Unavoidable delay – Sorry! Chapter Four of The Gateway


Having your photo taken

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

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

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

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

“What, both of us?”

c/o dreamstime.com Castle of Mantovar
c/o dreamstime.com
Castle of Mantovar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What is this on your neck, my boy?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What do you mean?’

‘Do you like him?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All three gazed at her in sudden consternation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Family problems

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

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

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

Have a nice day!

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