Title: What you Will
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Release date: 20th December from MLR, e-book only.
Blurb: They say there’s no fool like an old fool. Antonio didn't count himself as old but he was more fool than any man ought to be who’s flown around the world and back again so often he might as well have just been going from Deptford to Dartford. There was a lad involved. There’s always a lad in the tale, for such as him.
And was there a happy ending? Now that depends on whether you believe what a certain playwright wrote, or whether you want the real story.
Twelfth Night is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”. Back in my childhood (no, not Medieval times, thank you) the Christmas frivolity really did last for all those days, up until New Year and January sales. At least in the UK, there was very little in the way of a long run up (not like now with Christmas cards in the shops in September!) and everything started to kick off, it seemed, when December hit the 20somethings in terms of date.
There are lots of traditions about that time of year. I was always told you never took the Christmas decorations down until Twelfth Night has come or it would be bad luck. Special cakes are baked and eaten, edible decorations used to be consumed, Kings and Queens of the night are chosen. And the next day we remember the magi, which heralds the arrival of another whole raft of customs.
So I love the significance of Twelfth Night, and I love Shakespeare’s play of the same name. It has a wistful quality, happy ever afters set against a background of great sadness and cruelty. It’s full of strange sexual politics and confusion, and the most recent version I saw (at Chichester, with Patrick Stewart as a brilliantly funny Malvolio) didn’t pull its punches in terms of depicting the homoerotic elements. And it has a pair of characters I’ve always wanted to write about – Antonio, the sea captain, and Sebastian, the young man he rescues.
Why them? Simply because they (along with Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice) seem to be the Bard’s most overtly gay pairings. They talk of love they bear each other, Antonio deliberately risks his neck for Sebastian, he’s distraught when the man appears to deny knowing him...all sorts of material out of which to breed plot bunnies. So, when MLR announced they were looking for seasonal stories, I decided to make some of those bunnies bounce.
Rewriting Shakespeare (and putting it in a steampunk setting) was either a really brave or really stupid thing to do, but I hope it’s turned out to be the first of the two. Antonio was really interesting to write about – what makes a hard edged ex-pirate go all gooey over a hardnosed and callous young man? I’ve had to take some liberties, and make Sebastian more sympathetic than in the play, and I’ve had to give it a slightly different ending from the one the Bard wrote. I like to think it’s the real ending.
How on earth had people managed in the days when the only route back to England from the Indies was by water? Over the Indian Ocean, beating round the Cape and back home only as fast as the wind would let you—it seemed another world, now.
I’d flown these routes before, back in the days when I was still a poacher. Rich pickings. What did they call the trader my speedy little privateer took, these five years past? Phoenix; that was it. Phoenix, treasure-trove full of jewels the size of quails’ eggs and spices so fresh you’d have sworn they were new picked. By God, we’d filled our purses that day.
Now that I’d “turned gamekeeper” I had legitimate cause to be flying over here but Illyria was still a name to bring out the sweat on the back of my neck. I’d not dared to land there those past few years, no matter how lucrative a trade contract I’d been offered.
I guess I should have stopped flying back then, when my pockets were full of Phoenix’s profits. I could have given my Letter of Marque back to Her Majesty’s men, then gone home and settled down, but the smell of the chase was always calling me and there was always another ship to hunt down. Tiger, my last prize was called. We fell on her out of the sun; might have got away with it if she’d hauled her colours and just let us strip her of her cargo, but it came to a fight. Nasty, brutal fight, and all—Count Orsino’s nephew lost his leg and I was left a marked man. Set foot in Illyria and I was dead, the Count would see to that.
Still, I’d made a success of myself since those days, making plenty of money to see me through a comfortable old age, once I’d had enough of flying or it had had enough of me. All I lacked was someone to spend that time with.
I was never one for spending ages staring into my glass, although if I caught my reflection in the helm’s fiercely polished brass I saw a presentable enough face looking back, and I knew I’d still be counted handsome, despite the scar across my chin. The looks I got from the women of London, painted whores up to finest ladies, reassured me that didn’t make a scrap of difference. Not that any amount of looking or sighing from them was going to make a scrap of difference to me as far as my affections were concerned.
Oh, I’d had my moments with men, but none of them had lasted long and I was still foolhardy enough to think that one day he’d come along, my soulmate, and I’d be made up. A man can dream.