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."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Flash Fiction #324 -- Connor of Northgate/8




The fae introduced themselves to Lord Northgate, but Connor paid little attention.  The woman pointed to Liam and gave his name, but no more.  Connor stayed out of the way; if they thought this little of one of their own for being different, they wouldn't think much of him at all.

Godewyn gave him a nod when Connor stepped out of the way and made no show.  Everyone swept past him, Liam coming at the rear, a bag slung over his shoulder and looking more like a forgotten servant than the person around whom all this excitement revolved.  He was not very tall, his dark eyes looking downward, and a fall of black hair hiding half his face.

Liam looked his way and nodded.  "I'm Liam."

"Connor," he said with a bow of his head. 

"Human."

"Yes."

Liam nodded and fell in beside him.  He looked distracted as he glanced to his right and nodded as though someone spoke to him.  Afterward, he sighed, his head bowed.

"It's hard, sometimes, to track the now and not the then."

Connor didn't know quite what that meant, but he thought he would learn.  He almost asked a question, but someone came up to the right of Liam.

"The rest of us won't be staying long," the man said.

And Liam gave the same nod he had a moment before.

So, that was worth noting.  Liam had trouble telling the real from the unreal -- or not unreal, but not yet happened.

Once in the Great Hall, Lord Northgate took formal custody of his new fosterling.  The rest of Liam's group left with such haste that it shocked the others.

Liam went to the door to see them off.  Lord Northgate followed and signaled Connor along as well.  The others quickly rode out the gate, not even staying for dinner.  Liam looked just as happy to see them go.

"Well, are you up for a good meal, young man?" Lord Northgate asked, giving him a friendly smile at last.  Apparently having the rest of the Wildland fae away didn't bother him much either.

"Thank you, yes," Liam said with a bow of his head.  Well-mannered.  Some of Connor's friends had told him the wild fae didn't know about court rituals and common politeness. Liam knew, even if the others were not quite as polite.

Liam had trouble fully connecting to here and now, though.  He apparently had to concentrate, but in a lapse, he took a misstep as they entered the dining hall, and nearly went down.

Connor caught him before he fell and Liam gave him a grateful nod.  "Thank you."

"You can sit at Connor's table if you like.  You should meet his friends.  You'll be spending a great deal of time with them, I think," Lord Northgate said with a nod towards the table at the side of the room.

"If it won't bother them?" Liam asked, looking to Connor.

"If it does, they'll get over it," he replied -- an honest answer, which was better than telling Liam there would be no trouble at all.  He would not lie.

Liam went with him to the table, concentrating while he introduced Nylia, Erlis, and Rendon. Erlis moved slightly to make room on the bench where he and Connor usually sat. Most groups had six or more to a table, but the four of them had always had this spot to themselves.

"I will not tell you anything you do not want to hear," Liam said before he sat down.  "That I promise you.  Never on purpose, at least -- but I am sometimes lost in the visions, and I can't help what I say.  Sometimes what I say is not what you think -- my people learned that quickly enough and were glad to be rid of me rather than trying to second-guess everything."

Bitterness there.  Connor wondered about Liam's family, and if they had been with the group.

"Sit down," Nylia said with a wave of her arm.  Gracious, really, and smiling.  "Sit down and have dinner."

The other two nodded, less certain, but that had always been their way.  That they still sat with Connor, though, showed them open to things outside their normal world. There had been others -- like Druce, who had taken leave of their table a couple years before when he began to understand that human meant.

Connor happened to be looking Druce's way as Liam settled into the chair.  Druce glared, but then he often did, and Connor didn't think it was Liam who won that look tonight.

The people serving tonight brought the food to the table, polite and quick.

"Let us be thankful to all creation for the gifts of the table tonight," Lord Northgate said, giving the nightly blessing.  "Let us live in abundance and peace, and do naught which is evil in the eyes of any."

Liam nodded, his eyes lingering on the Lord of Northgate, the man who now ruled his life.  Connor had studied what fostering meant, and usually, it was the passing of a child --an heir -- on to another keep so the child would be raised by strangers, and not spoiled by his or her parents.

Lord Northgate had no heirs, though.  None of the other lords had fostered children here, either. Connor had assumed it was because Northgate was a dangerous place.  Tonight, though, he wondered if the reason might be because of the human who lived here.

The meal went well.  Liam relaxed, and although there were lapses when he stared or started, he remained polite and quiet.  Connor hoped he became more used to them as the days went by.

The meal went long as everyone relaxed.  That felt good after the last few days when everyone worried about the coming of the seer and what he might see in them.  None had said it, but they couldn't help but think those thoughts, Connor realized.  He had as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Flash Fiction #323 -- Connor of Northgate/7


Conner stared down where they took the bodies from the cart.  He felt no love for trolls, who had killed both his parents.  He also knew that being near the creatures, even dead, gave him nightmares that he didn't want to relive.

Now wasn't the time to drag them back to the light. Instead, Connor took up the book he had been studying about the Fae High Court.  He'd feared it would be boring when Rion, the teacher who saw over his generation, handed the collection to Connor.

Instead, the tales proved to be fantastic adventures, deeds of wonder, hope -- and treachery.  He had read more than half of it already.  The stories called to him in an odd way; it wasn't always magic that won against evil.

The day went normally enough, despite the whispers and worries that spread through the keep.  No classes and no training today, it being a tenth day anyway.  Conner spent some time in the library but hadn't found much on seers.  He didn't bother to ask the others; they speculated so much that he realized he'd done more research than any of them.

The day drifted to a gray and blustery mid-afternoon.  Clouds scuttled across the bright sky and a brisk breeze blew past cracks.  People had stopped whispering about the boy and speculated on the weather again, which was always changeable.  Connor went to his room.  He had an excellent view from his window and saw anyone coming into the courtyard.

The party arrived late; almost the hour of dinner, which he had feared would be held up, much to his stomach's dismay.  Connor heard Lord Northgate and his people heading down the hall to greet the strangers as the gate opened.

Connor almost joined them, but he had not been invited.  He knew how to act appropriately in court, and one did not push his way into the Lord's retinue, though some who knew better still did so.  Connor waited until Lord Northgate was well down the stairs and then followed, along with others probably hoping for a short ceremony and a long dinner.
 
Connor paused as others took their places in the High Hall.  His own position was at the front row of benches, before the Northgate throne. Lord Northgate's own children would sit there once he married.  For now, his human ward held the place of honor.  That infuriated some visitors -- and a few locals as well, though they rarely dared say anything to him and never to Northgate.

Connor started for the bench, but instead, he move to the double doors where his benefactor and a few others stood. He kept back, but Lord Northgate gave a signal with his left hand.  The right, as always, rested in a silken sling.  He'd taken that injury in the same battle that had killed Connors parents.  It would never heal.   heard the word poison whispered sometimes, and it seemed a dire word, and something others wanted to ignore.  He never asked.

Connor came forward and gave a proper little bow of his head.

"Good to have you here, Connor," Northgate said and meant those words.  Truth was a power that came clearly to Fae words.  "The boy is going to be troubled enough, and I fear the others are going to be wary of him because of his gift."

"I thought so as well, my Lord," Connor said softly.  He looked out the partly open door. They were just dismounting now, a dozen fae with one smaller figure in their midst.  "I thought we might have some things in common, the two of us being different and neither really belonging here."

He hadn't expected Lord Northgate's hand to come down on his shoulder, the fingers tightening and drawing Connor's startled attention.  There was a look in the man's face that he had never seen before.

"This is your home, Connor," he said, his voice soft.  "You do belong here.  I can't deny you are different than the fae children, but I don't ever want you to feel as though you don't belong."

"That was badly worded on my part," he said in haste.  He didn't want Northgate upset. The man had always -- always -- been more than kind to him.  "I can't imagine any other life. I am different, and so is Liam from what I learned.  It might help him to realize he's not the only one."

Lord Northgate gave a pensive nod.  Godewyn, standing beside him, looked bothered and gave Connor a frown, though he couldn't of a reprimand or only an agreement that things were not, indeed, normal.

No matter.  The group started up to the steps to the Keep's great outer doors, which stood open already.  A group of four fae led the way, all of them in the bright colors and varied styles of the Wildlands.

"Lord Northgate," the woman in the lead said, bowing her head to him.  "We are grateful that you are willing to help us with our problem."

The tone of the words almost made Connor wince. They apparently wanted Liam out of their hands, and they weren't trying to hide the fact. He looked past the woman and the others and saw Liam lingering a step lower, looking up at the Keep with a bit of worry.  He would never have lived in such a place, Connor realized. In the Wildlands they didn't even live in cottages, but only temporary huts and tents.

"It is an honor to have him here," Northgate replied with the words steady and the truth a power in themselves.  Connor saw Liam look his way with surprise. "The gifts of the Seer are difficult to bear, and I hope that we might make this coming into power easier for him."

The woman gave a nod, half-distracted, as though she genuinely didn't care.