The Sea Drake

Author:  see below
Source:  Asemath Academy, Library Hall

"The Sea-Drake," or, "An Historical And True Account Of The
Final Battle Of Ka'len, The Redeemer's Admiral"

By, An Anonymous Sailor Of His Crew

Translated with introduction and notes by Larastos Kremath, late Professor of Languages and Cultures, Asemath Academy, Crossing

Foreword by Herpo Drakonides, of the Guild of the Warrior Mages. Funding provided by the Foundation for Arcane Research


Foreword

When Prof. Kremath was finally overtaken by old age, he had garnered for himself a reputation as an exacting and prolific scholar.  Over two thousand items in his name are to be found on the official bibliography kept by the Academy.  It was to my great surprise, therefore, when I spoke with Kremath's niece and heir, that she informed me that there were dozens more manuscripts, notebooks, translations, and other relics of scholarly production to be found among his estate.  In that great mass of material was discovered the present document, a translation of what purports to be a true account of the battle in which Ka'len the Sea Drake perished so many centuries ago.

That Prof. Kremath would not desire this work to be published, I can say with certainty.  The translation is still rough in a few places and he would never have willingly published anything but a perfect translation.  The notes are more to himself than they are to a reader and this was a familiar pattern in his work habits.  He would amass a series of interpretive and philological remarks that would provide the seed of the polished, erudite and biting commentaries he was famous for.  Those of us who were Kremath's students will immediately recognize his style of teaching and lecturing here although the reflection is pale.  This whole document looks like just a few hours' work dashed off during a break from his other pursuits.

I have made two sorts of alterations to the notes, both at the request of Kremath's heir.  Firstly, I have silently corrected all errors of orthography.  Kremath in preliminary works such as this was careless in his spelling and his spirit would surely haunt me if I were not to make the necessary changes for publication.  Secondly, I have removed all specific references to Kremath's colleagues from the notes.  He had a reputation as a curmudgeon but many of these comments were obviously never meant to see the light of day.  Since I cannot be sure which he would have left in and which would have been removed from his final work I think it best to omit them all.  The pity is that such things made up the bulk of the original notes.

What I have separated and called his introduction is, in fact, no more than an entry from his journal--again, edited to remove extraneous material and other information his heir wished excised.

Herpo Drakonides,
Kertandu 2 Akroeg 352, the year of the Golden Panther


Introduction

Well, Larastos, you've found yourself a pretty little document here.  It's amazing that no one's tracked this thing down before.  It's a quaint document on its own and probably enjoys a well-deserved neglect as literature but there are two striking things about it.  1) it's a seething pile of dung and invention.  How can this possibly be the work of one of Ka'len's crew when the author himself tells us that the crew was lost down to the last sailor when the Dolefaren sank?  2) it's obviously a product of the period after the war, not of the war itself (the title "Redeemer" is enough to tell us that).  If I had to make a guess based on style and language, I'd say it's a forgery of the late first century after the victory...maybe the 80's or the 90's.

This wretched little book is important because of its influence more than anything else.  The general story about Ka'len's death goes back to the event itself and in broad strokes is laid out in a number of sources.  But many of the specific details of the encounter that have worked their way into legend and song appear nowhere in any source that can be proved to be before this.  In other words, the scribe who tossed this thing off might have been a hack, but hacks sell better than artists and people seem to have greedily swallowed the wild inventions of our anonymous friend.  This'll embarrass a lot of my fellow academics to no end, to find out that the "facts" they've been throwing about for so long come from a pretty fiction rather than from anything a sane person would call history.


Text

When Chadatru's Lion gives way to the lying bird of Botolf, merchants and travelers take to the roads and avoid the Segoltha if there's merchanting and traveling to be done.  Ships are hauled out of the sea and left to dry over the winter, their crews too frightened to sail.  But the spirit of true sailors is not so easily cowed.  The ships of these are left in the water and so when the halcyon days come and the weather clears for a bit, they sail.  And so on one winter's day I saw the greatest mariner in Elanthia go down with his ship--not at the hand of a sudden icy squall, but by the sudden treachery of a friend.

The two swiftest bergantines in the fleet of the Redeemer were the Dolefaren of Ka'len and the Audrulyba (Stormspirit), of Targel.  Old friends the two captains were from the time before the war but rivals too.  For every ship one captured, the other strove to take two.  For every voyage one made quickly, the other tried to make it in one day less.

And so it happened that when the calm days of the winter came the old friends joked with each other about their abilities.  Targel suggested that they make a quick run to Zauljalren to prove who the better captain was and which the better crew.  Ka'len turned to the Hermit and asked after the weather.

"Fair it will be, Ka'len, as far as the weather goes, but the wise man does not sail who does not need to."

"Old man," the Sea Drake said, "I love you dearly and trust your word but you were born to a landbound lady and from a landbound man, I'll wager.  I was born on my father's merchantman while my mother bailed water in a storm.  The sea was midwife and nursemaid to me and if the weather will stay fine, that's reason enough to sail."

And failing to heed the seer's warning Ka'len sailed the Dolefaren out of the harbor with the Audrulyba close behind.

"To the island, once 'round and then back again," shouted Targel.  "The first past the harbor chain takes dinner and drinks from the loser until the spring, for in a race between two only one can win."

"Then I'll be wanting a different dish every day, so you can plan ahead, Targel.  And make sure the dessert tarts are fresh and the wine very old!"

And the Sea Drake ordered us to slow until the Audrulyba drew even with us and then the two ships were off.  We pulled at our oars with all of our strength and Targel's crew did the same.  Insults were shouted from one ship to the other and encouragements from one bench to the next.

"Get us there and back before the whoreson Targel and while he's wining and dining me, I'll make sure you don't go without your share!" Ka'len promised us and we knew he'd be true to his word.  We shouted our assent and redoubled our efforts.

The Audrulyba had gone off to a quick start at a pace we knew she couldn't sustain for long with oars and sure enough we overhauled her and entered the straits first by a half a length.  We stayed that way through the narrows, neither captain willing to risk his ship on the rocks for only a slight advantage.  The crews saved their strength for the open waters.

At the mouth of the straits we gave a loud shout and struck up "Eluned o' the Waves," determined to win victory for Ka'len, glory for our ship, and easy living for ourselves over the rest of winter.  We skimmed through the low islands to the lee of our goal, swung around the first headland and made good speed into the prevailing wind.  Looking back we saw the Audrulyba slipping behind even further and when we rounded the second cape, she was out of our sight completely.

We had just reentered the straits when she maneuvered into view again.  Our lead was commanding and we wondered if there weren't trouble with her.  She was a fast ship, I have to give her that, and we'd sailed with her crew many a time.  Nevertheless, overjoyed by our coming victory we pushed on.  We were halfway through the straits when Ka'len gave us a new order: "Back water! Now!" and we obeyed him instantly.  "Bring her 'round! Now!" and we did.  We knew there was trouble but not a one of us asked what it was.  When we'd gotten the ship around we saw that the Audrulyba was being pursued by two Elven cutters with sails up.

We didn't have our complement of marines on board and we had no weapons to fight except the Dolefaren herself.  If we could get to the Audrulyba before the Elves overhauled her, we knew it was a more than fair fight.  Ka'len was the cleverest tactician any of us had seen and before they'd realize it, we knew both of those cutters would have gaping holes below the water line.  The trouble was that the cutters were under sail and were making better speed than we could manage.  We thought we got lucky then--the cutters stopped to step their masts down and prepare for close action.  They must have recognized the Dolefaren and decided to play the game more cautiously.

And so by the time we reached the Audrulyba she was out of immediate danger.  Ka'len called over to Targel, "Bring her about and behind us! We'll try to sail through!"  It was a maneuver that Ka'len and Targel had practiced countless times over the years.  What we'd do is set the Dolefaren on a course between the two cutters with the Audrulyba directly behind us.  Once we had just gotten between the two Ka'len would choose one as a target and turn to ram her or shear off her oars.  Or, if he felt the situation was right, he'd just keep sailing through and let Targel make that move.  In that case when we were on the other side we could bring the Dolefaren right around and pick one of the cutters as an easy target.  The cutters, for their part, couldn't turn to defend themselves against the Dolefaren unless they wanted to present an easy target to the Audrulyba.  If we were lucky we'd get there before they were even ready for action and we'd be towing home two fine prizes.

When the cutters were still a few hundred yards off the bow, Ka'len cursed and gave the order for us to stop rowing.  We were confused at first but soon realized the problem:  The Audrulyba wasn't in position.

"I hope Lemicus eats your heart out, Targel!  We've missed our chance!" Ka'len cried out.  He started to give us the order to bring the Dolefaren around again but cut it off with a curse.  Behind the Audrulyba two more cutters were moving into view.  Two on one side, two on the other.  Surrounded.  We backed water until we were close enough to the Audrulyba to provide her with a bit of protection and be protected in turn.

"Ka'len," cried out Targel, "I've something to say to you!"

"If you're going to apologize you can wait until we're back home, you fool!" shouted Ka'len and we jeered the other captain and his crew.

"It's not that, Ka'len," he answered, "it's this, I'm afraid."  As one we all looked over at the Audrulyba and the smiles froze on our faces.  Targel was showing Teiro's banner.  He'd turned traitor.  "I've been telling you for years now that we made a mistake going in with Lanival.  He can't win.  You've half admitted it yourself often enough.  So why stay with him?  Teiro is willing to pay us as privateers and let us keep everything we take.  What do you say, old friend?  It could be like it used to be."

Quietly....so quietly that I don't know how Targel heard it, Ka'len said, "It can never be like it used to be."

A signal must have been given.  The cutters began to approach.  Ka'len had us move away from the Audrulyba to give us some room to maneuver.  Targel was moving away from us and back towards Zauljalren.  Home for us was in the opposite direction and that's the way Ka'len pointed us.

He urged us on with compliments and curses and we strained over the oars--no longer for easy living, but just for living.  Unerringly he steered us straight for the bow of the cutter on our port side; it would expose us to the one to starboard but we knew from experience that the light cutter couldn't stand up to a bergantine's ram prow to prow.  Every oarsmen aboard knew what we were doing and the risks involved but we never missed a beat.

Closer and closer we drew until we could make out the sailors on the cutter we had targeted.  The second cutter began to come about in order to catch us amidships.  At the last minute, however, the steersman of the first cutter lost his nerve and began to turn aside.  The marines aboard fired their crossbows at us and threw a few spears but did us no harm.  When that cutter was committed to her turn Ka'len suddenly had us turn hard a-starboard, passing up the opportunity to ram her.  Instead we were suddenly prepared to meet the second head on.  Her captain too must have panicked a bit and she began to come about.  The movement was checked after a few moments but by then it was too late for her.

By the time we reached her we had gotten up to our maximum speed.  The ram tore into the cutter just to the side of her own ram and we backed water with swift expertise even before Ka'len could order us to do so.  The marines on the cutter got off a few bolts but that did them little enough good when they in their heavy armor were the first to sink beneath the waves.

The way home was clear now.  If we could outrun the remaining three Elven craft.  But Ka'len didn't steer us homeward.  No, he brought the Dolefaren about and gave chase to the closest cutter, the one that had turned aside before.  For the moment it was still one on one and Ka'len wanted to take advantage of the odds while they lasted.  Now a cutter might be a faster and more maneuverable ship than a bergantine but a ship is only as good as her crew and we were better.  In the narrows there, try as she might, the cutter couldn't quite escape us.  She ended up having to turn in the direction we wanted her to go--back to our harbor.  And while her marines wounded several of us--even Ka'len took an arrow in the arm--nevertheless we ran her into a turn she couldn't quite take and rammed her hard as her crew tried to manage the dangers of unfamiliar shoals and rocks.

Again we backed water and watched the cutter begin to wallow as the sea filled the hull.  Again, the way home was clear and once again Ka'len steered us in the opposite direction.  It was clear when the remaining two ships came into view that they weren't going to give us a chance to engage them.  We moved towards them but they managed to stay far enough away to avoid the ram but close enough that they could pour missiles onto us.  When spears came our way we did our best to throw them back but that availed us little.  There wasn't one of us who wasn't wounded as we passed between the two Elven ships.  At that point, Ka'len's real objective became clear:  the Audrulyba.

"We'd never've made it home, boys. Not after you'd tired yourselves out in the race.  Since we couldn't remove ourselves from the danger our only choice was to remove the danger itself.  It's obvious we can't do that now although we gave it a damn good try.  But before those bastards kill me, I have every intention of castrating Targel and feeding his balls to the fishes."

We didn't cheer him as we'd done so many times when he'd given us speeches before battle but our silence, I think, was eloquent enough.  We all knew we were doomed and what Ka'len said we all agreed with.  The only thing left for us while we lived was to avenge ourselves before we died.

We started off then in silence.  But soon enough Ka'len set our rhythm for us with "Eluned o' the Waves" and every one of us took up the song.  The Elves behind us moved in slowly and the Audrulyba awaited us ahead.  Ka'len walked between the benches and called every one of us by name as he passed.  He gave us our final orders.

"After we ram her, boys, back water right away.  I want to see her go down before those bloody Elves finish me."

Targel for his part was slow off the mark but when he realized that we were coming after him, he brought his ship about and began to move off.  Our hearts sank as the gap between us slowly began to increase.  It was then that one of the oarsmen spotted a dolphin to starboard and gave a shout.  Soon we were surrounded by Eluned's hounds and we drew strength from their presence.  The Goddess herself spurred us on and we forgot our weariness, forgot our wounds, forgot our dooms.

The Audrulyba had almost escaped the confines of the narrows and reached the safety of the open sea when we closed in.  Her crew took her this way and that, hoping the Elven ships could reach us before we reached her.  At length Targel made his mistake and our ram tore into her stern.  We started to back water but found that the ships were locked together.  The Elven ships moved in behind us and began to rain death down on us.  We dived beneath benches.  We pulled up planks to use as shields.  Some jumped into the sea, trusting in the mercy of Lemicus.  Finally one of the Elven ships dared to come close and open up a gash in the Dolefaren with its ram.

Ka'len, for his part, grabbed up an Elven spear and leaped onto the prow.  "Targel!" he shouted over and over.  The deadly arrows of the Elven archers sank into his arms, his legs, his back, his chest, until no more could find purchase and--an unheard of thing!--he was armored with arrows against arrows.  Still he shouted, but Targel didn't come forward to meet him though he stood in plain view.  Finally, sobbing, Ka'len dropped the spear into the sea and sank to his knees.

The Dolefaren and the Audrulyba both began to settle now and the Elven ships came close once again to pick up survivors.

"Targel!  I submit!  My whole crew is dead but there's no need for me to die," shouted Ka'len.  "Take me to Teiro, take me to one of his healers.  I see now how right you were.  We shall fight for him together."

"This would have been easier, old friend, if you'd said that hours ago.  You always were stubborn."

Targel gave a laugh and leaped lightly over to the Dolefaren, shouting for aid.  The two stricken ships were listing dangerously and soon would sink.

Almost tenderly, Targel picked up the small body of the halfling.  "I told you Lanival could never win," Targel began.  "He isn't like us, Ka'len.  He doesn't understand that wars aren't nice, that treachery is more effective than honor, that no one is to be trusted.  You knew that once and you know it again now.  I just wish you hadn't had to learn the lesson this way."

"Yes, Targel," said the Sea Drake.  "It's a lesson I won't forget for as long as I live."

And with these words Ka'len suddenly grasped an arrow shaft with his right hand and pulled it out of his chest.  Blood gushed forth from the wound, onto the deck, and into the sea.  Just as quickly he plunged the arrow like a dagger into Targel's throat with lightning swiftness.  His blood poured out to join with Ka'len's and the two fell to the deck together, the tops of the waves just breaking over the rails and washing the gore into the sea.

"For as long as I live," whispered Ka'len as the Dolefaren slipped beneath the waves.


Notes:

"lying bird of Botolf":  The constellation Goshawk is meant.  The Lion is an autumn constellation and when it sets and Goshawk, a winter constellation, comes, this signals the end of the sailing season.  The author may have originally written "the bird of lying Botolf" but the text we have now is certainly possible.

"the Segoltha":  The sea, not the river.

"halcyon days":  Now assumed to be Evandu, Truffandu, and Havrandu of the month of Nissa the Maiden.  Even at the dramatic date of the work there was the belief that during these days the sea would remain calm while the halcyon bird nested.  The biggest problem with this detail is that all other accounts put Ka'len's death at the very beginning of winter at the end of the ninth month, now called after Dolefaren.

"bergantines":  I'm using this form rather than "brigantine" because the author uses a weird word.  Poetic?

"Redeemer":  Not used, obviously, for Lanival until after his final victory.  Some help in dating, therefore.

"Zauljalren":  "Devil-island".  It is unclear which island is meant.  There are any number of small uninhabited islands in the Segoltha Sea not too far from Crossing.  Almost all of them are avoided by fishermen today on the grounds that they are haunted.  Perhaps instead of "to Devil-island" the text originally had "to an island of beasts" = "to one of the haunted islands."  The few descriptions of the island in the rest of the text have not aided me in pinpointing it on a map.

"the Hermit":  A figure mentioned in other sources of the period.  Apparently he was a seer of some ability who advised Lanival and his followers although he does not seem to have been an active participant in the wars.  A rather throwaway part here, no?

"I was born...":  This story is preserved nowhere else.  It sounds like garbage.  The dialogue is terrible throughout.  Thank the gods our author chose not to write a play.  One shudders at the very possibility.

"the harbor chain":  A defensive device used to shut off the harbor and prevent hostile ships from entering.

"for in a race between two only one can win":  A proverb in several Elanthian languages and a favorite saying during the wars between Lanival and Teiro.

"the mouth of the straits":  There are two mouths, one towards Crossing, one towards the open sea and the island.  The latter is meant here.

"Eluned o' the Waves":  A song.  The tune is still in use among sailors to keep time whilst rowing, but the original lyrics have been lost or at least can't be identified with certainty.  Today the various words set to this music are invariably obscene and one can only imagine that it was the same in Ka'len's day.

"Looking back...":  The oarsmen would be facing the stern of the ship anyway.  Author seems to assume here & a few other places that they face forward.

"marines":  Each ship would carry a group of armored warriors.  Their duty was to hurl missiles at opposing ships and to board enemy vessels or fight off boarding attempts.  This arrangement allowed the oarsmen to concentrate on rowing instead of forcing them to try to fight and row at the same time.

"They must have recognized...":  The author seems to be an idiot.  At the very least it is rather obvious later on that the whole situation is a "set up".  The Elves don't need to recognize anything, they know exactly what they're after.

"We'll try to sail through!":  The explanation that follows seems out of place although as far as I can tell with what little I know about it all, it's accurate.  Certainly not the best storytelling technique.  Perhaps this was used as a text in a lower level warriors' school?  I should go talk to some sailors, see if this description of the battle makes any sense to them.

"Eluned's hounds":  The expression is very poetic.  Could this whole thing be a cheap and bad adaptation of a poem about this episode?  Did some hack come along and turn it into an "eye-witness" account in prose?  There are a few other places where that would make some sense--the opening lines, for example.

"My whole crew is dead":  Which of course raises the question, who is supposed to be telling the story?  Obvious fiction, all of it.  But this whole end seems to drop the pretense of a real narrator anyway.  More evidence that this is an adaptation of another source?