Saturday, December 28, 2013


We're going to Baltimore tomorrow to have a second Christmas with Josh and Cathy and their three daughters--our granddaughter.

We have to take the dog at 3 to the puppy motel and we'll leave from there. We'll be in Baltimore, with any luck, by a little after 8.

We're taking Auntie Mimi's gifts as well as ours and the trunk of my small car is nearly full. I'd be humiliated by the extravagance of it all if it wasn't for Morgan and Emma and Tegan....

My friend John gave me a laptop when we were in North Carolina last September. I believe I can blog from it and if so, since I'll take it with me, I'll be in touch here. But I can't do email on it because I'm a media idiot and can't figure out how to do that.

I hope Christmas was as mellow and sweet for you and it was for me.

And I hope the year bearing down on us--2014, who could imagine living this long?--brings you joys you didn't expect and wonders you don't deserve and surprises you'll never live up to.

That would be a good year indeed.

Be well and stay well.


Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. You can read about it in Matthew's Gospel. The Magi/Wise Men/Three Kings went home 'by another road' rather than returning to Herod to tell him they had found the Child the star foretold. And Herod gave the order to kill all the boy children under 2 in Judea.

Joseph, warned by a dream, took Mary and Jesus to Egypt and Jesus was saved. But others were not.

Innocents is an odd word. Who, after all is innocent? Children, that's who.

We are two weeks removed from the slaughter of the Innocents in Sandy Hook a year ago.

Twenty children--innocent as they could be--died 379 days ago in an elementary school not 40 miles from where I sit typing.

But the horrific thing about the Feast of the Holy Innocents is that every day children die in war and in abuse and by hunger.

Every day should be the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Children die every day in ways too horrible to imagine and because the world does not care or make a difference or protect them.

I'm going tomorrow to Baltimore to be with my three granddaughters. They are 'innocent'--though sometimes naughty and stubborn. But 'innocent', none the less.

My greatest fear is that something horrible and painful might happen to them.

You have children you love as well as I love Morgan and Emma and Tegan.

Your greatest fear is that something horrible and painful might happen to them.

This feast day is Our Day. We must pray for the innocent ones we know and love...and for all the Holy Innocents around this cruel and dark world who die from violence or want or neglect each day.

This is a solemn day. A day of reflection and pondering. A day dedicated to those least able to defend themselves.

Today is a Holy Day to remember all the innocence in life. Even the innocence we still have, somehow held onto in spite of all we have experienced.

It is a day to hold innocence fiercely near and to ponder how a world would look that took innocence seriously and held it up as the highest value....

Ponder that....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Feeling guity about being blessed

I let more water run until it was hot today than much of the world's people had water today.

I have three functioning indoor toilets when many in the world don't have any.

I waste enough food to feed several hungry families well.

I took my daughter to catch the train today and she is wondrous, shining, glorious--so good. And my son and his wife and three daughters are flying back from California on Saturday at a cost that would be the annual income of a significant majority of people in the developing world.

I've spent my life's work doing something I would have done for free it was so much fun.

And whenever I pee, I give a little prayer of thanks because the radiation I got after the removal of my prostate scarred my bladder and from time to time I pee blood and blood clots which are hell to clean up because they go off in odd directions.

I give thanks when my pee is clear--which it is 99.9% of the time. I give thanks all the time for having water and sewer pipes and food and two incredible children and a wife I couldn't have 'made up' any better than she is.

I have all the money I need and everything I want (except that Lexus 12 series) and, good health and a clear mind.

And all that makes me feel a little guilty.

My grandmother used to say, "be sure to count your blessings because they might run out...."

Folk wisdom at its best--but my blessings never seem to run out.

And I'm properly thankful for all that. Most of my prayers are prayers of thanksgiving.

So, why do I feel guilty about being so blessed?

Some accident of time and space and DNA and my own skills and gifts have made me a blessed man. And so, so many had less fortunate 'accidents'. 

Perhaps my guilt is a gift as well--one of the multitude of gifts I've been given (great friends, hard work, an above average intelligence, all that I need and all that I want, a wondrous family, a love of reading...God, the list is endless).

Perhaps my guilt at being so blessed keeps me human and humble and thankful. I did nothing to deserve how well my life turned out and yet turn out well it did.

Maybe it's a bit like 'survivor guilt'--when you walk off a crashed plane and most didn't--mine is 'blessed life guilt'. Don't get me wrong, the life I have is the life I love. But sometimes I don't feel like I deserve it.

Maybe that too is a gift. Maybe that keeps me humble and thankful and never able to believe for a moment that I deserve all this joy.

I'll ponder that for a while. (The pondering too, as always, will be a gift I rejoice in and scarcely deserve.)

Maybe it's just that around Christmas I'm a little embarrassed at how fortunate I am when others aren't. Maybe we all should, always but especially at this time of year, ponder how 'well off' we are compared to others....

I invite you to join me in that pondering as we approach a new year and new blessings....

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mellow Christmas

Very quiet here--not a bad thing at all. A good balance to the Christmases when our 3 granddaughters are her. Just Bern and Mimi and John and me. We had an nontraditional dinner--olives, pate and blueberry goat's cheese as appetizers, beef tenderloin with a herb, butter, crushed bread stick topping, Swiss char cooked in lemon, oil and garlic and twice baked potatoes (John kept calling them "potato boats" which none of the rest of us had heard to our knowledge) with sour cream, yogurt, butter, chives and goat cheese. For dessert we had little pastries--an assortment--from the bakery at Everybody's.

We talked about how when Bern, John and I were children, family visited after Christmas and you'd lay your opened gifts under the tree to show them. Mimi thought that weird. But I remember it vividly--aunts, uncles and cousins dropping by and looking at our stuff and us going to their houses and looking at their stuff.

Today Bern and Mimi and I went to see American Hustle which may be the best ensemble acting I've ever seen in a movie. Jennifer Lawrence proved she could do comedy with the best of them (in a movie that was not really a comedy), Amy Adams and Christian Bale deserve Oscar nominations along with screen writers, costumes, sound track and cinematography. No kidding a must see (aside to MC, you know who you are--don't go see this on my recommendation....)

Having Mimi around is a gift in itself. She fits right into our rather laid back lifestyle perfectly, taking care of herself and reading a lot under a quilt in the living room since she thinks we keep the house much too cool. She's mellow in herself and matches us so very well.

But Mimi and Tim (who I missed having around this Christmas) sponsored a black Lab named Bradley, of all things, who needed surgery at an Animal Hospital before he could be placed with an adoptive family, in our names for our Christmas gift. That's what we've asked our children to do for us for several years now--make donations to animal shelters and pet adoption centers in our names. It was wonderful to have a dog with our name this year!

(OK, I realize this whole post  has been pedestrian and not a little boring! I'm still in 'mellow Christmas' mode. I'll get back to provocative and philosophical ponderings soon. I'm just enjoying how relaxing and joyous and quiet this Christmas has been.....)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

So forget yesterdays blog....

I was feeling so bad about the memory of the TV set that wasn't as big as Mrs. Martin's and the guilt of all that that I told Bern and Mimi and John Anderson our friend and fourth at Christmas dinner about it all and they told me several things:

1) That's what any 12 year old would have was just a statement of fact and my father's actions were just to make me happy.

2) I could have said "Oh, God, I hate it because it's too small" and my father's actions would have been out of his guilt of not satisfying me.

3) Perhaps my father's never mentioning the trouble he went to, getting Adrian Vance to open his store on Christmas to exchange a TV was designed to make me feel bad, in which case, it worked.

I've been carrying this memory for, Lord God, 54 years and now I can let it go.

What a Christmas Miracle!!!

And to all a good night.....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas memory I would rather forget....

I was the only child of Virgil (41) and Cleo (40) when I was born. What a surprise for them!

Everyone in our families was afraid I'd be horribly spoiled. I wasn't really, but I do have a Christmas memory that is cringe-worthy.

We didn't have a TV when I was growing up. I used to go to Mrs. Martin's house, which was behind 'Martin's Hardware Store' that her husband owned and ran to watch TV. It was only a vacant lot away and Mrs. Martin was pretty much wheelchair bound and enjoyed my company. (This was a really small town--400 people tops--so everyone knew who had a TV and who didn't.)

Then one Christmas when I was 12 or so, my father (who was a frugal man with a capital F--like this, he bought a new black Ford every 3 years with money he'd saved over the three years...for cash. My father was so 'frugal' that when he tried to get a credit card in his 60's, it was difficult because he always paid cash and had no credit record. I was a college student by then and got a credit card in the mail every few weeks. My parents also bought the only house they ever owned--I grew up in a rented apartment in a part of the world where everyone either lived in a house they owned or a house the coal company owned--they bought that house in Princeton with cash.)

Ok, that was the longest and most wandering aside I've probably ever written and I lost the gist of what I wanted to say, so let me start over.

Then one Christmas when I was 12 or so, my father decided to buy a TV for me for Christmas. For him to part with that much money for something he considered frivolous was an incredible gift and commitment to me. When I got up on Christmas morning and went into the living room and saw it, the first words out of my mouth were, "It's not as big as Mrs. Martin's TV."

So my father drove to Adrian Vance's house, the man who owned the appliance store in Anawalt and got him to come out on Christmas morning to exchange the TV my father had bought for one that was as big as Mrs. Martin's. On Christmas day he did that because his 12 year old son was an ingrate of an asshole.

And he never once said something snarky like, "is this big enough, asshole?"

He just did it, for me.

If I could speak to my father, dead over 30 years now, I would tell him I was an awful and ungrateful son on that Christmas morning and everyone in our families had been right--they had spoiled me horribly and I was an asshole back then, 52 years ago now.

And the second thing I would tell him is that I hope and pray I turned out better than I might have, given the 12 year old I was. I would tell him that why I turned out better than I was at 12 and complained about a gift of love that wasn't big enough was because he and my mother taught me about gratefulness and wonder and joy in ways they never imagined. In ways they never knew.

I'd want to tell him that his asshole son of 12 became a person of compassion and understanding and love--because he showed me all those things even when I didn't deserve them.

That's what I'd like to say to my Dad this Christmas Eve.

Thank you for understanding what an asshole a 12 year old can be and never holding it against him. I think that made me who I am and have been.

And the memory of that Christmas makes me cringe and regret and almost weep.

Unconditional love is so difficult, so hard. and such a gift to 12 year old's when they look back on it and cringe.

I love you, Daddy, wherever you are. Merry Christmas.....

Monday, December 23, 2013

Eve of the Eve

I picked Mimi up at the train station in New Haven today--Christmas cheer can begin....

I was in Stop and Shop today and they kept making an announcement to 'make sure you have your own shopping carriage'. Apparently someone's cart was highjacked by someone else. When I got to checkout, all the clerks were in hysterics because the guy whose cart went missing was making a huge fuss.

I really don't seem to have much to write about right now if I'm reduced to absconded shopping carts--still waterlogged from the rain. Will write tomorrow for sure.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

OK, what's going on...?

I just checked The Castor Oil Tree stats (which I can do and do sometimes) and saw that I'd had 151 pages views already today--which is a record for a day and it's only 6:16 p.m.!

So, what's going on? Advent IV is the day people just view random blogs? I said something worth reading (doubt that...)? Everyone I know thought today was a good day to look at my blog? Some problem with the stats do hickey? One person was drunk and signed onto my blog 151 times trying to get to UTube?

Well, whatever happened, thanks. I've said before I'd write this even if no one read it because it is therapy for me to write. (Lots cheaper than a real therapist too!) But thank you, whoever you are, for reading this junk I write.

Today I went to Rowena's first Eucharist. I did the 9 a.m. at St. James in Higganum and then drove to Northford and got there at the end of the Prayers of the People so I got absolved by Rowena, received the first bread and wine she ever consecrated and got her blessing at the end of the service. A trifecta (a word I'm pretty sure is a when betting on horse races...but my spell-check neither acknowledges or gives me a reasonable option to) much to be desired.

I got all this advice about how to get from Higganum to Northford from people in both places. One involved Little City Road (though I assure you, there is not even a Tiny City anywhere near that road) and the other involved several roads whose names I don't remember, all of which, supposedly inexplicably end up in Durham from which Northford is about 7 miles on Rt 17. I even tried one of them once and got agoraphobic driving through such emptiness. So today I just got on RT 9 and drove 85 mph and got off at the 155/17 exit. Got there in just under 25 minutes, just at the end of the Prayers of the People when Rowena read the Proper Preface for Advent, which is lovely but not what you're supposed to read.

Hey, it was her first Eucharist, cut her a break! Besides which the Eucharist at St. James will be loosely referred to as "how many ways can Jim mess this up? Sunday". I even announced after the offering had come up and I'd somehow set the table, that if 'you give me a week off, I forget how to do this stuff...." All three Cluster churches cancelled last week because of weather, which was wise, so Rowena had to wait a week to celebrate her first Eucharist. And she was flawless except for the Advent Proper Preface thing and actually knows how to do the 'manual acts', which, in Episco-speak,
means the gestures and movements that go into celebrating the Eucharist.

I, on the other hand do only two manual acts--I cross myself at one point in the service and make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine...oh, and elevate them at the end of the Prayer of Consecration. I went to Virginia Seminary, the ultimate "low church" seminary where any 'fussiness' at all way discouraged. There was a professor at VTS that could celebrate Eucharist without moving  his hands at all. So, for Virginia Graduates I'm almost Anglo-Catholic.

I thought Rowena's manual acts were restrained, respectful and right on! Some priests I know turn the 'manual acts' into a form or calisthenics or pseudo-yoga. I close my eyes when they start wildly gesticulating and pounding their chests. Rowena has it right. If you have to involve yourself in such things, the way she does it is the way it should be done. God bless her. (I would say I'll start holding my arms out to the side humbly during much of the Eucharistic Prayer the way she does...but I probably won't.) But I liked the way she did it.

I need to hear her preach if she's going to get any value from me as a supervisor (I'll blog about how I supervise like a 'crabbing buddy' some day). She has a phone that can do anything short of delivering a baby or bringing world peace, so maybe I'll ask her to record sermons so we can listen to them together. But I'm pretty sure her sermons are just like everything else about her--restrained, respectful and right on.....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Just wanted to make sure...

...that I could get back to my blog. I'm now a tad anxious every time I click on the Do-Hickey that gets me here.

I really am a babe in the woods when it comes to on-line stuff. So much I don't understand.

But I got back, no problem.

Christmas, for us, is going to be quiet and sweet. Mimi is coming Monday and John Anderson will eat dinner with Bern and Mimi and me on Christmas. But Josh and Cathy and the girls are going to California to be with her brothers so minus three girls 7,7 and 4 it will be quiet here. Which I don't mind. We'll go down to Baltimore on Dec. 29 after church for 'second Christmas' with them. Not bad, two Christmases.

Bern's even going to let me cook Christmas dinner. Pretty cool for me.

More later.

Walking backward through my mind...

The last two days I haven't been able to get on my blog. It was terrifying! It was especially terrifying considering that the only things I know about computers is how to turn them on and off....

For some reason, is run by Google. The reason I know that is that I've spent several hours trying to convince Google that I have a blog and should be allowed to use it through the back door--the door you go in to I'm doing now.

I succeeded in getting a g-mail account, which I'll never use...and in filling out countless evaluations of the Google 'help' pages--which did not get sterling grades since nothing they said helped me find the back door to my blog in the least.

I figured out why it kept asking me for the blog's name and a password. The problem was, when I gave them the blogs name and the password it didn't recognize either. And there is no-one to talk to at Google. I searched high and low (sideways and upside) down for a PHONE #! Google apparently either doesn't want you calling them or doesn't use phones at all and is just one big main-frame with no real people anywhere.

But I know that's not true because Tim, Mimi's fiancee (how writing that 8 letter word thrills me!) used to work for Google and Tim's a real person. Now he works for LinkedIn which he has tried to explain to me several times to no avail.

Anyhow, how I got in this blog-less state was I was fooling with my 'history' on the line above the line that tells you what programs are open and succeeded in erasing it. I have a "Under the Caster Oil Tree' hickey on my whatever it's called that lets me go to things like Moviefone and MapQuest and the Huffington Post by clicking on them. (I can never remember the names of things you have on computers). And yes, my Under the Caster Oil Tree hickey IS misspelled but it did get me to the blog with one click. But it must have been searching my 'history' to do that, so by accidentially erasing my "history" hickey I confused my Under the Caster (sp) Do-hickey. Or something like that.

But then I walked backward in my mind to the day that Tracy Simmons (bless her soul) set up my blog at least four years ago because I was still Rector of St. John's. And I remember her telling me slowly and in words of one syllable how to 'sign on' to my blog. But then I remembered the name of the blog wasn't "Under the Castor Oil Tree" like I'm been typing for two days whenever Google asked me but "Castor Oil Tree" because Tracy wasn't sure I could remember more than three words. And then, still walking backwards in my mind, I remembered the password she chose for me because it was the name of something I'd never forget (though I had for the last two days).

Though we used to tell our kids to "walk backward through your mind" whenever they forgot something, I never really believed it worked. I just thought it was something you told kids to give them an experience of the futility and meaninglessness and randomness of life--a dose of Sartre before they could even read...and experience of the dark side of existentialism (though existentialism doesn't seem to have much of a 'bright side' when you think about it).

But "By God, It worked!" And here I am, back typing, which is something I do much better than deal with Google or remember the real names of the Hickeys and Do-Hickeys and Thing-a-ma-bob's on a computer.

You're not rid of me yet, Beloved. I'll be typing more stuff than you'll want to read! Depend on it!

(Merry Eve of the last Sunday of Advent....)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The sweetness of Advent

I'm sure our neighbors wonder why we don't have Christmas decorations up yet. I mean, I'm the professional Christian on the block, so where are the lights and creche and other stuff at our house?

One of the many reasons I'm glad to be an Episcopalian is that we take Advent seriously. Sure, there's lots to do these days and many plans to make and buying and selling...and we will decorate our trees this weekend rather than waiting until Christmas Eve, but I love Advent--the counter-cultureness of it, the silence and the darkness, the waiting and the anticipation.

And Advent, for us Episcopalians, isn't a 'little Lent'. It isn't about penitence in any way. It is a sweet season in the darkest time of the year when snow brings an eerie silence over the land.

The horrendous weather cancelled all the three Cluster services last Sunday. We missed Advent III and I mean 'really missed it'. There's an incompleteness not to have 'Rose Sunday'. I wrote a sermon I'll never preach for the Sunday that wasn't...and it made sense, roads don't get plowed as early on Sunday as they would be on a Tuesday and since these or rural churches many people live down gravel roads that have to wait to be cleared. But I missed it.

And I missed preaching this sermon. I already sent it to the Cluster email list, but I'll share it with you as well.

Advent iii, 2013

John Baptist was out of control.
He lived in the desert for years—eating only what he found in the wilderness. He did not participate in society—instead he railed out dire warnings to the sand and the rocks. He wore strange clothing he had fashioned from animal skins and never cut his hair. Little wonder then that when he appeared from the wilderness, proclaiming that the Kingdom was near, people were both frightened of him and yet almost irresistibly drawn to his strangeness.
And one thing John never forgot—he was a ‘prophet’ of the One Who Was To Come. His whole life and everything he did pointed, not to himself, but to another. He was to make the Way straight—to clear the ground for the Coming One of God. He was not ‘the One’—he was the forerunner, the harbinger, the messenger of One greater than him.
Little wonder then, when John found himself in prison, soon to lose his head for daring to condemn the royal family, that he suddenly wondered if his life-work had been in vain. Had he made the rough ground smooth or had he wasted his time and energy…had he failed to fulfill his only mission in life?
John sent disciples to Jesus. “Are you the One?” they asked him.
“Are you the One, or are we to wait for another?”
In all the gospels, Jesus almost never gives a direct response to a question. He either asks a question in return or tells a story or gives what seems like a non sequitor in reply.
His response to John’s disciples is no different. Instead of answering their question—instead of claiming to be The One all Israel was awaiting—he tells them to go back and tell John what they see and hear.
“…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them…..” Jesus tells the disciples of John that what he “does” should answer the question of who he “is”.
Jesus’ words echoed the description of the “holy one” from the prophecy of Isaiah. His identity is found, not in who he ‘says’ he is, but in the works he does.
When John heard the message he must have realized that he had fulfilled his mission. John must have known that Jesus was “the one”.

It is really no different for any of us. The proof is in the pudding. By the fruits we will know who someone truly IS.
The Kingdom is near—the Kingdom is always near, always ‘at hand’, always just out of the sight of our periphery vision. Close, but ‘not yet’.
So the question is not, ‘who do we say that we are?” The question that matters is how do we live into the coming Kingdom? How do we lean into the reign of God? How are we part of the in-breaking of Light into the Darkness?
We are the children of the Kingdom that was and is and is to come. We are God-bearers, Light bringers, the vehicles of healing in this tragic and suffering world.
It is not who we ‘say’ we are that draws the Kingdom nearer. The Kingdom is unveiled in our midst by what we ‘do’.
Advent is not simply a time of ‘waiting’ for the Coming One. It is a time to ‘prepare’ to welcome the Kingdom just at hand.
Make straight the road of Kindness.
Smooth out the way of Compassion and Generosity.
Tear down the mountains on Indifference and Judgment and build highways of Love and Inclusion and Acceptance.
Through the Wilderness make a path for Forgiveness and Mercy to walk on.
We too must ‘prepare’ the way of the Lord.
We are the ones for whom the Kingdom waits.
We are the ones God is expecting to welcome the Child.
(Wisdom from the Hopi Elders)
There is a River flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know this: the River has its destination. The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push out into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
At this time of history, we are to take nothing 'personally'. Least of all, outselves. The moment that we do that, our spritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for! Amen and amen.

Jim Bradley

Monday, December 16, 2013

I feel like Alice

OK, I saw this 90 second clip of a speech Rick Santorum made the other day where he told 4 lies I caught. Chris Matthews caught a fifth (yes, I watch MSNBC and am proudly on the left!) but my granddaughters told me I can't call someone a 'liar' or 'fat' or 'stupid' or 'ugly'. So, in honor of the code of Morgan/Emma/Tegan, Rick Santorum was 'short of the truth' five times in 90 seconds. Which makes him (sorry girls) a 'liar' in my book.

Each of the 'short of the truth' statements were met with wild applause.

I feel like, at some point, I fell through the Looking Glass and am in a Wonderland of sorts.

The Republicans I grew up with--Sen. Dirkson, Sen. Brooke, Sen. Goldwater, Gov. Rockefeller, even President Reagan, argued principles and policy. Even when I didn't agree with them I didn't think they were engaging in 'short of the truth' stuff.

What has happened to 'civil discourse' in this country? When did Truth become irrelevant to political argument?

I'll tell you when: when a black man was elected president, that's when.

We may--we just may--pass through this 'disturbance in the Force' and come out somewhere where 'compromise' and civility is again the economy of politics. But though calling out 'racism' is considered, by most, rude and too confrontational, if you look back at the opposition President Obama has encountered, it is strident and irrational in the way racism is.

And, in spite of the mean spiritedness of all prejudice, I think the majority of the country has sniffed it out and are not pleased with it. Besides, thank God, we are no longer a 'majority nation'. The Black and Hispanic vote is growing leaps and bounds. I welcome 'minority' status. That means you can't blame me for the choices America makes.

I pray I am right--that most people would like to return to a civil discourse about policy and principles rather than the chaotic 'short of the truth' rhetoric of the far right.

When I heard the complaints that Obama shook hands with Raoul Castro I was flabbergasted! What did Right-Wing nuts want him to do? Slap him on the face? They objected to his taking a 'selfie' with the leader of Denmark and Great Britain. And also shaking hand with Castro. So he shouldn't be friendly with close allies OR friendly with a perceived enemy?

Maybe he shouldn't be friendly with any body. Well, that seems to the the extreme Rights's res son Dedra.

I'm waiting for a hookah smoking caterpillar to show up on Fox News. Or a woman who looks like a playing card. Nothing will surprise me ever again.

More when I've calmed down....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Ordination Accomplished"

Well, leave it to Rowena to get herself ordained on the day of the first big snowfall of the year! And on the day of the burial of Nelson Mandela, the feast day of St. John of the Cross and the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ian, our bishop, talked to and prayed with the congregation about Sandy Hook just before the processional. What I could hear from halfway down the steps to the narthex was lovely. And the time of silence was haunting, in a profound way.

But, as I knew it would, things went swimmingly. There were so many people who have loved Row for years there that I felt like a newcomer to the club. Her father, mother and aunt from the Bahamas were there. Row's mother told me she'd never seen snow before yesterday! Well, there was a bit of it to see.

Dean was still plowing the lot an hour before the ceremony. Lots of Cluster folks parked across Rt. 17 in the open lot there to give the visitors a shot at the church parking lot.

My plan--I was the Master of Ceremonies...the Boss of Details...which takes me about as far out of my comfort zone as I can get. I am a 'forest' guy, not a 'tree' guy. But I have done it before and actually enjoyed getting people where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. (One of Jung's theories is that as we age we move toward our less dominant functions. Extroverts become more introverted, feeling types become more thinking--like that. I certainly find that happening to me. I am a big old honking Intuitive type. I mean, I don't score on the S...Sensate--logical, step two after step one scale. So being MC forces me to be more organized. And to tell the truth, I kinda like it....)

My plan (as I was saying) was to take the processional from the parish house outside to the front door. But it was snowing to beat the band and low and behold I realized I had scoped out going through the under croft (Episcopal-speak for basement) and come up the stairs into the narthex (Episcopal-speak for front door hallway). I'd actually planned for the eventuality of inclement weather! I was startled that I had actually thought that through. (When, a half-million years ago, I was the Center Manager for RCEE in New Haven, which took women on welfare to good jobs in 16 weeks, I was also trying to get my father, in a nursing home in Hamden, on Title 9 because his money was running out. I couldn't get anywhere with the Welfare Department and asked RCEE's secretary, who was a graduate of the program, how she negotiated the madness of the Welfare Department when she was on welfare. She told me this: "When you're poor you function best in chaos....")

I actually told Rowena one of the first times we spoke that "I'm good in chaos...." With RCEE's secretary's help, I learned to go to the Welfare Department and start yelling as soon as I came in. I got my father on Title Nine the next time I went by creating chaos and dealing with it.

So the snow was a tad chaotic. Lots of people in the Cluster who would have wanted to be there were either snowed in or too unsure on bad roads. And lots of people from far away, I'm sure, checked the forecasts and stayed home.

In a perverse way, I was thankful for the weather. Had all those folks come there wouldn't have been room in the church for them, even standing room and our dream of closed-circuit TV for the parish house had been dashed. Those who came--150 or so--filled St. Andrew's to the lees and had a good show.

Ray, St. Andrew's musician, is, at heart, a jazz musician, used the piano for the processional--"There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place...." It was great even though I was half-way down the steps and dealing with 6 kids from the cluster with banners and a dove. They too were graceful though they were all, I believe 9 or under.

There were about 35 to 40 people in the processional. In a large urban church, that isn't much. But in a small, rural church it was impressive. I can't wait to see the video tape of it. It must have gone on a long time in that short center aisle.

Row had more presenters than anyone I've ever know. She said it was because her journey had been so 'long'--her process to ordination would have ore'whelmed a lesser person--and she wanted all the pieces to be represented. Three priests a RC nun and three or four lay folk presented her to the bishop. It was impressive to see the variety of people whose lives she had touched in some important way and who had touched her life as well.

There were over a dozen visiting priests. Considering that there were Advent Quite Days for priests at 4 or 5 locations that day and it was snowing like crazy, I found that impressive as well.

(Usually I believe Will Rodger's comment about Methodist ministers applies to Episcopal priests as well. Will said, "Methodist ministers are like manure. Spread out, they do a lot of good. But all in one place, they tend to stink a bit....") But the clergy who showed up for Rowena were not smelly at all. I knew most of them and one of them served as a seminarian when I was at St. John's in Waterbury. Another of them was a parishioner 3 decades ago and is a priest now. The Bishop, Ian Douglas, as well was a parishioner of the church I served almost 3 decades ago. Also, the priest whose place Rowena is taking was there. She works at Diocesan House. I love her and love Harlan and love Nancy and love Ian. They are part of my past as well as Rowena's. What a joy that our two river's through life have run through some of the same places and people.

Linda preached. I'm a deft critic of preaching since I think I do it very well. I used to introduce people to Malinda, who worked with me for years, as "the second best preacher in Connecticut". I think she is. And it leaves no doubt as to who 'the best' is. Linda's sermon was very good. And the blessing she shared with Row was amazing.

And Row...well, she was the prize of the day by design. She is a humble and sweet person (not 'sweet' like saccharin, but sweet like honey from the comb, like syrup from the maple tree--a 'sweet' that endures and brings joy) who is so full of integrity I'm a little threatened by her. And she has this smile that lights up, not just a room, but everyone's heart. And she smiled through the whole thing--the sermon, the songs, the interrigation by the bishop, the laying on of hands and everything before that and after. It was 'her day' and she shined. She even had ruby shoes. I kid you not--ruby shoes to die for. And she didn't click her heels once. She wasn't in Kansas anymore and she had no intention of ever going back there...

On a scale of 1-10, Row's ordination, for me, was an 11.8!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ordination--next to last

The ordination is tomorrow--Rowena will become a priest! I delivered the programs this afternoon--and the wine! Ordinations must have wine....

Lots of people have done lots of work getting ready for it. I won't even start listing names except to single out Bea, the Cluster Administrator for her work on the program, Howie for getting and setting up the video equipment, Toni for the beautiful flowers and Dean for all his hours getting the church ready.

Row said to someone last Sunday, "If getting married is this stressful, I'm glad I've never done it!"

The Time of Stress has ended. What will be will be. It will snow a lot or it won't. People will brave the weather or they won't. Any thing that goes wrong won't matter. Tomorrow will be a glorious day for Rowena, the Cluster and all her family and friends. I've never been to a bad ordination--a few long ones, granted, but even that is part of the wonder....When you finish an ordination, you know something has happened!

I wonder what an alien from out of space would make of the whole thing? The endless procession. The solemn words. The bishop's funny hat and his shepherd's crook. Rowena's cross examination. The chanting of the litany. All the priests gathering around her to lay on hands. The raucous applause.
The singing and the gifts. The eating and the drinking. What would E.T. think of the whole thing?

Maybe he'll land outside and we'll find out....That would make a wondrous, blessed day even more special....

I'll write tomorrow about the whole thing.

Say a prayer for Rowena--a traveling blessing, perhaps. She will be moving into unknown territory tomorrow....

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Churches I never served...

People were surprised around the Middlesex Cluster Ministry when Rowena Kemp, who'll be ordained this Saturday, chose to come be a part of our ministry and mission. She had other options and she chose us. People were overjoyed, having met her.

That got me thinking about the choices I made and the churches I never served because of those choices. Since I'm retired from full time ministry and plan to stay ever so part time at the Cluster until I really stop practicing my ministry, it's an interesting trip down through my life to consider where I didn't go.

Coming out of Seminary, I was offered a job at St. Chrysostom's in Chicago. I would have been the assistant to the Rector and been the missionary to the yuppies who lived in the high rises that lined the Lake. St. Chrysostom's was (and probably still is) a thriving urban church with great outreach. Meals on Wheels, the national program, was founded by the parish. It seemed a dream to me. But when the Rector called the Diocese of West Virginia to get me 'released'--you 'belong' to your diocese and to go to another you must be given permission by the bishop. The Rector, unfortunately (or 'fortunately' as I now think of it) got Bishop Campbell on the phone instead of Bishop Atkinson (who I told him to call) and Wilburn Camrock Campbell told him that under no circumstances was he 'releasing' me to the fleshpots of Chicago. When the Rector (I don't remember his name) told me this after he hung up with Bishop Campbell, I immediately called Bishop Atkinson and gave him holy hell. He finally agreed that if I would come to one interview in West Virginia and turned the job down, he would fight tooth and nail with the Diocesan (Atkinson was the Bishop Co-Adjutor, meaning he was the Diocesan Bishop in waiting, waiting for Wilburn to retire....)

So I went to be interviewed at St. James in Charleston, an African American congregation whose building was in North Charleston about a mile from where Charlie Manson grew up. This Black congregation had been moved to a redneck part of Charleston from down-town in the Black community where it started instead of Institute, a wondrous college town of a historically Black College 7 miles from Charleston. I think, when that move was made in the 60's, the thought was to kill the church off but don't get me started on that.

I fell in love with the people. And they loved me with more compassion and understanding than any white church would give a Black priest (but don't get me started on that either...) On the plane back to DC Bern, great with child (our son Josh) said to me, "we're moving to Charleston aren't we?" And I had to say, "If you will..." And she would.

No fancy Chicago parish for me. A humble little, misplaced African American mission was where I went and learned more about myself and race and grace and possibility than I ever would have dealing with Yuppies in Chicago.

The road not taken turned out to be the road that would have made me a different person than I am. And at this point in my life, I love 'who I am' and I love 'my life'. So as crazy as the decision seemed at the time, it made me who I am today and, in case you didn't get it, I am who I always hoped I would be.....

The second church I never served was in suburban Baltimore, when I was thinking about leaving St. James after five years of joy, I 'put my name in' (which is the Episcopal-speak for 'applying for the job' and at St. John's in New Haven. When St. John's expressed interest, though I was farther along with the church off the Beltway in Baltimore, I took my name out. (I've never been a suburban priest. I don't think I'm up to it. I love cities, and since I've been in the Cluster I've learned that I love 'rural', which is where I came from in the first place. Being in the Cluster is like 'going home' in lots of ways.) I have lived in Cheshire, a suburb of New Haven/Waterbury/Middletown/even Hartford--at one point when I was still working and Bern was working, we'd leave for Waterbury and New Haven and the couple next door would leave for Hartford and Middletown. Go figure. Cheshire is a poly-suburb. I love living here, but I wouldn't be much good as a priest here--too political and too left wing theological I, I don't like wearing suits. Suburban churches expect 'suits'--inner city and rural churches don't....

The third church I never served was St. Mark's in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was actually 'called' to be their rector. I adored the building and the community and the liveliness of the Search Committee. I actually believed I was 'called' to be the Rector of that progressive, rapidly growing parish. Bern wasn't enamored of living in the south and our kids were still in grade school, so it would be a stretch. But we'd visited and they'd visited and low and behold I got the 'call' on the Friday before Labor Day! The Senior Warden was going to be on an island without a phone until Tuesday so I couldn't give her my answer (which is always 'yes!' since such time and energy goes into search processes) until the Tuesday after Labor Day. So our family did 'votes', everyone with 5 slips to either put into 'Yes' or 'no' and every vote was so close as to be moot. Finally, Bern and I decided to play Backgammon, a game we played every night to decide. This was on Labor Day itself, knowing I had to call the next day. Best of five was the deal. I won the first two games and said to Bern, "it's OK, we'll stay in New Haven". But she said, "let's play it out" and won the last three games! Then she said, "I know you want to go, so, let's go." We hugged and went upstairs to tell Josh and Mimi who had known their crazy parents were downstairs playing a board game for their futures. I walked in the room and opened my mouth to say, "We're going to North Carolina!" and what came out was, "We're staying in Connecticut!" Then I burst into tears.

I didn't sleep at all, wondering how to phrase my 'no' to the Senior Warden. And when I got her on the phone I told her "it's not time to leave Connecticut"  and she said, "You're kidding, aren't you?"

I told her I kidded about most everything but not this. After a long, minute long silence, she said, "You son-of-a bitch!" I got worse after that and suddenly I realized I'd made the best decision of my life without knowing it. I hung up on her and the Search Committee sent me flowers and called several times, but the road less traveled (saying 'no' to a call to a wonderful parish) was taken. Really, as I felt sorry for myself, on Thursday the head of the Search Committee at St. John's in Waterbury called me. (The irony was I wasn't in full time ministry at the time and the folks from North Carolina came to hear me preach at St. John's where I was doing supply as they looked for an interim Rector.)
"Did you take that job in North Carolina?" Judy asked me.

"No," I told her, wondering why she called to ask.

I heard her take a big breath and then she said, "would you be willing to have your name put in for Rector of St. John's? Please say yes...."

I shook my head at how mischievous the Spirit can be. "I'm probably not eligible because I was with you for three months before Jeff came to be interim," I said, meaning it, wishing it weren't so.

"No," Judy said, breaking into laughter, "the bishop has already said you can...."

So, that's how things go in the strange and mysterious ways of the Spirit.

The last church I never served came when I was 51 or so and realized if I didn't move from St. John's then, I wouldn't until I retired. So I 'put my name in' at the Cathedral in Minneapolis. I didn't think much would come of it, being Dean of a Cathedral, but there were phone interviews and I flew to Minneapolis to talk to the Search Committee and Vestry and was told I was one of 7 they'd brought up to talk. Then a three member group of the Search Committee came to see me in Waterbury. The came for a weekend and came to church on a Sunday in Advent when there was a mess of snow (though they probably thought that was normal, being from Minnesota) and on the day before wanted to interview four members of the parish. So, I picked four folks I knew wouldn't gossip about it all and they came to be interviewed. What I realized on that day, I was there all day as the folks came in to talk to the Minneapolis folks, that the folks I chose to talk to the MN folks were much more interesting than the MN folks they were being interviewed by.

So, a week later when I was called to be told I was one of three being flow, with my family, to Minneapolis for a final interview, I, without forethought, turned it down. I probably wouldn't have ever been the Dean of the Cathedral in Minneapolis, but I wasn't willing to take that chance, knowing I was where that mischievous Holy Spirit meant me to be until I was either thrown out or retired.

It was the latter that made me leave. I retired at 63 and 13 days of age because I had 30 years in the pension fund and was eligible for early Social Security and knew if I didn't leave then I might never leave because of the three churches I DID serve in all those years, I loved them all to death and St. John's was the ice cream on the pie of my 30 years of ministry.

I need to thank Rowena, because she chose to come to the Cluster rather than any of her other offers, for the joy of pondering the 'roads not taken' in my ministry. And I will thank her and be full of humility and joy to work with her until she comes to another fork in the road and has to choose....

As for me, I am convinced I always took the path I was meant to take, as painful as the choices were, and that is a Gift to ponder as I grow older. Always being where you were meant to be--what a wondrous Gift...what a joyous life....

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ordination (what is it? 3 or 4?)

The programs are at the printer, the close circuit is set, the lunch is catered, the music is set, we'll do seating Friday afternoon, what could go wrong?

Oh...did someone say snow on Saturday?

(Rowena, if you read this, ignore that last sentence. OK?)

I was ordained to the priesthood in May (you stayed a Deacon in West Virginia for almost a year) so there was no snow. I remember it clearly because I was calm as all get out, ready to remember it always.

I was ordained by the Right Reverend Robert Atkinson and the preacher was Bill Pregnell, a professor of mine from Virginia Seminary. I had prepared a tape of my favorite music that was 20 minutes long or so that served as the Prelude.

The last song on the tape was "Heavy Church" by Three Dog Night.

In case you're not listening to it regularly, here are the lyrics.

"Light my was with incensed candles ooh,
Rug so soft beneath my sandals, ooh.
I've never been in here before
Like to feel the glory.

Mercy, mercy on love defenders
Have pity on the pretenders
A little help from all life's losers
A little truth from the mind abusers
Ooh, I need them praying in the Heavy Church.

If you judge the way they're living ooh,
Try to see the truth they're giving you
They only want to touch your hand with understanding.

Mercy, mercy on the love defenders
Have pity on the pretenders
A little help from all life's losers
A little truth from the mind abusers
Ooh I need them praying in the Heavy Church.

Hear them, hear them, hear them, hear them
Run and see the truth they're giving you
Hear them, hear them
Run and see the truth they're giving you
Hear them, hear them

I crept down the hallway just before the processional to hear that song. Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel and others were on the tape that provided the soundtrack for who I was on that day so long ago. I wish I still had the tape--but could I find something that would play it now???

Anyway, that tape summed up my theology in popular music, none more than "Heavy Church" which was why it was last. It all seems a bit silly now, but then it mattered--like MATTERED to me.

I still would stand up for the theology of Three Dog Night. I've always said, my whole priesthood, that 'the church exists for those who aren't here yet'. I've always thought it was the outsiders, the marginal, the unclean, the lame and halt and blind that Jesus reached out to. The 'Establishment' already 'had theirs'. Jesus came to those who 'had not'. "A little help from all life's losers" isn't bad advice to a priest. We, inside the church, need to listen to the 'truth they're giving you' from those outside the church.

And the 'have pity on the pretenders' would apply, as far as I can see, to all of us. We all--especially those on the inside, those who 'have theirs' are living in a pretense that is as wide as it is broad--that our 'having ours' is okay when others don't 'have theirs'.

That's why it's a Heavy Church.

The questions the church and the ordained should be dealing with are Heavy Questions: about equality and fairness and inclusion and hearing the voices of the marginal and the dispossessed  and the outcasts and the despised and the rejected.

Those who aren't here yet are the ones I mean.

Those are the ones we must " to see they truth they're giving you...."

Whenever I've done that in my ministry, I give God all the credit.

Whenever I haven't (and I can't even count the times) it is my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault....

God help me find the Heavy Church where I belong.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A shocking concept hard to engage meaningfully

Ali McGraw, for all those Baby-Boomers out there--the girl we idolized and mourned from one of the worst movies ever: Love Story based on one of the worst novels ever, of the same name--Ali McGraw is74 years old.

It wasn't just us growing old. For God's sake, Ali McGraw aged? Heaven fore fend.....

It is true, beloved. Take heart....

The Ordination--Part Two

Ordinations are weird stuff. A big dose of pomp and circumstance, not a little formality, an eye of newt, some magic stuff and mystery aplenty.

(A young boy, watching an ordination of a bishop, turned to his father when all the assembled bishops gathered round the kneeling ordinand to lay hands on him, and asked, "What are they doing to him, Daddy?" The father answered--with as much truth as irony--"They're taking out his back bone....")

I once told an ordinand in my sermon for his ordination, "Michael, always remember you are an almost irrelevant functionary of an irrelevant institution." And I meant it. The bishop who was there was not amused and yelled at me in the vesting room afterwards.

You see, I think the church takes itself entirely too seriously. The minutia and flotsam and jetsam of the church is of no interest to the vast majority of the human race. It is just 'sound and fury signifying nothing' much.

The new Pope is putting a little intrigue and pizazz back into organized religion, I'll give him that. But, for the most part, most Roman Catholics might feel proud to have Francis, but the doctrine and dogma of the church has next to nothing to do with their day to day lives.

But given how irrelevant it all is, ordinations are high fun!

Lots of marching. Lots of singing. Quite a bit of chanting. Clerics all gussied up in their liturgical finery. A bishop with an odd looking hat and what looks all the world like a cane for someone 9 feet tall.

One of the ugliest moments I've ever encountered was after one of my classmates was ordained and his wife wrote a letter to Bern saying, "his hands changed". Bern was bouncing off furniture for some time, tearing up the letter and saying things a priest's wife (though I was technically still a deacon then) has never been known to say.

"If your hands change" I remember her telling me, "don't ever touch me again!!!"

My hands didn't 'change' and neither will Rowena's on Saturday. Ordination doesn't deal with the 'essence' of the priest, only with the 'accidents'.

Which makes the whole thing an accident.

I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Ordination--Part One

So, on Saturday Rowena Kemp will be ordained to the priesthood, God willing and the Creek don't rise--by Bishop Ian Douglas and become the third presbyter in the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry along with me and Bryan Spinks. Rowena is wonderful! Just what we need--young, upbeat, charismatic and charming. Plus, she's really smart. I like smart.

Some of us in the Cluster have started referring to this event as The Ordination since it is such a wonderful opportunity for these three small, rural churches to host Rowena's Beginning as a priest. Lots of people are very excited about it. It's being held at St. Andrew's in Northford, the largest of the three churches--though not 'that large'. I figure by having standing room in the two side aisles we can get 130 people in the church. However, Rowena has served so many places in her journey to this coming Saturday, I know we'll have more, many more than that.

So, these three small churches have prepared for overflow. Howie, from St. James, has arranged to borrow closed circuit TV from Higganum-Killingworth High School where he works and we'll hook it into the parish hall. The folks at St. Andrew's, Leslie and Dean, have arranged for the catered lunch after the service. 6 kids from Emmanuel Killingworth and one from St. James will be part of the procession. The three readers are one from each church. The two Eucharistic Ministers are from Emmanuel and St. James. The crucifer and bishop's chaplain are from Northford. People bringing up the gifts are from St. James and St. Andrew's. There will be a joint choir. People from the churches are bringing water and soda for lunch. I, myself, will be bringing wine--a celebration deserves wine I think.

Bea, the Cluster Administrator has worked with Rowena on the program. Brian, one of the folks at St. Andrew's will be in the parking lot to direct folks to overflow--which will be most of the parking! The lot only holds 20 some cars.

On and on it goes--this is the picture, lots of folks from these churches are invested in Rowena's celebration being special and something she's remember always.

So, I'll be writing about the Ordination the rest of this week--memos from the front line, as it were.

It would have been a lot easier to borrow a larger church--but not nearly so much fun.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Give it a rest, ok?

Could everyone stop finding snarky things to say about Carrie Underwood and the live broadcast of The Sound of Music on Thursday night. Critics went overboard. Carrie Underwood is not Julie Andrews, I get it. But neither is a movie that takes months to make like a three hour live show on TV.

Even members of the Von Trapp family weighed in today saying who would have been a better cast than Carrie.

I was entranced the whole way--because one of the kids in the show is the daughter of friend's of mine--but also because I loved the whole idea of a live TV production and I really like Carrie Underwood.

I will give you this: she is not Julie Andrews. Now will you shut up and realize this was a huge deal with a huge audience and TV was, for those 3 hours, what it used to be--big deal, big production, LIVE--and not what it has become...1300 channels on cable or through a dish. (1270 of which are not worth the effort.)

Bern and I were totally captivated, didn't compare Carrie to Julie once since it was apples and oranges--two totally different experiences--and Marta, our friends' daughter was such a joy.

Do we live in an age where being critical and cynical has become the new normal--not just for TSOM but everything?

If so, why?

Why's a little magic for three hours so dangerous? Why are people so thrown to being 'snarky'. For God's sake, it was a riveting three hours for me.

I'd have preferred it commercial free--but I'm just taking on negativity in reviewers, I'm not ready, yet, to suggest socialized media......

But I'll ponder that suggestion....

two words that make me sad

Lots of times when I'm talking to friends, they'll say something about the niece playing field hockey or the nephew's piano lessons. Little conversation bits about the children of your siblings or your mate's siblings. Every time nieces and nephews come up, I feel sad and a bit cheated. I don't have any.

I'm an only child and neither of Bern's older siblings have children, so she and I are neice-less and nephew-deprived.

Don't get me wrong, I seldom feel sorry for myself about being an only child. After all this time I've become comfortable and content with it. And I'm never bored--which is a blessing of an only child. And whenever I think it might be nice to have a sibling or two, all I have to do is have a short conversation with someone who does...and I'm back to contented with my situation!

But I would like some nieces and nephews. I grew up with scads of uncles and aunts. Eight on my mother's side and 6 on my father's side. (Truth is, I used to think everyone on my father's side was an aunt or uncle because I grew up calling all my father's 1st cousins "Aunt somebody" or "Uncle somebody.' When I was in my teens I finally began to figure out that Uncle Pat and Uncle Ralph and Uncle 'Shortie'--and yes he was--Uncle Opel and Aunt Denee and Aunt Ursa and Uncle Buford and Aunt Arbana and Uncle Hovie--my father's family had some names, I'll tell you--were, in point of fact, my second cousins. By then it was too late since they 'were' aunts and uncles in my mind and heart.)

I was the youngest of all the multitude of first cousins (18 in all) until My Uncle Harvey and my mother's sister, Aunt Elsie adopted Denise who was 6 years younger than me. I was in my teens by then and she was 10. I guess not having nieces and nephews pales beside the fact that my son and daughter have no first cousins and I had so many. But nieces and nephews would be nice.

The thing is, I think Bern and I would be great at being Aunt and Uncle. I'd be considered a little eccentric but a good listener and Bern would be seen as a font of wisdom and advice. We'd have them come and stay a few days every once in a while. I used to go visit Aunt Elsie and Uncle Harvey for a week every year and was always around my Dad's brothers and my mother's sisters. I liked having so many adults that were like my parents except NOT!

Bern would make them cabbage rolls with sour cream and I'd ask them about what they've been reading and take them to movies. Bern would tell the nieces all they need to know about boys but their parents won't tell them and I'd take the nephews on walks around Cheshire and listen to their angst and confusion about girls (none of which I could clear up in any way!)

We could email with them and call them on their birthdays and they'd all tell us we were their favorite Aunt and Uncle even if we weren't just to please us.

Nieces and Nephews--you have any spare ones we could have? We'd take good care of them and send them back when you wanted. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter is coming

Monday, they tell us, winter will arrive with sleet and freezing rain and some sprinkling of snow. That's what the National Weather Service says. And it may be so. The first snow of winter on December 8. Not bad, all things considered in New England.

Winter is also coming to me, I believe. Last night I had a great idea for a post that would have brought pondering to all who read it. It was such a good idea that I knew it would keep for a day and I could write it tonight since I really wanted to go to bed last night when the idea came.

All day I've tried to remember the wondrous thing I wanted to write about last night. To no avail....

An idea so wondrous and profound that I thought I'd never forget it is gone, gone, gone.....

Besides that, my ankles  have ached for two days because when I go to the Y to walk on the treadmill, I always read a book. And on Thursday I was finishing Scott Turow's new novel called Identical. It was so good that I walked for about an hour and 15 minutes when my usual walk is 40 minutes or two miles, whichever comes first. I walked almost 4 miles without moving an inch and my ankles ached for two days.

A decade ago I could have done that and my ankles would have only ached and made me walk funny for a single day. Before that, they wouldn't have ached at all.

"I grow old, I grow old, should I wear my trousers rolled or eat a peach?" I've become Prufrock, wondering how to 'be' at an age I never imagined reaching.

(And, when I was 40 or even 50, I wouldn't have forgotten completely that great idea for a post. I could have brought it back, detail by detail. But now, at 66, it is gone and I know it is gone forever.)

I don't mind getting older--it's a lot better than the only other option. And I forgive my memory since I still have enough memory to forgive such things. But, this I know and know fair well...Winter is coming.....

It gives me real empathy for those older than me. I used to get annoyed with old folks for moving so slow and forgetting things and dropping into the cracks in their brains.

I don't any more. I see it coming the way the National Weather Service sees winter coming day after tomorrow.

It's not frightening, just sobering. Perhaps it is a good thing to notice that things you could do 20 years ago aren't possible now.

Growing old is like closing doors that you know you'll never need to enter. I'll never deep-sea dive or sky dive or take up archery. I'll never drive a racing car or learn to do brain surgery. I'll never milk a yak or clime Everest. But most of the doors still open to me--loving my family and my friends, being a good priest, eating well, enjoying wine, walking a treadmill for less than an hour at a time, cooking, reading good novels, writing on this blog, pondering life--those things I still do and since they are part of a finite number of doors still open, I enjoy them more than I ever have.

Growing old is not for the faint of heart. But every day is more precious to me since I got this old. More precious and more rare. Every day....What a gift aging is, in the end....

Thursday, December 5, 2013

With great humility and graditude

I don't deserve to write about Nelson Mandela.

Lots of folks who will write of him in the coming days, don't deserve to either.

Quite frankly, in the time I've been alive--over 6 decades now--no one...and I mean that, NO ONE has done more to promote the dignity of being human and the righteousness of being equal than Nelson Mandela.

I'm sure, in the decades ahead, people will dissect his life and find his clay feet. I'd be disappointed if they didn't--it is the clay feet of heroes that make them really special and truly human--showing that 'truly human' people can make a difference that changes the world in a way that is good.

All that I can say, from the depths of my heart and soul, is that I am both humbled and proud to live out my life in some of the same years that Nelson Mandela lived.

It was a rare and special privilege. Thank you, Nelson, for that.

And may your soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

You gave the journey grace and love and forgiveness and nobility.....Thank you again.

The Sound...the very Sound...

In spite of the fact that I often write skeptical things about right wing assholes--ok, I didn't mean that, I meant 'right wing well meaning but misguided folks'--in this space, I am, deep down, believe me, a sentimentalist.

I just finished watching Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music on live TV and I'm a little misty. Plus, a daughter of some friends of ours and granddaughter of someone I love dearly was Marta, the second youngest girl in the cast. Grace did great.

Plus, just to prove I have some gentle bones in my body in spite of what I have to say about Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz--those well meaning but horrible misguided as..., folks--I watched a video online tonight about a designer in Germany who brought in 6 disable people--two in wheel chairs, one missing a leg and one an arm, a woman with extreme curvature of the spine and a dwarf and created mannequins exactly like them. The disabled folks were weepy about seeing their 'disabilities' portrayed. Then they put clothes on the mannequins and put them in display windows in Berlin. Then there was video of people looking at them--some shocked, some dismayed, some horrified, some sympathetic and some who even tried to put their bodies in the same poses....

I went downstairs weeping a bit and told Bern about it .

Maybe, since I'm getting older, I'm even more sentimental than I've always been.

I'm a lot closer to tears in moving moments than I've ever been.

But Michelle Bachman and Glen Beck don't make me sentimental. They just make me furious....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The awful-est person in the world...

OK, to be the AWFUL-EST person in the world is a real challenge. There is President Assad of Syria, President Putin of Russia, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Senator Cruz of Texas, Rush Limbaugh of Hell, Mylie Cyrus, all the Kardashians, that idiot country singer who hates Obama and everyone who likes or is neutral about Obama, the whole congregation of the Baptist church in Kansas who think American soldiers who die, die because of Gay People...oh, the list is endless.

But the AWFUL-EST person in the world, hands down, is Michele Bachman. She said the other day that not only will the Affordable Health Care Law destroy Life as We Know it and not only has the President re-written the Constitution, for God's sake, to implement it but something even worse and more despicable.

She said the horrible and embarrassing, absolutely terrible roll out of the web site, the most distressing and damaging event of Obama's entire presidency, was, (get this) ON PURPOSE AND INTENTIONAL by the Administration so that the Civilization Ending results of t he Affordable Care Act won't become obvious and undeniable before the 2014 mid-term elections.

Sit back and take that in for a moment....

Rep. Bachman says that the absolutely worst thing that has happened in the President's term was not only INTENTIONAL but PLANNED by the administration. So, President Obama on purpose made his signature legislation screw up in the worst possible way, making him plunge in the polls and threatening the Democrats majority in the Senate because he wanted to keep America from knowing about the Death Panels and forced abortions and socialism of health care until the mid-term elections that have become a lot more difficult for Democrats because of the INTENTIONAL and PLANNED failure of the web site.....Duh....Double Duh....

There have been horrible and awful persons who have lived in the past. People who destroyed whole populations. Hitler and Attila the Hun come to mind. Make your own list after that. But I've never doubted that folks like that were smart. Smart and Awful.

But Michele Bachman is not only Awful, she's Stupid.

A dangerous combination--Stupidity and Awfulness....about the worst.

Granted, she hasn't done as much damage as Hitler and Attila, not by a long shot. But if Stupid was terminal, she'd be long dead.

I'm just sayin'.....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hats and Scarves

Scarves and Hats are appropriate in this season. It is getting colder, which is something I like about living in New England. It gets cold here. I like having four seasons. I did like the seasons better in the upper elevations of southern West Virginia when I was a boy. Four months of Spring, two months of Summer (because we were in the mountains), four months of Autumn and two months of Winter--bitter and cold and lots of snow (because we were in the mountains)--that 4/2 and 4/2 ratio seemed perfect to me.

But I do like Winter because you get to wear hats and scarves.

I have two hats I wear in winter. One is a lion cub hat my brother in law, Father Dan (a late vocation Roman Catholic priest) gave me years ago. It is lion tawny with two brown ears and a mane. I like it a lot. My friend Fred gave me a picture that is about a yard wide and two feet tall of me in that hat. The picture is in front of our kitchen fire place. How cool is it to have a kitchen fire place?

The other hat is an Afghan hat of wool that looks like a round room. It belonged, originally, to Brian Vaugh, who was my lay-assistant for several years at St. John's in Waterbury, CT until he became a Buddhist priest, which I was fine with since Buddhists aren't deists and Christians can be Buddhist too. The greatest line about being a Christian I've ever heard was when Brian, who'd just gotten back from a month long Buddhist retreat was telling Larry Brown, a rather conservative member of the parish about his month at coffee hour. Larry is long dead (God bless him) but that Sunday he was taken off guard and said to Brian, "Brian, are you a Christian?"

And Brian said, without a heart-beat between the question and his response: "at least".

Being 'at least' a Christian seems to me to be about right.

When I was wearing Brian's hat, which I picked up off the clothing table in St. John's Soup Kitchen because Brian had put it there and I wanted it, a big--I mean BIG Black man at the bus stop in downtown Waterbury (I often rode the bus to work and back to Cheshire because I liked the people who rode the bus a lot--'real people', if you know what I mean...Real People who worked like dogs and couldn't afford a car and were very friendly on the bus) said to me, when I was wearing Brian's Afghan hat: "Are you a Muslim, man?" And I said, because he was really BIG, I mean seriously BIG and ripping with muscles under his coat, "if you want me to be...."

And people in 7/11's often told me, "That's from my country, your hat." Some even named it for me but I can't remember, being old, what name they told me.

I also have two scarves. One of them if from Brian as well. It is a rainbow scarf made by little old ladies in Appalachia, where I come from. He gave me two and I gave one away to a friend--the husband of a gay priest I know--because he admired it. That's why Brian gave it to me in the first place, because I admired it. Brian often gave me things of his I admired. I always wished he had a Mercedes so I could admire it. But he didn't. An Episcopal Buddhist would never own an expensive German Car, not ever.

That scarf played a big roll in my retirement from full time ministry. Jay, one of the members of the church, used it to wrap around the neck of my effigy and then had it dry cleaned and gave it to me as a gift.

My other scarf is one I bought for Bern, but since I usually by people things because I like them, I would wear it from time to time. It's a huge scarf, in muted colors, about a foot wide and 5 feet long. It wraps around my neck a couple of times with lots to hang down. She recently told me it was 'mine' because it was too big for her. I love it a lot.

Noone can be mean to you when you wear a lion cub hat.

Noone can be aggressive towards you when you wear an Afghan hat with a tiny polar bear pin that people keep trying to wipe off until they recognize it's a polar bear pin and not rubbish.

And most people, I've discovered, love people who wear scarves made by Appalachian women or scarves that are a foot wide and five feet long.

Hats and scarves....they make me lot winter.... 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanks to Thanksgiving

Mimi came first (my 'princess', my love, the one who calls me 'Baba') on Monday.

Josh and the girls came on Tuesday from Baltimore. Morgan, Emma and Tegan flowed out of the car and flowed over us again and again until they left with Cathy on Saturday (she came on the train on Friday since her father was sick and she wanted to help her mother).

Tim came on Wednesday, giving joy to Mimi and us all (the 'girls' most of all since they are 'uncle Tim groupies').

On Thursday John came first with the deep fryer for tiny onions (for Tim since he's allergic to shell fish) and oysters for the rest of us.

Then came Jack and Sherry and Robbie from New Haven (Robbie from the left coast home for Thanksgiving) We've known them all since 1980, Robbie growing up with Josh and Mimi.

And we ate and ate, as you should on Thanksgiving. And we toasted Sumi (Josh and Cathy's dog--Cathy's before Josh--who had been with us so many Thanksgivings and died in August at 15 or so) and I toasted them all because they are the people I love most in the world. Truly.

How many times do you get to sit at a table with 12 of the people you love most in the world and eat a meal with them. I was sorry Cathy wasn't there to make it 13.

How rare is that? How wondrous? How wild and truly blessed?

I was deeply Thankful this Thanksgiving and I thank Thanksgiving for that opportunity.

(Bela did nip at Robbie as an outsider, but we won't let that detract from the magic....)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

run, don't walk...

I saw the second Hunger Games movie this week. It made me reread "Catching Fire" which I did in about 24 hours, even with granddaughters here!

The movie 'watches' like the book 'reads'--which is downhill all the way at a speed that is just beyond comfortable.

And Jennifer Lawrence, well, what can you say about her?

One thing I can say is this: she is not a 'sex symbol' in any way though she is beautiful and sensual and only 23. What she is is this, a girl women would want to have as a friend and men as well. She is like 'the girl next door' melded into 'the friend you want to have'.

She is a remarkable actress. Probably the best since Merell Streep and a decade younger that when we first met Merell.

Read the book. See the movie. Preferably in that order--but the movie is so faithful to the book it would most likely enhance your enjoyment of the novel as the novel enhances your enjoyment of the movie. Just do it, ok?

(Also saw Frozen with the girls and Josh and Bern. Absolutely 'must see', even if you're an old coot like me. Great animation, profound and wondrous moral, astonishing story. Go see a movie or two soon--my recommends are the two above....)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Where I'm from....

Thanksgiving and the day after is over. Sherry and Jack and John and Robbie came and went. Tim and Mimi left today. Kathy came today and will leave tomorrow with the girls--her dad has been in hospital and kept her in Baltimore until today--Josh will stay for his 20th High School Reunion on Saturday (how did that happen...that a child of mine graduated from High School two decades ago???)

For some reason today I've been pondering where I was 'from' and how that formed me in so many ways. Part of it was because the people around me, except for Bern, were 'from' other places and formed much differently than I was.

I'm from West Virginia, the southern most county of McDowell. Those who are 'from there' say it in 2 1/2 syllables--MACK-Dow-ell. One of the few words we say (those of us from the Appalachian place) that doesn't have the accent on the last syllable. We say "tor-na-DO" and "Merry Christ-MAS"
and end all sentences on an upbeat that makes the simplest thing sound like a question: 'lovely day to-DAY" we'd say.

Where I grew up, when you met someone you'd ask them "Where are you from?"

And they'd say 'Pageton' or 'Welch' or 'Crosier Holler' or 'Little Creek' and you'd know volumes about them just from that--who their 'people' were and how they showed up in the world. Knowing where someone was 'from' was knowing them pretty well.

In New England I have to remind myself to ask strangers "what do you do?' because that's the operative question up here.

Being 'from' West Virginia, especially McDowell county is formative in a myriad of ways. First of all, you don't think you're as good as most people and you enter any encounter as an underdog. Secondly, you have to be twice as smart to be noticed. Thirdly, you have trouble dealing with people who are 'well off'. It's just like that. Really. And always.

Being an Appalachian means starting with a 4 handicap. It just does.

In just less than seven decades I've pared some of that away, but in some ways yet, I'm just a boy "From" McDowell County, with all that entails. Try as you might, where I come from, you can't escape 'where you come from'....

I'm OK with that, it's just the way it is.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday and Mimi

The Thanksgiving holiday began early when Mimi came from New York on the train at noon today.

We'll have her alone until Josh and the girls arrive tomorrow evening.

Mimi alone is devoutly to be desired. She is so much fun. Bern and Mimi and I watched 'The Voice' together. We talk about it almost weekly since all three of us are huge fans, but watching it with her was a joy.

Bern and Mimi both have almost perfect pitch. She certainly got that gene from Bern! They can tell when someone is flat or sharp and when harmony is off. I actually thank the music gods I can't do that since it never interferes with my enjoying music....I'll be really enjoying someone on the show and I'll see Bern grimace. Sounded fine to me, but not to her. Even when the show is this late into the season--only 8 singers left and they all sound wondrous to me--I saw a grimace or two from the two of them.

Mimi does yoga and even scheduled some classes in Southington while she's here. She told me since she's gotten serious about yoga, her joints crack a lot. "I guess that's good," she said. Though I'm not sure how it is. I guess it has to do with limberness. I'm so stiff nothing of mine ever cracks and if it did it would probably be a compound fracture.

Cathy might not come until Wednesday since her dad is in the hospital in Baltimore. Tim comes Wednesday too, on the train, as Cathy will.

Cathy and the girls will leave Saturday morning. Josh is staying for his 20th high school reunion that night and then will leave Sunday Morning. He'll have to go with Bern to the train in her truck.

I'm not sure when Mimi and Tim will be leaving...(and it just occurred to me that these travel plans are of less than no interest to any of you....Sorry.)

It's just that these are people I love so, so much, I think everyone should care.

I hope you have people you love that much and they're with you this week....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mamaw Jones

For some reason today I've been thinking about my grandmother--the only one I really had since my father's mother died before I could know her. Lina Manona Sadler Jones was her name. Her husband, my maternal grandfather was Eli Jones, no kidding. What a great name, though Lina Manona isn't 'shabby' (as we'd say back home as a compliment).

I remember an enormous amount of things about her--probably more than I remember about my mother, if that's fair. She was such a character.

The thing I remember today is having dinner around her kitchen table with some group of first cousins. As dinner was winding down, invariably, Mamaw Jones would say to one of us--and we all wanted it to be us!--"Have you had enough?" And we would proudly answer, "I've had sufficient."

Then she would say, "You went 'fishin'?"

And which ever one of us it was would say, "I've had plenty."

And she would say, "you caught 20?"

And we would say, since all of us were involved by then, "We're truly full!"

And she would reply, "so where are those fish?"

Then we'd have dessert--raspberry sticky buns or chocolate cake or, best of all, lemon meringue pie.

It always went that way--that call and reply, that Greek chorus, that take-your-breath-away funny exchange with Mamaw Jones. Everytime.

Maybe I'll try it out at Thanksgiving. As you know we're having 14. I bet I could get Morgan and Emma and Tegan into that give and take.

And remember Mamaw on a day when food is King.

Friday, November 22, 2013

To be surrounded

There was no escaping it today--the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. You would have had to have been in a bomb shelter to not know what day it way--away from TV, print, Internet, radio--any way to communicate outside yourself--to not know.

I listened to several people talk about how America lost its collective 'innocence' that day. What bullshit that is.

We had black slaves stolen from Africa for decades. We refused women the vote until the beginning of the last century. We fought a Civil War, two world wars and Korea before JFK was killed. We had a Great Depression.

There was nothing 'innocent' about us--our hands were covered with blood from all that and more.

We were no more 'innocent' in 1963 than we are now--when we cut food stamps and teach to 'tests' rather than 'knowledge' and argue like 12 year old's on the playground about making sure everyone has health insurance and disguise overt racism toward the president as policy disagreement.

Who knows what would have been different had Kennedy lived and had four more years as President? I believe this, the progress against poverty and for civil rights under President Johnson would have been hard to match if JFK hadn't died. And the space program Kennedy promised us came true without him.

We are not 'innocent' and never have been. We might, in the 50's, when I grew up, have been sheltered and naive. But never innocent.

And we are not now. People in the wealthiest country in the history of the world are hungry. People in the country admired for equality are not equal, not at all. Though 'white' Americans will soon be a minority, black and brown and Asian Americans, still, for the most part don't share the 'dream'. Immigrants, which we all were at some point, still struggle to have a taste of the Dream. Women and GLBT folks are still, in spite of all the progress, in harms way in many places in this country.

Don't tell me America 'lost its innocence' 50 years ago today. We have never been 'innocent' and will never be until 'tolerance' becomes 'equality' and wealth is truly shared among all.

I miss him and his brother, after all these years. But let us honor them for who they were, not for who we imagined they would become.

50 years is a real chunk of time. But I remember the day so vividly, so completely.

Ponder, if you are old enough, what this day on a Friday in 1963 was like for you.

That's my gift to you this day--the gift of memory and pondering.....

Be well and stay well, beloved.....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Imagining tomorrow tonight...

There are few events where people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing across decades. Some are personal and some are communal.

 9/11, certainly. I was listening to Imus in the morning, for God's sake, though I loathed his politics I found him amusing. And he started talking about a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I wandered upstairs and started brushing my teeth until I remembered both my children were in New York City and went into the TV room just in time to watch the second plane crash live. My mouth was full of toothpaste and my toothbrush was in my hand as I stared, not knowing what to think, when I heard Bern's truck careen into the driveway with screeching of tires. Then, after a moment, she was beside me, staring at the TV. "Josh and Mimi" is all she said, "where are they?"

And when my father called early on a Wednesday morning in April of 1973 and told me my mother had gone into a coma and I should come, come now. Bern was in New York City acting in an off-off Broadway play and I was in our apartment in Morgantown, about ready to go to work for the West Virginia Department of Welfare as a Child Protection Specialist. Instead I drove unsteadily to Trinity Church after calling Snork Roberts, the Episcopal Chaplain of West Virginia University to tell him I had to talk to him before I drove 5 1/2 hours (yes, Virginia, it takes that long to drive from a county in West Virgina bordering on Pennsylvania to the southern most county in West Virgina bordering on South western Virginia). Snork came and dressed in full Eucharistic Vestments to give me communion and anoint me in the tiny chapel of Trinity Church. It was one of the oddest experiences of my life and, I am convinced, gave me the ability to drive 5 and 1/2 hours to my mother's hospital bed without killing myself and others.

The Bay of Pigs standoff is etched into my brain because Woodrow Wilson (I kid you not!) our bus driver to Gary High School from Anawalt, pulled off the road at a marker for some Indian battle in the middle of, I guarantee you, nowhere, and started reading to us the evacuation bus schedule if the missiles started flying from Cuba and the US and Gwen Brooks started to freak out and ran to the front of the bus and pushed past Mr. Wilson and tried to get out of the bus, which she couldn't, but she could scream and wail endlessly until Woodrow took her in his arms and she passed out from fear. How could that not be etched in my mind?

Then there is tomorrow. On November 22, 1963, I was a junior in high school and at about 2:45, the assistant principal came over the intercom to tell us that the President had been assassinated. It was last period, school ended at 3, and I was in English class with Miss Stacks, the strictest teacher at Gary High School. But she dissolved into tears, astonishing me since I'd assumed she was a Republican, and all the girls in the class fell apart as well. I was feeling misty myself about that dashing young President and his perfect wife but all the girls were needing hugs and support and most of them had never given me a glance, but now I could hold them and say soothing words while feeling bodies I would never have felt otherwise.

The 18 miles from Gary High to Anawalt were ridden for the first and last time in total silence on Woodrow Wilson's school bus. We were too young to opinions that would matter about JFK being killed and too old to not know we were in a moment of history that we would remember forever.

And tomorrow that will be 50 years ago. Half-a-century. And, like the other moments I will never forget and tell you exactly where I was and what I was thinking (my wedding day, my mother's death, my father's death, both my children's birth, my ordination, my retirement Sunday, a few others you'd most likely not understand) the day Jack died is imprinted on my soul, indelible, frozen in amber.

I won't even trouble you with my ponderings of what would have happened if that hadn't happened, though I have some--although I think LBJ got lots done JFK might not have--but tomorrow will be a day when, about 2:45 pm, I'll take a deep breath and ponder my life.

I'd recommend that for anyone. Even if you weren't alive in 1963.

I talked to one of the guys in the package store who's two years older than me about the story I'd just heard on NPR about the Boston Symphony Orchestra which was in an afternoon concert on 11/22/1963 when the news came. They took a break, made the announcement and played the "Funeral March" from Beethoven's 5th Symphony from the sheet music without a rehearsal. Then they took and break and argued about whether or not to preform the second half of the program. Finally the President of the Board of the Symphony came on stage and told the audience that he had gone to a concert the day his father died and found great solace in the music. And assured the audience that the second portion of the concert would provide them solace as well.

The applause after that announcement was deafening....

John in the Package Store was involved in the Weathermen Underground for a while until they were planning to blow up the George Washington Bridge. That passed a limit he told me and he walked out of the meeting and spent a month in the woods of Maine.

Had that plan--to blow up the GW bridge--happened, it would be a moment when I remembered where I was.

John and I grew up in interesting times....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Moon, the Moon....

There's been a big honkin' moon the last few days, tonight wrapped is scarves of clouds. Every time I see a full moon I'm reminded of the (I guess you'd call it a novella) I wrote a few years ago. I may have posted it before but, being awash in linear time, I can't remember. So I'll do it again, just in case anyone would like to read a magical tale about a Princess and a Sailor.

The Princess


The Sailor:

A simple tale told True

Jim Bradley

This is for the Princess in every girl and woman
the Sailor in every boy and man….

May AH bless them everyone and forever….

“There are things you only do for love….”
--G. G. Marquez

I. A letter to a friend

My Friend,

Did I remember to tell you this: a story I once heard (though I don’t remember where or when) about two misbegotten lovers—whose love was forbidden, rebuked and rejected by all?

One was highborn, a Princess, and the other was but a Sailor.

The Sailor was about to set off on a long, long journey and the Princes was praying that when he returned all would be well and the love forgotten and they could go on as before: just the way their lives were meant to be and to unfold. She vowed to pray for that and he vowed to pray not at all.

Yet, when they saw each other and for the first time knew the truth about their love, the Princess swore off praying too. Somehow the Sailor knew that and this is the story of their separation, of their not being together, of their absence from each other.

They were both just not praying, they had decided to just wait and see. Did I tell you this?

This story about a Princess and a Sailor is a story about Truth and Wonder and Love…oh, goodness, most of all about Love. Love is so prickly a thing, so distracting and so deeply profound that it is hard to contain it, express it, make it True. Perhaps the best any of us can do is tell a story about love and let that be the Truth.

So, the Sailor sailed away to cross many seas and see many lands while the Princess stayed home in her castle and wondered. Wondering is perhaps, more than anything, what this story is about. The Sailor stared at the Moon on the seas and wondered. The Princess welcomed the Sun on the trees and wondered. Maybe “wondering” is the best any of us can do about Love. Just wondering about things that can scarcely be imagined. Maybe just that. Maybe that is enough. Who knows?

And who knows where I heard this story. I’m not sure—but it rings True, like Truth.
Wondering still, you Friend

I. The World of Seas

The world where the Princess and the Sailor lived has no real name. No one who lives on the Nine Seas has ever seen fit to name it since there is nothing, in their minds, besides this world. The peoples of the Nine Seas watch the sky—they love their sun and moon and stars—but they have never, for whatever reason, deigned to name the stars or draw meaning from them.
It is, as worlds go, a remarkably pacific place. Fishing rights and free access to ports are the most heated debates between Kingdoms. There have been, over the centuries, internal insurrections among minor royalty in some of the Kingdoms, but no border disputes since none of the Eleven Kingdoms (besides Upper Morgan and Lower Morgan—which would be one land if not separated by nearly impassable mountains) share an actual land border. There have been overly ambitious leaders but the distances between the Kingdoms and the difficulty of transporting armies by sea have kept most all those ambitions in check. Besides the strongest and largest of the Eleven Kingdoms are the Kingdom of the Sun and the Land of Almodon—and these two lands can only look west or east. They are separated by the Ninth Sea, the Impassable Sea. So, although they are really quite close to each other—closer than any other lands—they cannot cross the Ninth Sea to challenge each other or do battle. They are, by virtue of the strangeness of the Ninth Sea, a world apart: the Kingdom of the Sun always looking eastward and the Nation of Almodon always looking westward. Separated as they are by a sea that cannot be sailed, they are the ends of the earth and never threaten each other’s peace.
The Eleven Kingdoms have little interest in war—what most interests them is knowing each other and trade. The Sailor’s journeys are only dangerous because of the temperament of the seas and the strangeness of some of the far-away lands.
The Ninth Sea is that world’s greatest mystery. There are creatures there, at least the songs and poems say so—sea serpents and dragons and even worse—and there are indescribable storms and unthinkable tides that prevent safe passage. Perhaps some day a boat will be built that can sail that sea. But probably not. The Ninth Sea is a problem with no solution. My AH be blessed.
The map of this world shows the Eleven Kingdoms and Nine Seas (no one ever counts the 10th sea—the Frozen Sea—because it is locked in ice for decades at a time). Yet all the people in this world believe they came, in the Time before Time, from the Motherlands or the Lands of Hope. Most of the “races” of the world acknowledge a common heritage and linage though there are several different skin colors and two dozen or so languages, even within each of the Kingdoms. The rule is this: the further east you sail from the Sun Kingdom, the stranger things get—the less like the Kingdom of the Sun and the Motherlands. And then, after Upper Morgan and Lower Morgan and the Wonderlands and Almodon, you run into the Impassable Sea and must turn back west. There is no circumnavigation: all “roads”—upon the seas—run west to east and back again.
The “homeland” of that world is the Kingdom of the Sun, but the “center” of the world is Deep Morgan and the great port city Morganport. It is to Morganport that all the Kingdoms send ambassadors who ferret out the needs of each land and cobble together the agreements to meet those needs. Deep Morgan is the center of learning as well—where all the peoples of all the lands come together to study the ways of the seas, the histories of the Kingdoms, languages, the aspects of trade, and the intricacies of poetry and song—which all the Kingdoms value highly. There is little Philosophy studied there and even less Theology. All the people of the World of Nine Seas agree there is one and but one God—AH is her name. She is a sea god and mostly disinterested in the lives and well being of her people. She is more like “chance” or “luck” or “fate” than the dogmatic gods we know. And she is trusted absolutely, needs little worship and does not require a large priesthood. (Yet another reason there are almost never wars among the Eleven Kingdoms.)
In most places on that world, you would have to search for a temple to AH and finding it would think it rather plain and not often used. Only in the Wonderlands is religion an issue and there only because the seas that surround the Wonderlands are the Storm Sea, the Sweet Sea and the Impassable Sea. Such contrasts and ambiguities of water spark questions of the soul. There are prophets and seers and holy men and women there—but they seldom travel and don’t need to proselytize since all the people of the world already believe in AH, in their way. And few people are willing to risk a journey even a little way into the Sweet Sea because of the strangeness of those waters. The only “high holy place” on the planet is the Isle of Dreams in the Sweet Sea which can only be reached by specially built ships that sail from The Blessed Port. The Blessed Port, where few from other lands ever find themselves, is a place of mystery and magic and soul-talk. It would be safe to say that the inhabitants of the Wonderlands are the repository of the “religion” and “spirituality” of the entire world. The most remarkable point on the whole planet is a lagoon on the Isle of Dreams where AH is said to actually reside. It is a credit to the people of that world that few ever consider risking what must be risked to visit their Deity face-to-face. Most are satisfied with a god far away—that is enough and will suffice. And life goes on.
Though the major land masses are all connected, ice and snow in the extreme north and south and mountain ranges in strategic places, along with the Lesser Desert in Middleland and the Greater Desert between Deep Morgan and the Spicelands all contribute to require that travel between the Kingdoms be on the seas. Thus, it is a world dominated by water and ruled by those who ply the seas in ships.

II. Six Months/Six Seas

(The outer voyage was hurried, stopping at as many ports as possible, trading goods from Lugonia to Paliseda and goods from Paliseda in a brief Upper Kingdom stop (not wanting to linger too long there) and the art works from the Upper Kingdom traded for ancient scrolls and priceless carpets in the Middleland to carry to Deep Morgan to exchange for grain and wine bound to the Spicelands to trade for rare spices to be spread throughout the Eleven Kingdoms at great price. The plan of the Captain of the ship Hope was to arrive in Almodan with a little of everything picked up along the way before much more than half a year had passed. The trip back would be more leisurely, with times to stop and enjoy the wonders of the world as well as swell their purses with the cargo from Almodan and the Wonderlands. And then, back to Homeport after five seasons on the sea—a year and five moons more.)

The sailor had not realized “who” he loved until he was sailing out of the harbor at Homeport. That realization—along with all the lands he had visited, all the seas he had crossed—had made him begin to feel old. He was old from the moons he had seen—week after week on strange seas. He was so exhausted from work and so far from his homeland that he scarcely knew himself anymore. He had heard languages and seen cultures foreign to his tongue and his life. He had settled into wondering as a way of being—as “who he was”.
Each new port held mysteries, but nothing to compare to the mystery of his wondering. Everywhere he encountered new merchants with exotic wares; new women of unexpected hues promising unknown pleasures; new drinks, alien to his tongue, promising joy and forgetfulness—which to him were much the same; new games of chance, promising wealth beyond imagining.
He began, after passing through the Moon Sea, to live mostly on the ship when in port. But, at a docking in the Upper Kingdom, he’d found some wood that seemed to call out to him, as if alive. He’d purchased it, at great price, not knowing why—some wood from an ancient mystic tree. He kept it near his bed in his cabin and held it in his hands each night before sleeping. It seemed to soothe his frantic wondering in some small way.
Sitting on the forecastle late into the night, holding his piece of wood, Hope anchored in Morganport, the sailor took out the knife he carried that has been his father’s and his father’s before him and one or two more before that. His life aboard the ship had always given him ample opportunity to hone and sharpen the family’s blade. But he had never thought of carving before.
“R’e’vol,” the Sailor heard a familiar voice out of the night.
Dear Friend”, it said, “will you cut the wood or your throat?”
It was D’in’fre, his closest companion when he studied as a boy and then a young man in Morganport. The two men embraced roughly, laughing and almost weeping. D’in’fre told the Sailor how he had met Hope’s captain in one of the port’s pubs and discovered his dear friend was aboard the ship, avoiding companionship, wasting away with wondering.
I am sad and I am lonely,” the Sailor told his friend, “and I would carve this wood if only I knew how.”
D’in’fre was silent for a long, long time. Hope rose and fell in her moorage and the sliver of that month’s moon used its dim light to caress the gentle waters of the harbor.
You have a knife,” D’in’fre finally said, “that looks hone and ready to carve…and you have wood that almost beats like a heart…and you have your hands, my friend. So cut away….”
After a bottle of wine with his friend and a solemn promise to return on the way back from the ends of the world, the Sailor sat in the moonlight, rolling on the waves of a sea half-a-world from home; and while his shipmates were gaming and whoring and drinking in the town, he took the mystic wood and the knife of many generations and began to cut.
The wood was forgiving and seemed to guide his hand as he cut, whittled, began to carve.
For over a week of moons and days, while the Captain was trading skins and paintings and rough-weaved cloth for coffee beans and wine and satin and precious stones, the Sailor carved. The wood was deeply forgiving and gave life and purpose to the movement of his hands, the knife, his soul. The wood was a blessing, a gift from AH, a messenger from beyond, a wondrous miracle to his untrained carving skills. The wood beneath his hand and his father’s, father’s, father’s blade joined to create—perfectly, adroitly, absolutely and exactly formed as if it had existed for ages beneath the wood’s grain—a heart.
From mystic wood of a foreign land, the Sailor, not knowing how, carved out a perfect, mystic heart…his—just big enough to lie in the palm of his hand. He was stunned when the carving was through. He was no artist and yet…yet something so remarkable came from that wood and from his blade and from his soul.

The Sailor’s heart was finished just as Hope left a port in Lower Morgan and sailed into the meeting place of the Ocean East and the Storm Sea. He was seven seas from Homeport where the Princess sewed. A Princess in that land must be adroit in seams and sewing and embroidery and the making of quilts. But one day—the day exact though a world away from Ocean East and the Storm Sea, distracted more or less by a sudden thought of her Sailor-lover, never to be, the Princess cut her finger with her scissors and sucked the blood into her mouth. In the blood she tasted—gathered on her tongue, swallowed—the sure knowledge that she must cut more. She called for fine paper, the finest in the land, and—not knowing what she was doing, having never done it before, she began to shave away paper with her scissors, forming shapes new, unknown to her.
The scissors and the paper seemed to know what the Princess did not. Swish, swish went her scissors, her hands guided from beyond—by AH, perhaps—and as the shavings fell away the Princess held—against all imagining—in her hand a perfect heart. Paper it was—but the finest kind—and whatever else it was, it was a heart…hers…the heart of a Princess.
She went to hide it away—and since Princesses and all women in that world were well educated and fond of poetry (as were all the men) she sorted through her many books and found a book of poems she especially loved to press the finely cut heart between pages of long and longing and aching and never-more-shall-be verses. She held the book to her breast and noticed how the sun, in just that moment, had found its way through her window to illuminate the book…and her.

Holding the wooden heart to his own heart, the sailor went to his cabin. He was first mate, a man much loved, respected, who never issued pain on the other sailors, and had a cabin of his own. He pulled out his small chest from beneath his bunk. Inside he found an unopened bottle of wine from the Kingdom of the Sun, his home country, where the Princess reigned and ruled. The wines of distant seas were often too sweet, too cloying for his taste. He wrapped the heart that his soul and something else besides had carved in his best shirt, exchanging it for the bottle in his chest.
Sitting on the deck, the ship Hope having set sail at night, he watched the moon rise and pass across the sky. He scanned the horizon as they passed into the Eighth Sea—the Sweet Sea where few felt safe to sail. That made him as far from home, as far from his life, his love, his joy as he could be. Watching through the night as the moon, his love, his Princess, crossed the sky and rendered his heart, he drank the nutty, bold, red wine of their land and watched and wondered and was, somehow, full.

The sunlight shined playfully around her bedroom. She put away the book of poems and her heart, hiding them where none could find them, and stepped out onto the balcony. The sun was at full power—shining, burning, bringing light and life to all. She thought to weep but remembered her heart, pressed between the lines of poetry, and she burst into unexpected song.
“My love, the moon and sun are all we have,
and our hearts, stored away, hidden but so new….
Half a world away and more from me, I love you.
My heart is cut from paper and is yours….”

Incredibly, as far away as he could be from her, and sailing even further away, watching the moon, drenched in home-land wine, he too had a song to sing.
“My heart I carved for you, it is yours, but mine:
so far away, so lost in distance and yet entwined:
the sun is your, AH, let it shine….
And mine the moon, so lush, so fine….”

Somehow, beyond all possibility, beyond all knowing, they dimly heard each other’s songs and knew vaguely about each other’s hearts. Such things sometimes happen in a world so wrapped up in poetry and song.
But what is to be made of all of this? A Princess and her Sailor; a Sailor and his Love—so far apart and yet so near. Heartsick and yet heart-joined. The sun sets and the moon rises; yet never quite together. But it is the sun and the moon that are theirs…forever.
As are their hearts—tucked away in a chest under a bunk; pressed in a book of poems hidden on a bookshelf—ever given.

III. The Sailor’s Songs
So the Sailor, far off in an almost unknown sea, watches the moon cross the sky, igniting the waves with washes of light each night. Often, he would sing to the moon and to his love, far-far away.
“Like the blessed cloud ringed moon
you are as near to me as night.
Yet so far, so long, so soon,
I have no words to sing a’right….”

Sometimes his longing was so great, so profound, so indescribable, he thought he would go mad. Too much ocean, too many seas separated him from the Princess of the Day. But at dusk each evening he searched the sky and there—there…the moon! He could sing again.
“So constant, pale and dim
your light is still as bright as day.
Though the evening sky you rim,
still you show my path, my way.”

Often he feared the moon’s dark cycle—no light at all. Just as his love was impossible, there was no way to see the waves those moon-dark nights. Yet he sang….
Your absence, love—lonely, dark,
sends me pain, loss, fear.
Yet night’s blackness, O so stark,
does not lose me—I am here….”

They are so misbegotten—these two lovers. No chance for them. Everything conspires against them. The Princess in her tower; the Sailor on the sea—they are sun and moon, never together. Night-songs he sings as she follows the sun across the sky.
Often, he wonders, are they—the two of them-but a metaphor for loss of hope, loneliness, longing?
One day, just at eventide, in a remote and wondrously foreign city, as all hope drained from him because of the sea’s vastness and her tower and his ship—he noticed the setting sun and there, just to the east, in a still blue sky…the Moon! He sang:
“Never is the pain gone and past,
longing aches so deep within my breast.
But Sun and Moon will always last,
and patience will bring forth the best….”

He knew then, in that far-away land—knew against all other knowing—that this he could always give her: a song and his heart.

    The cook and the maid stood outside the door, holding each other, trying to give each other courage to knock and enter and comfort the Princess they both so loved.
The maid was especially distressed, knowing as she did that she had contributed mightily, though unknowingly, to her Princess’ pain.
“If only I had not…,” she sobbed softly to the Cook, “if only I had refused….”
“Shush, my child,” the cook told her quietly, “she was your Princess and will be your Queen. Her request was yours to honor. You could not have known….”
“It seemed so harmless,” the maid whispered into the older woman’s ear, “and she so needed some freedom….”
The sounds of crying from within the Princess’ chambers elevated just then and the two women held each other close.
The Princess had been with her father, the King of the Sun Lands, and his royal council. She had gone to plead her case. She was in love with a Sailor on a far-away sea whom she wished to marry on his return. The Sailor was a common man and well she knew how much confusion her love would sow in the fields of state. She was the only daughter of Eliuia the 12th, the sole heir to the Scarlet Throne of the Kingdom of the Sun, Protector of the Motherlands, Guardian of the Lands of Hope. No crown in all the Kingdoms of the world of the Nine Seas was so important to the welfare of the planet. Never, for 68 generations, had the Scarlet Throne been vacant or passed to any besides a true descendent of the Old Ones from the Motherlands. All the other Kingdoms tenuously traced back the linage of their rulers to the mating of the Old Ones with the People of Hope—but it was mostly fiction and politics and clever, creative genealogy. No one believed the claims of even Paliseda and Lugonia to the bloodlines of the Motherlands—never mind those kingdoms further removed. But all were polite and knew such claims were necessary for order. A bastard here or there, some cousin from Middleland or Lower Morgan, even a usurper with a swift sword and a large army…such details were not troubling. But there was something different about the Kingdom of the Sun.
Ask ten thousand folks from all the Kingdoms of that world—stately Paliseda to the lusty Spicelands to frosty, proper Upper Morgan to the eastern most valleys of Almodan, ask them all: “what holds the world in sway? What keeps us safe? What makes the winds blow fair, the sea hold up our ships? What makes our men brave, our women fertile and out children full of hope? What pleases AH and gives us pleasant dreams?” Frame the question how you will and the answer will be the same. Even the petty thief in Blessed Port, the Austere on the Isle of Dreams, the dim-witted fishmonger of the Last Isle, the scholars of Morganport, the sleepy artists of the Middle Kingdom, the isolated craftsman of the Lower Isles, the ice bandits of the Frozen Sea, even the suffering souls on the Isle of Pain—all them all…ask them all and the answer will be the same.
“Bloodline on the Scarlet Throne” is all they’d say. It would be enough, more than enough to teach you all you need to know of the World of Nine Seas. And the Princess was the 69th generation of the blood of the Old Ones and the people of the Land of Hope.
What nonsense to believe such a thing as love…so brittle, so ephemeral, so passing in a life-time, a few insignificant breaths…could be enough to overcome 2000 years of blood purity on the Scarlet Throne—the very thing that kept the world spinning and life going on as it had always gone.
Through it all—that dreadful, wrenching hour in Court—what gave the Princess the cleanest, most agonizing pain was this: Eliuia, her father, spoke not a word. He kept his thoughts to himself. The Counselors said it all—in words polite and practical and politic. She thought, at one point, she would begin to bleed from her eyes, her pain and disappointment were so intense. And Eliuia 12th did not speak, did not even glance at her, turned his head and closed his eyes, sitting on the Scarlet Throne while she nearly died seven steps below. He did not rise and come down to her and take her in his arms to comfort her. He did nothing: spoke not, scarcely moved.
They do not care that we’re in love. They do not care if our hearts are broken…They only care that we’re not together, that we have no life to share….
Those were the words she began to repeat to herself as the Righteous Ones discussed her plea to be released to marry a commoner. Those were the words that sounded out a tattoo beat in her soul as her father sat and listened. Those were the only judgments she could make or understand, even hours later.
“They do not care if we’re in love,” she told the cook and her maid between sobs.
“They do not even care if our hearts are broken,” she said, calming under the care of the two women. “All that matters to the Righteous Ones who guard the Scarlet Throne is this: we shall never be together…we’ll have no life to share….”
Through the long night the two women held her as she tossed in terrible dreams. Then, at dawn, as the moon faded and sun began to rise, accompanied by a concert by birds outside the palace window, Eliuia was there. He had been guided to his daughter’s suite by a simple kitchen boy—the only companion he could find so early in the day.
“ENO-ON!” the cook exclaimed when the idiot boy opened the door, “how dare you enter here…?”
Then she saw the man behind him and fell to her knees.
“Rise, Carriak,” the king said gently, “I made the boy accompany me here. It is no fault of his….”
The cook roused the maid from sleep. They both bowed embarrassed and fled from the room.
Eliuia the 12th, 68th of his line, sat on the edge of his daughter’s bed but dared not touch her, not even softly.
The King of the Sun Lands did not speak and the Princess did not raise her head, though she whispered to her father. “You do not care if our hearts are broken,” she said, so silently he had to lean toward her to hear. “You do not care if we’re in love—our love matters not to you.” Eliuia breathed deeply, clinched his eyes closed and listened. “All that matters is that we are not together, that we will have no life to share….”
Eliuia was gathering his courage and his voice to speak of generations, of the Scarlet Throne, of the sweep of history, of the need for continuity, of the importance of the royal bloodlines and the rising of the sea. He was seeking to remember all the rational and conventional and convincing arguments his Counselors had made for him. His heart was deeply conflicted for he loved his child so dear—yet, he was King…68th of his linage and she was 69th.
But before he spoke (and he never spoke that morning, indeed did not speak aloud for over a month from that day) a voice from the corner of the room came flooding to his ears.
“A heart is worth more than a Kingdom,” the kitchen boy said. “A Kingdom is a harsh thing—a thing of history and of power. A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift….”
The Princess felt the stiffening of her father’s body and he sat up and turned toward the boy by the door. She opened her eyes and saw Eliuia’s face in the dim light of dawn—he was stricken, pale, looking years older than his time. He struggled as he stood and stumbled to the door and was gone.
The Princess dozed. When she woke again the sun was already kissing the trees of her Kingdom and the moon—half-a-world away—was painting light on the choppy sea where the Sailor sailed. The tiny boy—how old? she wondered to herself, and how so wise?—was sitting, cross-legged by her bed.
“Eno-on,” she whispered, “who are you?”
He smiled. “I am the one who buries and the one who brings to life. I am to be an Austere of AH, but not until the one not yet born of your blood returns in the end to take me home.”
Her eyes flickered and she slept, overcome by such a message, so unsure of how to hold it that she sunk back into darkness. When next she awakened, he was not there. She rose and washed and sought him out, finding him playing in the plaza outside the palace kitchen. She tried to engage him in conversation, but he seemed dull and placid and only brought her worms he dug from the earth and bugs he found beneath rocks. She would hold them out to her, wiggling and staggering in his dirty hands.
“Eno-on is not quite right, the cook told the Princess. “He cannot speak well. His mind is dim.”
The Princess spent all afternoon watching the boy play. Nothing he did would have persuaded her that the cook was wrong.
Finally, she rose and went to her rooms. She drank some milk and ate some berries and a cold piece of baked fish. Then she gathered paper and ink and pen and wrote this out a dozen times….
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.
A heart is warm and fragile and surrender is its gift.

She wrote it over and over so she would never, ever, ever forget….

V. The Love Letter

Far away, he was, more than half-a-dozen seas removed from the Princess that he loved. He mourned to the moon, night after night, longing, aching, beyond reason for what was so impossible, so removed, so beyond his ken.
A letter he wrote crossed all those seas, through lands more foreign and more strange than she could ever imagine, back safely in the castle, the keep, the place where she reigned.
His letter arrived, carried by a pirate, a priest, a fool, a wine merchant, a minor magician, a drunken sailor, a scholar, a widower, a soldier and, finally, a child. Through all those hands it passed and arrived, beyond all possibility, at the castle door. The old woman—the cook who knew the Princess from a babe—took the letter from Eno-On, the kitchen boy, and knowing what was best, showed it to no one else but carried it to the Princess straightway.
The salt of many seas was on it. The sun and the moon had rose and sat four dozen times as the letter, sealed with wax and a kiss, crossed the world they knew. Riding on half-a-dozen ships, from hand to hand the letter passed—some hesitant hands, some doubtful hands, some anxious hands, some hands full of hope and wonder—across the known world that letter passed and arrived, into her hands, though in the Sailor's fondest wishes he did not imagine it would survive such a passage.
She blessed AH for the hands that had carried it across a world to her and slept with it beneath her pillow for a night or two. Then, trembling, weeping, filled with dread and hope, she broke the wax and edged the thin, almost translucent paper from the envelope. Princess that she was, she did it all with grace and care, her heart racing, her head full of blood and dizziness, quaking from the moment, shivering in the sweet pain, and read:

Princess mine and not mine, not ever:
I travel the world beyond your knowing. I sail the seas we have not named. I visit cities too foreign and bizarre to describe.
And this I know, know as I know the tides and the pattern of the winds and the phases of the moon that lift my spirits night by night….this I know…my heart is ever yours…lovingly…forever….

His name she read, though she seldom thought of him by a name at all—he was her Sailor, her lover, her never-to-be One. And she wept to think so many had risked so much to carry such a short message across a world and more, across more than half-a-dozen seas, from a place where the stars that spangled the night were different, from a place where the moon itself was half-a-month behind the moon she saw. Is that all he had to say to her? What of his adventures, his travels, his thoughts and hopes and wonderings? What of the months of seas between them, the seasons they would never share, already past and gone?
She did not eat, was rude to her maid, cried herself to sleep. Such a short message, so little news, what could he be thinking? Why did he not pour out his heart to her in verse, in song, in long passages of prose?
And then she dreamed: a dream of salt air and strange stars and a smell unlike any in the land where she dwelled and ruled. It was something like a spice from another life, another place, or someplace yet unknown. And in the dream, the moon kissed the waves just off the shore, rushing home to break against the land. As she watched, the waves—dimly lit—were like tiny horses racing from the sea. Watching that, in her dream, so sure and full of hope, she felt his breath behind her on her neck and just before his lips touched her skin, she awoke to the dawn and a cantata of a million birds. In that place between sleep and waking, she embraced his heart.
At that very moment—more than half-a-dozen seas away—he watched the moon and knew, knew in his soul—that she had dreamed his presence and awakened to beauty.
Such knowledge was much less than his longing, far less than his aching, and yet, he felt himself beside her as she awoke and heard the birds….
The Sea was dark and the wind cruel and unyielding. It was the dark of the moon—the time of month the Sailor dreaded more and more. He felt the waves groaning to contain the wind and felt the ship Hope sailing rapidly, further and further away from the one he loved.
“What am I thinking?” he asked himself. “What am I doing to us?”
She was a Princess thrice denied him. There was no “happy ending” for them as in the books of love. The best either of them could hope for…the very best…was longing and aching and on rare occasion being broken by a moment of love. How did he dare confuse her life—a life that was already lain out, planned, accomplished in all but fact? How dare he intrude on what her happiness could reasonably be? How dare he presume to love and make requests where no requests could be? The Blood of the Scarlet Throne did not have the freedom to love a Sailor. Not now and not ever.
The dark of the moon and the seven seas between them turned him mad and reasonable at the same moment. He left the deck and sought the close familiarity of his quarters. He took out pen and ink and paper to write a reasonable and honorable farewell to the Princess who he would (if the ship kept sailing as it had) be a world away from, a hopeless world away from….

Back in the land of his birth, dawn came. The birds gathered to sing outside the window of the Princess. “Even the birds love you, O moon of my sky,” he once told her in that only morning when they ever awoke together. But the symphony of song did not warm her, neither did the sun. Her heart was a dark as a moonless night on a far-away sea.
“What am I thinking?” she asked herself. “What am I doing?”
He was a Sailor never to be hers in ways she longed to have him. Always he would circle ‘round her life, a ship on a nearby but inaccessible sea. How did she dare keep him a prisoner of hope, a slave to impossibility, a refugee of love? He had loved before her and he could love again, without such longings and such pain.
She rose from her bed in search of paper and pen and ink. In a letter passed from hand to hand to hand across a world, she would free him of this madness, let him go, drive him away….

(They had met two years before,. She had escaped the castle dressed as a maid. He was on leave, dressed in his finest. They literally bumped into each other on a busy street, full of sellers of flowers and food and finery from distant lands. He imagined her a woman of his class. She, mistaking his clothing, thought he was of some minor royal blood. They both had loves—he betrothed to the daughter of the wine merchant across his family’s humble street; she promised to the Prince of Palisedea. So, an innocent day walking by the water, eating sweet fruits and ice, talking until their tongues were exhausted, growing close…it all seemed but a romantic afternoon. But they met again and again—she always disguised as her maid, he always in his best clothes—each becoming more and more enamored and more and more self-deceived by their mistaken identities….)
The sailor was full of purpose—he would end this madness, this escapade of lunacy, with words upon paper—harsh and hateful words that would set her free from him. He threw open his trunk and tossed aside his finest shirt, looking for the heart he so painstakingly carved, planning to throw it into the Sweet Sea and be rid of her himself. The silk shirt floated softly to the floor and out of it spiraled an exquisite heart cut from finest paper. He stared at the artistry, the love that heart bore until he realized it was not what should have been wrapped in his shirt. It was the shirt he always wore when he was with her—before he knew her linage and true identity—and it should have been wrapped around the heart of mystic wood.

She found her stationary—crafted by the finest paper-maker in the land, embossed with her royal seal. But dipping the pen in the ink she remembered the heart she’d cut so selflessly, so magic directed, for him. “That I must destroy first,” she told herself. “I must take back my heart.”
Her favorite book of poetry was not hard to find—it was hidden only from other eyes, not her own. She took it from the shelf, unconsciously realizing it had a weight it should not have, and from the pages slipped a heart carved of rare, exotic wood. It rolled crazily across the floor and stopped against the leg of her writing table. The sun spilled across the room and she stared in utter confusion at that heart until she picked it up and held it in her palm. She thought, as mad as such a thought might be, that she felt it pulse, beat of its own accord.

Neither letter was writ that day, that night. Instead the Princess and the Sailor sat at desks—he until dawn came, she until night fell—looking at two hearts that could not be where they were. Both hearts belonged a world away. And the Princess and the Sailor wondered. Just that, for hours…they wondered….

VII. Letter from the Lost Isle
Princess Mine,
I stared a long time at those words I wrote. How dare I call you “mine”? I am on the Lost Isle at the northern edge of the Ocean East, almost as far from you as possible without flying with the white birds that, legends here say, live in the Sun. So how can I call you “mine”?
And if I were there, where you are, in Homeport and the Kingdom of the Sun, you would not be “mine”. Though I was outside the castle walls and you were watching me from you window, we would be as far apart as we are now. Seven seas of distance between us for now…perhaps for always….However, close we might come, seas lie between us. And yet, I call you “mine”, for you have my heart and I hold yours and that…that is enough.
The Lost Isle is not “lost” at all, only hidden by rolling fog and shielded by unpredictable currents that shift and change without warning or reason. It took the best part of a day to negotiate the waters and come to port. Though it is high summer here, we are so far north that most water freezes each night—a thin shell I have to break to wash and drink in the morning. Most water freezes, but not those streams that flow south from the mountain range that rings the northern edge of the island. That water is warm always, even if you put it in a bowl and leave it out at night. It emerges from deep inside the burning mountains and carries with it metals and minerals from the very bowels of the island.
Those mountains cause the eternal fog cover. The chill air from the north passes over the heat of the smoldering range and drapes everything in this strange place in a mist. And waters flowing from that place—the high mountains—is eternally warm though vile to drink and stinging to wash with.
But those waters give life to the strangest creatures in this strange and shrouded land—the strangest creatures I’ve seen up close in all my travels. The creatures are about the size of a cat at home, a little larger, and they walk on their hind legs and have six fingers on each of their front paws. They have a look on their furry faces of perpetual playful intelligence and awareness. The people here call them k’tchk’n and they seem to outnumber the citizens of the island by four to one. Every household has one, at least, as a part of the family. The k’tch’n are clever beyond belief and can be trained to do most domestic chores. They sweep with small brooms made for them and herd the mountain sheep and make minor repairs around the homes. Though some of the people of the land have told me there are k’tch’n who have learned to cook, that seems a myth that gives life to the strange intimacy between the creatures and their human companions.
(I started to write “their owners”, and then “their masters”, but neither is accurate. k’tchk’ns are neither owned or mastered by the humans, but attach themselves to a home voluntarily and, it seems to me, with some forethought—matching their skills in husbandry or housewifery or child caring to the needs of the family with which they choose to live. But no one could assure me that the k’tchk’ns “choose”, since communication between them and the humans does not exist in any way I understand. The creatures do not speak: in fact, they make no sounds at all that I have heard. But to watch them causes me to imagine it is merely because they have nothing to ask or tell to the humans with whom they share their lives.)
In the inn where I’ve stayed, I’ve had the creatures bring me water for washing, breakfast of gull eggs and fresh fish and bread and a weak wine of the island, make my bed and take my clothing only to bring it back to my room dry and pressed. I’ve thanked the various k’tchk’ns who have served me well but they pay as little attention to my gratitude as a cat would to a conversation in Home Port. I’ve tried to ask some of the older women if the k’tchk’n live “in the wild” anywhere. My lack of facility with the dialect here is only part of the reason, I believe, that my questions meet with blank confusion. I don’t think the people of the Lost Isle have any memory of the k’tchk’n prior to the creatures coming to live with the humans. In fact, I suspect that people and k’tchk’n arrived simultaneously—or at least the little, furry ones were waiting on the shore in the dim past for the first settlers of this distant place in a time as lost in the mist of time as the Isle itself.
The relationship between creatures and humans is odd to me. None of the Lost Islanders ever pet or play with the k’tchk’ns, not even the children. They are obviously not seen as “pets”. But neither are they ever “given” tasks to perform—the k’tchk’ns perform the work they do without request, almost as autonomous members of the home. Most are given names that have to do with fur color or some physical characteristic—“long tail”, “short nose”, “big eyes”, “yellow one” are examples. The humans do talk to the little creatures, though usually only to pass the time. Not once have I seen a human mistreat a k’tchk’n; quite the contrary, the creatures are given respect and acknowledgement and the people talk “about” their companions and household creatures quite a bit, almost always in a gentle and loving way. The k’tchk’ns, for their part are loyal for life (about 15 human years, so far as I can tell) once they attach themselves to an individual or a family. Though they don’t try to communicate with the humans, they seldom leave the side of their family. In fact there is a saying here for what we would call “madness”—it is this: “the k’tchk’n has left home”. Once a k’tchk’n has come to live with someone, the islanders say, “there they will live and there they will die.”
The Captain and I spent a late night of drinking the potent wine fermented from the fruit of the only tree that stays green year round on this island. We drank the night away wondering why the little upright cat creatures with such useful skills (like bringing us more wine and opening the bottles) have never been exported from the Lost Isle. I’m embarrassed to admit we were, a little drunk, wondering what profit we could earn from such a business. We made a rather long list of how valuable the k’tchk’n would be throughout the Eleven Kingdoms, only to discover, on the morrow, with sizable head-aches, that there is only one reason k’tchk’ns live only here. The k’tchk’ns can live no where else because they consume only the volcanic waters of this particular place on the earth. They eat nothing and drink nothing but the warm waters. The waters and the k’tchk’ns are perfectly harmonious and interdependent. That mineral heavy, steaming water is used for nothing else here except to be drank by the k’tchk’ns; and the k’tchk’ns live solely on those waters.
In two days we lift sail again, down to Center Port and Almodan. Months and thousand of leagues are still between us. But waking from a dream of you, I realized there is at least one positive thing about our situation—about our not being together, to share a life and a love as I would wish. It is the only “good thing” I can imagine: I would smother you. I would be your k’tchk’n and never lose sight of you, never leave your side.
I would be always near. I would wake at first light to watch you sleep and hide behind doors to watch you when you did not know I was watching. I would hover around you, crave your presence, completely monopolize your life. I would drive you crazy in that way and perhaps blunt your feelings toward me.
So, the distance and the separateness of our love keeps you safe from that at least.
My heart, you well know, is yours. I will cross the seas to reclaim it and offer your heart back to you. And I pray to AH that in that exchange we will choose to hold each other’s hearts a little longer.
Revol, your Sailor (yours)
(This letter made it to the Middle Sea, passed through many hands, but never arrived at the castle and the Princess never read it….alas….)

Viii.. Interlude ON THE LAST PLACE
(The Last Place, by geography and logic, is part of the Kingdom of Almodan. The Almodain claim it and refer to it as their own. Yet, it is land that belongs to the seas that lap it from the south and the east—the Last Place is wholly part of the Sweet Sea and the Impassable Sea and exists within the caress of those two waters. The Last Place will not be defined by land, but by the astonishments and mysteries of the Sweet Sea and the dangers and defiance of the Impassable Sea. That is simply how it is: there is no other way. That the Last Place appears on maps at all—though always inaccurately—is a wonder in itself.
There, in the Last Place, on a narrow sand bar that touches both seas, is a place where the sun shines and the moon gleams all at once, together for a short time each day. Few have seen it, but all in the Eleven Kingdoms have heard of it in song and poem and legend. The priests of the Sweet Sea call it “AH’s dance with herself.” The scholars of Morganport believe, if they only had the science, they could explain it.
Nevermind: it is as it is. It is this: Moon on the sea and Sun in the trees together, for a few brief moments each day. And it is said—the Sailor and the Princess might confirm this if asked—that one can stand half in moonshine and half in sunlight for a moment or two, casting two shadows on the sand. You and I might never know—but at least we know this: that has been said about the Last Place.)

ix. The Last Place (i)
When he was barely more than a boy, the Sailor’s father took him to the Eastern Shore of the Impassable Sea. That sea is where the Sailor’s father’s remains rest—a Captain, he was, so intoxicated, along with his whole crew, by the Sweet Sea waters that he dared sail by the Last Place and attempted to return to the Kingdom of the Sun the short way…east across the Impassable Sea. His fortune would have been made and his reputation would have become a thing of legend—but the Impassable Sea is nothing if not consistent. There our Sailor’s father died. But that was years and years later, after his father took the Sailor-to-be, ever westward through the Kingdom of the Sun to see the east-most coast of the ocean that would not be sailed. Because of the geography of the Nine Sea World, the only way to reach the eastern coast of that sea is to travel west.
The western lands of the pleasant Sun Kingdom are inhospitable places—arid, mountainous, scorching and chilling. The boy and his father traveled with a caravan of workers headed to the coast to extract sea salt from the flood plains of the Impassable Sea. It was the only safe travel. Oxen-like creatures—dull brutes needing little food and less water—pulled carts through the narrow valleys between the mountains and down wadis that were protected from the cruel sandstorms beyond the mountains. The journey took over a week and was the harshest days the Captain’s son had ever endured. Had he not inherited some great measure of his father’s fierce and uncompromising pride, the boy would have begged to be sent back to Homeport—to his mother and aunts, to comfort. But instead, he clinched his teeth and drew upon his father’s strength. They journeyed on.
This is one shore of the Impassable Sea,” his father told him, reverently, gazing out westward, ever westward, over a dark gray ocean, distant swirling clouds, a surf so rough the noise was deafening and the boy could feel the waves’ power shutter through the ground and into his body though they stood a quarter-mile away. “The other shore is not that far away to the west—but our whole world away to the east. And the only way to see that shore is to journey to the Last Place and gaze out. I’ve stood both places now, my son, and how I long to pass between….”

His father’s face glazed over with some deep longing, some imagined adventure, something no man should ever consider. The waves crashed and the boy’s body felt their shock and knew his father’s bravery was wider than that angry sea. Yet, his father’s discretion was weak. Looking back, decades later, the Sailor imagined he knew that moment, that day, staring out at the Impassable Sea, that his father would die there. But such thoughts were vain and wrong. He was just a boy back then, gazing at an ocean that defied the boats and sails of men. And he was afraid.

Why is the sea impassable, Father?” he finally asked, after they had been there several days, staring out across the depths.
His father rubbed the young boy’s head. –“These are harsh words to speak to a man-child,” he said, “but you have asked and I will answer….”
Out over the sea, the boy watched green and pink lightening and storm clouds that moved with the swiftness of eagles from north to south and then south to north again.
“Pride and arrogance,” his father finally said, after pointing out a waterspout higher than the highest building in Homeport and telling him how much damage such a phenomenon could do.
“It is said from the lyrics of the Old Ones, that once the Impassable Sea was known as the Sea of Hope and sailors from the Motherlands sailed it with joy from west to east, just that direction only, arriving at that sea after passing first the other eight seas. The oldest song in the common tongue goes like this:
West and east from the Last Place to Homeport,
The sailors sail the eight seas and are done.
But only east we sail the last sea,
From the Last place to the Kingdom of the Sun.

A cloud rolled in off the sea and descended on the Sailor’s father. “The Old Ones obeyed the motion of the sun. They only sailed east to circle the world. But then,” he said, “pride and arrogance emerged from the soup of the emotions of those who descended from the Old Ones. Some thought that sailing from the Sun Kingdom to Almoden, sailing west on the last sea, would bring them profit and honor, though the Old ones warned against it. No one ever sailed the last sea from west to east—and after the first ones tried, the sea turned against them and it could never again be sailed at all.”
The boy watched the sea and as he watched a creature rose up, several miles off shore, a creature like nothing the boy had imagined or could have imagined. It was vast in wing span—each wing larger than all the canvass on the largest ship on the Nine Seas. And it was covered with bright, shining scales on its wings—deep blue, the purple of the last sunset, black as the night sky, the brown of a maiden’s eyes in the Wonderlands, a green so dark it defies description except to say it was the most wondrous green on the planet bathed in darkness….The creature rose from the sea and crashed down just as quickly, and the spouts of water from its crashing cascaded over the miles to the shore.
A great deal of time passed. The sun set and the moon rose and father and son had not moved, barely breathed, in all that time.
“And that, my father,” the boy said, “what was that? How like an enormous butterfly it seemed—so massive. It seemed to have no body, only wings, but wings for what? Can it really fly?”
“It is the last gift of the Old Ones to the Impassable Sea,” his father answered, whispering, astonished and stunned for having witnessed, with his son, such a breaching of the sea.
“That creature has no name—at least not in the common tongue—perhaps in none,” he told his son. “They say there is but one of them and she is almost immortal. Who knows? But there is this: all the legends say that is the creature which will carry the pure in heart across the Impassable Sea flying…yes, flying….”
The boy who became a sailor breathed for a quarter of an hour, silent, staring to where the creature had disappeared into the ocean. It was totally dark and the moon was rising, remarkable and golden, when he finally spoke.
“And who are these pure in heart?” he asked.
He heard his father laugh—something that good man seldom did—before he answered: “there have been none yet.” That is all he said: there have been none yet.
For reasons he would not understand for a lifetime, the boy had been full of joy as he watched the frightening power of the legendary creature tearing a hole in the sea as it descended.
So, as a boy, the Sailor saw one shore of the Impassable Sea. It was not until his world-spanning voyage after leaving the Princess in the Royal Barge, finally knowing who she was and how impossible that made her love…it was not until then that he saw the other shore from the Last Place. But it would be even more than a life-time before he saw the butterfly-like creature again, the gift from the Old Ones, bear the pure in heart to him.

“We will be a week in Center Port,” the Captain told his crew. “And then, because we have much to gain from a wealthy patron in Lugonia and another in the Upper Kingdom on our trip home, we will seek to sail the Sweet Sea to Blessed Port for artifacts and religious items I do not understand besides understanding how valuable they will be to all of us.”
The Sailor watched the faces of the crew. They had sailed to the Lost Isle in the Ocean East and were under full wind to Center Port. But seamen are superstitious and there were many tales about the Sweet Sea and the mind-numbing creatures near the Isle of Dreams. Men who had survived a life upon the sea did not easily venture into the Sweet Sea.
“Some may wait in Center Port for Hope to return,” the Captain said. We will vote with straws to decide if those who do not venture might also gain. The Sweet Sea needs scant crews—so if you choose to stay another week or two in Almodan, I will not hold it against you, ever.”
Order and reason was restored. The Sailor knew the Captain to be wise, but his understanding of the older man’s wisdom had grown by leaps and bounds on this earth circling journey. A small crew would sail Hope into the Sweet Sea. The Sailor would be there at the wheel. But before then, whiled the Captain signed contracts and made trades in Center Port, the Sailor knew he would visit the Last Place.

There are more than a dozen stops along the way from Center Port to the Last Place by land. And each of them is more attractive, more seductive, more peaceful and complete than the previous one by far. Few—almost none—ever reach the Last Place because they stay at one of the stops before returning to Center Port. Few ever reach the Last Place because few are meant to. So, for those who think this journey is in their stars and meant for them, there are extravagant and appealing stops along the way to convince them otherwise.
In Almodan, the beasts of burden are magical. To you and me, they would look like elk with legs twice as long as normal and, just behind their necks, small, tidy wings. No one in the World of Seas questions why the Aaiuria only live in Almodan. The other Kingdoms tried for decades to export the creatures only to have them die aboard ship. Some traders from Deep Morgan decided it was the peculiar grass that grows in profusion between Center Port and the Last Place—millions of acres after millions of acres of grass—that keeps the Aaiuria alive. So plants were dug up and seeds hoarded—all of which rotted during the narrow passage between the Ocean East and the Storm Sea, weeks before any ship could carry them to Morganport. All that had occurred generations ago. Traders no longer tried to bring Aaiuria from Almodan.
So this is the truth in the World of Seas—Aaiuria live only in Almodan and live only to carry a precious, scant few from Middle Port to see the Last Place.
It cost a year’s wages in most Kingdoms to make that journey, but there was never a lack of those who set off to the Last Place, though almost none arrived. The day the Sailor left (“three days down and three back—one day in the Last Place”) 273 others climbed up on Aaiuria behind their Kasi.
Kasi was an Almondain word which was, like most words in that language, both a noun and a verb. The noun meant, depending on context, “guide…companion…fellow traveler” and the verb meant “to journey”. The Sailor knew enough of the Almondain language and his Kasi was adroit enough in the common tongue for them to talk on the first day out.
“Kasi,” the Sailor said, sitting behind his guide as the beast of burden began to fly, with tiny wings, across the endless grasslands, “do many arrive at the Last Place?”
Peruine laughed after the fashion of that land. Having trusted the Sailor with his name, since those in Almodan guard names carefully, was a sign of hopefulness between the two of them.
“Manusept,” Peruine answered (manusept was an Almodain noun/verb which means “master”, “companion”, “sharing bread”, “pilgrimage maker” and “friend” in that slippery tongue) “Manusept,” he said again, just to make it clear he meant it, “none reach the Last Place unless you do….”
Peruine and the Sailor became close because the Sailor—like his guide—never disembarked at the pleasure stops along the way to the Last Place. The lure of riches, games of chance, comfort beyond measure, sexual satisfaction, food and drink of the holy ones, distractions full of joy—none of those byways on the way to the Last Place enticed the Sailor. He was absolutely committed to seeing the Impassable Sea, and his heart was no longer his.
272 of those who set out for the Last Place settled instead for one of the stopping places along the way. On the third day only Peruine and the Sailor were still in transit, on the journey.
“This Princess you love,” Peruine asked on the afternoon of the third day, having been privy to the Sailor’s life, “does she know how much you love her?”
“I can only hope so,” the Sailor responded and Peruine was silent for hours, considering that answer.
At the end of the third day, Peruine whispered over his shoulder to the Sailor, “I have never been here before….none I have guided in a dozen years have passed the pleasures to arrive at the Last Place. But I know what to show you and show you I will….”
(The Last Place is difficult to describe and since neither the Sailor or Peruine had ever been there, they were terribly distracted by the smell of the Sweet Sea and the roar of the Impassable Sea and the rare color of the air and the temperature—which was neither hot nor cold, but somehow just the temperature any of us would long for always. Peruine did find the place, a tiny spit of land between the Sweet Sea and the Impassable Sea where, after they waited for an hour our so {though time there, in the Last Place, became confused} the Moon and the Sun danced ‘round each other in the sky.
“This is that place,” Peruine said, astonished by the Grace of AH that had allowed him to finally journey there with the Sailor. He buried his forehead in the sand and said prayers in several tongues. The Sailor built a fire and noticed how, on the beach, he could step to the right and be bathed in Moonlight and step to the left and feel the Sun upon his skin. The two shadows he cast were different—Moon Shadow and Sun Shadow, and he nearly wept. The fire he built was in darkness and his Kasi prayed in the Sun.
The Sailor realized he was separated from the Princess by only one sea in this place—as near to her as he would be in nearly a year—but it was a sea he could not sail. He sat in the moonlit sand until the Sun and Moon, circling each other for almost an hour, decided to begin again the transversing of the sky they had agreed upon in the moment of creation and they moved away, in the directions they were meant to go.)

Back in Homeport, in the castle, with the Impassable Sea between them, the Princess noticed her shadow on the wall of her bedroom, backlit as she was by the Sun through the window. She watched her shadow move as the Sun moved and she remembered how the night before she had sat bathed in Moonlight and let her shadow move as well.
The Sailor walked to the edge of the spit of sand. His feet were chilled suddenly by a wave from the Impassable Sea. He did not speak aloud, but he thought of speaking. And this is what he thought to say:
“My love, I stand across one sea from you just now and I send you my love. The sea is the only one I cannot sail. My love is the only love you cannot truly claim. And I send it to you all the same….”
The Princess called her maid. “Help me,” she said, a bit frantic, “I must find a book I read when I was just a child about the Impassable Sea and about the legends that swirl and die there and about a creature that rises on impossibly huge butterfly wings and about the pure in heart and about….”
Her maid was a simple girl, but not without soul.
“About love?” the maid asked.
The Princess was no longer frantic. She smiled at her maid as if she were smiling across a sea impassable, a see so angry and so final it would not yet yield, even to love.
“Yes,” the Princess finally answered, suddenly full of hope and joy, “it is all about love, that book, about love…all of it…every word….
X. What He Saw
The Eighth Sea—the one never sailed by those from seven other seas—had filled the Sailor up almost to bursting, almost to death, almost to losing any touch he had with the reality of his life. The trip to and from the Last Place, he had thought, was more than he could endure…but nothing, not even that, prepared him for the voyage on the Sweet Sea.
He saw things beyond his mere imagining: creatures with scales and horns riding huge fish and calling out in voices and languages that sounded like the sounds of lutes; islands that seemed suspended above the water, held in place by roots of trees with no names he knew; humans in hues of green and blue who moved past his ship in boats without oars or sails and waved greetings and offered fruits never seen nor tasted before; birds with three wings and fish with no mouths and sinuous, multi-colored serpents that smiled with multiple lines of teeth and seemed to talk though in on language he had know or even heard; stars and constellations beyond his ken which made the ship’s charts useless; birds without feathers and porpoise-like creatures with tiny arms and bright red eyes…all of it he sought to hold in his mind, as he held the Princess in his heart, to tell her, to tell his children and grandchildren yet unborn. Nothing was familiar. The sea was golden, the sky an odd shade of green. Only the night was the same—darkness was still dark on the Eighth Sea—the night and the Moon. The Moon moved between alien, chartless stars, but it was the self-same Moon. That he knew and that alone kept him sane.
Two weeks into the Sweet Sea voyage, a ship’s boy fell overboard while unfurling a seldom used sail. The wind was so languid, the sea so flat and calm, that Hope was almost anchored by ennui. One more sail, the Captain thought, might let them catch a breeze so soft they felt it not. The boy floundered, though he was a strong swimmer, and went under. The rope tossed to him did not reach. So the Sailor stripped off his clothes and dived into the placid sea. Easily enough he pulled the boy to the edge of the ship and both were hoisted aboard. But both were full of the Eighth Sea waters—surprisingly sweet...a deep, almost disturbing sweetness—and neither could stand or talk and thinking was difficult. It was as if the sweet water had taken the bones out of their bodies and the thoughts from their minds. Carried to their hammocks, they slept away three full days, not needing to eat or pass water or be awake.
The Sailor woke on the third night and, though his limbs were like sticks he had cut from briar bushes, he found his way to the deck and, eyes swimming and blurred, found the moon just above the horizon. He clung to the railing like a mother clings to her child in a sudden catastrophe. He had little thought, almost no control over his body, and eyesight impaired by sweet water. Yet he stared and stared at the moon, humming noises he did not intend to make.
The Captain found him there, entwined around the railing, humming, smiling maniacally at the moon. And then they both watched with gathering wonder and not a little fear, as a beautiful woman, made, it seemed, of moonlight with her long, thick hair free around her shoulders, diaphanous and spectral, walked atop the sweet waters ahead of the ship.
The Sailor imagined the apparition to be his Princess. The Captain took her as a warning sign, a ghost luring them on, some magic spell cast by green people and talking serpents and featherless birds. This Sweet Sea journey had been ill-taken, the Captain thought, and the order went out to turn the ship around and sail, under faint winds, back to Center Port.
It was then the storms came—raging and brutal, tearing sea and sail asunder, swamping the ship again and again, but propelling it out of the Eighth Sea at ever increasing speed, back toward Center Port and safety. Through all the week of storms—black lightening against a white sky, thunder that trilled rather than roared, deep azure rain, sudden freezes and times of terrible heat—the Sailor lay abed, dreaming of a Moon-Woman on the waves. When they sailed through the inner passage back to the Seventh Sea, the storms ceased and all the damage the Captain expected to the good ship Hope was minimal at worst. One by one, the sailors forgot the Eighth Sea altogether, never remembering sailing there, imaging they had always been headed west and sailing home.
But the Sailor woke, full and whole and remembered it all—especially the Princess of the Moon walking on that mystical sea…that, and the sweetness of the waters, the wonders it revealed.
The cloud across the sun moved rapidly away and the sudden light woke the Princess from her dream. She had dreamed of serpents beneath her feet—orange and luminescent green in the moonlight—of creatures riding fish, singing lute songs to her ears; of a beautiful purple woman giving her a fruit that tasted of flesh; of the tiny hands of porpoises that held her above the seas…and of the strange stars above her and the ship she walked ahead of on the waters, on the waters, walking unaccountably on the waters. Dimly she could see a man, clinging to the railings of the bow of the ship, holding on as if he could not stand, staring out at her, walking on the waters….”It is my Sailor,” she thought, was thinking, had always known, just before she woke.
The bottom of her bed was wet. She threw off the sheets and reached down with her hand to touch the damp. Lifting her fingers to her mouth, tasting deeply, she was shocked…the dampness was so very, very sweet.
She did not eat that day or the next and barely slept. She sat by the window and stared out until her maid feared she was going mad. But she only smiled and remembered the sweetness of the damp, the strange stars above her head, the Sailor on the ship, the strange sea beneath her feet—her dream—and the wonders it revealed….

XI. In the Rains
The Sailor held the wheel lightly in his hands. A gentle breeze pushed the ship across the meeting of Ocean East and the Storm Sea toward the Sea of Shame and Morganport, the next stop before heading home to the Kingdom of the Sun. There was a mist that had lasted more than a day. It was no so much rain “falling” as moisture clinging, filling the air, softly dampening everything, wrapping the Sailor, the ship, the sea, the sky, in a light sheen of wetness, like a second skin.
For nearly two hours the Captain had stood beside the Sailor, silent, pensive. He was a man of few words and deep thoughts, the Captain was—and the Sailor was comfortable with his quiet presence. A brief shower broke through the mist and the two men stood in the rains, sailing on. It was late afternoon, though from the light it could have been morning as well. The Sailor was lost in thought about the strangeness on the Eighth Sea, the sweet water he had tasted, the Princess walking on the waters as in a vision. Unknown to him, the Captain thought of that moment as well.
“Perhaps we should have sailed on,” the Captain said suddenly, not so much to the Sailor as to hear the words aloud.
The Sailor looked at him, raised his eyebrows, did not speak. On in silence and dampness they sailed.
“Some say the sweet waters give waking dreams—dreams in broad daylight, in the midst of whatever else is happening.” The Captain spoke and fell into profound quiet.
After what may have been an hour of rain and wind and silence, the Sailor told him it all had been true….

(At one in the same time, the Sailor was at the tiller, guiding the ship, standing in companionable silence with his Captain and he was walking by the First Sea, the sea of the Sun Lands, with the Princess in the rain.
It was a waking dream, going on simultaneously with his real life, and both, he felt, were real.
She was wrapped in his jacket, having come without a coat. The rain had blown in unexpectedly as they searched for heart-shaped rocks in the sand. When the first drops fell, she looked at him with the look of a child, both excited and fresh. They started to run for shelter, but the sky opened and they were soaked to the skin. Laughing and embracing, licking rain from each other’s eyelids and cheeks and lips, they held each other as the rain slackened into a mist that covered them both with a damp second skin.
They sat in the wet sand, holding each other, unable to tell where the mist ended and their bodies began, where his body ended and hers began, and told each other all the secrets they knew and could remember. In the rains they emptied their souls to each other. He wrapped his coat around her and they walked…amazed at the rainbow far out on the First Sea.)
“A rainbow,” the Captain said, pointing ahead to where the sky was clearing. “Good luck for sailors….”
The Sailor adroitly guided the ship and smiled, laughed out loud, for in the distant sky, just above the horizon, as night fell purple and orange and gold and damp beneath retreating clouds, he saw a sliver of a moon, reflected in the sea, mirrored there.

The Princess watched the light shift to dawn through a mist that wrapped the Kingdom as in a second skin. She had been standing on the balcony of her room, where the sun often surprised her at dawn, standing in the rain, soaked through and through, waiting for the day to begin. No sun through the clouds, but she had been caught up in a vision of a beach—the rain, her Sailor…his lips against her face, his coat and arms around her shoulders.
She wondered where he was—which sea he sailed, if he were well, if he dreamed of her. Then she realized, stunned with the knowledge, he had just the moment before been there with her as in a dream in the rains.
A crack appeared in the clouds and the sun insinuated itself into the gap. The Princess licked her lips and tasted rain. It tasted so sweet, so good, so wondrous….

The inn was full of sailors from a dozen different ships—and therefore, full of voices in a dozen different languages—full of noise and news and nonsense nurtured and nudged along by ale and wine.
In a corner, our Sailor sat, nursing a melon flavored wine from an Eighth Sea vineyard. The taste reminded him of the sweet water of that sea and the waking dreams it brought to him. Those dreams were less frequent now and he hoped, as he sipped, that the wine from Sweet Sea waters would bring back his visions—his sights across the seas and lands between him and the Princess.
As he drank, calm and silent, surrounded by cacophony, his Captain came through the door, glanced around the room—which grew less loud because of his entry—and noticed the Sailor’s wave to him. The Captain was a man of substance-even strangers sensed that from hid bearing and his stride—so the crowd parted, silently, to let him pass.
The Captain pulled a bench near the Sailor’s table and asked what he recommended. More melon wine was ordered—the Captain took a drink and complained of the sweetness. The Sailor explained that it was Eighth Sea wine and the Captain gave him a knowing smile. I was wine to wet the soul and not the throat. The two men sipped silently, surrounded by noise.
A world away and more, the Princess prowled the marketplace near the docks. Dressed as a maid from a great household—a servant girl—she had escaped the castle as she always had to meet the Sailor. She heard the chirping and growling of a dozen languages as she passed through the strange and bizarre women and men in odd fashions—hair braided or long and silky and pale and then, oiled and slick—flowed around her. She loved the bazaar. It reminded her of how far away in some place unfathomedly foreign the Sailor was. Sights and sounds and scents of the docks of Homeport assaulted her senses until a sign—beautifully painted and mysteriously above a doorway—distracted her from all else.
There, as if painted with sea spray and moonlight and star-shine, was a picture of a woman walking on water, splattered with spender and shining, leading a hip through the night. The sign read, in the common tongue of her land, Night Visions/Day Dreams.
Shivering unaccountably, she reached for the door knob beneath the sign. Her hand tingled as she turned it and a dozen tiny bells announced her entrance in tones almost too high to hear, almost too painful to the ears, and, at the same time in some remarkable way, almost too pleasurable to stand.
The shop was small—one little room—and the smell inside almost took the Princess’ breath away. The smell was of exotic plants, warm summer days, a sea of honey and pepper—burning to the nose, making her eyes water with what felt like tears of wonder and joy and hope.
The shopkeeper was a tiny, veiled woman of no discernable age—perhaps no age at all. Her eyes were deep set and amber above her veil and, if the Princess had not known better, she would have thought the woman’s skin was a hue of light green. But surely not, she thought; it was only the dimness of the room that made it seem so.
The diminutive woman was busy wrapping something in paper so shear, so diaphanous that it seemed more web-like than anything. She tied the package with string that was more like light than thread. As she tied light, the woman apologized and told the Princess she had come earlier than expected. She told the Princess the gift should have been already wrapped.
“It is a shame,” the woman said, in a voice like bell tones and bird songs and insect calls, “that the gift was not wrapped and ready for you when you came. I am so sorry, so very sorry; but sometimes it is hard to know the timing of things.”
The woman used the common tongue, but her voice was so soft, so weird, so strange, that the Princess could only barely understand her and would never be able to remember exactly what she said or precisely what her voice sounded like.
The woman moved rapidly, but with great grace, around the counter and thrust the gift—it was a “gift”, that much was obvious though the Princess was greatly confused—into the Princess’ hands.
Bird singing, the shop-keeper told the Princess, “You must go now…take your gift and go…too long in the shop and you might never leave.
Cradling the web and light wrapped gift in her arms like a child, the Princess let the tiny woman manipulate her toward the door.
“But who…?” she tried to ask. And why and what and how? But no words came to her but these:
“What is it?”
“Melon wine,” the woman chirped, “from the Eighth Sea Sailor….”
Suddenly the Princess found herself outside in the busy market street, holding a bottle wrapped in brown paper and cheap string.
“Melon wine, indeed,” she thought, looking up where the sign of the shop no longer hung, seeking a door knob that existed no more on a solid brick wall.
She but wondered, no longer unaccustomed to magic, and carried the wine home to the castle.
Late in the night, she woke from a dream of water-walking and a trailing ship and a lonesome sailor there. Then she opened the wine, deep in darkness, and sipped. So sweet, so gentle, such a wondrous gift. In the darkness she sipped and it was enough.
Two full bottles of melon wine plus half-a-bottle more—and through it all the Sailor had finally told his Captain all he had to tell: the Princess dressed as a servant girl…the love between them growing…the way just breathing became more and more wondrous when he thought of her…the moon on his many seas and the sun on her trees…the loneliness and aching…the wondering…the electric touch of her…the dampness on the beach of their visionary, rain drenched day…the rock, a perfect heart, they found together in the sand…the birds who sang them both awake…the excruciating pain of their apartness and impossibility…the joining of their souls…the gift and blessing of all that. On and on the Sailor spoke, encouraged by wine and love and the joy—so deep—of telling of his Princess.
Most all the sailors from the other ships and other lands had left the inn, full of drink and many of them with a willing woman on their arms. A few old salts dozed by the dying fire. The innkeeper cleared away empty and half-drained cups. The serving girls, sullen and exhausted, sat at a table in the corner of the room.
“Another sip or two,” the Captain said, his first words in hours, “and then to bed with me. The sea waits.”
The Sailor smiled, almost laughed out loud. The Captain was such a good man to hear a tale so fraught with pain and lack and needfulness. He was such a good man to while away a night with, along with melon wine.
“I knew once,” the Captain said, so softly that the Sailor thought he had imagined it. The Sailor leaned forward and waited.
After a long time, the Captain spoke again: “I knew once such a love,” and then he took a sip of the Eighth Sea Wine, rich with sweet water from that forbidden sea.
Then, as the serving maids fell asleep and the old men shuffled home and the innkeeper locked the doors and the melon wine never quite gave out—then, deep in the night in a darkened, cooling, locked and empty room—the Captain told his tale.
It was like this: out of time, with no warning or reason, just when he least expected such a thing, a Gift of Love was offered him—a Gift so rare, so profound, so life-altering he had no categories, no easy answers, no way to understand it.
It was a Gift of Love so fraught with pain and poison to his life and to the life of the bearer of the Gift that in his fear, his anxiety, his decency and goodness, his longing to give no pain and to do no damage, bring no harm—in all of that, he made the choice his mind and reason willed. He refused the Gift.
“I’ve sailed the seas for decades now,” he said, his face and voice enlivened by that last bottle of wine that could never be fully consumed. “And I carry with me a Gift unopened, a Gift refused, a blessing never savored.”
The Princess was called from sleep and wondrous dreams by the birds outside her window. She rose from bed—awake to life—fully rested, ready for the day.
“The wine,” she thought, and found a gift on her table. It was not the opened bottle she remembered, but a gift wrapped in webs and light, unopened.
She sat in a chair and gazed at the gift, wondering how this could be; wondering if she should open it again.
The Captain and the Sailor drank melon wine from a never empty bottle until the dawn. They grew more sober as they sipped, more open to life, more ready for the day. Both of them stared at the still-full bottle. Neither of them had ever felt so awake, so alive.
“Should we take it with us?” the Sailor asked, eyeing the bottle.
The Captain—so alive, so young in spite of his years—said only this: “It is yours to choose. I chose for myself long ago and I sail the seas alone, with only my loss to taste and my nobility to embrace.”
The Sailor looked at the bottle, beginning to brim as he watched. Only a cork would stop the wine from renewing itself always. And only carrying it away to the ship would continue the renewing. The Sailor knew enough of wonder and magic to know that.
“Nobility is a good thing,” he said, watching the wine rise up slowly in the bottle.
The Captain laughed. “It is its own reward,” he said. “Never do I regret being noble. I wear it well. It serves me greatly. It is one of the two most holy choices we can make.”
The Sailor corked the bottle before it overflowed. The two of them were more sober, more alive than either remembered being.
“One of two?” the Sailor asked.
The Captain nodded. He was solemn but full of joy. The two of them stared at the never empty bottle of melon wind and wondered.
The Princess touched the unopened gift. It glittered in the sunlight and stung her fingers somewhere between pleasure and pain.
And she wondered what to do. All of her wondered.
“One of two?” the Sailor asked again. “Between nobility and what? What is the choice I face?”
His Captain leaned close. The man’s breath was of melon wine. He whispered.
“Love,” is all he said, except for this: “It is the choice no one would choose to make if one had a choice about what to choose.”
“Nobility or Love,” the Sailor said, as much to himself and to the Universe as to his Captain.
“Precisely,” the Captain said, watching the Sailor’s hand hovering near the bottle. And the Captain knew, knew so painfully well, the agony of the Sailor’s choosing.
The Sailor’s hand wrapped around the bottle. And he wondered. All he was or ever would be wondered….

The good ship Hope slid through the narrow straits from the Sixth Sea to the Fifth, the sea all the sailors knew as the Sea of Shame. Besides the sweet waters of the Eighth Sea and the impassable waters of the Ninth Sea, the Sea of Shame was hardest to sail. Strange storms erupted without warning, dead calms could last for days and—so sailors thought—this was the sea where pain from the past was tasted and known again, as if for the first time. It was a myth, our Sailor knew, something told by old men and small children, but he dreaded the passage none the less.
Deep in the night, on the Sea of Shame, with a leading wind pushing them toward home, the Sailor remembered the day they knew….
(“I must leave on the morrow,” he told his love, the serving maid of some great house. He longed to ask her to stay with him this last night before months at sea and to vow vows they would fulfill on his return…but he knew no words.
“Then we must spend this night together,” the Princess said, and his heart nearly broke from joy.
The Captain always spent the night before a sailing on the ship, so the Sailor took the Princess to the Captain’s house. The Captain was a wealthy trader and his home was elegant enough to pass for minor royalty. The Princess was reassured: her love was close enough in class, all was not lost. The Sailor only hoped she would not be embarrassed as a guest in a great home. Little did he know. The Captain’s servants knew the Sailor well and loved him. They whispered and smiled behind their hands that he had brought a woman to dinner. She seemed, from her dress, to be but a servant girl, but the Captain’s servants knew better. She looked them in their eyes as they served her and her look commanded respect and honor. She was sweet and tender to them all, but her disguise did not fool them, and when the Sailor and his guest retired at last to the second best bedroom in the house, the servants sat in the kitchen, eating and drinking and wondering if either their Sailor or his women knew…really knew….
Nothing they talked about that night—and they talked about almost all things: how they longed, what they loved, what touched them and made them whole in verse and song and prose, about their hearts and what stirred their passions—none of that revealed the great and insurmountable boundaries to their love. They were but man and woman—not Sailor and Princess—for that long, pleasure filled night.
The night they spent together was gentle and kind and wondrous and erotic and new. Mostly they kissed and touched and explored each other, astonished at each unexpected pleasure, grateful and blessed by the sweet surrender and total abandonment each found.
A cantata of bird song woke them early. The Sailor kissed his Princess’ eye-lids as they fluttered awake.
“Even the birds sing for you,” he whispered, “as well as my heart.”
She rushed to dress, to leave him there, to hurry back to the palace before she was missed. Frantic, she was, and frightened, for she had never spent a night away. He was confused at her haste and sought to hold her: then he realized she might be needed in the house where she served to prepare breakfast, to clean the bed rooms, to open the drapes.
She, for her part, didn’t want to be discovered by his servants in his bed. Obviously, to the Princess, this grand house was his father’s and he was heir to some great fortune and title and bloodline. All would be well, she thought, rushing through the streets at dawn, back to the castle. When he returned from his journey—probably a trip to visit the foreign holdings of his family—that would be time and enough to reveal her true self to him.
For the Sailor’s part, he knew that when he returned from this long journey across the 8 seas, he would find her and claim her and offer his life. So, he had breakfast with the servants in the kitchen, smiling lovingly at their blushes and giggles and averted eyes. He loved these people, they were his own kind, and he never imagined—not then—that they knew what he did not about his loved one. All he knew was this—her scent and her taste and her touch and her dampness was still all over his body as he walked to the dock to board the good ship Hope for a long, long journey. All else would be resolved on his return.)
The Sailor was at the helm, steering the ship out of Homeport when the Captain ordered him to turn astern and lower the sails.
“The royal barge is passing,” the Captain said, “we must make way.”
Adroitly the Sailor shouted the needed commands to take the ship to the side and slow its passage. Making way for the royal barge was reason enough in the Kingdom of the Sun. As the ship Hope slowed to a near stop, the Sailor glanced over at the barge and saw the King and Queen—familiar faces to anyone in the Kingdom of the Sun. But then, just as he was about to hoist sails again and move Hope out of the harbor, he saw his love on the barge, dressed in gossamer and silks and sunlight, a tiny crown sparkling in her wild, black hair. Suddenly—all at once, without knowing how—he realized what he should have known from their first meeting in the market place and the long walks and the talks…this was not a common girl, she was deeply precious and something beyond his ken. She sat in the back of the barge, her head down as if she longed to be somewhere else. But he saw her and willed her to look at him, opened-eyed and alert, seeing all that must be seen.
She sat in the barge, thinking of him, recalling his fingers’ touch, his gentleness, how much he longed to pleasure her; then, something caused her to raise her eyes. And there he was, guiding a ship, dressed in rough cotton, common clothes, a first mate and not royalty—how could she have not known he was but a Sailor and not a Prince? Her soul mourned. Her heart was already his. She would pray to AH for weeks to release them from this love. He would cease praying altogether. Finally, both of them would pray the same prayer—“AH, almighty, all goodness, eternal lover…let us find a way….”
Their eyes locked for but a moment and in that moment they both knew. This was the day they knew, as his ship, guided by his own hand, was raising sails to venture into the 8 seas and she was touring the harbor in her father’s yacht—the royal barge.
So, their eyes met and they both—finally but for the first time, knew. They both knew how hopeless and impossible their love would be. The both knew that neither of them had been prepared for such a surge of love. They both knew, passing in the harbor, knowing they would be separated for over a year now—they both knew how longing felt, how they would pine for the other and ache—all the while knowing how unfathomable this love they shared was and how it could not be.
The Sailor held that love over the seas and back again. He loved her only and gave his heart to her. Now, sailing home, he wondered and felt loss, regret on the Sea of Shame. His Captain and friend always locked the brandy and wine and dark ale away when Hope was on the 5th Sea. He knew well the longings and the pain that needed drowned in drunkenness. But the Sailor had a bottle of wine that never ran out and a key to the closet that he used that night. He pined away on the deck, reeling from port to starboard, weeping aloud, deep in his private hell. The Captain found him near dawn and put him to bed, wrapped his face in cool cloths, cleaned up his mess and even held him near, knowing as he did about the pain of the loss of love.
That very night, as fate would have it, the Princess was at a royal party with the Archduke of Palisadia—the land across the Sunny Sea from her Kingdom. The Sun Kingdom and Palisadia were firm allies and had inter-married more than once over centuries. The Archduke was a charming, lovely man—a man the Princess would have gladly welcomed into her life and her bed, but for the Sailor, far away.
She drank too much that night—wines from Deep Morgan and the Spice Lands and Lugonia—all deep red and hearty. Her maid and the Queen took her from the room hours earlier than was proper because she was dizzy and sick. Her maid, the one who changed clothes with her whenever she escaped the palace to meet her love…a Sailor, a common man, she now knew—wrapped the Princess’ face in cool cloths and cleaned up her mess and rocked her in her arms, singing sweet, child-like songs of the sea and of the moon. Apologies were made, formally and privately and the Archduke, a good man, was gracious and understanding and commented on the potency of the wines from the Spice Lands.
The next morning, head aching and body drained, the Sailor stood on deck and looked off to the south where the Spice Lands lay. He tried to apologize to the Captain but was both rebuffed and encouraged. Nothing, after all, had changed.
“Tonight we pass into the 4th Sea,” the Captain said, “the sea we have always called the Sea of Mourning. You are not through with your pain, my friend, my son…and you are a son to me. I love you dearly.”
The Sailor bowed to his Captain, like the bow of a son to a father, and then stared off to the west, toward the Sun Kingdom, toward his love—unspeakable, unattainable, never to be known or possessed, far from his ken, out of his orbit…yet, he saw her eyes, always open when they kissed and touched…he saw her eyes.
And in the pre-dawn, now only half-a-world away from him, wakened by the birds, head throbbing, still a little nauseous, the Princess stared eastward and, unaccountably, saw the Sailor’s eyes, focused only on her. She saw his eyes as well.

The Sorrow Sea
His fever left him—the fever brought on by his drunken night on the Sea of Shame—as the ship Hope passed through the channel into the sea all the world knew as the Sea of Mourning but the Sailor called the Sorrow Sea.
He had been there a dozen times before—but the last time, heading east, knowing he loved a Princess who could never truly be his own. He had felt his sorrows deeply. He woke, fully sober and alert, without fever, to a pain around his heart.
That pain had accompanied him from Homeport to the Sweet Sea and, now half-way back again. It had been his companion in foreign ports and on the open, moon-drenched waters. His pain had become his newest and best friend. Such pain, he knew, others carried always with them. He did not imagine himself “special” in that way. His Captain carried always the pain of love turned away and left behind. Eron, his friend for several voyages, carried the pain of a dead child. Malion, another sailor, knew well the pain of a brother who had murdered a rival. Escalon, a neighbor back in Homeport, bore a scar across her face from the brutality of her father. Halimon, a trader from Almodan, had watched his whole family perish in a fire. Everyone, the Sailor knew, bore, like an extra limb, some piece of sorrow. He was never alone in that.
Yet, his sorrow was his alone, and on the Sea of Mourning it bit bitterly at his soul and brought him full awake.
“Homeport is still half-a-world away,” the Captain said, after the Sailor found him on the deck and stood comfortably, silently by his side for more than three leagues of sea. “And the Sea of Mourning deserves a drink or two to toast the losses of all our lives….”
The Sailor knew then to open the cast of rum saved for just this part of the journey and to fill the cups of the other sailors, mourning their lost lives. Only he and the Captain would not drink. They both believed that shame was best drowned in company, but sorrow was best faced sober and alone.
The Sailor had never been one for regret. What life offered, he believed, was AH’s will. And who was he to doubt the will of AH? A path not trod, a turn not taken, an opportunity ignored—for the Sailor all that meant was that there was another path walked, a turn chosen, an opportunity embraced, just not the one passed by. And he was content, satisfied, deeply engaged with his life in the moment. Where would “regret” play into that? Anything he regretted would have left him at some other place this day, led him to another harbor than the one he knew, dressed him differently, perhaps, though the clothes he wore were the clothes he chose to wear.
But there was mourning for him and sorrow too.
He would change nothing of his past, not even the outrageous and audacious giving of his heart to one who—though she gave him her heart as well—could never share his life. Even surrounded by people he loved, he felt loneliness beyond description. Even in times of happiness, he felt an emptiness no words could name. Even when he was full of life, there was something—someone—missing that might have made him whole.
And all that was just as it would be. And that he mourned. That was his sorrow deep. On the Sea of Mourning, his eyes were seldom without the skein of tears and his heart—what was left of it since he had given most of it away—was nigh on breaking.
A week’s journey on the sorrowful sea would bring them to Morganport—the greatest city of the world, the center of learning and trade. There they would off load the Almodain fabrics and rugs, the wines and fruits and bitter herbs of the Spicelands, the jewelry and gold and magic trinkets of the Wonderlands, the wool and brandy of the Morgans…all for great profit. And there they would rest for the half-world journey home, leaving Morganport with books for scholars, musical instruments, the finest clothing, the latest devices to help in farming, dried meat and fish, all to carry to Homeport in the Kingdom of the Sun.
But first a week in Morganport, where the Sailor had lived as a student for several years, would break up the sorrowing. There he would find entertainment and distraction, perhaps even fun and a chance to flirt with women of a dozen hues. And he would visit old friends in familiar rooms to speak of poetry and history and the myths and songs that gave them their claim to identity, to life. He would find in Morganport more than one shoulder to lean upon, more than one ear to bend, more than one soul to support him in his sorrow.
He would not tell them quite the truth. The truth, he knew, he shared only with the Princess and perhaps, in another way, his Captain. But he would tell them of his tears, his loss, his plight. They would fill him with wine and good wishes and warmth.
He would visit the grand market place and find there, among all the finery and wonders of the world, something to take back to her—whether she could accept it or not—something that would prove to her in worth or words or simple wonderment…something that would prove, in spite of all that stood against it…simply this: his love.
A week of aching on the Mourning Sea before the longed for rest of Morganport, before the respite that waited there—that was the cost the Sailor gladly paid to find a harbor in the storms of his emotions. The payment was only this—a week of tears of his sorrow for what could never be. As Hope lowered sail and anchored in Morganport, the debt was paid in full...

in morganport
in morganport
in morganport

Hope slid into the dock without so much as a whisper of a breeze. The Sailor smiled to himself at his skills and the Captain crossed the deck to touch him lightly on the arm.
“Almost as well as I would have done,” he said, walking away.
As soon as the ship had entered the crowded harbor under his hand and command, the Sailor’s spirits had lifted. Out of the sorrowing sea into a place as familiar to him as his heart—if his heart had not been elsewhere—he was no longer forlorn or troubled or aching. In a way he could never explain or understand, he felt at home half-a-world from the place he called “home”.
Even the wood of the docks felt familiar as he strode into the city. The pavement welcomed his boots. The air acknowledged his breathing. A port in heart storm. The Princess retreated to a deep recess in his mind. He was home. For the first time in months, he felt free and easy even though every other step he saw something he wished he could show her or thought something he wished he could tell her or felt something he longed for her to share. The he realized why—she had been here too, here, in Morganport, long before he loved her. The Royal Family traveled to Morganport every dozen full moons for the opening of the assembly of the Kingdoms. Surely, she had been here, his Princess, times before, and walked the very street he walked and saw these very things and had her heart leap up to be in the city at the center of the world.
The Sailor was buying a sweet cake from a vender dressed all in scarves, as folk from the Wonderlands dressed, a sweet cake so delicate you must not chew it but let it dissolve on your tongue…he was doing that and accepting a thimble sized cup of coffee from the Spice Lands, so potent and dark and rich you could not swallow it like other liquids, when his memory kicked in and he remembered something that shook him to the marrow of his bones.
(His first journey to Morganport had been as a rude, unlettered teen, a cabin boy on the good ship Hope. What he did not know, could not even imagine, is that the Captain of his ship had made arrangements to leave him there, leave him to the scholars of the Academy in the Center of the World for five years. His Captain, a wise and good man, had seen promise in his orphaned cabin boy and had made all the necessary connections for that raw boy to become a man and a great sailor. The boy had no knowledge of those plans when he prowled the docks of Morganport, but what he did know was that the King and Queen of his home kingdom were in that city as well. He was an unschooled boy, buying a sweet cake he would mistakenly chew and a mouth full of Spice Land coffee he would try to swallow without savoring it on his tongue. And, at just that moment, his King and Queen passed by.
He fell to his knees, choking on cake and coffee, feeling exposed and ignorant, when a small child, a girl with perfect skin, unspeakable grace and wild black hair rushed over and whacked him on his back. Her blow allowed him to swallow and sputter out a thank you. That mere child then touched his face and laughed out loud, speeding away, back to her parents and the gaudily dressed guards who looked horrified that she had touched a common ship’s boy.)
That memory, eating sweet cake and savoring coffee once again, in the middle of the busiest street of Morganport, drove the Sailor to his knee, wrapped in the past and lost in love.
Several people, passing by, heard him say, in the common tongue: “My Princess, that was you, was you, was you….”
The week in Morganport sped by as rapidly as the long nights on the seas before had dragged and labored. The Sailor found old friends and joined them to listen to the poetry and song of the Nine Seas. He found drink enough and food to fill his body. But nothing—not friendship or rich meals or the lyrics of his world—could give him back his heart.
On the last night in port, on the way to visit with some of his teachers and their newest students, he found himself wandering down a dark and nearly deserted street. He well knew the way to the eating and drinking place where he would meet his friends and could not imagine how he had become so lost. Just as he was about to turn back, he saw a dimly lit shop that smelled of melons and vanilla and musky spices. He opened the door and entered to find a woman…or perhaps a man…sitting on a divan, bathed in strange light and wrapped in smoke and veils.
“Sailor,” he/she said, “come and sit.”
His mind reeled from the incense and his body moved without his control until he sat beside her—it was a woman, now he could tell—and she held his hand.
“I can tell you all you can endure,” is all she said.
He thought he should leave and find his friends, but he said to her, “speak….”
Long she stared at his hand, holding it in her tiny hands, touching his wrist gently with her fingers. She smiled and laughed and frowned and wept.
“Your love,” she said, “is deep, like the seas you sail. And as endless as all those seas.”
He waited until she continued. “But your love is as bound and tied as a ship at dock in a far away port.”
He closed his eyes and sighed.
“But there is this,” she told him, “there is something of hope.”
He laughed bitterly, thinking she was a common fortune teller, not knowing the truth. “That is the name of my ship,” he said, sadly, “nothing more.”
His eyes were still closed when her tongue touched the center of the palm of his hand, like some damp, warm, loving creature it touched him.
“Sail on,” she whispered, “on hope….”
He did not remember leaving that shop or walking to the inn where he found his teachers and friends. He was disconcerted and distracted through dinner and song and poetry and all the well wishes for his journey to Homeport. Suddenly he found himself alone with a young student of one of his friends from the Academy. Alia was her name. She was small and slight with skin the color of moonlight and hair as bright and golden as the sun. She had spoken not a word through all the evening, but now that everyone else had departed, she picked up a bottle of deep red Morgan wine and two cups.
“Walk with me by the waters,” she said, “and tell me of your sadness and your joy….”
Together Alia and the Sailor shared the wine and the moonlight and the sand beneath their feet. And he told her of his Princess and his love and the hopelessness of it all. Now there was a fourth who knew: the Princess and the Sailor, his Captain and, unexpectedly, Alia.
“She is my moon and my stars,” he said at one point, swinging his arms to the sky.
Alia listened as intently as a stone is a stone and matched his steps though the sand by the sea. When all the wine was gone and the story fully told, she took his hand in her tiny hand and held it to her face.
“I would live a hundred lives of suffering and pain,” she said, “to live one life and be so loved, hopeless as it may be….”
Just as the fortune teller he had almost forgotten had done, Alia raised the palm of his hand to her mouth and touched it with the tip of her tongue. She did it so gently, with such care, he would wonder for a forgotten lifetime if it truly happened.
“Cross the waters,” she said, standing on tip-toe to kiss the Sailor’s cheek and eyelids and finally his mouth. She did it so gently, with such care, it would take him a lifetime and more to know if it had really happened.
“Sail on Hope,” she said. And with those words she turned from him and walked away, leaving him on the sands of Morganport, wondering if he would see her again, staring across the Sea of Mourning, toward the west, toward the coming day, toward Homeport, toward his heart, his love….
The Sea of the MoonT


Seldom discussed and never shared with anyone who does not sail the seas was this: no one sleeps on the Sea of the Moon.
In inns and pubs throughout the 11 Kingdoms, in port cities great and small, sailors huddled over their cups and glasses and whispered, from time to time, about the sleepless wonder of that sea. No one ever questioned it or sent representatives to Morganport to consult the scholars or to the Wonderlands and the Isle of AH to ask the holy people why it should be so. The people of that odd little world were not philosophical or theological by nature. Whatever happened simply happened.
And what happened is this: no one ever slept on a ship that sailed the waters of the Sea of the Moon. Just that and nothing more. Husbands did not tell wives; fathers did not tell children; those who sailed that sea never mentioned it to those who had never been on a ship there; lovers kept it to themselves. There was no reason to share the odd knowledge. It simply was the truth. That was all.
With a great west wind in the Spring and Autumn or the swirling winds to the east in Summer and Winter, a well-trimmed ship—like the ship Hope—could cross the Sea of the Moon in 8 days. Headed in the wrong way in the wrong season would mean the trip would take a fortnight. And never, not once, not ever, did anyone on board a ship crossing that half-moon shaped ocean, fall asleep.
The moon itself was enough rest, all agreed, for reasons often discussed deep into rum or brandy or wind, but never questioned. On the Sea of the Moon, the souls and minds of sailors found comfort all through the night, but never fell asleep.
During the days, the decks were handled by the assigned crew. Duties were done and jobs completed with care and competence, even by the most inexperienced sailors. And at night, when the moon broke on the horizon and rose through the clouds and danced in the middle of the sky and then began to fall to the other end of the world, every sailor on the ship was above deck, sitting quietly, scarcely moving, drinking in the restful light the moon provided, fully awake though sluggish, slow of thought, breathing deeply, taking in the salt air in a way no other sea provided. There were never storms at night, or even rain, on the Moon Sea. And clouds were scarce and stars from other worlds were bright and fierce. Any bad weather on the Sea of the Moon would come in daylight.
It took several journeys for any sailor to accept this phenomenon. And even after years of acceptance, it caused pause and wondering. Why this sea, of all the seas? Why was the Moon so powerful here and nowhere else? What might it mean? But all such questions were dissolved into one stern fact: a sailor crossing the Sea of the Moon in either direction, found healing and strength and wakefulness that either prepared them for the “Sorrow Sea” or renewed them from that mourning. In every port there was a bar called “the Moon Sea” and that place was the favorite drinking spot of most any sailor, though when they were there, they seldom drank much.
Our Sailor tended to man the wheel all night, every night, when Hope was on the Moon’s Sea. Even before this voyage to the earth’s end and back, his was his favorite sea. But now, even more so—in his soul he knew her now as the Princess of the Moon, as Moon Girl, as Moonlight. Each night she visited him, the westward path marked by her light, the miles from Homeport diminishing in the darkness. The Captain leaned against the rail, night after night, hour after hour, glancing occasionally to the face of the Sailor—deeply moved by the slight smile and the moonlight-lit-eyes of the wheelman. The Captain, like everyone, was sleepless there, and his deeply broken heart drew life and vitality from the Sailor’s face. Something there of wondering beyond what was True. Something there of dreaming though sleep would not come. Something there of hope in spite of hopelessness. Something there, something the Captain could not quite claim or name—he thought it must be love.
The Sailor was astonished that he could remember almost every moment he’d ever spent with the Princess and live them again in his heart—the part that still beat, that wasn’t hers because he needed it to live—and feel them again and know her touch, her laughter, her smile, the smell of her, the grace of her movements when she did not know he was watching, the softness of her breath against his neck, the eloquence of her few words, the erotic grandeur of her kisses. Throughout the sleepless nights as Hope sped on, he relived his times with her and, as dawn drew near each morning, his fantasies overtook him and he lived times with her that had not been, that would not, could not be…except in his soul.
“Could I always but sail this sea,” he whispered as the moon disappeared into daylight, “I would always be with you….”
Sailors injured or ill before entering the Moon’s Sea found new health and healing there. Those homesick and lonely ceased to pine the hours away. The Sea of the Moon was the place to come form balm, for acceptance, for newness. How rare the moon, to share her gifts so freely with those who crossed her sea in ships.
How kind she was to all of them. How lovely and how rare.
Time did not only stand still on that sea, it ran backwards and piled up against itself and made itself available to heal the wounds of all life’s past. That was the Moon’s work and magic and wonder and great, great, good gift.
Such a great,
gift for the Moon to give….

For reasons she did not, at first understand, the Princess found herself sleeping through the bird’s symphony at dawn and through the first light and then through breakfast and then through lunch and then through the sunlight at sunset on the trees….Each day she slept a little longer and woke later and spent more time walking in the gardens of the palace late at night.
She ate little—some melon at dusk, a glass of wine from her never ending bottle as darkness came, an egg or some sweet thing as the moon rose…then a glass of icy milk before taking to her bed to sleep for hours and hours only to wake in the depths of the night and take a walk. Then she would sleep away most of the day.
It was almost a week before she realized what was happening to her. She was sleeping because the Sailor couldn’t. She had made friends with the night and was sleeping away most of the day by then.
“He is on the Moon’s Sea,” she finally understood, “sleepless and thinking of me….”
During her next sleepless night—having slept away most of a day—she had a waking dream, a memory, really, long forgot, not even clearly remembered. It was like this: she had just arrived in Morganport, having sailed west across the Sea of the Moon, sleepless for eight nights but more alive than she ever remembered being. Even three days in the Sea of Mourning had not shaken her vitality, excitement, pure joy. She was a child—5 or 6 at the time, she couldn’t remember which—and as she walked the streets of Morganport she was astonished at how people bowed or kneeled at her passing. It was her father and mother, she knew, even then—the King and Queen of the Sun Lands—who people honored, but she had not yet realized she was heir to the Scarlet Throne and people reverenced her as well.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, child that she was, she saw a raw, young man, choking as he knelt, his face turning red, almost blue. She escaped her guards and ran to him, batting him on his back, watching natural color return to his face, laughing aloud, proud of herself, knowing she had saved him for some Great Thing….What she never imagined until that night when the Sailor was on the Moon’s Sea and she knew it, was this: that youth she had met and saved for some Great Thing had been saved for the Great Thing of loving her always, though that love could never be.
“What do I do with such knowledge?” she asked herself.
That question would haunt her for weeks.

His gift…
The Sailor was finally asleep. The second mate had guided Hope into the Middle Sea. There were ports to visit and goods to trade and almost three months yet to go before Homeport would come in sight.
All the sailors on Hope were full of life to meet the Middle Sea. Our Sailor slept for two days, dreaming strange dreams of many colors and emotions and the dream he always had—the dream of building something out of elements and materials he never quite understood. And in his dreams as the ship passed into the Middle Sea, for the first time, he was not alone in his dreams of building. The Princess was with him (it was a True dream, a dream that touched the bottomless-ness of where dreams live and move up to give themselves, without comment, to sleeping folks.) And in the dream they were building something, wondering what it was, confused and annoyed from time to time, but tireless, working, wondering, building, not knowing…never knowing, only wondering. The sun was in the trees and the moon was on the sea and they were wondering, patient but longing, building something….In his dreams….In his dreams….In his dreams….
He woke and was surprised to find the tiny wooden trinket he had found for her in Morganport in his hand. He thought it was deep in his chest, under fabrics for his aunt and two bottles of Morganport’s rum for his uncle. But there it was in his hands.
He’d found it in a tiny shop near the docks, a shop he walked past twice without seeing it was so small, so tucked into a wall. A crude sign said something that the Sailor could later not remember though he imagined it said “Night Visions/Day Dreams” though that didn’t seem quite right as he tried to dredge it up from his memories.
The wizened little man who greeting him warmly, like an old friend, was scarcely four feet tall and had painted his face with intricate patterns in black and gold.
“Sailor,” he said, in a voice more like very distant thunder than like a voice at all. The Sailor had to listen intently to understand what the little man said since his voice was muted and roaring at the same time. “Sailor, welcome, you have come for the gift for your love….”
The Sailor had been in a light mood, having spent an evening on the beach with a beautiful and seductive woman named Alia, a woman he would have sought after and loved if his heart had not been elsewhere. So, still captured by wine and Alia, after a deep night’s sleep, he was inclined to follow the strange, little man’s lead.
“This way, this way,” the shop-keeper croaked, “something just for you to give your love.”
Then he put it in his hand—a perfect carving of a creature (so the little man told him) that existed only in the 9th and un-sailable sea. It was so seldom seen, it had no name. Yet the Sailor recognized it. It had wings like a butterfly but was obviously, in some unspeakable way, a creature of the sea. He had seen it once as a boy and, dimly, imperfectly, as through an eternity of clouds, knew he would see it once more, though how he knew he could not have explained.
He gave the little man with the painted face many coins for the wooden carving. Little did he know the Princess would never see the carving because he would loose it over the years. Yet he knew it was a gift for her, something she needed to possess and know and hold on to. Something from a dream deep within—down near the bottom of the Dream Place, down where only wonder and surprise and eternity dwells. And in the moment he touched it, he almost caught the creature’s name—though it has none—and he touched the small carved things to his lips.
Waking on the Middle Sea, the carving was in his hand. He kissed it again, not yet knowing why—perhaps he never made the connection—but knowing it belonged to the Princess he loved.
It was a gift never given, never shared—but a gift, nonetheless, a gift of his to her.
Sometimes gifts are like that—they never get to the one to whom they truly belong, but they are gifts nonetheless, nonetheless….
The Sailor would soon rise and join the others on deck, but for a while he simply stared at the great wings of the wooden carving and wondered about the creature’s name and why it was so vital to his life and his love.

XIX. The Middle Sea The musical note that is pronounced the same, the Middle Sea is perfectly placed. Nestled between the sleepless, starlit Moon Sea and the soporific, harsh glare of the Sea of the Sun, the Middle Sea lives in shade and shadow. Sailing westward, sailors call it “the dusk sea” and while sailing east, they name it “the sea of eternal dawn.”
In either case, the Middle Sea is the rhythm all other seas play off of and complement. It is the most gentle of all seas, held captive as it is between day and night. The winds are always blowing, but always light, and sailing is slow, but the fishing is marvelous! Sailors not on duty line the sides of their ship with fishing gear they have fashioned from whatever is available to them, trolling the gentle waters, pulling up ship of all manner—oily and dark, white and flaky, flat as a coin and fat as a ship’s cat. The cooks on a ship sailing the Middle Sea are busy men—making stews and frying fish and broiling and baking and, with the rare, but much valued tuna-like fish, carving it into tiny, rare, raw bites and spicing it with the unspeakable hotness of the spices of the Wonderlands. Creatures with legs and spines and trailing limbs also bite and are landed. They are delicacies unfound in any of the other seas. Sailors grow content and well-fed because they eat so many fish while they slowly sail the Middle Sea.
Like the Sea with which it shares a name, the Middle Kingdom is a twilight land. O, the sun shines there, but usually through a haze of clouds. And darkness falls in the Middle Kingdom, but the clouds disappear and the night lights seem much brighter there than anywhere else in the Eleven Kingdoms. The folks of the Middle Kingdom tend to be extremely fair skinned with hair so blonde/white that they seem to have no eyebrows and the men seldom shave. Even the products and the arts of the Middle Kingdom are different in their leaning toward shade and shadow. Most of the healing drugs of the world are produced there—rare herbs that thrive without the sun and minerals distilled from streams that run clear and true through dim light. The poetry and art of the Middle Kingdom is known for its ambiguity and soothing confusion. The music of that land reminds travelers of the dreams escaping their souls at dawn and the rush of thought that precedes sleep. What strikes visitors most is how languid and relaxed life seems in the Middle Kingdom. There is seldom any rush or hurry and never panic. People there—even those who stay but a day or two—move with a stunning grace born, it seems, of the bare suffice of light. Few shadows fall on the ground or on the walls of houses there for all is shadow, all is shade, life reflects back only the illumination it is given and that is spare enough.
There are important ports in the Middle Kingdom that need to be visited. Besides the healing herbs, there are dusky, meaty fruits—most without any name besides their shape: round fruit, long fruit, short fruit, small fruit, large fruit—which are greatly valued throughout the Kingdoms. People often argue about what the taste of the Middle Kingdom fruits is like and seldom agree. But all long for them and they bring a find price at market in Homeport.
And for the collector, there are the twilight sculptures of the artists of the Middle Kingdom. People in the Sun Lands and Lagonia and Paliseda seek to display the wood carvings and shaved rock in primary light. But those pieces defy being shown in sharp relief. People can seemingly never come to a common understanding of what the sculptures “are”. They defy definition while seeking to define all things. From time to time, the more literal minded folks who have come into possession of a carving from the Middle Kingdom wrap it in thin silk and hide it in the back of a closet. It is there that it might most truly be “art”.
Then there are the exotic foods: not salt nor pepper, not tangy nor bland, not bitter nor sweet, not vinegary or syrupy—always something just beyond description, just beyond judgment, just beyond distinction. Tastes that move back and forth, never quite settling, never discrete enough, just out of reach of comment. Such foods are greatly valued in the other Kingdoms and longed for.
The ports of the Middle Kingdom have pensive names: Almost Port, Seldom Port, Nearly City, Sometimes Town and, most remarkable, Stormy Port, though to all the memories of several generations there has never been bad weather in that place.
Time seems relative in the Middle Kingdom. Everything slows down. Living, as they do, I eternal twilight and early dawn, there seems no reason to rush. Dogs wag their tails slowly. Cats sometimes seem to seldom move at all. Business transactions that would take minutes take hours there. Meals can last the better part of a day. Lovers undressing each other might linger over clothes for a week. Children mature slowly. Death waits and come late. Visitors initially feel as if they were moving through amber, but quickly adjust. It is a difficult place to leave and ships in port make sure some sailors never come ashore until it is time to gather the crew and bring them back to the ship.
There is only this to ruin the lovely languidness and patience pace of life in the Middle Kingdom—one creature, no larger than a crayfish, moves with rapid strokes and has venom that most often kills. The Quellbeast strikes three times before a child, or even an adult, can jump away. The creature is rare but not unknown and loves to live among the brambles along the slow moving streams that trickle down from the highlands and the cold lands.
There are berries on those brambles that taste of evening and early morning and cannot be resisted. Our Sailor, slowed down by a day on shore in Stormy Port, was drawn to those berry bushes, filling himself, the juice running down his face into his beard (running slowly, as might be expected) and he was thinking about how much he longed to hold one of these berries in his fingers and offer it to the Princess’ mouth. He could almost imagine her tongue, reaching from between her lips to take the berry and savor it. Then the Quellbeast struck—once, twice, a third time….The Sailor moved as if in heavy water, raising the wounded hand to his mouth, sucking in the blood and the poison, his mind not fast enough to realize he should be spitting it out, so slowed down by that strange land that he didn’t realize he might be dying before he fainted dead away.
It was the sailing day for Hope and the sailors who had not yet ventured onto land found him there, in the brambles, mouth stained by berries, hand stung by Quellbeast. Before the slowness of the Middle Kingdom could grip them, they brought the Sailor to the ship and the Captain, almost insane with grief, sent for a healer from Stormy Port. As soon as the aged, wizened man stepped aboard Hope, he began to move more rapidly, speak quickly, took action. Herbs and minerals were administered but the Sailor sunk deeper into stupor.
“Lift anchor,” the Healer said, “sail back to the Moon Sea. It is the only hope.”
The Captain knew that to retreat back to the previous sea would cost him dearly. Cargo would rot and rust, his sailors’ pay would diminish, his promises and contracts for future ports would be voided. Yet, when he watched the faces of his crew, he knew one thing—all else could be restored if only the Sailor lived.
“Come with us?” he asked the Healer.
“For what its worth,” the old man said. “He needs the healing of the Moon Sea and of the Pure of Heart, something I cannot provide.”
(There were birds, a precious few, that could fly with messages in dire times. The Captain had but one such bird. It was meant to be sent to Homeport if storm or accident or shipwreck occurred. The Captain took quill and ink and parchment and wrote a message out:
Princess of the Sun Kingdom,
Come. Fly to him on the Moon Sea.
He will die. He must see you before
that voyage.
That was all the message said. The Captain did not sign it or mention names. He rolled the parchment into a tiny package and tied it to the bird’s leg with string. What chance was there that the bird would find Homeport? What chance that the Princess would ever read his words? What chance that the Sailor could live long enough—if she could truly fly—to have her hover near as he died.
No chance. No chance at all.
But Hope lifted anchor and headed back toward the healing sea.
There was nothing else but that….Hope sailing….)
xx. The Bird Flies
It was a bird who had never had to fly across the seas before. Well trained and hell-bent for Homeport, she lifted off the captain’s arm and circling to get her bearings, headed unerringly west.
Yet, she was young and had never flown a sea, much less two, before, and was not immune to the sleepiness of the Middle Sea air. Something deep within her urged her to drift down and float on the sea, basking in the dusky light of sunset, of early evening, a time to rest and float.
But something even deeper—instilled there in the Sun Kingdom by the old women who train the birds—something deeper still kept her wings moving, those dozens and dozens of bones, those hundreds of feathers, carrying on her leg a message bound for the place of her birth, her training—bound HOME.
Pulling with the wind as hard as her wings would carry her, it would take a week to cross two seas, a week where she would suffer greatly from the sun and elements and a storm a hundred leagues from Homeport that would blow her miles off course, confuse her, make her almost want to die. And she must fish, eat, float, sleep, gather strength on the sea and from it.
A shark like fish almost devoured her as she dozed, exhausted on the Middle Sea. Blood from the wound trickled down and stained the message brown. And on she flew because flying was what she was born to, her only purpose, her life, her love, her being.
High over the Sun Sea, days later, an eagle from an island sighted her and knew she was weak from flight and that the sun blinded her from the right. The Eagle, himself weak and hungry, barely missed his meal, but his talons tore her wing dreadfully and more blood mingled with that already dried on the parchment.
She flew on.
A sudden squall, just off the coast of Homeport, tore away the training of her life. She over flew the house of the Captain and, fatally confused, smashed into one of the turrets of the castle of the King of the Sun. She plummeted down, already dead, drenched with rain, and dropped onto the plaza just outside the palace kitchen.
A kitchen boy—little more than an idiot—found her there and carried her, like the precious gift she was, to the cook.
“Mesach, carriack,” he said, in the common tongue. Messach means much of what we mean by “messenger”, but more. And carriak is the word for both “cook” and “mother”, but more.
The cook laid the dead bird—closer in size to a seagull than a pigeon in our world—and reverently spoke to AH, thanking Her for the message she untied from the bird’s leg. It was sea-stained, blood-drenched, sun bleached and yet readable.
The cook instructed the kitchen boy carefully on how to bury the bird with dignity and honor and thankfulness to AH. Leaving that to him, knowing he would do it trembling and with the strange mixture of sadness and joy the people of that Kingdom knew well, she found the first maid of the Princess, showed her the message and the two of them went to find their mistress.
They watched her read the parchment over and again. They gathered her in their arms and held her as she sobbed. They radiated their love to her as she gave them her pain.
The maid poured the Princess a glass of wine from the bottle that never seemed to empty. The cook put her to bed, wrapping the sheet around her tightly. And the two servants slipped away, unable to speak, not knowing what to say, realizing as they did the impossibility of what the message requested. Wondering how the Princess would respond and what she would do with such grave knowledge, the cook and maid tossed sleeplessly in their narrow beds that night.
(And there is this…the bird, buried with great solemnity by the kitchen boy, found herself suddenly awake and restless beneath a patch of earth. Slowly and with more patience than is expected of a wild creature, she moved her wounded wings slowly, until the dirt was pushed away and she was free. Shaking earth from herself, she stood in sudden sunlight, realizing—in the deep, profound way that “realization” comes to creatures of the air—that her wings were whole again. No, not “whole”—all new and full of strength and vigor never know before. Though she was a bird with no song to sing, she cried out to the sky, gathered herself and flew—full of wonder and joy—across the broad blue sky straight into the sun and paradise….The kitchen boy watched her go, stunned to his bones but realizing, deep within himself, how all this was as it should be.)
The next morning, convinced a castle cat had found the carcass of the bird, the cook cuffed the ears of the kitchen boy more than once.
“Carriak”, he cried out, running from her, “elidesia, elidesia, elidesia….”
“Elidesia” means, in the common tongue, just this, “she flew….”
The cook regretted her blows to the boy, raised her eyes to the sky and wondered….Could such a thing be…? Could the Princess also fly…? To the Moon Sea, fly there?

The morning after the bird, dead yet not dead, arrived, bearing her message truly, the Princess dressed in her finest gown of court, put emeralds around her neck and a tiara of unknown value crafted from jewels from the Wonderlands around her brow.
She was going to stand before the King—not as her father, but as her sovereign—to ask of him a privilege in the way the subjects of the King of the Sun so often did.
King Eliuia the 12th was a good King and a better man and a father beyond compare. The Princess knew the man and the father would grant the privilege she longed for without hesitation. But she needed it from her King. So she came to him in chambers, kneeling with solemnity as she had seen a thousand others do, until he bade her rise and address the Scarlet Throne.
He was surprised: she saw it on his face. And she knew him to be the second most tender and gentle man she’d ever known. Before the Sailor came into her life, she would have called her father, her King, the most gentle and tender man in the Kingdom of the Sun. Now she knew differently—and her lover was dying and she must fly to him.
He used the common tongue to invite her nearer and to insist he longed to hear his subject’s request of privilege. The language of the court was stilted and formal, but always in the common tongue. There were whispers among his advisors as the Princess moved forward, but a single glance from King Eliuia silenced them all. He was a man with that authority.
Then, in the rarified language of royalty and blood that most in the throne room could not understand, he said to her these words: “Daughter of mine, nothing can I deny you….”
She shifted back to the common tongue and spoke loudly, so all could hear and understand: “My King, you might, perhaps you must….”
“Speak,” is all he said.
“I must fly to the Moon Sea,” she told him, and all the courtiers, so all would understand, “in your fastest galleon with your most trusted crew. There I must say farewell to my heart or else heal my lover. All of that is forbidden me. I ask you for a forbidden privilege.”
The King, shaken and loving, rose from his throne and descended the seven steps that set him ever apart from those who addressed him and begged for privilege. He embraced his daughter and whispered in her ear: “I will not ask you what this means and why it must be so. My ship and crew and all my love is yours. Fly, if you must, and may AH be with you….”
Then he re-ascended the Scarlet Throne, took back his Kingship from his parenthood and spoke in the formal tongue.
“And what, my subject,” he said, his voice quivering as it seldom did, “do you return to me, your monarch, for granting your privilege?”
The Princess knelt, as a commoner would have done, and gave away her life. “I will marry the Duke of Paliseda, that good man, and give him sons and daughters to sit after you and me on the Scarlet Throne and rule as gracefully and justly and with the same compassion you have taught to me.”
The man within Eliuia ached. The father in him nearly dies. He was a man of deep passions and a father of unfathomable love. And he was a King and his kingdom must be foremost of all things.
“As you have asked and promised,” he told her in that twisted and convoluted language of the court, “so it is and so it will be….”
She bowed until her forehead almost touched the floor and backed away from the Scarlet Throne like any faithful citizen; then she rushed to fly to the Moon Sea.
(In the stony silence of the Princess’ parting—none of the members of the Court daring to whisper or speak—Eliuia bowed his head and wept. A King crying for the foolishness of the bargain his Princess daughter had made….It was best for the kingdom and the Duke of Paliseda was a very good man, a perfect match to forward the glory of the Scarlet Throne…oh, he knew that and knew it well. But for her…for her, he wept and prayed to AH that she would not arrive on the Moon Sea too late….)
There to die—xxii
A sleepless sea is not a fit place to die. Most people die when those around them leave the room or doze off or are deep in wondering thought. On the Sea of the Moon, no one can sleep and so they are constantly hovering around our Sailor as he tries to die.
Unexpected winds (thanks be to AH!) drive Hope to the Moon Sea a day earlier than could have been expected. The Healer from the Middle Kingdom, freed from the languor of that realm, finds new and unexpected urgency and makes much life-giving magic with his potions and herbs. The sailor lives on, deep asleep on a sea where sleep is impossible. Locked in unconsciousness where all but him are fully conscious, alert, aware.
The Moon Sea, sailors believe, is the deepest of the nine seas—though the Impassable Sea may be deeper, but who can know but the dead. It is the depth, incredible and beyond calculation, that keeps sailors awake there. That is what they believe. The scholars in Morganport have no clue. The theologians and mystics of the island of AH are stumped and confounded. No one knows. But depth is one possible answer.
(In the deepest part of the Moon Sea—every sea, perhaps—there are round and bulbous creatures, blind from the dark of the depths, unable to breathe except the heavy waters of darkness and deeps. These creatures move slowly and adroitly and with purpose no one can imagine.
It is there that the Sailor has sunk to. It is there that he clings to life. And the great, slow behemoths of the sea bottoms are ministering to him, cuddling him in their blubber, whispering to him in words and languages beyond all knowing, urging him to breathe—however faintly—and to dream…however vaguely…to simply live this moment and this moment and this moment and the one after that. He lives for no reason, really, except that that ask it of him. Breathe. Dream. Live.
What none of those creatures could say—even if they could “say” something the comatose Sailor could comprehend—is this: “your Princess is flying to you, have heart….”)
If anyone, any thing, could have but whispered those words, he would have risen precipitously from the sea bottom and shouted with joy. But nothing in the universe could conspire to share that knowledge with him—though it was true, was true, was true. True.
Flying she was, across the Sun Sea and the Middle Sea, flying as fast as the fastest ship of the King of the Sun could carry her, flying she was to find him in the empty and incredible vastness of ocean, find him and bid him farewell on his voyage to the lands of the dead, or—dare she even imagine it—somehow heal him with her love before leaving him forever.
Either way, she feared, his heart would be dead. He would either expire in the depths, in spite of the healing dances of the large, blind creatures, or he would die because she had promised away all hope for a life for them for the faint possibility of seeing him before he died. She would marry the Duke. She would be her father’s daughter and sit after him on the Scarlet Throne. She would do her duty and conform to the expectations and conventions and settle into the life AH had fated for her when she was born a Princess instead of a servant girl. That much she knew. And beyond that she knew that her life would not be a bad life—it would be a life full of children and caring and tenderness and a bitter sweet satisfaction. It would be a life she would not frivolously cast aside, having paid so dearly to live it. And, she knew well, that life would not include her Sailor, or, in some ways, her heart. But it would be enough—and if her bargain granted her time to see him before he died or—beyond all hope—allowed her to heal him so he could live a life without her…then it would be more than enough, and AH’s will.
She traveled lightly. All she carried was a change of clothes, some soap, some scent and a mirror, the carved wooden heart that scarcely beat at all, though she held it near her breast, and a bottle of wine—a gift unspeakable—that never emptied. Only that she brought with her—that and the one message passed hand to hand across many seas and the blood stained missive the bird had brought.
Eastward she stared, into the rising sun, longing and daring to hope. She had brought only two servants—her maid and the kitchen boy, still woozy from having found the dead bird and seen it live again. The cook told the Princess that story and so she took the boy with her for luck, for life, for resurrection.
Hours later, near dusk, the wind died and the waves ceased on the Middle Sea. That lazy sea fell asleep and the fastest boat of the Sun Kingdom floated as if in dock. The Princess was not “religious”—few of the people of that world were—but her spirit was strong. She did believe in Fate and in that believing believed in AH, her mostly disinterested God. The boy was a convert to AH, she thought. Few could see the dead live again and not believe. So the Princess had him teach her to pray. Staring east, across the darkling sea, the boy and the Princess prayed.
There are creatures at the bottom of the Middle Sea who are cousins to the healing whale-like things of the Sea of the Moon. And one of them, sluggish from a decade of feeding on the very bottom of that ocean, heard the boy’s prayers and the Princess’ as well, then roused and rose. Fathom after fathom, the creature rose, circling slowly from the depths, knowing such exertion and such thin water would seal her doom—yet she rose, called perhaps by AH but more likely by the searing, anxious love of the Princess. She rose—that nameless giant—through deep currents and strange eddies and from the chill of the ocean floor to the warmth of the upper waters. She rose, without thought, yet with purpose, until her broad, incredible back touched the gently floating bottom of the fastest ship of the Sun King’s fleet.
It was deep in the night by the time the monster found the ship (called Truth, named by the King). Most of the crew slept below and those above had dozed off since there was no wind, no wave, but only gentle rocking to encourage dreams. Even the boy had fallen asleep in mid-prayer, propped against the railing where the Princess stood, staring into the east through abject darkness. So it was that only she and she alone, who felt the bump and caught her breath as the ship began to move through windless air and water without current.
And move Truth did, that speedy ship, without a crew to sail it, driven only by hope and love and prayer and a kraken-like creature from the depths of the Middle Sea. The creature, freed for these last hours of life from the crushing weight of the sea depths, fairly flew. Her life was no price at all to pay for a time of such pure liberty. And she drove the King’s ship through the narrow channel to the Moon Sea with one last mighty exertion of what—if creatures who live blind and crushed on the bottom of the sea can experience such a thing—a feeling of eternal joy.
The crew had awakened hours before and stood with trembling wonder at the speed of the ship. No hand gripped the wheel, no mates furled the sails, no one moved, they scarcely breathed, as the ship immerged into the Moon Sea and sped on, league by league, faster than any storm could drive it, until, in the dim distance, another sail was seen.
When the good ship Hope came into view, the monster’s work was done. Her heart split in twain and she drifted, slowly because of her great mass, into the depths where other creatures found her, praised her life and her death in ways beyond imagining, then nudged her massive body with their soft snouts to the deepest place in the deepest sea where she could rest forever.

The Captain of the ship Hope stared unbelievingly through his glass at the ship tearing toward them, propelled by no sails, no winds, no tides. He shook his head and wiped unexpected tears from his eyes. His sleepless crew seemed both confused and troubled—such strange happenings might occur on the Sweet Sea or the Sea of Storms, but not here with the moon.
The Captain called them all together.
“Fear not,” he said, “it is the King’s ship Truth, it flies to us, bringing the Princess. All is well.” And as he spoke it, they knew it was so.
…when truth and Hope last kissed….
It took an hour or more—that seemed like days—for ship Truth to come aside Hope. Without the deep-sea creature’s aid (floating down, down, down to the depths to be honored and adored), the ship drifted on, but slowly, across a placid, sun-lit sea. The Princess was at first frantic, but grew more somber as the minutes passed and the two ships grew nearer. When at last they were within boarding distance, she was almost in a trance as deep as the Sailor’s coma. She moved as if through the deepest, heaviest sea water, as if chilled and calmed by some unknowable peace, with the kitchen boy holding her hand.
There had been time to bring the Sailor to the foredeck on a bed the crew fashioned lovingly for him there. He was washed by his cabin boy and dressed in a cotton gown he used for sleeping. His breath was slow and thin, but even. His color was pale and growing paler still—his face nearly gray. Yet, he breathed, yet he lived, perhaps he dreamed—only the Moon Sea manatees could know that and they were busy with the body of a cousin deep below.
A plank was set securely between Hope and Truth and the Princess with the kitchen boy crossed it without help, moving with grace the Captain had only seen in a maiden on the Sweet Sea, walking water. Their eyes met briefly—the Captain and the Princess—and though words were never quite spoken between them, volumes passed through their hearts and minds.
--you have flown to him….
--you have kept him well….
--he loves you beyond his life….
--perhaps not yet, I hope….
--he lives…but only for you….
--I must make him live for himself alone….
On and on their conversation flowed between them in an instance. The Captain thought nothing of it at the time, but would spend the rest of his life seeking to comprehend how it had happened. It would have taken many nights in a pub, drinking rum, to speak such words as they exchanged in a moment, without speaking. And the words flowed on, from their souls.
--there is no life for you, together?
--none at all that I can fathom….
--and are you sad?
--“sad” is but a word, my heart cannot break because it belongs to him….
--may AH bless your healing….
--(the Princess almost laughed) the only power of AH is love…she said, moving to the Sailor, dying on the deck.

Deep in the next night the Sailor stirred and woke. He was as fully awake as all others on the Moon Sea. His pain was gone, but with the pain had flown his memory. The Captain sat by him, smoking a pipe, drinking brandy. From the color of the Captain’s face in candlelight and from the drifting of his eyes, the Sailor imagined he’d been drinking brandy for some time.
The Sailor had quickened all at once. He was fully conscious, profoundly alive, aching to know what had happened to him. The last thing he remembered was reaching slowly for a berry and having something bite his hand.
“Captain….” He said.
The Captain drew deeply on his pipe and finished off his cup. “I will tell you as best I can all I know,” he said, his eyes closing to remember, his face shining too brightly to attribute it all to candlelight and brandy alone.

Your Princess moved across the deck and dropped beside your bed. She took your hand I hers and seemed to kiss your palm. Her other hand stroked your face and the look about her melted every hardened sailor’s heart. It was such a look, such a gaze at you that the tides might have turned under her love.
“Did I awaken,” the Sailor asked, “did I see her?”
The Captain sighed, poured more brandy for himself and a small glass for the Sailor. “I think you did,” he said, “but what do I know? I was very near you and her, bending close, and I think you said something in the common tongue…elidesia…that was it, or so I believe.”
The Sailor smiled. “She flew,” he said.
“She flew…,” the Captain repeated, a tear suddenly leaving his eye and coursing down his cheek.
“Then?” the Sailor asked, waiting.
“Then? Then?, Who is to know. A hundred men watched it happen,” the Captain confessed, “and none of them in all the drinking places of all the 11 Kingdoms will ever agree on what they saw…..Someday soon there will be thousands who will claim to have been on board Hope or Truth when they kissed and all else was lost….”
He drained his cup and refilled it. Relit his pipe and continued: “Broad daylight on the Moon Sea is a time for sudden storms….” His voice was distant, drained. “So as she bent to kiss you a squall came up from the north—mist and rain and clouds with some strange wind. I had my hands on your shoulder and on hers and was the one closest to you both. And this—I believe though it is unbelievable—I s what happened, no matter what you hear in times to come, no matter what the poets or the singers say. What happened in this: elidesae, elidesae, elidesae….”
The Captain had used the plural of the common tongue.
The Sailor wandered back through memory, remembering vaguely something of great heights, something of strong winds and chill, something of the flutter of a thousand wings, something more….Then it slipped away, was gone.
“We flew?” he asked, confused.
The Captain blew out the candle and put down his cup. They were in darkness absolute.
“I swear to you,” he said in darkness, “I swear to you my son, and you are like a son to me, in touching you both as you flew I had a vision full of wonder, something to be recaptured at the end of days. But this I know and you will sometime find again in dream and memory, this I know—you flew….You flew….You flew….”

Hours passed and dawn came. The Sailor slept for a few hours and woke again, even on the Moon Sea. He did not dream and did not remember again, for nearly a lifetime, the heights and winds and chill and the thousand wings. He would remember, but not yet, not now. The Captain still sat by his bed, sleepless as all were on that Sea.
“She is gone?” the Sailor said.
“You know she is,” the Captain answered, his voice tinged with a sadness as sleepless as the sea. “And you must live for you alone now, your heart is lost.”
After a long time the Sailor asked, “you will take me to Morganport before you return home?”
“Of course,” the Captain said, “just as she made me promise to do.”
“You do her will now?” the Sailor asked, with an edge.
His Captain smiled. “All will is the will of AH,” he said.
Many minutes passed with the two men lost in their own thoughts.
“And…” the Sailor said, then paused and took the Captain’s hand.
And is an important question,” the Captain told him, “but one I cannot answer….”
Hope sailed on to Morganport.
xxiii—the in-between times
In Morganport, the Sailor recovered slowly. He was cared for by the finest healers in the land, all of whom knew he had been brought back to life by the Princess of the Sun Kingdom. Nursed and comforted, he gained strength and began to walk in the gardens as the moon rose.
In Homeport, the Princess prepared herself for her wedding to the Duke of Paliseda—a kind and good man who would love her dearly and become her trusted companion. She was exhausted by her flight to the Moon Sea—and from a flight she did not yet remember—but she knew she had brought life to the Sailor and his love had brought unexpected life to her. And she had, deeply hidden in her memory something not yet accessible, something just beyond her ken.
The Sailor healed and met Alia again—a student of the Academy who had walked with him on the sands and shared wine and heard the story of his love. Alia came to simply be with him as he gained strength. He never imagined loving her. She never asked for all his love. But love for her came, came surely, strongly, only limited by the part of his heart that belonged to the Princess.
The night before their marriage, the Princess sat in a lush room with the Duke and told him everything about the Sailor and how the marriage they would share was a bargain she had made with her father. She fully expected Duke DePlace to reject her. She did not wish that because she had grown fond of him during their engagement. But she imagined it would be so. The Duke was a man not unfamiliar with romance and he loved her even more knowing her love would never be completely his. In a way beyond explanation, he knew his Princess bride had some memory she could not quite touch that someday would return to her. He honored even that, and before he died he told their children to wait for their mother to remember. He was a good and noble man and a wondrous husband and father.
Alia asked nothing of the Sailor, but in their many hours together they grew close and dear to each other. Since she knew his heart would never completely belong to her, she was never disappointed by what love he offered. And he offered much love. And she knew—knew in a way beyond “knowing”—that there was some memory just beyond his grasp that he would share with her if he could only retrieve it from the fog and mist of his soul. She would never hear it—but she knew someday it would return. She was a dear and loving woman. Their marriage was sweet and tender and full of joy.
So it was that the Princess and her Sailor lived out lives full of truth and pleasure and no regret. Neither of them ever completely forgot the other, but they somehow knew that what was and would be were things they could not command or force into being. There were seasons of forgetting followed by weeks of painful longing. But the longing was never bitter and the times of their lives apart were full and whole. And the years passed. The years, as they are wont to do, passed.
Sometimes at night, the Sailor would gaze at the moon and dream of the Princess who had brought him back to life.
At dawn, on some occasions, the Princess would watch the sun rise on the trees outside the palace and remember, remember with joy.
And time passed: years, lifetimes.
The bargain they made with fate, with AH, was this: to wait, to be patient, to go on with life, never losing hope and yet, never expecting anything. The wooden heart the Sailor carved beat in a jewel box near the Princess’ bed. The paper heart the Princess cut was folded, marking the page, in whatever book the Sailor read at night.
And they waited. They were patient. They went on with life in a way that did not feel like patient waiting. They never lost hope and yet never expected more than hope itself. And never did they let their longing and their aching and their hope discolor the lives they went on to live. There was something pure in that, something important.
(One can hold another’s heart for a very long time. Through sun and moon over and over again—for years and years, a lifetime—that is how long hope can live.
That long and longer….)

xxv. when they flew

Almost 30 years later—three decades into a good and faithful life as a duchess and then a Queen—the Princess was crossing the small plaza behind the palace kitchens. Eno-on, the kitchen boy—by now the kitchen “man”—was sitting in the dirt digging patiently at a hole in the earth. Eno-on, who came with her flying across the seas to find the Sailor, was considered simple or even deranged by all except the maid, the cook, the Princess and her family, the Duke and two wondrous children. But the Duke had died, almost a year before that day, and the Princess/Queen was emerging from her mourning for that dear, beloved man. That was one less person in the world who knew Eno-on was a child-like man who had been touched by something wondrous, holy and held it in his bones.
“Eno-on,” the Princess said, “why are you digging?”
He smiled at her, his eyes slightly out of focus, his mouth gaping open, nearly toothless for all the palace dentists could do.
“Memory is buried here,” he said.
“I would remember,” his Princess/Queen told him, gathering her skirts around herself, sitting with him on the ground.
He cackled and continued to dig. “You will remember, for it is time,” is all he said.
Then from the earth, an Eno-on dug, the Princess saw something white begin to emerge from the soil. A feather drifted up into the air above the hole while Eno-on dug. A wing appeared, moving softly.
In the near distance, the Princess/Queen heard her grown children talking to the cook about dinner—they were asking about quail and mussels and the availability of fresh berries. They were grown Royals, already ruling in Paliseda and heirs to the Scarlet Throne. But the laughter between her children and the cook faded as she watched Eno-on’s hands work the dirt. There was, she knew—though it was impossible to imagine—a bird beneath the soil…all these years though long ago flown…a bird with grievous wounds that lived now in the Sun. But it was there, beyond all reason and imagining, and in a moment more it fluttered, cooing in the idiot man’s hands….She fainted dead away. Darkness within/without rolled over her as a wave rolls to the shore.
{She had a long conversation with the Captain, though it lasted but a moment over 30 years before. She was moving with such slow grace not born of her that she imagined that if she did not concentrate carefully she might float up off Hope’s deck and hover by the sails. Then she saw the Sailor and found herself once more bound by gravity. She rushed to his side, took his hand in hers and gently smoothed his face. He was so pale—pale to gray—and barely breathing, but his eyes opened slightly and he spoke to her. The Captain was beside them, touching them both, she smelled the old man’s fear and hope as well. Everything was so clear and crisp to her—as crisp and clean as the sheets the other sailors had laid carefully over their dying friend.
The Sailor’s lips moved, something in the common tongue…”elidesia,” he said, as if his last word.
“I flew to you, my love,” she said, and then, gathering up all her strength and hope and wondering, she kissed him.}
What the poets never wrote and the troubadours never fashioned into song was what happened next. What happened next had been lost to the Princess and the Sailor. Blessedly AH—holy is her name—erased all the memory of what happened next until an idiot man dug up a bird, fluttering with life, three decades later and the Princess fainted from memory.

{The mist and the clouds moved in even more suddenly in daylight than could be expected on the Moon Sea. All was obscured. The Captain gasped and the Sun exploded. All the sailors from Hope and Truth were stunned as if dead. And from the blinding brightness of the exploding sun, through the clouds and mist and squalls that wrapped around the ships, a hundred huge white birds came winging down. Their feathers stirred up the sweetest winds and smelled of ginger and lime, in their beaks they took the sheets where the sailor lay dying and tore them from the deck into the highest sky.
“I flew with him,” the Princess/Queen said, days later from her bed, only recently awakened from her week long swoon. Five faces surrounded her—the cook, her oldest friend; the maid who a life-time ago traded clothes and rank with her when she first met the Sailor; Eno-on who dug birds from the earth; and her children—royal born, 28 and 25, prince and princess, duke and duchess in their own right.
All of them—even the royal children—had heard the songs of the sailors and the poetry of the seas that spoke of that moment on Hope when the Sailor was brought back to life by the kiss of a Princess. The tunes and tones were never quite the same. Though a hundred saw it all and thousands claim they had, no one could quite agree on what happened when Truth and Hope kissed and the squall blew in and the sun exploded as with wings. Every song, every poem had something of the truth, but none had all. The maid and Eno-on had been almost as close as the Captain, yet their minds had never quite revealed what really happened. Memory was blinded by sun and ginger wings and flight.
Enin and Damar—Prince and Princess of the Sun Lands—had been told by their father, long ago, the good Duke of Paliseda, that secrets haunted their mother’s life. They did not see it, those children, because she was to them a mother without peer, pouring her life and her time into their joy and growth. But this is what their father told them, when they were barely teens: “Someday she will remember all….I do not grieve that she loved that Sailor so. It is her, in her love of him, that I won.”
Perhaps the Duke told them too soon in life because they had feared for their own safety. Their mother had loved another man? It was not something they could easily understand or bear. And their father did not hate her for it, was not jealous? How could such a thing be so?
But that night, by their mother’s bed, full-grown, they were not harsh at all. Their eyes were wide and their hearts were open. The Duke, their father, had told them: “wait until your mother remembers…then listen and learn how to love….”
Here’s what happened: the eternal birds carried the Princess and the Sailor from the deck of Hope into air so thin they could hardly breathe, so cold they could hardly live, so blue it pained their souls and it was full of orange clouds. Across the seas they flew as on the shoulders of a storm and were brought again to earth in the Last Place. There the birds left them and returned to the sun.
After what seemed ages, the Princess, still holding the Sailor’s hand, still kissing him, pulled away.
“Where is this place?” she asked.
“I know it well,” he said, gaining some strength from the place itself. “But first from water from the sea…I need a drink.”
She rushed down to the shore and cupped water in her hand. Her thirst was great as well and she lapped it with her tongue, carrying it to him. Together they drank the sweet water and then tasted it again on each other’s lips and tongues.
And there they lived—for years that seemed like decades to them—in the Last Place. They swam in the waters of the Sweet Sea and walked in the bone-chilling surf of the Impassible Sea. They made a home and became friends with the strange beings who lived just below that sea. The Sailor learned to fish and the Princess grew vegetables and fruits. The Sea-Folk gave them a boat—a tiny thing—to row into the Sweet Sea. Visitors from other kingdoms brought them books and some faint news—but though they read the books over and again, reading to each other, news soon seemed unnecessary. What use did they have of the larger world? Here they lived and loved—in the Last Place—for what seemed like years and years.
They even had a child—a son—a winsome, quiet boy who tamed the odd animals and the strange birds. The Princess and the Sailor did not name him—calling him only “son”—somehow knowing he would eventually name himself. And one day, in his 14th year—if years can be measured in that place—when a slight beard had suddenly appeared upon his cheeks, he came to them after dinner.
“I am Trav-res-sha”, he told them. And they knew it was true.
The boy left them some time after that—both the Sailor and the Princess had grown confused in time and couldn’t have said how long it was between his naming and his leaving. But they knew it was right. He sailed their tiny boat across the Sweet Sea to where Ah resides. He became a priest of love. Though neither of them had ever mentioned AH to Trav-res-sha, AH has sought him out and he sailed to her heart. He had known the holy in his parent’s love. So they let him go as joyfully as they had shared his life. Often, with the moon on the sea, they walked the sands, hand in hand, and remembered him, telling stories of his childhood, wishing him well, loving him deeply.
After many, many years (hard to count in that place) the memory of their former lives began to fade. It was as if they had always lived on this sea, drank its sweet water instead of wine, worked in the sunlight and loved by the moon. This was home for them: home. This was where their lives were fully contained and held in hope. This was who they were—the two who lived in the Last Place and loved….
One day, after what seemed like an eon (and was probably longer) the Sailor had grown old. He walked slowly with pain in his legs. The Princess was caring for the garden or memorizing some poem to repeat to him after dinner. He found some berries—the kind she loved, and thought of feeding them to her from his hand. He put them in his pocket. Then he found a stone shaped like a half-moon and a shell the color of the sun. Those treasures, too, he would carry to her. She had a thousand of each, but valued the next one most.
And as he turned, things began to disappear, vanish, fade into light just beyond sight. Something was passing by, something leaving. The last thing he saw was her running toward him across the sand, staring into what was fading away, looking confused at what was ending….
Enin poured his mother a glass of wine from an ancient bottle that never ran dry. Damar held it to her lips and she drank, she drank. Then the two of them, brother and sister of the Scarlet Throne, crawled into bed with the Princess/Queen---their mother, their life-love. As they had done as children, they lay on either side of her, snuggling against her, not understanding at all but knowing this was a moment her whole life had pointed to. The maid and cook and servant man, made breathless by the intimacy of all that, bowed (though no one saw them bow) and backed out of the room.
It was just a mother with her children, slipping off to sleep—but there was something more in that tableau, something about memory, about loving, about truth and hope.
“All that I forgot for lo these many years,” she mumbled, falling asleep, “and at last I have remembered.”
Enin and Damar held her in their arms and in their hearts.
A week later she sent a bird, the bird Eno-on had dug from the ground and kept in a cage for just this purpose. But what does an eternal bird, resident of the Sun, dug from the earth after three decades by a man all considered an idiot, an idiot who knows all things—what does such a bird know of time or tides or the waxing and waning of the moon and the direction to Morganport? Nothing, that’s what.
The bird’s journey took another 12 years thought it was not a long one for such a bird. She often found something interesting enough to visit for five months. She returned a time or two to the sun to rest for a year or so. But she never removed the message the Queen had tied onto her leg, written on the finest parchment with dark, black ink in a graceful stroke of the pen.
“My Sailor,
I remember now, at last. We Flew!
It was not a dream.
We have a son we shall see again if AH is good.
Can you wait for me, wherever you are?
There is more to life and love than we know, or could….”

She did not sign it, there was no need. If the bird ever found him, he would know it was from her. And she did not leave her Kingdom to seek him. There was no need. There is more to life and time and love than we know…or could ever know….

Still, to this day, they are remembered in the 11 Kingdoms in song and story and myth and legend and poetry. Still, to this day, the great-great-great grand daughter of the Princess—72nd on the Scarlet Throne in that peaceable kingdom—knows by heart the lays of the singers about her great-great-great Grandmother, how she saved the Sailor on the Moon Sea and saved the Kingdom from the Plague, how she journeyed under the flag of purple and disappeared into the Lands of Hope. Eb-de-vol was a name on every singer’s lips. Almost forgotten, but remembered in a few of the more obscure poems, was the name of Re-vol, the Sailor who would have possessed a Princess. The Kingdoms reverberated with the story of their love that was not to be.
Who they were—their lives and true identities—have been consumed by legends.
Eb-de-vol, daughter of the good King, Elliuia the 12th and his loving wife, Queen Noom, had two elder brothers who died by water—the first a stillborn, drowned in the waters of the womb and the second a fierce young boy who swam out too far into the Sunny Sea at six years and was lost forever. Little wonder, in an ironic way, that Eb-de-vol would love a man who had conquered the waters, a Sailor of the seas.
So Eb-de-vol became a precious commodity—the only true heir to the Scarlet Throne. She was so guarded, so restrained that in her 19th year of life she needs must escape, visit the world, find life beyond the castle walls. Her maid, hard pressed by the entreaties of her Princess, reluctantly agreed to exchange clothing and let the Princess pass through the castle gates dressed as a maid.
What can we say of her? What will describe her being, her character, her identity? She was pure of heart, that we know from the rest of this story. And she knew her duties to her life, her birth, her inheritance. She never disappointed those who relied on her. She did what was right, needed, required. She married well, produced heirs to the Scarlet Throne, never defied the conventions that surrounded her and had requirements on her life. She flew to the Sailor over the seas—and that was well documented in the song and poetry of the 11 Kingdoms and nine Seas. But she kept the bargains she had made and the promises she had given. May AH bless her memory.
Re-vol, was the son of a sea Captain who perished on the Impassable Sea, along with his whole crew, foolishly seeking a short passage home. Like the Princess, Re-vol was an only child. Though his parents longed for more children, none came. But his father died when he was 12 and his mother when he was barely 15 and a cabin boy on the good ship Hope. His mother’s brother and that brother’s wife were his only family.
He was a passionate man, but a man of honor. The Princess was his first real love—bar flies and prostitutes throughout the nine seas he had known, but not love.
And once he knew that love, once he gave his heart, his life was ever changed, transformed, made new. From the moment he bumped into her in the marketplace, from that point on, Re-vol was a flame that burned brightly with what was full of love and hope and truth and purity.
Like the Princess he lived out a life full of joy and wonder with another. His marriage and life with Alia was always true and faithful and without deceit. Their greatest grief had been their childlessness. But they clung to each other in the nights and it was enough. It was enough, just their love. Just their love was enough.
So what you hear next, the amazing conclusion to this tale of love, might not make sense. Good and loving as they were, why these two?
There is nothing terribly special about them—how many millions have ached and longed for a love that could not be? Don’t we all have something missing in our souls, something we believe could be made whole by the lover of our life? Aren’t we all, finally, lonely and alone, waiting for a Princess or a Sailor to arrive? And don’t all our hearts ache?
Why these two for what comes next? Who knows? Who can tell?

(There is no way, really, in such a tale as this, to know why AH chose these two, out of all the others, as the ones who would know something of eternity and eternal love. Perhaps all the others know it as well, but this is the only tale I know to tell. That is something worthy of a prayer to AH.)

xxvii—eternal bird arrives at last
Nearly a score of years she wandered (as she was meant by AH to do)—flying, resting, returning to the sun, searching all the 11 Kingdoms and one to all unknown, soaring above the nine seas. She had no patience for time. She flew as she willed. Then, one day, high above Morganport, thinking of visiting the sun, she had a distant memory crash into her tiny brain. She dropped to earth and found the Sailor walking the busy, crowded streets and landed on his shoulder, digging her talons in, drawing blood.
For more than 40 years now, he had fleeting, escaping dreams of the Last Place, of a life he could not quite remember there, of fishing and hunting for rocks and shells, of nights of loving in moonlight, of a child who seemed to name himself and sailed away, of growing old and disappearing. Nothing could bring the memories to the surface where he could engage them until the talons of that eternal bird cut through his light, cotton shirt and drew blood. Then—in a moment—he remembered all, everything.
He somehow even remembered the message the bird carried for so many years. He read it in his mind, his heart. He even could see the Princess write it. He soared, distracted, for the bird for many years. All was clear and all memory came back to him. In that moment.
He shooed the bird away to return to the Sun. He had no further need of her. The wound on his shoulder had told him all. He turned around and rushed through the streets toward home. He must tell Alia what he had remembered. She had waited for him to remember, for that memory to come. She had loved him in the life he led for himself…for her—the life without the Princess—she had taken his tattered heart and his broken body and made both whole again, she had given him love and taught him how to love. And she had never asked for his whole heart—she knew from long ago where his heart dwelled.
He was opening the door, about to call her name, “Alia” was in his mind and almost in his mouth when a newer memory came crashing in on him.

(The Captain had left him in Morganport. He slowly recovered. He found employ at the Academy and taught navigation and geography to several generations of young sailors from all the 11 Kingdoms. And there, in Morganport, he found Alia again, who had kissed him so gently, so gently he could not decide if it had happened at all, and she married him, full knowing his heart was never to be fully hers.
They made a life together well worth living. She was a quick and wise woman. He was a tender man. They both had pasts but she was willing to live a life with half his heart rather than live without his tender love. He had told her on the sands of his love for the Princess. And she had heard the songs and poem written, sung, performed about Truth kissing Hope and the Sailor and his Love that flew. Often she asked him what he remembered about all that—about his role in lore and legend.
“Nothing but some dreams,” he told her, over and again, truthfully, drawing her near, drawing comfort from her love, drowning himself in her devotion, returning it, loving her in his own way and greatly.
Now he could tell her all. The bird’s claws had returned the memories and more. Now he knew, at long last, of the life he had shared with the Princess in the Last Place—in that moment on board Hope—that had drifted away. Alia would want to know. She had always asked….)
The silence of the house reflected back his unspoken call to her. He had done this before, several times. He had rushed home to tell her something only to have his call of her name echo back emptily.
Alia was dead. Often he forgot, having grown so accustomed to sharing his life with her, his days, his nights, his thoughts, his messages. But she was dead—had died almost a year before, though he still came home to tell her things. He spoke to her each day, “Alia, Alia,” he always said when he returned to their home of 40 years. Something in him could not get used to the emptiness of the house. Each day he called her name. “Alia,” he said.
They had no children.
“It matters not,” she told him, each month in the years they longed for sons and daughters. “Your love is enough for me. It fills me up and makes me whole.” That is what Alia would say.
And that was true. Standing in the hallway of their home—where he and Alia had shared a lovely, loving life, knowing at long last the secrets he had forgotten long ago on the deck of Hope on the Moon Sea—as remarkable as it seemed, even to the Sailor, he knew she would want to hear it. And he knew this—he and Alia had loved, had become part of each other. He stood at the door of an empty house and called her name. “Alia…,” he had said, longing to hear her reply, then realizing she wasn’t there.
It was enough, the life they shared, more than enough. It had filled his half-a-heart brimful and broke that when she died.
“Some few of us get to choose the last words they speak,” she said to him, wrapped in his arms, frail and wasting away.
“Hush,” he said, “you will live on.”
“No, Sailor,” she told him, holding his head away from hers. “I die now. And this you must know and hold always: I always knew your heart was not wholly mine. I dealt with that though at first I hated her. But I hate her no more. I love her in my way. And this I now know—the purity of your love—you and your Princess—left room for me as well and made me a better person, one who repaired a great, good heart. So, I honor her and you and all that you and I have shared….”
He wept bitterly and sought to make her stop talking, willed her back to life as best he could.
She held his hand to her mouth and touched his palm with her tongue.
“Sail on Hope,” she whispered as she died.

(The Sailor stood in the empty hallway and listened to the echo of his call: “Alia! Alia!” he had said, longing to share with her the wholeness of his heart, not remembering, as he seldom did, that she was no longer there.)

The next day his visited Alia’s grave and bade her farewell.
“I go now to the Last Place,” he told her. “I know not why except that I must and always was meant to do so….I loved you, you know that, but I must leave you here, on this hill above the sea, in this dear land we shared so long.” The Sailor was a tender man who sat until the sun set beside the grave of his wife.
That night he prowled the docks, looking for a ship to carry him to the Last Place, where he knew somehow he must wait and where few ships sailed. No one would accept his coins or his offer to work. They knew who he was—had heard of him and the Princess in songs in pubs across all seas. No one would give him passage. He was suspect. Sailors seldom wanted suns exploding while they were on the sea, or people flying, except in songs.
Discouraged and terribly exhausted—he was no longer young—he found himself in a pub called, ironically enough, The Moon Sea. Across the room, near the fireplace was an old salt he felt drawn to. He ordered an ale and a brandy and took it to the table where the old man sat. The man’s eyes were as white as a sudden squall—blind, poor fellow, the Sailor thought. The man’s skin was as wrinkled as the waves and as dry as a strong south wind. What hair he had was beyond gray to white and falling out. His smile was toothless as the Sailor sat down.
“Brandy, my friend?” the Sailor asked.
“Rather some of that wine that never ends,” the old man whispered back.
“Captain?” the Sailor said, astonished.
“I have been waiting all these years for you,” the old man wheezed, “and now, just in time, you come.”
After a long silence, the Sailor said, “today I remembered everything.”
“I have always remembered,” his Captain answered. “I touched you both and have held the memories you forgot all these years in my heart. I knew you would once more know and that we would sail to the Last Place together.”
“You have a ship still?” the Sailor asked, wondering.
“Hope never sinks,” the Captain said, laughing, somehow picking up the cup of brandy and hoisting it to his lips.
“And a crew?” the Sailor queried, “You have a crew?”
He smiled a toothless smile and stared with blind eyes.
“We need no crew, my son,” he said, “there are creatures who have been waiting, though ‘waiting’ is not a thing they would comprehend….There are creatures who have known, though I dare say their ‘knowing’ far outstrips ours….It is too hard for my feeble, ancient mind to think about and far beyond my words to speak of….But this is true: we need not crew nor sail—our journey has long been charted, all that is needed is the will to cross the seas.”
The Sailor sat and wondered for a long time. Then he spoke.
“When shall we leave?”
The old man downed his drink. “The moon is full tonight. What better time than now? Oh, except for this, you must go home and bring that bottle, the one that has not gone empty in all these years, the wine that never ends….”
On the full moon, while the Captain and the Sailor sipped 40 year old wine from the Sweet Sea, the creatures came, willing to die to take Hope to the Last Place. And their last journey began….

Plague comes to homeport….
During the high summer after the Sailor and his Captain departed for the Last Place, the permafrost in Upper Morgan melted for a few precious weeks and in that time a truncated spring came to the cold lands. This particular year, the 37th year of the Reign of the Queen on the Scarlet Throne in the sun lands, a creature we might call a mountain goat was gravely ill. The goat was bitten by a fly that the gentle southern breezes carried serendipitously over the mountains down to the port city of LaRue, in Lower Morgan where it bit a horse and then died.
That horse, as fate (or AH, depending on your theology) would have it, was loaded onto a ship bound across the narrow joining of the Ocean East and the Sea of Shame to a port in the Spice Lands. The horse was thought to be a champion racer but grew weak and sick and, just before dying, sneezed on the dog that guarded the stables. That gentle dog, turned aggressive by a gnawing pain, bit a maid who kissed a sailor good-bye on the docks. By the time the ship reached Morganport, many of the crew were feeling poorly, though none died and only one—the sailor sent off with a kiss—was in critical danger. He stayed in Morganport in hospital as she ship sailed on.
A nurse in the hospital in Morganport, cleaning up the recovering sailor’s bed, did not notice the flea that had bit him in the night. She shook the sheets off the balcony into the garden where the flea found a tiny rodent, much like what we could call a mole, to feed on. The mole, confused and dazed a few days later, insinuated itself into a box of medical books a merchant left on the street in front of the hospital while he relieved himself behind a tree. The books were put on a ship that sailed across the Moon Sea to the Middleland’s and a healer there.
The healer, excited by his shipment of books, unwrapped them on the dock and, finding a dead mole-like creature, threw it into the sea where it was devoured by a fish who swam into the Middle Sea and was caught by a sailor on yet another boat. The disease had spread, by the time it was caught, to the fish’s brain and the cook fed the fish head to the ship’s cat who, a week later, almost caught a seabird that landed on the deck, biting the bird and infecting it with the Upper Morgan plague.
The bird flew to yet another boat, bound for Paliseda. Some of the bird’s blood dripped on the deck and was tasted by a spider. The spider formed a web that was tangled in some merchandize being unloaded in Paliseda for transfer to a ship bound for Lugunia. While the cargo sat on the dock, a petty thief, shifting through the boxes, was bitten by the spider. In a bar the next night, when the sailor beside him wasn’t looking, the thief stole a drink of the sailor’s ale. The sailor finished the cup and half-a-dozen more before boarding his ship, ironically called, “Good Health”, bound for Homeport at the dawn.
One of that unfortunate sailor’s job aboard “Good Health” was to help the cook. As he peeled turnips and potatoes for a stew, he cut himself and coughed and coughed. And so it was that a plague which (Blessed be AH, forever blessed!) killed no one along the way—though the thief was rendered feeble minded by the disease—found a place to incubate and gain strength on the ship “Good Health”. The Upper Morgan plague turned that ship into a ship of Death that limped into Homeport on a glorious autumn day.
(All this death began in the high summer—just as the Sailor and the Captain passed into the Sweet Sea—and it took nearly three months to arrive in Homeport and send the Queen on a journey as well.)

The tiny caravan flew a purple flag. In the land of the Nine Seas, scarlet was the color of royalty and purple the color of plague. Purple warned the uninfected to stay away and cleared the road for the sick and dying. Not only did the cart, drawn by two horses, fly purple, the four humans wore purple though only two of them had symptoms of the Upper Morgan sickness. But it was only safe and fair. Eno-0n had been with the Queen from the beginning, as had her maid and the cook. Cook was sick, coughing already, and the Queen’s color was bad and her breath short. The oldest were most susceptible to the plague. Cook was nearly ninety—a great, long life in that world—and the Queen had sat on the Scarlet Throne for nearly 40 years. Her 65th birthday was but five moons away. The maid was five year older than her Queen and the “boy”, as most still called him, was barely 50. They were a strange crew, draped in purple, moving south along the sea toward the mountains by Royal Decree.
When the ship Good Health drifted into Homeport, laden with death, the Queen had gone to witness the suffering, give aid to the afflicted, and evaluate the danger to her people and her Kingdom. She well knew plague and recognized it immediately in the pallor and breathing of the sick. It was her quick thinking that sealed off the docks for a month and ordered all those who had come in contact with the dying crew to leave the Kingdom of the Sun to the north or south, along the sea, dressed in purple and flying flags, to either the Mother Lands or the Land of Hope—if, indeed, any of them survived long enough to travel so far.
Eight royal guards had accompanied the Queen to the dock. As soon as she saw the signs of sickness, she chose the youngest man to go back and keep others away.
“Shout to the crowd as you drive them back,” she told him, “to bring my Chancellor to the street above the docks and have him wait there for me.”
To the seven other guards she said, “I ask you now, along with healers I will send, to stay and care for the dying on this ship. You, yourselves, may die out of that compassion. I do not order you as your Queen, but ask you as your sister to not let the dying die alone.”
And for love of her, those soldiers stayed, squeezing water from cloth into parched mouths until all who were meant to die were dead. All of those guards eventually perished, without seeing loved ones or visiting home. They stayed on the ship, taken by the Upper Morgan plague that had grown so virulent on Good Health. Those who burned the docks waited until everyone on the ship was dead, then the burners stayed on the beach, waiting to see if they would die. Half of them did and the other half had complicated lives thereafter. But all of them agreed to their duties out of love for their Queen. For love of the purity of her heart, they stayed—and most of them died.
After consulting with her Chancellor and other royal advisors through notes exchanged by the youngest guard (who lived and died an old man with many grandchildren) the Queen reached a quick and radical decision. All who had come in contact with the docks in the last day must leave the Kingdom, flying the purple flag. And those who were on the docks had three days—either they would show symptoms or not. If not, they would set fire to the docks and burn them into the sea, then leave the Kingdom under purple flags. Whoever had caught the plague would be provided with poison or be burned alive for the sake of the peoples of the Kingdom of the Sun.
It was a stunningly correct decision. Several hundred died, either on the docks by disease or fire or in caravan out of Homeport, flying purple. But thousands would have died had not the Queen been so decisive and so brutal. Once she made her decree, she knew that she too must leave Homeport. Her son and daughter were safe in Paliseda and would return to the Kingdom of the Sun to rule when the month long ban was lifted and the plague had been burned away. Her decision was wise and wondrously wrought. So she left, down to the south, toward the mountains around the Land of Hope, flying purple all the way.
Here son and daughter and various of their descendents would reign after her and hear of their mother’s bravery and selflessness in song and poetry.
Down to Hope the Queen did go
Bearing with her sickness dire
Saving all with her great love
Bringing health out of the fire.

Her last royal command was to burn the ship and the docks three days after her departure. Her guards did that without hesitation. Looking back, over miles and miles the third night of her journey from Homeport, she saw the flames rising from the north, burning away the disease, saving her Kingdom.
The Queen’s little troupe made their way south, along the sea, toward the Hopeful Mountains. Word spread faster than the fire that burned the docks and folks along the coastal way knew their Queen was passing by, submitting herself to her own decree, clearing the way for life to continue, carrying her disease toward Hope. So, all along the way, simple people put out hearty, country foods and fine, local wines for the Queen’s band of travelers. The cook began to rally from the good food found at every crossroads and Eno-on drank too much peasant wine. He would sing and prophesy in his cups. Perhaps because the country folks knew their Queen and her odd retinue were passing near and charted their progress toward the mountains, a few brave folks would be just out of sight at night when Eno-on created his songs. Some of those tunes passed into legend and were sung to the Queen’s prodigy for generations and all around the Eleven Kingdoms. One of them was this:
Southward, ever southward, the Queen her journey goes
To the Land of Hope and from that place nobody knows.
Yet legend of the dark sea will find a voice to sing,
As the Bearer of the Pure in Heart rises and takes wing.

A Princess becomes a Queen in time we all agree.
But from the Land of sickness, a Queen must always flee.
And a Queen becomes a Princess from water that is sweet.
There in the Last Place, a Sailor she will meet.

Night after night Eno-on would sing. The maid would hold her hands over her ears to block out his tales. The cook took solace in his lays. And the Princess who was a Queen—she stared into the fire they built each night, her eyes full of tears for the children she would never see again and for her Kingdom, now lost to her. Yet, as she listened to the idiot boy’s songs, she dared, with half-a-heart, to hope again.
It is in the Last Place the Princess shall abide.
Finally, yes finally, to be the Sailor’s bride.
In a boat that floats just above the Sea,
A priest and son shall come and leave again with me….

Such lyrics brought pain to the Queen’s maid. She, ironically enough, when barely more than a child, just as fate or AH would have it, had loved a sailor of her own who sailed with a Captain—our Sailor’s father, as it happened—from the Sweet Sea into the Impassable Sea and died there. She had never loved another and the kitchen boy’s strange songs nearly drove her mad. She could not have said why, any more than she could have imagined what waited for her at the end of this plague-driven journey.
Long ago on tempest’s seas, a sailor loved was drowned.
And the maid who loved him, her heart was cruelly bound.
Yet on the shores of the Last Place, she will find a love,
To free her from her bondage and carry her above….

“That one was about you,” the Queen said to her maid once it had come tumbling out in song from Eno-on’s lips.
“Do not torment me, your majesty,” the maid replied, painfully.
In the silence and the flickering light of the camp fire, the Queen smiled and changed the direction of the conversation.
“Don’t you think,” she said, finally, “after all we’ve been through, you might call me by my name? I am Queen no more and have never been a majesty to you, my dear friend.”
“But your name is never spoken,” the maid replied, “less the spell of your reign be broken. It was written so by the Old Ones from the Motherlands.”
The Queen smiled, almost laughed, and shook her head.
“My reign is over now and purged by fire.” She paused to let the maid remember the flames they had seen over Homeport several weeks before. “So I will speak my name in this place, just before the mountains, in the dim light of this fire, and you will say it with me and our mutual fate will be sealed.”
The maid took a deep, deep breath.
“If you insist, your majesty,” she said, sadly but with mixed expectations.
“I do insist,” the Queen replied, “not as your Queen, but as your life-long friend. My name is Eb-De-Vol. Say it with me….”
And together, Queen (no longer Queen) and maid (no longer maid), they spoke: “Eb-De-Vol….”
In that shared speaking, their common fate was sealed. Embracing, they wept with joy and expectation.
Carriak,” the Queen whispered, “you must survive and come with me across the Impassable Sea. (Carriak was a word from the common tongue, a language seldom spoken, the language of the Old Ones from Motherland and the Land of Hope, a language that was much like a religion among the people of that world. To use the common tongue was to taste of what was basic and real and vital. It was not a language to be used frivolously. And in the common tongue, “carriak” means cook and mother and deep-woman friend and much more besides.)
Once they passed the mountains by traveling along the sea, the little band had to turn west and brave the wastelands of the Land of Hope. One of the ironies of that world is that a place known as the “Land of Hope” was so barren and scarred and intimidating. The Land of Hope is arid and chill with cruel winds and dust storms and almost no place fit for human habitation. Legend has it that a great race of men and women once lived there and, mating with the Old Ones from the Motherlands, created all the people of the Land of Nine Seas. But as the Queen and her laughable retinue soon discovered, the Land of Hope was anything but hopeful. The food and wine the Queen had hoarded before the mountains was all they had to sustain them. And they still had a week’s journey toward a sea that could not be sailed or crossed. Nothing seemed possible. All seemed lost. Yet the Queen whispered her wishes to the woman who had served her as “mother” over decades.
“Carriak, you must live,” she said.
The maid and kitchen boy had learned more about the strength and courage of the Queen they had long served than they could have ever imagined knowing. She kept them moving, cheered them when they doubted, kept Cook alive, it seemed, by the force of her will that Carriak would not die. At least not yet.
The Queen seemed to know where they were going (though she could have not named a place certain) and why (though she could express no real reasons). And she was convinced they would all arrive or none of them would—that much was clear from hoe she nursed the cook, encouraged the maid and provided focus for the always distracted Eno-on. Much nursing and encouragement and focus had been necessary for the journey grew always harder, mind-numbingly harsh during sunlight and chill-to-the-bone during the nights. But the Queen was relentless and devastatingly kind at the same time.
The morning the second horse died, they finally saw the Impassible Sea. Storms of several kinds—waterspouts, lightening and wind-driven rain—were barely visible through the mists along the shore. They had felt the land shake with the surf for an hour before they saw the sea. The maid had been almost hysterical when Eb-De-Vol insisted on burying the horse in the sands.
“We are almost dead with hunger and thirst,” the maid protested, “we have no strength to bury each other, much less a horse. It is only a horse….”
Eb-De-Vol, no longer her Queen but a woman with a name, smiled gently at her. “The boy and I will do most of the work,” she said, without rancor, “and this good creature did not bring us this far to be left to the sea birds. I will have him buried and Eno-on will chant one of his chants over that grave.”
When the horse was buried, the idiot who knew all, chanted softly, tears running down his face:
Here he lies, the one who gave us life.
His death delayed until Hope was crossed.
Without his strength spent fully in the strife,
We would be dead and all our hopes be lost.

The maid wiped away Eno-on’s tears and shed some of her own. She turned to apologize to the Queen but Eb-De-Vol merely shook her head and smiled.
“We have arrived now and now we wait,” is all she said.
“Wait for what?” the maid asked.
“I do not know,” the Queen replied, staring out across the Impassable Sea.
Wait they did, for a full day and night after all their food and water ran out. Eno-on built a fire from brush wood and they boiled the acid water of the sea until it was safe to drink. But a gallon only made a cup, so cook got most of what they distilled from the ocean. The Queen had begun to imagine they waited in vain for what she did not know. Why had she believed something waited here for them? What had drawn her toward this place in their long two-month journey? And why had she brought these innocents with her to die on the shore of a sea no one could cross?
She sat awake all night, watching the moonlight on the stormy, untamable waters, numb with cold, her thoughts vague and passing, never dreaming that on the other side of that cruel ocean another watched the moon as well.
(“Time grows near, Revol,” the Captain said, resting his hand on the Sailor’s shoulder, speaking his name with great tenderness, looking down at the moon-watching young man on the shore. In their years in the last place—months, really, that seemed like years—they had both seemed to grow younger. The Captain was a hearty man of middle years again, his sight restored. They didn’t discuss it, but honored the changes that weird place at the end of the world wrought on them.
In fact, they tended to discuss very little. They lived there in that place in a quiet, complementary way. They worked together each day—especially once the Captain began to be restored—and shared each meal. But there seemed little reason for speaking. They both knew—in a way beyond knowing—what they were doing there. Waiting.
“The waiting is almost over,” the Sailor said, “after all this time….”
The Captain laughed and slapped him on the back.
“What time?” he asked.)
Time was very much on the Queen’s mind as dawn broke through greenish and threatening clouds over the Impassable Sea. Time was what her little band had run out of—the maid was almost too weak to sit up; cook had slipped into a shallow-breathing unconsciousness; and even Eno-on seemed dehydrated and on the verge of collapse. As for the Queen—it was as if she had aged a decade in the months of travel. Her face was sunburned and deeply lined, her cheeks had collapsed until her face seemed like skin stretched too tightly over a skull. She found it hard to breathe and her head swam from hunger and thirst.
“This morning is my last,” she thought, “and there are no trees in this wretched place for the sun to shine on….” She had lost hope and was ready to die.
Suddenly she heard, through the fog of her own thoughts, a soft cooing sound, much like the sound the old women in Homeport who trained birds made to call their charges. It was Eno-on and his crooning grew louder and more disturbing. She thought he was mourning for cook and she was about to find enough dampness in her mouth to tell him, “she’s not dead yet” when the maid leaped to her feet, as if by a miracle, given how weak she was, and pointed over the sea.
“Elidesia!” she shouted in the common tongue. “Elidesia, my Queen!”

There are no poems or songs ever written or sung about that day. No one was there except for the four of them and they flew away, never to return, never. So what happened to the Queen and her motley retinue was never know in Homeport or the Kingdom of the Sun or anywhere at all. Everyone who wrote poems or songs imagined the Queen died in the Mountains of Hope and was lost forever. The Queen’s courage and wisdom was the theme of much rhyme and music, but as for her end…nobody knew.
All that happened was this: a legend rose from the Impassable Sea, a giant, winged creature shaped like a butterfly but huge as a ship. The creature was talked about throughout the Eleven Kingdoms, but not one in a thousand believed the tales. Only a handful of people in all time had seen the creature, even from a great distance. It was so eerie and strange it had never been named. Some referred to it as “the wings of the pure” or “the bearer of love” or “the great scaled flying ship”—but none ever gave it a name. And those who believed in it at all believed there had been only one of the creatures since the dawn of days and it existed for one purpose and one purpose only—to fly with one whose love was pure across the Impassable Sea to the Last Place. The legends became vague and unwound there. There was no finish to them. The fascination of the songs was with a creature—seemingly eternal in human terms—which waited for one moment to fulfill its purpose and then be allowed to die. Who the “pure lover” was did not play into the legend. It was enough that one would come and be carried by the Nameless Creature from Hope to the other side of the Impassable Sea. That was enough.
So, all that happened was this: in a way not even he understood, Eno-on knew it was time to call the creature from the depths, knew the legend was now completed, knew the one whose love was pure had waited by the Sea until she lost hope and now her deliverance was at hand.
After the giant creature landed on the sand, the four of them nestled among the soft scales of the Nameless One and soared above the Sea.
One stop was necessary. Carriak must go to one of the islands uncharted in the Impassable Sea called the Death Lands. The great, unnamed creature landed gracefully and the inhabitants of those lands came rushing up to welcome the visitors. Everyone was shining, luminescent, not quite solid but not shadows either—more like thick, incandescent fluid—warm honey, sweet oil. The Death Lands shown with light that came from neither sun nor moon, but from within the citizens of those happy places.
And “happy” was the word for those denizens of the Death Lands—or, perhaps, more accurately—deep, profound joy. That, the Queen would remember in a century or so, was the glow they carried within them that lit the darkness in soft amber light—Joy.
Cook was swept away by several of the hosts. Eno-on climbed back on the creature, frightened, but the maid and Eb-De-Vol were drawn into the midst of the deep, almost humming joy around them. And there, in the crowd, moving toward her, the Queen saw her husband, the Duke of Paliseda, looking as dashing and as gallant as he had been when they had danced and she had turned to drink to escape from him and mourn her lost Sailor. There was no color to the Duke but the pale orange of his light.
She started to bow to him, as she had done so many, many times, but his fluid hands grasped her shoulders and raised her up. A warmth spread through her like wine without dizziness. Her mind seemed clearer than she could ever remember. She gazed into his face, his light.
“I would stay here, husband,” she said, “in this place of light and warmth.”
He smiled and his face rippled slowly.
“No, my love,” he whispered in a voice like fog and smoke, but so pleasant and loving that the Queen, overcome by the ambiance of the island, nearly swooned.
Then her husband said, in a voice of fog and wonder, “Your journey is to another place.”
“I should stay with you, my husband,” she whispered, feeling that she should.
“I free you from your vows,” he said, embracing her fully. It was like being wrapped in warm, damp silk.
“you no longer want me?” She asked, confused and not a little pained.
He laughed a deep, liquid laugh.
“The dead have no wants, no needs,” he said, “and you have promises to keep.”
Beside him, suddenly, was a lovely, liquid woman—small and beautiful, radiating shades of yellow and gold.
“I am Alia,” she told the Queen, “you know me not, but the one you fly to loved me in his way. I rejoice for you. And you must some day tell him I release him from his vows to me so he may vow all to you. But you must not linger here long—you must mount the dear creature now. The Death Lands are too seductive to the living.”
“Am I alive?” the Queen asked, deep in confusion.
The Duke and Alia laughed and backed away, blowing her liquid kisses.
The maid was weeping softly on the creature’s back and Eno-on was trying to console her.
“Rossel,” the Queen said, “why do you weep?”
“I saw the man I loved who died upon the sea,” she said, “but he only smiled and waved to me and moved on.”
The Queen wrapped her in her arms, like a child in a blanket, wishing she was as warm as one of the Dead, as liquid, as consoling.
“The Dead have no wants,” she whispered to her, “no needs. And we yet live….We live to fly….”
Before she finished speaking, the great winged thing was climbing into a green and storm filled sky. They were almost home.
The Queen wept for her dear friend the cook—no, not for Carriak, but for herself. The cook was now among the joyful dead. The Queen wept for herself, and in her weeping wrapped the maid, Rossel, in her arms, and slept fitfully.
Her sleep was broken by a soft cooing sound. She shifted among the scales of the amazing creature and saw Eno-on singing. Suddenly, she realized he was guiding and directing the flight.
“Eno-on,” she said, amazed, “are you singing us home?”
There was a look in the man’s eyes of fierce, determined intelligence and great wisdom—something the Queen had only seen dimly in moments before.
“I was meant to be here,” he told her, calmly. “I was sent to sing you to the Last Place. That was my job, my calling. I never knew why or how or for what reason—all that was hidden from me. I am an Austere of AH and have always been, though none have recognized me as such.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” the Queen said to the Kitchen man.
“Your son has always known, that is all that matters,” Eno-on said, laughing.
She thought of her son Enin, now King of the Sun Lands. How could Enin had known about any of this? Remarkably, no other thought entered her mind.
“Now I must sing to the Love Bearer,” Eno-on said, his face suddenly melting into that of a slightly addled man—damaged by touching AH directly. And his cooing resumed.
On they flew.

Re-vol, the Sailor, saw them coming far out to sea. He had imagined this moment, seemingly forever, and now it was here. Descending like darkness, the great creature came to ground, the shadows of the enormous wings of the Love Bearer spreading across the sand.
Eno-on and Rossel, the maid, slipped off the beast that seemed to be dying on the shore, but the Sailor did not notice them. All he could see was the body of a sick and aging woman, nestled among the scales, asleep or worse. He climbed the back of the creature and carried the Queen back to the sand.
“You did this for me once,” he whispered gently, touching the withered cheek of his Princess. “Now I do it for you.”
He hurried back to the surf and cupped his hands around the waters of the Sweet Sea, bringing it back to her to drink, not spilling a drop.
The Captain approached Rossel and took her hand.
“Come,” he said to her, “come and grow young with me. You know me not, but I will be the gentleness and the love you have longed for all these years. I will show you things you have never imagined and never could….”
Rossel stared at him, still woozy from crossing the Impassable Sea. “Are you trying to compromise me?” she asked, harshly.
The Captain laughed from the soles of his feet. “At least that, my lady,” he said, sputtering with glee, “an more besides….”
She disengaged her hand from his but did consent to a walk by the Sweet Sea.
Eno-on stroked the great creature’s face as it died and chanted words so softly none other heard them. Only the Idiot man saw the creature wither into a snow white bird that flew away, right into the sun.

The Princess and the Sailor sat in the sand and drank the sweet water for what seemed like a life-time—and most likely was. Sun and moon care ten-thousand times and they sat without discomfort or chill or heat and drank sweet water from his hands until it was finally gone and she touched the palm of his hand with her tongue so gently he would wonder for countless ages if it had truly happened, even though it happened almost every day of all those ages.
At some point—time is helpless in this tale now—a tiny boat came drifting over the Sweet Sea. The Princess and Sailor watched it approach for a day—a week, a month. Finally, the boat beached on the sand.
A tall, gray-haired man walked toward them, dressed in flowing, cream-colored robes. Though his years were obviously many, he walked with rare balance and soft grace.
“It is a holy man”, the Sailor thought.
The Princess knew better.
The two of them stood, as seemed proper, to greet the man. The Sailor glanced at the elderly woman who had flown to him across the Impassable Sea and saw that she was, once more, as young as the Princess he had loved.
The holy man held out his arms to embrace them.
“Trav-res-sha,” the Princess whispered, “our son….”
As they embraced on the sand, the Sailor realized who the holy man was and remembered it all. Then he was struck that his son of another life-time was so much older than he was himself.
“Shhhh…,” Trav-res-sha whispered to his earthly father. “Do not ask. It is only as it is and will be always….It is the will of AH.”
So the three of them held each other and each, in their own way, wept away a life of longing. Finally, after what you and I might call a month or two of embracing, their son of another life, the Child of the Last Place, pulled away and stepped back from his parents.
“I come for the boy,” he said, solemnly, “the Austere of AH.”
The Sailor had no idea what his son-of-another-life meant. The Princess was confused as well—the air and water of the Last Place has that affect. But then Eb-De-Vol saw Eno-on running up the beach, suddenly as young as he had been the day the dead bird brought its message from the Moon Sea. Then she knew and laughed through sudden tears.
Eno-on saw the Priest of AH and started to drop to his knees in the damp sand, but Trav-res-sha caught him in his arms and lifted him up.
“We go now?” he asked the boy, kissing his head.
“Of course,” Eno-on answered, holding the priest close.
Trav-res-sha looked at his parents, a look of farewell and love.
“You have no idea,” he said, softly, with great compassion, holding Eno-on to himself, “what trouble AH has gone to for you….”
Then the two of them climbed into the boat without any ceremony. Waving, they began to pull away. There were no oars and no sail to propel them to the Isle of Dreams. Something else would take them across the Sweet Sea.
“He could have told us what all this means,” the Sailor said as the boat moved toward the horizon.
At just that moment, Day and Night collided, as they only do in the Last Place. The Sailor turned to see the moon upon two seas. The Princess looked at the sun falling on the trees beyond the beach.
The Princess smiled at him.
“There is nothing left to tell,” she said.
“But I was wondering…,” he began.
She held him near, kissing him for lives already lived and for life yet to come. When she took her mouth from his, she whispered, laughing like sunlight and moonbeams in his ear:
“There is no wondering left…,” is all she said.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.