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Author's Chapter Notes:
So perhaps it wasn't a bus accident gave the head injury then

Maybe this one made the other worse, since this is set the year before, Beecharmer. *winks*

Squirrel, bless you for a masterful summation of that last chapter.

Walking back into the hall, Nell saw Arthur, Fidelma and some of the knights all gathered round a seated Werbit. He was slumped in the chair and still grasping his shoulder. He looked decidedly the worse for wear and Nell was assaulted by pangs of guilt, until she recalled his violent attack on Lionel and his utter determination to kill Guinevere. He deserved no sympathy, as far as Nell was concerned.

Arthur also seemed untroubled by guilt. He had Hilda’s penknife in his hand and was opening and closing the blades with great curiosity. He looked up and eyed Nell’s white face and shadowed eyes.

“Is she still unconscious?” Nell nodded. “Merlin will do his best for her. How about you, my lady? You look a little better than you did earlier.”

“Merlin did his best for me too, Sire. It worked - mostly.”

Ho nodded and held out the knife. “This is a very clever idea and I imagine is most useful.”

“Keep it,” Nell said curtly. “Hilda won’t want it back after what she did with it. I’ll leave you mine, as well. We can easily acquire more.” She looked at Werbit. “How is he?”

Arthur laid down the knife and stroked his beard. “Well, he’s not dead – yet! But what on earth have you done to him? And why did it kill the other one, but not Werbit?”

Nell shrugged. “Why does one arrow kill when another only wounds? I suppose a lot depends on where you hit someone, and then on what kind of care they receive.” She felt around in her sling and held up a bullet.

Arthur eyed her quizzically. “Is that what’s inside him?”

She took her gun out and slotted the bullet into it. “It works on the same principle as a bow and arrow, I suppose. This gun is the bow and the small item I put inside, called a bullet, is the sharp end of the arrow. An arrow is like lightning in the hands of a good archer. So is this bullet, but it can penetrate further inside a body as it is so narrow and smooth-sided. A bow can cause devastating injuries, and so can this. They both cause massive damage and blood loss, which is why that Saxon manhandling Hilda died so quickly. I aimed for his heart. I’m not sure he even knew what hit him.”

She paused, then whispered. “I would only have done that for Hilda....”

Silence was the men’s only response for a while. Her anguish was self-evident. Fidelma’s arm went round her shoulders in comfort.

Arthur cleared his throat. “You could leave that with us as well, if you like.”

“No point!” Nell pulled out the small box of bullets. “You can’t use a bullet twice, and these are all I have with me. They wouldn’t last you long.” She dropped gun and bullets back into her sling. “How’s Sir Lionel?”

“Here, my lady.” Lionel had a lump the size of an egg on his forehead. “All my own fault! I should have been watching him more carefully.”

“You might want to put something very cold on that to reduce the swelling, and lie down for a while. You can’t blame yourself. He was so quick – and very dangerous! And treacherous! The fight was over, for goodness sake! What was the point of his behaviour?” Nell asked angrily. “Let me have a look at him, since I do have a little medical knowledge.”

She wondered how much good her Guiding First Aid badges would be to her, even with the extra first aid all the staff had received from the San in case of any invasion.

Sir Kay, who was nearest, pointed to Werbit’s collar bone. “Whatever you shot him with seems to have lodged there.”

Nell was puzzled. She had seen the blood bloom on Werbit’s shoulder after she had fired the gun. Maybe she wasn’t such a good shot after all! Werbit had been stripped of his jacket and tunic and she bent over to examine him. She had been right! The bullet had entered his shoulder and then somehow travelled through the tissue, which had slowed down the trajectory, and had ended up buttressed against the centre of the collar bone. It was poking through the skin. The man was lucky the bullet hadn’t broken the bone! Werbit squirmed under her handling, gentle though it was. The glare he gave should have killed her on the spot.

She glared back. “It’s no good looking at me in that tone of voice!! It was you or the Queen! Believe me, there was no decision to be made!” Arthur translated and the Saxon snarled. “Don’t bother to translate that, Arthur. I can guess what it meant.”

She prodded round the bullet, knowing full well she was hurting him, but she was numb where he was concerned. All her thoughts were back in the other room with Hilda. “Tell him it needs to come out, just as the tip of an arrow would have to be removed. It will become even more painful otherwise and make him ill. His arm will go bad and he will eventually die, in very great pain.” It was the easiest way she knew to explain infection, gangrene and possible death.

“He asks how you will remove it?”

“Cut it out!”

Arthur translated and Werbit jumped to his feet, despite his pain, and screeched at her. She surveyed him calmly, although aware his other hand could fell her with one blow.

“Dearie me, he is in a temper! What a baby! I thought he was a champion. Surely he’s not afraid of a small cut. Tell him I’ll even sew it up for him afterwards.”

The knights pressed Werbit back into his chair as Arthur translated.

“Is that just another way for you to kill him?” a deep voice asked in Latin.

Nell looked over at Cerdic, still imprisoned in his chair. She replied in the same language. “If I wanted him dead, I’d leave him to it. He’s lucky! The bullet is near the surface and will come out easily. There will be some pain and bleeding but it won’t kill him. Be grateful!” she added harshly, her eyes glittering with anger. “I didn’t shoot to kill, but to stop him attacking the Queen! If it had gone any deeper, I could have done nothing for him. He would have died, just like your champion over there. That one was about to kill my friend, so him I did shoot to kill! Please don’t expect me to apologise!”

Nell was shaking with rage, her numbness gone, and her defiant grey eyes held Cerdic’s cold ones . Not one of them had any honour, she told herself. Perhaps she should leave Werbit to die, just to prove a point! He would have killed Guinevere or Merlin without a second thought. Cerdic’s eyes fell away from her withering gaze.

“Well said, my lady,” Kay whispered in her ear, and her rage cooled. Not all the men in the Hall were like Cerdic and Werbit. She pressed his hand gratefully.

“Will you free me?” Cerdic growled, unrepentant to the last.

“Why should we?” Fidelma’s joined in the fray, her voice cold, her green eyes emitting icy sparks. “You proved your own treachery earlier. It’s really no wonder that your followers do the same. We can’t totally blame Werbit for his behaviour, when he has a leader like you. He takes you for his example. So you stay there until we decide otherwise.” At that moment, bruised throat or not, she looked every inch the princess she was.

“Fidelma is right, Cerdic. You will gain nothing by your attitude. For now, let’s concentrate on Werbit.” Nell had her voice and feelings back under control. She took out her penknife and handed it to Sir Kay. “This is cleaner than Hilda’s, but still not clean enough. I want you to put it in boiling water, but bring it back to me still in the water. Do not touch it or let anyone else touch it.”

They all looked somewhat thunderstruck by her strange instructions. She shrugged, having no idea how to explain the why of the hot water. The idea of germs was unknown to them.

“All I can say is that it will stop his wound going bad after I’ve finished. A dirty knife would be a very dangerous thing to use. Understand?”

Sir Kay nodded and took her knife away. Nell turned to Arthur. “I’m going back into Gunivere’s rooms to get some thread to sew up the wound after I’ve removed the bullet. Hilda has some in her sling. I won’t be long. Perhaps you should give both of them something to drink.” She turned away and then stopped and looked back. “By the way, how are the two men Hilda and Fidelma injured?”

Fidelma spoke before Arthur could reply. “The one Hilda knifed and I then crashed into the wall is still unconscious, but we’ve bandaged up his wound. Sir Tristram is looking after him over there.” Nell’s eyes looked where Fidelma was pointing and saw the warrior stretched out on some animal skins on the floor. “He’ll live, I think. They seem to have hard heads these Saxons, and Hilda’s knife wound wasn’t very deep. As for the one I injured in the sword fight..... he died.....”

She swallowed, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “It’s not the first time I’ve taken a life, but this.... seemed.... so unnecessary, Nell.” Nell eyed the bruises on Fidelma’s neck, saw how hurt she was in both body and spirit and moved forward to take her in her arms.

“It was a sword fight, Fidelma. He would have killed you without a second thought. Is that what you would have wanted? No, of course it isn’t! You had no choice. You were saving your own life and ours The man I killed would have murdered Hilda as though she was an ant beneath his shoe, not worth bothering about. So I did what you did – I took his life. Would I do it again? You bet I would, if Hilda were in danger!”

Fidelma leaned her aching head against Nell. “We’re Christians. We’re not supposed to take life. It hurts me every time, even knowing that it was kill or be killed.”

Nell held Fidelma close and tried to make sense of it for her, even though she was having trouble making sense of it for herself. Merlin had helped her, so she now had to help Fidelma.

“I don’t think the good Lord expects us to turn the other cheek when someone is coming at us with a sword, Fidelma. He didn’t turn the other cheek when the money-changers were making a mockery of His Father’s house, did He? He whipped them and drove them out of the Temple. We tried to do the same.”

“Is that a good enough reason to kill someone?”

Nell was longing to return to see how Hilda was, but she lowered her hands, took Fidelma by the shoulders and looked into the troubled face. “Who gave the shepherd boy David the courage to go out and meet Goliath, when even hardened warriors wouldn’t go? God did, although everyone else laughed at the idea. But David trusted, and so God not only sent him out, He showed him how to overcome the giant.”

“Like He showed us how to use our pebbles?”

Nell nodded. “Exactly! David was saving the Israelites from certain destruction. We were saving our own lives, and we were saving Guinevere and possibly the whole court. God made sure we, too, had the necessary tools to do the job, even though things seemed against us. Like David’s pebbles, our tools might not have seemed much against giants and swords – but they prevailed.”

Nell sighed, although talking to Fidelma was reinforcing what Merlin had done for her earlier and she felt a little easier. “I will find it hard to forgive myself, as you will, but it had to be done. There are many people in the world who love doing wrong, dear, and sometimes one simply has to stand up and be counted, like that young Jewish boy, David.”

She laughed to herself. “I’m not sure Hilda would agree with my theology, mind!”

*****



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