Exclusive Excerpt from The Moth and Moon
by Glenn Quigley
On his way to his favourite seat, Robin accidentally bumped into several different people, causing them to spill some of their drinks. This was typical of him. The slightest slip of his concentration and something was bound to hit the floor. He liked to chalk it up to him being far larger than the average Merryapple inhabitant, but everyone else knew it was just an innate clumsiness, which, after fifty years, he was clearly never going to grow out of. This tendency wasn’t helped by the floor of the inn, as it undulated like the sea outside. One could hardly walk ten paces before being forced to climb or descend some little cluster of steps or other.
At this time of the afternoon, the perfume of the inn was a weak accord of tobacco and beer, swirled with the soot of candle smoke. It would intensify as the day wore on. When he reached a seat by the grand fireplace, he ordered a bowl of hearty crab stew and crusty, buttered bread rolls, which he devoured while listening to the gossip and chatter of the tavern folk. No one attempted to make conversation with him.
The tavern had been made from the wreckage of the first ship that ran aground on Merryapple. The bar itself was imposing and dark and sat on the ground floor of the inn. It was as if a separate entity had crawled into the middle of the Moth & Moon and now nested there, guarded by thick pillars at each of its corners and decorated haphazardly in lanterns hanging like offerings from grateful villagers to the sleeping beast.
A wide selection of glasses and tankards hung from the balcony overhead, and beyond the counter lay a series of walls and doors, some of which led to the kitchens deep in the bowels of the inn. The walls were decorated with display cases of various sizes and shapes housing the innkeeper’s moth collection and shelves holding liquor of every kind. What hadn’t been made locally or imported from Blackrabbit or the mainland, had been brought to the island by the many ships passing through. The selection on offer was unparalleled in this part of the world. Every type of whiskey, rum, gin, brandy, wine, and beer imaginable, plus a few other exotic drinks even Mr. Reed, the innkeeper, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of alcohol, would be hard-pressed to identify and reluctant to actually sell, for fear of unfortunate side-effects. The pride and joy of the drinks on offer was the locally made Merryapple Scrumpy, a very potent cider produced at the orchard over the hills.
Upon leaving the inn some time later, Robin walked past the heat and clamour of the forge and headed up the gently sloping cobbled street towards his home. Anchor Rise was a very steep, narrow road with houses on either side that ran up the slope of the headland then curved northwards and went back down again to join Hill Road. Robin’s house was number five—a tall, thin building painted a dazzling white, like almost every other house in the village, but with a splendid sky-blue door. The house sat in the middle of a row of mostly similar-shaped houses, each one with a different colour front door. On one side of him lived Mr. and Mrs. Buddle, in the house with the red door. On the other side, with the orange door, lived Mrs. Caddy. The Ladies Wolfe-Chase lived in the mansion with the purple door at the top of the road. From the top floor of his home, on his bedroom balcony, he had a perfect view of the whole harbour, as the houses on the other side of the road were set lower than his. He could see clear across their rooftops to the harbour and bay beyond. Right now, though, all he wanted to do was soak in a hot bath.
He kicked off his heavy boots in the bright hallway and stood on the chilly little black-and-white diamond tiles in his thick socks. A toe poked through an extraneous opening, like a creature burrowing toward the light. Darning was another minor job he kept putting off. Sunlight poured through the multicoloured stained-glass porthole in his front door and showered the pale entrance in glorious hues of red, orange, and blue.
He hung up his overcoat on the wrought-iron coat hook affixed to the wall and stomped upstairs past a large oil painting of a stern-faced sailor with a short, wavy beard the colour of freshly cut straw. Dressed in a bulky coat, this seaman wore a flat-topped, navy-coloured peaked cap made from soft, braided cord, pulled low over his bushy blond eyebrows. Sewn to the cap by his father’s own hand was a small anchor pendant with a curious quality—instead of being tied to a ring at the top, the rope emerged from a spindle in the crown. This was the very same cap Robin himself wore.
The round-faced subject stood proudly, with arms crossed, a brass spyglass clasped tight to his chest in one hand. In the pockets of this man’s coat could be seen a journal and a compass. He was standing on the Merryapple headland, and behind him, heavy storm clouds were lavishly painted in thick, gloopy brushstrokes. In the distance, a mighty whaling vessel mastered the white-topped waves. The painting’s ornate gold frame was wound in leaves and fish scales, and a small plaque at the bottom read “Captain Erasmus Shipp.”
In his bathroom on the third floor, Robin turned on the brass taps and stoppered the plughole. The complex angular network of copper pipes snaking throughout his house, from the basement all the way to the top floor, rattled and gurgled and chugged as the piping-hot water came spilling out. This plumbing system was a bold experiment by some of the villagers many years ago and found extensively in Blashy Cove. Whenever he used it, he thought about how he used to have to bathe when he was a lad—in a battered old tin tub by the fireplace. He remembered how his father would carry the kettle from the stove and top up the bath with hot water, all the while humming some sea shanty or other. Sometimes, Robin caught himself singing those same tunes. He kept the old tub in the cupboard under the stairs, just in case these pipes ever stopped working.
The bathroom was white and panelled with long planks of wood. The great round frame housing the room’s only window was painted in the same duck-egg blue he’d used elsewhere in his house. Like the rest of his home, the bathroom was in need of repair, especially around the curved feet of the bath where the regular overspill of water had worn away the paintwork.
He chuckled to himself as he plopped a little wooden toy boat into the water. It was a perfect replica of his own beloved Bucca’s Call—complete with real canvas sails—made by someone very close to him and given to him as a present.
Well, they used to be close, at any rate.
He stripped off his clothes and dropped them into a wicker basket by the door of his bathroom. Now dressed in just his cap, he plodded into his bedroom and picked out an almost identical outfit—a heavy knitted woollen jumper, the same navy as his overcoat, a pair of long, cream-coloured linen trousers and a set of undergarments. Robin found little use for variation in his fashion, preferring instead to stick to what he knew worked for him. While he would occasionally replace an item of clothing if it became damaged or too worn to be of any use, it was usually with a near-identical piece. He would never dream of replacing his cap, however. He’d repaired it many times over the years, and it rarely left his head.
He carefully folded these clothes and neatly placed them onto a chair in his bathroom, beneath the round window with the same deliberate attention he gave even the smallest task. It was as though his every action, no matter how small, required the entirety of his concentration. When he was less than focused, things tended to drop. Or spill. Or break.
He oohed and aahed as he climbed into the steaming hot bath. It was a bit of a tight fit and some water tipped over the rolled edges and splashed onto the wooden floor. He was very tall, burly, and barrel-chested. “Stout” was the way Morwenna Whitewater always described him. She had practically raised him after his father was lost at sea. He had been ten years old then—almost a man, by his own reckoning—and defiantly claimed he didn’t need any help, but every day, she would make her way down the hillside from her little cottage to make sure he was looking after himself. In later years, he had tried many times to convince her to take a room in his house. “You’ve looked after me long enough. Let me repay the kindness,” he had said, but she was as independent as he was and preferred to remain in her cottage.
“Anyway,” she had laughed, “I’d never manage all them stairs!”
Sometimes, it felt as if he was as wide as he was tall. He could just about lie down in the tub if he threw his broad, powerful legs over the end of it, which he did. His bulky arms and shoulders rested now on the edge of the bath. The model of Bucca’s Call had quickly run aground on the fleshy island that was Robin’s big, round, smooth belly. The water soothed his aching muscles, and as he breathed in the steam, he pulled his cap down over his eyes and lost himself in a daydream.