Written for the Narnia Fic Exchange 2014's Madness Round, for tungsten_illusionist, whose prompt spoke to me on an almost spiritual level. I didn't know I shipped this so hard until they mentioned 'Pirates of the Caribbean' in the same box as 'Susan Pevensie', and this is now my OTP and no one will ever take it away from me!

Besides this being my first crossover ever, I wrote this in a drastically different format than I usually write my fics, so I hope it makes sense anyway. The poem excerpts are from 'Anywhere Out of the World', 'Her Hair' and 'Be Drunk', all by Charles Baudelaire and all of which fit so perfectly with this story that I still can't believe it!

Also, this takes place before The Horse and His Boy and in between Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.


is it then that you have reached such a degree of lethargy that you acquiesce in your sickness? If so, let us

flee to lands that are analogues of death.

He swings into her life with a strut that is oddly graceful, soot-stained rings dangling haphazardly on his fingers in a way that almost seems to disrupt his balance, a hat clutched tightly in his unwashed grasp. She notices his eyes first; notices how dark they are.

Her people fall back with confused, slightly frightened expressions, because this creature is so utterly different than anything they have ever seen, its hair in long thick clumps spattered with color and a series of unrecognizable accessories stuffed into a sack drawn by an apprehensive satyr; it made a loud noise, Highness, like bottled fire it is. And Susan keeps her knees carefully set one over the other, delicate fingers intertwined, the heaving weight of a golden crown lined with rubies grounding her against the hard structure of the throne.

He slurs his words and demands to know immediately who the owner of this castle-thing is, and she wonders, not for the last time, if he's anywhere near as inane as he pretends to be. There's an odd mix of exasperation and amusement pushing authoritative words out of her mouth as she demands his name, and it's laced with utter perplexity at the absurdity of his bow followed by his insistent declaration of his name and rank, as if she was somehow supposed to know him.

Her people forget their woes and concerns for the next half-hour, crowding around him curiously, though still decidedly wary. He has a tendency to pull bystanders into his expositions, his hands waving in the air as if to physically illustrate the strikes and blows of circumstance, and it's an odd web of far-fetched tales and unintelligible remarks that he spins around his ultimate request for a ship with which to depart.

I don't have a ship to give, she replies when he's fallen silent, and he fixes her with a stare of stricken disbelief.

Awful waste of a harbor then, he says, waving an arm in the seashore's general direction. Not much sense in having one, then, if you ask me. Bit of a waste of space.

She informs him bluntly of the fact that Narnia owes him nothing, and ignores his attempted conspiratorial glance at their audience and his plead of I'm sure they love to have me, while her eyes scan his grimy knee-high boots and the strange assortment of beads he's woven into his hair and beard. She inquires as to where he's from and only gets a line of what she quickly identifies as lies, followed by a but I'm a man of the sea.

The strange lilt of his voice does strange things to her mind, and she dismisses him soon after, feeling her joints stiff with tension as he disappears through the door escorted by two unfortunate satyrs. The hedgehogs seem to have taken a liking to him, and the badgers offer space in their burrow along with the promise of a fine meal. She slowly comes to realize that they don't think he's quite human; and honestly, she can't blame them: his heavy jacket is unlike any she's seen, even in Galma, and though the fabric of his sash is lightly reminiscent of Calormen, the way he bites his words as they escape through his gold-tainted teeth is vastly different from the eloquence the Southerners are renowned for. But there's something about the striking intelligence he can't help exuding through those eyes lined with Tarkheena-like black paste that grips her tightly and won't let her go hours after he's gone. She knows she's heard his accent before, suspects she may be able to read the tattoos that line his inner wrist and hide beneath the heavy rings he carries on his fingers, and the security with which she knows this unsettles her.

we shall be able to take long baths of darkness, while for our
amusement the aurora borealis shall send us its rose-coloured rays that are like the reflection of Hell's own
fireworks

He is ferociously confident.

Infuriating, irritating, yet undeniably amusing. She learns to expect to find him lurking at the back of the hall while she attends to the distress of the needy, his fingers curled over increasingly expensive bottles of wine. She knows he dabbles between mead from Archenland and plum wine imported from the Lone Islands, and she's not entirely sure where he gets such a variety but suspects it has something to do with the wild dryad flowers that are sometimes weaved into the ends of his braids.

The air in the castle is hot this time of year, and she dislikes the stuffy sensation of crowds amassing in the room, the heavy weight of her crown tangling roughly in her hair, the thin fabric of her garment inescapably stifling as she sits for hours negotiating treaties and settling arguments. And she misses Peter and Edmund and Lucy desperately, childishly wishing that Terebinthia had not needed them and that they could have left the problem with the Northern giants unresolved, if only for a few more months.

His presence in the castle irks her because he has nothing to gain from it. If you absolutely must, then wait until the High King returns and brings with him a ship. Then, perhaps, we may negotiate.

She doesn't believe a word of his claims to fame and fortune in whatever lands he comes from, but secretly hopes the wait of over a month will soon exhaust him and turn his attentions elsewhere. Meanwhile, she tells herself that she'd rather have him in close proximity than wandering drunk into Ettinsmoor where he's bound to create havoc.

And when the room empties and only a few courtiers are left, he ambles towards her throne and sits on the steps leading up to the dais with thorough disregard for courtesy or deference. Instead, he twirls a bottle between his fingers, lined with earthy brown lines, and grudgingly admits that Narnian wine is good, quickly adding that it lacks the delectable roughness of fine Caribbean rum, and there's a wistfulness to his tone that she knows still doesn't quite justify the sudden, faint flare of recognition the foreign word causes in her chest. She is left trying desperately to grasp the distant lines of memories she feels dance just out of reach.

She knows it's not really appropriate, or befitting of a Queen's station, to have a rugged pirate –because she knows he's a pirate, regardless of his assurances that he's a respectable man who was wrongfully kidnapped; she knows a pirate when she sees one– sitting near her throne and engaging in a conversation which is decidedly lacking in Your Majestys and My Ladys. She can't quite help leaning back in her seat and watching him flail about with that wild, if perfectly calculated, manner of his. He smells strongly of seawater and Narnian wine, which isn't entirely enticing but feels strangely exotic mixed with something else she can't quite identify. And presently she doesn't even stop him when he leans against the throne, one elbow resting idly against its back as he looks down at her, talking, always talking incessantly, and it seems he never tires.

So, who wears the other… pointy thing? He asks, the fingers of his left hand waggling just above her crown, and she jerks her head back with a steady glare.

I beg your pardon? She raises an eyebrow, in doing so reminding him of the armed centaurs that linger just beyond the pillars, and that she is a Queen while he is a landlocked pirate with no ship to sail. His fingers remain mere centimeters away from the golden jewel on her head, but he doesn't dare touch it.

Well, there's more than one of these, he says, gesturing to the thrones on either side of hers. He pretends to be unaware of the straightness with which she sits, as if there were no such thing as rank or respectability barring an intimate friendship between them. He sways slightly while he speaks, his back never quite a straight line, and she wonders absentmindedly if it comes as a result of years on deck with the floor swaying beneath him. So I assume there's a ratio of one to one when it comes to pointy things and shiny chairs.

You mean crowns, she states almost needlessly, because she's come to learn that he'll avoid using the right words for a thing even when he knows nearly a dozen synonyms for it. She knows he can't be of noble blood, but there's something about the way he words his sentences, always well-constructed, that assures her that grammatical errors are more of an intentional joke to him than an honest mistake. He nods at her response with a look of distaste.

My brother Peter is the High King, she begins, and decides against reminding him that she's mentioned Peter before. She can tell, even as she pronounces the words, that the dark eyes that stare down at her with innocent curiosity are hiding a more sinister, if ultimately harmless, intention. She knows that for all his playful grins and stumbling twirls across the hall, he is not a fool.

As it is, he looks alarmed and sways away from her, elbow slipping off her throne. When she asks what worries him, he responds Nothing a bit too quickly, expression slightly disturbed, raising his hands in the air in some mock polite salute. Not my place to judge; love is love, is it not? Do continue.

I'm not married to him, if that's what you think, she snaps, but can't help a twitch in her lips. He's not the first to reach that quick and mistaken conclusion.

Oh, well, I did think that sort of thing was usually frowned upon somewhat, but don't let conventionalities stop you, he advises her with a sort of crazed enthusiasm. He slips swiftly between emotions, never leaving anything behind, and it's hard for her to tell what he's truly feeling when he hides it behind his entrancingly entertaining mask of madness.

She introduces her siblings quickly, well aware that it's impossible for him to have lived a week in Narnia already and not know such basic facts. She answers his questions and tells herself that it has nothing to do with the passing mentions of things like poker and India and British that send a strange, shivering surge of recognition through her.

She explains about Aslan. A Lion, he states.

You must think us strange.

He doesn't look at her, his eyes straying to the sun's heated rays glimmering on the ocean water outside the window. I've seen stranger, he says.

the sun only grazes the earth obliquely, and the slow alternation of light and darkness suppresses variety and
increases monotony, that half-nothingness

He jumps up among piles of hay in the stables one morning while she's preparing to ride out towards the Dancing Lawn, and she learns that he has forsaken the badgers' home; rejected their offer from the very first, even, though they're quite a merry band of lads, a delightful lot, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of their company and everything to do with the stretching space, which does ghastly things to one's scapula, I've heard. Instead, he's taken to the stables, giving abstract discourses to the unsuspecting horses, a bale of hay tucked carelessly into his bandana. Susan muses that he might not realize that the horses are dumb beasts, and then reflects that he may not entirely believe that the Talking Beasts actually talk, because there's a slightly dizzy grin beneath his beard as he watches the moles amble by, occasionally engaging in heated, nonsensical debates over ridiculous matters, and she gets the feeling that he may in fact believe that they are all a product of some disjointed hallucination.

He catches her murmuring words of comfort to her horse that evening, her hair somewhat disheveled, a circlet replacing the heavy crown she wears inside, though it anchors her to the ground with the same unyielding weight. She is giggling like a child as the horse nuzzles her face, and her laughter stops in its tracks, her mouth freezing in its delighted, carefree smile as she feels a mile-long gap stretching in between herself and Queen Susan The Gentle; because there is nothing queenly in the way she has kicked her boots off to free herself from their discomfort, standing barefoot in the hay, and there is nothing gentle in the fierce gaze she is locked in with the pirate, his eyes dark and unreadable while she feels him weighing her vulnerability, his fingers devoid of their customary bottle and a decidedly sober glint to his eyes as he leans against the stable door.

She points this out to him, and he gives her a grin that's bright and savage in its complacence. I'm always drunk, love, he says, and it's the first time he calls her that. And she can't quite bring herself to stop him or the words that escape his lips as if he's reciting poetry which again brings echoes of recollection to mind. On wine, on poetry or on virtue, as you wish.

The days refuse to pick up pace and the corridors are lonely, devoid of Lucy's bell-like laughter and the teasing banter of her brothers. She often wanders forlornly through the hallways, eyes drawn to the horizon in a subconscious hope to see the Splendor Hyaline's silken sails fluttering in the wind, the swan's head pointing towards home. And she berates herself for thinking like a child; it is not the first time she has been left alone to watch over the Cair and it will not be the last, but perhaps it's the stuffy summer air that threatens to drive her mad with longing for things she can't quite explain.

She finds herself lingering at the window just above the kitchens, if only to catch a glimpse of his meanderings among the dryads, with whom he flirts shamelessly, and the way he remains consistently uneasy around goats. But there's a certain frivolity to his saunter and his endless wordplay, while the way in which he turns to look over the cliff, eyes straining towards the Eastern horizon where the sea's ripples seem to merge with the endless azure of the sky, is completely, utterly genuine.

For what feels like the hundredth time, she asks him what brought him to Narnia. She's not entirely sure how long he's wandered on Narnian soil, because his story wavers in its details, crumbles in its validity, and all she ever manages to pull from the jumbled assortment of blasted fishface, sneaking yellow-haired kissing pirate wench, and perpetual and virulent lack of discipline upon my vessel which sound half like curse-words and half like the ramblings of a madman, is the constant, unyielding insistence of I need a ship.

It's been two weeks, and she practices archery alone in the field just outside the palace walls; it's been years since there has been need for an instructor, and indeed there is no one left who can shoot an arrow straighter than she can. She keeps a steady eye on her target, and her hand doesn't tremble in the slightest; not even when he invades her line of vision, taking absurdly long steps over the grass, his faded shirt of yellowish linen fluttering sharply against his body in the afternoon breeze.

This is more like it, he remarks, a smirk teasing at his mouth. He's dangerously close to her but doesn't seem to notice, gesturing amply towards her with one arm. The get-up suits you.

She scowls and pulls the bowstring taut. I have no need for your compliments, she replies with more coldness than she feels, but he is immune to the frost lingering at the edges of her voice. He's seen her loving kindness with her subjects, and perhaps that's why her frigid disposition doesn't faze him.

Can't stop me, love, he pronounces with an impudent wink that she feels rather than sees as she lets the arrow loose. He's moved, now, and she finds him staring at her, his smile in stark contrast to the gravity in his eyes. Queen Susan, he says with pointed politeness that worries her more than his brazen remarks. I need me ship.

Well, a ship, he adds swiftly, a self-correction so quick that it's almost as if he's committed an unpardonable offense. I need a ship. A nice one, hopefully, but I can make do with a mediocre crew; I'll take a few hairy ones, even, he adds, as if in compromise. But I'm in desperate need to procure a ship, savvy?

She insists, again, that she has none, and invites him rather acidly to find any she might be hiding in Cair Paravel's dungeons. But he spends the next hour or so fluctuating between spouting cheeky comments and relentlessly insisting that she use her many resources in willing, rich ponces with a fancy for your dainty hand to acquire a ship for him.

Finally, he falls silent as she is preparing to leave, slinging her bow over her shoulder. He kicks an empty bottle over the grass, if only to watch it roll up the slight rise in the ground and then fall back onto the tip of his scuffed boot. He eyes the exhilaration in her expression as a strong gust of wind blows her hair behind her, leaving her breathless, and the way her bare toes curl into the bright green of the pasture.

You weren't made for this, love, he says, and there's almost tenderness in his voice. She opens her eyes and his gaze is imperturbable, braids fluttering in the wind, shirt unfastened at the center of his chest and blowing about him as if it were just as alive as he is. She asks him what he means by that.

Living here, locked up in a stuffy castle with… thrones and politics and people with shiny boots. He spoke the words with distaste, his eyes fixating on her fingers tracing the strap of her quiver, her cheeks stained pink from the wind. You ache for a life beyond these shores, saltwater around you, freedom in the air…

Later, she remembers his words but not her own response. She only knows that he described in brief, halting language –not because he could not find the words, but because he wanted each one to mean exactly as much as he intended– what she could only later recall as a feeling. Something about the sound of the sails flapping in the wind, the creak of the floorboards beneath one's feet, the cresting of the waves, and the wind, always pushing onwards, onwards, onwards to freedom

He turns and there it is again, the wanton longing in his dark eyes as he looks towards the distant line of the ocean, and she suddenly realizes why he prefers living in the stables: from there he has a clearer view of the sea.

since you are so fond of stillness, coupled with the show of movement

perhaps you would find some diversion in that land whose image you have so often admired

The paperwork is endless, it seems, parchment nearly causing blisters on the edges of her hands from the scratchy, dry friction. She keeps a sweet smile on her lips and kindly words at the ready for her subjects, and one by one all leave well cared-for, while her bones grow rigid on the throne, the burden of the crown almost a physical presence in her mind even while sleeping, and she runs her eyes over the hastily written letters Lucy sends her, for they are busy trying to appease the changing moods of the island nobles and hardly have time for ordinary correspondence. She reads through long lists of provisions and trains her gaze on the long lines of Narnians awaiting her aid, and she can't help a smile at the childish mischief the pirate seems to cause to erupt all around him. It's hard to remember that he is far from harmless as the fauns playfully tie him horizontally to a high branch as punishment for attempting to steal some trinket or another.

She warns him against crossing Bacchus, all too aware of the danger that lurks behind the god's honeyed laughter. He dismisses her words with a casual tilt of his bottle and a grin that doesn't quite spread entirely over his mouth. You needn't worry, love, he says, and at this point she has fully given up on protesting at the term of endearment. The gods and I are and have always been thick as thieves.

He hesitates briefly to add an almost somewhere in his sentence, and then proceeds to assault her with requests to be returned his effects, which she assumes must refer to the contents of the sack she has confiscated upon his arrival. And No, I won't have you harming my people with your strange contraptions. To which he replies with a huff that more resembles a three-year-old than the fully grown man that he is.

Two nights later, she lingers in the moonlit corridor just within the confinements of her private wing of the castle, a nightgown of thin satin enveloping her body, though her ankles are exposed as she places one behind the other, leaning at the edge of the large window towards the moon which seems almost unrealistically swollen against the night sky.

She is not thinking coherent thoughts, her mind having reached that petrified state where it no longer knows comfort from discomfort after prolonged exposure to its suffering. She hears the slight creak of the door as it opens, the scrape of its edge against the stone floor sending a chill down her neck, and she spins sideways to catch sight of his figure, only half a head taller than her, emerging from the shadows of the corridor beyond.

Too surprised at his appearance to bother ordering him away, she watches him in a sort of disturbed fascination as he traipses into view, and he is drunk, isn't he, his brown skin looking pale in the silver light, his footsteps languid yet rather unsteady as he makes his way towards her.

You really should get better guards, he points out as a response to the questions she hasn't voiced yet. They're terribly gullible in the face of ventriloquism.

She doesn't even try to understand him, and realizes that she had to be a fool to assume that he wouldn't wander into her way eventually, unwitting or not. The floor is cool, they are utterly alone in the abandoned corridor, and the crashing of the waves outside drowns out any other sound of reality.

So when he offers her his bottle, red liquid swirling against its insides and releasing the pungent sweet aroma of the wild Narnian forests, she takes it, and coupled with that scent he carries about him which she still can't quite place, that otherworldly fragrance of an origin she suspects she may never discover, the heavy taste of the drink makes for a nourishment she did not know she needed.

Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish, he murmurs beside her, and his eyes are wide windows before her, their contents shadowed but there, as the poetry escapes him effortlessly. So as not to be the martyred slaves of time.

And she's not quite sure how she manages to tie the childish, floundering madman that forces squirrels to repeat his tongue-twisters to the soulful figure that now stands beside her, an elbow on the stone windowsill, lips slightly parted, the slight swaying of his body and the meaningless curl of his fingers forgotten before the tightness around his eyes, but she does. And she sees them both, even as he turns to her to exclaim in a quiet voice, his index pointing to the curve of the windowsill, eyebrows raised, I wonder how many monkeys you could dangle over the edge.

I don't trust you, she answers, and somehow it's a valid response, because he grins at her, the gold in his teeth flickering between his lips, and she's suddenly acutely aware of the sheerness of her nightgown and the way his arm is pressed against hers, his skin hot beneath his shirt.

I'd heard of you before, he muses, dark eyes glittering in a way she doesn't dare to decipher; she knows propriety won't allow the way his eyes keep dragging down from her eyes, the almost imperceptible way in which he is edging nearer, or the way in which she wants to let her fingers trace those words tattooed onto the inside of his wrist and the roughness of his skin… but she's a Queen, and she does not care for propriety; not when his voice is a soft slur and she can feel his breath on her face, and almost, barely taste the spice and the salt and that intoxicating scent she knows she's smelled before, if only she could remember… The Fair Barbarian Queen, they said. Eyes like pools of honey and tresses dark as night.

She has gathered that he has been to Calormen from the strange imitations of their bows he's produced before, but he confirms it with those words and she smiles at him coolly, face upturned towards his. And? She asks. Were they right?

No, he answers, and his grin widens ever-so-slightly at her swiftly masked surprise. His voice is achingly slow, gravelly yet soft, slurred; and he is drunk, oh, so drunk, though she's not entirely sure on what. No, love, he repeats. Not as a Queen on a cold throne. I think you'd be at your best lying on the beach, with sand in your hair and wild desire in your eyes.

And it feels almost as if he has physically lifted the invisible weight from her head, curing the secret bruises the crown has left on her scalp, and she throws caution to the wind as she leans forward slightly, hair tumbling forward with her like a heavy curtain. Desire? She asks. For what?

He is still holding her gaze as he sets the bottle down, what little is left sloshing against the glass, and the crash of the distant waves seems to echo his voice as his finger releases the edge of the windowsill and lingers infinitely closer to her hand.

She is as still as a statue, but suddenly he is behind her, lips grazing her hair. I need a ship, he says, and she is well-used to those words by now, but he has woven them into their conversation so seamlessly that she has nothing to say, not now, not while his lips trace a single lock down, down just below her earlobe…

I need a ship, he repeats. A ship to find me ship. My ship, Susan, he says, and her name, breathed against the corner of her jaw, does strange things to her heart. Her hand has wandered into his fingers, pressed against the stone, her fingers tracing the creases around his rings, the tattoos that she can make out only faintly in the night's shadows. Do you know what a ship is, love?

She turns, and then the cold night air pushes against her back, and his lips are a mere moment away from hers, his dark eyes gleaming, and she inhales the scent that brings about all those words she knows she has forgotten somehow, pistol and Spaniard and commodore, not Narnian, not Narnian, and she is intoxicated.

It's a dangerous thing to do, she murmurs as his lips brush against hers, his breath curling over her tongue. Seducing a Queen.

He grins saucily, teeth grazing her lower lip. Oh, but I've always had a penchant for the dangerous.

They are there for what feels like hours. When she finally draws away there is a smirk on his lips that she shares, and his fingers are curled against the soft skin of her wrist, his rings warm to the touch.

Freedom, he says simply, eyes straying to the horizon that is melted into the sky, answering both her question and his own.

this city is on the sea-shore; they say that it is built of marble
a landscape made of light and mineral, and liquid to reflect them

Peter sends her a letter explaining the extension of their stay in Terebinthia, and she explains the situation carefully. She is torn, now –except she isn't. She has no ship to give, and she has no intention of allowing him a chance onto the Splendor. She suspects he knows it; she does not know what he thinks of it.

He's going slightly mad, she can tell. He is land-locked. He wanders through the grounds aimlessly, pacing restlessly, not even bothering to pretend to have a purpose, and his fingers thrum against the neck of the bottle like he's thinking of strangling it. There's a distant, crazed glint in his eyes that makes her rather wary, and while the Narnians take him on small fishing-boat rides, the wild look with which he returns screams of longing for the open sea. His talk is still incessant, but at times it seems to be restricted to himself as he repeats the word Locker with increasing regularity, his left hand curled into a tight fist.

Four weeks into his stay they wander down onto the beach sometime at sunset, while Narnia readies herself for sleep. She kicks her shoes off at the edge of the sand and he takes long strides in his boots on the damp ground, watching his footprints being swallowed in water behind him.

He doesn't touch her; no, she is a Queen, still, and the line of her back is always straight, her footsteps dignified, though there is more of a glow to her cheeks that does not come only from the orange-gold light of the sunset.

He knows poems that resound in her head, and she is positive that she has known them too, once. She hears him recite the verses into her hair and is well aware that the words aren't meant for her. Because there's a quiet reverence to his voice, a careful gilding to his tone that arrays each syllable with a meaning she knows no woman will ever deserve.

My subtle spirit then will know a measure

Of fertile idleness and fragrant leisure,

Lulled by the infinite rhythm of its tides

And he speaks to her of islands, of far-off lands where things so strange and unfathomable come to pass that she is left speechless; not so much by the stories –if there is anything she knows about him, it is that facts can and will be exaggerated for the benefit of the story. There's no excitement without some adjustment, he insists– but by the way in which he tells them. And she falls in love with his ship, the ship he never speaks about deliberately, but the name of which escapes him as his eyes wander the blue horizon with a yearning pain she can't help but wish she could appease, both in his heart and in her own.

She loses herself in him, briefly and yet for long hours, her skin on fire against his, his rough fingerprints engraved on every crevice, on every breath, on every moment, on every heartbeat. His beard is coarse against her skin and it makes her feel alive, salt water mingling on their tongues, thousands of scintillating particles of sand shining like entire constellations in her hair, on his skin, and she is free here, against the rocks, on the sand, at the edge of the sea.

Come with me, he finally breathes into her neck, and she's enveloped by the scent of salt and foreign lands and she can't help clinging to him tighter.

But she opens her eyes and sees the turrets of Cair Paravel rising high in the Western horizon over his shoulder, shining with blinding gold in the last rays of the setting sun, hears the distant flapping of the Narnian flag, and sees the Lion's penetrating eyes shining like stars against the steadily darkening night sky. And she doesn't answer.

He doesn't ask again.

He is gone, two days later. The stables are silent, the wine bottles untouched, the sack with his accessories mysteriously absent. She isn't really all that surprised; a bit disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised. She knows she can give him nothing; in his life there has only ever been one mistress, and he has lost her at sea.

She last sees him standing near the stable door, a fistful of hay clutched in his grip alongside his customary wine bottle –she suspects this is unintentional–, pulling a small sack of peanuts out of his pocket as he grins wickedly at her from beneath his lopsided hat.

He hands her the bottle, shaking off the hay as he does so, seemingly surprised to see it there, and bows his head in faux deference. The glass of the bottle helps cool the invisible blisters she can feel on the skin of her hands, and the weight of the crown that is still set steady on her head now weighs a bit less as he leans forwards to recite to her the words again, in that strange lilting accent of his. So as to not feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, he says and looks fiercely delighted.

She can't help a smile. But she hands the bottle back, letting her fingers linger momentarily on his skin, shaking her head, because the sun is still high in the sky and she can feel the footsteps of the multitude inside already awaiting her presence.

Wine, poetry or virtue, love, he says, and raises the bottle in a toast to the horizon.

it always seems to me that I should feel well in the place where I am not, and this question of removal is one
which I discuss incessantly with my soul.