The sloop drifted, dull brown timbers on grey waves. Its sails were rags, the portholes in the little forward cabin were dark. No hands held the wheel. And yet, it seemed to holding some sort of course. Not entirely direct and not swift, but with the cresting of each wave it drew slowly closer to Hopeless and the low earth cliff that lay to be devoured by the hungry sea.
Standing on the rank grass at the cliff edge was the pilgrim. He watched the sloop coldly. He did everything coldly these days. The warmth of life had left him. It was his own fault, he had thought that he understood the nature of the world and had been wrong. Now he was stranded between life and death and only his quest for the light at the end of the world could sustain him.
Friendship, he thought, was a peculiar name for a boat. Friendship was about warmth and laughter and human contact. There was, in his experience, little warmth or human contact with a boat. Cold loneliness had been his experience.
And every journey had to be paid for.
The ship of the weird sisters had demanded a sword in payment. The Demeter had taken every life aboard, and who knows what price the crew and passengers of the Marie Celeste had paid.
The pilgrim, in life, had always been in favour of payment in advance. This was no exception, and as he watched the boat approaching he found his thoughts driven back to another boat, on a different sea.
It had been the shortest day of winter, when the pilgrim had chartered passage on an open boat (known as a Billy Boy) from the Humber to Boston. The first Boston that is, the one in England. They had set off in the early evening from the old whaling quay at Hull and followed the coast south. It was full dark when they reached the Boston Deeps and the pilgrim began the ritual that was the true purpose of the journey. Singing loudly and joyfully, he praised the oceans and cast flowers upon the water. He spoke in rhymes of his love of the wind and water. With tears of passion in his eyes, he cried out in ecstasy.
By the time they reached the Haven, he was spent. Looking out across the marshes, to the place of the skraeings, he saw lights fly up into the sky amid strange guttural howls. The pilgrim shuddered, wondering if his gifts were not enough. But then a new sound drifted across the water. A voice, high and keen, sang an old song of the landsman who kept his faith and his promises and the pilgrim knew that his offerings had been accepted.
Now, so many years later and hundreds of miles away, the pilgrim waited for his reward. No mighty clipper, no warship, no royal barge would do for him. But instead the simple boat of a fisherman, a sloop called Friendship. It was a promise honoured, and the first spark of hope he had felt for many long days and nights.
The sloop bumped against the cliff, and the pilgrim stepped aboard…
Story by Jim Snee– art by Tom Bown