This is a tale told by fallen streamers and blood-red sequins rippling in a green canal . . .
The Lord-by-the-Sea arrived long after the storm had gone. Only the thrust in the waves and scattered branches recalled its violence.
‘Well – what happened to your story this week?’ he shouted up to the Pilgrim Woman in the garret. She came to the top of the stairs in her own good time. Her skirts poked through the balusters in scarlet ruffles.
‘There was none to hear it – none to give it life. And who could blame them?’ She tilted her head, listening to the roaring duel of sea and shingle.
Her landlord sat down on the chair nearest the fire, legs spread wide and arms akimbo.
‘I’m here – and I demand the story you owe.’ He clicked his fingers at a servant. ‘Wine.’
The servant hesitated. ‘Is it not Lent, m’lord?’
The Lord-by-the-Sea glowered. ‘Water then.’
A faint smile passed behind the curtain of the Pilgrim Woman’s grey hair – then she began this tale:
Through mist on the lagoon, a vessel shimmered into existence. It rocked, then an oar splashed and glinted. Pushing the evening haze aside, a black prow came toward the quay.
White as bone, a gentleman’s mask hovered over the water. Its reflection chalked a bird skull upon the ripples. He leapt ashore and held out his hand. The darkness of his robes fell darker than night-time.
Out of the cabin of the gondola, a lady’s mask emerged. Green-black feathers, old gold – and behind papier–mâché, the eyes of a predator.
She took her consort’s gloved hand and swept up onto the silent, empty wharf. Thoughts stalked behind her amber irises. Stone was such an unamenable material. Who could conjure with it? What glamours could manipulate its hardness?
The boatman, more shadow than human, tied up the craft, sat on a bollard and waited. The Mistress and her mate would return at daybreak.
Arm-in-arm, the dark and gilded pair drifted into the main thoroughfares. Tourists gawked. Others in costume bowed or curtsied as they ought. Locals softly applauded.
These would be spared – the admiring, the wary and the courteous. The rest were fair game. After all, it would be such a long time without meat.
The Lord-by-the-Sea shuddered and drew his fur-edged coat close. He swigged the last of his water.
‘I shall expect the next tale shortly – or you must seek a new home.’