Chapter 9 - Nick

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The two hands that had grabbed him belonged to the General. With a rough smack, the man dropped him to the rock-hard, frozen ground. "Did you not hear Captain Frank about what she did—what she is?" he sneered.

Nick scrambled up, looking past the General to catch another glimpse of the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes on. His body yearned to see her. "But, General, she's..."

"... dangerous." The man crouched in front of him, now fully blocking his view. "She has you under her spell."

Nick squirmed and jerked his head, all to no avail. The General's ugly horse-like face was all he got to see. As he sighed in defeat, the singing began anew; the mountains repeating her mournful cry in an almost simultaneous reply.

Tell me, child with curious eyes I see
when will these wounds...

"Block it out, Nicolas. Don't let her spell get to you." The General stretched his hand, pulling him to his feet. He nudged him forwards, refraining him from looking back. "Let's get out of here."

In the solitude of their cabin, Nick briefed the General of what he had learnt. The news of their arrival was travelling fast, and—as expected—Captain Frank had informed his men to lie low while they were there.

The General gave a quick nod, then gestured at the bed. "Get some sleep, Nicolas."

Sleep. Nick turned his head towards the window, a thin layer of frost blurring the outside world. It was for the best; he would have spent the whole night staring at the outside world. He changed into his pyjamas and laid down on the bed. As he closed his eyes, he could still hear her mesmerising melody in the wind.

Come hither, child with guileless grief I feel
and show this girl how to sleep

Though it had all the makings of a lullaby, the son of Sloth found himself unable to catch the slightest of winks. The Holy Fourteen had entered his mind, squabbling about Bee's fate. The Goddess of Temperance kept on repeating that Bee was a human too, but The Goddess of Chasity joined her sinful sister, Lust, into arguing that all magicians were evil; that nothing good could ever come from worshipping her.

Greed wanted her all to Himself, and as did Nick.

Not that he got much of a chance. The following morning, the General went straight from their cabin to that of Captain Frank. Nick had no choice but to follow.  

Over a breakfast of lumpy porridge and tasteless tea, the two men discussed budgets needed to build new compartments as well as bring in extra troops up north to guard a wider area. Apart from yawns too strong to stifle, Nick mostly kept quiet. With amazement, he watched how the General steered to topic back to the deportation of magicians to Burnfirth, and then to Ice.

This was not to the liking of Captain Frank. He was nervously tapping his fingers against his cup. "What I don't understand is how the crown finds gold for such a fool's errand when it can't spare a thousand gold pieces to give me and my men the raise they deserve."

"You will get it, once the road to Ice has been established," the General suggested.

"Which the Icians haven't agreed to yet—you have said so yourself."

"But you know how the world turns. Our northern allies make no secret that they don't approve of the way we deal with magicians. It will be a win-win for the Greenlands. We strengthen our political ties and send good labourers North, to a country in dire need of a bigger workforce. His and Her Majesty are confident the Icians will accept the deal."

"Her Majesty?" Captain Frank's jaw clacked. "It's her, isn't? She's making him do this."

Nick refrained from taking another bite of porridge (hunger was the best sauce, after all) and looked at the General, who remained his stoic self and responded with silence.

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