Arric knew within ten minutes of leaving the palace that he wasn’t going to make it back to Redfern manor without a rest. He was tempted to make for the Drum and Monkey but that would mean they would have to spend the whole day there and Sir Hugo and Mordi would be worried sick. He gritted his teeth and fought off the feeling of exhaustion that was threatening to overwhelm him. Once they were clear of the last scattered houses of the town he flew lower, keeping just above the treetops. He didn’t know what would happen if he fell asleep. Hopefully the carpet would land itself but it might just fall out of the sky and if that was the case the lower the better.
“Are you all right?” Blaise murmured in his ear.
“Very tired. Don’t let me fall asleep. Pinch me or something if I start nodding off.”
“All right. How about I talk to you? Will that help?”
“Yes. You could also keep your eyes open for something like a hayrick or a barn. I need to rest. I’m exhausted.”
Blaise hugged him “You must be. It’s hard to see now the moon has set.”
“I’ll follow the line of the north road towards Longstane until we see the Alcher. There might be somewhere near the river. We need to get a bit further away from Whitecastle.”
“No one’s going to be looking for me. Not with what’s his name in my place.”
“Smitty. I know but there are no wizards in Alcheron apart from a few that work directly for Count Asgreen. Sir Hugo told me Asgreen controls all the magic in the Kingdom and people pay through the nose for it. Even the weakest magic users have to pay a guild fee. The stronger you are the heavier the fee gets. Wizards have to register and there’s a reward for reporting unauthorised magic use and users.”
“Good grief! I had no idea. How long has that been going on?”
“It started when he forced Sir Hugo to leave. It’s why I don’t want to risk being seen.”
Blaise talked and occasionally tickled or poked Arric to keep him awake. After an hour They could see the lights of Longstane and the glint of the river. Arric crossed the river and steered a north easterly course.
“I remember once I was on the east road the country was quite wooded. We should be able to find somewhere. I can’t keep my concentration going much longer.”
“You concentrate on keeping awake and I’ll look.” Blaise said. After ten minutes or so just as Arric was starting to think he’d have to land even if it was near houses Blaise exclaimed “Over there, is that some sort of barn?”
Arric turned the carpet in the direction of Blaise’s pointing finger. It was a three sided shelter of the sort used for animals. They couldn’t see any livestock and it wasn’t near a farm house. Arric landed beside it. There was a small pile of hay in one corner and he collapsed gratefully on to it. Blaise lay down beside him
“Just need an hour or so get some energy back. We better get going before dawn.”
Blaise nodded and yawned. He was going to reply but he realised Arric was already asleep. He scooped some hay over them and closed his eyes.
He came to with a start in response to Arric shaking him. The rays of the early morning sun were shining directly into the shed and he squinted against the glare.
“Come on. We’ve overslept. It’s light. We need to get going.”
“Wha...” a yawn overtook Blaise.
Arric shook him some more. “You can sleep on the carpet.”
“No I’m awake.” Blaise crawled over and sat behind Arric who lifted off as soon as Blaise was seated. He shot high into the sky and set off rapidly north east.
“Let’s just hope nobody was up and about in the fields. It’s lucky the sun woke me.”
“Do you really think people might have seen us? It’s very early and the shed was in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s amazing how little gets missed in the countryside. People notice things. I think we’re all right though. It’s only just after sunrise. Two hours and we should be at Redfern Manor.”
Blaise nodded and yawned. He leant against Arric and rested his chin on his shoulder. “I like flying. It’s wonderful. Will you take me everywhere like this?”
“Of course.” Arric chuckled “The alternative is riding and you really don’t want to see me on a horse. I think I’m worse at it than the toadies.”
Blaise giggled “I don’t think you could be worse than them. When we have our own Inn I shall get us two horses and teach you to ride properly.”
“That sounds good. Our own Inn I mean. I’m not so sure about the horses.”
They landed on the grass outside the manor. The door was flung open and Mordi came hurrying out exclaiming in relief at the sight of them. The sight of him had an electrifying effect on Blaise who bellowed “Mordy Wordy” leapt to his feet and bounded across the grass with his arms wide. When he reached Mordi he enveloped him in a rib crushing hug. Arric followed more slowly. He grinned as Blaise swung Mordi round in a circle causing his pink sparkly boots to lose contact with the ground. Blaise let go of Mordi who heaved in a breath
“It’s wonderful to see you but leave my ribs in one piece please.” He said through his laughter.
Blaise turned to Arric “This is such a wonderful surprise. After Mama died Mordy Wordy looked after me. I missed him so much when he was sent away. I had no idea he was here with Sir Hugo.”
Mordi coughed “Just Mordi will do now we’re all sort of grown up.” He said with a twinkle. “And where on earth would I be if not with Hugo?” He tucked an arm through one of each of theirs “Now come and tell us all about it. We were beginning to get a bit worried when you didn’t get back before dawn.”
“I’m sorry about that. I had to stop and rest. I was really tired. Things turned out to be more complicated than we expected.”
“Don’t apologise Arric. I expect you’d both like some breakfast. Hugo’s had to take Timmy for his morning walk. Poor thing couldn’t hang on any longer. He won’t be long.”
Mordi settled them at the kitchen table and was just putting the pan on to fry eggs when Sir Hugo and Timmy came in through the door. As soon as he saw visitors Timmy became wildly excited and vocal. Conversation was impossible until he had been fussed over and persuaded into his basket with a selection of treats.
“Your Highness welcome...”
Blaise cut across Sir Hugo. “You never used to be so formal with me. I shall think I’m in trouble.”
Sir Hugo chuckled “You were just a little boy when I last saw you.”
Mordi said “As far as we know His Highness is in the Palace and this young man is a friend of our apprentice.”
Sir Hugo nodded “You’re right. Is His Highness in the palace?” He looked enquiringly at Arric who nodded
“Yes. I left him safe and sound in his room. It wasn’t all plain sailing though.” Arric described the events and when he got to the change in the contract there was a chorus of exclamations of dismay and annoyance from Sir Hugo and Mordi
“That retched rodent!” Sir Hugo snorted “It’s all gone to his head!”
“Oh dear, oh dear, goodness knows what will happen!” Mordi exclaimed shaking his head and looking upset. “A transformation spell like that just can’t be permanent.”
“I’m very sorry. I knew it was a bad idea but I didn’t know what else to do. He had the contract all ready. I didn’t even know he could read and write. I thought Asgreen would be bound to suspect you two if he discovered Blaise was missing.”
Sir Hugo patted Arric on the shoulder “Now, now, my boy don’t be upset. Smitty is a devious little wretch. He did have you over a barrel and I’d have done the same in your place. It’s just Mordi’s right about the whole thing being completely unpredictable. Later on I’ll have a look at the alterations the damn rat made and see if I can work out what’s likely to happen. You just eat your breakfast and stop worrying about it. What’s done is done.”
Mordi laughed and added “If the spell lasts to the wedding it’ll be interesting. It’ll be poetic justice if Letitia finds herself married to a rat.”
Sir Hugo guffawed. “Indeed it will. I suggest we forget about the whole thing for now and concentrate on the important thing which is that Blaise is safely out of Asgreen’s clutches.”