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A Sorcerer’s Treason — Chapter One

Lighthouse Point, Sand Island, Wisconsin

At midnight between November first and November second of the year 1899, Bridget Lederle’s eyes snapped open of their own accord, bringing her instantly awake.  For a moment, she lay and listened to the gale outside her window shaking the shutters and rattling the frame in the sash.  The faintest breath of the November wind crept through the cracks, brushing past her cheek.  The fixed beam from the lighthouse shined steadily, warning anyone unlucky enough to be out on Lake Superior that they sailed near Sand Island’s rocky shore.

There was a boat out there.  That warning had not been sufficient for some poor soul.  Bridget’s inner eye saw it clearly.  It was a klinker built vessel with a single mast.  The storm drove it toward the rocky shelf that protruded into the lake under the lighthouse beam.  The single sailor aboard struggled helplessly with a sail in tatters and a broken tiller.  He seemed to be trying to reach her tiny jetty and boathouse, but he wasn’t going to make it.

Bridget saw it all, and her heart pounded hard at the sight.

She did not waste any time on panic or think to question the vision.  Her visions had been coming to her ever since she was a child, and she was years past wondering whether they were true.  Without hesitation, she swung herself out from under the quilts, planting bare feet against the frigid floorboards.

Outside, the wind whistled under the eaves.  Vicious drafts curled around Bridget’s ankles as she minced her way across the floor to the clothes pegs.

She had to hurry.  There was a boat out there.

As was her custom, she’d left her thickest skirt and sweater hanging on the pegs.  Her woolen stockings lay on the dresser.  Her oilskin and boots waited downstairs by the front door, along with the covered lantern and kitchen matches.

She moved with assurance, even though the room was lit only by the reflection of the golden beam of the lighthouse lamp.  From its tower overhead, it cut through the gale, warning the ships from the rocks and shoals that surrounded the island, and helping to keep sailors safe from Lake Superior and its grasping, grey waters.

But, soon, Lake Superior would throw a small, painted boat up onto the rocks, smashing its hull and swamping its single sailor.

I will save him, determination pressed Bridget’s mouth into a thin line and she threw open the white painted fire door that led to the tower’s spiral stair, the only stairs the house possessed.  She ran down to the first floor, each footfall clanging against the filigreed iron steps.  The lake does not get anyone tonight.

Bridget did not even take the time to rouse her housekeeper, Mrs. Hansen, or Mrs. Hansen’s big son Samuel.  She just shrugged into her father’s old oilskins and stuffed her feet into cracked Wellington boots.

Wrapped against the weather as well as one could be, Bridget lit her lantern.  With the tiny light clutched in one hand, she unlatched the door and stepped out into the gale.

The wind slammed against her as if it meant to lay her flat.  It grabbed at her skirts, pulling them tight around her legs.  Despite the viscous wind, the night remained clear, and Bridget could see the light from Devil’s Island beaming as brightly as any of the stars overhead.  But the wind carried the smell of ice, and Bridget shivered involuntarily against its onslaught.  This was not the worst Lake Superior could do, but it was bad enough.

As quickly as she could, Bridget made her way down the steep wooden stairs to the boathouse at the lake’s edge. The lake boiled black beneath the night sky and the steady light from the house shined on the steep curl of white-capped waves.  Icy spray lashed her from head to toe, blurring her vision and making it hard to breathe.  It stung her cheeks with cold and dribbled down her collar, making her skin twitch into goosepimples.

Bridget suppressed another shiver, as if she did not want the lake to see how she feared its moods.  She pulled the hood of her thick man’s coat further down and lifted her lantern high.  Spray hissed against the tin housing and Bridget strained to separate the shadows from each other.

There.  The thin, guttering beam of her lantern touched the painted, battered prow jutting out of the water at the ugly angle where it had been smashed on the edge of the sandstone shelf.  The single mast still stood, but the tattered sail flapped wet and useless in the wind.

Bridget planted her boots carefully on slick, uneven stone and made her way forward with a cautious, rocking gait.  Waves surged around her ankles, soaking her hems and tugging at each step.  All around, the late autumn wind howled high and sharp, angry at its failure to drive her back indoors.  Each wave of the lake roared back its response that it would have her yet.

In front of her, the broken boat swayed, half-in, half-out of the water.  The lake pulled at it, trying to suck the traveler down to where it could swaddle him in its cold.  Bridget gripped her drenched skirt in one hand and slogged ahead, until at last she stood grasping the soaking gunwale.  A jagged outcropping had impaled the boat.  Ropes, casks, nets, all the paraphernalia of a small fishing craft floated in a tangle at the stern.

The man lay face-down in the bilge.  Bridget hung the lantern carefully on the end of a splintered spar and heaved the man onto his back.  She could see just enough to gain the impression of dark skin, black hair and a black coat.  Without hesitation, she pried his mouth open and swept her finger around inside, to make sure he had inhaled nothing but water.  Even as she did so, he began to cough.  She turned him onto his side, letting him vomit up gouts of fresh water into the bilge.  The boat rocked unsteadily with each motion, rattling the flotsam, and it seemed to Bridget that the lake chuckled as it pulled at the broken stern.

The man’s chest heaved against her hand, and Bridget shoved him into a sitting position.  He gasped, dragging great breaths of air and spray into his tortured lungs.

“Can you stand?” shouted Bridget in his ear to be heard over the wind and the lake.  “We must get you inside!”

He lifted his head and Bridget saw his eyes were as dark as the night-blackened lake, but behind them, there was light.  That light seeped through her skin even as the cold did, and touched her blood and heart.

She started then, and would have let him go had he not clamped one death-cold hand on her wrist.  He strained to lift himself out of the sloshing, rattling stew that filled his ruined boat.  Bridget got her arm under his shoulders and helped him balance on the wreckage.  It was then she realized he did not wear normal fisherman’s clothes.  His coat was a heavy, woolen thing with many buttons and a high collar. The lantern light glinted on a metal clasp at the throat.

Bridget shoved this oddity aside.  The lake threw all kinds onto shore.  What was important right now was to get this man into the warmth.

She reclaimed the lantern and they forced their way back through the relentless waves to the boathouse and dry land, with Bridget at times half-dragging the stranger.  But she was no petite miss, and he was determined.  He always found his footing again, no matter how badly he slipped.  At last, they came to the foot of the boathouse stairs and he staggered, catching himself against the railing, just in time to keep Bridget from completely dropping him.  His wide black eyes traced the length of the stairs, and Bridget thought for a moment he was going to tell her he could not make it.  But then, he caught sight of the lighthouse beam.  He gazed up at the light, and then at her, and he smiled a smile so sweet that Bridget felt her throat tighten.

From somewhere, he found the strength to help haul himself up the stairs and to stand on his own as Bridget opened the door to the summer kitchen.  They staggered inside together.  Buckets worth of water sluicing off them both, making rivers and lakes on the flagstones.

As soon as the man crossed the threshold, he sank to his knees in the middle of the frigid water.  He would have fallen onto his face, had Bridget not dropped to her own knees and grasped his shoulders.  He smelled of lake water, cold and wet wool.  There was no where about him the trace of any human warmth.

“Mrs. Hansen!” Bridget called.  “Mrs. Hansen!  Samuel!”

The Norwegian widow and her son were used to being roused at all hours by Bridget’s shout, and both appeared within moments — Mrs. Hansen wrapping her shawl around her nightdress, and Samuel just standing there like a great bullock with his nightshirt over his red flannels.

“Get him to the spare bedroom, Samuel,” Bridget ordered as she shucked her coat and boots.  “Mrs. Hansen…”

“Hot water bottles,” finished Mrs. Hansen.  “I’ll get the stove going.”  Mrs. Hansen knew what was needed as well as Bridget did, having kept the house for Bridget’s father as well as for Bridget.  She gathered up the hem of her nightdress and hurried up the three steps into the winter kitchen where a fire waited banked in the stove.  Samuel lumbered forward and, without so much as of grunt of effort, lifted the stranger in both arms to carry him up the stairs to the small bedroom that waited down the short hallway from Bridget’s own.

Bridget followed him, stopping at the closet for an armload of quilts.  They were all old, patched, and water-stained, but, nonetheless, warm enough.  She also pocketed a cup and the square bottle of strong brandy that she kept there.

When Bridget reached the spare room, Samuel had the stranger laid out on the metal-framed bed and had already stripped off his boots and stockings.  The strange, wide-skirted coat hung on one of the clothes pegs, dripping its allotment of Lake Superior onto the floorboards.  Bridget deposited the quilts at the foot of the bed and the brandy on the dresser beside the wash jug and basin.  The gale still rattled the window and the shutters, but it was losing force.  It seemed to consider that it had already done enough for one night and all that remained was to remind Bridget that it would be back, and next time it would bring the snow.

Bridget lit the hurricane lantern as Samuel fumbled to remove the man’s trousers. She moved to help him without a blush or second thought.  After eight years of pulling sailors out of Lake Superior, the sight of a naked man held no terror for her.

She at once saw the source of Samuel’s difficulty.  The man wore a worked leather belt. Samuel’s big fingers struggled with its ornate buckle, which seemed to be woven of bands of pure gold.  Bridget’s smaller hands found the trick of it and snapped the buckle open.  She lay the belt and its ornament on the sill where the stranger would be sure to see it when he woke.

The pants were not the canvas trousers she expected.  They were leather pantaloons of some kind, with laces where there she would have expected buttons.  Underneath them he wore woolen hose, with linen hose underneath those.  He also wore a woolen tunic over a linen shirt with tails almost as long as Samuel’s night shirt.  They stripped him of those too.  His well-muscled chest was an expanse of rich tan skin marred, Bridget saw, by two old scars –one long slash on his belly and one short, puckered scoring far too near his heart.

A lumpy cloth bag hung on a leather thong around his neck.  Bridget left that where it was.

Bridget and Samuel layered the quilts over him just as Mrs. Hansen came through the door carrying the chipped basin filled with a half-dozen hot water bottles.  Bridget laid four of them at the man’s icy feet and two on his chest.

The man did not move.  Fear and disappointment touched Bridget’s mind.

“Hold his head, Mrs. Hansen.  I’ll try to get some brandy into him.”

Mrs. Hansen lifted the man’s dark head while Bridget unstoppered the bottle.  She tipped a measure of the sharp-smelling liquid into the cup and held it to his lips.  He did not respond.  Mrs. Hansen gently opened his mouth so Bridget could dribble a little brandy down his throat.  He coughed once, then swallowed.  Bridget gave him the rest of the dose, and he drank it easily.

His eyes opened again now.  They remained dark, almost black, even in the lamplight, and nothing of that light she had seen in them before waited there.  His whole face registered deep confusion.  Bridget laid her hand on his brow, pushing back the damp curls that had plastered themselves to his forehead.  To her relief, she felt his skin warming, but not to the point of fever.

“You are quite safe,” Bridget told him as she straightened up.  “You are in the lighthouse on Sand Island.  I am Bridget Lederle, keeper of the light.”

He spoke, his voice still rattling from the water he had breathed, but Bridget understood nothing of the language he used.  It’s lilt made it sound a bit like Norwegian, although it’s hard consonants sounded like German, but it was not either.

Russian?  she wondered to herself.  It was possible.  There had been a Russian man down in the village once, a sailor, and he was dark like this, but his clothes and his eyes. . .

She shook herself.  Those were thoughts for the morning, not for a storm-tossed night.

The man did not seem to see her in comprehension.  He fumbled for his bag on its thong, still muttering.

“Rest,” she told him, hoping he understood her tone, if not her words.  “You will feel better in the morning.”

She patted his shoulder, and all at once, he caught her hand in a strong grip.  Mrs. Hansen gave a little shriek.  Bridget, startled, froze for a bare instant.  In that instant, the stranger wrapped a braid of cloth around her wrist and pinned her eyes with his own gaze, all that strange light shining inside him.  She felt it burn through her then, and it forced open her mind’s eye and she saw. . .

She saw a girl dressed in the golden robes of a queen and knew the girl was afraid.

She saw a dark man looking out over sea cliffs his face set in a frown of worry and suspicion.  He hunted the man who lay in her bed.

She saw herself, standing in front of a golden cage that held a bird made entirely of flame.  The cage was weakening and the bird inside would soon be free.

The next thing she knew, Samuel had grabbed the man’s hand and pulled it away from her.  The braid around her wrist loosened and the light blinked out of the stranger, and out of her.  A tremor ran through Bridget.  She lifted her water-roughened hand and slammed it hard against the stranger’s ear.

“Never again, Sir!” she ordered.  “Or I swear by God I’ll give you back to the lake!”

“Forgive me,” he whispered, but Bridget did not miss the smile that played around his lips.  “I wished only to speak with you.”

“Then from now on you will use your tongue.”  She squared her shoulders and tried to pull her ragged composure back together.

“I will,” he nodded, his craggy face as solemn as could be now.  “Forgive me.”

“Mrs. Hansen, Samuel, let’s go.”  Bridget turned on her heel and left the room.  Outside the door, her knees trembled so that she had to stop and lean against the wall.

“Miss Bridget?”  Mrs. Hansen hurried to her side.  “Are you all right?  What did he do?  Should Samuel stay to watch him?”

“I’m fine, Mrs. Hansen,” Bridget said.  It was only partly a lie.  Bridget pushed herself away from the wall.  “And I think you and Samuel may return to bed.”  She frowned and reached inside herself, searching for some hint of immediate danger.  She almost wished she’d find something, so she would have an excuse to remove the stranger from her house.  But there was no warning, only a nameless sensation of change that felt neither distinctly good, nor distinctly bad.

“He is just a foreigner.  He will not trouble us further.”  At least, not tonight.  “I was only startled.”

“If you’re certain,” said Mrs. Hansen uneasily.  Bridget nodded, and Mrs. Hansen accepted her affirmation in silence, but Bridget also knew the housekeeper would be tying an amulet against the evil eye around Samuel’s neck before she went to sleep.  For once, Bridget could not chide the old woman for this precaution.

“Good night, Mrs. Hansen,” was all Bridget said.

“Good night, Miss Bridget.”

Bridget did not watch them descend the stairs.  She just returned to her own room and shut the door behind her.  Her wet dress dragged heavily at her tired body, sending shivers up and down her clammy skin.  She wanted badly to retreat to the warmth of her own bed, but duty had its own call, especially on nights like this.  It was vital that she be certain of the light.  So, clenching her teeth to keep them from chattering, she changed out of her wet things into her nightdress and, wrapping her knitted shawl around herself, returned to the hallway.

Whitewashed firedoors separated the lighthouse from the keepers quarters, one for each story of the house, and one for the cellar.  Bridget kept small tables beside these doors laid out with candles and matches.  The tiny flame felt blessedly warm against her skin as she carried the candle up the tight, rust stained iron spiral of the stairway to the very top and the metal hatch that led to the lamp room.

The lamp room was a cramped, circular chamber.  The brass and glass workings of the light took up most of the space, leaving only a thin circular aisle between itself and the windows.  The light’s clockwork ticked as steadily as any timepiece, keeping the oil pumping from the reservoir to feed the lamp wicks to send the beam across the lake’s restive waters.  Bridget stooped and opened the small brass door under the main lamp to expose the reservoir and check the level of the mineral oil.  It was already half empty, so she topped the level off from one of the oil cans placed there for that purpose.  Satisfied there was enough to last the night, she closed the door up and gave the works a few extra cranks to ensure that the pumps continued their function.

Outside, the wind had died down.  The lake had ceased to rage and had fallen back on its usual quiet muttering.  The light beside her burned evenly, shining its clear beam across the water, warning the ships, warning the world, “Here is the shore, here are the rocks, here are the dangers.  Stay back, stay away.  Do not come near to trouble yourselves.”

Or to trouble me.  Bridget shivered and wrapped her arms tightly around her.

“What have you brought me?” she asked the fading gale.  “What is this man?”

But Lake Superior was not prepared to give her any answers.  Eventually, cold and simple weariness overtook her.  Bridget climbed back down to her room to seek what warmth there was left in her bed.

When daylight returned, there would be time enough for answers.

###

Deeply ingrained habit woke Bridget with the dawn the next morning.  She was used to long nights and interrupted sleep, and so was not particularly weary when she rose to wash her face and dress her hair and body.  Outside, the morning’s first light showed a clear day, but a grey sky and an uneasy lake.  She checked the barometer that hung on her wall.  The glass was holding steady, for now, at least.

She could hear Mrs. Hansen in the kitchen, making the usual domestic bumpings and singing to herself in Norwegian.  The very thought of breakfast and coffee left Bridget weak with hunger, but, as always, the light came first.

Again she climbed to the top of the tower.  This time she extinguished all four of the lamp’s wicks and halted the works.  She checked the reservoir and the oil on hand.  She’d need to bring up several cans from the oil house in the cellar before dark.  She shined the lens with chamois leather, although it didn’t really need it.  Her father had told her tales of how older lights burned whale oil which formed a crust of black soot every night.  Memory of his stern warnings made her diligent.

“I want you to be able to take over the light when I’m gone, Bridget,” he would say to her, as he was showing her how the pumps worked, or making her help carry the oil cans up the iron stairs.  “The job is all I have to leave you.”

He said it more frequently after his bout of pneumonia robbed him of the wind needed to climb the lighthouse stairs.  No matter how many times he said the words though, he never once added, “since you spoiled what good our name had left,” but Bridget was sure he thought it.  She certainly did.

When the lamp cooled, Bridget trimmed the wicks carefully so they would be ready for lighting at dusk.  Finally, she drew the curtains that hid the light from the sun.  Sunlight, focused by the lens could ignite the oil within the reservoir and set the tower aflame.

Routine made Bridget feel solid and whole.  She could deal with anything now.  She had faced out storm and tempest, insult and attack.  What was left to frighten her?

So, well in command of herself, Bridget descended the tower stairs to the top floor of the quarters.  When she reached the stranger’s door, she knocked softly.  No sound rose from within.

Bridget pushed the door open.  The stranger lay on his back in the bed, one hand hanging out in the cold, one thrown across his chest.  Despite its natural clear brown color, his skin seemed pale against the white sheets.  Bridget crossed to his side, relieved to see that his chest still rose and fell.  She might have her doubts about this person, but they were not strong enough for her to wish him dead.  She laid a hand on his brow.  He felt neither too hot, nor too cold.  It was probably simple exhaustion that kept him sleeping now.

His hair, she noted, had dried into a curling black mane in severe need of a trimming.  Black stubble obscured his strong jaw line and square chin.  She would have to hunt out Poppa’s old razor and strop as soon as the man was well enough to attend to himself.

She tucked his hand back under the quilts.  He did not shift at all.

Bridget went down to the winter kitchen and the smell of biscuits, bacon, coffee and frying eggs.  Mrs. Hansen tended the stove on which breakfast sizzled so deliciously.  Bridget reached around the housekeeper for the coffee pot and poured herself a mug of steaming, black brew.

“Did our visitor stir last night, Mrs. Hansen?” she asked, sipping the hot coffee.

“I heard nothing, nor did Samuel,” Mrs. Hansen answered, her square, sun-browned face stern.  “But I’ll tell you this, I’m not easy with him in the house.”

“Well, when he wakes, we will have an accounting from him.” Bridget set the mug down on the kitchen table.

“If you’re determined to wait then, you’d best make good use of your time and see to the chickens.” Mrs. Hansen fastened her gaze severely on her cookery, as if worried about what she would say to Bridget if she looked up.

It was going to be one of those days.  Bridget suppressed a sigh.  Nominally, Bridget was in charge of the house, but neither of them could forget that Mrs. Hansen had helped care for Bridget since she was a little girl.  When the widow was worried for Bridget, or uncertain for her future, she seemed to forget Bridget had ever grown up and took to ordering her about as if Bridget were still ten years old.

“Yes, Mrs. Hansen,” answered Bridget obediently as she stood.  All her answer was a wave of her hand shooing Bridget out the door.  Bridget made her way to the back door with a small smile that faded rapidly.  Mrs. Hansen was not wrong to be concerned about the stranger.  Bridget knew what her housekeeper was thinking.  If the man upstairs could not give good account of himself and his strangeness, there was going to be talk and, no matter what he said, if Bridget didn’t move him into Eastbay or Bayfield as soon as could be, that talk would spread.  Her gruffness this morning was only worry, for Mrs. Hansen knew how badly Bridget had been harmed by rumors before.

There was, however, nothing either of them could do about it now, and no reason to disturb the morning’s routine.  Bridget wrapped her shawl around her head and shoulders against the sharp November cold and picked up the egg basket from its place by the kitchen door.  Outside, she crossed the frost-bitten, scrubby yard.  The wind blew briskly off the lake, stinging her nose and finger ends, but promising nothing more dire this dim day than a deepening of the late autumn cold.  Below the blunt cliff, she could see the wreck of the stranger’s boat rocking gently with motion of the waves.  That would have to be salvaged soon, or the lake would have it all.

Bridget fed the chickens scratching in their patch of gravel and then filched their eggs from the laying boxes in the coop.  As she passed the barn, she praised Samuel, who was busy working on the wood pile with saw and ax.  She brought the eggs into the kitchen, just in time to sit down and consume the hen’s work of the previous day, with plenty of bacon and hot biscuits spread thickly with honey.  Mrs. Hansen and Samuel ate their portions with gusto, and all seemed to agree that conversation should be held to remarks about the weather and the small gossips from Eastbay.

At last, Bridget drained her coffee mug. “I am going to take the boat around to Eastbay and the tug to the mainland, if it’s going” she told Mrs. Hansen. “Is there anything we need from Mr. Gage?”

“Some salt would be useful, if you please,” replied Mrs. Hansen.  “And some Coffee.”

“A keg of ten penny nails, if you please, Miss,” added Samuel.  “And a bucket of the whitewash.”

“Thank you,” Bridget noted the requests down on the back of a used envelope with a stub of grease pencil.  “I’ll be back before nightfall.”  She reached across the table and touched Samuel’s arm to make sure she had his attention.  “Samuel, it if you can do it safely, I want you to go down to the stranger’s boat and see what you can salvage.  All right?”

Samuel, his mouth full of bacon, swallowed hastily.  “Yes, Miss.”

“Thank you.”  Bridget patted Samuel’s hand and turned back to his mother.  “I’ll just go look in on our guest before I go.”

“Do you want me with you? ” asked Mrs. Hansen gamely.

“I believe I can take care myself,” said Bridget.  “If not, you can be sure you’ll hear my shout.”

Rising from the table she climbed back up to the stranger’s room.  Her knock brought no response, so she pushed the door open.  He lay still as death in the narrow bed, and did not stretch or shift when her footsteps caused the floorboards to creak.  Bridget lifted his belt from the sill where she’d laid it the night before.  The gold buckle glinted in the grey light filtering through the curtains.  Bridget peered more closely at the artifact.  Fine threads of gold had been twisted together to make thicker strands, and those strands had then been braided and coiled to make a solid oval.  Bridget hefted it in her hand.  It must have weighed at least a pound.  She hesitated.  She did not want to take so valuable an object without permission, but she also did not want to wake the exhausted stranger.  The workmanship of the buckle was so curious it might give some clue to his origin if it could be recognized.  Someone might even know the owner, and so might know if friends or family could be telegraphed.

Momentarily undecided, Bridget ran her thumb across the buckle.

And she saw a woman, well past middle age, in a gown of burgundy velvet embroidered all over with gold.  The woman handed the buckle to the stranger.

She saw the stranger in a forest clearing, offering a wine flask to a fox.

She saw the dark man she had seen before standing in front of a patch of ice, and on the ice stood a monster with red skin and horns its head and a terrible mouth full of fangs.

Bridget staggered against the window, barely getting her hand out in time to catch herself against the low sill.  What is happening to me?

The visions had never come so fast or clear before, not even during the worst of storms, and they had always been comprehensible.  She had always seen plain, honest men and women, in some form of trouble — stormwreck, or broken band saw, or perhaps a fall of rocks in the quarry, something of the kind.  Very occasionally she’d been able to see the future happiness or heartache of a woman being married, or if a baby would be male or female.

But the things this man caused her to see. . .these were scenes from fairy tales.  They were not possible.  She pressed her hand against her forehead, as if she thought the gesture could somehow hold back her confusion.  The single consolation of her visions had always been that she had known what to do about them.  She had to speak out.  Even years ago, when people had not yet believed her, she had to tell them about the ships that were in trouble, or the bridge that had been washed away.  She had been certain since childhood that God, if no one else, wanted her to speak aloud about what appeared to her mind’s eye.

But these new visions were not the familiar kind.  These brought no compulsion, no certainty of purpose.  They brought only fear.

This cannot continue.  Bridget straightened up, leaving the belt on the windowsill.  She could not keep this man here, pressing on her mind and distracting her thoughts.  I have work to do.

“What did you see?”

Bridget whirled around.  The stranger regarded her calmly from his bed.  Only his head protruded from under the quilts, and for a disconcerting moment, he appeared to be disembodied.

“What did you see?” he asked again.  His voice was soft, but harsh, as one might expect from a throat that had no lungs connected to it.

“I am glad you’re awake.” Bridget shoved aside her ignorant fancies.  She walked briskly to his bedside and poured water from the wash jug into the cup she’d brought in last night, holding it out to the stranger.  His hand stayed steady as he accepted the cup, and he drank the water off in three swallows.

“Thank you.” He gave her the cup and she set it back on the night stand.

“How do you feel?”  Bridget asked, smoothing down her apron.  “Are you dizzy at all?  Does your head ache?  Is there fever, or a pain in any of your limbs?”

“None of these, thank you, Mistress.”  With a small grunt, he pushed himself up on the pillows, proving that he did indeed still have a whole body.  “But that I am a bit weak and extraordinarily hungry, I am well.”

“Very good,” Bridget nodded.  This again was familiar territory.  However foreign or exceptional, this was a half-drowned man who needed care, nothing more, and nothing less.  “I will speak to my housekeeper directly about a meal for you.  Plain porridge with a little milk would be best at present, I think.  If that agrees with you, a more solid meal can be provided later.”

He inclined his head.  “Whatever you consider best, Mistress.”

Bridget blinked.  Not one fisherman in a thousand would calmly accept porridge when the scent of bacon still lingered in the house.  Still, I should be grateful for small favors.  She folded her hands in front of her.  “May I ask your name, Sir?”

He paused for a moment, his wide mouth frowning, then he seemed to reach a decision.  “My name is Valin Kalami.  I am Lord Sorcerer and advisor to her Grand Majesty, the Dowager Empress Medeoan Edemskoidoch Nacheradavosh of Isavalta.  I sailed through the Land of Spirit and Death at her behest in order to find you.”

Bridget blinked again.  “I see.”  What knot on your head did I miss, Sir?

Kalami, or whoever he was, shook his head.  “Forgive me, Mistress, but at present you do not.”

“That is neither here nor there.”  Bridget drew herself up and tried to sound businesslike.  “I will have your food sent up.  I would advise you to rest quietly. . .”

In response to this advice, the man raised one fine, brown hand.  “Will you not condescend to answer my question, Mistress.”

“What question, Sir?”  she asked, already turning away from him and starting for the door.

“When you touched my buckle, what did you see?”

Now it was Bridget turn to hesitate, but it was only for a bare instant, after which she faced him fully and show that his question did not disturb her in the least.  “I saw a piece of fine metalwork.”  She cocked her head.  “What should I have seen?”

Kalami dropped his gaze to the quilt and shook his head once.  “That is something best known to yourself, Mistress.  I will not presume.”

In this, at any rate, Bridget felt herself frown.  Who are you?  What have you heard of me?  Who has been talking?  Did you believe me to be as mad as yourself?  Was that why you came here?

All at once, Bridget felt she did not want to be near this person anymore.  She wanted to be anywhere else in the world, anywhere she could be all alone and think, and recover herself.  She did not want to be near someone who could see her visions, who could burn her with the light from his black eyes, who spoke to her like she was a lady worthy of his respect.

“I suggest you rest, Sir.” Bridget rounded the bed and headed for the door, hoping against hope that he would not see she was retreating from him.  “Wherever you may be from, you have had a rough time of it and need to recover your strength.”

“Yes, Mistress,” he said, sounding disturbingly like Mrs. Hansen when she was humoring Bridget.

I am surrounded.  Suddenly more annoyed than concerned, Bridget left the room, closing the door firmly behind herself.

Down the kitchen, Mrs. Hansen was up to her elbows in a basin full of breakfast dishes.

“Mrs. Hansen,” Bridget rested her fingertips on the edge of the freshly scrubbed kitchen table, inhaling the comforting scents of warm water and strong soap.  “I believe our guest suffers from some delirium.”

“A madman?” Water drops flew from Mrs. Hansen’s hand as she grasped the cross she wore at her throat.

Somehow, the sight of the older woman’s panic made Bridget feel more at ease.  “Possibly he is merely confused, from some blow to the head, or an excess of water in his lungs.  Dr. Hannum will be able to say more.”  She touched Mrs. Hansen’s arm.  “I will return directly with the doctor and news of a safer house where the stranger may be lodged.”  She smiled reassuringly at her housekeeper, and reluctantly Mrs. Hansen’s water-reddened hand released the cross.  “He is weak still and will most likely sleep.  Try to be easy.  Send Samuel up with some porridge.  There is nothing to fear.”

“If you’re certain.”  Mrs. Hansen met her gaze searchingly.

“I am,” she said firmly.  “I would know if there were danger under my own roof.”  Most of the time, the fact of Bridget’s second sight went unspoken between them, but by now, Mrs. Hansen trusted Bridget’s visions almost as much as Bridget herself did.

But not, it seemed, this time.  “Have a care, Bridget Lederle,” she said.  “I don’t like this one.”

Bridget grasped Mrs. Hansen’s wet hand and squeezed it briefly.  “We’ll see it through, Mrs. Hansen.  Whatever comes.”  She straightened up. The day was short, and she did not want to be caught on the mainland when darkness fell and the time to light the lamp came.  “I will be back as soon as I may.”

Mrs. Hansen nodded once, satisfied, at least for the moment.  “I’ll watch for you.”

Bridget paused by the door to collect her shawl and bonnet.  She tucked her few pieces of correspondence, which included her quarterly report to the Lighthouse board, into her apron pocket along with the shopping list and walked out into the morning, taking the creaking stairs down to the jetty where her small boat waited.

###

From the window of his small, spare room, Kalami watched his hostess leave.  It was plain that she believed him so lost and exhausted that he posed no real danger to her household.  It was also plain, however, that she believed him quite mad.

But then, she also believed this was the first time they had met.

In truth, he was exhausted.  The freshwater sea that lay at Bridget Lederle’s door had almost wallowed him whole in its wrath.  During the passage of the last eight years, he had forgotten the lake was so vast, and his previous two visits had been made in calm weather.  A mighty world this was.  Kalami shook his head.  He would have liked to spend a year or so here, exploring its lands.

Perhaps one day, he thought as he shuffled back to the hard bed.  At present, I have other concerns.

Believing him mad, Bridget had most likely gone to fetch some sort of physic to pronounce a diagnosis.  This meant he was in danger of being removed from her household before she heard his tale.  Who would voluntarily keep a madman under their roof?

As understandable as it was, it did him no good.  Kalami lifted and bent his stiff body to sit on the edge of the bed.  It was she he needed to speak to, she he needed to make understand.

There was a soft knock at the door.  Kalami dropped onto the pillows and threw the bedclothes back over his naked body.

“You may enter.”

The door opened and through it came the big, slow boy, carrying a tray with a bowl full of something that steamed.  As the boy walked toward him with exaggerated caution, Kalami smelled the deeply homey scent of oaten porridge and smiled.

During his first visit, Kalami had only needed to understand Bridget, not the world around her.  During his second, he had needed only darkness and a soundly sleeping house.  Consequently, his knowledge of this world remained sketchy at best.  If he was to reassure some learned person of his sanity, he would need to be able to bring the proper words to his tongue.

“Thank you,” he said as the boy, who’d probably been warned not to spill the tray, handed across his breakfast.  Now then, my boy, might you have what I need to keep me here?

“You’re welcome,” said the boy, backing away.  His pale blue eyes grew wide as he looked Kalami up and down.

Obviously, you have never seen a madman before, and so you stare.  Kalami set the tray aside.  “Might I please have some water?”

The boy must have been used to doing as he was told.  Without question or hesitation, he filled the cup from the jug.  While his back was turned, Kalami pulled his reading braid from the bag which hung about his neck.

The boy handed Kalami the water.  As he did, Kalami captured his wrist in the braid.

The boy froze.  “Uhhh. . .” he grunted feebly as he tried to struggle, sloshing water onto the floor, but the spell held him fast.

“Shhh. . .” Kalami touched the boy’s lips with his fingertips, silencing him.  He took the cup gently from the boy’s paralyzed hand and set it on the night table  “Fear not, there’s a good boy.  I just need a few memories from you that is all.”  This was not the same working he had used on Bridget.  There it had been a simple understanding he had sought.  Peering at her mind had been enough.  Here, he needed something deeper. “You are to remember for me a man, a sound man, a good man.  Someone you have seen at work among the boats perhaps.  Let me see him. . .Samuel.”  He smiled as the boy’s name reached him through the braid.

Unable to help itself, Samuel’s mind did as it was bidden.  Kalami relaxed as the memories drained from the boy into himself.  The memories were lost to Samuel now.  But the boy had little use for them, and he was so simple that no one else would remark that they were gone.

When he had enough, Kalami unwrapped the braid from Samuel’s wrist and took the cup of water.

“Thank you, Samuel.  You may go now.”

Samuel swayed on his feet and stared hard at his wrist, as if trying to remember something important.

“You may go now,” repeated Kalami firmly.  “You have told me that your mistress has asked you to salvage my boat.  You are to take particular care that you save the sails, and the length of rope you will find tied with the red ribbon.  They are most important.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir.”  Still staring at his wrist, Samuel turned and shuffled toward the door.  As he moved away from Kalami, however, he began to straighten up, and soon he walked away as if nothing had ever happened.

Kalami smiled as he picked up his spoon and attacked the hot, thick porridge.  He could wait now, rest and gather his strength.  He had all he needed,

At least, until Bridget returned.

 

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