It was dinner when the rest of my compatriots were made known to me in the tower.
Except one of them, of course, who had died. Half of the half-elfs in a thousand years.
His brother spoke with an impassioned passionlessness of his death at the hands of the mercenaries of the Terram Tacitus, the “quiet earth”. There is another meaning to that phrase, Terram Tacitus, which is, “the grave”.
The fabric of the Marchioness Lucinda’s dress was satin, but the security of the girdle trussing up the yards of fabric in the train for her ease of movement was naturally of the most costly velvet, threaded with gold, the better to show her wealth and station … and for the grip.
My friends had been spoon-fed many of the same facts by other factors of the quiet tower as I had by Pantos, ‘opposed’ as he was by his fellow journeymen and former apprentices. His master, Ambrosius, who had serious reservations about the pact with Faerie (as any sane man would), had vanished during a visit to the crypts of the chapel where magical regios held sway, dreamlands intertwining with the mortal world, where he was overseen by an apparent ‘genius’, a spirit of the Light.
Heaven save us from servants of the Light.
Like Lady Dacre, her cool hand on my cheeks, just as my hands must have seemed to Lucinda on the deck of the Marie Celeste ( the lost maiden) when they brushed her skin.
Is all of this really happening, or am I just a bookmark in the involuted articulation of history?
We convened with Pantos and Barabus (really, Barabus, that unsaintly name?) to the slow-disintegrating parapets of the loudest silent circle of wizards in Shanria. My vassal, Arthur Miller, conveniently discovered by the wizards here as I was, and Edred, plucked from mountain penury by my own hand, would survey the grounds and walls and guards and boundaries while Thal meditated not upon his brother’s death, but upon a magick to look into the past to find Ambrosius (honestly, can the wizards of this slowly rotting place not have thought to try such a thing or is such magick somehow conveniently elfin?).
I was left to wander the halls, bother various journeymen and especially Master Klaus to round out my understanding. Although I understand magick not at all, it seems to work shockingly like politics and countries, each different branch holding multiple intrigues and interests.
We convened at the chapel below, just outside the compound on the shore at the very end of the promontory guarding the wizards’ cove, where we quickly discovered a conveniently- and anonymously-arrived real reliquary of the Light (and wherefore are there such grisly necromantic miracles in the wide world that so needs love and hope and actual Light) seems to have blocked Ambrosius’ return from the onion-skin dreamworlds that overlap in this sacred place. Sweet Arthur became the guard of the reliquary while we plunged through the emerald fire that separates Regio of creation.
We brought the starved salvific Ambrosius out of the temple where he was trapped, to a small skiff moored for surely mundane purposes below the chaplain’s shack and conveyed him for recovery into Digby (which begs examination, but there it is).
Are some hands destined for salvation, while others are damned beforehand?
Is it possible that within each good person lurks the likelihood of damnation, and that this is inherent in the plans of the Light? And if that is indeed the case, are we certain that the Light is the salvific force we imagine, or is it another pawn of deceptions the likes of which Lady Bizarre would be proud?
The next afternoon, before the recovery of Ambrosius, and without the aid of Pantos or convenient Barabus, we hung a silver lantern burning green fire from the figurehead of poor Emeric’s ship and sailed, sleepless all, for the Isle of May.
All the long weeks, the many fires and kindly (if barbed) offers and disappointments have provided me with no gracious space to consider my place in the scheme of things except as the ultimate servant: a man with no place of his own except to try and recover what has been burned away, and to preserve what still shines.
I can almost see Ellesar’s eyes in the clovers, and in pale sunsets in the mist from captive parapets in the east.
The mansion on the Isle of May is constructed as no other building in man’s experience – or at least my own. Above the pirate ship, The Raven, sworn to the dread Pirate peacock James the Black, it stands without wall or guerdon with wide walls of glass, lit paths and open approach from above and below. This was my warning that the master of this house was dread indeed.
I am not a wizard, and our wizard did not brim with advice – but that was not new.
We arrived at a kind of dance. A frantic throwing about in interwoven circles from side to side between grizzled pirates and beautiful elfin creatures of tender flame. I should have struck a fire at the entrance. I should not have expected sense or sanity to hold sway. And yet…. Like hands on the railing, like a cry for help from the chill approximation of sea between worlds, I expected order to rule here upon May as I did elsewhere that it clearly did not.
We came abreast of the cloud of diaphanous silks wreathing her false and terrible loveliness before Lady Bizarre stopped the manic thrashing about of the dance, before the lavender-eyed blankness of the false elfin prince at the high table betrayed the hollow places occupied by James and Lucinda became clear for their warning.
She was glorious and terrible simultaneously.
She tempted us with the revelation of our secrets. Or was that just mine?
From each of us, Lady Bizarre (who became small and inoffensive even after I saw the terror of her true shape in the circle of self-obsession I carried with me as a memory of someone else’s childhood) would have extracted an awful, essential price.
The Queen gave me access to the breadth of her holdings to support my cause. I take only the smallest piece that what will not be missed. Who is to blame?
Trying to free Lucinda from her spellbind, I shewed the Lady, the Bizarre, the teeth and the darkness that I had seen of her composition. It was an accident. She broke at such self-awareness, as any courtier might. She became a veritable cloud of ravens or crows – I know not which – and fled, shrieking.
The dead seamen hung on hooks and stanchions above the dance floor of their deaths, on the straw-stuffed painted manikins their partners at the dance were suddenly revealed to be. “They came with violence in their hearts?” What man has never done such a thing? What woman? Violence lives everywhere, it is omnipresent. The Light is not.
We fled with Lucinda and James.
We contemplated the Raven, but left it to the storm boiling above destroying the defenselessness of the hilltop manor. Perhaps this is how the Fae learn human frailty and failing: by the transitive property of accidents.
We took sail as the ocean rose and the wind raised. Stones thrust themselves up from the belly of hate that was Lady Bizarre. “You have come of your own free will,” she drooled upon us.
Is it that the more rules that rule a man, the more susceptible he is to manipulation, or the more devoted a man is to the rule of law the freer he is? Does a man who murders his rightful lord for reasons wrathful and more reasonable than any court could attest suffer from a weakness of the spirit or a resolve of the same?
Back aboard ship, the unconscious Pirate King was restrained (his men already cordoned in their own cabin – a mercy in the worst of analyses). The Marchioness accidentally dropped a phial of a love potion while headed for her inadequate chambers, drawn by Edred’s charms.
The court will observe that she assailed her rescuers with the invective of captors, but no more than was her right. The judgemental will attest that no propriety except those of the most privileged was observed.
The wizard Thal, cool in the seas between worlds with the silver lantern guiding us home, observed and attested that the Marchioness Lucinda suffered no lingering enchantment nor effect from her sojourn with The Bizarre.
The great and dread Pirate James the Black was witnessed to pine and cry for his ‘beloved’, and his unnatural need for her, the capricious Marchioness Lucinda.
The Last Dwarf, Ogham, attested to the efficacy of the love potion she had employed against and upon the rakish gentleman. There would be no one else, I, Baron Lucien Lord Dacre observed, to attest to the selfishness, asserted privilege and altogether spoiled and rotten nature of the Marchioness Lucinda.
I consulted with no one.
I brought the Marchioness out onto the deck of Sir Emeric’s ship.
I would like to say that the great losses, and the visages of the dead in the bitch Bizarre’s realm had driven me to some state only the Maenads of old plays would recognize. But cold was the blue fury in my heart when I led her onto the foredeck.
Cool was my apology and slow the acceptance of this creature so poorly adapted to its courtly environment of interaction: lies and truth.
“Your Majesty,” I, Baron Lucien, Lord Dacre began.
“Your Grace,” I started as I watched the grey and azure sea of a world separate – and most importantly – with different laws than my own.
Later, I imagined myself saying, “I tried to save her,” as I met the queen’s eyes. For of all the Light’s creatures, women understand the attempted salvation of those – mostly men – who are unworthy of it.
“So many have died and so much has begun to burn,” I said to the Marchioness or imagined I said. She waved it away as the sun waves away the fog. "Ach – peasants – "
“But such was the cunning and machination of the Earls Rustin and Penwyth that having seen and experienced,” and here, to my shame, I would manage a tear, “what they had subjected her to that – unexpected and unbeknownst to myself, she sought her own end, and threw herself over the railing, and into the sounding sea.”
Without intent, but with malice aforethought I grasped the bundle of her trussed-up train and the structure of her corset, and I threw her from the vessel and into the cool waters of a Regio – of a mostly-imaginary sea.
“She cried for help while we stood frozen.”
Like Thomas with the Light Bearer.
And then silence.
“And that is what has become of the Marchioness Lucinda of Low March” declared Lucien of the fallen house of Dacre to the Parliament of Shanria. Every syllable was meant, and honest – after the fashion of any honesty in the world, which is partial … with the inconvenient bits shorn away.
Did he see her in the long days on the journey to Fallond? Did the Lady Dacre stand weeping in the mist outside his cabin – or exulting?
None can say, perhaps, except Thal the Half-Elven, who one night received a human cousin, weeping, “Oh, what else is there to do? What past can find me, even of Wizards in such a place?” or an unsteady sworn-man, one Arthur of the Mill who has attested only, “I seek to live a good life. A virtuous life,” and such was the accent on virtuous, that anyone knew he meant in opposition….