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by Engor

Chapter 56

Julien was dragged from a deep sleep by activity on deck. His companions would have preferred to let him sleep, but it's hard to weigh two anchors without making a hell of a racket. As they might have expected the wind had veered round to the north and threatened to move to the north-east. What had been, despite a fairly choppy sea, a relatively well-sheltered anchorage might quickly become a death-trap if the wind started to come from that quarter, and the sailors felt it was best to leave while they still could, to risk the rough seas around the south of the island once more and so to seek shelter on the western side.

The sun had not yet risen, and going up on deck into a cold wind and icy spray called for something approaching heroism. Ugo, worn out from his night on watch, was asleep in the wardroom – someone had obviously taken the time to dry him and find him a blanket to lie on before leaving him to sleep.

They really needed to go, but the two sailors were having trouble turning the windlass because the strength of the wind and the jolting of the swell were pulling against them on the anchor chain. Julien shouted to them that he was at the helm ready to steer the boat as soon as the last anchor came off the sea bed. The violence of the elements seemed to have subsided a little, but they wouldn't be able to tell for sure until they were clear of the meagre shelter provided by the coast.

As soon as they reached the open sea it became apparent that sailing close to this wind would be extremely difficult, but of course for the first part of their journey they wouldn't need to do that: on the contrary, they were heading south, and that was no problem. They reached the southern cape just as dawn was starting to lighten the eastern sky. The tide had turned and the boiling tidal race of the previous evening had fortunately disappeared, but the reefs around the cape were still there, and some of them barely touched the surface of the water, making them almost impossible to see amid the chaos of the waves. For safety's sake they needed to give them a wide berth, but on the other hand, running too far south would be a serious mistake, as it might then be impossible to tack back north into the lee of the island.

As they were fighting to tack close to the wind while allowing plenty of room between the boat and the shoals Julien's heart leaped briefly as a winged form came crashing down onto the deck, but his hope died again when he saw that it wasn't a haptir but some type of flying mammal with membranous wings. It was too exhausted to react when he went close enough to examine it properly. He thought it was some sort of large flying fox, but he didn't dare to pick it up to move it to somewhere dry in case it bit him. Instead he left it to crawl unaided into the shelter of the gunwale.

He'd always enjoyed sailing with his father or his friends, and even when the waters around Normandy and Brittany had been rough it hadn't spoiled his fun. But this was quite different, and now he was beginning to understand what some sailors meant when they said 'Anyone who goes to sea for fun must enjoy holidays in hell'. Until now they had been more or less running before the wind, whereas now that they were trying to fight it the vessel was crashing brutally against the waves, shipping large quantities of water. They'd battened down all the hatches, but they still needed to pump the bilges if they wanted to avoid getting wet feet in their cabins. Julien took his turn with his companions, also sharing the steering with them equally. They'd had no hot food since the previous evening's soup, which now seemed like a gourmet supper.

But the most miserable of them was Ugo, who could do nothing to help and had to remain uselessly in the wardroom while everyone else was struggling to keep the ship afloat. Julien thought Ugo's situation must be the hardest of all.

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