A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, “Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.” The little girl screamed to her brother, “Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!
Leash knew youngsters, knew they were insatiably curious and loved exploring new places. If the town was large enough, isolating Aidan would be child’s play, he’d done it before with others. All he had to do was follow them, and wait.eash overheard everything, with eyes glinting and his brain churning, he saw many possibilities in using the feud. Having failed to kill the boy on the ship he would slay him somewhere on the island, after all, there was always more opportunity to arrange an “accident” ashore. It was common knowledge that docks were notoriously dangerous places, and if he played it right the Montetors and Portolans would be blamed.
He only wished he could somehow let the wizard know the reason for the boy’s death…seeing Tragen demented with self-loathing and grief would be a memory sweet beyond measure. And then Leash blinked tears away—it would never erase his own loneliness. He went to his bunk that night happy. Chuckling, he climbed into his cot, his fellow crewmates keeping well away from him.
But as he fell into his happy dream expecting relief from misery, he detected an air of disquiet—she disapproved.
The following morning was a replay of the morning before. Not a spare space anywhere along the rails, everyone wishing to examine the island, and the closer they came to it the more heavily was it inspected.
Griffin was an enormous island stretching for many leagues east and west, a reef on the south side enclosing the harbour, protected the large town behind it. The hinterland, only glimpsed at this distance, was immense, it had twin peaks, one twice as high as the other. A veritable forest of short growth trees covering the foothills of the higher of the mountains with thinner growth towards the summit; the other mountain was bare rock.
The deep valley between them was occasionally hidden by sporadic black and grey smoke with the odd flash of bright light amidst the fumes issued by the many foundries belonging to the Montetors. The mantle of pollution was hiding a rabbit warren of red dust-laden houses, the inhabitants equally as grimed.
Hopper pointed out some of the sights of the town. It sprawled over high cliffs in the west where a huge house had been built overlooking the ocean; this was the home of the harbourmaster, his manorhouse. Spreading eastwards, the town continued around and over a large promontory on which a beacon was maintained. Below the beacon the evidence for its existence was plainly seen…a frothing, foaming mass of water breaking over large rocks encroaching far into the sea.
The harbour was wide and deep, a broad looping lagoon. Many jetties protruded into the harbour from a common wharf, myriad vessels of all shapes and sizes tied up alongside. But the western end below the manorhouse was kept for their navy—warships, large and small were moored there, although there were not many.
Waterfront warehouses, most long, black and ugly stretched the length of the wharf, but as one sailor was overheard to say, iron and coke were not a pretty sight. The wharf was strong and sturdy, cargo piled neatly at intervals waiting to be loaded for export to other exotic destinations. Even more stockpiles of goods were being landed from ships, the whole dockyard one hive of activity.
To the west of Griffin Town, a couple of leagues down the coast, a fishing village plied its trade. Small fishing boats sailing to and from the jetty jutting into the small bay in front of it. Seabirds in abundance were swooping over the village pilfering the seething catches at the slightest lapse in vigilance. Gulls screeching and the occasional lonely petrel overflying the Grim added a certain magic to the exotic spectacle. A single fishing boat beating its way home, passed close to the Grim, its fishermen ceasing work to give a wave and stare open-mouthed at the huge, damaged ship.
The morning wore on and Beatrix rejoined Augusta and Aidan on the poop, she had been below to tend to Lady Cornelia. As she lowered herself to sit alongside Aidan, Anders returned from his duties in the captain’s cabin and he slumped down heavily beside her.
‘How much longer before we dock do you think, Anders?’ Augusta asked, bending forward to peer at him around Aidan and Beatrix.
‘A couple of hours that’s all, this opposing current is slowing us up a bit.’
‘Argh!’ Augusta abruptly screamed, leaping to her feet and staring at her tunic. ‘Those bloody birds have had me!’
‘Augusta, please, your cursing is getting as bad as Aidan’s,’ Beatrix chided and at the same time wrinkled her nose in disgust at the sight on her mistress’ tunic.
‘You’d swear as well if it happened to you. Stop laughing,’ she shouted at the boys as she aimed a kick at Aidan who was closest.
‘Ah well, they do say it’s lucky for a bird to crap on you,’ Aidan laughed, quickly rolling out of the way.
‘Lucky! I’ll give you lucky you come near me. Ooh…Beattie, help me clean this will you?’ Augusta implored.
‘You know what Dolly calls seagulls? No?’ Anders, receiving puzzled looks for an answer, continued. ‘He calls them airborne rats…nothing but scavenging, crapping…’
‘All right…all right, no need to give any more details, we get the picture,’ said Beatrix, stopping him in mid flow. ‘Come on, Augusta, let’s go to the cabin and clean it off.’
‘We can’t be long; I don’t want to miss anything.’
Aidan stopped giggling as the girls moved to pass him. ‘Hey, wait a minute. Clean it here…with magic!’
Augusta almost convulsed—spinning around she stared at him. Even the idea of her using magic caught at her soul. Her eyes wide and bright she stalked back to the young wizard.
‘Sh…show me,’ she stuttered losing control. ‘Please, Aidan,’ she begged.
He smiled. ‘Okay, calm down and sit down. You don’t need to close your eyes for this. You know what the fabric beneath the crap looks like.’ They all stared intently as he continued. ‘Now with your hand just above it, move it in a circular motion as if you are actually washing the filth with a cloth. That’s it.’
As Augusta moved her hand she could see the mess rolling into a small pellet—a small tight ball!
‘Now…flick it away,’ ordered Aidan.
And she did, leaving the fabric of her tunic cleaner than it was before, she had also removed the grime beneath the crap. Augusta laughed. ‘I did it…look!’ She held the cloth out towards Beatrix and Anders for their inspection. ‘Oh, I could have killed that bird.’
Aidan paled, the smile wiped from his face. ‘Don’t say things like that, Augusta. Never threaten to kill.’
Augusta looked up, startled. ‘Why on earth not?’
‘You are learning to be a wizard…wizards can kill by just wishing it.’
Augusta paled. ‘You mean I can actually kill a bird just by wishing it?’
‘More or less…but you can also kill people.’
‘By the Gods, I never realized that. Can you do it, Aidan? I mean…can you kill?’ Augusta asked, intrigued and also frightened.
‘I’ve killed in the past, yes, but only animals for food, and then just enough to eat. I’ve never killed more than necessary.’
‘And people?’ Augusta persisted, unable to hide her ghoulish nature, the macabre fascinated her.
‘Never! I could never harm another’s soul and neither should you.’
‘But surely that’s nonsense, Aidan. You have to kill your enemies, don’t you?’ Augusta asked, troubled greatly by what she was hearing. ‘My father has had to do it many times. What is wrong with that? He’s been protecting Mantovar.’
‘Augusta, when a man passes over, his soul goes on to Paradise where it rests for a while before being called to live another life. But souls as well as bodies can die! When you kill, you inflict damage on your own soul, you weaken it. And if you kill often, then your soul’s chance of an afterlife is gradually chipped away until it has not the strength to survive. It enters Oblivion then where hopefully it will die…if not a worse fate…’ and he shuddered, unable to complete his thoughts. ‘Killing people is always wrong!’
‘But what if it’s your life in danger, Aidan? I mean, what if it’s you or them. You have to kill them before they kill you, don’t you?’ Beatrix asked tensely, her arm through Anders’, clinging to him tightly. ‘Otherwise, if you give up and not fight back, surely that’s a form of suicide, isn’t it? And I’ve always been taught that suicide is wrong.’
Aidan stared at her his facial muscles twitching; his eyes had a far away, unfathomable look. ‘I haven’t worked that one out yet…I haven’t got all the answers. All I know is I cannot knowingly kill anyone.’
They were struck silent at that, their thoughts their own as they pondered on Aidan’s strange outlook on life and death.
‘Aidan, what is worse than dying in Oblivion?’ Augusta asked.
Aidan replied, fear filling his voice. ‘Many things, but enough for now, I’ll tell you some other time.’
‘But…’ Augusta was interrupted by a shout from down in the waist of the Grim.
‘Captain, can we allow the bumboat alongside, sir?’
‘Aye, aye, watch he doesn’t scrape the paintwork, Trumper,’ shouted Locklear, smiling pensively. He also had overheard Aidan and had no idea what to make of it all.
The men on the deck below laughed and jeered as they eagerly watched the boat full of local produce come alongside, the two men in the boat shouting up to those on the enormous ship offering fresh melons and limes for sale.
Anders was grateful for a distraction from the dark mood into which Aidan’s words had plunged him. He jumped up and led the two girls in a race down the ladder to the starboard side of the waist.
Aidan, bringing up the rear, followed a little slower, trying to shake off the depression, and the fear, brought on by Augusta’s last question.
As the Grim limped through the entrance in the reef and advanced into the sheltered harbour in front of Griffin Town in the middle of the very hot afternoon, the hubbub of the harbour hit them like a blow in the face. Bellowing sailors, the creak of timbers, the flapping of unfurled canvas and the bawling of orders on the dock, assaulted the ears. And above it all, they savoured the numberless other sounds and exotic, spicy smells floating across to them from the town. Excitement gripped the four friends anxious to get ashore to explore an island none of them had ever heard of before this voyage.
An ornate barge oared by six men in uniform left the quayside and, wending its way between the warships, came out to meet them. Standing in the bows was a short fat man wearing a very large brimmed, floppy hat presumably to protect his face from the sun. This, Hopper informed Locklear waiting on his quarterdeck, was the harbourmaster, Seneschal Lodovico Portolan. Standing alongside him also graven faced was a very tall man, both men wearing a very plain blue uniform.
As the harbourmaster’s barge drew alongside, the rope ladder was lowered for the party to climb aboard. On orders from Trumper, all men were told to show the utmost respect. It was anticipated that this short, fat man climbing the ladder, would inevitably result in a very comical display of seamanship.
Trumper rounded on the crew as they awaited the spectacle. ‘Woe betide any man who laughs, sniggers or even smiles at the harbourmaster. Be warned, this man is dangerous, he has the power of life and death in this port—and he exercises it ruthlessly and often.’ Trumper turned back to the rail ready to help the harbourmaster come aboard as Hopper arrived at his elbow to escort the seneschal to the quarterdeck.
Lodovico Portolan, despite his bulk, did not seem in the least bit perturbed by the rope ladder. For a man of his size and shape he exhibited a nimbleness that could have put many a sailor to shame. Climbing over the rail to the sounds of the bo’sun’s call, the saluting whistle, he straightened his long, plain blue, immaculate coat embroidered with a multi-coloured coat-of-arms – a griffin rearing on hind legs in a crown above two stylized peaks – on his left breast.
Even though he was grossly overweight he did not appear to sweat more than usual. He had a handsome, clean-shaven face though his eyes were sunk deep above dark bags giving him the appearance of a man suffering from lack of sleep. But his manner denied this as he stared around at the crew now standing at attention. He smiled thinly, he knew that he had surprised and disappointed them…robbing them of their merriment.
Following him over the rail was his companion, a giant of a man, again immaculately uniformed in blue and carrying an enormous straight sword at his waist. This man, like the seneschal, wore no jewellery; neither man gave the impression of needing any show of frippery. The crew needed no urging to remain silent—they stared at two strangers who were harder than any men they had ever seen on any waterfront.
Touching his forelock Hopper stepped forward and greeted the harbour’s tyrant. ‘Welcome aboard the Grim, Seneschal Portolan. The Master, Captain Hugo Locklear, is on the quarterdeck and awaits your pleasure.’
The seneschal stared at Hopper, coldly assessing the second in command of the ship, finding him formidable. ‘You are the first mate?’ he asked, his words carrying just a smidgeon of sweet wine fumes, he had indulged a glass of red Cornia at lunch.
‘I am, sir, if you will kindly follow me, please.’ Hopper turned and led the way aft along the waist.
The harbourmaster slowly glanced around the upper deck, noting the damage. Accompanied by his very tall companion, he strode after Hopper, not sparing a look for the four youngsters lounging at the foot of the quarterdeck steps. The tall man did though, and his look seemed to pierce their very souls. Not much passed by this man, thought Anders.
Aidan, astonished, turned to the others as the three men climbed on to the quarterdeck. ‘Bloody hell, did you see the size of that man? He must be seven foot if an inch! What do you reckon, Anders, his bodyguard?’
‘Aye, he must be. Did you notice his shoulders? They’re wider than the Bear’s! We have to watch ourselves here…this port is not a happy place, methinks.’
‘The harbourmaster reminds me a bit of the Abbot of Sentinel,’ said Augusta, chewing her index finger.
‘Does he?’ Aidan asked, surprised
‘He has the same cold, calculating look,’ she shuddered, ‘yes, most everyone I know is wary of the abbot—they all stay well away from him if they can,’ whispered Augusta as she joined the others in listening to the conversation just above their heads. ‘That big man though is a handsome devil, isn’t he Beattie?’ And at Aidan’s scowl she poked her tongue out and laughed.
‘Good afternoon, Seneschal Portolan. I am honoured and very glad to meet you,’ said Locklear cheerfully shaking the fat hand. ‘Let me introduce my friend, Lord Tragen,’ and he waved his arm in the wizard’s direction.
For a moment, there was a flicker of consternation or perhaps speculation, in the eyes of the harbourmaster. ‘A wizard…we have not seen any of your brethren in this part of the world for many a long year, Milord.’
‘No, Seneschal, and my niece and I did not expect to be here now, unfortunately the storm…’ said Tragen shrugging, he glanced at Locklear. If there were no wizards in the Griffin Islands could the torturer be a monk, perhaps on Sanctity?
‘Yes…the ship has suffered, you have a great deal of damage, Captain,’ The seneschal said, turning away from the wizard at last, making the point of not introducing the tall man standing quietly at his shoulder. ‘You have stopped in for repairs, I take it. We can supply most things usually but we are awaiting deliveries from all points. We have other ships expected, of course, some are overdue by weeks. Perhaps the same storm has delayed them…or the brigands of Onyx, of course.’
Aidan and his friends listened to every word and when Tragen mentioned his niece, Anders was shushed into silence before he could ask.
Hopper, standing to one side keeping a surreptitious eye on the tall bodyguard, was unsurprised at this mention of delays. It was the usual opening gambit in negotiations for the seneschal’s payment. The mate had already figured out what this would be. Lodovico Portolan liked wine, good wine, and there was bound to be a shortage of Qula’s excellent offering on this island, if memory served him.
Because of the island realm’s distance from the eastern continent trade was very inconsistent between them. But the smuggling of wine, brandy and tobacco from many parts of the world was a thriving industry on Griffin Island even though the penalty, if caught, was always death. The Portolans demanded their taxes be collected promptly on all imports into the south of the island. And the Montetors extracted the same revenue on trade crossing the border into the north, or by whatever was brought ashore in the small inlets dotted around the northern end of the island. The Montetors, unlike the Portolans, did not enjoy the amenities of a deep water harbour, but both clans shared the facilities of the south, for trade.
Tragen had a hoard of the grape juice from the temperate regions of Qula, a very popular and rare vintage, very expensive. The wizard’s pained expression was frank evidence of his reluctance to part with even one bottle…Hopper smiled.
‘Nevertheless, Seneschal, we can surely help you in your endeavours to assist us,’ said Locklear. A seaman arrived just then with a carafe and the best silver goblets of the very wine Hopper had in mind.
Taking a sip the seneschal’s eyes lit up. ‘Ha! Qula…Enzore region I believe. The Enzoreans are true masters of their craft,’ he smacked his lips in appreciation. ‘What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of this,’ he smiled for the first time, though the smile did not reach his eyes.
‘Oh, I’m sure we could spare more than one bottle for your table, Seneschal,’ said Hugo. Tragen wilted. The harbourmaster’s smile grew broader, and he wandered to the forward rail to assess the visible damage and to speculate on the unseen.
‘We can discuss the supplies you will require over dinner, Captain. Please be my guest ashore tonight. I will send a carriage for you and your two passengers. I hope your niece will accompany you, Lord Tragen,’ Seneschal Portolan asked glancing at the wizard. ‘It is not often that my son and I entertain. Now, I must take my leave…until later, gentlemen.’ He swallowed the remains of his wine and handed the goblet back. Nodding his head curtly to Locklear and Tragen, he left the quarterdeck followed closely by his giant of a retainer. The tall man’s eyes continually roved over the ship, not missing a thing, assessing the crew as he disembarked.
At the foot of the steps, the four friends waited silently until they heard the bo’sun’s call and saw the harbourmaster step over the rail and descend, just as nimbly, to the awaiting barge. And then they made a mad scramble up onto the quarterdeck, Aidan anxious to tackle Tragen about his ‘niece’.
‘Say nothing, yet…wait,’ Tragen mindmelded, anticipating the questions. ‘Join us in the captain’s cabin, we have plans to make.’
‘Hugo, let us indulge ourselves with what little of my wine remains. If you wouldn’t mind I need a word in your cabin.’ Hugo glanced quickly at the departing barge and, followed by the youngsters, he and Tragen went below.
Hopper strode to the starboard rail and watched the harbourmaster heading for the wharf. His son’s health must have improved, he thought; it was unusual for the seneschal to receive guests with his son present. At least, years ago it would have been strange. Circumstances must have changed over the last twelve years, how old had the boy been then…three, perhaps four years old? Hopper recalled the stories of the poor mother’s death, dying in that manner and nearly taking her son with her, perhaps she should have, it would have been a blessing. A bad business, mused Hopper—tragic. Had the boy recovered? Hopper paced the boards and stared at the very busy wharf across a narrowing gap of water. There were a large number of the dockworkers staring up at the Grim, none of them ever having seen a five-masted ship let alone one that had sustained such severe damage and still made port. The captain had proved all the doubters wrong…this ship could sail in any weather, but there again Hugo Locklear was an exceptional seaman.
Tragen, greatly disturbed, silently studied Aidan and his friends. The wizard sat in the chair to one side of Hugo’s desk, Hugo in his usual chair behind with his back to the stern gallery. The four youngsters, having found available perches around the largest cabin on board, made the room appear overcrowded. Anders took it upon himself to open wider the windows in the stern gallery. Fresh air, even if it was imbued with the slight smell of brimstone drifting on the breeze, made their meeting place far more amenable.
Tragen stared deep into his wine goblet for a moment before saying anything. ‘Lady Cornelia will now masquerade as my niece whilst we are here. We could not possibly keep her hidden from the seneschal…too many people know there is a woman of importance in that cabin, and when the dockworkers come aboard to facilitate repairs, the harbourmaster will wonder…’
‘Aye, Tragen,’ replied Hugo, ‘but the crew believe it is their princess. How do you propose to get around that?’
‘They must be exhorted to remain silent where she is concerned…they must not speak of her to anyone!’
‘I do not trust that Leash,’ Beatrix said.
‘Why not?’ Tragen asked.
‘He always seems to be hanging around us,’ and she hunched her shoulders, ‘he watches us, especially Aidan,’ she finished lamely, not quite sure of her feelings.
‘He’s a very good helmsman, Tragen,’ said Hugo, dismissing her opinion.
‘Nevertheless, Beatrix has already proved she has remarkable mental insight. We shall all keep an eye on him, Beatrix,’ Tragen assured her, he believing in women’s intuition even if Locklear did not. ‘Now the arrangements for this evening…we will be expected to have our own servant accompany us, Hugo. You agree, Augusta?’
‘Yes, of course, we must stand behind you whilst you are seated at dinner and see to your needs.’ She perked up a little at the thought of going ashore and acting as companion to her lady-in-waiting, overhearing the talk at the table.
‘We dare not allow Augusta to act as maid to Lady Cornelia, Tragen. However hard she’ll try she will never pass it off for a whole evening, the Portolan’s servants will soon discover she is an impostor.’ Hugo stated flatly.
‘He is right, Highness,’ forestalling Augusta’s objection. ‘Think about it for a moment. If one of their servants says anything to disparage Lady Cornelia, or a little scullery maid speaks to you in a manner that you think is inappropriate, you will not be able to stop yourself. You will react in a way that will ensure they realize you are no ordinary maid. And that we cannot have. We cannot risk this harbourmaster and his family discovering your identity. No, you must stay here and Beatrix will go as my niece’s body servant. Anders will accompany his master and also double up as my servant…’
Aidan spoke up indignantly. ‘I’m your servant, I should accompany you!’
‘You are not a servant—you are my apprentice. When it comes to performing a servant’s duties at table you will encounter the same problems as Augusta and not be able to hide your magical abilities. We are all agreed that we should also keep you hidden as well.
‘Seneschal Portolan is a very shrewd man and for some reason desires the company of a wizard at dinner. It is not normal for a man in his position to ask an unknown sea captain to partake of his hospitality. He believes himself, rightly or wrongly, to be above such people. But he could not invite me and my niece alone. He would be insulting Hugo needlessly and he hopes to make a lot of money out of repairing this ship.
‘The seneschal needs me for some unknown purpose and until I know what that is, I do not want him to know there is a second wizard on board—or even a third,’ he glanced at Augusta. ‘Besides, I need you to remain here with Augusta. Under no circumstances is she to be left alone in these waters. There have never been any formal diplomatic ties between Griffin and Mantovar, therefore I do not have any idea how the seneschal will react if he knows the heir to Mantovar is in his country. Any problems and both of you can mindmeld with me; the distance should not be too great. You understand, my boy?’
‘Aye, I suppose,’ Aidan said, deflated, his disappointment obvious. ‘But you take care, there is something else happening here I don’t understand.’
‘What is that?’
‘I’m not certain, but it’s something to do with the storm…I need to think on it. But his manservant, the giant, he is not what he seems, either.’
Tragen disturbed at Aidan’s words reached over and ruffled his hair forgetting for a moment that Aidan’s contemporaries were watching. ‘If you need to discuss the matter of the storm come to me immediately. As for the giant, I marked him well, my boy, and I agree. Hopper has already informed us that the man is the commander of the seneschal’s militia. He will need careful watching. I must go now and inform my niece to ready herself. I expect she’ll be very happy to get out of her prison for a few hours.’
After picking her son up from school one day, the mother asks him what he did at school. The kid replies, “I had sex with my teacher.” She gets so mad that when they get home, she orders him to go straight to his room. When the father returns home that evening, the mother angrily tells him the news of what their son had done. As the father hears the news, a huge grin spreads across his face. He walks to his son’s room and asks him what happened at school, the son tells him, “I had sex with my teacher.” The father tells the boy that he is so proud of him, and he is going to reward him with the bike he has been asking for. On the way to the store, the dad asks his son if he would like to ride his new bike home. His son responds, “No thanks Dad, my butt still hurts.”
Have a nice day!