Passage from chapter six of The Darkest Road
For a long time Coll of Taerlindel at the helm of his ship had fought the wind. Tacking desperately and with a certain brilliance across the line of the southwesterly, he struggled through most of a darkening day to hold Prydwen to a course that would bring them back to the harbor from which they had set out. Bellowing commands, his voice riding over the gale, he kept the men of South Keep leaping from sail to sail, pulling them down, adjusting them, straining for every inch of eastward motion he could gain against the elements that were forcing him north.
It was an exercise in seamanship of the highest order, of calculations done by instinct and nerve on the deck of a wildly tossing ship, of raw strength and raw courage, as Coll fought with all the power of his corded arms to hold the tiller against the gale that was pulling the ship from his chosen path.
And this was only wind, only the first fine mist of rain. The true storm, massive and glowering to starboard and behind them, was yet to come. But it was coming, swallowing what was left of the sky. They heard thunder, saw sheets of lightning ignite in the west, felt the screaming wind grow wilder yet, were drenched by driving, blinding spray as they slid and slipped on the heaving deck, struggling to obey Coll’s steadily shouted commands.
Calmly he called out his orders, angling his ship with consummate inbred artistry along the troughs and into the crests of the waves, gauging the seas on either side, casting a frequent eye above him to judge the filling of the sails and the speed of the oncoming storm. Calmly he did it all, though with fierce, passionate intensity and not a little pride. And calmly, when it was clear past doubt that he had no choice, Coll surrendered.
“Over to port!” he roared in the same voice he’d used throughout his pitched battle against the storm. “Northeast it is! I’m sorry, Diar, we’ll have to run with it and take our chances at the other end!”
Diarmuid dan Ailell, heir to the High Kingdom of Brennin, was far too busy grappling with a sail rope in obedience to the command to do much in the way of dealing with the apology. Beside the Prince, soaked through and through, almost deafened by the scream of the gale, Paul struggled to be useful and to cope with what he knew.
With what he had known from the first rising of the wind two hours ago, and his first glimpse, far down on the southwest horizon of the black line that was a curtain now, an enveloping darkness blotting out the sky. From the pulsebeat of Mörnir within himself, the still place like a pool in his blood that marked the presence of the God, he knew that what was coming, what had come, was more than a storm.
He was Pwyll Twiceborn, marked on the Summer Tree for power, named to it, and he knew when power of this magnitude was present, manifesting itself. Mörnir had warned him but could do no more, Paul knew. This was not his storm despite the crashing thunder, nor was it Liranan’s, the elusive god of the sea. It might have been Metran, with the Cauldron of Khath Meigol, but the renegade mage was dead and the Cauldron shattered into fragments. And this storm far out at sea was not Rakoth Maugrim’s in Starkadh.
Which meant one thing and one thing only, and Coll of Taerlindel, for all his gallant skill, hadn’t a chance. It was not a thing you tell a captain of a ship at sea, Paul was wise enough to know. You let him fight, and trusted him to know when he could not fight any longer. And after, if you survived, you could try to heal his pride with the knowledge of what had beated him.
If you survived.
“By Lisen’s blood!” Diarmuid cried. Paul looked up – in time to see the sky swallowed, quite utterly, and the dark green curling wave, twice the height of the ship, begin to fall.
“Hang on!” the Prince screamed again, and clutched Paul’s hastily donned jacket with an iron grip. Paul threw one arm around Diarmuid and looped the other through a rope lashed to the mast, gripping with all the strength he had. Then he closed his eyes.
The wave fell upon them with the weight of the sea and of doom. Of destiny not to be delayed or denied. Diarmuid held him, and Paul gripped the Prince, and they both clung to their handholds like children, which they were.
The Weaver’s children. The Weaver at the Loom, whose storm this was. When he could see again, and breathe, Paul looked up at the tiller through the shining rain and spray. Coll had help there now, badly needed help, in the muscle-tearing task of holding the ship to its new course, running now with the full speed of the storm, dangerously, shockingly fast in the raging sea, at a speed where the slightest turning of the rudder could heel them over like a toy into the waves. But Arthur Pendragon was with Coll now, balancing him, pulling shoulder to shoulder beside the mariner, salt spray drenching his greying beard, and Paul knew-though he could not actually see them from where he crouched in the shadow of the mainmast-that there would be stars falling and falling in the Warrior’s eyes as he was carried toward his foretold fate again, by the hand of the Weaver who had woven his doom.
Children, Paul thought. Both the children they all were, helpless on this ship, and the children who had died when the Warrior was young, and so terribly afraid that his bright dream should be destroyed. The two images blurred in his mind, as the rain and the sea spray blurred together, driving them on.
Running before the wind, Prydwen tore through the seas at a speed no ship should have been asked to sustain, no sails to endure. But the timbers of that ship, screaming and creaking with strain, yet held, and the sails, woven with love and care and centuries of handed-down artistry in Taerlindel of the Mariners, caught that howling wind and filled with it and did not tear, though the black sky above might shred with lightning and the very sea rock with the thunder.
Riding the mad crest of that speed, the two men at the tiller fought to hold their course, their bodies taut with brutal strain. And then, with no surprise at all, only a dulled, hurting sense of inevitability, Paul saw Lancelot du Lac grapple his way to their side. And so, at the last, it was the three of them: Coll conning his ship with Lancelot and Arthur at either side, their feet braced wide on the slippery deck, gripping the tiller together, in flawless, necessary harmony, guiding that small, gallant, much-enduring ship into the bay of the Anor Lisen.
And, helpless to do so much as veer a single point off the wind, onto the jagged teeth of the rocks that guarded the southern entrance to that bay.
Paul never knew, afterward, whether they had been meant to survive. Arthur and Lancelot had to, he knew, else there would have been no point to the storm that carried them here. But the rest of them were expendable, however bitter the thought might be, in the unfolding of this tale.
He never knew, either, exactly what it was that warned him. They were moving so fast, through the darkness and the pelting, blinding sheets of rain, that none of them had even seen the shore, let alone
the rocks. Reaching back, trying to relive the moment afterward, he thought it might have been his ravens that spoke, but chaos reigned on Prydwen in that moment, and he could never be sure.
What he knew was that in the fraction of splintered time before Prydwen splintered forever into fragments and spars, he had risen to his feet, unnaturally surefooted in the unnatural storm, and had cried out in a voice that encompassed the thunder and contained it, that was of it and within it-exactly as he had been of and within the Summer Tree on the night he thought he’d died-and in that voice, the voice of M&o
uml;rnir who had sent him back, he cried, “Liranan!” just as they struck.
The masts cracked with the sound of broken trees; the sides cracked, and the deck; the bottom of the ship was gouged mercilessly, utterly, and the dark sea blasted in. Paul was catapulted, a leaf, a twig, a meaningless thing, from the deck of the suddenly grounded ship. They all hurtled over the sides, every man of what had been, a moment before, Coll’s grandfather’s beloved Prydwen.
And as Paul flew, a split second in the air, another fraction of scintillated time, tasting his second death, knowing the rocks were there and the boiling, enraged, annihilating sea, even in that instant he heard a voice in his mind, clear and remembered.
And Liranan spoke to him and said, I will pay for this, and pay, and be made to pay again, before the weaving of time is done. But I owe you, brother-the sea stars are shining in a certain place again because you bound me to your aid. This is not binding; this is a gift. Remember me!
And then Paul cartwheeled helplessly into the waters of the bay.
The calm, unruffled, blue-green waters of the bay. Away from the jagged, killing rocks. Out of the murderous wind, and under a mild rain that fell gently down, bereft of the gale that had given it its cutting edge.
Just beyond the curve of the bay the storm raged yet, the lightning still slashed from the purpled clouds. Where he was, where all of them were, rain fell softly from an overcast summer sky, as they swam, singly, in pairs, in clusters, to the strand of beach under the shadow of Lisen’s Tower.
Where Guinevere stood.
It was a miracle, Kim realized. But she also realized too much more for her tears to be shed only for relief and joy. Too dense this weaving, too laden with shadings and textures and a myriad of intermingled threads, both warp and weft, for any emotion to be truly unmixed.
They had seen the ship cannon toward the rocks. Then, even in
that moment of realization and terror, they heard a single imperative crash of sound, halfway between thunder and a voice, and on the instant-absolutely on the instant-the wind had cut out completely and the waters of the bay had gone glassily calm. The men who manned Prydwen were spilled over the disintegrating sides of the ship into a bay that would have destroyed them not two seconds before.
A miracle. There might be time enough later to search for the source of it and give thanks. But not yet. Not now, in this tangled sorrow-strewn unfolding of a long destiny.
For there were three of them, after all, and Kim could do nothing, nothing at all to stop the hurting in her heart. A man stepped from the sea who had not been on Prydwen when she sailed. A man who was very tall, his hair dark, and his eyes as well. There was a long sword at his side, and beside him came Cavall, the grey dog, and in his arms, held carefully out before him, the man carried the body of Arthur Pendragon, and all five people on the beach, waiting, knew who this man was.
Four of them stayed a little way behind, though Kim knew how every instinct in Sharra’s soul was driving her to the sea where Diarmuid was even now emerging, helping one of his men out of the water. She fought that instinct, though, and Kim honored her for it. Standing between Sharra and Jaelle, with Brendel a pace to the side and behind, she watched as Jennifer moved forward through the gentle rain to stand before the two men she had loved and been loved by through so many lives in so many worlds.
© Guy Gavriel Kay