Valedictus: a Letter

Ere the Sad Gods That Made Your Gods, you may remember, was a piece of historical back-story that I did not intend to write for Plenilune, but ended up writing anyway.  Due to I am not sure what, I have been suffering from exhaustion lately because I have had the most dashed trouble sleeping.  A night or so ago I had made up my mind to turn in rather earlier than usual in order to catch up on that much-needed sleep (one notices that sleep is always referred to as "much-needed").  My muse, or some dark and secret bottom corner of my soul which seeks out only the worst for me, gave me, instead of firelit fancies and warm dreams, yet another piece of back-story for Plenilune.  Rather than go to bed, I had to sit at the computer and write it.  I may go blind or die from exhaustion (I've always been melodramatic), but I will do it for the good of those people who owe their existence solely to my imagination.  There's a moral somewhere in that...

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Nones of the Harvest Moon, 689

My dear mother,

            It would be breaking faith with myself to deny that it is my current location which brought you so sharply into my mind again.  Like my shadow you are always about me; as in the afternoon I find you falling before me today, clearly etched on my childish memory.  Yet…a mere phantom—and that hurts worst of all.  I am a stone’s throw west along the coast from the old homestead, and to make a spirit of a different sort from this long shadow on my memory I’ve sat down with pen and parchment and blown spume to write.  To you, of all people, though fancy tells me no mortal post-horse gallops where you walk.
            There is a hush over the camp tonight.  You know, that hush that falls before the “red dawn,” as the poets call it.  I wonder—!  Did that old scapegrace Homer ever wait out a night after which he had to fight?  I fancy not.  He wouldn’t write about it in such gory splendour as he did.  His pages would be blank.  Stark blank, and filled with the hollow rush of the sea which seems to mock my ears with the whisper of Memento Mori.  Which, if that be so, I’ll put this letter in your hand by noon tomorrow, no doubt…  I wouldn’t worry about me, though, mother.  We’re old hands at this game; I suspect half of us are quiet out of respect for mortality, and the other half out of respect for the respectful.  No green hands among my rangers.  There was a bit of a tussle between Mark Roy’s two cubs, as one came away to help me and the other wanted to but couldn’t.  I hated leaving the fellow, but I’ll be damned if I let a child just that bloodless in on a serious business like this.  Spencer and I will take him boar-hunting with me this Ivy when the season opens and get his hands a bit red.  In a year or two, after that kind of work, he will have some raw experience to go with his raw keenness.
            The business is pirating, mother—pirates!  No easy task for us but something worthy of that blind bard: no hard fell turf for our horses—or gorse bushes to catch a fall—but shifty work here on the edge of things between water and wood.  The night has become low and Mars is casting about madly in the clouds to the south: Spencer says mucky weather come morning, if the wind holds.  Which it will.  I feel that steel coldness in my bones and that heady lightness in my blood as it were too much wine and I know the wind will hold.  I wish you could see him slashing: through my open tent-flap I can see the lightning splintering up behind the headlands of clouds, illuming the heavenly pillars, so that for a second everything is black and purple and stark white—then nothing but darkness and, after a while, the soft murmur beneath the steady beat of waves of rolling thunder.  Yes, Mars is splitting open the liver of the sky and I read a great and terrible fortune in the lightning. 
I wish you could see it, mother, selfishly and petulantly I wish it: you see better light-shows than I, now.
Oh, mother, I feel so old…!  I wonder if death does that to you.  Spencer found a grey hair the other day—on me, that is.  It brought me up rather short.  I know grey happens early to some, but in one of those horribly uncanny, clairvoyant moments I looked at it and thought, “How like the colour of Widowmaker it is.”  And that made me shudder a little.  But then Spencer was rather mortified and I had to put away my personal feelings to console him.  Maybe it is merely something in the air—the salt or the thunder, or the sound of the sea, of the soundlessness of my men…  Makes me feel positively hoary with age.  I begin to understand why father looked the way he did…
Give him my best, by the way—.
The storm-wind has hit us, which accounts for the slash and splatter of ink.  It came shrieking along the coastline from seaward and played merry havoc with the tents.  I don’t think anyone got their covers blown from over their heads—though I don’t know if any of us really sleep on the eve of battle—but the horses are disconsolate and my handwriting is somewhat distracted by always having to chase this sheet of paper about the table.  There.  A knife through the two top corners will do, though it has passed a dark shadow over Spencer’s face to see me using the table so badly.  But it’s for you, mother.  And it isn’t as if the table hasn’t seen worse.
I want you to know that by this time tomorrow—assuming it doesn’t happen to me—I’ll be up at the old homestead testing the strength of familial relationships.  By the twelve houses, I haven’t been up there in years.  Great-Uncle may very well mistake my horse-boy for me, but I think the eyes will give me away.  I have your eyes.  All the same, what with…everything…it really has been quite a few Christmases since I stepped across that threshold and one does wonder if absence breeds discontent among the older generation.  Neglect, I think they call it.  Of course you know I don’t mean neglect, and I did write back very prettily to his wife around High Hawthorn—some ghastly excuse to squeeze out of maying with them just when Rubico needed desperate care—but I hope they understand that a great deal fell on our shoulders when father passed on.  Still, I’d as lief face pirates with only my pet knife in my teeth as go up against irate relations…
Speaking of the weight of the world, I don’t mean to count my chickens before they have hatched, but in the amiable way of things several men have hinted at the election.  None of them is very closed about it; their minds seem to be rather made up, and, what with Mars playing a triumphal entry in the background, I think it very likely that by the next time my great-aunt sends a maying invitation, I may very well be Overlord.  I dare swear Spencer will find another grey hair or two because of it, so you needn’t worry about me getting too full of myself.  I filled myself up to the brim years ago. 
Don’t worry about tomorrow, mother, and it please you.  If worst comes to worst, I’ve always got that one card to play, that one ruse with which to cheat death.  I once had a horrible convulsion of conscience and sat up late with Spencer, head in my hands, wondering why I kept it and didn’t save other lives from being cut short.  But in the end I realized that I couldn’t use it, not like that.  It would be breaking faith with them if I did.  It would be making them break faith with themselves.  I’m sure you understand.  That is the one thing which fortifies me against the grey hairs: that, no matter the difficulty, no matter how hard I press the heels of my hands against my temples, Spencer and I can usually come to an ethical decision.  My only fear is that when I get really angry I see red, and sometimes even the coldness of good breeding isn’t enough to check me.  On very rare occasions I really do fear that one day someone will push my hand just too far, and I might do something awful.  No one ever has, and so I haven’t either, but by all the improbable stars what Furies lurk in the serenity of men, what tinder we are made of which Heaven or Hell could strike a light to…
The tempest rages and all my curious, irrelevant fears come out to dance and play in figure-ink on innocent vellum.  I apologize, my dear.  What thin, airy stuff we are made of! that we cast in iron and leather just to hold together, because deep inside we know what dreams we are made of and how fragile we really are.  There will be a battle tomorrow, with horses and punts in the mucky rain and backwater inlets and a fine red tide killing the fisherman’s catch.  I am rather cold tonight, mother.  Rupert has called for me and I must go, flitting in the rainy black about the camp like a moth looking for a light.  I’ll roll into my bed long enough to get comfortable before it is time to roll out and harness up.  I salute you, mother.  Nay, I love you. 
I love you.


3 ripostes:

  1. This is so, so beautiful and chilling, Mrs. Freitag. How delightful yet worrisome it must be for his mother, to have such a dear son engaged in such things that ride in the "red dawn". It's a good weeping song. I like it a lot.

    On another note (which might sound self-serving), I have recently started a writer's project, called The Character Letters, at my blog and I was wondering if it would be acceptable for you to link this up on it. This seems quite appropriate and delightful and deep of an entry, and I hardly feel worthy for it to be done. But if you are so inclined, here is the link:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, and may God bless you!

    ~Rosamund Gregory

  2. And thank you, Rosamund! I am glad you liked it. I rather wondered, afterward, if one's sensibilities wouldn't move one to be a little embarrassed at reading such a personal letter, though fictional. Perhaps not. :P

    Regarding the questions you wanted people to consider for your Character Letters (which sounds like it will be much fun!), obviously the recipient is the mother. I think that must be the clearest point. Once I had got into the character's mind and had finished the letter, I was actually rather pleased to find that, naturally, he did ramble a little, but the whole letter was comprised of a coherent thought. Being a letter-writer myself, I know how hard it is to keep to the point and yet retain a realistic fluidity of thought within the text. I was fair astonished to find I had pulled it off none too badly - if I may toot my own horn. This character (to finish up your questions) was not in the habit of doodling in the margins (and any all drawings were appended and referred to in the body of the text), he would use 6" x 9" blank stationary, and his handwriting could best be described as "stark." He was not accustomed to not getting his way and it rather shows even in his script.

    Once again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness in inviting me to join in your fun!

  3. This is an amazing bit of writing. You are very, very talented. :) I love the way he speaks in the letter, the words he uses, and everything; it adds a sense of reality and setting. And I loved the bit about the wind blowing his paper about. The line about his handwriting being distracted because of having to chase the sheet across the table made me laugh. As did his remedy and Spencer's reaction. The way you wrote it was perfect. :) Also, this wonderful piece made me want to cry at times, when he spoke of battle, and death. And the end, the way he repeated I love you to his mother...gah, made me quite teary. Anyway, just wanted to say that I enjoyed this lovely letter extremely, and that you have a great gift. :)
    I'm guessing the larger tale to which this belongs is a fantasy? Just wondering. I am quite intrigued, and would not mind at all reading it someday, when it is published. :) If you were thinking of publishing it, that is (which I'm guessing you were; if you weren't, you most definitely should. I would read it in a heart beat.) :D