Me: would you wear shoes if you had no feet?
Girl: No,of corse not
Me: Then why do you wear bras?
‘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, 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.
Me: should I get into trouble for something I didn’t do?
Me: Good, because I didn’t do my homework.
Have another nice day.