Stories, writing

The Sea and the Swan

The agreement between Whimsy and Guinevere was simple. She was allowed passage on his ship, but due to the fact she was a Ceriph, she would be boarded in the tiny cabin where his cabin boy should have been.

That had caused a problem only once so far, but as he stared at the closed door, Whimsy knew it was about to cause another.

As it was, Whimsy hadn’t had a cabin boy for nearly a year now. After his last one had tried to kill him, he hadn’t been inclined to find another. Funny how near-death experiences did that to someone who’d long since ceased to fear death. 

The tiny room was usually where Whimsy shoved things he didn’t need often, but nevertheless required. Maps and crew agreements as well as the odds and ends from empty log books to quills and logs from picking up supplies on shore.  

Now he needed a map. The Dying Isles weren’t far, but navigating the rocks surrounding them were hazardous without one of the rare maps. 

He needed that map. 

That map was in the same room where Guinevere would hopefully be sleeping. Whimsy wasn’t sure if she actually required sleep like most mortal beings. So little was known about Ceriphs. They preferred flying to reach their destinations. 

That ability however, had been stolen from Guinevere. Her wings had been cut off when she was outcast. 

All for the unfortunate act of falling in love with a human. 

He’d just go in quietly, he decided. She should be asleep, he hadn’t heard any sort of sounds from her in a while. She wasn’t out on deck either, he’d checked in the hopes she would be.  

There was no hope for it and he knew it. Asleep or not, he needed that map or they’d risk running into the rocks surrounding the Dying Isles. Already his crew was concerned. 

He should have found the blasted thing earlier.

He knocked, softly, and heard no response. Pressing his ear to the door he listened. There was no sound from inside, save the gentle creaking of the wood around him and the sound of water slapping against the ship’s sides.

If she was asleep he’d only have to be quiet. He knew where the map should be. There was a small shelf in there, filled mostly with his books. The map would be in one of those. 

Easing the door open, Whimsy checked the bed first, and felt his breath catch.

Guinevere was indeed asleep, lying on her stomach. For once her back was bare and he saw the scars. Her wings had not been cut perfectly. Rather, one had been cut just a little closer than the other, leaving just enough muscle and bone that if she wanted, Guinevere could move it . The feathers growing on most of the stumps were down, useless for anything but keeping warm. A long scar slashed up her back, another mark of the sword used to cut her from the sky.

And yet, she lay on her stomach. Part of Whimsy knew it was habit still carried over from when she’d had wings. Sleeping on her back would have been a challenge. Sleeping on her stomach with a pillow under her chest to elevate her would have been perfect.

For the first time since he’d met her, he was also struck by how serene her face was. When she was awake, there was always the faintest smile on her face as though she knew something no one else did. 

Repose brought a gentleness to her expression. Whimsy could see how easy it was for someone to fall for the delicate lips, the thick lashes. Here and here alone, the etherealness of her heritage showed.

“Are you going to continue staring or did you want to join me?” 

Guinevere’s eyes never opened but her words were enough to jolt Whimsy. He cleared his throat. “I need a map from in here.” 

“Third level down,” she said. “Second book to the right. The one with the green binding.” 

He’d already started crossing to the shelf when he stopped. “You know where all my maps are?” 

“It’s a useful talent,” she said. “I don’t even need to read it, just sort of let my hands hover of it and I can pick up most information.” 

Whimsy moved towards it the shelf, retrieving the book and flipping through it. The map he needed was indeed inside and he slid the slim paper out, tracing it for a moment. “Do you do that with everything?” he asked and she opened her eyes finally.

They were blue. Blue as the sea on a stormy day. Another reason he could see how easy it was to fall for her. 

“No,” she said. “I just like maps. I didn’t pick up anything else.” 

“Disappointing,” he said. “I could have a use for that.” 

“A lot of people could,” she said. “They have a terrible tendency to develop awful illnesses though.” 

The warning was clear. Guinevere knew he couldn’t die, not until he’d found and restored the heart stolen from his chest. Poison would make him unbearably ill. A gaping wound would eventually heal on its own, though he’d still feel every bit of pain for it.

And for a Ceriph who knew more than a few ways of magic, his curse was all too easy to twist against him.

Without really thinking about it, Whimsy crossed towards the bed. Guinevere sat up at last, holding the sheets up to her chest. Of course she would have abandoned the coverings she wore during the day. Though he knew she’d adjusted them, they rubbed at the few feathers she had left. 

Although speaking of feathers. 

Whimsy reached out, pulling the fluffy bit of down out of her dark hair. She took it when he held it out to her. “A lot of people pay good money for Ceriph feathers,” she said.

“They pay for a lot of things,” he said. “That feather does me no good and you should be asleep.” 

“You look like you could use some sleep yourself.” 

He smiled and tapped his chest, where his heart should have been beating. “A luxury denied,” he said. 

She opened her lips, almost as if she wanted to say something, before her attention came to the feather in her hand.  

“Something on your mind?” he asked.

“Perhaps,” Guinevere answered and held her hand up to him, the feather resting on her palm. “If you cannot sleep, at least let me keep you company.” 

He shouldn’t, and he knew it. Whimsy had not kept his ship and crew for as long as he had by letting women like Guinevere make him offers like this. 

Rather than walking away, he set the map on the trunk where she kept her things and took her hand, letting her pull him into the bed. 

She turned so she could straddle his waist as he lay back, still keeping the sheet over her torso. 

“There seems to be a lot on your mind tonight,” she noted. She never let go of his hand and he laughed, eyes closing. 

“There’s always a lot on my mind. That’s the danger of never being able to sleep. Your mind can’t sort out what can be put away for later.” 

She was silent for a long moment before the faintest smile curled on her lips. Not the one that seemed so smug, but a gentler one. One that he almost thought might have been a true smile.

“Perhaps you don’t need sleep for that. You’d be surprised what the mind can do when you allow it to relax.” 

“And I suppose you’re the one to help me relax?” 

Guinevere smiled. This time, Whimsy had no doubt as she slid her fingers from his, trailing one nail up his wrist and to the cufflinks with the J on them. This was a real smile from her. It bloomed on her lips slowly, but brought a happiness to her eyes he hadn’t realized was missing until then. “What does the J stand for?” 

“Depends on who you ask. Joker, Jailbird, Jackal. A lot of things.” 

“I’m asking you.” 

“That’s not one answer you’re getting just now. Besides, you haven’t answered my question.” 

Her stormy-sea eyes flicked up to his face. “Which question is that?” 

“Are you intending to help me relax, Guinevere?” 

He liked that genuine smile when it lit up her face. He even liked the tiny chuckle that slipped from her throat as she finally let go of the sheet to stroke a hair back off his face.

He liked that smile even more half an hour later when he lay with her over his bare chest, her eyes half-closing while he smoothed a hand through her hair. The sea rocked the ship under them and he timed each pass of his hand to accompany the motions of the sea. 

Every blink took her a moment longer than the last to open her eyes again. Whimsy couldn’t keep from laughing.

“You need sleep,” he said.

“I’m supposed to be keeping you company,” she said and almost made to sit up.

Whimsy laughed however, sliding out of the bed and reaching back to smooth her hair down once more. “You’ve done more than enough of that,” he promised and paused just long enough to offer her one more tender kiss, catching her smile on his own lips for a moment. 

She sighed a little as she settled again while he pulled his clothes on right. He paused as he moved to pull his coat back on and glanced at her again. 

Guinevere was nearly asleep, though she was still studying him with a faint smile on her face and half-hooded eyes. 

He inhaled a little as he pulled his coat on. “Guinevere,” he said softly.

Her eyes opened fully. “Yes, Captain?” 

“The J. It stands for Jove. It’s my first name.” 

That smile must have been what did it. More than the ethereal looks, more than anything else, it was the smile he was falling for now. The same smile her previous lover must have seen a hundred times if not more. 

And yet, there she was, eyes too heavy to keep open anymore. He smiled to himself a little before he collected his map and stepped out.

They would arrive on the smallest of the Dying Isles, the place called Shadowgale, and she would need to step ashore in search of her own things.  She practiced magic, yes, but her magic was not the bright cheery thing of other Ceriphs. She sought a way to reverse the corruption and pollution brought on the land by darker magic, by over-harvesting natural resources of magic. 

For the price of her company and assistance with finding his heart again, Captain Jove Whimsy would get her to the Dying Isles and back home again. That was the agreement he made with himself as he headed off to find his navigator. 

Himself, and the tiny feather resting in his coat pocket.  

by A.J. Helms


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