Lost at Sea
"Hey, Morgan. " Sanchez mumbles, looking up from
the sports section of the Sunday paper.
"Morning, San. How'd the Sox do last night? " I reach for a white powdered donut, settling next to her with my pot of Prince of Wales tea, stifling a yawn. The vet only left two hours ago, Duchess gave birth to four healthy puppies at five thirty this morning.
"Beat the Orioles by three in the tenth inning. That puts them three and a half games up on the Yankees. Puppies are doing well; her grace seems to like being a mom again. " Newspaper rustles, I sit enjoying the quiet for a few long moments. San took over watching the new arrivals so I could catch a few hours' sleep, but I've been up most of three days in a row now, and I don't bounce back like I did when I was eighteen. I can see through the double French doors that it's already very warm outside. Humidity shimmers in the morning sun. Tom and Angela Dumas are outside, getting in an early ride, before it gets too warm.
"Tom's got Quixote going pretty well there, it seems. "
San looks up, squinting over the rims of her reading glasses, out the windows at the riding ring. Don Quixote, so named for his scatterbrained determination to spook at absolutely nothing, was our newest acquisition; a fifteen hand, dappled grey Andalusian gelding. Tom's patience had the animal almost reliable. "He's done wonders with the feather head. " She turned back to her paper, sipping fragrant coffee. I sniff, trying to decide what flavor she's drinking this morning. Kona, I think. My attention returns to the ring outside. Angela is riding my favorite mount, a black Morgan named Gypsy. "Horatio's out walking in the woods. He took Grendel and Artor with him. "
I look over the paper at her. I'd been wondering where the Captain had gotten to it isn't like him to sleep in this late.
"How long has he been out? "
She checks her watch. "Since before six, I think. "
I pull on my leather hiking sandals, and pick up sunglasses on the way out. "Keep an eye on the little ones, will you, San? I'm going to go see how the kids are, and then find Horatio. "
Sanchez hides a smirk behind her coffee cup. "You two have fun walking in the woods, now. "
I'm too tired to rise to her bait. "Bugger off, San. Come on, Cerri, Godiva, let's go for a walk. " Both wheaten females follow me happily out the French doors toward the great outdoors. Lancelot plods along more sedately at my side. My old friend adores the warm heat, I think it feels good in his old bones. Three month old Godiva and her sister Cerridwen will be going to a new home later this week with three of my adult hounds; my mentor's granddaughter is starting her own breeding program, and she's fallen in love with both young females. They are new blood, not hounds of my own breeding, and I have reserved the right to put both of them to one of my stud dogs in the future. Both young hounds amble on ahead of Lance and I, the old dog completely uninterested in their antics. A quick stop at the ring to check in with the Dumas kids brings the welcome news that their father, a Navy Commander, will be home tomorrow. Good, I think to myself, their mother is having a hard time with their younger brother, Sam.
The shade of the woods is welcome, in the early morning heat. I let the puppies wander the path ahead of me. Young as they are, they both respond well to commands, are well on their way to getting Companion Dog status, and I have no problem letting them explore. There's really nowhere they can get to, since the farm property extends a great many acres in every direction.
I find Horatio sitting on a log, watching the water run. I think his mind is a million leagues away, he doesn't seem to notice either the puppies tackling Grendel and Artor, nor my sitting next to him on the log.
"How many little ones did Duchess have? " He asks finally, eyes still on the water.
"Four. Two greys, a brindle, and an all black. They're all strong, healthy puppies. Mother and babies are all doing well. " Lancelot has waded into the stream, and is happily standing chest-deep getting himself a drink. I long ago accepted the fact that my house would smell like wet dog. Like very big wet dogs.
"I'm pleased the delivery went well; I heard her crying when I went out this morning. How are you after such a long night, lady? " Hornblower turns to me finally, not meeting my eyes.
"Tired. Concerned for you. " I'm too beat to exchange civilities with him this morning.
The brown eyes soften a little, wide mouth pressed into a line. The captain is upset about something. I can feel unhappiness rolling off him in waves.
"Do you want to tell me about it? "
His jaw tightens; long sensitive fingers are repeatedly breaking a twig into smaller and smaller pieces. I wait patiently. When the words come, it's as if a dam has broken open, with no hope of stopping the flow of water.
"Matthews, my bo'sun, was with me from my first days on Justinian. He was a good man, incredibly loyal to me, incredibly brave. He was older than I, by a good number of years. He wasutterly trustworthy, kind, a generous soul. My first lieutenant was a man by the name of Jackson. He was new to Courageous, William Bush, his predecessor, was promoted to Commander shortly before we sailed for America, and took my bo'sun's mate, Styles, with him when he left. In retrospect, I am indeed glad of the transfer. Jackson, though, seemed a steady, even tempered man. He got on well with the officers and ratings, had a firm just manor in dealings with the men. His wife toured the ship, just before we left, brought a basket of sweet-rolls for my officers. The man could talk! His sons all went into the Navy like their father. One had just been gained his commission when we left London. He was so proud! "
I sat on that log and listened to Horatio talk about his crew, his ship, and his own formidable Captain, Sir Edward. We must have sat there for hours, in the thick summer heat, while the dogs played in the stream and rested in the shade. I simply sat, and listened, letting Horatio unburden himself to me, and in doing so, ask whatever powers he believed in for forgiveness for having somehow survived.
"Hello, Sanchez. Is Morgana about? "
Sanchez looks up from her computer; round gold lenses perched on the end of her nose.
"Afternoon, Horatio. I think Morgan's swimming. If she isn't out in the pool, you could check her suite, she might be reading. "
I nod my thanks, and turn toward the back stairwell. Grendel has disdained to follow me, he would much rather remain in the house. This near tropical heat bothers the great brute. I stop by to play with the puppies for a few moments. Duchess seems to like me. At least, she hasn't bitten my hand off yet, for fondling her babies.
Splashing from the general direction of the swimming pool catches my attention as I stand on the porch.
"Ok! Enough horseplay! Sam, if you don't start behaving, you're going to be banned for a week, I'm not kidding! "
Aha. Ten year old Sam, Tom and Angela Dumas' younger brother, is in the pool. Morgana is, apparently, supervising. I round the corner and come to a complete stop, gawping.
Standing facing me, but watching Sam and another two children intently, is Morgana. She is wearing the tiniest of scraps of fabric, her fine strong body all but naked! I whirl quickly, terribly unsure of what an officer and gentleman should do in this situation, and retreat back into the house, to the cool darkness of the library. Dear Christ, I was not expecting that! Unbidden, my mind conjures images of Morgana standing in the sun. Her proud, striking beauty fills my mind, try as I might to banish the images. Despite myself, I cannot help but wonder where she could have acquired such scars; ugly thick things, that creep up her left thigh, over her stomach, and disappear under what little top she was wearing. Anger suffuses my soul, that anyone could wish to harm as gentle and caring a woman as Morgana. Some part of me, from depths I had not yet realized, wished to throw a dressing-gown over Miss Lyon's nakedness, and further, to protect her with my very life from further injury. Bewildered by the violence of my reactions, I close my eyes, put my head in my hands, and wonder what in the name of God is happening to me.
"'Night, Horatio. "
I look up at Sanchez from the book I've got in my lap; a volume covering English history after I 'died'. I'm mentioned, briefly, a fact I find disconcerting.
"Goodnight, Sanchez. "
The tall, athletic woman stands in the library door for a moment longer, one hand resting on the doorjamb. Her Coast Guard sweater is so large it fairly hangs off her tall frame.
"Morgana is out in the yard somewhere, I think. Will you check on her, before you turn in? Sometimes she just loses track of the time. "
"Of course, it would be my pleasure. "
She smiles a little, an odd expression halfway between gratitude and something unnamable, and takes her leave. Curious, I mark my place, putting the book on a side table filled with my selection of reading material, and rise to find Morgana.
The yard is bathed in moonlight. It does not take me very
long at all to discover Morgana's whereabouts, she is lying in
the grass not far from the stables. Ancient Lancelot lies with
his mistress, head resting on massive paws. I approach slowly,
not wanting to startle her.
"Hello, Horatio. "
"Good evening, Morgana. Are you well? You've been out here alone for quite some time; it's getting very late. Or early, really. "
I look down at the woman in the grass at my feet, then look away quickly. Slim legs are crossed at the ankle, barely clad in cut off trousers of some soft looking, faded stuff that dangles quite a few threads down exposed thighs. A sleeveless top of a faded, indiscriminate medium-dark colour has hiked up over Morgana's stomach. Moonlight gives her-hair, eyes, and skin-a radiance not granted by the sun. This aptly named fey creature closes her eyes, a faint smile touching her mouth. I remember too clearly the old scars across her stomach, invisible in the pale light.
"Sit for awhile, if you like. " She invites, putting one arm behind her head. The grass is cool beneath my palms.
"I used to sit like this, when I was a boy, in England. "
"What was it like? "
I think for a few moments, returning through what seem lifetimes, to that sad, scholarly boy who longed for his mother. A breeze picks up, and I lean back on my hands, looking up into the heavens.
"Lonely. I was an only child, you see, there weren't any others my age inside a day's walk. My father was a doctor; he was very frequently away. I would go to the hill behind our home, lie back in the grass, and stare at the stars for hours. It was quieter than this, and even though we lived far inland, I always dreamt I could smell the sea. "
"Do you miss it? "
I tilt my head a bit, trying to ferret out the correct meaning of her question.
"Occasionally, I wonder what would have happened to me, had my father not sent me to sea. It was a difficult life, but I learned to love it. "
She smiles, shifting a bit in the damp grass.
"No, Horatio, do you miss the sea? "
"Yes. Tremendously. I'd forgotten what life on land was like. "
"Would you like to go sailing tomorrow? "
I look down into her face. Pale eyes open to return my gaze.
"You have a sailing ship? "
She grins, widely. "It's a racing boat, really, but she's pretty. I'm always looking for another hand. Sanchez, Dominic, Jason, Tom and Angela are coming as well. "
"What type of boat is it? " My heart beats a little faster, delighted to be going to sea again.
"She's a schooner, built for Trans-Atlantic racing years and years ago. She's nearly seventy years old my grandfather built her in his younger days. Mermaid. There's a picture of her in the living room. "
Silence descends for a bit, as comfortable as the cool night air. Fire-flies dance around us.
Morgana touches my hand to get my attention.
"Do you see him? " I turn my head to where Morgana is pointing. A young buck deer has ventured out of the shadowed woods, head erect, nostrils working, not a hundred yards from where we lay.
"There's a little screech owl up in the tree just above us, too. I call him Henry. He's here quite a lot. Aren't you, Henry? " She grins, pointing slowly upward. I follow her finger, squinting at the darkness. "Henry has three or four white feathers all in one spot on his breastsee, there, he just moved. "
I nod, smiling. We fall into an enjoyable, comfortable, companionable silence for a few long, agreeable moments. Out of habit, I find familiar constellations. Concentrate on the stars, old man, I tell myself. Don't look at the woman lying on the earth at your side, much as you might wish to.
"Why did you leave so quickly this afternoon? " The low voice is soft. I turn to her, my eyes moving of their own accord to the exposed flesh of her stomach.
"IMorgana, I am unused to women wearing suchsuchare you not embarrassed to go about in public, dressed like that? " I'm heartily glad of the pale light, it hides the blush I feel creeping up my face.
She chuckles softly. "I wasn't in public, Horatio, I was in my own back yard. "
My face is, indeed, extremely warm. "There is so much so terribly different. "
A hand finds my forearm in the silvery night, squeezing gently. I hadn't realized how sad those words were, until they were said aloud.
"It's going to take you quite some time to get acclimated. "
"Aye, that. " I sigh, running one hand through my hair, over my face.
"I don't remember, you know. " Her voice is softer, a little sadder.
Luminous silver eyes, reflecting moonlight, look up into mine. "The scars. I don't remember getting them. I saw your outraged look when you were outside this afternoon. "
"Oh. " Embarrassment seems to be a natural state of being, with this woman. "You don't have to tell me, lady, I wouldn't like to pry. "
"I don't mind, Horatio. " Her lips quirk upward, just the slightest bit. "I've seen all your scars, after all. "
Idly, she lifts the shirt up, just underneath her breasts, exposing more flesh. Curious, I lean over her, frowning as I realize how badly she had been hurt.
"They start just underneath my left shoulder, go most of the way down the left hand side of my body, across my stomach and right thigh, and more or less stop at the knee. "
Something inside me snaps, and before I know what I'm doing, I've reached out to touch a fingertip to the thickest of the scars. "Lady, if you truly don't mind my query, what in heaven's name happened? "
"It's ok, Horatio, it's been long enough now that it doesn't hurt anymore. I was on the way home from a shooting match with my fiancee, Brian. He and Sanchez were at the Olympic trials together; that's how I met her. They were both qualifying for the rifle team, and we all just sort of hit it off. We'd gone out to a late dinner, and Brian and I were driving back to the inn we were staying at, when a drunken driver hit us. Brian died almost instantly in the crash. I was in the hospital for nearly a year afterward. My left leg was shattered; the doctors put a titanium rod in, to replace the bone. I had to learn how to walk again. Here" Small fingers guide my hand to a place just below her belly-button, "A three inch piece of steel drove through my body. I can no longer bear children, because of that. "
"Oh, Morgana, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to cause you pain. "
"You haven't, Horatio. I honestly don't remember any of it. I'm reciting a story to you that may as well have happened to someone else. It was nearly ten years ago, now. "
She remains silent for a few moments, then turns that bright gaze back to me. I realize in sudden horror that my hand is still splayed across her midsection. With a quickly mumbled apology, I retract it. Morgana sits up, a bit of smile on her lips.
"What startled you more, the scars or the swimsuit? " The impish sense of humor has reasserted itself.
I pretend to ponder, recognizing teasing when I hear it. When I answer, my voice comes out much more sober than I had intended.
"The scars. Iwhat happened to him, the other man? "
She shrugs a little. "He died. The truly unfortunate thing is that his four year old daughter was in the car with him. "
After a little while, she rises, bringing me up with her.
"Let's leave the sorrow here for tonight, shall we? " She suggests, tilting her head back to look up at me.
"Aye, lady. "
We begin walking back toward the house. Lancelot ranges out ahead of us a bit.
"Thank you for not being revolted by my scars. "
I stop, staring, as Morgana continues into the house and up the back stairwell, out of my sight.
I sit on the wide back porch, in a rocking chair, with my
cup of coffee the next morning, watching the dawn. Ah, hell,
Hornbloweryou are a damned fool.
"Hey, sailor, mind if I join you? "
"Good morning, Sanchez. No, of course not. It's your home. "
Sanchez waits on my reply before seating herself in the chair at my side. She stretches long legs out to rest on the railing in front of us, and regards me through slitted eyes for a moment before responding.
"It's your home now, too, Horatio. "
I shake my head. "I am naught but a guest here, Senora, I have no home. "
Surprisingly, she chuckles. "Oh, I think you're very mistaken. What time did you finally get her to come in last night? "
The heavy ceramic mug in my hands is warm. I trace the handle absently with my fingers, staring into the black liquid for a few moments.
"I don't rightly know, ma'am, it was quite a while after you and I parted. "
"You saw the scars, didn't you, yesterday afternoon? Morgan told you the story. "
I nod, looking out over the fields, past Morgana's prize roses and the bit of vegetable garden.
"I bet she didn't tell you the entire thing. Did she tell you about Kayala? "
"The little girl who died? "
Sanchez shakes her head, braids slithering about on her shoulders. Absently, she tosses the whole mass behind her once more.
"I'm not surprised. She's so goddamned modest sometimes. Drives me friggin' nuts. "
The woman shifts in her chair, putting the now empty coffee mug on a rail, and leans toward me.
"When Morgana pulled herself free of the wreck yes, she crawled out with a three inch by six inch piece of steel stuck in her gut, and a shattered left leg she found Kayala sprawled on the ground. The little girl had been thrown clear, you see, she hadn't been wearing a safety belt. Her father was in small bits all over the place, he had flown right smack through the glass windshield. " She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts.
"Morgana, all things considered, was badly injured, but was in no real danger of dying. The little girl, however, was. Instead of using her healing power on herself, Morgana nearly died saving that little girl's life. When they brought them both into the hospital, the doctors thought Kayala was Morgan'sMorgan had given Kayala so much of her own life-force that the child's eyes were silver. "
I paused for a few long moments to absorb this.
"Morgana's heart stopped beating, because she had spent her last breath saving Kayala. The doctors brought her back to life. She very, very nearly died a second time, when her body didn't have the strength to fight off infection that set in from being impaled. But it didn't occur to her not to try to help that little girl. "
"Why did she not tell me this, Sanchez? " More and more, Morgana Lyon puzzles me. More and more, she is familiar. It is an unsettling thing.
Sanchez shakes her head, leaning back in the chair. "Because, like the selfless person she is, it would never occur to her to tell you. "
"What became of the child? "
A wide, heartfelt smile shows a row of fine, even teeth.
"She had no family. Morgana's older brother adopted her. She'll most likely be waiting for us at the marina this morning. "
I was up and in the stables by five, as is usual for me.
I'm really not a morning person, but with the amount of animals
I always seem to have, early starts are a must. I lean against
the handle of the shovel I'm using to muck stalls, and peer outside
the open stable doors. Humidity levels are down, finally, after
nearly two weeks of eighty to ninety percent. The absence of
that particular shimmery effect in the air is a welcome relief,
pretty as it is with the morning sun just touching the tops of
the trees. Gods below, I hate summer with humidity. I like living
in Connecticut, if I wanted humid summers, I'd move to New Orleans.
It isn't hot out yet, I'm still holding out hope that it won't
get too terribly warm today.
My conversation with Horatio last night plays and replays through my mind. I remember his anger at the sight of my scars. Oddly enough, Horatio's reaction warms me as much as the memory of his gentle touch. He wasn't in the least repelled by my disfigured body. I haven't encountered many who aren'tit was touching and refreshing. I stop to retie my hair, sighing. Horatio's concern last night has touched something inside me. I'm trying unsuccessfully to ignore it.
An internal war is brewing in the back of my conscience, morals and ethics in conflict with the rest of me. Gods below, Morgana, what's wrong with you? I decide to shelve the turmoil for awhile, enjoying the simple task of caring for my animals.
Pollux, one of my two giant Shire draft horses, nudges me with his nose as I pause currying him. Grinning, I reach up to rub the wide white blaze on his face.
"Stop that, you. Your nose is bigger than my whole body. " He whickers agreement, happy that I'm petting him. Pollux loves being groomed. His brother, Castor, neighs at me over the half door of his stall. I turn Pollux out into the paddock, returning for his brother. Pausing in the shade of a nearby oak, Castor on the lead, I look toward the house. San's sitting on the porch, legs crossed on the railings, talking to Horatio. I have a pretty good guess as to the topic of their conversation. I stand for a moment, watching their body language. Sanchez is leaning forward, very intent, focused. I know her well enough to recognize that she's actually relaxed and comfortable. Hornblower is avoiding her eyes, playing endlessly with the mug in his hands. He looks less comfortable by the moment. Brilliant, Morgan, in one fell swoop you've managed to tarnish the trust you've been building with this lost soul. Just spiffy, is there anything else you could possibly do, do you think, to make him unhappy and insecure? I continue berating myself for a few long moments, fingers buried underneath Castor's dark-chocolate colored mane. The massive horse nuzzles my shoulder gently, tugging on the lead. I rub his nose, the one little white snip just above his lip, then lean against the gentle giant's shoulder. "I know, old man, let's get you outside so you can go play with your brother, hmm? " He whickers again, having waited patiently for me to move.
Releasing Castor into the paddock, I return to the stable. Gypsy, Star, and Quixote are already out in their respective paddocks for the day. I need a ride, and don't feel like going out after any of them. Kurgan has his head out over the double door to his stall. I tether him in the aisle and go into the tack-room to retrieve his tack. Within minutes, he's dancing underneath me, ready for a run. I head the blood-bay stud outside, take one look back at the house, and let him have his head, leaning low on the animal's neck. Kurgan takes off across the close-mowed yard, his canter rocking-horse smooth.
"All right, big boy, let's take it up a notch. " I urge him into a full out gallop, hands still, weight forward over his withers. The sleek Thoroughbred pounds around the corner and heads toward the start of one of the shorter trails, which is fine with me. I pull him up to a more sedate trot as we enter the woods, half a mile later, and then into a brisk walk.
"So, Kurgan, let's think this through. " The ears prick backwards toward me, then forward again.
"I'm not going to let my hormones dictate how I live my life. Really, I'm not. I've damaged Horatio's trust in me, which is absolutely the last thing I wanted to happen. Although, Lady Bless, he's not bad on the eyes, is he? He needs a friend more than I need a lover. Christ, I hate when I stop thinking and react emotionally. "
I ride in silence for a bit, up the short loop that will take me back around and come out directly behind the stables. Brian is fresh in my mind this morning, having told Horatio the story last night. I shake my head, heading back out into the sunlight, leaving my ghosts and sorrows behind in the dappled shade.
"You ride in these things? And they're safe? "
Horatio eyes the blue and silver Blazer in trepidation.
"Yes. And yes. As long as Sanchez isn't driving, you're perfectly safe. "
San glares at me over the rims of her Ray-Bans. Tom, possibly because he's eighteen and hasn't learned yet to fear death, is going to ride with San in her car. I've got Angela, Dominic, and Horatio in the Blazer. Jason will meet us in Mystic with my niece, Kayala.
"Everyone ready to go? " I look around. Nods of agreement. "And everyone peed already? " I look straight at six foot eight, two hundred fifteen pound Dominic, the younger of my two grad-student teaching assistants. Dom is famous for drinking not one, but two sixty-four ounce beverages directly before getting into the car for a road trip, and forcing everyone into making very frequent stops.
"Yes, Morgan, I've gone to the bathroom. I had one cup of coffee, and San wouldn't give me a big one. " He says, patiently, in his resonant bass voice. Dom generally helps out with my freshmen. It's very, very difficult to ignore him. Angela snickers. One of Dom's massive black hands closes around the girl's head, shaking her gently. "Hey, I heard that. "
Angela gives him her best cherubic look. Which, really, isn't terribly hard to believe, she's cute as a button. Dom lets her go, shaking his head.
"We've got the cooler, Morgan. " San slides into her Beamer, Tom waving at us cheerfully, and heads out.
I hop into the driver's seat of the Blazer and get us underway. Horatio, in the front passenger's seat, is nervously twisting a sweatshirt about. Dom and Angela are occupied in the back seat, poring over a magazine. Probably it's the latest baseball stats, they're both rabid Red Sox fans.
"Horatio, are you all right? "
"Aye, miss, perfectly all right. " Twisting hands continue. His jaw is locked, I can see the muscles working under too tight skin. I've very quickly come to recognize the signs of Horatio thinking not that he ever stops thinking, mind you and leave him in peace. The wide mouth is pressed into a firm line, and there's a distracted, faraway look in those huge, dark eyes. Shrugging to myself, I give him some room. I merge onto the highway automatically, a couple hundred feet behind San's sleek car, very quickly reaching highway speeds, I settle in to drive.
Horatio gulps loudly in the passenger seat. I return to watching him out of the corner of my eye. He's getting awfully greenish. Scenery flashes by at a good clip, we're southbound on I-395, and there's nothing really to look at but the Connecticut countryside at seventy miles an hour.
"Horatio, you don't by any chance get sea-sick, do you? " I flash the headlights at San in warning, and slow to about ten miles an hour, pulling over to the breakdown lane.
"Uhmyes, Miss Lyon" He trails off, face a very unattractive shade of green. I clap a hand over his knee, exerting my will over his, my healing power forcing his stomach to quiet. I roll the windows down with my driver's side control, and stop the car.
San comes walking back, eyebrow quirked. We're less than ten minutes from home. I look up to see what exit we're at. Ninety-four, what luck!
"San, we're going to take a detour and stop at the A&P for some Dramamine. "
She grins. "Oho. Well, we'll keep going so Jason and Kayala don't wonder what happened to us all. "
I nod, and she heads back to the Beamer. I catch Dom's eye in the mirror and shake my head just a bit. The big man nods, and continues discussing Nomar Garciaparra's average for the season with Angela.
"Come on, Horatio, let's go get you some medicine. "
His head is hanging, the dark eyes are unhappy, his shoulders are hunched, and those elegant, long fingered hands are clenching and unclenching spasmodically at his sides. I have a seasick, unhappy, most likely thoroughly embarrassed sailor on my hands. Marvelous. With a small sigh, I head toward the glass and aluminum doors at the front of the store.
Horatio steps sideways as the doors slide open automatically, eyes widening.
I turn, standing in between doors, grinning. I can't help myself, his stunned expression is funny.
"The door knows you're there, Horatio, it's opening for you. "
He looks up, down, side to side, and then at me. I point, patiently, at the sensor just above the doors.
"There's an eye up there that tells the door when something is there. That's what triggers the door. "
Saucer-wide eyes blink rapidly. "Tis witchcraft. "
I walk back, take his hand, and tug gently.
"No, it's not, it's technology. Come on, let's get inside and find the Dramamine."
Following me hesitantly, he stops again, looking around in utter fascination.
"This is a market? Dear God, Morgana, it's immense! "
I grin, looking around at the familiar tan-tiled floors, aisles of produce, and shelf upon shelf of food. It's refreshing to look at my world through Horatio's eyes.
"It is rather impressive, isn't it? " I head toward the medicine aisle, and pick out a green box of Dramamine. Horatio follows as I wander down to where I know a cooler to be. I hand him a cold bottle of water, picking up four bottles of orange juice while I'm there.
"Here, open the bottle, and swallow one of these pills. Drink the entire bottle. "
Hornblower does as instructed, then looks to me for an explanation.
"That pill will counteract your body's wanting to get sea-sick. You might have to take another few today, if the water gets really rough, and on the ride back home. "
"What are these? " Horatio peers in interest at brightly wrapped candies.
"That particular package is Swedish Fish. "
He looks at me quizzically, forgetting his discomfort with me for the moment. "What, pray tell, is a Swedish Fish? "
Grinning, I pick up the bag and steer him back toward the register. We pay for the Dramamine, water, juices, and gummi fish, and are shortly on our way again.
The pier at Mystic Seaport is active, even this early in the
day. My group troupes down to the waterfront. Horatio is looking
around with interest. I spent most of the fifty minute drive
describing the museum to him. I've promised to bring him back
to wander about another day, I frequently spend most of a day
here, myself. If all goes well with my current pet project, I
soon will be here nearly every day, either in person or via tele/video
conference. A little way across the water, both Morgan and Joseph
Conrad have canvas up today, billowing gently in the early breeze.
HMS Rose, just finished tying to the pier by the looks of her
crew, is reefing sail. I grin, wandering down past an enormous
Hattaras yacht, toward where Mermaid is moored. Why anyone would
possibly need space for three jet skis and two four-wheelers
is beyond me, but heyit's their money. Personally, although my
brother loves Hattaras owners for the amount of money they spend
at his company, I wouldn't buy one. No sails.
"Those are lovely little sailing boats. " Horatio comments, walking at my left shoulder, looking down past the little lighthouse, to where Mermaid and Brilliant rest against the pier.
"The one on the left is Mermaid. The one on the right is Brilliant, the Seaport owns her. They were built about the same time, by the same shipyard. Mermaid is half a foot shorter than Brilliant, and her draft is just a hair deeper. "
Horatio grins down at me, and stands for a few long moments, studying both schooners. I wave over at some of the blue shirted Seaport staff, working on Brilliant. They wave back cheerfully, interns I don't recognize, and then return to their work. I step onto Mermaid's deck, grinning like an idiot. I love my little sailing boat. Well, she's not really little, she's all of seventy-three feet long. Little compared to the tall ships at anchor here.
"Hey, Morgan, Rose is visiting. " Jason greets, waving from where he's sitting on my deck.
"I can see that, why are you sitting on my deck? "
He grins at me. "Because I feel like it? "
I whack his shoulder, shaking my head in mock anger. "Get up, ye lubber, and help out or something.
"Hey, Aunt Morgan. How's it hanging? " Kayala comes over to give me a hug. I grin, ruffling the tall girl's red curls.
"Not bad at all, kiddo, what kind of trouble have you gotten into this week? "
She rolls her eyes, in the melodramatic way of all teenagers. It's still strange to me, after all these years, to see my own eyes in the girl's freckle-covered face. "I'm working for the summer, Morgan, I don't have TIME to get in trouble. " She and Angela take the coolers full of food below to store.
"She's a lovely girl. " Horatio has stolen up behind me. His voice is tightly controlled. I hide a grin, while he can't see my face. I can all but smell his excitement at being afloat.
"Yes, she is. My brother and sister in law have been wonderful parents. It's a shame her sister and brothers don't like sailing at all. "
"Your brother's other children, lady? "
I nod absently, feeling the wind and watching the small pack of Sunfish already on the water, judging the river's currents.
"Shall we away, then, Mr. Hornblower? " I ask, swiveling to look up at him. The dark eyes are all but dancing, expression quickly becoming one of polite interest. What a poker face, I bet he's one hell of a card player.
"Ahoy! Mermaid! "
I turn at the hail.
"Good morning, Brilliant! "
"We're going out in a few minutes. Would you all like to go out with us and give the tourists something to take pictures of? " Steven Jackson yells over to me from Brilliant's wheel.
"Sounds marvelous, Steve! Give us about ten minutes. "
He waves energetically, grinning. San looses the cables holding Mermaid to the dock, then jumps back aboard. Tourists line the docks, having watched Rose manouever to the pier a short time ago. Mermaid and Brilliant are ready in about the same moment, white sails gleaming against the blue sky and water. We manouver out onto the river together, past visiting Rose and the tall ships that make up the Seaport's permanent exhibit. I let Horatio handle the wheel once we're out into the river proper, he proves (not surprisingly here) to be a deft pilot. Although he remains very much on his dignity, the uncomfortable tension between us appears to be dissipating, by an unspoken agreement to not mention last night's intimacy.
There's a fair breeze, the sun is shining, and my friends are all very cheerful as we race Brilliant's crew down the Mystic River.
It's going to be a good day.
The house is silent. I look about, wondering where she could possibly be. Sanchez is on duty, and will not be home until Tuesday. The kitchen, library, and living rooms are all devoid of Morgana's presence. Curiosity prompts me to look out the window; the farm's blue truck and Morgana's green car still in the drive.
I feed and turn the horses out, hoping that I have remembered correctly which goes to which paddock. It is most unlike Miss Lyon to not have fed her animals by now. The hounds, too, crowd around me in the kitchen, looking for their breakfast. Concern darkens my thoughts as I look about the house. I mount the stairs to Morgana's suite of rooms, knocking hesitantly on the door.
There is no answer. Alarm constricts my chest, speeding the beat of my heart. I open the outer door, walking through Morgana's private library and sitting room, to knock on her bedroom door. When still there is no answer, I open the door. My heart sinks at the sight now before me.
"Oh, no. "
I hadn't realized the words were spoken aloud until her head turns, eyes red from weeping. Morgana sits cross-legged on the floor, on the mattress her favorite hound uses as a bed. Lancelot's great head is in her lap, though the hound does not move.
"I got up this morning and Lance justhejusthe didn't wake up. Ihe was lying on his mattress on the floor next to my bed, like he always did, andand hehe wasn't even warm, anymore. " Her arms tighten around the white fur.
I kneel at her side, hesitantly putting one hand on Morgana's shoulder. The tight control she has woven over herself breaks, and great sobs wrack her small body. Wordlessly, I take my friend into my arms and hold her, simply hold her, as she weeps brokenly.
"Come, Morgana, I shall see to him. Come with me. "
She shakes her head violently, tears running down her face unchecked.
"I can't leave him alone. " The whisper is so soft I almost do not hear. Behind me, Grendel whines.
"Grendel will stay with him, see, Morgana, he is here. Please, lady, come away with me now. " She shakes her head again, fingers curled around the wide leather collar on the dead hound's neck.
The grief stricken face I take between my hands is wild-eyed.
"Morgana, my lady, listen to me. There is nothing you can do here. Say fare thee well, and come away with me. " My voice has taken on the patient tone I use when speaking to particularly dense midshipmen. I believe Archie used the same tone with me on that Godforsaken bridge in France.
"Horatio. " The silver eyes, muted by sorrow, blink. I think she now truly realizes I am here, for the first time.
"Aye, Morgana, I am here. Grendel will stay with Lancelot, lady, come now. "
She stands, weaving on her feet. Without comment, I lift her small weight easily, and carry her down the stairs to my own room. I tuck her into the bed, sitting on the stool there. Very soon, exhaustion and grief overcome Morgana, and she is asleep. I leave little Mabrook curled up on the pillow next to her, and go back toward the kitchen. Sanchez has taught me to use the 'telephone', although I cannot yet remember the series of numbers to anywhere. A list on the wall, for my benefit, has numbers writtenI dial the sequence that will connect to Jason, and wait.
"Should we make it deeper, do you think? " Dominic
asks, looking to Jason and I for guidance.
"A full six feet, I should think. " I respond, digging more.
"Yeah. How is she? " Jason asks, gesturing with his head toward the house.
"She's heartbroken. " My answer is unnecessarily short. I stop digging to look up at the young man. "I'm sorry, Jason. "
The sturdy man nods, tears in his own eyes falling unashamedly as we work. Lancelot has been wrapped in his favorite blanket. The shapeless lump at my feet bears so little resemblance to the faithful hound that it is almost possible to forget what it is we're doing. Almost.
An hour later, we have put the hound to his final rest. Returning to the house, I look about for Morgana. Angela has come to sit with her whilst we were out doing the grisly task.
"Horatio! Thank God you're back inside. She's locked herself in her bedroom and refuses to come out. I can't get her to answer me. "
Angela's pretty, freckled face is distorted with grief and worry. I nod gently, finding a lump in my throat that needs swallowing.
"She will be all right, Angela. It justit needs some time. "
Dominic comes over and puts one massive, dark arm across the girl's shoulders, guiding her into the kitchen. Grendel sits at my feet, whining. Alone in the living room, I kneel and wrap my arms around the shaggy grey shoulders, a sad smile forced to my face when Grendel rests his head on my shoulder.
"Morgana, what are you doing? " I ask gently,
pulling a cotton sweater down over my head. The woman jumps,
hand on the doorknob, not turning to me.
"Iit's nothing, Horatio. It's silly, I knowbutI thought I saw Lance in the yard, and I was going to let him in. "
I gather her close once more, glad at least that Jason had the foresight to not bury Lancelot in sight of the house.
"Does it get easier? " A soft, broken-hearted whisper comes from the vicinity of my chest.
"You know the answer to that already, my lady. It does become easier to bear, after a time, when the hurt is not so immediate. The pain never completely leaves. "
She sniffles, fingers tight in the cotton of my sweater.
"You must think I'm insane to carry on like this over a dog. "
I find myself smiling. "He was your friend, dear lady. He loved you, and you loved him, and that is not a thing to mock. "
She pulls away a bit, eyes red and puffy. I hand her a square of linen from my pocket.
"Thank you, Horatio. "
I wrap my arms around her once more, gathering her close, head tucked under my chin, and brush a kiss across her hair. There is naught else I can think to do for her, who has been so strong for me.
Interlude (this section rated PG-13)
I am roused into wakefulness simultaneously by a hideously
loud clap of thunder, and Grendel's giant body all but lying atop
me. Somehow he's even managed to get himself underneath the bedclothes.
Wide, frightened amber eyes blink at me in the grey light. Sighing
softly, I bury fingers into the hound's coarse grey fur. He whines
again, pressing closer. My bed creaks as another of the great
hounds Laureli by the reddish fur buries herself
under the bedclothes at my feet. Putting one arm behind my head,
I lie, listening to the howling wind and pounding rain.
"I don't miss being on the sea on a day like this, Grendel old man. " I tell the hound, fingers stroking his ears.
Another flash of lightening and an accompanying boom of thunder shake the house. It is, however, the reverberating crash that rouses me from my bed. Hastily pulling on my sweatpants, tying them at my hips, I walk down the hall into the kitchen. Grendel and Lauralei both have glued themselves to my side, making walking difficult. None of the electric lights are on; this worries me a great deal.
Morgana is standing in the kitchen, looking out the wide French doors. Most of the rest of the adult hounds are around her, either milling about or lying at her feet. Duchess' puppies lie with their mother against the breakfast bar.
I stop just inside the kitchen, watching my friend. Her long, silvery hair is sloppily caught by a shining silver clasp. Long strands and wisps fall haphazardly out over her shoulders and back. A grey sleeveless top accentuates her paleness; black trousers, fitting like her own skin, show off the curve and swell of hips and buttocks. A tiny face, the hound I named Styles, is nestled into the crook of Morgana's neck. His little puppy eyes peek out from the safety of the woman's tangled hair. Desire for her wells up inside me. My breath catches in my breast, and my heart beats faster. For a few moments, the autumnal storm rages outside, forgotten.
I know he's there.
I'm almost painfully aware of his closeness, the throbbing of his heart, the sudden rush of ardor that nearly consumes him.
I stand, cuddling Styles against my shoulder. The black puppy snuggles closer, hiding under my hair.
The storm rages outside, furious and angry. Already one of the tall pines in the side yard is down. I think it's taken the power lines with it. No, we lost power before that last lightening strike. Rain falls in sheets. I've been out to the stables once already to make sure everything there is all right. The horses are secure, barn doors are open just slightly, enough for the air pressure to not blow them in. The only one I was really worried about is Kurgan. The others are all more or less shock proof.
Still, he stands there in silence. Storms heighten my awareness somehow. Sanchez usually stays on the other side of the house when it's this raw outside. If he doesn't leave soon, I'm very afraid I'll do something unforgivable. Grendel whines behind me. He hates thunder. It's funny how I know each of my hounds' voices as if they were my children.
I can't take it any more.
Morgana's voice, low and throaty, sends a shiver down my spine.
She whispers my name, sounding it out like someone tasting a
fine wine for the first time. It is everything I am, and all
that I never knew I could become. I hadn't realized she knew
I was there. I watch in utter fascination as the muscles in her
shoulders move, adjusting the puppy's small weight in her arms.
She half turns to me, raising one silver eyebrow. I cannot help tracing the lines of her body with my eyes. What is wrong with me?
"Grendel wake you up? "
I smile, spreading my hands before me in explanation. Grendel and his sister have attached themselves to me, one at each hip.
She nods, smiling faintly, then turns to watch the tempest.
Dear God, I need her.
I catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. The
loose sweatpants hang low on his hips, hastily tied. I don't
remember the last time I felt this rawneed. I'm hyper aware of
my own body's desires. My self control is fast weakening; if
I don't remove one or the other of us from this room, very shortly,
I'm going to have at thee
"HoratioI was up early with the storm, checking on the horses. I'm going to go try to nap for a little. If it gets worse, come get me. There's a small fire in the living room hearth for hot water, if you'd like tea. "
Before I give either of us a chance to react, I flee to the quiet and privacy of my bedroom.
Interlude part the second
Tempest (this part rated R)
I cannot even take refuge in the pretence of sleep, not with
the storm raging outside. The pages of my book, illuminated by
golden candlelight, are incomprehensible. I put my finger in
between the pages, and stare blankly out the window. I can't
see much through the rain sheeting down the glass. With an inarticulate
growl, I mark my page, put the book down, and rise to pace.
God damn him.
The memory of Horatio's elegant body plays endlessly in my mind. I ache all over for him, in the most maddeningly pleasant way.
Six strides. Stop. Turn. Continue moving. I feel like a caged lion.
I don't bother trying to shut down memory as desire overcomes reason. Instead, I torture myself by savoring the images inside my mind. Long curls loose about his face and shoulders. That one on his forehead falling into those eyes.
Argh! This is driving me insane.
What willpower I still possess keeps me inside my own rooms, attempting to ignore the insidious little voice whispering 'it's only twenty stairs between you'
Oh, shitfootsteps on the landing. My heart pounds wildly.
I find myself staring at Morgana's door.
I cannot fathom how it is I have come to be here, only that something primal has urged this action. The passion in Morgana's wild silver eyes has caused me to follow her.
Crashing thunder outside is nothing compared to the pounding of my heart. I have never before known the stirring of such wanton desire.
Before reason interrupts the madness that has overcome my thoughts, I raise my hand and knock on the door.
She stands before me, one hand gripping the portal tightly. When Morgana raises her head to return my gaze, I feel myself respond to her.
She is so close that the raw scent of woman assails my senses.
"Jesus Christ, Horatio. " The whisper, hardly audible above the tempest, is part prayer, part profanity.
When she withdraws into the room, I follow.
I walk blindly back into my study, stopping suddenly.
Horatio is behind me. He's breathing hard, and far too close. Strong hands pull me backward against his firm body. I can smell the spicy, musky maleness of his skin. Closing my eyes, I shiver, leaning my weight against his chest.
"Morgana" Horatio whispers, hands tightening on my shoulders.
I turn to look up at him again. He's all warm browns and golden tan to my ivory and silver and white. The dark eyes watch my every movement hungrily.
Closing the small gap between us, I reach out to rest one hand on his flat stomach, stroking the clearly defined abdominal muscles. The loose sweatpants sag on lean hips enough for me to follow the outline of his masculinity with my eyes.
Horatio groans as my fingers tug on the waist of his sweatpants, teasing him. In the end, neither of us is patient enough with the flood of adrenaline, desire, or need to take things slowly.
Morgana's silver eyes all but glow in the grey light from
outside. With each flash of lightening, she becomes an otherworldly
presence. Her familiar touch inflames my already heated senses.
I reach out to release the clip holding her hair, groaning as
Morgana's arms come around me. She stands on her toes, hard against
me, arms around my neck as I capture her lips with mine. My arms
tighten around her lithe body as I explore her mouth. My hands
tangle in the waterfall of silver silk that is her hair.
When finally we make it to her big bed, the tempest that rages outside the windows is nothing compared to that between us.
Postlude Blinded by the Moonlight(this part rated R)
It is the cessation of noise outside that brings me to wakefulness.
The fearsome storm has abated. Opening my eyes, I am greatly
surprised to find that the sky has cleared. Moonlight bathes
the woman asleep across my chest in silver light. I tangle my
fingers gently in her hair, marveling again at its softness. My
other hand traces the curve of her spine down her naked back,
then upward again. Morgana shows no sign of waking.
I cannot remember the last time I felt such great peace. Mine has been a lifetime of war and hardship. And yethere, in a time I could not have imagined, in the arms of a woman I never would have dared hope would love me, I am at peace.
Morgana stirs against me, stretching in a long, languid movement that somehow encompasses her entire body all at once. I watch, amused and amazed at once.
"Good morrow, my lady. " I whisper, resuming my soft stroking along her spine.
She plants a soft kiss against my chest, nestling against me once more.
"Mmmmorning, 'Rashio. "
I smile in amusement at the shortening of my name. My smile quickly becomes a gasp as Morgana's hands begin moving underneath the sheets.
"What - Morganammmmmm..."
I wake, as always, slowly. The tender caresses along my spine are sending tingles through my body. Lying this close, entwined together, is a wonderful way to wake. I could certainly get used to it.
Now that the first heat of passion has passed, I want to learn this beautiful man in my bed. I want to take my time and know him. Grinning to myself, I snuggle closer in against his side. Poor Horatio, he's quite unaware of what he's gotten himself into
This time as we move together in the moonlight it is sweet and slow and tender. I find myself calling his name as my world shatters. Horatio follows me into ecstasy moments later. As we lie together, spent, it occurs to me that I have not felt socomplete, in more years than I care to remember.