In the years marking young master Hawkins' steady pilgrimage to manhood, he found it conducive, necessary, to fashion a face; a concealment of the deterioration of his will. An infallible expression, chiseled and etched with strict resentment and surliness. A father's impression, he remembered, had been denied him at the age of 9, too old to deny grief, sufficiently young to accept hard resignation; a mother's love, all too easily trampled when concerning adolescent despair; and the entire world laid bare for his disdain.
Cooperation would not be acquired; the young man could not be moved, and so it was, at the behest of the pompous royal's proposal, that he would turn his face to one side and snort derisively.
The hours waned.
The priceless chandelier above their heads shuddered.
The attitudes of the tried men were torn asunder under the weight of their Prince's preposterous proposition.
For the entire duration of the afternoon since, his Lordship's company had dismantled both their dignity and secured offices to give way to his demands. Presently, they presided over a littered pile of maps and courses to narrow the search surrounding Sweden's waters. They muttered to themselves, strained to indulge their predicament. For his part, the prince could only pace and dab his forehead absently.
All at once, inquiry sliced the air.
"Are we truly poised to indulge such an enterprise?" The prince's eldest brother started lowly.
All remained bowed.
"Is this what a kingdom of our benevolence has come to?" he continued, his pitch quivering.
The King's attendant dipped his wizened head and coughed into the handkerchief.
Eric himself crossed the foyer to the stained glass window, forearm bent and rested on gleaming art. For what could seem to be several moments the entire company was suspended with the weight of something beyond absurdity; leaps ahead of a country in peril; it was reason and sanity, morality and faith, all sporadically dancing in the electricity of the room; all could hear, none could reply.
"We are fortunate to be in a state of neutrality. Our imports are plentiful. Be that as it may, this kingdom has championed mediocrity from within the walls for far too long. We cannot, cannot endure another year without the promise of an heir."
Jim preened, as joyfully as the siren.
"And this," Christian speared a shaking finger at the cowering younger prince, "this scandal has doubtlessly reached the corridors. "
His regard whizzed from one mournful countenance to the next.
"Speak, you sheep!"
Grimsby, sage and support, rose.
"What you say is indisputably true. Immediate action. A course to chart. Dear Christian, beloved child, allow Eric, myself, and the young foreigner leave to sort this. A man's condition," he uttered slowly," is wise kept within bounds." He advanced on the prince, holding his gaze. For a moment a secret translation, imploring but authoritative, passed between young and old. Christian could only maintain the exchange for mere moments, before tossing himself to the side.
"I will not fight for this." His eyes shone, his brow knit.
He strode midway to the center of the study, eyeing Eric contemptuously.
"I will not fight for you."
His eyes, Jim grinned, the dog's eyes can scarcely stay in his bloomin' skull.
With this, the eldest prince fled. Attendant and his son followed suit, casting bloodless glances at their country's dimming hope before solemnly shutting the door.
The lock clicked into place; Grimsby came alive. "I don't know what you'll have us do, you foolish boy," muttered the old man, to whom, neither could guess," but action is indeed vital. Creature or no, we must have a queen."
Huffing, he turned away from them, absorbed in systematic thought. He stopped at the study's shelves, scanning the impossibly thick, leather bound volumes intently. They came to height thrice the size of him, and he craned his entire elderly frame to appraise it. He hummed to himself, an old Danish tune, becoming all at once a charming young schoolboy in the presence of collected literature. "You're in luck, Englishman," he informed with what might've been a twinge of humor. "Your very own Alexander Pope has only recently taken the liberty of translating the celebrated Odyssey to your native language. As it happens, I have it in my possession. For Eric's sake, this could prove useful."
The old man perched his foot onto a shelf for balance, extending one shaking hand to reach a topmost volume. "'Creatures of lore', indeed," he muttered, seizing it hastily; a hefty crimson text with, Jim noticed warmly, engraving in his beloved English.
"Homer's Odyssey, sir?"
"How does this serve my cause?" snapped Eric.
"Dear boy," the old man began," I'm not so sure anything could quite serve your cause. So long as the court is given the impression you are mad, it behooves us tread the outermost waters." He winked to Jim, thumbing open Homer with a licked digit. The idea that the prince's manservant could find amusement in such a predicament confounded Jim; but also, immediately warmed his heart.
This be the sort of man I can trust.
"While we're on the subject, Herre Hawkins," Grimsby spoke loudly, starting the youth, "I'd strongly advise improved conduct on your part. As before mentioned, you're no longer in Bristol. Your off-putting demeanor is an imprudent disservice. "
"I speak solidly. Given the transpirations and condition of the morning, we're in a state."
"Indeed," piped the royal, to which his charge shot a grave expression. "Indeed," he repeated quietly.
"The sirens of Anthemoessa; the island of flowers." He cleared his throat, reciting; "'First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If anyone unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.'"
"How sweetly she sang," Eric exhaled. "A bird in twilight; a crimson cardinal. Hear me, Grimsby. It was as if the sea itself beseeched me."
Jim grimaced. A sea devil. The poor sod.
"'There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around," Grimsby went on, "with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men's ears with wax that none of them may hear.'"
"Preposterous! She meant no harm; she meant only to possess my heart. A frail cherub, she was; no more harm than a child!"
"'But if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster."
Jim witnessed the exchange passively. He dares to tangle with water fool, this unfortunate spirit.
"I indulge this at the request of your father, child. Your happiness is my responsibility. I entertain this charade, you must know, to fulfill that sole purpose."
"Right!" His Majesty gasped. "Hear my words, witness my soul! You are my father before my own, you must orchestrate this."
"I must? If you mean to scour the sea, search the waters, you enlist the necessary crew. You organize the course. You are headed for the Tyrrehenian Sea, it looks to be, an exceedingly difficult inclination. Our forces will not back such a venture; you know this. Regardless, my part in this is to distract his Majesty, and maintain the composure of the court. Suppose the lady exists, breathes; you will find her."
Eric eyed young Jim. "For your mother, boy." He was, the youth noted acutely, meek. "For your mother, your trade, and your pride. Help me."
"My pride and your affairs are not compatible, Majesty."
The prince soured. Jim thought, imagined, in sporadic fever.
The alabaster flesh burned in his mind's eye. The delicate slope of her tiny shoulders; her soaken, tangled hair; the eyes of unadulterated delight at once and intense scrutiny the next. The monstrous glisten of her scales at dawn.
He feared it.
He loathed it.
God could not possibly have overseen her creation.
"But I will help you."
But she had taken hold of his foolish nature.
"We seem to've come to an impasse, your grace."