Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Longest Voyage

What happens to a ghost ship when the sea it sails becomes itself a ghost? The mere disappearance of hundreds of cubic miles of water is no release from eternal servitude. Somewhere in the Dry Sea, Commodore Ruzin’s men continue to curse his name with shrivelled lips, backs arced as they haul its unreal weight across the desolation.

The stories of the Ashmara passing through other ships like a cloud, slipping from sight where the moonlight struck it, gliding visibly inches above the surface of the sea - these were only ever stories. Like all stories about the sea that vanished, they are legends now – but unlike the stories of the sturgeon large enough to founder galleons and the tide that runs red every 77 months, they always were legends. The Ashmara is a ship of oak and iron, and its crew are flesh and bone. When the sea still was, they sailed it endlessly, enacting the Commodore's last command – keep her worthy. Keep her sailing. I shall return – and now that the sea is gone and the world is sand and salt and stone, they keep it still. They have no other choice.

If Commodore Ruzin still lives, he is close to four hundred years old, and though there are elves who remember knowing – hating, fearing, hiring – him, there are no humans who do. Ruzin, they say, was a human like any other, and most likely he met his end in the stateroom of an elvish palace, or perhaps comfortable in the north, swathed in furs in a great country estate, the spires of Vyryn visible in the distance. Perhaps. But while he did live, he had strange powers – how else can one man dare so much and cheat so many? – and his word endures. His ship endures. His crew endures.

Travellers in the Dry Sea have spoken of seeing, through the boundless shimmer, a ship, two-masted, high-sided, and before it near one hundred men, yokes and ropes across their shoulders, hauling it across the salt. They do not need water, nor food – but then, there is none to be had. They do not need sleep, and through the icy night they haul just as through the savage day. The course they plot is unknown, but though few have ever seen them – and fewer still believed what they are seeing – many have seen the deep track scored through the white-gold crust where the ship's hull has passed. Some have sought to map it. Some have sought to follow it. Some have sought to speak with the crew. Their answers are not recorded.