Verse 25: SON OF A SON OF A SAILOR
There is a word that has passed out of common parlance in the face of speed metal, fast food, and bullet points. That word is "mosey." It conjures images of sticks clattering along white picket fences, hammocks slung between trees, and arranged marriages. One would be hard-pressed to imagine the latest crop of Hollywood hunks and honeys moseying. It is the kind of action reserved for the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Mosey is a tempo that bespeaks of time enough and world enough.
Gloria and Lex moseyed east on West Main, holding hands, smiling at the odd tourist (and some were very odd indeed) they encountered along the way, something she'd not done since freshman year at college. The day promised to be hot, but it was a promise as yet unfulfilled. They crossed over the drawbridge, stopped to admire some of the sleek craft moored nearby, and at Gloria's suggestion took the first left.
In due time they reached the gates of Mystic Seaport. Gloria flashed a card at the ticket kiosk, and both were granted admittance. She bought an apple from a vendor's cart, and – wholly without subtext – offered Lex a bite. For the next several hours they wandered the Village.
Mystic Seaport bills itself as the Museum of America and the Sea, and lives up to that billing admirably. Its buildings, ships, and hands-on exhibits recreate life in a 19th Century New England fishing and shipbuilding community. Millions of history buffs, tourists, and schoolchildren on field trips have visited over the years and left with a greater understanding of life in a different time and amazement that people actually could sleep in beds that small. Founded in 1929 on a portion of the George Greenman & Company shipyard, the Marine Historical Association (as it was originally called) started with a single boat and one small exhibit building to its name. In 1929, museums moseyed too.
The Association's watershed moment, so to speak, came in 1941, in the form of the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining American wooden whaler, a magnificent piece of maritime history. This acquisition gave the fledgling museum instant credibility. Post World War II, the Museum grew at a more boisterous pace, accumulating thousands of artifacts, rescuing and restoring dilapidated historic buildings, and giving safe harbor to an increasing number of vintage vessels including the 1882 square-rigged training ship Joseph Conrad, the 1921 fishing schooner L.A. Dunton, and the 1908 coal-powered steamboat Sabino that, still stoked by hand as in days gone by, meandered daily along the Mystic River.
The more Lex saw, the more introspective he became. Demonstrations of rope braiding, sail sewing, hardware forging, and barrel cooperage only made him more withdrawn. He left most of his lunch at the Seamen's Inne untouched, claiming he had eaten too much for breakfast. Gloria acknowledged that to be true, but sensed that his mood had more to do with what was on his mind than what was in his stomach. Something about the ambiance gnawed at him. She considered digging the answers out, but hoped he would unburden himself in his own good time. That time came on the deck of the Morgan. They stood at the rail, listening to gulls and the lilt of shanties sung by members of the Seaport staff somewhere in the background. Lex gazed across the river, looking wistful. Without turning, he began to speak.
"My father Hussak owns many ships this size. While he does not hunt whales, there are many fish of comparable size in the waters off Allyn. He has fished those waters a long time, like his father before him, and did not marry until he was almost a thousand. He used to joke that he was married to the sea until he met Rhadavatra, whom he calls the One That Almost Got Away, no matter how often she tells him to stop. She resisted his advances for decades, but he was stubborn and would not take 'Never!' for an answer. Finally, he came to her, hat in hand, and said he had spent his life building a fleet of ships, and now wanted a fleet of children to captain them. As proposals go, it was less than romantic, but she began to keep company with him. She must have found him worthy, because I am the youngest of eighteen children."
The Sabino came chugging by. Lex contemplated its passage, then resumed.
"I idolized my father, though he scared me sometimes. He has a gruff voice and is built like a crate. I take after my mother, who is slender and fine-featured. Hussak always smelled of fish and sea spray, even after bathing. He spent weeks away at a time, and when he came home, if the catch was good, he would bring presents and dance around the greatroom with mother giggling and pleading with him to stop. If the catch was bad…"
Lex rubbed his forehead absently.
"I never got an actual beating, but he would go off on a verbal rampage if his mood was foul, and many an inanimate object felt his wrath. When not in a rage, he was a good father. He used to sing to me in a fine, if gravelly, voice. He told stories of his voyages, the epic battle of man versus fish, of braving storms and fighting off pirates and predators. He always assumed I would follow in his bootsteps, and I grew up with the same assumption, but… events led me down a different path."
He turned to face her. "I told you about the liparus. I did not tell you what came after."
"You were rescued a day later," she said. "It must have been awful, being alone and afraid."
"When I was found alive and whole, everyone was overjoyed. They gave thanks and offerings to Blessed Olomek and Solqava the Life Giver and Iniope Isharilindra, Goddess of Ships and Navigation. My reluctance to venture back to the sea was understandable, but after a year my father decided it was time for me to face my fear. One night, he took me from my bed and dragged me to the wharf. He threw me on board his sloop and set sail. I screamed and begged to be returned to shore, but he insisted it was for my own good, that I was eighteen and would soon reach the time of change, when a child begins the transition to adulthood. It was unseemly, he declared, for a son of his to cling to dry land like a babe to the teat. Four days we stayed out there, and I cried the entire time. Finally, he returned to shore. He stormed off the boat, leaving me behind to find my own way home. Somehow, I managed. I stayed indoors for a month." He looked down at his feet and his next words were filled with bitterness and shame.
"My father never spoke to me again."
She wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. She ached to hold him, but held back, sensing the tale far from complete.
"Rhadavatra tried to talk to him as did some of my brothers and sisters. Most took my father's side, including my brother T'Qwillan, next youngest to me but already a cabin boy. He has a cruel streak, an innate sense of what words can be used to inflict pain and humiliation. He taunted me unmercifully whenever mother could not hear. On the other end of the spectrum, my sister Vinafra became my savior. She alone among my siblings had rebelled against paternal expectations. Instead of taking the helm, she chose to become a Priestess of T'Marna, Goddess of Little Girls. With her gentle prodding, I finally emerged into the outside world again. As is custom within her order, Vinafra has assumed the physical appearance of a little girl herself, and she brought me to the Temple and encouraged me to sing to entertain the Priestesses and the girls. I did so every day for the next year, and one day they invited a Master Minstrel named Roberlein to perform at the Spring Ascension Festival, for T'Marna is also Goddess of Spring. Vinafra urged me to sing for him and he told me that when I reached the age of twenty, he would sponsor me as a Junior Apprentice in the New Traditionalist Guildhall in Yorvadan, many wings away from Allyn, the sea, and – most important – my father."
He took both her hands. "Mine has been a good life since. I love what I do and do what I love, and happy indeed is the soul who can honestly attest to that. I walk in the sunlight and under the moons, glad in my heart. I have enjoyed the comforts of castles and the cool shade of ancient trees. I have been content. And if I lacked one thing, it mattered little."
"What did you lack?"
"I have not had a true home, not since I left Allyn." His voice cracked, and he had to clear his throat before he could continue. "But home is not always a place. Home is company and comfort, conflict and peace, and… I love you, Gloria. You are my home. I could stay by your side and –"
Whatever else he had to say was lost. Gloria fairly knocked him over with her embrace. She laughed and cried and covered his face with kisses. She held on tight, fearing she would blow away in the storm of her emotions if she relaxed her grip even for an instant.
"Oh Lex," she sighed, burying her face in his shirt. "I love you, too."
These declarations attracted a modicum of attention. One man with a disposable camera took their picture. A few bystanders applauded. One woman turned to the man beside her and said "See? That's what I'm talking about!" Lex and Gloria took no notice.
"I know this is sudden," he said, stroking her hair. "I would have spoken sooner, but I have never loved before, and the thought you might not feel the same terrified me. I have known naught but turmoil these past days as I sought the right words. That, for me is also a first."
"How long have you known?" she asked him.
"I think I first suspected when first we met."
"Don't be silly! You could barely see my face!"
"I saw you drive at Loud, fearless, acting without hesitation or regard for your safety. 'This is a woman I could love,' I told myself. Yet I did not know for certain until later that day, after we left for Gilda's. You see, I realized that I left my mandojo behind. I never go anywhere without it. But instead of asking you to turn around, I let it be. I knew in my soul that it would be safe and secure, and that I would return for it in due time. Last night only confirmed what I already knew."
"It was pretty spectacular," she teased.
"You get no argument from me," he chuckled. "But I actually meant earlier. As I sang to a roomful of people, the only one I really saw was you. By the end of my performance, every song I sang brought you to mind. Every song made me feel at home." He paused and frowned. "I fear I do not explain myself well."
"You're doing fine." She pulled away from him and looked around. "We're giving these people a demonstration that's not on the daily schedule of events. Let's continue this talk somewhere more private."
They wound up in a rehabilitated one-room schoolhouse, totally devoid of other visitors. Something in the back of Gloria's mind nagged at her. She tried to ignore it but it persisted and finally she let it loose. "You said you thought you loved me the day we met…" she began, twirling part of his long ponytail around her fingers.
"Yes?" he prompted.
"But you slept with Zoot!" she blurted out.
Lex's brow furrowed. "Your point being?"
"How could you love me but make love to another woman?" she demanded. "Is that some weird Novagrove custom? You fall in love and immediately jump into bed with her best friend? On the very same day! Doesn't that strike you as just a trifle inconsistent?"
"Not at all." Gloria looked in his eyes and saw nothing but honesty. "What does the one have to do with the other?"
"Men!" she yelled, turning away from him, but he refused to let her go.
"Hold!" he cried. "Flag of Parlay! Do you mean to say that you only enjoy sex with people you love in this realm?"
"Ummmmm…" Her mind flashed on a few of her med school experiences which were anything but love. "No," she confessed, "but –"
"There!" he cried in triumph. "Same as on my world."
"But this is different," she said, yanking hard. "Once you're in love you're expected to be exclusive!"
"Why?" His air of calm innocence seemed sincere, but she had to resist the urge to slap his face.
"I don't know!" Her voice filled the classroom. Suddenly self-conscious, she took it down a decibel or ten. "I was brought up to feel that way."
"That sex and love were synonymous?"
"Now I'm the one who's not explaining herself well." She sat down on a bench, fuming.
A mother with two small children, one of each gender, walked in. The girl pointed at Gloria and said, "Mommy! She's sitting on the Do Not Sit bench!"
"Beat it!" Gloria snapped, and the woman hurried her brood out the door and away from the crazy lady.
Lex gave her a look, then crouched before her. "I believe I grasp your meaning: this may be another point of divergence between our cultures. In my world, you profess love to the person with whom you wish to make a home and begin a family. Sex is just two or more people having fun."
"Just fun?" she yelled, loud enough to send pigeons outside the door scattering in alarm. She jumped up and ran out of the schoolhouse. How dare he! she fumed.
"Good exercise, too?" Lex called after her.
She headed for the exit but he caught up without effort. "I am confused," he said as she resolutely stormed through the tourists who were getting out of her way if they knew what was good for them. "You are acting in a somewhat incomprehensible fashion for a woman who claims to love me."
"Live with it!"
He grabbed her arm in an iron grip and whirled her about. "See here – when I have intimate relations with Zoot or any of the thousands of other women I have bedded –"
"You can skip over them, if you don't mind," she snarled.
"No, I do not think I shall! I first had sex when I was nearly thirty. Not surprising when you think on it. I was shy, gawky, and every girl I saw reminded me of my sister Vinafra who is adorable but not exactly sexy. But when I started to mature, I was astounded to find myself considered attractive. My first intimate encounter was a woman I met during the days of my Apprenticeship. She worked in a tea shop, and one day she asked me to help her reach something on a high shelf and while I was doing that she began stroking my thighs. I had no clue as to her intentions, but she soon made them plain. It was a revelation to me! After that, I had sex every time it was offered, even with women I did not find all that attractive. I have, thank Magia, become more discerning with time. So when with Zoot, it was supremely pleasurable for both of us. With you, it was the best I ever had. It was an expression of my love, but it was not love in and of itself. For the first time, I had sex with a woman I love, and it transcended the merely physical."
Gloria could not help but smile at the vehemence of his declaration. "Nice save," she conceded.
"Methinks you question my sincerity," he said, feigning offense.
"Only a little. So let me get this straight. Where you come from, sex and love are completely separate things? How does that work?"
"We live for several hundreds of your lifetimes," he reminded her. "Marriages lasting millennia are not uncommon. Having no other sexual partners over such a span would be considered Shoqali, if you know what I mean… and I can tell you do not."
"I'll bite," she sighed. "What's Shoqali?"
"The Shoqali are a people so rigid in their thinking that they believe sex should be for procreation and no other purpose! I do not mean to demean other cultures, but ye gods and little fishes! Is that not the stupidest concept you have ever heard?"
Gloria had no good answer for that rhetorical question and so held her tongue.
"You know what the Shoqali do? They make their cows wear dresses so no one will aroused by the sight of hanging udders."
She giggled at the mental image. "The bulls wear trousers, I suppose?"
"No, they wear dresses, too. Frankly, I sometimes wonder about the Shoqali."
"But everyone else has sex whenever they want with whoever is willing?"
"Willingness does not always enter into the equation. Woe betide you should you be among Elves on one of their festival days and be not open to whatever may come your way. Elves will mate with anything on such days: male, female, vegetable, animal. They are excessively fond of bears for some reason. One who refuses sex on an Alfaen feast day could conceivably be charged with a High Crime and be put to death, although I have never heard of that actually happening."
"Hold on!" she cried, sure she hadn't heard correctly. "Not having sex is a crime?"
"Under the wrong circumstance," he replied. "The very last act proscribed by the Articles of Foundation is 'Being No Fun At All.' Someone who would not join in the orgy at an Alfaen festival would certainly fall into that category."
"No one knows how it came to be so. It just appeared in the original document and all its copies one day, as if it had always been there. We suspect divine intervention was involved."
"That only applies to the Imperius, of course," he added. "Other nations have their own rules. Esarnians are very closed-mouthed about sex, so I understand, and Ule only knows what the Zodajans consider normal."
Gloria found they had wandered near the entrance and checked her watch. "Maybe we should leave," she suggested. "You have things to do before the show and I want to take you and the kids out for to dinner."
They stopped at the gift shop so Lex could buy some souvenirs: a t-shirt, some postcards, and a scale model of the Morgan. Then they retraced their steps, heading for the tavern.
"Are you still upset that I was with Zoot first?" Lex asked as they waited for the drawbridge to lower.
Gloria decided there was no point beating that particular moribund equine. "Guess not," she said. "The other day, when I blew up at you, after she nearly tore my ear off, she accused me of being jealous. Zoot is very empathic. In fact, she knew I loved you before I did."
"Zoot is wise beyond her years."
"That she is," Gloria agreed.
"She finds you quite desirable, by the way," Lex teased.
"Not gonna happen and she knows it."
The drawbridge locked into place and they moved on. As they walked, Gloria tried, with limited success, to ignore the whole ticklish question of – God help them – where this relationship was going. Or could go. Under normal conditions, she would never have raised such a topic so soon. She was wise enough to let matters proceed at their chosen pace. These circumstances, however, were the antithesis of normal. The implications were staggering in so many ways that she knew Lex could not even start to comprehend them. They would have to sit down for a long talk, and soon.
But not tonight, she decided. The very idea that she would take a lover to her childhood bed for the very first time gave her a naughty thrill and she wondered if she'd be able to keep her hands off him until then. His very nearness made her have serious doubts. As Gilda's came into sight, Gloria was struck by a sudden impulse. Why wait until tonight? Dinner could be delayed for, oh, half an hour or so.
"Last one there's a rotten egg!" she called, breaking into a run. Lex took up the challenge, pacing her even though she knew he could leave her in the dust. They grinned at each other.
Intent on their race, neither paid attention to the big white pick-up truck, its windshield festooned with tickets. The driver pulled out, cutting off a Windstar whose owner slammed on the brakes and the horn, almost simultaneously. Westbound traffic was heavy and the truck swerved into the empty eastbound lane. A Nissan Altima, turning from Water Street, jumped the curb to get out of the metal behemoth's way. Pedestrians crossing the street at the corner scattered in fear for their lives.
"ELF DIE!" Buzz screamed as he floored the pedal, bearing down on Lex and Gloria at top speed.