The Boatman Returns?

I am not a particularly assertive person, although I am prone to standing up and being counted when needed. I don’t put myself forward, even if I am among the first to volunteer if a job needs doing. Overall, I consider myself a shy and self-effacing person, even if I have spent so many years pretending I am not. Maybe the act is too good, for I keep finding myself being put in leadership roles I never asked for. Or, maybe, after all these years of acting, I am the person I pretend to be. I don’t really know. Have I become the person other people see? If so, do I know who I am any more?

Once again, I find myself in a job that I didn’t ask for, without even trying. In the absence of the dapper, white-suited fearer of cats, Ose, I am now Lord Maric’s Steward. I am now in charge of the village and the accounts and such like. How did that happen?

I was on my way over to the tavern, when I encountered Maric standing outside the mansion, scowling at a hand-written note. Even from a distance, I could tell it was from Aoibheann. Bearing in mind the conversation I had had with Aoibheann the previous evening, I asked if she had spoken to him about the meeting with Her Majesty. He told me that she had not, but that she had left him a note. He handed it to me and asked if I knew what was going on. It looked like a page torn from an accounts ledger or something similar. One side was covered in almost incomprehensible diagrams involving what was possibly meant to be a tree, something resembling a pot plant, some kind of wheeled cart and some squiggles that I had to assume were to indicate the mist. I reasoned that this might have been the notes she had said she had to make concerning the idea of growing plants in the mists. The other side contained a brief note, barely legible, even for Aoibheann, which I guessed was probably the result of bruising her hands.

Nalhaniel car deliuer messayc to Ouecn Faermorn for mecling wnencver you feel js apropriale.

I winced as I read it and looked back up at Maric. I repeated what I had told him at our last meeting about the conditions for the meeting with the Queen and told him that this note was probably Aoibheann’s attempt to confirm with him that he was happy to hold the meeting in neutral territory. I explained that the diagrams were probably related to her idea about using the time difference of the mists, if there was one, to grow food crops. Maric was clearly less than impressed with Aoibheann’s scholarly abilities, so in her defence, I explained that her writing was usually better, but that she had injured her hands recently. I told him that the bridge was a likely safe venue, save for one regrettable incident, thinking of the time that Rachel had enticed us into a confrontation with the Unseelie Raven, and said that I had yet to communicate with Her Majesty, explaining the difficulties in passing messages without His Majesty getting involved.

He invited me into the castle, asking me to explain further about the incident and the problems with His Majesty. As we were selecting a bottle, he asked after my health, no doubt referring to my heartbeat. I told him that I still thrived, although perhaps not as much as I had at first, though my time with Gwyn seemed to help. I admitted I did not really know much about it as I had thus far not found any information about this sort of thing happening. Given the traditional antipathy between kindred and fae, it was possible that such a thing had not happened before.

I described the king’s nature as best I could, giving it context by relating the story of the demolition of the old castle, how we had taken shelter at the Unseelie sithen, how the king had appeared and how Gwyn had accidentally given her full name. He clearly understood the dangers inherent in that and wanted to know if he would be in danger from His Majesty should he stray outside the village. I could not give him an absolute assurance, but did remind him that I had walked many times outside the village many times.  He appeared to be reassured and agreed that he would attend the meeting.

Maric complimented me on my report and the application on my talents on his behalf. That was when he dropped the bombshell and asked me if I would consider taking the post of his Steward, saying that I was more than capable and he was willing to put his trust in me. I thanked him for his words and trust (albeit indirectly, as I am wont to do when dealing with the fae, even though he is not one  – it is becoming habit), and told him I was willing to take on such a role, but I did ask why, since I thought he already had a steward.  He told me that Ose had not been seem in some weeks, since departing on some mission on his behalf, and his fate was unknown. He needed to use what resources he had, and while he could involve himself in the running of the village, he would rather assign those tasks to someone capable so that he could devote his time to his research and the pressing matters of defence. I agreed to do so, and offered my condolences regarding Ose , saying that I would make enquiries among my own contacts to see if I could learn what had become of him. It was quite gratifying to see that my acceptance had clearly eased his mind.  I asked if he wanted to hear the other half of my tale, regarding the regrettable incident on the bridge, assuring him that it should not affect his decision, since the main protagonists were no longer with us. He said that it could wait for another time, since he had other matters to attend to. He would have the servants give me to the keys required to access the supply chests and he, himself, would introduce me to the other areas of the castle that I would need to access. He also told me where the accounting records were held and suggested I should take up more suitable accommodation in the castle.

He also asked for an oath of secrecy, which I told him was not necessary, as it was already covered by my previous promise to him. Before he left, I asked if there were any books in the library on necromancy. This gave him pause, and he stared at me for some time before answering. It was a subject he could help me with, but in order to do so, I would need to take a greater oath. In fact, he as much as said that I would have to be blood-bound in order for him to reveal that knowledge. I decided this was not something I could consider right now, so suggested it should be a matter for another discussion. He agreed that it was good that I think on the matter before agreeing, and with that, he was gone out into the night.

I finished the wine, and for want of other entertainment, wandered down to the tavern to see what might be passing there. Gwyn was there, ordering herself a glass of cider, Dyisi was in her accustomed seat by the fire, and there was a young man that I had not met before, but I knew from whispers around the village to be a Mr William Easton. I greeted Gwyn with a hug and a kiss and the others with a hello. The man seemed surprised that I knew his name, since we hadn’t met.  I introduced myself and I told him it was my job to know these things.

Turning back to Gwyn, I asked her to guess what had just happened to me. She jokingly suggested I had been put in charge of the Mysthaven Militia.  I started to laugh, then wondered if that was included in the job description, but realised that I was sure that Maric had said defence was his job. I told her that I wasn’t sure about the militia bit, but that I was now in charge of the village, taking over from Ose. She was suitably surprised, and asked if I was going to inherit the suit. I assured her that it was likely that the suit went missing with Ose, so I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have to wear it. She then said quietly that William had been brought here by a man who ferried him in a boat. Now that was a considerable surprise, but, it could have just been a mundane arrival. I asked her if she meant A boatman or THE boatman. She wasn’t sure, but William had told her that the man had said something about his soul, so it was a possibility. She also told me she had gone to see Isabella last night, but didn’t say what they spoke about and I forgot to ask because we were interrupted.

Aoibheann wandered into the tavern, trying to hide the bruises on her knuckles. I tried to get her to stay for a drink, but she wasn’t staying long. She just needed to fetch something from upstairs. She did say that she didn’t think that Maric had read her letter, or if he had, he hadn’t replied yet. I assured her that he had read it because he had told me to set up the meeting. She acknowledged that with a nod and then wandered upstairs.

William told his story. He had been working near a river and had fallen in. A man had come to his rescue and helped him into a boat. The man had asked about his life and then, when he shook hands, he said something about his soul, at which point, he had fallen back in the water, and found himself in the creek on the island. I suspect that he may have mistaken my curiosity for doubt and told me that he wasn’t drunk.  I told him that I would not presume such a thing as many of us had similar experiences. Gwyn told him the same and asked if he could describe the boatman. I would have stayed to hear his story, but realised that I had was somewhat tired, and also that there was something I needed to look up in Maric’s library. I excused myself and promised Gwyn I would come down to the sithen later. By the time I got there, were both too tired to talk, so I didn’t get to find out more about the boatman that William encountered. No doubt I will at some point.

The Boatman, by the Levellers


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