The Zong of the Zee
A Collated Volume of Dockside Lore, Myths, and Fables
Collected and Edited by the Honorable Professor N.D.Plume,
with sources attributed to their various Authors.
[ul][li]Zubmissions Accepted Below.[/li][/ul]
Forward: Strange truths are told of the waves and what lies beneath. The lies are even stranger. Every citizen of the neath inevitably collects a smattering of these "zee-ztories", which form the complex and ever-shifting mythology of the unterzee. The publisher makes no claims or attempts to verify the origin or verisimilitude of the ztories contained within. The publisher will not be held accountable for any nightmares acquired as a result of these ztories. The publisher discourages, but nevertheless accepts, embellishment.
The Zong of the Zee
[quote=]A Moon Fable; Overheard on the deck of HM Trawler Hauntless, 1893.[/quote]There is once an old zailor in a little ship. He is shrewd and strong, and he makes his fortune in merchanting, with a little wrecking besides. That ain’t important. The old zailor is to himself thinking one endless night, and remembers he the old surface sky with its searing sun. He remembers foul rains that could beat and break a sturdy vessel, and the sharp sting of sunburn upon his arms and cheeks. He smiles to himself, glad to be far from these things.
But then he thinks to the surface night, with its glorious stars, brighter than the false-stars below, and with more stories for the teaching. Most of all, he remembers the wide and beautiful moon. In his mind he is seeing her crescent grace, her gentle silver shadow. He remembers her light upon a beautiful woman’s face and thinks to himself, “I love the moon more than any other. If never again I know moonlight, I will will weep such heavy tears, my little ship will surely sink.” But neither can he return to the surface, for there he will burn in the merciless light. So he knows: he must bring the moon below, and make a home for her in the unter sky.
He walks deep beneath the city, and there he pleads an entreaty to the Bazaar. "Great mother," he asks, "how is it that I may capture the moon?" In her mighty spires, the Bazaar only laughs. She laughs long and longer still, and the old zailor hurries away, hoping that he has not given her offense, but feeling a terrible dread.
Now the old zailor leaves his crew and zails to the east, far, far. Wisdom he seeks, and a cunning catcher of beauty. He zails to distant Polythreme, and entreats to the King with a Hundred Hearts. "Mighty King, how is it that I may capture the moon?"
All of Polythreme rumbles deeply in his consideration. "This is a great task," says the King, who often understates a thing. "To bring the moon below will change the Zee. Perhaps too much change. But perhaps…" he thinks long and longer still, and the island rattles and shakes. "Some change is well," says the King. "But only Stone can reach high enough to pluck the moon."
"Pluck!!" Screams the old zailor’s left boot. "Pluck! Pluck!!!" The old zailor departs in great haste.
He zails to the south, far, far. Deep into the verdant jungle he goes, squinting in the too-bright, until towering Stone he finds. "Beloved daughter! I have come so far, and love pulls me ever onward, although I am very tired. Please, how is it that I may capture the moon?"
Stone’s mighty face looks up to the neathroof, and then down to the zailor. He feels very, very small. "I have never met the moon," muses the mighty voice of Stone. The zailor struggles to keep his feet under the weight of it. "But she and I are of a kind. Don’t you know that to bring the moon is to bring the tide? Your brittle zee-ship cannot withstand the tide. Are you willing to drown to bring the moon?"
"Yes," says the old zailor at once. "I will sink my ship and every other. I will flood the Neath to bring the moon, and within her light a whole ocean of drownie-song will be my gift to her."
Stone looks at the old zailor for a long time before she speaks again - long and longer still. "I cannot pierce the roof to reach the moon, but if you bring her below, even for a moment, I can catch her. Speak to Salt, for it alone is cunning enough to trick the moon."
The old zailor leaves the Elder Continent with a great weight on his heart, for he has grown even older in his travels, and what is more, he does not know where he will find an audience with Salt. Drifting alone on his ship in the middle of the Zee, he weeps and wails, exhausted and moonsick. For many weeks he drifts, nearly mad, before Salt at last (for it had been watching in some amusement ever since the zailor spoke to Stone) grew tired of the display, and speaks loudly onto the ship, startling the old zailor so badly that he falls onto his thinning arse upon the deck.
"No small task it is to seek to possess one so high above! How very brave you are! How very far you have come!"
The old zailor struggles to his feet. So excited is he to have found Salt that he forgets his tiredness, hopelessness. He even forgets to be afraid. "Holy traveller! Do you know how it is that I may catch the moon?"
"Oh, yes," says Salt. Its voice is like an icy chill on a fevered back. Its voice is like sulfur in tea-steam. "It is not so difficult, for I know a secret of hers." Its voice is like a broken blister scraped with sand.
"Tell me!" cries the zailor.
"Very well," says Salt. "For you entreat so very sweetly. You see…" it pauses for effect. Its voice is like a bullet of bone. "… it is not the moon that brings the tide, as she would have her surfacemen believe. It is the tide that brings the moon, for wherever it is, she must surely follow. If you bring the tide to the unterzee, the moon will happily come below, and make her home in our unter sky.”
The old zailor feels great joy at learning the moon’s secret, but he also feels his hopelessness deepen, sinking into his bones. "But, holy Salt, how can I bring a tide to the Zee? My little ship can never go fast enough to ripple from shore to shore.”
“Yes,” Salt laughs, “you are much too small! But I will tell you how to bring the tide. You must get glorious Storm to reach out his teeth. You must have him whip and thrash the waves until they race from one shore to another. This new tide will bring the moon, and beautiful Stone can catch her.”
Salt goes on before the old zailor can ask his next question. Its voice is like blindness. “Do not worry, little zeeman. I will tell you exactly what to do.”
So, weak, delirious but determined, he zails north – far, far. Farther than he has ever been, past great cliffs of ice and snow. Here he brings his ship to a halt. The Zee is very still and quiet, and his breath hangs thick in the air.
The old zailor clears his throat. “Storm?”
Not a whisper stirs the cold waters. The old zailor takes a deep breath and remembers what Salt told him, in its voice like writhing thorns:
Be bold, little zeeman. Shout proudly. And repeat exactly as I say–
So the old zailor leans out from his prow and shouts into the silent black:
“Oy, Storm, ye lizard-brained pup! Haul down your maggoty hide and heed me! Ye great rotten salamander! Unstick yourself from the bottom of that boot and get ye here!”
The endless night is very still for so long that the old zailor begins to sag. But he notices that the icy waves have begun to slap sharply at his hull in a way that reminds him of a cat peevishly flicking its tail. He takes another steadying breath and continues–
“Who’s gone and slapped ye so silly, ey? Ye wet fish! Ye flop-floppin’ old eel! Go stink up some other cave, ye verminy wank! Go nap in a fluke-hole! Your mother was two rubbery men in a ballgown!”
Years later, here we all are - still telling tales of the squall that raged from Irem to Whither, tearing sails and slapping down masts all the way yon in Adam’s way. The old zailor’s ship was dashed against the ice, of course, quick as candles. The waves raced the whole Zee from shore to shore, but the moon never peered her face below to see about it. Or if she did, Salt’s wild and rolling laughter, its voice like spitting oil, must have spooked her away.
And there you are, lads - a tale of why you must never love above your station, and why you must never take the Gods’ council if they don’t ask nothing for it.
edited by lethifer on 11/6/2016
Fresh from the Surface, was the Zailor Babe.
Kind of smile and soft of heart, with cheeks of rose and locks of gold and eyes of blue, tan of the Surface sun still on his youthful skin.
The crew of the Aristippus loved the Zailor Babe, and loved him deeply, for various reasons. Some, smiling from long old beards of salt and bygone years, loved him like a son, for such a young and innocent youth he was that it was impossible not to look upon him as something which must be protected. Some, weary and melancholy cheeks lighting up upon the sight of the Zailor Babe, loved him like a memory, for so imbued with the Surface was he, so untouched by the Neath’s decadence was his large heart, such daydreams of sun-lit fields and rolling grass hills and happier, long-gone days, did he bring to the zailors’ tired minds. Some, strong backs straightening and courageous hearts filling, loved him like a maiden, for so kind had the sun been to him, how few years had he yet to see, how Aphrodite trophied him and created him in her image.
The crew of the Aristippus loved the Zailor Babe as many things, unique to each of them, but the love was undeniable. Twas the Zailor Babe’s heart, gentle and flaming and glowing like hearths of home, that kept the crew warm on the wide and open zee, and kept fear from their hearts when facing the horrors of the Neath in the darkness of its expanse.
For this reason was the Zailor Babe always so very busy, for there was always an older brother who needed his Surface glow to prevent the tears from coming, always a father who needed his youth to keep him company in these final years, always a lover who needed his beauty to drive his courage and fill him with valor.
So quite a surprise it was when, one night, the Zailor Babe was quite alone in his cabin, and quite a surprise it is to think he had been that way all the previous hours, and quite a surprise it was for the Zailor Babe to realize that he may continue to be so very alone for the rest of the night.
But, just when the Zailor Babe was preparing himself for bed, having made peace with this odd change of events, a knock came upon his door.
"O, young heart - the captain wishes to speak to you!" came the voice of a brother, heavy with recent weeping, from beyond the wood.
"Whatever for?" asked the Zailor Babe, for in all his time on the Aristippus, the captain had always been merely a silhouette at the wheel.
"Come quickly, Babe, come quickly - Alexander hungers!"
So odd a choice of wording, delivered on the precipice of another burst of sorrow from the brother’s lips before his quick and hurried departure, that it struck fear in the Zailor Babe’s young heart.
"Whatever for?" repeated the Zailor Babe, in the loneliness of his cabin, suddenly wishing very much to be amongst his brothers, fathers, suitors once more.
But tales of the silhouette at the ship wheel had the Zailor Babe heard, spoken under the cover of clouds of pipesmoke and behind the walls of hidden meeting rooms, speaking of the captain’s might and impatience, and so the Zailor Babe left his lonely rooms, ascending to the deck.
"O, father, father!" exclaimed the Zailor Babe atop the deck, spotting a familiar old man at the mast.
Grim was the face of the father as it turned to meet the Zailor Babe’s young eyes, and wrapped in zee-mist and frown lines, carrying no intention to open its firmly shut grimace.
The father raised his collar and turned back to his work.
A night alone was odd and new for the Zailor Babe, but a refusal to so much as speak alongside him?
What was this? What had happened while the Zailor Babe had been lone in his cabin?
"Brother! Brother, speak to me of thine woes, brother! O, lover! Lover, embrace me, please, for I am very afraid!" cried the Zailor Babe, darting about the fog-blanketed ship deck from silent companion to silent companion.
"Off of me, young babe!" finally snapped one suitor, lashing his body around when the Zailor Babe placed a light hand upon it, "Alexander hungers! No fault of it is mine that you must see him!"
The Zailor Babe gasped, stumbling back across the slick and icy boards, eyes wide with fear and surprise.
"Go to him! Go to him now, pup! You’ll have no love of mine!" barked the suitor, and turned, scowling, back to the zee.
"Lover! Lover! O, unkindness!" wept the Zailor Babe, tears flowing freely down his sun-kissed cheeks.
Sobbing openly, the Zailor Babe turned and ran, disappearing once more below deck.
The Zailor Babe ran, and ran, and kept running, longer and longer past the point where he could no longer hear the sounds of the crew’s work behind him, deeper and deeper into the damp recesses of Alexander’s ship, til the clocks no longer could tick, and the furniture no longer could stand, and the wallpaper no longer could stick, and he came to a stop within a wasteland.
The Zailor Babe whipped about, wiping his long-lashed eyes fervently to try and see.
"Who goes there?!" he cried, for all he could see was the moss, and the rot, and the beetles, and the dilapidation.
"Father! Lover and brother and anyone! I’m frightened! I’m frightened, please!" he wailed, only causing more tears to come, blurring his vision.
"Stay thineself, little bug! Halt, halt, rot and canker!" shouted the youth, for in the blur he began to see things move, and swirl, and bubble, and rise.
"I lust, Bagoas…"
"Back, visage! Back, o rotting Great!"
Hands, cold and wet and dripping, gripped the youth with strength of Iron.
"Let go! Father! Brother, lover!"
Stench of breath, ozone and salt and decaying Power, whispered words of craving.
And many weeks passed without the Zailor Babe.
The ship slipped back into melancholy and fear, slipping slowly across the glass of the still zee with no glow save the gutteral burn of the gaslamps, the fathers alone once again, the brothers in sorrow once more, the suitors weak and alone and undriven as before.
Though no longer stood the captain’s silhouette, impossibly tall and impossibly great, at the wheel.
No longer towered Alexander, to ensure his crew afeard and conquered, as all was before him.
Many weeks passed, the Zailor Babe and the captain gone, deep in the ship, in nights of decadence.
And as Alexander was gone, enjoying his prize, much dissatisfaction did brew.
As the Zailor Babe’s presence had instilled courage in the zailors before, his absence instilled courage in them now.
"Rotten old fiend," cursed the zailors over ale and company, "Hidden away, doing God knows what to such a young boy."
"It’s sickening," said the fathers and the brothers and the lovers, to angry murmurs of agreement, "And how he leaves his ship uncaptained while he satisfies his cravings for a floret barely blossomed."
"There must be something done," nodded the crew with determined scowls, "One of us must go to Babylon. We must speak to Alexander."
"This simply can’t go on," agreed the crowd.
"Send the lover," said the father, "For his body is young and strong and his chest full of courage and hot blood."
"Yes, the lover must go," said the brother, "He is brave and valorous, and the hardiest of us all, yet to be lost in melancholy or age."
"To Alexander, young knight - you must save the heart of the Aristippus before sin and Sodom cease its flow."
How dark it was there, where the brave knight did go.
How strong was the stench of ozone and lust, where the bold lover descended.
How wet, and damp, and dripping, and moist and molded, was the house of Alexander.
"O Great!" shouted the knight before the cabin door, "I beg of entrance!"
"Come, come, Galahad," the sun beckoned Icarus.
There lay Alexander on the bed, the Zailor Babe next to him, still as dead men.
"Young babe! Speak, that I may know thine heart still beats!" cried the knight.
"O, lover, blinded thou art. What face of Alexander see you from the doorway?" responded the Zailor Babe, voice faint and weak and full of coughed roses.
"That which the Greeks sculpted - of curled hair and handsome skin, of Macedonian feature and Iron build."
"See you not his rot? See you not the effects the water takes on marble - the wrecked sculpture, the head of wet and drooping serpents, the dead-pale skin, the seafloor feature and decayed build? See you not the mold that clings to him, see you not the twitch and throb of his fish-like eyes? See you not the rise and fall of that chest, so heavy with each audible, hot, diseased breath? See you not the woodpecker tongue that flits out, like devil’s tail, to lick missing lips, dashed on London rocks? See you not the face that is construct of Satan, sat before you in lion’s den? Blind, lover! Blind! You see not the rot! You see not the rot, o lover!"
"Hush, now, young babe! You are sick and delirious!" urged the knight, "Alexander! Thou art diseased of heart and devilish of nature! You abandon the Aristippus and its crew to lose yourself in sin and work of the hedon! The babe is mine, as the captain’s wheel is yours!"
"Calm yourself, foolish Galahad!" roared Alexander, Iron words striking, "There are simpler ways to solve the problem you describe!"
"And what are those, o devil?" asked the knight.
"The ways of Solomon."
And the Zailor Babe did weep.
And the Rotten Great did smile.
And the knight did understand.
And so the law of Solomon was enacted, in dark and damp and dripping room, and the Zailor Babe was returned to the lonely crew of the Aristippus.
A head, for the fathers to merrily ruffle the Zailor Babe’s hair.
A pair of lips, for the brothers to speak their woes unto.
A chest, for the suitors to embrace.
The Aristippus had its heart once more.
Even if that heart had no beat.