Friday, January 11, 2019

Flash Fiction # 337 -- Connor of Northgate/21

Pomp and ceremony. 

Connor had never seen so much of it in his life.   He'd heard the local fae preparing nearly two hours before dawn, and if he hadn't felt as though he would be underfoot, Connor would have helped in whatever way he could.  He didn't like waiting for something to happen.

The breakfast bell rang.  Food wasn't top on his list for the morning, but joining the others appealed to him.  Liam wasn't at his door, but Connor couldn't be sure if he'd gone down earlier or not. 

He'd never known any place but Northgate, and the world of the fae.  Oddly, Ordin's taunt had awakened in him a need to know more about his people, the humans.  Once they were past the testing and the oaths, he'd have to ask Lord Northgate some questions.  They were probably long overdue.

Flowers and ribbons decorated the already crowded dining hall; he wasn't the only one anxious to get started today -- and maybe anxious to have everything over with as well.

He could wish the others a pleasant journey home, to be honest.  Even Ordin.  Get them all out of Northgate and life back to normal.

Liam sat at the table already, his hands circling a cup of tea as though winter cold had invaded the room.  He gave a weary nod as Connor arrived, Rendon and Erlis right behind him.  Connor looked around and found Nylia talking with Druce, both of them somber and nodding.  That was better than the glares of not so long ago at least.  She left him with a nod and came to Connor's table.

"Someone tried to get into your room last night," Liam said as Connor took the chair beside him.

He should have realized Liam would know.

"He didn't get in," Connor said with a shrug and purposely reached for a plate and food.  Liam still frowned.  "I locked the door, Liam.  Someone would have had to use magic to get in, and that would have brought half the keep.  Let's not worry about what might have happened if I hadn't been wise enough to realize my enemies might just walk in on me."

Liam nodded.  "They won't be here much longer," he said, though he didn't sound very assured.  That didn't help Connor's state of mind.

"You talked to Nylia about my visitor, didn't you?"

"It was either her or go straight to Lord Northgate," Liam replied, looking up with a steady stare.  "Someone else needed to know -- someone who might be able to find answers without drawing down anger.  You can't argue it, Connor.  It's already done."

He realized Liam truly worried about his safety, and he couldn't decide if that reflected something he had seen or just a feeling from the situation.  Connor hadn't missed the few glances that came his way as he entered the room.  Few of them had been friendly, but none had been outright hostile.

Of course, Ordin hadn't arrived yet.  He came in with Antisha at his side, and Connor had the feeling of a bad dog on a short leash.  Ordin barely had time to turn Connor's way, and glare before Antisha tapped him on the arm, and they walked past.

Connor forced himself not to grin though Nylia let out a quiet little laugh.

"Don't make this worse for me," he said, meeting her amused stare.

"Worse?  I think a little humor is what we all need, Connor."

"Oh yes.  I'm sure Ordin is ready for it, right?"

She gave a shrug and went to her own food.

Connor ate little, though he mostly played with his food while the others ate.  He couldn't imagine how they kept their appetites today.  Even without the other trouble going on, the swearing of an oath to the royal court was a serious matter.
Perhaps they were accepting the inevitable part.  This was almost done.  Connor and his friends had passed.  Anyone of the outsiders who hadn't passed would have left, but he'd not taken the time to really pay attention, and there was no one noticeable missing from the room.  His group had made it through.  So had Druce and those at his table.  So he didn't think anyone from Northgate hadn't made the cut this year.  Better and better.

The ceremony itself would be at noon.  Connor went with his friends out to the gardens; better that than to wait alone in his room and listen for someone at the door.

He hadn't realized how much that moment had bothered him until he found himself clinging to the company of others.  He didn't like the feeling at all, but he suspected this would pass in the next couple days when all the strangers were gone.

Life would be different, though.  Now that he was beyond the Testing, there would be guard duty more than classes.  Since no one stood the guard alone, his lack of magic wasn't nearly as important as his excellent eyesight.  He'd done well enough in the training that even Godewyn -- whom he suspected was not entirely happy at having a human in his charge -- had noted it and given his approval for Connor to join the Guard.

Connor planned to still spend time with Rion, though.  He wanted to learn more about the keep, the fae, and all the fascinating history he'd come to love.  Connor wanted to learn about the humans, too, though.  He thought Rion might be able to help him there as well.

Court dress was tiresome:  Lace cuffs and high collars, stiff boots, and bulky embroidered vests.  He dressed and came to the door a little anxious when he opened it for fear of what he would find on the other side.  Liam was leaving his room as well and looking far less comfortable than him.  That reminded Connor that his companion was not Keep-born and probably had never thought of himself dressed up in such finery.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Flash Fiction #336 -- Connor of Northgate/20

The room had gone silent at Liam's words.

Ordin's face reddened, and he reached for Liam. Connor caught his arm.  It would have gone to blows if Antisha and Nylia hadn't arrived.  Antisha grabbed her comrade by the shoulder and propelled him away from the table.  He almost swung back but got himself in control.

"Go sit down.  Now."

"You know he cheated, Tisha!"

"I know no such thing.  Connor explained exactly what he did, and I found it a more than reasonable answer."

"He's human!  Humans lie!"

Connor hadn't expected that line.  He had to grab Erlis by the arm this time.  Ordin spread anger like a plague. All the fae must feel it, Connor realized.

Antisha stared at her companion, saying nothing more.  Ordin bowed his head and stalked to the table where the rest of her group sat.

"I apologize for Ordin because he would only do so at my orders, and that's no apology at all."

She turned away before Connor had a chance to speak.

"At least they'll soon be out from underfoot," Nylia said as she patted Connor on the shoulder.  "Don't let him push you into something where he can justify using his powers."

"I hope never to see him again," Connor replied.

That settled the conversation.  They finished the meal in quiet.  Connor retired early, heading upstairs before any of the others, though Liam, as usual, trailing along with him.  The seer looked glum.

"You aren't letting Ordin bother you, are you?" Connor asked as they started up the last flight of stairs.  Lights flickered brightly in the lamps as the day grew dark and the light from the far window waned.  "Are you worried about how they treat you because you associate with me?"

"I'm safe," Liam said with a wave of his hand.  "Ordin can cause you trouble, Connor.  I'd never thought anyone would attack you for being human --"

"You didn't?  I've wondered why it took so long," Connor replied.  Liam looked startled.  "Really, Liam. This isn't a problem --"

Liam stopped moving and shook his head.  A vision?  Connor didn’t ask.  "I think it will be a problem," Liam finally said.  "If they suspect I'm helping you, Connor, then your life will be in danger.  Right now you are only Lord Northgate's odd ward. Tomorrow you take your oath, and people will realize you are a part of the society --"

"I shouldn't take the oath?"

"That would be unfair to you," Liam said.  "I will tell you this as a friend, not a Seer; you are safer inside society than outside it."

"He's right."

They both jumped, and Connor caught Liam before he slipped. Nylia stood half a floor behind them and looked amused by the reaction.

"You have gotten far too quiet," Connor accused. Nylia had obviously followed them for a reason.  "What's wrong now?"

"Antisha talked to me about Ordin.  He's going to be a problem, in case you missed that point.  She's not sure why, except that you might be a block between him and his goal."

"Which is -- no, let me guess.  He wants to be heir to Northgate."

"Good guess."  She looked down the stairs, but no one else appeared.  "Lord Northgate has repeatedly said he will choose someone from Northgate, which only makes sense, but Ordin thinks he can still win the position."

"Even Ordin can't believe he would choose me," Connor said with a shake of his head.

Nylia gave a little shrug.  "He isn't the first to suggest it."

"Have you people gone crazy?" Connor demanded and won a laugh from Liam this time.  "Or are you just trying to make my life difficult?"

"Oh, don't worry.  None of us who actually know you well have ever suggested it."

Connor laughed.  For a moment it felt more like the old days. She slapped him in the arm and gave a wry shake of her head.  "Antisha has hinted to me that Ordin will be more trouble and he might get out of hand.  She's warned him; but he's stubborn, spoiled, and convinced that your presence is an insult to him.  His family has had trouble with humans in the far past, but that's no reason for him to create this problem.  He's looking for a step up."

"And I'm an easy target."

She agreed with a more serious nod.  "Don't think about dropping out, though.  Ordin has annoyed Lord Northgate.  He can't win by his current behavior unless you let him."

Connor nodded.  Nylia went back downstairs and headed for her rooms.  Liam watched her, and then looked back at him.  "She's smart.  Listen to her."

Connor supposed that was Liam's way of stating what he wanted to without taking credit for it.

"I will consider what she said.  Still, it might be best for a single human to back out of this, you know.  You don't want the kind of trouble that will bring about a long time feud.  It's not worth it."

"Depends, really, on what the feud is actually over, doesn't it?" Liam asked as he paused by his door.  "You and I are pawns, Connor. We've trouble on the way, my friend, and it's coming from different areas, but ... I don't see it clearly.  I just feel a link."

Connor nodded and watched as Liam went into his room, a momentary flash of green and the scent of dirt and plants drifting out until the door closed.  Connor stood there a moment longer and then went into his room.  He pulled the lock into place; something he hadn't done before.  His intuition told him this wasn't a time to take chances.

Late in the night, he came awake to the sound of someone trying the door.  As he rose, he heard the rapid retreat of footsteps down the hall.  Connor didn't open the door to check, but he spent a sleepless night sitting by the window.