Read The World Above the Sky Online

Authors: Kent Stetson

The World Above the Sky

BOOK: The World Above the Sky






McArthur & Company


First published in Canada in 2010 by

McArthur & Company

322 King Street West, Suite 402

Toronto, Ontario

M5V 1J2

This ebook edition published in 2011 by McArthur & Company

Copyright © 2010 Kent Stetson

All rights reserved.

The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Stetson, Kent, 1948-

The world above the sky / Kent Stetson.

ISBN 978-1-55278-964-3 (pbk)

ISBN 978-1-77087-064-2 (ebook)

I. Title.

PS8587.T47128W67 2010 —— C813'.54 —— C2010-901112-0

The publisher would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for our publishing activities. The publisher further wishes to acknowledge the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council and the OMDC for our publishing program.

Cover and text design by Tania Craan

Map design by Szol Design

Copy editing by Pamela Erlichman

Cover painting: Boundless, 1979, by Boris Smirnov-Radetsky / Private Collection  / The Bridgeman Art Library International

Ebook development by Wild Element

To Helen (MacPherson) Stetson,

For her Highland fortitude, grace, and great good humour.


C. Paul Stetson, my brother,

For his insight, wisdom, and his great good heart.


In the time of the Two Made One

The People still walked free.

The rocks of the earth still sang,

And the soul of the world was the sea.

A canoe made of fire and stars

And light from the Great Spirit's eye,

Filled with portents and prayers for peace fell

From The World Above the Sky.



Autumn 1397–Summer 1398


• • •

Dusk became night. A lantern held low and tightly shuttered cut two androgynous silhouettes—one sleek and elongated, the other squat and rotund—into thickening mist. Eugainia St. Clair Delacroix and her nurse-companion, the Lady Morgase Burray of Kirkwall and Brodgar, boarded a round-bottomed curragh hidden beneath a willow overhang.

Eugainia scanned the surface of Edinburgh's great bay, the Firth of Forth. A pale light fought wisps of fog hanging low on the water, its beam intermittent, its distance difficult to determine. Eugainia set their course. Morgase took the single oar, pressed the blade against the bank, squared her shoulders and dug below the surface of the cold black bay.

Eugainia turned to speak. Morgase expected, as always, to feel the calm of her Lady's regard. She was surprised. Eugainia's gaze slipped past her, back toward shore, her eyes masked and non-committal. A jolt of pain shot down Morgase's arm. Her fingers locked tight on the oar, then relaxed. She glanced over her shoulder, set her sights on the ship.

The day's events hung between Eugainia and her companion like dank air in a windowless room. That afternoon, two years from the day she married him, Eugainia's demented old husband had finally managed both penetration and ejaculation with manual intervention by Morgase and court doctors. Morgase prayed the freshly planted seeds would flourish.

Eugainia extinguished the lantern and closed the little door.

At fifteen years of age, Eugainia had been wed to Morgase's half-brother, the already greatly aged Lord Ard whose ancestry curved back to Joseph of Arimathea and beyond. The same blood flowed in Eugainia's veins, concentrated through centuries of selective pairings to the point where she was considered more divine than human. If beauty, compassion and intelligence are marks of divinity, Morgase thought as she fell into the dig-pull-lift rhythm of the oar, the faith of those who adored Eugainia—that is to say, all who came to know her—was rightly placed.

Tugged by the turn of the tide,
, flagship of the great fleet New Arcadia, came about. She strained at her anchors mid-channel where the Firth of Forth opens out to the North Sea. The bulk of the fleet—twelve vessels in all—waited a night's sail north, cached in scattered bays around the outer Orkney Islands. The arrival of the galley
and their Lady would set the fleet sailing north, then west, then south and west again across the great Atlantic sea.

“I felt like a brood mare covered by a sway-backed old stallion,” Eugainia confided to Morgase as they were handed aboard
. “I tried to love him. Perhaps I did. A little.”

They dissolved into the heavy curtained darkness of the aft-castle where they shed wet cloaks.

“I'm surprised the effort didn't kill him, poor old lad,” Morgase sighed as she sat, the tightness in her chest a recent and persistent nuisance. She loosened Eugainia's corona of tightly plaited braids.

“Perhaps it did.” Eugainia winced at the memory of foul breath from the toothless old mouth. “If so, a blessed mercy....Such gasping and wheezing. Then terrible moments of no breath at all.”

“You did your duty, child. And there's an end to it.”

“It was a loveless match from the beginning.”

“Love is an unwelcome complication in these affairs. The poor old soul's only asset is his bloodline. He was a beauty in his youth, my brother. And a sweet child, by all accounts. What will happen to him now?”

“If I am pregnant, please God, he'll be sent to the monastery at Frislandia. One prays a peaceful end awaits him.”

“If you're not?”

“I'll decide when I reach Vinland.”

“My Lady…?” The voice outside the curtains was respectful and assured.

“Henry. Please. Come in.”

Prince Henry Sinclair did as bidden. The oiled canvas curtain fell back into place behind him.

“Welcome aboard, My Lady. Morgase.”

“Thank you, Henry.” Eugainia sat on the cowhide coverlet, combing out her damp hair. “
Et félicitations
. Your plan worked to perfection.
Comme d'habitude!

Henry smiled and kissed the proffered hand. “
Merci, chère madame.

Fair, thin-skinned Lord Henry, Eugainia thought as she considered the refined angles of his profile. Henry was given to sentiment, quick to anger, slow to forgive. And loyal to a fault. This same Sinclair flush, with dirk and broadsword in hand, left little room for speculation. None for negotiation. On the field, Henry carried no shield; war was attack, not defence. Yet in court he was respected as a fair and forthright arbiter of the aggrieved. Subjects came in troubled waves before him, seeking justice, revenge or favour. None left unanswered.

From her infancy onward Eugainia's smile disarmed her Lord Protector completely. Her regard was particularly soft and gentle tonight, reflecting their shared relief at the success of this most recent in a series of bolts to freedom.

“The simpler the better, I thought.”

“Aye. Well conceived, Henry, my dear,” Morgase added. Her familiarity with Prince Henry Sinclair, Baron of Rosslyn, Earl of Orkney and Liegeman to the Prince of Norway had a motherly quality to it, though there was no blood bond between them. Henry chose Morgase to nurse the infant goddess/queen the day Eugainia had come into his tending, the day her mother had been dishonoured then murdered and her father dismembered in the bloodied fields of lavender sweeping down the slopes at Albi in Provence. The last stronghold of the Cathars still stood, though the Cathari Heresy had been purged from the face of the earth some eighty years earlier. The few Templars who survived the same purge took and held Albi until their sword was broken. They fled in disarray to secluded corners of disease-ravaged Europe. The once-mighty band was reduced to a handful of exhausted stragglers.

Morgase shook out their wet cloaks. “Well conceived indeed. An odd, monkish figure with ‘his' portly little companion slipping into the mist aroused no suspicion. Two black ghosts simply dissolved in the Firth of Forth fog.”

“No doubt they'd expect the Lady of the Grail to escape on a white stallion, or some such,” Eugainia smiled, “surrounded by aged knights and fatuous sycophants.”

Morgase stood ready behind Eugainia, unravelling the tight braids. “No more of that, the Goddess and Her God be praised. First, mind, your young God, your equal on earth must be found.”

“And so He shall. I will find him, yes?”

“You will. I've seen him in a dream. Oh, My Lady! He is a braugh brown laddie. Well made and bonny. A god among men. He walks the earth with strength and humility.”

Morgase's Celtic foresight, usually accurate and dependable, had lately tended toward flights of adolescent fantasy. Henry closed the discussion. “Well. The great adventure begins. A new world free of fear and artifice awaits us all.”

“Well begun is half done, one hopes.”

“Aye. Sleep well, My Lady. Morgase. ”

Henry bowed and departed. The aft-castle curtains fell quietly into place.

Henry assumed the helm. The crew worked swiftly, spoken orders belayed. Sails fell from the cross trees with barely a whisper, then bellied out gently in the growing breeze.
weighed anchor in silence and, borne on the fall of the autumnal tide, slipped through thinning mist into the North Sea. She nosed quietly into her nor'ward course and dissolved into the night.

The fat-bellied vessel found a constant wind. The indigo sky crackled with stars. The helm lantern, trimmed close, cast pale light in a discrete arc as it swayed on its short tether.

Fleet commander Prince Henry Sinclair was widely considered a good man—loved, respected and, when circumstance demanded, feared. He presented the three strains of his ancestry in well-proportioned balance. Broad-shouldered, he enjoyed a robust constitution,
grâce à
his Highland Scots ancestry. His straight nose, scarred at the bridge, buttressed a lofty Highland Scot brow, the “Campbell brow,” his mother, who would know, assured him. Long blond hair, tied back with a leather thong, confirmed Nordic descent, as did light blue eyes of moderate size generously spaced, set precisely in fine, strong bone. Long at the leg and waist, he showed the natural grace of the Parisien St. Clairs, with whom his clan's worldly fortunes were linked through blood and generations of cross-channel commerce. A finely worked silver-cross pattée, insignia of the disbanded Knights Templar, hung on a thin gold chain around his neck.

The small gold cross had become a touchstone for Henry, infused with memory of the anger and grief of Henry's father, William Sinclair—First Earl of Caithness, Third Earl of Orkney, Baron of Rosslyn and last true Knight of the Inner Temple. William had never admitted defeat, though defeat sat heavy upon him. Rome's second outrage against man and God, the Papal Inquisition, had succeeded beyond expectation. In league with the crowns of England, France and Spain—all deep in debt to the Temple Knights since the first great crusade—The Church at Rome achieved its goal: erase their liabilities and, when done, hunt down and eradicate the last vestiges of the Templar heresy.

The battered Templars went to ground. The church, mistaking absence for victory, relaxed its vigil. The great heresy thought dead and beyond resurrection resurfaced. At its core squalled the infant Eugainia St. Clair Delacroix. To the great joy of many, the Goddess and her earthborn mate, the unseen Man/God known only to the future, would rule together at last. To Eugainia's great misfortune, her ascendance churned the guts of those who would eradicate her and her followers. Henry and his straggling band were hounded to the outer edges of western Europe, to the shores of Portugal, then northern Scotland, and now from the outer Orkney Islands to the New World beyond.

Dawn defined the broadening arc of the western horizon. Silence prevailed.
sailed past John o' Groats, rounded the headland at Skaill, where the remaining eleven vessels of the fleet waited.
slipped among them. Henry roused the captains and manoeuvred the ships, their crews quick and practised, into an arrowhead formation.

Each vessel was ordered to stand at anchor within easy hail of the next. Henry took stock of the fleet.

Along with
, two similar single-decked double-masted Venetian galleys—
—defined a triangle, the tip of the arrow.

Antonio Zeno felt like a feral cat among domesticated pigeons. A small, dark, liquid man cloaked in wealth and power, he paced the foredeck of
, off
's port bow. Scion of the Venetian Zeno family, New Arcadia's financiers, Antonio knew each vessel's worth down to its last
. Irony had twisted back upon itself, casting him as co-conspirator in the company of these ghost-sons of defeated Templars. Antonio stood unamused. He regarded their belief in the absolute equality of a fictive goddess more worthy of pity than scorn. The dark days of the goddess cults, with their blood-hungry priestesses and their castrated sycophant males, their open mouths pressed to the earth, their musky filaments sapping the virility of the Son of God's good realm had ended once and for all. Yet these fools had cast up another goddess queen.

Antonio glanced across the water at Henry and the girl he assumed to be Henry's Templar harlot. He recoiled when the beautiful young heretic's fat companion caught his eye. He'd disliked Morgase the instant they'd met. He knew he must hold his tongue until he achieved his mission. He needed Sinclair's skills as navigator. Sinclair needed the Zeno family's great wealth. The charts Antonio carried would lead Sinclair to his heart's desire—a perplexing well at the edge of the New World sea. And Antonio to the fabled River of Gold.

The Great Fleet New Arcadia's galleys, their prototypes developed and deployed victoriously by Carlo “the Lion,” brother to Nicolo and Antonio in the great sea battles at Chioggia, had been re-fitted and double-hulled for the rigours of the northern seas. Winter conditions in the North Atlantic had been well known to Henry and his Norse cousins for centuries. Each galley, crewed by Scottish and Mediterranean sailors and skilled Norse warriors, was armed for combat. Though heavy and slow, Antonio assured Henry the well-armed vessels with their innovative rotating cannons mounted amidships would answer every contingency. The fabled monstrosities, both human and bestial, rumoured to inhabit the New World would prove no match for Antonio Zeno's ships nor his bred-in-the-bone Holy See cosmology. Every living thing knew its place in Antonio's narrow, vertical world. God sat in glory, in heaven, at the top. The lowest worm, blind and insensate, tunnelled the earth below. Mankind trod impermanently between. God gave man dominion over everything that walked, squawked, crawled on its belly, flew in the air or swam the sea. Man with his divinely ordained intelligence and divinely inspired machines was born to subdue the natural world.

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