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Emergence

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In a glass case, a small volume. The words are handwritten and each signature handstitched. Its covers are missing, as are many of the pages; those that remain are weather-beaten.

*~*~*

I knew, of course, that David and Rosalind and Petra would not be returning, but in some mysterious way had escaped to the far-away 'Sealand'. But the story I had received had been conveyed by an excited six-year-old, and was difficult to understand. I was thankful for Michael's explanations.

I am often thankful for Michael. The days when we could not speak to each other were some of the longest of my life.

The next problem, of course, was what the two of us were to do next.

"We will make our own way to Sealand," Michael had said as if it were the easiest thing in the world. But as he travelled back from the Fringes, we had many anxious discussions on how, exactly, we might make that happen.

"The woman from Sealand gave me what guidance she could," Michael told me. I was churning butter at the time - my best and only defence against suspicion was to carry on as normally as I could. I could not forget the agony Katherine had experienced; I still did not know what had happened to Sally. But they had not given me away. I was still safe... as long as I did nothing to attract suspicion. And so, I churned.

"It's not much," Michael continued. "But they know more of the world than we do here. This is Labrador." The image he sent was confusing before I realised that it was meant to represent land and sea. I recognised the shape of Newf - it seemed the Sealanders drew their maps differently.

"And this," Michael continued as the image he sent changed perspective, "is Sealand." Another, different configuration of land and sea. This one was unfamiliar to me.

"How far are they from each other?" I asked, checking the progress of the cream.

There was a long pause before Michael answered. "If it were possible to ride a horse along a line drawn between the two places, as straight as the crow - or an airship - flies... then it would take more than five hundred days to reach the end."

Cream splashed onto my hands; in my shock I had dropped the dasher. "Five hundred!”

"At least," Michael agreed. "And as we can't ride in a straight line, or across the ocean, it would be longer."

We kept silence between us for a while after that. The butter formed in the churn, and I went through the motions of washing, patting and salting it. All the time I was thinking furiously in my own head.

Finally, I thought to Michael: "We need to get married."

A burst of incoherent emotion was followed by Michael's laughter in my head. "Rachel dear, you might give some warning before you spring that sort of idea on me. I just fell over a tree root."

“Once we’re married, we can move to Rigo,” I continued, piecing my thoughts together as I sent them. “In Rigo we can find a ship… I think sailing would be the only way for us to go.”

“I agree, but…”

“When you have returned with the news of the disaster – or if word reaches us by any other survivor – I will pay a visit of condolence to Waknuk farm.”

I did not need to explain; Michael was a quick thinker. “David’s uncle Axel was a sailor, before he was injured. If will come with us to Rigo, it should be easier to find a crew. Of course, persuading them to sail beyond the known world will be the difficulty. But one problem at a time.”

*~*~*

The following section shows signs of water damage and is only partly legible.

“…and therefore is not to be undertaken lightly, nor wantonly, to satisfy men's lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, soberly, and in the fear of God…”

I had wished to marry in the quiet fashion common to most weddings of Waknuk, making simple declarations before the Inspector with our close friends to witness. But nothing would do for my parents but that we plight our troth in church with all possible ceremony. I could not entirely blame them: the family had been through enough scandal after the disaster of my sister Anne’s marriage, and a public ceremony at least would quell any rumours about the need for a hasty match to be made…

“…wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”

“I will.” Michael’s thoughts were simmering with impatience, but no trace of it showed in his voice. Full, steady and clear, he spoke his vows with a resonance that was heard the full length of the church.

My own thoughts wandered. We were to return to Michael’s home after the wedding, but we would leave in mere days to begin our journey to Rigo. Axel was to accompany us quite openly, since Emily Strorm had made known her intention to return to her brother’s household. Axel’s decision to return to his former life in Rigo raised no eyebrows. And it only made sense to travel together…

…bless these two persons, that they may be fruitful in procreation of children formed in the True Image…

“…that this woman may be humble, faithful and obedient to her husband; and in all quietness, sobriety, and peace, be a holy and godly matron. Let her purity be her strength, that she may bring no Blasphemies into her household…”

The service was long. I wondered how long our journey would be.

*~*~*

Several pages are missing from the narrative.

Our ship seems to soar over the waves. I never dreamed of travel so swift as this, nor so smooth, although Hellen warns us that the storms of yesterday may return at any moment. But for now, we fly!

We remain a motley crew, but we begin to reap the rewards of our practice. Axel was right to insist on it. I am glad he is with us still – I feared to the last that he might change his mind, and stay behind. I would not have blamed him. From what we have heard of Sealand, it seems he will be as disabled there by his head-blindness as he ever was in Waknuk by his leg. But Axel says he must come as a reminder to the Sealanders.

*~*~*

Petra contacted us this morning.

“It’s nice to think that the people of Sealand are suffering the kind of headaches we used to,” Michael said dreamily. “Petra is almost bearable at this distance. I remember I almost put an axe through my foot when she started learning.”

“I stuck a needle into my thumb,” I agreed. “I had an awful time getting the blood out of the cloth, after.”

“Well, her information was useful, anyway.” Michael added some more details to the map we were beginning to piece together. “Axel’s experience will only take us another few days, he says.”

“At least we seem to be past the worst of the Blacklands. Touch the cross,” I added by habit and superstition. My hand strayed to my bodice.

I am the only woman on board who still wears a cross on her clothing. Hellen says she has spent too much of her life pretending to be a boy on board ships to start dressing like a woman now. Beatrice removed her own cross shortly after we sailed; Erik stitched it onto his shirt. I do not think Mari ever had one – the women of her island did not seem to wear them.

Sometimes I think of my life a year ago, when I could not have imagined my life now. And I know that I cannot picture what my life will hold in another year. One way or another.

“Petra tells us that there is another large landmass south of the islands,” I continued on a more practical note. “We will need to sail east and south along its coast for some way, she said.”

“Yes.” Michael sketched in a tentative shape – we would correct it as we sailed. “Do you think she’s managed to broadcast that to all of the thought-shape users between here and Sealand?”

“She may be learning to direct her thoughts more precisely,” I suggested, more in hope than in belief.”

“We can hope so.” Michael said. “Or we may be in for an interesting reception when we reach land again.”

*~*~*

Several pages damaged.

…further to avoid the Badlands where we had hoped to take on fresh water. Our provisions are low…

…buried at sea. Hellen says the ceremony is traditional among sailors. I find little comfort in the thought…

…are formed much as we are at birth. The patterns of their skin are from dyes they deliberately apply, which seems strange to me. But then, my curls are strange to them. Nicholson’s Repentances make less sense the further we travel…

*~*~*

“We can’t possibly do that,” I said.

“I know it sounds like madness,” Michael said, “but…”

“They want us to sail into certain death.”

Michael sighed. “I grant you, death is a possibility. But not certain.”

“Near enough.” I gathered a few more fruits for my basket. None of us recognised the fruit, which had an unappealing green crust around it, but the inner flesh was tart and pickled well in brine. It was a constant battle to keep up supplies on the voyage, and we had learned to stock up whenever we could.

If we followed the Sealanders’ plan, we might all starve at sea.

“Sailing away from land, into the unknown ocean,” Michael said. “It’s like a metaphor for our journey, isn’t it?”

“Metaphors won’t kill you,” I said bitterly.

But in the end, I knew it was our only choice. If we ever wished to reach Sealand, sooner or later, we would have to trust the ocean to take us there.

*~*~*

To my sadness, Erik and Mari stayed behind, preferring to trust to their own feet and wits. I hope we will meet again one day.

We had provisioned the ship, taking on supplies of water and replenishing our food stores as best we could. Then, turning our backs on the coast we had followed so faithfully, we had sailed east.

And true to the promise given to us, when we left the coast behind, the wind and the tide had seized us. Now, although we plunged through rough seas, we were carried east at a rate faster than I knew was possible.

“What did she call this?” I had never been more grateful for the ability to use thought-shapes. Had we needed speech, I would have had to shout to be heard over the fierce rush of the wind past my ears. My hair, cropped as it was, was knotting itself into fringing around my ears.

“The Sealanders call it the Eastern Tide,” Michael reminded me. The shape of his thoughts bore the same mix of excitement and trepidation that I knew my own must hold.

We were truly sailing into the unknown.

*~*~*

This book is the first volume of the journal kept by Rachel Fennemore on her remarkable journey from Labrador to Zealand aboard the ship Recusant.

Rachel, along with her husband Michael Fennemore and their crew, travelled without maps or guides for most of their voyage. Their safe arrival was described by Rachel as ‘miraculous’, although it was at least partly thanks to help from the young Petra Strorm.

Although only a portion of the journal survived the voyage, Rachel’s subsequent book Uncharted Waters was based on her experiences.

Other notable figures who sailed on the Recusant include the explorer Hellen Lyver and the disability rights activist Axel Fahey.

--- Information panel: Exhibit 405, Age of Discovery, Zealand Museum.