The Door: Hiatus Week 1

Content Notes: death and arson references

As the first flames began flickering in the windows, Elisabet turned her back on the manor. The fire would take care of all the evidence. By morning, nothing would be left of her family’s crimes. They, like the rest of her family, would be nothing but smoke and ash.

It was a long trip from that once-proud manor to the antiquated cottage hidden deep in the moor where her many-times great-grandmother, the first Elisabet, had lived. The cottage, passed through the female line for years beyond reckoning, belonged to her. Everything else of her family’s wealth and holdings would go to a distant relative. Elisabet wished them joy in it.

Thoughts of her ancestor, family tales, and the simple cottage from which everything began distracted her from blistered feet and the English weather. Her wild appearance kept others on the road from approaching her, though whispers warned that if she stayed in any one place too long, she would likely be locked up as a madwoman.

When Elisabet reached the cottage, she nearly wept. The door hung off the hinges, and several areas needed new thatch, but otherwise, it seemed intact. In spite of her mother’s neglect, it could still be a home to her.

A small, smokey fire cleared the room of pests, and a sturdy branch braced the door closed. Clearing the chimney would be a long day’s work, but with the holes in the thatch, she could safely leave a tiny fire going to cook dinner and keep her warm through the night. There was no mattress, and the wood-and-leather bed was rotted to pieces, but she had slept on the ground enough nights that she wasn’t bothered. A good night’s sleep and she would be ready to start turning the rundown cottage into a home.

She woke to sunlight creeping under the door. Confused, she looked around and remembered the cottage. Great-grandmother Elisabet. The end of her family. Standing up, she stretched and looked again at the door. It was on the wrong side of the building. On its hinges. Turning around, she saw the door–the real door–braced closed and sagging. No hint of sunlight crept through the gaps between the door and the wall.

She looked again at the new door, impossible door, bright shining door leaking the light of a beautiful summer day. Panic took her. She tore the brace from the door (the real door) and ran out onto the moor. The full moon shone overhead, giving further lie to the sunlight creeping into her new home. From where?

She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. Her parents had proven, and proven well, that there were things man (and woman) was not meant to know. That such things might have invaded her last haven…

Creeping inside, she grabbed her blanked and scuttled back out, onto the moor. Sleeping under the stars seemed a very good idea.

The first rays of dawn woke her the next morning. No more strangeness had occurred during the night; aside from dreams, her sleep had been peaceful. The morning light shone into the cottage through the east-facing doorway. The far wall, facing the sunset, was blank of door and window alike. Just as it had been when she first entered the cabin late yesterday.

Just a dream, she told herself. And knew she was lying.

That morning she wandered the moors gathering wild carrots and berries and other wild-growing foods. In a few days, she would need to find the nearest village and purchase food and other necessities with the small amount of coin she had taken from the manor. For now, she lived off the moors and blessed the old gardener who taught her about the plants that were safe to eat, and which to avoid.

When she had food for a few days, she gathered rushes and reeds. The scraps of the old bed went out the door into a convenient ditch for the small animals of the moor to make what they could of it. Piling the rushes and reeds where the bed had been made a reasonably comfortable bed for the night. More reeds and twigs, and a sturdy branch, let her make a start on clearing the chimney. Several old birds’ nests later, she had made progress but still had a ways to go. And she didn’t dare fix the thatching until she had a working chimney.

Thankfully, the skies stayed clear, and she would have at least one more rain-free night.

After a simple dinner, she bedded down for the night and told herself fiercely to close her mind to strange dreams.

Sunlight shining on her face–sunlight shining from the west–woke her once again. Gleaming brightly under the door.

The next morning the door was gone again. If she had any faith in pastor or priest, Elisabet might have sought one out. Instead, she did the only thing she could: ignored it. She walked into the nearest village, where the tale of her recent orphaning and retreat to the last of her family’s properties bought the sympathy and support of the village matrons. Over the next days, the men and boys in the village got her roof thatched and she bartered one of her old-but-still-fine dresses to the dressmaker for a bed to sleep on. With seeds from the village, she started a small kitchen garden. Within two weeks’ time, she had a snug little home.

And still, each night, the mysterious door appeared.

One full day, she sat and thought. She had left behind all the books, all the scrolls and palimpsests. Every bit of writing or knowledge her family had accumulated over the years had burned with the manor. Everything but the knowledge within her own mind.

Ignoring the door had done nothing. An exorcism, by a true man of faith, might work. Assuming the door was demonic in nature. And assuming a true man of faith could be found. Plastering over the door might work. Or might not.

She could continue ignoring the door–and hope that it would not ever open of its own accord. She could leave the cottage, strike out alone with no home and no family for whatever life a woman alone in the world might make. Or she could confront the door, open it, and discover for herself just how dangerous its secrets were

That night she did not sleep. She gathered about herself salt from the sea, scraps of iron from the blacksmith’s forge, rue and rosemary, and every other scrap of protection she had ever heard of. Most would probably be useless, but without knowing what was on the other side of the door, she couldn’t know which.

She carefully latched and barred the cottage door (probably rehung, finally) and sat down on her bed to wait.

The hours crept past slowly. Always before she had been asleep when the door appeared. This time she remained awake and watching. Just as she had begun to wonder if the door would appear at all, a point of light appeared at the floor and stretched into a line. The line turned and traced the outline of a door. For a moment, the light blinded Elisabet. Then it was just a door, and the bright summer sun shining under it.

She rose from her bed and lifted the latch. It wouldn’t move.

None of her thinking or planning had prepared her for this. However, she tugged and pulled, the latch would not lift. The door would not open. She tried each of her protective charms in turn. Of course, her bit of iron scrap had no effect on the iron latch, but neither did the salt or rue or anything else.

She sat back down on the bed and started at the door. If the latch wouldn’t lift, then perhaps she didn’t need to worry about the door. After all, with the latch down, nothing on the other side could open the door. She hoped.

The more she thought of it, the less she trusted that thought. Seductive thought. But if the door could simply appear out of nowhere, who was to say that the latch couldn’t open on its own? Not her — she had seen far too much.

Not sure what else to do and unwilling to stare at the impossible door any longer, she got up and left the cottage through the real door. Outside, the stars gleamed brightly, and a thin crescent moon gleamed with the promise of light that never reached the dark moor. It was quiet. The wind blew gently, stirring her hair without disturbing the grass and heather.

What was on the other side of the door?

A sudden thought had her running around to the back of the cottage. There! The other side of the door. The impossible door faced out from the cottage. A faint light shone from under the door, nowhere near as bright as the summer sun which crept out from under the door inside the cottage, but there should have been no light at all–her fire was banked and dark.

Heart in her throat, she walked one careful step at a time up to the door and knocked.

Something moved inside. The latch lifted.

Elisabet held her breath as the door opened, spilling light across the dark moor.

On the other side of the impossible door stood a tall, imposing man with long, flowing hair and a sharply pointed nose. He filled the doorway so she couldn’t see what was on the other side, but she heard bird song coming from somewhere nearby “Elisabet,” he said.

She stared in shock, then shook herself. “Yes. I am sorry to disturb you.”

“Did I not warn you? Did I not tell you that one day you would return and beg me to lift the curse you begged me to gift you with? As I told you then, there is nothing I can do. What you have crafted, you must endure.”

And the door closed in her face.

Flabbergasted, stared for a minute. Then pounded on the door. When there was no immediate answer, she pounded again. And again.

The door opened, and she stopped herself just before she pounded on the fool’s nose. He glowered down at her, and she spoke quickly. “Pardon me, but I think you may have me confused with someone else. I have never seen you before in my life, and I am simply trying to find out why your door keeps appearing in my cottage.”

“You are not Elisabet?”

“Well, I am an Elisabet, but there are lots of Elisabet’s in my family, going all the way back to my several-times great-grandmother Elisabet, the first to leave this cottage. But the family has returned to the cottage frequently. Is it possible you were thinking of another Elisabet?”

The man suddenly became far less imposing, seeming to shrink in on himself. “I…suppose it might. You say it was your many-times grandmother who left the cottage to fall into ruin?”

“Not quite. It was my many-times grandmother who moved away, but the family has always made sure the repairs were kept up and the cottage was in good condition. Until my mother, that is. She didn’t want to be bothered, and the cottage was in a dreadful state when I arrived.”

“And why did you return?”

“Well it’s all gone now, isn’t it? My mother and father were fool enough to play with things no one should touch, and got themselves killed by one of their magics gone awry. I burned down the manor to be sure none of the evil they dealt in would escape and have only the cottage left in the world. Your door frighted me badly, appearing as it did. I want no more truck with such things as my parents dealt in, and having a door appear in my cottage every night was rather disconcerting. Especially when I didn’t know what was on the other side.”

The man humphed. “Well, now you know.”

“Indeed, I do.” She cocked her head to the side. “Might I trouble you to ask if it would be possible to stop your door from appearing in my cabin? It’s a tad disruptive, especially when I’m trying to sleep.”

“No.” He looked down his rapier nose. “Now leave me alone.”

The door slammed again, and this time Elisabet left it.

Her strange neighbor–for so he apparently was, in some odd manner–was a prickly man. But he certainly didn’t appear to be a threat. And if his door only ever opened to the outside of her cottage. Well, that was a strange thing, but the world was full of strange things, and a door that opened on the outside of a cottage was far less threatening than one that opened on the inside. She wondered for a moment what it looked like inside her cottage when the door was opened outside. But she had some knowledge of such matters; most likely when the door was open, her cottage wasn’t inside. Instead, his cottage was inside, and her door would be missing entirely. Maybe she would test that one day.

When he was in a less grumpy mood.

This one is longer than I usually like to send, but I figure I all y’all a bit of extra. This piece came from a writing prompt on Tumblr. I’ve always wanted to do more with Elisabet and her grumpy neighbor, but never really figured out what.

The Good News Is, It’s Not Covid… (Planning Ahead and Going on Hiatus)

The bad news, of course, is that it knocked me on my ass for over a last week.

There’s an old saying about how ‘crazy’ is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Since sometime in August, I’ve been saying that I’d get my buffer rebuilt, and we’d get back to the consistent posting I had for the first half of the year… any week now.

Building up the buffer while keeping on deadline and dealing with all the life shit isn’t working. It’s time for something new.

I had debated taking a hiatus over July to build the buffer back up, and in hindsight, I really should have done that. So instead, I’ll need to do it now. Going forward, I’m going to schedule a 1-month hiatus each year to try to keep a buffer going. We’ll see how it goes.

Unfortunately, there’s another issue — one reason I thought I’d have a chance to rebuild a buffer the past couple of months is because of the stories we’re doing right now. Our current stories already had the plot and characters and everything mapped out, an in-depth outline for Building Family and all the dialog was already written for What You Will.

It turns out I really am a pantser. Writing to spec, even a spec I created, is proving to be way more difficult than the ‘have a rough outline and fill it in as I go’ method I usually use.

For now, as much as I love the idea, I’ll be shelving Building Family. I might come back to it in the future when I have time to work some kinks out and have a solid buffer, but not making any promises.

While What You Will is giving me trouble, it’s not giving me as much trouble as Building Family, so we’ll be picking it back up after this hiatus.

My initial plan was to push through to the end of October and go on hiatus in November. Or even December. But really, that’s just going to lead to more missed posts in the long run. And probably the short run.

However, I’m not going to leave you completely high and dry — especially on such short notice. Regular posting will be suspended through November 12, and we’ll pick up Tuesday, November 16. Between now and then, I’ll share posting snippets, blurbs, and other randomness from my archives each Friday.

Dropping Building Family will leave a hole in the rotation, so if you see something in the snippets and random bits that you’d like more of, let me know. I might be able to make that happen.

Thanks for your patience, and remember folks:

Masks and hand sanitizer aren’t just for COVID!

(Originally posted to newsletter Oct 15, 2021)

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare, (S1, E5)

Content notes: violence, sexism

The fool, wrapped in a sheet styled as a nun’s habit, clasped his hands and bowed low as Olivia entered with her steward, Malvolio. “God bless thee, lady!” he called in a high-pitched twangy voice.

Olivia rolled her eyes and waved dismissal. “Take the fool away.”

Jumping up, the fool rounded on Malvolio. Speaking in his own voice now, he declared, “Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.”

“Go to, you’re a dry fool; I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.” Olivia turned her back on him, and the fool hurried out of the linen closet to place himself before her. “As- As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower.” It made no sense, but it didn’t need to: it brought him round to where he started, and that was enough. “The lady bade take away the fool; therefore, I say again, take her away.”

“Sir,” Olivia pushed his hand away, no longer amused. I bade them take away you.”

The fool stepped back and spread his arms. “Misprision in the highest degree! Lady, cucullus non facit monachum; that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain.” He bowed again, this time in supplication. “Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.”

“Can you do it?”

“Dexterously, good madonna.”

“Make your proof.”

He stood and took up the pose of a man at a lectern. “I must catechize you for it, madonna: good my mouse of virtue, answer me.”

“Well… for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your proof.”

“Good madonna, why mournest thou?”

“Good fool, for my brother’s death.”

Bowing his head mournfully, the fool said, “I think his soul is in hell, madonna.”

Olivia hissed. “I know his soul is in heaven, fool.” She pushed past him and stormed down the hallway, Malvolio trailing after her.

The fool called after her. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.

“Take away the fool, gentlemen.”

The countess stopped, turned, and blinked at the fool, a wan smile slowly winning out over teary eyes. “What think you of this fool, Malvolio?” She asked softly, “doth he not mend?”

Rolling his eyes, Malvolio replied. “Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him: infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.”

“God send you, sir,” the fool bowed again, but with a mocking air, “a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly!

“Sir Toby will be sworn that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for two pence that you are no fool.”

Her hand now raised to cover an incipient grin, the countess asked, “How say you to that, Malvolio?”

“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal!” the steward exclaimed. “I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that has no more brain than a stone.”

The fool frowned, and Malvolio gestured at him, “Look you now, he’s out of his guard already; unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged.” Not gagged at all, the fool began to speak, and Malvolio rolled right over him. “I protest, I take these wise men, that crow so at these set kind of fools, no better than the fools’ zanies.”

“Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.” The countess stepped past Malvolio to take the fool’s hand. “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.”

The fool squeezed her hand and opened his arms to her. She stepped into his hug and laid her head on his shoulder, apologizing without words for her harsh greeting. “Now…” the fool stopped and cleared his throat, “Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools!”

What else might have been said, none will know, for Maria came bustling back into the hall. “Madam, there is at the gate a young gentleman much desires to speak with you.”

The countess stepped back from her fool. “From the Count Orsino, is it?”

“I know not, madam,” Maria said but gave the slightest nod. She didn’t know, but she surely suspected. “’tis a fair young man.”

“Who of my people hold him in delay?”

“Sir Toby, madam, your kinsman.”

“Fetch him off, I pray you; he speaks nothing but madman: fie on him!” Maria hurried off, and Olivia turned to the steward. “Go you, Malvolio: if it be a suit from the count, I am sick, or not at home; what you will, to dismiss it.”

With a sigh, she turned back to the fool and poked him. “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it.”

The fool only grinned. “Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool; whose skull Jove cram with brains! for–here he comes–one of thy kin has a most weak pia mater.”

As he spoke, Sir Toby came staggering into the hall. He reeked of whiskey and clutched a half-empty bottle.

“By mine honor,” Olivia cringed away. “Half drunk. What is he at the gate, cousin?”

Sir Toby blinked, belched, and looked around. “What?”

“What is he at the gate?” Olivia repeated.

He shrugged. “A gentleman.”

“A gentleman! what gentleman?”

Another swig from the bottle seemed to wake Sir Toby up a bit. “‘Tis a gentleman here–” he announced, followed by another belch. “A plague o’ these pickle-herring!” Another blinking look around, and he finally noticed the fool standing beside his niece. With a grin, he exclaimed, “How now, sot!”

“Good Sir Toby!” The fool managed to choke out around the great bear hug that squeezed half the air from his lungs.

“Cousin,” Olivia said, then louder when he didn’t notice, “Cousin! how have you come so early by this lethargy?”

Suddenly offended, Sir Toby whirled on her. “Lechery!” he sneered, “I defy lechery.” A wide gesture toward the front of the estate that managed to spill some of the almost empty bottle. “There’s one at the gate.”

“Ay, marry, what is he?” Olivia tried to coax.

“Let him be the devil, and he will. I care not.” With a mighty sniff, Sir Toby turned and began a stately exit — right into a wall. The fool caught him and turned him in the direction of his quarters. “Give me faith, say I,” he continued solemnly, “Well, it’s all one.”

Olivia and the fool waited until he had turned out of sight and started giggling. “What’s a drunken man like, fool?” Olivia eventually asked.

“Like a drowned man, a fool and a mad man: one draught above heat makes him a fool, the second mads him, and a third drowns him.”

With a shake of her head, the countess got herself under control. “Go thou and seek the coroner, and let him sit o’ my coz; for he’s in the third degree of drink, he’s drowned: go, look after him.”

The fool squeezed her shoulder and turned to follow Sir Toby. “He is but mad yet, madonna; and the fool shall look to the madman.”

As the title implies, I’ve decided that I do need to split this into seasons. In fact, once I did some mathing, I realized that this is going to be well over my ideal length for a two season story. It’s heading right for the grey area between two and three seasons long. Not sure which I’m going for yet, we’ll see how far along we are when we hit a good breaking point, I guess.

If you have a preference, drop it in the comment section.

Building Family (S1, E8)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

In spite of the initial awkwardness, the rest of the evening went well. Following Andie’s lead, they took turns asking questions and giving questions. Nothing was off-limits, but without discussing it, they steered clear of things that might stir up painful memories. Emeka wondered about Orli’s ex but didn’t ask, and no one asked him about his family or how he came to have this big house all on his own.

By the time dinner was over, they were talking about the practicalities of living together. Emeka had been a little worried about the kosher thing, but once Orli explained the details of ‘kosher style’ he figured he could work with it. Shellfish was too expensive to be worth it anyway, and Orli wasn’t going to complain if he or Andie had a cheeseburger; she just didn’t eat them herself.

Andie had gotten quieter as the meal went on, and when they cleared the dishes away, they pulled out a tablet. “I’m going nonverbal,” a computer voice said for them. “Is this okay?”

Emeka had been surprised but didn’t see why it wouldn’t be okay. Orli had laughed. “If you two can put up with my kosher stuff, I don’t know why you’d think that would be a problem.”

“She’s right,” Emeka agreed. “We all got our baggage. As long as that’s comfortable for you, we’ll go with it.”

“How does it work?” Orli asked, gesturing to the tablet.

Andie typed a bit, and the tablet said, “Mostly it’s a standard text to speech program, I type in what I want to say, and the tablet turns it into audio. But I also programmed in some shortcuts for stuff I need to say a lot. Like ‘how are you’ or ‘have a good day.’ ”

“You programmed that yourself?” Emeka asked.

“Not all of it,” Andie replied after a moment. Typing was slower than speech, changing the pace of the conversation. “But some of it, yeah. There are commercial programs available for autistic and other nonverbal folks, but they are mostly expensive and only run on i-stuff.”

“You don’t like Apple?”

“I will give up Linux when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”

Orli laughed and offered Andi a fist bump. “Tux for the win.”

Emeka looked back and forth. “Linux? But you can’t run anything on Linux just about!”

Orli cough-muttered, “Gamer,” and Andie rolled his eyes.

“There’s lots of good games on Linux,” Andie said after a moment. “Just because not everyone likes triple-A bullshit–”

“Bullshit! Name one top game you can play on Linux–” Seeing Andie was typing, Emeka cut himself off.

“I can name dozens, but I only do need to name one. Minecraft.”

Emeka shook his head. “Okay yeah, but–”

Orli’s phone buzzed. She pulled it out and saw a text from her daughter. I can’t believe you are serious about doing this poly stuff.

You never had a problem with your aunt’s relationships, Orli replied.

She’s never been a stick in the mud.

And I have been?

Orli watched the three little dots pop in and out of existence as her not-quiet teenaged daughter debated between seeking mom’s approval and the teenage ‘cool’ factor. Chana was a good kid, school problems aside. But Orli could see more and more hints of the teenage monster-to-be peeking through. She was okay with that. Like many parents, she wanted her kid to have as normal a childhood as possible, and that included one where she felt safe to indulge in teenage rebellions.

Finally, those dots were replaced with words. Are you sure this isn’t some kind of mid-life crisis?

If it is, you can spend from now until you get your first car saying ‘I told you so.’ 

Deal! came the instant reply.

Orli chuckled and turned back into the continuing debate about games and gaming platforms. Chana was another gamer, but most of the game stuff went right over Orli’s head.

She had, however, learned a few things from her daughter. And, she thought soberly, if she was going to be living with these folks, she needed to know more about them than the surface they put on. So she waited until a break in the conversation and said, “I can’t say I really see the point in any of this. There’s lots of fun games I can play on my phone, and they don’t have double-digit price tags.”

Immediately, both Emeka and Andie and turned on her. A moment later, Andie’s tablet blared out, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!”

Emeka was making a horrified face. “Oh no! There’s a casual in our midst!” He held up his fingers so they formed a cross. “Back! Back demon! We will not be tempted by your foul Candy Crush!”

Then Andie started playing that really ominous music from Star Wars and said, “Throw yourself on the phone, Emeka. It may not be too late to save her.” In the same voice as the ‘danger Will Robinson’ bit.”

Testing the waters a bit more, Orli opened up Candy Crush on her phone and turned up the volume as high as it could go. Then waved it toward Emeka as if to ward him off.”

“No!” He threw himself back in his chair as if he’s been shoved. “Nooooooo…”

Orli started laughing and settled back in her own chair. The laughter was more relief than humor — she generally wasn’t a fan of mocking comedy. But she could recognize the humor in it. They weren’t being mean or derisive or disdainful.

A moment later, her phone beeped. She had a new friend request on Candy Crush from Andie945.

She accepted it saying, “Oh well. At least Chana will stop pestering me to play Civilizations if she has you two around.”

Emeka and Andie looked at each other, Andie flat-faced as always but Emeka with comically wide eyes.

“Strategy gamer,” he whispered.

In his normal voice, Andie replied, “We’re doomed.”

Orli messaged Chana saying, They’re gamers. Emeka plays triple-A games, and Andie plays ‘indy’ games.

Sweet! When can we move in?

Orli shook her head. Teenagers.

What You Will (E4)

Content notes: violence, sexism

It was not suspicion in Valentine’s eyes, though perhaps something close akin when he examined the newest member of the Duke’s court. “If the duke continue these favors towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced: he hath known you but three days, and already you are no stranger.”

Viola, for of course it was Viola who was new come to the Duke’s court, accepted as a foreign gentleman named ‘Cesario,’ stood firm under his scrutiny. “You either fear his humor or my negligence, that you call in question the continuance of his love: is he inconstant, sir, in his favors?”

“No, believe me,” Valentine said, raising his hands and backing away with a laugh, pleased perhaps to learn that the new man was no milksop.

Viola, still confused by the habits of men among themselves, continued to glare at him. For she knew one thing for certain — she must not let herself seem weak. “I thank you.”

What reply Valentine might have made was lost as the echoes of several people striding together came down the hall.

“Here comes the duke,” Viola called, and all in the room stopped what they were doing to give their attention to their lord.

Orsino entered and walked past the corner where Valentine had cornered Viola, with Curio and several others following and scanned the room. “Who saw Cesario, ho?”

Viola stepped forward, pushing her hair out of her face, and replied, “On your attendance, my lord; here.”

The look Orsino favored Viola with was not that of a lord looking at one of his men. Valentine and a few others long in the duke’s service knew that look of old, and worried. But there was nothing they could say. They could only hope the young foreigner would lose the duke’s favor before things became… messy.

They were not relieved by the duke’s words to ‘Cesario.’

“Stand you awhile aloof, Cesario.”

Viola did so, stepping out into the hallway where she and the duke might speak privately. After speaking with the others of his court, Orsino joined her out in the hallway and smiled. “Thou know’st no less but all; I have unclasp’d To thee the book even of my secret soul: Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her; Be not denied access, stand at her doors, And tell them, there thy fixed foot shall grow Till thou have audience.”

Viola stepped back, overwhelmed by the lord’s fervor. “Sure, my noble lord, If she be so abandon’d to her sorrow as is said, she never will admit me.” She looked everywhere but at Orsino’s face, knowing too well what she would see there.

He took her shoulder and gave her a little shake. “Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds Rather than make unprofited return.”

“Say I do speak with her, my lord, what then?”

“O,” Orsino paused, having expected more resistance. “Then unfold the passion of my love, Surprise her with words of my dear faith.” He pinched her cheek and smiled, “It shall become thee well to act my woes; She will attend it better in thy youth Than in a nuncio’s of more grave aspect.” He let go of her chin to ape Valentine’s habitual severe expression.

“I think not so, my lord.” She turned away and he thought her embarrassed.

In a gentle voice, he said, “Dear lad, believe it; for they shall yet belie thy happy years, that say thou art a man. Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, and all is fitting a woman’s part.” He used voice and face to tell the youth that the duke did not think less of him for it, that there was no shame in being young.

Yet Viola found herself even more disturbed, crossing her arms and hunching in to protect herself again the sting. She should, perhaps, have feared for her disguise. But she did not, all she could think was that he saw her as womanly. And that was a pain she did not understand.

Still trying to be reassuring he continued, “I know thy constellation is right apt for this affair.” Turning back to where the others waited, the duke called, “Some four or five attend him; all, if you will. For I am best when least in company.” Turning back to Viola he said firmly, “Prosper well in this, and thou shalt live as freely as thy lord, To call his fortunes thine.”

Unable to bear the conversation further, Viola gave way. “I’ll do my best To woo your lady.”

Orsino grinned and ruffled his hair before striding back down the hallway.

After a moment to collect herself, Viola waved off the others of the duke’s court who awaited her. If she needs to do this, she also would be best alone.

Once she was out of the palace and clear of any who might hear, she gave in to the confusion and pain of her conflicting feelings. “Yet, a barful strife! For him I woo, I wish to be his wife.”

Here, at last, is where I — er — the fool, yes, the fool, enters into the story. This fool was an older fool who had been much loved by Olivia’s father. He did not have the energy or body for the physical antics most expect of fools, but he had a quick wit and a quicker eye. He could, as they say, see further into the millstone than most.

Having been away for several years, on business of his own, he slipped in through the kitchen door, begged a meal off the cook, and went looking for Mistress Maria. He found her in the linen closet counting bedsheets. Which perhaps explains why she was so out of sorts.

“Nay, either tell me where thou hast been” she demanded, “or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse: my lady will hang thee for thy absence.”

As she spoke, she piled sheets one after another in the fool’s arms.

He let her and replied, “Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colors.”

She scowled and turned to count pillowcases. “Make that good.”

Carefully, he slipped a single sheet off of the pile in his arms and returned it to the shelves. “Why,” he said grandly, “He shall see none to fear.”

“A good lenten answer:” She finished with the pillowcases and turned back to him. “I can tell thee where that saying was born, of ‘I fear no colors.'”

“Where, good Mistress Mary?”

“In the wars; and that may you be bold to say in your foolery–” she stopped speaking abruptly and counted the sheets he was holding. Grumbling she added another onto the pile.

He shrugged, “Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.”

“Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent;” she turned as she spoke, and she turned away, perhaps to hide her face. Mistress Maria and the fool had long been friends and his absence had hurt her as much as angered her. “or, to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to you?”

He took the chance to take an extra sheet off of the shelf and add it to his pile. “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and, for turning away, let summer bear it out.”

“You are resolute, then?”

“Not so, neither; but I am resolved on two points.”

She turned to face him again saying, “That if one break, the other will hold; or, if both break, your gaskins fall.”

He bowed to her, careful not to drop the sheets. “Apt, in good faith; very apt.” He turned to the door. “Well, go thy way; if Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria.”

She flushed, scowled, and went to cuff him on the head but stopped at a familiar footstep. “Peace, you rogue, no more o’ that. Here comes my lady: make your excuse wisely, you were best.” Grabbing the sheets from him she stalked off. Stopped. Stomped back. And dropped the extra sheet on top of his head.

The fool grinned watching her go and folded the sheet back so it lay over his head like a nun’s habit. “Wit, if it be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’ “

On a Trip to London Town (A tease)

Sorry folks. That family emergency I mentioned back in August? Well it kind of ran into September and I’m still getting back on my feet. One of these days I’m going to rebuild my buffer so I can get back to posting consistently for y’all.

In the mean time, here’s a piece from a few years ago. Ol’ Robin has long been one of my fave tales and one of these days I’m going to do something with him. Sadly, this won’t be that something. I find these days I’m mildly allergic to stories involving The Good King. So Good King Richard will have to find something else to do with his time when I get around to writing about Robin again.

Content notes: violence, hunting

There was a young man once, of good family, though fallen on hard times. When he came of age, he left his home, bidding farewell to his old father, and set off for London Town, seeking his fortune there as young men are wont to do. He carried with him a yew bow and a score of cloth-yard shafts, as well as a gift of coin from his father to see him through his journey. With his good bow and his skill, he had high hopes of winning a place in the king’s service.

Fate had other plans for him, however.

On the second day of his travels, he passed through Nottingham town, ‘twas market day, and being heavy of purse and light of mind, as men of that age are, he thought to pick up some trinket in the market. However, it was no trinket that caught his eye, but the bright curls and laughing eyes of a young maid. She saw him as well, and despite the disapproval of her nurse, winked and flirted with him from across the market square.

Well, he needed no further encouragement, I assure you. Darting around carts and between stalls, he quickly made his way across the square and found a spot next to the market stall where the maid’s nurse was bargaining for fresh herbs.

She made a slight curtsy when she saw him, and he bowed in reply. “What do you here, goodsir? I fain I have not seen your face before.”

“Sadly, no, lady, as my father was not wont to come to town, and I perforce remained with him, but now I make my way to London town, to seek service with the King.”

“And what is your father’s name goodsir?”

“My father is Robert of Locksley.”

“I have heard of him, a noted scholar.”

“Indeed – as his son is not, a disappointment to him, I fear.”

“Surely – ”

So caught up were they in each other they neglected to notice the nurse had finished her bargaining. Horrified to find her charge speaking with a strange man, she bore down upon them like a ship under full sail.

“My lady Marian! This is not seemly! What would your father say!”

As the nurse hustled the maid Marian away, the young man called out, “I hope I may see you again… Lady Marian.”

The nurse screeched in offended proprietary, and then they were gone.

As the young man wandered down the road later that day, he reflected on how his dreams could change so suddenly. No more did the miles pass beneath his feet with happy thoughts of rising in the king’s service, earning acclaim and gold, saving the king from an assassin perhaps, or performing some great feat of valor fighting for Christendom in the Holy Land. His thoughts turned instead back to Nottingham Town. “Marian” He tasted the name over and over, sweet and light, a delight to the tongue. Long and drawn out to be almost a song, the short burst of a whispered confidence. A few years service with the king, some small heroic acts, and he could possibly retire with a small barony as a reward for his service, and enough income to think of… dare he even consider… marriage!

So lost was he in happy daydreams that he didn’t see men in the forest until they were almost upon him.

“What ho, fellow. What brings you to the greenwood?”

“Passing through stranger, on my way to London Town, where I will take service with the king.”

The men laughed at this. “Not yet a stripling, and so sure the king will have you? Go back your mother’s apron strings boy, until you can use that bow you carry!”

The young man’s face turned red, pricked pride driving him down a foolish course.

“I wager gold that I can shoot better than any of you or any man in England!”

One of the number, a villainous man wearing stained deer hide breeches and with a scar running across his creek stepped forward.

“I’ll take that wager, boy, and your gold also!”

The young man agreed and began casting about for materials to set up a proper target.

“Just as I thought, a boy, not a man. No man wastes his time on targets – there is the only target worthy of a grown man!”

The challenger pointed off into the forest, where a herd of deer grazed. “Take down that buck boy, and I’ll name you man in truth.”

The young man did not stop to think but strung his bow and fit arrow to string. A moment to gauge the wind, not even a moment to sight, and the arrow was loosed, to lodge firm between the stags ribs. The wound was mortal, and the creature took one fleeing leap before falling dead to the forest floor.

The young man turned in triumph to face his challenger.

“What say you now?”

The villainous man was grinning, as was the rest of the small band.

“I say we have a poacher, worth ten gold crowns if we deliver you to the Sheriff in Nottingham Town. And I say that there are more of us than you, so you might as well come quietly. Boy.”

The young man’s face drained of color as he realized what his foolish pride had driven him to. He turned to run but was felled with a blow to the head. And the world went dark.

He returned to himself, hot and nauseous, the smell of blood in his nostrils and the world spinning around him. He tried to sit but found he was bound – wrapped tightly in a bundle that, to his horror, he saw was suspended by a pole carried between two of the men from the wood.

They laughed and joked as they traveled, and the young man fell into the deepest despair as he realized his predicament. Trussed like a pig for market, he could not escape, and the killing of the king’s deer – all deer were the king’s deer – was a mortal offense. If he couldn’t get away, he would find himself scheduled to meet the headsman in short order.

For a time, he struggled against his bonds, but they proved firm.

He had all but given up when his captors came upon an inn and decided to stop for a meal. Dumping him to the ground, sure he could not get away, they went into the cool of the inn.

At first, the young man thought here might be a chance to escape. Alone along the road, if he could cut his bonds, and run they would never find him. But again, the ties were too strong for him to break.

He fell into a dazed stupor, brought on by heat and shock and hunger. When he was roused sometime later, he thought it was only his captors come to claim him again.

A man, clad in light, was gazing down at him, sternness and compassion both shining in his eyes. A thunderous wind roared in his ears, like the breath of eternity.

“Well, boy, what brings you to this state.”

The young man, shocked to find a seeming angel staring him in the face, lowered his eyes and babbled out his tale, leaving out nothing, sure that if he did, those unearthly eyes would know it.

When he was finished, the man sighed. “You are a fool boy, and worse a proud one, but even a fool can learn. Can you?”

“Yes, Lord! I … I will set aside my pride.”

“The truth of that will be tested, I expect, in years to come. If I free you, will you swear your service to me?”

The young man agreed, eagerly in fact, and suddenly found himself sprawled on the ground. Without standing, he went to his knees.

“If you would have me, Lord, my service is yours, man and blade, until the last breath has left my body.”

The shining one accepted his service and bade him rise, and the vision of wonder faded before his eyes. The shining light had been the sun reflected on armor, the wind the breath of the man’s warhorse in his ear.

Once again shocked, feeling the world spin about him.

The man handed him a water pouch and a purse of food.

“Hie you to the greenwood,” he said, “Whatever is there, be it wood or deer or herb is free for your use, and the use of any who would follow you. Perhaps we will need again, perhaps not, but it is time and past time the folk of the land had someone to stand for them. Perhaps you will be that man. Now go.”

That voice – only a man’s voice now, but a command so firm it could not be denied, could not be resisted. The young man scooped up the water and food, paused but a moment to grab his good yew bow and arrows, and disappeared into the woods.

And thus did Robin of Locksley, known now as Robin of the Hood come to life in the greenwood.

What You Will — A Queer-er Shakespeare (E3)

Content notes: violence, sexism

It was well into the dark of night when a short ruddy-cheeked man came stumbling through the kitchen door of Countess Olivia’s manor and nearly tripped over the grim woman in livery who waited for him.

The man, barely noticing in his drunken ramble, continued a long-running (and oft-repeated) rant. “What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to life.”

The woman sighed and stood up, brushing out her skirts. “By my troth, Sir Toby,” she said, “you must come in earlier o’ nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.”

As usual, Sir Toby brushed the admonishment away. “Why, let her except, before excepted.”

Knowing better than to argue directly with a drunk, the woman tried another tack, “Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order.”

“Confine!” Came the instant objection. “I’ll confine myself no finer than I am: these clothes are good enough to drink in; and so be these boots too: an they be not, let them hang themselves in their own straps.”

Shaking her head, the woman took his arm and tried to lead him toward his bed. As she did, she muttered under her breath, “That quaffing and drinking will undo you: I heard my lady talk of it yesterday; and of a foolish knight that you brought in one night here to be her wooer.”

Sadly, she did not mutter softly enough. Sir Toby heard her and took exception.

“Who, Sir Andrew Aguecheek?”

“Ay, he.”

Sir Toby shook free of her hand and pulled himself up straight, a portrait of offended dignity. “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria.” The portrait was ruined by a great burp that ripped free on the last syllable.

Poor delivery or not, the point couldn’t be argued. Sir Andrew was indeed taller than most men of Illyria. Still, “What’s that to the purpose?”

“Why, he has three thousand ducats a year.”

Somewhere in a drunk man’s mind, ideas connect in ways that even a fool can never make sense of.

“Ay, but he’ll have but a year in all these ducats: he’s a very fool and a prodigal.”

“Fie, that you’ll say so! he plays o’ the violin, and speaks three or four languages word for word without book, and hath all the good gifts of nature.”

The woman shook her head again and turned to face Sir Toby. “He hath indeed, almost natural: for besides that he’s a fool, he’s a great quarreller: and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarreling, ’tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.”

Jowls bouncing, face flushed now with anger, Sir Toby explained, “By this hand, they are scoundrels and subtractors that say so of him. Who are they?”

Done with the conversation, she turned and began walking away, calling over her shoulder, “They that add, moreover, he’s drunk nightly in your company.”

The anger drained out of Sir Toby, and he said pleadingly, “With drinking healths to my niece.” When the woman did not stop, he took a few steps after her and grabbed her arm. “I’ll drink to her as long as there is a passage in my throat and drink in Illyria: he’s a coward and a coystrill that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o’ the toe like a parish-top.

The door opened again, and Sir Toby put a hand over the woman’s mouth, silencing whatever reply she might have made “What, wench! Castiliano vulgo! For here comes Sir Andrew Agueface.”

“Sir Toby Belch!” Sir Andrew staggered in and pulled up short. He stared at Sir Toby, who still had his hand over a strange (to Andrew) woman’s mouth. “how now, Sir Toby Belch!”

“Sweet Sir Andrew!” Sir Toby replied. He dropped his hands away from the woman and stepped away suddenly.

Sir Andrew turned to the woman, saying, “Bless you, fair shrew.”

“And you too, sir,” She replied, edging once again toward the door.

Not wanting her to escape, Sir Toby urged Sir Andrew forward. “Accost, Sir Andrew, accost.”

Confused, Sir Andrew blinked blearily around the room. “What’s that?”

“My niece’s chambermaid,” Sir Toby said, with a wave (more drunken than gallant) toward the poor woman.

Sir Andrew dropped into an exaggerated bow, “Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance.”

“My name is Mary, sir.” She rubbed her forehead against a headache and looked longingly for the door.

“Good Mistress Mary Accost,–” began Sir Andrew again, striding toward her.

Mistress Mary Not Accost moved quickly to put a bench between herself and the approaching knave… err… knight.

Groaning, Sir Toby put a hand on Sir Andrew’s arm. “You mistake, knight; ‘accost’ is front her, board her, woo her, assail her.” These last terms were joined by gestures meant to illustrate the good knight’s meaning.

“By my troth,” Sir Andrew exclaimed. “I would not undertake her in this company.” Then in what might have been meant as a whisper but was loud enough to be heard across the bailey, he spoke directly into Sir Toby’s ear. “Is that the meaning of ‘accost’?”

Sir Toby winced away, rubbing his ear. Mary (Maria actually) took advantage of his distraction to make once more for the door. “Fare you well, gentlemen.”

Sadly for her, he was not distracted enough. “An thou let part so, Sir Andrew, would thou mightst never draw sword again.”

If nothing else, Sir Andrew could recognize a cue and jumped into his role: “An you part so, mistress, I would I might never draw sword again.” He smiled at her, a smile such as no lady would ever wish to receive, and said, “Fair lady, do you think you have fools in hand?”

“Sir, I have not you by the hand,” Maria answered, thinking perhaps the time had come for insult to drive the knights away.

Sir Andrew, however, was Sir Andrew. “Marry, but you shall have,” he replied, “and here’s my hand.”

He bowed again, extending hand and leg in a gesture she could not courteously ignore. So with visible reluctance, she reached out to touch the tips of the drunken knight’s fingers.

“Now, sir,” she said, releasing him almost immediately, ‘thought is free:’ I pray you, bring your hand to the buttery-bar and let it drink.”

Sir Andrew peered around the room a moment, confirming for himself there was no buttery-bar in view. “Wherefore, sweet-heart?” he asked then, “what’s your metaphor?”

“It’s dry, sir,” Maria said, in a voice dry as a desert.

“Why, I think so:” Sir Andrew said, “I am not such an ass but I can keep my hand dry. But what’s your jest?”

Only a step away from the door now, Maria glared at Sir Toby and said. “A dry jest, sir.”

“Are you full of them?”

“Ay, sir, I have them at my fingers’ ends.” She took the final step to the door and out of Sir Andrew’s reach. “Marry, now I let go your hand, I am barren.”

In a flurry of skirts, she turned and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Sir Toby shook his head and sighed while Sir Andrew stared at the door in perplexity. A moment later, there came the sound of a key being turned in a lock.

Building Family (S1, E7)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Emeka debated for the fifth time rearranging the furniture in the living room. Which was a foolish thing to do, with guests arriving in the next few minutes. But it distracted him from his nerves. He’d never been this stressed about a first date before. Was this how people in an arranged marriage felt when they met their spouse-to-be for the first time?

It wasn’t something that would usually occur to him, but Orli had said something about her great-grandparents being in arranged marriages. She said it worked out fairly well for them.

The doorbell rang, interrupting his thoughts. Emeka hurried to open it.

Andie loomed in the doorway, making Emeka step back in surprise. Once he caught himself, he invited Andie in. “Sorry about that. I didn’t expect you to be so… big.”

Andie shrugged. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Physically Andie looked exactly like their profile picture — which picture wouldn’t look bad next to ‘nerd’ in the dictionary. But most nerds didn’t have the physique to play linebacker.

“Can’t say I’m surprised. You want a drink? Orli should be here any–” and there went the doorbell again.

Like Andie, Orli matched her profile pic — curly black hair held back in a ponytail, a face marked by strain and lack of sleep. The difference this time was in the nervous energy. She was bouncing on her toes and fiddling with her ponytail.

After letting Orli in and introducing the two to each other, Emeka said, “So… Orli mentioned Hanukkah, that’s Jewish, right? There’s this one kosher restaurant a couple streets over that does delivery. I ordered some stuff from there for tonight.”

Orli grinned. “That’s really thoughtful. I don’t actually keep kosher. I can’t afford to. I try to keep… we call it ‘kosher-style.’ Mainly, that means no pork and shellfish, and don’t mix meat with dairy. But for tonight, that’s awesome.”

Emeka laughed, “See, that’s exactly the kind of thing we need to talk about. Beyond, you know, ‘are we comfortable enough with each other to live together at all.’ Let me get both of you something to drink, and we can talk while we wait for the food.”

After a few minutes, they were all seated in the living room, and awkwardness had set in.

“Um…” Andie said after a moment, “I don’t… I’m not good at… Am I the only one feeling awkward right now?”

“Oh God, no,” Orli said. “This is… I”m usually pretty good with people, and this is just… like a first date turned up to 11?”

“I was thinking that right before you both arrived, I’ve never had a first date that had me this nervous.” Emeka chuckled.

“Oh, Good.” Andie sighed. “I’m… Look, I’d love to do the whole ‘meet someones, fall in love, get a solid triad or quad going, find a place together. You know, the usual poly dream relationship. But I can’t afford to do it that way?

“I’m, well, I’m autistic, and I have trouble with… schedules, and remembering to take my medication, and… it’s called executive dysfunction?

“My parents want me to ‘be independent’ and ‘get my own place,’ but I need help. I can do interdependent, like, I help you, you help me? But I can’t do independent, and they don’t get that. So I need something, like, soon. I’ve looked for roommates, but most aren’t willing to be more than, well, you know, roommates.”

Emeka stared at them for a moment, then turned to Orli. She was looking back at him, looking kind of bemused.

“Sorry,” Andie said in a small voice. “I’m always just… blurting stuff and talking too much. And you can’t want…”

“Hey,” Orli interrupted them. “It’s okay, it’s… my turn to blurt stuff. I… I knew I’d have to say something tonight because It’s not fair to… and I didn’t want you to think…

“I’m monogamous. And homeless. I’m. I can’t do it anymore. I’m trying to raise my kid alone, and I’m in constant pain from fibro, and I can barely keep a roof over our heads. And I just…

“But that’s not why I’m here. I mean, I’ll be honest, I’m desperate enough I might have reached out anyway. But I had to try this because… because I’m tired of being alone. I’m aromantic and nonbinary, so dating is just… impossible. I want family, that’s all. And I said I’m monogamous, but I really don’t… I mean, can an aromantic person really be monogamous or poly or anything like that? I’ve just never tried to have more than one relationship before.

“And I guess I need help too, help to not be alone anymore.”

She took a deep breath. “I read your post, and it felt like something I could have written. About needing family. I promise I’m not trying to take advantage, but if you don’t want me here–”

“Wow,” Andie said. “And I thought I blurted out everything.”

Orli laughed. “I usually don’t… just spew stuff like that. I’m just…”

“hey,” Emeka finally found his voice. “I had my chance to dump everything in that post, only fair you two get a turn.

“That’s a lot to take in, but I’m not asking anyone to leave.

“I don’t care why you’re here, and you both know I got my own shit going on. You’re both here, right? We all want to make this work?”

Orli nodded firmly, though Emeka noticed she didn’t stop fidgeting with her hair. Andie said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

“So, that’s all good. Where do we go from here?”

Andie raised his hand. When Emeka waved for them to speak, they turned to Orli and asked, “If you’re nonbinary, why do you use she/her pronouns?”

Orli laughed, “Do you want the long version or the short version?”

“There’s a long version?”

“It involves Jewish stuff,” she replied. “There is always a long version.”

Emeka blinked, “Really? I don’t know much about Judaism, but I suppose I’m going to learn.

“We got all evening, so what’s the long version.?

Andie nodded. “Long version, please. Then it’s your turn to ask a question.”

“Okay, that works.” Orli nodded, then paused for a moment. “So, 2,000 years ago, when the 2nd Temple was destroyed, Jews had 6 genders…

Already fascinated, Emeka settled back to listen. It sounded like both Andie and Orli came more from desperation than anything else. But Emeka figured he wasn’t one to criticize — it was desperation that had him making that post, right?

Worst case, he’d met two very interesting people.

What You Will (E2) – A Queer-er Shakespeare

Content notes: violence, sexism

The surviving sailors gathered together driftwood and broken timbers from the ship and built a large fire. They sat around it all together, with no concern for rank or privilege. Fire and closeness slowly brought warmth back into sea-chilled limbs.

Warmth brought thought beyond the needs of the moment, and Viola finally turned to the future. “Know’st thou this country?” she asked the huddled seamen.

It was the captain who responded, seeming to take strength from a question he had answers to. “Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born not three hours’ travel from this very place,” and he gestured to the southwest, along the coast and away from the imposing cliffs that guarded this section of the beach.

Ilyria, the captain had named this country, but though the name seemed familiar, Viola could not put her hands on it. “Who governs here?”

“A noble duke, in nature as in name.”

Which told her all of nothing. “What is the name?” Viola demanded.

“Orsino,” the captain replied, strangely short and sparing of words he was, when speaking of the lord. He had some history with his lordship that the good captain thought, perhaps, best buried and forgotten.

But to Viola, the name was a relief, for it was as familiar — more familiar — than the name of the land he ruled, and she exclaimed. “Orsino! I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then.” Bachelor enough and long enough to be noted by those who had ties there. For if he would not take a wife and have an heir, the land might be disrupted eir long.

The captain nodded and looked away to not meet her gaze, words now falling from him like water tripping over rocks in a stream. “And so is now, or was so very late; for but a month ago I went from hence, and then ’twas fresh in murmur — as, you know, what great ones do the less will prattle of — that he did seek the love of fair Olivia.”

“What’s she?”

The sailors, seeing the captain and their passenger occupied, turned to their own discussions. The captain took note and was relieved. For nothing so worries a captain as a subdued and quiet crew.

Giving his full attention to Viola then, he explained, “The countess is a virtuous maid, the daughter of a count that died some twelvemonth past, then leaving her in the protection of his son, her brother, who shortly also died. For love of him, they say, she hath abjured the company and sight of men.”

The captain was wise in the ways of people, as one must be to command a crew through gale and wrack some twenty years or more. So he was not surprised to see tears once again in Viola’s eyes and recognition in her face. Her state and the countess’ were in truth much alike.

“O that I served that lady,” Viola said, “and might not be delivered to the world, till I knew in full what my estate is!”

“That were hard to compass,” the captain said with a shake of his head, “because she will admit no kind of suit.”

Viola started at that — no kind of suit, not even…

“No, not the duke’s.” The captain answered her unvoiced question.

The captain’s quick understanding in that moment joined with his honesty and courtesy, and Viola came to a decision. “There is a fair behavior in thee, captain; and though that nature with a beauteous wall does oft close in pollution, yet of thee I will believe thou hast a mind that suits with this thy fair and outward character.”

She had to do something, Viola knew. No matter how she wished to fall into grief like the countess, she was a young woman, unmarried and alone, in a foreign country. She had an idea — a dangerous, glorious, heart-shaking idea — she leaned in towards the captain and spoke softly, sure that the wash of sea and cries of gulls would hide her voice from the nearby sailors. “I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” A disguise she was well familiar with, for often had she and her brother tricked their tutors and parents so. “I’ll serve this duke.”

The captain, of course, was shocked, shook his head in immediate rejection, but Viola pushed on. Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him: it may be worth thy pains; for I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music. That will allow me very worth his service.” This stopped the captain, caught hold in his mind. For all men have their weaknesses. Viola sought to arouse his ambition, to have the count favor him for presenting a new addition to the count’s court. But it was a far different weakness she touched on. A weakness, a dream perhaps, that the captain would share with no one alive and very few among the dead.

Viola saw the captain’s reluctant agreement, if not the reason for it. She looked out over the sea, reminding herself of the disaster that could await even the most well-provisioned voyages. “What else may hap to time I will commit;” she nodded to herself, then looked back to the captain, “Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.”

Taking a deep breath and sending a prayer winging to the heavens, he committed himself. “Be you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be:” he swore. “When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.”

They gazed at each other a moment, each in their own way casting a coin in the air and trusting to fate and the other that it would land aright.

“I thank thee,” Viola said, “lead me on.

The captain, of course, led her nowhere at that moment. He waited until he was sure all were dry and had eaten what food they could find. Then the group gathered together, carrying what goods they could, and began the long walk around the cliffs to a road where they might flag down aid. From there to the captain’s hometown to prepare her disguise, and finally…

Building Family (S1, E6)

Season content notes: transphobia mention, ableism,

Orli stared at Emeka’s post for a few minutes, arguing with herself. She wasn’t polyamorous. Hell, she wasn’t even interested in a relationship, as most people understood the term. Not long after Chana was born, Orli had given up on dating entirely because even many Orthodox men had been infected by the modern world and expected something she couldn’t give them.

But she is tired of being lonely. She wants to know more about this idea, to build a family. It can’t hurt to ask, after all. Holding her breath, she sends this Emeka a message request.

Her grandmother used to talk about how it was done in the ‘old country.’ How a matchmaker would arrange a marriage. The old woman had no patience with falling in love. “first comes love,” she would say. “Oy, what nonsense. Marry a good man, child. Marry a man you can trust. You will build a life together, yes? And with that life together will come love.”

To her surprise, Emeka accepted her message request almost immediately. “I saw your post,” she said, “about building a family?” which was no different, really, than building a life together. Sometimes old wisdom still applied in the modern world. “I’d like to hear more.”

After three days, Emeka had been almost regretting his post. He still thought it could work, but he hadn’t expected the dumpster load of shit that would result from sharing it. He should have — it wasn’t like he didn’t have tons of experience with how people would react to a new idea.

Amid the attacks, well-meaning criticism, and sleaze had been two people reaching out who seemed really interested in what he was offering. Andie, who he know casually from some of the polyam meetups in town, and this person Orli who he’d never heard of before. But she’d been a member of the group for a couple of years, apparently one of those folks who preferred to lurk.

Orli couldn’t help laughing at Emeka’s explanation of how he’d come to this idea. “Oy, the fans! I’ve managed to avoid the Whovians, but I’ve been friends with some Trekkies and the way they got over those new movies.”

“Yes!” Emeka replied, “Don’t get me wrong, the show is good, I see why they like it, but…”

“But it’s almost as bad as football fans? No! European soccer fans.”

“Canadian hockey fans.”

“I don’t know, that’s going a bit far.”

“A bit.”

Emeka was surprised to realize he was grinning.

Orli’s phone rang and she went to answer it, grumbling about the endless spam calls. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a spam call, it was Chana’s school. Again. Orli answered, already knowing what she would hear.

Yup, Chana was being sent home from school early.

She grabbed her keys and purse, the pulled up the Messenger app on her phone as she walked down the stairs of the boarding house and out to the car. “I’m going to need to go,” she said, letting the voice recognition type the message for her. “My kid is in trouble at school.”

“You have a kid? How old?” Emeka’s reply popped up as she started the engine.

Orli sighed. She should have expected this, kids were always a deal-breaker. “14,” she types quickly. She closes the app and pulls out of her parking spot.

The car pulled out smoothly and she patted the dash. One of her last conversations with her parents, they’d had a lot to say about the amount of money she spent maintaining the car. She should have put the money into keeping up with rent or saving up for an actual apartment, they said.

So did lots of other people. But if she didn’t have a car to get to work with, then soon she wouldn’t have a place to pay rent on. She was so sick of people judging her life and decisions without understanding it.

When she pulled into the school parking lot, she checked for a reply from Emeka.

“Fourteen is the worst. I got in all kinds of trouble at that age,” it read, “Go ahead and rescue your kid from whatever the school’s dumping on them. I’m off today, so just tag me whenever you get back.”

She blinked and re-read it.

The next half hour was a frustrating routine of talking with the vice-principal, waiting while Chana collected her things, a drive ‘home’ with a fuming silent teen.

The boarding house was skirting the edge of legality on a good day, and Orli wasn’t surprised to see the neighbors sitting on the front porch waiting for their next ‘customers’ as she hurried Chana inside.

But the roof was free of leaks, the heat worked, and the tenants mostly minded their own business. It wasn’t where she wanted to raise her daughter, but it was safe and cheap enough she could get each of them their own room — privacy being critical for both parent and child once the teen years arrived.

Once Chana was settled in to do her homework, Orli sat back down at her computer — one of the few things she’d managed to hold onto from before — and stared at the conversation with Emeka that was still on the screen.

She enjoyed that conversation. And he hadn’t been scared off by a teenage kid. They were both looking for family.

“What school district are you in?”