Neither Gillis nor I said anything else and just relaxed inside our own little bubble of silence. Unfortunately, I had been right with my estimation of only a few minutes to spare as someone broke away from one of the talking groups and came over to us.
“Sorry for intruding.” Lady Bassinger said as she approached the couch that Gillis and I were relaxing on. “I was wondering if you needed my expertise for your new ship.”
“Do you have anyone with experience making a bow spirit?” I asked and her face lit up.
“Oh, yes. My uncle is an expert.” Lady Bassinger said. “I'm sure he would love to create something for you.”
“Not just me.” I said with a smile and turned to look at Vanessa's mother. She seemed to sense my attention and I waved her over. She excused herself from talking to Donna's parents and came over.
“Lord Drake.” The Baroness said with a lot of affection in her voice. “I can't thank you enough for what you said at the dinner table. We already have six orders for ships, all tentative on the first successful launch, of course.”
“Of course.” I said and motioned for her and Lady Bassinger to sit in the two chairs in front of the couch. “Lady Bassinger and her family are well known for their various artistic talents and I just found out that her uncle can create bow spirits.”
The Baroness gave Lady Bassinger an appraising look. “That could enhance the ships we make and also increase the aesthetic value.”
“That was my thought as well.” Lady Bassinger. “I doubt we could get away with doing too much on the inside...”
“Of course you can.” The Baroness said and waved her comment away. “Especially with the king's ship order and some of David's potions. We can permanently attach any paintings to the walls or vases to the tables that will be attached to the deck.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful.” Lady Bassinger said. “What are your thoughts on...”
I turned to Gillis and saw her sly smile.
“Sneaky.” She whispered to me. “It'll buy us a few more minutes, then you do have to go.”
I nodded and we sat there without saying anything as the two ladies in front of us were talking animatedly about all of the different things that the royal family would want for the interior.
When it was time, I gave Gillis a kiss on the cheek and let her hand go as I stood. “If you will excuse me, I need to rescue my fiance from her own need to socialize.”
That made the three women laugh and I left them to go over to the couch that Helena was still slightly reclined on. She was holding Vanessa's hand and the both of them were in a deep conversation with Ferdinand and his wife about updating Vanessa's entire wardrobe to reflect her new status. I glanced around and saw his two daughters had joined Princess Rose and Jinelle at the drink tables.
I heard one of them giggle and saw one of them slip a drink off of the alcohol table and poured a little bit into each of their drinks. I didn't bother trying to stop them or brought attention to it, since they were having a lot more fun about it than normal people would.
“Ah, David.” Ferdinand said as he saw me. “Would you have an opinion about...”
“I much prefer to leave the fashion to the experts.” I said and he chuckled as I looked at Helena. “My love, you're quite tired. You should head to bed and Vanessa and I will keep hosting until the required time.”
Helena let out a sigh and looked at Vanessa. “I suppose I should. It has been a long day.”
“You've lasted this long.” Vanessa said and her free hand reached over to lightly touch Helena's belly bulge. “You have someone else to look after now.”
Helena let her hand go and touched the one on her belly with both of hers. “I think we both do.”
Vanessa blushed a little and nodded as she took her hand back.
“Take me to our bedroom.” Helena said and took my hand.
I helped her stand and she bid a good night to the people around her, then we began a circuit around the room to inform everyone she was leaving for the night. Everything went fine until we reached three particular people. Mona, Selena, and Becca.
“I can't believe you did that to us!” Selena spat in a hushed whisper.
“Did what?” Helena asked and had a confused look on her face. I knew she was faking it, though. We both knew what Selena meant.
“Sitting us near the end of the goddamn table, that's what!” Selena hissed.
“It was more towards the middle, actually.” Helena countered.
“Helena.” Mona said, her eyes showing anger. “How could you insult us like that? I'm your mother and Selena's your sister. We should have sat at the head of the table.”
“Oh? Did you think you're more important than the queen of the kingdom and her daughter?” Helena asked and Mona caught her breath, then blushed.
“No, we... well...”
“Mother, the last time we spoke, you bragged about how father is pillaging the marsh of all the ingredients he can.” Helena said.
“Well, yes. It was open and unclaimed land at the time. There are thousands of miles of it and it was an untapped resource that the guild couldn't ignore. Now that David's been given ownership, all of the land is still a part of the kingdom and the guild has all rights to harvest what it needs for the use of the kingdom.” Mona explained. “There's plenty of ingredients for everyone to benefit.”
Helena's face went rigid. “Obviously, father has not told you about David's ultimatum about stealing his land's resources.”
“No, he told me.” Mona said. “He knows David can't enforce such a stupid thing over the entire trade route. It's just a marsh.” She waved a dismissive hand. “The canal is also being expanded and that will allow even easier access.”
“I've already started enforcing it.” I said and her eyes widened. “Did he tell you that I wiped out two relay stations and three mage contingents already?”
Mona looked surprised and didn't respond.
“I'll take that as a no.” I said. “Helena told me it was Grand Mage Henrietta's plan to rob me, so I know who to charge for theft and perhaps treason for ignoring my orders.”
“Treason is when you go against the rulers of a nation.” Selena said.
“David is a friend of the royal family, as you've no doubt witnessed, since the queen herself showed up.” Helena responded. “She can stop in whenever she likes, like good friends tend to do.”
Mona looked a bit embarrassed and Selena's face went right to anger.
“You have no right to accuse...” Selena started to say.
“I've seen mother exactly once since I left the main family mansion.” Helena said with a glare at her sister. “I had assumed that you would have been by at least once since you started at the academy; but, you've been too busy with your own life to care about me or your growing nephew.”
“That's not true!” Selena gasped. “I didn't know...”
“What? That I was pregnant? It was announced and you saw father's reaction to it. You've known all this time why I left. I even asked you to watch over David at the academy and guess what? Who left him completely alone after stopping by for one formal supper with her friends? Who, Selena?”
Selena's face went red. “He... he... embarrassed us.”
Helena chuckled. “Just because he acted like a gentleman and none of you acted like ladies?”
Selena turned her head and didn't say anything.
“I wondered why you stopped coming around or even looked at me when I saw you in the cafeteria.” I said and Selena blushed even more. “I apologize if being treated well embarrassed you and your friends. I thought that I was supposed to treat you all like ladies.”
Helena squeezed my arm. “You were supposed to, David. They embarrassed themselves by not acting properly or giving you the proper respect as a host.”
“Oh.” I said and Selena wouldn't look at me. “I guess it doesn't matter now.”
“Not after the insult tonight.” Mona said.
“The seating arrangements in large gatherings are more relaxed.” Helena said before I could. “It's the people with the most influence in our lives that get priority seating.”
Mona sucked in a sharp breath and Selena clenched her fists. Her blush didn't fade, though.
“David, would you tell them what you did to enforce your orders to stop the mage guild from robbing your lands?” Helena asked. “I'm sure it's going to be a surprise.”
“Are you sure? I can't really claim deniability if I admit it.” I said and she nodded. “I set up enchantments all along the route to make people ignore the marsh on either side of the canal and then I added creature lures behind them. I wanted to make sure that anyone who was stupid enough to try to pass the enchantments wouldn't last long.”
“By the Son's Light.” Mona said and she wavered on her feet. “Do... do you know what you've done?”
“I'm protecting my land by using the local inhabitants.” I said as Selena steadied her mother.
“You're such a fool.” Mona said.
“Mother!” Helena gasped.
“Quiet!” Mona spat at her and glared at me. “You used creature lures to bring them towards the canal.”
“Yes, to stop anyone from going past the wards.” I said, not knowing where she was going with it.
“I didn't hear anything about you protecting anyone that's already in the canal from those creatures.” Mona said, her voice deadly and her face angry.
It took a minute for her words to sink in. “Oh.”
“Yes, you've made the entire canal a death trap for anyone passing through it and not just for mages trying to gather cheap ingredients.” Mona said, her voice angry. “If you will excuse me, I need to inform my husband right away. Perhaps he can stop the shipments to and from the Eastern Empire before anyone is slaughtered.”
“I'll handle that.” A strict female voice said and we turned to look. The queen glared at Mona, who didn't say anything else. “It seems there has been a lot more underhanded things going on at the Mages Guild than my husband suspected.”
Mona turned her head away and the queen looked at me.
“Lord Drake, get to work. I need those creature protection enchantments as soon as possible.” The queen ordered.
“Yes, your majesty.” I said and bowed. “As soon as I'm done making them, I'll leave right away to correct my mistake.”
The queen smiled sadly. “I hope we can both get our work done in time.”
“I'll start immediately.” I said and led Helena out of the parlour as the queen, Rose, and their guards followed us. I took Helena up to the bedroom and the queen's entourage left the mansion.
“David.” Helena said as Jill took her from me to change her.
“I'll be done by the morning and will leave then.” I reassured her and she nodded. I left the bedroom and went downstairs into the workman's quarters, requested a wildwood tree, then went into the basement to get to work. I could brew the enchantment potions and number ten potions that I would need while the men retrieved the tree. I set up a bunch of the copy molds as well. Unlike the limited resources I had at the house in the marsh, I could make tons of copies at once.
“Do you need some help?” Vanessa asked and I turned to see her, the old man, Black, and Heather.
“Normally I'd say no.” I said and held a hand out to her. She beamed a smile at me and walked over to take my hand. “The four of you will need a slight lesson on how to enchant them.”
“We'll keep it secret.” The old man promised and they stepped into the room as well.
“Let me just make up another workbench for you to work on.” I said and they watched as I did it in less than a minute, then used number ten potion to smooth out the surface.
“I'm not going to ask.” Black said with a chuckle. “Show us the design and we'll practice on scrap wood.”
I quickly did so and they gave me odd looks. Heather's was the most obvious and she looked pretty turned on. “I'll add you to the list, too.”
Heather blushed slightly, then she laughed. Black joined in and the old man swatted him.
“Get to work.” The old man said and that's what we did.
I watched them practice and they got it on the second try. Vanessa took two more to get it and that was all the time we had. The tree was delivered and the four of them stared in shock as I popped the bark off with just a touch of my knife and some magic. I quickly sliced up a bunch of coins and added them to the molds, then poured in number ten potion to fill them.
“That's amazing.” Vanessa whispered when I popped the first five foot by five foot square out, then I sliced it up into small four inch squares.
“I didn't think I could like you any more than I already do.” The old man said to me as he picked up the next mold and dumped out the huge chunk of wildwood that had 'grown' from a single coin of wood.
“Get carving, old man.” Black said with a laugh and handed him a dozen small squares to work on.
“Don't skimp on the potion.” I warned them as I started handing over vials of it. “The enchantments have to last a year or more.”
“A year!” Heather gasped, completely shocked.
The old man let out a cackling laugh. “Yes, I do like you a lot more!” He said and clapped me on the back, then we all got to work.
- Creator of L.I.F.E. Begins and Bookworld
It's all up! Morbid (200 full chapters) is on Scribblehub and is currently on hiatus.
Summoned Again! (200 full chapters) Is on hiatus as well. It's on Scribblehub, too!
Bookworld Online: Marsh Man is at 150 chapters and new chapters will be posted daily.