Thursday, May 30, 2019

Flash Fiction # 357 -- Connor of Northgate/41

 "Connor, there is something you haven't seemed to grasp," Nylia said. "Yes, we are all fey, and we have powers that we are born with, and some stronger than others.  Those are powers you cannot have or understand.  However, the gate powers are not the same.  They are physically passed on to the new lord.  Any of us would face the same problems as you, though, granted we might have a little better understanding.  I don't see where that precludes you from learning, though."

Connor hadn't considered that aspect of this mess.  Maybe if he'd had some time before the change --but no one had expected such a disaster.

"Thank you.  This has been confusing. I still think if one of you had been there with us--"

"It still would have gone to you," Antisha said. "Lord Northgate had discussed the possibility with my father two years ago to make certain of the laws.  You would have been the heir.  No one expected you to take the rule of the gate for a long time, though."

More news he hadn't expected, but it made more sense of things. If Lord Northgate hadn't thought Connor capable of the work, he could have let the power go back to the stone, and the king and court would have dealt with the problem of installing a new lord.

Connor felt a sense of calm for the first time since this trouble began.

"The journey back to Northgate isn't going to be easy," Earlis added. "Is the king going to give us guards?"

"No," Antisha said.  That drew everyone's attention.  "He's going to give us a chance to get away unnoticed, instead."

"Oh yes, every wise," Conner said.

"Is it?" Erlis asked and looked confused.

"A few soldiers wouldn't be enough to help us.  An entire army would invite attack.  Far better if we can get clear and head for home with little notice."

"How are we ever going to slip away?" Nylia asked.

"The king is sending a few guards and me with the Centaurs when they go home."

"I thought you said -- Oh." Erlis smiled.  "We play guards.  The centaur lands are between us and home."

"The centaurs will denounce having a human as a gate lord," she added with a smile.  "This is completely for show. We don't want you involved in that part of the game, Connor.  If you were there, it would have to go to a battle between Braslyn and you.  Without your presence, the Centaurs can leave in anger.  I've always been a favorite with them, so it won't look odd for me to go along to smooth things over.  You'll act as a set of guards hastily called to go along.  I trust you won't have a problem wearing the uniform of the King's Own?"

"An honor," Connor replied with a bow of his head.  Then he looked at Liam.  "You are very quiet."

"I am reassessing my position," Liam replied.  The words sounded oddly straight forward and without any hesitation. Liam sat up straighter. "I've been worried about taking people to the wrong path, you know. I looked at everything, looked again, and finally gave so little advice that I might as well not have been with you at all."

"But -" Antisha began.

Liam lifted his hand and silenced everyone.  "I need to reconsider why I'm here.  There is a reason, and it's not simply so that you carry me around from place to place.  Here is what I see: one path leads to Galen winning. That is not the path we want.  I will try my best to keep us from that path, but I cannot see far, you know.  Everything branches."

"But you are willing to give us some direction this time," Connor said.

"Yes.  Because I saw the chaos and the way thins might have gone without direction.  I am a seer.  There are not many in our history.  It's time I step forward and do my duty."

"You did not help Galen," Nylia said.

"No, I did not. If Galen had killed me for holding back, you would have been no worse off for not having me, especially if I wasn't willing to give you any real advice.  That's changing."

"So, you think we're doing the right thing?" Erlis asked.

"I think you are doing the wisest thing under the circumstances. I don't know what will happen.  If I see something you should know, I'll tell you."

"Fair enough," Connor replied.  "I won't badger you for answers."

Liam gave a slight smile.

"Be ready," Antisha said as she stood.  "Which would you prefer?  Tomorrow night or before dawn?"

They all looked around the room.  Erlis was the one who gave a sigh finally.  "I suspect it would go better at a regular time?  People would suspect a line if we left before dawn."

"That's what I think," Antisha said.  She glanced at Liam but then shook her head.  "No, I don't need you to tell us when we are doing something that is obviously smart.  I'll bring your uniforms tonight. We'll work out the details tomorrow."

"One last day of living well," Nylia said with a sigh.  She stood and stretched.  "I'll see you at dinner."

The others wandered out, though Liam stayed until last. "I can't guarantee that everything will go well," he said as he stopped by the door.  "Even if I push you in the direction I think is best, there are far too many possible changes.  We have to be careful, Connor.  You have to look at possibilities, too.  Talk to me about them.  The paths I see are just shadows; knowing some specific possibilities can help define them."

Connor nodded.  Liam left.

Connor sat by the desk for a moment longer.  So much to take in.

Light played along the tips of his fingers.  Connor took a deep breath and calmed.  He hadn't failed yet.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Flash Fiction #356 -- Connor of Northgate/40

Chapter Twelve

"He can't mean to keep me on as Lord Northgate," Connor said, sitting at the desk in the rooms he'd been assigned.  "That's just not possible."

The others looked at him as though he had gone crazy.  Druce, Nylia, Erlis, Liam -- even Antisha stared with disbelief.

"Why not?" Nylia asked.

"I'm human!" he all but shouted.  The servant, just coming into the room, gave him an odd look.  The battle had been three days before, and Connor had been increasingly worried. They would be heading back to Northgate soon, and that meant the king would name a new lord before then.

"You need to calm," Erlis said.  "Accept whatever happens next.  We're behind you, Connor."

"You are Lord Northgate," Antisha said.  The others still sometimes looked a little worried to be in the company of the princess.  "The situation might change, but I've seen no sign that my father intends to remove you from the post.  So you must start acting -- and believing -- that Northgate is in your hands."

"I can barely control the magic," he admitted, though that had been obvious over the last few days.  The others were helping, but it was not easy.

"That's no different than what the rest of us experienced when we first felt our own magic awakening," Erlis reminded him.  "You remember the trouble poor Rendon had."

That brought bittersweet smiles to all of them.  Connor would miss him.  For a moment, emotions surged, but he fought it back before he had more than a little flash of light at his fingertips.

"Sorry," he said.

"You are doing very well," Antisha replied.

"This is not what I ever wanted."  Connor put both his hands on the desk and closed his eyes, fighting back panic and anger.  "I'm not sure it's what I should be doing."

"None of us know for certain.  But Lord Northgate named you his heir, Connor," Nylia said.  "We intend to honor that choice."

"It may have been that I was the only one there, you know," he said.  "If one of you had been there --"

"I don't think that's true," Erlis replied.  "I have always thought he was going to name you."

"That's crazy.  I'm human."

"If you can learn to control the magic, then there is no reason why you can't hold the position," Antisha replied.  The others nodded agreement.  "If you cannot learn, then we'll deal with the problem.  And yes, that is exactly what my father said."

Connor started to speak.  He stopped.  Maybe this was something he needn't worry about just now.  Control the magic.  After all, he hadn't asked anyone if he could be rid of it and just be human again.

Because he didn't want to lose the magic?  He'd spent many years wishing he could be like the others.  Now that he had the chance, maybe he should work to at least try and understand what it meant.

"We'll be leaving for Northgate tomorrow morning," Antisha announced and drew everyone's attention again.  "Yes, I am going back with you.  I'll report to my father on everything that happens so you can consider me an official spy."

Connor laughed.  "I have been wondering what your official position might be."
"I am Princess Antisha," she said with a lift of her head.  "Royal Spy.  It suits me.  I was always snooping on my brothers and getting them into trouble."

"Good of you to warn us what to expect, then," Nylia said with a grin.

"Well, I don't expect you'll be sneaking extra cookies from the kitchen, but you never know."

They all laughed. The servants went about their work, giving them curious looks.  Connor hadn't tried to hide anything from them; it seemed unwise, knowing how the servants gossiped back at Northgate.

The others knew about losing Lord Northgate by now.  They knew about Connor, too.  Word had gone there as fast as possible.

Conner had to wonder what they were thinking; they had been loyal to Lord Northgate, and while many had always been kind to him, he suspected having a human lord was a different matter entirely.

"You're brooding," Antisha warned.

"He's been doing that a lot," Nylia added.

"I do not brood.  I simply think a great deal about the future."

"Implying there is nothing good in the future,"  Antisha added.  "Given that look on your face."

Connor wondered if she had gone quite entirely crazy.  He tried to come up with something to say that would help them see the full depth of the problems.  Finally, he simply waved his hand in frustration.  "I'm human!"

Earlis was the one to pat him on the shoulder.  "We had noticed."

"I don't see how you can all take this so lightly," he admitted.

"Most of us have known you a long time," Nylia said with a glance at Antisha who was the only newcomer to the group.  "Should we mistrust you?"

Connor looked over at Antisha.  She smiled.

"I am a spy.  I get to reserve judgment.  "However, do remember that we have worked together at a time you had no idea you would be the next Lord of Northgate. My father was especially pleased with how you kept the power of Northgate out of Galen and Ordin's hands.  You will get your chance at fulfilling Lord Northgate's wish that you be his heir."

"He should have prepared me.  I have no training."

"You have had exactly the same training as the rest of us," Earlis said.

"Except for that rather important magical stuff," Connor pointed out with some frustration.

"And you really think that's what makes a gate lord?" Nylia asked.

"I -- I don't know.  You can't tell me it's not important."

Nylia leaned forward, all humor disappearing from her face.  Connor could hear the sounds of others preparing for trouble.  They still had the problem of Lord Galen lose out there with the trolls and the power of his own gate to call upon.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Flash Fictione # 355 -- Connor of Northgate/39

Galen shouted a curse as he drew his sword.  However, he didn't attack Connor, who had anticipated his move.  Instead, he leapt at the king.

Connor threw himself between them.  He had no weapon, and though he did have magic, he had no training to use it. He tried to fend off the sword and took a bad cut across his arm, but he threw the man off.

Ordin leapt and attacked him -- with magic.

"You won't win!"

As though they played some game.  Connor fended off Galen and felt a painful brush of power from Ordin. He fell to the floor.

Connor rolled over and saw that a guard had a sword at Lord Galen's throat.  Liam had attacked Ordin, knocking him down with a blast of power.

The King and Queen both stood calmly by, and the look they gave Galen was not one of an ally.

"I am not a fool," the king said.  "You put on a fine show for those poor people out there, but I knew the power of Northgate hadn't returned to the stone.  That meant there was something untrue in your tale, Galen."

"I -- I didn't kill Lord Northgate," Connor said with a hand on his bleeding arm as he sat up.  "I didn't kill Antisha."

"I know. Neither did Ordin, though he tried hard enough. Ah, there you are, daughter."

Antisha entered the room with Nylia, Erlis, and Druce.  She looked pale and bruised, which proved how serious her injuries must have been since magic had not completely healed her.
"We've freed all the others, father," she said with a bow of her head and then a glare at Galen.  "You'll not be taking power from them anymore."

Ordin panicked, but Galen didn't, and that worried Connor as he struggled to his feet.

Galen turned and leapt at the king, but when everyone shifted to stop him, he grabbed the queen instead.  A knife went to her throat.

"Not a complete loss," Galen said, as though mumbling to himself.  He smiled, and the knife nicked the queen's neck.  "One bit of magic or movement, and I'll kill her."

Connor didn't doubt him -- but then he didn't doubt that he'd kill the queen anyway.  They would need to move, but carefully.

"Ordin, come here," Galen said. 

The guard let go of Ordin.  Antisha twitched as though to grab him, but she must have known he really couldn't be that important to his father.  Which made Connor wonder why the man bothered.

They soon found out.  Ordin came to stand by his father and flashed a smug smile at the others.  He should have been watching Galen instead.  His father used a tendril of magic to hold the queen while he reached over and slapped Ordin on the side of the neck.  A seal went into place, and with barely a whisper, Galen drew magic from his son.

Three heartbeats, perhaps.  Not fast enough for anyone to move.  Ordin fell dead on the floor beside Connor.  He still looked smug.

Galen's hand glowed; he had all the power he needed.  He swept the room with a wall of fire that might have engulfed everyone if the king hadn't acted as quickly.

Galen hadn't expected it, and for a moment he was distracted -- barely a moment, but the queen used it to break the magic rope and shove his arm aside so that the blade was no longer at her neck.

At the same time, Connor surged forward and attacked the man.  He was in no shape to take him on, but Connor did provide another moment of distraction before Galen sent him flying across the room.  He expected to hit the wall with enough force to break bones.

Instead, Antisha's magic caught Connor and dropped him to the floor with a thump.  She went to her knees beside him, clearly too worn from even that little bit of magic.

"Thanks," he whispered.  His arm still bled.  He was not going to be conscious much longer.

Liam knelt beside Connor and did quick work with the wound, healing it enough that he no longer feared to close his eyes and never waking again.  He nodded his thanks, but by then Galen was fending off the others with little trouble. Galen had gained considerable power from his son. The best the rest of them could hope to do was to wear him down --

"He's trying to get to the window!" Connor shouted, struggling to get to his feet once more.

Galen was close -- too close for anyone to stop him.  Something appeared at the window outside the window.  The enormous ugly face of a troll peered in, having obviously climbed up the outer wall.  Connor could hear arrows hitting against the building, but nothing struck the troll.  Magic obviously kept him safe.

Galen through himself at the troll, who grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out.  It could not have been comfortable, but it was effective.  Magic from the king splattered against the window frame and shot bright light out into the world.  People yelled more, but the two were already out of sight.

"Damn!" the king shouted.

"Language," the queen said with a shake of her head.

"Language be damned!  I want that traitor caught and stopped!"

"Then you had better go talk to people.  I'll take care of things here."

The king stalked across the room, heading for the door with his guards at his back.  At least two had fallen, and Connor thought they must be dead.  He hated to see the waste.

The king, unexpectedly, stopped beside Connor, who belatedly bowed his head while Antisha caught his arm before he fell over.

The king put a hand on Connor's shoulder.  He looked up out of shock more than anything.

"Well done, boy," he said with a nod.  Then his look changed.  "Well done, Lord Northgate."

The king walked out of the room.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Flash Fiction # 354 -- Connor of Northgate/38

Chapter 11

Except for a few nervous horses, the inner courtyard of the castle seemed quiet and almost deserted.  A few soldiers moved quickly to take up spots guarding the prisoners, but they remained silent and aloof.  Not surly, though.  They did not look at the cages with any of the contempt that Connor had come to expect from all fae when they looked at him.

Ordin and Galan had gone inside the building. They had left Connor in the cage, as well as Liam who had finally sat up, bent over and coughing -- so miserable that one of the guards passed him a flask of water.  They did not do the same with Connor.

Nevertheless, Connor felt calmer, safer and even more comfortable.  That likely came just from being still and being out of the range of angry people.

The night turned even colder so that he huddle down in a ball, and he could hear sounds of trouble not far away in the city, though he couldn't be certain if it were a riot or an attack.  Magic streaked through the air, but the castle had protection against such outward attacks.

Connor bowed his head and looked away from the soldiers.  Although the others had left, he knew this was not the time to press his case.  He had to be wise and careful.

Whatever was happening with Ordin and Galan, they took their time at it.  Liam had looked his way, shook his head once, and curled up to sleep again.  Connor badly wanted to talk to his companion, but the fact that Liam kept quiet meant he knew better than to speak about the problems, too.

The cold and dark night seemed too long already, as though time had slowed or stopped.  The sounds of the city died away, though.  Connor finally slept, dreams and nightmares braiding their way through his troubled mind.

"Do what you can," Lord Northgate said.  "You are all that I had hoped you would be.  Take care."

Connor woke with a start, the words still clear in his mind.  He felt oddly at peace just then, despite the situation.  The dawn had come, and the soldiers had moved to take him and Liam from the cages.

Neither Connor nor Liam could walk at first.  Galen had come out of the castle and stood close by, a fierce glare on his face.  "Don't trust either of them.  They're tricky little bastards.  If so many hadn't fallen for their act --"

"Yes, Lord Galen," the soldier in charge said as the soldiers hurried the two prisoners up into the building. "We have heard, but the King will not pass judgment without even the worst enemies standing before him."

"Yes, of course," Galen said, though his face flushed slightly.  Was he worried?  Or just angry that the King didn't take the situation at his word?

The soldiers escorted Connor and Liam up the stairs and into the castle, and they were not even unreasonably cruel.  They didn't let Liam close to him, though.  Connor would have liked at least a sign -- or maybe not.  He couldn't really hope for any good to come of this, could he? 

The interior of the castle was a surprising hive of activity, with servants looking worn and frantic. They must have been at work all night.  The world had seemed almost peaceful until that moment.

The majestic walls of white stone were laced with random lines of black and stretched forward in long halls, past closed doors, and open archways.  They did not stop at any of these places, but went to nearly the center of the enormous building and started up the stairwell.  People cleared the way, dark looks cast their way.

The soldiers took them up to the Court of Judgment.  The room was as Lord Northgate had described the place to him once -- a large, circular area with an intricate pattern on the floor and four pedestals marking the four cardinal points.  Each stand was topped with a piece of the stones of power associated with the appropriate gatekeep.

The King, Queen, Galen, and Ordin stood in the middle of the room.  The guards brought the two -- the only two prisoners, he saw -- and dropped them to their knees before the King.

Connor had met the man before; tall, powerful even for a fae, and rarely given to showing emotion.  What Connor saw now didn't give him much hope.

"The trolls have been turned loose in the lands of the fae," the man said, his voice rich with anger.  "And I am told you have killed my daughter and Lord Northgate."

Connor looked up at those words and couldn't hide the anger in his face; a stupid reaction, he supposed.  It probably made him look defiant rather than enraged at the accusation.

"I did not --"

"How can you listen to this creature?" Ordin demanded.  "Humans lie.  He will never speak the truth and --"

The King did not let Ordin finish.  "We dare not allow the power of Lord Northgate to be left untouched, not in this situation.  And since Lord Northgate was murdered, it will be the job of his replacement to deal with the killer," the King said, looking at Connor.

Connor felt cold at that thought because he knew who was going to claim the position.  Ordin looked smug again before he gave a bow of his head to the King and moved towards the north stone, lifting his head and putting his hands on the stone.

Nothing happened.

Connor rose from his knees to his feet and touched the seal on his chest.  It disappeared in a flash of light.

"That won't do you any good," he said.  "I was named the heir by Lord Northgate himself.  I have the power."

"But -- but you said you had lost it!  That you couldn't hold it!" Ordin shouted, his hand on his sword.

"I lied."

Friday, May 03, 2019

Flash Fiction # 353 -- Connor of Northgate/37

Connor threw himself into the corner of the cage with such force that he probably bruised his back.  No matter; he couldn't get free, and the trolls wouldn't have trouble tearing apart the cage to get him.  He was about to shout a warning and demand a weapon so they could stand together against this enemy.

Then Ordin walked up to the trolls and gave a nod of his head.  They growled and bowed their heads in return.  Connor's fear turned to rage that was twice as strong as the previous emotion.  He had known they were working together at Northgate.  This closeness seemed worse, though, to invite the trolls into their camp.

"Now you see our true strength," Galen said with a laugh.  "You never had a chance against such power as ours."

Connor didn't answer, but the look he gave Ordin was enough. Ordin snarled and probably would have done something unpleasant if his father hadn't called to him.  Ordin went slowly; not very brave when it came to greeting their allies.

Connor had heard that people would do anything for power, but until now he hadn't thought of the depths to which some would go.  Galen spoke with the trolls, and Connor couldn't hear what the man said, but the trolls made satisfied sounds.

Galen handed over four humans and two centaurs.  The trolls killed them there and took the dismembered bodies away.

Ordin didn't come back to the cage to gloat.

Other trolls arrived that night, but they weren't paid in the flesh of prisoners.  Galen and his allies spoke quietly and whatever plans hey made would mean trouble for the fae world.

Nothing Connor could do.  He sat back in the darkest corner of his cage and bowed his head.  Even the presence of trolls couldn't overcome the weight of exhaustion.  He would save his strength.  He would do something ... Later.

The trolls left camp an hour before dawn, disappearing like nightmares in the night.  Liam awoke, but he only shook his head and curled up again.  Whatever Liam saw, either in the real world or in his visions, he had chosen not to face it.

No option for Connor.  He couldn't bring himself to look away as the others prepared to head out.  He heard Galen shouting encouragement to his people; they were only a day from their destination.

Connor realized this part would be over soon, but as they came down from the hills, he began to see the ruins of cottages, and then villages.  There were few people at first and then more and more as they caught up with refugees, most of them heading for the city.

He wondered how Galen and Ordin were going to get his prisoners through the mass, but it proved easy.  All he had to do was lie.

"We caught them at Northgate, in league with the Trolls!" Galen shouted.  "The human and his allies!  We're taking them to the city!  Make way!  Make way!"

The crowds parted slowly, but they yelled and threw rocks.  Few of them could get through the bars of the cage, but Connor did feel sorry for the captured villagers and the centaurs. The sight of the weeping children finally put some stop to the anger.

How could they believe such lies?

In the heat of such horrific trouble, they were not going to look too closely when presented with an enemy.  The king of the fae wouldn't be so easily taken in?

Connor noted the increased destruction along the way, including a few troll bodies.  The war had come here, too.  He considered shouting that Galen and Ordin were the ones working with the trolls.  They wouldn't believe the human, though.  Humans lied -- Ordin would be quick to point that out.

Connor still had hope in Liam.  He looked back at the other cage, but Liam was lying flat, and not even wincing when rocks hit him.  Connor wanted to call out and tell the people to leave him alone, but they wouldn't have listened to him anyway.

The crowds slowed them down.  So did the signs of recent trouble.  Galen stopped to help with some of the wounded, and his solicitous lies won even others over.

Ordin smirked, though.  Connor could wish for others to look at the son, and see the truth in his eyes.  His father finally sent Ordin to help feed frightened children, which he clearly didn't want to do, but the son didn't disobey.

They did not make it to the city that day, but they could see the tall buildings in the distance.  That night they camped among refugees, and Connor knew Galen's men would not protect the 'prisoners' since the fewer of them that survived, the better.  He had to do something --

The King's Guard arrived before things got out of hand.  They listened to Galen and then prepared to escort the entire group to the castle.  He thought Galen didn't look happy, but Ordin appeared to be so worried that his father again sent him off on some useless work.

The group moved on through the night.  Not surprisingly, the trolls attacked, as though trying to free their allies, but they were quickly sent retreating.  Even a couple of the guards mentioned that it hadn't been a very dangerous attack.

The dark still held when the party reached the gate and let within the walls of the city.  Refugees had filled the streets, but they cleared quickly from the Royal Road as the soldiers headed up towards the castle.  Whatever was going to happen would soon be over.

Connor had to hope for a chance to make this right and to avenge Lord Northgate's death at the hands of these traitors.  However, he was human.  Connor had never felt the weight of his birth until they crossed through the barbican and into the castle. This was the epitome of a fae place, and too much still depended on him, the outsider.