Thursday, January 31, 2019
The battle raged somewhere else. Connor heard the sound echoing everywhere around them. "Leave the others and run? "I can't --"
"The trolls have help!" Liam dragged Connor toward the doorway. "I suspect Ordin is with them, but I can't be certain. All I know is that if you don't hide, you can't get us free. Look for the opening. Follow the breeze."
"That makes no sense, Liam," he protested. "Let me get my boots!"
Liam's light made it easier to find the boots at the end of the bed. Connor sat down and pulled them on, looking up again to see Liam watching nervously down the hall. "I don't understand."
Liam looked at him, startled. "I didn't say? They can find the rest of us because of magic. They can't find you, Connor. They won't find you because you are not magical and they have no way to trace you. That means you'll be able to free people, later. That's our only hope."
"Damn." It made sense now. He had the boots on and he let Liam take his arm again and head for the stairs -- but there his friend let go of his arm.
"Stay clear of any sounds. Get out of the Keep. That's the best I can tell you." Liam shook his head, distracted, and then focused again. "Too much going on. Every moment changes things. I can still see hope in you."
Liam started to shove him away, looking frantically down the hall as though he knew -- and he probably did -- that trouble would soon appear. Connor, propelled as much by the urgency as the shove, started down the steps.
"Connor --" Liam said, his voice almost trembling. Connor, already six stairs down, looked back, worried. His friend appeared pale and shaken. "Don't forget me."
Liam spun, dropped his magical light, and disappeared into the dark.
Connor almost called after him. Or cursed. However, Liam's sense of urgency overcame the other emotions. He hurried down the stairs, heard shouts in the hall on the next level, and rushed past, down and down. Movement caught the edge of his vision at the main floor so he went to the edge of the kitchens -- sounds there as well, and none of them good. He rushed down the curving stairs at the end of the hall into the storage area.
Connor found places to hide in amongst the baskets and sacks of food. He burrowed in to bags of potatoes and onions, carefully pulling some in around him, and barely in time.
"Nothing down here," a voice said as light filled the area like lightning come to ground. Fae voice, not a troll. "He couldn't have gotten past us all. Not a human."
Another said something too low for Connor to hear. The light died.
"Yes, we'll send someone down to go through it piece-by-piece," the first said.
Connor didn't move, listening -- and finally heard mumbled words, the two leaving. Had they thought him so stupid that he would assume they were gone if they were quiet?
Ordin's people might think that of a human. Connor would use that against them.
Connor left his place of safety and hurried to the stairs. Trolls were ransacking the High Hall while fae watched on; a nondescript set of fae so he couldn't say where they might be from and he wasn't entirely certain what they even wanted.
To take over the Northgate Keep? Could they hold out against the Royal Court and the other Keeps? This could not be an attack by all of them, could it? Why? Because of him?
No, that was crazy.
Connor carefully moved along the shadows, looking for places to hide, keeping well out of sight. He saw a group of fae take Nylia away, and Druce with her, both of them only partly conscious. They went out into the courtyard. Connor could see a flickering light through the open door.
Connor couldn't go out that door, and came close to getting him caught just being close. He headed into the darker shadows, and felt a breeze where there shouldn't have been one. Follow the breeze, Liam had said.
The enemy had blown a section of the wall apart. Maybe the sound of the explosion had awakened him. He couldn't imagine how they'd gotten this close without someone giving the alarm.
Outside the wall, Connor found bodies of those who had raced to stop the invader. People he knew lay dead at his feet as he tried to move silently past --
And stopped to kneel by one.
Damn Liam! He had to know Rendon would die. He could have stopped this! He could have said something, because this wasn't a good future, and nothing Liam could say to him would make him believe that the Seer had done the right thing in letting Rendon -- and the others -- die.
Liam became one of the enemy.
Until now Connor had taken this as a personal attack, but the sight of his dead companion brought the true nature of the attack to light. When he touched Rendon's cold, still arm, the truth came to him, the full horror of a battle against the Keep and all in it. They were hunting him, but they had already killed others.
Connor was almost so lost in his anger that he didn't hear the others coming. No time to run and hide --
He threw himself down beside Rendon, playing dead.
"I told you! The Trolls haven't come and shored the wall up up yet. Go get them now!"
"I'm not facing them down by myself," a woman said, her voice haughty despite her words. "You want them, you come with me. You saw that they did to Laster."
Connor could see a hint of movement from the corner of his eye, and as soon as they disappeared, he rose and found a body around the corner of the wall, and carried it back by Rendon.
Friday, January 25, 2019
The idea that Ordin wanted to be heir to Northgate bothered Connor in ways he could not fully explain, even to himself. It was just wrong, and not just because of this attitude toward the one human in their midst.
"Does he think annoying Lord Northgate is the way to the position?" Connor asked.
"No," Nylia replied. Her voice softened. "Lord Northgate hasn't named an heir, and if he dies, then the Royal Court names the next Lord to rule here. Unless he physically passes the power on when he dies, it's going to be an open Keep."
Erlis shook his head. "He won't let that happen. Besides, even with that damned poison in him, he's doing well."
The others agreed; all except for Liam who stared at his food. That sent a chill through Connor.
Perhaps Lord Northgate only waited for the right person to come of age. Would it be one of this group? Nylia, he thought, would make a suitable heir. She had a good head for trouble. Liam? A seer as heir might be powerful and make a very powerful Lord, though maybe that would be too much and worry others. Druce if he settled down? He couldn't see either Erlis or Rendon in the role. Possibly Godewyn -- but for some reason, the older man had never been named the heir, and there must be a reason.
Connor didn't want to worry over it. Not tonight.
The rest of the meal went well. Laughter rose everywhere, and even the servants -- who were on their last day of service, which would be turned over to another set in the morning -- were in a good mood. The food tasted excellent, though Connor wasn't stupid enough to try anything before one of his friends did a check. Had Ordin tried to kill him with the poison?
It seemed too subtle for Ordin. The magic hadn't been traced, and he couldn't imagine Ordin being that careful.
So someone else was after him as well. Working with Ordin?
Connor almost asked, but then realized that he didn't want to upset the others on this fine night. Liam gave him an odd look, but maybe that was his sudden silence. Connor tried not to read too much into what Liam saw.
Food, a bit of fine wine -- a good way to spend the night. Everyone seemed calmer, and even Druce came and sat at their table for a moment, joining in the conversation like in the old days. He and Nylia joked. Connor hoped that meant the trouble was past.
Later, Lord Northgate walked out with Connor, Rendon, and Liam. He patted Connor on the shoulder.
"You did well today, Connor. Thank you." He gave a sideways glance. "You look more like your father every day."
There was an odd thought. Connor looked like someone he felt he had no connection to at all. That brought him back to other thoughts, though.
"I would like to learn more about humans. I think it time I find out what I am."
Lord Northgate nodded as though this was expected. Maybe this was another sign of coming of age. Connor felt oddly better for thinking about his own heritage.
Connor and Liam parted company at the doors to their rooms. He almost thought Liam was going to say something, but his friend turned away and firmly closing the door before Connor had even gone into his room. He supposed that meant he was safe, so Connor didn't worry when he went into his suite.
The bed looked comfortable. Connor stripped off clothing and rubbed at his still sore wound. He'd forgiven Druce, though he didn't expect the two of them to face each other again in any practice field. Not soon. It would take a while before he could feel comfortable in that relationship.
Connor laid down and blew out the candle -- the others used magic for light, of course. It marked him as different again, and that moment in the dark between wake and sleep seemed filled with dread and monsters. They did not plague him for long; he fell into a deep and restful sleep for the first time in days.
And awoke with a start, the room still pitch black. Had something moved in his room? He held his breath, listening for the sound that would be a prelude to attack. His fingers found the edge of his blanket, ready to toss it aside.
Connor heard a sound again. Not in his room, though. Something outside. He threw himself from the bed and grabbed at his pants and tunic before he even got to the window to open the shutter.
He heard shouts. Yells, and then a scream that turned his blood cold and made him fumble with his clothing. He couldn't see much from his window, though things moved down there that were not human.
Trolls, of course. Trolls had made their way into the Keep without raising the alarm. He cursed and went to the cupboard to grab his sword. They were under attack --
Someone pounded on the door.
"Connor!" Liam shouted.
Connor threw back the lock. Liam pushed the door open so fast that he nearly knocked Connor down. The little light Liam had brought with him flickered as though he had trouble even keeping that fueled.
Connor could hear frantic sounds in the building itself, and some of them not good.
"Get out of here and hide," Liam said, his voice frantic. "Do it now. Don't fight anything you don't have to."
"Do it!" Liam ordered, with far more force than was usual. "You are the only hope we have, Connor -- but you have to get clear of this tonight."
"I can't just --"
Liam caught hold of his arm, the fingers tight enough to bruise. "Listen to me. If you don't do this -- it's not good, Connor. Just not good. You have to hide while they take the rest of us."
Friday, January 18, 2019
"I don't see the point in this," Liam admitted with a glare at his fancy jacket.
"Show, my friend. And that's fine, really," Connor said as he straightened his right cuff.
"At least this shouldn't take long." Liam put a hand on Connor's arm and drew his attention. "Watch yourself."
Taking this oath marked the only significant change a fae would really go through, passing from childhood to adulthood. Antisha and her people went first, then the rest of them in whatever order they happened to arrive. Some went boldly up to Lord Northgate, but others -- like Liam -- apparently didn't like to be in the spotlight. He swore his oath and hurried on, looking vastly relieved.
Or maybe he had expected something to go wrong? Connor stepped closer and knelt --
"How can you trust this human?" Ordin demanded from where he stood, not nearly far enough away. "He is not one of us. And humans lie. It's their nature. We cannot accept this creature into our fold!"
Some others made small sounds of agreement. Antisha grabbed Ordin's arm, but he shook her off this time.
"I have taken my oath. I am no longer a child to be silenced."
"Excellent point," Lord Northgate said, his voice quite calm. "You are now an adult, and I can deal with you as one. One more remark during the oath and you'll find out what it means to be a true adult and face the results of your words."
Ordin paled and took a step back. Antisha looked to Connor and gave a nod that was at least partly apology.
"Connor of Northgate," Lord Northgate began, drawing his attention. "Do you swear on your honor -- as all the others have -- that will accept the laws and the rule of the High Court and always work to the benefit of those you serve?"
A few of the words had not been part of the regular oath, but clearly, Ordin and his companions had annoyed Lord Northgate, even if it didn't show in the older man's face.
Connor bowed his head. "I do so swear this oath on my honor and on my life."
"I accept your oath in the name of the Royal Court. Stand and take your place with us."
He did, and Lord Northgate smiled this time, clearly happy. He even patted Connor on the shoulder and sent him on to join the others.
Ordin remained close by, his face red with rage. Antisha had abandoned him, and stood with others, her face dark with anger. She might fear his behavior reflected on her and the Royal Court itself, Connor supposed. The fae were usually extremely careful about such things. He couldn't imagine what had prompted Ordin to such an attack at that time. He couldn't believe it would stop the oath, did he?
Did he think others would step up and agree? There had been a little rumbling among people who might have agreed, but they'd done more than mumble. Connor looked at Liam who gave a slight nod of relief, and the two of them -- whom others did watch still -- moved off to the side where Rendon and Erlis already stood.
"Oh, he's made no new friends," Rendon said with a lift of his chin toward Ordin. "No one wants to annoy Lord Northgate now."
"I haven't made any new friends either though," Connor added. "No matter. Tomorrow they'll be gone. I think I'll be safe enough here."
"Safe enough," Liam agreed. "As much so as the rest of us."
Which won worried glances from Rendon and Erlis of them. They didn't ask.
There were no more problems with the oath-taking. The relief to have the ceremony done spread through the High Hall and people went out in groups, some glancing his way. His smile seemed to reassure them. He wanted this latest problem to disappear, along with everyone else. There was no reason to linger on it tonight when by morning everyone would be gone.
They settled at their usual table that evening, though the room was far fancier than he'd seen it before. Laughter drifted from everywhere, and everyone seemed happy. He caught sight of Ordin across the room at a table with a few others, though not Antisha. She sat with Lord Northgate, in fact, as suited her new stature.
"What should I know about Ordin?" Connor finally asked. "I suspect he's still going to be a problem in the future, even if he isn't here."
"His father is the king's brother," Nylia said. Connor wasn't surprised, considering his attitude. "His mother is the sister of Lady Eastgate. He has ties to both places, but he's not a political power -- at least not yet. Antisha says he's always had a bad temper and likes to pick fights."
"And I'm an easy target," Connor said.
"Until he finds another," Rendon added. "If he likes a fight, you are not going to stay top on his list. You're smarter than him -- you won't let him push you, right?"
Connor laughed. "I am trying my best not to get dragged into that sort of mess. We only have tonight to get through, though. Then we'll be done with him, at least here."
"I've heard rumors there is more political play at the Royal Court this season than there has been in a while." Rendon looked bothered and with cause; political play at such a high level could turn into a devastating war. "We need to walk carefully around our fine Ordin."
"This was his second time at the testing," Nylia said. "The last time he actually never made it all the way to Northgate before he was sent back. So if he's this bad now, you can imagine what his behavior must have been back then."
"I think he wants to be heir to Northgate," Erlis said and drew startled stares. "He's ambitious and hasn't many places where he can hope to move up."
Friday, January 11, 2019
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
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."
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.