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Author's Chapter Notes:
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“Are we ready, folks?” Nell breathed. “Then stand as close together as you can…”

She had scarcely finished speaking when a rushing wind scooped them up and hurtled along with them down a long, dark tunnel. The tunnel disappeared and they floated through a misty nothingness for endless moments before dropping like stones. Expecting a hard landing, the women braced themselves – and fell, instead, onto something yielding, but rather bumpy.

Blinded as they were by that rushing darkness, they felt hands pulling them up and setting them back on terra firma. They heard the sound of swords clashing all around them. Shaking their heads and blinking hard to clear their eyes, they gasped out loud. They were indeed back with Arthur, and the battle with the intruders was apparently still going on. The softness of their landing had been due to falling on top of their three captives, who were now being hauled roughly to their feet by Sirs Ector, Boris and Lionel. The latter quickly relieved the warriors of their weapons and herded them into a corner, where Ector kept guard. Over by the door, the fighting was fast and furious, but Nell saw that neither side seemed to have the advantage.

She glanced over at Arthur and was astounded. Neither he nor Merlin had moved from where she had last seen them. Why wasn’t Merlin using his so-called magic and hurling thunderbolts or whatever? Why was Arthur standing there biting his lip instead of joining in the fray and wielding Excalibur exuberantly and to good effect, as was his wont?

How long had she and the others been gone? Not long, judging by the scene before her, although they had seemed to spend a goodly time back in the library. She glanced at Hilda and saw she still had the bag safely across her shoulder, even though now back in her long red gown with the white fur edging. Hilda caught the glance.

“I take it we’re on Arthur’s side for now?”

“Well, his men do seem slightly more civilised.” Nell gripped her gun tightly. Hilda opened her bag and removed the paperweight. Fidelma’s eyes narrowed as she weighed up the situation.

All at once, Nell sprang into action, aiming her gun at the warrior who was fighting Sir Percival and on the point of overpowering him. She grimaced as she pressed the trigger. The tall man dropped his sword with a shriek and clasped his arm. The bullet had nicked the skin. The point of Percival’s sword was immediately held to the man's throat and he stood stock still. Another of the attackers crept up on Percival, and raised his sword to strike. Without a second thought, Hilda steadied herself, drew back her arm and bowled the paperweight at the man’s head. He dropped like a stone, his sword clattering to the floor beside him.

Nell stared at Hilda. “Where on earth did you learn to do that?”

“I was fast bowler on the school cricket team,” Hilda replied breathlessly. “It would seem I haven’t forgotten everything.”

“You sure know how to surprise a girl! Remind me to duck next time you throw someth....”

She ceased speaking and stared. Fidelma had shot forward and grasped the fallen sword.

“Do you know how to wield that thing?” asked Nell, as the nun hurried back to them.

Fidelma winked. “Of course! Am I not a king’s daughter? However, being a religious, I prefer other methods of defence.....

She was interrupted by Nell, who yelped as Hilda imitated Fidelma and darted forward to retrieve the paperweight.

“Are you both out of your tiny minds?” Nell was horrified, but the next moment she had raised the gun again, as one of the intruders ran toward them, sword at the ready.

Fidelma passed the sword to Hilda and lowered Nell’s hand. “Leave this one to me.”

Before Nell could react, Fidelma was taking slow, deep breaths and balancing lightly on her toes. The next moment the man was on her, his sword at waist height. Fidelma reached out as though to grasp the sharp steel. Without seeming to move, her hand ducked under the sword, grasped the man’s arm and pulled him right past her, using his own momentum to send him sprawling against the solid wood of the round table at high speed. He lay there for a moment, shaking his head, then with a great roar of rage he soared to his feet and ran at her, his arms outstretched. She simply reached into his flailing arms, pulled him into her and over her hip. His body had no choice but to follow where his arm led and he cannoned head first into the wall and lay still.

By this time, Hilda and Nell were gaping, their eyes wide with shock. Fidelma dusted her hands and flashed them a mischievous smile, even while keeping one eye on the fallen man.

“How did you...?” gasped Hilda.

Nell gazed in delight from Fidelma to the man on the floor and back again. “Will you teach me that trick?”

Fidelma laughed and shook her head. “It’s far more than a trick, Nell. I’ll explain when we don’t have more pressing business.”

At that moment, two more men detached themselves from the sword fight and dashed towards the women. Nell instantly fired and one of them stopped dead in his tracks, clamping his hand to the side of his head. His sword clattered to the floor.

“You didn’t!” Hilda said in shocked tones.

“Grazed his head, is all. I’m nowhere near as lethal as you and Fidelma!”

They watched the second man drop his sword and reach for the nun with his long arms, a devilish smile on his face. The next moment, he went soaring through the air to land beside his friend in an unconscious heap. There was no time to congratulate each other, for the man who had been shot was joined by one of his friends and both seemed prepared to attack the women.

Nell raised her gun again, but Hilda shouted, “Mine, this time!” and grovelled in her bag.

The friend ran at Fidelma, sword held aloft, only to fly over her shoulder. The other, who had forgotten to pick up his sword, caught the other man’s flight out of the corner of his eye, so altered direction and turned on Hilda. He reached out both hands to grasp her round the neck. The next instant he was dancing around and howling. His shirt sleeve was on fire. He tried to smother it with his other hand to no avail. The flames reached higher. Nell turned to Hilda, to see she had her lighter in her hand.

“Oh, quick thinking, my girl!” she whispered.

Fidelma looked around, saw some buckets of water nearby and dragged the screaming man over to them. He grunted as she forced his arm into the water. The flames were soon put out, but when he tried to straighten up he found a sword held to his throat. He kept very still. Fidelma pointed to where Ector was guarding the three other warriors. The man nodded and shambled across the hall, Fidelma pricking him from time to time with the sword so he didn’t try to attack her. His arm was obviously hurting him badly as he was holding it close to his body with his other hand.

Fidelma left him with Sir Ector and hurried back to the two women. Hilda was keeping other warriors at bay by flicking the lighter on and off, on and off.

Fidelma’s eyes glowed.”Such marvels! Flames held in a tiny box! Why doesn’t it burn you?”

A loud voice broke into their whispers. “Now’s your chance, my knights!”

Arthur had seen the enemy faltering, unnerved by the women’s extraordinary actions. Magic they might seem, but they would serve his purpose. He grasped Excalibur from Sir Kay and began to attack in earnest. His men fought with renewed vigour now he was leading them. Merlin laid about him with his staff, occasionally glancing malevolently at the women, as though they had done him some great harm. They themselves were soon embroiled in the fight once more when some of the leather-clad men decided the lighter was no real danger. Two descended at once. Nell took aim carefully and fired at one man’s raised hand. With a shriek of pain he dropped his sword and bent over, cradling the hand, while Fidelma tossed the other one over her hip.

“To your left, Hilda,” Nell shouted.

Hilda looked left and let fly with the paperweight as a huge man knocked Sir Lionel’s sword from his hand and raised his own sword for the killing blow. The paperweight connected with his temple, the sword fell from his hand, almost chopping off his toes, and he dropped unconscious to the floor. Fidelma crowed in triumph.

A sudden silence fell. Looking up, the women saw the battle was over. Swords were held at the intruders’ throats and they were herded to one end of the room to join the three men guarded by Sir Ector. Some of Arthur’s knights formed a barrier round them. Fidelma grasped one of the swords that had dropped near them and advanced on the man who was cradling his arm. He took one look at her grim face and moved swiftly to join his captive friends. Hilda retrieved her weapon.

All eyes focused on Arthur. He sheathed his sword with great deliberation, seated himself and surveyed the captives in brooding fashion, chin on hand. Merlin moved to his side, seeming far from happy at the outcome of the short battle.

“Why is he glowering at us like that?” murmured Nell, her lips scarcely moving.

“I have no idea, but he bears watching very carefully.” Hilda was very afraid, but could not have said why.

*****



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