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Last edited by Michael on 2008-06-02 22:03:49

Ancient Mariners

By Celiose

You’ve really fucked it up this time, Belgememnon old boy.


It was tempting to blame the Gods or Elementals for his current predicament. But it was his decision to try to make the voyage to Krace in January that had landed his ship in the middle of nowhere, totally surrounded by a fog. Standing at the bow of his longship, the Brundhile , he could barely see anything. Turning to face the rest of the ship, the only way he knew his crew was still there was the sound of snoring. They had assumed it was night, but cloaked in such a dark fog, it was impossible to tell. There was not much for the crew to do at any rate. Without the sun or the stars, it was impossible to tell where the ship was, or what direction they should head in.


Belgememnon turned, and looked out over the bow of the ship. He hoped to see an end to the fog, some landmark or even just open sea. Instead there was just an undifferentiated mass of grey, with white swirls.


He should’ve known better. Everyone knew that the start of the year was a bad time to make for Krace, that fog banks of enormous size formed on the sea route from Taznikaport to Korsyra, and that the risk of violent storms made the crossing terribly risky. But every year there were those who dared to make the off-season voyage, and made all the more profit for it. And there were plenty others who tried and were lost, never heard from again.


Belgememnon squinted his eyes, as if by sheer focus of vision he could penetrate the fog. His mind longed to discern something from the horizon, so he could rouse the crew and announce that they were no longer lost, and he knew which course to take. But he might as well have been blind; there was just the smell of brine and wood, and the sound of gentle waves and snoring crew. Not even wind; if there was wind, after all, that would be something , and with knowledge of trade winds, it would be possible to fix a course. But the Brunhilde was adrift, dead in the water.


A form slowly coalesced in front of him. A huge, grinning skull, attached to a skeleton that towered over the whole ship. In one bony hand the apparition held a scythe. At first Belgememnon did not believe his eyes, but the thing, the thing moved , and stared with its hollow eye sockets straight down into Belgememnon. He was filled to the core of his being with fear, wondering if he had come face to face with death himself.


Then there was a sound; Belgememnon was startled from inaction, and whirled around to face the rest of the ship. The sound came again, and a calmer Belgememnon realized it was merely footsteps; someone was approaching.


“It is only I, Steindor, ” said Steindor, his fiery red hair the only feature visible through the fog. Steindor was a skald, who had been on many voyages with Belgememnon and his father before. This was the first voyage, however, with Belgememnon in command as Hauptmann.


Belgememnon turned hurriedly to where the skeletal ghost had been, but it was gone. Maybe it was only a mirage, his mind playing tricks on him. “What’s wrong, Steindor? Couldn’t sleep?”


“I might ask the same of you, Belgememnon.”


“Someone must keep watch,” answered Belgememnon.


“True,” replied Steindor. “But you’ve been on watch for a long time.”


Belgememnon shrugged. “It’s not the crew’s fault we’re lost. Let them rest.”


Steindor frowned. “You talk like you’re the first Hauptmann to ever get lost in a fog bank. These things don’t last forever. Nothing does.”


“You’re a skald, tell me a story,” said Belgememnon.


“Which one?”


“The story of Strigard,” said Belgememnon. “I feel like I have much in common with him now.”


“A bad joke,” said Steindor. Strigard, son of the god Zahd, was a total fool and weakling.


“This was my expedition,” said Belgememnon. “Father let me be Hauptmann, determine the voyage, everything. He wants to retire, and he wanted to see if I was ready. Clearly, I’m not.”


“None of the heroes in any of the sagas I can tell gave up at the first sign of trouble,” said Steindor. “In the very first verse of Kedir the Black he gets shot through his neck with an arrow, and pulls it out, finds the archer responsible, and berates him for missing.”


“That’s why he has a saga,” sighed Belgememnon. “I don’t suppose they sing songs of failed merchants.”


“Probably, they wouldn’t be very popular,” Steindor admitted.


“I knew I should’ve brought an Undine Priest or Rune mage along,” cursed Belgememnon. “They could just magic it all away. But I thought it was too costly.”


“Your first time as Hauptmann, why did you decide to do something like this?” asked Steindor. “It’s the wrong time of year to make way for Krace. A voyage upriver to Centwerp would’ve been easier. Or if you really wanted open ocean you could’ve made for Waldhafen.”


Belgememnon shrugged. “The riskier the road, the greater the profit.”


“You have a gift for aphorism.”


Belgememnon chuckled. “Well, I just wanted to do something a little bit more spectacular, is all,” he said. “Even Ingrishmen ride the river, but everyone knows sailing from Taznikaport to Korsyra before Walentag is a feat of seamanship.”


“There’s a reason for that.”


Belgememnon sighed. “I suppose so,” he said. “If we’d made it, we’d be some of the only merchants to make it for months. Our cargo of amber would fetch a nice price.”


Steindor thought that the Kracians would probably just wait until the good sailing season to buy a luxury commodity like amber. The Kracians of Korsyra might love their jewelry, but he wondered how many would rather drop extra geld than wait a few months. Besides, Belgememnon had paid too much for the amber in the first place.


Belgememnon shook his head. “Maybe my father’s right. I’m just never going to make it as a Hauptmann.”


“It’s only rotten luck,” said Steindor. “Or the will of the Gods or Elementals. In either case, it’s fickle fate; it can change at a moment’s notice.”


Suddenly, the fog was gone. It would be inaccurate to say the fog lifted, as that would imply it gradually and naturally went away. It simply vanished. One second it was there, the next it wasn’t.


“Well,” said Steindor. “…that’s a funny coincidence. I was speaking figuratively.”


Belgememnon could not believe how his luck had changed. Perhaps the Gods were merely toying with him; he half-expected to see the fog descend again any moment. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust. Then, instinctively, he looked up; getting a fix on the stars would be essential to ascertaining the ship’s location and proper course. The constellation of Halftaz’s Spear should point the way to Roxanne, the North Star. Belgememnon became increasingly nervous as he could not find the familiar constellations; there was a bright star that might’ve been Heinlein, but it was in the wrong position. Belgememnon began to wonder if he was wrong, if he was simply insufficiently skilled in celestial navigation to make a determination. But even a child should be able to find Roxanne.


As his eyes slowly adjusted to the absence of fog, he noticed how much light there was for a night; seeking the moon, he found it, full and beaming. “Strange,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a full moon for some time.” He pointed at the moon.


“Belgememnon,” said Steindor. “Look.” And the skald pointed in the sky, and Belgememnon followed the arc of his arm to see the moon. Another moon.


“…two moons?” asked Belgememnon. “What in Umon’s creation is this?”


“Two moons,” said Steindor, “and I can’t recognize a single star in the sky. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”


“Now we’re really lost .”

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