There are advantages to short-term memory loss

A gripping read, thoroughly enjoyable.
A gripping read, thoroughly enjoyable.
I am 67 years of age and know all about this…I think…I’m not sure. Never mind at my age I’m entitled to forget a few things although I never forget my family..they never allow me to! My employer takes the michael out of me on occasion when I forget the names of lorry drivers, he forgets that I meet roughly sixty drivers a day and they’re not all the same ones…I don’t think so anyway.

Anyhow, I can recall events and people from years ago…very strange, mind you some of them were very odd. I was one of four graduates who passed from junior school to grammar school at the age of 11 and I’ll never forget how I was informed of the result of the examination. My form teacher stood up in front of the class of about forty of us and told everyone the names of the first three and then he came to me. I quote “and surprise upon surprise Philip Cook as also passed” unquote. I lived with that statement for the next five years as it was often thrown up at me in the playground by unfeeling fellow pupils. I often wonder if that statement was the cause of my late development for looking back on it I recall now what the teachers were trying to instill in me. Gawd! there was one maths teacher, my first in that school and his first appointment I believe, he couldn’t teach me x-squared. That truly was a horrendous time.

But enough of the negativity and let’s get back to the title. Can there possibly be an advantage to short-term memory loss? I mean apart from “forgetting” the wife’s birthday (it doesn’t damage your pocket quite as much as she always tells me never mind). Now, I’m a writer, at least I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say it, an author of three books with a fourth on the way. However, I am an avid reader as is my wife. I cannot sit down and watch normal television, all these reality programmes drive me up the wall. I do, however, watch dvds…box sets of British TV detectives and British comedies, sorry America! I also watch and have a fine collection of fantasy films, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. But my true love is reading. Hence the picture above of the latest book I’ve read for the second time (and there will be a third).

And because I suffer short-term memory loss I can read and read again the same books over and over. Why? Because I’ve probably forgotten the plot from the first time around. It’s lovely reading and reading…and reading…it’s magic!

New cover for ‘I CANNOT KILL!’

ICK Cover 2ndAt last I’ve chosen the new cover. I hope you like it. This is the link to its spot in Amazon although the paperback cover shown won’t change until next week – the Kindle copy has.

 

I don’t know why this didn’t appear on my first post!

© Fotokostic | Dreamstime.com – Dragon Rider Photo

 

 

img085This is the old one! A bit boring, hey?

My fantasy trilogy on youtube

c/o dreamstime.com Castle of Mantovar
c/o dreamstime.com
Castle of Mantovar
c/o dreamstime.com Is he a nice guy or a bad one? You'll have to read the trilogy to find out.
c/o dreamstime.com
Is he a nice guy or a bad one? You’ll have to read the trilogy to find out.

Just playing about I, with the help of you tube video creator, came up with a short (very short) video of my three books. Nobody was more surprised than me when it came out looking like this!  see it at https://youtu.be/3dInq2xaDgg It is entitled ‘fantasy trilogy the search’.

Chapter Seventeen of The Gateway (and a laugh or two).

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

A blonde and a redhead have a ranch. They have just lost their bull. The women need to buy another, but only have $500. The redhead tells the blonde, “I will go to the market and see if I can find one for under that amount. If I can, I will send you a telegram.” She goes to the market and finds one for $499. Having only one dollar left, she goes to the telegraph office and finds out that it costs one dollar per word. She is stumped on how to tell the blonde to bring the truck and trailer. Finally, she tells the telegraph operator to send the word “comfortable.” Skeptical, the operator asks, “How will she know to come with the trailer from just that word?” The redhead replies, “She’s a blonde so she reads slow: ‘Come for ta bull.'”

 

 

EPSON MFP image

Does anyone else think this is Johnny Depp? I purchased the image from dreamstime.com who have assured me it is not  and consequently I have used it as the cover on my second book. I’m still a little apprehensive though!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen

At dusk, Aidan and Augusta stood at the head of the brow watching the invited guests descend to the wharf.

Several ships had been forced to move and berth at the shorter jetties to make room for the giant ship. This had taken time and the hours had been utilized to bring up a whole flotilla of small boats to push the Grim alongside the wharf.  There had been no shortage of help from the dockworkers—all it seemed wished to have hands on in securing the biggest ship they would ever see in their lives.t dusk, Aidan and Augusta stood at the head of the brow watching the invited guests descend to the wharf.

A closed carriage pulled by four powerful, jet black horses their long manes curled with red ribbons, had drawn up on the quayside at precisely the time the first dog watch ended at six o’clock. The coachman climbed down and held the door ajar for Tragen to assist his niece to climb the steps.

Lady Cornelia, her broken ankle healed completely, and still not quite believing that the ‘old sickness’ in her bones had also disappeared, was determined to enjoy the rigours of being conveyed in a horse drawn vehicle—an experience that previously would have resulted in a shattered spine. She fairly loped into the carriage, grinning widely, although being a very large woman she slumped heavily onto the seat, the leaf springs groaning as she did. Tragen glanced quickly back up at Aidan and Augusta and winked reassuringly.

Locklear paused and shook Hopper’s hand before climbing the few steps onto the brow. ‘Beware of all not of the Grim and keep a double watch posted until I return. No stranger is to come aboard unless they have my written permission.’ Glancing at Augusta standing nearby, he continued. ‘You know whose safety is paramount. If it comes to a choice…you know which one to make.’

‘Sir, if I may keep you a moment. When I was here before it was common knowledge that the seneschal never entertained in company with his son. In fact he never ever introduced his boy to anyone. The seneschal’s wife died giving him birth and something about that time has been hidden, her death was unusual—maybe even unnatural. I cannot think of any reason that the subject should crop up in conversation, but if it does…beware.’

Locklear paused for a moment, thinking on his words. ‘Are you saying that there was something strange about the boy, that he was deliberately hidden from sight?’

‘Aye, sir,’ the mate nodded.

‘Thank you, Hopper; I will heed your advice.’ Locklear descended the brow as the bo’sun’s mate shrilled the captain’s salute on his pipe.

Hopper, Aidan and Augusta watched in silence as the carriage sped into motion, the coat of arms on the door shining bright, the captain ensconced inside with the wizard and the lady-in-waiting. The two servants, Anders and Beatrix, riding up on the hind seat waved across to them as the coach disappeared around a corner of a long, black warehouse.

‘This is going to be the worst part, Aidan,’ Augusta looked at her companion with mixed emotions, ‘waiting.’

Subdued, he stared at her. ‘Everyone is worried for your safety, Augusta, everyone. How can you bear to live the way you do knowing that people wish you harm?’

Augusta shrugged. ‘I grew up with it…I’m used to it,’ and she added, ‘I try never to think on it. You’ve learned to live with the fact that wizards are never trusted, haven’t you? So, come on, cheer up and teach me some more magic.’

She put her arm through his and dragged him to the poop deck to await the return of their friends. She was determined to take full advantage of this opportunity of being alone with him, to find out a little more of his life—and perhaps his family.

 

The carriage wound through narrow backstreets over the cobblestones between warehouses, shoddy dockworkers’ homes and even grubbier taverns. Beatrix couldn’t help but compare the quality of the many buildings. The warehouses seemed well cared for, but the houses and the inns this near the waterfront, were definitely not. The slum dwellings, some three and four storeys high, tumbled against each other, each needing the support of the next to remain upright. Each roof of the wooden dwellings leant precariously toward its neighbour across the street blocking out overhead sunlight, giving rise to suspicious shadowed niches and sordid alleys. And yet most had washing lines strung from eave to eave across the road.

But the deeper into the town they travelled, so the buildings improved and they discovered a seemliness that displayed an exotic affluence. The occasional house painted in bright cheerful colours, others with sturdy frontages. And, although smelling sometimes overwhelmingly at intersections, the sewers were covered, the drains disappearing below ground.

The town behind the docks was far larger than it appeared from the sea and was far more prosperous away from the seafront. Long, wide thoroughfares crossed each other at odd intervals, giving glimpses of richer homes and cleaner shops. The coach rattled on its way passing through large open squares home to ornamental fountains and small trees, some having benches for the local residents to take their ease.

Anders, who had found it strange that four horses had been needed to pull the coach, discovered the reason before long. The carriage progressed along the first of many steep winding roads through the richer end of the town, leading to the plateau above. Here the style of dwellings changed from one house to the next, no two the same, showing a difference in cultures, denizens from many other countries had settled in Griffin Town. Some even had small gardens planted with dogs tooth violets, nicotiana and orange calendula, with roses climbing the whitewashed fronts, dazzling in daylight.

Beatrix sitting on the swaying seat above and behind the passengers was looking forward to bringing Aidan and Augusta with them on the morrow. It was going to be fun exploring the town, all four together. But the exotica she espied in the shop windows would require a large purse, excitement already making her stomach churn. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Anders. Would he accept a gift?

From her vantage point she watched as the townspeople went about their business, not all the inhabitants were poor dockworkers. Beatrix identified professional people wearing silk stockings and wide brimmed hats, married women wearing bonnets carrying parasols and rush baskets in their hands, and well-dressed children running about between the coaches and street stalls as youngsters did everywhere. The overall impression was of the well-to-do businessman in the western end of the town, with the poverty stricken dockworker mainly in the east, and in between the hard-working artisans upon which every commercial venture relied.

‘Much like towns in Mantovar,’ said Anders.

‘Yes, smells different though,’ replied Beatrix, ‘but, have you noticed, not many people are smiling?’

‘They do seem a bit glum, don’t they?’

The horses eventually reached the crest of the last slope and picked up speed across the headland above the harbour. The view out over the sea was magnificent even at dusk. The lights of the town sparkled, their brilliance mingling with the lights displayed on the many ships and boats at anchor, alongside the jetties and out in the bay. The beacon, though, illuminating the rocks below, outshone all from the eastern headland directly across the lagoon from their destination.

The home of Seneschal Portolan and his family was set in a large country estate, a high timber fence running for leagues around fields and woods. The wheels of the coach hummed along on the well-kept scarlet maple- and white poplar-lined avenue leading to the home estate. Uniformed sentries, standing at several vantage points along the winding driveway, watched the visitors’ progress. These were hard men, well-armed with swords, crossbows and even large cudgels.

The home estate stood behind ten-foot high stone walls which abutted onto dense woods growing at the rear of the house. Through the woods ran a high fence patrolled at intervals by militiamen. The iron-gated entrance in the south wall opened onto a circular drive leading up to the main building, a large three-storey structure built of blocks of grey stone. Several chimneys stood proudly in line along its roof, one or two spouting black smoke almost invisible in the growing dusk. The front of the house boasted three lines of windows all fitted with glass and showing light. A narrow road led around to the rear of the house, presumably to the stables and servants quarters. A covered portico at the front led up a flight of steps to a set of heavy mahogany double-doors, and these were swung open to greet the visitors as the carriage drew to a halt.

A footman ran to open the carriage door and to unfold the steps for the passengers to descend. Anders and Beatrix were motioned down by the coachman and they stood at the rear awaiting further orders. Both were a little nervous, Anders more so as he had never attended a function such as this before. But Beatrix used his lack of experience as an excuse to hold his hand—Anders didn’t mind.

Three people walked through the high doors to welcome their guests. Seneschal Portolan, although hatless, was resplendent in full uniform sporting a red cummerbund stretched very tightly across his ample waist.

Standing alongside him was a young, overweight boy with shoulder length brown hair. Taller than the harbourmaster, he looked about the same age as Anders and Beatrix. He was wearing tight dark-blue trousers to the knee, long white socks disappearing into black shoes with silver buckles, a white shirt ruffled at the neck and frilled at the wrists. Over all, he wore a coat of black watered silk again embroidered with the Griffin coat of arms. The whole magnificent effect somewhat marred by the vacant expression on the boy’s face. His blue eyes stared straight ahead, seeing nothing.

The third person, a woman standing behind the boy giving the impression that she was the boy’s bodyguard – which in reality she was – looked to be in her forties, small and motherly. Dressed a little dowdier than her companions she had an air of authority that the visitors only understood later.

Locklear, resplendent in his dark-blue Mantovarian uniform, minus his sword, etiquette barring guests from wearing arms in their host’s home, descended the coach first followed by Tragen wearing a green robe, his staff in hand. The wizard turned back to the carriage to assist Lady Cornelia as she alighted. She was dressed in the height of fashion, a long green and white gown with a diamond necklace at her throat.

The seneschal stepped forward extending his hand to the wizard. ‘Welcome, Lord Tragen, to my home,’ he said, looking around the wizard, unable to take his eyes from Cornelia. ‘This must be your lovely niece,’ he said, strangely tense as he turned to her. Taking her hand he bowed over it.

‘This is indeed my niece, Seneschal,’ Tragen was somewhat surprised by the affect the lady-in-waiting seemed to have on the harbourmaster. ‘Allow me to introduce Lady Cornelia.’

‘It is years since this house welcomed such a beautiful lady, I am honoured.’ He turned to Locklear, reluctantly releasing his hold on Cornelia’s hand. ‘Ah, Captain Locklear you also are welcome of course. Please allow me to introduce my son, Thaddeus.’

Cornelia, nearly losing her composure with the unexpected compliment, joined Tragen and Locklear in staring at the young boy. Tragen made to shake his hand—to have it completely ignored; the boy continued looking ahead as if he saw no-one in front of him.

‘Unfortunately, Lord Tragen, Thaddeus has a medical problem. He has been unwell since his birth and is in constant need of care. This is supplied by me and his nurse, Mistress Barbat,’ he indicated the third member of the welcoming party. ‘Nevertheless, Thaddeus always joins me for dinner and I see no reason to exclude him this evening.’ The harbourmaster gazed at his guests, his hard eyes daring them to contest his decision.

‘Of course he must,’ Cornelia replied. ‘It is an honour for us to meet him, and what an apt name to give him. You know its meaning of course, Uncle?’ Tragen shook his head. ‘It means “gift of the Gods” does it not, Seneschal Portolan? A lovely name, for a lovely young man,’ and the large woman strode to the boy’s side and took his arm in hers. There was no reaction at all from Thaddeus as he automatically accompanied Cornelia indoors.

Lodovico Portolan watched bemused, his response a picture of unremitting pleasure he was unable to cease smiling, his eyes softening as he followed Cornelia whose whole attention was now taken up by the boy.

All six moved into the main entrance hall of the house and ascended the dark oak-lined main staircase winding up from the left immediately behind the front doors.

Beatrix and Anders, of course, were not allowed to follow them up the main stairs and instead were taken to the right, through a side door into the kitchen. A small boy sat to the side of the fire turning a spit, roasting the huge joint of lamb suspended in the oval basket, fat dripping and spitting in the flames. The smell made Anders’ mouth water and he earned a nudge from Beatrix as he licked his lips in appreciation. The cook/housekeeper, a miserable looking woman with a perpetual scowl on her face, led them on through another door recessed in the corner, into the servants’ hall. Here they were told in no uncertain terms that they were to help carry the hot food up the side stairs directly into the banqueting hall.

Beatrix was surprised, as the servants of guests they also should have been treated as guests in the servants’ hall. Nevertheless, she was used to seeing deplorable treatment of servants in big houses and she took it in her stride. She smiled at Anders encouragingly before he was tempted to complain.

‘Tragen was right,’ Anders whispered as they carried the hot soup tureens up the narrow stairs. ‘I could never see Augusta putting up with being spoken to like that!’

‘Quiet on the stairs!’ the cook shouted from below.

Anders poked his tongue out and made a face nearly making Beatrix drop the tureen as she struggled not to laugh.

 

‘That man you mentioned before, the Abbot of Sentinel, tell me about him,’ asked Aidan, ‘I only ever saw him now and then, and that was at a distance.’

Augusta shivered and settled herself more comfortably alongside him in their favourite place on the poop deck, the lights on the after-jigger shining down on them. Hopper was below on the quarterdeck, standing at the forward rail, his head continually turning, both to watch the activities on land and the business of the ship. The crew had been refused shore leave until the captain returned with more knowledge of the situation in the port. They went about their duties glancing occasionally up at the quarterdeck or over on the quayside, sharing the mate’s apprehension.

‘He’s head of the monastery on Sentinel,’ replied Augusta quietly, ‘you know that island in the estuary of the river Mantovar. He’s a tyrant. He rules the monks with a rod of iron; they aren’t even allowed to talk with anyone outside the order. Abbot Cumbria’s eyes are much the same as Seneschal Portolan’s…cold and calculating,’ she paused and bit at her bottom lip. ‘The abbot’s tall and very thin, he’s bald, his cheekbones are almost sharp and they protrude alarmingly and he sneers all the time. But it’s his eyes…they really are horrible.’ She shuddered and leant a little nearer Aidan, nudging his shoulder. ‘Perhaps I do Seneschal Portolan a disservice by likening his cold eyes to the abbot’s. The seneschal is clearly a hard man but I don’t think he’s cruel; Cumbria is—he is brutal. I’ve managed to avoid him most of my life, only meeting him once or twice a year when my duties forced me to.’

Aidan put his arm around her comforting, her distress obvious. ‘Where did he come from?’

‘No-one is quite sure, some say from Drakka, others from the east…I mean from the far side of the Scissor Mountains. One man I know said he was from Enzore in the southern mountains in Qula, but I don’t think he’s from there, everyone I’ve ever met from Enzore has been pleasant…Cumbria is certainly not. One or two whisper that he’s from the north, but they won’t say how far north.’ She trembled again and Aidan held her closer.

‘If he’s that terrifying why did your father appoint him,’ Aidan asked, puzzled.

‘I don’t know,’ Augusta shrugged and turned her face to look at him and as she did her hair brushed his mouth.

They both swiftly became aware of how close she was being held and they separated a little, embarrassed. Aidan removed his arm from her shoulders and clasped his hands in his lap to halt the small tremor in his fingers. He had butterflies in his stomach, his feelings in turmoil he stared up at the headland, his master’s destination. Augusta smiled to herself, she well knew the effect she was having on him, and then she realized he was having the same effect on her.

‘The Abbot of Sentinel very rarely comes to the castle; he spends his time at the monastery when he’s not travelling. When he does attend on my father it is always at night. The little I’ve met him makes me want to scream, those eyes of his…when he stares at me my skin crawls. I don’t want to cross him.’ Augusta sucked her finger in the corner of her mouth for a moment and then continued. ‘You know something I don’t think my father knows where the abbot is from. He turned up about twenty years ago, I believe, and has led the monks ever since.’ She fell silent.

‘Now it’s your turn,’ she said, changing the subject, she didn’t want to think of the abbot any more. ‘Tell me of your family,’ and she nudged him playfully, ‘and why you don’t know your age.’

Aidan looked at her, her sparkling green eyes enticing; he smiled apprehensively, would she think less of him? It was no good lying to her she’d see through him straight away and anyway he didn’t want to be untruthful. All her friends were of the aristocracy and would say what she wanted to hear, he didn’t want such an obsequious relationship. But it was only the accident of having magical ability that would elevate him to the peerage when he finished his training—or when Tragen died. He shivered; he didn’t want to even think on that. But he had still come from abject poverty and if Tragen hadn’t found him he would probably still be living in the gutter. Would she think any the less of him if he told her? He knew her opinion of him mattered a great deal.

Thinking of the wizard he closed his eyes and thought back to the day he had first met his mentor. He’d been one small member of a gang of orphaned children in the large town of Miskim, a border settlement way to the north of Castle Mantovar. It had grown up on the edge of the Great Forest, in the foothills of the Scissor Mountains, the eastern border of the principality. The market town was frequented by travellers from all points of the compass, by mountain men and plainsmen as well as the local farmers and drovers.

Occasionally a lone mystic ended up in the town after journeying many hundreds of leagues, not one of them knowing the reason for their visit, eventually leaving the town sometimes weeks later, confused and somehow bereft.

Aidan had lived on his wits and his unusual abilities. He’d no clear idea then how long his life had consisted of stealing from stallholders, running from irate innkeepers and sleeping rough in smelly hovels. Not that any so-called “victim” wished to punish him, for he had healing hands even though he was accident prone. People thanked the God, Tarria, for any encounter with him—once they’d cleaned up his mess.

But it had been a year after his mother died when Tragen caught him.

Aidan smiled. He remembered his mother as a warm, comfortable feeling, her long black hair smelling of lavender, always falling across his face when she cuddled him. Although he could no longer picture her face in his mind the fact did not seem to bother him. She had met her end after leaving him playing in the small lean-to they shared adjacent to The Scourge, an ancient tavern, across the road from the Moot Hall. His mother had been an enchantress of small ability, a hedge-witch usually employed to charm warts and other minor, unsightly disfigurements. She had gone to ply her trade in the local market and had never returned. His father he had never known although he vaguely remembered a light-haired man.

His life had changed dramatically when the old wizard caught him red-handed using magic to make a large, florid-faced man look the other way so that he could steal one of the newly baked pies off the stall in front of one of the only two bakeries in the town.

He didn’t know he’d used magic. All he did was wave his hands about and sing and, lo and behold, he appeared invisible to the stallholder—or so he thought.

But he was still visible to the wizard. Tragen had seized him, and instead of turning him over to the village watchmen – who unknown to Tragen would have released him anyway, it being an unspoken agreement in the town that the boy should always be kept fed and clothed – he had purchased two of the large and very hot meat pies, one for himself and one for the small boy.

But he had been cautious. As young as he was then, he had learned to run from strangers, especially strange men. But he was also insatiably curious and very hungry. He had never seen a wizard before let alone actually converse with one. And the man did look very funny in his long green robe and strange pointed hat, its brim ragged and flopping down around his face. With a long white beard that he had to keep flinging over his shoulder whilst eating – a ludicrous habit that had fascinated him and even now ten years later still brought a smile to his face – he and the old man had sat together on a bench in a corner of the main square. He had listened to the wizard’s proposal as the succulent, thick gravy dripped down his chin, ending up splattering his already dirty, ragged clothes. And after a long discussion, and another pie, he’d agreed to apprentice to the wizard.

He was too young to realize what he was getting into, of course. He had never heard of apprenticeships and did not understand what they entailed. But at the promise of regular food and a warm bed, he thought he’d give it a try. Why not, if he didn’t like it he could always leave.

But the watchmen had been called by concerned citizens and they would not allow him to leave until Tragen had satisfied them of his motives…a fact that had surprised the wizard no end. There were many damp eyes watching the boy walk the road south.

‘Aidan? What is it?’ Augusta asked.

He breathed deeply and told her all of it.

His words shocked her, she’d had no idea. She stared at him, coming to understand now why he was so different to other boys she’d met.

‘Tell me more of your mother?’

Aidan smiled; he always did when he thought of her. ‘My mother was lovely…and warm and kind and always smelled of flowers,’ he paused, staring into space.

‘Go on…can you tell me what happened to her or would you rather not talk of it?’ Augusta asked apprehensively, staring at his face she realized how very handsome he was even though he needed a shave.

‘It’s all right, it’s just I don’t know…I think she was murdered.’

‘Murdered! Good God, Aidan,’ and she put her arm through his and held him tight. ‘How? I mean…I don’t want to know,’ she squeezed his arm against her and held his hand. ‘Your father, do you know anything of him?’

‘Only what my mother told me. For some reason she always cried when she talked about him. I remember that because I asked her once why she was always sad when I asked. She told me he was ill and that it was her fault. I asked her where he was, because if he was ill he should be in bed. She said he had to stay away from us because of the nature of the disease, I never understood that at the time. But I’ve thought it over many times since, and it could only have been some sort of highly infectious ailment, you know, like the plague,’ he paused as she squeezed his arm again, comforting him. ‘She loved him very much, though, everyone used to tell me they were joined at the hip…I’m not sure what they meant by that.’ Why was he telling her all this? He’d never told anyone before.

‘Why was it her fault that he was ill?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ Aidan stared off into space. ‘But she said something else which makes me think it may not have been the plague.’

‘What was that?’

‘Something very strange…she said his illness made him forget me.’

Augusta was shocked, staring at him she didn’t know what to think. ‘What ailment makes you forget your son?’

‘I don’t know. Anyway, I went to live with Tragen, when I was five, I think.’

‘So, little wizard, you come of age next year the same as me.’

‘I suppose so, what difference it’ll make, though, I don’t know. Tragen allows me to make most decisions that affect me, already. It’s only where magic is concerned that he treats me like a kid.’

‘You love him, don’t you?’

‘Of course I do…he’s my dada, not that one back in Miskim.’

‘Do you think he’s dead?’

‘He has to be. I know there were plague victims dropping dead about then. We used to come across their bodies when we were hiding from the watchmen.’

She shivered at that and changed the subject again. ‘Tell me about the storm. It must have been a very powerful wizard to create it. Why couldn’t Tragen counteract it with his own spell of calming?’

‘He wanted to, I think, but he realized the storm was far too great. So he decided to use a different spell…the shield. But he had to use his staff to aid him, and even that wasn’t enough. It could not protect him fully as you saw when he fell; neither could it calm the storm sufficiently. To create a tempest that vast, several sorcerers must have combined the power of their staffs. Tragen and his staff alone were not enough to beat them. And…and the more I think on it…’ he paused, frowning, ‘the more I think on it convinces me that he should not have been able to block the storm as he did.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s almost as if he was allowed to succeed—and that’s what I meant to tell Tragen before he left.’

Augusta scared even more by this knowledge, held on to Aidan’s hand tighter as they watched the sun go down.

For some reason he could not understand, Aidan was very happy then…just sitting there, arm in arm, her hand in his.

 

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

Teacher: “Which book has helped you the most in your life?”
Student: “My father’s check book!”

Have a nice day!

Chapter Thirteen of The Gateway (and a popular joke or two)

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

A husband and wife are trying to set up a new password for their computer. The husband puts, “Mypenis,” and the wife falls on the ground laughing because on the screen it says, “Error. Not long enough.”

 

Could this be Lord Tragen choosing a Christmas present?
Could this be Lord Tragen choosing a Christmas present? c/o dreamstime.com

 

Thirteen

 

On the quarterdeck, Locklear paced slowly. It was a beautiful evening, the skies clear, an abundance of stars beginning to show, the moon waxing. A gentle breeze was blowing just enough for the Grim to make headway. Cruising weather Locklear thought as he looked over his ship, a ship silent except for the occasional creak of a board or a wave lapping the hull. The storm was now far behind them and he mused on its aftermath, studying the splintered ends of the broken masts reflecting the moonlight he hoped for luck in finding replacements. But Locklear took heart from what Hopper had said earlier, there were plenty of trees on Sanctity, he prayed there’d be no trouble acquiring them. With the weather now settled, on the morrow after Tragen had filled the water barrels, he would have Trumper rig a jury mast to increase speed.

Below, in Cornelia’s cabin, Tragen was again keeping the lady company, drinking tea that he had conjured from empty air. It still tasted fresher than tea from the galley, he thought, and Cornelia seemed to be enjoying it. The porthole was open and the light evening breeze stirred the air.

‘You truly believe that Augusta has been given the gifts of wizardry?’ Cornelia asked, worriedly.

‘I do.’

‘Well, I honestly don’t know what her mother and father will think of that. How could it possibly have happened?’

Tragen shrugged and settled himself more comfortably in a chair that he had also conjured from thin air as there had only been one in the cabin.

‘It is a complete mystery to me. It has never been known before for a wizard’s abilities to suddenly appear like this—I’m completely baffled. I just hope that Aidan doesn’t go overboard in his teaching of the art. They both appear to have the same sense of, how shall I put it…delicacy in handling sensitive matters?’

‘I agree, Tragen, they are both rapscallions,’ she chuckled. ‘So we make for the Griffin Islands,’ said Cornelia, holding a flower-patterned mug of tea in her hands.

‘We have no choice I’m afraid. You know of the Onyx Isles, we could never come near there with you and Augusta aboard. The ship would founder if we attempted to return to Mantovar through the storm. I have already made it clear to Hugo that I will foil any attempt to head straight north to reach the frozen wastes and follow the coast around to Mantovar. Without masts we would find it increasingly difficult to make the voyage to Drakka and it would be pointless, anyway, as we would in all probability encounter the storm again on leaving.’ He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. ‘I only hope we recognize the enemy when we meet him in Griffin.’

‘You believe Beatrix to be correct in her assumption then?’

‘Yes, unfortunately,’ he paused and sipped his tea. ‘I am very glad that young lady accompanies us for, I admit, I knew that the storm had been created to stop us entering Mantovar but it had not occurred to me that the storm’s purpose was also to entice us to his lair.’

‘She is a very able young woman, that one. Mind you, the princess speaks very highly of her mother. In fact Dotrice is suspected of being the princess’s chief advisor…in an unofficial capacity of course.’

‘Along with you!’

Cornelia blushed and changed the subject. ‘Have you estimated how long it will be before we reach home?’

‘No, at this time I have absolutely no idea, and that worries me. I have to find some way of informing the prince of what has transpired and that for now his daughter is safe and well.’ Tragen stretched his back, taking care that he did not spill his tea. ‘I could attempt to use a gull, of course, when one appears. However, they are not very dependable as they do not like flying more than ten or fifteen leagues from their nests, and we are hundreds of leagues from home. I think I will have to seek my young apprentice’s advice.’

‘You heed a lot of his advice?’ Cornelia enquired smiling fondly; the more she knew of the boy the more she was falling under his spell.

‘Yes,’ and he laughed, ‘at least some of his advice. In many respects, he is a normal, mischievous, lovable rascal with a heart greater than any I have ever known! However, he has an odd knowledge of the spirit world far more than I will ever know. Perhaps that is why he is of the opinion that it is his bounden duty to heal anyone suffering and I do mean anyone. I believe he would heal the hurts of his enemies without them asking.’

He rose from his chair. ‘Well we have plenty to think on tonight, Cornelia, and I shall leave you now. Sleep well, Milady,’ he said as he left.

‘Goodnight to you, my friend,’ Cornelia uttered quietly as Tragen closed the door behind him.

In Anders’ cabin, the two boys lay sleeping, silent except for the slight nasal noises Anders was making as he slept on his back. It was another night without a vision.

 

The next morning was glorious. A scorcher of a day in the offing as the sun crept up the sky. There was very little cloud cover, just feathers of high cirrus floating in the azure sky, the smell of ozone permeating the light breeze invigorating the senses. The Grim was carrying all possible sail on its three remaining masts and the ship glided slowly but purposefully south-westwards on the long swell of the Great Deep.

Collecting breakfast from the galley, Dolly informed Aidan and Anders in no uncertain terms that he was depending on them to ensure the galley barrels were full of ‘proper’ drinking water. What the cook meant by “proper” was anyone’s guess, but it would make a change to cook with water devoid of stench. He also gave Anders a long throwing knife called an anelace, and told him to practise with it. In answer to Beattie’s quizzical look, Anders told her he had a natural talent for the weapon, so Dolly said.

There was an air of suppressed excitement on board. Magic was well known throughout the empire but no one ever saw it often. This morning the Grim was preparing to witness another conjuration, the third in less than a week. This spell was not to be as spectacular as the shield enchantment, and not many people had seen the repairing of the stormsail but judging by the number of people already on deck, a lot more would watch this demonstration.

Leash again took his post at the helm, relieving Talbot at the end of his morning watch. The second helmsman still scheming, his eyes red-rimmed with lack of sleep, was determined that before the week was out the boy would be dead one way or another. He was holding together with great difficulty, wilder and riskier scenarios running through his head he could not take his eyes from Aidan. Caution was needed now, if he lost control of himself then his secret would be divulged and he would be a dead man in Purgatory, the wizard would see to that. But there was something about the boy, something was niggling in the back of his mind. The more he stared at the apprentice the more Aidan reminded him of someone, but of whom he couldn’t recall.

‘Nellie’ and Beatrix had carried out their duties for ‘Princess Augusta’ and left her consuming her inevitable pot of tea, musing at the way Augusta was settling in to her role as a companion and maid. Augusta was enjoying every minute of her new distractions despite the fact that she was worrying about the chore promised for later that day. Beatrix had earmarked it as their laundry day. She wanted to wash their clothes – their very dirty clothes – in suds, in a tub on deck. Aidan had promised to supervise her endeavours and only laugh occasionally. Augusta cursed. Meanwhile Anders was attempting to cajole Beatrix into doing his mountain of washing and was not succeeding at all well, but he was full of hope.

The girls, impatient for Tragen to arrive, were rebuffed by Aidan refusing to wake the wizard.

‘No way, Tragen is evil in the mornings. We’ll let him come around all by himself, thank you,’ he said, ‘and stop throwing that knife around, you’re making me nervous, Anders.’

‘Don’t be daft, little wizard. Dolly told me to practise the techniques he showed me…that man is really something with a knife,’ said Anders admiringly. Squinting through his blue eyes, he took another aim at the barrel at the foot of the mainmast, and carried on throwing the narrow bladed anelace.

‘Take care, Anders, you said last night that you won’t allow Aidan to heal you so please do not take out your eye, or mine,’ said Augusta, flinching.

‘Well, I think he’s pretty good with it,’ said Beatrix, though she did tend to lean away from him.

Just then, Trumper arrived. ‘Mind it you lot, you’re standing right in the place we’re stacking the casks.’ With that, half a dozen men trundled up rolling the water barrels, wooden, metal-hooped vessels of various sizes, colours and odours. One of the middling sized ones Beatrix recognized as always standing in the passageway outside her cabin door. She used it often and had noticed earlier that day that the residue in the bottom was beginning to pong.

They leant against the rail staring out to sea comfortable with their friendship. They were able now to remain silent in each other’s company without feeling anxiety, having no need to make small talk. The morning drifted by as they do at sea in the tropics, quietly and slowly, tension seeping away as they watched the gently swelling ocean. The day gradually getting warmer, the breeze soothing their nerves and lulling their senses, the storm already receding into their subconscious.

‘We’re having a party tonight, Dolly’s providing his special pies and Jason and some others are going to sing,’ Anders said, interrupting their thoughts, but not the sound of the occasional thud of the dagger as it sank into the timber of the broken mainmast.

‘Oh, I’ve never attended an entertainment on board a ship before,’ said Augusta.

‘Neither have I,’ added Beatrix. ‘What are Dolly’s “special” pies?’

‘Ah well, no-one seems to know and no-one has the courage to ask him, but he’s been seen messing about with rotten apples and old pork,’ answered Anders.

‘Ugh!’ both girls said in unison.

‘Jason…isn’t he that tall, blond, good-looking fellow?’ asked Augusta.

‘Oh, I don’t know about good-looking,’ replied Aidan feeling slightly peeved. ‘He’s a fair singer though and Anders and me, we’re going to dance.’

Augusta laughed. ‘Dance! I can’t imagine you two dancing a minuet around the deck.’

Anders nearly choked. ‘A minuet! We don’t dance all stiff with our noses in the air like you do, we do proper dancing…like the hornpipe.’

Augusta, slightly abashed at her gaffe, recovered quickly and glancing mischievously at Beatrix said. ‘I’ve heard of that…isn’t that the one where you do a lot of jumping on the spot waving your arms in the air?’

Anders was speechless, he was proud of his dancing. ‘Jumping…jumping…I’ll have you know…’ Just then, there was a flurry of activity from the quarterdeck and the captain came into the waist accompanied at last by Tragen.

‘Well, ladies and gentlemen,’ Tragen said, as if announcing an entertainment in front of gentry. ‘Welcome to one and all.’ He bowed with an elaborate flourish, the voluminous sleeves of his green robe flapping like a chicken held up by its legs, he grinned at all who caught his eye. Tragen may be an old aristocrat but he loved acting the troubadour, thought Aidan, joining his teacher at the stump of the mainmast.

‘Ah, Aidan, you are ready?’ Tragen asked, waving his arms and continuing to play to his audience.

‘Oh, yes, Master. I await your bidding,’ and Aidan, aping his mentor and bowing with an equally graceful flourish, beamed at all those around and about.

The crew were in high good humour, happily talking loudly, clapping hands, whistling and cheering in appreciation. For a long time the crew had been battling the fiercest tempest they were ever likely to meet and they were worn out, recovering from a nightmare. Despair had been commonplace amongst them for the long days and nights of the storm and now they had to look forward to even longer days and nights of hard, gruelling work sailing a five-masted ship with only three poles.

They needed light entertainment now to raise their morale. Tragen knew this, as did Locklear, and the wizard was fully prepared to perform outlandishly in order to fulfil their needs.

Aidan, of course, knew his master was in one of his playful moods and he was prepared to follow Tragen’s lead—up to a point! He recalled the last occasion his master had been this jolly—he had ended up the butt of Tragen’s jokes. This time he was going to get his own back, in front of everyone, and he grinned.

‘Form a circle my friends,’ Tragen commanded. And after much shuffling and juggling for position a circle he got, though a somewhat erratic one. Tragen, his dark green robe signifying he was a master wizard, stood in the centre his hand on Aidan’s shoulder. Silently he looked around at his audience and awaited their full attention.

‘Look at Aidan, Augusta! Look at him, that boy is shaming us; look at the state of his clothes! We must wash them later, we just have to,’ Beatrix whispered as Augusta paled, Anders smiled he’d got out of doing his laundry.

Augusta shut her eyes, pain on her face. ‘They’re boys, Beattie, boys…they’re always dirty they’re supposed to be. Sh! Let’s watch.’

Tragen continued. ‘A cask if you please! Thank you my good man,’ and he stepped aside as Jason rolled the first barrel into place and upended it in front of the two performers.

‘Wonderful, wonderful,’ said the wizard, prodding Jason in the nether regions with his staff as the unfortunate sailor turned his back. The crew roared.

Jason rubbed his backside ruefully and jostled his mates as he settled again to watch the goings-on.

Tragen entered into his full patter. ‘Now, here you see an empty cask,’ and he pointed with his staff. ‘But, gentlemen, you know and I know that an empty cask is no good to any man—unless, of course, you’re drowning,’ and he winked. ‘So…we had better fill it. Aidan, kindly give us a tinkle, please,’ he ordered.

‘I beg your pardon,’ Aidan couldn’t help it, he blushed, he was going to have to bear the brunt again he knew it. The crew fell about.

‘I could do with a tinkle myself,’ a voice shouted out from the back.

Tragen looked towards the voice and intoned. ‘Beware all ye who require tinkles, for once this miracle of enchantment begins, a fair torrent may flow…and not just into this barrel.’

‘By the Gods, out of my way I need the heads,’ Nkosi, panicking, shoved through his laughing mates and ran from the circle.

Augusta looking puzzled turned to Anders. ‘What is the matter with that man, and whose head does he need?’

Beatrix leant across, and grinning, whispered into her ear. ‘The heads is a sailor’s term for latrine.’

‘Oh,’ she paused, still looking puzzled. ‘Then why did the men laugh when Tragen asked Aidan for a tinkle?’

Beatrix stared at her, saying nothing. Anders nearly bit his tongue trying to stifle his laughter.

Augusta was nonplussed until comprehension swiftly dawned on her. Shocked, she put her hands to her scarlet face and turned back to watch the two clowns at the stump of the mast.

‘Come on, my lad. Have you forgotten how to tinkle?’ Tragen asked.

Aidan looked at him and if looks could kill Tragen was dead a thousand times. Just wait master, just wait! The apprentice raised his right arm and moved his fingers and wrist in a disjointed pattern. As he did the air in front of him thickened and darkened. Everyone ceased laughing and gazed at the boy, watching his every move. Aidan continued his gyrations and moved his hand over the empty cask. The air grew even thicker and Aidan commenced his singing.

Augusta, watching him, recognized the excitement and the love of magic shining in his eyes and heard it in his voice; he had a lovely voice, she could listen to it for hours. The magic gripped her. Ever since she had held the light she had felt such a yearning, it was agonizing to watch magic and yet not have the knowledge to use it safely. She needed to be part of this and was determined that things would be different at the next show, whether Tragen liked it or not—next time she was going to take part.

Aidan continued to sing and the audience, not quite knowing what to expect, eagerly watched his every move.

Anders, who had seen this spell often, was still intrigued at the interplay between his friend and his friend’s master. Grinning, he saw it was not going to go quite the way Aidan expected and, what’s more, it would not go quite the way Tragen imagined either and he gleefully awaited the outcome.

Augusta sat spellbound; she had never experienced anything like this. The visiting magicians to the Court of Mantovar never performed their arts in a jocular manner, they were far too serious. She gripped Beattie’s hand, not taking her eyes from the spectacle, loving every minute of her friend’s antics—she was so very proud of him.

Tragen, his long white beard trailing below his waist, stood tall alongside his shorter protégé and watched as Aidan’s enchantment released a spot of water no bigger than a raindrop, from the air in front of him. The first drop of water was followed by a second and then a third, the flow akin to rainwater dripping from the eaves of a roof at the end of a short shower.

Tragen looked around at his enthralled audience, spreading his arms wide he turned to his apprentice. ‘Is that the greatest tinkle you can manage, Aidan? Strain boy…strain!’ Laughter erupted again.

Aidan looked up at him, and grimacing he sang louder relishing his revenge. The flow of water now increased to a steady, if slow, trickle.

‘Well, gentlemen, there you see a boy’s tinkle,’ the wizard smiled. ‘Now I will show you a man’s,’ and lifting his staff he pointed the knuckle at the stream of water gently falling from thin air. Tragen broke into a song that was very similar to Aidan’s, but far stronger and deeper. And it had the desired effect. The gentle stream transformed into a veritable inundation as a ray of light shot from the staff and hit the flow. The waterspout poured into the cask, filling it to overflowing within minutes. The crew watched silently, completely bewitched. All of a sudden laughter erupted at the slight problem unforeseen by both the old wizard and the young.

When the water first cascaded into the barrel, Aidan had been rather slow in moving out of the way. The first outpouring drenched him to the skin.

‘Oh, bloody hell, Master, be careful will you,’ shouted the soaking wet apprentice.

‘Tch, tch, Aidan, you should not swear in front of ladies,’ shouted Augusta before she could stop herself.

Aidan made up his mind it was now or never, his turn for some fun now. ‘Master, we need more casks quickly. Shall I stop the water while we change barrels or shall I divert the flow instead?’

Tragen, loving the situation he had created, shouted over the roar of the spouting water, not thinking for a moment of the consequences. ‘Divert of course, Aidan, divert it, there’s no need to stop it there are plenty of barrels yet.’

Anders watched an evil gleam appear on Aidan’s face, looking at the girls nervously, he warned. ‘Watch out you two, he’s up to something,’

Augusta and Beatrix, surprised, glanced at Anders quickly and then studied Aidan as the apprentice took over the chanting. The tempo of the song changed to a slower, lighter sound.

Tragen walked in a circle around his apprentice, humming to himself and bowing to his audience and every now and then dancing a little jig his back to Aidan, completely oblivious to what was happening behind him.

The stream of water, ceasing to pour into the full cask, curled upwards as Aidan sang. The spout of water formed a u-shape in mid-air. Utterly bemused some noticed a strange, manic gleam on Aidan’s face and they wondered. Fidgeting nervously, the noise diminishing, they glanced at each other, instinctively knowing that something untoward was happening.

Tragen, not detecting any difference in their manner, carried on acknowledging their reducing applause.

The end of the waterspout quickly reached a level with the outpouring from the air and then recommenced following the laws of gravity. The heavy gush of water again fell.

Tragen turned at that moment finally becoming aware of the strange behaviour of his audience, frowning he stared at Aidan,

And the water fell—smack bang on the top of Tragen’s head.

There was appalled silence, men watching astounded as the water, pouring on the wizard like a river, soaked him to the skin.

Beatrix, mortified, grabbed Anders’ hand. Aidan had really done it this time, there was no way he was going to talk himself out of this.

Augusta stared at Aidan controlling the flow of the water. His face was a picture as he stood with his arm outstretched grinning delightedly at the dumbfounded wizard. The young apprentice was wreaking his sweet revenge with crazy delight. For a moment Augusta did nothing as she looked from a soaking wet apprentice to a soaking wet wizard. Then, unable to maintain self-control over the complete absurdity of what she was witnessing, she laughed and it bubbled from her. Standing up, she lost her balance and slipped on the water sweeping across the deck. She fell to the floor and slid along the boards coming up against Tragen’s legs, knocking him to the deck alongside her.

Locklear chuckled loudly and deeply until Aidan, with the devil fully entrenched, pointed his curled fingers at the captain and saturated him next with the deluge. And then there was absolute pandemonium as Aidan, spinning in a circle the spout of water following him, aimed the water into the audience and commenced drowning everyone in sight.

 

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

The teacher asked Jimmy, “Why is your cat at school today Jimmy?” Jimmy replied crying, “Because I heard my daddy tell my mommy, ‘I am going to eat that p*ssy once Jimmy leaves for school today!'”

 

Have a nice day!

 

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!