The Fall of the Citadel (Part 3)
Charlotte fell forwards into a run and swung her sword up: the first soldier went down screaming, missing half his face. The next soldier dropped the bottle and fumbled with his sword; Charlotte barged against him, pushing him back against the wall, and then slid the blade of her sword across his neck, leaving a deep gash across his carotid artery.
The third soldier at least managed to get his weapon drawn. Charlotte stepped away from her previous victim.
‘Come on, then,’ she said and, stupidly, he did as he was told. With a flick of her blade she deflected his blow, and stabbed her knife into the shoulder of his sword-arm. His arm went limp, just for a moment – and that moment was all she needed. She let go of the knife and shoved her sword up under his ribcage.
‘Look out!’ cried the young queen.
Charlotte turned just in time to see the first soldier, cheek bust open and one hand holding his face together, stab at her. She ducked under his blow, just barely fast enough to avoid sudden death, and grabbed hold of his sword arm. He grunted; she pushed a finger up into his eye, and he screamed and spasmed and Charlotte slipped on a slick of blood.
She heard a sound like dry leaves underfoot, and then there was darkness.
‘Charlotte,’ came the voice. The voice. Charlotte tried to move towards it, but she couldn’t move. She opened her eyes, and saw the old queen.
‘My liege,’ said Charlotte. ‘My lord.’
‘My love,’ said the old queen, and kissed Charlotte on the forehead. ‘You cannot be here. Not yet. You have to protect her.’
‘I’m tired. I bleed. I’m slow.’
The old queen moved back so that Charlotte could see her – could see the gashes across her forehead and neck, and the exposed bone of her right cheek. She looked beautiful, still, to Charlotte; and she looked sad.
‘My work is very close to being undone. My enemies wish to drag the world back into darkness. I thought, by making small changes, that I could prevent this backlash. And my daughter… I wish to see her very much.’ The old queen brushed her hand against Charlotte’s face. ‘But not yet. Not yet. You must protect her. Alf Westharbour is in the Citadel – do you remember him? Remember what the spymaster said. You can’t stay here. Not yet—’
‘Charlotte,’ came a voice, ‘wake up!’ The young queen. ‘Come on…’
‘Here, ma’am,’ came another voice, and then Charlotte’s arm burned.
Charlotte opened her eyes: there was the servant, with her black eye, holding a wadded-up shirt against the wound on Charlotte’s shoulder. It smelled of wine.
‘Charlotte!’ The young queen’s face was streaked with tears. The floor rumbled. ‘What do we do now?’