Chapter 7: The Isle of Assateague

We slept cuddled up together on the beach, all nine of us. Nannakussi had a fever in the morning. I wanted to get started, but he was in no shape for a long walk, much less for a twenty mile hike. Even I could see that, and I have a thick head. Trying to travel would leave him at death’s door, maybe even kick him through.

Rather than let me sit around and grouch about it, Nevy took me for a long walk along the beach, questioning me some more about my “realm.” She liked hearing about how people lived. She wasn’t much interested in politics and government and such. She was more interested in the things that were utterly different to her, like cars and trucks and planes and supermarkets and Amazon and Google and indoor plumbing. She was disappointed that she couldn’t go to the moon. She’d never lived in a city, never been more than a few miles from her unnamed little crossroads, in fact.

“Ic… Aye would like tæ see it, for real” she said, trying my dialect on for size. She spoke slowly and with exaggerated care, pausing now and then to dig for words, trying to get familiar with the sounds of it. As yet they were just approximations.

“You’re welcome to come along, if I can ever find it again,” I told her.

“Thou… ye… you want’st me with thee… with you?”

“Hmmm… Good question. I’ve known you for almost forty eight hours now. I still get distracted looking at you. I’d love to have you.”

“Ænd I thee,” she assured me. “Thou hast æn nice ærse.”

“So do you. Just about perfect, in fact. But looks don’t last forever.”

“Aye,” she agreed sadly. “Would that they did!”

“I like you enormously already,” I told her. “That counts a lot. There are other things that count for much to make a marriage, things we need to have in common.”

“Ic bœn æn witch and thou art æn demon. Wit hæbben das in common.”

“That we do, except that I’m no demon. A grouch sometimes, maybe an ogre before I’ve had my coffee, but not a demon. I’ve never been married…”

“Nor I.”

“I’ve been in love several times,” I admitted. “Once it lasted almost a month.”

“Never I before,” she told me. “Wass… What wær her nahmen?”

“Her name?” I asked. “Heather. Why? Are you jealous?” Heather had been the most important person in our relationship, to both of us. She left in a huff after not getting her way over something so trivial I can’t remember what it was. Shortly after, she met Mister Right. She got his house and one of his cars when they divorced. She asked for both cars.

“Aye, Lord. Ic bœn ‘jealous.’ But offter… after thirty days thou wilt… you will be sure?”

“You can use the familiar with me, honey,” I told her. “I like it. I think I’ll use it with you. It’ll be a nice compromise.”

“Wass ist ‘familiar?’”

“Thou speakest to me using the familiar,” I explained. “Remember you said I speak to you formally?”

She smiled, her nose wrinkling very prettily. “If Ic bœn thine, Ic musst speak thy spræc… speech?”

“Which brings me back to what I was saying, my beauty. Thou made’st a bargain with the demon Asmodeus. He didn’t show up, which I’m sure was a good thing for thee and for thine. Thou got’st me instead. Thou had’st no bargain with me, so thou art under no obligation to me.”

“And thou hast no obligation to me?” she asked, her eyes starting to tear up.

“Thou art taking it wrong, my sweet. I want to find this Palégos and conk him with a chunk of cord wood because I like thee. I like thy mother. I like all in thy coven…”

“Thou likest all the same?” she demanded.

”I like thee best. Thou knowest it’s so. Thou art stunningly pretty. But I would not have thee want me because of some bargain thou made’st with a fellow whom I don’t even believe in. Thou art free to make thine own choices and thine own bargains. I’ll admit, right now I’m head over heels in love with you. Something akin to love, anyway. Passion is passion. I suspect I will be next month and next year and a dozen years from now, though the passion will become less intense. Thou can’st understand?”

“Ic… Aye think so, Lord. Know’st thou, that wrfgifta, marriage here usually ist arrangèd. Mine muþer… mother would spræc… speak with thy muþer. This is after the custom of the Lenape, which here we follow. I spake much med… with mine muþer ‘fore Ic made mine bargain med Asmodeus. She wast sore against it, but þann… then she agreèd, without bliþsBlisse?” Not seeing any recognition on my face, she tried Latin: Gaudia?”

“Joy, I think we’d say.” The word “joy” comes from French and hadn’t made it into her dialect of English.

Joy.” Her face was serious as she tucked the word into memory. “Lord Asmodeus arrivèd, ænd from that moment the bargain wast made, unless thou dost not subdue den… ye… eofel wizard… Ic know not the word in thy speech!” she added in frustration.

”’Evil,’ I think you mean. Or maybe ‘vile’ in my language. One’s about the same as the other, yours is closer to my English.” Enough with the language problem for now. I’ll translate:

“I thank thee,” she said, twining her fingers with mine. “Thou must remember, I had seen thee, before thou arrivèd. I knew thy face, knowing thou not as a demon. I was surprised that thou wast. I have seen thy house, seen even to… to thy… to… our bedroom.” Her face was flaming bright red at this point. I assumed we were having a good, good, really good time when she Saw us.

I kissed beautiful hands that had never had a manicure. “You’re implying you know for sure that I’m going to love you next month?” I suggested.

“Aye, lord. I do. Mine muþer… My moth-er spake not to thy moth-er. Rather, mine heart spake to thine.”

We’d kissed a bunch the night before, along with a little messing around. Actually there had been lots of messing around, and pretty passionate it was. I kissed her now and it made those other kisses look piddly squat.

Lætra,” she whispered in her own dialect. “Later.”

We walked back, holding hands again, this time with little electric tingles running up and down my arm, emanating from her hand at around 220 volts. Nannakussi was sitting up and not looking at all like he was on his death bed. I’d never have known he’d been wracked with fever an hour ago. He was making a lightning recovery. I complimented Eadgyth and Sigeflæd on their nursing. It was almost like magic, the way he’d come around.

We gathered our stuff, which at this point consisted mostly of our shoes, since we had our clothes on and hadn’t brought anything else with us. We set off for the south. I was feeling pretty good. I sang a couple verses of “We’re off to see the wizard.” Nevy demanded I translate, and when I did, she poked me in the ribs.

She demanded a language lesson as we walked, and we tried to sort out whatever happened to the “Æ” and “Œ” sounds, and the many other differences among vowels and consonants. Nannakussi joined us, trying to follow the conversation. As my servus he would need to communicate with me and it seemed he took his duties seriously.

I had a mental map in my head of Fenwick Island. We weren’t much more than a half hour from the narrows, where we had taken somebody’s dugout canoe from the mainland. When we got there we stopped, held hands again, and the scenery didn’t change much as I shifted us back to Nevianne’s reality stream. What looked like the same old dugout we had crossed in was there, just a-waiting.

I tried to send the entire coven, less Nevianne, back home, which meant we spent about forty five minutes arguing. I insisted Mildrith go. She was too old and frail for a long trip. She wanted to come, but Sigeflæd pointed out that she would both slow us down and make us more vulnerable, since magic didn’t seem to work, or only worked sporadically. Edie made the same argument to Sigeflæd, and then she had to be talked into returning to her own family. That left Ælflæda, Blæda, and Nevianne’s Mom, Leofgif. Leofgif insisted on coming along, I think to make sure Nevy remained a maiden until the deal was sealed. Ælflæda wanted to see the world (and the men in it), but somehow we convinced her that now wasn’t the time for it. There were Evil Wizards to do battle with, and love potions weren’t the weapons required. Blæda insisted on coming because she had the Wit, whether it was working or not, and she was Nevy’s best friend. At least we got the party whittled down to five, counting Nannakussi. I couldn’t see tromping across half the Atlantic seaboard in a herd, or at least not in a large herd.

We saw them off, to reach the other bank. They carried the little craft with them to cross the marshland, and we saw them reach dry land successfully. They left the canoe, waved to us, and we set out headed south for Assateague Island, one of the few places with approximately the same name as in my reality stream.

Nannakussi led us off at a pace that was a little too brisk, a thousand paces in fifteen minutes. I had Nevy remind him that most of us in the party were women, one of them a bit plump and another somebody’s Mom, and that he had a splitting headache. He cut us back to more of a trail march, which made things easier, but extended our time on the trail from four or five hours to more like eight or nine.

Fenwick and Ocean City share the same island. One name is in Delaware, the other is in Maryland. We left the rest of the coven at about where Delaware and Maryland meet in my reality stream, where Route 54 runs into Coastal Highway. A city block is about 260 feet, on average. That works out to 94 and a half 33-inch paces. 146th Street is the northernmost block in Ocean City. The Boardwalk is, I think, off 1st or maybe 2nd Street. In my reality stream, Coastal Highway runs from about Caroline Street north, which is south of 1st Street. In this reality stream none of it was there. Trudging a hundred forty six-plus blocks (just shy of 14,000 paces) on sand, rock, and vegetation isn’t something I’d recommend for fun. Making it a long, long language lesson makes it seem longer and longer.

I really can’t recommend trying to learn Algonquian off the cuff. The grammar’s unfamiliar to English (or Saxon) speakers. N’ or Në before a word is first person, singular or plural. K’ is second person, also singular or plural. No prefix is third person. That was about all I learned that first day in the space of a couple hours’ walk.

The remaining time was went trying to teach Nannakussi the rudiments of English. He wanted to talk to me directly, not through a translator. Since I’d defeated him in battle, he had no doubt that he had to serve me for life. I don’t know if that was something the Lenape had thought up or if it was something the Romans, such as they were a couple thousand years later, had introduced. I don’t think he thought I’d fought fair against his men, using IEDs as I did, but we’d gone hand to hand, him with his broken sword and me with my chunk of firewood. The fact that the wits (small w) had been knocked out of his head at the time was beside the point; he had an enormous bruise and a split that should have had stitches to prove he’d been in a fight.

While he and Nevy were trying to learn Modern English, I was picking up more of what I should probably call “Later English.” We sounded more Shakespearean than Chaucerish, but with fewer Gallic influences and more Latin, and with maybe more Danish. I couldn’t tell for sure, not having a lot of experience with any Scandinavian languages. I can attest, though, that it’s tough trying to use the familiar in extended conversations when you’re not used to it. I mostly gave up, except for when I was trying to be romantic.

I hate reading books where the hero or heroine or whatever is thrown into a different society with a different language and a week later he, she, or it is speaking fluently. It doesn’t work like that, unless you believe in magic. You have to pay attention, study, remember a lot of vocabulary, and work out the grammar until it becomes habit. Speaking from experience, with application I can absorb about twenty five new words a day. English is reputed to have upwards of a hundred thousand words. Do the math, and then take your hat off to non-native English speakers who can write poetry or even decent prose.

We were lucky in that all three of us, all five of us actually, had a bit of Latin. The Empire, in far-off Iberia, for this Caesar anyway, was responsible for that. We didn’t necessarily have the same bits of Latin, but it helped bridge a few gaps.

We made camp on the narrows as the sun was going down, with Assateague in sight. We were all tired from tramping 146 blocks, plus a few miscellaneous streets. When they built up Ocean City, they started with 1st Street and numbered up. When they expanded it toward the marshy Assateague narrows they didn’t want to go into negative numbers; who want to live on Minus 8th Street? It’s got an eery feel to it. There is a South 1st and a South 2nd Street now, and there’s not room for an East or West 1st Street, so they didn’t have to go into imaginary numbers, though I do think it would be neat to live on Square Root of Minus Second Street.

We were about where the Coast Guard Station was in my reality stream. It turned out there was a Nanticoke Indian fishing camp there, though we hadn’t know it when we started out. They were nice fellows, first cousin to the Lenape, more friendly than the Assateagues, who were yet another Algonquian-speaking branch, who inhabited the southern part of the island. Life under Caesar had been easier on the native tribes, with less European immigration (you needed a permit and there was a bureaucracy) and more parity on the technological level. Development was slower because of the reliance on magic, and it was shared development.

The Nanticokes were drinking that nasty wine Nevy had given me and they were carousing. They’d had a really good catch that day. Blæda and Leofgif both got propositioned, and Blæda got an actual proposal. Among the Naticoke, having a fat plump wife was a status symbol. In the morning they gave us a lift to Assateague and Blæda told her swain how to find her mother, if he was serious. Since she wasn’t really all that bad looking, despite the excess poundage, plus she was a Wise Woman, he should have been.