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.

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