griffon is going to marry her; he’s hunting far and wide to ensure you’re the guest of honour.’
Fortuno turned on his friend angrily.
‘And you didn’t think to stop him?’
‘Of course, I’d manage to stop the greatest Necromancer the world has ever known all on my own?’
‘I managed it.’ Fortuno retorted petulantly.
‘Then why is he still here? He tricked you Alex. He tricked us all, and now he’s stronger than ever.’
Captain Fraser stood up, ignoring the slight ringing in his ears that had come from demolishing the front of the fort. He signalled to Brooks, who nodded and headed towards the cloud of smoke. Two soldiers came running across the dock and they were immediately set upon by the crew. Fraser smiled amiably at them.
‘Sorry gentlemen, but the fortress is out of bounds.’
Instead of frowning, the guards smirked. Fraser turned and heard the click of a pistol.
‘Well… that makes things harder for us.’
In one move, he ducked, pulled his cutlass from its scabbard, clouting his would be attacker on the head. The other men were taken aback by this, and were quickly set upon by the crew. One large guard attempted to arrest Dr. Troughton, but the older man knocked his sword aside and cracked him over the head with his cane with extreme nonchalance, taking a hearty swig from the bottle he clutched tightly in his other hand.
‘That was highly enjoyable.’
‘If you say so Captain.’ replied Davenport, nursing a cut to his right arm.
‘Have to take the rough with the smooth, Paul. Now come, let’s see if we can help out Mr. Carroll in his task.’
‘Stop right where you are.’
Once again, Fraser was taken by surprise by the click of a gun. This time, he did not have time to respond before one of the several musketeers who had arrived knocked him out cold.

Fortuno peered through the archway at the end of the passage and looked down the stairs. No one. He quietly made his way down, Miguel following close behind.
‘So why did he let you go?’
‘He believes he can manipulate me, that he’s got some power over my actions.’
‘Why?’
‘He thinks I’m… in love with Rosemary Weaver.’
‘And you aren’t?’
‘Of course not.’ Miguel hissed, but there was little conviction in his words.
‘And he actually believed you?’
‘Apparently so.’ Retorted Miguel dryly.

Neither man spoke for a while after that, and they managed to sneak down into the armoury. There were only a few guards patrolling and they had all been relatively easy to deal with. They strode confidently into the armoury to find… the barrels of several muskets pointing in their faces. Behind the muskets were four men. Behind the men, frowning like a displeased schoolmaster, was Captain Negan.

Chapter Twelve: The Port at Virginia

Six months later, John Carroll, first mate on the good ship Red Wanderer marched across
the deck, his hands behind his back. He had all but forgotten the events of the last few
months, and felt better for it; it seemed that that his colleagues had deserted him. He now
worked under a new master, the middle aged; ruddy faced Captain Sherman Fraser, one
of those men who were often heard before being seen. Carroll still kept his staff attached
to his belt, but he had not removed it for several months.
‘Mr. Carroll! Is everything in order?’ Fraser bellowed from the helm. He looked every
inch a ship’s captain, with a red bandana on his head, a short, bristly beard, and an
arsenal of pistols, swords and daggers covering his frame. He was flanked by the bo’sun,
a somewhat eagle faced individual by the name of Paul Davenport, and Richard Brooks,
the ship’s scribe, who had been freed from a Chinese slave ship. Since his rescue,
Brooks seemed always to remain silent, only ever speaking to the Captain. Only Fraser
knew the man’s true name, for he had been given a more English-sounding soubriquet to
suit his new masters, and it had followed him to his current position.
‘Aye aye sir!’
‘Good. Mr. Davenport, fetch up another barrel of rum!’
‘That might be unwise sir.’
‘Damn it man, fetch me rum! Brooks, give him a hand down there!’
The bo’sun complied, muttering under his breath as he disappeared into the hold,followed by the silent scribe. John Carroll ascended the steps and clapped the Captain on
the back, before being handed a spyglass.
‘Can you see the bay?’
‘I can just about make it out Captain.’
‘Excellent. M’boy, that’s Jamestown, Virginia, and an excellent source of business.’
‘Business?’
‘Oh yes, rum, piracy, guns, whoring, there’s few businesses that don’t profit in Virginia.
Except, I suppose, the legitimate ones.’ He let loose a great burst of laughter that nearly
knocked Carroll backwards. ‘It’ll be a definite success this time.’
‘Oh if I had a coin for every time I heard that.’ mumbled Davenport.
‘The so-called sorcerer of Whitby was an isolated incident.’ bellowed Fraser, proving he
could hear just as far as he could be heard. ‘Just for that, you can fetch me two more
barrels.’
Technically, Captain Fraser was not a pirate, as he did not concern himself with the
looting of vessels, or the raiding of ports, yet he had a great respect for those in the
pirating business, seeing them as combating the draconian techniques of the East India
Company and similar money grabbing organisations, and assisted them wherever he
could. If you asked him his occupation, Fraser would have claimed to be an entrepreneur.
Indeed, he had a finger in many different pies, carrying rum and guns, as well as
occasionally providing his services to the highest bidder. He did, however, have more
morals than the average pirate, and would only provide assistance to an employer
providing their methods did not contradict his unusual code of morality, which included not assisting in slavery, murder of innocents, or molesting of women.
Fraser steered the ship further towards the port as Davenport and Brooks emerged from
the hold with two more barrels of rum.
‘Good work men, now bring up the rest.’
‘But sir, you can’t just drink it all.’ Davenport protested. For a moment, Fraser was
stunned into incredulity.
‘Drink it? And get rid of our hard earned profits? Heavens man, I’m getting it ready for
the arrival at Virginia!’
‘Oh.’
Fraser sighed, exasperated. Davenport was a good, honest man, but he was not renowned
for his mental capacity. He went below to fetch the rest of the barrels, with several other
crew members joining him. Fraser called after him.
‘Oh, and Davenport? Be so good as to wake the Doctor when you go down.’
‘Must I sir?’ muttered Davenport as he continued inside. The ship’s doctor was an
irascible, impish fellow called Dr. Troughton, who was well known for his irritable
nature. Fraser grinned as the men disappeared, and turned back to Carroll.
‘And as an added bonus, our friends in the Royal Marines happen to operate here.’
‘How is that an added bonus Captain?’
Fraser lowered his voice; the first time Carroll had seen him do so.
‘I think we might be able to turn a tidy profit out of our tax-loving friends.’
‘You have a plan Captain?’
Fraser gave him a devilish grin and tapped his nose. He turned back to the helm and prepared to dock in the steadily approaching coast. Following a great deal of angry
muttering and cursing, the doctor emerged on the deck.
‘Well Doctor, here we are.’
‘I don’t see why you had to wake me for this. I’ve seen it before.’ grumbled the doctor,
waving his stick dangerously close to Brooks’ face. As ever, the scribe did not speak, but
his eyes flickered over to Fraser, concerned.
‘And I’m sure the citizens of New York will never forget you.’ Fraser responded, raising
his eyebrows slightly.
‘Don’t be sarcastic with me Captain.’ He turned to go. ‘I’ll be in my quarters… not to be
disturbed!’
‘But Doctor, if things go to plan… or rather if they don’t go to plan… we’ll need your
incomparable skill for our excursion.’
The Doctor looked humbled and he muttered.
‘Well… if you put it like that…’
‘I knew you’d see things my way.’
When they reached the port, Davenport leapt down and tied the ship’s mooring rope to
the dock.
‘Everyone off. We have arrived!’
A dozen crewmen staggered out, some falling over from exhaustion, others because they
had sampled some of the supply.
‘Come on men, it’s time to get a good price for this loot!’
A scattered cheer came up from the sailors, apart from one man who slipped over the rail and fell into the sea.
After the sailor had been retrieved from the water, the crew began moving their goods on
the harbour. Carroll went below and retrieved a large brown satchel from his cabin. There
was a muffled grunting noise and he unbuckled the straps, causing a black cat to come
tumbling out.
‘You… absolute… bastard!’
‘Sorry Sam. But I couldn’t have you wandering about on deck… when you’re out at sea
for a long time, even a scruffy, flea-bitten…’
‘Get to the point.’
‘You could have been dinner.’
Sam scoffed.
‘Well we can’t have that can we. I might have had to claw someone’s eyes out, and that
certainly wouldn’t have made you very popular.’
‘John! Hurry up down there!’ Came Fraser’s voice from above.
‘Go on, your Captain awaits you.’ He nimbly returned to the satchel and lay down flat.
‘You want to come out too?’
The cat did not emerge, but his sarcastic voice soon emanated from inside the carrying
case.
‘No, I thought I’d stay here with the woodworms and rats.’
‘If you’re sure.’ Carroll went to refasten the satchel, but Sam spoke again, this time with
a more serious tone in his voice. For the first time Fortuno could remember, his familiar
sounded sad.
‘Alexander… when are we going home?’
‘I don’t know Sam.’ He clicked the buckles back together. ‘I don’t know.’
Three hours later, when most of the rum had been sold and the afternoon sun was beating
down upon the port, Carroll, Fraser and the crew stopped at the local tavern and began to
drink the remainder of their supply. Davenport had spent most of his time awkwardly
trying to avoid the attentions of a particularly voluptuous barmaid, much to Fraser’s
amusement. Dr. Troughton began singing a drinking song and soon the entire tavern
joined in before they all collapsed in an exhausted heap.
As the sun began to set over the sea, the bar staff began clearing away the flagons and
half eaten scraps of food that lay strewn about the tavern. Despite the early hour, the
Doctor had already managed to fall asleep, balanced precariously on the edge of the bar
as he sang and mumbled in his sleep about the whiskey in the jar. Fraser gestured for the
bartender, a grizzled, former sailor called Harry Asselin, who had been the first mate in
Fraser’s crew before Carroll. In fact he had been with the crew of the Red Wanderer from
the beginning, before Fraser had won the ship in a bet from its previous Captain, a
perpetual inebriate named Ronald Sarris.
‘Harry, come and tell Mr. Carroll of our enterprise.’
Asselin limped over, his right leg still recovering from a musket shot. According to him,
the wound had been received whilst battling pirates off Cape Horn. According to Dr.
Troughton, who had treated him, it had occurred in a bar fight, when he had refused to
pay his bill. He pulled out a chair with some difficulty, and sat down. There was already a full flagon of ale waiting for him.
‘So this is the fellow who replaced me. Christ, Sherman, he’s barely older than my lad
back home.’
Carroll said nothing, he wondered how Asselin would feel if knew his real age.
‘That may be so Harry, but he’s an excellent sailor, and he fights better than most of the
rabble I seemed to have picked up. Now get on with the plan!’
‘Right, Mr. Carroll, know you of the fort that lies along the dock?’
‘Only by sight, this is my first time in Jamestown.’
‘Ah. Well, that fort happens to contain enough treasure to make Cortes himself go green
with envy.’
Carroll frowned.
‘I thought all the gold had dried up since the conquistadors left.’
Fraser lowered his voice past its usual bellow and whispered conspiratorially.
‘Well, the gold that lies in Jamestown Fort don’t come from the land… it’s obtained from
some of the more morally questionable practices of the local soldiers.’
‘You mean they…steal it?’
Asselin laughed and took a large drink from his flagon before letting out a short belch.
‘You sound surprised boy, wearing the livery of the Queen’s Navy is no mark of quality.’
He would have continued, but a man entered the tavern and made for their table. The man
had a long beard and a shock of black hair. He moved silently towards the table and sat
down.
‘John, this is Mr. Carrera, the mastermind behind this endeavour.’
‘Miguel.’ hissed the first mate, in tones that no man could have heard.
The two sorcerers met each others gaze and there was a brief moment of understanding,
that passed by Fraser unnoticed. After a long pause, Carroll replied slowly.
‘’So what do you have to do with our enterprise Mr. Carrera?’
‘Well, Mr…’
‘Carroll. John Carroll.’
‘Carroll, as Harry has already explained, the local troops happen to be er…rather on the
corrupt side. Beneath their headquarters at the fort lies a large amount of loot that has
been confiscated under legal pretences. Now, if Captain Fraser can cause a great enough
distraction, then I’m sure we could sneak in undetected and leave with a large portion of
the loot.’
‘And the Marines are going to leave no one behind to guard? This plan seems somewhat
simplistic Mr. Carrera. And rather foolish.’
‘Mr. …Carroll, I have been coming to this port for a long time. The officers stationed
here are not disciplined, they are generally fat and underpaid. I’m sure they shouldn’t
provide you with too much of a challenge?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Well, then…Captain Fraser? What do you say?’
‘I think it’s a plan perfect in its simplicity Mr. Carrera. Who will you take with you to
collect the loot?’
‘I’ll go.’ Carroll volunteered quickly.
‘Good. I’ll meet you at the docks around midnight.’
The men began to leave, and Carroll would have followed, but Fraser stopped him with a
hand to the shoulder.
‘John, be careful tonight. Carrera is a man I have known for some time, and his nature
can be less than savoury. There’s a dark heart hidden underneath that playful façade.’
Carroll tried to hide a smirk.
‘You can count on me Captain.’

Chapter Eleven: The Duel

The two men were given until dawn to prepare. Fortunately, they had chosen to use swords, not pistols, weapons that Fortuno had never quite understood. As he cleaned his blade in the garden, he hoped that Griffon would not attempt to unbalance the stakes by using necromancy, although, with so many people around, it was unlikely. As he finished polishing, he heard footsteps, and saw Miranda coming towards him. She was wearing a thin silk cloak over her shoulders and it suddenly occurred to Fortuno that she was only wearing her night-gown underneath.
‘Mr Fortuno…’
‘Please, call me Alexander.’
‘This duel isn’t going to end at first blood… he means to kill you, and you’d kill him just as gladly.’
Fortuno turned away from her and there was bitterness in his voice when he replied.
‘Maybe so… but why should you care? You’ve only known me a matter of days, now go back inside. I’m sure you’ve got beds to make or dishes to wash.’
The slap brought mild-mannered Alexander Fortuno back to reality and he made to apologise, but Miranda was too quick for him.
‘I may be just a servant, but that doesn’t mean I can be told how to feel, that I can’t care about my superiors. You obviously don’t care about your life, but maybe I do!’

She stormed off back inside the mansion, before being caught gently by Fortuno’s arm. She turned, preparing to reply with several more angry words, when he kissed her passionately on the lips. They did not part until some time later, neither saying a word as Fortuno slowly made his way towards the far field, leaving the young maidservant quite speechless.

William Griffon was already waiting on the field, casually chatting to several distinguished yet slightly drunk guests who were longing to see a good fight. When Fortuno arrived, there was no change in his mood, he continued to gossip, ignoring his opponent altogether.
When dawn fell shortly after, Lord Weaver staggered up to them, followed by several of his friends, all of whom seemed to be in a similar state of recovery from the festivities the night before. They were somewhat apprehensivce despite being excited to watch the two men square off, officially duels had been outlawed for some time.
‘Gentlemen, this is to be a good, clean fight, straight to the point, first blood and no further. We are of course, gentlemen, settling a matter of honour, not ruffians.’
Fortuno gripped the hilt of his sword tightly, and looked to the observant Miguel, who was fixed on Griffon, ready to handle any dark magic the necromancer might attempt to utilise against them.
‘3…2…1…Engage!’
There was a quick scraping noise as swords were unsheathed and the battle began. Fortuno struck first, striking clumsily at Griffon, who easily parried and retaliated, pushing himself forwards. They swung, parried, ducked and dove, with neither combatant gaining the upper hand. The observers remained at a safe distance, unable to hear the combatants.

‘So, “Lord Savernake” how did you survive our last encounter?’ Fortuno hissed, parrying a vicious blow to the waist.
‘When you open yourself to the dark side of sorcery, you find many new abilities available to you. My forces were scattered, I could not acheive victory, so I decided to bide my time. You merely needed to think I was dead, you’d let your guard down and then I would strike.’
He locked blades with Fortuno before kicking at his opponent’s knees, knocking him backwards. Miguel stepped towards them, but Captain Negan stopped him from pressing forward. Alexander rolled away from Griffon’s strike and the necromancer pursued him across the grass, the guests following slowly behind.

‘And your explosive entrance? More theatrics?’ Alexander leapt to his feet in time to parry a stroke to his head.
‘A necessity. Draining the life energy of others is the only way to keep oneself sustained after such a procedure. The process requires a tremendous amount of energy… and a tremendous amount of pain.’
‘Oh my heart bleeds for you.’
‘And of course, gaining the attention of two of my hated enemies was quite a bonus.’
As they reached the edge of the woods, the melee became more furious and Griffon began to gain the upper hand. Moving like a viper, he kicked Fortuno’s legs out from under him and aimed his blade at the younger man’s throat.
‘Take your first blood and be done with it Griffon.’
‘Oh no my friend. We play for keeps. I’ll tell that pretty young thing you were dancing with that it was all an accident. She’ll believe me… after all, I can be very persuasive.’
For an instant, Fortuno saw past the necromancer’s illusion as his handsome visage seemed to flicker away to reveal a frightening skull like face. But only for an instant.
‘Farewell.’

Fortuno’s eyes filled with fury, and the anger gave him strength. Ducking below Griffon’s swing, he sliced the other man’s hand, forcing him to drop his sword, before slashing across the chest, which sent the necromancer tumbling to the ground.
‘That was unwise Griffon.’
The sorcerer stood over his fallen foe, blade aimed directly at his chest.
‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance of surrender?’
‘As you said my friend… we play for keeps.’
He raised his sword and swung it straight down towards Griffon’s heart.

A warning bullet whistled by Fortuno’s hand and smashed into the tree. Captain Negan held a smoking pistol in his hand.
‘Don’t move Mr. Fortuno.’
Miguel ran up to his friend, making him lower the blade. Griffon appeared to have passed out, and Dr. Emerson checked him for a pulse.
‘Still alive. We’ll need something to bind this wound with.’
Miguel leant towards Fortuno.
‘Attempted murder in an illegal duel between gentlemen…. coupled with a charge of impersonating one of her Majesty’s officers and you’ll be looking at a very short rope’
Alexander nodded gravely.
‘What should I do Miguel?’
‘Go. Run away until I contact you. Griffon’s in no state to cause any trouble at the moment. I will deal with him when the time is right’
Fortuno fled the scene, ignoring the protests of Lord Weaver and his gentlemen, or the shouts of the indignant Negan, who struggled to catch up with the light-footed sorcerer.

Fortuno brushed his way past several overhanging branches, and nearly tripped over Sam, who was clutching a large minnow in his mouth.
‘Careful now, what’s the hurry? Spilt the wine over his lordship or something?’
‘No, I nearly killed someone.’
‘That’s not like you at all Alexander.’
‘It was William Griffon.’
‘Ah. Perfectly understandable.’
Fortuno paused and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
‘That’s it? No ‘How is he still alive?’ or ‘What are we going to do?’
‘Both pointless questions largely due to the fact that you have no idea how to answer either of them.’ Sam pointed out, with flawless logic. Fortuno was about to scold his casually indifferent familiar when Negan arrived, flanked by two men also dressed in military attire. Fortuno had no time to wonder how the two others had arrived on the scene so quickly, until he realised that they had probably come to watch the fight.
‘There’s no use in running Mr. Fortuno. Come with us now and maybe you’ll get a few years off for coming quietly.’ Negan spoke in a dry voice, although his tone suggested that he knew Fortuno would try to run regardless. According to Miguel, who had picked up a good deal of gossip during his time at Nottingham, the Captain had once kept a prisoner locked up for an extra three months for attempting to bribe his way out of trouble. He knew that Negan would not be swayed by anything he said.
‘I’m going to count to three. By three, you’ll be standing with your hands in the air and your sword on the ground. One…Two……’
On three, the Captain pulled back the hammer of his gun, and Fortuno bolted. At the same time. Miguel dove onto the Captain, knocking him to the ground. The pistol went off, hitting Fortuno in the shoulder as he fled out into the trees, knocking him to the ground and bringing his escape to an abrupt end.
‘Stop, don’t hurt him! Let him go.’
Lord Weaver had arrived on the scene, puffing and panting, Dr. Emerson at his heels, clutching at his wig. Miguel stood up and with an incredibly exaggerated gesture put his hands in the air. Negan brushed himself down and turned to Weaver.
‘Sir that man refused to come to justice, and his accomplice here physically assaulted me.’
‘They are the Queen’s men and…’
‘I doubt that sir. These two men have infiltrated your house under false pretences.’
‘That may be so, but I don’t want either of them harmed.’
‘You’d need not be concerned my lord. Mr. Fortuno will be in a perfectly fit state when he faces the gallows…’
‘Sir, sir!’ One of Negan’s accomplices piped up in a thick Scottish brogue.
‘Not now Scriven!’
‘But sir, he’s gone.’
‘What?!’
He glanced around to see that Scriven was right, for in the confusion, the wounded Fortuno had slipped away.
‘Then find him man!’ The diminutive officer blinked in surprise, before a glare from his captain sent him scurrying into the trees. Negan turned to Miguel, fixing him with an imperious stare.
‘Sir, as an accomplice to attempted murder, you will stand trial at the next possible opportunity. As for your friend…I’m sure the hangman will greatly appreciate another set of boots in his wardrobe.’

That was 1872.