This story is a work of fiction. It contains references to both sexual and violent behaviour, along with expressions of physical affection. If you find this type of story offensive, or if you are underage and it is illegal for you to read it, please exit now. All characters are fictional and in no way related to any persons living or deceased. Any such similarity is purely coincidental and uncanny.
This work is copyrighted by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written consent of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the provisions of their submission guidelines but it may not be copied or archived onto any other site without the direct consent of the author.
I do not know how well-received these chapters are. The only clues I get are in emails from readers. Do you like the story? Hate it? Have liked it since its emergence? Feel it is getting too obsessive? Not Tarantino enough? Think Evendal should take a vow of silence? Let me know.
I can be contacted at Bookwyrm6@yahoo.com
Special thanks to Rob for editing.
Copyright 2003 Kristopher R. Gibbons. All rights reserved by the author.
39 Remember Thee?
Hamlet: Remember thee?
Ay, thou poor ghost, whilst memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5, lines 95-101
Minfal shouted, "Something strange 'yon the bows! Relative bearing na'na'wes."(236)
"Kri, will you suffer Surn-meddil to keep you 'til I am standing?"
Kri-estaul nodded, wide-eyed with worry. "Whatever you need, Papa."
The figure of Surn-meddil bent down and picked up the Prince with apparent ease. Evendal levered himself onto his haunches, and then onto his feet, a lot less gracefully. Kri-estaul kept his gaze fixed on his father, until Surn-meddil's sessile made a point of whispering something long and involved in the boy's ear.
Kri-estaul flinched and his eyes got wider. "Truly? How come he's never said anything?"
Again Surn-meddil's form bent to whisper, and Kri-estaul's lips twitched and flexed in response.
"'Tis for no other's ears until," Surn-meddil bade.
"I hope he likes me."
The spectre gave out a laugh. "Name me anyone yet breathing who has met you and not liked you."
"Wytthenroeg," dropped reflexively out of the child's mouth.
Surn-meddil spoke for the absent. "She likes you right well, Kri. Would you have been half as soft-voiced after your cutting were you without Aldul's potions to dull your pain?"
"I felt like crying like a baby, even so. I am just glad it does not hurt so now. Why?"
"Wytthenroeg was as kind as her pain allowed. Face her another day, and she may prove more demonstrative. Also," here the ancient hesitated until Evendal nodded his sanction, "she responded the way she felt would most provoke and comfort her son. Your father welcomed her calm but sharp and unbuffered manner after mornings and nights with those Mausna typhoons that were his royal father and princess foster-mother."
"But why would she behave like that when he is older, his father dead, and foster-mother not important any longer?"
"Kri-estaul," Surn-meddil's fabricated face smiled to prevent any thought of censure. "I recall my father's visage and manner and character perfectly, and I am many centuries old. And Onkira will never lose significance in your Papa's life. Death does not release a person's hold on you."
"I don't remember my father," Kri-estaul mumbled, alarming Evendal. "And, sometimes, I cannot recall what Mama looked like. Though I made myself describe her when I was all alone."
Drussilikh and the King shared troubled gazes. "See the Typika or the Limners. Your choice," Evendal advised. "Our thesaurus."
Surn-meddil ignored the non sequitur. "My matter is that Wytthenroeg knew her first fronting with her royal son would be a meeting of memories, and gave what she recalled of her studied manner. Do not judge her, for she will have not judged you at all when next you meet. You will find her your dearest friend, I wager."
"She did that deliberately?" Evendal blurted, dismayed.
The spectre made a grin. "Your mother, lad, is a rascal and a caution."
As they chatted, the sighted oddity had gotten closer and clearer to see: a ship, apparently outracing a bit of fog. It worked its way north from between the Sceptre and the Witness in a feinting pattern, fitfully hugging the Sceptre in an apparent effort to avoid the celebrants crushing around Traitor's Wash. The reason for the almost drunken meandering became clear when the visitor lay due west of them and began to approach. It sported a carbuncular addition to its hull large enough, certainly with enough mass, to disrupt any seaman's mastery of a vessel.
The King glanced aft. The people waiting at the harbour had set up tents for themselves, to diminish the winter wind's power.
From the general direction of Traitor's Wash, the patch of fog took on an oily luminescence as it curled and roiled toward the Down, continuing to move in with the approaching vessel. Uneasy, Evendal held himself in tense anticipation. But when the fog's edge stayed ever behind the errant ship, as though herding it, Evendal wondered who would rouse first, Melianth or Alekrond's mate.
Melianth returned, the woman's naturally voluptuous form rendered disturbingly radiant in childbearing. "What passes, Your Majesty? What does this mean?"
"We are not certain, but We suspect some great working on the part of Our Swordbrother."
"Swordbrother? What Swordbrother?"
"The Sea," he explained helpfully. "Be advised by Us in this: No divers, no unregarded moves, but have the boat ready."
The first mate stepped up, scowling. "Sod that! If I see Alekrond I am not simply standing here!"
"Ierwbae," Evendal murmured. The Guard bound the first mate and gagged her.
"Melianth, do you want every boat in Osedys wrecked on reef and the debris from hundreds of past sinkings? Do you want a tide the likes of which no one has ever seen, killing off all fishing, ruining every single waterway? The first idiot that jumps in for Alekrond -- who is not yet in any danger -- will die. Are We clear on this? We will kill them Ourselves. You continue to question Us on matters We cannot be forthright about. Cannot."
"So my husband is aboard that craft? In that appendage?"
"We would say so, until We learn otherwise."
"Captain!" a voice summoned urgently abaft. Melianth narrowed her eyes, dissatisfied, and ignored the call.
"Ahoýlkati!"(237) she shouted, in a bellow worthy of her spouse. "Ahoýlkati,get the horn!"
"Mistress?" quavered a sleep-weak voice. "What passes?"
"Move your drink-sodden bones, you barnacle! We have a visitor, in from Witness. Signal them approach us. Now!"
"How did they get past...?"
A furious Melianth raced toward the questioner. Eventually Melianth's message went out in the vessel's direction, from a broad-chested woman with what looked like a ram's horn. Aldul also argued with Melianth that a Temple healer more nimble than himself might prove a wise precaution, so a boat made a fast run to the mainland.
When the Counsellor was as far out of earshot as she could be, Kri-estaul asked, "Would you truly kill a seaman, just for wanting to rescue their captain?"
"I would have to. And not for wanting to aid their duke, but for acting on that want. Such an action would be as invading, as declaring war against our oldest ally."
"What ally? Who?"
"The only names I have ever known for her(238) are 'Moonchild,' 'Llyssh,' 'the Ancient of the Sea' or 'Swordbrother.' No names that clarified her nature. She is the reason all these reefs exist, their architect, and the formation that they have -- encompassing the peninsula and the bay so -- is her plan. When we first arrived here, we were offered shelter; we were offered a way through the reefs. We would never have made it to Osedys otherwise. This was someone's home we were invited to share. She did not understand us, nor did we understand her, but she had experience with peaceful co-existence through dealings with whales and their mite-eaters."
"Why have I never heard of her?"
"Two good reasons, my son. She has her own life, her own realm where she is ruler absolute, nurturer, and predator. Unless you have learned how to breathe water, you would never encounter her. With reefs in such abundance, we have never suffered poachers-of-coral. Do you not recall Mar-Kestlen? Did you never wonder why the Throne punishes only those pearl divers caught this side of the Witness, the Sceptre, and Shield Cay, but punishes them more stringently than horse thieves? And I know your next question. Why does no one know? Do you think either she, or the royal family, would survive long if everyone knew of her existence and our accord? Those not terrified by her would see her as the means to power. That is the second reason."
"What is this, Papa? What is happening now?"
"'Tis the Moonchild honouring my request of her, to bring Alekrond's son home."
"We bring the driftwood-reef of your vassal's pup." The words hissed weakly, barely audible above the chop of the water against the ship. "He would not leave it, nor its algae-eaters and mites, Spine-brother. A stubborn, strong, and wayward guppy."
Evendal looked down. A thin manubrium extended out of the waves like the stem of a hibiscus flower, no body visible beneath the befogged and glare-gilded surface. The King knew to take her speech literally. "You tested him? Is he well?" Kri-estaul stared, and gripped his Papa more tightly.
"We hoped to extract him from his reef. He bound himself fast to its outcroppings. He is... whole."
"Merely 'whole' is not what you pledged!" Evendal growled, his stomach knotting. "'Safe and safely home' means safe from you as clearly as it means safe from any enemy."
The manubrium pulsed and swayed about in agitation. "We do not know what assails him. It is not incised in our memories. His gills still move, his eyes blink in your disconcerting way. If you would encompass him, and let us know if we have failed you... We ask this of our Spine-brother and the Limb of Our Ambition."
"Thunders!" Evendal whispered. "You don't ask much, just everything! Very well."
Satisfied with their brief discussion, the manubrium submerged.
"What is this, Your Majesty?" Melianth dared to approach again, gesturing at the fog now about them and echoing Kri-estaul's recent query.
"Some of Our agents and agencies prefer to labour in obscurity, Lady Melianth. Will this impede Our boarding the Swan Song?"
"You know that ship? Is it truly the Swan Song?"
The excited woman's voice was starting up a headache. "No. And of course it is. Why?"
"That was the best bark in my man's catena of ships. The ship he said Kàrondéo took when the boy fled."
Amusement mitigated Evendal's irritation. "That 'boy' is nigh onto Our age, Lady Melianth, and yours. But We ask again, will this miasma impede Our boarding?"
"Only if Kàrondéo still harbours injurious pride toward his father and refuses to anchor."
Kri-estaul interrupted, peeved. "Papa, I'm weary. But I don't want to sleep through any happenstance." He clearly struggled against gravity's pull on his eyelids.
"Sleep, child. Your body simply begs for the wisest course. Surn-meddil can apprise you of matters vital or dear should any wash our way."
"Oh. Okay." And Kri-estaul closed his eyes again. The brevity of his son's response shocked the King. Alarmed, he scooped the eight-year-old up and moved to a lantern, unable to use his eyes' glow as others could. The closer and mundane light shed the effects of fog-diffused sun, and showed naught but a sleep-hungry child. Evendal relaxed.
As one summoned, Surn-meddil approached and addressed the Prince first, "Let me tend Your Highness." Facing the King, the spectre let his voice sound lugubrious. "Your Majesty's wyrd(239) awaits you on board that vessel."
Surprised but unimpressed, Evendal merely raised an eyebrow. "Should We not permit Melianth first foot?"
But the woman approached again, motioning to the windlass and capstan. "Your Majesty, while I appreciate your gentility, I would be of no value in confronting the... barnacle that assuredly hosts my spouse. So I tender that we both haul to the Swan Song first, the healers second."
"'Tis fair counsel."
As they neared the ship, the fog had begun to thin and signs of conflict old and new became evident: What must previously have been a beautiful prow, of a swan salient, looked battle-scarred, the neck chipped at repeatedly, the wings seared, fire bitten. The sprit-yard swung from two places, cracked into two pieces yet connected by a failed bandage of rope, held aloft by slap-dashed repairs to stays. Barrel staves served as planking, hull reinforcement, and curved crenellations, not to counter rot as there was none. The vessel had seen conflict.
Once beside the ship, Evendal noted a reflective gelatine streaking the planking above the wale.
"Grant me the solace that you did not reveal yourself rashly," Evendal murmured to his imagining of Llyssh, knowing it for a futile plea.
After several halts during his exhausting ascension -- sitting in counsel and judgement every day did nothing to strengthen the sinews -- the King joined Melianth up on the ship proper. The view from the deck affirmed what the hull asserted: Wounded seamen stood and sat in misery and near-catatonia. Loose items kept abovedecks and generally deemed too weighty to bother lashing down, like barrels of sand or fermenting cod, lay shattered or splayed about.
The foremast had held against some kind of assault. Singe marks and splintering began mere finger-lengths above eye level and continued upward. Drooping like a marionette, a solid hulk of a man sat tethered in tangled, but now loose, coils of hemp.
The way the slumped man's black hair curled rebelliously in every direction dried Evendal's mouth. The perceived width of the fellow's torso and length of the fingers of his large hands chased all the air from the King's lungs. He paused, waiting for the ship to stop tilting so wildly, only to realise that the ship was not veering. The vertigo was all his own.
Frantic to lay siege to the ship's pliant but unbreachable appendix, Melianth returned to Evendal, who in turned clamped a grip of adamant on her forearm and took in a needed if noisy breath.
"Your Majesty!" she protested, her gaze fixed aft and starboard, where the polyp flexed with each shift of wind.
"Kar... Kàrondéo!" Evendal ald'Menam warbled in an agony of self-flagellation. "How could I forget? How?"
"What are you yammering about?" the seafarer demanded, the nearness of her spouse rendering any soupçon of tact utter illusion.
Evendal m'Alismogh rounded on the woman. "Our purpose here is not to rescue your husband, who is in no peril. At this moment, the captain and crew of this ship need Our salve and succour more."
"How do you know he is not dead or dying in that... that disgusting crèche?"
The King dragged the resisting woman toward the mast. "Because We hear his heart beating as clearly as We hear your thoughts about Our uselessness. He is alive, his heart is steady and at rest." He pointed down at the sagging figure encoiled, and then himself dropped on his haunches beside the insensible man. "Melianth olm'Shenrowyn, We present Kàrondéo lin'Alekrond, who has been wounded in ways no chirurgeon can counter. Can you posit Alekrond's haviour should We release him from that encasement to witness his son's disposition?"
Melianth forced herself to mimic a calm she did not feel, shelved her obsession, and set about pulling cloths from cargo.
The King took them off her hands with a pointed glance at the ram's horn hanging from her shoulder. "While We comfort the lucid, you need to signal the other boats to come," he directed. As Melianth complied, Evendal settled many of the blankets where he felt them most needed.
When Evendal again stood up and viewed the deck, he felt a frisson of dread, as memory superimposed flashes from other, more grisly, times.
*****"My being here endangered you, all of you."
Kàrondéo had no argument against that assertion, as they both were binding the burns and cuts of an unconscious crew-woman whose only crime was being on the same ship with m'Alismogh. Smoke, the stench of burning tar, heat, and the sound of moaning surrounded them, so he chose a different tack. "This attack shows your lords up for oppressors, vermin on the body of all people, both citizens and strangers. And I want you here, at my side for as long as you also freely want to be." The woman they flanked cursed at her pain...
Kàrondéo fell as his chair dropped. From the floor, the privateer reflexively took his now emptied tankard and swung it over his shoulder. It connected, and one of his assailants roared in surprise. Grabbed suddenly, Kàrondéo went boneless. With his impressive mass it made lifting him near impossible, so they struggled just to keep him in place. Once the attackers had shifted their weight and centre of balance, Kàrondéo quickly pushed himself up and flung his arms out, causing his aggressors to fall backwards onto their table.
Three of the tavern's alecamels recovered nearly in concert, and approached him and Kàrondéo.
"Have you learned the finer arts?" Kàrondéo asked him.
"Yes, but that won't be necessary." Concern for his friend mixed with annoyance at the boors...*****
Every image or stray action out of memory included the same steady and reassuring mass at his side: the man at the mast whom he could barely face, whose heart thundered more forcefully in his head than Alekrond's or anyone else's. He set out to avoid the insensible captain like an unmitigating source of pain, and decided to aid the weak but clear-thinking crewmembers tending their mates.
At second perusal, the Swan Song seemed battered but as seaworthy and sound as any ship. The crew was another story altogether. Eventually, Melianth and Evendal counted fifteen crewmembers out of what they had been told were originally twenty-eight. Five ambulatory crewmembers ministered dazedly to ten convalescents. Blisters, paralysis, limbs eaten at as if by leprosy, burns, and whip marks not made by leather, all testified to extraordinary struggles.
Such was the desperate struggle in his urge to procrastinate that he never thought to question the cause of these seamen's dishevelment, of the wounds and caustic degradation. The King simply went about retrieving more blankets for the shock-ridden, or cloths, bindings, and fresh water from the barrels for those with still bleeding sores or burns.
"Son of my line," a voice rumbled in his right ear, "the moment arrives."
Evendal m'Alismogh paused in binding a makeshift leg brace and, looking up from his work, recalled where he was and how much time must have passed. The Temple had tolled the midday and now marked its half-bell.
"Mother," he breathed, then flushed in anger at himself for that mis-speaking. Surn-meddil's interruption also awoke Evendal to the question yet unanswered in Onkira's execution, and moved him to his feet and toward the ship's starboard frame.
Only just noticed, a humming pressure had been assaulting the back of Evendal's neck; he had no better description for the discomfort. When he looked to the Wash he saw what he first thought were the pinpricks of light that resulted from standing too swiftly, and then knew them for something more. These sparks and their movements were deliberate and ordered, not random. And they(240) kept to an invisible limit, against which they pressed and flared.
After a moment of silent observing, as the lights multiplied they took on a pattern for m'Alismogh. Prior to the statues and pedestal for the duumvirate, the centre of the Palace courtyard had once held a fountain, a simple and elegant spring called Sendrilion. Onkira's heaving carcass reminded the King of a grotesque Sendrilion from which these sparks gushed, only to crash in brighter scintillation against the imposed limits of the precipice of Traitor's Wash and then flow back to tear at the clothing of the bodies trapped against the stone and moss.
As Onkira lost her last fight against the risen sea, the apparent spume of sparkles from her body increased. It pulsed and flared against the submerged limit of the cay's boundary. Evendal collapsed against a crenellation and retched air and saliva where his throat said water was refusing to escape. Lines of fire ran down from his and Onkira's hands to their numb shoulders and Evendal could swear his chest was being torn out repeatedly without mercy or pause. A small reassuring and cruel voice in his head told him he yet breathed. His legs unwittingly pounded the deck in desperate protest as counterparts of the phosphenes encasing and devouring Onkira cavorted behind Evendal's rolling, glowing eyes.
Melianth watched what Evendal could not of the display of light. Sparks and waves of sparks formed into a cone of spray striving to dissipate upward, only to fall back upon Onkira and turn her alb into yet a thinner weave of cloth, then into a net, as they devoured where they could not escape.
The sparks increased still in intensity, so that brightness covered what the gown no longer could. Melianth felt certain that the strange lights continued to consume even after the clothing's total annihilation, with not a single pinpoint eluding the mysterious bounds set around the Wash.
The Maritime Counsellor looked briefly away from the spectacle when Evendal's feet ceased to rap against the planking and his stentorian breathing calmed. With a moment's flush of shame at her distracted inaction, Melianth helped her King to sit up, and, eventually, to stand, both of their gazes fixed on Traitor's Wash.
"Do you also see? The lights?" Evendal whispered. Melianth nodded her head in the affirmative.
The cone of flashes had flattened as it grew even brighter, into a hemisphere, as finely and distinctly shaped as anything made of stone or metal. Patterns, curls and curlicues, straight lines and planar forms, played against the limits like spells cast for freedom -- in vain. The deliberate compositions flared briefly, perceived but unrecognised. The hemisphere of glitterings faded and it seemed to Evendal that the sparks collided with each other to effect their diminution. As the brilliance diminished the limitation became indistinct, the point at which the glamour's boundary met the tide indistinguishable from any other expanse of water. When the phosphenes had utterly dissolved, they left behind two carcasses and a submerged carbuncle of stone clean of any moss or algae, but riddled with manufactured lineation.
After several breaths of uncertainty, Melianth pointed. "Did those... lights make the sigils?"
Diverted, Evendal slowly tendered an answer. "No," he said, absently rubbing an elbow. "From my struggles on that rock my arm bears such a sigil. It must have come from a facing even then uncushioned by the fungus of the sea. What we are seeing is a sign of Hramal's plagiary ethos." Let Melianth think he referred to Hramal using what the Forest-dwellers, whom the Hramal had pressed back into the east centuries ago, might have left behind, and not suspect that some submarine ally excoriated the cay toward an ecumenical need. Either could be the truth.
Whether Forest-dwellers or Llyssh etched the stone, it had served the royal purpose, and Evendal got the answer to his worry over the rightness of Onkira's ordeal. Her body aspersed and dispersed, her companions' bodies remaining for the common predators to devour.
Hauled aboard, the priest summoned from the mainland set about with alacrity, a robust woman having five decades and a swift dexterity in cleaning and salving wounds, setting bones, and numbing pain.
Only when the third boat arrived to secure the Swan Song could Melianth drag Evendal back to the person he had kept in his field of vision, his reluctant focus throughout his efforts. The crew had been replaced from Alekrond's other vessels with the minimum needed to man it, with its original crew being boated to shore.
Kàrondéo shook with cold, despite the cloth Evendal had sought to cocoon him in. The priest, Elathyrcui(241), unwrapped him and surveyed the seaman's body, with the King as close as her shadow. The torso bore wens and abrasions, and minor pinpricks surrounding one discoloured insertion-point in the man's left upper arm.
"Do you think you could keep the arm immobile?"
"Yes!" Evendal asserted, then qualified, "If he does not throw his full weight around. Why?"
"I expect that what punctured him is one of these, headed for his superior vena cava." Elathyrcui picked up a quill from what looked like the crushed remains of an urchin. "And the needle is still imbedded."
"Patience, Lady," Evendal m'Alismogh heard himself saying. His gore-speckled, gloved right hand stroked the exposed swatch of puffed skin as he hummed. The tones ran up and down a range, finally settling on a note low in his register. As he continued to pet the man's arm, fluids -- at first clear and then bloody -- flowed out of the break in the skin; finally a thumb-length narrow grey spine forced itself halfway out.
Unfazed, Elathyrcui snatched the quill out completely, then put her lips to the wound. After spitting blood and pus, she asked with a deliberate drawl, "Where have you been all my life? I could have used you in Kwo-eda during the Mausna campaigns. Can you do that for every body?"
Now anxious, the King felt no tolerance for levity or amusement. "We do not know. We know that We will not. Is he well?"
Elathyrcui pulled a coin out of a satchel and ran it lightly over Kàrondéo's torso. Starting at the crown she tapped it twice on parts of the head, once on the neck, once near the heart, and three times in a line below the ribs. The last tap she made over the generative organs. Finally, she rubbed the coin across the fingertips of both hands and dropped it back in her satchel.
"No poison or toxicity." Elathyrcui declared crisply. "But he must have made Healer's Milk his fast-break, nuncheon, and supp every day for several sennights." She gripped an arm to expose stark pink and white mottling. "Rope burns. Some scalds and keloids. Fresh. A lethal creature wanted him off this ship."
"We would appreciate you not announcing that last item to the commons. 'Tis a singular event. Is he still beset by those corrosives as formed his scalds?"
"No. Either he was washed down promptly or the creature's toxins had only a fleeting potency."
"Then why is he not alert and aware?"
"Exhaustion and shock. We need to find a place out of the wind, or get these unfortunates ashore and before hearth fires."
"Is that all that is left to labour toward?"
"Then come with Us. You also, good Counsellor Melianth." And Evendal ald'Menam strode port and fore to the opalescent egg-shape affixed to the ship's planking.
Like a huge pearlescent ovoid fashioned out of canvas, the barnacle flexed and billowed with the wind. Getting as close as they dared, neither Evendal nor Melianth found any seam or break. It stayed held in its place by the fact of being encompassed by the nets, ropes, and stays typical of a caravel.
"Do we cut into it?" Elathyrcui asked in a hushed, awestruck voice. "I have some knives..."
"I think not," the King replied, thoughtfully. "This offspring either needs to be whelped, or spoken to." And m'Alismogh began a weak hum; almost half-hearted in the way it faded and returned. Though the sound faded at times, Evendal yet forced air through his larynx, maintaining a vibration.
Soon a patch thinned near the bottom. The ovoid stretched to an ellipse as, conceding to the press of the weight within, a pair of studded boots fell through the weakened spot to be followed by the rest of Alekrond. Having relinquished its charge, the strange crèche flailed about like a suddenly energised prisoner, freed itself from the encircling ropes, and then floated away from the ship to land in the water and quickly sink into invisibility.
"What did you just do?" Melianth demanded as she knelt down.
Evendal shrugged. "It is how the gambolers, the porpoise, convey matters to one another, so I thought a poor human approximation might serve."
"I for one will be most contented when you return to land, Your Majesty. Then I will not have to face the ways in which I am ignorant."
Evendal let Melianth's declaration stand, not caring what she meant by it. Alekrond, apparently whole and unscathed, blinked open his eyes and groaned. "Someone has taken a hammer to my guts!"
"That will pass, We expect. We have no idea what was employed to put you to sleep."
"Was it worth my ordeal?"
Evendal kept himself from nodding, suddenly uncertain. "Your son and the bark he left in are returned, both the worse for wear."
The Maritime Counsellor said nothing, but stood under his own power, looked about, and strode to the mainmast. His first words, on looking down at his insensible son, were for his spouse. "Please look around, love, and find some strong drink."
With Melianth out of whisper range, Alekrond turned to Evendal. "Your Majesty?"
"To all appearances she tried to bring him, and only him, back here. He baulked at abandoning his crew."
Alekrond gestured to the chipping and burns in the mast. "And these?"
"I doubt she spoke to him, Alekrond. We gave her no provisos, no limitations in her methods, and fear can accomplish much. But she had never faced the intransigent honour of the K'rond."
"He is a son to be proud of. Wherefore the strange expression, Your Majesty?"
Evendal took a deep breath before he answered. "I know him, Master Alekrond."
"I do not recall..."
"You would not. He and I met sometime within the past nine years."
"I do not know."
"Your memory, Your Majesty, can be a useless annoyance."
"Yes, it can."
Melianth returned, flask in hand. Alekrond took a swig, and then poured a dose onto his son's eyes.
Kàrondéo's eyes fluttered reflexively, then blinked a few times. "Hail and lightning!" he gasped, coming awake in a hurry. The first person he could focus on was Alekrond, making him sit up in alarm. "Father?"
"I welcome you back, my son."
"You are back in your home waters."
"I do not understand. My crew?"
"We counted fifteen aboard ship. We have taken them ashore and replaced them for the nonce. How do you fare?"
Kàrondéo tried to shrug, and winced. "I hurt in a way I have never experienced before, so it is hard to tell. Fear not, father. As soon as the season permits, I shall leave."
Alekrond shook his head vehemently. "No. I most abjectly beg of you, my son, do not. You need not flee my selfish cruelty again."
"Am I to credit this new temper? My truancy doubtless pressed on you a marriage bed unwanted, a shame to be gilded over, explanations to fabricate and enforce. Is this my death hour that you treat with me so gentle?"
The Maritime Counsellor shook his head again and then said, seemingly apropos of nothing, "The Wolf and the Golem(242) are passed. There is no one to demand answers of us."
Kàrondéo gaped. "You play me. What do you want of me now, father?"
"Your happiness, for yourself. I know now what you dared not tell me. What you were right to only hint at. But no treasured lie or delusion has the place in my heart that you rule. Long ago I fled my father, afraid I would come to act and think as he. And I did so act, against you."
"I cannot be or do as you want."
"Yes you can. You can continue to breathe, can you not?"
"Then as long as you do so you cannot disappoint me."
Kàrondéo changed subjects. "The Wolf and the Abacus are ash?"
"How came we by such felicity?"
Alekrond waved at the figure behind him. "Through Menam's son returned."
The young man looked past his father and his eyes widened, his breath hitched in his throat.
"Greetings, beloved," Evendal whispered. Melianth mirrored Kàrondéo's expression, but at the King's familiarity.
"Why? How? Is it truly you?" His arms lifted.
As one wading through a pond of tar, Evendal knelt and, with the reluctance of uncertainty, embraced Kàrondéo. His throat closed up with the welter of feelings at conflict in him. He felt a relief in resting his head on Kàrondéo's shoulder, well beyond any purely physical comfort. And at the same time he felt like a mountebank: he knew what this man meant to him, but he could not recall why.
After a long, agonising moment, Kàrondéo released him with a look of confusion knitting his brow. The King's ambivalence must have conveyed itself.
"Kàrondéo," Evendal muttered in apology. "I do not remember much."
"What do you mean?" Fear, wariness, had begun to sculpt Kàrondéo's features.
"I know I feel strongly for you," he explained haltingly, red-faced. "But I do not recollect how that came to be so. Or where."
"Alta," Kàrondéo responded dazedly.
"Of course," Evendal murmured, chagrined. "Azure field. Argent harp. Vert willow."(243)
"Where did you go? Why?"
"I can give no good answers yet..."
"Then... then I would the answers wait," Kàrondéo decided desperately, forcing a halt to discussion. "Can we get out of the wind and cold? I am freezing my kidneys(244) off."
Melianth looked to her King.
Though he also had had his fill of wet winter weather, Evendal acceded with evident reluctance. "The tides have done their duty, and so have We. This rite is accomplished and We can return home. Madame Melianth, if you or Master Alekrond would signal the completion, and everyone's freedom from this obligation, We can Ourselves head back to port."
"Will you not need to retrieve His...?"
Evendal held up his hand and looked out toward Swan's Down. "We trust Our kinsmen will likely be ashore awaiting Us."
So it proved.
Melianth, in the second boat, was sent back to Swan's Down with the royal directive; she would then return and retrieve Elathyrcui. Evendal, as King, took the boat that brought him, with a shaky and weary Alekrond, to land. Kàrondéo, recumbent upon Elathyrcui's advising, was deemed too bulky to travel with another passenger safely; he got hoisted down, and was eased into the recently returned third boat by its rowers.
"Why did you say nothing of this? Your Majesty." Alekrond rasped at Evendal once they were moving.
The King took a deep breath before answering. "That I knew your son? I held no clear memory of him until I saw him on deck. No name to go with the figure from my sleep."
"You dreamt of him?"
"So I just admitted, Alekrond. And oft felt the need for his company, though I could not put a name or face to that need."
After a pause, Alekrond commented neutrally, "That must have been disquieting."
Evendal stopped staring at the horizon and locked his anguished gaze with Alekrond's worried one. "Maddening. Painful. Frustrating. To get only recent and inconsequential events when I seek whole memories to connect to my feelings and memory details. To know that I had loved and been loved by someone who might yet live. Somewhere. To dream of him and not recall the face I had dreamed so carelessly."
"You loved him faithfully? You can say that?" The look on the older man's face was hard, angry.
"Yes," Evendal asserted, his chin lifting absurdly in defiance, suddenly aware of the rowers' silent attentiveness. "That has not changed. I am reasonably certain we did not part. Rather were we separated, by whatever set me in Aldul's path."
"So you contend now that Your Majesty is a puppet? The pawn of another?"
Evendal grinned, a mirthless stretch of lips. "The King has always been that, Alekrond. Such is what it means to rule well. Do the needs and well-being of your crew have no influence in your decisions as captain? Regardless, I fear that whatever we nurtured between us in the past will remain there."
"It matters not why I left him, what matters is my leaving. Without warning, I am certain."
The King's words seemed to stoke Alekrond's rage. "My son is no sponge-head! If you vanished without a ripple of warning, he would stay by the spot wherein you disappeared until he died of old age waiting for your return. Whether you were lover or crew. You do not think very highly of him."
"I know how I feel, how he felt, and little else. What has you in such a temper?"
"What shall my son be, to you or to others?"
"If he would permit, my honoured and honourable spouse."
"Not 'queen-consort' to your 'king'?"
"'Consort' in the old sense of private partner, sharer? Yes, used between us only. Otherwise? No. He is his own man, and your son. His authority shall be only what you grant him as your heir, and what he bears as himself."
They had arrived.
Three large tents now filed back in one column down the pier. Small braziers on tripods comforted the peerage waiting and conversing within each shell of canvas. Alekrond examined the contents of each tent from the boat and grinned. It took Evendal a few moments to perceive the cause: there was no order. Manorlord Gwl-lethry conversed fervently with Guildmaster 'Udles-talm of the Shipwrights, Rosette emissary Melisto was in earnest but pleasant converse with Edrionwytt, and Heamon of the Cinqet listened solemnly to the plaints of Silversmith Mek-Rwathil. In his mercurial memory he had never witnessed a self-induced public disregard for the distinctions between the hereditary gentry and guilds and the commoners.
The King watched until Kàrondéo's barge was secured. The rowers helped the man upright and onto the boardwalk before Evendal approached.
Kàrondéo blinked owlishly. "I cannot talk to you. I do not know what to say, or what to ask." He resisted the tugs of Elathyrcui toward one of the braziers as he contradicted himself. "Do you know me? Remember me at all?"
"I recall you being in fear for my continued breathing on one occasion, challenging me to live. We were on the Swan Song. I remembered the aftermath of an attack against the ship by lords in Alta, and an altercation in a tavern where you asked if I knew how to fight. I dreamt of you, the night before last night, your obsidian eyes and sable hair. You had been drinking sweet beer(245). I could smell it on your breath, it all seemed so real."
"I had been." Kàrondéo yet looked confused. "At one time in that evening of maudlin meanderings I harboured a fancy, a musing, that I was speaking to you. You cannot assure me of your steadfastness, can you?"
"I have accomplished much that was put before me to do. Were I to absent myself, it would all unravel. So I assert that my place is fixed, that I am where I need to be, and where I will need to be hence."
Kàrondéo tried to chuckle. "A 'Yes' would have served."
"I could not give it. Not knowing what motivated my translation -- whether I was pushed or pulled to Kul-Ger."
"Tell me later," the pirate's son insisted. "Grip my hand. I am yet uncertain of your solidity. Forgive me, Malismogh."
Evendal complied, letting his soft palm settle gently on the seaman's much burned and abraded one. "For what do you ask my forgiveness? You know it is given."
"Our last words were harsh. Disputatious. I tasked you with returning home to take up the reins of government. You insisted that whatever had transposed you to Alta would have set you back in Osedys instead, if that were where you were best suited. You were afraid. I was insistent. No, I was harping and nagging. I wanted to go home, to upset the duumvirate."
"If you took up your father's crown, that you would come to repeat his tyrannies. You left ship to walk about, to calm yourself. You did not return."
Alekrond had been listening intently. "What became of the rest of your crew, son?"
"Ten are yet ashore, in the Thronelands annex of Alta. Three are dead. Thunders! I am tired."
Evendal reluctantly removed his hand from Kàrondéo's tight grasp. "Let me set the peers' dispersal in motion. Master Alekrond, if you would guide your son to the chair they acquired for me? It is close to one of the fires, thankfully. Once these good people are gone, and I have acknowledged the service of those gentry being removed from your ships, we can turn to the Palace and escape this dismal weather."
After clearing his throat as best he could of cold-induced effluvium, the King spoke in a voice pitched to carry.
"Good friends, lords, and masters. The tides have done their duty and so have We. This rite is accomplished and all can retire to warmth. If you so choose, that warmth can be the hearth fires of the Palace. We would mark this day. Those of you who mourn the death of Our foster-mother may do so, treating Our hospitality as her due. Those of you relieved by her passing may treat Our invitation as leave to celebrate. We Ourselves shall celebrate. We, however, are not feasting the death of a woman of strength and determination. Rather We rejoice in the return and reunion this day of Our Maritime Counsellor's son and heir with his father. Master Kàrondéo is returned to the love of his family after many years' estrangement. There can be no better cause for celebration.
"You have Our leave to disperse to whatever destination you choose," Evendal bade.
The first boat from the Swan Song arrived shortly after the boat carrying Alekrond's son. Evendal stayed in the shelter of the largest tent, with Kri-estaul and Surn-meddil's semblance, as Drussilikh and Cheselre disembarked. The next boat from the Swan Song should have carried Aldul and Sygkorrin. The Priestess indeed disembarked, but with a blood-stippled and grungy brine-neck at her side. They walked until they were five ells(246) away, upon which the young seaman stopped and knelt while Sygkorrin continued another two ells and bowed.
"Your Majesty, might I present to you one Limmal aldh'Kaider y Gwentton, sister's son of the late Master Polgern ald'Morruth."
(236) 'nah, nah, wes': The dropping of consonants means Minfal is giving direction in relation to the ship; the bow of the ship is taken as "due no'" and an imaginary wind rose is drawn around the ship; objects are then reported as being along a line of bearing through a particular compass direction.
(237) An alarm. A shout covering enough timbre changes to be heard over hard seas.
(238) Just a reminder to the attentive reader: the actual pronouns used are like hän in Finnish, third person gender-inclusive singular. English has no equivalent. I persist in using third person feminine to avoid more confusion than I have already engendered.
(239) Unavoidable result; inevitable effect or conclusion to a sequence of actions or events (usually chronic or terminal).
(242) 'Golem' is an approximation. The descriptive is for a human form of supple clay, capable of movement but hollow inside.
(244) Like the Greek nephroi, a common euphemism for testicles.
(245) Brew whose fermentation has been speeded up with sugar or crystallised honey.
(246) One ell = 45 inches.