From the archives of Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house journal published here for centuries now.
Welcome, laddy-buck. Come in and find a seat here by the fire, and tell me your pleasure! Take a settle; they’re cushioned and wide enough for two, should fortune favour you. It’s quiet now, but there’s no end of entertainment due — we’ve a master storyteller, one Charles de Lint, come to regale us, and he’s a marvel and delight. And the lovely Mistress Elizabeth Bear, too, who they tell me is a bold lady, will be telling ghost stories for them as likes.
Well and so — ’tis the season of ghosts and witches soon, and we’re to smarten up the Pub for the celebrations. What’s to celebrate in ghosts and witches, I wonder? But, there — not my place to set our course, not here and now. I know a bit about ghosts and witches, though, that I do; being in the way of being both, you might say.
Oh, don’t shy so! We’re all ghosts from time to time in life, boyo. And can you claim I’m the first you’ve met in a bar? I’ve met ’em, more than once. Aye, that’s better, give us a smile — you’ve a good smile, and I’ve ever had a weakness for a lad with a sweet mouth. That was my undoing, when I sailed with Jack Rackham. Now, here’s your ale; shift over a mite, and let me sit with you for a moment…
Anne is my name, and I’ve been called bonney in my time. But that’s just my little joke, see. It’s my pleasure now to serve ale here in the Green Man, and Reynard is too canny a hand to think he’s my master. But this time of year, when the fogs are coming in black off the sea and salt and frost both flavour the air, it’s good to have a warm harbour here. Why, even the ravens and crows come in for a sup and a nap by the fire – so watch your coin, or our Hooded Maggie will have it away for a play-pretty in her nest under the library eaves.
Aye, she drives Liath the librarian to distraction, fey though Liath is — for Maggie’s always after the gilding on the old books, she is, sharp as any sailor after a coin. But she’s a darling despite it, pretty Maggie — with her beak like a black marlinspike and her gold-doubloon eyes. Oh, you can keep your gulls, says I; no true seaman looks twice at one o’ them! But the ravens and the crows, for all they’re landsman’s birds, they’re fine enough. Reavers and rogues at heart, on the account as much as any buccaneer and merry with it while they may be. And not afraid of the dead nor the dark, neither.
See how she comes to my hand, the sweeting? Some of it’s the sparkle of my rings, to be sure — watch how sly she is, trying her beak all gentle to see if a gem can be slipped off my finger! But more than that, she wants her neck scratched. There, see how she mantles her feathers, ruffles ’em out for a kind finger to stroke. A lass likes a petting now and then. Maggie and I are of a mind, there.
So come, put your arm around a body and we’ll watch the fire a bit. Nay, don’t peep at the mirror yonder. Your cap is straight, and the glass’ll show nothing you want to see.
A fire is such a lovely thing — not just the warmth, but the colours and the sound. When a fire is big enough, wild enough, it roars like the surf on a shingle shore. Have you ever heard it so? It roared like that above the roofs of the towns on the Spanish Main, so it did . . . and ain’t the scarlet and the gold brave, now! Nothing brighter as they twine up a wall or a mast, like roses, and climb a mainsail faster than the best topman goes up the ratlines. All women love what sparkles, like Maggie and her trove; and I never saw anything sparkle fairer than the way wild fire glitters on a dark horizon, or a sacked galleon, or a dead man’s open eyes . . .
Ah, now, lad — I told you not to look in the mirror! What’s a reflection, after all? To be sure, here’s my hand, and the glass I bring you — here’s my smile for you, and my eyes that see you clear enough. You’ll see yourself in my eyes, if you look; no need to gaze at that tricksie glass. What matter that you don’t show in the mirror? It’s nothing to me nor to anyone else here.
‘Tis your season, after all.