Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
In hindsight people said it was an accident waiting to happen—that it should have been foreseen was without question.
The crew were hard at work emptying the forward cargo hold when Anders and Aidan came on deck the following morning. This hold, being the closest to the bows was the one that had suffered the most damage, boards had sprung in several places allowing water to pour in, ruining a substantial amount of the cargo. Although pumping had kept the water level manageable, wooden packing cases and canvas wrapped bails were still standing in water. A hoist had been rigged directly above the hold and men were removing the very heavy containers. Using slings, these loads were lifted on to the deck prior to transferring them to the dock using the derrick on the wharf. Leash was sat on the coaming supervising the two men below and the team above.
The two boys approached to watch the unusual activity and heard the shout from below that a crate on the hoist had burst open. The contents, which seemed to belong to the captain, were spilling out.
Leash called a halt leaving the crate suspended in its sling about twenty feet above the floor of the hold. Ever the one to take advantage of an opportunity to put Aidan in danger, he said. ‘You, cabin boy, you and your friend better get down there and sort something out before the captain loses his belongings.’
‘I’ll have to see what’s up, salvage what I can, wait here for me I’ll go and have a look,’ said Anders, rushing at once to the ladder down into the hold.
‘Hang on, I’m with you,’ and Aidan trooped after him, both boys still bleary from their late night. If they hadn’t been they may have had second thoughts.
Leash’s eyes gleaming as he watched the boys descend into the chaos below, wondered if this could be it—could this be the chance for which he’d been praying? Could this be turned into an opportunity to kill the apprentice? Glancing at the very insecure load on the hoist, he smiled, every nerve tingling in his body. On tenterhooks, every muscle humming with tension, he studied every man within sight on deck. Satisfied that his team were taking advantage of the stoppage to skive, he again stared at Aidan.
All he needed was good timing and a bit of luck.
Anders arrived on the floor of the hold and sloshed about thigh deep in the cold water, Aidan a little way behind. Both boys looked up at the broken crate swinging gently above them. The iron straps girding the crate had pulled through the rotten timbers, opening gaps for canvas wrapped bundles to fall through.
‘Some of these are the Bear’s journals, some his spare clothes…God, there’s even a few charts here,’ said Anders, ‘quick, pick them up before the water destroys them.’
Wading around in the dim light, the two boys wandered back and forth beneath the overhanging crate not realizing the danger above them.
Leash, bending over the hatch coaming watching them, bided his time his eyes burning into Aidan’s back. Every muscle in his body was at breaking point with the stress, this time he was going to succeed—he could feel victory in his bones, and he relished the agony that was about to befall his enemy.
Revenge was going to be so sweet, all these years of loneliness and despair, of unutterable grief—all caused by the wanton actions of an old man. Before Tragen had come along life had seemed, if not exactly normal, at least safe and loving. Oh, he’d loved—deeply and passionately and had been loved equally in return. But now he was condemned to eternal damnation, everlasting abandonment and isolation. If only the old wizard had waited—just a few more moments! But it was no good looking back “if” was a big word, a big, useless word. His life now was full of danger, being discovered by law abiding people a perpetual risk. The wizard had doomed him to a hopeless, demonic existence.
No-one else was taking any notice of what was happening in the hold, those men on deck not holding the rope were taking a breather, they didn’t care about the hold-up, it was Leash’s job to control the hoist. The man in the hold who had shouted earlier had his back to the boys and with his mate was busy inspecting another crate in the far corner, preparing it for lifting.
The two boys continued their salvage operation, clambering amongst the cargo, struggling in the brackish water. Leash had to be very careful now; Aidan and Anders were wearing identical shirts and britches—their difference in size indistinct from up on deck. But this didn’t worry Leash; he had not taken his eyes off Aidan for more than half a second the whole time. From the moment Aidan stepped over the coaming and descended the ladder, to watching him retrieve the sodden possessions, Leash, obsessed with retribution, awaited his chance.
But self-preservation was also very important to Leash. If what he was about to do was witnessed by another! He had to check where his team were and what they were doing before he could take advantage of the situation. He hurriedly glanced around; the nearest men on deck had no line of sight into the hold. He looked up into the rigging; the only men aloft were working on the jigger mast farther aft, again he was unobserved. He sighed as mania – and something else – glinted in his eyes, he was satisfied he could do the deed and no-one the wiser.
But in the moments his eyes were off the boys, Aidan and Anders had changed places.
‘All right, you lot,’ Leash ordered the men on the end of the rope, ‘secure the line while they recover the captain’s property.’
Leash held his hand near the rope as if he was preparing to steady the load while the men tied it to the rail. But, as the second helmsman knew, the rope was bound to swing a little, and when it did Leash feigned his grasp on the rope.
Afterwards witnesses, even those who were very wary of him, swore on oath that Leash’s intentions were to halt the movement. But in actual fact, by grasping the rope, Leash caused the load to rock even more—the broken crate shook in the sling and it fell apart.
The contents and the crate fell directly on top of Anders. An iron strap struck the cabin boy across the temple knocking him senseless, and as he fell to the floor his head slid below the water. Debris rained down on him, crushing his body, holding him submerged.
There was pandemonium from above as Leash ordered men below to assist, and in the hold mayhem as Aidan and the two sailors working in amongst the cargo, rushed to Anders’ aid.
Aidan managed to get to him first, and kneeling amongst the wreckage he plunged his hands below the surface and raised his friend’s face clear of the putrid water. Placing his hands either side of Anders’ head, at his temples, he held his friend’s face clear.
Frantic shouts and pounding feet on the deck brought Augusta and Beatrix from their cabin. As they arrived on deck, Trumper shouted up to Locklear on the quarterdeck that one of the boys had been seriously injured. Augusta and Beatrix raced to the hold and, desperate to ascertain the circumstances, pushed crew members out of their way and peered over the coaming into the murkiness below.
‘Who is it? What’s happened?’ Augusta shouted. ‘Will someone please tell me…please?’ She was afraid, mortally afraid that something had happened to Aidan, an icy lump formed in her chest, she could hardly breathe. The fact that her friend Anders could possibly be in danger never even crossed her mind.
Beatrix, pushing around Augusta, grabbed hold of Jason, the ship’s minstrel making his way down the ladder to help. ‘Jason, who is it, tell me please, it’s not Anders is it? Please tell me it’s not, I…’ her voice getting shriller by the minute. She, like Augusta, never thought of the other.
The veteran sailor looked up at her, his face grim, he breathed deeply afraid to tell her. ‘Aye, Miss, it be young Anders,’ and the panic in her face spread, her body trembling from head to foot. ‘A crate fell on him, his body is…his body is beneath the full weight of it, and he’s been knocked unconscious. But the wizard’s boy has saved him from drowning,’ he paused and put his hand over hers. ‘Be brave, Miss,’ he said quietly, and releasing her, he descended the ladder.
‘No!’ She screamed. ‘No! I have to see him, out of my way.’ She charged roughly past another man who was about to climb down. Taking his place, she was quickly followed by Augusta, feeling relieved that Aidan was not the victim and desperate because Anders was.
And as they descended the ladder, Tragen and Locklear arrived both wasting no time in following the girls.
The scene in the hold was a nightmare. Lanterns hung from the deckhead or were held in swaying hands, shedding a wavering light on the two boys in amongst the wooden crates and canvas bails.
Aidan was sitting up to his chest in the water, cradling Anders’ head and shoulders, the boy still unconscious. Water was occasionally lapping at the lower part of Anders’ face, swilling around his mouth whilst men struggled to remove the debris holding his body trapped. Blood, seeping from the cut on his forehead where the strap had hit him, was dripping down over closed eyes.
Beatrix knelt to one side of the boy she adored, and took on the task of mopping the blood from his head with her kerchief, at the same time gripping his hand tightly. With tears running down her face, Augusta, kneeling the other side of him, kneaded Anders’ other hand trying to bring warmth into freezing fingers.
‘Heal him, Aidan, please heal him,’ Beatrix kept repeating over and over, the litany almost hypnotic, tears streaming from her red eyes.
‘Can you, Aidan?’ Augusta asked, as desperate as her companion. ‘You healed Cornelia; you must be able to do the same for Anders,’ and when he didn’t answer, she shouted, despairing. ‘Come on, do something please, don’t just sit there.’
‘Leave him be, girl,’ said Tragen standing over her. ‘That is what he is doing. Look at Aidan’s eyes, he’s not with us…he’s with Anders.’
Silently they watched while Aidan, ignoring all around him, concentrating his whole being on his best friend, palpated Anders’ temples, his lips moving soundlessly. After moments that seemed like hours, the apprentice wizard inhaled sharply and looked up at the people surrounding him. ‘His skull has been fractured and there was bleeding into his brain, it’s sorted now,’ he stared at his stricken friend, her grief and misery almost making the tears flow in his own eyes. ‘Be very careful now not to move him until I’ve checked for crush damage to his body,’ he said to the men around him. ‘Beattie, he’s feeling a lot easier now, honestly.’
‘Remove those timbers gently, boys. We do not want any more accidents to befall him,’ ordered Locklear, the normally impassive man allowing his emotions to get the better of him. ‘I have had the care of my cabin boy, for three years now…I do not want another in his place, yet.’ This was the nearest he had ever come to expressing fond feelings for his nephew.
‘Hey, Aidan, did he nearly say that he liked me, then,’
‘Aye, I think he means he loves you, you idiot, so don’t…bloody hell you’re mindmelding!’ Aidan exclaimed out loud, utterly shocked. ‘Master, did you hear him?’
‘Yes, I can’t believe it,’ Tragen said, astonished.
‘Hey, don’t ignore me, you two. Can you hear me, Augusta?’
‘Yes, Anders. Yes! Oh, Anders, how are you feeling?’
‘Can Beattie hear me?’
‘Can you, Beattie?’ Augusta turned to her.
‘Can I what?’
‘You can’t hear Anders mindmelding, can you?’ Aidan asked.
‘Is that what he’s doing? But he can’t mindmeld, he’s…he’s never been able to,’ and then she realized what it meant. ‘Oh, my God! Ask him if he’s all right, I have to know…please,’ she begged, roughly drying her eyes on her wet sleeve.
‘You ask him, he can hear you even if you can’t hear his answer.’ Aidan looking at her, knowing how desperately she needed to hear him, suffered with her.
‘Tell her I’m feeling a lot better now with that weight off my chest…hell, I could hardly breathe.’
‘Are you in pain?’ Augusta asked aloud, so that Beatrix could hear.
‘Not so much now. Go on, tell Beattie, I don’t want her to cry anymore,’ said Anders.
‘He’s getting better now, Beattie, he’s giving us orders again,’ and at the doubtful look in her face, Aidan added. ‘Really, he’s in a lot less pain. I’m only keeping him unconscious so that he doesn’t move before I say it’s okay. I’m going to check the rest of him now, once I’ve done that we’ll take him on deck, all right?’
‘He’s going to live…truly?’ Beatrix asked, tears continuing to fall unashamedly.
‘Aye, now leave me alone so I can get on with it.’ Aidan again placed his arms around Anders’ chest, spreading his fingers to cover as much of Anders’ rib cage as possible.
An hour later, Aidan had examined all of Anders’ injuries and had caused the healing to commence in each. Locklear arranged for a board to be placed alongside and Anders was lifted gently and strapped to this. Extreme care was taken in bringing him up from the hold and lowering him gently to the deck alongside the broken mainmast.
Beatrix and Augusta again sat either side of the prone boy holding his hands. Both girls, red eyed from their weeping, now feeling a lot happier with Anders at last in daylight and in the dry. Everyone waited for Aidan’s next move, no-one wanting to leave the cabin boy until he had woken.
And, as the moments passed in silence, Augusta realized that Aidan was not doing anything, making no attempt to wake Anders. She looked up at the boy who had worked so hard to save the life of his best friend—and saw tears streaming down his ashen face.
‘What is it, Aidan?’ Augusta asked softly, very puzzled. Getting no answer from him, she repeated her question. But this time she sensed something she knew she didn’t want to hear. ‘Please, Aidan, please you’re frightening me again,’ and everyone turned to look at him. ‘Aidan what is it? What’s wrong?’ She stood up and moved closer to him. But when she put her arm around his shoulders he shuddered and nearly fell. He leant against her shoulder for a moment and his trembling made her shake.
‘I want you to wake me, Aidan. I must speak to Beattie, and I want the Bear,’ Anders implored. ‘I know what’s happening to me, Aidan, and I must speak to them now…you know I don’t have long.’
‘What is he talking about?’ Tragen asked softly, foreboding in his mind.
Aidan stared at his master and his friends, catching Locklear’s eye he knew he was about to devastate all those close to Anders. Locklear, the man who looked on his nephew as the son he never had, Beatrix who very clearly adored him, and Augusta, their princess, who had also come to love him as a very close friend. And Tragen—who loved Anders simply because he was Aidan’s closest friend.
Aidan’s voice broke. ‘Master, why are the Gods so cruel?’
Tragen stared at his boy, realizing at last the dreadful outcome. ‘We do not know their purposes, my boy,’ he answered softly. He placed his palm to Aidan’s face and stroked gently, feeling the beginnings of adolescent bristles. ‘Although strange purposes they have without a doubt…some we will come to understand in time, many we will not,’ he continued gently.
‘Hurry, Aidan, tell them and wake me,’ ordered Anders.
Aidan tore himself from their arms and knelt beside Anders. Placing both his hands over the eyes of the comatose boy he chanted under his breath and Anders awoke.
Aidan, resting back on his haunches, watched as Beatrix, bewildered, smiled through fresh tears. ‘You’re going to be fine, Anders,’ she said, cupping his face in her hands and sniffing. ‘Aidan has healed you, now. Everything’s going to be fine…rest now. Oh, Anders, my love, I was so worried; I thought you were going to die, but you’re going to be all right now,’ and crying, she leant forward and hugged him.
‘Sh! Beattie, no more tears…please.’ Anders said, holding her tight and caressing her back while looking up at Aidan. ‘And you, Aidan…cease your weeping. You know I’ll be safe.’
‘Aye, so you will be.’ Aidan’s voice broke again. ‘But I won’t be with you,’ he moaned and didn’t attempt to hide the tremble wracking his body. Utterly distraught he stared down at his friend, unwilling to take his eyes off Anders’ face.
Tragen knelt alongside him and again put his arm around Aidan to comfort him, the wizard understanding and despairing at his boy’s abject grief.
‘What do you mean?’ Augusta asked a dreadful premonition taking root she also fell to her knees alongside them and reached over to grasp Anders’ hand.
Anders took his eyes from Beatrix for a moment and smiled at his prince’s daughter, a friendly aristocrat…one that saw him and, unlike the others of her class, did not look through him, a friend that he loved dearly. And then he gazed up at the man who he looked upon as a second father, perhaps an even better father than his first—his uncle, the man he had most admired in all of his very short life.
Hugo returned his gaze, mortified he also suspected the dreadful outcome.
‘Uncle Hugo,’ Anders said, taking his hand from Augusta’s and holding it up to grasp Locklear’s.
Locklear, not wanting to believe what he was seeing and hearing, knelt alongside Augusta, tears welling in the big man’s eyes. ‘Ah, Anders, it’s come to this, eh! I’m sorry, my boy, so sorry. We have not had enough time together, have we? I wish there was more.’
‘But the time we have had has been magic. I’ve loved every bit of it, I would not have missed it for anything,’ he paused to take a breath and to hold back on his own tears. ‘I am the luckiest boy ever, to have had a captain such as you. I do love you, Uncle, never forget that!’
‘And I, Anders, I love you…I’ll miss you so much,’ Locklear fought his tears unsuccessfully.
‘What is going on?’ Beatrix shouted desperately, her face ravished she had no more tears to shed. ‘Anders, Aidan has healed you. Why are you talking as if he hasn’t? Stop it! Stop it, now!’
Anders stared into her eyes and grasped her hand even tighter as he brought it to his lips. ‘My dear, Beattie…I love you…there,’ he smiled up at her, ‘I actually found the courage to say it.’
‘Anders…my dear, dear Anders, I love you too, you know that please stop this talk, you’re scaring me!’ Beatrix begged.
The prone boy inhaled deeply and stared into her eyes. ‘My Beattie, you are right, Aidan healed me. He did all that he possibly could, and eventually I would have been as good as new, but…’ he gulped as he looked at the only girl he had ever loved. ‘He could not prolong my life Beattie—my time has come.’
‘No, Anders,’ she giggled hysterically. ‘No, Anders, you’re being silly, stop it, stop talking like this…we have years yet, we’re only young, please…I mean…’
‘Beattie, my only love,’ and he cradled her face in his hands, interrupting her protestations. ‘Beattie, Aidan is not a God however much he wishes it at this time. No, my love, please…promise me…promise me that you will not grieve for too long.’ He stroked her face, losing himself in her eyes. ‘Thank the Gods I’ve had the time to tell you I love you,’ and he kissed her, putting all his pent up emotion in that, their first kiss.
The others looked on silently, in appalling misery.
‘Aidan, there really is nothing to fear, is there?’ Anders asked apprehensively; fear taking momentary hold he glanced quickly at his friend.
‘Nothing at all, Anders, you will be welcomed into Paradise with open arms,’ Aidan replied, still unable to halt his weeping or keep his voice from shaking. ‘I thought we’d always be together, Anders,’ he said, giving in to his despair.
‘Aidan, remember the first day we met? You asked me how long we’d be friends.’ Aidan nodded, unable to speak.
‘Ask me again, Aidan.’
Aidan stared at him not caring who heard him crying. ‘Anders…Anders, how long…how long are we going to be friends?’
‘Forever, Aidan!’ And with that Anders pulled Beatrix to him, held her tightly in his arms and for the second time kissed her.
And breathed his last.
A teacher wanted to teach her students about self-esteem, so she asked anyone who thought they were stupid to stand up. One kid stood up and the teacher was surprised. She didn’t think anyone would stand up so she asked him, “Why did you stand up?” He answered, “I didn’t want to leave you standing up by yourself.”
Have a nice day!
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.'”
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!
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.
Teacher: “Which book has helped you the most in your life?”
Student: “My father’s check book!”
Have a nice day!
A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, “Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.” The little girl screamed to her brother, “Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!
Leash knew youngsters, knew they were insatiably curious and loved exploring new places. If the town was large enough, isolating Aidan would be child’s play, he’d done it before with others. All he had to do was follow them, and wait.eash overheard everything, with eyes glinting and his brain churning, he saw many possibilities in using the feud. Having failed to kill the boy on the ship he would slay him somewhere on the island, after all, there was always more opportunity to arrange an “accident” ashore. It was common knowledge that docks were notoriously dangerous places, and if he played it right the Montetors and Portolans would be blamed.
He only wished he could somehow let the wizard know the reason for the boy’s death…seeing Tragen demented with self-loathing and grief would be a memory sweet beyond measure. And then Leash blinked tears away—it would never erase his own loneliness. He went to his bunk that night happy. Chuckling, he climbed into his cot, his fellow crewmates keeping well away from him.
But as he fell into his happy dream expecting relief from misery, he detected an air of disquiet—she disapproved.
The following morning was a replay of the morning before. Not a spare space anywhere along the rails, everyone wishing to examine the island, and the closer they came to it the more heavily was it inspected.
Griffin was an enormous island stretching for many leagues east and west, a reef on the south side enclosing the harbour, protected the large town behind it. The hinterland, only glimpsed at this distance, was immense, it had twin peaks, one twice as high as the other. A veritable forest of short growth trees covering the foothills of the higher of the mountains with thinner growth towards the summit; the other mountain was bare rock.
The deep valley between them was occasionally hidden by sporadic black and grey smoke with the odd flash of bright light amidst the fumes issued by the many foundries belonging to the Montetors. The mantle of pollution was hiding a rabbit warren of red dust-laden houses, the inhabitants equally as grimed.
Hopper pointed out some of the sights of the town. It sprawled over high cliffs in the west where a huge house had been built overlooking the ocean; this was the home of the harbourmaster, his manorhouse. Spreading eastwards, the town continued around and over a large promontory on which a beacon was maintained. Below the beacon the evidence for its existence was plainly seen…a frothing, foaming mass of water breaking over large rocks encroaching far into the sea.
The harbour was wide and deep, a broad looping lagoon. Many jetties protruded into the harbour from a common wharf, myriad vessels of all shapes and sizes tied up alongside. But the western end below the manorhouse was kept for their navy—warships, large and small were moored there, although there were not many.
Waterfront warehouses, most long, black and ugly stretched the length of the wharf, but as one sailor was overheard to say, iron and coke were not a pretty sight. The wharf was strong and sturdy, cargo piled neatly at intervals waiting to be loaded for export to other exotic destinations. Even more stockpiles of goods were being landed from ships, the whole dockyard one hive of activity.
To the west of Griffin Town, a couple of leagues down the coast, a fishing village plied its trade. Small fishing boats sailing to and from the jetty jutting into the small bay in front of it. Seabirds in abundance were swooping over the village pilfering the seething catches at the slightest lapse in vigilance. Gulls screeching and the occasional lonely petrel overflying the Grim added a certain magic to the exotic spectacle. A single fishing boat beating its way home, passed close to the Grim, its fishermen ceasing work to give a wave and stare open-mouthed at the huge, damaged ship.
The morning wore on and Beatrix rejoined Augusta and Aidan on the poop, she had been below to tend to Lady Cornelia. As she lowered herself to sit alongside Aidan, Anders returned from his duties in the captain’s cabin and he slumped down heavily beside her.
‘How much longer before we dock do you think, Anders?’ Augusta asked, bending forward to peer at him around Aidan and Beatrix.
‘A couple of hours that’s all, this opposing current is slowing us up a bit.’
‘Argh!’ Augusta abruptly screamed, leaping to her feet and staring at her tunic. ‘Those bloody birds have had me!’
‘Augusta, please, your cursing is getting as bad as Aidan’s,’ Beatrix chided and at the same time wrinkled her nose in disgust at the sight on her mistress’ tunic.
‘You’d swear as well if it happened to you. Stop laughing,’ she shouted at the boys as she aimed a kick at Aidan who was closest.
‘Ah well, they do say it’s lucky for a bird to crap on you,’ Aidan laughed, quickly rolling out of the way.
‘Lucky! I’ll give you lucky you come near me. Ooh…Beattie, help me clean this will you?’ Augusta implored.
‘You know what Dolly calls seagulls? No?’ Anders, receiving puzzled looks for an answer, continued. ‘He calls them airborne rats…nothing but scavenging, crapping…’
‘All right…all right, no need to give any more details, we get the picture,’ said Beatrix, stopping him in mid flow. ‘Come on, Augusta, let’s go to the cabin and clean it off.’
‘We can’t be long; I don’t want to miss anything.’
Aidan stopped giggling as the girls moved to pass him. ‘Hey, wait a minute. Clean it here…with magic!’
Augusta almost convulsed—spinning around she stared at him. Even the idea of her using magic caught at her soul. Her eyes wide and bright she stalked back to the young wizard.
‘Sh…show me,’ she stuttered losing control. ‘Please, Aidan,’ she begged.
He smiled. ‘Okay, calm down and sit down. You don’t need to close your eyes for this. You know what the fabric beneath the crap looks like.’ They all stared intently as he continued. ‘Now with your hand just above it, move it in a circular motion as if you are actually washing the filth with a cloth. That’s it.’
As Augusta moved her hand she could see the mess rolling into a small pellet—a small tight ball!
‘Now…flick it away,’ ordered Aidan.
And she did, leaving the fabric of her tunic cleaner than it was before, she had also removed the grime beneath the crap. Augusta laughed. ‘I did it…look!’ She held the cloth out towards Beatrix and Anders for their inspection. ‘Oh, I could have killed that bird.’
Aidan paled, the smile wiped from his face. ‘Don’t say things like that, Augusta. Never threaten to kill.’
Augusta looked up, startled. ‘Why on earth not?’
‘You are learning to be a wizard…wizards can kill by just wishing it.’
Augusta paled. ‘You mean I can actually kill a bird just by wishing it?’
‘More or less…but you can also kill people.’
‘By the Gods, I never realized that. Can you do it, Aidan? I mean…can you kill?’ Augusta asked, intrigued and also frightened.
‘I’ve killed in the past, yes, but only animals for food, and then just enough to eat. I’ve never killed more than necessary.’
‘And people?’ Augusta persisted, unable to hide her ghoulish nature, the macabre fascinated her.
‘Never! I could never harm another’s soul and neither should you.’
‘But surely that’s nonsense, Aidan. You have to kill your enemies, don’t you?’ Augusta asked, troubled greatly by what she was hearing. ‘My father has had to do it many times. What is wrong with that? He’s been protecting Mantovar.’
‘Augusta, when a man passes over, his soul goes on to Paradise where it rests for a while before being called to live another life. But souls as well as bodies can die! When you kill, you inflict damage on your own soul, you weaken it. And if you kill often, then your soul’s chance of an afterlife is gradually chipped away until it has not the strength to survive. It enters Oblivion then where hopefully it will die…if not a worse fate…’ and he shuddered, unable to complete his thoughts. ‘Killing people is always wrong!’
‘But what if it’s your life in danger, Aidan? I mean, what if it’s you or them. You have to kill them before they kill you, don’t you?’ Beatrix asked tensely, her arm through Anders’, clinging to him tightly. ‘Otherwise, if you give up and not fight back, surely that’s a form of suicide, isn’t it? And I’ve always been taught that suicide is wrong.’
Aidan stared at her his facial muscles twitching; his eyes had a far away, unfathomable look. ‘I haven’t worked that one out yet…I haven’t got all the answers. All I know is I cannot knowingly kill anyone.’
They were struck silent at that, their thoughts their own as they pondered on Aidan’s strange outlook on life and death.
‘Aidan, what is worse than dying in Oblivion?’ Augusta asked.
Aidan replied, fear filling his voice. ‘Many things, but enough for now, I’ll tell you some other time.’
‘But…’ Augusta was interrupted by a shout from down in the waist of the Grim.
‘Captain, can we allow the bumboat alongside, sir?’
‘Aye, aye, watch he doesn’t scrape the paintwork, Trumper,’ shouted Locklear, smiling pensively. He also had overheard Aidan and had no idea what to make of it all.
The men on the deck below laughed and jeered as they eagerly watched the boat full of local produce come alongside, the two men in the boat shouting up to those on the enormous ship offering fresh melons and limes for sale.
Anders was grateful for a distraction from the dark mood into which Aidan’s words had plunged him. He jumped up and led the two girls in a race down the ladder to the starboard side of the waist.
Aidan, bringing up the rear, followed a little slower, trying to shake off the depression, and the fear, brought on by Augusta’s last question.
As the Grim limped through the entrance in the reef and advanced into the sheltered harbour in front of Griffin Town in the middle of the very hot afternoon, the hubbub of the harbour hit them like a blow in the face. Bellowing sailors, the creak of timbers, the flapping of unfurled canvas and the bawling of orders on the dock, assaulted the ears. And above it all, they savoured the numberless other sounds and exotic, spicy smells floating across to them from the town. Excitement gripped the four friends anxious to get ashore to explore an island none of them had ever heard of before this voyage.
An ornate barge oared by six men in uniform left the quayside and, wending its way between the warships, came out to meet them. Standing in the bows was a short fat man wearing a very large brimmed, floppy hat presumably to protect his face from the sun. This, Hopper informed Locklear waiting on his quarterdeck, was the harbourmaster, Seneschal Lodovico Portolan. Standing alongside him also graven faced was a very tall man, both men wearing a very plain blue uniform.
As the harbourmaster’s barge drew alongside, the rope ladder was lowered for the party to climb aboard. On orders from Trumper, all men were told to show the utmost respect. It was anticipated that this short, fat man climbing the ladder, would inevitably result in a very comical display of seamanship.
Trumper rounded on the crew as they awaited the spectacle. ‘Woe betide any man who laughs, sniggers or even smiles at the harbourmaster. Be warned, this man is dangerous, he has the power of life and death in this port—and he exercises it ruthlessly and often.’ Trumper turned back to the rail ready to help the harbourmaster come aboard as Hopper arrived at his elbow to escort the seneschal to the quarterdeck.
Lodovico Portolan, despite his bulk, did not seem in the least bit perturbed by the rope ladder. For a man of his size and shape he exhibited a nimbleness that could have put many a sailor to shame. Climbing over the rail to the sounds of the bo’sun’s call, the saluting whistle, he straightened his long, plain blue, immaculate coat embroidered with a multi-coloured coat-of-arms – a griffin rearing on hind legs in a crown above two stylized peaks – on his left breast.
Even though he was grossly overweight he did not appear to sweat more than usual. He had a handsome, clean-shaven face though his eyes were sunk deep above dark bags giving him the appearance of a man suffering from lack of sleep. But his manner denied this as he stared around at the crew now standing at attention. He smiled thinly, he knew that he had surprised and disappointed them…robbing them of their merriment.
Following him over the rail was his companion, a giant of a man, again immaculately uniformed in blue and carrying an enormous straight sword at his waist. This man, like the seneschal, wore no jewellery; neither man gave the impression of needing any show of frippery. The crew needed no urging to remain silent—they stared at two strangers who were harder than any men they had ever seen on any waterfront.
Touching his forelock Hopper stepped forward and greeted the harbour’s tyrant. ‘Welcome aboard the Grim, Seneschal Portolan. The Master, Captain Hugo Locklear, is on the quarterdeck and awaits your pleasure.’
The seneschal stared at Hopper, coldly assessing the second in command of the ship, finding him formidable. ‘You are the first mate?’ he asked, his words carrying just a smidgeon of sweet wine fumes, he had indulged a glass of red Cornia at lunch.
‘I am, sir, if you will kindly follow me, please.’ Hopper turned and led the way aft along the waist.
The harbourmaster slowly glanced around the upper deck, noting the damage. Accompanied by his very tall companion, he strode after Hopper, not sparing a look for the four youngsters lounging at the foot of the quarterdeck steps. The tall man did though, and his look seemed to pierce their very souls. Not much passed by this man, thought Anders.
Aidan, astonished, turned to the others as the three men climbed on to the quarterdeck. ‘Bloody hell, did you see the size of that man? He must be seven foot if an inch! What do you reckon, Anders, his bodyguard?’
‘Aye, he must be. Did you notice his shoulders? They’re wider than the Bear’s! We have to watch ourselves here…this port is not a happy place, methinks.’
‘The harbourmaster reminds me a bit of the Abbot of Sentinel,’ said Augusta, chewing her index finger.
‘Does he?’ Aidan asked, surprised
‘He has the same cold, calculating look,’ she shuddered, ‘yes, most everyone I know is wary of the abbot—they all stay well away from him if they can,’ whispered Augusta as she joined the others in listening to the conversation just above their heads. ‘That big man though is a handsome devil, isn’t he Beattie?’ And at Aidan’s scowl she poked her tongue out and laughed.
‘Good afternoon, Seneschal Portolan. I am honoured and very glad to meet you,’ said Locklear cheerfully shaking the fat hand. ‘Let me introduce my friend, Lord Tragen,’ and he waved his arm in the wizard’s direction.
For a moment, there was a flicker of consternation or perhaps speculation, in the eyes of the harbourmaster. ‘A wizard…we have not seen any of your brethren in this part of the world for many a long year, Milord.’
‘No, Seneschal, and my niece and I did not expect to be here now, unfortunately the storm…’ said Tragen shrugging, he glanced at Locklear. If there were no wizards in the Griffin Islands could the torturer be a monk, perhaps on Sanctity?
‘Yes…the ship has suffered, you have a great deal of damage, Captain,’ The seneschal said, turning away from the wizard at last, making the point of not introducing the tall man standing quietly at his shoulder. ‘You have stopped in for repairs, I take it. We can supply most things usually but we are awaiting deliveries from all points. We have other ships expected, of course, some are overdue by weeks. Perhaps the same storm has delayed them…or the brigands of Onyx, of course.’
Aidan and his friends listened to every word and when Tragen mentioned his niece, Anders was shushed into silence before he could ask.
Hopper, standing to one side keeping a surreptitious eye on the tall bodyguard, was unsurprised at this mention of delays. It was the usual opening gambit in negotiations for the seneschal’s payment. The mate had already figured out what this would be. Lodovico Portolan liked wine, good wine, and there was bound to be a shortage of Qula’s excellent offering on this island, if memory served him.
Because of the island realm’s distance from the eastern continent trade was very inconsistent between them. But the smuggling of wine, brandy and tobacco from many parts of the world was a thriving industry on Griffin Island even though the penalty, if caught, was always death. The Portolans demanded their taxes be collected promptly on all imports into the south of the island. And the Montetors extracted the same revenue on trade crossing the border into the north, or by whatever was brought ashore in the small inlets dotted around the northern end of the island. The Montetors, unlike the Portolans, did not enjoy the amenities of a deep water harbour, but both clans shared the facilities of the south, for trade.
Tragen had a hoard of the grape juice from the temperate regions of Qula, a very popular and rare vintage, very expensive. The wizard’s pained expression was frank evidence of his reluctance to part with even one bottle…Hopper smiled.
‘Nevertheless, Seneschal, we can surely help you in your endeavours to assist us,’ said Locklear. A seaman arrived just then with a carafe and the best silver goblets of the very wine Hopper had in mind.
Taking a sip the seneschal’s eyes lit up. ‘Ha! Qula…Enzore region I believe. The Enzoreans are true masters of their craft,’ he smacked his lips in appreciation. ‘What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of this,’ he smiled for the first time, though the smile did not reach his eyes.
‘Oh, I’m sure we could spare more than one bottle for your table, Seneschal,’ said Hugo. Tragen wilted. The harbourmaster’s smile grew broader, and he wandered to the forward rail to assess the visible damage and to speculate on the unseen.
‘We can discuss the supplies you will require over dinner, Captain. Please be my guest ashore tonight. I will send a carriage for you and your two passengers. I hope your niece will accompany you, Lord Tragen,’ Seneschal Portolan asked glancing at the wizard. ‘It is not often that my son and I entertain. Now, I must take my leave…until later, gentlemen.’ He swallowed the remains of his wine and handed the goblet back. Nodding his head curtly to Locklear and Tragen, he left the quarterdeck followed closely by his giant of a retainer. The tall man’s eyes continually roved over the ship, not missing a thing, assessing the crew as he disembarked.
At the foot of the steps, the four friends waited silently until they heard the bo’sun’s call and saw the harbourmaster step over the rail and descend, just as nimbly, to the awaiting barge. And then they made a mad scramble up onto the quarterdeck, Aidan anxious to tackle Tragen about his ‘niece’.
‘Say nothing, yet…wait,’ Tragen mindmelded, anticipating the questions. ‘Join us in the captain’s cabin, we have plans to make.’
‘Hugo, let us indulge ourselves with what little of my wine remains. If you wouldn’t mind I need a word in your cabin.’ Hugo glanced quickly at the departing barge and, followed by the youngsters, he and Tragen went below.
Hopper strode to the starboard rail and watched the harbourmaster heading for the wharf. His son’s health must have improved, he thought; it was unusual for the seneschal to receive guests with his son present. At least, years ago it would have been strange. Circumstances must have changed over the last twelve years, how old had the boy been then…three, perhaps four years old? Hopper recalled the stories of the poor mother’s death, dying in that manner and nearly taking her son with her, perhaps she should have, it would have been a blessing. A bad business, mused Hopper—tragic. Had the boy recovered? Hopper paced the boards and stared at the very busy wharf across a narrowing gap of water. There were a large number of the dockworkers staring up at the Grim, none of them ever having seen a five-masted ship let alone one that had sustained such severe damage and still made port. The captain had proved all the doubters wrong…this ship could sail in any weather, but there again Hugo Locklear was an exceptional seaman.
Tragen, greatly disturbed, silently studied Aidan and his friends. The wizard sat in the chair to one side of Hugo’s desk, Hugo in his usual chair behind with his back to the stern gallery. The four youngsters, having found available perches around the largest cabin on board, made the room appear overcrowded. Anders took it upon himself to open wider the windows in the stern gallery. Fresh air, even if it was imbued with the slight smell of brimstone drifting on the breeze, made their meeting place far more amenable.
Tragen stared deep into his wine goblet for a moment before saying anything. ‘Lady Cornelia will now masquerade as my niece whilst we are here. We could not possibly keep her hidden from the seneschal…too many people know there is a woman of importance in that cabin, and when the dockworkers come aboard to facilitate repairs, the harbourmaster will wonder…’
‘Aye, Tragen,’ replied Hugo, ‘but the crew believe it is their princess. How do you propose to get around that?’
‘They must be exhorted to remain silent where she is concerned…they must not speak of her to anyone!’
‘I do not trust that Leash,’ Beatrix said.
‘Why not?’ Tragen asked.
‘He always seems to be hanging around us,’ and she hunched her shoulders, ‘he watches us, especially Aidan,’ she finished lamely, not quite sure of her feelings.
‘He’s a very good helmsman, Tragen,’ said Hugo, dismissing her opinion.
‘Nevertheless, Beatrix has already proved she has remarkable mental insight. We shall all keep an eye on him, Beatrix,’ Tragen assured her, he believing in women’s intuition even if Locklear did not. ‘Now the arrangements for this evening…we will be expected to have our own servant accompany us, Hugo. You agree, Augusta?’
‘Yes, of course, we must stand behind you whilst you are seated at dinner and see to your needs.’ She perked up a little at the thought of going ashore and acting as companion to her lady-in-waiting, overhearing the talk at the table.
‘We dare not allow Augusta to act as maid to Lady Cornelia, Tragen. However hard she’ll try she will never pass it off for a whole evening, the Portolan’s servants will soon discover she is an impostor.’ Hugo stated flatly.
‘He is right, Highness,’ forestalling Augusta’s objection. ‘Think about it for a moment. If one of their servants says anything to disparage Lady Cornelia, or a little scullery maid speaks to you in a manner that you think is inappropriate, you will not be able to stop yourself. You will react in a way that will ensure they realize you are no ordinary maid. And that we cannot have. We cannot risk this harbourmaster and his family discovering your identity. No, you must stay here and Beatrix will go as my niece’s body servant. Anders will accompany his master and also double up as my servant…’
Aidan spoke up indignantly. ‘I’m your servant, I should accompany you!’
‘You are not a servant—you are my apprentice. When it comes to performing a servant’s duties at table you will encounter the same problems as Augusta and not be able to hide your magical abilities. We are all agreed that we should also keep you hidden as well.
‘Seneschal Portolan is a very shrewd man and for some reason desires the company of a wizard at dinner. It is not normal for a man in his position to ask an unknown sea captain to partake of his hospitality. He believes himself, rightly or wrongly, to be above such people. But he could not invite me and my niece alone. He would be insulting Hugo needlessly and he hopes to make a lot of money out of repairing this ship.
‘The seneschal needs me for some unknown purpose and until I know what that is, I do not want him to know there is a second wizard on board—or even a third,’ he glanced at Augusta. ‘Besides, I need you to remain here with Augusta. Under no circumstances is she to be left alone in these waters. There have never been any formal diplomatic ties between Griffin and Mantovar, therefore I do not have any idea how the seneschal will react if he knows the heir to Mantovar is in his country. Any problems and both of you can mindmeld with me; the distance should not be too great. You understand, my boy?’
‘Aye, I suppose,’ Aidan said, deflated, his disappointment obvious. ‘But you take care, there is something else happening here I don’t understand.’
‘What is that?’
‘I’m not certain, but it’s something to do with the storm…I need to think on it. But his manservant, the giant, he is not what he seems, either.’
Tragen disturbed at Aidan’s words reached over and ruffled his hair forgetting for a moment that Aidan’s contemporaries were watching. ‘If you need to discuss the matter of the storm come to me immediately. As for the giant, I marked him well, my boy, and I agree. Hopper has already informed us that the man is the commander of the seneschal’s militia. He will need careful watching. I must go now and inform my niece to ready herself. I expect she’ll be very happy to get out of her prison for a few hours.’
After picking her son up from school one day, the mother asks him what he did at school. The kid replies, “I had sex with my teacher.” She gets so mad that when they get home, she orders him to go straight to his room. When the father returns home that evening, the mother angrily tells him the news of what their son had done. As the father hears the news, a huge grin spreads across his face. He walks to his son’s room and asks him what happened at school, the son tells him, “I had sex with my teacher.” The father tells the boy that he is so proud of him, and he is going to reward him with the bike he has been asking for. On the way to the store, the dad asks his son if he would like to ride his new bike home. His son responds, “No thanks Dad, my butt still hurts.”
Have a nice day!
The answering machine
Have you heard about the latest machine on the pier at Llandudno?
You put ten pence in and ask it any question and it gives you a true answer.
One holiday maker from Cardiff tried it last week.
He asked the machine “Where is my father?” The machine replied:
“Your father is fishing in South Wales.”
Well, he thought, that’s daft for a start because my father is dead.
“Where is my mother’s husband?”
Back came the reply, “Your mother’s husband is buried in Cardiff but your father is still fishing in South Wales.”
A view from the courtyard of Castle Mantovar (as seen in Castell Coch)
‘My God, Tragen, when I saw you fall my heart stopped. What happened?’ Locklear asked worry over the last hours had etched deep lines in his face. Both men were taking their ease in the captain’s cabin sharing a bottle of his best Gilian brandy, a present off Tragen. The wizard, exhausted, and pulling at his beard, needed his bed more but he could not go to sleep without sharing the ominous knowledge he alone had discovered.
‘Ah, Hugo, again I heard it and this time I nearly succumbed. If not for Aidan and his healing of my mind, I…I would have been lost.’
He leaned his back against the hard, brown leather of the chair, crossed his long legs at his ankles and propped his elbows on the ornate arms. With a mug in one hand and the other holding his staff to his body as if afraid he’d lose it, he continued, knowing he had no answers yet.
‘Laughter, Hugo…the same manic laughter and this time like a fool I forgot everything and went searching for it.’
‘And did you find it?’ Locklear alarmed, leant forward across his desk.
Tragen was again looking his centuries-old age. ‘I confirmed my fears,’ and he stared into his mug, gently swirling the deep amber liquid. Distracted momentarily by the light reflecting off its richness, he understood why Aidan and Anders had yielded to its potency. ‘Oh Hugo, I touched its mind, and the horror I sensed there seemed to steal my wits. It drew me to it.’
‘So, whatever it is, now knows of you?’
‘That’s the strangest thing I do not believe it does. I felt no change as I perceived its mind, if a mind it was…it may just have been its emotions. The laughter altered not even one iota, which it would have if it had known I was there. No, it continued its insane merriment.’ Tragen swallowed another mouthful of the Gilian and allowed the warmth to sustain him as it found its way to his stomach. The fleeting silence his remarks brought to the cabin, making him anxious, he gulped the rest of his brandy and clutched the empty mug in his tired hand.
Locklear sat up straight, staring at the wizard. ‘Did you glean any more of its purpose?’ He stretched across and replenished the wizard’s empty mug.
Tragen shook his head. ‘All I sense is its single-minded malevolence with us as the object of its hate.’
Locklear turned sideways in his chair and peered out the gallery window at the storm, the huge waves towering above the stern obliterating what little light there was. He stroked his full black beard and sighed.
‘Well, with luck, my friend, we will soon be free of this tempest. Whoever, or whatever, is behind this cannot keep it going for much longer. And the greater the distance between us and this evil thing the better we’ll feel.’ Looking again at the wizard, he said. ‘But just in case there are other unforeseen events, I think it best if we continue to keep the young lady hidden.’
Tragen nodded. ‘It would be ideal if she remained masquerading as a member of the crew, as she is now.’
‘Should we tell her of our fears?’
‘I do not believe there is need to, Hugo…at least not yet, there is no need to frighten her. There is a friendship developing between her and the others, one I never expected. I say we leave it progress normally for now. And besides,’ lifting his mug to be refilled for a third time and taking another larger swallow of brandy, he continued, ‘she seems quite taken with wearing britches.’ He chuckled, lifting the sombre mood briefly. ‘But Lady Cornelia should be informed of the whole situation, I know her personally and her reputation for protecting the princess is formidable. She is a very determined lady and has the full support of Augusta’s mother in whatever action she deems necessary for the safety and upbringing of her charge. Cornelia will not be very happy at seeing Augusta improperly dressed and running around with servants. She will have grave doubts for the girl’s welfare and will order her to resume her normal attire, and her proper station in life…unless we can persuade her otherwise, of course.’
‘But, Highness, it is not seemly. He is nothing but a young scoundrel…you, yourself have always said so! We don’t even know anything of his family, if he has any. How can you possibly allow him to be so familiar? Not even I call you by your name and I’ve grown up with you! Lady Cornelia will never approve, neither will your father, and your mother will be shamed.’
‘You are nagging me, Beattie, desist. I have made my decision. Aidan will use my name and if it makes you feel better I give you permission as well. No…I order you to use my name, which will help you get used to hearing it from Aidan. Cornelia will not criticize me for long,’ and she smiled, conceit written all over her face. ‘You know I can twist her around my little finger.’
‘You think so,’ Beatrix said looking sidelong at her, could she dare use her name?
‘And talking of being familiar, what is going on between you and Anders?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Beatrix, flummoxed and blushing like mad.
‘No? I’ve seen you holding hands and you couldn’t get much closer to him if you tried. But never mind that, Cornelia will have to realize that when Aidan comes to the end of his training he will gain his peerage, then he’ll be deemed a suitable friend by everyone…so why wait! Besides, he did heal her and she’ll be very grateful for that, won’t she?’
‘But the completion of his schooling is a long time off yet and…and what will she say of these clothes?’ Trying another tack, Beatrix was becoming truly desperate, whatever she said her mistress appeared to be heading for trouble. ‘You can’t tell me she will approve of us wearing britches and going barefoot. And these clothes are not even clean now,’ she wrinkled her nose in disgust.
‘Then we must ensure that nothing else is available,’ Augusta countered firmly, and saying this, a wicked grin stretched her mouth wide.
‘Oh no! What are you thinking of now?’ Beattie’s stomach lurched; she had plenty of experience of this particular look.
She and Augusta had known each other since birth; both had been born on the same day, fifteen years before in the huge Castle of Mantovar. Beattie’s mother, Lady Dotrice, besides being the princess’ favourite lady-in-waiting along with Lady Cornelia, was also her closest confidante and friend. And the two girls had literally grown up together, usually sleeping in the same nursery. It had always been an accepted fact that when Augusta went south into Drakka to further her education at the emperor’s court, Beatrix would accompany her as her companion and share her lessons. But this look on Augusta’s face always boded ill for them both; she had a knack for instigating wild schemes which usually had an outcome quite unexpected.
There had been one remarkable experience a while back and the outcome of that was still a mystery. She and Beatrix lived under strict orders never to leave the confines of the castle unless accompanied by an armed escort, but the year before leaving for Drakka a carnival had arrived in the town. Excitement had gripped everyone and the whole town and castle erupted with delight. Augusta and Beatrix couldn’t wait to experience the sights and sounds of the shows and, dressed as peasant girls, had for the first time sneaked past the castle guards. Relishing the freedom from bodyguards, the two young girls dawdled in the marketplace of the town sampling the wares from several of the local trades’ people.
But as the morning progressed eventually they arrived at the meadow where the troubadours had set up camp. They were utterly captivated. The travellers had pitched their myriad stalls and tents in a haphazard fashion throughout the large field. A kaleidoscope of colours greeted them reds, yellows, greens, browns, you name it there was a splash of the colour somewhere in the meadow. The two girls spent hours wandering through, tasting the goods on a variety of stalls, staring wide-eyed at the performers inside and outside of brightly striped tents.
In due course, they had found themselves outside a small white tent, on the edge of the encampment. A very pretty, middle-aged woman was sitting alone in its doorway, but everyone was walking past her, ignoring her as if she was invisible. It was her dazzling smile more than anything that intrigued them. It was very unusual in a peasant to have pure white teeth for they usually had mouths full of broken, black or yellow teeth, very often none at all. The lovely smile, along with her long black tresses and the lingering smell of lavender attracted the two girls and they went over to talk to her and discovered she was a seer. But what she told the girls was such a lot of nonsense that they soon left her and returned home to find the castle in an uproar. Their absence at luncheon had been noticed and a search had been mounted for them, Prince Cedric and his wife frantic, worrying for their safety. Their punishment had lasted a month.
But when the troubadours performed at the castle in front of Augusta’s parents later that week, the girls questioned the travellers about the woman, but not one knew of her. In fact, they denied all knowledge of travelling with a seer. One even smiled indulgently, explaining that a white tent would never be used by any member of the carnival—the colour never attracted customers. The girls were mystified and despite searching amongst the crowds they failed to find any sign of her.
They had wanted to ask her to explain further about what she meant when she said they would aid a son to find his father. Her disappearance had been very puzzling.
‘You will be carrying wash-water to Cornelia in a moment,’ Augusta said, interrupting Beattie’s thoughts. ‘When we are attending her you will have an accident and tip the water over the clothes in my wardrobe that are not already ruined by the sea.’
‘There will not be sufficient in that bowl to soil all those, that’s not going to work.’
‘Then let’s see if the boys can help. Kindly go and fetch them, and hurry, I do believe I hear Cornelia stirring,’ she said, imperiously waving her companion out the door.
Beatrix obeyed reluctantly, muttering beneath her breath.
Anders, who was nearer, opened the door when she knocked and was unceremoniously pushed into the room when she rushed in, the door rebounding loudly against the bulkhead.
‘What the hell…’ he asked, falling promptly onto the burned bed. Aidan startled, looked round, a wet shirt in his hands.
‘You must help me…now! My mistress is demanding your aid for a mischief that will only succeed in causing terrible trouble. I can feel it! You have to stop her, come quickly and DO NOT DO as she asks!’
The two boys stared at each other in amazement. Beatrix ran out and down the passage, Anders raced after her. Aidan flung his shirt on the floor and promptly fell over it. Cursing, he rose, and rubbing his knee he followed, catching up with the two of them as they arrived in Beattie’s cabin.
Augusta, only just managing to avoid the swinging overhead lantern, was pacing the short distance within, her eyes almost closed and her index finger in the corner of her mouth. Beatrix watched as the plot developed in her mistress’ mind. The plan almost visible behind her flashing eyes when she opened them wide to stare at the new arrivals.
‘Highness, what is it now?’ Aidan asked, worried.
‘Right, Aidan…yes!’ She stopped her pacing and stared at the apprentice wizard. ‘I want you to ruin the rest of my clothes,’ and seeing the shock on his face, added. ‘I don’t mean for good, just for a few days, until Cornelia gets used to me wearing britches.
‘Why? I mean, why on earth do you still want to wear our clothes?’ Anders asked.
‘You obviously don’t know what it’s like to wear a gown on board a ship, do you?’
‘Of course I don’t,’ replied Anders, very indignant.
‘Mind you, he wouldn’t tell you if he did,’ smirked Aidan.
‘Shut it! You’re the one who wears a robe, not me.’ Anders retorted.
‘Quiet, the pair of you! Take it from me…it is very uncomfortable in this weather. And climbing ladders is an abomination.’
‘Well, as a temporary measure we could soak them again, I suppose. We can use this bowl of water, it might help for a little while,’ Aidan said dubiously, stirring the contents of the large washbowl rather vigorously with his hand.
‘No, we’ve thought of that. Beattie says there’s not enough and she’s probably correct. No, you’ll have to think of something else,’ Augusta said, smacking Aidan’s hand to stop his splashing.
The relief on Anders’ face was short-lived when he realized that Aidan was contemplating the use of magic. Aidan’s face, on the other hand, was gleaming at the prospect.
‘And I gave you permission to call me Augusta, didn’t I?’
‘You did, yes Highn…Augusta.’
‘Good! Now then, little wizard…how will you do it?’
Perplexed, Aidan paused, scratching his head. ‘Hang about; I have to think it through, first. I can’t just conjure any old spell for a job like this; it takes a lot of thinking about.’
‘You haven’t got long, Cornelia is waking up. I’m sure this will only need a little spell,’ she said impatiently, standing over Aidan who was now stretched out on the bottom bunk, his hands behind his head.
Anders burst in desperately. ‘Highness, he has express orders from Lord Tragen that he isn’t to cast spells in confined spaces.’
‘He only means warming spells!’ And at Augusta’s enquiring look, and ignoring the yelp of fear from Beatrix, Aidan went on. ‘Tragen has the stupid idea I have accidents with spells involving heat. Anders will tell you that it was his fault last time when I burned the bunk. Now where are your clothes, Highness…sorry…Augusta?’
Just then, there was an anxious cry from the cabin over the way. Lady Cornelia had awoken to find herself ensconced in her mistress’s cot, with her ankle swathed in linen.
‘Augusta,’ she shouted, ‘Augusta where are you? What am I doing here?’
‘Quickly Beattie, go and calm her. Tell her I’ll be right along.’ As she ran out, shaking her head and muttering that all hell was about to break loose, Augusta turned to Anders.
‘You, grab that bowl, pretend it has water in it for washing Lady Cornelia and take it in to Beattie. Aidan have you had any more thoughts? He shook his head. ‘Come on hurry up I have to go in and see her she’s not going to wait much longer.’
‘Well, she can hardly get out of bed to come and get you!’
‘Aha! I know that,’ she said sarcastically. ‘But she’s going to smell a rat if I don’t get in there before long.’
‘A spell of fragrance should do it,’ he pondered. ‘Yes, I can cast an enchantment to make your gowns smell,’ and he grinned evilly at her, ‘smell absolutely foul.’
‘Yes!’ she laughed. ‘Yes that should do it. That’s a wonderful idea. I should have thought of that myself.’
Aidan preened, rubbing his fingernails on his chest. ‘You need a smart mind like mine for that.’
‘Huh,’ she said disparagingly, ‘don’t push it. Wait, nothing can go wrong, can it?’ She gave him a worried look remembering the wizard’s restrictions on heat spells.
‘Don’t panic, of course nothing will go wrong. Now where did you say these clothes were?’
‘They’re hanging in the chest next to my cot.’
‘Awkward, I’ll have to create the spell alongside her. You’ll have to distract her.’ He looked at her confidently. ‘But first things first, you have to get me in there.’
‘That’s easy, I’ll tell her you are there to help remove my wardrobe to this cabin. And once I inform Cornelia how you healed her, she’ll want to convey her gratitude personally and will not suspect a thing.’ Grinning, she pulled him by the hand from the bottom bunk and into the passage.
‘Whoa!’ he shouted bumping the doorjamb as he went through. At the door of Cornelia’s cabin Aidan stopped, abruptly jerking Augusta to a halt he held her hand tight. ‘You are not to tell her that I healed her.’
‘Why ever not?’ Augusta asked puzzled, brushing her black hair out of her eyes.
‘Never mind why…I don’t want you to, Okay? Promise me, now, or I won’t help you…I mean it.’ Aidan was adamant, a tremor in his voice.
‘All right, if that is what you wish,’ she said frowning, not understanding his strange attitude. ‘But she’ll find out anyway.’
‘Aye, but not when I’m around…okay?’ and he released her hand.
When Augusta and Aidan entered, Beatrix was washing Cornelia’s face using a facecloth dipped into the bowl held steady in Anders’ strong hands. She was that flustered, she hadn’t noticed the water was dirty. Beatrix and Anders glanced at each other nervously wondering what madcap scheme had been dreamed up.
Cornelia looked up when Augusta appeared in the cabin. ‘I’m sorry, Augusta, for being in your bed. I…I don’t know what has happened to me. Please, if you can obtain assistance for me, I will remove myself immediately.’
‘Nonsense, Cornelia, it is me who is moving out. Aidan here has kindly consented to help me in moving my wardrobe into Beattie’s cabin. I will use your bed until you are fully healed.’
Without warning the purple-faced lady-in-waiting screamed. ‘Augusta…Augusta, what are you wearing? Oh, my God, your father will flay me alive!’ And the large lady made as if to rise and then, as the cot swung wildly and she grabbed hold of its sides to avoid falling out, she noticed that she was not wearing any outer garments. ‘Agh!’ she said with a strangled shout. ‘Get these boys out of here, I cannot be seen like this,’ and she drew the blankets up to her neck.
‘Come, come, Cornelia,’ she said comfortingly, patting the lady’s podgy hand. ‘Please, do not fret, you will make yourself ill. My own clothes have been ruined by the storm. These are the only suitable clothes we could find and as you see Beatrix refused to allow me to wear such clothing alone.’
Beatrix stared at Augusta, disbelief playing on her face, biting her bottom lip to stop herself blaring out the truth.
‘Suitable?’ Cornelia said, noticing Beattie’s clothes for the first time, the further shock making her tremble. ‘Oh Augusta, can we not find other raiment for you?’
Aidan, taking advantage of the lady’s distraction opened the chest door and peered inside. ‘Oh boy,’ he muttered, ‘this is going to be simple.’ Excited, he glanced around, caught Anders’ eye, and winked.
Anders knew the wink, and he mouthed desperately, ‘No, don’t,’ and grabbed Beattie’s hand.
Aidan ignored him and once again turned to the open wardrobe.
Beatrix returning Anders’ frantic grip, followed his gaze, both of them forced to watch as Aidan commenced his incantation. The song was very low and quiet, hardly discernible half a foot away. They watched his hands, his fingers describing intricate patterns inside the doors. And in less than a moment he had finished. He looked around at the others a look of pure innocence on his face and awaited gleefully the result of his spell-casting.
Cornelia continued imploring her charge. ‘Perhaps there is more dignified wear in my own wardrobe or in Beattie’s. Please, Augusta, you must search.’
‘We both have and if these boys had not come to our rescue we may have had to remain in wet clothes for days. I might well have caught a chill.’
‘Yes, my dear Cornelia in that she is correct.’ Tragen interjected at the door, seeming to appear from nowhere to give his totally unexpected support. ‘Forgive me, Highness, but I need a word with your lady-in-waiting and…’ his voice trailed away as he looked around the cabin sniffing, the pimple on the end of his long nose quivering.
‘Agh! What is that smell?’ Lady Cornelia exclaimed, holding her blankets tightly over her small nose, her face ashen. ‘I am going to be ill!’
A stench had gradually arisen in the room, a smell like no other. Aidan looked around, his hands to his face. ‘God, it smells like rotten meat, like something’s died. It’s coming from this chest. What on earth is in here?’
Augusta screamed convincingly. ‘Quickly, my gowns are in there, they’ll be ruined.’
Aidan grabbed a few. ‘Too late, Augusta,’ he said, not thinking, ‘they already are.’
‘Agh!’ for the third time Lady Cornelia nearly strangled. ‘He called her by her name! Punish him, Lord Tragen…punish him severely. Get out of here you evil boy!’
Aidan, not realizing his mistake, made to apologize even though he was only following orders…anything for a quiet life. Then an even worse odour overwhelmed the stench of rotting meat. Beatrix, Augusta and Anders, along with Lady Cornelia, started gagging.
Augusta, her hands up to her mouth, stared at Aidan and unmistakeably her look said enough was enough.
Aidan was in a quandary, he couldn’t tell her that he had finished the spell without divulging her part in the deceit, besides he didn’t know what had gone wrong, although this new sickly aroma seemed familiar.
Panicking, Aidan grabbed Anders and pulled him towards the door, flight appearing the appropriate action. Unfortunately, being so close to the appallingly sweet and obnoxious tang on Aidan caused Anders’ stomach to rebel. He vomited into the bowl he was holding. Aidan, taken completely by surprise, accidentally jogged the bowl and spilled its contents over Cornelia’s bedclothes.
Lady Cornelia screamed somewhat hoarsely, she was now losing her voice. Luckily, the contents landed on her abdomen and not on her injured ankle.
Augusta jumping clear of the spray collided with Beatrix who, rushing to help Anders crashed into Tragen at the door.
Utter pandemonium reigned for minutes before the wizard shouted and restored a modicum of peace and order.
‘Aidan, you are reeking,’ stated Tragen, again wrinkling his nose in disgust.
And before his mentor could continue, the irate apprentice interrupted. ‘I know, I know,’ he shouted, ‘it’s this bloody balm on my neck and legs! I didn’t know that would be affected as well, did I?’ and then he cringed as Tragen, raising an eyebrow, stared at him.
‘I am going to teach you, my boy, if it’s the last thing I do!’ He raised his hand in the air and made small rippling movements with his fingers, enunciating at the same time a countering spell. The stench of rotting cadaver and foul balm vanished from the cabin and a cool refreshing breeze blew through, clearing the heads of both Cornelia and Tragen.
Augusta, her plan a dismal failure, made an unconscious decision that was to have far reaching consequences for her, resulting in a cementing of a friendship began the day before. Instinctively, she knew that Aidan could not be allowed to shoulder the blame alone, but before she could utter a word, her lady-in-waiting spoke.
‘My Lord Tragen, I do not know what is going on here, but I would appreciate it if you could relieve me of this…vileness on my bed.’
‘Of course,’ and his fingers glided through the air and the obnoxious mess rolled up into a ball and disappeared. ‘If I may take up some of your time in a moment, I hope to alleviate a little of your ignorance of these past few hours.’
He stared at all four culprits, for he knew that to a greater or lesser degree they were all at fault. ‘I should leave now if I was you…and Aidan,’ he grabbed his apprentice’s shoulder as he rushed past, ‘you will all wait for me in the ladies’ cabin.’ And glaring at her severely, he bowed to Augusta as she scurried after them.
‘Thank you, Tragen,’ vastly relieved at now having clean bedding again, Cornelia smiled weakly. ‘Please, be seated and tell me all, since I opened my eyes I have been subjected to bewildering behaviour. Start with my ankle if you will, I recall falling, but nothing else.’
He sat in the vacant chair, his exhaustion cherishing the brief silence, and went through the events of the last twenty-four hours. As he did, the lady, from reclining comfortably as he commenced his tale, at the end was sitting bolt upright, even more agitated and bemused. He began with her accidental trip on Aidan’s robe, and the subsequent healing of her fractured ankle.
Here she stopped him. ‘You mean that boy has the gift, Tragen? And there was me thinking he was trouble through and through.’
‘Far from it, Cornelia,’ Tragen’s pride in his boy, obvious in his tone, ‘he has a truly wondrous power of healing—his is an extraordinary gift. He can actually see a malady within a body and, whereas I heal from the outside in, he heals from the inside out. A method that is far superior to mine,’ he paused, regarding her for a moment, wondering if further comment was needed.
‘As for his mischief-making, his causing of trouble, you would say. I believe it to derive from the goodness in his heart.’ He held up his hands before she could speak. ‘I know it may seem malicious, but I assure you it is not. He just happens to be very accident prone, and it is he who usually ends up being the injured party.’ Tragen stroked his beard, thinking back over the years, and the loneliness in his life before Aidan had come along. He continued with a little of the boy’s background.
‘He is a young boy whose life used to consist of surviving in the gutters for that is where he was when I met him first. Now, he is an honest young man learning a different form of survival, a way to live amongst decent people.’ He rubbed his weary eyes. ‘I do not mean to excuse his bad behaviour but I am convinced his purpose in spell-casting here had a sound reason…at least to those four it would seem sound. He is growing up and like all adolescents he makes mistakes. I ask you to forgive every one of them for I suspect the involvement of Augusta as the primary force in this latest prank.’
Lady Cornelia closed her eyes, considering the wizard’s words for a moment. ‘Very well, but I have no choice anyway I have to forgive him, do I not? After all, I would be in a great deal of pain right now,’ she sighed and lay back against her pillows. ‘You know I have the sickness of the old in my bones, Tragen, and I am prone to fractures.’ She looked up, tears in her eyes, despair in her quiet voice, meeting his sympathetic gaze. ‘This…’ and she pointed at her bound ankle, ‘could have happened at any time, and will occur, unfortunately many times in the future.’
Tragen smiled, knowing his next words were going to utterly astound her. ‘You did have the sickness of the old, Cornelia. My Aidan has set the healing process in place for that illness as well as for your fractured ankle.’
She stared at him, stunned, the truth of his words taking her breath. ‘You are telling me that I no longer need fear breaking my bones? I need no longer be afraid of trips and falls and…and open doors?’
He nodded his assent.
Loud sobs bubbled from the very depths of her being, her body shaking violently, her face in her hands. Tragen leant over and grasped her hands, bringing them from her tear wracked face, comforting her with his presence.
‘My God, I have lived with the fear of it most of my life. No other healer has been able to help me, even you tried once.’ She paused, thinking back over the pain filled, ever so careful, years.
‘My mother died quite young, you know; she accidentally banged her head in a doorway.’ Using the blanket, she dried the tears rolling down her face and, breathing deeply, she composed herself before continuing. ‘It was only a small tap, nothing really, but because she had the malady the bang fractured her skull. We could not find a healer in time. It was then my father told me of the “old” sickness and that I was expected to come down with it. He was right!’
She leant forward to emphasize her next words. ‘You will not punish that boy…I mean it. You are not to even think of it. To heal me of that horrible, terrible illness,’ she shuddered. ‘I must reward him.’
‘He would not accept one. In fact he would be seriously offended if you were to offer him anything. Be advised by me…never speak your gratitude, he hates being thanked.’
‘He hates it? Well…he needs money, does he not? He is not from a rich family, is he? Is there any way I can endow him without his knowledge?’
Tragen shook his weary head and managed to stifle the yawn that had been coming on him in the last few moments. ‘I do not know his family but he has all he needs from me. If he wishes more, he knows to ask and he will get it. There is no need to provide anything.’ He smiled his thoughts fully on his boy…his love for his adopted son. ‘He is a very unusual young man, Cornelia.’
‘Yes,’ she nodded, tears again glistening in her eyes. ‘You are fond of him, I see.’
‘Yes, very much so, he is the son I never had, and I am enormously proud of him.’
‘So you should be. Tell me, the boy could be famous and command untold influence. Why have I never heard of him?’
‘He demands secrecy from all those he heals. I expect him to extract that promise from you, ere long. You see, he sees his power of healing as a bounden duty. It is his nature to heal—anyone or anything; he also heals the maladies in animals. Even the ability he has for creating magic is based on healing, not as mine…on the mind. But there are two conditions when he cannot, or will not, heal.’
‘What are those?’ Intrigued, she wanted to know everything about the young wizard, the young man, who had given her hope for a normal future.
‘The first are those maladies affecting people whose time is at an end.’
‘What does that mean? I don’t understand.’
Tragen peered at her, he was very tired now, the energy expended creating the shield wall had been phenomenal, and the alcohol he had just consumed with Locklear was not helping him to stay awake. His eyes were drooping and he still hadn’t broached the subject that was his purpose in coming to her.
‘He can see and communicate with the dead, just as easily as you or I speak with each other. He knows when a person’s allotted time in this world is at an end because he can see the aura of death surrounding them. If he meets someone whose time is coming to a close – when they are near death – but are in pain, you know what he does? He eases their passing by removing that pain and he does not leave them to die alone…he remains with them, comforting them, until they have passed over safely. Is that not remarkable?’
‘I…I can hardly believe it,’ she said astounded. ‘The second condition you mentioned, what is that?’
‘Ah! To me it is the strangest thing of all about him, even stranger than when I actually witness him in contact with the ghosts of those who have gone on. He will not heal himself or allow another healer to use magic to cure his maladies. Although he will use nature’s remedies.’ Tragen, a puzzled look on his face, shrugged his weary shoulders. ‘He believes it to be improper and grossly selfish. The gift is for others he says, not for himself. That is why he uses that balm you smelled earlier. He has burns on his body and will not let me heal him with magic.’
‘My God, Tragen, that boy is truly special!’
‘He is also very modest and would never acknowledge that he is different to his peers. That is why there is such a close friendship between him and Anders. Anders, bless him, accepts Aidan as an ordinary boy and yet respects his abilities. As I said earlier, Aidan actually gets very upset if anyone expresses their gratitude. And if you persisted he would probably never talk to you again, he would be highly embarrassed.’ He grimaced. ‘I do not pretend to understand his reasoning; his outlook on life and death unnerves me quite often. But like I said, he truly does have a heart of gold and the mistakes he makes in growing up are the same as those of any other young man his age.’
This time Tragen could not withhold the yawn. ‘I’m sorry, Cornelia, but now I must talk of another matter…the reason I came to see you this evening.’
‘What is it, my friend? I apologize I see that you are weary, be quick then and tell me.’
‘We need to hide Augusta,’ he said, more abruptly than he intended, extreme exhaustion his excuse.
‘What!’ Cornelia lost all colour and gasped. ‘Why?’ she said, clasping her hands across her chest.
‘It seems that we have been found by someone whose intent is malicious,’ Tragen paused again. ‘This tempest is not normal; it appears to have been created by a force that has been searching for us.’ As he examined her face, he wondered if she would be able to understand. ‘I do not know the identity of the hunter, or why he is hunting us. As for where he is at this time, I have no idea. I can only assume he is now far behind us as the gale now blows from the stern. How far, we should have an idea in the morning. If the storm lessens by then, I believe we can safely assume that we have succeeded in escaping.’
‘And if the weather does not improve?’
He scratched his beard. ‘We will cross that bridge when we come to it.’
‘You believe whoever it is, is after Augusta?’
‘If she is taken it will have untold consequences for Mantovar. And I honestly cannot see a power as mighty as this being used just to steal your jewellery.’
‘I agree, but how can we possibly hide her on this vessel…it may be a huge ship, but for this purpose it’s far too small?’
He smiled at her. ‘I think she is already doing it for us. Who would dream of finding Mantovar’s female heir dressed as a common sailor? She is running around the ship in company with three other youths of the same age. If, God forbid, we are taken, she will blend in quite nicely as part of the crew.’
Lady Cornelia lay back on her pillow, her lips pursed, silent for a moment thinking of the consequences. ‘The rest of the crew will they not know who she is? After all, everyone knows that your purpose for being on this voyage was to bring the heir home. How will you deal with that?’
Tragen breathed a sigh of relief, this woman was no fool. ‘I have thought of a plan Cornelia. What say you, if you assume her place? I know,’ and he raised his hands again to halt her interjection, ‘what you are about to say. You are a lot older; you could not possibly be mistaken for her. But think a moment. We have only been at sea for five days and for two of those we have suffered this storm. The first three days Augusta spent in her cabin suffering seasickness, am I correct?’ Cornelia nodded. ‘So, very few on board have actually seen her. If you stay in here, in this cabin, everyone else will assume that she is still ill and no-one will be surprised, this storm has made even seasoned sailors sick to their stomach. Stay here until we deem it safe, and we swear all who have seen her, to secrecy. Then there should be no problem, and Augusta can masquerade as your companion along with Beatrix.
‘Waited on…by my charge! Now that would be a novelty,’ Cornelia chuckled. ‘She must change her name; we cannot have her called Augusta if the Princess Augusta is ill in bed,’ she said as Tragen rose to leave.
‘I am sincerely relieved to have your cooperation in this Cornelia. Let us hope these precautions are a waste of time.’
The wizard stepped across the narrow passageway and found all four youths waiting silently in Beattie’s cabin. The lantern, still swinging overhead, shone light on four very agitated countenances.
‘It was not Aidan’s fault, it was mine,’ said Augusta, jumping to her feet immediately he came through the door. ‘If anyone is to be punished it should be me, it was my idea.’
Aidan hunching his shoulders even more knew it was pointless her taking the blame; he was the one who had conjured the spell. How could he have been such an idiot not to realize that everything nearby would be affected. His unguent was still emitting a sickly sweet odour but nowhere near as bad as it was, at least Anders was no longer gagging.
Anders, staring at his hands in his lap, was sitting on the floor at Beattie’s feet; she sat bedraggled on the bed biting her bottom lip. She was feeling decidedly nervous as she peered up at the wizard and she unconsciously shifted closer to Anders, her leg now pressed against his arm.
‘Very well, Highness, I can well believe it was your idea.’ Tragen appeared to consider his next move although he knew that Aidan would be next to open his mouth.
‘Come off it, you know full well it’s my fault. There’s no need to punish these others. The blame is mine; none of them were actively involved.’ Aidan said utterly dejected, he was about to receive his worst punishment to date and was dreading it.
‘No, we knew you were going to do something, so if one is punished all should be punished.’ Beatrix said surprising herself. She was now emulating her mistress in being protective of him and not understanding why, instinctively knowing though that it was right.
Anders nodded his blond head, agreeing with her, as far as he was concerned Beatrix could never be wrong.
‘Don’t listen to them, I ordered them to aid me in this and now I am ordering you to exact punishment only on me,’ said Augusta.
‘My dear lady, your father gave me this mission to bring you home. At the same time he ordered me to do as I thought best to keep you safe from harm. I consider your orders to these three in that context. Ordering an invocation in a confined space is dangerous—you were therefore in peril. Aidan knows this as does Anders. Beatrix as your companion should have known it; she’s been around magic long enough. Therefore you will all be disciplined, whether you dispute it or not. Highness, from this moment Lady Cornelia and I have decided that she will assume your identity until we reach home.’
‘What! How dare you, wizard?’ She spluttered, aghast at his words, the others staring at her, mouths agape. Aidan had never before heard anyone use that tone of voice to his master.
‘I dare, madam, as the person with overall responsibility for your welfare.’ He continued before she could catch her breath. ‘Lady Cornelia will remain in your cabin until such time as we deem fit. You will take up the task of her companion and will fetch and carry for her.’
‘I will not!’ Augusta shouted, her green eyes blazing, hands on hips.
‘You will, Your Royal Highness,’ the wizard using her formal title to stress the seriousness of his threat, ‘or I will inform your father on our return that not only did you disobey my instructions, you actively put yourself in danger. Do you understand?’
Augusta quailed; the thought of news of this escapade reaching the Prince of Mantovar terrified her, he was a very loving father, but also a very strict disciplinarian. It wouldn’t be the first time he had punished her for disobeying the orders of his people. Her shoulders slumped, and nodding, she acquiesced grudgingly.
‘You, Beatrix, will have to teach her the duties of a companion and, as you haven’t got one, those of a maid as well.’ A horrified feeling came over Beatrix at the thought of instructing her mistress on how to scrub the cabin floor. ‘And I am warning the pair of you,’ he looked from one to the other of the silent girls, ‘you are to put your heart and soul into the deception. You are to be convincing at all times, whether it be in public or privately here in your cabin. Beatrix, do not be afraid to quarrel with your mistress over this, it is very important that the deception is believed. As for your attire, ladies, you will continue as you are in these clothes.’
‘But, Milord, I have proper clothes she can wear,’ said Beatrix, interrupting.
Tragen pretended not to see the well-aimed kick from Augusta. ‘Ah, yes! Your name, Highness,’ he said, as Beatrix grimaced.
‘What about it,’ confused, Augusta could not now take her eyes from his face, dreading his next words, although the strange order to continue wearing Aidan’s clothing came as a pleasant surprise.
‘You must have another name. Yes…we’ll call you Mabel, I think,’ Tragen now had a twinkle in his eye which Aidan, not quite believing these strange orders, was the only one to see.
Aidan and Anders both burst out laughing at the horror on Augusta’s face.
‘You cannot be serious, Milord! Please, I absolutely abhor that name,’ Augusta said, her consternation bringing her very close to tears.
‘Beatrix,’ he asked, ignoring the desperation in his princess, ‘how many servants in the castle do you know with the name Mabel?’
Meekly, Beatrix replied. ‘Quite a few, Milord.’
‘Very good, then I am correct, it is a very apt name. From this moment, all of us will address you as Mabel. Do you agree?’
Augusta glared at her friends, daring them to laugh. Aidan, of course, could not help himself and he did again, uproariously. The thought of calling this sometimes very snooty girl by the common name of Mabel, was hilarious.
‘You may find it amusing, Aidan, but I have not yet come to your punishment,’ said Tragen, instantly silencing the young wizard.
‘Now, Anders, what am I to do with you. Not only did you know beforehand that Aidan was going to cast a spell, when that spell went wrong you vomited all over the poor lady ill in bed!’
‘Milord, it was an accident I couldn’t help it.’ The cabin boy, incensed at the injustice of the complaint, for the first time in his life voiced an objection to a statement made by the wizard.
‘If the spell had not been cast, you would not have had an accident and Lady Cornelia would not have had a lap full of the contents of your stomach. You, from this day, besides having your present duties for the captain, will also have the duty of care of both Beatrix and Mabel,’ Augusta winced but said nothing. ‘You are to accompany them whenever they leave this cabin and are to aid them if required, but you are not to replace Mabel in her duties.’
Anders was utterly confused it occurred to him that he was already doing just that. He sat mute, staring at the wizard and again he couldn’t help noticing the pimple on the end of Tragen’s nose. It was getting larger.
‘And now, Aidan,’ Tragen pulled at his beard. ‘You seem not to understand that spells must not be cast in small rooms. You are obviously competent at casting the spells of flame, fragrance and light. But think about it, the only spell you cast that did not have grave consequences was that of light which took place out of doors. The other two resulted in accidents. Do you agree?’
‘Yes, I understand, but I’m going to have to create spells indoors sometimes.’
‘Not for practical jokes, my boy! Now it will be your task, along with Anders, to keep Mabel safe from harm. You will carry on teaching her rudimentary magic and report to me each week on her progress.’ Augusta perked up at this. ‘You are not to instruct her in high magic but you may reveal as much of the history of the art as you think appropriate. You understand?’
Aidan nodded waiting for the axe to fall.
‘It is late now, you are all to partake of your supper and retire. Aidan, you will again sleep in Anders’ berth but this time you will have the floor and he the bed.’ As he reached the door, he wished them a goodnight and left four very perplexed teenagers to mull over his punishments.
That same night Anders was again woken by Aidan talking in his sleep.
The man continued to scream long after the spear entered his eye. It took its time, eking out the man’s agony for as long as possible.
‘Master,’ a voice uttered from behind, ‘you sent for me.’
It withdrew the spear and turned to look on its minion. ‘We have a wizard in our net!’
‘You are sure? The storm has ensnared an enchanted one?’ the servile one asked excitedly, wringing his hands.
‘Yes! I have espied him in the scry using his staff. The stave holds immense power. It may even be enough!’ It hissed its sibilant jubilation. ‘Our time is near at hand…O Lord,’ he intoned raising his arms in supplication. ‘O Lord, a wizard comes! You will be free!’
‘What do you mean “a wizard”? There is more than one coming for you,’ Aidan said, threateningly, before falling quiet for the rest of the night.
Anders lay awake for hours afterward—confused and a little frightened.
“I hear Evan Morgan broke the world 100 metre record wearing mining boots.”
“How did he manage that?”
“He fell down the shaft.”
Have a nice day!