We have a new chapter of Rum Cove everyday until the conclusion 7th June
Lot finds herself out manoeuvred
Hastings – 1844
‘You can’t challenge Rache,’ Josef said as we walked through the woods towards home.
‘Technically,’ I said. ‘I can challenge Rache, it’s whether I can win that’s in question.’
Bran jammed the hand I wasn’t holding into the depths of his pocket. ‘Agape is using you for something.’
I squeezed their hands. ‘It’s only a trap if you don’t know it’s there. I’ve just got to figure out her game.’
Josef grumbled and scowled at the leaf litter.
‘You knew what you were in for when you married me.’
Josef sighed heavily, deep in thought. Bran seemed distracted too, he often did if he started listening to himself.
I put my arm around Bran’s waist and squeezed. ‘Trust me, I’ll have a plan.’
‘That’s not reassuring,’ he muttered and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
Despite their gloom I felt light as we crested a hill close to home, this was progress and we’d be back in time for lunch to make sure the children got the right sandwiches.
Except… Jax was at the bottom of the hill with one hand on the wheel of her chair and a piece of paper in the other as if she was looking for something. Where were my children?
I let go of Bran and Josef and ran down the slope.
Jax looked up at me in horror.
Something hit me. A branch whipped my face. An arm clamped around my neck, tight enough to cut off the air, a hand gripped my chin like a vice and pain flared through me. I snarled and against the grip.
‘What’s the matter, little bitch?’ Rache whispered close to my ear. ‘Hasn’t he taught you this one yet?’
Bran grabbed Josef and held him back. ‘You’re not fast enough, she’ll kill Charlotte.’
My strength was no match for hers. I reached with my magic but I couldn’t grip through the haze of pain. Well, that wasn’t good.
‘Shhh, don’t struggle, little one, or you’ll kill yourself,’ she cooed.
The air was buzzing with energy. The trees were moving, twisting towards us like people who were turning to look at a commotion.
‘This is how you get around an immortal’s magic to kill them slowly,’ she whispered. ‘Pull the head, slowly separating the discs of the neck until, pop, off it comes.’
There was a crunch. Her arm cut off my protest.
‘Unbearable, isn’t it? I’ve never met anyone who can cast through it.’
‘Let her go, Rache.’ Josef pulled against Bran but Bran held him tight. ‘Kill me and Lot drops below you in the ranks and you don’t need to kill her.’ His power snaked around us, held at bay by the force of Rache’s determination.
She sucked her teeth. ‘Look at all this trouble she’s caused. I don’t think she’ll stop because your dead.’
I lower one arm and widened my eyes at Josef in a silent no.
She inhaled deeply and released it in a hiss. ‘She’ll probably use it as an excuse to be more trouble.’ She looked at me. ‘Did you know, they talk about releasing you like it’s a great rite of passage but it’s only a gesture.’ She put her mouth to my ear. ‘You’ll be his forever. I had royal blood and I ended up subservient to a whore. What will happen to a guttersnipe like you?’ She nuzzled the side of my face. ‘Scared, little girl?’
I stuck my middle finger up at her and stabbed her in the leg.
She snarled and let go to grab the knife. I stumbled, neck crunching as it reset. Josef and Bran caught me.
Rache screamed like a banshee and wrenched the knife out. ‘Little bitch.’ She dived at me with the knife.
Josef stepped in front of me.
Roots burst up in a spray of dirt and leaves. They wrapped around her pulling her back. She ripped them out the ground and hacked at them.
‘Leave them alone,’ Jax said.
Rache fell to her knees and glared at Jax. ‘Oh, your little crippled friend thinks she can tug my heartstrings.’
Jax exhaled. ‘Not your heartstrings.’
Rache snapped a root. ‘Parlour tricks.’
I rolled my neck and shoulders, everything back as it should be.
Jax tutted. ‘So many people demand respect and fail to give it.’ She drew her staff from the back of her chair. ‘The old gods don’t give second chances but I’m not them.’
Rache strained against her root cage and leaned towards Jax. ‘Your parents should’ve taken you into the woods when you were a babe and left you there.’
Jax glanced at me then tilted towards her.
The wind whipped up, hot with energy. I looked up at the leafy, flammable, canopy.
Josef and Bran pulled me away from Rache. I snapped off my regulator. Energy burned through me.
Jax glowed, tattoos painted in energy across her skin, nails, fingers and teeth black, and hair so white it glowed. ‘I’m Jax, child of Loki, heir to Frigga,’ her voice crackled and echoed. ‘And you should be more polite, girl.’ She rammed the staff into the ground.
The trees moved back. The roots pulled tight. Rache shrieked.
I threw out my arms. Bran and Josef tumbled in opposite directions. I slammed my hand into her chest.
She torn in half.
Everything moved in slow motion. Her body disintegrated and a shadow of light hung where she’d been. Her energy erupted through me, roaring in my ears.
I exhaled and gave into it.
Images flashed by. Me gripping Josef’s wrists in the wood and grinning at him. Bran sitting in his favourite chair laughing. The children playing sword fighting. Millie and Veronica reading together. The images accelerated reeling back through the years. I plummeted through them.
There I was leaning over the edge of a roof opposite Bran’s club. I disappeared from them. Bran. Agape. Rache. Marley. People I didn’t know. The world changed shifting through seasons and time.
I hit the ground. Images flicker around me too fast to catch.
Too much. It was all too much.
A long-fingered hand appeared. I reached for it. The hand grabbed mine and pulled.
Time went forward again flying passed.
I slammed into a solid chest and arms closed around me, holding me tight.
‘We’ve got you,’ Bran whispered.
I was back in the wood, the grass around me scorched but nothing was on fire. I bunched Bran’s coat in my hands and pressed my face into the curve of his neck, inhaling the old book and whiskey scent of him. Josef pressed to my back and hugged us in a cinnamon and cut wood embrace.
Around us the wood writhed. Trees illuminated with veins of Jax’s magic.
Roots buried themselves. The ground smoothed and undergrowth swallowed up where Rache had been. The trees groaned as if they were relaxing back into comfortable chairs they’d been loathed to leave.
The light retreated back into Jax. He tattoos faded, her hair melted back to glossy black, and her obsidian teeth returned to white. She exhaled, pulled her staff from the ground and relaxed into her chair.
‘The old gods are falling and the new are rising,’ Josef whispered, eyes wide as if he’d never seen the like.
‘That’s very melodramatic,’ Jax said, energy still pulsed around her as if her magic had left aftershocks in the air. ‘People really shouldn’t gas about how they’re going to kill you.’ She returned her staff to its holster. ‘Not that I’m complaining, I can’t do that off the cuff.’ She straightened her sleeves.
I laughed faintly. I felt I should say something witty but all I wanted was to fall asleep.
‘Thank you,’ Josef said. ‘I owe you a debt.’
‘Careful, I might hold you to that,’ she said. ‘One of you can start by giving us a push, it doesn’t half make your hands tender doing the dramatic staff jam.’ She brushed her hands together as if they were dirty then glanced at her staff. ‘Don’t be a grumpy sod.’
Josef scooped me up as if I weighed nothing and wasn’t covered in mud and anything else there might be in a leaf litter. Bran brushed hair from my face and kissed my forehead lightly.
I snuggled into Josef, breathing heavily. Bran took the handles of Jax’s chair and pushed.
‘Wouldn’t happen to be a glass of wine and a bath available, would there?’ Jax asked.
‘That’s the least we can do,’ Bran said.
I smiled, closed my eyes and drifted off into dreams of places I’d never been and things I’d never seen.