part 16: Songs of sorrow

Part 16: Songs of sorrow


She took the last arrow out of her quiver, when something stirred in the corner of her eye. She looked up, to see a huge sea-bird pass over the ship, then circle round and follow them. Almost before she knew, she’d fitted the arrow to the string, and raised the bow. Finally, something to eat besides ship’s biscuits and dried meat.

Someone’s hand hit her arm, and the arrow went flying, and disappeared below the surface of the ocean. Selena looked round, startled. She saw the look in Navigator Graycloud’s eyes, and shrunk on the spot.

“Are you mad? Don’t ever shoot at albatrosses! Never.”

Selena swallowed, surprised and startled by Graycloud’s anger.

“I’m sorry. Is it bad luck to shoot an albatross?”

“The worst of luck. I heard tell of a ship once, where some stupid bugger shot an albatross…” Graycloud touched his forehead, then his breast to ward off the bad luck. “And the wind failed. It failed for weeks on end, and everybody died of thirst, except the mariner who shot the bird. And just when he was ready to die, the ship moved, without wind, and all the dead sailors groaned, and stirred, and rose again, but they didn’t speak or move their eyes.”

“But…” A cold chill ran up Selena’s spine as she looked into Graycloud’s eyes. “But how?”

“Nobody knows,” said Graycloud. “So don’t shoot at albatrosses. Especially not this one.”

There was a noise behind Selena and she looked round to see the albatross standing on the deck behind her, folding its wings, then preening its feathers. It looked at Selena with one black beady eye.

“Why? What’s special about this one?”

There was a sound as a rushing of the wind, and blue lights whirled round the majestic bird. It grew, changed shape, raised itself to stand upright. Then he looked at Selena, waving a finger disapprovingly.

“It’s the Captain,” said Dorian Graycloud.


Well, Gentle Readers, this week’s exciting episode has everything! Song and music, the illustration made by Lindsey Batdorf, and fulfilled promises.

The song sung by the Night-elves on board Aviana’s Wingbeat is George Brassens’ song “Les copains d’abord”, describing a group of ship-mates on board of a sailing ship. It was used as the theme to the movie if the same name. I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know whether the song was ironic or not. When you read it, it does seem a bit too good to be true.

The second song is a translation, by your humble Chronicler, of a traditional Dutch smartlap called Ketelbinkie. The cabin boy was from Rotterdam, not Westfall, and I’ve changed the telegram to a letter. Apart from that, it’s fairly accurate. The English have their sea shanties and sad folksongs, the Americans have the Blues, the Dutch have the smartlap.  Certain kinds of music are able to bring a quiet tear to the eye of the listener.  The true smartlap (literally grief-cloth, after the piece of cloth on which the lyrics were shown so the audience could participate), wrings every last bit of sentiment out of the miserable dregs of Life itself, leaving hardly any listener with dry eyes. For one reason or another.

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