Authors: Kat Black
prayer and schooling. Was this what I'd escaped for?
“First we have to work on something that ye're in dire need o', some safeguards against the visions.”
I was intrigued. I didn't know much about the visions except that they came to me and they always happened as I saw them. He pulled another stool over beside mine.
“Each use o' the power changes us in some way,” he began. “If ye recall, ye're often physically weakened immediately after ye have a vision, an' sometimes ye have a difficult time pulling yerself away an' back.”
“Aye.” I had noticed the very same, but I didn't know there was anything to be done about it.
“I want ye to work on what I show ye now every day, three times each day. It has to come to ye automatically. There is so much more to the power than just visions. We will take it slowly, but in this I will no' tolerate slacking.”
I was put off by that remark but hid the way it stung. I'd just have to show him that I was serious. The whole idea of there being more than the visions set my skin tingling. “What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Ye must learn three commands: focus, ground, an' shield. I will take ye through them one at a time, an' we will practice.” He sat up tall and stared deeply into my eyes.
“The focus is here.” It was suddenly as if my mind
cleared. Like all outside thoughts were stripped away. “Nothing but the task at hand, like a hawk diving down on its prey, I want ye to empty yer mind of all but the vision itself. Ye will notice small details ye would no' otherwise have taken in.”
I recognized what he did, but I had no idea how to do it myself. “Give it time. Ye will see how.”
I felt as if he had read my mind. It was a bit unnerving.
“Ground is this.” All at once the power of the land around me swirled through my mind. The wind rushed. I felt it on my skin and heard the roar of it in my ears. The earth thrummed. It was as if the ground beneath the deck, deep beneath the waves, reverberated. “Let it roll around ye, Tormod.”
I could do nothing but let it do as it would.
“Now see it. Feel it. Let it fill ye from yer head to yer toes.” I didn't understand, but he nudged something and a rush of color and sound flowed up from my feet and straight out through the top of my head.
“Now shield,” he said. “Push all the power out o' yer mind an' body an' let it settle a' the very edges o' yer skin from the inside out.” He didn't exactly do it for me but helped. I reeled at the odd twisting-tugging going on inside me. Then there was peace.
“That's it, Tormod. Ye did well this first time. Ye're on watch in a quarter candle mark. Why don't ye get something to eat an' think on what I've shown ye.”
He stood and left me staring off to the distance.
It was late and I was finding it hard to sleep. Around me the crew slept. The smells and sounds they made brought the blackness alive. I had always been a bit of a coward about the dark. At home, I slept near the hearth where the fire always glowed.
Home was truly far away now. I was on a ship with strangers, journeying to a place I didn't know. The missing came on me fast, and I found my throat tight.
I thought of Mam and Da, wondering how they fared and if they had by now heard I had gone. And then each and every one of my brothers' and sisters' faces ran through my mind, and I had the quick realization that I might never see them again. It was as if the mere thought would break my heart in two. I pulled the coverlet up to my ears and burrowed down, feeling the tears well. Then, from out of the darkness came a sound. Soft and low, the purr was completely welcome.
“Here, Cassiopeia,” I called, dropping my hand down toward the floor. I could not see her but felt the
presence of the cat moments before a tiny tongue scratchily lapped my fingers. She leapt to my chest, and I curled my fingers in the soft fur of her neck. Sleep came a short while later.
I marked the wall next to my hammock with a scraper Seamus gave me to clear the cracks in the decking. Fifteen days at sea. It seemed longer.
There was a strange sameness to life on the ship. We rose early and did our assigned duties; we prayed constantly and trained nonstop. I received lessons in reading, writing, and astronomy, and I learned to focus, ground, and shield.
Odd. I had thought that getting away would mean that I'd never have to do things that people demanded of me again. I was wrong.
If it was not the Templar, which I didn't mind at all, it was Seamus, heaping every horrible task aboard on my back. I looked at my hands. They were callused and cracked, and my legs were killing me.
Still worse, I was having trouble sleeping. My duties on watch tonight meant I had to rest during the daylight. I'd not gotten used to it.
“Tormod, I told ye to help even out the ballast before ye bedded down. O' course ye didn't.” Seamus's voice cut
across the dim quiet of the hold. “Get to it. Ye've duties to attend.”
I gritted my teeth and swung my feet to the deck. Seamus was an unending source of misery. No matter what I did, it was not good enough. No matter how I tried, it was not what he would have. He harassed me nonstop.
“Move it, Tormod.”
I wanted to beat the man bloody. I swear it. Every day during my prayers I asked God to strike him repeatedly with all of the plagues. But to no avail. I was not going to get the sleep I needed. Grumbling, I heaved to my feet.
From the stairs I heard coughing. One burst followed by another, and then a hacking wad of spittle was heaved somewhere off to my left. Seamus cleared his throat and sent one last parting jab. “Ye'll have to take the wheel this afternoon. I'll take the night.”
I crossed the dark hold, pleased. Perhaps God had heard me after all. Seamus was ill. I hoped that he was miserable.
As I came up from below, I saw one of the deckhands, Horace, at work. The sweat gleamed on his dark-skinned back, and his arms, the size of great tree trunks, flexed beneath their burden.
It was Horace's job to shift the enormous rocks we
used as ballast to keep the ship evenly weighted. The constant crash of the waves undid his work nearly as fast as he'd accomplished it.
The duty was, to my mind, terrible. The stuff had a stink about it that was most unnatural. He said the rocks had been dredged from the harbor where the privy pits emptied. Still, even with that, he was of a good temperament. When I'd asked how he could be content doing what he did, Horace had told me that it took him up from the depths of the dark hold and into the light of day.
I understood not wanting to be in the dark, but not how he could find peace and contentment redoing the same job day in and day out. He actually sang as he worked, songs I'd never heard the like of before.
“Greetings, Horace,” I called as I approached. It was good to give warning, else the strong man might heft a rock in your direction. He looked up and smiled, his teeth bright in the dark of his face. The smile was always a surprise to me. He was quite fearsome without it.
“A beautiful day, is it not, Tormod?”
I looked up to the cold, chill sky. “If ye say 'tis, Horace. I've come to help.”
“I'm near on done,” he said. “Don't trouble yerself.”
Geordie, another of the deckhands, called out, “I could use ye here, Tormod, if ye're free. This damn mist
is making the tar unpredictable. 'Tis thickening before I can apply it.”
I hurried to his side and took the tar bucket and began to stir the mixture. Geordie was a small, wiry man whose duty it was to tar and retar, caulk and recaulk the planks all over the ship. This ensured that the wood remained strong and the seawater stayed out.
“What say, Geordie? D'ye think we'll be seeing the sun again this season?”
Geordie was bent low, and I dropped to the deck beside him. He dipped his brush and expertly sealed the space between the boards. “I don't know as we'll ever see her again, lad. My bones are surely not liking this cold damp.”
Across the deck, the Templar stood at the wheel. “We'll be making land before nightfall, Tormod. I've sent Seamus to his pallet. Ye will accompany me.”
I couldn't believe my ears. He was taking me ashore and leaving Seamus behind.
The afternoon passed like the slow drip of Geordie's tar. Excitement bubbled within me, but I was fearful as well. I recalled the conversation between the Templar and Seamus when first we'd boarded. We were going to the Archbishop to tell him the map had been taken. The thought nearly made me ill, especially as I was responsible.
he Templar was correct in his calculations. The day was gray. A fine mist painted the decking where I huddled, watching and waiting. Finally the call came.
“Land ho!” the Templar shouted. “Tormod, ring the bell.”
I scrambled to my feet and tugged strongly on the bell we used to announce the candle marks of the day. Deckhands came quickly from below.
“Oars, hard to starboard,” the Templar shouted.
The ocean was wild and unsettled. As we closed the distance to shore, the ship rocked, fighting the direction of the crew's oars. I felt the Templar behind me at the rail, watching the ominous darkness crest beneath the waves. The rocks were still far below the surface, but they bore watching. It would be awful to come all this way and tear open the hull on a jut of rock.
The Templar took the wheel and fought to keep us on course. The two-ton wooden ship bucked and lunged, riding each wave and crashing through the trough with such force I had to grip the rail to keep from being thrown across the slippery deck. At first it didn't appear
as if we were making any headway, but then, gradually, we began to turn and inch our way past the rough water and rocks into the calmer surf of an inlet.
My first view of English soil was a bit disappointing. The beach looked much like the one I'd left, and the trees and land far too similar to be such a vast distance as we had traveled from my home.
There was a great deal to be done and I, as much as anyone aboard, was eager to set my feet once again on solid land. I was coiling the rope to the sail when the Templar called over to me. “Go below and get ready to leave.”
The loud clang of the iron links rumbling across the winch made the deck tremble as I crossed it.
Within a candle mark we were ready to disembark. The mist had turned to a steady rain. I huddled within my plaid as a coracle was lowered down to the water. The Templar came up behind me. “Come. 'Tis time.”
I feared this opportunity would never come. The rope ladder on the side of the ship was an easy feat. I was first into the boat, steadying myself as it rocked, and dropped quickly to sit. The Templar followed. We each took an oar and began to pull toward the rocky shore.
The wind picked up as we fought the waves, blowing spray into my face and down my neck. I ducked deeper into my plaid, pulling hard on the oars.
The boat was shallow and we were able to row in close. “I'll go first an' drag ye to the beach, so ye can jump to the sand.” He bared his feet and rolled up his breeks to the knee. “No point in the both o' us freezing.”