Sailing Away

This Week’s Prompt :57. Sailing or rowing on lake in moonlight—sailing into invisibility.
The Resulting Story: The Wind Blew Out From Bergen


Moonlight and invisibility are strong themes of these last few prompts. If I had the money to acquire a copy of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters, I’d wonder what possibly prompted this set of thinking or line of inquiry. As it is, we will press on. This prompt does have the benefit of being distinct from those before in at least one respect. The invisible no longer haunts us, nor is it revealed. Rather, we see the visible become invisible.

The beginning notion of sailing or rowing into invisibility, being lost to the sight of humanity, has some interesting parallels in the border space of folklore and urban legend. The basic premise is not too strange. After all, the sea is full of strange monsters, of sirens calling out to drown men, of ancient rebels against the gods, and more. But disappearances at sea? Those are old.

The most famous disappearance locale for American’s is actually far more recent then you might suspect. The Bermuda Triangle’s record only begins in the 1950s. But if there is a place more synonymous with “lost at sea” in the modern day, I’ve not heard of it. The triangle has it’s points at Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico. It’s reputation of consuming ships is famed enough that I will stop here to say that in all likelihood, the probable cause is the sheer number of ships traveling those waves.

Bermuda.png

The related Devil’s Triangle in Japan is another recent notion of seas that enjoy sinking ships. It too has only been reported in the early 1950s, as has the notion of twelve of these paranormal vortices. While no doubt these can be sources of inspiration, their newness ought to be remembered.

Even ignoring these paranormal sightings, sailing to the land invisible is not so unusual. Odysseus did so, and found even stranger lands in the journey there. And funeral barges of Vikings and Egyptians alike were supposed to go on to the dead. King Arthur was sent out sailing to an unseen land, attended by three women. Like wise Väinämöinen built a ship of copper, with an iron bottom, to leave the land and sail to the heavens, out of the mortal(visible) world. Quetzacouatl left the realm of the living, in some versions, on a barge or boat of snakes! Such are the strange contraptions needed to reach the heavens.

Avalon.png

But outside the realm of myth, folktales from various places talk of the dead as invisible sailors. Near Brittany, some report the dead are gathered in great invisible boats to be taken to the Isle of the Dead. On the Breton coastline, skiffs come out manned by the invisible dead. This is typically an ill omen. A German folktale reports that these dead voyages can do what is implied by the prompt, and fly towards the moon. Rabbi Amram asked, reportedly, to be placed in a coffin and allowed to flow wherever the river took him. The coffin, much to the world’s surprise, floated up the river!

And if it is rending ships invisible by their sinking, then the Devil must have his due. Multiple demonic forces or malicious spirits are thought to sink ships when angered or displeased. The devil himself was once sighted at sea with a sword in hand. Other times, demons take the crew themselves!

The devil, according to a story from Schleswig-Holstein,still ferries people across Cuxhaven bay. He does this to liberate himself from the consequences of a certain compact.He had procured a ship for a certain captain, the latter to yield himself up with the ship, which was to be kept busy so long as there was a cargo. This Satan tried to find, so as to keep the vessel cruising until the compact expired, but the was outwitted at the end of the first cruise by the captain’s son, who crowded sail on and let the anchor go. The fiend tried to hold the anchor, but went overboard with it.” Reports Fletcher Basset, citing an older text (Schmidt-Seeman Sagen, which I did not have time to check).

Flying Dutchman.png

We then can consider also those ships that are now invisible, having made the journey. The Flying Dutchman, who made a deal with devil long ago and now serves as a sort of sea-bound Wild Hunt, has been mentioned before. But let us look at him at length. The Flying Dutchman is a man-of-war, a terrifyingly vast warship that emerges from the storm to assault ships as bad weather strikes. Another name for the ship is Carmilhan, with the goblin Klabotermen as it’s pilot. The ship has no crew except invisible ghosts, no sails but rags, and hounds ships to the end of the earth. Other times, the ship is a former slave-ship, which was struck by the tragedy of the plauge.

Related is Falkenberg, who sails the world and played dice for his soul with the devil. In some cases, Falkenberg is the Dutchman himself.

One amusing tale tells of a group of pirates that, in the stylings of Scooby Doo, pretend to be the Flying Dutchman, only to be assailed by the real thing. As the storm blows in, the demon ship is unflatered by it’s rival and engages in combat. The results are sadly one sided, as the demon ship lays them to waste with ease.

BewitchedCano.png

But the Flying Dutchman is not the strangest of it’s kind. There is still the Bewiched Canoe. Yes, a magically canoe. From French Canada comes the story of a huntsman who so enjoyed the hunt, he made a pact with the devil to continue it forever. Not only is he in a canoe, but the canoe flies through the air.

Larger than these, is the ship Chasse Foudre, a French vessel that takes seven years to tack. It is so vast, it shifts all wild life around it. Her nails along the hull allow the moon to pivot, and climbing her masts take lifetimes. She is crewed by men so large, that their smallest pipe is the size of a frigate. A Swedish ship of similair size, the Refanu, is so big that horses are used to relay orders. Her crew is thus of a relatively normal size, as opposed to giants that lumber about other such world ships.

More strange vessels under sail include one recroded by Ibn Battuta, the Lantern Ship. Once the ship was a demon that, on occasion, demanded sacrifices. It has since lost it’s powers, and is forced back by recitations of the Quran by local visitors or a priest.

All these vessels then serve as the start for our own. But what start is that? I think the two more modern moments that this prompt calls ot mind are from Tanith Lee’s Darkness’s Master and H.P. Lovecraft’s own Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. In both, there is a celestial voyage to the heavens aboard a special craft. And I think, for both, the journey is more of an atmosphere of wonder or fear then it is a narrative. If we are to go to the moon, to the invisible world, a horror or fantasy that is mainly derived from strange monsters or explicit dooms is not the best. Better, I think, for something tinged with dread. A glimpse of the invisible, that unfolds. Something subtly moving, something just a little out of place. Of course, such writing is difficult. It’s not what I am used to, frankly, and doing something with subtly is not my strength.

Still, a story of a slowly vanishing ship under the moonlight, perhaps draped in mist, needs something more subtle then perhaps I would normally do.

Bibliography:
Basset, Fletcher S. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea Throughout History. Marston,Searle, and Rivington, 1885

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Battle of Timalt Tower

This Week’s Prompt:26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.

The Research: The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.

Slowly I ascend the stairs of the old stone tower. Timalt was built in the old days, before the Normans came, before the Saxons came, before the Romans came, when all was still British in the North and South of the Isle. It’s stones were strong blocks from Faerie times, and its foundations the bones of the earth. I drifted up past sleeping guards, long enchanted by aged magics, to the roof of the tower. For outside there was the sound of clashing steel and the roar of the war horn.

I sat atop the towers roof, and saw the forces arrayed on the field. On the West end of the field, there was a host of Englishmen. Bright red were their shields, with the great wyvern of Wessex on their flags. Shining swords and spears of steel marked them, and they were the ones bellowing such dreadful horns. At their head stood a man with a great helm and sword, taller by a foot then his fellows, atop a mighty steed and dressed in chain.

Arrayed on the East side, with the setting sun, were men foreign and familiar to my eyes. Men in yellow shirts and tabards, come from forgotten hills and mountains. They bore no marks on their shields or banners, just a bright yellow plain. A host of great serpents, with red scales and eyes of fire walked and flew above them. They had teeth like swords and claws like spears, and from their mouth issued fire, that destroyer of cities.

At their head walked a man tall and mighty, like a giant born again. His blade was notched along it’s edges, and not of steel but some strange darker metal. He rode atop the greatest of the wyrms, a beast with five heads and belching thunder as well as flame. And he too was foreign and familiar. For the English had a name for his kind, that they oft forgot. These were the men beneath the hills and dales, whom the Faeries drove out when they fled. They were the sons of Death and Time, great terrors of the world. The clergy would say that they were the parody of man, made by the enemy. The wise speculate the opposite. That such beasts seem to have culture older than our own inclines unfortunate conclusions. They are the Igvs, creatures that have been and will be for many years to come.

The two engaged in melee for sometime. The English let loose their bows, raining arrows down on the wooden shields and scaly hides of the enemy. The response from the enemy is the calk-clak-clak and a loud whirring sound. A number of them lift up strange weapons that resemble spears and let loose volleys of darts and arrows. A multitude of the Englishmen are sent writhing, their armor glowing like stars atop the misty ground.

The swords now meet, and here at first the English have the advantage, driving steel between tabard and skin. But the serpents now roar, and at the front runners direction, belch fire onto the men. Shields are feeble tools against a dragons flame. The tall Englishman, their champion and leader, strides forward despite the fire and shouts in a strange tongue to his opposite. I understood it’s meaning, if not it’s words.

“This land is under my protection still, vile creature of the Gurganthor! By my blade you will be undone as before, and sent scurrying back below!”

I find it strange that he speaks not in English, doubly that he seems to know this dark king of the Igvs who swarm up with him. The King of the Igvs draws his marked blade in reply.

“The time has come, the sun is fading, the light below is growing great. Come forth, you fool of Avalon and lost kin, and meet your fate. My blade is sure, my body still, my blood will not be split.”

And with that the Englishman, or at least the body of one, charged forward. Some bravery infected his horse, stirring against it’s natural enemy. The Dragon roared, and the flame spilled forth, but by some trick the horse was unscathed. The clang of steel rang out as the king of Igvs and the English Lord dueled. There was an unusual grace to the King of Igvs, each blow slowly flowing into another. It was as if the sea rose and fell, wave after wave assaulting the coastline.

Perhaps, against the stony style of another English lord, or Saxon brute, or Norman conqueror, it would have overcome. The weapons of time are gradual and grinding, like wheels and sands. The steel makes roots that crack the armor, the shimmer bypasses it as the wind of ages does. But all these powers found a strange foe in the Englishman.

For he did not, as I expected and have observed elsewhere, hold a rigorous guard. His blade was swift, his arm a flickering flame. His shield relented and shifted, his body liquid and sinuous. As the King of Igvs grew in size, his arms swelling like trees, so did the Englishmen seem all the smaller and more nimble. His sword a stinger, his form a scorpion or a bees. One moment he was beneath the tremendous blow of the King of Igvs, the next he slipped away. Never has a mortal man been so artful.

At last, the fateful blow came. The Englishman’s sword felled the great tree of Igv’s head, freeing the great metal mask that lay on that knotted trunk. But then I was astonished. Beneath the helmet of the king, there was no head at all.

And then I was no longer on the oldest tower, atop the bones of the world. I had a body again, of tired flesh and sinew, of worn muscles and rapidly pulsing heart. I was atop a horse, who shook violently. I blinked rapidly, looking about, sword still in hand. I saw the old tower, the wretched tower, built round an old tree according to the men of God.

And atop it a strange storm flickered and flashed. My mind slowly receded from my memories in that tower, but I could not recall what had happened when I was here. I knew not why I was on the field, nor why I led so few against so many. Before me fled into the hills the Igvs, leaving clattering armor behind. And my memory with them threatened to recede, with nothing but the silver and crimson lighting left.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.

This weeks prompt reads: 26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.

The Resulting Story:The Battle of Timalt Tower
Welcome back, brothers and sisters of our esteemed order! We apologize for the delay, but tests must be taken and some recovery was need after dwelling on the abyss for too long. So we begin this week looking at something a bit new. A dream again, of a great battle worthy of the father of fantasy, with dragons and swords and duels and inhuman powers! So, let us take it a part bit by bit and begin.

I will not begin by examining the nature of the color yellow. That is a doomed rabbit hole of hundreds of cultural contexts that might not lead anywhere. I will, however, begin by addressing Mr. Lovecraft’s most famous character in yellow: The King in Yellow. The King in Yellow and his city of Carcosa actually predates the works of Lovecraft.

Yellow Sign.png

The King in Yellow is in fact a play initial, about the arrival of the King in Yellow from his realm of Hali. The book it is found in deals greatly with many horrifying concepts, but chiefly the play is famed for driving those made with truth at the end. The King in Yellow comes as a revelation, a terrible truth that will expand his realm over into Carcosa. The book as a whole focuses on similar revelers, artists and decadents.

For these, the King in Yellow is also often associated with decay, decedance, and entropy. And the allies of the men in yellow, the great red dragons, are similair. While the term dragon has grown to apply to just about anything vaguely serpentine (as giant applies to all things big, and fairy to all things magical), there is something of a concrete definition to be found. In general, a dragon is a serpentine creature, possessing magical powers, and often legs.

This includes a variety of creatures of course. The dragons of the Journey to the West, who are lords of vast treasure and the undersea realms, fit the mold as easily as the great wyrm Fafnir, a transfigured dwarf of the Volsung saga. It also includes perhaps the Feathered Serpent (a proper deity, who we will discuss on article only to him and his kin), and my favorite dragons: the slavic Zmey, who have three heads and spit thunder and occasionally have children with mortals.

zmey

Best dragon.

But these dragons are known to Englishmen, and are brilliant red. The color is the key here. And as I would not try and unearth all the secrets of the color yellow, I will likewise not do so with red. But a red dragon? That symbol is known. The red dragon, as those who play various tabeltop games or read Biblical lore might know, is the most fearsome of all kinds. For that is the beast of revelation, the great dragon with seven heads and seven crowns upon it’s heads, and a blasphemy on each crown.

RedDragonRevelation.png

So we have an allegiance of somewhat diabolic forces, and an air of enchantment. For if this story is to have weight, I would certainly not permit a dream to be the focus of an entire plot. Thus we have the last section, the strange clouds floating over the tower. Strange clouds and storms are often means of transportation and conscious movements.

But storms also have a second role: They are marks of strange and dangerous creatures. The Umu dabrutu, the Zu, and Pazuzu of Sumerian mythology, for example, are terribly and chaotic storms bearing weapons into battle. The Maruts form another host, underneath the greater storm gods. The thunder birds are kinder creatures, but still, beholding one forces one to do all things backwards. The storm, as a symbol of power among many a high god, is also a dangerous and chaotic force at times. In more recent times, ariel spirits are often counted among the ranks of demons and horrors.

lighting-sprites

In other news, these were seen above hurricane Matthew. Delightful.

Thus we have something of a notion of what is at stake. There are great forces of desolation and diobaltry on the rise, threatening to overcome the English dead. There is some strange sorcery on the tower, kindly or no. Perhaps some wizard has switched places with the leader of the english, in order to save them. Perhaps it was some working of the enemy leader, who possesses some magic if he’s able to hold a form without a head or body.

This would be where I dwelled a great deal on the formation of our story…but it is again rather plainly laid out. Likewise, we have a protagonist and narrator already. So again, we will leave it be with these wondering on the things themselves.

What relation to these yellow tabard men have with the dragons? Are the dragons their beasts of battle, or are they the dragons servants? They are willing to engage in a duel on foot, and appear to be proficient at their swordsman ship. The dragon might bespeak a welsh character, or even a Norse, with the dragon as a flag or figurehead on a ship.

somersetflag

What is the history of this war? Is it recent? Is it habitual, for men in yellow to assail England from some country unseen? We are told this is a group of Englishmen, not a group of men from any particular reason. This places it probably after the Norman Conquest, or shortly before it. Interestingly, if we take the terms metaphorically (and thus in a way that I, dear brothers and sisters, find incredibly dreary), we find that a flag of such resembles the flag of Somerset. Of course, Somerset is distinctly and definitely English. Still, perhaps that will be useful for your reconstruction.

We will come again next week, then, with this English leader’s corpse. And all will be well.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.