Alexandra even doubted that Christophe saw her go; once the cane was from taken from his hands- a weight so tedious and without point- he was too busy, occupied dealing with the rogue Mr. Newton and with being free from the question of more mysteries.

“We’ll stick together, you and I, like I said before. We two, freedmen in London Town, Miss Alexandra,” Rhaïd remarked when they were out in the open. He was heading towards the dense woodland, and then to the wild world beyond.

Alexandra pulled his hand away from her windpipe, just enough to speak.

“I do sympathise with you, yes, but I do not think that being free together negates kidnapping. I donotunderstand you, Rhaïd. One minute, for instance, during your acting, you are serene, sensible, and the very opposite of whomever it is you are now, whoever you are when you are in possession of that cane…or, perhaps, are possessed by the rise of the sceptre. Now, again, you claim normality and want me to run away with you. How can I know when you next will be savage, or when you next will fall into what you call being ‘sane’?”

“The sceptre will bring us all our dreams. My parents…your parents, the theory is the same.”

“Mr. Mahalle…Rhaïd, you have not answered my question. When will you return to real life? Do you even have an inkling yourself?”

“It is no longer up to me to make the rules, Miss Alexandra,” Rhaïd replied. “The sceptre says what is right and wrong. To doubt it is wrong. To live free with its power is the right of the world.”

“Do you still believe such things? There is no ‘magic’, Rhaïd,” Alexandra mumbled. She was wracking her brain for anything that would take her away from his tight emotional and physical grasp.

“Mr. Newton tricked me, but that does not mean he lied about the command it contains.”

“Of course he lied! Mr. Newton, along with his assistant (although she will never admit that she is the inferior), Daphne, are cruel and ruthless business criminals.”

“It doesn’t matter; the sceptre tells me so. We will succeed, friend.”

“I know I declared it before, but I am not your friend!”

Rhaïd frowned, and Alexandra felt the grip on her throat tighten up again. She lifted a free hand and dragged his down to cling to the cane instead.

“Don’t take back your word now, Miss Alexandra. A broken promise is still a promise, nonetheless.”

“You are crackers! I wouldn’t stay with you, even if the cane did work,” Alexandra cried, aghast.

“Why do you not seem to comprehend?” Once again, Rhaïd changed, becoming the snarling beast as before. Spittle flew from his mouth as he spoke and Alexandra could imagine a fang-toothed carnivore, his breath reeking of raw meat, taking her as his unwilling bride, forever there forced to watch him tear the hearts and souls out other bodies. Alexandra shuddered; it was a gruesome enough thought to unsettle the firmest of stomachs.

“With or without your parents, you can still be happy,” she tried to convince him, but the man was steadfast, still dragging her into the little copse.

“You don’t need me,” Alexandra reasoned. “Run this instant and you might be free. Let me go, give me the cane, and no-one else will be harmed. You can still live that renegade lifestyle inLondon, I promise you, as long as you leave this estate now and dare not to bother me and my work again.”

“How can I trust you? Alexandra, the singing bird who would stay amongst her captor’s bars. You’ve seen that even Joshua Newton repels servants. So, how do you expect to have a fulfilling life? With the butler? A singing bird and a pigeon, afraid to ruffle their feathers. I know that you would sell me out to that lover of yours any day.”

“Don’t. I implore you not to say such things. Don’t speak of Christophe in that way-”

Alexandra felt the hand upon her windpipe tighten.

“Please…” Her voice softened, and she was now truly begging. “I won’t tell. I’ll let you go free, that I do promise. Just as one good turn deserves another…”

Rhaïd’s expression changed to one of sanity again. He was battling with his devilish emotions inside. The hand that was locked around Alexandra’s throat, smothering her, was loosened.

“I can’t believe that you would go back to the people who will continue to treat as inferior, lower-class…” he stuttered.

“We are lower-class.” Alexandra swerved out of his grip. “Servants come and servants go, but our status will never change… Unless there is the chance of our marrying up, but I do not care for the fancies of the social world; you’ve seen today how charred it can be. In fact, you yourself were adamant that those sorts of people are no better than us. How then does your plan of becoming a free worker make you any different from the exact people whom you scorn the actions of? Please do hear me, Mr. Mahalle, do not persist in taking me. You should go and marry a woman who’ll understand and care for you. Whether she is one of us, or someone you meet whilst you are free in London Town, you will know that she is better for you than I could ever be…Sir. And please don’t ask me to remove my airs and graces whilst around you, for now you are someone distanced from me. You are an affluent soul, whilst I am far from being so.”

By now she was almost free. Distracted by her speech, Rhaïd, in thought, did not see that his captive was turning to lay her hands on his sought-after prize.

“Surely the sceptre…?” Rhaïd was growing feeble, tiring. “Should I believe…?”

Alexandra sighed, trying to keep the frustrated notes out her voice. It was like having a philosophical conversation with a child; that is to say, a shambles.

“You should believe what you want to, Mr. Mahalle.”

Unfortunately, he could also hear the doubt in her voice.

“You shouldn’t defy me with your melodic voice, Alexandra…”

He lunged at her just as she had untangled herself from his grip, releasing the cane for a second so that his hands would become available to grasp at her neck again. Alexandra seized this opportunity and snatched the cane away from Rhaïd. He cried out in rage as she danced away from him.

“Go… You must leave this instant, Sir!”

“Not without my king sceptre, you vile girl.”

Alexandra stopped and observed Rhaïd, her blue-green eyes full of pity and pain for the man.

“You don’t need it. Rhaïd, reclaim the sanity within yourself.”

“Give it to me!”

“I’m so sorry, but I won’t.”

She began to back away. Rhaïd was advancing towards her again, and so she gripped the cane as her defence. It may not have been powerful, but it felt the right sort of thing to protect her. Now, finally, as she ventured to take it away from him, Alexandra understood why Rhaïd was so unwilling to let it be taken from him; suddenly she could feel what power he had described coursing through her wrists.

Is this the sceptre’s true purpose? Alexandra wondered. Was this destiny meant for her all along? The desire to bear her teeth at her attacker came to mind.

Unfortunately, the estate’s uneven ground got the best of Alexandra again. As she headed backwards, keeping her eyes upon the frowning Rhaïd, one of her smart shoes became caught against an emerging root. It was one of those that formed a neat loop shape out the ground, and like a rope, it latched around her shoe, and pulled Alexandra to the ground.

This time, there was no hand to hold her as she tumbled down to the tough earth of the wooded undergrowth. Her elbows scraped against loose twigs, the skin breaking, but Alexandra stayed strong. She might have been down, but at least she still had a firm grip of the sceptre.

Rhaïd took no notice of the fact that Alexandra (with her ankle still twisted in the felonious root) was the weaker; his eyes, and his mind, were solely focused on the cane with its glittering head and neck. When his hands where in reach of her slim figure, she could see no other way out, and fought in the physical manner her clumsy hands knew. She swung the cane with all her might. The black diamond collided into Rhaïd’s head with a sickening thud, and he became limp, crashing to the ground beside her. 

Alexandra’s vision swam with nausea as she peered at the body on the floor.

The End

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