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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 by 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 Blackmoor, 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 no 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?”

Williams 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, Willia,.” 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!