Morgause remembered a time when she had not been a cat. Sometimes that thought made her sad if a cat could be said to feel regret. She knew she was not like other cats, but liked who she was and where she lived.
She padded through the halls, checking in every corner. A fierce storm was rolling in, one that would likely cause a significant amount of damage in town, but she could do nothing about it.
Having made her nightly rounds and finding the inn at peace, Morgause padded into Rosie’s room and jumped up on the bed. Still sleeping, Rosie moved over, making room and the cat snuggled down enjoying the warmth.
Although the cat seemed to be snoozing, she was not. Morgause sent out her awareness, hoping to find Lancelyn and Galahad, and when she did…her men were in trouble. She knew it was bad, but…what could she do?
Cats were inherently creatures of magic. Their magic was different, a matter of the spirit, as she had discovered when trying to help Merlin heal Rosie. But it was a surprisingly powerful magic, and now she knew why cats made such excellent familiars. She knew she would figure some way to help them.
Tristan Reynfrey was quite elderly and no longer went to sea. For this trading run, he had sent his eldest son, Geraint, with three ships, all of them carrying wine from the Northman lands of Bryttonia, along with fine Wēalish pottery. The Northman wine had come from across the Anglish Channel and was a precious cargo that would earn him a great deal of gold.
Geraint Reynfrey had been sailing his noble father’s vessels across the Eyrish Sea all his life. When his younger brother, Lancelyn, had approached him requiring transport to Wixfyorde, he had agreed to take him, as he was making a trading voyage there anyway.
He was fifteen years older than Lance, and hadn’t been as involved in his upbringing as he should have been—he’d had his own family to care for when he wasn’t away at sea. But despite being the spoiled son of their father’s old age, the lad seemed to have pulled himself together.
Unfortunately, Geraint’s fleet was caught in the grip of a hurricane the likes of which he’d never dealt with before. He could see nothing, barely able to make out the Dragon that graced Morag’s prow. In the dark and the chaos of the storm, he had lost sight of the ships he traveled with, and fear for his son, Branor, and his nephew, Gawain, who captained the two other vessels, had begun to dominate his thoughts.
Generally, Morag rode easily on the sea no matter what the weather, but now she was at the mercy of the treacherous waves. She was a cargo-carrying longship of the type known as a knarr and was the pride of his father’s fleet. Tristan Reynfrey’s ships regularly voyaged across the Eyrish Sea between Tyrwyddn and Wixfyorde in the Eyrish country of Cúige Laighean, and Geraint had many tales regarding the notoriously awful weather.
Galahad had wedged himself between the cargo hold and the rail, passing bucket after bucket of the seawater that slowly filled the hold, handing them to the men who doggedly tossed the water overboard, only to have it thrown back in greater proportions. Then he passed the empty buckets back down the hole, and the cycle began again. The crew’s world had narrowed to bailing water out with no respite or rest, trying to stay ahead of the task.
That simple job was becoming impossible, as the water came in faster than they could cope with it.
To Galahad’s horror, an immense wave slammed over the ship, and the two men beside him at the rail were suddenly gone, along with one of their precious buckets. He could hear Geraint calling orders above the roar of the waves, but his words were lost in the wailing of the wind. “What? Say it again!”
Geraint shouted, “I said get Nolan and Davies out of the hold and up to the rail! Tell them to lash themselves down! Then come back here and help with this.”
Galahad passed the captain’s orders on to the crew, then worked his way aft to Geraint. It took all his effort to navigate the rolling, pitching deck as he struggled to get back to the steering board.
The small ship crested the top of a giant wave and raced down the other side. Galahad braced himself for the wall of water that was sure to follow.
Though the Morag did her best work when running before an angry wind, this was no ordinary storm, and the sail had been reefed. When it first caught them, it had seemed no different than any winter tempest, but soon it had grown out of all proportion into something incomprehensible; a living, breathing beast bent on devouring them.
Lancelyn knelt beside Geraint, bracing him. The two struggled against the high seas to keep control of the steering board.
Geraint felt the loss of his two crewmen keenly. It was a terrible blow and one that would devastate the village of Tyrwyddn. “How am I going to tell their families? Are you sure your wife isn’t behind this?” The scowl Geraint directed at Lance turned to an expression of shock as the board was wrenched from their grasp. The two managed to wrestle it back before it was torn off the ship. “This smacks of sorcery, and that’s her sort thing if I recall.”
Lance hadn’t told his brother of his wife’s currently feline condition and had no intention of doing so. Still, the mention of Morgause cut through the fear, filling him with longing for Bleakbourne, for her soothing presence. “Curses are far more her style–she doesn’t meddle with the weather. This is too big, even for Morgause. Besides, since we moved to Bleakbourne she and I are living well together.”
The ship shuddered under the onslaught of another wave, sliding down the trough nearly sideways. For a terrifying moment they thought they were going to capsize, but somehow Geraint got her straightened a bit.
Lancelyn slipped and then braced himself better. “I don’t know how long we can hang on. Why don’t you lash me to this…Gah! I need to get wedged better…you’ll be able to steer.”
His brother shouted for a rope, then said. “I fear we’re approaching the coast of Eyrland.”
“But that’s good, isn’t it? We’ll be safe once we get there.”
“Not necessarily.” Geraint’s features showed his apprehension as much as his words. “I have no idea how far off course we’ve been blown, but we’ve no way of changing course and no way of stopping until we can use the sweeps again.”
“No way of stopping?” The cliffs and rocky shores of Eyrland were well-known as the graveyard of many ships. “What are we going to do?”
“As soon as I can get my bearings, I’ll steer us along the coast, but it’s dangerous waters we’re approaching, and we’re being pushed along at too fast a speed. I fear we’ve been blown too far south of the harbor at Wixfjorde, but there will be a bay somewhere if we don’t get sideways and keel over first, or don’t run aground.”
Galahad had returned to Lance and Geraint, throwing his weight in behind them, and with his assistance, Geraint regained control, nosing the Morag into the waves head-on again.
The wild winds drove the sea, and even without her sail, the Morag flew, racing up the long, mountainous shoulders of one wave, higher than any hill, and cresting the top. Then she plummeted down into the trough again, before being carried up the back of the next wave. The rain stung their faces, so much so they couldn’t see, striking with the force of a hail of pebbles.
A sudden lessening of the wind brought a brief letup from the driving rain, blessed, despite the brevity. Unfortunately, the lull also allowed Geraint to see the black prominence that loomed directly ahead. “An Tuscar! The gods are against us! Brace yourselves!”
With a horrible grind noise, the Morag shuddered to a halt, shattering against the leading edge of the rock island known as An Tuscar, throwing men and cargo into the stormy sea. Still clutching the steering board, the shock of the chill water took Lancelyn’s breath away. He fought to breathe, gasping and choking as his head emerged into air nearly as full of water as the sea itself.
Clinging to debris, Geraint’s shouts carried on the wind. “Save yourselves! Get to the rock! We’ll worry about getting off it later!”
Numb hands clutched planks, struggling to hang on as men and wreckage alike were dashed against the tiny island. Riding the crest of a wave, Lancelyn watched with horror as Geraint was struck in the head by a large timber. The last he saw of his brother was his bloody face, sinking below the waves, and not resurfacing.
He tried to concentrate on what had to be done. Men were dying, and he had to save them. Tears burned his eyes as each attempt to reach the men who struggled in the churning sea failed. Drowning men slipped beneath the waves, his desperate fingers catching only water as they were snatched from his grasp.
Lance scanned the debris for Galahad, not seeing him, feeling overcome by disbelief. Panic such as he’d never felt took him, and he searched the waters for the man who was the love of his life. Laid over that terror was the loss of the brother he’d loved and admired but had never told so.
At last, alone, and fully comprehending what real despair was, Lancelyn climbed from the sea, the sharp stones tearing his hands. He lay on his stomach, puking up seawater, and sobbing. His tears flew away on the wind, mingled with the salt of the sea and the wind-driven rain.
Darkness overtook him, and he welcomed it; yearning for death.
Lancelyn stirred. The sensation of having been licked by a cat woke him, and for a brief, deliriously happy moment the cat’s presence was so strong he thought he was in his bed in Bleakbourne with Morgause and Galahad. But the chill in his limbs and burning sting of his many scratches and abrasions told him he was alive, and stranded on a small rock in the middle of the Eyrish Sea.
It took all his effort, but he managed to crawl further up the rock, although why he was bothering, he didn’t know. Once again he gave into despair, wondering why he had been saved.
The storm had begun to abate, but the effort to climb out of the reach of the waves had taken all his energy and darkness reclaimed him.
A massive wave had tossed Galahad onto the rocky shore, knocking the wind out of him. He lay there a long while, battered and senseless. Gradually he woke to the sensation of a cat licking his face. At last, he stirred, slowly dragging himself further up the rock. Unable to stand, he crawled until he was out of all but the heaviest waves’ spray. He climbed on all fours until he had a view of the whole, tiny island. Corpses and wreckage floated on the waves. He saw a body lying face down just out of reach of the waves, and his heart stopped as he realized it was Lance.
“Oh, no…Please, dear God…no….” Grief gave him strength and he managed to make his way to him. Fear and dread for what he would find nearly stayed his hand, but, kneeling beside him, he turned Lancelyn over.
Relief made him weak and giddy when he saw Lance still breathed. Raising him up, he crushed him to his breast, thanking God with all his heart. Lancelyn’s salt-crusted eyes opened, for a moment unseeing, but it was enough and Galahad wept with joy.
When Lance realized it truly was Galahad’s battered face that he beheld and that he had survived the calamity, he burst into tears, clutching him and sobbing.
No embrace had ever been so sweet.
She cast her senses out again, seeing several crates, which she guided onto the shore. Floating just offshore was the striped sail, still attached to the yardarm. Concentrating, she maneuvered it so a wave could toss it onshore, near where her men crouched.
Straining with all her might, she nudged Lance until he looked up and saw the sail snagged on the rocks at the edge of the waves. With that last effort, she had to rest.
When she woke up next, Morgause cast her awareness out again, seeing that Lance and Galahad had made a shelter using the sail to wrap themselves in for warmth and the crates to block the wind, along with other debris that had washed up.
She cast out further until she found a ship, one that had set sail with them from Tyrwyddn. With the last of her strength, she located the captain, Lancelyn’s sister Leothe’s son, Gawain, who desperately searched the horizon, looking for any sign of the other ships.
She nudged him until, at the edge of his vision, he spied the red and white of the sail against the black rock, where no colors should be.
Gawain shouted orders, and his crew began rowing toward An Tuscar, hoping for the best.
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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