Jules thought the figurehead would move, the gryphon stretch its wings, its eyes gleaming, its fierce eagle's beak open to snap at the wind. It seemed to live, poised on the edge of movement, still and waiting. Lines tightened, groaned and stretched as the sails bowed, filled. In the sky a dark cloud burst apart, became birds plunging, screeching, wheeling above the ship.

The engines were started at his command, the rudder suddenly heavy so the gray men at the whipstaff had to brace their thick legs against the boards to hold it on course. Under the ship, fan-blades hummed, blurred with speed and the ship began to rise, tugging at the tie-lines and painter. These lines were released, hauled in and Jules felt the ship lift, the movement rising up through his legs so his stomach clenched in excitement and dread and joy. He couldn't help the grin that plastered itself upon his face and he met the lady's eyes, saw her echoing smile.

"How do you like it Jules?"

"Like it?" he said, incredulous. "My Lady, I am in love!"

She laughed at that and departed to supervise unpacking in her cabin, followed by a silent knot of the gray men.

The ship rose up, higher and higher, to where the air was thin and cold and bit his cheeks, but Jules felt warm, glowing as hot blood pulsed through him - feeling more alive than he ever had before, seeing everything with a crystalline clarity, feeling more deeply, sensing the ship as if it was a part of himself. He felt that if he closed his eyes he would still see, his awareness stretching so he could almost feel the hills they sailed over. The air smelled of life, of rain and growth. Far underneath, the grasses tumbled and whipped like waves.

They passed through clouds that split apart, birds of gray and black and white, wings snapping. From the clear depths of a lake a vast pearly eye opened and watched them go by.

He plotted a course, nominating a gray man as First Mate. He could see differences now between them, where he hadn't before. The First Mate was slighter than most, with small, deep-set eyes. He wore a green kerchief knotted under his shirt. He watched Jules steadily, very alert, anticipating orders almost before they were spoken.

The peak in the distance grew closer as the sun neared its apogee. It looked small at first, but climbed as they climbed, dwarfing the surrounding peaks, black and sharp as a razor-edge against the pale sky.


The End

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