Sylvie - Chapter Six
the end of the day, it came home to Sylvie exactly
how hungry she was. She was still not sure how long
she had lain on the beach, but she had not eaten
anything for far too long. Her initial rush of
optimism had given her strength to start her
journey, but optimism cannot fill an empty stomach,
and she had reached the stage of being so hungry
she felt quite sick. Being a summer's evening, it
was still very light, but the sky was beginning to
take a golden-red tinge suggestive of sunset, and a
voice at the back of her head kept yelling 'I want
did not know how to find food in the wild; under
the sea or at the beach she would have had no
trouble, but here in the countryside she didn't
know which plants you could eat, where to find any
sort of small easily killed animals, whether you
had to cook them to eat them ... she didn't even
know where to start. Someone would have to give her
a meal, and they would probably want her to pay
them. She still had the pearls in her bag. With a
twinge of guilt, she realised that Marimay had
never taken the one she had offered her.
Right, she resolved. When I've got this
all sorted out I'll find her again and give her
two. So all that remained was to find a place
where she could buy dinner, and that was proving
difficult. There was no-one else on the road, which
might be good, because it meant no floods of
refugees, which suggested that Asturia was not
exactly having its face ground under the jackbooted
heel of Zaibach, but who knew? She had gone past
what looked like the gates of a few farms, but that
had been a few hours ago. Either the bit of land
she was walking through was uninhabited, unowned,
or it was part of a very big estate, a rich man's
park or something.
strong land legs were tired and sore, and her feet
felt huge and hot enough to cook on. Her grip on
the dependable stick had raised a substantial
blister on each palm. If she couldn't find anywhere
to eat, could she find some safe place to sleep?
Did wild animals roam around the Asturian
countryside? Would she have to contend with the
land equivalents of sharks, with bears (possibly in
threes, possibly with some sort of porridge-related
grievance) and big bad wolves? Stop thinking
like that, she scolded herself. All those
fairy-tales have been a bad influence on
kept walking because she could not make up her mind
to stop. After a while, in the rosy light of full
sunset, she noticed that up ahead was another
driveway off the main road, lined by trees and with
a substantial stone gate. The tree-lined avenue ran
back and behind a hill, but she could see threads
of drifting smoke that suggested the chimneys of a
big house, like the trembling in the water that
told you a thermal vent was near, and thus,
probably, a settlement. She forced herself to walk
a little faster. She was really getting the hang of
it now, depending less and less on the stick,
although she was not yet sure she could do without
it. It took a couple of minutes to get level with
the stone gate, and when she did, she stopped
stock-still and gazed at it open-mouthed. Neatly
graven into one oblong gatepost were the words
FASSA GRANGE. The other one said TRESPASSERS WILL
BE PROSECUTED, or had used to say so before someone
had stuck up a card saying JUST SHOUTED AT over the
PROSECUTED part. There was some smaller writing
under JUST SHOUTED AT. Sylvie looked closer, and
fell on her knees to kiss the card, because signed
under the block letters was the name 'D. Fassa,
esq.' It was his sort of joke. It was his sort of
attitude. He must have been here, and
like a sign!' she said aloud, and then had to laugh
at herself because it was exactly like a
sign, a sign was what it was. Getting
shouted at held no terrors for a mermaid who walked
around on dry land. Sylvie undid the outside latch
of the gate and let herself in.
large knoll to one side of the carriage-drive
actually had a gate-house built into it, which was
rather picturesque, but its one small round window
was dark and no-one came out of it to see who was
walking onto the Grange. Beyond that, the drive
stretched on uninterrupted, around that hill. There
was a cut-off look to the horizon beyond that made
her think the house must have a view of the sea;
the road had not taken her far from the coast after
all. The drive was made of gravel, which was very
unpleasant to walk on barefoot. Surely a black
pearl could purchase some good shoes or boots. But
perhaps Dryden would have something she could
borrow. Perhaps he was in that house right now and
would be wonderfully surprised to see
rose up in her again, and she began to chant her
favourite tune at the top of her lungs. It was
wonderful what a noise her joyful anticipation
made. It might not be very musical noise, but that
didn't matter; it was a sonic extension of how she
the hill and round the hill and round the hill I
go,' Sylvie sang, making up her own words for the
favourite tune. 'Going to the house, going to the
house, here I come, here I come, going to the
house.' Here her invention, not particularly
inspired, gave out and she reverted to la-dee-dahs
as she closed the final distance between herself
and the house emerging into view around the curve
of the hill. It was a fine old grey stone building;
she did not have the architectural vocabulary to
know what to call its parts, but she liked the
round-topped arches that appeared again and again
in windows and doors and the patterns of stonework,
and the patterns of leaves and vines cut into the
stone itself. The light in the sky was dying and
little living lights danced in the house's windows.
Sylvie sang a final la-dee-dah chorus on the stone
porch before leaning on the door with one blistered
hand so she could safely knock on it with the stick
held in the other. After doing that she noticed
there was a bell-pull, so she gave that a good yank
as well, and heard a loud ding-a-ling inside the
house. Someone was sure to hear that. She suddenly
felt self-conscious about her appearance, about
being seen with legs for the first time. Her mother
would be appalled.
door opened and a worried face looked out at her.
It was Dryden's little secretary, the harried
little rat-man. Sylvie felt a great beaming smile
break out on her face. She would have tried to hug
him if that had not entailed letting go of her
stick and probably collapsing into the front
hello, you dear old thing!' she said, realising
mid-sentence that she could not for the life of her
remember his name. She was sure Dryden had said it
sometimes, but it just hadn't sunk in. Never mind.
Lots of time to learn it now.
secretary was not used to being addressed
affectionately by dishevelled young women with bits
of dried-out seaweed in their hair and only a
dilapidated towel between them and extreme
immodesty. He twitched all over. 'I beg your
pardon, miss?' he said, a touch
probably don't recognise me!' Sylvie exclaimed. She
was in a very exclamatory mood by now. 'I'm Sylvie!
Remember me? Haven't I changed? Is Dryden home? Can
I see him?'
' the secretary began to say, but
what he really didn't Sylvie never found out,
because a movement behind him in the hall caught
her eye, and she saw Dryden coming down the stairs
with an irritable look on his face and carrying a
book closed around his middle finger, as though all
the noise had interrupted his reading.
she cried, pushed past the stuttering rat-man and
ran to him. She tried to run to him. The
saying about not attempting to do this before you
can walk proved to have a lot of sense in it. She
managed to kick herself in the right ankle with her
left foot, took a far longer step than she had
intended, skipped a few feet more by luck than good
management and tripped on the first stair, so that
she more or less fell into Dryden's surprised
buried her face gratefully in the folds of his
baggy old coat, smelling of tobacco and beeswax
candles and something precious and strange that was
only his. He was tall and broad and warm as he had
always been. It was the first time she had ever
been able to compare their heights, the first time
she had really had a height rather than a length,
and she was pleasantly surprised to find that she
was almost as tall as he was, or would be once she
managed to get herself straightened up. Her
dependable stick was still in her right hand, and
she used that as a lever as well as hooking one arm
around his neck to pull herself upright and look
into his dear face again.
just stand there looking like a stunned mullet,'
she said joyously. 'Don't you recognise me
Dryden murmured disbelievingly.
Sylvie! Oh, I'm so glad you're all right! I
didn't know what was happening to you and she told
me there was a war on and I just had to find you!
Oh, Dryden!' For no reason she could understand,
Sylvie was on the verge of bursting into tears. The
ribbon-belt had not stood up to her mad rush, and
the towel was heading south, but she could not
spare any of her mind to feel bad about
what are you doing here? What happened to your ...
I mean, how have you ... where did you get this rag
you're wearing, it stinks?' Dryden put his hands on
her shoulders to hold her away and get a decent
look at her, which caused the towel to subside a
little more. Sylvie hitched it up quickly, mainly
for the rat-man's benefit.
lost and found,' she explained. 'I walked all the
way here! But I'm not very good at it yet. But I'm
getting the hang of it! I think I already walk
better than you swim. Please, is there somewhere I
can sit down? I'm so tired. I hate your driveway! I
think I'm a bit hyperactive.'
said Dryden, 'I think you are!' He looked over her
shoulder to where his secretary still stood holding
the door, looking irresolute. 'At least shut the
door,' he said. 'It's all right. She'll be staying
... won't you?'
please.' The rat-man shut the door and scampered
off down the hall.
put this on.' Dryden shrugged off the heavy brown
coat and put it around her shoulders. Sylvie had
some trouble keeping upright, since putting her
arms through the sleeves involved dropping her
stick, and she had to make a grab for Dryden's
you think you can manage the stairs?' he asked. 'My
rooms are up there.'
not,' Sylvie admitted. 'Stairs look a bit technical
to me. I'd love to see your room, though. Is this
where you live all the time? I mean, usually? It's
so nice. I like all the archy bits.'
very hyperactive,' Dryden said, with a small
rueful laugh. 'Do you want a lift up?' He scooped
her up in his arms as he had done many times
before, but this time it seemed to cost him a
greater effort, and there was a little twist to his
mouth that, for a moment, suggested some
you all right? I forgot for a moment that you got
hurt at your wedding.'
do you know about that?' Dryden looked truly
startled, almost alarmed, and he had to steady
himself for a moment, leaning his hip on the stairs
did research. Are you really all right? You
shouldn't carry me if it hurts.'
fine,' he assured her. 'I'm just a bit out of
condition. Come on, then.'
felt a sudden qualm. 'Your wife's not here, is
she?' She really should have asked about that first
thing. But it was good to establish the facts now,
because if the Princess were not here she certainly
intended to kiss Dryden, and possibly to encourage
him to commit a little adultery, if she
said Dryden. Sylvie expected more than that, but no
more came. He turned around and walked up the
stairs with her. His breathing grew a little
laboured towards the top, and she suggested that he
should put her down once they were clear of the
stairs, but he said it was no trouble and carried
her right to the door of his rooms. This door had
been left ajar, so he only needed to shoulder it
open and walk in sideways. Sylvie looked eagerly
around the room, and was not disappointed by its
book-lined walls. There was a set of double glass
doors opening out onto a half-circle balcony with a
view of the sea and Pallas across the bay; there
was another great half-circle in the shape of a
fireplace, not lit because it was a warm evening;
there was a handsome roll-top desk and two
agreeably fat brown leather armchairs and another
door which probably led to a bedroom. There were
books stacked on every available flat surface, some
opened out flat, some thick with bookmarks. The
water pipe was on the floor next to one of the
armchairs. Dryden gently set her down in the other
chair, and sat down opposite her in the first,
still staring at her as though she amazed him,
which she probably did.
wrapped the robe more comfortably around her. It
was lovely wearing something of Dryden's, as though
she were immersed in a sense of him. The sandy old
towel was very itchy and uncomfortable by
comparison and she was hoping she could sort of
ease it off underneath and let it drop on the
happened to you?' he asked. 'There aren't really
sea-witches, are there? Although I suppose anything
is possible. You still seem to have a perfectly
good voice, though. I heard you all the way up the
drive. I couldn't think who it could be; I only
know one person who sings like that.'
don't know how it happened,' Sylvie said. 'It's a
miracle. Let me tell you the whole story. Oh, but
first, please could I have something to eat? I
could eat a ... a horse, that's what you say, isn't
getting a good grip on our idiom,' Dryden said, and
rang for whatever food could be quickly rounded up
from the kitchen. Sylvie took the opportunity to
dump the towel, and was soon happily ensconced in
the armchair with a plate of cold roast potatoes,
two lamp chops and an orange, which Dryden occupied
himself peeling for her.
ate while talking, and often talked so much that
she could not eat. Dryden listened patiently,
attentively; the sunset light from the glass doors
spread itself thin on the floor and dissolved, and
blue night stole in, kept back only by a
green-shaded desk lamp. It did not take nearly as
long to fill Dryden in on what had happened since
they parted as it had to tell Marimay the whole
story, and the whole time she talked Sylvie hoped
that hearing it this way, the words would work on
him like magic kisses and reawaken the part of him
that loved her.
tell me what's been happening to you,' she
concluded. 'I know bits of it from what Marimay
told me, but I want to hear it all from you. I love
how you can describe things. Have you had many
adventures? I think that orange's peeled
looked at the orange in his hand, which he had
absent-mindedly denuded of both peel and pith, as
though just remembering that it was there. He
passed it to her and got up from his chair,
wandering over to look out through the glass doors
towards the lights of Pallas.
had adventures like you wouldn't believe,' he said.
'I've been to places and seen things I didn't know
existed in the real world any more
if you'll credit it, to Atlantis, or something very
like it, I've seen a genuine Ispano guymelef and
the Ispano Clan who built it, I've
really done anything.'
you being funny?' Sylvie asked. His tone did not
sound sarcastic, and she could not see his face.
She peeled away a segment of the orange and put it
in her mouth, licking the juice from her fingers.
Drylander food was tasting better to her, perhaps
just because she was so hungry.
wish I were,' he said. 'If there's one thing the
last few weeks have shown me, it's how little power
I really have to change the world. I've tried to
fight the forces of absolute destiny with economic
sanctions. I've tried to win the heart of a girl
who can only think of a white knight on a crusade.
I've met the most bizarre people, including one
bona fide alien
unless you count the
Ispano Clan as aliens, I'm not really sure about
and practically all of them had more
agency than me. In fact, this girl from another
world, it seems that her wishes and fears have been
shaping the destiny of this world, or at least of
the key players in this little drama. Ten thousand
years ago, two hundred years ago, ten years ago,
worlds have drawn closer together and parted,
people have passed through, people have changed and
been changed and disappeared from the face of the
which I suppose I should remember to
call it from now on, since when you think about it
Phantom Moon is not a particularly kind name. Like
drylander, perhaps.' He put his hand to the
glass in the door, tracing two circles with a
fingertip on its hard surface, outlining the two
very confused,' Sylvie said honestly.
some things are starting to make more sense to me.
I can see what happened to you, now. It all comes
back to that old madman, that old genius in
Zaibach, tinkering with destiny. Reports have been
coming in all day; I asked them to keep me posted
by carrier pigeon. During the last battle ... and
the flash you saw was an Energist bomb detonated by
the Basram Army, which opens up a whole new world
of worries for us, but more of that later ...
during the last battle he set off something, not a
weapon, some great machine that put out a sort of
wave of fate, of determination, that I gather made
everyone total free agents, so their will was
exactly what happened to them. People who had a
grudge against each other got to fight to the
death. Basram dropped its bomb out of one of those
high-flown national senses of manifest destiny. I
understand someone who had sort of had their
destiny surgically altered reverted to their
original self, and you, well, you were wishing for
something with all your might when it happened, and
so it came true. Probably the nicest thing that
came of it. It's stopped now, although who knows
what the repercussions will be in time to
I thought it was a gift from God. I thought it was
a sign that I was meant to find you, and we'd be
together again.' Sylvie looked at the half-orange
she still held. The juice was drying on her hands
and they felt sticky. 'And it was all just
don't think it was just technology. But I can't put
words around what it really was. Of course, that
makes me very uncomfortable. It's something that
doesn't belong in my world at all. It's more alien
to me than you are; certainly more alien than
story,' Dryden replied, and turned away from the
window a little wearily, as though discouraged by
the length of it. He gave Sylvie a small smile. 'I
hope you're not feeling bad about it. You don't
deserve to. If what you've got isn't what you truly
want, maybe there's some way we can fix that. I
mean, however you felt, I'm sure you didn't wish in
your heart that you'd never be able to go back
under the sea, never be able to breathe in water
can, though,' Sylvie protested. 'My gills are still
here.' She lifted up her hair and tilted her head
to show him the slits in the skin of her neck. 'I
won't be able to swim as well as I could, but I can
still do it. I didn't wish to be human, I just
wished to be a mermaid who could walk on land and
not get puffed.'
other words,' Dryden said, his smile broadening a
little as he folded his arms and leaned back
against the doorway, 'an impossible combination, a
suppose so!' For a moment Sylvie thought that this
would be the moment when they would laugh together
again, and things would come right, but Dryden's
smile faded again, overwhelmed by the air of
sadness he had had all this evening.
explain things to me properly,' she said. 'It
sounds as though it's very interesting, and also I
haven't the faintest idea what you're talking
girl, we'll be up all night. I told you, it's a
story that goes back ten thousand years, back to
the days of Atlantis.' He returned to his armchair
and sat down heavily, slumped with his arms hanging
over the sides.
I know about Atlantis. My ancestors came from
there,' Sylvie said, matter-of-factly.
what?' Dryden's right eyebrow betrayed a flicker of
seas around Atlantis, anyway. They were in constant
communication and co-operation with the people of
the continent, up to a point where the drylanders
started doing something that the sea-people really
didn't approve of, something very wrong, although
the old records don't specify exactly what, they're
often like that about abominations. They used to
think that naming something in the past gave it the
power to affect the present and future.'
but if you don't remember the crimes of the past
they're more likely to be committed again, just by
people who don't realise there's any precedent,'
Dryden pointed out. 'And people are less likely to
take measures to prevent a repeat performance
because they won't know what to look out for. Those
who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat
it, it's so true it's a cliché.'
didn't say it was what I thought, I'm just
telling you what the people who wrote the oldest
books believed. Anyway, everything turned to pus
and although we got a new start on Gaea, that was
what made the first merpeople here decide not to
interfere in any of the drylanders' business, just
not to get involved in any way, for the good of
both. Some of the Atlantean inventions were greatly
indebted to sea-people's involvement, so we felt
partly responsible, and it only seemed right not to
help that happen again.'
in this case the humans figured it out by
themselves,' Dryden said, 'although I'm not sure
how much was independent invention and how much was
just recovering the work of the past. I get the
impression, although the facts aren't yet clear,
that the real innovative mind in this mess was
Folken Fanel's, and that his master was effectively
an ingenious archaeologist with his best thinking
days behind him, driven on by
who is Folken Fanel? You need to tell me the story.
I don't care if we're up all night. I've missed
hearing you talk so much. Please, Dryden.' Sylvie
leaned forward and put a hand on his knee,
beseechingly. Dryden looked at the hand as though
it worried him, and she took it back, although not
without leaving damp orange-flavoured fingerprints
on his skirt.
I suppose it will do me good to tell it all out,'
he said thoughtfully, after a pause in which Sylvie
felt she was dying of frustration. 'It does make a
damn' good story, and it will help me get it clear
in my head. Perhaps one day I'll write it down and
send it to a publishing house on Earth. They'll
think it's pure fantasy. I think they have a lot of
the same fairy-tales as we do, some from the same
mythological sources, some that just seem to have
come out the same by chance. Another thing to write
a scholarly book on, if I ever want to devote my
life to that again. I don't know that I do,
really alarmed Sylvie. She could not imagine what
might occasion such a sea-change in Dryden's
outlook and ambitions. She leaned forward in her
chair and earnestly begged him to unfold the tale,
and after messing around for some time getting his
pipe lit to his satisfaction, he did so, for
gathered in the rafters of the room, and gently
blued the air, such as could be seen by the light
of the little desk-lamp and the moons shining in.
Sylvie listened with her mouth slightly open, and
after a time drew her legs up under herself and
wrapped the soft old coat more surely around her.
She was still sandy underneath, and she badly
wanted to have a bath and comb the dried, unheeded
Neptune's necklace garlands out of her hair,
escaping in long tangled strands from its bun. But
the thought of these bodily matters receded to the
background of her mind, as the foreground filled
with the images Dryden conjured as he spoke. In the
coils and wraiths of smoke, Sylvie seemed to see
dragons' tails, shining claws, cards, fluttering
leaves of long-lost books; swords, crowns, marching
giants, eyes the better to see you with and wings
of leather and feather.
image grew clearer and clearer, the shining face
and form of Princess Millerna. Sylvie felt she knew
every golden-blonde hair of her head. From the
account of her talents and achievements Dryden
gave, she could pretty much have prepared a
complete curriculum vitae. She would have
known her on a dark night by the smell of her
perfume, vanilla and tuberose. She was surprised he
didn't think to state her height, weight and shoe
size ... although, of course, Millerna's feet were
bound to be daintily small and perfectly arched and
just made for enchanted glass slippers. Sylvie
thought of her own dusty, scuffed, blistered feet,
rather long, as her fingers were long, and her toes
curled up under her as though cringing away from
examination. With every sentence in more passionate
praise of Millerna's femininity and beauty and
ingenuity, she felt commensurately gawkier,
homelier and more foolish. She felt like the most
incredible embarrassment, a total liability to such
a wonderful man. It was terrible. She thanked her
guardian stars that she had not, after all, tried
to kiss or tempt him. It would obviously be
hopeless, and he would probably have been
was just sinking into the stagnant tank of despair
when Dryden said something that made her pointed
course, all that is by the board, since she doesn't
love me,' he repeated, with a sad, wry smile.
'Haven't you been paying attention to the
storyteller? Remember Allen Schezar?'
thought Hitomi whatshername was in love with
every-bloody-one's in love with Allen at some stage
or another,' Dryden said peevishly, 'with his flash
bloody uniform and his shiny bloody sword and his
stupid bloody hair. I think Hitomi's gone off him
now, anyway. No, it's Allen Millerna loves, and
don't I know it.'
wasn't unfaithful to you, was she?' Sylvie's fists
so far as I know. No, I don't believe she ever was.
On the practical side, she wouldn't have had many
opportunities, and I think he'd at least have had
enough sense not to try something like that at a
time like this. And on the less practical side, I
can't believe she would do that. She's a good girl.
She takes things like marriage seriously. Which is
why it's such a cage to her. And that's why I've
tried to set her free.'
do you mean?'
why I'm here. I've left her. I gave her back the
wedding ring, I gave her her freedom. I'm not the
person she needs. I'm not the person Asturia needs,
for that matter. I told her I was going to help the
people as a merchant, but I can't say I believe
I'll be doing much positive good. I told her I was
going to try and become the man she deserved, but
the thing is, she doesn't want a man she deserves,
she wants this one.' He leaned over and
picked up a magazine lying on the hearth and tossed
it to Sylvie, who caught it seal-style with both
hands. 'Page three.'
magazine was an Illustrated Pallas News,
last week's edition, and page three was devoted to
a morale-raising article about what fine people
were fighting for Asturia. There was a large
engraved picture captioned 'Allen Schezar of the
Knights of Heaven.'
thought of drawing a moustache and spectacles on
it, but that's the pot calling the kettle black,
don't you think?' Dryden asked, trying to be
flippant. 'Don't you go falling in love with him,
now. I couldn't take it if you did,
would anyone prefer this baby-faced ponce to you?'
Sylvie asked, exasperated by the very thought.
Dryden started to laugh, just a little low chuckle.
It encouraged her beyond measure, so she continued
with her critique. 'Look at his hair! He's stolen
my sister's hairstyle! And what about those
ridiculous puffy sleeves ... does he have to turn
sideways to walk through doorways, or
don't mock the sleeves, they're very practical,
they're inflatable for if he falls in the water to
keep him afloat.'
has to blow them up with a little pump every
makes his sergeant blow them up, it's beneath him.'
It was not top-class material, but she had finally
got him laughing, and he looked like himself again.
There was some light in the eyes behind the flat
day I fall in love with something like that you can
kipper me,' Sylvie said, flinging the magazine into
the fireplace with a dismissive sniff. 'You gave a
very good description of Millerna but you forgot to
mention that she's completely round the
had been the wrong thing to say; he sobered
abruptly and almost frowned at her. 'You only say
that because you don't know her,' he said, with an
air of restraint. 'You shouldn't talk that way
I can at least say she's got horrible taste. How
can she turn her perfect little nose up at someone
like you? You're so smart and so gorgeous and funny
and kind and
' He was waving his hand for her
to stop, and not laughingly, with the mock-modesty
he liked to affect. Dryden being so serious felt
all wrong, and Sylvie felt that she was making it
worse with everything she said now. 'Well, you did
say that if I didn't say those things you'd have
to, so I thought I'd spare you the
shouldn't have talked that way. I was a conceited
young ass.' He put a hand over his eyes, once more
wearily, once more as though he were no longer a
young man in his heart.
were not! I mean ... you were conceited, but in a
way I loved. Dryden
' Sylvie clambered out of
the chair, tried to cross the space between them,
staggered and ended up kneeling, her hands on his
knees. 'I love you. I love you more than anyone, I
love you more than myself. I love everything about
you, even the things that annoy me, I love you
annoying me because only you can be that kind of
annoying. She can't see you the way I do or she'd
love you too. Please don't be unhappy because of
her. Let me make you happy. It's the only thing
that will make me happy.' The tears bubbled up and
she hid her face in the folds of his clothes,
hugging his legs in an undignified manner. What
made it worse was remembering how he had clung to
her legs ... her tail, she was surprised to need to
remind herself ... as she sat on the edge of the
aquarium, smiling up at her impudently, inviting
her to share happiness. Everything was the wrong
felt Dryden's hand on top of her head, kindly
stroking the rough, tangled hair. He sighed as he
touched her, not one of his soft sighs of
contentment, but an exhalation of trouble in the
past and trouble to come.
you're going to say no, don't say anything!' she
only get to call me sweetie if you love
look at me. I can't understand a thing you're
saying if you talk into my lap.'
sniffed hard and raised her face. Now she was
tearstained and blotchy. Millerna probably never
cried. If she were exceptionally sad she might
weep, very gracefully and beautifully, pearly tears
just brimming over from great bright eyes that
never got pink or puffy, and princesses
never got runny noses.
know I love you. It was all the way through my
story. It's why I've got a
you know I love Millerna. Same thing.' He spoke
loved you first. I've got dibs,' she said,
truly, truly sorry to be hurting you. But
I'm still hoping I can make it come out right with
I'm hoping I can believe in that
saying, you know the one? If you love something,
set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours
forever. If it doesn't it never was. It's an awful
old cliché but I'm hoping that's because
it's true too.' Dryden's smile now was a tremulous,
tearful thing. Abruptly, he blinked hard, and
pushed up his glasses to rub his eyes with his
looked up in shock at the sharpness in Sylvie's
voice. She had called him names before, in an
affectionate, joking way, but now she sounded as
though she meant it.
did I ever think you were smarter than me? It's
right in front of you and you can't even see it
with glasses! I came back!' She struggled to her
feet and stood alone, fists on her hips, so angry
she hardly noticed she was balancing properly for
the first time. 'You set me free and I came
back!' Even in her fury there was a kind of
elation to seeing the answer so perfectly, so
clearly. 'What are you going all red for?' she
demanded. 'Can't handle the truth?'
you know, when you're standing like that that coat
doesn't really cover a lot of the front of
You're allowed to look. Half of it isn't new to you
anyway. And it's all yours. Yours forever! You
bought a mermaid, remember. Dumping a pet in the
wild is abandonment!'
stood up and tugged the front of the robe closed.
Sylvie flung her arms around his waist while his
hands were raised and hung on like a
dear,' she said, beaming up at him, 'suddenly I
just can't stand up any longer. What a
Dryden said, with immense, patronising patience,
'firstly, you've just undermined your whole point
about me setting you free by calling it
abandonment, and secondly, I've never for a second
thought of you as a pet. I think of you as a dear
friend, an equal, someone I respect.'
make fun of me, though,' she said
make fun of everyone. I make fun of me!'
good, because I don't want to be your pet. And I
don't want to be your friend either. I mean, I do,
but at the same time as being your love. I want to
have it both ways. I know I can, this body proves
it. Anything's possible. You set me free! And now I
want you to keep me!'
looked into her upturned, tear-streaked, shining
face, and in his brimming eyes she found confusion
and tenderness. 'Dearest Sylvie,' he said, 'I can't
give you my heart. I've left it with someone else.
And I won't take where I can't give. It's not fair
buy you a mechanical one in Zaibach,' Sylvie said.
'Shiny and new with a nice loud tick.'
don't want to be loved by clockwork, do
give Millerna the mechanical one as a swap for your
real one.' Sylvie freed one hand and reached up to
remove his glasses, which he allowed her to do with
an air of resignation, closing his eyes as though
he gave up. She passed that hand around the back of
his neck and gently drew his head down so that she
could kiss his eyelids. The sound of her sharply
drawn-in breath made them flicker open.
tears are salty!'
didn't know anyone's were! You've got the sea in
your eyes!' Sylvie held up an admonitory finger.
'You're smiling. Don't try to deny it, you're
smiling. You've got to keep smiling for
can't promise you anything,' Dryden hedged,
'anything at all. I put the ball in her court on
purpose. If she asks me to come back to her you
know I will, don't you? If you hang around me you
may just be setting yourself up to be hurt
know, I know,' Sylvie said. 'I'm still not giving
up. You wouldn't even be saying that if you were
really sure you only loved her. Oh, it's true,
you're only a man and I shouldn't depend on you,
but you can always depend on me.'
did you get so world-weary and wise?' he asked. 'Do
you have hidden depths?'
of them. You haven't even started to be an expert
on Sylvie. Dive in!'
married, sweetie. I do take that seriously. If you
want to stay, you're sleeping in the
I'll wait. You have no idea how tenacious I can be.
And whatever you do, I'll help you. We're still
going to have a great life together. I believe in
this! It's going to happen. As I will, so mote it
Dryden said ruefully, 'I've got myself mixed up
with a real sea-witch.'