Patricius could be forgiven his confusion over the message, above and beyond even the medium of its delivery. He was far inland, well away from the sea. There wasn't a great profusion of ships anywhere in the vicinity.
But a little hope is a big thing. It gave him courage and a sense of recklessness, which had hitherto been knocked out of him. He left. He just up and ran from the hillside, abandoning the pigs and his master.
He couldn't go north. That was straight into his master's stronghold, even if it was the nearest coastline. He hurtled south instead, trying just to put enough distance between himself and his captors, before he found this fabled ship.
Along the way, he 'acquired' items. Later in life, there would be oblique references to a 'sin', which many have taken to mean stealing. He never gave the details, but this seems like a likely time in his life history. He left his post naked, and he was dressed by the time he finally reached a port. He also had money for the crossing. St Patrick never did attempt to say that the good Lord had provided so practically, on the way to the coast in County Wexford.
Nevertheless, the Irish sailors treated this stranger with some suspicion. Patricius stood bound in the confidence of an iron faith. He had travelled over two hundred miles on foot to be there. At no time was he pursued nor stopped. He had passed through countless territories without being spotted, nor fingered as a runaway slave.
Nor was there any turning back now. He'd made it so far. If he was sent back, then he'd be executed as an example to his fellow slaves. It was do or die; but the voice had made promises in the darkness and there was a ship. It had to take him home.
The ship's captain laughed in his face. "You're not coming on my boat. I have no idea who you are." Behind him, his crew were loading up the cargo hold with prize hunting dogs. Those Irish breeds fetched a high price on the Continent. "Go away."
Stunned, his faith shaken and his confidence draining, Patricius turned to slope back to the hut he'd sheltered in overnight. Automatically, his lips moved in a fervent prayer, while tears washed his eyes. Let them change their minds. Let them change their minds.
There was a yell. It wasn't the captain, but another sailor standing by. "Oy! Go on, they're calling you!"
Patricius barely drew a breath. He turned back to find that the last of the dogs were loaded and the captain was shouting his orders to cast off. But the ship was waiting for him. Patricius raced back, hope flaring again and his money clasped in his hand.
The captain was gruff and curt, "Ok, we'll take you on trust, but you'll have to go in with the dogs."
It's hard to imagine how Patricius must have felt, as he saw the Irish coastline receding far into the distance. He never thought to see it again. Six years after having been snatched from his parents, he was going home. It was over.