18 November, 2013 by katelaity
A large glass jug sat on the table, its wide bottom evidence of its stability on the waves. With an effort the knight rose to shaky feet and stumbled toward the water. He made it as far as the foot of the bed, then grabbed at the silken curtains for balance. Falling back onto the soft bed clothing Guigemar stifled a sob. He rose again, determined to reach the bottle and staggered across the room, clutching his leg in agony.
But he made it. Piffoel snorted at the doorway, shifting his hooves. Guigemar hoped it was some kind of encouragement. He took a few deep breaths to clear his head and reached for the bottle. He noted with curiosity that the mouth was covered with a rounded cup that acted also as a kind of stopper. His hands shook mightily as he poured out the liquid, but he managed not to spill too much.
The water soothed his parched lips and he flicked some of it on his burning forehead, too, surprised that it did not actually sizzle on his skin. His flesh was on fire. The water cooled his throat only for a moment but his teeth began to chatter. The water tasted odd, as if some infusion of herbs had flavoured it. Perhaps it had been a kind of medicinal tincture. He grasped at the thought with hope because the next consideration was that it had been poisoned, the better to greet unwelcome visitors.
Did it matter? His weary mind could not object much. Swaying beside the table, he put his hands upon it for balance, glancing at the books spread about its surface he could not recognize the language of most of them, being neither Latin, French nor English. A puzzle this ship was and no mistake, but one he had little interest in solving at present.
Guigemar felt his strength leaving his limbs again and stumbled back to the bed. Perhaps he could rest here until someone found him. Or until he died. That ignominy came to him without alarm or fear any more. The febrile heat sapped his will along with his strength and he sought only to surrender to the onslaught. Wearily he stretched out on the bed, finding the effort of getting himself up on it too much to undress or even to remove his boots.
He looked to the doorway where Piffoel stood. The horse seemed to take his lying down as some kind of sign, for he neighed and shook his head again as if trying to convey something. To the knight’s surprise, the horse turned and left. He could hear the hooves strike the wood of the deck, then the gangplank as he went back onto the shore. A dull despair filled him but it had little impact upon his fevered mind. Someone would find him—or they would not. He did not much care any longer.
Perhaps the water had been a tincture after all. Guigemar felt his eyes grow heavy. He worried that the blood from his wound would stain the beautiful bed covers but he could not help it. With reluctance he let his eyes close.
Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum. The whispered words of prayer and resignation flew heavenward with his best intentions. Forgive this imperfect vessel, oh lord.
Guigemar lay there feeling faint and hot. He had nearly lapsed into unconsciousness when a realization made his eyes spring open once more: the ship was moving! There could be no doubt. The change in the waves and the bobbing of the ship upon them clearly conveyed that it had set for and further, that it had picked up speed.
It was no surprise to find that the boat was trim and fast in the water. Guigemar reflected for a moment that there was much to learn from the builder of such a vessel, then he started again. Were there men on board now? Had they planned to whisk him away all the time?
He strove to rose and found he could not. Instead he listened as intently as he could. Save for the waves around the boat and the flap of the sails, he could not hear a single sound. The silence filled him with a sense of unease. In the smallest of boats the commands had to be shouted across the deck to coordinate all the necessary movements of sails and rudders. No ship could sail unmanned; ship this size would require a substantial crew.
Unless they were as silent as the grave, there was not a hand aboard.
In a day of much magic, it was nonetheless unsettling. To Guigemar’s febrile mind, it suggested a hellish intent that wrung a sob of despair from him. Perhaps this was part of his punishment, though hardly a natural one. Was it connected to the hind’s magic somehow? He had no way of knowing.
The loss of blood and the herbs of the tincture fought against his wild curiosity and the mystery of the ship. Guigemar could no longer stay conscious and slipped into a fevered dream of blackness and fire as the boat rose the waves like a wooden steed.
He could not have said how many hours passed in this way. Guigemar awoke fitfully and then lapsed into unconsciousness once more. It may have been moments later for all he knew when he woke again, but he could not be certain. With regret he saw the bottle on the table yet; it might as well have been in another country. Though he knew not what herbs might have flavoured the water any liquid would be welcome to his parched lips.
There was no one to summon for aid. He could only drift, helpless.
When he awoke yet again, the darkness told him it was night. The folds of the pavilion walls were translucent enough to sense the changing light, though he could not see it plain.
There was another difference: the waves had grown. The air had a sulphurous smell that hinted stormy weather was on its way. Guigemar laughed softly. What fresh hell had come his way? Wounded by his own arrow, swept away on a mysterious ship and now to drown at sea perhaps, alone and far from any other human.
As if to confirm that thought, the ship rose precipitously in the waves and crashed down again. The water grew rough and choppy and the ship tacked into the waves. He feared that the pavilion would be rent asunder by the gales. Perhaps he would be washed overboard along with the wealthy interior.
Guigemar struggled to sit up, wincing as the pain wracked his body. With an effort he slipped off his boots. Gauging the distance to the table, he heaved a sigh and pulled the covers up over him. In manus tuas, he muttered again. Let divine providence do as it must; his fate was never in his own hands. As the winds began to howl, he slipped in and out of consciousness, the pain radiating from his wound the only constant apart from the lift of the waves.
The storm seemed to last for days. Whenever Guigemar awoke, he found it raging on. In between those moments of wakefulness, he dreamed. His phantasies were not the pleasantries of a happy young knight but the agony of a tortured soul. Over and over he saw the hind, the red blood stark against her white hide. Her sad eyes haunted him, black pools of knowledge—and condemnation. The tiny white fawn cowered behind her, its face a mask of tragedy to see its mother dying.
Every bit of the moment came back to him with shocking clarity. The smell of the green woods, still wet from the early rain, filled his nostrils. The musk of the deer came to him faintly but vividly so. He could feel the breeze lift his hair as Merrilee came to a halt. His fingers pulled the taut string back again and again, loosing the shot that changed his fate. In vain Guigemar wished to call it back, time and time again. His heart broke anew to see it find its mark, to see the hind stagger back and fall to the ground.
And ever the hind’s words rang through his head: “No surgeon, no medicine can heal this wound. No herb or root will slake the pain. Neither will it heal, but continue to fester while fate dictates it be so.” Her harsh condemnation ripped through his being so often he could hardly believe himself to be whole.
He saw visions of Jaufre, shouting words he could not hear and reaching out to help him, but unable to touch his hands. Then he saw his mother and father look upon him, their faces sorrowful and disappointed. Sometimes behind them the entire court looked on with disapproval. Other times he seemed to be riding on Piffoel’s back, going round and round through the woods with no escape, the trees went on without end. It almost seemed more than he could bear.
But there was no release from the grip of the fevre dreams. Hours passed by, perhaps even days. Guigemar was in no state to tell. Time had a malleable shape then. He tossed and turned in the silken bed, its comforts lost on him. Guigemar woke at some point to see pink light shining through the walls of the pavilion. Was it daybreak? Or day’s end? Or was it something else altogether? He remembered tales of the land of fae, where trees were blue and the sky was red but he never believed them to be anything but fancy.
Before long he had lapsed back into unconsciousness and the never-ending agony of the wound. In his delirium he cried aloud, praying for a release from the suffering but his prayers went unheard—or unheeded.
At last there came a day when Guigemar opened his eyes, wincing at the unexpected sunlight that lit the space. It was a poor light in the pavilion, yet it was too much for his tender eyes. He lay there in agony for a time, cursing his wakefulness as he had cursed his fevred sleep. All at once he realised that something else was different, too.
The ship had stopped moving.
Guigemar wished for the strength to rise, but he could not find it in his weakened limbs. Perhaps the ship had foundered on some rocks. It could be sinking for all he knew. He found it did not make him care any more or less than he had.
Guigemar reached out a hand toward the light that streamed through the open doorway because the curtains had blown away from the opening once more, perhaps during the storm. His hand blocked the light somewhat but he felt as weak as a newborn and his hand fell once more to the cushions. His eyes closed and he slept again.
When Guigemar woke again the sun shone yet, but it was a later sun, maybe sext or even nones. He stared dully at the canopy of silks above him, noticing that the night sky had been painted upon the fabric. Perhaps his dreams of night had been only the suggestions of that rendering.
With a start Guigemar realized he heard voices. He wondered if they were only the phantasies of his head. There had been others. He grimaced again as he remembered accusations, cries of disappointments. As he had twisted in the bed linens, the tightening cloths made him fear he would be suffocated. He did not trust the light and voices, yet somehow they seemed to him different from the chimeras that haunted his fever. He did not dare hope for change because he had been disappointed time and again when the silence cried out for something to break it and storms had begun afresh, tossing the poor ship whither it willed.
Yet the voices grew louder, soft as they were. Women’s voices he was certain of it. They were melodic. He could not tell what tongue the spoke. Guigemar thought to rise, but even the effort of keeping his eyes open proved too much at the time and he lapsed back into a doze.
He awoke amazed. A face of such luxuriant beauty gazed upon him, he could not credit it. “Another dream,” he sighed and closed his eyes once more.
“No dream, my lord,” a voice said, its music a tinkle of bells in his long-assaulted ears.
Guigemar opened his eyes again, startled. “You are real?”
The beauty before him smiled. “I was about to ask you the same question, my lord. You have proved quite a mystery.”
Guigemar closed his eyes. “My dearest lord, I pray you this be no dream to tantalise me and pitch me back into despair upon the waves. Let this woman be true.”
“So many men have uttered that prayer in other circumstances,” the woman said with a little laugh.
Guigemar opened his eyes again and drank in the sight of her. Such intelligence was written upon that brow and such cleverness sparkled in the blue eyes. Her long black hair lay in coils descending from the modesty of her wimple, stark against the sky blue silk of her bliaut. The gold orfrois glistened in the daylight that streamed in through the doorway. Her face radiated such kindness that Guigemar felt as if the virgin herself had blessed him. “Where am I?” he said at last, helpless to know what else to say….