Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
In hindsight people said it was an accident waiting to happen—that it should have been foreseen was without question.
The crew were hard at work emptying the forward cargo hold when Anders and Aidan came on deck the following morning. This hold, being the closest to the bows was the one that had suffered the most damage, boards had sprung in several places allowing water to pour in, ruining a substantial amount of the cargo. Although pumping had kept the water level manageable, wooden packing cases and canvas wrapped bails were still standing in water. A hoist had been rigged directly above the hold and men were removing the very heavy containers. Using slings, these loads were lifted on to the deck prior to transferring them to the dock using the derrick on the wharf. Leash was sat on the coaming supervising the two men below and the team above.
The two boys approached to watch the unusual activity and heard the shout from below that a crate on the hoist had burst open. The contents, which seemed to belong to the captain, were spilling out.
Leash called a halt leaving the crate suspended in its sling about twenty feet above the floor of the hold. Ever the one to take advantage of an opportunity to put Aidan in danger, he said. ‘You, cabin boy, you and your friend better get down there and sort something out before the captain loses his belongings.’
‘I’ll have to see what’s up, salvage what I can, wait here for me I’ll go and have a look,’ said Anders, rushing at once to the ladder down into the hold.
‘Hang on, I’m with you,’ and Aidan trooped after him, both boys still bleary from their late night. If they hadn’t been they may have had second thoughts.
Leash’s eyes gleaming as he watched the boys descend into the chaos below, wondered if this could be it—could this be the chance for which he’d been praying? Could this be turned into an opportunity to kill the apprentice? Glancing at the very insecure load on the hoist, he smiled, every nerve tingling in his body. On tenterhooks, every muscle humming with tension, he studied every man within sight on deck. Satisfied that his team were taking advantage of the stoppage to skive, he again stared at Aidan.
All he needed was good timing and a bit of luck.
Anders arrived on the floor of the hold and sloshed about thigh deep in the cold water, Aidan a little way behind. Both boys looked up at the broken crate swinging gently above them. The iron straps girding the crate had pulled through the rotten timbers, opening gaps for canvas wrapped bundles to fall through.
‘Some of these are the Bear’s journals, some his spare clothes…God, there’s even a few charts here,’ said Anders, ‘quick, pick them up before the water destroys them.’
Wading around in the dim light, the two boys wandered back and forth beneath the overhanging crate not realizing the danger above them.
Leash, bending over the hatch coaming watching them, bided his time his eyes burning into Aidan’s back. Every muscle in his body was at breaking point with the stress, this time he was going to succeed—he could feel victory in his bones, and he relished the agony that was about to befall his enemy.
Revenge was going to be so sweet, all these years of loneliness and despair, of unutterable grief—all caused by the wanton actions of an old man. Before Tragen had come along life had seemed, if not exactly normal, at least safe and loving. Oh, he’d loved—deeply and passionately and had been loved equally in return. But now he was condemned to eternal damnation, everlasting abandonment and isolation. If only the old wizard had waited—just a few more moments! But it was no good looking back “if” was a big word, a big, useless word. His life now was full of danger, being discovered by law abiding people a perpetual risk. The wizard had doomed him to a hopeless, demonic existence.
No-one else was taking any notice of what was happening in the hold, those men on deck not holding the rope were taking a breather, they didn’t care about the hold-up, it was Leash’s job to control the hoist. The man in the hold who had shouted earlier had his back to the boys and with his mate was busy inspecting another crate in the far corner, preparing it for lifting.
The two boys continued their salvage operation, clambering amongst the cargo, struggling in the brackish water. Leash had to be very careful now; Aidan and Anders were wearing identical shirts and britches—their difference in size indistinct from up on deck. But this didn’t worry Leash; he had not taken his eyes off Aidan for more than half a second the whole time. From the moment Aidan stepped over the coaming and descended the ladder, to watching him retrieve the sodden possessions, Leash, obsessed with retribution, awaited his chance.
But self-preservation was also very important to Leash. If what he was about to do was witnessed by another! He had to check where his team were and what they were doing before he could take advantage of the situation. He hurriedly glanced around; the nearest men on deck had no line of sight into the hold. He looked up into the rigging; the only men aloft were working on the jigger mast farther aft, again he was unobserved. He sighed as mania – and something else – glinted in his eyes, he was satisfied he could do the deed and no-one the wiser.
But in the moments his eyes were off the boys, Aidan and Anders had changed places.
‘All right, you lot,’ Leash ordered the men on the end of the rope, ‘secure the line while they recover the captain’s property.’
Leash held his hand near the rope as if he was preparing to steady the load while the men tied it to the rail. But, as the second helmsman knew, the rope was bound to swing a little, and when it did Leash feigned his grasp on the rope.
Afterwards witnesses, even those who were very wary of him, swore on oath that Leash’s intentions were to halt the movement. But in actual fact, by grasping the rope, Leash caused the load to rock even more—the broken crate shook in the sling and it fell apart.
The contents and the crate fell directly on top of Anders. An iron strap struck the cabin boy across the temple knocking him senseless, and as he fell to the floor his head slid below the water. Debris rained down on him, crushing his body, holding him submerged.
There was pandemonium from above as Leash ordered men below to assist, and in the hold mayhem as Aidan and the two sailors working in amongst the cargo, rushed to Anders’ aid.
Aidan managed to get to him first, and kneeling amongst the wreckage he plunged his hands below the surface and raised his friend’s face clear of the putrid water. Placing his hands either side of Anders’ head, at his temples, he held his friend’s face clear.
Frantic shouts and pounding feet on the deck brought Augusta and Beatrix from their cabin. As they arrived on deck, Trumper shouted up to Locklear on the quarterdeck that one of the boys had been seriously injured. Augusta and Beatrix raced to the hold and, desperate to ascertain the circumstances, pushed crew members out of their way and peered over the coaming into the murkiness below.
‘Who is it? What’s happened?’ Augusta shouted. ‘Will someone please tell me…please?’ She was afraid, mortally afraid that something had happened to Aidan, an icy lump formed in her chest, she could hardly breathe. The fact that her friend Anders could possibly be in danger never even crossed her mind.
Beatrix, pushing around Augusta, grabbed hold of Jason, the ship’s minstrel making his way down the ladder to help. ‘Jason, who is it, tell me please, it’s not Anders is it? Please tell me it’s not, I…’ her voice getting shriller by the minute. She, like Augusta, never thought of the other.
The veteran sailor looked up at her, his face grim, he breathed deeply afraid to tell her. ‘Aye, Miss, it be young Anders,’ and the panic in her face spread, her body trembling from head to foot. ‘A crate fell on him, his body is…his body is beneath the full weight of it, and he’s been knocked unconscious. But the wizard’s boy has saved him from drowning,’ he paused and put his hand over hers. ‘Be brave, Miss,’ he said quietly, and releasing her, he descended the ladder.
‘No!’ She screamed. ‘No! I have to see him, out of my way.’ She charged roughly past another man who was about to climb down. Taking his place, she was quickly followed by Augusta, feeling relieved that Aidan was not the victim and desperate because Anders was.
And as they descended the ladder, Tragen and Locklear arrived both wasting no time in following the girls.
The scene in the hold was a nightmare. Lanterns hung from the deckhead or were held in swaying hands, shedding a wavering light on the two boys in amongst the wooden crates and canvas bails.
Aidan was sitting up to his chest in the water, cradling Anders’ head and shoulders, the boy still unconscious. Water was occasionally lapping at the lower part of Anders’ face, swilling around his mouth whilst men struggled to remove the debris holding his body trapped. Blood, seeping from the cut on his forehead where the strap had hit him, was dripping down over closed eyes.
Beatrix knelt to one side of the boy she adored, and took on the task of mopping the blood from his head with her kerchief, at the same time gripping his hand tightly. With tears running down her face, Augusta, kneeling the other side of him, kneaded Anders’ other hand trying to bring warmth into freezing fingers.
‘Heal him, Aidan, please heal him,’ Beatrix kept repeating over and over, the litany almost hypnotic, tears streaming from her red eyes.
‘Can you, Aidan?’ Augusta asked, as desperate as her companion. ‘You healed Cornelia; you must be able to do the same for Anders,’ and when he didn’t answer, she shouted, despairing. ‘Come on, do something please, don’t just sit there.’
‘Leave him be, girl,’ said Tragen standing over her. ‘That is what he is doing. Look at Aidan’s eyes, he’s not with us…he’s with Anders.’
Silently they watched while Aidan, ignoring all around him, concentrating his whole being on his best friend, palpated Anders’ temples, his lips moving soundlessly. After moments that seemed like hours, the apprentice wizard inhaled sharply and looked up at the people surrounding him. ‘His skull has been fractured and there was bleeding into his brain, it’s sorted now,’ he stared at his stricken friend, her grief and misery almost making the tears flow in his own eyes. ‘Be very careful now not to move him until I’ve checked for crush damage to his body,’ he said to the men around him. ‘Beattie, he’s feeling a lot easier now, honestly.’
‘Remove those timbers gently, boys. We do not want any more accidents to befall him,’ ordered Locklear, the normally impassive man allowing his emotions to get the better of him. ‘I have had the care of my cabin boy, for three years now…I do not want another in his place, yet.’ This was the nearest he had ever come to expressing fond feelings for his nephew.
‘Hey, Aidan, did he nearly say that he liked me, then,’
‘Aye, I think he means he loves you, you idiot, so don’t…bloody hell you’re mindmelding!’ Aidan exclaimed out loud, utterly shocked. ‘Master, did you hear him?’
‘Yes, I can’t believe it,’ Tragen said, astonished.
‘Hey, don’t ignore me, you two. Can you hear me, Augusta?’
‘Yes, Anders. Yes! Oh, Anders, how are you feeling?’
‘Can Beattie hear me?’
‘Can you, Beattie?’ Augusta turned to her.
‘Can I what?’
‘You can’t hear Anders mindmelding, can you?’ Aidan asked.
‘Is that what he’s doing? But he can’t mindmeld, he’s…he’s never been able to,’ and then she realized what it meant. ‘Oh, my God! Ask him if he’s all right, I have to know…please,’ she begged, roughly drying her eyes on her wet sleeve.
‘You ask him, he can hear you even if you can’t hear his answer.’ Aidan looking at her, knowing how desperately she needed to hear him, suffered with her.
‘Tell her I’m feeling a lot better now with that weight off my chest…hell, I could hardly breathe.’
‘Are you in pain?’ Augusta asked aloud, so that Beatrix could hear.
‘Not so much now. Go on, tell Beattie, I don’t want her to cry anymore,’ said Anders.
‘He’s getting better now, Beattie, he’s giving us orders again,’ and at the doubtful look in her face, Aidan added. ‘Really, he’s in a lot less pain. I’m only keeping him unconscious so that he doesn’t move before I say it’s okay. I’m going to check the rest of him now, once I’ve done that we’ll take him on deck, all right?’
‘He’s going to live…truly?’ Beatrix asked, tears continuing to fall unashamedly.
‘Aye, now leave me alone so I can get on with it.’ Aidan again placed his arms around Anders’ chest, spreading his fingers to cover as much of Anders’ rib cage as possible.
An hour later, Aidan had examined all of Anders’ injuries and had caused the healing to commence in each. Locklear arranged for a board to be placed alongside and Anders was lifted gently and strapped to this. Extreme care was taken in bringing him up from the hold and lowering him gently to the deck alongside the broken mainmast.
Beatrix and Augusta again sat either side of the prone boy holding his hands. Both girls, red eyed from their weeping, now feeling a lot happier with Anders at last in daylight and in the dry. Everyone waited for Aidan’s next move, no-one wanting to leave the cabin boy until he had woken.
And, as the moments passed in silence, Augusta realized that Aidan was not doing anything, making no attempt to wake Anders. She looked up at the boy who had worked so hard to save the life of his best friend—and saw tears streaming down his ashen face.
‘What is it, Aidan?’ Augusta asked softly, very puzzled. Getting no answer from him, she repeated her question. But this time she sensed something she knew she didn’t want to hear. ‘Please, Aidan, please you’re frightening me again,’ and everyone turned to look at him. ‘Aidan what is it? What’s wrong?’ She stood up and moved closer to him. But when she put her arm around his shoulders he shuddered and nearly fell. He leant against her shoulder for a moment and his trembling made her shake.
‘I want you to wake me, Aidan. I must speak to Beattie, and I want the Bear,’ Anders implored. ‘I know what’s happening to me, Aidan, and I must speak to them now…you know I don’t have long.’
‘What is he talking about?’ Tragen asked softly, foreboding in his mind.
Aidan stared at his master and his friends, catching Locklear’s eye he knew he was about to devastate all those close to Anders. Locklear, the man who looked on his nephew as the son he never had, Beatrix who very clearly adored him, and Augusta, their princess, who had also come to love him as a very close friend. And Tragen—who loved Anders simply because he was Aidan’s closest friend.
Aidan’s voice broke. ‘Master, why are the Gods so cruel?’
Tragen stared at his boy, realizing at last the dreadful outcome. ‘We do not know their purposes, my boy,’ he answered softly. He placed his palm to Aidan’s face and stroked gently, feeling the beginnings of adolescent bristles. ‘Although strange purposes they have without a doubt…some we will come to understand in time, many we will not,’ he continued gently.
‘Hurry, Aidan, tell them and wake me,’ ordered Anders.
Aidan tore himself from their arms and knelt beside Anders. Placing both his hands over the eyes of the comatose boy he chanted under his breath and Anders awoke.
Aidan, resting back on his haunches, watched as Beatrix, bewildered, smiled through fresh tears. ‘You’re going to be fine, Anders,’ she said, cupping his face in her hands and sniffing. ‘Aidan has healed you, now. Everything’s going to be fine…rest now. Oh, Anders, my love, I was so worried; I thought you were going to die, but you’re going to be all right now,’ and crying, she leant forward and hugged him.
‘Sh! Beattie, no more tears…please.’ Anders said, holding her tight and caressing her back while looking up at Aidan. ‘And you, Aidan…cease your weeping. You know I’ll be safe.’
‘Aye, so you will be.’ Aidan’s voice broke again. ‘But I won’t be with you,’ he moaned and didn’t attempt to hide the tremble wracking his body. Utterly distraught he stared down at his friend, unwilling to take his eyes off Anders’ face.
Tragen knelt alongside him and again put his arm around Aidan to comfort him, the wizard understanding and despairing at his boy’s abject grief.
‘What do you mean?’ Augusta asked a dreadful premonition taking root she also fell to her knees alongside them and reached over to grasp Anders’ hand.
Anders took his eyes from Beatrix for a moment and smiled at his prince’s daughter, a friendly aristocrat…one that saw him and, unlike the others of her class, did not look through him, a friend that he loved dearly. And then he gazed up at the man who he looked upon as a second father, perhaps an even better father than his first—his uncle, the man he had most admired in all of his very short life.
Hugo returned his gaze, mortified he also suspected the dreadful outcome.
‘Uncle Hugo,’ Anders said, taking his hand from Augusta’s and holding it up to grasp Locklear’s.
Locklear, not wanting to believe what he was seeing and hearing, knelt alongside Augusta, tears welling in the big man’s eyes. ‘Ah, Anders, it’s come to this, eh! I’m sorry, my boy, so sorry. We have not had enough time together, have we? I wish there was more.’
‘But the time we have had has been magic. I’ve loved every bit of it, I would not have missed it for anything,’ he paused to take a breath and to hold back on his own tears. ‘I am the luckiest boy ever, to have had a captain such as you. I do love you, Uncle, never forget that!’
‘And I, Anders, I love you…I’ll miss you so much,’ Locklear fought his tears unsuccessfully.
‘What is going on?’ Beatrix shouted desperately, her face ravished she had no more tears to shed. ‘Anders, Aidan has healed you. Why are you talking as if he hasn’t? Stop it! Stop it, now!’
Anders stared into her eyes and grasped her hand even tighter as he brought it to his lips. ‘My dear, Beattie…I love you…there,’ he smiled up at her, ‘I actually found the courage to say it.’
‘Anders…my dear, dear Anders, I love you too, you know that please stop this talk, you’re scaring me!’ Beatrix begged.
The prone boy inhaled deeply and stared into her eyes. ‘My Beattie, you are right, Aidan healed me. He did all that he possibly could, and eventually I would have been as good as new, but…’ he gulped as he looked at the only girl he had ever loved. ‘He could not prolong my life Beattie—my time has come.’
‘No, Anders,’ she giggled hysterically. ‘No, Anders, you’re being silly, stop it, stop talking like this…we have years yet, we’re only young, please…I mean…’
‘Beattie, my only love,’ and he cradled her face in his hands, interrupting her protestations. ‘Beattie, Aidan is not a God however much he wishes it at this time. No, my love, please…promise me…promise me that you will not grieve for too long.’ He stroked her face, losing himself in her eyes. ‘Thank the Gods I’ve had the time to tell you I love you,’ and he kissed her, putting all his pent up emotion in that, their first kiss.
The others looked on silently, in appalling misery.
‘Aidan, there really is nothing to fear, is there?’ Anders asked apprehensively; fear taking momentary hold he glanced quickly at his friend.
‘Nothing at all, Anders, you will be welcomed into Paradise with open arms,’ Aidan replied, still unable to halt his weeping or keep his voice from shaking. ‘I thought we’d always be together, Anders,’ he said, giving in to his despair.
‘Aidan, remember the first day we met? You asked me how long we’d be friends.’ Aidan nodded, unable to speak.
‘Ask me again, Aidan.’
Aidan stared at him not caring who heard him crying. ‘Anders…Anders, how long…how long are we going to be friends?’
‘Forever, Aidan!’ And with that Anders pulled Beatrix to him, held her tightly in his arms and for the second time kissed her.
And breathed his last.
A teacher wanted to teach her students about self-esteem, so she asked anyone who thought they were stupid to stand up. One kid stood up and the teacher was surprised. She didn’t think anyone would stand up so she asked him, “Why did you stand up?” He answered, “I didn’t want to leave you standing up by yourself.”
Have a nice day!