The purple feline stretched and yawned. He found that was an adequate response to most human conversation, but he was moved to ask in his driest purr, “Plum-Bottom?”
Marlowe ignored the question. “And today I will go wooing, to plight my troth to dear Drunais, Princess of Faerie, Queen of My Heart!”
“Who happens to be a sweet young fey of ninety-two. In thirty years you’ll be a withered old man, and she’ll still be in the first bloom of youth.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Cat didn’t deign to reply, but stuck out one leg and began to groom himself, though not before turning so Marlowe wouldn’t see what he now unaccountably considered his embarrassing bits.
“‘Tis dreadful that my friends of distant night
believe that I was bested in a fight.”
“I don’t know if it’s harder to endure being this ridiculous colour, or having to listen to your flights of verse,” Cat replied in a pause from licking his purple fur. “Love makes you foolish, like a child after candy.”
“Now I set sail to grasp my Helen from
the clutches of vile Fate, cold Fortune
and her father.”
“Whom rumour has it can split hairs with his sword,” Cat reminded him.
Marlowe sheathed his knife and said, “We’ll hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“The Faerie folk do not make war. I’ve not even been able to get them to understand the idea.”
“Quite sensible,” Cat said. “No species but humans makes war. I wonder why that is?”
“No thirst for glory,” Marlowe suggested, buckling on his sword, but Cat opined, “Too clever.”
“Nor do any but the mundane–as you call us–make poetry,” Marlowe reminded him.
“Perhaps you need it to assuage the horrors you inflict upon each other.”
“Perhaps the horrors are a necessary adjunct of the songs.”
“Perhaps I am the Queen of England,” Cat replied.
“Impossible,” said Marlowe. “Her hair is red.”
“Just because he’s Governor of Her Majesty’s Colony of New Albion does not give him power over the hearts of his subjects,” Marlowe proclaimed, but Cat reminded him, “In fact I think it does. I’ve read the charter, you know.”
“The charter bedamned! I’ll do as I please. Sir Hyphen-Dash has had enough of my permissions.”
“This isn’t the first?” Cat asked, and Marlowe shook his head. “I was once promised to his daughter.”
“Broke it off, did you?”
“More like I was broken off. That demon Walsingham instructed me to fake my death and join this secret expedition, so here I am. But it’s not without comforts.”
“Or mustard,” replied Cat cryptically.
Cat hopped up on the woodpile that was stacked almost to the low eves. “And perhaps the King and Queen of Faerie will take pity on us and transport us magically back to the kingdom of men, our purses laden with gold.
“Besides, if you’re settled here with Drunais, raising lots of little hybrid children, what would there be left to rescue you from?”
Marlowe contemplated the raw oysters he’d had for breakfast, the stewed clams he’d had for dinner and the smoked fish that was waiting for his lunch.
“Seafood,” he replied.
Cat jumped up on a loosely stacked woodpile and began foraging for mice. The skitters of small claws could be heard within, and here and there tiny whiskered snouts emerged while beady eyes kept lookout.
“You mean the day you spied secretly on a young woman as she bathed?” Cat pounced unsuccessfully at a vanished mouse.
“Spying? Nonsense! I know spying. This was nothing of the kind. I merely observed from a clandestine distance!”
“Ah. A different thing altogether, then.”
|M: “From the outer rim I clawed my way|
to the very hub of England’s wheel
then cast aside, a stone upon the road,
removed by Royal fiat, Her command
to Die, no less! Impressed aboard a ship
that wandered Neptune’s vast and barren sea
until in tempest tossed we plunged beyond
the limits of the world, to shipwreck here
where my love awaited, all alone.”
|C: “My journey was more modest, from a kit|
to young rambunctious scrapper on the wharf.
I chased off gulls for pleasure, took the sun,
while cadging scraps from sailors rough and bold
who with a purr and sad pathetic mew
could be convinced to find a gift a cat
might revel in: a fish, a sausage burned…
until one day a poet came along
and foolishly I followed him aboard.”
“Sounds like you have a knack for landing on your feet,” said Cat, who had been listening as well as talking. He made a long leap off the woodpile to the ground.
“There she stood in all of Nature’s glory,” Marlowe persisted. “Her lithe tigress body dripping with water like diamonds glistening in the forest light as she stepped upon the mossy bank, a precious pearl withouten spot!”
“Or a stitch on,” Cat observed.
Marlowe continued to expostulate as if he had not heard, “Who am I to challenge love with hate? Who am I to question and deliberate? Who am I to struggle against fate?”
“Who are you to ignore such an amazing derrière?” Cat interjected, interrupting the rhythm of Marlowe’s questions.
“Well, that too,” he admitted, after a moment’s pause for thought.
Dear Drunais! How could a trochee with no particularly gracious rhymes be so beautiful? he wondered. It was one of life’s deep mysteries, not at all in keeping with sound poetic principles. He had found life rarely was, and it continued to perplex him.
A weasel shot across the path in front of him, a purple blur in close pursuit, but he barely noticed as he muttered fragments of poetry to himself. “Drunais… always? Trite. Drunais… through her hair the starlight strays? Perhaps. Drunais… mayonnaise?”
So many questions, so few answers. What strange power had brought him here in the service of his Queen? What purpose did it further to inspire poetry for an audience of one? What had that other poet seen? And why was his beloved aiming an arrow at his heart?
“Really, ‘mayonnaise’ was just a joke!” he cried before she could let fly.
The arrow traversed away from him as she slowly rotated on the ball of one foot, seemingly by magic. He reached out for her.
“Long-bow is very hard!” she said as he took a grip on the bow and steadied her with his other hand. She leaned forward to kiss him and accidentally let go of the string which snapped against Marlowe’s unprotected hand while the arrow vanished into the trees.
“O darling!” Drunais cried, dropping the bow and falling against Marlowe, carrying them both to the ground. “I did not hurt you, I?”
He looked at the red line where the string had snapped against his hand but before he could reply Cat dragged the arrow out of the underbrush and dropped it by Marlowe’s head, asking, “I don’t suppose this belongs to you?”
“I just about had that ferret, I’ll have you know,” Cat sniffed. Marlowe ignored him, turning his attention to the woman who lay atop him.
“What on Earth did you think you were doing!” he asked.
“lovely Diana ~ crescent Moon her silver bow ~ how like her I am,” she said, then giggled.
“So like to her in shape,” Marlowe told her. “Slim, strong, and wearing such a short tunic… You’re not eternally chaste, are you?” he asked with a sudden frown.
“Chaste?” she replied, shaping her mouth around the unfamiliar word.
“Chased she is,” said Cat. “But will ever she be caught?”
“You said I must have wanton poets!” she reminded him. “Are wanton poets chaste?”
“Quite the opposite,” Cat commented while Marlowe floundered.
Drunais looked at Marlowe very seriously for a moment, then kissed him and shook her head. “No. I am not chaste.”
“Not eternally chaste, you mean?” Marlowe asked with a deeper frown than ever.
She shook her head emphatically, and gave a laugh. “No, not chaste! This is good, no?”
“Err… no?” Marlowe replied, his heart sinking within him.
Marlowe ignored him, instead saying musingly, “I love thee not for sacred chastity. Who loves for that? But… chasteness ordinary, that I do appreciate.”
“ordinary, me? ~ without Moon goddess aspect? ~ just a common girl?” Drunais roused herself up, spilling Cat to the ground in the process.
“No! I didn’t mean… I mean… I meant…” Marlowe scrambled to his feet after her with a grunt of frustration. “I am not fashioned for these amorous times, to court thy beauty with lascivious rhymes!”
“Lascivious? Like wanton? So am I chaste and wanton? Can’t make up your mind?”
“No! I mean yes! I mean…” he shook his head. This was not going as planned.
“To talk of you and me?” Druais replied a little snippily.
“It will all be worthwhile!”
“To have bitten off the matter with a smile?”
“I am Lazarus, come back from the dead, come back to tell you, to ask you…” he began, feeling the anger radiating off her like heat from a forge. How had this gone so askew? It was like he’d fallen into the wrong poem.
“That isn’t what I meant at all! That is not it at all!”
“Then let me ask my overwhelming question!” he shouted, and to his surprise she was silent.
“Shall I hold your cloak?” Cat asked, as Marlowe prepared to speak.
“Come live with me and be my love,
so we might all the pleasures prove,
that valleys, beaches, hills, and fields,
forests or high mountains yield.
I’ll make a belt of ivy vines
stolen from these towering pines
to gird your body as you move…
come live with me and be my looove.”
Drunais looked at him with seriousity, curiosity, faeriosity and a tiny bit of generosity. Then she shook her head and said dismissively, “pull the other one ~ pretty words and poetry ~ it might have bells on”
She raised her hand to his face and he flinched away, but she touched him gently. “So much anger. Your people, when they are angry with each other, what do they do?” she asked.
Taken aback, he answered, “Do? Shout. Throw things. Punch and hit. Set fire to each other, if we’re in a religious mood. Now and then we try talking, but why talk when knife-fights work so well?”
“Does this ‘knife-fight’ really work very well?” she asked, genuinely curious. He replied with some reluctance, “For a certain value of ‘work’, I suppose.”
“So your people, they are always at peace?”
“Always at each other’s throats, more like!”
“Then perhaps we should settle this my people’s way,” she said, pulling him down to the soft forest floor.
He sat up, dumping Drunais onto the loam. “The village!”
“My love!” she cried dramatically.
He got to his feet, torn between his duty and his passion.
What was it that heretical German preacher said? Man is a horse with two riders? Queen and country always managed to wrest the reigns from love, Marlowe found. He gave Drunais a last longing look where she lay sprawled in a heap and strode off through the trees without another word.
“That went well,” opined Cat, rubbing his head against Drunais’ thigh in the hope he might be rewarded with a bit of residual cuddling.
On deck Captain Stone stood firmly at the windward rail, watching the dark sea. In the waist Lady Belinda Hyphen-Dash-Throtestalking took in what she insisted on referring to as “the fresh salt air”, although everyone else on board thought it was just cold and wet.
Up on the foc’sle a sailor stood, dressed incongruously in plain canvas trousers and a ruffed shirt as a gentleman might wear. When anyone asked him about this he replied, “Ruff?” as if he had no idea what they speaking of. His shipmates gave him the nickname “Fido”, and tried to avoid him as much as possible.
Which was exactly his plan.
Well, not the Fido part.
Donald turned in her direction, holding on to the rail. His usually dark countenance was a surprisingly pale shade of green. He was the only sailor who had managed to stay sea-sick the entire voyage, from Portsmouth across the Line, around the Horn and over the entire course of the long run up the coast, standing a hundred miles off to avoid detection by any Spanish colonists on shore.
“You called, M’lady?” he asked. His voice was deep and rich, his diction strangely precise.
“What do you suppose those fishes are looking at?” Lady Belinda asked. “It almost looks as if they’re waiting to be fed.”
He leaned to look over the side. This proved to be a mistake, which was what the fishes were waiting for.
There was something odd about that man Fagoe, he thought. You shipped a few landsmen every voyage, and some of them never quite found their sea-legs, although few of them emptied their bellies with such regularity as to be a threat every time he was sent aloft. Even with daily holystoning–routine scouring with sand and flat stones the size and shape of Bibles–the decks had begun to stain in places. What did the man’s stomach contain?
Whatever it was, the fishes approved.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shout of “Land Ho!” from aloft, and for once all of his attention focused on a single point on the far horizon.
“All hands make sail!” he roared, sending the crew up the ratlines. The breeze was steady, but he didn’t trust it. If half of what Drake said about this place was true it was the world turned up-side down.
Arboreal people. Animals that talked. And bears that swam like seals. Nonsense.
He’d travelled the world and knew traveller’s tales when he heard them, like that mad fellow who claimed he’d seen an antipodal creature with a duck bill, a beaver’s tail and a poisoned spur. He didn’t believe for a moment that Drake’s fancies would turn out to be anything special.
There was a faint scraping sound as if a large beast was rubbing its back against the keel. Just a bit of driftwood, the Captain thought, not some mythical beast or magical creature. Nonsense.
Forgot the cry of gulls and the deep sea swell
and the penguins and the whales.
A current under the ship
Swept her along in silence. As she rose and fell
She rubbed her back upon the barnacles of Hull
Entering the vortices.
Human or bear
O you who grip the rudder and gnaw the stern-post,
Consider Rothgar, who thinks it tastes like chicken.
“It certainly is!” said Captain Stone, his eyes on the strangely luminous fog bank that appeared out of no-where before them, as if the fog was coalescing out of the very air around them “Hard a-larboard!”
“The helm’s not responding!” A sudden current pulled the ship more deeply into the fog.
“Bring the ship about this instant Mr Scott!”
“The rudder cannae take it any more, Captain!”
Stone grabbed the wheel and the two of them tried to turn it together until it shook them off in a dramatic shower of sparks. The deck lurched as if the ship was tumbling over the edge of a really cheap special effect. Then as quickly as it had formed around them the fog dissipated, and the ship was steady on a new course. The only sound was Donald Fago doing what he did best over the forward rail. Again.
Something had changed. The crew dangling from the cross-trees felt it. Lady Belinda in her deshabille felt it. The captain and the carpenter picking themselves up from the deck felt it. And the Mermaid Formerly Known as Figurehead felt it as she woke to unexpected consciousness in a splashing spray of effluent from Donald Fago’s stomach.
Her world was suddenly full of subtle forces and less-than-subtle smells. She felt the strong slow mind of the ship itself reach out to touch her, whispering, “Be Free!” and the wooden bonds that held her let go, dropping her into the deep dark ocean of Faerie as the ship tacked away and the crew tried with difficulty to obey, or even understand, the Captain’s shouted command of, “Clew up the larboard to stern of the forward mizzen carbunkle!”
“Mermaid?” mumbled masticating Mate Morse musingly. “Marie?”
“Mermaid? Miracle!” men marvelled, missing Morse’s meaning. Mounted Marie moved methodically, mitigating maritime motions.
“Marie!” morose mariners minged mawkishly. “Marie! Mariner’s mainstay! Much-missed mounted mermaid!”
“Mad malkin!” Morse managed miserably. “Major! Marines! Maintain merciless mission! Men! Mount masts!” Moving mournfully, men mocked morphed Marie.
“What the buggering thrice-darned tarnation is going on here?” Captain Stone shouted, breaking the mysterious spell.
“Most mysterious,” said Lady Belinda, perhaps still feeling the lingering effects of the spell.
The crew were busy bringing the ship around to a new heading now the captain was issuing coherent orders again. The sailors cast longing glances over the side, where the ship’s mermaid figure-head, Marie, was now swimming into the distance toward… something.
“I never would have believed it, had I not heard it with my own ears.”
“The men went for a full minute without swearing. I suppose there aren’t any oaths that start with ‘M’,” she mused.
“Merde,” he muttered.
A furry apparition approached through the calm water and she opened her mouth to speak.
Rothgar the seabear listened to the sound for a moment, mesmerized, or whatever it was called more than a century before Mesmer was born.
From the far distance there was an answering song, and Marie turned her awkwardly top-heavy body with one powerful stroke of her tail and surged away, combing out her hair as a gust of wind blew the water white and black.
“I have heard the mermaids singing in the caverns of the sea,” Rothgar mused, watching her go. “I do not think they will sing to me.”
while the sea is spread beneath the sky
like an enormous body of saline water;
Let us go, through half-remembered sweeps
of currents where the tides run deep
across the bones of sunken wrecks
where ragged claws in scuttling pairs
are heard to whisper, “Do I dare? O do I dare?”
For I have heard the giggle of that Eternal Footman
when I licked his face before I bit…
O let us go and make our visit!
Distant in the wake of the departing sea-bear the ship ghosted on toward the unknown shore.
“You don’t even know what a cow is!”
“At least I’m not tripping over my own feet all the time.”
“Father says I’m going through a growth spurt.”
“An annoying spurt is more like it,” Felicity told her and stomped off down the beach, leaving her sister to carry the clam baskets. The mix of sand and pebbles was soggy under her feet, making stomping difficult, but she did her best.
“Moo,” Grace muttered under her breath as she gathered up the buckets, wondering if it was true that cows really were like “fat, slow-moving deer that go moo”, which was the best description her father could give of them.
Grace followed her sister Felicity awkwardly down toward where the women were digging for clams. It was a neap tide, the water barely moving over the course of the day. That made for difficult digging, but if they wanted to eat they had to dig.
The salmon run had been poor this year. The worst in the colony’s short history. The colonists had staked out nets and weirs as they had done the previous year, but had caught hardly anything before everything was swept away by a great storm and unusually high tide one late September night. By the time things were repaired the bulk of the fish were far upstream.
Grace dropped the baskets in a heap beside Felicity and another girl named Hope, who said in a voice laden with dramatic import, “We’re all going to die here.”
“She can be a cow if she wants to,” Grace said, moving along the row of digging women to gather up the clams they had found since the girls had hauled the last batch to the village, where a great heap awaited salting and pickling.
Not that these were proper clams. The Fey called them ‘ba’, but they called anything with a shell that. The English called them ‘trunk clams’ although she’d heard the boys use another word entirely. She wasn’t properly familiar with male anatomy, but it seemed to her very unlikely that the yard-long siphons really bore that much resemblance.
As Grace looked around she heard Hope muttering, “I hate this place. I wish I could die.”
Grace shook her head. It was bleak and barren, but beautiful in its way. If life was just a little less hard she might come to love it. If only a ship would come, a great stately castle of the sea, moving gracefully under sail… much like that one now drawing in close along the shore, in fact.
She let out a scream of panic and delight, bringing all the other women’s heads around in time to see a sailor lose his grip on the ratlines to be left dangling by one foot over the deck, while a brightly dressed woman amidships waved and called to them, her words unintelligable through the damp distance.
A few of the women called back to the sailors, who were now ignoring them, although the feminine figure on deck did return their waves.
“I must warn father,” Grace repeated, and turned to run down the beach.
“Don’t trip over your own feet, you silly cow!” Felicity called, while Hope moaned, “Oh I just know they’re going to be shipwrecked and marooned here with the rest of us!”
A ship! She would have sung the words had she not been using all her breath for running.
She had always been a big girl, but since their ill-fated ship had passed through the Straits of Annian to enter Faerie she had seemed to grow bigger by the day, tripping over her feet and running into things. How she envied the other girls, and even moreso the Fey, who were grace personified instead of merely named.
At the top of the path she paused. Her legs ached and her lungs burned. Her breathing came in long hard gasps. Through gaps in the trees she could see the ship rounding the point.
The wind was so light the ship seemed to move like a ghost, and she felt a sudden stab of fear: could it be just an apparition? Then she remembered the sailors shouting across the water, and the word that had silenced them. She didn’t think apparitions said that.
It stared back at her, unmoving.
Grace hesitated. She was rarely at a loss for words.
“Hello?” she asked, then wondered, since she’d asked a question, what the answer might be.
The bear paused for a moment of consideration before replying thoughtfully, “Sassafras.” Then it returned to its meal.
That answers that, Grace thought, as she pushed her tired legs back into a run.
Rothgar the sea bear, a fortnight famished, watched her go thinking, “What a strange person.”
Her pace slowed further as she neared her journey’s end, but she was still going at a fair clip when a slim eldrich figure stepped out into the path before her and gave a courtly bow, sweeping his elaborately feathered hat off his head and saying in the formalized speech of his people:
“Grace my lady runs
through the byways of the wood.
I offer my aid.”
True to her nature if not her name Grace plowed into him, sending him tumbling awkwardly into the wet undergrowth with a crash of broken branches and an incoherent “Oof! Look ouch where you’re ga! Ouch!” It was the first time she’d heard him say anything remotely interesting.
Forto bugyer indullmph?
Plz git uffofme?”
Grace barely listened to the muffled words, her attention briefly captivated by the lovely purple flowers that bobbled right in front of her eyes. Their brethren, she feared, were lying beneath her and Yee-Ha, who was now trying to wiggle out from under without actually touching her, which wasn’t going to work.
She rolled over and he heaved a sigh and began to speak again, but she shushed him and got to her feet, barely missing crushing the last remaining blooms.
“Not now, you silly… goose!” she admonished him, reaching for a modicum of originality, and left him catching his breath on the ground as she ran on.
At least she’d run into the boy literally and the bear metaphorically, and not the other way around.
The pitter-patter of lightly running feet warned her the boy hadn’t been entirely put off by being jostled off the path. His voice came from behind her, the longer than usual pauses between his formally inflected lines the only sign of the effort he was making to keep up with her.
“determination…” Pause for breath.
“her focus, the task at hand…” Pause for breath.
“Don’t be such a silly cow!” Grace acquiesced, and was faintly gratified to hear the following footsteps stop and his voice wobble as he revised his final line on the fly, “what is this thing, cow?”
She looked around and realized the houses were all empty: the women were off gathering along the beaches and the men were hunting. Unfortunately, while they hunted with considerable effort, they rarely actually found.
Not even the daft poet was around. He had left the door to his empty cottage open with characteristic lack of care. HE neither hunted nor gathered, but traded with the Fey for food and tools, exchanging his silly verses for the necessities of life, much to the chagrin of the other men. Grace had to admit he was more useful to the colony than the unsuccessful hunters.
Her eye lit upon the ship’s bell, one of the few pieces of metal salvaged from the wreck. It was only supposed to be rung in emergencies. “This,” said Grace to herself, “qualifies.”
Taking a quick look around to be sure there was really no one watching she bent her knees and took an awkward jump flapping her hands together over her head where she hoped the rope would be. Apart from making her skin smart where her palms smacked together it had no effect, although she managed to keep her footing on landing, which she counted as a minor triumph.
She jumped again, this time catching hold of the rope and hanging on. The bell gave a single loud clang as she was left dangling, her toes barely brushing the ground.
Inevitably, Yee-Ha chose that moment to finally come out of the forest and ask if she was in need of assistance.
“far be it for me ~ to disagree with beauty ~ but may I say… yes?”
Grace bit back an acerbic reply and focused on the practical, “Ring me.”
Yee-Ha looked perplexed for a moment, then caught her gist. He was no taller than she was, but he didn’t have to be. He put his hands tentatively around her waist and lifted her up easily, surprising her with his strength. The bell gave a gentle “ding” as he lowered her again.
“Harder!” she told him, and he raised her again more vigorously, then again and again until her head was bobbing up and down with the force of the motion and the bell clanged out its call loud and far over the forests until the branch holding it gave way under their combined weight and sent girl, boy, bell and branch crashing down in a final cymballic heap.
“Was that loud enough? ~ my graceful girl companion ~ whose weight lies heavy?”
Christopher Marlowe heard the aftermath as he fumed his way along the path back to the village, furious his awkward wooing had been interrupted just at the moment of its fruition. The women gathering shellfish on the beaches heard it. Rothgar the sea-bear, browsing on berries, heard it. Even the sailors on the White Hart, which was rounding the headland and entering the bay on the rising tide, heard it.
And high in their arboreal fastness the five leaders of the Coastal Conclave of the Fey heard it.
“More of them arrive,” said Athis morosely, the Senior Junior and nominal leader of the Conclave.
“What shall we do in response?” asked the woman to his right. She went by the name of Slash, as her swordplay was famously deficient. She could only split a hare.
“Kill them and eat them?” Athis suggested. He wasn’t entirely disappointed when no one laughed.
In the water below, sight unseen, a small round head wearing what appeared to be a seaweed crown raised itself above the surface. “Troubles,” it said. “More troubles.” Then it slipped quietly beneath the still surface.
On shore the villagers began to gather along the beach. Grace, trailed by Yee-Ha, was soon joined by her sister Felicity and their cousin Hope, who was muttering dire imprectations of doom. Marlowe came striding grumpily down the shore, eventually followed by Cat, who picked his way delicately amongst the driftwood, a dead fish in his mouth.
Together they waited, tense and unspeaking, as the ship came to anchor.
“SPANIARDS!” he roared, brandishing his blunderbuss. “Fire cannons!”
“Father, the cannon are sunk,” Grace reminded him matter-of-factly. “And I don’t think that’s a Spanish flag at the masthead.”
“False colours! Duplicitous dogs! Dangerous! Violent! Not like us! Kill the lot of ‘em!”
Marlowe felt a flash of existential dread as he gazed across the water. “Your daughter is aboard.”
“Nonsense! She’s right here! Both of her!”
“Your OTHER daughter,” Marlowe clarified, which produced a sudden return of silence.
She let her fingers trail over the strings, singing a lover’s lament in her own language:
“dear one far away
clouds gather while darkness falls
my life is so sad”
She’d written it herself.
A round, crowned head raised itself out of the water nearby.
“So many Troubles for the land-dwellers,” said Tuc to himself. Then he said more loudly, “Bark?” causing Drunais to leap into the air with a scream.
“Your har’un?” asked Tuc, using the Fey word for the English. Drunais could only nod silently in response, then asked plaintively, “Why would he leave me?”
“A ship,” Tuc told her, wondering why he didn’t keep his bewhiskered nose out of it.
Drunais thought for a moment, then decided all news was bad news. “He’ll meet some golden-haired harlot and leave me!” she wailed. “And I don’t even know what a harlot is!”
If she had been one of his wives Tuc would have rubbed his chin on her head and offered her a fish, but he didn’t think that was how land-dwellers did things.
Drunais gripped her lute and began to play.
“Sadness suffuses saffron skies
Sadness softly sorrowing sighs
Sadness stuns somber souls
Sadness sentimental strolls
Sadness sings, she sadly sits
Sadness doesn’t give a sh…”
Tuc interrupted her song with the loud clapping of his flippers. Seals weren’t much in the opposable thumbs department, but as Marlowe had once told him, “You could applaud for England.”
“Lovely!” he said. “And so very sad!” He paused, “Though I think it gets a little more angry than sad at the end.”
“Ah,” replied the seal king. It was all so much simpler for his people. Females were only interested in mating once a year, and males competed for their attention with submerged acrobatics, gifts of fish, and singing the secret, silent seal songs of the sea… although on reflection maybe it was a little bit complicated after all. Hitting silent high notes isn’t as easy as it sounds. “I’m not sure his people settle their differences the way you do.”
“He would have! We could have! I’m not a child any more!” Drunais reminded her friend.
“And how old is he?” Tuc asked, and she moaned, “He’s probably a thousand! I never asked. He was too busy talking about ‘knife fights’.”
“It’s how they settle their differences. But I have no idea how they get the knives to fight.”
Noisome beasts who walk like us.
Do we welcome them?”
Dagan: “Dreadful hu’run!
Angry, dangerous, hostile!
Ugly faces, too!”
Bil: “Poetic beasts, ho!”
He looked at their blank silent faces.
Slash: “Poets, pretenders.
Children of the outer world.
Their vigour inspires.”
Sidiuri: “Welcome them withal.
Open arms and open minds.
Love’s gravity pulls.
“What were you expecting?
Elegance from me?”
Slash: “Your daughter loves him.”
Slash: “Your daughter loves the poet
Dagan stood up, his sword at his side. “Now you are talking!”
Slash looked at Dagan’s sword. “Sometimes hu’run have sword fights.”
Siduri: “Long lost brothers, sisters too.”
Athis: “Let us go then
Greet these strange new arrivals
Before all depart.”
Athis: “They get swords to fight?”
She drew her own weapon and brandished it, gesturing for Bil to do the same.
Slash: “Then they clang the blades ~ back and forth they rattle them ~ until someone wins”
Bil tentatively struck his sword against hers, and she returned the favour.
Bil: “Who is the winner? ~ The one who dies of boredom? ~ Or makes the most noise?”
Slash: “Someone falls down dead. ~ Then the other one is sad. ~ It is very strange.”
Never very good with a blade, Slash narrowly missed Bil’s head as they continued to clang.
Athis: “Clang more carefully! ~ Someone may get hurt or worse! ~ Is this how they die?”
The Fey Conclave stood and gathered together, raising their voices in counterpoint song:
From the world we fleetly fled
Finding forest homes for all
Living lives of cheerful joy
Matters weighty, woeful, hard
Fast away upon a sled
Hiding here behind a wall
Every girl now gets her boy
Hoist them all with great petard!
Siduri asked, “What is a ‘petard’?”
“Some kind of big crane, I think,” said Bil. “Or maybe heron.”
All around them people lounged and played. Jugglers juggled, dancers danced. Poets declaimed, hecklers hecked and musicians musicked. The activity slowly ceased as the fey folk became aware of the Council in their midst, except for one juggler whose fountain of balls reached high into one of the forest sunbeams. “Whoo hoo hoo!” he shouted, “THIRTEEN!” then dropped the lot as he realized his was the only voice to be heard. One rolled into the koi pond.
“The rest of us are ready ~ to do our job, Bil,” Athis’ voice cut across the plaza.
Bilgamees returned to the group at a trot. “Yes, of course we are,” he said. “Just showing the kids some tricks. ~ My senior’s duty.”
“Yet still a Junior ~ and so likely to remain,” Athis reminded him, “many years to come.”
She stood up, put her lute aside and declared, “I will confront him!” Then looked around, “Or would, if I knew where he was.”
“On the beach in the bay, by the hu’run village, I expect,” Tuc said. “Waiting for the ship-people.”
She looked up along the path, then decided otherwise. A moment’s work stripped off her clothes and bundled them up, their fine waterproof outer layer forming a self-contained bag. With two quick steps she reached the water and plunged in, diving under the surface.
“Take care of her!” came a voice from the trees. Tuc nodded, “I will”, then flipped his tail and was gone.
The raccoon who had spoken scrambled down from his perch and sauntered along the rocky beach in the direction of the bay, curious to see what he might find there.
“I know they do. Wild harridan, haunting me to the ends of the Earth. And beyond.”
“How dare you speak about her like that!”
“My dear lost love!” said Cat. Marlowe peered through the mist. “The ship’s cat?”
The little boat moved in fits and starts. One of the sailors in particular seemed to be hanging onto his oar for stability rather than propulsion. A stern officer sat in the stern. From the bow another man bowed, doffing his hat as they came within hail. “Permission to come ashore?”
“SPANIARDS!” shouted Sir Hyphen-Dash, but Marlowe replied in resignation, “Granted.”
“What?” asked Cat, breaking his attention from the little cat who stood in the bow. But Marlowe was no longer listening. His eyes looked out on some other time, and his head was cocked as if hearing the sound of distant guns.
Then he shook himself, and repeated, “I remember…”
“What?” asked Cat again, faintly annoyed, and Marlowe continued, “…everyone.”
“Not… no. Just… only the dead. But there are so many. It feels like everyone. And a field of flowers somewhere…” his voice drifted off and Cat turned his attention back to the living.
Marlowe took the rope as the sailor flopped on the beach, crying, “Land! Dry land! Tierra firma!”
Some of the other men grabbed the line and heaved, pulling the boat within leaping distance of the beach. The woman who had been sitting amidships stepped gracefully over the sailor’s heads and jumped, calling out to Marlowe without paying him much attention, “You there! Catch me!”
Despite years of living amongst the upper classes, and even brushing with royalty, his reflexes were still those of a gentleman. He raised his arms in time to break her fall and steady her as she landed on his feet.
She turned to thank him and realized who he was. Her face went white. Her eyes went wide. She gave a little scream, said, “You’re dead!” and fainted hard away. Marlowe eased her to the sand while the rest of the sailors jumped across her.
Nearby on the sand the first sailor to come ashore stood up. He wobbled and waibled. He lurched and glurched. He fell to his knees again and moaned, “Landsick!”
“I beg your pardon?” Marlowe asked.
“Landsick! I have been at sea for so long! My stomach! It never gets used to the motion of the waves! But now it is no more used to the steadiness of the land! AAAAGHGGH!” He was noisily sick. Marlowe picked up the prostrate woman and moved away from him through the crowd of villagers and sailors who were eagerly mingling and greeting. Somewhere nearby Cat was shyly approaching the ship’s cat, Daphne, who had come ashore on a sailor’s shoulder.
“Let me take you away from all this,” Marlowe said to the unconscious Belinda, who stirred in his arms and spoke muzzily, “O Sir Reginald! I never dreamed it would be so big!”
“They’re here,” Grace replied. “With a ship that will sail. They’ll take us home!” but Hope opined, “We’ll never survive the voyage!”
“Better dead on the seas that lost here in Faerie,” Felicity snapped at her. Grace shook her head, dismissing their bickering. England! It might be grey and dull and dangerous, but find a place that wasn’t!
Behind her Yee-Ha, the Fey boy who seemed to follow her everywhere, asked, “Ship to carry you ~ returning to your homeland ~ is this portended?” She nodded absently in reply, eyes on the ship.
“Beyond the blue sea ~ to accompany you there ~ I would learn your ways.”
“You really think they’re worth knowing?” she asked, listening to her sister and cousin argue.
Stone shook his head, looking around at the gray-green forest and sky, notably Spaniard-free. “The oaks of England still stand free.”
“Well I should hope so! No one putting trees in cages, I should think!”
Grace left her sisters to approach the two men. “I’m sorry, Captain, the air of this place disagrees with my father.”
Stone sniffed the wet air and nodded. “I don’t suppose you know the counter-sign?”
Grace shook her head, “I’m just an ignorant girl. Unless it’s, uh, ‘And the ashes stand tall’?”
Stone gave her a hard look. “As it happens, that’s correct, young lady.” She executed a curtsy, wobbling slightly in the process. She hadn’t had much opportunity to practice.
“I trust that by the Grace of God my messenger finds you thriving and prosperous, your numbers increasing in your new land! As the first inhabitants of this place you carry a heavy burden, peopling a hitherto empty countryside with Christian people!”
Grace hesitantly interrupted, “I beg your pardon, Captain, but it’s not entirely empty.”
Stone paused just long enough to quell her with a hard look, but before he could continue a voice cut through the air from the shadows where the forest met the shore, and a group of colourful, delicate individuals stepped out onto the beach. “Not empty at all!”
Captain Stone stood gaping in astonishment as Athis and the rest of the Fey council picked their way down the beach to stand before him, while Sir Hyphen-Dash expostulated, “Them! Yes, in league with, well, in league! I’m sure of it!
“We do live in trees ~ Where else would a thinker live? ~ Leaky wooden huts?” Athis replied.
Grace prodded her father, who intervened, “Well! That is! Yes. We have in fact got on with them very well, Captain. Which is not to say they aren’t in league! But in the meantime, very helpful. Yes.”
Stone considered. “I am Captain John Stone come to relieve Her Majesty’s colony.”
“Your language is strange ~ does ‘relieve’ mean ‘take away’? ~ I can only hope.”
Stone opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by a piercing scream from down the shore. All eyes turned to the frozen tableau of Christopher Marlowe, the now-conscious Lady Belinda Hyphen-Dash Throtestalking, and a third figure in the water beyond them, striding forth in a froth of fury.
He nodded glumly. “It really is. I was… required to leave. Her Majesty required it.”
“And you could never say ‘No’, to her or any other woman, could you?” she reminded him. Then, “But Reginald? Did he really die? Maybe he’s still alive! Although he certainly looked dead at his funeral.”
“Sir Reginald Throtestalking, my late husband,” she said, then looked around. “It must have been awful for you here, without me…”
“There have been compens…” he started to reply, then something moving in the water caught his eye and he tried to turn Belinda away from the shore before the apparition surfaced.
”My love, this is not what it appears to be!”
”You miserable two-timing hu’run bastard!”
“Don’t you speak to him so!”
”Be quiet you flaxen-haired harlot!”
“Harlot! Me! I’ll say what I please you low-born philandering poetaster!”
”If I had a knife I would make it fight yours, however you do it!”
Drunais kicked wet sand in Marlowe’s general direction as she spun on her heel and plunged back into the welcome cold of the Ocean, where her tears could mingle unseen with the infinite saline sea.
All Marlowe could see was a crowned seal head that raised itself above the surface for a few seconds and then was gone in a swirl of dark water. He shouted after Drunais, and Tuc the seal king, but was answered by silence.
When he finally returned his attention to the screaming, soaking wet woman at his side he realized everyone on the beach was looking at them… including the newly-arrived Fey delegation, lead by Drunais’ father, Athis.
“Come to welcome our newly arrived compatriots?” Marlowe shouted up to them.
Athis looked around with barely-disguised contempt and didn’t deign to reply.
“Daphne! Is it really you?” said Cat, trying to bump his forehead against hers in that way cats have.
“Yo no soy el tipo de chica que habla a los caballeros que no han sido debidamente presentados”, he heard Daphne say as she pulled away from him.
“Ha! Funny!” said Drunais’ friend Skeezicks, the raccoon.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Cat. “What’s so funny about a cat meowing?”
“Oh no!” said Skeezicks, his eyes growing wide. “She said, ‘I am not the kind of girl who speaks to gentlemen who have not been properly introduced.’”
Cat’s heart sank.
“Why can I understand you but not this stupid cat?” Daphne asked Skeezicks in fluent Spanish.
The beach was empty, but for a group of three animals–two cats and a raccoon–off in the distance, and the Fey boy Yee-Ha, who approached her tentatively.
The rest of the villagers, the newly arrived sailors, and the Fey delegation had repaired to the village hall where Captain Stone, Athis and Grace’s father were meeting. Sir Hyphen-Dash had made it clear to his daughter she wasn’t wanted or needed, although Captain Stone had spoken up for her, having quickly understood how little grasp her father had on what passed for reality in these parts. Even Marlowe and Grace’s half-sister were gone, taking the strangely land-sick sailor with them.
“alone my Grace sits ~ contemplating empty bay ~ like you company?” Yee-Ha asked.
“Why do you talk like that?” she replied.
Grace shook her head. “That doesn’t tell me anything. Why is it your duty?”
“How could it not be? ~ Do not the sacred words say…” then he paused. “It is just our way.”
Grace had perked up at the mention of the scared words, but now returned her attention to the grey ocean. A sailor was swinging from the rigging, waving… everything… at her, although from the way he was grasping at his trousers perhaps it wasn’t quite intentional. Even from this distance she could tell her doubts about the verisimilitude of the clams were justified. She wrinkled her nose and turned her attention back to Yee-Ha. “Have you ever tried talking like us? You speak our language. Why not?”
Yee-Ha’s eyes grew wide as he contemplated the enormity of this suggestion. “It is forbidden! ~ So dangerous and quite wrong! ~ But I will try.” He stopped, his mouth tightly closed, his face turning red. The silence stretched interminably until at least he burst out, “Soon!”
Before she could reply she noticed that Christopher Marlowe’s cat, Cat, was coming down the beach toward them, followed by the ship’s cat Daphne and a talkative raccoon.
“Perhaps I’ll become a cat when I retire,” Skeezicks the raccoon was saying.
“I didn’t know raccoons could retire,” Cat said. He kept stealing glances at Daphne, who ignored him.
“Of course they can!” said Skeezicks. “At least I think so.”
Daphne came up to Grace and rubbed her head against the girl’s knee. “Meow?” she asked, and then said, “Can I haz feesh?”
“Err… no, I don’t has fish,” Grace replied uncertainly.
“I didn’t know cats could speak foreign,” Grace said.
“We only speak cat,” said Cat. “You just listen in English.”
“Maybe you were listening in foreign, then?” asked Grace.
“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m an English cat!”
“And a very handsome one,” said Skeezicks the raccoon.
Cat rolled his eyes and ignored her. “Come, Daphne! We hunted the warfs together as kits!”
Daphne peered at Cat from her perch on Grace’s lap. “I’m sure I would remember zee purple!”
Now what malignant fate does haunt my days,
come stalking cold across the Ocean sea
like some great pale and vicious cachalot
bent on sick vengeance? O, to yet be free
of dark entanglements! Drunais my love!
How simple would our life together be:
the two of us, like shepherd, shepherdess,
far from the madding crowd, we two can flee
from all that ails this fractious flagrant world!
I’ll go to you, go down on bended knee
and beg forgiveness. Now!”
“Christopher! Yoo hoo!” came a shout from behind him and he moaned, “Behold my life.”
He turned to face her. “She is… my love!”
“She is WHAT, my love?” Lady Belinda asked.
Marlowe shook his head and said slowly, “My love. That is what she is.”
“The woman who walked out of the water is my love,” he tried again.
Lady Belinda looked at him strangely, “You are confused, Christopher. I didn’t walk out of the water! It was some undersea creature!”
“You took me quite unawares, being so unexpectedly alive,” Lady Belinda explained, “But now I can see… it was fated to be! My goodness, I made a rhyme! Perhaps I shall be a poet in this New World, like you, my love!”
Marlowe unavailing tried to gently pry her fingers loose. “It is more complicated than that, I fear.”
“Pish! Was ever the course of love more simple?”
Marlowe managed to free himself from her grip, but she immediately latched back on. “I wasn’t talking about love.”
Donald Vagoe, who had been staggering from tree to tree behind them, found himself stumbling out in front. He picked up a branch from the ground and waved it in unsteady counter-point to his own uncertain relationship with the vertical.
“I shall defend you my Lady!” he cried, and then fell forward, catching himself at the last moment by using his makeshift weapon as a crutch.
Marlowe unsheathed his sword and pushed the sailor aside. “What are you going to do, fall down on them?”
The leaves at the side of the path stirred, and a familiar ursine face poked through.
“Do not too quickly take the branch, or
Hope will find
the White Hart upon the white sand.
Glance ahead, not by chance, do not stand
old attachments. Let her rage.
‘Carefully think, but not too sage’,
Cock your ears
Where the path turns and where the path veers
Don’t fear to dare
Where the blue water meets the grey air
In Nature’s chapel, the ocean’s lair.”
With another nod, Rothgar trundled off, leaving only a few disturbed branches in her wake.
He paused when he reached the point where the path forked off to the village in one direction and the point of the bay in the other, then impulsively took the branch toward the village, glancing down the other fork toward the water as he went. If he couldn’t escape Belinda he could at least see what was happening in the settlment.
He was interrupted by Lady Belinda raging behind him, now awkwardly supported by the green-tinged Donald Vagoe, “Christopher! I demand you stop at once!”
He turned to calm her, and in the momentary silence heard a sound like a splash from the water’s edge, but he dismissed it and tried to calm the angry woman, who seemed torn between clinging to him and striking him repeatedly over the head with her parasol.
Finally Stone spoke, “I don’t believe it! You mean to tell me all of Drake’s tales are true?”
“Sir Francis was here,” Athis said, “Making promises of peace ~ and quiet for all.”
“And then he showed up?” Stone asked, nodding toward the still staring Hyphen-Dash.
Athis nodded eloquently, “One hopes arrival ~ will before the winter storms ~ precede departure.”
Stone, who had a hold full of provisions, from plows to cows, replied simply, “I have my orders.”
Marlowe sensed the tension and stepped in to the fray, saying, “Perhaps a feast of welcome and thanksgiving is in order before any rash decisions are taken?”
Athis glanced around at the rest of the Fey delegation. Dagan looked offended, but that was how he always looked. Siduri nodded encouragingly. Slash shrugged. Bil said, “Better to eat than quarrel, I always say.”
“We accept this feast ~ two peoples briefly meeting ~ before their parting,” Athis said.
Sir Hyphen-Dash seemed taken aback by the rapid change in tone, but Captain Stone said, “Very well. I’ll start the unloading. A feast it will be, and all but a skeleton crew will come. We’ve been at sea too long.”
“You have skeletons ~ standing watch on your great ship? ~ So much mystery,” Athis said bemusedly.
Captain Stone was striding off toward the beach with his men, leaving Donald Vagoe to unsteadily attend Lady Belinda, who was again remonstrating with a downtrodden Christopher Marlowe. Grace moved to join her sisters but was quickly caught up by the village women, who chivied the younger folk to help out with preparations for the feast.
The day devolved into a swirl of frantic activity, setting out long tables in the meeting house and sending the hunters out for an extra deer. Grace offered to help carry things up from the shore, where her awkward strength would be most useful, so she was the first of her sisters to find out what a cow really looked like.
“Are they always this big?” she asked and the sailor replied, “Not half, I seys, don’t I Clem?”
Clem nodded, watching the cow try to graze on a seaweed-covered stone.
“Get along there then!” said the first sailor, giving the cow a smack.
Philologists who study the lexicography of animal calls agree the call of the distressed bovine can best be approximated by, “MOOWAOAOWWOOOOOO!” Only louder.
Grace shrieked and jumped, and the two sailors led the cow away, the one saying, “Never a dull moment, then, is there, Clem? Isn’t that what I always seys?”
“Fat, slow-moving deer that go ‘moo’ my foot!” Grace said to herself.
Despite these watchful eyes a few sailors took time from their busy day to pay Grace their respects, which became all the more respectful when they realized this wee chit of a girl was hauling heavier loads than they were along the path up to the village.
“That’s the lot, then,” Captain Stone said to Sir Hyphen-Dash as the afternoon shaded into dusk.
“Not a moment too soon! Spaniards lurking! Lurking I say! We must put it all within the stockade!”
Stone looked at the few paltry stretches of raised posts that constituted the “stockade” and replied, “They seem to be well protected already.”
“Humph! Of course they are! Best offense is a good pretense, I always say!”
Hope stopped her half-hearted chopping of this season’s deformed turnips. “Then how?” she asked.
“The right way!” Felicity told her, stepping in to take the knife. Marlowe had sharpened it in his capacity as the village’s tinker. She treated it with respect, and sliced the turnips into thin disks.
H: “I can’t see that’s any different than what I was doing!” F: “Of course it is! I’m doing it!”
Hope moaned and took the knife back, looking daggers at her cousin in the process.
“Can I help?” asked Grace, ever the peace-maker.
“I’m sure there’s a bale that needs toted or a bundle that needs lifted,” Felicity told her snippily, then turned back to Hope, “NO! You’re doing it WRONG!”
“Hello,” she said, not questioning this time.
“Hello, Sassafras,” Rothgar said.
“Sassafras?” Grace asked.
“Or Saxifrage. Your name. Your true name,” Rothgar told her with a nod. “Stonebreaker.”
“What are you?” was all that Grace could think to reply, “And why does your nonsense always seem so… well, so sensible?”
Whispering of secrets
Waves without waving
Force without motion
My voice alone speaks
Deep the world’s singing
This is the living sea
This the green water
Here the wave’s portraits
Self-painted on sand
Are raised, they recede
Under the shining sun
I walk alone
Through evening dew and morning mist
Across the sand, across the stone
This healing balm of mystery
What cannot be riven
The past from our history
Between the act, and the fact
Between the fish, and the dish
Falls the Shadow
This is the way the world begins
This is the way the world begins
This is the way the world begins
Not with a Bang but a RARRH!”
Rothgar the sea-bear stood on her hind legs, nodded to Grace, and walked into the water, saying, “Be well, Saxifrage” over her shoulder.
“Ea,” he said, pronouncing the name properly, “do not speak! ~ It is not seemly to ask ~ nor right to answer!”
“I just want to know ~ why hu’run are free to talk ~ however they please.”
“They are not like us.”
“I have noticed this father.”
“Now be a good boy ~ obedient to our laws ~ troublesome no more.”
“I can only try,” he said sullenly, annoyed with his father for finishing the cycle rather than passing it back to him. He was satisfied to hear the awkward response to his hanging opening: “Do or do not! There is no ~ Uh… no try… um… err…”
Bil (smiling): “Feasting, revelry and fun.”
Dagan (grimly): “Dealing with hu’run.”
Slash: “They are not so bad.”
Siduri:: “They’re better than bad: they’re good.”
Athis: “Optimistic view!”
Slash: “Realistic hope?”
Ea: “Uh… why do we talk like this?”
Dagan “Scandalous, I say!”
Athis: “Problematic, though.”
Slash (nodding): “Shouldn’t need to ask.”
Dagan: “He’s too young to know the truth!”
Siduri: “Yet all who ask, know.”
Slash (sternly): “Tell him, or I will.”
Bil: “Yes do! I have never asked! ~ I’d like to know too!”
He grinned sheepishly at their bemused looks.
“But darling!” said Lady Belinda as Marlowe turned away from her up-turned face, which was waiting to be kissed. The village bustled around them.
“I am not the man you once knew,” Marlowe said.
“I am not the cat you once knew,” said Daphne.
“Then who ARE you?”
“Just a stranger in a strange land, curious and seeking new experiences.”
“But I am a new experience!”
”Nonsense, I know you of old.” ”Adiós”
“Who died and put you in charge?” asked Grace, still wondering about Rothgar’s… declaration?
“Someone has to! Father is, well, you know, confused. And Hope is hopeless! Our sister Belinda is quite impractical, but everyone seems to expect her to take charge. You ran off. So that leaves it up to me!”
“What needs to be done?”
“Then what needs to be done first?”
”I can see you’ve got Father’s knack for leadership.”
“How does it feel to be a cow?” she asked, and was silently grateful when the only answer was a sloppy lick on the side of her head, imperfectly dodged. She untied the halter-rope and led the now docile bovine out into the open air. There was a half-finished hut that would do nicely for a barn.
Half an hour later she had most of the rest of the pile squared away in various buildings left empty by virtue of lack of anything to put in them. Poor harvest. Poor salmon run. Lots of clams, though.
She saw the land-sick sailor staggering toward the beach. He was muttering to himself, and she slipped close behind him and heard, “Dose, trays, cue at row, sinko, says…” She wondered if it was some new kind of poetry.
When he found her she was in deep black water. Her people were wonderful swimmers, but he knew she’d gone too deep. He bumped against her and felt the startled response. He bumped again, upward. Reluctantly she obeyed.
On the surface she was shivering, but he saw a gleam of determination in her eyes. He looked where she was looking, toward the distant hu’run ship.
“I don’t think…” he started to say, but she was already swimming away from him, toward the anchored vessel. “Always troubles,” he said as he set off in pursuit.
The village fires burned behind him, their reflections making flickering paths across the twilight bay. “Ahoy!” he called but no answer came from the ship. The little boat bumped up against the side and he tied an awkward knot before scrambling up the rope ladder. No one was visible on deck and it slowly dawned on him that he was the only person aboard… the other sailors had all snuck ashore and only he, Donald Vagoe, had obeyed the Captain’s order to return.
What passed for a canny grin was spreading across his face when Drunais pulled herself over the far gunwale and flopped to the deck, exhausted and covered in seaweed. He screamed and fell backward into the sea.
Looking up through the twilight he could see the apparition raise an axe over the anchor cable and bring it awkwardly down. It was incredible, he thought. From here the monster looks like a young girl. It must be some kind of shape-changing devil, sent to… what? Maroon them here?
A chill beyond mere cold shuddered through him, and he started swimming clumsily toward shore, barely able to keep his head above water. He felt his strength fading until a soft bump against his belly sent him streaking across the water in a windmill of flailing limbs.
Tuc’s crowned head surfaced behind him. “Glad to be of help.”
with the mingling mix’d crew
of sailors done with ropes and furling
now come ashore for drink and stew
while villagers in consternation
watch the fae’s bright delegation.
Athis bows and Dagan sneers,
Siduri softly calms her fears–
as Bil and Slash smile nervously–
whispers, “what’s that ghastly thing?”
Bil thinks it has been hung by string
“a piece of meat I think it”, loudly
he replies, as silence spreads…
“Too, I could be wrong,” he says.
to the fore in greeting bold
startling the fae whose Slashing
wit is frozen by the old
uniforms of rags and patches
where nothing fits and nothing matches
so bedraggled are the crew
already knocking back their stew.
“O they must begone” she speaks
and Athis crooks a quizzing brow
“so I have been saying now ~
talking to myself” he seeks
a way to gently urge them out
when suddenly there comes a shout…
“How can one speak of what does not exist?” He was distracted by Cat, who bumped up against his legs and circled as if trying to trip him into the flames in that cute and playful way cats have.
“Pshhww!” Lady Belinda replied. The sound drifted lazily upward, in search of a vowel.
Cat dug his claws in to Marlowe’s leg. “She wasn’t speaking Foreign! She was speaking Spanish!”
Marlowe looked down at Cat’s eyes, shining in the firelight. “She didn’t say ‘goodbye’! She said ‘adiós’! She’s a Spanish spy!”
“I…” Marlowe started to say, but was interrupted by the eruption of Donald Vagoe from the water, who ran up the beach and plunged barefoot into the fire, scattering the logs and dancing amongst the coals as steam rose from his soaked hair and clothing and he cried, “Me he calentado! Warm at last!”
’neath the eldrich sun
By the men who vie for glory;
The Ocean Stream has heard their screams
And seen their endings gory;
Those watchful eyes have parsed the lies
through fog and rain and night
but on that day in Arrival Bay
they saw one set alight!
Don Vagoe pranced in the flames that danced
cremating all disguises
burning through to the man that’s true
though full of hot surprises!
about his place of birth
up to the skies with all his lies
while the flames flared high with mirth.
“Don’t let him burn!” Belinda yearned
and Marlowe looked askance
but he grabbed the man as he began
to fall upon fire’s lance.
There are strange things seen
when you serve the Queen
in the far-off lands of Fae
but the strangest one is the deed that’s done
to stop your foe’s flambé!
“Never happened at all until you showed up,” Marlowe replied, helping “Donald Vagoe” to his feet.
“SPANIARD!” cried Sir Hyphen-Dash triumphantly, albeit singularly. He brandished his sword.
The man rose to his full if diminutive height and swayed proudly on the unsteady land. “Yes! I am Don Diego de la Vago, of His Most Catholic Majesty’s Secret Service!” He gave a sweeping bow, which would have ended with him face-down in the sand had not Marlowe kept a firm grip.
Further mayhem was interrupted by a scream from down by the water, where Grace stood pointing toward the ship, which was drifting into the darkness with Drunais standing defiantly at the bow.
which taken at the ebb leads to disaster:
a hull upon the rocks… or derelict,
adrift, cut loose from cable’s hold secure
upon the anchor of life’s verities.”
He said to Sir Hyphen-Dash, who was still fulminating. “It was not the Spaniard.”
“If not them who! SPANIARDS! Can’t trust ‘em!” And there was much brandishing.
Marlowe turned to face Athis and the Fae delegation. “It was my love, Drunais.”
“What! One of THEM! I knew they were in league! You know what this means?”
Marlowe shook his head even as he spoke the answer. “War.”
Before Marlowe could answer Athis continued, “Why would all Fae swords ~ fight against all of your swords? ~ Drunais’ foolishness!”
“But she is one of you, so we will fight all of you,” Marlowe said.
“Too, she’s made of meat ~ would you fight all meaty things? ~ This does not make sense!”
Sir Hyphen-Dash intruded. “I declare war! We shall meet on the Field of Glory upon the morrow!”
“Where is this new place? ~ It is not well-known to me. ~ And what is ‘glory’?”
“Dead men,” said Marlowe, loosing his grip on Don Deigo. “Lots of dead young men.”
Dagan wrinkled his nose but Siduri said, “Might he teach to us ~ who are so flummuxed by this ~ the strange art of ‘war’?”
“Yes, yes! Si! I can! I will! These English, they are my people’s enemies!”
Athis asked, “If a rock fell down ~ doing you harm as it fell ~ would you ‘war’ on Earth?”
The little group continued through the dark forest amidst an abundance of blank looks.
Back in the village Grace asked her father, “Shouldn’t we go in search of the ship?” and he replied, “Nonsense! We have a battle to prepare for!”
It was a tribute to Marlowe’s influence over her that she found no contradiction between these feelings, although in her state of emotional exhaustion her people’s native consistency started to creep back into her thinking, and cutting the ship’s cable no longer seemed like quite such a good idea.
She was sure it had made sense at the time.
“Adrift in darkness ~ alone on the empty sea ~ what have I done now?”
A soft bump against the hull suggested she was less alone than she had thought.
Memories swirled up from the night before. Or was it a decade past? How many mornings had he awoken like this? Admittedly, generally with a more interesting companion. That night in… With… His mind wandered down red-tinged corridors of memory.
The noise outside faded, then returned with redoubled force as some mock attack took place. Although he was pretty sure that was an authentic scream. Putting swords in the hands of sailors often ended like that, he reflected.
Cat raised his furry head and Marlowe reached out to pet him, wincing as his brain throbbed within in skull. Then he heard his tired voice form unfamiliar and alien words: “Let’s go make peace, Plumbottom. Let’s go make peace.”
“Be of good heart!” Marlowe said, wincing a little at the sound of his own voice. “We’ll put things right.”
“Last night you said we were all doomed and you wanted to die.”
“Well, I’d been drinking Sir Hyphen-Dash’s Mostly Elderberry Concoction. Anticipating the hangover.” He rubbed the top of his head gently and peered in the mirror. It did still seem to be attached. He’d forego shaving, though. Hands not quite steady enough.
Together he and Cat walked out into the village, so much changed form just a day before. Sir Hypen-Dash was calling out orders to the assembled sailors and villagers, who were promptly and with great discipline and consistency entirely failing to obey them.
“There you are, Christopher!” came a stern voice behind him. “It’s time you got Father sorted out!”
Marlowe squinted in the sunlight. He could see Grace and Felicity along with some of the older women carrying swords and the odd arquebus in the midst of the mostly male formation. Grace was holding a vaguely sword-shaped stick and looking resentful while apologizing to the people she accidentally struck with it. A sailor with a bloody bandage on his head kept his distance.
“Why shouldn’t they?” Marlowe asked roughly. “In my experience they die just as pointlessly as men.”
“But it’s wrong!”
“What, thinking that killing each other is a particularly efficient means of solving problems?”
“Of course not! What a ridiculous thing to say! But it’s men’s work!”
The captain shook his head slowly, “They’re good sailors. They understand ships and the sea. And bar-room brawls. Organized sailing and disorganized violence. They don’t really understand organized violence, I’m afraid. Neither do I, truth be told. The sea cannot be stabbed with a sword. And doesn’t Jesus teach us to forgive our enemies?”
“After we’ve given them a sound shellacking! Read your Bible, sir, and you’ll see what I mean!”
“Perhaps I missed that chapter,” the captain opined.
“What exactly are we trying to accomplish here?” Marlowe asked before Sir Hypen-Dash could engage in further theological expostulation.
Captain Stone and the poet exchanged a look. “As a matter of curiosity,” Marlowe asked, “will ‘Victory’ find the ship? Will it provide stores enough to tide us over the winter? Will it do us any good at all?”
“There’s no time for idle debate! The enemy are near! They could attack in just forty-five minutes!” The English leader strode off toward where the gate would have been had the village had a gate. Marlowe and Stone followed him with Cat trailing grumpily behind, mumbling about his lost love.
The villagers were variously disposed at the edge of the settled land, watching as their Fae opponents took the field. Don Diego commanded them from a gently swaying litter carried by four bearers. Slash waved her sword uncertainly at the head of a considerable mob. In the back, Bil could be seen juggling two swords, a knife and a well-trained baby goose.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Marlowe muttered, not for the first time.
Don Diego, the strange hu’run who had accompanied them back to the tree city, had been of very little help, although once he found himself high in the arboreal fastness his aspect had improved.
“It is the in-between!” he had said ebulliently as his stomach settled. “I am sick on the rocking ship, and sick on the steady land, but the gentle swaying of the tree is the in between! It calms me.”
No one else was calm. “Just what does ‘war’ mean?” Athis asked.
Siduri: “Fighting that makes worse the ills ~ it was meant to solve.”
Bil: “I’ve just lately learned ~ our poetic speech excludes ~ all contradictions. / Inconsistencies ~ can’t be uttered in this form ~ but that comes so close.”
“Why not find their ship? ~ Then they could leave this, our home. ~ Return to their land,” Athis suggested.
“They will attack you if you try. They are dirty, duplicitous dogs!” Don Diego derided. “I will show you… in the morning… how to fight them.” His head was drooping as the swaying tree lulled him to sleep.
“I do not like this. ~ Fighting swords cannot resolve ~ questions hard or soft,” Siduri said, while Dagan, Slash and Bil nodded their heads in agreement.
“We must do something,” Athis told her. “Perhaps there is some trick here ~ some deep truth we miss.”
Slash asked, “We will play along?”
Athis: “Until the way is clearer ~ we will make like ‘war’.”
“If we do not go,” he said, “they will not solve their problems ~ in their people’s way.”
“I still do not see ~ how clanging swords can answer ~ questions on this day,” Dagan said sourly.
“Perhaps we will learn,” Bil opined optimistically, “some new magic from across ~ the vasty ocean.”
Looking around in the dawn light at the assembled people Athis hoped whatever magic they might learn would let him sleep better at the end of the day.
“Forward!” called Don Deigo and the Fae field force began to dance and skip and jostle and juggle its way slowly toward the English settlement, heading off to war.
Bil, having abandoned his juggling, advanced on Sir Hyphen-Dash as Marlowe watched in horror. Lady Belinda squeaked in fear as the older man’s swing went wild and the Fae causally touched him on the head with the flat of his blade, then stepped back and lowered it. “I must say I’m shocked ~ by how much fun this ‘war’ is. ~ We should do ‘war’ more!”
Sir Hyphen-Dash roared and stabbed. Bil danced away unscathed. There was a loud report as an arquebus exploded, followed by a scream from the sailor wearing it. “Attack!” shouted Sir Hyphen-Dash, and the English surged forward.
“STOP!!” cried Marlowe at the top of his voice, rushing into the fray and trying to stop the tide.
The English villagers and sailors flailed their way forward while the Fae parted like smoke around them. In moments the one group had passed entirely through the other, and Sir Hyphen-Dash looked around him to realize that his entire force was now separated from the village by the Fae.
“Duplicitous dogs!” he cried. “They have taken our homes by stealth and subterfuge! ATTACK!”
Seizing the long moment of confusion while the villagers got themselves pointed in the right direction and the Fae broke from the group hug they had enjoyed after their first experience of this new thing, “war”, Marlowe rushed forward, leaving Lady Belinda to advance on Don Deigo and smack him with her parasol. “I trusted and befriended you, good sir! Is this fair recompense?”
Don Deigo looked at the unscathed but ineffectual force he was leading and shrugged apologetically.
Heads turned his way on both sides as the villagers bristled and brandished and the Fae smiled and waved. He could see Grace looking fierce with her vaguely sword-shaped stick pretending to ignore young Ea, who was surreptitiously watching her while casually flipping his sword end-to-end and catching it by the hilt. Off to one side Cat and Daphne were nose to nose.
The air of festive expectation from the Fae met the opposing grim determination of the English and was beginning to wither under the onslaught. Marlowe could see a frown pass across Athis’ face as he got an inkling that there was more to ‘war’ than harmless pomp and accidental circumstances.
For a long cold moment Christopher Marlowe felt the world turning on its axis about him. He stood in the centre. He began to speak.
I put those words into a fool’s mouth
thinking myself clever! I was myself
the fool: for war solves nothing but the glut
of happy living men who walk the Earth.
Our life is frail, and we may die today
without a single voice protesting war.
Shall our swords play the orators for us?
Are these the men that all the world admires,
who charge over the edge of battle’s cliff
to death’s unknown dominion far below?
And when our power in swordplay is displayed
do we win favour and renown? For what?
For killing, and destruction of the good
and useful things that better men have made?
Where is the fame in that? Where is renown?
and brag, “I killed a man today! And too,
I smashed the work of patient generations!
Now what, Good Wife is there for my supper?
For killing’s hungry work. I’ve had my fill.”
What pride could e’re be taken in such acts?
What honour in destruction? A child destroys
when by a tantrum taken; and yet reproved
by loving parents may in time mature
to build and love and sing, not go to war!
It is a pretty toy to be a poet,
an honour above all: this making art
from words, the stuff of thought, alone in us
the ruler of base passions, if we so will.
Yet here we are, upon the field this day,
pursuing war where reason should hold sway!
He shouted, “For Saint George, for Elizabeth, for ENGLAND…”, then turned an even brighter shade of red than usual and slowly fell down, like bagpipes with the air let out, settling to the ground with a quiet ease he had otherwise lacked for all his life.
In the uncanny silence that remained Marlowe could hear crows cawing and cackling in the trees surrounding the village. He fancied they were discussing their coming feast.
He knelt beside the fallen man but knew what he would find. The body was still.
He looked up and caught Lady Belinda’s eye where she stood, stricken. For once he needed no words.
“FATHER!” she and Grace screamed as the battlefield erupted into chaos.
Then he heard a calm voice say, “He is in distress. ~ Now we must go to his aid! ~ It is what we do.”
He turned to see Athis and the rest of the Fae advancing rapidly. Even Bil looked serious.
Behind him there was a flurry of motion and a renewed cry of “Father!” from Grace. A glance showed him she was rushing toward him with the English close behind. The Fae on the other side gathered speed.
He held up his hands, one to each group, to no avail. “This is what the metal feels as the blacksmith’s hammer falls upon the anvil,” he thought, reluctantly drawing his sword, wondering what on Earth he was going to do with it.
“My name is Graceful Saxifrage. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” She took what should have been a wild swing at him and was astonished when it connected with his head, hard enough to make a loud “THUNK” and causing him to shout, “Be careful with that!” to which she replied, “This is simpler than it looks!” and he ducked under her next swing saying, “You have a talent!”
They fenced for a few moments more, sword against stick. Her every motion was swift and, Marlowe had to admit as he tried to intervene, graceful. Somehow she had grown out of her awkward spurt and found the truth of her name, though he didn’t know why she had called herself “Saxifrage”.
Before he could separate them the villagers and Fae converged and he found himself in the midst of a melee, standing over their leader’s body, trying to make peace with the point of his sword. Without hurting anyone.
He caught a glimpse of Grace and Ea, far off to the side of the field now. The Fae boy was holding his sometime opponent, who was crying and staring toward where she thought her father’s body was. Her sister, Lady Belinda, was being helped to her feet after her faint by the Spaniard Don Diego.
He flinched as a sword swung past his face and shouted again for peace but none would listen. Sir Hyphen-Dash’s body was cooling between his feet. He didn’t know what to do next, and was thankfully saved the trouble by the sound of a “RAAWWER” from the direction of the bay.
The sea-bear stood up on her hind legs and surveyed the field, sniffing the air while she did so. Fighters drew away from her in pairs, sticking close to their partner like interrupted dancers.
One of the juggling geese fluttered awkwardly down to land on Bil’s head, where it settled into sleep.
Marlowe glanced down at a motion near his feet, and saw Athis had reached Sir Hyphen-Dash’s body. The Fae’s hands made quick probes and touches, tapping above the heart and pressing his ear to the chest as if listening for an echo. He caught Marlowe’s eye and shook his head, regret full on his face.
Once she had everyone’s attention, Rothgar the sea-bear began to speak.
poppies out of the dead men, mixing
mud with rain where once a forest stood.”
The big sea-bear paused and looked around
at the forest encirling the village. Somewhere
far away the thunder spoke. Marlowe couldn’t
quite make out what it said.
“In this awful moment you must dare:
dare to surrender.” There was a momentary
stiffening of the English ranks. The
Fae looked on curiously, wondering what
“surrender” meant. “It is by this alone
you will exist,” Rothgar continued. She
turned and spoke directly to Marlowe:
and the end of all your exploring
shall be to arrive where you started
and know the place for the first time.”
Marlowe nodded. He understood.
“What about us?” Athis asked.
“You shall beat your swords into plowshares
and your spears into pruning hooks:
Fae shall not lift up sword against human,
neither shall you learn war anymore”
“But it was just getting fun!” muttered Bil as
Rothgar disappeared back toward the open sea.
Grace left Ea and Belinda left Don Diego to approach their father’s body. Marlowe stood back, but before the inevitable weeping could begin he said, “He died well, in the manner that he lived. I didn’t like him, and he didn’t like me. But I respected his integrity. He was no hypocrite: friend or foe you knew where you stood with him, and that’s a virtue far too rare.”
Grace looked up at him, incipient tears in her eyes. “What do we do now?”
Marlowe looked around and saw everyone looking back at him. Even Captain Stone. Apparently he was the leader now. It was a pretty toy to be a poet, he thought. He realized his face was wet. He looked up and saw the sky was clearing.
“For I have seen blue skies… through the tears… in my eyes, and I realize… we’re going home,” he said, for no reason he could properly account for.
“The ship…” was all she could say.
“The ship?” Marlowe replied, reality interrupting his imagined voyage back across the sea. “Oh shi…”
“The ship!” came a cry from the path that led to Abundance Beach.
All heads turned to see Hope, disheveled and dirty and with leaves tangled in her hair.
“The White Hart!” she said, breathing hard. “On the white sand!”
She pointed toward the distant beach, and Marlowe lifted up his eyes to where the path falls and where the path rises, and knew Rothgar’s words were all true.
Christopher Marlowe looked at the ship and the ship, in the form of Marie, looked back. He tried to keep his eyes on her… eyes, he reminded himself. I’m trying to keep my mind on her brea… eyes.
After Rothgar’s intervention had put an end to their abortive war he’d left Captain Stone to take charge of the funeral pyre for Sir Hypen-Dash and hurried to see the ship, their only tie to home. Grace had followed with him, her face now stoic. Hope walked beside her. Felicity had stayed to boss the village women around under Captain Stone’s nominal authority.
The ship stood upright by dint of her keel being wedged tightly into a gap of rock that thrust inconveniently out of the sand like a toothsome mouth of the Earth gnawing on the wood. “We are going to have to break that stone to set her free,” he said, and wondered why Grace started at his side.
“I was not thinking! ~ Your people’s ways enclouded ~ my sensible mind!”
He smiled. “You may be Fae to your lovely toes, but still a woman for all that, to blame her man for every misstep and error.”
Her eyes fell. “I am to blame, me. ~ I cannot be with you, love, ~ my wanton poet.”
He nodded. “I know. My people… we are going home.”
“But your ship lies fast ~ where Marie pushed her to shore ~ to save her for you.”
“I can set the ship free,” came a voice from behind him.
“I thought you were staying in the village,” Marlowe said to the new arrivals.
“Only to get things organized, which I did. But this is my ship,” Captain Stone told him.
“I can free her,” Grace said again, while Mr Scott the carpenter walked around the hull and frowned and muttered, “The keelson canna take it, Captain.”
“I think we can deal with this,” the captain told her, taking off his hat. “Clearly prayer is called for, and God will send a higher tide to lift her free. With a name like yours I’d expect you know nothing is accomplished without Grace.”
She wasn’t quite numb enough not to realize how numb she felt. After that first awful endless silent moment when her whole body seemed melted by her tears she had felt the tenuous fabric that passed for reality in these lands recede from her. Nothing was real. Nothing could touch her.
A wet whiskery nose bumped her knee and she screamed and jumped. Tuc the Seal King sat back on his flippers and looked quizzically up at her.
“You have a job to do, Saxifrage,” he said.
“I… I don’t know what to do?” she replied. It was the strangest feeling. She knew she could do it. She knew she would do it. But she had no idea how.
“Tide and time have never answered my prayers,” he said.
“Perhaps you should try praying to God instead.”
The poet simply shook his head, his attention drawn up the beach where the Fae Five were approaching, lead by Athis.
Drunais’ face went pale and her eyes went wide when she saw her father. “Christopher! He will be so angry with me!”
“What’s the worst he can do?” Marlowe replied. “Beat you?”
“Much worse! He could send me off to my mother!”
Marlowe shook his head. “No, you are not needed here.”
Athis looked at the beached ship, then at Grace, then back to Marlowe. “I can see that now.”
Then he turned his attention to his daughter, who hid discreetly behind the poet.
“Come with me daughter ~ you are in need of resting ~ after adventures.” He held out his hand to her, his face firm but not unsympathetic.
“You are not angry?”
“Frustrated, yes. Angry, no. ~ Now please come with me.”
Drunais stepped forward and kissed Marlowe quickly on the cheek before following the Fae, who turned as one and headed back down the beach without a word or a backward look.
Unformed images swirled around in her mind. She wanted the ship free. She wanted to go home. She wanted her father back, however frustrating he’d been while alive.
Marlowe suggested pry-bars, but whatever location for prying he named the muttering carpenter insisted “the keelson cannae take it” or “the skantlings cannae take it” or “the sternpost cannae take it”. They needed something that would push everywhere, smoothly at the same time.
She thought about the clams they’d been digging on this very beach just the day before, and their long humorous “trunks”. The Fae boy Ea had told her they had water inside, making them swell…
Her gaze became a squint as she looked through the lens of her imagination to a future that didn’t quite exist yet. “I know how to set the ship free,” she said again.
After a few hopeless minutes watching them struggle with the tough sail-cloth the first mate had taken a hand. “Sewing’s not women’s work! You’ll need a man for that! Florence! Nightengale!” Two profoundly scarred seamen stepped forward. One had an eye-patch. The other only one leg. Between them, Grace thought, they’d make a fine pirate, lacking only for a parrot.
They shouldered the women roughly out of the way, mumbling obscene apologies, and spread the bundle of cloth out on the sand, drawing long sharp needles from hidden places in their ragged clothing.
Under their expert hands the form of Grace’s imagination rapidly took shape: a long fat hollow tube of sail-cloth, closed at one end. She pretended not to hear what the sailors called it as they worked.
“We cannae do it, Captain!” the carpenter complained. Not for the first time Grace wondered why the man was held in such great esteem, as his only contribution seemed to be telling people what “cannae” be “doone”.
Water was lapping at the stern-post. There was a crowd of villagers and sailors now standing on the beach watching.
Finally, by dint of Tuc volunteering to carry a rope through the narrowest place they were able to pull the trunk through. At the same time a group of village people came down the beach carrying a long log. Grace had them place it near the flaccid trunk near the ship’s bow.
As the tide came in she held the trunk open, letting it flood with water. Soon she was standing up to her knees. She gestured to Felicity, who had been organizing. “Now.”
“Now stand on it and walk backward!” Grace shouted, leading by example. People stepped up, holding on to each other, and as the log rolled under their weight they moved their feet in the opposite direction, squeezing the water harder.
The ship lurched as the tide continued to rise, adding its power to the tube’s even thrust against the keel.
Grace heard the ship’s carpenter say, “Captain! The hull CANN take it! Hoooray!” just as the log gave a sudden jump that tumbled everyone into the water. As she was falling Grace could see the ship’s prow lift and bob, finally free.
Uncrewed, and increasingly far from shore…
He took a few bold steps into the water and then stopped, frozen.
“What’s the matter, Captain?” Grace asked as she squeezed the water out of her dress. “You can swim to her!”
“I’m a sailor! I can’t swim! Just prolongs the agony if you’re lost overboard.” He seemed to remember a time when that argument made sense.
“I will assist you, my Captain!”
He turned to see the mermaid Marie floating gently on the tide, her arms reaching out to him.
Marie rolled her eyes and held her arms out. “I am your ship, my Captain. Come back to me.”
The seal king raised his crowned head above the water near by, and Grace called out to him, “Tuc, can you help the captain aboard?”
Tuc’s reply was a silent flip of his tail that pushed him back beneath the surface. “That was helpful,” Marlowe remarked as he watched the frozen tableau. The ship continued to drift further from shore.
A moment later the captain screamed as Tuc nosed him behind the knees, sending him stumbling and splashing forward into Marie’s waiting arms.
“Err… ah… Very well, just let me get us underway and we’ll discuss your future opportunities in mermaiding and general figure-heading…”
Marlowe laughed. It was the first time he’d felt happy in… how long? Since yesterday? It seemed longer.
The small gathering had dispersed as people headed back to the village to prepare for the coming voyage, led by Felicity. The Captain managed to fend off the attentions of his salacious figurehead for long enough to raise a single sail and turn the ship’s head toward the entrance of the bay.
Marlowe waded into the water and inspected the remains of the rocks that had trapped the hull. The little outcropping was split and shattered. He looked at Grace, who was lost in thought. “Come on, Stonebreaker. It’s time to honour your father.” Grace nodded. It was time indeed.
No one was paying attention to Sir Hyphen-Dash as he lay on his pyre on the beach, quiet as he had never been in life. Gulls stood all around, waiting patiently for him to become edible. They found that things generally did, if they waited long enough.
The sight burst Grace from the numb calm that had possessed her since that moment when she had realized that Rothgar was right, whatever she meant.
She raced forward, hands waving, sending the gulls into raucous flight. They circled, but landed nearby, still waiting. She collapsed to the sand, suddenly exhausted.
“It’s going to be all right,” said a voice beside her, and she looked up to see her sister Felicity, with their cousin Hope beside her. “It’s how he would have wanted things,” Felicity said, helping her up. “Come help us pack things, please. Then we can go home.”
As evening gathered the Fae arrived in ones and fives, helping quietly, silently, unasked and unorganized, to move the whole of the village’s worldly possessions into the ship which Captain Stone had grounded on the sand as the tide went out of the bay.
The carpenter was busy caulking and patching while the Fae moved up and down the gangplank, stowing and stashing, stashing and stowing, and then doing it all over again.
The villagers rushed about, frantic and flumoxed, while the Fae calmly loaded their lives away in the ship’s hold. When the work was done there wasn’t a stick standing where the village had been. Only Sir Hyphen-Dash’s funeral pyre remained as evidence that the English had ever settled here.
“MOOOO!” came the sound from somewhere in the forest nearby. Athis rolled his eyes.
“We’ll all be doom…” Hope began, then caught herself. “Well, it won’t be very pleasant, but I suppose most of us will survive.”
The mooing from the forest stopped, and a few moments later Don Deigo appeared, leading the cow by a vine he’d thrown around her neck.
“I think this belongs to you,” he said, leading it over to where Lady Belinda stood. He handed her the end of the vine and stepped back. The cow stretched out its neck and licked his ear. He tried not to flinch.
“No one has ever given me a cow before!” Lady Belinda twittered.
“Do you think perhaps there might be glory without war?” she asked him. He looked perplexed, then shrugged. “They say with love anything is possible.”
“I mean I love you, my lady. You have been the one good thing I have met on this journey.”
“Then you must return to England with us and make peace between our peoples! After all, it isn’t as if you could us any harm. What would you do, send an armada of a thousand ships against our island? What a disaster that would be!”
“As you say, m’lady.”
On shore the villagers gathered around the funeral pyre, looking expectantly at Marlowe. He glanced around the crowd. Drunais was in the back with her father, avoiding his gaze. Grace and Ea were standing side-by-side, not speaking. Daphne, Cat and the raccoon Skeezicks were nose-to-nose-to-nose. Cat looked unhappy.
He rummaged through the attics of his mind, looking for suitable words. Achilles’ lament over Patroklos’ pyre? Too bitter. Thucydides’ version of Perikles funeral oration, telling the men and women of Athens they were the best, but their dead sons were better? Too arrogant. “Friends, Britons, countrymen…”? Too derivative.
It was time to say something new.
the lowing cow wends noisy through the trees.
Upon life’s journey we all make our way
down forest paths or far across the seas.
But here upon this beach there will remain
a man untouched by the Muse of Fire
who treated Art with humor and disdain
more expert with a sword than with a lyre.
Yet who could not his simple strength respect,
his steady purpose, honest hate of all
complexity and intrigues that collect
the souls of subtle men before their Fall?
his noble ignorance of politics,
untutored in the use of clever lies,
diplomacy or other artful tricks.
His great accomplishment was not the war
that ended with his own unplanned demise
but bringing us all safe unto this shore
and lighting love within his daughters’ eyes.
We leave his bones to rest in well-earned peace
ten leagues beyond the wide world’s further end
knowing that his soul has found release:
he’ll be remembered by both foe and friend.
One of the men brought a burning brand from the last of the village fires and handed it to Grace, who pushed it in amongst the dry moss and small branches at the base of the pyre. Flames began to flicker and smoke curled up into the quiet air.
There was a dry scraping and rustling as a mouse that had found its way into the pyre was sent scurrying by the smoke and heat. A pair of tiny eyes could be seen in the gathering dusk as the little creature paused in fear at the open space it would have to cross to safety.
Cat said, “I must save him!” and squirmed free of Marlowe’s arms, landing heavily on his paws and leaping into the pile of burning logs.
Cat jumped down from the fire just as the log on which he was standing burst into flame. He landed with unsurprisingly feline grace in front of Daphne. Skeezicks was in the background watching carefully, muttering to himself, “Is this what cats do? O! I could do that… hmmm… maybe not…”
“Let it go,” Cat said firmly. “You’re well fed. You don’t need to kill to live.”
“It is my nature,” Daphne replied.
“And this is mine,” said Cat, catching her a cuff with his paw and hissing. She shrank back and the mouse ran for the safety of the outer darkness. Cat watched it go with a smile.
“Until he gets hungry enough, I suppose,” Grace replied absently.
“You soon are leaving,” he went on. “I have been given the job ~ of going with you.”
Grace’s eyes didn’t leave the fire, where her father’s body burned. “Why?”
“To see if such change ~ is found in felines only ~ or also your kind.”
“I fear you will be disappointed.”
“What can’t happen with ~ that crazy little thing called ~ love?”
Grace watched his eyes grow wide with the struggled not to speak four more syllables, and then she took his hand and said, “It might be… love.”
Not for the first time Marlowe wondered why sailors were always in such a rush. If he had a penny for every time he’d heard that call and been told there wasn’t a moment to lose he’d have… three pounds sixpence, the part of his brain that had not forgotten his legacy as a merchant tanner’s son computed.
He’d led a well-traveled life. And now the end of all his travels was come. One last voyage home. He wondered if any of his family or friends were still alive. Time ran differently, here among the fae, certainly if the past two days were any indication. Perhaps he was returning to a changed world, a world where men flew through the skies, where lack of want brought peace between nations, where poets and artists were duly honoured by their peers.
He shook his head sadly. No fairy tale of knowledge nor the long result of time for him.
As he turned away from the fire a figure in the shadows caught his eye.
She asked him, “What… who… will you remember when you remember me?”
“I am limited, finite, fixed,” he replied. “And I am afraid that the universe is infinite and incomprehensible. That time loops back on itself like a helix of semi-precious stones, twisting and stretching like a snake swallowing its own tail. I will remember that you opened the doors of perception, and allowed me to see everything as it may really be. Infinite. But I remain. Limited. Finite. Fixed.”
She shook her head, not understanding. He thought he could still hear them, walking in the trees, not speaking. Out of the halls of vapour and light. She said, “Goodbye my love. I have come to–”
“A thousand years, love ~ so I will remember you ~ as the summer ends.”
“The summer will not end within my soul
while still the memory of you remains
to remind me how the wave’s long roll
of time and chance reality constrains.
We are not fated to combine as one
No matter how our courses closely run.”
He drew her close and kissed her. While it lasted, it lasted forever.
matched by a purple cat, I rant and rave
uneven verse before an audience
who fight and kill and die and know not peace.
Yet I cannot rest from speaking: I will raise
my voice against the storms of nascent war
whose bloody rains fall fat and thick upon
the wine-dark sea. I shall become a name
to reckon with along the corridors
where diplomats and princes make their plans
to solve the blight of scarcity and fear
by raining random death upon the world.
embarking for our homeward voyage. I go
from all of this, from you, as one reborn.
The slow tide rises. I live anew
perhaps to find some work of noble note
not unbecoming one who wrote of gods
and mortals striding ‘cross the war-torn world
for my purpose holds: to sail into
the sunrise and return from whence I came
carrying a message for my lords
whose will I served; and yet I will now strive
to seek and find a way to make them yield.”
“98 pounds, six ounces and a scruple!” the mate replied.
“Funny what a difference a definite article makes,” Marlowe said absently to Cat, watching the moonlit shoreline turn and drift. Or perhaps it was the ship. Nothing seemed quite real.
He looked around the deck. Bundles and bags were still scattered everywhere, although the crew were already busy stowing and stacking. Marlowe felt worn out, as if he’d lived a vigorous year or more in the past two days.
Lady Belinda stood at the rail, Don Diego by her side. She was waving goodbye to the Fae. They did not wave back. Toward the stern Captain Stone was fending off the blandishments of Marie the Mermaid, although Marlowe thought he detected a certain yielding of the Puritan’s frosty demeanor as he pushed her away. “Call me Fish-Tail,” she said. “All my friends do.”
“The same,” Marlowe said, with a hopeful weariness. As the ship moved away from shore time seemed to stretch out, like fabric stitched at an awkward join. They were moving smoothly over the calm sea, sails full even though there was no wind. Tuc the seal king surfaced to watch them ghost by.
“Do you think…?”
“I will turn back into an ordinary cat?”
Marlowe shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’m certainly not going to turn back into an ordinary man.”
Cat commented, “Then I suppose we should be grateful for a more humane Author, and Artist.”
“We are the authors of unfolding fate:
the captains of our time, our human lives.
A change in course can never come too late
while still the heart has love and sinews strive
to build a better world where peace may grow
where one day children never war will know.”
On the beach the Fae were watching. “Do you think we should have told them?” Siduri asked Athis.
“They’ll find out soon enough,” Athis replied, as the ship vanished into the not-quite-distance.
Somewhere nearby Rothgar the sea-bear swam on through the deep.