Chapter Eighteen of The Gateway (and a giggle)

A blonde, a redhead, and a brunette were all lost in the desert. They found a lamp and rubbed it. A genie popped out and granted them each one wish. The redhead wished to be back home. Poof! She was back home. The brunette wished to be at home with her family. Poof! She was back home with her family. The blonde said, “Awwww, I wish my friends were here.”


st fagans castle (20)




The banqueting hall was impressive, large, high-ceilinged and airy. Heavy oak panelling predominated on each wall, its darkness alleviated by two large, four-paned sash windows overlooking the drive. Twice as long as it was wide, the room held three tables, two running parallel to the long walls, each able to seat at least forty people. The third, placed across the heads of the other two, stood on a raised dais so that the occupants could see and be seen by everyone present.

The long mahogany head table groaned under the weight of food of all descriptions. Bowls of fresh oranges, pineapples and bananas evenly spaced along the dark, polished surface, accompanied at intervals with freshly segmented melons, yellow and green. Platters of newly baked manchet bread, cheese trenchers and bowls of nuts added to the rich aroma of roast mutton, beef and chicken. All was lit by two elaborate glass candelabra suspended from the ceiling on silver chains, the light reflecting off the solid silver tableware.

Portraits of Portolans past and present, hung along the walls, the faces with stern expressions except for the only painting of a female suspended directly above the fireplace in the long wall opposite the windows. The sunshine streaming through the glass during the day, would serve to emphasize the very happy scene that must have delighted artist, model and onlooker. The lady depicted was a very fat woman, with deep laughter lines around her eyes, dressed in a long green gown and wearing a large pendant in the shape of a griffin, on her chest. She was sitting upright in an armchair, her hands in her lap, smiling affectionately at someone who must have been looking over the artist’s shoulder. In the place of honour behind the head table, hung a portrait of a man who bore a striking resemblance to the seneschal although it was of a much thinner man.

When Beatrix and Anders entered at the back of the room with their heavy tureens, the steward was pouring wine into silver goblets. Seneschal Portolan sat in a high backed chair in the centre of the high table, to his right sat Lady Cornelia, on his left, Lord Tragen, and on the other side of the wizard sat Captain Locklear. But the seneschal’s eyes were concentrated to his right watching Cornelia helping Mistress Barbat to settle Thaddeus between them.

Cornelia, proving now why the Princess of Mantovar trusted her so completely with the upbringing of her daughter, was talking animatedly with the nurse. The seneschal and the wizard were fascinated. Portolan with the fact that this very attractive stranger seemed so comfortable with his mentally abnormal son, a boy that he spent all his waking hours – and a lot of the hours of darkness – protecting from the world. And Tragen by how Lady Cornelia, without realizing it, had utterly beguiled their host.

Dinner progressed with small talk, Seneschal Portolan continually distracted by Cornelia taking her turn at feeding his son and in keeping his chin clean of spilled food. And what was more important to Lodovico Portolan, and did more than anything else to unreservedly charm him, Cornelia did not ignore Thaddeus, did not treat him as a dummy but talked to him as if nothing was amiss.

Tragen asked the harbourmaster during a lull in the conversation about the gentleman in the portrait behind him.

‘He is my brother, Paul…The Portolan, leader of our clan.’

‘Will I have the pleasure of meeting him while I’m here?’

‘I shouldn’t think so, he is away at present, and not expected home for some weeks,’ he answered, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. The hard look lifted by Cornelia’s treatment of his son returned, his glacial eyes seemingly intent on unpleasant memories.

‘And the lady in that portrait, who is she?’ Cornelia indicated the painting above the fireplace.

‘She is my wife, or rather was,’ he continued, staring at the painting his eyes softening. ‘She died of head injuries a few moments before giving birth to Thaddeus. Unfortunately, I am told by wizards,’ and he looked at Tragen, ‘that nothing can be done for him. He was birthed by the physician having to take him directly from his mother’s womb shortly after her death. Wizards tell me that although Thaddeus is physically well, only his body came forth…not his soul. Thus he is as you see him.’

‘By the Gods…never!’ Cornelia said, shocked to her very core. ‘I do not believe it.’ She looked at Thaddeus and cupping his chin in her hand, she stared into his eyes. ‘If he had no soul he would be totally wicked, this boy is not evil…never evil,’ and tears welled in her eyes as she stroked his face.

The seneschal, surprised at her vehemence, stared at her for a moment. ‘Nonetheless,’ and he sighed, the despair of years in that murmur, ‘that is what I have been informed. Do you concur with your colleagues, Lord Tragen?’ He placed his napkin beside his plate, attempting to keep the anguish, and the hope, out of his voice and not quite succeeding.

‘I could not possibly say without examining him. Will you allow me time alone with him, maybe tomorrow?’ Tragen now realized why the presence of a wizard was so important to the man.

‘Yes, of course. I will send my coach for you in the morning,’ Lodovico Portolan composed himself and supped his wine. ‘And now, Captain Locklear, I am remiss, tell me of this storm.’

Locklear glanced at Tragen wondering whether to divulge the knowledge of malign sorcerers being the cause. Tragen, understanding the look, imperceptibly shook his head. Locklear, beckoning Anders to refill his goblet, paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and to put them in the right order. Staring at his host he spoke in terms understood by seafarers all over the world. He told of the intensity of the tempest and their consequent battle to survive. He described the height of the waves, the strength of the winds and the lack of visibility leading to loss of position. Locklear, a born storyteller when imbibing good liquor – they were drinking Tragen’s gift – went on for over half an hour. He brought to life the terror and peril of those days, and he finished with the description of Tragen’s shield spell which had saved them. He did not mention Aidan.

‘And your immediate requirements, what are they?’ The seneschal asked coolly as he used his small, razor-sharp, food knife usually kept in his belt when not eating, to cut a sliver of mutton, before dipping the roast meat into a small salver of pungent sauce.

‘A dry-dock, if you have one?’ At the seneschal’s nod, he went on. ‘We also require timber and caulking, ropes and canvas as well as food and water. And, we desperately need new masts.’ Locklear sat back in his chair and again beckoned Anders to replenish his goblet.

‘The dry-dock is going to be a bit of a squeeze. When we built it we did not envisage a ship as large as yours having need of it. But, with care it should suffice. Nevertheless, it is going to be a devil of a job to move your Grim into place, my dock-master is going to have his work cut out,’ he smiled wryly.

‘We can supply everything except masts,’ the seneschal nibbled a small wedge of cheese and continued. ‘We have no trees suitable on Griffin thanks to the Montetors tearing down the forests for their mines. Our masts have to be imported, now. You can always sail to the Onyx Isles for them, of course, a journey of some weeks I’m afraid. Should you have luck and fine weather, you might make it easily, otherwise…’ and he shrugged his shoulders. ‘But I think you should wait here while we send for them,’ he glanced at Cornelia, a strange intensity in his eyes, ‘they should only take a few months to arrive. I’m sure you know the reputation of those islands, Milord, I wouldn’t be happy with the thought of your niece coming within a hundred leagues of those brigands.’

‘I agree with you, Seneschal, Hugo has told me a great deal of those barbarians. But it is time that we’re short of, we need to get home without any further delay,’ answered Tragen.

‘Then I don’t know what you should do…you need masts, Onyx has them in abundance.’

‘Can’t we obtain new masts on Sanctity, that island is only days away, after all?’ Locklear enquired, wondering why their host had not mentioned his neighbour.

Shocked silence greeted this request. Mistress Barbat gasped and put her hand to her neck as if she was suffering a constriction. The footman standing next to Anders nearly dropped the platter he was holding.

‘I am sorry, Captain, but no-one is allowed to visit Sanctity without permission of the brethren who live there. And they never give consent to strangers.’

The seneschal, visibly shaken, abruptly placed his napkin on the table, the hard man’s voice now barely disguising fear. ‘It is late I’m afraid and I must see my son to bed. Lord Tragen I will see you in the morning. Captain, I will send an aide to you, he will assist you with the dockworkers.’

Rising from the table, he turned to Cornelia. ‘My Lady, you must forgive and excuse me. Would you care to accompany your uncle in the morning? It would give me great pleasure if you would, and then maybe Thaddeus and I can show you our home.’

‘Of course, I’d be delighted, Seneschal, and I thank you for a wonderful evening.’ Cornelia smiled, careful not to show her astonishment at such an end to the conviviality.

Back in the coach long before they expected to be, Locklear turned to Tragen. ‘Well, my friend, I did not expect that reaction.’

‘No, he was terrified of something and I know not what. Could it be this torturer of Aidan’s visions? It would certainly account for his fear. Perhaps Cornelia and I can ferret out an explanation from the nurse tomorrow,’ he closed his eyes and leant back against the seat. ‘Cornelia, you had a remarkable effect on the seneschal, did you not?’

‘Did I? I didn’t notice I was too busy with that poor boy—no soul indeed!’ She stared at her feet, a slight colouring in her face, not admitting that the man had had quite an effect on her. ‘Have you a possible diagnosis of the boy’s problems?’

‘Again we’ll have to wait until morning. I don’t hold out much hope, though, if the boy’s brain is damaged, or again if the boy truly has no soul, then I know of no cure. But, of course, there’s always Aidan…who knows? It does explain Portolan’s worn appearance, the boy’s condition must call for many a sleepless night.’

Above them on the hind seat, Anders and Beatrix listened to every word, knowing they would be closely questioned on their return. They looked at each other, gripping each other’s hands tightly, neither wishing to acknowledge their growing trepidation. What on earth was on Sanctity? And how could anyone be born without a soul?


As soon as they arrived back aboard the Grim Locklear gave instructions for the morrow. He had come to the decision to lighten the ship to facilitate entry into the cramped dock. The ship needed to float higher on the water and, to enable this, the holds would be emptied, an immense operation that could take all day. Not many ports had a dry-dock the purpose of which, besides being a place to build new ships, was also to enable the hulls of older ships to be repaired or careened without the ship having to be heaved on to its side. In the dock, the ship would be propped upright in a cradle with the keel on supports. With the water pumped out of the dock there would be less abnormal stress on the hull and work on that part of the ship usually submerged, could be carried out swiftly and efficiently.

Locklear moved off with Hopper and Trumper to discuss the complex arrangements. It would be the first time that the Grim’s hull had ever undergone repair to such a great extent and the opportunity to careen would also be taken. The three men wished to prepare for all eventualities.

Tragen, espying Aidan called him over, inevitably Augusta, Beatrix and Anders followed. The four were inseparable now and the wizard smiled…at least a part of his plan was working.

‘Aidan, we have a strange ailment to diagnose and I want you to mull it over before Cornelia and I leave in the morning to return to the harbourmaster’s home…’

‘Can I come?’ Aidan asked eagerly.

‘Not yet, we still need to keep you and Augusta concealed, but if I do not succeed in discovering a cure, a way must be found for you to examine the boy.’

‘What boy?’

‘Wait, and stop interrupting, we have had a long night,’ he paused. ‘Tell me; is it possible for a baby to be born without a soul?’

‘Bloody hell…what a question!’

‘Well,’ Tragen gave one of his mean looks which boded ill for his apprentice if he did not reply quickly.

He hurriedly answered. ‘Of course not, whatever gave you that idea?’

‘Never mind,’ Tragen said. ‘I expect your friends will tell you. When they have, I will appreciate your advice. Now goodnight to you all,’ and he moved off escorting Lady Cornelia to her cabin.

‘When you retire please do it silently, I do not want to be disturbed I have a lot to ponder on.’ Cornelia said as she arrived at the door to step below. But she impulsively turned to Aidan and this time she implored. ‘Please, Aidan, think on it well. It is imperative you come up with a diagnosis and a cure, the boy is suffering terribly and perhaps his father more so. Goodnight.’

‘You two,’ Augusta ordered Beatrix and Anders, waving her finger at them, ‘to our cabin immediately. We want to know everything and I mean everything.’


‘What! You really mean that the seneschal fancies Lady Cornelia?’ Aidan asked, stifling a laugh.

Augusta poked him in the shoulder. ‘And why not? Cornelia is a lovely person, warm and sincere and she is no idiot like some men I could mention. And, what’s more, the concern she expresses inclines me to think that she may have taken a shine to the seneschal…she definitely has to his son.’

Beatrix and Anders had been closely questioned for nearly an hour. A very harrowing experience, Augusta and Aidan taking turns at battering them with questions.

‘The seneschal’s wife looked very much the same as Lady Cornelia…you know, big and fat and he talked of her with great affection,’ Anders said.

‘Please, Lady Cornelia’s love life is not the most important thing here, the boy is and whatever is on Sanctity.’ Beatrix said, highlighting the immediate problems.

‘Sorry, Beattie, you’re right. His mother died just before giving birth, eh! I wonder what the cause of her head injury was. He never said?’ Aidan asked. The two shook their heads.

‘Have you any idea what could be wrong with him?’ Augusta asked.

‘Not really, I’d only be guessing. I’ve seen babies born in the same circumstances before…you know from a dead mother. And they’ve always been brain damaged because they couldn’t start breathing in time. They’re murder to heal. It sometimes takes weeks because I’d have to heal each symptom in turn. And they have symptoms like drooling, slurred speech, and quite often, they are unable to use their limbs or raise their heads. Moreover, the healing has to be in a particular order, different in each victim. If I heal one thing in the wrong order then it may reappear later as another unhealed symptom affects it.’ He paused and the others, not interrupting, watched as he pondered the situation.

‘No,’ Aidan continued, ‘I can’t understand this illness. He is physically well, but does not talk, do anything for himself except swallow and he acknowledges no-one. I can’t diagnose this without seeing him.’

‘And Sanctity? What troubled Seneschal Portolan about that place? Has anyone any ideas?’ Beatrix asked.

‘You’re sure he was frightened?’ Augusta asked.

‘He was shocked rigid when Captain Locklear mentioned the island, and so were the others in the room,’ said Beatrix.

‘Aye,’ added Anders, ‘no-one wanted to know. The manservant standing beside me wouldn’t even look my way!’

‘So it seems likely that Beattie’s assertion was right, that the storm was used to entice us here,’ said Aidan worriedly. ‘Whoever, or whatever, is on Sanctity that scares the harbourmaster so much could very well be the creator of the storm.’ He looked around at everyone gravely. ‘He could be the torturer I saw. When we reach Sanctity, none of us is to be alone at any time. We look out for each other, all right!’


That night Aidan and Anders talked well into the night, Aidan continuing to pump Anders of all that he’d heard at the Portolan’s. But despite the cabin boy’s unusual ability to perceive the deceptions behind people’s facades, Anders could not discover the reason for the harbourmaster’s fear.

Eventually Aidan gave up and both boys settled to sleep. It took them a long time and, unknown to each other, for more or less the same reason. Aidan recalling his time alone with Augusta, his arm around her shoulder on the poop deck earlier that evening. And Anders smiling idiotically as he dreamt of Beatrix—he could still feel Beattie’s fingers entwined in his.

Two blondes fell down a hole. One said, “It’s dark in here isn’t it?” The other replied, “I don’t know; I can’t see.”

Have a nice day!


Chapter Fifteen of The Gateway and a smile

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



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



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

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

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

‘What does he want?’ Aidan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because she sees me, human.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

I repeat…she sees me, human.’

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

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

Is that all you can say, human?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What is it?’ Augusta asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aidan was struck dumb again and his mouth fell open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Thank you,’ he said loud and clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are coming back then?’ Augusta asked.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

‘Don’t be silly, you know I can’t.’

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

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

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

‘What is it?’

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

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

A bit blurry isn’t it?’

Well, I suppose it is, a bit.’

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

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

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

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

‘What do you mean?’

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

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

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

‘Tell me first how I upset you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see him?’ She asked, awestruck.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘If we are welcome,’ said Tragen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t make it out, sir.’

‘How about you, Tragen,’ Locklear asked.

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

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

‘What do you mean?’ asked Locklear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘How do you mean?’ Locklear asked.

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

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

‘Then justice was served,’ added the captain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Have a nice day!

Chapter Fourteen and a giggle

Politicians and diapers have one thing in common: they should both be changed regularly… and for the same reason.



A grisly murder happens here in my fourth book (Blacksmith's shop St Fagans Castle)
A grisly murder happens here in my fourth book
(Blacksmith’s shop St Fagans Castle)



Later that same afternoon Trumper and his team commenced work on jury-rigging the mainmast. From a jumble of spars and ropes piled alongside it, a somewhat narrower and flimsier upright was lashed to the stump of the mainmast.

At the same time, Augusta found herself up to her armpits in suds, scrubbing in a large tub, the clothes of herself, Beatrix and Lady Cornelia—a very new experience for her. Grumbling continually she kept an eye on Beatrix kneeling alongside her who was also washing clothes…for those of the boys, the captain and Tragen. As Anders and Aidan had explained, the blisters on their hands inflicted by gutting the fish the day before, at Augusta’s insistence they reminded her, had still not healed.

They stood to one side at the rail keeping the girls company, occasionally giving uncalled for advice when Augusta got in a knot. At one point Augusta and Beatrix, losing their temper, had ordered the boys to clear off but Aidan had explained that Tragen would do his nut if they disappeared and left the girls alone—they had to perform their duty of care. Anders was again practising knife-juggling techniques while Aidan was whittling away at a length of wood, the girls not realizing that the boys were gripping their knives in hands that showed no signs of soreness.

But they were not the only ones catching up with their laundry. Lines were slung all over the ship and clothes were hanging to dry giving the impression that the ship was festooned in multi-coloured banners. Even sailors who disliked soap and water for personal cleansing had to follow Locklear’s orders when he told them he’d had enough of their clothes stinking.

That is everyone except Leash, he, being on duty at the helm had missed the fun in the morning. Not that he cared; he didn’t much like fun. Nevertheless, he was optimistic a chance was bound to come about at the forthcoming festivities. He stared at Aidan. Smiling slyly, he savoured the different methods he could use on the boy, bludgeoning, drowning—strangling would be nice, he would be able to feel the life leaving the boy’s body. He liked that idea. But then he smiled wondering for a moment if, perhaps, he could employ his infection’s method. Looking at Aidan, he yearned to use it but knew it would be too risky—decapitation would jog Tragen’s memory. If that happened, then Leash was a dead man walking, but then he grimaced, he was that already.


Tragen walked past the girls scrubbing diligently and noticed his green robe in Beattie’s tub. He stopped by the two boys enjoying themselves at the rail.

‘Why are they washing our clothes, my boy?’

Aidan and Anders raised their hands for the wizard’s inspection, the lesions from the day before hardly visible.

‘We have to keep these blisters dry to aid the healing, Master, so Beattie and Au…Nellie offered to do ours.’

‘Offered…nagged into it, you mean!’ Augusta said, very disgruntled.

‘Oh come, you know they can’t do it with their hands in that state. Besides, it gives you practise,’ said Beatrix, wiping suds from her nose.

‘Practise…practise! What do I need practise for? I’m not doing this when we get home…ever!’

‘When we agreed that you were to masquerade as a maid, I never meant for you to carry out each and every task of a domestic if there’s no need.’

‘Milord, there is every need for clean clothes,’ Beatrix said, scandalized.

Aidan, preparing for flight, grabbed Anders’ arm making him drop the knife he was about to launch at the mast. ‘The Bear is calling you.’

‘Watch out! I could…’ Anders started to say as Tragen halted them with his staff raised across their path.

‘Aidan, I wish you to help the young ladies accomplish this task,’ he ordered, ‘or shall I ban you from this evening’s frivolities?’ Tragen wondered if this boy would ever carry out mischief successfully and he struggled to keep a straight face.

‘He can’t, Milord, his…’ Beatrix stopped as Tragen put his finger to his mouth to silence her.

‘Well, Aidan?’ Tragen waited.

‘You said I wasn’t to do magic on board,’ he said, looking everywhere but at the girls.

‘You know full well that I said “in enclosed spaces”.’

Aidan caved in. ‘All right…stand away from the tubs you two.’ And they looked on bewildered, water dripping from their arms and dirty suds clinging to their shirts and britches, their faces bright red from the exertion of scrubbing clothes for the last hour. Aidan lifted both his hands over the tubs and intoning a chant, curled his fingers and moved his wrists in another complicated series of gestures.

The clothes in the tubs took on a life of their own and leapt from the water perfectly clean. And, as Aidan directed them with his hands, they draped themselves over the line alongside the wet clothes already drying in the sun. Aidan then turned his attention to the mound of dirty clothes dumped on the deck between the tubs and these dipped in the water on their way to the drying line…also as clean as a whistle.

‘Thank you Aidan, I’ll leave you to it now,’ said Tragen, walking away grinning. ‘Should we call a truce, Aidan?’

Aidan watched his mentor’s shoulders shaking with suppressed mirth. He laughed and turned back to the girls, it was only then he realized his dilemma.

‘Now ladies, he only did that to have his own back on me for soaking him.’ The grin fell from his face as the girls grabbed him. ‘Don’t take it to heart, will you, I mean…’

For the second time that day, Aidan was drenched. The girls dumped him into the nearest tub of foul-smelling water.


They left their cabins and, climbing up to the waist at sunset, joined the throng of resting seamen already congregating and vying for a place near the musicians. Forming a circle, with the main hatch at the centre, the crew left an area around it for the dancing, usually exuberant when performed by relaxing, drunken sailors and marines at sea. Sitting in pride of place on the hatch cover and being feted as the principal entertainer of the evening, was Jason and his fiddle, alongside him was a small man almost hidden by a large drum. A third man, Bartholomew, a tall, gangly, red-faced sailor was striking up a tune on his reed pipe. And one particularly sozzled sailor, his long pigtail swinging behind him, was already giving an impromptu rendition of a very bawdy sea shanty whilst swigging from a large tankard.

Several rum and ale casks were in place, as was a makeshift table groaning with pies. Dolly standing guard alongside the results of his labour, had every reason to be proud of his skills, the smell making saliva flow in many a mouth.

The weather could not have been more conducive for reducing tension, the evening warm with a slight breeze carrying the scent of the sea, a clear sky and a rising full moon, a myriad stars twinkling in the heavens.

A league or so from the ship the first blue whales seen for over a week were making their presence felt. Their voices were a welcome sound and the spouts from their blow holes a magnificent sight, except to Dolly of course who studiously kept his back to them.

Aidan and Anders flanked both the girls, all four sitting with their backs against the starboard rail. Augusta and Beatrix breathed a sigh of relief; at one point they thought they were going to miss the party. Earlier that afternoon they had been subjected to a long and tedious lecture given by Lady Cornelia. She not wanting them to attend, knowing exactly what sailors were like when drunk. But having been told by Tragen that it would look extremely odd to the crew if the maids did not attend, and that he’d be there to keep an eye on them anyway, the lady-in-waiting gave in grudgingly.

‘There, I told you he was the good-looking one didn’t I?’ Augusta said, nodding towards the minstrel tuning his fiddle.

‘Oh, yes, he is too,’ replied Beatrix not taking much notice, twitching in an effort to get comfortable on the hard deck, ‘we should have brought cushions.’

‘You two must be blind,’ said Aidan. ‘I’ve seen better looking whales. Look there’s one over there,’ and Aidan pointed over the rail at a spot directly behind Dolly.

‘Oh don’t, he’ll only think you’re laughing at him,’ said Beatrix.

‘Sh…you lot, the Bear’s going to say something,’ said Anders.

The captain, accompanied by Hopper and Tragen, stepped to the forefront of the quarterdeck and looked down at the crew milling about in the waist.

‘Before the party begins men of the Grim, I want to inform you of our present situation and my decisions on our future.’ Hugo Locklear was a giant of a man towering above them. ‘But first I must offer my sincerest thanks to you all for your courage and extraordinary exertions over these past days. If it was not for your excellent seamanship, your stamina and your trust, the Grim would have been lost and us along with it. I am immensely proud of you all and I give you a toast,’ the captain and his two companions held up a mug of spirits to the men and then supped deep.

Locklear continued, his beard wet from spilled brandy, he wiped it quickly with his hand. ‘Unfortunately, we lost four of our shipmates in fighting the storm, and although I have been assured that they are safe in Paradise,’ here he glanced at Aidan before going on, ‘we will still miss them amongst us. So stand and bow your heads in remembrance and ask your Gods to care for them.’

Locklear resumed his speech a moment later. ‘The tempest was the worst I have ever endured in all of my forty years at sea. There was a reason for it being so severe,’ he paused and pulled at his beard. ‘It was not a natural storm but one created by malign beings.’ He paused again, his crew quizzical, unable to grasp the meaning of his words. ‘Aye, you may look puzzled. I was until Lord Tragen explained that sorcery was behind the storm. We do not know its origin or its purpose, but we have come through its onslaught relatively safely. However, we have sustained critical damage which must be rectified sooner rather than later.’

Aidan and Anders glanced at each other both surprised that magic had been mentioned, though the suspected purpose behind the storm had not been. Aidan was of the opinion that if the attempt to capture Augusta was ever voiced in public then that would very likely bring on the outcome they dreaded. He continued to stare up at the captain, on pins awaiting his next words.

‘It is only fair that I tell you of the sorcery as I wish to retain your trust in the times ahead.’ Locklear pulled at his beard and took another sup from his mug. ‘The storm has blown us about four weeks off course and we are at present approaching the Griffin Islands. Some of you may have heard of these isles, others have not. Suffice it to say that wherever we make landfall we must all be on our guard. The enemy may be behind us, or he may very well be on the island at which we provision. Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain we need to make repairs to our hull and step new masts. Without these tasks being completed we will not survive our journey home. And let me assure all of you,’ Locklear raised his voice and slammed his fist on the rail before him. ‘It is my intention to get home and take you all with me. I calculate that we are seven weeks from Mantovar and a couple of days from Griffin. The quicker repairs are made, the earlier we will reach home and our loved ones.

‘Men of the Grim enjoy yourselves this evening you have earned it, and for those of you worried that we will run out of grog, calm yourselves. Lord Tragen has assured me that he can cast a spell that will produce everlasting supplies of rum. And he has also promised he will not let his apprentice anywhere near it.’ Anders joined in the laughter and thumped Aidan’s back.

‘Captain,’ a voice from near the bows shouted, ‘I wouldn’t mind being drowned in grog.’

‘Aye, and from what I’ve heard,’ Locklear replied recognizing the voice, ‘drowning is what you need, Nobber.’ Once again, there was uproar, except from Leash standing at the starboard rail glaring at the back of Aidan’s head.


A few hours later in the midst of the merriment, Anders decided to show the two girls how to dance. Unfortunately, he and Aidan had been supping ale almost continuously since the party started and it showed. ‘Come on, little wizard,’ Anders slurred quite happily, rising from the deck where he had been sitting, as always, alongside Beatrix. He grabbed Aidan and pulled the smaller boy to his feet.

‘Not now, Anders, you’re drunk and I’m…hic…tired, I’ll sit here watching you…hic…and point out the good details of your performance…hic…if there are any,’ he smiled drunkenly, holding on to Augusta’s shoulder to keep upright.

‘Afraid are you? Let’s show them I can dance better than you, boy, drunk or not, come on.’

Aidan and Anders tottered into the centre and calling to Bartholomew to set up a reel, both boys stood patiently in the centre of the deck, arms crossed at shoulder height staring at each other. The crew gradually quietened and prepared to watch the boys’ performance; both had a reputation for dancing the hornpipe second to none and very often engaged in a contest of skills. Bets were already being laid to see who would stick the pace and remain standing at the end.

Augusta and Beatrix watched enthralled for despite being the worse for drink both boys danced expertly. And as Bartholomew increased the tempo on his reed pipe so the boys skipped and stamped their bare feet faster and louder.

Beatrix couldn’t help but show her pride for Anders and urged him on, but looking around at the crew cheering and placing even bigger bets, she noticed Leash staring very strangely at Aidan from his place at the larboard rail.

Leash had been drinking non-stop since he’d finished his stint at the helm and he’d grown surlier as the evening wore on. Though nowhere near drunk – alcohol had no effect on him – his patience was coming to an end. All evening he’d been waiting for Aidan to walk off alone and it had not happened, the boy had even gone to the heads accompanied by the captain’s brat. It seemed he’d have to reconcile himself to the fact that he was not going to get a chance at the boy this night.

Beatrix, a cold shiver running up her back, nudged Augusta, nearly slopping her ale down her front.

‘Careful, Beattie, for God’s sake I’m enjoying this,’ she said unable to hide the slur in her voice.

‘Look at that man over there by that rack of belaying pins, the helmsman, I don’t like the way he’s staring at Aidan,’ Beatrix said, ignoring Augusta’s warning.

Augusta followed her gaze and at that moment Aidan finally gave up the contest and fell to the deck, the ale had got the better of him, Anders’ supporters cheering wildly as they collected their winnings. Leash, his manic black eyes even blacker, sneered, and Augusta, suddenly fearful and not knowing why, wanted to hurt the helmsman to protect Aidan. She stared at the belaying pins alongside him and wished that she could hit him with one, like Dolly’s mother had wished to do to her husband. Feeling guilty for wishing to commit violence for no discernible reason, she turned quickly away and went to help Aidan stand. The next thing she heard was an outraged shout from behind her, someone had really hit Leash with one of the pins. Nobber, just before he fell down drunk, had insisted that the pin had swung through the air on its own—like magic.

Augusta thought no more about it, she and Beatrix went on enjoying themselves up until Aidan vomited over their legs. Utterly disgusted, the girls ordered the boys to bed. And such was the level of inebriation, the boys did not dream of arguing.


Aidan dreamed of laughter again.

And Anders awoke when Aidan screamed. He leapt from bed and did the only thing he could think of—he clasped the distraught boy to his chest. Aidan struggled violently, his hysteria only calming when Anders would not relinquish his hold.

He opened his terrified eyes. ‘Go get Tragen…quick!’

Anders ran through the captain’s cabin, shouting an explanation to Locklear already preparing to leave his bed. He left the Grim’s master to keep watch over Aidan. He raced down the passageway bellowing for the wizard, waking Augusta and Beatrix as he did so. The girls were not long flinging on their clothes and racing to Aidan.

Tragen pushed past Locklear to Aidan’s side and sat on the bed with him. There was a slick sheen of sweat covering the boy’s face and neck and he stroked his boy’s brow, reassuring him.

‘Oh, my boy, my boy, what was it, hey? Are you feeling better now? Tell me what happened. I’m sorry; I have to ask now while it’s still fresh in your mind.’ Tragen beside himself with worry gripped Aidan in an embrace near to choking him.

Aidan was in a very sorry state. He had a hangover worse than any in his past; his skull felt as if it was home to an anvil being hammered by a very energetic blacksmith, and coupled with it he had recollections of a terrible dream, a nightmare he could not unravel.

‘Nothing happened at all that makes much sense. Ah…my head is pounding,’ he replied, pushing his head into Tragen’s shoulder. ‘Anders, get me some water, will you?’

Aidan pushed himself upright, taking the water he swallowed deeply. Refreshed, his head still felt as though drums were pounding between his ears.

‘You’re right, I have to tell you now before I forget,’ he paused, and the others leant forward in the doorway to hear his low voice.

‘Someone or something was hanging from…I don’t know, I couldn’t quite make out what it was,’ Aidan shuddered. ‘Anyway…a man was standing in front of it with a spear in his hands, there were red chains, and…and the man appeared to be dressed in a red robe, and…and he was laughing. And then…’ Aidan stopped and looked into the mug in his hands and tears rolled down his face unable to speak of the incident, the revolting sight he’d witnessed.

‘Take your time, my boy; take as long as you need. I’m here…here with your friends. You’re safe now,’ and as Tragen said this he remembered that this was the second time he’d said these words in the last few days. What was happening to Aidan—why him? ‘Come, drink some more, you’ll feel better.’

‘As the man dressed in red laughed, the thing hanging there…screamed, and it could not stop screaming.’

The apprentice passed the mug to Anders and lay back down on his bed. ‘It scared me, scared me silly. I didn’t know what to do, what to think, I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was stand there, watching. For a moment I almost appeared to be the man in red, and…’ Aidan trembled violently for a moment. ‘He was evil, Master, truly evil he didn’t seem human…I felt sick!’ He shuddered again. ‘God! I…I can’t remember any more.’

‘Rest, my boy, rest, Anders will you stay with him for a while?’

‘I will never leave him, Milord, he knows that.’

As Tragen rose from the bedside Aidan spoke again, his voice muffled in his pillow. ‘Master, there was one other thing,’ and Tragen turned to him. ‘As the man was laughing, he said…he kept saying “wait for the wizard, wait for the wizard”!’ Aidan lifted his head and stared at Tragen with despairing eyes. ‘You are in grave danger, Master,’ he turned over and faced the wall and Anders moved to his side determined to stay awake the rest of the night.

Tragen joined Hugo, Augusta and Beatrix – drying her eyes on the sleeves of her shirt – around the captain’s desk.

‘Drinks, we all need a drink,’ said Locklear and he brought assorted mugs and a carafe of wine from his bedside table. He poured for all as he spoke. ‘I know the time seems wrong for this. It’s either very early in the morning or very late at night; however, I have never needed one so badly.’

‘Milord, have you any explanation?’ Augusta asked softly, staring into the untouched mug of heady, red wine.

All three stared at him awaiting his reply. Tragen gazed out of the stern gallery, seeing very little except the occasional lonely star, the moon now obscured by clouds, evidence there’d be rain before long.

The wizard sighed and turned from his musings at the window. ‘The thing hanging and screaming could only be a man, I suppose…’

‘Or a woman,’ interrupted Beatrix.

‘Yes, or a woman,’ agreed Tragen. ‘Whoever it was, he or she was being tortured, hence the spear and the chains.’

‘Why were they red chains, though?’ Augusta asked him, the use of torture not coming as too much of a surprise. She had heard that her father used it in his dungeons, but never having come into actual contact with it she had never really given it much thought. He was the lawmaker and protector of Mantovar; she was his daughter and had never been asked whether or not she condoned its use.

‘The chains were covered in blood,’ said Beatrix, almost in a whisper, shocked to her very marrow. ‘Aidan actually witnessed a torturer at work.’

Augusta blanched. The full implication of what the practise entailed, sinking in. No, she thought, my father could never do that to anyone…could he? Augusta nearly retched.

Locklear broke the silence. ‘The man with the chains, Tragen, was he wearing a red robe or was it red because of the blood?’

‘I won’t even pretend to know the answer to that, my friend,’ he paused and resumed pulling at his beard. ‘A red robe may denote the wearer is a sorcerer, but I know of monks that wear the same colour. But if it was red because of the blood then there must have been an inordinate amount to have coloured him completely. What did my boy overhear “wait for the wizard” was it not?’ Locklear and Augusta nodded and he continued, Beatrix sitting silently staring into space. ‘Now Aidan believes me to be in grave danger—have we got it wrong? Could it possibly be me this being is hunting? My boy is convinced it’s me. This man does not even seem to know of Aidan and Augusta.’

‘He has not mentioned her which does not mean he is ignorant of her. On that point we must keep an open mind.’ Locklear replied, he stood and took his own turn in the gallery. ‘If it is you he’s after how does he know of you? Or is he seeking any wizard, and if it is any wizard then why not Aidan as well?’

‘He hasn’t detected Aidan has he, Milord?’ Beatrix asked anxiously.

‘No, I don’t think he has. But why hasn’t he is the question…why not?’ he pondered.

‘Could it be because you are the more powerful wizard?’ Locklear asked.

‘I am more powerful than Aidan that is true, but only in magic based on the mind which is the usual form magic takes. Aidan’s magic is unique—I know of no other practitioner of his art. His magic stems from healing and in that he is far, far more powerful than I am. No, there has to be another explanation he has remained undetected. And there must also be another reason that he is not receiving these visions every night. We must think on it.’


They all thought of nothing else as they lay in their beds attempting sleep for the remainder of the night left them. All were denied their rest, of course, except Aidan who, because he lay with his face to the bulkhead, soon fell asleep and aped his master, snoring loud enough to keep the fish awake.

When they finally admitted defeat and rose from bed not long after sunrise, Augusta and Beatrix went in to update Lady Cornelia, as they had before retiring. As the three, very sad and concerned ladies considered impossible options, Tragen joined them.

‘Have you come to any sort of conclusion?’ Cornelia enquired sadly.

‘I am still mulling over consequences of certain actions, Cornelia. There is only one decision to be made at this time though, and it has priority over everything—we have to discover some way of informing the Prince of Mantovar of all that has happened.’

‘Will he be able to send us aid all the way out here?’ Cornelia asked.

‘I will certainly request that in the message I send him. Unfortunately, I have a further problem in pursuing that aim, I must seek Aidan’s aid as exhausted as he is, though he can be somewhat unpredictable in what he delivers.’

‘What on earth do you mean?’ Augusta bristled, coming to Aidan’s defence.

‘Yes, how can you possibly say that? Are you saying you can’t depend on him?’ Beatrix retorted.

‘Cease ladies. Let me explain, please,’ and he smiled at each of the three in turn, taking immense pleasure in Aidan’s friends.

‘Aidan has a certain knack with animals and birds. He has a greater affinity with them than I do, it may be because he can heal them, I don’t know. Whatever, my boy is more adept with dealing with fauna than I will ever be. The trouble is, when he calls for a specific animal another is quite likely to appear,’ Tragen chuckled and went on to clarify.

‘There was a very memorable occasion, two summers ago; we needed a sheepdog to bring in a flock of lambs from a hillside being plagued by a wolf. The shepherd had been injured by this particular animal but had managed to chase it away. Aidan and I were staying overnight at the local inn after a long journey on the border of the Great Forest, and it being a warm evening and the tavern room very hot and restful, we were imbibing a little alcoholic beverage…just to cool us down, you understand. Well, more than a little of it if I remember correctly,’ Tragen paused, smiling sheepishly.

‘Well, this shepherd rushed into the inn and asked for our help. We could not refuse, so Aidan and I helped each other rise from the table…we were very tired, you know,’ the wizard said, winking. ‘We stood at the bar of the tavern and, Aidan being better with animals than me, I allowed him the conjuration. Poor boy, poor me, I should have remembered.’ Tragen couldn’t stop grinning; the event had been so ludicrous and, as it turned out, highly dangerous.

‘What…’ said Cornelia, ‘what happened?’

‘Aidan created the necessary enchantment for the calling of an animal which entailed picturing the required creature in his mind. The one problem being, and what I should have realized is, that when you’re drunk, a dog and a wolf have a similar appearance.’

‘Oh, oh!’ Augusta interrupted, laughing. ‘I get it; a wolf appeared instead of a sheepdog, is that it?’

‘You are perfectly correct, my dear. A wolf did appear…a very large wolf…a very large and very wild wolf. The same wolf in fact which had savaged the shepherd on the hillside. It appeared right in front of us, in amongst the tables in the middle of the tavern. There was utter pandemonium,’ Tragen halted, a silly grin on his face.

‘Go on…what happened next?’ Beatrix asked, not quite believing her ears.

‘The whole village turned up eventually, as we were extricating ourselves from a haywain parked outside the broken window of the main room of the inn. There seemed to be a lot of men sitting in trees as I recall, and there was not a window left whole in any wall of that tavern. We were unceremoniously marched out of the village, which was a bit silly as we’d offered to repair the damage free of charge as drunk as we were—we usually ask for a small fee for that kind of work. But for some reason they did not want to trust us again. We never did find out what happened to those lambs…or that wolf.’

‘Lord Tragen,’ Cornelia said, after she managed to stop laughing. ‘You jest surely, that was not a true occurrence, surely?’

‘Unfortunately, every word was the truth. Now do you see the problem? If I allow Aidan to call a creature, I do not have any idea what may turn up. As I have no patience with animals if I attempt the calling ninety-nine times out of a hundred the one I summon will also be impatient. It will undoubtedly be totally unsuitable, highly dangerous, and everything will turn into a disaster.’ Tragen tugged hard at his beard.

‘Then we must rely on Aidan, shall I see if he’s awake, Milord?’ Beatrix asked, her eyes red, this time with tears of laughter.

‘Aye, young Beatrix, ask him if he is well enough to join us on the quarterdeck.

Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House. One is from Chicago, another is from Tennessee, and the third is from Minnesota. All three go with a White House official to examine the fence. The Minnesota contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. “Well,” he says, “I figure the job will run about $900. $400 for materials, $400 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, “I can do this job for $700. $300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 profit for me.” The Chicago contractor doesn’t measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, “$2,700.” The official, incredulous, says, “You didn’t even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?” The Chicago contractor whispers back, “$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence.” “Done!” replies the government official. And that, my friends, is how the new stimulus plan will work.


Have a nice day!



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

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


Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle
Banquetting Hall Caerphilly Castle






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh hell, I’d forgotten.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It also retained memories of its maker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

‘You know then?’

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

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

‘I expect so. Now go to sleep!’

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

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

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


Have a nice day!


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

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


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




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

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

‘Why…what’s he done this time?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What was red? Who was hurting him?’

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

‘Have you asked him about these dreams?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘When are you going to start teaching me?’

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

‘Ouch! Don’t hit so hard, will you?’

‘I didn’t…big baby!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Are you having nightmares?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

They stared at him in silence, all three apprehensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

‘Master, enough,’ he said, ‘tell us.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were going towards the danger not away from it.

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

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

Oh, Aidan, she’s right isn’t she?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that really did flummox young Beatrix.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Have a nice day!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Who’s the Bear?’ asked Beatrix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Aye, I’m positive.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Then change over,’ Beatrix said.

‘What do you mean?’ Aidan asked.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The poor boy never had a chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her three friends stared at her.

Aidan stared the hardest.

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

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

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

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


‘Did Beattie?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why hasn’t he?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Or me, Lord Tragen,’ Augusta interposed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Aidan did not wake. Anders did not sleep.

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


Have another nice day.


Chapter Eight of The Gateway (and another little giggle)

Worst diseases in Wales

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh…what? I don’t know, why?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t in mixed company.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aidan glared at her and refused to answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What is?’ Anders asked.

‘We are all in the same boat!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What’s a contradiction in terms?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tragen resumed his examination astern as Hugo went below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aidan swallowed and looked around nervously.


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

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

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

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

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

The wizard had not recognized him.

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

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

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


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

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

Anders stood alongside them both listening to every word.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Of course, but…’

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

‘Yes we know that, but…’

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

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

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

‘Reacted? He went nuts!’

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

(a sick one)

You must be twins

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

“You must be twins”, he exclaimed.

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

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

“Nine years and two months.”

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

“Nine years and two months.”

“Then you definitely must be twins.”

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


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