Ocean passage was never easy for a gargoyle. Most were content to pack themselves away in a carton, but Spar had developed an unusual (for a goyle) appetite for the ever-varying spectacle of clouds in slow parade against blue depths or starry night skies. Besides, packing arrangements took several days—even weeks, depending on the port and its stringencies—and on this occasion he had not even several hours to spare. If he failed to leave tonight, then morning might find nothing left of him except some black gravel fit only to be swept into the harbor. Complicating matters, the port was unfamiliar and all the ships looked equally sea-unworthy in the dark. He compared them to the crumpled list of vessels leaving that night, scribbled out by the terrified quartermaster at his request. Three smeared names matched up to three creaking candidates that chafed against the dock as if restless, like himself, to be away. But how was he to choose among them?
As he cast about for some differentiating factor, he noticed a pale face nodding down at him from the nearest of the ships. A feminine creature, friendly and alert—and definitely, alluringly, beckoning him aboard.
Spar bowed back, a gesture he had learned from humans, unsure if she were signaling to him. In response she dipped her head closer, affirming his silent question with her entire being.
This was the portent he sought, and more than he needed—especially now that he heard voices raised in the night, footsteps turning from the wharf and rumbling down the dock. He sprang into some dangling lines that spilled from deck and pulled himself aboard, finding the planks reverberant beneath his heavy feet.
Before long, his pursuers rushed out along the dock. Spar hunched low, peering over the side through the mounded net. A party of torch-bearing men paused at each ship, demanding of whatever watch was on duty the right to board. In some cases the requests were met with indifference and the ships were boarded, in others with defiant bellows and the men moved on. But the ship Spar had selected was quiet and dark, its occupants no doubt off carousing, and it seemed likely the searchers would board without opposition. He leapt lightly to the mast and climbed to its peak, clinging there like a sky-barnacle watching them come and go below. He much preferred the stability of a traditional spire or roof peak; but he enjoyed the advantage of watching their every move from above. They swept their torches into the corners where he had first hid, making him glad he had ascended to the height. And just as they began to argue about who should climb into the riggings, Spar heard even angrier voices rising from the wharf. A sizeable flood of men were streaming from the tavern district.
“You there? Who’s that aboard our ship?” said a belligerent voice like a stone drawn across a rasp.
“Stowaways or customs agents!” another, shriller, speculated.
“Either way—dead men!”
What happened on the dark deck was never entirely clear to Spar. Those in the vanguard of the newcomers quickly scrambled aboard and confronted the interlopers in a muddle of violent shadows and shapes. He soon heard heavy splashing on the side opposite the dock, and then muttered consultations that ended in agreement on the advisability of a hasty departure. Relieved of his immediate apprehension, Spar considered returning to port. But there was no concord between his wishes and this crew. The men spread out through all the crannies of the ship like black wine spilled and drunk down into thirsty wood. In a goylish panic, he saw a number of them scurrying up the rigging, toward the very spot where he watched and waited.
It required no special effort for Spar to remain immobile, for movement contravenes the gargoyle’s essential nature. Still, it occurred to him that any who climbed this high would be surprised to find one of the yardarms replaced by a stone arm. He hunched there like a petrified seabird, his wings slightly parted, and felt the ship begin to rock more deeply underneath, Spar himself swaying like the bob on an inverted pendulum. Faintly luminous sails of pale violet snapped out, full of the night wind, and the lights of the dock began to pull away. Spar watched until the lamps of the port were as small as the stars above, and then some dark eclipsing buttress of headland must have moved between the ship and land. They were away.
The first night passed with no further incident, save toward morning when he realized dawn would find him pinned against the sky by the mainmast, plain for all to see. While the dark still held sway, he descended slowly, avoided the more alert sailors, crept among the dozing ones, and made his way down into the hold, so packed with cartons, crates and tarpaulined lumps that he knew he could hide here undisturbed.
Except for his weight, he could be no burden to the ship’s crew. An ordinary stowaway would have to pilfer the stores to survive; not so Spar. The crew ought to have no objection to his presence. Still…superstition ruled any ship. Spar knew himself to be inconsequential as long as he stayed unseen and out of the way, but sailors had been known to jettison their entire cargo for fear of the goyle it might contain.
His only regret that first day was that he had no view of sea or sky, and must wait for nightfall if he wished to find a position with more scenic potential. The seamen stumbled about on the deck; heavy weights dropped from time to time, reminding him of family footsteps; he heard the occasional clang of a bell marking hours; and once a throat-clearing figure crept down into the hold and rummaged among the supplies, kneeling out of sight for several minutes, muttering and gasping at something unseen, freezing when voices came near the hatch, then limbering up and lurching away to abovedecks when they’d moved on.
Spar watched and waited: unblinking, unbreathing, unmoved.
At last the ship grew quiet except for that occasional bell. He ascended past sleepers in swaying hammocks, climbing to a spray-damp deck.
He had missed the day entirely and was left with only stars to console him. For a time, a watchman traced the vessel’s cramped byways, casting a lantern about. But soon the lantern settled and from its fixed location came irregular snoring. Water slapped the ship’s sides. Spar moved toward the bow, absorbed in the pleasant tip and tilt of the deck. Something about the rhythm, leaping and falling, reminded him of the feminine creature who had beckoned him aboard.
In all his time on the ship, during last night’s fray and the day’s long wait, he had heard no female voice. Had she called him aboard and then slipped away herself? Or was it possible the ship might conceal another stowaway, one hidden elsewhere in the many nooks and crannies of the ship?
As he pondered possibilities, leaning forward to watch the seafoam cleaving against the prow, he saw a pale form in the water, leaping ever ahead as if narrowly outrunning the ship. At first he thought it a fish, but it swam so strong and steady, so perfectly matched to the speed of the vessel, it seemed more like a reflection of the moon traveling with them. In fact, its pallid glow was very much like that of the moon, not to mention the lovely bright features smiling up at him from the water, yet not of the water.
“Aren’t you going to say hello?”
He raised his eyes and looked out through the dark wet air into which they sped—and there she was: craning around to look back at him over her shoulder. The very same who had seemed so glad to see him board the ship last night. How was it she floated out there ahead of the craft? Why did she not turn and face him?
Finally, he saw her nature. She was fixed to the prow of the ship—was, in fact, its figurehead. A lithe yet sturdy feminine form, her figure gave only passing tribute to the mammalian bipeds that had carved her. To Spar’s eye she was finer in every respect. She made him momentarily ashamed of his own crude shape.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, enraptured. As little as he saw of her—with her fullness turned away from him, suspended above the rushing dark—there was something about her that made him feel for the first time the potential of quickstone for…quickness. “Hello! Hello, indeed!”
Mainly keeping an eye on their course, she granted him another quick glance.
“And your name?” she asked.
“Why is that funny?”
“I’m amused that a creature of stone should be named for a ship’s part, and the same whose role you played last night. Spar!”
“It is a respectable mineral name. I was not aware it had some maritime application.”
“No matter. I did not mean to wound your dignity.”
“I do not believe I possess such a thing as dignity.”
“Really? I had thought you were composed entirely of it.”
“This is quickstone. Not quite a homogeneous composition, but close enough. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the stuff, out here on the open water, where it has no reason to be.”
“And what is your reason for being here, O Spar of Stone?”
“Nothing worth your time to hear it related,” Spar replied. “But what of yourself? Why are you here?”
“This is my grove,” she said. “Where else could I be?”
“All the timbers of the ship…we were cut from the same stand of songwood, from the same deep patch of forest. Once we stood together, old nurses and guardians, fathers and mothers, shoots and sprouts. It had always been so. Then one day the flesh came with axes and saws, and I watched my family hacked down around me. The pitiless flesh took no notice of our screams…until they reached me. Me, they could hear. When they stopped their hacking, I believed I had some power over them. But they had only stopped to congratulate themselves on their good fortune. They had been looking for songwood, which grows in rare groves like mine. Once they were sure of what they had, they commenced to cut me down. Later, another man carved me into this shape, which is hardly my true one.”
“Any more than the form you see is my true form,” said Spar. “We have much in common then. I too was deeply alive, my consciousness a flicker in the span of a quickstone seam, until the day a human hacked me out in a huge block and whittled me down to this clumsy shape you see. My mind was cut off forever from the great ocean of stone.”
“Your form is not unpleasing,” she said, “but I can tell that there is more to you than that.”
“And to you,” said Spar. “At least water is friendly to your kind. And here you are with your grove all around you, while I am far from home and family—far from land. But will you tell me your name?”
“I am Sprit,” she said.
“Are you alone of your kind, Sprit?”
“From time to time, in certain harbors, I have seen other figureheads carved from songwood like myself. Mainly they guide the gallant ships, far too proud to consort with this dingy vessel. As you must have noticed, my crew is unsavory even by fleshy standards.”
“I’ve seen little of them, but they were handy enough at dispatching last night’s search party.”
“Oh, truly, they are practiced at violence. Their captain’s the cruelest of them all. I have not always belonged to him. My first owner was a placid, peaceful sort, which contributed to my falling so quickly from his possession. Each of my many masters has been nastier than the one before. You picked a fine ship to stow aboard, Spar. Still, I am glad for your company. No one here speaks to me, except occasionally to ask my seafaring advice.” She laughed. “As if I—who grew up in a deep wood, seeing stars only in winter, bound utterly to the land—would have the faintest expertise in celestial navigation or other matters maritime!”
“What do you tell them when they ask?”
“I make things up,” she said with a coy smirk. “Speak in riddles. Oh, they love that! It keeps them busy for weeks. I especially enjoy tormenting the captain with the suggestion that he is continually drifting past hidden treasures that would be his if only he weren’t too obtuse to unravel my riddles. He tolerates me because, owing to his superstitious nature, he believes I bring uncommon luck. If he’d truly observe his sorry condition, he might question just how much luck I’ve brought him, or myself.”
“Your tale saddens me,” said Spar, who felt such a twinge as he had only felt previously for stonekind. How strange that wood and stone should have so much in common—including the enemy, flesh.
“Perhaps I exaggerate,” she said. “It is all I have, I’m afraid. Now that I can no longer stretch my limbs to the sky or my roots toward deep springs, there’s nothing left to reach with but my words. I was meant to regale my grove with tales and poetry and songs, but they are deaf and dumb now, mute planks. I wish to believe there’s life enough left in them to feel my love. But at other times I hope they bear no wits…for how horrid it would be, trodden upon by unworthy boots, unable to change or grow or even die in a natural way.”
Spar noticed a pale golden sap trickling down her cheek. He reached out and touched her side. She put out her hand and took hold of his. Together they stood for a long while, unspeaking, as the ship plowed on into the night.
Toward morning, when they reluctantly parted hands, it was as if they had grown together in the dark hours: Spar-and-Sprit. He asked her if she might suggest a hiding place with a view of the horizon, but she knew nothing except the bow. She knew not their destination, nor how long the journey might last. Rather than risk discovery, he returned to his previous place in the hold, arriving just as the first morning bell began to sound.
The second day passed much like the first, save for the new restlessness pervading him. A gargoyle was not meant to feel agitation, but Spar had trouble remaining at rest. He continually restrained himself from raising the hatch to gauge any change in the light. The bells came at interminable intervals. The tiresome voices of men, men, nothing but men. After an age, however, there came a change in the ordinary sounds of the ship. He heard a high tone raised above the grumbling, a musical note that wove and wended its way through the creaking and clanking and cursing. It took him a moment to realize Sprit was singing.
For me? he wondered. Or was this a common occurrence? He could not imagine it was a typical treat for the sailors, and in fact it was wasted on them. The voices of the men began to whine and wheedle, full of complaint, until finally he heard the gruffest of them cry, “Shut the bitch up! If she doesn’t quit, I’ll carve a plug from her arm and stopper her up with it!” There was laughter at this, followed by escalating threats of mutilation and even fire. Spar grew ever more enraged and indignant. How dare they! It seemed strange they would treat her thus, if they truly believed her a talisman of luck. Yet it was not the first time the goyle had seen humans deride the very thing they knew (or anyway, believed) to be their best hope of happiness.
Finally Sprit fell silent, and there was much cheering.
Moments later, the hatch creaked open, softly shut, and feet came clomping down the steep steps. The throat-clearing figure, same as yesterday. Again, the young crewman went to a covered pile, threw back the tarp, and crouched there for some time, quietly busy. Spar gained no more insight into this activity than he had the previous day; and in fact, it would hardly have interested him had he not detected a pattern that promised to give some insight into the secret heart of men. As abruptly as before, the figure stood up, tightened and smoothed the tarp, and hurried out again. Not long after, Spar heard footsteps on the boards above. Then a small riot of voices accompanied by shuffling cards, clinking coins, shattering glass. While he waited for the men to drink themselves into their nightly stupor, he made his way over to the covered pile, to the spot where the visitor had stood, and pulled back the oily cloth to reveal a puzzling assortment of objects.
Nothing there seemed of particular value. Several warped wooden trunks with verdigris-encrusted clasps, some barrels, and a variety of objects that Spar took to be art—perhaps loot the captain had acquired in the same manner he’d taken ownership of this vessel and of Sprit. The art was a miscellany: A battered brass ewer on a length of chain. Several canvases, stretched on water-warped frames, depicting landscapes, livestock, unclothed human females. A large salad bowl fashioned of a single piece of lovely dark wood. The latter interested Spar because it made him think of Sprit. Its smooth curves, reminiscent of her strong shoulders; its polished hollows like the hollow of her throat. The mere notion that it was carved of wood, even though hardly as warm and alive as she, he found curiously compelling. In fact, who could resist? He ran his fingers along the edges of the bowl, tracing its deep concavities with solemn fascination. Was this what the crewman had also come to worship in the gloom? Had Spar discovered the beginnings of an affinity with humankind? With a care approaching reverence, he set the bowl back where he had found it, close by the forked nightmare portraits of unwholesome female flesh. He pulled the tarp back into place.
When the ship was once more sunken into silence, Spar made his way to Sprit’s side. He found her mute, with long golden runnels of sap encrusting her cheeks as if she had spent the day weeping. She brightened at the sound of his voice, and turned as far as she could to send him a smile.
“I heard you singing today,” he said.
“I’m glad,” she said. “They threatened awful things if I didn’t stop, but I haven’t felt the mood come over me in many years. A spell so rare I couldn’t bear to waste it. It never occurred to me that they might hate my songs.”
“They are hateful things,” said Spar. “And hate-filled. Miserable in their little lives. I wish…”
But it was such a strange thought that he stopped before he could finish it.
“Wish what, Spar?”
How odd it felt to say it: “I wish I could take you away from here. Even though it is selfish, almost a wish of the flesh ones—because it would mean taking you from your grove.”
“I believe I divine your sentiment,” she said, “and I thank you for it. But you are right. Even if I were free to leave, I would be too torn. Who would care for the planks, were I to abandon them?”
“Would they even be aware of your absence?” Spar asked, hesitantly.
“I have no way of knowing. I must assume so, and comport myself accordingly. But I would go with you if I could. I have never met anything like you, Spar. I hate to think of the day we pull into port, and you go on where I can never follow.”
“I as well,” said Spar. “I wish I could remain out here all day long, without a care to what the soft ones think. I don’t fear for myself, you understand, but you…what might they do to you?”
“Let’s not think of such things. We have the whole night before us. Will you hold my hand as you did last night? Did you feel how strange it was? As if we were growing together?”
“I thought only I felt that,” Spar whispered, and took her wooden hand with his hand of stone.
That night she sang a lullaby of the grove and a slumbering peace descended on the ship. The boards ceased creaking, their passage through the sea so steady that it almost seemed they were not moving. Forward, ever forward they flew, which meant morning rushed up to meet them and Spar was almost caught out in the open. As the crew stirred, groggy and cursing, he made his way by little flits of movement between the last shady crannies of night, finally back down into the hold. But today he had a plan, something to look forward to. His feelings for Sprit had made him bold.
Forsaking his previous position, he set himself where he could keep an eye on the odds and ends beneath the tarpaulin. If the throat-clearing visitor returned, he was perfectly poised to observe whatever occurred. Without such distraction to keep himself amused, the thought of another long day apart from Sprit would have been unbearable. As it was, he held himself in a private humor, and the waiting was delicious rather than otherwise.
The pattern played out as predicted. Late in the day there came a squeal of the hatch, followed by cautious footsteps. Before the hatch dropped, Spar caught sight of the visitor’s face in a slanting beam of light from above. It was a young human, pock-faced, gangly, with bubbling breath and popping eyes. The boy went swiftly to the draped pile of cargo, folded it back, and began rummaging among the items. Spar leaned forward, ever so slightly, hoping to determine precisely which inanimate object had made the boy its slave. He clearly heard a hollow ponk as the wooden bowl was shifted.
At that moment, the fellow froze in an attitude of listening. Spar was quite sure he had made no detectable sound or movement; no pulse or respiration could betray him. A room with a gargoyle in it is exactly as quiet as an empty room. Yet the boy slowly craned his head around and stared straight into Spar’s dark corner. His eyes popped even farther from their sockets, his skewed teeth glinted in a wet grimace, and he gulped loudly. Spar had tucked himself in with his hands on his knees, wings folded together, in hopes of looking like something that might have been inconspicuously stuck back here for several voyages. But still…the boy seemed preternaturally suspicious, senses heightened by guilt or shame, as if caught in the midst of some illicit activity and expecting apprehension.
The moment stretched out into gargoyle minutes: unchanging. Then, slowly, the boy put out a hand and pulled the tarp back over the cargo. Spar held still, braced for the boy’s inspection, but it never came. He backed softly toward the steps, then ascended in a rush. The hatch banged shut.
Spar waited for repercussions, voices raised in outcry, feet pounding overhead…but nothing befell except the evening bell. He supposed the boy too embarrassed or ashamed to speak of his presence below deck. Humans were prisoners of strange inhibitions, visible in their complexion, which Spar could only describe superficially and despair of understanding.
The third night was one of quiet confessions. Sprit, knowing Spar hated missing the day’s sights, had saved her recollections and spread them out for him—from the morning kekells that had swarmed the ship, crapping on her shoulders until she caught one and wrung its neck, to an afternoon visitation of deepridge finnies. She described how at sunset she had spied a mountain in the distance, shimmering and possibly unreal, a mirage; but also possibly marking the end of their journey. Spar wondered how he might contrive to stow away even longer, remaining with the ship from port to port. And both wondered aloud how they could feel this way—as if they had known each other always, and wished always to remain together. Songwood and quickstone, so unalike but sharing one soul.
She looked back at him as she always must, over her shoulder, out of the corner of her eye. It was frustrating—like seeing the moon always gibbous, never at full.
It was then she said, “The humans speak of love as if it were something only they possess.”
“Of course they would,” said Spar. “It is more of that selfishness of theirs. As if the world did not exist before they entered it. But what is more ancient than stone? And which grew first, flesh or wood? If there is love, they must have stolen it from us.”
“What do you mean, if there is love? Do you not feel it, Spar? Have you not felt it since the first night?”
He bowed to her slightly, remembering the quickening he’d felt the moment he first saw her dipping toward him out of the dark above the pier.
“It is true,” he said. “This is love, more ancient than flesh. I do love you.”
“Oh, Spar, I—”
But she did not finish, for at that moment light flared upon her cheek and Spar’s shadow leapt out across her. He turned and saw they had been discovered. A handful of men stood on the deck with lanterns suddenly uncovered.
“I told you!” said the phlegmy voice of the bug-eyed boy. “A gargoyle’s aboard! That’s why it was gone from the hold.”
“Aye, it was up here consorting and all.” The captain spat. “You treacherous bitch. You repay us by betraying us?”
Sadness was in Sprit’s eyes, and a fine old anger. “I have done nothing but the work of the ship,” she said evenly. “This is no business of yours. My private life is not your concern.”
“You have no private life!” the captain sneered. “You are my creature. And now you’ve brought evil aboard! This explains our long run of bad luck, don’t it? How long have you been harboring this devil?”
“I owe you no explanation,” she said.
The captain clomped forward. “Take the thing, men,” he said. “Overboard with it.”
No one moved, nor did Spar, but he found his voice. “I have done no evil, nor mean you any. But it will take more than this number to move me if I do not will it.”
“No evil? You’ve perverted my bowmaid! She had no thought of else until this time. Where now will she steer my ship?”
“Away from all hazards, I’d wager, unless you force her into them. You needn’t look to us for evil explanations when plenty hide here among you. Ask your cabin-lad there. Him! Ask him what he gets up to, down in the hold.”
The boy began to gasp and stammer and his eyes nearly came unsprung. Spurred by his reaction, Spar stabbed the knife in deeper:
“Yes, you ask him what he’s up to with the salad bowl!”
For a moment, so blank were their eyes, he wondered if he had hit far wide of the mark—guessed recklessly with regard to human passions. No one moved. Yet in the next moment, the captain let out a growl: “Never mind him, lads—he’s just trying to baffle us!”
The pipsqueak shrieked, and then they were rushing heedless at Spar. All he did was raise his arm to sweep them aside, and three men went down with cracked skulls. Standing his ground came naturally to Spar. But a weakness new to him appeared suddenly in the fray.
“Please,” Sprit cried, “please, he’s done nothing but keep me company in the night! He is kind, that is all!”
The captain rose from the deck, rubbing his forehead, the cabin boy laid out cold beside him.
“Leave the goyle, men. I know what to do. We can trust the bitch no longer. I want my shipwrights here, double! And tell em to bring their tools!”
Feet scurried off. By now there was no one left snoring in the depths of the ship. All were on deck, marvelling at the scene, laughing, cursing. At the edge of the sea, a pearly orange glow betokened morning. A dozen men moved toward Spar, but they fell back when he spread his wings. Meanwhile, others worked their way out onto the bowsprit, along the prow; and these were men with saws and axes.
“Cut her loose, men! She’s brought us nothing but evil anyroad!”
Sprit’s lips were fastened tight, fiercely clenched, as they began to saw and chop into the pale wood low along her body, where the lovely lines of her figure smoothed into the stockier lines of the ship. Spar tried swatting at the men but they were just out of reach; they were agile and limber as apes, after all, and this was hardly his natural habitat.
“Stay, Spar!” she called, seeing his agitation. “It hurts me not. Look to yourself!”
“I care only for you!” he said, and the crew laughed for the most part, although a few stared at him, perplexed.
The last deep cuts were made, and her fate decided. Sprit sagged forward with a splintering sound.
“Farewell, my grove! Wood of my wood!” She bent so far that her face almost touched the water. “Farewell, Spar!”
And then, with a cry, she dropped. A long splintered stake was all that remained of the ship’s figurehead.
The crew let up a cheer.
“What now, goyle?” said the captain, thrusting an ax toward Spar, but not so close that he might chip the blade.
Spar did not hesitate. The ship forged on no matter what might have been said, and Sprit was being borne away with every passing second. He moved quickly aft, plowing through the men who didn’t clear a path fast enough, and finally put himself just above her. She was floating with her face in the water, her arms held close before her, her ragged stump unmoving.
His weight carried them both beneath the waves, but by the time she realized what had hit her, Spar was losing his grip. She struggled to face him, flailed for his hands, but it was too late. Their fingers failed to clasp. He was sinking fast, like the stone he was, while her natural buoyancy sent her rocketing back to the surface. She breached the ocean’s face and leapt free, then settled back in a foamy surge to stare down helplessly after him. Spar sank into ever darker waters. She floated in light, a tiny shape waving to him…or so he thought. The blackness of the depths was such it must have hidden him before too long. But he could still see her for quite some time. The evil oblate blot of the ship, at the end of a long rippled wake, rushed forward. She drifted along behind it, carried freely by currents he would have to work to follow.
At last he hit bottom, and though he grieved to find himself in a vast plain of sludge and rock, he never allowed his gaze to waver. The day so far above was brightening, and against it he could barely see her pale loveliness adrift. Spar began his forward trudge, moving against the gathered weight of the sea, never taking his eyes away from her. She must have been caught in a strong current, for no matter how fast he traveled, she seemed to be always pulling ahead. Then again, her path was smooth and simple, while his was choked with pipes of gnarled rock, huge mats of tangled algae, toppled temples and sunken cities full of blind alleys and slimy cul de sacs. Every obstacle was an occasion for wrath. No matter how quickly he conquered each, he sensed her pulling away. The ship was long gone. Eventually night came, matching the upper world to the one below. The darkness around him felt no different than what filled him. But he never despaired. He marched on.
At some point he discovered he was falling again—a plunge so protracted that in comparison, his initial fall from the ship seemed like that of a pebble tossed into shallows. Some abyss had swallowed him. Down there, where he landed at the deepest reach of darkness, he found thickened pools of light and heat. The blood of the Deepweller oozed from cracks in the ocean’s floor, giving him strength and resolve, sending him on his way with greater purpose.
He began to count his steps, assigning a duration to each, and that way tallying the accumulation of hours into days. When he found an obstruction in his path, he climbed it. Sometimes it was nothing, a collapsed pile of stones, a sunken hulk. But then there came a wall he climbed for a week. And when he had surmounted it, the skin of the sea was so close that he broke through within hours and found himself staring up at stars.
A pale strand stretched ahead of him, limitless and gently curving. The ocean current flowed along the shore like a river, breaking against jagged searocks, dragging snarls of tangledrift. He followed the litoral margin through the rest of the night, and as dawn broke he began to feel something close to panic.
Caught in the mats of tide-flung wrack were broken boards of a particular sandy pale color that instantly evoked the wood of his beloved. Spar moved as quickly as he could on the packed grey sand. In the brightening day, he saw torn violet sails among teeth of rock. He saw the splintered prow of a ship that had already been mutilated by the hands of its captain. And there hung the swollen body of the captain himself, impaled on the ragged stake that had once borne his beloved. Plentiful boards floated and bobbed in the waves, but just as numerous were the bloated bodies of men, eaten to the bone by crabs, blown to putrefaction by sandflies and waterfleas. He paid no mind to any of these, but pushed on until against all hope he saw white shoulders bobbing in a tidal pool, half buried in kelp, face down among the anemones. With a cry, Spar turned her over and found her staring up at him, smiling, as if she had expected him all along.
“I felt you coming,” she said. “Such heavy steps.”
He carried her above the strand and propped her in the earth on a point that overlooked the shattered wreck. They surveyed the ill that had come to her ship. “Your grove,” he said solicitously. “I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Now they are free,” she said. “I think, in the end, they avenged me. They willed themselves against the rocks, despite the efforts of the men. Wood and stone—we foiled them. I heard the timbers singing as the ship broke apart.”
“And here we are…wood and stone together. But what now?”
“Now, sweet Spar? You journey on when you wish, instead of at the whim of men.”
“I am songwood. How can I come with you? Look! Already it begins.”
She gestured to the ground. After only moments in the soil, her trunk had begun to thicken and dig new roots into the earth.
“You planted me, Spar. As a second home, it is a lovely spot. Those offshore rocks will always remind me of you.”
“I consider them my brothers,” Spar said.
“Then they are my brothers too. And as often as you wish to return, I will be here waiting for you. And while wood may not endure as long as stone, I can promise there will always be a grove here, constantly renewing. You will return, Spar. I know you will.”
“And have you?” asked Gorlen Vizenfirthe, the human bard to whom Spar had told his tale.
“Not yet,” Spar said. “But for stone, life is long. I stayed with her a fair while—time enough to see the first stand of new trees rise along the point. A fine young grove was growing, all of them as lovely as their mother, shot up from the tips of her roots. Soon I will see her again. It may be hard to find her among so many thick new trees. But I will know her by her songs.”
“She sounds remarkable. Perhaps you would introduce me, if we ever travel that way. I would like to hear the songs of the grove. I’ve never met a human bard who knew them.”
Spar considered this. “I had not thought these matters would be of interest to a human. I see there are things I may learn from you yet.”
“I wouldn’t count on it, but I may be able to offer elucidation on one particular point.”
“Yes?” said the goyle, in stony earnest. “And that would be what?”
“The salad bowl.”
* * *
“Songwood” copyright 2010 by Marc Laidlaw. First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2010.