In Wild Thyme

Guest Author: We are delighted to share this fairytale by Shelley K. Davenport. She lives and writes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She can be found at shelleykdavenport.com.


Once upon a time, there was a handsome dog named Hank. A purebred Rottweiler, he had velvety ears, a barrel chest, and large, competent paws. Hank was proud of his looks and took care to groom himself daily.

Hank had a job patrolling the docks in the seaport town of Graytide. His owner, Mr. Acheron (or business partner, as he preferred to think of him), ran security on the docks, checking imports and exports, stamping papers, and keeping the sailors from drinking too heavily on shore leave and then wrecking the town. This latter task was mostly Hank’s responsibility. He could knock over a six-foot sailor and stand on his chest, drooling into his beet-red face. He could break up fights by charging directly into the angry men and, taking an arm or a leg in his massive fangs, throw them one after the other into the ground. He was especially good at catching the ones that tried to run.

Hank had a private obsession (other than with his good looks) with the slave industry, which ran like a vile hidden river through all the towns and cities on the eastern coast. Whenever possible, he liked to get aboard a ship and check every corner, making sure that no one was being held in a secret chamber against their will. Alas, he could not always perform this duty, because many people in Graytide were corrupt. Slave runners liked to pay off the Harbor Master and his henchmen. Mr. Acheron at least was not on the take, nor could he be bought, so this sometimes caused trouble. Hank welcomed trouble.

One evening in late November, Hank saw something he was not meant to see, and his life permanently changed. It happened like this. He had not slept well the night before, and woke with a headache. He had a tedious workday with many unreasonable requests and no time for lunch. As he padded up the cobbled street from the docks, an imperious boy assailed him.

“Hey dog!” he shouted. “Come!”

“Not now,” said Hank. He recognized the boy as the Mayor’s spoiled son.

“I said come here! Sit! What’s your name, anyway?”

“What’s your name?” said Hank, trying to get around him.

“I asked you first,” said the boy. “Tell me or I’ll have my father arrest you.”

“It’s Hank,” said Hank wearily, thinking of the nice, juicy pork chop that was waiting for him, and the foamy bowl of ale.

“Honk?” The boy snorted.

“HANK,” said Hank, who was sensitive about his name.

“Honk! You’re a goose? A goose dog! Honk! Honk!”

The budding bully yanked Hank’s ears. At this, Hank lost his temper and did the worst thing a guard dog could do—he bit the boy. It was more of a warning nip and the child’s fingers were so gruesomely sticky that Hank had the worse end of the deal. But the boy screamed as if he were being dismembered. Startled, Hank turned and ran back down the hill to the docks. He took refuge in the cargo area and slinked around, waiting for dark. Hopefully the boy would calm down, or forget about it, and perhaps Mr. Acheron would not learn of his indiscretion.

He idled away his time sniffing around the big cargo boxes. One box, he could tell, held a huge number of cured sausages. He may have spent more time than he strictly needed to. He was considering gnawing through the ropes and helping himself when he heard a commotion. From between the crates and barrels, he watched a strange procession go by. Three savage-looking sailors carried an angry girl of about eight years. Each man gripped a leg or an arm. The girl had long brown hair, big blue eyes, and clutched a dilapidated teddy bear with her free arm. She looked as if she had been crying.

She kept craning her neck to look back at the man who strode behind the group. He was the Captain of the ship, a tall, slender man with red hair and curiously pale eyes. A scar ran down one cheek and pulled up the corner of his mouth. He also had a tremendous black hat. Hank, being a well-read dog, was reminded not a little of Wendy and Captain Hook.

“But Mister,” wailed the girl, as they neared the gangway of a rickety old ship called the Mithras. “Where are you taking me?”

“For the trillionth time, call me Sir,” said the Captain. “I am your superior. And stop asking questions. And don’t be so lazy—you’re perfectly capable of walking! Also, I think you should brush your hair more often. You look a fright.”

The girl stuck out her tongue at the Captain when he was busy unlatching the gate, so he did not notice. Then she turned and looked at Hank over the sailor’s shoulder, as if she had known he was there the whole time.

“Help me,” she mouthed.

Hank knew he could not fight all four men. They all had pistols and knives—not to mention the Captain with his blunderbuss. Hank also knew that he dared not lose sight of the girl and run for help, for if he did, he would never see her again. He would only get in trouble for biting that rich brat and thus waste valuable time. For the first time, he considered not returning home. He might try to save this child and, in doing so, would avoid punishment. And perhaps he could see a bit of the world at the same time. Hunching low, he crept after them in the growing dusk. After the men had climbed the gangway and disappeared, he looked left, right, and backwards. No one was nearby. So he scampered after them. If he remembered his morning briefing correctly, the Mithras was soon supposed to sail for the Yellow Islands (so called because they were mostly composed of hot sand).

It is hard for a 150-pound Rottweiler to hide on a small ship. Hank’s black fur faded into the dark, but he feared that the golden marks on his legs, chest, muzzle, and forehead might betray him. He crouched down and watched the three sailors disperse and the Captain march the girl into the cabin.

“Stop crying,” said the Captain. “Blow your nose. You look revolting! No wonder your mother didn’t want you anymore. I hope you don’t think we’re giving you a big supper.”

What a dreadful man, thought Hank. He soon learned that the Captain always looked as if he had just sat on a pin.

Keeping well out of the lantern light, Hank considered his options. Eventually, he went around and found a lighted window. He got up on his hind legs and looked into the cabin. The girl sat in a chair with her legs dangling. The Captain consulted his maps, talking loudly, and chewing on a plug of tobacco. The girl glanced over and saw Hank. Her eyes brightened. He ducked down in time to hear the Captain say, “Pay attention! You aren’t going to cry again, are you? Don’t even think of climbing out that window.” Reaching over, he shuttered it from within.

Just then, a drunk sailor came around the corner.

“Hey,” he slurred. “Whatsa nice big doggy like you doing on this ship? C’mere! I want a ride!”

Demon Rum, thought Hank, backing away into the darkness. Unfortunately, there was a trapdoor open behind him, and he slipped backwards into it with a strangled yelp, crashing on the floor about ten feet below. He was unharmed, but soon realized that the ladder up was too flimsy, and he could not climb it—he had to find stairs. Hank moved cautiously around the dark space where he had fallen, wracking his brain for a plan. The Mithras was a very small ship with a very small crew, and it did not have amenities like stairs and proper lighting.

All at once, Hank felt movement. He heard cries up on the deck. They were setting sail, heading to open sea. For a minute, that gave Hank a bad feeling. He was now a stowaway. A stowaway! A common criminal! This went against Hank’s morals. He detested sneaking and hiding and stealing. He liked to be up front and frank. But he also had already done something against his morals by biting a child. It had been wicked, and so, he thought, another wickedness would not matter. And besides, he needed a change of scenery, didn’t he?

Now, out of the harbor, the ship swung up and down seriously, sending Hank sliding to and fro. Then, to his dismay, he heard someone coming. He dove deep into a mess of barrels and boxes and put his paws over his eyes. (Fortunately, he was in the cargo hold, and not the sailors’ quarters.) The person passed by and did not come back. After a while, the rocking motion and darkness made him sleepy. Being a philosophical dog, he saw no reason to delay sleep. He had to come up with a plan, and he did his best thinking when he was asleep. So to sleep he went.

When he woke, he did not know what time it was and forgot where he was. Slowly, it returned to him. The November sunset. The imprisoned girl. The irritable Captain, and the fall in the dark. He was sore now, and very thirsty. But at last he had a plan, one that his mind had come up with while he slept. He was fairly confident that it would work, or at least buy him enough time to come up with a better scheme. He hunted around until he found the largest rat he could and quickly grabbed it in his jaws and shook it to break its neck. Then he stood at the base of the ladder and barked with tremendous volume. A face appeared.

“Egads,” said the sailor.

“No need to swear,” said Hank.

Another face peered at him, and then some more. There was a lot of chatter and speculation. Then the Captain pushed everyone aside and looked down.

“What in flaming purple heck?” he said.

“I want to talk,” said Hank. He picked up the rat in his teeth (although its wet fur made him want to gag) and showed it to the Captain.

It should be clarified here that in Hank’s country, and those surrounding, it was not uncommon for animals to talk. Not all of them chose to, and perhaps some—like the rat—were stupid and could not. The actual surprise for the Captain in this situation was that an enormous black dog had stowed away all night without detection, and now wanted to negotiate.

“You should come on up,” said the Captain after thinking awhile.

“How do I know you won’t make me walk the plank?” Hank asked.

“Well, we ain’t pirates,” said one sailor, sounding aggrieved.

The Captain said, “You’ll be perfectly safe. I swear on my honor.” (Hank thought this a dubious promise.) “Come up so we can parley.”

So the sailors lowered a wide board. Hank picked up the rat and, slipping a little on the smooth wood, scrabbled to the deck.

He squinted in the sunlight. The fresh morning air greeted him, and the merry sight of the white-capped waves made him cheerful. He dropped the rat with relief.“Well,” said the Captain, fingering a long knife. “Talk.”

“I know I am a stowaway,” began Hank, aware that he was about to lie. “Yes, that is illegal and immoral. But I had no money and I…I just had to get to the Yellow Islands. My, er, um, Mother is there, and she is sick with…well, she is dying. But I can be useful to you on the journey. I can rid the ship of rats. I am very strong. I can smell a storm coming from miles away. I always know which way is north. I can read the stars. I do not eat much.” (All of this was true except the last bit.)

The Captain looked skeptical.

“Also, I’m a great nanny,” Hank said off-handedly. “Not that there are probably any children on board.”

“Ooh,” said the Captain. He really hated children.

And so Hank was sworn in as a member of the crew. Although he wanted to meet the girl right away, they first made him do all sorts of chores. He killed fourteen rats, pulled heavy crates, and gave his opinion on the weather forecast.

At last they introduced him to the child, who had been boarded up in the cabin all night and day. She had been crying. Her teddy bear looked more ragged than ever. But her face lit up when she saw him.

“This is your new nanny,” said the Captain. “Obey him. Ask him all your questions. Heck, talk his ear off if you want. I’m going to take a nap now,” he added to the crew.

Hank and the girl looked at each other.

“You came,” she said.

“Yes, I wanted to help you, but I didn’t know how. So I stowed away. What’s your name?”

“Una. What’s yours?”

“Hank.”

Una giggled, but seeing that she had hurt his feelings, quickly became sober.

“Do you want to take a walk?” she asked.

“Sure, but I’m really hungry and thirsty. Do you have any food?”

“Why don’t you eat the rat?” she asked.

“Why don’t you eat the rat?” returned Hank a trifle aggressively. He was cranky because he needed food.

“Well, I didn’t eat my dinner last night. I was too sad.” Una got up and fetched it—a plate of mostly salt pork and hardtack. The water had been treated with rum, but he drank it anyway. Then they climbed up to the forecastle to sit and talk. It was cold but bracing. They cuddled together, and Hank concluded that Una badly needed a bath. He thought how fragile her wrists were and felt guilty again about biting that boy.

“Were you kidnapped?” he asked.

“Not exactly. My wicked aunt sold me to the Captain for a bag of silver coins.”

“What about your parents?”

“They’re dead.”

“Well, what does the Captain want with you?”

“I think he is going to sell me to the King of the Yellow Islands.”

“Why? I mean… not that you aren’t a perfectly nice little girl.”

“I can do magic,” said Una.

“What kind of magic?”

“I’ll show you sometime, but now tell me some things about yourself.”

So Hank told Una about his puppyhood on a farm, his indenture as a guard dog in the village, and how he eventually won a position as security dog on the Graytide docks. Una stared out at the sea and listened. Hank could not help but notice that she looked very sad.

Over the next week, the two became friends. Una fed Hank part of her rations, and also everything the Captain didn’t eat (the man was picky and wasteful and mostly subsisted on liquor anyway). Hank had duties around the ship, but mainly he guarded Una and prevented her from irritating the crew and Captain.

After a fortnight, Hank began to suspect that they were drifting badly off course. The Captain was a lousy navigator, and not open to criticism. Instead of heading south, they were sailing northwest. And Hank knew that if they continued in that direction they might never return, for that was the Land of Faerie. He had heard terrifying things about Faerie. No one who went there ever returned—and if they did come back, they were mad or hundreds of years old. In Faerie, there were monsters, witches, sorcerers, and worse. In that land, not only did animals talk, but even the very trees.

He mentioned his concern several times to the Captain, but the Captain did not want to listen, and got very snippy with him. Like the Captain, the crew was pretty much drunk all the time, and provided no help.

Sometimes, as Hank and Una sat on the forecastle, they heard mermaids chattering. The birds that flew by became weirdly large and intelligent-looking. The air, instead of growing colder, grew warmer. And there was a sweet scent on the wind that made Hank feel odd. He remembered feeling that way when he was a puppy. It was something like homesickness, and something like hope, and a great deal like longing.

“Hank the Hankerer,” he thought.

One morning, he and Una saw the mermaids swimming alongside the ship. They sported and laughed in the water like dolphins, talking to each other in a language Hank did not know. Una listened and smiled.

“What are they saying?” he asked.

Una reached over and placed her hand on Hank’s head. Suddenly he could hear words, words that he understood.

“What’s that beast on the boat there?” said one mermaid.

“I think it’s a bear,” said another.

“Not a pony?”

“You’re an idiot, Melisande,” said another.

“Shut up, Sabatina,” she returned.

“All of you shut up! It’s listening to us!”

Una removed her hand with a laugh.

Hank looked at her. “What was that?” he said.

“My magic. I can understand languages, and I can make others understand them too.”

“Can you talk to them as well?”

“Oh yes. But I’d rather be quiet and spy on them.”

“Is that why the Captain bought you?”

“Yes. The King of the Yellow Islands needs an interpreter who speaks all languages.”

“How did he hear about you?”

“He didn’t. My aunt heard of him.”

“But—” began Hank.

“Never mind,” said Una. “I don’t like talking about my kidnapping.”

Every day they were drifting more and more off course. Hank stopped mentioning this to the Captain. As they drew closer and closer to Faerie, he had developed an idea. When they made harbor, or crashed on the rocks, he and Una would escape. Dangerous as it was, he had always wanted to go to Faerie. He wanted to have adventures, see the wild, delectable hills, and—with Una at his side—speak to all the denizens of that far country. He imagined that if anywhere would accept a motherless girl and her oversized dog, it would be the Fair Folk.

Soon, the air grew warmer and sweeter. The sailors stumbled about, sleepy and sweaty. The Captain finished one bottle of rum after another and drooled into his pillow. Hank kept a sharp eye out for a sign of land. If necessary, he thought, he could swim ashore, with Una holding to him. He wasn’t a graceful swimmer, but a steady and strong one.

One day they approached a tall, rocky island, from which issued what sounded like ethereal, slightly dissonant music. It was women singing. Their song had an immediate effect on the sailors on deck. As a man they rushed to the railing, waved, called out. Some of them jumped overboard into the water.

“What on earth?” asked Hank, his ears folded back and his hackles rising.

Una placed her hand on his head again, and he suddenly understood what the voices were saying. Very sweetly, gently, and beautifully they crooned, “We’re going to eat you, we’re going to eat youuuu….”

“Sirens!” he said, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” said Una seriously, watching another sailor fling himself into the foamy green water.

“Why don’t we stop them?”

“How?”

“If they understood the words—”

“It’s not about understanding,” said Una. “You are a dog, so their song doesn’t work on you. It’s magic. The sailors understand they are going to their deaths, but they want to anyway.”

“Well, that’s terrible,” said Hank, and went below decks. Then he poked his head up. “It doesn’t work on little girls, does it?” he asked.

Una shook her head.

Later that day, the Captain sobered up and came out of his cabin, blinking in the sunlight. By this time, they had left the isle of sirens behind.

“Where is everyone?” he said.

“The sirens got them,” said Una.

“Yes, they all drowned or were more probably eaten,” added Hank.

“Great,” said the Captain. “Who’s going to steer the ship? You, girl, go move that sail. And you dog, you, eh…oh bilge and beans, this is just my luck. Life is so unfair.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much,” murmured Una.

“Ay?” said the Captain aggressively.

“I said maybe you shouldn’t drink so much,” said Hank more loudly.

“I don’t judge you,” said the Captain.

“I think I ought to tell you I think there’s a storm coming,” said Hank.

The water was getting choppy, and the boat heaved side to side. The Captain furrowed his brow, nodded, and then vomited copiously.

Hank sighed.

A storm did indeed blow up from the south. It was a terrible storm. The sky turned a weird greenish black, and the waves were higher than houses. Hank was scared they would get swept away, but he was more afraid to go below deck and get trapped there if the ship sank. The boat was taking on too much water. He found Una a safe space in a pile of coiled rope and told her to hold on. Then he did his best to shelter her from the wind. He hoped the storm would drive them towards Faerie, so that if they wrecked, they might find land quickly, and get help, perhaps from a wise old man or a beautiful maiden. Una clung to him, pressing her face into his wet fur. He licked her forehead to comfort her.

“It’s just a bad dream,” he said.

He never knew exactly what happened next, except that he felt a violent blow and then nothing but blackness. As it happened, a timber fell and somehow struck him, but fortunately not Una. He woke up neck-deep in water with a knot on his head and no sense of where he was.

“Una!” he cried, choking on seawater. He paddled to keep his throbbing head above water. The ship was a few waves away and was indeed sinking. He knew he must swim away fast, or the ship would suck him down with it. This took all his energy and concentration for a long time. The sea swung up and down violently, and it was all he could do to swim and catch his breath at the top of each wave. He looked vainly for Una and yelped her name.

And then he spotted them in the lifeboat, a small rowboat. The Captain was paddling like crazy, but Una hung over the edge, calling for Hank. He began swimming towards them. The storm had died down, and Hank soon perceived that the Captain was trying to get away from him. He meant for Hank to drown and to continue holding Una hostage. She was, after all, extremely valuable. Hank set his teeth and dedicated himself to catching up. He thought of nothing, ignored the burning in his muscles, the stinging salt in his eyes. He must get to Una.

He got close, and the Captain fended him off with the oar. Una grabbed the oar and cried for the Captain to stop. There was a violent, watery tussle, and then the boat capsized, toppling both Una and the Captain into the water! Hank sank. When he surfaced he saw the Captain not far off, holding onto a spar of wood from the wreck and cursing Hank roundly. Hank thought he spied Una in the other direction and began swimming that way.

“Help me!” demanded the Captain, who was now mostly sober. “I can’t swim!”

Hank meant to say, “You’re a grown man, and she is a small child. I must rescue her and you can fend for yourself, and anyway this is all your fault,” but he just said ghloarp! The current quite swept the Captain away. Hank could see Una’s dark head bobbing in the water before him. He swam as he never had before, intending to pull her up by her hair if necessary, let her climb onto his back.

But when he reached her he realized, with horror, that it was not Una, but a crusty bucket covered in black seaweed.

“Una!” he cried.

He paddled back and forth for hours. He dove beneath the waters and looked for her, to no avail. But he was weak from a month of eating little and not exercising. He found the rowboat battered and oarless and empty. To save himself from drowning, he managed to crawl into the boat (not easy when you don’t have hands). He collapsed and fell asleep.

When he woke, the sun shone hotly, drying the salt on his fur. He spat out some seawater and sat up. Una’s bear sat at the other end of the boat, soaked, staring at him with button eyes. Hank anxiously checked in every direction, but nowhere did he find his beloved girl. The sea had taken her.

Dogs cannot normally shed tears, so he sat down and howled his grief into the sky. He hated the selfish Captain. He hated the King of the Yellow Islands. He hated the crew that sirens had devoured. But most of all, he hated himself. He had never failed. Never. By hook or crook he had always done his job: to protect, guard, spy danger from afar. He had not, perhaps, been the best dog, but he had been good enough. Now he was not. Now he had let someone he loved—one of the few people he loved, after his mother and his brothers—float away and die. He howled until he was hoarse, then lay his head on his paws. Night fell, and he slept fitfully. He woke in the misty dawn, hungry and thirsty. The boat drifted on its way; he did not know where and did not care. He put the teddy bear between his paws and rested his chin on its head.

After some time it began to rain, not stormily but heavily. This, at least, allowed some rainwater to collect at the bottom of the boat so he could lap it up. He munched on some seaweed that had dried to the side of the boat. It was not good.

This was not how it was supposed to happen, Hank thought. They were supposed to have adventures in Faerie. He and his friend. They might meet dragons or young knights, they might save the princess and break a curse and navigate a thorny wood in winter. But this? This was not how the story ended. If it did, it was the stupidest story ever told, and he would be embarrassed to be the author. But ordinary people and dogs do not get to write their own stories.

He dreamed of Faerie, of finding a mighty magician who could bring Una back from wherever she had gone. He dreamed that the mermaids came and delivered Una, safe and sound, back to him. He dreamed that he was a puppy and his mother was teaching him to track with his nose, and that he tracked Una to a tree. Looking up, he saw her swaying in the branches, laughing at him.

“Get down from there, young lady!” he barked sternly. “Do you know how much you scared me?”

 But when he woke, there was no tree, no Una. Time wore on.

A seabird came and sat on the boat. “What are you doing?” it inquired.

“I’m marooned,” said Hank. “What does it look like?”

“Don’t be rude,” said the seabird. “Where are you going?”

“I’m trying to find my friend. She’s a small girl, about eight, with brown hair. I lost her in a shipwreck. Have you seen her?”

“I haven’t,” said the seabird, biting itself under its wing. It crunched on a bug. “But I’ll keep a lookout,” it added.

As he watched the bird, it came to Hank that it looked awfully plump and delicious.

“How far are we from Faerie?” asked Hank, mouth watering. He shoved the unworthy thought down. He could not eat something he could have a conversation with.

“Oh, you passed Faerie a long way back,” said the bird, insouciant. “You’re in the Western Waters now and they just go on and on.”

“What?” said Hank. “NO!”

He was floating west, away from home, away from Faerie, and away from Una—if she had survived. This made him go crazy. He was not given to swearing, but he now he did so with great competence. He swore up and down and around and cursed and yelled and imprecated and wept all the blasphemies and obscenities he could remember.

“Feel better?” said the seabird when he was done.

“No. I don’t.”

“Let me get you a snack,” said the bird. “It’ll help you think more clearly.”

The bird returned a while later with a nice, plump fish. Hank ate it all, except the head and tail and bones.

“Thank you,” he said, licking his lips. “How can I pay you back?”

“Tell me a story. It’s awfully boring out here.”

So Hank told him the story of Hank and Una, from the docks to the dreadful storm.

“And then what?” said the bird.

“And then this! I’m alone. She’s gone. I lost her.”

“Well, that’s a terrible story.”

“It’s the only story I have.”

The bird looked at him with one eye and then the other. “I’m sorry,” it said at length.

Hank said nothing.

“I’ll get you another fish or two,” offered the bird.

Hank shrugged. He felt the onset of another case of the howls and didn’t dare open his mouth.

The bird flew away. Hank sat by the bear and stared at the horizon, a line of blue on the blue sea. Was this how the rest of his life would go? Floating along, drinking rainwater and depending on birds for fish to eat? Actually, though, he didn’t care. He rather hoped he’d die. The bird returned and dropped two more fish into the boat.

“Thank you,” said Hank. “I wish I had another story to tell you.”

“That’s all right.”

“Say,” said Hank suddenly. “Where did you come from? Is there land nearby?”

“The wind blew me off course too,” said the bird. “I’m headed back to Faerie. My cohorts and I have a raid to plan on the Storm Queen. She’s kind of a witch.”

“I wanted to go to Faerie,” said Hank, sad.

“Well, you’re going in the wrong direction.”

Indeed, the boat moved along quickly. It seemed to be caught in a current.

“Thanks,” said Hank dryly. “Is there anything to the west?”

“Yes. The West.”

“The west isn’t a place, it’s a direction.”

“You’re very smart,” said the bird with undue sarcasm. “But the only thing in the west is the West, and that is where you are going, so get used to it.”

Hank lay down and closed his eyes. “Thanks for the fish,” he said. “When you meet the Storm Queen, give her a trouncing.”

When he looked up, the bird was gone.

And so Hank floated west. He ate another fish and lapped up the rest of the rainwater. He looked over the edge at the monotonous sea that slid so quickly beneath him. He tried to sleep. He had more bad dreams. This went on for another two days. He became thirsty again, but the weather stayed fair, and there was no rain. The sun beat down. He ate the other fish. Three fish, he thought. Three days since I talked with the bird. Three black, black nights. He curled himself around the bear and closed his eyes.

When he woke it was because the boat had stopped moving, and its bottom grated lightly on stones. He looked around and found that he had, in fact, come ashore. How it happened, he could not say. There had been no land in sight the evening before. But now when he looked up, he saw that he stood at the foot of mountains. More properly, he was at the skirts of the foothills that stood before the mountains. And these mountains were taller than tall, bluer than blue, and towered endlessly, their flanks flitted over by clouds and sun and mists.

He picked up the bear in his teeth and climbed out of the boat. It took him a while to get his land-legs back. He thought he heard fresh water flowing somewhere. There was a marvelous path before him that led up through the brushy green heather. After following it for about ten minutes, he found a pool and a waterfall that tumbled down into the sea. Hank stuck his whole head into the cold water, rinsed off, and then drank deeply. Nearby he found some strawberries, tiny crimson ones, and he ate a few, finding them more satisfying than the fish or the hardtack or the dried meat he had had on the ship. Feeling much refreshed, he trotted along the winding path that crossed back and forth up the slope.

The sun warmed the air and brought out the scent of wild mountain thyme and the blue flowers that gave the mountains their color. There were more waterfalls. He saw lavender butterflies and bees and gray rabbits and a number of jewel-like songbirds, all humming and singing, content in the drowsy air.

At the turn of a bend, he found a red fox coming the opposite direction. Hank had hunted foxes in his time, and usually the sight of one made him feel bloodlust, but he knew somehow that in this land—even on the very border—animals did not hunt or kill one another. He was glad, in retrospect, that he had thrown the fish bones into the sea.

“Hail,” said the fox. “Where are you going?”

Hank put the bear down. “I’m looking for a little girl.” He described Una. “I’m her guardian,” he added. “I lost her at sea and I thought…I hoped she might wash up here.”

“Most lost things do,” said the fox, squinting down at the shore, which was now far below them. “At least in my experience. So keep looking. Don’t turn back, but keep to the path. And you never know.”

The fox trotted away, focused on whatever task he had.

Hank climbed and climbed. He drank when he needed to and ate more strawberries. Once, overcome with unreasonable joy, he rolled around in a small lake of flowers. He got petals in his fur and ears, and the thyme made him sneeze. But as he got up and walked on, his heart sank lower and lower. Una had drowned. He knew she had. He knew in the same way he knew which way was north, and that the Captain was an evil, selfish person, and that he was a bad dog. He sat down—not because he was tired, but because his heart was sick. This was his fault, wasn’t it? But all he had done was nip at a horrible boy! And now here he was, being excessively punished for it. He thought he should turn back. He wished night would fall and hide him. He considered finding a cliff and jumping off it. But then a wind blew, even sweeter and more maddening than the breeze that blew from Faerie.

It came to him that this land bordered Faerie on the west. Exactly how the geography worked, he did not know, but he realized the countries connected to one another. That meant that this land, whatever it was, was more Faerie than Faerie itself. It was…it was…

And then he saw Una.

She lay only a few paces away in the heather, beside a clear, crystal spring. She rested on her back, her eyelashes dark against her pale cheeks. Hank trembled and crept forward. He laid the bear down next to her.

“Una,” he whispered.

He had feared she was dead, but then he thought he saw her breathing. Was she only asleep?

“Una,” he said again. He nosed her. But she did not wake and laugh, and throw her arms around him. How would he wake her up? For she must be in an enchanted sleep. He would not countenance the idea that she was dead.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, and certainly not why, he found flowers and, severing the stems with his teeth, brought them to Una. He found flowers of all colors, shapes, and sizes, with the most heavenly scents. Predominant were the blue flowers, and these he laid in her hair. He piled on her all the flowers of the mountain. He covered the bear so that only his white ears poked out. Nothing changed. At last, tired, he lay down beside her, inhaling the sweet afternoon scent and the smell of his little girl.

And Hank wept.

When he woke, it was because a shadow had fallen over him. He thought a cloud had passed over the sun, or that nightfall had come at last, but when he sat up he beheld a small, beautiful woman with long, auburn hair, dressed in purple. She had a lovely face, and she said something to him in a language he did not understand.

“I beg your pardon?” said Hank, trying to sound polite. She looked important.

The woman put her hand on Hank’s head and spoke again.

“I said, why are you crying?” she asked.

Hank saw that this woman possessed the same magic as Una did, the ability to make all languages understood.

“I lost her and now I found her and now I can’t wake her up.”

“Is she dead?”

“I’m afraid she might be.”

The woman took Una by the hand. “No,” she said. “She is just asleep. Child, wake up!”

And Una opened her blue eyes. She looked without comprehension at the beautiful woman, and then she saw Hank.

“You found me!” she cried, throwing her arms around him.

Hank found that joy could be more painful than grief. He licked her forehead and let his heart tear apart.

After a while, they both looked up at the beautiful lady.

“I’m afraid you must leave for now,” she said, pointing back east.

Hank did not want to leave. He would rather explore these mountains with Una. But this lady was not the kind you disobeyed.

She continued. “Rest. Eat and drink. Talk. And then go back to the boat.”

Una and Hank looked at each other and then nodded.

The woman stood up and dusted off her skirts. “Oh,” she said. “I almost forgot.”

She pulled out from a satchel a magnificent collar made of golden links.

“This is for you,” she said to Hank.

“Why? I have my Una back. I don’t need a reward.”

The woman nevertheless handed it to Una and told her to clasp it round Hank’s neck.

“It is not a reward,” she said. “It is a reminder that, in all of your journeys, these mountains are where you really belong.”

“Are we to go on more journeys?”

“Of course,” she said.

The woman put a slender gold necklace around Una’s neck and then attached a golden pin to the bear’s ragged ear.

“But where will we go?” said Una. “We don’t want to go back to Graytide. No one there loves us. And we can’t go to the Yellow Islands.”

“Of course not,” said the woman. “I would not force you to return to those shadowy lands. But someone told me you wanted to visit Faerie and perhaps have a few adventures.”

At this Una jumped up and clapped her hands and Hank barked with joy, and, while they romped, the beautiful woman was gone, leaving only a memory of her gentle hands and smile.

So Una picked up the bear and she and Hank walked back down the path, her hand resting on his head. He could hear now what he could not hear before—that the birds, the butterflies, the bees, the waterfalls, were all speaking. All had their own languages. The air filled with their many voices as they called to one another and sang to themselves and said hello to Una and Hank. He ignored them. He could hardly stop talking, telling Una about his terrible time on the ocean, and how he climbed the hill and gathered the flowers, and how afraid he was that she would never wake up.

“I was just sleeping,” said Una.

“It seemed worse than that,” replied Hank.

They passed the fox, coming up the hill, perhaps on more business.

“Hail,” he said to Hank. “I see you found her! Nice collar.”

He licked Una’s outstretched hand and kept going.

At last, Hank and Una reached the boat. It had been stocked with provisions and water-skins, and fitted with both oars and a sail. The sea bird perched on the boat stern as it rocked in the water.

“There you are,” it said. “You must be Una. Hello again, Hank. I’ve agreed to be your guide—at least until it is time for you to return here.”

Una got into the boat and Hank shoved them off, then jumped in. Both girl and dog sat quietly and watched the rocks, the heather, the waterfalls, the paths, the hills, the foothills, the mountains, and the very West seem to float away from them—and not they from it. Una laced her fingers in Hank’s collar and leaned her head on his.

“We’ll be back,” she said, sensing that he felt a bit sad.

“Yes we will,” said Hank. “But first we have dragons to slay and maidens to rescue.”

“And I want to wed the handsomest prince in all the land,” said Una. “Well—when I’m old enough. And maybe you could find a lady dog and get married and have a family. Can you imagine a bunch of little Hanks running around?”

Hank laughed. “But when it’s time to go back, we’ll go together,” he said. “Promise?”

“Yes,” said Una, as the wind freshened and sent them skimming back towards the land of Faerie tales. “When it’s time to go, we’ll all go—the Prince and the puppies and all of us—we’ll all go together.”


See more stories here by Shelley K. Davenport. Readers may also enjoy this short course “Awakening the Moral Imagination through Fairy Tales and Stories” with Dr. Vigen Guroian.


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