No hard feelings…

A Welshman, Scot and Englishman are walking when they come across a lantern and a genie pops out and grants them one wish each.

The Scot says: “I am a sheep herder, like my dad before me. I want my country to be full of lovely sheep farms.” Whoosh, and so it was.

The Englishman was amazed and says: “I want a wall around England to keep those damned Scots and Welsh out.” Bang, there was a wall around England.

The Welshman says: “Tell me more about this wall.”

The genie says: “It’s 200 feet high, 100 feet thick, it goes all around England, and nothing can get in or out.”

The Welshman says: “Fill it with water.”

Could this be Aidan in a confused state?

Could this be Aidan in a confused state?


Tragen – his long white hair and beard brushed immaculately – woke Aidan the next morning, the second morning of the storm. Stepping over Anders in the narrow berth, a very small room hidden behind a heavy curtain in the captain’s cabin, he accidentally disturbed the cabin boy.

Anders, despite lack of sleep, awoke highly animated. He never missed Aidan creating magic whether it was with or without permission. Tragen, having given up years before in his attempts to separate the boys – the two could never understand that they could not do everything together – assented to Anders accompanying them to his cabin to hear Aidan’s instructions.

Augusta, bleary-eyed, opened the door into the dark passageway and bumped into them on her way to check the condition of her lady-in-waiting. Augusta was once again wearing the same shirt and britches from the night before, although soiled and crumpled they were, nevertheless, very comfortable if a little smelly. With her shoulder length, black hair brushed and tied back at the nape in nautical fashion and barefoot, she was the very epitome of a young sailor.

‘Where are you going, Milord?’ she asked pompously.

‘Just along to my cabin, Highness.’

‘Oh, you’re going to give Aidan his instructions, aren’t you?’ Augusta asked excitedly, her pomposity vanishing instantly.

‘I am, Highness.’ Tragen sighed. He had managed to creep past her cabin without disturbing her on his way to fetch the boys, but he would have had to be very lucky indeed to evade her on the return.

‘Can you wait just a moment while I see if Lady Cornelia requires anything? I would love to see at first-hand how wizards work.’ She added as an afterthought, just to please the wizard . ‘I promise not to interfere in any way, Milord.’

The wizard raised one eyebrow disbelievingly. ‘You will have to hurry, the captain is to join us and he cannot be away from his quarterdeck for too long.’

Her incapacitated lady in waiting was still sleeping fast, her vast bosom rising and falling rhythmically as she lay on her back snoring, the high sides of the violently swinging cot keeping her safe from falling to the deck. As Aidan followed his mentor into their shared accommodation, Augusta ran from her cabin and grabbed Beatrix, who was trying to extricate Augusta’s blankets from beneath the bunk, how they had ended up under there was a mystery that Beatrix would never comprehend.

‘Come on, quickly, they are deciding on what magic they will use,’ Augusta ordered.

Beatrix, electrified, seized their still damp tunics from the previous night; donning them they reached the doorway of Aidan’s cabin, just ahead of the burly figure of Locklear.

‘If you will excuse me, Highness, I believe, in this case, that I should enter before you,’ Hugo said, rather brusquely.

Augusta turned and her eyes widened at the obvious fatigue in the man’s face. He was wet from top to toe and looked as if he had been up all night, which he had. Hugo Locklear never slept in bad weather. She immediately moved to allow the stressed man access to the small room and crowded after him into the little space left at the door.

Tragen looked up from his chair below the porthole. ‘I’m sorry, Hugo, but there will be no privacy to discuss these matters.’

‘They will know soon enough, my friend. So…you have rested?’

‘Aye, little enough I fear, I have been thrown about on my bed most of the night, I hate the top bunk, but it will have to suffice. The storm, is it any worse?’

‘Wizard, can you not feel it beneath your feet?’ his weariness making him irascible. ‘The wind has increased enormously; we are no longer hove-to we are being driven astern, it is only the sea-anchors that are holding us steady. If we do not turn about soon it will be too late—the Grim will have turned turtle.’ He rubbed the exhaustion from his eyes with his huge knuckles. ‘Whatever action you have to take, do it now. I have every available man, sailor and marine, bailing and pumping and repairing sprung boards constantly. We have to ease the strain on the hull immediately and the only possible way is to run before this wind.’

‘Very well, Hugo, as you say we have no other option,’ he turned to his apprentice. Aidan was standing there feeling very guilty; it was his accident that had deprived his master of a good night’s sleep.

‘We do not have much time to accomplish the deed, my boy, so listen carefully. I will attempt a shield enchantment to calm the seas forward of the ship and curtail the worst of the wind. The spell will of necessity be one of the most powerful I have ever conjured and it will sorely tax me.’
He paused and studied his apprentice worriedly, Aidan still seemed traumatized. The actions of the day before had exacted their toll on his slight body, and sleep had not restored his vigour. His face was drawn and his dark eyes sunk deeply beneath his eyebrows. His body, though, was a lot stronger than its lack of weight implied. Tragen sighed; he needed his apprentice’s strength this morning, for if they failed the penalties would be dire for all.

Tragen resumed, ‘I, of course, will use my staff, but great concentration and power will be required to form the shield. As such I will not be able to create the light needed for the captain to know when to turn the ship. You will have to stand with me and cast that particular spell. You must ensure the light is of sufficient strength, not only to show him the shield in front of us, he must also see the surface of the ocean. Do you understand, Aidan?’

‘I do,’ and he inhaled deeply. ‘But where will we stand so that he’ll see us? I know the obvious place is in the bows, but standing there will be too dangerous, won’t it?’

‘Alas, Aidan, we must place ourselves in grave peril—it has to be in the bows we stand. However,’ and he turned to the ship’s master, ‘we will need ropes to tether ourselves to the foremast and sailors to aid us in this. Hugo, how many men can you spare?’

Locklear stared at his friend, his face more drained than ever. ‘I am afraid, Tragen, I can spare no-one to help you. If I remove even one from their present duties the ship will founder.’

‘By the Gods, Hugo, you have four hundred men aboard this ship—we must have help! We have to be fully engrossed on the enchantments…we may need to be physically held in place.’

‘I know the Grim’s complement, Tragen; I don’t need you to tell me.’ He tugged at his beard angrily and sighed. ‘I’m sorry; I know what you are going to say. If you are unable to cast the spells necessary for us to turn, the ship will come to grief anyway. I say this, my old friend; if I take any men from pumping, bailing and patching the hull, we will sink as we turn. Tragen, you and Aidan must manage on your own.’

‘We can help,’ Anders interrupted, shocked at hearing his uncle quarrel with the wizard.

Tragen and Hugo gazed in consternation.

Anders continued. ‘I know it will be dangerous, Milord, I have been at sea long enough to know what can happen to us there. But none of us can stand to one side while Aidan and you risk your lives for us,’ he licked lips that had suddenly dried. ‘We’re all in danger, Milord, and we’re the only ones who are free to help you although you may think we’re too young. I promise you we’ll obey you in whatever way you…’

‘Please, Milord,’ urged Augusta, as Anders ran out of words. ‘We are the only help you can get. I assure you, we will follow your orders without question.’

It was Beattie’s quiet remarks though, that swung Tragen, helping him make the decision. ‘We have the right to help save the ship, Milord. We cannot stand aside and do nothing…you do not have the right to deny our aid.’

‘What say you, Hugo? I believe the young lady is correct, hey! And Aidan and I will be in desperate need; can you supply us with the necessary ropes?’

‘Aye, man,’ he said, reluctantly agreeing. ‘The bo’sun is working at the sail locker beneath the foc’s’le he’ll pass them to you. But beware Tragen, if the prince ever discovers that we intentionally placed his daughter in grave peril…’

‘Don’t worry on that score, Captain Locklear. I am in grave danger anyway,’ interrupted Augusta, ‘and that is what I will tell him if needs be. He will agree that it is my duty to help in any way I can.’

‘Very well, I will return to my post on the quarterdeck now. I wish you good fortune; you carry the prayers of us all. Aidan,’ he turned to the boy standing silently by, ‘please keep in mind—I will need the light to be as bright as possible for as long as it takes us to turn about.’ Saying that, he departed with one long and intense look at them all, it was as if he was trying to implant their images on his memory.

Before Locklear had reached his companionway, Tragen addressed the four youths in no uncertain terms. ‘I must emphasize this point although you have already promised. You have no option but to obey me instantly whatever the command, all our lives may depend on it. Do you understand?’

He put his hand on Aidan’s shoulder to reassure the haggard apprentice wizard. ‘We will tether ourselves on long lines to the foremast. Once the bows are safe you and I will move as far forward as possible. That is where the main power of the conjuration will be created. There you will stand to one side of me and conjure your light. Remember—raise the illumination high enough to enable those on the quarterdeck to see as much as possible. While you are at that endeavour, I will invoke the shield with my staff. Beware my movements, for as the ship turns I will turn the opposite way and increase the strength of the spell to cover the increasing aspect of the ship facing the storm. The greatest danger will arise when the Grim is beam on to the wind, should we fail at that point then the ship will broach.’

He smiled encouragingly at his young apprentice, whilst the others, beginning to understand now what they had let themselves in for, grew more apprehensive.

‘I do not expect to fail; we know each other too well for there to be any misunderstanding between us. But if events do not go as planned, do not attempt to mindmeld with me. It may prove fatal to distract me at that moment. Do you understand, Aidan?’

‘Aye,’ he nodded.

Tragen turned and spoke to the others. ‘It will be your tasks to ensure our safety as best you can. As there are three of you, Anders being the biggest will ward me on his own, you two ladies together, will protect Aidan. But I must stress, you are to take great care of your own safety as well. Do not under any circumstances place yourselves in a position of extreme risk just to rescue us. And in this you will obey me,’ he ordered.
They nodded silently. Augusta made to question Tragen, but seeing the steely glint in his eyes she recalled what Beatrix had said the day before. Unexpectedly afraid of him, she changed her mind and stilled her tongue.

Tragen and Aidan led the way from the cabin turning for’ard in the passage. The old wizard tucked his staff into his belt, the knuckle against his neck, and quickly climbed the ladder up to the hatch, Aidan already on the bottom rungs before he reached the top. Tragen removed the bolt and recalling that the last time he’d lifted the cover he’d nearly lost it, took especial care this time. But even then the wind caught it and almost dragged it out of his hands.

The fury of the tempest assailed them immediately. The wind no longer howled but screamed its rage and the rain stung bitingly. The waves swooped by horrendously high and frighteningly fast, a wall of iron-grey hard water. White spume formed an almost continual sheet as it was blown from crest to crest way above their heads. And the crackling of the lightning distorted their sight, the horizon, when they could see it, just feet away.

Aidan and Anders closed the hatch and then, clinging to the lifeline that stretched fore and aft, they all moved forward passing the mainsail still piled at the foot of the mainmast. Resting a moment to catch their breath they continued on past the redundant galley pipe to the foc’s’le steps either side of the foremast. They clutched desperately at the slippery line, expecting at any moment to be blown, or washed, overboard.

Trumper looked round at their arrival his face expressing his surprise at seeing the youngsters; nevertheless he reached inside the sail locker doors and retrieved ropes for them all. The bo’sun, his normally ruddy face now ashen, stared apprehensively at the party struggling slowly up the steps on to the forecastle.

Tragen, bareheaded, his beard blowing back over his shoulders, tied one end of his rope around his waist and, gauging the length as best he could, he secured the other end to the foremast, leaving enough play for him to reach the bowsprit. He waited for the others to do the same.

They were battered in mind and body when they reached the small bow deck and found the conditions there absolutely appalling. Standing in waist-high water on occasions, the bows almost continually underwater, the incessant clamour beating at their ears, they found it impossible to rest even for a moment. The wizard stood with his back pressed against the foremast his eyes closed, his legs braced on the heaving deck, and he raised his staff vertically in front of him and faced directly into the wind. Beatrix and Augusta hugged the foc’s’le rail squinting through eyes impossible to open wide while Aidan joined Anders in holding Tragen steady.

They all watched the old wizard, only his lips moving in the gloom and it was a long time before any change was detected…an easing of the pressure on their ears followed by a lessening of the wind tugging at them. Then a low rhythmic cadence rose above the gale, and as the mantra increased in strength, the beat of the rain and the wash of the waves across the bows gradually declined and amazingly ceased altogether.

The youngsters stared about them at the dream world in which they all of a sudden found themselves. All around the ship the tempest raged as before, the crests of the waves too high to see, the rain sweeping past in sheets, but none of it had any impact in the bows. They stood as if in a dry hole in the ocean, the deck at their feet, clear of waves for the first time in two days. They waited; preparing to carry out the tasks allotted them, the vista unbelievable, their senses dumbfounded.

Tragen walked forwards toward the bowsprit as Anders carefully paid out the rope tied to the wizard’s waist. Aidan accompanied his master and both stepped into the bows of the beleaguered ship. All was black before them, the enchanted shield, invisible to the naked eye, also hid the lightning flashes ahead of the ship. And then Aidan conjured his light.

The wizard’s apprentice sang out loud and clear and full of confidence. At once, a brilliant white light formed and grew ever larger in the boy’s outstretched hands. An incandescent ball of light, blindingly beautiful in its brilliance, smelling powerfully of lavender, and the bow of the ship was lit up as if it was noon in August.

Tragen glanced at his apprentice and again wondered fleetingly, as he had done many times in the past, why Aidan’s spells always gave off the aroma of the bluish-purple flowers.

Augusta gasped and blinked, blinded by the brightness of the light. Recovering quickly she and Beatrix watched with astonishment as Aidan seemingly grew larger and they gripped his line even firmer.

Anders though did not take his eyes from Tragen when the magician’s voice grew louder and deeper in tone, as Aidan’s softer tones gelled with his.
Locklear, high up on his quarterdeck, sighed when he saw the light come up, the sight of the bows and the sea just ahead, an enormous relief. Hopper immediately ordered the sea-anchors raised and as men readied a stormsail, needed to steer the ship, the Grim appeared to breathe its appreciation, its happiness, at being relieved of the tremendous pressure of the storm at the bows.

Locklear shouted to the four men now on the helm. ‘Prepare yourselves my beauties, we are about to find out if you are seamen or landlubbers.’
Talbot smiled grimly and grasped the wheel even tighter as did Nkosi and Bertram. The fourth man, Leash, his mind full of schemes to ensure the demise of the apprentice wizard, wished ill on them all, though he was very careful to hide his thoughts from his fellows. It did not seem to register with him that if Tragen and Aidan failed then his own death was assured—or maybe it wasn’t, he wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to die.
In the bow the light increased, its brilliance reflecting off the air forward of them. Tragen’s shield became visible, a haze similar to that of a current of warm air, shimmering before them.

The wizard raised his staff and held the pointed base in his fists. Holding the stave aloft on outstretched arms, Tragen quickly glanced at Aidan alongside him and winked.

Aidan laughed, thoroughly enjoying himself; he was at ease performing magic with his “father” and he couldn’t be happier.

The wizard resumed his chant, his total concentration ensuring the growth of the shield. Gripping his staff even tighter, he sang louder still and lowered the knuckle at the top of the rod until he was pointing it directly ahead of him. The knuckle glowed a deep carmine, and the shield advanced further forward and grew ever more until it formed a barrier, dense and unyielding, across the expanse of ocean and sky before them.

The ship commenced its turn slowly as if waking from a daze, nearly toppling Anders, Augusta and Beatrix, all struggling to maintain their foothold on the sloping deck. They watched the unearthly spectacle taking place in front of the wizard, a sight so implausible that their brains refused to take it in. But they knew they’d never forget the sight – if they lived long enough.

Tragen, stood rigidly in the bow, as if he was an extension of the boards of the foc’s’le, a part of the substance of the ship. His single-minded attention focused on the enchantment, the energy he was using in holding the staff at arm’s length seeming not to worry him at all.

Aidan, in creating a spell of a vastly lower class, was far more relaxed and he took the time to look around the ship. He studied the seas below the bows, felt the lightness of the breeze, witnessed the small ripples playing on the surface of the ocean and scanned the anxious faces of his friends. He smiled at them all before returning to attend his master. Aidan’s strength was only needed to hold the light aloft and to ensure the illumination was sufficient for the captain’s needs. But, on examining his master closely, he became concerned at the exhaustion he could see building in the wizard, a fatigue that was not apparent to anyone else. This was the most powerful spell Tragen had ever conjured and, however much the wizard had prepared, there was bound to be a serious depletion in his stamina and repercussions on his health.

The ship came about slowly to larboard, and Tragen turned the other way to continue facing east directly into the wind. At the same time, he held his staff level and began waving it from side to side so that the edges of the shield widened to conceal the body of the Grim.

It seemed forever before the turn reached its most critical stage, the point at which the vessel lay broadside to the wind. Tragen was now staring directly over the starboard side of the ship, the storm gnashing at the borders of the spell. Tragen’s face was a bath of sweat although his voice remained strong and Aidan’s light remained steady and bright in the palms of his hands, his feet like his master’s, seemingly stuck to the deck.
Augusta, Beatrix and Anders were beginning to relax, their attention waning, when Tragen all of a sudden cried out and staggered back. He fell to his knees releasing the staff to fall alongside him. Immediately the shield shook and began to fade.

Aidan, although every bone in his body had warned him to expect something to go wrong, stared in disbelief for moments. He turned quickly for his helpers, and knowing his instincts to be correct, beckoned to Augusta.

‘Quick, come here.’

And Augusta accustomed now to obeying his orders walked forward and stood alongside him not knowing what to expect as she stared at Tragen on his knees.

‘Don’t be afraid, Augusta,’ using her name for the first time without either realizing it. ‘Hold up your hands like me.’

And she raised her hands in front of her. He stared deeply into her green eyes, his own conveying his trust and placed the ball of enchanted light into her hands.

‘There is no need for fear, Augusta; you have magic, just hold the light. Hold it high for the captain; it will not harm you. Tragen needs me he is in great danger.’

Augusta, shaking like a leaf, raised the light with no second thoughts all her previous misgivings about him forgotten forever. She lifted the light high and wondered—what magic? And what was the strange feeling in her chest, was it the magic or was it Aidan?

Aidan shouted at Anders and Beatrix. ‘Protect Augusta! Keep well away from Tragen and me.’

The cabin boy and the lady’s companion stared at each other, bewildered and fearful. They did not know what had happened to the wizard, or how Augusta could have the magic to hold the light, but both remembered Tragen’s admonishment not to distract him if there was trouble. They watched their friend approach the wizard, and then Aidan’s last words registered with Beatrix. She was appalled; how did he have the gall to call her mistress by her chosen name, not even she did that?

Aidan reached the old man, kneeling, holding his head in his hands his staff forgotten for the moment lying on the deck against his foot, its runes pulsating brightly. He stood behind his mentor; staring down at him intently he placed his hands over Tragen’s.

‘Master, what’s wrong?’ and receiving no answer he continued even more forcefully. ‘Come back, Master.’ Again there was no response, Aidan put his forehead to the top of the wizard’s head and repeated the mindmeld. ‘Master, come back, please’ he begged.

Ignoring the express instructions given him earlier, he searched frantically for his master’s consciousness and unintentionally spoke aloud. ‘I have to find you, Master, forgive me for my disobedience…I…I don’t know how else to help you.’

Anders started forward acutely worried, he’d never seen his friend in this much of a panic before. But Beatrix held him back, her faith in Aidan beyond question.

‘Leave him be Anders, he knows what he’s doing—trust him,’ she using similar words to those used by Anders the day before.

They stood at the rail afraid to take their eyes from the two wizards. But the storm began encroaching on the ship again as the shield weakened, small waves appearing, the wind rising blowing straight into their faces.

‘Quickly, Aidan,’ shouted Augusta, in alarm, taking her eyes from the ball of light in her hands. ‘We’re going to broach.’

Aidan glanced up at her and ceased his mindmeld. With a heavy sickness deep in the pit of his stomach, he stared around, at a complete loss; despairing, he had no idea how to contact his master.

‘Heal him, Aidan,’ shouted Beatrix intuitively.

At his wits’ end he latched on to her suggestion; he again turned to the wizard and gripped his master’s hands even tighter. Shutting out all outside influences, totally engrossed in his task, he achieved success almost immediately. Tragen, waking from the trance shook Aidan’s hands from his head.

‘What happened?’ Aidan asked shaking with relief. ‘We lost each other and I…I was so scared.’

Tragen felt the wind in his hair and swiftly realizing their predicament, grabbed his staff. ‘Later! I need your energy my boy mine is all but spent. Assist me, hold my staff with me.’

Shock pierced Aidan. He had never even touched the staff before. In fact, it had been hammered into him over the years that it was sacrosanct; he was never to as much as place a fingernail on it. He looked at his mentor, frightened witless.

‘You want me,’ and he swallowed audibly, ‘to actually touch your staff?’

Tragen stared at Aidan quickly comprehending his fear. ‘Aye, my boy, you have incredible power…you have the strength to wield this staff with me. Haven’t I just felt the immense energy in your hands? Your healing power is more than enough to sustain you; my staff cannot hurt you now.’

Tragen, with Aidan standing close, held the base of the staff horizontally in their hands and the knuckle once again faced the tempest. The shield strengthened instantly, the ocean calmed and the shimmering of the enchantment was again lit up at the bows as Augusta once more held the light aloft.

Locklear who had nearly given up hope when he saw Tragen fall, gazed on the ocean once more, a gentle swell on its surface. He at once renewed his efforts and those of his crew at the helm. The long ship came about slowly but surely, and with its stern facing the wind at last, the stormsail bellying full, the great vessel flew from its tormentor. The crew fell to the deck wherever they were stationed, gasping for breath, the tension of the last hours leaving them trembling. They had no strength for cheering.

Tragen held the shield in place until the ship was safely on its way…to where was debatable. He eventually lowered the staff and Aidan reluctantly relinquished his hold. Gradually the shield dissipated, the tempest resuming its attack on the ship, but this time at its stern. The occupants of the bows, now sheltered a little by the upper structure of the ship, collapsed exhausted to the deck, all that is except Augusta. Tragen, his head down inhaling deeply and hoarsely was drained beyond measure. Aidan, his bones trembling to their core because of the magic he’d encountered in the staff, now understood how much he didn’t know of the art. Anders and Beatrix, glad it was all over, sitting shoulder to shoulder, holding hands their backs against the rail, sodden to the skin taking comfort from each other’s nearness, neither daring to acknowledge it.

And Augusta, her long black hair sticking wildly to her face and neck, standing with the light in her hands, mesmerized by the magic and wanting more.

Aidan lifted his head and smiled up at her. His prince’s daughter, much his age and much his height…slim and very attractive, her emerald eyes reflecting the wonder he often felt when conjuring spells.

‘Augusta,’ he said quietly, disturbing her reverie. ‘I had better extinguish the light now.’

She looked down at him. ‘How come you passed this to me? I have always thought only those with magic could sustain a spell,’ she was completely enthralled. ‘I have never made magic in my whole life!’

Aidan rose to stand in front of her. ‘You are right. But then I remembered when I fell on the quarterdeck yesterday, you caught me by my belt and held me. Your strength was far greater than it should have been, no girl should have been able to halt my slide into the sea. And then I saw it in your eyes—magic! That’s why I passed the spell to you,’ he smiled wearily. ‘How you have magic now I don’t know, but I suppose we’ll find out…in time.’

‘I really have magic?’

At his nod she gave a great beaming grin and stared at the ball of light in her hands. ‘I adore magic, Aidan!’

He laughed. ‘So do I…so do I,’ and Aidan, making small intricate finger movements, extinguished the light, but only in her hands.

Her eyes continued to shine brilliantly.

‘You will show me more?’ She asked eagerly, grasping his hands and ignoring everyone else, ‘please, Aidan.’

Tragen interrupted. ‘Be careful, my boy, magic in a woman has ensnared many a wizard.’ He paused to catch his breath, raking his long white hair from his face. ‘I am confident though, that you will discover how she comes to the ability.’

He turned his head to include Augusta. ‘Wizards and Adepts are always born with their skills—always! I have never known magic precipitously appear in someone who has never been able to display such ability previously.’

Hesitating, he again spoke, solely to his apprentice. ‘When you come to teach her make sure you start with the small conjurations, and remember—no showing off! Be vigilant, and above all, show her infinite care. I do not know if her father would wish her to know our craft. No wizard has ever gained a throne so this may have untold consequences for Mantovar. Your training of her may have to cease when we return home. Until her father decides, her skill must be kept secret and yet she must be taught to control it. But the ability to pass on knowledge is another lesson an apprentice has to learn…it may as well start here.’

‘Yes! And you can carry on calling me by my chosen name,’ said Augusta, beaming at him, grinning simply for the reason that she felt absurdly happy, even though they and the Grim were still in grave danger, battered and threatened by an unearthly tempest from hell.


Say it slowly…

On a beautiful summer’s day, two English tourists were driving through Wales.

At Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch they stopped for lunch and one of the tourists asked the waitress: “Before we order, I wonder if you could settle an argument for us. Can you pronounce where we are, very, very, very slowly?”

The girl leaned over and said:

“Burrr… gurrr… King.”

Have a nice day!


Don’t come between a Welshman and his ale

An Englishman, Scotsman and Welshman walk into a bar. Each orders a pint of Brain’s but, as they’re served, a fly lands in each pint.

The Englishman immediately pushes his beer away in disgust.

The Scotsman thinks for a few seconds, shrugs, and also pushes the pint away.

The Welshman turns bright red, picks the fly out of the beer and holds it over his glass shouting: “SPIT IT OUT! SPIT IT OUT!”

The entrance to Castle Mantovar (although it's really Castell Coch)

The entrance to Castle Mantovar (although it’s really Castell Coch)


But instead of hearing a roar of disapproval, Aidan heard a loud howl of laughter.

Puzzled, he turned round very tense, and was startled to see that it was Locklear bellowing with laughter and what’s more Tragen was grinning broadly, his white teeth shining brilliantly in the gloom.

Locklear looked at Tragen through his tears. ‘What on the Gods’ ocean have we here, my friend? Was this your idea?’

‘Nay, Hugo, not me. I would never have thought of hiding her like this.’

‘Neither would I and damn me if it isn’t perfect for this weather as well.’ Locklear, with his back to the wind looked at Augusta and dried his eyes with his hands. ‘Why are you dressed thus?’

‘As you say, Captain, it’s perfect for this weather.’ She was taken aback at being laughed at, but knew if she objected it would probably add to their merriment. Her father never allowed her to put on airs and graces with his closest confidantes and these two were his oldest friends.

‘This boy gave me the idea,’ she indicated Aidan who was trying to make himself invisible behind her. ‘I couldn’t help but notice earlier that he was struggling to get around wearing a robe. He was experiencing the same problems that Beatrix and I were having wearing a dress. But why mention hid…’ and she ran for the rail and vomited over the side.

Moaning, she wiped her mouth clean on her sleeve. When she finished retching, she blinked the tears from her eyes and continued staring over the rail, holding her stomach. She had completely forgotten what she was about to ask.

Tragen and Hugo stared in astonishment as Anders and Beatrix immediately groped and slid their way to her side and helped support her as she retched again.

‘Oh, I don’t feel well,’ moaned Augusta, one hand on her belly the other holding her head ignoring the dribbles from the corner of her mouth. ‘I thought the sickness had left me…ooh!’

Aidan scowled, thinking it was justice after what she had put him through all day. He was feeling pretty bloody-minded where she was concerned. But pity for her condition gradually seeped to the surface. He was a healer. He wouldn’t allow an animal to suffer the malady of the sea let alone a human being—if you could call the arrogant prig a human, he mused. Mind you, he should be used to her manner; she’d always treated him with the “holier than thou” attitude. But he, himself, was prone to suffer the sickness of the sea at the beginning of each voyage and it sometimes took days for him to get used to the motion of the ship. He glanced at Beatrix and Anders standing either side of her, making sympathetic noises, which were being ignored, and he made up his mind.

Aidan put his hand on Augusta’s arm and uttered the worst words he possibly could have in his attempt to comfort her. ‘You shouldn’t look up at the masts, they’ll always make you dizzy if you’re not used to the sea.’

‘You stupid, stupid boy,’ she spat venomously. ‘How can I not see them when I look along the deck? They’re waving around in front of me!’ She waved her arm around in front of his face in mock imitation of the masts. ‘Beattie, remove me from here before I really lose my temper with him,’ she turned to her companion for solace.

‘Do something, Aidan,’ Anders enjoined. ‘You can stop the sickness.’

‘No, he’s not touching me,’ Augusta broke in. ‘He’s nothing but a loathsome brute, I’d rather…’ and she leant over the rail and vomited again, or at least tried to; there was nothing in her stomach to come up.

Beatrix looked at Aidan with equal abhorrence. ‘Let Anders and me help you below to our cabin, Highness, you’ll feel better there.’

Augusta moaned again as she hung on to the rail in the gloom, ‘I just want to die…I want to die! I’ll never come up here ever again. Why did the sickness leave me and then return?’

Tragen came across. ‘Highness, I am not in a position to help you at present, healing uses a great deal of energy and I must conserve my strength for the morning. But if you allow him, Aidan can relieve you of this malady immediately.’

Tragen stared at his apprentice as Augusta lay groaning in her companion’s arms. ‘Well, Aidan, are you going to turn your back on her?’
‘Master, you know I’d never do that! I’d already decided to help her despite her insults.’

‘Of course, my boy, and I sincerely apologize for suggesting it.’ Tragen accepted his rebuke knowing that it was deserved this time. ‘I have other things on my mind, at the moment; it was thoughtless of me, I’m sorry. But please heal her quickly, it is unsafe here.’

‘All right, I will, but I’m not happy about it. I am not stupid…or a loathsome brute.’

‘Well, let us hope that one day, and may it be soon for all our sakes, she will come to understand your virtues,’ Tragen said as he turned away.

It then struck Aidan what Tragen had given as a reason for not healing her himself. ‘Why have you got to save your strength for the morning? What are you up to?’

‘Later, Aidan,’ and he smiled to take the sting out of his words, ‘your master does not have to be “up to” anything that you need know of.’ He pointed at the stricken girl. ‘Well?’

‘All right,’ he said, not satisfied with the answer. ‘Highness, whether you like it or not, this stupid boy is going to heal you. Now, stand up straight and shut up!’

For the second time that day, she hearkened instinctively to the authority in his voice, greatly surprising herself that she allowed him, again, to speak to her in such a manner. Looking up at him, he was a little taller than she, Augusta found her face just inches from his and found herself unavoidably staring into his dark eyes as he placed his hands either side of her head.

‘Why my head when I am sick to my stomach?’ she asked sarcastically, at the same time not understanding her reaction to both his order and his eyes.

‘Leave her be, it is obvious you know nothing of this sickness.’ Beatrix ordered, at the same time attempting to pull his hands from her mistress’ head.

‘No, Beattie, stop. I don’t understand it either but I’ve seen him heal many times. He does know what he’s doing, honestly,’ said Anders, taking full advantage of the situation he put his arms around the girl to restrain her, and smiled. ‘Just watch, it is truly amazing what he does.’

Beatrix stared up into Anders’ face and was persuaded, against her better judgement, by his encouraging smile and the comfort of his arms around her. She stepped back a little from Aidan and Augusta, Anders supporting her on the heaving deck, and followed the proceedings nervously. Anders breathed deeply of her scent and discovered he was in seventh heaven.

‘It’s motion sickness that’s making you ill, girl; and motion sickness is an imbalance in your brain, very easy to fix,’ said Aidan, staring into her eyes.

Augusta had no option but to return his gaze, and she had the strangest feeling she was losing herself in his eyes, the sparkles in his brown irises very alluring. Then she noticed that his hands were becoming warm, almost hot at her temples, and her head and belly were responding to that warmth. How long she stood in front of him she didn’t know, all she wanted was the comfort of his hands, and to fall into his eyes. The sickness and dizziness left her gradually, as if by magic and then, of course, she realized Aidan’s form of healing was magic.

‘Are you well now, Highness?’ Beatrix asked eventually, studying Augusta very closely, still not trusting Aidan, but somewhat confused at the look on her mistress’ face.

Augusta smiled as she stared at the young wizard’s face less than mere inches from her own now. And she suddenly realized that everyone was staring at them.

Aidan reluctantly lowered his hands, for some reason he didn’t want to release her—something more than the healing of her malady had just occurred. He turned to leave.

Augusta grabbed his arm before he moved too far and, with her feelings in disarray, she knew she had to say something. Swallowing, she waited a moment plucking up courage.

‘Will you please forgive me, Aidan; I will never call you a stupid boy again.’ It seemed that the animosity between them, nurtured over immature years, had also disappeared, at least for a while. She waited with bated breath for his answer, knowing that his acceptance of her apology meant a great deal to her.

It was now his turn to feel guilty. He had been around the aristocracy long enough to realize a little of what it cost her to utter those words in front of everyone, and he found himself admiring her courage.

‘Don’t mention it, Highness,’ and he smiled broadly, his eyes twinkling.

Tragen went to ruffle his hair but at once thought better of it. That is one thing a young man growing up does not require in front of his friends – especially lady friends – he thought. Instead, his eyes glowed again with enormous pride in his boy.

Beatrix, her arm around her mistress, was nonplussed. Her loyalty to Augusta was in no doubt, but she was sorely tempted to distrust her mistress’ sanity. Noblewomen did not apologize to those of a lower class, they had no need to. In her surprise at Augusta’s words she’d completely forgotten her own mother’s teaching and would have been severely castigated for thinking such a thing.

Anders stood by slightly bemused his arms still around Beatrix; he did not understand what had happened between his best friend and the princess. But something good had arisen from the encounter. He wondered if it was the beginning of friendship. He hoped so; he so much wanted to keep close to Beatrix.

Meanwhile the storm still beat at them, the wind howling as Tragen and Locklear resumed their conversation. At the helm was Talbot, accompanied by Leash looking very unhappy.

Leash had seen that the boy had accomplished something out of the ordinary and wondered if the young wizard could help him. But he knew he could never allow a wizard into his mind—it would be the end. So he watched, he waited and he schemed knowing another chance to get at the boy was inevitable. Harming the apprentice was the only way to hurt Tragen.

And Leash wanted revenge for all the years of torment and loneliness.

Augusta, Beatrix, Aidan and Anders stared at the towering grey waves threatening the Grim, their thoughts elsewhere.

The princess more cognizant now that she no longer suffered seasickness was still confused, her emotions in turmoil. Aidan had affected her in ways she could not understand. His eyes, the touch of his hands and his smile at the end accompanying his forgiveness—she wanted more. This time she wanted to be near him because she understood at last that she liked him – she didn’t want to bait him anymore.

Anders thoughts drifted away from Beattie although his arms were still around her. He was not going to release her unless he had to. There was a great majesty about the huge waves washing along the Grim, its spume lifting in the wind to form an unimaginable array of shapes. Despite having been born in a castle far inland, the cabin boy had always wanted to go to sea, ever since he’d been taken down to the estuary of the River Mantovar as a very young child to meet Hugo Locklear, his father’s oldest brother. The ocean held an almost supernatural fascination for him—he could see things below the surface of the moving water that no other could. He didn’t know why. He and Aidan had discussed it on more than one occasion, and it had been mooted that perhaps it was because he was the seventh son of a seventh son. But whatever it was it seemed that Anders had a gift for perceiving the obscure that not even the young wizard had.

Beatrix, though, was becoming more scared by the minute even though Anders was holding her safe. The violence of the storm was overwhelming her, she liked order, craved it. But this disorder was beating at her sensibilities, its chaos and its gloom frightening her; she had never liked the dark.
‘Highness, should we not return to our cabin now? Lord Tragen says it’s not very safe up here and…and I’m inclined to agree with him,’ she said with fervour.

‘You’ll be all right with us,’ interposed Anders, laughing. ‘We won’t allow the sea to take you, at least not yet,’ and he removed his arm from around her waist. Turning her slightly so that he could see her face he put his arm around her shoulders, ostensibly to comfort her, the real reason because he needed to be near her.

‘Don’t make jokes like that, the sea nearly did have me this morning,’ said Aidan morosely, shuddering at the remembrance.

Augusta looked at Aidan, startled at his words. She was baffled by him, bewitched by his rapidly changing moods. ‘You cannot leave it in the air like that,’ she said ‘Tell us. What happened, did you nearly fall overboard?’

So he told them of his errand to the bo’sun at the mainmast, of his precarious journey clinging to the rails and the finding of the rope within his reach. He recounted how he had felt when he realized the line was not secure and that it had run free as he swung across the void. And then he told them of the bo’sun saving his life in the nick of time.

Beattie’s hands were at her mouth, tales of danger and of heroes overcoming impossible odds, captivated her. But Anders was subdued; he had not heard the full story of his friend’s experiences that morning. Was it only this morning? So much had happened in the meantime.

Augusta looked for’ard along the ship to the mainmast, and found the salvaged sail at its foot. Looking at its immensity she wished that she’d had the power to pull it from the ocean without Aidan having to place himself in danger.

‘I’m glad you survived, Aidan.’ She looked at him, willing him to believe her, and then determined to extirpate the serious turn in the conversation added. ‘If you had drowned who would I shout at?’

‘Hey, hang about, what was it that Tragen said earlier…he had to conserve his strength for the morning?’ Aidan looked at his soaking wet companions. ‘Does anyone know what he was on about?’

‘Ask him,’ said Anders when no-one spoke up. ‘Go on,’ he urged when the young wizard hesitated.

‘Hey, Master, what were you on about just now?’ Aidan called out. ‘What did you mean when you said…hey, wait a minute,’ and without warning he stopped and looked Tragen up and down. ‘Your robe isn’t wet, are you using a water-repellent spell?’

‘I am,’ and before Aidan could ask, he said. ‘No, you’re not using the spell in this storm, I conjured this earlier. I would not have if I’d known that I needed to save my strength. But it’s too late to go back and undo what has been done; it would take even more energy.’

Tragen said this in such a serious tone that his apprentice became very apprehensive and thought better of mentioning that he’d used that particular spell to help Trumper salvage the sail.

‘That’s what I wanted to ask. Why do you need to save your strength?’

‘The captain and I have been discussing the affect the weather has on the Grim,’ he paused and grasped the larboard rail, steadying himself as the Grim slid down the back of a huge wave. ‘We have concluded that the longer we endure this tempest at its present ferocity, the more serious will be the damage the ship will suffer. The only option left to us is to turn away, remove ourselves from this vicinity.’

‘But shouldn’t we continue on this heading to get home?’ Anders asked.

Beatrix interrupted, squeezing his hand. ‘Haven’t you noticed, Anders? The ship has no wake, we are not moving forward at all.’

‘You’re right; we do have to turn the ship, don’t we?’ Anders asked.

‘Aye lad, we do, and I will need Aidan’s help.’ He squeezed the rain from his beard with his long fingers and continued. ‘It is late now, so we have made the decision to wait until morning before attempting the manoeuvre. You realize, of course, that turning about in these seas could very likely lead to us capsizing, and that will happen if we fail.’

He turned to his young apprentice. ‘It will require an extraordinary spell to suffice and consequently an extraordinary amount of energy. I will have to be fully rested and that is why I will be retiring to my bunk before long, or rather, to your bunk,’ he said, smiling gravely. ‘I will need your support, my boy, but you need only conjure small magic. Nevertheless, after today’s trauma you are exhausted and are equally in need of sleep. As your bunk is damaged, the captain has agreed that Anders will give up his berth to you for tonight. He will sleep on the floor alongside you.’

‘What spell will you cast?’ Aidan asked, puzzled.

‘We will discuss our actions in the morning. For now, as I said, it is late. Find nourishment as best you can all four of you. I am sorry, Highness,’ Tragen turned to Augusta, ‘but in this crisis you must inevitably help yourself. I am afraid that your companion will not be able to fulfil her usual duties. We must not forget that Lady Cornelia needs your care as well. Now, if you will all leave the quarterdeck to the captain…’ and he raised an arm to usher them away.

It was as they were passing the helm that it happened. They were following in line, Aidan bringing up the rear, Anders leading and already at the companionway beneath the poop. With their heads bowed against the wind, eyes squinting against the rain and groping their way across the deck, Leash saw his chance. As Aidan drew abreast of him, Leash gave a quick, surreptitious look around, saw no eyes on him and stepped back, colliding hard with the young apprentice.

Aidan, losing his balance, went skidding across the deck. Reflex made him grab Augusta in front of him. Taking her with him, he slammed against the starboard rail—releasing her, he toppled over.

All there was below him was certain death.

He screamed, so did Beatrix on seeing him go over. Augusta, coming up against the rail, was winded. Seeing him slide down the outside of the hull she instinctively lunged for his belt and somehow found enough strength to hold him long enough for Aidan to scrabble for a hold and take some of his own weight. Anders flew at the both of them and tried to drag him back up whilst Beatrix clung on to Aidan’s belt with Augusta.

Hugo reached them just in front of Tragen and, grasping the boy, he hauled him like a sack of feathers, to safety.

Aidan was trembling so much that he held Tragen in a vice. ‘How did that happen, my boy? By the Gods I thought we’d lost you then.’ He stroked Aidan’s head as he returned the hug, his eyes glistening.

‘I…I don’t know, one minute I’m…’

‘All right, calm yourself, take your time you’re safe now.’ And Tragen continued to hold him tight until Aidan recovered his composure.
Augusta, Beatrix and Anders gathered around, all in various degrees of shock. They looked at each other, the aftermath giving them a sickness in the stomach nothing at all to do with the motion of the sea. They gradually relaxed, the tension leaving them, not quite understanding or realizing yet, that all four had acted intuitively as a team.

Leash seethed, his face thunder as he looked on from his station at the wheel. Livid at failing for the second time that day, the boy’s death became an obsession. He made up his mind there and then that a means would be found to end the boy’s life. The wizard must suffer—he had to! Leash, frustrated, was almost in tears.

The Princess of the Empire of Drakka and her girlhood companion, the ship’s cabin boy and the apprentice wizard; two pairs of friends when they awoke that morning, were now fast becoming a foursome, left the quarterdeck on Tragen’s orders. Not that Aidan needed much telling. They groped their way along the dark passage stumbling on the jumping deck until, reaching Beattie’s cabin, they all collapsed in silence savouring the safety of the four timber walls, even if they were creaking and moving up and down.

Aidan did not feel very well at all. His was not the physique to withstand prolonged physical trauma. He had suffered almost continuous strain since awakening that morning, trapped in his blankets on the deck of his cabin. He sat on the bottom bunk with his head in his hands, looking very haggard, his shoulder-length black hair plastered to his skull and face.

Augusta gazed at him with mixed feelings. She just did not know what to make of him. For years she had seen him running around the castle, in her opinion causing disruption, being insolent and not caring one jot that she was a princess. The first time today that she had spoken with him seemed to confirm her earlier held beliefs—he had been making fun of her. Then, although being reprimanded by her for his insolence, he had healed her beloved lady in waiting, exhibiting a caring skill beyond anything she had ever encountered in her life. Ready to forgive his impudence because of that, he had again irritated her with his effrontery; an attitude that no-one else ever subjected her to. And because of that, she had taken great pleasure in seeing him sweat, afraid to meet his master. And how does he repay her for her reprehensible behaviour? He heals her of seasickness. He completely exasperated her and she liked it.

And then he had frightened her. Her heart in her mouth she had seen him fall towards his death and, in that moment, knew his dying would have devastated her. She had grabbed him wondering now how she had found the strength to hold him. Gazing at him he reminded her of a lost and forlorn orphan begging for comfort. A soaking wet orphan sitting on her bed.

‘Get off!’ she shouted before she could stop herself. ‘You’re ringing wet…soaking my bed, Aidan!’

He jumped at the sound of her querulous voice. ‘What? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.’

He slid to the floor and rested his back against the bunk instead. He looked up at Augusta and noticed her sopping tunic and britches, her black hair a tangled mess, strands straying across her face. And all of a sudden matters became too much for him and he laughed uncontrollably, his mirth turning quickly to hysteria. He had nearly been killed twice today, had been battered black and blue, nearly drowned on numerous occasions, and this girl was worrying about him soaking her bedclothes!

Beatrix, her sympathetic nature closer to the surface than the others and unable to hold a grudge for longer than five minutes, was the first to his aid. Anders was too surprised to move, and Augusta too confused at the abruptness of the shocking change in him. The royal companion sat beside him on the floor and put her arm around him, cradling his head on her shoulder.

‘Ssh…Aidan…you’re safe now…you’re with friends.’

And Aidan sobbed copiously; he couldn’t help it, he was a boy whose emotions were akin to the girl’s holding him. Like Beatrix he couldn’t hide his feelings. His distress brought tears to the eyes of both the girls and nearly to those of Anders standing over them.

Augusta felt the overwhelming need to offer her share of comfort but wasn’t sure how. She knelt on the floor the other side of Aidan and hesitantly squeezed his shoulder.

Being consoled by female friends was a new experience for Aidan. He had never had close companions before, other than Anders…never girls. Eventually his tears ceased and he lifted his head and wiped his red eyes.

‘I’m sorry,’ he sniffed, ‘I’m being stupid.’

‘No you’re not, Aidan,’ said Augusta quietly, ‘you’re being very sensible, getting it out of your system will make you feel better. God knows, I would have broken long before now and I’ve been trained not to show my emotions.’

Beatrix looked askance at this.

Augusta had never cared enough to hide her feelings before and she had never seen a boy weep and hadn’t even been sure if they could. But seeing Aidan cry, and showing him her concern, had somehow removed the last vestiges of any ill-feeling between them.

‘Hey, now who’s calling who stupid?’ Augusta asked.

Aidan sighed, and looked up at them all. ‘I’m absolutely bloody starving. Have you any food?’ he asked, and then he grinned sheepishly.

Beatrix laughed as she gave him a quick hug. ‘You’re not supposed to swear in front of ladies, but as it happens we do have bread, cheese and the last of the red apples,’ and she rose to get them.

‘Oh hell, I think we need to change our clothes again,’ said Anders, wringing water from his tunic.

‘After we eat, Anders, we’ll hang them up overnight to dry. No…I don’t mean to use magic so take that look off your face!’ The expression on his friend’s face had been enough to put spells right out of Aidan’s mind.

‘Yes,’ interposed Augusta, ‘we’ll do the same after we’ve checked on poor Cornelia. How long will she sleep Aidan?’

‘Until the afternoon tomorrow and hopefully longer; the more she sleeps the shorter the healing process. And before we go to sleep, my big friend,’ he turned to look at Anders, ‘I’ll need you to spread more unguent on my burns.’

Later that night, Tragen slept in Aidan’s bunk and Aidan slept in Anders’ berth; Lady Cornelia in Augusta’s cot and Augusta in Cornelia’s bunk bed; Beatrix slept in her own.

It did not sleep, it liked the dark hours and it watched the filthy, bound man being hauled across the cold, stone-flagged floor towards it. The two holding the prisoner upright with their arms in his armpits, his feet dragging behind, walked with bowed heads and white cowls raised. All was silence until they thrust the captive into the cage and slammed it closed. The mesh banged hard against his nose, breaking it and this stirred his consciousness, the prisoner opened his eyes…and screamed in its face.

It hissed its laughter.

Aidan, fast asleep, heard him—and saw him. ‘Please, why are you laughing? Please stop laughing he is in great pain!’

Only Anders had the most uncomfortable rest, not just because he slept on the hard floor alongside his friend—he heard Aidan talking in his sleep.


Don’t mess with a Welsh woman

Three friends married women from different parts of the world. The first married a Greek girl and told her that she was to do the dishes and cleaning. It took a couple of days, but on the third day he came home to see a clean house.

The second man married a Thai girl and gave her the same orders, to do all the cleaning and cooking. The first day he didn’t see any results but by the third his house was clean and dinner was on the table.

The third man married a Welsh girl. He ordered her to keep the house clean, dishes washed, lawn mowed and dinner ready for 6pm.

For the first two days he didn’t see anything, but by the third day, some of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye.

Have a nice day!


Having your photo taken

Two old ladies from Liverpool on holiday in Colwyn Bay decided to have their photograph taken by a beach photographer.

Having posed them suitably he disappeared under his old-fashioned black hood behind the camera.

“What’s he doing now?” asked one of the old ladies, timidly.

“Oh, he’s going to focus”, replied the other.

“What, both of us?”

c/o dreamstime.com Castle of Mantovar

c/o dreamstime.com
Castle of Mantovar


On the quarterdeck it was so dark Locklear could barely see the ocean skimming aft down both sides of the ship. The storm raged as the Grim creaked and groaned, riding the turbulence with ever increasing difficulty.

‘What do you think are the chances of setting a stormsail in this wind, Bo’sun?’ Locklear asked, peering up at the black sky looking for non-existent stars. A stormsail was a small stretch of canvas hoisted on the after jigger and used to steer the ship.

‘It would last precisely as long as the men climbing the mast to set it, Cap’n, and besides, I don’t believe we’d be able to manoeuvre using it.’ The bo’sun, another veteran of Locklear’s command, was allowed a certain liberty in his manner and never shirked in voicing criticism of what he thought of as inept seamanship. He did not look a happy man as the rain poured down his face.

‘In other words you do not recommend it?’ Locklear was an unusual captain he often asked for advice, sometimes taking it.

‘I do not, sir, at least not until morning when we can see a bit better.’

‘Do you honestly believe visibility will be restored to us at daybreak?’ He sighed and braced himself against the quarterdeck rail. ‘We will wait, Mr Trumper. If, as I suspect, we are being driven astern, then it will be safer to remain with bare poles.’

Locklear strode to his chair and lifted himself into the high, wet seat, his home in bad weather and rested wearily, again stroking his beard worriedly. If Tragen was correct then this storm was the least of their worries.

Tragen stood in the passage at his cabin door looking in at Aidan futilely attempting to hide the wreckage of the bottom bunk.

‘There has been a fire here, what do you know of it?’

‘Only a small fire, we put it out straight away.’ Aidan replied hurriedly, his voice trembling.

The wizard stared icily and repeated the question in a tone that brooked no nonsense. ‘What do you know of this fire?’

‘It was an accident, Master, honest! When the ship turned I fell and dropped the flame.’

Aidan always ended up saying the truth if he knew it was inevitable. Lying would only result in a more severe punishment. And punished he would be unless he could talk his way out of this. Tragen could read him like a book.

‘It’s all right, Milord, I’ll sleep on the floor and you can have my bunk until I get it repaired.’

And Aidan knew instantly that his mouth had got him in trouble again; he only ever called Tragen “Milord” when he had done something he knew beforehand he should not have.

Tragen stared at the dark boy standing in front of him, a boy seeming to grow faster now he’d reached his middle teens—a boy full of immense power but so often lacking in common sense, anger deepened his voice. ‘I thank you for giving up your bed, boy; in that you have no choice. Now tell me of this naked flame.’

Aidan bowed his head even further, desperately searching for an answer that would, at the very least, call down a more lenient punishment than seemed likely at present.

‘I’m sorry, but we had to light a lantern somehow,’ he glanced up at his mentor, failing to detect clemency in the young/old eyes. ‘I know I’m not supposed to use that particular spell in an enclosed space. I know you’ve always told me it is highly dangerous in a small room. I’m sorry,’ he repeated.

His battered body aching, weary to his bones, his spirit hiding somewhere near his feet, he knew of no way to persuade the wizard. Tragen’s retribution could be terrible if anyone’s life was ever put at risk by thoughtless use of magic—and he had just endangered the whole ship’s company.

Anders’ heart bled at seeing his friend in so much trouble. ‘My Lord it was my fault. I stumbled and fell against him that’s why he dropped the flame. I was holding the lantern…I couldn’t…I…’ scared, his voice trailed away, he also had experience of being at the wrong end of Tragen’s temper.

The irate wizard glared at him. ‘So, you are both at fault, as if I hadn’t guessed!’ his voice rising, he continued. ‘Aidan has strict orders never to use that spell on board this ship,’ he shouted, shaking his finger in Anders’ face, ‘and you are well aware of it. Do you both realize how lucky you were at being able to extinguish the flame? A fire on a ship at sea usually means a burned out ship and its passengers and crew, if not dead, at the very least adrift in small boats. Would you like to be in a small boat on these seas?’ He glowered at the culprits, his grey eyes narrowing. ‘Now, whilst both of you are cleaning this cabin and later, when you undertake your punishment, think about those consequences, think deeply because this is the last time that I will suffer your stupidity.’

He gazed heavily at Aidan as he moved to leave and unexpectedly noticed the burn mark on the boy’s bowed neck. Disconcerted, he entered the cabin and bent his head to take a closer look.

‘What is this on your neck, my boy?’

Aidan looked up quickly, surprised at the enquiry and seeing the concern in Tragen’s face he again lowered his head and stared at his feet, hope flaring as a glimmer of a plan came to him. For all his rhetoric Tragen could be merciful on occasion, so much so that he could be inveigled into forgoing painful outcomes. He’d been in serious trouble before and got away with it, all it needed was a bit of cunning.

He raised his hand to his neck and gently touched the burn. ‘I have burns on my legs as well…and I think I’ve grazed my back because I was sliding all over the deck when I was sent to the bo’sun,’ he whimpered quietly and sniffed. ‘It’s the reason we needed light, we couldn’t see a thing. The burns were hurting me so much I desperately needed to dry myself and…and Mr Trumper had ordered me to change into britches.’ He sniffled again. ‘Anders came to help me, Master, when he found me weeping at the foot of the hatchway because I’d fallen off the ladder.’ He peeked out of the corner of his eye at Anders standing to one side, his jaw dropping to his feet. ‘I fell because I was dizzy and I…I don’t know, I had a sudden weakness in my arms.’

‘Oh, Aidan, Aidan, why did you not say earlier, come, do you wish my help?’ Tragen led him to one end of the burned bed and made the boy sit while he examined the wound in the light of the lantern that Anders was holding.

‘I’ll be all right,’ Aidan groaned meaningfully. ‘If you could just find me the salve, Anders will help me get my clothes. But if you could hold off your punishment until the balm takes effect…please,’ he sighed.

Scrutinizing the charred flesh on his apprentice he retrieved the jar of unguent from his store. ‘I think these burns, accompanied by the cleaning you have to do, will be enough punishment for now.’ He frowned, and as he stood to leave, he added, showing that he had not been completely taken in.

‘My rules may seem silly on times, Aidan, but they do have a sensible purpose. Learn to follow them or you will encounter more severe hurts than mere friction burns.’ At the door, he turned to both boys. ‘If you need me I will be with the captain.’

Anders stared incredulously at Aidan. ‘Weeping! It was me nearly weeping when you fell on top of me!’

Aidan stood up, looked at his friend mournfully for a moment and then said slyly, a twinkle in his eyes. ‘Worked didn’t it? No punishment.’

‘You little…’ and then Anders laughed. ‘Get a move on, look for your britches,’ and he added out of the blue when he heard something fall to the floor in the girls’ cabin. ‘I wonder if we should go and see if those two need our help before we tidy up?’

‘For God’s sake, Anders, after we’ve cleaned the cabin,’ he said desperately. ‘I can get away with flummoxing Tragen once but I’ll never do it twice in the same day.’ He proceeded to disrobe. ‘My britches and braes are in that trunk, pass them over and you can apply this balm to my neck, it’s hurting me something awful,’ he complained with some fervour.

In Beattie’s cabin not all was happy. They had struggled to undress a very heavy Lady Cornelia, so that she could rest easier and she was now swaddled in Augusta’s bedclothes, sleeping fast. It was then they had discovered that Augusta had no dry clothing to change into, the water pouring through the porthole had doused Augusta’s wardrobe.

‘Come Beattie, we must search for something to wear in your cabin.’

‘Highness, I have nothing that you could possibly wear.’

‘Nonsense, haven’t you any of my cast-offs?’ Augusta spoke very pompously when she thought obstacles were being placed in her way.

‘Only a couple yes, but I was told that baggage space was at a premium and very little would be allocated to me. Most of the storage room has been taken up by Lady Cornelia.’

‘Umph! I can’t see me donning her clothes, can you?’ Augusta smiled broadly at the thought of even attempting to wear her lady-in-waiting’s capacious garments.

Crossing from Augusta’s cabin, they espied Tragen at the end of the passage making for the captain’s companionway. ‘What do you make of our wizard?

‘What do you mean?’

‘Do you like him?’

‘To be honest I find him frightening sometimes. When he gazes at me with that faraway look I get goose pimples up my arms.’ And with that Beattie automatically rubbed her hands up and down her forearms.

‘What! Even that time my father had him teaching us to lip-read, which was a complete waste of time I could never get the hang of it.’

‘You couldn’t, no, I found it easy enough,’ Beatrix smirked, she did like having one up on her mistress, it didn’t happen often. ‘Strangely enough, though, I like him as well—he makes me feel safe.’

‘Yes, I agree,’ Augusta said ignoring the jibe. ‘He’s also a very attractive man, is he not?’

‘Highness!’ said Beatrix shocked, and then recovering her composure, she smiled. ‘I have never given the idea much thought. He is very old, after all, like a kindly grandfather.’

‘Mm…I suppose you’re right. Come on, we’ll search your baggage.’ And as she entered her companion’s domain she stumbled over a trunk that had been placed to one side of the door.

‘Damn, my ankle!’ she moaned, sitting on the bottom bunk rubbing its soreness away.

‘Shall I get Aidan, Highness?’ Beatrix asked impishly. ‘I’m sure he wouldn’t mind healing that.’ She dodged when Augusta threw a pillow at her.

For a time they fruitlessly searched Beattie’s clothing. Augusta refused point blank to appear in her old clothes, or in Beattie’s, and they subsequently turned their attention to Lady Cornelia’s wardrobe with the same result, everything too large, an impossibility to wear.

It was thne Anders arrived at the door with Aidan following. The apprentice wizard, smelling of sweet unguent, was now wearing a thigh length shirt outside his calf length britches, both tied at the waist with a rope belt, he was barefoot as usual.

‘Do you need any help, Highness?’ Aidan enquired, his tousled head poking around the bulk of his friend, not really expecting an answer. They were utterly perplexed at the garments dumped everywhere.

Beatrix looked up in a thoroughly bad mood, she hated doing a job that was pointless and finding suitable clothes for Augusta in Cornelia’s wardrobe was the height of futility. For a pretty girl she now had a bright red face under her long blonde hair and she was sweating profusely, this cabin being smaller than her mistress’ was also hotter.

‘Go away! We are trying to find dry clothes for Princess Augusta. How can you possibly assist us?’

‘Well, we could always lend you some of ours if you’re desperate, you know.’ Aidan said laughing, and Beatrix snorted in disgust.

Augusta straightened and dropping a huge bodice on the bed, looked at him thoughtfully. ‘Now, that’s an idea, Beattie!’

All three gazed at her in sudden consternation.

‘What do you mean? You can’t possibly wear boys’ clothes! I mean, the only lady on board this ship wearing britches!’ Beatrix admonished and then seeing the look on Augusta’s face she added as an afterthought. ‘You’ll be showing your ankles, it would be scandalous.’ Very agitated she’d often found herself in trouble when her mistress ignored convention, which Augusta did when it suited her.

‘If we wish to go on deck though, britches are far more suitable than a gown!’

‘Who wants to go up there in this weather?’ Beatrix, thoroughly appalled at the idea, continued. ‘Highness, you cannot be serious, please,’ and she should have left it there, said not another word, but she was panicking. ‘It would appear very strange you in britches and me in a dress. You would seem my servant!’

‘Yes, I suppose you’re right; we could not possibly have people thinking that.’

Vastly relieved, Beatrix, her shyness with Anders all but forgotten in her anxiety, once more turned to the boys and shooed them away.

‘You may now leave; we do not require your presence any longer.’

‘Wait,’ interrupted Augusta. ‘I said it would look strange if I was wearing boy’s clothes…alone!’

‘What do you mean?’ and then she realized. ‘Oh no! Highness, please I beg you; you cannot do this to me—to us,’ Beatrix put her hands to her mouth in desperation, all blood draining from her face as she recognized the determination on her mistress’ face.

‘She can’t do what to you?’ Anders said, very concerned at the mad panic in Beattie. And then he comprehended and his expression mirrored hers. Aidan’s big mouth was about to get them in trouble, again.

Beatrix dropped to the floor still with her hands to her mouth, moaning and shaking her head.

Augusta standing over her turned to Aidan. ‘Do you think that the two of us match you in size? I do, so I will take up your suggestion. Please bring me some of your clothing, Beatrix and I will be delighted to wear the same as you.’

Aidan stared, his mouth agape. ‘I wasn’t being serious! You can’t be seen wearing britches and…and shirts, either of you, it…it would not be decent and…besides, Tragen would kill me!’

‘I will handle the wizard, boy, do not argue with me,’ Augusta, speaking imperiously, was getting impatient with Aidan again. Forgetting the healing he had just performed on her lady-in-waiting, she was reverting to the opinion she had held for ten years that he was an insolent layabout. ‘Now hurry before I catch a chill…or would you have your master blame you for that as well?’

Aidan departed his brain in a fog as he made his way back to his cabin. That bloody girl, he thought, he’d had enough of her she was getting right up his nose all over again. Just because she was a princess didn’t give her the right to drop him in it. Retrieving spare britches and shirts from his baggage, he stopped short…would they need braes? He grabbed two of the male undergarments.

Muttering under his breath he returned to find a soundly distraught Beatrix still sitting on the floor her head in her hands. so shocked she couldn’t even weep. He handed everything to Augusta.

‘Wait outside for us, both of you; we may need your advice,’ she ordered. Beatrix wailed.

‘Be quiet Beattie, think of it as an adventure,’ she admonished, slamming the door, leaving the boys in darkness in the corridor.

Aidan was mortified; all he could see in the mists before his eyes was Tragen’s livid face. There was no way out of it, the blame was all his. He must have lost his senses. To actually suggest that the prince’s daughter dress as he did, after all he knew what she was like! She’s probably doing it to get back at me for some imagined slight, he thought. But where was her sense? It was a joke, for God’s sake! A joke! Not only would she look ludicrous, she would also be indecent. Showing her ankles was very unseemly for a young royal, not that he cared about that, but Tragen would. The wizard was a stickler for correct protocol and often berated Aidan when he didn’t follow it.

And he would have to shoulder the responsibility. His unguarded humour had set the whole idea in motion. What was wrong with the girl? She’d always been pig-headed, but how could she possibly think he’d been serious? Was she stupid? Didn’t she have any perception of how she’d appear to the crew? He knew he shouldn’t have come on this voyage; he’d had plenty of work to do at home. But he’d needed a rest, recuperation after breaking his arm. So when Tragen had mentioned that he was to escort Augusta home from Drakka where she’d spent time being educated at the emperor’s court, he’d jumped at it. But they had obviously never taught the girl common sense, he mused.

That was one of the two reasons for this voyage—to bring her home, even though her schooling was not quite finished.

The other, to ascertain the rumour of a new-fangled weapon, a bombard, a cannon, a strange device that used something called “villainous saltpetre”, had yet to be fulfilled. Apparently, the thing was deep in the south somewhere in the Dark Continent, or maybe in the east, no-one was quite sure. Nkosi thought he knew where it could be found but they had no time to go searching.

The Prince and Princess of Mantovar needed their daughter at home as soon as possible, and no-one on the Grim knew the reason for the haste, except possibly Tragen who was Prince Cedric’s chief advisor.

Oh, my God, he thought, if Tragen doesn’t murder me, the prince surely will. Aidan was mortally afraid of his liege lord after their last run in. It had happened when one of Aidan’s conjurations had gone “slightly” awry; at least that’s what the apprentice had claimed at the time. The resultant flight of the prince across the courtyard in front of all and sundry, a very humiliating experience for the monarch, had been the result of a growth spell created by the young wizard practising on an insect. The chrysalis had matured into a very beautiful butterfly. Unfortunately, it had not stopped growing until it had reached a monstrous size and had taken a fancy to the prince. Cedric, understandably, wanted to lynch the culprit. Aidan had hidden for a week while his liege lord calmed down.

His morose thoughts were interrupted when Augusta called them back in to the cabin. She and Beatrix were now wearing britches and shirts and she dumped the braes on Aidan, stating, with a disapproving frown, that females had their own underwear, thank you! Blushing, he thrust them out of sight behind the water barrel standing outside the door.

Beatrix mesmerized, not believing what was happening, was picking at her shirt in an unconscious effort to straighten it as she would tidy a loose bodice.

Anders, grinning all over his face despite his concern for Beattie, couldn’t help offering his opinion. ‘Very fetching!’ and he added tongue in cheek. ‘You appear on deck in this weather dressed in those shirts and no-one will possibly mistake you for young men.’

Augusta rounded on him, furious. ‘And what is the purpose of that remark, churl. I do not want to be mistaken for a man, thank you. And why are you laughing?’

‘You mistake me,’ his grin growing even wider. ‘It’s just that girls are a bit different to us and wet shirts not only cling where they touch, they also become transparent! I think I’d better get you tunics to wear over the top of those.’ He laughed uproariously and went off to his sleeping quarters in the captain’s cabin to find suitable modesty enhancing garments.

Augusta and Beatrix screeched, their arms coming across their chests instantly, and for the second time that day, Augusta was speechless whilst Beattie’s face again turned red, this time in concert with her mistress.

Anders’ words had not registered with Aidan; he was too worried about the consequences to him personally to care about anything else. He tried once more to dissuade Augusta.

‘Please, can’t you see the problems this decision will make? Can’t you make other arrangements? It shouldn’t take long for me to dry your clothes, or…perhaps I could search the baggage in the holds?’

‘Don’t be silly boy,’ she persisted, her mind made up. ‘It’s pointless drying our clothes they’ll be encrusted with salt from the seawater. Anyway, how are you going to dry our clothes in this weather or retrieve anything from the hold? No, these will be fine, I’m getting used to them already,’ she tugged at her britches and looked down at them admiringly. ‘I understand now how you males seem so easy in your movements around the ship. This raiment is very comfortable and is eminently suitable for sailing. When the boy returns with the tunics you will take us to the quarterdeck, I wish to see the situation there for myself.’

Aidan paced the small cabin, wringing his hands, desperately thinking of other arguments to use, the two girls having to move out of his way constantly to avoid being knocked over.

‘Sit down, will you,’ Augusta ordered, exasperated, ‘there is no way I am going to change my mind, whatever you say.’

He ceased his pacing and stretched out on the bottom bunk. A moment later he jumped up banging his head on the bed above. ‘Ow! I know! I could create a cleaning spell, they’ll be all right then,’ he said, rubbing his forehead.

Anders returned at that moment carrying the tunics; he had also taken the opportunity to change into dry clothes. ‘No way, Aidan, you can’t cast those spells down here…Tragen will string us up, this time!’

Aidan gave in, not gracefully though, muttering constantly under his breath his fear grew as he desperately searched for a means to make Augusta reconsider.

While Anders was remonstrating with Aidan the girls took the opportunity to don their tunics. They were overly large; Anders was a lot bigger than his three companions but the garments more than sufficed. Beatrix felt a little easier with the brown tunic draped to her knees. But Augusta, a natural extrovert, felt far more devil-may-care and danced a little jig around the cabin.

‘Aidan, lead the way,’ she ordered cheerfully, relishing her new-found freedom, giggling she grasped Beattie’s hand to follow the boys along the passageway aft.

When they arrived at the foot of the captain’s companionway Aidan desperately attempted to assert the authority, whatever he thought that was, of an apprentice wizard. ‘I’ll climb first and see what’s happening on deck. If the captain is too busy we’ll go away and come back another time.’

‘Since when were you given the right to make my decisions, churl?’ Augusta sneered at him over the sound of the wind outside. ‘I will see Captain Locklear this instant; now either get out of my way or move ahead forthwith,’ she could never allow a scruffy young tearaway to dictate her actions!

Aidan bit his tongue, there were so many things he wanted to call this horrible girl and they were all guaranteed to get him life imprisonment or worse. His temper was rising, she was really playing on his nerves. I know she’s a noblewoman and all that, he thought, but she’s no need to talk to me like a…a slave. I’ve even gone out of my way to help the stupid girl! Nevertheless, muttering under his breath, he opened the door on to the quarterdeck and peered through.

At first, he could see nothing in the darkness, but then in a flash of lightning he saw his master talking to the captain. He carefully groped his way to the larboard rail, and bowing his head against the rain…and his retribution, he awaited his downfall.


Family problems

A West Glamorgan councillor was recently accused of providing council jobs for no fewer than eighty-three of his relatives.

He hotly denied this and pointed out that only eighty-two of his kinsmen were employed by the council.

His relatives have now moved a motion of censure against him for his carelessness in missing one of them out.

Have a nice day!


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.


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