GHOST SEA*The Red Ship*
I was a sailor on the Bequest, a merchant ship heading from Daggerfall to the port of Winterhold. We were out on the Sea of Ghosts for about a week when a thick fog fell over us. Have you ever seen the ghost fog? So thick, a man could get drunk on it. If we were in the north right now, you wouldn't see the nose on your face, and not just from frostbite.
Just so you know it wasn't our fault we were lost, it was this damned fog. Nine days in and well off course, when out in the fog we espied another ship, strange as a ship could be. Its rigging was truly a sight, sideways and ribbed like the fan of a lady of delight. The keel was painted deep red, and though the paint was old, still it held a most vibrant hue -- such that we could see it easily, even through the fog.
We hailed the ship. A cry came back, in the common tongue, but old-fashioned. "Hail," they shouted, "We wish to buy supplies, food and fresh water! We will trade for silver, purest quality, many times worth the goods!"
Our captain, a greedy old bastard, immediately ordered us to bring up the most rotten hardtack and greenest Arenthian jerky. "We'll gladly take your deal," he shouted back, "line up on starboard, and we can exchange goods!"
But the voice in the fog declined. "We will exchange on water! Meet with a sloop midway! There will be no direct contact!"
This was a strange request, but strange folk abide on the Sea of Ghosts. My bunk mate Yerral was assigned to the sloop along with some other rowers, the first mate, and two bowmen. Off they sailed with the supplies, swallowed by the fog. Minutes went past.
In foggy weather, even a slight noise can carry far. Such was the case when I heard the unmistakable death rattle of a man, carried across the water. Shouts and curses followed our sloop as it returned from the fog, with both the crew and the bargained-for supplies accounted for.
The first mate stalked back on deck, holding a heavy wicker basket. He barked orders to stow the sloop, whispered a word to the captain, and both disappeared into his quarters. We sailors were left to our own devices.
I caught up with Yarrel as he was hurrying back to the bunks. "Tell me, Yarrel," I said, "What happened out there in the grey?" Yarrel was shaking. "We was out there, ahead of us the other sloop -- strangely made, as that ship was. The people on it looked sick -- bruised blue and gray, covered in sores, you could count their ribs -- they didn't wear much clothing."
"Their leader stood straight and wore a silver mask -- a beautiful thing, but black with age. "No closer!" he yells, "The supplies!" But the first mate had other ideas. "Out with the silver! I want to see if you're not trying to trick us." So the masked man dangles a wicker basket over on a long pole. The first mate catches it, looks inside -- a real long time -- then turns to us and says, "Back to the ship.""
"The grey men weren't happy about that, but before they can even do a thing, the first mate orders the bowmen to fire. They hit that tall fellow in the silver mask, and overboard he goes! Meanwhile the grey people are shouting at us, and the first mate is cursing, "Row, you bastards!" And so we left them there, without their goods and without the silver."
"So it was silver, in that wicker basket?" I asked. Yerral flinched. "We weren't to tell -- first mate said he'd kill us -- but I caught a glimpse of it. Silver! Lots of it, shiny and pure as can be, enough to buy a kingdom!"
Word of the silver soon spread -- Yerral wasn't the only wagging tongue. Of course we sailors wanted a slice, but the captain and the first mate weren't in a sharing mood. Strangest thing was the merchant accountant we had on board -- a Nibenese fellow, brought in by the charter company. Heard one thing about the silver and the red-keeled ship, and he locked himself in his cabin. We could hear him praying behind the door, begging the help of his strange gods. The man had the right idea, for soon after that came the first victim.
It was the morning watch that found the first mate's corpse. We had seen little of him since the incident, as he and the captain did everything in their power to keep us away from the treasure. Still, the old slave-driver had kept up with his duties, much to the lament of the crew, so it was a surprise to find him not at his post. When the crew went to look in his cabin, they found his body in bed, a bloated, pustulent mess. Disease had taken him.
Sailors are a superstitious lot, so it took no time to connect this horrible death to the stranger with the silver mask. Our suspicions seemed confirmed when, shortly after, both bowmen fell sick with the same symptoms -- in a matter of hours, their flesh swelled and burst, leaving them to die in agony. With the first mate and his accomplishes dead, we hoped the masked fellow's death-curse had ran its course.
Then, Benno the pick-pocket fell ill. This was concerning, for Benno had not been near the sloop during those evil minutes -- he was in the bunks, stealing trinkets from his friends. In short order, five more crew members fell ill. The captain went missing, but there were marks of red bile on the windows of his quarters. A manic fear took hold of the Bequest, still lost at sea.
Without our officers, the crew fell apart. Small groups holed themselves up fore and aft, trying to keep the plague at bay with hasty quarantines and superstitious sacrifices to Old Man Bal. Myself, I had determined solitude the best tactic, and holed up in a crawlspace in the company of a case of biscuits, ample drinking water, and a flask or two of good Cyrodiilic brandy I had happened upon in the chaos.
The second night of my merry quarantine, I heard a scrabbling on the wooden walls, and a weak voice crying for water. It was Yarrel. My compassion won out over my self-preservation, and I left my confines to tend to my old friend. Yarrel was sick, so much was certain -- his body pale and bloated, his skin shredding like wet paper. I gave him some water -- didn't matter much -- and I could see a glimmer of thanks in his eyes. Then he was dead.
Now as his body gave in, the dead man's grip of his hand loosened a touch and out from between his fingers there rolled a single piece of silver. It was small, but well-polished, and on the face of it was imprinted a strange sign -- a snarling tiger. It must have given him some comfort in death, I thoughy. As I went to pick it up, a strange impulse stayed my hand.
The silver was no doubt from the treasure we took from that unhappy red ship. How did Yerral get a hold of it? Did the first mate bribe the sloop crew, to keep their mouths shut? Yerral, poor fool, could never keep a secret. Not even in death. The others who touched silver -- the bowmen, the rowers, the captain, the first mate -- were the first to die. And Benno? That old thief could smell coin a mile away. Once the first mate died, his share must have been taken by the morning watch boys. From there, it spread across the ship, stolen and bartered by greedy hands.
Could the plague be in the silver? Some death-curse from that curious fellow on the red ship? Or maybe the silver had always been damned, and that's why they were out there, trying to get rid of it. I returned to hiding, leaving the shining sliver of doom untouched.
I spent two more days in that crawlspace, while death waited outside. I heard screams, shouts, the sound of men fighting. The sound of men begging for their life. The fourth day all was silent, and I ventured outside. The decks were slick with rot. One of our three sloops was still in stowage. I took what I could find in supplies, and set off, leaving that cursed ship behind forever.
I don't recall how long I spent in that lifeboat. Time is strange in the north, especially when the ghost fog abounds. I eventually stranded on Skyrim's north shore, and, half-mad and malnourished, made my way to Danstrar, where I was nursed back to health in a local brothel.
These days, I no longer sail the Sea of Ghosts -- I am happy with my riverboat and the pleasures it affords me. But sometimes, when the wind comes from the north, I ponder that red ship and its plaguebringing coins. I ponder our own ship, the Bequest, whether she sank or is still adrift somewhere. And I remember that of her three sloops, two were already missing when I set off.
So when I ferry people and goods, I don't accept silver as a fare. Nor do I have silverware in my house. I find it attracts thieves, and tarnishes easily.
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A sailor's ghost story.