On the day of vernal equinox, swallows, flashing glossy green and violet, graced the skies of Shalisa Creek Bay, as they had done every spring from unrecorded ages, returning north through time and space to their chosen nesting grounds, following the route of all their kind who had come and gone before them, and arriving right on schedule.
They checked first under the eaves of the old buildings by the shore to make sure the homes theyd vacated the previous summer were still available and then swept off, twittering and gliding, to sample the menu on the wing this year.
They hadnt yet met Charm because she was with Fitz, and asleep on the barge, but even if they had it would have made little difference, for their young flew straight from the nest when the exciting time of freedom and boundless sky arrived, and they never came into conflict with that sort of neighbour.
Spring brought Flowers, or it might have been that Flowers brought Spring, as both arrived at the same time, laughing together and, since neither wanted to dispute a claim of precedence, Flowers began their colourful art of blooming all over the place to make Spring look the way it should, Spring got on with the fun of welcoming back Flowers and Birds, and harmonious sights and sounds mingled warmly around Shalisa Creek Bay.
Hummingbirds, also possessors of the secret for returning from far south across time and distance at this season of blossoming, were lunching on nectar from fragrant creamy clematis blooms which were beginning to open in bunches high up in sun-reaching vines, and Flickers, shaking out courting feathers from winter drab, were practising woodworking skills on their favourite dead trees, their rapid rapping tattoo sending chips tumbling out and down as they honed their building techniques and shouted their loud and distinctive romantic ballads, aimed at lady Flickers longing to share cosy tree trunk homes with handsome red-moustachioed males.
Soggers Tide was lying supine and high on Beach with hardly a shuffle to let anyone know it had just come in, spreading flat, shining water behind it. Breeze, Sea, Sun and Shore dozed in this quiet hideout, content to let drowsiness hold them there in peacefulness.
Rose was out walking, appreciating the good fortune of being around to see such a morning of sunshine and new growth around the bay, something she hadnt seen for years, as the feeling of returning freedom and gladness which had always been here for the taking came over her again.
Charm had decided to forego a ramble ashore, choosing to nap on the aft deck of the barge, curled up in a warm sun trap there which was created by the three broad steps leading down to the deck and the wall they were built against, with Fitz lying face down on the top step of the three, the book hed been reading now closed beside him, his head on his folded arms, as he was lulled by Suns kindness into a thoughtful lethargy.
It seemed an unlikely time and place for pirates to attempt a raiding expedition. The most valuable treasures the bay held on this day were those which are always changing, evanescent and very unportable. Sun, birds and flowers were to be enjoyed where they were or not at all.
The last pirate attack after real and tangible goods, which had come from Bud Westman, had been successfully repelled, and the hope had been that no other would be launched too soon, so Fitz was a little surprised when the first sounds of the impending invasion came faintly across the water.
Right there in that bayand, hey! I see a castle there.
You see a what Therése?!
Honest, Isabel, a real castle. Looksee?
Ohthere really issort of.
Two very young but positive voices, one almost on top of the other, quickly took over the conversation.
Wowsie! Maybe theres a gold hoard buried somewhere on shore and we can find it and dig it up.
Maybe a princess and a dragon live there.
And a king and queen.
And a lord who protects them with lots of space knights who come down from the galaxies in their space ships when they need help.
Okay you two, came a laughing caution, Just calm down.
Can we go in and look?
WellI dont know. Do you see anyone around?
Nope. It looks kind of deserted.
Can we please?
May we, Walter.
There was a sudden eruption of pleading voices taking up the correction of the English language, all very carefully using may, until at last the consent came.
Well, okay. Maybe theres fresh water we can find, but dont get too carried away. We might have to leave in a hurry. Prepare ship for porthold onI have to look at the pilot book and the chart.
There was silence for a few moments and then came the verdict.
Okay, we have to be careful here because the book says theres a reef and we have to stay right in the middle of that skinny entrance there and head for that cracked cliff, so keep a good watch Therése, and sing out loud if we get off course.
The voices were youthful and the last one, which also seemed to be the voice of authority, was girlish.
Shouts of gleeful approval met the decision and someone yelled,
Run up the Jolly Roger! which order was followed by the tooth-edging sound of screeching metal, plainly coming from a protesting pulley badly in need of attention.
Fitz, listening to this forewarning of impending danger, stayed where he was, waiting for the visitors, scanning the point to port where the voices had carried from, expecting a sailboat to arrive because there was no sound of a motor. Finally, after a very long time, he saw a bowsprit poke out from the cliff, but what it brought with it was entirely unexpected.
Spring, Flowers and Bay Guardian paused from their various enterprises to ogle this gorgeously arrayed apparition which came around the point.
Wobbling into view, with many Yo-heave-hos to help it along, came a very large, neglected wooden hull, showing grey where the white paint had peeled off, straddled by a shack-like edifice which had surely been built totally from castoff bits and pieces. The whole thing was alive with painted rainbows, flowers, harlequins and teddy bears, elves and faeries, around its girth and on every available space.
The ramshackle structure had been attached flush with the sides of the hull so that there were no decks remaining to port and starboard, only on bow and stern, and those open spaces were surrounded by ricketty handmade rails of peeled saplings. To get from one end of the boat to the other the operators of the craft had to rush through the construction and emerge out the other end, whichever that might beor face the prospect of scrambling across the roof which, in Fitzs assessment, would be a perilous assignment because it appeared to be cluttered with objects, marine and landlubber types.
It was difficult to tell stern or bow from a distance except by the direction in which the ungainly behemoth was moving, because the stern had a boomkin almost as large as the bowsprit, giving the observer the impression that the terms bow and stern were interchangeable on this vessel.
From atop the stub of what had once been a tall mainmast a lookout was standing in a square box which Fitz took to be a crowsnest, because ratlines of a sort, made from frayed and cowtailed old plastic rope of various sizes and hues, ran up to it. This abbreviated spar seemed to have been delegated as keeper of everything hangable, because tattered towels and pieces of clothing were suspended up and down its length, swaying there in time to the irregular motion of the boat.
A sail which had been raised on what was left of the mizzen mast, and found little wind this morning, was a thing of beauty and ingenuity, made entirely of old plastic tarps, battened like the sail of a junk.
It was the method of propulsion though, which finally got most of Fitzs attention.
Standing on the stern of this brave plunderer, which now sported an unmistakable Jolly Roger at the top of its truncated mainmast, were two young people shielded from the sun by straw hats trailing ribbons, a tall girl and a slim boy, working a yulohthat ancient Chinese device used for moving large boats along rivers and channelswhile the chants of young voices kept rhythmic time to an east coast sea chanty,
Ise the bye what built the boat
Fitz, who had been anxiously wondering whether he should try shouting warnings or not, watched in amazement as this gaily arrayed harridan of the sea, flaunting her gaudy finery, made her way safely past the Guardian, who was so entranced she forgot what she was there for, so the boat continued waggling its way farther into the bay unchallenged, heading roughly in the direction of the old wharf.
When she got closer to the barge he made out more details. Her name, ELFINSHOE, was painted on her bow in a graceful, well-executed script of yellow paint, which latter had been artfully used in an attempt to imitate gold and, on the neglected, scored and patchy hull, bright wavy stripes of yellow, orange and red paint ran in horizontals around her from bow to stern.
On the cabin roof a small girl sat, reeling in a kite shed been flying from line attached to a fishing rod, as a boy beside her of about the same size, both wearing bandanas pirate-fashion, offered help and lots of anxious advice to hurry up because were almost there, while up in the crowsnest which was trailing a fistful of balloons, another girl, younger than the yuloh workers but older than the two on the roof, crowned with a big black felt hat which had the brim pinned up in front, called out instructions for avoiding hazards as she tried to see around the flapping tails of two windsocks in the form of fishthe stylised kind which oriental people use as celebration pennons for birthdays and other special occasions.
Windows of various types and sizes ran the length of the wooden cabin which had been built over the deck, contrasting oddly with the bronze ports in the hull which had a lovely green patina. Laundry was strung on a line across the bow, and on the tarred roll roofing an old dinghy was lashed down, painted with the same lavish decor as her mother ship. Flower pots hung from the eaves, swinging back and forth with the movement of the boat, and Fitz could see more pots hanging in the windows inside.
It was Charm who finally tipped the pirates to the knowledge that there was someone on the barge because the noise woke her, she got up from her sheltered spot to investigate, saw what was coming and headed for Fitz.
Its all right, he reassured her softly, Just visitors. A bit different, I admit, but here they are.
He rose and she took his place, unwilling to welcome any unruly children to her home. She still didnt accept children, all of whom she associated with the trials of her kittenhood, but here was Fitz calling out to this boatload of juniors,
Hi there. Lovely day for a sail.
There was sudden silence aboard the approaching vessel and Fitz sensed consternation. At last the girl working the yuloh called out,
Excuse me, is this a private wharf?
You might call it that, returned Fitz, But youre welcome to tie up. We dont get many visitors, so we appreciate company. Have you come far?
The yuloh workers looked at each other, the boy getting a scowl from the taller girl.
Just came from up around the point, she finally called back.
The confusion didnt escape Fitz. He decided not to ask idle questions, as a courtesy to those of the sea who dont care to tell everything about their travels to strangers.
Tie up anywhere there, but dont get in too far or youll go aground, and just be careful when you walk on the wharf. Its a bit old and some of the boards are sprung.
Thank you, came the reply from the leader of the pirates while her craft, like an overfed and complacent old dowager, continued toward the wharf as the other yuloh operator left his post there and took the tiller.
Down from the crowsnest hurtled the lookout and as the boat came alongside the wharf she vaulted onto it with the bow line in her hand, making it fast to a piling.
Get the stern line ready Walter, she called as she ran along the length of the boat, catching that tied together blue and yellow line when it was tossed to her by the small boy, and fastening that as well.
This brought ELFINSHOE to a grinding halt which pushed the old wharf into a curve and back again as the boat settled against it.
That was good Therése, applauded the pirate captain. Much better than last time. Come back aboard now and well have some tea.
Can we have cookies too? came the request from the small boy.
Oh yes. We always have cookies on birthdays. You and Bernice go and start getting the mugs out.
Can we go and see the castle? asked two voices at once.
May we, for goodness sake. No, kids. Someone lives there. Now dont pout on your birthday. Go get the things ready. Morgan, youre too slow with the fenders. Theyre supposed to stop us from hitting the wharf, not for afterthought.
Yeah, I forgot, returned the other yuloh operator. Ill remember next time. I was kind of busy with the tiller.
Well, when we get in that close I can look after that because we dont need much power any more. Thats okay. Dont worry about it. Better luck next time. Well done everybody. Lets have tea, and those words took the rest of the crew down below to the cabin.
Treats all around, thought Fitz, and found himself half wishing he could join in, while Charm was wholeheartedly wishing this boatload of noisy juveniles would pack up and go back where theyd come from.
Come on Charm. Lets go have tea too, he invited. Dont worry. Its just a ship of fun. Theyll be going home for dinner soon.
Fitz was into his second cup of tea, trying to convince Charm that she should ignore the laughter and excited talk bouncing onto the barge from the visitors when he heard the shout,
Look! Look at the canoe paddling along!
Its got a lady in it.
Oh wowsie! Betcha shes a princess or something from around here.
Kidsget in here!
Then came Roses voice.
Hello ELFINSHOE. May I come aboard?
He heard the request being granted, then more snatches of conversation and laughter reached LEGER DE MAIN.
<Of course BRIGHT LEAF and Rose would fit in well with that world of make believe going on over there. Who would refuse to allow the owner of a canoe like that to come aboard?>
LEGER DE MAIN and JOLLY ROSE were curious. They were wanting to know all about that fascinating boat tied up at the old wharf, but she seemed a bit aloof. They werent quite sure whether she might be just a little shy, if she had something to hide, or if she might be one of those vain, proud personalities who wont mingle with othersthe latter seeming the least likely of the possibilities since, from the look of her, she had not much to be proud and vain about.
They were quite convinced though, in spite of that skull and crossbones flying from her lopped off masthead, that she was no pirate. Too fat, too slow, and too undisciplined.
To date, she was the only boat entering the bay lately who had not come over right away and introduced herself, whatever her intentions, but that had been Fitzs fault for showing himself. LEGER DE MAIN and JOLLY ROSE had to settle for watching BRIGHT LEAF carry on a conversation with the newcomer, as ROSEBUD peeked around the stern of the barge and they all floated there, ignored, hoping this breach of unwritten Bay etiquette would soon be remedied.
It soon was, because shortly after that the stranger cast off from the old wharf and headed for the barge, trailing BRIGHT LEAF along. Then Roses voice reached Fitz, hailing LEGER DE MAIN and asking permission to tie up alongside because the children really wanted to see the castle and it would be fun for the twins who were celebrating their fifth birthdays.
The reasons given were true enough, but Rose had other thoughts in mind. She felt that the visiting boat ought to be moored in a safer place than at the sagging wharf with its planks missing in several essential spots, and she wanted Fitz to meet the skipper and crew because she couldnt quite figure out what the devil they were telling her.
Shed been surprised to find no adults aboard, and all the contradicting going on among the young seafarers had been amusing at first, until a certain pattern had begun to emerge. It became apparent to her that the two little ones were blurting out the truth and the three older children were covering up quickly by saying the twins were making up things or forgetting.
She felt sure no one would turn children loose in a boat like that by themselveseven as a holiday outreach program or somethingwithout supervision, but this was the tale she was getting. Her legal experience as well as her own common sense told her there had to be another explanation, so she was relieved that at least the safety factor would be taken care of when her suggestion to visit the barge was accepted and ELFINSHOE drew up to be made fast under the stern of LEGER DE MAIN so the passengers could disembark.
Let the twins go first, came the girl skippers order.
Fitz leaned over the stern rail to watch the small copper-haired girl and boy scramble up the ladder unafraid, sure of footing and handholds, and he helped them aboard, the boy giving his sister a boost as she pulled herself onto the deck, tugging on her oversized old jeans so she wouldnt lose them when she straightened up.
Fitz regarded this miniature set of mischief confronting him as the two gave him cheerful grins, and the little girl announced with the total confidence that there would be instant acceptance,
Hi. Im Bernice and hes my twin brother Walter and heres Therése and Isabel my sisters and Morgans my big brother and is this an enchanted castle because Princess Rose says the bay is and that theres lots of magic here.
This had all been delivered with one breath, at the end of which the little girl took another big gulp of air as though ready to deliver more.
Well if Rose says so Im sure its true, Fitz agreed quickly, thinking hed better give her time to refill her lungs, as he smiled down at the two children. She lived around here when she was a little girl so she should know if anybody does, and as the rest of the crew came on deck he added, Welcome aboard everybody.
Are you the lord who looks after this castle? asked Walter, seemingly impressed by Fitzs height and trim beard.
Why yes. How did you know?
WellI wasnt sure becausehow come youre not all dressed up in nice robes and with a gold helmet and things?
Ohwell... , Fitz scurried around in his head to catch up with this flight of fancy. Im incognito. Mustnt let everyone know who I am you see. Thats why I was surprised you could tell.
So who are you then?
Whats your name?
The two questions came almost at the same time.
Im FitzRanulf Lewellyn Ethelred, Lord Greville-Griffiths-Jolliffe.
It was said in a playful tone and everybody laughed at that, except Rose, who didnt laugh at names. The twins regarded him silently with twin pairs of blue eyes.
I cant say thatI dont think, admitted Bernice at last, a little crestfallen, while Walter remained speechless for once.
Jut call me Fitz Jolly, thatll do, Fitz told her.
Thats easy, Walter jumped in, Fizz Jolly.
Jolly Fizz, laughed his twin.
Maybe wed better call him Big Ranulf, suggested Therése. Its more respectful and suits a lord betterespecially him.
Just then Bernice spotted Charm who was sitting defensively at the top of the three steps, and lord whomever was forgotten in the excitement of that discovery.
Oh, a beauty pussycat! she exclaimed and headed for Charm who headed for a hiding place at a gallop and disappeared as the voice of pirate authority cautioned,
Bernice! Behave yourself. Dont run.
Everyone else followed more slowly, to find the little girl standing in the big room looking bewildered.
Shes gone. Is she a magic cat?
Well her name is Charm, which might have something to do with the way she can disappear, offered Fitz, But actually, shes a bit afraid of children because some were mean to her once. Maybe in a little while shell come back.
We wont be mean, Bernice assured him, still hopefully searching about for Charm. We love pussycats and things but we havent got any right now.
This is a funny castle, observed her twin brother, looking around. Its kind of empty inside.
Yeswell, sometimes castles fall on hard timesget besieged you know, and have to recover from the ravages of attack and being plundered, explained Fitz.
Just like everybody else, remarked Isabel in the background while the boy continued,
Were you attacked? Maybe you can tell us about it.
Did you sail here to get away?
Once more two questions from twins.
Uhwell yesI did sail here.
That was pretty smart to put your castle on a barge and sail it here so they couldnt attack it anymore, observed the boy.
Fitz, who had meant hed sailed here on JOLLY ROSE, refrained from correcting him, finding the idea of escaping from raiders that way a novel and interesting proposition.
Is there a king here?
And a queen?
No, but Rose is the Elected Leader, and Charm is a Persian princess.
So whose land are you supposed to be in charge of then? asked Bernice.
So what place are you lord of then? enquired Walter at the same time, not too disappointed with leaders, lords and princesses.
The place is called Amaras Fee.
Thats a funny namelike yours.
It was named after the wife of the man who was first awarded the land a long time ago. The story is that he found his lady in a distant northern country and since she had won over his heart he named the place for her.
Is that what this place is called?
So were here then?
Ohnot this place. This is Shalisa Creek Bay.
Wowsietheres lots of big names.
Hard to say.
Wellwheres the other place? came the next question.
Where is it then? In another galaxy?
Its a long way from here being taken care of by my younger brother and his wife. They seemed to need it more than I did. I wanted to sail and they wanted to have children so we both got what we wanted. Now they have grandchildren rather like you, and children need lots of space to grow up in.
Having got so deeply involved in this convoluted discussion, he told more truth than hed intended because he couldnt think up tales fast enough, and now Fitz discovered that Rose was looking at him with discerning interest.
<So help me, I dont think hes making all of it up!>
But whats your brother living in now then if youve got the castle?
Ohwell, this is just a small castle and it actually belongs to another lord and Im looking after it for him, replied Fitz, deciding to terminate the interview. They have the big one for their own at home and it never gets troubled because hes very good at protecting it. Would you like to go up to one of the turrets and have a look out? You can see way out over the water.
Oh yeah! agreed the twins as one.
Therése, who had been standing quietly by with the older two through all this added,
Rose says there are whales out there and sometimes they come in quite close and theyre friends of her People. Is the turret higher than our crowsnest?
The three younger children climbed the stairs with Fitz, leaving Isabel and Morgan with Rose, who was becoming even more puzzled. The two young people stood there saying nothing, and this guarded attitude made her begin to think things over seriously.
The gear aboard their boat, if it could be called gear at all, was more like house furnishings than regimented camp goods, and it was all well used to the point of wearing thin. There were lots of books, and a few musical instruments, but the disorder within ELFINSHOE definitely wouldnt pass the most cursory of inspections which usually went along with outdoor programs for children, neatness and conformity almost always being of paramount importance on the agenda of such organisations. It also lacked sports equipmentor any equipment of the sort with which young energy could be expended ashore.
Isabel had said she was eighteen, which would give her adult status, but even though she was plainly in charge of this odd expedition, Rose doubted the girl was that oldmore like fifteen. She didnt really want to pry, but shed sensed something behind the cheerful balloons, flags, bright paint and potted plants, which had spoken to her of need and anxiety, in spite of the obvious attitude of self-sufficiency the two older crew members were giving outthe type of need forced on people by necessity and difficult circumstances.
Rose invited them to have coffee while trying to think of good reasons she could present to them as to why they should stay in the bay awhile, at least until she found out where the parents of these youngsters were. They were proposing to take off later, and to where they didnt say. Isabel mentioned going home but when asked where that was she had quickly dodged the question, telling Walter not to interrupt when he had replied the boats our home and then not answering at all, as though she had forgotten, or it wasnt important. Something, Rose realised, was not straight on.
She felt that, with a little encouragement, she could get them to stay, at least overnight if they actually were on some holiday journey. There were several ideas she could put forwardit was safe from bad weather here, there was good water, the children could play on a sandy, shallow beachthere were lots of ideas she could try out to coax them not to leave right away.
Now they were here she didnt like the idea of seeing them bucketting off in that ramshackle boat alone again, for whatever purpose and, though she kept telling herself it was none of her business, she couldnt put their welfare out of her mind, even if they didnt want to tell her all about themselves. Their reluctance to give her forthright answers assured her something was wrong. She intended to find out what it washer business or not.
- - -
ELFINSHOE, on the other hand, was busy telling everything. She wasnt standoffish at all, just cautious, but once she got started she wouldnt shut up. While ROSEBUD took a nap, LEGER DE MAIN, BRIGHT LEAF and JOLLY ROSE listened to her without interruption only because it was impossible to talk over or into the flow of her story. She had the gift of gab, and she proceeded to bestow it generously on her new acquaintances.
A young mans dream had been her beginning, just the way so many boats get their start and, ELFINSHOE said with a laugh, like countless other dreams, maybe theyre finest in the planning stage rather than in the execution. She was of the opinion that her dreamer should have left her as a wonderful thing of the never quite reached one-day-Im-going-to schemes which can lift the spirits and give new impetus to the pursuit of jobs with paycheques attached so that the money can be used for more practical and immediate things, which give just as much pleasure, if not more, because when the attempt to bring such dreams to reality gets under way it can become a drain on mind, body and money if the right amount of determination isnt added to all the other requirements.
The paycheques of some people, she suggested sagely, should never be spent on dreams, for these individuals have neither the staying power nor the ability to bring such projects off, and in these cases the dreaming itself should be the happy end gained, otherwise, if they persist, they usually get left with empty pockets, sour thoughts and half finished objects, some worthwhile and some just ludicrous, although she herself was glad she had come into being.
Sometimes, she added, there are certain unaccountable forces at work which seem to plague some endeavours right from the start, as though they had minds of their own which are at odds with the ideas of the original instigator. She giggled when she said this, and it had a waggish and naughty sound.
However, begun she was, from plans which showed her to be a large, carvel planked ketch, sheering to bluff bows and a plumb stem.
It was very exciting at first. Getting put together out of wood and fastenings where nothing but space had existed before gave her a real sense of being. The young man was reasonably adept at building and what he didnt know he learned. Some of the work got botched a little but nobody seemed to mind.
Many people came to watch, some even to help, and there was plenty of talk about the wonderful warm waters and interesting islands which would be on the itinerary of her maiden voyage. There were lots of visitors whose company she enjoyed, but then some others began to speak of mad seas and wild winds, and one even used the term pitch-poling, which gave her a shudder through her fine new keel.
As the work and planning progressed, she began to listen more closely to this talk, and considered it thoughtfully as she sat by herself at night.
The islands they spoke of seemed very far away and it sounded as though the waters in between were terribly vicious and threatening. It would probably be a strenuous voyage and she was becoming used to lounging about while being admired in this fine airy space where she was being built. The open sea sounded like a frightful place. Perhaps it wasnt her element at all.
ELFINSHOE mulled over these things as she sat in her warm, dry shedand offshore phobia began to grow.
The next time the young man came to work on her his saw broke down and it took awhile to get it fixed. Then he began to have bouts of clumsiness. Small tools would disappear down small spaces in her hull, difficult to get at and requiring time to retrieve. Electric extension cords rose up seemingly of their own accord and wound around his ankles, tripping him, and in one such fall he broke his arm, requiring a long layoff from the work.
Gradually, as time passed, less and less got done and more and more dreaming was accomplished over cans of beer with friends. The project, which had been optimistically estimated to require two years for completion, stretched that number to three, and was still nowhere near a launching when a pretty young woman came to watch the progress and stayed to marry the young man.
ELFINSHOE knew what the inevitable consequence of that would be. The wife didnt like sailing but she did like houses with furniture in them. After a year of total neglect the boat was sold as an unfinished hull for an amount which barely covered the cost of her materials.
Her new residence was a dry berth by a marina where she sat under a structure of struts and construction plastic, which wasnt as pleasant as the shed shed had before, but which was adequate enough to keep out some weather, and she waited to see what would happen next.
An old dog would come to visit, bringing along an even older man who smoked a pipe, wore a jaunty yachting cap and brought other people, to whom he told lies about how hed built this hull, but now he was unable to finish it because of arthritis.
He knew that he could get more money for an unfinished boat which is loved, since it has acquired that aura of romance which goes along with sailing, whereas everyone thinks theyll get a bargain if someone just wants to get rid of a back yard project because they need the cash. After all, that was how hed come by her in the first place. So she sat and sat until she was sold again, for a neat profit, to another young man with navigating stars in his eyes.
This time she was taken into a large, leaky, barnlike affair where other boats in various stages of undone were also waiting for money and energy to finish them, and birds had built nests in their comfortable crevices. The young man patted and petted her, telling her how beautiful she was, and he started to work on her immediately, but shortly after she had begun to enjoy his company a snowstorm dumped two feet of unwanted heavy wet cover around, and it got the better of the swaybacked roof over them, so it cravenly caved in, carrying with it all the masts which had been stored high up on the rafters.
These came down like lances, breaking ribs and stoving holes in ELFINSHOE and two other hulls before those masts which were made of wood had been broken themselves by the impact of the fall, and the aluminum ones were bent into interesting angles.
If you have never been holed, breathed ELFINSHOE, hope that you never are.
Insurance brokers came. Marine projects were written off as total losses. Money changed hands again. A couple of the owners of defunct dream boats were very glad to see their cash once more, thankfully muttering never again to themselves as they signed quit claims for it, but the young man who had bought ELFINSHOE cried as though he had lost a dear relative.
The damaged hulls were taken out and sold for scrap at ridiculous prices because it was cheaper than paying to have them done away with, and any money recovered, however insignificant, would help to defray company expenses.
Two brothers who bought her and her two broken masts, figured they had a bargain. They came with their wives and two teenaged children, repaired the holes and broken ribs, carted the hull and the two masts in four pieces off on a flatbed and deposited hull and all in the water at a government wharf, unceremoniously and without christening, a grave omission of maritime tradition which supposedly bodes ill for the future of such a project.
They got to work on her with energy and determination, and talk of warm south seas and long voyages offshore was rampant once more. A stretch of four years ocean sailing sounded pretty definitebut the job of getting her ready progressed slowly and with difficulty.
All sorts of things went wrong. When wash from a passing craft rocked the boats berthed there, as it often did, essential tools broke from crashing about with the motion or got tipped over the side into the waterand sometimes it happened when there was no wash. Knuckles got banged against things, causing hands to drop other things seaward. Wood was cut to the wrong size because somehow the measurements werent correct, and it all had to be redone at a cost which hadnt been figured into the budget. Cold wet weather brought the flu which took its toll of work time.
In spite of all this, she got decked in. Talk about repairing the masts was heard. Then arguments broke out about the placement of this and that, or the distribution of space below would engender noisy skirmishes between the two brothers but, somehow, a galley and head were installedat the end of which work there was a particularly vitriolic scene on the foredeck where blame for the various problems was flung back and forth, and during this exchange one brother pushed the other overboard into the saltchuck. The insults and threats which were forthcoming from that attack made ELFINSHOE flinch.
Then no one came for a long time. This did not distress ELFINSHOE.
Summer passed and she rode happily up and down with the wharf collecting barnacles and fine broad wavy streamers of seaweed on her bottom through winter and spring storms, as she enjoyed the company of geese and ducks who paddled around her. Schools of little herring sheltered below in her forest of marine growth, while she pretended not to notice the occasional curious strollers who looked at the For Sale sign on her, thumped her, walked on her decks and talked about going to the south seas.
Before anyone else could come to that decision a furious storm hit the coast and the outside finger of the wharf to which she was tied got torn from its pilings along with all the other boats unlucky enough to be there with her. Boats and finger were thrown onto the shore in a welter of lumber and hulls, where ELFINSHOE found herself lying on her starboard side, with sea and sand sloshing back and forth inside her as she wished dearly that she were back on shore in a nice dry shed being dreamt about.
That experience solidified her belief that the open sea was no place for her. If this sort of thing could happen so close to shore it didnt take long for her to figure out what greater terror must be waiting a few hundred miles from land. The delays in her construction had been all to the good as far as she was concerned, and she was glad that shed helped them along. This time she felt shed been fortunate. Only one hole in her hull, a few sprung planks, and some deep welts torn by rocks shed grazed past in her shoreward momentum. She lay there waiting for people to come and set her to rights again.
When salvage operations got underway though, and the insurance adjusters showed up once more, they decided this hull had seen enough of their money.
She did look her worst when they inspected her, with her load of barnacles and seaweed plainly exposed for everyone to see, her first and only paint job of undercoating now worn and scraped, her patches and leaky planks plainly visible, the large hole and gouges on her side catching immediate attention along with her waterlogged condition, but she felt that these things were not reason enough for them to slate her for demolition as a write offwhich was what they did.
She certainly hadnt planned on that!
Left on the shore, awaiting a truck to haul her away on that final journey, she saw a man and woman and five children come down to the beach one sunny morning. ELFINSHOE was desperate. She had to try something, so she smiled and waved at them. The children ran over to her and began climbing about, poking inside her hull while the woman cautioned them to be careful. The man surveyed the wreck with a speculative eye, finally wondering out loud if she were for sale maybe, cheap.
She was, with the proviso that this insurance company wouldnt cover her again and she was to be sold as iswhere is, but she had to be removed within a specified time. They wanted no more dealings with her, high rates or not.
That was just fine with the man because hed had no intentions of insuring her anyway. He never insured anything. He didnt believe in it and, besides, he didnt have that kind of money.
He didnt have any kind of money to speak of and that was why he wanted the hull. He saw in it a place to live, rent free, once it was cleaned up and dried out. It was nice and big and he could put a terrific cabin on top so everyone would have some room, instead of being crammed into the cramped, damp, dark little two roomed basement space they now occupied for an amount the couple considered robbery.
He put the proposition to the woman and she agreed enthusiastically. The daughter of a fisherman knew well how to live aboard a boat. She saw in it a chance to bring the children up in what spoke to her of a better environment. They got the wreck for a very short song and some inexpensive self-done repairs.
It was from them that the hull finally received her name, and it was because of the children that it was what it was. The woman loved the world of childhood and make believe and relived it through the five around her, so when one of them suggested that the boat looked like a shoe a big elf could wear, the name presented itself.
ELFINSHOE she became and, she noted, all talk of south seas was delightfully missing from any of their plans for her. She relaxed, unfolded, and showed herself for what she wascomfortable, unpretentious and definitely not seagoing material.
She became a live-aboard.
- - -
The shallow waters of the narrow, sheltered inlet where ELFINSHOE found herself next suited her perfectly. She felt that, had the choice of site been hers alone, it probably couldnt have been better. She was taken there by the wheezing and heroic efforts of a very old outboard motor, jury-rigged over her stern, and by the cheerful encouragement of five children, one woman and a man, and she knew immediately that shed found her place.
As an inshore sailer she would be moored in quiet, forsaken backwaters, with a crew which had no more ambitious sailing plans than a few little short picnic excursions along the coast in good weather as close to shore as they could manage it without running aground.
The arrangement delighted her. She became familiar with the ripe, growing, decaying smell of a tidal flat which surrounded her twice a day as the water came and went about the old dolphins which she now called hers, rent free. When it receded her keel sometimes touched bottom and sank a little into the rich mud, leaving her leaning against the dolphins for support, but at high tide she was well up and floating quietly in the calm, generously-seasoned soup.
She met the waterfowl who also lived in that peaceful place and who entertained her with their vibrant, noisy, vocal comings and goings as they took off and landed around herCanada geese, mallards and hooded mergansers mostlyand mornings arrived mirroring landing and take-off wakes and ringed ripples of upside down foragings.
Rain danced on the smooth waters, rustling lacey skirt hems, and Wind, soothed by a surrounding circle of trees into a placid friend, moved gently against her hull. In the evenings a pair of loons spoke to the night, throwing their soul-searching calls high up into the infinity of sky, from where they fell onto distant hills and were absorbed into an answer of tranquil silence.
The people who owned her came often to clean her up and get her ready and, at last, one day, the family brought their belongings to the shore in a half ton van of ailing and delicate condition. They off-loaded their old, worn treasures, few in number and fortunately light in weight, because the patient, patched dinghy they had acquired had to make several trips at high tide before everything had been ferried out to the boat and the family could begin settling in.
The deck areas became brightened with many potted plants, one of the loves of the lady aboard. The collection included herbs and wild onions, as well as flowers, all housed in various shapes and sizes of containers rescued from the recycle depot.
Once everything perishable had been wedged below decks, sheltered from the weather by a plastic tarp covering the open companionway, the children began to delight in their newly acquired freedom, and their father began to look around for building material.
He found it on shore in the form of collapsed, leaning and abandoned small shacks, which had been hastily put together there by an earlier generation of young rovers who had also been poor in material things, but had held a wealth of optimism and good fellowship in their collective hearts.
After a carefree beginning, scented well with good joss sticks and various other fine dedicated smoking herbs, the commune ashore had gradually begun to drift apart and depart, helped to do so by the non co-operative and belligerent attitude of nearby residents, a suggestion by Law and Order that they vacate the land, and a general deterioration in everything, including the health of the members.
Once they were left to themselves, the rattletrap shelters the group had built and lived in deteriorated quickly with encouragement from wind and weather, so that there was no need for them to be pulled down by the nearby irate neighbours, many of whom had threatened to do so when the places were occupied. The little dwellings sat contemplatively for awhile, just as their builders had done, holding strings of beads and paper flowers in their windows and then, like the commune they had served, they fell apart.
Hammer, nails and the efforts of a family now worked them into a different shape over the decks of ELFINSHOE, which would have pleased their former owners. Nobody minded a bit of moss growing on the wood. In fact the opinion was that it looked lovely on the outside and suited the boats character well. She was their elfish boat and they dressed her accordingly.
The children salvaged rope and wood which drifted into the inlet and was stranded ashore, and all of it was incorporated into the floating home. To save the cost of fuel for the old outboard, a yuloh was fashioned to be a means of economical, quiet propulsion and after it was installed and tried out it was pronounced to be a great success, which was fortunate, because shortly after that the old outboard opted for retirement and no amount of persuasion would entice it to reconsider its decision unless it received a large influx of money, which option was out of the question.
People nearby who were casually acquainted with the family shook their heads and stated in superior and patronising tones that the couple would never grow up themselves, much less be able to teach children how to be anything but useless and ignorant, making them unable to earn a living or take care of themselves when the time came. They would certainly become a burden on the taxpaying community and a general nuisance to themselves and everyone else, just like their parents.
The couple smiled encouragingly at each other, cranked their ears back three turns and pretended not to hear such denigrating remarks.
The eldest daughter brought out paints and brushes and proudly inscribed the chosen name on the hull of the happy boat, then asked for help in the decorating of the rest of it. There was no shortage of ideas and opinions so, to make sure there were no hurt feelings, everyone got listened to, and the decorating was quickly accomplished because there were so many willing and enthusiastic helpers.
With her brushes she outlined figures on the walls of the cabin, both inside and out, told the others which areas were to be filled in with what colours, and the boat was soon splashed with paint from half used cans which had been discarded by a wealthier family who had cleaned out their shed and were glad to get rid of it along with the used brushes.
Workers within, on the cabin roof above, and from the dinghy in the water below went at it with a will as the art took form, and was finally finished to a chorus of three traditional cheers and a tossing into the water of the head artist.
The little stove which kept them warm was never wanting for fuel because no one ever came aboard without bringing some offering for the woodpile, lumped under an old grey painters tarp on the aft deck, and even the two youngest children would collect bark and small branches for fuel. The stove was always cooking up something hot to eat or drink, even if it was only fish, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, chaphatis, nettle and onion soup and wild mint and blackberry leaf tea. The berries themselves were not overlooked either.
The family managed to fill most of their needs economically with a little ingenious thought and care and some interesting beachcombing, except for that one vital ingredientmoney.
To get this, the man decided the only place he could find work in such hard times was up north where hed been before. He knew there was money up there for a willing hard-worker, so he packed a few things into the old van and drove away with high hopes and a sore heart to search for a job, like a latter day Klondiker in search of gold.
The woman accepted this unwanted arrangement as cheerfully as she could and, after hed left, she and the children still played and laughed a lot although, as time went by, a certain worried cast began to settle on her face.
Trips to the post office for mail were turned into an event, with the hope of a letter from Daddy as the main theme, and when the third one which came contained a cheque, there was a wonderful but careful celebration which included fresh fruit and a vegetable soup bursting with variety.
ELFINSHOE got set for a happy existence, listening to the tales of what would go on when Daddy got back from up north.
Mother, though, seemed to get thinner and less active as the winter passed into spring, and one day she and the eldest daughter left in the truck of a sympathetic shore-based neighbour, a trip from which only the daughter returned.
There was quiet aboard as days passed, with hospital visits by the two older children. The two youngest kept asking when Mommy would be home, while the next up kept her silence, until one day they had to be toldMommy wouldnt be coming home at all.
Efforts to reach Daddy were frustrated because their last letter to him had come back with a note from his employer, saying that hed been laid off from his job because of lack of work and hed gone looking for another one, leaving no forwarding addressand no letter had subsequently come to tell them where he was.
After the funeral, well-intentioned people began to arrive offering help, among them one particularly terrifying woman who had something to do with government, stating as soon as she was aboard that she could place the twins immediately with a nice family for awhile, and she could soon find homes for the others. That would be the best thing, since everybody knewor thought they didthat their father drank and probably wouldnt be back to look after all the kids anyway, as the two oldest werent even his, but the womans from a previous marriageat least she thought it was a marriage. Shed have to check that out.
The twins were quite plainly referred to as illegitimate because the couple had been living common-law. This lady knew all about that kind of irresponsible father and his probable abandonment of them. She left saying shed make the arrangements, would return at the end of the week to take the twins, and that their belongings should be ready. Places for the others would be found a couple of days after that. Meanwhile a neighbour delegated herself as care giver. Not to worry. Theyd soon be well taken care of.
There was a frightened consultation after this visit. Mother had said to look after the family until Daddy came back, and the two older children were determined to carry out that mandate. The twins cried, saying they didnt want to go somewhere else. The quiet, slender daughter of Daddy and his first wife said she would run away if they put her anywhere. Ideas were tossed around, wild, frantic, desperate, and slowly the words of Daddys first daughter sank in.
Then the good news came to all the well-intentioned people that Daddy would be home, probably within the next day or two, and would take them down the coast in their floating home to an aunt and uncle who would look after them while Daddy worked.
The eldest daughter, carrying a letter of permission written and signed by Daddy, appeared at the bank wearing the smile of an innocent angel, withdrew what money there was in their account, and two days after the terrible visit from the intimidating woman, just as the sun spread light onto the high tide of the inlet, ELFINSHOE cast off from the dolphins and with the eldest boy and girl working the yuloh, she left the peaceful shelter of the tidal flat and set quietly out up the coast, with five children, no Daddy, and no aunt and uncle for a destination.
They had been on the way for a week when theyd sighted the Shalisa Creek Bay castle.
After their initial caution had been dropped a little theyd decided that the secluded bay seemed to hold out a safe harbour for awhile. At least Rose and Fitz didnt press them as to why they were alone, and it was nice to have adults around again to whom they could go for help and advice.
It was certainly a relief for Isabel, who was glad to be somewhere, safe, quiet and unthreatening. The responsibility for her actions, both with the bank and their departure, preyed on her mind as she thought more about it, and the necessity to keep moving with no idea of how to end their voyage had begun to weigh on her. She had also realised that their floating home was very visible and would attract immediate attention wherever they wentand they had only a limited amount of money for food and other requirements. Fish and seafood had become standard fare aboard.
They didnt tell the two residents of the bay about their escape right away. They didnt have to, because the twins talked enough to give an outline of the general situation, and a little intelligent deduction filled in what was lacking. Fearing to scare the young pirates off, the two adults decided to hold tight and say nothing for awhile, until at last the children themselves came forward with the information.
Rose took care to let them know the direction in which her sympathies lay. She told them about her own childhood, of growing up here in the little community of Shalisa Creek Bay, about her parents, Grandfather, and Letty and Ben, and her time away from this place, in the city. Her remarks were plainly not kindly inclined toward breaking up a cohesive family group, especially one with such tenacious and determined ties.
She knew well from her court experiences that once the hands of authority were on the children they would not be taken off again, easily or quickly. She couldnt think harshly of a man who had left his wife and children in what he must have seen as a safe haven at the time of his departure even if, in truth, he hadnt intended to return, which she doubted. He hadnt left them destitute, and hed sent money regularly until his disappearance. Rose and Fitz decided to make discreet enquiries where possible, in an effort to locate the childrens father.
Although it came as a disturbance at first, Fitz gave them the run of the barge, finding that he enjoyed the company of youngsters who liked to learn, and whose laughter and imagination certainly livened up the place. Even Charm began to make cautious and reserved appearances when they were around, except too much noise scared her off, and Fitz himself had frayed nerves more often than he liked. He simply wasnt used to childrenhe was used to being alone.
One day, in frazzled exasperation, he discovered quite accidentally that all he had to do to get peace and quiet was to draw himself up to his full height, take a deep breath, cross his arms over his expansive chest and order in a quiet authoritative voice while throwing his intimidating glance upon them, That will do for now, and silence descended. FitzRanulf Lewellyn Ethelred, Lord Greville-Griffiths-Joliffe, had spokenfine robes and golden helmet be damned.
The children learned quickly. Fitz was a tolerant and kind teacher, but when Big Ranulf got up from his chair with that look on his faceeverybody disappeared.
The youngsters took to living in the bay the way the birds and fish did. One week, and they were behaving as though it had always been home. Still, there was a certain uneasiness among them as time went by, and the twins were constantly climbing up to the turrets and spire to watch for space-pirates, until one afternoon they came clattering down and reported with excited faces that there were two boats, probably from another galaxy, heading for the bay one behind the other.