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“Look, I think it is time to call it quits.” John’s voice sounded crisp, clear and rehearsed on the other end of the phone as if he had studied for the part. “We don’t move in the same circles anymore, and I certainly don’t want noisy brats invading my space. You made it clear that you do.”
A woman’s throaty laugh sounded close to him, too close. Ella started shaking. The room blurred under a veil of tears. A lump grew in her throat. What had happened to her husband? Who was this stranger with his voice?
“I’ve paid the rent on the cottage up to the end of this month, in two days’ time, and I handed in our notice. The landlord just told me it is let, so you need to be out tomorrow. I have also removed your name from my bank account.” More throaty whispers came from the vicinity of the receiver followed by John’s low-toned ‘Hush’. “I am suing you for divorce on grounds of adultery. Don’t imagine you will get any alimony out of me.”
“That is not true!” Ella’s voice came out in a squeak. How could he say these things to her? She had never even looked at another man since he came into her life and who was that woman with him listening in to a private phone call?
“I have pictures of you with another man, someone who is prepared to come forward. The pictures show a very good view of that disgusting birthmark on your leg. If you try to fight me, I will see to it you never work again.”
He could do that, the big name movie star. He could set people up to act the part, with a little help of Photoshop to reproduce her single blemish, an unusual pattern of freckles shaped like a trident. What was the fate of a make-up artist to film producers by comparison? Why hadn’t she seen this coming? They had been so happy, or so she had thought. Her dream, her illusion, built on the bones of an unknown actor and her with a foot in the industry, meeting and getting together.
“One more thing, do you think you could find my passport? I am flying out to work on location in Australia next week so could you leave it on the coffee table for my agent to collect? Cooperate with me and I might consider giving you a reasonable one-time payoff.”
Money, it was all about money and lust. John had a nasty habit of accusing others of his own flaws in any disagreement. Cold logic began to take over from the pain and shock. He had been caught by the paparazzi with some bimbo. He couldn’t risk his image, so this was going to be her fault for cheating on him. How he must have scrambled to manufacture his evidence. Ella didn’t know this person anymore. Four years of living an illusion of love came down to a moment on the phone.
“I will be gone first thing in the morning. I take it you haven’t canceled the lease on my car?”
“No, I was too late. You have it for one more month, not that you’ll need it for much longer. I imagine you’ll want to go back to the States.”
Ella put the phone down very gently. They were done. It didn’t matter whatever else he might want to say. Through it all the smell of a roast wafted from the tiny kitchen; a supper they were to have shared together by candlelight. The supper he had told her to get ready to celebrate his new contract. Maybe she could salvage it to take with her.
He was right on one score; she was not going to stay on this damp and crowded island, despite the lure of its history. The Tudor cottage, with it blackened oak beams now sharpened her loss. This was to have been their love nest. The overstuffed chintz furniture wasn’t theirs. The place had come fully furnished. She should pack her clothes to make an early start since she didn’t want to see his agent. Move, do something, so she didn’t have to think—do anything.
The narrow stairs creaked when she went up to their bedroom, her bedroom now for just this night. What to take? The tools of her trade for sure, but the rest? Where would she need designer dresses again? She left them hanging, along with her wedding gown. What would fit into the tiny foreign car? Pack the practical work clothes and leave the rest.
Two large suitcases full of clothes later to haul down the stairs and Ella realized she had no idea where she was headed. A person couldn’t simply head to London and jump on a plane. It had to be booked, and she had no money, not now he had closed their joint account. God, did she have to go cap in hand to beg him to buy her a seat? No, there was the boat. Frantic now, she attacked the Georgian bureau for her passport, driver’s license, birth certificate and the deeds for her boat. It was in her name—his gift to her when he had scored his first blockbuster. Fairy Child was ocean going and would fetch a good price, maybe enough to set her up without begging from him. Yes, she could go to the West Country and live on the boat until a buyer came along. If she were quick, she could stock it up with provisions before he thought to cancel her Visa card. No doubt that would be done at the end of the month. Tonight, she had to leave tonight.
Ella hauled the suitcase with her work stuff out to the tiny car, flipping up the tail gate to heave in the heavy burden. Light rain anointed her face with sky tears. Clouds covered the stars and the moon, making for a dark and grim night of driving. She didn’t care. All she wanted was to be away from here. One more case and then put the food in containers to take whatever she could. Yes, she would need that tomorrow. She ran for the door.
A hand snaked out, covering her mouth. An arm wrapped around her, stopping her from moving. Oh God, oh God, nothing more bad, please don’t let this be happening.
“I’ll not hurt thee. Don’t be a fearful,” a male voice murmured, close to her ear.
The shudders came back with a vengeance. If this man was after money, then he was shit out of luck. What if he tortured her for something she didn’t have? John wouldn’t pay any ransom, of that she was sure.
“Pass through the threshold.”
A tanned hand, leading to an arm clad in prison grays opened to latch to let her in. Oh God, a convict. What had he done? Was he a killer, or a pervert? Heart pounding strong enough to break her ribs, Ella did as she was told. Maybe she would have a chance to grab her cell phone, or a knife or something heavy? The door swung shut behind them with a click as the latch settled.
He marched her into the kitchen. “I smell food. If I do let thee go, will thee serve me?”
Something wasn’t right here. Why was he using archaic language? Was this a setup? Would John stoop so low to intimidate her with another actor playing the part of a convict, or was this man a real a convict? How did one manage hostage situations? Ella didn’t know. She nodded.
“That is good. I will be a letting thee go presently. Don’t thee be making any swift movements, or I will not be pleased with thee.” He released her.
Trembling Ella walked to the stove. She dumped the roast beef and roasted potatoes pan on the hob, next to the boiled carrots. What now? Was she to get the electric carver going? What she didn’t want to do was to turn to see his face. If he was a convict, he would have to kill her.
“Thee can get a knife to carve the meat. Don’t try to skewer me with it. I be a warrior and thee might get hurt if I needs to disarm thee. I don’t want to hurt thee.”
Slowly, carefully, Ella reached for the electric carver. She turned it on.
“Odds blood, what be that device?” A hard arm encircled her again. She hadn’t even heard him moving.
This had to be a setup. No one talked like that. Fine, so she would go along with this parody. “You wanted a serving of meat, and I am about to cut it for you if you will let me.”
He backed off.
Ella continued, reaching up for a plate in the overhead cabinet. She had everything now, including the gravy, but how to serve him without looking at him. Was he an actor or not? Her life might well depend on her next move.
“Serve thyself, too. I’ll not be eating alone.”
Ella reached for another plate to serve herself a tiny amount. No way did she want to eat.
“Is anyone else expected to share the repast?”
“No, just you and me.” Crunch time. She couldn’t serve him without looking in his direction. Was John going to get lucky and become a widower? Was this guy for real? Ella took a deep breath and put both plates on her kitchen table. She tried not to look at him, to keep her eyes downcast and then reached into the drawer for silverware. She set their places, still with eyes lowered. Grunts of enjoyment followed.
“Thee not be eating. I did say I wouldn’t harm thee.”
Ella stared at her plate. “Then why are you in my home, holding me a prisoner?”
“Evil people did lock me away and perform black magic on my body.” His voice hardened in tone. “I needs to get away, to my own place. I needs to hide so they can’t find me, and I needs food for strength to fight them if they does try.”
Shocked, she looked up at him. He was a young man, who might have been a blond, judging by his eyebrows as his head was shaven bald. Faint, darker stubble peppered his jaw and cheeks. Once, he might have been a powerful man, but now his prison clothes hung off an emaciated body. Grass-green eyes stared at her.
“Who are you?”
“They be a calling I John Smith, but that bain’t my name. I be Mordred.”
Ella laughed. This just wasn’t real. She had either lost her mind, or he was a very good actor. “Mordred was the son of the mythical King Arthur.”
He frowned, shoveling in a chunk of roast beef, which he took his time chewing before he answered. “Not so. That was a rumor. I be Merlin’s son and his apprentice.”
Yes, she had lost her mind. “Those people were supposed to have lived twelve centuries back. Who are you really? One of my soon to be ex-husband’s friends sent to scare me?
The man finished his meal with obvious enjoyment. He thrust his empty plate at her. “That was good. Could I have more?”
This was getting surreal. “When you have answered my question. Who are you?”
“I be Mordred. I will prove this to thee when I have more strength. Now, can I have another serving of your excellent food?”
Ella complied. She didn’t know what to do with this strange man. If he was one of John’s buddies, he was doing a stellar job on her. On the other hand, what if he was a madman, escaped from an asylum, which his prison grays seemed to suggest?
Mordred wolfed down his second portion with relish. He then looked directly into her eyes. “Do thee have a candle or a taper?”
Ella wasn’t sure what a taper was, but she did have candles. Ones meant to go with this supper. She stood up to get the candelabra from the sitting room, but he was there, breathing down her shoulder before she had reached the doorway.
“The candles are in another room. Can I get them?”
“I’ll be coming along behind.”
He did, shadowing her to such an extent that she wondered about him. Ella placed the unlit seven candle candelabra on the table between then as they resumed their seats.
“There be no lights. Thee agree?”
She nodded. Where was this madness going?”
Mordred lowered his head and shut his eyes. “Watch the candles.”
One by one, starting on the right, they flamed into light. Ella gasped, stunned. She didn’t know what to think. No one could do this.
“Watch.” He commanded.
The candelabra rose above the table to almost ceiling height before it gently drifted down to its former position.
He opened his grass green eyes. “I be Mordred, the apprentice and son of Merlin. Do thee believe me now, or do thee think me moonstruck, like the people in white coats?”
“I think I have gone mad. No one can do what you have just done”.
“I can and much more when I have my strength back. Will thee help me?”
He was serious. He had just accomplished an impossible feat. None of John’s actor friends could have done this, let alone an escapee from an asylum. Yes, this whole thing was a hallucination brought on by stress. She would wake up in the morning to her new, horrendous life, and that would be the end of it. In the meantime, she would go along with this madness. It spared her smashing things or dissolving into useless tears.
“What do you want from me?”
“I need to be where the wild things are, away from people. I can’t be going back to the place of sorcery and torment again.” He reached up to wipe a dribble of gravy from his mouth, exposing a wrist with heavy slash-marked scars slicing across it.
Reality slammed through Ella. She was sitting across the table from an escapee from an asylum, who had tried to self-harm. He wasn’t making sense, and yet the candles …that hadn’t been an illusion, or was it? Just how dangerous was this man, if he were real? She stood, turning to reach for the TV remote. A chair crashed back, and the next instant her arms were locked at her sides by his steely embrace.
“None of that long distance talking to call them to me.” His voice was a rumbled growl in her ear, his breath hot on her neck.
Heavens, he thought the remote was a cell phone. Her world tilted askew again. “I can’t talk to anyone with the device.” Now she had better humor him or else. “It is to turn on the box over in the corner that will show pictures and words from a distance, but not hear any words I say to it. I need to know where the people are who are chasing you. How can I help you if I don’t know what traps they are setting?”
He released one of her arms, still keeping her close against him. “Don’t thee be crossing I.”
Ella flipped through the channels until she had a local one. Halsham manor, a secure mental hospital just five miles away, flickered into view, surrounded by police cars and reporters. The camera zeroed in on a reporter describing a breakout of a dangerous and psychotic patient, who was on no count to be approached by the general public. A picture of Mordred, looking drugged, flashed onto the screen, while the voice reported that he had injured three staff, one seriously. Assurances followed of roadblocks and house to house searches in the immediate area. The man was considered dangerous. Ella killed the screen and gently put down the remote before it fell out of her shaking hand.
“Hush now, I don’t make war on maidens. There is nothing for thee to fear from me.”
Encased in his arms, Ella trembled. He was a lunatic, a dangerous madman. Dangerous, the report said. What part of this was real and what wasn’t? Would she even survive the night?
“You hurt people.”
“They stood in my way. I did ask for them to stand aside.” He marched her over to her chair, pushing her down in it as he released his grip. He turned his chair, straddling it to sit opposite, watching her intently
“People will be coming. They will check every house. You need to go, right now.”
He frowned. “I will fight if they come for me. Canst thee help me? I will free thee if so.”
What were the rules of a hostage situation? Defying him could create a monster capable of anything, but if she went along with his wishes? He hadn’t threatened her with any weapon. He had said he would release her if she helped him. She wanted to live. How could she get him past the road blocks?
John’s passport, if he had really left it here. He was so disorganized it was impossible to say, but it was a start. Mordred looked close enough to John that she could make him so with her work kit and give herself time to escape.
“I think I can make you look like someone else. I need that big bag I took to my car. Can I get it?” Did she have a chance of jumping in and speeding off?
“We will go together.”
So much for that plan. Now she was trapped by her offer. Once the case was inside, she opened it and started work on his face. Mordred was surprisingly calm while she altered him with her toners, tints, and padding. John was fatter in the face than Mordred, so cheek pads were needed. Then there was the problem of his shaven head and prison clothes.
“Come with me. You need to get out of that prison overall, and I need to find identity documents to match your new look.”
“Clothes would be good, but what are documents?”
“Never mind. Just trust me that you need these.” A small part of her relished depriving John of his needed passport. Spite grew branches. John had more clothes than he needed. One change wasn’t enough for Mordred when she could give him an entire case of clothes.
The steep old staircase creaked under their steps. Mordred’s eyes widened when he saw the bedroom and then narrowed, zeroing in on her, his face a picture of surprise.
“Don’t even think about those thoughts, Buster. You want my help? You keep your distance.”
“Who is Buster?” He looked puzzled.
“That is you, dude. I am off limits.” She opened the wardrobe, getting jeans, a polo neck shirt, and a brown, corduroy jacket out for him. These she thrust into his arms. “Go through the end door and change.”
“No. Turn thy back to preserve thy modesty.” He stared her down until she complied.
Another chance at escape gone, Ella concentrated on another task in hand. Where would John have stashed his passport? She went through the drawer on his nightstand. Nothing, but John had a horror of being robbed. Not the usual places, so where? On impulse, she felt between the mattress and the box springs on his side and felt a package. Out came a thick manila envelope sealed tight. Inside were John’s passport, his driver’s licenses, and a thick wad of notes, some sterling and some dollars. She wouldn’t have to use a credit card that might not work…and she couldn’t be tracked. Maybe this was good, for what if they were stopped? Would she survive a standoff? She could if she could get Mordred through the checkpoints. He promised he would let her go. Would he?
One last finishing touch left. She turned to the armoire and bumped into Mordred. Heart racing, she choked back a scream. Did he have to move so quietly?
“What are these?” Mordred looked at the documents and cash in her hand.
Ella stuffed them back in the envelope. “Things we will need to win your freedom. I also need something from in here. She pointed to the armoire. When he didn’t move to stop her, she opened to doors to reveal a neat row of wigs on stands. John’s vanity hadn’t let him accept his thinning hair. How ironic that this meant the thing she needed most was the very thing to hand. Ella selected the one most matching the passport, a slightly long cut with hair partially over the ears. By the time she had finished with a bemused Mordred, he could have passed for John, although his shoulders were broader and he was far too thin. This point was made when he yanked up his slipping pants, but a belt sorted out the problem.
“Now, stay out of my way while I pack some more clothes for you.” Ella snagged a sports bag and carefully sorted through John’s side of the wardrobe. He didn’t use half his stuff and wouldn’t miss a few items here and there. She hesitated over underwear. No, not that. There were the new shorts she had brought for John at the weekend for his upcoming trip. They went in the bag instead, and Ella derived a small sense of satisfaction from the act. John’s documents and cash went in a side pouch as Mordred would seem more in character if he reached for his own I.D were they stopped. Next, she grabbed a dry cleaner bag to stash his prison garb, including his footwear. It couldn’t be left here, or the police would know who to follow. But what if they were stopped? She would have to trust to luck and hope they could find a dumpster along the way.
“Here, take these.” Ella thrust both burdens at Mordred. Whatever else, she felt safer when his hands were full. He followed her down the creaking stairs in his stocking feet. The next stop was the cellar for recycling. She needed to reassemble a couple of boxes, and this could be the answer to Mordred’s prison clothes. His face was a picture when she carefully packed down his convict clothes under a layer of cereals and dried goods. The other box was for cans and containers with perishables. Fairy Child would be fit to sail without a grocery visit if she chose wisely, but the car wouldn’t hold much more. One last stop at the front porch for shoes, but here she hit a snag. Mordred’s feet were too big to squeeze into anything except a pair of rubber boots, and then his expression became pained. Well, he would just have to put up with it.
“We are going to pack my car. I want the big cases on the outsides, and the groceries in the middle. The heavy one goes first with the lighter one on top. Your sports bag goes on the back seat where you can reach it.”
For a dangerous lunatic, he trotted along, obeying her orders like an obedient puppy, right up until she took the keys out of the now closed tailgate, and then his hand grasped hers.
“Do you want to drive?”
“Not without horses pulling this …” Words failed him.
“Let go of my hand, then.” Horses? Was he for real?
“Thee will vanish in a magical cart and leave me.” His eyes narrowed.
“Look, all my clothes and my papers are in that car. I need them. Why don’t you get in first? I think you could outrun me if I tried to escape.” He towered over her, leaving her little doubt on that score. She herded him around to the passenger side, opening the door. He surprised her by lowering himself inside, but he stopped her when she would have shut the door. Ella walked in front of the car to the driver’s side. She settled into place, slammed the door and put the keys in the ignition.
“Mordred, will you shut your door like I did?” She didn’t know whether to be relieved or not when he did. Was this an elaborate act, or not? “Here is what I hope will happen. We will drive out of the village and take the main road to my boat. That is where I am going. If you want to stop any place along the way, then that is your call. If we are stopped at a roadblock, you let me do the talking. If I say to you ‘John, get your passport out’, this is what you will do.” She demonstrated. “Can you do this?”
“That isn’t my name.”
“No, but it is the name on the document. You will pass it to me, and I will show it to the policemen before I hand it back to you. Do you understand?”
“Thee will try an illusion to fool the evil ones. Yes.” He looked relieved.
She had to strap his seatbelt on for him as he didn’t seem to have a clue. Once they started, the glow of the instrument panel showed his hands as white-knuckled lumps in his lap. He had closed his eyes tight.
All went well until they hit the only road south out of the village. A cordon of police cars waited. “Mordred, there is a road block.” She couldn’t keep a tremor out of her voice. “Pretend to be asleep and let me do the talking. If you must respond, just smile and nod.” Oh God, was this going to be the end? She hadn’t seen a weapon on him, but the report said he had hurt people. A policeman waved her to pull over. She rolled down her window.
“Sorry to trouble you, Miss. Could I have your name and that of your passenger?” The young officer shone a flashlight on Mordred’s face. He winced and opened his eyes.
“John and Ella Harrison. We live just up the road. Is there a problem, officer?”
“The John Harrison?” The guy’s eyes boggled. “From ‘Cut to the Bone’?”
“Yes, that is him. Look, we are in a hurry and have a plane to catch. Is this going to take long?”
The young officer shone the light on Mordred again, who smiled and nodded. “No, you may proceed. So sorry to trouble you, Mr. Harrison.” He stepped back, spoke into his radio, and the barrier was moved aside.
Ella eased the car forward until they were clear. Beads of sweat ran down her neck and into her eyes. Her heart hammered in her chest. What had she done? How would she ever explain this away if they were caught?
“Mistress Ella, canst thee make this chariot stop?”
They hadn’t gotten more than five miles beyond the police cordon. What was he thinking?
“It’s too soon to stop. If you want to get away, we need a good distance between them and you.” Ella gunned the gas, not pleased that he had picked up on her name. And what was with the Mistress thing?
“Please. I fear I shall become unwell.”
Oh fuck, he was going to hurl. All she needed. Ella activated the air vents to blow cold air. There was no way she could pull over on a single lane highway with no hard shoulder. “Mordred, wind down your window. The lever with the round end.”
He did but put his head in his hands. This was so not good. There was no way she could drive with the stench of vomit in the car, and if she stopped, blocking traffic, she risked being charged with accessory after the fact, hostage or not. Would anyone believe her after her performance? Probably not.
“Please, Mistress Ella.”
“I can’t stop here. Sit up and take deep breaths. I’ll look for somewhere and stop as soon as I can. Just hold on.”
Mordred started heaving. Ella wildly looked ahead and spotted a gate to a field. She slowed, driving into the narrow entrance. He continued to heave but didn’t move. What was wrong with him? She flicked on the overhead light. His face was as white as milk and beads of sweat dripped off him. She reached over him to unlatch the door and pushed him partially out. The seatbelt held him from falling while he lost his supper with a vengeance. The rancid odor of vomit hit her like a wall, and she stuck her head out of her window to draw deep breaths. Finally, the spasms ceased. He eased back into the car.
“Is this likely to happen often?” Heaven help her if she had to plan ahead for each lay-by.
“Magical carts do upset my innards.” His head was down, and he shook.
“Look, I’m sure I packed some bottled water. It is in the trunk, and I need to go get it. I think if you sip that it might help.” When he didn’t object, she fetched the water, fortunately, placed in the top box of provisions. She unscrewed the lid and passed it to him when she got back in the car. “Take little sips and tell me when you think you can go on.”
What would have been the best fix would have been for him to walk a bit outside, but that wasn’t going to happen. He didn’t trust her not to leave him. After a while, he sighed and nodded. Ella reversed out of the gate entrance and put the pedal to the metal. Maybe, if she got a decent distance, he would agree to go his own way. He said he wanted a wild place. Fine, she would look out for a forest.
Mordred didn’t volunteer to leave, despite three more sick stops in the course of a very long night. Ella even pulled over when they reached the Devon moorland, hoping he would take the hint, but he didn’t. By the time they had pulled into Falmouth harbor, she was beginning to see imaginary things jumping out in front of her. Beyond exhausted as the silvery lights of new day emerged, she was in no mood to argue.
“Mordred, my boat is just ahead. I have fulfilled my side of the bargain. Take your bag, the documents, and the money and leave me be.”
He roused from a doze. “What sort of boat is it?”
“Fairy Child is a converted fishing boat. She is ocean going with sails and also an engine.
“Fairy Child is Ella in the Gaelic tongue.” Mordred sat up and stretched.
John had never picked up on her choice of name for her pride and joy. Why did it have to be a stranger? “You’re right. However, here is where we part company.” She tried to put all the authority she didn’t feel into that statement.
“Is the boat made of metal, or is it wooden?”
What did this matter? A boat was a boat. “She is wooden.”
“I be a coming along with you, then.”
Damn, and double damn. Why couldn’t she have just said metal? “You said I would be free. You promised I would when I got you clear of the police.”
“I did be saying that I would free thee when thee got me to the place where the wild things are. Thee has not done this.”
With her head spinning, Ella didn’t have the strength to argue any more. She had to get sleep before she passed out. “Fine, here are the car keys. You saw me open the trunk. I want everything in this car loaded onto that boat with the blue paint on the third jetty along. When you have done that, you can wake me up, and I will start her engines.”
She was too tired to care what he did now. Ella opened the car door and stumbled to the jetty. She weaved across the gangplank and somehow got down below to crash onto a berth.
“Mistress Ella.” A hard hand shook her awake. “I have done as thou commanded.”
Dear heavens would this never end? Maybe she could drop him off on the Sicily Isles? Ella fought layers of exhaustion to dig for the boat keys in her suitcase. Everything was neatly stacked in the cabin. He even handed her the car keys.
“Can I possibly hope that you can sail? If I get her out of harbor, can you head southwest with the sails?”
“No bad magic? Just wind power? Yes, this be possible.”
The first thing Ella did on reaching the deck was to hurl the car keys over the side. Spiteful and petty, but if Mordred had locked the car it would be an added charge to John’s account as it would not have the keys. She went to the wheel house, turned on the ignition and fired the engine. Gauges and the radar came online. She had a full tank of fuel, thankfully something she always had attended to whenever she docked after a trip.
“Mordred, can you go cast off the docking lines?”
He looked hard at her for a moment before running to do as she asked. The thought crossed her mind of throttling up and leaving him on the jetty, but she would have to back out, and he’d have time to jump aboard. If he didn’t and was captured, there was still her part in all this. She could face prison time for helping him. John would relish that. No, she would dump Mordred only when he was free and clear.
Mordred ran back up the gangplank and pulled it onboard after him. He started for the wheel house with a peculiar mincing gait that terminated with him sitting on the steps to pull off John’s rubber boots. These sailed over the side to join the car keys.
Ella suppressed a smile. Those boots must have been painful. She maneuvered Fairy Child out of the dock and into the open water. Once more, her hands shook, but this time with exhaustion. Ten minutes later and they hit ocean water. She powered down the engine to join Mordred on the deck. He was staring at the rigging, bemused.
“Right, you said you understood sails. Here is how these ones work.” Ten minutes later and he was as proficient as she could have wished and then some. Whatever else he was, the guy understood sails. He followed her back to the wheel house. “Look at this gauge. It tells you where the land masses are and our position.”
Mordred didn’t stir. “Thee said a southwest route. I don’t need the bad magic things to tell me how to find direction or land.”
“You can’t sail without the radar.”
“I have the sun and the stars to steer by. The smell of land and the sight of kelp, and the seabirds to tell me when I be near safe haven.”
Ella started to argue, but the room swirled to a violent buzzing in her ears. The next thing she knew was Mordred gently tucking her into a berth.
“Thee rest now.”
“No, I …” His grass green eyes seemed to expand, and somehow she was in a field of flowers, brightly colored flowers with lots of butterflies dipping down to drink the nectar. The real world receded into nothingness.
Ella woke to the gentle roll of the boat into a gray light. A faint noise from the other berth startled her. Mordred was curled up in covers, fast asleep. Panic sent her flying to the wheel house. All the sails were furled, the sea anchor had been let down and the boat was bobbing in the ocean, going nowhere. He must have sailed until exhaustion hit, and then made them safe. The goose bumps on her arms died down.
Silver slivers of predawn sliced through the sky. How long had she slept? A quick check on the instruments confirmed that the boat was on course. Ella exhaled. Her stomach told her it thought her head had been amputated. She went down to the galley, just in front of the sleeping quarters to rummage through the food boxes. Perishable food must be eaten first as there was no way of keeping it fresh on Fairy Child. She took an opened packet of bacon, sliced bread, tomatoes, and eggs. Halfway through cooking them Mordred blundered into the galley with a sleepy but hopeful expression on his face. The sounds his stomach made signaled his need.
He had ditched his cheek pads and his wig now the immediate threat had gone. Still he looked startlingly like John. She averted her eyes. “There are plates in the top cabinet over to your left. Can you snag a couple so I can get them warming?”
Ella sighed as she flipped the eggs. “Open the cupboard. Take out two plates. Give them to me.”
Mordred followed her orders, and she put the plates to warm underneath the hob.
“Do you prefer coffee or tea?”
Mordred gave her a blank look.
“I guess that will be coffee as we don’t have juice.” She began a brew. A few minutes later she set the tiny table and served breakfast. Mordred inhaled his in record time. He sipped at the coffee, pulling a face.
Ella finished her breakfast and picked up her coffee, satisfied, comfortable, and then her world crashed down upon her head. John was supposed to be sitting across from her. Why had he done this to her? Where had the love gone? The tears started and wouldn’t stop. She made a break for the deck, but Mordred was there, in her way.
“I be very sorry for the grief. I do know I have caused a rift between thee and thine husband. I do swear I will leave thee in peace as soon as I find my place.”
The tears wouldn’t stop. When she tried to push by him, he didn’t give an inch. She had to get away. “It is not you, it is him.” Those words choked out of her.
Mordred’s arms enfolded her. She howled into his chest, unable to stop. His hand gently stroked her hair as he rocked her.
“Whist now, what can I be a doing to make this right? I never meant to hurt thee.”
His kind words set off more tears. Ella struggled for control, aware she was in the arms of a psycho nut-bar. Oh God, could this get any worse?
Mordred steered her to her berth, pushed her down and sat himself beside her.
“It was him.” A sob threatened to close her throat. “You made things worse.” Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she rocked back and forth, her arms wrapped around her.
“I don’t make war on women. I make war on those who do. Where is he?” A note of steel had crept into his voice.