Seagulls screech and the sun warms my skin. I’m waiting on the jetty for Nate’s boat which is a dot on the horizon. Gorse nibbles on my ear and whimpers. He wants a conversation, but I’m too excited. On that boat is my means to escape this universal father forsaken place. I would formulate a plan but I know the abbot is checking my thoughts. He scratches around inside my head like a chicken searching for food, so I’m refusing to let myself think about my options. The warmer weather allows me to kick off my boots and walk round the island barefoot which is strengthening me.
I close my eyes and breathe, praying she will go away. She’s useless and simpering. It’s not like girls usually throw themselves at me and I have no idea how to handle this.
“Rei.” Although I manage a smile, Gorse hisses at her. I tap his nose and he bites my finger. “OW!” I suck at the wound until it stops bleeding. During my stay at the order, I’m sure my blood has become more salty. Maybe it’s the proximity to the ocean, but there are days when I feel like I have spray from the waves in my mouth. Salt hangs in the air.
“Let me.” She holds out her hand. I think she’s trying to be sexy but she’s not achieving it.
“It’s OK, thanks.” I wrap a handkerchief round it.
“We could go and sit on the beach together?” Yet again she’s doing that thing where she wraps her hair round her finger and moves her foot back and forth, tracing a semi circle on the ground. “Let’s spend time together.”
“I’m waiting for Big Mac.”
I blink. “He said he was your uncle. Have you never met him?”
She appears confused. Bea would never look like that. Rei makes me miss my girlfriend more. There’s no comparison between the two. I mean Bea wouldn’t bother flirting she’d have told me to kiss her.
“He’s Shun’s mentor?”
The smog of confusion lifts from her face and she smiles. “Oh yes, the abbot of the order of the earth. Father-Abbot Damocles Sorenson.”
I shrug. “He introduced himself as Big Mac. He’s bringing me the pieces I need to make my copper and then he’s going to help me broadcast...” Her soggy and awkward kiss interrupts my flow. It’s my turn to blink and appear confused. With my thumb, I wipe my lips and shake my head.
She smiles her vacant smile. “I like you, Angus.”
Universal Father, I don’t believe in you but if you exist, help. As the father-abbot’s daughter, I do not want to offend her. My world here could become difficult if I do – more difficult than it currently is. “You’re very pretty, Rei.”
“Angus!” Big Mac’s loud shout, disturbs my but.
To my distress, her smile, this time, is genuine. “Thank you, Angus.” She goes back to playing with her hair and tracing a semi circle with her foot.
The boat pulls up to the jetty. “Angus, catch.” Any chance I may have had to tell her about Bea is swallowed up in tying Nate's boat to the jetty. When I turn round she has disappeared.
For a large man, Big Mac is nimble on his feet and he leaps from prow. His scarlet and gold robe, and his long thick dark hair flow out behind him, creating a brief spectacle.
Gorse chatters excitedly and takes a piece of raw chicken from Big Mac. He flies off to enjoy it.
Big Mac stands in front of me. His expression of confusion bears a passing resemblance to Rei’s earlier.
Please, for all that is good on Litae, don’t let him kiss me too.
His eyebrow raises. “Now that I discerned, young man. How do you do it?”
“Block me. When I first met you I had no bother exploring the inner workings of the mind otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to break into your room.” He places his hands either side of my head.
I flinch. Please don’t kiss me.
“Why are you expecting me to kiss you? I could...”
Nate jumps down from the boat behind him and checks that I have tied up the boat correctly. “Now do you believe me, Dad?”
“Uhuh… clever boy.”
I look from Big Mac to Nate and back to Big Mac. “What on Litae are you talking about?”
His hands haven’t moved from my head. “Walk me through what you do when you meditate?”
I shrug. “They told me to visualise things I… well things that mean a lot to me and things I enjoy.”
“So you have imagined a honey pot and a firewall?”
“Not really. I was imagining my girlfriend but then I wanted to protect her. And well… I’m not very good at the yang-qi. I am good at firewalls.” I still don’t know why this is all so important. “Infirmier Kim taught me to use my strengths and what I know.”
“Very good. I can’t get past it.” He removes his hands. “I bet you’re causing my brother some serious issues.” From his pocket he takes out a sparkly pink mobile phone. The back is decorated with a twinkly, diamond encrusted sea bird. His arm is round me and I can’t help but walk with him, at his great pace. “My brother makes extensive use of his mind reading ability to control his brethren. If I can’t can’t get into your thoughts then I doubt my technically inept older brother can. Like I said you’re a clever boy. You just need to find a way to hide those stray direct thoughts like the one about wanting me to kiss you.”
I pull away. “I don’t want you to kiss me.”
He throws his head back. If a mountain could laugh I imagine it would laugh like Big Mac. “Perhaps you should explain that concern to me. Wait.” On his pink sparkly phone he pushes buttons. “Now. We are secure and can say anything without being overheard by my brother.” On a large rock halfway up the cliff path he sits and pats the space next to him.
“Rei Kazuto kissed me.”
“Ahh. Did you like it?”
I shake my head and rub my face with my hands. Looking out to sea allows me to avoid the merriment in his eyes. “I have a girlfriend.”
“She may not have survived your sister’s regime.”
His comment makes me grin. “You don’t know Bea. Bea would survive a bomb blast with barely a scratch.”
“Known her long?”
“She beat up a mayor’s son that was bullying me when I was four and she was six.” It’s the first time I’ve been able to talk about Bea and my whole being feels lighter. “She’s been protecting me ever since.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be the other way round?”
“I’m a computer geek at heart. She’s a nurse with a deadly aim and I’d much rather it wasn’t aimed at me.”
He laughs. “Well she sounds like she’d make a perfect queen.”
My protest is halted by a raise of his hand.
“Once we broadcast to the nation that your brother is no longer a crown prince and your sister is disinherited you will become the heir to the throne. That will happen whether or not your father is still alive.”
“I hadn’t thought about that. What do I do about Rei?”
“Play along. The poor child will be doing this because her father has asked. Don’t put her at risk. Do you think Bea might understand that you are helping keep Rei from harm?”
“Maybe, she’s not callous.”
“Then let Rei kiss you a bit and hold your hand. She probably doesn’t want to any more than you want her to. She’s been told to marry you because you will be king.” He touches my arm. “Breathe away any anger because the old bastard is standing there waiting for us. We’d better go.”
I am still just not well so I am going to have to give in this week. There are a couple of sentences I can't get to make sense which I know will be easier when I am less in pain and less medicated. Thank you for your patience. My blog began on a whim - this year has been amazing but next year I know there are certain times I need to be more organised and do several week ahead.
Apparently working in the infirmary isn’t enough for Master Kai. He’s sent me academic work. Whilst we are quarantined to the infirmary, Infirmier Kim is letting Shun and I use his small office as a bedroom. He’s knelt at his table with a cup of sweet smelling ginger tea and a small bowl of rice. I don’t know how he survives on his meagre rations. With dried flowers and bits of driftwood he’s made the sparse sandstone space homely.
Peat and driftwood crackle in the grate.
“Try this.” Infirmier Kim takes my paper off me, reads it and then in the most beautiful handwriting he writes a note under the person practising yang-qi before sliding it across the table to me. “Trust me, Angus if you can learn it it will add to your life.” He hands it back to me and waves his hand over the paper. “I’ll help you when I can but there’s another wave of refugees on the way. The brethren are making emergency shelters so we can house them on the island.” He sighs. “Covesea Island was once my home. Your sister’s actions are destroying it and its people. You must be experiencing similar emotions?”
The note reads: Concentrate on your strengths and your intelligence as you work. Bring your talents to the study. And Don’t Ruin my Table with Your Pen!!!!
I sketch one of the yang-qi fighting moves and write an equation underneath it. I’ve been fascinated by the way energy is used in the display fights.
As their prince, I should not wish harm on my father’s people, but each wave gives me longer incarcerated in the infirmary with Infirmier Kim and Shun. They’ve been charged with educating me in the ways of the order and it’s a world away from the classrooms of the novices. I’ve been allowed to ask questions, I’ve been treated as intelligent and I’ve remained unbeaten for several weeks. “Umm Infirmier?”
“Uhuh?” He blows over his hot tea and takes a sip.
“Would you like me to read over the data we collected? I’m not being well...” Big headed are the words I’m looking for. I’m a child and the order has made it clear that’s how they see me.
“Don’t sell yourself short. You’re an intelligent young man and it’s possible you will see what I am constantly missing. I had kelp pox myself as a child. I’ve managed to go weeks without catching whatever this is, as have you. Did you?”
I shrug. “The palace housekeeper is the only one who might know.” Bessie was the closest thing I had to a mother but when I turned ten she was taken from me as our relationship was deemed inappropriate by my grandfather. “I didn’t have it recently. Do we know if they’re all from the place?”
“We know all the boats came from Noah’s Landing. But the sickest people are unable to tell us if they’re from the town. A lot are unconfirmed and have no identity and without going there we can’t know if it’s environmental. We now know it’s not airborne.” He places his finger over his lips and stands. With the same finger he used to indicate silence, he taps the side of his head. The brethren can communicate without speaking. I know it’s a superior when he kneels on the ground and touches his head to the stone. “Angus, you have a visitor.”
The door opens and anger drives me from my kneeling position. It catches me unaware as I grab my brother by neck is robe and propel smack into the back wall of the office. “You...” My fist raises.
“Go on then.” His expression is resigned. It saps the anger out of me.
“By the Universal Father.” I drop Soc and ram my hand in my armpit. It’s burning and my eyes are watering.
“Novice Angus, that behaviour is not acceptable in my presence.” The Father-Abbot swirls into the room. He tucks his pink mobile phone into the pocket of his robe. “Actually, it’s not acceptable when not in my presence. Kim, leave him...”
Infirmier Kim gets down on the ground with a small brown jar in his hands.
“Father, I don’t for one moment think you can condemn Angus for having sibling issues.” Soc steps forward and takes the pot of cream from Infirmier Kim. “Give me your hand, Squirt.”
I glare at him and tighten my armpit. “You… I thought you were dead.”
“It was safer for both of us.” He pulls my hands out and rubs in the minty soothing cream into the blister forming on my palm. His eyes look right into mine and the pain in them hooks my heart and yanks at I. “I’m sorry. I would never have left you if I didn’t think it was the best way to keep you safe.”
“As pleasant as all this is, Socrates, we have a lot to discuss with your brother and I suggest we kneel at the table. Infirmier Kim, you may make us tea and then get back to work.”
I glare at the Father-Abbot with my hands returned to my armpit. “I want him to stay. And I’ll make the tea. Infirmier Kim, sit down.”
I’ve put him in a difficult position and he looks from the abbot to Soc to me. “Your Highness, I must do as the father has commanded.” He goes to the corner and places his kettle on the fire.
Soc touches my shoulder and nods. “I won’t let anyone harm you, kid.”
“You should see the mess he...” I point at the abbot. “Has made of my back. It rivals our grandfather’s handiwork.”
“I’m sorry, Angus I really am.” He doesn’t say anything to the Father-Abbot though.
We all kneel at the table. I make sure I am as far away from the Father-Abbot as I can be. Infirmier Kim places the pot of strong ginger tea down on the table with three bowls of rice and a bowl of round orange fruit with furry skin– they look nothing like we get on Covesea Island. He bows to us all and gives me an apologetic look before he leaves the room.
“Thank you, Infirmier.” I smile at Infirmier Kim.
He manages a nervous nod back.
The Father-Abbot reaches over and takes a piece of fruit. “Socrates, serve us and remember your reduced circumstances..” He peels the fruit with a knife he’s produced from the pockets in his robe.
“Your Holiness.” Soc stands up with the teapot in his hand and pours a cup for the Father-Abbot, then mine and finally his own before retuning to his kneeling position. He deflates in front of me. “May I tell him myself, Sir?”
Father-Abbot ignores him and slices the fruit, eating each one from the end of the knife. “Your brother is to abdicate the throne.”
“He can’t abdicate a throne doesn’t hold.” I’m not believing that Dad is dead until I’ve seen a body. “Unless you can show me my father’s body...”
“Angus.” Soc keeps his eyes lowered. His voice is quiet “Dad can’t have survived.”
I sniff and ignore him. There’s a chance. Until there’s a body I don’t know and I refused to be as sure as everyone else.
“Socrates, you do not have permission to speak. You no longer have that status. You must wait to be asked.”
Underneath the table my hands form a fist in spite of the pain from whatever he did to me this time and I tuck them under my arse to prevent me from using them. I can feel the nasty bastard itching around inside my mind. I know he can hear my thoughts so I swear at him as much as I can. He knows I hate him but it’s his own fault for invading my thoughts like this.
“Until your father makes an appearance you are a regent and act in his stead.”
“No. No. No. I swallow. “In which case, Soc, you have my permission to speak because I want to know what on Litae is going on. And this...” I bite back the expression I really would like to use. “Well I don’t have the ability to scratch about in his brain so I don’t know if I can trust him. I don’t trust anyone who needs to invade privacy like he does.”
He raises his head and gives me a weak smile. “Thanks, Squirt.”
“Socrates, his name is not Squirt. Remember your place.” His face is going red and his Adam’s apple wobbles.
“Until I abdicate my crown my circumstances as regent to the King of Covesea Island make me your equal, Father.”
I wave my hand. “Whilst I’m not fond of Squirt, I’m even less fond of your highness or all the other pointless titles my birth blessed me with. Soc, why?”
“Because… because we need to get rid of Evie.”
“And then if and only if Dad’s dead we put you on throne.” There’s no way they are making me king.
He shakes his head. “We have an ace up our sleeve. A DNA test…” From the pocket of his robe he takes out a series of papers. “Dad did them when Grandfather died.”
There are four. Dad, Soc, our sister and me. I lay them out and look at them. I’ve done some science and I go through them. “Soc?” The results don’t make sense. My brow furrows till it hurts and I try squinting my eyes but still nothing makes sense.
He nods. “I’m not dad’s and neither is Evelyn. Because we’re twins I can’t expose her without exposing myself.” His hand shakes as he taps on mine. “This shows you’re his son. It didn’t matter to him. He said I was never to tell anyone. What we don’t know is how to tell everyone still in Covesea Island that you are the legitimate heir. We hope it will give the revolution some strength.”
“You’re not my brother?”
“Yes I’m still your brother. We’re half brothers. Dad didn’t care why should you.”
“Because… I don’t want it.” I push the papers back to him. “Dad’s not dead, and I don’t want to take the throne from you. I want you to stay the crown prince. And you’re still my brother without any halves involved.”
“Angus… look… we just need everyone still on the island to know this. You need to be the crown prince – they need hope and a figurehead.”
I’m not ready to concede defeat and become king but there’s a wisdom in people knowing that our sister has no right to the throne. “I’m not ready to a be a figurehead.”
“I’m inclined to believe him.” Father-Abbot smiles at me. “He’s a terrible student of yang-qi. He is rude, constantly fighting and… well the other novices don’t like him. Perhaps it would be better if I became the figurehead.”
At that I take back the pages. “I’ll do it. Does Covesea International News still function?” I make it clear I am addressing Soc. I don’t want the Father-Abbot involved in this.
“Yes but it’s in Evie’s pocket. There’s no way...”
The Father-Abbot’s attitude has me on edge and I shout without meaning it, “I’m not planning on asking them, Socrates. By the universal father don’t treat me like an idiot as well.” I pick up my pen and on the pad I’ve been working out the yang-qi trajectories and energy ratios I write a list. “I need these things. Is Nate with you?”
Soc nods. “He’s outside teaching the novice’s how to fight with sticks.”
“Give him this. I need my copper back and then I need him to help me get into the university computer labs.”
The Father-Abbot moves and looks uneasy for the first time. “Young man, you have to be kept safe. You have no heir.”
I stand up. “If we don’t get rid of my sister then there will be no crown, no throne, no country to for my heirs to inherit. Unless either of you think you can hack into the Covesea International News?”
A mask covers my mouth and nose, Long white sleeve protectors keep the sleeves of my robe out of the water.
Over the past three days I’ve worked twelve hour shifts. I scrub at the sheets and curse the lack of mechanisation in the order. I've never actually seen a washing machine but I remember Bessie talking about one. As I scour the linen with soap, I work out plans to design one. We could maybe harness wave power for electricity. The stench in the sluice is almost unbearable even with the mask on it. I’m starting to get used to the smell. My hands are red, sore and cracked. The pain is becoming a hum to my life rather than the agony it was yesterday. I promised father’s people I would work and fight for them. Each day bring more boats with horror stories of what is happening on the island under my sister's regime.
“Angus.” Matt comes in. “We need help there’s been three more deaths. Need to get them down to the mortuary before the next boat load arrives."
“Shit.” I dry my hands off and follow him out, and back to the ward. Since the refugees have arrived, death has become a regular feature of my life. Dead bodies are not something I'm used to but I've learned to accept them and I now touch them without fear.
Cough. Cough. Cough. The cacophony of hacking coughs is constant and the smell is like the one in the alley with Ursula but in high definition.
We stop by one of the beds. Infirmier Kim is covering the face of a healthy, strong young man. He is about my age, maybe a little older. “That’s the worst of this disease it seems to be hitting the young, fit and healthy harder than the others. The elderly are recovering better.” He looks up and down the ward. “It has me wondering if its something we’ve seen before. Although, I’ve never seen anything like it. I wonder if the older members have been exposed. Novice, they’ll all talk to you because they see you ask king.”
“I’m not king.”
He holds up his hand. “Novice, unless you want to see more of this...” he indicates the body “…well you’ll be whatever these people need you to be.” The usually kindly Infirmier adopts a stern tone. “I don’t want this to continue. I want you to take a pen and paper, take notes and find out about illnesses the older members had as children and how old they are.”
“Sir.” The last thing I want is to alienate either Infirmier Kim or Shun. They make my life here bearable. “May I remove my mask? They are bound to speak more freely if I do?”
“No, young man. We need you alive. Now...” He nods. “And in exchange I’ll help Matt clean and take the bodies downstairs. Do we have a deal?”
"Sir.” It doesn't feel like I have a choice.
I go to the desk at the end of the ward and get the pen and paper. Every bed has an occupant. A woman sitting up in bed looks more able to speak than the others, so I approach her and stand at the foot of her bed. She doesn’t have the most welcoming expression on her face. “Well if it isn’t our very own Royal Oaf. Comes to something when an entire country is relying on a brat with an attitude.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry everyone is stuck with me.” My face is crumbling without my permission. The months spent here only crying in bed at night are taking their toll and I squeeze my eyes until they stop stinging. “I don’t want my dad and brother to be dead either.” I straighten my back and smile at her. Dad would want me to do my duty and I’m going to do what he would want. “Infirmier Kim wants me to talk to you about your childhood. Any illness you might have.” I sit down in the chair next to her. “May I have your name?”
“Millicent Bowchamps.” She smiles a little. “Silly name I know. At school they called me Silly Milly.”
I touch her very still and clammy hand. “If anyone knows how a nickname can hurt, it’s me. Where are you from?”
“A place called Noah’s Landing. It’s a pretty town except for the harbour.” She yanks her face around like one of the gargoyles on the old buildings in Seatown. “It’s where they bring in the kelp and it’s all industrialised. Stank nearly as bad as this place.”
I write down the information as I don’t really know what will be useful. “Infirmier wants to know if you had any major illnesses as a child?”
“Oh goodness no. I was as fit as a fiddle. All that air, seafood and we swam in the sea almost every day not matter what the weather I had a couple of colds but nothing serious. Not even the kelp pox.”
“Did anyone else have the kelp pox?”
“Some kids did. They were off school with it.” She stared into the ether as she tried to recall the information she needed. “I was about eight so it was about sixty years ago. I can’t remember exactly when, I’m sorry.”
“Is everyone here from Noah’s Landing?”
She shrugs a little. “I’ve no idea. In later years people have been moving and building lots of houses. We don’t all know each other these days.”
"Is there anyone else here from Noah's Landing?"
"That nasty old octopus over there." She whispers. "He's one of those men who can't keep his hands to himself."
The man she points at is comatose and unable to supply me with answers. I chew the inside my mouth and think. "Can you remember if he ever had kelp pox?"
"Oh yes. His mother held a kelp pox party so we could all go and catch it, My mother said that was ridiculous and kept me away. She said nobody should make their child seriously ill."
"Why would anyone..."
"It was believed that if a child had it young they wouldn't get really sick with it later." She shrugs. "No idea if that's true or not."
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.