Chapter Five of The Gateway (and a bit of humour)
Don’t come between a Welshman and his ale

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

The Englishman immediately pushes his beer away in disgust.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All there was below him was certain death.

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

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

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

‘I…I don’t know, one minute I’m…’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatrix looked askance at this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hissed its laughter.

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

Only Anders had the most uncomfortable rest, not just because he slept on the hard floor alongside his friend—he heard Aidan talking in his sleep.
Don’t mess with a Welsh woman

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day!

2 thoughts on “Chapter Five of The Gateway (and a bit of humour)

  1. I especially like the descriptive phrases in the paragraph – “It did not sleep, it liked the dark hours…” The reader can feel it….

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