© Michael Eric Oberlin, September 25, 2014
Maegon entered a room lined with brilliant red feathers, its wispy curtains curtailing the ever-present mists of the outdoors. He did what he could to clean off his boots and wring out his coat, still caked with the mud and salt of the seaside. His body, from the hair on his head to the tip of his tail, was still wet with sweat and condensation. His jacket inner breast pocket had something cold in it, wrapped in paper, a trophy from the sea side cooling his beating heart.
This wasn’t his home, technically; but he was always welcome. This was the residence of Calypso Hollant, fortune teller and ornithomancer of great renown. Maybe not the greatest, but she impressed Maegon Deep. Periodically, he would pass by, bringing her something nice from the ships, and would use the kindness as an excuse to speak with her for a while.
Calypso welcomed him here, as a friend or a lover, but this was not his home. This place was far too well-kept for a man of the mud and the seawater. He was more accustomed to the durability of the beach, every nick and imprint and mar and smudge left on it polished away by the water. Here, his footsteps were eternal. He moved slowly and carefully, fearful that he might break something or leave a less pleasant mark. It was something surreal to him.
“Calypso,” he called.
“In here,” she said, from the adjacent room. He found her on her down bed, beneath a comforter lined with more feathers, of the deepest of blues. Her stare was alluring, but he would prefer that it meet him on the sand, away from all of these nice things. And yet she always treasured his company, a warm red smile crossing her face and not the slightest care for the ornaments of her cottage.
“Are you dressed?” he asked.
“Maybe,” she said, flickering the lids of her deep green fortune-teller eyes. “What do you think?”
“Scrying is your domain, not mine. I’m the one that fishes.”
She sat up, the blanket falling. She was indeed dressed, cat-napping in a midway clock cycle. It was only half-throne. Was she up late?
“Did you catch anything?” she said.
“I always catch something. This trip mostly brought mackerel, but I had the fortune of a few flounder. Most of it I owed to Lowray for his help sealing the leak a while back, but,” he said as he patted the breast his jacket, making a dry crackling sound, “I saved something to share with you.”
“Really?” She slipped out of the blanket and pecked him on the cheek, wrapping one arm around his waist and slipping the other beneath his coat. She pulled out a fresh flounder, neatly wrapped, fully grown. “The Gray was good to you.”
“So was the chain. You have to go pretty far out before you run into fish that big. You also, I’ll admit, have to be a little less than forthcoming to the people you owe a service to; but Lowray’s happy enough.”
Calypso slipped past him into her kitchen, where she lit the kindling of her wood stove. “We should eat it now, while it’s fresh.” She followed her words with a yawn, her weariness beaming through, here and there, the shroud of her excitement.
“Have you been getting enough rest?” said Maegon. He pulled a cutting board from behind the plates and began to gut and clean the fish, with deft and practiced hands. It wouldn’t take him long.
“Honestly, no, I don’t think I did.” She cleared a pile of bird bones from the table, sealing them in an ornate wooden chest kept in the corner. A beak here, a rib there, a dozen species. The occasional feather or foot, a drop or two of fresh blood from a flying and migrating creature.
“The birds were speaking to me,” said Calypso, with the falling tones of resignation. “Me specifically, you understand, or at least I think so.”
Maegon turned his head as he pulled the fillets off of the flounder bones. “You mean the dead ones?”
“Not how it works, silly; but yes, the divination birds, the ones in the chest and the spirit and the glass. All birds, really. The nature of the avian.”
Maegon picked the skeleton out of the flesh of the fish, putting it aside in a small dish. The fillets were ready. He topped them with salt and pepper and a dredging of flour, and slipped a bit of butter into a cast iron pan. It began to melt over the heat of the now burning wood.
“Can you do that?” he said, as he worked. “Can you read your own future, or in a broader sense fortune?”
She crossed her ankles and leaned on her palms over the table, watching him. “I think we all can, really; you don’t need birds or bones or crystal balls. It isn’t easy, though. You have to see yourself from the outside, as another person honestly would, both friend and enemy. I’m not sure anyone’s any good at it.”
“What about the masters? Like Sören in Acropolis, or Mai Han in the Boreholes?”
“Maybe,” said Calypso. “But that doesn’t mean that they find it any easier than reading someone else. The catch is that we all have many aspects, some of which contradict each other.”
The butter began to melt as the pan grew hotter. When it was simmering, Maegon dipped the fillets into it, frying them on one side. “Well if that’s true,” he said, “can one aspect have a contradicting fortune? Something has to tie them together, Calypso.”
“Well, I guess that tie is where we are, as a person. What we know about ourselves. Where we’re at peace.”
He flipped the filets with an iron spatula, cooking them on the other side. “I don’t know if that place is always inside of us,” said Maegon. “I’m more at peace when I’m on the sea than I am anywhere else. I can’t see the land, I’m alone, and if the clock jams then time leaves me too. But I’m happy.”
“An interesting take, sir.” Calypso got up to grab a couple of plates, and set the table for two. Maegon grabbed the fish filets with a pair of tongs, and dished them onto the plates.
“I don’t suppose you have any lemon, miss?”
Calypso laughed a little. “I had a lot, but I think I’ve gone through it all on all of your little gifts.”
“Well don’t worry, this is good fish.” He closed the vent on the wood stove, choking it out, and took a seat at the table.
“Will you take me with you someday?” she said, wondering if it was inappropriate at all.
Maegon did take a moment, staring back at her, studying her, before he mustered an answer. “I’ve never done that before,” he said. “It isn’t a very big boat.” He watched her a moment longer, wondering less of any proprieties and more of feasibility. “All right, sure.”
Calypso lit up. “Great!” She stood one last time, holding up a finger to interrupt his bite, then returned with a pair of wine glasses and an unmarked bottle. She opened it with a cork screw and poured out a deep mahogany liquid, almost purple.
“A little toast for us, to trying something new,” she said. “This is a vintage from the Sidhean, at the riverbed below Acropolis. Tribal people, with a masterful understanding of botany.”
Maegon eyeballed the brew as they clinked their glasses. It smelled somewhere between clove and licorice. “Vintage? So they what, they make it out of grapes?”
“I honestly have no idea. Probably.” She giggled, and sipped it with the fish.