Thursday, November 15, 2018

Flash Fiction #329 -- Connor of Northgate/13



Connor started to say something, then thought through what he'd just learned.  "You don't want to change things, but you just told me about Druce."

"After the fact.  I'd seen Nylia and Druce a long time before I came here. I saw myself sitting here and talking to you, though I hadn't seen much else."

"What sort of work do they expect you to do?" Connor finally asked.

"To make certain the fae lands remain safe, even if it means pointing people to a certain path.  I have to choose those battles wisely."

Connor nodded and finally slipped off the tunic, tossing it into the corner by his clothes trunk.  He doubted it could be salvaged.  He pulled out another tunic and put it on, feeling chilled still.

"Should I worry about Druce?" he finally asked.

"He won't do anything that will hurt his honor.  It's already taken a blow, but as long as you make nothing of the incident, the others will pass this off to the troubles that always arise as a fae comes of age.  If he had killed you though, it was something that would have hanged over him long after --"

Liam stopped, his breath catching.

"Long after I'm dead.  I'm human, not fae.  My days are numbered from the start."

Liam nodded, paler than he had been since his first days at the Keep.  From the bleakness, Connor wondered if Liam had seen his death -- but he asked nothing.

"Don't ask --" Liam stopped and nodded.  "You are wiser than most. Let us discuss other things.  I heard something about the testing next month.  What is this?"

"It has to do with the Royal Court. I suppose you don't deal with that very often in the Wildlands, right?"

"Not if we can avoid it," he said and gave a wry look to the walls around him.  "We don't like to live by anything but the rules of nature.  What will happen?"

"I was barely six the last time the testing happened. I remember sword fights to test prowess, I guess.  No blood is drawn."  He touched his own wound but hardly felt any pain.  "Fae who had just come of age came here from many places.  I guess Northgate has always hosted the testing.  I should find out why."

"Does it matter?" Liam asked.

"I like answers," Connor replied with a bit of a shrug.  "Searching for them keeps me busy."

"And out of sight."

He gave a nod of agreement.  "I learned that was wise the last year or so.  Lord Northgate and most of his people have always treated me well, but I don't want to cause trouble."

"I won't argue the point. You and I face the same problem; people don't know what to expect of us yet.  I've been told I will not be taking part in the testing, but there will be the pledges afterward, where all of us who have come of age  will be expected to swear our allegiance to the Royal Court."

"And that bothers you?"

"It bothers me on a personal level.  I am still a wildlander at heart, you know.  I still dream about the forests and the hills.  I still want to go home, but I know that they won't have me."

Connor had not expected to hear that sound of pain and loss, and Liam plainly regretted the words a moment later.  He lifted a hand before Connor could say anything.

"You could at least let me say something before you let me know it will do no good," Connor said and found himself amused by the words.

Liam laughed.  "I drove my sisters crazy, you know."

"Sisters?" Connor hadn't considered such things.  Family?  He had none, and he never looked for others to have them either.  Here at the keep family seemed to be connections that spread in wider circles than immediate blood relatives.

"Two sisters.  Twins.  Older than me by a decade and jealous when I first started getting noticed, though that ended quickly.  I think they were sorry to see me leave, but they never said so."

"I'm sorry.  I never thought --"

Liam gave a little shrug and then looked up again.  "There's going to be trouble at the testing and the pledges, because this time you are of age, too."

"I know," he said and leaned back.  "I planned to talk to Lord Northgate about it -- about what we should do.  If we should pretend that I don't really exist and keep out of the way --"

"No."  The word came out with more force than Connor expected.  "No, that will not help.  It will only make Lord Northgate appear to be weak -- or worse, that he's trying to hide you.  There are a lot of people interested in you, Connor.  You are the only human ever born to one of the Gate Keeps.  You belong to this place as much as Druce does, and oddly he would not disagree."

"You don't think I should stay out of the way?"

"Hide is the word you mean, and when you say that word, instead of skirting around it, you will know it won't come to any good."

"Yes.  You're right."  Connor sighed and decided he must avoid the easier and calmer answer.  "I don't want to be the cause of trouble, but it seems as though whatever I do, it's going to create a problem.  I thought I might ask Lord Northgate to send me back to the human world.  I don't know anything about it, but it might be the best way to --"

Liam looked up, and the worry on his face stopped Connor in mid-sentence again.  "If you went back, you would not be here when Lord Northgate needs you most."

That sounded dire.  Connor started to ask, but Liam shook his head, his mouth clamped shut as though he feared he had already crossed some line he should have avoided.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Flash Fiction #328 -- Connor of Northgate/12



Connor turned back to his classwork, intently staring at the page, and trying to parse words that danced around in his head and made no sense at all.  He finally closed his eyes.

The class passed quickly, and the group headed down to sword practice.  That suited Connor better today.

They changed partners daily. As luck would have it, Connor drew Druce who glared before they even started.

When Godewyn gave the signal, Druce leapt straight at Connor. If he hadn't been ready, Connor would have taken an injury and more than a bruise. The cutting edge had been aimed high enough to hit his neck.

Godewyn hadn't seen the interplay.  Connor would have to fight his own battle.  He was ready for it, in fact.  He probably had as much pent-up frustration as his sparring partner.  His sword came back in a practiced swing that seemed to surprise and annoy Druce.  However, Druce was quicker.

Connor took a cut in the arm after Godewyn called time. Druce never heard the order, his grim look giving way to pleasure as he forced Connor back a step and another.

 Godewyn waved magic that sent Druce stumbling back, cursing --

"Druce put down that sword and walk away."

Godewyn's voice sounded cold, precise --and deadly.  He held his hand up, magic still playing at his fingers.  Druce growled, started to come forward again -- and then finally realized the situation. The others stared at him, some of them shocked and dismayed that he had so lost his honor.

And he had.  Druce would have to work hard to recover from this attack.  He threw the sword aside and stalked away.  Nyla reached out with one ankle and tripped him.  He went stumbling into the corridor and cursed all the louder.

Godewyn came to Connor and took his arm in hand, magic slipping up over the wound and burying the pain.

"That was unforgivable," Nyla said with a shake of her head.

"Not so serious as that," Connor replied.  With the pain gone, his own thoughts cleared.  "His emotions just got the better of him for a moment. This has been building for a long time, and I might be partly to blame.  I've made it plain I'm no happier with him than he is with me."

Godewyn frowned but didn't disagree.  "You are to rest, today and tomorrow --"

"The cut wasn't that bad!"

"Rest," Godewyn insisted.  "Give everyone a chance to calm."

That, at least, made sense.  Conor bowed to the others and left the field, his tunic cut and still wet with blood, but the wound itself mostly healed.  Connor admitted to himself that he was feeling a little light-headed as well, so he made his way slowly up the stairs to his room.

Liam waited by the door.

"You knew this was going to happen," Connor said as he opened his door and signaled his companion inside.

"Yes," Liam replied, his head hanging, the hair forming a veil again.  "I'm sorry."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Things would have changed," he said with a shake of his head.  "There was worse that might have happened.  Sit down.  You're pale."

Connor settled on the chair by his desk.  He was, for a brief moment, angry with Liam -- but he pulled that back in line.  Liam was only an easy target.

"What would have changed?" he asked.  "And sit down.  You make me nervous, standing there like you're ready to bolt."

Liam took another chair.  He looked up finally, and Connor saw relief and determination in his face.  "There were so many factors, Connor --"

"Even for so small an incident as this?" he asked and began to unlace the tunic, anxious to have it off.

"Even for this, but mostly because you are more important here at Northgate than you admit."

"The only importance I have is in making trouble, I fear."

Liam started to say something.  He stopped and shook his head.  "You mean that."

"Yes, of course.  I'm human Liam.  I don't have any fae power, and being powerless means that my friends have to protect me while my enemies only have to wait for the right moment."

"Oh yes, as long as none of them care much about their own honor."

"True.  So I don't have to worry too much about Druce on that account, even though I am human and he might --"

"This has nothing to do with you being human," he said.

"I'm sure Druce --"

"He's not angry over you being human," Liam said and sounded so assured that it stopped Connor from saying more.  "Druce is mad because Nylia smiles at you and not at him."

"Nylia smiles -- oh."  Connor shook his head in disbelief.  "We're just friends.  All of us were friends."

"Druce is interested in more.  Nylia said she isn't, and he took that to heart.  He left the group in hopes that he'd get over it.  He hasn't."

This was not the kind of problem Connor had ever considered facing, and he sat there staring at Liam, half expecting him to say this was only a guess.  He didn't.  Liam looked certain.

"What would have happened if you told me before now?"

"You might have not gone to practice today, and Druce would have grown more annoyed.  He might have met you somewhere in the halls, and the confrontation would have been worse and without witness.  Or you might have gone, knowing Druce was going to attack you and annoyed him into thinking you didn't trust him.  Remember, he didn't plan to attack you. It came in a moment of frustration and anger.  Or you might have grown angry and attacked him to save yourself -- but no one else would have seen it that way.  Or --"

"That must drive you crazy," Connor said.  "How can you tell which path to take?"

"That's actually the easy part.  It's the one where I do nothing at all."

Friday, November 02, 2018

Flash Fiction #327-- Connor of Northgate/11


Chapter 3

Liam fit in well enough after the first few days.  Everyone had been uneasy, including Liam himself, but they soon grew calmer.  Spring spread to summer, which was pleasant enough.

Other changes came, though.  Nylia, not surprisingly, was the first to start feeling the change that came with the awakening of her powers.  She went into seclusion with older fae who would teach her how to control the magic that could get too quickly out of hand.  Rendon went next and Erlis not long afterward, leaving the nightly table empty of all but Connor and Liam.

He suspected Liam would soon go into retreat as well because the Seer did have other magical powers.  Connor tried not to let his own feelings show about the changes.  It was no more their fault that they were fae than his that he was human.  This was as inevitable as the sun rising, and Rion had been talking to him about it for months already.

But still -- still it hurt.  The friends he had known all his life had finally gone to a place he could not follow.  Connor sat awake at night and tried to curb the anger that threatened to take him.  He tried not to watch Liam with anxiousness, waiting for him to go away too.

As though they wouldn't come back.

He knew they would.  Others went through this right of passage.  Children were usually born every ten years, groups born to each age.  Connor had been lucky that he came when one group was barely a few months older than him.  He had fitted in.

Until now.

Erlis was the first to come back.  Connor and Liam found him at the table waiting for dinner.  He looked up and gave so bright a smile that Connor forgot all the worries he'd had about changes.

"It's good to be back," Erlis said as they settled in their places.  The others aren't out yet?  I can't believe I tamed the beast before Nylia!"

Erlis spent dinner telling them humorous stories about magic gone wrong. Even those beyond their table laughed. Druce did not, but then he had not gotten his call to power yet, either.  He glared at all of them.

Stuck being no better than human, Connor thought with a bit of a smirk.  He tried not to feel better for it.

Instead, he studied Erlis, who had changed in subtle ways.  He sat up straighter as though he had grown taller.  His face had lost any sign of indecision and confusion.  Adult, Connor thought and wondered how he would become an adult.  How did I happen to humans? 

Was there anyone he could ask?

The idea slipped away from him over the next few days.  Nylia showed up within ten days, and she too had some funny tales to tell, once Erlis shared some of his own again.
 
They drew attention and drew Connor into the stories with them.  They made him a part of this time, even when he could not share it.  He liked them more for it.

On the night after Rendon finally came wandering in as well, and shared his own jokes, it seemed that all was back to normal again.  Despite that they now had magic, they were the same.  Maybe wiser -- maybe that was needed to control magic -- but still the same as they had been the month before.

Liam often walked with him up the stairs.  He was calmer, too, though he still sometimes missed a step or turned his head to listen to something the rest of them could not see or hear.

"They are good friends," Liam said as they stopped by their doors.  "I hadn't thought to feel so much a part of this place.  And I don't fear my own magic so much now."

"Good.  Will you have a problem?"

"Some," he admitted and leaned against the door jamb.  He pushed his hair back out of his face.  Connor had started thinking he sometimes used the hair as a veil, hiding as best he could.  "I've been reading all I can about other seers, but it turns out they all had different problems.  Quite a few of them died when their magic came, though."

"No!"

He had not meant to sound so worried and upset, and it drew Liam's startled look this time.
 "It's all right. They were mostly seers who had been alone.  Cast out from their people.  I have help here.  Rion and Lord Northgate both have already taken considerable time with me.  More so than my own people would."

"You will be all right."

"I think so," he said and gave a sudden bright smile.  "Either that or I have a very active imagination when it comes to seeing the future."

He almost asked -- but he stopped himself.

"Oh, you are wiser than most.  Even Nylia has asked for some hints.  And Druce demanded I tell him, but that came to a quick end when Rion got hold of him and took him straight to Lord Northgate.  He hasn't talked to me since.  We better get some rest.  Tomorrow --"

He stopped and blinked, then shook his head and went into his room without saying another word.

That, Connor decided, was going to be annoying.

Connor didn't sleep well, woke up early, and went down to breakfast with Liam, who was always quiet in the mornings.  It had made him wonder how well his friend slept most nights.

Breakfast and the morning class were normal, which he realized, would not be going on much longer.  As the others gained more control of their powers, they would go off to serve in their chosen places at the keep.

And what would he do?  Perpetual student?  Growing old here --

Which was something else he didn't think much about.  He would grow old and die. The others would not.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Flash Fiction #326 -- Connor of Northgate/10



Connor considered the statement and the worry in his new friend's face.  "And if I were going to fall from a cliff, you wouldn't warn me?"

"Would it make a difference?  Should it make a difference?  Should I have the power to change the future with a word?  What if I made up some story for my own gain?"

"Would you?"

"No.  Not now at least.  Later?  Who is to say what I might do later?"

They went up another flight of stairs.  Liam seemed more bothered with each step.

"You didn't answer my question," Connor finally said.  "This is not where  you want to be, is it?"

"I want to be free in the woods, but it's not a safe place for me.  I can't control when or what I see, and it's dangerous to be blind there.  They say I have a power that is rare and precious, and at the same time, everyone does their best to make certain I am not anywhere near them.  Where should I want to be?"

"Somewhere safe for a while.  You might not stay at the Keep for long, you know.  Lord Northgate will help you to find your way and get control."

"Yes.  Yes, you are right." The words seemed to reassure Liam, which surprised Connor and made him wonder what Liam saw and didn't see and what he understood about his own future.  Maybe they'd speak of it, later when his new friend was calmer and more settled in this new place.

Magra stepped from the room as they arrived.  She offered a bright smile.  "Well, there you are.  I hope the room meets your needs, young man.  If not, let us know.  Connor," she finished with a nod to him before she went on about her own business.

Liam stood by the door, looking at it with apparent consternation.

"What's wrong?"

"Something stupid," he admitted and bowed his head.  "I am a wildland fae, no matter what else.  I have never slept in a building before."

"Oh," Connor said. "This will be quite an adventure then, won't it?"

"Adventure?  Is that what I should call this insanity that ripped me from all I knew and gave me into the hands of total strangers?"

There -- there was the line he had been probing for all night.  He understood the real depth of what Liam felt with those words.

"I will help you make it into an adventure," Connor suggested.  "I will make sure that you are not alone here, either -- for all the good a human can do in some cases.  Also, remember that I am Lord Northgate's ward and you are now his foster son.  That gives us a power of a certain sort."

"The kind that Druce craves," Liam said.  "And no, I don't need any special power to see that in him.  He's jealous."

"Nylia says the same thing," he replied.  "Shall we go in?  Or would you rather go in by yourself?"

"Despite the fear of sounding childish, I would be happy if you would go in with me.  All this stone around us makes me uneasy.  I know it's silly.  Northgate is as old as the wind itself and not given to crushing fae out of hand.  But still --"

Connor gave a little laugh and finally pushed the door open, and blinked at something surprising.

Plants everywhere.  The scent of them filled the room and drifted out into the hall.  Liam looked startled and then took a step into the room ahead of Connor, glancing around with surprise and pleasure.

"This -- this is not what the other rooms are like?" he asked.

"Not at all.  Obviously, Magra and Lord Northgate anticipated that you would feel more comfortable in a garden than a bedroom."  He gave a little laugh.  "This is wonderful!  I've never been farther than the village, you know."

"Never?" he seemed shocked.  "Not even to the woods?"

"No.  There's been talk about going on a journey next spring, but Lord Northgate doesn't travel.  I think the others have been waiting until I grew older and have a chance of taking care of myself, even without magic."

Liam gave a distracted nod.  He had walked to one of the plants and brushed his hand against it, giving a contented sigh.  Connor left him in silence for a little while, and finally, Liam went and sat down on the edge of the bed, looking back at him with a nod.  He seemed more at ease than he had all night.

"I can do this," Liam finally said.  "I can anchor myself to this room and the plants that have no past or future. They give me a chance to let go, you know.  They don't care what I might say or see."

"You can trust us."

"I can trust you," he corrected.  "I don't trust everyone, but neither do you.  You aren't a fool.  Go get some rest.  I can sleep here, at least.  I can let go and be safe in this room.  And we'll have time to talk again tomorrow, and the next day.  And for a long time after that -- I can promise you that much."

Connor smiled as he stood.  "I'm glad to hear it.  Come across and knock on the door when you get up tomorrow.  I'll take you on a tour of the keep before we go to class."

"Class," he said and looked startled.
 
"It's not bad.  I think you'll like it.  It will give you a chance to learn more about Northgate and meet the others."

"Class," he said again and this time with a sigh.

Connor went back out of the room and across to his own.  He felt unexpectedly drained by the day.  The only dreams he had was of life in places he had never been, but he could imagine.

He slept well.



Friday, October 19, 2018

Flash Fiction #325 -- Connor of Northgate/9



Liam said little during the dinner -- not unfriendly, but more as though he studied them to see what was permitted.  Connor's friends soon joked and laughed again, and even Liam smiled more than once.

Connor had the feeling that maybe Liam didn't often relax.

As they stood to leave the dining hall, Connor noticed how Liam lost his link to now again.  Connor had started to take note of the changes which had occurred sometimes as they ate; the flickering of his eyes, the way the pupils grew larger, and how he moved out of step with what was around him.  Connor caught him by the arm when Liam almost blundered straight into his chair.  He wondered how Liam had avoided broken bones before now, though perhaps that was part of the problem -- just keeping Liam alive.

"Thank you.  That was very kind, Honor."

Druce, who had been passing nearby broke out into rude, loud laughter.  "Honor!  Him?"

Connor looked into the young man's face.  "I think I should be very proud to be called Honor by someone who glimpses the future."

Druce went red all the way to the tips of his pointed ears, and Connor feared they were about to come to blows.  However, his new companions, all older than Druce, and maybe wiser, caught him by the arm and took him away.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry --" Liam began.  He looked frightened and half ill.  "That happens around me.  I say things --"

"Don't worry," Erlis said with a tap on Liam's arm, a friendly touch and a smile.  "Truth is that was a long time coming between Connor and Druce, and I'm rather glad to see it go in Connor's favor.  Druce made a fool of himself and in front of a lot of others.  No harm done, except to his ego -- and trust me, Druce has ego enough to recover from this little confrontation.  Druce will get over it."

From the look Liam gave Erlis, Connor feared those last words were not going to prove true.

No matter.  Erlis had been right in one respect; this had been coming for a long time now.  He was sorry Liam got caught up in this mess, and right on the night of his arrival, but he said nothing.

Lord Northgate caught up with them at the door. 

"All is well?" he asked.  Connor had no doubt he'd heard about the little byplay already.

"Fine, thank you," Connor said and was purposely less formal.  He thought it would help if Liam realized they could be friendly here. 

"Good," Northgate smiled brightly.  Then he stopped.  "I think I have made a mistake I'm going to rectify right now.  Magra?  Can you have our new friend's room moved to the spot across from Connor's suite?"

"Oh yes," Magra said and gave a quick nod.  "Yes, that will work very well."

"If neither of you has any complaints?" Northgate asked.

"None from me," Connor said with a smile.

"I am honored that you took me in at all, sir," Liam said, which was more than he had said for most of the night.  His hand went to brush at his hair; a nervous gesture, Connor thought.  "I am grateful for the help and advice I will find here.  I need to be helped to the right path.  It's hard to see where to turn when so much else is crowding in."

"I don't envy you this power," Northgate replied.  Magra had already rushed off, calling to Isole and a few others. They would have the rooms changed quickly.  "If you are troubled, though, you can come to me at any time.  I'll help you as best I can.  And I'm sending to the Royal Court for more information.  They've had seers there in the past, and I think they might have some words of wisdom for all of us."

Connor suddenly wondered if Seers were so rare that Liam might be the only one alive.    He hadn't considered it, which made Liam a rarity indeed.  Maybe as much so as the only human ever born to the Keep of Northgate.

The others bade them good night.  Connor and Liam headed up the stairs to the rooms.  However, Connor paused at the first landing and looked at Liam, frowning this time.

"You don't want to be here, do you?"

"I want --" Liam began, then shook his head in dismay as though he had already said too much.

"You can talk to me.  I'm not like any of the others."

"You are different, but it's not because you are human. You have made yourself open to understanding.  The others -- most fae, in fact, -- are set in their ways.  They are not willing to open doors to things they don't understand.  It's part of their nature and no fault of theirs.  That so many have accepted you here comes from having seen you grow up among them.  You aren't really different, you know.  But that ... that will change.  They are coming of age, your friends."

"I know.  My friends will come into their magic and leave me behind."

"No."  He said the word with such determination that it caught Connor by surprise.  "No.  Your true friends will never leave you behind.  However, they will be changed in ways that will be obvious and sometimes painful.  I know."

"Ah."  He started up again but looked at Liam.  "The voice of one who has lived through it, in his own way."

"I had friends," he said with a sigh.  "We ran the woods together; climbed the trees, swimming in the ponds.  Then I changed, and they were worried about what I would see in them.  Especially after I saw Alisin fall from the cliff.  I tried to warn him.  He survived, though barely.  And changed.  And now the others --"

He stopped midway up the stairs and shook his head, giving Connor a look of worry again.  "I don't want to make the same mistake here."