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part ten.

Part ten
At sea, near Puerto Bello. 1596.
Sir Francis Drake was reasonably old for a sailor. There weren’t many men of that noble profession who lived to the ripe old age of 55 – usually disease, murder or the unpredictable waters of the great seas took them first. He supposed he had that to be thankful for, but he didn’t feel particularly gracious as he rested his head back against the hard, wooden planks of his beloved ship. Afraid of indignity, he had sent the crew and his first mate away, and he could now imagine the whispers tainting their lips. The great captain is dying. Why did it have to end this way, in muck and horror and the filthiest of all diseases, when he could have gone down fighting pirates or savages or those damned Spaniards? To heroically take the bullet for another sailor, or to chain himself to the mast of his sinking ship – hero, hero! The men would cry through their tears. It wasn’t fair for the greatest explorer of the Golden Age to die like this, alone, in pain and undignified.

The face that faded into focus above him was one he knew well, and it belonged to a person he knew well enough not to consider a mirage. He growled as he felt his head lift, but accepted the canteen of water she pressed to his lips.

“How do you do that?” He asked weakly, referring to her unique ability to appear when he needs her and disappear when he needs her gone. Because of its convenience and mysterious charm, he had never asked.

She stroked his hair. “I’m an immortal fairy who has been alive for over a million years, and the only thing which will enable me to remember you a thousand years from now is the magic I possess.”

Ah well, thought Drake. She was beautiful, talented and intelligent… Sod insisted they sacrifice one thing, so she must have sacrificed her sanity. Best to humour her; he didn’t want an argument on his deathbed.

“Is that so?” He croaked casually, “I don’t suppose you could use a little of that magic to cure me?”

She lowered her lips to his forehead. “It doesn’t work like that. I can’t interfere with the whims of fate… your time has come, Francis my darling. But I can do one thing for you.”

As she pushed the sweaty mop of hair from his eyes, he drifted into a semi-conscious state. In his mind’s eye, Francis was back aboard The Golden Hind, and he was straining his eyes to get his first glimpse of the New World. As the misty form of the land slid into view, a smile crept across his face. He was still smiling as he passed into the netherworld.

When the first mate found him that evening, Drake’s body had been washed and he was wearing the clean set of robes he always wore under his armour. This gave the first mate the idea that he should be dressed in full armour and placed into a lead coffin. There was a procession in which the higher officers aboard ship made several eloquent speeches for their captain, before the coffin was thrown overboard.

Invisible, Aura watched from the upper deck. It wouldn’t do for a woman to be seen on board – the crew might believe that a witch had killed their beloved captain. The problem with humans, Aura mused, was that they were too inclined to consider all magic bad. She had hoped that the humans’ terror against witchcraft would fade with time, but it didn’t seem like it would any time in the near future. Humans were becoming an occupational hazard to fairies wanting to practice their magic… perhaps it would be an idea to set up a new world somewhere off of Earth for sprites to seek sanctuary. Aura would raise the issue at the next council meeting, but it could take centuries before anything was done. The council was notoriously slow to implement the items on its agenda.

She knew she was only occupying her mind with these thoughts to prevent her from thinking about the events of that day. The occupational hazards of living with humans weren’t limited to the latter’s fear of magic – immortal fairies who dared to fall in love with them sometimes became so sick with heartache that they became mortal. That was how the first original fairy to die had accomplished the feat. Thoth had become so heartsick after the death of his Egyptian wife that he had committed suicide; in honour of his sacrifice to a human, the council had conspired to immortalise him in the form of the ibis-headed Egyptian god of wisdom. Of course, this had been back in the days when the humans had believed in ‘good’ magic as well as ‘bad’ – the days when a shaman was respected and honoured and loved.

Aura wiped the tears from her eyes. Perhaps the occupational hazard was immortality, not humanity.

Mallos was right, she thought. One day…

    • epilogue -

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