The Ocean Voyage of Nathan of Whitford

A Messenger Comes

The records are ours.

Somewhere away in the land, beyond the reach of men like myself, of the masses that make up the majority of this world's impotent inhabitants, there are those who have been charged with the constant care of the records.. Some believe the record-keepers slave away in great caves underground in semi-darkness, away from the elements and the unpredictability of all things, while others claim that the keepers inhabit open palaces that are filled with shelf upon shelf of books from every age of the world. Whatever the truth may be, it doesn't really matter much to the population at large. Keepers are selected at random from birth and are soon taken away to wherever it is that they are to spend their lives in our service.

It was away in that place that a keeper held a lottery and my name happened to come up. It was because my name had come up that an official-looking man now stood banging away at my door. I rose from my meditative position on the floor and walked to the and pulled at it but it resisted, preferring to remain closed. With some effort on my part, the door relented, but it wouldn't remain ajar without a constant application of force, so I found myself outside with the official-looking man who had only watched my struggle.

“Greetings,” said the man. “I am Jerod.”

Jerod was dressed in purple from head to toe. Here and there a golden bell hung from the many pockets or pouches that were scattered about his person, in places practical or otherwise. On his head there was a tall, cylindrical cap with a hard, purple visor adorning its front. This was the official uniform of an Official Messenger, one of they who spoke for the keepers.

“Greetings,” I replied. “I am Nathan.”

Jerod reached inside one of his purple pouches, golden bells twinkling with his every move, and pulled out a smooth red ball made of wood. He turned the ball around in his hands and inspected the writing inscribed on it before handing it to me. I looked the ball over and found that it read “Nathan” in bold letters on one side and “Escort Princess Caroline” in smaller type on the other. I had won an assignment via the lottery.

The man Jerod reached into yet another pouch and pulled out a smallish volume bound in worn leather. He thumbed through the pages, fighting with the wind a little before finding the one he wanted, then drew himself up tall in the morning sunlight. Beyond him I could see some of my neighbours coming out of the houses across the street to stand on green lawns and lean on white fences or white mailboxes. They were curious to hear the public proclamation that would follow.


“Nathan of Whitford,” intoned he, “of subdivision Alton, of second division Oswestry, of lower group Ellesmere, of federation Tenbury. On the seventh day of October in the year two-thousand and thirteen, a Great Lottery was held by the Keepers of the Records. Your name, Nathan of Whitford, et ceterarum, was drawn and a task was assigned. I hereby charge you with the mission of escorting Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 departing from New York Harbour before Midday and arriving in Southampton before Midnight. You are to begin your task without delay.”

When he finished proclaiming, Jerod took a golden pen from yet another pocket and marked an X in his book before turning the volume around to face me so that I could sign my name beside it. I wrote “Nathan of Whitford, et ceterarum” in shaky letters and bowed in acceptance. The official man took back his golden pen and it disappeared into a pouch as he turned and left, taking with him the interest of the neighbours, who now disappeared back into their assigned houses and returned to their meditations. I knew I was to leave immediately but before heading off on the journey I took a look back at my assigned residence. The door was opened wide now and it would remain that way for hours before closing on its own once again.

Without further delay, I began my journey to the harbour of New York, stepping out past the lawn onto the waiting sidewalk that wound its way through the residential neighbourhood. There were cars speeding past and they mostly avoided the ones that were parked on the side of the road, but now and then there would come the loud crash of a slow collision occuring somewhere nearby. The cars were unpredictable, doing what they would at seemingly random times, but there were other vehicles that were more regular and it was one of these that I was on my way to wait for.

Just at the end of my street, not very far away, was a bus stop. I stood waiting for a long time before I saw the great vehicle chug down the street toward me. It took many minutes more still for it to slow to a halt and for the door to open. When I was finally inside, I moved to the back of the bus, waving greetings to the other rider, and sat down to wait for the bus to start moving again. We waited for a quarter of an hour.

When we arrived at New York Harbour I found that it was full of sound compared to the parts of the world that I had known so far. The wind moved the water about and fashioned it into waves that crashed against the wharves and against the hulls of the ships that were moored thereon. The RMS Queen Mary 2 stood out as a titan among the smaller ships that swayed to and fro on the gentle waves. She would not leave for a few hours still so I made my way aboard and found an out-of-the-way corner and sat down to meditate the time away. Soon, my mind was away on Titan, watching Saturn loom above me in the sky, its rings twinkling and speaking to the universe with a great music like legions of angels playing heavenly violins.

Two hours passed before Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline arrived on a ferry packed to the brim with the many individuals who, owing to the luck of the draw, comprised her staff and her honour guard. It took another two hours for the ferry to come to a halt along a dock and for all the required ceremony, first meetings and farewells and so longs, to conclude. In the midst of it all, I was shoved ahead by a flurry of gloved hands and was presented to the one who would be my charge during the voyage. It was announced clearly and decidedly that I, of course, was honour-bound to put the life of Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline before my own and, if necessary, wouldn't hesitate to lay it down in her service. I didn't actually have the opportunity to say anything during the ceremonies nor did Her Serene Highness but we did, at least, get to stand in front of each other for the split second it took for the same flurry of hands to shove me off, back in the direction from which I had come.

Eventually, we all found ourselves aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2, and by the time the midday sun was upon us, the great ship started to move off the wharf, imperceptibly at first but picking up speed as it went. After a great long while we were off at a good clip and I watched the skyline of New York City speed by, wondering if I, the Official Escort to Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline, would even come anywhere near her at all during the trip.

Debacle at the Pool

It was a pleasant enough time aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 and my room was luxurious. The times when I wasn't in there meditating, I found myself drawn to one of the swimming pools, where I enjoyed some exercise despite the fact that on some days the pool was quite crowded. The day when I met Her Serence Highness Princess Caroline for the second time wasn't one of those days for reasons that were obviously, in hindsight, quite connected.

I had the pool to myself and was wading about happily in the deep end when a great procession of official persons strolled in through the entrance near the shallow end of the pool. They filed in quietly and slowly and gathered themselves in in a cluster along the wall farthest away from me. I could see that there were even more people milling about in the doorway and that a number of them were poured out into the hall beyond. Presently, the crowd tried to make room to allow an even more important personage to enter. This person was none other than Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline, robed in scarlet, looking annoyed about having to maneuver through the crowd, who were trying to do their best to leap out of her Serene way and not impede her process. So great was the throng and so small was the space that this proved mostly unsuccessful and there were places where human beings became wrapped up with each other. It took some moments for them to untangle themselves, and Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline stood at awe as she watched the webs of human appendages try to loosen themselves from the crowd.

When everything was nearly back in order, Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline approached the shallow end of the pool and one her men came and took her scarlet robe from Her Serene shoulders, revealing Her Serene body's pale complexion, a match for that of her elfin face. She dipped a Serene toe into the pool for a moment and then lowered herself into, sighing contentedly before paddling about in the water in an awkward, un-Serene fashion.

I was bewitched by the spectable from the start and continued to wade quietly and mutely in my end of the pool throughout the near-debacle. I went unnoticed for a long time as all the official persons were much too busy doing their best to look official to notice me. It wasn't until Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline bumped straight into me that my presence was even acknowledged by Her and by the crowd, from which there rose an appalled and embarrassed grumbling. The main grumblers stood in a small knot away from the big crowd and took turns pointing fingers and smacking their palms with their fists as they spoke to each other in an animated fashion. It was certain that they were passing around the blame for this titanic breach of protocol while at the same time trying to figure the proper way to deal with it.

As I waited for the officials to decide that I must be escorted out of the pool and possibly executed, I did the only thing I could think of doing and stared dumbly at Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline. She looked very young with skin that was smooth and fair and framed by hair something like the colour of a strawberry. Big, blue eyes were looking back at me, full of curiousity, and presently she gave me a small frown and tilted her head at me as though she was expecting something. Unfortunately, I had no idea what protocol dicated so I muttered the first words that came to mind.

“I was here first.”

At that exact moment, the officials on the other side of the pool had finished their grumblings and were looking in my direction. My voiced carried far in the silence and echoed around for what seemed a very long time, certainly the work of cosmic fortune making sure they got a few more chances in case they hadn't heard me clearly the first time. If they had been appalled before, they were mortified now to the point that they had become frozen to the spot where they stood and could not even speak. I became resigned to my inevitable execution and fully expected one of their number to run off and summon the axeman just as soon they came to their senses.

But then Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline started to laugh. It was a musical sound more lovely than anything I had ever heard. I vowed at that moment to dedicate my life to making Her happy so that I could continue to hear her that beautiful sound for what little there remained of it. Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline continued to smile while attempting something like a curtsy in the water.

“Pardon me, sir,” she said musically. “I did not mean to intrude.”

She was mocking me, I realized, but nociting that there was finally some motion going on at the other end of the pool, and knowing that I was a dead man anyway, I decided to run with it. I lifted my chin up in the air in a defiant manner and harrumphed. Louds gasps echoed their way over from the other side of the pool.

“Just don't let it happen again,” I said and tried to swim off coolly but, due to the fear of death that was finally setting in, I managed only a sort of floundering doggie paddle. Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline laughed again and this time there were even hushed up giggles coming from the throng of officials. Some of them broke off from the group now and made their way around to where we were. This group was composed of very serious-looking old men, wrinkled and bald and angry, and some were even monocled. The most serious of the bunch cleared his throat angrily and was about to speak but that was when Her Serence Highness Princess Caroline saved my life by interrupting him.

“You are Nathan of Whitford,” She said as She doggie-paddled after me, “isn't that right?”

I was almost as stunned that she remembered my name as were the old, angry men hanging around outside the pool. I was too stunned to think that I should perhaps stop moving about so I continued to doggie-paddle in a wide circle, with Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline paddling alongside me and continuing to imitate my swimming style. It was a close thing, but I managed to somehow regain my power of speech, or something at least remotely like it.

“Uhhhhhh,” I said. “Yes, um, Her—Your Serene Highness. Uh.”

We were both panting a little at this point from the exertion of doggie-paddling in circles, but I swallowed some water and had a small fit of coughing and sputtering that brought me to a stop. I ended up leaning on the side of the pool and She parked Her Serene Self beside me and smiled at me with her big blue eyes and, I suppose, her pert rosy mouth.

“Call me Caroline,” said Caroline.

“Caroline,” I said, obeying what was essentially, due to her position, a royal decree. I thought that by this time the angry, old men had reached the greatest level of outrage and astonishment possible, but I was wrong as it only continued to intensify until I was afraid that one of them, or his heart at least, would explode and consume us all.

“You're funny,” said Caroline. “You'll join me for dinner,” decreed she.

An old, angry, wrinkled, monocled man fainted.

The Ship Collides

During the hours before dinner I found myself wandering the ship. It was refreshing to walk about on deck with the sunshine in my eyes and the wind blowing the smells of the ocean into my face. I could not help picturing in my mind what it would be like to dive into all that water, the ultimate swimming pool, but I tried to clear my head of the thought because it would mean certain death. I was possessed by what some would consider strange fancies once in a while so it was not out of the realm of possibility that, in an unthinking moment, I could find myself in the middle of the ocean, watching the RMS Queen Mary 2 disappear into the horizon.

I was near the bow of the ship when the collision took place. At first there was only an almost imperceptible change in the wind and the water, but slowly both became calm, and eventually deadly still as the great ship came to a halt. She had collided against one of those invisible obstacles that sometimes make their presence felt in the world. The bow had a small dent in it that was growing steadily larger, but it would take some hours before the damage was enough to compromise the structural integrity of the ship.

I tracked down an official to inquire about dinner and was informed that it would proceed as planned. The ship itself had stopped but the things inside it had not. It would take a while yet for the events aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 to catch up with the time of the collision.

Dinner for Five

When dinner time came I was ushered ceremoniously into the largest and most luxurious of the restaurants on board. Because of my low rank, essentially that of a bodyguard without access to the body I was charged with guarding, I was one of the first to be seated and was forced to wait through endless introductions and processions of higher persons into the spacious dining hall. As each new person entered they gave a withering look in my direction when they saw me sitting at the centre table. These were all the folk who had been at the pool during the debacle. The next to last person to enter was the one who had fainted at the pool, the angriest and baldest of the bunch, who was announced as “Lord Tenpenny of Birmingham, et ceterarum.” He was seated at my table next to the empty seat to my right. During the announcement of Princess Caroline, Lord Tenpenny stared at me and tried to bore a hole into my skull with nothing but his vision, but as she entered the room we all stood and faced her direction.

Caroline was dressed in pure white from head to toe in an ornate, lacy gown that was matched by her gloves and a long scarf that was wrapped around her neck a few times before it cascaded down her side. The chandelier hanging from the ceiling twinkled at the sight of her. She came to the empty seat beside me and sat down, smiling at me and making my heart go all aflutter. The rest of us followed her example, and so was concluded the entrance ceremony. The room erupted with conversation.

Aside from Caroline and Lord Tenpenny, there were two others seated at my table. To my left was the Venerable Lady Scarlet of Worcester, et ceterarum, an ancient woman dressed in red and topped in gray, and next to her sat a young aberration named Chester. Chester could have been no more than eleven years old, looked wholly out of place, and was about as nervous as it was appropriate for him to be. He had been announced simply as “Chester” when he entered and had been ushered directly to the table of honour. It was acknowledged that his presence there was probably due to a clerical error. The Venerable Lady Scarlet of Worcester was delighted to have Chester sitting beside her. Now and then, she would pat the boy's brown curls and murmur words of assurance, or she would pinch his cheek and tell him he reminded her of some child back home whose identity changed each time. Chester was responding well by looking only slightly more mortified than was appropriate, and a great deal less than I would have managed in his position.

“That was quite the spectacle you put on today at the pool,” said Lord Tenpenny. He was a frightening man now that his face was level with mine and the fear of drowning was not my foremost motivation. His furious gaze had become furiouser and it sent my brain scrambling for for a response that would not come. I couldn't guess what was expected of me in that situation. Perhaps an apology followed by ritual disembowelment upon the dinner table? That would've pleased at least Lord Tenpenny. I was lamenting that I didn't have a sword on my person when Caroline saved my life a second time.

“Thank you, Lord Tenpenny,” said she. “I'm glad that you found my performance so pleasing.”

“Princess! I! But! No!” stammered Tennpenny.

“No? You did not like my performance?”

At this, Tenpenny's face blanched and it appeared that his brain was doing its best impersonation of my own. Before the silence could drag out too long, the Venerable Lady Scarlet intervened and set the mood at relative ease by laughing loudly. Chester seemed about to faint.

“Oh, Princess Caroline,” said Lady Scarlet. “You'll give Tenpenny a stroke. Come now, tell us about your friend here. Nathan, is it?”

“Of Whitford!” said Caroline.

“Of Whitford,” said the Lady Scarlet.

They both turned to look at me and I felt my courage beginning to improve a bit as it seemed as though the two women were on my side of the table, with Chester looking like he was leaning toward bolting off away from it as soon as no one was looking.

“You've heard of me then!” I said.

The Lady Scarlet laughed and stopped pestering Chester for a second to put a spotted and wrinkled hand on my arm. She squeezed my forearm with a surprisingly strong grip and I felt even worse for what poor Chester was putting up with.

“Oh, everyone on this boat has heard of you by now,” said the Lady Scarlet. “A synchronized swimming devotee!”

Caroline's twinkle of a laugh was marred by Tenpenny's choking disapproval. There were guffaws that came from other tables that were full of eavesdroppers. Even Chester grinned a little.

And so it went for a while, with the Lady Scarlet putting forth inquiry after inquiry. It did not take her long to figure out more about me than I thought I knew about myself at the time, and no subject was out of bounds. I had no parents and so my earliest memories were of being cared for by state-appointed guardians, unlucky folks who found themselves encumbered by an unlucky child because their unlucky names had been drawn in an unlucky lottery. Of course, their bad luck did not last all that long because new names were drawn every year. Where I came from, no one ever told me and I doubt anyone knew or even cared enough to try to find out, but sometimes I felt so out of place that I was sure I must have come from another world.

“I have dreams sometimes,” I found myself saying. “They feel real and in them I can control things like cars and buses.”

“Ridiculous!” said Tenpenny.

But the Lady Scarlet was very interested and hushed him up with her hands, which occassioned Tenpenny to grow slightly redder in the face. I was not sure who held the higher position but the Lady's imposing personality, I was sure, elevated her enough to stand above Tenpenny. I thought that I should align myself with her for safety, much like a chick and his mother hen. At the same that I was thinking this I saw Chester trying to inch away from her and toward the man while the Lady was distracted. I did not fault Chester for this. We had both chosen the lesser of two evils and it was only our evaluations of evil that differed. The Lady Scarlet signalled for me to continue and so I did.

“Well, it's like you see on television,” I said. “There is always someone controlling things and making them go, not like here where they just run around on their own. And in my dreams things always move quickly and the world is full of people. Don't you ever think that maybe we are looking at something real in television? Maybe another world?”

I was met with silence even from Tenpenny. The Lady Scarlet gave me a half smile then exchanged pointed glances with the old man. Nearly everyone at the tables closest by had stopped talking and they were looking in my direction as if I had said something that I wasn't supposed to. Lord Tenpenny rose from his chair and without saying a word went to the back of the room where he spoke in an agitated manner with some more angry-looking, old men. Now and then, they all turned to look at me while Tenpenny spoke. I thought maybe they had reconsidered my situation with the axeman despite the fact that I had the favour of the Princess Caroline, but I was saved from finding out by the commencement of the dinner spectacle.

Most of the time the things that were least able to affect the world around them would simply hold themselves still. Things like books, and plates, and food, and stones by a stream. Small, slow things. If there was somewhere else they had to be, they would find themselves there when no one was around to see it. But sometimes, when there were great conglomerations of these small thigs, perhaps by their combined effort, they would gain minds of their owns and put on displays of motion. There were a number of predictable such occassions and this great dinner was one of them.

It began as a quiet rattle and hum from the back of the room. We all turned to looked and it was a long but worthwhile time before the kitchen doors burst open and the food came flying out. There was food on carts and food on trays that floated a few feet above the ground. Plates and bowls and glasses full of meat and soup and drink flew every which and zipped past before landing on a table with a neat thud and the clink of forks or spoons. Fragrances of beef and duck and chicken filled the room and a music started up suddenly and from nowhere.

Food continued to come out the door in a neverending stream but as it did so, spoons and forks and knives levitated from the tables and dug in to what was already sitting on them. Here a spoon would scoop up some duck soup and float up a couple of feet before tipping its contents over, and the liquid that should have spilled would vanish. There a fork and knife would tear a chunk of steak and make it disappear. It was a spectacle of smell, sight, and sound, and we all watched in rapt amazement.

I was caught up in the spectable when I felt a tug at my arm. It was Caroline's small hand tugging at my shirt, trying to get my attention, and motioning with her chin toward the place where Tenpenny was standing with his cronies. They had determined looks on their faces now, as if they had made their minds up about something that probably meant trouble for me.

Caroline winked at me and put her hand in mine. She stood up and dragged me off through the floating food. We ran through salads and cold drinks and ice cream and sent them all flying off course. I could hear her dress tearing as we went but Caroline spotted a giant cake on a cart and made her way straight to it. I turned around to look and saw Tenpenny running awkwardly toward us, and behind him were five large men in official-looking red uniforms.

I was dragged right into the cake and we dove through it. When we had stopped rolling and slipping we found ourselves in front of the door that led out of the restaurant. I began to move toward it but Caroline stopped me and pointed to where we had come from. Tenpenny and the guards were closing in but, of course, the mess of food that we had disturbed had to go back to its natural place. First it was salad and cold drinks and ice cream that assaulted the guards, smacking them all over their bodies as the food tried to snap back to its proper place as if it was attached to elastics. Then off went the cake. The pieces of cake and icing that were clinging to us came off and joined the mess on the floor before the whole thing turned into a cake monster and lumbered back to where it had been before we disturbed it. The monster caught Tenpenny and his men and blinded them and caused them to slip and fall and curse.

Caroline pulled at my arm and we ran.

Into The Night

We were on a ship in the middle of the ocean. I was reminded of that as we came out into the dark of the night and saw the stars filling the sky and twinkling all around as they reflected off the water. Caroline rushed me around the great ship, dodging the odd passenger here and there, until we reached the area where the lifeboats hung off the side of it on mechanisms that would lower them to the water below. This would not happen for a couple of hours more, not until the wrecking of the ship picked up speed and it began to sink. Tenpenny's guards would be upon us long before then. I hoped Caroline had a plan.

“Don't worry,” she said. “I have a plan. Just use your superpowers.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” I said, grateful that she had a plan, but before I had realized that she had already said what it was.

“My superpowers?”

Caroline took me by the shoulders and moved me around until I was facing the lowering mechanism. The control switch consisted of a lever the size of my hand. I supposed that it was at the “OFF” position then, and when the boat was ready to be lowered into the water the lever would move itself to the “ON” position.

“Control this,” said Caroline. “Move the boat.”

At that moment I heard the approaching sound of heavy boots pounding hard on the deck. I didn't want to disappoint Caroline so I went ahead and tried to operate the lever. It resisted my efforts momentarily but soon, to my great astonishment, it cooperated with me and moved to the “ON” position. The lifeboat descended much more quickly than it should have and we hopped inside and soon found ourselves floating on the water. As the lifeboat began to make its way away from the RMS Queen Mary 2, we saw Tenpenny and his guards standing at a railing above, unable to do anything but watch. The Lady Scarlet came upon them then and slapped Tenpenny, causing him to turn bright red.

Perhaps an hour later, as we floated far from the great ship, we watched as the other passengers climbed aboard the remaining lifeboats and were lowered slowly into the water. The ship had begun to crack. It would be hours before the lifeboats reached the water, and maybe days before the RMS Queen Mary 2 became part of the ocean. In the meantime, Caroline and I would be long gone.

We floated into the night and fell in love under the moonlight.

Epilogue

Don't read this part.

When you live in a world where you have no control over anything, there is a great need to at least pretend that you can affect some of the things that matter. That you can create your own sort of order that is not imposed on you by your world. This is the main function of society and why we choose to be a part of it. This is why Caroline and I found ourselves rejoining society after hiding out for the remainder of that year.

The little boat had taken us on a course that finished with our landing near Lake Tecumseh in Virginia. This area was mostly deserted and we were able to escape detection inside the many deserted houses and buildings. I had no idea what would happen to the Caroline but I imagined there would be repercussions of some sort. In any case, she had chosen to stay with me. It was there that we discovered that the moving of the lifeboat had probably been nothing more than a fortunate accident. A coincidence. Whatever system was in place that made the world work had decided for such a thing to happen at that moment and we had benefited from it by mere chance. So does the world go.

Our time on the boat was happy. We talked and learned everythign about each other, every duty we had been assigned and every rank we had possessed. Caroline had drawn mostly in the middle class before catching the bit of good luck that had given her the role of Princess. She told me how it had been incredibly exciting at first and she had enjoyed living a life of luxury and attention but, like everything else in life, it had become monotonous, the same sameness every day.

This disease permeated everything in the world. It was the reason we changed the order of society so often, to keep from going mad. It does not make sense to me that this is all there is.

And so, though we were happy being with each other, and we shared our thoughts and bodies during the remainder of that year, it was for these reasons that, on January the first, the Day of Renewal, we found ourselves in Washington, the population centre nearest our lake, ready to re-enter society. On this day my status as outlaw was wiped clean, along with my former rank and function, and the same was true of she who was no longer Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline, but only Caroline of Lutterworth, et ceterarum.

Caroline drew to become an assistant to a middling noble in Pittsburgh.

I drew the office of Mayor of Edison.

On that day we went our seperate ways and never saw each other again.

So goes the world.