11 November, 2013 by katelaity
The way ahead grew lighter and Guigemar blinked in surprise. The trees began to thin out and Piffoel increased his pace, though he seemed to remain mindful of the delicacy of his rider. The sea refuses no river, Guigemar remembered from some sermon he had heard in Arthur’s chapel. The river met the sea with something akin to gratitude and Guigemar’s heart swelled once more with hope.
The jumble of rocks at the water’s edge promised little mercy, but the rhythm of the waves had always soothed his spirits. The cool spray caressed his cheek and freshened his skin. It calmed the fever that raged through his skin, but he shivered with the change.
He was very ill, very weak. For a moment he thought of reining the gelding out into the waves and allowing them to take him whither they would, like a monk in a coracle. But Piffoel had other ideas and turned toward the west, where he saw a boat at anchor.
Perhaps someone on board would assist him, or at least hear his final words. Guigemar no longer cared what would become of him. Somehow the effort of reaching the coast had taken the last of his hope and resolve. Now he sought only an end to his pain or at least his consciousness of it.
Piffoel continued on with dogged determination, as if the ship had been his destination all along. Guigemar was too tired to even wonder at that. All his concentration had become fixed on not falling from the saddle. The ground seemed so very far away. Despite his resolve to die, he feared losing his perch on the horse and clung with the last of his strength while the gelding continued apace.
The ship grew larger as he approached. Guigemar roused himself from the nodding stupor long enough to gaze at it in wonder. It was not the usual sort of ship he was accustomed to sailing in with his own goods or with the army. He suspected it came from much further afield, perhaps from Espana or the Moorish lands, for there was something decidedly foreign and exotic about it to his eyes.
The sails billowed out in the light breeze. They were no plain cloth but gaily coloured in a patchwork that looked to be the work of many hands. The masts must have been harvested from immensely old trees, towering over the deck. The body of the ship was long and lean, as if it were more accustomed to racing along the waves than holding a great cargo. A folly! What king could afford such an expensive bauble? It did not seem to be equipped for battle or for troops. Indeed it seemed designed solely for pleasure.
As Piffoel made his way toward the ship, Guigemar saw through the fog of his pain that there was not a single person on deck. He frowned. Even anchored on the coast there ought to be guards watching over it—and surely there would be many hands preparing for the next journey. Yet the ship had an air of abandonment that gave it an eerie mien. Too exhausted to puzzle through the mystery, Guigemar let his head loll forward and trusted to his horse to lead him hence. If there indeed no one there, it was a destination none the less.
He wished only to collapse and feel the pain no more.
After a time, Guigemar mustered his strength to lift his head once more. Closer to his eye, he could see that the boat was delicately adorned with gold and red paint, a design of swirls and curves. The colorful sails looked even more breathtaking this close and he could see golden cords knotted around the masts to hoist them up and down.
The ship seemed impossibly near to the shore for its size, yet it floated and was not beached. A long gangplank led from the deck to the shallows. There was yet no one about even as Piffoel’s steps led him close. Guigemar coughed and tried to hail any one who might be near, yet his voice was little more than a croak. Had anyone been near, they doubtless would not have heard him.
Yet it was so odd: not a soul around and this magnificent ship ready to sail. Dully he thought Another wonder today? But even that thought taxed him. When Piffoel took it upon himself to make his way up the gangplank, Guigemar held on for dear life as the ascent grew steep. That the gelding should willingly choose to go aboard the ship! Most horses were skittish at best when they had to be loaded onto a vessel and had to be coaxed onto the ship, some with blindfolds.
Piffoel stopped only when he reached the open doorway of a pavilion midship. Guigemar slipped from his back and immediately crumpled to the deck. A sob struggled out between his lips. He had been wounded before but never had such weakness wracked his limbs. Fortunately the grey did not stir from the spot, as if cognizant that he needed the support.
With great effort, Guigemar lifted himself using the horse’s leg to ascend to a standing position. The exertion nearly made him lose consciousness again and he stood blinking for a moment or two. The empty ship gave him a shudder of the uncanny. Where was the crew? When had they landed? Why had no one alerted them? Where was his land’s own coast warden?
[Airships & Alchemy will return in a short while]