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Chapter 67
By Goth Kitty Lady Posted in Story on 27 February 2023 1637 words
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In the Land of Stories Old

Chapter 67


The Fearless Seven left the Black Isle just at the end of that week on the old ship Guildmaster Kedge had found for their use and Master Clew had quickly brought back to seaworthiness, and the ship had subsequently been re-christened the Rescuer. Merlin had painstakingly carved a bordered line of characters into the ship’s prow which was meant to repel waterborne shadow taint such as that which he’d once cleansed off the Northern Rover, and had also made time to protect all of the Black Isle’s fishing boats in similar fashion; a visit to Calabrun to offer to do the same there had unfortunately not been well-received by Magister Tomoy. The hasty assembly of a crew to man the Rescuer had finished off the preparations, Kedge having gathered a group of mostly older men who understood what they could be facing and who had from amongst their ranks chosen a nominal ‘captain’ who would take charge of the ship when the Fearless Seven were not on board.

In spite of fair weather the journey back to Odinson was tense, as everyone knew they might well be arriving too late. Merlin had sent a letter to Alfred right after they’d made it back to the Black Castle, utilizing a sturdy sea bird that he knew should be able to make the trip, but no reply had yet come back to him and the only news regarding Odinson anyone had heard was that ships were giving her a wide berth. And the reason for this was plain to see once they arrived, as the taint in the water was stretching out past the harbor like creeping, writhing tendrils looking for something to catch hold of and drag into the depths. Needless to say, even with such protections as she’d been given the Rescuer did not dare enter the affected area: instead the dinghy was lowered but not released, and Merlin climbed down into it so he could touch the surface of the water and cast out the net of magic that would destroy the shadows.

Luckily they had not gotten too close, as the tainted water all but exploded when the magic sank down into it. Two more glowing nets went out to produce two more explosions and send up veritable pillars of black smoke before Merlin felt he was finished and climbed back aboard. “That’s all I can do until tomorrow,” he said, dropping onto the nearest bench. “And I was only able to clear the water up to the entrance of the harbor, so we can’t go closer yet anyway. I’ll contact Alfred again in a moment so he knows we won’t be coming in tonight.”

The next bird he called, however, flew barely the length of the ship before coming back to him, fluttering its wings and squawking in agitation, and he reclaimed the note he’d written and then released the bird with a defeated sigh. “Alfred must be dead. If he were just infected I think the charm would still lead a bird to him.”

Arthur’s eyes weren’t the only ones that widened at that statement. “He’d still be able to use magic if he was…”

“You’re forgetting that this isn’t actually a sickness—it’s curse-taint,” Merlin reminded him. “It’s entirely possible that an infected mage or even a wizard or a witch would still be able to use magic, and their magic would be tainted as well. I don’t know what that would look like, but it wouldn’t be good.”

“No, I would think it would not be.” Hans was frowning. “What about the Marks? They are magical, although it is the magic of gods not men. Would one of us becoming tainted cause all of us to be?”

Everyone looked at Jack, who thought about it for a moment, eyes faintly glowing, then shook his head. “I do not believe so, no. We would all know if one of us became tainted, and I doubt it would be at all pleasant, but the bond we have through the Marks would not carry such a thing between us.”

“That is a relief,” Pino said, and changed the subject. “It is a pity we do not have the wooden bird with us, we could use it to send a message to those still in the castle, letting them know what is happening.”

“Yes, if they saw any part of what just happened, especially the smoke, they are no doubt more than concerned about what it means,” Kio agreed. “Is there another way, Merlin? We can build another bird, of course, but it will take some time and we do not want the survivors to panic and do something foolish.”

“No, definitely not.” Merlin pulled the note back out of his jacket. “If we can get within sight of the castle windows, I can try to send a paper bird. They should have known we were coming from the first letter I sent to Alfred, so there ought to be someone keeping watch for us.”

“Hopefully someone who didn’t just panic and run screamin’ down the stairs when the sea exploded out here,” Arthur snorted.

Merlin shrugged. “The note will still be there, someone is bound to come back up to have a look for themselves.” He quickly folded the note into the shape of a point-winged bird, then went to the bow and waited while the crew let the ship drift into position. The moment the castle’s tower came into view, the folds of the paper bird flickered with magic and it took off from his hand and flew straight toward the black spot that marked the topmost tower window.

And then they waited, Noki using his glass to track the paper bird’s flight while the ship’s small crew bustled around making sure the Rescuer was re-anchored well enough to keep her from getting any closer to the shadow-infested harbor. “The bird has gone in the window,” he finally said. “I can see movement within…yes, a man is there looking back at us with a glass, and now he is waving. Our message has been received.” He and Merlin both waved back, then Noki tucked his glass back into its case and they moved away from the rail. “So tomorrow…”

“The harbor,” Merlin said, going back to the bench. “I think that’s all I’ll be able to do, honestly. It’s…I can already tell it’s much, much worse than what we’ve already encountered.”

“As expected,” came from Jack. “The infected were throwing themselves into the water two months ago, they would have continued to do so.”

“Yes, and any of them which did not swim out to sea or become caught up in the tide are doubtless still down there.” Pino made a face. “Leaking.”

Kio made the same face. “I really wish they did not leak.”

“Yes,” Noki agreed. “It is entirely disgusting.”

 

Back on the island of Calabrun, Magister Tomoy was more than surprised when a terrifying sharp-toothed fey creature wearing the livery of the Black Castle appeared out of thin air in his private office to hand him a sealed letter, the contents of which pointed out to him that Queen Snow had been made aware of several poor decisions he had made recently, and that Calabrun’s free use of the land bridge to reach the Black Isle’s markets was a privilege not a right. She also reminded him that Calabrun had once been under the aegis of the Black Castle, the terms of which separation were ‘unclear and perhaps irregular’, and that she was currently considering whether that meant she had a responsibility to consider the welfare of Calabrun’s people as more than just a concerned neighbor. Tomoy was still trying to decide on a way to use the letter with its not-so-subtle threats to his advantage when one of his guards came to let him know that a similar letter had apparently been distributed around the town which included a list of those ‘poor decisions’ and their potential consequences. “There’s already talk starting, sir,” the guard warned. “We knew you’d want us to put a stop to it, and we tried, but our…usual methods just seem to be making things worse. And some of those who normally support you have been heard claiming they knew nothing about the things on the list and wouldn’t have agreed if they had.”

Tomoy scowled. “Take note of what’s being said, and by who, and keep me informed of both. Has there been any gossip from the Black Isle of late? Something must have convinced their queen that now is a good time to make a play for more power, she’s just using the shadow sickness as an excuse. Find out what that something was, by your usual methods if necessary. Dismissed.”

The guard bowed and left without another word, and Tomoy went back to perusing the letter, wondering if that sycophantic bastard Silas Follet had had anything to do with it all. There was no way he wanted to push back too hard and start something with Queen Snow, only to find out later that it had all been part of some over-ambitious plan Follet was using to advance his own standing. Although if he played such a thing right, perhaps he could turn the tables on Follet and use the situation to advance his own standing instead? First Minister to the Black Isles had a nice, powerful ring to it…

 


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