OK - here's the second instalment. There's a labelled picture in the middle which I hope will be of use, plus a link at the bottom with actual
Chapter 2 - Arthur of Camelot
Pantha woke slowly, her head aching, back stiff after a night spent leaning against a particularly rough-barked tree. Silhouetted against the rising
sun she saw Tobias and Benjj talking animatedly while Loki poked a small fire into animation. The young girl still slept, her head in Pantha's lap,
occasionally moaning in her sleep. Pantha lay her hand on the girl's forehead. It was burning. Whatever those corporate thugs had done to her was
serious. She hadn't said a word all night, just lay in Pantha's lap in a state of stupor. Pisky was missing, although Pantha vaguely remembered him
leaving just before dawn, for what reason, she didn't know. He had his bow with him but left on foot, his horse still tethered with the others in the
trees to her right. The old priest was still snoring happily away, possibly as the result of Pisky's 'Original Pixyland Scrumpy'. This was also the
reason for Pantha's headache, for which she planned to berate the errant prodigal upon his return.
She squirmed around, trying to get rid of the cramp that threatened her legs, the movement inadvertantly waking the girl who moaned softly and opened
her eyes. "Good morning", Pantha said, looking for some kind of recognition, but the eyes that started back at her were dull, almost as if the soul
inside had fled. The girl tried to sit up, but failed and slipped sideways, giving Pantha the opportunity to ease her aching back while ostensibly
helping the girl into a better position. Suddenly, she grimaced in pain, her eyes wide with shock, breath coming in short bursts. She gave a little
groan and went limp in Pantha's arms.
"Benjj !!!!", she shouted, alarmed at the girl's predicament. Benjj rushed over, put down his shotgun and crouched beside the stricken young woman.
"We've got to get her to the castle", Pantha said, "QUICKLY ! ... this is serious !".
Benjj lay his hand on the girl's forehead. "Fever", he said. "Wait there - I'll get it sorted". Rapidly, Benjj woke the priest, at the same time
calling to Loki and Tobias to prepare to leave. They would leave Pisky's horse - when he got back, he would know they had had to leave rapidly, and
would make his own way to the castle.
Muttering, Loki put out the fire and untethered the horses. Pantha mounted, and once settled, received the unconscious girl from Benjj. Loki and
Tobias shared a horse as they had yesterday, while the half-drunken priest swayed behind Benjj, occasionally letting out a rather impious belch.
Benjj led the way, riding through fields and woodlands, crossing the occasional road and every now and then passing deserted farmhouses and cattle
barns. Usually these places would be worth checking out, but not now. Now time was of the essence. The horses were already slowed by having to carry
extra weight and they couldn't afford to waste a second. By now everyone in the group was aware that the young woman's life hung in the balance.
They also knew that her only chance was for them to get her to the castle - and the sooner the better.
They had been riding for just over two hours when Benjj turned to check on his charges and saw Pisky galloping towards them from the direction they
had just came. Across the back of his horse hung a deer, obviously slain by one of Pisky's arrows. "I promised Arthur some venison", he gasped,
pulling up alongside Benjj. "What happened ?"
Benjj explained the girl's predicament while Pisky did a quick calculation. "We've got about half an hour to go", he said once Benjj had finished,
"I'll carry on ahead and warn KayEm to get ready". With a quick wave to the others, Pisky pulled on his reins and galloped into the distance.
Benjj rode across to where Pantha was looking down at the girl with concern. "She's having difficulty breathing", she said, "I don't know what
else to do".
"You've done all you can", Benjj said sympathetically, "We're going to get her to the castle and then its up to KayEm". Pantha nodded in
agreement, tears brimming in her eyes.
"I hate this", she said suddenly. "All this pain, all this death ... its all so ... wrong".
"I'm sorry", Pantha continued, "I know I must sound selfish. At least we're alive. My kids are safe. Not like so many others".
"Not selfish", Benjj said, sadness in his voice now too, "just human. Tired and human"
Loki was the first to see the castle in the distance. In fairness, Stokesay wasn't a castle at all, but a fortified manor house built in the Marches
after Edward I's defeat of the Welsh prince Llywelyn. Built by Lawrence de Ludlow in the late 1200's, it had changed little, save for the addition
of a more expansive gatehouse. Other than that, and the addition of a toilet block for the visitors, Stokesay had stayed the same over the centuries.
Of course, there were no visitors now. There were few people left at all after the mixture of plague and rioting that accompanied the Corporate
takeover. Most of the cities were under martial law and the closest town to Stokesay, Craven Arms, was a ghost town. The corporate thugs working as
replacements for the police and Armed forces were somewhat stretched as things stood; No doubt they would get out here one day, but until then, things
were peaceful in this part of the world.
Loki waved at the two men standing on the battlements of the South Tower. The recently added drawbridge was down, spanning the moat - also recently
dug and filled with water from the pond close by. The original moat was merely for show. This one was real. Eight feet deep, it looked peaceful
enough, but appearences could be deceptive. Anyone falling into the moat was likely to be impaled on one of the many sharpened stakes embedded in the
bottom and hidden by the placid water.
Loki led the group across the drawbridge and into the courtyard. Inside, Pisky was talking to a large bearded man dressed somewhat oddly as a Templar
Knight, while standing beside them was a tall red-headed woman holding a map. Various other people worked nearby, with a fully functioning smithy
beside the main entrance to the castle proper. Benjj leaped from his horse, handing the reins to the startled priest. Thrusting the map into Pisky's
hand, KayEm rushed over to where Pantha's horse stood. A quick glance told her that the situation was dire. "Bring her in", she said to Benjj, then
quickly rushed off towards the makeshift infirmary at the bottom of the North Tower.
Benjj took the now moaning girl from Pantha and carried her carefully into the hall. Turning right through an old oak doorway he entered the infirmary
where KayEm had prepared a bed. Softly he placed the girl onto it and stood away as the nurse began her examination. The young woman was shaking now,
her face in a rictus of agony, sweat pouring from her as KayEm checked her temperature and prepared something to help with the pain. KayEm looked
across at Benjj. "You don't have to stay", she said in her Californian accent, "I'll call you if I need you". Benjj needed no second bidding
and left KayEm to her work, striding through the cavernous hall back out into the courtyard.
Benjj joined the others near the stables. Self-appointed stable hands took the horses and made them comfortable, leaving their riders to stretch their
aching limbs and follow Loki over to where Pisky and the erstwhile Templar were leaning against an outside table.
"Right then Pisky, you old bastard", the 'knight' said in a gruff, friendly West country voice as the group approached, "Who've you bought for
us now ?" Benjj smiled, as did Pantha. They both liked the old druid who styled himself 'King Arthur' despite his propensity for drink and his
insistance that they keep up with him in the quaffing stakes.
"This is John Tobias", Pisky replied, gesturing towards the tall black man. Arthur stuck out his hand "Arthur of Camelot", he said, as Tobias took
it in his own much larger hand. "And this", he continued, motioning around the courtyard, "Is Camelot". Tobias smiled.
"I thought it was Stokesay", Pantha said, grinning.
"I renamed it", Arthur said with a shrug. "Last night. I reckoned that as King Arthur, I really ought to have a castle with an appropriate name ...
Here, have a swig of this". And so saying, he produced a large bottle of scrumpy which he thrust into Tobias' hands.
Arthur grinned as the drink brought tears to Tobias's eyes, before turning to the old priest. "Good day, Father", he said, in mock reverance, "Not
here to convert the heathens I hope ?"
"Not a chance of that in this den of iniquity", Father Fingal replied with a glint of amusement in his eye. "Not that that'll stop me from doing
my priestly duty, of course", he continued, "I do
love a challenge".
Once the introductions were completed, and with Father Fingal ensconced with his own bottle of 'Best Pixyland', Loki made his excuses and returned
to his laboratory to continue with his latest experiment. The fact that most of his ventures involved the element of fire resulted in his being
banished to the stone-built South Tower. The logic being that if one of his tests resulted in more error than trial, it was unlikely that the castle
would suffer too much damage. So far he had got away with it. God only knew what would happen if he ever got his hands on plutonium.
Pisky unfolded the map he had been holding since the group arrived, and placed it on the table. It was a map of the general area and was used in
planning the various 'tasks' required in order to keep 'Camelot' up to speed. That included the earlier raid, and others in which assorted pieces
of equipment had been collected.
Camelot was basically self-sufficient. A generator supplied electricity, with a battery backup in case of failure. KayEm had a fully stocked
infirmary, and there was enough food and water to supply the whole contigent for three months. There were two wells, one in the courtyard and the
other just off the infirmary. A nearby apple orchard provided enough apples for Arthur to make his famous scrumpy which he brewed in the hall,
following nineteenth century tradition. The hall also contained various supplies, with the area below the solar set aside as living accomodation. The
gatehouse was occupied by Arthur and some of his camp followers, who had chosen this prime site due to the fact that this building was the only part
of the castle that had windows. The hall and towers were open to the elements, with only shutters as defense against capricious weather. Pisky and
KayEm occupied the Solar, which also contained the computer systems that Loki had recently connected to the internet via a line wired to a forgotten
BT public phonebox. Benjj and Pantha lived in rooms on the top story of the North Tower and Loki the top level of the South Castle for the reasons of
expediency. Tobias had been allocated space in the hall and Fingal had taken up residence nearby, although he planned to relocate to the adjacent
disused church as soon as possible.
Arthur leaned over the table and tapped at a point on the map about 35 miles from their current position. "As I was telling Pisky before you
arrived", he said, suddenly no longer jovial, "Boscobel's been taken. It was on the net this morning".
"It's amazing it lasted as long as it did", Pisky replied, "Too close to Wolverhampton. Anything that close to a city is bound to be noticed. What
about Newstead ? - Are they still holding out ?"
"Fook knows", came the reply, "At least they have Sherwood to run to if they get raided - Boscabel had sod all". Arthur took another draught of
cider before passing around the group.
"They're getting more organised every day", he said, "One day they'll be coming for us, the same as they went after that ATS group over the pond.
They're still holding but they lost good people on the last raid. I hope they've got some aces up their sleeves, 'cause I doubt the Corporations
are going to be very happy when they find out two of their choppers got shot down"
Benjj was about to reply until he noticed KayEm come running out of the hall. Reaching the group, she took a gulp of air and looked furtively around
to make sure no one else was listening, before quietly announcing her news to the group.
"The girl you brought in earlier - It's worse than I thought".
"Meaning what ?"
"She's got the plague !
[Edited on 16-5-2004 by Pisky]