“A smooth sea does not a skilled sailor make.”
I sat on the edge of the wharf, looking out into the blackness. It was quiet around this time of day, not that it was easy to tell what the ‘time of day’ truly was. It had been over a dozen hours since that flash of green on the horizon announced the new day, but it had been years since anyone in Fallen London had seen the Sun.
I’ve heard, as we all have, the tales of the Surface. I’m told the Sun is so bright that you can walk through an urban city with no other lights when it is out, but I never believed those stories. Nobody in London ever left their house without a lantern at their side, and street lamps pierced the blackness, but could do nothing to halt the gloom.
So it was that I was fascinated with what else was out there, waiting for me in the cold dark. My father had been a traveler. He had seen everything there was to see, every settlement, forest, and forgotten structure peeking over the waters. He led the romantic life of a captain thirsty for adventure, always coming back with impossible souvenirs from even less possible places.
I stood from the docks, scanning, once again, to see if there had somehow been a ship that had docked without my noticing. I had always wanted to join my father, but both my parents persisted that I was too young to brave the dark, where no lights distinguished from up and down, from sky to water. It was always supposed to be a birthday present from when I turned twelve. My father would take me to see the Salt Lions. From what I was told, they are two basalt statues so large they rival the size of London themselves.
I did not, however, believe he would have done this if he had judged this adventure would delay his scheduled visit very much. Yet I had been standing on this dock for hours, and there was no sign of his ship.
But I refused to take this as an ill omen. It was only a few hours, my father was still, in all likelihood, just late. It could have easily been a simple storm that had delayed his journey. But it was still my birthday. I wasn’t about to let it pass without a momentous change.
So, with an urgency in my step I went home. Both avoiding any contact with my mother and ignoring the hunger in my stomach, I went into my room and grabbed my chest of all the money I’ve saved up over the years. I hoped it would be enough.
Running back out, I went back to the Wolfstack Docks, or more specifically, the shipyard. I looked for the dock master, who I knew to be a grizzled old captain with a huge grey beard. I found him carrying some lumber, and clearly walking towards him, he stopped to address me.
“Whatcha need, boy?” he asked in a friendly yet business-like tone. As business-like as an old ship captain could be, anyway.
“I’d like to buy a boat!” I stated cheerfully.
“A bo-” he stopped, putting his load of wood down as he laughed heartily. “What would you do with a boat, boy?”
“It’s my birthday,” I explained. “I want to meet my father at the Salt Lions.”
“The Salt Lions?!” he repeated again, incredulous now. “Boy, do you have any idea how far into the Zee the Salt Lions are? You can’t possibly do it alone. Your best bet is to board a merchant’s vessel for Mutton Island if you want leave London.
Mutton Island wasn’t very far from London. My father would have already taken me there for my eleventh birthday if my mother hadn’t disapproved. Apparently the people that stayed there were the disreputable sort. The people that enjoyed the nearness of civilization and the distance from the Revenue Men. I could practically swim there if I wanted to, though I’d also heard that huge crabs liked lurking the surface of the waters there. One didn’t go out into the water unless they had a boat to distance themselves from the deep. Who knew what could be lurking beneath?
I opened my chest to show the dock master. “How big a boat can I get with this?”
He looked at my money, not impressed in the slightest, then pointed out into the distance where a small boat was already moored. Calling it a ship would be an insult to literally anything else buoyant enough to float. I could probably fit it into my tiny room if getting it through the door wouldn’t have been an issue.
But I was not discouraged. What a tale I could tell with that! “Deal!” I nodded firmly, placing my box of Echoes onto his lumber. As I went over to the boat, I heard him calling back that he wouldn’t sell. But it was too late. Even in jest he still told me I could buy it with how much money I had.
I had gotten lessons of the duties of crew members of his vessel. This wasn’t much different, though there would undoubtedly be much less to do with how small it was. I had already unfastened the rope and let the engine loose before I realized I probably should have brought some food along with me.