Generally, Melisandra preferred the people no one else could see to the ordinary people who lived on the island. They were more interesting to her, and she was more likely to indulge in conversations with them.
On this particular morning, she was watching a sky ship come in over the dark mountain. Other people might only see layers of cloud, one massive and ominous, with smaller, paler ones flying before it. It always amazed her how much they did not notice. Her father complained bitterly about the difficulty of leaving the island, but Melisandra saw people come and go all the time, in fantastical devices of all kinds. She didn’t blame the visitors for not wanting to bother with anyone else on the island.
She recognised this skyship at once and knew that it belonged to Captain Crystal. He had admired her for some time and made no secret of it. She liked to toy with him, secretly enjoying both his attention and her own dismissive cruelty. From his hovering skycraft, Captain Crystal called out to warn her that the black ones were coming to capture her. It wouldn’t be the first time some strange enemy had tried to stop her.
Melisandra made a fire in her nest, using a small dragon and commanding it to perform fire barking, Captain Crystal landed from his skyship.
He said, “I am a prophet and can see your future”.
She noted that today he was wearing a mask, the effect was rather dashing.
“Have you got any food for me?”Melisandra asked. She was always hungry.
He said, “No food here.”
Melisandra did not hide her disappointment. She turned away from him, watching the flames die down around her.
“Wait,” he said. He had his knife out and in a single swipe, cut his hand off to give to her. He said, “I give you this weapon, when you need food, use it.”
Melisandra noticed something written on the knife – a name. Perhaps it was a message for her. She noticed names on both sides of the knife. Choices to make, perhaps. A prospective husband – if she decided she wanted one of those.
He said, “Choose the man from two. Read your tarot cards for survival. You will have a girl. And you can kill me now if you like.”
She took the knife, although she had never tried to kill anything as large as an adult man before. Still, she was very hungry, and even if she ate his severed hand it would not keep her going for long.
Before she could land a blow, many bone soldiers jumped down from the skyship to protect their captain. They were hideous, and strong, and she wanted to bite them to see how they would taste. She had no idea he had this army, and it impressed her. It made her wonder what other delicious secrets he might be keeping.
“Who are you, really?” she asked.
Captain Crystal laughed at her. He said, “I am a man of apocalypse, and the father of beauty, you will see my daughter, and your daughter too.”
He dismissed his bone soldiers with a single gesture, and she watched them jump into the sky as effortlessly as they had descended. The captain turned his back on her, apparently also leaving to ride in his skyship again.
Melisandra seized the opportunity, swinging the knife hard. The sharpness of it was wonderful to see, as the metal sliced so easily through his neck. She watched his head fall, and bounce on the sand, and wondered why he did not make a fountain of blood. His body did not fall. Instead, he simply stooped to pick up his head.
“You’ll come with me, one day,” he announced. “You’ll belong to me.”
Melisandra knew that she would not belong to anyone. But he might be amusing for a while, and at some point she would perhaps want to leave this place. She watched him ascend, still carrying his head. Offshore, the storm clouds rolled and boiled as they had all morning. She turned her attention to the hand he had left her, and started to gnaw on it. The flesh tasted of the sea, of dry crab and seaweed. There would be reasons for this. The island would be trying to lie to her, to make her think that none of what she’d seen was real, and that there had only ever been crows, and clouds and the long fingerlike legs of some long dead, ocean going crustacean.
(Art by Nimue, text a Nimue/Dr Abbey collaboration)