> Steeleye Span > Articles > S. Bralex: Edwin
This story accompanies Steeleye Span's song Edwin from their album Now We Are Six.
by S. Bralex (2003)
Every day, Emma watched the sea from out of windows she happened to be by as she went about her duties as a servant.
Every evening, she walked by the sea as she returned to her father's house, where she was an only child to her father and mother.
Emma was a pretty lass, a prize for any young men, but her father, Robert, thought very few young men were rich enough to marry his daughter. Emma flatly refused the one young man Robert did approve of, William, son of a rich man and heir to three manors. William tried to court Emma, on Robert's urging, but she ignored him. Robert, much annoyed that his plan to get Emma sold off for as much as possible was going awry, hired her out as a servant as punishment. He told her she could stop working when she decided to marry William.
Much to Robert's surprise, Emma worked without a complaint, much less an agreement to marry. She even seemed happier working all day, for now she was away from William most of the time.
Emma was watching the sea for ships, specifically the Rose Thorn. On that ship, there was a sailor (really a pirate) named Edwin, and he was the only one Emma would marry. He had left her seven years ago to search for gold on the high seas. He had promised to return laden with riches, ready to take Emma away from her parents, who were more concerned about their profit then Emma's happiness when it came to marriage.
One evening in May, as Emma was walking home, a ship approached the shore. She stopped, watching as it sailed into the harbor and docked. The sun was setting and the light fading, but Emma was sure the side read Rose Thorn.
A man climbed down the side of the ship to the dock, then made his way towards Emma. Emma's heart was pounding and her breath caught on the salty sea air as she recognised Edwin. He had grown taller and his features had matured, but his wild dark hair and eyes were the same.
Edwin spoke without seeming to recognise her. “Excuse me, young lass, would you know of someplace nearby where I could spend the night?”
“I'm sure my father's home would be open to you,” Emma replied, swallowing down bitter disappointment. “It's just a way down the beach.”
Emma continued to her house with Edwin walking beside her. Had she changed so much that Edwin hadn't recognised her? Had it been too dark for Edwin to see her clearly? Or had he forgotten her? This last thought was troubling her almost to tears. If Edwin did not remember her, she might as well give herself to William to make her parents happy. She did not want to try to win back Edwin if he was unfaithful enough to forget her. Perhaps, in all his years overseas, there had been another girl, who had made Edwin forget that he had someone waiting for him. Perhaps Edwin was just coming back for a day or so, and was then returning to this other girl. Perhaps, perhaps, maybe, maybe. All Emma could do was guess and hope...
When they were out of sight of the ship, Edwin paused and slipped an arm around Emma, pulling her close and kissing her. He released her after a moment, and they began walking again, with Edwin's arm around Emma's waist.
“You weren't thinking I had forgotten you, were you, my love?” Edwin murmured, his voice deep and soothing. “I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. I couldn't let any of the men on the ship see me, I'm afraid. They wouldn't have let me leave if they'd known I was leaving for you.”
“I'm so glad you're back,” Emma said softly. “I hope you had a safe voyage.”
Edwin smiled. “Safe and profitable. You'll be free tomorrow.”
Emma slipped away from Edwin as lighted windows came into view. “We had better not let my parents know of our love until you have shown them how rich you are. They will make less of a fuss if they know you are rich before they know you intend to take me away.”
Edwin stopped Emma in the doorway for a moment to kiss her again, then let her enter first, following right after.
William was there, talking to Robert as Emma's mother, Ellen, hustled about making dinner. The smell of roasting beef and baking bread filled the warm air. Robert looked up as Emma entered. His face became angry when he saw tall, dark-haired Edwin over Emma's shoulder, though Robert didn't know who he was.
“Emma, who is this?” Robert asked, his voice a low growl.
Edwin stepped forward. “Don't get mad at the young lass, milord. I'm but a sailor called Edwin from the ship Rose Thorn. I met Emma on the shore and asked her if she knew of a place where I could stay the night, and she said I'd be welcome here.”
Robert glanced swiftly at Emma, standing just behind and to the left of Edwin with her eyes carefully on her clasped hands and her cheeks flushed pink, then glanced at Ellen, who pressed her lips together in a disapproving way. “I'm afraid--”
“I'll be willing to pay,” Edwin interrupted, pulling several gold coins out of his pocket and putting them on the table.
Robert instantly knew that this was a rich young man with many more gold coins where the first had come from. His greedy eyes scanned the gold even as he said, “Of course you may stay here the night.”
Just then William stood, his eyes on Emma. “Emma could I see you for a moment?”
Emma looked at William, then to her father, who stared back stonily. “Of course, William,” she said softly.
William took Emma's hand a drew her into a back room. Edwin watched them until Robert's voice broke into his thoughts.
“Won't you sit, Edwin?” Robert said, drawing out a chair. “Ellen, would you get out some ale?”
Edwin talked casually with Robert, though he hardly noticed what he was saying. His eyes kept darting to the door that Emma and William had gone through.
“How long have you been sailing?” Robert asked.
“More'n seven years,” Edwin replied absently.
“What've you been out there for?”
“Sea spoils, the pearls and gold, goods from other ships...” Edwin realised what he was saying. “Wreaked ships, on the shore, in the shallows.”
Robert nodded. “Have you done well?”
“Aye,” Edwin replied. “Quite well.”
Robert leaned forward. “How well, exactly?”
Edwin took a drink from his wooden cup. “I've earned enough to buy my way off the ship and out of my contract,” he replied. “I don't care much for pira- er, sailing any more. I plan to settle down somewhere on land, maybe get myself a wife and start some sort of business.”
It was then that William and Emma came back into the room. William looked faintly disappointed and headed straight for the door, calling out a 'goodnight' as he passed through the room. Emma stayed where she was, right outside the door, her head bowed and her cheeks bright red. She was gripping her hands tightly together.
Robert gazed at his daughter, looking somewhat pleased with her discomfort. “Well, Emma, come sit down at the table,” he said, gesturing to the seat next to Edwin.
“I'm going straight to bed,” Emma mumbled. “See you in the morning.” She cast a fleeting look at Edwin, then swept from the room.
At dinner, Robert spoke openly of his plans for Emma, completely oblivious of Edwin's desire to strike him, having no idea of the love Edwin and Emma shared. Edwin managed to keep a hold on himself, laughing and talking with Robert as if he thought the marriage plans for Emma were right and clever. If he felt any pricking of the thumbs or premonitions, he put them out of his mind, only wishing to get Emma away from her parents as soon as possible.
Robert talked to Edwin for an hour or two, always pouring more sweet ale to damp his dry throat, until he appeared to become drunk. Ellen clucked about her husband, helping him to get to bed and muttering about men and their bad habits. Edwin decided he should be getting to bed too.
It was late enough for Edwin to fall asleep very quickly, though if he had known what was about to happen he would not have fallen asleep so easily, and in fact would have left the house and come back in the morning. For Edwin had just lain down, and barely fallen asleep, when Robert, who had only pretending to be drunk, entered with Ellen and a knife.
Edwin dies without a sound. The knife slipped in and out of his heart and the dark red blood poured out before he had time to draw a final breath. Robert passed the bloodstained knife to his wife and dragged Edwin out of the house to the sea. Ellen followed close behind.
On the dark shore, Robert dropped Edwin and rummaged in his clothes for his gold. Ellen threw the knife out into the waves and began sweeping the gold into a large cloth bag. Edwin had not wanted to ever return to his ship, and had been carrying his entire share of the ship's spoils. It amounted to over one hundred gold and silver coins.
Robert leaned back with a sigh, stretching his back. “That's the lot,” he said. “Grab his hair an' lift him up, Ellen.”
Ellen took a good handful of dark hair and pulled, stretching Edwin's neck out tightly. Robert pulled a sword from his belt and struck hard. Edwin's shoulders thumped back to the sand while his head remained in Ellen's hand. Sheathing his sword, Robert dragged Edwin's body into the frigid waves of the rising tide, then let it go sailing out to sea. He watched the body until it sank.
Ellen threw the head out to sea as Robert came back. “There,” Robert said in a satisfied tone. “We're richer by his gold, and he'll never be able to speak of the robbery.”
Emma was surprised to not see Edwin the next morning. She had expected him to be up and ready. He did not show up all during breakfast. Just before it was time for Emma to go to work in the nearby manor, she asked Robert about him. “Father, where's the stranger, Edwin, who came here last night to sleep?”
“He's dead,” Robert replied without turning a hair. “We have his gold, and he's not able to tell the tale.”
Emma had turned deathly pale. “He's... dead?”
Robert nodded with satisfaction. “Dead, headless, and beneath the waves.”
Emma screamed and fell to the floor in a faint. Startled, Robert knelt next to her.
“She's all right, just suffered a big shock,” he said to Ellen. “I wonder why.”
Robert carried his daughter to her bed. She lay there for days in high fever, slipping in and out of consciousness. Strange thoughts ran through her head. She saw Edwin's body, headless, with fish swimming over him, and his head rolling back and forth with the tide. In her delirium, Emma rose from her bed and went to the sea without her parents noticing and watched the shells rolling with the waves, imagining they were the body and head of her lover. She was found there at dawn, soaked, shivering, and muttering Edwin's name over and over.
Though Emma recovered from her fever, her heart never recovered. She hardly ever ate, and sat alone and silent most of the time. Every now and again, she would start shrieking Edwin's name, and if no one was there to stop her, she would run out to the sea.
In the end, Emma's parents decided they could not and did not want to take care of their crazed daughter. They sent her to Bedlam, the famous house for the mentally insane, where she died soon after of a cruelly broken heart.
Thanks to S. Bralex for allowing me to publish her story.