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Chapter 62
By Setcheti Posted in Story on 9 January 2023 7 words
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Chapter 62

The next morning it was all of the Fearless Seven who came down, and if Magister George was not surprised that they stopped off to ask if he’d like to send some guards with them, they were also not surprised when he elected to come with them himself. “I’m not expecting any incidents in the village,” he told them. “But I would prefer to see whatever problems you discover with my own eyes, rather than hearing about them second-hand.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Merlin agreed. “We should have come to you yesterday before we got started.”

George shrugged. “You couldn’t have known how the people in the town would react, Your Highness—I was certainly surprised by it. Was Her Majesty…very displeased?”

“No moreso than she usually is over that situation,” Jack assured him. “Although she did give my baby sister her royal permission to push women who are rude in that manner off the pier or into the mud, whichever is more convenient.”

“She gave the same permission to Princess Elana,” Pino added, “although she suggested that if the women were to become fish upon hitting the water that would also be acceptable.”

“I told them both no to that, in no uncertain terms,” came from Merlin. “Too much chance of someone getting caught up in a net and eaten. They settled on green rabbits instead, and that only for an hour.”

George gave a little shake of his head to the two wide-eyed guards he’d brought with him; he was relatively certain the conversation being related had been some idle amusement over dinner the previous evening rather than a serious discussion, and that it was only being repeated—rather loudly, as they were walking through the town—for the purpose of starting rumors which might serve to quell the previous day’s sort of bad behavior. “An hour sounds fair,” he replied in kind. “And I’ve heard rabbits can swim quite well.”

“That they can,” Hans confirmed cheerfully, and winked at him. “It is all our hope, of course, that such a thing will not be necessary. That is how wild tales get started which then become twisted into strange legends. We heard more than a few such in the Broken Lands.”

“Several of which involved my ancestors,” Arthur said. “And Jack’s, too, once we started gettin’ closer to his kingdom. Not that we knew it was his kingdom at the time, of course.”

That even widened George’s eyes. Not that he hadn’t suspected that was where the Seven’s quest had taken them, but such a journey was not usually spoken of so casually. Or honestly, at all.


The fishing village on the Black Isle had no name of its own, because it was the only one there—the town had no individual name either, for the same reason. The two were divided by a rocky promontory which split the island’s southern shoreline into a wide harbor on one side and a deep cove on the other, and behind the cove sprawled the small amount of land at the foot of the mountains which was suitable for farming, most of which involved chickens, geese and ducks, a few goats, and some vegetable plots interspersed here and there with hardy berry bushes and sturdy fruit trees. In short, there was a good reason why the Black Isle depended so upon the trade that came into her market, and this was also the reason why the mood of the people waiting for their prince consort to arrive and check their fishing grounds for taint was trepidatious in the extreme. Merlin had expected this, of course, and so the rest of the Seven went to begin checking the coastline and the water while he approached the waiting head of the Fishers’ Guild and answered the man’s nervous bow with a nod. “Guildmaster Kedge. We did not receive any message from you last night, so I take that to mean yesterday’s catches were clear and no one in the village is sick?”

Kedge swallowed and nodded. He was a sturdy man of middling age, his thick hair bleached to white gold by sun and salt spray and his skin leathered by the same. “None that I know of, Your Highness. And yesterday’s catches looked clean to me.”

“You’d have been able to tell if they weren’t,” Merlin assured him. “Although it seems that it might be more difficult to determine the presence of taint in game, if what happened on Caray was any indication, so we’ll have a look at the livestock as well just to make sure. The cove first, though.” A gruff voice in the crowd muttered something about the town having come first as usual, which drew a displeased scowl from the guildmaster and a raised eyebrow from Merlin. “The very morning after I returned home, someone spotted shadows in the harbor,” he stated calmly. “They turned out to be leaking from infected corpses pinned under a ledge. It’s my hope that we’re not going to find the same problem over here as well, because that would mean the currents are bringing them to us and it would be only a matter of time before we went the way of Odinson.”

One of the younger women present pressed a hand to her mouth with a little gasp at that, and the older one beside her paled. “But…what would we do then?”

“Well, if I couldn’t stop it, we’d get the boats out of the cove and everyone not on them would take shelter in the castle.” Merlin gave them a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, we’ve planned for everything we could think of—we even found a safe port where the boats can stay docked for as long as they need to. No one will be left to fend for themselves if something happens, I swear it.” The little shiver of royal magic that statement produced may not have been entirely visible in the golden morning light, but the people nearest him felt it anyway and were reassured. “Now, I’m going to go see to cleansing the cove, and then we’ll get busy checking everything else.” He whispered quickly to Magister George, receiving a nod. “In the meantime, if you know of anyone who has been acting at all strange over the past few days, or who has been ill or even just been keeping to themselves at home, take the guards with you to check on them. You must take every precaution, as the sickness eventually causes its victims to become violent and we don’t know how long or short a time that may take. If you find someone who seems to be infected with the shadow sickness, you must come tell me immediately.”

“Of course, Your Highness,” George agreed at once, echoed by several other people. He gave instructed his men on how he wanted the search to proceed and then hurried down to the water’s edge where the guildmaster and Merlin had joined the rest of the Fearless Seven. “Any sign of shadows?”

Noki, who had been using his glass to check the water further out, lowered it and shook his head. “The water looks clear as it should be,” he said. “But I am not certain we should trust appearances.”

“No, it’s a chance I don’t think we should take,” Merlin agreed. He squatted down and placed his hands flat on the surface of the water, just as he’d done the day before on the harbor, and as before magic flowed out across the waves to form a glowing net and then sank below the surface. Bubbles appeared but no smoke, and he stood back up wiping his hands on his pants. “I didn’t feel any taint, the water here is clear all the way to the entrance to the cove. Hopefully there aren’t problems farther out.”

“Is there no way to check for that?” Guildmaster Kedge wanted to know.

Merlin shrugged. “I can go out there on a boat to look, but unless someone has noticed something odd or wrong in the water it would likely just be a waste of everyone’s time. I could charm a buoy to sound the alarm if shadow taint enters the cove, but it would need to be a fairly large and sturdy one.”

“I can make that, Your Highness,” one of the older men grunted. “We haven’t needed one ‘round here in a shark’s age, but I haven’t forgot the way of making them.”

“I’m sure you haven’t,” Merlin said. “Let one of us know what you’ll need for that, or send someone with a list to the castle.” When the man started to object, he shook his head. “I know you’re a shipwright, Master Clew, those materials are part of your livelihood. If you’ve already got a goodly supply, the Crown will pay you for what you use instead.”

“Can the Crown afford to?” one of the other men who had come down to the shoreline put forward. Several people gave him evil looks, George among them, and he shook his head. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but we all know, Your Highness. I don’t see the sense in pretendin’ we don’t.”

“You have a point, it would make no sense to pretend the Black Isle is as wealthy as some of her neighbors” Merlin allowed. “Rest assured, though, I’d have made a different offer if the royal coffers were running that short.”

“We will also likely be needing more than one buoy,” Jack pointed out. “That ledge beneath the waters of the harbor is a disaster waiting to happen. Having something in place to warn you that it is…filling up again, so to speak, would only be for the best.”

“You are not wrong about that.” Pino was nodding, and he offered the old shipwright a small bow. “Master Clew, I would offer you three extra pairs of hands for completing this project more quickly, should you have need of them. My brothers and I have never practiced your craft, but the tools of it are familiar to us—we did our part to help maintain the barges and boats when Vinci was finally reclaimed by the sea.”

“An awful reason to have learned it, Your Highnesses,” the old man said. “And I’d welcome your help, as my apprentice is too new to do more than fetch and carry at present. We can get started as soon as you’d like, I’ve got all the supplies I could need at the moment.”

“We could begin now,” Kio said after a nod from Merlin. “The sooner this protection is in place, the better. And all seven of us should not be needed to look for shadows on the land.”

That made Hans laugh. “True, there will be no swimming today.”

The guildmaster snorted at that but made no comment; he’d heard about the previous day’s incident in the town, of course, but he had no fear that such a shameful display would ever happen on his side of the island. Fishermen’s wives and daughters had more sense than that.


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