Van Diemen's Land
The frigid air was a surprise. I had expected it to be warmer, but apart from the tall trees and lack of volcanic activity, it was much like the Iceland I had left. Everyone went ashore to explore this new land, and a few hours later everyone but me returned to the boat. That Tristan intended this to be my new exile was evident by his insistence that we make love once this new land had been spotted by the scout in the crow’s nest. Everyone else aboard the ship had worked excitedly and watched impatiently as the boat rocked towards the green mass in the distance. As the boat moved ever forward and into the swirling mists that surrounded the landmass; Tristan had tupped me within and inch of utter exhaustion. He meant to abandon me to the wilds of this previously unchartered territory. Here I couldn’t be found!
I had dressed and packed the few meagre belongings I had acquired during the long journey from Iceland. They were mere trinkets and souvenirs from lands so remote that had I not put my own feet on their sandy shores, I would have thought they belonged with the fantastic tales of Prestor John. Tristan would be the last European I would see for many decades.
Van Diemen’s Land wasn’t all bad. There were plenty of trees for wood and caves in the mountainous terrain, both features Iceland had been without. As with our first encounter with this new land, there already existed a native population here, but they were a smaller people and seemed more fascinated with my white skin and bizarre clothing than finding anything about me hostile or threatening. I tried not to interfere with their life, but on occasion I did need to feed and they were the only humans within reach. The flavour of their blood was different to that of the humans I was accustomed to dining on; it was fresher as though untainted by the chemicals and deprivations of modern living. Their small size prevented me taking too much, but I always managed enough to survive. I was an anomaly to them in so many ways, not least of which was the way my garments covered me from neck to toe. It was cold, with frost on the ground for much of the day, and I appreciated every centimetre of clothing. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to kill and skin the possums required to make a cloak like the natives wore for warmth, but as I was certain Tristan had left me for good this time, I may need to find out. I may need to find out a great many things about myself and my ability to survive in this lonely place at the bottom of the world in the near future. It wasn’t the first time I had to start over and redefine my existence – it wasn’t even the first time that I had been left alone on a distant land with naught but what I wore on my back. I could…I would survive this exile too!
I slowly began to circumnavigate my new home: step by step I worked my way further south until all I could see was the open ocean stretching from horizon to horizon. I was at the end of the world and as yet, this particular part of the world was quite unknown to the rest of the Europe, I admitted to myself that I would be here, virtually alone, for many years to come. I walked on beaches where they existed and climbed cliffs where they blocked my path. I kept the ocean on my right side and the bulk of the land on my left and travelled the shore line. For the first few weeks I bothered to count the nights, after that I stopped for the depressive cloud it brought to my sensitive sense of reality.
The creatures here were strange, and had I not come across them in their natural habitat, I might have thought them a hoax for they surely nothing would create such bizarre forms. In the night there were howls and disagreements between the local predators – a bizarre black and white cat-like creature and a striped hound of sorts. The night was never calm as it had been in Iceland. Here it was a continual cacophony of sounds: rustling in the undergrowth; howls on the air and grunts and groans of both the wildlife and the great swaying trees. Was I alone? No, but was I lonely? Yes. Immortality is a harsh punishment for the lonely. In my long life time, I had loved and lost, and loved again and been punished for that love with exile. But for the native population, I was devoid of all human contact and it would be that way for more than a century – trapped by Tristan on another island in the ocean as far from any sense of civilisation as was possible at that time in history.
When civilisation did come to my free-range prison it bought with it thieves and criminals of many an ilk; it bought diseases and an entirely new set of problems for the native population to contend with. They were not successful and the last of them, a little woman by the name of Truganini died leaving the land to the colonists and one vampire woman’s care. Though I had longed for civilisation, the experience of it in this land was not what I had anticipated, much had changed since I had left Ireland’s green shores now almost three hundred years past. Civilisation no longer seemed to be civilised!
When I look back on my life it is filled with complications and loss. There are the faintest glimmering moments of hope and happiness, but more of it has been spent in desperation and sadness than in warmth and tenderness. William was long gone to me and Tristan, except for the magical binding, also had not resurfaced in my life for the past couple of centuries. I had moved toward the next millennium a woman alone; a vampire alone; a tattered replica of the king’s daughter I had once been. Technologies and houses crept into my, now Tasmanian, life. Though I could not yet leave the island state of what had become Australia, I no longer needed to. I was no longer isolated and alone. I developed friendships and once again returned to the world of apothecary, though now we called it ‘pharmacy’. I wore a white uniform and worked only between the hours of 9am and 6pm. I worked four days each week and earned a wage significant enough to support a lifestyle far more relaxing than those I had lived in ages past. I mingle with the community of Huonville, and occasionally I might drive my car into Hobart to watch a movie at the cinema or do some shopping. I have learned to be more indulgent of my own desires. I have no doubt that, had the Guardians not got involved, Tristan would have returned to steal me away from my lovely life as he did the last time I had established an equilibrium with my surroundings. It would have been more difficult for him to isolate me now – so much of the world was populated and easily accessible – even Antarctica had a community for much of the year. Perhaps that is why he never returned since the day he left me here and bound me to the shore.
As I looked down on the Huon River from my house I appreciated how far this place had come in the time since I had arrived and made every effort to find a home here. For a long time the caves near what is now Hastings, were my home. I enjoyed the luxury of the hot springs and mineral pools that graced that locale with their warming presence. I think, perhaps, that had it not been for the unique privileges of the Tasmanian landscape, I may not have survived so well here. It was intended to be my prison, but instead had been the source of many great opportunities. I had managed to make a decent wage in the early days of colonisation returning to my preferred skills in apothecary. As time passed, I moved from one colony to the next, starting over and accumulating funds each time. Most recently, I had graduated from university and now held a stable position in a lovely town. The future was brighter now than it had ever been in the past and the lifting of the spell for reasons unknown last spring had opened a whole new world to me. One day I could leave Tasmania, not because I had to, but because I wanted to and was free to do so. I had no intention of doing that just yet, but when the mood took me, it was comforting to know that I could. Guinevere had been right so long ago. I felt the darkness as it ebbed from my heart and basked in the glory of a light that had only recently returned. I still had an ache in my heart, and I appreciated that that may never dissipate, but I could now hope and that was enough to make a huge difference.
The river flowed gently in the direction of Bruny Island and I happily sat and watched the sunset reflected on its surface. My cat, an ex-stray, a kindred spirit, wound herself around my ankles purring as she rubbed against my legs. A great mass of starlings ducked and swerved as they descended for the night, like a school of fish darting and turning in unison, the birds seemed to communicate with some hidden means, which ensured they all wheeled in formation, the only noise the simultaneous flutter of one hundred wings. The sky was beautiful tonight, my glass of wine sweet and the memories of past love and loss exiled to the back of my mind.