Fyskar: Ch 1

Legend of the Bai was written out of order. This is the first book in the series, but Polaris Skies and part of Subgalaxia were written well before I ever put pen to paper to write Fyskar. Subject15 even came before it. The first three books were written in such a way as to be read in which ever order the reader desires with the culmination of Subgalaxia resolving all questions in the end.

Fyskar was based around themes from an Islamic Art History class I took back during college, along with several documentaries about the Witchcraft Trials, the 1666 Plague, the last of the Picts, and the late 17th century slave trade. My Bachelors is in Liberal Arts with focus in Asian Art History and Asian History with a minor in Sociology. Some of the research from those classes will come out in the content of this book.

Often, there is a question in the writing community of what the comps are for a book. If I had to estimate, this is a cross-section between the short stories of 1001 Arabian Nights, the movie Kingdom of Heaven, and the song The Parting Glass.

At the end of his date, the dark bloom of ink sent the man in the deep red leather cloak scrambling for the blotting paper. His nib needed cutting.

“Mr Niloofar!” The captain’s cry jarred the man’s attention from his journal. Mr Niloofar flinched, his gloved hand brushing the dark blue liquid across the vellum. Beneath the plague mask, he glowered at the offending materials and reached for the bottle of setting powder.

The hatch creaked, sending a shaft of light to scatter dust motes in the hold of the ship. The masked man shielded his face against the blinding crescent. The captain, in a simple brown kilt and homespun shirt, clumped down the narrow stairs while Mr Niloofar shifted his calligraphy set around, still in a panic for the paper. The ink was seeping, wicking down the side.

“Ye awake, Mr Niloofar?” The captain approached the cloaked figure. Furtively, the man in the hold shifted the plague mask low on his face and held out a stilling gloved hand to the captain. Unable to see the movement, the captain continued his approach in the cramped space. Close enough to Mr Niloofar’s makeshift desk of crates, he stopped with a frown to study the mess his guest was making. “If ye come out now, the fog’s risin’. Ye’ll see Bàgh Faoileag comin’ up along the ridgeline.”

The masked man waved the captain to his job. Dragging his effects together, Mr Niloofar put away inks and pens into a leather satchel. The setting powder had ended up in the bottom of the bag. He pulled it out and dusted the papers. While he waited for the documents to dry, he shoved his satchel into an oiled duffel bag leaning against the box he had commandeered for his ruminations.

The man shifted a short rectangular box no larger than his torso from under his makeshift cot of canvas and rigging. The pages set, he tied them into his leather folio and eased it into a slot in the box. He tugged the duffel to check the weight. Nothing had been moved in it, save for the satchel. The padlock on the chest next to it gleamed under lamplight.
Pulling at the hood of his floor-length cape, he flicked a glance to the stairwell. Setting his jaw, fingers trembling, he tapped the top of the box, contemplating. He was not ready to see home. The slap of the ocean against the hull walls did nothing to ease the knot in his chest. He shook his fingers, banishing the tell. Trying to draw in a breath against his constricting throat, he reached into his cloak hood to adjust the steinkirk threatening to throttle him. Metal at the tips of his fingers drove his fear to the back of his brain. Closing his eyes, he slipped along the rolling twist of gold hidden beneath the silk tie holding his collar together. A Brent Goose’s honk shot an arrow of nostalgia through his heart.

Pushing past his cerebrations, he took to the end of the hold. The ladder steps were shallow, and he jammed his knee on a tread as he emerged. Tripping forward into the dawn, he swallowed the view in front of him.

Salt hung thick in the cold, damp air. Waves slapped and harassed the tar-smeared hull of the birlinn. Its oars bruised and harried the ocean, seeking a purchase to move a scant length forward. The breeze cut through the leather cloak, probing and slashing. The drifting scent of fish and the bark of seals made his eyes water. It had been too long since he had seen these shores. Land floated into view in the murk; a fog-laden sunrise cast the hills in blood and fire. Buildings popped up through eddies of brume along the edge of the bay, marking the village -centre of Bàgh Faoileag.

He ignored the captain and his son clattering about the deck. Mr Niloofar lost himself in the sights and sounds of home. Ten years he had not felt his feet on his own land. His heart twisted, and heat spread under his eyes at the view. The man found solace in the mask that hid the tears flowing down his cheeks from the captain and his men.

The plague doctor settled himself into the crook of the foredeck, watching over the bowsprit as mist rushed across the top of the walls in bursts and tendrils. The last half of a mile to the dock was an excruciating practice in patience.

Faces he would never see again swam across his memory with every tree and shrub emerging in the gloom amongst the coastline’s ancient volcanic rocks. They bobbed in and out with the tide, up into the shallows to scuttle away amongst the algae and cockles. Memories, bemoaned by fate and fire, trickled down boulder faces and dashed away in spots of teasing laughter. He curled his fists around the wood at his fingertips, fighting to bury the longing he had to see skirts and kilts in a sky-blue shade shimmying along the shore.

With a clack and thunk, the boat eased up to a slew of posts and water-logged decking, stretching ghostly fingers through the murk. Dock-hands yelled back and forth with the men on board to tie the birlinn off. The masked man turned from his position at the bow, headed for the lowest point in the vessel’s middle, and jumped to the slick boards. His cloak billowed up around him, allowing a burst of cold air to strip away his warmth from his sky-blue Southron suit. The man sighted on the end of the dock, the road leading up to the realm of familiar. The dock hands jumped back from the commotion. One crossed himself, his face draining of colour when he saw what hid the cloaked man’s face. It never was a good sign when a beak doctor swept into a village.

“Mr Niloofar, sir!” The captain bellowed from his ship.

The plague doctor, impatient to be about his morning, turned to the portly seaman, sparks of sunlight glinting off his mask, casting green dots across the planks. “We’ll get yer luggage aff an’ waitin’. Go get yerself fed an’ come back wit’ a hand. Straight up frae here ‘n take a right’ll put tae the howf.” The captain pointed the doctor in the direction of the main thoroughfare.

The man in the mask waved his thanks and turned back to continue his ascent into Bàgh Faoileag. Squaring his shoulders, he grimaced, willing nerves to hold together. The weight of the leather cloak did little to still the thrum of blood in his fingers. He considered he should have had the hem shortened when he commissioned the garment. It would inevitably drag in the mud and snow.

A large gold and turquoise circular brooch pinned the mass of leather to his right shoulder. The hood drooped over his eyes, shading him from the blinding morning sun that popped between the horizon and the overhang of looming clouds threatening to burst.

Brass fittings around the green glass of his beak mask provided a macabre pair of eyes to his appearance. The stitching was meticulous, not worked at great speed, but with love and dedication for the craft. The mask possessed a pair of dark canvas faux nares in an illusion of an avian face. At the end of the beak, the silver cap had been manipulated to create a division between the mandibles and the deadly-looking tip. Overall, the impression was that of an exotic scavenging bird enclosed in a shawl of its own feasting.

Ice-prickled air swept under his cloak as he traipsed up the rocky slope that would take him deeper into the village. The red leather billowed about him, startling roosting birds into flight. The breath of the sky swirled and groped, trying futilely to find a purchase into his vestments. Though his spadderdashes and boots hugged his calves and crawled their way up, trying to caress his knees, they could not quite reach, allowing a pair of white silk stockings to peak out between their edge and the hem of his breeches. A little old-fashioned, tucking them under the hem, but it felt more comfortable to him that way. Less likely for the ribbons to come undone. Not that much could be seen of them save for the sky blue almost white justacorps that skimmed the matching breeches’ hem edge.

The buffed camel leather of his gloves, matched to his mask, gleamed in the frost-bitten air. The thin felt lining kept his skin warm against the isle’s insistent chill. His gloves, which held back the ballooned sleeves of his justacorps, were fitted to the fingers. Decorative stitching ran from the tips to the centre top, where it merged into a bird with its wings outstretched. The cuffs were a wide funnel, clasped tight with a button at the wrist. Edges of the leather were bound with carefully patterned embroidery. The left glove drooped with a large, red, knotted bobble and tassel at the cuff. The tightness and the swinging mass were reassuring in their familiarity as he approached what had once been home.

Mr Niloofar knew where he was going, as long as the Taigh-seinnse Druma is Flasg had not burned since he had last seen it. Rock, Tudor-style buildings rose on both sides of the street, interspersed with crofts and hovels. Raw sewage crept in a melting runnel down the middle of the path. He hugged close to the east side of the worn structures, enjoying what warmth he could glean from the foggy sunrise.

Not much had changed. He recognized the older villagers and could guess at the lineage of the younger beginning their morning chores. They skittered out of his way, though, when they noticed his looming presence. All they saw was a haunting figure signifying death that had been at best second-hand news from years ago.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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