Helen had a hard time keeping her calm. It took her all the self-control she could muster not to jump the guards who escorted her to the duel. She didn’t utter a single word as they walked through the hallways. The scent of burnt torches that lit the halls at night still lingered. The passage was lined with paintings and antiques at one side, and on the opposite wall were stained glass windows, of which most were still closed from the night before. A few servants rushed along every now and then, busy with their morning chores, but aside from that the palace itself was dead silent.
She was uneasy to say the least. She could feel the tension rise around her. The maids were whispering as they passed, and the few words she caught weren’t pleasant at all. She clenched her armored hands and felt her own magic flow out of control, driven by her anger. She kept her head down to avoid all eye contact with others as the helmet Clio had given her left only her eyes and mouth exposed.
She heard the clock tower's bells strike ten and glanced out of one of the few open windows that lined the passage. Unaware that the guards had suddenly stopped, she smashed straight into one of them and groaned as she fell back. She cursed under her breath but frowned as an ever familiar voice echoed above the ringing bells.
“Leave, I need to speak to her. Wait behind the door,” Vivian commanded as she clasped her hands nervously. The guards bowed and marched down the hallway. She waited until they were out of sight then turned back to Helen who was standing up once again.
“Vivian, what a lovely surprise,” Helen muttered. She tried to sound as calm as possible, yet her voice came out like a wounded animal. She eyed the princess, who was wearing a fancy black dress with a fur cape over it as well as a tiara of white gold over her head, and grinned faintly at her obvious fear. “Speak, or did the cat get your tongue?”
“Clio, I hate you,” Vivian declared, and took a step back immediately. She made sure she was out of Helen’s reach and pulled her cape around her tightly as she glimpsed at the woman before her. She was terrified, to tell the truth, at seeing whom she thought to be Clio armed to the teeth.
“Trust me the hate is mutual. In fact the idea of taking your head and throwing it at Freddy’s feet is very tempting.” Helen reached for the hilt of her sword, and took a step forward.
Vivian paled at the words, and backed away further. “No, please no!” she beseeched as her back hit the wall and she cowered away from the shining blade Helen drew.
“Give me a reason why you should live?” Helen smirked under her helmet, and grasped Vivian by her throat. She pulled her close, and forced her to look her in the eye. “Why don’t I take you along? Training you with whips might make you an obedient little princess. Maybe enough to serve me.”
“No, Clio please! I am here to help you! He has your father. He kidnapped him to force you to surrender!” Vivian nearly squealed as she tried to pull herself away. She flailed as she attempted to scream for her guards, but her voice didn’t have a chance to leave her lips. Helen smashed her against the wall again and muffled her cry for help with a firm hand against her mouth.
“Tell me something I don’t know princess,” Helen smirked, and placed the edge of her blade on Vivian’s face where she made a thin, shallow cut. “I am good at skinning people alive. Did I ever tell you that? Maybe I should start with this pretty face of yours.”
Vivian panted while her face turned pale. She could feel tears trickle down her cheeks, but didn’t dare move any further. “I will help you, I will help you! Please!” She wept beneath the hand until Helen let her drop. She didn’t move as she knelt at Helen’s feet, and shivered.
“I don’t want you to marry my father! I hate you! You think you’re the best just because you learned some fancy magic tricks! I am rich and pretty, and father will have to see that eventually!” she bellowed the words out but squeaked as Helen laughed coldly at her words.
“So many hollow words, so little action. With your attitude no wonder your father tried to wed you off to some lowlife nobleman,” Helen mocked, and knelt near Vivian. She cupped her face and squeezed it. “Useless, you are so useless. No wonder Freddy wants you out of his sight constantly,”
“I will poison him! I’ll pour an entire vial of poison in the wine he’ll drink at the arena. He’ll die, and he won’t marry you!” Vivian spat out in a hiss, and smirked victorious at the obvious shock in Helen’s eyes.
“He can’t marry me if he’s dead, silly,” Helen muttered in the sudden silence between the two of them.
Vivian simply stared at her rival before she burst into a hysteric laugh until her face turned red. “I’ll be free as a bird to do what I want. I won’t have to listen to daddy anymore.”
“You don’t have the guts. I bet you’ll go running and crying to him first chance you get. Anyway, I’ll be coming back to kill you with my own hands. You have my word.” Helen tipped her head, and strolled down the lobby towards the door the guards had left through.
“You’re not Clio, your eyes are blue,” Vivian whispered softly. She got up, and dusted her dress while Helen turned back to her. “You’re Helen, I remember you. There was no other female knight with Trevor but you.”
“Will I have to cut out your tongue before I go princess?” Helen said, and pulled her own cape close. She pulled her hood up over her helmet and made sure it was low enough to keep her eyes hidden.
“No, no. I’ll prove you wrong. I won’t go crying and running to him half way through the duel. I saw how he looked at Clio, and how he looks at me. He’s disgusted by me, while he looks at that witch so proudly as if she was his own.” Vivian picked up her fallen crown, and placed it on her head again as she walked past Helen. “Good luck, honorable knight.”
Helen sighed as she walked with the guards. The rest of their road was uneventful and rather empty. The sounds and clutters of the servants running around died as they walked deeper in the hallways and finally emerged into the sunlight.
The arena was vastly built in large tiers. The seats where constructed on a higher platform than the fighting ring. Boxes had been built at varying heights which provided the best view for the nobility. The ring was lined with many doors barred with steel, mostly to keep the people inside the show ground rather than out of it, and a single, tall, wooden column stood in the middle. The general public didn't look rich, they were dressed in very simple clothes. Even the noble class, most looked as if they had enough to keep them going, nothing more. They chitchatted nonstop which made it hard to hear anything else over the loud murmur of nonsensical conversations.
Helen bit her lip as she was led towards the entrance of the podium where Frederique waited. He dressed in an armor decorated with a golden chest plate that held Frederique crest, and draped a fur cape over his shoulders. Though she did notice the diamond glitter among the cloak’s folds. In fact, the king had many valuable gems embedded into his cape, he could probably feed the entire kingdom with.
“I didn’t realize this was a public duel, your majesty,” Helen didn’t bow as she spoke. Her hand never left her sword while she glared at the old king. He had a victorious grin across his face as he walked closer to her.
“Where’s your father dear? Will he be joining us soon?” Frederique spoke so softly as if cooing her. “I hope nothing bad has happened to him.”
“If you touch one hair of his head, I will murder you!” Helen spat.
Frederique snorted at that, and pointed a warning finger at her face. “Careful with these words of yours, beloved. I can order my men to cut off his head with a single wave of my hand. Now be calm, and obedient. I’ve arranged an entire show on the honor of the Black King today. Let’s sit and watch until it’s our turn to duel.” He lowered his finger and reached a hand to her. She hissed but took it and ascended with him to the shaded podium that was reserved for the royal family. He stood near his throne and gestured her to sit on the chair near him.
“Isn’t this chair for your daughter?” She asked as she noted there were only two chairs there.
“Normally, yes, but she won’t be joining us. Sit!” He demanded firmly, and grinned with satisfaction.
Frederique walked to the railed edged once he made sure Helen was seated. He silenced the crowds with a wave of his hand as he gazed upon them. “Dear people, thank you for coming. I welcome you to the arena tonight as we host a friendly battle in the honor of the Black King and his lovely daughter, Clio d’Arques.” He was silent for a moment as the people cheered before he made a silencing gesture. “At the end of this event, I shall duel Princess Clio for her hand in marriage. Rejoice dear people, today you will get a new queen, and she shall deliver a new heir to rule you after I perish.”
His words were answered with stillness. The crowd stared at him in a shocked manner before they muttered between each other. He frowned, and took a bow and an arrow from one of the guards near him. He didn’t bother to take aim and shot it blindly towards the masses. The arrow hit one of the spectators in the neck and the man dropped with a scream that forced the rest into silence again.
“I said rejoice!” Frederique yelled as he banged his fist against the railway, and the people instantly cheered. He nodded approvingly and sat back on his throne while Helen stared at him.
“You killed a man for no reason!” she hissed as she tried to get up, but he shoved her back. She lost her balance and fell in her chair with a spiteful growl in the back of her throat.
“And your point is? Sit down and watch. Soon enough, you will be mine,” he hissed, and clapped his hands.
Helen didn’t have the time to move again as the two guards who were with them placed their swords against her neck, and forced her to sit still.
“Good girl, now stay like that, please. Enjoy the show.” He looked at her, and chuckled. “Would you like some food Clio? I noticed you didn’t touch your dinner last night, nor did your father. I bet you two enjoyed making what I offered disappear with magic, didn't you? How did it feel to wake up to your defeat today, princess?”
“So the rumors we heard about you were true. You had your eyes enchanted with magic after nearly losing your sight. For someone who hates magic, I’m surprised you’d use it at all.”
“Necessity demands,” he hissed, and raised his hand to gesture the beginning of the shows.
The event Frederique hollered about was nothing but a fight for death. Helen watched reluctantly as the battles progressed, though she had to look away more than she dared to admit. If she had to describe the fights, she’d have labeled them as a slaughter more than anything. She could tell the warriors in the ring were either prisoners or some unfortunate souls who ended there. Their equipment consisted of leather armor and rusty swords compared to the fancy, heavy armor Frederique’s knights wore and the gleaming blades they held. The sand in the arena was soon littered with blood and body parts.
“Oh Clio, you’ve been to many wars with Trevor, don’t tell me some innocent amusement bothers you? Look dear, you’ll be seeing a lot of those battles after we’re wed.”
“You’re insane, that’s what you are. We’ll never wed! D’Arque will never accept a man like you into their royal, sacred family!” She spat in his face as she tried to get up once again, but stopped as she heard a scream from the arena. She looked down to see the guards dragging a chained Vivian with them towards the wooden pillar.
“Dad, what are you doing? Dad!” Vivian shrieked as they dragged her, and chained her to the pillar. The guards looked at the king who nodded in approval and threw wood stacks, and hay at her feet. Frederique was unmoved as he stood up again, and put an end to the sudden humming among the folks again.
“Dearly beloveds, before the final fight takes place, I have some news to tell you. It pains me to announce that I’ve found out my own daughter is a witch, and as you all know magic and witchcraft is punished by death.”
“Liar! I am not a witch. You just want me out of your way!” Vivian screeched her lungs out, but was silenced with a whack across the face by one of the guards.
Helen growled at the sight and pushed the blades at her neck away. She rushed to the railing, and looked at the princess who was struggling in her restrains as the guards got ready to throw lit torches on the wood.
“I, Clio d’Arques, vouch for her. She’s no witch! Release her at once!” Helen yelled which caused the guards to halt in their tracks. Both they and Frederique looked at Helen who’d clenched to the railway, and repeated her words once more. “I vouch for the princess. Release her, this instant!”
“Oh? Clio I am impressed. Weren’t you mocking her just last night?” Frederique muttered. “Besides, who wants an ungrateful child like her? She was caught trying to pour poison in my wine. I am doing both of us a favor Clio.”
“I said I vouch for her, leave her be!”
“Your vouch is declined. Burn the witch!” he yelled, and grinned in amusement at his daughter’s horrified scream.
The guards threw the torches and fire spread through the dried hay instantly. Vivian frantically pulled at the chains and screamed in pain as the flames started licking at her skin.
Helen felt the guards grasp her shoulders and she thrashed wildly. She drew her sword and slashed the first one with all her might which rendered him helpless as she cut the arm that held her clean off. She didn’t give the second man a chance to counter as she aimed another blow at him and sent his head flying down to the arena below. An iron grip took hold of her which halted her assault abruptly and she found herself lifted as if she was no heavier than a feather. It was Frederique's raw strength as he dangled her over the railing that took her by surprise.
“You know what Clio? If you’re that eager to help her then go!” he hollered, and tossed her down with all his might.
Helen fell on her side with a pained scream. She felt her shoulder getting crushed against the heavy armor, but she couldn’t afford to stay down for long. She jumped back to her feet and ran towards the fire. Vivian's screams became louder, much like howls as the flames bit her skin more rapidly.
Tears flowed down Vivian's face as she cried Helen’s name for help. She could see her slash through the guards who blocked her path. Her vision blurred as the moments became more agonizing and her skin started to peel from the rising heat. The pain slowly faded and was replaced by numbness while the sounds died in her ears. She whimpered as her eyes fell shut, but snapped back to reality when Helen yanked her chains.
“Helen, you came…” she whispered as the knight’s body provided her with temporary protection from the fire that raged around them. Helen huffed weakly as she used her magic to break the restrains apart and pulled Vivian away from the pillar.
“Bah, don’t be stupid. I promised I’d kill you myself,” Helen whispered as she lay Vivian down on the sand away from the fire. She could feel the blaze lash at her as her cape caught on fire and her armor heated up. She hissed as she conjured water, which splashed over the two of them and doused the flames. She yanked her cloak and helmet off and breathed with relief as the cool air hit her skin. She turned sad eyes on Vivian. The princess was burnt up pretty bad, to say the least. Her dress was charred and reduced to mere rags, and most of her skin was either red or black from the fire. Vivian was barely breathing but she was alive.
“Hey, hang in there Vivi, okay? King Trevor will heal you better than I can. I promise.” Helen soothed the charred woman, and stroked her remaining hair in a soft manner. She channeled some magic into Vivian to stabilize her. She smiled weakly as the princess managed to take a few deep breaths and opened her eyes again.
“Thank you,” Vivian whispered but screamed, suddenly in pain as an arrow pierced her side.
Helen gasped. She broke the head of the arrow off and pulled out the shaft, and knelt over Vivian to try to stop the bleeding. Her brown locks fell around her face as she healed the wound, and at the same time used her own body as a shield to protect the princess from further strikes. The crowd around them cursed in rage as they threw their shoes towards Frederique who held a bow aimed at his daughter. He jumped down to the arena and pulled the bowline as he walked to them.
“Move away Clio! I don’t want to harm you more than this,” Frederique screamed, and loaded another arrow, but stopped as a as a shimmering barrier formed around Vivan to shield and protect her from further attacks while Helen stood to her feet. He could clearly see glowing beams seep out of her fingers and feed the barrier, but he was dumbstruck as she turned to him, finally revealing her face.
“You’re not Clio! Who the hell are you?” Frederique lowered his bow for a moment, but aimed it back at her with a spiteful growl.
“King Trevor's second in command,” Helen announced proudly, and spat blood to the ground. She watched the king’s shocked features, and sent the arrow he fired at her skidding across the dirt with a simple deflection spell.
Frederique glared at her and raised his hand in the air. Archers lined the walls instantly, and took aim at Helen. She merely smirked but it faded as the arena floor shook, and four other pillars rose from underground. Each column carried a green crystal on top, and they glowed in sync as they sensed the magic in the air. The crystals emitted a light that hit the shield she’d formed over Vivian and shattered it like glass.
“Your effort to save that witch was in vain, second in command,” he mocked, and drew his sword, “Your treachery will not pass unpunished. After I am done with you I am going after the real Clio.” He stepped forward, and kept his hand in the air to signal the archers once more. “Take aim, fire to kill!”
Helen hissed, and backed away, but looked up as the lights suddenly dimmed. Dark clouds filled the sky in the matter of seconds, followed by rumbling thunder. She blinked confused as the wind picked up speed and a chill filled the air.
Frederique’s screaming voice startled her. She tried to form another shield to guard her along with Vivian, but alas the crystals glowed again and their beams hit her directly. She screamed in agony as she fell helpless to her knees. She shivered, coughed out blood, and scowled at Frederique who lowered his hand, thus giving the order to fire.
Arrows whistled through the air. Helen closed her eyes and held Vivian in a final attempt to shield her from as many projectiles as possible. The place around them grew quiet and she waited but nothing happened. She finally opened her eyes when she felt a tap on her hand and laughed joyfully at Corvus, who pecked her gloved fingers once more.
“Helen, my sincere apologies. I was faced with some resistance in the dungeons.”
Helen looked up at the sound and smiled with relief. Clio was there with her back to her. The arrows were frozen in midair. The crystals had no effect it seemed. Frederique paled out at the sight. He watched as the arrows slowly shifted directions and recoiled back at the archers. The impact of their own arrows killed them instantly.
“How! You can’t use magic in here. The crystals!” Frederique stammered.
“The crystals are useless against magic if you're standing outside the circle they line,” Clio said calmly, and drew her daggers.
Helen watched but felt Vivian clutch to her as they suddenly moved.
They floated into the air and back to the podium where Trevor stood. He helped her sit and took Vivian from her. He shook his head at the sight as he unclasped his cape and spread it on the ground before laying Vivian atop it. He gently took her hand and held it in his and stroked her hair tenderly. “Hush, don’t worry, you won’t die. Promise,” he soothed her and glanced at Helen who knelt before him.
“My lord, welcome back. I am glad to see you safe. Please allow me to avenge you.” She ignored the sheering pain in her shoulder as she spoke. Her own skin was slightly burnt from the fire as well, but that didn’t stop her as she knelt there.
“Don’t Helen. You’re tired. Clio will handle it,” Trevor said and patted her good arm. “You’re in pain, and I can see it clearly, but I’m proud of you Helen. You went against all odds to save a life. That’s a respectable deed, you may rest now.”
She nodded and sighed her exhaustion as she watched the arena once more to hide the blush that covered her cheeks. Clio was standing in the middle of the arena with Corvus perched on her shoulder. She wore her father’s armor still and pointed one of her daggers at Frederique.
“King Frederique Aodh. I, Clio d’Arque, accuse you of high treason against the Black King. Therefore, I am claiming your head as price.”