Authors: Adam Copeland
Echoes of Avalon
A Tale of Avalon: Book I
Copyright © 2009 by Adam Copeland
Major edits by Sarah Cypher: http://www.threepennyeditor.com
Minor edits by Alexis Mason: http://www.alexisllc.com
Cover Art by Fredrik Alfredsson Copyright © 2009
[email protected], alfredsson.deviantart.com
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Other Works by Adam Copeland
Ripples in the Chalice
A Tale of Avalon: Book II
For Mom and Dad
The boat rose and fell on the swells of water. The pattern was unrelenting and eternal. Placid waters had gone with the sun and the water was gray now. Only the different shades of gray differentiated the sky from the ocean at the steely horizon. White lined the swells of water. A light, constant drizzle seemed to conspire with the ocean spray to soak everything onboard. It was not a particularly large vessel, which made it all the worse for everyone.
For the crew of hardened fishermen, Cornishmen all, this posed no great discomfort. The crewmen at their work looked like gray mice scurrying over a large, wet, wheat barrel. For the lone passenger on board, however, the matter was altogether different. A single, still figure sat huddled on a bench in the aft of the boat. He was wrapped in a great-cloak, eyes transfixed on nothing. Only when the boat heaved to one side or the other would he move to brace himself.
One of the crewmen leaned over to his elder shipmate and asked, “Eh, Ebert, what is the matter with the man? Is he seasick?”
Ebert looked at their passenger. The sweat on the man’s face was not from the ever-present moisture of rain and ocean. Ebert knew this because the sweat was there long before the weather had turned bad. The passenger’s gaze focused on one point only, as though attempting to minimize the pitching of the boat and make it appear steady. The shipmate shook his head.
“He looked like that when we picked him up in Cornwall. Exceptin' he were not starin’ so much.”
“Who is he anyway? Where we takin’ him?”
“His name is Patrick Gawain. I hear talk that he is an Irish nobleman, come back from the Crusades.” Ebert did his share of pulling the heavy netting from the side of the boat while still carrying on a conversation with his mate.
Peter, the younger crewman also pulling on the net, exclaimed under his breath to Ebert, Gawain!”
Ebert put up a halting hand. “I know what you be thinking, an’ you be wrong. Different Gawain, no relation to
Gawaine that were in Arthur's court. But he is knighted, I believe, because he carries a mighty sword with him under that great-cloak.”
“Well, bugger me! A Crusader!” Peter shook his head. Peter paused momentarily while pulling on the net, but then resumed. “We not be takin’ him home are we, I mean to Eire an’ all, because if we are, we be heading in the wrong direction.”
Ebert laughed at the younger fisherman. Peter was relatively new to the crew and not accustomed to the occasional practice of taking on passengers for transport to a certain locale. “No, he will not be going to Eire, we be taking him west, into the Misty Isles. To Avalon.”
“Avalon! We be goin’ there?”
“Of course not, ya bloomin’ fool. Nobody goes into Avalon except the folk of Avalon and those invited like the young Sir over there. We just be taking him to the edge of the mist and wait for a dinghy to come out for him. That is how it’s always been done.”
Peter dropped the last of the netting onto the deck and shook his hands violently to be rid of the seaweed that clung to him. This went on for a good minute before he looked around frantically and decided to rub his hands on the edge of the boat instead. “Why do we have to do it then? Why do they not send for him themselves, the folk of Avalon I mean? Why do they have fishermen like us doin’ it? 'Tis not exactly the entrance a nobleman merits. You’d think they would send out one of their own nice boats.”
Ebert shrugged, not entirely sure if Peter’s agitation was due to the slime on his hands or the fact that they had the added duty of dropping off a passenger before they could return home. “I think most traffic between here and there happens in groups, almost seasonal. He be traveling out of season. Could na’ tell ya why, though.”
Peter smirked. “Well, I hope he makes it. He looks none too good.”
The aft of the boat came to a point where a seat was situated halfway between the railing and deck. Patrick Gawain was now pushed as far back into this nook as one could go. He held out his two long, sinewy arms on either side to brace himself. His hands gripped the railing so fiercely that all the blood drained out of them and they were more pale than his complexion. The railings creaked under the stress of his grip. Patrick's face was just as tight as his body. It looked as if he was trying to withdraw upon himself. His eyes were fearful, with that same transfixed gaze. He was breathing in quick, short gasps now. This was an improvement over his earlier appearance, when it was hard to determine if he was breathing at all.
“Are yea well, m’lord?” Ebert cautiously approached the Irishman. “Is there anything I can do for yea?”
Patrick didn't reply.
“M’lord?” Ebert turned and looked at Peter and shrugged, then turned once again on Patrick. “If yea be needing anything, just let...”
Patrick’s head jerked up and he looked at Ebert. Sweat poured down his face and his breath quickened. He just now seemed to realize that another human being was present. He glanced at Ebert, and then turned his gaze away, once again maintaining the same stare into nothingness. The young nobleman said nothing to disturb the fisherman, nor had he looked upon him in anger, but his eyes were frightening
Ebert stepped away towards Peter.
He had looked into the eyes of Patrick Gawain. They were a strange blend of brown and green with a hint of dusk at the core. Peculiar, yes, but no more extraordinary than Ebert’s own.
It was what lay behind the eyes that frightened him. Though they had looked straight at him, they didn’t even register Ebert in Patrick's mind. Patrick had a fearful look, like a caged wild animal, yet at the same time he was thoughtful as if pondering some great mystery. He looked as if he were going to explode into a frenzy, and like he was waiting for the chance to do just that. The man was not trying to keep from being seasick. He was wrestling with something inside himself. He was haunted.
Truth be told, Patrick was staring at something in particular. Before him, at a distance about half the length of the boat, stood a creature of nightmare that returned his stare. Though Patrick could not see the thing's face, he knew it was looking right at him. That was how it always was. No face. No identity. Even the hands were gloved. But it was obvious that the robed and hooded figure had come to haunt him like some hellish visitation.
As the fisherman returned to work, he passed right through the robed thing without even knowing it. He penetrated the Apparition like a ship passing through fog and continued on about his business. The fisherman disappeared on the other side of the specter. For all its misty translucence, it was not transparent.
He tried pushing himself into the back of the boat to put even more distance between himself and the thing, but he was already as far as he could go. The Apparition did not advance nor did it threaten to. It just stood there and stared as it had always done. This did not comfort Patrick much. If he thought for one instant that he could jump overboard in his armor and swim, he would, despite the fact that he did not know how far he was from the nearest land: Cornwall or Avalon.
And anyway, he had tried running from the Apparition before. It was always there, wherever he turned. It stayed with him, gazing at him, until it decided it was time to leave, and not a moment before. He tried calling to it and pleading, but it never responded. It stayed just long enough to unnerve him, and then disappeared. Patrick never saw it vanish. It only disappeared after he had squeezed his eyes shut tight.
Others had thought him mad. The first time it came to him, it had come to the Mont St. Michel and harried him through the maze-like corridors. Patrick had run like a madman, begging the thing to leave him.
“Who are you? What do you want?” he had cried.
It had not harmed him. It appeared and disappeared in silence, first over him in his bedchamber, pointing an accusing finger at him with a black–gloved hand.
The presence itself was a shock, as the monks who nursed him back to health usually left him alone. They came in the morning, at noon, and twice in the evenings: at the evening meal and after vespers. And other than that, he was supposed to rest, unless he had energy for a walk. He was still quite sick from the fever he had picked up on his journey through France, on route home from the Holy Land. The weather had been miserable in Lyon, and a few hours after he arrived he fell sick. At first it was only a slight fever and chill. They said it was probably from the rats on board the barge that brought him and the other travelers up the Rhône from the Mediterranean. But on the overland journey to Troyes, trudging through the rain and mud, his fever became so bad that others swore they could see steam rising off his face as the cool rain touched it. He was incoherent, babbling about cutting his arms off at the elbows to rid himself of the pain. He had even tried drawing his sword to do so, but the other veterans held him down and took his weapons. They carried him to an inn to stay until he was well enough to travel again, though it became clear he needed much more rest. He, like the others, had been traveling a long time since Jerusalem.
Patrick agreed, but he would not travel by boat again, not with the seasickness and rats. Therefore that ruled out the Paris and Seine River route, so it must be by horseback to the West—towards Angers. Many of the veterans headed for Paris anyway, because they were healthy and eager to be home after three years away. Only his friend, David of York, went with him.
At Rennes he fell sick again. It was the same fever–induced delirium that had caught him just before Troyes—and in the same dismal weather. David did not know what to do with him. Neither had much money and neither had family in the region, so David decided that perhaps the Church would help. He soon discovered that the only parish in the vicinity that could administer the medical attention Patrick needed was nearby. Actually, it was off the shore of France itself, and that was where David of York took him.
The journey from Rennes, seemed a part of the delirium. He recalled being led on horseback, strapped to his saddle so that he would not fall, by many robed monks down a long, straight road. On either side of the road was the sea, boiling at the edges like a cauldron that might at any moment froth over and wash all away. He could not understand why it had not happened already; the turbulent water seemed a mere arm’s length away. He could almost see the faces of demons in the frothy water, reaching up to pull him off his horse. David was with the monks. He walked straight ahead, mindless of the demons in the water reaching for him too.
At the end of the road was an island in this boiling cauldron. Directly out of the tumultuous waters rose a fortress, built tier upon tier, an island city rather than a castle. It was indeed an island, for there was a break between the lower fortifications and the uppermost structure, which looked like an acropolis of granite. In this break was steep, rocky land with trees. The tallest structure, at the middle of the acropolis, had a spire reaching high into the sky. The horizon behind the fortress stretched to infinity. As far as the eye could see was the demon filled ocean. The sky was much akin to the water, a swirling mass of black, endlessly twisting and turning. Occasionally it would light up with incredible bursts of lightning, followed by deafening thunderclaps.
The monks chanted, exclaimed in French, a language now familiar, “Le Tonnerre!” and “l'éclair!”