O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
There is a scar around my wrist; a thin line, almost like a seam, as if my hand had once been severed from my wrist, and this is indeed what happened. It was done my by friend, Catt, who I loved dearly, so many years ago in London. She, like me, had been kindred, but became fae – in her case by means of a great rite performed by Artur and Katia, who held the Unseelie Throne there. She became Captain of the Ravens for Katia and wished to recruit me to the ranks of the Ravens, to help protect her queen. A blood vow was required, but when Catt went to cut my palm, she slipped and almost completely severed my hand. Fortunately, Katia was able to heal me, save for that small thin scar.
I think of Catt often when I look at the scar. Even all these years later, I still miss her. And when I think of her, I think of Whitman’s poem – O Captain, my Captain – because that was how I would jokingly address her. It had no more significance than that. I was not mourning her death, though I do mourn her absence. So far as I know, she lives still, in some far, unknown place. I am sure I would know if something had happened, as my scar tingles occasionally, as it did not long before I left London, when I was briefly able to meet and embrace her through a short-lived portal. Ice-cold she was, like my beloved Valene, but still alive. Perhaps, some day, I shall see her again.
Now, this poem comes to mind again, in fuller meaning. For, like Whitman, I mourn for a leader I have lost.
Equinox came, in a quiet fanfare of blossom, warmer winds and birdsong. We gathered, as ever, at the base of Ardan, there to enact and witness the turning of the seasons and the handing of the throne from the Winter King to the Summer Queen. Both courts were there, along with Helene, Dyisi and Aoibheann. I was among the last to arrive. As I had hoped and expected, this was the occasion for the return of my life and my love, Gwyneth. I gave her formal greeting, both as Steward of Mysthaven and her Consort, with the deference due a Queen, and then a more personal greeting as a husband would to a wife he had not seen in many months. She returned that kiss equally, whispering that there were many tales she had to tell. As I had for her, I replied, unable to suppress a brief flicker of pain at the memory of some of those tales.
Further greetings were made. Aoibheann somewhat bizarrely suggested that Maric should dance with Dyisi, since the Queen was pre-occupied. I said we had a right to be, having been separated for so long, but, yes, there were duties to be done. Personal matters could wait. I unwrapped Gwyn from my arms and offered her hand to the Winter King. “Majesties, please, let the wheel turn.”
He bestowed a fond kiss on Aoibheann, suggesting she should dance for the trees, for Ardan and Awnye, and a bestowed another on Dyisi before stepping forward to take Gwyneth’s hand.
“All I have ever done, all I have ever risked, was for love,” he said. “And for duty. I have defied the very Gods, of the natural order itself, to become what I am. Something never meant to be. All so that I could follow my heart where it led… and to atone for my failings. To protect enough lives that perhaps it would balance out the ones I have taken so copiously, so recklessly. And the ones I failed to protect. All to love and to be loved once more…Though in truth I deserve neither. It was all a gamble, a wayward dream, a grasp for redemption. A new life to erase the old, striving to the light that I can never truly hold.” He drew Gwyn towards him before continuing. “But I realize now, I will not succeed. The heart knows the irony…that your kiss at the Equinox brought my doom. The Land, the Gods, call to me too strongly for me to escape their pull for much longer. Once my power is given, I will fall.” He paused, looking deep into her eyes. “I know this will take the burden of my presence from you. But I must lay another upon you in its place. You are so young yet to be Queen. But your time to truly shine has come, perhaps too soon. I wish for you to be the most powerful dazzling Queen you can be when Spring awakens. I wish for you to rule all of Summerlands, completely and fearlessly. I wish you to compel even those who hate you to kneel to you in the name of peace for all time to come. These things I wish for you, my Summer Queen, once my power is yours….Welcome Spring, and Winter be no more, for this season, with this kiss.”
Dyisi stood back, wrapping her arms around herself, and I could tell she was holding herself in check, knowing this change was inevitable, and yet, for all her control, she pulsed with contained emotions. Aoibheann was less contained, crying out in anger and pain, asking what she should wish for, that the gods would deny her. Her voice cracked and she just about managed to say “so be it,” before falling silent.
Gwyneth took his hands, and told him that he had fully deserved all the love and power he had been given, and all the power he had taken, for duty’s sake. I stepped back, for this final act was between them, saying only that I did not regard this as adieu, so much as au revoir, assuring him that we would stand and protect this realm.
They drew together, embraced and made the kiss that would seal the compact, mark the changing of the season, and so much, much more. The power of the Wyld broke upon us like a sudden flood, flowing into the Summer Queen and the land, shaking it and changing it, surrounding it, and us. Through that power, and the closeness of the bonds that we all had, we all felt the momentous nature of what was becoming, what this change meant to Maric, the Winter King.
To join the Gods was to Love them.
To know Love like this was to let go of the hearth warm comfort of normal love. This was an emotion that destroyed all barriers, shattered all safety, swept away all thoughts of basic existence entirely.
To know such Love was to know utter terror, seamless bliss, mindless fear, blinding joy, all facets of the same irresistible convergence beyond the bounds of mere corporeal forms.
To be broken open upon the anvil of Creation, to gladly scream one’s life away in a raging explosion of stardust, reseeding the universe with new life.
To embrace the Gods was to face annihilation.
And to enjoy every exhilarating terrifying agonizing orgasmic second of it.
Before being remade into the purest expression of one’s dying irrational passionate heart….
His form shredded and blew away, becoming one with the wind and the leaves, as insubstantial as the mist dispersed by the morning sun, until there was nothing left but the wind and the rain.
Lord Maric of Mysthaven, Huntsman and Winter King, my mentor and friend, was no more.
Around me, I could feel the others responding. Dyisi throbbed and glowed with her barely contained emotions, speaking some farewell or bless in her native tongue that I had not the wits to translate. Helene collapsed to her knees with a heartfelt sigh. Aoibheann cried out in a voice heavy with tear that she would “fucking dance” and vanished, gone no doubt to a place where she could mourn. Only Gwyneth stood proud and alone. Whatever her feelings, she had to complete the rite. She spoke the words to welcome the Spring, as bluebells sprouted where she stood, and the very air wept a fine mist of rain.
“Farewell, my friend,” I said, and bowing my head, recited the words that I had spoken at my mother’s funeral, and over the graves of the Cait, so long ago when Valene first took me there. The words of Christina Rosetti:
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
There seemed little left to say or do. Each of us, I thought, would need to celebrate or mourn in our own way. I took Gwyneth’s hand and said as such, and she agreed. Together, we took our own way to her bower, there to renew our love and mark the changes of the season on our own way.
Around us, the power of that passing echoed throughout the very fabric of the land, changing and shaping it in ways we could not begin to imagine. Maric, my master, my mentor, my friend, was gone and a new era was begun.