On the English Sea – November 1181

 

It was only a dream. Yet it was more real than all the auguries I would later divine.

I sat with my family in the time before my sister and I went to Fontevraud Abbey. We picnicked on the Saone River, under a cloudless sky that framed lush grasses. Delicate jasmine trailed along the banks. My father boomed his hearty laughter, as he did in our days of carefree wealth; the days before he abandoned us to preach his heresies. My angelic sister Diane looked as she had before death restored her to her celestial kin. Strangely, I was not a child, but seventeen and a woman grown as I am now. I knew Diane was dead. How could she picnic with us?

Her delicate laugh chimed its divine music. “Ah, Adéle, always thinking!” She and I sailed exquisite paper boats in the river, and my tiny pastel craft led hers. Diane’s was nearing, though, and my father kept calling, “Turn the ship. Turn! It’s gaining!” How could I turn a paper boat? Diane giggled. And still my father insisted, “Turn the ship!”

I awoke with a start. Tears coursed down my cheeks. I squeezed my eyes shut, greedily grasping at the departed bliss.

But someone was calling, “Turn the ship!”

And another voice wailed, “They’re gaining. Turn. Turn!”

Oak creaked as the ship leaned. Steeper, steeper. A short distance from me, the monks stirred.

“Adéle?” The voice was John’s.

“Brother John!” My voice quavered. The ship listed at a seemingly impossible angle. A barrel tumbled, smashing into splinters and splashing the hull with crimson wine. The din from the deck above increased. The monks murmured. I heard them clambering unsteadily towards me in the hold’s morbid grayness.

More cries from the deck. “They’re upon us!”

“Adéle?” A hand gripped my ankle.

Brother John, Brother Ansel, and Brother Irvin swarmed, rejoining me from their discreet distance. They lurched against me with the ship’s wild heaving. One tripped upon my distaff, which was jammed behind the ladder. The monks knelt, faces upturned to the threat, each muttering to himself a hurried prayer.

Captain Robert appeared in the opening overhead, his face faintly illuminated by an inadequate lamp. Its subdued orange glow cast his face in sinister shadows; the deepening twilight enshrouded him like Death’s own black domino. How different from this morning! His woolen cap had perched jauntily upon his head as his broad smile welcomed us. Or perhaps he had merely welcomed our silver. Either way, he no longer smiled.

“Northmen are upon us,” he called down. “Hide!” He withdrew to shout orders to the Saint Esprit’s panicking men. It would be the last I saw of him.

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