Thursday, May 31, 2018

I'm not an economist

I'm not an economist.

And I am 'a globalist'. The world is too small now for the US to 'go it alone'. Everything is connected. And part of our call (from God, I'd say, but you can say 'from reality') is to make the world better for everyone we can, not just ourselves.

As the richest country in the world, we have an obligation to equal the playing field economically. (Oh, in case you haven't guessed by now, I am a democratic socialist as well.)

John Bohener said today in an interview that the "Republican party was 'napping'" and had become the "Party of Trump". A few years ago, any President who suggested opposing 'free trade' would have been terrorized by the Republicans and Right Wing talk hosts. Not today--though there may be some Republicans in Congress finding their courage when such a violation of their ideals is being threatened.

These tariffs our President (who will not be named!) announced today against our best allies and friends in the world are crazy. (Well, 'crazy' doesn't quite make it crazy enough.)

Not only will Canada and the EU be hurt--we will be hurt. The tariff on aluminum alone, will raise the price of a can of Coke or a can of Miller Light. Plus, all the manufacturers who make things from steel and aluminum will need less workers since they won't have enough raw products to make what they make.

Canada has already put tariffs on American goods today and the EU will follow, so there will be less markets for American goods.

The world in one economic system, no  matter what the President thinks. All will suffer from trade wars. And what if China decides to cash in the billions and billions of dollars of American bonds it holds that enable us to pay our debt?

Seriously, the guy in the Oval Office is a lot like Bruce Holt who I used to play poker with in college. Bruce would up the ante without looking at his cards just to see if he could make some of the players fold their hands. It never worked.

It won't now.

Not only has the President not looked at his cards, he wouldn't understand them if he did.

God help us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Blessed David

The gang of six are all gone now--The Rev. David Pritchard died on Saturday.

It was David and Jack and 2 Bills and Haig and another David that made up the Gang of Six. (Actually Haig and the second David weren't there a lot, so, to be accurate, it was the Gang of Four plus two.)

A Clericus is a gathering of all the Episcopal Clergy in a geographical area. But the truth is, most of the active clergy don't show up if you meet every week--as we did each Tuesday in Waterbury. Active clergy think they are too busy to spend an hour and a half sharing communion and talking with coffee. But I never was. And from time to time I'd be the only active priest (along with Andy most weeks) with those 6 retired guys.

When they were all present there was 300 years of priestly experience in the room Better than a post-doctorate seminar for me, to sit at their knees and learn.

What I learned most and learned fair well--was not to put up with the church's BS. Those guys were beyond tolerating BS and I learned at their knees. When you're 50 years into something you've nosed your way down to the basics--and that's what they shared with me--the bare-bones-basics of 'being a priest'.

All but David died before I retired from full time ministry. David endured the move of the Clericus meetings to Cheshire from Waterbury after I retired. Most Tuesdays I'd drive him home to the Masonic Home in Wallingford. On those trips he taught me more--everytime.

Now he is gone and I will miss him.

His last months were not great, but Helen, his wife told me he sang along with a visitor or one of his last days and blessed his grandson's wedding rings for the service on Saturday.

He won't be buried until June 17. And I'll be there to know life is still and over for one I love.

Helen told me she was trying to be 'thankful' instead of 'sad'.

Sounds like something my Gang would have told me....

Rest in Peace, dear mentor and friend.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day--two I probably told you before

I probably posted abEout both these stories, but it's Memorial Day so I tell them to you again.


Every Memorial Day there was a big dinner in Waiteville, where my father grew up, to pay for the upkeep of the local cemetery.  My crazy Aunt Arbana (who was probably my second-cousin once-removed but in my father's family relations weren't clear) would put Confederate flags on family graves and my Uncle Russel and Uncle Sid would go pull them up.

The dinner was amazing--more food than you can imagine. Ham and country ham and ribs and pork roast and chicken in four different ways and turkey and rabbit ans squirrel for those who liked it. Dozens of vegetable dishes and desserts of all kinds. No salads, as I remember, no salads at all unless you consider withered dandelions a salad.

My father would carry me to the car, still asleep, at 5 in the morning and we'd drive for two hours or more, crossing over and back into Virginia several times, and get to my step-grandmother's house for breakfast. Cleve Lafon Bradley (Lafons and Bradleys were mixed up in many ways) would have a platter of fried eggs, a plate of biscuits, bacon and sausage and country ham, sausage gravy and lots of jellies ready for her step-sons and their families when we arrived. Then she would talk non-stop while we all feasted.

Before the dinner we walked around the cemetery. I was eight when I happened on two tombstones far up on a hill. JAMES GORDON BRADLEY one said. The other read JAMES GORDON BRADLEY II.

I was horrified to find my name on not one but two tombstones and that was when I learned I'd been named after my great-grandfather and my great-great grandfather.

My grandfather's name was Filbert Jewel Bradley and my father was Virgil Hoyt Bradley, so when I calmed down I was glad they went that far back for my name!


My father served in WW II. He was 36 years old and couldn't be drafted but he enlisted. He spent 4 full years in Europe, landing on the second wave at Omaha Beach and finally reaching Berlin. He was in the Corps of Engineers and built bridges for Gen. Patten to drive his tanks across and then blew the bridges up. They weren't planning to come back, you see.

When he was in New York waiting to ship out to England, he and two friends were given tickets to a World Series game by grateful citizens. It was the Dodgers and the Yankees and my father decided which ever tear won would be 'his team'. The Yankees won.

So, I grew up in the mountains of southernmost West Virginia rooting for the Yankees. Those were the days of Maris and Mantle and Skowren and Berra and Whitey Ford and Bob Turley and Elston Howard and Richardson and Kubek. A great time to love the Yankees.

And I have ever since.....

Lucky me.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


I don't pray much.

That might seem odd for someone who is an Episcopal priest--but it's true.

Oh, I pray with people who are sick and anoint them with oil blessed by a bishop (a mere priest can't bless oil--I don't know why, I think God would bless oil if an atheist asked He/She to, but that's just me). I pray and say, "I anoint you with this holy oil and ask God to grant you healing of mind, body and spirit and the grant you the peace that only God can give."

I pray that.

And I pray liturgically. I pray God to make the bread and wine in communion be the actual Body and Blood of Christ. And I believe that happens, no matter what a bad pray-er I am.

And I practice Centering Prayer (not as much as I wish) but that is a wordless prayer, a prayer of the heart, a prayer of 'being' instead of 'asking'.

I don't 'ask' much of God. I think God has enough to do without me adding to it all.

But I have been asking lately.

Baby Eleanor, one day last week, stopped breathing as Mimi put her to bed. Tim gave here mouth to mouth and the emergency people were there in 8 minutes or so and Eleanor through up massively on the ambulance ride and was seemingly fine after that. Maybe some food was in her esophagus and she threw it up. But whatever, it was terrifying for Tim and Mimi.

Then the very next night she had a febrile seizure--and she'd had two before. Another ambulance and another complete recovery, charming the ER folks with how wondrous she is.

She's been to Columbia's pediatric neurological doctors and is going to Cornell's. So, if there is something to worry about, they will find it.

But so far, no idea what's going on.

So I pray for her almost with every breath. And for darling Mimi and wondrous Tim and all they're going through.

I love them so and am praying as I seldom do.

If you pray, would you pray for Eleanor and Mimi and Tim a bit.

I'd profoundly appreciate that....

Friday, May 25, 2018

We've lived in this house

We've lived in this house for 31 years. I was 40 and Bern was 37 when we moved the 95 Cornwall Avenue in Cheshire. Young by any measure.

Josh was 12 and Mimi was 9. Over those years we've had 3 dogs, 6 cats, 2 birds, 7 guinea pigs and a rat live with us.

I walk around in this house an it is 'home' to me.

I hope I live long enough to live half my life in this house.

It is as familiar to me as my skin.

The yards are my Garden of Eden.

It is so remarkable to be so centered in a 'place'.

And I am.

A son-in-law and daughter in law and four grand daughers later we're still here.

In this place.

Home. Like no where else ever for me, this is home.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Church Time

I published this in the early days and then again in 2014. But I'd like as many folks to read it as possible, so here it is again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Church Time

I want to write about my concept of 'church time'. This concept and belief comes from over 30 years of being a parish priest. This is what I notice when I seek to explain 'church time' to people: most clergy acknowledge it as vaguely interesting but bogus. Most people just don't get it because in our culture 'time' is an absolute: an hour is like every other hour, a day just one more day, and months--except for February of course--are equal opportunity time measurements. However, some lay people--most of whom are very involved and committed to the parish--really get it and it gives them comfort as well as understanding.

Here's Church Time in introductory fashion: Most church going folks, even if they are very committed might spend two hours a week in church--one for a Eucharist and one for a coffee hour, an adult ed class, a committee meeting. So, at two hours a week, people spend 104 hours a year in church. That is the equivalant of 13 8-hour work days spread over a year. Imagine having an 8 hr a day job which you only went to one a month or so. I would content that you wouldn't accomplish much because the memory and learning curve would be so compromised and when you showed up for your day of work you would have missed almost a month of what your company was doing. No way to catch up or stay even.

Church Time is like that. I have trouble remembering what I did yesterday, but because I was back at church today, it began to come back and I could move on and make progress. A week has 148 hours (those reliable measures of time). If two or even three of them are spent 'thinking about or participating' in church, that's barely 2% of the weeks hours. Next to nothing. You might expect to spend that much time stuck in traffic in a week--and how much of the stuck in traffic time do you retain to build upon so you might progress and grow and expand????

However, 'church professionals', like me--I sometimes tell people who ask me what I do for a living is that I am paid to be religious--spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about church stuff--worship, music, education, outreach, program, evangelism...on and on. We have, at the least 50 hours a week to obsess on church stuff. Most clergy spend more time than that, let me tell you, because we clergy are so anxious to justify our very existence and being paid to be religious...which we--and most people--would think a silly thing to make a living doing. That's another post right there...But consider this: the 'professionals' spend at least 1/3 of every week thinking about church while even active members spend 2% or so. So, should we be surprised that most church folks don't seem to understand, appreciate, respond to 'church stuff' the way the clergy and staff do? If you spent 1/3 of your time obsessing on cacti and succulents and I spent, at best--who could imagine it--2% of my time in the same study, would you expect me to appreciate the subtleties and wonder of those plants?

"Church Time" requires those of us who get paid to do it to realize that those we work with, serve and minister to simply don't have the 'connection' to the issues we worry and fret and plan and scheme about. Their learning curve is very slow rising--it looks mostly like a straight line! And that is as it should be. So when they forget a meeting or say, "I meant to come to that class but just forgot" we should realize why. Lay folks are wonderful and profound and loving and truly committed to the parish. They simply have other lives, as they should, and don't live, breath, sweat and digest church stuff.

I'll leave it at that until later. But 'church time' helps explain why clergy misinterpret lay folks so profoundly and don't recognize the beauty and grace of their contributions. It also explains why clergy are almost continually frustrated because the enormous amount of time they spend wishing, hoping and dreaming about all the church could do is totally lost on lay folks because they really don't spend much time at all worrying about that stuff.

Monday, May 21, 2018


(This is some of what I said--and some I didn't say--in my sermon at St. Andrew's, Northford on the Feast of Pentecost.)

Today is Pentecost.

It is the day the wind blew and the fire fell. The wind blew and the fire fell and the Holy Spirit inhabited the lives of the followers of Jesus.

The wind blew and the fire fell.

No one in Connecticut doubts the power of the wind--not after this week when tornadoes touched down around the state. The wind is Power incarnate.

The first week I spent as Rector of St. John's, Waterbury, where I spent 21 years, tornadoes came across Connecticut. They took out every tree on the campus of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. And one of them sheared off two crocheted pinnacles around the spire of the church. One fell on the sidewalk and one came through the roof of the church and destroyed to organ.

We didn't know they were called 'crocheted pinnacles' until the wind blew and they fell down.

I often tell people that the best way to begin a long ministry is with a natural disaster. People tend to focus on a hole in the roof and a destroyed organ rather than small things....

On Pentecost, the fire fell. No one should doubt the power of fire. Remember the fires that ravaged the West Coast in the past year. Ask the people of Hawaii how powerful fire bursting out of the earth can be.

Wind and Fire are beyond our control, beyond our ken--their power is undeniable. Their power is beyond our ability to resist.

And on Pentecost, the fire fell and the wind blew and the Spirit descended on the followers of Jesus.

Imagine that--our God is as Powerful and Wind and Fire. And that power falls on us this day.

When my son Josh was 4 or so, I was driving him home and he asked me, "Daddy, what is the Spirit?"

"It is like the wind," I told him, "and it is like fire."

He was in the back seat in a car seat and I looked at him in the rear view mirror. He was blowing on his hand. Wind and breath and heat--the Spirit falls today.

Here is my prayer for us on this Feast of Pentecost--that we realize that the power of wind and fire and Spirit are within us. Here is my prayer today-that we realize our God is more powerful than we imagine...more powerful than we can imagine. Here is my prayer today--that we can realize in some way that we have that Power within us.

We can burn away injustice and prejudice.

We can blow away the differences that divide us.

We can burn for hope and equality.

We can blow for peace and harmony.

None of us can, on our own, change the world--this dark ling world we live in, this world of pain and suffering and loss and cruelity.

But the wind has blown on us and the fire has fallen on us and the Spirit of our God of Wind and Fire is within us.

We can be the wind of Change and the Fire of Justice and equality each moment of our lives. We can 'make a difference' in this oh so troubled world.

We can.

We can.

The fire falls and the wind blows and we carry God's Spirit into the world.

Blow! Flame! Be the Spirit. Be Christ's body in this world.

That is my prayer for each of us and all of us.

Amen and Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Brooklyn and back

OK, I now believe in GPS.

We went to Brooklyn and back today to see Mimi, Tim and (of course) Eleanor. We used the GPS on my phone (or Bern did, I don't know how, Luddite that I am). The trip down was 2 hours and the trip back 2 hours and 27 minutes. We have spent those times added together to go one way in the past.

Just over 90 miles in 4 hours! What a nightmare that was.

They live in a different area of Brooklyn now, with more on street parking than they had in Fort Green (which was 'none'!)

So we drove though we've taken the train the last few times. The train from New Haven to Grand Central is about 2 hours and then we'd have to get to Brooklyn.

The GPS changed our route several times both down and back. We went down on I=95 because it told us to but back on Bronx River Expressway and Hutchinson/Merritt because it told us to.

I used to think GPS was vain and silly.

No more.

And then, in Brooklyn was that little family on the 13th floor on Washington Ave. Sigh!

So lovely to see them.

Bern and Mimi rearranged the living room of their (for New York) 'roomy' apartment. It made Tim and I anxious to watch them do it.

Bern sometimes moves things around in our house just to see if I notice. I give her pleasure by pretending not to notice.

I'd put furniture in one place and probably never move it unless it broke.

I must admit, the living room was better when they were finished.

GPS and rearranging furniture--two things I normally shun--both worked out.

Maybe I'm not as stuck in my way of being as I think.

Friday, May 18, 2018

It's been 9 weeks

Nine weeks. Sixty-three days.

The bag Bela's ashes came to us in is a foot  and a half from my right foot.

The container they were in is in the bag. The top of the container says, "Until we meet again at the rainbow bridge."

I have no idea what that means and don't want to know. But I keep it near me. His paw print from the crematorium is on my desk, near me.

Just like the hat Bern made me for Christmas some 5 or 6 years ago that looks like a Puli dog, down to the black mark on my hat's tongue...a Puli trait--near me.

I've resisted bringing the little 2 inch sized Puli brass depiction downstairs to be near me.

My cup with a Puli on it is on the desk where I write. But it has been for several years. Only now I look at it with longing that I didn't have 9 weeks ago.

And on a little file folder holder to my right there are still Bela ashes from where I divided them between Bern and I to scatter at the Canal where we walked him thousands of times.

Oh, Jesus, I still mourn him and miss him so....

The 63 days without him hurt so much though we had 5015 days with him (I did the math for him).

Deep breath.

I miss him so.

Back from tranformation and deep joy

The workshop I helped lead at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY (a truly beautiful place on the upper Hudson River) may have been one of the top five experiences of the over 50 Making a Difference workshops I have helped lead.

The 'breakthroughs' were not just amazing and tingling, they were complete and equally shared.

The Making a Difference Workshop is not easily described. It must be experienced. It is not 'linear' in any way and it doesn't claim to 'give you something' to 'improve' your ministry.

What it seeks to share is the ability to create 'who you be' in a way that empowers and enlivens you so you can have your hands more on the levers and wheels of what 'makes a difference'.

I'm not sure I've ever been at a workshop where every single person (20 of 20 in this case) truly 'got it'. "Got it" is what we say when people 'get it'. It can't be figured out or understood, what this workshop offers--it must come like an epiphany: "the sudden comprehension of the deep down meaning of things usually caused by something everyday, ordinary and commonplace."

In the case of the workshop the 'everyday, ordinary and commonplace' is a three day conversation about distinctions and a three day shared experience of the practice of centering prayer.

The workshop cannot be 'described'. It is only experienced.

And this one was experienced in a way I don't remember any other.

They are all different because the participants actually generate the experience and the participants are never the same.

This one was special.

(Though, truth be known {as it should be!} all of them are special in their own way.)

This workshop saved my life and ministry. As it has so many others'.

It also has touched everyone I've known since I participated in it.

Did I say 'touched'?

I meant to say 'transformed'.

That's what the workshop is about--transformation. Not 'change'--transformation.

I am honored and transformed by being a part of this work....

Every time.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Away again

Going to Holy Cross in the morning. Looking forward to it--hating to leave Bern alone without a dog to keep her company.

So, I won't be writing again until Friday. Don't like going so long without touching base with you.

But it must be so. See you then.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mothers Day

Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was my mother. She was born in 19ll. I was born in 1947--a late and unexpected baby.

She came to my marriage in 1970. I have the photos to prove it. She wore a orange dress and a black hat and was very happy for me.

She died two years later when I was 25. I fed her ice cream on a wooden spoon in her hospital room on my birthday. My aunt Elise, her youngest sister, came into the room and wished me Happy Birthday. She was the only person besides Bern who remembered. My father didn't.

Cleo had a hard life as a child. She and her sisters would go through slate dumps from the coal mines to find pieces of coal to burn.

She eventually earned a MA in Education going summers and nights to classes at Bluefield State College and Concord College. She started teaching with only a high school diploma.

Her sister Georgia did the same thing. Aunt Elsie finally earned a Ph.D.

All this by three girls whose parents never finished Junior High.

I once asked my mother, when I was 12 or so, why I had to go with her and my father to visit relatives when I was old enough to be alone. All they did was visit our many relatives--I never remember them having 'friends' come or to visit. She told me it was because, if they died in a car wreck, I would be with them and not be left alone.

Crazy, I know. But it made sense to a 38 year old woman who had an only child.

I can't remember her much at all. I don't remember her voice--though I wish I did. I'd like to hear it today.

She never hurt me. She protected me too much. She loved me so much she couldn't imagine me living without her.

I spoke at her funeral but don't remember what I said.

She died 46 years ago.

Today, I miss her.

Happy Mothers' Day, Mommy, wherever you are.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

doing the circuit...

Today all three of the churches in the Middlesex Area Cluster Ministry, which I serve as interim Missioner, had an event.

Emmanuel, Killingworth had a tag sale as part of a larger Killingworth tag sale day (maps provided by the Killingworth Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary. It was 9-1 and I got there as it was winding down.

St. Andrew's, Northford had its annual Rhubarb Festival from 2-4. They have 'everything rhubarb' you can imagine: cookies, pies, bread, cheese cake, all things with rhubarb in it.

Then, from 5-7, St. James, Higganum had the pulled pork dinner they hold each year with all proceeds going to the Relay for Life--a walk for Cancer research. Folks stay up all night smoking the meat on an outdoor 10 foot by 4 foot grill they built.

Lots of driving in a drizzle. But I listened to the Yankee game and took a book to read when I was early for something.

These three little churches--and they are little--Sunday attendance at Northford around 20 some, Killingworth 30 some and Higganum 35-40 most more than churches 5 times their size!

I've never been around such profoundly dedicated people.

The churches are remarkably different though all are rural Connecticut--and they are exactly alike in one way: the devotion of their members.

God bless them. They give me hope for the church of the future--a pre-Nicene model of small, dedicated, closely knit communities.

I'm humbled to be able to be a part of their lives and ministries.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Lonely...I get it finally

Here's who I am.

I am a beloved creature of God.

I am a human Being.

I am a man.

I am a husband, father, grandfather, friend and priest.

I am an only child.

I read five books a week and delight in the stories they tell.

I grew up alone and not only liked it, I thrived in it. I'm never bored. I don't even know what people--even people I love--mean when they speak of their boredom.I'm my own best company. I like to be alone. And I'm never bored.

Another thing I've not understood is 'being lonely'.

I've been a priest and comfort to hundreds and hundreds of people. Mostly I'm pretty good at it. Sometimes I'm brilliant at it. I have often made a difference for people who have talked with me.

Except when their problem was 'being lonely'. I feel I've failed them though I've listened and listened. I just haven't known what they were talking about.

I've considered it over the years. If my family and friends were all gone and I had no folks to serve in a church as a priest and a friend, would I be lonely?

I've never thought so. I'm an only child and never bored. If I were alone, I've always thought, I'd read and write more and not be lonely.

Then that blessed/damned Puli died.

Every time I come inside, I expect Bela to be there to greet me. I expect to turn around as I'm writing this and see him asleep behind me. I expect to feed and walk him each day. I expect to pick some of his hair off whatever I put on. I expect to hug him in the night.

And I am lonely for the first time ever.

That dog gave me many gifts--patience, great and enormous love, comfort and affirmation.

And now the 'gift' of lonliness.

And it is a 'gift'. Being given something you never had is a remarkable gift.

One more reason to miss him. And feel lonely without him.

Now I know what it means.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Making a Difference

Going on Tuesday to Holy Cross Monastery to be part of a three person leader team. We have over 20 signed up for the workshop. Exciting.

Holy Cross was a special place for me for almost 30 years before we started having workshops there. I took members of St. John's there for a retreat for over a decade and took some folks from the Cluster Churches a few years ago. Sometimes I've gone by myself or for one of their programs.

The ministry of the Benedictine Episcopal monks there is 'hospitality'--and they're darn good at it.

One of the first times I was  there with St. John's folks, at the end of Compline, the last of the 7 services of the day, three of the monks went over to a picture of the Virgin Mary and started chanting "Hail Mary, full of grace...."

The parishioner beside me said, under his breath, "Oh, My God!" He was a Congregationalist who married into the Episcopal church.

I patted his arm and whispered, "No, Don, God's mother...."

I also had Spiritual Direction at Holy Cross for two whole sessions.

It was the only time I ever tried spiritual direction (though I was in Jungian analysis for a dozen years). I only did it because I was tired of having younger priests look at me in horror when they'd ask me who my Spiritual Director was and I told them I didn't do it. I thought I'd give it a spin.

I met twice with one of the brothers and it wasn't bad at all. But then he up and ran off with one of the postulants and I decided I wouldn't endanger any other vocations.

(My favorite professor in college was Mr. Stasny who taught Honors English and the Great Books. I had 7 classes from him in 8 semesters which means I could have had a "minor" in Stasny-ology.  He was, by the way, one of the two professors--the other was religion teacher Manfred Otto Mitzen--who nominated me for a trial year in seminary, which I received and got sidetracked on my dreams to teach American Literature in some small liberal arts college.

I knew Stasny so well that I once asked him why he didn't have a Ph.D. He looked at me askance 
and answered, "my dear Bradley, who would test me?"

So when people these days ask me about my spiritual director, I look at them obliquely and ask, "my dear friend, who could direct me?)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Favorite pictures

I have a screen saver on my computer of photos from the past. Some of them are from before Josh and Cathy were married. Some are from slightly after their twins were born--but all over a decade old.

Two of my favorite photos of Josh and Mimi are of a visit they made to us along with Cathy (Tim wasn't in our lives yet.

Mimi is prone on a bed upstairs using our dog Bela as a pillow. She was the only person Bela would have let do that. Bela loved Mimi with a love beyond bounds. Mimi is smiling broadly in the picture. Bela is full of joy to be her pillow.

Josh is in our dining room looking down at the chair beside him. I know from another photo just before that one that our cat, Luke, was on that chair rolling over to show Josh his stomach. Josh's look is of love and bemusement.

Animals do that for us--they bring out the best of the best in us.

There's also a picture of Bern asleep in our bed with our previous dog, Sadie, up against her back and Luke sleeping between her feet.

Animals, you got to love them....

Monday, May 7, 2018


I am an Appa-latch-an.

When John F. Kennedy came to Welch, WV,  before his election (he called it 'Welsh') he said 'Appalachia' as "Appal-a-chia" and it has been so for most people ever since. But it has 'latch' in it for me.

I grew up in those mountains for 18 years, until I went to Morgantown for college. Morgantown was much more like Pennsylvania than West Virginia. Then I left for two years at Harvard (not Appalachia no matter how you pronounce it) and then back to Morgantown for a few years before Alexandria, VA and then back to Charleston, WV for 5 years. By that time I was married to Bern with two children and I was 30 years old and we moved to Connecticut--first to New Haven and then to Cheshire, were we've been ever since.

So, by all accounts, given Harvard and the rest, I've lived in New England more of my life than in West Virginia.

And yet, in spite of that, I am an Appalachian. With a 'latch' in the pronunciation.

I have coal dust in my veins. And after nearly 40 years in New England I still have an accent no one can place.

Today we had more Cox employees in our house than you even want. They were here to make our phones and TV ready for the future. And they did, I think, though the phones won't work until tomorrow.

Two of them--a black guy and a white guy with paper booties on their feet (the other guy didn't wear booties and the two TV guys were horrified) asked me about my ethnicity. What an odd question. I told them every drop of my blood was from the British Isles via 40% from Scandinavia 500 years ago. They both agreed I had a British Isles accent.

What I have is a Scots/Irish accent from the mountains of West Virginia.

Amazing that they caught it after more than my life in New England.

A mountain boy is a mountain boy no matter what, I suppose.

A black guy and a, probably, Eastern European guy, heard Irish in my accent.

God love those mountains where accents got frozen.

All bull-s***, I know, but worth pondering, at any rate.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Lost in translation

In the Gospel lesson for today (John 15.9-17) Jesus says "love" 9 or 10 times.

But that's the thing: John is written in Greek, not English, so Jesus didn't say "love".

There are three words in Greek that are all translated as 'love' in English.

There is 'eros'....'nough said, you know about 'erotic love'.

There is 'philios'--like Philadelphia, the city of 'Brotherly (Sisterly) Love".

And there is "agape", which is the love that literally gives itself away. As in that passage, Jesus says, "if you AGAPE each other you will lay down your life for your friend". Agape is that kind of love.

And 'agape' is the word Jesus uses in that passage. "I agape you as the Father agapes me." "This is my command, that you agape one another. (The tenses and declensions make 'agape' more complicated but you get the gist.)

"Love" is really a throwaway word in English in many ways. I say, "I love my grandchildren" but I also say, "I love the New York Yankees" and "I love blueberry pie". English has no clear distinctions regarding the levels of 'love'.

Obviously, I agape my grandchildren since I would willingly die for them to live. Baseball and pie aren't in that category.

So, we are called by Jesus to 'agape' each other.

That's a hard call to answer.

Remember at the end of John's gospel (21.15-17) when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and Peter always answers "yes, Lord, you know I love you." Remember that?

So lost in translation. The first two times Jesus asks Peter "do you agape me" and Peter replies, "you know I philios you". The third time, giving Peter the benefit of the doubt, Jesus asks, "do  you philios me?" and Peter replies, "you know all things, you know I philios you."

Some theologians don't think we're up to agape. They think only God can agape. But Jesus, in today's gospel tells us he commands us to 'agape' one another.

Imagine if we were willing to lay down our lives for everyone. Imagine how that might transform the world.

(One aside: "love your neighbor as you love yourself". We don't love ourselves enough. We're taught not to. But we need to truly love ourselves if our love for our neighbor is to be agape.)

"There is enough light to see," a wise rabbi told his followers as the sun was rising, "when you can look into the face on any human being and see the face of God."

That would truly be agape love.

Pray, my brothers and sisters, for 'enough light to see...."

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The book I'll read next

I'm half-way through Michael Connelly's Two Kinds of Truth which is a Bosch book, but next I'll read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, one of the few non-fiction books I'll read this year. I read 5 or 6 books a week but almost all are fiction. I'll make the exception for Vance's book.

He grew up, like me, a hillbilly--in Middletown, Ohio and in Kentucky. If you don't know Appalachia by heart, Middletown fits. It's a few miles north of Cincinnati, which was where folks from West Virginia and Kentucky went when the mines were shut down. My father in law spent a year or two working in Cincinnati over his time as a coal miner. When he would visit us in New Haven he'd walk over to an Italian market to talk in Italian to the owners. They told me they couldn't understand his Italian because of his Appalachian accent!

I am a hillbilly. I am White Trash. I am an Appalachian==a boy from the mountains.

So I look forward to Vance's book. I'm sure we share much in common--though from the reviews I've read we come from different versions of White Trash. His was much more mired in poverty and alcohol and violence than mine.

My mother's family were tee-totaler, Fundamentalist Christians. My father's family were farmers who left the farm and had what were then lower middle class jobs.

But the mountains and the culture were the same.

I often have difficulty telling folks from Connecticut what my childhood was like. It's hard for them to imagine the place I come from--the wondrous mountains, the isolation, the rural poverty.

I sometimes have difficulty remembering what it was like back there in the hollows. One of my bucket list things is to go spend a few days in McDowell County. Bern grew up there too--ethnic hillbillies--she has no interest in going with me.

I'll let you know what I think of the book and write more of what it was like to grow up in Appalachia.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Moon stuff

I posted this three years ago and not many people read it. The wondrous full moon this week reminded me of  it.

It's pretty long and I apologize for that. But it's a moon filled story.

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


Letter to a Friend………………………………………………………………………………….5
  1. The World of Seas……………………………………………………………….6
  2. Six Months/Six Seas…………………………………………………………11
  3. The Sailor’s Songs………………………………………………………………19
  4. The Princesses’ Lament……………………………………………………….21
  5. The Love Letter…………………………………………………………………….29
  6. Hearts Exchanged…………………………………………………………………33
  7. Letter from the Lost Isle……………………………………………………….. 37
  8. Interlude on the Last Place……………………………………………………..43
  9. The Last Place (i)……………………………………………………………………..45
  10. What he saw………………………………………………………………………………..58
  11. In the Rains………………………………………………………………………………….63
  12. In Port, wondering……………………………………………………………………… 66
  13. The Day they Knew………………………………………………………………….76
  14. The Sorrow Sea……………………………………………………………………….84
  15. In Morganport……………………………………………………………………………..89
  16. The Sea of the Moon……………………………………………………………….96
  17. Moon Sea 2………………………………………………………………………………101
  18. His gift…………………………………………………………………………………………104
  19. Sailing the Middle Sea……………………………………………………………108
  20. The Bird Flies……………………………………………………………………………116
  21. Before the King………………………………………………………………………… 121
  22. There to die…………………………………………………………………………………125
  23. When Truth and Hope last Kissed…………………………………………132
  24. The in-between time……………………………………………………………………139
  25. They flew………………………………………………………………………………………143
  26. Who they were………………………………………………………………………………153
  27. Eternal bird arrives at last……………………………………………………………157
  28. Plague comes to Homeport………………………………………………………….165
  29. Across to Hope…………………………………………………………………………….168

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 Moon

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.

Like 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 Flys
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 777beyond 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.