It was so much simpler, back in the day, when all I had to worry about was supplying a crew of 200, occasionally up to 100 passengers, and the needs of the ship itself. It all seemed so simple then. All I had to do was work out what supplies were needed, source them, make sure they came in a form that was suitable for transport by ship and would last the voyage without spoiling. All I had to do was do the negotiations, often in several different languages and assorted currencies in assorted countries, arrange the lading, and, of course, once that was all done and dusted, look after the disbursements and distribution on board ship. I must have been good at it. You don’t make the post of Chief Purser on the SS Odiham Castle without being good at something. All I had to worry about then was currency fluctuations, the occasional linguistic complication and the intervention of the weather. Life was simple.
It is not so simple now. I now have to make allowances for different species as well as languages. I have to deal with being in some far off realm, with travel to other places where I can trade being somewhat… problematical. Oh, and minor problems like carrion-eating goddesses, deranged cŵn, Wild Hunts, faerie Kings and Queens, vampires, and whatever the hell Alec and Isabella are. They never taught me that stuff in university or accounting school. There are no text books, no manuals for that sort of thing. And then there is Aoibheann. There is definitely no manual for Aoibheann, and somehow, I would question the sanity of anybody who would even try to write one.
I was sitting in the main hall, relaxing with a glass of wine and an old bestiary, loosely wondering if there should be entries for vampires, dhampyrs, undead flying unicorns, were- cŵn and the most mysterious creature of all, the Aoibheann. As if on cue, she appeared, coming up the stairs from the entrance hall, looking slightly flustered. This was nothing out of the ordinary, save for the cluster of chicken feathers in her hair. This being Aoibheann, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know, but I asked anyway – “If I asked why you had chicken feathers in your hair, would I regret it?”
The answer was surprisingly mundane, well, most of it. The chickens had gotten out of their coop, so she had been chasing them around the village to try to get them back indoors before it got dark, and before our guest… She tailed off, so I assumed she was worried that Gwrgi might have started chasing them. I asked how we should provide for him and asked if he hunted in his own realm.
She was a little reluctant to talk about it, but eventually admitted that while she would try her best to dissuade him, she couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t hunt here. Hunting was part of what he was. We spoke of whether or not he could control his impulses and remain in control. He was clearly capable of civilised behaviour and was possessed of intelligence, judging by his behaviour the other night when we had spoken. She was sure he could, if we treated him with respect. I tried to explain why I had had to respond with weapons and promised I would try to treat him like any other civilised being in future, provided he offered no threat to the villagers or our stock.
I asked if what I suspected was right, that this was Gwrgi, the cŵn that Valene had tried to rescue, who had been an elf before he became cŵn. She told me that Padishar thought that he was, but he, himself did not remember Valene, and did not even remember his own name. She wasn’t entirely sure he was a normal cŵn even. I offered to do what I could to help, once the supply chain was sorted out to keep ourselves fed. She thought this would bring other complications; he had to hunt, and it wouldn’t be a hunt if we were to give him the food, and there was also the problem of what gifts meant to the fae. I had to agree with her there, but had no idea what the solution might be.
The mention of the fae reminded me that I really had to work on the accords I had promised I would write, so we could formalise the relations with the fae. I also wondered if we should invite them to the Lughnasadh celebrations. I asked how the preparations for that were going. She was worried about it. Nobody had responded to the letter she had sent around. I was not really surprised, especially the bit about asking all the eligible single folk to send in details of their pedigree and estate to assist with the matchmaking. That was possibly how things were done in her time, but I wasn’t sure it was appropriate here. Given that many of the villagers were likely people who had taken shelter there, had taken the sanctuary that Maric offered, then estates and pedigree were largely irrelevant.
I offered to make more copies of the letter for her and to have my deputies go around the village and make sure everybody knew what was in it, especially for those who could not read or write. I also suggested that there were maybe easier ways to do the matchmaking – maybe we could have some sort of parade where the boys and girls introduced themselves, followed by some dances, preferable the sort where everybody got to dance with everybody else. That way, people could get to know each other and decide if there was anybody there they liked. She wasn’t so keen on this idea, claiming it wasn’t matchmaking if they got to choose. On that we had to disagree, though I did allow that perhaps we could weight the dice a little. If we thought certain people were a good match, we could always cheat slightly and make sure they got more dances together.
There was a little more to her doubts. She didn’t know how to dance, she said. She could dance with Maric, but that was because he did all the work. And there was more. Suddenly, it all came out- her self-doubts. She didn’t really know what Lughnasadh was supposed to be like. We had put her up to this, thinking she would pull through, but she wasn’t sure she could. She had done this sort of thing in Jasper Cove, but she wasn’t that person any more. She didn’t know who she was any more.
I put my wine aside so I could hold her hand for a moment, trying to reassure her. We would have a party, I said, and we would celebrate with fruits and wines and contests. The young people would dance, and maybe they would pair up, and we would have a good time. Whatever we did, that would be right for our Lughnasadh. We didn’t have to obey the rules for what others said Lughnasadh was for. As for changing, we had all changed. Look at me; I told her, back in Jasper Cove, I was little more than a barman and an accountant. Now I was in charge of a whole village and becoming somewhat of a warrior. I asked her what I could do to help, what I could do to help her find herself.
She did not know how I could help, she told me. She said something about there being lots of rules, and that was why she had never been allowed to go to Lughnasadh celebrations before, because she was terrible at following the rules. As many times before, I wondered what sort of life she had experienced before she came to Jasper Cove, before the Boatman had offered her that ride. I tried to tell her that was in the past. Those rules did not apply any more. Here, I said, we had our own rules. I knew this because I had written them out and nailed them to the wall in the tavern.
She then told me about the choice that Maric and Gwrgi had forced upon her, making her choose where her home was, and how she had told them that Ardan was her home. I said that I had heard this and that I wasn’t impressed with them for making her choose. Whatever her choice, I said, I was still her friend, and I was always there for her because I loved her, as a friend. She seemed to take a little comfort from that, but the matter of her choice, and the worries about the party still seemed to be weighing on her. She needed some time alone, she said, and got up to leave, finishing her glass of wine. Of course, I had to let her go, but reminded her that I was there if she needed me.
There isn’t much more I can do. I can tell her that the old rules no longer apply until I was blue in the face, but until she starts to believe it… Other than that, I can only carry on doing what I already do, being her friend.