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.”
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!