The Black Ankh
by Laura Campbell, aka Shadow of Light Dragon
Jyr had the misfortune of being left behind when the Avatar had magicked everyone from Serpent's Hold, but the good luck of only being discovered after the majority of the enemy had boarded their ships and sailed north. Had he been found earlier, he'd be a captive on one of the ships bound for, well, he had no idea where, instead of locked within the somewhat more familiar dungeon of his home keep. This he'd been told by one of the hundred soldiers left to hold the Isle of Deeds.
His relief had only lasted a day. Since he was the only prisoner, interrogation had begun almost at once.
Where are the Britannians? Doth Serpent's Hold have any secret passages? Any secret rooms? Any caches of food or armaments? Why wert thou left behind?
As a peasant boy of fourteen who didn't hold even the lowest position in the keep, Jyr could only answer the last. He'd been camping in the eastern part of the isle's forest and hadn't heard the dragonbone horn that was used to warn the populace of an attack. It was his own fault, he knew. He shouldn't have been camping in the first place.
He'd taken full advantage of the orders that he was not to be killed and managed to pick the lock to his cell three times and even make it out of the keep once. He'd been caught, of course, but that was to be expected when one was on an island. The third time had been the last, when the man in charge of the soldiers - a hulking brute with red hair and dark, burning eyes - informed Jyr that 'alive' didn't mean 'unhurt', and had shown him a whip to get his point across.
Two weeks after the evacuation, Jyr heard a clamour outside his cell and went to look through the barred window. He quickly backed up when three soldiers burst into the dungeon with drawn weapons. There were footsteps, keys jangling, then a creak of hinges as Jyr's door was opened. One of the soldiers - the same one that had threatened Jyr with the whip - advanced with his free hand extended.
Jyr retreated, eyes wide and fearful.
"Get here, human!" the soldier shouted, which only added to his confusion and terror.
There were only so many places one could hide in a small stone cell, however, and Jyr soon found himself held with one arm pinned behind his back and a sword at his throat. Half carried from the cell, he realised what was going on when he recognised the two ragged knights who suddenly crashed through the dungeon door with a brown-haired, green-eyed woman and a blond-bearded man.
Gaping at the last two, who could only be the Avatar and Lord British from all the pictures he'd seen of them, Jyr almost dropped to his knees in relief before he realised such an act would end in his own decapitation.
"No closer!" the soldier holding him shouted.
His two companions lunged forwards but were quickly dispatched by the knights.
"Your garrison is dead," the Avatar said, folding her arms and gracing the man with a cool look. "And so are you, I see."
"I'll kill him," the soldier shouted. Jyr felt the steel bite into his neck.
"Release him and I won't kill you." She paused. "No human here will."
He had to believe her - she was the Avatar! Sure enough, Jyr was shoved forward and into Lord British.
"You might regret your decision, Avatar," the soldier sneered, and Jyr's eyes widened in horror as the man's form expanded, wings tearing from shoulders and head becoming a laughing skull. "Letting me go to spare a whelp. But I believe you." It bowed mockingly.
The Avatar gestured to the door. "After you." She followed the daemon out, the knights, king and Jyr following.
"Your Majesty," Jyr whispered, almost afraid to speak to the great Lord of Britannia, "is she letting a daemon go, milord?"
Blue eyes regarded him wryly. "She is, yes."
Lord British touched a finger to his lips and Jyr fell silent.
Britannians flooding the halls were cheering the liberation of their keep until they saw the daemon and its grim escort. They fell in behind as the small party went on towards the gate where a red-gold-haired lady in scarlet scale armour was observing the results of the battle with a critical gaze. By now, all the Britannians were following in an expectant silence, and the daemon looked nervous.
"Go," the Avatar said when they reached the gate.
The daemon stepped outside, turning to watch the Britannians with distrust as it backed slowly away, wings spreading.
The Avatar glanced at the red-armoured woman. "It's all yours," she said with a smile.
"You said..!" the daemon began, then broke off as the woman stepped into the gateway, its glowing eyes almost starting from its head. Shrieking something in its own tongue, the daemon spun and leaped into the air.
The woman ran after it, a sudden golden aura infusing her body as she also changed shape, but not into a daemon. The great red-gold dragon's jaws snapped once, and it was over.
"The keep is thine," Lord British was saying to the Gargish knight Sir Horffe as the dragon landed outside. "I, the Avatar and our friends must return to the Isle of Fire."
Horffe nodded. "To understand, your Majesty. To ask if we can help in any way?"
"Any armour would be appreciated."
"The armoury hath been cleaned out, my Lord," another knight informed him. "The invaders took everything."
"Um..." Jyr cleared his throat and raised one hand. "Are there any hidden armouries?"
The Avatar said, "Yes, of course... I have no idea where they are, but there used to be such rooms. How didst thou know about them?"
"They questioned me about them, milady."
"To open them," Horffe said. He took two knights and left.
"Thanks for the light entertainment," the red-armoured woman said to the Avatar as she re-entered the keep. Golden eyes regarded Jyr for a second then turned away, uninterested.
"No problem," the Avatar said. She asked Jyr for his name, then, "Thinkest thou that thou canst tell us thy story, Jyr? What happened here in Serpent's Hold?"
He told her everything, forgetting in his excitement to add the usual embellishments.
"The Isle of Fire, Elora," Lord British murmured.
The Avatar nodded and looked at the dragon-woman. "Kra'lysie, can you make it with seven of us?"
One brow arched. "We'll find out."
"Thou hast done us a service, Jyr," Lord British said. "Can we do aught for thee before departing?"
"I think," the boy replied self-consciously, "that saving my life was repayment enough. I'd appreciate it if ye chased those Guardian-lovers out of Britannia, though."
The king chuckled approvingly. "We're working on it."
The Avatar, however, looked as though she wanted to do a lot more than chase.