Friday, August 20, 2010

In Which Goodbyes are Said

From the diary of Dulcie, Crown Princess of Bentlefay:

(continued from here)

There was another feast this afternoon, more raffish and less formal than yesterday’s but by the same token much friendlier and more comfortable, now that we had all seen each other bruised and unconscious and captive and bleeding, experienced adversity together and come out the other end.

Lynde had apparently made her (lack of) intentions known to Masters in private conversation, and he was taking it on the chin although I could tell he was feeling it. He did not sit down for the feast but busied himself instead with the logistics of the thing – directing boats back and forth, setting watches on all the ships and generally keeping in the background.

The Norhammer crewmen had been utterly deflated by the revelation that their generations-long superiority complex had been built on sand, and while they were invited to join the feast in exchange for their oath, they actually preferred to remain bound. Bleake and Harker were of course not given this opportunity and shared the Porteous’ tiny brig with a crewman in charge to make sure they didn’t do each other any irreparable damage.

The Porteous hosted today’s feast and since it lacked the facilities of the Gull, we contented ourselves with fish stew, fresh bread and wine from the captain’s own barrel, and found nothing lacking. When we could eat no more, the crew of the Porteous assembled to sing, which they apparently make rather a thing of, and dazzled everyone with their plaintive harmonies.

The sun was low enough to be in our eyes, and the men had moved on from exhibitions into round singing, when Masters materialized at my side without warning.

“I beg your pardon, your majesty – may I have a word?”

I had been gazing dreamily at the singing men with my chin in my hand and my elbow on my knee. The effects of my broken sleep the night before were beginning to seep into my bones, and I wasn’t at all sure I hadn’t nodded off.

“Oh, of course,” I said hastily. “I haven’t even thanked you for your help in saving us. If you hadn’t sent Kah-ee-lah along last night, we’d be on our way to Norhammer by now.”

“I had in mind quite a different effect,” he admitted wryly, “but of course I am glad it worked out as well as it did.” He looked across the deck at Lynde, being taught by the second mate to play the ocarina, and sighed.

I put my hand on his arm. “I’m sorry.”

He smiled, a surprisingly sweet smile. “I’ll live.”

Lynde blew into the ocarina, making a sound like a dozen dying crows, and burst out laughing. Masters turned to me.

“Tell me – if you would be so kind. This young man of hers. What kind of a man is he?”

I thought for a moment. “I suppose he's a hero,” I said slowly. “He broke a siege practically on his own during the last war. He saved an entire manor from harm and hardship, and when they forgot about it, he continued to serve them with loyalty and a sense of humor. To tell the truth, it puts me to shame when I think about it.”

“Ah.” His chin sank on his chest dejectedly. “He is worthy of her, then.”

“I really do think he is.”

We sat in maudlin commiseration for a moment or two.

“She has told me that she will remain my friend, at least,” Masters said at length.

“Well, I certainly can’t think of a better one.”

“Then I will try to be comforted with that.”

Long Bob got up at that moment from where he and our captain had been in earnest conversation and came up to us, trailing pirates and bonhomie.

“We’d better get ourselves gone,” he said to Masters. “They will want to get their prisoners home into a real jail for safety’s sake.”

“Certainly.” Masters turned to me. “Thank you, your majesty, for the hospitality of your fleet. We are all pleased with the new alliance, and hope it will be a long and fruitful one.”

He bowed over my hand and moved away, leaving me to make another round of farewells to Long Bob.

“Goodbye again,” I said, feeling as though ceremony was no longer necessary. “Although I’m almost afraid to say it lest another attack rise up out of nowhere.”

“Ah, no, those poor scoundrels have had their bubble burst for a generation. A rare bother they’ve been to the merfolk, too, with their posturing.”

“Ah, yes, the merfolk,” I said as casually as I could. “How is it that you are acquainted with merfolk, if I may ask?”

Long Bob hesitated. “I’m afraid there’s a bit of secrecy about it,” he said eventually. “Let’s just say that it’s a pirate thing, and leave it at that.”

“Fair enough,” I answered. “You’ll have to visit us at court someday – maybe Mother will get it out of you.”

The mention of Mother seemed to get Long Bob onto a new tack.

“You’ll tell her everything?” he demanded. “You’ll tell her the welcome we gave you, and the feast, and the way we protected you even in harm’s way? You’ll remember me to your sainted ma?”

“Of course,” I said, surprised. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Long Bob heaved a sigh. “If I tell you something, will you swear to keep it?”

“I suppose,” I said, surprised at the sudden fourteen-year-old girl direction that the conversation was taking. “Although if it has to do with national security or some such, I’d better not.”

“No, it’s just the sad tale of how a smart man can do a stupid thing, especially when it comes to love.

“I talk a good line, as you can see, about your ma throwing me over for your pa, and of course it makes sense that a girl like her would prefer his majesty over a pirate on the wrong side of the law – even a pirate of the stature of myself. But the truth is--” and I was surprised and a little embarrassed to see tears in his eyes – “it was I who broke off the engagement, like the touchy, over-proud cockerel that I was. I broke it off twenty-five years ago this month, over a foolish kid argument, and I never spent a day without being sorry.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say. “Dear. Well, you don’t need to worry about Mother’s feelings – she and Father are deliriously happy and I really do think they’re best friends.”

“Yes.” Long Bob sighed again. “I was afraid of that. And she deserves every happiness the fates please to give her. Ah, well, my life is not such a bad one and it’s pleased I am to be able to do her a service after all these years.

“I see the boats are ready,” he went on with a look over my shoulder, “so I’ll say, till we meet again, young Dulcie. Goodbye is unlucky, as you noticed.”

And with that, our pirate adventure was, at last, concluded.

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