The Duke and the Duchess

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Chapter 14

By morning Nick had formulated something of a plan. He could do magic and the guards couldn't, so he was fairly certain he could get away from them. But he would have to get to the harbor on his own and before he was missed. That meant acquiring a horse, and it also meant he wouldn't be able to take crates of books with him.

He requested writing materials and was given all he wanted. He sat down with the three training manuals and wrote outlines and notes for each. That took a good part of the day. When he returned all six books to the library he found that there was actually a series of ten manuals, so he checked out copies of the other seven and took them back to his suite to work on later.

The duke had noticed that the section on magic in the library seemed to contain only elementary books. There had to be more advanced tomes somewhere, but he wandered all through the large room, several smaller rooms, and even rooms on the second floor without finding any.

He went back to the librarian. "Excuse me, but I was looking for the books on advanced magic and I can't seem to find them."

The librarian gave him an enigmatic smile and just said, "Upstairs, through the red door, Your Highness."

"Oh, and where can I find a map of Incelia?"

The librarian gave him a puzzled look. "A what?"

"A map. You know, a drawing of where everything is."

"Whatever for? Everyone knows where everything is."

Nick realized that Incelians probably did know, learning from their parents the places they needed to be able to find. With no foreigners, who would want to see a map, except him? He went back up to look again for the advanced magic texts. This time he did find the red door; he hadn't recognized it as a door before. It was just a red oblong with no handle or apparent lock. Pushing it did nothing, it was very solid.

Ah, of course. Only an advanced mage should be able to access advanced magic. If he could figure out the door he could see the books. If he couldn't, then he wasn't ready for them. Only he knew he was. He just hadn't gotten to where he was in the Incelian fashion. He decided to leave it for now. After he'd been through the other seven manuals he would come back.

The duke decided to start working on the other part of his plan. He went out of the library and his guards were faithfully waiting for him at the entrance.

"Hey, fellas, I'd like to go riding. Is there any problem with that?"

"No, Your Highness, but we'll have to go with you."

"Good, you can show me the trails."

Nick thought if he went riding every day, in time the stable workers would get so used to seeing him they wouldn't pay much attention. Besides, he needed some sort of exercise and riding would familiarize him with the surrounding area.

At the stables, one guard escorted him to the front of the huge building while the other hurried off to the other end. Apparently horses for the guards and horses for the nobility were kept in separate sections.

Nick made a show of wandering around and looking at the available animals with a stable hand to give the guard plenty of time to saddle two horses and bring them around. He didn't want anyone to be concerned that he was trying to escape, especially when he wasn't--at least not yet.

He picked out an ordinary brown horse with a white star and one white foot. The stable hand offered him fancy saddles and he selected one that would fit well but was fairly plain, having just a little decorative tooling.

By the time he was mounted the guards were ready and he let them decide the route. They led him down a well-used path across a field and through a small group of trees to a road. Nick was at first surprised at the good condition of the road, but it wasn't long before they started passing large manor houses with beautifully manicured grounds, and the guards explained that all the nobility didn't live in the palace. Many of the wealthy preferred their own homes, and only used their palace quarters occasionally.

Past the mansions they entered a large, prosperous town. The guards told him it was called Oakbranch. The duke didn't have any Incelian money so he couldn't buy anything, but he rode slowly through the streets and made note of the shops. There were dress-makers, tailors, leather goods, spices and exotic foods, jewelry, and all sorts of stores selling goods that were obviously meant for their wealthy neighbors. The quality seemed at least equal to and in some cases superior to the palace products. There was also a poorer section selling ordinary things that ordinary people could afford as well as a large residential district.

The guards were patient while he went all around through the streets, and then led him out a different road. They passed more manors, but these were a little more modest in size and eventually they neared the palace again just as it was getting dark.

Nick was pleasantly tired after the ride. Back in his suite he discovered the servants had been paying attention to what he had been eating from the buffets. Instead of a huge spread, he was offered three meats, six side dishes, two desserts, and two wines plus a pitcher of water, all things he had eaten before.

He spent the evening working on book four of the training manuals. He was interrupted only once, when Spider dropped by. Nick was glad to see him since he had a number of questions.

"Spider! Come in. No buffet tonight, I guess they're figuring out what I like. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I was wondering . . . did you get in at the red door?"

"Gossipy librarian?"

His uncle shrugged. "Word gets around."

"No, not yet. I didn't try. I thought I would finish the manuals first. Why?"

"There's a book that the Queen Mother would like to see. It's called the "Magic Compendium" by Winnifred Cowen. Of course none of us can get into the room where it's kept. Someday Princess Carmen will be able to, but not yet."

"It seems to me there's a strong implication that those who can't get into the room aren't supposed to see the books that are in there."

"It's just the one spell she needs to see. There are two others that are very similar but the effects are different, and she wants to compare them. It's all theoretical with her, you know there's no danger she could actually do any of them."

"What's it called?"

"Horax's Invisibility Matrix."

"There's a way to make yourself invisible?" Nick asked, very interested. Being invisible would definitely improve his chances of escaping.

Spider shrugged. "Supposedly, but I don't know of anyone who actually can, not without visual distortions that show clearly where the person is even if they're not identifiable. It's one of Magda's areas of interest. If anyone would know how to do it, she would, but of course she can't demonstrate her knowledge."

"Well, maybe I could just copy that one spell for her rather than give her the whole book. It will be a while, though, like I said, I want to finish the manuals first before I get into anything complicated."

Spider smiled broadly. "That would be wonderful, I'm sure she would appreciate it very much and there's no rush. She's been waiting for years, and expected to have to wait until Carmen was old enough to get it."

"I have a couple of questions, maybe you can answer them as long as you're here. I went for a ride today to Oakbranch, and I realized when I was there that I don't have any Incelian money. Not that I need to buy much of anything, but if I'm a prince, shouldn't I at least have some pocket change?"

"You're kidding. Prince Matthew didn't tell you that once the king accepted you as a dragonmaster you're supposed to get a whopping big allowance?"

"No, not a word, I guess I'll talk to him about it. Oh, and I noticed when Princess Mirabella threw her dagger at me that it seemed very strong and sharp, but there wasn't any iron in it. I was wondering where I could get one of those."

Spider shook his head. He reached under his coat and unhooked a mid-sized sheath from his belt. "Here, you can have this one. They're made just for us, dragonmaster or dragomancer, and we all have several of them in different sizes. I can pick up a few more if you want, or you can pick some out yourself in the armory. It doesn't seem like Prince Matthew is being very helpful."

"He doesn't want to be helpful. He wants me to stay here and . . . well, breed or something."

"If Carmen was a little older, I might be after you for her too."

"But I was born with a small aperture that my mother opened for me. My children could have the same problem."

"Yes, I've heard the story. Honestly, Nephew, no one believes it. If I were you I'd make a few babies. After that, they'd probably let you go home. If the babies were defective no one would need you around to make more, and if they were perfect, your seed would be included in our population and at some point you would become unnecessary. It might take a few years, but they'd let you go. They might even kick you out."

Nick shook his head. "I know you mean well, but . . . thanks for the knife. I don't want to make babies with anyone except Elizabeth, and I certainly don't want to have children and then abandon them."

Spider replied, "No one can say Magda and her offspring aren't the most stubborn mules on the island and you certainly fit right in. I hope you get through the red door soon; I'd like to know what it's like on the other side. Good night, Your Highness."

"Good night, Spider."

In the morning the duke went to the suite his guards identified as belonging to Prince Matthew. But when he knocked at the door, Matthew's wife, Princess Francine, answered the door.

"Good morning, Your Highness," Nick said politely. "I'd like to talk to Prince Matthew."

"Prince Henry, good morning to you as well. My husband is on perimeter duty today. Perhaps I can help you?"

"Probably, but first, what's perimeter duty and why would a prince be doing it, Your Highness?"

"All the dragonmasters take turns at it, so only princes and princesses do it. It's just checking all the boundaries of Incelia to make sure there have been no foreign incursions. Only someone with potent magic can get around the entire island in one day. Now what can I help you with?"

"Two things, Your Highness. First, as a dragonmaster, shouldn't I have some money?"

She looked surprised. "Of course. I can take you to the treasury if you'd like although I'm sure your guards can show you the way. You should have an account book there; you can take in cash whatever part of your funds you want. And please drop the 'Highness', it's silly for us to call each other that in an informal situation. Save it for Court. Now what else?"

"I understand I can also get special ironless knives in the armory."

"Yes, indeed, it's down the hall toward the guard barracks. Is that all?" At Nick's nod, she added, "Anyone could have told you these things. I suppose we all just assumed someone else would. Good day, Henry."

He gave her a little half bow and replied, "Good day, Francine, and thank you."

His guards took him to the treasury or rather the accounting office for the treasury since the actual wealth of the kingdom resided in another well-protected area. The clerks emphasized that it was guarded both physically and against all sorts of magic, as they showed him a nice clean thin account book with his name on it. There was only one entry, a deposit of five thousand Incelian gold pieces. They were rare in Anglia, but Nick had seen the coins before. They were large, heavy, and had a ship on one side and a dragon on the other, and were worth about one and a half Anglian gold because of the larger size. He asked for a hundred of the coins, saying he needed some different clothing. The clerks obviously didn't care and just counted them out in front of him and put them in a sturdy purse that he could hang on his belt.

The duke expected he would have to pay for his passage back to Anglia, and might need money for bribes as well. He decided he would buy an Incelian suit in one of the less brilliant colors that he preferred. If he built his wardrobe carefully, he could keep getting out more funds, put aside a large part of them, but have his new clothes to point to if anyone wondered why he was drawing out so much money.

At the armory, Nick was pleased to be presented with over twenty of the special silvery knives and told to take whatever he needed. He took a small blade for an eating knife, and something quite large that could be used to gut and skin an animal. He had no idea how far he was from the coast, it could be several days ride with dragonmasters searching for him. He might be glad of anything that would help him feed himself off the land, and he was quite sure no one would give him any other weapons. To test that assumption, he asked for a bow as well. The officer who had been helping him laughed, and then realized the young dragonmaster was serious.

"Um, Your Highness, the knives are provided as a service, but for anything else you'll need a signed requisition."

"Signed by whom?"

"Depends on what it is, Your Highness. For tools, General Carmody. For weapons, the king himself. Why would a prince who can do magic need a bow?"

"Oh, I used to enjoy target shooting back in Anglia," Nick lied.

The officer just shrugged, used to strange requests from magicians. "If His Majesty agrees, you can have your choice."

Nick nodded his thanks and went back to his quarters. He was sure a request to the king for a weapon would be refused and alert everyone to his plan to escape. Not that anyone exactly trusted him as it was.

He spent the next week reading, outlining, and taking notes from the remaining manuals, going for daily rides, and giving a lot of business to the tailors in Oakbranch. He ordered suits in light gray, charcoal, black and navy with matching shirts, and a charcoal hooded cloak as well. His own Anglian suit had been cleaned and returned and was currently shoved off to the side in his armoire. He also ordered a variety of shoes to wear with the new clothing that were suitable for the palace as well as a couple of pairs of sturdy boots. He acquired three large satchels with shoulder straps that could be used to carry books and papers, clothing, food, or whatever else he might need.

In the ninth manual, he found what he needed to enter the red door. It was a variation of his trip line that allowed it to merge into solid objects, even pass through them. It was easier to do with light porous materials rather than something dense like stone. He was fairly sure the red door was just wood, so he practiced mostly on that substance, running his trip line through the door of the armoire and rustling through his clothes.

When he felt comfortable doing it he wanted to go immediately to the library, but he held back and made himself finish the manuals first. Nick knew that once he got into the advanced materials, it would be hard to force himself to go back to the elementary ones.

When he had finally finished with the manuals, he returned them to the library and went directly up the stairs to the red door carrying one of his satchels with his writing materials. Probing with his modified trip line, it didn't take long for him to encounter the denser feel of metal, and by the shape determine that it was an inner latch mechanism in the same place an ordinary door would have one. But when he magically pulled back the latch, the door still wouldn't open. Another search found a drop bar at the bottom of the door that went into a hole in the floor. Moving the latch and lifting the bar at the same time gained him entry.

There was a small step down inside, and as he turned to shut the door behind him, it closed itself. There was no trick to opening the door from the inside, there was a handle and the drop bar was clearly visible and accessible. There was also a complicated rune on the door. Nick opened the door from the inside and then released it, and watched as the drop bar lifted itself, the handle turned, and the door closed and locked. Interesting.

Then he turned to the room itself. It was well-lit by five windows along one wall, the other three walls covered by bookshelves about three quarters full. There was a large table with a dozen chairs around it in the center of the room. The three smaller windows in the center of the five each had a long narrow table extending into the room directly beneath it. There were high-backed benches on either side of the three tables, making three semi-private work spaces. The larger two windows on either side had nothing in front of them, and Nick walked over to one to look out.

The window had a handle. He turned it, and the window opened outward. The duke looked down at the ground below, thinking the arrangement was dangerous, someone could fall. And then he corrected himself. Anyone who could get into the room could also gently lower themselves into the recessed garden below. It was sort of a back door escape route for dragonmasters, and one that could come in very handy to ditch his guards.

But not today. Today he had hundreds of advanced books on magic to examine. He left his satchel on one of the small tables and started at one end of the book cases, pulling out volume after volume and glancing through them. He might be able to take several of the books with him when he left, but certainly not as many as he wanted.

He looked for the Magic Compendium and finally found it halfway around the room. Nick took it back to his table and was pleased to find there was an index to the large, thick volume, so he was able to easily find and copy the spell Magda wanted. He wrote out a second copy for himself as well, and then copied out a dozen more spells to take home with him.

By that time the light was growing dim, so he replaced the Compendium and picked up three other books to take back to his suite. But when he exited the red door, he heard a bell start ringing on the lower level. He wasn't sure it had anything to do with him, but shortly a librarian came running up the stairs and over to him, bowed and said, "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but no one is allowed to remove books from the red room. You can enjoy them as much as you like within the room, but they must remain there. You can put them back, can't you?"

The duke replied, "Sorry, I didn't realize. Of course I can."

He opened the door and went back in. But he didn't put the books down; he walked over to a large window, opened it, formed his flat shield and stepped out on it. He didn't hear any alarm but he wasn't sure he would from where he was. He came back in and set the books on the table he'd been using, hurried over to the red door and opened it.

He didn't hear the bell and there wasn't a librarian waiting for him in the hall. Good enough, the door was alarmed but the windows weren't. A dragonmaster could actually leave with whatever he or she wanted. He wondered how many books that used to be in the library were sitting in someone's private quarters.

But anyone else who somehow managed to get into the room would be caught by the alarm if they tried to steal anything, or they would have to jump out the window, or know enough about the room to bring a rope with them. It would be difficult if not impossible for someone without magic to get in through the door, much less get in more than once. That told him he shouldn't say too much about the room to anyone who wouldn't normally have access to it. The large windows were a vulnerability to theft; there weren't handles on the outside of them, but they were windows and could be broken. Well, maybe, perhaps there was some magical protection on them, he hadn't checked.

The duke went back to his suite, pleased with his day's work and looking forward to spending much more time with the books on advanced magic. He felt a little guilty. He should be escaping and returning to Anglia. Elizabeth and his family would all be worried about him. But he really wanted to look at the magic books; it would be his only chance since he couldn't imagine himself ever coming back to Incelia. He told himself the time he spent would help his escape attempt, luring everyone into complacency by his routine.

Nick stopped by Magda's quarters. She wasn't in, so he left the copy of the spell she wanted with her maid.

He spent two weeks going through the magic books in the library. He copied some individual spells, and selected one fat book that was similar to the Compendium but seemed more complete and three slim books to steal. He wanted to convince himself he was just borrowing them, but eventually had to be honest with himself and accept that once he got them to Anglia he had no intention of ever returning them. He set the four books at the end of one shelf so he could grab them quickly when he decided to flee.

In all the time he spent in the red door room, he only saw another person in it once. A young woman who looked vaguely familiar was copying spells by one of the small windows. She spent an hour on the task, returned the book to the shelves, and left with only a brief nod to him as she passed. The duke had little concern that anyone would move his four books before he came for them.

By that time he had about sixty sheets of closely written notes, including his training manual outlines. He wrapped them in a waterproof cloth and tied them into a package that he kept in one of his shoulder bags. He took to carrying all three with him back and forth to the library so the guards would be used to it, although two just contained his writing materials, snacks, and clothing stuffed in to fill them up. The guards looked at all he was carrying with a mixture of concern and curiosity, but it wasn't their place to question a prince.

Prince Matthew had stopped visiting him and Nick was pleased to be ignored. His escape plan was almost ready. He'd taken out funds three times, he'd acquired five new suits with all the accessories, and he had about a hundred and fifty gold pieces left over plus a little small change. The last two days he'd gone into the stable and saddled his usual horse himself and the stable boys just bowed and let him; less work for them. The guards had both left him to go get their own horses too, believing that every day they were going riding together since every day they had.

He knew which road led to the harbor without asking. There was a steady stream of wagons coming and going on it, empty ones going down and coming back full, and full ones going down and coming back with an entirely different load. The oranges confirmed it. They were rare in Anglia, but plentiful in Incelia, and he'd casually found out from several people that they weren't grown locally, but brought in by ship. So the wagonloads of oranges probably came from the harbor.

The next morning was sunny and mild. There were ham, hard boiled eggs, cheese, and oranges at breakfast as well as more perishable items. He took it as a sign; this was the day to go.

Nick quickly removed all the excess items from his bags. The one with the papers would also hold the books. He put clean underwear, shirts, an extra pair of shoes, and the sturdy trousers from his new black Incelian suit in a second along with his personal grooming items. The suit jacket was far too bulky in the heavy material, but he'd never had any intention of wearing it when he'd bought it. He had on a dark gray suit with a light gray shirt and black boots, clothes that wouldn't make him easy to see at a distance.

The third bag was for provisions. He ate a couple of the hard boiled eggs and scattered the shells around to give the impression he'd eaten more than just two. He wrapped three eggs, the cheese, and a thick slice of ham in a napkin and added two oranges. He opened a bottle of wine, dumped it out in his bath and refilled it with water. A lighter container would have been better, but he didn't have one. Nick shoved everything excess that had been in the bags including his writing materials into the back of the armoire.

The duke put his tightly rolled up cloak in on top of the food. He had no excuse to take it to the library, but he might need it as a blanket if he had to sleep out overnight. All three daggers hung on his belt under his jacket along with his Incelian pouch of gold. He had put a little of his gold in each bag hidden among the clothing, food, and papers, and some in his Anglian money pouch that he wore under his shirt.

Nick took a couple of deep breaths to slow his pounding heart and calm his breathing. Sneaking around made him far more nervous than going into battle ever had. He went to the door of his suite with his satchels and was pleased to find two of his regular guards. He nodded to them and said, "Good morning, library."

They chorused, "Good morning, Your Highness," and dutifully followed him. He left them at the library door as usual and went upstairs. As soon as the red door closed behind him Nick sighed in relief. The room was empty and his books were where he'd left them. He quickly stuffed them in with his papers and went to one of the large windows.

The duke opened the window and looked out; no one in sight. It took him two tries to pull the window quickly enough by the edge so that it latched behind him, and then floated down to the ground. He was committed now, and everything was going perfectly.

He walked briskly to the stable, ignoring gardeners and guards he passed along the way. His escape was going so smoothly, he was sure something would go wrong at the stable. But he went in, saddled his mount, and rode out. Nick expected a shout at any moment when someone realized he didn't have guards with him, but no one paid him any attention. They had their own jobs to do, and guarding a dragonmaster wasn't one of them. He wasn't their responsibility and the men who were responsible were standing at the door to the library. He hoped they wouldn't get into too much trouble. After all, how were they to know about the easy egress from behind the red door, they had undoubtedly never been in that room.

Prince Matthew, on the other hand, might get into some difficulty, since he certainly should have known better. But Nick was very happy he'd been too busy to pay much attention to the doings of his Anglian nephew.

He kept his horse to a trot until he was out of sight of the palace. He galloped when there was no one else in sight on the road and slowed to a walk when there was; he didn't want to draw attention to himself. Over the next hour or two wagons passed him going the other way, but he ignored them and they ignored him. Dressed in a sober gray suit he knew he looked more like a merchant than a dragonmaster. An hour later another wagon came along, the driver half dozing in his seat. Nick turned and rode alongside.

"How far to the harbor?" he asked.

The man jerked and opened his eyes. "Uh, harbor? Oh, back that way," he said motioning behind him.

Good, he was definitely on the right road. "How far?" he repeated.

"Two full days by wagon."

"Could I get there in one on a horse?"

The man gave him a disdainful look. "Depends on the horse. And not headed in this direction."

"Thanks," Nick replied, trying to sound sincere. He didn't want to make the man angry, the less he remembered about the encounter the better in case he was questioned. The duke turned his horse and headed back away from the palace.

He was going he right way, but maybe it would be better not to be seen. It was easy to hear wagons coming from some distance away and other horses too. He guided his mount to the edge of the road, ready to get out of sight whenever necessary. Wagons were too slow for him to worry about one coming up behind him, only riders might overtake him.

He alternated walking and trotting his horse so his own noise wouldn't mask the sound of someone coming. He went off the road when he heard hoofbeats or jingling harness, or saw someone in the distance. There were a lot of little farm tracks that he could pretend to turn down without arousing suspicion, or he rode off behind a group of trees. He stopped to let his horse drink several times a little creeks along the way, and once when a large party in carriages and on horseback was headed his way, he rode down to a stream, dismounted and had his own lunch and let his horse graze a little.

With all the stopping and going aside, he realized he wasn't moving overall any faster than a wagon. So it would take him two full days to get to the harbor, and he was sure he didn't have that long. The duke wondered how long the guards would wait for him. They'd get hungry and go in and look for him. When they didn't see him, they'd ask the librarian, who would tell them about the room with the red door. To get in they would have to disturb a dragonmaster, and they wouldn't be quick to do that. So it would probably be late afternoon or evening when they found he wasn't in the library any more and then a general search would take place.

Would the search just be around the palace at first, or would they look for him at the harbor immediately? If a dragonmaster could get around the entire island in one day, they could definitely beat him to the harbor even if they left tomorrow morning. If he was going to get away he couldn't afford to dawdle as he had been.

At the next crossroad, Nick turned right and rode at a gallop. After fifteen minutes he stopped, dismounted, and slapped the horse's rump to make him move farther down the road, hoping the horse would take the search somewhere else. Riding a horse was far easier than using magic to get to the harbor, but he could move much faster on his own.

Nick looked back down the empty road and transported himself as far as he could see, trotted over a small hill and did it again. He was quickly back at the crossroads and started toward the harbor. Anywhere he had a clear line of sight, he just moved himself magically.

The duke still avoided other people, going off the road and trotting through the trees when he had to, or even hiding behind one here and there. He had to physically dash around curves and over hills when he couldn't see ahead. But in other places he could magically move a half a mile in an instant.

Jumping past wagons and other travelers heading for the harbor was a little tricky. He had to be sure he wasn't noticed behind them and had a long clear stretch so when he appeared ahead of them he was just a tiny, unrecognizable figure in the distance that they would assume they had overlooked until then. He walked past a large inn on the side of the road, and passed two more nearby, all with too many people around for him to use magic. If it took two days for the wagons to come and go, the drivers needed a place to stay at the midpoint, so he must be half way there. But it was already midafternoon.

Nick kept moving, pushing himself. Using his energy both physically and to control spell after spell was tiring him. He came into an area with rolling hills, farm fields, and few trees, and found he could stand in the road at the top of one hill, see the next, and be there. He knew he was getting close, he could smell the ocean as the sun began to sink below the horizon.

He transported to the top of one more hill, and he could see the harbor down a long slope below. But something wasn't right. There wasn't a wall to keep the foreigners out of Incelia, there were just docks and Incelian ships. There was no Anglian embassy to help him, and no possibility of finding a friendly ship to take him home. He was at the wrong place.

It was one of the Incelian only harbors that didn't allow foreigners or foreign ships. Could he bribe or lie his way on to one of the ships? There were only two large ones docked. Well he was here, he might as well try, especially since he had no idea what direction to go to reach the foreign harbor.

Nick transported himself down the road even with the last of the farmers' fields, and walked in from there. He continued through the town to the docks and a brightly lit noisy alehouse that appeared to be full of sailors. The duke strolled in.

A few people near the door stared at him, but then went back to their own business, which seemed to consist of drinking, gambling, and kissing and pawing young women who were wearing short, low-cut dresses. Nick's eyes swept the room, but there was too much going on to spot what he was looking for. He went to the bar.

The fact that he stood out from the crowd got the bartender's attention. The duke had to raise his voice to be heard. "I'm looking for the captains of the two large vessels in the harbor," he stated.

The man paused in pouring a beer to nod to a corner. "Captain Hyde is right over there."

Nick nodded his thanks and found the sea captain. The white-haired man was wearing a bright blue suit that had gold braid across shoulders and down the arms. He was sitting with a younger man in a similar jacket with braid just on the shoulders. He walked over and sat down in an empty chair at their table.

"Captain Hyde?"

"Aye, that's me. What do you want, young fellow?"

"I want to book passage on your ship to Anglia."

"Well I'm not going to Anglia, I'll be heading to Telesia."

That wasn't really in the right direction, but Telesia was civilized and Nick could take another ship from there. Right now he had to get out of Incelia.

"That will do. How much for just myself?"

"Let's see your papers first."

Papers? Nick didn't have anything like that, didn't even really know what papers he was supposed to have. He decided to bluff.

"I'm a dragonmaster, Captain, I don't need papers. When do you leave?"

Hyde frowned and sat back. "Can't take any passenger, especially a dragonmaster without authorization, and if you really are what you say you should know that."

The younger man next to the captain said, "Let's see your travel permit to come to the harbor. Sometimes the sailing permit is included on that."

The duke acted offended. "I already told you, I don't need any of that. I authorize others, no one authorizes me."

The captain shook his head. "I don't know what you're up to, but you're definitely not the king and you'll not be getting aboard the Hydra. Now be off with you before I send someone for the guard."

Nick stood up and looked around. He didn't see anyone else that appeared to be a sea captain, so he left. It wasn't the only drinking establishment in the town; he could see light and hear noise from down the street.

He went through two more places before spotting a man who looked like a ship's captain in the third. His jacket was red with gold buttons and epaulets. The duke approached and asked, "Are you the captain of one of the ships in the harbor?"

"I am. Captain Boggs at your service. Have you a cargo for Nordland?"

Nick quickly sat down. Nordland was better than Telesia since it was north of Anglia and the ship could drop him off in his own duchy. "I do. My cargo is me. I want to go to Anglia and I'll pay well."

"Your papers are in order? I'll need to see them."

Nick tried something different. He took his purse off his belt and dropped it on the table. It had at least a hundred gold still in it and made a very heavy "thunk" as it landed.

Boggs contemplated the purse. His hand moved toward he money and he raised his eyes to Nick's, and for a moment the duke thought it would work. But then the captain's eyes looked past him and he paled and pushed the purse away from him as the room suddenly went silent.

"If your papers aren't in order, you'll not step foot on my ship, and that's final!" the captain said loudly.

The young dragonmaster turned around. Prince Matthew, Princess Francine, Princess Mirabella, and a man he didn't know but was most certainly a dragonmaster stood behind him.

Prince Matthew said, "Please come along quietly, Prince Henry. We wouldn't want any of these innocent people to get hurt, would we?"

Nick shook his head. He had no chance with four against one. He picked up his purse and joined the group from the palace. Matthew placed a hand on his right shoulder and Francine placed hers on his left, and they were gone.

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