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The Son of the Magpie's King

Chapter Text

 

There is moonlight, and it filters through in chequered pattern, a ghostly imitation of the window which reveals it. That is all James Moriarty is, at this moment: a ghost, a faint whisper slipping between chequered moonlight, barefoot. Searching. Hunting for his prey.

He can hear it, in faint moan and soft laughter, carrying in the stillness of the autumn air. He pads further on, darting into an alcove as a lonely servant passes by, far too tired to notice this intruder. He continues on, the human noises and the creak of furniture getting louder, until James has reached a doorway, one that, had these humans been careful, should have been locked tightly shut.

But they have been foolish in their arrogance.

James wishes, in this moment in which he peers around the doorway, face cast in wane candlelight, that he had some way to capture this moment. Past the mental image he will take with him to the court, coupled with a written claim, that will surely condemn these two humans to the most tragic fate.

His eyes widen, but not in shock, no, James has been expecting to find this, but in glee. His lips curl upwards, a thankless smile gracing his face.

He stays there for a minute, no more, no less. The two figures carry on with their pleasure, ignorant to the man watching them. When James has seen enough, and he most certainly has, he draws away from the doorway and makes his silent way back the way he has come, slicking his hair back with the palm of his hand, his teeth pearly white in the darkness of the castle as he smiles.                                                                                  


 

Sherlock is woken by a pounding on the door to his chambers. He blinks blearily, the stark light through his windows hurting his delicate eyes. When eventually he is able to see without wincing, it is to find that men have already burst into his room.

“What is the meaning of this?” He demands, bringing his sheets up to cover his bare chest, all to aware there may be marks on it from where Victor had-

Sherlock’s cheeks blossom red, and he tries to uphold his appearance of anger and indignation. The men, his father’s guards, dressed in chain mail with the King’s coat of arms, a large dog set against a blue background, plastered over their chests, wait by the door as Gregory Lestrade, Captain of the Guard, enters. He surveys Sherlock with dismay in his eyes.

“Get dressed, Sire.” He says. “Your father, the King, would speak with you immediately.”

“Why?” Sherlock asks, eyes narrowing. His heart is beginning to beat quicker.

Lestrade hesitates, but eventually he says, “A matter most delicate, Sire.”

Sherlock’s heart beats even faster. He has been dreading this day, if this is what he supposes it to be, and suddenly he does not want to leave his bed. He shakes his head. “I shall not.”

Lestrade sighs heavily, nostrils flaring. He had most likely been expecting this reaction; Sherlock can be as stubborn as a mule. “Sire, I will have to insist that you do.”

“Not until I know why exactly I am being summoned before the King like this, at the breaking of dawn!” Sherlock demands, voice rising, heart seemingly rising into his throat as he does so.

Lestrade sighs again, but this time his face adopts a solemn expression, as if he is telling Sherlock the man is dying of a serious malady. “It is concerning your relationship with Victor Trevor, Sire.”

Sherlock’s heart drops back down into his chest with a leaden acceptance. It is as he feared.  His face must reveal his feelings, as Lestrade takes a step forward, as if to come to his aid, but steps back as he remembers his duty must be to the King, not his son. His son, who Lestrade has spent many hours trying to tutor in the art of swordsmanship, but has always, in the end, given up, and instead taught Sherlock the different types of plants and trees, what gifts they might give up that could prove either deadly or life-restoring.

“Get dressed, Sherlock.” He says, quieter now he is not using Sherlock’s title. He makes eye contact with Sherlock, and those brown eyes glimmer with sadness and resignation. “I must take you to the King”                                                                           


Sherlock’s heart has not stopped its anxious stuttering in the time it has taken him to throw on a shirt, breeches and boots, along with his doublet of navy blue, and be escorted by Lestrade and his men down the spiral staircase, and through many stone-walled corridors to the great hall. Lestrade stops once again before the doors, and turns to Sherlock with sorrow in his eyes.

“I am sorry, Sherlock.” He mutters, and Sherlock nods, swallowing nervously. 

“Just open the doors, Lestrade.” He says, taking in a deep breath. He steels himself for what might now happen, and as Lestrade turns from him and nods to his guards to open the double-oak doors, he puts on an expression of irritated offense.

There are none of the usual eyes on him as he enters the great hall, still surrounded by Lestrade’s men, with the man himself leading the way. The hall itself is eerily quiet, any members of the great noble families that might normally be present absent, most likely because the King wants this to be a private, family affair. Sherlock is relieved: news spreads between the noble families like a plague. His heart sinks, however, when he sees who is present, stood beside and a little behind his mother and Mycroft, both solemn faced and dark-eyed, is James Moriarty. Now there is no chance of Sherlock’s disgrace not being gossiped about nationwide.  Moriarty shakes his head at Sherlock and smiles as slyly as he can.

Sherlock’s entourage finally reaches the top end of the hall, and they stop with an anticlimactic silence. Sherlock glances down at his feet. He has caught sight of his father, sat upon his sturdy, wooden throne, and the look on his face is enough to make a stab of fear settle itself in Sherlock’s stomach. It is only a matter of time until that shard is pulled out and Sherlock’s fear comes pouring out. That, and his composure.  Sherlock does not look up from his boots until a hand grips his chin and he is forced to stare into the dark eyes of his father. He is standing so close Sherlock can see the veins in the whites of his eyes, and when he speaks, Sherlock can identify what he had for breakfast from his warm breath: plums and apricots.

“Father, I-” he begins to say, always wanting to get the first word in, but now for defence more than stubbornness.

“Do. NOT. Say. Anything.” His father spits, the liquid landing on Sherlock’s face. “If you are not careful, you shall never see the light of day again, and I do not say that lightly, Sherlock. What have you done?”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, he cannot. His father’s eyes darken even more. “WHAT have you done?”

Sherlock hesitates, but then he blinks and, with his heart once again in his throat, replies, “I fell in love.”

His father lets go of him just long enough to slap him. Sherlock cries out and reels to the side as his left cheek begins to smart, but before he can fall his father pulls him up with both hands grabbing his doublet. “LOVE? That is your excuse? You don’t know the first thing about love, boy!”

“I do.” Sherlock insists, voice shaking with adrenaline. “I love him.”

His father shakes him. Sherlock hears his mother cry out in protest but his father pays no heed.

“You do not! You cannot! He is a lowly serving-boy. You are of royal blood. It is unnatural!”

Sherlock has heard this spiel all his life, and it has yet to make an impression on him, but now, Sherlock rather wishes it had. It could have saved him the pain he will no doubt now go through.

“James Moriarty came to me this morning.” His father says, letting him go and stepping back. Moriarty, at his name, comes forward and bows low.  Sherlock staggers, and glares under his fringe at Moriarty. “And reported to me the most disquieting news.”

Sherlock glances quickly to his mother, dressed in her sweeping, sky blue gown, hair pinned under a golden, bejewelled fillet. Her face looks much like Lestrade did when he turned to Sherlock before entering the hall: regretful, melancholy, resigned, as Sherlock is, in the face of the King’s anger. Sherlock turns again to look at his boots; he cannot watch his mother’s sorrow.

“He reports to me, and he has it in writing, too, as an official statement, that he stumbled upon you and Victor Trevor, in an unlocked, open-door room, coupled together in the most…. intimate of situations.”

Sherlock breathes out heavily. Damn him. Damn James Moriarty. Sherlock should have guessed it would be that viper that would tell on him. If only they had closed that door. That is Sherlock’s fault; he had not wanted to wait any longer.

“We have the aforementioned Trevor detained, and upon questioning he, too, has admitted that you and he were together last night.” His father says, and Sherlock’s head darts up and that shard of fear falls out and his composure snaps.

“What did you do to him?” He demands.

His father pierces him with his heavy gaze. “Have you forgotten yourself? Do not speak to me in that manner.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “No, I will not be respectful until you tell me what you have done with Victor!”

His father stares him down, his eyes unwavering boring down on Sherlock’s entire being. “You disgust me.” He spits. Sherlock’s stomach lurches, and he swallows down bile.

Sherlock’s mother makes a noise of horror, and steps forward, but Mycroft’s hand on her arm stops her from confronting her husband. Mycroft is too pragmatic for his own good; he knows her confrontation would only make their father angrier and the situation worse. Sherlock is grateful to him for that.

He has barely looked at Mycroft since entering the hall, but now he notices that his brother’s normally rosy face is pasty white, which clashes terribly with his ginger hair. His rich blue doublet has been laced up incorrectly, a sure sign that Mycroft was in a rush and possibly stressed when dressing.

His deductions of Mycroft mean he misses his father’s signal to one of his personal guards, but the clattering of a small door at the side of the hall, normally used for Servants to slip in and out discreetly, catches his attention. He watches in horror as he sees Victor dragged in by both arms by the burly men who Sherlock knows work in the dungeons. His face is bloody and his left eye is almost swollen shut. Sherlock cries out, “Victor!” and rushes towards him, but Lestrade takes hold of his arm and drags him back in front of the throne. He keeps hold of Sherlock’s arm, but the grip is light.

Victor is thrown down on the ground at the feet of the King, and Sherlock notices with another sickening lurch of his stomach that shackles confine both his wrists and ankles.

“Now that the prisoner is here, I think we may begin listing the crimes and punishments.” The King says. One of the burly dungeon guards passes the king a scroll which, with a flourish, he unrolls and begins to recite, “Upon the Order of King Siger Holmes, ruler of our blessed land, we do condemn Victor Trevor, servant to his majesty’s table, to death by beheading for the crime of treason.’”

“Treason?!” Sherlock cries. “What did you do to make him confess to that? You are inhumane!” Sherlock’s anger and passion had caused this outburst, and he looks to Victor to discern what other abuses have been done to force such a confession from him.

“Boy, you best be quiet now and remember your duty to your father and your king.” His father warns in that quiet, dangerous tone, like a snake that had drawn back in order to pounce forth on its prey.

“But this is not fair!” Sherlock cries. “Why should it matter to you whom I fall in love with? You care not for me, only for Mycroft. He is your heir, your eldest son, never before have you shown any interest in me!”

Sherlock’s father bears down on him, and suddenly there is a rush of air and then a ringing in his ears, and Sherlock very nearly hits the ground, but someone pushes him up again onto unsteady feet. The feeling is nauseating, and he has to brace his stomach so as not to vomit on his boots. The ringing in his ears fades a little, and he can hear his mother shouting at his father, and his father’s shouts back, but all he can focus on is the sight of Victor, beaten and broken Victor, trembling on the ground, fingers twitching against the stone flagstones. He takes his parents’ moment of distraction to fall to his knees beside Victor. He places a hand upon Victor’s shoulder and uses his other to gently turn the man’s face to his. This close up, Sherlock can see Victor’s nose has been broken; blood stains the skin around his nostrils.

“Victor.” He whispers harshly. “I’m sorry.”

Victor shakes his head. “Do not be sorry, My Love. This is not your fault.”

Sherlock bites his bottom lip and feels a sting in the corner of his eyes. “But it is! I should have insisted we shut the door.”

“And I should have seen to it. It is my duty to serve you, and I should have done what needed to be done in that moment to keep your modesty intact.”

“No! We were not prince and servant last night, we were two people in love! It is the most treasured memory of my life.” Sherlock says, and he strokes Victor’s shoulder.

Victor smiles a broken smile, and Sherlock reels to see two of his teeth are missing. “Me too.”

“My Lord!” Moriarty calls, and Sherlock jumps and glances up to see the King breaking off from his row with the Queen and look towards where Moriarty is pointing: at Sherlock and Victor.

“Lestrade, restrain my son. I shall not have him go near that piece of filth.”

Lestrade steps forward and, as he has the eyes of the King upon him, roughly grabs Sherlock’s arms and pulls him back onto his feet and away from Victor. Sherlock feels something trickle down the side of his face at the sudden movement, and a drop of it lands in his mouth as he struggles. The tangy taste of iron tells him it is blood. He hangs his head and goes dead in Lestrade’s arms, defeated. This causes the Head of the Royal Guard to lurch forward with him, and as he does Lestrade leans forward and whispers, once again, “I’m sorry, Sherlock.”

“Take the prisoner back to the cells; the execution will be going ahead at noon, have the town crier proclaim it so as to publicly shame this piece of shit.”

The dungeon guards nod, and Victor is pulled from the ground onto unsteady bare feet.

“Victor!” Sherlock cries out, but Victor cannot call back, cannot even turn his head, and soon he is gone, dragged through the same door he entered through, which is then shut behind him.

“You,” His father says, stepping towards him to look down on him in disdain. “Shall be confined to your room, and at noon you shall watch the execution of your attempted murderer.”

“No!” Sherlock says, voice hoarse and cracking.

“Tomorrow morning you shall be escorted to the manor at Langley where you will be kept under house arrest until you have learnt not to fall in love with those below your station.” Sherlock begins shivering, and wonders if shock is setting in, or if it is just the cold of this grand hall. “I shall decide on your household this afternoon, but take this lesson with you, Sherlock.” His father steps forward and once again grabs his chin. “Caring is not an advantage. You have been foolish, and both you and that servant will pay for your mistake. Now leave me.”

Sherlock sobs, and he knows he should be embarrassed by this outward display of emotion, especially in front of Mycroft and James Moriarty, but he finds in this moment he is too aggrieved at the loss of Victor Trevor to care. He is only twenty, and yet he feels as if his life has already come to an end.                                                                                      


 

Mycroft comes to Sherlock’s chambers at around eleven in the morn, going by the shadows the sun casts on the courtyard outside Sherlock’s window. Sherlock does not turn to acknowledge his presence, only sits in his high-backed chair, gazing out at the courtyard below. In an hour they will execute Victor there; Sherlock has watched the servants preparing the platform, and now the executioner’s block stands ready for use. A crowd has begun to gather.

“You realise, of course, what a fool you were.” Mycroft begins, and Sherlock can hear him plodding about his chamber.

“Yes.” Sherlock says. “I should have closed the door.”

“That is not what I meant Sherlock and you know it.” Mycroft reprimands. Sherlock turns to face him, eyes bright with anger, the remnants of the blood which had dripped from the wound caused by his father hitting him with the execution statement, apparently, still staining the side of his face.

“Why does father not go the whole hog? Charge me with treason as well? The charge is so trumped up he might as well have done!”  Sherlock says savagely.

Mycroft rolls his eyes. “Do not be melodramatic, Sherlock, it technically was treason. You both went against the king’s intentions! You know that father has plans for the betrothal of yourself to the youngest daughter of Lord Hooper. How will it look now that you have been tainted? He shall not want to marry into a family in which royals may sleep with peasants. You have caused a rupture in the peace. Now, father plans to cover up this little…..mistake-”

“Mistake? Heaven’s above, I love Victor! Why will you not hear that?” Sherlock interrupts. He can barely believe what he is hearing. Never, in his life has he seemed more important to his father and their precious kingdom, and now he hears that his one source of comfort might have caused a diplomatic rift!

“Father plans to cover up this mistake,” Mycroft continues, paying him no heed, “by proclaiming that you were attacked by an assassin, and have been sent to the country to recover and for protection. That should instil sympathy in the people’s hearts without damaging you image; you know how people love to see you as the innocent younger son, especially with hair like yours.”

Sherlock’s cheeks redden as he reaches up to tug at one of his unruly curls. There is truth to what Mycroft says: the people of their kingdom, both noble and peasant, believe him to be a precious pearl, a beautiful, untouched boy with no illicit intentions in his heart.

“You should be grateful that father has been so merciful as to have you simply sent to the country for a few months, it could have been much worse, Sherlock.” Mycroft always has to come up with these goodly justifications for what their father does, and it sickens Sherlock to know that it is because Mycroft has received the love and warmth of their father as his precious heir. There are no cruel intentions to it, it is just a reflection of the good life Mycroft has led.  

“I cannot be grateful when the man I love shall be put to death in an hour!” Sherlock realises he sounds like a character from the melodramas his father enjoys watching at special occasions, but he cannot care in this moment. He wonders if the shock of the morning’s events has cast all reason from his mind.

Mycroft has made his way back to the door, and has his hand upon the handle when he turns to Sherlock and genuinely looks sad. “I am sorry, Sherlock. Please know that.”
And with that he is gone, and Sherlock is left counting down the minutes until the death of his lover.                                                                                    


 

When it does happen, when Victor is led through a crowded courtyard and onto the platform with the block, Sherlock is forced to watch with the strong grip of both of his father’s hands on his head. He pulls at the hairs on Sherlock’s head and the pain is enough to bring tears to Sherlock’s eyes. Or, that is what Sherlock tells himself, as he watches Victor say his last prayers before an axe is swung by a faceless figure and brought down through his neck, and then Victor Trevor is no more.                                                                                    


 

James Moriarty does not need to knock upon the door to the King’s chamber, his presence is announced by a guard. He strides in, all respectful simpering.

“Your Majesty.” He says, and bows low enough to smell the leather of his knee-high boots.

“Young Moriarty.” The King proclaims, and he holds out his hand for James to come forward and kiss the signet ring that rests upon a bony finger. It is late afternoon now, many hours since the peasant was executed, and the sun shines in through stained-glass windows, casting colours of blue, red and yellow upon the table top. The King attends to the business of Sherlock’s marriage, and Moriarty pretends not to notice, but he does.

“I just wanted to thank you, my Lord, for trusting my revelation of such a delicate matter. I am sure that it must have been hard for you to condemn your own son so-”

“Pshh! Sherlock should not make mistakes so, if he does not want me to punish him like that.” The King says. “It is you I must thank, young Moriarty, for bringing this to my attention. Since you joined our household you have been nothing but a credit to your father, and I see your presence has been much more than an assurance of strong ties and good trade between my kingdom and your father’s. See here, I am going over the marriage agreement for Sherlock’s betrothal to the daughter of Lord Henry Hooper.”

“Sherlock is to marry Molly?” Moriarty says, feigning surprise. He has known about this since the idea was first conceived. “Why, that is a match most profitable, my Lord! Lord Hooper’s trade in steel is second-to-none!”

The King nods. “Indeed. That is why the betrothal of my second son to his youngest daughter seems wise. However, I must delay it if I am to shake this disgrace of Sherlock’s, and will of course have to compensate Henry for the delay.”

Moriarty makes a noise of sympathy. “Of course, my Lord, you may trust in me not to let any truth slip. My lips shall be sealed as if there is treacle upon them!”

The King grunts. “Yes. Quite. It shall be covered up as an assassination attack, one which Sherlock has travelled to the country to recover from.”

“Very wise, my Lord.” Moriarty simpers. He is disgusted in his act. “Upon that matter, my Lord, might I make a suggestion?”
The King gestures with his hand and puts down his quill in gesture that Moriarty should continue. He does, “I have, in my service, a man of most great strength. I currently have no use for him, and so thought to suggest he might accompany Prince Sherlock to Langley, as the head of his household and guard? I feel that, were Prince Sherlock to be in the presence of his current household and guard, then there might be room for sympathies to surmount, so that he might repeat the mistake he has made.”

Moriarty tenses; this is risky ground, for if he insults Sherlock then he insults the royal family of Holmes, too. Luckily for him, though, the King holds no current sympathies for Sherlock’s position and his character. He nods, “That sounds most convenient. Tell me, will this man be loyal to me?”

“Oh, for sure, my Lord. Sebastian Moran serves me, and learns from me, and you must know that my loyalty to you is unwavering.”

The King surveys him for a moment, and Moriarty does not take his gaze off the floor, the image of submissive service. Eventually the king nods. “Very well. Your man Moran shall be in charge of nine others, all guards and none companions. Sherlock must learn not to be swayed by the presence of others.”

Moriarty’s heart gives a burst of glee at the prospect of Sherlock being entirely alone, but he keeps his outward appearance solemn. “Very well, my Lord. Your decision is a great one.”

“I believe, young Moriarty, you need a reward. For all your work to protect my kingdom. You seemed to have adopted it as your own. Your father was always a friend of mine, and as his son I shall grant what you might wish, within reason.”

Moriarty nods and pretends to think. He has been expecting this chance and has planned for it. “Well…..My Lord, if it is not too much trouble, then perhaps you might host my sister here with me, as well? It sounds sentimental, but Janine and I have always been close, and I’ve missed her terribly in the six months I’ve been here. If you were to bring her over from my homeland then I should be ever so grateful.”

“My boy, consider it done!” The King says. ‘My boy!’ Moriarty thinks, ‘I really have carved a place in his heart!’

“Thank you, your Majesty. I am more grateful than you shall ever know.” Moriarty simpers.

He bows once again, and he cannot stop the shark-like smile that breaks out on his face when the king cannot see. Oh, this will be brilliant!

Chapter Text

Sherlock stands at his window, dreading the moment when Lestrade knocks and enters and tells him it is time to leave. He is already dressed in his travelling cloak, although he will not be going on horseback. No, in order to keep up the charade of Sherlock being attacked by an assassin, he will ride in a carriage, curtains drawn against the window to stop faces peering in, and also to stop Sherlock from peering out. It pains him more than he can admit to know he will get no last glances at the scenery of his childhood, of his happiest moments racing through the surrounding forests with Mycroft, or learning the different plants and their uses with Lestrade, or reading in the privy garden with his mother.

His father’s cruelty knows no limits, apparently.

There is a knock on his door, and Sherlock braces himself for Lestrade’s call, but instead in bustles Lady Hudson, face pale and seemingly more lined with wrinkles than it has ever been. Sherlock does not know whether to be relieved or irritated at this false alarm.

“My Lord.” She says, and gives Sherlock a quick bow, before she comes forward and pulls him into a tight hug. “Oh, my dear, I am most sorry for your horrific incident!”

Ah, Lady Hudson does not know, then, that Sherlock was not really attacked by an assassin in the night, but had spent the best night of his life with the man he loved. Loves, Sherlock mentally slaps himself; Victor may be gone, but Sherlock still loves him.

“Oh!” Lady Hudson exclaims as she examines the cut on the side of Sherlock’s head. “Was this made by the fiend?”

Ah, this, too, she believes to have been done by the assassin, and not Sherlock’s father, the King.

“Yes, but it does not hurt much.” Sherlock reassures.

“Oh, I cannot believe that Victor Trevor would have been a spy, all this time!” She exclaims, and her words are like a slap to Sherlock’s face all over again. “He was always such a lovely young man, never would have suspected he’d be capable of-”

She stops speaking when Sherlock turns away from her. He cannot stop the salty sting in his eyes, and he relives the image of Victor’s head leaving his body, his soul leaving this mortal earth, once again in his mind, just as he had done last night. “I’m sorry my dear, I did not know the mention of his name would upset you so. We shall not speak of it again.”

Oh, if only she knew.

“Now, I have brought you something for the journey, a little gift.” She says, and from within her gown she draws out a small parcel, wrapped in linen. Sherlock takes it, not pondering over where the noblewoman has hidden this present, and unwraps it. There, upon his palm, rest two jam tarts.

Mrs Hudson has known Sherlock since he was a child, she had come to the court with her husband, and upon his death had remained, having created a strong bond with both the Queen, and her sons. Sherlock, in particular, she has grown fond of, and in times where Sherlock had simply been ignored by the rest of his family, she was always there to keep him company and cheer him up, almost always bringing with her jam tarts.

“Thank you, my Lady Hudson.” Sherlock hopes his gratitude comes across in his tone.

She comes forward and encircles his arm with her two small hands. “You are welcome, my dear. I just wish I could be there to share them with you.”

Sherlock meets her gaze, and says solemnly, “Me too.”

Then comes that knock upon the door, and in pokes the head of Lestrade, telling Sherlock that he now must leave his home to travel, alone, to a distant place with strange servants and strange guards. Sherlock carefully folds up the jam tarts in their linen cloth and secrets them away in the side of his small travelling bag.

He is not sure whether he will devour them as soon as he is in the carriage, or watch them go stale and start to rot, making their comforting reminder of home last that  little bit longer.                                                                                              


 

The day is cold, and Sherlock wonders perhaps that it is the ice that makes up his father’s heart that is fuelling the weather for the day. His father is ceremoniously present, and ceremoniously holds out his hand for Sherlock to kiss his signet ring. Sherlock knows, though, that both of them would rather not touch, and is glad when the moment is over and he can move on to bidding his mother farewell.

Her eyes stare into his, the same sea-blue, winter-grey, polychrome eyes that Sherlock has inherited, along with the high cheekbones and the unique lip shape. Sherlock is much more his mother’s son than his father’s. Her eyes convey a multitude of emotions, all of them sentimental, and Sherlock would rather not have an open display of affection, and so he leans in to bid her the traditional kiss on the cheek before he can think upon this being the last time he shall see her in who knows how long.

“Goodbye, mother.” He says stiffly, but when he leans in to kiss her cheek, she grips his arm in her bony grip and whispers, “Be strong, my boy.”

Sherlock pulls back, and he does not look back.

Mycroft is next, but he and Sherlock simply grip each other’s forearms in a brotherly bid of affection. Mycroft’s eyes are shut off and distant, but his parting words from the day before remind Sherlock there is more to Mycroft that hides behind them.

Sherlock pulls back, and pulls the hood of his cloak up so as to hide his ‘damaged’ face from the nobles who line the steps that lead from the large, marble entryway to the palace to the open door of Sherlock’s elegant, stained mahogany carriage. Sherlock sees his chests of clothes and books have been secured to the top of the carriage.

Sherlock descends the steps, well aware that there are multiple pairs of eyes upon his figure, and it makes him hyperaware of his gangly limbs and where he is placing his feet. He looks down at the ground the whole time, until he feels, like a pressure upon his person, the gaze of a certain someone, as glances up to see the piercing, intense gaze of James Moriarty upon him. The man smiles with the sly turn-up of his mouth as Sherlock breaks the contact and looks down again. He does not have the energy to face-off Moriarty today.

The steps he takes into the carriage feel heavy, as if there are weights tied to his boots. When he settles, cloak flung around him, he takes one last look out of the open doorway at the white-washed walls of the palace he calls him home, and his family, all stood there bidding him farewell, before the door is swung shut and Sherlock is immersed in darkness.                                                                                     


 

Sherlock wakes, and from the feel of the stiffness in his limbs and the bleariness of his eyes he reckons he has slept for about five hours. In that time, they could be anywhere, and Sherlock mourns the loss of the hope he had had of getting a glance out of his curtains at the forest in which he has spent many happy hours. Giving in after this loss Sherlock unwraps his jam tarts and devours one, saving the other for later.

In his sleep he had dreamt of Victor, again. They had been lain out in Sherlock’s forest, side by side, hands touching. Then, suddenly, guards had appeared, and dragged victor over to a tree stump, where a masked executioner swung his axe and brought it down on Victor’s neck. Sherlock had screamed and screamed as the masked man had pulled off his disguise to reveal James Moriarty, smiling like Sherlock supposed the devil smiled.

Remembrance of that dream left Sherlock feeling confined and sweaty, and he banged on the ceiling of his carriage to get it to stop. The door swung open, and a guard who he did not recognise peered in.

“My Lord?”
“I need some air.” Sherlock said, and pushed past the guard and stepped out into the wilderness.

There was no habitation in sight, anywhere. There was only a straight and dusty path which led onwards into the distance, and trees which stood at a distance across a lustrous green field. Summer was only just turning to autumn, and therefore most of the trees still held their green leaves, but some were tinted yellow and orange. It was beautiful, and it relaxed Sherlock.

That was until Sherlock’s enormous brain kicked in and started to deduce his surroundings; it had been a skill since childhood, to be able to see into the innerworkings of the everyday, and it was at once a blessing and a curse. Right now, in this moment, it was a curse.

“Wait.” He said. “We are not heading to Langley; this vegetation and this dirt upon the road are not derivative of that climate. We’re not heading south we’re heading north.” Sherlock turned to the nearest guard, frustrated at this deceit. “What is the meaning of this?”

Someone cleared their throat, and Sherlock turned to see, from the front of the coach, a man of extremely solid build come towards him. The man’s head was close cropped, but Sherlock could tell he was a natural blonde. He could also tell that this man had served for many years in the army, and had considerable fighting experience, but now he was….?

“Excuse me, my Lord, but may I introduce myself to you? I am Sebastian Moran, and have been assigned by his majesty the King as the head of your Guard and your Household.”
Sherlock stepped back. He had no idea who this man was, had not seen him at all. As Sherlock looked around, he realised that he did not recognise the faces of any of these men. “May you please enlighten me as to why we are not heading to Langley, then?”

“There was a change of plan, my Lord, and we are now heading north to Darkmoor.”

“Darkmoor?” Sherlock frowned. “But that old ruin has been deserted for years.” And it was right on the Northern Border, which in these current times Sherlock knew was a dangerous place to be.

Moran nods. “Indeed, my Lord, but his Majesty has prepared for the place to be readied for your occupation.”

Sherlock narrows his eyes. Something didn’t sit right in his mind. “At such short notice?”

Moran nods, and the action seems patronising, and makes Sherlock feel insulted. Who is this man, who seems to be holding information from him? Sherlock knows how to kick up a fuss, and he is very much tempted to, now that he realises the deceit that has taken place after the abuses he has already faced the day before.

“I order that we head to Langley, as was the original intention.”

Moran shakes his head, and again gives off the patronising air that had stirred this irritation in Sherlock in the first place. “I am afraid that is not possible, my Lord. We are too far north now, and cannot turn back without having to restock supplies.”
“Then restock them!” Sherlock demands.

“My Lord, I must ask you to remain calm. It will disquiet the men to see you so….riled.” Moran says, his tone dripping with consternation.

Sherlock glares up at him. The man towers almost a foot above. “Excuse me? Why should I care what these men think of me? I am their royal Prince, they are my subjects! I order you to stop treating me like a child!”

“That was not my intention my Lord, I am sorry. I only care for your welfare.”

“Why should you?” Sherlock spits. He realises that he is being irrational now, getting angered by a man he does not know and who does not even deserve his attention. It is not good for royalty to be so emotionally charged in public, but Sherlock has had to watch the love of his life be executed, then be torn from his home to go alone, with strangers, to a place he is unfamiliar with, to be told he will now be going somewhere else which he is even less familiar with. He has reached the end of his tether. “I see not the arms of my family upon your breast! Where does your loyalty lie, if you do not proclaim it to be with the royal family of Holmes?”
Something in Moran changes then, and it is as if Sherlock has lifted the lid on Pandora’s Box, or has let loose a wild hound. His eyes darken, and he smiles, and that smiles seems to grow into a wolfish snarl. “My Lord said I should wait until we were at Blackmoor to reveal my true intentions, but I suppose we can spill a little sooner than planned.”

Sherlock begins to feel a little nauseous, and the jam tart sits heavily in his stomach. “Who is your lord?”

Moran’s feral smile grows wider. “James Moriarty.”

That is when Sherlock knows he will die.

He was supposed to be escaping an assassin, but now he knows he is, in fact, in the company of one. “So, I go to Blackmoor to my death then, do I?” He spits. He is keeping up this front of brave disdain, but his heart is hammering against his chest as if wanting to be let out.

Moran puts on that patronising tone of voice once again. “Oh, no, Sherlock, you’ll not be killed, you’re far too precious for that.” Sherlock notes the dropping of his title with dread. “My Lord Moriarty has plans for you, Princeling. In the meantime, I am to serve out your punishment for fucking a serving boy. Come now, we must be on our way to reach Blackmoor by tomorrow afternoon.”

Sherlock steps back. “No. I will not.”

Moran sighs, and nods to someone behind Sherlock. Sherlock sees this, though, and anticipates what might happen, and so he turns to pull the sword out of the scabbard of the guard nearest to him. He holds the blade out in front of Moran, willing his hands to stop shaking. The blade is heavier than any he has used before.

Moran simply laughs at him. “Oh, my Lord, I would put that down if I were you. Suppose someone were to hear that you had threatened your own steward? They might think the shock of your assassination attempt had turned you quite…. mad.”

The sword wavers in Sherlock’s grip as a cold dread falls over him, as if a ghost, perhaps the ghost of his former life, has passed through him. “So that’s what people will believe, if they wonder where I have disappeared to: that I am turned mad with shock?”

“They do so love the image of you as the innocent, pretty son.” Moran chides.

Sherlock breathes out, and his breath shakes and the sword wavers some more, and in that moment Moran nods again, and a pair of hands reach out to take the sword, whilst from behind him Sherlock feels a hand pressed to his mouth and nose, and he sucks in a chemical, heady scent, and he is too shocked to stop any of it, and before he knows it he is gone…                                                                                    


 

Gregory Lestrade knocks and waits for permission to enter upon the door of the King’s chambers. When the call comes, he walks in with purpose and bows his respect.

“Your Majesty.”
“Gregory.” The King greets, without looking up from the documents he is inspecting.

“All gates are secured and there is no sign of discontent.” Lestrade reports. This is his daily business at the end of the day, when the sun is long gone and the moon has taken up residence, before they must all retire to bed.

“Thank you, Gregory. You may go.”

Lestrade hesitates, hoping the King will realise he is lingering with a purpose. Eventually, he does, and he looks up from his papers. “Yes, Gregory, what is it?”

“If I may, my Lord, I should like to raise a suggestion about Prince Sherlock.”

Lestrade sees the King wince. “…. Go on.”
“My Lord, I understand his misdeed was a serious one, but should he have a familiar face visit him now and again? I understand sending him away with a retainer of Lord Moriarty’s as his steward was a wise move, and that alliances between our kingdom and his lands are strong, which is where the trust in his man comes in, but I believe it may benefit us for a member of your household to check up on the Prince every now and then, to see if he has learnt his lesson.”

The King nods, and Lestrade hopes he has combined enough flattery along with pragmatism to make the King see sense. Fortunately for him, he has. “Gregory, you make a good point. I think, perhaps, we should leave it for a little while. Say, a month? Two? Then you may go and check up on my son.”

Lestrade nods, but his heart sinks. He had been hoping to be sent earlier, but he reminds himself he should be thankful that the King is permitting him to go at all.

“Very well, my Lord. Thank you.” Lestrade bows himself out of the room. He only hopes Sherlock will be coping well enough on his own. He berates himself, and tells himself sternly that Sherlock is as stubborn as a mule, and a crowned Prince, therefore no harm will come to him. The strange prickling sensation he has at the back of his neck seems stupid now he has rationalised the situation. Sherlock will be fine.

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s return to consciousness is much rougher this time then when he had awoken in the coach. He has the feeling of having been asleep far longer than is natural, and little instances of memory come back to him: surfacing to consciousness long enough to have water shoved down his throat before the disgusting cloth is shoved in his face once again and it all slips away….

This time, however, he is allowed to stay awake, but it takes a long while for him to be fully aware of what is happening. He knows that he is still in the carriage, and the rocking movement and the after-effects of the drugs make him nauseous. He fumbles for his remaining jam tart, hoping it is still stowed away in his leather bag, but he realises with a jolt of anger than his bag is gone. And so, too, is his cloak. Reflexively, he shivers.

Sherlock thumps on the carriage door in anger, but they do not stop and no one calls out. He does it again, and again, and again, until finally they pull to a stop. He braces, ready to angrily launch himself at the person who opens the carriage door, but when he does he practically falls over himself, his legs as wobbly as the jelly in his jam tarts.

“Careful there, Princeling.” Moran says, as he grabs for Sherlock’s arm and pulls him out of his carriage. Sherlock stumbles, and he feels as if he is a puppet, being controlled by a puppeteer. “We are here. Welcome to your new home.”

Sherlock shudders in the biting cold. He has never been up this North before, and he has heard tales of its low temperatures, but only now does he realise that this cold has a serious kick to it. This does not bode well for the rest of Sherlock’s stay. As Sherlock looks around him, he begins to realise that he has built Blackmoor up in his mind to be a gothic, sinister castle made of dark stone and inhabited by bats and rats and all things that screamed terrible. Now he realised that Blackmoor was not so dramatic. Oh, sure, its stone was darker than that of the Holmes Palace, and it had a starkness to it that came with a military outpost, but Sherlock could see no bats, and the sky was grey but there was no lightening striking down to illuminate the horror of the place. Perhaps it would not be all that bad?

This glimmer of hope, however, dies as Sherlock is dragged by Moran through the gateway, portcullis raised but its sharp ended teeth looming menacingly, and into the courtyard, heading for the great tower, a square block monstrosity which stands higher than any building in the Holmes Palace. Or so it seems to Sherlock. They enter through a wide door reached by a set of stairs and into a chamber in which an empty fireplace stands alone. Moran doesn’t give Sherlock time to pause and leads them through a doorway on the far side of the chamber, and they begin climbing a spiral staircase. As they go along Sherlock realises he can see his breath the temperature is so low. Lord, did he wish he still had his cloak; what right did they have to take it off of him?

The stairs seem to go on for millennia, and Sherlock wonders whether it is the remnants of the drugs still in his body or if the tower really is that tall. He is starting to get dizzy.

Upon reaching the top Moran fumbles at his belt with one hand whilst keeping a firm hold on Sherlock with the other. Behind them are the entourage. Sherlock has no means of escape. Moran finally pulls out a key and applies it to a lock in the door. Strangely, the door and the lock look newer than any of the other interiors, and Sherlock realises with dread that his imprisonment here has been planned and catered for.

The door swings open and Sherlock is led into a large, oval room. It is scarcely furnished: there is a small, straw-covered bed, a chamber pot, a large chest, one wooden chair, and a fireplace. So, this is to be his room? It is certainly unlike anything he is used to, and he realises now just how serious his situation is, and just how sheltered his life as a royal prince has been.

“No.” He says.

“Yes.” Moran replies.

He drags Sherlock in and three guards follow. Two remain by the door whilst another steps forward, and pulls from his belt a small dagger. The metal glints off the stark light that comes in through a small, narrow window. Much too narrow for Sherlock to fit through.

“Lord Moriarty believed it would be a suitable punishment for you that, seeing as you so love the sins of the flesh, you might not mind having your own flesh exposed.”

The man advances on him with the dagger, and Sherlock blanches to understand their intention. “No! It is freezing cold in here, you would be mad to keep anyone here fully clothed, let alone naked!”

“Oh, we are not the ones who are mad, Princeling.” Moran patronises and grabs hold of Sherlock as he tries to scramble away.

Sherlock cannot say he does not do his best to prevent them from de-robing him, he is rather sure he bites Moran once or twice, but eventually his clothes are ripped and pulled at and he is stripped bare. He covers his most intimate parts with his hands, and he hopes beyond hope that the any marks that might have been left by Victor, Sherlock grimaces, have faded by now.

“Now, that was quite the fuss.” Moran says, and he seems a little out of breath. The man holding the dagger is wheezing hard. Sherlock takes this as a victory. “I hope you’ll hold still for this next part. I’m sure you’re going to want to.”

“What more could you possibly do to humiliate me?” Sherlock spits, but then there is that ghostly feeling again and he turns ice cold as he realises exactly what they could do. He backs away, but Moran’s hand shoots out to grab his arm. He wriggles around like a worm on a fishhook. He is vaguely aware that he is exposing himself to the room, but what they want to do next will expose him far more in a much more devastating way.

Sherlock understands it is slightly silly to get this fretful about his hair, that it will grow back, but it is as much a part of himself as his eyes are. If he is to lose his hair, then….

“No! Please, I beg you!” Sherlock wonders if the hysteria has got to him.

Moran’s eyebrows raise. “Begging already? You are full of surprises! It will do nothing to convince me, though, I’m afraid.” He nods to the man with the dagger, and then pulls Sherlock towards the chair. He chucks him down onto it and holds very tightly onto his arms. The man comes forward, and yanks a section of hair into his hand. This pulls Sherlock’s head back, and he has to watch as this man, this stranger, begins to cut at his hair. The first clumps come free and start to fall into his face, forcing Sherlock to squeeze his eyes shut.

When Sherlock looks back on this experience, many years later, he realises that he was incredibly young at the time, and had been through quite the ordeal already. This he understands is possibly why, at the time, he finds himself welling up as section by section his locks are shorn from his head. Once the man has got rid of the longer parts he starts to shave it from the scalp, until eventually, after what seems to Sherlock like painful, humiliating hours later, he is left with only a prickling of hair and a bloody and smarting head. He sniffs, and feels sticky with the traces of his tears.

“There, there.” Moran soothes, as if talking to a child. “Looks like the little puppy lost its bite. Better get used to it, Princeling.”

Moran lets go of Sherlock and he crumples to the floor, bringing both hands to his bare head and curling in on his torso. It is an instinctual survival position, and right now Sherlock couldn’t care less if he looks pathetic; he is cold and in shock, and he needs to conserve what body heat he can.

“You cold?” Moran asks. He steps round to observe Sherlock from his front. He blocks to light from the window and Sherlock shivers some more. “Hmmm, let’s see if you deserve to have a fire? Now, you fought me on the journey here, and we had to drug you. Then, you fought me when we arrived at your new home. And just now you fought me when we served out your deserving punishment. Hmm, I reckon you don’t deserve that fire.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “’Deserving’? I did not deserve any of this! I am sure my father could not have approved of this! What you are doing is abuse of the highest count!”

Moran tuts. “I told you, I do not work for your father, I work for Lord Moriarty.”
“But you are still in my father’s lands!” Sherlock protests.

Moran rolls his eyes. “that does not matter now. You are far, far away from your family and their influence now.”

“That’s not true, my father has postings out here.”

Moran snorts. “No, he does not. Have you heard any reports of the Northern raids? Or were you too busy wooing servants? If you’d paid more attention then you would know that the King Over the Border has been decimating your father’s lands up here, and your father has yet to refill the positions up here, whore.”

Sherlock flinches, and, though he might have thought it impossible, his heart grows even heavier with the dread that has settled into his very flesh. It seems there is no hope. That stubborn, almost childish part of Sherlock, however, tells him that if he is to be held here, against his will, called degrading names and be abused in degrading ways, on the orders of some noble from a foreign land who wants to use him in some way, he will not stop fighting them at every turn. Whatever they may throw at him, it will not break him.                                                                                    


 

“Lord Henry!” The King says, as Lord Henry Hooper charges towards him, followed by his entourage of men, all bearing his coat of arms of a black cat on a yellow background following on behind are also Lord Henry’s wife Matilda and their youngest daughter, Molly, Mycroft notes, and they stoop low to bow to their king once they reach the throne. “Such a pleasure to have you here!”

“Your Majesty.” Lord Hooper replies, nodding his thanks. “A kind welcome, indeed.”  

“I hope our meeting shall prove profitable for the both of us.” The King says, and Lord Hooper nods.

“Lady Matilda, once again I am in awe of such a beauty, such a noble woman!” The King says, and Mycroft shifts on his feet to see his father be so overly complimentary to these people. To them, it must seem delightful, but to Mycroft it just seems degrading. They are the royal family; his father should not have to be squandering himself for these nobles! No, he berates, himself, he must do what he can; Lord Hooper holds lands which are under his father’s overlordship, but that does not mean that, were their father to insult him in such a grave manner, the man could seek overlordship from elsewhere. Such as the King Over the Northern Border. It is all down to money and this simpering that his father now bestows upon the Hooper family.

“My Lord, you do so flatter me.” Lady Matilda says, as she curtseys and kisses the King’s signet ring.

“May I introduce, my Lord, my youngest daughter, Lady Molly.” Lord Hooper says, and he steps back to bring Molly forward.

Mycroft does not believe, as some of his elders do, of the ridiculous notion that women are worth less than men, and Lady Hooper’s performance to his father proves to him that he is correct, for he sees here a woman far more clever than some of the noble sons who call themselves his companions. Molly curtseys low, and kisses the signet ring just as her mother hand, but she keeps her eyes down, and a pink blush rises in her cheeks. Mycroft sees the way she is presented: the blushing vigin, as innocent as the people of their kingdom like to make Sherlock out to be. Her hair is loose, with only two plaits to hold back the front sections, and her dress is modest and simple; certainly, the pure, beautiful maid. Mycroft knows that this will appeal to his father, and the Hoopers have been clever to present her so, and yet Mycroft longs to see the true nature of this woman. He does so hate the charades of the court.

“My, please do forgive me Lady Matilda, but I will have to bestow the title of greatest beauty upon your daughter here, for she shines as though a pearl, reflecting the sun!”

Mycroft feels slightly sick.

Molly blushes deeper, but says nothing. Lady Matilda comes forward, “You are too kind, my Lord.”
“Molly was ever so excited to be meeting Prince Sherlock. Such a shame that he cannot be here to greet his potential bride.” Lord Hooper remarks, eyes narrowed and calculating.

The King, however, continues with confidence. “It is indeed a shame. And we are all so aggrieved that we have had to take such matters into hand. Please rest assured that you shall sleep safe in your beds tonight. Sherlock’s would-be assassin was a mistake that should not have been overlooked, and all those who could be responsible have been punished.”

No one has been punished, Mycroft knows, but his father is doing well to reassure them of their safety. This is all such a charade.

“That does reassure, my Lord.” Lord Hooper nods in thanks.

“Sherlock was not too badly shaken, but his physician did advise me that were he to spend a while in the country, it would restore him to his usual faculties.” The King reassures. Mycroft knows that Sherlock’s physician, Sir Michael Stamford, had not seen to Sherlock at all following the scandal. Yet more lies.

“Good to know, my Lord. You will understand of course, our worry when we heard the news. I am reassured that the Prince is not seriously harmed.”

“Not at all, Lord Henry. Come, let us dine together.” The King ends the discussion abruptly, and Mycroft knows that is because Lord Hooper was treading on shaky ground.                                                                                           


 

“So it is to be agreed,” the King says as he sips at his wine. “Sherlock and Molly shall marry upon his return from Langley. In the meantime, your daughter shall stay here ay my court, feel welcome in what shall be her new home.”
“And I shall return with her dowry upon the eve of the wedding.”

Mycroft was rather impressed with what his father had managed to win out of Lord Hooper. The Lord was the largest manufacturer of steel, and had promised, as part of the dowry, to provide 500 longswords, along with 3,000 pounds in cash. He knew his father needed those weapons to help the cause on the Northern Border: their men up there were depleted and raiders regularly came over the Border to pillage and steal.

“I will have my man, Lestrade, travel to inspect Sherlock in about a month’s time.” The King says. “Then I am sure we will have confirmation of his good health, and we may be planning for a winter wedding.”

“I am sure this will be profitable for the both of us.” Lord Hooper says, but it is more a warning than a compliment. The two kings touch goblets in a sign of alliance nonetheless.

Mycroft sips at his own wine as he watches, inconspicuously, as James Moriarty laughs and converses with Lady Molly. Mycroft does not trust him, has never trusted him, and since he saw the look on Sherlock’s face when he was brought before them in the great hall barely two weeks ago, he believes that his dislike is legitimate.

Moriarty must sense his gaze, for he looks over and makes eye contact with Mycroft. Those seemingly hollow eyes seem to stare into his very soul, but Mycroft simply stares back. After a while, Moriarty must break his gaze to answer a question him posed to him by Lady Molly, and Mycroft considers this a victory on his part.

He shall watch Moriarty very closely from now on. He is set on it.                                                                            


 

Sherlock is not entirely sure what day it is. Or rather, whether it is day. Moran has had the window boarded up, since Sherlock refused to eat the food provided, believing the stodgy porridge to be drugged with something. At least, he thinks, he has been provided with something to wear. Even if it is a too small, and scratches at his skin constantly, the ripped and tatty undershirt is at least something.

Sherlock is so very, very thirsty. Moran will not grant him water unless he calls himself a whore, and there is only so many times one can do it without thinking perhaps they are a whore. His dreams of Victor have become messy and irrational: he feels the touch of Victor’s skin against his, but then he next feels the warmth of his blood as he is decapitated, and it spills all over his skin, and then when Sherlock wakes in the dark, and he smells the blood that seeps from the little scratches and cuts that Moran and his guards place upon his body, he panics and thinks that Victor’s body must be in the room with him, and then he cannot stop himself from screaming out.

Moran does so love it when Sherlock screams.

Over the weeks, well, what feels like weeks, their abuses against him have become rougher, as any notion that he is a Prince has left their minds. They all just refer to him as the whore, now, and their beatings and inhumane behaviour has gotten worse. Cannot get any worse.

Or so Sherlock thinks.

The door to his room is unlocked, and Moran strides in, looking down at him with a sly smile on his face.

“Princeling, you look a little worn out. Feeling a bit sick of this room, are we? Well, do not worry. We’re taking you for a small trip someplace else!”

Sherlock has yet to have been let out of this room since they got here, but by the tone of Moran’s voice he suspects he does not want to go where Moran has in mind.

“No, I am fine, thank you.”

Moran suddenly crowds into his space and yanks him up from the floor. “I must insist that you come.”

Sherlock struggles, as he has promised himself he will fight them, but Moran just sighs and takes a stronger hold of him. “Look, I promise you that once we get to your new room, I will give you some water, how does that sound?”

Sherlock hates himself, but he cannot resist. He needs water more than anything else right now, and so he concedes and lets himself be led from the room.

Down, down they go. Sherlock is sure his legs will collapse underneath him once they reach the bottom of the tower. He is malnourished, and he is sure than the scant muscle and flesh that he had held on his body before his captivity is long gone. Yet they continue walking down; down the spiral staircase they had entered by, into the first chamber and through another door in the chamber. A straight staircase greets them, and as they head down it, Sherlock can tell they are going underground. The corridor they reach is filled with damp and moss and stinks of sulphur, and Sherlock tries not to breath too heavily as they make their way down to another set of stairs that is framed by two thick, iron gates with bars. Sherlock knows that they have reached the dungeon, and he begins to tremble.

Sherlock has visited the dungeons in Holmes Palace only once, and that time he had sneaked away from his tutor in order to sate his curiosity as to what was down there. It was nothing compared to this dungeon at Blackmoor.

Sherlock, weakened by his ordeal, imagines he can still hear the voices of the prisoners calling out for mercy. He knows that Blackmoor had been used by his grandfather as the holding place for prisoners from over the Northern Border, and he feels so very out of place here, as the grandson of that infamous king. Moran leads him past rows and rows of cells, all locked off with the same Iron bars that had greeted them at the entrance. The sconces have been lit, and the bright flames seem strangely out of place in this decrepit hell-hole.

They descend down one further set of stairs, deeper into the ground, and Sherlock cannot stop the shivers of cold that wrack his body. That is what he will pass off his trembling fear as if mocked, that is. They come to a stop in a confined, claustrophobic, cavernous space, a hole in the ground its only feature. An iron grate, which must cover the hole at most times, is pulled back, as if inviting Sherlock in.

He backs away and again tries to wiggle out of Moran’s grip as he realises where he has been brought, what will now be his new home: the oubliette.

“This is wrong! You are a monster!” He screams, throwing caution to the wind.

“You hear that, men?” Moran says, addressing the two guards that had been waiting for them in the room. “The whore has gone quite mad. I’m sure a spell in the oubliette will help him straighten things out.”

“NO!” Sherlock cries. “Please!”

“Yes, please!” Moran says back. He throws Sherlock forward so that he can peer into the hole.

“I will freeze to death!” Sherlock protests. “What will Moriarty have to say about that?”

“Moriarty asked for this, he wants you here.” Moran replies, looking altogether bored with Sherlock’s dramatics. “And look, we’ve got you some more clothes!”

One of the guards pulls from behind his back a pair of breeches, as tatty and disgusting as the shirt Sherlock wears. He lets them shove them on him, but he finds he cannot be grateful. “You will all go to hell! If the King were to hear about this-”

“Oh, do be quiet!” Moran protests, and slaps Sherlock hard.

Stunned by the blow Sherlock finds himself being eased into the hole and then dropped. Luckily the drop is not that far, but it is enough for him to feel the force of the landing in every bone in his body.

“Wait!” He cries to those above him. “What about my water?”

“Oh!” Comes Moran’s voice with an echoic tone that tells Sherlock he has fallen about 4 meters into this pit. “Seeing as you fought this, I won’t permit it. We’ll see you soon, sherlock. Well, maybe we will!”

The grate is brought down upon the entrance to the oubliette, and Sherlock hears the click of the lock before the footsteps fade away as Moran and the guards leave.

Sherlock curls in on himself. His ears start to ring, and Sherlock wonders whether it is the slap to the face or the deafening silence.

He swallows what saliva he can to sooth his dry throat, and huddles down with his head on his shoulder. If time had seemed non-existent in the tower room, the feeling of being alone in a black hole increases ten-fold in the oubliette. Sherlock repeats his mantra to himself until he falls into an unsteady sleep: they will not break me, they will not break me, they will not break me….                                                                                             


 

“Sister!” Moriarty cries. He stands upon the third step up in the courtyard of Holmes Castle. Mycroft watches from an open window up above as the man descends to help a hooded figure from one of his father’s carriages. It is dusk, and Mycroft has to squint to see the figures down below. He cannot hear the rest of their conversation, as they speak to quietly, but he sees them embrace in affection, and then Moriarty takes a pale, slender hand (a woman, then) and leads her up the stone steps and into the palace.

Mycroft looks for any clues as to who this woman might be from the chests that a cluster of servants bring down from the roof of the carriage, but they are all nondescript, wooden chests. The only hint at whom they belonged to is the coat of arms of the Moriarty family, a magpie, with wings spread on an emerald green background. So, most likely a relative of James. This nags at the back of Mycroft’s mind for the rest of the evening.

                                                                                                 

Chapter Text

“My Lord? My Lord?” calls Chancellor Anthea, as she attempts to draw the king’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“…Pardon?” The King says, coming out of his trance.

“The matter of the King Over the Border, my Lord.” Chancellor Anthea says, trying not to look concerned by the King’s apparent lack of attention. Normally, he is all ears for every single matter. Every matter, that is, except his youngest son, as Lestrade knows all too well.

In the two months since Sherlock had left for Langley, Lestrade has tried multiple times to get permission from the King to visit the Prince, but every time the King has grown cold and refused him. Lestrade had expected this for the first month, but still the King does not grant him permission; of course, the King may deal with his son how he likes, but that isn’t why Lestrade is so concerned. No, the King himself has completely changed.

Lestrade wonders if it is the effects of old age, but the King has begun to lose interest in the middle of activities, this morning’s meeting on trade, for example. He has also grown more tired more quickly, and has started to lose his greying hair. Names have begun to become a challenge for him, too, as well as remembering the small things, such as eating and bathing. Lestrade worries for the state of the nation: for the King to display such signs could indicate that he is unfit to rule.

Greg squirms at the thought, and worries what this might mean for all of them. In particular, Sherlock.

There is another thing that worries him, too, and he is not sure why in particular this thought nags at him but it feels like a guttural, instinctive reaction to evil. James Moriarty.

His influence over the King has become so great that he is now sat at the ruler’s side at the conference table, as his most trusted advisor. The King had always been fond of him, due to his bond with Moriarty’s father, but Lestrade wonders if Moriarty’s exposure of Sherlock’s relationship with Victor Trevor has bonded them further. The thought makes him irrationally angry; he has always known the King had never favoured Sherlock in his heart.

Many times has Lestrade walked through the surrounding towns on patrol, and many a time have people shouted out to him their condolences for Sherlock and the royal family, saying they pray that the King is not too grievously angered by the assassination attempt. Even if that were true, Lestrade seriously doubts the King would be grievously angered. Even if it seems as if he is losing his mind.

Lestrade knows Prince Mycroft sees it, too. He watches the eldest son as he sits awkwardly at the conference, next to Moriarty, obviously concerned about his father’s behaviour. Lestrade hopes he can have a word with the Prince once this session is over. He knows Mycroft will understand.                                                                                        


 

The constant dripping off the moss that covers the sides of the oubliette has drilled itself into Sherlock’s mind.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He groans into his arms. He hates his spells in the oubliette, especially as he has no idea how long exactly he is in there each time. Still, though his daily torture wears him down, like a knife that has been blunted after being used over and over, they will not break him.

No.

Definitely not.

Well, that is what he tells himself.

The water keeps on dripping.                                                                                            


 

“My Lord? May I have a word with you?” Lestrade asks Prince Mycroft as they are all exiting the council room. Mycroft nods.

“Yes, of course.”

Lestrade follows Mycroft to the man’s chamber, and locks the door shut behind them. Mycroft raises an eyebrow. “This must be quite the delicate matter.”

“You know it is, my Lord.” Lestrade says, stepping further into the room. Mycroft holds out a hand to indicate Lestrade should sit in one of the two vacant oak, high-back chairs next to the fireplace. The fire itself has been burning away; since winter is almost upon them the rooms are to be kept heated throughout the day. Mycroft pokes at the embers to get it going again, and then takes the vacant chair opposite Lestrade’s.

“So,” He begins, straightening his doublet. “I suppose you are here to talk about my father.”

Lestrade nods his head slowly. “…. Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“I too am afraid, Gregory.” Mycroft says, looking away, at the fire. He seems ashamed of his fear.

Lestrade goes to reassure him. “We are all afraid, my Lord.”

Mycroft sighs. “Gregory, please.”

Gregory hesitates before replying once again. “We are all afraid, Mycroft.”

Mycroft sighs once again. “If his condition deteriorates, I shall have to speak with my mother. We will have to consider a regency.”

Lestrade nods. This is what he had been expecting to hear. “I believe that might be the best course of action, yes….”

Mycroft contemplates the hair for a little while. Greg notices how the glint of the fire brings out the ginger of Mycroft’s hair. “Gregory, if I were to have to take on the regency, would you consider being my chief advisor?”

Lestrade blinks. “Pardon me, but won’t your mother take up the regency?”

Mycroft shakes his head. “Yesterday I spoke with my mother about this matter. She explained to me that she is tired of the business of running the country, and that if her husband is to be an invalid, then she should like to be the one to care for him. Also, were the country to be run by a regent, it should be a young, fresh ruler.” At this he self-consciously runs a hand through that ginger hair, as if to make sure it hasn’t started to recede; Mycroft may not have luscious hair like Sherlock, but at age twenty-seven, he has nothing to worry about.

“…. But, if all of this were to occur,” Greg says, “…. would you not already have a set of advisers there for your use?”

Mycroft shakes his head. “No. I trust none of them. Expect, perhaps, Chancellor Anthea; she has more sense than the rest of them, and more sense to oppose James Moriarty than be threatened by him.”

Lestrade feels his eyebrows raise. “So, you too believe that Lord Moriarty’s motive is far from…beneficial for the kingdom?”

Mycroft nods. “Yes. It most certainly is. I am not sure what he is doing, but I know it is something. If I am to become regent, then I want people on my side who I trust and know not to be on his side.”

Lestrade feels a warm glow, like the glow of the fire, in his heart. “And you trust me?”

Mycroft glances at him, and then quickly away, as he nods. “I have already spoken with Chancellor Anthea and Lady Hudson, in fewer words, of course, since I did not want them to fear the King might actually be mad. They will also support me. Along with my mother. You know Lady Hudson’s attachment to Sherlock.”

Lestrade does. Lady Hudson has been rather maudlin at times since Sherlock has been gone.

“On the matter of Sherlock…” Mycroft continues, clasping his hands together in his lap. “I know you have been asking my father for permission to see him.”

Lestrade nods, and breathes out in relief, glad to pass this concern onto another person. “Yes. I cannot say whether what he did deserved the punishment he is receiving, that would be above my station, but it has been a long time, now, and I feel like someone should check up on him. Moriarty’s man, Moran, has sent no reports all this time, and yet the King has not been concerned.”

Mycroft unclasps his hands and brings them, in a prayer position, to rest under his chin. “With Moriarty’s continuing influence, it makes me think Moriarty’s claim to get Sherlock sent away was motivated by much more than his duty to the King. His father and the King have always been friends, but I know trade between them has weakened to the point where the Moriartys might perhaps be looking to trade with other powers…” Mycroft trails off.

Lestrade’s eyebrows raise once again. “Are you suggesting the King Over the Border?”

Mycroft nods. “James and Sherlock were never on good terms, and it concerns me that Sherlock is in his man’s hands. I fear what purpose they might want with him. That is why I am ordering you to go and seek him out at Langley.”
Lestrade’s heart jumps. “You are?”

Mycroft nods, and stares right into Lestrade’s eyes. “Yes. I am. Don’t worry about my father. Perhaps he will notice if you’re gone, perhaps he won’t, but upon my orders, please find my brother.”

Lestrade nods, and stands, mentally preparing all he will need. “Upon your discretion, might I bring with me Anderson and Donovan? They are my most trusted deputies.”

Mycroft nods. “Very well. Make sure you are all well-armed.”

Lestrade nods. He and Mycroft linger for just a moment more in an expectant silence, as if words should be spoken and are meant to be, but in the end, with the urgency of Mycroft’s order, Lestrade bows himself out of the room.                                                                                      


 

Sherlock thinks he can see Victor.

He knows it is the drugs they have force-fed him. He knows it is. There is a small part of him, though, which really believes he is there. Even though that would be impossible.

Victor looks well, just as he had done on the night they had spent together. His skin is glowing with a healthy hue and his sandy hair flops over his forehead, and he looks up at Sherlock from under it, his smile wide and his eyes bright. Sherlock goes to reach out to him, but then suddenly, the smile turns into a snarl, and his teeth grow pointed. The irises darken to blood-red. His hair is lank and greasy. His skin turns deathly-pale, and veins underneath stand out in sharp blue and purple. He lunges towards Sherlock, and the man cries out and falls backwards.

The jolt of the ground beneath his back wakes him from this vision, and Sherlock shivers in the cold of the oubliette. Oh. So, he is here again. He had been hoping he might be in the tower. From above him, he can hear laughter, and that, too, turns into a demonic chorus. Sherlock shivers and reminds himself that it is just the drugs.

It is just the drugs.                                                                                      


 

Mycroft falls back into his chair as Gregory leaves.

He has not told him the whole truth. Not when he wishes there was more he could do. Gregory might think him a weakling. Mycroft cannot have that. Nearly two months has that hooded relative of Moriarty’s been resident at the palace, and Mycroft has come to despise them almost as much as James.

Janine Moriarty is as sly as her brother, and her eyes glint with that same malicious purpose. Mycroft has noticed, over the weeks, that she is a regular visitor to the physician, where certain potions and ingredients are to be found. Mycroft fears what she might be doing, but he cannot simply accuse the lady of bad play when he has no proof past her visiting the physician. He had attempted to send his personal manservant, Terrance, into her chambers, but the man had returned, snivelling, with claims that Moriarty himself had intercepted him. He had searched his Father’s chambers, when he had been sure they were empty, and he could find no malicious material. He had been supposing he might find damning evidence that would get the Moriarty’s sent away and his father restored to full health, but there had been nothing…. that did not mean they weren’t using malicious materials on his father, but no royal tasters have collapsed after tasting either food or drink. Mycroft is baffled.

Mycroft would never admit he has been considering sorcery, but that is certainly what has been playing on his mind. It cannot be they simply aren’t doing anything, but Mycroft cannot figure out what they are doing.

This was a bad move for Mycroft. Moriarty, since then, has become more private than ever, and his influence over the King has grown; Mycroft can barely get a word in at council meetings, and that is if his father even listens to him, all attentive respect he used to have for Mycroft’s opinion seemingly gone. Mycroft only worries that Moriarty has plans for Sherlock that could lead to something terrible, and his stomach feels a little lighter now that Gregory is on the case. He is ashamed he did not fight for his brother. He is ashamed he has let Moriarty’s influence grow so big.

Mycroft should never have let it get that far.                                  


 

Sherlock shivers. It seems to him that all he does these days is shiver.

He rarely speaks these days. And if he does, then it is only to rebuff his abusers. He has used his deductions to spite them, and every time he has suffered more abuses because of this, but it gives him some power, something to hold onto, and so he continues to nit-pick the negatives of their lives and scorn them for it. Even if it does mean he most likely has a few cracked, perhaps broken, ribs.

Breathing has most certainly become harder. He is sure it is winter now, and still he is not permitted a fire.

Sherlock continues to shiver.                                                                                   


 

“Sister.” James greets as she barrels into the room, all alight with glee. “You would not believe the gullibility of these nobles!”

“I think I could, James.” Janine replies with a glint in her eye, looking up at him from the pot she stands over. “It seems to me everyone here is gullible. And stupid. They cannot see what is right in front of them. Not even Mycroft.”

“Hah!” James scoffs, “Mycroft cannot see past that awfully big nose of his!”

The siblings both snort, and James picks up an apple from a dish on the table, his teeth chomping down on it as he steps towards his sister.

“How are the supplies?”

“I have just replenished my stock. That poor physician must think he’s going out of his mind to notice he has mandrakes missing when he has used none.” Janine says.

“Or he suspects you’re a thief.” James says, winking at her.

Janine puts a hand to her chest in mock-offense. “Me? A thief? Why, no! Not a respected lady such as myself.”

James laughs, and takes another bite of his apple. “Mycroft has sent his man out to see Sherlock.”

Janine raises her eyebrows? “And you aren’t concerned of what he’ll do when they find the boy missing?”

James shakes his head. “Hardly. It won’t make the royal family look fortunate if their King seems to be losing his mind and their youngest son has gone missing, and so soon after an ‘assassin’ had tried to do him in. No, Mycroft might be an idiot, but he’s a clever one. He will realise the King might not take well to the news, seeing as his mental state has deteriorated so. Either he will see it fitting to keep it secret, or he will tell the King and we can pass off anything the King might say about it as madness. You know I am seen as his right-hand man. And the nobles love me! They’ll trust anything that comes out of my mouth.”

“The nobles love the little compliments you give them.” Janine scoffs good-naturedly, “Getting them all in your pocket.”

“Almost all. Still a few allude me, but I will have them in time.” James complains.

“And Lord Hooper?” Janine asks.

James sighs. “He has not been to court in a while. I send him letters, of course. Little placations over the delay of his daughter’s marriage to Sherlock, but we need him on side; he alone has the trust of all the nobles. And he also has the steel trade. I think it might be best to visit him once our aim is closer at hand, and steal the agreements of his treaty with King Holmes from under Mycroft’s nose! Then let’s see what he shall do!”

“I am not quite sure this is what our late father meant when he told us to continue our family’s powerbase.” Janine says with a raised eyebrow, but she does not look disapproving.

“Yes, but I am not content to live my life bowing to others just so we may gain extra money from their trade. I want real power.” James says, spitting out a pip as he does.

“And you will have it. We will have it.” Janine reassures.
James laughs, and preens like a cat enjoying the sun. “Mmmhmm. All except that bloody
“Perhaps Mycroft should take a leaf from your book, James, and blackmail people into supporting him?” Janine suggests, as she walks over to her bed and pulls something out from under it.

James laughs. “You mean to say it’s not my extremely handsome good looks that get them on side?”

Janine raises an eyebrow and smirks. “Come. Help me with this.”

James comes forward to stand next to his sister. He loves to watch his sister perform her magic. Quite literally. Janine opens the chest that she had retrieved from under her bed with a key she keeps on a chain around her neck, hidden under the high-collar design of her dress. It is made of oak, with a deep-red leather coating. From it, she pulls what looks to be a root. It is a gnarly, earthen thing, but James knows it holds so much more than the base appearances of the earth. That is, it does when Janine chucks into the fire, the leans over the pan and speaks those words that will enchant with the powers to turn a person’s mind, which is what she does now. It is a mandrake root, and it will turn the King mad.

Once it is done, and Janine has spoken the enchantment, the flames die down, their powers of destruction all sucked into the mandrake root. If Janine were to speak another set of enchantments, then the destructive powers of the mandrake will be catalysed and a screaming, ear-piercing noise will emit.

“Usual time tonight.” James instructs her. This is the time when James speaks with the King in his chambers, keeping him distracted whilst Janine places the mandrake roots under the King’s bed. She will then wait until the King is sleeping, hidden with an enchantment, a spell which makes the human eye pass by her person without noticing her, until speaking the spell which will set the mandrakes screaming. “I will have to write a letter to King Charlie, telling him to send out his man to fetch Sherlock. Moran’s work is finished, he has done well.”

“How is dear Sherlock?” Janine asks, with a glint in her eye.

“Oh, apparently he is seeing visions of his dead servant.” James says, with the casual tone one normally uses for discussing the weather.

“That’s hilarious.” She snorts.                                                                                    


 

Horse hoofs beat against the dusty road, bringing up clouds of dirt and sand. The moon shines clear and bright, like a spotlight, upon the Holmes Palace, not one league away.

Lestrade rides bent down, willing his steed to go faster, dust and sand catching in his hair, his eyes, but he couldn’t care less; he is returning from Langley. And Sherlock was nowhere to be found.

In fact, the entire place had been deserted. With no locals knowing exactly what he had been talking about when he mentioned a ‘royal visit’.

Lestrade wonders, if he had fought more to convince the King to let him go earlier, whether he might not have been too late. He dreads how Mycroft will react to the news that his younger brother is, apparently, missing. Perhaps, however, Mycroft had been expecting this, due to his distrust of Moriarty and seeing as he had gone against his father’s orders to send Lestrade in the first place.

Behind him, he can hear the desperate running of the horses of Donovan and Anderson, desperately trying to keep up with his own steed. His deputies had been completely bemused the entire time, and upon discovering Sherlock’s absence had to look to their commander for answers. But Lestrade had been baffled himself, and he still is. He knows there is suspected foul play by the Moriartys, but what he doesn’t know is how they have achieved so much. He fears the answer. He believes it might be an unnatural one.

Everything about this feels unnatural. And Lestrade is not a man who shies away from danger, but he feels, from his very core, terrified.                                                                                     


 

Sherlock, too, is terrified.

He is terrified that he may be killed, by accident, before he can get the better of Moran.

Moran is the only man Sherlock has yet to unhinge with his deductions and remarks. Sherlock cannot fathom much of the man apart from his love for violence and his certain experience of it in the army, most likely as part of the Moriarty retainer. Moran’s attacks on him are calculated, cold, not heated by the passion and hatred Sherlock’s words have built up in the other men. Moran’s attacks are always the deadliest, as well, and that is why Sherlock believes the man might accidently kill him. For this singular time, Sherlock has managed to enrage him.

Moran has often taunted Sherlock for his sexual preferences. Upon the discovery of Moran’s secret, Sherlock wonders if it was a reflection of his own internalised homophobia which he had reflected back onto Sherlock in order to take it out on someone rather than himself. Sherlock had caught him the day before, when Moran believed him unconscious, engaged in sexual activities with one of the guards. He had decided that he would confront him about it, as a victory over knowing something about the man. Finally. He had not thought that it would make Moran so enraged he would lose all his inhibitions. And then decide he would kick the shit out of Sherlock.

Sherlock is terrified he may puncture his lung. One of his cracked ribs could potential cause such damage, and with no physician in sight Sherlock would have no hopes of survival.

Sherlock wonders whether it is the exhaustion, the dehydration, the malnourishment, the wounds to his body, or the drug abuse, or perhaps a mixture of all these components, but he tells himself, in that moment, that it is because he must do this in order to snap Moran out of it, not because he is finally succumbing to everything like he hasn’t since they cut off his hair, but he starts to cry and beg.

He must say things along the lines of “Please, don’t, stop it!”, mixed in with sobs and cries; he cannot clearly understand what he is saying. He is too far gone for that, though he would never admit it. They will not break me. All he knows is that, eventually, the blows to his torso and his buttocks and his chest cease.

“Lords, you are pathetic!” Moran says, in between panting breaths. He has put his entire effort into beating Sherlock. “Look what you have become! No one would think you were a Prince. All you are is a whore! Were you jealous? Is that it? Did you want me? Feel it was unfair you were being denied? That being royal gives you privileges? Think again. You disgust me. I could never want you.”
Moran goes to step away, heading for the door, wiping at his brow. Sherlock raises his head from the floor, and through blurry vision glares at Moran and says, with the full force of his emotions behind it, “No, you disgust me.

If Moran had not recovered his senses, Sherlock believes he might have begun kicking him again. Fortunately for him Moran has, and all he does is spit at Sherlock, before slamming the tower door behind him and turning the lock.

Sherlock lets his head fall back to the ground. He tells himself he can stop crying now. Moran is gone, he doesn’t have to keep up the charade. Yet he finds he cannot, and his tears pool around him like a lake.

Chapter Text

John grumbles as he packs up his bag in the frosty morning of the bitter winter. He must be thankful, he reminds himself, that the earth is not thick with snow, and that it is only ice that freezes the ground beneath his feet. He is also thankful that he had enough funds to buy the fur-lined boots that now hug his feet before he set out on this raid. Quite unexpectedly, he might add, seeing as he was not scheduled for a new raid for another week, but King Charles had packed him off with this band of men.

“Murray!” He calls to the man whose silhouette stands on the crest of the dip they had hidden in for the night. “All clear?”

“All clear, Watson!” Murray calls back.

“Right men, let’s get a move on.” John orders, and the six men who surround him all stumble to their feet, yawning and groaning, chewing at the last of their breakfast of stale bread.

John makes sure his sword is secure in its scabbard on his belt before trudging up the hill to stand next to Murray.

“It’s unbearably cold today, Watson.” Murray says. His breath can be seen in the air, and John is jealous, in that moment, of the man’s thick, ginger beard. John keeps himself clean shaven, but at this moment he craves the extra protection from the cold.

John raises an eyebrow. “You think I hadn’t noticed that?”

“So cold, I fear some of the men might find it hard going.” Murray says, and his tone is slightly pleading.

“Murray, we must continue on. King Charles wanted us at Blackmoor by noon today, and I cannot risk not following his orders. Cold or not cold, we must continue on.” John instructs.

Murray nods, but John can see dismay in his eyes. He does feel sympathy for Murray, he really does: John does not want to be hard on his men, but he has a debt to pay off and he cannot risk any slips. King Charles is most cruel when angry.

John is the leader of this raid team and has been for the last year and a half. Ever since his sister got saved from the chopping block by King Charles, and John had taken on the paying off of her debt himself. Harriett had been in no condition to be a border raider, the alcohol that had got her into trouble in the first place leaving her dependant, and even King Charles had seen it was better off to send John to pay of her debt. Harriett, in the meanwhile, was hidden away at a nunnery, in an attempt to rid her addiction, and to preserve her dignity. John did not mention how their neighbours still threw him disgusted looks and whispered behind his back about his shameful sister.  

“Come, men. You know the drill. The land up here may be quiet but there is still the threat of enemy attack. This is their land, we must be stealthy.” John says once all six have reached the top. These are men John has not been out with before, apart from Murray, and he is not quite sure whether his speech has instilled them with confidence or passion. He doubts it.

It is a hard life being a raider. He has seen far too much bloodshed for a lifetime.                                                                                           


 

 

John lets his men rest only for a few minutes every hour. They have yet to come across any inhabitants of this barren tundra that is the North. John is used to this, as is Murray, but he can see it in the eyes of the other men that they have not experienced what it is like to wander land in which the wind whistles with a ghostly resonance, and the grass, caught up in the whistles, bends and moves to its tune.

John knows this land like the back of his hand. He knows that Blackmoor is barely two leagues from here, and they will reach it in the hour. John wonders why King Charles is so interested in what he knows to be a deserted castle; perhaps there is some hidden treasure there?

John can only hope he will get a fraction of a share of the loot. It does not seem likely.

He forces his men to their feet and they continue onwards, the biting wind hitting them squarely on from the right-hand side. The ground is relentlessly slippy, and sludge keeps jumping into the inside of John’s boots with the force of their strides, rendering his fur-lined boots soggy and manky. John wishes there could be a fire to greet them at Blackmoor, a cosy fire he could stretch out in front of whilst eating a whole boar. Oh, its been so long since John had something good to eat.

They approach a large gorge, and Murray gives John a side-long pleading look, but John will not risk them being seen by anyone, which might be unlikely in this waste-land but John won’t risk lives through laziness, no matter how small the risk. They trudge on, all of them slipping at least once on the icy decline, and then again on the icy incline. By the time they have conquered the gorge, though, and emerged on the other side, their target stands there, in the near distance.

Blackmoor stands true to its name: the dark stone is a smudge of contrast to the bleak, rocky landscape, and John imagines he can see vines climbing up the stone, and crows roosting on the tops of craggy stone. Suddenly, the image of the fire seems ridiculous to John, and he grits his teeth to remind himself that there is nothing good in being a border raider.

“Come, men. We cannot stop now.”                                                                                 


 

Although it is icy winter, by the time they reach Blackmoor, John is sweating like a pig. It is a disgusting feeling, to be at once frozen and boiling, and it makes him feel as though he has a fever. It is irritating and has him itching for a fight. He is unsurprised to see no signs of civilization in the old castle, but he gestures his men forward cautiously anyway, not wanting them to be caught out by any unseen assailants.

“All right, it appears to be deserted, as I had expected. However, we must be cautious. Does anyone have any suggestions?”

Murray suggests they break off, gather reconnaissance, and return to this spot before deciding on the best course. A new recruit suggests going through the main gateway. No one else has any suggestions. John goes with Murray’s idea.

In pairs of two they skirt the outer edges of the castle, and when they reconvene, it is to decide that certainly no one is there, and that they should just go through the main gate. There are no holes or hidden passageways in the outer walls, which seems bazaar for a castle that has supposedly been deserted for quite a while.

The eight of them approach the castle in a cluster, swords raised, prepared for attack from any angle, just in case, but as John had expected none comes. They pass through the gateway, and John notes the portcullis raised above them with its needle-point ends with a suppressed shudder. The gateway opens up onto a courtyard, and John suddenly halts him men as he spots a mahogany carriage, one of its wheels broken off, standing abandoned. It is a perfect hiding spot for a potential assailant. John creeps towards it, Murray close behind him, sword raised, until he stands not three feet away. He listens for any sound of movement, and his heart beats faster to hear a rustling sound. He looks to Murray and nods, before he springs forward and throws the ajar carriage door wide. He is greeted by a rat, the cause of the rustling, apparently, and John draws his sword back to see the interior of the carriage is deserted.

“All clear.” He calls to his men, and they come to join him and Murray, scavenging the carriage to find what they can. It is completely empty.

They carry on their way, covering the area of the courtyard before heading into any of the buildings. After a while John spots a large pile of ash and charred wood. As he steps towards it the smell of burning wood becomes pungent, and he is surprised to see some embers still flickering in the devastation.

“Someone may still be here.” He tells his men. “Stay extra cautious from now on.”

He bends down and pokes at the ashes with his sword, searching for something worth saving that could earn some money back over the border. Fragments of what are possible pages from books, going by the words written on them that John can just make out make up a large amount of the ashes, but then something gold that is certainly not an ember glints at him, and John reaches quickly into the ashes to pick it out.

He rests it on his palm, and at once he can see it is a signet ring. It has barely been affected by the fire, and John can make out the heraldry of the royal Holmes family. Possibly this has been left over from when the castle had last been occupied by the Holmes family’s soldiers and had been accidently thrown into the fire along with the other things burnt. But who had destroyed them, and why?

“What the hell is going on?” John spits. His hackles are raised; what they did then was foolish, and with the absence of any defender against them something about the situation doesn’t seem right.

Murray shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He murmurs. “But it feels almost unnatural.”

John tries to brush off his unease and orders his men to split into pairs and cover as much of the castle as they can. He and Murray will take the great tower.

The large oak door is wide open, and John can just about see, through the half darkness of the chamber beyond it, that there are the remnants of human habitation once again; a table, kitted out with four chairs, stands alone in the room, its top covered with old animal bones and empty and discarded goblets. A fine feast was enjoyed here, but what made the consumers leave?

Two doorways greet them, and John, on the careful side, agrees they should stick together, and they take the first, which leads them up a long spiral staircase.

John is sweating more than he had been earlier once they reach the top, and he pauses to wipe at his forehead before they enter another deserted room. This one is completely dark, the window seemingly boarded up, and Murray steps forward to rip the boards from over it, bathing the room in a wane light.

“What the hell?” John mutters.

A foul stench had greeted them as they reached the top of the stairs, and as they survey the scene before them John can pinpoint it: human suffering, a combination of blood, sweat, and primal fear. Bile rises in his throat, and he pushes it down as he steps forwards to confirm to himself that the dark stains on the straw-covered bed are indeed blood, and that the same stains also mar the floorboards and, most disturbing of all, the walls. To him this seems to have been a prison for someone, and one in which they were treated harshly. What could this person have done? And why choose a deserted castle to punish them? John is beginning to suspect it had been raiders here, and they had with them a captive who they wished to harm. It is not unheard of for people to trade in human flesh, but it still makes John shudder.

“I cannot see there being anything of value here.” John says to Murray, who is as pale-faced as himself, “Let us go.”

John is very nearly tempted not to search through the second door in the chamber, but he reminds himself of Harriett, and his debt, and pushes both himself and Murray onward through the second doorway and this time down a flight of stairs, until they reach at the end what is most certainly a prison.

“Watson, this feels abnormal.” Murray worriedly mutters, but John does not pay him any heed; he will not let Murray’s fear spread and consume him. He has too much at stake.

John steps cautiously through the entryway of this dank dungeon, ears pricking to hear what he might. There is nothing to be heard, though, and John takes cautious steps into the narrow passage. His footsteps reverberate against the walls until the ‘clonk!’ sound seems to be filling his ears to the point of pain. He stops for a moment, and glances behind to see Murray has not followed him, but stands, on the cusp of the passageway, glancing nervously.

“Murray, if you try to pass this off as ‘guarding the door’ I will have you carry all our packs home.” John warns in a low, growling tone of voice.

Murray nods, and immediately comes to join John. His boots echo off the walls, too.

“Let us get this over with.” He spits.

They pass a multitude of cells, all empty except for the occasional rat, and make their way further into the dungeon. They pass down one final flight of stairs until John believes they might reach the centre of the earth, but instead they are greeted by a cavernous space, occupied only by a barred grate in the ground. Strangely, there is a lit torch waiting for them, as if their presence has been expected.

“Surely this is pointless?” Murray asks, shivering in the bitter cold cavern. “What treasures could we find down here?”

“Wait!” John hisses sharply and holds up a finger. He strains his ears into the silence until he can be sure that- yes, he did hear a moan a moment ago!

“Do you hear that?” He whispers to Murray, who leans his head forwards over the grate, listening intently. The sounds comes again.

“Yes!” he whispers back. “Lords, what do you think it is?”

“It sounds almost human…” John mutters, and a terrible feeling that had settled in his chest the moment they entered the castle sends a shiver down his spine. Tentatively, he leans over the grate.

He cannot see anything.

“It is too dark.” He complains. “Bring that torch closer!”

Murray grabs the torch and holds it over the grate. This time, when John peers down, he reels back in surprise. “There’s someone down there!”

“What?!” Murray asks, and he too leans over, face paling in the half-light as he, too, takes in the sight before them.

John is sure it is not a dead body due to the moaning coming from the hole, but it very well could have been, seeing how emaciated and pale it is. They are, he reminds himself.

“Here, we must open this grate!” he says to Murray, bending down and getting his fingers around the bars.

“Wait!” Murray says. “Might there be a reason this person is here? What if-” he hesitates for a moment, “What if they’re a sorcerer, or some kind of demon?”

John sighs. “Murray, do you think a demon would let themselves be captured like this?” Plus, the body looks so small, John could believe they are a child. He feels sick.

Murray still looks hesitant. “I’m just saying that why would someone be imprisoned in a deserted castle, and then be deserted by the captors who put them there?”

“Murray, perhaps their captors fled in a hurry and did not take their prisoner with them because they were not worth their time? It was most likely another band of raiders. Now help me with this grate!”

Murray bites his lip but does concede and drops the torch to help John lift the grate off the cover of the hole. They place it to the side, and Murray picks up the torch again to cast its light over the cavern as John leans down over it. He had been lucky, in his life before he had taken on his sister’s debt, to have been trained in the art of healing. Since then, whenever someone has been injured or ill, he has felt it to be his obligation to help. This time is no exception.

“Hello? Can you hear me?” He calls to the person. They do not reply at all, not even to groan once again.

“I’m going down.” John tells Murray, shucking his bag from his back. “Keep holding that light.”

The drop down is quite substantial, and John dreads to think what injury could be done to a person in the prisoner’s shape if they had been thrown down.

He crouches down not two feet away from the person, the space is so small he has no choice, and clears his throat.

“Hello? Can you hear me?” He repeats. Still nothing. Their back is to him, and John can make out the shadowy shape of their spine and ribs through their skin they are so thin. “Listen, I do not mean you harm. I would like to help you.”

He reaches out and, heart pounding wildly in his chest, touches their shoulder with his palm.

The person reacts violently, twisting on the ground and letting out a growl. “Get away!”

John pulls back, hands held aloft in surrender. “I do not mean harm!”

The person turns to face him, and John is met with a pair of bloodshot, yet extremely unique eyes; John does not think he has seen such a cerulean colour, seemingly ethereal, in a mortal being. They are not, however, focussed on him, but instead on the air next to him. Their head is shaved, with only about an inch of dark, fuzzy growth, and, seeing as they are naked, naked in such a cold place, John can see they are a man.

“Hello? Can you tell your name?” John asks.

The person blinks dazedly and still does not look at him. Their anger from a moment before is seemingly gone, and they look sorrowful. “Victor.” They mutter.

“Victor?” John says. “Is that your name?”

“Victor.” They say again. John, wanting to gauge the situation, and completely thrown by the state of this person left alone in this deserted castle, places a hand to their neck and attempts to take their pulse. The person shouts again and pulls back.

“Victor!” they cry one last time, before their eyes slip into the back of their head.

John leaps forward and catches them before their skull can bash painfully against the ground. He checks their pulse and their eyes. Upon closer inspection, the pupils seem to be dilated past what could be considered natural. John has only ever seen this once before, whilst he had been raiding a tavern that catered in prostitution and drugs, and the dazed look in those ne’er-do-wells’ eyes were the same as in this person’s. Drugs were most certainly a possibility, that could account for their lack of coherence. That, and the obvious dehydration and malnutrition.

“We’ve got to get him out of here.” He calls to Murray, picking up the now limp body by under the arms. With Murray’s help, he is able to lift the person, for now John decides on calling him Victor, out of the hole, and into the cavern above. John follows swiftly, eager to leave this hell-hole, quite literally, himself, easily pulling himself out.

Murray waits, distastefully looking down at the body on the ground. John glares at him, and fumbles around in his bag until he comes away with a spare shirt and breeches, which he hastily clothes Victor in before picking him up, slinging him over his shoulder.

“Watson, you cannot be serious?” Murray says, stooping to carry John’s bag himself. “We have not the resources for another person, and besides, they cannot be of much importance if they have been left here to die!”

“King Charles wanted whatever we could find.” John growls out as he begins to make his exit out of the dungeons. “For all we know, this person could be of extreme importance.” John does not mention his real reason is that somehow, for some reason, he feels the need to help people, whenever he can, and this is one of those moments.

“Not likely.” Murry scoffs.

“You never know.” John says as they continue to travel upwards, out of the dark. “It used to be a popular method of gaining fortune to steal some noble’s son or daughter and hold them for ransom. Being connected to important people is dangerous. Look at what happened in this land a few months ago, to the youngest Holmes Prince. What was his name? Shylock?”

“Sherlock.” Murray says.

“That was it.” John says, started to get a little breathless from carrying the weight of Trevor over his shoulder, even if the man weighs less than a sack of potatoes. “Holy hell. Will we ever reach the light of day?”

Most luckily, they do, and as they step out into the bleak sunlight, John feels as if he can breathe properly again. His men are waiting for them, all empty handed and all looking perplexed at the man John is carrying.

“Heavens is this all we have?” Murray moans. “A ring and a prisoner? We traipsed all the way here for this? King Charles will not be happy.”

“Murray, do detest with this negative attitude.” John orders. “You have searched this place top to bottom? You have found nothing?”

His men shake their heads dejectedly, and John sighs. “Then let us leave. I have to be back in Appledore by early next week, it will take us that long to travel back.”

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, who is that?” One of the younger recruits asks, and he points to Victor.

“We found him in the castle dungeons.” John replies, careful of the words he uses, not wanting to spread fear this man could be any sort of sorcerer or malicious spirit. “He is not dangerous, we believe him to have been captured by another raiding group who might have had to abandon him. Nonetheless, we will treat him well enough. Let us move on.”

John detests this lying, but he does not know these men well enough to trust them, and life as a border raider can attract all sorts; he has learnt to be rough and to lie when it is most convenient. He hates it, but he must.

He has to survive. And now, it seems, he also has to help this man survive, too.                                                                                               


 

Mycroft looks up as the door to his chamber bursts open, ready to berate the person, but he instantly freezes when he sees it is Gregory, sweaty and pale-faced, looking extremely anxious.

“Gregory?” He asks, standing up and coming forward as Gregory has the sense to close the door behind him.

“He’s gone.” Gregory says. “He wasn’t there, he never was there, no one was even aware he was supposed to be there.”

“Damn it!” Mycroft says, and he bangs his fist against the oak table. “This has to be him, Gregory, this has to be Moriarty!”

Gregory hesitates, running a hand through his messy hair before speaking. “Will you inform your father, the King?”

Mycroft bites at his thumb nail, something he only does when he is worrying. “I am not sure. I would not like to risk it when Moriarty is so close in his confidence, and father will not listen to reason now, he will only listen to him. No, I would not like to risk what Moriarty might do to prevent us in anyway finding Sherlock, if, as we believe, it was Moriarty who instrumented this in the first place.” 

Mycroft sits back down, placing his head in his hands. Gregory comes forward and sits in the chair next to his. “Mycroft, please, do no beat yourself up about this, you have been doing all you can to prevent Moriarty from getting so close to your father!”

“But it was not enough,” Mycroft says, running his hands through his hair. “It is too dangerous for my family to confront Moriarty: he is of noble birth and has built up a large amount of respect from the other nobles, so much so that if I were to claim he has done terrible things, when he is serving my father so diligently” Mycroft lip curls, “my status as a royal prince will not protect me from the uproar. My father would be furious. No, we must not tell him. We must try to do what we can to find Sherlock.”

Gregory nods, but he looks unsure. “How are we to do that?”

Mycroft puts his head back in his hands. “I have no idea. But we must try, for Sherlock’s sake. Lords only knows what has been done to him in Moriarty’s man’s hands. I just hope his stubborn attitude has been enough to keep him alive.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock feels as if he is moving. He cannot be sure if he is or not. Perhaps it is the drugs, making him feel otherworldly, but he is almost sure that someone had released him from the oubliette and he is, for the first time in months, outside.

He feels extremely dizzy, as if he is swaying, and the world is upside down. There is a terrible pain in his side. He does not have the strength to open his eyes, but he can smell leather. The scent seems to fill his nostrils. The body scent underneath it is unknown to him, and Sherlock wonders if Moran has brought in new guards. He wonders if Victor is still here, he had been when Sherlock last opened his eyes. He thinks he heard a voice somewhere, but he is not sure. The swaying continues, and Sherlock lets it carry him into sleep.

                                                                                       


 

John is sure his back is going to give in. They have been walking for hours, and the night is drawing in, yet John wants to make it back to a safer place in a wooded area before they stop, but the body over his shoulder is slowing his pace and his muscles have started to scream.

His men keep shooting him strange looks, as if they do not trust that the incredibly weakened man over his shoulder will not simply jump up and start attacking them. Murray has tried to convince John they should simply just leave the man behind on more than one occasion, but John will not listen.

‘Victor’, as John is calling him, has yet to stir, and John is more than a little concerned. He is equally as eager to find a safe place to stop so he may examine Victor as he is to spare his back.

Finally, after what must have been another hour, they reach the wooded area and the dip in which they had slept the night previous. John hastens his men into the hidden alcove and then all shed their bags with relief, throwing them to the ground.

“Murray, fetch my blanket from my bag.” John orders. “And any spares that you men have!” he orders to his men; the temperature is dropping as night draws in, and John is extremely concerned about Victor succumbing to hypothermia.

Murray brings John his blanket as he lays ‘Victor’ down on the ground, settling the material around his body. Only a couple of the men bring him extra blankets, and John shoots glares at all of them as they stand and just watch John attempt to keep ‘Victor’ warn. “What are you doing? Get a fire lit and get me more blankets, that’s an order!” He demands.

The men continue to stand there, and John reminds himself that these men owe no loyalty to him, not like his usual raiding group, and therefore are less likely to obey his orders. He will do what he must then. “Do not think I don’t know why you are here, with me, in this wasted land. King Charles knows exactly what you have done to disobey him, and as a commander of his raiding groups I am informed, too, of your misdeeds. What do you think might happen if I am to report back to his deputies and him that you disobeyed me and have not proved yourselves worthy enough for his forgiveness?” The men look suitably contrite. “Now, light a fire and give me more blankets!”

“I say we should just kill him! Put him out of his misery! It’s what should have been done in the first place!” One of the younger recruit cries, obviously running on exhaustion and adrenaline. “What use can he be to the King? He is small and weak, and he has a strange beauty to him that makes me think he might be a prostitute!”

The other men grumble their agreement, and one of them even goes to reach for their sword, but John pulls his own first and glares the men down. “Do not think of it! You do not know this man! For all you know, he could be a noble lord’s son, and as such might be of benefit for King Charles. What will he say if we report that we did have a valuable prisoner, specifically from the location he ordered we searched, but we killed him? We must keep this man alive and bring him to Charles, and if any one of you thinks of harming him further do not think I will feed you to the dogs back at Appledore!”

The men look sheepish now, and the man who had reached for his sword now slides it back into his scabbard.

“Should we not prevent him from getting away, though?” the same soldier who had called for death now says, “Tie his hands, perhaps?”

“You think he will be going anywhere in this state?” John spits. “There shall be an around the clock guard on him as we rest, but nothing else.”

John turns and pays no more attention to the men, and eventually they settle down and begin with their errands. Another five blankets are added to the pile.

John pulls back the blanket he had already laid over ‘Victor’. He needs to examine the man, check there are no life-threatening injuries. “I am sorry to do this.” He says to the man beneath him, unsure of whether they are aware or not.

John begins to palpitate the man’s limbs, checking for broken bones; there are none except for a couple of broken ribs which John will need to bind

“Murray, how much water do we have?” John asks without looking up from his examination. He can feel the man’s presence hovering behind him.

“Not much, I don’t think.” Murray replies.

“Then find the nearest clean water source and replenish our bottles. He is severely dehydrated. We found that river on our journey here no far from here.”

Murray nods and heads off. John continues to check for any infection; the wounds Victor has look nasty, and John will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure infection doesn’t sprout. He reaches into his pack and fetches his honey pot, slavering the fluid over the wound. ‘Victor’ shivers at the feel of it, but that is his only response.

Multiple bruises mar extremely pale skin, and John dreads to think what might have catalysed the extremely sensitive and sore-looking patch on his abdomen. John can see faded scars all over his body from where abuses have obviously been done, and, despite not knowing the first thing about this person, a twinge of sympathy stirs in his chest.

The malady that most concerns John is the drugs; ‘Victor’ has obviously been giving them sort of concoction during his imprisonment and John does not know for how long and in what doses; he will have to keep an eye out for the withdrawal that will surely come if ‘Victor’ has become, in any way, dependant on them. The situation is not good, but John’s situation for the past year and a half has not been ‘good’, and so he reckons he hasn’t got much left to lose.


 

“Your Majesty?” James crept forwards to the king, who sits, dazedly, in his high-backed chair by the fire in his grand chambers. “Your Majesty?” James calls again, the picture of worried innocence.

The King jumps and looks up to James, blinking as he takes in his surroundings. “Ah, James. When did you appear?”

“Just now, My Lord.” James says, standing in front of the King. “I did indeed knock.”
The King nods, still looking unsure, but by now he trusts James with his life. “Yes, of course. Please, sit. Have you something to tell me?”

James sits in a similar high back chair and nods, wringing his hands together, giving off the picture of nervousness. “Yes, Sire, I do, and I am afraid it is quite displeasing news.”

The King’s eyes grow cold. “Speak it.”

“It seems that your son, Prince Mycroft, sent out the Captain of the Guard, Gregory Lestrade, to seek out your brother, after you had most specifically said Prince Sherlock was not to be visited. The man returned not even an hour ago.”

“WHAT?” the King roars, jumping from his chair. It is a shame, though, that his strength is so weakened, and he simply slumps back down into the chair, wheezing for breath. James leaps forwards and pours a goblet of wine, passing it to the king, who takes it and downs it in one. “How could my eldest betray me like that?”

“I believe it is because Mycroft is worried for his brother, My Lord.” James says, leaning into the king’s ear. “He has shown a weakness he should not have and has gone against your will.”

“I always thought Sherlock the foolish one,” the King mutters. There is a drip of wine making its way down his grey, and now shaggy, beard, staining it red. “but it seems both my sons have barely any sense in them.”

James nods, but, as always, is careful what he says. This is going brilliantly!

“Mycroft shall have to be dealt with,” the older man mutters, eyes gazing at the ground, seemingly seeing nothing. “As will Lestrade.”
“Who knows what damage they might have done to our relations with Lord Hooper.” James says, looking at the king from under his brow. “I have a suggestion to make.”

The King waves his hand to tell James to proceed.

“We have been hearing, of course, of trouble beyond the border. King Charles seems to be forming some sort of army, and it cannot be known whether this might pose a threat to us.” James pauses for a moment to see whether the King has taken his words in. When the King nods, he continues. “I believe it might be best to bring forward Sherlock’s marriage to Lady Molly. However, you know of course that for the wedding to go ahead does not require both the bride and the groom to be present. Perhaps I could go to Lord Hooper’s country home, it is near Langley, and ensure that the Lord is placated by my visit on behalf of your family and marry Sherlock to the Lord’s daughter with a substitute in place. The marriage would still be valid, and we could gain the assets of the dowry that we may need to build up our own defences, if King Charles does attack?”

The King had lost interest halfway through the matter, James can see, and yet he knows the King will agree to what he has said; Janine has made sure of that. Having a sister who possesses the powers of sorcery is ever so useful for turning someone to your will.

“My Lord?” James presses after a while.

“Hmmm? Yes, yes, James. That is a most excellent idea. See to it as quickly as you can.”

James nods. “Would you also like me to deal with Mycroft and Lestrade?”

The King shakes his head. “No. I shall confront my son myself.”

“And Lestrade?”

The King curls his lip. “He has gone against me, after all these years of service. He shall face execution.”

James cannot hold back the smile that grows on his face. Luckily, the King is too far gone in his thoughts to notice. “Very good, My Lord. I shall have the death warrant draw up immediately.”

James bows, and backs out of the room, never turning his back to the king, never being disrespectful. Really, it is to watch as the king straightens, and with cold eyes his hands turn to fists.

James would not want to be Mycroft at this moment. Not if he were to face the wrath James has instrumented. This is truly excellent.

                                                                                          


 

“Sister? You are sure you are prepared?” James asks, almost agitated, and Janine sighs as she helps him pack up his clothes.

“Yes, I am sure. I mastered the spells at the age of twelve, James.”

“I do not like having to leave the citadel, but it is necessary to get Hooper on side.” James says.

“Everything here will be under my control. I shall see to it that the king becomes bedridden. Upon your signal I will unleash the curse upon Sherrinford.”

James smiles, and admires his sister. “You really are something, Janine.”

Janine gives him a sideways looks and smirks. “I will send my magpie out to you by tomorrow evening, to see if you will have reached Hooper by that time as you say you will.”

Janine refers to her magpie, a large and imposing bird that she passes off as a pet, a symbol of her family, but really carries messages to-and-fro between themselves and the allies they have collected, ordering them to gather troops and so on. 

James nods. “And I shall have the answer we crave; that Hooper will turn on the Holmes’ and give his support to us.”

“And then you will return to me?” Janine asks, and she cannot help but look a bit anxious; she has a large responsibility once James has left, and the submission of the citadel is crucial to her role.

“Then I will return.” James affirms. He slides a dagger into his boot. “Moran is north with Charlie, and soon he too will be heading this way, until the Holmes’ and their kingdom will have no choice but to surrender to us.”

Janine smiles. James’ words work almost as well as her enchantments in turning a person’s will to comply with their own, and she feels instantly reassured by her brother’s assuredness. “Then, you must leave.” She closes the lid on her brother’s chest, ready for travel. “And bring back with you an army.”

                                                                                          


 

“Mycroft!” the King roars as he storms into Mycroft’s chambers. “What is the meaning of your actions!”

Mycroft startles from his thoughts, and hastily bows to the King. “Your Majesty, I am not sure of what you are referring to.”

“I am referring to what James has just told me, that you sent Lestrade to visit Sherlock against my will, when you knew it was a specific part of his punishment not to be visited by a familiar face.” The King spits.

“My Lord, I only did it as Lestrade came to me saying you had said he was permitted to visit after one month, and yet you never gave him the permission. The man was only unsure whether to follow your orders, and as you have been so preoccupied with the troubles in the north, I thought it best to order the man myself.” The lie falls smoothly from Mycroft’s lips, but he can only hope the King will actually believe him.

“This is not good enough, Mycroft.” The King roars. “This disrespect is why I believe you to have no place on my royal council. You are henceforth removed.”

Mycroft pales visibly. If Mycroft is not on the council he has no way of knowing what Moriarty might be doing. “My Lord, father, please, no-”

“ENOUGH!” the King screams. His eyes are wild, and as they stare deeply into Mycroft’s the younger man feels a primal fear building in him. His father looks insane! “You are removed from my council, and you are also on house arrest. You shall not leave this room until I say so!”

Mycroft swallows heavily. “Father, please, I beg you-”

“Gregory Lestrade shall face the chopping block for his disobedience.” The King states coldly, turned away from Mycroft.

Mycroft can feel his face pale until he is sure he is deathly white. This cannot be! “Father, you cannot! Gregory did nothing to permit execution! He was following my orders! Punish me instead.”

His father glares at him, and Mycroft if sure he cannot see anything of his former father in those eyes. Moriarty truly has got to him, and Mycroft is too late to stop him. “You are being punished, Mycroft. Gregory’s execution is simply part of that.”

The King turns on the spot and begins to stride out of the room, but Mycroft manages to galvanise himself enough through the shock to desperately shout, “Father, you need to know, Sherlock is not at Langley! Moriarty has taken him somewhere and is most likely trying to use him against you! For all we know Sherlock might be dead! We cannot trust Moriarty.”

His father rounds on him with a strength he has not possessed for weeks, and slaps Mycroft hard on the right cheek. Mycroft fall back as the smarting pain begins, and as he puts his palm up to sooth it, he can feel a trickle of blood against his hand from where one of the King’s rings has struck him.

“Do not speak about James Moriarty in that way!” The King roars. “He is more of a son to me than you have ever been! And that little shit you call your brother has never known my love!”

Mycroft exhales shakily. He is putting his life on the line. “Father, this is not you. Please, Moriarty and his sister are bewitching you somehow!”

The King hits him again, and this time Mycroft’s head hits the floor hard and white streaks of light flash before his eyes. He squints and cannot help the small moan that slips from his lips.

“You are pathetic.” The King says, and spits at Mycroft. This time, when he turns to leave, Mycroft doesn’t call him back, knowing the father he has loved for twenty-seven years is gone.

                                                                                     


 

John is trying to make his way through a very dubious rabbit and onion stew when ‘Victor’ begins to stir. He immediately discards his bowl and crouches down on ‘Victor’s’ level. Murray, who just so happens to be on watch at that time, also perks up.

“Victor? Can you hear me?” John asks.

The man just groans and his face scrunches up in pain. His lip has been split and a bruise mars his left cheekbone; scrunching up his face like that must smart them. John calls his name again, and this time the man cracks his eyes open and looks up at the wooded canopy above him. John is, again, perplexed by those eyes, and he tries his best to catch them as they blink around their environment.

“Hello? Listen, my name is John Watson, and-” John breaks off as the man suddenly startles upright, searching around him desperately. He grabs a stick from the forest floor and holds it out in front of him like a weapon. His eyes are wild and scared, but the pupil has shrunken to its normal size and he is no longer under the influence. This is a response borne of fear and disorientation.

“It’s alright, be calm.” John reassures, holding his hands up to demonstrate he is not armed. ‘Trevor’ breathes heavily, eyes lidded with pain. “My name is John Watson. We have left Blackmoor, your prison, behind.”

‘Trevor’ looks around wildly, stick still brought out in front of him for protection. His arms are shaking from holding it up. John wishes he would just drop it and let himself rest.

“And to what prison are you now taking me?” the man spits, voice rough.

“Please, do not think me your jailor.” John says. “I am taking you to King Charles of Appledore. I have my own debt to fulfil. But please, know I will not harm you.”

“King Charles?” The man asks, and John notes the shadow that has fallen over his eyes.

“Yes. Have you heard of him?”

The man nods. Those eyes flick to him and back, distrustful. “Where is Moran?”

John frowns. “Sorry, who?”

“Moran.” ‘Victor’ repeats. “Where. Is. He?”

“Look, I don’t know a Moran.” John explains, suspicion growing that perhaps this Moran was the one to harm ‘Victor’. “I work for King Charles as a border raider. I was sent to Blackmoor to bring back any treasures I may find.” John fumbles in his pocket for the ring he had found in the fire. “The only thing there were you, and this ring.” He holds the ring out on his palm, and ‘Victor’s’ eyes squint as he makes it out in the dusky night. John can see the man recognises it, but he says nothing. “Listen,” he says, putting the ring back in his pocket. “do you know who it was who imprisoned you there?”

‘Victor’ looks wary and shakes his head. His eyes seem to be glazing over as he loses himself in his thoughts. John bites his lip. “Victor?” he asks. The man’s head shoots up and his eyes are wide, like an owl’s.

“Where did you hear that name?”

“Sorry, I-” John stops to lick his lips. “You were saying it, when I first found you. I assumed it was your name. Is it?”

‘Victor’ shakes his head.

“Ah, then what is your name?”

The man pauses, the arm holding the stick lowering a fraction. “William.”

“William….?” John pushes, seeking a surname.

“Just William.” The man says sharply.

John realises he won’t get anything more from the man. He does not blame him for being wary. “Alright, William then. Well, as I said, my name’s John Watson. Me and my men will be bringing you to King Charles at Appledore, where he will do with you as he sees fit.” John attempts to keep calm and detached, but the obvious fear in the man’s eyes makes a twinge of sympathy thrum in his chest. “Tell me, are you from this land, or from over the border, like myself?”

The man glances at him then looks away. He begins to poke at the ground with his stick, and John hopes that reads as William’s no longer seeing John as a threat, putting down his guard. “I am from these lands.” He says, and that is all. John does not push him, although he does feel another twinge of sympathy as he realises that the fate the man will face in Appledore will not, in any case, be a good one.

“Then I apologise for taking you from them. Although, it does seem you were not faring well here anyway.” John attempts humour.

The man swallows, and John watches the movement of his Adam’s apple. He looks, in that moment, so incredibly young, that John cannot help but blurt out, “How old are you?”

The man’s eyes thin. “…. I don’t know.”

“Me neither.” John says. He reckons he is somewhere in his late twenties, and that William is a fraction younger than that, but that is purely sceptical. “It hardly matters. Look, I have addressed your wounds the best I could, you have a couple of broken ribs which I’ve bound so we’ll need to make sure they heal nicely.” John pauses as he realises his stupidity. “I’m sorry I had to carry you over my shoulder. It must have pained you.”

William shrugs, and in that moment looks extremely tired, as if he is used to pain, which he probably. John wants to give him a comforting pat on the shoulder. He doesn’t, though; the man looks wary enough.

“The thing I am most worried about, though, is the drugs they gave you.” John continues. William takes in a shaky breath and his finger slip on the stick and it falls to the ground. He brings his now vacant hands around his knees, folding up small. “Do you have any idea what they were?”

William shakes his head.

“Did they give it to you regularly?”

William nods.

“Okay,” John says, “we will have to look out for withdrawal. I’m sorry, it seems likely.”

William shrugs again, and John finds his apathetic attitude more than a little concerning.

“For now,” John says, standing back up and, rather intentionally, taking the stick William had picked up and throwing it onto the fire, “You need to rest. We set out again at dawn. I’m sorry to say this, but you are under armed guard, so I wouldn’t attempt escape.” John shrugs apologetically, and he is about to turn away when William speaks.

“Why do you care about me? You’re just here paying off your sister’s mistake. You may be a healer, but certainly you are used to this hardened lifestyle after over a year. My fate shouldn’t be of your concern, your sister’s and your own are what you should care about.”

John turns, absolutely gobsmacked. He glances over to Murray, who is sat bolt-upright and looks terrified.

William startles, as if he is expecting something, and puts his arms around his head.

“That was….” John says with a shake of his head. He can feel his lips breaking out into a smile. “…. Amazing!”

William’s head pops up, his eyebrows raised. “What?”

“I said that was amazing.” John says, coming forwards. “How did you know all that?”

“John, don’t!” Murray says, coming forwards, sword raised and pointed at William, who immediately takes cover under his arms again. “That sounded a lot, to me, like sorcery.”

“Nonsense.” John says. “Let him explain.”
He turns back to William, who looks unsure but begins to mutter out an explanation. “You already told me you’re paying off a debt. I can tell you are a healer from your above average knowledge of the human body and its maladies. The simple raider wouldn’t know about drug withdrawal. As for this being your sister’s debt, I can see on your finger a signet ring which possesses the arms of your former master to whom you were an apprentice in healing. It is good quality, silver, I believe, and as such I find it hard to believe you did anything that would lead to you having to leave your master to become a border raider, because if you had then I am sure he would’ve demanded the ring back. Now I see around your wrist a handkerchief, of rather fine quality material, in which are sewn the letters HW. I can tell by this was sewn over two different occasions: the first was used with a finer needle, one meant for embroidery, the thread is fine and neat; the second, however, was done much later, using a different needle, one not intended for embroidery, possibly from your healing kit, meant for sewing shut wounds? Moving on, the embroidery is so fine this must have been done by the smaller, female hand, instead of a man’s hand. I know it is no wife, as you bear no wedding ring. A favoured lady? No, your current occupation would make it hard to sustain such a favour. The W suggests the same surname as your own, Watson. Therefore, as this is a lady’s hand, and it is not your wife, then it is your sister, with a name beginning with the letter H. As for this being her debt you’re paying off, she must have got herself into trouble with her drinking problems. She cares for you, but the alcohol was too tempting, but she was determined to finish your handkerchief, and as such grabbed the first needle she could see and, with shaky hands, finished it off. Such talent in embroidery cannot have so suddenly changed unless she was sick or inebriated. She cannot be sick, as you would not have left her. I can tell from the wear of the handkerchief it is about two years old. A little less. You said you’ve been a raider for a year and a half, as such I believe you are hear because you are paying off a debt for your drunk sister. Am I wrong?”

John just stands there, shaking his head in amazement. “That…. that…. yes, yes that was all correct!” he manages to stutter out. “How did you do that?”

William shrugs, “I’ve always been able to.”

“Sorcerer.” Murray mutters under his breath, but both John and William hear, and William instantly flinches.

“Shut it, Murray.” John commands. He turns back to William. “Her name is Harriett. And yes, she does have a drinking problem which I am now paying for. And I care because otherwise, in all this misery, I think I wouldn’t see the point in anything. Now, please get some rest.”

As John turns his back on William and walks away he realises that William knew things that no simple peasant would know, about healing, and the quality of materials, and the composition of metals. The questions and mystery that shrouded the man just kept getting bigger.

It seems this William is not as simple as first meets the eye.

Chapter Text

Sherlock cannot figure this man out. This John Watson. Not once, through Sherlock’s deduction, did any sign of hate or disgust cross his face. He had called it ‘amazing’. And he had helped Sherlock, tended to his injuries instead of leaving them to fester. Sherlock can only guess that this man is too kind for his own good; his time in captivity has made him bitter beyond belief.

It is as if he is looking at the world in black and white. Everything seems devoid of colour. He still thinks he can see Victor out of the corner of his eye as he lays on the forest floor, the beginnings of dawn coming through the dappled canopy. He can barely think where they are, or where they are going, or who he even is. He does not feel like Prince Sherlock Holmes in this moment. He does not think he will ever be that person again. And he does not think he can bring himself to care.

Sherlock wonders if, had he been his former self, whether he would have trusted John Watson instantly and fallen into his arms, but time and experience have taught him that no one is as simple and transparent as they seem. And yet, Sherlock cannot deduce anything more about John Watson that could hint the man has any malicious bone in his body. He is toughened and made haggard by his time as a raider, but Sherlock can see it has not broken his resolve.

Sherlock desperately wishes he could trust John Watson, but he does not even trust himself right now, and he is adrift.

He closes his eyes as a wave of pain and cold washes over him. He feels sweaty and itchy, as if bugs and insects are running all over his body. He runs a hand through his sparse head of hair, and embarrassingly, he feels a lump form in his throat as he feels the absence of his curls.

Maybe part of him was hoping this is all a dream, and the physical reality of the situation is what sends him over the edge. Maybe none of this ever happened. Maybe Victor never died. Maybe….

Sherlock senses someone next to his head, and he cracks his eyes open to see-

Victor!

“Victor!” He calls, but his voice is no more than a rasp.  

“Sherlock!” Victor says, smiling. He looks as perfect as he had before, at Holmes Palace, when there had been no pain or sorrow and no one had known that they were in love and decided to tear them apart. “Sherlock, come on!” Victor is crouched by him, holding out a hand for Sherlock to take hold of.

“Where-where are we going?” Sherlock says, trying to scramble to his hands and knees. He feels feverish, his limbs heavy.

“We’re getting away from them. From everyone. Going somewhere where we can just be!”

Sherlock attempts to smile but the wounds on his face protest. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted!”

“Then let’s go!” Victor says, smiling widely.

Sherlock goes to reach for his hand but Victor is already a few feet away, beckoning Sherlock forward.

Sherlock peers around. The guard over him has grown slack as the man currently on duty leans slumped against the nearest tree, asleep. Everyone, including John seems to be asleep. Sherlock cannot bring himself to check; he supposes he doesn’t really care if he is caught, but for the first time in months he has the ability to go anywhere, and if that means he can try, then he will damn well try.

Sherlock pulls himself up onto his hands and knees, breathing heavily. The blankets fall away, and suddenly he is exposed to the frigid morning air. His body tenses, but Sherlock clenches his teeth and pushes through the pain and drags himself to his feet.

He instantly falls back down again.

At Blackmoor, and in the oubliette in particular, there had not been much room to move about, let alone walk, and Sherlock spent most of his time tied up anyway. Therefore, had he been more coherent, he would have accounted for the atrophy of his muscles and the weakness of his limbs.

“Sherlock, come on!”

Sherlock groans, and attempts to push himself back up again. Eventually he makes it to his feet, and stumbles as he takes the first few steps but does not fall. Good start. The good start does not continue, however, and soon Sherlock finds himself stumbling and falling again, jarring his wounds as he hits the ground.

He cannot hold back the cry of pain that leaves his mouth, and he scrunches his eyes shut and clenches his hands into fists to gain some bearing.

Lords, what has he become? What would Mycroft say if he saw him now? What would Gregory? What would his mother? What would Lady Hudson? Did his father intend for this to be Sherlock’s fate? Would he be pleased to see him brought so low?

Sherlock does not know, but he feels as if he is being abused all over again, and he wills himself not to think of familiar faces, kind and hateful alike.

Sherlock wonders why Victor is not helping him, and he begins to berate him, but when he looks up Victor is gone. He peers around, heart in his throat.

“Victor!” He screams. “Victor!”

Suddenly there is the feeling of a cold blade against the back of his neck, and Sherlock instantly tenses.

“What do you think you’re doing?” A voice says. “Trying to escape?”

Sherlock attempts to turn, but the sword presses further into his skin.

“Stay where you are.” The voice says.

“Do I look like I’m going anywhere?” Sherlock spits, unable to keep his frustration back, but he berates himself instantly; he knows what happens when he back chats, why do it now?

The consequence comes instantly as the blade is pressed even deeper until there is a burst of pain and the feel of hot liquid travelling down his neck. Just like Blackmoor, then, he is to be punished with physical violence.

“Be quiet!” the man shouts.

“What the hell is going on?!” A voice from further away shouts, and Sherlock can identify it instantly as John’s.

“The prisoner was attempting to escape.” The man with the sword to Sherlock’s neck says. “I managed to stop him.”

“Remove that sword at once!” John commands, his voice much louder, and Sherlock figures he has reached the other raider.

The sword is drawn away, and Sherlock collapses back to the ground with relief. Blood trickles round the side of his neck, behind his ear, until he can taste it in his mouth, the iron in it tangy and repulsive.

“It was not necessary for you to use a weapon.” John berates the man. “Can you not see this man is injured? You could have simply stopped him with a hand to the arm, not a weapon to the neck, you imbecile!”

Sherlock struggles to turn around, onto his front, but eventually he manages it. John stands, frowning so he looks like one of the falcons Mycroft had liked to train, and glaring down the younger raider, who still holds his sword, down.

“But if he could make it away from camp like that, who knows what else he could do? Suppose he is faking some of this weakness, and before we know it he has stolen a sword and slit our throats?” the man hisses.

“Idiot, he has barely got far!” John says. Sherlock blinks heavily against the pale and bleak light of the sky framing John’s figure. “He does not have the strength to lift a weapon!”

Sherlock turns his head to the side as he hears the rustle of more footsteps against the ground; the rest of the group, or so he guesses, have now joined the conversation and seem to be looking down on him in disgust.

“He is a prisoner, I say he should be restrained as a prisoner should be!” One man shouts out, and the raider with the sword looks to John with raised eyebrows.

“Nonsense!” John says, but the other men all look to be agreeable with the other man. John looks to Sherlock, extremely exasperated, and the moment their eyes meet Sherlock can see the guilt in John’s eyes.

“Let them.” Sherlock says, “I do not care.”

And it is true, he honestly doesn’t; they could not do anything to him now that would disgrace him further. He is already rock bottom, they cannot dig further.

Soon, the men have some rope, but John snatches it away. “I will do it. You lot can pack up camp without breakfast.”

John crouches in front of Sherlock as the men shuffle away, satisfied. “I’m sorry about this, William.” He mutters. Ah yes, William. Sherlock has forgotten he used his actual first name as an alias. John helps Sherlock to sit up. “I really am. These men hold no loyalty to me, they will not listen to my orders well.”

Sherlock shrugs, and holds out his wrists as John begins to tie them together. He catches John’s eye as the man gently winds the rope around his wrists, and he feels an old, familiar warmth in his chest as he sees how sorry and caring they are. But no, Sherlock reminds himself, he cannot let that grow, he has to extinguish the flame now. There is nothing good in the world.

He looks away as John finishes the job; his wrists are tied together so as to limit his range of movement, but the rope is not tight. Sherlock supposes it will give the men the reassurance they need that Sherlock will not kill them in their sleep. If only they could understand that he does not care.

“There,” John says, pulling back a bit, but as he does so his hands lingers over Sherlock’s, and he gives them a tentative squeeze. Sherlock looks up and meets John’s eyes. For a moment, he lets them rest there, as he reads the sincerity in John’s eyes. Sherlock is sure someone could drown in those eyes, they are as deep and blue as the ocean. Suddenly, Sherlock wants to be that person. John smiles at him.

Sherlock startles and looks down. Idiot! What had he been thinking? He cannot repeat the same mistakes he has made before! And he certainly cannot betray Victor like that, not after all Sherlock had made him go through. Sherlock feels the same crippling doubt and hatred Moran had instilled in him at Blackmoor, and he fights against a rising nausea.

“Hey, you alright?” John asks.

Sherlock licks his lips and lies. “My ribs.”

“Ah,” John says. “Let me have a look.”

Sherlock sits there and lets John examine him, wondering just what, exactly, his life has become.                                                                         


 

Mycroft has not stopped attempting to escape his room.

He has to get to Gregory. He must. He needs to save the man because it is his fault he is facing the chopping block. Every time he plans some mode of escape, the guards outside his door prevent him from going anywhere. He has even considered climbing out of the window, but, seeing as his room stands on the third floor, he has concluded that is most likely not the best course of action, as he doesn’t much desire having his skull smashed against the cobbles of the courtyard down below.

Now, when Mycroft peers out of the window, he can see the execution platform being assembled, and he wonders if Sherlock had felt the same deeply nauseating feeling Mycroft feels in his stomach as he had imagined Victor Trevor’s execution on that same platform. For Sherlock, that fate had become a reality, and now the poor boy is lost who-knows where, possibly dead himself.

Mycroft bites his lip and paces his room, restless. Night is approaching, and the next morning Gregory will meet his maker. Mycroft could see his father was not quite there, in the eyes, as if he were possessed by something unnatural, when he had beaten Mycroft to the floor. Mycroft does not blame him at all, for any of this. No, he blames James and Janine Moriarty; he knows it is them behind this, who else could it be? And now, with his father seemingly under their control, Mycroft had been subconsciously sure they were using magic from the start, and Mycroft trapped, who knows what Moriarty is doing!

Mycroft startles and grabs his dagger from his table as there is a cluttering sound somewhere in his room. He stalks around the room as he hears it again, dagger at the ready, the image of Moriarty springing to his mind, when suddenly, from behind the large tapestry that hangs from one wall rolls out a body, which then jumps from the floor into a standing position, chest heaving and cheeks red with exertion. It is Gregory Lestrade.

“Gregory!” Mycroft cries, chucking his dagger to one side as he grasps the others man’s upper arms in his hands, disbelieving of what he is seeing. “How on earth did you get here?”

“There’s secret passageways dotted all over the castle.” Gregory explains between heaving breaths. “Hardly any one knows about them. I stumbled across them, once, when I was deputy captain of the guard, and then secured the plans of the castle and there they were. I managed to get out of my cell by convincing the guards down there to move me to a different cell where I knew there was passageways. They didn’t have the guts to disrespect their former superior. They’ll notice I’m gone soon enough, and the alarm will be raised, but I had to see you.”

Mycroft feels his cheeks redden as Gregory’s eyes meet his, and the close connection they have always had, ever since Gregory was promoted from the ranks to deputy captain of the guard and had spent and increasing amount of time with the royal princes, spark between them as if it is a lightning bolt.

“Gregory, I am terribly sorry.” Mycroft says, “I shouldn’t have put you in that position. This shouldn’t be happening to you!”

“Shush.” Gregory replies. “I wanted to make sure Sherlock was safe as much as you did. Neither of us is to blame for this.”

“James Moriarty is.” Mycroft urges. “My father is under his control, somehow, I suspect sorcery.”

Greg reels back. “Are you sure?”

Mycroft hesitates. “Mostly. I have never seen it myself, but from the books I have studied, the way my father’s eyes looked…. dead and empty, yet possessed with some kind of malice, it seemed so out of nature.”

Gregory sucks in a sharp breath. Suddenly from outside the clanging of bells can be heard: the alarm. Gregory looks from the window and back to Mycroft. “I do not want to leave you here, with that snake and his sister! Who knows what they might do to you!”

Mycroft shakes his head. “Do not worry about me. Please, just get out of here with your life! Here-”

Mycroft crosses over to the chest that rests at the end of his bed. He flips open the lid and pulls out some spare clothing he keeps in there, along with a leather bag into which he stuffs the shirts and trousers. Then Mycroft crosses to his cabinet, which stands adjacent to his grand four-poster bed, and pulls out a heavy, satin cloak he had been gifted by his mother for his last birthday. It is a deep maroon colour and has a hood that will conceal the person’s identity. Finally, Mycroft also grabs a purse of gold coins that will give Gregory enough to buy food and provisions should he need them.

“Take all this, put this on.” He directs Gregory, throwing him the cloak. Gregory looks down at the fine cloak of material in his hands.

“Mycroft, I cannot take this…”

“You can and you must.” Mycroft says. He closes the bag and passes it to Gregory as soon as the man has, reluctantly, thrown on the cloak. “Take my dagger as well. the rest of my weapons are in the armoury, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sure I can procure a sword from somewhere.” Gregory says, as he slips the dagger into his boot.

Mycroft hands him the bag and suddenly Gregory is ready to go. The men stand there for a few seconds, soaking up each other’s company for what might possibly be the last time. The alarms bells are still ringing overhead.

“Gregory, please find Sherlock.” Mycroft all but begs. “Find Sherlock and bring him to safety, if you can.”

Gregory nods. “I will.”

Mycroft opens his mouth as if to say something, something heavy and laden with a lot of what has already gone unsaid, but instead he leans round and pulls the hood up on the cloak, hiding Gregory’s face. “Go.”

Gregory hesitates for just one moment more before grabbing the bag and leaving the way he came in, the tapestry fluttering against the wall before resting back into place again. Mycroft stands where Gregory had left him, hands clenching with the helplessness of his situation.

Mycroft wondered if his mother felt this same helplessness, and bit his lip, wondering if, somehow, using those passages Gregory had escaped through, he might be able to reach her, too. If James and Janine hadn’t gotten to her first, that is.                                                                                 


 

The Moriartys have not reckoned for Queen Violet Holmes.

They must think her stupid. They must think she is willing to watch as they manipulate the king to their will, doing completely nothing as they build their powerbase to take down the royal family of Holmes. She may have officially retired from the council many years ago, but that does not mean she is complacent.

Siger may not be the most caring and affectionate of husbands, but he has made sure that Sherrinford has become Violet’s home, too, after their arranged marriage. And the thirty years they have had together have been the mutual coolness of two highly intelligent and cerebral people. She regrets that her relationship with her husband has not been warmer, that they have never shared a bed, nor barely spent time together without the presence of other people. It might have made this whole Moriarty business a lot easier to manage.

The King is the centre of everything, and this is something James Moriarty has capitalised on and exploited with the help of his sister, Janine. What he does not realise, though, is that the Queen is also an incredible powerbase; she may not be the supreme monarch, but she can command men and form armies, especially if she believes there to be a threat to the kingdom.

Her men are not stupid, they have realised the King has not been quite well for a time, and as such a threat to the throne from someone wanting to take advantage of this weakness is extremely likely. Thus, they have obeyed her every command; the gates to the city will be fortified at a moment’s notice, and the battlements are fully provisioned with whatever weapons are needed. Most recently, the Queen has been overseeing the stocking up of food and supplies. She may not want to be regent, should that become necessary, which is likely, but she can command from the shelter of pretend ignorance.

Violet crosses to her window, where she watches James Moriarty and an entourage of guards climb upon their horses and set out from the stables. She purses her lips as she considers where the man might be going, at such a late hour, seeing as this is his powerbase. She thinks she might now. It seems James is leaving his sister in charge. Interesting.

Violet wonders if she might be able to get to the King, assess just how ill he really is.

She is about to exit her room when suddenly the bells peel out their call. The alarm has been raised. The Queen crosses to the window again to peer out; nothing looks out of place. One of her ladies in waiting bursts in, ashen face.

“Sorry, your highness.” She quickly curtsies before shutting the door behind her.

“Why is the alarm ringing?” the Queen asks.

“A prisoner has escaped from the dungeon, m’lady.” The woman says. “The king is safe.”

“And Mycroft?” the Queen asks.

The woman hesitates. “I am not sure, m’lady. I apologise.”

The Queen tuts and dismisses the woman, making sure she returns directly to her chamber, which adjoins the Queen’s, so as to give the ladies’ quick access to their mistress.

She peers out of the window again, watching as guards run, weapons poised, across the courtyard to various destinations. She wonders how dangerous this prisoner is supposed to be, seeing as the panic seems paramount. It would be irresponsible to leave her room now, seeing as there is a prisoner on the loose. She grits her teeth in frustration. Half an hour or so must pass before one of the guards outside her door reports to her that they have yet to capture the convict. She wonders where Lestrade is, as Captain of the Guard he should have assured her safety long before now.

Suddenly, from behind her, there comes a scuttling noise, so much like a mouse she almost dismisses it, but then suddenly, from behind the tapestry that hangs on her wall of all places, a head pops out. She startles and reaches for her weapon, before she recognises it as-

“Mycroft!”

“Mother! Thank the lords!” Mycroft cries as she clambers out from behind the tapestry, hair mussed and clothes dirtied by dust in a way that is very unlike the proper son she is used to.

“Mycroft, explain this!” she says, directing her son over to a chair by the fireplace. Mycroft sits and wipes at his brow with his sleeve, taking a few deep breaths before explaining that there are secret passageways in the castle.

“How did you know?”
“Gregory- I mean, Lestrade.” The Queen purses her lips as she notes Mycroft’s use of Lestrade’s first name but does not comment on it. “Lestrade found them. Mother, Lestrade is the prisoner they are chasing.”
“What?” the Queen reels back in surprise.

“I sent him to check on Sherlock without father’s permission. I know I shouldn’t have, but it’s been two months mother! Father was going to punish Gregory with execution, but he’s managed to escape.”
“Execution!” the Queen says. That is a far too heavy sentence for not following the King’s orders. She knows exactly who has instrumented this. She sits down in the chair next to Mycroft’s. “Mycroft, know that your father would never have ordered this had the Moriartys not weakened him and got inside his head.”

Mycroft looks up at his mother, eyes narrowing. “Mother, are you suggesting…. sorcery?”

The Queen nods. “Yes, Mycroft. I am.”

Mycroft breathes out heavily. “I have been thinking the same.”

“I need to see your father.” The Queen says. “Understand what exactly they are doing to him. Mycroft.” The queen puts a hand over her son’s. “I think it might be time soon to implement a regency. James Moriarty has left, and I fear he will return with an army. We must take the advantage whilst he is gone to do what we can. The people must not know how much the family are weakened.”

Mycroft’s face is paler than the Queen has ever seen it, but he nods. She is proud. She has taught her son his duty. “And the sorcery, mother, what shall we do about that?”

“Do not concern yourself with that too much. Just remember what the books say about recognising it.”

Mycroft nods. “I have already. You should have seen father’s eyes, mother, they were dead and yet somehow…. he was possessed.”

The Queen nods at the sombre confirmation of what she has suspected. “I wish we could have just done away with those two snakes the moment they arrived here. If only your father wasn’t so weighed down by his own majesty as sovereign. He always was a stubborn goat. It’s where your brother gets it from.”

The Queen had expected Mycroft to at least smile a little at the light joke she has attempted to make, but instead her eldest bites his lip and, if possible, turns even paler.

“There is another thing, mother. When Lestrade got to Langley Sherlock was not there. He never had been. He’s missing, Mother.”

The Queen closes her eyes as a tsunami of anger and frustration wells up in her. She loves her sons equally, but Sherlock is her youngest, her baby. She has cared for him with all the maternal love she can give. She had fought the King when he had ordered Sherlock to Langley. She should have fought harder. “I should never have let him be taken away from the palace. Away from me.”

“Lestrade is out looking for him.” Mycroft tries to reassure.

“My son.” The Queen whispers, tears welling up in her eyes. They both sit there for a moment, the fire crackling in the fireplace, thinking on wherever Sherlock might be, if he is even alive. “I shall see if we have any men to spare, start the search.” She does not think she has the men to spare, but this is her youngest son she is talking about!

“Perhaps try Donovan and Anderson?” Mycroft suggests. “They accompanied Lestrade to Langley. They already know Sherlock is missing. That way, we wouldn’t need to cause concern among the people should word get around from any of the soldiers.”

“That is an excellent idea.” The Queen says. “I will call them to my chambers. See, and you thought you weren’t ready for the regency.”

Mycroft’s cheeks flush red.

“Wait.” The Queen says suddenly, holding up a finger. “You said there are secret passageways.”

Mycroft nods, looking at his mother expectantly.

“How very fortunate we have stumbled across something the Moriartys have no idea about. We might be able to turn this to our advantage.”
Oh, yes. The Moriartys really have not reckoned for Queen Violet Holmes.                                                                                      


 

James looks up at the gothic mansion in front of him as he jumps from his horse. Lord Hooper’s home is imposing, especially in the hazy dawn light, but James is not scared.

“Lord Moriarty!” Lord Hooper calls as he descends the grand staircase from his equally grand front door to greet James.

“Lord Hooper!” James cries as he jumps from his horse, pulling off a glove to receive Lord Henry Hooper’s hand in a handshake.

“I trust your journey wasn’t too bothersome?”

James shakes his head. “Travelling through the night, it took us barely eight hours.”

“Ah, good time, then.” Lord Hooper nods his head.

Lord Hooper nods, still looking distrustful, but there is a hint of interest in his features as he leads Moriarty into his gothic manor. James must pull this off. He must gain this man’s trust!

 

                                                                                    

Chapter Text

Sherlock stumbles, and stumbles, and stumbles. His legs are like jelly. They have been walking barely an hour, and he is already exhausted. Shivers rack his body, and he still feels as though little insects are crawling over his skin. He needs, he needs….

What does he need?

Sherlock is sure it is the mixture of drugs Moran has fed him over the course of two months. At some point, his body has started to crave its influence, and the effects of being deprived of it are showing. The problem is, out in this wintry wilderness, Sherlock has no way of getting his hands on it. He doesn’t even know what it is exactly that Moran gave him.

Sherlock’s feet, stuffed into borrowed boots, slip against the sodden earth. He has no way of balancing himself, and so, to his humiliation, he falls forwards onto his face, his broken ribs and other wounds singing out as he makes impact with the earth.

“Stop!” John calls to the group, and all the men grind to a halt, most of them sniggering at Sherlock’s predicament.

John, who had been walking alongside Sherlock anyway, quickly leans down. “Are you alright?”

Sherlock doesn’t reply, he cannot bring himself to.  

“Okay, let’s sit you up.” John says, pulling on Sherlock’s shoulders until the other man is eventually in a sitting position. John checks over Sherlock’s ribs, making sure the fall hasn’t caused him more harm, before placing both hands on his shoulders and looking him in the eyes. “You cannot walk, can you?”

Sherlock is immediately attracted to John’s warmth, but he bites his lip and looks away coldly. “Yes, I can.”

Sherlock knows he cannot, well, not easily, anyhow.

“I say we drag him.” One of the raiders says with a snigger.

“Not helpful.” John shoots back.

“I can walk.” Sherlock insists, even though it pains him to think of more walking. His body is screaming at him.

“Are you sure?” John asks.

“Yes.” Sherlock spits.

“Alright,” John concedes, not the slightest put off by Sherlock’s foul attitude.

He helps Sherlock up, and Sherlock grits his teeth to think that they will be doing this all day. And then the day after, and then who-knows how long until they reach Appledore, where Sherlock is sure his fate will not get any better. His legs shake under him and Sherlock can feel sweat dripping down his face. From the exertion or the drug withdrawal, he is not sure, but all he knows is that he has never felt more miserable.                                                                                      


 

Much later, when Sherlock feels as if he might be on the point of passing out, does John call it a day and order they stop in a rocky ravine, protected from the weather and from possible assailants. Sherlock falls to his knees, crawling over to a mossy rock and laying his head on it. He watches as the men start a fire and set out their blankets and rolls for the night. Sherlock shivers against the rock as an aching pain spreads through his legs and his wounds and his head pound. He feels terrible. He wants the drugs. He wants his bed at home. He wants Victor.

No, he cannot think of Victor anymore; if he does, Sherlock thinks that might be his breaking point, and he will simply lie down and never move again. He focusses on the physical pain, trying desperately to ignore it. After a while, he feels the comfort of a blanket thrown over him, and then another.

John voice speaks close to his ear. “I’ve brought you some stew.”

Sherlock clenches his eyes shut for a moment, before he steels himself and spits. “I don’t want it.” He is not sure his stomach could take it; all he wants is the drugs.

“You need it.” John persists.

Sherlock huffs. He cracks open an eye and peers up at John. “I will not keep it down.”

John sighs. “Withdrawal.”

“Yes.”

John sighs again. “Well, I’ll leave it here, and if you can, do try to eat some.”

Sherlock expects John to leave after that, but instead the man sits down beside him and tucks into his own bowl of stew. Sherlock glares at him before closing his eyes again. Why won’t John leave?! Sherlock would have preferred it if he had been like the other raiders and scorned Sherlock. John’s kind heart is making it harder for Sherlock to stay away from him, but he is terrified of the consequences of getting too close; who knows what might happen to either of them should Sherlock show his kinder side. Death, probably. It had come to poor Victor.

Sherlock grits his teeth as the image of the man pops up in his mind. Stop it! Get out!

“Where did you grow up?” John suddenly asks, pulling Sherlock out of his thoughts. He opens his eyes to see John munching away at his stew next to him.

“What?”

“I said, where did you grow up?”

Sherlock pauses for a moment, thinking of a lie. “Near the capital. This small village.” Vague, vague was good. “You could see the palace from the village square, in the distance, the white stone almost pearl-like.”

Sherlock gets caught in his thoughts of home and does not notice as John looks at him wistfully.

“How did you end up in Blackmoor, of all places?”
Sherlock sighs. “I got into trouble with some bad sorts. I had to flee the village. I got caught whilst trying to cross the border and imprisoned in Blackmoor. I don’t know who it was who took me.”

“You said there was someone called Moran?” John asks, a piece of what Sherlock supposes is rabbit falling off of his spoon as he does, slopping into the bowl.

Sherlock flinches as he mentions the name. “Yes. He was the leader. He was……a cruel man.”
John sighs. “Most people out here are.”

Sherlock cannot help himself. “And yet you aren’t.”

John shrugs. “Perhaps it is because I’ve never thought this is all I could be. Only another half a year and I’m free. Then, hopefully, I can get back to being a healer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“And home for you?” Sherlock asks. Secretly, he is desperate to know more about John. “Where is that?”

“Oh, in the walls of the city.” John explains. “The capital of Appledore, aptly named the same as the actual country. It’s just been me and my sister for as long as I can remember. My mother died when she gave birth to my sister; I was only a small child at the time, I don’t remember her very much. My father, well…. he was never really a father. He drank, and go into brawls, and that was all. He was sent to debtor’s prison as I was approaching adulthood, and he died there. I’ve looked after my sister since.”

Sherlock looks over to John. “My father is the same. He has never, I don’t think, ever truly loved me. My older brother was always his favourite, the desperately needed heir he had always wanted for his….” Sherlock falters as he desperately tries to think of a profession. “…. tanning business. I’m just the spare.”

John sighs. The two catch eyes for a moment, and a silent shared understanding of each other’s experiences.

“I am sorry I cannot let you return to your family.” John says after a while.

Sherlock shakes his head. “No, I understand. You have your own debt to pay, and I hear King Charles is formidable. I’m sure I am not missed.”

Sherlock turns away from John, closing his eyes as shivers wrack his body. He is too tired to continue talking, and too unwilling to let himself get too close to John.                                                                                  


 

Dawn breaks over the Holmes Palace, but Mycroft has not slept a wink. After spending a while with his mother he had taken the secret passageways back to his room, not wanting to cause any alarm if one of the guards outside his room happened to check in on him and find him missing.

The alarms bells had quieted their peeling soon after he had returned and the guards have called off their search. The Queen had interfered to stop the madness, seeing as the king had not given the all clear and the deputy had become frustrated with the futility of their search; Lestrade was long gone.

Mycroft sits at his table, tracing the grains in the wood absentmindedly. He is waiting for the guards to check on him, as they had informed they would do, just after dawn before he plans on sneaking back to the Queen’s chambers. He steels his composure as he wonders what this day will bring. If his father really is unfit to rule, then Mycroft will be, by the end of the day, the regent, and technically the ruler, of the land. He has been prepared for this all his life, nourished and tutored by his father and a litany of highly skilled men and women. He needs to take a deep breath and throw himself into it. If he is to find Sherlock, rid Sherrinford of the Moriartys, and bring the nobles back on their side, then he must. Mycroft nods to himself. He can do this.

It is not long before one of the guards knocks and enters, making sure Mycroft is there and well. As soon as he is gone, Mycroft dashes from his seat and back into the secret passageway. He must send Anthea to retrieve the blueprints for the castle, they will reveal the passageways which really are an invaluable secret against James and Janine. Thank the lords for Gregory!

Mycroft is familiar with the way to his mother’s chambers now, only one trip was enough for him to memorise the passage perfectly. He is reaching the entrance when he hears his mother’s voice echoing through the passage. He treads slightly lighter, in case his heavy boots steps might be heard by whoever she is talking to, and strains to listen.

“I trust you will carry out my orders to the best of your ability?” The Queen says.

“Yes, m’lady. We will endeavour to do so.” Donovan replies. Ah, she must have her and Anderson there, sending them out to find Gregory.

“You will not endeavour, you will.” The Queen says sternly. “Now, please, go.”

Mycroft hears the scuffing of boots against the floor and then the opening and closing of the door. He steps forward and peers around the edge of the tapestry. The Queen is the only one left in the room, and she turns as Mycroft clambers out from behind the tapestry, smoothing down his doublet.

“Ah, there you are. Come, we must to the King.”

Mycroft nods, and follows her to the door. “I must be careful. If Janine or James were to see me, I believe they would be displeased to see me not under house arrest and out of her way.”

The Queen smirks. “James is not here, he left last night. I assume he is off to see Lord Hooper; the man is the only noble not under his belt. And don’t worry about Janine. We have a stop to make before the King.”
Mycroft is puzzled, but does not question the Queen further. They exit her chambers, her main lady in waiting rushing to her mistresses’ attendance, but the Queen waves her off with a dismissive hand. This is private business, something which is rare for the royal family.

They pass through the familiar corridors of the palace, barely meeting anyone, until they reach the guest wing; they are dangerously close to Janine’s room, and Mycroft wonders what exactly they are doing. The Queen approaches one of the many wide oak door and knocks upon it. A maid opens, her face peering up at the Queen and Mycroft before opening it wide and curtseying low. The Queen strides past her and Mycroft follows, surprised as they are met with the face of Molly Hooper, dressed but with her hair not yet combed. Her cheeks flush as she takes them both in and gives a curtsey.

“Your Majesty.” She says to the Queen. “Your Highness.” She says to Mycroft. “How may I help you?”

“Molly, I have a favour to ask.” The Queen says kindly, and the glances purposefully to the maid. Molly gets the hint and dismisses the girl. The Queen smiles, before continuing. “I need you to keep Janine Moriarty occupied today.”

Molly frowns, but nods nonetheless. “Is there anything in particular I should occupy her with?”

The Queen shakes her head. “Not in particular. Just keep her away from the King’s chambers and the council room. Perhaps take a walk in the garden or go for a ride?”

Molly looks unsure, but she still nods. There is a connection between her and the Queen, however, that tells Mycroft Molly is not just mindlessly accepting this errand, that she knows more than at first it might appear.

“Of course, Your Majesty. I will keep her distracted.” Molly says, and curtseys politely, but looks up at the Queen from under her brows with a gleam in her eyes.

“Thank you, Molly. Now, if you must excuse us, we have much to do today.” The Queen says, before turning and exiting the room. Mycroft attempts to give Molly a sincere smile, he has never been terribly good at smiling, before he too exits.

Once back out in the corridor, they start taking the much more familiar route to the King’s chambers. “I have to say mother, you know how to utilise those around you.” Mycroft remarks.

The Queen smirks. “It is a useful trick, Mycroft. I’m sure you won’t forget that.”

Mycroft doesn’t reply, he doesn’t need to, he has already banked this lesson. They take the swooping staircase that leads to the King’s chambers and soon reach the double doors that open up onto his bedchamber. There, stood holding a leather bag and adjusting his round glasses on his nose is court physician, Michael Stamford. He bows low as they reach him.

“Michael, let us get on with this.” The Queen says.

“Yes, your Majesty.” Stamford nods at them both before he opens the wide doors before them.

The room beyond is dark, the curtains still drawn, and the air is musty and rather stuffy. The dying embers of a fire crackle in the grate, and that as well as the King’s heavy breathing are the only sounds in the room. The Queen and Stamford step towards the bed, whilst Mycroft steps towards the large, almost floor to ceiling, windows that frame either side of the bed. With a sweep back of the curtains on each side, the room is bathed in early-morning light.

The Queen lets out a heavy sigh at the sight of her husband, and as Mycroft steps forward he understands why. The spell that must have possessed him to unleash his anger on Mycroft the day before was no longer casting its spell over him, as the King lay limp and immobile. His skin is sickly and pale, taking on a hue that only the terribly sick get. His eyes are closed, and yet the lids keep flickering to reveal the whites of the King’s eyes.

Stamford leans down to rouse the King, but to no avail. He calls out to him, but again there is no response. The Queen sighs, and nods to give Stamford the assent to continue with an examination. Stamford takes the King’s pulse and shakes his head.

“It is strange. The pulse is at one moment erratically fast, and then another…. beating at a regular pace.” He observes, shaking his head.

Stamford checks the King’s eyes next, expertly pulling back the eyelids. Mycroft notices how the eyeballs constantly roll back and forth. It is deeply disturbing. Stamford then checks his forehead for fever and shakes his head. “There is no fever. I cannot explain this. It is most unnatural.” He looks to the Queen. “I’m sorry, your Majesty, but the King is seriously unwell.”

The Queen steels herself by biting the inside of her cheeks. “As such, do you believe him unfit to rule?”

Stamford glances between the Queen and Mycroft before nodding. “I’m afraid so, your Majesty. The King is unfit to rule.”

Mycroft feels a shiver travel down his spine to hear his and the Queen’s suspicion confirmed. The Queen places a hand over her husband’s, the King does not coherently acknowledge it, before straightening her fillet before looking to Mycroft. “Mycroft, have Chancellor Anthea summon the council and then head to the council room yourself. Michael, your presence will also be needed. Do what you can for the King now, and then make haste. Thank you.”

Mycroft nods and turns, taking one last glance back at his father. Never once, when he was younger and he imagined the day he would take on the burden of the crown, did he think it would occur like this. Now, in this moment, he realises the tsunami of what is ahead of him. His shoulders suddenly feel heavier, and Mycroft wonders if this will be a weight that will stay with him for the rest of his days.                                                                                      


 

“I, Prince Mycroft Holmes, do henceforth assume the title of Prince Regent and assume all duties of the monarch in the face of King Siger Holmes’ indisposition.” Mycroft swallows as he glosses over his father’s condition and continues with his speech. “I will assume these duties until the King is recovered of his health.” Mycroft speaks into the stony silence of the council room, not letting his nerves show. Staring back at him are the cold, impassive faces of the counsellors. Or, really, the noble lords and ladies who make up the council, as they are not Mycroft’s counsellors, they are the King’s, and they all seem to be accepting this with a resentful inevitability; like they know something is happening that will make all of this meaningless. The only one who looks professionally solemn in Anthea. The Queen and Michael Stamford stand behind Mycroft, on either side of the high-backed chair the King has, up until this point, occupied. Mycroft’s suspicions are proven correct as the counsellors, excluding Anthea, react to what he says next.

“Prince Sherlock will remain out of the city as it is still deemed unsafe for him, and his health, to be returned to the city.”

“Do not think you can appease us with lies, Prince Regent.” Lord Gardiner, a gruff noble who owns woodlands used for the crafting of bows and arrows, speaks up, almost spitting on the table top before him. “We know exactly what happened to your brother.”

Mycroft fights the urge to looks backward towards his mother, to see if she had anticipated this.

“We know exactly who he was fucking.” Lord Gardiner says, making sure to accentuate the last word. The nobles around him shift and make noises of agreement.

Mycroft doesn’t let his gaze fall as he replies, “I do not know to what you are referring.”

“He’s referring,” Says Lord Wilkes, a slimy young man who had inherited his father’s fortune in coal mining the year before. “to Prince Sherlock’s affair with a serving boy who your family then accused of attempting to assassinate the little slut to cover it up.”

“You’d best be quiet, Lord Wilkes.” The Queen spits as she hears her youngest referred to in such a disgusting manner.

“Will I?” Lord Wilkes asks sarcastically. “Perhaps it was best Sherlock was quiet that night. If he hadn’t been such a whore as to make so much noise, then perhaps his dirty little secret would never have come out!”

“Be quiet!” Mycroft shouts. “Do not fall into a manner of disrespect just because the King is not present.”

“See, the thing is, that is not why we are disrespectful, Prince Regent.” Lord Gardiner speaks up once more. “We are disrespectful because your family seem to take us for fools. Your father has, for many years now, been lumping on us ever increasing taxes, and for no bigger reward. In fact, you Holmes’ lie to us! You think is a way to earn our trust and support? With your father going mad, we should be thankful of James Moriarty’s presence these past months! Even more so as we leave you here now, to support him instead. I am sure you are aware of his deception.”

Lord Gardiner pushes back his chair with a terrible screech against the flagstones as he stares, disgusted, at Mycroft. The other Lords and Ladies, except Anthea, do the same, and they might as well have been spitting in Mycroft’s face they are so disgruntled.

“You are all making a terrible mistake.” Mycroft says, in a low and dangerous voice he hopes resonates the King his father had once been. “James Moriarty is a snake of a man, and whatever he has promised you, he will not fulfil. He is using sorcery-”

“Pah!” Gardiner says in indignation, although some of the other nobles are looking shifty and uncomfortable at the mention of magic. “The only sorcery we fear is the spin your family tries to put on the kingdom’s affairs. Now that is truly terrifying.”

The lords and ladies all turn and make their way to exit the council room. The guards on the door look unsure of whether to let them go or not, but suddenly Lord Gardiner has pulled a sword from the scabbard around his waist and he forces the guards to open the doors and let them out.

“Should we not order the guards at the main gate to bar their exit?” Mycroft asks aloud, rather than to anyone in particular.

“Let them go.” The Queen replies. “Gardiner will get out either way; let us not risk lives in barring his exit.”

Mycroft sighs and runs a hand through his hair as he, the Queen, Stamford, and Anthea are the only people left in the room. “Heavens, if James Moriarty dares to come here and confront me for the crown in person I shall run him through.” Mycroft spits.

“The nobles’ power may be his, but our soldiers are not to be reckoned with. I fear a military attack is on the cards, but we will be ready.” The Queen says. She turns to Anthea. “Lady Anthea, please have those directions about the provision of food and water is had you draw up sent out to the appropriate people. Let us begin our preparation.”

“You fear a siege?” Mycroft asks as Lady Anthea curtseys and exits the room.

The Queen nods. “I do, but we will be ready for it. If Moriarty thinks I am going to passively sit back and let him take our home as he has taken Sherlock, then…” the Queen pauses as she clears her throat. “then he has no idea who he is dealing with.”                                                                                            


 

“My friend, perhaps we should send the servants out for what I have to tell you next?” James Moriarty suggests as he sits to the right of Lord Hooper at the man’s grand dining table in his even grander great hall. The ceiling swoops up almost to the sky and is supported by beams coated with gleaming gold leaf. Various paintings line the walls, Hooper’s ancestors staring him down with imposing eyes that will never waver. Moriarty stares back.

Hooper, who has just taken a sip of wine, nods and dismisses his servants with a flick of his wrist; they scuttle out, leaving the room eerily quiet.

“Now, what is it you have to tell me? You have had me rather curious this past hour.” Hooper says once he has swallowed his wine.

Moriarty takes a deep breath in (best to look a little nervous) and speaks, “Henry, you are of course aware of the marriage agreement you signed with the King a few months back. Now, the King believes me to be here to finally fulfil that agreement and marry Sherlock to a representative.”

Hoopers eyes narrow. “But we are both absent of a bride and a groom.”

“I had said I would find someone to stand in for Lady Molly’s place, and that I would fetch Sherlock on the way here.”

“And why haven’t you?”

Moriarty takes another deep breath. “Because I am afraid the King lied to you from the first about the matter of Sherlock’s absence, and I cannot allow a respected Lord such as yourself to be deceived by the King.”

“How do I know to believe what you are about to tell me?” Hooper says, still weary, but Moriarty can see he is slowly wilting.

“You may trust me with the assurance that the other lords and ladies have trusted me, too, and that I have been the closest to the king for months now, and yet I have decided not to go along with his lies and bad governance. I have been trying to get him to lower taxes for months.” Hooper does not need to know that that is a lie. Ironically.

“Go on.” Hooper says.

“There was never an assassination attempt on Sherlock. That was a cover up. No, the King sent Sherlock to Langley in disgrace, after I discovered the young prince fucking a servant.” Hooper chokes slightly on a sip of wine. Moriarty goes on, seeing the man caught in his web. “The King was trying to sell you a used product as brand new. He has sought to make a fool out of you to procure the benefits of Lady Molly’s dowry.”

“That bastard!” Lord Hooper spits, and Moriarty leans forward in his chair, eyes glinting.

“But, my friend, I can offer you a much fairer offer that will bring you much more power than the King has ever gifted you.” Lord Hooper looks to him, wiping his mouth, face as red as the wine he is drinking. “Recognising the King’s wickedness, I have had my sister, Janine, curse him. He is slowly turning insane, and now I suppose he is already bedridden.” Moriarty knows Hooper was never afraid of sorcery as so many are, he is wise enough to recognise the advantage and power it can bring, and he looks almost impressed as he listens to Moriarty. “Mycroft will assume the regency, but my sister will see that the palace and its inhabitants suffer so that, by the time we arrive with the soldiers we need to capture the city, they will be weak and on their knees.”

“I assume by ‘us’ you refer to the other nobles as well?” Hooper asks, nodding.

Moriarty smiles. “Of course. All of us are aware of King Holmes’ weak leadership of the last years. Trust me when I say you will not be on the losing side.”

Hooper stares into the far distance, a small smile on his face. “Holmes will feel the full force of the weapons he would have received with my daughter’s dowry.”

Moriarty is glad the man agreed to readily; he would have had him forcefully agree, anyway, it is just easier to have the lord compliant.

“Rest assured the safety of your daughter.” Moriarty appeases. “My sister, Janine, is our source inside the palace, and she will keep her safe.” Lies, again.

Hooper nods. “And what of Sherlock?”

“That is the next part of my plan. What comes after we capture the city. The little prince never arrived at Langley. No, I had my man, Moran, take him to Blackmoor, and see him properly punished for his misdemeanours. Now, he is but a pawn in our game, sent to Appledore and to King Charles.”

“King Charles!” Hooper says, looking surprised. “Why on earth would you consort with that man?”

Moriarty shrugs. “Because I don’t plan to actually consort with him. The man has promised me as his heir if he can have, as his new husband, Prince Sherlock. The man believes that, having married Sherlock, he will march down here and accept the crown of Sherrinford with no resistance and untie the two kingdoms as their supreme leader. He is wrong. Once his army has arrived and seen off any further resistance the Holmes’ might give us, Charles will be run through, and I will assume his crown and that of Sherrinford. It is I who shall unite the two kingdoms, and it is I who will held all the power.  As such, I will bestow on you double the amount of money and land using some of dead King Charles’ lands.”

Hooper shakes his head in astonishment, a sly smile gracing his lips. “I think you have more intelligence in you than the entire Holmes family combined. I take it the King, the Queen, and Mycroft will all tragically perish in the war?” Moriarty nods. “But what of Sherlock?”

“Oh, I will take the widower for myself. He will surely, after his time at Blackmoor and the death of his family, not be in the right mind, and will simply be there for me to…. enjoy.

Moriarty winks crudely, and Hooper chuckles. “I do not blame you. That boy has more looks than sense.”

“I am glad you agree, my lord. Now, I presumed you would not mind, but the other lord and ladies will arrive her later today, where we may all discuss the next steps we take.”

Hooper nods. “They best be warned they may have to share beds, but I will welcome them nonetheless. I assume their troops are already gathering for an attack on the palace?” Moriarty nods. “Then, I shall have my forces gather at once, and see those longswords Holmes so wanted refined until they are extra sharp.”

Moriarty laughs, and the two men grasp each other’s forearms in a sign of alliance. “Perhaps, my friend, I will let you borrow my new husband once I am King? If you would like that?” Moriarty asks.

Hoopers nods and growls deep in his throat.

Moriarty wonders if this was, perhaps, too easy. He is looking forward to the challenge that Mycroft might bring. If he can muster up the courage, anyhow.

Chapter Text

Mycroft sits alone in the council room, hands in a prayer position and tucked under his chin. It must be after noon by now, it feels as though it has been hours since the nobles, and their support, walked out on Mycroft.  His brains flicks through possibility after possibility of what he might do. He must think rationally and strategically, find the weak points he can manipulate into winning back power. The Queen has already prepared forces and supplies for a siege, and for that Mycroft is thankful; he does not think he would have the time to do it, now, not when they cannot be entirely sure when Moriarty and the nobles will attack.

If, as the Queen has predicted, James Moriarty has gone to Lord Hooper, then Mycroft guesses it will be barely three days before Hooper’s forces will be at their door; Moriarty has most definitely told him of the true reason for Sherlock’s absence, and the man had not taken kindly to being lied to by King Siger. Hooper has always been so easy to anger, Mycroft remembers the man had berated him, as a child, when Mycroft had failed to train one of his falcons correctly.

A small niggle of doubt sniggers at the back of Mycroft’s mind. He feels, partly, like a boy dressing up in his father’s clothes. It irritates him, and he tries to push it away, but the one person who might have offered Mycroft some reassurance that he will do a good job of managing this terrible situation is gone. And Mycroft has no idea where he is. Gregory could have been captured by outlaws and slaughtered like a pig for all Mycroft knows. Lords he misses him-

No, he reminds himself. A king cannot have friends to rely upon, not in such an intimate manner. A king must listen to the advice of others, but be decisive, a lone ship that steers its own rudder. That is what his father has always taught him, and that is the advice he must follow, although now he sees his father has not been as successful as Mycroft had once believed. The man has lost his kingdom to a manipulative snake and his sorceress sister, doomed his youngest son to be lost in the wilderness, and left his eldest son and wife to deal with the consequences.

Mycroft feels a sudden overwhelming anger at the man he used to idolise. How could he let the Moriartys walk all over him? How could he hate Sherlock, his son, so much?

Mycroft realises he must learn from his father’s rule, but not copy it. He must be his own king. First, though, there is something he must do.

Mycroft’s chair screeches against the floor as he pushes his chair back, and he straightens his doublet, and his back, before striding out of the room to see his father.                                                                                  


 

John groans as he runs a hand through his hair. He can feel the grease on it like a layer, thick and slimy. Lords he could do with a wash. He is sure he probably smells terrible. Dawn is breaking above him, and a raindrop falls upon his head. He groans again; please let it not rain on them! He worries what it might do to William. The man is so weakened, John fears if he is to travel in the rain he will catch a fever and, possibly, die. The thought does not comfort John, and not because then the only thing he will have to present to King Charles will be a ring, but because he finds himself becoming fond of William.

The man is cold and distant, John would feel the same if he had been kept in that terrible place, but John can see, in moments where he is tired and his guard is down ever so slightly, that he has a softer side. He had genuinely seemed interested in John when he has spoken of his childhood.

Something about William puzzles John, though, and as he sits there in the early morning, watching the man sleep, something about those sharp features, angular and uniquely beautiful, and the full lips, seem familiar to him from a long-forgotten memory, which now swims to the shore of his mind, a little eroded from the journey of time but there nonetheless.

He remembers once, in his early days as a border-raider, he had been on his way to see King Charles for a briefing. He had been early and had accidently found himself eavesdropping on a conversation between King Charles and another man. The man was probably about John’s age, but his clothes were of the finest quality and his ink black hair was trimmed neatly. In his hands was a portrait, about the size of large book, the kind his mentor had had him memorise in training. It depicted a man from the shoulders up, a young and extremely beautiful man. It was to the credit of the painter that they had managed to capture the likeness of this person to point where the portrait could have been a mirror, reflecting their real image. The hair was luscious, the dark curls in a messy foray that complimented the person’s angular features. Their eyes were piercing, intelligent, the greens and blues of the pupils vibrant, standing out in the image. the nose was straight, defined, as were the lips. It was those lips, and those cheekbones, that John now finds himself pondering over as he considers William. John has not a clue who it was in that painting, but he strikes an uncanny resemblance to William, and John is sure that if the man’s hair was not shorn so short, that he could possibly have those curls, too.

But what would a man who had appeared in so fine a portrait be doing now, here, a prisoner found in a deserted castle? It is most likely a coincidence, brought on by the tedium of this journey back, that has got John thinking too much.

Suddenly, beside him, William begins to stir. It is not the peaceful stirring of a person waking up, but the distressed stirring that speaks of nightmares. William’s brow creases, face lined with pain, and he gives a small cry.

“William.” John whispers harshly, not wanting to wake the other men, if he can; William, he is sure, would be mortified if they saw him like this.  William doesn’t hear him, even when John whispers his name again he doesn’t respond.

John sighs, and bends down to shake his shoulder. William startles into a sitting position, and shouts on the end of an exhale, "Victor!”

“Hey!” John says in surprise, trying to appease as William looks around him frantically, as if looking for someone. Perhaps Victor? Some of the men are starting to stir around them, and for William’s sake, he needs the man to be calmer. “William, it’s okay, it was but a nightmare.”

When William continues to look around, like an owl that has been spooked, John reaches out and grasps his restrained hands in his own. William jumps and turns to John, attempting to pull his hands out of John’s grip, but John does not let him. “Please, calm yourself. It was a nightmare.”

William eyes are wider, and there is a glassiness to them that John does not like. He puts on of his hands out to check for fever, but William pulls back.

“Don’t!” the man warns, and John pulls back.

“I’m sorry, but I do need to check for fever. Are you feeling alright?” That is a rather stupid question, and John can see William agrees.

“Fine.” He mutters. “Leave me alone.”

Ah, here comes that cold façade.

“I haven’t got a fever.” William says.

“Alright. Will you tell me if you do?” John asks, finally letting William’s hands go. William nods but does not make eye contact. His cheeks are flushing red, most likely from embarrassment. John wants to assure him that there is no need for him to feel embarrassed, but he rather feels that would be received badly.

“I will bring you some breakfast soon, and then I am afraid we must set off for another day.” John says, rising to his feet. “Please try to eat something?”

Williams nods, but again there is no eye contact. Closing himself off.

John sighs, knowing he will not get any more out of the man. He really will need to keep an eye on him today; no doubt his body is still aching from its ailments and suffering through the agitation of withdrawal.                                                                                  


 

Sherlock stomach squirms and he unconsciously winds his arms around his torso in protection. He is not sure whether it is the withdrawal, the hunger, or the guilt he now feels at having scorned John. The foggier his mind gets as his body demands the drugs forcibly pumped into his bloodstream, the more vulnerable he feels. Loose. As if he is just one slip of resilience away from falling into John’s arms. He knows he cannot, though. For many reasons.

He runs a hand over his shaven head as he relives the nightmare John had woken him from. Victor had been there, as he always was, and Sherlock’s father, too. He had gripped Sherlock’s head tightly between his hands and forced him to watch as Victor was beaten over and over and over. Sherlock can feel bile rise in his throat even now as he thinks of it. He closes his eyes and slowly shakes his head. This must be the withdrawal and the sheer exhaustion making him so emotional. He has told himself he needs to cut himself off from his emotions, he is certainly endeavouring, against his heart’s need for comfort, to do so with John. Why can’t he get victor out of his head?

He shivers as he realises he knows exactly why he cannot. Because he has been broken. Taken from a cushy palace lifestyle where his passion and his resent for his father’s unloving authority had run riot, to a dank and ruined castle which had ruined him. No matter how much he wanted to believe John Watson could save him from such a fate, he couldn’t. He was too late.

Sherlock startles as a hand comes into his vision. It is John, obviously, holding out a bowl of soup leftover from the night before. Sherlock takes it but does nothing else. He feels John move away from him and rubs at his eyes. John’s kindness is pervasive, like a sweet, sickly odour. Sherlock cannot seem to escape from it.

**

Mycroft walks quickly through the corridors of the Holmes Palace. News has obviously spread about his regency, for whenever he passes a servant they immediately stop and go into an incredibly low bow, one fit for a king. Mycroft doesn’t acknowledge them, he just continues his confident, rapid stride until he is ascending the swooping staircase to his father’s chambers the second time that day.

He bursts through the double oak doors without knocking. Why would he? There is no one bar his father and a couple of servants attending to his comfort. Mycroft waves them away with a hand, and they scuttle from the room. He steps forward, pace much slower now, until he stands at his father’s bedside. His father is apparently sleeping, eyes closed and breath even. Mycroft supposes this is the most peaceful he has been in months.

He feels a stab of uncertainty in his anger as he stares down at his father, weakened and sick. This man has given everything to Mycroft. He has never been in wont of love, never been starving, or thirsty, or denied education. His father has treated him- no, prepared him, for his role as leader, but Sherlock never received such treatment. He was never starved, but he wasn’t cared for like Mycroft was, either. And now, Mycroft needed to be sure of something, if he could. His father might not be coherent, but at least Mycroft can tell himself he has tried.

He leans down and shakes his father’s shoulder, calling his name.

“Father? Father, it’s Mycroft. Please, wake up.”

His father begins to rouse and Mycroft’s heart jumps in his chest as his eyelids flicker open. His father’s eyes flit around the room as he attempts to take in where he is. Mycroft frowns as he sees that the anger, the mania, that had filled his father’s eyes when he had confronted Mycroft in his chambers has vanished. Hopefully that means he is now coherent.

“Father? Please look at me.” Mycroft saws, shaking his father’s shoulder once again. His father’s gaze swivels around to him and his father’s eye widen as he takes in Mycroft.

“Mycroft?” he says, voice scarcely above a whisper.

Mycroft smiles and pulls in a shaky breath. “Father, can you-do you understand me?”

His father frowns and brings a shaky hand to his forehead to wipe the sweat from it. “Of course, Mycroft, what are you saying?”

Mycroft hesitates. “Father, I-I just want to know one thing from you.”

“Why am I in bed?” his father asks, interrupting him.

“You’re sick, father. Too sick to rule.” Mycroft holds his breath as his father frowns. “I have assumed the regency.”

His father’s frown deepens until cavernous lines mar his forehead. “Mycroft, what are you talking about?”

“The Moriartys, father, they’ve possessed you. We think with some kind of sorcerous spell. Moriarty has turned the nobles against us, they’re retreating to fetch their armies and then returning, we think, with an army to lay siege.”

His father blinks a few times, watery eyes trying to comprehend the heavy news Mycroft has just imparted. “Moriarty as in…. James?”

Mycroft frowns. “You don’t remember?” this doesn’t seem a far stretch; if the Moriartys have his father under some spell then it seems unlikely he would be completely cognisant for all of it. He was, essentially, a puppet.

His father shakes his head. His tone is suddenly bitter. “I remember his coming to court. I remember his loyalty to us in exposing your brother’s crimes.”

Of course, he would remember that. Mycroft steels himself. “Father please I need to know…. when you sent Sherlock away, was it with the intention of having him disappear? We don’t know where he is, father! I fear Moriarty has had him abducted and he might be injured and hurting! I just need to know, father- did you know that this would happen to Sherlock? That Langley was a ruse?”

His father seems to have drifted away, stopped listening. Mycroft shakes his shoulder again. “Father, please listen to me. I need to know-”

“You will be an excellent king, Mycroft.”  He murmurs, eyes beginning to glaze over.

“Father-what? Please, answer my question!” Mycroft cannot deny his heart had skipped a beat at his father’s words, but this is not time for him to feel validation. He needs his question answered, for Sherlock’s sake.

It seems, however, that his father is falling under the Moriartys’ spell once again. Mycroft leans forward.

“Father, please, listen to me! Don’t give in to it! Fight it!”

It is too late, though. His father’s eyes have lost all understanding, becoming unfocussed. Suddenly, his father starts to shift on the bed, as if trying to escape from the grip of something. Mycroft takes a few steps back as he starts to scream. It is a terrible sound, guttural and unnerving. Mycroft has never seen his father in such a state, he is very nearly always composed, unless angered. This is unnerving, this is devastating, the visceral image of all that is going wrong at the moment.

Suddenly, the doors to the chambers fling open and in strides the Queen. she pauses in her stride as she takes in her husband’s screaming and writhing. He eyes go wide and her face pales, but she steps further into the room nonetheless.

“Something doesn’t feel right here.” She states, eyes wandering over the room as she comes around to the other side of the bed. The King, between them, continues his squirming and screaming. The Queen seems almost like a bloodhound in that moment, to Mycroft, as she seems to scent the air to identify what she can. He eyes and narrow and briefly make contact with Mycroft before she drops down to look under the bed. Mycroft follows her, on his hands and knees on the cold stone floor. What he sees beneath the bed is alarming.

If Mycroft were more knowledgeable on the craft of sorcery, which he wishes he was, he would understand that what he is seeing is of the darkest magic. Luckily for him, and rather intriguingly, the Queen herself seems to know exactly what it is the moment she sets eyes on it.

“A mandrake!” she spits, and once again makes eye contact with Mycroft, this time under the bed. “Those cretins!”

“What is it, mother? What is a mandrake?” Mycroft asks. The mandrake is earthly, almost like a root, but there is something humanistic about it that gives Mycroft pause for thought. This is certainly much more than it looks.

“A mandrake is used as a torturing device. It can turn the subjected victim to insanity by a piercing scream that only they can hear; they are bound to the mandrake using a spell.”

“Well, then let’s just remove it!” Mycroft says, going to grab the mandrake. Before he can, however, the Queen objects.

“Mycroft, no! A single mandrake’s power only lasts for a day. Janine must have more stocked up somewhere. There is no point in removing this one, it will only alert Janine that we most likely know about her sorcery. And anyway, she will be replacing this one soon, it’s power is fading.”

Mycroft is desperate to know how his mother knows about the mandrake’s power, but senses this is not the moment to ask. He pulls his hand back and feels it quiver against the stone floor. this is an abomination!

“We need to speak with Stamford, see is he is possibly running low on mandrake roots. That would most likely explain how Janine has been getting her hands on them.”

Mycroft has another idea. “What if we take Stamford’s stock? Then Janine will have no more mandrakes with which to cast these despicable spells!”

The Queen does contemplate this for a moment before she shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to risk what she might do to Stamford if Janine gets angry.” Her face droops then, the image of apologetic. She signals to Mycroft that they should get up off of the ground. When they are both standing again, the King between them stiller now but his face still marked with pain, the Queen says, “and Mycroft, know that I say this with the greatest delicacy, but….” She glances down at her husband then, but her gaze doesn’t linger, “I fear it is too late for your father. What I mean is, events have progressed to the point where we need to consider how we face the army that is sure to come in a few days’ time. The mandrakes will not kill your father, please be reassured by this, but we must try to find out what else Janine and Moriarty are planning.”

Mycroft nods, “Mother…. how do you know so much about sorcery?”

The Queen sighs and looks down at her lap. She is about to speak when someone bursts through the chamber doors.

They both jump, and Mycroft’s hand goes to his sword, but relax when they see it is Lady Hooper.

“Apologies to disturb you both.” She says, curtsying at both of them. She glances behind her then and quickly shuts the chamber doors. “But I have an offer I am sure you would be interested.”                                                                            


 

“My Lady!” Mycroft exclaims. “Where is Lady Moriarty?”

Molly blushes. “I am sorry, I know you asked me to keep her occupied, but she refused to go riding, refused to take a walk- refused to do anything, really.”

“Where is she now?” The Queen asks.

“In her chambers.” Molly says. “I invited her to mine, but she said no. really, her temper has changed! She was so polite when I first arrived!”

“A leopard cannot hide its spots.” Mycroft mutters. Molly looks to him knowingly, and then takes a few steps forward.

“As I was saying, I think I have an offer you won’t want to miss.” Molly takes a deep breath before beginning. “You might remember that my sister, the Lady Veronica, is married to Sir Henry Knight? Henry’s father is, as I am sure you know, unwell, and as such Henry has assumed the control of his lands. I have been in correspondence with my sister, and she tells me that Henry has received no letter from Lord Moriarty.”

“No, Sir Knight has not been to court, either.” The Queen says, following Molly trustfully.

Molly nods. “Exactly. So we know he hasn’t in anyway been swayed by Moriarty. Well, yesterday I received a letter from my sister, after I had warned her of the potentially volatile situation you have been expecting, Your Majesty.” Molly says to the Queen. “And she tells me that Henry is offering to lend us his father’s troops if we are need of them.”

Mycroft looks to his mother, who is smiling. Molly looks between the two of them, waiting. Mycroft realises that he, as regent, should reply to her. He had been waiting for his mother, like an imbecile.

“Yes, Lady Hooper. That would certainly be a great help. I cannot promise any great gift in return, but his service would be appreciated.”

“Oh, there will surely no need for gifts, Your Majesty.” Molly says. “Loyality to the crown is more than enough.”

“How many men does the unwell Lord Knight have in his retinue?” The Queen asks.

“Approximately two thousand men. That is what my sister estimates.”

The Queens eyebrows raise. “Quite the number. I suppose we are lucky Moriarty didn’t get any sooner, Lady Hooper, or he might have swayed his son-in-law to Moriartys side.”

Molly looks to the floor, cheeks flushing red. “Oh, I doubt that, Your Majesty. Sir Knight and my sister have been estranged from my family since they…. well, since they eloped.”

It is Mycroft’s eyebrows’ turn to raise this time.

“Goodness, quite the drama I didn’t know about.” The Queen remarks.

“My father doesn’t know I still write to her.” Molly says quietly. “If he did, I think he would force me to stop.”

The Queen sighs and comes forward to grasp Molly’s hands in her own. “Thank you, Molly. Your brother-in-law’s help will be much appreciated. You must write to him as soon as possible. Tell him to ready his men and keep at most five miles from here. When we know more we will send another message with clearer instructions. Use one of our royal messenger birds if you wish, they are much faster.”

Molly nods, “I will do it right now.” She curtseys to them both before leaving.

The Queen sighs and turns to Mycroft, who nods to her. “This is good, Mother.                                                                             


 

“Welcome! Welcome all!” James Moriarty calls over the clattering of the horse hoofs on the cobblestones of Lord Hooper’s courtyard. The nobility who have recently shed their loyalty to King Siger Holmes now cluster in on their horses, all weary and worn from the travel from Holmes Palace.
“Come, friends! There is wine and food in the great hall for you all!” Lord Hooper, who stands by Moriarty at the grand entrance to his manor, says to the other nobles.

“And then, then we may talk of our plans at victory!” Moriarty says, and the lords who hear him over the hoofs of their horses all cheer and raise their fists in jubilation.

Moriarty smiles at Lord Hooper, a wicked grin that says ‘see? Support for us has come!’

This is getting better than Moriarty had expected!                                                                                    


 

Janine strides from her chambers, making sure the enchantment around them sticks. It will prevent anyone from entering, so that she can remain safe whilst in there and her possessions are guarded when she is gone. She huffs as she straightens her spine, irritated with the day so far. She has spent the morning being accosted by that simpering Lady Molly, and the only reason Janine did not, in some way, attempt to get rid of her is because of her brother’s insistence on the importance of Lady Molly’s father to their plan. That she cannot physically hurt Lady Molly doesn’t mean she has to be nice to her, so Janine had simply retreated into her rooms to wait out the storm.

Now, as she strides down the corridor towards the king’s chambers, she hopes James will be quick in raising his army, as she does not know how much longer she can bear being here, on her own, making idle conversation with people who will soon either bow beneath her feet or be dead. She intends to stick to her room as much as possible, only leaving when she really must, for example to change the mandrake which resides under the king’s bed daily.

She has just ascended the swooping staircase to the King’s chambers when she draws back into the shadows of an alcove as two figures exit the room and walk her way. Her heart skips a beat and a simmering frustration rises to the surface as she sees Mycroft Holmes, who should be locked in his room, isolated and without hope, walking determinedly next to the Queen. How did he get out?! Janine holds her breath as they swoop past her, muttering under their breaths about something Janine cannot hear. Once they have passed she lets out her breath as a frustrated sigh. Now what is she to do? she will have to deal with Mycroft now. another problem for her to deal with whilst James is surely dining and laughing with those repugnant men who cling to their gold as if it is the obsession of their life. There is no loyalty with them, which James, she knows, needs to be careful of. Janine’s own loyalty to her brother is what drives her on, makes her use her gifts for his purposes, and she only hopes James’s promises to the lords will hold out, for she dreads to think what might happen, what she may have to do, if they start to doubt. She doesn’t mind, but it is aggravating and exhausting. And now, she must find a way to deal with Mycroft Holmes, apparently. A sudden worrying thought enters her mind and she hastens up the steps and strides into the King’s chambers, dropping to her knees beside the bed and peering under it. She sighs with relief as she sees that the old mandrake root is still, undiscovered by Mycroft and the Queen, apparently. As she begins the process of repeating the curse, she wonders what on earth she will have to do now to get rid of Mycroft Holmes.                                                                                


 

The pain in Sherlock’s leg muscles has become so severe that his muscles are constantly spasming, and as they stop walking for the night he is closer to unleashing his emotions and muttering weak words of thanks to whomever than he has been ever since he was ‘rescued’. He stumbles to a corner of the rocky alcove they have stopped at and hides himself away, bound hands trying to soothe his legs by massaging the muscles.

His stomach rolls and Sherlock lets out a little gasp as the full force of his withdrawal hits him. Lords he needs the drug. He doesn’t want it, but he needs it. His legs muscles spasm again and he lets out a cry. This is humiliating. Some of John’s men look his way with smirks on their rugged faces, and then they turn away and start muttering to each other, some guffawing at what the others have to say. A small part of Sherlock wishes John would come along and defend him, as he has done so far against his men. Sherlock wonders why, why John would side with him instead of his comrades, but a small part of him already knows. It is the part that had loved Victor with all his heart, because he had seen something so perfect, and Victor had been there for him when his family had been too preoccupied to show him affection. Strangely, this situation seems parallel, and Sherlock has to mentally step backwards from those thoughts to stop himself going any further. He is not sure how many more times he will have to tell himself not to get attached to John before he eventually caves. He turns his back on the men and huddles in on himself to conserve the little heat he has, his stomach rolling like tidal waves once again.                                                                                       


 

Later, Sherlock is awoken from the light doze he had fallen in by a calloused hand on his shoulder. He turns a little, body smarting at the movement, to see John knelt by him, a bowl of food in his hand. He smiles a little at Sherlock as the other man sits up and leans against the cave wall. He does not look John in the eye or even speak to him as he takes the bowl, treasuring the warmth in his palms but not even thinking about eating the food within.

John shuffles away but soon returns, sitting next to Sherlock with his own bowl and tucking in. Sherlock sighs. John isn’t going to make this easy for him, is he?

“I’m sorry that today was so tough.” John begins. “Tomorrow should be a bit lighter. We covered a lot of ground today, we are sure to make it to Appledore in just over two days.”

Today was Monday, so that meant Thursday. A bolt of fear strikes in Sherlock’s stomach, and he places his bowl down on the ground, clasping his hands together.

John continues as Sherlock doesn’t reply. “How are your injuries? Your ribs? Do they hurt?”

Sherlock sniffs. “What do you think?”

John chuckles. “I suppose you’re right. Anything I can do for you?”

Stay, please. Don’t hand me over to King Charles.’ “No.”

John nods and takes another bite of food. “William…. believe it or not, but I worry for you. We’ve known each other barely a few days, I know, and this is a…. strange circumstance, one might say, but it doesn’t change the fact that you strike me as a good person.”

Sherlock scoffs at that, but in his chest his heart is beginning to beat faster and faster. ‘Lords, please don’t say anything pointing towards affection, or I will give in, and I can’t, I can’t. You don’t even know who I am!’

“What?” John suddenly asks, and Sherlock starts as he realises he had said that last sentence out loud.

He swallows, and looks towards John, trying to emit the most anger he can. “You don’t even know who I am, John! How can you care about me when you don’t know who I am? You’re too kind for your own good, it’s insufferable! Kindness is never rewarded, not in the long run. Those who do wicked things will always win in the end, so why don’t you stop bothering with me and leave me alone, because there is not point to your kindness!”

Sherlock breathes heavily as John sits in a stunned silence for a few moments. He didn’t mean it, not one bit, but he cannot allow John to be kind to him, for it will not serve the other man well. so, if he has to convince John he is a horrible person to protect him from the curse that is Sherlock Holmes, then so be it.

John’s face hardens and he swiftly gets to his feet. “Fine. If that is your wish.”

He strides away and Sherlock lets his face crumple. He tells himself it is better this way, that things might have only got worse for the both of them if he had let John near him, but the ache in his chest says the complete opposite.

He cannot help but feel a lump of guilt rise in his throat, and no matter how much he tries, he cannot push it down.

Chapter Text

John watches on whilst William struggles to his feet the morning following his outburst. John cannot say he wasn’t expecting it to happen, but it was rather more hurtful than he had been preparing for. William is exhausted, and hurting, and John is sure the man would not say what he did if he didn’t feel so threatening and weakened, and yet John couldn’t help the indignation he had felt. He had been trying to help William, the most honest, and truly good, John could see past everything, man he had met whilst in this dangerous occupation as a border raider, and his help had been rebuked. Maybe John was hoping for too much, being too optimistic he may have found a companion to share his sorrows with in this sorry landscape. He knew he shouldn’t have let himself get so attached, damn it Watson! In a few days’ time he would have to hand this man over to King Charles and would most likely never see him again. And besides, William was right, John didn’t really know him at all. They knew the basics about each other, about how they grew up and their homes, but that was it. Experiences change people, and John can see, clear as day, that William has been seriously affected by whatever went on in that hellhole called Blackmoor. The man is hiding his true self, what really happened to him, and it seems he doesn’t want to open up about it. John knows it would probably help him to do so, and he so desperately wanted to be that person, his damn need to help people showing its feathers, but if William doesn’t want to, then…. that’s his choice. The man probably hasn’t had much agency in months, so, so be it if he uses it now.

John lets out a sigh as William’s legs shake under him, but he eventually does manage to stand. His face is pale, and sweaty, and John can see the withdrawal is seriously taking its toll on a body that doesn’t have the energy to fight it. John only hopes that the quicker they get to Appledore, the quicker William might get to rest, and get proper medical treatment. But that is only speculation, and John fears the worst for William when they get to the citadel, and guilt gnaws its way into his stomach as he realises he may be taking the man to his death. He tries to reminds himself that isn’t his problem, William has made clear he doesn’t want John involved in his life, so it shouldn’t matter, but John’s moral code is shouting at him in the back of his brain. If circumstances were different, he would whisk William away and hopefully they may be able to help each other in some way. But, as it is, John can only appease himself with the promise that he will do what he can for William once they reach Appledore, and the situation is clear.

John feels guilty when he sees William clutching at his broken ribs but knows his help will most likely not be appreciated right now. He forces himself to turn away from the man, shouting to his tired troops, “Come, men! We must cover at least ten leagues today! Get off your arses and let’s go!”

                                                                                       


 

Sherlock watches, almost longingly, as John strides ahead of him, leading the group through the rough terrain northwards. To their right is a steep edge, at the bottom of which is a lake, with water so dark it seems to consume all and any light. To their left is barren land, with only bristly bushes and craggy rocks to break up the bleakness. Or rather, add to it. With every step, a small cry, abortive and unstoppable, escapes Sherlock’s lips. His legs are screaming out in pain! So is the rest of his body, but his legs are the worst. He does not know how much longer they will support him, and he knows the men will insist they drag him, and now, without John on his side, he isn’t sure anyone will stop them.

He trips on a rock and falls, landing painfully on his ribs. Sherlock squeezes his eyes shut and holds his breath through the tsunami of pain that overwhelms his body. A hand gently comes to rest on his back, and Sherlock cannot bear to shrug it off, because he knows exactly whose it is. John….

Suddenly, there is another hand on his back, but this one is grabbing his shirt in their first and forcibly trying to pull him up.

“Get up!” The person spits, and Sherlock can tell from the accent that it isn’t John and is thankful for small mercies. For the discourtesy Sherlock has shown him, Sherlock wouldn’t be surprised if John wanted to act so cruel to him. Or maybe he would, John is so kind. “Get to your feet!”

“Sanders, desist!” John spits, and suddenly the fist is loosened on his shirt. “You will not treat this man like dirt when you yourself are not so dissimilar to it! He shall not be treated to such indecencies as to be compared to you!”

Sherlock would chuckle if the movement didn’t hurt him further. Sanders must have retreated, for Sherlock feels a sharp gust of wind that had previously been blocked by the man’s body slap him in the face. He shivers and opens his eyes to peer up at John.

“William, are you alright?” John asks, then shakes his head. “Sorry, stupid question, of course you’re not. Here, let me help you up. DO you think you can continue walking?”

John guides Sherlock’s to his shaky legs once again. The change in altitude makes the pounding headache increase its intensity, and Sherlock had to close his eyes until a dizzy spell passes.

“Yes.” He replies to John, even though the thought of more walking is terrible to him.

John seems to hesitate, as if to protest, but most likely remembering Sherlock’s rant from last night he backs off. “Very well. But please, will you let me support you?”

John holds out his arm for Sherlock to lean on, and Sherlock hesitates for a moment. The arm, to him, is a sign of a truce. A compromise. Sherlock understands it is not in John’s nature to stop caring for him, but the man is prepared to give Sherlock space if he needs it. It is the least Sherlock can do to accept John’s support now, after last night. He nods his assent and John’s arm wraps around his waist. It is gentle against his ribs but does allow Sherlock to take some weight off of his damaged legs.

“Come, men. We must not stop yet.” John says, and they move off again.

                                                                                           


 

“Lady Anthea, if you might, I would appreciate you taking a trip to the vaults for me.” Mycroft says as the lady curtseys her way into his room.

“Why, might I ask, Your Majesty?” Anthea replies, face serious, her hair severely pinned up and out of the way defining the sharp lines.

“To seek out whatever blueprints of the castle you can find. I believe they will prove invaluable to us.”

Anthea nods. “Of course, Your Majesty. I will return as soon as I can.”

Mycroft nods and gestures for her to leave. Once she does, Mycroft leans back in his chair and thinks. There is someone nagging at the back of Mycroft’s mind, someone he hasn’t given much thought with since Gregory was still present, but now seems to be a possibly key player in all that may be about to play out. King Charles Augustus Magnussen. Moriarty’s complete desertion of the royal family tells Mycroft that he has certainly thrown his lot in with another power, and it has to be more than almost all the nobles combined can offer. King Charles is powerful and has been perverting the opportunities of raiding the Holmes’s borders for months and months. He would be a perfect ally, powerful and obviously not bothered about going against the Holmes’s. if that is the case, Mycroft must do what he can now, as regent, to stop King Charles from completely turning against him.

He leans forward and grabs some paper and a quill and begins writing. He writes that if King Charles is willing, he is open to talks of a peace treaty, and hints that he hopes Magnussen is not colluding with those who hold no loyalty to the people they ally themselves with. He seals the letter with wax, stamping the royal family crest into the substance before he addresses the letter to ‘His Royal Highness King Charles Augustus Magnussen.’ Mycroft rises and exits his room, heading towards the owlery. He enjoys this efficiency, this feeling of doing something. If it brings both Gregory and Sherlock back to him, he knows it will all not have been in vain.

                                                                                 


 

“Gentlemen, ladies, please! We must settle down now. Lord Moriarty would like to speak!” Lord Hooper booms into the great hall of his mansion. The nobles they had greeted the day before are well rested and well fed by the hospitality Hooper has provided them. James smiles as they clap their hands as he rises from his seat, at Hooper’s right-hand side, and fakes humility as he waves away their cheers.

“You are too kind.” He begins, “I thank you for joining us today. And I thank you for joining my cause, the right cause, that is sure to bring you more wealth, and more power, than any you might have received from the crumbling house of the family of Holmes.”

The lords and ladies cheer once again and shake their fist at the mention of the Holmes family.

“King Siger Holmes did a lot to pervert you, and I will see to it his family is punished for it. You will have seen how the King’s health is deteriorated, I believe he must be bed-ridden by now, and his son, Mycroft, is too unexperienced to stop us from seizing the city.”

“What about the Queen?” Lord Gardiner says, taking a sip of wine from his goblet.

Moriarty holds up his hand and smiles. “Do not worry, my lord, the Queen will not be a threat against what we have planned either, believe me.”

The lords and ladies mutter between each other, and Moriarty has to shush them. “We will pit two kings against each other. One is weakened, unknowing of the danger he faces with a son standing in for him who is as priggish as he is stupid! The other, well, he is a dangerous man, but that danger will be undermined at the turning point, when he is killed. I have all told you my plan for King Charles Magnussen and Prince Sherlock, the royal harlot, and rest assured,” now, Moriarty is playing into the jovial mood of the nobles as they drink their wine and gobble their food down, “If you would like to partake in a slice of him, consider it another reward for your continued loyalty!”

The Lords cheer, especially Lord Wilkes, a salacious and weaselly man, who bangs his fists against the table like a child. It is rather disturbing, but Moriarty, ever the showman, raises his goblet to toast them all.

“To our victory!” He shouts.

“Our victory!” they all call back.

He will let them dine and drink for a while longer, then James will have them each lined up on his chessboard, ready to play their part.

                                                                             


 

 Janine peers around the wall which leads to Mycroft’s chambers, and smirks as the prince regent leaves his chambers, letter in hand. Brilliant, that means he is most likely heading for the owlery. Janine knows enough from Lady Hooper’s idle conversations that Mycroft is fond of the birds, and she has on more than one occasion run into him in the owlery when posting her own letters. This will be perfect for what she has planned!

She follows him at a cautious pace, not wanting to drawn attention to herself. That wouldn’t happen anyway, she has cast a spell on herself that will divert anyone’s gaze from completely noticing her, but nonetheless it is best to be cautious.

Once Mycroft crosses a small courtyard which leads to the owlery, Janine speeds up a bit, keeping her head cast down under the hood of the cloak she wears. There is a small piece of open ground between the courtyard and the owlery, which stands as a separate, lonesome tower. Janine waits until Mycroft is most assuredly inside before following him in, making sure to lock the door behind her with an impregnable spell. She can hear the sounds of his boots on the spiral staircase that leads to the owlery and waits until they are almost incomprehensible before following. If she cannot hear Mycroft’s steps he cannot hear her’s.

At the top of the staircase, Janine edges around the doorway and peers in. Mycroft’s back is to her, and he is bending over, most likely talking to the birds. She edges into the room, which is small, but full of different birds and cages, so that she can go mostly covered as she positions herself behind a row of owls, who turn to her, ready to squawk, but Janine makes them submit to her with a single, magic-infused, look.

She can hear Mycroft complimenting the birds, and she leans forward as she prepares the curse she had spent half the night practicing. This should incapacitate Mycroft, or, at worse, it might kill him, she is not really sure. Janine doesn’t entirely register the sound of something, or someone, on the stairs, she is too busy concentrating on summoning the curse.

Suddenly, however, as she goes to unleash it on Mycroft, who is now tying his letter to the leg of one majestic owl, it is as if something is stopping her, some sort of barrier. She frowns and tries again, but it is like wading through treacle, trying to conjure the curse, and by the time she is on her third attempt Mycroft has already sent the bird on its way and is leaving down the staircase once again.

Janine lets out a small scream of fury once Mycroft has left. What had happened?! Why had she been unable to curse him?! Someone must have prevented her spell, but who?

Janine flips her hood off and smooths a hand over her hair, breathing heavily. This situation couldn’t be easy, could it? Lords James better hurry up!

                                                                                


 

“So, it is agreed that our forces are being assembled, and we will wait until I have signal from my man in Appledore for us to depart?” Moriarty says to the room, and the lords and ladies nod their confirmation. They are still in the great hall, but the food has been cleared away and a large map of the entire lands, including King Charles’s, is laid out in the centre of the table. On it are models, each representing every noble’s retinue, of which they would be captain. All of them are circling on the citadel of Holmes Palace, preparing for the siege with equipment, men, and artillery. “Wonderful! If my timings are correct that should give us four days until any action, by us, needs to be taken. For the meanwhile, keep in contact with your deputies, make sure everything is going smoothly, but please, enjoy mine and Lord Hooper’s hospitality!”

The lords and ladies cheer, and servants are summoned forward with paper and quills for correspondence. Moriarty himself rises from his chair and signals for Hooper, who has by now assumed the role as head of the nobility, to join him in a corner of the room, far away from anyone else.

“My man should sent us word in about two days’ time, then I think it necessary we give King Charles two days to follow-up his end of the bargain before we depart. We have forces and supplies for the siege, yes, but they will not last forever.”

“How long do you think it will take King Charles to get south?” Lord Hooper asks.

Moriarty shrugs. “Charles has a strong infantry, those horses can move fast. At best, it might take him a week. At worst, two.”

Hooper nods. “We should be able to deal with that.” He sounds assured, but looks a little worried.

“Do not worry, my lord.” Moriarty reassures. “My sister will be an invaluable tool to us. In fact, I am now going to give her the signal to unleash the first stage of our plan.”

Lord Hooper looks interested. “And what might that be?”

Moriarty smirks. “Oh, simply denying the people of the citadel their basic human needs. Now, if you will excuse me.”

He nods and leaves a pondering Lord Hooper behind. The man really has no idea how much power Janine really has, but those bastard Holmes’s are about to find out.

                                                                                   


 

The Queen is at her desk, writing to her contingents about supplies and weaponry, when something out of the window catches her eye. Mycroft is striding across the courtyard with letter in hand, obviously on his way to the armoury. Nothing wrong with that, although the Queen wishes he has taken utility of his bodyguard of men when moving around alone. That fear is confirmed when the Queen sees a hooded figure, most definitely Janine, following Mycroft. There is a strange aura around her, and the Queen realises that Janine has cast a cloaking spell around herself. Well, she didn’t account for Violet Holmes.

The Queen hastens from her chair and out of the chambers, waving away her ladies when they come to follow her. She barely takes in those she passes, so set on her route to the owlery. She is glad she so regularly takes walks in the gardens, for her past, whilst, does not wear her out. She crosses through the courtyard that she had seen Janine and Mycroft in, and sees a crow on one of the crumbling statues. It caws at her, and she turns away.

Upon reaching the owlery, the Queen notices there is an electricity of some kind around the door. Ah, another spell then. Well, that is easily dealt with.

The Queen sweeps the spell aside and enters the owlery, travelling up the spiral staircase quickly, but on light feet. At the top, she peers around the doorway to see Mycroft, cooing over his birds, and once she has a proper look, Janine, hiding behind some owls, preparing her spell, or possibly something darker.

Immediately, upon instinct, the Queen casts her own spell to block Janine’s. she cannot help but be amused as the woman looks confused as to why her spell hasn’t worked. She tries again, but the Queen keeps a firm grip on her blocking spell, not dissipating it until Mycroft has sent off his owl with his letter attached to its leg, and has exited the owlery, to where she stands.

He turns and startles to see her there, but the puts a finger to her lips to command him to stay silent. He gives her a puzzled look, but obediently follows her back out of owlery. They walk in silence until they reach the Queen’s chambers, where she turns to him and lets out a long-held breath.

“Mother? What is going on?” Mycroft asks, looking confused at his mother’s obvious relief.

“Janine, Mycroft. Janine was up there with you. She was going to put a spell, or even worse, a curse on you, most likely in reaction to your being out an about. And on your own, Mycroft! What were you thinking?! Next time, for goodness sake, bring your armed guard with you!”

Mycroft’s eyes have gradually widened whilst the Queen has been speaking, and he says, “My mind was on other things…”

The Queen indicates for him to continue. “I’ve written to King Charles Augustus Magnussen.” The Queen’s eyebrows raise by Mycroft holds up a hand. “I know, mother, that he is not a friend of ours, but he could be neutral to our cause if I at least reach out to him for a meeting. With what Moriarty has planned, I wouldn’t want him to have allied Magnussen to himself.”

The Queen looks unsure, but sighs resignedly. “This is a time of crisis, if we are to turn to King Charles.”

Mycroft sighs, too. After a moment, he takes the Queen’s hand. “Thank you, mother, for saving me from Janine. Tell me, how exactly did you do it?”

The Queen’s eyes dart around before she pats Mycroft’s hand. “Oh, simple. She may have magic but she’s not bright. All I did was have the birds distract her, you did train them so well.”

Mycroft looks smug. He really is fond of the birds. He doesn’t notice the Queen look away guiltily, straightening her fillet.

                                                                                            


 

Janine paces in her room, hands wringing together. Who could it have been? Who could have noticed her following Mycroft and then have been able to stop her curse? She wonders…perhaps she can use a spell she had read about, which will reveal, to her eyes, those who possess an ounce of magic in them. It may not work, only being effective on those who are born with magic, and haven’t learnt it from study and practice, but it was at least worth a try.

All thoughts of the spell flew out of her mind, however, when suddenly a magpie, her magpie, flies in through the open window to settle on its stand, its feathers ruffling a little. On its leg is tied a piece of paper.

Janine hastens forward and unties the paper from the magpie’s leg, stroking her pet’s head while she does it. Her hands fumble a little as she rushes to open the paper, eyes reading the message quickly and with mounting glee.

It is James, telling her to initiate the first stage of their plan. Janine smiles, and her magpie makes a terrible screeching sound and flaps its wings. Finally, something to do!

                                                                                          ***

Sherlock has kept his eyes focussed on the horizon for the hours they have been stumbling along, slowly but surely getting closer and closer to Appledore. The entire time, when Sherlock has not been focussing on how much pain he is in and how much he needs the blasted drugs, that is, he has been pondering over whether he should tell John who he really is or not. It is a tricky situation. Sherlock is scared that if he does tell John, then the man will not want to speak to him, will be repulsed that he is among the enemy. He is also scared, however, that the situation will become worse if he does not tell him, and John finds out from elsewhere. He is bound to find out once they reach Appledore, so perhaps it is better if Sherlock tells him on his own terms?

Sherlock’s thoughts are interrupted, however, when a sharp pain strikes in his stomach and instinctively hunches over and expels the measly contents of his stomach. John acts quickly and keeps supporting him while using his other hand to rub Sherlock’s back. Sherlock hears past his coughing and groaning, John’s men complaining and hollering.

“Quiet, everyone!” John spits. “We shall stop now. You, take your mate an survey the surrounding area. See if there’s anywhere sufficient for shelter. I believe that sheltered wooded area will be sufficient. Go!”

Sherlock hears boots scamper off into the distance and feels John’s breath on his face as the man leans down. Everything feels fuzzy, as if he is floating far above the earth, weightless, untethered. 

“William? Do you think you’re going to vomit again?” John asks.

Sherlock cannot answer. His brain doesn’t quite understand what John is saying, cannot process how to respond. John sighs, and gently begins to manoeuvre Sherlock over to the wooded area which has been declared home for the night.

“Murray! For lord’s sake, man! Help me with him!” John calls, and then suddenly on Sherlock’s other side there is another warm, stinking body, supporting him and practically dragging him to their shelter.

“William, stay with me, alright?” John says, voice clipped and filled with anxiety. Sherlock feels a pressure on his forehead, and it takes a few moments for his brain to catch up and realise it was John’s hand. “Lords, you’re burning up!”

Vomiting, burning up. Oh, Sherlock realises, this must be the withdrawal bearing its teeth and sinking them in deep. It was only a matter of time, he guesses. Perhaps it will kill him…. that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, he reckons. It would cause a lot less pain for everyone….

A wave of dizziness suddenly overcomes Sherlock and he suddenly feels himself falling down, and down, and down…

“William!” John’s voice shouting worriedly at him is the last thing he hears. “William!”

                                                                                             


 

It was far too easy for Janine to make her way to the underground water supply. An evading spell and a few sleeping spells here and there had ensured she didn’t find herself in any trouble. She was still wary of whomever had blocked her curse earlier in the day, but she had been extra stealthy, taking back passages and hiding away when needed. It was nearing midnight, so was not busy, but still, people could occupy those hours if they desired. Luckily, nothing had yet happened to stop her.

The final part of her journey takes her underneath the palace dungeons, and further down, until it is so cold Janine’s breath blows out in clouds around the pungent smell of earth evades her nostrils and seems to sting as much as the cold. Finally, Janine reaches a small cavernous area where a great walled reservoir sits, the water still and dark in the dim light.

Janine steps forward until she can peer down into the water and see her own reflection. Her face seems pale, and her eyes are tired. Usurping a family and seizing their power is hard work.  From under her cloak, Janine pulls out a small fabric bag, which she opens up and from it, she pulls out an egg.

The egg is larger than a regular chicken’s egg and is so large in fact that Janine has to hold it in both her long-fingered hands. It is a murky white, and on it are written some symbols of sorcery. Janine steps forward and holds the egg over the water. She speaks the spell which will catalyse the egg into action, and the symbols on the shell begin to glow. Janine smiles, pleased it has worked, and drops the egg into the water. It hits the surface, but strangely does not cause any splashback. Instead, the water consumes the egg, covering it completely until it is submerged. Janine can still see the symbols glowing beneath the surface, and it isn’t until that light seeps into the water, reacting and mixing with it, that she nods, satisfied, and turns away.

As she strides back the way she came, she wonders how long it will be before the first victims of her curse come knocking on the palace doors, asking for help, and receiving none.

 

Chapter Text

Everything is hazy, as if someone has blown flour at his face and it has gotten into his eyes so Sherlock cannot see properly. There is a strange glow from one side, but then a cavernous dark on the other. Sherlock feels that if he were to move, he might fall into either, and he might die.

His ears feel blocked, as if he is underwater. There is a strange, monotonous sound which he perceives, but if it is making anything close to intelligible speech, then Sherlock is none the wiser. He cries out as a cold, chilling sensation comes over him, and the tone of the sound changes, becoming lower and quieter. There is something on his face, and he throws up his hands to push whatever it is away. He suddenly feels restrained, and he fears the worst, that he is still at Blackmoor and at the mercy of Moran. The touch, however, is gentle, and the hands are rough yet comforting. Sherlock knows the feel of those hands from somewhere, knows that whoever they are is a comforting presence, but he cannot think who…

A cloud of fog bears down on him, and Sherlock finds himself giving in to the dark blankness of sleep…

                                                                                           


 

“Lords John, why don’t you just let him die?” Murray says, standing over John and the prostrate William.

“We’ve had this conversation already, Murray.” John spits as he dabs at William’s forehead with a cool cloth. The water he has had fetched from a nearby river, and the liquid had been so cold that ice had been drifting around on its surface. All the better, if it is going to kill William’s fever. “We cannot let him die, or King Charles will come down on us with the force of a ton of bricks.”

“You don’t know that.” Murray counters. “King Charles probably has no need of him. Look at him, a little waif of a thing. What could the King possibly want with him?”

At that moment, William’s hands fly up to push John away, but John gently grabs the man’s wrists and pushes them back down. The man is delirious and confused, and it pains John to see him this way; as if the man hasn’t been through enough already.

“I don’t know, but do you want to risk it?” John asks.

“That doesn’t sound like you, John, you like taking risks, really.” Murray says.

The words are like a slap in the face to John, because he knows Murray is right. However, circumstances are everything. “This isn’t the same as leading an impromptu raid on some brutish thugs, Murray. This is King Charles we are talking about. He holds my future in the palm of his hand. Sorry, but I cannot risk that, that would be pure foolishness.”

“Alright.” Murray shrugs, and walks away.

John sighs and hangs his head. This is a mess! The withdrawal is beating William down with all its might, and John is seriously concerned it might kill the man. John does not want him to go like this, undignified and weak. He cannot allow it as a healer, either.

There is a small voice in the back of his brain, however, that knows he does not want his association with William to end with his handing the man over to King Charles to procure his own freedom. John cannot deny anymore that he feels more than just affection for the man. No, it has grown into something much fiercer, to the point where John does not at all feel comfortable with leading this bruised and battered man to a king who revels in his own menace. He spits at Murray that they must do this for themselves, and yet John cannot bear sacrificing William for his own means. Meeting William has felt like a new fire is burning inside of him. Before, it had been his former life as a healer and his present life as a border raider, there was nothing else, John had always been working towards returning to the former. Now, though, John imagines a new possibility, one in which William is present. John does not know exactly how that might pan out, but it definitely does not end with William being handed over to King Charles.

John will have to figure it out with the man later, when William is better, and John can have a long talk with him, but for now, John needs to concentrate on not letting this man die.

                                                                                   


 

In his dream, Sherlock sees Victor. Victor, however, is much changed. His hair was lush and full, but now the blonde strands are thin and lank. His eyes were deep with a burning warmth, but now they have been eclipsed by a sorrow so bleak Sherlock shivers. He reaches out to him. “Victor? What’s happening?”

“You’re suffering from fever as a result of withdrawal.” The man turns to face him, body slow as it is littered with injuries. Blood seeps from his skin, dripping from his arms. He reaches for Sherlock, who instinctively coils back at the sight of Victor’s wounds.

“You’re hurt!” Sherlock exclaims, blinking rapidly. He looks around to take in the void of blackness they are contained in; it is impossible to see how vast the space is.

Victor nods. “Yes, because of you.” Sherlock stomach lurches as those words leave Victor’s mouth. “You’ve made a lot of mistakes, Sherlock, so why do you continue to make them?”

Sherlock hesitates, unsure. “What…what do you mean?”

“Look at you, embittered and resentful.” Victor says, looking at him in disgust.

“Well, I have been kept against my will and tortured.” Sherlock counters.

“Is that John Watson’s fault though?” Victor asks.

Sherlock’s heart jumps. “Excuse me?”

“Why are you fighting him?” Victor asks. His head tilts to the side, like it used to do, but now it seems more mocking and patronising.

“I’m not fighting him! I barely know him, he’s my captor!” Sherlock protests desperately, head raging.

“Oh, you know him. You know him like you knew me the first time you and I laid eyes on each other. Words don’t need to be shared for two people to understand each other like that.” Victor replies.

Sherlock is taken aback, and he shakily raises himself onto his knees. “Do you mean my deducing him?”

Victor sighs. “Sherlock, you always were a little blind about human emotion, weren’t you?”

Sherlock doesn’t answer yes or no, he knows Victor is correct. It is in his blood.

“You need to let go of your bitterness, Sherlock. You need to trust John implicitly. You want to, so what is stopping you?”

“When we get to Appledore, everything will change.” Sherlock replies, still reluctant to truly come around to what Victor is saying. “John will realise then, not who I am, but what I am, and what that is is his enemy.”

“Why don’t you tell him exactly who you are before that?” Victor says, lip curled. “Take control?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “Those with good intentions always get hurt when they know who I am.”

Victor scoffs, and Sherlock reels back at this nightmarish version of Victor. “Sounds like a pathetic excuse to me. Your intentions are much more selfish, aren’t they?”

Sherlock takes a ragged breath. His head is starting to spin and pulse in pain.

“Are you enjoying this? Playing pretend as a tanner’s son!”

Sherlock shakes his head. “No, of course not! You think I enjoy lying to John when I-”

“When you what, Sherlock? So afraid of your feelings! Look what Moran did to you! This is pathetic!”

Sherlock pushes Victor away in a fit of anger, but then finds himself on his back, slammed against a hard surface. Victor is crowing over him, hands to his throat, and Sherlock struggles and wrestles against those hands, but he can feel a burning in his lungs from that lack of oxygen, and suddenly he is falling into darkness, the unusual menace in Victor’s eyes impressed upon his memory….

                                                                 


 

Before the break of dawn is when William’s fever reaches its paramount, and John, who can trust himself to be calm in such situations, feels panic licking at his insides. Around him, all the men sleep, including Sanders, who is supposed to be on guard duty, but John is too preoccupied to berate him. William cries out, and John shushes him, cooling his burning forehead with the cold cloth. He wonders how long this infernal fever will rage, when all of a sudden William’s eyes fly open. John sets the cloth down and leans forward, taking the man’s pulse. It is speeding, but there is an awareness in William’s eyes that tells him the man is no longer under the hold of the delusions of fever. John presses a hand to his forehead, and finds it cool; thank the lords, the fever has broken!

“William?” John calls, and the man’s eyes turn to him, the pupils wide, but comprehending John nonetheless. “Are you alright?”

Before John can even be sure what is happening, William has bolted upright and is leaning forwards, pressing into him until their lips meet.

John’s first reaction is reflexive, and he pushes back, looking William in the eye. They are still close enough that John can feel the other man’s breath on his face. John is about to protest William’s action when he realises exactly what that action was, and that, actually, he really doesn’t mind.

John initiates the second kiss, and William lets him willingly. This is more than John had expected! He hadn’t realised how much he wanted this until now, when William’s body is flushed against his. The feel of William’s mouth is soft, and he tastes slightly salty, but John presses further, deepening the kiss and brining their bodies together, chest to chest. William’s arms come up and wrap around John’s neck. His tongue tentatively moves over John’s lips, and John welcomes the feeling, hand coming up to run through William’s short hair.

John is not sure what it is, perhaps the movement of a nearby animal or the snap of a twig, but he is broken out of their haze with a sudden jolt. He opens his eyes (when had he closed them?) and leans back, running a hand across his mouth. William moves back, too, removing his arms from around John’s neck and looks at him, face flushed. Around them, the men still sleep, but John can hear them shifting, and knows their private time is almost up.

“I’m sorry,” John mutters, getting to his feet. “I need to think…”

“John, wait…” William calls. John turns back and gives him an apologetic look.

“Look, no, it wasn’t that, that was…good, but I just…need to think, okay?” John stutters out. This has all happened so fast, but it all felt right, and now, those thoughts John had been having the night before all come flooding back.

“Alright.” William says, eyes hooded and dark. This is when John realises the man has only just recovered from a deadly fever and berates himself.

“I’ll get you some water and start on breakfast. You rest.” John says, moving away.

He can feel William wants to say something, but the man just slumps back against the ground and covers his eyes with his hands. John pretends not to see.

                                                                                         


 

“Your Majesty!” Anthea calls as she enters the council room, where Mycroft is sat alone, overlooking maps of the kingdom, alone apart from his personal bodyguards. He looks up as Anthea hastens forward, curtseys briefly, and then hastens forward some more. She is clutching in her arms many rolled up wads of fabric. Mycroft perks up.

“Lady Anthea, what have you found?”

“I have managed to procure five different blueprints of the palace, Your Majesty.” Anthea says, and places the fabrics down on the table in front of him. Mycroft sorts them out so they lay in a neat line, and runs a hand over all of them, hoping they will hold the information he desires.

He looks to Anthea and gives her a grateful nod. “Thank you, Anthea.”

“It was my pleasure, Your Majesty.” She says smiling. She hesitates for a moment before asking, “How is the King this morning?”

Mycroft sniffs, “The same. There is no improvement.”

Anthea sighs, and with only a little hesitation places a hand on Mycroft’s shoulder. Mycroft can feel his bodyguards tense, but he waves them off and lets Anthea’s hand rest there. For many years they have been in close quarters, discussing important matters of business, but through those years an unspoken friendship has formed, and Mycroft considers Anthea one of the few people he can fully trust. One of the others is hiding out in the kingdom somewhere, desperately searching for his brother.

Mycroft nods to Anthea as she pulls away, giving him a confident smile. He is about to say something when suddenly one of the palaces’ guards bursts through the council room doors. Mycroft’s bodyguards tense and hold out their weapon, but the man bows and comes no further. He is out of breath as he speaks.

“Your Majesty, there is an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?” Mycroft asks, stomach dropping like lead.

“A sickness, Your Majesty. A deadly sickness.”

                                                                                                 


 

“Tell me, what were your father’s last actions before he got sick?” Mycroft asks the pale-faced and agitated woman before him. They are in the grand great hall, with its dark marble pillars that reach floor to ceiling. Mycroft gets the impression the woman is intimidated by this. He does not blame her, he remembers as a child he thought those pillars to be the tallest things in the world.

The woman fiddles with her fingers as she thinks. “He…. he finished preparing the coals for tomorrow, and then he ate dinner.” She bites her fingernails as she thinks further, and Mycroft has to resist the urge to sigh as she struggles to remember what had happened only the night previous. “I remember he drank a lot of water, he was sweating from working by the fire all day. That’s all he did, nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Did he interact with anyone else throughout the day?” Mycroft asks, suspicions already forming in his mind.

“No, just myself and my mother. And we are not sick.” The woman replies.

“Where do you get your water supply from?” Mycroft asks.

“The pump in the centre of the traders’ yard, Your Majesty.”

Mycroft nods. “I see. I am sorry for your misfortune, please rest assured I will be looking into this immediately.”

The woman nods, and then, taking this as her que to leave, curtseys and is escorted out of the great hall. Mycroft turns, biting the top of his thumb as he thinks. Anthea comes forward to stand by him, equally pensive. Mycroft had been sure to have her pass on the blueprints of the castle to the Lady Molly before she joined him, wanting to keep them safe with someone they trusted until Mycroft could consult them later. Janine would not touch Molly, not after the woman’s pestering of her yesterday, and the small fact that Molly is daughter to a man who is surely a key ally to the Moriarty’s’ plans.

 “You think it is in the water, don’t you?” Anthea asks him, and Mycroft nods in affirmation. They have interviewed ten other people who have been affected by this sickness this morning, and there is a correlation in the activities of those affected that Mycroft realises could cause a very serious issue.

“Those people all got their water supply from different sources, so the sickness cannot come from those sources. It must be coming from the main water supply itself.” He says. “Come, we must to the reservoir.”

                                                                               


 

Mycroft wafts a burning torch over the surface of the water, careful not to get too careful. The water simply reflects the light of the torch, and Mycroft cannot see any signs of anything suspicious. Beside him, Anthea is also scouring the water for any hints of what it might conceal.

“There seems to be nothing out of order…” Mycroft mutters absently, still searching the surface. In resignation he draws away from the surface, taking the torch with him.

“Sire, look!” Anthea suddenly says, pointing at something below the water’s surface.

Mycroft hurries back over and looks to where Anthea is pointing.
“Wait, take away the torch, Sire!” Anthea says.

Mycroft does, chucking it to the ground, and when he turns back he is startled to see what Anthea had exclaimed about. The water seems to be glowing with a dulled yet stark light. It is unnatural, unlike anything Mycroft has ever seen, and he sighs as this confirms exactly what he had been suspicious of. He turns, grabbing Anthea’s arm and pulling her with him. He crowds close to her so that his bodyguards, who stand wide-eyed in the darkness, cannot hear what he is saying.

“Sorcery.” He spits.

Anthea nods at him, face pale and drawn. “What do you propose we do, Sire?”

Mycroft thinks. “At least get this guarded as soon as possible, in case who ever did this,” he says subtly, in case they are overheard, “cannot strengthen the spell in any way. Then we must cut off the water supply. People may have to resort to wine and ale for the moment. I know some manufacturers water it down with water, but that water is imported from either other kingdoms or from outside this county, so it should be consumable.”
Anthea nods. “And then?”

Mycroft frowns. “Then, I think we have need to consult with the Queen. She is knowledgeable and may know of some texts which could help. That is all I can think to do. we must deal with this as quickly and quietly as possible, no one must know exactly what it is.”

Anthea nods, “I will see to the matter of cutting off the water immediately, Sire.”

She curtseys and leaves, glaring at Mycroft’s bodyguards as she does, warning them to not speak of anything they may have heard in this gloomy cavern.

Mycroft gives one last glance to the water before turning and striding out of the cavern. He has no doubt his mother will be able to help. There is something she is attempting to hide, but is failing tremendously, forgetting Mycroft is not a child of five. Now he understands where Sherlock gets his inability to lie to people from. Not for long, anyway. Mycroft could always tell when he was hiding something. Unfortunately for Sherlock, James Moriarty had seen right through his pretend, too, and for the worse.

Mycroft worries what Sherlock might be going through, and if in any way is having to lie and pretend to survive. Mycroft despairs if that is true, for he is not sure if Sherlock could last much longer if so.

                                                                                         


 

Sherlock gazes blankly at the horizon in front of him, a horizon which for so long has been barren and bleak is now littered with something new. This comes as a relief to John’s men, who cheer and clap, but for Sherlock it tightens the coiled knot in his chest. There, ahead of them for a few leagues, but distinguishable in any case, is Appledore.

Sherlock can already tell it will be a bustling metropolis; hundreds of houses scatter both the outskirts, and surely span out inside the castle walls as well, castle walls which reach towards the heavens, dark stone blurring the longer Sherlock stares at them. Beyond those, or rather, captured within in them, even though it seems to be placed behind the walls like a theatre set, is the castle of Appledore. The dark stone echoes that of the city walls, and from what Sherlock can make of it tower upon tower climb upwards. It is imposing, which is not surprising, but still Sherlock feels a thrum of anxiety in his chest.

It seems they must travel through a dense, expansive forest before they are to reach Appledore, as the tops of those trees are also presented before them, the evergreen types among them still lush and full, and those deciduous types are skeletal and naked, unprotected in the winter chill.

Sherlock’s head pounds as he rests whilst John’s men celebrate their soon-to-be homecoming, still feeling delicate since his feverish night. They have been walking for only a short while, compared to what they have gone through in previous days, and yet Sherlock is defeated. Not only physically, but mentally, too. The heavy blanket of despair that had fallen on him that morning was still wrapped around him, suffocating him. He is incredibly tired, worn-down, exhausted.

John comes forward, slightly hesitant. Sherlock does not look up, cheeks flushing. After his nightmare, he had kissed John out of pure, selfish desperation brought on by his mental abuse of himself, the need to do something in this frustrating purgatory, stuck between Blackmoor and Appledore. He had been angry; why did he have to keep himself from falling for John Watson?! Obviously now, in the cold light of day, he understands why he cannot simply do that, but for those few minutes just before dawn, it had been wonderful. And John had reciprocated; until the man’s own reality came slamming into him like a charging horse.

“William?” John asks, concern practically spilling from his mouth. “Feeling well?”

Sherlock looks up at John, who stands above him, and shakes his head. “I am sorry, I cannot continue.”

John nods. “Fine, then I shall carry you.”

“What? John-no!” Sherlock protests. His cheeks burn ever deeper. “You cannot! You must not!”

“No, I will, it’s fine.” John says, not aggrieved at all. “I carried you for a while out of Blackmoor, you are not heavy.”

Sherlock sighs. “I…my ribs, John, I don’t think I can go over your back.”

John shrugs. “It’s fine. I’ll carry you another way.” He turns to his men before Sherlock can protest more. “Come, men! We’ve to get through the Darkling Forest, yet.”

When he turns back around John moves to fast for Sherlock to stop him. He winds his arms across Sherlock’s back and under his knees and lifts him from the ground. Sherlock flails for a second before wrapping his arms around John’s neck, incredibly close to the other man’s face now. Sherlock feels his cheeks flush red, willing his body not to react in any way to his sudden closeness to John. He refuses to look John in the eye, and instead looks to the ground. He can hear John’s men smirking and muttering, and his cheeks flush deeper.

“Everyone, get going!” John spits. “Stop sniggering between yourselves like children!”

The men grudgingly set off, bags slung over their shoulders and feet heavy against the earth. John looks down at Sherlock, who pointedly looks the other way.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock asks.

“Carrying you because you are unable to walk.” John states, his jaw clenched.

“Look, I’ve been thinking,” John says in a low voice, and suddenly Sherlock understands the man’s insistence on carrying him like this; the other men will be at odds to hear what they are saying. “And I cannot bear the thought of giving you to King Charles.” Sherlock goes to protest, heart racing, but John cuts him off, “No, listen. He’s my leader, but he’s not a nice man, and you do not deserve what he may do to you.”

“John-” Sherlock tries again to interrupt but fails.

“Maybe there’s something I can do? I could beg him not to take you? Or we could hide you away somewhere, somehow… I’ll lie, tell him that all we found was the ring. Then, I can keep you safe whilst we arrange safe passage for you across the border and back to your home village. Or, if you would like…. you can stay with me?”

“John…” Sherlock starts, but is unsure how to continue. He is uncomprehending of why John would risk his future for Sherlock, when he hardly knows him, when Sherlock is still lying to him! John’s perspective will surely change when he finds out exactly who Sherlock is. “John, if things were simpler, I would certainly find it aggregable to stay with you, but they are not, and you must take me to King Charles. I will be valuable to him, I know so.”

“Why?” John asks, voice hoarse, desperate.

Sherlock opens his mouth to reply but hesitates. “I…. know some valuable information. I will not have you risking yourself to hide me away or protect me in any way.” ‘Coward.’

John blinks, and his feet stumble a little, making Sherlock tighten his grip around the man’s neck. “But…what if I want to protect you?”

Sherlock sighs. “John…on this matter, please trust me that this outcome will be for the best.” ‘That way, you can protect yourself from me.’

John still seems confused though, when he asks, “Why are you so willing to give yourself up?”

“I won’t have you risking yourself for me.” Sherlock explains, tone short. Sherlock’s mind is swirling with the memories of his mistakes, the image of the bloodied Victor in his nightmare imprinted on his brain. “It happened before, with someone else, and they paid with their life. I will make sure it does not happen again.”

“Do you mean Victor?” John says, a little hesitant.

“Yes.” Sherlock says, realising he might as well give John some of the truth, even if he is coward to tell him the whole truth. “Victor, he…I loved him very much, but I made a mistake, and for that he was killed. So please, let me go to King Charles so that I might save you.”

John is taken aback. “I…don’t need saving from you, William. Don’t think people need saving from you.”

“You do.” Sherlock insists. “Believe me, John, if you knew the whole truth…”

“Then, please, tell me.” John asks, and Sherlock, for the first time throughout their entire talk, looks John in the eye. He sees there complete and utter willingness, openness. Sherlock feels a surge of bravery and is about to open his mouth when Murray calls out.

“Watson! Morgan’s twisted his bloody ankle! You think you can look at it?”

“Those idiots…” John mutters, and Sherlock lets his mouth close. The moment has passed. “Sorry, William, can you stand for a moment?”

“Yes.” Sherlock answers, although when John does put him down, his legs wobble like the grass around them in the harsh wind. He watches John march over to where the men circle Morgan, who clutches his ankle in apparent agony, his mind at war with itself; the anti-climax of a sudden confession that did not happen playing through his mind.

                                                                                        


 

“My, my.” The Queen says. “Janine Moriarty has been busy, hasn’t she?”
“It would seem so.” Mycroft replies. He is stood in her chamber whilst she is sat at her desk, interrupted in writing letters by Mycroft’s entrance. His tale of the sickness and the water has slowly but surely raised the Queen’s eyebrows, and her face has become drawn in anger.

“I see what she is trying to do.” The Queen spits. “Weaken the city, damage our water supply, make the people angry. Clever, but not clever enough.”

The Queen rises from her seat, “Mycroft, you must reassure the people that they are safe, send out a statement; they will appreciate it from their regent. I myself will look into this, I have a feeling I already know what it may be but will have to search deep in the library for the answers.”

Mycroft turns as his mother strides towards the door. “Mother, do you need any help?”

“I think Lady Hudson might be able to help, Mycroft, do not worry.” The Queen says, giving him a small smile. She pauses in her actions, stepping over to Mycroft. “Before I forget to tell you, Lady Molly has heard back from her sister.”

“Lords, that was fast.” Mycroft exclaims. “What did the lady say?”

“He offers us his full support.”

“Excellent news!”

“Molly will direct him to set off as soon as he possibly can, she will know more once he has crossed the Great Lake that separates his lands from the mainland.”

Mycroft nods, and rubs at his forehead. Sir Henry Knight’s lands lay across the Great Lake, a vast expanse of water which might as well constitute an ocean. “That will add another week, at least, to his journey. We are anticipating Moriarty and the nobles much sooner.”

The Queen nods. “I know. We will have to make do, but do not forget what other advantages we have, the passageways, for example.”

Mycroft nods. “Anthea has procured the blueprints, I will inspect them at the next possible moment.”

The Queen nods, “Good. Now, I must take my leave. The more people who die the worse this becomes. We must act fast.”

Mycroft watches his mother leave, wondering when on earth she will tell him the whole truth, stop hiding information from him. How on earth can he rule and respond to events without knowing the whole truth? Mycroft is learning, as his father had taught him, that the monarch must listen, but they must also actively ask, too. If the Queen will not tell him, then Mycroft will find out himself. Mycroft has always been independent. He will take initiative, and he thinks he knows how.

Chapter Text

Sherlock brushes down his thin and dirty shirt, taking a deep breath in through his nose, and then letting it out through his mouth. Behind him, stands the Darkling Wood, and in front of him, the citadel of Appledore. They have reached the end of their journey, and have now arrived to face, this day, King Charles Augustus Magnussen.

The night before had been long, no matter how exhausted Sherlock is, he hadn’t been able to sleep. He still hasn’t confessed to John the entire truth, and he worries now that it is too late; he assumes there will be no going back once they are in front of Magnussen, and therefore he will treasure that kiss between them, thinking it will be their last. Their affection is deep, or, Sherlock knows his certainly is, but one cannot feel adoration for a person who doesn’t exist; John is not in love with Sherlock, he is in love with William.

“Take a quick drink and piss if you must now, men,” John calls out, holding his own water flask. “There will not be time again before we enter the citadel.”
Sherlock stumbles over to sit in between the roots of a large oak; a pathway has been dug into the earth of the Darkling Woods, and as such some of the trees are higher than their level.

John comes over, handing Sherlock his water flask. Sherlock takes it with a nod of thanks, and watches, agitated, as John shifts from foot to foot, tugging at his earlobe with his thumb and index finger.

“No, wait I cannot do this.” John says, running a hand through his hair. Sherlock looks up at him. “I cannot allow them to take you. Quick, hide in those bushes over there.”

“That will not work, John, we’ve already been through this.” He says quietly, not looking at the man. “I cannot escape who I really am, although I have been trying to do so since we’ve met.”

Sherlock cannot see it, but he can predict the confused expression that now most likely graces John’s face. The man’s equally confused reply soon comes. “William, what does that mean? You’ve been talking in riddles for a while, now!”

Sherlock takes in a shaky breath and finally raises his head so that his eyes meet John’s. “It means I haven’t told you my real name. I mean, William is a part of it, but it is not what I go by. Not who people know me as.”

John shifts on his feet. “Then what is your real name?”

Sherlock is about to reply, heart ready to leap from his throat to the ground beneath him, when suddenly one of John’s men cries out. “Watson!”

John turns, hesitates slightly, before giving Sherlock an apologetic look and dashing away. Sherlock goes to call out for him, but his throat has closed up.

Sherlock can hear the sound of gruff voices speaking, mixed with John’s own. He stays where he is, sat among the roots of the tree, hiding for as long as possible.

“William!” John returns, face very serious. “King Charles has sent an escort to bring us in through the citadel and to the castle. Come, we must go now. King Charles will know if we take any more time than we need to.”

John holds out a hand to help him up, and Sherlock’s body is very briefly pulled close to John’s own as he is helped up from the ground. Sherlock wants for that feeling, but John is already turning, anxious to get to the escort.

When they breach the hill, Sherlock can see there is a retinue of four men, all armoured and upon horses, standing there with frowns upon their faces. Between them is another horse with no rider. Sherlock’s heart almost stops as he worries his status might be revealed in this simple action.

Luckily, when one of the guards, who presumably was the one who had spoken to John, comes forward, he does speak to him at all. He only gives Sherlock a long stare, eyes travelling down his body and then up again, judging. His lip curls, and he grunts, turning to fetch something from the vacant horse behind him.

“Here,” he says, throwing a bundle of fabric at Sherlock, “put this on and get on the horse. The King wants your face covered as a precaution. In case anyone recognises you. And all of you, not a word to anyone about who this is,” the man says to John and his men, threatening finger raised. “otherwise you will be killed immediately.”

The men all stand around looking thoroughly confused, but nod submissively anyway, telling Sherlock about the terrifying nature of King Charles’s authority. Sherlock unfolds the fabric to see it is a cloak with a large hood, that when he pulls it on himself and over his head, completely shield his face from view. It also prevents him from seeing very well, and he wonders if this is also a precaution: confuse Sherlock, make it so he is lost immediately upon his arrival.

“And someone bind his hands!” The guard then complains. “He’s a prisoner, for goodness sake, treat him like one!”

One of John’s men steps forward, most likely to protest that Sherlock’s hands had been bound until the fever had struck, but the guard spits at Sherlock’s feet and the men shrink back again. John is the only one to step forward, a length of rope in hand. He tries to catch Sherlock’s eye as he gently winds the rope around his wrists, but Sherlock does not look up, now grateful for the depth of the hood.

“Come on, let me help you on the horse.” John mutters, guiding Sherlock over to the steed. Sherlock strokes his hand over the steed’s side; he hasn’t seen a horse in months, let alone ridden one! He has missed it terribly. It is hard work getting onto the saddle, however, as his broken ribs scream in protest with every movement. Eventually, though, Sherlock is upon the horse’s back, and John is handing him the reins. From his higher viewpoint, Sherlock can now make eye contact with John. The man looks at him, his eyes full of all sorts of questions, but Sherlock shakes his head and looks down at the horse’s mane.

“Watson.” The gruff guard says as he mounts his own horse. Sherlock is not surprised the man knows John’s name. “Lead the prisoner’s horse, would you?”

John does, taking the reins from Sherlock’s hands. As he does, their hands make contact, and John’s hand quickly squeezes Sherlock’s. Sherlock’s heart skips a bit, and he feels vaguely sick.

The horse sets off at a low pace, and they proceed this way for quite a while. Every now and then, Sherlock looks up from the horse’s mane, and sees those tall city walls getting nearer and nearer. He can hear the sounds of a bustling city, and his heart aches for home; children laughing, vendors boasting about the quality of their goods, the clanging sounds of the blacksmith. If Sherlock were to close his eyes now, he could almost imagine he was back in the citadel of Sherrinford.

Sherlock does not close his eyes, however, and as they pass through the gaping gateway in the city walls, sentry guards giving a short nod to his armed escort, he peers out from under his hood to take in the people, and something does not feel right. As they traverse a long, dusty road through the centre of the bustling businesses and market stalls, Sherlock sees a nervousness in the eyes of the citizens of Appledore, as if they are afraid of something. Sherlock does not need to use his imagination to know what, or rather who, they are afraid of.

Some of the people stop to watch their small procession move past, with some young children running along with them to try and get a peek at the hooded prisoner. They are unkindly pushed away by the guards.

Eventually, after having climbed a sloping hill, they reach the castle of Appledore itself. It is cut off from the town by an expansive moat, murky water reflecting the bleak morning sun on its surface. The drawbridge connecting the two is down, and the guards posted to supervise it wave them through, the weight of their band of horses and men making the wooden bridge bend slightly under their weight. 

They enter into a courtyard, the horses’ hooves hitting the cobbles and making the sound echo throughout the large, empty space. Sherlock’s horse is eventually brought to a stop and he feels more than sees the presence of John’s hand by his side, offering to help him off the horse. Sherlock takes it, feeling unbalanced by his bound hands as he tentatively slides off of the saddle. His broken ribs feel as if they are being rattled around inside of him and he bites his lip to keep himself from crying out.

“I’m sorry.” John mutters in his ear, and Sherlock wonders how many times the man is going to say that before he realises Sherlock does not blame him at all, for anything.

Sherlock looks up as he hears swift footsteps getting louder and louder. A small, weaselly man is descending a swooping staircase, at the top of which is a cavernous doorway through which Sherlock assumes he will be taken. The man comes to a stop just in front of the retinue, hands on his hips, eyebrows raised and nostrils flaring. When he speaks, his voice is whiny, which does not surprise Sherlock at all.

“Take your time, why don’t you! The King is waiting, and he is very impatient!”

The head guard mutters his apologies, but the weaselly man simply tuts and pushes past him, heading for Sherlock, who lowers his head under the hood. The man stops in front of him, and Sherlock watches as his leather boots come together, feet sticking out to the sides a little.

“So, this is him, is it?” The man asks.

“Yes, sir.” John answers, “I am afraid he is quite sick, sir. He has been tortured and has been suffering from a fever.”

“Oh, really?” The man says with a put-upon sympathy which Sherlock doubts John will fall for. The man steps forward, hand reaching out to flick Sherlock’s hood away. He sucks in a breath when he sees Sherlock face, a small smirk gracing his lips. “Well, then, let us get on with proceedings. Tell your men to depart, Watson. Their services are no longer needed.”

The man flicks his wrist and the guards spring into action, gathering around Sherlock and pushing John backwards. Sherlock allows himself to be swept along in their retinue, shaky legs managing the staircase with only a little trouble; he is glad, falling now would be far too embarrassing. The weaselly man scuttles along in front of them, leading them through into a porch-like area, the main feature of which is a large, segmented doorway, with its wooden doors barred shut. Sherlock assumes that through the door is the great hall, where King Charles is most likely waiting for him. He dares to quickly glance over his shoulder and cannot help but feel relieved to see John stood there, behind the shoulders of Sherlock’s armed guard, face set in a heavy solemnness. Sherlock turns back before John notices he was looking.

Sherlock watches as the weaselly man nods to two further guards (Charles is obviously strict on security) who are posted by the large doorway, and the guards move forward to allow them entry. The two doors draw open like the curtains of a stage raising on the start of a play, and Sherlock knows that the story that is about to unfold is a tragedy. He is met with stark light, which hits him in the face. He instinctively reels back from it but is dragged forward.

Sherlock’s feet stumble as they walk forward, and he keeps his gaze on the ground as his heartbeat pounds in his ears. He watches the movement of the guards in front of them, allowing himself to absent-mindedly get lost in the rhythm of their boots hitting the ground.

Then, Sherlock can smell a fragrance, something floral, and yet it is verging on being bitter. Sherlock supposes the bitterness is the underlying body odour the floral scent is trying to conceal. It is only then that he realises they have come to a stop, and the smell belongs to a certain individual who now stands looming over them. Sherlock knows it is King Charles.

Sherlock will not raise his head to look at this man. He will not do anything to acknowledge him until he absolutely has to.

“John Watson and his band of men, Your Majesty.” The weaselly man says, bowing and then moving away.

“Well, well, well, Watson. Look what you’ve brought me.” King Charles says, voice crisp, with a coldness that makes Sherlock feel he has been thrown in the ocean during winter.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” John says, stepping forward, feet coming together as he bows to his king. “This man was all we found at Darkmoor. Oh, and also this ring.”

John, who is now stood a little to the side of Sherlock, fumbles in his pocket and brings out a golden ring. King Charles reaches out for it and John passes it to him, making sure their hands do not touch.

“Oh, a signet ring belonging to the house of Holmes. How intriguing.” King Charles said, voice drawling.

Sherlock shivers once again and feels sweat rising on his skin. John stands next to him, most likely thinking of whether he should throw caution to the wind and attempt to save Sherlock’s next, unbeknownst to what will surely happen soon. Sherlock can almost pre-empt the moment, like the air changing as if a fist were flying towards his face.

“Such an object is marker of who it belongs to. We all recognise it as the coat of arms of the Holmes family. We all abhor it. We know it without knowing the face of its owners. Why would we, Watson? They live in their cushy palace in the south, not even bothering to defend their borders in the north, so that men like you, Watson, can take their treasures. Tell me, though, would you be able to identify any member of the royal family of Holmes?”

John shifts a little on his feet, and Sherlock doesn’t miss this hesitation. His heart jumps in his chest as he thinks: does John already know? Did he figure it out? John answers in the negative, however, “No, Your Majesty, I would not.”

Magnussen steps forward, coming closer to Sherlock. His floral scent is now overwhelmingly pungent, and Sherlock’s nose wrinkles. He continues looking at the ground. He wonders, very briefly, what his father might think of him in this moment; he would probably tell him to raise his head and look his enemy head on, but Sherlock has never been the son his father wanted, and so therefore he will do as he likes. Besides, it might do some good for him to look scared by Charles, might instil some false sense of victory in the man. At least, that is what he tells himself.

Sherlock suddenly feels a finger against his chin. He twitches a little at the feel of Magnussen’s skin on his; the touch is cold, and a little damp, and is incredibly repulsive. The finger forces him to raise his head, bit by bit, until he finally rests his gaze on King Charles Augustus Magnussen. Piercing eyes meet his, and hot breath hits his face. A smile graces Charles’ face, and pearly teeth peek through a well-groomed beard shot through with grey, bared like a shark’s fangs. 

“Then you have no clue who you were in the company of for the past few days?” Charles asks John, not drawing his gaze away from Sherlock’s. Sherlock tries to keep his expression blank, emotionless.

Sherlock feels John hesitate. “….No, Your Majesty.”

“You have lost some of your beauty,” Charles says, now to Sherlock, and his finger moves upwards to stroke a line from Sherlock’s forehead down to his cheek, smarting a bit at fading bruises and cuts. “but it was necessary. Look at you, little down-beaten puppy. Much, much better than a vicious Jack Russell, don’t you think?”

Sherlock doesn’t answer, breathing heavily through his nose.

“The stories James Moriarty told me about you. Naughty. Very, very naughty.” Charles tuts, shaking his head. “You needed to be punished, taught how to act, if you were to join me. Tell me, have you learnt your lesson?”

Sherlock still does not answer, but Charles hand starts to turn, so that his entire hand is now gripping Sherlock’s chin, and gripping it hard. “Tell me, have you learnt your lesson?”

Sherlock knows what Charles wants, a submissive political pawn, and he realises that in the long term it might be easier to be the broken thing Charles wants. It is not too hard to play that person, it is not far from the truth, so Sherlock nods, trying to pull his face away from Charles’s grip. The king’s smile widens, and Sherlock can tell he is enjoying Sherlock’s struggles as he tightens his grip.

“Good. Very good. Moran has done well.” Charles remarks. Sherlock’s stomach flips as he hears Moran’s name; not too far from the truth, precisely.

“What would you father say, hmmm? His disgraced younger son, now a prisoner at the court of his enemy. Prince Sherlock Holmes of Sherrinford, reduced to this. How tragic.” Charles says, and with those words, the truth is out.

Sherlock risks a glance to John, who seems frozen in place, face still. Charles, of course, notices the glance and looks with a new interest between the two men. “I was correct then, Watson. You did not have a clue who was in your care.”

John swallows, eyes wide, but manages to remember himself as he shakes his head and says, “No, Your Majesty.”

John’s eyes flick to Sherlock, and Sherlock tries to show John how sorry he is in one look. He is not sure how successful he is, as John doesn’t visibly react, but it is not long before John looks away again, this time at the ground.

Charles chuckles, letting go of Sherlock’s chin. “How amusing.” His eyes linger on Sherlock’s face for a moment before travelling down to Sherlock’s bound hands, the palms dirtied from their journey. “You will have to be bathed before the wedding.”

Sherlock cannot stop himself from blurting out, “Wedding?”

Charles smiles at him, teeth bared once again. “Yes, wedding. Our wedding. We’re getting married.”

Sherlock had expected a ransom, or perhaps torture, but he had never expected that Charles would do this with him. His mind has gone blank, and he blinks, mouth opening and closing before asking, “Why?”

Charles’s eyes widen. “I don’t think you are in any position to be questioning my decisions.”

Sherlock catches himself, and whilst he is fuming on the inside, full of question after question, he lets his gaze fall back to the floor. Charles watches with satisfaction, head tilted slightly to the side.

“I will have my man escort you to your room. Culverton,” Charles calls, and the weaselly man scuttles forward. “take Prince Sherlock to the rooms we have had prepared. Make sure he is kept restrained.”

Culverton steps forward, flicking a finger at the armed guard so that crowd around Sherlock further. Charles has already turned his back, heading towards his vacant throne which stands on a dais behind him. John steps forward to clear his throat, and Charles turns, surprised at John’s presence.

“Oh,” Charles says, turning to John as if he had forgotten he was there. “Watson. You are free to go. Your sister’s debt is repaid. The reward for your services will be with you soon.”

John’s eyebrows rise up to his hairline, and he blinks several times. “Your Majesty, I still have six months left.”

Charles sniffs, waving an impatient hand. “Not anymore. Bringing him here was enough. You may leave my service.”

Sherlock’s heart drops like lead. This is it, then; John will not want to pass up this opportunity, he would be a fool to, no matter what he had said the day before, when Sherlock was still simple William.

John looks from Sherlock to Charles, and Sherlock catches the look on his face. It is possibly apologetic, possibly sorrowful, Sherlock cannot be sure, but eventually John turns from him and bows to Charles. “Thank you, Your Majesty.” He says, before turning and leaving, footsteps Sherlock has become so accustomed to hearing fading further and further away.

Once John is gone, Charles turns back to Sherlock, who still looks to the spot where John had stood. He comes ever closer to Sherlock, until Sherlock can pick out every small detail of the king’s maroon velvet doublet. He strokes a finger down Sherlock’s cheek again, and Sherlock cannot help but twitch. His head is raised again until he meets Charles’s eyes, and the man puts his thumb on Sherlock’s bottom lip, stroking it gently. “I will save our first kiss for our wedding. Keep you pure and untainted. I wish I could say you were virginal, but you already saw to that with a servant, didn’t you? I sincerely hope Moran has beaten that kind of behaviour out of you.”

Sherlock does not answer, feeling every inch the piece of dirt Charles sees, and eventually Charles shoves his face away, making Sherlock stumble.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Take him away!” Charles spits at Culverton, and then Sherlock’s small retinue is moving away; away from Charles, away from John, away from any hope of forgiveness.                                                                             


 

Sherlock barely sees where they are taking him, his eyes blind as his thoughts whir around in his head. He should not be so disappointed, he had anticipated this, and yet the look on John’s face and the memory of his turning and walking out of the room sting Sherlock like nettles. He deserves this, he knows that. He should have held himself back from John, spared them both the emotional agony; Moran had literally beat it into him that he is underserving of anyone’s affection, so why couldn’t he learn?

Sherlock trips as he is led up a set of stairs, and Culverton tuts, pulling on his arm so that he is stumbling with torso bent forwards, unable to get balanced with his bound hands. Culverton laughs as Sherlock almost completely falls, but he does manage to get his feet under himself again. Another staircase is ahead, and Sherlock holds his breath against the jarring of his ribs.

He remembers what his father had said to him that day in the great hall, and wonders whether he may be right; ‘caring is not an advantage.’ Sherlock has been hurt for caring, the memory of Victor still pursuing him in dreams, his ultimate use and dismissal of John, and although he has always tried to protest against his father, at this moment Sherlock heeds his words and tries his best to push any thoughts of John out of his head, any of Victor. ‘Victor is dead,’ he tells himself, ‘and dead means worm food. Gone. Completely. I need to accept that and move on.’ He fights against the thoughts and he pushes his reservations down. They are no good to him now.

He will not think of John. Not now. Maybe never. He will not think of all John stood for; how he had given Sherlock a new hope. No. John is gone, and Sherlock does not blame him.

Finally, they arrive at a set of double doors, guarded by two men in uniform. Culverton nods at one and the man pulls a key from around his leather belt and unlocks the door. Culverton smiles slimily at Sherlock as he welcomes him into his new lodgings, or should he say, prison.

The room is smaller than Sherlock’s chambers at home, and a little musty, but on the whole not particularly unpleasant. There is an unlit fireplace, and two chairs gathered around it, whilst a canopied bed rests in the centre of the room, sheets crisp and uninviting. It is cold in the room, and Sherlock feels himself being drawn to that bed, the first he has seen in months.

“Get settled. Servants will be by soon to bathe you and to dress you for the wedding.” Culverton orders, pulling Sherlock forward by his arm and then letting him go, making Sherlock fall to the floor with the momentum.

“The wedding is today?” He asks once he has gained his bearings.

Culverton nods his head, smiling in a patronising manner. “Well we don’t have the time to wait around, do we?”

Culverton takes his moment alone with Sherlock, barring the guards, to spit on him, lip curled. “Look at you. Shameful to your family. I sincerely hope you learnt your lesson, because if you didn’t….” he clenches his hand into a fist, nostrils flaring as he smiles maniacally. “If Charles didn’t want you I would rip your bones from your body, and lords it would feel so good.”

Sherlock doesn’t have time to reply before Culverton is turning away and the door is locked shut behind him. Sherlock crawls over to the bed, slowly making his way onto the mattress. The comfort is unlike anything he’s known for a long time, but Sherlock feels so numb he barely registers this small mercy.

His body is wracked with shivers and suddenly, it all becomes too much, the months of torture and degradation, all that had preceded that and all that came after, and Sherlock lets tears fall from his eyes, unseeing through the moisture as they drop to the floor. He tells himself he will change after this, but for now he lets the tears fall, and calls it the end of his caring, a farewell to who he has been.                                                                                     


 

John completely ignores Murray, who is waiting for him just outside the castle gates, and keeps walking, head down and shoulders hunched.

“When are we going to be paid, Watson?” Murray asks.

“Soon.” John lies, to get the man to leave. Murray seems satisfied by that and stops walking, leaving John to stride off alone.

He crosses through the backstreets of the town, taking a shortcut towards his house. He hopes Mrs Turner, the woman next door, has made sure it has not come to any damage; it is all John has left now.

He should be happier, he thinks, that the freedom he has been longing for is finally his, but instead he feels…. hollow, bitter. Life has led John down the garden path and the punched him in the face at the end of it. Prince Sherlock Holmes of Sherrinford. Geez, John has been falling for, and actively acting on that crush, a prince! Not only that, a prince he has been told he should hate! He feels foolish, like a puppet that has been made to perform a panto scene, and he wonders if he was a bit of fun for the prince to have, a little bit on the side whilst he was forced to travel among common folk. He shakes his head of any doubts and concentrates instead on the feelings of anger and resentment.

Those who he has known his entire life greet him as he turns onto the street where his small abode resides, and an instant feeling of relief comes over him as he smells and sees home. John lives in a small terrace building, the houses themselves made up wood and brick, all centring on a small courtyard. There, as usual, sat on an upturned barrel next to his doorway, is Mrs Turner, John’s neighbour. She is smoking on her clay pipe, as usual, cheeks rosy, grey hair tied in a messy bun on the top of her head.

“Here’s a sight for sore eyes,” She says as John reaches his front door. “How was the trip, Johnny?”

John suddenly has no patience for the woman, and he feels a tidal wave of annoyance rise in him as he spits, “Is anyone ever looking out for anyone but themselves?! Is goodness never enough to make people not act selfishly?”

“Dear, dear,” Mrs Turner says, smoking pipe drawn away from her face as she frowns disapprovingly at John. “What’s gotten into you? Your sister back on the drink?”
“What-no! No, Mrs Turner.” John says, covering his eyes with his hands. He sighs, straightening his shoulders. “I need a wash.”

He passes by the older woman and she watches him go, puffing out plumes of smoke like a dragon. John slams his front door behind him, resting both palms on the wood. What a mad, mad few weeks. He knows he should let it go, forget that moment between him and Wil-Sherlock…but, he cannot.  

He had been ready to help the man, possibly risk it all in front of King Charles to spare him, made himself look the fool, and yet Sherlock had said nothing, all the while knowing who he was and how impossible John’s hopes had been. John doesn’t know what he expected from a royal prince of his inherent enemy, but he cannot face the irony that he had always shown kindness as a border raider as he knew that was not all he would ever be, but now that he has gained that freedom…. he feels more embittered than ever.

John pushes off from the doorway and heads through to the outer yard to have a wash, both literally and metaphorically, pushing all thoughts of Prince Sherlock from his brain.                                                                                             


 

Sherlock watches apathetically as two servants stagger in carrying between them an iron bath, placing it down on the ground near the fire. Another two servants follow carrying buckets filled with steaming water, and Sherlock shivers, anticipating his first wash in months.

In due course, the water is poured into the bath and the servants leave, only to be replaced by another pair carrying food and drink, which they place down on a side table by the lancet window. Sherlock looks at the berries and fruit with relish.

He is so preoccupied by trying to get the inertia to move himself off the mattress and towards the comforts in front of him he does not notice the familiar footsteps approaching, the door shutting behind whoever has entered, until they speak.

“Well, well, well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” Moran says.

Chapter Text

Sherlock falls from the mattress, hitting the ground hard. He cries out and Moran laughs as he watches his ex-prisoner’s battle, not moving to help Sherlock as he moves cautiously, finally getting himself into a sitting position. He peers up at Moran, who looks the same as he had the last time Sherlock saw him, at Blackmoor: blonde hair styled perfectly, dark clothing smart, fingernails pristine. He bends down to Sherlock’s level, looking him over how one might look at a precious item of immense value.

“Oh dear, I can see you haven’t fared very well without me.” He says, tutting. Sherlock’s chest is heaving, and he looks at Moran darkly. “Did you miss me?”

Sherlock does not reply, but lets himself curl his lip at the man. It was easy to hold back his anger and fear with King Charles, appear a blank slate, but in front of Moran Sherlock cannot help but give in to his base instincts.

“King Charlie wanted me to keep you company. I’ve let Lord Moriarty know you’ve arrived, aren’t you excited?”

“For what?” Sherlock spits, voice gravelly, taking in that Moran is in correspondence with Moriarty and therefore most likely feeding him back every detail, “My wedding?”

“Oh, there is so much more to look forward to after that.” Moran says, shaking his head. “You have no idea.”

“Then please,” Sherlock drawls, putting on his best disgusted face, “enlighten me.”

Moran laughs, “Not going to happen. You cannot get everything you ask for. I thought I’d drilled that into you, or have you still not learnt your lesson?”

He leans forward, peering into Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock cannot help but be reminded of the last time he had provoked Moran into anger, the brutal beating that had followed, possibly best to avoid that now, although he cannot help but deduce that Moran is tired, worn by the no doubt tedious simpering and supplicating King Charles desires. He remains silent, but meets Moran’s eyes, daring.

“King Charles expects you to be a whimpering mess, you realise?” Moran says, eyes roaming over Sherlock’s damaged body. “You look it from the outside, but a leopard never changes its spots, does it? Tell me, Sherlock, did you find any willing raider to throw yourself all over during the journey? Someone to sate your needs?”

Images of John come to mind, and Sherlock retorts, “Do not worry, images of you kept me from giving myself away; took away my appetite, if you follow.”

Moran’s lip curls, and his hand moves, as if to strike Sherlock, and Sherlock flinches. Then, however, he realises that Moran cannot hurt him. He cannot afford to injure Sherlock further, not when they are in the lion’s den, and Sherlock is soon to belong to King Charles. And surely, from what Moran has hinted at, Moriarty’s plans for Charles go beyond just Sherlock, and therefore Sherlock is but a powerful possession in this game of power. Sherlock spares a thought for his family, his kingdom, what this may mean for all of them, but puts it to the back of his mind for now, focussing on not giving Moran the satisfaction of seeing him crumble. More for his personal satisfaction than anything else.

“You know, Lord Moriarty understands that no amount of torture, not of the physical kind, anyway, could break you. Not really.” Moran says, flicking his fingers to indicate some of Sherlock’s cuts and bruises. “No, he just wanted me to whittle you down a little, make you weak, make you a little less cock-sure. Rumours will start spreading, if my lord has anything to do about it, and the people will know your family has sent you away in shame. They will think you went quite mad and began wooing servants. Then what may they think?”

“People think a lot about me that is not true.” Sherlock spits back. “And I do not care.”

“Oh, you might if the future of your home depends on it. Lord Moriarty already has the military force, all he has to do now is break your family with rumours and whispers.”
“What are you talking about?” Sherlock asks, although he can certainly deduce quite a bit from Moran’s words. A military assault on his family, but with King Charles’s forces only? They would be up against quite the defence, involving both the army and the nobles’ contracted forces as well. Moriarty must have something else up his sleeve, but what, what is it, what is it, what is it….

“No telling.” Moran reproaches, breaking Sherlock’s train of thought. “King Charles wants you nice and easy and playable….it is rather humorous, actually, Lord Moriarty has been feeding him, week by week, month by month, with little pieces, little tastes of you, giving him the image of a young and impressionable little prince, neglected by his father, needing of a strong hand to guide him.” Moran suddenly leans forward, grasping Sherlock’s thin wrist in his large hands. He presses down hard, not enough to cause bad damage, but enough to hurt, “And that is exactly what you will be, you hear me? You’re clever, princeling, I give you that, but do not forget you are a prisoner here, and you are severely outnumbered. Just show King Charles your pretty little face and keep your mouth shut, yes?”

Sherlock wrenches his arm out of Moran’s grip, tied hands flying around as he fights the man’s hold. Moran lets him do so, and Sherlock keeps his face impassive. In a strange way, he is almost grateful for Moran’s gloating, for it has given him something else rather than John to focus on. He suddenly realises how much bigger this situation is than just simply him, and if anything will turn his endeavour away from emotions and towards cold hard facts it is this; Sherlock has always liked puzzles, and he will gladly take up the challenge.

“Come. You need a wash.” Moran says, clapping his hands together. “You are getting married today, after all.”
He roughly grabs Sherlock under his armpits, pulling him up and onto the mattress, so that he is lying with his legs dangling over the side. Sherlock does not help Moran as the man roughly gets rid of his clothing, using a dagger he keeps in his boot to slice through Sherlock shirt, blade nipping at his skin, and then roughly pulling off his boots and trousers. Once the clothes are discarded he surveys Sherlock’s naked, blemished and bruised body, as Sherlock is a cut of meat at the market. “This will please King Charles immensely.”

The weight of those words is almost palpable between them as Moran pulls at the rope around Sherlock’s wrists, yanking him upwards to his feet. Sherlock’s leg muscles cramp, but they have, at least, been severely conditioned through his poor circumstances to actually hold his weight, so Sherlock does not fall head first to the floor. King Charles has made his feelings known, and the moment the word ‘marriage’ was mentioned Sherlock has been aware of its implications. Despite his very recent promises to himself to remain impartial, a thrill of fear travels through his body like lightening. He needs some way to sort his thoughts, separate emotion from rational thought, if he is to survive this, but how?                                                                                       


 

Once John has cleaned the sweat and grime from himself, and has changed into clean clothes, he realises his thoughts from earlier might have been a little too rash. Sherlock Holmes might be a royal prince, but anyone who has been kept in a decrepit castle dungeon, naked, in the middle of winter, and has been subjected to who knows what brutality would surely be feeling sensitive and sore after all that time. And most definitely scared if rescued by a man who professes kindness but is leading you to your enemy in any case. Added onto that the drug withdrawal that has tortured the man’s body, John wonders if it isn’t too hard to believe Sherlock would conceal his identity, if John had shown him kindness at first, and Sherlock had wanted to keep it that way. John doesn’t think he would have denied Sherlock his care even if he had known his true identity, but then again, John has been conditioned into hating the Holmes royal family his entire life, and he wonders if his feelings on the matter would be different if he knew from the start exactly who he was rescuing.

There is a humanity to the man he has spent the last few days with that John knows sweeps aside any notions of titles and alliances, and John feels stupid for not having seen it earlier. Sherlock faked that cold façade because he felt vulnerable, but the man beneath had been raw, genuine, and John cannot sit idle whilst he goes through lords know what.

John is no expert, but he had seen the look in Sherlock’s eyes, the uncommon display of emotion when John had left, and had felt his lips on his own, and lords if he does not act on those singularities then he will regret it for the rest of his sorry life! John has been stuck, for a long time, between a rock and a hard place: Harriett will not help herself, despite how much John has tried to help her, and John has had no real plans put into place about how he might return to doctoring now that he is free. Sherlock has felt like the one who might pull John out from between the rock and the hard place, like a turning over a new leaf, and opportunity John cannot miss. John knows he cannot let that man be alone in enemy land and not help him, and he cannot be sure if what he is doing is logical or if in any way will he get any sort of pay off, but he has to help Sherlock.

He grabs his clean, smart leather doublet from its hook by the door, and checks his freshly shaven face quickly in the small mirror hanging on the wall; he looks better than he has in a while. He grabs a satchel which contains all his medical supplies in it and heads for the door, breathing heavily. He must be mad, but if madness be the way forward John is a willing participant.                                                                                


 

“Watson, by what means do you seek an audience with me on my wedding day?” Charles asks, voice clipped, irritated. John goes into a low bow, knowing he will have to do all the grovelling he can manage if he wants to succeed.

“Your Majesty, forgive me, but I have come to offer my services.”

Charles’s eyebrows raise. “But I just dismissed you.”
“Apologies, my lord, I did not mean as a raider. I meant as a physician. Specifically, as personal physician to Prince Sherlock Holmes.”

Magnussen’s face stills, before his head tilts to the side, evaluating John. “Why?”

John shifts on his feet but presses on, “I am certified to practice healing, and I am already aware of the prince’s ailments, it would certainly help keep him…. ready for you, at all times.”

Magnussen’s eye twitches, a sign John knows he is affected by John’s words. John holds his breath as he waits for the king to speak.

“That seems an agreeable arrangement. You will, of course, have to spend every hour with the prince, so as to ensure he does not fall ill to any ailment or injury.”

John nods. “That is fine, Your Majesty.”

“You would not be able to live with your sister anymore, you would have to take up residency in the prince’s chambers.”

John’s cheek twitches at the mention of his sister. “Fine once again, Your Majesty. My sister is at a nunnery now, where she cannot fall into sin.”

Charles nods, a finger coming up to stroke at his beard. “Very well. If that is your wish.” John nods and bows, thanking Charles over and over.

“Culverton!” Charles shouts, and out scurries Culverton, bowing and simpering. John is coming to believe the man lives in the space under the dais. “Show Watson to the Prince’s quarters. He is to act as the man’s personal physician.”

Culverton gives John an evaluating look, but follows his masters command without comment, and John is being led away from the throne, and through a door to the side of the hall. He cannot believe he has gotten away with it.                                                                                  


 

“Come here.” Charles says, beckoning with a finger. “Closer. Closer.”

Sanders shakes as he comes forward, dropping into a low bow in front of his king. Magnussen leans forward on his throne, the wood creaking loudly in the empty expanse of the great hall. “Now, what is it you have to tell me?”

“The prince, Your Majesty….” Sanders stutters, looking at the ground.

“Yes…?” Charles drawls.

“The Prince and John Watson, Your Majesty. I saw them…. kissing.”

Charles’ eyes narrow, lips pursed together. “Do you know who initiated the act?”

“It was the Prince, Your Majesty.” Sanders replies, mouth bone dry. “It was early morning, they thought everyone was asleep.”

“My, my.” Charles mummers, stroking his beard. “How very interesting.”

Sanders quivers, tentatively looking up at the king. There is a smile on his face that promises further misfortune for the prince and John Watson. Sanders wonders whether it was entirely worth it for a single bag of gold.                                                                                           


 

Sherlock is draped in only a thin, open gown, the sash tied tightly around his waist. Despite the warmth of the bath he has done his best to try and enjoy, ignoring Moran’s looming presence, he cannot help shivering, as the fireplace remains unlit. He sits in one of the high back chairs, and lets his mind wander as Moran humiliatingly feeds him a plate of food one fork-full at a time, because apparently Sherlock cannot do it himself. It is a control game, Sherlock knows, to keep him knowing his place. Moran has done this far too many times so it truly does not make any impression on him.

Sherlock closes his eyes, centring his mind on something other than reality. There must some technique, he thinks, that helps with the retaining of memory that he can then apply to his own mind in order to separate himself from said memories to gain complete control over what does or does not affect him. How, though? The fork prods at his mouth, and Sherlock accepts the food, irritated at the disturbance. Now that the last dregs of the drug withdrawal are leaving his body, his thoughts seem clearer. If only he could be left alone to think!

At that moment, the door to Sherlock’s room opens, and Sherlock’s eyes fly open. Culverton stands there, that constant look of displeasure gracing his face. Moran stands, chucking the plate of food and the fork at Sherlock, cross at their interruption, “What is it?”

“King Charles has appointed a personal physician for Prince Sherlock, Moran.” Culverton answers, and from his tone Sherlock can tell there is an atmosphere of resentment between the two men.

“Who is it?” Moran asks.

“John Watson.” John says, stepping into the room. “You may call me Doctor Watson.”

Sherlock hastily swallows the mouthful of food for fear of choking on it. John?! What is John doing here? Surely, he cannot have come back for Sherlock, not after all he now knows? And just as soon as Sherlock had decided not to be involved in messy emotions…it is as if the gods have set to turn the universe against him!

“Right,” Moran says, crossing his arms, “And you are here because?”

“I have been appointed His Royal Highness the Prince’s personal physician, sir.” John replies, tone clipped. Sherlock’s eyebrows raise. What is John doing?

“Very well,” Sherlock says, putting on his best face of royal authority, “let the man in, Moran.”

Sherlock watches John face as the identity of the man he knows has harmed Sherlock is revealed, and Sherlock feels a rush of thrill as a silent yet thrumming anger suddenly travels through John, his eyes become harder, brows lowered.

Moran follows suit, stepping to the side, allowing John to fully step inside the room. He bows low to Sherlock, “I hope I will be able to serve you well, Your Highness.”

Their eyes meet for a moment, and Sherlock tries to convey his confusion. This is why he needs to do without human emotion: why would John return when Sherlock had betrayed him? Sherlock cannot understand it, John is taking a severe risk when he could have walked away with his freedom!

John rises from his bow and turns to looks towards both Culverton and Moran, who watch him like two predatory cats. “My quarters…” John says, “They are?”

“Through that door there,” Culverton replies, pointing to a door set in the far corner of the room. John nods.

“Right…well, if I might I should like to get settled.” He says, and Culverton finally nods and leaves, closing the door behind him. Moran, however, stays where he is, and John looks to him. “Sorry, who are you?”

“Sebastian Moran.” Moran replies, not offering John his hand. “His Royal Highnesses’ personal body guard.

John nods. “Very well. Might it be possible to have a moment alone with my patient, to allow the Prince some privacy whilst I assess his wounds?”

Moran goes to reply ‘no’, but Sherlock interrupts. “I will be fine, Moran, you may wait outside.”

It feels so good, to see Moran’s face thunderous as he realises he must obey Sherlock or appear impudent. He does not know John is completely aware of who he is, that he is not just some hired lackey. He nods, bows quickly to Sherlock and turns to leave. At the doorway, however, he pauses. “Oh, Your Highness, His Majesty the King thought you might appreciate this gift.” He pulls from inside his doublet a small closed pouch and sets it down on a drink’s stand by the door. “I shall be right outside.”

His smile is like spoiled treacle, and once he has left, door closed and locked behind him, Sherlock raises himself from his chair and grabs the small pouch, aware of John coming closer. He pulls open the drawstring, and once he sees what is inside, he throws it to the ground, spilling some of its contents. Damn him! This gift was not from King Charles, but from Moran, Sherlock is sure of it.

“What? What is it?” John asks, stepping forward to look down at the spilled gift.

“John, please get rid of it, before I do something I will regret and will make you more cross at me.” Sherlock says, turning away and not catching John’s bewildered look. Sherlock wishes he was stronger, strives to be, but the temptation is right there in front of him and he will give in unless it is taken away. “John, get rid of the drug, please!”

John starts back into action, understanding, now, what Sherlock means. “Oh, shit.” He picks up the bag, sweeping as much of what had fallen out with his hand as he can. He crosses to the window, and Sherlock watches as he opens it with a small squeak of the hinge. Sherlock edges forward, so he can take in the view, and notes they are on the other side of the castle, overlooking its motte, instead of the courtyard.

“That’s fortunate.” John notes, before he throws the pouch from the window, and both of them watch it travel faster and faster downward, hitting the water with a large splash.

“Thank you.” Sherlock mutters, suddenly stepping away from John when he realises how close they are. He returns to his chair, sitting down and easing off his legs. John shifts from foot to foot, clenching and unclenching his hands into fists.

“Did you know?” He finally asks, and Sherlock turns to face him.

“Know what?” He keeps his tone impassive.

“That you were coming here for your own wedding?” He replies.

Sherlock shakes his head. “No. I had no idea that was Charles’s intention until he told me. I didn’t know I was coming here until you found me at Blackmoor.”

“What on earth were you doing in that place?” John asks, shaking his head.

“A man by the name of James Moriarty had me kidnapped and sent there, to punish me.”

“Punish you?”
Sherlock nods. He owes John the truth, at least. “Victor Trevor really did die for me. He was a servant in my father, the King of Sherrinford’s court. He and I grew close once he was appointed as one of my personal servants and we were….” Sherlock thinks of a delicate way to explain their passion, “sexually intimate.”

John sucks in a breath, but waits for Sherlock to continue. “James Moriarty discovered us and blabbed to my father. He punished Victor with death, covering up our activities by executing Victor on the grounds of treason, posing him as my would-be assassin. For me, the punishment was to be sent away with no familiar faces. I do not know whether he knew I would be going to Blackmoor, but I should have been going to Langley, a much more hospitable home, but Moran overcame me in the carriage once I’d realised we were going in the wrong direction and I was brought there instead.”
“And you said you were being punished?” John asks, looking a little overwhelmed.

“Hmm, yes.” Sherlock replies, sure now to keep stoic, “I think what Moriarty really wanted was to break me down, make me an easier asset to play with.”

“Bastard.” John spits, with what Sherlock is soon coming to realise is an anger which bubbles under the surface, when John is riled up enough.

“I think Charles must be allying himself with Moriarty, and his marrying me is somehow part of Moriarty’s plots against my family, and our kingdom. Trust me John, James Moriarty is not a man to be crossed.” Sherlock says, bringing his hands together under his chin.

“Lords, this is….this could really be dangerous.” John remarks, shaking his head as he, too, realises the gravity of the situation.

Sherlock steels himself and keeps his composure as he says. “Which is why you should go. I do not know why you are even here in the first place. I lied to you, and now you know I am your enemy. This is a dangerous situation, one into which you do not, frankly, deserved to be dragged. So go.”

John bites the inside of his cheek and stands there stock still for a minute. Sherlock sighs and turns his head back to stare at the floor. Finally, John moves, crossing his arms over his chest. “No.”

“’No’? What do you mean ‘no’?” Sherlock cannot help but say.

“I mean no, I will not go.” John says, taking a few steps forward. “I do not know what you’re trying to pull with me, Wil-Sherlock, but it will not work. Look, I do not care what may happen, but I could not just let you fall into your enemy’s hands.”

“Don’t you realise, John,” Sherlock says savagely. “you are my enemy!”

John shakes his head. “No, I am not. Not here. Right now, I am your physician-”

“Only because Charles appointed you.” Sherlock interrupts.

“No, I asked him for the position.” John says, which takes Sherlock aback.

Why?”

“Because…” John clears his throat. Sherlock thinks he looks nervous. “…. I care about you.”

Sherlock smothers down the sudden delight, forcing himself to spit, “You don’t even know me!”

John is not the least put off by Sherlock’s attitude. “No, I think I do. You see, a lot of the time I can be wrong about people. I was wrong about my sister, when I thought she might be able to stop herself from having one more drink at the tavern, but with you…I know who you are beneath that hard façade. I can see what you’re trying to do here so just stop it, because it isn’t going to work!”

Sherlock looks to him. “Oh, I see.” He doing his best now to channel his father, something he never thought he would do, but if John doesn’t turn and flee after this then Sherlock will truly know the man is mad, will truly know John must be in some way addicted to danger. “You’re doing this out of some sort of guilt, aren’t you? You couldn’t save your sister so you will save me?”

“And you’re not pushing me away for the exact same reason?” John says, not missing a beat. Sherlock reels back, John’s words hitting him like a punch to the face. John smiles, knowing he has beaten Sherlock at this game of words, and comes forward even more, going down on one knee in front of Sherlock. “You were not the one to kill Victor. Your actions did not do that, your father’s and this Moriarty’s did. Victor must have known what he was doing too, as well, yes? Just like I do. I know this is dangerous, but that danger is not due to who you are as a person, it is due to circumstances we can’t help but come up against. So, I will be here, alright? I won’t let you push me away, not unless you truly don’t want me here.”

Sherlock doesn’t meet John’s eyes, and John slowly, and ever so tentatively, lays a hand over Sherlock’s own. Sherlock realises, now, there is no way that he can prevent John from being here. And truly, he does not want him to go. So much for rational thought, he thinks, but perhaps he can make an exception for John. The man himself is an exception to the rules, siding himself with a member of the royal family of his enemy, requesting things from a king who is feared through his own kingdom. Sherlock knows now there is no stopping him.

“It will be dangerous.” Sherlock says, a half-hearted and futile last attempt.

“Fine by me.” John shrugs, and Sherlock cheeks twitch with a small smile. He pulls one of his own hands out from under John’s, just so he can lay it on top of both of their own.

“Aren’t you cross at me, for lying?” Sherlock asks.

John sniffs. “I was, at first, but I understand why you did so, I think. I suppose you do not get much freedom, as a prince, hmm?”

Sherlock nods, “Indeed. People think they must simper to you, or they think you are deceivable, an airhead filled with your own self-importance bestowed on you by your title. It was nice to be William, for a short while.”

“Well, if you’d like, you can be simply ‘Sherlock’, not ‘Prince Sherlock’, with me?” John asks.

Sherlock nods. “I would like that very much.”

“Very well then,” John says, and rises to his feet. “I do actually need to attend to your injuries, that is my new job, after all.”

Sherlock grabs for his hand before he walks away, pulling John down to him again. Before he can think on whether this a good idea or not, he presses their lips together in a desperate and needy kiss. John relents, grasping Sherlock’s face gently between his hands, stroking his cheekbones as he deepens their connection. John’s words have lit something inside of Sherlock, burning away any guilt he once had at tarnishing Victor’s memory. John is the example of the human ability to move on from past grievances and build yourself anew, and Sherlock will try his best to follow suit.  After a few more desperate touches and pecks John pulls away, breathing heavily. He looks into Sherlock’s eyes, his pupils dilated. “I think we should stop before we get too loud. That bastard is just outside the door. Lords, I cannot believe that’s him. The moment you said his name I wanted to punch him in the face.”

Sherlock chuckles at that. “I’m glad you didn’t, I’m not sure what he would have done if you had.”

“He’d have gotten another punch to the face.” John remarks, tone light.

Sherlock laughs, pressing one more kiss to John’s lips. “John Watson. I can deduce almost everything about you, but I do not think I will ever understand you.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” John says, smiling back at Sherlock.

Just then the key rattles in the lock, and the two men pull away, John darting over to his leather bag to unpack his medical supplies just as Moran enters, eyes narrowed. He looks from Sherlock to John, and then back to Sherlock. “Did His Majesty’s gift not suit you well?”

“No,” Sherlock sniffs, “I thought it might look better at the bottom of the motte.”

John has to cover his laugh as a cough, turning his back to Moran. Moran sniffs, stepping further into the room, but keeping the hand on the ajar door. “Are you finished with his Royal Highness, Doctor?” He asks John.

“Not quite.” John answers, and he cannot resist but say, “The broken ribs must be rebound. The wounds he has suffered are extensive, he has faced brutal violence”

He turns back before Moran can respond, pulling out bandages and salves. “Might we be afforded a little more privacy?”
Moran sighs, “Hurry up, His Royal Highness must be dressed and ready for the wedding ceremony in but an hour.”

He slams the door behind him, having lost what little patience he has. John comes forward, directing Sherlock up and out of the chair. Without breaking eye contact, John takes the sash of Sherlock’s gown in his fingers and unties it, letting the fabric fall open. Sherlock shivers as his skin reacts to its sudden exposure. John pushes the gown off of his shoulders, and it falls to a puddle at his feet. John has seen him naked before, when he had rescued him from Blackmoor, but it feels different now, and Sherlock blushes a little under John’s gaze.

“You’re beautiful.” John whispers.

“You should see me when I’m not bruised and battered, and I have hair.” Sherlock replies.

John smiles sadly, unravelling a length of bandage, and positioning Sherlock so that he can bind his broken ribs. “I certainly hope I can.”
Again, the severity of the situation is pressed down on them, and Sherlock remembers that his body cannot be John’s, but has to be King Charles’s.

“So, I don’t understand,” John says, desperately searching for words to break the tension, “Why does King Charles want to marry you? If, as you’ve said, he has visions of invading Sherrinford, why does he not just do so?”

Sherlock thinks, eyes darting back and forth. “Moriarty has possibly promised him something, most likely my father’s throne, which of course he could win through usurpation, but I should think marrying me also gives him some sort of legitimate right to the throne, through myself.”

“They’re bartering you like you’re cattle.” John says, disgusted.

“It’s nothing my father wouldn’t have done.” Sherlock says, “I will never have a say in who I marry. Such is the downside of being royal, you’re a political pawn before anything else.”

John tightens the bandages at this point, and Sherlock lets out a groan of pain.

“I’m sorry.” John says, although Sherlock is not sure for what.

“I cannot refuse King Charles now.” Sherlock says, “I must marry him, and then…. we shall see how events play out.”                                                                                 


 

 Sherlock remembers the feel of John’s lips on his, the man’s touch on his skin, keeping these thoughts in mind as he blanks out the eyes that stare at him as he proceeds down the aisle of the royal chapel of Appledore, his husband to be waiting for him at the altar. All the nobles and honoured guests of the land are here, King Charles obviously wanting everyone to know exactly who he is marrying, his plans, and Moriarty’s, for the future of his kingdom finally being put into motion.

Sherlock does not turn as he walks, careful not to trip on the long hem of the white, velvet tunic which he has been dressed in, feet encased in soft, pure white slippers, nor as he comes to a stop, nor as he whispers the wedding vows and is forced to place his hand in Charles’s, their joined hands being bound together by the priest’s vestments, symbolising their coming together in matrimony. If he had, if he had looked behind him to the very back of the chapel, he would have seen John Watson, face pained, watching on.                                                                                          


 

James Moriarty taps one finger against the window frame as he impatiently waits for what he has been expecting all day. Downstairs, in the great hall of Lord Hooper’s mansion, the nobles are finalising plans and preparing to leave the next day to manage their retinues and prepare to advance on Holmes Palace. Everything is going smoothly, and Moriarty assumes Janine has also got the situation in control and the curse she has cast continues to weaken the people and their belief in the royal family of Holmes. There is only one situation, now, that he needs confirmation on, and it is the most vital component.

With the luck of the wicked, Moriarty smiles as a magpie heads towards him, starting as a black spot in the late-afternoon sky and then getting closer and closer, until Moriarty can see the gleam of it’s beak, the shine of its feathers, and the letter tied to its leg.

The bird rears back as it reaches the open window, settling itself on the ledge and letting Moriarty reach out to stroke its head. “There, there, precious.” He mutters, as he unties the letter. The bird squawks, and flies into the room, settling on a metal perch by the doorway.

Moriarty eagerly opens the letter, unfolding the paper, greeted by Moran’s untidy scrawl. He smiles as it tells him all he needs to know: Sherlock has arrived at Appledore, submitted to Magnussen, and the wedding is sure to take place. Moriarty can only assume it is possibly taking place right at this moment, and so he reaches for his goblet of wine, and raises it to the room, congratulating what he is sure is the newly married happy couple.

 

Chapter Text

 

“I have it!” The Queen announces into the heavy silence of the library. “Lady Hudson, we must go!”

Lady Hudson, whose eyes have not left the page of the book she has been reading for hours, startles as the Queen exclaims. They have been working, now, on searching for a cure for the curse, for over twelve hours, through Wednesday afternoon through to Thursday morning, where outside the window dawn is just breaking. Down to the reservoir and to the library and back again multiple times, exhausting both women but they have persevered nonetheless.

“What is it exactly we’re facing?” Lady Hudson asks, stopping the Queen, who is affixing her fillet to her head, in her tracks. She picks up the book she has been reading and shows the open pages to Lady Hudson, who adjusts her glasses and squints down at the text.

“It is an Afanc. I have not heard of one existing in many years, which is why I didn’t immediately think of it. They are creatures born of clay and sorcery. It must react with water, that is how it thrives; it essentially filters the water but emits a poison which is harmful to humans. The strange light in the reservoir is unmistakable now that I read this description.”

Lady Hudson’s eyebrows raise. “Goodness. And how are we to destroy it?”

“The Afanc is made of two base elements: earth and water.” The Queen explains. “So the only way to kill it is with the other two base elements: wind and fire.”

“Wind?” Lady Hudson says, taking off her glasses, “How are we supposed to get wind down in that cavernous reservoir?”

The Queen gives her a long look, and Lady Hudson blinks a few times before understanding dawns on her face. “Right, yes, sorry; it’s been a long night.”

“Come, Martha.” The Queen says, “Lords know we must kill this thing before it kills anyone!”                                                                                               


 

“My Lords and Ladies.” King Charles says, addressing the crowd, “Today you have witnessed the coming together of two royal families. The House of Magnussen, and the House of Holmes. This day will be spoken of in the generations to come, written of in great chronicles, in poems and song. What we have achieved today is only the first step in what is to come, and tomorrow, we shall embark on the next.”

Sherlock bristles at this, hand clutching the goblet of wine he holds. Charles stands next to him, toasting the guests from where he and Sherlock sit at the top table, upon resplendent wooden thrones. The guests’ tables line the great hall, now transformed for the wedding feast, all their faces turned towards their king, listening attentively. None of them seem surprised at Charles’ news, but Sherlock understands now the urgency in marrying him; events really are progressing rapidly.

“You are all prepared, and so are my forces. Tomorrow we will march on Sherrinford, march on the capital, and take the throne that is now rightfully mine through marriage.”

Sherlock hand slips on the goblet as his suspicions are confirmed. “My husband, the youngest of King Siger’s offspring, is a prime example of the weakness of the Holmes family.” At this point, Charles turns to look down at his new husband, and Sherlock raises his own eyes to meet Charles’s. “I am delighted at the work our ally, Lord James Moriarty, has had done to whip him into shape. Didn’t take much to break you, did it Sherlock?” The question is rhetorical, and Sherlock knows it, and says nothing, but does not break eye contact with Charles. “Your land is in tatters; your father has imposed harsh taxes on his people and ruled like a tyrant. There is no loyalty to him anymore. And now, well, as we all know, the old king lays sick in his bed, half mad, whilst the forces of the disillusioned nobility prepare to siege his palace. Soon, they will be joined with our own forces.”

Some of the nobles’ cheer, raising their goblets, toasting Sherlock’s father’s failures. Sherlock’s ears are ringing as he tries to process the new information. His father is mad? Truly? Is the situation so severe? Has Mycroft had to step in yet to rule? And will he have to face a siege by their own people? Sherlock knows the cruelty of his father, but he also knows the life-long loyalty of his people towards the Holmes family; they cannot have been turned against him solely by dissatisfaction, Moriarty has been meddling, surely.

“You all know me to be a just and fair ruler,” Charles continues, turning back to the crowd, “And as such, I have written a letter to the now Prince Regent Mycroft Holmes, to offer him an easy surrender, hoping to avoid the unnecessary bloodshed.”

The nobles clap this decision, and Charles bows his head in mock modesty. Sherlock cannot imagine Mycroft would ever agree to that, and he is sure Charles knows this too. What a very pointless offer of surrender.

“For now, though, we must prepare our forces for a battle. Tomorrow we begin our march on Sherrinford. I hope my husband here is the symbol to you of what exactly we stand up against; weakness, fragility, underserved to rule over a kingdom which could be so much more than it is. I mean, look at him,” Charles says coyly, gesturing with the hand which holds his wine, causing some of the liquid to slosh over the side and trickle down his fingers, “his beauty is his only virtue, I think you’ll agree?”

The nobles laugh, and Sherlock lowers his face, hiding his embarrassment and his anger. He is, at least, at the advantage now of knowing what the situation actually is, he can say that much. Now, he must, possibly, find a way, if he can, to derail Charles’s, or should he say Moriarty’s, plans. There is something looming in the very near future, however, that he cannot ignore, like an approaching thunderstorm, and as Charles turns back to raise his goblet to his guests to conclude his toast, Sherlock’s own slips in his hands and it spills down the lap of his pure white tunic, staining it a deep red. Sherlock watches, mesmerised, as the liquid soaks into the fabric, not paying attention to the cheers for the married couple, nor the way Charles looks down at him, expression turning from triumphant to amused, as Sherlock has so thoroughly embarrassed himself.

He is brought sharply back to reality by the feel of Charles’s hand on his lap, and Sherlock instinctually jerks back, thinking ‘lords, he would not be so crass here, would he?’, but the king simply reaches to pick up the empty goblet which has lain discarded on his lap. Charles places it down on the table top, before offering his hand to Sherlock. “Come, my love, we must celebrate our marriage in other ways, now.”

Sherlock lets Charles take his hand on his own, lets the man lead him from his seat at the top table through the crowd, now stood in respect for their monarch, but not doing a very good job at concealing their mirth at seeing Sherlock stained tunic. Mentally, he tries to prepare himself, as they exit the great hall, travelling through corridors that seem more and more familiar. He tries to adopt the new rules he has set out for himself, separating emotion from cold hard logic; he knows what is to come, he has given himself in this manner before. ‘But that was willingly’, his brain tries to scream at him, ‘an act borne out of desire, but this is an act of domination! Run! Do something!’ Sherlock tries pushing down the pulses of adrenaline now shooting through his body as he climbs staircase after staircase after his husband, but it is like trying to catch eels in your net; the adrenaline too quick, too electric to subdue.

***

By the time he and Charles have reached the man’s bedchamber, Sherlock is out of breath, cheeks flushed. Charles seems to like the sight, as a low growl begins in his throat. Two guards stand outside the bedchamber, but apart from that, they are alone, and so Charles bends down to whisper in Sherlock’s ear, “Tonight, I will devour you.”

Sherlock wonders where John is, perhaps the man is in Sherlock’s own chambers, laying out his medicines and his treatments, knowing that when Sherlock returns to him, he will be worse for wear. Sherlock had not seen him through the crowds in the great hall, hadn’t even tried to spot him, thinking of John would just make reality seem worse.

Charles leads him into his bedchamber, locking the door shut behind him. Sherlock looks around, overwhelmed by the dark furnishings, the heavy curtains which drape the four-poster bed, the smouldering fireplace filling the room with a heady scent. His heart pounds as he sees the small jar that sits waiting on the large oak dining table, set in the centre of the room, with the bed set farther back. He knows exactly what is in that jar, it is not, of course, his first time, but it is no less daunting.

“Come, my love. I have something I want to show you before we get underway.” Charles says, placing a firm hand on Sherlock’s lower back. He guides him over to the bed, but turns him away from it, to show what he has displayed on the wall opposite of it. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Sherlock is a little taken aback to be greeted with his own face, painted eyes staring back at him. The portrait shows him as he once was: fresh-faced, luscious hair, bright eyes. Not the same bruised man who stands before Charles now, but Charles seems aroused by him nonetheless.  

“James showed that to me when he first offered me your hand in marriage.” Charles says, standing behind Sherlock and wrapping his arms around his waist, so that his lips are in Sherlock’s ear, dampening the skin as he speaks. He is so close that Sherlock can feel the man’s erection poking him in the back, and bile rises in his throat. “I was compelled by your eyes. Look at them, they hold so much youth in them, so much hope, but more than anything I wanted to see that hope trained on myself. See myself as the provider of all your pain, all your joy, all you hold dear. And now, now I can.”
He pushes in closer to Sherlock, biting his ear. Sherlock cries out, and instinctively he pushes away, shoving an elbow into Charles’s stomach, making the man loosen his grip for a second. Sherlock tears himself from his embrace, searching, frantically, for a weapon, or an exit, knowing the cause is a futile one. Soon, Charles is grip is on him once more, the man far stronger than Sherlock is. ‘Idiot!’ he berates himself.

“Now, now.” Charles mutters in his ear, arms squeezing against Sherlock’s ribcage, threatening his slowly healing ribs. “You might want to think twice about that, Sherlock. Do not think I don’t know about your little secrets.”
Sherlock freezes. “Secrets? What secrets?”

Charles laughs, bending down closer so that his lips are on Sherlock’s cheek. “I know about you and the good doctor. Naughty, naughty Sherlock. Moran was supposed to have beaten that out of you.”

Sherlock’s fingers go slack against Charles’s arm, his struggles ceasing. ‘How can he know?’

He feigns ignorance. “What are you talking about?”

“Come on, don’t be shy, I know about your little kiss with John Watson. Do you always go for lowerborns? Is that your type?”

“I didn’t kiss John.” Sherlock insists, “He has done nothing wrong.”

“Oh, don’t lie, Sherlock, be a good boy.” Charles berates. “I know you are worried I might hurt him, yes?”
Sherlock shakes his head, even though that is what he is now terrified of beyond belief.

“Well don’t worry,” Charles soothes, hand coming up to grip Sherlock’s chin. “I won’t hurt him, as long as you don’t resist me.”

He presses a harsh and wet kiss to Sherlock’s lips, forcing the younger man to tip his head back so that Charles has easier access. They break apart, and Charles lets out a sigh. “I was disappointed, at first, when I realised Moran had been unsuccessful in beating you down, making you submissive, controllable. Now, though, now I see that this is even more perfect, to have you weakened and beaten down, so that I might make the final blow. Put my mark on you. And you will do as I say, Sherlock, yes? Or I will hurt John.”
Sherlock had thought his time in Blackmoor would be the worst of his life, but he is slowly realising this new hell he is finding himself in has reached new heights of sadism. It was better, knowing Victor was dead, at peace, could no longer come to harm, but now, now there is a cliff-edge, and Sherlock is only one mistake away from tipping over and falling from it, one mistake away from hurting John. This is how Charles does it, then, this is how he displays absolute power; he gains advantageous knowledge on people and blackmails them. And there is nowhere for them to run.

“Yes Sherlock?” Charles says, bending down and biting Sherlock’s earlobe.

“Yes.” Sherlock whispers.

Charles growls, pulling away and grabbing Sherlock, throwing him over his shoulder. “Good. Let us begin.”                 

***                                                                 


 

Against her better judgement, the Queen has ordered her personal guards to remain at the entrance to the reservoir. Safety concerns aside, she feels it might be for the best that they not see her destroy a magical creature and incite some sort of panic.

She holds in her hand a burning torch, both to guide the way and to use a weapon. Mrs Hudson holds a similar one. They make their way cautiously over to the reservoir, which looks deceptively peaceful, the surface calm, but they now know what lurks underneath.
“I think it best we lure the creature to the surface, and then attack before it has orientated itself.” The Queen says, and Lady Hudson nods, looking nervous but approaching the reservoir nonetheless. Violet has always been able to trust Martha to be there when needed, and the woman is not letting her down now. “You flank to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

They take their respective positions on either side of the reservoir, torches at the ready. The Queen bends down and picks up a large rock from the cavern floor and throws it at the water. Nothing but the submersion of the rock happens for a moment, but after waiting for a few anxious moments the water begins to ripple and then break out into large waves, sloshing over the edges and wetting the skirts of the women’s dresses.

From the below the surface arises a dark figure, its shape indeterminable at first, but then the water slides away and it straightens up, standing at at least seven feet. Its back, spine spindly and protruding from beneath its clay-like skin, turns, and suddenly the Afanc is facing them, its lizard like face angry, teeth-bared, yellow eyes slits as it growls. It is grotesque, but the Queen steels herself and begins to wave her torch in the face of the creature. Lady Hudson does the same.

The Afanc roars in the back of its throat, moving towards the fire, climbing out of the reservoir. This is exactly what they want; the creature will be much weaker out of the water, making it easier to kill. The Queen and Lady Hudson back away as they lure the creature further from the water. It is strangely fascinated by the fire, its paws, with elongated sharp claws, keep swiping at the flames. The Queen looks to Lady Hudson, nodding, before she begins to mutter a spell. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind whips up in the cavern, making its way to the Afanc as the Queen directs it with her spare hand. It catches the flames in its torrent and then the flames are building, becoming larger as they overwhelm the Afanc. The creature screams and howls as it is consumed by the fire and the wind. The Queen and Lady Hudson have to squint against the light and the air, but then suddenly the flames completely die down, the Queen allows her spell to finish, lowering her hand, expelling the wind. Below them, the Afanc is now a pile of ash. Both women drop their now extinguished torches, watching the ashes of the Afanc settle on the ground.

“Well done, Violet.” Lady Hudson says, forgetting the use of titles in her relief.

“I should say the same to you, Martha.” The Queen says, turning to Lady Hudson. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” Lady Hudson says, returning the Queen’s smile.

The women have an unspoken bond, know more about each other than perhaps they know about themselves. Lady Hudson even knows the Queen’s deepest secret. She is the only one.

The Queen moves over to inspect the water; the strange ethereal glow is gone, and the surface lies flat. It is completely normal. “Let us get out of here. I think it is time for some well-deserved breakfast.”
Lady Hudson hums in agreement, and both women make their way out of the cavern, re-joining the Queen’s armed guard and heading for the palace. They do not notice as Mycroft comes out from the shadows, having seen everything. He had known his mother was hiding something, and he had his suspicions that sorcery certainly was it, but now he must think on how to proceed knowing the truth. At least now he knows they are equally matched with the Moriartys, that at least they have another trick hidden up their sleeve.                                                                                            


 

***

Sherlock is unceremoniously dumped on the bed, the mattress not giving away much under him, jarring his bones. Charles moves away for a moment, and Sherlock is greeted once again with his portrait, and it is as if that Sherlock is judging him, looking down on him. ‘Just you wait’, he thinks bitterly, ‘You go through what I have and you’ll realise the cruelty of the world.’

Charles returns, the small jar in his hands. He runs a hand down one of Sherlock’s thighs, getting some of the spilled wine on his fingertips. Sherlock is sure that neither of them miss the ironic symbolism, how much the red stains mirror those said to come after a female is taken for the first time.

“Let us get this off you, yes?” Charles purrs.

He gently unlaces the back of Sherlock’s tunic, having turned the other man onto his front, making him feel instantly more vulnerable. Sherlock lets himself be moved around like a puppet, watching as layer after layer is peeled back until he lies there naked, glad at least that it is not cold in the room.

“Wonderful.” Charles murmurs, and presses a kiss in between Sherlock’s shoulder blades, making him shudder. “Now, now, darling, I’d like you to lay the other way around, with your head at the other end of the bed.” Sherlock moves as bidden, lying down on his stomach and peering up at the portrait of himself. “That’s it. Now, I want you to keep your eyes on your portrait; look at the young man staring back at you, how proud he looks.” Whilst he has been speaking Charles has disrobed, and whilst Sherlock cannot see him, he can sense the man’s naked body next to his. The mattress dips as Charles climbs on, and Sherlock starts as the man’s hand, cold and clammy, comes down on his lower back, stroking the skin a little. Sherlock has never felt so degraded, not even locked away in a freezing cold oubliette with no food or water.

He tries whatever he can. He tries to shut himself away in his mind but is met with a wall of black. He tries to imagine that the hands which raise his hips up, so that his backside is higher than his head, are Victor’s, or John’s, but the thought seems disgusting; he does not want to tarnish memories with Victor, and nor does he want to think that if he ever were to be this intimate with John it would be this painful, this humiliating. As a sharp pain rages through him and Charles lets out a soft sigh, Sherlock’s eyes brim with tears. This situation is harder to cope with than he had imagined, and none of his previous experience with sex could have prepared him for this. he stares up at the portrait of himself, that haughty face now blurred through the tears, and wonders whether that young man could ever have prepared himself for all that would befall him. He thinks, perhaps, he could not.   

***                                                                                       


 

John paces, which does him no good at all, just exhausts him further, but he cannot help but do so. He watches as the light out of the window fades, hears as the clock tower in the upper town strikes midnight. Then he hears it every hour on the hour for seven more hours. He watches the same light that had departed the night before return once again, dawning stark and bright, and rubs at his eyes. Sherlock has still not returned, John hadn’t expected him to, not on his wedding night, but lords if John hasn’t been able to think about anything but what King Charles might be doing to him. The outcome of John’s conversation with Sherlock the day before had been much more than John had been expecting, Sherlock had actually kissed him! And so, to think, that this man John is sure is carving out a place in his heart, has had to be wed and bed by someone as sadistic as King Charles….it just feels off, beyond John’s nature; he thinks he should have done something! Stepped in before they had ascended to the bedchamber, offered Sherlock some pain relief, but he hadn’t. There had not been the time, John could barely see Sherlock through the crowd in the great hall as the poor man had been led out.

He has prepared what he can, awaiting Sherlock’s return, ready for any eventuality: bandages, salves, honey to disinfect any wounds Sherlock might have, John swallows nervously at this, procured during the night. He has laid them all out on a table in Sherlock’s bedchamber, but has kept mainly to his own small room, just off to the side of Sherlock’s. He has written and sent off a brief letter to Harriett, explaining the situation, apologising for leaving again, hoping she is well. He can only hope it reaches her at the nunnery.

John sends one of the guards outside of the bedchamber to fetch some food and water, wanting to be prepared if Sherlock is hungry or thirsty. He sits down on the edge of the man’s bed, clasping his hands together. He tips his head back and sighs. If someone had told John a week ago that he’d have spent his first night of freedom waiting in Prince Sherlock Holmes’s bedchamber for the man himself, who is kinder, and more incredible than John could ever imagined, to return after being taken by King Charles without his will, John would have said they were mad.

But here he is, and here he will wait.                                                                                


 

***

Sherlock cannot think, he can barely breath. He hasn’t slept a wink, the feel of Charles’s arms around his waist too confining. The king snores away in Sherlock’s ear as dawn breaks, his needs thoroughly sated. Sherlock’s body aches; he certainly hopes he will not be expected to ride a horse today once they set off for Sherrinford.

He feels more exhausted from the previous night than he had after trekking to Appledore from Blackmoor, and he cannot believe the irony that he does not need the drug now to numb his thoughts; Charles has effectively done that with his abuse.

The man next to him shifts, the pattern of his breathing changes, and Sherlock knows that Charles is awake. The arms around his waist tighten as Charles stretches, and then they pull free, the older man sitting up in the bed to lean over Sherlock, who keeps his eyes shut.

“I know you are awake, my love.” Charles says, breath sour on Sherlock’s face. Sherlock opens his eyes, looking up at his new husband. Charles smiles, dragging his hand down Sherlock’s torso and then lower, pressing down, making Sherlock shift in discomfort.

“Please…” he whispers. He doesn’t think he could take another round. “Please don’t….”

“Ah, ah, ah,” Charles shakes his head, pushing his hand in further. “You don’t want John to be harmed, do you? Don’t want me to take him away?”

Sherlock shakes his head, and Charles smiles, teeth bared. Sherlock endures once again.

***                                                                                       


 

Once Charles is finished, he climbs off of Sherlock, fetching a sheet of paper from a draw in a bureau which stands next to one of the large lancet windows, and also a quill, dipping it in ink. The ink drips onto the bedsheets as he returns, but Charles does not care.

“Here.” He says, shoving the quill at Sherlock, “Sign this. Big brother needs to know you’re here.”

Sherlock barely concentrates on what the letter says: something warning Mycroft of the approaching army, how he should simply surrender, how Sherlock, Charles’s new husband, might come to harm if he doesn’t comply (which is rich, Sherlock thinks). Sherlock signs his untidy signature at the bottom, and Charles snatches it away, a pleased smile on his face. he fetches another piece of paper from his bureau, and then walks over to the fireplace, stoking the embers with a poker. Sherlock watches him, wary of the poker.

“I received this letter from your brother only yesterday morn. He offers me a place as his ally. Quite amusing, considering the circumstances, wouldn’t you say?”

“James Moriarty is not a good man.” Sherlock says, “He is deceitful, he will not give you what is promised.”

“I think that is where you are wrong.” Charles replies. “He promised me you, and here you are.”

He throws Mycroft’s letter in the fire, and Sherlock watches as the paper and ink slowly turn to ash.                                                                                   


 

“Do not fear, the situation is under control. The source of the sickness has been located and has effectively been dealt with.” Mycroft says, speaking from the balcony of the palace which overlooks the courtyard, where it seems every single citizen has come to hear him speak. “This sickness will not threaten us any longer; your families are safe.”

Thursday morning has dawned cloudy and overcast, but it has come with good news: the curse is broken, the sickness prevails no longer. Mycroft’s speech reassuring the people the day previous did not seem to incite any reassurance among his citizens, so he is relieved that he can, at least, deliver something actually positive. Throughout the night, despite warnings not to drink the water, many others have fallen sick, and the people have grown angry, demanding to know what precisely their royal family is doing about it. So here Mycroft stands, speaking and appeasing like a fool, knowing full well that he needs the people’s trust on his side or this will simply give Moriarty another edge; that is most likely why Janine catalysed the curse in the first place.

The people cheer this news, some applauding, and Mycroft nods approvingly. There is, however, one man, who shoves his way through the crowd until he is at the front, staring directly up at Mycroft.

“Sire, we desire you to explain other things, too!” He shouts, quieting the celebrations. Mycroft gestures with his hand for the man to proceed. ‘Now what?’ “Sire, why is it that we are hearing talks of war? Of mutiny among the nobility? Some of those in the counties speak of their nobles mustering forces, some are serving them, speaking of how they will be marching on the citadel.”

The people begin muttering, low and worried tones which speak of rumours passing from person to person.

“Is this true, Sire?” The man calls. “Are we really facing civil war?”

The people’s murmurs begin to become louder, until they are shouting their protestations at Mycroft, who sighs. Damn. How is he to appease this? He looks behind him to Anthea, who stands, eyes narrowed, peering down at the crowd. Suddenly, someone else from the crowds shouts out, “Where is Prince Sherlock?”

Mycroft’s head whips round at this, and the crowd, too, reacts to the words, as they also begin to shout about Sherlock’s whereabouts.

“He is safe.” Mycroft lies. That is most likely the best course of action; the people love Sherlock, he is sure they prefer his younger brother to himself.

“I’ve heard rumour that you’ve sent him away in shame. That he has gone mad!” the same man who had started the hysteria shouts.

“Nonsense!” Mycroft replies, but his mind is whirring. Rumours that Sherlock is mad? This comes too close to the truth of his father’s ‘madness’, and wonders if this is another rumour spread by the Moriartys to unseat the people’s trust in the Holmes’s.

“Mad, as they say the king is, too!” the man shouts, and that is when Mycroft knows for sure this a ploy by Moriarty. It would be incredibly easy to spread rumours like this through his network of nobles, and it seem to be working.

“They are all preposterous rumours!” Mycroft reassures. That is vague at best, but he is not sure what else he must do in this hysteria. He leaves the people shouting down below, gesturing for Anthea to follow. The Queen and Lady Hudson have tackled the curse, so perhaps he can do something to tackle the rumours. First, however, he must speak to his mother about some undivulged secrets.                                                                                 


 

Sherlock finally returns once the clock has struck eight. John jumps up from the edge of the bed as the door opens, and Sherlock staggers in, flanked by two armed guards and Moran, who looks as smug as the cat who got the cream.

“Address his wounds and make sure he eats something. We depart in an hour.” Moran orders John, who comes forward to support Sherlock as the man almost falls. Sherlock’s skin is hot and clammy to the touch, and he is dressed only in his unlaced and stained wedding tunic. John’s heart flares up in sympathy.

“Come on,” He murmurs to Sherlock, “Lie on the bed.”

Moran watches as John leads Sherlock over to the bed, having the man lie down on his stomach. When John turns to fetch salves and cloths from the table, he gives Moran a glowering look. “Please, privacy for the Prince.”

Moran hesitates, wandering over to grab a grape from the light breakfast provided for Sherlock, throwing it into his mouth and biting down on it, squirting some of the juice on the floor in front of him. John gives him a long look, wanting nothing more than to kick him out of the room by his arse. “Just make sure he is ready in an hour.”

Moran turns to leave, door shut and locked behind him. John breathes a steadying breath, getting his emotions under control, and turns back to Sherlock, who has his face buried in his arms.

“Sherlock?” John says, still getting used to the interesting name on his tongue. He bends down by the side of the bed, bringing his head level with Sherlock’s. “I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you are alright, but do you mind me cleaning you up?”

Sherlock turns his head to look at John, and John is sure he has never seen so much anguish on someone’s face. Sherlock is certainly showing his young age now, his face pained and vulnerable. John cannot bear to think what King Charles has done to him.

“John.” Sherlock whispers, and his face creases and suddenly he is crying, and as carefully as he can John climbs onto the bed and gathers Sherlock into his arms, mindful of his ribs and any newly acquired injuries.

John himself has a hard time holding back his own tears as Sherlock sobs into the front of his shirt, his whole body shaking with sobs that seem to come from his very core. John is glad that Sherlock is opening up to him, acknowledging his own emotions, but lords if he could make sure it was through happiness and joy, and not exhaustion from the abuse he has faced, then John would do all he could to make it that way. Sherlock has obviously reached the end of a very long tether, through torture and now rape, and he cannot help but react by viscerally sobbing his heart out.

John holds him, lightly shushing him when Sherlock is almost screaming in anguish. John desperately hopes Moran will not burst in on them after hearing Sherlock’s agony, although John is counting on the man’s malice and sadism that he will continue to let Sherlock suffer.

“John.” Sherlock moans, eyes clenched shut. “It hurts.”

“I know.” John says, and there is a catch in his voice that makes his swallow down the lump in his throat before he can continue speaking, “I can make it better. Will you let me help you?”

Sherlock nods, and reluctantly pulls back, allowing John to climb off of the bed before he lays back down again, re-burying his face in his arms.

“I’ll need to remove your clothing, Sherlock.” John says quietly. Sherlock nods once again and John ever so gently pulls the tunic off of his body, throwing it to the ground. John sucks in a sharp breath at the sigh of Sherlock’s body, freshly adorned with new bruises, some on his hips in the shape of fingertips, and some red and irritated scratches that cover his back, obviously made by fingernails. What disturbs him the most, however, is the redness between Sherlock’s leg, and when he carefully pries them open, he swallows down bile once he realises it is blood.

John has been trained to deal with this, to react calm and composed, but knowing this is Sherlock beneath him, makes it harder to maintain that air of professionalism. He senses the irony, as he tells himself not to be too emotionally involved whilst he attends to the wounds.

He starts by cleaning away the dried blood, and then disinfecting the cuts on Sherlock’s back with honey. He apologises once he has to stitch up some of the tears between Sherlock’s buttocks, but when they are covered in honey and patched up, he gently brings Sherlock into his arms again and holds him for a few quiet minutes.

“Come on, you need to eat.” John says.

Sherlock shakes his head from where it rests on John’s chest. “I don’t think I can.”
John understands, but he cannot allow Sherlock to starve. “Just some small bits of fruit?”

Sherlock hesitates before he nods his head, and when John offers him some grapes and some berries, he eats them all.

“I’m reluctant to give you anything too strong for the pain considering your recent drug history, but would you like something to calm you down a little?” John asks, looking through his different vials.

“Yes, please.” Sherlock says, now sat on the edge of the bed, clothed in rich fabrics which had been provided, of course, by King Charles, and were delivered shortly after John had finished treating Sherlock’s wounds.

John picks a potion that he knows will numb the pain and let Sherlock get some peace. It is probably for the best, considering the long days of travelling John is sure now awaits them. He just hopes it is more comfortable than their traverse to Appledore had been.

Soon, Moran is unlocking the door again and telling them that it is time to leave. John gathers up his own bags, having hastily packed away his medical supplies, and steadies Sherlock down the dark corridors and many staircases until they reach the grand staircase which leads to the courtyard below. King Charles is waiting for them at the bottom, kitted out in fitted plate armour, along with Culverton and many armed men. Moran stands behind Sherlock and John, body far too close than John would like.

“My love,” Charles greets Sherlock once they have descended, and kisses his cheek. Sherlock, who by this point is rather relaxed by the potion, lets him. John keeps a hand on Sherlock’s arm, unsure whether the man will be able to stand without his support but bows to Charles as much as he is able. “How is he this morning, doctor?”
“Smarting a little, but overall he is well, Your Majesty, if a little tired.” John replies, being vague enough about the situation to respect his monarch.

Charles smiles, and leans down to whisper in Sherlock’s ear, a whisper John cannot help but overhear. “Is your little arse a bit sore this morning, dear heart?”

Sherlock doesn’t answer, but his breath does catch in his throat a little. Charles smiles, and clicks his fingers for Culverton to come forward. The man passes him a piece of fabric which had been thrown over his arm. “A present for you, dear.” Charles unravels the fabric to reveal a deep burgundy crushed velvet hooded cape, which he drapes around Sherlock shoulders and brings together using the gold clasps at the front. In his doing so, John is forced to release his hand from around Sherlock’s arm, and Charles catches Sherlock’s shoulders as he sags a little. “Perfect.” Charles purrs. He presses a kiss to Sherlock’s lips, and John looks away.

The clock tower strikes the ninth hour, and Charles pulls away, leaving the cloaked Sherlock to John’s care once again. “We must leave. Come, Sherlock, you and the doctor will be travelling in a litter. To spare you from the hardships of our travel. These will be long days, and I shall want you at the end of them.”

‘How generous of you.’ John cannot help but think bitterly.

They are swept along through to the courtyard, where dozens of uniformed men and horses await them, along with a large carriage drawn by four horses with shuttered windows which John assumes is for Sherlock. Indeed, they are led past a beautifully clothed horse which must be King Charles’s, and to the open doorway of the horse-drawn litter. Charles turns to Sherlock. “Rest all you can. I shall dine with you once we stop for lunch.” He holds out a hand, and guides Sherlock into the litter. John goes to follow him, but Charles stops him, a slimy smile on his face. “I trust you will keep him ready for me, doctor. I’m sure it will be no trouble for you.”

“No, Your Highness.” John says. There is an undertone to Charles’s words which makes John pause, but he dismisses it as the king’s general creepiness. Charles smiles at him one last time before turning away and heading for his horse. Moran, who is already seated in the saddle of his own horse, heads over to John. “I will be escorting the Prince’s litter. I trust you will keep him safe.”
“Yes.” John spits, before turning and heading into the litter, closing the door behind him.

The inside is surprisingly cosy, with the only light coming in the filtered sunshine from outside the shutters. It is large enough for the both of them and then room for two others, and it is bedecked in soft furnishings: drapes are hung from the ceiling and the walls, fur skins and cushions and pillows cover the floor, giving them a comfortable place to sit and lay. Sherlock has already lain himself down on a pile of pillows, and John checks his pulse before covering him in a spare fur. Sherlock has drawn the hood of his new cloak up over his face, so John cannot be sure whether he is asleep or awake.

“It will be alright.” He says in any case, offering his feeble reassurance. Not long later, the litter lurches slightly as it moves off. John takes a peek through the shutter to see the guards next to their litter also in motion, and settles down to organise his medical supplies, feeling heavy with the knowledge that they are on their way, accompanied by an army of thousands, to invade Sherlock’s homeland.

 

Chapter Text

Janine storms into her chambers, throwing the bowl of fruit from her dining table against the nearest wall, crying out in anger. Who is it? Who is foiling all of her plans? How dare they! She had gone to inspect the afanc after gifting the king his daily dose of mandrake root to find the creature gone and the reservoir water free from any such illness.

Janine closes her eyes, and tries to steady her heavy breaths, feeling into the very roots of the earth for any nearby magical being. She frowns, trying to discern threads of magical energy from one another. She manages to pick her way through her own threads of magic until she identifies another brand of magic, unlike her own. She takes a deep breath as she tries to keep the location of the new magic in her mind before heading for the door. She must take her chance to find this magical being while she can.                                                                                           


 

Sherlock senses John next to him, the heat from his body warming Sherlock’s left side. Whereas the heat of the injuries Charles has left on his body is scorching, blistering, John’s heat is reminiscent of a blazing fireplace on a winters day. Sherlock wonders how long this heat will be by his side, comforting him, how long until circumstances might force him and John apart, or John realises that risk outweighs passion. The brief moments of desire they have shared are undefined in Sherlock’s mind; he does not know whether to classify them as desperate grabs at comfort in a cruel world, or whether they were the overture to something deeper and long-lasting. In the deep recesses of his heart he sincerely hopes it is the latter option, but he has learnt already that what he wants is unimportant, that the simple urge to have what he desires will not mean he will be granted it. Instead, he will be punished beyond belief.

Sherlock is unsure as to where these maudlin thoughts are coming from. He supposes possibly it is the potion John had given him this morning, which seems to have cast a spell over Sherlock. It is like the calm before the storm, the sky is clouded but it is not yet raining. And in that space between calm and panic, Sherlock is given room to ruminate over things he’d rather not, and it is making him melancholy.

Sherlock can sense that his litter will come to a stop soon as they rest for the night, that King Charles will be upon him again. What can Sherlock do? If he resists, lord knows what the king will do to John. It really would be better for John to go, but Sherlock is too selfish to tell him to leave, and John is too stubborn to go. Perhaps, in this strange situation, they are all the other has.                                                                                          


 

 “Mother.”

“Mycroft.” The Queen says, turning to greet her son from her place at her vanity, affixing a pearl earring in her ear; a long warm bath had done much to refresh her after the confrontation with the afanc. She frowns as she sees his stern look. “What is the matter?”

“I’ve had some suspicions for a long time.” Mycroft says, closing the chamber door behind himself and stepping forward. “And today my suspicions were confirmed.”

The Queen sighs. “Don’t speak in riddles, Mycroft. Say what you have to say.”

“You are a sorceress.” Mycroft says.

The Queen freezes for a moment, before lowering her hand from her ear. “Ah. Yes.”

She steps forward into the room, through the partition in the wall that separates her sleeping quarters from her living quarters, coming to a stop across her dining table from Mycroft.

“I was, one day, going to tell you-both of you, you and Sherlock, but with events being as they are…I’ve been a little preoccupied.”

“Really mother?” Mycroft asks, eyebrows raised. “Because it seems to me it might have been more beneficial to our case for you to have informed me once this sorry state of affairs started. I think it creates a considerable advantage for myself, as Prince Regent, to know that we, too, have the power of magic on our side. You profess I must lead, be the figurehead, make decisions, and yet how can I if I am not told the whole truth? Why did you not tell me earlier?”

The Queen sighs, knowing Mycroft is right. It is difficult for her to explain exactly why, and it is a long tale to tell, but she will do so, if she must, now that there is no going back. “Sit down, and I will tell you.”

Mycroft does, and the Queen takes the seat beside him, folding her fingers together and placing them down on the surface of the table. “I am sorry I did not tell you earlier. You are completely right; I should not have kept this from you when it gives us a level footing with the Moriartys. Actually, it gives us considerably more power, for Janine is not half the sorceress that I am.”

“Explain, please?” Mycroft asks.

The Queen takes a breath before entering. “I am not the woman your father thinks I am. My father conceived me with a changeling, not his wife. My father was on a quest at the time, and the changeling appeared to him in the image of his wife. It enchanted him, and then I was conceived. My father was, of course, furious when he realised the truth, but he took me in anyway, for the changeling threatened to curse him if he did not. I was raised as part of the full-blooded family my father had successfully raised with his wife, but he always considered me a bastard.”

“Lords.” Mycroft says, eyes wide.

“I lived with them in the palace, but I also found solace among the druids of our land.” The Queen goes on. “They could understand me on a completely different level, for, you see, I was born with magic. A consequence of my changeling roots.”

Mycroft has always known that in Sherrinford, the druids reside in peace, mainly undisturbed by those who are wary of them. From the preparation for kingship his father had educated him in, the view of druids and magical beings in general had been a negative one. The subject is taboo; it is not illegal, but there are tighter restrictions on them than the regular person. For example, the druids are only allowed a place at the market once a week and are banned from constructing permanent residences in their community in the forests throughout the kingdom. By the sounds of it, the situation is the same in the kingdom of Jaul, from which his mother originates, which lies across the ocean to the south.

“They also taught me how to refine my natural talents, to make it into something I could use at will with skill.” The Queen says.

“And father does not know? About you possessing magic?”

The Queen shakes her head. “No, he has no idea, but I got the impression my father wanted him to, wanted my presence to cause panic in Siger’s kingdom. I fear that is why I have not heard from my brother, ruling king of Jaul; my family does not count me as one of their own. I wrote to them, you see, when this first began, asking for support, but there has been no reply.”

“Your father’s plan did not work, though, you’re much too clever to let such a thing happen. Your family must be foolish not to want to support you.” Mycroft says, a small smile tugging at his lips. More than anything, the Queen thinks, her eldest son looks impressed by the information she has just imparted.

He leans forward then, taking her hand. His father had always upheld that magic was bad, had always warned Mycroft never to collude with the magic-practicing people, but Mycroft will always use his own mind to evaluate people, and he can see before him a woman much cleverer than his father. It unsettles something within him to see how the true side of his father is coming to light in the past months; the man who had pushed his youngest son away and never truly understood his wife. A man too wrapped up in the prestige his title as ‘king’ gifted him, his attention solely on Mycroft, the heir to that power.

“Mother, I promise you that I will do all I can when I am king to assess and update the old laws against sorcery and magical beings. I think it is time to be a bit more accepting.”

The Queen places her other hand, the one Mycroft is not grasping, over his, squeezing tightly. “Thank you, Mycroft. From the bottom of my heart.”

Mycroft nods, biting the inside of his cheek. “Is there a chance any of your natural powers might have been passed onto to myself and Sherlock, as well?”
The Queen takes a deep breath, “I have had that thought in my mind ever since I became pregnant with you. I have scoured the library for accounts of a similar thing happening once before, but have found nothing, but I think it is possible.”

Mycroft ruminates on that, wondering how one might actually go about testing such a hypothesis. If it had been a natural talent, would he or Sherlock have not already discovered it? He is not sure, and he does not have the time to give such a subject the attention it deserves. Right now, he needs to focus on addressing the rumours shouted at him by the people, but first he must ask his mother a favour.

“Mother, if I might…. would I be able to ask that, in anyway that you can using your…talent…, you could stop Janine Moriarty?”

The Queen’s eyes narrow. “In what way are you inferring? That I stop the curse she has over your father?”

Mycroft hesitates, bringing his hands together in a prayer position under his chin as he thinks. “Is that possible?”

“Mandrakes are of the oldest magic known, the root itself may be destroyed but the long-term effect it has on its victim’s mind…from the limited reading I have done on the subject, it is effectively permanent.” The Queen leans forward at this point and places her hand over Mycroft’s. “Mycroft, I do not think your father will ever be well enough to rule again, and to be brutally honest I do not think that is an entirely bad thing. Moriarty might be the driving point behind the nobles’ decision to revolt but their accusations of harsh taxes are true, as I’m sure you know.”

Mycroft nods. “Yes, I have been thinking that I must review and update the taxes we impose. If I can do that and get the message of a promise to change to the nobles, then there might be a way of lightening the threat against us.”

The Queen nods. “That sounds wise. Just do not bend to their will, do not weaken your image of power.”

“Do not worry, mother, father drilled into my mind that I should never give up my pride.” Mycroft says.

“Your father’s lesson may have been a little extreme but his intention was correct; he just wanted to make you ready to rule, he wanted you never to be phased by the decisions you may have to make.”

“Like an iceman.” Mycroft jokes, but the Queen nods.

“Exactly. That is how you must appear, but please, do not forget your heart, as your father did. Do not forget to care.”

Mycroft nods, keeping his mother’s words in mind but uncomfortable with the outpouring of affection she is showing him. Emotions always make him awkward in his skin.

“Returning to your question.” The Queen says, pulling back. “Lady Janine will know someone has interfered once she realises the afanc is dead. I think it wise for us to not interfere with her hold over your father; he would not want you to risk the future of our families’ rule to save his life, especially when the damage has already been done. We must remain in her eyes ignorant, but I promise you I will look into any way to unhinge her power, possibly put a stopper on it. I already did it once, when she tried to harm you in the owlery.”

“I had come to assume that was you.” Mycroft comments, and the Queen smirks.

“I think it is time I hand over control of the siege defences to you. You must fully understand what we have to make the correct decisions, you are right that I cannot keep things from you. It truly is time for you to take control.”

Mycroft nods. “I have Lady Anthea by my side. She has proved invaluable.”

“Good. Keep her there; it is useful to have someone like that.” The Queen says approvingly.

With a sharp jolt to his stomach, Mycroft is reminded of Greg, who would always be his preferred right-hand man, but that is not possible at the moment, and Mycroft must swallow that, like a bitter taste in his throat.

The Queen rises from her seat and crosses to her desk, pulling out a pile of papers tied together with a red ribbon from drawer. She hands them to Mycroft. “This is everything. Tell me if you do not approve of anything. For now, I will take my leave. The library proved invaluable in defeating the afanc, perhaps it can help me to find something to stop Janine Moriarty.”

She gives Mycroft a knowing look, and he nods back. She opens the door but turns back to Mycroft. “Oh, do not worry; I have placed a protective spell on your chambers, did so once your father’s condition started worsening. Janine will not reach you there.”

“Thank you, mother.” Mycroft says, but she has already turned and left. One of her ladies in waiting scurries around the doorway, peering in. She startles when she sees Mycroft and goes into a curtsey.

“Your Majesty! I did not see you there.”

“It is no matter.” Mycroft says. He frowns to see the lady wearing a navy cloak and riding gloves. “Has the Queen given you permission to leave the palace?”

The woman’s cheeks flush red, and a scared look washes over her. “No, Your Highness. My father has ordered me back to the family home. It is the same for the other ladies, too.”

Mycroft sniffs. Part of him knows he should berate her: she should follow the orders of her monarchs before all others, but the other part of him knows that he does not want to be held accountable in the eyes of this lady’s father should she be harmed during any attack. Preferably he could keep her here for hostage to threaten the nobles should they try any attack on the palace, but that is far too little to stop Lord Moriarty; besides, Lord Hooper obviously has no reservations about the welfare of Lady Molly.

“Very well. I would leave with haste if I were you.” Mycroft says. The lady nods, and then curtseys herself back into the hallway and out of sight. Mycroft sighs, before rising to his feet, grabbing the Queen’s papers, and striding out of the room.

He must find Anthea, and they must consider what steps to take next. Mycroft already has a few plans they could consider, but he needs to understand the lay of the land first. Today is going to be a long day.                                                                                 


 

Janine is led by her magical compass to what appears to be the palace library. She has not yet visited this part of the palace, so she proceeds with caution, keeping her feet light against the stone floor so as to not make too much noise.

She is getting closer and closer to the magical being, the rivers of magical threads pulling her forward, so she is cautious. She rounds corner after corner, stalking through the maze of books. The threads in her mind are growing brighter, until the light is almost blinding. She suddenly has to pull back when the core of the light comes towards her. She hides behind a bookcase, and peers around the edge to see the Queen striding confidently towards the library door, clutching a number of books to her chest. As she goes, the magical strands follow, as if attached to her clothing. Janine has to spit on the floor in disgust. The Queen has magic? The woman is shrewd and decisive, she must be the one interfering with her plans. Janine’s breathes heavily, chest heaving, as her hands clench into fists. Oh, how she wants to curse that woman into oblivion! She steels her anger, though, leaning against the bookshelf behind her, reminding herself that revenge will be oh so much sweeter once James has crumbled the palace’s defences and seized the throne. Images of the Queen, on her knees before Janine, begging for mercy, play through her mind, and she lets out a heavy breath. She must wait for James to give her the signal to unleash the second part of the curse, something the Queen will not be able to stop if she tries, she will be too preoccupied with keeping a hold of her already shaky crown. And then, Janine will strike, and she will show the Queen exactly what one gets for interfering with the plans of a Moriarty.                                                                                      


 

Sherlock cannot stop the physical reaction his body has to King Charles; the shaking that will not cease, the sweating which makes him feel as if he is going through withdrawal all over again. The worst, thing, though, has to be the deep muscle ache all over his body, the pain between his legs, and the ache in the back of his throat. Sherlock wonders if he should be hardened to pain by now, but he justifies that this is a pain on a completely different level, that rocks his soul more than anything else. He needs escape.

“John.” He says, and the physician turns to look at him, crouched over his physician’s bag in the gloom of the litter. “Please give me more of that potion.”
John hesitates, looking unsure. “Sherlock, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Sherlock understands exactly the thought running through John’s mind. “I won’t get addicted. I promise. I just need it now. This will be the last time, I promise.”
John bites the inside of his cheek. “I will give you a watered-down version, and then some drops of aloe vera plant; that should help with the pain.”

Sherlock nods, giving in to John’s orders. He is in no position to argue with the man who has control over his health. John shortly administers both the aloe vera and the potion, and Sherlock can feel himself beginning to drift again when the rattling sound of the litter door opening startles him. King Charles strides in, stooping to fit his figure inside.

“Doctor Watson, I presume you have attended to my husband for the night?” the king asks. The entire convoy is resting for the night, now, and Charles had enjoyed Sherlock’s body after dinner before heading off to wash, leaving John to attend to Sherlock in the aftermath. Now he is back for the remaining hours of the night, his body will be close and stifling next to Sherlock’s, no doubt.

“Yes, Your Highness.” John says, tone tight. He gathers together his belongings. “I wish you a peaceful night’s rest.”

Sherlock watches John go, limbs itching to reach for him, but he cannot bring them to move. Charles throws off the cloak which had been covering his sleep gown and settles down next to Sherlock on the pillows and furs, covering the both of them with a thick wolf fur. His arm winds around Sherlock’s stomach and his nose nuzzles at the back of Sherlock’s neck.

“Goodnight, my love.” He murmurs. His breathing evens out and Sherlock lets himself drift on the edge of sleep. Before he knows what is happening, he is tumbling down and down and down.                                                                                    


 

Sherlock’s eyes dart open, and he blinks to clear his vision. It is strangely bright, as if a mist is covering the entire…. wherever he is. Wait…. where is he?

Sherlock scrambles to his feet, the pain in his body present but seemingly muted, just a dull throb he can ignore if he tries. “Where am I?” he mutters, looking around, greeted by nothing but this stark mist-like substance.

“Hello little brother.”

Sherlock turns, startled to see Mycroft staring at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I should be asking you that question; this is your head, after all.” Mycroft says, placing his hands behind his back, looking extremely relaxed.

“What?” Sherlock spits.

Mycroft looks around. “We’re currently in your head. It looks as empty and full of air as I thought it would be.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “You’re not making any sense. Explain. Now.”

“You’ve been looking for a way to order your thoughts and feelings, correct?” Mycroft asks, shifting on his feet.

“Correct.” Sherlock confirms.

“Well, this here is your brain’s solution. Now, you’re not as clever as I am but I do have to admit that you are still capable, and this here is your mind’s solution to your problem. You’re going to have to build a palace.”

Sherlock blinks. “A palace?”

Mycroft nods, looking irritated. “Yes, a palace. Please keep up.” He takes a few steps closer to Sherlock. “You like to know all that you can, to make sure you have control of a situation if something were to unfold, which is why you know every room and every corridor of our home, isn’t it?”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “…. yes, that’s correct. Even the secret passageways you don’t know about that Lestrade told me about.”

Mycroft rolls his eyes, “Which makes the palace the perfect place to begin to sort your thoughts and feelings.”

Sherlock nods, “Creating a mental version of the palace and using the rooms to help process and store memories. I could hide those memories away, forget the emotions I felt as a consequence and concentrate simply on the fact…. I like it.”

“Of course you do, little brother, you’re coming up with it.” Mycroft smirks.

“I could also use it to escape…” Sherlock says, ignoring Mycroft. He could hide in his mind every time King Charles wants his body, skipping the emotional fallout and therefore avoiding any breakdowns like the one he had that very morning. Brilliant!

“Thank you, Mycroft, you can go now.” Sherlock says, turning away from his brother to focus on the misty fog around him.

“I miss you, too, little brother.” Mycroft says, but when Sherlock turns back to him he is gone.

Sherlock swallows, taking a deep breath. He conjures up the mental blueprint of Holmes Palace and begins the build the foundations of his mental palace.

No, Mind Palace.                                                                                     


 

Thursday comes and goes, and it is not until late into Friday evening that Mycroft and Janine finally finish their preparations and negotiations. Mycroft’s back aches, and he rises from his chair to stretch his limbs. Anthea takes the time that Mycroft’s back is turned to run a hand through her messy hair, loosening her braid. She does not care, she is too tired. Their hard work, though, they both agree, has been worth it.

Together, they have devised a new system of taxes, which will be beneficial to those at all levels of society. Whilst Anthea had been drafting up the announcements they will have sent out into the citadel and beyond, Mycroft has overseen the continuance of the Queen’s siege preparation, which had included the storing of food and drink, of medicines (all prepared by Michael Stamford and his exhausted apprentice), and of weaponry and men. Mycroft has made the decision to keep reinforcements on the northern borders, depleted as they are, rather than use those soldiers for defence of Holmes Palace, in case Magnussen is not willing to discuss allying himself with Sherrinford as Mycroft had proposed in the letter he had sent.  

A thorough discussion of which noble, or nobles, they should approach with the new tax system had followed, and the person who had come out on top was Lord Sebastian Wilkes. Mycroft reckons it does not take much to sway the man, and so therefore he will be much more willing to hear what Mycroft has to say. A messenger is sent off Friday afternoon to deliver Wilkes the letter.

Then, they scour the blueprints of the palace, to learn the different routes the secret passageways offer, and to figure out how they might get reinforcements in, and people out, should the need arise.

Finally, Mycroft has addressed the rumours about the king’s madness, and Sherlock’s madness. The people are always well appeased by an official statement from the palace, so he assumes his lies about Sherlock, that the young prince is well but not strong enough to leave Langley yet, will be swallowed easily. He hopes no one knows that Langley is, in fact, deserted. There is no point lying about the king; Mycroft admitted the ruler was ill, but that the people should trust in his authority instead. ‘Iceman’ had run through his head the entire time whilst writing the address, ‘A king should never waver in his authority.’                                                                                        


 

James Moriarty is extremely pleased. Not only have all the nobles obeyed his wishes, not only are they all ready and prepared to set off in only a few short hours, once the sun rises on Saturday morning, but Moran has sent him word that Sherlock and King Charles’s wedding has gone off without a hitch, and that they are on the road, all of Charles’s forces behind them, ready to fight for the crown of Sherrinford. Or, that is what King Charles thinks he is riding towards. Rather, it is his own death.

Moriarty cannot sleep, not when he is so close to finally achieving what he has been planning for months, so he sits down at his desk, lit only by a single candle in the dark of the night, and pens his letter to Janine. She will know exactly what to do, once she receives this letter, and James cannot wait to see the evidence of her destruction on Holmes Palace. Oh, it will be wonderful.                                                                                       


 

The Queen shivers in the cold of the winter’s night, her horse braying as she leads it further into the darkness. The books had proved useful, in what she has planned for Janine Moriarty, but it is not enough, she needs to see some people about finishing the job. Specifically, the druids.

As she travels further away from Holmes Palace, further away from the lights and stone walls of the palace, the Queen gets a strange sense of foreboding. She shakes it off as being suddenly out in the quiet and the darkness of nature, but she cannot shake that something unsettling is laying over the land. She fears it will not be all that long until she finds out exactly what this threat is.

 

Chapter Text

Upon approaching the druid’s camp, the Queen is met with salutations joyous and happy. Some of the druids, dressed in their furs against the winter night, bow or curtsey to her, but she waves them away, greeting those she knows with kisses to the cheeks or the shaking of hands.

“Your Highness, what on earth are you doing here in the early hours of the morning?” The leader of this particular community, a man by the name of Horace asks her. She smiles at him; they know each other well, and she cannot hide the delight she feels at being back in his community, hiding no secrets.

“I need your help.” She says.

Horace nods, and then holds out a hand, to guide her into his tent.

Once they are settled, both with a warm cup of tea in their hands, the Queen begins to explain. “The royal family is under attack, both militarily and magically. Lord James Moriarty and the nobility of this land are prepared to siege the palace imminently, and Moriarty’s sister, the Lady Janine, has the king subdued using mandrake root.”

Horace sucks in a sharp breath at the mention of the mandrake root. “We had heard rumours of the King’s illness, but to know it is due to mandrake root… Violet, I am deeply sorry.”

The Queen nods but continues talking. “Essentially, I am seeking a way to cut off Janine Moriarty’s magic. And I do have a specific tool in mind….”

Horace’s eyes widen in understanding, and a hand comes up to scratch at his greying brown beard. “I believe we have one. Please, wait here and enjoy your tea, I will fetch it for you.”

Horace leaves the tent, leaving the Queen to sit sipping at her tea on the cushions and furs in silence. When Horace returns, he is carrying a bundle, something wrapped in a red cloth. The Queen puts down her cup of tea to accept the parcel, unwrapping it. Inside, lays something very similar to a voodoo doll, its humanistic form composed of string and straw, but the symbols of magic painted across its figure are what distinguish it. It works essentially the same as a traditional voodoo doll, only instead of binding the person to it with a physical part of them, such as a strand of hair, it needs to be bound to them with a thread of their magical core. These are dangerous tools of sorcery, and therefore the Queen takes great care to wrap the doll back up in its covering once again.

“Violet, if you require any help, then you know you can always turn to us, yes?” Horace says with kind eyes, and the Queen places a hand over his, squeezing it gently.

“I do not want to get you involved in my husband’s battle whilst he is unable to fight, when he has not granted you…. anything.” the Queen replies. She cannot let Horace and his community risk their lives in this battle against Moriarty, not when they themselves are afforded the worst citizenship in the kingdom.

“With respect, we would not be fighting for your husband, Violet, we would be fighting for you.” Horace says, with a confident smile on his face.

“Thank you, Horace. That means the world. And I promise, my son has vowed to work on reworking the laws against all of us magic beings once this whole mess is done with.” The Queen replies in all sincerity.

A wide smile graces Horace’s face. “I have always believed in the future of the kingdom, in the future that your sons will bring.”

The Queen’s own smile, which had slipped onto her face at seeing Horace’s delight, falters. “Sherlock, Horace, is missing. I don’t suppose you could try and reach out? You’re much well-practiced at it than me, and I cannot sense anything from the palace.”

Horace nods, a frown marring his brow at the news of Sherlock’s disappearance. “Of course. I’d heard about the assassination, but had not thought more of it…. I’m terribly sorry! Here, I’ll try…”

Horace closes his eyes, a steely determination on his face. The Queen watches in silence as he reaches out into the earth, into the very soul of the kingdom, to search for any tendril of her youngest son’s spirit. He takes his time, and his brow become ever more creased as he concentrates, but eventually his eyes spring open and he sighs, his breath coming out heavy and loud in the small space of the tent. He looks up at the Queen and shakes his head, an apologetic look in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Violet. I could not find any trace of him. Not this side of the border.”

A shard of fear works its way deeper into the Queen’s heart. Sherlock is not in the kingdom, as far as Horace can tell, and though she is loathe to admit it, she knows that Horace cannot be wrong. She thanks the druid nonetheless, and says she must be returning to the palace, as she can see the early light of dawn filtering in through the gap in the tent entrance. As she rises to leave, Horace says, “You still haven’t told him then?”

She looks back to him. “Sherlock?”

“Yes.” Horace says.

“No.” She shakes her head. “Mycroft asked me only days ago whether he or Sherlock might possess any of my magical powers. I acted unsure.”

“But you are sure?”

The Queen nods. “I’ve known since I brought the both of them into this world. Mycroft has not a trace, but Sherlock…I could feel it the moment I first held him in my arms.” Horace smiles. “I will keep a look out for you.”

“Thank you, Horace. I really must be going now.” The Queen turns and leaves without a glance behind herself. She cannot help but feel disappointed that Horace could not sense any of Sherlock’s magical energy, but she steels herself against the worry that floods her system, as she has had to do so often in the past months. She gives empty goodbyes to those who are milling about in the early hours, and settles in her saddle, guiding her horse back towards the palace. The voodoo doll is tucked safely in one of the saddle bags, locked away under leather and metal. It is essential, now, to any hopes that the Holmes’s have of taking down one part of the Moriartys’s assault against them. She must hurry.                                                


She has just cleared the woodland when she sees it before her. Her breath catches in her throat, and she pulls on the reigns, bringing her steed to a stop. One does not need to have the Queen’s knowledge of magic to understand that this is some enchantment.

It is as if Holmes Palace and its citadel are captured in a glass jar, cut off from the rest of the kingdom by the city walls. Rain falls heavily, like a monsoon, on the citadel, but from where the Queen is, observing this tempest, no rain falls, and only a sharp winter wind cuts through the air. Some sort of sorcerous storm is possessing the citadel, and the Queen’s own storm begins to stir up inside her, and she realises now she has been too late to stop Janine Moriarty once again. If the Afanc had been an attempt to demoralise the people of the citadel, then this storm is a means to leave the weakened city vulnerable.

She encourages her horse on again, enraged that another nail is poised over the coffin of the Holmes family’s hold on the throne. But lords above she will not let Janine Moriarty strike the nail with the hammer.                                                                                   


John is very concerned about Sherlock. The man has been practically catatonic for two days now, and John has absolutely no clue what to do about it. He has called the man’s name so many times it feels like it is the only word that has left his mouth in those two days. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. John has even, a little guiltily, tried pinching the soft parts of the prince’s flesh to get a rise out of the man. Still, there has been nothing. 

Despite John’s medical training, Sherlock is unlike anything or anyone ever seen before and so he has not the faintest clue what to do. And the feeling is building inside him like an itch, the frustration overwhelming, but he cannot scratch it. There is nothing he can do. He worries Sherlock has had some sort of mental break, that the culmination of abuse, rape, and his own foolish handling of his emotions, trying to essentially squash them into a bell jar and close them away, has taken its toll.

If only he knew what to do!

Some physician he turned out to be, promising Sherlock he could protect him, care for him, but really this situation just highlights to John how little he and Sherlock really know the ins and outs of each other. For one small moment he has a feeling of regret. Maybe he should have stayed in Appledore, set up his own practice, fetched Harriett back from the nunnery. He shakes himself from these thoughts. No! There is something about Sherlock….it is almost magnetic. They are drawn to each other, that much is clear, on a deeper and unexplainable level than John has ever been drawn to another human being. He must stay with him, because now, the thought of being back in Appledore, whilst Sherlock is here, seems totally incomprehensible.

He has barely known the man for a few weeks, but it seems to John that Sherlock is now an immovable part of his life.

If only the man would come back to him from wherever he is.                                                                                    


Sherlock pushes desperately against the door to his father’s apartments, trying with all his might to get the latch down and lock the door. But the angry banging of fists on the other side and the grumbles of his father’s hatred for his younger son are proving difficult for Sherlock to lock away.

 “Just leave me be!” Sherlock screams. His head is pounding with the pain of constructing this mind palace, the candles which light the building keep flickering and dying, and then springing to life again when Sherlock takes a moment of rest. It is taking its toll on his body, he knows, to do this, but it needs to be done for the long-term benefits. Sherlock cannot function efficiently in the real world if he is facing an onslaught of trauma with no way to process it, that is hardly conducive to effectively stopping the man who has condemned him to his current reality and the man who is ensuring it is as nasty as it possibly can be!

Thunder rattles the entire building, and Sherlock stumbles and falls against the wall. The doors to his father’s chambers fling open, and Sherlock scrambles to push them shut again, finally managing to turn the key in the lock and keep the doors shut tight.

Sherlock pants, resting against the door for a moment. Outside, rain pours down, and then the thunderous claps come again, followed by the electric flash of lightening. Sherlock squeezes his eyes shut. He needs to control this better, needs to shut his emotions away…control, control, control!

Sherlock…” A slimy voice calls Sherlock’s name, seemingly coming from the stormy heaven’s above, and Sherlock shudders. He knows that voice.

“No.” he shakes his head.  “Leave me be!”

“Princeling….” The voice calls again, this time the intonation of a chuckle in its tone. “You’re being very naughty, Princeling.”

“Sherlock!” his father’s voice booms from behind the locked door, making Sherlock startle and push himself away from it. “You were always such a disappointment, Sherlock!”

“Be quiet, both of you!” Sherlock shouts, putting his hands out in a passive attempt at resisting. The thunder comes again, followed this time by two bolts of lightning. The thumping of fists upon the locked door starts up again, and Moran’s malicious chuckling echoes through the palace each time the thunder claps. “I need to get rid of you!”

Sherlock begins to stumble away from his father’s chambers, heading for the dungeons. He goes further and further down, feet barely able to keep up with the rest of his body, until he reaches the deepest dungeons they have at Holmes Palace. His father had taken him to them once, when he thought Sherlock was purposefully not progressing with his sword skills to spite the older man, to warn Sherlock what punishment might await him should he not improve soon. But Sherlock has added his own little details to this place in the recesses of his mind, something that does not exist in the real-life Holmes Palace. An oubliette.

Somewhen between Sherlock’s run to the dungeons and his arrival at the oubliette, Moran has transfigured into the actual physical manifestation of the man himself. His shadowy figure is coming closer and closer, cursing Sherlock and threatening all sorts of pains against him. Moran’s shadow precedes the man himself, flickering in the candlelight, and Sherlock works quickly to pull the grate off the opening of the oubliette, limbs shaking and aching at the effort. “Come on!”

“Sherlock!” Moran has appeared now from around the corner, leather-clad body looming and large in the dungeon. Sherlock shivers, but stands tall, poised in front of the opening of the oubliette. “You little shit!”

Moran charges towards him, blonde hair unkempt, strands flying wildly around his face, making the man look deranged. His large hands are outstretched, reaching for Sherlock, ready to grab his throat and throttle him. At the last moment, however, Sherlock jumps out of the way, and Moran goes stumbling into the oubliette, body falling into the hole. Sherlock quickly pushes the grate back over the oubliette, sliding the bolt shut, locking Moran away in the prison.

Sherlock can still hear the man’s muffled curses, but they are much quieter, and the flames of the candles are no longer flickering. Sherlock breathes out a long breath, body soaked in sweat.

“I would get out of here, if I were you.” A voice says from one of the cells adjacent to the oubliette. Sherlock looks towards the owner, King Charles, who stands at the bars, looking infinitely calm. “You cannot keep me locked up for too long.”

Sherlock stands on shaky legs, walking past Charles, ignoring the man completely. The less he thinks about the man the tighter the locks on his cell become. Best not to think about what his body might be going through. Best to focus on how calm his mind now feels.

There is a figure waiting for Sherlock when he reaches the entryway to the dungeons, arms crossed as he impatiently waits. “Take your time, little brother. It’s not like we have a serious issue at hand.” Mycroft says, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Sherlock glares at him. “I can lock you away, too, if you want.” Mycroft raises his eyebrows. “Oh, I’d like to see you try.”

Sherlock sighs, heading for his own chambers, following staircase after staircase, corridor after corridor. Mycroft follows him, gazing around at Sherlock’s mind palace as they walk. “Impressive, what you’ve done. I knew there was some semblance of intelligence in your brain somewhere.”

Sherlock smirks. Mycroft words, if delivered by someone else, might be scathing, but Sherlock knows this is how their relationship has always worked, and he enjoys the game of insults they play.

“Well, please do take notes if you want to even attempt something like this.” He counters, and Mycroft huffs, seemingly impressed by Sherlock’s comeback.

They reach Sherlock’s chambers, which Sherlock locks tight after they are in. He collapses into a chair by the fire, regaining what little strength he has.

“So,” Says Mycroft, hands coming together behind his back, “What are we going to do?”

                                                                                                 



“What is wrong with him?” King Charles asks, giving Sherlock’s limp body a small shake.

John hesitates, knowing it will not be enough to tell his monarch ‘I haven’t got a clue, and it is seriously worrying me!’

“I believe he has simply collapsed from exhaustion, Your Majesty.” John instead replies, hoping King Charles will swallow his explanation. “His body has shut down until he gains enough strength to be conscious once again.” King Charles huffs, obviously disappointed. “That is a shame. I do prefer when he is…. awake and aware.”

John tries not to let his disgust show, even though King Charles’s attention is on Sherlock, stroking a hand over Sherlock’s head as if he were a pet. Surely the man isn’t thinking….?

“Doctor Watson, please leave me and my husband.” Charles commands, starting the shed his jacket. John blanches as his worries become reality.

“Your Majesty, for the sake of the Prince’s wellbeing I would strongly advise against-”

“Leave, Doctor Watson. Now.” Charles interrupts, turning to glare at John.

But John cannot leave, how can he when Sherlock is ill, and Charles intends to…it does not bear thinking about. All self-preservation goes out of the window, and John firmly puts his foot down. “Your Majesty forgive me but I, as the Prince’s physician, cannot allow you to engage in sexual activity with him. The prince is far too weak and needs to rest.”

‘Please just listen to me!’ John screams in his head, keeping his face as straight as he can whilst Charles turns to look at him, gaunt face thunderous.

“Moran, if you would kindly remove the good doctor from the carriage.” Charles calls.

Suddenly, Moran’s large figure is invading the litter and he is pulling John from the vehicle, grip tight on John’s arm. John desperately does all he can to fight the man, but eventually ceases his battle. He cannot risk being dismissed now, for it will do Sherlock no good in the long run if John has been sent home in disgrace. As much as it pains him to admit it, he must let what Charles is doing happen. Moran carelessly pushes John away from the litter, and the doctor stumbles and falls to the ground, the earth hard and frozen by the cold weather underneath him.

“You can return in the morning.” Moran spits, before closing the litter door and placing his large body in front of it, a disgusting small smirk on his face. John spits at his feet, incredibly angry that this piece of dirt of a person should manhandle him in such a way. Moran simply looks down at John, lip curled, like one might look at a cockroach.

“I am only doing my best to help him after all the abuse he has suffered.” John says, voice low, not caring that Moran has surely caught what John is referring to.

The man rolls his eyes. “What has the princeling been telling you about me? He has only received what he has always deserved.” John makes a sound of disgust, shaking his head. “Oh, no one would ever deserve what you did.”

“That is where you are wrong, Doctor Watson, so you’d better watch it.” Moran says. “The Princeling’s family deserve everything that is coming to them. You have no idea.”

John forces himself to walk away before he does something he will regret, body vibrating with pent-up anger. It is incredibly hard to walk away from the litter, when he knows exactly what kind of depraved acts are going on inside, but there is nothing that John can do, and he feels absolutely useless.                                                                            



Thunder begins to boom once again outside of the windows, and Sherlock and Mycroft look to the window as rain begins to pour. Sherlock shudders, an unsettling feeling falling over his body, and he understands exactly the relation between what he is feeling and the tempest stirring up outside.

“That man is the basest of human beings.” Mycroft remarks, haughty face serious.

“You’re telling me.” Sherlock says, pushing away the uncomfortable emotions and turning to Mycroft. “Nevertheless, we have to get on with this. What shall I do?”

“Well, Charles has already shown his cards, has he not? I will be receiving a letter in the very close future warning me not to resist his army or you shall be hurt. How do you suppose we deal with that?” Mycroft says, leaning against the back of the chair as he still stands.

Sherlock brings his hands together under his chin in a prayer position as he thinks about this. “Eliminate part of that equation. Preferably Charles.”

Mycroft smirks. “Unfortunately, that is not feasible. Think of another way.”

Sherlock blinks rapidly. He wonders if he could simply find a time to sink a knife or dagger into Charles’s person. As he thinks this, a dagger appears in his hands, drenched in blood. He observes it, strangely put out by it. He stands, dagger in hand, and then suddenly Charles is stood there in front of him, dressed only in his nightgown, and Sherlock raises his arm, contemplating where, if he could, sink the dagger into the man’s body. But then suddenly Moran is there, and so is Culverton, and the men are crowding Sherlock, and he throws the dagger to the ground, and he shouts out as the men, Culverton, Charles, and Moran, all disappear into thin air.

“I could not do it.” Sherlock mutters, sinking back into the chair. Mycroft has watched the scene impassively, but now he shakes his head.

“No, that, I fear, would create an extremely bad situation, and cause Charles’s men to revolt against you, possibly killing you and inciting a war between the two kingdoms in which our family is actually complicit in having done a wrong against the house of Magnussen.” Mycroft says.

“Then I must do something related to my situation, then.” Sherlock contemplates. “Something which will put Magnussen and Moriarty at a disadvantage and will ensure they can no longer use me as a pawn in their plans.”

Sherlock looks to Mycroft, who is staring at him as if wanting to hurry Sherlock up into coming to his conclusion, as if he already knows. Sherlock’s eyes go wide as he realises what he should do. “I should kill myself.”

Mycroft rolls his eyes. “Not quite, little brother. You don’t actually want to die, do you?”

Sherlock sense a presence behind, a warm hand on his shoulder, and he looks up to see John there, smiling at him. “No.” he says. “Certainly not.”

“Then what should you do, considering you have the trust of a physician, with their medical knowledge and all those potions at hand?” Mycroft says.

“I should fake my death.” Sherlock replies, a small smile growing on his face.

Mycroft nods. “Moriarty and Charles will be at a considerable advantage. Where will Charles’s claim to our throne be when you are dead?”

Sherlock suddenly has a thought. “I hope you and mother do not think it was you who killed me, after news of my apparent death reaches you after Charles’s letter.”

Mycroft huffs. “You know me, Sherlock, how father has raised me. The kingdom always comes first; I will not heed Charles’s letter. With you apparently gone at least there will be nothing holding me back from advancing a full-blown attack on Charles’s army.”

Sherlock cannot hide the little piece of disappointment in the back of his mind. ‘Of course Mycroft would still have to defend the kingdom from Charles despite the man’s warning of harming me. The kingdom comes before anything else! That is something father could at least hammer into me.’  

“I hope father is proud of you, Mycroft. I am sure he will not be too displeased by the news of my death.” Sherlock remarks. Mycroft rolls his eyes.

“Do not be so morbid. For goodness sake, you created this place to focus on logic and reason. Do so.” Mycroft says, leaning forward to loom over Sherlock’s chair

Sherlock huffs, but does indeed turn back to the plan at hand. “John will have to be involved. I will need someone to help. Hopefully he will not be considering any loyalty he still might have for King Charles. It will be dangerous for him though….”

Sherlock stares out of the window, watching the rain fall, understanding what his body must be going through to cause this. Mycroft is right, he cannot think of pain, and fear, and emotions now. It is time to fake his own demise, and the task will not be an easy one.                                                                                        


“Lords, why did this rain have to start up now?” Mycroft sighs, standing atop the battlements of the palace, trying desperately to see anything through the thick rain fall. Every now and then thunder booms and lightening strikes, and the men that Mycroft has stationed all along the battlements of the city walls and the palace itself shiver and mutter their worries between themselves. It might be early morning, but it could just as well be late at night, the gloomy clouds are coating the sky so.

Mycroft is partially in armour, having had one of his servants attach a breastplate and vambraces on both arms, prepared, now, for the physical attack a siege might bring. Mycroft has had an innate feeling of unease throughout the night and this morning, and it has led him to decide to implement the siege plans, stationing men on their defences. 

“Mycroft!”

Mycroft turns at the sound of the Queen calling his name, surprised to see the woman approaching him on the battlements, the cloak she is wearing already soaked through with the rain that pounds down upon them. His mother’s face is pale, and her breathing is laboured. She has returned from riding, Mycroft can see from the mud that coats the bottom part of her attire, and she has been in the woods, going by the colour of the dirt. Why?

“Mother, what is the meaning of this?” he asks.

“This is no natural storm, Mycroft!” the Queen near but shouts over the thunder which booms above them. “This is an enchantment, and we can certainly assume who has done this.”

Mycroft tuts. “The Lady Janine. Have you not had chance to stop her yet?”

“I was just returning to do just that.” The Queen replies. “I have been visiting the druids. They have given me a voodoo doll.”

“Lords!” Mycroft says, eyebrows raised.

“I fear it is too late for that!” The Queen says, and angry blush rising on her cheeks. “That woman has done far too much. This ends now.”

Before Mycroft can stop her, the Queen is striding away, back into the tower which leads down into the palace. Mycroft hesitates, before turning to the nearest guard. “Alert me should you see any sign of movement past this bloody rain!”

Mycroft is off before the man can reply, following his mother down into the innards of the palace. He has rarely seen his mother so enraged, and he worries now that the culmination of all the Moriartys have put his family through will finally make the Queen snap, and she will do something she regrets.                                                                                        


Mycroft finally manages to catch up with his mother as she blows the doors to Janine’s chambers open with the smallest of gestures with her hand. The oak doors fly off their hinges, hitting the floor. A strange purple light flickers for a second before dying out. The Queen strides forward into Janine’s chambers, and Mycroft follows, keeping to the shadows for now.

“Janine!” The Queen shouts. “I am afraid your stay at the palace has come to an end.”

Janine appears from behind a pillar, face equally enraged and confused. “You broke through my shield.” She says.

The Queen smirks. “Don’t feel so powerful now, do we?”

Janine’s eyes narrow, and an eyebrow raises in challenge. “There is currently a storm raging outside, who do you think conjured that?”

“Oh, do not think I am impressed by such a spell.” The Queen shakes her head. Suddenly, before Mycroft can even blink, the Queen is forcing Janine forward, as if an invisible hand has grabbed the younger woman by her hair and is forcing her forward. Janine struggles, limbs bound by invisible rope, but cannot stop her body from moving further towards the Queen. The Queen reaches out and pulls at Janine’s hair, freeing some strands from her scalp. Janine screams and curses but cannot do anything as the Queen pushes her back. She stumbles and falls to the floor, and as she does, thunder claps outside.

Mycroft watches in amazement as the Queen pulls a small doll from a pouch by her side, binding Janine’s hair to it with a spell. Janine, too, is watching, with fear and anger in her eyes. The Queen walks towards the nearest lit torch, and without any second thoughts she plunges the doll’s head into the flames and draws it away with the head flaming. Janine screams, muttering some strange words. It takes Mycroft a moment to realise she is trying to cast spells and curses, but nothing is happening. Outside the window, the storm stops, the last raindrops lightly falling to the ground, and the clouds part and the sun begins to shine through.

“Don’t think you could ever pose a serious threat to me and my family.” The Queen spits, looking down victoriously at Janine. It is slightly disturbing to see his mother hurting someone, but Mycroft rationalises that they are past the point of niceties’ now, and that Janine deserves some form of punishment.

“Now wasn’t that easy?” the Queen smirks, and Janine spits at her.

“It is no matter, James is already on his way.” Janine replies, breathing heavily. “there is nothing you can do to stop him, and Charles Magnussen.”

Mycroft takes a heavy breath in as he hears this. He had feared this would be the case, that Moriarty would ally himself with King Charles, and now to hear it confirmed only settles the pit of worry further in his stomach. His attempts at conciliation with the king have obviously been for nothing. He steps forward, making himself known to the two women. “I am to assume, then, that Magnussen has crossed the border with an army to support your brother and my nobles?” Janine looks to Mycroft, surprised by his presence but sneering nonetheless. “He will do soon. Him and your brother.”

Mycroft feels the Queen straighten next to him and tries to disguise his own surprise. “Sherlock is with King Charles?”

Janine nods, eyes darkening with the implication of what being ‘with King Charles’ means.

“If Sherlock has in anyway been hurt do not think I will not do the same to you.” The Queen spits, tightening her invisible bonds on Janine, making the woman cry out.

“Mother.” Mycroft tries to placate the Queen. “Do not think on that now. At least we know Sherlock is alive.”

Janine has used this moment of distraction between mother and son to shift her way closer to them both, and suddenly her foots darts out and connects with the Queen’s shin, de-stabling the older woman. The voodoo doll drops from her hands and Janine grabs it, invisible bonds broken as the Queen has lost concentration. She ferociously blows upon the flames, extinguishing them. This action seems to reverse the spell done on her, as Janine springs to her feet and then Mycroft suddenly feels himself being pushed backwards, and he hits the floor hard.

At first, he thinks it was Janine who had done this, but as he looks up he sees it was his mother, who has cast a protective shield around both of them, getting Mycroft out of Janine’s way. The Queen now stands composed and ready for whatever Janine might throw at her.

“Oh, how I have wanted to kill you ever since I discovered it was you who was foiling my plans!” Janine says, hands raised as she throws what looks to be small balls of fire at the Queen, who easily deflects them, and they disappear into thin air.

“Oh, believe me, the feeling is mutual.” The Queen says, sending electric bolts of power at Janine, who has a harder time trying to dodge them.

“I cannot wait for you to realise the true extent of James’s plans, how little power you have. Your family have always been weak, that was something James realised the moment he laid eyes upon the possibilities the demise of your family might hold. Do not think you can fight this. Resistance is useless. It is only a matter of time until you fall.”

The Queen strikes again, but this time Janine meets the bolts with fire, and the two clash in the air, creating a blinding light which eventually crackles into nothingness. Janine screams, sending out a true burst of magical energy. Mycroft feels the shield around himself shake with the force, but it remains strong. “Just die!” Janine screams, but the Queen is already assaulting her with wave after wave of lightning bolts.

Janine screams, holding up her hands in surrender, and the Queen relents, still posed to fight but stopping the stream of magic she has just unleashed. The air settles, and Mycroft can see Janine is crouched over herself, head lowered, but the moment the Queen stops she raises her face and Mycroft can see she is smiling sardonically. “I hope you both die rotting in the cells of the dungeon once James takes your palace and your throne. Thank you for having me, it’s been a pleasure.”

Before the Queen can react, Janine is suddenly muttering a spell and in the blink of an eye she has transformed herself. There is no place for logic in magic, and Mycroft cannot explain how the woman who had stood in front of him moments before is now a sleek, imposing magpie. The bird is so much more than just her family crest, then.

Janine, as a magpie, spreads her wings, cawing loudly before she is off out the open window. Mycroft and the Queen hasten over to the window and watch as her wings spread, and she flies further and further away, until she is a speck on the horizon, and then, finally, she is gone.

Mycroft has to react quickly as suddenly beside him the Queen collapses, all the fight gone from her body. “Mycroft.” She rasps. “You heard what that witch said, Charles has Sherlock.”

“I know, mother.” Mycroft says, understanding the Queen’s concern for her youngest son. “He will be alright. Sherlock can hold his own.” The Queen shakes her head. “No, Charles is dangerous. Sherlock will not be prepared. The man will hurt him.”

Mycroft swallows. He cannot tell the Queen that is not true, for he fears that yes, Charles will most likely have hurt Sherlock in some respect, but instead tries to pacify by saying. “Yes, but he will not kill him. Sherlock is alive.

“Sire!”  A guard calls, and then suddenly an armoured man is running into the room, dropping into a quick bow before rising, breathing heavily. “Sire, the armies, they are approaching!”

Both Mycroft and the Queen turn to look out of the window once again, but instead focussing on the ground rather than the sky. From here, Mycroft can see the glinting of metal, and the fluttering of banners in the wind, and the hundreds of heads of the men employed by Moriarty to siege Mycroft’s citadel. He reckons that these approaching armies will be here in only a matter of hours.

“Ready the defences and shut the city gates!” Mycroft orders. “The siege is begun!”                                                                                 


John startles as Sherlock suddenly comes alive, sitting up and taking in a huge gasping breath. “Lords! Sherlock!”

It is early, the morning after John’s dismissal from the litter, and he has finally been allowed back in to tend to Sherlock. The aftermath of Charles’s night with his husband has made bile rise in John’s throat, and he has entertained himself for a few hours now with imaging how he might do to King Charles what the man deserves. They are to cross the border today, apparently, which means a long day of riding, so John can only hope Charles will be too tired to lay with Sherlock tonight.

Now, however, everything has changed as Sherlock is apparently conscious once again. John leans forward as Sherlock folds over himself, groaning low as awareness of his physical wounds returns. “Sherlock, are you alright?”

Sherlock continues to breath heavily for a few moments, not answering John. Eventually, however, he looks up at the man, blinking rapidly as awareness as to where he is and who is in front of him dawns on his face.

“John.” He grasps at John’s arm, voice rough after a couple of days’ disuse. “John, I need….”

“Yes, Sherlock?” John asks, placing his own hands on Sherlock’s biceps. “What do you need?”

“I need…” Sherlock coughs, his bleary eyes getting clearer and clearer by the second, and John can see that there is serious conviction in those eyes. What does Sherlock need? “John. I need to kill myself.”

Chapter Text

Hello,

I hope expecting a new chapter and then receiving this isn't too disappointing, even though it cannot be anything but disappointing. I felt it best to at least let those who are invested in this story know what is going on, instead of leaving you with complete silence.

I have not abandoned this story, nor do I intend to do so. But I have a lot on my plate right now and because real life sucks, fanfiction writing has to unfortunately take a backseat. I feel incredibly guilty I am posting this, but I hope you can understand.

Thank-you to those that are enjoying this story, and especially those that leave a comment and encouraging word; I know I am terrible at replying to your messages, and it is far worse than you deserve, but as you have probably already gathered, I am a mess right now (read: all the time)! Please know however, that your support is appreciated so much, incredibly so!

So, please know this story will be continued, but unfortunately real life has to come first.

I hope you understand,

TheBritishBourbon