Living on an Island Pt 2

Morning produced a sense of dislocation and confusion as to where there hell I was until I dragged myself out of the bed and looked out of the window. I had to laugh at myself. There was a time in my life when waking in up in a strange bed was a not uncommon experience. But, I am not that man now. The morning failed to produce a wife of any description. It also failed to produce coffee, or at least, none that I could find in the kitchen. There was nothing to it; I would have to go back to the official residence, for want of any better name for it, where I was fairly sure I remembered seeing some variation on the theme of infernal coffee machine. First, I selected an outfit – more jeans and a jacket of heavy cotton in a colour and style that reminded me of army uniforms.

I went back up to the Atrium, and, sure enough, there was a coffee machine. In some ways, it was more aesthetically pleasing than the one in the Lucky Leaf, being largely constructed in brass. On the other hand, though, it was just as frustrating. After 10 fruitless minutes trying to fathom the damned thing out, I bellowed for help.

Bran appeared a few minutes later. He looked as though he had not slept much and was muttering about levels again. When I asked him to show me how to operate the infernal machine, he sighed and put his bleeping gadget aside. I could see coloured shapes moving on one side of it and was reminded of Riley, back in the days of Jasper Cove and the gadget she liked to play with. I speculated that it was probably one of the Internet things that Gwyn and Wren often spoke of. Bran demonstrated the workings of the machine ably enough, although I did have to turn one valve for him because he had apparently strained his thumb. Possibly in pursuit of the levels that seemed to be his current obsession.  I also asked him about currency and he rather reluctantly gave me what looked to amount to $200 in tens and twenties. He assured me this should be sufficient to complete my purchase of the book, and pay for such meals as I felt I needed during the course of the day.

I finished my coffee and returned to the house before heading down towards the dock area again. There was an intriguing vessel tied up against a jetty. I guessed it to be a small yacht, possibly intended for pleasure trips. It looked very modern and sleek compared to similar sized vessels I had encountered in my days with the shipping company, but then, I suppose, that is to be expected over the course of a hundred plus years. Again, I felt the sea calling me, and I stood there, imagining where one might go on such a vessel.

“Top of the morning t’you,” came a voice from behind, disturbing my reverie. The accent was very Irish. “If you’re wanting a cruise, you’ll have to be booking up at the office there.” I turned to see a bearded individual in a short jacket covered in badges. He had brown hair and a beard and a somewhat piercing gaze.

“I’m sorry,” I said, jumping back onto the jetty. “I’m a bit of a sailor myself and got carried away admiring this vessel.”

He looked to be slightly taken aback by my accent. “That’s ok,” he said, “no harm done. You’re English then?”

I nodded. “Guilty as charged. Nathaniel Ballard,” I said, offering my hand. “I’m Gwyneth’s husband.”  I gestured back towards the house, which could be seen over the top of the crow’s nest on the other building.

“Ah,” he said, shaking my hand. There was a momentary tingle of Wyld energy there, causing me to wonder if he was fae. Our eyes met for a moment, and there was a hint of recognition as if he had felt it too. “She has mentioned you. Aodhán O’Súileabháin at your service. Or Aidan O’Sullivan, if you prefer the easier way of spelling. General factotum and chief mechanic.”  He started walking towards one of the buildings near the yacht. A workshop of some sort, I guessed from the tool cabinets. “What do you do? Gwyneth said you were some sort of Lord of the Manor.”

“Did she now?” I laughed. “Well, sort of, yes. But I’m thinking of retiring to here. Technically, I’m an accountant, albeit one a little out of practice. And I’m a pretty good carpenter and joiner.” I looked at him. “Oh, and did you really say top of the morning just now?”

“All good skills,” he said, laughing. “We could do with a skilled woodworker. Have you done much shipbuilding?” He shuffled a couple of tools around. “Oh, and yes I did. People expect it.”

“I don’t,” I said. “I’ve served with many an Irishman in my sailing days, gotten extremely drunk with them on many occasions, and never once did any of them say top of the morning.”

“You got me,” he said, softening the accent somewhat. “I’ll try to avoid doing it again.”

We chatted about boats and woodwork for a while before I took my leave, agreeing to meet for a drink at some future occasion.  I explored the dock area a while longer, before taking myself back up to the top of the grand stairway. I had seen a lighthouse up on a high point and determined to go find that. I followed the paths as far as they took me and then struck out through the woods, past a picnic spot and up onto the promontory. The lighthouse was a pleasant building, and while it appeared to be operational, the living space, so far as I could see through the windows, looked to be abandoned. I made a note to find out why some day.

Heading back through the woods, I encountered some carved standing stones. Whether they were some piece of public art, a memorial of some sort, or were of ritual significance, I couldn’t tell, although there did seem to be a hint of magic of some sort about them. Maybe they were Native American – Gwyn had once gently chided me for using the term Indian – artefacts.

I made my way back to the commercial district and paid for my book. I must get Gwyn to explain modern economics. I have no idea if $10 is a good price for a second-hand book. Given that I noticed that a tall mocha, which, from the aroma, is something related to coffee, was $4.75, so maybe that is good. A book for the price of two cups of coffee?

There is an interesting fountain near the bookshop. Half horse, half fish, which is, if I recall correctly, a hippocampus. From limited observation, it appears to be just a fountain. Mind you, if it comes to life at certain phases of the moon or something, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised.

I found a more conventional fountain in a nearby public garden. Well, I say more conventional… it did have four gargoyle like creatures spitting water into the lower level, but was otherwise conventional fountain-shaped.

The garden also featured a pleasant stone gazebo, which, were it back home in England, one might imagine being occupied by the local brass band. Of course, I don’t know if they have such things in this century, or in this country. I also liked the sculpture of a woman whose body was the trunk of a tree. I was reminded of my old friend and occasional lover, Aerodine, the dryad and found myself wondering what became of her.

Beyond the gardens, I found an intriguing structure. Part of it was old stone, such as one might find in the ruins of a medieval castle back home in England, though I could no imagine that such a structure might exist here, at least, not of that antiquity. But then, I do not know the history of these parts, any of it. Obviously, I don’t know that which occurred since my home time, but I don’t know anything much of what happened before that. I remember reading an article about a place called Mesa Verde in Colorado where there are stone structures comparable to those in medieval Europe, so I suppose it is possible. There is much to learn.

I returned to the house to change, as the day had warmed up considerably since I left. One outfit that Gwyn had left for me consisted of a light sweater and a pair of short trousers that reminded me of the shorts we were required to wear for football practice at school. A part of me rebelled at that memory, for I had had no love of sports at school, much less for the inevitable hacked shins and shoulder charges and trips that the bullies would try to claim were a fair tackle. Nevertheless, I chose to ignore those memories. Mother would have been proud. I still felt a little rebellious going outside so casually dressed, a relic, perhaps of the mores of my time, but my appearance did not excite any comment.

I took lunch at one of the eateries near the bookshop. Many of the dishes were unfamiliar to me, so I opted for a cheeseburger and fries, remembering the treats that Valene would sometimes send her Cait out to get for me, and a refreshing glass of cold cider. What the waiter meant by his comment – “You’re English, right? You’ll be wanting hard cider then”- I do not know. I shall have to ask Gwyn.  The cheeseburger and fries resembled the paper-wrapped things that the Cait had obtained for me so long ago about as much as rotgut whisky in a dockside tavern resembles fine single malt. The burger part had recognisable meat, the fries were crisp and chunky and it was served hot. OK, I can hardly blame the Cait for the latter. They had to transport it through the Shadow Roads and nothing retains heat there for very long. This was a delicious meal and very satisfying, aside from one small ingredient, but that will have to wait until I get back to Mysthaven. While Gwyn has told me this is a sanctuary for supernaturals of all sorts, I do not yet know how my kind would be received. That’s one disadvantage of having lived in Mysthaven for so long, my feeding habits have become lazy. That is something else I shall have to relearn.

I decided to head back down to the beach, feeling I was more suitably attired. I rather enjoyed the long wooden walkway that led down to the beach. It reminded me of some of the smaller ports I had docked at over the years, although it lacked the smell of tar and seaweed that I associated with such places. It took a rather twisted path down from the town, which made me wonder how many people had fallen off attempting to negotiate it in an inebriated state. Something, I hasten to add, I never did in my sailing days, excluding that one time in Rotterdam.

The bridge that leads to our house proved interesting from below. Carved stone in a somewhat Celtic style and an entertaining grotesque looking down from its apex. Looking through the arch, it seemed to lead to the end of the promenade area, close to the ship-fashioned building.

The other end of the beach was occupied by a rambling wooden building. Some of it was presumably a residence, but parts looked to be a shop or workshop for surf boards. At least, that is what I guessed these strange items were. I had heard of such things from some of my sailor friends who had visited Hawaii and such like places. I gather the idea is to stand or lie on the board and ride the waves. The waves I could see here did not look particularly energetic but maybe I had come on a calm day. I added it to my list of things to learn more about. It’s going to be a long list, but then, I don’t intend to die for a long time yet, so I hope there will be time.

Of more interest was a large mobile structure to one side of the building. It put me in mind of a vardo, a Romany caravan, but on a much larger scale. What its purpose might be here on a beach, I could not guess.

I wandered further around the beach area for some time until evening set in, when I returned to the part of the beach near the vardo. There was a well-established fire-pit on the beach, with plenty of driftwood for fuel. I had no matches or tinderbox about my person, but then, I hardly need such a thing with my mastery of fire magic. Fortunately, that still seemed to work here, and soon I had a very respectable fire going. This attracted the attention of somebody from the house – none other than my old friend Dyisi, whose establishment this apparently was. I suppose I should not have been surprised to see her. She was not overly surprised to see me either, greeting me somewhat nonchalantly and joining me around the fire. She asked after Gwyn and I said I had not yet seen her since her abdication. I told her a little of my explorations and we chatted of things of little consequence. It occurred to me that this was a rare and precious thing. To sit and converse with a friend, with no matters of import to discuss – no political upheavals, no battles to plan, no rogue fae to confront. A rare and precious thing indeed.

I could have sat there all night, but, alas, for all the peace that I felt here, I still had my duties, so after one last look at the remnants of the sunlight on the water, I took my leave after asking Bran to send word when Gwyn returned. But, I shall return again to this island. I think I like it here.

 

Living on the Island – Julia Pietrucha

Green jacket – Hoorenbeek Outfit Mesh 28

Sweater & Shorts – Mahlberg Tailors

Sandals – MB Mesh Addict

 

 

 

Living on an Island

With all this thought of changing my role, I decided it would help if I actually experienced some of Gwyn’s time. I must admit to being somewhat wary of going there. Gwyn once quoted a line from a book she had studied – “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” If I remember correctly, it was in the context of an elderly man reminiscing about his youth, which might be some 60 odd years in his past. My time, from Gwyn’s point of view is twice that distant in her past, and her time is twice that distance in my future. Either way, the words “they do things differently there” apply equally to the future. At least with the past, there are memories, or records to inform you. That is not the case with regard to the future. Yes, to Gwyn, it is her present and recent past, but to me, it is terra incognita, no matter how much she might tell me about it.

Still, it is something I must face some day, and there’s no time like the present. Which phrase, in this context, seems somewhat incongruous. I need to tell her about Bronwyn and Faermorn and Gwythyr anyway. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good idea on top of dealing with her abdication, but I can not put it off forever. I determined that I would forgo calling her via the mirrors and pay a surprise visit instead. In retrospect, perhaps not the wisest of choices, but I have never claimed to be wise, despite what I might tell my children when I want them to listen to me. Still, I had to go. I selected some clothing she had left for me on some previous visit – a soft leather jacket over denim jeans, which were comfortable enough, if a little cramped around the crotch. I had at least worn these before and soon got used to the discomfort.

I decided to take the route through the Shadow Roads, even though I could just step across the realms to get there. At least through the Roads, I have some semblance of a journey, which softens the shock of the transition somewhat. I never liked taking portals back in London, and those were only short cuts between different parts of London. Stepping across the realms is even worse, when the distance, and the time gap, are both large, and largely unknown. One day, I will get used to it. Plus, going via the Roads, there is at least some warning – the parting of the veil, and the coldness of the air, so I don’t just suddenly materialise in the middle of a room. A small difference, but to me, a form of courtesy. Gwyn knows the way through the Roads well enough, and her staff, if she took any with her, should know the signs too.

The Roads deposited me in the Atrium, as she likes to call it, a small enclosed area where she had planned to receive those with business from Faerie. Whether she will continue to use it as such, I do not know. As yet, I do not know if she intends to cut all ties with the Fae. I find that hard to believe, and surely there are Fae in this time too. Either way, it made sense that I would land here, as this place, at least, I had visited before.

What was new, though, was a small herd of tiny winged unicorns, or possibly alicorns, if I recall correctly. I was a bit nonplussed when I saw them, and memories came flooding back of my first painful lessons in magic from Mitternacht, or Paasheeluu as she preferred to be called. I knelt and greeted them. “Hi, I’m Nathaniel, nice to meet you. Are any of you related to an undead mortician by the name of Paasheeluu?”  Perhaps that was a bit blunt, but it didn’t seem to matter.  They were friendly enough, nosing my hand in case I had something to eat, but displayed no evidence of sapience. They accepted mint imperials readily enough though.

The room adjoining the atrium was set for a feast, but there was no sign of any guests. Nor was there any sign of my wife. I sat at the table and contemplated the suckling pig, who did not seem to be amused by the apple shoved in his mouth, and who could blame him. Somewhere, nearby, I could hear some rather strange bleeping noises and the occasional cry of frustration. “Hello?”  I called out.  There were more bleeps and another cry of frustration and a few moments later, Bran appeared, clutching some small brightly coloured object that appeared to be the source of the beeps. “Damn it, I was almost on level …” He looked up and stopped mid-sentence. “Lord Ballard,” he said, “we were not expecting you.”

I frowned at him. “It’s me, Bran,” I said, gently chiding him. “Nobody else is around, so I think we can dispense with titles. And it was a last minute decision to come. So, where is Her Maj… my wife?”

Bran shrugged. “I think she has gone shopping. For what, or where, I do not know. She went, she came back with a lot of clothing, including some for you, I think, and she went again. I don’t know when she will be back.”  He looked around the room, then back at his bleeping gadget, and then back at me. “You could try waiting down at the house, I suppose. You could try on some of the clothes that she bought, maybe explore the island. It will be something to do while you wait for her.”

I asked how I could get to the house and he directed me to a portal that he assured me would take me there. “Do you need anything else?”

I swiped some food from the feast table and a bottle of wine. “No, this will do, thanks. I’ll let you get on with your… levelling…”  He thanked me and hurried away, his attention focussed once again on the noisy gadget.

The house I had seen very briefly before. It seems to be built on a rocky outcrop looking down over the bay with just a stone bridge linking it to the rest of the island at the same level. In older times, it would have been an ideal location for a castle. With the only access being up a steep rock face, or the bridge, it was easily defendable.

One thing I noticed that I had not seen before, standing near the door, was what I assumed to be some manner of vehicle. It had two wheels arranged in line, like some kind of velocipede and was bright pink. I assumed it must be operated by an infernal combustion engine, since the seating arrangement appeared to preclude any propulsion by foot. Perhaps it is for when she visits the mainland, for it did not seem that anywhere on the island was far enough away that it could not be walked in a reasonably short time.

I could see a statue nearby, a seated figure playing a harp. I could have sworn I had seen this before, perhaps somewhere in her bower. It’s certainly a very moving piece and I know it is important to her, which may be why it is here.

I went inside the house and made my way to the bedroom, where I did indeed find assorted items of clothing. One suit came from a bag labelled Vintage Clothing by somebody called Gabriel. With its high collar and elaborate bow tie, it would not have looked out of place at one of my mother’s social gatherings.

Another suit, also by Gilbert, was likely of a more modern design. I could find no fault with it, save that the necktie was constructed of leather and rather short with a metal ring looped through the end. Perhaps this is what the well-dressed men of the 21st century wear now, even if it did look rather as if some kind of leash could be attached. I was briefly reminded of a strange bar I once went to in Rotterdam where some clients paid good money to be led around on a leash, but I doubt this was what Gwyn had in mind. I tried it out as I wandered around the house, trying to determine the function of some of the rooms. I did not find a library, which distressed me somewhat. Indeed, there was only one bookcase that I could find, which is an extreme oversight. One that I hope she will remedy.

I tried on yet another suit. This one seemed more comfortable and less formal, but still elegant enough for all but the most formal of gatherings. It seemed quite apposite as I wandered into a large room at the side of the house. A room walled with much glass in the manner of an orangery or conservatory. I could imagine Mother really enjoying this space, except she would have had it filled with exotic plants and furniture made of cane. Perhaps this will come

There did not appear to be much else to find in the house. I am sure Gwyn just hasn’t finished furnishing it yet, or perhaps she is waiting for my input. That would be nice. I trust to her judgement, but I prefer wood to wrought iron. I am sure we can find some suitable compromise.

I donned more casual wear in order to explore some of the places I had seen from the bridge. Another pair of jeans and a heavy sweater that felt as though it was designed for the outdoors was my choice. And so I set off to explore. From my vantage point on the outcrop, I could see down to an area that looked as if it served for a docks area as well as recreation, with a wooden-decked promenade and assorted waterside buildings, one of which was rather pleasingly fashioned as an old-style sailing ship.

I made that one my first destination and headed down to the waterside, passing by market stalls offering various goods, including fruit and vegetables and craft pottery. From what Gwyn has told me of the inhabitants, I could not imagine that the permanent residents would be buying a great deal of pottery, but I supposed they must have a lot of visitors. Pretty soon, I found myself on what passed for a crow’s nest on the ship-shaped building. I grinned as I remembered my first days at sea with Haskins Shipping. Though, in that case, I am fairly sure I had been sent to the crow’s nest as some sort of hazing for the new guy.

Back on dry land, so to speak, I ascended the great wooden staircase, avoiding a number of people on velocipedes that were available for hire and had a look round what I guessed was the commercial district. It was an eclectic area – essentials such as a grocers and a bookshop, and yes, I do count a bookshop as an essential – crowded with sweetshops and various eateries. The bookshop could have been an expensive excursion for me, save that I had neglected to bring any money with me. Such American dollars as I might have had in my possession would, no doubt, been an anachronism, as they would have been left over from my honeymoon in 1880. One book did intrigue me enough to ask the assistant to put it by until I could come back with the appropriate money. It was the title that caught my eye – The Once and Future King, which echoed the words that Malory ascribed to Arthur’s tomb –  Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus. On examination, it did appear to be a retelling of the Arthurian stories, and one new to me. It would have to be, as the flyleaf proclaimed it to have been first published in 1958. I will look forward to reading it, as and when I equip myself with modern currency.

Further on, I found another wooden walkway, narrower than the promenade one, and of more rustic construction, leading down to a pleasant looking beach, with some wooden structure, perhaps a house or a tavern, I could not tell from here, at the end. In the gathering dusk, with the light on the water, it was a most beautiful spot indeed. I was tempted to explore further, but it was getting darker, and, in truth, I was a little overwhelmed with it all, and decided to head back to the house.

This was going to be all new to me, and I was ill-prepared, knowing only a little of what had passed in the world since I left it 125 years ago The assistant in the bookshop had loved my accent, and somehow, that was enough to excuse my apparent lack of familiarity with my surroundings  and lack of currency. Perhaps an Englishman abroad is considered somewhat of an eccentricity, even in these times. If that is so, it could be to my advantage until I am better educated in the ways of these times. For now, I can take comfort in the food I swiped from Bran’s table and the scent of my beloved Gwyn in the bed. Who knows, maybe she will return before morning and we can spend some time together.

Living on an Island

For those that need to know these things:

Nathaniel:

Slink Physique Male Mesh Body, Hands, Feet. Labyrinth Shape D Mesh Head & Pale Skin, Ikon Sunrise Eyes (Verdigris),  No.Match No.Hunt hair

Clothing in order of appearance:

A&D Clothing – Ewan jacket, James pants, Seattle shoes

Gabriel Vintage Suit & Shoes

Gabriel Leather Tie Suit & Shoes

Emerald Couture Russell outfit in grey

Native Urban Clean Jeans & Enhanced Boots, Sweet Lass Kenji Sweater (Moss)

 

 

Uneasy Lies The Head…

All stories must come to an end. As an adult, I know this, but it doesn’t make it any easier. As I noted in my last entry, it was something I hated when I was a child, when mother would read to me, or, when I was able to read, when we would read stories together. Mother knew this, and sometimes, if it was not too late of the evening, we would, together, imagine what might have happened next. Did the band of plucky adventurers settled down and raise families, or did they seek out new adventures, new quests, and new journeys? There is no what happened next for Faermorn, of course. She is gone to whatever passes for the hereafter among her kind, along with GwythyrGwynn.  For her, this was definitely the end. And, in the end, it was what she wished. Her story was long and complicated. I knew only those parts that Valene and Aoibheann told me about, and, of course, those parts of the story in which I played my role. It was my honour to be a part of that story, more so that my part bought some light to the story, I hope, but that is all now at an end and I have to say goodbye to all that and to her.

My daughter, Bronwyn’s story, on the other hand, is just beginning. With Faermorn’s passing, she is freed at last from the threat of GwythyrGwynn. She has her own tale to tell. I would hope that Gwyneth and I, as her parents, will have a major role in that, but, if what I read from her thoughts is true, maybe her place is in Faerie and possibly with Lord Mornoth, or should I say, King Mornoth, as his Queen. Only time will tell. With her help,  Faerie will endure and we will still be part of her life.

As for my story, I do not know where that goes next. This place, this world apart from the one I knew, has become increasingly strange to me of late. So many people have come and gone. Sophia, Giada, Dorina, Helene, Horace, all seem to have found their way through the mists to somewhere else. All the fae that I counted as friends are gone. Maric is gone. Valene is only a passing presence in my sleep. My other children, Wren, Drysi & Elian are elsewhere. And now, my wife, Gwyn, has abdicated the Seelie throne and retreated to her own time in the 21st century. A part of me is tempted to join her, and if there were some way of still being able to fulfil my oath to Maric, I would do so, as there is very little, beyond my oath, and the friends I have made among the villagers, to tempt me to stay. It would be good to lay down my burden, as Gwyn has done. For both of us, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. If only I could find a way to do so and still fulfil my oath. I could not lay down my burden without passing it on somehow, as Maric did to me.

My options are limited. Maric’s former queen, Teuta, is no doubt capable, as a leader and a warrior, but she is but a ghost, and I do not believe the village could be ruled by a ghost. I suppose, with much study of Maric’s notes, I could pull off the same trick as Maric did with Vedis, and make a bodily vessel for her, but that is a long shot. Even if I could, would she want that? She might appreciate a purpose, but, perhaps, after all this time, she just wants to pass to the beyond and join her love.

Kustav is a fine military leader who I would want by my side in any battle you could care to name, but I don’t know if he is an administrator. My stewards are capable enough for their individual duties, but, I do not know if they are ready for the burden I bear. Perhaps, between them they could manage, maybe with a leader that the people chose. Is Mysthaven ready for democracy? That, I do not know.

Then there is Aoibheann. As Maric’s widow, she has the status, but I do not know if she has the wherewithal to be a leader. That she is strong, I have no doubt. Her efforts in defeating the thornwyrms is proof enough for me, but a leader? I do not know. Besides, I felt that her home was in the Weald, among the trees. She has not been back to Mysthaven, so far as I know, since Maric passed. Perhaps it is as alien to her as she seemed to me when I saw her last.

As I said, my choices are limited, but I must make one. I must fulfil my duty before I can fulfil my wants, and unlike my daughter, those two do not coincide. But, I will find a way. Assuming I could find some way that I could depart this realm in good conscience, there is still the matter of where to go. Can you transplant a man from the late 19th century to the early 21st century? I do not know. But, when I go, that is where I must go, to join my wife. She is all I have left now. Together we can make it. After all, what’s 125 years between friends?

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown

 

 

A New Dawning

Nathaniel’s nose twitched a few times and his eyes started to stir. “Leave me alone,” he muttered, still half asleep. Something batted at his nose again and he opened his eyes blearily, to be presented with a pair of very green eyes close up, and a paw reaching for the end of his nose. “Gerroff!” he growled and immediately regretted as it gave him a mouthful of soft fur. He reached up and lifted the young Cait off his face, dislodging a few more of the Cait that were snuggled against his arm and shoulder.  “I love you guys, but, a man needs his sleep.”  He lay a while, lulled by the rhythmic sound of dozens of purring Cait, their individual purrs moving in and out of time with each other. He sighed. “Ah well, I should probably be about my business anyway. Come on guys, let me get up.”  He struggled to a more seated position, lifting various Cait out of the way and depositing them in the nearby heap of those who hadn’t managed to find a spot on top of him. He got up and attempted, vainly, to brush some of the fur off. “Wow, if it was possibly to make fabric from your fur, we’d make a fortune,” he said. A few feet away, he could see Bronwyn, still sleeping under her own blanket of furs and Cait. He knelt and kissed her gently on the forehead, careful not to disturb her slumber. “I love you, dear daughter,” he said quietly, and reinforced this, gently, through the link. “You are stronger than you know.”  He stood and bade the Cait look after her before taking his reluctant leave.

Back at the castle, he changed into something less furry and went down to the office for the usual morning meeting with his stewards. As was his habit, he poured tea and coffee for them before sitting down behind his desk. For once, he pushed the papers aside and looked round at the room, favouring each of them with a smile and a nod. “I think it’s time to change the flag,” he said, eventually. “We do still have the green one, right?”  His stewards looked at each other, somewhat puzzled.

“Yes,” said Novak eventually, “It’s in the weapons store. Why?”

“I think we can fly it again, at long last,” said Nathaniel, leaning back and taking a long pull at his own coffee.

“How so?” asked Kustav.

“It is over,” said Nathaniel. “The Sithen Rose is subdued and freed of malign influence, so our roses should be back to normal. The rebel demi-fae queen is no more, and her people are no longer a threat.”  There were various nods of approval. “And,” Nathaniel paused a moment. “The late and unlamented Unseelie King, GwythyrGwnn, is finally gone from us, this time for good. And that madman, Llwyd, his son, is back in the custody of Queen Vedis, where he belongs, and this time, he has no allies to help him escape. We are free, at last!” He beamed at his team.

There was a collective sigh of relief and then a babble of cheers and congratulations and a smatter of applause.

Nathaniel continued. “So, Kustav, you can stand the reservists down for now and take the guards off high alert. Remain vigilant, though, because you never know what’s going to happen in this place.”

Kustav nodded and allowed a soft smile to cross his face, even as his mind started reorganising schedules and watches. “I’ll get on it straight away.”

Nathaniel nodded. “Hal, I think we need a celebration. Maybe we can have a slightly delayed Equinox celebration. Maybe this weekend.”  His face darkens for a moment. “Oh, and talking of the Equinox. It might be advisable for us to avoid Faerie lands for a while. Queen Gwyneth has decided to vacate the throne and hand it over to Lord Mornoth, the Unseelie Seneschal. This could cause some,” he paused for a moment, “instability. I, personally, don’t think he is ready for that level of responsibility… yet. But, I think he will rally, and he may well have strong support, from our daughter, Bronwyn. She is young, but she is strong, and understands duty.”  He smiled as he thought on his child. “So, as I said, there might be a few ripples and repercussions, so mind how you go when dealing with the Fae.”

His stewards nodded, then Kustav spoke up. “And where has Gwyneth gone?”

Nathaniel allowed a wry smile to cross his face. “I suspect she has gone shopping. That seems to be her favourite remedy for stress. I should probably go see how she is, if I can find her.”  He finished his coffee and stood up. “That’s all for now. Oh, somebody get one of the horticultural types to give the roses some extra mulch. It can’t be a bad idea to remind them who the good guys are. Oh, and Novak, ask around, see if any of them would be willing to donate a little blood occasionally. That would help reinforce the idea.”

Novak nodded. “Will do.”

Nathaniel bade them good day and retreated to his chambers. He sat on the bed and opened his sense to the Wyld. He frowned as he felt the disturbances – uncertainty and confusion – as the various factions dealt with the unexpected changes, and somewhere in the middle, a knot of confusion that he suspected was Mornoth, struggling to come to terms with his new status. “This could be bad,” he muttered to himself. Just then, he caught a brief whiff of peaches and roses, the scent of his daughter. He looked down at the outfit he had recently worn, thinking maybe her scent still lingered from where he had held her the previous night. Then it came again and he felt the echo of her thoughts through the link… stirring from her sleep, briefly thinking of her father, talking with the Cait with a new maturity beyond her years, her joy at finally being free.  Then he felt the echo of Mornoth in her thoughts. He smiled, as he felt her sense of duty, as if she knew what needed to be done. Then his smile turned a little wry as he sensed her feelings for the Seneschal.  He sighed. “My daughter, no longer a child,” he murmured. “Be strong, be safe, be loved,” he suggested, as feelings rather than words, through the link, and then closed it off, lest he sense things a father should not.

There was no need anyway; he could feel her presence through the Wyld. For all her young years, she radiated a sense of light and calm and, he allowed himself a little surge of pride, steadfastness and strength of will that she had inherited from him.  The Wyld rippled around him as her light shone in the darkness, dispelling confusion. The struggle that was Mornoth seemed to ebb as the light approached and then the energies began to merge. He dampened his senses somewhat, barely needing them to feel the surge of life renewed. Love and pride in his daughter welled up and he wiped away a happy tear. Spring was finally sprung, and maybe, just maybe, all would be well in Faerie after all. “You will rise, daughter mine, you will rise,”  he said with a proud smile.

He wiped away another happy tear and got up. Spring notwithstanding, there was still much to do.

Nina Simone – It’s a New Dawn

 

 

 

For Cheese a Jolly Good Fellow

Time, as I have often remarked in these pages, is a very strange thing. It is much stranger than I could possibly have imagined, especially since my life has become somewhat detached from it. I have so few fixed reference points any more. I know it was 1885 when my encounter with Katarina turned my life upside down. I know it was 1891 when I arrived in that pocket of London I knew as the Isle of Legacies. Since then, I am less certain of time. The shipwreck, or possibly the Nexus, cast me up on the shores of Jasper Cove, which, while separated from the main stream of time, apparently stayed more or less parallel with what had been Gwyn’s present, some 120 years into my future. Then, a burning bridge took me, via a brief encounter with the Boatman, to Ashmourne Wylds and Mysthaven, which, if I take the Phoenix’s word, puts me some 400 years in my past, so I have no definitive idea of what year I currently exist in. I think that some five years have passed, by my experience, since I left London, but I can’t be even sure of that, given that some of my time has been spent in the faerie realms, where time flows differently anyway.

Whatever year it might be, I do at least know where I am in that year, guided as I am, much like my ancestors, by the circle of the sun, by the passing of each solstice and equinox. So, I know that some 30 days have passed since the Winter Solstice, making the latter part of January, by the calendar I once knew. I know, by watching the sun, what time of day it is, ably assisted by my pocket watch. What I don’t know, not since I left behind the church bells in Legacies, is what day of the week it is. This normally doesn’t matter much. As Lord of Mysthaven, every day is a working day. The same applies to my beloved wife, who has to be Queen every day. However, when she suggested that we have a weekend away, I found myself at a loss as to the question – when is it the weekend?

Lacking any reference, we decided that we would take a couple of days off from being Lord and Queen and call it a weekend away. She found a cabin by the river, somewhere and, I suspect, somewhen closer to her own original time. Normally, I would be apprehensive about visiting my future, but, since the plan was that it was to be a weekend just for the two of us, with no interruptions from the courts or from my stewards unless it was a matter of national importance, I was more than happy to go there and then.

Of course, nothing ever goes as smoothly as one might like. I got held up in a meeting with my stewards, so Gwyn went on ahead, knowing that she, of all people, I could find anywhere, anywhen and step there as easily as I could step into the next room. I concluded my meeting, changed into the clothing that Gwyn had told me was more appropriate for her time, grabbed a change of clothes and set out, stepping across the realms to where, and when, she was.

It was a pleasant looking cabin, aside from a rather worrying unconventional upper floor held in place by steel cables and accessed by a ladder. Despite the alleged time-period, it would not have looked out of place in my time, and was pleasantly rustic in appearance.

What was less pleasant was the sight of my beloved wife, leaning on the door of the refrigerator, crying. When I asked what the matter was, she said there was no cheese in the fridge (that looks wrong. I am sure the word is refrigerator, so I would expect frig, or frige, but the way she said it sounded like bridge… the problems of an unfamiliar vocabulary).

“There’s cheese here, honey,” I told her, pointing at, and sampling some that was out on the counter with some crackers. “It’s quite nutty, but perhaps a little bland, and these crackers are rather salty.”

“You don’t understand,” she cried, starting to sound a little hysterical. “That was all the cheese.”

I looked at the small portion. “That’s all of the cheese?”  She nodded, still looking upset. I tried to reassure her. “It’s not the end of the world,” I told her. “We have a mirror still.” Which was true. There had to be some way of contacting us, should the unwanted emergency occur. “We can just use it to call Clutie and have her bring more cheese, preferably something with a bit more age… and maybe some soda bread.” I think sometimes Gwyn forgets that my job used to include provisioning a whole ship for voyages. Of course, then, with landfall several days away in either direction, running out of cheese would have been a bigger problem. While I did have a mirror in my cabin, summoning fae servants was not among its powers.

She looked at me and hiccupped. “You mean you’re not angry?”

“Of course, not, Gwyneth,” I said. “Just because I am running Mysthaven, doesn’t mean I am going to turn into Maric and lose my temper.”

“But Victorians love cheese,” she said, as if this somehow made the absence of cheese worse. I’m not sure why. I may have been born and raised in the era of Queen Victoria, but I don’t think I have been Victorian for a while.  Nevertheless, I assured her everything would be all right. I held her in my arms and we rubbed noses and kissed for a while. “Everything will be just fine. Let’s send for Clutie, and she and Bran can bring over as much cheese as we need.”  I looked up at the strangely suspended and possibly unstable upper floor, which I suspected was the bedroom. “And, while we are at it, let them bring some blankets and such like, so we can sleep down here by the fire. Won’t that be so much more romantic?”

She followed my glance. “I don’t think we are going to break the place,” she said.

I looked back at the suspended floor. “You never know,” I said.

Cheese and soda bread was thus obtained, as were sufficient blankets and pillows etc to make a nice cosy nest by the fire.

What passed after that was purely for the two of us and I shall not detail it here. That, after all, had been the purpose of the weekend, whatever actual day of the week it was.

It’s certainly uncontaminated by cheese…

 

Maiden Voyage

 

Gerald Bryson, my old friend and Master of the Odiham Castle, was always impressed that I had insisted on taking all the seamanship training available. As Chief Purser, my duties were largely commercial and more concerned with the provisioning of the ship rather than its operation, and so I was only required to take some basic seamanship training. Nevertheless, I did all the training I could. I used to joke to Gerald that I was after his job. In truth, I never aspired to be Master of my own vessel, it was more my insatiable curiosity and it seemed a fine thing to know how to navigate, how to operate a vessel and such like. I never imagined that I would one day be the one giving such training. And yet, that is what I have spent much of my time doing these last few weeks. Kustav and a few of the guards, and a seemingly random assortment of the villagers, were the only ones who claimed any nautical knowledge, and two of those were fishermen rather than sailors. Marek and Ivor, two young lads who are still finding their place in the village workforce also volunteered and proved able students.

It scarcely seems possible, but in just a very few weeks, I seem to have acquired a moderately competent crew. They lack experience, of course, save for a few voyages around the bay and the island itself, but they have good heart and I am sure they will do well. Some things we have not been able to learn, though. The weather somewhat uncharacteristically, failed to produce anything approaching storms, but, you can’t have everything. The lads know the theory, but, well, we will just have to see.

And now, it is time for the big one, and in truth, I am terrified. Not about the sailing bit. I can master the ship well enough, and my crew know what to do. In these waters, and the waters around my intended destination, the English Channel and Thames Estuary that I knew as a young man, I am confident of my abilities, but there is one big hurdle to overcome. Getting from here to there. On foot, I know my way well enough, to get to London via the Shadow Roads, and I know well enough how to get there by the means that Alec gave me, that which Dyisi calls realm-walking. Of course, it is one thing taking myself to such places by that means; it is a completely different thing taking myself, my crew and the ship that way. I am almost certain that this was how Alec would take the ship on those New Moon voyages to get provisions for Jasper Cove. Almost certain, anyway, but there is another way I know of. Those masters and captains that would sail into the docks at the Isle of Legacies did so by mastery of the Nexus, but that is a skill I never learned. Perhaps Alec, in one of his guises there, had that skill, so perhaps his voyages from Jasper Cove were so achieved, but I don’t believe so. Legacies was lost because the Nexus became unstable and took that land, and maybe others, deep into the realms of, for want of a better word, impossibility, so I doubt Alec would risk that way.

I don’t have any of Alec’s writings. His offer to make me his librarian and archivist came only in his guise of Greyson, on my way from Jasper Cove to Ashmourne Wylds, and by then, his library was largely lost. I have only his writings in the form of Dee’s journals, and that knowledge that he passed to me via the blood when he gave me my freedom, if that is the right word. Having that knowledge, and applying it, however, are two very different things. Such time as I have not been training, I have spent studying every word, every page of the journals, at least, those sections that are applicable to the realm walking, such as there are. To that, I have added my own knowledge, my own powers, and those bestowed upon me by Maric. First, I bound the ship to me, and myself to the ship, much as I did with the castle, though the sentience of the ship is barely recognisable, the faintest vestiges of the trees that its timbers once were. I marked it and bound it with my blood, making the ship as much a part of me as is possible for a mass of timbers and ropes and iron.

Then it was time for my first attempt. In our sailing training exercises, we would make fast at a spot on the far side of the island from our birth before returning the way we came, or continuing and completing the circumnavigation. That, I considered was a safe spot to aim for. The first time, I did do without the crew. There seemed no point in taking unnecessary risks. I stood at the wheel, and spread myself, my essence, as it were, until the ship and I seemed one, and then exercised that, what shall I call it, muscle that allows me to walk the realms. It worked! I damned near capsized the ship, and there was an almighty crash as we hit the water, but fortunately, the timbers held. It was an elementary mistake, and one that was understandable, given my lack of experience in moving large objects. Sailing to that spot was one thing, as the ship was already in the water, and the water could flow around it as it moved. Moving suddenly from one spot to another, on the other hand, doesn’t allow the water to flow gradually. Displacing a very considerable amount of water in one go makes a very spectacular splash and a lot of noise, and I was damned lucky I didn’t capsize or destroy the hull. Having achieved the basic principle, however, I was able to adjust, and the return journey was considerably smoother and a lot less noisy.

The question then remained, could I do this with a crew? I explained as best I could, in terms they could appreciate, pitching it as the same process that brought them to this land in the first place, and allowed us to move the village from  the hill, to the Shadow Roads, back again to its new location, and to our current location. Except, of course, this was under my control. After I had practised sufficiently that I felt confident moving the ship from one point to another, I did so again, only this time, with me and Kustav. Of all the people here, he is most closely bound to me. Having achieved that a few times, I then asked the crew to all make a simple blood bond with me. Not as deep as that between Kustav and I, but enough that I could include them in my influence.

Having established my confidence in that, I then tried to go further, to a spot I knew well, just off the Eastern Frisian Islands, where the Odiham Castle would often lay up for the night. That took a lot more effort and near drained me. I had to rest up for a couple of hours before I felt capable of making the return trip, but I managed to do so safely.

And so, I am as prepared as I can be. There remains also, the matter of finance. We do not lack for gold, but such coinage as are held in our vaults, those from Maric’s land, and such Midori as I retained from Jasper Cove, are unlikely to be met with anything other than suspicion in 19th century London. I made a few trips via the Shadow Roads, but my tame jeweller there can only take so much gold in any one trip, even with the aid of a couple of his less than honest acquaintances. I can only hope that I can find some means of exchanging gold for currency when I get there.

The ship is ready, the crew is as ready as it can be, and soon, I will provision the ship for our first journey into the unknown, our maiden voyage, as it were. May all the gods help us.

 

A Sailor’s Life

Nathaniel  looked at the assembled group, surveying them with a slightly raised eyebrow. “Is this it?” he asks, looking at Kustav.

Kustav shrugged. “You asked for everybody in the town who has any nautical experience. This is it, plus Marek and Ivor who fancied having a go.”

Nathaniel surveyed his team. Kustav and a few more of the guards, several villagers, two of whose nautical experience he suspected was limited to the rowing boat they used to go fishing, and two gawky lads who seemed mostly to spend their time picking fruit by climbing trees, which skill might come in useful.

“OK, well, this should be enough provided we don’t do anything too complicated.”

He led the way down to the pier. “This is my ship, which I have renamed The Bold Admiral, after the ship that brought me here… or, at least, to where I was before I came here.”  He walked down the pier and positioned himself halfway down the length of the ship. “OK, the basics. The pointy end is the front, otherwise known as the bow, direction-wise, that is fore. The blunt end is the back, otherwise known as the stern, and that direction is aft. If you are facing the front, your left side is known as port, the right side is known as starboard. Don’t complain that left and right or front and back are just as good, that’s just the way things are. The big stick in the middle is the mast, and those cloth things are the sails…”  He stopped when he noticed the looks he was getting. “OK, maybe we don’t need to be that basic, except, maybe, for Marek and Ivor. For them, this is a big wooden box that floats. We call it a ship.” The two lads rolled their eyes while the others laughed. “Seriously, though, come aboard and let’s get familiar with the ship.”

A couple of hours later, everybody was familiar with the layout of the ship and its various parts, even to the extent of knowing the different between yards and masts,  stays and shrouds, halyards and buntlines etc, and even Marek and Ivor could tell their port from starboard. “Amazing,” remarked Kustav, during a break for cigarettes and coffee. “Before, they barely knew their left from right, now they know their port from starboard.” There was much laughter and general good-natured ribbing of the two, who had, nevertheless proved able pupils. Nathaniel finished his coffee and tipped the dregs over the side. “OK, lads, now for some basic procedures,” he said, “raising and lowering the anchor, furling sails, manning the pumps etc. Now, when we are under sail, different people will have different duties, but I want all of you to learn all of these, so that we can operate the ship whatever the circumstances. Now, I will be the one giving the orders. When I give you an order, you will respond ‘aye aye, sir’ to indicate that you have heard and understood the order and are going to carry it out forthwith. If you wish to agree with something I have said, you just say, ‘aye, sir’. Have you got that?” There was a chorus of “Aye, sir” and one or two “Aye Aye, sir”. Nathaniel sighed. “Ok, most of you got it. The rest can pick it up as we go along. Right, let’s go learn about the anchor.”

The next few days continued in a similar vein, as the trainee crew came to learn just how the ship operated and could carry out all the actions that Nathaniel could have wished with ease and without having to have it explained. The day came a week later, when he felt they were ready to take her out on the water. Nathaniel stood by the wheel and surveyed the crew with satisfaction, feeling that he could now call them a crew. “Are we ready, lads?” There was a loud chorus of “Aye, sir” and a cheer. “Right then, stand by to cast off.” He looked around one last time and gave the orders required. The wind started to fill the sail and pull the ship forward. Soon they were clear of the pier and nosing out into the bay. “Hard a-port,” he cried, turning the wheel and laughing for the sheer joy of being afloat once more.

Kustav stopped leaning on the bulwarks and came over, looking at Nathaniel with a quizzical expression.

“What is it?” asked Nathaniel with a broad smile.  He took a great draught of the sea air. “Isn’t it a grand thing to be sailing around the bay?”

“So, it would seem,” said Kustav, returning the smile. “If you don’t mind me saying so, I haven’t seen you looking this relaxed and happy since… well, since your marriage to Her Majesty.”

Nathaniel laughed. “Probably not.  Life hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs since then. But this… this is something I know how to do, something I can control. I was with the Haskins Shipping Company for many years before… before I was changed…”  He took another lungful of the sea air. “I just hadn’t realised just how much I missed being at sea.”  He turned suddenly, “Watch out those for’ard sails!”  He nodded with satisfaction as the crew sprang into action and turned back to Kustav. “The sea was my home for many years. How could I not be happy?”

Kustav smiled, “Why indeed. It is good to see you so. If you don’t mind me saying so, you have seemed somewhat melancholy of late.”

Nathaniel nodded. “Indeed, I have. I miss Maric. I miss Queen Valene. I miss Wren and the rest of my children, and of course I miss my wife. She, at least does occasionally come back.”  He looked up at Kustav. “Sometimes, I even miss the days when I didn’t have responsibility for a whole town.” He runs his hand over the wheel. “Whereas, this is freedom…”  H e sighed, and sobered slightly. “Well, sort of. As Master of this vessel, I am bound to her just as much as I am bound to Mysthaven.”

Kustav nodded. “I understand. There is a bond between a captain and his vessel. A different bond from that which binds me to you, or to the town, but, perhaps, not so different. It’s a bond for which we would both die.”

Nathaniel reached across and clapped Kustav on the shoulder. “Exactly, my friend, exactly.” He stepped forward and called down to the crew. “Let go the mainsail. Let’s see what this vessel can do.”

A few hours later, Nathaniel and his crew had successfully manoeuvred the Bold Admiral around the bay a few times, and then circumnavigated the island before bringing her deftly back to the pier. Once the ship was safely moored, Nathaniel invited the crew up on the deck with him. “Well done lads, you have more than proved your worth. Soon, we’ll be ready for a real voyage. Well done again. The drinks are on me back up at the tavern tonight. But first…”  He disappeared into the cabin and emerged a short while later with a tray, a jug and an array of flagons. “But first, some grog.”  He filled each of the flagons and passed them around. He raised his own flagon. “To the Bold Admiral, and her gallant crew.”

“The Bold Admiral,” they echoed back, and quaffed their grog.

A Sailor’s Life