Merrick goes on trial
The Minister is waiting in James’ office as Athanasios and I are escorted up. The Minister raises his eyebrows at me.
“There’s no need for the young witch to be here,” he commands and Athanasios steps before him, introducing himself.
“I am Athanasios Orion Zephyr Draganos,” he shakes the minister’s hand and I can see The Minister wince as Athanasios lets his power roll out, and not too gently. “And my fated mate will stay,” Athanasios tells him, factually. The Minister glances at me, then nods once, understanding. I chose to stand at the back, finding anything to think about other than the conversation before me. However, I hear Aunt Em in my head.
“Pay attention Ava, you’ll need to start understanding how the Ministry works,” she tells me, guiding me to watch but not be seen.
“Yes, Aunt Em,” I reply through our minds. I listen as the Minister hears what James has to say, then Aunt Em. He listens to Athanasios’ account, including how he learned about Merrick’s involvement with harming the wolf pack that helped him travel from the South coast to Glastonbury. Then the Minister turns to me.
“I’m not sure what to do with you, young lady,” he begins in an exasperated tone. That’s as far as he gets, because not only does he have Aunt Em berating him for speaking to me as he has, Alpha James tells him I was instrumental in defending the St Michael’s females and cubs, and then Athanasios’ low voice cuts through all their noise.
“My fated mate did nothing wrong,” he tells The Minister in a low growl. I’m not sure how magical The Minister is, but even I can tell, he’s outnumbered four to one and those are not good fighting odds for a man using magic to live. I doubt he’s been involved in a good fight in decades. Even if it were just The Minister and I, he’d likely lose.
“Ava simply recognised me as a more powerful shifter,” he declares. “Before she knew what she was to me. And what exactly do you mean by ‘do with her?'” Athanasios demands. The Minister flounders, then composes himself.
“Nothing nefarious!” The Minister back-tracks. “I simply implied that Ava has questions to answer,” he begins.
“Ask away, Minister.” I declare, taking a step towards him. “I’m right here,” clarifying I’m not a ghost.
“Why did you show Mr Draganos Alpha Merrick’s image?” He asks.
“Merrick was implicated by the beta I injured, who hunted women and children miles from their home. Athanasios had no idea the wolves that helped him on his travels had been hunted. He was most displeased when we discussed it and wanted to know what Merrick looked like.”
“Did this Beta tell you that they’d chased the St Michael’s pack because of a Dragon?” The Minister asks and Aunt Em’s wry smile becomes telling.
“He did. Aunt Em?” I encourage. Before the Minister has a chance to turn, Aunt Em brings up what happened in a magical reply, thanks to a recording crystal. With sounds and effects, The Minister is brought up to speed about how we learned of Athanasios’ existence.
“Mr Draganos is not present here,” The Minister observes and I begin to wonder if I am the one on trial here.
“No, he is not.” I agree. “We encountered each other a few hours later. That is when I asked him if he knew of the attack. He did not. I updated him with the events from my view, then he left.” I don’t tell the Minister that Athanasios vanished after our first chat.
The Minister turns to Athanasios, who nods. “As my fated mate says, when she told me, I left her to hunt Merrick down. Hunting women and children goes against my ethics, Minister. It was just after dawn when I found his lair. It is no longer standing, nor buried into the earth as it was,” Athanasios grins, almost evilly. My side twinges and I can tell that the recall is affecting Athanasios. So Merrick’s wolves fought hard and dirty; no wonder he was injured.
“And what have you done with Alpha Merrick?” The Minister asks. I step back towards the wall, using it to brace myself.
“He is in the dungeons. Surprisingly, Athanasios hardly injured him,” James informs him and The Minister simply nods in answer.
“He will want a full trial,” the Minister states. James and Aunt Em nod. “And he can pick whomever to fight for his freedom,” The Minister reminds us.
It’s James that counters that. “And they can pick a champion,” he states, glaring at The Minister, who only nods in reply. An image of the Callaghan blades enters my mind and I reach out to Ella. I know it’s going to be me.
‘Ella, can you bring the blades from the house, please?’ I ask her. Whilst I’ve used them since I was 3, they’ve never left Callaghan lands. Nor will they. I just didn’t wear them to the Castle.
‘Sure thing cousin,’ she tells me, her voice shaky. ‘Are things okay?’ She asks.
‘I might need them for the trial,’ I tell her, keeping the rest of my thoughts to myself. It’s only when I sense Athanasios is standing before me that I realise the meeting has broken up.
“We’re going to the dungeons,” he tells me. “Are you well, ómorfi?” He asks me, gently.
“I am,” I tell him, smiling warmly. As we descend the stairs, Ella finds me and hands me my blades. I quickly remove my jacket, shrugging the blades on, much to Athanasios’ astonished gaze, then I shrug my jacket back on, hiding them.
Champion of the Trial
In the dungeons, I stand behind the Minister, James, Aunt Em and Athanasios. I’m not sure who the most dangerous person in this small room is; Aunt Em, Athanasios; or me.
“Alpha Merrick,” the Minister sneers. Merrick looks up from the single cot bed all prisoners have in their stone and iron cells.
“Minister,” he acknowledges, then lays his head back down.
“We shall have the trial in a few hours,” the Minister informs him.
“If you must,” Merrick replies, nonchalantly. He seems almost non-perturbed by the impending trial.
“We do,” the Minister confirms, before turning on his heel and walking back out. I ensure I’m the last to leave and as I glance at Merrick, the image of the Callaghan blades enters my mind again. It’s time for some last-minute training.
As Athanasios follows James and other meeting attendees, I head to the pitted training ground. Removing my jacket and placing it gently on the arena steps, I warm up, then begin my practice. Steps, turns and moves that I’ve been taught since I was 3, flow out of me. The sound of the blades slicing through the air focuses my mind, controls my steps, breathing and movements. It is only when Athanasios appears, holding a bottle of water with Troy, James’ beta, by his side, that I stop.
“It’s like the arena in Arles,” Athanasios states. “But, smaller.”
“They’re coming down, Ava,” Troy tells me and I nod. I conceal the blades and put my jacket back on, at least for now. We stand to the side as Merrick is led out in chains. The silver doesn’t hurt shifters by touch, but liquid silver burns. Add in a little witches poison, and the blades become lethal. As they should be. Merrick doesn’t look my way as he is shuffled past me to the centre. The pack gathers into the benches, filling the whole arena. The trial is about to start.