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Chapter 41
By Setcheti Posted in Story on 12 June 2022 2550 words
One Day in Surrey Chapter 29 Previous One Day in Surrey Chapter 28 Next
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In the Land of Stories Old

Chapter 41

Finally, after nearly a week of preparation, it was time. The elves notified Merlin and Snow that the Northern Rover had arrived with the dawn tide and been let into the docking cavern, and supplies had already been sent down to her by way of the cargo lift. Packs and weapons were checked, goodbyes were made, and then the Fearless Seven donned their traveling cloaks and set off down the King’s Road, the clang of the Black Castle’s gates being locked behind them at the queen’s order echoing off the rocks—the sound of her giving her father the rough edge of her tongue began echoing almost immediately thereafter and made more than one of the Seven smile. The hidden door in the mountainside was already open for them, and they quickly filed inside and began the process of closing it back up.

Snow shrugged out from under Jack’s invisibility cloak and gave it back to him as soon as the huge door had completely fitted itself back into place. “I probably ought to feel sorry for him, but I don’t,” she said. “Not after the elves caught him trying out different wording for the proclamation he plans to make about me being available for marriage again when Merlin doesn’t come back. He even had a date on it!”

Merlin was laughing. “Well, he did give you six months to mourn me.”

She kissed his cheek. “Not nearly enough. Although for my father that probably seems like an exceptionally long amount of time to wait, even though he knows the shortest acceptable mourning period is a year and a day, so I suppose I have to give him credit for thinking he was being generous.”

“Elana did say she thought he meant well,” Pino said. “She even promised to rescue him if something happened.”

“She promised she would make sure he was not left behind to be killed,” Noki corrected. “But she did not say how she would accomplish it. I agree with her that the docking cavern is likely as far from the castle proper as she could get him to go of his own free will.”

“True, he hasn’t left the castle since I was a little girl,” Snow agreed. “Except for when he was a wooden rabbit, of course, but I’m not sure that counts.”

“It likely would not,” Hans said. “As his mind was not entirely his own at the time.”

The docking cavern, once they reached it, was slowly filling with soft golden light that spilled from the early-morning sky overhead, and on the deck of the Northern Rover as well as along the pier lanterns had been lit. The ship’s crew were busily loading supplies, and Captain Roberts was waiting for them beside the gangplank. “Your Majesty, Your Highnesses,” he said, bowing. “It is said a very distant ancestor of mine once used his ship to help a young queen escape from her kingdom, and now it is my honor to do the same—although I’m glad your journey will only be temporary.”

Snow smiled at him. “I’d like to hear about this ancestor of yours sometime, Captain.”

“Perhaps when there is time I can tell you what’s still known of him,” was his response as he escorted her up the gangplank. “What tales we’ve had passed down say he was a fair-minded but ruthless man who turned to a life at sea after his quest to avenge his father’s death was completed.”

“I can see where that might make a man ruthless,” Arthur said, stepping between Snow and a crewman who looked like he was wanting to take charge of her pack—the man wouldn’t be able to lift it, but he didn’t know that and didn’t need to. “We should take our things below and get situated.”

“Of course,” the captain began, and then he stopped, eyes widening when he got a good look at the distinctive hilt of the large sword that was strapped across Arthur’s back. “You…that…” He swallowed and bowed to Arthur. “Your Highness…congratulations.”

Arthur couldn’t help it, he blushed. People usually didn’t say anything about it to his face, but the fact that he’d visited Calabrun multiple times, trying to get the Sword to accept him, was well-known around the Fairy Isles. “Thank you.”


They were underway in short order, the ship sliding out beneath the raised iron gate and making her way carefully through the rocky obstacles beyond it as the gate slowly lowered behind them, cutting the Black Castle off from being accessed by sea once again. This time Merlin and Pino and Noki were at the ship’s rail with journal and sketchbooks in hand to record what they could of the carved marks that remained on the weathered pillars of stone, although they retreated into the wardroom before the ship had fully cleared the rocks—it wouldn’t do for anyone on another ship or a fishing boat to spot them on deck, as it had been decided that the timing and manner of the Fearless Seven leaving the Black Isle should remain a mystery. Everyone else was already there, beginning on the generous breakfast the elves had laid out for them before they’d left, and Captain Roberts joined them shortly thereafter. “The wind’s with us, so we’ll be making good time today,” he informed them, settling into his chair and pouring himself a cup of tea. “Two ships were spotted, and one of them had a man with a glass at the rail, looking us over from stem to stern, so make of that what you will.”

“Looking for signs of sickness, perhaps,” Jack said, frowning. “It is too soon for them to be looking for us, I would think. Some might expect that Arthur would return home to Avalon after his visit to Calabrun, but they would not be searching for him on board a ship when it is well-known that he usually takes the ferry. I informed the gem dealer on the Black Isle that I would be away for a time, but he only wished me success on my journey and asked me to please let him know when I returned and would be ready to take commissions again. He would not have spoken of my leaving to anyone else.”

Pino raised an eyebrow at him. “Exactly how much business do you bring to Master Turnau, Jack?”

Jack smirked. “Enough that he has told no one exactly who it is that fulfills his higher-end commissions and likely never will.” He nodded to the captain. “Speaking of which, I have yours completed and it came out very well. I will bring it to your cabin after breakfast, if you like?”

“That would be fine,” Roberts told him. “You all may of course use the wardroom to do whatever you’ve chosen to occupy yourselves while we’re still near to the Black Isle. Once we get past Wawel it should be safe for you to come out on deck, though, and as we discussed we’ll pass by Caray at a safe distance just to see if anything’s changed.”

“We might be able to leave a warning buoy there this time,” Merlin told him. “I think I’ve figured out a way to chain it to the sea floor with a magicked rope, and I brought the rope with me. There’s no telling how long it will last, but it’s better than nothing.”

The captain nodded. “I should say so, yes.” He took a freshly-baked scone from the plate one of the Vincian princes passed to him, then passed said plate on to Hans. “I believe I don’t have to ask what you’ll be doing to keep yourself occupied, Prince Hans. My crew has been complaining incessantly about eating their own cooking ever since you left us.”

Hans chuckled. “I had thought I might continue teaching one or two of them to be better at it while I am here, if that is all right with you, Captain.”

That got him a nod. “Please do. Just tell Mr. Taylor who you want and he’ll give them to you—with bells on, no doubt, since he’s been scowling at his supper each night like it offends him.” He dished up more of the breakfast onto his plate as more things were passed his way. “Speaking of Mr. Taylor, he made his own sketch of those carvings on the rocks the last time we passed through them, I’ll have him bring them in to you if you’re going to be studying what you’ve found.”

“That could be most helpful, yes,” Noki said. “Four perspectives should give us a picture which is much closer to completeness than one or two alone.”

“But even still, we may not be able to make out anything of use,” Pino warned. “It is something of a miracle that any carving remains on the stones at all, and it is also entirely possible that the marks were purely decorative and had little to no meaning even when they were newly carved.”

“A good point,” came from Jack. “But even the purely decorative may tell us something—every land and kingdom has its own way of doing such things. If nothing else, when we return I could bring my youngest brother to the Black Castle to see what he might make of them. He positively revels in the study of ancient books and scrolls, so he may find meaning where one who is not such a scholar would not.”

“That would be lovely,” Snow told him. “I haven’t met any of your brothers.”

“And you do not want to meet any of them except for Jules,” was Jack’s reply. “Merlin and Arthur can tell you.”

“You have to admit, meetin’ Pierre would be a novelty for anyone who hasn’t seen him before,” Arthur said. “The first time Merlin and I saw him, we thought his mother had gotten it wrong.”

“He really did look like a princess,” Merlin agreed. “From the back, anyway. And he was carrying on like one too.”

“Pierre had been taken by a small band of rogues to be held for ransom—they no doubt had also thought him a princess,” Jack explained to Snow. “I would have been perfectly capable of rescuing him by myself, but Maman heard that Princes Arthur and Merlin were about and sent for them instead.”

“And then Jack rescued Pierre by himself anyway, right in front of us,” Merlin said. “And Arthur and I decided we liked him much better than his brother, so once we’d escorted Crown Prince Pierre back to the palace…”

“With him and Jack snipin’ at each other the whole way,” Arthur put in, clearly amused by the memory.

“…We asked Jack if he’d like to come with us, because we were supposed to be on our way to tackle a chimera and a third sword would come in handy.” He snorted into his eggs. “Their mother asked us if we wouldn’t rather have Pierre or Marcel, although I’m not sure what she thought we’d have done with either of them aside from using them as bait.”

“She was not thinking, merely reacting with surprise that someone might choose me over my elder brothers. And she knew, as Arthur pointed out at the time, that neither Marcel nor Pierre would ever even consider leaving their luxurious life within the palace to go adventuring. I, however, was more than happy to, and as I found the company I was in to be most agreeable,” he raised his cup to Arthur and Merlin, “I simply never went back. And then we stumbled across Hans…”

“In the woods where we were searching for a giant serpent which had been preying on a village’s livestock,” Merlin said. “In fact he was between us and the serpent, once we finally found it, and he killed it before we could get to him and then warned us off the truffles he’d been digging up.”

“And then I had to explain to them what truffles were,” Hans put in cheerfully. “Jack had eaten them before, of course, but he had no idea where they came from.”

“And I would never have expected them to come out of the ground beneath a tree, looking like something that should not be eaten by anyone,” Jack responded. “It has amused me many times since then to think that people like my oh-so-refined family put their noses in the air and pay a great deal of gold to dine on wrinkled ground fungus Hans or someone like him collects from the dirt with a sharpened stick.”

Captain Roberts chuckled. “True, truffles don’t look all that appetizing in their natural state—but then, mushrooms grow in some fairly unsavory places as well.” He applied himself to eating for a time, as did everyone else, and once he was done he sat back in his chair with a sigh. “After we’ve gone to Caray, we’ll be heading straight for the Gate. It’s a pass of sorts, formed from chalk cliffs, and it’s as far as a ship can take you into the Broken Lands. We’ll turn around after that and fill our casks at Sarkivi before heading out to the Isles of Zara to trade up an excuse for being out that far, and as agreed I’ll say it was the Queen of the Black Isle who requested something I knew could best be sourced there. Which will also give me an excuse to publicly return to the Black Castle sooner rather than later.” He took a sip from his cup. “There are no maps of the Broken Lands, at least not official ones. Some travelers must have marked their way through the Gates both ways, but those maps aren’t shared with anyone, not ever. What I can tell you, however, is that those who have traveled in those lands say they chart their course by following the cracks.”

“Which would make some sense—they are called ‘the Broken Lands’ for a reason,” Pino mused. “Are they said to be dangerous, these cracks?”

“They can be, from what little I’ve heard,” Roberts said. “You’ll want to go carefully in any place where there are deep meadow grasses or lines of brush and young trees, so that you don’t wander into a deep fissure or a crevasse by mistake. Supposedly the cracks seem to fan out from some central point, and the farther in you go the stranger things get and the more likely you are to run across bits and pieces of old magic.”

“Which is what we’re hoping for, of course.” Merlin toyed with his fork. “Old magic that can be used to destroy other old magic. Hopefully without leaving an even worse problem in its wake.”


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