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Chapter 69
By Goth Kitty Lady Posted in Story on 13 March 2023 3594 words
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In the Land of Stories Old

Chapter 69

The Rescuer spent all the rest of that day sailing around the island in search of more survivors, but no more were found. A ship was spotted caught up in some rocks not far off the island’s northwestern coast, but there was no one alive on it and shadows milling in the water nearby said at least some of its previous occupants had gone into the sea and stayed there. Merlin cleansed the water wherever shadows were spotted, Arthur and Pino took turns sending flaming arrows ashore, and Jack spelled Noki at the glass searching the land while Kio and Hans did the same in the opposite direction. The sun was a bare handspan above the eastern horizon by the time they were finished, and the crew of the Rescuer was more than ready to turn her prow toward home and sail away into the open sea, leaving the smoke and ash and devastation behind them.

Queen Helga and her children had been sequestered in the captain’s cabin early on, but King Hugin had insisted on remaining on deck until it was confirmed that there were no more survivors to be found; he had in truth been rather in a daze the entire time and had only a vague recollection of Prince Arthur telling him the search was ended before Vali had led him to a place where he could eat and rest. Hugin woke an unknown amount of time later from dreams of bloody streets and grasping hands to find moonlight streaming through a small round window above his head and lighting up a rough little room which contained a bed and a table and pallets on the floor where his children were sleeping peacefully. Getting out of the bed carefully so as not to disturb his still-sleeping wife, he found his boots and went to the cabin’s door, opening it just enough to slip out onto the deck. The smoke had been left behind them, and the stars were a brilliant wash of sparkles across the clear, dark sky while the half-moon rose high above gently billowing sails. There was no land anywhere to be seen. “How long have I been asleep?”

“It is just past midnight,” a quiet voice informed him, and he saw that Prince Hans was seated on a bench beside the cabin door—the Fearless Seven had all introduced themselves to he and his wife properly once the ship had gotten clear of Odinson’s harbor, and he was glad he’d remembered that much at least. The younger man offered him a smile. “I have a tea that will help you sleep, if you need it. Or I can bring up food for you if you are hungry.”

Hugin rubbed his stomach, which still felt almost too full from his earlier—and admittedly quite small—meal after weeks of near-starvation. “Definitely not that last, but thank you. The rest of my people?”

“Below deck with everyone else, also sleeping. We are two days out from the Black Isle, if you were wondering.”

“Where will we go from there?”

“Anywhere you like,” Hans told him. “But that is not a decision you need to make right now. I know Queen Snow expects you and your people to be her guests at the Black Castle until you have had time to recover from your ordeal.”

“Oh, that’s…” Hugin dropped onto the bench himself, feeling somewhat overcome. “I’ve never even met her.”

“No, but you are still her ally, are you not?”

Hugin had to think about that for a minute. He’d almost forgotten the letter he’d so hastily scrawled out after Prince Consort Merlin and the rest of the Fearless Seven had first shown up to bring Odinson aid. “Has it really only been two months?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” The new voice made him jump, and its owner, one of the red-haired brothers from Vinci, offered him an apologetic bow. “I am sorry, Your Majesty, I thought you saw me coming. Is there anything I should know about?”

That last was directed to Hans, who shook his head and then stood up and stretched. “It is a very quiet night. Is anyone else awake, Kio?”

“No, Pino went to sleep directly after waking Jack and I,” Kio told him. “Go do the same and I will see you at breakfast.”

Hans snorted. “I will be up to prepare it, so yes, you will.” He patted his friend on the shoulder as he walked past. “Prince Kio knows where the tea is kept if you need some, King Hugin,” he said. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Hugin responded automatically. He leaned back against the wall and blew out a breath. “Are we expecting trouble, is that why you’re keeping a watch?”

Kio shrugged. “Not so much expecting it, but some of the raiders are said to have been getting bolder since the coming of the sickness and the death of Rufus Fear. It is better to have one man on deck who has no duty other than watching, just in case.”

“I’d expect so, yes.” Then his eyes widened. “Wait, Rufus Fear is dead?”

“Yes, he and his men were killed when they attacked the Black Castle. It was not quite a year ago, we were still cursed at the time. Fear was being questioned by Prince Arthur and the captain of the guard, and one of his answers caused them to decide they had had enough of him.”

Hugin grimaced. Fear had shown up on Odinson before, of course—Fear had shown up most everywhere in the Fairy Isles at some point. It was odd to think that the self-proclaimed King of the Raiders had been gone for so long and no one had noticed. “I’m really surprised that story didn’t make the rounds.”

That made Kio smile. “So were we, to be honest. But as at the time we were unable to tell anyone, his ship was nowhere to be found and the Black Castle’s guards had burned the bodies of he and his men…well, most anyone who missed him probably thought he had just sailed to some farther-away place to continue being a scourge upon humanity.”

“He was that, yes.” Hugin watched the moonlight silver the tops of the dark waves, finding the sight strangely soothing. A thought occurred to him. “Are all of you…were any of you hurt, on Odinson? I’m afraid I didn’t even think to ask, once we made it aboard the ship.”

“None of us were injured,” Kio assured him. “And although the thought is appreciated, I must tell you that social niceties are the last thing we expect from someone who has just been rescued from such a situation. People do not go from a terrible experience back to being their normal selves again in the blink of an eye, you know.”

Hugin snorted. “No, I didn’t know, honestly—I suppose I’d led a rather charmed life, up until the last few months.” His eyes strayed back to the waves. “I haven’t been on a ship in years, not since our first child was born. We were that close to the routes the raiders often used, it seemed a foolish risk to take.”

“I agree, it would have been—we were told Caray was once a favorite port for many of them. I have to wonder where they are all going now.” Hugin looked curious about that, and Kio shook his head. “No, that is not a story for the middle of the night. Tomorrow, however, we will sit in the sunlight and answer any questions you may have. Tonight is for resting and knowing you are safe.” He smiled. “And for enjoying being at sea on a peaceful night, of course. I will be walking around the deck for some time to finish waking myself up, just let me know if you need anything.”

He strode off, making a slow circuit of the deck and occasionally stopping to look in one direction or another, and Hugin stretched out his legs with a sigh. He was tired, still, but the idea of returning to sleep and the terrible dreams he knew were lurking there kept him where he was, doing his best not to think about what had happened to his homeland and brushing away the occasional tear when his best was not good enough.


Two mornings later when Hugin woke, it was to a stone room that was most definitely not on the ship he’d gone to sleep on. He got out of bed and followed the sunlight into an adjoining dressing room where he found a basin full of warm scented water beside a stack of soft cloths ready for his use, and clothes laid out for he and his wife which were much cleaner and finer than what they’d been wearing when they were rescued. He had just about finished dressing himself when there was a soft knock at the door and then Vali stuck his head in. “Sire…oh good, you’re awake.” The steward came into the room, closing the door behind him. “The children have already had breakfast and are currently playing in one of the gardens—Princess Serena, Prince Arthur’s betrothed, has introduced them to a very playful tame rabbit and they’re having quite a romp. The rest of the servants have already eaten as well, and if yourself and Her Majesty wish to join Queen Snow and her husband for breakfast downstairs it will be ready in half an hour.”

Hugin cocked a knowing eyebrow. “Are you taking over, Vali?”

His steward laughed. “No sire, but I did ask and receive permission to see to your needs myself this morning as I was afraid Queen Snow’s servants might…cause some alarm if you encountered them unawares. They’re elves, you see, and they move very quickly by use of magic.”

Now that was interesting. Hugin started to wonder if Alf would have known anything about elves, and then squashed that thought because he didn’t want to think about his arrogant idiot of a cousin right now. “I’ll warn my wife,” he said. “Is there anything we should know about interacting with these elves?”

“I’m told you only need to be polite,” Vali told him. “To them as well as to the Royal Family and the other residents of the castle. I should probably also warn you about the lady who’s betrothed to one of the Princes Vinci, as she happens to be green.” Hugin’s eyes went wide. “No, not like that—she’s a fairy, not a witch, and apparently comes from an ancient royal line that was at some point cursed to assume the form of ogres. She’s a lovely woman, just from what I’ve seen so far, but I did want to warn you so you wouldn’t…make a mistake upon meeting her.”

“That’s a good warning to get, yes.” Hugin did his best not to remember Alf taking great delight in telling him why some witches turned green. “Anything else?”

“The Dowager King is currently not available, I’m not sure why and didn’t feel I should ask, but he’s gifted you some of his wardrobe with his compliments. And Queen Snow had Princess Elana send for someone who could make appropriate garments for Her M…” He bowed to his queen, who had just come out of the bedroom. “Your Majesty, I was just saying that Queen Snow has sent for someone who can make some clothes for you—she has gifted you one of her own gowns to wear for now, but she wasn’t sure if the style would be to your liking.”

Queen Helga rubbed sleep from her eyes and made her way to the basin to wash her face and hands. “I hope you told her I’ve never been all that fashionable or that picky, Vali, and certainly not under our current circumstances.” She dried her hands and went to pick up the gown. “Oh my, this is lovely. And we’re apparently near to the same size as well. I’ll thank her when we get…to the castle?” She looked around the room, mouth falling open. “This is the castle. How did we get in the castle?”

“I’m told by magic, Your Majesty,” Vali said. “Queen Snow offered apologies for that but no other explanation, apparently it was just necessary.”

Hugin did not quite roll his eyes. What it meant was that the Black Castle had a hidden dock and wanted to keep it that way, which was fine with him—if he’d had a hidden dock, he’d have done the same. “They have elf servants, too,” he told his wife instead. “We’ll need to go carefully until we see what level of politeness is required. And they’ve also got a fairy princess who’s green due to a bloodline curse and betrothed to one of the da Vinci triplets.”

She blinked at him. “Thank goodness the children are too young to know about green witches, then. The children?”

“Already fed and playing in one of the castle gardens with Prince Arthur’s betrothed, Princess Serena, watching them,” Vali told her. “She’s a very sweet young woman, and looks very much like her brother.” Helga raised a questioning eyebrow. “King Jacques introduced her as his baby sister, that is all I know.”

“Oh, I see. It’s lovely that the Fearless Seven are finally starting to settle down—some heroes never get the chance.” She waved him toward the door. “Just give me ten minutes to get dressed and do something with my hair, Vali, and then you can take us wherever we need to go.”

Vali bowed. “Of course, Your Majesty. Just call for me when you’re ready.”

He left the room, careful to fully close the door behind him, and Helga quickly got dressed. She smoothed her hands down over the soft washed silk with its scattering of silver embroidery with a pleased little smile which quickly fell off, and when she started to cry Hugin pulled her into his arms and let her. “I know, my love, I know. But we’re safe now.”

“I feel like we don’t deserve to be. All those bodies…our people are dead. And we…”

“There wasn’t anything we could have done to stop that happening, according to Prince Merlin,” he told her. “They told me the shadow-taint came from Caray, they think some fool started scavenging in a cursed wood to make arrows and the sickness spread from there as the arrows and tainted meat were sold.” He lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes. “There were no survivors at all on Caray, and only three from Breyholm. We were so lucky, Helga, so very lucky that Alf’s letter reached Prince Merlin.”

She burrowed back into his chest. “Do you think he can summon that idiot back as a shade so I can yell at him?”

“I think I’m going to do my best not to mention Alf at all, if I can help it,” he said sadly, stroking her dark golden hair. “I don’t want to tell the honorable young mage who came to our rescue that my arrogant bastard of a cousin was so jealous he took the letter meant to warn him of how the sickness works as some sort of challenge to his manhood. Or would that be magehood? Whatever it was, he should have known it wasn’t a reflection on his…magical prowess that he wasn’t as powerful as the seventh son of a seventh son.”

She sighed. “Or as pretty, either.”

He found a smile. “I’m sure that was part of it too. Prince Merlin is an extremely attractive man.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “Wash your face again and I’ll help you braid your hair, and then we’ll go have breakfast with Queen Snow and her husband. I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do to for them while we’re staying here, but if there is we’ll offer.”

She kissed him back and returned to the basin. “There’s bound to be something, Hugin—I’ve heard stories about her father, you know.”


Some twenty minutes later Vali led them down three flights of stone steps that were thankfully too wide and far too obviously ancient to be very reminiscent of the main stairs in the castle of Odinson. The dining room he brought them to was a smallish private one, and Prince Merlin at once rose from his seat to greet them with a bow. “King Hugin, Queen Helga, may I present Queen Snow White the Second of the Black Isle.”

Hugin nodded to the young queen, as did his wife, and she offered them a kind smile in return. “Welcome to the Black Castle,” she said. “Please, sit and join me for breakfast. We’re sorry we had to bring you in the way we did…”

“No need to apologize, Queen Snow,” Hugin assured her, pulling out a chair for his wife and then taking his own seat. “Hidden entrances don’t stay that way very long if you show them to everyone.”

Her smile widened. “That they don’t. And please, it’s just Snow and Merlin unless we’re in the throne room or around my father.”

“Then it’s just Hugin and Helga,” Helga replied. One of the elves popped in to pour her some tea, and she jumped just slightly but recovered herself and nodded to the creature. “Thank you.”

The elf beamed at her and moved to serve Hugin as well, but Merlin drained his cup and the elf took it with her when she popped away. “I just wanted to be here to greet you and introduce you to Snow before I left, since you didn’t get to meet her last night,” he explained to their guests as he stood up again, and Hugin realized he was still dressed for traveling. “My apologies for leaving when you’ve just arrived, but we think there may be a problem on Mendekua and after that we’ve got to try to do something about Caray. We’ll all be back in residence for at least a week once that’s been taken care of.” He took his wife’s hand and kissed the back of it, gazing into her eyes. “My queen…I will return.”

“Of course you will,” Snow told him. “Go on, they’re waiting.”

He laughed. “They’re sitting on the deck eating pastries and drinking tea with the crew—who we’re apparently spoiling because I can control the wind and Hans is feeding them too well. I’ll be back as quickly as I can, my love.”

He strode out of the room, and Helga caught Snow’s eye. “They’re going to Caray? But I thought…”

“That was where the shadow sickness started, yes,” Snow confirmed. “I wish Merlin had been able to stay home a few days more at least…but the sooner they do something about Caray, the safer we’ll all be.”

Hugin sighed, helping himself to a sausage before passing the serving dish to his wife. “I still can’t quite believe they fought their way through…that to get to us. You can’t know how grateful we are, Snow. You’d never even met us.”

Snow shook her head, taking a sip of her tea. “You asked my husband for help, and you offered us an alliance in exchange. What the Fearless Seven do because they just can’t help themselves aside,” she said with a fond smile, “it was my pleasure to be able to offer you sanctuary. And it’s not like the Black Castle isn’t large enough for the entire population of the island and more to shelter inside her walls—in fact, I’m told that’s likely why the castle was built so large in the first place, and why the gates are so high up.”

Hugin hummed over that. “Flooding, you think, or maybe storms?”

“We have no idea. Our oldest records go back hundreds of years before the Cataclysm, but even then the kingdom was said to be landlocked. Apparently Rock Trolls originally built the castle, but the only one currently living only knows of it as a story.”

“I’ve never heard of a Rock Troll before,” Helga said, helping herself to a spoonful of potatoes. “And there’s only one left? Where do they come from?”

“Their kingdom used to be in the far south, what’s now called the Broken Lands.” Snow took a fresh-baked roll from the basket and passed it on. “Very near the source of the Cataclysm, unfortunately. I’m hoping that Gothi will come for a visit someday, I’d love to show him the castle his ancestors built.”

Hugin nodded, applying himself to eating and trying not to think about the Fearless Seven having ventured so far into the Broken Lands in their search for a way to stop the shadows.

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