A Small Boat on a Dark Night
By David Goodner
Todd pulled his hood lower, again.
Working the oars made his shoulders start rolling it back, again. So the rain dripped in his eyes, again. He tried to think more about the three silver
pennies in his neck pouch and less about warm broth, fresh bread, and roast sea
bass in his cozy, dry, cottage by the dockside.
three silver coins, he’d row further, and with much more cargo than a spindly
old man with a bent back and a crooked staff.
His passenger was so old and wrinkled that his eyes were almost
invisible beneath the lines of his face and the bushy eyebrows. The rest of his hair was wispy, like
something an artist had barely sketched in.
And his nearly toothless mouth lent a mushy sound and a bit of spittle
to every word he said. He wore no cloak
against the chill or the rain, just a tattered robe in a style Billy didn’t
to the right,” the man said. “And
faster. If we’re not there, we’ll miss
Codger. If you want to go faster, take
an oar,” Billy said.
“Bah! Mind your elders. If we get there on time, it’s another penny
for you. Hell, if we get there on time
I’ll not be needing coins at all.”
time for what?”
the conjunction, of course.” The old man
said. “The day and the hour, the place
and the time. Stars, moon, and sea are
perfectly aligned, as they haven’t been for twenty years and won’t be for
another twenty. I missed the last one,
but I won’t miss this one.
pointed with his stick, to something over Billy’s shoulder. Billy half-turned to see, but there was only
dark sky covered by thick clouds through which the moon barely shown as a
slightly lighter smudge.
and stars? There are none. Try not to make me feel like more of a damn
fool than I already am for being out in this mess.” But Billy knew those three silver pennies
would see him in fish and ale for several days.
Hells, he might buy pork or mutton.
can’t see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there, stupid boy. Just like the faeries, and the Isle of the
Isle of… Satan’s shit! You’ve dragged
me out here to find the Isle of the Young!
It’s just a stupid legend, and anyway it’s supposed to appear on clear
nights once each seven years off the coast of Mahnn.”
went. Legend was wrong.” The old man spat off the side of the
boat. “But the Isle is real. I lived there once. Fell in love with a mortal girl and followed
his passenger was crazy, Billy rolled his eyes.
He had the coins. He could turn
back. “Did you?” he asked. “So you was a fairy? Then why don’t you just fly to the damn
I’m a man as true-born as you.
Stolen from my cradle as a child.
I stayed on the island and aged only a day every year. But out here time took what it’d been robbed
of. And once I left the island, I knew
no way back.
I was smart, wasn’t I? I listened. I learned.
I read books.”
couldn’t even read his own name. But he
could see that the cold and the wet was doing the ancient man no good.
learned to follow the stars and the moon.
I learned about conjunctions, like tonight, when the moon comes near to
the earth and the ways open. I’ll go
back. You’ll take me there. And the faeries will restore my youth, and
never again will I be so stupid as to touch mortal soil. Never aga…”
old man didn’t finish. He keeled
straight over the side of the boat in the space of a word. Billy reached for him, but the dark sea was
hungry, and the light of their one lantern wasn’t even enough to reflect off
* * *
in the end, Billy’d rowed out past the harbor lights for naught but three
pennies. He wasn’t going swimming to
find the rest. But he had a story to
true and sure, as he was rowing back for home and hearth, he saw an island
appear out of the gloom, shining silver and bright. He fancied that he might have seen a few
people on the shore, but he didn’t look too close. There were things a wise man didn’t poke
at. One was ant hills. Another was sleeping bears. A third was anything to do with faeries.
decided he’d spring for a meal of mutton and a bottle of good wine.