A Welsh headmaster had died and there were many applicants for the post.

While the dead man was awaiting burial one of the applicants buttonholed the chairman of the education committee and asked “Would you have any objection to my taking the place of the headmaster?”

“No,” replied the chairman, “not at all. Go and see the undertaker about it.”

Nothing to do with the story I just like the picture. The middle one is an ex-sailor, sunk every ship he was on! Nothing to do with the story I just like the picture. The middle one is an ex-sailor, sunk every ship he was on!


Tragen was in the captain’s cabin with Hugo Locklear. Ignoring the disarray caused by the storm and, walking either side of the after-jigger mast, the fifth mast, which pierced the centre of the cabin, they stood facing each other across the large desk overlooked by the sloping window in the stern gallery. A window that now showed in the lightning flashes, a very angry sea as waves tore away aft and disappeared leaving the ship to ride the violence.

Locklear, who looked even larger in the confines of his own cabin, studied his friend for a moment before breaking the silence. ‘I cannot leave the quarterdeck for long, my friend. Now speak of what you know. Who is trying to take the Grim?’ He leaned towards the wizard, his huge hands on the desk before him.

Tragen wondered if he’d be believed, in the relative peace of the cabin he almost doubted it himself. He sighed, and stumbling as the ship abruptly keeled over and just as swiftly righted itself again, he upended a chair that had fallen nearby.

‘You are not going to like this, Hugo…we have been found,’ he said sitting down.

‘Found? I didn’t know we were hiding,’ as Tragen looked fixedly at his hands, Locklear went on. ‘Come man. What ails you that you trouble to tell me? I must return to my quarterdeck, no responsible captain leaves his command in rough weather.’

‘This storm is not a normal storm…’

‘I am aware of that,’ he interrupted, perplexed, not understanding the wizard’s reticence. ‘I have been at sea a long time now and have never encountered one such as this. This storm seems to have a mind of its own, as if it’s deliberately attacking us. Your statement implies I am correct’

‘Yes, Hugo, I am convinced we are under attack.’

‘Then tell me who threatens us. What do you know, man?’

‘Did you see me looking to mindmeld with Aidan? It went nowhere at my first attempt; the storm’s ferocity ensured my failure,’ he rubbed his eyes. ‘But on the second attempt I utilized more power in my staff and…and I seemed to meld with the storm, an occurrence I have never heard of before.’ He stared at his friend, helplessly. ‘In the storm I discovered someone else.’ He looked down at his hands in his lap; they were trembling ever so slightly, another unique occurrence.

‘Who…who did you discover?’

‘I do not know who, but I know what I felt. I heard laughter, Hugo, terrible laughter. I felt his malevolence, his malign glee and I do not know whence it came. All I know is that he was delighted he had found us and I knew that the storm, and I mean the whole purpose of the storm, was to ensnare us.’

The captain stared at the wizard for a moment and then looked around for his own chair, replacing it behind his desk he sat down. ‘Do you know why he wants us?’

‘No, I was afraid to keep in contact for long in case he, or they, discovered me listening.’

‘Is that a good thing? That they do not know you’re here.’

‘My instincts told me then, as they tell me now, whoever they are should not become aware of my presence.’

Locklear, who always combed his beard with his fingers when he was seriously worried, did so now and water dripped onto his desk to be ignored. He stared at his friend.

‘How powerful are they? It has to be someone who can wield an extremely potent force, if what you fear is true. Have you any idea who may be looking for us?’

‘Oh, by all the Gods, Hugo,’ and he rubbed his weary eyes again, ‘ideas? I have several…all of them frightening. ‘You are correct, the power needed to create this storm rule out a great many. But of those that remain the first that springs to mind is the Magus, Brenin of the Guild of the Brethren of Wisdom and his deputy, Drudwynn. If it’s they then the storm will become even more powerful the closer we get to shore. The magus is the most formidable sorcerer in the world I could never beat him alone. But, as in all magic, the more potent the spell the more energy it takes to cast and consequently the more exhausted will the conjurors become. And for this tempest, I cannot for the life of me imagine that they can possibly maintain the barrage for long.’

‘How long is long?’

‘How long is a piece of twine, Hugo? I don’t know. It must be taking tremendous resources to cast the spell this far from shore, which is why I suspect more than one behind it. We are at the edge of the storm so we must almost be at the limit of their range. But even ten…twenty spell-casters must rest eventually.’

‘I suppose so. But what is their purpose? Unless of course…’ and Hugo’s eyes opened wide, ‘it is Princess Augusta they’re after.’

‘It’s the only possible reason that comes to mind Hugo. Her father’s many enemies may very well recruit the Guild, and the Guild has its own reasons for not wanting her at home.’

‘Do you know what they are?’

‘I have an idea but it could only be conjecture at this time, nothing is certain as yet. But her father’s and my suspicions are enough to warrant her return.’

‘You mentioned other possibilities?’

‘Those scare me even more, Hugo.’

‘Go on…enlighten me.’

‘There are always the dwellers in the Ringwold.’

‘Dear God, from the stories I’ve heard of those we do not want to get entangled with them,’ Hugo shuddered. ‘But I thought they were demons not spell-casters? And they are well over a thousand…maybe two thousand leagues away, surely too far to affect us here?’

‘True, the Ringwold is way up in the frozen north. But whatever or whoever resides in that bleak spot is powerful beyond measure. I have not heard of them being active in the outside world for a thousand years and more, yet…whether they can influence events after all this time I’m not sure. But it’s inconceivable they can reach us here and I know of no reason that they would want Augusta. No…only the Gods are omnipotent, Hugo.’

‘Could it be them?’ he asked, his voice trembling just at the thought of those fickle beings hunting them.

‘The Gods you mean? I do not believe they would bother themselves with the politics of mere mortals they are too busy fighting amongst themselves. At least I do not want to believe it.’

‘Do you rule them out? You seem unsure.’

‘I rule out no-one in this. That dreadful laughter I heard really was inhuman.’

Both men silently took refuge in their own thoughts as they examined the consequences of each scenario, any of which would mean the end of the Grim and its occupants. If it was the infernal Ringwold, it meant the end of civilization as they knew it—demons would run amok once again in the world. If it was the Gods, then their souls were forfeit as well. Terrible though it was, it seemed the least evil were the very powerful black sorcerers of the Guild of Brethren.

‘What do you suggest we do? If I understand you correctly, moving towards home will bring us closer to the Guild and the nearer we get the more severe the storm will become. I was hoping to keep to schedule and have Augusta at home within the week. However, if what you suspect comes to pass then I can forget that. Augusta will be late getting home I’m afraid. Looking at the situation logically and not as I would wish it to be then I must change my plan,’ he sighed. ‘It must be obvious we cannot sustain much more damage. Damn it! Heaving-to in this weather will be very dangerous but not impossible perhaps; and if we do stay here it cannot be for long, we all have to rest.’ Hugo stroked his beard and again tapped his chin. ‘Hopper tells me the holds have been partially flooded, we have sustained sprung boards and the wells are filling. We desperately need to pump the bilges. Can you help us in this?’

‘Whatever magic I use now to repair the ship will result in extreme fatigue for me, Hugo. I will need to rest often and for longer periods each time. And I am afraid that I may be incapacitated at the very moment need of my help would be critical. No, my friend, I had better hold off until there is dire need—I must remain the last resort.’

Locklear stared at the wizard, acknowledging the sense of his argument. ‘We can perhaps run before the storm, I suppose, but that will take us farther from home and into uncharted waters; not taking into account, of course, that turning the ship in weather such as this will be an absolute nightmare.’

Tragen gazing at his friend went through the options in his mind. ‘Let us go for the easiest until we know more. Let us wait them out until the morning. Whoever has created this storm may well be exhausted by then and if there is a lull we can take appropriate action at that time.’
‘All right, we’ll heave-to, I’ll…’ Hugo halted at the sound of hammering on the door. ‘Enter,’ he shouted.

Anders, distinctly dishevelled, opened the door and peered around the jamb. ‘Excuse me sir, I have an urgent message for Lord Tragen.’

Screwing his eyes in puzzlement at the state of the usually clean Anders, he nodded. ‘Then by all means, deliver it.’

The cabin boy, breathing deeply to steady his nerves, entered and stood before the old wizard and couldn’t help but notice a small cyst on the end of Tragen’s nose. For a moment Anders thought it looked like a nose growing on a nose and he nearly burst out laughing, recovering quickly he delivered Aidan’s request for help.

‘I’m sorry, Milord, but Aidan needs…needs you,’ all at once he stuttered to a halt. Tragen always got very irritated when Aidan was involved in an accident, even if it wasn’t his fault. And what’s more he, Anders, usually got dragged into it, suffering the same penalty as his friend.

‘Aidan is all right, isn’t he?’ The wizard asked jumping up from his chair and grasping the cabin boy’s shoulders, concern etching deep lines in his brow.

‘Yes, he’s fine, Milord, but he wants you to attend on the Lady Cornelia in Princess Augusta’s cabin.’ Panicking at having Tragen stare at him so closely, he went on, a tremor in his voice. ‘He said to tell you it is definitely her ankle and he is keeping her…sedated, I think is the word he used, sir.’

‘What is definitely her ankle young man? What has happened?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry, Milord, she…’ and he gulped, ‘she tripped over Aidan and fell down and broke it, sir.’

‘My God, that boy is going to be the death of me yet,’ he said to no-one in particular, as he moved to leave. ‘Why, on the God’s earth, did I choose an apprentice so very accident prone?’

Halting at the door, Anders following behind nearly bumping into him, Tragen turned to the ship’s master. ‘You will take the necessary action, as we agreed?

‘Aye man, it seems to be the most sensible option at present.’

Still agitated, Anders followed the tall, thin wizard as he made his way to Augusta’s cabin. The companionway down to the main passenger cabins was very dark but Tragen didn’t seem to have any trouble negotiating the passage. Anders glimpsed the captain behind them making his way to the quarterdeck. His uncle was not a very happy man, the Bear was weary and definitely out of sorts, as if he had something on his mind other than the storm.

When Locklear reached the quarterdeck, Talbot was back on duty at the wheel accompanied this time by Nkosi, a huge black seaman from the Dark Continent way to the south of Drakka. Hopper was at the forward quarterdeck rail peering at the bows through the gale, trying to make out the details there with the aid of the intermittent lightning strikes.

Hugo strode over and shouted over the top of the screaming wind. ‘How goes it Hopper, are we coping?’

‘Aye, aye sir, we are for now.’

‘Are we making any sort of headway?’

‘A little perhaps, but my instincts tell me the storm is about to get worse.’’

‘All right, we’ll heave-to until the morning, maybe the storm will ease. Set sea anchors, Hopper, and then get some rest, I’ll remain here now.’
Hopper touched his forelock and set off to find Trumper.

Hugo looked about him. Had the wind increased? His first mate was positive it was going to. Locklear trusted his first mate, had learned to over the years they’d served together, Hopper’s feelings were rarely wrong. But now he had other things preying on his mind. He sighed, those problems had to be put to the back of his mind for now, there were far more pressing matters to deal with first. He stared into the clouds through the teeming rain concentrating on the nuances of the storm. It was getting even darker, but was that because it was getting on for nightfall, or was there some other dark reason?

He had to be careful now; they had been battling this storm since before dawn. Exhaustion was setting in. This was the time when trivial errors had a habit of turning into major setbacks, especially when the only means of communication was by touch or signing. He was going to have to send men to rest, which meant that those remaining on duty would need to exert themselves even more. Hugo well knew the effect that the constant buffeting would have—confusion would set in, minds stupefy and minor injuries become major. In the following days and nights movement would become instinctual. And survival would depend on whatever nourishment could be doled out by Dolly, the ship’s cook, hopefully something hot during lulls in the storm. But hot food was going to be nothing more than a fantasy in this weather.

Hugo’s thoughts returned to Tragen’s tidings. How were they to discover the identity of the creator of this storm? Confronting someone who could command nature’s violence was not a prospect that instilled much confidence of success. No, they’d have to flee, find a safer haven before they even thought of retaliating. He shuddered at the thought of turning about in this weather; it would be a diabolical task.

The Grim was Locklear’s life, the only ship in the world able to bear five masts. Veterans of the sea maintained that a ship bearing more than four was intrinsically unsafe, but Locklear had proved them all wrong. His skills had brought the Grim through ferocious seas many times in the past. From the very first day plans of the ship had been proposed, he had been involved in the design. His experience had been invaluable and he had overseen the building of her from the hour the massive keel had first been laid. The Grim was his baby; he knew her moods and her capabilities. If the storm’s intensity remained at this level, the ship would be fine, but if the weather deteriorated even more?

But if the worst came to the worst, the safety of Augusta was paramount; boats would need to be prepared with extra provisions stowed. Locklear combed his beard again as he strode his quarterdeck staring up at the topgallants, the spars at the top of the masts, bare now of their sails. The thought of his princess in a small boat on these seas terrified him.

Meanwhile, Tragen had reached his destination with a distinctly worried Anders in tow. The nearer they came to Augusta’s cabin, the closer they were to that of Aidan’s. And in the passageway there was a distinct smell and bitter taste of old smoke, which had not yet dispersed because of the tightly closed hatch. Tragen sniffed ominously as he hurried.

The old wizard peered into the gloomy cabin and studied the almost silent scene. Beatrix was sitting on the floor against the bulkhead at the head of Augusta’s cot, one hand in her lap the other keeping the cot – suspended from the deckhead, the ceiling, by ropes in each corner – from nudging Aidan’s back. Tragen smiled quickly at the young girl, he noticing her blonde wavy hair had kept its bounce despite being wet. Augusta was sitting in the only chair at the other end, nearest the door. She was also using one hand to fend off the swinging bed, her index finger on her other hand stuck in the corner of her mouth. Both girls looked the worse for wear, soaking wet from their earlier fight with the porthole, their gowns a mess. They were both staring at Aidan, wonderment on their faces, concern for the lady-in-waiting clouding their eyes.

Aidan was still sitting on the deck, his head bent over the recumbent body of Lady Cornelia, her foot protruding from beneath the blanket. The boy was stroking her forehead rhythmically and gently and his brown eyes were closed. He was chanting the lullaby of sleep, quietly and melodiously, his whole attention centred on the unconscious woman.

Tragen stared intently at the wound. Blood was seeping slowly from a break in the white skin where the ragged edge of a bone could just be seen poking through the surface of her fleshy limb. Aidan continued his chant without a break even though he sensed the presence of his master.
Ignoring everyone else, including Anders standing just inside the doorway watching avidly, Tragen spoke gently. ‘You are doing well, my boy, she is not suffering.’

Aidan opened his eyes and, staring at his mentor, he slowly ceased his singing. ‘The fractures are bad, very bad,’ he continued his tender stroking of Cornelia’s forehead.

‘Can you see all the injury?’

‘Yes, there’s more than one splinter, she…’

Augusta, shaken out of her torpor by Aidan’s answer, interrupted. ‘What do you mean, Lord Tragen? How can he possibly see more than one?’ She swallowed quickly as she looked at the foot. ‘I can see but one bone protruding.’

‘Highness, my young apprentice has a unique talent,’ and he smiled at Aidan. ‘He is a most extraordinary healer. He can sense the impairment beneath the flesh of a maimed body and detect its maladies, not only by touch and smell, but also with sight. I, on the other hand, am but an ordinary mender of bodies. It’s the gift of common sense he lacks!’

‘Master!’ Aidan replied taking umbrage.

‘I’m sorry, my boy, my great age does make me flippant on times. Haven’t you noticed?’ he grinned.

‘You mean to say that he can see the bones inside her leg?’ Augusta asked, astonished, not understanding their banter she was becoming more anxious.

The wizard gazed at Augusta. ‘I do, and if you will forgive us, Highness, we must now decide on a course of action,’ he turned once more to Aidan. ‘What do you suggest?’

‘Well, she also has the sickness of the old in her bones to complicate matters.’

‘And her weight will not help, hey?’

‘No. It is difficult to see the actual breaks through so much flesh.’

‘You wish us to change places, I sing the song of sleep and you repair the fractures?’

They did not speak as they changed ends. Tragen knelt at Cornelia’s head as Aidan slid out and replaced his master at her feet.

‘The “old” sickness is very deep-seated; I will need to deal with that as I repair the bones.’ Meeting Tragen’s smiling eyes he grinned in response. ‘I’ll need someone to help while I manipulate the bones.’ He looked around at his audience. ‘You’ll do, Anders. Sit beside me and do as I say.’

Anders nodded, very nervous and it showed.

‘Don’t worry; you won’t hurt her as long as you listen to me.’

‘Beatrix take that blanket off the cot and fold it, please,’ Aidan looked at the jittery girl and smiled. ‘Now place it under her leg as we raise it.’

And while Tragen chanted the song of sleep in a somewhat deeper voice than his pupil, Aidan set to work. He took his time. All his movements slow and well considered before actually being carried out, contending with the lurching floor as he did so. There was silence from all except Tragen chanting, Anders obeying his every command, Augusta and Beatrix totally absorbed in his every action. As Aidan worked, the bone disappeared below the surface and back into place, the ruptured tissue closing.

Time seemed to pass very slowly as Tragen continued to sing, taking great pride in his apprentice. Even after ten years of watching Aidan at work, he was still astounded at the boy’s power.

Aidan glanced up at the girl sitting on the chair beside him. ‘I need strips for binding and something to use as splints.’

Augusta jumped up with alacrity and searched the room taking care not to stumble near those on the floor. She tore a cotton sheet into long lengths for him as Beatrix came back from her cabin with slats of wood. Aidan gently wrapped the bindings and the splints in place.

‘Done, now we lay her in bed for the healing to continue,’ Aidan sighed with relief.

‘It will be very difficult to carry her to her cabin; we’ll never get her through the door. You had best place her in my cot here,’ Augusta ordered, immediately standing to rearrange the bedding.

‘But where will you sleep?’ Beatrix, immediately alarmed, enquired.

‘I will take Cornelia’s bed and share the cabin with you while she recovers.’

Beatrix paled; the thought of her mistress in the same cabin unnerved her more than she was comfy with. Augusta was a lot like Aidan…a veritable affliction.

Tragen, using magic, helped the two boys lift the heavy woman and they settled her into Augusta’s cot, the ropes in each corner creaking audibly as they took the strain.

‘Well done, my boy,’ said Tragen, beaming. But all of a sudden his face lost its look of pride and he peered closely at both boys, a very stern expression now on his face.

‘Well, Highness, we will leave you and your companion to disrobe Lady Cornelia and make her comfortable while I and these two repair to my own cabin for a long discussion on the whys and wherefores of accidents.’

With a bow, he departed through the door and the boys followed very reluctantly, remembering what Tragen would find at his destination.

‘One of you bring the lantern,’ the wizard called over his shoulder.

Augusta wondered where her seasickness had gone. And if she but knew it, Aidan and Anders did not wonder why all of a sudden they felt sick.


The Chairman of a Welsh education committee called one of his junior officials into his office at County Hall.

“How are you getting on now?” he asked him kindly. “Is everybody treating you well in the office and are you fitting yourself for better things?”

“Oh, I think so,” said the young official modestly.

“Well,” said the great man, “I’m going to make you Director of Education. What do you think of that?”

“I’m quite overwhelmed”, said the youngster. “It really is good of you Dad.”

The eagerly awaited second chapter follows – well, one or two have been waiting! However, I thought I’d make it two jokes this week, one in front and one following!


    We’re not saying the Welsh are tight, but…
    Jones the farmer and his son Berwyn sign up for a sight-seeing tour in a small aircraft. As always, Jones angles for the best deal possible.

    “Very well, Mr Jones,” says the pilot. “If you can go through the entire flight without making a sound, you and Berwyn can have your tickets for free.”

    So the plane takes off and the pilot makes sure it’s a rough one, launching almost straight up, flying under the Severn Bridge, using every single bit of acrobatics in his repertoire and doing a loop at the end. Jones says nothing. After they land, the pilot turns to Jones in disbelief.

    “Mr Jones, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and no-one’s ever been able to hold back from screaming. Tell me, was there ever a point in the flight where you wanted to say something?”

    “Aye,” Jones replies. “When Berwyn fell out.


    c/o dreamstime.com Imagine this with 5 masts

    c/o dreamstime.com
    Imagine this with 5 masts

    Aidan was fed up to the back teeth. He was cold, drenched to the skin, exhausted and he ached from head to toe. He had spent all morning in darkness being hammered by the storm, with occasional sightings of a horrendous sea below him trying its damnedest to drown him. And, although his errand had been completed, he was still very frightened.

    He missed the reassuring presence of Tragen and yearned to get back to him, he’d always felt safe when the old wizard was near. When danger threatened, or insecurity and depression set in, Aidan always made a bee-line for his mentor and stuck to him like glue. He needed Tragen. He knew in his bones that nothing bad would happen to him with the wizard close by.

    The relentless, brutal motion of the ship continued to cause him harm. Besides the knocks bruising every bone in his body, the sound of the wind moaning through the rigging inflicted a very odd light-headedness and his soaking wet, woollen robe chafed his legs and neck. Though the ship was no longer leaning right over, there was still a corkscrewing of the vessel and he felt sick every time he looked up at the mastheads swaying across the sky. The ship had not yet been turned into the wind and he prayed for it fervently.

    ‘Come on, Master, turn this bloody thing quick or I’m going to throw up everywhere.’ He often talked to himself when he was scared and he was always anxious when alone. ‘I know, I know, I’m not a baby, I shouldn’t whine like this, but if you had my stomach you’d feel the same.’

    He rested in the lee of casks that had somehow not broken free of their lashings. And, as he stared out over the rail at the high grey water racing along the hull, his earliest memories came flooding back. He’d heard that drowning men saw their life rushing past their eyes just before they succumbed and crossed over. Did this mean he was about to die? He smiled determinedly—there was no way he was going to die yet, not without knowing that Tragen was safe.

    A sudden dousing by a heavy wave recalled him to the Grim and his immediate danger, forcing him to put his recollections to the back of his mind. He struggled to his feet again and reached the after hatchway, waiting for another very menacing gust of wind and heavy rain to disperse before raising the cover. Crouching, he flung his leg over the coaming, and stepping onto the top rung of the ladder he brought in his other leg quickly. He lowered his hunched body into shelter, slamming closed the hatch above him, shutting out much of the noise and the little light that remained behind the ever-darkening clouds.

    He started down the ladder rapidly in the blackness and abruptly halted as he stepped on something soft. The hand, jerked from beneath his foot, was accompanied by one almighty yell. Aidan panicked and, because his hands were cold, wet and blistered and he was feeling very alone, he lost his grip. He fell, landing on the body of the owner of the hand who bawled for a second time.

    Aidan banged his head once again. ‘Ow! No more, I’ve had enough,’ he exclaimed, holding his head in his hands. ‘Who in hell are you!’ he shouted into the darkness. ‘You’ve no right to be on that bloody ladder when I’m coming down. Didn’t you see me opening the hatch?’

    ‘No, I didn’t, all right! Not until it was too late! You clumsy idiot, how was I to know you’d come down as I’m climbing up? It’s dark down here I can’t see a thing! The first I know the wind is trying to blow me off the ladder and then some fool standing on my fingers. You came down too fast for me to do anything! Couldn’t you have looked first…get off me?’ He pushed Aidan roughly to one side, resulting in another bashed elbow for the wizard’s apprentice.

    ‘Okay, Anders, okay. Calm down, I can’t see anything either.’ Aidan said, relieved at recognizing the voice of his best friend, Hugo Locklear’s cabin boy and nephew.

    He and Anders had become virtually inseparable since their first meeting, ten years before, when they had played with a model boat. The only time that they were apart now was when the voyages of the Grim interfered with their lives. This was one of the few cruises they’d ever shared.

    Anders was big with long blond hair. A lot taller and broader than Aidan, he was also more cautious. Aidan was impetuous and a risk taker, although Tragen called his behaviour crass stupidity. Nevertheless, the young wizard was a natural leader, daring, with a sense of humour that was sometimes beyond his friend’s reckoning. But his status as a wizard’s apprentice accorded him a certain respect in Anders’ eyes, though this deference did not stretch to being landed on, in the pitch dark, on a ship rolling like mad on the seas.

    ‘Aidan? Where’ve you been, I’ve been looking everywhere for you?’

    ‘Didn’t you think to look up top? Ooh! I’m hurting all over,’ he moaned.

    ‘Where the hell do you think I was going when you so kindly trod on me?’ Anders snapped, clutching his own fingers tightly to try and stop the pain.

    ‘All right…all right, forget it! I’m sorry, let’s get to my cabin I have to change out of this robe before going back up on the quarterdeck.’ Aidan rose gingerly from the floor and leaning against the bulkhead waited for Anders to regain his feet.

    ‘Where’s your lantern, Anders?’

    ‘Are you mad? How the hell could I carry a lantern with the ship dancing about like this? It’s safer without one; you want me responsible for starting a fire in this weather? Don’t forget these timbers are impregnated with tar.

    ‘Okay…okay! Let’s go,’ Aidan said, more cheerful now that he had company, ‘we’ll find a lantern in my cabin somewhere.’

    ‘What were you doing coming in that way if you were on the quarterdeck, that’s the wrong end of the ship?’

    ‘I was at the helm with Tragen when the Bear ordered me to the bo’sun at the mainmast. I had to leave Tragen up there. I hope he’s all right, I haven’t seen him for ages.’

    ‘Who, the Bear or Tragen?’ asked Anders, knowing who Aidan meant but unable to resist teasing him. Aidan only ever worried about Tragen.

    Aidan chose to ignore him and as they arrived at the door of his cabin they heard loud female voices from farther along the passage. And Aidan recalled the other passengers.

    ‘Hell, I forgot about them and I wouldn’t mind betting Tragen has as well. Come on, hurry up, when I’ve changed we’d better see if they need us.’

    ‘They’re all right, I’ve just left them. They’re the ones who sent me to the Bear…they wanted to know what was happening. I was hoping to find you first’

    ‘Oh yeah! And what were you doing down here with them?’ asked Aidan, smirking in the darkness. ‘Which young lady were you more concerned about?’

    ‘It wasn’t like that,’ said Anders blushing, thankful he couldn’t be seen. ‘I have strict orders, if anything seems untoward and the captain isn’t around, I am to place myself at their disposal. You know that, so stop messing about!’

    Laughing, Aidan pushed his door open and they both entered an even blacker hole. ‘Help me search for the lantern, I want to get my britches on instead of this robe, it’s rubbing me raw. We’ll go along anyway and see what all that noise is about.’

    Anders eventually found the lantern tipped on its side on the bottom bunk. He lifted it and shook the well. ‘There’s only a drop of oil left in it, the rest has leaked into the blankets. Oh well, all we need now is a flame to light the thing.’

    ‘Hang on I can light it,’ Aidan said as he put all thoughts of the girls to the back of his mind.

    ‘Whoa, are you sure? We can’t afford an accident in here,’ Anders, all of a sudden, was very anxious.

    ‘Hey, show a bit of faith, I’ve made fire hundreds of times, haven’t I? You’ve seen me. Now, hold it still man, I don’t want to burn you.’

    ‘How can I hold it still with this ship jumping around?’

    Nevertheless, Anders held the lantern chest high between them. Only the groaning of ship’s timbers undergoing enormous stress, and the muted howling of the storm was audible at first. Then a moment later a low murmur grew which shut out all external noise. Aidan gently sang the chant.

    Anders liked this spell; it always gave him a pleasantly warm feeling starting in the pit of his stomach. It made him think of summers spent in the meadows along the river bank outside the castle of Mantovar. He pictured his family and without warning homesickness was a heavy lump in his chest. He loved being the cabin boy on the Grim and was very fond of his uncle, Hugo Locklear, but he did miss his father and mother and even missed quarrelling with his brothers.

    The ship lurched and threw his shoulder against the top bunk, jarring him.

    ‘Keep still, Anders,’ warned Aidan, biting his bottom lip.

    ‘Sorry!’ Anders broke into a cold sweat, he’d seen too many of the young wizard’s spells go awry.

    Gradually the darkness lightened and as visibility increased so Anders breathed again. Fascinated, he saw Aidan standing in front of him with his left arm outstretched, in the palm of his hand a small flame flickered. Anders glanced at his friend’s face and watched his lips moving. Witnessing Aidan make magic always gave Anders goose pimples, and such was the case now.

    ‘Come on, open the glass, I can’t hold this forever.’

    Anders complied and the wick ignited, giving a bright white light. Aidan withdrew his hand preparing to extinguish the small flame. They were both completely unready for what happened next.

    It was this very moment the four men on the quarterdeck turned the ship into the wind. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the boys. Aidan stumbled forwards and Anders instinctively pushed him away from the lantern to keep it safe.

    The wizard’s apprentice scrabbled frantically to grab hold of the top bunk, missed and, falling after it, he dropped the flame on the bed beneath. The spilled oil ignited. Aidan rolled from the flames and landed on the floor. Anders, moving abnormally fast for him, dropped the lantern on the deck, and grabbed Aidan’s blankets from where they had fallen earlier that morning in the corner of the cabin. He threw them onto the blaze and, dropping on top of them, he smothered the flames. Luckily, the lantern remained upright, but it slid rather inconveniently against Aidan’s leg and he gave another agonizing moan as the hot glass burnt his shin—and there was another scream from along the passage.

    ‘What the hell’s happening to me today? Why did I get out of bed?’ Aidan groaned as he handed the lantern up to Anders. ‘Oh aye, that’s right I had no choice did I? I fell out of bed because this bloody ship decided to fall over. And what’s that racket all about?’

    Aidan stood up and surveyed the carnage around him. The bottom bunk now had a dirty great hole burned in it; wisps of smoke were floating about in the air, acrid and stinging. There was a pile of smouldering blankets alongside Anders who was striving to control his shattered nerves. He was sitting on the edge of the bunk with his eyebrows and hair singed and his face and clothes covered in smuts. Aidan laughed and looked down at himself and saw the self-same smuts covering his own drenched and torn robe.

    ‘I might as well throw this away,’ he said, pulling bits of soot off his chest. And then the full significance of what he was seeing hit him fair and square between the eyes. ‘Oh, my God, when Tragen sees his bed I’m dead!’

    There was another scream, an angry female voice complaining, her words at this distance indistinct. They stared at each other a moment and then scrambled up and rushed for the door, colliding in the doorway, they made for the cabins aft and all the noise. Anders held his lantern aloft at the entrance to Princess Augusta’s cabin.

    You could tell at a glance this was a rich person’s berth. The room was relatively spacious, had only one cot and something unheard of in the lesser cabins, its own bathing facilities on a dresser in the far corner. On normal days, the berth would catch the daylight and cooling sea-breezes through the open porthole. Now, though, the cabin was dark and very wet.

    Two girls in their middle teens were struggling to close the porthole, and at the same time trying to avoid the foaming water washing through it.
    Aidan burst out laughing at the black-haired girl, her arms at full stretch, groping to find the clips that secured the shutter closed, and at the same time bending her head away in a vain attempt to avoid the inundation.

    ‘Pull it harder will you? We’ve nearly done it.’ Augusta shouted in temper.

    ‘I’m pulling as hard as I can, it’s your clip…you’ve jammed it. Why you opened it I’ll never know,’ Beatrix retorted, blowing her blonde hair out of her mouth.

    ‘I didn’t know half the ocean would pour in when they turned the ship, did I? Release yours a bit for me to move mine, you silly girl, how can I shift the damned clip if you’re holding it tight?’ It was then she heard Aidan laughing behind her and turning, Princess Augusta glared at the two scruffy boys standing in her doorway.

    Anders caught the baleful glint in her eye and gave Aidan a hefty nudge in his side to silence him.

    ‘Not you again?’ Augusta said icily. The mutual animosity of the heir to the principality of Mantovar and the apprentice wizard reared its ugly head once again. ‘Well churl? What are you finding so amusing?’

    Aidan, kneading the ache from his side, ceased laughing. His prince’s daughter usually vented her spleen in his direction with the result that nine times out of ten he ended up being reprimanded for upsetting her. But seeing water dripping from the end of her nose reminded him of the nosebleed he’d once inflicted on her and he had a twinge of conscience.

    ‘I apologize, Highness; I’ve had a bad day. Here let us shut it for you.’

    He and Anders strode into the cabin and Beatrix moved away from the open porthole, glad to be out of the direct line of the water slurping through. The two boys managed the clips easily although Aidan got another soaking; not that it mattered, he’d had the sea thrown at him all day. Aidan turned to Augusta wondering if she’d thank him this time, not that she ever had in the past when he’d helped her. He stood just in from the doorway staring at her, waiting for any sign of gratitude.

    ‘Well churl! Why are you standing there? You may go now,’ her eyes flashed angrily.

    Anders’ lantern, held up by Beatrix, illumined not only the cabin, but also the scowl on Aidan’s face.

    ‘All right, Anders, thank you for helping me to close the lady’s porthole, very kind of you,’ he said sarcastically. ‘I think we should go now.’

    ‘Thank you, Miss,’ Anders said, taking the lantern from Beattie’s hand, accidentally touching her fingers as he did so.

    Beatrix replied softly, her eyes lowered as her face reddened. ‘Thank you for your help, Master Anders.’

    Anders paused, her unusual reaction startling him. He didn’t know that over the years Beatrix’s thoughts had turned many times to the handsome, tall, blond boy who hung around with the young wizard. He nodded and touched his forelock and wondered why the object of his daydreams was blushing. He glanced at Aidan and pulled him away, turning they made to leave the room.

    As they did, a short, fat lady came bursting through exclaiming at the top of her voice. ‘What is amiss? What is all this noise? Why is this boat never still? I’ve had the devil of a time getting here. Ah! What are these boys doing in here?’ The scandalized lady, not stopping for breath went on shouting. ‘Get out, get out, you should not…’

    And saying this, she caught her toes in the torn hem of Aidan’s robe and fell forward, taking the apprentice down with her. All heard a mighty crack as the lady’s ankle snapped. Screaming in Aidan’s ear, she promptly fainted.

    Everyone stopped breathing; time stood still, no-one made a sound; they looked at each other, stunned. Aidan was the first to recover and he gently removed himself from beneath the heavy woman whilst almost spitting invectives.

    ‘I have now had enough! Don’t look at me like that, Anders, it was not my fault. She was the one who came barging in not looking where she was going. She fell on me, remember?’

    Augusta shouted her hands akimbo. ‘Lady Cornelia, my lady-in-waiting, has more right in here than either of you two!’

    ‘We were helping you close your bloody porthole, or have you forgotten?’ Aidan barked thoroughly incensed, not caring a damn that the girl was his liege lord’s daughter.

    ‘Please, everyone, let us see to her hurt and argue later, can we?’ Beatrix pleaded as she knelt beside the unconscious woman.

    ‘I think I heard a bone break,’ Anders said, going down on his knees beside his princess’ companion. ‘Can you lift her gown for Aidan to check, Miss?’

    ‘Lift her gown!’ Augusta exclaimed her sensibilities shocked. ‘Most certainly not; indeed not, that is an outrageous suggestion!’

    ‘Highness, we will not need to lift it high. Look you can see her foot is at a very odd angle,’ beseeched Anders.

    Augusta paused; her mouth closed, lips stretched thin her eyes travelling to the lady’s ankle. Reluctantly agreeing with the cabin boy’s diagnosis, she glared at Aidan.

    ‘You…look away. It is enough for one male to see her ankle and as you’re the one that broke it I don’t…’

    Aidan curled his lip, sneering. ‘Look…you…’ but before he could continue with a remark that would have definitely resulted in serious punishment, Lady Cornelia groaned as Beatrix slid the hem of the big woman’s gown partway up her shin to expose the wound.

    Aidan turned his back on his princess thereby showing his utter contempt for her and knelt to examine the fracture.

    ‘Do not touch her boy, do you wish to do her more damage?’ Augusta ordered.

    Aidan, his temper at boiling point, for once had the sense to bite off the earthy retort he had in mind. He looked up at her.

    ‘I am a wizard’s apprentice, and I am skilled in healing. I may not have the airs and graces that you deem so important, but I can begin the restorative process in all injuries. That I deem far more important! I need to keep her sedated now until my master gets here to help me, asleep she will at least be unaware of her pain. So please, for once in your life…SHUT UP!’

    Augusta, utterly shocked at being spoken to in that manner, complied without thinking twice.

    Aidan turned to his friend who was equally dumbstruck. ‘Anders, find Lord Tragen and tell him I need his help right away, he’s probably still on the quarterdeck. Tell him I’m keeping her sedated until he gets here.’

    Anders ran, bouncing off the walls along the very dark passage to the captain’s companionway.

    The undoubted authority in Aidan’s voice, lingering in the cabin, coerced Augusta into remaining silent. She watched him sitting on the floor cradling the injured woman’s head in his arms. Aidan put his hand on Cornelia’s forehead and closed his eyes. Singing his chant and stroking with his fingers above her eyes, the lady slipped into a deep, painless sleep.

    Augusta and Beatrix looked at each other both unable to comprehend the transformation in the boy who had plagued them for so long. In all the years of their childhood they had never actually seen the apprentice heal. Though they’d heard stories of his talent bandied about the castle they’d never really believed any of them. Augusta had always thought him a perishing nuisance, a thumping headache. But if she was honest with herself, she never avoided his company and on times actually sought it—usually to bait him.

    ‘If you’ll excuse me, Highness, I’ll get something to keep her warm, she’s lying on wet boards.’ Beatrix moved across and retrieved the thick blanket folded at the foot of Augusta’s cot.

    Augusta, her feelings in turmoil, all at once recognized that she was feeling guilty, a sentiment that she never usually acknowledged. Her thoughts tumbled through her head confusing her even more. Her impatience, her anger, always so near the surface ready to erupt at the slightest provocation, she knew there was no need half the time for her to be so irritable and arrogant. Her manner was deplorable. And yet she couldn’t stop, so she bit her lip looking for excuses, thoughts running wild in her head.

    ‘It has to be this seasickness, I…I can’t help it. And now…oh God, poor Cornelia! I do hope this boy knows what he is doing,’ she said, but not loud enough for anyone to hear her.


    Don’t mess with a Welsh mam

    Young Dylan comes home from school and tells his mother he’s been given a part in the school play.

    “Wonderful,“ says his mam. “What part is it?”

    The boy says: “I play the part of the Welsh husband.”

    The mother scowls and says: “Go back and tell them you want a speaking part.

It is obvious that I need to post on a regular basis, but not having much time I’ve decided to cheat a little. I’ll post one chapter per week of my first novel ‘The Gateway’ Book 1 of ‘The Search’ trilogy. This may serve two purposes, one, as I’ve said, to post regularly, the second may get my books noticed among the two million on sale at Amazon. However, in case people get bored I’ll start with a joke, one that takes the mickey out of the Welsh (for we do have a sense of humour) but be warned we can take it and dish it out!

c/o http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/15-welsh-jokes-make-you-6799233
A matter of life and death
Dai was watching a Six Nations game in Cardiff.
In the packed stadium there was only one empty seat, right next to him.
“Whose is that seat?” asked a man in the row behind.
“I got the ticket for my wife,” said Dai. “But she died in an accident.”
“So you’re keeping the seat vacant as a mark of respect?”
“No,” said the fan, “I offered it to all of my friends.”
“So why didn’t they take it?”
“They’ve all gone to the funeral.”

c/o dreamstime.com A two wheel helm

c/o dreamstime.com
A two wheel helm

and now Chapter One

Just before full light on their fourth morning at sea, the old wizard woke up suddenly when Aidan’s blankets dragged across his face. The boy, who had been sleeping fast on the top bunk in the small cabin, had fallen off and bumped his master on his way to hitting the deck.

‘What in God’s name are you up to now you…you stupid boy, have you been at my brandy again? I’ve warned you!’ Lord Tragen had spent his entire life waking up irritable.

But then, throwing the blankets aside impatiently his stomach flipped—the ship had heeled right over alarmingly, and Aidan was looking like a child’s rag doll thrown in the corner.

‘I haven’t touched your bloody brandy, we couldn’t find it,’ came the muffled answer from the depths of the bedding covering his head.

‘You wha-at!’

‘I was only joking! Ouch my elbow, ah my head,’ complaining and rubbing both unnecessarily harshly Aidan was hoping to cover his gaffe as he surfaced, breathing hard.

He and his best friend, Anders, had been severely punished the last time they had sampled Tragen’s hoard of booze. It had taken them days to find the case of Gilian even though Aidan had employed a new form of magic to locate it. But both had blamed the wizard for not telling them of its almost lethal potency for they had fallen over in a drunken stupor at their liege lord’s feet.

Tragen, infuriated, had whinged for days at the shame of the two boys vomiting over the Prince of Mantovar’s boots. But Aidan suspected that his mentor had been more upset because his own spell of illusion had failed to hide the twenty bottles of best brandy from his apprentice.

Aidan, yawning now and peering about in the gloom of the cabin, took in his topsy-turvy world. ‘Hey, the ship’s not supposed to do this, is it?’

The aged wizard glared through sleep-filled eyes. ‘Get up quick, boy; of course it’s not.’

Tragen, bending his head so as not to bang it, swung his long legs over the edge of the bottom bunk and struggled into his second-best green robe.

Aidan, trying to extricate his own robe from amongst his tangled blankets, was getting nowhere fast. Tragen, exasperated, pulled the brown garment free of the jumble and threw it at him.

‘Come on boy, we’re needed now, not tomorrow.’ Barefoot, he made for the door, at the same time grabbing his staff leaning against the bottom of his bunk. He pushed it securely through his rope belt, the large knuckle at the top of the stave settling into its safe haven in the crook of the wizard’s neck and shoulder, its normal resting place when not being used. The staff, only five feet long, seemed to gather strength when it was in contact with its master’s skin and, though Tragen wouldn’t admit it, the feeling was reciprocated.

Aidan, muttering imprecations against the ship for waking him so abruptly, followed him. Struggling to don his robe and at the same time keep his balance on the heaving deck he stumbled against the bulkhead, the wall of the cabin, and again banged the same elbow.

‘Ow! Master, don’t go so fast will you,’ and, as he fell again, it suddenly came to him that this was a very dangerous situation. ‘Hey,’ he said, very scared, ‘are we sinking?’

‘Stupid boy, how in God’s name am I supposed to know when we’re down here?’

The wizard – his long white hair and waist-length white beard all awry – forced himself towards the crazily tilted doorway. He stepped over the foot high storm sill and pushed his way through into the passageway, holding the door ajar for Aidan to come after.

Turning for’ard they stumbled along the short, dark corridor to the hatchway and, climbing the ladder first, Tragen pushed up the heavy cover. Immediately a great gust of wind wrenched it from his grasp and it crashed to the deck almost smashing its hinges. A gale rushed through nearly blowing them both off the ladder, and a wash of seawater cascaded down over their heads. Tragen, quickly wiping his face with his hand and bending his head against the deluge, grasped the coaming tightly and poked his head up into the nightmarish storm and looked around the upper deck. They had surfaced in the waist of the huge five-masted warship.

Tragen blanched, the quarterdeck – the officer’s deck aft of the hatchway – seemed a terribly long distance away in that gale. The wind was blowing the Grim well over to larboard, the left-hand side of the ship as you looked towards the prow. The rails on that side were now being swamped continually by enormous grey waves. Tragen turned and looked for’ard to the mainmast and saw the outer end of the main yardarm above dipping in and out of the heavy seas, its enormous sail trailing half in the water. The bo’sun and the few sailors visible in the atrocious conditions were scrambling all over the mainsail lines wielding axes to cut free the huge canvas. Others were doing the same at the foremast, the first and shorter, mast at the front of the ship, but there it proved fatal for one man—he fell into the torrent and was swept along the hull.

Aidan stared at the body floating face down in the violent spume, the man’s tarred topknot sticking up incongruously from the top of the otherwise shaved, tattooed head.

Tragen held his breath when the boy all of a sudden raised his hand and pointed into the dripping sky above the drowned man. ‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘He was lost, so I showed him the way.’

The old wizard breathed deeply to disperse the lump in his throat. He could never get used to the way Aidan communicated with the dead—he’d never ever come across anyone before with the same inexplicable ability.

‘Come on, my boy,’ he smiled nervously as he heaved the hatch closed, ‘hang on to my belt. Let’s find the captain.’

They waited futilely for a wave that was not quite so threatening and fought their way aft. Climbing the ladder onto the quarterdeck, his long wet robe sticking to his body and with Aidan dragging heavily on his belt, Tragen eventually found his friend, one of two huge men in the darkness ahead of them.

Hugo Locklear, Master of the Grim, the largest sailing ship in the known world, and its chief helmsman, Talbot, were desperately grappling one of the wheels of the two-wheel steering chain controlling the rudder.

Tragen and Aidan groped their way to them. With Aidan’s hands still clinging to his belt, Tragen grabbed the second wheel to add his weight and strength to that of the seamen.

Locklear, whose long black hair and full beard were saturated and pouring water like the sea they were fighting, greeted them with a quick grimace. ‘Welcome!’

‘When did this start?’ the wizard asked.

‘Less than half an hour ago,’ the captain replied, leaning across to shout into Tragen’s ear. ‘A normal blow at first, or so I thought, but only the Gods’ know what happened then. The wind veered abruptly and came at us straight out of the east and we nearly broached. When I gave the order to furl the sails something went wrong on the main and foremast, the sheets tangled, I’ve never known that happen before,’ he paused, breathing deeply. He was talking about the ropes tethering the sails to the sides of the ship. ‘I have also never known a wind increase as speedily as this has done. If we don’t get that mainsail free soon and have it lying on the deck, we’ll turn turtle. Did you see how they were doing?’ With his very broad shoulders now bunching with the severe strain, Locklear was living up to his nickname of “the Bear”.

‘I did, the sail is trailing in the water pulling us over, but they’re working like hell to cut it free.’

‘Damn, I don’t want to lose that sail we have no other.’

The wizard, as tall as his friend, despite his great age was remarkably strong and his hold never wavered on the wheel. Aidan, standing at his side holding on for dear life, was only a young man fifteen years old. He was short and lean, dark and wiry, his own particular strengths more psychological than physical. Aidan inclined his head towards Locklear but could barely hear the captain’s words over the clamour of the storm.

‘Tragen, I’m worried. The stress on the helm is unbelievable I’m afraid it’ll fail and we’ll lose the rudder. If that happens we won’t have any way of steering and we’ll broach. Is there anything you can do to help?’

The wizard wiped water from his eyes and examined the pillar between the wheels for long moments. Making a decision he pushed his arm through the spokes and placed his hand on the central hub. ‘I can feel it, Hugo,’ he shouted in his friend’s ear, ‘you are correct the chains are almost at breaking point. I’ll keep my hand here and direct power into the helm to strengthen it. But we have a problem…no spell created in a tempest of this ferocity will last for long I’ll need to continually renew it. This I can do but I won’t be able to give you much aid in holding the wheel.’

‘Master, be careful, if the wheel slips it’ll take your arm off,’ Aidan warned, his eyes wide showing concern for the old man.

‘Boy, I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,’ Locklear snapped. ‘You make your way to the bo’sun and inform him that my orders are to retrieve the sail from the water. He is only to abandon it if the ship heels over farther. Tell him to send another man up here immediately to help at the helm and I will try and give him another hour to complete the task. We need that sail after this storm, boy, emphasize that.’

Aidan’s stomach clenched, mortally afraid he nearly lost control of his bladder, the thought of crossing the decks to the mainmast on his own in this weather turned his legs to jelly. He licked his lips nervously and, glancing at Tragen, he realized there was no way he could refuse. He’d never want his master to think he was a coward.

The wizard returned Aidan’s gaze, his own fright showing in his surprisingly young, grey eyes. He momentarily debated going himself and leaving Aidan here to strengthen the helm, but he knew it was not a viable option. The boy was simply not strong enough to sustain the spell for any prolonged length of time, especially in these stressful circumstances.

‘Do you understand why I cannot go instead of you?’

Aidan nodded and smiled faintly. ‘Aye, I know…you’re too old,’ the reply automatic, he was forever poking fun of Tragen’s age. ‘I’d better find you at this wheel when I return. I don’t want you doing anything heroic without me here to help.’

Trembling with fear, Aidan released his grip on Tragen’s belt and dropped to the deck. He slid across the boards to the larboard rail of the quarterdeck and looked towards the prow and his destination before the next wave swamped them.

Aidan climbed back down into the waist banging his ankle painfully on the bottom step of the ladder when he slipped. Gripping tightly with one hand he bent down and rubbed the soreness away, cursing all the while. Straightening, he glanced along the ship, quaking at the melee that met his eyes at the mainmast, he swallowed the bile rising in his gullet. He studied the starboard rail above him, tension starting a headache, he slithered his way up to it. Clinging desperately to the slick timber he dragged himself for’ard almost blinded by the torrential rain stinging his face.

The day was nearly as black as night although it was getting on towards mid-morning. It wasn’t long, though, before he was in dire straits, his arms and shoulders aching and his feet frantically scrabbling for a purchase on the heaving wet boards. He tried to ignore the thunder crashing above the wailing of the wind, the reverberations echoing in his head, the distraction slowing him down.

He was terrified of sliding into the sea almost directly below him, his progress along the deck unavoidably sluggish and erratic. He yelped with the pain of instantly bloody fingers where rapidly forming blisters burst. In the swiftly lowering light he glimpsed the fore-hatch coaming just for’ard of the mainmast. Coming up level with it he released his grip on the rail and slid down to relative safety.

He lay for a while, gasping against the raised wooden border of the hatch, easing the soreness in his arms and shoulders, recovering his strength as he sucked the broken skin on his hands. He moaned and swore under his breath using language that Anders would have been proud of.

He sat up and looked aft at the chaos surrounding the mainmast. Jason, bo’sun’s mate and sometimes ship’s minstrel was lying along the larboard yardarm with his legs in the ocean, using an axe to hack through the iron hard, tarred ropes. Others were securing lines flying loose in the gale and yet more were tugging free heavy wet canvas where it had become snagged.

Aidan, wiping the rain from his eyes, searched for the bo’sun quickly and espied the man at the foot of the mast, his back to him. His shout failing to attract the man’s attention in the screeching wind, he waved his arms in an effort to draw the man’s eye and again failed.

But he did attract the unwelcome attention of Leash. The tall, dark-haired sailor standing the other side of the bo’sun saw the boy gesticulating and, recognizing Aidan, he watched him through lidded eyes, saying nothing. But, inwardly, excitement rose and he tensed, four days at sea and finally an opportunity to kill the boy.

Between Aidan and the mast was a short open space with a clear drop to the ocean racing away below. Aidan sought for a way to get across the gap and glimpsed a rope hanging free from the main shrouds. He bided his time until a very strong gust brought the line to him and, clutching it desperately, he held it tight against his chest while he plucked up courage to leave the safety of the hatchway.

Leash perceived immediately the boy’s intention; he turned his head and scrutinized those working around him. None were looking his way, all frantically busy. His eyes flashed red and he smiled at the prospect of dealing a mortal blow to his enemy, he raised his axe.

With his heart in his mouth Aidan tugged the line to ensure it was secure. Satisfied, he lunged for the mast tearing the hem of his robe on the hatch bars at the same time. But moments after his feet left the deck he felt the rope running loose above him and he was slipping towards the ocean and oblivion. Closing his eyes he waited for the water to engulf him knowing there was no way he would regain the surface alive if he went under.

Leash rejoiced, the boy’s dying would undoubtedly devastate the wizard and, wanting just that, he had hacked at the other end of the rope. Smirking, he watched the boy plummeting to his death.

But Aidan was lucky. From the corner of his eye Trumper, the bo’sun, had glimpsed the line spring taut and then run free. Peering quickly through the dimness he glimpsed a body hurtling towards and then past him. He made a grab for the boy and pulled him into his arms.

Aidan opened his terrified eyes, blinked and swore profusely at the same time thanking all the Gods, and especially the bo’sun as he clung to him like a limpet.

‘Lad, what are you doing here?’ Trumper shouted disentangling himself with great difficulty from the boy’s embrace, neither of them noticing the abject disappointment on Leash’s face.

‘I have orders for you,’ panted Aidan, hardly believing he was still alive. Then, as he heard the snap of a line giving way and the rush of canvas across the deck he repeated Locklear’s orders quickly.

Morgan Trumper, a stocky man with a red, weather-beaten face and an extremely loud voice, pushed Aidan nearer to the mast so the boy could hold himself safe and then turned to Leash, the ship’s second helmsman.

‘Move it, Leash. Go like the devils of hell are after you, the captain needs you on your job.’

Bellowing, he ordered those men working nearby to secure the sail as it fell free. Terrified at falling into the sea, they set to with the backbreaking job of dragging half the sail from the ocean. But it wasn’t long before they realized the job was too much even for their combined strength.

‘We can’t do it Bo’sun, the sail is saturated, it’s too heavy,’ shouted Jason.

‘We’ve no choice, get your backs into it,’ Trumper ordered, his own back breaking with the strain.

But then Aidan had an idea and leaning over he gripped an edge of the sail and chanted. And, as the chant strengthened, droplets of water appeared on the surface of the canvas and rolled away leaving the fabric beneath as dry as a sunburned deck.

Trumper, Jason and the others looked on amazed until Aidan shouted. ‘Go on drag it out now, it’s a lot lighter. I’ve used a water-repellent spell, but it won’t last long in this rain.’

Trumper grinned. ‘Come on, you horrible lot, or are you going to deprive a young lad of his glory.’

With that the seamen accomplished the almost impossible task whilst avoiding swinging pulley blocks heavy enough to kill. As the last of the lines parted, the sail’s vast bulk was finally hauled inboard and the yardarm lifted from the water.

However, the Grim still heeled over abeam although by not nearly as much.

Trumper turned to Aidan. The bo’sun had, of course, seen the boy many times around the ship, usually in the company of the cabin boy when, nine times out of ten, mischief was usually the outcome of their reckless behaviour. He had on several occasions lost his temper with both of them, promising a severe beating if they didn’t behave.

‘Aidan,’ he shouted over the gale, ‘you’ve surprised me. I’ve always thought you a festering carbuncle on the hull of this ship…you and the cabin boy. But struggling here as you have and then helping us drag the sail from the sea has proved me wrong about you. Anyone who can exhibit that sort of bravery and think as quickly as you did can count me a friend.’

Aidan surprised, stared at him with eyes wide in disbelief. ‘Well, I don’t know about bravery, Bo’sun, but if the captain ever wants me to do anything like this again he can go jump in the bilges—I’ll be hiding.’ And Aidan trembled as he clung closer than an abscess to the teak mast.

Trumper laughed deeply. ‘You’ll do boy we’ll make a seaman of you yet, but take a bit of advice—never let the captain hear you voicing that sentiment. It smells of mutiny and he’ll clap you in the brig before you take another breath. But the Grim owes you. Now go, and on your way change your clothing, robes are not for storms. I don’t wish to repay the debt by pulling you out of the sea today.’

Aidan stared for a moment at the man who had often threatened to use the cat-o’-nine-tails on him, and he decided not to come out with another smart retort. ‘Don’t tell Tragen what I did.’

‘Why not?’

‘I’m not supposed to use those spells without permission. I might have burnt the sail,’ he shouted sheepishly.

On the way to his cabin he resumed his moaning and groaning, the pain in his back and legs almost taking his mind from the violence of the storm.

On the quarterdeck, the four men straining at the wheel instantly felt their task ease as the ship righted. They sensed the rudder and keel resume their proper places, once again fully immersed in the ocean.

Tragen looked to the man alongside him. Leash had arrived eventually, but steadying the helm had not seemed to get any easier with his help. He could not actually see the man malingering but he suspected it, the seaman’s sullenness not endearing him at all to the wizard.

Tragen frowned; he had seen Leash somewhere else before coming on this voyage, but just couldn’t place where. Leash was an enigma, a man who gave the appearance of being a landsman perfectly at home at sea. And yet he had no friends, no close acquaintances among the crew. He was a seaman alone amidst the two hundred or so sailors and two hundred marines that formed the complement of the Grim. Even so, Tragen felt drawn to the man, fascinated as a fly is mesmerized by the spider that has it trapped.

When the old wizard looked away, Leash, his lithe frame dripping water, his unruly brown hair plastered to his face, glanced over at him, his face showing complete and utter loathing. He took a swift peek at the staff held snugly in the wizard’s belt. Shuddering uncontrollably for a moment, Leash remembered the power of that stave having been a witness to its devastating effects years earlier—and he was petrified of being in its presence. His lack of effort was not because of indolence; his fear totally consumed him, denying thought for anything else.

‘The helm is easier now Tragen. Is it safe to remove your arm?

‘Aye, my friend,’ and Tragen drew his arm from between the spokes and gripped the wheel alongside Leash.

‘Now my boys we turn head to windward and we do it very cautiously,’ roared Locklear. ‘Wait for my word and then a last effort from you all, please!’ Ordering the unusual manoeuvre, for sailing ships usually fled before the wind in such weather, Locklear was attempting to keep to schedule. His passenger had to be returned to Mantovar with the utmost urgency.

The wind had not ceased howling since the storm’s onset, it setting everyone’s teeth on edge. The thunder continued to roll and crash and the lightning to flash, robbing every one of their sight the moment it left the heavens. With ears ringing, the rain beating on men and decks both, the captain and his three companions fought to bring the wheel up inch by slow inch, turning the bows into the wind. A painstaking task, it seemed to take forever but with muscles bulging, backs and legs straining, an hour later they had brought the ship around.

The monstrous waves that had previously inundated the ship from abeam threatening annihilation, now rolled beneath the keel from bows to stern, giving a more normal motion to the vessel. The very high waves still broke over the bows and water continued to flow through the scuppers, the drains, like rivers back into the ocean, but the crew now breathed a little easier as the danger of imminent sinking receded.

Locklear smiled his satisfaction. ‘Very good, my friends, let us hope the storm gets no worse. If it looks as if it’s going to we’ll have to turn about before it does. A nightmare of a task!’

Hopper, the ship’s first mate, brought men with him to the quarterdeck and they relieved the exhausted men at the helm. Talbot immediately dropped to the deck and sat with his back against the starboard rail his head bowed taking deep breaths. Leash slid down just along from him watching his arch enemy, his eyes again flashing strangely red until he’d regained control of his nerves.

Tragen gazed at the chaotic state of the ship, broken spars, loose ropes, weary men dropping where they stood. Groaning he stretched his aching back. His hands clutching the rail, his knees bending in time with the heaving deck he peered at the sail now lying in a heap at the foot of the mainmast—and promptly remembered Aidan.

‘Where’s my boy got to Hopper, have you seen him?’ Tragen asked agitatedly of the Grim’s second in command, grabbing his elbow and interrupting the mate’s reporting to his captain on the unhappy state of the ship.

Wearily Hopper glanced from his captain. ‘Your boy? I haven’t seen Aidan at all today.’

Tragen paled. ‘But you must have passed him as you came up here; he was with the bo’sun at the mainmast. You were working at the foremast weren’t you?’

‘Aye, Milord, I was and I spoke with Trumper on my way here. I didn’t see any sign of Aidan.’

Seriously worried, Tragen fought his way back to the for’ard rail and searched the ship ahead of him in the darkness.

‘I’ll never reach him in this weather,’ Tragen muttered, knowing he had no other option but to attempt it.

Jamming his body into the larboard corner of the quarterdeck, he removed his staff from his belt and held it in front of him in both hands. The stave tapering to a needle sharp barb at its base – a hardened spike that was used for more purposes than just magic – he braced firmly on the deck. The large knuckle of indeterminate form at the top of the staff – moulded by the heat of his hands – he placed beneath his chin.

Leash watching him, tensed, his mouth involuntarily twisting into a snarl as his eyes once more glared red. He bowed his head, scared witless at the wizard invoking the power in his staff.

Tragen calmed himself, endeavouring to ignore the wind tugging relentlessly at his robe, yanking viciously at his hips and legs, striving to make him fall. He closed his eyes, opened his mind and delved the ether in search of Aidan’s young mind.

The mindmeld was a very old tool of wizardry, possibly the oldest, and it could not be acquired as lore could be learned. Some in the wizarding world, those who could not communicate with their minds, contented themselves by becoming adepts in disciplines that did not require them to converse silently.

But Aidan had the aptitude and had used it frequently to survive as an orphan of the streets in his hometown of Miskim in the north of Mantovar. Tragen, discovering him there, had taken the urchin in hand. And while attempting to instil in him the correct moral virtues of a decent young wizard, and at the same time teaching him the different methods of controlling magic, he had discovered another overwhelming talent in the boy.
Correct behaviour incumbent on a young aristocrat – a station in life awarded to all wizards – was still a long way from realization in the hyper-active young man. But Aidan’s special talent begged forgiveness for his misdemeanours. And, of course, the threat of Tragen’s retribution quite often curtailed the youngster’s antics.

Tragen suffered a severe battering by the storm as he mindmelded for his apprentice. The screeching of the wind invading his thoughts, the biting rain in his face, and the violent motion of the ship inevitably distracted him and ensured his failure. He could not maintain his concentration in the midst of nature’s tirade.

He opened his eyes and looked ahead hoping for a glimpse of Aidan in the darkness, despair creeping up on him unawares at no sign of him. He closed his eyes for a second attempt, steadied himself, and calling up more power from his staff he again probed the airways.

And this time he connected—with something totally unforeseen. Tragen rocked on his feet. Opening his eyes he came back to himself feeling a terrible premonition take hold. He lifted his chin from the knuckle of the staff and, full of trepidation, he turned and stared white-faced at Locklear.

‘My friend, what ails you?’ Locklear asked, startled.

‘We need to talk and talk now.’ He steered the big man to the rear of the quarterdeck and sheltering below the overhanging poop deck, he whispered. ‘Let us go to your cabin, this is for your ears alone.’

‘Tragen, I cannot possibly leave my quarterdeck in this storm!’

‘You must, Hugo, you must come with me,’ whispered the wizard vehemently.

‘I will not leave my quarterdeck in bad weather, Tragen.’

‘Hugo,’ he drew himself up to his full height, ‘Hugo, someone evil is attempting to ensnare the Grim! We must talk.’

Locklear, startled, stared intently at the friend he’d implicitly trusted all his life.

‘Hopper, remain here until I return. I won’t be long,’ he said, vexed by Tragen’s stricken face.

‘Aye, aye sir…I’ll set the lifelines now.’

Locklear nodded his agreement, and he and the wizard withdrew, making their way down the aft companionway to the master’s cabin abaft and below the quarterdeck.

Leash, relaxing now that the wizard’s staff was leaving his immediate vicinity, watched them departing. He smiled slyly, his bloodshot eyes returning to normal, his snarl disappearing. Seeing the wizard troubled made him very happy.

The fact that the very powerful wizard was obviously deeply distressed in the midst of the worst storm he had ever encountered, worried Leash not at all.

My laptop gave up on me. One minute everything is OK then it begins to slow down and then I lose a boot file! Needless to say my laptop underwent major surgery last weekend. It seems to have recovered but I won’t be happy for at least a month. Keeping my fingers crossed.


This is the long awaited image of the cover of my second novel. Long awaited because the publisher thought it was an image of Johnny Depp. I have been assured by the company I purchased it from, http://www.dreamstime.com/ that it is not! It looks effective though and far more eye-catching than the original image. The image that follows is from the same website and I have used it for the back cover.
Front cover artwork: ID 1336738 © Bobby Deal | Dreamstime.com
Back cover artwork: ID 36869778 © Andrey Kiselev | Dreamstime.com


EPSON MFP imageThis is what I’ve been working on now for a few weeks. It suddenly dawned on me that the original cover of my first novel was boring. I was the only one to understand that the image was supposed to represent the gateway between life and death. I am, how can I put it, very naïve on times, I expect people to read my mind. Nevertheless, I have changed the cover to be more eye-catching and to point out more obviously that the story is about young wizards. I hope you like it, after all is said and done it is more colourful at least. Below is a depiction of what I have used for the back cover.

The front cover artwork is by: © Gow927 | Dreamstime.com and the back cover artwork (which I couldn’t resist) is by: © Nomadsoul1 | Dreamstime.com I also took the opportunity to correct some of the grammatical errors in the first edition and I added a glossary of sailing terms as some of my readers requested.



The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Cultural Achievement

What more can I say about this guy who surprised me so much. I am not qualified to review the content of the book and I wouldn’t presume to do so. He is far out of my lowly league as far as knowledge of the age is concerned. However, it is his uncluttered method of writing. He calls a spade a spade and doesn’t care if he offends. His is a vast fund of knowledge which shows how much I don’t know. In this book he speaks of language and literature of the nobility and the peasant, science, architecture, medicine, painting, music and the mind. And, of course, his love of All Souls, Oxford and his veneration of Elizabeth.



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