Anchor’s aweigh! A cry I know only too well from my days at sea. Of course, by that time, I was usually busy making sure all the ship’s supplies were suitably secured and the wardroom and crew mess were suitably stocked with drinks, but I heard it often enough just the same. Now, I have learned that there are other anchors, a sort of anchor in reality, so to speak. I suppose I have always known of such concepts – my family, particularly my parents, were my anchor for many years, both when I was young, and after Alexandria’s death, but this is a different sort, an anchor for the soul. Silly me for thinking that was my body.
I was on my bed in my cottage, struggling to read the θεούς και δαίμονες volume that Maric had given me with my less than stellar school level Ancient Greek. I heard a noise, or maybe it was just a change in the atmosphere that indicated I was no longer alone in the room. I was on my feet with my sword drawn before I realised it was Alec, or at least, an Alec-shaped being. I put the sword away, but didn’t properly relax until he spoke, which assured me that it was Alec, rather than the Boatman in Alec disguise. He was his usual amiable self, commenting on my improved skill with the sword, and how well I looked. He apologised for not speaking with me earlier, claiming difficulties with kids and babysitters, then greeted me with a friendly hand to the shoulder.
I forced myself to relax and be civil. While I had some issues with Alec, they were not the same as the issues I had with the Boatman. I apologised, saying that I was somewhat wary of people popping into existence without warning and explaining that although I had spoken with Aoibheann and Gwyn, I still had difficulty separating him from the other creature that wore his face. He said he understood, joking about what Isabella had done to him when she first met that other half. Given what I had seen her do to Niles with a milk jug, I could hazard a guess. He claimed that he had been busy on another project, but now, there were curious developments, hence his appearance here. He asked about my speaking to Gwyn
I guess I have been learning from Gwyn, since I responded with the phrase, “no shit, Sherlock,” with regard to the comment about curious developments, which made him laugh. I said that I had spoken to Gwyn and Aoibheann, complimenting him, in passing, on having recovered Aoibheann’s treasure box.
It was the curious developments that had brought him here, he told me. He did not believe that the souls, presumably ours, would be safely anchored in the tree, presumably Ardan, even with the protection of his grumpier half, so he was going to take them back into his custody. However, he felt that Aoibheann, Gwyn and I deserved something more, since we had outgrown such things in his opinion. He looked at me then, more seriously, and told me that my words to the Boatman had reached him, and he felt I deserved more clarification.
I had to laugh at that and told him that clarification would be good. What with Vedis’ dire predictions, and carrion crows as goddesses, things were less than clear right now. As it happened, one of the pieces of paper scattered over the bed was the one on which I had been trying to sketch my understanding of the structure of Jasper Cove and Ashmourne Wylds. I showed it to him and asked what his take was on the end of days.
He smiled and said that my drawing was mostly correct, except the centre wasn’t really the centre. And, the substitute was something that had given him a considerable headache. It would take to long to explain in detail, he said, but essentially, each realm had a centre. The Lifebringer was the centre of Jasper Cove, but all four of them were needed for stability. Vedis was the centre of a sister realm to Jasper Cove, and Llwyd was supposed to be the centre here in Ashmourne Wylds, but here, things were complicated. That almost caused me to repeat the Sherlock phrase, but I didn’t want to interrupt. He mentioned another realm that I may have heard of, called Anno Ashanti, in which he was the centre. The multiverse, a word I remembered reading in Dee’s journal, had certain rules, and while they might work differently in different realms, they were always there. All beings, including gods, had to obey them, himself being an exception.
I didn’t comment on the latter, as I was still working my way through what I remembered from the journal, but remembered there being bits in it that related to him having changed things. I told him I was an accountant, not a theologian or cosmologist, and the only Ashanti I had heard of was a people in Africa, I told him. Multiverse, I said, was a good word that I remembered reading somewhere. I asked if one of these rules was that when things get fucked up in one realm, you get booted to another, because if it was, that would explain a lot about my life.
That got another laugh, but apparently, that wasn’t one of the rules, although it may seem so. Normally, when things get fucked up, people die. And no, he said, I wasn’t dead, despite my thoughts to the contrary. That, I guessed, related to my comment way, way back when I first arrived in Jasper Cove, when I thought that the man in the boat was Charon. It was complicated, he said, and he preferred to not have to explain it to theologians or cosmologists, whereas he found accountants to be much more level-headed when it came to such things. He returned to the topic of our souls, and why they were anchored in a tree in the middle of a forest. When he had found me on that boat and taken me to Jasper Cove; that had broken a few of the rules, especially with regard to time and space. That much I could understand, since I knew that the place was not connected to the time line I knew, and was likely not in the same world I knew. And there were other rules concerned the anchoring of my soul. Deals were made to appease the rules (though he did not say with whom, though I suspected probably it was whatever those beings were that had been after him in the fall of Jasper Cove), to balance things out so that we would not suffer from paradox. That anchor had been him in Jasper Cove, and here, it was the tree, protected by the Boatman. Wherever my spirit or energy or essence was, it had to be anchored somewhere. He paused, looking at me to see if I was following him so far.
Oddly, in a way, he was on the ball when it came to an accountant being level-headed when it came to understanding things. While I was having difficulty with all the metaphysical stuff, I could understand what he meant about balance. I spoke of some of the various financial tricks and trading that I had learned about, where money that didn’t exist was bought and sold and borrowed and lent, and whatever you did with it, at the end of the day, the bottom line had to add up. I did say that I couldn’t quite imagine what would be needed to balance the fact that I had a girlfriend that was born some 40 to 60 years or more after when I might likely have died, but, I got the general principle. As for anchors, that made perfect sense to one who had been to sea for many years. I had rather foolishly thought, I told him, that my soul or spirit lived here, in my own body. On the other hand, if that spirit transcended this flesh, them maybe it did need an anchor.
He smiled then, saying that that both were true – the spirit was too complex to be contained in one place, but the essential bits of who I was, belong only to me and nobody can touch them. But the spirit could be in many places, which was why the anchor was so important. This reminded me of something Mother had said, way back, when I was teased at school for having red hair and being a bookworm, and Mother telling me to be true to what I was, whatever was going on outside. I was also reminded of my dream, in which Valene had sent Royce to me on board my ship, and her telling me that that was true also. I told him about this and then, checking the time, pointed out that the sun was over the yardarm, and would he like a drink. We drank a toast to being ships on the sea, and then he asked me – knowing what I did now, would I have still said the same things to the boatman, about wanting to be free? If I could take up my anchor and guide myself, would I trust myself, with all of it?
That I had to think about. I told him that I had not been very impressed by my encounters with the boatman, with his attitude that my soul was nothing more than some entry in a ledger somewhere, to be traded or sold without any regard for my wishes, so in respect of ownership of my soul, yes, I would say the same thing. While I was thinking, I listed all the schooling I had had, from my parents, through school, university, accountancy school, all the training with the shipping company, and all the things I had learned for myself. Was I ready to be free? Was I ready to navigate unknown seas and be my own anchor? I didn’t know, but I liked to think I was. I had my own anchors now – my family, my friends, Gywn and Valene, Maric, and even Alec himself. I said that I would like to think that the man I was now, that I had made, that my parents, teachers, friends, and he had made, was ready. But, I didn’t know until I tried. I took a swig of rum and added that besides all that, I owed Wren some more dance lessons.
He smiled at the mention of Wren and told me that the girls missed me. Then he got more serious and said that he had made the right choice. The Boatman was not him, nor Greyson, but was built from parts of his essence, so was a much simpler being, with no capacity for love or kindness or empathy. So, I should not be hurt by his apparent callous nature, since he did not have it in him to be otherwise. He got up from sitting on the table and came over, placing his hand on my shoulder. The gift he was going to share with me, he said, was one had shared with no other soul. It would bring great freedom, but also possibly, great loneliness. If he gave me this gift, I would know what it was to be truly free. He warned that his powers waned with the full moon, so I should be wary of travelling when the moon was full, for fear I could be lost between realms. Knowing this, then, would I accept my freedom?
I put my glass down and stood up, matching his hand with mine on his shoulder. I joked that I rarely went outside on full moon for fear of werewolves, and then, sobering up, said, yes, I would accept my freedom.
He looked at me, and all of a sudden, I could feel his power. His eyes glinted with golden light, reflected in the gem he always wore at his throat. He pulled a dagger from its sheath at his waist and tapped the point to his neck and to his wrist. I would have to drink of his blood, he told me, while he channelled his power. Would I prefer the neck or the wrist?
Everybody seems to want me to drink their blood. I joked about my diet going to heck again. I gestured at the wrist and joked that had he come as Greyson, I might have been tempted to go for the neck. He smiled and said he could be Greyson again if I wanted. I declined, thinking life was complicated enough without him becoming the young man I had once loved. He remained as he was, shamelessly fishing for compliments by saying that he had been cute then. I assured him he still was and waited. He had the knife, but could not control it properly, the power trembling within him, so he bade me bite instead. I hesitated, wondering what I was about to get into, and then extended my fangs and struck. The blood was warm and full of life, a pulsating power very different from Maric’s, but unlike anything I had drunk before. It was all I could do to prevent my body stiffening in spasms as the power flowed into me. I was vaguely aware that he was reciting something in Latin, but I heard not the words, only the magic filling me. And it was more than that. There was a sensation of completeness, of knowing myself to be whole, and an unimaginable sensation of the vastness of my spirit. I barely had the awareness left to stop feeding just as he finished chanting, not knowing how much I could take, not knowing what he was and how much he could give. Somehow, between us, we got it right, at least, so he said. He looked tired and drained after, barely managing to whisper that he needed rest before he vanished from my sight. I was still struggling, trying to encompass the vastness of what was happening, to integrate it with the core of my being, keeping it all within what I perceived as my skin. There was so much to assimilate, and very soon after he left, my senses left me and I collapsed upon the bed.
I awoke the following day. I feel strange, but I still feel like I am me, even more so than I have felt in a long time. I have not attempted any of the things that he said I was now capable of – moving from realm to realm by effort of will. In fact, I have been being very careful, for even thinking too much of somebody could move me to where they were. He had promised to return to teach me more when he was recovered. When that will be, I do not know. I am sure, by then, I will have questions. Many questions.