Beckett took a fighting stance, his right hand over his left on the pommel with knees slightly bent, and waited for Owen to do the same. To his growing confusion, the young magician instead dropped the tip of the sword to the ground, dragging it behind himself as he etched a large circle in the dirt, his eyes never leaving Beckett's, and careful not to step out of the space he was creating . When he returned to the point of origin, he waved his hand in an arc, and four purple candles appeared at the clock points of twelve, three, six and nine. At first their flames flickered weak and wispy, but as the sorcerer chanted a litany of strange constants and vowels, the flames shot up, unusual in their gray and purple color.
His brain on overload, the Ridre Dubh began to recognize Owen's actions. She Who Was All had explained the necessity of ritual to all dark magic, and though he was no expert, he was able to register that the man was casting what was called a ward, a quick spell that would keep the two of them inside the small circumference, and everyone else out. Almost instinctively, Beckett fingered the large blue stone at the end of the pommel, the "Meryln Stone" she had called it the night before, when the two of them had cast their own spell over it. "Do not forget, Mortal Prince, that Owen is Fay born, and like myself, able to use both white and dark magic. He has been training at this skill since he was a bairn at his mother's breast, and will not hesitate to throw an abundance of both kinds at you. But rest easy. I know a spell that will equal the playing field to some extent."
Finishing his ward, Owen tossed two small stones into the circle. They caught the light from the candles, and glittered oddly in the purple haze, one landing near Beckett's right foot. "Pyrite, Mortal. Fool's Gold. Don't you find that ironically appropriate?"
Before he could fashion a response, he heard the sound of low moaning coming from all around him. His eyes traveled to the porch where Maureen was tied. The ropes binding her to the overhang support had changed to thorny branches, the points piercing her skin and leaving small streaks of blood. A quick glance toward the trees showed Ian and Roxanne in the same position, their eyes wide with pain and terror, and he had no doubt that behind him, Kevin suffered the same fate. For a second his calm resolve wavered, and his temples throbbed with rage. Sensing his anger, Owen laughed, and returned his body to fighting mode. Beneath Beckett's hand, the stone in the pommel crackled, and the Ridre Dubh heard her words in his head as clear as if she were standing next to him.
"Use your inner sight, Sir Knight. Look through sightless eyes. What you see is not real. He shows you nothing but simple enchantment."
Beckett shut his eyes and tried to draw on his new found ability from inside. At first, everything was blurry and unfocused, but as he put more concentration behind it, the scene cleared like an opened window. Maureen and the others were in the same spots, but held by ordinary rope. There were no thorns, no running blood, no moaning. They were afraid. That couldn't be helped. But mixed in with the fright, he saw signs of anger and determination, and their faith in him both humbled and encouraged his soul, the very part of him that until this moment, he'd never felt he had. He kept his eyes closed and wished somehow he could completely seal them, keeping the false images from becoming a distraction. The stone crackled again, and in his mind he saw the words, spitting them out in calm detachment. "A caelo usque ad centrum! Actus me invito factus non est meus actus!" ( "From the sky to the center! The act done by me against my will is not my act!")
The flames on the candle sputtered and dimmed, and Beckett knew that he had broken down one of Owen's simplest spells. It was a small victory, but a win none the less, and he took a tiny rush of pleasure in his opponent's obvious surprise.
The sorcerer shook off his battle stance and then began to slowly clap, disdain evident in his mocking tone. "Well done, Wizard's spawn. I see you've learned a thing or two from that wretched bitch. Party tricks at best. Come. Let us get this over with. I grow impatient to plunder your Lady." He dropped back into fight mode, taking a step back while still pointing his long sword at Beckett. Then, with little fan fare, he thrust forward.
Beckett countered, the sound of blades striking echoing in the small space, and sounding cannon loud to his ears. Without the benefit of enchantment, his opponent looked less challenging, standing three inches shorter than he, and at least thirty pounds lighter. But he was surely younger by as many as ten years, closer to Maureen's age than his, and despite his aggressive training and skill, there was something to be said about the stamina of youth. The kid was a natural, there was denying that, and he wondered how many kills the young sorcerer had under his belt. He would have liked to have said that he himself had never taken to the conceit of counting them all. But that was a lie. He'd tallied each one of them as they had fallen. There had been 46. Forty-six lives he had snuffed out in some way or another, and he'd remained indifferent to them all. But this battle? It was different. This one was personal on a level he could barely contain.
They maneuvered around the circle, both careful not to step out. He didn't yet understand the metaphysics of the whole thing, but somehow knew that crossing over the line would result in some serious consequences. Owen managed a few good hits, and at one point, managed contact to his upper left arm, which now was bleeding and throbbing like a sonofabitch. But he hadn't been without his gains either. The Ridre Dubh had substantially more power in his swings than the young man, his upper body strength twice that of the kid, and each time their blades met, it took more and more energy for the sorcerer to defend against the bone shaking blows.
Up to this point, Beckett's own spell had held up against Owen's ability to use dark magic, but as they both began to tire, the sorcerer waved his hands in an arcing motion, and rain began to pour down inside the circle. It was white magic he was now using, something he had been born with, and a gift the Black Knight did not possess. Against white magic, without the required resources and ritual, he was helpless. The ground beneath their feet grew slick and mushy, and footing became difficult on both sides, each of them nearly slipping and falling in an effort to defend against any incoming hits.
It began to rain harder, the sheets of water whipping in his face and making it difficult to see clearly, but years of training had made Beckett acutely aware of the need to watch an opponent's eyes in one to one combat. The eyes were a mirror to your enemy's next move, and so when Owen was ready to attempt a kill shot, Beckett was aware and ready. The man pivoted on his left foot, swinging the sword to the front of his body, and aiming toward the chest region of Beckett's. The Ridre Dubh raised his own weapon shoulder level, ready to block, and then quickly attempt his own hit across the man's neck. But in the muck the ground had become, he lost his balance and fell forward, allowing Owen a few second's access access to his unguarded upper body.
The sword went in under his right rib cage, a searing pain that sucked the breath from his lungs. He slid forward, stumbling as his opponent smiled and thrust the sword in a bit deeper, clearly celebrating what he thought to be a victory. His chest and stomach on fire, Beckett fought to keep conscience, and in his hand, the stone in the pommel came to life again, a burst of energy running up his arm and into his head. While Owen laughed and draw his sword out from the Ridre Dubh's chest, Beckett suddenly raised Caladbolg up, bringing it down hard across the back of the sorcerer's neck.
The head fell off the young man's shoulders like a ripe melon, hitting the ground and rolling in front of his feet, spraying his body with a shower of warm blood. The headless body followed, dropping first to its knees, and then toppling over, the pouring and spurting blood mixing with the standing pools of rain in the mud. For a second, Beckett could only stare at the carnage, each breath a burning flame in his chest. Then, the images in his head dimmed to nothing, and he himself slid into darkness.
Upon Owen's death, his spells dissipated, and the ropes holding the others disappeared, dropping Ian and Roxanne to the ground, and allowing Maureen and Kevin access to Beckett in the now defunct circle. The Sheriff lay still, blood pouring from the open wound in his chest as Maureen was the first to reach him.
"Oh, God, oh God, oh God...somebody do something! Call 911! Something!" She squared her hands on his chest, trying to apply pressure, but the blood poured out between her fingers.
Next to her, Roxanne banged on her cell phone. "It's no use, Mo. There's no signal. Hasn't been one since we got here."
"If we don't do something, he's gonna die. Oh, God...Please. Not him too!" She began to weep, and then stopped, as if a thought had suddenly come to her mind. She dragged Caladbolg from where it had fallen out of his hand, and wrapped her husband's limp fingers around it. Then she placed her hands back on her husband's chest and closed her eyes, concentrating with all she had. His eye lids fluttered a bit, and seeing her net to him, he tried to speak.
"Baby...I'm sorry, sweetheart. I gave it my best shot." His breathing was raspy and burdened, and he fought to stay conscience. "Call Mike Nolan. On the burner phone I gave you. He'll...he'll take care...of the body. Then call your brother, Patrick. He'll know what to do it. You'll be okay. I promise."
His words made her weep harder, her nose running, and her hands still trying to hold her lover's life blood inside him as it pooled in puddles around his body. "Don't say that, Ted. You're gonna be fine. You can't die. It's not supposed to work like that. Oh, please...Ted...please don't die on me."
But he lapsed into silence again, his face growing pale, and his pulse weakening. Looking up, she saw her brother standing to her left, tears running down his own face. "He's can't die, Kevin. He just can't! You have to help me. Together we can fix this."
Fr. Kevin shook his head, the tears strangling the words in his throat. "There's nothing we can do for him, Mo. It's God's will."
"I don't accept that! God wouldn't make me suffer this much. First my baby? Then Ted? I won't let it happen. You have to help me, Kev. Please!"
"Help you how, Maureen? I'm not a doctor. We have to trust in God right now to do the right thing."
"No, Kev. If you and I work together, we can save him. I'm sure of it! Please! Come put your hands on his chest, and 'will' him better! It will work! I know it."
Her brother looked at her horrified. "Magic? No way, Maureen. It's wrong. It's against the will of God. A mortal sin! I can't do that! Besides, I...I couldn't do it if I wanted to. There's nothing like that inside of me, Mo. There just isn't!"
"You're wrong, Kev. You have the same gifts I have. You just won't accept it. We could save him, you and me. We can. I know it!" He hesitated, and she could see the fight going on inside of him. She began to cry uncontrollably, choking out the words in gasping sobs. "Please, Kevin...if you love me...help me save him. I love him, Kevin. He's my whole life. Don't make me live without him."
She'd always been his weak spot...his Achille's heel. He felt her pain as if it were his own, and unable to stand it, he dropped to his knees next to his dying brother-n-law and begged God to forgive what he was going to attempt to do. Placing his hands over his sister's, he closed his eyes and wished her husband whole.
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2016
All Rights Reserved