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





Sail Away

I cannot begin to imagine the magical forces that were occasioned by the passing of Lord Maric. The cycle of the year turned through the vernal equinox and light gained the upper hand over darkness. Gwyneth, my beloved wife and Seelie Queen returned from her seasonal seclusion, bringing the promise of spring and love renewed. And, as we have done before, we enacted the rite. Maric, in his guise of the Winter King, passed the baton to her, in her guise as Summer Queen. The wheel turned, and life was renewed.

But not all life. For this was to be the last time for Maric. For over a thousand years, he had held off the spectre of death, sustained by the power of the blood that flowed in his veins, but this was to be his last battle. Strange that our victory over Gwythyr, the late Unseelie King, was to prove his undoing.  He knew it, of course, as did I when he chose to hand on the Lordship of Mysthaven and mastery of his castle to me, and I suspect he knew that the equinox rite would be his final act.

And so, with the kiss that sealed the rite, that passed power to my Queen, he was gone. My master, my mentor, my lord, sometimes my lover, and most of all, my friend, became one with the earth. Thus passed that most ancient vampire, the Winter King, and with him, the Huntsman – that noble spirit brought low by the corruption and madness of the Seelie King. And in that passing, in that change of the seasons, great changes were wrought on the land – reshaping and renewing the places we knew, both human and faerie.

Now, the village of Mysthaven stands high in the branches of the Mallorn tree, floating islands of rock held fast in the tree’s branches by forces I do not know or understand. And below us, human land, and faerie, girt once again by shining sea. A new land for old.

Whatever the forces that shaped it, there was, I suspect had some sense of humour, or perhaps, one last act of will from Lord Maric for me, his friend.  There are little details for which I can find no other explanation. Down below the castle rock, on a little promontory, there is a small cottage. I believe this is the cottage by the sea that I had long promised Gwyneth as a haven from our respective lives and positions. Not quite, perhaps, the design I had envisaged when first we conceived the idea, but on reflection, it is something I might have conceived of in my wistful longing for my nautical past, resembling as it does a truncated lighthouse. It is octagonal in plan, with a balcony around the upper storey and a central lantern for light. How this came to be, I do not know. Perhaps the forces that shaped the land on Maric’s death passed through my mind and in turn were shaped by it. However it came to be; I shall take it for a gift and strive to make it the place where Gwyn and I can cast off our positions, our ranks, her crown and my coronet (not that I would wear such a thing, even if I knew which style was appropriate to my rank) and just be ourselves – friends, lovers, husband and wife.

There is yet more strange humour to be found in the things that those magical forces have wrought. From my little pier here at the cottage, I look across a small bay enclosed by the promontory, and there, moored serenely at a pier, there is a ship. A ship of sail, rather than the ships of steam I served upon, but nevertheless, not beyond my capability, for I did some of my basic training on such. Unlike the Bold Admiral, this one I could not sail alone. I would have to train a crew. But, to where would I sail it? Perhaps I have it in me to do as Alec did and sail by the dark of moon, to other realms, there to trade gold for food and supplies. In that, I would be on familiar ground, for that is what I used to do aboard the Odiham Castle and the ships that I served on before her. On such a vessel, I could carry far more supplies than I could ever manage pushing a small wagon through the Shadow Roads. Perhaps, again, those magical forces read my mind and fashioned this vessel for that very purpose. I do not know, but I cannot think of any other reason for it to be here, or what other purpose it might have.

The sight of it, however, also casts me in a melancholy mood, recalling the days immediately before I left that Isle of Legacies that was London. Then, as now, the world was changing, except that one was being sucked further into the unreachable depths of the Nexus. Then, as now, many of the friends I knew and loved, were gone, my dearest Valene then, and again now. And then, I found myself on the deck of the ship that was my home – the Bold Admiral – looking out to sea and finding it calling to me, calling me to sail away. To where, I do not know. To find Valene? Well, I don’t doubt I could find her if I walked the Roads long enough, and I would rather that she found me, when she is ready. To find Wren? That, I am sure I could do, but I suspect this vessel would cause considerable comment wherever she has gone, as I am sure she has returned to the time she knew well, with its nets for catching inters, and its TV and moving pictures. No, for her, I would step across the realms as Alec taught me. Giada, perhaps? Except she knows her way here to the Wylds, and would return here if she so desired. Or just to explore? Perhaps, but I know not what I might find, or where or when I might find myself? Even if I did, would it satisfy that vague longing? I do not know. And for all that the sea calls to me, so does this place. This is my home now. I have a wife here, to love, and the last of my children, Bronwyn, to take care of. And I have duty too. I swore an oath. I swore that I would uphold the legacy that Maric left me and defend my people and the town of Mysthaven. And while it stands, I must stand with it. And should I ever be in the position to hand on that duty, well, the sea will still be there. One day, perhaps, I will sail away, but that day is not today.

Sail Away