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Author's Chapter Notes:
I'm sorry the last chapter held no appeal for anyone, and hope you'll find this next part more exciting.....

….. Without blinking, the warrior cuffed Fidelma across the face, then proceeded to wrap his huge hands round her neck and squeeze hard. Fidelma’s fingers tried in vain to pull the strong hands away. She tore at his skin with her nails but he simply squeezed the harder. Fidelma’s hands fell away, her eyes closed....

“Let go of me, dear girl.... do something!” Nell whispered, too dizzy herself to help.

Knowing all too well what doing something might mean, Hilda reached inside her sling. She took a hold on her fears and tiptoed up behind the Saxon. She lifted her arm and, with one mighty thrust, buried the largest blade of her penknife deep into his armpit. She shuddered as his warm blood spilled over her hand. She was becoming too good at this!

The Saxon shrieked and whirled round, releasing Fidelma, who slipped to the floor, holding her crushed throat and trying to breathe. He tried to grasp hold of Hilda, who had skipped back out of his reach, but the pain in such a tender spot began to bite. He stopped and took a deep breath, before stretching his good hand across his body to pull out the knife. However, Hilda had driven it in at an awkward angle and it was buried deep. It held firm. He tried again but the pain was now so fierce that he gave up. Spitting and cursing, he moved after Hilda, again reaching out for her.

Fidelma scrambled dizzily to her feet and stepped between them. She grasped his outstretched hand and kicked him even harder between the legs.

“Agh!” he bellowed, and this time doubled over.

Despite the pain in her throat, Fidelma gave him no time to recover. She clasped both her hands round his good one and began to pull his heavy, bent body round in a circle. He managed to straighten himself up, wincing as he did so, and struggled against the strong hold she had on him, but he had to keep his own other arm out from his side so he didn’t drive the blade even deeper, and it was impeding him as he fought against Fidelma.

Hilda joined in the fray. She placed her own hands over Fidelma’s, leaned back and helped pull him round and round. Their combined strength forced his legs to move faster, although Hilda’s hands were slippery with blood and she found it hard to keep a firm hold. But the Saxon was weakening from pain and blood loss. He staggered and stumbled as they increased the pressure and pulled him round in another, quicker circle. Gathering momentum, they continued to pull him round, and his feet scrabbled to keep up, his face scrunched up in pain. Fidelma shouted to Hilda to let go. On her own, the next circle was faster still. All of a sudden, she stopped dead - while he carried on moving at speed, careering head first into the wall with a crunch that could be heard all round the hall. His body stained the wall red as he slid down it and lay still.

Fidelma stood looking down at him, her hands massaging her throat. She glanced at Hilda, who was shaking badly and wiping her bloody hands down her dress. Nell had joined her, after first glancing over at the Saxon whom Hilda had set on fire. He was no longer rolling around. Instead, he was flat on his back and tearing at his clothes.

“Bless you for that, Hilda. I just wasn’t strong enough to free myself, nor to spin him round on my own.” Fidelma’s voice was a painful whisper and she shuddered. “I know how you hated using that knife on him, but you saved my life. I thought.... I’d never see Eadulf again.... or Alcú.....”

“How’s your throat feel?” It was already bruising badly. Fidelma’s face was grey with pain and her hands were trembling.

“I’ve felt better, I must admit.” She knelt on the floor beside the Saxon and drew out the penknife. More blood soaked into the man’s clothes. “Well, at least he still lives. You know, Hilda, I’m sorely tempted to knife him somewhere that would really hurt, but I don’t think you’d allow me to do that – so let me have some of those bands you used to tie up Merlin. If you have any left, that is. Not that I think this one’s going to attack us again anytime soon, but one never knows. He took me completely by surprise.”

She handed the knife over to Hilda, who stepped away and flung the knife across the round table to Arthur. She never wanted to touch it again. She delved back into her sling and produced the remaining elastic bands. She was moving back to Fidelma and the unconscious Saxon when Nell cried out in alarm. She had not kept watch as well as she thought.

Even as Nell cried, a whirlwind ploughed into Hilda with a great shriek of rage. The Saxon she had set on fire had put out the flames and torn off his burnt clothes. Clad only in his singed trousers, in agony from the severe burns on back, neck and arms, he now seized hold of Hilda, the author of all his woes. With another loud cry of murderous rage, he lifted her high in the air with his great fists and shook her violently. Her head snapped backwards and forwards and she knew that she would not escape death a second time.

Fidelma watched in horror, too shocked and hurt to react. A dizzy Nell looked on in disbelief. Her addled brain couldn’t make sense of it. She watched the man raise his arms as high as he could and spin round and round with Hilda held in his strong grip. A moment later, with a mighty roar, he hurled her away from him. She flew helplessly through the air like a rag doll and dropped head first onto the hard floor, where she lay unresisting. However, the Saxon hadn’t finished with her. He trotted over and his foot rose in the air, hovering just above her head.

Nell squawked and woke up. The man was going to stomp on Hilda’s head and kill her. In one swift motion, Nell’s hand shot into her sling, seized the gun, aimed it at the middle of the Saxon’s body, cocked the gun and pulled the trigger. The shot rang out loud and clear. He staggered and fell to his knees beside Hilda. He lifted his hand as though it weighed a ton and tried to press it against the hole in his bare chest. He stared down at the blood bubbling out. He seemed puzzled and weary, oh so weary. His hand dropped to his side. He gave a great sigh. In slow motion, his heavy body toppled onto Hilda and lay still.

Nell’s mind was blank with shock. She stood rooted to the spot, her gun still pointing to the fallen Saxon. She’d just killed a man! Had she also killed Hilda?

Everyone in the hall was still and silent, staring at the little instrument that had dealt out death so quickly. Fidelma felt much the same, but she pulled herself together and ran across to haul the Saxon off Hilda. He was dead weight. She couldn’t move him an inch.

“Help me, Nell!” she tried to call, but all that came out was a painful croak. Nell stared at Fidelma’s efforts to move the man. “Nell! Wake up, Hilda needs you....”

Those last words did the trick! Nell shot across, dropped the gun and took hold of the man’s legs. “Is he.... is he dead?”

Fidelma nodded. “Don’t look like that, Nell. It was him or Hilda. You could never have stopped him without killing him. He was like a raging bull.”

Inch by painful inch, they moved the heavy, inert body and left it lying on the floor so they could attend to Hilda. Nell gasped in alarm at all the blood which had soaked into the red dress.

“She’s hurt!”

“It’s his, Nell, though some of it came from the one she knifed to free me. Relax!” They rolled Hilda over with great care but she lay motionless, eyes firmly closed. Nell gave a low moan. “She’s still breathing, Nell. She got a nasty knock on the head when she fell. Give me those bands and I’ll go and truss that other one up. You stay with her.”

She rose to her feet wearily, feeling old and sick. Glancing across at the King she saw he and Merlin were on their feet. Cerdic and Wibert were staring with stony faces at Nell, but she only had eyes for Hilda. Fidelma went across to the one she had hurled at the wall and laced his hands together. He was still breathing but she had no idea how badly he was hurt. With a great sigh, she turned again to Arthur.

“I think we’ve beaten them, Arthur,” she croaked sadly. It gave her no pleasure to take life. “One is dead. I’m not sure about the other two, but they’re in no condition to go on fighting.”

“And the lady Hilda?”

“I don’t know, Sire. As you saw, she took a very nasty fall. But – before I ask you to help her, is Cerdic willing to concede defeat? Does he agree it was a fair fight? I’m not sure how.....”

She was interrupted by a howl. Wibert jumped to his feet, threw himself violently against Lionel and butted him in the face. The knife dropped as Lionel fell to the floor with blood pouring from his nose. Cerdic growled angrily at his fellow Saxon, but Wibert ignored his leader and grabbed the knife. He swung his body in Guinevere’s direction, knife at the ready but Merlin already had hold of Guinevere and was pulling her from the chair. He placed himself between her and the knife.Wibert never hesitated. He spat at Merlin and drew his arm back to make a thrust with the knife.

Another shot rang out. The knife fell from his hand and he grasped his shoulder, bending over to contain the sudden, overwhelming pain. Blood began to stain his shirt and tunic. Merlin spun round. Nell was still kneeling beside Hilda, but her gun was pointing steadily at Werbit.

“Ask Cerdic has he had enough, Arthur.” Nell’s voice was strained. “How much more blood does he want spilling?”

******



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