Chapter Links & Complete Story in One Page
Seek and You May Find (or not)
“Watch where you’re stepping you silly cow,” said Felicity as Grace stumbled in front of her.
“You don’t even know what a cow is!”
“At least I’m not tripping over my own feet all the time.”
“Father says I’m going through a growth spurt.”
“An annoying spurt is more like it,” Felicity told her and stomped off down the beach, leaving her sister to carry the clam baskets. The mix of sand and pebbles was soggy under her feet, making stomping difficult, but she did her best.
“Moo,” Grace muttered under her breath as she gathered up the buckets, wondering if it was true that cows really were like “fat, slow-moving deer that go moo”, which was the best description her father could give of them.
The sky above the beach was damp and gray. The forest backing the beach was damp and green. The beach itself was damp and sandy. The ocean wasn’t damp: it was wet.
Grace followed her sister Felicity awkwardly down toward where the women were digging for clams. It was a neap tide, the water barely moving over the course of the day. That made for difficult digging, but if they wanted to eat they had to dig.
The salmon run had been poor this year. The worst in the colony’s short history. The colonists had staked out nets and weirs as they had done the previous year, but had caught hardly anything before everything was swept away by a great storm and unusually high tide one late September night. By the time things were repaired the bulk of the fish were far upstream.
Grace dropped the baskets in a heap beside Felicity and another girl named Hope, who said in a voice laden with dramatic import, “We’re all going to die here.”
“Don’t be a silly cow,” Felicity told Hope upon hearing the other’s despair. It wasn’t much of an insult, but it was better than no insult at all.
“She can be a cow if she wants to,” Grace said, moving along the row of digging women to gather up the clams they had found since the girls had hauled the last batch to the village, where a great heap awaited salting and pickling.
Not that these were proper clams. The Fey called them ‘ba’, but they called anything with a shell that. The English called them ‘trunk clams’ although she’d heard the boys use another word entirely. She wasn’t properly familiar with male anatomy, but it seemed to her very unlikely that the yard-long siphons really bore that much resemblance.
There were few enough clams to be had this far up the beach. In a week the afternoon tide would be lower and the harvest would be better, but autumn storms might come too, and make digging impossible. Grace looked along to where a heron stood watchfully on the rocks. Gulls swooped low overhead, hoping to snatch a savory treat from one of the clam-baskets, where the fat, anatomically evocative bivalves were gathered.
As Grace looked around she heard Hope muttering, “I hate this place. I wish I could die.”
Grace shook her head. It was bleak and barren, but beautiful in its way. If life was just a little less hard she might come to love it. If only a ship would come, a great stately castle of the sea, moving gracefully under sail… much like that one now drawing in close along the shore, in fact.
She let out a scream of panic and delight, bringing all the other women’s heads around in time to see a sailor lose his grip on the ratlines to be left dangling by one foot over the deck, while a brightly dressed woman amidships waved and called to them, her words unintelligable through the damp distance.
“We must warn father!” Grace cried as the women gathered around to watch the ship sweep slowly toward the bay. A number of the sailors had noticed their audience and started shouting and waving. Their calls came audibly but unintelligibly over the water until silenced by a loud shout in which only one word was clear, but it was very definitely an English word.
A few of the women called back to the sailors, who were now ignoring them, although the feminine figure on deck did return their waves.
“I must warn father,” Grace repeated, and turned to run down the beach.
“Don’t trip over your own feet, you silly cow!” Felicity called, while Hope moaned, “Oh I just know they’re going to be shipwrecked and marooned here with the rest of us!”
Grace ran on through the forest, her feet slamming awkwardly on the steep path up from the beach.
A ship! She would have sung the words had she not been using all her breath for running.
She had always been a big girl, but since their ill-fated ship had passed through the Straits of Annian to enter Faerie she had seemed to grow bigger by the day, tripping over her feet and running into things. How she envied the other girls, and even moreso the Fey, who were grace personified instead of merely named.
At the top of the path she paused. Her legs ached and her lungs burned. Her breathing came in long hard gasps. Through gaps in the trees she could see the ship rounding the point.
The wind was so light the ship seemed to move like a ghost, and she felt a sudden stab of fear: could it be just an apparition? Then she remembered the sailors shouting across the water, and the word that had silenced them. She didn’t think apparitions said that.
She had recovered her breath and was turning to continue on to the village to warn them of the coming ship when a sound caught her attention. Peering through the forest dimness she could see a large bear, less fat that it should be to face the coming winter, browsing off berries in the understory.
It stared back at her, unmoving.
Grace hesitated. She was rarely at a loss for words.
“Hello?” she asked, then wondered, since she’d asked a question, what the answer might be.
The bear paused for a moment of consideration before replying thoughtfully, “Sassafras.” Then it returned to its meal.
That answers that, Grace thought, as she pushed her tired legs back into a run.
Rothgar the sea bear, a fortnight famished, watched her go thinking, “What a strange person.”
The path wound like a thin ribbon between the rocks and trees, over thick tripful roots and around moss-covered bluffs where the bones of the Earth poked up through the forest loam. Despite the cool overcast of the day Grace was hot, and her dress seemed to billow like a sail, slowing her down.
“Grace my lady runs
Her pace slowed further as she neared her journey’s end, but she was still going at a fair clip when a slim eldrich figure stepped out into the path before her and gave a courtly bow, sweeping his elaborately feathered hat off his head and saying in the formalized speech of his people:
“Grace my lady runs
through the byways of the wood.
I offer my aid.”
True to her nature if not her name Grace plowed into him, sending him tumbling awkwardly into the wet undergrowth with a crash of broken branches and an incoherent “Oof! Look ouch where you’re ga! Ouch!” It was the first time she’d heard him say anything remotely interesting.
Grace found herself lying flat on her face, the slim figure of Yee-Ha squashed beneath her. At least Yee-Ha was as close as her awkward tongue could come to pronouncing his name.
Forto bugyer indullmph?
Plz git uffofme?”
Grace barely listened to the muffled words, her attention briefly captivated by the lovely purple flowers that bobbled right in front of her eyes. Their brethren, she feared, were lying beneath her and Yee-Ha, who was now trying to wiggle out from under without actually touching her, which wasn’t going to work.
She rolled over and he heaved a sigh and began to speak again, but she shushed him and got to her feet, barely missing crushing the last remaining blooms.
“Not now, you silly… goose!” she admonished him, reaching for a modicum of originality, and left him catching his breath on the ground as she ran on.
Bears and boys, Grace thought as she neared the village. Boys and bears. What else am I going to run into?
At least she’d run into the boy literally and the bear metaphorically, and not the other way around.
The pitter-patter of lightly running feet warned her the boy hadn’t been entirely put off by being jostled off the path. His voice came from behind her, the longer than usual pauses between his formally inflected lines the only sign of the effort he was making to keep up with her.
“determination…” Pause for breath.
“her focus, the task at hand…” Pause for breath.
“Don’t be such a silly cow!” Grace acquiesced, and was faintly gratified to hear the following footsteps stop and his voice wobble as he revised his final line on the fly, “what is this thing, cow?”