New cover for ‘I CANNOT KILL!’

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


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

© Fotokostic | – Dragon Rider Photo



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

My fantasy trilogy on youtube

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

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

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

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




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










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Aye, sir,’ the mate nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Much like towns in Mantovar,’ said Anders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Aidan? What is it?’ Augusta asked.

He breathed deeply and told her all of it.

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

‘Tell me more of your mother?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What was that?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘You love him, don’t you?’

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

‘Do you think he’s dead?’

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

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

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

‘What do you mean?’

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day!

Another giggle and Chapter Sixteen of The Gateway

A man kills a deer and takes it home to cook for dinner. Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess. The dad said, “Well it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.” The little girl screamed to her brother, “Don’t eat it. Its an asshole!

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


Leash knew youngsters, knew they were insatiably curious and loved exploring new places. If the town was large enough, isolating Aidan would be child’s play, he’d done it before with others. All he had to do was follow them, and wait.eash overheard everything, with eyes glinting and his brain churning, he saw many possibilities in using the feud. Having failed to kill the boy on the ship he would slay him somewhere on the island, after all, there was always more opportunity to arrange an “accident” ashore. It was common knowledge that docks were notoriously dangerous places, and if he played it right the Montetors and Portolans would be blamed.

He only wished he could somehow let the wizard know the reason for the boy’s death…seeing Tragen demented with self-loathing and grief would be a memory sweet beyond measure. And then Leash blinked tears away—it would never erase his own loneliness. He went to his bunk that night happy. Chuckling, he climbed into his cot, his fellow crewmates keeping well away from him.

But as he fell into his happy dream expecting relief from misery, he detected an air of disquiet—she disapproved.

The following morning was a replay of the morning before. Not a spare space anywhere along the rails, everyone wishing to examine the island, and the closer they came to it the more heavily was it inspected.

Griffin was an enormous island stretching for many leagues east and west, a reef on the south side enclosing the harbour, protected the large town behind it. The hinterland, only glimpsed at this distance, was immense, it had twin peaks, one twice as high as the other. A veritable forest of short growth trees covering the foothills of the higher of the mountains with thinner growth towards the summit; the other mountain was bare rock.

The deep valley between them was occasionally hidden by sporadic black and grey smoke with the odd flash of bright light amidst the fumes issued by the many foundries belonging to the Montetors. The mantle of pollution was hiding a rabbit warren of red dust-laden houses, the inhabitants equally as grimed.

Hopper pointed out some of the sights of the town. It sprawled over high cliffs in the west where a huge house had been built overlooking the ocean; this was the home of the harbourmaster, his manorhouse. Spreading eastwards, the town continued around and over a large promontory on which a beacon was maintained. Below the beacon the evidence for its existence was plainly seen…a frothing, foaming mass of water breaking over large rocks encroaching far into the sea.

The harbour was wide and deep, a broad looping lagoon. Many jetties protruded into the harbour from a common wharf, myriad vessels of all shapes and sizes tied up alongside. But the western end below the manorhouse was kept for their navy—warships, large and small were moored there, although there were not many.

Waterfront warehouses, most long, black and ugly stretched the length of the wharf, but as one sailor was overheard to say, iron and coke were not a pretty sight. The wharf was strong and sturdy, cargo piled neatly at intervals waiting to be loaded for export to other exotic destinations. Even more stockpiles of goods were being landed from ships, the whole dockyard one hive of activity.

To the west of Griffin Town, a couple of leagues down the coast, a fishing village plied its trade. Small fishing boats sailing to and from the jetty jutting into the small bay in front of it. Seabirds in abundance were swooping over the village pilfering the seething catches at the slightest lapse in vigilance. Gulls screeching and the occasional lonely petrel overflying the Grim added a certain magic to the exotic spectacle. A single fishing boat beating its way home, passed close to the Grim, its fishermen ceasing work to give a wave and stare open-mouthed at the huge, damaged ship.

The morning wore on and Beatrix rejoined Augusta and Aidan on the poop, she had been below to tend to Lady Cornelia. As she lowered herself to sit alongside Aidan, Anders returned from his duties in the captain’s cabin and he slumped down heavily beside her.

‘How much longer before we dock do you think, Anders?’ Augusta asked, bending forward to peer at him around Aidan and Beatrix.

‘A couple of hours that’s all, this opposing current is slowing us up a bit.’

‘Argh!’ Augusta abruptly screamed, leaping to her feet and staring at her tunic. ‘Those bloody birds have had me!’

‘Augusta, please, your cursing is getting as bad as Aidan’s,’ Beatrix chided and at the same time wrinkled her nose in disgust at the sight on her mistress’ tunic.

‘You’d swear as well if it happened to you. Stop laughing,’ she shouted at the boys as she aimed a kick at Aidan who was closest.

‘Ah well, they do say it’s lucky for a bird to crap on you,’ Aidan laughed, quickly rolling out of the way.

‘Lucky! I’ll give you lucky you come near me. Ooh…Beattie, help me clean this will you?’ Augusta implored.

‘You know what Dolly calls seagulls? No?’ Anders, receiving puzzled looks for an answer, continued. ‘He calls them airborne rats…nothing but scavenging, crapping…’

‘All right…all right, no need to give any more details, we get the picture,’ said Beatrix, stopping him in mid flow. ‘Come on, Augusta, let’s go to the cabin and clean it off.’

‘We can’t be long; I don’t want to miss anything.’

Aidan stopped giggling as the girls moved to pass him. ‘Hey, wait a minute. Clean it here…with magic!’

Augusta almost convulsed—spinning around she stared at him. Even the idea of her using magic caught at her soul. Her eyes wide and bright she stalked back to the young wizard.

‘Sh…show me,’ she stuttered losing control. ‘Please, Aidan,’ she begged.

He smiled. ‘Okay, calm down and sit down. You don’t need to close your eyes for this. You know what the fabric beneath the crap looks like.’ They all stared intently as he continued. ‘Now with your hand just above it, move it in a circular motion as if you are actually washing the filth with a cloth. That’s it.’

As Augusta moved her hand she could see the mess rolling into a small pellet—a small tight ball!

‘Now…flick it away,’ ordered Aidan.

And she did, leaving the fabric of her tunic cleaner than it was before, she had also removed the grime beneath the crap. Augusta laughed. ‘I did it…look!’ She held the cloth out towards Beatrix and Anders for their inspection. ‘Oh, I could have killed that bird.’

Aidan paled, the smile wiped from his face. ‘Don’t say things like that, Augusta. Never threaten to kill.’

Augusta looked up, startled. ‘Why on earth not?’

‘You are learning to be a wizard…wizards can kill by just wishing it.’

Augusta paled. ‘You mean I can actually kill a bird just by wishing it?’

‘More or less…but you can also kill people.’

‘By the Gods, I never realized that. Can you do it, Aidan? I mean…can you kill?’ Augusta asked, intrigued and also frightened.

‘I’ve killed in the past, yes, but only animals for food, and then just enough to eat. I’ve never killed more than necessary.’

‘And people?’ Augusta persisted, unable to hide her ghoulish nature, the macabre fascinated her.

‘Never! I could never harm another’s soul and neither should you.’

‘But surely that’s nonsense, Aidan. You have to kill your enemies, don’t you?’ Augusta asked, troubled greatly by what she was hearing. ‘My father has had to do it many times. What is wrong with that? He’s been protecting Mantovar.’

‘Augusta, when a man passes over, his soul goes on to Paradise where it rests for a while before being called to live another life. But souls as well as bodies can die! When you kill, you inflict damage on your own soul, you weaken it. And if you kill often, then your soul’s chance of an afterlife is gradually chipped away until it has not the strength to survive. It enters Oblivion then where hopefully it will die…if not a worse fate…’ and he shuddered, unable to complete his thoughts. ‘Killing people is always wrong!’

‘But what if it’s your life in danger, Aidan? I mean, what if it’s you or them. You have to kill them before they kill you, don’t you?’ Beatrix asked tensely, her arm through Anders’, clinging to him tightly. ‘Otherwise, if you give up and not fight back, surely that’s a form of suicide, isn’t it? And I’ve always been taught that suicide is wrong.’

Aidan stared at her his facial muscles twitching; his eyes had a far away, unfathomable look. ‘I haven’t worked that one out yet…I haven’t got all the answers. All I know is I cannot knowingly kill anyone.’

They were struck silent at that, their thoughts their own as they pondered on Aidan’s strange outlook on life and death.

‘Aidan, what is worse than dying in Oblivion?’ Augusta asked.

Aidan replied, fear filling his voice. ‘Many things, but enough for now, I’ll tell you some other time.’

‘But…’ Augusta was interrupted by a shout from down in the waist of the Grim.

‘Captain, can we allow the bumboat alongside, sir?’

‘Aye, aye, watch he doesn’t scrape the paintwork, Trumper,’ shouted Locklear, smiling pensively. He also had overheard Aidan and had no idea what to make of it all.

The men on the deck below laughed and jeered as they eagerly watched the boat full of local produce come alongside, the two men in the boat shouting up to those on the enormous ship offering fresh melons and limes for sale.

Anders was grateful for a distraction from the dark mood into which Aidan’s words had plunged him. He jumped up and led the two girls in a race down the ladder to the starboard side of the waist.

Aidan, bringing up the rear, followed a little slower, trying to shake off the depression, and the fear, brought on by Augusta’s last question.

As the Grim limped through the entrance in the reef and advanced into the sheltered harbour in front of Griffin Town in the middle of the very hot afternoon, the hubbub of the harbour hit them like a blow in the face. Bellowing sailors, the creak of timbers, the flapping of unfurled canvas and the bawling of orders on the dock, assaulted the ears. And above it all, they savoured the numberless other sounds and exotic, spicy smells floating across to them from the town. Excitement gripped the four friends anxious to get ashore to explore an island none of them had ever heard of before this voyage.

An ornate barge oared by six men in uniform left the quayside and, wending its way between the warships, came out to meet them. Standing in the bows was a short fat man wearing a very large brimmed, floppy hat presumably to protect his face from the sun. This, Hopper informed Locklear waiting on his quarterdeck, was the harbourmaster, Seneschal Lodovico Portolan. Standing alongside him also graven faced was a very tall man, both men wearing a very plain blue uniform.

As the harbourmaster’s barge drew alongside, the rope ladder was lowered for the party to climb aboard. On orders from Trumper, all men were told to show the utmost respect. It was anticipated that this short, fat man climbing the ladder, would inevitably result in a very comical display of seamanship.

Trumper rounded on the crew as they awaited the spectacle. ‘Woe betide any man who laughs, sniggers or even smiles at the harbourmaster. Be warned, this man is dangerous, he has the power of life and death in this port—and he exercises it ruthlessly and often.’ Trumper turned back to the rail ready to help the harbourmaster come aboard as Hopper arrived at his elbow to escort the seneschal to the quarterdeck.

Lodovico Portolan, despite his bulk, did not seem in the least bit perturbed by the rope ladder. For a man of his size and shape he exhibited a nimbleness that could have put many a sailor to shame. Climbing over the rail to the sounds of the bo’sun’s call, the saluting whistle, he straightened his long, plain blue, immaculate coat embroidered with a multi-coloured coat-of-arms – a griffin rearing on hind legs in a crown above two stylized peaks – on his left breast.

Even though he was grossly overweight he did not appear to sweat more than usual. He had a handsome, clean-shaven face though his eyes were sunk deep above dark bags giving him the appearance of a man suffering from lack of sleep. But his manner denied this as he stared around at the crew now standing at attention. He smiled thinly, he knew that he had surprised and disappointed them…robbing them of their merriment.

Following him over the rail was his companion, a giant of a man, again immaculately uniformed in blue and carrying an enormous straight sword at his waist. This man, like the seneschal, wore no jewellery; neither man gave the impression of needing any show of frippery. The crew needed no urging to remain silent—they stared at two strangers who were harder than any men they had ever seen on any waterfront.

Touching his forelock Hopper stepped forward and greeted the harbour’s tyrant. ‘Welcome aboard the Grim, Seneschal Portolan. The Master, Captain Hugo Locklear, is on the quarterdeck and awaits your pleasure.’

The seneschal stared at Hopper, coldly assessing the second in command of the ship, finding him formidable. ‘You are the first mate?’ he asked, his words carrying just a smidgeon of sweet wine fumes, he had indulged a glass of red Cornia at lunch.

‘I am, sir, if you will kindly follow me, please.’ Hopper turned and led the way aft along the waist.

The harbourmaster slowly glanced around the upper deck, noting the damage. Accompanied by his very tall companion, he strode after Hopper, not sparing a look for the four youngsters lounging at the foot of the quarterdeck steps. The tall man did though, and his look seemed to pierce their very souls. Not much passed by this man, thought Anders.

Aidan, astonished, turned to the others as the three men climbed on to the quarterdeck. ‘Bloody hell, did you see the size of that man? He must be seven foot if an inch! What do you reckon, Anders, his bodyguard?’

‘Aye, he must be. Did you notice his shoulders? They’re wider than the Bear’s! We have to watch ourselves here…this port is not a happy place, methinks.’

‘The harbourmaster reminds me a bit of the Abbot of Sentinel,’ said Augusta, chewing her index finger.

‘Does he?’ Aidan asked, surprised

‘He has the same cold, calculating look,’ she shuddered, ‘yes, most everyone I know is wary of the abbot—they all stay well away from him if they can,’ whispered Augusta as she joined the others in listening to the conversation just above their heads. ‘That big man though is a handsome devil, isn’t he Beattie?’ And at Aidan’s scowl she poked her tongue out and laughed.

‘Good afternoon, Seneschal Portolan. I am honoured and very glad to meet you,’ said Locklear cheerfully shaking the fat hand. ‘Let me introduce my friend, Lord Tragen,’ and he waved his arm in the wizard’s direction.

For a moment, there was a flicker of consternation or perhaps speculation, in the eyes of the harbourmaster. ‘A wizard…we have not seen any of your brethren in this part of the world for many a long year, Milord.’

‘No, Seneschal, and my niece and I did not expect to be here now, unfortunately the storm…’ said Tragen shrugging, he glanced at Locklear. If there were no wizards in the Griffin Islands could the torturer be a monk, perhaps on Sanctity?

‘Yes…the ship has suffered, you have a great deal of damage, Captain,’ The seneschal said, turning away from the wizard at last, making the point of not introducing the tall man standing quietly at his shoulder. ‘You have stopped in for repairs, I take it. We can supply most things usually but we are awaiting deliveries from all points. We have other ships expected, of course, some are overdue by weeks. Perhaps the same storm has delayed them…or the brigands of Onyx, of course.’

Aidan and his friends listened to every word and when Tragen mentioned his niece, Anders was shushed into silence before he could ask.

Hopper, standing to one side keeping a surreptitious eye on the tall bodyguard, was unsurprised at this mention of delays. It was the usual opening gambit in negotiations for the seneschal’s payment. The mate had already figured out what this would be. Lodovico Portolan liked wine, good wine, and there was bound to be a shortage of Qula’s excellent offering on this island, if memory served him.

Because of the island realm’s distance from the eastern continent trade was very inconsistent between them. But the smuggling of wine, brandy and tobacco from many parts of the world was a thriving industry on Griffin Island even though the penalty, if caught, was always death. The Portolans demanded their taxes be collected promptly on all imports into the south of the island. And the Montetors extracted the same revenue on trade crossing the border into the north, or by whatever was brought ashore in the small inlets dotted around the northern end of the island. The Montetors, unlike the Portolans, did not enjoy the amenities of a deep water harbour, but both clans shared the facilities of the south, for trade.

Tragen had a hoard of the grape juice from the temperate regions of Qula, a very popular and rare vintage, very expensive. The wizard’s pained expression was frank evidence of his reluctance to part with even one bottle…Hopper smiled.

‘Nevertheless, Seneschal, we can surely help you in your endeavours to assist us,’ said Locklear. A seaman arrived just then with a carafe and the best silver goblets of the very wine Hopper had in mind.

Taking a sip the seneschal’s eyes lit up. ‘Ha! Qula…Enzore region I believe. The Enzoreans are true masters of their craft,’ he smacked his lips in appreciation. ‘What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of this,’ he smiled for the first time, though the smile did not reach his eyes.

‘Oh, I’m sure we could spare more than one bottle for your table, Seneschal,’ said Hugo. Tragen wilted. The harbourmaster’s smile grew broader, and he wandered to the forward rail to assess the visible damage and to speculate on the unseen.

‘We can discuss the supplies you will require over dinner, Captain. Please be my guest ashore tonight. I will send a carriage for you and your two passengers. I hope your niece will accompany you, Lord Tragen,’ Seneschal Portolan asked glancing at the wizard. ‘It is not often that my son and I entertain. Now, I must take my leave…until later, gentlemen.’ He swallowed the remains of his wine and handed the goblet back. Nodding his head curtly to Locklear and Tragen, he left the quarterdeck followed closely by his giant of a retainer. The tall man’s eyes continually roved over the ship, not missing a thing, assessing the crew as he disembarked.

At the foot of the steps, the four friends waited silently until they heard the bo’sun’s call and saw the harbourmaster step over the rail and descend, just as nimbly, to the awaiting barge. And then they made a mad scramble up onto the quarterdeck, Aidan anxious to tackle Tragen about his ‘niece’.

Say nothing, yet…wait,’ Tragen mindmelded, anticipating the questions. ‘Join us in the captain’s cabin, we have plans to make.

‘Hugo, let us indulge ourselves with what little of my wine remains. If you wouldn’t mind I need a word in your cabin.’ Hugo glanced quickly at the departing barge and, followed by the youngsters, he and Tragen went below.

Hopper strode to the starboard rail and watched the harbourmaster heading for the wharf. His son’s health must have improved, he thought; it was unusual for the seneschal to receive guests with his son present. At least, years ago it would have been strange. Circumstances must have changed over the last twelve years, how old had the boy been then…three, perhaps four years old? Hopper recalled the stories of the poor mother’s death, dying in that manner and nearly taking her son with her, perhaps she should have, it would have been a blessing. A bad business, mused Hopper—tragic. Had the boy recovered? Hopper paced the boards and stared at the very busy wharf across a narrowing gap of water. There were a large number of the dockworkers staring up at the Grim, none of them ever having seen a five-masted ship let alone one that had sustained such severe damage and still made port. The captain had proved all the doubters wrong…this ship could sail in any weather, but there again Hugo Locklear was an exceptional seaman.

Tragen, greatly disturbed, silently studied Aidan and his friends. The wizard sat in the chair to one side of Hugo’s desk, Hugo in his usual chair behind with his back to the stern gallery. The four youngsters, having found available perches around the largest cabin on board, made the room appear overcrowded. Anders took it upon himself to open wider the windows in the stern gallery. Fresh air, even if it was imbued with the slight smell of brimstone drifting on the breeze, made their meeting place far more amenable.

Tragen stared deep into his wine goblet for a moment before saying anything. ‘Lady Cornelia will now masquerade as my niece whilst we are here. We could not possibly keep her hidden from the seneschal…too many people know there is a woman of importance in that cabin, and when the dockworkers come aboard to facilitate repairs, the harbourmaster will wonder…’

‘Aye, Tragen,’ replied Hugo, ‘but the crew believe it is their princess. How do you propose to get around that?’

‘They must be exhorted to remain silent where she is concerned…they must not speak of her to anyone!’

‘I do not trust that Leash,’ Beatrix said.

‘Why not?’ Tragen asked.

‘He always seems to be hanging around us,’ and she hunched her shoulders, ‘he watches us, especially Aidan,’ she finished lamely, not quite sure of her feelings.

‘He’s a very good helmsman, Tragen,’ said Hugo, dismissing her opinion.

‘Nevertheless, Beatrix has already proved she has remarkable mental insight. We shall all keep an eye on him, Beatrix,’ Tragen assured her, he believing in women’s intuition even if Locklear did not. ‘Now the arrangements for this evening…we will be expected to have our own servant accompany us, Hugo. You agree, Augusta?’

‘Yes, of course, we must stand behind you whilst you are seated at dinner and see to your needs.’ She perked up a little at the thought of going ashore and acting as companion to her lady-in-waiting, overhearing the talk at the table.

‘We dare not allow Augusta to act as maid to Lady Cornelia, Tragen. However hard she’ll try she will never pass it off for a whole evening, the Portolan’s servants will soon discover she is an impostor.’ Hugo stated flatly.

‘He is right, Highness,’ forestalling Augusta’s objection. ‘Think about it for a moment. If one of their servants says anything to disparage Lady Cornelia, or a little scullery maid speaks to you in a manner that you think is inappropriate, you will not be able to stop yourself. You will react in a way that will ensure they realize you are no ordinary maid. And that we cannot have. We cannot risk this harbourmaster and his family discovering your identity. No, you must stay here and Beatrix will go as my niece’s body servant. Anders will accompany his master and also double up as my servant…’

Aidan spoke up indignantly. ‘I’m your servant, I should accompany you!’

‘You are not a servant—you are my apprentice. When it comes to performing a servant’s duties at table you will encounter the same problems as Augusta and not be able to hide your magical abilities. We are all agreed that we should also keep you hidden as well.

‘Seneschal Portolan is a very shrewd man and for some reason desires the company of a wizard at dinner. It is not normal for a man in his position to ask an unknown sea captain to partake of his hospitality. He believes himself, rightly or wrongly, to be above such people. But he could not invite me and my niece alone. He would be insulting Hugo needlessly and he hopes to make a lot of money out of repairing this ship.

‘The seneschal needs me for some unknown purpose and until I know what that is, I do not want him to know there is a second wizard on board—or even a third,’ he glanced at Augusta. ‘Besides, I need you to remain here with Augusta. Under no circumstances is she to be left alone in these waters. There have never been any formal diplomatic ties between Griffin and Mantovar, therefore I do not have any idea how the seneschal will react if he knows the heir to Mantovar is in his country. Any problems and both of you can mindmeld with me; the distance should not be too great. You understand, my boy?’

‘Aye, I suppose,’ Aidan said, deflated, his disappointment obvious. ‘But you take care, there is something else happening here I don’t understand.’

‘What is that?’

‘I’m not certain, but it’s something to do with the storm…I need to think on it. But his manservant, the giant, he is not what he seems, either.’

Tragen disturbed at Aidan’s words reached over and ruffled his hair forgetting for a moment that Aidan’s contemporaries were watching. ‘If you need to discuss the matter of the storm come to me immediately. As for the giant, I marked him well, my boy, and I agree. Hopper has already informed us that the man is the commander of the seneschal’s militia. He will need careful watching. I must go now and inform my niece to ready herself. I expect she’ll be very happy to get out of her prison for a few hours.’

After picking her son up from school one day, the mother asks him what he did at school. The kid replies, “I had sex with my teacher.” She gets so mad that when they get home, she orders him to go straight to his room. When the father returns home that evening, the mother angrily tells him the news of what their son had done. As the father hears the news, a huge grin spreads across his face. He walks to his son’s room and asks him what happened at school, the son tells him, “I had sex with my teacher.” The father tells the boy that he is so proud of him, and he is going to reward him with the bike he has been asking for. On the way to the store, the dad asks his son if he would like to ride his new bike home. His son responds, “No thanks Dad, my butt still hurts.”

Have a nice day!