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http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/popular-jokes

A husband and wife are trying to set up a new password for their computer. The husband puts, “Mypenis,” and the wife falls on the ground laughing because on the screen it says, “Error. Not long enough.”

 

Could this be Lord Tragen choosing a Christmas present?

Could this be Lord Tragen choosing a Christmas present? c/o dreamstime.com

 

Thirteen

 

On the quarterdeck, Locklear paced slowly. It was a beautiful evening, the skies clear, an abundance of stars beginning to show, the moon waxing. A gentle breeze was blowing just enough for the Grim to make headway. Cruising weather Locklear thought as he looked over his ship, a ship silent except for the occasional creak of a board or a wave lapping the hull. The storm was now far behind them and he mused on its aftermath, studying the splintered ends of the broken masts reflecting the moonlight he hoped for luck in finding replacements. But Locklear took heart from what Hopper had said earlier, there were plenty of trees on Sanctity, he prayed there’d be no trouble acquiring them. With the weather now settled, on the morrow after Tragen had filled the water barrels, he would have Trumper rig a jury mast to increase speed.

Below, in Cornelia’s cabin, Tragen was again keeping the lady company, drinking tea that he had conjured from empty air. It still tasted fresher than tea from the galley, he thought, and Cornelia seemed to be enjoying it. The porthole was open and the light evening breeze stirred the air.

‘You truly believe that Augusta has been given the gifts of wizardry?’ Cornelia asked, worriedly.

‘I do.’

‘Well, I honestly don’t know what her mother and father will think of that. How could it possibly have happened?’

Tragen shrugged and settled himself more comfortably in a chair that he had also conjured from thin air as there had only been one in the cabin.

‘It is a complete mystery to me. It has never been known before for a wizard’s abilities to suddenly appear like this—I’m completely baffled. I just hope that Aidan doesn’t go overboard in his teaching of the art. They both appear to have the same sense of, how shall I put it…delicacy in handling sensitive matters?’

‘I agree, Tragen, they are both rapscallions,’ she chuckled. ‘So we make for the Griffin Islands,’ said Cornelia, holding a flower-patterned mug of tea in her hands.

‘We have no choice I’m afraid. You know of the Onyx Isles, we could never come near there with you and Augusta aboard. The ship would founder if we attempted to return to Mantovar through the storm. I have already made it clear to Hugo that I will foil any attempt to head straight north to reach the frozen wastes and follow the coast around to Mantovar. Without masts we would find it increasingly difficult to make the voyage to Drakka and it would be pointless, anyway, as we would in all probability encounter the storm again on leaving.’ He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. ‘I only hope we recognize the enemy when we meet him in Griffin.’

‘You believe Beatrix to be correct in her assumption then?’

‘Yes, unfortunately,’ he paused and sipped his tea. ‘I am very glad that young lady accompanies us for, I admit, I knew that the storm had been created to stop us entering Mantovar but it had not occurred to me that the storm’s purpose was also to entice us to his lair.’

‘She is a very able young woman, that one. Mind you, the princess speaks very highly of her mother. In fact Dotrice is suspected of being the princess’s chief advisor…in an unofficial capacity of course.’

‘Along with you!’

Cornelia blushed and changed the subject. ‘Have you estimated how long it will be before we reach home?’

‘No, at this time I have absolutely no idea, and that worries me. I have to find some way of informing the prince of what has transpired and that for now his daughter is safe and well.’ Tragen stretched his back, taking care that he did not spill his tea. ‘I could attempt to use a gull, of course, when one appears. However, they are not very dependable as they do not like flying more than ten or fifteen leagues from their nests, and we are hundreds of leagues from home. I think I will have to seek my young apprentice’s advice.’

‘You heed a lot of his advice?’ Cornelia enquired smiling fondly; the more she knew of the boy the more she was falling under his spell.

‘Yes,’ and he laughed, ‘at least some of his advice. In many respects, he is a normal, mischievous, lovable rascal with a heart greater than any I have ever known! However, he has an odd knowledge of the spirit world far more than I will ever know. Perhaps that is why he is of the opinion that it is his bounden duty to heal anyone suffering and I do mean anyone. I believe he would heal the hurts of his enemies without them asking.’

He rose from his chair. ‘Well we have plenty to think on tonight, Cornelia, and I shall leave you now. Sleep well, Milady,’ he said as he left.

‘Goodnight to you, my friend,’ Cornelia uttered quietly as Tragen closed the door behind him.

In Anders’ cabin, the two boys lay sleeping, silent except for the slight nasal noises Anders was making as he slept on his back. It was another night without a vision.

 

The next morning was glorious. A scorcher of a day in the offing as the sun crept up the sky. There was very little cloud cover, just feathers of high cirrus floating in the azure sky, the smell of ozone permeating the light breeze invigorating the senses. The Grim was carrying all possible sail on its three remaining masts and the ship glided slowly but purposefully south-westwards on the long swell of the Great Deep.

Collecting breakfast from the galley, Dolly informed Aidan and Anders in no uncertain terms that he was depending on them to ensure the galley barrels were full of ‘proper’ drinking water. What the cook meant by “proper” was anyone’s guess, but it would make a change to cook with water devoid of stench. He also gave Anders a long throwing knife called an anelace, and told him to practise with it. In answer to Beattie’s quizzical look, Anders told her he had a natural talent for the weapon, so Dolly said.

There was an air of suppressed excitement on board. Magic was well known throughout the empire but no one ever saw it often. This morning the Grim was preparing to witness another conjuration, the third in less than a week. This spell was not to be as spectacular as the shield enchantment, and not many people had seen the repairing of the stormsail but judging by the number of people already on deck, a lot more would watch this demonstration.

Leash again took his post at the helm, relieving Talbot at the end of his morning watch. The second helmsman still scheming, his eyes red-rimmed with lack of sleep, was determined that before the week was out the boy would be dead one way or another. He was holding together with great difficulty, wilder and riskier scenarios running through his head he could not take his eyes from Aidan. Caution was needed now, if he lost control of himself then his secret would be divulged and he would be a dead man in Purgatory, the wizard would see to that. But there was something about the boy, something was niggling in the back of his mind. The more he stared at the apprentice the more Aidan reminded him of someone, but of whom he couldn’t recall.

‘Nellie’ and Beatrix had carried out their duties for ‘Princess Augusta’ and left her consuming her inevitable pot of tea, musing at the way Augusta was settling in to her role as a companion and maid. Augusta was enjoying every minute of her new distractions despite the fact that she was worrying about the chore promised for later that day. Beatrix had earmarked it as their laundry day. She wanted to wash their clothes – their very dirty clothes – in suds, in a tub on deck. Aidan had promised to supervise her endeavours and only laugh occasionally. Augusta cursed. Meanwhile Anders was attempting to cajole Beatrix into doing his mountain of washing and was not succeeding at all well, but he was full of hope.

The girls, impatient for Tragen to arrive, were rebuffed by Aidan refusing to wake the wizard.

‘No way, Tragen is evil in the mornings. We’ll let him come around all by himself, thank you,’ he said, ‘and stop throwing that knife around, you’re making me nervous, Anders.’

‘Don’t be daft, little wizard. Dolly told me to practise the techniques he showed me…that man is really something with a knife,’ said Anders admiringly. Squinting through his blue eyes, he took another aim at the barrel at the foot of the mainmast, and carried on throwing the narrow bladed anelace.

‘Take care, Anders, you said last night that you won’t allow Aidan to heal you so please do not take out your eye, or mine,’ said Augusta, flinching.

‘Well, I think he’s pretty good with it,’ said Beatrix, though she did tend to lean away from him.

Just then, Trumper arrived. ‘Mind it you lot, you’re standing right in the place we’re stacking the casks.’ With that, half a dozen men trundled up rolling the water barrels, wooden, metal-hooped vessels of various sizes, colours and odours. One of the middling sized ones Beatrix recognized as always standing in the passageway outside her cabin door. She used it often and had noticed earlier that day that the residue in the bottom was beginning to pong.

They leant against the rail staring out to sea comfortable with their friendship. They were able now to remain silent in each other’s company without feeling anxiety, having no need to make small talk. The morning drifted by as they do at sea in the tropics, quietly and slowly, tension seeping away as they watched the gently swelling ocean. The day gradually getting warmer, the breeze soothing their nerves and lulling their senses, the storm already receding into their subconscious.

‘We’re having a party tonight, Dolly’s providing his special pies and Jason and some others are going to sing,’ Anders said, interrupting their thoughts, but not the sound of the occasional thud of the dagger as it sank into the timber of the broken mainmast.

‘Oh, I’ve never attended an entertainment on board a ship before,’ said Augusta.

‘Neither have I,’ added Beatrix. ‘What are Dolly’s “special” pies?’

‘Ah well, no-one seems to know and no-one has the courage to ask him, but he’s been seen messing about with rotten apples and old pork,’ answered Anders.

‘Ugh!’ both girls said in unison.

‘Jason…isn’t he that tall, blond, good-looking fellow?’ asked Augusta.

‘Oh, I don’t know about good-looking,’ replied Aidan feeling slightly peeved. ‘He’s a fair singer though and Anders and me, we’re going to dance.’

Augusta laughed. ‘Dance! I can’t imagine you two dancing a minuet around the deck.’

Anders nearly choked. ‘A minuet! We don’t dance all stiff with our noses in the air like you do, we do proper dancing…like the hornpipe.’

Augusta, slightly abashed at her gaffe, recovered quickly and glancing mischievously at Beatrix said. ‘I’ve heard of that…isn’t that the one where you do a lot of jumping on the spot waving your arms in the air?’

Anders was speechless, he was proud of his dancing. ‘Jumping…jumping…I’ll have you know…’ Just then, there was a flurry of activity from the quarterdeck and the captain came into the waist accompanied at last by Tragen.

‘Well, ladies and gentlemen,’ Tragen said, as if announcing an entertainment in front of gentry. ‘Welcome to one and all.’ He bowed with an elaborate flourish, the voluminous sleeves of his green robe flapping like a chicken held up by its legs, he grinned at all who caught his eye. Tragen may be an old aristocrat but he loved acting the troubadour, thought Aidan, joining his teacher at the stump of the mainmast.

‘Ah, Aidan, you are ready?’ Tragen asked, waving his arms and continuing to play to his audience.

‘Oh, yes, Master. I await your bidding,’ and Aidan, aping his mentor and bowing with an equally graceful flourish, beamed at all those around and about.

The crew were in high good humour, happily talking loudly, clapping hands, whistling and cheering in appreciation. For a long time the crew had been battling the fiercest tempest they were ever likely to meet and they were worn out, recovering from a nightmare. Despair had been commonplace amongst them for the long days and nights of the storm and now they had to look forward to even longer days and nights of hard, gruelling work sailing a five-masted ship with only three poles.

They needed light entertainment now to raise their morale. Tragen knew this, as did Locklear, and the wizard was fully prepared to perform outlandishly in order to fulfil their needs.

Aidan, of course, knew his master was in one of his playful moods and he was prepared to follow Tragen’s lead—up to a point! He recalled the last occasion his master had been this jolly—he had ended up the butt of Tragen’s jokes. This time he was going to get his own back, in front of everyone, and he grinned.

‘Form a circle my friends,’ Tragen commanded. And after much shuffling and juggling for position a circle he got, though a somewhat erratic one. Tragen, his dark green robe signifying he was a master wizard, stood in the centre his hand on Aidan’s shoulder. Silently he looked around at his audience and awaited their full attention.

‘Look at Aidan, Augusta! Look at him, that boy is shaming us; look at the state of his clothes! We must wash them later, we just have to,’ Beatrix whispered as Augusta paled, Anders smiled he’d got out of doing his laundry.

Augusta shut her eyes, pain on her face. ‘They’re boys, Beattie, boys…they’re always dirty they’re supposed to be. Sh! Let’s watch.’

Tragen continued. ‘A cask if you please! Thank you my good man,’ and he stepped aside as Jason rolled the first barrel into place and upended it in front of the two performers.

‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ said the wizard, prodding Jason in the nether regions with his staff as the unfortunate sailor turned his back. The crew roared.

Jason rubbed his backside ruefully and jostled his mates as he settled again to watch the goings-on.

Tragen entered into his full patter. ‘Now, here you see an empty cask,’ and he pointed with his staff. ‘But, gentlemen, you know and I know that an empty cask is no good to any man—unless, of course, you’re drowning,’ and he winked. ‘So…we had better fill it. Aidan, kindly give us a tinkle, please,’ he ordered.

‘I beg your pardon,’ Aidan couldn’t help it, he blushed, he was going to have to bear the brunt again he knew it. The crew fell about.

‘I could do with a tinkle myself,’ a voice shouted out from the back.

Tragen looked towards the voice and intoned. ‘Beware all ye who require tinkles, for once this miracle of enchantment begins, a fair torrent may flow…and not just into this barrel.’

‘By the Gods, out of my way I need the heads,’ Nkosi, panicking, shoved through his laughing mates and ran from the circle.

Augusta looking puzzled turned to Anders. ‘What is the matter with that man, and whose head does he need?’

Beatrix leant across, and grinning, whispered into her ear. ‘The heads is a sailor’s term for latrine.’

‘Oh,’ she paused, still looking puzzled. ‘Then why did the men laugh when Tragen asked Aidan for a tinkle?’

Beatrix stared at her, saying nothing. Anders nearly bit his tongue trying to stifle his laughter.

Augusta was nonplussed until comprehension swiftly dawned on her. Shocked, she put her hands to her scarlet face and turned back to watch the two clowns at the stump of the mast.

‘Come on, my lad. Have you forgotten how to tinkle?’ Tragen asked.

Aidan looked at him and if looks could kill Tragen was dead a thousand times. Just wait master, just wait! The apprentice raised his right arm and moved his fingers and wrist in a disjointed pattern. As he did the air in front of him thickened and darkened. Everyone ceased laughing and gazed at the boy, watching his every move. Aidan continued his gyrations and moved his hand over the empty cask. The air grew even thicker and Aidan commenced his singing.

Augusta, watching him, recognized the excitement and the love of magic shining in his eyes and heard it in his voice; he had a lovely voice, she could listen to it for hours. The magic gripped her. Ever since she had held the light she had felt such a yearning, it was agonizing to watch magic and yet not have the knowledge to use it safely. She needed to be part of this and was determined that things would be different at the next show, whether Tragen liked it or not—next time she was going to take part.

Aidan continued to sing and the audience, not quite knowing what to expect, eagerly watched his every move.

Anders, who had seen this spell often, was still intrigued at the interplay between his friend and his friend’s master. Grinning, he saw it was not going to go quite the way Aidan expected and, what’s more, it would not go quite the way Tragen imagined either and he gleefully awaited the outcome.

Augusta sat spellbound; she had never experienced anything like this. The visiting magicians to the Court of Mantovar never performed their arts in a jocular manner, they were far too serious. She gripped Beattie’s hand, not taking her eyes from the spectacle, loving every minute of her friend’s antics—she was so very proud of him.

Tragen, his long white beard trailing below his waist, stood tall alongside his shorter protégé and watched as Aidan’s enchantment released a spot of water no bigger than a raindrop, from the air in front of him. The first drop of water was followed by a second and then a third, the flow akin to rainwater dripping from the eaves of a roof at the end of a short shower.

Tragen looked around at his enthralled audience, spreading his arms wide he turned to his apprentice. ‘Is that the greatest tinkle you can manage, Aidan? Strain boy…strain!’ Laughter erupted again.

Aidan looked up at him, and grimacing he sang louder relishing his revenge. The flow of water now increased to a steady, if slow, trickle.

‘Well, gentlemen, there you see a boy’s tinkle,’ the wizard smiled. ‘Now I will show you a man’s,’ and lifting his staff he pointed the knuckle at the stream of water gently falling from thin air. Tragen broke into a song that was very similar to Aidan’s, but far stronger and deeper. And it had the desired effect. The gentle stream transformed into a veritable inundation as a ray of light shot from the staff and hit the flow. The waterspout poured into the cask, filling it to overflowing within minutes. The crew watched silently, completely bewitched. All of a sudden laughter erupted at the slight problem unforeseen by both the old wizard and the young.

When the water first cascaded into the barrel, Aidan had been rather slow in moving out of the way. The first outpouring drenched him to the skin.

‘Oh, bloody hell, Master, be careful will you,’ shouted the soaking wet apprentice.

‘Tch, tch, Aidan, you should not swear in front of ladies,’ shouted Augusta before she could stop herself.

Aidan made up his mind it was now or never, his turn for some fun now. ‘Master, we need more casks quickly. Shall I stop the water while we change barrels or shall I divert the flow instead?’

Tragen, loving the situation he had created, shouted over the roar of the spouting water, not thinking for a moment of the consequences. ‘Divert of course, Aidan, divert it, there’s no need to stop it there are plenty of barrels yet.’

Anders watched an evil gleam appear on Aidan’s face, looking at the girls nervously, he warned. ‘Watch out you two, he’s up to something,’

Augusta and Beatrix, surprised, glanced at Anders quickly and then studied Aidan as the apprentice took over the chanting. The tempo of the song changed to a slower, lighter sound.

Tragen walked in a circle around his apprentice, humming to himself and bowing to his audience and every now and then dancing a little jig his back to Aidan, completely oblivious to what was happening behind him.

The stream of water, ceasing to pour into the full cask, curled upwards as Aidan sang. The spout of water formed a u-shape in mid-air. Utterly bemused some noticed a strange, manic gleam on Aidan’s face and they wondered. Fidgeting nervously, the noise diminishing, they glanced at each other, instinctively knowing that something untoward was happening.

Tragen, not detecting any difference in their manner, carried on acknowledging their reducing applause.

The end of the waterspout quickly reached a level with the outpouring from the air and then recommenced following the laws of gravity. The heavy gush of water again fell.

Tragen turned at that moment finally becoming aware of the strange behaviour of his audience, frowning he stared at Aidan,

And the water fell—smack bang on the top of Tragen’s head.

There was appalled silence, men watching astounded as the water, pouring on the wizard like a river, soaked him to the skin.

Beatrix, mortified, grabbed Anders’ hand. Aidan had really done it this time, there was no way he was going to talk himself out of this.

Augusta stared at Aidan controlling the flow of the water. His face was a picture as he stood with his arm outstretched grinning delightedly at the dumbfounded wizard. The young apprentice was wreaking his sweet revenge with crazy delight. For a moment Augusta did nothing as she looked from a soaking wet apprentice to a soaking wet wizard. Then, unable to maintain self-control over the complete absurdity of what she was witnessing, she laughed and it bubbled from her. Standing up, she lost her balance and slipped on the water sweeping across the deck. She fell to the floor and slid along the boards coming up against Tragen’s legs, knocking him to the deck alongside her.

Locklear chuckled loudly and deeply until Aidan, with the devil fully entrenched, pointed his curled fingers at the captain and saturated him next with the deluge. And then there was absolute pandemonium as Aidan, spinning in a circle the spout of water following him, aimed the water into the audience and commenced drowning everyone in sight.

 

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/popular-jokes

The teacher asked Jimmy, “Why is your cat at school today Jimmy?” Jimmy replied crying, “Because I heard my daddy tell my mommy, ‘I am going to eat that p*ssy once Jimmy leaves for school today!'”

 

Have a nice day!

 

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes

As an airplane is about to crash, a female passenger jumps up frantically and announces, “If I’m going to die, I want to die feeling like a woman.” She removes all her clothing and asks, “Is there someone on this plane who is man enough to make me feel like a woman?” A man stands up, removes his shirt and says, “Here, iron this!”.

 

Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle

Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle

 

 

 

Twelve

 

‘Oh, my poor fingers!’ groaned Aidan, holding his sore hands in the air before him, shaking them slowly in an attempt to cool the inflammation. It was dusk and they all sat in a state of utter misery in the girls’ cabin.

‘Augusta, you have a big mouth,’ he said, as she sat dejected on the end of her bed.

‘Don’t blame her, we all went along with it,’ said Anders, nursing his own hurting hands. ‘I have never smelled so bad,’ he grumbled, sniffing his clothes.

‘Oh, I don’t know…I’ve had to share your berth these last few nights,’ said Aidan laughing.

Anders, forgetting his hands a moment, threw a cushion at him and then moaned in pain as he broke another blister. Even he had found the chore exacting. Being used to manual labour, he thought, did not mean you were used to gripping a knife for hours on end, and gutting fish was not an easy job. Poor Augusta was in a dreadful state…blisters as big as apples on her palms, her fingers red and aching. The only other one to cope reasonably well was Beatrix; her hands were a lot harder than those of her mistress.

The chore had been so mind-numbingly disgusting that they had not realized that they had paired off until later. Beatrix and Anders had shared the task, the labour coming as no shock to them. Being ignored by Augusta and Aidan was an added bonus, their young love grew as they became even closer and they found it quite easy to forget the presence of the other two.

At first she had struggled, Augusta not even knowing how to hold a knife, until Dolly had taken pity on her enough to show her how to use it. Then, as Augusta assisted Aidan, they both fell into mindmelding almost by accident. At first, it had been hard going, Augusta finding it increasingly challenging to concentrate on seeking his mind and at the same time cut a fish. Aidan’s lack of patience didn’t help—he had great difficulty keeping his irritation from showing. Nevertheless, as time went on, the easier mindmelding became because of their desperation to be distracted from the appalling stench. By the time they had cleaned the last fish, mindmelding had become almost second nature for Augusta. But being taught to hide her emotions enough to remain undetectable in Aidan’s head was a dilemma that she thought she’d never overcome. But Aidan had assured her that the ability would come with time and practise; he had also found it a formidable task when Tragen had first begun his training many years before.

One pleasurable side effect of their dabbling was the fact that they discovered a mutual sense of fun – what others would call irresponsibility – throwing fish heads at each other was not everyone’s idea of enjoyment, especially when a fish’s entrails ended up down someone else’s collar! But they did forget almost entirely that Anders and Beatrix were stood at the table with them.

‘Aidan, can you do something about these, they’re very bad?’ Beatrix asked, examining Augusta’s sore fingers.

Aidan ceased his moaning and kneeling before Augusta he cradled both her hands in his. He grinned up at her.

‘Relax now and watch closely, you’ll actually see the blisters dry up. In a couple of hours the dead skin will wear away.’

Holding back her tears she stared at the white blisters on top of white blisters, hardly able to stretch her fingers out straight. Watching silently – butterflies jumping in her stomach at the thought of more magic – she could see nothing unusual happening to begin with but as his chanting, at first very low, increased in momentum, the fluid within the blisters darkened. And within moments the pustules had dried forming hard calluses, her fingers lost their crumpled whiteness and returned to a normal colour and the pain disappeared.

Thank you,’ she mindmelded as she flexed her hands, wonder replacing the glistening in her eyes.

Aidan flinched at her thanks but said nothing and he turned to Beatrix. ‘Your turn next, young lady…let me have your hands.’

Beatrix raised them for him to hold. ‘Yours are worse than mine, you should be healing your own first,’ she said as his chanting began.

‘It’s all right Tragen has a salve me and Anders can use.’

‘Why don’t you heal Anders and yourself? Wouldn’t it be easier and faster if you did?’ Augusta asked as he finished with Beattie’s hands.

Aidan looked at her in horror and, without speaking a word, strode out of the cabin to retrieve the balm from the store in his locker.

Augusta, mystified, turned to Anders. ‘Now what have I said?’

‘Don’t you remember?’ Anders replied. ‘Aidan won’t heal himself.’

‘Oh hell, I’d forgotten.’

‘Augusta your language! You’re sounding more like Aidan every day.’ Beatrix turned to Anders still holding his hands out before him being very careful not to hurt them more. ‘Why didn’t he heal you, then? Why have you to use the salve?’ She ceased her rummaging around to stare at the boy she couldn’t bear being apart from. She was tidying as usual, unable to rest in the middle of a mess.

‘Ah well, Aidan and I have an agreement of a sort. If he doesn’t heal himself he’s not to heal me—unless it’s life threatening, of course.’ Anders looked at them and grimaced. ‘Don’t say that’s a stupid vow or ask me to change my mind, Aidan and I have been friends for a lot of years, now. I’ve seen him sustain cuts and bruises loads of times; he even broke his leg once in a fall off a horse. That time his leg was bound up for a couple of months before it healed on its own, Tragen was frantic worrying about him. He’s only now recovering from a broken arm. I decided long ago that I wouldn’t allow him to heal me unless he heals himself.’

‘Then he’ll never heal me again,’ said Augusta determinedly, wondering at the same time if she’d stick to it.

‘Or me,’ added Beatrix, keeping her fingers crossed in case she ever had to keep her promise.

‘You may not have the choice, ladies,’ said Aidan, overhearing the last as he returned with a pot of unguent. And as the girls started to protest he broke in on them. ‘I’m not listening—leave it alone!’

He walked over to Anders and they both rubbed the sweet-smelling, yellow salve into their hands from the open pot between them. An abnormal silence settled in the cabin the girls, not for the first time, contemplating Aidan’s very strange attitude where healing was concerned.

Tragen appeared at the door on his way to Lady Cornelia. He spent a lot of time keeping her company these days as she could not leave the cabin, having to remain hidden from the crew. Both were happy with each other’s friendship and relieved that her masquerade as Lady Augusta appeared so successful. No-one, as yet, had questioned the fact that their princess was still suffering seasickness.

He looked in at them puzzled over the lack of noise. ‘Hello, what have we here? Taking a well-earned breather from your chores I see.’

Receiving dirty looks he thought better than to wait for any retort. ‘Aidan, we have a job to do tomorrow,’ and four pairs of ears perked up. ‘Yes…we are going to replenish the drinking water; barrels are being checked as we speak. The captain has been worrying because the remainder of what we have will last only a few days more and that’s with rationing. So be ready in the morning and be well rested the incantation may have to last quite a while.’ With one last look he escaped swiftly before any questions were voiced.

Augusta and Beatrix gazed excitedly at Aidan, the atmosphere changing instantly.

‘Go on, tell us what you and he are going to do…how do you extract water, and from what?’ Augusta asked.

‘Oh, it’s dead easy that spell,’ Aidan replied, looking around smugly. ‘Tragen will either use his staff to create the spell and I’ll keep it going using my hands, or I’ll create it and he’ll keep it going,’ he paused, staring down at his fingers stretched out before him, evidence of their activities in the afternoon showing beneath his fingernails. He’d have to scrub them, he thought, before helping his master or the fish debris would contaminate the clean water.

Augusta punched him on his shoulder. ‘Come on, tell us the rest. Where does the water come from and what exactly have you to do. And why haven’t you got your staff yet?’

‘Ouch, that hurt,’ he said, rubbing his shoulder, ‘slow down and give me a chance.’

He waited until he could see suspense killing them before resuming. ‘Okay, Tragen will stand somewhere on deck and hold his staff out in front of him. He’ll chant the spell and water droplets will appear in the air. The droplets will form a cascade and he’ll pour it into the water barrels. Dead simple,’ he said, ‘once the water is falling into the barrels I’ll take over as the power of the staff won’t be needed any longer. I’ll make sure the flow doesn’t stop until all the barrels are full. Just like magic,’ he said smiling, rubbing his dirty fingernails against his shirt.

‘Aye, but don’t forget,’ added Anders, ‘the longer you have to keep the spell going, the more tired you’re going to get. So I suggest we all get to sleep before long.’

‘Wait a moment,’ interrupted Beatrix, who was now sitting on the floor her attention as fervent as that of Augusta. ‘You haven’t told us why you haven’t got a staff. I’ve noticed Tragen’s—it’s very beautiful. Why won’t he give you a staff or at least allow you to use his?’

‘It’s a long story, I’ll tell you in the morning.’

‘No way, you tell us now, or we won’t be able to sleep,’ ordered Augusta. ‘You are not going anywhere yet.’

Aidan looked at his three friends and thought of Tragen’s bewilderingly magical staff, recalling the dream he had nurtured now for almost ten years. For all of that time he had watched his master use the fabled wizard’s staff and had felt a hunger as acute as starvation to have his own.

‘Okay, listen up,’ he smiled and settled himself comfortably on the floor alongside Beatrix. Augusta curled up on her bed not taking her eyes off him. Anders, having heard the story many times before, sat the other side of Beatrix.

And as the story progressed Aidan brought to life his love of magic for them all to see. Augusta’s eyes gleamed.

He began with the teachings of Tragen’s old master, Herman, a wizard so old at the time of his demise that no one could remember who had been on the throne when he’d been birthed. Tragen had been devastated for months, and still talked of Herman as if he was still alive. Aidan, smiling at his master’s stories of his mentor, wanted to tell him that Herman’s spirit was still alive and well—on the other side of death. But he knew his master wasn’t yet ready to understand that.

The wizard, Herman, had shown great patience when teaching Tragen the intricacies of constructing his own staff. Indeed, Tragen was now showing the same patience over these intervening years in instructing Aidan.

The methods needed to create a staff required an extraordinary physical energy, and a prodigious mental strength. Both could only be acquired over years of an exhausting apprenticeship, a traineeship that sometimes lasted a lifetime. Each apprentice was taught that he and only he knew when to make his staff. The staff signified the end of the traineeship, the time when he must leave his master—although making the staff was not the end of learning. No wizard was the same and no wizard’s staff was the same.

The staff that became a wizard’s life companion was unique and colossally powerful. For not only was the staff a corporeal object it was also sentient; it held a part of its maker’s soul.

Memories of its forming flitted through it constantly—memories of its mother trees, and of the soil in which the trees grew. Recollections of the forests and woods and groves; and of the sunlight they stretched towards and the moonlight under which they rested. The staff remembered the life that dwelled in the mother trees, the sap that gave it life, the insects crawling beneath the bark, the birds nesting in the branches, and seeds grown to fly away in the wind to grow other trees. The staff recalled the winds and the rains, the droughts and the famines.

It also retained memories of its maker.

Aidan without warning stopped and looked up at his friends. ‘Am I boring you?’

‘No, get on with it,’ they chanted in unison.

Each wizard chanted a mantra as he searched for the mother tree’s location and, when discovered, each tree answered. The wizard sang his request of the tree; he sang as he made the incision taking no more and no less of the timber than was required, removing the sliver in one cut. He chanted his gratitude as he wrapped the piece to preserve it until the other woods were found.

Many different woods were required, the number dictated by the woods themselves. In Tragen’s staff had been melded woods from three trees found many leagues apart. Tragen had travelled to far Birkton to find the Tree of Horns growing high in the snow-capped Scissor Mountains. Chanting the spell whilst removing the paring had taken days, infinite care had been employed. Then there were the searches for the other two woods, Bellwood from Arken, and Spotsbush, which he had found eventually, after months of searching, not far from where he lived in Mantovar. It had been the red stained, yellow Spotsbush which had let Tragen know it was the last required.

The actual melding of the three woods into one indestructible stave had been a long process, intricate and totally astounding. Forming the knuckle at the top with just the heat of his hands had exhausted him more than anything else had as once the process of configuring its shape had started it could not be halted. He had persevered, undergoing a loving task with no time for food, only water sipped as he sang. Then he had the task of moulding the taper at the base of the staff—a taper that ended in a point so hard and keen no mortal means could ever blunt it. Tragen was skin and bone at the end of the staff’s creation—skin and bone, and ecstatic.

Aidan told of the staff memorizing the sound of its maker’s voice…the different cadences and rhythms as Tragen chanted. It learned the smell of its maker’s body, the taste of his sweat and the feel of its maker’s skin as he caressed the woods. It felt the love pouring into it and accompanying that love all the memories of its maker. The staff had become a spiritual being as it absorbed its maker’s entity. And it shared the wizard’s life not as a tool but as a partner.

It was an immensely powerful object and only Tragen could use it. No other wizard would even attempt to touch another’s staff as the unique force contained within, could send another into oblivion. Occasionally a wizard would allow a loved one, and only a loved one, to hold the staff as it would recognize its maker’s love bestowed on another. This was why Tragen had allowed Aidan to hold his staff during his spell-casting of the shield. Tragen and Aidan loved each other as father and son, and Tragen’s staff, recognizing this, had allowed Aidan to add his strength to that of his master.

Aidan concluded. ‘Now do you understand why I can’t use Tragen’s staff? He can give it to me to hold, or I can fetch it for him, but if I attempted to create a spell with it the power would kill me.’ The others nodded spellbound with his tale.

‘When will you be ready for your staff?’ Beatrix asked a few minutes later, staring wide-eyed at the nearly wizard, her friend.

‘I have no idea. It may be years yet, after all I don’t reach the age of manhood until next year…I think,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘Do you know how many woods you’ll need, because when you go searching I want to go with you?’ said Anders. ‘I want to watch you make your staff if I can.’

‘Aye, course you can, but you’d find it boring, though…I wouldn’t have time to talk to you when I’m actually making it. As for the number of woods, I won’t know until I’ve found the first, because the first will send me to another, and so on.’

‘Could you stop at one wood?’ Beatrix asked utterly enthralled.

‘There’s a legend that says a staff made from the wood of a certain single tree would be the most powerful in the world. No other staff would survive in a contest of wills. That wood is from the Tree of Paradise, which is a legend itself; no one has ever discovered the site of one.’ They sat silently, completely mesmerized by the story.

‘How come you don’t know your age, Aidan,’ asked Augusta out of the blue.

‘That’s another long story that will definitely keep for another day. I believe it’s now time for us to leave, I’m knackered.’

As Aidan and Anders left, Beatrix shouted after them smiling as she did so. ‘You are not supposed to swear in front of ladies. And do not say we are not ladies!’ Laughing she closed the door as the boys departed along the passageway to Anders’ berth.

‘I can’t wait for the morning, Beattie. I wonder if he’ll allow me to help,’ she hunched her shoulders, a calculating look in her eyes. ‘Well, he is supposed to teach me magic, isn’t he? I wonder if I’ll ever get to make a staff.

Beatrix said nothing, feeling very nervous all of a sudden.

 

Leash had just finished his duty at the helm and was lying in his ‘pit’ as sailors called their cot. He was still seething over his plans coming to naught. His hatred of the wizard was growing if that was possible. Every time he failed to hurt the boy, Leash loathed him the more. He often saw the wizard’s boy walking about the ship but the boy was never alone, at least one of the brats serving the prince’s daughter always accompanied him. If he could manage to catch the apprentice on his own then it would be no problem to throw him overboard after making sure he could not call for help. Lying in his bed and staring at the deckhead above him he thought about the several ways in which he could kill the boy—and anticipated immense pleasure in the actual act of slaying him. But because the boy had had the luck to survive his previous murderous attempts Leash began to hate the young wizard as much as he hated the old.

There was one distinct advantage in going after the boy, though, besides the boy’s size and age. Aidan had no staff. Leash was mortally afraid of Tragen’s staff. It had ruined his life, taken all his hope, his means of remaining safe – all that was precious – and that he could never forgive.

Leash lay on his bed tossing and turning. There had to be a way of getting the boy alone. He closed his eyes and turned over to sleep, settling to dream the same dream that he had every night—the one that made him feel safe—but she was not happy with him.

 

Anders had given in to his friend’s nagging and again given up his cot on the grounds that Aidan would probably have nightmares again through lack of sleep. The cabin boy had claimed blackmail but didn’t want him returning to his own berth, he’d not be able to keep an eye on him there.

Aidan, of course, didn’t want to return for his own reasons. Firstly, he had the knack of always being able to persuade Anders to fetch and carry for him. Anders, not realizing this, had stated many times that Aidan could charm the hind legs off a donkey but he would never fall for his tricks. Secondly, Aidan would have had to sleep on a bed with a hole in the middle of it, and last but not least—Tragen rattled the walls with his snoring.

Lying on his back Anders asked. ‘You did mean it didn’t you? You will take me when you search for your staff, won’t you?’

Aidan peered down at his friend. ‘Aye, I meant it. But what if we’re not friends when it’s time for me to leave?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ scoffed Anders, ‘we’ll always be friends.’ And he turned on his side—Aidan did irritate him on times.

A little while later Anders unable to sleep looked up at Aidan. ‘Hey, are you awake?’

‘No.’

‘If I ask you something I don’t want you saying anything to her … OK?’

Aidan turned over and stared down at his friend. ‘All right, you can bring her as well.’

‘You know then?’

‘What, that you’re nuts on Beattie? I think everyone knows.’

‘Oh, God, you don’t think she’s aware of it, do you?’ Anders asked, fear knotting his belly.

‘I expect so. Now go to sleep!’

God, Anders thought if she does, how am I going to face her in the morning?

But little did either of them know that Anders would be the first to discover the Tree of Paradise and when he did, Aidan and he would both be in a very strange association.

 

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes

How did the medical community come up with the term “PMS”? “Mad Cow Disease” was already taken.

 

Have a nice day!

 

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/national-jokes

China, Russia, and Poland venture to space. China says they’ll go to Pluto because it’s the farthest. Russia says they’ll go to Jupiter because it’s the biggest. Poland says they’ll go to the Sun. Russia and China warn that they’ll melt. They reply, “We’ll go at night.”

A view through an arrow slit in Castle Mantovar (Castell Coch)

A view through an arrow slit in Castle Mantovar (Castell Coch)

Eleven

That night Anders lay awake on a palliasse on the floor, anxious, staring at the deckhead, the ceiling above him, waiting for the next vision, or portent, or nightmare whatever, to strike Aidan. He lay listening to every board creak alongside his head, jumping every time Aidan took a deep breath or snored. But exhaustion won in the end and in the small hours his young body succumbed to the need for sleep.

Anders left Aidan in bed and went to fetch Locklear’s breakfast and washing water. On returning, he found the apprentice had not risen. ‘Not getting up today?’            Aidan, at first, lay on the bed tossing and turning. He was tense and very afraid of contacting their enemy in his sleep. Debating with himself, he preferred to be aware of the unknown foe whilst awake; he’d have more control perhaps. Giving in to temptation he attempted to mindmeld, searching him out, a very dangerous strategy he could so easily be discovered—and he knew in his heart of hearts that he needed to keep his presence a secret. The enemy knowing of one wizard would take protective measures to nullify Tragen’s abilities. If the enemy succeeded in disabling Tragen then having another wizard nearby could seriously upset his plans. But, of course, there was now a third wizard on board and her safety was paramount—she had to be kept hidden at all costs. Aidan was restless far into the small hours, eventually falling asleep as dawn was breaking. He had no visions that night but his lack of sleep still meant he woke bleary eyed and still tired when Anders rose next morning.

‘Did I dream?’

‘No.’

‘Did you hear me say anything…anything at all?’

‘No, all I heard was you snoring.’ He paused and gazed at his friend. ‘Come on, me and the girls have got us all breakfast so move quickly or it’ll get cold. Mind you it was going cold anyway; Dolly was showing us his knife juggling tricks,’ Anders said, a look of pure pleasure appearing on his face. ‘That man is a true artist throwing the blades around, you know. He showed us this trick with a misericorde that was really amazing. He frightened the life out of Leash,’ his grin widening at the memory, ‘he threw one at him and it nearly parted his hair when it stuck in the pillar behind him. Everyone laughed, except Leash of course, he snarled and stormed off.’

‘What’s a misericorde?’

‘Oh, a small dagger used to finish off your opponent.’ Aidan asked, mystified. But his look changed to horror as Anders concluded.

‘It’s thrust into the neck to sever the windpipe.’

‘Bloody hell, Anders…no more!’ Aidan shuddered. ‘Leash, he’s the one who was near me when I fell the other day on the quarterdeck. Come to think of it he never made a move to help me, did he?’

‘Nah,’ said Anders, ‘he’s a very strange one he is. You know, I don’t think he has any friends at all.’

Aidan sat very pensive. ‘Aye, there’s something about that man that’s not quite right. Have you noticed his eyes? He’s always staring into space as if he’s seeing someone else and I’ve heard him talking to himself a lot.’

‘Agh…maybe he’s just very lonely,’ Anders shrugged, after all he was also guilty of just that lately, thinking of Beatrix. ‘He’s a loner sure enough. Now, come on shift, let’s see what the girls have planned for us today.’

What they had planned was lesson time, Aidan being the teacher, Augusta his pupil and the other two eavesdropping.

Strolling up on deck they encountered the sun for the first time in days. No rain or drizzle, bright sunlight, calm seas and a warm breeze greeting them as they settled themselves amidships at the foot of the demolished mainmast. Trumper had been busy and his work had thwarted their attempt to relax on the foc’s’le. The bo’sun had spread several canvases across the deck and was preparing to sew them together to make a larger sail to replace the mainsail. Not that the four wanted to be anywhere near the canvases—they were mouldy and smelled abominably having been submerged in the sail locker for days. As it was, a team of sailors were washing it down, sloshing buckets of seawater everywhere.

It wasn’t long before Aidan stretched out in his usual position, flat on his back with his head resting on Augusta’s lap, she didn’t seem to mind. Anders and Beatrix were also in their favourite position, seated together automatically reaching for each other’s hand. They savoured the balmy weather, relaxing silently just soaking up the sun and listening to the shrill voices of a family of dolphins swimming alongside, their sleek shiny bodies glistening as they leapt and dived amongst the shoal of herring that was providing them with nourishment.

They weren’t allowed to remain at peace for long, though; a flurry of activity disturbed them as a party of sailors flung a small net over the side to catch the remaining fish before they disappeared down the throats of the large mammals. The net went into the water twice more before the shoal took the hint and fled, along with the dolphins.

‘Frigging fish! I suppose that’s all we’ll live off for weeks now,’ moaned Dolly.

Aidan opened his eyes and looked around, noticing the ship’s cook for the first time. With a very forlorn look on his face Dolly stared as each heavy load of fish was swung inboard using a temporary davit.

On the quarterdeck, Locklear and Tragen also watched the fishing, so did Leash at the wheel, seething. His mind a turmoil, he’d just heard Locklear thank the Gods for this fresh food. Leash’s plans fell apart; hiding contraband food in the wizard’s cabin had been a pure waste of time. He was going to have to think of something else—maybe hide fresh water instead?

‘Catching enough fish to supplement the rations is a godsend, Tragen,’ said Locklear. ‘If we can make landfall within the next week, and if the shoals are as plentiful as this, we will have no fear of starving.’ He clapped Tragen on the shoulders, wearing the first smile on his face for days. ‘The only concern I have now is that the drinking water will not last.’

‘My friend, you can be very dense on times,’ he smiled. ‘Your best friend is a wizard, is he not? One of the easiest spells to conjure is that of extracting water from the very air we breathe. And just as easy is the conjuration to summon fish,’ he watched as comprehension dawned in Locklear’s eyes.

‘You mean I worry for naught?’ said Locklear.

‘Aye, my friend,’ and the wizard laughed. ‘There is no water or food shortage, I and my staff will see to that,’ and he tapped it as it lay snug against his neck. ‘Even Aidan can conjure the water, only at a slower pace as he has not yet his own staff. And he is quite adept at summoning fish, although he does tend to find the wrong kind. No, my friend, what we have to worry about is our destination.’

The ship shuddered as Leash’s hands convulsed on the wheel, disappointment a physical pain.

‘Careful helmsman, keep your mind on your job,’ chided the captain as he turned to the wizard. ‘Come; let us go to my cabin. We can discuss our course as we take refreshment. I’ll send for Hopper.’

‘Dolly, how come you hate fish so much?’ Aidan asked as the others sat idly by listening. Aidan stood beside the short, fat man and joined him in staring out over the clear blue ocean, the dolphins barely in sight at the horizon.

The cook glanced at the young boy and wondered if he could trust him. Dolly’s natural caginess when talking to wizards seemed to lift with this boy, this young one had never posed a threat. Yet Dolly knew that wizards should be avoided until needed, at least the ones he’d met previously. But Aidan had an open face, no guile in his manner and moreover his reputation for healing was the best. Dolly sighed, his need to talk of it after all this time, overwhelming. He had bottled it up for years and it was eating him up inside. This young healer and his friends had always shown him kindness; never ridiculed him…did they have a sympathetic ear? There was only one way to find out and perhaps speaking of the tragedy would help ease his pain.

He said very seriously, tears started welling in his eyes. ‘My ma…she was et by a fish…years ago.’

The four friends stared at the cook disbelieving their hearing but as the import of his words sunk in Beatrix had to kick Anders to stop him laughing out loud. Augusta stood; biting her lip to stop smiling she went and stood the other side of the little man.

‘What do you mean, Dolly…et…I mean eaten…by a real fish?’ Augusta asked.

‘Aye, o’ course it were real!’ he paused. ‘It were a whale as big as our ship what did eat her. I saw it when I were little. I saw it gobble her up and…and ever since, every time I handle a fish, every time I get ready to gut it I expect to find bits o’ me ma inside.’ And the little cook stared into Augusta’s face the tears now brimming in his eyes. ‘I never told anyone afore,’ he said, his voice cracking. ‘They all think I’m barmy cos I don’t like fish,’ and he rubbed his eyes with his rough red hands, ‘an’ I don’ wan’ them to know, alrigh’.’

‘Okay, we won’t let on,’ said Aidan, having great difficulty in keeping a straight face. ‘But how did it happen?’

Dolly gazed around at them through watery eyes, and he sniffed. ‘I blame me da…it were his fault he…he shouldn’t have asked her how many candles she’d bought that week.’

‘Candles…’ said Anders, his mouth agape. ‘What’s it to do with candles?’

‘Well it were coming on to night and he needed more light to cook by in the galley. He always did the cooking. He taught me all I know about it, did me dada, see. So, this one night, he stuck his head up through the hatchway and asked me ma how many candles she’d bought cos he wanted to light an extra one. Well that did it…me ma did her nut.’ He turned his head for a moment and spat phlegm over the side.

Beatrix trying not to grimace at the cook’s gross behaviour couldn’t help but ask. ‘What has that got to do with your ma…I mean your mother being eaten by a fish?’

‘Ah, she were drunk on account of feeling a bit guilty, see, and she were in a bad mood cos of it. She shouted at me da and asked him what he meant by that remark. Well me da was truly flummoxed at that. Cos what he didn’t know, but as everyone else did…me ma was getting more than candles off the candlemaker. If you know what I mean,’ and he winked.

‘Go on Dolly, what happened next?’ Augusta asked intrigued and puzzled at the same time…what else did candlemakers sell? The others were no longer laughing either, all totally immersed in the emerging story.

‘Well, there was me da, his head sticking up out of the hatchway…a perfect target, so me ma musta thought. She picked up a belaying pin alongside her and took a huge swing at his head,’ as he said this Dolly started weeping again. ‘Me da saw the pin coming and ducked…and that’s when it happened. Me ma couldn’t stop her swing and she lost her balance, slipped and fell overboard.’ He put his hands over his face and continued, bereft. ‘There was this enormous great whale swimming alongside us, and…and she fell straight into its mouth.’ He sniffed and looked up at the four friends. ‘We never saw her again.’

Aidan looked at him, astounded at the thought of someone having the extraordinary bad fortune to fall to such an unbelievable death. And he was bewildered at how Dolly thought it was his father’s fault.

‘I’m sorry Dolly but I don’t understand…how was your father to blame?’

‘He shouldn’t have ducked! Her swing would have stopped if he hadn’t dropped his head. Instead…’ and he burst into tears again.

Augusta and Beatrix put their arms around his shoulders, comforting him and at the same time trying not to look at each other in case they burst into laughter. The boys turned away desperately attempting to keep silent but turned back sharply when Augusta spoke.

‘Dolly, we’re so sorry. I tell you what…we’ll help you. We’ll gut the fish and you can cook them, all right?’

The ship’s cook looked at her with a glimmer in his eyes, and then stared around at the others. ‘Would you really…I could manage if you did that.’

Aidan, Anders and Beatrix were aghast but it was already too late to get out of it.

Augusta what are you saying. That’s a horrible, stinking job. It’s backbreaking and we’ll smell for days and days,’ Aidan complained.

Oh, she replied, ‘I never thought of that. Still, we’ll manage…the poor man!’ She continued loudly so all could hear. ‘We don’t mind Dolly, we understand how you feel. You just tell us when you want us to start and we’ll be there.’

‘Good,’ he said, and pulling himself together, he smiled. ‘You had better start right away. The fish will need cleaning as soon as possible or they’ll go off. I have to salt them before they go into the bins…come on.’

And before the friends knew it, they were up to their armpits in fish guts, everyone else keeping their distance, and sharks swimming alongside making a feast of the entrails.

Tragen and Hopper, sitting opposite Locklear in his cabin, were imbibing Locklear’s best Gilian. The stern gallery window was open and a cooling sea breeze played amongst the captain’s papers, riffling them gently, not enough to blow them to the floor.

‘Hugo, do you have any idea now of where we are?’ Tragen asked, relaxing for the first time in days.

‘Aye, man,’ replied Hugo, his deep-set eyes twinkling, as he sipped the brandy. ‘Ah, that’s good!’ He rolled it around his mouth anticipating the warm feeling he would get as it trickled slowly down his throat to hit his stomach. ‘Hopper and I took sightings of the stars as soon as they appeared last night. We confirmed our position at noon, today. We are a very long way off course somewhere to the south and west of Drakka. Aye, my friend,’ he said to the dismayed Tragen. ‘We are now farther from home than when we set out.’

Hopper broke in. ‘And in answer to your next question we have estimated we are now about four weeks normal sailing from where the storm first hit us. And if we can turn about and make it back to that point we would still have another three weeks to the river into Mantovar.’

‘By the Gods,’ Tragen pulled at his beard. ‘Seven weeks from home and we still have to make landfall first to affect repairs. I never thought the storm would have driven us at such a speed.’

‘Neither did I, ‘said the captain, ‘but Hopper and I are agreed on our position. It confirms what we thought at the outset…our unknown antagonist must be very powerful indeed.  We have pulled the charts, such as they are for this area, and we have several options before us.’

Hugo rose from his chair carrying his brandy and walked to the chart table, the others followed. A large, mostly blank parchment, held open at each corner by various objects from Hugo’s desk, lay on the table. Their destination, the river mouth in Mantovar, was inked in at the top right hand corner easily recognizable. A little way south of there a heavy line was drawn, its direction southwest. The line started at a point just off the coast of Drakka in the east where a large cross indicating the point at which they’d encountered the storm had also been inked in. There were islands situated in the bottom left hand corner and midway to the north, opposite the coast of Mantovar another smaller set of islands, these looked to be at an equal distance from Mantovar as the Grim was now. Taking all the space at the top of the chart was the land of the frozen desert, a vast area dwarfing Mantovar and Drakka. All three men bent over the map taking in its lack of detail.

‘This is the course we have been blown along,’ said Hugo, running his finger along the line south-westwards from the storm. ‘To the east of us lies the southern coast of Drakka, to the north of Drakka is Mantovar. Between us and home is the storm.’ He looked up at his companions. ‘We obviously cannot attempt Mantovar in the ship’s present state.’

‘These islands ahead of us, Hugo, what are they?’ asked Tragen.

‘They are the Griffin Islands…Hopper knows them better than me.’

‘I’ve only been there once, Milord, for a period of a few weeks, the ship I was on stopped in for repairs.’ Hopper grimaced and went on, not very happily. ‘There are about forty or fifty islands scattered over about a thousand leagues. The vast majority of the islands are too small for people to live on but there are other, larger islands that are inhabited. There are fisher folk on most of the islands, of course, and some of the larger are home to farmers and also to ironworkers. The largest island, Griffin, is huge and has its own iron mines and foundries. Surplus ore and raw iron is exported to markets all over the world.

‘There is a monastery on Sanctity, the next largest island. The monks from there used to roam all over the isles, they were the local healers, but for some reason they ceased their travelling and I never knew why,’ Hopper frowned. ‘There is talk of islands disappearing and then reappearing. I could not get to the bottom of that tale and I must admit I did not heed the stories much; they seemed to be used as a threat to get children to behave. But people do disappear on Griffin and each time there is a link to green devils. Who they are I’ve no idea…it’s probably just another local superstition.’

‘Green devils? I wonder if they mean the Green People,’ interrupted Tragen, scratching his head.

‘Who are they?’ asked Locklear.

‘I can’t, for the life of me, remember anything much about them, except that they were supposedly the guardians of nature and that they disappeared from the face of the earth along with the elves.’

‘Are any islands wooded, Hopper?’ asked Locklear, losing interest.

‘There are trees suitable to supply many masts. They are all on Sanctity.’

‘Good, good,’ Locklear’s eyes gleamed, ‘if we agree on the Griffin Islands as our destination then we’ll head for Sanctity as soon as possible.’

‘How about these islands to the north,’ Tragen prodded the point on the map to the west of Mantovar, ‘are these the Onyx isles?’

Hugo nodded. ‘Those we both know, eh Hopper?’

‘Aye, the isles of plenty…plenty of wine and women. The Pleasure Isles some name them.’

‘Home to brigands, a nastier, more terrible set of pirates you could not meet anywhere else in the world.’ Locklear straightened his back and paced the floor a moment before returning to stare at the chart. ‘I have fought them many times, they are a relentless foe. The worst of them are led by Captain Jos Osvaldo in his ship the Lobos. They do not surrender…ever, but they will to the Grim—one day. Once Osvaldo is engaged in conflict, it is a battle to the death…the death of the ship. The victims, whatever’s left of them, are overpowered and taken into slavery and the ship disappears, sunk or taken for purposes of their own, its name changed. We have fought him many times and he has always found us too strong, but it doesn’t stop him wanting the Grim.’ He looked at Tragen, purposefully. ‘That is the last place we should make for with the Grim in this condition, and with Augusta aboard.’

‘Where then, return to Drakka and await the storm’s ending?’

‘How do we know it hasn’t ended already? How do we know that it’s not awaiting our next move home?’ The ship’s master was troubled. ‘Besides, Drakka is as far away as Mantovar. No, Tragen, we gain nothing by returning there.’

‘Unless we were to take Augusta home on the overland trek up the Great Northern Road,’ said Tragen, ‘it is an option that is also open to us.’

‘Aye, but that would mean passing through the Drikander and the inhabitants of that forest have no love for the emperor. Besides it wouldn’t solve the problem of getting the Grim to Mantovar, and I will not leave my ship behind,’ stated Locklear in no uncertain terms.

‘Where then? You’ve ruled out Mantovar and Drakka, you say the Onyx Isles are too dangerous for Augusta. I rule out the frozen wastes of the north…’

‘Why do that, Milord? If we proceed from Griffin straight north to the frozen desert, we avoid the brigands and the storm. We can sail southwards from there following the coast and enter the river from the north. I know it will take us months once we have our masts, but it seems the safer route to me,’ Hopper said, staring curiously at the wizard.

Tragen stared out of the cabin window at the ship’s white wake, it was a pleasing sight after the black violence of the previous days…a pity his thoughts weren’t so pleasant. Should I tell them all of it, he reflected. The frozen desert frightened him to death, not because of what it was, but because of what was hidden there.

On the shores of the cold north lived the greatest warriors in the known world. They were giants, an ancient people, older than the elves and dragons and green people. The giants and their families followed the more peaceful occupations of whalers and seal hunters, but they never forgot their primary purpose. They patrolled the rugged terrain from one end of the coast to the other, continuously. Working out of harbours that froze solid in winter the Giants were a people that thrived in isolation, making contact with the outside world only to trade for grain and metal goods. They did not welcome strangers in their homeland and were truly savage when riled.

The giants, though, did not scare the wizard; they weren’t the reason for his anxiety. He could handle them easily enough after all the wizards had placed them there originally, though it was so long ago most wizards had forgotten it.

However, leagues inland in the midst of the glaciers and broken ice plateaux, was a place he could never handle. He shuddered remembering the legends. Legends he knew to be true.

He turned from the window and looked at the two big men for a moment. ‘No, my friends, the cold north holds something that no mortal man should even acknowledge exists let alone approach. It is the habitat of the Ringwold.’

Hopper sucked breath through his teeth. ‘They are a tale of nightmares surely…stories to frighten children. Are you saying that it really exists?’ he asked, incredulously.

‘Ah, my friends, it seems that I must confirm your worst fears concerning wizards.’ At their quizzical looks he continued. ‘Wizards have always been highly secretive and this makes us doubly suspicious in your eyes,’ he paused a moment to collect his thoughts.

‘I must tell of a responsibility that wizards took upon themselves without thought of consulting others. An action that we deemed so vital to protect the earth that we dared not trust anyone else, except for the elves as we needed the dragons. We arrogantly thought ourselves to be so superior there was no need to inform those of lesser abilities…a belief that has, inevitably, led to our downfall. No-one trusts us now.’ He went and sat in his seat at Hugo’s desk.

‘Exasperated mothers, to quell the noise made by their offspring, have often used the Ringwold as a deterrent. I don’t know why this is so, I have never been able to understand how frightening a child to death will bring that loving child comfort. The tales are horrendous of course, bogeymen, witches, trolls and demons, “they will all come and eat you up if you don’t go to sleep”. By the Gods, how can anyone sleep if they know of those vile creatures?’

Tragen sat in his chair and with his elbows resting on the arms he placed his fingertips together and pursed his lips in thought. ‘Legends are born from facts that have become distorted over the centuries, and if no new concepts emerge then old ideas become even more coloured. This suited us wizards we used it to ensure your safety.’ He stared at his friends’ consternation.

‘We had to find a means to ensure that mortals stayed away from the interior of the icy wastes. Aeons ago we asked volunteers to live on the shores of the desert. These volunteers would live by hunting and fishing the great mammals that abounded there. The main objective of these people however, was to turn all others away…deter any who wished to journey inland. The only ones to come forward were the giants, unsurprising really as they love the sea and are impervious to the cold. Apparently this strategy has succeeded so well that the volunteers have now become indigenous to that part of the world. They have settled in so deeply that their purpose of deterrence has become ingrained. No-one can get past them.’

‘Aye, that’s true enough,’ said Locklear, ‘I know men that have tried…they barely escaped with their lives.’ He gazed at the troubled wizard. ‘All right, you have told us that we should not go there. I know something of what’s up there, or at least dark rumours of the place, enough to worry me profoundly, can you tell us more? Can you tell us of the Ringwold inhabitants?’

‘I wish I could but I cannot. Wait!’ and he waved his hands to silence both his companions. ‘Please let me explain before shouting me down…I am talking of a thousand years ago…or more. The sorcerers of that time knew the Ringwold intimately.’ He blanched at how well they did know it. It had been the Black Sorcerers that had created the place; the White Wizards – with the help of dragons – had enclosed it. He could never tell these the whole truth.

‘We have known, for what seems forever, that knowledge of the inhabitants was too dangerous to document and so the lore was handed down by word of mouth, wizard to wizard. We know now that was also a mistake. The time has now been so long that even we wizards have forgotten the salient facts.

‘Except for one unassailable truth—if the inhabitants of the Ringwold ever come south then the world as we know it ends.’

Tragen stood and stared long and hard at both of his comrades. ‘We must never think of going north to the wastes. If you do, then I will do all in my considerable power to stop you.’

Hugo stared up at him silently; he had never heard that tone from the wizard in all their years together. ‘Then you believe all these nightmare figures of trolls and bogeymen, goblins and ghouls, to be true, my friend?’

‘Not as stated in threats by irate mothers, no…but they are based on indisputable fact. Whatever is in the Ringwold is devastating for mankind.’

‘But surely,’ Hopper interrupted, ‘we need not go that far north. I’m not on about making landfall; I’m talking about following the coastline.’

‘We do not know for sure the origin of this storm. If it stems from the Ringwold then it would be likely we’d encounter the storm again in that region. We may even be forced to land. We cannot risk it!’ Tragen, his stare implacable, silenced them both.

‘Then that makes the decision easier, I suppose,’ and at their looks Locklear continued. ‘There is only one option…the Griffin Islands. Let us hope and pray that young Beatrix is wrong and that whoever created that storm is not before us. What else can you tell us of the islands, Hopper?’

‘Before I do, you haven’t mentioned Blackfire, that’s only five days sailing due south of here.’

‘I would rather not go anywhere near the Siren with only three masts. If we were rigged as we should be I’d take a chance. But, of course, if we were there’d be no need to consider the option at all. The Griffin islands are our best bet, they’re roughly the same distance, and they have food, water and masts. We’ll leave Blackfire as a last resort.’ Locklear sighed, tugging at his beard he stared out the open window.

‘Tell us of the islands, Hopper,’ Tragen asked breaking the silence.

‘The only one I landed on was Griffin. It has an enclosed deep-water harbour, very busy, mainly used by the large ocean-going vessels carrying iron-ore and coke. But it also has a very healthy trade in other goods, usually those from farther west; they also trade in fertilizer and some say slaves from the south, the Dark Continent, I believe…not that I ever saw any of those poor people. But like all successful ports it has a cross-section of people, a fair share of them on the seedier side of life. There are two clans on that island and they, if not in actual open warfare, carry out a clandestine violence—they detest each other and people do die.’

‘Do they have any military?’ Locklear asked.

‘Not as such, armed militia certainly and a small, highly professional navy is needed to protect against the brigands from the north and to deter smugglers…it is rife. The Portolans, the clan in the south, have full control over both the militia and the navy and they have a giant of a man leading them. The Montetors of the north have their own forces, from what I could gather at the time, more covert than overt.’

‘Do we have cause to worry, if we ask for aid?’ Tragen asked.

‘I believe not, Milord. But circumstances can change in ten years.’

‘Then we will play it by ear,’ and with that Locklear took up the flagon of brandy and poured them all a new and larger mug of the amber nectar.

Tragen mulled over these new concerns, and then his mind recalled the worries that Beatrix had voiced. Was she correct? Was the foe on Griffin or perhaps on Sanctity or any other of the smaller islands? If she was right—he had no idea how to proceed.

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/national-jokes

A Polish man, a German guy, and an American dude, climb a mountain because they each want to make a wish from the genie on the top. When they make it to the top, they find the lamp and all rub it. The genie appears and says, “For your wish to be granted, you must yell it out while you are jumping off of this mountain.” So the German jumps off and yells, “I wish to be a fighter plane!” “So be it,” the genie says, and the German becomes a plane. The American jumps off and yells, “I wish to be an eagle!” “So be it,” the genie says, and the American becomes an eagle and flies away. The Polish man runs to the edge, accidentally trips on a rock, and yells, “I wish to b- oh S**t!”

Have a nice day!

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/latest-jokes

A man was driving and saw a truck stalled on the side of the highway that had ten penguins standing next to it. The man pulled over and asked the truck driver if he needed any help. The truck driver replied, “If you can take these penguins to the zoo while I wait for AAA that will be great!” The man agreed and the penguins hopped into the back of his car. Two hours later, the trucker was back on the road again and decided to check on the penguins. He showed up at the zoo and they weren’t there! He headed back into his truck and started driving around the town, looking for any sign of the penguins, the man, or his car. While driving past a movie theater, the truck driver spotted the guy walking out with the ten penguins. The truck driver yelled, “What are you doing? You were supposed to take them to the zoo!” The man replied, “I did and then I had some extra money so I took them to go see a movie.”

 

The winch room atop the portcullis (Castell Coch)

The winch room atop the portcullis (Castell Coch)

 

Ten

 

‘What’s wrong, Anders, you look terrible?’ Beatrix asked, her concern for him unconsciously making her grip his hand harder. They were both in her cabin sitting on the bottom bunk waiting for the other two to bring breakfast. Anders’ face was very drawn, his scruffy clothes even scruffier and he could hardly keep his eyes open. ‘You look as if you’ve been up all night.’

‘I have…I think,’ and he sighed deeply. ‘I haven’t slept much at all,’ staring at her through bleary, red eyes, he went on. ‘Aidan is worrying me silly…I don’t know what’s going on…what’s happening to him, but he’s scaring me bonkers.’ He sat on the edge of the bunk and stared at her hand in his, taking strength from the coolness of it.’What’s wrong, Anders, you look terrible?’ Beatrix asked, her concern for him unconsciously making her grip his hand harder. They were both in her cabin sitting on the bottom bunk waiting for the other two to bring breakfast. Anders’ face was very drawn, his scruffy clothes even scruffier and he could hardly keep his eyes open. ‘You look as if you’ve been up all night.’

‘Why…what’s he done this time?’

Anders looked down at her, admiring her pretty face for a moment, and combed his long hair with the fingers of his other hand, not even contemplating releasing her delicate fingers. His hair was lighter than hers, reflecting the morning light pouring through the porthole. He was desperately anxious and seeing the concern on her face discovered the need to speak of it. Aidan’s nightmares were even more frightening now, and although his friend could not recall their content, they were having a malign effect on him. Aidan, always lean, was looking even thinner, his face paler, the black bags beneath his eyes even more pronounced. Anders sighed; maybe Beatrix would know what to do.

He took a deep breath. ‘Aidan has been talking in his sleep for the last three nights, saying things that puzzled me at first…now they really scare me.’

‘Go on,’ she urged, when he paused showing no signs of continuing, ‘tell me.’

‘Well,’ and he took another deep breath, ‘the first night he woke me, he was talking about someone laughing.’

‘That doesn’t seem very much,’ she frowned.

‘No, but I got the impression it was not pleasant laughter,’ he squeezed her hand. ‘Then night before last, he woke me sounding as if he was threatening somebody. He was shouting about wizards going somewhere. I don’t know where and honestly, the way he spoke sent shivers up my back.’

‘And last night…what happened last night?’ She was afraid to ask seeing Anders tremble, she grasped his hand even tighter in both of hers. ‘Come on tell me, it can’t be that bad, can it…I mean it was only a dream, wasn’t it?’

‘I don’t know,’ he swallowed. ‘He screamed…long and loud. It’s a wonder no-one else heard him; the Bear must have been on deck. He said…he said something about everywhere being red and someone was hurting him.’

‘What was red? Who was hurting him?’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t know, but it frightened him as well as me.’

‘Have you asked him about these dreams?’

‘Aye, all I get is a look that says I’m an idiot. He doesn’t remember a thing, so he says…or perhaps he doesn’t want to remember.’

Silent, anxiety creasing both their faces, she stared down at their hands intertwined in her lap and then realized she was alone in her cabin, holding the hands of the very young man she was besotted with.

She jumped up nervously, their grip lingering until she started pacing the small cabin. ‘Do you think we should tell Lord Tragen? After all, if these aren’t dreams they could very well be portents, they sound like it.’

‘They do? I don’t know…let’s wait, pick our time and both of us tackle Aidan, hey?’

Beatrix nodded as she heard Aidan and Augusta come down the passageway, the sounds of their laughter preceding them.

It had been Augusta’s first ever visit to a ship’s galley and she had been beguiled by Dolphin. She found it a strange name for a funny little man and she had nearly burst out laughing in front of him when Aidan called him “Dolly”, Aidan kicked her just in time. He had then informed her of Dolly’s prowess with a knife and that no man ever ridiculed the cook and survived without being cut. She wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not but looking at the man wielding the ladle she had been fascinated by his enormous belly. It seemed to have a life of its own as it danced about above his rope belt its loops holding assorted knives.

While they had waited their turn, Augusta – pretending to be a maid – peered around into the steamy, hot atmosphere, the closeness of the crew assailing her nose with a variety of not very pleasant smells. The men were at their ease and savouring both the hot food and their brief respite before returning to duty. Now that two masts had been lost, the ship needed an even closer watch kept; no-one would be getting much rest until landfall was made. And they would only rest then once repairs had been made.

As Augusta and Aidan were leaving the galley with the burgoo and tea, Leash watched them from behind a pillar. He was sitting on the deck close to the stove, alone even amongst the crowd. He was sweating because of the radiant heat—he didn’t mind, it was the cold he hated. He stared expressionless but was smiling inside. They were to hump stores from the forward hold that morning; or rather, the men he would be supervising would do the toting while he watched. He had already made sure that bails and casks had been stowed right outside the wizards’ cabin. The opportunity for his plan had presented itself earlier than he expected. All he had to do now was obtain the second sack of food and his scheme would be up and running. There would be no problem planting the evidence.

As Aidan and Augusta negotiated the dark passageway, now obstructed with boxes and sacks, the ship rolled down a steep sea and Aidan banged his shin against a protruding corner.

‘Bloody hell, if I get another bruise I’ll be black and blue all over!’ he complained.

‘Don’t you know you’re not supposed to swear in front of ladies, little wizard,’ laughed Augusta, repeating her companion’s words.

‘I didn’t know there were any ladies present, Nellie,’ he retorted rubbing his leg vigorously.

‘Watch it, boy!’ she threatened, ‘or I’ll kick your other leg, you won’t notice the difference then.’ She laughed and they entered what had now become her cabin as well as Beattie’s. The first thing that struck her was the silence, the second, the strained expressions on the faces of Beatrix and Anders.

‘What’s wrong with you two?’ But before either could answer, Lady Cornelia having been woken by the noise from the passage, shouted through for her breakfast.

‘Ooh! She has no patience that woman…she must get it from you, Augusta,’ said Aidan teasing her.

‘I’m never like that…Beattie, tell him.’

Beatrix didn’t answer but gave a telling look. ‘I’ll take her breakfast in while you share ours out.’

‘Beattie, I’m not like that…’ she shouted bad-temperedly, the boys grinned as Augusta shared out the porridge mumbling all the while. When Beatrix returned, Augusta sat on her bed and stared at Aidan.

‘When are you going to start teaching me?’

‘What? Oh yes, magic…I haven’t forgotten, I’ve been a little preoccupied lately, what with one thing and another,’ he replied, nearly choking as his food went down the wrong way. Augusta slapped his back.

‘Ouch! Don’t hit so hard, will you?’

‘I didn’t…big baby!’

‘You are not teaching her here,’ interrupted Anders, unnerved. ‘Tragen said you’re not to do magic in small rooms, remember?’

‘Okay, I’m not going to…so stop nagging!’ He looked at his friend and grimaced. ‘For some reason I don’t feel up to it today, anyway.’

‘Why is that?’ Beatrix asked, looking pointedly at Anders. ‘You don’t appear well; aren’t you sleeping?’

‘I didn’t last night, I had a…wait a minute, have you been talking, Anders?’

‘I mentioned it, yeah. I’m worried about you. After all it’s not every night I have to listen to my best friend’s nightmares—just the last three!’ Anders stared at Aidan daring him to deny it; he turned and smiled quickly at Beatrix glad that she had brought it out into the open.

‘What are you lot talking about?’ Augusta asked her spoon balanced precariously half way to her mouth.

Beatrix answered. ‘He’s been having dreams…horrible dreams.’

Augusta looked at Aidan a mixture of concern and curiosity on her face. It was then she noticed the drawn, pale look he had about him, the black bags under his eyes looking as if they’d been painted with kohl. Not concentrating on holding her bowl she slopped a little onto the floor as the ship climbed up and over the crest of another high wave. She settled herself in a more comfortable, and safer for everyone, position.

‘Are you having nightmares?’

‘Well, I don’t know about the other nights, but I’m beginning to remember something from last night.’ He paused and rubbed his suddenly sweaty hands on his britches. ‘It was scary. Don’t ask me what…I don’t know myself yet. All I know is, I didn’t like it,’ and he stopped speaking, lying back in his usual position on the bottom bunk.

‘So, you may have been dreaming the other nights and don’t remember.’ Augusta turned to Anders. ‘Tell me about these dreams.’

‘Night terrors, more like it!’ And he did, explaining at the same time that they were getting worse each night. ‘I think Beattie had it right, just now. She said that these may be portents not dreams.’

‘Portents! You mean he’s seeing things in the future?’ Augusta asked, now fascinated, intrigued and more than a little troubled. She thought of the seer she and Beatrix had met once before and come away confused and worried. She turned to look at Aidan on the bed, his arms behind his head. ‘Are you…are you seeing the future?’

He thought for a moment and, bringing his arms forward, he rubbed his eyes. ‘No, I don’t think it is…the future I mean.’ He stared at them blearily and then looked at his feet stretched out before him. ‘I have the feeling that whatever it is, it’s happening as I see it.’

They stared at him uncomprehending. Aidan continued. ‘It’s like a mindmeld Augusta. When you join with me or Tragen it’s in the present…you are seeing and hearing events that are happening at the instant we join.’ He grabbed her hand. ‘When you become more experienced at mindmelding you will get this special feeling. I can’t describe it…it’s a knowing in your head, an acceptance of what the other person understands.’ He squeezed her hand. ‘And that’s the feeling I’m getting, I can’t recall what the dream was, but I can remember the sensation. I was mindmelding with someone—someone who frightens the life out of me.’

They stared at him in silence, all three apprehensive.

‘I thought you couldn’t mindmeld with someone unless they allowed it.’ Anders said, breaking into their thoughts. ‘And if you have, whoever it is will know of you now.’

‘Not necessarily.’ A voice said from the door. Unknowingly Tragen, walking in his usual silent manner, had come to the door and overheard their discussion.

Moving into the cabin accompanied by Lady Cornelia supported on his arm, Tragen repeated. ‘Not necessarily,’ and he added, ‘I believe the same has happened to me. Now, Aidan, if you will kindly get up from there, and you Augusta move over, Lady Cornelia can sit on the end of the bed.’

The lady-in-waiting struggled over to what had once been her bed, and lowering her heavy bulk to sit, she turned to Aidan. ‘Well, my young wizard, my ankle has healed, but I am still a little shaky. I could not stay abed any longer those four walls are playing on my nerves, besides, I would only get crotchety and end up making your lives a misery.’

‘Crotchety, Cornelia…never let anyone dare say that!’ Augusta said, tongue in cheek. ‘You are looking a lot better now, though.’

‘Yes, but I’m afraid you cannot have your cabin returned just yet, my dear. We all feel you have to stay in hiding, at the very least until we reach land.’

Augusta looked up at the wizard standing alongside her. ‘Lord Tragen, can you tell us now all you know…or think you know, as you promised?’ She raised her eyebrows quizzically, reminding everyone present that she was the heir apparent to Mantovar. It was then that Locklear appeared in the doorway looking rested after his long ordeal on deck.

‘Hugo, my friend, it seems that Aidan has been having the same experiences as me. He has mindmelded with the same being, I believe, in his dreams.’

Locklear opened his eyes wide in surprise and gazed at Aidan. ‘Does this mean he is known?’

‘Not necessarily.’ The wizard repeated for a third time. Stroking his beard, he continued. ‘I suppose I had better try and explain the fundamentals of mindmelding, but it is extremely difficult to understand for those who are unaccustomed to the art. But I believe now, as Aidan does, that anyone can use the skill if it is awakened in them.’

He turned to his boy. ‘You know more of the intricacies of the human brain and use plain words better than me…you explain.’

Aidan looked up at the wizard and smiled weakly. ‘Very well, Master. Your brain, Milady,’ he spoke to Lady Cornelia, ‘contains many compartments…like this ship. Many of the compartments are used all the time and remain open, like the galley and that bit of your brain that controls your speech or your sight.’ He stared at his friends, not knowing how to simplify matters so that the uninitiated could understand. This was something that had taken him years of training to come to terms with. ‘Some compartments are only opened now and then; access to the bilges is an example of those, as is the ability to read. But, there are other compartments that are closed…hidden…dark places that only the rats know.’

He looked up as Beatrix gave a small shriek, and he smiled reassuringly. ‘No, Beattie, don’t be afraid, perhaps I’m not explaining things properly…rats also need warm spaces in which to sleep and rear their young.’

‘Are there rats on this ship, Captain?’ asked Augusta, interrupting Aidan’s flow, shivering at the thought of the brown rodents creeping around her cabin while she was sleeping.

‘There are rats on every ship, Highness. But rest easy, they live very low down in the ship…in the bilges, the bottom of the ship, as Aidan says,’ replied Locklear.

‘The secret places in your brain are much the same…warm and comfortable,’ Aidan continued. ‘Although there are other compartments not so nice, but we can speak of those some other time.’

He gazed around at his listeners, their ears seeming to flap; he warmed to his subject. ‘There are many lovely spaces as well that most people don’t know about. Wizards and healers are born with these already opened, and that is why they have magical abilities. All people have the same abilities but can’t use the special ones…the magical ones, because the doors to those particular compartments are closed and always will be. At least I always thought they’d be,’ he glanced at Augusta and wondered…how on earth does she have the ability now?

‘Is that what’s happened to me, Aidan? Is that why I can mindmeld and do magic now?’ Augusta asked him, reading his glance if not his mind.

‘It must be,’ he shrugged his shoulders. ‘Some part of your brain that was previously inaccessible is now no longer blocked and your magical abilities have been freed. Why, I don’t know.’

Beatrix noticed that whenever Aidan spoke of magic, his voice changed and the manner and tone of his speech sounded more mature, as it was now. He sounded years older than he was. Is that what magic does to you, she wondered—make you old before your time.

‘And now I must break the code of wizardry,’ Tragen spoke as Aidan finished. ‘I have to share a secret with you and I ask that you do not divulge it to anyone. It is a fallacy spread by wizards over the centuries that you cannot mindmeld with someone who is not willing,’ he grimaced. ‘Not true! Wizards have hidden this ability for obvious reasons…it comes in very handy if you can be in your enemy’s mind with him completely unaware of it,’ he looked at Locklear. ‘But those wizards of an impeccable nature, those who follow the white arts, never invade the minds of people without their permission, unless they feel threatened for some reason. And we never enter the minds of our friends unbidden. However, there are rogues in any profession, wizards are not unique—we have our dark side, practitioners of the black elements.’ This last comment he stated very firmly, catching the eye of everyone present.

‘But we can and do infiltrate the minds of enemies without them being aware of our presence. And we can do this at any time…awake or sleeping.’ He breathed deeply before continuing. ‘I believe this is what Aidan and I have been doing. Me, when I am awake, Aidan when sleeping. And we have been mindmelding with the same person.’

Aidan stilled at the words, his mouth dry, he had not known for sure that he was mindmelding and didn’t know, of course, that Tragen had been doing the same. The listeners were stunned; knowing their minds were open to any wizard, at any time, and not being able to do anything about it came as a great shock.

Augusta, blushing, turned to Aidan. ‘You have not been in my mind without me knowing, have you?’

‘No, of course not, you’re my friend. Why?’ Aidan asked puzzled, not noticing the colour in her face.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ she said and turned away. God, she thought to herself, I do have to be careful.

Tragen went on with what he was saying. ‘There is only one way of detecting another’s presence in your mind,’ and this captured their attention again. ‘Your sensations can be felt! When you are as one in a mindmeld, you experience the emotions of each other. Therefore, it is very important for us to remember to suppress our feelings when we mindmeld so that the other does not sense us. Only with practise can this be achieved,’ and he looked at Augusta. ‘Take this time to learn with Aidan. You must attain the ability to enter your foe’s mind and at the same time protect your own from all. You are our liege lord’s daughter, our princess…it would not do to have Mantovar’s state secrets divulged to your enemies,’ he said gravely.

Beatrix stared with wide eyes, frightened for her mistress she had not realized how vulnerable Augusta was. She moved closer to Anders, entwining her fingers in his, she felt safer being near him.

 

‘You still haven’t told us why you’re hiding Augusta,’ said Aidan.

‘This young man does not forget anything,’ said Cornelia, smiling.

‘Only when to wash behind his ears,’ Tragen said laughing, the mirth increasing when Aidan automatically put his fingers to his ears to check and then went red as everyone looked at him.

‘Master, enough,’ he said, ‘tell us.’

Tragen became serious again. ‘On that first day of the storm I mindmelded searching for you, Aidan, for you did not reappear from your errand at the mainmast. That was when I made the initial contact. I failed to find you and instead I heard terrible laughter and felt its evil. That same night, Anders heard you mention laughter in your sleep, and he did not like it. Correct, Anders?’ the cabin boy nodded and Tragen moved on. ‘The second day, when I was casting the shield spell, I felt it again. And that time the feeling of malice in the laughter was so great it took me over and I collapsed. I, and the captain, knew at that time that someone was hunting us, and that night you dreamed of wizards going somewhere. But your mindmeld last night of seeing red and it hurting you worries me. I do not know how it fits in. But Captain Locklear, Lady Cornelia and I all agree on one thing. Whoever created this storm is chasing the Grim, and the only motive we can think of is because Augusta is on board.’

‘The storm has abated now and should disappear within the next few hours,’ said Locklear, who had remained silent until now. ‘We seem to have reached the limits of the storm and are now running out of the range of the devil. Hopefully, we can now look forward to a period of calm before we turn for home and possibly meet it again. But if we do encounter this storm or this being again, at least we will now be prepared…and Princess Augusta will be well hidden.’ He summed up. ‘My first priority is to make landfall so we can carry out repairs to the hull and the masts. If we meet this tempest again before these repairs are completed, the Grim is unlikely to survive.’ Locklear turned to leave but halted with his foot over the storm sill when his friend stopped him.

‘A moment, my friend,’ said Tragen, ‘before you go, I must emphasize to our young friends here the need to keep Augusta’s identity secret, her life may very well depend on you. If we do meet this being in the future we do not want any of the crew knowing who she is. The less who know the safer she will be. So enjoy your freedom, Nellie, while you may and remember the lessons that my young apprentice will teach.’ He moved to leave with Locklear, and as he put out his arm to help Lady Cornelia to rise, Beatrix spoke.

‘Wait!’ she shouted, and she reddened when everyone looked at her. Nervously, she said quietly, ‘I’m sorry, but I think there is something you may have missed.’ She gripped Anders’ hand for support; she had never spoken in such a manner to such people of high station before and wondered if they’d believe that a mere companion could possibly have anything of importance to relay. ‘I mean…oh I told these earlier,’ and she indicated her friends, ‘they dismissed it then, but I don’t think we can ignore the possibility any longer,’ she said in a rush, looking down now at her feet and clinging to Anders.

‘What is it, Beatrix? Come, don’t be nervous,’ Tragen smiled at her, ‘believe it or not, we are all friends here.’

She looked up at him, this old, very stately man. The thought of him naming her a friend nearly struck her silent. Then feeling Anders squeeze her hand, she continued. ‘I don’t think this “being” you believe is chasing us,’ with a voice gaining more confidence as she spoke, ‘is behind us…I think he’s in front of us.’

Tragen looked at her puzzled. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘In his mindmeld with the creature, Aidan said that there was not “a wizard going” but there were “wizards coming”. Don’t you understand,’ she said exasperated, ‘“coming” he said, not “going”!’ And at their still puzzled looks, she continued. ‘That storm you assume was created in Mantovar, could it not have been conjured here…on this side of the storm? May not the creator’s intention be to lure us to him, to stop us getting home to Mantovar? And what about Aidan’s third vision, he said everything was “red and hurting”, not necessarily hurting him, it may have meant someone else was hurting and…and he saw it, and…and that is what is waiting for us!’ She finished abruptly and held her breath waiting for their reaction, every bone in her body telling her it was true.

They were going towards the danger not away from it.

Tragen stared silently. Locklear ran his fingers through his black beard, tugging hard, his mouth pursed tightly. Cornelia sitting back down on the bed clasped her hands together and gazed into space thinking of the ramifications. Augusta was scared and wished she could hold Aidan’s hand as Beatrix was holding Anders’.

Aidan felt her fear. ‘Don’t be frightened, Augusta, we’re all here, we’ll look after you,’ he mindmelded comfortingly.

Oh, Aidan, she’s right isn’t she?

‘It never occurred to me but I do believe Beatrix may be correct,’ Tragen broke into their mindmeld and into the heavy silence in the cabin.

Beatrix breathed easier and smiled nervously up at Anders holding her tight, now she would not have to worry on her own.

‘It seems we have a lot more thinking to do, Hugo, Cornelia,’ and he turned to include the lady-in-waiting. ‘Although I do not think we should panic quite yet. Yes, if young Beatrix has it right then whoever is behind the storm has very cleverly hoodwinked us.’

‘And if that’s the case the cessation of the tempest has lulled us into a false sense of security,’ added Locklear.

‘And what’s more important,’ Tragen paused a moment tugging his beard while he thought, ‘it means that I have been discovered. Aidan heard this being talk of a wizard coming and then Aidan threatened him with more than one,’ he paused. ‘It means that I have been identified and it has sought fit to hide the fact from me. Nevertheless, this being has yet to discover Aidan’s presence. Why did he not detect my boy if we both mindmelded with the same creature? That is a puzzle! Anders, you must keep a close watch on Aidan tonight and every night, if anything about him worries you inform me immediately whatever time it is. You are to interrupt me whatever I am doing.’

As each and everyone looked from one to the other, Cornelia said. ‘We must leave each other to our own thoughts and meet again, Tragen. As you say, we do not need to panic yet, and we ought not to make any unreasoned countermoves. If he is enticing us to him, then we must be very careful when we sight land for that may very well be the place this evil being is at.’ She struggled to her feet. ‘Come let us leave it at that for now. And as for you, young Beatrix,’ she smiled, ‘I can’t see you remaining just a lady’s companion for much longer.’

And that really did flummox young Beatrix.

 

After their meeting, the four went up on deck to clear their heads. They avoided the quarterdeck and went up forward on to the foc’s’le. The storm had subsided, the drizzle had stopped and, although the sun had not yet reappeared, it was warm. Tomorrow promised to be a clear day.

The ship’s superstructure was in a chaotic state with broken rigging needing securing some in great need of repair. It was going to be a mammoth job to splice the necessary lines and both broken masts were in a very sorry state, sharp slithers poking to the skies from the tops of the stumps. However, sails could fly on the foremast, jigger and after-jigger and the captain had already ordered them set. Despite the ship’s obvious handicap, the vessel was proceeding at a fair speed, despite the difficulty in controlling the steering. Where the ship was going they were still not sure, the overcast denying them their position.

The four friends settled in the bows staring out to sea. Quiet for the moment, their thoughts on what had transpired in their discussion.

Beatrix, although relieved at having persuaded her companions to her way of thinking, was very troubled at the danger her mistress now found herself in and along with her, of course, all of them were now in serious peril. Moreover, what had Lady Cornelia meant with her parting comment? Beatrix had been trained from a very early age to be Augusta’s companion. Her mother was the princess’ favourite lady-in-waiting and both had grown very close their friendship lasting years. Beatrix was very proud to carry out the same duties for Augusta, although up until these last few days, their relationship had not seemed to be as strong. Beatrix smiled; their friendship had certainly blossomed on this voyage. She continued to contemplate the direction her life had taken recently, her thoughts leading her everywhere, most of them frightening and looking at Anders her heart skipped a beat, her feelings made even less sense where he was concerned.

Anders was a worried young man standing at the rail close to Beatrix. What were they getting into? Aidan’s visions scared him; mindmelding with an evil being took some believing. And Aidan’s actual sightings, of the Gods knew what, really frightened him. He peered around at his friends, silent with their own thoughts. A lump came to his throat, so many friends. He’d only ever been close to Aidan, and like Aidan he’d never had female friends and now, as he glanced at Beatrix, it seemed that he had more than a friend in her. He hoped so. He smiled. What would his six older brothers say to that? Being the youngest in his family had its advantages; his mother always spoiled him. But it had its disadvantages as well, especially when you were fifteen years younger than the next brother. He’d always had to fight for his father’s attentions, and been made to feel slightly inferior to all of them; tolerated was the word. But here he was now, an equal, friends with royalty and wizards; and in love with Beatrix. It must be love, he thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have enormous butterflies in his stomach every time he looked at her. We have to be very, very cautious; I want nothing to harm any of us, he thought. Moving closer to Beatrix and rubbing shoulders with her, they both studied the ocean, each very conscious of the nearness of the other.

Augusta, usually carefree, was now thinking very seriously of what was ahead. All her life she had known that she had enemies and that they would love to deny her Mantovar, some would feel it their duty to kill her. She was used to being in danger and used to having bodyguards. Her parents, and her teachers, had always drummed it into her that she had to be very circumspect when choosing her friends. They should always be from “proper” families, those very loyal to her father. She knew that her future husband would be chosen for her from that clique, probably within the next year. Then her heart flipped, was that the reason for her early recall home? Had her parents decided already? The thought of that made her very miserable. Up until this voyage she had not had second thoughts about being married to someone she didn’t know, it was her duty. But now, and she looked at her friends, she shuddered at all thoughts of betrothal to a stranger. She sighed and stared over the rail at a dolphin swimming nearby. Look at me now, the only real friends I have ever had are these three – a lady’s companion, a cabin boy and a wizard’s apprentice – hardly members of a “proper” family, except for Beatrix of course. These three would be more loyal to her and far better friends than any members of the aristocracy of Mantovar, or those of Drakka. She felt safe with these despite the unknown enemy chasing her. And then she smiled, she was now a wizard, she had the ability to mindmeld and do magic. She would be the first ever monarch to practise the magic arts, could she also be the first ever monarch to choose her own husband? Then another thought made her anxious; would a wizard be allowed the throne, someone had tried once before and failed.

Aidan on the other hand was nervous. A responsibility unlooked for had fallen on his young shoulders. He had to teach a member of the monarchy the intricacies of mindmelding and of magic. He was under no illusion as to the complications of this course of action. The prince would be astonished that his daughter had the ability; suspicious as to how she had acquired the art and mistrustful of this young apprentice teaching her how to use it. He would not like his daughter falling under the influence of a wizard even though his best friend was one. There were many in the principality, and indeed the empire, dubious of the powers held by these mysterious people. Wizards, and in some cases Adepts, although welcomed in many places, were always treated with extreme caution. Indeed, in the case of the Guild of the Brethren of Wisdom, a mysterious sect of black sorcerers based in the south of Drakka, fear was the ruling factor—ordinary people avoided them like the plague. He looked around at his companions and marvelled. He had only ever had one friend before – Anders – but now he had three. He smiled, regardless of all that was ahead he was happier than he had ever been before in his young life.

 

Leash watched them from his position at the helm. He also was happy. He had hidden the contraband sack of food in the wizard’s cabin. Looking back it had been so easy. His task of toting provisions from the forward hold and stacking them in the dry, in the passenger corridor, had given him the opportunity. When Tragen and the others had been in the maid’s cabin that morning, he had stolen the food from that in the passageway. He had then secreted it under the boy’s clothing in the trunk behind the door of the wizard’s cabin. He had not even had to rush, there had been nobody around to see him enter or leave the berth. Now, when everyone was starving, as they all would be in the next week or so, he would arrange for its discovery. He smiled, it would be the end of the boy – the crew would be hard-pressed not to lynch him – and the wizard would be gutted. Leash only had to wait.

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/family-jokes

A child asked his father, “How were people born?” So his father said, “Adam and Eve made babies, then their babies became adults and made babies, and so on.” The child then went to his mother, asked her the same question and she told him, “We were monkeys then we evolved to become like we are now.” The child ran back to his father and said, “You lied to me!” His father replied, “No, your mom was talking about her side of the family.”

 

Have a nice day!

Riverton

Only the clock tower of my old school remains as a memory of my early teens.

Only the clock tower of my old school remains as a memory of my early teens.

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes

Teacher: “Kids,what does the chicken give you?”
Student: “Meat!”
Teacher: “Very good! Now what does the pig give you?”
Student: “Bacon!”
Teacher: “Great! And what does the fat cow give you?”
Student: “Homework!”

Just resumed writing my fourth fantasy novel with the working title of ‘Riverton’. I wrote 10,000 words a couple of months back but circumstances distracted me. Hopefully I can now write regularly and complete the book by Easter.

c/o http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes

A husband and wife are trying to set up a new password for their computer. The husband puts, “Mypenis,” and the wife falls on the ground laughing because on the screen it says, “Error. Not long enough.”           

http://kickasshumor.com/funny-joke/16495/me-would-you-wear-shoes-if-you-had-no-feetgi

Me: would you wear shoes if you had no feet?
Girl: No,of corse not
Me: Then why do you wear bras?

How's this for a long verandah! (Castell Coch)

How’s this for a long verandah! (Castell Coch)

Nine

‘It seems a lot of bother tucking the blankets in; when I go to bed I’ll only pull them out again.’he door of the small cabin was ajar and the sounds of a further altercation reached Aidan and Anders along the dark passage. Beatrix was instructing Augusta again on the correct way to make a bed, Aidan having left it ruffled.

‘Augusta, you have to pass as a maid in case the crew suspect you, so you will do the job as a maid should; that’s what the wizard told us. If you wish to argue the matter, go and see him, if you don’t then you will do as I say and make the bed as it should be, all right?’ Beatrix shouted. Red in the face, her temper flaring, she seemed to spend a lot of time lately with her face crimson.

‘I am not a maid and neither are you!’

‘I am a maid on this voyage since Meggy was taken ill and couldn’t come with us. And, of course, you said there was no need to find another maid we wouldn’t need one; we wouldn’t be long sailing home. So I have to carry out a maid’s duties!’

‘Well I didn’t know we’d encounter this storm, did I! So…go and tell the wizard!’

‘I wouldn’t go and see Tragen yet, if I were you,’ Anders interrupted Augusta before she could get up too much steam, ‘he’s just been shouting at Aidan.’

‘Did you get anything out of him?’ Augusta asked, dropping the blanket on the bed. Beatrix grunted and threw her arms up in disgust. ‘We couldn’t get anything out of Cornelia either. She used the excuse that she was in a lot of pain and could we leave her sleep.’

‘Pain? She shouldn’t be in any pain, I saw to that. She must have been expecting you to question her,’ said Aidan, frowning. ‘Well, we succeeded a bit. Tragen and the Bear admitted we were running from someone,’ Aidan replied smugly.

‘No they didn’t, Aidan. The Bear said we had reached the limit of the storm, nothing else.’ Anders argued.

‘He said we’d reached the limit of their range, not the storm,’ retorted Aidan.

‘Who’s the Bear?’ asked Beatrix.

‘Oh, that’s my uncle’s nickname, we all call him that. Well he looks like one, doesn’t he?’ Anders added.

‘It’s very strange,’ baffled, Augusta sucked at her index finger in the corner of her mouth.

‘It’s not,’ Anders said, ‘the captain’s huge like a bear and covered in hair.’

‘Aye, he is as well,’ Augusta laughed, ‘no, I didn’t mean that. Reaching the limit of their range implies that we are fleeing someone, or something.’

‘He was talking about the storm,’ stated Anders, emphatically.

‘No, Anders,’ Beatrix stopped what she was doing, and turned to him. ‘I do believe they may have a point. If we were fleeing just the storm then they’d just say “its range” or something like, oh…I don’t know, perhaps “running from the storm”. No, “the limit of their range” means something else entirely. Are you sure he said “their”, Aidan?’

‘Aye, I’m positive.’

Anders gave in, he’d never dispute anything with Beatrix. They stared at each other, none of them knowing quite what to think. Anders went over to the bunk and helped Beatrix finish tidying the beds. Aidan sat on the floor this time with his back against the chest while Augusta, thinking madly, sat on the chair her finger again in the corner of her mouth.

Anders straightened from tucking the final corner of the blanket under the mattress. ‘If you are correct, and I’m not saying you are mind,’ he glanced fleetingly at Beatrix to let her know that he wasn’t actually disagreeing with her views, ‘then fleeing from someone means we are being hunted. So, have any of you any idea who could be after us and why? Don’t forget we are now leagues upon leagues from home, well off course.’

‘It also means that whoever is doing the chasing is phenomenally powerful to get at us out here,’ mused Aidan, listening to the storm battering the Grim.

‘You mean that seriously strong magic is being used?’ Augusta asked, rising from her chair. She paced the little bit of floor space left free by the others, as Aidan nodded. She was becoming more adept at keeping her sea legs on the bucking deck.

‘I know this may sound silly,’ interrupted Beatrix, peering through her tousled, long blonde hair. ‘But you could all be wrong.’ And she shouted above their voices when they all started talking at once. ‘Wait, think about this. What if they are not chasing us, but whoever it is maybe…I don’t know, maybe he’s cunning and is in fact in front of us now, luring us to him?’

‘Nah,’ said Aidan, ‘if that was the case then the storm would get stronger the closer we got to him. The storm is getting weaker now.’

‘But if his purpose was to sink us then I would agree with you, the storm would get worse. If it had another aim though, like capturing us maybe, the weather would ease to lull us into a false sense of security,’ said Beatrix. ‘It’s just a thought,’ she added, not quite giving up on her idea.

‘Right, we’ll keep that in mind,’ said Augusta, not giving much credence to the idea. ‘Now listen, we have to think on three things.’ Holding up three fingers, she enumerated. ‘The first is who is after us; the second is why he is chasing us and thirdly, when we have figured out those two things, what do we do about it.’

‘And fourthly, what we all seem to have forgotten…why has Lord Tragen not imposed a proper punishment on us?’ Beatrix reminded, staring at them all, a knowing look on her face.

Anders abruptly sat down on the bunk, his face ashen. ‘Aidan, do you remember what Tragen said, before your accident on the quarterdeck yesterday? I mean, when he laughed on seeing these two wearing our clothes?’ He gripped his friend’s shoulder tightly to emphasize his point.

‘Yeah, he said they were suitable clothes for this weather. Ouch, you’re hurting me,’ and he shook off the cabin boy’s hand. ‘What are you on about?’

‘Think man…he also said,’ and here Anders paused to add stress to his next words, poking his finger in Aidan’s chest. ‘He also said, when the Bear asked him if it was his idea about these clothes,’ and he waited all attention now on him, ‘he said “he would never have thought of hiding her like this”. Now my little wizard what do you make of that?’ As he spoke, the shock on his face was replaced with a very superior look.

‘Yes, he did! I remember now, I was going to ask him about it, but I was sick instead,’ said Augusta.

‘Yes, and last night when he gave me orders to ensure Augusta behaved, he told me…us, the deception has to work, she has to appear a maid even when we are alone, it was very important that she did! Oh, my God, what is going on?’ Beatrix asked her hands at her face.

White-faced, Beatrix turned to her mistress. ‘It can only mean that you are in danger, Highness. But why would they want to hide you, on this ship, out here?’

Scared, Augusta answered. ‘I am my father’s heir, of course. Somehow some enemy has discovered me on this voyage,’ ashen, she stared at her friends as she bit her lower lip. ‘There is something I have not told you. My father sent Lord Tragen to bring me home early, for a purpose that my father would not even tell the wizard. And it has to be something extremely serious for he trusts Tragen above all others. The emperor was not pleased at me leaving early, I can tell you. Tragen carries a missive from him to my father and I know it’s not very pleasant. Perhaps this is it, there are people hunting me.’

Aidan rose from the deck and started pacing the small room. ‘If we are right, then Tragen and the captain need her to masquerade as one of us. And for that, they need our help. So, stop calling her Highness both of you, you may well be risking her life. We have to find out more.’

Aidan halted and leant against the end of the bunk. ‘Augusta, you need to work some more on Lady Cornelia. I think she’s the weaker of the two.’

‘You don’t know her…she’s not weak at all.’

Silent again, thinking desperately now, no-one doubted that Anders had come up with the reason for Tragen’s and Cornelia’s long discussion the night before—and their strange behaviour since.

‘Then change over,’ Beatrix said.

‘What do you mean?’ Aidan asked.

‘You, Aidan, you question Lady Cornelia, and you,’ wondering if she’d ever get used to calling her mistress by name, ‘Augusta, tackle Tragen.’ She explained her reasoning as she sat on the bed. ‘Well, Tragen doesn’t know Augusta as much as he knows you, Aidan, and Lady Cornelia has only just met you. So, who knows what they’ll divulge. They won’t be on their guard with either of you.’

‘That’s good thinking, Beattie,’ smiled Anders, looking at the girl who was now always in his thoughts. ‘I do believe you have the makings of a good spy.’

Beatrix blushed; she swore she could hear admiration in his voice.

 

Leash, meanwhile, was busily stealing salted beef and ships biscuit from the provisions bins held in the forward hold. He had filled the small sack he carried and figured that he had enough to last him two weeks with care. He had settled on a strategy. At first, he’d eat the same as everyone else but, if the rations were too small, he would supplement his appetite with this hoard. He was afraid to take a greater amount in case the missing food was noticed. He did not want the theft discovered yet.

His plan was still in its infancy. If he waited until everyone was starving then arranged for a secret hoard of food to be found in the boy’s possession, there would be anger, great anger. But he had yet to hide his own cache; he would collect a second sack of food later. He moved from the main hold under cover of the storm, taking his stash with him. Patience was now required before he could steal more.

 

Later that afternoon the four very crestfallen conspirators were back in Beattie’s cabin discussing their next plan of action.

Following Beattie’s stratagem, Augusta and Beatrix had climbed to the quarterdeck accompanied by Anders as Tragen had already challenged Aidan for leaving them on their own this morning.

When they reached the quarterdeck, the wizard was nowhere to be seen. Hopper, who was in command at that time, informed them that Tragen had gone to rest in his cabin. He had not yet fully recovered from the exertions of creating the shield spell the day before, and he had left orders that he was not to be disturbed. Especially by any of “you lot” the mate had added.

Augusta had blown at that. ‘What does he mean “you lot”. He may very well be a wizard but that does not give him permission to be impertinent! Come “you lot” I am going to wake him.’

Anders was appalled. ‘You can’t. He’ll get nasty. Aidan says he’s always horrible when he wakes.’

‘I don’t care; he can’t talk about me like that. I am his princess, for God’s sake! My father will put him in the cages for this.’

‘Not out here he won’t, Augusta,’ stated Beatrix peremptorily. ‘And if you threatened him with it how do you propose to get him to divulge the information we need?’

Augusta paused, shaking her fists in futility. ‘But it’s not fair, Beattie!’

‘I know, Augusta,’ she put her arm around Augusta’s shoulder to comfort her. Augusta leant against the bulwark, the side of the ship, thoroughly dejected.

‘We’d better go back to the cabin and hope Aidan has more success,’ said Anders, catching hold of Beattie’s hand and leading them below.

 

But Aidan did no better. As soon as they left he knocked on Cornelia’s door. Putting behind him all the embarrassment he had felt the last time he’d been in the lady’s company, he pulled his shirt straight and retied his belt in the hope of making a good impression. He had, of course, forgotten what Augusta had said. This lady was no fool and, unbeknown to him, had been briefed by Tragen on the future possible actions of their charges. Her subterfuge started as soon as he entered.

‘Ah, Aidan, good afternoon, I am very happy to see you again. You have forgiven me? You are well?’ And before he could answer, she added without pausing for breath. ‘Of course you are, a fine strapping lad like you,’ and she straightened her blankets on the bed, her bound foot poking from beneath the covers, not yet ready for any weight to be placed on it.

‘I have called in to see if you require anything, Milady.’ Aidan beamed at her, getting ready to settle in the chair alongside her, preparing his opening gambit.

The poor boy never had a chance.

‘Oh, I’m so glad, Aidan. Before you sit I’d be much obliged if you could obtain a fresh pot of tea for me, would you be so kind? Not the magicked brew, I find that very…um…dry, don’t you?’

And Aidan did oblige at the same time wondering how anyone could find a drink “dry”. After the tea, fetched from the galley, she required her specially baked biscuits, also from the galley. And then it was a lighter shawl from her old cabin, unfortunately after much searching, he fetched the wrong one and had to go back and find another. Aidan was worn out running back and forth. And just when he thought she had everything she needed and he had sat down ready to begin his interrogation, she asked him if he didn’t mind leaving her to rest as she was quite worn out with his visit.

And that was the end of that highly unsuccessful bit of intrigue. He re-joined his friends who had returned in the meantime and had been watching his running around with increasing bewilderment.

‘Don’t you ask,’ he moaned, ‘don’t you dare ask me how it went.’ He stretched out on the bottom bunk with a groan. ‘That bloody woman never stopped wanting. Every time I went to sit down and talk to her, she needed something else.’

Beatrix grinned at him, her blue eyes glinting with mischief. ‘Now you know what it’s like to be a servant. Most of the time it’s “I want this” or “I want that”, and always when you could do with a rest.’ She sneaked a look at her mistress, waiting for Augusta’s reaction. Well, if I have to teach her my duties perhaps she’ll realize and remember what it’s like when we’re back ashore, she thought.

‘I do not behave as bad as that Beattie,’ and then she had second thoughts, ‘do I?’

Beatrix laughed and relented. ‘No, not all the time,’ and then she halted mid-sentence as a thought occurred. ‘You know…Lady Cornelia never behaves such as she just has…never!’

‘What do you mean?’ Aidan asked, frowning.

‘She is always very careful not to abuse her position.’

‘Could this be a part of what they were plotting?’ Anders suggested, peering around at everyone.

‘What are you getting at?’ Aidan asked, sitting up.

‘Tragen is dodging us in his cabin and Lady Cornelia is stonewalling you. I think Tragen and Cornelia knew you’d swap over and try to question them. It stinks. We’ve got no further with gathering information, have we?’ Anders stared at them, his eyes large, awaiting their agreement.

‘Oh, I don’t know any more. I’m fed up; let’s leave it until the morning I’m getting a headache. You’re probably right though, Tragen loves scheming.’ He sat on the bed not realizing that scheming is what the four of them had been doing since breakfast.

‘Okay, but we can’t sit here staring at four walls, we’ve got to do something or I’ll go mad. I know, we’ll play cards, Beattie, can you find them?’ Dispirited, Augusta sat back in her chair.

And that’s what they did. All four of them until Aidan threw his cards to the deck in a fit of pique an hour later. ‘This is ludicrous Augusta. You’ve won every game you’ve played me!’

‘Ah, a poor loser, are you? It’s not my fault if you play obvious cards so…obviously,’ jeered Augusta.

‘I never make obvious moves, never…ask Anders. I am usually very, very good at this game. I can’t understand your luck at all. It seems as if you know every card in my hand and exactly which card I’m going to play next.’

‘Well, you are rather careless hiding them. And you can’t blame me if I look, that’s your fault.’ Augusta smirked.

‘I didn’t show you my cards. But come to think of it, you did have extraordinary luck.’ Aidan retorted, examining the backs of the cards, really getting worked up.

‘You horrid boy, are you accusing me of cheating? How you…’ Augusta was furious.

‘How could she have seen your cards, she’s sat opposite you?’ Beatrix said attempting conciliation, she turned to Augusta. ‘And the same goes for you, Augusta, there’s no need to wind him up by telling him he’s careless in showing his cards to you.’

‘But I could see them, every single one. And I have not marked the backs, Aidan,’ she said angrily, throwing her cards across the cabin at him. ‘Okay! I’m not lying! They were there in my head—as plain as the nose on your face.’

Her three friends stared at her.

Aidan stared the hardest.

‘Don’t look at me like that, Aidan, you’re frightening me,’ upset, Augusta folded her arms across her chest.

‘How plain were they? In your head I mean,’ questioned Aidan, a very strange light in his eyes.

‘How plain is plain, dolt! I saw your cards, every little spot and every little stain…is that plain enough for you?’ Augusta shouted in his face, close to tears.

Aidan and Augusta locked eyes. ‘Did Anders tell you what cards I held?’

‘No!’

‘Did Beattie?’

‘No, Aidan, stop it, Anders never said a word to me,’ Augusta’s eyes were brimming. ‘And neither did Beattie.’

Anders jumped in seriously worried and confused. ‘What are you saying Augusta, I never said a word about what? And…and what wouldn’t Beattie tell you?’

‘You heard him…he just accused you of telling me what was in his hand, you and Beattie.’ Augusta was distraught; she had never been accused of cheating in her life. And over the last couple of days she’d come to love having these three as her friends, she had never been so close to people before. She didn’t want to lose them over a silly game of cards. But how could she get it across to them that she definitely saw Aidan’s cards, and without cheating.

‘I’m sorry, Augusta, but I never heard Aidan accuse Anders, or me, of anything,’ said Beatrix.

Aidan interrupted. ‘No, you didn’t hear me but she did,’ they looked at him quickly and saw him beaming.

‘Come off it, will you! You never said I helped her and…why are you grinning like that?’ Anders, exasperated, threw his cards to the deck.

Augusta, desperate now, grabbed hold of Beattie’s hand for support and Beatrix turned on Aidan. ‘Cease this tormenting, Aidan…enough is enough. You are truly upsetting everyone. I have never known Augusta to cheat, ever.’

Aidan laughed. ‘You know Augusta…you really are a wonder!’

‘For Gods’ sake Aidan, stop this messing around; stop teasing her it’s getting nasty! Leave her be!’ Anders grasped the wizard’s shirt and shouted at him.

‘Ah, I’m sorry, you’ve got me wrong,’ he continued grinning idiotically. ‘Augusta really is a marvel—she saw my cards because I did show them to her. I have no doubt of that now. After all she just proved it by answering my accusations.’

‘What accusations?’ Anders shouted angrily. ‘And stop that silly smirking, will you?’

Aidan burst out laughing and grabbed Augusta’s hands in both of his own. He gazed into her emerald eyes the way she liked. ‘You really do not understand what you’ve done, do you?’

Completely baffled now she returned his gaze, and again she felt as if she was submerging in his eyes, a very pleasant feeling that she did not understand. Quietly she asked him. ‘Please…please, you’re really scaring me. What have I done?’

‘Not only do you have magic in you, you just joined me in a mindmeld,’ stated Aidan, unable to stop grinning.

And then all hell broke loose again as there was an almighty crash from on deck and the ship heeled over.

 

Locklear had been back in command all afternoon on the quarterdeck, the weather improving with every passing hour. The thunder and lightning had ceased, the rain diminishing to a light drizzle and the bows were now completely visible from the captain’s chair.

Locklear was immensely relieved as he studied the long deep swell; it seemed now that the worst was over, the storm receding aft lifting the spirits of everyone aboard.

A thin column of smoke constantly dribbled from the galley pipe forward, indicating that Dolly was cooking, following a normal routine again. When the crew had rested, Locklear intended breaking out the fishing gear. He just hoped it wasn’t mackerel in these waters; he would have the devil’s own job to persuade his ship’s cook to even touch it.

Hugo pondered on how far they were from home as he sat back in his chair contemplating the dark clouds overhead. It was still impossible to take sightings but hopefully the stars would be visible sometime this coming night, he wondered if he’d recognize them. He knew though that they had been blown well to the southwest of their course and were now into the tropics, the air temperature was increasing quickly as was that of the sea.

Hopper joined him at his chair after completing an inspection of the hull. ‘We seem to be holding our own, Captain. The pumps are keeping the water levels steady although the men are exhausted. We’ve rigged a chain pump in the forward hold and have abandoned the hand pump. There are no signs of any new boards springing a leak at the moment but we desperately need a beach or a dry-dock to repair those that have. We’ve shored up the bulkhead in the sail locker but there is a lot of water seeping into the main cargo hold.’ He paused to dry his eyes. ‘I have ordered the salvageable provender moved to a drier location and have placed Leash in charge of stacking some of it in the passageway outside the passenger cabins.’

‘Very well, Hopper.’ Hugo looked around his vessel studying the damage. ‘I wish Tragen had the necessary strength to repair the Grim, it would solve so many problems.’

‘Why hasn’t he?’

‘He is afraid it would weaken him at a crucial moment. He is an old man and there is just too much to be done. He would need sleep for an unconscionable amount of time and, according to sod’s law, he’d be out of it at the very time we’d need him most.’ He brooded for a moment. ‘All right let’s shift from this place a little quicker, I’ve had enough, we can put on more canvas to speed us on our way…wherever that may be.’

‘Aye, aye sir,’ said Hopper, and he shouted for Trumper to get the duty watch aloft.

And it was as if the storm had waited for this moment.

As the mainsail unfurled on the main yardarm, an enormous gust of wind blew again from abeam. A blast like a battering ram hit the ship and caught the sail. The ship heeled over sharply and the mainmast groaning under the unexpected weight of wind and canvas, cracked.

And before anything could be done, the mainmast snapped at man height above the deck and fell overboard dragging rigging, shrouds, sail and men with it. The wreckage encroached on the mizzen mast aft of it resulting in that also succumbing to the inordinate pressure and it also snapped at roughly the same height.

Bedlam reigned for those first moments as Trumper and the men on deck swarmed over the wreckage of both masts with axes. Lines were chopped free and men jumped clear as the masts slid overboard and this time the mainsail they had fought so hard to retain went with them. And as the last line was severed, not only did the ship come up but the wind ceased its almighty blow.

Unnerved the crew peered about them. Gales and storms were not supposed to have the sole intent of destroying you. But every man on board was convinced that the only purpose of that gust of air had been to do just that.

Tragen arrived on the quarterdeck in the aftermath of the wind and watched the skies intently for any other adverse signs. Aidan and his friends watched Tragen’s every move. Something was very wrong here, and they all knew it.

Locklear standing at the forward rail turned to acknowledge Tragen when the wizard moved up alongside him. The four young friends, stationed along the starboard rail, watched the activity on the lower deck, everyone that is, except Aidan.

He took his chance and a very troubled Tragen felt Aidan’s mindmeld. ‘Master, that was their final blow…their last chance at Augusta, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, I hope so, my boy,’ and he turned to Aidan and raised his eyebrows. ‘I thought I wouldn’t be able to hide it from you for long.’

‘Or me, Lord Tragen,’ Augusta interposed.

‘Good God, she’s mindmelding!’ Tragen said staring at her he was utterly astonished.

‘Yes, I am. Now do you not think I have the right to know who’s hunting me?’

Tragen stared at Augusta and Aidan, lost for words, he was completely nonplussed. He nudged his friend Locklear. ‘It appears Hugo that we have been discovered in our subterfuge.’

Hugo startled, sat up in his chair. ‘What do you mean?’

Looking pensive Tragen added. ‘These four…it is the four of you who suspect, Aidan?’ At his assent Tragen continued still not taking in that Augusta could mindmeld. ‘These four are not as ignorant as we assumed. They have realized that we are being chased by this storm.’

‘No, Master, we have realized that we are being chased by someone behind this storm.’ Aidan stared, daring him to contradict his statement.

‘Before I tell all of you of what we surmise, I will need to think about this last calamity. I must ask for your patience and your forgiveness, Highness,’ he said to Augusta. ‘I promise I will divulge everything we know, and think we know, tomorrow. Hopefully, you will also be able to explain how you have come upon the art of mindmeld.’

‘Mindmeld! What’s this?’ Hugo asked, frowning.

‘It seems we all have secrets to impart, Hugo.’ Tragen stared at the youngsters, a rueful smile on his face. ‘I suggest you look in on poor Lady Cornelia before you retire. She must now be frantic with worry about this latest attack of the storm.’

As they moved to go below, the unhappy captain called down to Trumper. ‘Bo’sun, enquire how many men died, please.’

‘There’s no need, Captain,’ Aidan looked at Locklear, a very haggard looking bear now. ‘There were three…I watched them pass over,’ he smiled strangely and gazed up at the sky. ‘They’re fine now.’

Incredulous, Locklear stared after the boy as he and his friends entered the companionway to return below.

Later that night, Augusta and Beatrix lay in their bunks mulling over the events of the past days. ‘What do you think of Aidan, Beattie, do you like him?’

‘Oh yes, of course I do, he’s quite remarkable isn’t he? A lot different to what we always thought he was.’ Beatrix smiled her mind elsewhere. She couldn’t get Anders out of her thoughts, and didn’t want to. She knew now that she was seriously in love with the tall, blond cabin boy, but how to tell him she had no idea.

Augusta turned over to go to sleep. ‘I don’t know about being a lot different…he’s still an insolent pig, sometimes,’ she smiled. ‘What do you think he meant by saying that those three men who died were all right?’

‘I’m not sure. All I know is there is something distinctly odd about him, sometimes.’

‘Odd, but nice,’ she replied, smiling radiantly.

Even later that night Anders was roused very abruptly from his dreams of Beatrix.

 

It lowered its arms and thrust the dagger slowly into the prisoner’s belly, blood spurting all over it amidst the captive’s renewed screaming. But this time the terrible, agonizing noise did not last for too long. The man quietened as his life bled away to fall into the fog billowing up from the rock basin below. It laughed loudly and gleefully whilst its minion cowered behind, terrified in case it noticed that he was afraid—for fear is what it sought.

 

Aidan screamed, crying out hoarsely. ‘Red…God…God…God, everywhere red! Stop, please stop, please…please…you’re h-u-rting h-i-m!’

Aidan did not wake. Anders did not sleep.

 

http://kickasshumor.com/c/5/funny-short-jokes

Me: should I get into trouble for something I didn’t do?
Teacher: No
Me: Good, because I didn’t do my homework.

 

Have another nice day.

 

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/workandplay/2.shtml

Worst diseases in Wales

Welsh health lecturer: “The two most debilitating diseases in Wales are silicosis and syphilis. Silicosis you get by going down a shaft

The ceiling of the royal bedchamber in Castle Mantovar. (Castell Coch)

The ceiling of the royal bedchamber in Castle Mantovar. (Castell Coch)

 

Eight

‘This is the easiest task of all,’ she explained, losing patience. ‘If you cannot make a bed, how will you do the rest of the chores? Lord Tragen will definitely speak with your father when we get home.’The following morning started badly with Beatrix teaching Augusta the rudiments of bed-making. Augusta, of course, didn’t want to know and attempted rebellion. Beatrix, though, was having none of it.

That argument seemed to settle it and Augusta set to with a will for about two minutes before complaining.

‘How am I to survive without having breakfast first? You know I can never wake up unless I have a cup of tea before I rise!’

The boys arrived in the middle of the heated exchange the shouting audible from one end of the dark passageway to the other.

The storm had noticeably decreased in intensity, the motion of the ship not as violent. Augusta and Beatrix were now finding it easier to keep their feet on a deck not jumping about so much. The waves, though, were still running high and the ship continued to dip and climb, very alarmingly on times. The crew spent most of their time controlling the level of flooding by manning the pumps every hour of the day and night and the replacing and repair of sprung boards was never ending.

As soon as they had awoken, Anders from his bed on the floor – he had been cajoled mercilessly into giving up his berth again – had questioned his friend.

‘What were you dreaming about, Aidan?’ he asked, pretending nonchalance.

‘Oh…what? I don’t know, why?’

‘You were talking in your sleep again, something about wizards going somewhere. You sounded very strange, as if you were threatening someone.’

‘Was I? Don’t know what you’re on about, come on I’m starving let’s go to the galley.’

‘I’ve got to tidy the Bear’s cabin first, you can help.’

Five minutes of frantic activity, resulting in charts and clothes deposited in some very unusual locations, and the two boys were racing each other down companionways and ladders to “Dolly’s” kingdom—the galley, one deck below the passengers, and forward of the mainmast.

Anders, not happy with his friend’s answer, still fretted, this was his second sleepless night and fatigue was telling on him, increasing his anxiety. He couldn’t recall Aidan ever having nightmares before. Standing in a line behind Bertram, pots in hand, Anders’ thoughts were elsewhere. Aidan’s dreams were not normal, something untoward was happening, something that was likely to have nasty consequences. Anders could feel it in his guts.

The ship’s cook, Dolphin, had been named by his mother, a very dominant wife of a very quiet fisherman. She had loved the big mammals of the sea and had nearly called her son Walrus. Dolly’s father would have preferred him called that, after all Wally was a lot better than Dolly. But he was one of those strange men who loved a violent woman and he had acquiesced, for when his wife was drunk she was usually aggressive with both her fists and her tongue.

Dolly was short and bald, with an enormous belly. He was also a very hard man, growing up on the docks with the attendant blessings of that name he had to be. Nevertheless he was famous throughout the fleet for two things—his knife-fighting skills and being the only ships’ cook who hated fish.

Dolly came from a small fishing community in southern Mantovar, one of many villages that supplied the large inland towns with the harvest of the sea…and Mantovar with sailors for its navy. His father dearly loved his son and had not wanted him to leave home, but Dolly found he could not remain after the tragic death of his mother.

He brought with him to the Grim a culinary skill not often seen in ships’ cooks, and he prided himself on supplying hot food and drink in almost any weather. The Grim, being the largest vessel afloat, had the area around the stove protected by magic, no coals could fall on nearby decking to cause a fire. But in this storm, Dolly had not wanted to tempt fate. Spells did fail on times, especially the ones that needed renewing each year as this one did. So, over the last two days he had only been able to supply cold meats and hard ships’ biscuit, a miserable fare to sustain life in atrocious conditions. This morning, though, he made up for it with a hot burgoo, a porridge made of oatmeal, sugar, butter and salted water. This, along with very sweet tea, was heaven on earth to men who had survived unspeakable strain.

Having eaten to bursting point in the galley, the boys gathered caddies of piping hot tea and pots of the burgoo and toted them through dark passageways up to the girls and Lady Cornelia.

While Augusta/Mabel and Beatrix carried breakfast in to Lady Cornelia, the boys made themselves at home in Beattie’s cabin. Aidan stretched out in what had become his usual place on the bottom bunk after pulling the blankets straight, Augusta had again failed to carry out the task properly. And Anders picked his favourite spot on the floor, stretching out his long legs before him, his back against an old wooden chest, his shoulders in contact with a woollen blanket folded on its lid.

‘I can’t understand it Anders, this is no punishment, and nothing’s changed. We were watching over the girls already and …’ the girls returned with a clatter that stopped him in mid-sentence. ‘All right, Mabel, why so noisy?’ Aidan baited, mischievously.

‘I am going to throw a boot at you if you call me that horrible name again, little wizard.’

Anders joined in. ‘Well, we must call you something. Hey! How about a boy’s name then, she could pass as one dressed like that, couldn’t she?’

‘Aye, come to think of it she looks like Bertie Smallpen…you know, Anders, the kitchen hand back at the castle, hey, that name suits her! All we need shout then is “Beattie and Bertie behave yourselves or you’ll get a battered bottom”!’ The two boys collapsed in hysterics.

‘Very funny…ha, ha…remind us to laugh won’t you. For your information you are to call me Nellie, Cornelia allowed me to choose another.’ Sitting down on the end of the bunk pushing Aidan’s bare feet out of the way, none of them wore any footwear, she tucked into her burgoo.

‘I have a cousin Mabel,’ Augusta grimaced between mouthfuls, ‘a short, skinny, spotty, horrible girl. There are things I could tell you about her that would make your hair curl,’ she shuddered.

‘Oh, go on then, I’m all ears,’ said Aidan.

‘I can’t in mixed company.’

‘Why not?’ Aidan asked, his ears flapping.

‘It would not be genteel and proper,’ replied Augusta, flummoxed.

‘Oh, come on…since when do maids have to be genteel and proper? Beattie isn’t,’ Aidan winked at Anders.

‘You say that again and I’ll throw more than a boot at you,’ said Beatrix, nearly choking on her food.

‘You were saying, when we came in, that you didn’t understand Tragen. What was that all about?’ Augusta asked, changing the subject rapidly she accidentally slurped her food as the ship rapidly dropped down a sharp incline.

‘If I made a noise like that, you’d call me a pig,’ complained Aidan.

‘Shut up and tell us,’ said Beatrix, exasperated. And then, realizing what she had said, added. ‘And don’t dare tell me you can’t shut up and speak the same time.’

‘I wasn’t going to. You’re getting as bad as Nellie.’ Aidan settled himself more comfortably on the bed as they carried on eating. ‘No, he’s up to something is Tragen and if I know my master, he’ll leave it too late to tell me.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Beatrix asked. ‘Why should he tell you, anyway?’

‘Because whatever he’s hiding affects us, and he thinks we’re kids. I’m fifteen not five…well at least I think I am.’

Augusta looked at him quizzically. ‘Don’t you know your age?’

Aidan glared at her and refused to answer.

‘What makes you think he’s hiding anything?’ Anders asked, breaking the icy silence.

‘Yeah, come on little wizard…tell us,’ enjoined Augusta, sarcastically, ‘I’m sure we’d all benefit from your inside knowledge.’

Aidan, ignoring her sarcasm, put his arms behind his head and nodded to himself. ‘Do any of you call what he gave us last night, a punishment?’ He looked around waiting for an answer, and as none was forthcoming, he went on. ‘Because I don’t, he gave us what we wanted and pretended to lecture us. Now why is that?’

‘You may not call it a punishment, you won’t have to teach Augusta how to be a maid,’ disgruntled, Beatrix answered.

‘Hey, I won’t be that bad,’ said Augusta, indignantly. ‘The hardest part will be answering to Nellie.’

‘Oh yes, Highness, and when it comes to the laundry, are you prepared to get wet to your elbows?’ Beatrix retorted.

‘I am, and don’t call me Highness!’ Augusta said, accepting the fact that the task of protecting her from her father’s anger would mostly fall on her companion. But at the same time, she was appalled at the thought of scrubbing smelly clothes.

‘Whoa ladies, no more quarrelling, we’re all in the same boat here. I agree with Aidan, I don’t feel I’ve been punished. It’s very strange, it seems as if Tragen seeing us together, means to keep us together, and I for one would like to know why.’ For Anders, normally reticent, this was quite a speech and Aidan was so surprised he rose on one elbow and stared at his friend. ‘Don’t stare at me so, I’m agreeing with you.’

‘All right, don’t you two start. Arguing will get us nowhere. What we need is a strategy to find out what he and Cornelia are up to,’ said Augusta, pursing her lips. ‘All of you…think!’

‘Hey, that’s a good joke, Anders,’ Aidan chortled.

‘What is?’ Anders asked.

‘We are all in the same boat!’

‘Oh…yeah, I didn’t realize,’ he laughed and turned to Augusta. ‘Why include Lady Cornelia?’

‘Because last night we left her and Tragen talking, and they were together a long time, which means they were not just passing the time of day. No,’ she finished eating and, placed her bowl on the floor. ‘I know my lady-in-waiting…they were plotting.’

‘Perhaps he was romancing her,’ Aidan said, impishly.

‘Don’t be silly, Lord Tragen’s not her type,’ said Beatrix dismissing his suggestion as absurd. ‘I agree with Nellie.’

‘OK then, boys and girls, how do we find out?’ Aidan asked, lying back on the pillow.

‘Simple! You work on them. You question your master, Aidan and you Hig…oh heck, Au…Nellie, you interrogate Lady Cornelia. You two know them best, you know their little ways.’ Beatrix rose from the floor as she said this and started gathering their dirty breakfast dishes. And at the same time trying to get her mouth around what she should be calling her mistress.

‘I see a small problem there.’ Aidan got up from the bed and swung his feet to the floor. ‘Unfortunately, Tragen knows me as well. He’ll be expecting me to try and worm it out of him and he’s going to clam up.’

‘The same with Cornelia,’ said Augusta. ‘I will never get her to reveal anything; she can be quite a cow on times.’

‘Augusta!’ Beatrix, scandalized at her mistress’ swearing, nearly dropped the dishes.

Aidan, though, glanced at Anders and smiled—he liked her choice of words.

‘But we have to try. We’ll all work on them, starting now,’ and Augusta pulled Beatrix with her as she moved to the door. ‘We have to clean her cabin, do we not, my friend? Cornelia here we come,’ and they marched out, Augusta grinning and Beatrix slightly bemused at her mistress acknowledging her a friend at last.

‘Aidan, shift yourself, you can help me in the Bear’s cabin again…it’s still a mess, and if it stays that way much longer the Bear will skin me alive,’ and Anders dragged Aidan from the bed.

‘That’s a contradiction in terms, if you don’t mind me saying so, Anders. We’ll see you later,’ shouted Aidan to the girls disappearing into Cornelia’s cabin.

‘What’s a contradiction in terms?’

‘Well, you implied, “the Bear will skin us” whereas it’s usually us skinning…’

Lady Cornelia called from inside her cabin, interrupting Aidan’s explanation. ‘Is that the young wizard? Come here young man, I wish to see you.’

Aidan, apprehensive after the debacle the day before, stepped through the door followed by Anders equally nervous. But Aidan did not walk forward into the body of the cabin. He unexpectedly stepped to one side immediately he crossed the threshold, and this movement took Anders completely by surprise. The cabin boy found himself manoeuvred into the forefront in the prime position to bear the brunt of whatever followed. The young wizard had learned over the years that aristocratic ladies were not to be trifled with—they usually ended up shouting at him or cracking him over the knuckles with a switch. So, just in case, he was determined to remain nearest the door to enable a quick escape.

Anders, taking his first good look at the pale woman, was struck by the fact that she appeared to be no older than thirty or thirty-five – he’d expected her to be older – but oh boy, was she fat! Then, when she uttered her next words, he suddenly knew what was about to happen and he prepared to cover Aidan’s exit.

Lady Cornelia, sitting up in her cot wrapped in a brightly coloured shawl, beckoned Aidan closer. She wanted an uninterrupted look at the boy who had just turned her life around.

‘So, you are the lad that healed my ankle, are you?’

‘I’ve started the healing process, Milady, that’s all I do…it will still take time to heal fully,’ Aidan nervously answered, his stomach churning as he waited for it.

‘Yes, so Lord Tragen informed me. Is it…is it true you have also commenced the healing of the “old” sickness in my bones?’ Cornelia stared at him, holding her breath, not daring to believe it, yet desperately not wanting to hear a denial.

Aidan nodded, feeling more uncomfortable—he’d completely forgotten about the gratitude, until now.

‘My God, boy, do you realize how I have suffered with that illness?’

‘Yes, Milady, I’ve come across it before.’

She stared at him, her eyes brimming. ‘Oh, my boy…thank you…thank you, M…’

‘Please, Milady, there’s no need to thank me, I couldn’t leave you in pain,’ Aidan, frantic, shuffled to the door all his thoughts bent on escape, ‘excuse me, I’m needed in the captain’s cabin.’ Aidan barged past Anders and ran quickly and noisily up the corridor.

Augusta and Beatrix stared after the fleeing boy, shocked, not knowing what to make of his unexpected exit.

Lady Cornelia sat with her hands to her face weeping with both gratitude for his healing and guilt for thanking him—her acknowledgement so obviously causing him distress.

Anders, finding his voice, spoke to them quietly and forcefully. ‘He can’t abide being thanked, ladies, he hates it and I won’t say sorry for him running away. I’ll tell you though that healing is as normal to him as breathing…he heals without a second thought. He could never stand by and see anyone suffer, Milady.’

Cornelia, drying her eyes, sighed and gazed at Anders. ‘Lord Tragen told me much the same last night, I should have heeded him. Please tell Aidan I will not mention it again and that I hope he’ll forgive me. Tell him…no…ask him for me, ask him to come and see me later.’

Anders nodded and bowed, leaving the cabin he chased after Aidan.

‘Well!’ Augusta said, looking at Beatrix and Cornelia. ‘How very puzzling…that boy…I don’t know, he never fails to surprise me!’

‘Yes, Nellie,’ and with that name Cornelia regained the upper hand. ‘This cabin is a mess with all your comings and goings,’ her eyes swollen with suppressed tears, ‘I suggest you tidy it, right away.’

And the lady-in-waiting, having a lot on her mind, lay back comfortably in Augusta’s cot and supervised both girls while she daydreamed of walking in the forest at home without fear of stumbling and breaking bones. She so loved the Great Forest and all it succoured.

 

Anders caught up with Aidan. The apprentice was slamming around the captain’s cabin replacing papers and pens that had fallen to the floor, picking up chairs that had tipped over and generally putting things to right…but doing it very noisily.

Anders had always known to leave him well alone when he was in this mood, he’d come out of it by himself and not before. It still perplexed Anders though…why should Aidan take on so every time someone wanted to thank him, it was natural to show gratitude, wasn’t it? After all, the woman had suffered a terrible illness for most of her life. And now that Aidan had healed her, she could, perhaps for the first time be hopeful of her future. He peeked out of the corner of his eye at his friend wandering the room messing desultorily with things that no longer needed tidying.

Aidan eventually ceased his pacing and aimless rummaging around. He stood in the stern gallery staring out through the small panes in the window, his thumbs hooked in his belt.

He brooded. He had encountered the same old problem again and still didn’t know how to deal with it. He knew he was at fault reacting as he had, but he just couldn’t help it. Being thanked brought on guilt—a gut wrenching shame. He didn’t deserve gratitude, if people realized how he felt they’d shun him. It would devastate him if he lost the love of Tragen and Anders as he surely would if they discovered his secret. He sighed and rubbed his face, staring through the window with sightless eyes. The simple fact was he took an inordinate amount of pleasure in the act of healing. Too much pleasure, he thought. It was almost as if he enjoyed seeing people hurting. The sheer enjoyment that gripped him when he destroyed the disease or watched the broken bone knitting together was overwhelming. There was no other word to describe the aftermath of any act of healing—guilt. He needed to hide the knowledge that sick people made him happy.

He turned from the window, and waited for his best friend to finish checking the Bear’s clothing. Anders was meticulous in ensuring his captain was clad appropriately.

‘Let’s go up top, Anders…I could do with some air.’

Anders replaced the last of Locklear’s clothes, bowing his head a moment he realized that this time he couldn’t leave it alone, not yet. Circumstances had changed over the last couple of days; their circle of friendship had now doubled in size, for one thing. An increase that Anders welcomed with open arms and given time to think on it so would Aidan. They were all at a loss to understand the young wizard’s attitude and this could only lead to unrest and doubt amongst the four of them. He couldn’t allow this unpleasant feeling to remain, it would grow and fester—the newly formed friendship of the four would not survive the strain.

‘Aidan, we have to talk and I said talk, not shout at each other.’

Aidan waited, shoulders slumped. ‘Go on then, say what you have to say.’

‘The lady meant well. In your heart, you know it. I don’t understand why you take on so at people thanking you, it’s a natural reaction after all.’

‘Have you finished,’ he said, moving towards the quarterdeck door.

‘No, I haven’t,’ he continued even more strongly and his friend stopped, his hand on the door latch. ‘People are always going to be beholden to you. You’re going to have to get used to their thanks or you’ll make your own life a living hell. People need to show gratitude, need to thank you it’s…it’s part of the healing process for God’s sake. Either accept that as a fact or cease healing.’

Aidan glanced up, his eyes glistening. ‘I can’t stop healing, you know that.’

‘Aye, I know,’ he said exasperated, ‘then why do you feel as you do?’

And Aidan nearly told him. But he knew he could never divulge his shameful secret, not to him, he thought too much of Anders to burden him with it. He didn’t want to lose his best friend, but he also accepted the truth in his friend’s words. His life was already hell because of the guilt.

‘I can’t tell you why,’ he sighed deeply, tears glistening, almost falling from his eyes. He blinked. ‘I’ll make you a promise, though,’ and he looked up at the concern in his big friend’s face. ‘I’ll try to change…I’ll do my damnedest to cope when they thank me, I won’t succeed all the time, but I will try.’

‘Come on, let’s wheedle the truth out of Tragen,’ Anders said, understanding his friend more than Aidan would ever know.

 

On the quarterdeck the storm was still raging, not as intense as at its height but the rain still fell in sheets stinging their faces. The wind continued to blow ferociously, its sound deafening. The seas though were not so rough, visibility had improved and the horizon had moved farther away from the ship. And if Aidan was not deceived, the air seemed a lot warmer.

Tragen was at the rear standing on a box and staring over the poop deck, past the after-jigger mast and out over the stern at the storm blowing now from the northeast, a pensive look on his face as he scratched his beard. Leash was at the wheel accompanied by Nkosi, it was still taking two men to hold the vessel on a good heading. The small stormsail stretched taut above and behind them, the wind singing through the lines. Trumper, the sword scar below his left eye livid in the rain, was reporting to the captain. And behind him, just climbing the steps up from the waist was Hopper, a very worried frown on his face.

As Aidan and Anders reached the larboard rail, they overheard the last of the bo’sun’s report.

‘Aye, if this temperature increases much more the humidity will sprout the weevils. I must spread it before long for the air to get at it.’

‘What’s he talking about, Anders?’ Aidan whispered.

‘He’s on about the mainsail. At present it’s bundled up, soaking wet on the deck. You’ve noticed the heat?’ Aidan nodded. ‘Well the warm air and stagnant water in its folds will breed worms that will eat the canvas. It must be spread out, even in this wet weather, to stop the weevil growing.’

‘Very well, Bo’sun, do your best,’ ordered Locklear. ‘You and the men fought hard enough to salvage it…it would be outrageous to lose it now.’ The bo’sun touched his forelock and departed the quarterdeck.

‘Hopper, how goes it?’ Locklear grasped his mate’s arm to drag him beneath the overhang of the poop deck, not that it provided much shelter.

‘I’ve checked the holds and talked it over with Dolly; we have enough provisions to last possibly a week if we ration. It will be basic provender and the passengers will have to manage the same as us,’ he sighed. ‘What really worries us is the fresh-water, many barrels have been spoiled. We estimate we have enough drinking water to last four, perhaps five days. We need provisioning desperately.’

Locklear ran his fingers through his heavy, black beard. ‘If I’m correct, Hopper, this change in temperature signifies we are being driven south into the tropics. That fact, coupled with the storm blowing from the east means, at this speed, we are leaving home far behind. Undoubtedly we are well into the Deep.’ He paused and looked up at the darkened sky. ‘If we have been pushed south and west from the coast of Drakka we should raise the Griffin Islands eventually, do you agree?’

‘Aye…or the Siren, if we’ve been blown too far south!’

Locklear glanced at him sharply. ‘We don’t want to come too close to that. I saw it once on the horizon—that was too near, the noise was appalling, that beneath it was worse. Wait a minute…between us and that is Blackfire Island. There are plenty of trees there!’ and he smiled.

‘Aye, and fresh water, but no food worth mentioning.’ Hopper grimaced; talk of the Siren always knotted his guts he’d once seen a ship disappear in its depths. That vessel had just left Blackfire. Anxious, he stared out over the dark ocean, silent for a moment. ‘You’ve visited Griffin haven’t you, Cap’n? What did you make of them? I was there only a short time.’

‘I never made landfall, I was chasing pirates at the time,’ he pulled at his beard. ‘We will need to be vigilant, Hopper. Some of those islands are extremely dangerous, in more ways than one.’

Locklear glanced at Anders and Aidan. ‘I do not want you spreading false stories amongst the crew, some of the islands are perilous, aye…but then again, from what I’ve seen, a lot are not.’

He turned back to Hopper. ‘I’ll make a decision on our destination later, when we know our position. Drakka may be nearer. But if I decide Griffin is our destination and the first island we reach appears safe we’ll take the chance and send ashore a provisioning party.’ He stared up at the rainclouds, disgruntled, ‘It will be useless setting tarpaulins to catch some of this rainwater, the waves are still too high, the spume will only contaminate it. As for food, well, if this storm ever ceases we can live on fish, just don’t tell Dolly yet. I just hope Tragen is right and we have reached the limit of their range. Thank you, Hopper,’ and Hugo tapped his arm in gratitude. ‘See to it please, and I’d be obliged if you will take command for an hour, I need to go below.’ He turned to leave.

At that moment there was a harsher gust of wind and a sharp crack from above their heads. Looking up, a tear appeared in the stormsail and immediately the bows swung to leeward as headway was lost. Tragen reacted instinctively; raising his staff he pointed the knuckle at the gash. Uttering a very loud and strident incantation a light shot from the staff and travelled along the rip, sealing the canvas as good as new.

‘Thank you, my friend,’ said Hugo, vastly relieved.

Tragen resumed his examination astern as Hugo went below.

Aidan looked at Anders and nodded him away out of earshot of the mate. ‘Did you hear that Anders? Locklear said “reached the limit of their range”, who are they? That’s what their hiding,’ he whispered.

‘Oh, come off it, he meant out of range of the storm…nothing else.’ Anders was busy speculating on what the consequences would have been if Tragen hadn’t been on the quarterdeck as the sail tore. Could Aidan have repaired it? Would Aidan have even thought of it?

‘Then why would he need Tragen’s advice? The Bear’s the sailor, not Tragen, so why had he spoken to him about it.’

‘Oh boy, you really are clutching at straws.’

Aidan grabbed his arm. ‘What’s the Siren?’

‘It’s a giant whirlpool—come too near it and we’ll get dragged in. I’ve heard it wanders.’

Aidan swallowed and looked around nervously.

 

Leash watched the boys from beneath hooded eyes. As soon as Aidan had arrived on deck, Leash’s mind had gone into overdrive. He would have to be careful; he couldn’t attempt the same attack as last time. The boy was not an idiot he would be bound to cotton on that his near fatal scrapes were deliberate. It wouldn’t take him long to realize that the second helmsman was always around when he had a brush with death. Leash watched and he waited.

Because of his infection Leash’s hearing was enhanced to a greater degree than was normal and, despite the phenomenal noise of the storm, he had heard everything that Hopper had reported. And the news worried him.

He’d not wanted to sail on this voyage or on any other; he’d been quite content on land. But, having slipped up the last time on shore and nearly been caught, he’d had no choice; going to sea had been the safest option although it carried its own risks. The sea had been a refuge many times in his life and strangely enough he’d discovered a hidden talent. He found he was a very good helmsman and had taken to the work like a duck to water.

But to satiate his infection’s need with immunity required solid earth beneath his feet—it was so much easier to hide afterwards. Nonetheless, he had been forced to flee to sea again to escape the consequences of his last episode. Too many people were after his blood and a nice soft voyage to Drakka had seemed a godsend. So he had signed up with alacrity knowing that a few weeks away from Mantovar would cool the chase.

But one of the first people he had bumped into on board was the instigator of his isolation, his acute loneliness, the reason his infection was getting the upper hand—the one man he hated above all others, Tragen. The wizard was the one person in the world who scared him senseless, the man who had interrupted him and spoiled their pleasure many years ago—him and his damned staff. But Leash’s luck had held.

The wizard had not recognized him.

Not surprising really, it had been very dark at the time of their last encounter. God, he had been fortunate to get away. If the wizard had not stumbled, the full blast from his staff would have killed him. As it was the trip had upset Tragen’s aim. Some of the power had collided with a nearby wall punching a large hole in it through which he’d fled; the rest of the staff’s energy had ended up elsewhere doing all the damage. He didn’t want to think about where it had finally landed. He had run for his life.

He loathed the wizard and all those connected with him, his hatred consuming him. He wanted to hurt the wizard, kill him if it was feasible, but he was very afraid to be anywhere near the old man. Tragen was far too powerful a mystic. And the infection within Leash knew that if it was possible to die, then the wizard would be the one to kill him. The apprentice though was a different matter. All right, he thought, the sod had eluded him twice; he would not a third time.

But above all, Leash wanted to survive this voyage and the thought of going without water and food unnerved him. He could get hold of drinking water easily enough today, but where to hide it was the problem. He watched Aidan as the boy went across to the wizard. Then he smiled. Two birds with one stone, and Leash almost laughed aloud.

 

‘Master, excuse me but I must ask you something,’ said Aidan, politely.

His voice immediately placed Tragen on his guard, the boy would never learn, he thought. ‘Well, what is it?’

Anders stood alongside them both listening to every word.

‘I was wondering how much longer you expected this storm to last now that we’re at the limit of their range.’

Anders stared at Aidan dumbfounded. He had not expected his friend to be quite so blatant.

‘This storm will run its course, my boy,’ Tragen answered, pausing only slightly, choosing to ignore most of the question.

‘Yes, but we’ve now reached their limit. Can’t you give us any idea of how far we’ll have to sail to get completely away from them… whoever they are?’

‘Limit, Aidan?’ and the wizard gave him a very puzzled look, again ignoring the second question. ‘I do not understand what you mean. I have no yardstick to measure the storm. Now may I ask you a question in return?’

‘Of course, but…’

‘No buts, Aidan. Tell me, I gave you a task last evening and that task included watching over the two young ladies, did it not?’

‘Yes we know that, but…’

‘No buts…get to it. Obey me, now…or else!’

Anders grabbed Aidan before he could say anything else and pushed him into the companionway.

Below in the passageway Aidan was exultant. ‘I knew it! He’s definitely hiding something. Did you see the way he reacted?’

‘Reacted? He went nuts!’

‘Yes, and that’s the proof there’s something going on! He very rarely loses his temper with me. He knows I’m not afraid of him when he shouts at me. He only scares me when he bollocks me quietly. Come on, let’s see if the girls have any news,’ and whistling a sea shanty he proceeded to the girl’s cabin, bouncing off the bulkheads as he hurried along in the dark.

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/workandplay/2.shtml

(a sick one)

You must be twins

A Welsh school-inspector visiting a small village primary school was struck by the great resemblance between two small girls sitting at the front of the class.

“You must be twins”, he exclaimed.

“No we are not”, replied the little girls firmly.

“Well then,” said the inspector to the first girl, “how old are you?”

“Nine years and two months.”

“And how old are you?” he asked the other girl.

“Nine years and two months.”

“Then you definitely must be twins.”

“No we aren’t, we’re all that’s left of triplets.”

 

Try and have a nice day. Honest, no offence intended, I was one of twins..

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