The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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50. The Team Reunited

They were met at the port of Livanso by a delegation from the court of Queen Celandine. There were a dozen soldiers, but also three scholarly types who looked completely out of place. Two were young and bookish, one was bearded and strange. He looked like a sorcerer. He didn’t speak their language at all, in fact apparently he spoke such a remote and rural dialect from eastern Andaro, that few of the queen’s own men could follow what he was saying most of the time.

It was an unproductive meeting. Ashlin and Jenna refused to discuss what they had discovered until they had made their own report. Green remained completely silent, which he seemed to do most of the time when he was back in civilisation. Ashlin finally relented and gave the scholars some general warnings about the forest, when it seemed that they would be likely to investigate it for themselves otherwise, which could only make things worse. The sorcerer (if indeed that is what he was) glared at them all from under huge grey eyebrows and said only a few words nobody understood.

Word was sent south to ask the advice of the Queen’s museum curators. Jenna knew that this advice would come directly from the queen herself, and would not necessarily be in the best interests of anyone present. But they had at least two weeks before they could expect an answer, so it wasn’t a great worry.

There were also three grey-hooded Customs men from Atlar, who had boarded the Green Lady under some pretext or some loophole of maritime law. Derk was indignant that they should do such a thing in the absence of the ship’s captain, and stormed on board to clear things up.

Seconds later there were shouts and laughter from on board.

Justin and Doctor Hopkin appeared on deck.

“Ahoy, badger-botherers!” shouted Justin down to where Ashlin and Jenna were staring back, “Come aboard.”

They did so, Jenna helping Ashlin steady himself up the gangplank. He had stopped hallucinating in the last day or so, but occasionally felt moments of giddiness, and still had very strange dreams.

“What are you doing here on Derk’s ship?” asked Jenna.

“I’m working for the tax man now.”

“God help us all,” said Derk.

“He is seconded to the Customs and Excise for one particular operation,” said a scary-looking but mild-voiced man. “We are on board this vessel because it has diplomatic status, and is under the flag of Atlar. According to the trade law of Andaro, we can remain here without interference from those military men and their ferocious bearded companion.”

“Is he really a sorcerer, do you think?” asked Derk.

“No, I understand he is an expert in spiders,” said Doctor Hopkin. “Do you have any idea why he might be here?”

“I have some idea why the queen might have sent him,” said Ashlin, “but I think he will only know part of the story. The other part is ...”

“Fungus?” asked the Doctor.

“Yes. But, what? How did you know?”

“That was down to me,” said Justin, “and apparently I get a royal pardon for being such a genius.”

“Bollocks!” said Jenna.

“Well, something like that. It’s politics though, and that’s all bollocks anyway.”

“Get ready for more of it,” said Doctor Hopkin. “Because we sail as soon as possible for Stolic. There’s some negotiating to do there, I think. On the way, you can tell me what you know, and we’ll try to piece this puzzle together.”

“But why are you here? Does anybody need their leg cut off?” Ashlin asked, looking about him confusedly. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The giddiness was back.

“Somebody needs the legs cut out from under them, I’m sure,” replied the Doctor.

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