A Land So Wild

by Elyssa Warkentin

In 1845, the HMS Vanguard, under the command of Captain William Caulderson, departed England on a voyage of discovery to find a Northwest Passage through the perilous arctic waters separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was never heard from again.

Five years later, Captain David Maxwell of the Serapis sets sail to attempt to recover the Vanguard and determine the fate of his former commander.

Naturalist Embleton Hall is running from demons of his own. He doesn't expect to find himself drawn to Captain Maxwell--but the two men form a bond that will become essential to their survival.

Together, they'll brave the elements on a long and harrowing voyage to discover the fate of the long lost ship Vanguard. But they'll also find that some secrets are best left frozen, forever buried under the ice.

This book is on:
  • 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Carnation Books
Pairings: MM
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay, Straight
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Friends to Lovers, Hero and the Great Quest, Hurt / Comfort, Love Can Heal / Redemption, Rescue, Slow Burning Love
Word Count: 84000
Setting: The Canadian Arctic
Languages Available: English

Ship’s Log
15 September 1850

In our slow progress north through Baffin Bay we have for two days run alongside a large island, the temptation of which induced some of us to forego sleep and explore it. From the great number of seals visible on the shore, we concluded that fish were plentiful; and, with a view to procuring provisions, we filled the jolly boat with fishing and hunting gear, and a party of us proceeded to the shore. Upon landing, we kindled a huge fire of drift-wood; some commenced preparations for fishing, while others proceeded to explore the island, and took our guns in expectation of encountering some of the numerous flocks of ducks that had been observed. The party returned to the ship by two o'clock well supplied with fresh game.


* * * * *

Naturalist’s Log
15 September 1850

Went to land briefly this evening. Found the island to be chiefly composed of sand, shingle, and driftwood; the beach was sloping, with the greatest elevation near the water, from the pressure of the ice forcing up the sand. It was quite devoid of verdure – a few tufts of saxifrage and stunted grass the only trace of vegetation. The pebbles were of granitic character, with porphyry, clay-slate, mica-schist, ironstone, &c., all smooth, and much water-worn.

Further inland, the little island was rich in fossil remains, chiefly corallines (encrinites and pentacrinates). The upper surface is composed of small stones and pebbles, with coralline ledges closely cemented to each other; and the rock beneath, which is composed of granulated, bituminous limestone, emitted the distinctive odour when struck or fractured, and some was plentifully studded with garnets. Numerous uni- and bivalve fossils, chiefly species of Cyathopyllum, Turbo, Bucdnum, Orthis, and Terebratida were likewise strewn on the surface, presenting good specimens of calcareous petrifaction. It was a relief to exercise the cataloguing capacities of my mind, however slightly.

Maxwell and I walked inland a little; this companionship seems to have become a habit between us now. I rambled – my God, how I rambled. I heard my voice in my own ears, but could not seem to stop. I have not felt myself since I boarded the ship; it was such a relief to be away from the horrid, stinking close quarters. His eyes exhibit unusual levels of central heterochromia: green and blue, grey and brown, with flecks of gold. Most unusual and very subtle; one must look closely to even perceive it. I shall think on how to properly catalogue the colour.

* * * * *

Captain’s Log
15 September 1850

Hall and I walked inland for an hour, perhaps more, while Lew Taylor and a few men (Pine, May, Thompson, and Wynniatt) stayed fishing by the shore. We found two crania of whales, saw traces of foxes, and came on the recent track of a bear, where he had been feasting on the body of a seal but a very short time before. These we followed (at Hall’s insistence) in the hope of meeting with him, as they were the first traces we had met with; but he had evidently gone to the ice. We came upon what appeared to be a well-trodden bear path, which led us to suppose this island was a frequent resort of these hoary denizens of the north, with whom Hall longs to have an encounter. Despite the danger, I confess to being rather eager myself.

The ship receded as we walked; first the shore, then the men’s fire was lost beyond the horizon.

It was the most alone we’ve ever been, and we both felt it. He spoke freely, and in a way that made me aware of how constrained he is aboard ship. I’ve rarely heard him speak more than a sentence or two together, previously! Does he fear his father’s influence there, even at such a distance? I wonder, but did not ask. I had no wish to spoil his happiness in that moment, so rare is it.

He had no such compunction about myself, I was amused to find; the man rattled off questions about my life in London and my thoughts about this or that as easily as breathing, all the while stooping to collect samples and examine flora. He knows much about Addie now, and about my naval service. Nothing whatever about Caulderson, of course. Still, he now knows more about me than almost any man alive. I do not speak so freely, as a rule, to anyone of my acquaintance. There is something in him that inspires my confidence. I told him as much; such freedom of speech is most unlike me. 

He said nothing to that, surprisingly, but simply handed me a bit of raw garnet that he’d scavenged off the ground, saying roughly that it was in excess of his scientific requirements. A lovely little stone it is: specks of gold mottled with green and blue, grey and brown, and hints of warm depths within. I shall keep it for my watch chain.

As it was approaching midnight, we retraced our steps towards the boat, the blaze of the huge fire burning brightly in the distance.

I feel myself on dangerous ground. I am not, I think, a very good man.


About the Author

Elyssa Warkentin is a queer Canadian writer, editor, reader, scholar, and fan. She received a PhD in Victorian literature in 2007 from the University of Alberta. After subsequent contracts teaching in Ankara, Turkey (Bilkent University) and Doha, Qatar (University of Calgary-Qatar) she settled in her hometown of Winnipeg with her two sons.

She now works in research admin at the University of Manitoba, and writes and edits books and fan fiction. She's particularly fond of the nineteenth century, women's writing, fan cultures, queer literature, and crime fiction.

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