Chapter 14. Plans: Made, Delayed, Waylaid
It is past sunset when Legio XX halts their day’s march. Given the urgency of their commander, they might have proceeded further, however the Praefectus castrorum warns Traianius that the Via Appia has a steep descent east of Tarracina which would be dangerous to traverse in the dark.
Traianius makes a mental note, recalling that the Praefectus castrorum has spoken to him (several times before) about this very stretch of road. Should he ever be vested with civic jurisdiction over southern Latium, he is rather inclined to order the road rerouted somewhere faster and safer; likely a bit closer to the coast.
Of course, such a choice seems natural to a man who loves the seashore. The great waters have always been a fundamental part of the general’s soul. He grew up near the sea, and his thoughts turn to it in times of doubt and uncertainty. Times such as today.
Thus, while the road itself will not take him to the brisk salty air, a quick consultation with his scouts tells Traianius that if he leaves camp and climbs up the winding path past the Temple of Jupiter, he will soon find himself atop the high cliffs that look out over the waters.
Bidding Hectorus a good evening, with promises to return well before dawn, Traianius dawns a plain cloak, and departs his tent quietly. In minutes, he has moved out of the thick valley air, and is breathing the heady scent of the ocean. Not long thereafter, his face is bathed in a sharp wind sweeping off the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Many pilgrims would stop to kneel at the great temple that stands proudly upon the high crest, but not Traianius. Without delay, he passes the brief distance further until the sloping descent of the path tells him that the cliffs are near.
He can hear the waters now. Looking out across the vista, as moonlight replaces the fading glow of the west, he can descry the rough, even patterns of distant waves. Pleased by the undulating sounds, he closes his eyes and lets his mind drift.
In minutes, he has achieved a state of tranquility, such that he barely even startles when a low voice lifts from the darkness behind him.
“You should seek her no more,” the voice says. “She has powers that you do not. She bears responsibilities you would not comprehend.”
Traianius stiffens. The voice is one he recognises; one that he does not particularly like. Yet, as before, he finds no reason to disbelieve what the voice chooses to say. He remains silent for a long moment, before finally responding. “I gather she is no longer in Herculaneum?”
“That is correct. You gain nothing seeking her there.”
“Is she safe?”
“Safe?” There is a long pause before the voice sounds again. “The girl has no fear from blade, dart nor sling. She suffers from no palsy or ague. Storms beseige her not.”
Of course Traianius can sense there are many matters the answer may evade, but perhaps the fault is in a question of much asking and little art.
For some unknown time he stares out across the waters, perplexed, debating whether (or how) he might extract more detailed information from the dark stranger. He is about to attempt a very basic query into where Annisgwyl actually is when, suddenly, his skin prickles at a hostile sound of low rumbling. Leaping up, he grapples for his sword, his gaze darts frantically about the strange flickering low-light of… his field tent??
In a deep gloaming broken only by camp torches, Traianius stares in confusion at his tipped cot and strewn blanket, baffled as to what became of the windswept ocean and mysterious voice.
A much less mysterious voice emerges. “Are you hurt, sir?” Hectorus appears in the doorway.
Traianius shakes himself. “I am fine Hectorus. I merely startled on hearing an odd noise.”
“A rumble sir, yes. Rather like a lion in the shadows.” The aide nods. “I know not the source. Our other sentries just signaled their lamps to indicate that no harm has come to our camp or our men. I have seen no smoke nor sign of distress. Perhaps, sir…” He pauses for a long moment. “Well, in these parts, at times the troubled voice of Pluto rolls up from beneath the hills…”
Traianius kneads his chin, frowning.
“Your excellency?” Hectorus straightens. “Should I awaken the Praefectus castrorum to ready for another early departure?
Still frowning, Traianius exhales slowly. “No. Today we shall break camp after prima hora. We are not expected in Pompeii until four nights hence, and I have lost my will to arrive early.”
“There is no polished stone nor Earthly light that may ever exceed the grace of the moon upon a still lake.”
Perhaps the statement is but a plain truth to anyone witnessing this breathless night upon Bodmin Moor, yet Annisgwyl wonders if the words, like the lake itself, drape sheen-like over secrets that lie below. She studies the person who still looks so very much like the woman who raised her, and asks, “Mother, this lake drew you, did it not? Is it then a fount of power?”
The affirmation is writ clear within the tranquil eyes of the powerful yet elusive sorceress who was once LanossŽa of the Iceni.
These eyes are clearly pleased to look again upon a young woman who was once her daughter, for the answer is accompanied by a smile. “Magic draws the magical. The power within this hollow drew me once, just as you pursued the Forge. It is notable, though, that you chose to forsake the Forge to return here.” † The peaceful eyes then close, but the smiling lips do not, and a voice sounds slow, soft and low over the still pool.
Fearsome is the flame, until by waters quench…
Annisgwyl's eyelids flutter; tickled to be reminded of a familiar child’s rhyme. She clears her throat and takes up the verse.
Fearsome is the flame, until by waters quench.
Sturdy is the stone, yet waters turn to soil,
Yet thence to wood and wood to flame,
By spark and Druid’s toil.
She laughs for a moment, then quirks her brow in contemplation. “So, it is magic that the verse speaks of? Fire, stone and waters — they are the foundations of our powers.”
The sorceress nods.
Annisgwyl taps her chin. “Then, by this verse... is magic of the waters our most enduring?”
“Waters, aye. Subtler and more enduring than any save the aether of the firmament.” The sorceress sweeps her hand in a slow turn about the overarching stars. “In time, all fires shall die; all stones fall silent, and the waters shall cool to glass. Yet ever through that still glass will gleam the distant aether eternal.”
“I remember now, yes. But did you not also teach us…?” Annisgwyl thinks for a moment. “You taught us long ago that the magic in every witch or wizards springs runs strong with the powers of one element. So, my brothers…?”
“Fire and stone run strong in the blood your father's elder sons. But, your twin?” The sorceress gazes far to the south. “If Amaethon wills that we stand here within this pool to await him, then shall we not assume Ffodion Ignotus is a wizard of the waters?”
“Oh. Of course.” Annisgwyl’s eyes go distant as she ponders that which was said. And unsaid.
After a long pause, Annisgwyl's brow furrows. “Mother, may I ask what might be the will of Amaethon, that I march endless scores of leagues of hard Roman stone, only to find myself again at the spot from whence I departed?”
“Where falls the chaff from Amaethon’s hand is known to him alone.” The sorceress exhales. “I cannot know, my dear; I can only hope.”
“I understand.” Annisgwyl nods. “But what do you hope?”
“I hope, Annisgwyl Gemina, that your long quest ends exactly where you require. I hope that your quest was Amaethon's quest and, as your father would have said, 'vice versa'.”
“So then…” Annisgwyl touches her lip thoughtfully. “You truly do believe the hand of Amaethon was upon my actions? Yet surely his eyes are occupied with matters of more import than a lonely lass bereft of brother?”
“Matters of more import?” For the first time, the sorceress’s eyebrow raises in a taut curve that absolutely convinces Annisgwyl that, whatever magic the lake has wrought, the sorceress is truly still her mother.
There is a pause in which moonlight glistens russet in the former princess's hair. The night falls silent; even the babbling brook stops to listen to the coming words.
“Daughter, this pool has sustained the powers of our foremothers from time before time. It honed the hammers to sculpt the tall stones that guard the ancient plain, and it shall burnish the sword of future kings. These waters gave strength to weary Thestral, and shall rear a joyful Phoenix. The lake delivered you far across lands of the world to stand now beneath our stars.”
The witch who was once LanossŽa of the Iceni rises tall… then sighs and smiles softly. “The eyes of Amaethon watch over Ffodion, as they watch over you. Your matters, my dearest, seem to be of some import.”
Harry’s forward motion comes to an immediate clattering halt. Aching limbs sag against rough, hard stone.
His eyes search the darkness. Already adjusted to dim surroundings, he quickly descries the dull features of a plain rectangular room, unadorned, but for one barred window high above him, and a heavy-looking oaken door. He groans. “Shite.”
Well yes, I would concur.
Harry’s eyes go wide! Did someone just speak to him? Speak ‘inside’ him??
You are a hidden one, are you not? As my father occasionally spoke of?
“Ignotus!” Harry might have slapped himself, but for all his limbs being shackled to the wall.
There is a silent signal of assent.
“You’ve been here a while.” Harry begins to assimilate his host’s situation. “Days? Oh.” He sighs. “Weeks.”
Mining his host’s fairly open mind, Harry quickly assimilates how Ignotus had struck up a somewhat tenuous alliance last year with his half-brother Cadmus — a partnership that had ended over a month ago, with neither warning nor explanation, when Cadmus suddenly turned on him, shackling him here in a dungeon beneath the Letum Manse.
In his urgency, Harry doubts he can afford the luxury of processing his ancestor’s full story right now. It is far more immediately pressing to find Ginny.
Trying not to make much more noise, he pulls carefully against each of his restraints. In doing to, he senses their strength, noting that what binds him to this wall is not mere iron but rather magically reinforced restraints. Instinctively, he guesses that Muggle shears or chisel would fail, but that he should be able to free himself with a powerful Diffindo.
For that, he needs his wand. He strains his right hand downward… but quickly concludes that there can be no wand in the side pocket of his denims because, unsurprisingly, he has no denims. Rather, he has only his host's torn old tunic.
He is about to groan, when his host issues an urgent silencing note. All falls utterly quiet. Uncertain of what they're waiting for, Harry nonetheless holds his breath, hearing nothing but his own heartbeat, until…
Harry’s eyes rivet to the faint flicker of motion. Framed within the slight rectangle of light cast from the window, he see it. A stick.
Harry stares, baffled as to how (or why) a wand should have dropped down through the cell window.
Ignotus’s voice runs silently through his mind.
This is just as occurred last night. The wand shall lie there for several minutes, taunting. And then it will rise back up through window, and be gone.
“I don’t think it’s a taunt.” Harry shakes his head, squinting at the stick. “More likely a test. Or a chance.”
The aura from Ignotus seems skeptical, but no voice rises to argue.
Either way, Harry’s mind is occupied at the moment with another voice — the memory of Gemina Wilsey’s sprightly admonition.
“Try something wandless.”
Concentrating fiercely, Harry stares at the barely visible bit of wood, trying to visualise its comforting weight; imagining it lifting softly off the stone; watching it glide smoothly through the air…
Catching it in his hand!
The wand feels beautiful in his grasp — as smooth and vibrant as the Phoenix and Holly to which he’s accustomed. Without hesitation, he pulls away from the wall as far as he can, twists his right wrist around and uses the wand to slice through the metal on his left. In less than a minute, his limbs are free.
Between his own efforts and those of Ignotus, Harry finds the rest of imprisonment surprisingly easy to foil. A razor sharp Diffindo cuts through the bars in the window, while Ignotus conjures a series of handholds up the wall.
Clambering up, Harry reaches one hand out from the cell and onto the cold smooth stones of the Herculaneum street. A surge of adrenaline pulses through him. It is urging him toward that one final thrust needed to break out… then he hears an angry shout! From somewhere up the alley scramble a distant clatter of feet!
He freezes. What to do? Scramble up to the street and, what? Get into a brawl? Drop back into the cell and try to blast through the heavy door? Are there guards lurking in the Manse?
The scuffle of feet gets closer; louder. It seems too late to scramble up into the alley, so he's just about to leg go of the stone to drop back down, but someone catches his wrist!
Hauled roughly through the stone window, he drags over the stones, and is pulled to his feet. In the deep shadow of an alley concealed from the moon, he discerns only the outline of a man in a cloak, pulling him hastily to his feet.
“Who are-” Harry has barely time to gasp before the cloak sweeps around him, and he feels the sickening tug of Disapparition.
Hettie is aware that her Latin is a bit stilted, but she recalls equally well how, throughout her fairly exceptional school career, words have served her rather well. Given the apparent fact that no matter how she tries to move, she remains fixed in the same spot, and given that she is almost certainly a magical novice compared to this distinguished (if clearly sinister) wizard she’s confronted with, she opts to go with the best weapon she has.
“Are you aware that imprisonment without demonstrable just cause is illegal in 180 nations.”
The dark wizard grunts.
“Is that a yes or a no? Either way, you should be aware that international statutes entitle me to informed of the legal basis for my incarceration, as well as an assurance of due process.”
With eyes trained on the entrance to the fissure, the wizard responds with only a raised eyebrow.
“Furthermore…” Hettie is not to be deterred. “We are currently on federal land of the Italian Republic. If you claim the right to hold us against our will, you must produce suitable credentials.”
The wizard bites the inside of his cheek, but still does not meet her eye.
“If you fail to produce credentials, I will assume that you are acting with criminal intent.”
With a deep intake of breath, and a look of exceptional displeasure, the tall man begins turning slowly toward Hettie. Yet even as he turns, Hettie continues to speak.
“If you are acting with criminal intent, then you should be aware that I can scream very very loudly.”
“Nec tu eris quietam.” With an expression somewhere between mockery and loathing, he trains his wand on Hettie’s forehead.
Realising that he has basically just told her to 'shut up', Hettie glares at him. She considers on one hand a variety of options that include several sizzlingly ascerbic comebacks. Yet, on the other hand, she could… scream.
Just for spite.
The wizard's cocked eyebrow is smug. It is patronising. It is annoying the hell out of her, to near the point of speechlessness.
So she screams.
Ginny is weighing the odds she’d face if she were to try to take out four Death Eaters by herself.
Four sounds daunting, but she has the (hypothetical) advantage of surprise. Surprise, of course, is half the battle in such cases and, on several occasions, stealth has helped her take down an an unsuspecting pair of foes. A trio even, if you count Goyle Sr. as a 'foe', but she doesn't really, as he can barely lace a pair of shoes.
Of course, back at Malfoy manner, she vividly recalls teaming with Harry to successfully subdue five thugs… but no. Four to one is bad odds. Even if she was able to take down two in the opening volley, that would leave her highly visible, outflanked, and a pair of spitting mad cretins to contend with.
Her heart sinks. If only Harry were here…
Consigning herself to passive reconnaissance, she decides to ascend from her current position (well protected by a boulder, but short on good sight lines) to a more open spot. She identifies a suitable cluster of cobbles about thirty feet above the path, and is about to begin climbing when, from somewhere nearby, she hears the most horrific ear-rending shriek!
“Bloody Morgan’s measles!” Avery leaps eighteen inches into the air, spinning half an arc, firing jagged red sparks from his wand. Crabbe drops face first, yelping unintelligibly. Hairs on end, Malfoy and Bhagat spring into defensive couches, gaping wide-eyed at the stone cleft.
Astonished at this wildly good stroke of chance, Ginny's wand is blazing even before she’s remotely even aware of any conscious intent. “Stupefy!” Bhagat (closest and with his back-turned) falls face-first to the ground.
Blessed with one of the fastest stunners at Hogwarts, Ginny aims for Malfoy, but she can hear his timely ‘Protego’, so she veers five degrees left and levels Crabbe before he can scramble to his feet.
Bewildered and firing errantly, Avery pulverises a chunk of cliff adjacent to Ginny. With a gasp, she leaps clear and hits the ground rolling, just barely escaping a pair of deadly boulders that bound past like reckless sheepdogs. Spotting a sheltered nook, she scrambles for it.
Disillusioning herself, she prepares to wait out the chaos but, at that instant, another loose boulder finds a perfect keystone and, a hundred feet below, a huge fracture spalls with a cannon-like CRACK! Malfoy and Avery whip around in alarm, and Ginny spies her chance. Scrabbling madly back onto the path, she threads a stunner up, over the fringe of Malfoy’s shield, and brings down Avery before he can wreak any more havoc. Drawn by the noise of his falling colleague, Malfoy wheels about, leaving Ginny a clear shot behind his shield. She raises her wand and-
“What the…??” Stars and lightning flash across Ginny’s field of vision, she staggers. “Who got behind me?”
Lurching aside to catch herself, she groans as she feels the sickening grip of a leg-locking curse. Teetering, she does finally catch the rock face, and manages to erect a shield. Her vision blurred and flickery, Ginny processes the faces of a visibly deranged Malfoy… and an revoltingly bemused Dolohov.
Ginny Weasley has been cornered before. She generally prefers to project cool defiance, but tonight, still woozy from the head hit, she shrugs and goes with some low-brow, schoolyard cheek.
“Five on one, boys? Voldy couldn't spare any real men?”
Frantic over what to do about Harry (now completely entranced) and the pillar of flames (Is Ginny still in there? Impossible to tell.), Hermione and Ron twitch with anxiety, gaping in revulsion at the dispute raging among the remaining Death Eaters.
“Eh, but the Dark Lord di’n’ give neh orders ta-”
“Silence, you snot!” Bellatrix Lestrange’s wand jabs so hard into the forehead of the dissenting Death Eater that it draws blood. “Master said that Potter was to be delivered here ages ago, and as this has not happ-”
“’Twarn’t ages ago.” Goyle Sr. hauls out a fat pocket watch. “It’s only blerdy nine-oh… uh… twelve in d’even’n, and da boss sayed-”
Lestrange turns on him. Goyle cowers.
“The ‘boss’ said WHAT?” Stretching straight and tall, Bellatrix’s crimson scowl scorches the entire congregation. “My Lord said that we would crush the bleeding castle into a heap of smoking greasy slag! So let’s go CRUSH THE-”
“That’s not what he said, Bella.” Narcissa, pale to nearly the point of vomiting, accosts her raving sister. “T-the Dark Lord stated-”
Bellatrix’s eyes pop. Spitting like bacon, wand trembling like a twig, she takes wobbly aim at the younger witch. “Cissy!” She forces a ragged breath. “Listen to me, you litt-”
A shrieking war cry — half Valkyrie; half Berserker — rakes the night. The tower of inert fire jostles and twists. For an instant, the face and form of an infamous red-head is half visible through the diaphanous barrier… Then the blaze pulls slowly inexorably back, restoring its pillar form; constraining the figure behind it.
“Ai?” In a bewildered pall that descends over the whole stunned throng, sharp ears can just barely discern the tetchy cavil of Gemina Wilsey, as she kicks the strange barrier.
“Piss off, ya plonking flames.”