I wake up beneath the blankets. My body chatters from the freezing wind that cuts through my meagre covering. I’m stiff. Sore. I’ve not moved since Soc told me to lie here. There’s no sound except for the sea. Gorse is growling. He’s hungry. So am I. I creep out. In the blackest dark I crawl to the wheelhouse on my knees.
My cheeks sting from the salt saturated air.
Every hand and leg movement forward is slow. My heart pounds like a big bass drum and I pray I won’t end up in the water.
Gorse flaps around my head. I can sense his nerves which makes mine worse.
“Gorse, can it.” My voice is harsh – harsher than I intended. “I’m sorry, boy. I’m beyond freezing and starving.”
He whimpers. He lands on my back. His claws knead me but they can’t get through my thick school coat. In the wheelhouse I use the wheel to get to my feet. Gorse growls at me as he falls to the floor. His wings flutter and he lands on my shoulder. “Where are we boy?”
During the journey Nate had kept the lights on 24/7. I search with my hands until I locate the key and turn it to the first position. The little in the wheelhouse comes on and I blink; the paltry light does nothing to cut through the night.
Over the past few days Nate showed me how to pilot the boat. He didn’t show me how to navigate. I don’t know where I am going. I turn the key again and take control of the helm.
Gorse goes beneath the table and brings out a packet of nuts. He sits on my shoulder and shares them with me. Without Soc and Nate I’m not sure how I can eat. They fished to bulk out our meagre rations.
A light. Flash. Flash – again. Flash – again. The flashes are at regular intervals. Lights mean habitation so I turn the boat and head towards it. Gorse is agitated, and he keeps chattering. My mood lifts at the thought of a warm bed and food.
Crunch. Oh crap! Fear. Gorse is chattering, screeching, barking. He’s making a full range of noises. The boat leans in the direction of the sea. What do I do? A captain should go down with his ship, or so I’ve read, but I’m not the captain. Unwilling to die at sixteen, I slip and slide out of the wheelhouse to the relative safety of the deck. When the boat tips, I cling to the guardrail. Port or starboard? I can’t remember. “Help!” It’s possible the owners of the light will see me or hear me. “Help!”
In the bright beam of the light I see rocks and glimpse a beach before the light goes again. Can I swim? Is it as close as it looks?
“Nathaniel’s vessel.” A loud shout. The voice doesn’t sound ancient; it has a giggle in it. “Brethren, we must check it for signs of habitation.”
“I’m over here.”
They might be enemies, but they are my passport off the boat.
My stomach rumbles and I want to puke, but I can’t because there isn’t enough food left in my body to produce any more vomit. I pull my school coat round but it’s not doing much to keep out the icy weather, my naked feet are blue. This is real hunger and real cold neither of which I have ever experienced.
Three days on board Nate’s boat and the novelty of being so far from Seatown has worn thin. The hum of the engine, the warmth of the sun and the splish of the waves has become monotonous and boring. I sit on the bench and watch. Sea, sea and more sea. Not even a fish jumping or a bird flying over breaks the view or interferes with the white noise. The salty air is now normal. What I can smell is my body. I’m still wearing the pyjamas I wore when they dragged me from my bed. It is the main reason I’m sure this isn’t a dream. But if I accept this isn’t a dream, then I have to accept I walked through the air. Soc won’t talk about it. He says I have to wait until we get there for full explanations.
Nate and Soc have not spoken much. They stand together in the wheelhouse grim faced and ignoring me.
Gorse sleeps on his back grunting and farting. It’s a welcome noise that isn’t sea or boat engine. The battery on my copper has run out and Nate won’t let me use his boat’s battery to charge it.
Dusk comes on us quicker tonight than it has previously.
Nate cuts the engines. He comes out of the wheelhouse, stripping off his top and trousers as he goes. “I need exercise. We’ll take it in turns to swim. Tomorrow… well we should be there tomorrow.”
“The Order of the Sea.” He’s naked and standing on the bench. “Coming for a swim with me?”
I shake my head. The water looks icy. “Where is this Order?” I’m becoming sceptical it exists. My grandfather said he had destroyed them.
“In the North.” He looks back in Soc’s direction. “Angus is staying with the boat, Hon.” Balanced perfectly on the guard rail, he places his hands in a pyramid high above his head. He plunges in before I can ask any other questions.
Gorse opens his right eye at the activity.
In the nude, Soc runs from the wheelhouse. He jumps up on the bench and dives into the sea.
“A more paranoid person might think they were avoiding them.” I tickle Gorse’s belly. He closes his eye again.
Both of them are strong swimmers and laughing, they race round the boat, pulling themselves back into the boat, wet and their skin bright red. From under the bench, Soc finds a couple of towels.
Nate is drying himself off, he stops and stares. “Soc!” He points straight ahead. “Get yourself dressed and hide the boy.”
“Shit.” Before Nate has finished speaking, Soc is pulling on his black trousers and top. “Angus, under the bench. Now!” He pulls my blanket out and stares at me. “I’m not pissing around. Do it.”
I obey his command and roll under the bench. Gorse curls up in the crook of my arm.
He covers me head to toe with blankets. “Hopefully, they’re under the impression you’re still in your room in the palace.”
I pull the blanket so I can see him. “Who are under that impression?”
He covers me up again. “Trust me. Stay here and don’t move no matter what happens.”
“I’m trusting you a lot,” I mutter under my breath. I do trust Soc but I’m getting fed up with not being trusted in return. I don’t understand why I am in the middle of the sea. When I understand why, I find things easier.
It feels like hours but is probably less than ten minutes. A boat with a much bigger engine than Nate’s approaches.
A crack – a gunshot – tears through my body.
None of the shouts are in Islander. Nate and Soc are both shouting, but I can’t understand them.
It goes quiet.
The bigger engine disappears into the distance.
Waves lap against the boat.
There are no other noises.
Soc told me not to move. So I didn’t move. I should’ve moved. Fear froze me in place. A wimp that didn’t help his brother. He didn’t tell me when to move. Gorse licks my tears.
Sitting on the rock next to Big Mac, I try not to feel like a puppet; deep within my innards churn as though he is pulling my strings. Yet I’m also feeling at home and safe.
Waves crash in the dark, white froth highlighted in the measly light from the narrow moon. Summer warmth brings out the blossom from the seaberries and the scents mingle with the salt of the sea.
My home is being invaded by my sister and her husband. My Dad might be dead. My life is changed. My chest heaves. I'm not at home. I'm not safe. I can't cry. There's nothing there. I'm trying to convince myself that this is real and I'm not in my bed asleep.
Soc is somewhere in the dark staring out to sea.
Big Mac pats my knee and I shrink from the touch of the stranger. Now we are down on the ground normal rules apply. “I apologise, my dear Angus. My son has spoken about you so many times that I feel we have known each other for years. He is very proud of his pupil.”
“Sir Nathaniel. I fostered him from when he was a wee fledgling.”
“He’s here,” Soc shouts. “I see him.”
Out in the dark, a small light appears. I focus on it. I’ve never been on a boat before. Heck I’ve never been in a car that travelled faster than a mile per hour. Dad has never let me leave the palace grounds on my own and I've been only allowed in the Royal Quarter, heavily guarded. The only way I’ve explored Seatown is by slipping my guards.
The small black, flat-bottomed boat comes closer. There’s a shush as it launches its cushions and turns into a hovercraft. In the paltry moon I can make it out as it makes its way onto the sand.
“Hurry up. The place is surrounded by the Cycloneican Navy,” Nate yells.
“Come on, kid. I am sorry to do this to you but the safest place for the sons of King Lorenzo II is the Order of the Sea under the care of my brother.” Big Mac whispers in my ear, “He’s a nasty piece of work. Don’t trust him. However he has a multitude of reasons to protect both yourself and Socrates.”
“Are you not coming with us?”
“It’s best I don’t. My brother is needed alive to keep you safe. If I’m in his company for more than five minutes I can’t guarantee he would survive.”
"Why don't you get along?"
"That's a story covering many centuries. One day I will tell it to you but tonight there is no time."
I don’t even know if I trust him but again I’m not fighting him. We’re walking together towards the boat. Soc launches into the air like a superhero and there is a faint thunk as he lands on board. It’s cold, my feet are wet and this is all beginning to feel a lot less like a dream.
My attempts to get on board are closer to a whale beaching than Socrates leap. I find myself hanging on the rail. It's painful as I clamber over it, it sticking in my ribs. My descent on to the deck is like a lead brick thrown off a balcony . I look over the side. “Bye,” I shout into the darkness but there is no response and I wonder if Big Mac is still there. Did he ever actually exist?
“Soc, get Titch out of sight.”
“Aye, aye, my captain.” Soc comes up behind me. “Angus, lie down and roll under the bench. There’s a blanket and pillow under there. Try and get some sleep we’re a few hours from the order. Big Mac is going to reset your room so they think you’re still in there.”
He helped me find the bench and lie down in the makeshift bed underneath it.
“Stay with me?”
“I’m needed on the bridge in case anything goes wrong.”
I’m left to try and get comfortable on the hard surface. My stomach rumbles and I fight with myself to be brave. All I want is my bed and my dad. This is too horribly real and I can't wake up.
Big Mac holds me tight like a mother hen looking after a chicken. “Don’t panic, Angus. Walk as though you’re on the ground.” His aura forces me to trust him although I don’t want to.
My feet ignore the warnings my head is giving them and I step off the balcony. At sixteen I need to have some dignity and I fight the desire to snuggle into him.
To my right, and it proves I must be dreaming, Soc walks through the air with arms outstretched. On his shoulder Gorse dances around, excited and chattering in Soc’s ear.
Up this high the cold air cuts through my coat and I shiver. I wish I had remembered to put my shoes on as my toes feel blue. Walking like this is tough on the calves – like walking through water but less wet. It’s dark and I can’t see the overgrown and untidy palace grounds but I’m aware we are above the lawns that run right down to the cliff and out to sea. My heart beats faster as we get closer to the edge. The thought of walking in the air over the sea is somehow more scary than being above the hard and lethal ground.
“Close your eyes and walk downstairs,” Big Mac whispers.
Our descent is slow. Like a princess in a long gown and her handsome prince, gliding down one of the staircases in the palace.
“We’ll be on the ground shortly.”
I’m trying to work out what is below us. Where are we?
Soc goes into a sophisticated dive and heads down into the dark until I can’t see him any more. I’m all alone with Big Mac. Whilst I want to talk, I don’t know how or what to say. My brain is still back in bed asleep with, I hope, my body.
My feet touch sand. There is no moon and whilst I can hear the sea I can’t see enough to locate myself.
“Well, young man, that was an impressive first perambulation.” Big Mac guides me over to a rock and he sits me down next to him. He squints out in the direction of the sea. “Socrates, where is my boy?”
“He said he would be here as soon as he could.” I can hear my brother but I can’t see him until he turns on a light. Only the light appears to be his hands.
“Where?” With my mind everywhere and nowhere I need information, because without it I feel ethereal.
“You’re going to my brother at the Order of the Sea.” Big Mac smacks me on the back and I nearly fall off the rock -- it hurt. “That was impressive work by the way.”
“What was?” I blink and look at his big dark face. “I...”
“The security to your room. It’s why Socrates and Nathaniel brought me in. Nobody else could get through it. I needed to use a mix of technology and magic to get in. It probably saved your life.”
Why it matters that he sounds proud of me I don’t know but I like it. I’m used to everyone hating me and that one act of kindness breaks through my personal firewalls and my chest heaves with dry sobs.
A night of blood, mayhem and magic thrust Prince Angus, the youngest son of the king, onto the throne of Covesea Island. He's never wanted to be king. Social media calls King Angus a clown. His subjects don't rate his ability to lead them in the trade negotiations with one of the planet's superpowers.