“Wench!” Sir Alistair yelled out in a guttural tenor as he swung his longsword at the barrier, this time meeting my fiery blade. His weapon quickly heated and the strain this put on him was visible at first glance, yet he did not back away. “Your unholy fires will slay the creature! Have you no brains?”
“Ye best check if your brains are in their place, laddy!” I shouted back at him, swinging my own blade, parrying each of his blows. They were strong, heavy, but still very clumsy. And yet, his persistence was admirable. Still, an easy target. I could knock him down in just a few moves. “The creature’s confined, not dead. And the deal was we get rid of it. Ye never said ye needed him alive. Why would Haegyn’s holy knights need a beastie this foul brought back? And here I was thinking ye only intended to rid the land of its evils.”
“Silence, wench!” as he took another swing, I took my chance. Instead of parrying, I pointed my sword at the unarmoured opening he had carelessly left beneath his left arm. The sword fell to the ground with a muffled clunk, and a squeal uttered by its bearer, as I placed a kick in his groin area, sending him flat on the heather.
“That’s quite enough,” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around – Sir Gilroy was approaching me from beyond the fiery wall.
“Yer protégé needs more tempering, Sir Gilroy,” I told him.
“Indeed. Some lessons ought be learned through pain rather than lecture. You have my thanks for that, m’lady,” he lay his emerald eyes on the flame cage. “The beast lies within, I take it?”
“The abyssal flames will contain any manner of creature within, so long as I wish it. Sir knight, ye do me a great disservice yet again. Ye have me for a fool. If ye truly are who ye say ye are, explain yerself. What could the Knights of Haegyn want with an invisible manticore.”
“M’lady,” he turned his eyes to me, a gentle smile on his gallant face. “Your intellect has been a great bane to our endeavor. Let it be known to you, I have you for no fool. On the contrary. And yet, there are some facts I may not impose on you. For some knowledge can be dangerous, and I daren’t endanger a lady such as you with such reckless behaviour. The Order has no need for the manticore. You have seen nothing. The creature has been vanquished. You have heroically slain it with your companions and with the guidance of the Knights of Haegyn. Many a knight has sacrificed his life in this endeavor and you have avenged all of them. Haegyn will forever sing of your valour, wit, and grace. Of Matoya, the Good Witch. None shall ever accuse you of devilish pacts again.”
“A lovely tale, Sir Gilroy. Ye could not even begin to imagine how many times I had heard it. I spit on yer songs and tales, on reputation. Something is clearly afoot, something ye try to hide from me. And I will not have anything hidden from me. Ye knew this manticore was invisible. Ye were meant to find it and contain it, not because ye needed to protect the people. Because it could not be exposed that someone in Haegyn was performing such unholy actions, true?” Sir Gilroy remained silent. “What is it ye want?”
“I would ask you to grant me this one favour and lower the barrier.”
“And set the creature loose?” Sir Gilroy raised his left hand and opened the palm of his gauntleted hand. A small glass vial lay within. My heart sank. “What have ye done with them?”
“They wait for you beyond the knoll. Leave the beast in my care, and their lives are spared. My sword is steadier than that of Alistair. A fine, mythril blade. The bane of mages.”
I uttered a laugh. A single, nervous chuckle. They had me on my knees. This was hardly the first time. And yet, never before had I felt such helplessness. How love can weigh one down. In any other circumstances, I would be prepared to test what Sir Gilroy had said. I would see for myself if it was a bluff. And yet, too much was at stake this time. I slowly lowered the flames as Sir Gilroy hurled the vial at the angry beast that lunged itself at him then fell to the ground with a deafening thud. The knight did not even flinch. As the beast lay on the ground, it started to become less transparent. Not a minute later, an unconscious manticore could be seen lying on the ground.
“Now, I must ask you to leave, Matoya,” Sir Gilroy said as he knelt down next to his protégé, gently nudging him to wake up. “Go see your companions. This matter concerns you not. Not anymore.”
And walk away I did. I heard horses making their way towards the knights, their hushed voices, heaving, as they struggled to transport the beast. Yet it was none of my concern. I followed the trail on the moor, towards the moonlit knoll, focusing on Isolde and Cillian and Nevermore. I prayed for their safety. This matter concerned me no more. I knew something was afoot. Manticores can be used for many amazing magical concoctions. Many weapons. But that mattered not. Not anymore. I started to run, knowing that the longer I took, the more their lives could be at risk. So I hurried on.
The beast was dead.