I never imagined that a grand-blaireau could grow so large. I had heard much about them from Jacques-la-Souris while I was living at Madame Truc's—the ferocity, the sharpness of the fangs, the surly and jealous demeanor—and I had seen the richness of the fur for myself. All these were as I had been given to believe. They did not surprise me. But to find a grand-blaireau standing man-high at the shoulder! Clearly something will need to be done if my project is to succeed.
But I get ahead of myself.
When I first walked to Bois-de-Bas my imagination was much taken by the sky-islands that I saw dotting the skies here and there along the route. I wondered what they might be like, and amused myself with day-dreams of sky-pirates and of pirate bases hanging in the air, hidden from view. And then, when I came to Bois-de-bas my joy was complete, for I noticed a quite large sky-island hanging in the air to the north. It is suspended over a lake, and there is a single waterfall perpetually falling over the edge and down into the water below. Where so much water can be coming from I have no idea, but I immediately longed to find out.
And this, of course, is why I began the experiments that led to the creation of my sky-chair.
This morning, having persuaded my dear Amelie that the sky-chair is perfectly safe, I embarked. I did not go alone, which has turned out very fortunate—I rode through the middle air to Onc' Herbert's, and picked up Marc Frontenac to come with me. And then we were off!
It was a fine day today, warm and not over breezy, and yet I was glad of my coat—the chair can move with great swiftness, easily faster than a galloping horse; and as I have discovered, warm on the ground does not mean warm in the air! Though of course I was also shivering with anticipation.
As we rose to the height of the island we more or less followed the line of the river that runs from the lake down past the village. The view was stunning. Vast forests spread out beneath us, as yet little travelled by men. We saw stands of bronzewood and Chêne-pierre, studded here and there with the grottos and hot springs that give Bois-de-Bas its name.
It took us the better part of half-an-hour by my timepiece to reach the island. I wished to fly over the middle of the island directly; but Marc persuaded me to fly around it, under and over and about, spying out the land as he said.
And so, avoiding the waterfall, which is just east of the southernmost end of the island, we began by passing underneath—and again I was glad of my coat. It was dim and cool and damp under the island, with strands of hanging moss to be wary of. The base of the island proved to be made of the same stone as the land below, worn through with grottos and cave-lets, much like those of the hot-springs in which we take our Sunday soaks. Some of the grotto openings were quite large, and I imagined flotillas of small pirate craft issuing from them to prey on passing shipping.
Of which there is none, of course; but then, there are no sky-pirates either.
From there we circumnavigated the island. The edges are rocky, festooned with moss, and heavily forested right up to the edges. We found no break in the trees anywhere, except where the waterfall issued forth. There we found a shallow gorge worn by the force of the water, overhung by Chêne-pierre, almost like a tunnel. We could have proceeded in by that route, but there was a strong breeze blowing out of the mouth of it, stemming, I think, from the rush of the water. Instead we rose up over the trees, only to find—
Well, more forest, looking very much like that we'd passed over on the way. The general topography of the island was more or less bowl-shaped; it was, in fact, a shallow valley, rising up to a rim on the northeast. The river rose somewhere in that vicinity, and ran through the lowest part of the valley in a swooping curve only to issue forth on the southeast, as we'd seen. The air was moist and slightly foggy over the island, and here and there we saw clouds of rising steam indicating the presence of hot springs.
I backed off from the island a bit, so that I could see it and the lake below at the same time.
"It's almost as if the island used to be where the lake is," said Marc, and he was correct, right down to the sheer cliff on the northeast side of the lake that matched the rise on the northeast side of the island and matching line of the river to the south. If so, the island must have moved north as it rose; for the waterfall came down in the northern half of the lake.
And then it was time to take a closer look. Finally!
The island was heavily wooded, making any kind of landing difficult; were anyone to try to settle here they would need to clear a deal of land. There were a few open spots on either side of the river, however, and I directed the chair to one of these. It was not a perfect spot; the bank, though open, sloped enough that if we were to land there chair would likely topple over. I had foreseen this difficulty, and brought along a short rope ladder; and setting the chair to hang still a yard or so over the bank I threw the ladder over the side and climbed down. The chair held its position admirably, though it heeled to one side and rocked a bit.
And there I was! The first human being ever to stand on the island—perhaps the first human being ever to stand on any of the sky-islands of Armorica! My heart swelled within me as I scrambled up the bank to get a better vantage point, and to see what I could see under the trees.
I know very little about the nature of the grand-blaireaux, save that they are large, and badger-like, with strong jaws and white spots on their cheeks; and I have no idea what this one found to live on, or how it managed to grow to such a large size in such a confined space. Perhaps the grand-blaireau is like some fish I have heard tell of, that continue to grow their whole lives long, to fit the size of their pond or lake. And yet, that cannot be right, for the giant that emerged from deeper in the woods, its brown fur frosted silver with age, is far larger than any grand-blaireau of which I had ever before heard, and those had all of the land of Armorica to roam in.
It was tall and sturdily-built, though lean and hungry; and its dark eyes were focused on the nearest source of fresh meat—me; and it moved quickly and silently. I was aware of it only because of Marc's shout, and I am sure I covered the ten feet or so back to the rope ladder in one bound. Marc had shifted himself to my seat in anticipation of trouble—God bless him—and he did not wait for me to climb in before taking us out of danger. The beast's jaws snapped shut just inches from the bottom of the ladder; what would have happened had they closed on it I shudder to think.
Marc took us well up and out over the river, with me still dangling on the ladder, and there paused to let me clamber up and into the front seat. Much shaken, I allowed Marc to guide us back to Onc' Herbert's farm. The blaireau watched us until we were out of sight.
It is clear that if we are to return we shall need to bring an entire hunting party. I shall need to build a larger vessel; or perhaps a covey of additional chairs.