Transcript – Swallowed by the Sea
[The Pensive Tower theme plays]
Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Ten: Swallowed by the Sea
[A click, and the strange whirring of the venoscribe begins]
This is the memory of Alfard Wey. Human, aged seventy-four, identified as male. Memory regards his experience aboard the merchant vessel Oracle, and was donated on the nineteenth of Riverfill, in the year 721. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the eleventh of Baretree, 729.
Been a long time I’ve been meaning to come here. I guess it’s one of those things you keep meaning to do but keep putting off ’cause you think “oh, I’ll get round to it. There’s plenty of time.”
Well, I celebrated my seventy-fourth birthday this year and I looked around and saw that there were… less people than last year. Made me realise that I might not have all that much time left.
I’m sorry, by the way, for my handwriting. These past few decades I’ve had a very close relationship with the rum bottle which has left my hands a bit shaky.
That’s actually the reason I’m here, at least part of it. See, it’s what I’m here to talk about which led to me burying myself in the rum. It helped me forget.
So, this is going back, oh about, fifty years or so. Sorry, I’m not sure I can be any clearer on the details. I think I was in my early twenties, maybe twenty-two or twenty-four.
I’d finally saved enough money to leave home and make a life for myself.
Ever since I’d been a lad, I knew I wanted to go to sea. I grew up in Suttol, a small town down south, near the Vivvokian border. It’s not technically a sea-side town but it’s only an hour’s walk to the coast and, even from that distance, the salty tang is heavy on the air most days.
Me and my friends would often make that journey to the beach after school. On the weekends, we’d all go that little bit further up the coast to Salt Quay, a little fishing village where we could use our allowances to buy sweets in the market or fresh haydo from the fisherfolk. We’d spend all day there, talking and playing or else just lying back and listening to the tide. I think it’s safe to say I fell in love in those days. Not with a person, with the idea of going out there and making my own story. I dreamed of leaving home behind me and heading in search of adventure.
So, when the time came and I had the chance, I didn’t hesitate.
I packed my belongings, said goodbye to my ma, dad and my sisters, and then I left for Hael Hara.
I knew the easiest way to get to sea was to sign up with the navy but, keen as I was for adventure, I knew the military life wasn’t for me.
Fortunately, I had a friend, Jomat, he’d been kind of like an older brother to me growing up. He’d gone to Hael Hara a couple of years before me with a similar goal in mind and I had had a letter from him to say he’d found work as an ordinary seaman aboard a merchant schooner.
My plan was to look him up and see if he could get me a job aboard his ship. It was only later I realised how ridiculous this plan was. If Jomat’s ship was at sea, it could be weeks before he returned to the city.
Fortunately for me, at the time I arrived in Hael Hara, Jomat’s ship, The Oracle, had been docked for repairs. The timing was perfect… or, well, maybe not given how things turned out.
It took longer than expected to track Jomat down but, after a fair bit of asking around, I was finally able to find the boarding house where he was living.
He was happy to see me and we spent that night in the tavern where I’d taken a room. I forget the name; the White Bird I think or something like that?
Anyway, after I’d bought him a couple of drinks, I told him I’d come to the city to try and do what he’d done and I asked if his ship had any positions that needed filling.
Jomat was thrilled to hear I’d followed in his footsteps. He said he didn’t know if Captain Adomax was looking for anyone but he would ask on my behalf.
I spent the next day wandering the city. I didn’t go near the docks, not yet. I didn’t want the sight of those ships to fill my head with false hope, just in case Jomat’s captain didn’t have room for me. So, I kept to the streets around the market district.
As I wandered between the stalls, I realised I was being followed. Every time I turned a corner, or glanced behind me, I saw this fellow. He wasn’t at all big or intimidating so I disregarded the idea that he was some kind of street tough after my purse. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing a smaller man.
I gave it a little time, just to be sure and when, after an hour, he was still following me, I decided enough was enough.
I rounded a corner and waited. When he came into view, I grabbed him by his coat collar and demanded to know what he thought he was about.
Up close, I could see he was even smaller than I’d first thought. It wasn’t merely that he was short in stature, thin of face and body and so on, which he was, but there was this look to him. The look of a man… reduced. It was as if someone had taken the poor fellow and drained his substance away.
His eyes were sunken with heavy bags beneath them, as if he had not slept for several days. His skin was dull and clammy looking, his hair oddly colourless.
But when he looked up at me with those sunken eyes, I saw this curious energy within them. They seemed to almost shine with purpose.
He told me his name was Isamael, and that he’d heard I was looking to join the crew of the Oracle.
Confused, I told him yes, I was. I had a friend who was a crew member and he was helping me. What of it?
He told me… well, he told me that my friend was doomed. That the whole crew of that ship was doomed. But I still had a chance to save myself.
I was, obviously, more than a little confused by this. I demanded to know what he was talking about. He told me he couldn’t tell me. That it was all he could do to tell me to abandon my plans, that I shouldn’t join the Oracle’s crew.
He turned to leave then. I was going to stop him, hold him there until he told me just what exactly he was talking about. Was there something wrong with the ship? Was the crew in danger? Was Jomat in danger?
But, just at that moment, Jomat himself found me and when I looked again, the man, Isamael, was gone.
Jomat told me that Captain Adomax was in fact in need of another ordinary seaman and he wanted me aboard the Oracle today. I was obviously thrilled and went immediately to the inn to retrieve my belongings. Jomat went with me, chatting happily about the next job his ship, our ship now, would be heading out on. A voyage to the southern Wind Islands, he said, carrying a shipment of bacam leaf, figs and Sangland linen.
I remember listening to him going on about which route we’d likely be taking to minimise the risk of pirate attack. I remember hardly daring to believe my luck. I was going to sea, sailing to a distant shore, a place I’d never seen before, a real adventure, made all the more thrilling by the risk of pirates.
But, at the back of my mind, I couldn’t forget what that strange, shrivelled man had said to me. It had me worried. I asked Jomat about him. He just laughed. Said he’d seen him scurrying around for a while, that he was a well-known doomsayer, always going on about the end of the world in one form or another.
He’d never done anything to anyone, as far as Jomat knew. He was harmless but best ignored. Hearing that did set my mind at ease somewhat.
We arrived at the dock. Here, the strong salty tang I knew and loved was mixed in with the smells of cooking fires, animals and ship tar. Jomat began leading me along the quay to where the Oracle was moored. On the way we passed beneath the keels of many other ships that were there discharging or taking in cargo, or else making ready for sea.
I saw sailors of every race and nationality, humans like me, pencori with curling hair and horns, huge orklin longshoremen carrying boxes and barrels that would have broken a human’s back. There were g’strians, the sunlight reflecting in their striped fur, talking and laughing in a harsh sounding language that I didn’t recognise. I saw plenty of raekn, their long noses twitching as they scurried this way and that about the dock on their various duties, wearing their long, bald tails around their shoulders or waists like scarves or belts.
I remember hearing the sailors calling to each other or else singing as they went about their tasks, either on or below decks or up high in the rigging. Shanties and curses interwove with each other to form a chorus the like of which I’d never heard before that day. It’s a sound unlike any other in the world, I think.
I also remember looking up at the figureheads we passed beneath. Fair maidens and crowned lords were common but I also saw shrouded skeletons, a clenched fist, a winged sword and… there was this one, some hideous visage of some monstrous creature with the body of a man, but with arms that were too long, and with a wolf-like head. The head of this creature was pieced through the mouth by a sword. A plaque bolted to the hull beside this hideous figurehead gave the vessel’s name as the A.S. Woodsman. Sorry, none of that’s really relevant but that’s one of the few things I remember clearly from back then.
Anyway, I carried on, after Jomat, only able to tear my eyes from that horrible figurehead when he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed my attention to another.
The figurehead of this ship was a beautiful human woman, robed in an ocean blue dress, golden tresses falling around her face and shoulders, her eyes covered by a band of cloth.
The Oracle was, to my untrained eye, the finest ship I had ever seen, far outclassing the inferior vessels that lay on either side of her. As Jomat led me up the gangplank, I could only stare in open mouthed adoration, disbelieving I could be so lucky as to be one of her crew.
Captain Adomax stood at the stern behind the helm. He faced towards the open sea so my first sight of him was from behind. I took him, at first, to be a particularly brawny man, likely an orklin or a taurox. But then he turned to show a long, snouted face that was covered in fine red scales. He was a drakarian, the first I’d ever met.
I’d listened to the stories of famous sailors, much like any child of Suttol had, and had always had a picture in my head of the great captains who had sailed those famous ships like the Needle, Talina’s Vengeance or the Siren’s Howl. This Captain Adomax was like my childhood fantasy had stridden from my mind to take true form. He was tall and broad, which I’m told is fairly average for a drakarian; he wore a loose fitting white linen shirt beneath a long, dark blue coat that seemed similar to the kind I’d seen officers of the Federal Navy wear. His face was weathered and scarred, with golden eyes that seemed to pierce me as he sized me up. At his waist was a long, curved sword along with three daggers of varying length and shape. I found out later that they were trophies he had taken from his enemies. More trophies hung from his neck on a leather cord. Teeth, coins from far-off lands, and other trinkets were threaded onto it. One thing was clear – this merchant captain had lived quite a life.
He welcomed me warmly; his voice was loud and booming like the swell of a wave. He told me that Jomat had told me much of his old friend, how dependable I was and how I wanted nothing more than to see a life of adventure at sea. He asked if this was true. I told him it was and he laughed good naturedly, said that was good to hear, that I should go and stow my belongings and then report to the quartermaster for my duties.
Jomat led the way, down a wooden staircase to the upper deck. I followed in a sort of daze. I was there, aboard a real ship, where I’d always wanted to be, dreamed of being. I still couldn’t believe my luck.
The shine of excitement was worn away somewhat quickly in the following days. The stories I’d heard as a boy had always gone on about the adventure, the spray of the sea and so on, what they’d failed to mention was the workload that went on from dawn until dusk.
Decks had to be swabbed, cargo had to be checked and maintained, I had to take my turns helping in the galley and at the watch.
That part I didn’t actually mind too much. I’m sure most folks would find standing and staring out at the empty sea quite dull. I found it… peaceful. Standing there on the aft deck, or at the bow, or up in the crow’s nest, looking out at the surrounding expanse of blue waters, it was easy to forget the rest of the world was even out there.
In those moments, I found myself wishing that it was just me on board the Oracle, that all the hustle and bustle and shouting and cursing could just vanish and there’d be nothing but the crashing of the waves against the wooden hull. But then the moment would pass, I’d hear the quartermaster, a diman woman by the name of Maraed, or else Captain Adomax himself barking an order, or one of my crew-mates would need my help with something and I’d turn to go about my duty as the Oracle made its steady way west.
We made two stops on our journey. First, we stopped at Port Calicho where we took on more cargo, this time it was caff beans. We were only there a day and then we set sail again.
We kept close to the shore line after that, following it around to where the coast of Senteria meets the first island of the Winds. I enjoyed my time at watch less in those days. It was already difficult enough to enjoy my quiet moments with the sea what with the interruptions of my crewmates. But now I could see the coast, a constant reminder that I wasn’t alone with the sea.
Fortunately, I knew this wouldn’t be for too long. We were going to be making port at the isle of Mikeli, to pick up some passengers, so the captain said, and then we’d be sailing out of sight of land to head north to Raphinia.
I remember being so excited when we arrived at the Mikeli docks. Jomat and a few of the other sailors I’d become friends with looked at me like sea fever was getting to me. I hardly cared. Soon I’d have my open sea back. I hopped to my duties that day like a boy going to his first Lambing Day dance.
My main job was getting the few cabins we had aboard the Oracle ready for any passengers who might want to book passage to Raphinia. Captain said we didn’t take on that kind of cargo on longer voyages since the kind of land-loping swabs who wanted passage couldn’t hack more than a week out at sea, but the journey to Raphinia would only take three or four days and it was good to get a bit of extra money when you could.
We made port, and me and the other hands began unloading some of the cargo. Mikeli had a decent sized market and I think Captain was trying to sell all the cargo he could so he wouldn’t have to risk it on open waters.
We took on three passengers in the end; an elderly couple who seemed nice enough, very chatty, though I don’t remember their names. The third I have no difficulty remembering. His name, he said, was Belan. And that was near enough all he said. All that first day, didn’t chat with the crew or the captain or the other passengers.
Now that, by itself, wouldn’t have been an issue. There’s some folks who aren’t comfortable being social and that’s fine. No, the problem was the way he looked at us.
My memory of those days can be a bit hazy but I remember that first night out of Mikeli clear as if I was still there. Me, Jomat, Halim, Zserah and a couple of the other crew sitting in our quarters, sharing around a bottle of black rum and a pipe of bacam. We were talking about the new arrivals and Jomat said he’d noticed that Belan chap leaning on the taffrail while he’d been taking his turn at the watch. Only he hadn’t been looking out at the sea or the disappearing coast, he’d been looking at us.
But, even then, that might have been fine. I know some folk enjoy watching people going about their business and there’s no harm in it. But Jomat said the way he was looking at us had put him in mind of the way we’d used to look at the sweets in the shop window.
We didn’t take him that seriously, not at first anyway. I remember Zserah actually laughed.
But the next day was my turn at the watch and, just like Jomat had said, there he was. Leaning on the rail, watching us all and I could see what Jomat was talking about. It was a look in his eye. It put me in mind of how a shark might look as it watched its prey from behind a reef. And he was smiling. Not a particularly wicked smile or anything, but rather one of amusement. It was like he had remembered something funny that he didn’t want to share with anyone else.
I thought about going over to him, demanding he tell me just what was so funny but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
It was downright uncomfortable to be around him, I don’t mind telling you. So much so that, when he went missing the next day, I wasn’t too fussed about it. I don’t think anyone was. Still, Captain insisted we do a full sweep of the ship and so that’s what we did. We never found a sign of him. Even the few belongings he’d brought on board were gone. It was as if he’d never been there.
Captain said he’d probably gone overboard during the night. Unfortunate but there wasn’t much we could do about it. I think the fact he’d paid in advance did much to alleviate any bad feelings we might have had about his loss and I won’t deny it was nice to go to my watch without that face leering at me.
We were well out in the open water by this time, the sea was calm and smooth as church glass. The wind was filling the sails and we were well on our way to arriving the next day.
And then, that night, the wind dropped. The next full day passed without even so much as a breeze. We were becalmed out there in the open sea.
Captain told us not to worry, said it had happened before and the wind usually picked back up after a day or so. He spoke with the confidence of experience so we all felt a lot better and went back to our duties. It wasn’t until the night fell that any of us realised that Zserah was gone.
Five more days passed. Without so much of a whisper of wind. And every day, our numbers dwindled.
At first, we thought that the crew had gone fevered, jumping overboard to try and swim for shore. Then, on day six, we found out that Captain Adomax had disappeared. If there was any less likely to go fevered, none of us had met them.
Pretty soon, we’d all arrived at the same conclusion. Something was taking us.
I spent nearly every hour staring out at that calm, blue sea. What once had been a thing of beauty and comfort, I came to see as my jailor, the cruel tormentor that was stealing my crew away.
I remember the despair of those days particularly sharp. All my life I’d dreamed of going to sea and now I’d finally made it but, this was not how it was supposed to go. You accept that the sailor’s life is risky, accidents and storms happen but this… nothing and no one had said anything like this could happen.
I woke up on the eighth day and found myself alone. The wind still silent. There was not even a sea bird in the sky. The waves gently lapped against the hull. There was still no sign of land. I thought back to when we’d been sailing to Mikeli, how annoyed the sight of land had made me. I would have killed for a mere glimpse of it then. I don’t know why, but I think I’d gotten it into my head by then, that there was no land. Not anymore. It was gone. Everything and everyone was gone, swallowed. And now there was only the sea left. The sea, the Oracle, and me.
The food was nearly gone, as was the fresh water. I knew there was no hope, no chance of rescue. Somehow, I knew that no other ship would ever come this way. The Oracle would never be found. Jomat was gone, he’d disappeared three days earlier. I’d cried bitterly that night.
I walked slowly to the bow, stepped up onto the rail. I looked down at the figurehead I’d been so enamoured by when I’d first seen it. I spat out a curse and jumped.
What else could I have done?
The water was like ice. My clothes dragged me down. I closed my eyes and let the salt water fill my mouth. My last thoughts were of my family. My home in the little village of Suttol, and how much I wished I was there now. And then everything went dark.
And then, I was waking up in a small, narrow bed with a flat, uncomfortable mattress in a place I didn’t recognise.
A tall, dark-haired woman was suddenly there, holding me down by my shoulders, telling me I needed to be still.
I’d washed up, you see? On the island of Went, some small place in the archipelago I’d never even heard of. I don’t know how. I should have drowned but there I was. Alive and… well, I was alive.
Soon as I could walk by myself, I started asking around. As far as I could make out, none of the other sailors from the Oracle had turned up and no-one had seen the ship. Far as I know, it hasn’t been seen since.
I made my way back to Suttol. Took me a long time, would only take the coast-to-coast ferries. The Witness knows, there was no way I was getting back on the open water. My parents helped me a lot, the Three bless their memories, even helped me get a job which wasn’t easy since that was the time I turned to the bottle to blot out the memories.
Still, I got to live my life which was a blessing. And I never went near the sea again.
Final Notes. Amazing that Mr. Wey was able to remember that much, given his history of alcohol abuse. There’s a medical note attached to this donation, apparently it got so bad at one point that the chirurgeon needed to use a ruby rod to repair the damage to his kidneys. He lived another three years after this memory was donated before passing away from liver failure.
Not much that can be added to the memory itself. I did ask Szelia to reach out to her cousin who works in the Hael Hara port authority. They confirmed that the independent merchant ship, Oracle, departed from the harbour, under the Captaincy of Adomax duNayl Polarian, on the eleventh of Stillsky, 670. A ship that arrived after this date did confirm the Oracle’s arrival in Port Calicho but after that, there is no record, at least not in Hael Hara.
There is a fund that was set up by the families of the Oracle’s crew, claimable by any who can give information about the ship or crew’s current locations. As of this inscription, that fund remains unclaimed. I suppose there is a chance that the passengers might have made it off but I’m doubtful given that they haven’t turned up. No, I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Wey was correct in his belief, that neither the Oracle nor any of her crew, with the exception of Mr Wey, have been seen since this memory was donated.
[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]
[The end theme plays and the Announcer recites the credits.]