The Sea King's Second Bride
by C.S.E. Cooney
March is blowing wet and snowy when I stumble on the Sea King He has washed up from the water — all his nakedness like heaven With his hair so lank and heavy, green and black as Sodden seaweed, with his harp of kelp and pearl Cracked to pieces on his knee "What ails you, my Sea King?" I ask this creature, laughing I love him — how I love him, immediate and sudden The way you love a rainstorm, the Milky Way, a leopard That reckless love of wild things after years pent in a city "My bride Agneta left me," says the Sea King like the thunder Like the salt and surf and thunder "She has left our seven children, and our castle made of coral She has gone back to her father, to his bright and airy kingdom Has maybe found a lover — some brawny freckled farmer She left me for another." "But tell me, pretty sea-thing," I tease the lonely Sea King "What motivates this horror? Perhaps — because you beat her? Or threatened sharks would eat her? Or treated her with seven sons Got upon her one by one, and not a year between them? That might just be a reason, if reason’s what you're after. It's a basis to be bitter..." (And no wonder! Poor Agneta!) His Majesty grows maudlin, how he glances How he glistens! So cunning, yet so awkward On these sands that bloat and bleach him, in this shape Akin to man-shape, gills agape and fins aquiver How the Sea King's skin is silver, like lightning under water! "Agneta was my daybreak," mourns the Sea King on the seashore "I never knew a morning 'til the morning that I met her When I stole her from her father, leaving only dew behind us I cried to her, Come under! Come beneath and be my consort! She said she feared the drowning, but I covered her in lilies A crown of purest lilies, white as beeswax, soft as velvet I combed her hair with sea-shells, and fed her From my fingers Her slightest wish I granted with the mightiest of magic I played this harp of pearl, and it swept away Her memory. She didn't mind forgetting. I thought I made her happy." The Sea King’s eyes are dark and wide, like otters slick with oil spill I poke his spiny ribcage and the silver fish that dance there He jumps — perhaps it tickled? At least he can be tickled! "Cheer up, my doughty Sea King!" I shout in manner bracing "For I sicken of this city, of its traffic lights and taxes Of the emails and the faxes, and the work and wage and worry So, tell you what, my darling: you take me to your kingdom And I'll romp with all your children, spin them stories by the daylight Sing them lullabies at nighttime And when they're sound and sleeping, I will creep Into your bower, to your bed of bright anemone, where I'll comb your hair with seashells, pour my palms in perfumed oil By and by I'll take you deeper than ever Sea King ventured We will scour off what's rotting, all these thoughts of sweet Agneta Do you think we have a bargain?" The Sea King does not answer: But he shrugs his flashing shoulders And I take this for a yes. It wasn't like a marriage: No broom or blood or bonfire But he made a few adjustments for my sub-aquatic breathing Taught his certain way of speaking, like a whale when it's singing And a kind of seeing clearly through the brine and murk and current And when I see him clearly, see my Sea King underwater (He isn't much to look at — until he's underwater) Then madder do I love him, love his glimmer in the gloaming Like a tooth or moon or treasure That you wish might be a knife-blade so to wed it with your flesh Sure enough his children love me, seven princes crowned in lilies We are happy in our frolics, and they giggle at my ragging At my bad jokes and my chitchat, and the way I tease their father At breakfast we are raucous, and at dinner most uncouth At supper, always laughing — well, the kids and I are laughing But the Sea King sits in silence and recalls his wife Agneta "She heard the church bells ringing — and she left me, never caring For my soreness or despairing Forsaking all her children Forgetting her beloved." His wet blanket on our banquets Somewhat dampens the hilarity, somewhat chisels at my charity And the boys slink off for climates more conducive to their gaiety And I tell their father gently, with what kindness I can muster That our memories are fragile, that we cannot help forgetting And that precious poor Agneta — please recall, my dearest Deep One — Had been practically lobotomized by all his fell enchantments So please strive for some compassion! "Agneta!" cries the Sea King, "Agneta!" and "Agneta!" And even though I love him, there are times I'd trade his kingdom (Yes, his castle made of coral, and his princes crowned in lilies) For a single good harpoon By late April I am brooding And by May I'm truly scheming And in June I hatch a plan half-conceived in idle dreaming: "Oh, the bells, the church bells ringing!" I groan unto my Sea King, rending small strategic punctures In my robes of pearl and seaweed "The steeple bells that scream matins — the sound of papa weeping! In waking or in sleeping, every night and noon I hear them As if I stood just near them! Oh, the bells, the bells — I weaken At their tintinnabulations! Won't you let me, dearest Sea King, break to surface and behold them! An hour, just an hour, but one hour I do beg you!" Well, the Sea King doesn't like that. Does not like that. Not at all. He is roused to indignation, which in turn ignites to fury He is bright as any blizzard, he is cold and white and wondrous And his bare feet stomp a tidal wave that would have swamped Atlantis (If Atlantis weren't already swamped from when Agneta left him) And he blusters and he thunders, and he coaxes and he wheedles: Don't I like his coral castle with its turrets neat as needles? And its grottos and its bowers and its gardens and its mazes? Don't I love to love his children, am I not content to stay here Like the lampreys and the stingrays and the sharks who come to play here? How he sulks and how he scowls, how he pleads and how he howls! But — "The bells! The bells!" I mutter, growing slack and wan and fainter 'Til he grants me what I ask for: "Just an hour, mind — ONE HOUR!" And up he swims me, grimly And he doesn't see I'm smiling My father's at St. Agnes, where he's often found on Sundays With his choir, and his piano, and the band that plays on Sundays And I sit with the sopranos, and I join in at the descant And my father smiles a little, even winks a droll good morning He is busy with conducting and he's maybe even praying Thus I stay the hour allotted me, through Eucharist and homily But — all in all I’d rather be Fathoms down beneath the sea, with magic and with mystery My seven heathen darlings And a very cranky Sea King When the bells have ceased to ring, I kiss my father swiftly He tells me that he's missed me I let him know I'm happy (even lacking crowns of lilies) (even sopping wet and smelly) I say I'm truly happy. It's all he ever wanted. When he sees me rushing toward him, arms out-flung and smile kindled The Sea King looks astonished, quite bewildered and bedazzled Like he's never seen my likeness "Your hair is bright as goldfish! Your face is sweet as morning!" Taking up his silver hand, I vow as how I've missed him Missed his scales and his spackles and his webbed and clammy skin "How choking is the incense! How blinding are the candles After months spent in the darkness of your castle made of coral. But it's nice to see my father! Let's go visit him this autumn! We can introduce the children." The Sea King's rapid smile is a dreadful shock of pleasure Like a little boy's first mischief, like a damsel's foremost coyness Like a man who's given manna when he begged for stale bread He cocks his head and murmurs through the tousles and the tangles: "I never brought you lilies." My goblet runneth over, so I scold him, rather sternly: "There is time enough for trinkets — Time immortal, time forever, time for starfish in my bathtub Time for flowers and a foot rub, time for tokens meant For me alone — and not some ghostly maiden, be she Ever pure and pious, be she pretty as a lily For you see, my doughty Sea King, I am from a doting family And I know that you've been lonely, and I know I'm no Agneta — But I'm warm and I am willing I can offer what I offer, but it will not come to begging Do you want me for you lover? Or pine for one who left you?" The Sea King pauses, pondering (I almost punch his face in) then he smiles like a dolphin, like a green wave clean and leaping, and he solemnly incants: "Come down with me, come under! Come beneath and be my consort I will tell you all my secrets, I will let you take me deeper Where no Sea King dared to venture, where Agneta never wandered You will whisper your desires, and together we'll uncover All the fire in the ocean." Then I give my awkward Sea King This small thing that I've been saving For a moment like this moment when both he and I are ready First a kiss and then a promise, then a topple and a tumble It is frantic, it is frenzied, and we finish in a fever Come unclasped in joyous moisture And he leads me to the river Where we hear the children singing.
C.S.E. Cooney believes in other people's ghosts. Her own encounters with the restless dead, however, have thus far been strictly confined to the realm of dreams. But don't despair! Her second to youngest brother is convinced there will be a zombie apocalypse sooner rather than later, so there will be plenty of opportunity for carousing with the restless dead — even though anyone can tell you that zombies are not the same as ghosts. Apropos to the subject, Ms. Cooney has written a very nice ghost story (well, not very nice, in fact, it is often quite nasty), which will be appearing in the forthcoming Clockwork Phoenix 3 anthology. She is currently working on a novel about a wannabe assassin with very bad allergies. Other of her stories and poems have been published by Subterranean Press Magazine, Doorways, and Ideomancer. Her work will be appearing in upcoming issues of Black Gate Magazine (in 2011), and the guest-edited Mythic Delirium 22.
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