Just playing about I, with the help of you tube video creator, came up with a short (very short) video of my three books. Nobody was more surprised than me when it came out looking like this! see it at https://youtu.be/3dInq2xaDgg It is entitled ‘fantasy trilogy the search’.
A blonde, a redhead, and a brunette were all lost in the desert. They found a lamp and rubbed it. A genie popped out and granted them each one wish. The redhead wished to be back home. Poof! She was back home. The brunette wished to be at home with her family. Poof! She was back home with her family. The blonde said, “Awwww, I wish my friends were here.”
The banqueting hall was impressive, large, high-ceilinged and airy. Heavy oak panelling predominated on each wall, its darkness alleviated by two large, four-paned sash windows overlooking the drive. Twice as long as it was wide, the room held three tables, two running parallel to the long walls, each able to seat at least forty people. The third, placed across the heads of the other two, stood on a raised dais so that the occupants could see and be seen by everyone present.
The long mahogany head table groaned under the weight of food of all descriptions. Bowls of fresh oranges, pineapples and bananas evenly spaced along the dark, polished surface, accompanied at intervals with freshly segmented melons, yellow and green. Platters of newly baked manchet bread, cheese trenchers and bowls of nuts added to the rich aroma of roast mutton, beef and chicken. All was lit by two elaborate glass candelabra suspended from the ceiling on silver chains, the light reflecting off the solid silver tableware.
Portraits of Portolans past and present, hung along the walls, the faces with stern expressions except for the only painting of a female suspended directly above the fireplace in the long wall opposite the windows. The sunshine streaming through the glass during the day, would serve to emphasize the very happy scene that must have delighted artist, model and onlooker. The lady depicted was a very fat woman, with deep laughter lines around her eyes, dressed in a long green gown and wearing a large pendant in the shape of a griffin, on her chest. She was sitting upright in an armchair, her hands in her lap, smiling affectionately at someone who must have been looking over the artist’s shoulder. In the place of honour behind the head table, hung a portrait of a man who bore a striking resemblance to the seneschal although it was of a much thinner man.
When Beatrix and Anders entered at the back of the room with their heavy tureens, the steward was pouring wine into silver goblets. Seneschal Portolan sat in a high backed chair in the centre of the high table, to his right sat Lady Cornelia, on his left, Lord Tragen, and on the other side of the wizard sat Captain Locklear. But the seneschal’s eyes were concentrated to his right watching Cornelia helping Mistress Barbat to settle Thaddeus between them.
Cornelia, proving now why the Princess of Mantovar trusted her so completely with the upbringing of her daughter, was talking animatedly with the nurse. The seneschal and the wizard were fascinated. Portolan with the fact that this very attractive stranger seemed so comfortable with his mentally abnormal son, a boy that he spent all his waking hours – and a lot of the hours of darkness – protecting from the world. And Tragen by how Lady Cornelia, without realizing it, had utterly beguiled their host.
Dinner progressed with small talk, Seneschal Portolan continually distracted by Cornelia taking her turn at feeding his son and in keeping his chin clean of spilled food. And what was more important to Lodovico Portolan, and did more than anything else to unreservedly charm him, Cornelia did not ignore Thaddeus, did not treat him as a dummy but talked to him as if nothing was amiss.
Tragen asked the harbourmaster during a lull in the conversation about the gentleman in the portrait behind him.
‘He is my brother, Paul…The Portolan, leader of our clan.’
‘Will I have the pleasure of meeting him while I’m here?’
‘I shouldn’t think so, he is away at present, and not expected home for some weeks,’ he answered, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. The hard look lifted by Cornelia’s treatment of his son returned, his glacial eyes seemingly intent on unpleasant memories.
‘And the lady in that portrait, who is she?’ Cornelia indicated the painting above the fireplace.
‘She is my wife, or rather was,’ he continued, staring at the painting his eyes softening. ‘She died of head injuries a few moments before giving birth to Thaddeus. Unfortunately, I am told by wizards,’ and he looked at Tragen, ‘that nothing can be done for him. He was birthed by the physician having to take him directly from his mother’s womb shortly after her death. Wizards tell me that although Thaddeus is physically well, only his body came forth…not his soul. Thus he is as you see him.’
‘By the Gods…never!’ Cornelia said, shocked to her very core. ‘I do not believe it.’ She looked at Thaddeus and cupping his chin in her hand, she stared into his eyes. ‘If he had no soul he would be totally wicked, this boy is not evil…never evil,’ and tears welled in her eyes as she stroked his face.
The seneschal, surprised at her vehemence, stared at her for a moment. ‘Nonetheless,’ and he sighed, the despair of years in that murmur, ‘that is what I have been informed. Do you concur with your colleagues, Lord Tragen?’ He placed his napkin beside his plate, attempting to keep the anguish, and the hope, out of his voice and not quite succeeding.
‘I could not possibly say without examining him. Will you allow me time alone with him, maybe tomorrow?’ Tragen now realized why the presence of a wizard was so important to the man.
‘Yes, of course. I will send my coach for you in the morning,’ Lodovico Portolan composed himself and supped his wine. ‘And now, Captain Locklear, I am remiss, tell me of this storm.’
Locklear glanced at Tragen wondering whether to divulge the knowledge of malign sorcerers being the cause. Tragen, understanding the look, imperceptibly shook his head. Locklear, beckoning Anders to refill his goblet, paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and to put them in the right order. Staring at his host he spoke in terms understood by seafarers all over the world. He told of the intensity of the tempest and their consequent battle to survive. He described the height of the waves, the strength of the winds and the lack of visibility leading to loss of position. Locklear, a born storyteller when imbibing good liquor – they were drinking Tragen’s gift – went on for over half an hour. He brought to life the terror and peril of those days, and he finished with the description of Tragen’s shield spell which had saved them. He did not mention Aidan.
‘And your immediate requirements, what are they?’ The seneschal asked coolly as he used his small, razor-sharp, food knife usually kept in his belt when not eating, to cut a sliver of mutton, before dipping the roast meat into a small salver of pungent sauce.
‘A dry-dock, if you have one?’ At the seneschal’s nod, he went on. ‘We also require timber and caulking, ropes and canvas as well as food and water. And, we desperately need new masts.’ Locklear sat back in his chair and again beckoned Anders to replenish his goblet.
‘The dry-dock is going to be a bit of a squeeze. When we built it we did not envisage a ship as large as yours having need of it. But, with care it should suffice. Nevertheless, it is going to be a devil of a job to move your Grim into place, my dock-master is going to have his work cut out,’ he smiled wryly.
‘We can supply everything except masts,’ the seneschal nibbled a small wedge of cheese and continued. ‘We have no trees suitable on Griffin thanks to the Montetors tearing down the forests for their mines. Our masts have to be imported, now. You can always sail to the Onyx Isles for them, of course, a journey of some weeks I’m afraid. Should you have luck and fine weather, you might make it easily, otherwise…’ and he shrugged his shoulders. ‘But I think you should wait here while we send for them,’ he glanced at Cornelia, a strange intensity in his eyes, ‘they should only take a few months to arrive. I’m sure you know the reputation of those islands, Milord, I wouldn’t be happy with the thought of your niece coming within a hundred leagues of those brigands.’
‘I agree with you, Seneschal, Hugo has told me a great deal of those barbarians. But it is time that we’re short of, we need to get home without any further delay,’ answered Tragen.
‘Then I don’t know what you should do…you need masts, Onyx has them in abundance.’
‘Can’t we obtain new masts on Sanctity, that island is only days away, after all?’ Locklear enquired, wondering why their host had not mentioned his neighbour.
Shocked silence greeted this request. Mistress Barbat gasped and put her hand to her neck as if she was suffering a constriction. The footman standing next to Anders nearly dropped the platter he was holding.
‘I am sorry, Captain, but no-one is allowed to visit Sanctity without permission of the brethren who live there. And they never give consent to strangers.’
The seneschal, visibly shaken, abruptly placed his napkin on the table, the hard man’s voice now barely disguising fear. ‘It is late I’m afraid and I must see my son to bed. Lord Tragen I will see you in the morning. Captain, I will send an aide to you, he will assist you with the dockworkers.’
Rising from the table, he turned to Cornelia. ‘My Lady, you must forgive and excuse me. Would you care to accompany your uncle in the morning? It would give me great pleasure if you would, and then maybe Thaddeus and I can show you our home.’
‘Of course, I’d be delighted, Seneschal, and I thank you for a wonderful evening.’ Cornelia smiled, careful not to show her astonishment at such an end to the conviviality.
Back in the coach long before they expected to be, Locklear turned to Tragen. ‘Well, my friend, I did not expect that reaction.’
‘No, he was terrified of something and I know not what. Could it be this torturer of Aidan’s visions? It would certainly account for his fear. Perhaps Cornelia and I can ferret out an explanation from the nurse tomorrow,’ he closed his eyes and leant back against the seat. ‘Cornelia, you had a remarkable effect on the seneschal, did you not?’
‘Did I? I didn’t notice I was too busy with that poor boy—no soul indeed!’ She stared at her feet, a slight colouring in her face, not admitting that the man had had quite an effect on her. ‘Have you a possible diagnosis of the boy’s problems?’
‘Again we’ll have to wait until morning. I don’t hold out much hope, though, if the boy’s brain is damaged, or again if the boy truly has no soul, then I know of no cure. But, of course, there’s always Aidan…who knows? It does explain Portolan’s worn appearance, the boy’s condition must call for many a sleepless night.’
Above them on the hind seat, Anders and Beatrix listened to every word, knowing they would be closely questioned on their return. They looked at each other, gripping each other’s hands tightly, neither wishing to acknowledge their growing trepidation. What on earth was on Sanctity? And how could anyone be born without a soul?
As soon as they arrived back aboard the Grim Locklear gave instructions for the morrow. He had come to the decision to lighten the ship to facilitate entry into the cramped dock. The ship needed to float higher on the water and, to enable this, the holds would be emptied, an immense operation that could take all day. Not many ports had a dry-dock the purpose of which, besides being a place to build new ships, was also to enable the hulls of older ships to be repaired or careened without the ship having to be heaved on to its side. In the dock, the ship would be propped upright in a cradle with the keel on supports. With the water pumped out of the dock there would be less abnormal stress on the hull and work on that part of the ship usually submerged, could be carried out swiftly and efficiently.
Locklear moved off with Hopper and Trumper to discuss the complex arrangements. It would be the first time that the Grim’s hull had ever undergone repair to such a great extent and the opportunity to careen would also be taken. The three men wished to prepare for all eventualities.
Tragen, espying Aidan called him over, inevitably Augusta, Beatrix and Anders followed. The four were inseparable now and the wizard smiled…at least a part of his plan was working.
‘Aidan, we have a strange ailment to diagnose and I want you to mull it over before Cornelia and I leave in the morning to return to the harbourmaster’s home…’
‘Can I come?’ Aidan asked eagerly.
‘Not yet, we still need to keep you and Augusta concealed, but if I do not succeed in discovering a cure, a way must be found for you to examine the boy.’
‘Wait, and stop interrupting, we have had a long night,’ he paused. ‘Tell me; is it possible for a baby to be born without a soul?’
‘Bloody hell…what a question!’
‘Well,’ Tragen gave one of his mean looks which boded ill for his apprentice if he did not reply quickly.
He hurriedly answered. ‘Of course not, whatever gave you that idea?’
‘Never mind,’ Tragen said. ‘I expect your friends will tell you. When they have, I will appreciate your advice. Now goodnight to you all,’ and he moved off escorting Lady Cornelia to her cabin.
‘When you retire please do it silently, I do not want to be disturbed I have a lot to ponder on.’ Cornelia said as she arrived at the door to step below. But she impulsively turned to Aidan and this time she implored. ‘Please, Aidan, think on it well. It is imperative you come up with a diagnosis and a cure, the boy is suffering terribly and perhaps his father more so. Goodnight.’
‘You two,’ Augusta ordered Beatrix and Anders, waving her finger at them, ‘to our cabin immediately. We want to know everything and I mean everything.’
‘What! You really mean that the seneschal fancies Lady Cornelia?’ Aidan asked, stifling a laugh.
Augusta poked him in the shoulder. ‘And why not? Cornelia is a lovely person, warm and sincere and she is no idiot like some men I could mention. And, what’s more, the concern she expresses inclines me to think that she may have taken a shine to the seneschal…she definitely has to his son.’
Beatrix and Anders had been closely questioned for nearly an hour. A very harrowing experience, Augusta and Aidan taking turns at battering them with questions.
‘The seneschal’s wife looked very much the same as Lady Cornelia…you know, big and fat and he talked of her with great affection,’ Anders said.
‘Please, Lady Cornelia’s love life is not the most important thing here, the boy is and whatever is on Sanctity.’ Beatrix said, highlighting the immediate problems.
‘Sorry, Beattie, you’re right. His mother died just before giving birth, eh! I wonder what the cause of her head injury was. He never said?’ Aidan asked. The two shook their heads.
‘Have you any idea what could be wrong with him?’ Augusta asked.
‘Not really, I’d only be guessing. I’ve seen babies born in the same circumstances before…you know from a dead mother. And they’ve always been brain damaged because they couldn’t start breathing in time. They’re murder to heal. It sometimes takes weeks because I’d have to heal each symptom in turn. And they have symptoms like drooling, slurred speech, and quite often, they are unable to use their limbs or raise their heads. Moreover, the healing has to be in a particular order, different in each victim. If I heal one thing in the wrong order then it may reappear later as another unhealed symptom affects it.’ He paused and the others, not interrupting, watched as he pondered the situation.
‘No,’ Aidan continued, ‘I can’t understand this illness. He is physically well, but does not talk, do anything for himself except swallow and he acknowledges no-one. I can’t diagnose this without seeing him.’
‘And Sanctity? What troubled Seneschal Portolan about that place? Has anyone any ideas?’ Beatrix asked.
‘You’re sure he was frightened?’ Augusta asked.
‘He was shocked rigid when Captain Locklear mentioned the island, and so were the others in the room,’ said Beatrix.
‘Aye,’ added Anders, ‘no-one wanted to know. The manservant standing beside me wouldn’t even look my way!’
‘So it seems likely that Beattie’s assertion was right, that the storm was used to entice us here,’ said Aidan worriedly. ‘Whoever, or whatever, is on Sanctity that scares the harbourmaster so much could very well be the creator of the storm.’ He looked around at everyone gravely. ‘He could be the torturer I saw. When we reach Sanctity, none of us is to be alone at any time. We look out for each other, all right!’
That night Aidan and Anders talked well into the night, Aidan continuing to pump Anders of all that he’d heard at the Portolan’s. But despite the cabin boy’s unusual ability to perceive the deceptions behind people’s facades, Anders could not discover the reason for the harbourmaster’s fear.
Eventually Aidan gave up and both boys settled to sleep. It took them a long time and, unknown to each other, for more or less the same reason. Aidan recalling his time alone with Augusta, his arm around her shoulder on the poop deck earlier that evening. And Anders smiling idiotically as he dreamt of Beatrix—he could still feel Beattie’s fingers entwined in his.
Two blondes fell down a hole. One said, “It’s dark in here isn’t it?” The other replied, “I don’t know; I can’t see.”
Have a nice day!
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!
A child asked his father, “How were people born?” So his father said, “Adam and Eve made babies, then their babies became adults and made babies, and so on.” The child then went to his mother, asked her the same question and she told him, “We were monkeys then we evolved to become like we are now.” The child ran back to his father and said, “You lied to me!” His father replied, “No, your mom was talking about her side of the family.”
Aidan was sitting in a chair in Locklear’s cabin his head in his hands nursing a pounding headache, when Beatrix and Augusta arrived. He had breakfasted a little on his usual burgoo and Dolly had sent up some of his sweet biscuits because he had heard of the boy’s trauma. But Aidan couldn’t hide the ravages of the night, he still looked haggard and worn out.
‘What now, can’t they leave him be for five minutes?’ Anders asked angrily when Beatrix told Aidan he was wanted. ‘He needs time to get over this,’ and then he realized who was speaking. ‘I’m sorry, Bea, it’s been a long night.’ Aidan was not the only one suffering from lack of sleep. Anders had hardly closed his eyes whilst keeping vigil.idan was sitting in a chair in Locklear’s cabin his head in his hands nursing a pounding headache, when Beatrix and Augusta arrived. He had breakfasted a little on his usual burgoo and Dolly had sent up some of his sweet biscuits because he had heard of the boy’s trauma. But Aidan couldn’t hide the ravages of the night, he still looked haggard and worn out.
‘It’s all right, Anders, I’m fine now. I could do with a breath of fresh air and so could you, come on,’ and Aidan, rising slowly to his feet, pulled Anders along with him.
‘What does he want?’ Aidan asked.
‘I’d rather he told you!’ Beatrix replied smiling nervously.
Augusta said nothing and commenced chewing her lower lip to bits.
Tragen studied his apprentice’s face for the first few moments of him arriving on the quarterdeck and, although worried by what he saw, smiled his welcome.
‘You have recovered a little, I see,’ Tragen said, unable to keep the lie and the concern from his voice.
‘He has not rested enough, Milord,’ Anders interrupted, still angry.
‘Enough, Anders, please? I’m all right; I can’t stay in bed all day.’ Aidan playfully punched Anders’ shoulder and turned to Tragen. ‘What’s up?’
Tragen nervously tugged at his beard. Aidan loved calling on the animals of this world, he found it exciting. And, of course, quite often it was—but not in the way that either of them expected.
‘Um…Aidan…I need to send a message to the prince, with some immediacy now. We have to apprise him of our situation and ask for his aid.’ Tragen swallowed and paused for a moment with fingers crossed beneath the cuffs of his sleeves. ‘We need a bird. What do you think?’
‘Ah,’ Aidan, his headache instantly disappearing, gazed wide-eyed at his master. ‘What sort of bird?’
‘Obviously one that can fly a long way, it’s no good calling a bird that’s going to fall into the ocean halfway home!’ said Tragen, visibly agitated.
‘A seabird then,’ Aidan did state the obvious sometimes. He looked around the horizon with his hands on his hips, ignoring his master’s sarcasm. ‘This is going to take some calling, there’s absolutely nothing in sight. Still…something is bound to turn up.’
‘Aidan, please be careful. We do not need any unwanted creatures appearing.’
‘Master, you’re always the same…have faith in me,’ Aidan admonished. ‘Don’t forget you taught me this, you’ll only have yourself to blame if things go wrong.’
‘I know, I know…may the Gods give me strength,’ and the wizard stepped quickly to the rear to shelter beneath the overhanging poop deck. Locklear followed hurriedly seeing the strangled look on Tragen’s face.
‘Talbot secure the helm and get back here with me,’ ordered Locklear, he didn’t want his chief helmsman hurt. And as Talbot complied, Anders thinking the same as his master, grabbed Beatrix. They both followed until all except Augusta were in comparative safety behind the apprentice.
Augusta remained with Aidan at the front of the quarterdeck. She couldn’t understand why everyone was showing so little trust and was determined to show her loyalty by not leaving his side.
Aidan hadn’t taken a blind bit of notice of anyone moving away and he continued to stare around the empty ocean. ‘We must have a bird that lives off the open sea, not one of the coastal birds. How about a gannet, Master…they’re big and strong?’
‘Whatever you say, Aidan,’ Tragen said, now crossing his toes in his sandals.
Aidan smiled at Augusta as he raised his arms, his fingers spread wide. He closed his eyes and then emitted an ear splitting screech. Augusta jumped in surprise, and closing her eyes in pain, clapped her hands to her ears as did everyone else in earshot. Aidan continued to screech, his voice seeming to stretch over the horizon so powerful was the tone. And then when they all thought they could bear the noise no longer he ceased.
Aidan opened his eyes and stared forward searching the skies ahead and to either side. ‘Damn, nothing yet. I’ll give it a couple of minutes and then try again.’
But a couple of moments later he frowned. ‘That’s strange; it’s gone a bit dark hasn’t it?’ They all opened their eyes to see what he was talking about and stared forward, a shadow seemed to be hanging over the quarterdeck.
Augusta, standing in front of Aidan, and facing him when he started his call, opened her eyes and glanced over his shoulder towards the stern. She immediately fumbled for Aidan’s arm as her body spasmed, her eyes popped in her head and her mouth fell open. The others hiding beneath the poop stared at her, completely baffled by the look of utter panic on her face.
‘Ow, Augusta, you’re hurting me, stop squeezing,’ Aidan said, and then he noticed her face. ‘Hey, what’s wrong…why are you staring like that?’
‘Because she sees me, human.’
‘What the hell! Who’s mindmelding?’ Aidan said swinging around looking at everyone behind him still hiding beneath the poop deck.
‘What do you mean? Nobody’s mindmelding,’ said Tragen. Seriously worried now, he knew that the expected contrariness of Aidan’s spell-casting had occurred again. Something had gone awry with the calling.
‘I am not mindmelding, human…only you can hear me.’
‘What the…’ Aidan looked around frantic. Where was the source of this voice, it was near he knew—he could feel it, like something breathing heavily on his neck, he shivered. He looked at the girl beside him. ‘Augusta, do you know…’ and he stopped.
Augusta was standing as rigid as a pole, not moving at all, mouth open, eyes still popping wide and staring—upwards.
‘Augusta what’s the matter, what can you see?’ He turned and followed her gaze…and the breath on his neck was explained. He was utterly lost for words.
‘I repeat…she sees me, human.’
Resting on the poop deck, directly above the heads of the people sheltering beneath, was the biggest bird he had ever seen in his life. Its body was a lot longer than two tall men and it was extremely fat. It had brilliantly white plumage and appeared to have very long wings folded tight to its body. With black patches at the end of its wings and tail, flesh coloured legs and feet, and smallish black eyes it stared unblinkingly straight at him over a long, hooked, pink beak.
‘Oh boy…oh boy…oh boy,’ Aidan said astounded, returning the bird’s gaze.
‘Is that all you can say, human?’
‘What is it Aidan?’ Anders asked, venturing forth gingerly to look up on to the poop. It took a few seconds for it to sink in what he was seeing. ‘By the Gods, it can’t be…it’s something out of a story!’
‘Tell him I am no story,’ ordered the bird.
‘He said to tell you he’s no story, Anders,’ said Aidan, his voice returning accompanied by a look of pure rapture.
Anders looked at his friend bewildered. ‘What do you mean he said…can you speak with him?’
‘Aye, I hear him,’ and he beckoned everyone from the rear of the quarterdeck. ‘Come and have a look,’ he cried, ecstatic he bounced up and down on his toes.
Tragen, Locklear and Talbot looked up and found their faces almost at a level with the bird’s massive webbed feet. Beatrix ran to Augusta just recovering her senses.
‘What is it?’ Augusta asked.
‘It’s a Great Albatross,’ replied Anders, awestruck at the sight.
‘Tell him I am no Great Albatross, human…I am a Giant Albatross…a Wandering Albatross. There are not many of us left,’ the bird added.
‘Anders, he says he is a giant wandering albatross…’
‘No human, I am not a giant wandering albatross…I am a Wandering Albatross of the Giant Albatross family! Oh, never mind! Just tell me why you called me,’ he was getting ratty.
‘I’m sorry, albatross; I thought I was calling a gannet to carry a message home.’ All on the quarterdeck were watching and, although listening to a one-sided conversation, somehow still managed to follow what was being said.
Tragen interrupted as Aidan finished speaking. ‘Ask it if it will carry the message, Aidan.’
‘It…it! Who is that old human calling “it”? Tell him I am male, human, or he’ll feel my beak,’ said the albatross.
Aidan laughed. ‘Ooh, Master, don’t call him an “it”, he is a male bird, and a very angry male bird.’
Tragen looked from Aidan to the albatross. He was now completely mesmerized at the turn events had taken. ‘All right, Aidan. Master Albatross I humbly apologize.’ He bowed low to the bird whilst his companions looked on amazed.
The albatross grunted. ‘Where is the destination of this message?’
‘We wish you to take it to Mantovar, to the prince, if you wouldn’t mind,’ said Aidan.
‘And what do I get in return?’ The albatross asked staring into the apprentice’s eyes.
Aidan, puzzled, squinted against the sun. ‘What do you get in return…what is it you want?’
‘I want a voice,’ the albatross stated without any hesitation. ‘You have the power to give me the ability to speak, I see it in you.’
Aidan was struck dumb again and his mouth fell open.
‘What does he want, Aidan?’ Tragen asked staring at him. ‘Tell me.’
Aidan turned to his master, ecstasy alight in his eyes. ‘Watch this all of you,’ he said, peering around to include everyone. ‘Captain, lift me on to the poop I have to touch our new friend.’ Locklear gasped. ‘It’s all right, he won’t hurt me.’ Locklear bent down and Aidan stepped into his hands to be hoisted and deposited at the feet of the giant albatross.
Standing so close Aidan could smell the sea in the albatross’ newly preened feathers, almost taste the fish on the bird’s breath, and admire the razor-edged beak that was lowered to a level with his mouth. The Giant Albatross of the Wandering Albatross family bent its head to get a closer look at Aidan. They stared intently into each other’s eyes. Unlike most animals this bird did not treat a direct stare as offensive—at least, not from Aidan.
As the apprentice stepped closer to touch the bird, the albatross warned. ‘Mind my feet they are not made to be stood on.’
‘Okay, Master Albatross, let’s see what I can do,’ and Aidan placed both his hands around the throat of the giant bird, his fingers stretching to encompass the short temples either side of the bird’s head. Aidan smiled into the small black eyes of the albatross towering over him. Six sets of eyes stared up from below, Beatrix emitting a nervous whimper in the strained silence.
They seemed to stand still forever, the black eyes of the bird gazing into the brown eyes of the boy, its long neck in the boy’s hands. Aidan returning the stare and grinning wide as he sang a very weird sounding chant. Augusta described it later as a sort of sea-weedy, plopping noise. A tremor worked its way through the bird from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail via the curled up webbed toes. And all of a sudden a small lump sprouted in the neck between Aidan’s hands—a prominent Adam’s apple had formed. The albatross opened its beak and yawning wide he nearly knocked Aidan on the head.
‘Thank you,’ he said loud and clear.
His words reached those in the waist, the deck now full of the crew, all of them drawn to this phenomenal bird. A talking bird! No-one would ever believe them back home.
Aidan jumped into the air shaking his arm, giving a loud cheer—and promptly came back to earth landing on the bird’s foot. The bird screamed, his feathers sticking up all over as if they’d been combed the wrong way. He opened his wings and flew straight up, the backdraft knocking Aidan to the deck. He circled once, bringing his webbed foot up close to his underbelly, his toes curling in pain.
‘Ah! You stupid bloody boy…agh…my foot!’ And the bird promptly landed in the ocean alongside the ship and waggled his bruised limb in the water. ‘Ooh, that’s better,’ the bird sighed, closing his eyes, his feathers settling once again.
To say that all who watched were stunned was an understatement. Everyone watched the albatross floating on the sea, its vast wingspan, at least forty feet of it, spread wide and resting on the surface of the ocean.
Aidan was the first to recover. Rising from the deck he rushed to the side of the ship. ‘I’m sorry, honest, it was an accident.’ The bird ignored him as it busily soothed its aching toes.
The others ran to the rail and peered over at the giant bird, their senses in turmoil. ‘Aidan, that bird swore exactly as you do,’ said Augusta, looking up at him. ‘Why does he curse like you?’
‘Because he gave me my voice, little girl,’ said the bird.
‘Who are you calling a little girl, you…’ shouted Augusta taking umbrage, she hated being called little.
‘All right, don’t you dare start arguing, he’s only just learned to speak,’ said Beatrix. ‘Have you a name, Master Albatross?’ She asked formally, the only way she could think of to talk to a bird.
‘I have,’ the albatross replied, ‘but your tongue could never say it. You will have to give me a human name,’ his voice uncannily similar to Aidan’s.
At that chaos reigned all over the ship. Locklear, uncharacteristically allowing excitement to have the upper hand, shouted names at Talbot. Talbot shouted names at Anders, the girls shouted names to everyone, the crew shouting enough to drown out everyone’s suggestions. Tragen, stared at his boy, they were the only quiet ones in amongst the furore.
‘Well, Aidan, you’ve excelled yourself this time, haven’t you?’ He smiled as he helped Aidan down from the poop.
‘He’s lovely, Master, just look at him!’ Aidan was enraptured. ‘He can fly anywhere, and he’s strong enough to fly for weeks.’
‘Yes, but will he carry our message to the prince?’
‘Of course he will. I’ve given him what he’s always wanted. He can speak! Oh yes, he’ll do anything we want.’
‘As long as you don’t stand on my toes again, little wizard,’ shouted the albatross. His hearing was very acute, even managing to hear their conversation above all the hubbub, which he found very strange, for an albatross his hearing had always been poor. ‘Now give me a name…you all have one, I want one.’
The commotion died on the quarterdeck and five faces looked at the two wizards expectantly. There was still bedlam in the waist as the crew, taking heed of the bird’s request, again volunteered names, unfortunately some were rather indecent and those men received a look of utter contempt from the albatross.
‘Why not let the ladies name him, Aidan?’ Tragen suggested.
‘Yeah, well…okay. Augusta you saw him first, got any ideas?’
Augusta stared at the albatross. ‘You are truly a magnificent albatross,’ she told him as she curtsied.
‘Thank you, I agree, there has never been another like me,’ he paused, his expression sad. ‘I dwarf all other albatrosses.’
‘Then you must have a name that suits your stature in the avian world. Give me a moment, please.’ Augusta studied the bird as she sucked her finger in the corner of her mouth. He seemed very depressed at his size, perhaps he was bullied for being so big, she thought. Well she wouldn’t name him anything to do with being a giant. He’d said there were not many of his kind, could she use that? No, she decided—he was the first albatross able to speak; he was then definitely a first amongst his kind.
‘I have it…Ryn! You will be known as Ryn, which means leader.’
‘I accept…now tell me yours,’ ordered Ryn
Augusta glanced quickly at Aidan and Tragen and said. ‘I am called Nellie.’
‘That is not your true name, but if that is what you wish me to call you then I will.’ Ryn gazed at her.
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Augusta hurriedly.
‘Well little wizard, I know your true name is Aidan, tell me of this message.’ Ryn chose to ignore her.
‘My master, Lord Tragen, can tell you more,’ and Aidan indicated the wizard.
‘I have written it on parchment, Ryn,’ and he showed the bird the smallish roll in his hand. ‘Can I attach it to you in any way?’
‘You may hang it around my neck, Lord Tragen, and then Aidan can show me my destination.’
‘Show you, how?’ Tragen asked puzzled, descending the ladder into the waist so that he could reach the bird.
‘I can enter Aidan’s mind, so he must picture my route that I may see it through his eyes,’ answered Ryn, swimming closer to the ship to accept Tragen’s missive.
The wizard having made a large loop in the twine tied around the parchment, bent over the rail and dropped the loop over the beak and head so that it slipped down the stretched neck of the bird. When it had settled comfortably against his chest, Ryn ruffled his feathers quickly and the missive disappeared, hidden among the pure white down, he then swam a little farther out from the boat so that he could see Aidan up on the quarterdeck.
‘Are you ready, Ryn,’ asked Aidan, and at the bird’s nod, Aidan closed his eyes and visualized the stars in the sky above Mantovar, the river into Mantovar and the route upriver to the castle.
‘I have it, little wizard, now picture the prince,’ he ordered.
Aidan searched for his princess. ‘Mindmeld with me Augusta, you have a clearer image of your father than I do,’ and he held her hand to maximize contact.
‘So that’s her real name, why don’t you use it?’
‘That is a long and secret story…too long for now,’ Aidan replied
‘Very well, I like hearing secrets, tell me when I return.’
‘You are coming back then?’ Augusta asked.
‘Yes, but how come you understand me when I am in Aidan’s mind?’ Ryn was puzzled, something more had happened than being given a voice—there were side-effects of the boy’s magic that he couldn’t figure out.
‘When we mindmeld Aidan and I become one mind…because you are in his, so you are in mine,’ answered Augusta.
‘I go now—I am confused,’ said the Wandering Albatross of the Giant Albatross family as he flexed his wings causing an enormous ripple on the surface of the water. ‘I will see you again in a few weeks.’
And before anyone could say goodbye, he gave two flaps of his enormous wings to gain height and he was airborne, his wings locked in place to enable him to ride the thermals with no strain on his body and soon he was soaring above the three remaining masts and flying northeast.
That evening the ship continued to cruise south-westwards in ideal weather conditions, and Augusta commenced her lessons in serious magic. Both she and Aidan were sitting on the poop deck facing aft, their backs resting against the after-jigger. Augusta, her full attention directed on Aidan, listened eagerly as he went through the rudiments of the art.
‘Remember, magic is formed of the mind, along with chanting and hand movements. Sometimes all three are required, on occasion maybe just one or two…depending on the type of spell, the difficulty in creating the spell and the strength of the spell-caster,’ he instructed as they sat side by side cross-legged. ‘The more powerful you are at conjuring dictates how much energy you use—the stronger you are the better. Don’t forget, the more complex the spell is, the greater the energy needed and the more tired you’ll become at the end of it. You understand?’
‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘but you said magic is of the mind, yet I’ve overheard Tragen say that your magic comes from healing…why is mine different to yours?’
‘I don’t know…can you heal?’ Aidan asked.
‘Don’t be silly, you know I can’t.’
‘Right, then we’ll assume your magic is the same as everyone else’s—based on the mind. Shall we continue or are you going to keep interrupting?’
‘One more thing,’ she said nudging him with her elbow, ‘you said that spell-casting burnt up energy, yet you didn’t rest much after creating the spell for drinking-water yesterday, did you? And you seemed a long time creating that one.’
‘A lot of that was theatricals it just seemed longer than it actually was. But I am used to magic and can control my energy usage…besides it was a simple spell. Hopefully by the end of today you’ll be able to conjure water from the air. Wait,’ he said as she went to interrupt, ‘not yet, at the end of the day, I said. Okay, ready?’ She nodded excitedly and he continued. ‘Right, look around you at the sea…and I mean look at all the parts of it.’ As she did, Aidan studied her face checking her concentration and suddenly realized that she was a very pretty girl and not half as horrible as she used to be—in fact he liked her a lot. She turned her head to him and caught him staring.
‘What is it?’
‘Nothing,’ and he looked away embarrassed. And then his heart turned over, he’d have to watch his thoughts, if she mindmelded at an inappropriate moment…’ ‘Close your eyes…now, show me the ocean,’ he mindmelded.
And returning his mindmeld, she showed him her interpretation of the sea.
‘A bit blurry isn’t it?’
‘Well, I suppose it is, a bit.’
‘Okay, open your eyes. You must visualize to the best of all your senses, not just sight but smell, taste, touch and sound. Look at the ocean again,’ Aidan said, ‘and describe it to me.’ The lesson continued in this manner for an hour or more, he describing the meaning of each movement that she made.
‘Stand up and stretch your arms out in front of you. Good,’ he said as Augusta complied, and he rose with her to stand shoulder to shoulder. ‘Now spread your fingers wide, and wiggle them.’
‘Like this?’ And she waved her hands around at the same time.
‘No…careful, you must always think of what you’re going to do before you do it!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well,’ he wondered if she’d remember, ‘I once made a girl’s nose bleed accidentally. She’d upset me and I stuck my finger up to her while I was thinking nasty thoughts. Her nose bled off and on for days…so I heard later.’
‘Ooh, that happened to me once, years ago. I remember going out in the carriage with my father and…it was you! You made my nose bleed…with magic?’
‘I’m sorry, it really was an accident and I’ve never done anything like it since,’ he stared into her eyes as green as the ocean, he liked her eyes. ‘Do you forgive me?’
‘Tell me first how I upset you.’
‘Well…it was my first day in the castle,’ he said remembering the occasion vividly. ‘You were so…so magnificent in that carriage, so beautiful, so much like a dream. I’d never seen anything like you in my life. My mother used to tell me stories of beautiful princesses and their caring, wonderful ways. You captivated me. I’d have done anything just for you to notice me,’ he smiled ruefully. ‘And then when you did, what did you do? You stuck your tongue out at me and shattered the dream. You were still beautiful but…well you still are, but back then I thought you were horrible.’
She returned his stare; he’d called her beautiful and meant it. She felt herself sinking into his eyes and then as the ship lurched slightly, enough to break eye contact, it brought them both back from they knew not where.
‘You mean you can hurt as well as heal?’
‘Aye, but do you forgive me?’ For some reason her answer was very important.
‘Of course I do, but you must also forgive me. I was a thoughtless, spoilt brat then.’
He laughed the relief palpable. ‘I thought you still were.’
‘Aidan!’ And she nudged him even harder as they both laughed. ‘Let’s get back to the magic, okay?’
‘All right, this time I want you to visualize the ocean as a whole, sway your arms to copy the motion of the swell and remember, keep in mind these sensations when your eyes are closed. Now, recall the vibrations of the ocean, not only in your arms but also in your whole body and in your mind. When you are satisfied that you can call up these feelings again, I want you to close your eyes. This time, you will see the ocean as it is not as you think it is. Okay?’
She nodded, her total being absorbed in the task. And then she closed her eyes and Aidan entered her mind to share her enlightened perception. And he was pleased at what he found.
‘Very good, Augusta,’ he mindmelded, ‘now keep these feelings. Whoa, slow down keep the pace. If you move faster than the present speed of the ocean, then you will cause the sea to move faster, and we’ve had enough of storms to last a lifetime. Now look towards the horizon ahead of you. Do you have the same impressions of the ocean there as here?’
‘Yes, I have never seen the horizon so clear before.’
‘In magic most things become clearer. Now you are going to look over the horizon.’
She did not hesitate. She was now facing aft with her arms outstretched waving in front of her and her wrists, hands and fingers making intricate movements in the air. Augusta found it fascinating and felt she was soaring in the skies much as the albatross this afternoon. And thinking of Ryn her mind found him, flying high and straight, his huge wings spread wide and, unlike other birds, his wings not flapping as he rode the air currents. He flew directly away from her.
‘Do you see him?’ She asked, awestruck.
‘Aye, practise and you’ll be able to follow him for longer. Now leave him and turn your head. I want you to look around.’
First, she looked to her right and saw nothing but the ocean, she turned and looked left and espied a small squall far off. Then turning her whole body and staring forward of the bows she found a small island.
‘I know, keep looking,’ and Aidan cast around for Tragen. ‘Master, can you see the island Augusta has found?’
‘Yes, come away both of you. I’ll be with you shortly…I’ll bring the captain.’
Aidan and Augusta waited, Augusta ecstatic that her first real foray into magic had been so successful. She was so happy in fact that sitting alongside him she put her arm through his and held it tight until Tragen called them down onto the quarterdeck.
‘How far away is the island? I estimate a day. Do you agree?’
‘Probably…at the earliest we’ll reach it at lunchtime tomorrow, but we’ll see it well before then, possibly not long after sunrise.’
‘Can you see any details of the place, Tragen?’ Hugo asked.
‘None yet, my friend, we are too far away.’ Turning to Augusta, he added, his satisfaction evident. ‘Well done, Highness,’ and he smiled, ‘the more you practise, the more you will see. We will now leave it until the morning when I hope we will discover more. I want you to stay away from the island until then, we do not wish to alert anyone, unknowingly.’
At dawn the following morning, Aidan and his friends arrived on deck to find most of the crew already taking advantage of every observation point, some even straddling the bowsprit. All were facing forward, peering ahead of the bows. Arranging themselves comfortably on the poop deck and sitting with their feet swinging over the forward edge, they found that Tragen and Locklear were standing directly below and just forward of them.
On the horizon ahead was a vertical column of high white cloud in the otherwise clear blue sky. Anders explained that this cloud hovered over a land mass in the midst of the ocean. He added that before long they could expect turbulence in the sea in front of the island as they approached it.
‘What do you think we’ll find there?’ Augusta asked.
‘Nothing much, I fear. It’s not a very large island. It’s probably home to turtles and small rodents, probably terns and gulls are nesting there.’
Just before noon seagulls were flying overhead and details of the island, now only ten or twelve leagues away, were discernible below the hanging cloud. Mid-afternoon saw them in the midst of the turbulence. The ship’s heading was changed to sail south of the island.
‘Well there’s nothing much there wizard, unless you fancy turtle for dinner,’ said Locklear.
‘I have never acquired a taste for that particular mammal, but their eggs are something else,’ Tragen salivated at the thought.
Locklear laughed. ‘We cannot waste this light by tarrying here, my friend. We must wait and see what our new acquaintances will offer us.’
‘If we are welcome,’ said Tragen.
As the island passed on the starboard side, they could see it more clearly. It appeared to be a low hump in the middle of the ocean, a small hill bearing low scrub, prickly pears and the occasional short, sunflower trees. Turtles were slowly plodding across the small white beach, gulls and smaller birds screeching above them.
Rounding the island a vast panorama of other islands appeared, all as smudges on the horizon except for one. Closer to the Grim a huge land mass stretching for leagues across the bows of the ship, grew out of the sea about a day’s sailing away.
‘Hopper,’ shouted the captain across the quarterdeck ‘is that Sanctity?’
‘No, that is Griffin, sir; Sanctity is many leagues farther west again.’
Aidan turned and searched for sign of Sanctity and found instead a darkening of the sea in that direction. ‘What is that on the water, Captain?’
‘I don’t know; have you any idea, Hopper?’
‘I can’t make it out, sir.’
‘How about you, Tragen,’ Locklear asked.
Tragen peered west for what seemed ages. ‘It’s all right; it’s just a large patch of seaweed floating on the surface…wait a minute! That’s strange…it’s just disappeared.’
‘It’s just dropped below the surface, Milord,’ interrupted Anders squinting through narrowed eyes.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Locklear.
‘What I said…it’s still there only you can’t see it.’
‘How can you see it, then,’ Hopper asked, mystified.
‘I’ve always been able to see things that others can’t.’
‘Well, never mind. Are the militia on Griffin likely to bother us, Hopper?’ Locklear asked.
‘I don’t believe so, but perhaps I should explain a bit more about the enmity between the two clans. The Montetors and the Portolans have been at loggerheads for years and I believe we should do all in our power to avoid their quarrel, we don’t want them turning on us,’ replied Hopper staring at the vast island. ‘We’ll need to be constantly aware of the ill-feeling between them, it erupts into violence quite often, or it did when I was here years ago.’
‘Their quarrel, Hopper…can you tell us the reason for it?’ Tragen asked beckoning both the captain and mate to the relative privacy beneath the poop. Unfortunately, this area happened to be directly beneath the four friends now hanging over the edge listening intently.
‘Not the reason, no, but both clans have an arrangement of sorts. Open warfare had not yet been declared then as both sides knew that neither could survive without the other. I have heard rumours of the islands over these last years and nothing seems to have changed. The dispute manifests itself in a series of tit-for-tat incidents.’
‘How do you mean?’ Locklear asked.
‘Well,’ Hopper continued, ‘a particularly nasty incident occurred when I was here. A Montetor drove a wagon of iron ore over the legs of a Portolan dockworker who was calculating the weight of the ore deposited in a ship’s hold. The following day that Montetor driver fell into the harbour off the pier and was crushed between the ship and the wharf.’
‘Of course, both clans insisted that both events were accidents. But I was told later that the dockworker had molested the daughter of the ironworker,’ Hopper took a breather.
‘Then justice was served,’ added the captain.
‘Not quite,’ said Hopper grimacing. ‘The ironworker is reputed to have assaulted the wife of the dockworker a few months previously. And so it goes on, and has done for what must be fifteen or twenty years now. I was here about ten or twelve years ago, and the feud had been running a few years then.’
Hopper paused and stared at his companions. ‘The death of the crushed ironworker was blamed on an itinerant drunken beggar fast asleep some way along the pier. He awoke as the Montetor man screamed and he crawled over to the edge of the wharf to search out the noise. The Portolans found him looking, accused him of attempting to rob the ironworker, and strung him up on the jetty before he could be questioned by anyone else. There is a permanent gibbet on the wharf which serves as a reminder to all. The Portolans are the law on the docks as the Montetors are the law in the hills.’
‘So we have to make certain we are never present at any unpleasantness between these people,’ stated Tragen. ‘Hugo, no-one must be allowed to wander alone on this island.’
‘I agree,’ replied the captain. ‘You eavesdroppers above…do you understand?’
Anders jumped in surprise. ‘Aye, aye sir!’
‘But, Captain, why are we stopping here, the mate has already said there are no suitable trees to supply a new mast?’ Augusta asked, prodding Anders in the side to move him over. Her elbow was becoming a lethal weapon.
‘Highness, we need a variety of other things, metal fastenings, candles, ropes, canvas, food and many other supplies, including fresh drinking water. I do not wish to be drenched again by wizards’ apprentices.’
Locklear moved off smiling to himself, he was getting used to seeing these four young people together—it was as if they were meant to be.
After Brian proposed to Jill, his father took him to one side. “Son, when I first got married to your mother, the first thing I did when we got home was take off my pants. I gave them to your mother and told her to try them on, which she did. They were huge on her and she said that she couldn’t wear them because they were too large. I said to her, ‘Of course they are too big for you, I wear the pants in this family and I always will.’ Ever since that day, son, we have never had a single problem.” Brian took his dad’s advice and did the same thing to his wife on his wedding night. Then, Jill took off her panties and gave them to Brian. “Try these on,” she said. Brian went along with it and tried them on, but they were far too small. “What’s the point of this? I can’t get into your panties,” said Brian. “Exactly,” Jill replied, “and if you don’t change your attitude, you never will!”
Have a nice day!
Politicians and diapers have one thing in common: they should both be changed regularly… and for the same reason.
Later that same afternoon Trumper and his team commenced work on jury-rigging the mainmast. From a jumble of spars and ropes piled alongside it, a somewhat narrower and flimsier upright was lashed to the stump of the mainmast.
At the same time, Augusta found herself up to her armpits in suds, scrubbing in a large tub, the clothes of herself, Beatrix and Lady Cornelia—a very new experience for her. Grumbling continually she kept an eye on Beatrix kneeling alongside her who was also washing clothes…for those of the boys, the captain and Tragen. As Anders and Aidan had explained, the blisters on their hands inflicted by gutting the fish the day before, at Augusta’s insistence they reminded her, had still not healed.
They stood to one side at the rail keeping the girls company, occasionally giving uncalled for advice when Augusta got in a knot. At one point Augusta and Beatrix, losing their temper, had ordered the boys to clear off but Aidan had explained that Tragen would do his nut if they disappeared and left the girls alone—they had to perform their duty of care. Anders was again practising knife-juggling techniques while Aidan was whittling away at a length of wood, the girls not realizing that the boys were gripping their knives in hands that showed no signs of soreness.
But they were not the only ones catching up with their laundry. Lines were slung all over the ship and clothes were hanging to dry giving the impression that the ship was festooned in multi-coloured banners. Even sailors who disliked soap and water for personal cleansing had to follow Locklear’s orders when he told them he’d had enough of their clothes stinking.
That is everyone except Leash, he, being on duty at the helm had missed the fun in the morning. Not that he cared; he didn’t much like fun. Nevertheless, he was optimistic a chance was bound to come about at the forthcoming festivities. He stared at Aidan. Smiling slyly, he savoured the different methods he could use on the boy, bludgeoning, drowning—strangling would be nice, he would be able to feel the life leaving the boy’s body. He liked that idea. But then he smiled wondering for a moment if, perhaps, he could employ his infection’s method. Looking at Aidan, he yearned to use it but knew it would be too risky—decapitation would jog Tragen’s memory. If that happened, then Leash was a dead man walking, but then he grimaced, he was that already.
Tragen walked past the girls scrubbing diligently and noticed his green robe in Beattie’s tub. He stopped by the two boys enjoying themselves at the rail.
‘Why are they washing our clothes, my boy?’
Aidan and Anders raised their hands for the wizard’s inspection, the lesions from the day before hardly visible.
‘We have to keep these blisters dry to aid the healing, Master, so Beattie and Au…Nellie offered to do ours.’
‘Offered…nagged into it, you mean!’ Augusta said, very disgruntled.
‘Oh come, you know they can’t do it with their hands in that state. Besides, it gives you practise,’ said Beatrix, wiping suds from her nose.
‘Practise…practise! What do I need practise for? I’m not doing this when we get home…ever!’
‘When we agreed that you were to masquerade as a maid, I never meant for you to carry out each and every task of a domestic if there’s no need.’
‘Milord, there is every need for clean clothes,’ Beatrix said, scandalized.
Aidan, preparing for flight, grabbed Anders’ arm making him drop the knife he was about to launch at the mast. ‘The Bear is calling you.’
‘Watch out! I could…’ Anders started to say as Tragen halted them with his staff raised across their path.
‘Aidan, I wish you to help the young ladies accomplish this task,’ he ordered, ‘or shall I ban you from this evening’s frivolities?’ Tragen wondered if this boy would ever carry out mischief successfully and he struggled to keep a straight face.
‘He can’t, Milord, his…’ Beatrix stopped as Tragen put his finger to his mouth to silence her.
‘Well, Aidan?’ Tragen waited.
‘You said I wasn’t to do magic on board,’ he said, looking everywhere but at the girls.
‘You know full well that I said “in enclosed spaces”.’
Aidan caved in. ‘All right…stand away from the tubs you two.’ And they looked on bewildered, water dripping from their arms and dirty suds clinging to their shirts and britches, their faces bright red from the exertion of scrubbing clothes for the last hour. Aidan lifted both his hands over the tubs and intoning a chant, curled his fingers and moved his wrists in another complicated series of gestures.
The clothes in the tubs took on a life of their own and leapt from the water perfectly clean. And, as Aidan directed them with his hands, they draped themselves over the line alongside the wet clothes already drying in the sun. Aidan then turned his attention to the mound of dirty clothes dumped on the deck between the tubs and these dipped in the water on their way to the drying line…also as clean as a whistle.
‘Thank you Aidan, I’ll leave you to it now,’ said Tragen, walking away grinning. ‘Should we call a truce, Aidan?’
Aidan watched his mentor’s shoulders shaking with suppressed mirth. He laughed and turned back to the girls, it was only then he realized his dilemma.
‘Now ladies, he only did that to have his own back on me for soaking him.’ The grin fell from his face as the girls grabbed him. ‘Don’t take it to heart, will you, I mean…’
For the second time that day, Aidan was drenched. The girls dumped him into the nearest tub of foul-smelling water.
They left their cabins and, climbing up to the waist at sunset, joined the throng of resting seamen already congregating and vying for a place near the musicians. Forming a circle, with the main hatch at the centre, the crew left an area around it for the dancing, usually exuberant when performed by relaxing, drunken sailors and marines at sea. Sitting in pride of place on the hatch cover and being feted as the principal entertainer of the evening, was Jason and his fiddle, alongside him was a small man almost hidden by a large drum. A third man, Bartholomew, a tall, gangly, red-faced sailor was striking up a tune on his reed pipe. And one particularly sozzled sailor, his long pigtail swinging behind him, was already giving an impromptu rendition of a very bawdy sea shanty whilst swigging from a large tankard.
Several rum and ale casks were in place, as was a makeshift table groaning with pies. Dolly standing guard alongside the results of his labour, had every reason to be proud of his skills, the smell making saliva flow in many a mouth.
The weather could not have been more conducive for reducing tension, the evening warm with a slight breeze carrying the scent of the sea, a clear sky and a rising full moon, a myriad stars twinkling in the heavens.
A league or so from the ship the first blue whales seen for over a week were making their presence felt. Their voices were a welcome sound and the spouts from their blow holes a magnificent sight, except to Dolly of course who studiously kept his back to them.
Aidan and Anders flanked both the girls, all four sitting with their backs against the starboard rail. Augusta and Beatrix breathed a sigh of relief; at one point they thought they were going to miss the party. Earlier that afternoon they had been subjected to a long and tedious lecture given by Lady Cornelia. She not wanting them to attend, knowing exactly what sailors were like when drunk. But having been told by Tragen that it would look extremely odd to the crew if the maids did not attend, and that he’d be there to keep an eye on them anyway, the lady-in-waiting gave in grudgingly.
‘There, I told you he was the good-looking one didn’t I?’ Augusta said, nodding towards the minstrel tuning his fiddle.
‘Oh, yes, he is too,’ replied Beatrix not taking much notice, twitching in an effort to get comfortable on the hard deck, ‘we should have brought cushions.’
‘You two must be blind,’ said Aidan. ‘I’ve seen better looking whales. Look there’s one over there,’ and Aidan pointed over the rail at a spot directly behind Dolly.
‘Oh don’t, he’ll only think you’re laughing at him,’ said Beatrix.
‘Sh…you lot, the Bear’s going to say something,’ said Anders.
The captain, accompanied by Hopper and Tragen, stepped to the forefront of the quarterdeck and looked down at the crew milling about in the waist.
‘Before the party begins men of the Grim, I want to inform you of our present situation and my decisions on our future.’ Hugo Locklear was a giant of a man towering above them. ‘But first I must offer my sincerest thanks to you all for your courage and extraordinary exertions over these past days. If it was not for your excellent seamanship, your stamina and your trust, the Grim would have been lost and us along with it. I am immensely proud of you all and I give you a toast,’ the captain and his two companions held up a mug of spirits to the men and then supped deep.
Locklear continued, his beard wet from spilled brandy, he wiped it quickly with his hand. ‘Unfortunately, we lost four of our shipmates in fighting the storm, and although I have been assured that they are safe in Paradise,’ here he glanced at Aidan before going on, ‘we will still miss them amongst us. So stand and bow your heads in remembrance and ask your Gods to care for them.’
Locklear resumed his speech a moment later. ‘The tempest was the worst I have ever endured in all of my forty years at sea. There was a reason for it being so severe,’ he paused and pulled at his beard. ‘It was not a natural storm but one created by malign beings.’ He paused again, his crew quizzical, unable to grasp the meaning of his words. ‘Aye, you may look puzzled. I was until Lord Tragen explained that sorcery was behind the storm. We do not know its origin or its purpose, but we have come through its onslaught relatively safely. However, we have sustained critical damage which must be rectified sooner rather than later.’
Aidan and Anders glanced at each other both surprised that magic had been mentioned, though the suspected purpose behind the storm had not been. Aidan was of the opinion that if the attempt to capture Augusta was ever voiced in public then that would very likely bring on the outcome they dreaded. He continued to stare up at the captain, on pins awaiting his next words.
‘It is only fair that I tell you of the sorcery as I wish to retain your trust in the times ahead.’ Locklear pulled at his beard and took another sup from his mug. ‘The storm has blown us about four weeks off course and we are at present approaching the Griffin Islands. Some of you may have heard of these isles, others have not. Suffice it to say that wherever we make landfall we must all be on our guard. The enemy may be behind us, or he may very well be on the island at which we provision. Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain we need to make repairs to our hull and step new masts. Without these tasks being completed we will not survive our journey home. And let me assure all of you,’ Locklear raised his voice and slammed his fist on the rail before him. ‘It is my intention to get home and take you all with me. I calculate that we are seven weeks from Mantovar and a couple of days from Griffin. The quicker repairs are made, the earlier we will reach home and our loved ones.
‘Men of the Grim enjoy yourselves this evening you have earned it, and for those of you worried that we will run out of grog, calm yourselves. Lord Tragen has assured me that he can cast a spell that will produce everlasting supplies of rum. And he has also promised he will not let his apprentice anywhere near it.’ Anders joined in the laughter and thumped Aidan’s back.
‘Captain,’ a voice from near the bows shouted, ‘I wouldn’t mind being drowned in grog.’
‘Aye, and from what I’ve heard,’ Locklear replied recognizing the voice, ‘drowning is what you need, Nobber.’ Once again, there was uproar, except from Leash standing at the starboard rail glaring at the back of Aidan’s head.
A few hours later in the midst of the merriment, Anders decided to show the two girls how to dance. Unfortunately, he and Aidan had been supping ale almost continuously since the party started and it showed. ‘Come on, little wizard,’ Anders slurred quite happily, rising from the deck where he had been sitting, as always, alongside Beatrix. He grabbed Aidan and pulled the smaller boy to his feet.
‘Not now, Anders, you’re drunk and I’m…hic…tired, I’ll sit here watching you…hic…and point out the good details of your performance…hic…if there are any,’ he smiled drunkenly, holding on to Augusta’s shoulder to keep upright.
‘Afraid are you? Let’s show them I can dance better than you, boy, drunk or not, come on.’
Aidan and Anders tottered into the centre and calling to Bartholomew to set up a reel, both boys stood patiently in the centre of the deck, arms crossed at shoulder height staring at each other. The crew gradually quietened and prepared to watch the boys’ performance; both had a reputation for dancing the hornpipe second to none and very often engaged in a contest of skills. Bets were already being laid to see who would stick the pace and remain standing at the end.
Augusta and Beatrix watched enthralled for despite being the worse for drink both boys danced expertly. And as Bartholomew increased the tempo on his reed pipe so the boys skipped and stamped their bare feet faster and louder.
Beatrix couldn’t help but show her pride for Anders and urged him on, but looking around at the crew cheering and placing even bigger bets, she noticed Leash staring very strangely at Aidan from his place at the larboard rail.
Leash had been drinking non-stop since he’d finished his stint at the helm and he’d grown surlier as the evening wore on. Though nowhere near drunk – alcohol had no effect on him – his patience was coming to an end. All evening he’d been waiting for Aidan to walk off alone and it had not happened, the boy had even gone to the heads accompanied by the captain’s brat. It seemed he’d have to reconcile himself to the fact that he was not going to get a chance at the boy this night.
Beatrix, a cold shiver running up her back, nudged Augusta, nearly slopping her ale down her front.
‘Careful, Beattie, for God’s sake I’m enjoying this,’ she said unable to hide the slur in her voice.
‘Look at that man over there by that rack of belaying pins, the helmsman, I don’t like the way he’s staring at Aidan,’ Beatrix said, ignoring Augusta’s warning.
Augusta followed her gaze and at that moment Aidan finally gave up the contest and fell to the deck, the ale had got the better of him, Anders’ supporters cheering wildly as they collected their winnings. Leash, his manic black eyes even blacker, sneered, and Augusta, suddenly fearful and not knowing why, wanted to hurt the helmsman to protect Aidan. She stared at the belaying pins alongside him and wished that she could hit him with one, like Dolly’s mother had wished to do to her husband. Feeling guilty for wishing to commit violence for no discernible reason, she turned quickly away and went to help Aidan stand. The next thing she heard was an outraged shout from behind her, someone had really hit Leash with one of the pins. Nobber, just before he fell down drunk, had insisted that the pin had swung through the air on its own—like magic.
Augusta thought no more about it, she and Beatrix went on enjoying themselves up until Aidan vomited over their legs. Utterly disgusted, the girls ordered the boys to bed. And such was the level of inebriation, the boys did not dream of arguing.
Aidan dreamed of laughter again.
And Anders awoke when Aidan screamed. He leapt from bed and did the only thing he could think of—he clasped the distraught boy to his chest. Aidan struggled violently, his hysteria only calming when Anders would not relinquish his hold.
He opened his terrified eyes. ‘Go get Tragen…quick!’
Anders ran through the captain’s cabin, shouting an explanation to Locklear already preparing to leave his bed. He left the Grim’s master to keep watch over Aidan. He raced down the passageway bellowing for the wizard, waking Augusta and Beatrix as he did so. The girls were not long flinging on their clothes and racing to Aidan.
Tragen pushed past Locklear to Aidan’s side and sat on the bed with him. There was a slick sheen of sweat covering the boy’s face and neck and he stroked his boy’s brow, reassuring him.
‘Oh, my boy, my boy, what was it, hey? Are you feeling better now? Tell me what happened. I’m sorry; I have to ask now while it’s still fresh in your mind.’ Tragen beside himself with worry gripped Aidan in an embrace near to choking him.
Aidan was in a very sorry state. He had a hangover worse than any in his past; his skull felt as if it was home to an anvil being hammered by a very energetic blacksmith, and coupled with it he had recollections of a terrible dream, a nightmare he could not unravel.
‘Nothing happened at all that makes much sense. Ah…my head is pounding,’ he replied, pushing his head into Tragen’s shoulder. ‘Anders, get me some water, will you?’
Aidan pushed himself upright, taking the water he swallowed deeply. Refreshed, his head still felt as though drums were pounding between his ears.
‘You’re right, I have to tell you now before I forget,’ he paused, and the others leant forward in the doorway to hear his low voice.
‘Someone or something was hanging from…I don’t know, I couldn’t quite make out what it was,’ Aidan shuddered. ‘Anyway…a man was standing in front of it with a spear in his hands, there were red chains, and…and the man appeared to be dressed in a red robe, and…and he was laughing. And then…’ Aidan stopped and looked into the mug in his hands and tears rolled down his face unable to speak of the incident, the revolting sight he’d witnessed.
‘Take your time, my boy; take as long as you need. I’m here…here with your friends. You’re safe now,’ and as Tragen said this he remembered that this was the second time he’d said these words in the last few days. What was happening to Aidan—why him? ‘Come, drink some more, you’ll feel better.’
‘As the man dressed in red laughed, the thing hanging there…screamed, and it could not stop screaming.’
The apprentice passed the mug to Anders and lay back down on his bed. ‘It scared me, scared me silly. I didn’t know what to do, what to think, I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was stand there, watching. For a moment I almost appeared to be the man in red, and…’ Aidan trembled violently for a moment. ‘He was evil, Master, truly evil he didn’t seem human…I felt sick!’ He shuddered again. ‘God! I…I can’t remember any more.’
‘Rest, my boy, rest, Anders will you stay with him for a while?’
‘I will never leave him, Milord, he knows that.’
As Tragen rose from the bedside Aidan spoke again, his voice muffled in his pillow. ‘Master, there was one other thing,’ and Tragen turned to him. ‘As the man was laughing, he said…he kept saying “wait for the wizard, wait for the wizard”!’ Aidan lifted his head and stared at Tragen with despairing eyes. ‘You are in grave danger, Master,’ he turned over and faced the wall and Anders moved to his side determined to stay awake the rest of the night.
Tragen joined Hugo, Augusta and Beatrix – drying her eyes on the sleeves of her shirt – around the captain’s desk.
‘Drinks, we all need a drink,’ said Locklear and he brought assorted mugs and a carafe of wine from his bedside table. He poured for all as he spoke. ‘I know the time seems wrong for this. It’s either very early in the morning or very late at night; however, I have never needed one so badly.’
‘Milord, have you any explanation?’ Augusta asked softly, staring into the untouched mug of heady, red wine.
All three stared at him awaiting his reply. Tragen gazed out of the stern gallery, seeing very little except the occasional lonely star, the moon now obscured by clouds, evidence there’d be rain before long.
The wizard sighed and turned from his musings at the window. ‘The thing hanging and screaming could only be a man, I suppose…’
‘Or a woman,’ interrupted Beatrix.
‘Yes, or a woman,’ agreed Tragen. ‘Whoever it was, he or she was being tortured, hence the spear and the chains.’
‘Why were they red chains, though?’ Augusta asked him, the use of torture not coming as too much of a surprise. She had heard that her father used it in his dungeons, but never having come into actual contact with it she had never really given it much thought. He was the lawmaker and protector of Mantovar; she was his daughter and had never been asked whether or not she condoned its use.
‘The chains were covered in blood,’ said Beatrix, almost in a whisper, shocked to her very marrow. ‘Aidan actually witnessed a torturer at work.’
Augusta blanched. The full implication of what the practise entailed, sinking in. No, she thought, my father could never do that to anyone…could he? Augusta nearly retched.
Locklear broke the silence. ‘The man with the chains, Tragen, was he wearing a red robe or was it red because of the blood?’
‘I won’t even pretend to know the answer to that, my friend,’ he paused and resumed pulling at his beard. ‘A red robe may denote the wearer is a sorcerer, but I know of monks that wear the same colour. But if it was red because of the blood then there must have been an inordinate amount to have coloured him completely. What did my boy overhear “wait for the wizard” was it not?’ Locklear and Augusta nodded and he continued, Beatrix sitting silently staring into space. ‘Now Aidan believes me to be in grave danger—have we got it wrong? Could it possibly be me this being is hunting? My boy is convinced it’s me. This man does not even seem to know of Aidan and Augusta.’
‘He has not mentioned her which does not mean he is ignorant of her. On that point we must keep an open mind.’ Locklear replied, he stood and took his own turn in the gallery. ‘If it is you he’s after how does he know of you? Or is he seeking any wizard, and if it is any wizard then why not Aidan as well?’
‘He hasn’t detected Aidan has he, Milord?’ Beatrix asked anxiously.
‘No, I don’t think he has. But why hasn’t he is the question…why not?’ he pondered.
‘Could it be because you are the more powerful wizard?’ Locklear asked.
‘I am more powerful than Aidan that is true, but only in magic based on the mind which is the usual form magic takes. Aidan’s magic is unique—I know of no other practitioner of his art. His magic stems from healing and in that he is far, far more powerful than I am. No, there has to be another explanation he has remained undetected. And there must also be another reason that he is not receiving these visions every night. We must think on it.’
They all thought of nothing else as they lay in their beds attempting sleep for the remainder of the night left them. All were denied their rest, of course, except Aidan who, because he lay with his face to the bulkhead, soon fell asleep and aped his master, snoring loud enough to keep the fish awake.
When they finally admitted defeat and rose from bed not long after sunrise, Augusta and Beatrix went in to update Lady Cornelia, as they had before retiring. As the three, very sad and concerned ladies considered impossible options, Tragen joined them.
‘Have you come to any sort of conclusion?’ Cornelia enquired sadly.
‘I am still mulling over consequences of certain actions, Cornelia. There is only one decision to be made at this time though, and it has priority over everything—we have to discover some way of informing the Prince of Mantovar of all that has happened.’
‘Will he be able to send us aid all the way out here?’ Cornelia asked.
‘I will certainly request that in the message I send him. Unfortunately, I have a further problem in pursuing that aim, I must seek Aidan’s aid as exhausted as he is, though he can be somewhat unpredictable in what he delivers.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’ Augusta bristled, coming to Aidan’s defence.
‘Yes, how can you possibly say that? Are you saying you can’t depend on him?’ Beatrix retorted.
‘Cease ladies. Let me explain, please,’ and he smiled at each of the three in turn, taking immense pleasure in Aidan’s friends.
‘Aidan has a certain knack with animals and birds. He has a greater affinity with them than I do, it may be because he can heal them, I don’t know. Whatever, my boy is more adept with dealing with fauna than I will ever be. The trouble is, when he calls for a specific animal another is quite likely to appear,’ Tragen chuckled and went on to clarify.
‘There was a very memorable occasion, two summers ago; we needed a sheepdog to bring in a flock of lambs from a hillside being plagued by a wolf. The shepherd had been injured by this particular animal but had managed to chase it away. Aidan and I were staying overnight at the local inn after a long journey on the border of the Great Forest, and it being a warm evening and the tavern room very hot and restful, we were imbibing a little alcoholic beverage…just to cool us down, you understand. Well, more than a little of it if I remember correctly,’ Tragen paused, smiling sheepishly.
‘Well, this shepherd rushed into the inn and asked for our help. We could not refuse, so Aidan and I helped each other rise from the table…we were very tired, you know,’ the wizard said, winking. ‘We stood at the bar of the tavern and, Aidan being better with animals than me, I allowed him the conjuration. Poor boy, poor me, I should have remembered.’ Tragen couldn’t stop grinning; the event had been so ludicrous and, as it turned out, highly dangerous.
‘What…’ said Cornelia, ‘what happened?’
‘Aidan created the necessary enchantment for the calling of an animal which entailed picturing the required creature in his mind. The one problem being, and what I should have realized is, that when you’re drunk, a dog and a wolf have a similar appearance.’
‘Oh, oh!’ Augusta interrupted, laughing. ‘I get it; a wolf appeared instead of a sheepdog, is that it?’
‘You are perfectly correct, my dear. A wolf did appear…a very large wolf…a very large and very wild wolf. The same wolf in fact which had savaged the shepherd on the hillside. It appeared right in front of us, in amongst the tables in the middle of the tavern. There was utter pandemonium,’ Tragen halted, a silly grin on his face.
‘Go on…what happened next?’ Beatrix asked, not quite believing her ears.
‘The whole village turned up eventually, as we were extricating ourselves from a haywain parked outside the broken window of the main room of the inn. There seemed to be a lot of men sitting in trees as I recall, and there was not a window left whole in any wall of that tavern. We were unceremoniously marched out of the village, which was a bit silly as we’d offered to repair the damage free of charge as drunk as we were—we usually ask for a small fee for that kind of work. But for some reason they did not want to trust us again. We never did find out what happened to those lambs…or that wolf.’
‘Lord Tragen,’ Cornelia said, after she managed to stop laughing. ‘You jest surely, that was not a true occurrence, surely?’
‘Unfortunately, every word was the truth. Now do you see the problem? If I allow Aidan to call a creature, I do not have any idea what may turn up. As I have no patience with animals if I attempt the calling ninety-nine times out of a hundred the one I summon will also be impatient. It will undoubtedly be totally unsuitable, highly dangerous, and everything will turn into a disaster.’ Tragen tugged hard at his beard.
‘Then we must rely on Aidan, shall I see if he’s awake, Milord?’ Beatrix asked, her eyes red, this time with tears of laughter.
‘Aye, young Beatrix, ask him if he is well enough to join us on the quarterdeck.
Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House. One is from Chicago, another is from Tennessee, and the third is from Minnesota. All three go with a White House official to examine the fence. The Minnesota contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. “Well,” he says, “I figure the job will run about $900. $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, “I can do this job for $700. $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The Chicago contractor doesn’t measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, “$2,700.” The official, incredulous, says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?” The Chicago contractor whispers back, “$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence.” “Done!” replies the government official. And that, my friends, is how the new stimulus plan will work.
Have a nice day!
A husband and wife are trying to set up a new password for their computer. The husband puts, “Mypenis,” and the wife falls on the ground laughing because on the screen it says, “Error. Not long enough.”
On the quarterdeck, Locklear paced slowly. It was a beautiful evening, the skies clear, an abundance of stars beginning to show, the moon waxing. A gentle breeze was blowing just enough for the Grim to make headway. Cruising weather Locklear thought as he looked over his ship, a ship silent except for the occasional creak of a board or a wave lapping the hull. The storm was now far behind them and he mused on its aftermath, studying the splintered ends of the broken masts reflecting the moonlight he hoped for luck in finding replacements. But Locklear took heart from what Hopper had said earlier, there were plenty of trees on Sanctity, he prayed there’d be no trouble acquiring them. With the weather now settled, on the morrow after Tragen had filled the water barrels, he would have Trumper rig a jury mast to increase speed.
Below, in Cornelia’s cabin, Tragen was again keeping the lady company, drinking tea that he had conjured from empty air. It still tasted fresher than tea from the galley, he thought, and Cornelia seemed to be enjoying it. The porthole was open and the light evening breeze stirred the air.
‘You truly believe that Augusta has been given the gifts of wizardry?’ Cornelia asked, worriedly.
‘Well, I honestly don’t know what her mother and father will think of that. How could it possibly have happened?’
Tragen shrugged and settled himself more comfortably in a chair that he had also conjured from thin air as there had only been one in the cabin.
‘It is a complete mystery to me. It has never been known before for a wizard’s abilities to suddenly appear like this—I’m completely baffled. I just hope that Aidan doesn’t go overboard in his teaching of the art. They both appear to have the same sense of, how shall I put it…delicacy in handling sensitive matters?’
‘I agree, Tragen, they are both rapscallions,’ she chuckled. ‘So we make for the Griffin Islands,’ said Cornelia, holding a flower-patterned mug of tea in her hands.
‘We have no choice I’m afraid. You know of the Onyx Isles, we could never come near there with you and Augusta aboard. The ship would founder if we attempted to return to Mantovar through the storm. I have already made it clear to Hugo that I will foil any attempt to head straight north to reach the frozen wastes and follow the coast around to Mantovar. Without masts we would find it increasingly difficult to make the voyage to Drakka and it would be pointless, anyway, as we would in all probability encounter the storm again on leaving.’ He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. ‘I only hope we recognize the enemy when we meet him in Griffin.’
‘You believe Beatrix to be correct in her assumption then?’
‘Yes, unfortunately,’ he paused and sipped his tea. ‘I am very glad that young lady accompanies us for, I admit, I knew that the storm had been created to stop us entering Mantovar but it had not occurred to me that the storm’s purpose was also to entice us to his lair.’
‘She is a very able young woman, that one. Mind you, the princess speaks very highly of her mother. In fact Dotrice is suspected of being the princess’s chief advisor…in an unofficial capacity of course.’
‘Along with you!’
Cornelia blushed and changed the subject. ‘Have you estimated how long it will be before we reach home?’
‘No, at this time I have absolutely no idea, and that worries me. I have to find some way of informing the prince of what has transpired and that for now his daughter is safe and well.’ Tragen stretched his back, taking care that he did not spill his tea. ‘I could attempt to use a gull, of course, when one appears. However, they are not very dependable as they do not like flying more than ten or fifteen leagues from their nests, and we are hundreds of leagues from home. I think I will have to seek my young apprentice’s advice.’
‘You heed a lot of his advice?’ Cornelia enquired smiling fondly; the more she knew of the boy the more she was falling under his spell.
‘Yes,’ and he laughed, ‘at least some of his advice. In many respects, he is a normal, mischievous, lovable rascal with a heart greater than any I have ever known! However, he has an odd knowledge of the spirit world far more than I will ever know. Perhaps that is why he is of the opinion that it is his bounden duty to heal anyone suffering and I do mean anyone. I believe he would heal the hurts of his enemies without them asking.’
He rose from his chair. ‘Well we have plenty to think on tonight, Cornelia, and I shall leave you now. Sleep well, Milady,’ he said as he left.
‘Goodnight to you, my friend,’ Cornelia uttered quietly as Tragen closed the door behind him.
In Anders’ cabin, the two boys lay sleeping, silent except for the slight nasal noises Anders was making as he slept on his back. It was another night without a vision.
The next morning was glorious. A scorcher of a day in the offing as the sun crept up the sky. There was very little cloud cover, just feathers of high cirrus floating in the azure sky, the smell of ozone permeating the light breeze invigorating the senses. The Grim was carrying all possible sail on its three remaining masts and the ship glided slowly but purposefully south-westwards on the long swell of the Great Deep.
Collecting breakfast from the galley, Dolly informed Aidan and Anders in no uncertain terms that he was depending on them to ensure the galley barrels were full of ‘proper’ drinking water. What the cook meant by “proper” was anyone’s guess, but it would make a change to cook with water devoid of stench. He also gave Anders a long throwing knife called an anelace, and told him to practise with it. In answer to Beattie’s quizzical look, Anders told her he had a natural talent for the weapon, so Dolly said.
There was an air of suppressed excitement on board. Magic was well known throughout the empire but no one ever saw it often. This morning the Grim was preparing to witness another conjuration, the third in less than a week. This spell was not to be as spectacular as the shield enchantment, and not many people had seen the repairing of the stormsail but judging by the number of people already on deck, a lot more would watch this demonstration.
Leash again took his post at the helm, relieving Talbot at the end of his morning watch. The second helmsman still scheming, his eyes red-rimmed with lack of sleep, was determined that before the week was out the boy would be dead one way or another. He was holding together with great difficulty, wilder and riskier scenarios running through his head he could not take his eyes from Aidan. Caution was needed now, if he lost control of himself then his secret would be divulged and he would be a dead man in Purgatory, the wizard would see to that. But there was something about the boy, something was niggling in the back of his mind. The more he stared at the apprentice the more Aidan reminded him of someone, but of whom he couldn’t recall.
‘Nellie’ and Beatrix had carried out their duties for ‘Princess Augusta’ and left her consuming her inevitable pot of tea, musing at the way Augusta was settling in to her role as a companion and maid. Augusta was enjoying every minute of her new distractions despite the fact that she was worrying about the chore promised for later that day. Beatrix had earmarked it as their laundry day. She wanted to wash their clothes – their very dirty clothes – in suds, in a tub on deck. Aidan had promised to supervise her endeavours and only laugh occasionally. Augusta cursed. Meanwhile Anders was attempting to cajole Beatrix into doing his mountain of washing and was not succeeding at all well, but he was full of hope.
The girls, impatient for Tragen to arrive, were rebuffed by Aidan refusing to wake the wizard.
‘No way, Tragen is evil in the mornings. We’ll let him come around all by himself, thank you,’ he said, ‘and stop throwing that knife around, you’re making me nervous, Anders.’
‘Don’t be daft, little wizard. Dolly told me to practise the techniques he showed me…that man is really something with a knife,’ said Anders admiringly. Squinting through his blue eyes, he took another aim at the barrel at the foot of the mainmast, and carried on throwing the narrow bladed anelace.
‘Take care, Anders, you said last night that you won’t allow Aidan to heal you so please do not take out your eye, or mine,’ said Augusta, flinching.
‘Well, I think he’s pretty good with it,’ said Beatrix, though she did tend to lean away from him.
Just then, Trumper arrived. ‘Mind it you lot, you’re standing right in the place we’re stacking the casks.’ With that, half a dozen men trundled up rolling the water barrels, wooden, metal-hooped vessels of various sizes, colours and odours. One of the middling sized ones Beatrix recognized as always standing in the passageway outside her cabin door. She used it often and had noticed earlier that day that the residue in the bottom was beginning to pong.
They leant against the rail staring out to sea comfortable with their friendship. They were able now to remain silent in each other’s company without feeling anxiety, having no need to make small talk. The morning drifted by as they do at sea in the tropics, quietly and slowly, tension seeping away as they watched the gently swelling ocean. The day gradually getting warmer, the breeze soothing their nerves and lulling their senses, the storm already receding into their subconscious.
‘We’re having a party tonight, Dolly’s providing his special pies and Jason and some others are going to sing,’ Anders said, interrupting their thoughts, but not the sound of the occasional thud of the dagger as it sank into the timber of the broken mainmast.
‘Oh, I’ve never attended an entertainment on board a ship before,’ said Augusta.
‘Neither have I,’ added Beatrix. ‘What are Dolly’s “special” pies?’
‘Ah well, no-one seems to know and no-one has the courage to ask him, but he’s been seen messing about with rotten apples and old pork,’ answered Anders.
‘Ugh!’ both girls said in unison.
‘Jason…isn’t he that tall, blond, good-looking fellow?’ asked Augusta.
‘Oh, I don’t know about good-looking,’ replied Aidan feeling slightly peeved. ‘He’s a fair singer though and Anders and me, we’re going to dance.’
Augusta laughed. ‘Dance! I can’t imagine you two dancing a minuet around the deck.’
Anders nearly choked. ‘A minuet! We don’t dance all stiff with our noses in the air like you do, we do proper dancing…like the hornpipe.’
Augusta, slightly abashed at her gaffe, recovered quickly and glancing mischievously at Beatrix said. ‘I’ve heard of that…isn’t that the one where you do a lot of jumping on the spot waving your arms in the air?’
Anders was speechless, he was proud of his dancing. ‘Jumping…jumping…I’ll have you know…’ Just then, there was a flurry of activity from the quarterdeck and the captain came into the waist accompanied at last by Tragen.
‘Well, ladies and gentlemen,’ Tragen said, as if announcing an entertainment in front of gentry. ‘Welcome to one and all.’ He bowed with an elaborate flourish, the voluminous sleeves of his green robe flapping like a chicken held up by its legs, he grinned at all who caught his eye. Tragen may be an old aristocrat but he loved acting the troubadour, thought Aidan, joining his teacher at the stump of the mainmast.
‘Ah, Aidan, you are ready?’ Tragen asked, waving his arms and continuing to play to his audience.
‘Oh, yes, Master. I await your bidding,’ and Aidan, aping his mentor and bowing with an equally graceful flourish, beamed at all those around and about.
The crew were in high good humour, happily talking loudly, clapping hands, whistling and cheering in appreciation. For a long time the crew had been battling the fiercest tempest they were ever likely to meet and they were worn out, recovering from a nightmare. Despair had been commonplace amongst them for the long days and nights of the storm and now they had to look forward to even longer days and nights of hard, gruelling work sailing a five-masted ship with only three poles.
They needed light entertainment now to raise their morale. Tragen knew this, as did Locklear, and the wizard was fully prepared to perform outlandishly in order to fulfil their needs.
Aidan, of course, knew his master was in one of his playful moods and he was prepared to follow Tragen’s lead—up to a point! He recalled the last occasion his master had been this jolly—he had ended up the butt of Tragen’s jokes. This time he was going to get his own back, in front of everyone, and he grinned.
‘Form a circle my friends,’ Tragen commanded. And after much shuffling and juggling for position a circle he got, though a somewhat erratic one. Tragen, his dark green robe signifying he was a master wizard, stood in the centre his hand on Aidan’s shoulder. Silently he looked around at his audience and awaited their full attention.
‘Look at Aidan, Augusta! Look at him, that boy is shaming us; look at the state of his clothes! We must wash them later, we just have to,’ Beatrix whispered as Augusta paled, Anders smiled he’d got out of doing his laundry.
Augusta shut her eyes, pain on her face. ‘They’re boys, Beattie, boys…they’re always dirty they’re supposed to be. Sh! Let’s watch.’
Tragen continued. ‘A cask if you please! Thank you my good man,’ and he stepped aside as Jason rolled the first barrel into place and upended it in front of the two performers.
‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ said the wizard, prodding Jason in the nether regions with his staff as the unfortunate sailor turned his back. The crew roared.
Jason rubbed his backside ruefully and jostled his mates as he settled again to watch the goings-on.
Tragen entered into his full patter. ‘Now, here you see an empty cask,’ and he pointed with his staff. ‘But, gentlemen, you know and I know that an empty cask is no good to any man—unless, of course, you’re drowning,’ and he winked. ‘So…we had better fill it. Aidan, kindly give us a tinkle, please,’ he ordered.
‘I beg your pardon,’ Aidan couldn’t help it, he blushed, he was going to have to bear the brunt again he knew it. The crew fell about.
‘I could do with a tinkle myself,’ a voice shouted out from the back.
Tragen looked towards the voice and intoned. ‘Beware all ye who require tinkles, for once this miracle of enchantment begins, a fair torrent may flow…and not just into this barrel.’
‘By the Gods, out of my way I need the heads,’ Nkosi, panicking, shoved through his laughing mates and ran from the circle.
Augusta looking puzzled turned to Anders. ‘What is the matter with that man, and whose head does he need?’
Beatrix leant across, and grinning, whispered into her ear. ‘The heads is a sailor’s term for latrine.’
‘Oh,’ she paused, still looking puzzled. ‘Then why did the men laugh when Tragen asked Aidan for a tinkle?’
Beatrix stared at her, saying nothing. Anders nearly bit his tongue trying to stifle his laughter.
Augusta was nonplussed until comprehension swiftly dawned on her. Shocked, she put her hands to her scarlet face and turned back to watch the two clowns at the stump of the mast.
‘Come on, my lad. Have you forgotten how to tinkle?’ Tragen asked.
Aidan looked at him and if looks could kill Tragen was dead a thousand times. Just wait master, just wait! The apprentice raised his right arm and moved his fingers and wrist in a disjointed pattern. As he did the air in front of him thickened and darkened. Everyone ceased laughing and gazed at the boy, watching his every move. Aidan continued his gyrations and moved his hand over the empty cask. The air grew even thicker and Aidan commenced his singing.
Augusta, watching him, recognized the excitement and the love of magic shining in his eyes and heard it in his voice; he had a lovely voice, she could listen to it for hours. The magic gripped her. Ever since she had held the light she had felt such a yearning, it was agonizing to watch magic and yet not have the knowledge to use it safely. She needed to be part of this and was determined that things would be different at the next show, whether Tragen liked it or not—next time she was going to take part.
Aidan continued to sing and the audience, not quite knowing what to expect, eagerly watched his every move.
Anders, who had seen this spell often, was still intrigued at the interplay between his friend and his friend’s master. Grinning, he saw it was not going to go quite the way Aidan expected and, what’s more, it would not go quite the way Tragen imagined either and he gleefully awaited the outcome.
Augusta sat spellbound; she had never experienced anything like this. The visiting magicians to the Court of Mantovar never performed their arts in a jocular manner, they were far too serious. She gripped Beattie’s hand, not taking her eyes from the spectacle, loving every minute of her friend’s antics—she was so very proud of him.
Tragen, his long white beard trailing below his waist, stood tall alongside his shorter protégé and watched as Aidan’s enchantment released a spot of water no bigger than a raindrop, from the air in front of him. The first drop of water was followed by a second and then a third, the flow akin to rainwater dripping from the eaves of a roof at the end of a short shower.
Tragen looked around at his enthralled audience, spreading his arms wide he turned to his apprentice. ‘Is that the greatest tinkle you can manage, Aidan? Strain boy…strain!’ Laughter erupted again.
Aidan looked up at him, and grimacing he sang louder relishing his revenge. The flow of water now increased to a steady, if slow, trickle.
‘Well, gentlemen, there you see a boy’s tinkle,’ the wizard smiled. ‘Now I will show you a man’s,’ and lifting his staff he pointed the knuckle at the stream of water gently falling from thin air. Tragen broke into a song that was very similar to Aidan’s, but far stronger and deeper. And it had the desired effect. The gentle stream transformed into a veritable inundation as a ray of light shot from the staff and hit the flow. The waterspout poured into the cask, filling it to overflowing within minutes. The crew watched silently, completely bewitched. All of a sudden laughter erupted at the slight problem unforeseen by both the old wizard and the young.
When the water first cascaded into the barrel, Aidan had been rather slow in moving out of the way. The first outpouring drenched him to the skin.
‘Oh, bloody hell, Master, be careful will you,’ shouted the soaking wet apprentice.
‘Tch, tch, Aidan, you should not swear in front of ladies,’ shouted Augusta before she could stop herself.
Aidan made up his mind it was now or never, his turn for some fun now. ‘Master, we need more casks quickly. Shall I stop the water while we change barrels or shall I divert the flow instead?’
Tragen, loving the situation he had created, shouted over the roar of the spouting water, not thinking for a moment of the consequences. ‘Divert of course, Aidan, divert it, there’s no need to stop it there are plenty of barrels yet.’
Anders watched an evil gleam appear on Aidan’s face, looking at the girls nervously, he warned. ‘Watch out you two, he’s up to something,’
Augusta and Beatrix, surprised, glanced at Anders quickly and then studied Aidan as the apprentice took over the chanting. The tempo of the song changed to a slower, lighter sound.
Tragen walked in a circle around his apprentice, humming to himself and bowing to his audience and every now and then dancing a little jig his back to Aidan, completely oblivious to what was happening behind him.
The stream of water, ceasing to pour into the full cask, curled upwards as Aidan sang. The spout of water formed a u-shape in mid-air. Utterly bemused some noticed a strange, manic gleam on Aidan’s face and they wondered. Fidgeting nervously, the noise diminishing, they glanced at each other, instinctively knowing that something untoward was happening.
Tragen, not detecting any difference in their manner, carried on acknowledging their reducing applause.
The end of the waterspout quickly reached a level with the outpouring from the air and then recommenced following the laws of gravity. The heavy gush of water again fell.
Tragen turned at that moment finally becoming aware of the strange behaviour of his audience, frowning he stared at Aidan,
And the water fell—smack bang on the top of Tragen’s head.
There was appalled silence, men watching astounded as the water, pouring on the wizard like a river, soaked him to the skin.
Beatrix, mortified, grabbed Anders’ hand. Aidan had really done it this time, there was no way he was going to talk himself out of this.
Augusta stared at Aidan controlling the flow of the water. His face was a picture as he stood with his arm outstretched grinning delightedly at the dumbfounded wizard. The young apprentice was wreaking his sweet revenge with crazy delight. For a moment Augusta did nothing as she looked from a soaking wet apprentice to a soaking wet wizard. Then, unable to maintain self-control over the complete absurdity of what she was witnessing, she laughed and it bubbled from her. Standing up, she lost her balance and slipped on the water sweeping across the deck. She fell to the floor and slid along the boards coming up against Tragen’s legs, knocking him to the deck alongside her.
Locklear chuckled loudly and deeply until Aidan, with the devil fully entrenched, pointed his curled fingers at the captain and saturated him next with the deluge. And then there was absolute pandemonium as Aidan, spinning in a circle the spout of water following him, aimed the water into the audience and commenced drowning everyone in sight.
The teacher asked Jimmy, “Why is your cat at school today Jimmy?” Jimmy replied crying, “Because I heard my daddy tell my mommy, ‘I am going to eat that p*ssy once Jimmy leaves for school today!'”
Have a nice day!