Friday, June 21, 2019

Flash Fiction #360 -- Connor of Northgate/44

Chapter 14

Connor had not expected so many to be at Northgate when they arrived. He suspected that many people had come in from the outlying villages, and perhaps even farther. The streets of the town were far too busy.

This worried him at first, but he quickly saw the helpful side of having all these refugees.  His party looked as worn and bedraggled as everyone else, and they passed into the keep without any undue notice, though he knew that wouldn't last for long.  He would have to show himself, but if they could get all the way to the castle --

He'd thought they might make it before the little fairies found them.  The small creatures hadn't meant to create a problem.  They were, it seemed, happy to see Connor and shouted friend as they swarmed around him.

"Ride fast," Erlis said.  "Head for the keep. We'll hold others back."

"No," Connor said.  "I have to look strong.  The people are already worried."

"He's right," Antisha agreed and gave him a nod of approval. She understood about politics, of course, and how much of it was simply show.  "Ride slowly unless there is a problem."

They found a problem, of course.  Antisha had just moved to ride beside when something changed.  He could feel it and gave a startled look off to the right even before Antisha, or the others realized there was a problem.

Magic.  Deadly magic, in fact; he could feel the power that would steal life away, and he knew the spell was aimed at him and at Antisha, who happened to be with him.

He moved quickly and almost automatically.  He couldn't simply deflect the magic because it would kill others instead.  He had to contain and destroy, and though he knew the theory, he had never done anything like this.

He wasn't sure what he could do this until he felt the power of Northgate around him.  He knew his duty, and he moved so quickly that Antisha barely had time to lift her hand before his magic was already created and braiding around the other spell.  He tried to trace it back to the source, but that took too much attention, and he dared not lose his hold here.

"Damn. Good," Antisha whispered. She'd joined in the counterattack as well. The others were trying to calm the people around them -- people and other things.  He saw creatures he'd never seen at Northgate, but now wasn't the time to stop and gawk.

The magic felt too strong and if it had tried to take him outside of Northgate -- yes, he would have failed.  There was a sobering thought as the last of the assassin's magic died with a loud squeal, as if in protest.

By then, they had another problem.  People began yelling and screaming, and he saw a few started to fight.

"Stop!" he shouted.  He'd never said anything so loud in his life. The others backed away from each other in haste, staring back at him with some shock.  He wasn't sure if that was because he was their Lord now or if they were simply surprised to hear him make so much noise.  No matter.

"Do not make this easy for our enemies -- yes our enemies.  I was born here, and I have always been one of you. We don't need to turn on each other at a time like this."

For the moment, at least, he had their attention, and they listened to him.  They rode on to the keep, managing to climb the stairs without stumbling, though he wanted to stop and sleep right there.

Inside they faced the servants; nervous people.  Some looked at Connor as though he was some creature that had suddenly leapt through the door to devour them.  He couldn't imagine what they were thinking.  They'd known him all his life, and those stares, more than any, struck him to the heart.

"What's wrong?" he finally asked, looking to Isole.  She frowned and waved a hand as though to dismiss his words.  "Tell me."

"We have heard that you killed Lord Northgate to take his place," she said, meeting his eyes.

"How could you believe such a thing?" he asked, the pain evident in his voice.  Isole winced and bowed her head.  "Why would you believe it?"

"Human," she mumbled.

"You've known me all my life," he answered.  His friends were growing angry, but he waved them to calm.  "And I never chose this place.  If I could wish Lord Northgate back, I would.  But I didn't kill him."  He stopped and looked at the other faces.  "I will not remain as Lord of this Gate if I am mistrusted.  But you are stuck with me for now."

He turned and walked away, ignoring the sounds behind him for now.  He wanted to go to his rooms, but the smells from the dining hall drew him instead.  He couldn't say he was hungry, but it did give him a chance to sit down.  Servants brought food, and no one spoke at all for a while.  His companions were as worn as him.

"This won't work," he said softly, looking to Erlis and Druce who sat across from him.

"Give it time," Druce said, surprising him.  "There have obviously been lies at work here, Connor.  Or perhaps we should start calling you Lord Northgate."

"No," he said.  "Connor."

Druce nodded agreement.  "And that will help, you know.  It's going to allow others to remember who you are. Give it time," he repeated.

Connor thought that good advice in general, though he didn't believe it would make a difference.  He didn't want to be in this position.  The others didn't want him here.  That seemed an excellent reason to step down when he could do so without causing more problems.

Connor kept that thought to himself now and chewed doggedly at the bread he'd been holding in his hand for some time.

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