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This is part of the Wine and Old Lace event. Please enjoy and visit the other authors works as well. Vote and comment as well if the spirit moves you. Thanks.
Alexandria: 25 December 1758
The comet hung in the heavens. The tear shaped traveler had returned just as the Englishman had predicted. I know of these things only because it is my business. I sail upon the seas of fate and the heavens are a sailor’s road map. We cherish the heavens and when they change, we feel it. The world is changing and for good or ill we must elect to embrace it or perish. I want to live. It had been so since the Old Man had found me on the seashore dying from exposure. Even the good sisters of perpetual sorrow wanted nothing to do with me. One look at my bone white skin was enough to dissuade them. I was told they called me devil spawn and spat when my back was turned. Nothing changes for me, even as an adult I am shunned in most places. That is why I love the sea. She doesn’t judge us for how we look but how strong we are. I am very strong.
“Aramanthus! How fare we this night?” The first mate called out from behind me. I sniffed the wind and gestured starboard and held out two fingers. “Aye, make the change lad, be quick about it!” He chuckled at the young man. “That’s it, you are getting the hang of it!”
We passed the shoal close enough to see the waters break over it but far enough that it posed no threat to us. While most of my fellows bent knee to the God of Abraham, I did not. I was a Greek. I followed the old ways just as my father had taught me. I made offerings to Poseidon when I took ship. I praised Eros when a woman took my fancy and she lay with me. When the weather looked especially rough, I let my blood fall for great Zeus to lessen his wroth. I had been a sailor since I could walk. I began just as the lad shakily holding the wheel had. I grew up upon the waters of the world. I spoke a smattering of many languages from so many nations we visited. While Greek was my mother tongue I was better versed in English, German, and Arabic. These were the tongues of my fellow sailors and our chief ports of call.
I closed my eyes and felt the pulse of the ocean and threw out course corrections as need be. Some men looked to the sky and used cunning instruments to track our course and location, not I. I could, like now, feel where we were on our course. Three more days and we would drop anchor in London Town. There I would see her out. My free hand touched my breast where the oil skin pouch protected the letter, a missive from a mother to her daughter. Come home it begged, all is forgiven or so the woman declared. Even if the letter was something else her two silver coins were more than worth the effort of finding this woman and delivering the letter.
The sea grew calm and on the third day we did indeed drop anchor safely. I was on the first boat to shore. I was eager to earn my coin and once free of my burden I’d drink, dance, and if the gods were kind find female companionship. I went straight to one of my favorite taverns, the Three Dogs. I knew the owner quite well and he was a trusting soul. I could ask him about where I might find the address printed on the outside of the envelope.
“Amaranthus!” Joshua Rook called out his arms wide in greeting. “How are you doing you pale skinned son of a dog?” He asked as we embraced. “Still as strong as a bull!”
“And hung like one,” Maryanne the barmaid added. “Hello love! Glad to see you still breathing. I swear every time I see a storm out at sea, I say a prayer for you me lovely.”
“Your kindess is overwhelming,” I replied. “Joshua. You know London well enough. Can you tell me where this address is?” I asked retrieving the oilskin pouched and gingerly removing the letter.
“Damn son,” he cursed. “Who gave you this?”
“A mother,” I said. “It is for her daughter. What’s wrong?”
“This here is addressed to the palace. Your daughter works for a noble. Weaver.” He said reading the rest of the envelope. “That must be that fine young lass I spied down at the Silver Spindle. They are talks about her arriving from Scotland. She worked for one of the Highland Dukes until he passed. Her skill earned her a place at the palace.”
“How come you know so much,” Maryanne asked her eyes narrowing.
“Are you kidding? Old Saul raves like a madman about the girl’s gift. You’d think she worked magic the way he speaks about her. Talks my ear off when he comes in here.” Joshua declared with a grin. “If’n you are lucky Saul might make an appearance tonight. Want a room for the night?”
“Aye,” I agreed to the offer. “I’m starved too if you are still serving dinner.”
“Get moving you salty wench! Bring the lad a meal while I pour him a pint or two.” He laughed and my night looked fine indeed. If only this man Saul appeared, I’d know if the woman spoke of and the one I was seeking were one and the same.
Saul did not make an appearance that night. I slept in a real bed for the first casino oyna time in weeks at sea. If was difficult to fall asleep at first for I missed the rocking of the ocean. Once I entered the realm of Hypnos I slept deep and dreamless until the first stray lights of dawn awoke me. I squinted and took out the leather goggles I had crafted to protect my eyes. While the night and the sea were kind to me the sun most assuredly was not. It burnt my skin and hurt my eyes. The smoked glass lenses spared me the agony of a bright day. It wasn’t just the wide brimmed hat and pale skin that made me stand out in a crowd. The goggles added greatly to my unusual visage. I dressed and joined Joshua and his family below to break my fast. I asked his opinion of how I might be able to approach the palace so that I could deliver the letter.
“Well son, I’d speak to Saul at his shop. He might have some insight to the weaver. Perhaps, she even has material that might require delivery to the palace.” He mused. “Saul is a gentle fellow and once you explain your condition, I am sure he will do what he can to aid you.”
“Thank you, Joshua,” I said clasping his shoulder gently. “I am glad I visited you and yours. Your kindness is always welcome and appreciated.”
Once we had finished the meal, he took out a piece of paper and drew me a crude map to Saul’s shop. I thanked him, pulled up my goggles over my eyes, and left them positive I’d be able to find Saul and with his help pierce the walls of the palace and complete my promise. With a full belly and in a kind disposition I made my way through the streets of London town. The city was alive with voices, the sounds of animals, and even the sing song cries of the street vendors. I could feel the pulse of the city as I maneuvered towards my goal.
“Hey you!” A voice called out. “Lend a hand, will you?” I looked around and saw two men struggling to maneuver a wine barrel off a cart and into a pub.
“Me?” I asked as I changed course and approached.
“Yes you,” the shorter of the two men replied. “You look mighty strong. Want to earn two shillings?”
“Why not, I am not on any schedule.” I rumbled as I grasped the barrel and gestured for them to get out of my way. “Lead the way mate.”
I followed them into the building and gently rolled the wine behind the bar. Two more barrels later and I had a few more coin in my purse with little exertion. I was in an even better mood when I found Saul’s shop. He was a tailor himself but also bartered in cloth, silk, and other materials. His connections made him the perfect source for weavers and seamstresses alike. I entered the store and looked around at all the fine garments around as well as bolts of common cloth and wool.
“English wool, none better and worth every penny,” I said to myself, but someone heard me and replied.
“Too true sonny Jim,” a man I assumed was Saul. “You are a biggin’ what can I do for you?”
“Joshua at the Three Dogs sent me in your direction,” I explained. “He thought you might be able to help me. I have a letter for a weaver located at the palace.”
“I see. He was wise to send you to me and fortuitous for me. I have a delivery to make and you’d make that task much easier for sure. Show me this letter so that I know you speak the truth.”
“Oh, of course,” I replied. “Here. I don’t read too good, but my captain pointed out her occupation on the back of the envelope.”
“Let’s take a look,” he said as he took out a pair of spectacles from his pocket. “Oh aye, I know this lass. She is highly prized here and abroad. I wish I was half the tailor she was. So, what say you? Will you help me make my delivery and I’ll make the proper introductions.”
“Lead the way and I shall follow,” I stated smiling at my good fortune.
My spirits were greatly lifted as the prospects of meeting the weaver or even someone who worked alongside her. By the time we reached the gates surrounding the royal palace I was humming a little tune. The guards challenged us and then spied Saul and recognized him immediately. The four armed me called him out and asked him his business.
“I have a delivery to the Queen’s seamstress. This burly young man here also has a delivery to her. He has a personal letter from her older sister,” he explained and that surprised me. While I suspected the lady that had given me the letter was indeed the weaver’s mother it was now made clear that I had been wrong.
“Wait here while we contact the palace. It shouldn’t take long.” The soldier declared.
I stood patiently next to the cart I had pushed up to the gates. The guards looked me over and I sensed that common feeling of intimidation. My height and build did that to many men. I was easily a head taller than the tallest of them. A sailor’s life isn’t easy and is very physically taxing, it isn’t for many. I thrived on the physicality of it. I grew strong on it. The soldiers postured and I did my best to appear nonthreatening. All I wanted was to meet the weaver, give her canlı casino the letter, and return to my life and the sea.
The soldier returned with a young woman with him. She motioned for me to follow her and the soldiers stood aside and let me in. I pushed the cart in front of me and the regular squeak pushing things from awkward to silly. She laughed and looked over her shoulder at me. Her olive complexion and long dark hair made me wonder if she was in fact the weaver. Were there that many Greek girls working within the confines of the palace? She never spoke but lead me through the labyrinthian halls of the palace from the rear servant’s entrance to her rooms.
“If you could carry the boxes into my room and leave the cart outside please.” She finally said and it was clear she was the woman I was seeking.
“Where do you want the boxes?” I asked and she pointed to a worktable.
“I want to inspect them, though Saul’s wares are always of the finest quality.” She informed me. “I don’t recognize you. Have you been working for Saul long?”
“I don’t work for him. I agreed to push his cart to the palace so that I could meet you.” I said and her expression changed.
“Me? Why on earth did you wish to see me?”
“I have a letter from you sister.” I informed her and reached into my jacket and removed it. “Will you accept it?”
“Of course, I will.” She said taking the letter from me. As I continued to move the boxes from the cart to the table, she pressed her delicate finger against the wax seal at the back of the envelope and broke it. She dumped the remnants of the wax into a bin. She unfolded the letter and read it as I continued to work. “My sister calls me home.”
“I hope it is good news,” I said watching her expression closely. Clearly, she wasn’t sure. “I am sorry. It is none of my business.”
“Do not berate yourself,” she replied the letter clenched tightly in her grasp. “I knew that one day it would happen. You are a sailor are you not.”
“I am lady.” I replied and she blushed.
“I am no lady. I am a mere seamstress.” She replied.
“I am called Vasilios, though my crew name me Amaranthus after the white flower.” I offered finding her beautiful and lovely.
“I am the weaver here. The English take their names from their occupations quite often. What would you name me?” She asked being decidedly enigmatic.
“Calista.” I replied without hesitating. “It means…”
“Most beautiful,” she stated blushing. “Bold and handsome,” she declared looking at the letter again. “You don’t read, do you?”
“I can read the Arabic alphabet quite clearly,” I told her. “My ships nautical charts are written in that language. I speak half a dozen quite competently and perhaps a dozen much less so.”
“Fairly spoken, I meant no disrespect. I must take ship but the winter is a poor time to do so. I know I am asking much, but could you aid me in the spring so that I could return home?” She asked and I felt a swell of emotion.
“I would be honored,” I said feeling my cheeks flushing. She didn’t miss this and commented upon it. “Perhaps I could find you work here at the palace for the next few months until the weather improves.”
“I am not afraid of work,” I said and then noticed how she reacted to the word fear. “What is it?”
“Everything is going to change,” She said her lip quivering. “Why are you smiling?”
“I am a sailor. I live in on a vessel that is contantly in motion, moving, and changing. I find myself uncomfortable on the shore where all is still and stagnant.” I explained and she smiled. “So, you see, we fear the opposites.”
“We do indeed. Let me… Your Majesty!” She exclaimed as she dropped to her knees. I did likewise without ever looking properly as the well-dressed man who had entered without a word.
“It is all over the palace that my favorite seamstress has an unusual visitor,” he said in his noticeably Germanic accent and then turned to face me. “It is true, who are you young man?”
“I am a humble sailor… your Majesty.” I said mimicking the young lady.
“I see. What is your business in the palace?”
“I came here to deliver a letter from your seamstress’ family. I was moved at the urgency of the matter.” I replied as I stared at his feet. I had no experience dealing with nobles.
“You have my thanks humble sailor,” the king remarked. “Did I hear you were seeking work until the spring? You shall have it. You appear quite sturdy and strong. I will put you to task and pay you well. If you have earned the young lady’s favor you have earned mine.” He said and I glanced up to see the elderly man smile weakly. Was he ill? I hoped not, but his generosity was most welcome.
“Thank you, your Majesty.” I replied.
“What is it Heinrich?” The king asked as he left us to speak with a well-dressed man in the hall.
We were forgotten and to be honest I was thankful. The weaver closed the door once the king had left the room. She pointed to a spot near a wooden table kaçak casino and chair. The surface of the table was worn and seen better days. I did as she bid and stood there. She followed me over and picked up a thick piece of string that had faded red dots along its length. This was her measuring device and soon my arms were straight out from my body. She took a dozen or so measurements.
“We can’t have you walking about the royal palace as you are. I have enough scrap material to last you until spring. Mr. Gillette will be in shortly to take you to the dormitory. That is where you will sleep and keep your things.”
“May I ask a question?” I asked and she smiled. “I’ll take that as a yes. What is your name?”
“That depends upon who you speak to. Their royal majesties call me the royal tailor. Mr. Gillette, the keeper of order within the confines of the palace, calls me little one for my diminutive height and build. The rest of the staff, cooks, maids, and others call me the weaver. You may call me Clotho.” She rambled happily. “We are both kinsmen, calling Greece our home.”
“The last was clearly obvious at your beauty, olive skin, and ebony hair.” I blurted out and she blushed.
“You find me beautiful?” She asked as someone knocked on the door. “Come in Mr. Gillette.”
“Witch,” the man declared as he entered. “You must be the ‘white bull’ his majesty mentioned.”
“I am,” I chuckled nearly missing the shocked expression on Clotho’s lovely features.
“Take him,” Clotho said. “I’ll have proper clothes for him ere the sun sets tomorrow.”
“Aye Little One,” Gillette said and gestured for me to follow. “Take care of yourself. I see why she calls you the great white bull.” He commented once we were out in the hall.
“You’ll see.” He responded as we intersected with one of the maids who had an armload of clothing. She followed and another joined us, and she was carrying towels. A third caught up and informed Mr. Gillette that everything was prepared. “Good. Excellent. Well done everyone.” He said praising their efforts. We reached the rear entrance and all of us stepped out to where four buckets of water waited. “Strip.” Gillette ordered. “Hot water is on the way. Ladies form a line if you please.”
“Yes Mr. Gillette!” They sang in chorus.
I stood naked on the cobble stone square as the first bucket of hot water was passed from the open door to one maid, to the next, and so on until Mr. Gillette handed up the bucket to me and I dunked it over my head. I shivered when the December breeze caressed my hot skin forming wisps of smoke rising up into the fading sky. The second bucket was offered up and I repeated the process. I was then offered a bar of soap and a brush to scrub off the dirt. I lathered up shivering as I did so.
“Good. The stink is gone. Bring the rest.” He called out and as I waited, I spied a glint of a reflection of glass off the setting sun. It was a woman holding opera glasses watching me. Two buckets of hot water later followed by four ice cold and I dried off and rushed inside to dress. The clothes fit if barely. I was accustomed to ill fitting garments. “You must be the tallest fellow I’ve ever met.”
“I get that a lot,” I replied. “Sir. Six feet and seven inches and fourteen stone in weight, if you were curious.”
“Let’s get you to the barber, your hair and beard are unpresentable.” Gillette directed. “Come on, after that we’ll get you fed.”
I followed down the labyrinthian halls to a room on the western side of the palace. The room was crimson lit by the dying sun. An elderly man lit candles to properly illuminate the chamber. He pointed at a high-backed chair.
“You are a big one,” the old man rasped. “Let us get that nest under control. How did it get so bad?”
“I am a sailor. Windswept and salt stained I am a son of the sea.” I laughed as I sat.
“I’ve never worked on a child of the ocean before,” he chuckled. “Let’s see.” He continued as he ran his lean fingers through my hair and beard. “Amazing, I think I might salvage something here.”
I closed my eyes and let the man work. I winced when a comb or brush snagged itself in my hair or beard. Otherwise he hummed a soft tune and I drifted off. The door closing woke me. My eyes snapped open and the room was dimly lit. The sun was set, and the drapes covered the windows. The candles had burned down to near nubs and while I couldn’t see her, I caught her seductive scent. I could smell her perfume and her musk. She must be the woman that watched me wash up.
“I’ve asked about you,” she said in her native German. “They called you Amaranthus after the white rose. I see why.”
“You watched me.” I stated as the flames of the candles fluttered as she moved behind me.
“I did indeed. There aren’t many men like you. I like exotic men.” She purred her scent stronger and closer now. “Your German is excellent by the way.”
“Thank you, lady,” I replied. “Might I ask a question?”
“Ask.” She said her voice airy as she nigh on whispered.
“We are in London,” I said, and she laughed. “No disrespect you understand but why is a German noble sitting on the throne here? I am a simple man.”
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