Chapter Nineteen of The Gateway (I didn’t want to post this) Anyway, the jokes are good.

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

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

 

I fell in love with this garden. The rose garden at St Fagans Castle
I fell in love with this garden. The rose garden at St Fagans Castle

Nineteen

 

In hindsight people said it was an accident waiting to happen—that it should have been foreseen was without question.

The crew were hard at work emptying the forward cargo hold when Anders and Aidan came on deck the following morning. This hold, being the closest to the bows was the one that had suffered the most damage, boards had sprung in several places allowing water to pour in, ruining a substantial amount of the cargo. Although pumping had kept the water level manageable, wooden packing cases and canvas wrapped bails were still standing in water. A hoist had been rigged directly above the hold and men were removing the very heavy containers. Using slings, these loads were lifted on to the deck prior to transferring them to the dock using the derrick on the wharf. Leash was sat on the coaming supervising the two men below and the team above.

The two boys approached to watch the unusual activity and heard the shout from below that a crate on the hoist had burst open. The contents, which seemed to belong to the captain, were spilling out.

Leash called a halt leaving the crate suspended in its sling about twenty feet above the floor of the hold. Ever the one to take advantage of an opportunity to put Aidan in danger, he said. ‘You, cabin boy, you and your friend better get down there and sort something out before the captain loses his belongings.’

‘I’ll have to see what’s up, salvage what I can, wait here for me I’ll go and have a look,’ said Anders, rushing at once to the ladder down into the hold.

‘Hang on, I’m with you,’ and Aidan trooped after him, both boys still bleary from their late night. If they hadn’t been they may have had second thoughts.

Leash’s eyes gleaming as he watched the boys descend into the chaos below, wondered if this could be it—could this be the chance for which he’d been praying?  Could this be turned into an opportunity to kill the apprentice? Glancing at the very insecure load on the hoist, he smiled, every nerve tingling in his body. On tenterhooks, every muscle humming with tension, he studied every man within sight on deck. Satisfied that his team were taking advantage of the stoppage to skive, he again stared at Aidan.

All he needed was good timing and a bit of luck.

Anders arrived on the floor of the hold and sloshed about thigh deep in the cold water, Aidan a little way behind. Both boys looked up at the broken crate swinging gently above them. The iron straps girding the crate had pulled through the rotten timbers, opening gaps for canvas wrapped bundles to fall through.

‘Some of these are the Bear’s journals, some his spare clothes…God, there’s even a few charts here,’ said Anders, ‘quick, pick them up before the water destroys them.’

Wading around in the dim light, the two boys wandered back and forth beneath the overhanging crate not realizing the danger above them.

Leash, bending over the hatch coaming watching them, bided his time his eyes burning into Aidan’s back. Every muscle in his body was at breaking point with the stress, this time he was going to succeed—he could feel victory in his bones, and he relished the agony that was about to befall his enemy.

Revenge was going to be so sweet, all these years of loneliness and despair, of unutterable grief—all caused by the wanton actions of an old man. Before Tragen had come along life had seemed, if not exactly normal, at least safe and loving. Oh, he’d loved—deeply and passionately and had been loved equally in return. But now he was condemned to eternal damnation, everlasting abandonment and isolation. If only the old wizard had waited—just a few more moments! But it was no good looking back “if” was a big word, a big, useless word. His life now was full of danger, being discovered by law abiding people a perpetual risk. The wizard had doomed him to a hopeless, demonic existence.

No-one else was taking any notice of what was happening in the hold, those men on deck not holding the rope were taking a breather, they didn’t care about the hold-up, it was Leash’s job to control the hoist. The man in the hold who had shouted earlier had his back to the boys and with his mate was busy inspecting another crate in the far corner, preparing it for lifting.

The two boys continued their salvage operation, clambering amongst the cargo, struggling in the brackish water. Leash had to be very careful now; Aidan and Anders were wearing identical shirts and britches—their difference in size indistinct from up on deck. But this didn’t worry Leash; he had not taken his eyes off Aidan for more than half a second the whole time. From the moment Aidan stepped over the coaming and descended the ladder, to watching him retrieve the sodden possessions, Leash, obsessed with retribution, awaited his chance.

But self-preservation was also very important to Leash. If what he was about to do was witnessed by another! He had to check where his team were and what they were doing before he could take advantage of the situation. He hurriedly glanced around; the nearest men on deck had no line of sight into the hold. He looked up into the rigging; the only men aloft were working on the jigger mast farther aft, again he was unobserved. He sighed as mania – and something else – glinted in his eyes, he was satisfied he could do the deed and no-one the wiser.

But in the moments his eyes were off the boys, Aidan and Anders had changed places.

‘All right, you lot,’ Leash ordered the men on the end of the rope, ‘secure the line while they recover the captain’s property.’

Leash held his hand near the rope as if he was preparing to steady the load while the men tied it to the rail. But, as the second helmsman knew, the rope was bound to swing a little, and when it did Leash feigned his grasp on the rope.

Afterwards witnesses, even those who were very wary of him, swore on oath that Leash’s intentions were to halt the movement. But in actual fact, by grasping the rope, Leash caused the load to rock even more—the broken crate shook in the sling and it fell apart.

The contents and the crate fell directly on top of Anders. An iron strap struck the cabin boy across the temple knocking him senseless, and as he fell to the floor his head slid below the water. Debris rained down on him, crushing his body, holding him submerged.

There was pandemonium from above as Leash ordered men below to assist, and in the hold mayhem as Aidan and the two sailors working in amongst the cargo, rushed to Anders’ aid.

Aidan managed to get to him first, and kneeling amongst the wreckage he plunged his hands below the surface and raised his friend’s face clear of the putrid water. Placing his hands either side of Anders’ head, at his temples, he held his friend’s face clear.

Frantic shouts and pounding feet on the deck brought Augusta and Beatrix from their cabin. As they arrived on deck, Trumper shouted up to Locklear on the quarterdeck that one of the boys had been seriously injured. Augusta and Beatrix raced to the hold and, desperate to ascertain the circumstances, pushed crew members out of their way and peered over the coaming into the murkiness below.

‘Who is it? What’s happened?’ Augusta shouted. ‘Will someone please tell me…please?’ She was afraid, mortally afraid that something had happened to Aidan, an icy lump formed in her chest, she could hardly breathe. The fact that her friend Anders could possibly be in danger never even crossed her mind.

Beatrix, pushing around Augusta, grabbed hold of Jason, the ship’s minstrel making his way down the ladder to help. ‘Jason, who is it, tell me please, it’s not Anders is it? Please tell me it’s not, I…’ her voice getting shriller by the minute. She, like Augusta, never thought of the other.

The veteran sailor looked up at her, his face grim, he breathed deeply afraid to tell her. ‘Aye, Miss, it be young Anders,’ and the panic in her face spread, her body trembling from head to foot. ‘A crate fell on him, his body is…his body is beneath the full weight of it, and he’s been knocked unconscious. But the wizard’s boy has saved him from drowning,’ he paused and put his hand over hers. ‘Be brave, Miss,’ he said quietly, and releasing her, he descended the ladder.

‘No!’ She screamed. ‘No! I have to see him, out of my way.’ She charged roughly past another man who was about to climb down. Taking his place, she was quickly followed by Augusta, feeling relieved that Aidan was not the victim and desperate because Anders was.

And as they descended the ladder, Tragen and Locklear arrived both wasting no time in following the girls.

The scene in the hold was a nightmare. Lanterns hung from the deckhead or were held in swaying hands, shedding a wavering light on the two boys in amongst the wooden crates and canvas bails.

Aidan was sitting up to his chest in the water, cradling Anders’ head and shoulders, the boy still unconscious. Water was occasionally lapping at the lower part of Anders’ face, swilling around his mouth whilst men struggled to remove the debris holding his body trapped. Blood, seeping from the cut on his forehead where the strap had hit him, was dripping down over closed eyes.

Beatrix knelt to one side of the boy she adored, and took on the task of mopping the blood from his head with her kerchief, at the same time gripping his hand tightly. With tears running down her face, Augusta, kneeling the other side of him, kneaded Anders’ other hand trying to bring warmth into freezing fingers.

‘Heal him, Aidan, please heal him,’ Beatrix kept repeating over and over, the litany almost hypnotic, tears streaming from her red eyes.

‘Can you, Aidan?’ Augusta asked, as desperate as her companion. ‘You healed Cornelia; you must be able to do the same for Anders,’ and when he didn’t answer, she shouted, despairing. ‘Come on, do something please, don’t just sit there.’

‘Leave him be, girl,’ said Tragen standing over her. ‘That is what he is doing. Look at Aidan’s eyes, he’s not with us…he’s with Anders.’

Silently they watched while Aidan, ignoring all around him, concentrating his whole being on his best friend, palpated Anders’ temples, his lips moving soundlessly. After moments that seemed like hours, the apprentice wizard inhaled sharply and looked up at the people surrounding him. ‘His skull has been fractured and there was bleeding into his brain, it’s sorted now,’ he stared at his stricken friend, her grief and misery almost making the tears flow in his own eyes. ‘Be very careful now not to move him until I’ve checked for crush damage to his body,’ he said to the men around him. ‘Beattie, he’s feeling a lot easier now, honestly.’

‘Remove those timbers gently, boys. We do not want any more accidents to befall him,’ ordered Locklear, the normally impassive man allowing his emotions to get the better of him. ‘I have had the care of my cabin boy, for three years now…I do not want another in his place, yet.’ This was the nearest he had ever come to expressing fond feelings for his nephew.

‘Hey, Aidan, did he nearly say that he liked me, then,’

Aye, I think he means he loves you, you idiot, so don’t…bloody hell you’re mindmelding!’ Aidan exclaimed out loud, utterly shocked. ‘Master, did you hear him?’

‘Yes, I can’t believe it,’ Tragen said, astonished.

Hey, don’t ignore me, you two. Can you hear me, Augusta?

Yes, Anders. Yes! Oh, Anders, how are you feeling?’

Can Beattie hear me?’

‘Can you, Beattie?’ Augusta turned to her.

‘Can I what?’

‘You can’t hear Anders mindmelding, can you?’ Aidan asked.

‘Is that what he’s doing? But he can’t mindmeld, he’s…he’s never been able to,’ and then she realized what it meant. ‘Oh, my God! Ask him if he’s all right, I have to know…please,’ she begged, roughly drying her eyes on her wet sleeve.

‘You ask him, he can hear you even if you can’t hear his answer.’ Aidan looking at her, knowing how desperately she needed to hear him, suffered with her.

‘Tell her I’m feeling a lot better now with that weight off my chest…hell, I could hardly breathe.’

‘Are you in pain?’ Augusta asked aloud, so that Beatrix could hear.

Not so much now. Go on, tell Beattie, I don’t want her to cry anymore,’ said Anders.

‘He’s getting better now, Beattie, he’s giving us orders again,’ and at the doubtful look in her face, Aidan added. ‘Really, he’s in a lot less pain. I’m only keeping him unconscious so that he doesn’t move before I say it’s okay. I’m going to check the rest of him now, once I’ve done that we’ll take him on deck, all right?’

‘He’s going to live…truly?’ Beatrix asked, tears continuing to fall unashamedly.

‘Aye, now leave me alone so I can get on with it.’ Aidan again placed his arms around Anders’ chest, spreading his fingers to cover as much of Anders’ rib cage as possible.

An hour later, Aidan had examined all of Anders’ injuries and had caused the healing to commence in each. Locklear arranged for a board to be placed alongside and Anders was lifted gently and strapped to this. Extreme care was taken in bringing him up from the hold and lowering him gently to the deck alongside the broken mainmast.

Beatrix and Augusta again sat either side of the prone boy holding his hands. Both girls, red eyed from their weeping, now feeling a lot happier with Anders at last in daylight and in the dry. Everyone waited for Aidan’s next move, no-one wanting to leave the cabin boy until he had woken.

And, as the moments passed in silence, Augusta realized that Aidan was not doing anything, making no attempt to wake Anders. She looked up at the boy who had worked so hard to save the life of his best friend—and saw tears streaming down his ashen face.

‘What is it, Aidan?’ Augusta asked softly, very puzzled. Getting no answer from him, she repeated her question. But this time she sensed something she knew she didn’t want to hear. ‘Please, Aidan, please you’re frightening me again,’ and everyone turned to look at him. ‘Aidan what is it? What’s wrong?’ She stood up and moved closer to him. But when she put her arm around his shoulders he shuddered and nearly fell. He leant against her shoulder for a moment and his trembling made her shake.

I want you to wake me, Aidan. I must speak to Beattie, and I want the Bear,’ Anders implored. ‘I know what’s happening to me, Aidan, and I must speak to them now…you know I don’t have long.’

‘What is he talking about?’ Tragen asked softly, foreboding in his mind.

Aidan stared at his master and his friends, catching Locklear’s eye he knew he was about to devastate all those close to Anders. Locklear, the man who looked on his nephew as the son he never had, Beatrix who very clearly adored him, and Augusta, their princess, who had also come to love him as a very close friend. And Tragen—who loved Anders simply because he was Aidan’s closest friend.

Aidan’s voice broke. ‘Master, why are the Gods so cruel?’

Tragen stared at his boy, realizing at last the dreadful outcome. ‘We do not know their purposes, my boy,’ he answered softly. He placed his palm to Aidan’s face and stroked gently, feeling the beginnings of adolescent bristles. ‘Although strange purposes they have without a doubt…some we will come to understand in time, many we will not,’ he continued gently.

Hurry, Aidan, tell them and wake me,’ ordered Anders.

Aidan tore himself from their arms and knelt beside Anders. Placing both his hands over the eyes of the comatose boy he chanted under his breath and Anders awoke.

Aidan, resting back on his haunches, watched as Beatrix, bewildered, smiled through fresh tears. ‘You’re going to be fine, Anders,’ she said, cupping his face in her hands and sniffing. ‘Aidan has healed you, now. Everything’s going to be fine…rest now. Oh, Anders, my love, I was so worried; I thought you were going to die, but you’re going to be all right now,’ and crying, she leant forward and hugged him.

‘Sh! Beattie, no more tears…please.’ Anders said, holding her tight and caressing her back while looking up at Aidan. ‘And you, Aidan…cease your weeping. You know I’ll be safe.’

‘Aye, so you will be.’ Aidan’s voice broke again. ‘But I won’t be with you,’ he moaned and didn’t attempt to hide the tremble wracking his body. Utterly distraught he stared down at his friend, unwilling to take his eyes off Anders’ face.

Tragen knelt alongside him and again put his arm around Aidan to comfort him, the wizard understanding and despairing at his boy’s abject grief.

‘What do you mean?’ Augusta asked a dreadful premonition taking root she also fell to her knees alongside them and reached over to grasp Anders’ hand.

Anders took his eyes from Beatrix for a moment and smiled at his prince’s daughter, a friendly aristocrat…one that saw him and, unlike the others of her class, did not look through him, a friend that he loved dearly. And then he gazed up at the man who he looked upon as a second father, perhaps an even better father than his first—his uncle, the man he had most admired in all of his very short life.

Hugo returned his gaze, mortified he also suspected the dreadful outcome.

‘Uncle Hugo,’ Anders said, taking his hand from Augusta’s and holding it up to grasp Locklear’s.

Locklear, not wanting to believe what he was seeing and hearing, knelt alongside Augusta, tears welling in the big man’s eyes. ‘Ah, Anders, it’s come to this, eh! I’m sorry, my boy, so sorry. We have not had enough time together, have we? I wish there was more.’

‘But the time we have had has been magic. I’ve loved every bit of it, I would not have missed it for anything,’ he paused to take a breath and to hold back on his own tears. ‘I am the luckiest boy ever, to have had a captain such as you. I do love you, Uncle, never forget that!’

‘And I, Anders, I love you…I’ll miss you so much,’ Locklear fought his tears unsuccessfully.

‘What is going on?’ Beatrix shouted desperately, her face ravished she had no more tears to shed. ‘Anders, Aidan has healed you. Why are you talking as if he hasn’t? Stop it! Stop it, now!’

Anders stared into her eyes and grasped her hand even tighter as he brought it to his lips. ‘My dear, Beattie…I love you…there,’ he smiled up at her, ‘I actually found the courage to say it.’

‘Anders…my dear, dear Anders, I love you too, you know that please stop this talk, you’re scaring me!’ Beatrix begged.

The prone boy inhaled deeply and stared into her eyes. ‘My Beattie, you are right, Aidan healed me. He did all that he possibly could, and eventually I would have been as good as new, but…’ he gulped as he looked at the only girl he had ever loved. ‘He could not prolong my life Beattie—my time has come.’

‘No, Anders,’ she giggled hysterically. ‘No, Anders, you’re being silly, stop it, stop talking like this…we have years yet, we’re only young, please…I mean…’

‘Beattie, my only love,’ and he cradled her face in his hands, interrupting her protestations. ‘Beattie, Aidan is not a God however much he wishes it at this time. No, my love, please…promise me…promise me that you will not grieve for too long.’ He stroked her face, losing himself in her eyes. ‘Thank the Gods I’ve had the time to tell you I love you,’ and he kissed her, putting all his pent up emotion in that, their first kiss.

The others looked on silently, in appalling misery.

‘Aidan, there really is nothing to fear, is there?’ Anders asked apprehensively; fear taking momentary hold he glanced quickly at his friend.

‘Nothing at all, Anders, you will be welcomed into Paradise with open arms,’ Aidan replied, still unable to halt his weeping or keep his voice from shaking. ‘I thought we’d always be together, Anders,’ he said, giving in to his despair.

‘Aidan, remember the first day we met? You asked me how long we’d be friends.’ Aidan nodded, unable to speak.

‘Ask me again, Aidan.’

Aidan stared at him not caring who heard him crying. ‘Anders…Anders, how long…how long are we going to be friends?’

‘Forever, Aidan!’ And with that Anders pulled Beatrix to him, held her tightly in his arms and for the second time kissed her.

And breathed his last.

 

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

A teacher wanted to teach her students about self-esteem, so she asked anyone who thought they were stupid to stand up. One kid stood up and the teacher was surprised. She didn’t think anyone would stand up so she asked him, “Why did you stand up?” He answered, “I didn’t want to leave you standing up by yourself.”

 Have a nice day!

 

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 Fifteen of The Gateway and a smile

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

A child asked his father, “How were people born?” So his father said, “Adam and Eve made babies, then their babies became adults and made babies, and so on.” The child then went to his mother, asked her the same question and she told him, “We were monkeys then we evolved to become like we are now.” The child ran back to his father and said, “You lied to me!” His father replied, “No, your mom was talking about her side of the family.”

 

 

A medieval church (St Fagans Castle)
A medieval church
(St Fagans Castle)

Fifteen

 

Aidan was sitting in a chair in Locklear’s cabin his head in his hands nursing a pounding headache, when Beatrix and Augusta arrived. He had breakfasted a little on his usual burgoo and Dolly had sent up some of his sweet biscuits because he had heard of the boy’s trauma. But Aidan couldn’t hide the ravages of the night, he still looked haggard and worn out.

            ‘What now, can’t they leave him be for five minutes?’ Anders asked angrily when Beatrix told Aidan he was wanted. ‘He needs time to get over this,’ and then he realized who was speaking. ‘I’m sorry, Bea, it’s been a long night.’ Aidan was not the only one suffering from lack of sleep. Anders had hardly closed his eyes whilst keeping vigil.idan was sitting in a chair in Locklear’s cabin his head in his hands nursing a pounding headache, when Beatrix and Augusta arrived. He had breakfasted a little on his usual burgoo and Dolly had sent up some of his sweet biscuits because he had heard of the boy’s trauma. But Aidan couldn’t hide the ravages of the night, he still looked haggard and worn out.

‘It’s all right, Anders, I’m fine now. I could do with a breath of fresh air and so could you, come on,’ and Aidan, rising slowly to his feet, pulled Anders along with him.

‘What does he want?’ Aidan asked.

‘I’d rather he told you!’ Beatrix replied smiling nervously.

Augusta said nothing and commenced chewing her lower lip to bits.

Tragen studied his apprentice’s face for the first few moments of him arriving on the quarterdeck and, although worried by what he saw, smiled his welcome.

‘You have recovered a little, I see,’ Tragen said, unable to keep the lie and the concern from his voice.

‘He has not rested enough, Milord,’ Anders interrupted, still angry.

‘Enough, Anders, please? I’m all right; I can’t stay in bed all day.’ Aidan playfully punched Anders’ shoulder and turned to Tragen. ‘What’s up?’

Tragen nervously tugged at his beard. Aidan loved calling on the animals of this world, he found it exciting. And, of course, quite often it was—but not in the way that either of them expected.

‘Um…Aidan…I need to send a message to the prince, with some immediacy now. We have to apprise him of our situation and ask for his aid.’ Tragen swallowed and paused for a moment with fingers crossed beneath the cuffs of his sleeves. ‘We need a bird. What do you think?’

‘Ah,’ Aidan, his headache instantly disappearing, gazed wide-eyed at his master. ‘What sort of bird?’

‘Obviously one that can fly a long way, it’s no good calling a bird that’s going to fall into the ocean halfway home!’ said Tragen, visibly agitated.

‘A seabird then,’ Aidan did state the obvious sometimes. He looked around the horizon with his hands on his hips, ignoring his master’s sarcasm. ‘This is going to take some calling, there’s absolutely nothing in sight. Still…something is bound to turn up.’

‘Aidan, please be careful. We do not need any unwanted creatures appearing.’

‘Master, you’re always the same…have faith in me,’ Aidan admonished. ‘Don’t forget you taught me this, you’ll only have yourself to blame if things go wrong.’

‘I know, I know…may the Gods give me strength,’ and the wizard stepped quickly to the rear to shelter beneath the overhanging poop deck. Locklear followed hurriedly seeing the strangled look on Tragen’s face.

‘Talbot secure the helm and get back here with me,’ ordered Locklear, he didn’t want his chief helmsman hurt. And as Talbot complied, Anders thinking the same as his master, grabbed Beatrix. They both followed until all except Augusta were in comparative safety behind the apprentice.

Augusta remained with Aidan at the front of the quarterdeck. She couldn’t understand why everyone was showing so little trust and was determined to show her loyalty by not leaving his side.

Aidan hadn’t taken a blind bit of notice of anyone moving away and he continued to stare around the empty ocean. ‘We must have a bird that lives off the open sea, not one of the coastal birds. How about a gannet, Master…they’re big and strong?’

‘Whatever you say, Aidan,’ Tragen said, now crossing his toes in his sandals.

Aidan smiled at Augusta as he raised his arms, his fingers spread wide. He closed his eyes and then emitted an ear splitting screech. Augusta jumped in surprise, and closing her eyes in pain, clapped her hands to her ears as did everyone else in earshot. Aidan continued to screech, his voice seeming to stretch over the horizon so powerful was the tone. And then when they all thought they could bear the noise no longer he ceased.

Aidan opened his eyes and stared forward searching the skies ahead and to either side. ‘Damn, nothing yet. I’ll give it a couple of minutes and then try again.’

But a couple of moments later he frowned. ‘That’s strange; it’s gone a bit dark hasn’t it?’ They all opened their eyes to see what he was talking about and stared forward, a shadow seemed to be hanging over the quarterdeck.

Augusta, standing in front of Aidan, and facing him when he started his call, opened her eyes and glanced over his shoulder towards the stern. She immediately fumbled for Aidan’s arm as her body spasmed, her eyes popped in her head and her mouth fell open. The others hiding beneath the poop stared at her, completely baffled by the look of utter panic on her face.

‘Ow, Augusta, you’re hurting me, stop squeezing,’ Aidan said, and then he noticed her face. ‘Hey, what’s wrong…why are you staring like that?’

Because she sees me, human.’

‘What the hell! Who’s mindmelding?’ Aidan said swinging around looking at everyone behind him still hiding beneath the poop deck.

‘What do you mean? Nobody’s mindmelding,’ said Tragen. Seriously worried now, he knew that the expected contrariness of Aidan’s spell-casting had occurred again. Something had gone awry with the calling.

I am not mindmelding, human…only you can hear me.’

‘What the…’ Aidan looked around frantic. Where was the source of this voice, it was near he knew—he could feel it, like something breathing heavily on his neck, he shivered. He looked at the girl beside him. ‘Augusta, do you know…’ and he stopped.

Augusta was standing as rigid as a pole, not moving at all, mouth open, eyes still popping wide and staring—upwards.

‘Augusta what’s the matter, what can you see?’ He turned and followed her gaze…and the breath on his neck was explained. He was utterly lost for words.

I repeat…she sees me, human.’

Resting on the poop deck, directly above the heads of the people sheltering beneath, was the biggest bird he had ever seen in his life. Its body was a lot longer than two tall men and it was extremely fat. It had brilliantly white plumage and appeared to have very long wings folded tight to its body. With black patches at the end of its wings and tail, flesh coloured legs and feet, and smallish black eyes it stared unblinkingly straight at him over a long, hooked, pink beak.

‘Oh boy…oh boy…oh boy,’ Aidan said astounded, returning the bird’s gaze.

Is that all you can say, human?’

‘What is it Aidan?’ Anders asked, venturing forth gingerly to look up on to the poop. It took a few seconds for it to sink in what he was seeing. ‘By the Gods, it can’t be…it’s something out of a story!’

Tell him I am no story,’ ordered the bird.

‘He said to tell you he’s no story, Anders,’ said Aidan, his voice returning accompanied by a look of pure rapture.

Anders looked at his friend bewildered. ‘What do you mean he said…can you speak with him?’

‘Aye, I hear him,’ and he beckoned everyone from the rear of the quarterdeck. ‘Come and have a look,’ he cried, ecstatic he bounced up and down on his toes.

Tragen, Locklear and Talbot looked up and found their faces almost at a level with the bird’s massive webbed feet. Beatrix ran to Augusta just recovering her senses.

‘What is it?’ Augusta asked.

‘It’s a Great Albatross,’ replied Anders, awestruck at the sight.

Tell him I am no Great Albatross, human…I am a Giant Albatross…a Wandering Albatross. There are not many of us left,’ the bird added.

‘Anders, he says he is a giant wandering albatross…’

No human, I am not a giant wandering albatross…I am a Wandering Albatross of the Giant Albatross family! Oh, never mind! Just tell me why you called me,’ he was getting ratty.

‘I’m sorry, albatross; I thought I was calling a gannet to carry a message home.’ All on the quarterdeck were watching and, although listening to a one-sided conversation, somehow still managed to follow what was being said.

Tragen interrupted as Aidan finished speaking. ‘Ask it if it will carry the message, Aidan.’

It…it! Who is that old human calling “it”? Tell him I am male, human, or he’ll feel my beak,’ said the albatross.

Aidan laughed. ‘Ooh, Master, don’t call him an “it”, he is a male bird, and a very angry male bird.’

Tragen looked from Aidan to the albatross. He was now completely mesmerized at the turn events had taken. ‘All right, Aidan. Master Albatross I humbly apologize.’ He bowed low to the bird whilst his companions looked on amazed.

The albatross grunted. ‘Where is the destination of this message?’

‘We wish you to take it to Mantovar, to the prince, if you wouldn’t mind,’ said Aidan.

And what do I get in return?’ The albatross asked staring into the apprentice’s eyes.

Aidan, puzzled, squinted against the sun. ‘What do you get in return…what is it you want?’

I want a voice,’ the albatross stated without any hesitation. ‘You have the power to give me the ability to speak, I see it in you.’

Aidan was struck dumb again and his mouth fell open.

‘What does he want, Aidan?’ Tragen asked staring at him. ‘Tell me.’

Aidan turned to his master, ecstasy alight in his eyes. ‘Watch this all of you,’ he said, peering around to include everyone. ‘Captain, lift me on to the poop I have to touch our new friend.’ Locklear gasped. ‘It’s all right, he won’t hurt me.’ Locklear bent down and Aidan stepped into his hands to be hoisted and deposited at the feet of the giant albatross.

Standing so close Aidan could smell the sea in the albatross’ newly preened feathers, almost taste the fish on the bird’s breath, and admire the razor-edged beak that was lowered to a level with his mouth. The Giant Albatross of the Wandering Albatross family bent its head to get a closer look at Aidan. They stared intently into each other’s eyes. Unlike most animals this bird did not treat a direct stare as offensive—at least, not from Aidan.

As the apprentice stepped closer to touch the bird, the albatross warned. ‘Mind my feet they are not made to be stood on.’

‘Okay, Master Albatross, let’s see what I can do,’ and Aidan placed both his hands around the throat of the giant bird, his fingers stretching to encompass the short temples either side of the bird’s head. Aidan smiled into the small black eyes of the albatross towering over him. Six sets of eyes stared up from below, Beatrix emitting a nervous whimper in the strained silence.

They seemed to stand still forever, the black eyes of the bird gazing into the brown eyes of the boy, its long neck in the boy’s hands. Aidan returning the stare and grinning wide as he sang a very weird sounding chant. Augusta described it later as a sort of sea-weedy, plopping noise. A tremor worked its way through the bird from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail via the curled up webbed toes. And all of a sudden a small lump sprouted in the neck between Aidan’s hands—a prominent Adam’s apple had formed. The albatross opened its beak and yawning wide he nearly knocked Aidan on the head.

‘Thank you,’ he said loud and clear.

His words reached those in the waist, the deck now full of the crew, all of them drawn to this phenomenal bird. A talking bird! No-one would ever believe them back home.

Aidan jumped into the air shaking his arm, giving a loud cheer—and promptly came back to earth landing on the bird’s foot. The bird screamed, his feathers sticking up all over as if they’d been combed the wrong way. He opened his wings and flew straight up, the backdraft knocking Aidan to the deck. He circled once, bringing his webbed foot up close to his underbelly, his toes curling in pain.

‘Ah! You stupid bloody boy…agh…my foot!’ And the bird promptly landed in the ocean alongside the ship and waggled his bruised limb in the water. ‘Ooh, that’s better,’ the bird sighed, closing his eyes, his feathers settling once again.

To say that all who watched were stunned was an understatement. Everyone watched the albatross floating on the sea, its vast wingspan, at least forty feet of it, spread wide and resting on the surface of the ocean.

Aidan was the first to recover. Rising from the deck he rushed to the side of the ship. ‘I’m sorry, honest, it was an accident.’ The bird ignored him as it busily soothed its aching toes.

The others ran to the rail and peered over at the giant bird, their senses in turmoil. ‘Aidan, that bird swore exactly as you do,’ said Augusta, looking up at him. ‘Why does he curse like you?’

‘Because he gave me my voice, little girl,’ said the bird.

‘Who are you calling a little girl, you…’ shouted Augusta taking umbrage, she hated being called little.

‘All right, don’t you dare start arguing, he’s only just learned to speak,’ said Beatrix. ‘Have you a name, Master Albatross?’ She asked formally, the only way she could think of to talk to a bird.

‘I have,’ the albatross replied, ‘but your tongue could never say it. You will have to give me a human name,’ his voice uncannily similar to Aidan’s.

At that chaos reigned all over the ship. Locklear, uncharacteristically allowing excitement to have the upper hand, shouted names at Talbot. Talbot shouted names at Anders, the girls shouted names to everyone, the crew shouting enough to drown out everyone’s suggestions. Tragen, stared at his boy, they were the only quiet ones in amongst the furore.

‘Well, Aidan, you’ve excelled yourself this time, haven’t you?’ He smiled as he helped Aidan down from the poop.

‘He’s lovely, Master, just look at him!’ Aidan was enraptured. ‘He can fly anywhere, and he’s strong enough to fly for weeks.’

‘Yes, but will he carry our message to the prince?’

‘Of course he will. I’ve given him what he’s always wanted. He can speak! Oh yes, he’ll do anything we want.’

‘As long as you don’t stand on my toes again, little wizard,’ shouted the albatross. His hearing was very acute, even managing to hear their conversation above all the hubbub, which he found very strange, for an albatross his hearing had always been poor. ‘Now give me a name…you all have one, I want one.’

The commotion died on the quarterdeck and five faces looked at the two wizards expectantly. There was still bedlam in the waist as the crew, taking heed of the bird’s request, again volunteered names, unfortunately some were rather indecent and those men received a look of utter contempt from the albatross.

‘Why not let the ladies name him, Aidan?’ Tragen suggested.

‘Yeah, well…okay. Augusta you saw him first, got any ideas?’

Augusta stared at the albatross. ‘You are truly a magnificent albatross,’ she told him as she curtsied.

‘Thank you, I agree, there has never been another like me,’ he paused, his expression sad. ‘I dwarf all other albatrosses.’

‘Then you must have a name that suits your stature in the avian world. Give me a moment, please.’ Augusta studied the bird as she sucked her finger in the corner of her mouth. He seemed very depressed at his size, perhaps he was bullied for being so big, she thought. Well she wouldn’t name him anything to do with being a giant. He’d said there were not many of his kind, could she use that? No, she decided—he was the first albatross able to speak; he was then definitely a first amongst his kind.

‘I have it…Ryn! You will be known as Ryn, which means leader.’

‘I accept…now tell me yours,’ ordered Ryn

Augusta glanced quickly at Aidan and Tragen and said. ‘I am called Nellie.’

‘That is not your true name, but if that is what you wish me to call you then I will.’ Ryn gazed at her.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Augusta hurriedly.

‘Well little wizard, I know your true name is Aidan, tell me of this message.’ Ryn chose to ignore her.

‘My master, Lord Tragen, can tell you more,’ and Aidan indicated the wizard.

‘I have written it on parchment, Ryn,’ and he showed the bird the smallish roll in his hand. ‘Can I attach it to you in any way?’

‘You may hang it around my neck, Lord Tragen, and then Aidan can show me my destination.’

‘Show you, how?’ Tragen asked puzzled, descending the ladder into the waist so that he could reach the bird.

‘I can enter Aidan’s mind, so he must picture my route that I may see it through his eyes,’ answered Ryn, swimming closer to the ship to accept Tragen’s missive.

The wizard having made a large loop in the twine tied around the parchment, bent over the rail and dropped the loop over the beak and head so that it slipped down the stretched neck of the bird. When it had settled comfortably against his chest, Ryn ruffled his feathers quickly and the missive disappeared, hidden among the pure white down, he then swam a little farther out from the boat so that he could see Aidan up on the quarterdeck.

‘Are you ready, Ryn,’ asked Aidan, and at the bird’s nod, Aidan closed his eyes and visualized the stars in the sky above Mantovar, the river into Mantovar and the route upriver to the castle.

‘I have it, little wizard, now picture the prince,’ he ordered.

Aidan searched for his princess. ‘Mindmeld with me Augusta, you have a clearer image of your father than I do,’ and he held her hand to maximize contact.

So that’s her real name, why don’t you use it?

That is a long and secret story…too long for now,’ Aidan replied

Very well, I like hearing secrets, tell me when I return.’

You are coming back then?’ Augusta asked.

Yes, but how come you understand me when I am in Aidan’s mind?’ Ryn was puzzled, something more had happened than being given a voice—there were side-effects of the boy’s magic that he couldn’t figure out.

When we mindmeld Aidan and I become one mind…because you are in his, so you are in mine,’ answered Augusta.

‘I go now—I am confused,’ said the Wandering Albatross of the Giant Albatross family as he flexed his wings causing an enormous ripple on the surface of the water. ‘I will see you again in a few weeks.’

And before anyone could say goodbye, he gave two flaps of his enormous wings to gain height and he was airborne, his wings locked in place to enable him to ride the thermals with no strain on his body and soon he was soaring above the three remaining masts and flying northeast.

 

That evening the ship continued to cruise south-westwards in ideal weather conditions, and Augusta commenced her lessons in serious magic. Both she and Aidan were sitting on the poop deck facing aft, their backs resting against the after-jigger. Augusta, her full attention directed on Aidan, listened eagerly as he went through the rudiments of the art.

‘Remember, magic is formed of the mind, along with chanting and hand movements. Sometimes all three are required, on occasion maybe just one or two…depending on the type of spell, the difficulty in creating the spell and the strength of the spell-caster,’ he instructed as they sat side by side cross-legged. ‘The more powerful you are at conjuring dictates how much energy you use—the stronger you are the better. Don’t forget, the more complex the spell is, the greater the energy needed and the more tired you’ll become at the end of it. You understand?’

‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘but you said magic is of the mind, yet I’ve overheard Tragen say that your magic comes from healing…why is mine different to yours?’

‘I don’t know…can you heal?’ Aidan asked.

‘Don’t be silly, you know I can’t.’

‘Right, then we’ll assume your magic is the same as everyone else’s—based on the mind. Shall we continue or are you going to keep interrupting?’

‘One more thing,’ she said nudging him with her elbow, ‘you said that spell-casting burnt up energy, yet you didn’t rest much after creating the spell for drinking-water yesterday, did you? And you seemed a long time creating that one.’

‘A lot of that was theatricals it just seemed longer than it actually was. But I am used to magic and can control my energy usage…besides it was a simple spell. Hopefully by the end of today you’ll be able to conjure water from the air. Wait,’ he said as she went to interrupt, ‘not yet, at the end of the day, I said. Okay, ready?’ She nodded excitedly and he continued. ‘Right, look around you at the sea…and I mean look at all the parts of it.’ As she did, Aidan studied her face checking her concentration and suddenly realized that she was a very pretty girl and not half as horrible as she used to be—in fact he liked her a lot. She turned her head to him and caught him staring.

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing,’ and he looked away embarrassed. And then his heart turned over, he’d have to watch his thoughts, if she mindmelded at an inappropriate moment…’ ‘Close your eyes…now, show me the ocean,’ he mindmelded.

And returning his mindmeld, she showed him her interpretation of the sea.

A bit blurry isn’t it?’

Well, I suppose it is, a bit.’

Okay, open your eyes. You must visualize to the best of all your senses, not just sight but smell, taste, touch and sound. Look at the ocean again,’ Aidan said, ‘and describe it to me.’ The lesson continued in this manner for an hour or more, he describing the meaning of each movement that she made.

‘Stand up and stretch your arms out in front of you. Good,’ he said as Augusta complied, and he rose with her to stand shoulder to shoulder. ‘Now spread your fingers wide, and wiggle them.’

‘Like this?’ And she waved her hands around at the same time.

‘No…careful, you must always think of what you’re going to do before you do it!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well,’ he wondered if she’d remember, ‘I once made a girl’s nose bleed accidentally. She’d upset me and I stuck my finger up to her while I was thinking nasty thoughts. Her nose bled off and on for days…so I heard later.’

‘Ooh, that happened to me once, years ago. I remember going out in the carriage with my father and…it was you! You made my nose bleed…with magic?’

‘I’m sorry, it really was an accident and I’ve never done anything like it since,’ he stared into her eyes as green as the ocean, he liked her eyes. ‘Do you forgive me?’

‘Tell me first how I upset you.’

‘Well…it was my first day in the castle,’ he said remembering the occasion vividly. ‘You were so…so magnificent in that carriage, so beautiful, so much like a dream. I’d never seen anything like you in my life. My mother used to tell me stories of beautiful princesses and their caring, wonderful ways. You captivated me. I’d have done anything just for you to notice me,’ he smiled ruefully. ‘And then when you did, what did you do? You stuck your tongue out at me and shattered the dream. You were still beautiful but…well you still are, but back then I thought you were horrible.’

She returned his stare; he’d called her beautiful and meant it. She felt herself sinking into his eyes and then as the ship lurched slightly, enough to break eye contact, it brought them both back from they knew not where.

‘You mean you can hurt as well as heal?’

‘Aye, but do you forgive me?’ For some reason her answer was very important.

‘Of course I do, but you must also forgive me. I was a thoughtless, spoilt brat then.’

He laughed the relief palpable. ‘I thought you still were.’

‘Aidan!’ And she nudged him even harder as they both laughed. ‘Let’s get back to the magic, okay?’

‘All right, this time I want you to visualize the ocean as a whole, sway your arms to copy the motion of the swell and remember, keep in mind these sensations when your eyes are closed. Now, recall the vibrations of the ocean, not only in your arms but also in your whole body and in your mind. When you are satisfied that you can call up these feelings again, I want you to close your eyes. This time, you will see the ocean as it is not as you think it is. Okay?’

She nodded, her total being absorbed in the task. And then she closed her eyes and Aidan entered her mind to share her enlightened perception. And he was pleased at what he found.

Very good, Augusta,’ he mindmelded, ‘now keep these feelings. Whoa, slow down keep the pace. If you move faster than the present speed of the ocean, then you will cause the sea to move faster, and we’ve had enough of storms to last a lifetime. Now look towards the horizon ahead of you. Do you have the same impressions of the ocean there as here?’

Yes, I have never seen the horizon so clear before.’

In magic most things become clearer. Now you are going to look over the horizon.’

She did not hesitate. She was now facing aft with her arms outstretched waving in front of her and her wrists, hands and fingers making intricate movements in the air. Augusta found it fascinating and felt she was soaring in the skies much as the albatross this afternoon. And thinking of Ryn her mind found him, flying high and straight, his huge wings spread wide and, unlike other birds, his wings not flapping as he rode the air currents. He flew directly away from her.

Do you see him?’ She asked, awestruck.

Aye, practise and you’ll be able to follow him for longer. Now leave him and turn your head. I want you to look around.’

First, she looked to her right and saw nothing but the ocean, she turned and looked left and espied a small squall far off. Then turning her whole body and staring forward of the bows she found a small island.

Aidan!’

I know, keep looking,’ and Aidan cast around for Tragen. ‘Master, can you see the island Augusta has found?

Yes, come away both of you. I’ll be with you shortly…I’ll bring the captain.’

 

Aidan and Augusta waited, Augusta ecstatic that her first real foray into magic had been so successful. She was so happy in fact that sitting alongside him she put her arm through his and held it tight until Tragen called them down onto the quarterdeck.

‘How far away is the island? I estimate a day. Do you agree?’

‘Probably…at the earliest we’ll reach it at lunchtime tomorrow, but we’ll see it well before then, possibly not long after sunrise.’

‘Can you see any details of the place, Tragen?’ Hugo asked.

‘None yet, my friend, we are too far away.’ Turning to Augusta, he added, his satisfaction evident. ‘Well done, Highness,’ and he smiled, ‘the more you practise, the more you will see. We will now leave it until the morning when I hope we will discover more. I want you to stay away from the island until then, we do not wish to alert anyone, unknowingly.’

 

At dawn the following morning, Aidan and his friends arrived on deck to find most of the crew already taking advantage of every observation point, some even straddling the bowsprit. All were facing forward, peering ahead of the bows. Arranging themselves comfortably on the poop deck and sitting with their feet swinging over the forward edge, they found that Tragen and Locklear were standing directly below and just forward of them.

On the horizon ahead was a vertical column of high white cloud in the otherwise clear blue sky. Anders explained that this cloud hovered over a land mass in the midst of the ocean. He added that before long they could expect turbulence in the sea in front of the island as they approached it.

‘What do you think we’ll find there?’ Augusta asked.

‘Nothing much, I fear. It’s not a very large island. It’s probably home to turtles and small rodents, probably terns and gulls are nesting there.’

Just before noon seagulls were flying overhead and details of the island, now only ten or twelve leagues away, were discernible below the hanging cloud. Mid-afternoon saw them in the midst of the turbulence. The ship’s heading was changed to sail south of the island.

‘Well there’s nothing much there wizard, unless you fancy turtle for dinner,’ said Locklear.

‘I have never acquired a taste for that particular mammal, but their eggs are something else,’ Tragen salivated at the thought.

Locklear laughed. ‘We cannot waste this light by tarrying here, my friend. We must wait and see what our new acquaintances will offer us.’

‘If we are welcome,’ said Tragen.

As the island passed on the starboard side, they could see it more clearly. It appeared to be a low hump in the middle of the ocean, a small hill bearing low scrub, prickly pears and the occasional short, sunflower trees. Turtles were slowly plodding across the small white beach, gulls and smaller birds screeching above them.

Rounding the island a vast panorama of other islands appeared, all as smudges on the horizon except for one. Closer to the Grim a huge land mass stretching for leagues across the bows of the ship, grew out of the sea about a day’s sailing away.

‘Hopper,’ shouted the captain across the quarterdeck ‘is that Sanctity?’

‘No, that is Griffin, sir; Sanctity is many leagues farther west again.’

Aidan turned and searched for sign of Sanctity and found instead a darkening of the sea in that direction. ‘What is that on the water, Captain?’

‘I don’t know; have you any idea, Hopper?’

‘I can’t make it out, sir.’

‘How about you, Tragen,’ Locklear asked.

Tragen peered west for what seemed ages. ‘It’s all right; it’s just a large patch of seaweed floating on the surface…wait a minute! That’s strange…it’s just disappeared.’

‘It’s just dropped below the surface, Milord,’ interrupted Anders squinting through narrowed eyes.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Locklear.

‘What I said…it’s still there only you can’t see it.’

‘How can you see it, then,’ Hopper asked, mystified.

‘I’ve always been able to see things that others can’t.’

‘Well, never mind. Are the militia on Griffin likely to bother us, Hopper?’ Locklear asked.

‘I don’t believe so, but perhaps I should explain a bit more about the enmity between the two clans. The Montetors and the Portolans have been at loggerheads for years and I believe we should do all in our power to avoid their quarrel, we don’t want them turning on us,’ replied Hopper staring at the vast island. ‘We’ll need to be constantly aware of the ill-feeling between them, it erupts into violence quite often, or it did when I was here years ago.’

‘Their quarrel, Hopper…can you tell us the reason for it?’ Tragen asked beckoning both the captain and mate to the relative privacy beneath the poop. Unfortunately, this area happened to be directly beneath the four friends now hanging over the edge listening intently.

‘Not the reason, no, but both clans have an arrangement of sorts. Open warfare had not yet been declared then as both sides knew that neither could survive without the other. I have heard rumours of the islands over these last years and nothing seems to have changed. The dispute manifests itself in a series of tit-for-tat incidents.’

‘How do you mean?’ Locklear asked.

‘Well,’ Hopper continued, ‘a particularly nasty incident occurred when I was here. A Montetor drove a wagon of iron ore over the legs of a Portolan dockworker who was calculating the weight of the ore deposited in a ship’s hold. The following day that Montetor driver fell into the harbour off the pier and was crushed between the ship and the wharf.’

‘Of course, both clans insisted that both events were accidents. But I was told later that the dockworker had molested the daughter of the ironworker,’ Hopper took a breather.

‘Then justice was served,’ added the captain.

‘Not quite,’ said Hopper grimacing. ‘The ironworker is reputed to have assaulted the wife of the dockworker a few months previously. And so it goes on, and has done for what must be fifteen or twenty years now. I was here about ten or twelve years ago, and the feud had been running a few years then.’

Hopper paused and stared at his companions. ‘The death of the crushed ironworker was blamed on an itinerant drunken beggar fast asleep some way along the pier. He awoke as the Montetor man screamed and he crawled over to the edge of the wharf to search out the noise. The Portolans found him looking, accused him of attempting to rob the ironworker, and strung him up on the jetty before he could be questioned by anyone else. There is a permanent gibbet on the wharf which serves as a reminder to all. The Portolans are the law on the docks as the Montetors are the law in the hills.’

‘So we have to make certain we are never present at any unpleasantness between these people,’ stated Tragen. ‘Hugo, no-one must be allowed to wander alone on this island.’

‘I agree,’ replied the captain. ‘You eavesdroppers above…do you understand?’

Anders jumped in surprise. ‘Aye, aye sir!’

‘But, Captain, why are we stopping here, the mate has already said there are no suitable trees to supply a new mast?’ Augusta asked, prodding Anders in the side to move him over. Her elbow was becoming a lethal weapon.

‘Highness, we need a variety of other things, metal fastenings, candles, ropes, canvas, food and many other supplies, including fresh drinking water. I do not wish to be drenched again by wizards’ apprentices.’

Locklear moved off smiling to himself, he was getting used to seeing these four young people together—it was as if they were meant to be.

 

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

After Brian proposed to Jill, his father took him to one side. “Son, when I first got married to your mother, the first thing I did when we got home was take off my pants. I gave them to your mother and told her to try them on, which she did. They were huge on her and she said that she couldn’t wear them because they were too large. I said to her, ‘Of course they are too big for you, I wear the pants in this family and I always will.’ Ever since that day, son, we have never had a single problem.” Brian took his dad’s advice and did the same thing to his wife on his wedding night. Then, Jill took off her panties and gave them to Brian. “Try these on,” she said. Brian went along with it and tried them on, but they were far too small. “What’s the point of this? I can’t get into your panties,” said Brian. “Exactly,” Jill replied, “and if you don’t change your attitude, you never will!”

 

 

Have a nice day!

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!

 

Chapter Ten of The Gateway (and a joke or two)

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

A man was driving and saw a truck stalled on the side of the highway that had ten penguins standing next to it. The man pulled over and asked the truck driver if he needed any help. The truck driver replied, “If you can take these penguins to the zoo while I wait for AAA that will be great!” The man agreed and the penguins hopped into the back of his car. Two hours later, the trucker was back on the road again and decided to check on the penguins. He showed up at the zoo and they weren’t there! He headed back into his truck and started driving around the town, looking for any sign of the penguins, the man, or his car. While driving past a movie theater, the truck driver spotted the guy walking out with the ten penguins. The truck driver yelled, “What are you doing? You were supposed to take them to the zoo!” The man replied, “I did and then I had some extra money so I took them to go see a movie.”

 

The winch room atop the portcullis (Castell Coch)
The winch room atop the portcullis (Castell Coch)

 

Ten

 

‘What’s wrong, Anders, you look terrible?’ Beatrix asked, her concern for him unconsciously making her grip his hand harder. They were both in her cabin sitting on the bottom bunk waiting for the other two to bring breakfast. Anders’ face was very drawn, his scruffy clothes even scruffier and he could hardly keep his eyes open. ‘You look as if you’ve been up all night.’

‘I have…I think,’ and he sighed deeply. ‘I haven’t slept much at all,’ staring at her through bleary, red eyes, he went on. ‘Aidan is worrying me silly…I don’t know what’s going on…what’s happening to him, but he’s scaring me bonkers.’ He sat on the edge of the bunk and stared at her hand in his, taking strength from the coolness of it.’What’s wrong, Anders, you look terrible?’ Beatrix asked, her concern for him unconsciously making her grip his hand harder. They were both in her cabin sitting on the bottom bunk waiting for the other two to bring breakfast. Anders’ face was very drawn, his scruffy clothes even scruffier and he could hardly keep his eyes open. ‘You look as if you’ve been up all night.’

‘Why…what’s he done this time?’

Anders looked down at her, admiring her pretty face for a moment, and combed his long hair with the fingers of his other hand, not even contemplating releasing her delicate fingers. His hair was lighter than hers, reflecting the morning light pouring through the porthole. He was desperately anxious and seeing the concern on her face discovered the need to speak of it. Aidan’s nightmares were even more frightening now, and although his friend could not recall their content, they were having a malign effect on him. Aidan, always lean, was looking even thinner, his face paler, the black bags beneath his eyes even more pronounced. Anders sighed; maybe Beatrix would know what to do.

He took a deep breath. ‘Aidan has been talking in his sleep for the last three nights, saying things that puzzled me at first…now they really scare me.’

‘Go on,’ she urged, when he paused showing no signs of continuing, ‘tell me.’

‘Well,’ and he took another deep breath, ‘the first night he woke me, he was talking about someone laughing.’

‘That doesn’t seem very much,’ she frowned.

‘No, but I got the impression it was not pleasant laughter,’ he squeezed her hand. ‘Then night before last, he woke me sounding as if he was threatening somebody. He was shouting about wizards going somewhere. I don’t know where and honestly, the way he spoke sent shivers up my back.’

‘And last night…what happened last night?’ She was afraid to ask seeing Anders tremble, she grasped his hand even tighter in both of hers. ‘Come on tell me, it can’t be that bad, can it…I mean it was only a dream, wasn’t it?’

‘I don’t know,’ he swallowed. ‘He screamed…long and loud. It’s a wonder no-one else heard him; the Bear must have been on deck. He said…he said something about everywhere being red and someone was hurting him.’

‘What was red? Who was hurting him?’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t know, but it frightened him as well as me.’

‘Have you asked him about these dreams?’

‘Aye, all I get is a look that says I’m an idiot. He doesn’t remember a thing, so he says…or perhaps he doesn’t want to remember.’

Silent, anxiety creasing both their faces, she stared down at their hands intertwined in her lap and then realized she was alone in her cabin, holding the hands of the very young man she was besotted with.

She jumped up nervously, their grip lingering until she started pacing the small cabin. ‘Do you think we should tell Lord Tragen? After all, if these aren’t dreams they could very well be portents, they sound like it.’

‘They do? I don’t know…let’s wait, pick our time and both of us tackle Aidan, hey?’

Beatrix nodded as she heard Aidan and Augusta come down the passageway, the sounds of their laughter preceding them.

It had been Augusta’s first ever visit to a ship’s galley and she had been beguiled by Dolphin. She found it a strange name for a funny little man and she had nearly burst out laughing in front of him when Aidan called him “Dolly”, Aidan kicked her just in time. He had then informed her of Dolly’s prowess with a knife and that no man ever ridiculed the cook and survived without being cut. She wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not but looking at the man wielding the ladle she had been fascinated by his enormous belly. It seemed to have a life of its own as it danced about above his rope belt its loops holding assorted knives.

While they had waited their turn, Augusta – pretending to be a maid – peered around into the steamy, hot atmosphere, the closeness of the crew assailing her nose with a variety of not very pleasant smells. The men were at their ease and savouring both the hot food and their brief respite before returning to duty. Now that two masts had been lost, the ship needed an even closer watch kept; no-one would be getting much rest until landfall was made. And they would only rest then once repairs had been made.

As Augusta and Aidan were leaving the galley with the burgoo and tea, Leash watched them from behind a pillar. He was sitting on the deck close to the stove, alone even amongst the crowd. He was sweating because of the radiant heat—he didn’t mind, it was the cold he hated. He stared expressionless but was smiling inside. They were to hump stores from the forward hold that morning; or rather, the men he would be supervising would do the toting while he watched. He had already made sure that bails and casks had been stowed right outside the wizards’ cabin. The opportunity for his plan had presented itself earlier than he expected. All he had to do now was obtain the second sack of food and his scheme would be up and running. There would be no problem planting the evidence.

As Aidan and Augusta negotiated the dark passageway, now obstructed with boxes and sacks, the ship rolled down a steep sea and Aidan banged his shin against a protruding corner.

‘Bloody hell, if I get another bruise I’ll be black and blue all over!’ he complained.

‘Don’t you know you’re not supposed to swear in front of ladies, little wizard,’ laughed Augusta, repeating her companion’s words.

‘I didn’t know there were any ladies present, Nellie,’ he retorted rubbing his leg vigorously.

‘Watch it, boy!’ she threatened, ‘or I’ll kick your other leg, you won’t notice the difference then.’ She laughed and they entered what had now become her cabin as well as Beattie’s. The first thing that struck her was the silence, the second, the strained expressions on the faces of Beatrix and Anders.

‘What’s wrong with you two?’ But before either could answer, Lady Cornelia having been woken by the noise from the passage, shouted through for her breakfast.

‘Ooh! She has no patience that woman…she must get it from you, Augusta,’ said Aidan teasing her.

‘I’m never like that…Beattie, tell him.’

Beatrix didn’t answer but gave a telling look. ‘I’ll take her breakfast in while you share ours out.’

‘Beattie, I’m not like that…’ she shouted bad-temperedly, the boys grinned as Augusta shared out the porridge mumbling all the while. When Beatrix returned, Augusta sat on her bed and stared at Aidan.

‘When are you going to start teaching me?’

‘What? Oh yes, magic…I haven’t forgotten, I’ve been a little preoccupied lately, what with one thing and another,’ he replied, nearly choking as his food went down the wrong way. Augusta slapped his back.

‘Ouch! Don’t hit so hard, will you?’

‘I didn’t…big baby!’

‘You are not teaching her here,’ interrupted Anders, unnerved. ‘Tragen said you’re not to do magic in small rooms, remember?’

‘Okay, I’m not going to…so stop nagging!’ He looked at his friend and grimaced. ‘For some reason I don’t feel up to it today, anyway.’

‘Why is that?’ Beatrix asked, looking pointedly at Anders. ‘You don’t appear well; aren’t you sleeping?’

‘I didn’t last night, I had a…wait a minute, have you been talking, Anders?’

‘I mentioned it, yeah. I’m worried about you. After all it’s not every night I have to listen to my best friend’s nightmares—just the last three!’ Anders stared at Aidan daring him to deny it; he turned and smiled quickly at Beatrix glad that she had brought it out into the open.

‘What are you lot talking about?’ Augusta asked her spoon balanced precariously half way to her mouth.

Beatrix answered. ‘He’s been having dreams…horrible dreams.’

Augusta looked at Aidan a mixture of concern and curiosity on her face. It was then she noticed the drawn, pale look he had about him, the black bags under his eyes looking as if they’d been painted with kohl. Not concentrating on holding her bowl she slopped a little onto the floor as the ship climbed up and over the crest of another high wave. She settled herself in a more comfortable, and safer for everyone, position.

‘Are you having nightmares?’

‘Well, I don’t know about the other nights, but I’m beginning to remember something from last night.’ He paused and rubbed his suddenly sweaty hands on his britches. ‘It was scary. Don’t ask me what…I don’t know myself yet. All I know is, I didn’t like it,’ and he stopped speaking, lying back in his usual position on the bottom bunk.

‘So, you may have been dreaming the other nights and don’t remember.’ Augusta turned to Anders. ‘Tell me about these dreams.’

‘Night terrors, more like it!’ And he did, explaining at the same time that they were getting worse each night. ‘I think Beattie had it right, just now. She said that these may be portents not dreams.’

‘Portents! You mean he’s seeing things in the future?’ Augusta asked, now fascinated, intrigued and more than a little troubled. She thought of the seer she and Beatrix had met once before and come away confused and worried. She turned to look at Aidan on the bed, his arms behind his head. ‘Are you…are you seeing the future?’

He thought for a moment and, bringing his arms forward, he rubbed his eyes. ‘No, I don’t think it is…the future I mean.’ He stared at them blearily and then looked at his feet stretched out before him. ‘I have the feeling that whatever it is, it’s happening as I see it.’

They stared at him uncomprehending. Aidan continued. ‘It’s like a mindmeld Augusta. When you join with me or Tragen it’s in the present…you are seeing and hearing events that are happening at the instant we join.’ He grabbed her hand. ‘When you become more experienced at mindmelding you will get this special feeling. I can’t describe it…it’s a knowing in your head, an acceptance of what the other person understands.’ He squeezed her hand. ‘And that’s the feeling I’m getting, I can’t recall what the dream was, but I can remember the sensation. I was mindmelding with someone—someone who frightens the life out of me.’

They stared at him in silence, all three apprehensive.

‘I thought you couldn’t mindmeld with someone unless they allowed it.’ Anders said, breaking into their thoughts. ‘And if you have, whoever it is will know of you now.’

‘Not necessarily.’ A voice said from the door. Unknowingly Tragen, walking in his usual silent manner, had come to the door and overheard their discussion.

Moving into the cabin accompanied by Lady Cornelia supported on his arm, Tragen repeated. ‘Not necessarily,’ and he added, ‘I believe the same has happened to me. Now, Aidan, if you will kindly get up from there, and you Augusta move over, Lady Cornelia can sit on the end of the bed.’

The lady-in-waiting struggled over to what had once been her bed, and lowering her heavy bulk to sit, she turned to Aidan. ‘Well, my young wizard, my ankle has healed, but I am still a little shaky. I could not stay abed any longer those four walls are playing on my nerves, besides, I would only get crotchety and end up making your lives a misery.’

‘Crotchety, Cornelia…never let anyone dare say that!’ Augusta said, tongue in cheek. ‘You are looking a lot better now, though.’

‘Yes, but I’m afraid you cannot have your cabin returned just yet, my dear. We all feel you have to stay in hiding, at the very least until we reach land.’

Augusta looked up at the wizard standing alongside her. ‘Lord Tragen, can you tell us now all you know…or think you know, as you promised?’ She raised her eyebrows quizzically, reminding everyone present that she was the heir apparent to Mantovar. It was then that Locklear appeared in the doorway looking rested after his long ordeal on deck.

‘Hugo, my friend, it seems that Aidan has been having the same experiences as me. He has mindmelded with the same being, I believe, in his dreams.’

Locklear opened his eyes wide in surprise and gazed at Aidan. ‘Does this mean he is known?’

‘Not necessarily.’ The wizard repeated for a third time. Stroking his beard, he continued. ‘I suppose I had better try and explain the fundamentals of mindmelding, but it is extremely difficult to understand for those who are unaccustomed to the art. But I believe now, as Aidan does, that anyone can use the skill if it is awakened in them.’

He turned to his boy. ‘You know more of the intricacies of the human brain and use plain words better than me…you explain.’

Aidan looked up at the wizard and smiled weakly. ‘Very well, Master. Your brain, Milady,’ he spoke to Lady Cornelia, ‘contains many compartments…like this ship. Many of the compartments are used all the time and remain open, like the galley and that bit of your brain that controls your speech or your sight.’ He stared at his friends, not knowing how to simplify matters so that the uninitiated could understand. This was something that had taken him years of training to come to terms with. ‘Some compartments are only opened now and then; access to the bilges is an example of those, as is the ability to read. But, there are other compartments that are closed…hidden…dark places that only the rats know.’

He looked up as Beatrix gave a small shriek, and he smiled reassuringly. ‘No, Beattie, don’t be afraid, perhaps I’m not explaining things properly…rats also need warm spaces in which to sleep and rear their young.’

‘Are there rats on this ship, Captain?’ asked Augusta, interrupting Aidan’s flow, shivering at the thought of the brown rodents creeping around her cabin while she was sleeping.

‘There are rats on every ship, Highness. But rest easy, they live very low down in the ship…in the bilges, the bottom of the ship, as Aidan says,’ replied Locklear.

‘The secret places in your brain are much the same…warm and comfortable,’ Aidan continued. ‘Although there are other compartments not so nice, but we can speak of those some other time.’

He gazed around at his listeners, their ears seeming to flap; he warmed to his subject. ‘There are many lovely spaces as well that most people don’t know about. Wizards and healers are born with these already opened, and that is why they have magical abilities. All people have the same abilities but can’t use the special ones…the magical ones, because the doors to those particular compartments are closed and always will be. At least I always thought they’d be,’ he glanced at Augusta and wondered…how on earth does she have the ability now?

‘Is that what’s happened to me, Aidan? Is that why I can mindmeld and do magic now?’ Augusta asked him, reading his glance if not his mind.

‘It must be,’ he shrugged his shoulders. ‘Some part of your brain that was previously inaccessible is now no longer blocked and your magical abilities have been freed. Why, I don’t know.’

Beatrix noticed that whenever Aidan spoke of magic, his voice changed and the manner and tone of his speech sounded more mature, as it was now. He sounded years older than he was. Is that what magic does to you, she wondered—make you old before your time.

‘And now I must break the code of wizardry,’ Tragen spoke as Aidan finished. ‘I have to share a secret with you and I ask that you do not divulge it to anyone. It is a fallacy spread by wizards over the centuries that you cannot mindmeld with someone who is not willing,’ he grimaced. ‘Not true! Wizards have hidden this ability for obvious reasons…it comes in very handy if you can be in your enemy’s mind with him completely unaware of it,’ he looked at Locklear. ‘But those wizards of an impeccable nature, those who follow the white arts, never invade the minds of people without their permission, unless they feel threatened for some reason. And we never enter the minds of our friends unbidden. However, there are rogues in any profession, wizards are not unique—we have our dark side, practitioners of the black elements.’ This last comment he stated very firmly, catching the eye of everyone present.

‘But we can and do infiltrate the minds of enemies without them being aware of our presence. And we can do this at any time…awake or sleeping.’ He breathed deeply before continuing. ‘I believe this is what Aidan and I have been doing. Me, when I am awake, Aidan when sleeping. And we have been mindmelding with the same person.’

Aidan stilled at the words, his mouth dry, he had not known for sure that he was mindmelding and didn’t know, of course, that Tragen had been doing the same. The listeners were stunned; knowing their minds were open to any wizard, at any time, and not being able to do anything about it came as a great shock.

Augusta, blushing, turned to Aidan. ‘You have not been in my mind without me knowing, have you?’

‘No, of course not, you’re my friend. Why?’ Aidan asked puzzled, not noticing the colour in her face.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ she said and turned away. God, she thought to herself, I do have to be careful.

Tragen went on with what he was saying. ‘There is only one way of detecting another’s presence in your mind,’ and this captured their attention again. ‘Your sensations can be felt! When you are as one in a mindmeld, you experience the emotions of each other. Therefore, it is very important for us to remember to suppress our feelings when we mindmeld so that the other does not sense us. Only with practise can this be achieved,’ and he looked at Augusta. ‘Take this time to learn with Aidan. You must attain the ability to enter your foe’s mind and at the same time protect your own from all. You are our liege lord’s daughter, our princess…it would not do to have Mantovar’s state secrets divulged to your enemies,’ he said gravely.

Beatrix stared with wide eyes, frightened for her mistress she had not realized how vulnerable Augusta was. She moved closer to Anders, entwining her fingers in his, she felt safer being near him.

 

‘You still haven’t told us why you’re hiding Augusta,’ said Aidan.

‘This young man does not forget anything,’ said Cornelia, smiling.

‘Only when to wash behind his ears,’ Tragen said laughing, the mirth increasing when Aidan automatically put his fingers to his ears to check and then went red as everyone looked at him.

‘Master, enough,’ he said, ‘tell us.’

Tragen became serious again. ‘On that first day of the storm I mindmelded searching for you, Aidan, for you did not reappear from your errand at the mainmast. That was when I made the initial contact. I failed to find you and instead I heard terrible laughter and felt its evil. That same night, Anders heard you mention laughter in your sleep, and he did not like it. Correct, Anders?’ the cabin boy nodded and Tragen moved on. ‘The second day, when I was casting the shield spell, I felt it again. And that time the feeling of malice in the laughter was so great it took me over and I collapsed. I, and the captain, knew at that time that someone was hunting us, and that night you dreamed of wizards going somewhere. But your mindmeld last night of seeing red and it hurting you worries me. I do not know how it fits in. But Captain Locklear, Lady Cornelia and I all agree on one thing. Whoever created this storm is chasing the Grim, and the only motive we can think of is because Augusta is on board.’

‘The storm has abated now and should disappear within the next few hours,’ said Locklear, who had remained silent until now. ‘We seem to have reached the limits of the storm and are now running out of the range of the devil. Hopefully, we can now look forward to a period of calm before we turn for home and possibly meet it again. But if we do encounter this storm or this being again, at least we will now be prepared…and Princess Augusta will be well hidden.’ He summed up. ‘My first priority is to make landfall so we can carry out repairs to the hull and the masts. If we meet this tempest again before these repairs are completed, the Grim is unlikely to survive.’ Locklear turned to leave but halted with his foot over the storm sill when his friend stopped him.

‘A moment, my friend,’ said Tragen, ‘before you go, I must emphasize to our young friends here the need to keep Augusta’s identity secret, her life may very well depend on you. If we do meet this being in the future we do not want any of the crew knowing who she is. The less who know the safer she will be. So enjoy your freedom, Nellie, while you may and remember the lessons that my young apprentice will teach.’ He moved to leave with Locklear, and as he put out his arm to help Lady Cornelia to rise, Beatrix spoke.

‘Wait!’ she shouted, and she reddened when everyone looked at her. Nervously, she said quietly, ‘I’m sorry, but I think there is something you may have missed.’ She gripped Anders’ hand for support; she had never spoken in such a manner to such people of high station before and wondered if they’d believe that a mere companion could possibly have anything of importance to relay. ‘I mean…oh I told these earlier,’ and she indicated her friends, ‘they dismissed it then, but I don’t think we can ignore the possibility any longer,’ she said in a rush, looking down now at her feet and clinging to Anders.

‘What is it, Beatrix? Come, don’t be nervous,’ Tragen smiled at her, ‘believe it or not, we are all friends here.’

She looked up at him, this old, very stately man. The thought of him naming her a friend nearly struck her silent. Then feeling Anders squeeze her hand, she continued. ‘I don’t think this “being” you believe is chasing us,’ with a voice gaining more confidence as she spoke, ‘is behind us…I think he’s in front of us.’

Tragen looked at her puzzled. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘In his mindmeld with the creature, Aidan said that there was not “a wizard going” but there were “wizards coming”. Don’t you understand,’ she said exasperated, ‘“coming” he said, not “going”!’ And at their still puzzled looks, she continued. ‘That storm you assume was created in Mantovar, could it not have been conjured here…on this side of the storm? May not the creator’s intention be to lure us to him, to stop us getting home to Mantovar? And what about Aidan’s third vision, he said everything was “red and hurting”, not necessarily hurting him, it may have meant someone else was hurting and…and he saw it, and…and that is what is waiting for us!’ She finished abruptly and held her breath waiting for their reaction, every bone in her body telling her it was true.

They were going towards the danger not away from it.

Tragen stared silently. Locklear ran his fingers through his black beard, tugging hard, his mouth pursed tightly. Cornelia sitting back down on the bed clasped her hands together and gazed into space thinking of the ramifications. Augusta was scared and wished she could hold Aidan’s hand as Beatrix was holding Anders’.

Aidan felt her fear. ‘Don’t be frightened, Augusta, we’re all here, we’ll look after you,’ he mindmelded comfortingly.

Oh, Aidan, she’s right isn’t she?

‘It never occurred to me but I do believe Beatrix may be correct,’ Tragen broke into their mindmeld and into the heavy silence in the cabin.

Beatrix breathed easier and smiled nervously up at Anders holding her tight, now she would not have to worry on her own.

‘It seems we have a lot more thinking to do, Hugo, Cornelia,’ and he turned to include the lady-in-waiting. ‘Although I do not think we should panic quite yet. Yes, if young Beatrix has it right then whoever is behind the storm has very cleverly hoodwinked us.’

‘And if that’s the case the cessation of the tempest has lulled us into a false sense of security,’ added Locklear.

‘And what’s more important,’ Tragen paused a moment tugging his beard while he thought, ‘it means that I have been discovered. Aidan heard this being talk of a wizard coming and then Aidan threatened him with more than one,’ he paused. ‘It means that I have been identified and it has sought fit to hide the fact from me. Nevertheless, this being has yet to discover Aidan’s presence. Why did he not detect my boy if we both mindmelded with the same creature? That is a puzzle! Anders, you must keep a close watch on Aidan tonight and every night, if anything about him worries you inform me immediately whatever time it is. You are to interrupt me whatever I am doing.’

As each and everyone looked from one to the other, Cornelia said. ‘We must leave each other to our own thoughts and meet again, Tragen. As you say, we do not need to panic yet, and we ought not to make any unreasoned countermoves. If he is enticing us to him, then we must be very careful when we sight land for that may very well be the place this evil being is at.’ She struggled to her feet. ‘Come let us leave it at that for now. And as for you, young Beatrix,’ she smiled, ‘I can’t see you remaining just a lady’s companion for much longer.’

And that really did flummox young Beatrix.

 

After their meeting, the four went up on deck to clear their heads. They avoided the quarterdeck and went up forward on to the foc’s’le. The storm had subsided, the drizzle had stopped and, although the sun had not yet reappeared, it was warm. Tomorrow promised to be a clear day.

The ship’s superstructure was in a chaotic state with broken rigging needing securing some in great need of repair. It was going to be a mammoth job to splice the necessary lines and both broken masts were in a very sorry state, sharp slithers poking to the skies from the tops of the stumps. However, sails could fly on the foremast, jigger and after-jigger and the captain had already ordered them set. Despite the ship’s obvious handicap, the vessel was proceeding at a fair speed, despite the difficulty in controlling the steering. Where the ship was going they were still not sure, the overcast denying them their position.

The four friends settled in the bows staring out to sea. Quiet for the moment, their thoughts on what had transpired in their discussion.

Beatrix, although relieved at having persuaded her companions to her way of thinking, was very troubled at the danger her mistress now found herself in and along with her, of course, all of them were now in serious peril. Moreover, what had Lady Cornelia meant with her parting comment? Beatrix had been trained from a very early age to be Augusta’s companion. Her mother was the princess’ favourite lady-in-waiting and both had grown very close their friendship lasting years. Beatrix was very proud to carry out the same duties for Augusta, although up until these last few days, their relationship had not seemed to be as strong. Beatrix smiled; their friendship had certainly blossomed on this voyage. She continued to contemplate the direction her life had taken recently, her thoughts leading her everywhere, most of them frightening and looking at Anders her heart skipped a beat, her feelings made even less sense where he was concerned.

Anders was a worried young man standing at the rail close to Beatrix. What were they getting into? Aidan’s visions scared him; mindmelding with an evil being took some believing. And Aidan’s actual sightings, of the Gods knew what, really frightened him. He peered around at his friends, silent with their own thoughts. A lump came to his throat, so many friends. He’d only ever been close to Aidan, and like Aidan he’d never had female friends and now, as he glanced at Beatrix, it seemed that he had more than a friend in her. He hoped so. He smiled. What would his six older brothers say to that? Being the youngest in his family had its advantages; his mother always spoiled him. But it had its disadvantages as well, especially when you were fifteen years younger than the next brother. He’d always had to fight for his father’s attentions, and been made to feel slightly inferior to all of them; tolerated was the word. But here he was now, an equal, friends with royalty and wizards; and in love with Beatrix. It must be love, he thought, otherwise he wouldn’t have enormous butterflies in his stomach every time he looked at her. We have to be very, very cautious; I want nothing to harm any of us, he thought. Moving closer to Beatrix and rubbing shoulders with her, they both studied the ocean, each very conscious of the nearness of the other.

Augusta, usually carefree, was now thinking very seriously of what was ahead. All her life she had known that she had enemies and that they would love to deny her Mantovar, some would feel it their duty to kill her. She was used to being in danger and used to having bodyguards. Her parents, and her teachers, had always drummed it into her that she had to be very circumspect when choosing her friends. They should always be from “proper” families, those very loyal to her father. She knew that her future husband would be chosen for her from that clique, probably within the next year. Then her heart flipped, was that the reason for her early recall home? Had her parents decided already? The thought of that made her very miserable. Up until this voyage she had not had second thoughts about being married to someone she didn’t know, it was her duty. But now, and she looked at her friends, she shuddered at all thoughts of betrothal to a stranger. She sighed and stared over the rail at a dolphin swimming nearby. Look at me now, the only real friends I have ever had are these three – a lady’s companion, a cabin boy and a wizard’s apprentice – hardly members of a “proper” family, except for Beatrix of course. These three would be more loyal to her and far better friends than any members of the aristocracy of Mantovar, or those of Drakka. She felt safe with these despite the unknown enemy chasing her. And then she smiled, she was now a wizard, she had the ability to mindmeld and do magic. She would be the first ever monarch to practise the magic arts, could she also be the first ever monarch to choose her own husband? Then another thought made her anxious; would a wizard be allowed the throne, someone had tried once before and failed.

Aidan on the other hand was nervous. A responsibility unlooked for had fallen on his young shoulders. He had to teach a member of the monarchy the intricacies of mindmelding and of magic. He was under no illusion as to the complications of this course of action. The prince would be astonished that his daughter had the ability; suspicious as to how she had acquired the art and mistrustful of this young apprentice teaching her how to use it. He would not like his daughter falling under the influence of a wizard even though his best friend was one. There were many in the principality, and indeed the empire, dubious of the powers held by these mysterious people. Wizards, and in some cases Adepts, although welcomed in many places, were always treated with extreme caution. Indeed, in the case of the Guild of the Brethren of Wisdom, a mysterious sect of black sorcerers based in the south of Drakka, fear was the ruling factor—ordinary people avoided them like the plague. He looked around at his companions and marvelled. He had only ever had one friend before – Anders – but now he had three. He smiled, regardless of all that was ahead he was happier than he had ever been before in his young life.

 

Leash watched them from his position at the helm. He also was happy. He had hidden the contraband sack of food in the wizard’s cabin. Looking back it had been so easy. His task of toting provisions from the forward hold and stacking them in the dry, in the passenger corridor, had given him the opportunity. When Tragen and the others had been in the maid’s cabin that morning, he had stolen the food from that in the passageway. He had then secreted it under the boy’s clothing in the trunk behind the door of the wizard’s cabin. He had not even had to rush, there had been nobody around to see him enter or leave the berth. Now, when everyone was starving, as they all would be in the next week or so, he would arrange for its discovery. He smiled, it would be the end of the boy – the crew would be hard-pressed not to lynch him – and the wizard would be gutted. Leash only had to wait.

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

A child asked his father, “How were people born?” So his father said, “Adam and Eve made babies, then their babies became adults and made babies, and so on.” The child then went to his mother, asked her the same question and she told him, “We were monkeys then we evolved to become like we are now.” The child ran back to his father and said, “You lied to me!” His father replied, “No, your mom was talking about her side of the family.”

 

Have a nice day!