This Week’s Prompt: 125. Man abandon’d by ship—swimming in sea—pickt up hours later with strange story of undersea region he has visited—mad??
The Prior Research:Under the Sea
The fishermen did not know what to do, when they pulled their strange haul onto the deck. For it was not often that a man in mail and byrnie. He took ragged breaths as he came to on the ship, his fingers gripped tight around a well worn key of finest gold, his beard so long it reached down to his waist. It was only after some effort he managed to stand and speak at all. And all he would ask is if the sun was still in the sky.
The Dane of the Sea, as the Bretons called him when he was out of earshot, was taken in to gather warmth and wits that day. His dress gave him away as a man a viking, but his state was strange for one—for he had no sword or axe or spear, and while he had rings to pay his stay, they had a strange cast about them of green-gold. What drew him, more than the strangeness of his voyage.
The Dane of the Sea was one of many who had sailed along the coasts of the mainland, laying pillage to the abandoned fortresses of Romans and cloisters of monasteries by river and sea passage. It was after ransacking one such monastery that the storm came.
The waters churned and the waves crashed against the long ships, the sky as dark as night. It had come with such speed that the crew did not have time to go to shore until it was upon them. They turned and rowed with the waves towards the shore, aiming away from rocky coasts—but misfortune had more in store for the Dane of the Sea than just the surface could offer.
No instead, the waves battered on and on—and some great force pulled down at his legs and arms, the darkness coming over his vision, fearing he died a drowning death as he struggled. Something coiled about him and down he plunged.
The Sea Dane awoke in a room with heavy furs and a crackling fire. He was on a great bed with heavy wools. A window covered by animal hides, although what he saw seemed to be the glimmering scales of fish as big as a hand. As he stirred, he door opened and a maid greeted the Sea Dane.
“Ah, the good sir yet lives.” She said, in her hands a wooden tray with a cup of painted peach wood and a meal on a platter, a smoked fish mixed with rice and pasta and strange fruits.
“Do I? And where, pray chance, do I live?” The Sea Dane asked the maid as she laid his meal before him. The maid smiled as she stood. “Last I recall, I was embraced by dread waves and soon to be nothing more than memory.”
“You are on the Isle of Ker Is, in the hall of the great lady Dahut. She will tell you more, when you have the strength to see her in her hall.”
The Hall of Lady Dahut was bedecked with perfumed candles. The Sea Dane was struck at once by the lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the candelabras that lined the walls and were born by youths and maidens around the hall, light dancing on the dark blue tapestries. The play of light and shadow gave the serpents and warriors and boats a life of their own. Most impressive was the singular ruby that hung on a chain of iron above the high seat, for it gave off a red light like the sun as it set over the sea.
And beneath this crimson light sat the Lady Dahut herself, a woman of beauty that surpassed any woman the Sea Dane had seen. Her hair appeared like fire in the red light, the straw blonde playing against the piercing red of the ruby as she shifted. A cloak of dark blue wraped around her dress, a crown of studded silver rested on her brow, intertwined serpents of gold worked across it. The light caught on the crown and spread over the hall, illuminating every shadow the candles and ruby did not reach with it’s radiance.
And her voice, as she greeted him, was like a radiant song.
“We see you have recovered from the worst of the sea, stranger. We had worried you slipped through to the land of the dead.” She said with a smile.
The Sea Dane bowed and greeted her in turn.
“If it were not for your blessed isle, I perhaps would.” He said as he rose. “I admit, the sea took quite a bit from me.”
“We would be remiss to turn a guest from our home while they are still groggy from the depths—although, we do object to calling our isle blessed.” She said, rising from her seat and walking down the hall, beckoning the Sea Dane. As stepped out from the crimson light, he saw the carved rings on her fingers, coated with gems—and she lowered from her hair a vail of emeralds the size of raindrops. She went down, taking a candelabra where each branch was a carved warrior, their spear rising out of the candle and purple smoke rising from the tips of their weapons.
And he beheld a great city of stonework, paved roads like the romans laid and towers rising with gilded rooves. The riches of the city were cast in night, illuminated only by lanterns—and at a gesture to the sky, the Lady Duhat told him why.
“Our Isle is far from blessed—Ker Is was, when I was young, cursed.” She said, and the Sea Dane saw the heavens darker than the night—for there were no stars or moon, nor the subtle shades of clouds. An endless dark rising forever up, an abyss without end. And distant from the city, it came down to earth. There were great whirling shapes, winds of horrific might that snarled light itself as the swirled.
“A lecherous priest came to our land, and tried to persuade my father to wed him despite my will. When I rejected his proposal, in his spite he cursed our isle to never see the sun again. And so, a storm has assaulted our shores in the years since. We survive by means of my wisidom, and many scholars who know how to yet draw life from the ground and fish from the waves and storms.”
At the time, the Sea Dane believed the curse was nothing but storms and winds—he did not see the churning mass that the so called winds pushed. He did not at the time wonder how seamless the sky overhead was, without fault in the clouds—except when some vast shape seemed to shift and churn close at hand.
“Well, when I regain my strength, perhaps I can set myself to finding a wiser man to lift the curse.” The Sea Dane said, stroking his beard. And here perhaps the audience would jeer some, that Lady Dahut’s beauty was what drove him—and not, as he protested, his hospitable nature. For when one is taken in from near death, offering a service seems only fair.
“Perhaps, when your strength is yours again. But there is no need to rush things—the sea and storm will wait for any man.” She said with a smile. “And it has been long since we have entertained a guest from afar—surely you have tales to tell.”
And so the Sea Dane spent his days in the halls of Lady Dahut and her court. He was provided a harp, and played it well as he sung the songs he knew. At this point in his tale, the Sea Dane told the people of the Bay a different story every time—and how Lady Dahut adored it, and her court applauded the tales he wove. Often they were of family and feuding and oaths and tragedy. And this was the bulk of the difference in each telling, that story the Sea Dane told Lady Dahut in her cursed city.
Each time he told the tale, the Sea Dane would sigh and say he told many more than he had time that night, and that the true matter was yet at hand. For the Sea Dane had spent many nights—or he took them for nights—in the halls of Lady Dahut, and yet he felt none the stronger. He suspected something was amiss.
One night, when all else went to sleep, he slipped from his chamber—hoping in the deeper darkness to find some clue to his predictiment. He moved with practiced skill, out into the halls—he avoided the guardsmen with their fish-tailed helms, making his way out of the hall and into the streets.
The city was full of riches, palaces of pearl and coral. There were large stone works, like the churches of Romans he had heard of but not yet seen—or perhaps those of Greeks, farther afield, and the old temples they once worshipped in. These were well lit, although the carved faces on their insides were unfamiliar to the Sea Dane.
But it was when he approach the storm that he grew suspect—for here was a line of those candles commonly held in the palace. Around the so-called storm, there were rocky walls that had been smothed over, and clouds of incense rising upward and back. The winds must be terrible, the Sea Dane thought—but he was curious. So he reached forth and put his hand against the wind—and felt the rush of water, the freezing cold of the bottomless deep.
Starting back, he stared upward and saw, for the first time, the shape of a dread leviathan against the waters. A serpent, a vast one as long as two boats from tail to head, that coiled in the water and watched him with golden eyes. The Sea Dane was a brave man, but the sight of such a creature—drawing close, lowering it’s head through the waters into the air, chilled his soul.
It’s jaws opened, revealing teeth like knives, and out poured gold and jewels, vomited forth in front of the Sea Dane. And as it withdrew, the Sea Dane looked down at the green marked gold. And no longer did he wonder at how the nobles lived so richly here, with so little visits from the world above.
It was on the return to the palace, however, that the Sea Dane learned the truth of his imprisonment. For it was while skulking through the courtyards that he found the Lady Dahut and her maid walking in the darkness.
“Why let him live much longer, your grace? He is of those that in the past we made prey of—if we had but said the word, serpents would have dragged down the whole of plunder from that ship, and we would yet rejoice.” The maid said, as her mistress walked ahead. Lady Dahut hummed as she examined a thorny rose bush that grew at the base of an apple tree—both nourished by unseen powers.
“A few more gilded trophies would bore us swiftly.” Lady Dahut said, examining the apple before plucking it. “And none of that haughty priest’s bones were aboard the vessels—whatever magic his kind have learned that so enscroll their bodies with immortality, it was out of our reach. So, instead, we have now an exotic pet. And he is not so harsh to look upon, nor is his voice unpleasant.”
“Still, do you not fear he will grow restless? He was a wanderer.”
“Let him.” Lady Dahut waved her hand. “If we bore of him, he will drink an enchanted Draught and become a new man, forgetting all else. And we have not had a new member of our court in some time.”
The Lady produced a dagger from her dress, shaped like a snake’s fang. She dug it into the apple, slicing it carefully and handing it to her maid.
“Be certain he eats three of these—any less, and he may find strength to swim away from our shores into the abyss.”
And there we must cut off the Sea Dane’s tale. It is late on Tuesday evening, and I wanted to ensure this part at least was finished. The idea of a gothic horror series struck me with stories of mermaids beneath the waves and a reversal of the normal animal bride affair—not an entirely original notion, but I thought one that was potentially horrific and fitting the genre. We might return to the Sea Danes tale next time, as we come now to stranger islands and the rare flora that grows on them—perhaps the Sea Dane encountered other places before washing into the fishermen’s nets!
Or perhaps his escape from Lady Dahut’s clutches will wait until a later date. We will see. See you next week, with more research at the ready!