Chapter Twelve of The Gateway (plus a joke or two)

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes

As an airplane is about to crash, a female passenger jumps up frantically and announces, “If I’m going to die, I want to die feeling like a woman.” She removes all her clothing and asks, “Is there someone on this plane who is man enough to make me feel like a woman?” A man stands up, removes his shirt and says, “Here, iron this!”.

 

Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle
Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle

 

 

 

Twelve

 

‘Oh, my poor fingers!’ groaned Aidan, holding his sore hands in the air before him, shaking them slowly in an attempt to cool the inflammation. It was dusk and they all sat in a state of utter misery in the girls’ cabin.

‘Augusta, you have a big mouth,’ he said, as she sat dejected on the end of her bed.

‘Don’t blame her, we all went along with it,’ said Anders, nursing his own hurting hands. ‘I have never smelled so bad,’ he grumbled, sniffing his clothes.

‘Oh, I don’t know…I’ve had to share your berth these last few nights,’ said Aidan laughing.

Anders, forgetting his hands a moment, threw a cushion at him and then moaned in pain as he broke another blister. Even he had found the chore exacting. Being used to manual labour, he thought, did not mean you were used to gripping a knife for hours on end, and gutting fish was not an easy job. Poor Augusta was in a dreadful state…blisters as big as apples on her palms, her fingers red and aching. The only other one to cope reasonably well was Beatrix; her hands were a lot harder than those of her mistress.

The chore had been so mind-numbingly disgusting that they had not realized that they had paired off until later. Beatrix and Anders had shared the task, the labour coming as no shock to them. Being ignored by Augusta and Aidan was an added bonus, their young love grew as they became even closer and they found it quite easy to forget the presence of the other two.

At first she had struggled, Augusta not even knowing how to hold a knife, until Dolly had taken pity on her enough to show her how to use it. Then, as Augusta assisted Aidan, they both fell into mindmelding almost by accident. At first, it had been hard going, Augusta finding it increasingly challenging to concentrate on seeking his mind and at the same time cut a fish. Aidan’s lack of patience didn’t help—he had great difficulty keeping his irritation from showing. Nevertheless, as time went on, the easier mindmelding became because of their desperation to be distracted from the appalling stench. By the time they had cleaned the last fish, mindmelding had become almost second nature for Augusta. But being taught to hide her emotions enough to remain undetectable in Aidan’s head was a dilemma that she thought she’d never overcome. But Aidan had assured her that the ability would come with time and practise; he had also found it a formidable task when Tragen had first begun his training many years before.

One pleasurable side effect of their dabbling was the fact that they discovered a mutual sense of fun – what others would call irresponsibility – throwing fish heads at each other was not everyone’s idea of enjoyment, especially when a fish’s entrails ended up down someone else’s collar! But they did forget almost entirely that Anders and Beatrix were stood at the table with them.

‘Aidan, can you do something about these, they’re very bad?’ Beatrix asked, examining Augusta’s sore fingers.

Aidan ceased his moaning and kneeling before Augusta he cradled both her hands in his. He grinned up at her.

‘Relax now and watch closely, you’ll actually see the blisters dry up. In a couple of hours the dead skin will wear away.’

Holding back her tears she stared at the white blisters on top of white blisters, hardly able to stretch her fingers out straight. Watching silently – butterflies jumping in her stomach at the thought of more magic – she could see nothing unusual happening to begin with but as his chanting, at first very low, increased in momentum, the fluid within the blisters darkened. And within moments the pustules had dried forming hard calluses, her fingers lost their crumpled whiteness and returned to a normal colour and the pain disappeared.

Thank you,’ she mindmelded as she flexed her hands, wonder replacing the glistening in her eyes.

Aidan flinched at her thanks but said nothing and he turned to Beatrix. ‘Your turn next, young lady…let me have your hands.’

Beatrix raised them for him to hold. ‘Yours are worse than mine, you should be healing your own first,’ she said as his chanting began.

‘It’s all right Tragen has a salve me and Anders can use.’

‘Why don’t you heal Anders and yourself? Wouldn’t it be easier and faster if you did?’ Augusta asked as he finished with Beattie’s hands.

Aidan looked at her in horror and, without speaking a word, strode out of the cabin to retrieve the balm from the store in his locker.

Augusta, mystified, turned to Anders. ‘Now what have I said?’

‘Don’t you remember?’ Anders replied. ‘Aidan won’t heal himself.’

‘Oh hell, I’d forgotten.’

‘Augusta your language! You’re sounding more like Aidan every day.’ Beatrix turned to Anders still holding his hands out before him being very careful not to hurt them more. ‘Why didn’t he heal you, then? Why have you to use the salve?’ She ceased her rummaging around to stare at the boy she couldn’t bear being apart from. She was tidying as usual, unable to rest in the middle of a mess.

‘Ah well, Aidan and I have an agreement of a sort. If he doesn’t heal himself he’s not to heal me—unless it’s life threatening, of course.’ Anders looked at them and grimaced. ‘Don’t say that’s a stupid vow or ask me to change my mind, Aidan and I have been friends for a lot of years, now. I’ve seen him sustain cuts and bruises loads of times; he even broke his leg once in a fall off a horse. That time his leg was bound up for a couple of months before it healed on its own, Tragen was frantic worrying about him. He’s only now recovering from a broken arm. I decided long ago that I wouldn’t allow him to heal me unless he heals himself.’

‘Then he’ll never heal me again,’ said Augusta determinedly, wondering at the same time if she’d stick to it.

‘Or me,’ added Beatrix, keeping her fingers crossed in case she ever had to keep her promise.

‘You may not have the choice, ladies,’ said Aidan, overhearing the last as he returned with a pot of unguent. And as the girls started to protest he broke in on them. ‘I’m not listening—leave it alone!’

He walked over to Anders and they both rubbed the sweet-smelling, yellow salve into their hands from the open pot between them. An abnormal silence settled in the cabin the girls, not for the first time, contemplating Aidan’s very strange attitude where healing was concerned.

Tragen appeared at the door on his way to Lady Cornelia. He spent a lot of time keeping her company these days as she could not leave the cabin, having to remain hidden from the crew. Both were happy with each other’s friendship and relieved that her masquerade as Lady Augusta appeared so successful. No-one, as yet, had questioned the fact that their princess was still suffering seasickness.

He looked in at them puzzled over the lack of noise. ‘Hello, what have we here? Taking a well-earned breather from your chores I see.’

Receiving dirty looks he thought better than to wait for any retort. ‘Aidan, we have a job to do tomorrow,’ and four pairs of ears perked up. ‘Yes…we are going to replenish the drinking water; barrels are being checked as we speak. The captain has been worrying because the remainder of what we have will last only a few days more and that’s with rationing. So be ready in the morning and be well rested the incantation may have to last quite a while.’ With one last look he escaped swiftly before any questions were voiced.

Augusta and Beatrix gazed excitedly at Aidan, the atmosphere changing instantly.

‘Go on, tell us what you and he are going to do…how do you extract water, and from what?’ Augusta asked.

‘Oh, it’s dead easy that spell,’ Aidan replied, looking around smugly. ‘Tragen will either use his staff to create the spell and I’ll keep it going using my hands, or I’ll create it and he’ll keep it going,’ he paused, staring down at his fingers stretched out before him, evidence of their activities in the afternoon showing beneath his fingernails. He’d have to scrub them, he thought, before helping his master or the fish debris would contaminate the clean water.

Augusta punched him on his shoulder. ‘Come on, tell us the rest. Where does the water come from and what exactly have you to do. And why haven’t you got your staff yet?’

‘Ouch, that hurt,’ he said, rubbing his shoulder, ‘slow down and give me a chance.’

He waited until he could see suspense killing them before resuming. ‘Okay, Tragen will stand somewhere on deck and hold his staff out in front of him. He’ll chant the spell and water droplets will appear in the air. The droplets will form a cascade and he’ll pour it into the water barrels. Dead simple,’ he said, ‘once the water is falling into the barrels I’ll take over as the power of the staff won’t be needed any longer. I’ll make sure the flow doesn’t stop until all the barrels are full. Just like magic,’ he said smiling, rubbing his dirty fingernails against his shirt.

‘Aye, but don’t forget,’ added Anders, ‘the longer you have to keep the spell going, the more tired you’re going to get. So I suggest we all get to sleep before long.’

‘Wait a moment,’ interrupted Beatrix, who was now sitting on the floor her attention as fervent as that of Augusta. ‘You haven’t told us why you haven’t got a staff. I’ve noticed Tragen’s—it’s very beautiful. Why won’t he give you a staff or at least allow you to use his?’

‘It’s a long story, I’ll tell you in the morning.’

‘No way, you tell us now, or we won’t be able to sleep,’ ordered Augusta. ‘You are not going anywhere yet.’

Aidan looked at his three friends and thought of Tragen’s bewilderingly magical staff, recalling the dream he had nurtured now for almost ten years. For all of that time he had watched his master use the fabled wizard’s staff and had felt a hunger as acute as starvation to have his own.

‘Okay, listen up,’ he smiled and settled himself comfortably on the floor alongside Beatrix. Augusta curled up on her bed not taking her eyes off him. Anders, having heard the story many times before, sat the other side of Beatrix.

And as the story progressed Aidan brought to life his love of magic for them all to see. Augusta’s eyes gleamed.

He began with the teachings of Tragen’s old master, Herman, a wizard so old at the time of his demise that no one could remember who had been on the throne when he’d been birthed. Tragen had been devastated for months, and still talked of Herman as if he was still alive. Aidan, smiling at his master’s stories of his mentor, wanted to tell him that Herman’s spirit was still alive and well—on the other side of death. But he knew his master wasn’t yet ready to understand that.

The wizard, Herman, had shown great patience when teaching Tragen the intricacies of constructing his own staff. Indeed, Tragen was now showing the same patience over these intervening years in instructing Aidan.

The methods needed to create a staff required an extraordinary physical energy, and a prodigious mental strength. Both could only be acquired over years of an exhausting apprenticeship, a traineeship that sometimes lasted a lifetime. Each apprentice was taught that he and only he knew when to make his staff. The staff signified the end of the traineeship, the time when he must leave his master—although making the staff was not the end of learning. No wizard was the same and no wizard’s staff was the same.

The staff that became a wizard’s life companion was unique and colossally powerful. For not only was the staff a corporeal object it was also sentient; it held a part of its maker’s soul.

Memories of its forming flitted through it constantly—memories of its mother trees, and of the soil in which the trees grew. Recollections of the forests and woods and groves; and of the sunlight they stretched towards and the moonlight under which they rested. The staff remembered the life that dwelled in the mother trees, the sap that gave it life, the insects crawling beneath the bark, the birds nesting in the branches, and seeds grown to fly away in the wind to grow other trees. The staff recalled the winds and the rains, the droughts and the famines.

It also retained memories of its maker.

Aidan without warning stopped and looked up at his friends. ‘Am I boring you?’

‘No, get on with it,’ they chanted in unison.

Each wizard chanted a mantra as he searched for the mother tree’s location and, when discovered, each tree answered. The wizard sang his request of the tree; he sang as he made the incision taking no more and no less of the timber than was required, removing the sliver in one cut. He chanted his gratitude as he wrapped the piece to preserve it until the other woods were found.

Many different woods were required, the number dictated by the woods themselves. In Tragen’s staff had been melded woods from three trees found many leagues apart. Tragen had travelled to far Birkton to find the Tree of Horns growing high in the snow-capped Scissor Mountains. Chanting the spell whilst removing the paring had taken days, infinite care had been employed. Then there were the searches for the other two woods, Bellwood from Arken, and Spotsbush, which he had found eventually, after months of searching, not far from where he lived in Mantovar. It had been the red stained, yellow Spotsbush which had let Tragen know it was the last required.

The actual melding of the three woods into one indestructible stave had been a long process, intricate and totally astounding. Forming the knuckle at the top with just the heat of his hands had exhausted him more than anything else had as once the process of configuring its shape had started it could not be halted. He had persevered, undergoing a loving task with no time for food, only water sipped as he sang. Then he had the task of moulding the taper at the base of the staff—a taper that ended in a point so hard and keen no mortal means could ever blunt it. Tragen was skin and bone at the end of the staff’s creation—skin and bone, and ecstatic.

Aidan told of the staff memorizing the sound of its maker’s voice…the different cadences and rhythms as Tragen chanted. It learned the smell of its maker’s body, the taste of his sweat and the feel of its maker’s skin as he caressed the woods. It felt the love pouring into it and accompanying that love all the memories of its maker. The staff had become a spiritual being as it absorbed its maker’s entity. And it shared the wizard’s life not as a tool but as a partner.

It was an immensely powerful object and only Tragen could use it. No other wizard would even attempt to touch another’s staff as the unique force contained within, could send another into oblivion. Occasionally a wizard would allow a loved one, and only a loved one, to hold the staff as it would recognize its maker’s love bestowed on another. This was why Tragen had allowed Aidan to hold his staff during his spell-casting of the shield. Tragen and Aidan loved each other as father and son, and Tragen’s staff, recognizing this, had allowed Aidan to add his strength to that of his master.

Aidan concluded. ‘Now do you understand why I can’t use Tragen’s staff? He can give it to me to hold, or I can fetch it for him, but if I attempted to create a spell with it the power would kill me.’ The others nodded spellbound with his tale.

‘When will you be ready for your staff?’ Beatrix asked a few minutes later, staring wide-eyed at the nearly wizard, her friend.

‘I have no idea. It may be years yet, after all I don’t reach the age of manhood until next year…I think,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘Do you know how many woods you’ll need, because when you go searching I want to go with you?’ said Anders. ‘I want to watch you make your staff if I can.’

‘Aye, course you can, but you’d find it boring, though…I wouldn’t have time to talk to you when I’m actually making it. As for the number of woods, I won’t know until I’ve found the first, because the first will send me to another, and so on.’

‘Could you stop at one wood?’ Beatrix asked utterly enthralled.

‘There’s a legend that says a staff made from the wood of a certain single tree would be the most powerful in the world. No other staff would survive in a contest of wills. That wood is from the Tree of Paradise, which is a legend itself; no one has ever discovered the site of one.’ They sat silently, completely mesmerized by the story.

‘How come you don’t know your age, Aidan,’ asked Augusta out of the blue.

‘That’s another long story that will definitely keep for another day. I believe it’s now time for us to leave, I’m knackered.’

As Aidan and Anders left, Beatrix shouted after them smiling as she did so. ‘You are not supposed to swear in front of ladies. And do not say we are not ladies!’ Laughing she closed the door as the boys departed along the passageway to Anders’ berth.

‘I can’t wait for the morning, Beattie. I wonder if he’ll allow me to help,’ she hunched her shoulders, a calculating look in her eyes. ‘Well, he is supposed to teach me magic, isn’t he? I wonder if I’ll ever get to make a staff.

Beatrix said nothing, feeling very nervous all of a sudden.

 

Leash had just finished his duty at the helm and was lying in his ‘pit’ as sailors called their cot. He was still seething over his plans coming to naught. His hatred of the wizard was growing if that was possible. Every time he failed to hurt the boy, Leash loathed him the more. He often saw the wizard’s boy walking about the ship but the boy was never alone, at least one of the brats serving the prince’s daughter always accompanied him. If he could manage to catch the apprentice on his own then it would be no problem to throw him overboard after making sure he could not call for help. Lying in his bed and staring at the deckhead above him he thought about the several ways in which he could kill the boy—and anticipated immense pleasure in the actual act of slaying him. But because the boy had had the luck to survive his previous murderous attempts Leash began to hate the young wizard as much as he hated the old.

There was one distinct advantage in going after the boy, though, besides the boy’s size and age. Aidan had no staff. Leash was mortally afraid of Tragen’s staff. It had ruined his life, taken all his hope, his means of remaining safe – all that was precious – and that he could never forgive.

Leash lay on his bed tossing and turning. There had to be a way of getting the boy alone. He closed his eyes and turned over to sleep, settling to dream the same dream that he had every night—the one that made him feel safe—but she was not happy with him.

 

Anders had given in to his friend’s nagging and again given up his cot on the grounds that Aidan would probably have nightmares again through lack of sleep. The cabin boy had claimed blackmail but didn’t want him returning to his own berth, he’d not be able to keep an eye on him there.

Aidan, of course, didn’t want to return for his own reasons. Firstly, he had the knack of always being able to persuade Anders to fetch and carry for him. Anders, not realizing this, had stated many times that Aidan could charm the hind legs off a donkey but he would never fall for his tricks. Secondly, Aidan would have had to sleep on a bed with a hole in the middle of it, and last but not least—Tragen rattled the walls with his snoring.

Lying on his back Anders asked. ‘You did mean it didn’t you? You will take me when you search for your staff, won’t you?’

Aidan peered down at his friend. ‘Aye, I meant it. But what if we’re not friends when it’s time for me to leave?’

‘Don’t be silly,’ scoffed Anders, ‘we’ll always be friends.’ And he turned on his side—Aidan did irritate him on times.

A little while later Anders unable to sleep looked up at Aidan. ‘Hey, are you awake?’

‘No.’

‘If I ask you something I don’t want you saying anything to her … OK?’

Aidan turned over and stared down at his friend. ‘All right, you can bring her as well.’

‘You know then?’

‘What, that you’re nuts on Beattie? I think everyone knows.’

‘Oh, God, you don’t think she’s aware of it, do you?’ Anders asked, fear knotting his belly.

‘I expect so. Now go to sleep!’

God, Anders thought if she does, how am I going to face her in the morning?

But little did either of them know that Anders would be the first to discover the Tree of Paradise and when he did, Aidan and he would both be in a very strange association.

 

http://www.laughfactory.com/jokes/sexist-jokes

How did the medical community come up with the term “PMS”? “Mad Cow Disease” was already taken.

 

Have a nice day!

 

OOPS! It should have been Chapter Nine of The Gateway. Sorry!

http://kickasshumor.com/funny-joke/16495/me-would-you-wear-shoes-if-you-had-no-feetgi

Me: would you wear shoes if you had no feet?
Girl: No,of corse not
Me: Then why do you wear bras?

How's this for a long verandah! (Castell Coch)
How’s this for a long verandah! (Castell Coch)

Nine

‘It seems a lot of bother tucking the blankets in; when I go to bed I’ll only pull them out again.’he door of the small cabin was ajar and the sounds of a further altercation reached Aidan and Anders along the dark passage. Beatrix was instructing Augusta again on the correct way to make a bed, Aidan having left it ruffled.

‘Augusta, you have to pass as a maid in case the crew suspect you, so you will do the job as a maid should; that’s what the wizard told us. If you wish to argue the matter, go and see him, if you don’t then you will do as I say and make the bed as it should be, all right?’ Beatrix shouted. Red in the face, her temper flaring, she seemed to spend a lot of time lately with her face crimson.

‘I am not a maid and neither are you!’

‘I am a maid on this voyage since Meggy was taken ill and couldn’t come with us. And, of course, you said there was no need to find another maid we wouldn’t need one; we wouldn’t be long sailing home. So I have to carry out a maid’s duties!’

‘Well I didn’t know we’d encounter this storm, did I! So…go and tell the wizard!’

‘I wouldn’t go and see Tragen yet, if I were you,’ Anders interrupted Augusta before she could get up too much steam, ‘he’s just been shouting at Aidan.’

‘Did you get anything out of him?’ Augusta asked, dropping the blanket on the bed. Beatrix grunted and threw her arms up in disgust. ‘We couldn’t get anything out of Cornelia either. She used the excuse that she was in a lot of pain and could we leave her sleep.’

‘Pain? She shouldn’t be in any pain, I saw to that. She must have been expecting you to question her,’ said Aidan, frowning. ‘Well, we succeeded a bit. Tragen and the Bear admitted we were running from someone,’ Aidan replied smugly.

‘No they didn’t, Aidan. The Bear said we had reached the limit of the storm, nothing else.’ Anders argued.

‘He said we’d reached the limit of their range, not the storm,’ retorted Aidan.

‘Who’s the Bear?’ asked Beatrix.

‘Oh, that’s my uncle’s nickname, we all call him that. Well he looks like one, doesn’t he?’ Anders added.

‘It’s very strange,’ baffled, Augusta sucked at her index finger in the corner of her mouth.

‘It’s not,’ Anders said, ‘the captain’s huge like a bear and covered in hair.’

‘Aye, he is as well,’ Augusta laughed, ‘no, I didn’t mean that. Reaching the limit of their range implies that we are fleeing someone, or something.’

‘He was talking about the storm,’ stated Anders, emphatically.

‘No, Anders,’ Beatrix stopped what she was doing, and turned to him. ‘I do believe they may have a point. If we were fleeing just the storm then they’d just say “its range” or something like, oh…I don’t know, perhaps “running from the storm”. No, “the limit of their range” means something else entirely. Are you sure he said “their”, Aidan?’

‘Aye, I’m positive.’

Anders gave in, he’d never dispute anything with Beatrix. They stared at each other, none of them knowing quite what to think. Anders went over to the bunk and helped Beatrix finish tidying the beds. Aidan sat on the floor this time with his back against the chest while Augusta, thinking madly, sat on the chair her finger again in the corner of her mouth.

Anders straightened from tucking the final corner of the blanket under the mattress. ‘If you are correct, and I’m not saying you are mind,’ he glanced fleetingly at Beatrix to let her know that he wasn’t actually disagreeing with her views, ‘then fleeing from someone means we are being hunted. So, have any of you any idea who could be after us and why? Don’t forget we are now leagues upon leagues from home, well off course.’

‘It also means that whoever is doing the chasing is phenomenally powerful to get at us out here,’ mused Aidan, listening to the storm battering the Grim.

‘You mean that seriously strong magic is being used?’ Augusta asked, rising from her chair. She paced the little bit of floor space left free by the others, as Aidan nodded. She was becoming more adept at keeping her sea legs on the bucking deck.

‘I know this may sound silly,’ interrupted Beatrix, peering through her tousled, long blonde hair. ‘But you could all be wrong.’ And she shouted above their voices when they all started talking at once. ‘Wait, think about this. What if they are not chasing us, but whoever it is maybe…I don’t know, maybe he’s cunning and is in fact in front of us now, luring us to him?’

‘Nah,’ said Aidan, ‘if that was the case then the storm would get stronger the closer we got to him. The storm is getting weaker now.’

‘But if his purpose was to sink us then I would agree with you, the storm would get worse. If it had another aim though, like capturing us maybe, the weather would ease to lull us into a false sense of security,’ said Beatrix. ‘It’s just a thought,’ she added, not quite giving up on her idea.

‘Right, we’ll keep that in mind,’ said Augusta, not giving much credence to the idea. ‘Now listen, we have to think on three things.’ Holding up three fingers, she enumerated. ‘The first is who is after us; the second is why he is chasing us and thirdly, when we have figured out those two things, what do we do about it.’

‘And fourthly, what we all seem to have forgotten…why has Lord Tragen not imposed a proper punishment on us?’ Beatrix reminded, staring at them all, a knowing look on her face.

Anders abruptly sat down on the bunk, his face ashen. ‘Aidan, do you remember what Tragen said, before your accident on the quarterdeck yesterday? I mean, when he laughed on seeing these two wearing our clothes?’ He gripped his friend’s shoulder tightly to emphasize his point.

‘Yeah, he said they were suitable clothes for this weather. Ouch, you’re hurting me,’ and he shook off the cabin boy’s hand. ‘What are you on about?’

‘Think man…he also said,’ and here Anders paused to add stress to his next words, poking his finger in Aidan’s chest. ‘He also said, when the Bear asked him if it was his idea about these clothes,’ and he waited all attention now on him, ‘he said “he would never have thought of hiding her like this”. Now my little wizard what do you make of that?’ As he spoke, the shock on his face was replaced with a very superior look.

‘Yes, he did! I remember now, I was going to ask him about it, but I was sick instead,’ said Augusta.

‘Yes, and last night when he gave me orders to ensure Augusta behaved, he told me…us, the deception has to work, she has to appear a maid even when we are alone, it was very important that she did! Oh, my God, what is going on?’ Beatrix asked her hands at her face.

White-faced, Beatrix turned to her mistress. ‘It can only mean that you are in danger, Highness. But why would they want to hide you, on this ship, out here?’

Scared, Augusta answered. ‘I am my father’s heir, of course. Somehow some enemy has discovered me on this voyage,’ ashen, she stared at her friends as she bit her lower lip. ‘There is something I have not told you. My father sent Lord Tragen to bring me home early, for a purpose that my father would not even tell the wizard. And it has to be something extremely serious for he trusts Tragen above all others. The emperor was not pleased at me leaving early, I can tell you. Tragen carries a missive from him to my father and I know it’s not very pleasant. Perhaps this is it, there are people hunting me.’

Aidan rose from the deck and started pacing the small room. ‘If we are right, then Tragen and the captain need her to masquerade as one of us. And for that, they need our help. So, stop calling her Highness both of you, you may well be risking her life. We have to find out more.’

Aidan halted and leant against the end of the bunk. ‘Augusta, you need to work some more on Lady Cornelia. I think she’s the weaker of the two.’

‘You don’t know her…she’s not weak at all.’

Silent again, thinking desperately now, no-one doubted that Anders had come up with the reason for Tragen’s and Cornelia’s long discussion the night before—and their strange behaviour since.

‘Then change over,’ Beatrix said.

‘What do you mean?’ Aidan asked.

‘You, Aidan, you question Lady Cornelia, and you,’ wondering if she’d ever get used to calling her mistress by name, ‘Augusta, tackle Tragen.’ She explained her reasoning as she sat on the bed. ‘Well, Tragen doesn’t know Augusta as much as he knows you, Aidan, and Lady Cornelia has only just met you. So, who knows what they’ll divulge. They won’t be on their guard with either of you.’

‘That’s good thinking, Beattie,’ smiled Anders, looking at the girl who was now always in his thoughts. ‘I do believe you have the makings of a good spy.’

Beatrix blushed; she swore she could hear admiration in his voice.

 

Leash, meanwhile, was busily stealing salted beef and ships biscuit from the provisions bins held in the forward hold. He had filled the small sack he carried and figured that he had enough to last him two weeks with care. He had settled on a strategy. At first, he’d eat the same as everyone else but, if the rations were too small, he would supplement his appetite with this hoard. He was afraid to take a greater amount in case the missing food was noticed. He did not want the theft discovered yet.

His plan was still in its infancy. If he waited until everyone was starving then arranged for a secret hoard of food to be found in the boy’s possession, there would be anger, great anger. But he had yet to hide his own cache; he would collect a second sack of food later. He moved from the main hold under cover of the storm, taking his stash with him. Patience was now required before he could steal more.

 

Later that afternoon the four very crestfallen conspirators were back in Beattie’s cabin discussing their next plan of action.

Following Beattie’s stratagem, Augusta and Beatrix had climbed to the quarterdeck accompanied by Anders as Tragen had already challenged Aidan for leaving them on their own this morning.

When they reached the quarterdeck, the wizard was nowhere to be seen. Hopper, who was in command at that time, informed them that Tragen had gone to rest in his cabin. He had not yet fully recovered from the exertions of creating the shield spell the day before, and he had left orders that he was not to be disturbed. Especially by any of “you lot” the mate had added.

Augusta had blown at that. ‘What does he mean “you lot”. He may very well be a wizard but that does not give him permission to be impertinent! Come “you lot” I am going to wake him.’

Anders was appalled. ‘You can’t. He’ll get nasty. Aidan says he’s always horrible when he wakes.’

‘I don’t care; he can’t talk about me like that. I am his princess, for God’s sake! My father will put him in the cages for this.’

‘Not out here he won’t, Augusta,’ stated Beatrix peremptorily. ‘And if you threatened him with it how do you propose to get him to divulge the information we need?’

Augusta paused, shaking her fists in futility. ‘But it’s not fair, Beattie!’

‘I know, Augusta,’ she put her arm around Augusta’s shoulder to comfort her. Augusta leant against the bulwark, the side of the ship, thoroughly dejected.

‘We’d better go back to the cabin and hope Aidan has more success,’ said Anders, catching hold of Beattie’s hand and leading them below.

 

But Aidan did no better. As soon as they left he knocked on Cornelia’s door. Putting behind him all the embarrassment he had felt the last time he’d been in the lady’s company, he pulled his shirt straight and retied his belt in the hope of making a good impression. He had, of course, forgotten what Augusta had said. This lady was no fool and, unbeknown to him, had been briefed by Tragen on the future possible actions of their charges. Her subterfuge started as soon as he entered.

‘Ah, Aidan, good afternoon, I am very happy to see you again. You have forgiven me? You are well?’ And before he could answer, she added without pausing for breath. ‘Of course you are, a fine strapping lad like you,’ and she straightened her blankets on the bed, her bound foot poking from beneath the covers, not yet ready for any weight to be placed on it.

‘I have called in to see if you require anything, Milady.’ Aidan beamed at her, getting ready to settle in the chair alongside her, preparing his opening gambit.

The poor boy never had a chance.

‘Oh, I’m so glad, Aidan. Before you sit I’d be much obliged if you could obtain a fresh pot of tea for me, would you be so kind? Not the magicked brew, I find that very…um…dry, don’t you?’

And Aidan did oblige at the same time wondering how anyone could find a drink “dry”. After the tea, fetched from the galley, she required her specially baked biscuits, also from the galley. And then it was a lighter shawl from her old cabin, unfortunately after much searching, he fetched the wrong one and had to go back and find another. Aidan was worn out running back and forth. And just when he thought she had everything she needed and he had sat down ready to begin his interrogation, she asked him if he didn’t mind leaving her to rest as she was quite worn out with his visit.

And that was the end of that highly unsuccessful bit of intrigue. He re-joined his friends who had returned in the meantime and had been watching his running around with increasing bewilderment.

‘Don’t you ask,’ he moaned, ‘don’t you dare ask me how it went.’ He stretched out on the bottom bunk with a groan. ‘That bloody woman never stopped wanting. Every time I went to sit down and talk to her, she needed something else.’

Beatrix grinned at him, her blue eyes glinting with mischief. ‘Now you know what it’s like to be a servant. Most of the time it’s “I want this” or “I want that”, and always when you could do with a rest.’ She sneaked a look at her mistress, waiting for Augusta’s reaction. Well, if I have to teach her my duties perhaps she’ll realize and remember what it’s like when we’re back ashore, she thought.

‘I do not behave as bad as that Beattie,’ and then she had second thoughts, ‘do I?’

Beatrix laughed and relented. ‘No, not all the time,’ and then she halted mid-sentence as a thought occurred. ‘You know…Lady Cornelia never behaves such as she just has…never!’

‘What do you mean?’ Aidan asked, frowning.

‘She is always very careful not to abuse her position.’

‘Could this be a part of what they were plotting?’ Anders suggested, peering around at everyone.

‘What are you getting at?’ Aidan asked, sitting up.

‘Tragen is dodging us in his cabin and Lady Cornelia is stonewalling you. I think Tragen and Cornelia knew you’d swap over and try to question them. It stinks. We’ve got no further with gathering information, have we?’ Anders stared at them, his eyes large, awaiting their agreement.

‘Oh, I don’t know any more. I’m fed up; let’s leave it until the morning I’m getting a headache. You’re probably right though, Tragen loves scheming.’ He sat on the bed not realizing that scheming is what the four of them had been doing since breakfast.

‘Okay, but we can’t sit here staring at four walls, we’ve got to do something or I’ll go mad. I know, we’ll play cards, Beattie, can you find them?’ Dispirited, Augusta sat back in her chair.

And that’s what they did. All four of them until Aidan threw his cards to the deck in a fit of pique an hour later. ‘This is ludicrous Augusta. You’ve won every game you’ve played me!’

‘Ah, a poor loser, are you? It’s not my fault if you play obvious cards so…obviously,’ jeered Augusta.

‘I never make obvious moves, never…ask Anders. I am usually very, very good at this game. I can’t understand your luck at all. It seems as if you know every card in my hand and exactly which card I’m going to play next.’

‘Well, you are rather careless hiding them. And you can’t blame me if I look, that’s your fault.’ Augusta smirked.

‘I didn’t show you my cards. But come to think of it, you did have extraordinary luck.’ Aidan retorted, examining the backs of the cards, really getting worked up.

‘You horrid boy, are you accusing me of cheating? How you…’ Augusta was furious.

‘How could she have seen your cards, she’s sat opposite you?’ Beatrix said attempting conciliation, she turned to Augusta. ‘And the same goes for you, Augusta, there’s no need to wind him up by telling him he’s careless in showing his cards to you.’

‘But I could see them, every single one. And I have not marked the backs, Aidan,’ she said angrily, throwing her cards across the cabin at him. ‘Okay! I’m not lying! They were there in my head—as plain as the nose on your face.’

Her three friends stared at her.

Aidan stared the hardest.

‘Don’t look at me like that, Aidan, you’re frightening me,’ upset, Augusta folded her arms across her chest.

‘How plain were they? In your head I mean,’ questioned Aidan, a very strange light in his eyes.

‘How plain is plain, dolt! I saw your cards, every little spot and every little stain…is that plain enough for you?’ Augusta shouted in his face, close to tears.

Aidan and Augusta locked eyes. ‘Did Anders tell you what cards I held?’

‘No!’

‘Did Beattie?’

‘No, Aidan, stop it, Anders never said a word to me,’ Augusta’s eyes were brimming. ‘And neither did Beattie.’

Anders jumped in seriously worried and confused. ‘What are you saying Augusta, I never said a word about what? And…and what wouldn’t Beattie tell you?’

‘You heard him…he just accused you of telling me what was in his hand, you and Beattie.’ Augusta was distraught; she had never been accused of cheating in her life. And over the last couple of days she’d come to love having these three as her friends, she had never been so close to people before. She didn’t want to lose them over a silly game of cards. But how could she get it across to them that she definitely saw Aidan’s cards, and without cheating.

‘I’m sorry, Augusta, but I never heard Aidan accuse Anders, or me, of anything,’ said Beatrix.

Aidan interrupted. ‘No, you didn’t hear me but she did,’ they looked at him quickly and saw him beaming.

‘Come off it, will you! You never said I helped her and…why are you grinning like that?’ Anders, exasperated, threw his cards to the deck.

Augusta, desperate now, grabbed hold of Beattie’s hand for support and Beatrix turned on Aidan. ‘Cease this tormenting, Aidan…enough is enough. You are truly upsetting everyone. I have never known Augusta to cheat, ever.’

Aidan laughed. ‘You know Augusta…you really are a wonder!’

‘For Gods’ sake Aidan, stop this messing around; stop teasing her it’s getting nasty! Leave her be!’ Anders grasped the wizard’s shirt and shouted at him.

‘Ah, I’m sorry, you’ve got me wrong,’ he continued grinning idiotically. ‘Augusta really is a marvel—she saw my cards because I did show them to her. I have no doubt of that now. After all she just proved it by answering my accusations.’

‘What accusations?’ Anders shouted angrily. ‘And stop that silly smirking, will you?’

Aidan burst out laughing and grabbed Augusta’s hands in both of his own. He gazed into her emerald eyes the way she liked. ‘You really do not understand what you’ve done, do you?’

Completely baffled now she returned his gaze, and again she felt as if she was submerging in his eyes, a very pleasant feeling that she did not understand. Quietly she asked him. ‘Please…please, you’re really scaring me. What have I done?’

‘Not only do you have magic in you, you just joined me in a mindmeld,’ stated Aidan, unable to stop grinning.

And then all hell broke loose again as there was an almighty crash from on deck and the ship heeled over.

 

Locklear had been back in command all afternoon on the quarterdeck, the weather improving with every passing hour. The thunder and lightning had ceased, the rain diminishing to a light drizzle and the bows were now completely visible from the captain’s chair.

Locklear was immensely relieved as he studied the long deep swell; it seemed now that the worst was over, the storm receding aft lifting the spirits of everyone aboard.

A thin column of smoke constantly dribbled from the galley pipe forward, indicating that Dolly was cooking, following a normal routine again. When the crew had rested, Locklear intended breaking out the fishing gear. He just hoped it wasn’t mackerel in these waters; he would have the devil’s own job to persuade his ship’s cook to even touch it.

Hugo pondered on how far they were from home as he sat back in his chair contemplating the dark clouds overhead. It was still impossible to take sightings but hopefully the stars would be visible sometime this coming night, he wondered if he’d recognize them. He knew though that they had been blown well to the southwest of their course and were now into the tropics, the air temperature was increasing quickly as was that of the sea.

Hopper joined him at his chair after completing an inspection of the hull. ‘We seem to be holding our own, Captain. The pumps are keeping the water levels steady although the men are exhausted. We’ve rigged a chain pump in the forward hold and have abandoned the hand pump. There are no signs of any new boards springing a leak at the moment but we desperately need a beach or a dry-dock to repair those that have. We’ve shored up the bulkhead in the sail locker but there is a lot of water seeping into the main cargo hold.’ He paused to dry his eyes. ‘I have ordered the salvageable provender moved to a drier location and have placed Leash in charge of stacking some of it in the passageway outside the passenger cabins.’

‘Very well, Hopper.’ Hugo looked around his vessel studying the damage. ‘I wish Tragen had the necessary strength to repair the Grim, it would solve so many problems.’

‘Why hasn’t he?’

‘He is afraid it would weaken him at a crucial moment. He is an old man and there is just too much to be done. He would need sleep for an unconscionable amount of time and, according to sod’s law, he’d be out of it at the very time we’d need him most.’ He brooded for a moment. ‘All right let’s shift from this place a little quicker, I’ve had enough, we can put on more canvas to speed us on our way…wherever that may be.’

‘Aye, aye sir,’ said Hopper, and he shouted for Trumper to get the duty watch aloft.

And it was as if the storm had waited for this moment.

As the mainsail unfurled on the main yardarm, an enormous gust of wind blew again from abeam. A blast like a battering ram hit the ship and caught the sail. The ship heeled over sharply and the mainmast groaning under the unexpected weight of wind and canvas, cracked.

And before anything could be done, the mainmast snapped at man height above the deck and fell overboard dragging rigging, shrouds, sail and men with it. The wreckage encroached on the mizzen mast aft of it resulting in that also succumbing to the inordinate pressure and it also snapped at roughly the same height.

Bedlam reigned for those first moments as Trumper and the men on deck swarmed over the wreckage of both masts with axes. Lines were chopped free and men jumped clear as the masts slid overboard and this time the mainsail they had fought so hard to retain went with them. And as the last line was severed, not only did the ship come up but the wind ceased its almighty blow.

Unnerved the crew peered about them. Gales and storms were not supposed to have the sole intent of destroying you. But every man on board was convinced that the only purpose of that gust of air had been to do just that.

Tragen arrived on the quarterdeck in the aftermath of the wind and watched the skies intently for any other adverse signs. Aidan and his friends watched Tragen’s every move. Something was very wrong here, and they all knew it.

Locklear standing at the forward rail turned to acknowledge Tragen when the wizard moved up alongside him. The four young friends, stationed along the starboard rail, watched the activity on the lower deck, everyone that is, except Aidan.

He took his chance and a very troubled Tragen felt Aidan’s mindmeld. ‘Master, that was their final blow…their last chance at Augusta, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, I hope so, my boy,’ and he turned to Aidan and raised his eyebrows. ‘I thought I wouldn’t be able to hide it from you for long.’

‘Or me, Lord Tragen,’ Augusta interposed.

‘Good God, she’s mindmelding!’ Tragen said staring at her he was utterly astonished.

‘Yes, I am. Now do you not think I have the right to know who’s hunting me?’

Tragen stared at Augusta and Aidan, lost for words, he was completely nonplussed. He nudged his friend Locklear. ‘It appears Hugo that we have been discovered in our subterfuge.’

Hugo startled, sat up in his chair. ‘What do you mean?’

Looking pensive Tragen added. ‘These four…it is the four of you who suspect, Aidan?’ At his assent Tragen continued still not taking in that Augusta could mindmeld. ‘These four are not as ignorant as we assumed. They have realized that we are being chased by this storm.’

‘No, Master, we have realized that we are being chased by someone behind this storm.’ Aidan stared, daring him to contradict his statement.

‘Before I tell all of you of what we surmise, I will need to think about this last calamity. I must ask for your patience and your forgiveness, Highness,’ he said to Augusta. ‘I promise I will divulge everything we know, and think we know, tomorrow. Hopefully, you will also be able to explain how you have come upon the art of mindmeld.’

‘Mindmeld! What’s this?’ Hugo asked, frowning.

‘It seems we all have secrets to impart, Hugo.’ Tragen stared at the youngsters, a rueful smile on his face. ‘I suggest you look in on poor Lady Cornelia before you retire. She must now be frantic with worry about this latest attack of the storm.’

As they moved to go below, the unhappy captain called down to Trumper. ‘Bo’sun, enquire how many men died, please.’

‘There’s no need, Captain,’ Aidan looked at Locklear, a very haggard looking bear now. ‘There were three…I watched them pass over,’ he smiled strangely and gazed up at the sky. ‘They’re fine now.’

Incredulous, Locklear stared after the boy as he and his friends entered the companionway to return below.

Later that night, Augusta and Beatrix lay in their bunks mulling over the events of the past days. ‘What do you think of Aidan, Beattie, do you like him?’

‘Oh yes, of course I do, he’s quite remarkable isn’t he? A lot different to what we always thought he was.’ Beatrix smiled her mind elsewhere. She couldn’t get Anders out of her thoughts, and didn’t want to. She knew now that she was seriously in love with the tall, blond cabin boy, but how to tell him she had no idea.

Augusta turned over to go to sleep. ‘I don’t know about being a lot different…he’s still an insolent pig, sometimes,’ she smiled. ‘What do you think he meant by saying that those three men who died were all right?’

‘I’m not sure. All I know is there is something distinctly odd about him, sometimes.’

‘Odd, but nice,’ she replied, smiling radiantly.

Even later that night Anders was roused very abruptly from his dreams of Beatrix.

 

It lowered its arms and thrust the dagger slowly into the prisoner’s belly, blood spurting all over it amidst the captive’s renewed screaming. But this time the terrible, agonizing noise did not last for too long. The man quietened as his life bled away to fall into the fog billowing up from the rock basin below. It laughed loudly and gleefully whilst its minion cowered behind, terrified in case it noticed that he was afraid—for fear is what it sought.

 

Aidan screamed, crying out hoarsely. ‘Red…God…God…God, everywhere red! Stop, please stop, please…please…you’re h-u-rting h-i-m!’

Aidan did not wake. Anders did not sleep.

 

http://kickasshumor.com/c/5/funny-short-jokes

Me: should I get into trouble for something I didn’t do?
Teacher: No
Me: Good, because I didn’t do my homework.

 

Have another nice day.

 

Chapter Eight of The Gateway (and another little giggle)

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/workandplay/2.shtml

Worst diseases in Wales

Welsh health lecturer: “The two most debilitating diseases in Wales are silicosis and syphilis. Silicosis you get by going down a shaft

The ceiling of the royal bedchamber in Castle Mantovar. (Castell Coch)
The ceiling of the royal bedchamber in Castle Mantovar. (Castell Coch)

 

Eight

‘This is the easiest task of all,’ she explained, losing patience. ‘If you cannot make a bed, how will you do the rest of the chores? Lord Tragen will definitely speak with your father when we get home.’The following morning started badly with Beatrix teaching Augusta the rudiments of bed-making. Augusta, of course, didn’t want to know and attempted rebellion. Beatrix, though, was having none of it.

That argument seemed to settle it and Augusta set to with a will for about two minutes before complaining.

‘How am I to survive without having breakfast first? You know I can never wake up unless I have a cup of tea before I rise!’

The boys arrived in the middle of the heated exchange the shouting audible from one end of the dark passageway to the other.

The storm had noticeably decreased in intensity, the motion of the ship not as violent. Augusta and Beatrix were now finding it easier to keep their feet on a deck not jumping about so much. The waves, though, were still running high and the ship continued to dip and climb, very alarmingly on times. The crew spent most of their time controlling the level of flooding by manning the pumps every hour of the day and night and the replacing and repair of sprung boards was never ending.

As soon as they had awoken, Anders from his bed on the floor – he had been cajoled mercilessly into giving up his berth again – had questioned his friend.

‘What were you dreaming about, Aidan?’ he asked, pretending nonchalance.

‘Oh…what? I don’t know, why?’

‘You were talking in your sleep again, something about wizards going somewhere. You sounded very strange, as if you were threatening someone.’

‘Was I? Don’t know what you’re on about, come on I’m starving let’s go to the galley.’

‘I’ve got to tidy the Bear’s cabin first, you can help.’

Five minutes of frantic activity, resulting in charts and clothes deposited in some very unusual locations, and the two boys were racing each other down companionways and ladders to “Dolly’s” kingdom—the galley, one deck below the passengers, and forward of the mainmast.

Anders, not happy with his friend’s answer, still fretted, this was his second sleepless night and fatigue was telling on him, increasing his anxiety. He couldn’t recall Aidan ever having nightmares before. Standing in a line behind Bertram, pots in hand, Anders’ thoughts were elsewhere. Aidan’s dreams were not normal, something untoward was happening, something that was likely to have nasty consequences. Anders could feel it in his guts.

The ship’s cook, Dolphin, had been named by his mother, a very dominant wife of a very quiet fisherman. She had loved the big mammals of the sea and had nearly called her son Walrus. Dolly’s father would have preferred him called that, after all Wally was a lot better than Dolly. But he was one of those strange men who loved a violent woman and he had acquiesced, for when his wife was drunk she was usually aggressive with both her fists and her tongue.

Dolly was short and bald, with an enormous belly. He was also a very hard man, growing up on the docks with the attendant blessings of that name he had to be. Nevertheless he was famous throughout the fleet for two things—his knife-fighting skills and being the only ships’ cook who hated fish.

Dolly came from a small fishing community in southern Mantovar, one of many villages that supplied the large inland towns with the harvest of the sea…and Mantovar with sailors for its navy. His father dearly loved his son and had not wanted him to leave home, but Dolly found he could not remain after the tragic death of his mother.

He brought with him to the Grim a culinary skill not often seen in ships’ cooks, and he prided himself on supplying hot food and drink in almost any weather. The Grim, being the largest vessel afloat, had the area around the stove protected by magic, no coals could fall on nearby decking to cause a fire. But in this storm, Dolly had not wanted to tempt fate. Spells did fail on times, especially the ones that needed renewing each year as this one did. So, over the last two days he had only been able to supply cold meats and hard ships’ biscuit, a miserable fare to sustain life in atrocious conditions. This morning, though, he made up for it with a hot burgoo, a porridge made of oatmeal, sugar, butter and salted water. This, along with very sweet tea, was heaven on earth to men who had survived unspeakable strain.

Having eaten to bursting point in the galley, the boys gathered caddies of piping hot tea and pots of the burgoo and toted them through dark passageways up to the girls and Lady Cornelia.

While Augusta/Mabel and Beatrix carried breakfast in to Lady Cornelia, the boys made themselves at home in Beattie’s cabin. Aidan stretched out in what had become his usual place on the bottom bunk after pulling the blankets straight, Augusta had again failed to carry out the task properly. And Anders picked his favourite spot on the floor, stretching out his long legs before him, his back against an old wooden chest, his shoulders in contact with a woollen blanket folded on its lid.

‘I can’t understand it Anders, this is no punishment, and nothing’s changed. We were watching over the girls already and …’ the girls returned with a clatter that stopped him in mid-sentence. ‘All right, Mabel, why so noisy?’ Aidan baited, mischievously.

‘I am going to throw a boot at you if you call me that horrible name again, little wizard.’

Anders joined in. ‘Well, we must call you something. Hey! How about a boy’s name then, she could pass as one dressed like that, couldn’t she?’

‘Aye, come to think of it she looks like Bertie Smallpen…you know, Anders, the kitchen hand back at the castle, hey, that name suits her! All we need shout then is “Beattie and Bertie behave yourselves or you’ll get a battered bottom”!’ The two boys collapsed in hysterics.

‘Very funny…ha, ha…remind us to laugh won’t you. For your information you are to call me Nellie, Cornelia allowed me to choose another.’ Sitting down on the end of the bunk pushing Aidan’s bare feet out of the way, none of them wore any footwear, she tucked into her burgoo.

‘I have a cousin Mabel,’ Augusta grimaced between mouthfuls, ‘a short, skinny, spotty, horrible girl. There are things I could tell you about her that would make your hair curl,’ she shuddered.

‘Oh, go on then, I’m all ears,’ said Aidan.

‘I can’t in mixed company.’

‘Why not?’ Aidan asked, his ears flapping.

‘It would not be genteel and proper,’ replied Augusta, flummoxed.

‘Oh, come on…since when do maids have to be genteel and proper? Beattie isn’t,’ Aidan winked at Anders.

‘You say that again and I’ll throw more than a boot at you,’ said Beatrix, nearly choking on her food.

‘You were saying, when we came in, that you didn’t understand Tragen. What was that all about?’ Augusta asked, changing the subject rapidly she accidentally slurped her food as the ship rapidly dropped down a sharp incline.

‘If I made a noise like that, you’d call me a pig,’ complained Aidan.

‘Shut up and tell us,’ said Beatrix, exasperated. And then, realizing what she had said, added. ‘And don’t dare tell me you can’t shut up and speak the same time.’

‘I wasn’t going to. You’re getting as bad as Nellie.’ Aidan settled himself more comfortably on the bed as they carried on eating. ‘No, he’s up to something is Tragen and if I know my master, he’ll leave it too late to tell me.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Beatrix asked. ‘Why should he tell you, anyway?’

‘Because whatever he’s hiding affects us, and he thinks we’re kids. I’m fifteen not five…well at least I think I am.’

Augusta looked at him quizzically. ‘Don’t you know your age?’

Aidan glared at her and refused to answer.

‘What makes you think he’s hiding anything?’ Anders asked, breaking the icy silence.

‘Yeah, come on little wizard…tell us,’ enjoined Augusta, sarcastically, ‘I’m sure we’d all benefit from your inside knowledge.’

Aidan, ignoring her sarcasm, put his arms behind his head and nodded to himself. ‘Do any of you call what he gave us last night, a punishment?’ He looked around waiting for an answer, and as none was forthcoming, he went on. ‘Because I don’t, he gave us what we wanted and pretended to lecture us. Now why is that?’

‘You may not call it a punishment, you won’t have to teach Augusta how to be a maid,’ disgruntled, Beatrix answered.

‘Hey, I won’t be that bad,’ said Augusta, indignantly. ‘The hardest part will be answering to Nellie.’

‘Oh yes, Highness, and when it comes to the laundry, are you prepared to get wet to your elbows?’ Beatrix retorted.

‘I am, and don’t call me Highness!’ Augusta said, accepting the fact that the task of protecting her from her father’s anger would mostly fall on her companion. But at the same time, she was appalled at the thought of scrubbing smelly clothes.

‘Whoa ladies, no more quarrelling, we’re all in the same boat here. I agree with Aidan, I don’t feel I’ve been punished. It’s very strange, it seems as if Tragen seeing us together, means to keep us together, and I for one would like to know why.’ For Anders, normally reticent, this was quite a speech and Aidan was so surprised he rose on one elbow and stared at his friend. ‘Don’t stare at me so, I’m agreeing with you.’

‘All right, don’t you two start. Arguing will get us nowhere. What we need is a strategy to find out what he and Cornelia are up to,’ said Augusta, pursing her lips. ‘All of you…think!’

‘Hey, that’s a good joke, Anders,’ Aidan chortled.

‘What is?’ Anders asked.

‘We are all in the same boat!’

‘Oh…yeah, I didn’t realize,’ he laughed and turned to Augusta. ‘Why include Lady Cornelia?’

‘Because last night we left her and Tragen talking, and they were together a long time, which means they were not just passing the time of day. No,’ she finished eating and, placed her bowl on the floor. ‘I know my lady-in-waiting…they were plotting.’

‘Perhaps he was romancing her,’ Aidan said, impishly.

‘Don’t be silly, Lord Tragen’s not her type,’ said Beatrix dismissing his suggestion as absurd. ‘I agree with Nellie.’

‘OK then, boys and girls, how do we find out?’ Aidan asked, lying back on the pillow.

‘Simple! You work on them. You question your master, Aidan and you Hig…oh heck, Au…Nellie, you interrogate Lady Cornelia. You two know them best, you know their little ways.’ Beatrix rose from the floor as she said this and started gathering their dirty breakfast dishes. And at the same time trying to get her mouth around what she should be calling her mistress.

‘I see a small problem there.’ Aidan got up from the bed and swung his feet to the floor. ‘Unfortunately, Tragen knows me as well. He’ll be expecting me to try and worm it out of him and he’s going to clam up.’

‘The same with Cornelia,’ said Augusta. ‘I will never get her to reveal anything; she can be quite a cow on times.’

‘Augusta!’ Beatrix, scandalized at her mistress’ swearing, nearly dropped the dishes.

Aidan, though, glanced at Anders and smiled—he liked her choice of words.

‘But we have to try. We’ll all work on them, starting now,’ and Augusta pulled Beatrix with her as she moved to the door. ‘We have to clean her cabin, do we not, my friend? Cornelia here we come,’ and they marched out, Augusta grinning and Beatrix slightly bemused at her mistress acknowledging her a friend at last.

‘Aidan, shift yourself, you can help me in the Bear’s cabin again…it’s still a mess, and if it stays that way much longer the Bear will skin me alive,’ and Anders dragged Aidan from the bed.

‘That’s a contradiction in terms, if you don’t mind me saying so, Anders. We’ll see you later,’ shouted Aidan to the girls disappearing into Cornelia’s cabin.

‘What’s a contradiction in terms?’

‘Well, you implied, “the Bear will skin us” whereas it’s usually us skinning…’

Lady Cornelia called from inside her cabin, interrupting Aidan’s explanation. ‘Is that the young wizard? Come here young man, I wish to see you.’

Aidan, apprehensive after the debacle the day before, stepped through the door followed by Anders equally nervous. But Aidan did not walk forward into the body of the cabin. He unexpectedly stepped to one side immediately he crossed the threshold, and this movement took Anders completely by surprise. The cabin boy found himself manoeuvred into the forefront in the prime position to bear the brunt of whatever followed. The young wizard had learned over the years that aristocratic ladies were not to be trifled with—they usually ended up shouting at him or cracking him over the knuckles with a switch. So, just in case, he was determined to remain nearest the door to enable a quick escape.

Anders, taking his first good look at the pale woman, was struck by the fact that she appeared to be no older than thirty or thirty-five – he’d expected her to be older – but oh boy, was she fat! Then, when she uttered her next words, he suddenly knew what was about to happen and he prepared to cover Aidan’s exit.

Lady Cornelia, sitting up in her cot wrapped in a brightly coloured shawl, beckoned Aidan closer. She wanted an uninterrupted look at the boy who had just turned her life around.

‘So, you are the lad that healed my ankle, are you?’

‘I’ve started the healing process, Milady, that’s all I do…it will still take time to heal fully,’ Aidan nervously answered, his stomach churning as he waited for it.

‘Yes, so Lord Tragen informed me. Is it…is it true you have also commenced the healing of the “old” sickness in my bones?’ Cornelia stared at him, holding her breath, not daring to believe it, yet desperately not wanting to hear a denial.

Aidan nodded, feeling more uncomfortable—he’d completely forgotten about the gratitude, until now.

‘My God, boy, do you realize how I have suffered with that illness?’

‘Yes, Milady, I’ve come across it before.’

She stared at him, her eyes brimming. ‘Oh, my boy…thank you…thank you, M…’

‘Please, Milady, there’s no need to thank me, I couldn’t leave you in pain,’ Aidan, frantic, shuffled to the door all his thoughts bent on escape, ‘excuse me, I’m needed in the captain’s cabin.’ Aidan barged past Anders and ran quickly and noisily up the corridor.

Augusta and Beatrix stared after the fleeing boy, shocked, not knowing what to make of his unexpected exit.

Lady Cornelia sat with her hands to her face weeping with both gratitude for his healing and guilt for thanking him—her acknowledgement so obviously causing him distress.

Anders, finding his voice, spoke to them quietly and forcefully. ‘He can’t abide being thanked, ladies, he hates it and I won’t say sorry for him running away. I’ll tell you though that healing is as normal to him as breathing…he heals without a second thought. He could never stand by and see anyone suffer, Milady.’

Cornelia, drying her eyes, sighed and gazed at Anders. ‘Lord Tragen told me much the same last night, I should have heeded him. Please tell Aidan I will not mention it again and that I hope he’ll forgive me. Tell him…no…ask him for me, ask him to come and see me later.’

Anders nodded and bowed, leaving the cabin he chased after Aidan.

‘Well!’ Augusta said, looking at Beatrix and Cornelia. ‘How very puzzling…that boy…I don’t know, he never fails to surprise me!’

‘Yes, Nellie,’ and with that name Cornelia regained the upper hand. ‘This cabin is a mess with all your comings and goings,’ her eyes swollen with suppressed tears, ‘I suggest you tidy it, right away.’

And the lady-in-waiting, having a lot on her mind, lay back comfortably in Augusta’s cot and supervised both girls while she daydreamed of walking in the forest at home without fear of stumbling and breaking bones. She so loved the Great Forest and all it succoured.

 

Anders caught up with Aidan. The apprentice was slamming around the captain’s cabin replacing papers and pens that had fallen to the floor, picking up chairs that had tipped over and generally putting things to right…but doing it very noisily.

Anders had always known to leave him well alone when he was in this mood, he’d come out of it by himself and not before. It still perplexed Anders though…why should Aidan take on so every time someone wanted to thank him, it was natural to show gratitude, wasn’t it? After all, the woman had suffered a terrible illness for most of her life. And now that Aidan had healed her, she could, perhaps for the first time be hopeful of her future. He peeked out of the corner of his eye at his friend wandering the room messing desultorily with things that no longer needed tidying.

Aidan eventually ceased his pacing and aimless rummaging around. He stood in the stern gallery staring out through the small panes in the window, his thumbs hooked in his belt.

He brooded. He had encountered the same old problem again and still didn’t know how to deal with it. He knew he was at fault reacting as he had, but he just couldn’t help it. Being thanked brought on guilt—a gut wrenching shame. He didn’t deserve gratitude, if people realized how he felt they’d shun him. It would devastate him if he lost the love of Tragen and Anders as he surely would if they discovered his secret. He sighed and rubbed his face, staring through the window with sightless eyes. The simple fact was he took an inordinate amount of pleasure in the act of healing. Too much pleasure, he thought. It was almost as if he enjoyed seeing people hurting. The sheer enjoyment that gripped him when he destroyed the disease or watched the broken bone knitting together was overwhelming. There was no other word to describe the aftermath of any act of healing—guilt. He needed to hide the knowledge that sick people made him happy.

He turned from the window, and waited for his best friend to finish checking the Bear’s clothing. Anders was meticulous in ensuring his captain was clad appropriately.

‘Let’s go up top, Anders…I could do with some air.’

Anders replaced the last of Locklear’s clothes, bowing his head a moment he realized that this time he couldn’t leave it alone, not yet. Circumstances had changed over the last couple of days; their circle of friendship had now doubled in size, for one thing. An increase that Anders welcomed with open arms and given time to think on it so would Aidan. They were all at a loss to understand the young wizard’s attitude and this could only lead to unrest and doubt amongst the four of them. He couldn’t allow this unpleasant feeling to remain, it would grow and fester—the newly formed friendship of the four would not survive the strain.

‘Aidan, we have to talk and I said talk, not shout at each other.’

Aidan waited, shoulders slumped. ‘Go on then, say what you have to say.’

‘The lady meant well. In your heart, you know it. I don’t understand why you take on so at people thanking you, it’s a natural reaction after all.’

‘Have you finished,’ he said, moving towards the quarterdeck door.

‘No, I haven’t,’ he continued even more strongly and his friend stopped, his hand on the door latch. ‘People are always going to be beholden to you. You’re going to have to get used to their thanks or you’ll make your own life a living hell. People need to show gratitude, need to thank you it’s…it’s part of the healing process for God’s sake. Either accept that as a fact or cease healing.’

Aidan glanced up, his eyes glistening. ‘I can’t stop healing, you know that.’

‘Aye, I know,’ he said exasperated, ‘then why do you feel as you do?’

And Aidan nearly told him. But he knew he could never divulge his shameful secret, not to him, he thought too much of Anders to burden him with it. He didn’t want to lose his best friend, but he also accepted the truth in his friend’s words. His life was already hell because of the guilt.

‘I can’t tell you why,’ he sighed deeply, tears glistening, almost falling from his eyes. He blinked. ‘I’ll make you a promise, though,’ and he looked up at the concern in his big friend’s face. ‘I’ll try to change…I’ll do my damnedest to cope when they thank me, I won’t succeed all the time, but I will try.’

‘Come on, let’s wheedle the truth out of Tragen,’ Anders said, understanding his friend more than Aidan would ever know.

 

On the quarterdeck the storm was still raging, not as intense as at its height but the rain still fell in sheets stinging their faces. The wind continued to blow ferociously, its sound deafening. The seas though were not so rough, visibility had improved and the horizon had moved farther away from the ship. And if Aidan was not deceived, the air seemed a lot warmer.

Tragen was at the rear standing on a box and staring over the poop deck, past the after-jigger mast and out over the stern at the storm blowing now from the northeast, a pensive look on his face as he scratched his beard. Leash was at the wheel accompanied by Nkosi, it was still taking two men to hold the vessel on a good heading. The small stormsail stretched taut above and behind them, the wind singing through the lines. Trumper, the sword scar below his left eye livid in the rain, was reporting to the captain. And behind him, just climbing the steps up from the waist was Hopper, a very worried frown on his face.

As Aidan and Anders reached the larboard rail, they overheard the last of the bo’sun’s report.

‘Aye, if this temperature increases much more the humidity will sprout the weevils. I must spread it before long for the air to get at it.’

‘What’s he talking about, Anders?’ Aidan whispered.

‘He’s on about the mainsail. At present it’s bundled up, soaking wet on the deck. You’ve noticed the heat?’ Aidan nodded. ‘Well the warm air and stagnant water in its folds will breed worms that will eat the canvas. It must be spread out, even in this wet weather, to stop the weevil growing.’

‘Very well, Bo’sun, do your best,’ ordered Locklear. ‘You and the men fought hard enough to salvage it…it would be outrageous to lose it now.’ The bo’sun touched his forelock and departed the quarterdeck.

‘Hopper, how goes it?’ Locklear grasped his mate’s arm to drag him beneath the overhang of the poop deck, not that it provided much shelter.

‘I’ve checked the holds and talked it over with Dolly; we have enough provisions to last possibly a week if we ration. It will be basic provender and the passengers will have to manage the same as us,’ he sighed. ‘What really worries us is the fresh-water, many barrels have been spoiled. We estimate we have enough drinking water to last four, perhaps five days. We need provisioning desperately.’

Locklear ran his fingers through his heavy, black beard. ‘If I’m correct, Hopper, this change in temperature signifies we are being driven south into the tropics. That fact, coupled with the storm blowing from the east means, at this speed, we are leaving home far behind. Undoubtedly we are well into the Deep.’ He paused and looked up at the darkened sky. ‘If we have been pushed south and west from the coast of Drakka we should raise the Griffin Islands eventually, do you agree?’

‘Aye…or the Siren, if we’ve been blown too far south!’

Locklear glanced at him sharply. ‘We don’t want to come too close to that. I saw it once on the horizon—that was too near, the noise was appalling, that beneath it was worse. Wait a minute…between us and that is Blackfire Island. There are plenty of trees there!’ and he smiled.

‘Aye, and fresh water, but no food worth mentioning.’ Hopper grimaced; talk of the Siren always knotted his guts he’d once seen a ship disappear in its depths. That vessel had just left Blackfire. Anxious, he stared out over the dark ocean, silent for a moment. ‘You’ve visited Griffin haven’t you, Cap’n? What did you make of them? I was there only a short time.’

‘I never made landfall, I was chasing pirates at the time,’ he pulled at his beard. ‘We will need to be vigilant, Hopper. Some of those islands are extremely dangerous, in more ways than one.’

Locklear glanced at Anders and Aidan. ‘I do not want you spreading false stories amongst the crew, some of the islands are perilous, aye…but then again, from what I’ve seen, a lot are not.’

He turned back to Hopper. ‘I’ll make a decision on our destination later, when we know our position. Drakka may be nearer. But if I decide Griffin is our destination and the first island we reach appears safe we’ll take the chance and send ashore a provisioning party.’ He stared up at the rainclouds, disgruntled, ‘It will be useless setting tarpaulins to catch some of this rainwater, the waves are still too high, the spume will only contaminate it. As for food, well, if this storm ever ceases we can live on fish, just don’t tell Dolly yet. I just hope Tragen is right and we have reached the limit of their range. Thank you, Hopper,’ and Hugo tapped his arm in gratitude. ‘See to it please, and I’d be obliged if you will take command for an hour, I need to go below.’ He turned to leave.

At that moment there was a harsher gust of wind and a sharp crack from above their heads. Looking up, a tear appeared in the stormsail and immediately the bows swung to leeward as headway was lost. Tragen reacted instinctively; raising his staff he pointed the knuckle at the gash. Uttering a very loud and strident incantation a light shot from the staff and travelled along the rip, sealing the canvas as good as new.

‘Thank you, my friend,’ said Hugo, vastly relieved.

Tragen resumed his examination astern as Hugo went below.

Aidan looked at Anders and nodded him away out of earshot of the mate. ‘Did you hear that Anders? Locklear said “reached the limit of their range”, who are they? That’s what their hiding,’ he whispered.

‘Oh, come off it, he meant out of range of the storm…nothing else.’ Anders was busy speculating on what the consequences would have been if Tragen hadn’t been on the quarterdeck as the sail tore. Could Aidan have repaired it? Would Aidan have even thought of it?

‘Then why would he need Tragen’s advice? The Bear’s the sailor, not Tragen, so why had he spoken to him about it.’

‘Oh boy, you really are clutching at straws.’

Aidan grabbed his arm. ‘What’s the Siren?’

‘It’s a giant whirlpool—come too near it and we’ll get dragged in. I’ve heard it wanders.’

Aidan swallowed and looked around nervously.

 

Leash watched the boys from beneath hooded eyes. As soon as Aidan had arrived on deck, Leash’s mind had gone into overdrive. He would have to be careful; he couldn’t attempt the same attack as last time. The boy was not an idiot he would be bound to cotton on that his near fatal scrapes were deliberate. It wouldn’t take him long to realize that the second helmsman was always around when he had a brush with death. Leash watched and he waited.

Because of his infection Leash’s hearing was enhanced to a greater degree than was normal and, despite the phenomenal noise of the storm, he had heard everything that Hopper had reported. And the news worried him.

He’d not wanted to sail on this voyage or on any other; he’d been quite content on land. But, having slipped up the last time on shore and nearly been caught, he’d had no choice; going to sea had been the safest option although it carried its own risks. The sea had been a refuge many times in his life and strangely enough he’d discovered a hidden talent. He found he was a very good helmsman and had taken to the work like a duck to water.

But to satiate his infection’s need with immunity required solid earth beneath his feet—it was so much easier to hide afterwards. Nonetheless, he had been forced to flee to sea again to escape the consequences of his last episode. Too many people were after his blood and a nice soft voyage to Drakka had seemed a godsend. So he had signed up with alacrity knowing that a few weeks away from Mantovar would cool the chase.

But one of the first people he had bumped into on board was the instigator of his isolation, his acute loneliness, the reason his infection was getting the upper hand—the one man he hated above all others, Tragen. The wizard was the one person in the world who scared him senseless, the man who had interrupted him and spoiled their pleasure many years ago—him and his damned staff. But Leash’s luck had held.

The wizard had not recognized him.

Not surprising really, it had been very dark at the time of their last encounter. God, he had been fortunate to get away. If the wizard had not stumbled, the full blast from his staff would have killed him. As it was the trip had upset Tragen’s aim. Some of the power had collided with a nearby wall punching a large hole in it through which he’d fled; the rest of the staff’s energy had ended up elsewhere doing all the damage. He didn’t want to think about where it had finally landed. He had run for his life.

He loathed the wizard and all those connected with him, his hatred consuming him. He wanted to hurt the wizard, kill him if it was feasible, but he was very afraid to be anywhere near the old man. Tragen was far too powerful a mystic. And the infection within Leash knew that if it was possible to die, then the wizard would be the one to kill him. The apprentice though was a different matter. All right, he thought, the sod had eluded him twice; he would not a third time.

But above all, Leash wanted to survive this voyage and the thought of going without water and food unnerved him. He could get hold of drinking water easily enough today, but where to hide it was the problem. He watched Aidan as the boy went across to the wizard. Then he smiled. Two birds with one stone, and Leash almost laughed aloud.

 

‘Master, excuse me but I must ask you something,’ said Aidan, politely.

His voice immediately placed Tragen on his guard, the boy would never learn, he thought. ‘Well, what is it?’

Anders stood alongside them both listening to every word.

‘I was wondering how much longer you expected this storm to last now that we’re at the limit of their range.’

Anders stared at Aidan dumbfounded. He had not expected his friend to be quite so blatant.

‘This storm will run its course, my boy,’ Tragen answered, pausing only slightly, choosing to ignore most of the question.

‘Yes, but we’ve now reached their limit. Can’t you give us any idea of how far we’ll have to sail to get completely away from them… whoever they are?’

‘Limit, Aidan?’ and the wizard gave him a very puzzled look, again ignoring the second question. ‘I do not understand what you mean. I have no yardstick to measure the storm. Now may I ask you a question in return?’

‘Of course, but…’

‘No buts, Aidan. Tell me, I gave you a task last evening and that task included watching over the two young ladies, did it not?’

‘Yes we know that, but…’

‘No buts…get to it. Obey me, now…or else!’

Anders grabbed Aidan before he could say anything else and pushed him into the companionway.

Below in the passageway Aidan was exultant. ‘I knew it! He’s definitely hiding something. Did you see the way he reacted?’

‘Reacted? He went nuts!’

‘Yes, and that’s the proof there’s something going on! He very rarely loses his temper with me. He knows I’m not afraid of him when he shouts at me. He only scares me when he bollocks me quietly. Come on, let’s see if the girls have any news,’ and whistling a sea shanty he proceeded to the girl’s cabin, bouncing off the bulkheads as he hurried along in the dark.

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/workandplay/2.shtml

(a sick one)

You must be twins

A Welsh school-inspector visiting a small village primary school was struck by the great resemblance between two small girls sitting at the front of the class.

“You must be twins”, he exclaimed.

“No we are not”, replied the little girls firmly.

“Well then,” said the inspector to the first girl, “how old are you?”

“Nine years and two months.”

“And how old are you?” he asked the other girl.

“Nine years and two months.”

“Then you definitely must be twins.”

“No we aren’t, we’re all that’s left of triplets.”

 

Try and have a nice day. Honest, no offence intended, I was one of twins..

Chapter Eight of The Gateway (and a little giggle)

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/welshisms/1.shtml

Attending a church service

An English visitor to a small Welsh village was approached by one of the deacons of the local chapel who asked him whether he would like to attend their chapel on the following Sunday.

“Wouldn’t that be a little pointless?” replied the Englishman.

“After all, your services are held in Welsh and I don’t understand the language.”

“Ah yes,” said the deacon, “but the collection is in English.”

Another view from the courtyard of Castle Mantovar (Castell Coch)
Another view from the courtyard of Castle Mantovar (Castell Coch)Eight

 

Eight

‘This is the easiest task of all,’ she explained, losing patience. ‘If you cannot make a bed, how will you do the rest of the chores? Lord Tragen will definitely speak with your father when we get home.’

The following morning started badly with Beatrix teaching Augusta the rudiments of bed-making. Augusta, of course, didn’t want to know and attempted rebellion. Beatrix, though, was having none of it.

That argument seemed to settle it and Augusta set to with a will for about two minutes before complaining.

‘How am I to survive without having breakfast first? You know I can never wake up unless I have a cup of tea before I rise!’

The boys arrived in the middle of the heated exchange the shouting audible from one end of the dark passageway to the other.

The storm had noticeably decreased in intensity, the motion of the ship not as violent. Augusta and Beatrix were now finding it easier to keep their feet on a deck not jumping about so much. The waves, though, were still running high and the ship continued to dip and climb, very alarmingly on times. The crew spent most of their time controlling the level of flooding by manning the pumps every hour of the day and night and the replacing and repair of sprung boards was never ending.

As soon as they had awoken, Anders from his bed on the floor – he had been cajoled mercilessly into giving up his berth again – had questioned his friend.

‘What were you dreaming about, Aidan?’ he asked, pretending nonchalance.

‘Oh…what? I don’t know, why?’

‘You were talking in your sleep again, something about wizards going somewhere. You sounded very strange, as if you were threatening someone.’

‘Was I? Don’t know what you’re on about, come on I’m starving let’s go to the galley.’

‘I’ve got to tidy the Bear’s cabin first, you can help.’

Five minutes of frantic activity, resulting in charts and clothes deposited in some very unusual locations, and the two boys were racing each other down companionways and ladders to “Dolly’s” kingdom—the galley, one deck below the passengers, and forward of the mainmast.

Anders, not happy with his friend’s answer, still fretted, this was his second sleepless night and fatigue was telling on him, increasing his anxiety. He couldn’t recall Aidan ever having nightmares before. Standing in a line behind Bertram, pots in hand, Anders’ thoughts were elsewhere. Aidan’s dreams were not normal, something untoward was happening, something that was likely to have nasty consequences. Anders could feel it in his guts.

The ship’s cook, Dolphin, had been named by his mother, a very dominant wife of a very quiet fisherman. She had loved the big mammals of the sea and had nearly called her son Walrus. Dolly’s father would have preferred him called that, after all Wally was a lot better than Dolly. But he was one of those strange men who loved a violent woman and he had acquiesced, for when his wife was drunk she was usually aggressive with both her fists and her tongue.

Dolly was short and bald, with an enormous belly. He was also a very hard man, growing up on the docks with the attendant blessings of that name he had to be. Nevertheless he was famous throughout the fleet for two things—his knife-fighting skills and being the only ships’ cook who hated fish.

Dolly came from a small fishing community in southern Mantovar, one of many villages that supplied the large inland towns with the harvest of the sea…and Mantovar with sailors for its navy. His father dearly loved his son and had not wanted him to leave home, but Dolly found he could not remain after the tragic death of his mother.

He brought with him to the Grim a culinary skill not often seen in ships’ cooks, and he prided himself on supplying hot food and drink in almost any weather. The Grim, being the largest vessel afloat, had the area around the stove protected by magic, no coals could fall on nearby decking to cause a fire. But in this storm, Dolly had not wanted to tempt fate. Spells did fail on times, especially the ones that needed renewing each year as this one did. So, over the last two days he had only been able to supply cold meats and hard ships’ biscuit, a miserable fare to sustain life in atrocious conditions. This morning, though, he made up for it with a hot burgoo, a porridge made of oatmeal, sugar, butter and salted water. This, along with very sweet tea, was heaven on earth to men who had survived unspeakable strain.

Having eaten to bursting point in the galley, the boys gathered caddies of piping hot tea and pots of the burgoo and toted them through dark passageways up to the girls and Lady Cornelia.

While Augusta/Mabel and Beatrix carried breakfast in to Lady Cornelia, the boys made themselves at home in Beattie’s cabin. Aidan stretched out in what had become his usual place on the bottom bunk after pulling the blankets straight, Augusta had again failed to carry out the task properly. And Anders picked his favourite spot on the floor, stretching out his long legs before him, his back against an old wooden chest, his shoulders in contact with a woollen blanket folded on its lid.

‘I can’t understand it Anders, this is no punishment, and nothing’s changed. We were watching over the girls already and …’ the girls returned with a clatter that stopped him in mid-sentence. ‘All right, Mabel, why so noisy?’ Aidan baited, mischievously.

‘I am going to throw a boot at you if you call me that horrible name again, little wizard.’

Anders joined in. ‘Well, we must call you something. Hey! How about a boy’s name then, she could pass as one dressed like that, couldn’t she?’

‘Aye, come to think of it she looks like Bertie Smallpen…you know, Anders, the kitchen hand back at the castle, hey, that name suits her! All we need shout then is “Beattie and Bertie behave yourselves or you’ll get a battered bottom”!’ The two boys collapsed in hysterics.

‘Very funny…ha, ha…remind us to laugh won’t you. For your information you are to call me Nellie, Cornelia allowed me to choose another.’ Sitting down on the end of the bunk pushing Aidan’s bare feet out of the way, none of them wore any footwear, she tucked into her burgoo.

‘I have a cousin Mabel,’ Augusta grimaced between mouthfuls, ‘a short, skinny, spotty, horrible girl. There are things I could tell you about her that would make your hair curl,’ she shuddered.

‘Oh, go on then, I’m all ears,’ said Aidan.

‘I can’t in mixed company.’

‘Why not?’ Aidan asked, his ears flapping.

‘It would not be genteel and proper,’ replied Augusta, flummoxed.

‘Oh, come on…since when do maids have to be genteel and proper? Beattie isn’t,’ Aidan winked at Anders.

‘You say that again and I’ll throw more than a boot at you,’ said Beatrix, nearly choking on her food.

‘You were saying, when we came in, that you didn’t understand Tragen. What was that all about?’ Augusta asked, changing the subject rapidly she accidentally slurped her food as the ship rapidly dropped down a sharp incline.

‘If I made a noise like that, you’d call me a pig,’ complained Aidan.

‘Shut up and tell us,’ said Beatrix, exasperated. And then, realizing what she had said, added. ‘And don’t dare tell me you can’t shut up and speak the same time.’

‘I wasn’t going to. You’re getting as bad as Nellie.’ Aidan settled himself more comfortably on the bed as they carried on eating. ‘No, he’s up to something is Tragen and if I know my master, he’ll leave it too late to tell me.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Beatrix asked. ‘Why should he tell you, anyway?’

‘Because whatever he’s hiding affects us, and he thinks we’re kids. I’m fifteen not five…well at least I think I am.’

Augusta looked at him quizzically. ‘Don’t you know your age?’

Aidan glared at her and refused to answer.

‘What makes you think he’s hiding anything?’ Anders asked, breaking the icy silence.

‘Yeah, come on little wizard…tell us,’ enjoined Augusta, sarcastically, ‘I’m sure we’d all benefit from your inside knowledge.’

Aidan, ignoring her sarcasm, put his arms behind his head and nodded to himself. ‘Do any of you call what he gave us last night, a punishment?’ He looked around waiting for an answer, and as none was forthcoming, he went on. ‘Because I don’t, he gave us what we wanted and pretended to lecture us. Now why is that?’

‘You may not call it a punishment, you won’t have to teach Augusta how to be a maid,’ disgruntled, Beatrix answered.

‘Hey, I won’t be that bad,’ said Augusta, indignantly. ‘The hardest part will be answering to Nellie.’

‘Oh yes, Highness, and when it comes to the laundry, are you prepared to get wet to your elbows?’ Beatrix retorted.

‘I am, and don’t call me Highness!’ Augusta said, accepting the fact that the task of protecting her from her father’s anger would mostly fall on her companion. But at the same time, she was appalled at the thought of scrubbing smelly clothes.

‘Whoa ladies, no more quarrelling, we’re all in the same boat here. I agree with Aidan, I don’t feel I’ve been punished. It’s very strange, it seems as if Tragen seeing us together, means to keep us together, and I for one would like to know why.’ For Anders, normally reticent, this was quite a speech and Aidan was so surprised he rose on one elbow and stared at his friend. ‘Don’t stare at me so, I’m agreeing with you.’

‘All right, don’t you two start. Arguing will get us nowhere. What we need is a strategy to find out what he and Cornelia are up to,’ said Augusta, pursing her lips. ‘All of you…think!’

‘Hey, that’s a good joke, Anders,’ Aidan chortled.

‘What is?’ Anders asked.

‘We are all in the same boat!’

‘Oh…yeah, I didn’t realize,’ he laughed and turned to Augusta. ‘Why include Lady Cornelia?’

‘Because last night we left her and Tragen talking, and they were together a long time, which means they were not just passing the time of day. No,’ she finished eating and, placed her bowl on the floor. ‘I know my lady-in-waiting…they were plotting.’

‘Perhaps he was romancing her,’ Aidan said, impishly.

‘Don’t be silly, Lord Tragen’s not her type,’ said Beatrix dismissing his suggestion as absurd. ‘I agree with Nellie.’

‘OK then, boys and girls, how do we find out?’ Aidan asked, lying back on the pillow.

‘Simple! You work on them. You question your master, Aidan and you Hig…oh heck, Au…Nellie, you interrogate Lady Cornelia. You two know them best, you know their little ways.’ Beatrix rose from the floor as she said this and started gathering their dirty breakfast dishes. And at the same time trying to get her mouth around what she should be calling her mistress.

‘I see a small problem there.’ Aidan got up from the bed and swung his feet to the floor. ‘Unfortunately, Tragen knows me as well. He’ll be expecting me to try and worm it out of him and he’s going to clam up.’

‘The same with Cornelia,’ said Augusta. ‘I will never get her to reveal anything; she can be quite a cow on times.’

‘Augusta!’ Beatrix, scandalized at her mistress’ swearing, nearly dropped the dishes.

Aidan, though, glanced at Anders and smiled—he liked her choice of words.

‘But we have to try. We’ll all work on them, starting now,’ and Augusta pulled Beatrix with her as she moved to the door. ‘We have to clean her cabin, do we not, my friend? Cornelia here we come,’ and they marched out, Augusta grinning and Beatrix slightly bemused at her mistress acknowledging her a friend at last.

‘Aidan, shift yourself, you can help me in the Bear’s cabin again…it’s still a mess, and if it stays that way much longer the Bear will skin me alive,’ and Anders dragged Aidan from the bed.

‘That’s a contradiction in terms, if you don’t mind me saying so, Anders. We’ll see you later,’ shouted Aidan to the girls disappearing into Cornelia’s cabin.

‘What’s a contradiction in terms?’

‘Well, you implied, “the Bear will skin us” whereas it’s usually us skinning…’

Lady Cornelia called from inside her cabin, interrupting Aidan’s explanation. ‘Is that the young wizard? Come here young man, I wish to see you.’

Aidan, apprehensive after the debacle the day before, stepped through the door followed by Anders equally nervous. But Aidan did not walk forward into the body of the cabin. He unexpectedly stepped to one side immediately he crossed the threshold, and this movement took Anders completely by surprise. The cabin boy found himself manoeuvred into the forefront in the prime position to bear the brunt of whatever followed. The young wizard had learned over the years that aristocratic ladies were not to be trifled with—they usually ended up shouting at him or cracking him over the knuckles with a switch. So, just in case, he was determined to remain nearest the door to enable a quick escape.

Anders, taking his first good look at the pale woman, was struck by the fact that she appeared to be no older than thirty or thirty-five – he’d expected her to be older – but oh boy, was she fat! Then, when she uttered her next words, he suddenly knew what was about to happen and he prepared to cover Aidan’s exit.

Lady Cornelia, sitting up in her cot wrapped in a brightly coloured shawl, beckoned Aidan closer. She wanted an uninterrupted look at the boy who had just turned her life around.

‘So, you are the lad that healed my ankle, are you?’

‘I’ve started the healing process, Milady, that’s all I do…it will still take time to heal fully,’ Aidan nervously answered, his stomach churning as he waited for it.

‘Yes, so Lord Tragen informed me. Is it…is it true you have also commenced the healing of the “old” sickness in my bones?’ Cornelia stared at him, holding her breath, not daring to believe it, yet desperately not wanting to hear a denial.

Aidan nodded, feeling more uncomfortable—he’d completely forgotten about the gratitude, until now.

‘My God, boy, do you realize how I have suffered with that illness?’

‘Yes, Milady, I’ve come across it before.’

She stared at him, her eyes brimming. ‘Oh, my boy…thank you…thank you, M…’

‘Please, Milady, there’s no need to thank me, I couldn’t leave you in pain,’ Aidan, frantic, shuffled to the door all his thoughts bent on escape, ‘excuse me, I’m needed in the captain’s cabin.’ Aidan barged past Anders and ran quickly and noisily up the corridor.

Augusta and Beatrix stared after the fleeing boy, shocked, not knowing what to make of his unexpected exit.

Lady Cornelia sat with her hands to her face weeping with both gratitude for his healing and guilt for thanking him—her acknowledgement so obviously causing him distress.

Anders, finding his voice, spoke to them quietly and forcefully. ‘He can’t abide being thanked, ladies, he hates it and I won’t say sorry for him running away. I’ll tell you though that healing is as normal to him as breathing…he heals without a second thought. He could never stand by and see anyone suffer, Milady.’

Cornelia, drying her eyes, sighed and gazed at Anders. ‘Lord Tragen told me much the same last night, I should have heeded him. Please tell Aidan I will not mention it again and that I hope he’ll forgive me. Tell him…no…ask him for me, ask him to come and see me later.’

Anders nodded and bowed, leaving the cabin he chased after Aidan.

‘Well!’ Augusta said, looking at Beatrix and Cornelia. ‘How very puzzling…that boy…I don’t know, he never fails to surprise me!’

‘Yes, Nellie,’ and with that name Cornelia regained the upper hand. ‘This cabin is a mess with all your comings and goings,’ her eyes swollen with suppressed tears, ‘I suggest you tidy it, right away.’

And the lady-in-waiting, having a lot on her mind, lay back comfortably in Augusta’s cot and supervised both girls while she daydreamed of walking in the forest at home without fear of stumbling and breaking bones. She so loved the Great Forest and all it succoured.

 

Anders caught up with Aidan. The apprentice was slamming around the captain’s cabin replacing papers and pens that had fallen to the floor, picking up chairs that had tipped over and generally putting things to right…but doing it very noisily.

Anders had always known to leave him well alone when he was in this mood, he’d come out of it by himself and not before. It still perplexed Anders though…why should Aidan take on so every time someone wanted to thank him, it was natural to show gratitude, wasn’t it? After all, the woman had suffered a terrible illness for most of her life. And now that Aidan had healed her, she could, perhaps for the first time be hopeful of her future. He peeked out of the corner of his eye at his friend wandering the room messing desultorily with things that no longer needed tidying.

Aidan eventually ceased his pacing and aimless rummaging around. He stood in the stern gallery staring out through the small panes in the window, his thumbs hooked in his belt.

He brooded. He had encountered the same old problem again and still didn’t know how to deal with it. He knew he was at fault reacting as he had, but he just couldn’t help it. Being thanked brought on guilt—a gut wrenching shame. He didn’t deserve gratitude, if people realized how he felt they’d shun him. It would devastate him if he lost the love of Tragen and Anders as he surely would if they discovered his secret. He sighed and rubbed his face, staring through the window with sightless eyes. The simple fact was he took an inordinate amount of pleasure in the act of healing. Too much pleasure, he thought. It was almost as if he enjoyed seeing people hurting. The sheer enjoyment that gripped him when he destroyed the disease or watched the broken bone knitting together was overwhelming. There was no other word to describe the aftermath of any act of healing—guilt. He needed to hide the knowledge that sick people made him happy.

He turned from the window, and waited for his best friend to finish checking the Bear’s clothing. Anders was meticulous in ensuring his captain was clad appropriately.

‘Let’s go up top, Anders…I could do with some air.’

Anders replaced the last of Locklear’s clothes, bowing his head a moment he realized that this time he couldn’t leave it alone, not yet. Circumstances had changed over the last couple of days; their circle of friendship had now doubled in size, for one thing. An increase that Anders welcomed with open arms and given time to think on it so would Aidan. They were all at a loss to understand the young wizard’s attitude and this could only lead to unrest and doubt amongst the four of them. He couldn’t allow this unpleasant feeling to remain, it would grow and fester—the newly formed friendship of the four would not survive the strain.

‘Aidan, we have to talk and I said talk, not shout at each other.’

Aidan waited, shoulders slumped. ‘Go on then, say what you have to say.’

‘The lady meant well. In your heart, you know it. I don’t understand why you take on so at people thanking you, it’s a natural reaction after all.’

‘Have you finished,’ he said, moving towards the quarterdeck door.

‘No, I haven’t,’ he continued even more strongly and his friend stopped, his hand on the door latch. ‘People are always going to be beholden to you. You’re going to have to get used to their thanks or you’ll make your own life a living hell. People need to show gratitude, need to thank you it’s…it’s part of the healing process for God’s sake. Either accept that as a fact or cease healing.’

Aidan glanced up, his eyes glistening. ‘I can’t stop healing, you know that.’

‘Aye, I know,’ he said exasperated, ‘then why do you feel as you do?’

And Aidan nearly told him. But he knew he could never divulge his shameful secret, not to him, he thought too much of Anders to burden him with it. He didn’t want to lose his best friend, but he also accepted the truth in his friend’s words. His life was already hell because of the guilt.

‘I can’t tell you why,’ he sighed deeply, tears glistening, almost falling from his eyes. He blinked. ‘I’ll make you a promise, though,’ and he looked up at the concern in his big friend’s face. ‘I’ll try to change…I’ll do my damnedest to cope when they thank me, I won’t succeed all the time, but I will try.’

‘Come on, let’s wheedle the truth out of Tragen,’ Anders said, understanding his friend more than Aidan would ever know.

 

On the quarterdeck the storm was still raging, not as intense as at its height but the rain still fell in sheets stinging their faces. The wind continued to blow ferociously, its sound deafening. The seas though were not so rough, visibility had improved and the horizon had moved farther away from the ship. And if Aidan was not deceived, the air seemed a lot warmer.

Tragen was at the rear standing on a box and staring over the poop deck, past the after-jigger mast and out over the stern at the storm blowing now from the northeast, a pensive look on his face as he scratched his beard. Leash was at the wheel accompanied by Nkosi, it was still taking two men to hold the vessel on a good heading. The small stormsail stretched taut above and behind them, the wind singing through the lines. Trumper, the sword scar below his left eye livid in the rain, was reporting to the captain. And behind him, just climbing the steps up from the waist was Hopper, a very worried frown on his face.

As Aidan and Anders reached the larboard rail, they overheard the last of the bo’sun’s report.

‘Aye, if this temperature increases much more the humidity will sprout the weevils. I must spread it before long for the air to get at it.’

‘What’s he talking about, Anders?’ Aidan whispered.

‘He’s on about the mainsail. At present it’s bundled up, soaking wet on the deck. You’ve noticed the heat?’ Aidan nodded. ‘Well the warm air and stagnant water in its folds will breed worms that will eat the canvas. It must be spread out, even in this wet weather, to stop the weevil growing.’

‘Very well, Bo’sun, do your best,’ ordered Locklear. ‘You and the men fought hard enough to salvage it…it would be outrageous to lose it now.’ The bo’sun touched his forelock and departed the quarterdeck.

‘Hopper, how goes it?’ Locklear grasped his mate’s arm to drag him beneath the overhang of the poop deck, not that it provided much shelter.

‘I’ve checked the holds and talked it over with Dolly; we have enough provisions to last possibly a week if we ration. It will be basic provender and the passengers will have to manage the same as us,’ he sighed. ‘What really worries us is the fresh-water, many barrels have been spoiled. We estimate we have enough drinking water to last four, perhaps five days. We need provisioning desperately.’

Locklear ran his fingers through his heavy, black beard. ‘If I’m correct, Hopper, this change in temperature signifies we are being driven south into the tropics. That fact, coupled with the storm blowing from the east means, at this speed, we are leaving home far behind. Undoubtedly we are well into the Deep.’ He paused and looked up at the darkened sky. ‘If we have been pushed south and west from the coast of Drakka we should raise the Griffin Islands eventually, do you agree?’

‘Aye…or the Siren, if we’ve been blown too far south!’

Locklear glanced at him sharply. ‘We don’t want to come too close to that. I saw it once on the horizon—that was too near, the noise was appalling, that beneath it was worse. Wait a minute…between us and that is Blackfire Island. There are plenty of trees there!’ and he smiled.

‘Aye, and fresh water, but no food worth mentioning.’ Hopper grimaced; talk of the Siren always knotted his guts he’d once seen a ship disappear in its depths. That vessel had just left Blackfire. Anxious, he stared out over the dark ocean, silent for a moment. ‘You’ve visited Griffin haven’t you, Cap’n? What did you make of them? I was there only a short time.’

‘I never made landfall, I was chasing pirates at the time,’ he pulled at his beard. ‘We will need to be vigilant, Hopper. Some of those islands are extremely dangerous, in more ways than one.’

Locklear glanced at Anders and Aidan. ‘I do not want you spreading false stories amongst the crew, some of the islands are perilous, aye…but then again, from what I’ve seen, a lot are not.’

He turned back to Hopper. ‘I’ll make a decision on our destination later, when we know our position. Drakka may be nearer. But if I decide Griffin is our destination and the first island we reach appears safe we’ll take the chance and send ashore a provisioning party.’ He stared up at the rainclouds, disgruntled, ‘It will be useless setting tarpaulins to catch some of this rainwater, the waves are still too high, the spume will only contaminate it. As for food, well, if this storm ever ceases we can live on fish, just don’t tell Dolly yet. I just hope Tragen is right and we have reached the limit of their range. Thank you, Hopper,’ and Hugo tapped his arm in gratitude. ‘See to it please, and I’d be obliged if you will take command for an hour, I need to go below.’ He turned to leave.

At that moment there was a harsher gust of wind and a sharp crack from above their heads. Looking up, a tear appeared in the stormsail and immediately the bows swung to leeward as headway was lost. Tragen reacted instinctively; raising his staff he pointed the knuckle at the gash. Uttering a very loud and strident incantation a light shot from the staff and travelled along the rip, sealing the canvas as good as new.

‘Thank you, my friend,’ said Hugo, vastly relieved.

Tragen resumed his examination astern as Hugo went below.

Aidan looked at Anders and nodded him away out of earshot of the mate. ‘Did you hear that Anders? Locklear said “reached the limit of their range”, who are they? That’s what their hiding,’ he whispered.

‘Oh, come off it, he meant out of range of the storm…nothing else.’ Anders was busy speculating on what the consequences would have been if Tragen hadn’t been on the quarterdeck as the sail tore. Could Aidan have repaired it? Would Aidan have even thought of it?

‘Then why would he need Tragen’s advice? The Bear’s the sailor, not Tragen, so why had he spoken to him about it.’

‘Oh boy, you really are clutching at straws.’

Aidan grabbed his arm. ‘What’s the Siren?’

‘It’s a giant whirlpool—come too near it and we’ll get dragged in. I’ve heard it wanders.’

Aidan swallowed and looked around nervously.

 

Leash watched the boys from beneath hooded eyes. As soon as Aidan had arrived on deck, Leash’s mind had gone into overdrive. He would have to be careful; he couldn’t attempt the same attack as last time. The boy was not an idiot he would be bound to cotton on that his near fatal scrapes were deliberate. It wouldn’t take him long to realize that the second helmsman was always around when he had a brush with death. Leash watched and he waited.

Because of his infection Leash’s hearing was enhanced to a greater degree than was normal and, despite the phenomenal noise of the storm, he had heard everything that Hopper had reported. And the news worried him.

He’d not wanted to sail on this voyage or on any other; he’d been quite content on land. But, having slipped up the last time on shore and nearly been caught, he’d had no choice; going to sea had been the safest option although it carried its own risks. The sea had been a refuge many times in his life and strangely enough he’d discovered a hidden talent. He found he was a very good helmsman and had taken to the work like a duck to water.

But to satiate his infection’s need with immunity required solid earth beneath his feet—it was so much easier to hide afterwards. Nonetheless, he had been forced to flee to sea again to escape the consequences of his last episode. Too many people were after his blood and a nice soft voyage to Drakka had seemed a godsend. So he had signed up with alacrity knowing that a few weeks away from Mantovar would cool the chase.

But one of the first people he had bumped into on board was the instigator of his isolation, his acute loneliness, the reason his infection was getting the upper hand—the one man he hated above all others, Tragen. The wizard was the one person in the world who scared him senseless, the man who had interrupted him and spoiled their pleasure many years ago—him and his damned staff. But Leash’s luck had held.

The wizard had not recognized him.

Not surprising really, it had been very dark at the time of their last encounter. God, he had been fortunate to get away. If the wizard had not stumbled, the full blast from his staff would have killed him. As it was the trip had upset Tragen’s aim. Some of the power had collided with a nearby wall punching a large hole in it through which he’d fled; the rest of the staff’s energy had ended up elsewhere doing all the damage. He didn’t want to think about where it had finally landed. He had run for his life.

He loathed the wizard and all those connected with him, his hatred consuming him. He wanted to hurt the wizard, kill him if it was feasible, but he was very afraid to be anywhere near the old man. Tragen was far too powerful a mystic. And the infection within Leash knew that if it was possible to die, then the wizard would be the one to kill him. The apprentice though was a different matter. All right, he thought, the sod had eluded him twice; he would not a third time.

But above all, Leash wanted to survive this voyage and the thought of going without water and food unnerved him. He could get hold of drinking water easily enough today, but where to hide it was the problem. He watched Aidan as the boy went across to the wizard. Then he smiled. Two birds with one stone, and Leash almost laughed aloud.

 

‘Master, excuse me but I must ask you something,’ said Aidan, politely.

His voice immediately placed Tragen on his guard, the boy would never learn, he thought. ‘Well, what is it?’

Anders stood alongside them both listening to every word.

‘I was wondering how much longer you expected this storm to last now that we’re at the limit of their range.’

Anders stared at Aidan dumbfounded. He had not expected his friend to be quite so blatant.

‘This storm will run its course, my boy,’ Tragen answered, pausing only slightly, choosing to ignore most of the question.

‘Yes, but we’ve now reached their limit. Can’t you give us any idea of how far we’ll have to sail to get completely away from them… whoever they are?’

‘Limit, Aidan?’ and the wizard gave him a very puzzled look, again ignoring the second question. ‘I do not understand what you mean. I have no yardstick to measure the storm. Now may I ask you a question in return?’

‘Of course, but…’

‘No buts, Aidan. Tell me, I gave you a task last evening and that task included watching over the two young ladies, did it not?’

‘Yes we know that, but…’

‘No buts…get to it. Obey me, now…or else!’

Anders grabbed Aidan before he could say anything else and pushed him into the companionway.

Below in the passageway Aidan was exultant. ‘I knew it! He’s definitely hiding something. Did you see the way he reacted?’

‘Reacted? He went nuts!’

‘Yes, and that’s the proof there’s something going on! He very rarely loses his temper with me. He knows I’m not afraid of him when he shouts at me. He only scares me when he bollocks me quietly. Come on, let’s see if the girls have any news,’ and whistling a sea shanty he proceeded to the girl’s cabin, bouncing off the bulkheads as he hurried along in the dark.

 

 

http://www.welshjokes.com/jokes/welshisms/1.shtml

Disestablishment of the Church of Wales

During the controversy over the disestablishment of the Church of Wales the two chief protagonists were David Lloyd George and the Bishop of St. Asaph.

On one occasion Lloyd George addressed a meeting in a small Welsh village where he was introduced by one of the deacons of the local chapel as follows

“We all know the remarks made on this subject last week by the Bishop of St. Asaph who, in my opinion, is the biggest liar in creation.

Fortunately we have here tonight Mr. David Lloyd George who will be more than a match for him.”

 

Have a nice day!

Chapter Six of The Gateway

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/15-welsh-jokes-make-you-6799233
No hard feelings…

A Welshman, Scot and Englishman are walking when they come across a lantern and a genie pops out and grants them one wish each.

The Scot says: “I am a sheep herder, like my dad before me. I want my country to be full of lovely sheep farms.” Whoosh, and so it was.

The Englishman was amazed and says: “I want a wall around England to keep those damned Scots and Welsh out.” Bang, there was a wall around England.

The Welshman says: “Tell me more about this wall.”

The genie says: “It’s 200 feet high, 100 feet thick, it goes all around England, and nothing can get in or out.”

The Welshman says: “Fill it with water.”

Could this be Aidan in a confused state?
Could this be Aidan in a confused state?

Six

Tragen – his long white hair and beard brushed immaculately – woke Aidan the next morning, the second morning of the storm. Stepping over Anders in the narrow berth, a very small room hidden behind a heavy curtain in the captain’s cabin, he accidentally disturbed the cabin boy.

Anders, despite lack of sleep, awoke highly animated. He never missed Aidan creating magic whether it was with or without permission. Tragen, having given up years before in his attempts to separate the boys – the two could never understand that they could not do everything together – assented to Anders accompanying them to his cabin to hear Aidan’s instructions.

Augusta, bleary-eyed, opened the door into the dark passageway and bumped into them on her way to check the condition of her lady-in-waiting. Augusta was once again wearing the same shirt and britches from the night before, although soiled and crumpled they were, nevertheless, very comfortable if a little smelly. With her shoulder length, black hair brushed and tied back at the nape in nautical fashion and barefoot, she was the very epitome of a young sailor.

‘Where are you going, Milord?’ she asked pompously.

‘Just along to my cabin, Highness.’

‘Oh, you’re going to give Aidan his instructions, aren’t you?’ Augusta asked excitedly, her pomposity vanishing instantly.

‘I am, Highness.’ Tragen sighed. He had managed to creep past her cabin without disturbing her on his way to fetch the boys, but he would have had to be very lucky indeed to evade her on the return.

‘Can you wait just a moment while I see if Lady Cornelia requires anything? I would love to see at first-hand how wizards work.’ She added as an afterthought, just to please the wizard . ‘I promise not to interfere in any way, Milord.’

The wizard raised one eyebrow disbelievingly. ‘You will have to hurry, the captain is to join us and he cannot be away from his quarterdeck for too long.’

Her incapacitated lady in waiting was still sleeping fast, her vast bosom rising and falling rhythmically as she lay on her back snoring, the high sides of the violently swinging cot keeping her safe from falling to the deck. As Aidan followed his mentor into their shared accommodation, Augusta ran from her cabin and grabbed Beatrix, who was trying to extricate Augusta’s blankets from beneath the bunk, how they had ended up under there was a mystery that Beatrix would never comprehend.

‘Come on, quickly, they are deciding on what magic they will use,’ Augusta ordered.

Beatrix, electrified, seized their still damp tunics from the previous night; donning them they reached the doorway of Aidan’s cabin, just ahead of the burly figure of Locklear.

‘If you will excuse me, Highness, I believe, in this case, that I should enter before you,’ Hugo said, rather brusquely.

Augusta turned and her eyes widened at the obvious fatigue in the man’s face. He was wet from top to toe and looked as if he had been up all night, which he had. Hugo Locklear never slept in bad weather. She immediately moved to allow the stressed man access to the small room and crowded after him into the little space left at the door.

Tragen looked up from his chair below the porthole. ‘I’m sorry, Hugo, but there will be no privacy to discuss these matters.’

‘They will know soon enough, my friend. So…you have rested?’

‘Aye, little enough I fear, I have been thrown about on my bed most of the night, I hate the top bunk, but it will have to suffice. The storm, is it any worse?’

‘Wizard, can you not feel it beneath your feet?’ his weariness making him irascible. ‘The wind has increased enormously; we are no longer hove-to we are being driven astern, it is only the sea-anchors that are holding us steady. If we do not turn about soon it will be too late—the Grim will have turned turtle.’ He rubbed the exhaustion from his eyes with his huge knuckles. ‘Whatever action you have to take, do it now. I have every available man, sailor and marine, bailing and pumping and repairing sprung boards constantly. We have to ease the strain on the hull immediately and the only possible way is to run before this wind.’

‘Very well, Hugo, as you say we have no other option,’ he turned to his apprentice. Aidan was standing there feeling very guilty; it was his accident that had deprived his master of a good night’s sleep.

‘We do not have much time to accomplish the deed, my boy, so listen carefully. I will attempt a shield enchantment to calm the seas forward of the ship and curtail the worst of the wind. The spell will of necessity be one of the most powerful I have ever conjured and it will sorely tax me.’
He paused and studied his apprentice worriedly, Aidan still seemed traumatized. The actions of the day before had exacted their toll on his slight body, and sleep had not restored his vigour. His face was drawn and his dark eyes sunk deeply beneath his eyebrows. His body, though, was a lot stronger than its lack of weight implied. Tragen sighed; he needed his apprentice’s strength this morning, for if they failed the penalties would be dire for all.

Tragen resumed, ‘I, of course, will use my staff, but great concentration and power will be required to form the shield. As such I will not be able to create the light needed for the captain to know when to turn the ship. You will have to stand with me and cast that particular spell. You must ensure the light is of sufficient strength, not only to show him the shield in front of us, he must also see the surface of the ocean. Do you understand, Aidan?’

‘I do,’ and he inhaled deeply. ‘But where will we stand so that he’ll see us? I know the obvious place is in the bows, but standing there will be too dangerous, won’t it?’

‘Alas, Aidan, we must place ourselves in grave peril—it has to be in the bows we stand. However,’ and he turned to the ship’s master, ‘we will need ropes to tether ourselves to the foremast and sailors to aid us in this. Hugo, how many men can you spare?’

Locklear stared at his friend, his face more drained than ever. ‘I am afraid, Tragen, I can spare no-one to help you. If I remove even one from their present duties the ship will founder.’

‘By the Gods, Hugo, you have four hundred men aboard this ship—we must have help! We have to be fully engrossed on the enchantments…we may need to be physically held in place.’

‘I know the Grim’s complement, Tragen; I don’t need you to tell me.’ He tugged at his beard angrily and sighed. ‘I’m sorry; I know what you are going to say. If you are unable to cast the spells necessary for us to turn, the ship will come to grief anyway. I say this, my old friend; if I take any men from pumping, bailing and patching the hull, we will sink as we turn. Tragen, you and Aidan must manage on your own.’

‘We can help,’ Anders interrupted, shocked at hearing his uncle quarrel with the wizard.

Tragen and Hugo gazed in consternation.

Anders continued. ‘I know it will be dangerous, Milord, I have been at sea long enough to know what can happen to us there. But none of us can stand to one side while Aidan and you risk your lives for us,’ he licked lips that had suddenly dried. ‘We’re all in danger, Milord, and we’re the only ones who are free to help you although you may think we’re too young. I promise you we’ll obey you in whatever way you…’

‘Please, Milord,’ urged Augusta, as Anders ran out of words. ‘We are the only help you can get. I assure you, we will follow your orders without question.’

It was Beattie’s quiet remarks though, that swung Tragen, helping him make the decision. ‘We have the right to help save the ship, Milord. We cannot stand aside and do nothing…you do not have the right to deny our aid.’

‘What say you, Hugo? I believe the young lady is correct, hey! And Aidan and I will be in desperate need; can you supply us with the necessary ropes?’

‘Aye, man,’ he said, reluctantly agreeing. ‘The bo’sun is working at the sail locker beneath the foc’s’le he’ll pass them to you. But beware Tragen, if the prince ever discovers that we intentionally placed his daughter in grave peril…’

‘Don’t worry on that score, Captain Locklear. I am in grave danger anyway,’ interrupted Augusta, ‘and that is what I will tell him if needs be. He will agree that it is my duty to help in any way I can.’

‘Very well, I will return to my post on the quarterdeck now. I wish you good fortune; you carry the prayers of us all. Aidan,’ he turned to the boy standing silently by, ‘please keep in mind—I will need the light to be as bright as possible for as long as it takes us to turn about.’ Saying that, he departed with one long and intense look at them all, it was as if he was trying to implant their images on his memory.

Before Locklear had reached his companionway, Tragen addressed the four youths in no uncertain terms. ‘I must emphasize this point although you have already promised. You have no option but to obey me instantly whatever the command, all our lives may depend on it. Do you understand?’

He put his hand on Aidan’s shoulder to reassure the haggard apprentice wizard. ‘We will tether ourselves on long lines to the foremast. Once the bows are safe you and I will move as far forward as possible. That is where the main power of the conjuration will be created. There you will stand to one side of me and conjure your light. Remember—raise the illumination high enough to enable those on the quarterdeck to see as much as possible. While you are at that endeavour, I will invoke the shield with my staff. Beware my movements, for as the ship turns I will turn the opposite way and increase the strength of the spell to cover the increasing aspect of the ship facing the storm. The greatest danger will arise when the Grim is beam on to the wind, should we fail at that point then the ship will broach.’

He smiled encouragingly at his young apprentice, whilst the others, beginning to understand now what they had let themselves in for, grew more apprehensive.

‘I do not expect to fail; we know each other too well for there to be any misunderstanding between us. But if events do not go as planned, do not attempt to mindmeld with me. It may prove fatal to distract me at that moment. Do you understand, Aidan?’

‘Aye,’ he nodded.

Tragen turned and spoke to the others. ‘It will be your tasks to ensure our safety as best you can. As there are three of you, Anders being the biggest will ward me on his own, you two ladies together, will protect Aidan. But I must stress, you are to take great care of your own safety as well. Do not under any circumstances place yourselves in a position of extreme risk just to rescue us. And in this you will obey me,’ he ordered.
They nodded silently. Augusta made to question Tragen, but seeing the steely glint in his eyes she recalled what Beatrix had said the day before. Unexpectedly afraid of him, she changed her mind and stilled her tongue.

Tragen and Aidan led the way from the cabin turning for’ard in the passage. The old wizard tucked his staff into his belt, the knuckle against his neck, and quickly climbed the ladder up to the hatch, Aidan already on the bottom rungs before he reached the top. Tragen removed the bolt and recalling that the last time he’d lifted the cover he’d nearly lost it, took especial care this time. But even then the wind caught it and almost dragged it out of his hands.

The fury of the tempest assailed them immediately. The wind no longer howled but screamed its rage and the rain stung bitingly. The waves swooped by horrendously high and frighteningly fast, a wall of iron-grey hard water. White spume formed an almost continual sheet as it was blown from crest to crest way above their heads. And the crackling of the lightning distorted their sight, the horizon, when they could see it, just feet away.

Aidan and Anders closed the hatch and then, clinging to the lifeline that stretched fore and aft, they all moved forward passing the mainsail still piled at the foot of the mainmast. Resting a moment to catch their breath they continued on past the redundant galley pipe to the foc’s’le steps either side of the foremast. They clutched desperately at the slippery line, expecting at any moment to be blown, or washed, overboard.

Trumper looked round at their arrival his face expressing his surprise at seeing the youngsters; nevertheless he reached inside the sail locker doors and retrieved ropes for them all. The bo’sun, his normally ruddy face now ashen, stared apprehensively at the party struggling slowly up the steps on to the forecastle.

Tragen, bareheaded, his beard blowing back over his shoulders, tied one end of his rope around his waist and, gauging the length as best he could, he secured the other end to the foremast, leaving enough play for him to reach the bowsprit. He waited for the others to do the same.

They were battered in mind and body when they reached the small bow deck and found the conditions there absolutely appalling. Standing in waist-high water on occasions, the bows almost continually underwater, the incessant clamour beating at their ears, they found it impossible to rest even for a moment. The wizard stood with his back pressed against the foremast his eyes closed, his legs braced on the heaving deck, and he raised his staff vertically in front of him and faced directly into the wind. Beatrix and Augusta hugged the foc’s’le rail squinting through eyes impossible to open wide while Aidan joined Anders in holding Tragen steady.

They all watched the old wizard, only his lips moving in the gloom and it was a long time before any change was detected…an easing of the pressure on their ears followed by a lessening of the wind tugging at them. Then a low rhythmic cadence rose above the gale, and as the mantra increased in strength, the beat of the rain and the wash of the waves across the bows gradually declined and amazingly ceased altogether.

The youngsters stared about them at the dream world in which they all of a sudden found themselves. All around the ship the tempest raged as before, the crests of the waves too high to see, the rain sweeping past in sheets, but none of it had any impact in the bows. They stood as if in a dry hole in the ocean, the deck at their feet, clear of waves for the first time in two days. They waited; preparing to carry out the tasks allotted them, the vista unbelievable, their senses dumbfounded.

Tragen walked forwards toward the bowsprit as Anders carefully paid out the rope tied to the wizard’s waist. Aidan accompanied his master and both stepped into the bows of the beleaguered ship. All was black before them, the enchanted shield, invisible to the naked eye, also hid the lightning flashes ahead of the ship. And then Aidan conjured his light.

The wizard’s apprentice sang out loud and clear and full of confidence. At once, a brilliant white light formed and grew ever larger in the boy’s outstretched hands. An incandescent ball of light, blindingly beautiful in its brilliance, smelling powerfully of lavender, and the bow of the ship was lit up as if it was noon in August.

Tragen glanced at his apprentice and again wondered fleetingly, as he had done many times in the past, why Aidan’s spells always gave off the aroma of the bluish-purple flowers.

Augusta gasped and blinked, blinded by the brightness of the light. Recovering quickly she and Beatrix watched with astonishment as Aidan seemingly grew larger and they gripped his line even firmer.

Anders though did not take his eyes from Tragen when the magician’s voice grew louder and deeper in tone, as Aidan’s softer tones gelled with his.
Locklear, high up on his quarterdeck, sighed when he saw the light come up, the sight of the bows and the sea just ahead, an enormous relief. Hopper immediately ordered the sea-anchors raised and as men readied a stormsail, needed to steer the ship, the Grim appeared to breathe its appreciation, its happiness, at being relieved of the tremendous pressure of the storm at the bows.

Locklear shouted to the four men now on the helm. ‘Prepare yourselves my beauties, we are about to find out if you are seamen or landlubbers.’
Talbot smiled grimly and grasped the wheel even tighter as did Nkosi and Bertram. The fourth man, Leash, his mind full of schemes to ensure the demise of the apprentice wizard, wished ill on them all, though he was very careful to hide his thoughts from his fellows. It did not seem to register with him that if Tragen and Aidan failed then his own death was assured—or maybe it wasn’t, he wasn’t sure if he’d be allowed to die.
In the bow the light increased, its brilliance reflecting off the air forward of them. Tragen’s shield became visible, a haze similar to that of a current of warm air, shimmering before them.

The wizard raised his staff and held the pointed base in his fists. Holding the stave aloft on outstretched arms, Tragen quickly glanced at Aidan alongside him and winked.

Aidan laughed, thoroughly enjoying himself; he was at ease performing magic with his “father” and he couldn’t be happier.

The wizard resumed his chant, his total concentration ensuring the growth of the shield. Gripping his staff even tighter, he sang louder still and lowered the knuckle at the top of the rod until he was pointing it directly ahead of him. The knuckle glowed a deep carmine, and the shield advanced further forward and grew ever more until it formed a barrier, dense and unyielding, across the expanse of ocean and sky before them.

The ship commenced its turn slowly as if waking from a daze, nearly toppling Anders, Augusta and Beatrix, all struggling to maintain their foothold on the sloping deck. They watched the unearthly spectacle taking place in front of the wizard, a sight so implausible that their brains refused to take it in. But they knew they’d never forget the sight – if they lived long enough.

Tragen, stood rigidly in the bow, as if he was an extension of the boards of the foc’s’le, a part of the substance of the ship. His single-minded attention focused on the enchantment, the energy he was using in holding the staff at arm’s length seeming not to worry him at all.

Aidan, in creating a spell of a vastly lower class, was far more relaxed and he took the time to look around the ship. He studied the seas below the bows, felt the lightness of the breeze, witnessed the small ripples playing on the surface of the ocean and scanned the anxious faces of his friends. He smiled at them all before returning to attend his master. Aidan’s strength was only needed to hold the light aloft and to ensure the illumination was sufficient for the captain’s needs. But, on examining his master closely, he became concerned at the exhaustion he could see building in the wizard, a fatigue that was not apparent to anyone else. This was the most powerful spell Tragen had ever conjured and, however much the wizard had prepared, there was bound to be a serious depletion in his stamina and repercussions on his health.

The ship came about slowly to larboard, and Tragen turned the other way to continue facing east directly into the wind. At the same time, he held his staff level and began waving it from side to side so that the edges of the shield widened to conceal the body of the Grim.

It seemed forever before the turn reached its most critical stage, the point at which the vessel lay broadside to the wind. Tragen was now staring directly over the starboard side of the ship, the storm gnashing at the borders of the spell. Tragen’s face was a bath of sweat although his voice remained strong and Aidan’s light remained steady and bright in the palms of his hands, his feet like his master’s, seemingly stuck to the deck.
Augusta, Beatrix and Anders were beginning to relax, their attention waning, when Tragen all of a sudden cried out and staggered back. He fell to his knees releasing the staff to fall alongside him. Immediately the shield shook and began to fade.

Aidan, although every bone in his body had warned him to expect something to go wrong, stared in disbelief for moments. He turned quickly for his helpers, and knowing his instincts to be correct, beckoned to Augusta.

‘Quick, come here.’

And Augusta accustomed now to obeying his orders walked forward and stood alongside him not knowing what to expect as she stared at Tragen on his knees.

‘Don’t be afraid, Augusta,’ using her name for the first time without either realizing it. ‘Hold up your hands like me.’

And she raised her hands in front of her. He stared deeply into her green eyes, his own conveying his trust and placed the ball of enchanted light into her hands.

‘There is no need for fear, Augusta; you have magic, just hold the light. Hold it high for the captain; it will not harm you. Tragen needs me he is in great danger.’

Augusta, shaking like a leaf, raised the light with no second thoughts all her previous misgivings about him forgotten forever. She lifted the light high and wondered—what magic? And what was the strange feeling in her chest, was it the magic or was it Aidan?

Aidan shouted at Anders and Beatrix. ‘Protect Augusta! Keep well away from Tragen and me.’

The cabin boy and the lady’s companion stared at each other, bewildered and fearful. They did not know what had happened to the wizard, or how Augusta could have the magic to hold the light, but both remembered Tragen’s admonishment not to distract him if there was trouble. They watched their friend approach the wizard, and then Aidan’s last words registered with Beatrix. She was appalled; how did he have the gall to call her mistress by her chosen name, not even she did that?

Aidan reached the old man, kneeling, holding his head in his hands his staff forgotten for the moment lying on the deck against his foot, its runes pulsating brightly. He stood behind his mentor; staring down at him intently he placed his hands over Tragen’s.

‘Master, what’s wrong?’ and receiving no answer he continued even more forcefully. ‘Come back, Master.’ Again there was no response, Aidan put his forehead to the top of the wizard’s head and repeated the mindmeld. ‘Master, come back, please’ he begged.

Ignoring the express instructions given him earlier, he searched frantically for his master’s consciousness and unintentionally spoke aloud. ‘I have to find you, Master, forgive me for my disobedience…I…I don’t know how else to help you.’

Anders started forward acutely worried, he’d never seen his friend in this much of a panic before. But Beatrix held him back, her faith in Aidan beyond question.

‘Leave him be Anders, he knows what he’s doing—trust him,’ she using similar words to those used by Anders the day before.

They stood at the rail afraid to take their eyes from the two wizards. But the storm began encroaching on the ship again as the shield weakened, small waves appearing, the wind rising blowing straight into their faces.

‘Quickly, Aidan,’ shouted Augusta, in alarm, taking her eyes from the ball of light in her hands. ‘We’re going to broach.’

Aidan glanced up at her and ceased his mindmeld. With a heavy sickness deep in the pit of his stomach, he stared around, at a complete loss; despairing, he had no idea how to contact his master.

‘Heal him, Aidan,’ shouted Beatrix intuitively.

At his wits’ end he latched on to her suggestion; he again turned to the wizard and gripped his master’s hands even tighter. Shutting out all outside influences, totally engrossed in his task, he achieved success almost immediately. Tragen, waking from the trance shook Aidan’s hands from his head.

‘What happened?’ Aidan asked shaking with relief. ‘We lost each other and I…I was so scared.’

Tragen felt the wind in his hair and swiftly realizing their predicament, grabbed his staff. ‘Later! I need your energy my boy mine is all but spent. Assist me, hold my staff with me.’

Shock pierced Aidan. He had never even touched the staff before. In fact, it had been hammered into him over the years that it was sacrosanct; he was never to as much as place a fingernail on it. He looked at his mentor, frightened witless.

‘You want me,’ and he swallowed audibly, ‘to actually touch your staff?’

Tragen stared at Aidan quickly comprehending his fear. ‘Aye, my boy, you have incredible power…you have the strength to wield this staff with me. Haven’t I just felt the immense energy in your hands? Your healing power is more than enough to sustain you; my staff cannot hurt you now.’

Tragen, with Aidan standing close, held the base of the staff horizontally in their hands and the knuckle once again faced the tempest. The shield strengthened instantly, the ocean calmed and the shimmering of the enchantment was again lit up at the bows as Augusta once more held the light aloft.

Locklear who had nearly given up hope when he saw Tragen fall, gazed on the ocean once more, a gentle swell on its surface. He at once renewed his efforts and those of his crew at the helm. The long ship came about slowly but surely, and with its stern facing the wind at last, the stormsail bellying full, the great vessel flew from its tormentor. The crew fell to the deck wherever they were stationed, gasping for breath, the tension of the last hours leaving them trembling. They had no strength for cheering.

Tragen held the shield in place until the ship was safely on its way…to where was debatable. He eventually lowered the staff and Aidan reluctantly relinquished his hold. Gradually the shield dissipated, the tempest resuming its attack on the ship, but this time at its stern. The occupants of the bows, now sheltered a little by the upper structure of the ship, collapsed exhausted to the deck, all that is except Augusta. Tragen, his head down inhaling deeply and hoarsely was drained beyond measure. Aidan, his bones trembling to their core because of the magic he’d encountered in the staff, now understood how much he didn’t know of the art. Anders and Beatrix, glad it was all over, sitting shoulder to shoulder, holding hands their backs against the rail, sodden to the skin taking comfort from each other’s nearness, neither daring to acknowledge it.

And Augusta, her long black hair sticking wildly to her face and neck, standing with the light in her hands, mesmerized by the magic and wanting more.

Aidan lifted his head and smiled up at her. His prince’s daughter, much his age and much his height…slim and very attractive, her emerald eyes reflecting the wonder he often felt when conjuring spells.

‘Augusta,’ he said quietly, disturbing her reverie. ‘I had better extinguish the light now.’

She looked down at him. ‘How come you passed this to me? I have always thought only those with magic could sustain a spell,’ she was completely enthralled. ‘I have never made magic in my whole life!’

Aidan rose to stand in front of her. ‘You are right. But then I remembered when I fell on the quarterdeck yesterday, you caught me by my belt and held me. Your strength was far greater than it should have been, no girl should have been able to halt my slide into the sea. And then I saw it in your eyes—magic! That’s why I passed the spell to you,’ he smiled wearily. ‘How you have magic now I don’t know, but I suppose we’ll find out…in time.’

‘I really have magic?’

At his nod she gave a great beaming grin and stared at the ball of light in her hands. ‘I adore magic, Aidan!’

He laughed. ‘So do I…so do I,’ and Aidan, making small intricate finger movements, extinguished the light, but only in her hands.

Her eyes continued to shine brilliantly.

‘You will show me more?’ She asked eagerly, grasping his hands and ignoring everyone else, ‘please, Aidan.’

Tragen interrupted. ‘Be careful, my boy, magic in a woman has ensnared many a wizard.’ He paused to catch his breath, raking his long white hair from his face. ‘I am confident though, that you will discover how she comes to the ability.’

He turned his head to include Augusta. ‘Wizards and Adepts are always born with their skills—always! I have never known magic precipitously appear in someone who has never been able to display such ability previously.’

Hesitating, he again spoke, solely to his apprentice. ‘When you come to teach her make sure you start with the small conjurations, and remember—no showing off! Be vigilant, and above all, show her infinite care. I do not know if her father would wish her to know our craft. No wizard has ever gained a throne so this may have untold consequences for Mantovar. Your training of her may have to cease when we return home. Until her father decides, her skill must be kept secret and yet she must be taught to control it. But the ability to pass on knowledge is another lesson an apprentice has to learn…it may as well start here.’

‘Yes! And you can carry on calling me by my chosen name,’ said Augusta, beaming at him, grinning simply for the reason that she felt absurdly happy, even though they and the Grim were still in grave danger, battered and threatened by an unearthly tempest from hell.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/15-welsh-jokes-make-you-6799233
Say it slowly…

On a beautiful summer’s day, two English tourists were driving through Wales.

At Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch they stopped for lunch and one of the tourists asked the waitress: “Before we order, I wonder if you could settle an argument for us. Can you pronounce where we are, very, very, very slowly?”

The girl leaned over and said:

“Burrr… gurrr… King.”

Have a nice day!

Chapter Five of The Gateway (and a bit of humour)

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/15-welsh-jokes-make-you-6799233
Don’t come between a Welshman and his ale

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

The Englishman immediately pushes his beer away in disgust.

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

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

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

Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All there was below him was certain death.

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

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

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

‘I…I don’t know, one minute I’m…’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatrix looked askance at this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It hissed its laughter.

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

Only Anders had the most uncomfortable rest, not just because he slept on the hard floor alongside his friend—he heard Aidan talking in his sleep.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/15-welsh-jokes-make-you-6799233
Don’t mess with a Welsh woman

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day!

Inspiration for another novel

The Blacksmith's shop and home
The Blacksmith’s shop and home
This will appear in my fourth novel. The blacksmith’s shop is one of the true-life exhibits at St Fagan’s Folk Museum in Cardiff, South Wales. It will be the scene of a grisly murder. Here is another exhibit that will also appear, the Merchant’s House.
The Merchant's House
The Merchant’s House
As Carrie Rubin says — I am lucky to live so near to such places.