There’s a story that a certain class of professional sailor tells. By “certain class” I mean a romanticized, highly fictionalized, but still ultimately extant type; by that I mean those who, after a tour of duty within the Unified Front Navy, realize they have nothing and no one waiting for them on landside. Or rather, a subgroup of that type, one including those who sign up for a second, a third, a fourth tour of duty. Those who travel across the full stretch of the Mother Countries, who know the Sea of Creation better than those rocks which mar its surface.
There aren’t nearly as many members of this subgroup as the vast reaches of popular fiction would indicate; the wisened old salt who guides the young scion of the aristocracy on his seaborne adventure through some backwater corner of the New Colonies has become a cliché which glories in its own triteness. But I am not one to cast insults at certain publishing companies (propriety prevents my mention of Dewhoney Press as a particularly egregious example) and their penny novels. In truth the typical lifer is less poetic and more intoxicated than fiction would indicate.
It is the latter quality, rather than the former, which encourages the rumors of stilling. The Tarrerreb Geography mentions Fire-in-Water Land in passing, some secret place at the farthest corner of the Mother Countries, where they don’t work except to maintain the stilleries. By “stilleries” it’s meant the alchemical machinery which transforms mundane wine into the magical brew that makes strong giants falling-down-drunk after only a bottle or two.
Everyone in the Unified Front Navy’s heard some version of the story, and it gets repeated often enough I’m sure there’s not a grain of truth left in it. When a man sees a thing, he sees it true, and when a man tells a thing, he tells it true, but the truth in the tale is divvied up among the audience, and when a man tells what he was told the truth is spread still further, diluted with lies to constant-volume. This is the story I was told, by a grizzled and melancholy old tar given to singing dirges by moonlight. I have cleaned up the old tar’s spelling where I could, but in the interest of verisimilitude preserved his inimitable phraseology.
“Once, about fifty year back, there was a ship what caught a fair rainstorm South, and got blowed it did many leagues afar out from the waystations of the Southeast. The cap’n, she dinna what to do, for it was three weeks back to civilization and the comestibles aboard would last barely half that. Cap’n shook her head and woulda prayed if she’d been the type. Cap’n called on the mate, he’d been hired on in the islands and he knew a bit of witchery, but he couldn’t help. Cap’n called on the purser, he’d washed out of the Rememberers for kneeling when he shoulda sat, or sitting when he shoulda kneeled, or something nonsense like, and the purser he sat on his bed for hours, tryin’ to find a memory of land nearby.
“All the crew, they squatted in their berths and sang for luck, like they did back then, and my Nuncle Birr was one otem, so don’t think me putting on airs when I says that.
“Purser he sat and remembered, his eyes all squnched up, an he came out and said it was no good, there wasn’t no land anywhere in range excepting Fire-in-Water Land. And of course Cap’n, she wasn’t about to break the interdiction (’cause they tell cap’ns about Fire-in-Water Land in their fancy academy, see, and warn them against going there), but the crew — including my Nuncle — the crew wouldn’t hear for that and the ship’s cook she threw the Cap’n and the mate overboards and threatened to chop up the purser unless he guided the ship to Fire-in-Water Land.
“Oh, it was a fine mutiny. I skip over the songs of battle I could sing you now.
“The ship made it to Fire-in-Water Land, and the natives greeted them with big pots of their magic brew, and they all had a grand time of it until a Secret Navy Ship full of rememberers and disgraced aristos and war veterans and witches landed to check up on the Fire-in-Water Land natives and they found the muninteers and clapped them all in chains and set them to labor with their tongues cut out so they couldn’t tell the secret of Fire-in-Water Land’s existing to the rest of us poor sailors, since if we found out about it we’d all sail off to it and still all day and sleep all night.
“But my Nuncle, he knew how to write, and he wrote it all down in a little map-book, with directions and headings and all to get to an island where nobody makes anybody work, and he gave it to me because I was his favorite, and I’d be in Fire-in-Water Land now, if that book hadn’t been stolen by faen.”
SEE ALSO: Fire-in-Water Land, Tarrerreb Geography, Unified Front Navy