Friday, June 14, 2019

Flash Fiction # 359 -- Connor of Northgate/43

"I think I'll need more training from Rion.  And everyone else.  Especially with the magic because I don't know what it does.  It just ... sits there.  Sometimes it feels as though something moves within me.  Is it like that for the rest of you?"

"Not really; our magic is not something added later.  This might explain why people like gate lords are different.  That special power isn't simply amplifying what we have, but adding something different to it."

They spent the next few hours talking about the different forms of magic.  Understanding how the fae magic worked helped Connor, and by the time they finally camped, he at least felt he could examine his own changes and begin to make sense of them.

The centaurs insisted on taking the watch and leaving the 'two legs' to sleep.  They didn't treat Connor any differently than they treated the others, despite being human and being a gate lord.  They didn't treat Antisha any differently either, even though she was from the royal family.

He slept well, mostly from exhaustion.  The next morning they were on their way before the sun rose.  He didn't need Liam to tell him they were riding into danger.

"They will know you are gone by now," Braslyn said when they stopped by a brook.  "This is where we part company.  You follow the brook, staying in the water, and disturbing as little as you can.  Do not use magic, my friends.  They'll sense that. And it would be best if you went on foot."

Connor had already guessed that part and was already climbing down from his mount. The others muttered quietly but did the same.  All in all, it made sense.  Anyone who came after them would see the horses went on with the centaurs, and this was no different a brook than a half dozen they'd already crossed.

Braslyn reached over and put a hand on Connor's shoulder.  The centaur looked worried.  "Take care.  All of you.  Galen has allies in many places, and there is no telling who might side with him.  Be very careful."

Connor didn't think this was a warning they really needed, but he took it to heart anyway.  He didn't want to mistrust everyone, but he supposed he would have to look at even people he had known all this life.  Not everyone at Northgate had been happy to have him around.  Even if they hadn't backed Galen before, they might now.

That was a sobering thought and one he didn't want to consider.  Connor didn't want to make enemies of people who perhaps just like him.  He wanted to be fair.  He wanted to do this right.

At least it was warm enough that trudging around in a brook wasn't too bad.  He twisted his ankle a couple times on the loose rocks, but they went several miles before they climbed back out, and then over a log where they wouldn't leave prints in the mud.

They hurried into the woods and rested, listening for any sounds out of the ordinary.  Connor hoped the others could tell because everything sounded odd to him.  He had to rely on them.

"We should head northeast from here," Antisha said.  She knew the land better than any of them.  "That will keep us to the hills, which is a rougher country, but we're less likely to be seen there.  More cover."

Antisha looked at Connor as though she expected him to say something wise.  So he did.

"You lead the way, Antisha," he said.  "I don't think any of the rest of us know this area so well."

They all agreed. Antisha looked relieved. Did she really think he would try to take command in a situation where he knew so very little?  Or did she worry more about the others?  They were all going to cooperate with her and hope to survive.

Druce walked with Nylia. They'd apparently made a reconciliation at some point.  Connor was glad to see it because he wanted calm within the group.

Connor knew that he needed to be able to trust these people, and none of them dared be influenced by their emotional state. It bothered him, to look at his friends and try to imagine how he might mistrust them.  How they might turn against him.

Or worse, how he might use them.

"You look glum again, Connor. It worries me when you look glum," Nylia said with a slap on his back.

"I don't trust myself," he said.

Connor hadn't expected the others to look shocked.  How could they not realize the problem?  He had no idea what he was doing, and after watching Galen, he realized how easy it would be to hunt after power for his own survival.  He looked at them in more shock than they gave him, and realized that he didn't understand them at all at that moment.

"You shouldn't worry, Connor," Nylia said and gave him a bright smile.  "You have us to help you through this. Even that fool Druce has finally come around.  But you have always been wise enough, you know.  So I'm going to ask you something we haven't bothered to say yet.  What do you think we should do?"

Connor knew the answer and decided to go ahead and say it. He had to trust that they would disagree with him if he were, really, not wise.

"We need to ride straight through to Northgate," Connor said, though he hated the thought of that journey.  "Galen thinks we are with the centaurs by now, but that won't last for long.  Northgate is the only advantage we have, and we need to get to what safety we have."

"Yes," Erlis agreed.  He was already preparing to start out again.  No questions asked. Antisha even nodded agreement.

"And teach me magic -- anything I can do with the power I have.  This may come down to a confrontation."

And they didn't argue about that, either.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Flash Fiction # 358 -- Connor of Northgate/42

Chapter Thirteen

Conner heard the commotion in the main hall as voices and stomping centaur hooves echoed through the building.  He winced and stepped behind Erlis, who was less likely to be recognized. They already had guard cloaks in hand and Connor hastily put his on to cover up better.  Liam did the same.

Druce stood with them, which surprised Connor, who was glad to have him back. But damn, he missed Rendon.  Nyla and Antisha were keeping watch at the corner of the hall and Connor watched for their signal.

The trouble escalated, and the centaurs stomped out of the building cursing Galen. Connor had the feeling they were rather enjoying the show.

The centaurs left, not so much at odds with the king, but in a hurry to get back to their own lands before Galen struck again. Having the princess with them made sense in this case.

The centaurs and fae rode hard through the city, and the horses seemed to have some joy at keeping up with the centaurs. Everyone slowed when they reached the first edge of the woods.  Braslyn dropped back to ride by Connor and Antisha.  He looked relieved.

"That went well," Braslyn said.  He glanced over his shoulder and nodded.  "We know Galen has people in the city and maybe at the court, too.  We must be careful, Lord Northgate."

He winced at the name.  "Call me Connor."

"It is no easy change, the shift of power.  Especially on those who must take up the roll."

"Especially for someone who never looked to have such a future."  Connor stared ahead into the dark forest. "I don't know how I got to be here."

They rode in silence once in the forest, all of them apparently grateful for the calm.   This wouldn't last, of course, but at least for a little while, Connor could let others keep the watch while he thought about his future.

Connor had always thought he would be a retainer at Northgate.  He had worried about growing older while his magical companions did not.  Now he had to wonder about age and magic.

Connor also had to start thinking about his own heir.  Given the situation, it was not something that he would dare leave for long.  Connor would discuss what to do with Antisha as soon as they had a little time alone.  He would name someone.

If he survived long enough.

Antisha looked as though she had been born to the saddle.  Liam looked like he might be even less happy than Connor. They hadn't spread out far, and the path wide enough for two.  Connor rode up beside Liam.

"I would think you could have envisioned a slightly less painful future," Connor said.

Druce, riding past them, laughed agreement.

"I could see a future where I stayed at the palace and lived quite nicely until everything went to hell."

Connor glanced his way.  No, he was not joking.  "I guess there are worse things."

"There always are," Liam admitted.  He stared ahead, but apparently not at the world around him.  A moment later, Liam shook his head and frowned.  "I don't know what's going to happen, Connor.  I really don't.  There are too many paths."

"We don't expect you to show us the way, Liam.  We understand about the different paths.  We just hope that you'll be able to point out a bad choice so we can make a correction in time."

"Yes.  Good."  Liam stared again.  Connor feared his friend would fall off the horse if he didn't pay more attention.

"Don't try so hard," Connor added.  That drew Liam's startled attention.  "Seriously, Liam.  I trust you and your power, and if something is going to go wrong, I believe you will let us know -- if you see it.  Just remember that fae have survived troubles and disasters without seers.  This isn't entirely in your hands."

"True.  Yes."  Liam took a deeper breath and sat up straighter.  "It's easy to worry about how badly I could fail."

"You can't fail us.  We still have to make the decisions, even if you tell us what you think we should do."

Liam nodded and took a deeper breath again.  Connor left him to his thoughts and moved ahead to ride by Erlis.  He looked bleak as well, but when he saw Connor, he seemed to give himself a little shake.

"It's going to be different, going home without Rendon there."

"I know," Connor said with a sigh.  "None of it seems right.  And all of this for me?  Because of me?"

"No," Erlis replied and looked startled by the words.  "Of course, it's not about you.  It's because Galen wants to rule everything.  You just happen to be in his way.  Any of us would have been.  All of us, in fact, are in his way."

"True.  Yes.  This is just --"

"More trouble than any of us saw coming," Erlis said.  He looked at Liam and shook his head.  "I don't expect that it will get better for a while.  We believe that you will do well for us."

"I don't see how you could think such a thing."

"And you focus too much on magic," Erlis replied.  This wasn't a discussion Connor wanted to have, but at least it helped to pass the time. "Rion always said you were the best student."

"I always assumed he was trying to make me feel better for not being like the rest of you."

"Really?  You would think Rion that shallow?"

That thought did startle him. "I suppose not."

"Right," Erlis said with a definite nod.  "You were always better at catching on to what he taught.  The rest of us were good enough, but you were the star student. It used to embarrass me that the human did so much better at understanding the world."

"Ha.  I could answer the test questions.  That didn't mean I really understood anything."

"There is that side," Erlis admitted but grinned.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Flash Fiction # 357 -- Connor of Northgate/41

 "Connor, there is something you haven't seemed to grasp," Nylia said. "Yes, we are all fey, and we have powers that we are born with, and some stronger than others.  Those are powers you cannot have or understand.  However, the gate powers are not the same.  They are physically passed on to the new lord.  Any of us would face the same problems as you, though, granted we might have a little better understanding.  I don't see where that precludes you from learning, though."

Connor hadn't considered that aspect of this mess.  Maybe if he'd had some time before the change --but no one had expected such a disaster.

"Thank you.  This has been confusing. I still think if one of you had been there with us--"

"It still would have gone to you," Antisha said. "Lord Northgate had discussed the possibility with my father two years ago to make certain of the laws.  You would have been the heir.  No one expected you to take the rule of the gate for a long time, though."

More news he hadn't expected, but it made more sense of things. If Lord Northgate hadn't thought Connor capable of the work, he could have let the power go back to the stone, and the king and court would have dealt with the problem of installing a new lord.

Connor felt a sense of calm for the first time since this trouble began.

"The journey back to Northgate isn't going to be easy," Earlis added. "Is the king going to give us guards?"

"No," Antisha said.  That drew everyone's attention.  "He's going to give us a chance to get away unnoticed, instead."

"Oh yes, every wise," Conner said.

"Is it?" Erlis asked and looked confused.

"A few soldiers wouldn't be enough to help us.  An entire army would invite attack.  Far better if we can get clear and head for home with little notice."

"How are we ever going to slip away?" Nylia asked.

"The king is sending a few guards and me with the Centaurs when they go home."

"I thought you said -- Oh." Erlis smiled.  "We play guards.  The centaur lands are between us and home."

"The centaurs will denounce having a human as a gate lord," she added with a smile.  "This is completely for show. We don't want you involved in that part of the game, Connor.  If you were there, it would have to go to a battle between Braslyn and you.  Without your presence, the Centaurs can leave in anger.  I've always been a favorite with them, so it won't look odd for me to go along to smooth things over.  You'll act as a set of guards hastily called to go along.  I trust you won't have a problem wearing the uniform of the King's Own?"

"An honor," Connor replied with a bow of his head.  Then he looked at Liam.  "You are very quiet."

"I am reassessing my position," Liam replied.  The words sounded oddly straight forward and without any hesitation. Liam sat up straighter. "I've been worried about taking people to the wrong path, you know. I looked at everything, looked again, and finally gave so little advice that I might as well not have been with you at all."

"But -" Antisha began.

Liam lifted his hand and silenced everyone.  "I need to reconsider why I'm here.  There is a reason, and it's not simply so that you carry me around from place to place.  Here is what I see: one path leads to Galen winning. That is not the path we want.  I will try my best to keep us from that path, but I cannot see far, you know.  Everything branches."

"But you are willing to give us some direction this time," Connor said.

"Yes.  Because I saw the chaos and the way thins might have gone without direction.  I am a seer.  There are not many in our history.  It's time I step forward and do my duty."

"You did not help Galen," Nylia said.

"No, I did not. If Galen had killed me for holding back, you would have been no worse off for not having me, especially if I wasn't willing to give you any real advice.  That's changing."

"So, you think we're doing the right thing?" Erlis asked.

"I think you are doing the wisest thing under the circumstances. I don't know what will happen.  If I see something you should know, I'll tell you."

"Fair enough," Connor replied.  "I won't badger you for answers."

Liam gave a slight smile.

"Be ready," Antisha said as she stood.  "Which would you prefer?  Tomorrow night or before dawn?"

They all looked around the room.  Erlis was the one who gave a sigh finally.  "I suspect it would go better at a regular time?  People would suspect a line if we left before dawn."

"That's what I think," Antisha said.  She glanced at Liam but then shook her head.  "No, I don't need you to tell us when we are doing something that is obviously smart.  I'll bring your uniforms tonight. We'll work out the details tomorrow."

"One last day of living well," Nylia said with a sigh.  She stood and stretched.  "I'll see you at dinner."

The others wandered out, though Liam stayed until last. "I can't guarantee that everything will go well," he said as he stopped by the door.  "Even if I push you in the direction I think is best, there are far too many possible changes.  We have to be careful, Connor.  You have to look at possibilities, too.  Talk to me about them.  The paths I see are just shadows; knowing some specific possibilities can help define them."

Connor nodded.  Liam left.

Connor sat by the desk for a moment longer.  So much to take in.

Light played along the tips of his fingers.  Connor took a deep breath and calmed.  He hadn't failed yet.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Flash Fiction #356 -- Connor of Northgate/40

Chapter Twelve

"He can't mean to keep me on as Lord Northgate," Connor said, sitting at the desk in the rooms he'd been assigned.  "That's just not possible."

The others looked at him as though he had gone crazy.  Druce, Nylia, Erlis, Liam -- even Antisha stared with disbelief.

"Why not?" Nylia asked.

"I'm human!" he all but shouted.  The servant, just coming into the room, gave him an odd look.  The battle had been three days before, and Connor had been increasingly worried. They would be heading back to Northgate soon, and that meant the king would name a new lord before then.

"You need to calm," Erlis said.  "Accept whatever happens next.  We're behind you, Connor."

"You are Lord Northgate," Antisha said.  The others still sometimes looked a little worried to be in the company of the princess.  "The situation might change, but I've seen no sign that my father intends to remove you from the post.  So you must start acting -- and believing -- that Northgate is in your hands."

"I can barely control the magic," he admitted, though that had been obvious over the last few days.  The others were helping, but it was not easy.

"That's no different than what the rest of us experienced when we first felt our own magic awakening," Erlis reminded him.  "You remember the trouble poor Rendon had."

That brought bittersweet smiles to all of them.  Connor would miss him.  For a moment, emotions surged, but he fought it back before he had more than a little flash of light at his fingertips.

"Sorry," he said.

"You are doing very well," Antisha replied.

"This is not what I ever wanted."  Connor put both his hands on the desk and closed his eyes, fighting back panic and anger.  "I'm not sure it's what I should be doing."

"None of us know for certain.  But Lord Northgate named you his heir, Connor," Nylia said.  "We intend to honor that choice."

"It may have been that I was the only one there, you know," he said.  "If one of you had been there --"

"I don't think that's true," Erlis replied.  "I have always thought he was going to name you."

"That's crazy.  I'm human."

"If you can learn to control the magic, then there is no reason why you can't hold the position," Antisha replied.  The others nodded agreement.  "If you cannot learn, then we'll deal with the problem.  And yes, that is exactly what my father said."

Connor started to speak.  He stopped.  Maybe this was something he needn't worry about just now.  Control the magic.  After all, he hadn't asked anyone if he could be rid of it and just be human again.

Because he didn't want to lose the magic?  He'd spent many years wishing he could be like the others.  Now that he had the chance, maybe he should work to at least try and understand what it meant.

"We'll be leaving for Northgate tomorrow morning," Antisha announced and drew everyone's attention again.  "Yes, I am going back with you.  I'll report to my father on everything that happens so you can consider me an official spy."

Connor laughed.  "I have been wondering what your official position might be."
"I am Princess Antisha," she said with a lift of her head.  "Royal Spy.  It suits me.  I was always snooping on my brothers and getting them into trouble."

"Good of you to warn us what to expect, then," Nylia said with a grin.

"Well, I don't expect you'll be sneaking extra cookies from the kitchen, but you never know."

They all laughed. The servants went about their work, giving them curious looks.  Connor hadn't tried to hide anything from them; it seemed unwise, knowing how the servants gossiped back at Northgate.

The others knew about losing Lord Northgate by now.  They knew about Connor, too.  Word had gone there as fast as possible.

Conner had to wonder what they were thinking; they had been loyal to Lord Northgate, and while many had always been kind to him, he suspected having a human lord was a different matter entirely.

"You're brooding," Antisha warned.

"He's been doing that a lot," Nylia added.

"I do not brood.  I simply think a great deal about the future."

"Implying there is nothing good in the future,"  Antisha added.  "Given that look on your face."

Connor wondered if she had gone quite entirely crazy.  He tried to come up with something to say that would help them see the full depth of the problems.  Finally, he simply waved his hand in frustration.  "I'm human!"

Earlis was the one to pat him on the shoulder.  "We had noticed."

"I don't see how you can all take this so lightly," he admitted.

"Most of us have known you a long time," Nylia said with a glance at Antisha who was the only newcomer to the group.  "Should we mistrust you?"

Connor looked over at Antisha.  She smiled.

"I am a spy.  I get to reserve judgment.  "However, do remember that we have worked together at a time you had no idea you would be the next Lord of Northgate. My father was especially pleased with how you kept the power of Northgate out of Galen and Ordin's hands.  You will get your chance at fulfilling Lord Northgate's wish that you be his heir."

"He should have prepared me.  I have no training."

"You have had exactly the same training as the rest of us," Earlis said.

"Except for that rather important magical stuff," Connor pointed out with some frustration.

"And you really think that's what makes a gate lord?" Nylia asked.

"I -- I don't know.  You can't tell me it's not important."

Nylia leaned forward, all humor disappearing from her face.  Connor could hear the sounds of others preparing for trouble.  They still had the problem of Lord Galen lose out there with the trolls and the power of his own gate to call upon.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Flash Fictione # 355 -- Connor of Northgate/39

Galen shouted a curse as he drew his sword.  However, he didn't attack Connor, who had anticipated his move.  Instead, he leapt at the king.

Connor threw himself between them.  He had no weapon, and though he did have magic, he had no training to use it. He tried to fend off the sword and took a bad cut across his arm, but he threw the man off.

Ordin leapt and attacked him -- with magic.

"You won't win!"

As though they played some game.  Connor fended off Galen and felt a painful brush of power from Ordin. He fell to the floor.

Connor rolled over and saw that a guard had a sword at Lord Galen's throat.  Liam had attacked Ordin, knocking him down with a blast of power.

The King and Queen both stood calmly by, and the look they gave Galen was not one of an ally.

"I am not a fool," the king said.  "You put on a fine show for those poor people out there, but I knew the power of Northgate hadn't returned to the stone.  That meant there was something untrue in your tale, Galen."

"I -- I didn't kill Lord Northgate," Connor said with a hand on his bleeding arm as he sat up.  "I didn't kill Antisha."

"I know. Neither did Ordin, though he tried hard enough. Ah, there you are, daughter."

Antisha entered the room with Nylia, Erlis, and Druce.  She looked pale and bruised, which proved how serious her injuries must have been since magic had not completely healed her.
"We've freed all the others, father," she said with a bow of her head and then a glare at Galen.  "You'll not be taking power from them anymore."

Ordin panicked, but Galen didn't, and that worried Connor as he struggled to his feet.

Galen turned and leapt at the king, but when everyone shifted to stop him, he grabbed the queen instead.  A knife went to her throat.

"Not a complete loss," Galen said, as though mumbling to himself.  He smiled, and the knife nicked the queen's neck.  "One bit of magic or movement, and I'll kill her."

Connor didn't doubt him -- but then he didn't doubt that he'd kill the queen anyway.  They would need to move, but carefully.

"Ordin, come here," Galen said. 

The guard let go of Ordin.  Antisha twitched as though to grab him, but she must have known he really couldn't be that important to his father.  Which made Connor wonder why the man bothered.

They soon found out.  Ordin came to stand by his father and flashed a smug smile at the others.  He should have been watching Galen instead.  His father used a tendril of magic to hold the queen while he reached over and slapped Ordin on the side of the neck.  A seal went into place, and with barely a whisper, Galen drew magic from his son.

Three heartbeats, perhaps.  Not fast enough for anyone to move.  Ordin fell dead on the floor beside Connor.  He still looked smug.

Galen's hand glowed; he had all the power he needed.  He swept the room with a wall of fire that might have engulfed everyone if the king hadn't acted as quickly.

Galen hadn't expected it, and for a moment he was distracted -- barely a moment, but the queen used it to break the magic rope and shove his arm aside so that the blade was no longer at her neck.

At the same time, Connor surged forward and attacked the man.  He was in no shape to take him on, but Connor did provide another moment of distraction before Galen sent him flying across the room.  He expected to hit the wall with enough force to break bones.

Instead, Antisha's magic caught Connor and dropped him to the floor with a thump.  She went to her knees beside him, clearly too worn from even that little bit of magic.

"Thanks," he whispered.  His arm still bled.  He was not going to be conscious much longer.

Liam knelt beside Connor and did quick work with the wound, healing it enough that he no longer feared to close his eyes and never waking again.  He nodded his thanks, but by then Galen was fending off the others with little trouble. Galen had gained considerable power from his son. The best the rest of them could hope to do was to wear him down --

"He's trying to get to the window!" Connor shouted, struggling to get to his feet once more.

Galen was close -- too close for anyone to stop him.  Something appeared at the window outside the window.  The enormous ugly face of a troll peered in, having obviously climbed up the outer wall.  Connor could hear arrows hitting against the building, but nothing struck the troll.  Magic obviously kept him safe.

Galen through himself at the troll, who grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out.  It could not have been comfortable, but it was effective.  Magic from the king splattered against the window frame and shot bright light out into the world.  People yelled more, but the two were already out of sight.

"Damn!" the king shouted.

"Language," the queen said with a shake of her head.

"Language be damned!  I want that traitor caught and stopped!"

"Then you had better go talk to people.  I'll take care of things here."

The king stalked across the room, heading for the door with his guards at his back.  At least two had fallen, and Connor thought they must be dead.  He hated to see the waste.

The king, unexpectedly, stopped beside Connor, who belatedly bowed his head while Antisha caught his arm before he fell over.

The king put a hand on Connor's shoulder.  He looked up out of shock more than anything.

"Well done, boy," he said with a nod.  Then his look changed.  "Well done, Lord Northgate."

The king walked out of the room.