The silhouette that looked down at us through the doorway was dark against the night sky. It was huge and unmoving, quiet but for the sound of water falling on the stairs leading down into the cabin of the Warwick Beacon.
“They’ve gone,” said Armon. “You can stop you worrying.”
He was on his knees, sticking his giant head into the opening so we could see him. His hair was wet, dripping salty water on the stairs, but he was smiling and he was still the giant we all remembered.
I ran up the stairs and put my arms around his big, damp neck. He lifted me up through the doorway as he stood, and I was somewhere high in the night air feeling happy and free, the wind flapping Armon’s long wet hair against my face.
“You jumped off the ship?” I said.
“ I wasn’t going to fit into that doorway,” he answered.
“ So I crept overboard in the darkness and slid into the water, then swam out to the sea.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I said.
Concerned the bats might return suddenly, I rejoined the others below. Armon lay down on the deck and poked his head down into the space. Every few seconds he disappeared, swallowed up by the darkness outside, looking and listening for flying intruders. His only companion on the deck was Squire. She’d flown off when the black swarm arrived, but she was back now, flapping here and there on the edges of the ship.
There was a lamp trimmed low sitting between us on the floor. The hour was late, maybe midnight, but everyone was wide-awake and listening. The creaking of the old boat on the waves made a constant chatter, but I didn’t mind. It was soothing in its own way.
“I’ll have to get to those sails sooner than later,” said Roland. “We might end up hitting the cliffs if we drift too close in the night.”
“The bats are gone,” said Armon. “If they come again I can go back into the water and you can get below.”
That was assurance enough for Roland. He took Balmoral, Armon, and a lamp with him to mend the sails. The rest of us sat quietly for a moment listening to them at their work, and in the soft light of the cabin I heard a familiar voice stirring in the air. What it said frightened me, and I say in the cabin wondering if I should share it with the others.
“Warvold?” I said. He only nodded and looked at me while Odessa and Catherine sat silent.
“Did you know that the last Jocasta makes it so you can hear Elyon’s voice?” I looked down at Murphy sitting in my lap, then continued. “Not always, but every now and then. It’s the strangest sound, like a whisper on the wind.”
“I know of the legend, and I’ve wondered if it were true,” Warvold said. After some hesitation he added, “You must listen carefully for that voice.”
I waited a moment more, afraid to say what I though I’d heard.
“Do you think everything I hear in that voice on the wind is from Elyon, or could it be that Abaddon has found a way to speak to me as well?”
Catherine was still very weak, but she took my hand then and held it, though she said nothing.
“If it’s as the legend said it would be, the voice is that of Elyon alone,” Warwold answered. He was sitting next to Catherine, and he brushed a bit of hair away from her face. His mind seemed lost in thought.
“Is there something you want to tell me, something you’ve heard?” he asked me.
I looked at Catherine, so weak and tired, and I wished she would lie down and go back to sleep.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve heard something just now that I’m afraid to tell.”
Before I could explain further, Roland came barreling down the stairs with Balmoral close behind.
“I’ve taken down the torn sails and raised the larger one,” Roland said. “I know these waters well and can guide us in the darkness. We should be approaching Lathbury just as the sun comes up.”
“That’s good, Roland – but wait a moment,” Warvold replied. “Alexa, have you got something to say to us?”
“I do,” I answered; then I squeezed Catherine’s hand a little tighter and told them what I’d heard on the wind:
“The voice I heard said we couldn’t all stay in Lathbury.”
“Why not?” Odessa asked. It was the first thing she’d said in quite a while. Because of the Jocasta, I was the only human who could understand her.
“We can leave Catherine there,” I said, “but the rest of us must go on.”
Warvold contemplated this bit of news as he relit his pipe, the sight of which seemed to interest Roland and Blamoral. They both sat down on the steps leading down into the cabin and pulled out their own pipes, preparing them as Warvold sat thinking.
I knew from talking with Warvold that there would be a rope waiting for us at Lathbury, running down the length of the cliffs and almost into the water. It had hung there a long time, but Warvold wouldn’t tell us who had put it there. As far as we knew, this was our only escape from the Lonely Sea – at least according to Warvold.
“There’s more,” I said.
“I thought as much,” said Warvold. He fiddled with his pipe and blew smoke over his head.
Murphy sat nearby, his tail twitching wildly. He spoke quickly and with purpose.
“Does the voice on the wind say anything about finding nuts or treats hidden away on this old boat?”
I smiled and patted him on the head before continuing.
“We only have five days to bring Grindall the stone or we’ll never see Yipes alive again. We must rescue Yipes, and I thought we would leave Catherine in Lathbury and go directly to Bridewall to find him. But it seems that right now we are meant to go somewhere else. There’s something Elyon wants us to see, something beyond Turlock, at the point of land farthest away from the Dark Tower.”
Ronald stopped puffing at his pipe and sat dumbstruck by the news. For an instant he seemed unsure what to say. He was either terribly excited or dreadfully scared – I couldn’t tell which by the look on his face.
“Alexa, are you sure about what you heard? Could you have heard it wrong?” he asked me.
I told him I was sure. I knew what I’d heard. It was unmistakable.
“There’s something you should know then,” he said. He put his pipe back into the corner of his mouth and puffed three quick times. “I have sailed the Lonely Sea for many years, exploring faraway places with secrets and mysteries hard to imagine. But there is one place I have never gone. The place you speak of, beyond Turlock on the far side of The Land of Elyon, is utterly impassable with this ship.”
He looked down into the room from the step where he sat and thought a moment before speaking again. “Fierce winds never die there – they just push everything into the cliffs. No sooner would we round the corner of Turlock and the Warwick Beacon would be smashed to bits against the rocks.”
Roland kept on, explaining that the place I spoke of was so dangerous he’d never ever considered going there. Only once had he tried to approach it, from miles offshore. The winds had been so strong that they nearly capsized the boat before he veered off and ended up all the way near Ainsworth.
“Still,” Roland finished, “it would be quite an adventure to try.” A smile crept over his face, and his eyes went glassy and distant.
Warvold looked at Catherine, he eyes barely open and her skin a pale white chalk.
“Are you sure, Alexa?” he asked.
I nodded, convinced of what I’d heard. I could tell he was troubled by the idea of leaving Catherine’s side again.
“We’ll need to get Catherine off the boat where she can regain her strength,” he decided. “This journey will be too much for her.”
He looked at his brother and asked him a question.
“Can you stop us at Lathbury, as we’d planned, before we go racing around the corner into the cliffs?”
“I can,” Roland answered, and he went along merrily puffing his pipe, the adventurer in him already thinking of the untold dangers that awaited us.
We all sat silent then, wondering what to do. I was worried for Yipes, but I was also scared to go around the corner from Turlock. It seemed that the Lonely Sea was angry in those parts…and I didn’t see how we could overcome the jagged cliffs that awaited us.