The group paused on the brink of the path with only the gangplank between them and the sky. Jules was in awe; if this was the ship to heaven, he would still prefer the trip over the destination.
"She's magnificent," he breathed.
He felt the Lady's presence at his side, and he looked to the others. A few of the men repositioned their heavy loads with expressions blank beneath lines of exertion.
And then Jules realized that they awaited his boarding. He let his mouth open in sudden apology, but the Lady's green eyes laughed at his attempt.
"We trust you," she whispered. "You are the Captain."
Jules felt this encouragement enter his heart, subtle and graceful, but supplying him with more courage than he thought he could ever have possessed. He nodded once, and strode up the plank to the mighty deck.
Sensing immediately at home, he turned on his heel to help the Lady aboard, while calling to the crew to hurry.
"We have a wind to catch," he announced, striding to the bow.
A flicker of doubt weakened his stride as soon as he was out of sight, but the landscape that fell away from the boat held no exceptions; it was a resolute realization that told him there was no other choice but to strive forth with courage.
He let his vision be consumed by the tossed forest canopy, the sloping mountain bluffs, and the distant rocky shores that edged the far side of the island.
Perhaps he had been born to do this. But was not everyone in some sense? Everyone was meant to brave the great mystery, whether it be the Captain of a ship or an Ambassador to a foreign land. And though everyone was meant to face such an unknown force, it was not made easy. There was no preparation for such a journey.
Jules shivered and walked to where the crew awaited amidships. The crew was standing in a line, and the Lady was seated on a step with two servants on either side.
"Casting us afloat will be a dangerous process," Jules began. "We will need the focus of every man here, and instructions must be followed without query or delay. Who here is experienced with the winds of the sky?"
A glimmer of a smile came to the lips of the Lady, and she raised an elegant hand. "Are you not forgetting something, Captain?"
Jules bowed his head once, and said, "Forgive me, my Lady. I must admit, I am at a loss."
"Is it not important that you know where we are bound?"
Jules was at first confused, then thoughtful. And then a deep and freeing laugh began in his gut and worked its way outward until he was barking with laughter.
"Aye," he said, "what a fool I have been. Please my Lady, would you accompany me to the bridge where I may see straight this journey we are to embark upon?"
The Lady rose graciously to her feet, bowing her head and slipping across the deck to the large oak stairs that led to a door ajar before the bridge.
Jules followed, his face gleaming, and his mind just now beginning to catch up with the dream of such an adventure. Where was he taking this crowd? What had happened to his previous life? And the largest question that soon spoke with sudden confusion: why was the ship on a hilltop?
But his questions soon fell to the side as his excitement lept to the controls that lay before him. A large table took the center of the room with a priceless set of instruments laid atop a map of such archaic beauty and exquisite detail that he felt to be overlooking the world itself.
Beyond this, his eyes were pleased yet again by the instruments on the wall, and the two Captain's doors that led to the wheel itself. But before he could further explore, the Lady made a sweet noise.
"Here," she said.
Jules turned slowly; the Lady's finger was placed gently upon the tip of a mountain.
She looked up to meet his gaze. "We sail here. Tonight."
Jules moved silently across the room, eyeing the map with eager enthrallment. He leaned over to examine in detail the route they must follow, and his lips moved with the magic of a spell to sound the name of their destination.