#amwriting #wip A Lot of other stuff – can’t guarantee it will last a minute

A lot of other stuff for this book I’ve written is basically up for grabs in terms of my actually re-writing the start which will make this stuff in dire need of my hacking it since the story lines won’t flow; it is no longer structured to be anything more than a series of short stories in a book; and I’m still writing the book.

It might be of interest for someone following my writing if I put the whole lot down for interest.

Regards

Dave

 

Chapter I – The Trials Of Magic

Destraight – an excellent name for a planetary prison – an old unstable planet ideally suited for prisoners the Dwarven race had taken and was quietly movingon without the worry of them returning at some point so these specially selected prisoners would not be returning – they had become too much of a problem to hold in captivity.

During the years, three Dwarf Armada Class ships – Andromeda with Admiral James Droga; Surreptitious with Admiral Martan Matira, and the Ancient with Admiral David Jamesson – and yes, there was sufficient head clearance for non-Dwarven races – approached; and along with twenty thousand sleeping prisoners/politicians per ship there were Guards, Hounds and hunting Cats to control them and hunt those who tried to escape – no-one was going anywhere they were not instructed to go.

All were asleep and would stay that way until placed upon the planet.

In reality the Dwarfs considered them as disposable, apart from Admirals Droga, Matira and Jamesson, who would return, and that was probably the Admiral’s thoughts as well and no-one else’s as who else would turn their ships around and sleep until their return to Dwarvia, apart from the ship’s crews, still on the ships, and their quarters were armoured as with very little fuel the shields were virtually non-existent but the ships had value and were worth returning to Dwarvia.

Dwarvia had been creating and winning too many wars recently and whilst its empire had been increasing, more and more its cities were encircled by prisoner camps, whilst promotion for its ever increasing numbers of Admirals was matched by the ever increasing numbers of wars occurring, and finally Dwarvia was changing from a planet to a prison, and three of its most aggressive Admirals were now leading the three Armada Class prison ships.

All the Admirals, at five foot four with slate grey eyes matched the Navy’s strength and build requirements, although in two cases the rumours; not spoken in front of them if you wished to live, were of surgery to shorten their height, and their eye colour dyed to match that of famous historic Admirals so it does save the Author from having to invent their build, height and eyes for the Colour Trioptics biography.

Some crew staff would stay awake on the return journey but in five year shifts so they would only lose ten years of their lives. The Admirals would lose, perhaps four weeks of their lives but they were selected for having no dependents and the ships would be virtually on auto-pilot for the return with only ship’s crews exposed to problems – something that had attracted attention in its day but Dwarven clans closed up and nothing, apart from cries and bodies being found, nothing attracted any attention afterwards and as has been said, very good Dwarven Political connections were essential for your career.

The only issues for the Admiral’s now was those lights in the sky approaching the Prison Ships but the planet seemed ideal for the Admiral’s own plans.

Landquakes, typhoons and tidal waves abounded but these all seemed to hit just one side of a planet that turned very slowly and the Admirals would be dead by the time it finally turned and didn’t consider this a problem; the other side of the planet had a distant sun producing a temperate area but for unbeknown reasons the planet seemed to be held in some kind stasis that no-one understood, so its erratic and slow movements were almost non-existence, mirroring the Admiral’s own thoughts as they pondered their careers and a homecoming to no-one but a pension.

The Pension Authorities were, even now, already trying to delete the Space years they spent asleep from counting as service time towards their pension, leaving them with another twenty years service to achieve but with no service available so Bureaucrats could cut their Pensions. They were all active and in the seventies but another twenty years’ service – if they could find the dwindling positions at SITCOPLEB – was not something crossing the Admiral’s minds, except in bright fiery words linked to hell and ‘planet away’ you daft Dwarf Bureaucrats.

The words across the sentinel wires had been caustic in the extreme as the Admirals discussed their futures and the futures of the Bureaucrats if they ever got their hands on them, but the messages would take fifteen years to arrive in Dwarvia and the Admirals could live with that.

On Destraight the Admirals would have authority, once the Vis-Moot took place; Guards; Cats, Hounds and controlled prisoners would be under their control – the only problem was that something seemed to be wrong on the planet and they enlarged the scope of surveillance to watch the prisoners being dispersed to various areas of the country.

The initial aims were to populate the north, south and central areas of Destraight. It would be called Ascania in the north; the main landing areas here would be called Toshonia, and the central area, Stovania. The Admirals in a rare show of co-operation had decided that James Droga would own Stovania; Martan Matira, Toshonia and David Jamesson would own Ascania – no-one was going home – least of all them.

The prisoners were looking at each other as if they had just found something and they weren’t speaking to each other; they seemed to know what others were thinking without speaking.

The Guards were panicking as the Cats and Hounds had stopped taking voice commands and instead of being trained wild animals held by specially trained handlers were walking up to prisoners and Guards and lying down for their bellies to be tickled. The Admirals, looking at the space screens saw something else they didn’t like as objects approaching seemed a lot closer than this morning and they were also thinking, and thinking fast.

It led the Admirals to finally look one another in the face, instead of the boots, gut or anywhere else they usually looked to avoid facing each other. Their thoughts were interrupted by a young aide – she wasn’t even forty yet – something that turned them bright orange, “Admirals, COMSATNEV is on video – signal is only fifteen years old, so it’s fairly new!”

James Droga looked at the young ComSatNev liaison, “this better be good!”

COMSATNEV has aborted the mission. This planet is on the boundaries of dimensional planetary interplay. There are several black holes and planets are not following guidelines. Trouble at home has started as the peace agreement prohibits dumping prisoners into deep space and this mission is to be aborted and all personnel put to sleep until fuel arrives. Fuel is being sent out and will arrive in forty years but everyone must be brought back and put into stasis again before they return. The signal will wake everyone when the fuel arrives.”

Well,” said Martan Matira, “it’s a little late, ComSatNev disciple to do this with all the prisoners on the surface and dispersed over the land; the Cats and Hounds seem out of control and some kind of planetary environment is affecting the prisoners and Guards … perhaps you should go down and explain it to them and I suggest you do it quickly. Look at the incoming rocks, ComSatNev, and we have used all our power to arrive here so we have virtually no shields left. For your instruction to be effective we would need everyone back on the ships and be returning before those rocks arrive; looking at my fellow Admirals, I think we are agreed that urgently leaving this ship before it is destroyed is an excellent idea, so please tell that to COMSATNEV after we have made the planetary surface although on second thoughts, we need the power to land and you don’t as you will not be telling people the mission has been aborted,” ComSatNev became a bloody torso as three handguns left her lying on the spaceship floor and the Admirals descended to a life they intended to rule.

The decent side of the planet looked okay; the Guards were just failures, leftovers and of little value without guidance, and guidance from the Admirals would very quickly be there in substance. They would be ruling; not returning home to a pension that wasn’t worth the Geld. The self-build camps were a combination of silicone, concrete powder, air and water dropped into moulds – needing only power to generate the structures and that was already in operation which bearing in mind the objects in the sky approaching, was a good idea.

The sun-shell power nodes were already reacting and the camps were rising although everyone else seemed to be rising as well and looking at the sky before they headed for the still building structures. The Guards were now releasing prisoners against all orders and it seemed more like a riot than a prison camp.

The Admirals had the yet another inkling that as in any battle, all plans became yesterday’s future thoughts and when they Admirals finally landed, they were immediately were met by aides who sang out in unison, “You must Vis-Moot on the planet, Admirals. Nothing is legal without the three of you in Vis-Moot on the surface?”

James Droga looked at the other two Admirals, “We can legally take over whenever we want if we Vis-Moot and tell them that we are appointed to rule … then we rule.”

David Jamesson looked at his fellow Admirals, “Just a few seconds on the Vis-Moot and it’s legal … even if they send someone else here in forty years … we own and control the planet – legally – we never received the recall order and the ships won’t survive to prove us wrong. No-one is going back!”

They looked around as the buildings kept rising. For some reason it looked like the designers had played with castles as children. Walls were going up, towers and baileys were obviously designed into the building as were killing areas – this was being built as ancient history, not the modern world the meetings had planned … yet another screw-up.

Martan Matira was sneering as he realised his fellow Admirals were actually smiling, “You two planned this. Now tell me how long will our high-tech civilisation last with this pathetic nonsense – whose idea was this besides yours? We’ll need the Guards, Hounds and Cats to keep them under control for us to rule if we are now playing with ancient toys. We don’t have any control over anything or anyone without modern weapons! We need authority and modern weapons and you’ve built a children’s nursery!”

At this distance, Martan, the committee decided that a modern world was unsupportable, so they opted for a historic solution that would not require modern weapons, anyway, the Vis-Moot gives us authority and the Guards will obey instructions or be buried head-first, and with their feet sticking up. A few exhibitions should curtail disobedience!”

Well, we still have the Vis-Moot to complete and I suggest we complete that as a matter of urgency. I don’t intend to be standing around as those rocks hit those ships and they decide to land somewhere,” It took them some time to find the Vis-Moot area and also to find a slight problem.

There was now a castle and walls stretching from them for a distance of ten to fifteen miles, while walls behind and directly in front of them, bisected the horizon for another ten miles.

Directly facing them were the guards barracks but with some prisoners still milling around instead of being dispersed and swift orders soon had them herded out of the castle and through the gate onto the other side of the killing area and to what already seemed to be some medieval town although completely and artificially built using stone powder.

James Droga exploded, “Where is the Viz-Moot equipment? We need to beam our authority to everyone.”

Perhaps, James, we just need to control the guards and they are our authority. Everyone knows we rule … perhaps we are better just assuming our roles as leaders?”

With the Viz-Moot, Martan, no-one can dispute our authority!”

Yes, I can hear you, James and we can conduct this conversation as normal Dwarfs. There is no Viz.-Moot that I can see but I can certainly see Guards and prisoners and that I feel will have to be our goal. We have our lands to secure and I intend to move towards the castle before those rocks arrive. I would suggest you move to your lands and with haste.”

Martan Matira watched as James Droga and David Jamesson moved towards the two remaining scout ships. They might have enough power to take them to their new lands but he doubted it, still, at least they were away from him but he had plans of his own and the first was to get into the castle before the rocks arrived.

James Droga and David Jamesson kept a very close eye on the power in the ships. James was heading for a town he’d named Zapril while David headed for Ascan – one Admiral in the north; one in the south and James Droga for some reason had gone west. Martan watched them take off and thought that life would be interesting and he was quite correct – only a lot sooner than he expected.

One of the first things, Admiral Matira noticed on entering his castle was that only one floor had been completed. The rest of the castle had been completed but some computer glitch had only then furnished one floor. His next problem was that he’d to walk to the west in order, after a long climb to reach the only inhabitable areas of the castle. The kitchens and food stores were to the east but his bedchamber was hard against the west wall. The map he was presented with showed three stairways to the tower; a gateway that led below the castle and only one way into the castle that he could understand. The internal Guard’s barracks; sleeping quarters and armoury were all linked to his bedroom … there needed to be some serious thought about this, he decided.

He used one of the stairways to the Tower and again felt his eyes drawn to the ever-increasing rocks in the sky which seemed to be becoming larger by the day.

James Droga was also being surprised. As he approached Zapril he saw nothing – no buildings, no people – nothing. He keyed in his destination again; chose autopilot this time, and found himself moving to the north-west and the scout started to land in David Jamesson’s domain.

He checked the map again and his destination placed him in Ascania but on the edge to the north-west of David’s lands and with the scout running out of fuel, he had little chance of avoiding landing and as he landed he could see a castle, manor house and Guards barracks – not the promise he expected to be honoured. Martan and David had carved him up to take the lion’s share of the country. He’d see about that – the Droga’s would win!

As it was, all three of the Admirals were having surprises. Due to computer glitches all castles had only one floor furnished however five castles had been built for the three Admirals but not necessarily near each other, and three into five definitely didn’t go.

An unpopulated four storey block almost half-way between the castles of Martan Matira and David Jamesson was also built, but in the area allocated to Stovania and in addition to Admiral Droga’s castle, a separate manor house and a Guard’s barracks had been built.

The other issue was that no-one was allocated nor lived in the four storey block or the other two castles and the Admirals immediately decided that these builds must be their property whilst the freed prisoners, Cats and Hounds were now spreading out to find land and security before any Guards found them again but already the different types of prisoners were seeking their own refuges and some were below ground but all were as far from the Guards as they could be and they moved they found other buildings, small towns and villages in odd spots but spread across one continuous country and that spread as far as the eye could see or in some cases the tentacles.

The computer glitches appeared to have ‘gone to town’ in the screw-ups and apparently built towns without rhyme or reason and there were sixty thousand prisoners interested in them.

Perhaps they should have been interested in the rocks in the sky that were becoming bigger and closer but had they more interest themselves than in just surviving.

It might also have interested them that back on Dwarvia: yet another coup had occurred; the War Party were ruling again; planets were being invaded, and a build-up of prisoners on Dwarvia was occurring. It didn’t take long before old ideas were forming again and some Armada Class ships started to be constructed again. The general consensus was: we’ve already colonised this planet; if we build five more ships then that is another hundred thousand we can rid Dwarvia of, and we have five admirals who will be ideal for the project.

The vote was unanimous and five names were volunteered to lead the relocation: Marcel Droga; Stefen Matira; Peter Jamesson; Percival de Bowed, and Argus du Storme.

Back on Destraight the prisoners moved away at speed from the castles and there was almost a feeling of euphoria although how long that lasted for was another question. The land was new and even if it wasn’t their land there was no religion, politicians, or newspapers so life was good, or so they thought but Destraight stretched for hundreds of miles and travelled more towns than a politician in a bus so there must be so land free for them?

Their species ranged from magical to rock, bird, horse, human, dwarf, elf but did include a killing element, apart from the politicians who didn’t give a damn about anyone but themselves however, they could live as and where they chose.

Some above ground, some below – others became the ground as they sunk into a life that beckoned and they knew.

A lot of the people found they could communicate by thought and their image of the King or Queen in her or his chamber seemed to be defined by the thoughts of the people.

The Admirals and Politicians might feel they ruled within Destraight but these people felt they lived the land and would rule it although a politician ruling in Destraight would need to be in tune with the people and that was never going to happen as the people decided who would rule them but they started to consider their own existence as the rocks in the sky became larger and larger and the sea started to rise. Areas that had been dry for miles were flooding as the sea swept in.

The Admirals were also losing touch. Their scouts were out of power, and whilst they’d never really spoken to each other unless forced to, now they couldn’t speak to each other, or the ships still circling above the planet.

They were as marooned as the Guards and prisoners – whether they liked it or not. All they had were the Guards assigned to them and desertion was already rife as the Guards realised they weren’t being paid, and if they were paid, there was nothing to spend it on with no food and life was definitely going to get harder with the rocks in the sky getting bigger and with sea levels rising but at least some lakes were forming and with them some fish were being swept in but life appeared to be being swept out – moving from prisons to a long forty year sleep then deposited on a world they didn’t know with no support, food and still chained made you need to remember the only thing these people had in common was being captured and imprisoned by the Dwarves and they were now facing death and slowly.

Some were human; others were stone; some were Dwarf politicians who supported the wrong political parties. The War Party of Dwarvia had attacked any planet and any people it didn’t like and often those they claimed to like. The dwarfs used planets that contained nothing more than war engines, troops and weapons to attack peaceful people.

The War Party had ruled for aeons on Dwarvia and as long as the wars were fought somewhere else and the wealth returned to Dwarvia, most didn’t care until other worlds learnt to fight; developed their own weapons and body counts started to appear in Dwarvia as Dwarfs found their families dwindling and prisoner camps springing up across Dwarvia; questions were being raised and then raised again as the War Party labelled dissenting Dwarfs as traitors but that didn’t change anything of the Dwarf’s attitudes nor of their complete lack of thought for defeated peoples.

One Dwarf is an opinion; two an argument, and three a war.

Some of the prisoners had their wings clipped to stop them flying; some were still sealed in their own private prisons as fluid but compared to those whose beaks were hooded so they couldn’t eat or drink, a lot seemed free; apart from the plastic chains on their lower extremities.

Destraight encompassed all races the Dwarfs had fought and captured, and these had been sent to die but freed prisoners were freeing others as they found them; their main attitude however, was to find Dwarfs and extinguish them from life … the Guards were not of a retiring nature but retiring seemed to be the order of the day, night and any other period of time you wished to consider your life. The Guards moved as fast as they could to the castles in Ascania and Toshonia, and they were running fast as birds rose in the sky to repaid them for the suffering they endured.

The computer programs for some reason had built all castles with just one habitable floor and one of the castles was mostly buried in the ground but still with one floor as the computer glitched, yet again.

David Jamesson actually smiled as he sat in his formal dining room eating a piece of pig that had been happily running about some hours earlier.

He’d made sure that more than enough supplies were delivered to his castle before he left the Armada Class ship but to find a live pig and eat recently killed meat was something David could live with, although the pig obviously was living with anything.

David Jamesson’s castle was worrying him a little however; previously bordering on the ocean it was now landlocked for some twenty miles to the west and the southern half of his land split by the sea sweeping in to some ten miles south of his castle.

Martan Matira felt the same about food although in his case it was beef that he found, or something very close to it. His only issue was the prisoners being split between his land and David Jamesson’s. The thousands drown as the sea swept around the lodge with the water slowly climbing to just below the fourth storey was unfortunate but he could always find new prisoners.

Martin had heard reports of his land to the east growing by some four hundred square miles although he wasn’t personally supervising it, but his land was now cut in two and he didn’t supervise that either, still he was isolated from the other Admirals and that was good. That there was no longer a western or northern area to his territory was something for the future as he was cut off but stuck in the middle and he watched the red rocks in the sky moving closer, wondering about the flashes from where the ships had been and the waves now sweeping in behind his castle to the south.

Not all questioned everything – one dwarf – a distant cousin of Martin’s was at Martin Matira’s castle and to him the magic there felt alive as he accepted it.

Rafus had convinced himself, he could feel a magic field anywhere and he felt the magic as everything moved and this created magic in Toshonia.

He stood on the battlements with his books as they charged but their charge on Rafus was that he could only feel magic – he was completely useless when he tried to use it.

James Droga was on survival rations and remembering he hated dwarf politics and the incestuousness breeding of the major families more than anything but by the time James realised the food supplies on the ships needed raiding they had been stripped of everything.

He had people out hunting and already some fields of what seemed to be corn had been found plus some rodents that would go into a pot, no matter what they were or where they came from and he had no problem sharing a rat stew with fellow Dwarfs.

James Droga’s claims to virtually half of Destraight would make life interesting although the prisoners, currently some eighty miles away and heading in his direction could possibly make things even more interesting.

He also stood there watching the red rocks that continued to increase in size as they moved closer but he also watched water that seemed to be boiling and now comprised two lakes.

One issue, unbeknown, still united the Admirals although there was little else that did.

All of them felt they hadn’t been sold a pup but a monumental suppository, placed strategically, and it was still climbing up as the rocks were still climbing closer, and now the land was starting to rise and meeting the seas rushing in.

The lands rising were hot and the seas meeting the rising lands were generating a fog to the south of Martin Matira and a hundred to a hundred and forty miles to the north. For David Jamesson, the seas were so close he needn’t bother taking a bath, even if he had been inclined to do so, whilst James Droga was finding his starched uniforms were becoming pliable in the damp atmosphere all of them could not remember this in the briefing notes. This side of the planet was stated quite incorrectly, to be stable and unchanging.

Martin was also hearing reports of a steaming and fast cooling causeway between the east and west of the land he felt Toshonia and he owned. The causeway was hot but the sea was sweeping over it and cooling it; however his reports also recorded that the causeway was growing into a rocky mountain and still hadn’t stopped. It now looked as if he would have a range of mountains to the west of his land … still it should stop those prisoners from arriving at his castle – the meat from those animals was his, not prisoners who could never win, and certainly wouldn’t if he had his way.

For the crew on the ships it had been fast. No fuel; no shields, and the strong survivor suites lasted as long as it took to lick some sweets.

Those ships the rocks didn’t hit; the gravity of them spun the Armada Class ships around until breaking beams hit into survivor suites and oxygen followed the rocks in escaping. They never had a chance to consider survival before becoming just more space debris and their bodies mingled with the dust they would probably have wanted to be … in time.

The demise of the ships wasn’t missed by the Admirals, who’d never intended to return to Dwarvia but as good Commanders lied to everyone for their own ends and they now started to worry as it appeared that their own ends were approaching, and at speed.

There was some protection built into the castles which at the moment were swaying and shaking but for Martin Matira a more urgent problem now was the seawater now sweeping in from the east as the rocks in the sky approached even closer. His castle might stay upright but it was becoming surrounding by seas and Martin was now running towards the causeway where the area to the north had stayed flat, whilst to the causeway to the south was rising as hot rocks, still the waters flooding in behind him were reducing his land to about fifteen miles – north to south, and some thirty five miles – east to west.

The irony for Martin was that he now had prisoners behind him heading for the causeway, as he was, whilst on the other side of the causeway, more prisoners awaited … life was going to become interesting for Admiral Martin Matira and his crew and already he was thinking of how he could blame his fellow Admirals for the treatment the prisoners had received. It was going to be difficult but at least he was taking the livestock with him and that must be some bargaining point – providing the Guards held together and with the heat from the causeway, their boots as well.

It took a day before Martin Matira saw the causeway for himself and the prisoners were there first – apart from those who could fly and they were already settling on the mountain rocks that seemed to grow as Martin watched but already he and his guards were outnumbered by some two to one. The odds would have higher had less prisoners died when the seas swept in around the Lodge and their camp. The Guards in an all-out battle might win until their guns ran of power but Martin was already trying to organise a meeting with the prisoners; in the end he just cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “We have food and we’ll share it. If we work together we can survive, if we don’t, we all die,” he watched as several of the prisoners nodded and then began to speak to others. Fairly obviously there were some prisoners here who didn’t need nor had the ability for speech, and looking at them he could see prisoners from every planet he and the others had fought on, and the tentacles, arms, fists and faces remembered him and he automatically moved back into his squad of personal guards – not that it would make any difference if there was trouble.

Someone now handed him a small hailer, and he waited as he tried to get some saliva working around his jaws. Dribbling to be honest, seemed a better bet but he put his hand over his mouth whilst he thought of anything and everything that would make him salivate and also give him some idea of what to say to survive, and finally he gave up on trying to be smart.

He needed them to co-operate and they needed him to acknowledge he needed them there were a lot of needs!

He finally realised this and his thoughts started to do more than buzz around like mattock flies over a battlefield.

He used the small hailer again, “We have plastic boats that will get everyone, eventually, the ten miles to where the land starts again or it is only five miles to the lodge but there is no food and our food is alive but I don’t how we can take the animals with us. Do you want to take the risk or just wait until the rocks eventually cool and we can all move along the causeway. The main problems are we’re two miles from the sea sweeping in around the Lodge and ten miles from the sea sweeping in from the south. We have a fifteen mile gap between the seas closing in. They may stop; they may not? We can try and get to the Lodge and wait it out there, or here, or we risk the causeway and getting burnt.”

If I may speak, Admiral?”

Who are who?”

Rafus Matira, Admiral – a distant relative.”

Speak, Rafus, but quickly and briefly.”

There is a cooling spell in my book. I cannot say how long it will last and for how long along the causeway it may function. The causeway is nearly fifty miles long. If we wait until the seas close in from the north and south, we could as a last resort use the spells to lower the temperature, even more – it might work, Admiral? It would buy us time.”

With these rocks getting closer to the planet, Rafus, that may be all it does buy us, but I don’t have a better plan and no-one wishes to speak for the prisoners.”

His planned speech was interrupted by a rangy seven foot shape moving forward, “My name is Tolan.”

It’s feet and lower half were difficult to describe but its legs appeared to be wood and the lower areas above the legs stretched about five feet to its rear, but its chest was a foot in width but two foot in length and whilst it possess arms, they appeared to move as they wished, however its voice possessed a clear timbre and those arms if swung would deliver more than woodworm.

We don’t have your style of Government, Admiral. We decide together what will happen.”

What have you decided?”

The seas haven’t reached us yet. The causeway is too hot. You have food and we all need to live – we wait and we will never be friends but we may be able to suffer each other. Some of our winged friends may extract meat from your herd but at a minimum and they will repay that. The choice is yours, Admiral, not ours. We need you but you surely need us more than we need you.”

Your summary is correct although I don’t know what food we have to offer you?”

Human flesh will be fine Admiral,” Tolan looked at Admiral Matira’s face, “I was joking Admiral, I actually each forest insects, which are actually very tasty. I suggest we make camp as best we can – some of us will be monitoring the movement of the seas.”

If Admiral Matira’s neck had stretched even more he would have looked like a newly born ostrich as he tried to draw himself above his five foot four inches but instead he look like someone who spent too long in the starch laundry. By now the prisoners were laughing; Guards were raising weapons and Tolan raised his hand, “The countryside is trying to kill us. Do we need to kill each other before it arrives?”

Once again, Tolan, your words make sense. Let’s wait. We can always kill each other if the sea and land doesn’t?”

We’ve tried enough times, Admiral Matira. If the clock was turned back and we could defeat your weapons, you would be dead but we all live or die together on this planet now! The planet is already trying to kill us which makes a change from your troops.”

We need to come to an arrangement, Tolan.”

We already have an arrangement, Martan. You took us – prisoners; shipped to a dying planet; killed, and we don’t trust you as far as I can eat a tree insect in the winter!”

What do you want me to do? We were soldiers obeying orders.”

Well this is an order, Martan Matira. Release the bounds and the mind-bonds you have placed on the Minuets. You have bound two of their eight legs and their telepathic abilities. Free them, so they can fly, see and help us. Free the Rocs as well. You have bound them so they cannot fly and cannot talk to each. So many of them Martan Matira, you have killed.”

We didn’t know their needs as prisoners. We are Dwarfs.”

Who attack innocent planets, enslave their people and don’t understand anyone’s life including your own?”

We can argue all day but we need to decide something.”

Free them, and then we decide,” then was a long pause and finally Martan managed to pull a long chain over his head and handed it to Tolan.

Touch the jewel in the centre to each. Slow but it is all I have. It will free all bonds and restrictions.”

There are thousands of us; this will take forever.”

Then the sooner you start the better.”

Tolan handed the chain to another Tron, “notify everyone and use it to free them.”

Turning to Martan Matira, he said, “You keep your part of the bargain and we will keep ours. As soon as they are freed, the Rocs and Minuets will take off and check the sea-levels, flooding, and the heat of the causeway. That will tell us which way and how soon we must move. Now my people must seek food,” and with that brief statement, Tolan’s wooden feet made an almost clip-clop noise as he trotted back to the prisoners waving the chain and jewel.

Touch this to your chains and then learn to fly again. Your muscles will probably be weak, so move slowly,” and he watched as the chain was applied by Yogush, his son to those bound in chains. Slowly chains started to fall off but Yogush held tightly to the chain – there were rivalries between the prisoners and Tolan did not want the chain and jewel withheld because of infighting.

Martan watched as well as wonder how David Jamesson and James Droga were managing. He had two sets of prisoners to handle; one with him know and another set on the other side of the causeway unless they had headed north. David Jamesson’s were only about ten mile from him but could held north towards to sea or west towards James Droga. The main issue for him was he’d watched the Armada Class ships explode and the rocks in the sky were still there although it looked as if they were now leaving this area but what the effect of them leaving would be was another matter.

The prisoners to the west had now managed some fifteen miles, moving towards the north but already the were bordered to the east and by a stretch of sea some twenty square miles in area, leaving them with a narrow escape of some eight miles before the seas to the west began. They finally halted and once again it was the Trons who took control, and stopping the march the spoke by telepathy to those could still hear and weren’t blocked.

There is some land to the east which has not flooded and also a causeway is being raised to further lands to the east. It might be a better decision to head that way. If the sea sweeps in any more we will drown. This way we might survive and escape the seas.”

I don’t know; perhaps for non-forest dwellers we might find fish but there are some four legged animals and my people are herding them towards us as we speak. Perhaps some of our Wolfen friends could butcher for us.”

At the moment from the Wolfen friends, Masketh the Tron received a very irate telepathic message, “We are not butchers; we only kill at need and we all have our front two legs in shackles. We couldn’t jump and bring down an animal if we wanted to.”

Masketh replied as quietly as he could using his telepathic abilities, “Does anyone have any weapons. We need to kill these animals humanely.”

Then keep them away from the Dwarf butchers. They’d kill anything and anyone.”

Masketh stood there quietly. It was not going to be easy. He was still stood there when a Rock Troll finally managed to reach him. Once again the Rock Troll was shackled to prevent him from moving at speed.

The Rock Trolls were some eight foot in height and when they spoke you could almost taste the dust, “We don’t eat meat, Masketh and there are enough fresh stones for us but we can kill your animals for you.”

Thank you, Strogged. We need to feed as many as possible. Your; and your friends assistance is very welcome.”

When people poured into their lands from the north, south, east and west they accepted them as they accepted the difference in themselves.

Destraight’s people were always survivors who welcomed others. They had no real idea of owning a world but the invaders did, oh yes they did! Their forced Destraight’s people into every crevice and then killed them. Destraight’s citizens ran but were attacked and destroyed for being different.

They faced a species that wanted their land and considered them vermin. Towns were taken over: lives; families forced underground and those fighting back were transformed by Dwarf’s magic.

Now, reduced to a bunch of shambling monsters; forced below ground; their mind forces attacked by Dwarf’s magic: revenge is their desire and has never left their blended minds.

For them: with their towns taken; their lives and families destroyed; everything they owned and cherished destroyed or taken over by the people they welcomed who then killed them; quite simply revenge was not enough, only extermination will be suffice.

Those who managed to survive and remained above ground came to be known as Old Stock; often retaining medicinal and magic skills – people found them and their skills useful, turning a blind eye to a definition of their existence in their own eyes so they weren’t hunted and some survived.

Drufus might be only four foot seven inches long but he learnt ruthlessness and truthfulness as he watched the Matira’s dance around anything that mattered to his country, and he felt it was his country.

Everything else but themselves mattered to the Matira; their desires were everything for themselves and no-one else; especially from Griselda.

Drufus always told himself he was always honest but he told himself a lot of things in those days to suit his brain’s demands; always loyal for a given degree for the term and value, he felt he’d been taken for a frog; kissed by the Matira’s as a toad and had never made Prince … probably not a difficult decision in their minds. Could he ever get a belief back or one he knew to be true …?—who remembered his love …?— was he really Drufus or something the Matira’s had created! He was no-one’s pawn: king; queen, or anything they felt they could use.

Roseen had told him the Matira’s wanted to control him and they banned him from seeing Roseen to emphasise their control of him, and more often than not, another woman was in his bed at night. They stuck pins in him until they melted his feelings but he would never be owned by them.

He looked at the water in the bowl and put some oak bark into the mixture to colour it. No-one would see him in this magic as everything was natural and he watched his minute magic scrolling circles spread; they would pay. He watched the spirals move out until they seemed to climb out the bowl and spread before his eyes.

Roseen always said, ‘his magic was the best and the Matira’s would find that out’. They’d killed Roseen when he wouldn’t stop seeing her now they would pay for his loss.

Drufus was always different from other Dwarf’s – his eyes were blue and at four foot seven inches he was tall for a dwarf and his beard was merely bristles. He just wished he concentrated more in the temple but magic was still in him … he slept with it every night as he felt the tingle of power and he bound his own magic to protect him against Griselda’s ferocious attacks but Roseen wouldn’t let him protect her.

At times he wanted to kill Griselda but it was too easy and he wanted her to hurt as she had hurt him.

Griselda’s emotional temper and neurotic attacks also made her an easy and recognisable target to base his scrying on and Griselda was never one to wash too often so he didn’t really need to worry too much about indelicate situations and he moved quickly away when her wash basin was moving – dwarf’s stomachs are supposed to be strong but seeing Griselda naked turned his stomach more than anything and made him head for the privy at a rush although when she was there, he could sense her ideas, plans and listen to her as she instructed her menials and cronies however at times … her thoughts; he just couldn’t understand. He knew he’d never understand a woman for whom dominating, controlling and killing were a goal for their own ends.

He would have his revenge and slowly – she would rot and die and all Drufus wanted now, was to get on with a job and Griselda to want to slowly die, yet live knowing she had lost everything.

In a way it was his protection as his ideas made him stand up to meet Griselda’s abuse, demands and threats.

There was nothing now that he wished to save, as there was nothing left to save and was there was anything for him beyond this life …? Now for Drufus the greatest passion of all was revenge. In that feeling he could feel the worry if he failed.

Griselda hated him and would executed him immediately if King Stefen didn’t stop her but King Stefen was as besotted with power as Griselda and he knew that Drufus alone, wrote the scrolls and the scrolls were power to Stefen and he had Drufus’ word that he, King Stefen would be safe. The Droga’s who called themselves Matira’s, now sat on thrones that Drufus thought of as commodes and judged their actions accordingly and in truth, was seldom wrong as to their motives or the residue.

Drufus, as someone plotting his revenge, the tortures and deaths as the keeper of the Scrolls, had found the last three months exceptionally stressful as he laboriously copied and edited every magical scroll. He was sweating so much now, he was thinking of changing his vest.

Drufus’ mother, who was in reality the magic Magistra, dedicated her son to the temple of Druncheon. She felt he could be educated there by someone who would oppose her husband’s hatred of her son. The father with his black eyes always distrusted his son’s blue eyes and she knew a blue eyed dwarf Priest who would train him. Drufus swore a lot of oaths in those days, especially from the cold wet dawn his mother dragged him into; the beatings for not paying attention by the Priests and his mother, and then again by his father, who needed little excuse for beating him.

After a while Drufus realised that Druncheon was a missing God, if a God at all but he swore the oaths to please his mother, although there were a few others that she never heard swear but one was to never to tell his father of his training and eventually he’d started dying his eyes black; telling everyone he was growing up and once he done that he was treated much better.

Dwarfs with blue eyes were a throwback to Old Stock – black was acceptable in a dwarf!

It was at the temple he met Roseen; a Priestess in the making with the same degree of interest in Druncheon that he did – very little.

They came together more and more as they grew up physically and mentally, often alongside each other and no-one else in Druncheon’s temple.

She taught Drufus more than anyone else in the temple.

Now Roseen was dead and he felt he died with her.

He still couldn’t understand why she’d died or why she wouldn’t let him protect her: killed by assassins; paid for by Griselda but his only regret was that every day he couldn’t hear Griselda’s screams as she was buried four hundred foot below in a bubble for the next four hundred years, and then the bubble would disperse, leaving them still underground but without any protection from Destraight or anything and then his saliva dripped.

There were, obviously problems with Ascania and Destraight but Toshonia would not rule the world despite King Stefen and Queen Griselda’s belief that they should.

It took time but with sleight of hand, Drufus ensured the originals and not the copies were in the rider’s saddlebags as the soldier left the castle – and the remaining copies were not true copies. They would have a surprise when he read the scrolls.

Given a choice, Drufus would have been the rider and possessor of the magic. His revenge would not just be against the Matira’s or Droga’s.

People would be in limbo in a great big bubble; unable to see more than themselves for the next four hundred years … they would stay in that bubble, not knowing it would burst – four hundred foot below the surface of Toshon and they would blame the Matira’s and the Matira’s would be there to be blamed – possibly briefly.

Destraight would find a way in as the bubble decayed and he would have his revenge.

Drufus didn’t feel taken now; he had taken the Matira’s. The Matira’s would find their level and he’d made sure they would sink to it.

Rona watched him run and then kick her sandals off as she walked along the battlements.

She watched them fall into the castle grounds beneath … someone would bring them back?—they usually did. She felt dirt gritting her toes but not her mind as she kicked them off and then relaxed as she walked barefoot feeling something that felt real. She felt turning her back on the sun wrong and turned to the West as Mona Roc settled on the battlements and spoke in her mind, “Yes, I like to see the sun set as well but you are even more disturbed than usual and Destraight is not for you!”

I don’t know what is for me?”

Do you know anything of what Destraight is, or what it might do to you?”

It couldn’t be worse than here.”

It could be, Rona. Firstly, the only place for Humans in Destraight is Dagril, and that is 400 foot down in darkness and you must reach Dagril and find your way down first and that is not easy. A lot of people didn’t die when they were attacked – we call them Old Stock but the magic of Destraight is never constant – you can never rely upon it. Their Queen or King is an idea determined by belief and constantly changes as does the magic of Destraight; it is little more than a mouthpiece at times and often a great source of magic that used without thought.”

But they fight the Matira’s?”

But do they win, Rona. Why do you think those prisons cum dungeons are alongside the Barracks? Why do you think Toshonia refuses to let it’s people move to Ascania or Destraight?”

I don’t know, Mona Roc.”

Benevolent rule though it may be called, King Stefen is a Dictator—”

He works to mix races – he tries to mediate – he tries to bring peace and prosperity?”

No, Rona: it is trade; disharmony affects trade, and within his own designs, he works to mix races, mediate and to bring peace and prosperity: as it affects trade.

He makes sure that his own family only marry within their own race but he adopts and forces his ‘non-birth’ children to marry other races … he does not force his ‘birth’ children to marry non-races.

A lot of old scrolls are attuned only to the Matira; held in magical chests but they are also copied and distributed only to Dwarf’s. He does not allow any other magic and kills anyone with magical powers who is not a dwarf. He battles with Ascania and Destraight – they have magic and he fears that as he fears challenges. He needn’t challenge them, but he does. Destraight’s magic lies in the belief of it’s multiple denizens; be they of any type; several are evil and roam at night such as Rock Trolls, Orcs, Wolfen, Ogres – I could talk for ever on such creatures that you would not wish to meet and that it is not only those who often attack above-ground dwellers. People are forced to accept King Stefen’s policies and pay for soldiers for protecting them and the livelihoods – they do not challenge him unless they wish to end up in prison camps.”

So what do I do?”

Whatever you choose to do, Sister Rona. We of the Rocs do not mind-meld with humans unless the feeling is there that allows us to. I found you and your mind and you accepted me. We are bonded as if I was a new chick.”

Yet your ideas, at times, frighten me, Mona Roc. I will not be sacrificed to an ideal but I need an escape from here and my forced marriage. They prevent me from listening to their plans but they plan to destroy all their enemies; to keep a bubble around themselves and this castle and to unleash something that will destroy everyone. They seek absolute domination. Where could I go and survive?”

It is a long trip but most of the ‘Du Storme’ estates are underground already and more widespread than you would believe.”

Why would that matter?”

Sir Raglan du Storme’s property can not easily be invaded or defeated although flooding does cause problems at times and Destraight’s denizens below it’s grounds would cause a lot of trouble if they could get into his castle but whilst his property is mostly underground it is not part of Destraight and is well-equipped to survive.”

Will he take me? What of the rest of our world?”

I’m not I understand your comment? Du Storme will need to be stopped from taking you! He’ll want you!”

What do you mean?”

The Du Storme’s are not known for gentleness. They’re not being part of Distrait but that does not mean he doesn’t follow their habits, beliefs, manners or their worst behaviour. He will consider you to be prey. He will also understand that if any harm comes to you, he will never go above ground again. We will discuss this with him, when we arrive!”

When do we leave. Will you be there with me?”

Rona,” exclaimed Mona Roc, “I am always with you but I have my own loyalties – you have never needed to be loyal to anyone but I am a Roc and my loyalties are my own; I chose my bond-mates and carefully. You are young as I was, once.”

I need to understand more, Mona Roc!”

The plans of King Stefen are those of a Dictator who thinks he will escape the results of his actions … he will not? Nevertheless, I am bonded to you and I will ensure you are respected.”

May I watch the sunset for a last time, Mona Roc. I ask for little in this life but I like to watch the sun rise and set.”

The sunset is always there, Rona Matira … wherever you are!”

No, Mona Roc. The sunset is a vision of a day ending and perhaps, my life!”

Rona turned to watch the sun slowly sink over the province of Frania with the wind sweeping in from the sea and rocks to the South blowing the long blond hair she loved into her face … for some reason she often felt the wind was caressing her ideas as well touching her innermost words and feelings. To Rona, in her mind, she felt this was a time to love and forget emotions – emotions had never meant love – she felt the truth of herself but somehow it was emphasised and enforced as wrong: her mind seemed to emphasise they were wrong; emotions were never love.

From the castle walls she could see and hear the barracks below but she could also hear the dogs that circled the walls to prevent people escaping.

Behind her to the South was the smell of the sea and the rocky plateau that stretched to the East and West as far as her eye could see.

In the front of the castle was Toshon Town. A bustling thriving place mainly built of wooden houses. The Dwarf’s preferred the West side, the humans the East, and the Elves the North. They lived and traded within their own areas although for certain items they would visit; often heavily cloaked and at night.

Stefen had tried to overcome this by adopting a human girl and now Rona had a dwarf father, mother and sister, and was expected to marry a dwarf.

That she was human did not seem to matter to anyone. Being forced to marry, mattered to her; no matter who he was. King Stefen ruled with an autocratic hand, foot and mouth and he expected people to stay where they were put and enforced it. People were expected to stay where they were. The dogs surrounding the castle made sure that no-one left, unless authorised and the prison blocks adjoining the barracks held those who had unsuccessfully tried to ignore those rules.

Rona wanted something real; something that made her feel that she was real; that her feet were real and they could feel reality and she knew why she kicked off her shoes and let dirt grind into her feet. Just to feel alive and not the target of the political marriage …? It felt wrong and so were the Dwarves plotting and playing magic as if they had invented it – it was wrong!

It wasn’t as if she had someone to love … she wasn’t allowed near anyone – nor to see anyone: the only place she could be: here; on the battlements; watching dreams fade; here with nothing but the sun sinking, as she was.

The sun would rise again but would she? Rona felt desperate; she felt as if there was no one there …? no-one she could turn to. She was like the sun sinking but would she re-appear in the morning.

She hadn’t seen Mona Roc in days but maybe she didn’t understand Mona or what drove Mona but Mona was a magic that knew her inner being; knew it … believed in it and Rona envied her.

Rona tried to help her to understand ‘she could be free’ but what was this freedom when Rona had only the trappings of nothing she cared about and already she could feel magic building within the castle and it seemed to crawl over her.

Rona looked to the South. Mona lived in the rocks and stood on two claws with a height of 6 feet and a bulk that could be fearsome if she chose. Rocs were fearsome birds but they could enter your mind if they wished … or you wish them to’.

They were to a large degree, magical birds and they decided who they will match to, but Rona had another problem, now.

She felt the fear of the stones beneath the feet as they vibrated and she didn’t like it. Looking around she jumped again as she found Mona Roc perched on the battlements behind her; Mona must have glided in and Rona knew the sound of her wings was hidden beneath the castle’s vibrations. Now Mona perched and waited – Rocs have more understanding than you will ever know and Rona and Mona were side-by-side as the sun sank and Rona’s spirits rose.

Mona Roc look at the trembling Rona Matira and if a bird can smile then perhaps she raised her beak, “we must leave. The magic starts and you must be outside of the castle before they complete this spell.”

What spell is that, Mona Roc?”

On my back, whilst we speak, Rona Matira. We must be airborne and high enough to avoid this spell. It covers this castle and Toshon … they’re starting the magic and we must leave before they complete it and encapture us as well.”

What about my shoes?”

They will join you in death if we don’t leave—”

What is happening below? Someone is riding out of the castle gate.”

Then let them ride. He is carrying the Matira’s treasure but maybe, we have time to alter that ploy; but not if we stand here and are caught up in this magic.”

What are they allowing to leave the castle?”

The magic legacy of the Matira’s. The scrolls are being moved from the castle before the words of the final spell are spoken. It gives us time for something; let us go before we are bound here forever,” Rona Matira climbed onto the Roc and put her arms and feet around it’s long crop.

Not too tight, Rona; my crop gets a lot of use. Now we must fly,” and wings now extended for a few beats that took Mona Roc into the air following the rider as he left the castle before swooping down and neatly removing the rider from his horse to then gently drop him as she followed the panicking horse and finally measured her beat and space, settling her claws around the horse and rising into the air; carrying the horse for some distance until she dropped it into a closed valley from a few feet. She settled herself as the horse ran off with the scrolls on her back.

Looking at Mona Roc, Rona thought for a while …? Mona, “I think that could have gone a little better … in a lot of ways … still …?”

Still, at least we are free of the spell, Rona?”

What spell, Mona Roc. You keep talking of a spell; I want freedom!”

We are free of the spell? Haven’t I taught you enough.”

You have never taught me, Mona … you exclaim, demonstrate, but you never teach me. For how long are we free of the Matira’s spells, Mona Roc, whatever they are?”

I don’t know Rona Matira …? You tell me; you bear their name?”

At Toshon Castle, a soldier looked, yet again, at a pair of sandles that had bounced off the Barrack Roof and thumped into his helmet leaving him with his ears ringing.

It was that bitch again who stalked the towers and kicked off her shoes; she didn’t gave a damn where they went.

He turned to resume his sentry duty … let her come down and find them – he’d had enough of this.

King Stefen and Queen Griselda were arguing, “What do you mean you can’t find Drufus. He’s the expert on scrolls; he should be here to read the final scroll … it has to be perfectly read.”

Any idiot can read it, Stefen! I’ll read it.”

Griselda! If this final words go wrong we will be protected but what will be left!”

I’ll read them, Stefen. I’ve heard Drufus stammer over them, enough times; at least I have my own teeth.”

No, Griselda … we need Drufus!”

Moria, Gazia, Etplna—”

What have you—?”

Stefan’s voice slowly died as he watched but nothing seemed to happen.

He ran out and up to the top of the tower to look, as he had often done before but never running and nothing seemed to have changed. The sun had set; he could hear the noise from the kitchens. The sentries were patrolling. The dogs always pleased him as they howled in hunger. The spells had failed but He could see a shimmer in the air above the castle as some kind of mud started to ooze inside the castle walls but he could see suns in the sky magnifying as lights and red lights hurtled towards Toshon and as he watched he started to see the ground ripped up into the air and the mud spread over the castle grounds. Stefen’s mouth moved as he watch but words failed him; he hoped Queen Griselda’s feelings mirrored his silence although nothing seemed to shut her up. Looking up Stefen watched a mountain of earth descend upon the bubble darkening his vision and he now truly sank into the depths with the only light from the bubble surrounding the castle and town. The colours vanished as the land descended, spitting down on something it didn’t want and then all he could see was his land and it stretched as far as he could see and that wasn’t very far. The only light was from the bubble which seemed to have some radiance that shone down but there was no sun any more, just a radiance from the bubble and below was just a castle and a town lit by a glow from above.

Stefen remembered Drufus promising him, I will add a magic phrase at the end to bury Griselda with her dreams and for you to have your desires but the spell he added at the end was to take him to Sir Raglan du Storme and the Du Storme castle and to let them sink.

The spell broke the world apart; destroying it. Tidal waves and land-quakes moved as the Matira’s discovered Drufus’ Nuclear Option. A disaster destroying half the world’s civilisation and down in the dark, the circle finally settled over the castle and Toshon Town. King Matira still had his close echelons; the barracks; the prisons but not the sky; they didn’t see it finally turn into a fiery red as if a failing love affair had been highlighted in the Dwarf Press. Griselda didn’t see clouds of white, grey and violent red, gusting on winds roaring; fighting each other as much as they fought the binding that forced them to be there. Winds howling above them worshipped the sky: plummeting down to caress the land but the bubble protected the King, Queen and their subjects in castles and towns that were still alive but now approaching a low level as they slowly sunk. It spoke with a blazing fire that ripped the stomach of the world from buried pits to bury people in torrents of sea and melting iron as it swept in. Unprotected people watched fires from below and above meet tidal waves that fought before engulfing them; sparing no-one. Toshon Castle with its shining countenance found it’s real level – some 400 foot down, taking its Dwarf Magic lovers with it to Destraight’s level.

Griselda with Drufus’ spell changes propelled Astoria into the devastation that lasted some four hundred years, and courtesy of Drufus’ modifications, all under Toshon’s circle of protection sank four hundred feet down but the point that Drufus missed like an ego-tripping programmer was that there were two stages to his magic and he hadn’t connected them together. One spell protected people within the area – the other sank the Castle and town four hundred feet down in the area of Toshon Castle and village but not all sank. Another point was that those who were subject to both spells sank but others, outside of the confines of Toshon when the second spell started were only subject to the four hundred years stay of life which froze them.

Mona Roc attempting to resume her flight; crashed down.

Rona froze as she walked through the stirrup high grass, following the path beaten down by a frightened horse that had been given some basic lessons in flying by Mona Roc.

Yes, Drufus was someone who actually wrote magic scrolls believing he’d delivered magic code that obliterated half the world but his problem amongst his others, was his inability to actually write decent magic code that did exactly what it said on the scroll. Those outside of the area he decreed still had the protection of four hundred years in a bubble but, and it was an almighty but; they didn’t sink four hundred feet down, instead they lived in bubbles as people do at times, including Drufus after he arrived at the Du Storme Castle.

The Du Storme castle was unusual. The only piece of it, really above ground was the Gate-tower abutting the Storme Inlet leading down to the Storme Sea. A bad pun but the du Storme’s had always been bad at everything. The rocks, high in front of the Du Storme Gate-tower had been piled there by fierce tides from years immemorial; a few bodies had already swum there as well, although not willingly but Du Storme Castle was different from any other Castle on Astoria. It was mainly underground for a start.

It’s reputation was of another life. It possess lakes; waters but the Du Storme’s built their home as a Dungeon and whilst you might dance under a ball of lights at the Du Storme’s castle, your dance would often find a few more meaningful lights. Drufus arrived to find himself between a lake, a tower and just outside an open door as soldiers surrounded him and herded him to an entrance hall: forcing him against a wall – he was still there as they watch him stiffen like a stuff chicken as the spell took over; leaving him in the same position for another 400 years although his arms sticking out were used as a chain mail hanger.

Sir Facid du Storme liked to obtain fresh air from time to time although this was not really an option within his castle. He seemed to own or control half of Ascania – owning more than the king earned respect but most of the land and respect had been underground for a long time but with the turmoil of last four hundred years the rest of the castle was completely underground – apart from one tower – Sir Facid just had light filtering in from above these days and everything stank. Sir Facid’s castle had been buried even more in the turmoil but this allowed him extensive planting land and already the corn, vines and woods were feeding the demand for food, drink and furniture for a large area and that fed his treasury and the Guards he needed to defend his treasury – paid a bonus for the damp and smell.

Sir Facid possessed sheltered harbours to the North and South if he and Sir Charles could stop fighting over the Northern harbours but as Sir Charles had little money; few Guards and the need to buy food from Sir Facid, it meant more skirmishes than minor wars and Sir Facid’s territory/control now stretched to about two thirds of Ascania and his relations with King Machael were a little touchy but Sir Facid liked to visit what he considered to be his personal ornament.

A Dwarf had arrived outside the castle some four hundred years ago and when herded into a room by soldiers the dwarf froze and had stayed frozen ever since. He’d been guarded ever since and Sir Facid often found himself staring down as the immobile dwarf to try and understand what he was thinking.

Both of them stood immobile, almost trying to outdo one another.

According to his Guards, Sir Facid won every time according to Sir Facid but all Sir Facid ever met, as had others, was a piercing blue eyed stare but still he stood and stared. You didn’t become a knight by being out-stared by a frozen dwarf. Sir Facid didn’t know the name of the dwarf although insects and rodents had obviously bypassed the Guards from time to time and his clothes were now very ragged with two cats that often slept at the dwarf’s feet adding to his state.

Sir Facid could not image them staying awake for nearly four hundred years … eventually someone had cut up an old tapestry – a small one used for – by the smell of it – for various purposes and decorated him … Sir Facid’s nose could not turn up even more than it did but that was his birthright although he felt it trying too, looking at the dwarf.

Apart from the smell of the dwarf, Sir Facid had his standard problem in that his castle smelt.

It had been underground for too long and with the ploughing and seeding the only time the roof’s were opened was when the rain, snow and freezing water could come in, however, that seemed almost like a relief as it penetrated his underground castle.

Wine went off; often with an appropriate explosion; grain and meat went bad; cider became vinegar … Sir Facid might as well have inherited a burial site as a castle but looking at the dwarf as many forebears did; trying to understand the dwarf’s look of puzzlement, he realised he would never know until one day; the dwarf suddenly opened it’s eyes … “this place stinks – can’t you find a window to open … I know a spell that will take out the smell.”

Who are you and why have you been stood here for four hundred years?”

My name is Drufus and I need your Jakes, and urgently!”

Then Poofus is probably a better name—”

I need the Jakes!”

Fine. Go West; South; follow you nose for fresh air and shout Bluenose as you go. Today’s password … the sea and rocks and mountains await you”.

Drufus found himself facing strong winds and a stormy sea but after four hundred years he couldn’t be too delicate. It was some time later that he finally returned and explained to Sir Facid what happened. The look on Sir Facid’s face indicated that he might as well have saved his breath since nothing of it was believed. It wasn’t helped by Sir Facid’s joke that he owed him four hundred years rent.

Sir Facid’s final question to him was, “do you really know magic spells?”.

I invented them but dwarf magic means you must have spells written down and physically hold the scroll when you read the spell. The magic I was taught was at the temple of Druncheon. My mother wanted me to be a priest but when she died the money dried up and so did the teaching and I served King Stefen of Toshonia until the great troubles.”

Yes, Drufus. We were lucky that most of our castle was underground so we could farm but we did receive a large amount of land deposited on top of us.

The good point is that we did not receive great waves – the rocks protected us but virtually the whole of my castle and rooms might as well be in my deepest dungeons.

We have openings in the roof but these must be closed in the planting season and can not really be opened again until after the harvest has finished leaving rain, snow and winds to dampen every horizon. If you can write a spell to clear and perfume the air, I am sure we can come to some arrangement for your future.”

I would appreciate a bath and a change of clothes, first, Facid; if that can be arranged, but I am sure I can write some magic to clear the air?”

I am sure we all would appreciate that, Drufus, especially as you have been there for four hundred years. My people will attend you and perhaps the spell? Haste would be appreciated.”

The same could not really be said for Rona, Mona and the horse they were following, especially the horse, but the wolves had died? They were now on an island and it was an island you could enjoy but Mona wasn’t …? Thoughts crossed their minds about food however lakes, cornfields, trees abounded so, maybe, above all, freedom beckoned although given the size of the island it was not very much in terms of freedom.

What didn’t seem to beckon was four hundred year old food. It might have been protected along with them but it seemed to have aged more than they had but right now all Rona wished for was privacy. Mona Roc could get rid of waste as she flew without caring where it landed. Rona on the other hand …? On the ground … some trees near some large leaves beckoned her urgently.

Rona was making her way back as Mona Roc landed and threw a bone from her beak into the cornfield before heading for a tree where she decimated a branch as her beak lost the remains of breakfast cum lunch.

The mental note sounding in Rona’s mind from Mona said, “I can’t find the horse. I know I put her down somewhere but I can’t find any trace of her?”

That was four hundred years ago, Mona. If she is alive she’s probably hiding from you. She thinks you want her for a meal?”

She couldn’t have got far?”

Assume she was swept into the sea and woke up in water?”

I’ll check, Rona.”

Some miles away the horse finally left the lake. Like everyone else it wanted a bath and seeing the Roc in the air it went as near underwater as it could manage – finally climbing out on the West side of the lake and heading for some fresh grass.

It could smell more water to the North and could see some shrubs and it made it’s way over to find a pond with grass, fresh water and over on the over side of the pond some trees to hide in. No Roc was picking her up again – not even for a date.

Mona Roc and Rona, after a good hour finally decided to follow the hoof prints … just one small problem – everything had been washed out – there weren’t any, but they needed to explore the island and once again Rona climb up onto Mona who then spread her wings and took off, leaving Rona pleased for once, that there wasn’t anything for her to eat and she wasn’t pleased when Mona Roc suddenly descended in a screaming dive and launched herself on a small deer leaving Rona’s hands blood soaked as she struck, “sorry about that Rona but it was too good a chance to miss. If you skin it, build a fire and roast it, you can eat.”

How do I do that, Mona. The castle cooks did that; I don’t cook!”

You’d better learn if you wish to live.”

I don’t even have a knife!”

I have a beak, Rona. Call it skinning,” Rona turned her head and put her hands over her ears as Mona Roc attacked the deer’s carcase, “now build a fire and roast it.”

How do I do that, Mona?”

Gathering wood would be a good start, Rona.”

Can’t you do anything, Mona.”

Can’t you do anything, Rona. I’ll have a look around for a large branch,” and Mona Roc took off again and flew towards the small lake to the East until out of the corner of her eye, amongst shrub and grass she saw something and swooped down.

The saddlebag lay there or the remains of it did. Scrolls lay tangled in the shrubs. Mona Roc took one look and took off again to gather Rona who was still trying to work out how to light a fire, “leave those large branches alone, Rona. I found scrolls which are in better condition than the saddlebags they were in. It looks like some kind of coating.”

I’m hungry, Mona!”

Then come and look in the saddlebags, after you gather up the scrolls. I’ll pick wood but the saddlebags should have some means of lighting a fire, even if you don’t have any idea. Let’s look at those scrolls! Climb on my back.”

I’d rather walk, Mona. I don’t have enough food to be sick with.”

In your thoughts of distance, a mountain range is in the way of direct path; forests adjoin the small lake – to save a long conversation, Rona – get on my back!”

I can’t face another flight, Mona Roc … I really can’t.”

I will fly gently. You need to eat and the smell from that place is evil. Let us find those scrolls and then I must read them and find those of my people who still live. They will probably attack and kill me but I need to try and ensure these words are not forgotten … my beak is not suitable for catching scrolls … deer I can catch, so climb up and we will learn.”

Please go gently, Mona.”

Mona Roc’s flight was an upwards ascent. In later times, had Rona known it, it was like an express lift that only stopped as your food met the roof. Having climb enough to rise above the trees and mountains, Mona Roc then realised her friend had fallen off. Mona Roc spun on her wings to look for a distant falling spec of something in the sky. She had bonded with Rona but failed to pay any attention to her bond-mate as she rose far beyond any height she needed to be. Too late she cast her mind to her bond-mate and now plummeted down to try and find her, hurtling down after a speck still falling and almost tree high before she managed to get her claws underneath the body and slow its flight with her large wings beating madly as she tried to avoid both of them plummeting into the ground. Poking a body with a claw was never a good idea. The body was too soft and the claw too hard. She waited for Rona to show some signs of life.

Arturo and Princess Laseith first met in the gutter; knowing and understanding each other from the beginning although Arturo couldn’t shake off his life as a young dwarf hated by his mother for looking like his father and as his father was never there, his mother had a free hand and used it.

For Laseith …? History often neatly dovetail’s people’s destinies and a mound of bodies. Her mother serviced the Toshonian Guards and once was wrong on her dates becoming pregnant. She thought that the Guard would support her: he did; her body was found the next morning by Laseith. Laseith learnt the streets. Playing in a gutter she ran barefoot along the open sewage ditch following a body as a soldier floated whenever she saw one. Later, when Laseith was at a barrack party – it was usually safe – she lifted enough purses to buy better rags so she could beg as an abandoned child.

One day as she was begging in the street, she tried to trip Arturo so she could rob him after he fell. Arturo as usual had no thought for anyone but himself as he made his way and stepped on her foot, receiving abuse as it was the foot she meant to trip him up with.

Yet another beating from his mother, and this time his mother had a list of things for his father to beat him with as well until he could hardly walk.

Eventually, time found both of them at the temple of Astoron, who would feed them if they bowed to Astoron, and Arturo, who could hardly walk in a straight line after the beatings, attracted as much emotion as Laseith; the bruises and trouble in walking were also a good entrance when the Priestesses took over in the evening but once again, timing was everything. The temple of Druncheon – the dwarf god – had thrown Arturo out as a young brat but now he was older and looked better, allowed him to enter the temple during the day and study their magic’s as a novice.

The temple of Alf – the elven god, kicked Laseith into the street which coloured more than her opinion and language; it would never allow her back.

Together Arturo and Laseith found Astoron for food, although to them as they ate and praised Astoron, he seemed a more absent god than most but food was food and the Priests received donations and so did Arturo and Laseith which improved their lives but in Arturo’s case he had another problem. His mother had recently died leaving him with an absent father, no money and he’d would have been reduced to the level of Laseith if not for the clothing donated to the temple of Druncheon.

One night as they gathered at the temple of Astoron, one of the Priests who was on night duty for a change, took pity on him, “as your mother is recently deceased, you can still speak to her spirit?”

I thank you, Rosult, but my mother seldom spoke to me before she died, except with her hand or a stick, and I cannot see her speaking to me now!”

Arturo! The Priest is trying to help you!”

To do what, Laseith?”

Your mother must have had some money hidden away. Ask her and she will tell you … we can share it!”

Do you have an offering for Astoron?”

Rosult; I do not have an offering for you to speak this magic but I would plead that you ask my mother for help.”

You are in his temple and Astoron always cares, Arturo and in more ways than you will ever know. The ways and thoughts of a God are beyond our understanding and thoughts—”

“—so what does he care about?”

You take his charity, now let us see if you can take his blessing—”

I don’t want his blessing—”

You both take Astoron’s blessings on a daily basis, yet both of you do not accept the sacrifices that feed you. You treat this temple as a food-source and we tolerate that for the pain you have suffered; unlike your ‘Alf’ temple, Laseith, or your ‘Druncheon’ temple, Arturo. They knew you for your worth immediately you arrive and you still haven’t learnt, Laseith. You still haven’t learnt! My God is different and through his benevolence, we feed you and help you to leave the streets; you, Laseith, still drag the streets with you … we don’t ask for rewards … we have a saying in this Temple … ‘what goes around, cometh around.’ It will come around for you, Laseith.

And what does that mean, Rosult?”

As you take, you repay although I don’t think the concept means with a sword, Laseith!—”

Can I talk to my mother, Rosult?”

Let us see, whether your mother wishes to talk to you, Arturo!”

I will make preparations … it will take some time and I suggest you purge yourself of unholy thoughts, if that is possible!”

Rosult moved into another chamber and eventually green vapour filled the chamber. The chamber was some twenty foot high and the altar billowed green and then it began to move to red.

Arturo peering around the corner now saw the font in front of the alter turn orange as if it was a furnace that had moved from red-hot but it did not seem to need coals for it’s heat and the colours now merged with the green and red to create an aura of stillness.

Rosult looked over his shoulder to the doorway where Arturo and Laseith peered through, “as you cannot wait, come in and stand before the font. You will see your mother’s face and hear her words. Having heard some of her words, I suggest you prepare yourself but do not touch the font … if you do, you will join your mother on the other side and there will be no return!”

They both moved to stand in front of the font and looked at the image of Arturo’s mother.

You killed me, Arturo!” Was the shouted accusation.

I did not kill you!”

You killed me with an axe, my beloved son.”

Did you kill your mother, Arturo?” And Rosult’s voice rose as he looked first at the image and then Arturo.

She was beating me again. I picked up the axe to defend myself … I did not mean to hurt her.”

“… you killed me, Arturo!”

It was Laseith. She gave me the axe.”

You fool. You’re admitting you killed her. Shut-up, Arturo – she deserved it. She was beating you. You were defending yourself. Shut-up!”

You forced megave me the axeyou made me kill her, Laseith!”

No-one makes you kill an unarmed woman, Arturo,” and Rosult looked at Arturo with disgust, “although I can feel the power in Laseith and you’ve dabbled in magic, Laseith … bad magic. For you Arturo, you are just a weak man who will commit evil for anyone stronger. You are weak, your spirit may recover but I doubt that. Your life will be that of an errand running; a killer of the weak; a dwarf you do not trust at your back!”

She kept beating me, Rosult. She would never stop. I was only defending myself.”

My God tells me you are lying, Arturo.”

Don’t pay any attention to him, Arturo. You must know how to live from this worldyou are a fool, but with me, I we will rise and I’ll not forget you!”

I am not a fool, Laseith. I don’t grab at nothing and attack those who would help me.”

Then produce your pennies, Arturo … that is all you are fit for,” the Priest held his cloth a lot closer than required and he now seemed to shine. Rosult waved his hand for Laseith and Arturo to follow and left the chamber, “Get you gone from this temple. Never darken it’s doors again. The only reason I don’t call the guard is that both of you have suffered and you will suffer again for this mischief – leave this temple, NOW.”

Both, now aged – more by luck than anything else – finally had some riches and status.

Laseith; plucked from poverty by King Machael; plucked Arturo – a willing killer with a history – to join her. She knew she could make him kill, which suited her and then he owed her for her silence. Arturo, almost as a means of protection, made himself as useful as he could by writing the magic scripts he’d learnt in the temple and sworn to never reveal to anyone.

Laseith on the other hand, or any hand, was prepared to reveal everything but her true self.

Now, the mature Princess Laseith was a witch with latent powers looking to create a dynasty with herself at the helm and with more lovers than he could shake his armour at and she took off once again.

King Machael had adopted Laseith as she’d been abandoned at birth and he felt this made things easier on succession although now he realised her mother must have been an amorous witch and why the baby was abandoned – Machael had no idea what happened to the mother but he doubted it was good. Now that left him with an amorous troublemaking witch as a daughter.

Princess Laseith felt she was wearing out more than the broomstick. She often visited her fools cum lovers.

She travelled to the farthest lover first and both she and the broomstick were feeling more than a little stiff after the long trip to see Sir Gregory de Bowed. Sir Gregory, at least raised a platform just above the entrance arc to allow her an uneasy landing. A walkway took her to the first level and main entrance hall.

Laseith looked but still didn’t understand the sculptured altar in the main entrance hall but nor did she accept Sir Gregory’s offer to look at his altar knives. Sir Geoffrey brushed off her other comments, saying they’d been there far longer than he had. He lived on an island so small that no one had ever bothered to name it these days; calling it Sir Gregory’s isle, although the natives would take umbrage with that.

Sir Gregory was poor; on this small island native tribes lived and disputed ownership with Sir Gregory – sometimes violently – and whilst Sir Gregory lived in the West, the North and South were occupied by the natives and the rock formation occupied the East – Sir Gregory was going nowhere and apart from Princess Laseith, no-one else was visiting. About the only options Sir Gregory had was to earn money was chopping trees down and woodworking and his Guards were so few, he would have to do the chopping.

There were only nine habitable rooms in the tower: that included the entrance hall; a twisted and bent corridor leading from the entrance hall to another large room, and the bed-chamber a little further on.

All were secret or to tell the truth; apart from his bed-chamber, they all led into where his six Guards gambled, slept and did little else. The entrance hall and his bedchamber had tapestries on the wall without most looking more than carpets but at least he’d tried to make the castle more habitable.

Princess Laseith stayed with him for the night before pleading state business and making sure she headed for Ascania and did not change direction until she was out of his sight.

Laseith finally broomed into Sir Facid’s castle. To say Princess Laseith was surprised to be met by Sir Facid and a dwarf called Drufus.

Sir Facid controlled almost as much land as King Machael did – the only differences being that he didn’t have to fight for it but also that most of his castle was underground and the land he controlled was above it; he was rich, however and was one of the few that had not suffered when the stars darkened and the waters flowed over the land. His castle had been taking on water for a long time and was used to it.

It was a good-sized castle, more like an underground labyrinth but in good order, as was his land – rich and well tended, and despite King Michael’s boasts, with excellent harbours, whilst most of his castle being almost underground made it difficult to invade. This seemed to be only two entrances into the main castle – above ground – and one fronted onto a deep harbour to give plenty of warning of an invading fleets whilst the other exit was some 250 yards to the East. It was essentially an emergency exit but Sir Facid would be there first although it was usually buried by earth and an interesting experience if anyone ever opened it. There was a walkway to the main entrance hall which was lit at all times and the earth above smelt rich and tilled and that filtered through in more ways than one, giving a lot of sweepers a job for life until Drufus appeared. Beyond that were rooms and barracks and a rich life for Sir Facid but one where taxes to King Michael were not discussed or even contemplated.

Why have you greeted me with a dwarf, Sir Facid? Jewellery, I can accept, but a dwarf?”

Laseith. I do not give people away as gifts and he is too important for me to ever give away!”

Don’t shout at me, Facid. I am your lover and not an object to be admired by a dwarf!”

My Lady Laseith. You already have a dwarf – Arturo, I believe. Drufus might be a dwarf but he does know a few spells. One, I asked him to prepare for you will allow you to move without using a broomstick but I strongly suggest you test the spell out before you use it. Some of the spells Drufus has created do not always do, ‘what is says on the scroll’; quite amusing, however. It keeps my staff on their toes; once they have managed to get to their feet”.

When are you going to manage your kingdom. This whole place smells.”

Drufus is working on the smell but his spells have a habit of going wrong and the last one removed a few other things besides the smell and I now insist that any future spells have the ability to be reversed and don’t kill people.”

I’ve told you to organise your kingdom!”

Drufus is working on it!”

And what of the invasion!”

What invasion, Laseith?”

Gregory is building forces to invade, you must ready an army!”

Laseith; Gregory is too busy scratching out a living to invade anything. What games are you playing, my neurotic friend. What neighbour are you trying to fry as you use others for your games?”

I am not playing games …? I am trying to help you, Facid. If you do not want my help; I won’t take any more of your time.”

Well, I will help you. Drufus, here, wrote magic scripts that almost destroyed the world, so he should be able to write a travelling spell?”

Yes, my —”

Sir is enough, Drufus. I don’t need flattery?”

“—As you demand, Sir …?—”

Get on with it before we spend the next four hundred years waiting!”

“— Sir Facid, I was only thinking where to start—”

Then start, damn you, start, and Princess Laseith can leave.”

“—Princess Laseith; I was born four hundred years ago. I wrote magic scripts and then I copied them as a safeguard but swapped them so the original scripts left the castle. For revenge for their killing my love I changed the copied scripts and altered them so they would destroy the Matira’s as well as the world. The original scripts were put on a horse and I went up to the battlements to enjoy my death. I then saw Princess Rona with a gigantic bird but I just stayed there to enjoy my last sunset. Princess Rona climbed onto the Roc’s back and took off. Where the scripts ended up I don’t know but the Roc snatched the rider and then swooped on the horse … I’m not sure what happened after that but it was East of the castle, and then high in the air but I saw something fall …? What? I don’t know … I was too busy watching my last sunset?”

Can you ever get back to the subject, Drufus …? Now!”

The original scripts were in the horses’ saddlebags. Every piece of magic I’d ever written. They could be in the sea; on a mountain – I don’t know … I really don’t know!”

You must have some idea, Drufus. You stood them and watch the bird and not just your sunset?”

I can only say, ‘it was in the distance, and an hour’s wings for a Roc’. I wanted to end my life and watch the sunset. I didn’t give a hatchet about a Roc carrying some woman off and picking up a horse to eat, which it then dropped!”

There you are, Laseith. Find the scripts and you have the original magic of Drufus: if you can work out where it is and remember how badly he writes magic …?”

Sir Facid stopped at that point. Let her really find out how badly, Drufus, wrote his magic and that he never tested it first. Sir Facid had learnt that; along with loosing various people he had valued, who were no longer with him.

And that is all you have to give me, Facid?”

I cannot give you everything, Laseith; no matter how you demand it. Drufus has his uses when he is not destroying the world we live in, and he is constantly surrounded by my Guards and a lady priest of Astoron but his magic apparently came from Druncheon? Is that tender enough fruit for your taste, Laseith – all the scrolls that destroyed the world?”

I pluck fruit that suits my taste, Facid. You, ‘no longer have that quality or taste’!”

How tart, Laseith. I see you haven’t mentioned King Machael’s royal wife giving birth within the next few months; I will be at the birth, and so will Sir Charles Dastry but I doubt Sir Gregory will have managed to invade the King’s property by them.”

Her time is due, Sir Facid, and so is yours if you ignore the King’s request for assistance. You have the Guards – more than the King will ever have!”

My Guards are farmers. They till the soil, not swords. I could raise levies but the invaders of yours don’t invade my lands, and my farmers would not thank me for killing them for something that doesn’t concern them. I am not the only one you visit with tales of invasion and war and I suggest you follow your suggestion and depart; Drufus has the scroll proffered to you that will: or so he claims; allow you to travel without a broom, and I wish you luck in using it.”

I have the power, Facid, to destroy you!”

No, Laseith. If you could have done that by now, you would have done it.”

You have the lands and power, Facid, you could rule Ascania.”

I don’t want to rule Ascania, Laseith, despite your pleasures; you are on my grounds and in my groin but I must with a hearty feeling say goodbye, Laseith and please leave now as Drufus is due to use one of his smell clearing spells and I would hate for you to suffer.”

I offer you co-operation, Facid, and you reject that.”

The problem, Laseith, is that Sir Charles and myself hold onto our lands. That, for some reason protects us. You take your stories to King Machael but destroying us in our homes with invading armies is a joke. I suggest you return to King Machael and work your magic on him to cause wars whilst Sir Charles and I will concentrate on our lands and our own problems, and nothing else.”

Laseith and Laseith’s broom were on overtime as she took off to see yet, again, another lover – Laseith felt she worked for the greater good, and everyone knew that! Self-confidence was not a crime but she didn’t really need a broom to launch herself into the air with the frustration and anger she felt but it was not a time to forget her destiny.

Sir Charles’ main barracks were intentionally away from the Manor House although the Guards on duty were within easy call and distance of his bed-chamber and the baths.

The villages were some distance away although that didn’t seem to stop his soldiers from visiting and he made sure there was enough of everything to keep his parishioners happy – including money for weddings – as his soldiers seemed to be supplying more and more potential workers and soldiers – given healthy births – than he needed. Sir Charles was slow-moving but he’d learnt from that and he also saved his machinations and spleen for those activities that would enrich him with either money or property.

Disagreeing with Princess Laseith, when she was holding her broom, was not, as he had realised, a good idea. An errant blow from Laseith before he’d learnt of her temper had broken his leg. Now he made sure there were bowman hidden in each room and a priest from Astoron – Womry – to protect his health …? He often wondered how rich the temples of Astoron were becoming as their priests and priestesses seemed to be in every castle these days. He’d also found other castles and Lords prepared to contribute to the Temple of Astoron for its, and their protection – especially from Princess Laseith as word of her spread between castles, still it was better to stay on her good side if you could find it.

When Laseith finally arrived – in no better mood than when she had landed – he tried not to react to her; making certain her broom – still extremely wet, along with Princess Laseith as she dripped all over the floor – was safely escorted somewhere to dry off and hopefully burn.

Sir Charles, however, was always full of courtesy to Princess Laseith – even without a broom her temper was liquid fire. He called immediately for hot baths and servants to attend the bedraggled Princess and refused to speak to until she been looked after and fresh clothing supplied. Princess Laseith ignored him, demanding and brandishing her still wet broomstick at Sir Charles, shouting, “why do I always land in your pond?”

Perhaps you broomstick loves water, Princess Laseith?”

My broomstick works perfectly – your property needs rebuilding!”

I think your broomstick does as well but it is nice to see you again, Laseith, and of course your broom as well, providing it stays well away from my legs! So why not take that bath and then tell me what are you up to this time and who are you trying to kill?”

I am not trying to kill anyone, Charles and I should be able to fix your leg but there is some magic here that stops me.”

Well, I’m grateful for that but I have no idea what magic stops you, Laseith, or re-directs to my lake although I think I am grateful for it as your broom shattered my leg and left me crippled.”

That is over and done with, Charles; I need you in Machael’s court.”

Why do you need me, Laseith …?—Why? My court is already more prosperous than King Machael’s so why would I want his worries? Why would I want his court?”

I can offer you many things, Charles!”

You already have a lover, Laseith.”

Arturo was of use to me … He might feel he is a lover – I don’t!”

A show of temper, Laseith but I wasn’t talking of a dwarf – even your tastes are not that strange. Is that bloodied broom of yours near me?”

It protects me.”

And what protects everyone else from it.”

You are frightened of my broom? What man?—I visited the wrong castle!”

Possibly, Laseith. You have visited several castles but Astoron is taking a keen interest in you and your activities and only one would sleep with you.”

Let him. I have nothing to hide.”

Laseith, I am sure you have much to hide. Why are you here?”

Don’t you know, Charles?”

Alluring as you are, Laseith, I don’t know but go and have that bath and let them dry your broom off – you are dripping over my floor.”

It was some time later before Laseith finally made her way from the bath chamber to the adjoining library.

Sir Charles looked at the door was virtually smashed open, “At least we have dried your exterior, Laseith, and much to my sorrow, your broom.”

I don’t think throwing my broom into the fire was meant to dry it but it remained long enough to harden it. What are your problems, Charles?”

Your temper for a start, Laseith – I tire of it and your arrogance. No doubt as you offer, others, your temper may drift into the background but I have enough of your machinations and what of this dwarf follower?”

Arturo is of use to me, Charles? …? He might feel he is a lover – I don’t!”

Alluring as you are, Laseith, I don’t know, still, at least we have tried to dry your exterior and much to my sorrow, your broom. I tend to dine sparingly when on my own, and as you were not expected I’m afraid it is just a meal of cheese, bread, wine and some fruit.”

What kind of meal is this for a Princess, Charles. I feed my dogs better food.”

Interesting you should say that, Laseith. I probably do as well.”

You would feed your dogs better than me? We will see how Machael likes that?”

Sir Charles Dastry watched Princess Laseith storm off, flourishing her broom … at least she was storming off before the kitchen prepared his evening meal. He wondered what she was up to in Matira. His own informants had informed him that King Martan’s concubine was with child and he’d made certain that Routani knew that before she married Martan, which should spoil Laseith’s plans but he felt a little personal attention would ensure matters were settled appropriately. With an accident in the field for Martan, Princess Routani would need a strong hand to withstand her sister and then the deep grief as Routani succumbed to a brief illness but the last thing he needed was a child born outside of the blanket from King Martan. That would have to be dealt with. Let Laseith play with Ascan – he didn’t really have the forces or land to challenge Facid and to attack Machael would require him to invade Facid’s land first and there was little he could do against both of them but to establish him in Toshonia meant he could then invade northwards; building up his land and armies and then attack Ascan with his own Guards attacking Facid and crushing them both, leaving him with both Toshonia and Ascania and both Laseith and Routani dead but it needed his personal attention.

He had his own brooms to fly and one was already being made ready. It was a very short space of time before Sir Charles Dastry took off for Charguar in the north-west of Toshonia or Matira or whatever they called now – it didn’t bother him although at some point they would remember his old family of Droga.

Laseith’s broom was still steaming when she finally landed at Ascan, and it wasn’t an easy landing with the buffeting wind that kept taking her everywhere but Ascan.

She and Arturo would be having strong words and winds as she was sure he was behind the winds preventing her landing.

Laseith headed directly to King Machael’s chambers using her broom, once again to force a way through until she reached the door where two emailed warriors and a priestess did not fear her broomstick.

Let me through if you want to live, dross. I am Princess Laseith.”

A voice from inside echoed, “I’m done with you, Priest! Let her and the Guards enter!”

Still, the voices from inside the room reverberated as Laseith forced her way in; or maybe the broomstick did; still talking to itself and almost fighting with Laseith to be heard.

Facing King Machael, Laseith thought, what had Arturo said?

King Machael looked at both of them, “I don’t trust either of you an inch but I never have”.

Laseith watched the eyes of both King Machael and Arturo.

King Machael’s eyes seemed bright; Arturo’s eyes were muddy areas that lacked focus.

We’ll will leave you …?” Princess Laseith looked into the silence from King Machael.

Queen, nee Princess Laseith, flowed to and from King Machael’s eyes and she then curtseyed as Princess Laseith.

King Machael, I ask permission to leave your presence?”

To say you have pretensions would be an understatement, Laseith …? Your other qualities I just wish I could find. You have my permission to leave our presence and the next time you barge into my councils, I will personally throw you and your broom out!”

We need to leave, Arturo. We have a world to find, King Machael!!”

Anything you find, Laseith, and you, Arturo with your potions and promises, will be something I won’t waste my breath on but you won’t get near my wife, again; either of you!”

Laseith. He has accused me of killing people; plotting against his kingdom and planning to kill him!”

Laseith grabbed him by his beard and dragged him through the door which was now open and carried on pulling until they were on the stairs, when she finally let go of his beard.

Do you ever think, you idiot. You studied magic … or at least tried to; Drufus wrote magic – original magic and you are both dwarfs so you should understand each other. We leave for Dagril – once I have some decent food? There is a clear blue sky and a chance for you to be away from King Machael and his wife.”

I’ve done all I can with King Machael’s wife—”

Shut up! You bloody fool.”

“—but she should never have become—”

Do you have a brain or do I need to beat that out of you!”

I applied everything to stop the conceptions and to abort this one – you told me to kill her – this pregnancy will abort and kill her, Laseith. You’ll have what you wanted.”

I don’t want things, Arturo. I make things happen!”

You certainly do that, Laseith!”

The next few hours were hastily spent as Laseith and Arturo filled their bellies and packs until Arturo struggled both packs to the top of the tower; strapping them onto the broom which complained non-stop.

There would be no refreshments on this flight.

Ascan as a town was unfortunately spread over two major barbarian routes and with ports – new, as well as old – it was an easily ravaged target but they didn’t go far beyond Ascan, leaving Sir Charles and Sir Facid untouched.

King Machael’s dreams were usually none he cared to share. He was often woken up; sweating yet again, until he realised it was another bed and he still wore his armour, and it was one of his generals waking him.

His dreams haunted him as men encircled him that he should trust … his bowmen were now firing at him: his ‘horsemen’ should be sweeping in from the east to take out the bowmen but now shield-men died sacrificing themselves for their king, as allies turned against, yet again. Lower your shields was his command: allow the betrayal; watch the arrows rise and fall, and die for what, ‘some belief it would be better.’; they could hang him if that were true and save his people; it seemed to be more than he could.

Laseith and Arturo flew slightly to the west. The broomstick still appeared to have problems flying over water. This part of Ascania was mainly grassland and miles of it but Jablax was a short hop after that and then a turn to the East brought them via another short hop to Dagril. Drufus’ description of where the Roc landed was to the East side of Dagril and Laseith and Arturo intended to land where the mountains stopped by the short lake.

The scrolls were supposed to be in saddle bags and coated in some solution to preserve them – the horse – something else – the saddle bags being leather would probably have fallen apart but the horse would have the bubble and live; but where – so the scrolls should still exist, even if the horse didn’t …?

Arturo wondered where the ‘immortal’ they were. With the upheaval and tidal waves probably swept out to sea along with the horse.

Still at least they could test out Drufus’ travelling scroll but Arturo dare not read the scroll on the broomstick.

If the scroll left the broomstick, Laseith would have him following the scroll downwards to retrieve it.

It took about 3 hours before Laseith saw the mountains of Jablax approaching and veered to the East; leave Arturo’s stomach to the west and landing them in the trees on the west side of a very small island. There was some smaller vegetation nearby but Laseith chose to avoid that and took them into the trees on a downward slope.

The trees were obviously not informed of the potential landing and didn’t move.

Arturo’s stomach had been so informed and so had his arms ready as he found himself hanging from a tree branch as his stomach erupted in various ways and grim death seemed an understatement. He was just grateful the trees were there. A small mountain range rose in the middle of the island – it was a pity Laseith disliked shrubs – they were a lot closer to the ground. It takes a short armed dwarf a long time to reach the ground and by that time the broomstick and Laseith had eaten everything, leaving Arturo to the pleasure of in-flight snacks when you are travelling Dwarf-air.

Arturo finally made a landing and a voice shattered his pain, “get off your backside. You’ve had your exercise. I need the camp built!”

I need a knife, thought, Drufus but that ‘bloody’ broom won’t let me near her!”

All you have to do is read the words of the scroll, Arturo.”

Then give me the scroll to read, Laseith! You know a dwarf holding the scroll must read it – give me the scroll to read!”

We need to find the rest of the scrolls, Drufus. You find them and I want to know each scroll you find?”

Drufus watched a sun rise and the beauty of life and being alive delivered some feeling of the trees to his west; the mountains looked impenetrable to the north although he could see a gap between two sets of mountains as he peered between some small trees which hadn’t grown too well in the rocky soil. To the west were more trees for the broomstick and Laseith to explore; preferably without him.

A small lake only a short distance beckoned him for the drink he needed, if nothing else as he felt something very strange. He could feel magic and yes, he’d used magic, knives, axes and hatchets to kill for Princess Laseith as he clawed his way out of the depths she had plummeted him into.

After finally drinking some water he stood and looked at some more trees to the east but the problem there was again mountains that also settled on the end of the lake and the trees were beyond that with the mountains proving a barrier unless he swam across the section of the lake which narrowed to about 30 foot at this point, still it would move him away from Laseith and that broomstick and he now looked around for some …? The magic was in the trees – high up in the trees, and he needed to swim across and then climb into the conifers to …? Well, stripping off and climbing nakedly up conifers was not his idea of pleasure and especially climbing for Laseith but he might do it for the broom which petrified him, but all that boomed apart as Laseith, complete with broom started shouting, yet again, “where are the scrolls? You are no use, Arturo …? Just take yourself somewhere else; do it now!”

Where, Laseith?”

I don’t care, Arturo; nowhere near me,” Laseith for some reason seemed frightened and that was unusual, given her arrogance and self-belief; Laseith had some magical qualities but they are seemed nothing without her broom. Arturo might think of himself as a dwarf rising but that was usually just before he became a dwarf falling and vomiting after the broom attacked him.

He needed to think: he needed to see Drufus and understand a dwarf who could write magic scrolls and whether there was any that could destroy Laseith. He moved to face, Laseith and ducked as the broom swung at him, forcing him away.

Arturo looked at her taunting face and the broom; took the scroll out from inside his jerkin and started to read the scroll.

What are you doing, Arturo! I didn’t tell you to read that scroll! What are you doing you slimy little rat-faced dwarf! You’ll die slowly for this!” Laseith and the broom both launched themselves at Arturo with Laseith then falling over the broom which had move first and now both lay in a heap.

Arturo finished the words and felt magic fly from the scroll and for a moment he seemed to be in two places at once as an explosion launched bolts of lightning at the shore and Arturo learnt there are worse things that brooms for travelling as his feet seemed to touch his head and then unwind and he travelled and so did the broomstick, Laseith, Mona Roc, and Rona as Drufus’ code screwed up once again or did it?

Drufus had made sure only a dwarf could read the scroll and a captive spell generated, moving the Dwarf to where the scroll was written – co-incidentally to where Drufus was. Drufus had listened to Laseith and heard the imperious tones of the Matira’s that he hated. He’d not forgotten the death of his love by Griselda. He’d made sure the dwarf was safe but incorporated his magic into the spell to try and destroy Laseith. Drufus, however, had got it wrong, yet again!

Mona awoke still holding Rona in her claws. Mona could see some signs of life in Rona but they were few and feeble. Bonded to Rona, Mona sat there.

This wasn’t a castle or walls; just rocks. To the north was green. Behind Mona was water and beyond that more rocks and more water.

In front of her she could see smoke rising and decided it needed, what she hoped, were humans?

She could also see smoke rising to the west of the trees but they were old folk and the Roc’s tolerated them, but little else.

She picked up the body and flew towards the smoke; settling down to the west of the village and laying Rona down beside a path and then rose up into a thick tree to watch.

Mona Roc could feel her kind near her and this would take a lot of ancient time explaining.

She was now an interloper and her kind killed interlopers but her only crime was time.

She was already sensed and opened her mind to the minds seeking her as she watched and waited.

The trees around moved as Rocs appeared and settled. She tried to portray what had happened and the bonding that made her flee instead of warning her tribe … that was a death penalty before she thought of anything else – failing to warn her tribe; putting a mind bond with a human before her tribe – two death penalties and if she was judging, she would not have hesitate to enforce the penalty; now she waited for judgement as Kyle Nonsat found Rona Matira.

Kyle looked at the body … he thought the woman was still alive and he should take her to Jacque and Mari – he was threatening her life and Jacque and Mari would help but they should not be touched.

He needed his wife – she possessed skills he would never have but Tare wanted to be pregnant – like a wounded animal – to say she was touchy around other women, never mind men, was not something you said to Tare if you wanted to live and they were trying … sometimes he was surprised to crawl out of the house.

The direct route was not an easy one but if Kyle left her for the wolves, the Woman’s Council would hang him upside down for the wolves to play with.

If he approached Jacque and Mari, it would be even worse but luckily the village was the closest and Kyle with immense reluctance picked up the body; put it over his shoulder and made his staggering way through the smaller trees shouting, “woman here; hear me; still breathing; need help!”

He didn’t have much breath to shout anything else because no-one crossed the woman’s council and stayed in the village; especially not a man who allowed a woman to die because no woman heeded his cries – they would blame him for not shouting loud enough.

Mona Roc waited.

Someone had taken Rona Matira and that least paid for her stupidity.

How long had she waited to really fly high and then sacrificed her bond mate.

Mona felt she deserved to die at least three time: one for deserting her brothers, sisters, family; her tribe; she knew magic was there when she took off but her care for her tribe and also for her bond wasn’t there. She had cared for nothing else but for herself and for that she felt she deserved to die.

To herself and to the Roc’s watching and judging, she said, “I left my tribe to die and never thought of anything else; I abandoned everything for a young girl and then I abandoned the young girl for the pleasure of soaring. I abase myself. I deserve death – to be ripped apart and eaten until only old bones wither.”

The Court of Roc’s justice sat in the trees. The Roc’s Courts sat in groups of eleven. The highest never really sat in judgement but she, who was the highest, knew, as did every Roc, that justice was in the mind but some minds never knew justice or would accept it and then, known as Matron Roc, she was forced to interfere and direct justice. Sheria Roc ruled over the nine: Daried; Petro; Angil; Oline; Joc; Salean; |Majeen; Roam, and Shewan. They sat in judgement but they also sat to administer the law, not change it. Matron Roc with Sheria Roc would decide on the law if there was a failure to uphold it.

The nine would judge and after lengthy mind images put their decision in Mona Roc’s mind, “This is our verdict, Mona Roc. Your decision is death but postponed. You must die for your actions – your sins must be repaid – you will die but binding and the bonds must always be honoured. You will live until you die although any Roc may kill you, but not under our decision.” The Tribe must be repaid for your treachery; your bond to Rona must be honoured. Kyle Nonsat also has a sentence of death. He prowls amongst our weak and kills them – you must stop this and his life depends upon you. We will not kill either of you unless we have no other choice! You will honour your people. Stop him killing our weak; you will bond to him. You will work until we, nature or a Roc decides your death. You will never leave your bonds with Kyle Nonsat or Rona Matira unless in your death. Those of our number who die in their shells may be used by Kyle Nonsat and no other but you will him stop killing our weak and infirmed – their death is a matter for the Great Roc, not a human. That is our judgement under this Court of Roc’s. This Court has judged – do Matron Roc and Sheria Roc wish to speak?”

The silence was broken as Matron and Sheria Roc raised their wings and rose into the sky.

Kyle heard the wings but staggering on his way he couldn’t watched more Rocs that he had ever seen before rise into the sky; he needed help and it wasn’t there.

He laid Rona down and shouted yet again; still waiting for an answering call – he gave up and picked up the failing body, trying to force his way through small conifers towards, what it his village – at times he didn’t know.

There were some 15 homes in the village but no-one seemed to be paying any attention to him and that to a degree summed up his own feelings.

He didn’t belong and nor did Tare but they tolerated him for Tare’s ability to cure and his ability to kill wolves and bring back Roc eggs.

To the north-east were two small farms and Jacque and Mari to the north-west but Jacque and Mari did not exist as far as the villagers were concerned – unless they needed some medicines for things the women’s council could not provide – Jacque and Mari were old – old stock …? Different, but to who – not those you knew in the lights of the more stringent women council members eyes; nevertheless, they were the most ardent buyers of those packages left amongst the trees and never touched by anyone, yet they seemed to vanish … how else would you describe the old stock.

They did nothing and to the villagers, did not exist and that was the Women’s Council’s decision, often thought of as meeting their supplies so they could claim the solution; although that never stopped villagers making their way to fish by the small spread of Jacque and Mari who kept hawks and other things and often carrying fish they had never caught however no-one discussed their fishing expeditions but to the north was wood-cutting and joinery, and a small source of income for the village. There was also some wood and marble cutting to the south and the farms supplied wheat, fresh vegetables to all and some managed to hew stone and wood for the houses. For a small villages it was survival on a small scale … not enough to attract attention but enough to survive.

Merchants did stopped to buy but the wolves in the rocks to the east were a menace – attacking their horses and when hungry, even people; the merchants often came and left at speed.

The Rocs did do some work in keeping the wolf pack numbers down but the tended to kill them if they went near the rocks to the west and left those to the east for the merchants to fight.

Kyle often went to the west and produced Roc eggs for a feast night but to some of the villagers, this seemed stupid when the Rocs were protecting them. Now people saw Kyle walking towards them with something slung over his shoulder and immediately they thought of food. They’d heard Kyle shout earlier and thought he found some really good meat; now they realised the meat was a girl and she must be alive if he had brought her back. If Kyle expected to be welcomed, he was in error. The women’s council almost pounced on him, “What have you done to this poor girl, Kyle Nonsat; where are these Roc eggs you were bringing for the feast tonight?” As if carrying a woman’s body and Roc eggs at the same time was feasible.

Toshon Village looked towards the south, north, east and the west and in fact it look everywhere since there was very little else to look at. Kyle saw the village as he tried to look everywhere else. The wolves weren’t the only ones hunting for something new at the moment and as they took the body out of his arms he made his way towards the western path, away from the women.

If the Women’s Circle were going to behave like that he didn’t want them near anything he cared about. He and Tare were trying for a child and the Women’s Council around his house again with their advice and instructions were enough for him to stay childless and single – it was bad enough with the bandits and wolves; at least he understand them, which is more than he could say for the Women’s Councils. They seemed to be running shifts to harass him and from the look of these women they were prepared to take off their shifts and strangle him with them. If the bandits ever faced these women, they would run but the women never appeared when the bandits did. He made his way down to the south and the small inlet from the sea. He’d cast some nets there yesterday and with luck his pots and nets would have something in them as well.

Kyle was born to a difficult life. Kyle’s father beat him until he could fight back. When he could he was dragged off his father by men from the village – something they didn’t do when his father was beating him.

Looking up at the blue skies he could see very little hints of wind. Ideal for rock climbing if the Rocs weren’t around and he could get at the eggs. He’d almost been here earlier until he found the body and took it back.

Now he made his way past the trees to the east and onwards up to the rocks and the inlet. Again conifers were in the way but there were gaps in the trees and his traps were tied to the trees as were his nets … if there weren’t enough fish he’d try climbing the rocks and face the Roc’s anger.

Kyle didn’t feel he wasn’t despoiling; he might be trespassing but if the eggs weren’t hatched then the Rocs weren’t producing good eggs and he was keeping the species clean but he shouldn’t have been was surprised when as he leant forward to look at his nets, a voice spoke in his head, “I am instructed to bond with you, Kyle Nonsat. I am Mona Roc and I am part of your mind. I will direct you to dead eggs but you do not touch a Roc egg without my permission. I am also bonded to Rona Matira, who you carried back. You will look after her and I will know that you do.”

Mi Kee in his life administered justice according to the rules, and the rules were laid down. Mi Kee was absolute in his belief in the rules; he felt he administered according to the law and the rules of his office. Only now did that start to bother him as he lost all of his organisation and was alone facing his actions. The rules and the law had been laid down: the culprits were guilty or they wouldn’t be here before him …? No matter what he felt it was laid down and he ruled accordingly – often amongst heaps of bodies but everything according to the rules. His destruction of villages was never personal and the law proscribed that if they broke the law you killed them and destroyed their village – it was never personal and he always believed that.

The lovers watch as they were forced to. No water should be in the pool before they were forced to watch the water flow and know their heads would fall into it. The families had paid for their trial and justice would be side, and since they were honoured families – very honourable families, and the money flowed into his mentor’s benevolence; perhaps justice would flow out and his white cap button might change it’s colour. He watched the lovers look at each other as they watched the water rose. Yes, they looked at each other and he could see the love in their eyes and that told him, if nothing else they were guilty … as an act of kindness he’d allowed them to face each before they were beheaded. A gentle impulse but one he wanted to make even if it broke the rules. Mi Kee moved towards the pool.

He always felt he should observe the process and judgement as the heads floated in the water …? Well, this was something he felt and he’d seen too many pieces of water used to prove adultery when the Magistrate wasn’t there – the law would be upheld and not used to kill.

Perhaps this was his thought as he watched the pool fill and move towards it to check, catching his foot on one of the blood gutters surrounding the pool. He found himself slipping and with nothing to hang onto, head first into the pool.

Mi Kee now found himself lying on a beach with a spinning storm almost a face in his face with the colours watching him. A large log nearby spoke to him, “get this damned parrot off my back … it’s driving me spare with its screaming!”

Mi Kee confusion increased even more as he understood what the log was saying and it wasn’t mandarin and his panic erupted as the log suddenly stood up and moved towards him with the parrot screaming even more.

Alisia, was fulfilling her duties with King Martan and she saw him once again shake his head.

Have I failed you, my Lord?”

You have never failed me, Alisia – I failed you.”

How could you fail me, my Lord?”

I should have stopped making love to you when I knew you were with child, Alisia.”

I’m not with child, my Lord.”

Charles Dastry via my future wife Princess Routani, has informed me, you are expecting.”

You didn’t know, my Lord; how could the toad know?”

The toad jumps everywhere, my love, and I assume one of my loyal subjects who observed you, saved a pigeon from an early dinner; Dastry normally eats slugs and now he would appear to want to eat more nourishing food!”

One of your people betrayed us?”

Why do you seem so surprised, Alisia. Betrayal, never surprises me.”

I will never betray you, my Lord.”

I know that, Alisia and that is why I must lose you, and loose you.”

Keep me by your side, my Lord. I do not seek more than that.”

Kings, Alisia, are as much in love with you as they are with their responsibilities and beliefs. Don’t ask me to explain, I don’t know if I could, or if I would if I could; I must marry Princess Routani to be stability – there must be a Queen or the attempts to kill me will achieve even greater success by civil war and this country destroyed if I die without someone on the throne. I think even now that Sir Charles Dastry is on his way by some magic of Princess Laseith. My only hope is to make sure Princess Routani knows she is as much a victim as I am. I will marry Routani but you must leave and seek whatever sanctuary you can find and bring our son or daughter to a better ending than they will have here and I will always love and treasure you, and our child.”

Can you be still my Lord, or we lose a moment’s love?”

We have peace for the moment, Alisia but I have to head east for yet another battle. People should protect me.”

Will they, my Lord? You don’t want me with you to watch over your back?”

Our child will live, and hopefully so will you – watching my back in a battle is beyond your skills my love and so you must leave, Alisia and now.”

I will never leave you, my Lord. My body may but I will never leave you, my heart.”

The sooner your body leaves me, the sooner my heart will stop leaving my body. Take what you need, Alisia, there is a bag of crowns on the table – take them; head for where you feel safe!”

Quietly, my Lord. Perhaps it is better I leave now – I know someone of the old beliefs; she knows how to hide …? She and her husband have hidden for years.”

You would trust one of them?”

We killed and destroyed them, they didn’t kill us and we forced them to …. Jacque and Mari keep and breed hawks now but I wonder if they will keep me?”

Perhaps they will but I doubt it. The Matira’s were the biggest killers of the old races … those they found; and, yes, they found a lot. Those they didn’t kill, they imprisoned and worked to death as slaves; people of this country fought to have only three races in Toshonia – elves, Dwarf’s and humans – they killed, or tried to kill everyone else! Why would anyone of the old stock help a King of Toshonia?”

Perhaps they will help me. Can I leave in the morning, my Lord. We still have time.”

Yes, time for you to die if you stay, Alisia … I think not. Sir Charles, I am told, is already on his way to murder. Leave now. Horses are ready and my Royal Own will escort you to safety. Ride, Alisia, ride and do not stop until you find your chances in life – let that be our legacy. Do not tell me where you ride – just ride. You must be gone but never from my heart or mind. I sacrifice you for the people of this kingdom … I have no choice, now ride Alisia, ride!”

The magic of Drufus did not bring Arturo to the main hall but with a gut wrenching motion, Arturo found himself facing an altar with soldiers behind him and behind the altar, Drufus sharpening a knife, “I’ve always found sharpened knives concentrate the mind almost as much as a hanging and that can be arranged, Arturo, if necessary – Sir Facid has no love of Laseith or her games, and my scroll was never intended to allow Laseith, her broomstick or you to travel anywhere unless I planned it. I had planned to try and open an inter-planetary hole to send Laseith to and with that broomstick to accompany her to some godforsaken planet where magic does not function but I do make mistakes in my magical coding and instead people and animals came from other worlds to Dagril; the scrolls are still there and you came here. Laseith and her broomstick, with my compliments, went back to Ascan.”

Laseith arriving back at Ascania, found herself back in the study opposite her bedchamber once again.

She looked around for Arturo and her broomstick. The broomstick seemed unchanged and filled the room with its presence but Arturo was nowhere to be seen.

After the trip to Dagril and the swift transfer back she felt she needed a bath – it had been a while since her last and perhaps a change of clothing might be of relevance. She moved out of the study to the bedchamber opposite and caught sight of Guards outside King Machael’s bedchamber which was unusual as she had planned for him to be off to the east looking for foes, her agents had planted stories of – her agents would be hearing from her and with some force. She’d wanted access to Queen Amanda for a possible accident to occur without the King around – Machael should not be in the castle.

She stormed off to her bedchamber and that annoyed her as well – one bedchamber for a Princess!

Things would change once Machael was dead. His wife might be pregnant, she however would not bear a child; Arturo had seen to that – there would be no sons or daughters from King Machael as far as Laseith was concerned but why Guards on his bedchamber door?

She headed for her bath with the broomstick trailing. It would sort out any slobbish lack of respect for her body from the servants. Despite the broomstick and Laseith’s temper it took a while for the bath to be ready and most of the servants ran for it when the broomstick decided to switch a few branches at them for the water being too hot; leaving Laseith facing a new technology called ‘taking a bath unaided’. Laseith wondered how the broomstick knew what she was thinking and then attacked? Whether she could ever control it was another question? The bath at least was decent and hot and she sank into it minus everything that went into another hot tub.

She tried to get her broomstick to wash her back, or, at least to try and herd the servants back so she had some soap. That was the last she saw of the servants for some hours and several of them could hardly walk then.

She really needed to understand the broomstick which had now taken off again. At times, it didn’t just have a mind of its own, it took over her mind, which was probably not a difficult thing to do. She had no regard for life; she killed as her mother had … maybe the techniques were a little different, but what did it matter if they were dead?

Arturo had been her preferred killer and was usually good at it until he’d disappeared but he’d be back and more determined than ever to follow her instructions, once she caught up with him. The broomstick would see to that.

The hot water made her relax and that released thoughts she’d never sought, as if a tapestry were re-writing her mind and the imaginary needles pricked her ideas – she never sought thoughts, herself – what was the point, she just did what she wanted; now she found herself thinking …? Why were there Guards outside Machael’s bedchamber? Laseith rose from her bath like a surfacing whale and there was a lot in common between them.

To say she dressed quickly would be an understatement considering she had to get out of the bath and across the aisle, and then a long walk – north – to the door of her chamber and people would pay for her door being on the north side of the building while her bath door was on the south – behind her bedchamber with no door to access it. She chose the right-hand side away from the Guards as she still had problems dressing herself. Dressing herself for a change wasn’t easy with only the broom to assist, but she was out of her bedchamber as soon as she could, and with a swift left turn, on her way to face the Guards outside of the King’s bedchamber, complete with the impetus of the broomstick now in front of her. Approaching the door she was stopped by Guards who did not appear to be frightened of her and her brain was immediately, via her mouth spraying every insult and threat she could think of. Who were Guards to stopped her – she was Royalty.

In the King’s bedchamber stood a priest of Astoron – his name was Myrow, which was not his fault since he could hardly have objected at the time but there was yet another substantial donation to the Temple of Astoron and he was working with two Guards – Bonnie Leligan and Brunie Dumie facing the door as Laseith tried to force her way in.

Myrow knew he would lose either the child or the mother if he diverted his magic and his calling was to save the mother but Queen Amanda had specified the child over her own survival and now Laseith and her broomstick were channelling his magic away from Queen Amanda to Laseith and her broomstick, and the door was being forced open, no matter what they did.

Finally seeing Laseith’s face and the strong force beating against the door and Guards, Myrow ripped off his religious emblem and hurled it at the door. It sparkled as it travelled through the air passed Bonnie but she felt the pressure as the star passed her hand and instinctively caught it, pushing the emblem against the door. Pressure immediately ceased.

Princess Amanda groaned and the baby appeared with nurses immediately rushing to her.

Myrow knew he’d lost Queen Amanda and looked up she died bearing the child she had called Mioned – Myrow knew that was Amanda’s decision – she’d told him that Mioned was the priority and he heard Amanda’s words at this point echoing in his mind, ‘they can kill me but my child will kill them’.

Had Laseith broken in, both would have died. At least this way the child lived. Without Laseith and her broomstick trying to break in, he might have saved both – another death on Laseith’s lack of conscience.

Laseith and that evil weapon killed another innocent woman – long may she rot in the hells thought Myrow. The priest closely watched the nurses cleaning up the baby and he summons the two soldiers – Bonnie Leligan and Brunie Dumie – to him, “take these two amulets; wear them at all times,” turning to the nurses he produced a chain, “this is for the child – she will wear it to protect her and my God will also protect her but anyone who harms her will suffer his wrath,” if Astoron can be bothered he thought – how many Gods were really there and how much of his magic was ‘old magic’.

Bonnie and Brunie put the amulets around their necks as Myrow watched, “never take them off and you will look after this child for the rest of your lives – as I lay this protection on you, so do I lay this duty and its rewards,” again his thoughts seemed at odds with his words. What rewards were they ever likely to know apart from a long life and as many people knew, a long life was always something to be desired.

To say Princess Laseith was happy with the sound of a child crying and her broom not being able to break into the birth-room would be an understatement. So far, Laseith had lost her killer; lost the magic scrolls, and now King Machael had a child – she would do something about that – no-one crossed her … no-one! The child would live a few hours and then die from complications – two of the nurses would arrange for mistakes – it often happened in those early minutes after birth!

Laseith was already back in the study with a glass scrying globe trying to watch Machael’s bedchamber however, for some reason she was having trouble. Everything seemed to be blurred and any image she caught immediately moved away from her until her eyes were watering and she still hadn’t seen anything. She moved the scrying to the bedchamber door with the two Guards still outside and then she saw two Guards move from inside the room, one of them carrying a saddlebag over her shoulder. So there were just her nurses, the baby and the priest. Soon it would all be over.

What she didn’t see in the saddlebag over Bonnie’s shoulder was a snuggled, well-wrapped baby on it’s way to a wet-nurse – the nurses were now on their knees and sleeping …?

The baby was, at least, safer now than it had been before and King Machael knew the baby would be safe and had agreed to this – Myrow had given his word and that was one reason why Queen Amanda died and the baby lived – the girl was certainly safer now than she would be as King Machael prepared for yet another battle.

Laseith watch the priest of Astoron leave some twenty minutes later, leaving the two Guards at the door. It would take Princess Laseith and her broomstick some twenty minutes to find the sleeping nurses who would be moved very shortly; surrounded by Guards – by which time – the baby would be feeding and on it’s way to the temple of Astoron.

Laseith’s temper, never good, was now incandescent and even the broomstick seemed worried, whilst Routani was quivering, “I will get those bastards, Routani Jamesson! No-one thwarts me. That idiot, Arturo, deserved whatever he got and those nurses are dead – they deserve to die for failing me – did you have them taken care of?”

They’ve been taken care of, Laseith. As you ordered.”

All of the nurses were in fact pumped full of sleeping potions by Myrow, and Routani’s attempts to quietly kill them meant waiting for the Guards and nurses to both wake up. The soldiers who were ready to carry out Laseith’s instructions were now quietly sleeping in the dungeons, and they had enjoyed the fruits of their potential labours – sent by Laseith, who didn’t know she had sent them and they would be ready for the front when the army finally left, and King Machael promised himself they would be in front of him!

King Machael was well used to the attempts by Laseith and Routani to kill people but killing Laseith and Routani would to himself, indicate failure and to the people of his country, a lack of succession leading to Sir Facid and Sir Charles Dastry looking to their own succession.

It was easier to have their attempts miscarry than try to stop them – in some cases, he couldn’t stop them but that was a price to pay for stability although the dead people would probably disagree.

If he ever found a way for both Laseith and Routani to pay with their own poison he would be interested, however for now, he had little choice, possibly it was a pity King Machael was not present at his adopted daughters’ little chat that followed soon afterwards as they realised they had been out-thought by a mere man.

Laseith, in a formidable temper as usual had found failure even harder to take ans was fighting the urge to use her broomstick and no longer have a sister, but it was too early claim both Ascania and Toshonia …? Well, maybe … No … maybe, but not like that. Finally she moved her temper to mere furnace level, “Routani, let us look at your marriage and subsequent widowhood to and of, King Martan.”

I haven’t even married him yet, Laseith and you are killing him – should I have a succession first?”

I like to plan ahead, Routani. Well, we need to sort out that concubine. We don’t want competition before he dies.”

The Chancellor is still working on the marriage arrangements, it will be months before I am married to Martan. Why you are planning now?”

I’m looking after you, my sweet sister. When I have finished I will rule Ascania and Toshonia – we, my sister …? We! Yes, we will rule Astoria and no-one will ever say, ‘nay’ to us – we will rule!”

How do we stop this birth, Laseith? I’m not even in the castle nor do I have people to kill her?”

There are always people who will kill. We just need to find them but my broom will find her and kill her!”

How will your broom find someone and kill them? It can’t even find you at times and it – I can’t even think of it flying over water without bringing a year’s meals!”

You always were squeamish but perhaps you have a point and my need for the broom is greater in Ascania than Toshonia. We can always find killers, anyway, no matter where. Let us see what this concubine is doing? I found the scrying stone at the same time as I found my broomstick and it can see things.”

Where did you find it, Laseith and it couldn’t see a think the last time you tried. What can it see now, Laseith?”

Watch, and you will learn something, Routani; just watch and be quiet!”

It’s not doing anything, Laseith.”

Be quiet; let me be the judge of that. Now shut-up!”

Laseith watched the image form in the crystal stone and saw soldiers riding from the castle, “The mirror never lies, there she is!”

Where, Laseith? There are only soldiers. So we don’t know where she is, Laseith?”

We will find her, Routani, and then she dies and her bastard with her!”

How do we find her, Laseith?”

There will be a way, Routani; just leave it to me!”

The problem with running away, when pregnant, Alisia realised, is that you prefer movement to be a little slower and preferably not on a horse but the armour had been suitably changed to fit her condition and two Guards were staying very close to her, and so was a large Cat that no-one seemed to notice. No-one looked happy – not even the Cat. The horses were restless; the Guards were restless and the two Guards near her seemed stable until she learnt they were called ‘The Drunk’ and ‘Jinny’ and at this point she was feeling quite queasy herself – Rosanna had given her a potion to ease this but it made her sleepy and that was a luxury at the moment.

Alisia didn’t know where the Cat came from but there were other problems needing her urgent attention in her pregnancy and it was only ten minutes ago they’d left the castle.

She’d thought she’d hidden it well for five months but everyone watched her as a guide to her master’s moods and from that they watched her stomach, bottom and toilet habits – loose clothing could hide most eyes but she’d needed to make some visits that couldn’t be hidden and nor could the frequency of them and she couldn’t touch food in public with or without a taster although she did try but even that was wearing out as were the tasters. She had lost eight tasters so far this year and was regularly checked by Rosanna most evenings. Now she would need to check herself but her toilet habits wouldn’t change.

Sir Charles Dastry’s broom finally arrived in Charguar a few days before Alisia left. To say his journey was eventful would have made Sir Charles laugh, if that was possible. He’d taken off from Castle Dastry; making his way on the broom, gripping it like a Government on an austerity drive, when his broom almost parted from him over the Storme Sea, leaving his hands around its neck as if he was trying to wring it – a close description of reality – and started a rapid descent with the rest of his body a foot above the broom and floating in mid-air when he certainly didn’t expect it. They just made a cold wet mountainous island short of Zapril before the broom gave up completely – obviously a late night had beckoned to its bristles and everyone else was paying the cost for a late night out? After a cold wet night and still high up in the mountains they finally managed to take an early launch and arrived at Zapril – limping; that was a realistic statement and eventually they also arrived in Saspros although Sir Charles wasn’t really sure who arrived but there were no circumstances under which he would trust this broom to get him to Minet and he was finally forced to hire a boat to Minet and then together they manage a short hop to Woara and from there via several other mountain tops to finally land at Charguar – also just missing a few more mountains on the way. The broom changed directions from mountains to trees without consultation, hitting everyone and everything as it finally lowered itself down.

Sir Charles hired his Guards on a pittance and as he finally made broom/ground level, he was living as they were.

It took some time for Sir Charles to find his Guards as they were hiding in the trees away even further from the road but when the broom finally descended into the Guards and camp and being one of Laseith’s brooms immediately started attacking everyone. The Guards didn’t wait around. It was bad enough being attacked by villagers and driven out; now a Magician on a broom had turned up with a broom attacking them and they ran even further into the trees. Sir Charles finally managed to stop the broom and then tried to find his Guards. It took him hours before anyone would come near him.

His Guards proved to be awaiting his spies and also money – both of which seemed to be in short supply – his spymaster would be one of the people who did meet the broom as he appeared to be skimming the top, bottom and both sides of the pot.

Four of them still could enter Charguar – the rest were known as thieves and would meet a crossbow bolt if they tried and the impression he formed of them was that it would be well deserved.

The Guards had managed to kill a wild boar and made him what they felt was a generous offer, “We’re roasting some meat tonight; building a large fire – please feel invited and your broom can warm your bristles.”

Sir Charles could see a certain gleam in their eyes as they said this and he saw them looking at the Golden Dagger of the Droga’s, “I think not. I will take the four who can enter Charguar with me and there are some other Guards and dogs to pick up in Charguar. I must forego your offer and I will leave my broom behind.”

As you wish, my Lord.”

One question I do have. As you are so far from Matira why do you not have regular patrols to Matira? My spymaster appears to be in error, and I will correct that in terms of the lack of money, supplies and information but why have you not sought to provide regular patrols to Matira and challenge him?”

First and foremost, my Lord, the lack of payment and supplies left us having to live off the land and steal. Four of our Guards were killed within the first month and six others deserted, then the villagers complained to King Martan that bandits were living in the trees and preying on farms and hovels. He now has patrols on the roads. Only the forest stops them as they will not enter the forest on horseback, and that is how we are forced to live – they have to use the roads – we can not be seen on them or we get crossbow bolts.

I gave enough money!”

You gave someone enough money, Sir Charles …? I don’t think we ever saw it – no money, apart from a pittance, reached us. We live in the forest as outlaws and they treat us as such. We make do on what we can rob and steal. We don’t receive enough of anything to buy anything, Sir Charles.”

Sir Charles took the Golden Dagger of the Droga’s from its sheath and said, “do you know what that is?”

More money than you paying us, Sir Charles, and with that we wouldn’t be starving or buying used-up old nags to ride!”

I’m here now, so we’ll get you decent horses and stop looking like scarecrows – if that is possible?”

Sir Charles decided to leave the broom behind. A rider entering a village cum small town with a broom would certainly attract attention, if not laughter, and that was the last thing he wished to do and someone or something needed to make sure these Guards were still here when he returned, and the broom already had them terrified, and had the broom been reading his mind when it attacked them – the idea had definitely been there as he landed – amongst a lot of other emotions.

It was only a matter of some five to ten miles to Charguar according to his and Sir Charles felt the sooner he picked up some more reliable Guards and the two black hounds the better he would feel.

His next surprise was that Charguar was not a small village cum town on the coast. As he left the depths of the forest he saw farms with timber build walls and not hovels as he’d been told. He saw some brick built houses on the farms and as he rode on, wooden framed building were lining the road; wells were dug, and rising in the distance he could see water catchment. This was not some poor wreck of a place, it was prosperous and it was no wonder that King Martan rang regular patrols here – his spymaster had either lied or could not be bothered to leave Matira to find out – there would be a reckoning. He carried on towards the mountains and even there, there were mines for ore, marble and gold.

As he near the mountains he finally found the buildings he was looking for and Margo opened a door complete with a meat cleaver as he approached, “I told you bandits not to come here again. I don’t warn twice!” Margo for a woman was large, almost as wide as she was tall and at five foot three did not appear to be frightened of anyone.

Sir Charles raised his dagger, “I am a bandit, Margo, and I’ll thank you not to call me one.”

Margo’s face fell as she recognised the dagger, “Sir Charles, I didn’t know you had arrived. I haven’t seen that useless spymaster of your for a good half-year and all these bandits do is come around here stealing.”

Had Sargon paid them instead of lining his own pockets they would not have been reduced to stealing? Have you tried to contact Sargon to find out what he is doing?”

I initially sent two riders – neither they, nor Sargon, nor any funds returned. I sent other riders to see if he still lived – none of them have returned – now the other riders refuse what the call a ‘kiss of the devil’ mission …? I don’t anyone of them will try that mission. So far you lost seven riders, Sir Charles.”

Damn all spymasters. If he cannot protect himself, how can he protect me?”

Would anyone know his identity, Sir Charles?”

Possibly Princess Laseith, but she is in Ascania.”

She may be, Sir Charles but even I know of the broomsticks arriving from Ascania and the news their passengers bring usually ends up in the taverns, and I now have my own Agents in the taverns – I had the money from the lost seven riders to spend. They have also seen little of your spymaster – if anything, if they could manage to tell the truth without embellishment!”

How many Guards do you have left, Margo, and please don’t shout the answer?”

I have lost seven people, Sir Charles, which leaves thirteen – an evil number to shout about!”

Calm yourself, Margo. That is an old superstition. I have these four with me and you can take them to make your numbers up.”

Must I, Sir Charles? I would rather have evil luck than these bandits.”

Where are the hounds?”

We have to keep them in the huts, nowadays. When they were attacking the wolves, it was fine. When the wolves were gone, they attacked the livestock. It took a large payment and a promise to keep them locked up to save them. When you take them, and I wish you would, please keep them on leads or it will be my neck they hang, and probably yours as well. They don’t think that deeply around the mountains before they act.”

I need a team of thirty people I can trust, plus those dogs and a scout. You are right about those in the forest but they will be cannon fodder. Thirty one from you, plus these and whoever is left in the forest, when I get back should give us the men I need.”

I will have a room prepared for you, Sir Charles. These can sleep in the barn with the dogs – the dogs are used to smells.”

Put them in a tavern with a bath; new clothes and an escort so they are ready when I want them. When can you get word to your people in Matira?”

One of them should be here tomorrow. If nothing of importance is occurring, they report every two weeks. One is due tomorrow and I would suggest a bath is prepared for your Lordship and I will prepare a meal – let those bandits find a tavern as you instruct.”

Thank you, I could enjoy a good bath and meal.”

I also have a bottle of wine but I cannot speak for its taste.”

An honest statement and I seem short of those as well.”

This way my Lord,” and turning to his escort with little more than contempt, “To the tavern with you wretches and don’t abuse it or I will know and I will set the hounds on you – some coins for them, if you would, Sir, or they will only start stealing again,” Sir Charles took a small bag from inside his shirt and tossed it to his escort, “I will see you here tomorrow afternoon – follow the instructions of Margo’s people if you wish to live!”

Sir Charles watch them ride off, but not to the mountains, “Will they return, Margo?”

My people will make sure they do and I do employ some capable people who they would never escape.”

Your certainty comforts me, Margo. Let us see to this bath and meal. My needs, after journeying with that broom, are dire.”

The night looked at Alisia who then looked at her escort and Jinny, who was leading the Guards, “isn’t it dangerous to ride across cornfields in the dark?”

We need to head east, my Lady but someone inconveniently built the road from Matira to the west – taking us in the wrong direction and in what will be public sight in a few hours. We need to move to the east and remain out of sight – King Martan already holds one Spy Master in his dungeons plus several who came to find. It won’t be long before whoever employs knows he has disappeared. Quite severe questioning has highlighted his employer as Sir Charles Dastry. If we follow the sea coast until it ends, we are some ten miles from the road but eighty miles closer and undiscovered. We can ease your condition by riding slowly – on the road, we would have to move at speed. The Drunk and I also have a Cat and he will be prowling and scenting for anyone following.”

Who chose this route?”

I did, and with the Cat I have more chance of guaranteeing your safety than by blindly following a road in the wrong direction. Are you ready to ride?”

You seemed frightened?”

I am alive and I have been, as a trooper, for many years. I would not tell you how to act as a concubine, please don’t tell me how to act as a trooper and King Martan considers me a ‘lucky trooper’ as I usually win. That is why I have this job, now please mount your horse and will we move out before we alert the whole country and don’t think that no-one is looking for you. An exhausted rider from Charguar reported to King Martan shortly before he spoke to you, and I know what the King heard. Sir Charles Dastry recently landed in Toshonia and is now raising a Guards of villains and two black hounds the size of the Cat to move on Matira and the King …? You would be a bonus and hurt the King more than anything.”

So menace stalked me before I even left the castle; together with two killer hounds.”

Yes. That is another reason why we take this route. There is only one way they can follow our tracks if they pick this route, otherwise they must use the road; travel the extra distance and face the extra patrols that King Martan has on the roads; also the Cat is watching our backs. It was obvious that Sir Charles has his own spies in the castle and you went to bed with King Martan as a concubine and left as a guard. In some hours, someone will be on their way to Charguar to inform Sir Charles that Lady Alisia has not made her usual toilette visits and this will alert them. It won’t take long for a late night patrol to be connected to this and that is also why riding directly towards them is not a good idea. We also need to move slowly and the dogs, if they follow will smell us and they will move faster than can and once they get close enough they can take out horses and people. Our only hopes are that it will take them time to get here and pick up the scent or else they will lose any scents on the roads – one reason for the extra patrols. The black hounds don’t need to kill and the hounds take a lot of killing. Even Cat can only handle one but Cat does have a brain and he uses it, amongst his other tricks. Let’s move; we are wasting time.”

Sir Charles, after a good bath, good meal and a bottle of rot gut wine that he donated to the Guards still at Margo’s house, slept well, which was hardly surprising, considering his trip on the broom and he was breaking his fast with Margo when they heard the messenger arrive and Margo was the first out of the house.

What news, Trevor?”

Routine, Margo. No sign of the Spy Master and anyone asking vanishes. King Martan is still in the castle. Alisia appears to be staying with him in the King’s bedchambers, and that has been known to happen before. More patrols than normal on the roads but no reason as far as anyone knows. It is said, ‘Princess Routani will be arriving shortly’, but no confirmation of that. Everything seems to be quiet and no real signs of anything. If there are any changes, a rider is available and will be here. It is only eighty miles from Matira and the rider would kill his horse to bring news so you will hear within six hours if anything changes.”

Rest yourself and your horse, Trevor, head for the tavern and I’ll summons you if I need you.”

Thank you, Margo,” and Trevor headed back down the road as Sir Charles looked at Margo.

Can you trust him, Margo?”

As much as any of my sons, Sir Charles.”

Alisia’s escort progressed some ten miles through the cornfields, which were a little lower in some places and even lower, where the horses trampled. Eight miles from the road that Alisia demanded so turning south was her demand. Once again, Alisia hit the wall of Jinny, “No, Alisia. It is only eight miles to the road but just another fourteen to the small copse adjoining the road. The longer we stay off the road the safer we are and the hounds can’t pick up scent unless they know our route and target. It should leave us seventy miles ahead of them if they use the road and these cornfields should make the hounds work, a lot heavier, but they will be on our trail by the time we reach the copse. Sure as a rooster’s crow in the morning.”

And when they find us?”

We will have some hounds and people to kill,” and much to Alisia’s chagrin and bowels, they continued east across the cornfields, avoiding any farms.”

It was some eight hours later when both Alisia, her escort, and Sir Charles’ second messenger finally found their respective destinations.

Alisia’s destination, to her disgust, was the copse by the road and Alisia was finally realising that her running a kingdom, as she felt she had, was dependent on King Martan sleeping with her.

Sir Charles’ messenger almost became a corpse when Sir Charles’ temper exploded, until he found himself looking into a small stirrup crossbow he didn’t realise Margo was aiming at his head, “You don’t shoot the messenger, Sir Charles, although given that Bostrus is my son, I have often felt like it myself. I may shoot you, if you continue to threaten him!”

My apologies, Bostrus. Do we really know Alisia has left the castle and in what direction she has gone?”

All we know my Lord is that she has not made her usual visits and that they are something she can not avoid making. No-one can remember seeing her this morning so she is either dead or has left the castle.”

How in all the nether-hells that we have can she have left the castle with all your diligent watchers, Bostrus?”

Without the orders of your vanishing Spy Master, my Lord, we had no instructions and my Lord, and we are weak without regular meals, like others who haven’t been paid, either. A Guards of Guards left the castle late last night; we can only guess they were her Guards and the odd thing was that they set across the cornfields to the east. They may then have taken ship; travelled to the roads or settled at one of the farms; carried on to the east?”

How soon can we travel, Margo?”

My sons, who you are abusing, my Lord, prepared carts with clean clothes, good armour and good horses, overnight. They hold the honour of the Droga’s high. The dogs are already fed and on reins to the carts. The best scout I could hire – Mansly, also my son – is already being raised from his bed and he knows the hounds and scouting people – how do you think we’ve survived without any resources from you, who now demand instant obedience. There are twenty six people in your escort, excluding anyone your Spy Master employed and these are quality people who will want paying, my Lord!”

With these four and nine in the forest, their is another thirteen – a significant number, so forty – including myself – will find the Lady Alisia and kill her.”

As you wish, my Lord.”

You doubt my success, Margo?”

Alisia has survived over eight attempts to end her life in the last year. Martan may become erratic if she dies and seek those who killed her. That would include myself and my family. You are the rightful King of Matira, my Lord and your dagger proves that. I sacrifice everything I have for the oaths we once gave to a Droga King of Toshonia. Do not squander that, my Lord!”

Sir Charles looked at Margo … the only reliable person he could trust and she considered him a useless traitor to his heritage. Sir Charles and his Guards finally moved, although Troupe seemed a little more realistic to him as he reviewed them watched them canter off in front of him.

It took a while before they finally found the bandits in the forest and he could not think of them as otherwise. His Spy Master had been good. He would never have employed these people. So what had happened to his Spy Master.

King Martan was in his dungeons and especially the one containing Lusus Mariettas – Sir Charles’ Spy Master – Lusus lived; currently or lately was a future decision, if Martan released him, having extracted, previously, Sir Charles funds and information, and thank you very much, Lusus, thought King Martan. King Martan’s real enjoyment as his own spies arrested all of the people who came to find the Spy Master was their talking … yes … he did enjoy listening to it: and did they like to talk as they hung from their feet over his tower, but he also had dogs to feed and dog food wasn’t cheap and they were trying to undermine his kingdom, so the dogs ate, and he learnt.

The Spy Master had now admitted to anything and Martan decided Lusus couldn’t be turned any further. They knew all his contacts – virtually everyone he’d ever met and Martan needed Laseith within reach; Routani was the means but Laseith’s greed the attraction, and the method. Martan would need more priest and priestesses than he could probably afford to protect him but Sir Charles’ money would go towards that. They would be trying to kill him and Alisia, and Sir Charles should interfere with both Routani and Laseith’s plans if allowed enough leverage. He felt he’d built enough protection for the moment.

They were following and concentrating on Alisia, who would lead them a merry chase?

She’d led everyone else merry chases for years!

All he needed now, were their Spy Masters and networks: much as he loved Alisia, she would be a fool to think he would put her life before his or his rule; Sir Charles’ Guards would follow her, and he would regret the deaths but he would rule, and she would die, and that was a fact of ruling!

Sir Charles didn’t even bother to leave his horse. Watching this made some of his worst days, seem brighter. Burning the forest with this bunch in it seemed a fair option but it wouldn’t make them move any faster: they weren’t capable of it; some were grateful to have decent clothing and armour for a change; some did not seem to know the difference and started to fight and gamble over the clothing and armour – the forest might as well be a low tavern for these people, “Mansly, find out the description of those who hired these peasants, and then sent them away south to the roads. The King’s patrols will find them and feel we are following the roads to find Alisia – let them! At best, they can also feed the hounds and keep my food bills down?”

Do you want me to set the hounds on them, Sir Charles. The hounds can be choosy on food?”

We have use for the hounds, let us not destroy their taste for meat! We move across country with your mother’s Guards. The rest follow the road to Spragend … it deserves them, but give them some money – they must be able to pay their way and take the time up of the Matira road patrols.”

Sir Charles, who was by now, finding levels of calm he’d never understood nor wanted, finally watched the refuse of his Spy Master’s recruitment rid off towards the roads. With luck they would meet and be killed by the Matira patrols which would divert the patrols from following him across country.

Matira was only twenty five miles away – rough riding.

Sir Charles was surprised as they were on several occasions forced into hiding as large patrols of sixty to seventy armoured Guards rode across the countryside towards them as if they knew the route he was taking. The hounds did play a part in disrupting the patrols and then as Mansly whistled, disappearing again but it became fairly obvious that the patrols were not interested in people in the country and would rather be on the roads.

Finally, after eight hours hard riding, added to ten hours hiding, plus to fifteen hours lost waiting for news, with another eight hours delay before they finally skirted Matira castle; they finally headed into the cornfields conveniently broken for them by Alisia and her escort. The escort had some thirty one hours of time ahead of them, at least but Sir Charles didn’t need dogs to follow this trail and their speed was a lot faster than Alisia’s and her escort. The dogs had also picked up the Cat’s scent and wee and were roaming over the cornfields like hounds looking for a Cat. The Cat did move across the country a lot but Mansly had no problem with the dogs and once he heard their howl of scent whistled commands to bring them back. They were following a bunch of horsemen treading down a crop field and with the crop field flattened they were able to canter with very little effort even with the hounds smelling the Cat.

The time advantage was being worn down by Alisia, who unused to not getting her own way, was now playing King Martan’s deathly games for him. She wanted to head for the road so it was more comfortable, and was increasing her toilet stops to make her point that cornfields were causing her to stop too often. They were barely making five miles an hour – courtesy of Alisia – whilst unknown to her, their pursuers were making between twelve to fifteen miles an hour as they galloped through the cornfields and ate the distance between them. Finally they made the copse by the road and Alisia with a sigh large enough for everyone to hear, said, “we have made the road!”

What we have made Alisia, is someone threatening your life; our mission, and the lives of this escort for nothing more than your tantrums! Our scouts are already reporting that nearly forty men are pursuing us and they are eight miles behind us. You have wiped out any advantage we had!”

If you had taken the roads, they wouldn’t have found us.”

Alisia. We would be twenty miles closer to them and dead by now, if we had. As it is, your arrogance will probably kill all of us, and that includes you, my proud lady!”

So how will you defend me now, my proud leader?”

Possibly, by wringing your neck but that wouldn’t affect your brain, since that is in your loins and your death is all they desire.

If you, Alisia, do not delay us any longer with your death wish, there is a second branch from the road about twenty miles ahead. The first branch is eight miles ahead. We need the Cat to spray scent around, and we’ll have to hope they have a Scout who will seek where the horses leave— …? Gods, what am I thinking of? They’ll expect us to leave the escort and the escort then draws them away. We need some decoys to carry on through the trees and be where the road turns off on the bend at eight miles. Others will turn off after twenty miles and the first team will join them. The rest will stay with the plan. The Cat needs to spray its scent through the trees across country for the next twenty miles to attract the hounds. We, Alisia, stay with the main party although we’ll lose half the force over the two roads but if you could do your business in the trees for their hounds pick up, some should follow the Guards through the trees; they will take their horses through it and the rest should follow the escort. Hopefully we’ll be able to turn right at the next bend and finally might make Spragend—”

You’re not trying to make Spragend, so why have you headed this way?”

Didn’t King Martan tell you anything?”

I don’t know what you mean.”

Ask yourself this question. If the road to Toshon Village lies to the West, why do you think have been moving east?”

You decided!”

Do you know where Charguar is, Alisia?”

In the mountains to the west.”

Sir Charles Dastry’s Guards are actually in the forest bordering the road you would have to take from Matira with no means of escape and Sir Charles aiming to kill you.”

I don’t understand.”

Leaving Matira and heading west would take us past Sir Charles’ Guards in the forest who could ambush us with archers from north and south of the road. The aim, which you have deliberately thwarted was to head through the cornfields; build up a lead of some miles; head towards Spragend and turn back to the west across some thirty of the Spragend sea. Then we head for the Matira sea and finally make the Toshonia sea which would then allow us to sail Rocs Revenge and be within walking distance of Jacque and Mari.”

Why didn’t you tell me?”

Let’s get on with the job. We need to gallop across this land like a wind passing more than these Guards do. Go between the seas and there are no roads, just rough country. Hopefully by the time they realise, they’ve little chance of catching us as it will be boat and horse and the Drunk should have the first boat hired by the time we get there and he’s had his last drink. The main problem, now, is that we’ve lost our time advantage and King Martan did not plan this route. His plan was for you to use the roads and be caught by Sir Charles.”

That is a lie. You are a traitor! You are sacrificing my life.”

I am not prepared to sacrifice the lives of my Guards for you, and King Martan does not want your child born and I am to cut its throat if it ever—”

That is a lie. He told me he loved me—”

“—Then why did he lie to you. Why did he tell to move slowly. Our only hope was speed and you wiped that out. My Guards with you are just a decoy and Martan thinks you’ll die on the road or in Spragend and my Guards with you – we are all a sacrifice and I’m trying to take you to where you are safe.”

Why would he lie to me. He loves me.”

Why would he marry Princess Routani if he wanted you as his Queen and his is King, and can decide who he marries. There is no law against a King of Matira marrying a commoner.”

There is a law. He can only marry a Princess. That is the law.”

The law is the King and he is the law. He can do whatever he wants and you have no political value and bearing a child, you have the ability to plunge his kingdom into even more warfare. You got yourself pregnant, thinking to control the King. He decided you were disposable and I’m not prepared to risk my life for the antics of a King and concubine.”

You are disloyal—”

But still alive, in spite of you. Our Guards will now reverse and head across cornfields, bypassing yet another forest and we would finally join up with some Guards: surprisingly, at the bit, you wanted to meet with Sir Charles and his Guards – forecast at some twenty behind us but in fact only eight miles. You left us little chance with your tantrums but they will follow your scent: your urine, and perhaps end that when the hounds find your throat!”

Are they really that close?”

Joshua?”

Yes, Jinny.”

Tell Lady Alisia.”

They are drawing closer the longer we sit here! No matter what plan we decide, we need to move. None of us wishes to die, sat here.”

Jinny rode up to the three Guards she’d selected, “go through the trees. Make sure you create a trail. They probably won’t follow you but at the turn-off after that, you move across country again; another six Guards will move to join you there. You wait for them. I don’t think they will attack you as they should follow Alisia’ smells and that will lead them to us. You then harass them from behind. All of you have horse bows – use them. They Cat will go with you. If nothing else, it will confuse them and slow them down, and they will wonder how many Guards we really have left if we can squander Guards? You have leave to run, once you engage them but don’t run to Matira – that should, with luck, confuse them even more and hopefully split their forces. This is your note of authority should you meet patrols on the roads. It requires them to assist you,” They took off and the rest of the Guards moved on at a far faster rate, after Alisia had once more excused herself.

Jinny watched them go. There wouldn’t be any Guards for them to meet up with but maybe a couple of Guards who were useless could be targets and join them; you never know, they might survive, or even be of some use, afterwards.

Alisia had actually tried to fool King Martan, thinking that if she became pregnant he would not marry Princess Routani. Martan did not want a child as it complicated things and he decided her escape would be her death-trap or at the very least a miscarriage and the problem was over. He knew Sir Charles had Guards in the forests to the west of Matira but it was too close to comfort for him to arrange her death there – it had to be far enough away to blame someone else – she was far too well known as being close to him. Instead the idea was to move her across country on a horse for some forty miles whilst word of her leaving was released to the remaining spies of Sir Charles to make him move.

The Guards were as much a sacrifice as anyone else … Jinny had realised that quite early on. The whole plan was a shambles and the Drunk had slipped away earlier whilst the Cat had followed her hand directions to go through the trees with the small band of Guards.

Convincing Sir Charles was the next target and in this she was aided by the tantrums of Alisia who’d deliberately slowed them down. Now all they could do was run and hope to split Sir Charles’ forces. They carried on with her towards the west of Toshonia.

Sir Charles and his Guards had made good time through the cornfields and with the path conveniently beaten down were hardly breaking wind. The path was straight and the hounds were picking up the scent with no trouble at all. They seemed to just love running and were easily outdistancing the horses. Sir Charles was also impressed by Margo’s sons: Bostrus looked after one hound called Trusty; Trevor watched the second hound call Evil, like a hawk and often spent his time chasing it and forcing it to return, while Mansly, who was an excellent scout seemed to look after his two brothers like hounds. Still they were making good time and after Mansly had checked some horse droppings he established that the party some four hours ahead but looking at the signs some appeared to have started for the road; some carried on into the trees and towards the coast and some carried on straight ahead.

Sir Charles asked Mansly for numbers?

Sir Charles, they are deliberately messing up the horses on damp ground and the corn gives little away … I think about twenty— no … my gut feeling is thirty but they have some feline with them and what I don’t understand is that someone who is pregnant, is stopping every few miles to pass water; I have children and my wife did not pass water that often when bearing any of my young. It makes me that someone is deliberately slowing them down – as if they want us to reach them – it makes no sense my Lord – no sense at all?”

How long before we catch them?”

I would say four hours, my Lord—”

Then we move—”

Where my Lord. They’ve split into three parties? One towards the coast; one towards the road, and the third through the trees towards the road?”

Follow the scent of the one who keeps passing water.”

That is the one heading to the coast.”

My Lord. If we are wrong, we will never catch them. There are only three and they are making good speed through the trees. Better than they should. They must be a decoy my Lord.”

And if they are not, Mansly? What if they are not?”

I can only advise, my Lord. If we are wrong she could live. If you are right, they still have four hours to reach the coast and take a boat.”

If they take a boat, they will drowned at sea – that will happen.”

As you say, my Lord.”

We head for the road, Mansly, and with all speed.”

Alisia, now in a full guard’s uniform was finding the metal across the chest difficult, but not as difficult as passing water standing up in guard’s breeches but she was a lot faster now. The pursuers however, were also faster and they did not appear to be stopping for anything. Jinny looked back and looking at Alison – her third in command, said, “we leave now. Through the trees to the south and we’ll pick up a small village on the Spragend Sea. Fifteen miles and we should just make it. The Drunk should be there, or he and I will have words in hell; over his dead body.”

Move, Jinny, and we’ll have more chance,” and Jinny grabbed the reins of Alisia’s horse; pulled it off the road and into the forest. The Cat, as if by magic, now appeared.

Alisia started her instant and continuous complaints and had her helmet rattled as Jinny hit it, “Any more out of you and I’ll gag you,” Alisia immediately started to argue and found chains around her hands linked to her reins whilst a gag was forced into her mouth; stopping all conversation.

You are not killing me, Alisia. You are just a deposed concubine with no more rights than a beggar. These people better be prepared to take you in or you’ll wonder the streets. We’ll head for a boat that the Drunk should have hidden or the Cat wouldn’t be here. The three Guards – I don’t know – maybe just the north port. I will think the Cat has gone missing, and they will be right or not? Now we ride.”

Sir Charles’ Guards finally stopped as the hounds barked and Mansly leapt down from his horse to inspect their point of interest, “Two horse, Sir Charles, have come off the road and headed into the forest. I can’t say any more.”

So three headed through a forest towards the north coast; two head through a forest towards the south coast and the rest follow the road … what I wonder, is the difference? The north gives an ability to escape. The south effectively goes nowhere, and the main Guards are heading to Spragend by the look of it. Is there any smell of the Cat?”

I can set the hounds on it but we lose time, my Lord.”

We will catch them, Mansly. Stand the Guards down but one patrol – have them follow the remainder of the Guards and report back after ten miles; we need a rest and they won’t be able to avoid us. Find if the Cat is around and then we’ll know whether it is another decoy.”

Alison and her Guards made one mistake as they reined up and looked back to check their pursuers. The decoy to the north had not been followed and now headed back to the road to take the patrol from the rear. As the patrol passed they unleashed arrows from their horse bows into the ten guardsmen of Sir Charles. Alison now headed back to join in the attack, however two of the Guards had been instructed to ride back to the main Guards if they were attacked and now, while they killed his Guards, Sir Charles knew Alisia was no longer with those Guards who were attacking his Guards, meaning she was one of the two people heading for the Spragend sea and he immediately gave orders for his main body and the hounds to hunt them down.

Jinny kept dragging Alisia’s horse towards the point she agreed to meet the Drunk. It wasn’t easy as Alisia kept trying to pull her horse up and Jinny heard the noise of the following Guards moving closer and closer until finally she could see the bay and a small boat. Looking over her shoulder she could see movement in the trees behind her, and then the Drunk was running towards her from the beach and then stopping as if shot when he saw the chains and gag, “Cut the reins, Drunk; throw her in boat and get us away. We’ve only minutes; they have crossbows and she’s sabotaging us.”

The Drunk slashed the reins with his knife and threw Alisia, chains and all over his shoulder as he started to stagger towards the boat.

Jinny stopped to cut the saddlebags loose and then followed the Drunk; vaulted into the boat and put the saddlebags in the stern whilst the Drunk pushed the boat out and leapt in.

The boat was only some 60 foot from the shore when Sir Charles and his Guards arrived and began firing at the boat. Jinny held up the saddlebags as some kind of protection; feeling several bolts hit them as riders tried to force their horses into the sea to get closer and use their horse bows. She would have liked to use Alisia as protection but the Drunk still had some feelings.

Sir Charles watched from the sea as they moved away, “They’ve escaped but we’ll find them and kill them. Where is that bitch heading, I wonder?”

Which bitch, Sir Charles? That bloody Guards leader or Alisia. The sooner we find both of them and kill them, the better. Only problem is that, that Guards leader has a brain, and where is that bloody Cat that’s been creating havoc?”

People often think that big Cats don’t swim; perhaps they’re right and paddling doesn’t really count as swimming.

In the Cat’s case, he didn’t care and just followed the boat which once out of the sight turned to the north west and headed for a narrow inlet which eventually measured some eight miles hard rowing. As they neared the inlet the Drunk was feeling in need of several trees to fall on him and that large foaming froth that revived him. Jinny: sick of a spoilt Alisia; showed no signs of wanting to remove Alisia’s gag or chains; the Drunk’s raised voice finally crept over the laboured sound of the oars, “She needs to drink and breath, Jinny, and so do I for that matter although you would possibly disagree?”

I’ve had enough of her, Drunk.”

I’ve had enough as well, Jinny, but I’ve just found a boat that I rode, for nigh on eight miles with two of you doing nothing but staring at each other. I can appreciate the gag, Jinny and I’d laughed, if the energy was there, but why the chains?”

Think for a minute, Drunk. Why was Alisia trying to make sure Sir Charles caught up with and killed us and believe me she was!”

I always believe you, Jinny but what could she hope to achieve, my occasional love? Sir Charles would kill her as quickly as us. He isn’t going to take Martan’s throwaways or is he? Sir Charles didn’t cross Gods’ know how many seas for to kill a concubine. He came here for something else and I don’t have the faintest idea what he came for? You’re supposed to be the thinking person, Jinny, and she’d derailed you as she does others: her only skill; apart from her body is her mouth, and kingdom politics?”

Assume for a moment, my Drunk, that Sir Charles came for something and it isn’t Alisia – why would he pursue Alisia to kill her? Why would Alisia feel she has something of interest to Sir Charles that would protect her? There are one or more almighty questions here, and Alisia appears to know something that she thinks will see her safe my drunken friend?”

There is only the baby, Jinny, and that from a concubine who is being replaced by a Princess who will be a King’s wife.”

Yes, my friendly Drunk but Sir Charles has bigger fish to fry and he will not wish to share his Kingdom with Martan’s throwaways.”

Why does he think this is his Kingdom and does Alisia know that?”

The Matira’s kept the core as Dwarf held and controlled it and then as they tried to control it, they twisted it into something, the still don’t understand. They adopted other species to dilute challenges but control was always with the Matira’s and using people is never a good idea – they tend to object; Droga’s ceased calling themselves Droga’s but Matira’s killing anyone who spoke against them, also fooled no-one. The Matira’s as part of control, drove the Droga’s underground, or so they thought. The Droga’s were widespread with ‘Old Magic’ and they protected themselves in ways they knew. The Dwarfs failed to kill them. That is why we have the ‘Old Stock’ and the Cats. Alisia can’t keep her mouth shut any more than her bladder but she has learnt something and I prefer not to know, otherwise I will cut her throat for her knowledge.”

We can’t keep her in chains and gagged. We have move three miles to the second boat on the Matira sea and then finally five miles to the Toshonian Sea to finally pick up the last piece of road – Unchain her.”

Jinny finally unwrapped Alisia’s chains and it took a lot of thought to get them from her neck, and as Alisia threw herself at Jinny as they chains came off; she again, wrapped them around Alisia’s neck.

The Drunk watched this, and wished he’d been able to take a drink. You don’t mess with women but he took the gag off and said, “I’ll cut both your throats if you carry on, and if I have to – neither of you will need a gag after that!”

I’m just trying to protect myself.”

Both of you stopped that a long time ago – now you just use people for the little we have, and they little you desire. You are trying to kill everyone because you think that is how you survive. King Martan wants you dead and you are not killing us as well – neither of you. We have a three mile walk to another boat and then hours of rowing to travel fifteen miles. Five mile walk after that and another fifteen miles and then it gets difficult, and I’m the one doing the work on the oars. Choose?”

I could have saved everyone if I met Sir Charles. He would give anything for a son of King Martan.”

And if it is a daughter?”

It will be a son – I know.”

When do you ever stop lying, Alisia. Had it been a son and Martan has his priests and priestesses, you would not be on the road nor would Martan be looking for another woman. A daughter, however, could give birth to another son and a challenger for the Kingdom – you are having a daughter and you know, that but you would sacrifice all of us for yourself. I keep my honour, Alisia, more you can keep anything. You will reach your refuge and let them deal with you because I have had enough of you, in all senses!”

In the meantime, Alison had chosen to forget his instructions since there seemed little point in following them and was now heading to the west following some way behind Sir Charles and his forces – there was also Jinny’s comments to Alison and that they weren’t meant to survive and Alison intended to.

Of her Guards she’d detoured and picked up the other decoys and they now numbered twenty three in total – a sufficient force for safety but one that should be in Spragend and not in force on the King’s roads and there was possibly a problem if they met any of the King’s Guards – assuming they lived. Reaching Toshon Village – most of them had thrown off their armour already – Jinny would have spoken to them for that but she’d kept her armour bright and on – well it had taken a few drinks – and in battle, you might need to be free. The slice down so you parried ready as the blade and a few other things happened. She rode up front; they weren’t bandit but the word had obviously gone out; they were dead and she didn’t understand that as they met the first bunch of patrols met who attacked them. How could they be bandits; already they were bandits and if not bandits, they treated as bandits.

Maybe they could make their way to Frania. They always needed Guards in Frania.

Kyle was already reeling with a mind entering his and saying, “I have bonded with you.” He’d already had the Women’s Committee virtually accuse him of attacking the woman he found by the road and tried to help. Now he was told he could not hunt Roc eggs unless allowed.

What were they trying to do to him. He’d done nothing wrong. He’d tried to help a girl in trouble; tried to feed the village with old and dead Roc eggs, and caught fish for the village. Were the fish going to start talking to him, now? He went back to the trees he tied his nets too and looked for any catch – nothing – it made, not only his day, but a complete month of isolation – even his toes were giving him grief and Tare wouldn’t touch them until she was pregnant. One thing, however, was dying, whilst his toenails were bidding for freedom, and that was his belief in anything.

It was a hike to Jacque and Mari but Jacque often had some fish left and Kyle could do with a bit of luck after today and getting away from the rocks and the Rocs …?

What a can of life is this when a Roc is in your brain and watching you like a hawk; maybe she, or he watches you like a Roc and the Women’s Council or Committee used every way they could to attack any man who achieves and ‘Old Stock’ – maybe he was ‘Old Stock’ like Jacque and Mari – forced out unless needed; he was certainly ready to leave everything and everyone!

His leaving, however, was subject to getting some fish; walking five miles to Jacque and Mari with his toenails grating the ends of his boots and then back into his toes … perhaps Mari would cut them and he’d see if there was anything he could exchange for a little relief although Tare would yet again, go berserk when she found out his toenails were cut.

Visiting Jacque and Mari took him a good way from the village. They were on the coast and that was not by choice.

They were, in the words of the Women’s Council, ‘Old Stock’ – to be ignored – as if they didn’t exist but you might then ask why members of the Women’s Council walked about eight miles at night to find people who did not exist and one thing you would find were completely blank looks if you dared ask where they going, and where were the rampaging wolves who it appeared, knew better than to face the Women’s Council, still Kyle needed some fish. With no Roc eggs – not allowed; nothing from his nets; his wife not expecting; a Roc bonded with him which would put anyone off mating as three of you would be enjoying it he have even more grief from the women.

Kyle wondered what Gods he’d offended – there must be a lot of them to offend and he’d obviously found everyone, and they’d obviously found him despite his hiding from the Woman’s Council, who acted like Goddesses?

Jacque and Mari lived a hundred yards back from the coast and the Franian Sea and eventually he was almost there. You approached them through a copse of three large pines where their Hawks were based and lived wild. Why they did not fly off, Kyle never knew but the Hawks knew him and so did the large Cat who wandered up and sniffed him with Jacque looking up as Kyle approached.

Jacque didn’t look more than forty years old yet seemed to have been around for longer than anyone knew. Sandy haired like the Cat, blue eyes as opposed to the Cat’s black eyes, Jacque match Mari in everything but shape and height – in strength, maybe they were matched but both kept to themselves, tended their herbs; trained their hawks and fished.

They lived fairly simply but over the years had added to their home and now there were two conical roofs spread across a wooden framework. One had a trough filled with both fish and water to keep the fish fresh and this was just below one open side of one hut. Everything was built on stilts although the water never came this far – perhaps it once did? The two sides of the huts were joined by a wooden walkway but stretched some fifteen foot across by some eight foot in length and there were hooks inside for four hammocks if you were desperate and Kyle when faced with Tare’s renown temper, sought a hammock – often moving at speed. There were steps down the sides to the sand and a walkway from the front of both huts towards the sea – it again looked as if the sea had once swept this far in.

Jacque smiled as Kyle approached, “if you are running from the Women’s Committee, they are already on the way. Mari’s hawks saw them,” Kyle realised that the hawks would have seen him, too.

Is no-where safe?”

You seem selected for something, Kyle, but to put your mind at rest, you are not ‘Old Stock, you are merely in the wrong or right place at the wrong or right time.”

If I am, I don’t know what. I went to find some fish and Roc eggs; instead I find a girl lying by the road and then, when I get her to the village they attack me. I head back to the fish pens and nothing; then a Roc bonds with me and Tare wants me to get her pregnant. Now I have no fish; no Roc eggs and something in my mind whether I like it or not.”

I always keep a few fish back for you. It’s not easy when you try and help people. You succeed and no-one gives you credit – fail and they’re all on your back, but I’ll tell the Women’s Committee the fish are yours; you are repaying a favour to me, and they can carry them back although the men will get the job. Follow the Cat when he gets back, into the trees, and hide, he’s watching the women at the moment, along with the hawks.”

Kyle looked up as he heard another shout and saw Mari pointing back into the trees, it sounded like, “go, Kyle,” and Kyle wasn’t waiting for the women to arrive; running for the trees like a bat out of hell, with the Cat overtaking him – maybe they crossed the finishing line together and if not, it wasn’t for want of trying. They barely made it before the women arrive with four men carrying a stretcher with a body on it and Mari met them as they arrived.

The Women’s Council were a fearsome bunch. Tare had the tolerance of a snake guarding its young and it was made worse as she felt Kyle was failing in her desires for children. Half the time she couldn’t even keep him awake at night as he roamed further and further afield in his mental search for food. Tare was five foot two inches; blue eyes again and she hated that; as she did the blond hair that marked her and she wanted children.

Sueshar was famous for refusing any man who could not wrestle her.

Greta usually wrestled them with her mouth which never seemed to close.

Tonya, on the other hand, or usually a male, seemed to have no problems with her mouth or men, until she wore them out.

Minine usually worked from where she couldn’t be seen. Causing trouble where she felt it could not be tracked back to her and Stort her husband; leaving Sophia, who considered herself worldly-wise having lived in an isolated village all her life.

Together, they spent more time either fighting or gossiping or in a lot of cases planning for themselves and not the village to be little more than trouble!

They’re were four stumps of trees behind the first hut-like building and the makeshift stretcher was finally laid down there. Tare – self appointed but unchallenged in the Council stared at Mari until her eyes were virtually watering.

There really was no point in try to out-stare Mari – it was like staring at a rock-face, “Kyle brought this woman to the village and then ran away!”

You mean that you and these women attacked him without thinking because he was a man and this was an injured woman?”

No-one attacked Kyle, he ran!”

Faced with Harpies like you, anyone with any sense would run. Most of you are only interested in yourselves and attacking men. Leave her and go. Take the fish Kyle caught earlier – he cares more for your village more than you ever will! Go before I lose my temper – go!”

To say the Women’s Council ran would be inaccurate. They gathered their skirts to their thighs as the hawks swooped down over them and overtook each other as they left; the men who knew their job, looked at Jacque and Mari, and waited: “at the side of the side; there; put the fish into the bags and I want the bags back – Kyle is helping me and will sleep here tonight. Tell that to this bunch of Harpies!”

Jacque watched them put them put the fresh fish into the bags. He hated this long death for the fish, who would probably be dried by the time they reach the village and suffer the worst deaths you could imagine but the villagers never seemed to think of anyone but themselves.

They finally left and he watched Kyle and the Cat move from the trees as he walked towards Mari and the body – still alive – but not for long he felt.

Mari looked up as he arrived by the body, “She is wandering but there is very little left. Thinks she is a Roc and keeps trying to fly in her mind. Only thing keeping her alive.”

What Roc is she flying with, Jacque?”

I have no idea, Kyle … Mari is doing the work …?”

Tell Mari what you know about Rocs.”

A Roc bonded with me, Mari. I have never bonded with anyone but Tare; if that was ever possible but a Roc came into my mind as I looked at the fish and told me she had been instructed to bond with me.”

Then we need to find your Roc. Who she is flying with?”

I don’t know but if she is bonded she must know of this conversation and her name is Mona Roc.”

From your description, Mona Roc wasn’t just an outcast from the Rocs who lived here, she is excluded completely – she can’t even sit in the rocks.”

Like Rona, there was a time and family gap and in any case, they were both four hundred years older without the pleasure or experience of knowing it.

Mona Roc was being held liable for mistakes she’d made four hundred year before in moments of panic as everyone’s world failed. Even her own kind didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t know the decisions she made in seconds. There wasn’t a Council of Rocs to guide, just very little, if any time to decide and act.

Now, there was nothing for her and she kept a tight hold on Rona Matira’s mind to preserve her own sanity, and now in Kyle’s mind he saw Rona and the senseless and lifeless state Mona had put her in to.

Mari just gently touched Rona’s head and looked at Jacque, “Often they drive us away because we’d uncover them – too many ‘Old Stock’ in the old areas – maybe we should have gone to Frania … ‘Old Stock’ are prized there and not prised out.”

The girl needs attention, Mari, not history!”

History is killing her, Jacque. I need the Roc whose in her mind and I think it’s the one in Kyle’s mind as well. The Roc also feels that Kyle has killed the sick and old – there’s more but without the Roc I can’t do anything.”

Mari placed her hands on Rona’s head, listened and again heard a screaming voice as a Roc forgot there was someone on their back in the sheer exuberance of feeling she could fly everywhere she had been denied and only as she soared did she realise her back was lighter. She turned her head to look at her back and realised there was no-one there. She sought for the mind as it fell and then seized on it as she sped down, aiming at a dwindling speck … maybe … maybe—

Now we call Mona Roc and she will come, Jacque – she will come and she will join us!”

How will you call her? We can link to hawks and an old Cat but we cannot link to Rocs?”

Kyle is linked to this Roc— I know it … I damn well know it Jacque. This Roc has taken over this girl’s mind but the Roc is linked to Kyle and Kyle must call her,” Kyle looked at them once again and ruffled Cat’s mane. What was going on? Everything seemed to be his problem?

The question was swiftly answered when Mona Roc landed in the trees and looked down at Rona lying there. Mona searched around for minds.

Kyle’s she knew but she’d also embedded herself in Rona’s mind and Rona’s death would kill her in agony if she stayed, “then a voice echoed in her own mind. You are killing this girl; leave her or die with her, Mona Roc!”

You do not tell me what I do. My bond was before your birth!”

Was it, Mona Roc. How many others were outside of the bubble when it sank. How many were frozen a bubble but did not sink or died as the land sank, and the earth and water swept in, summons for the Matira’s in the revenge of the Dwarf. You flew; others fought, died but some survived. Your bond to Rona Matira was a personal choice; our lives were a fervent desire and little you cared for that. Release her, Mona Roc. She will bond again with you again, should she choose – release her or she will die. You now occupy her whole body as well as her mind. There is nothing left in her to provide what is necessary for her to live”

If I release her, Mari. I will die.”

How do you know, Mona Roc?”

I put myself into her body as she fell. It was the only way I could find her.”

Put yourself into my mind and body, Mona Roc. I need to know your true and complete identity so I recognise your pattern in Rona Matira and by putting yourself into my body you will have another body pattern and then we can remove you from others and keep you alive and you need to leave the mind of Kyle Nonsat was well.”

Mona Roc flew to the raised walkway at the front of the first house and her message to Mari was, “If I leave the mind of Kyle Nonsat the other Rocs will kill me. It is their instruction that I bond with him to stop him killing unborn and sick Roc children. I cannot leave Kyle Nonsat’s mind.”

Kyle’s wife wishes to be pregnant. He does not want you in his mind when he is with his wife.”

I will set my mind to only be with him when he approaches Roc’s Revenge. That should satisfy him, but my sin was let my love of air and flying over-rule my feelings for Rona Matira who was never of Matira stock anyway but adopted, and then excluded by the Matira’s. I befriended her because she had no-one and it suited me to feel her young mind, and then through my own stupidity I nearly killed her and then caused this.”

Pride is a sin you don’t mention Mona Roc and I can do nothing about that but with your help I can save this young girl, although what I save her for, is another matter. Maybe that she was young and abandoned will save her but we have no children and we know of her time so perhaps she will stay here if she has a life again.”

What do you want me to do, Mari Hawk?”

First, you must never utter my real name. I take a risk by even allowing you to enter my mind as it has knowledge no-one must know or our lives would be forfeit throughout the land. You must blend your mind and self to me as you did with Rona Matira and Rona must adopt the name of Hawk. She cannot use the name of Matira. I will change her understanding as I use your presence to enter her body, spirit and mind. She must live a different life under a different name – she cannot go back four hundred years.”

When do you wish to mind-meld?”

Now is as good a time as any.”

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About Dave Page

I'm now working on the Mi Kee project. Published books: Parky's Lunch, Afters and Teamtime, and Magic Midnight are the books in the Parky's espionage series. FYOG - Don't Wait Up and I May Be A Long Time are the two books in the FYOG series. The Good, The Bad, And The Awful Poetry Book is not that awful and all available on Amazon. Dave served with the Royal Navy for 8 years including 2 years in an ex Japanese Execution Camp in Singapore before embarking on a career of Accountancy and IT lasting some 40 years in Europe, the UK and the Far East before writing. During his Royal Naval Service Dave represented 500 guys on a Welfare Committee for two years and worked on two Royal Tournaments including putting up pay with the Bagpipes practising in front of his office and the RAF Dogs joining in behind him. Leaving the Royal Navy Dave worked in a Funfair and a Pub of the Year in London. Born in London, Dave lived in Chelsea for 10 years and now lives in Gloucester. Dave on Amazon is https://www.amazon.com/author/davepage
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