A small band of children had gathered to watch Mirkala painting, clustered on the dock beneath the wooden plank on which she perched, suspended by ropes from the deck of the Freeborn ship, The Seventh Sea. She paused for a moment, dropping her brush back into her pot, and turned to speak to the girl who had asked the question.
"Well! I'm glad you asked, young lady. It is clear your education has been sorely neglected if you do not know about the seven seas! If you quiet down, I can tell you all about it."
A small gang of children gathered in a rough semicircle below her. She turned round on her plank to put the ship at her back, and leaned forward holding on to one of the ropes.
"So! The first sea stretches roughly from here to midway to Sarcophan. That's the Sea of Sighs. So called because sailors sailing out of it sigh with homesickness, and those sailing back into it sigh with relief that they are practically home provided they can make it past the Grendel. The Bay of Catazar is only the northernmost part of it, and it stretches down past the Broken Shore and the lands of the orcs."
"South of that, between us and Sarcophan, is the Sea of Teeth. Lots of little islands, lots of fog. Lots of fog. Damp, warm fog that clings. You get more than your fair share of ghosts and ghost ships in the Sea of Teeth because it is so close to the Delves."
"Why's it called the Sea of Teeth and not the Sea of Fog?" asked one of the boys.
"Two reasons, both of them horrible." Far from being worried by the talk of horrors, the children clustered closer.
"Well children," she began, pitching her voice low so they had to cluster closer to hear what she was saying over the sounds of the busy quayside. "Well children ... some say the Sea of Teeth takes its name from the shallows and the unexpected rocks that will tear the bottom out of your sheep like you'd tear open a banana. If your pilot is an idiot, if your charts aren't up to date, you can run into a stone pinnacle even in deep water and then ... crunch! ... everyone drowns. And then you find out the other reason it's called the Sea of Teeth. Which is because of the SHARKS!"
She shouted the last word, causing the children to leap back in delicious terror. She snapped her teeth at them.
"Great big sharks! Bigger than a ship, some of them, and wily too. The Sarcophan hunt them, and make a special soup from their bones."
"Sharks don't have bones, though," said a boy she didn't recognise. He bore the obvious mark of merrow blood. Mirkala ignored him.
"That's two. Sail west a bit further, and you find the Sea of Storms which takes its name, as you might imagine, from all the storms. Apart from the bad weather, it's not very exciting to be honest with you ... although it's here that you find the really deep water - water so deep that you could drop the entire mountains of Urizen into it and not only would it swallow them whole but it would take half a day for the first wizards to come bobbing up to the surface complaining about how their silken robes have been ruined!"
She mimed an angry Urizen wizard, shaking her fist at the children.
"This is where you have to be very careful, because there are things in the deep water ... big things. All feathery fins and grasping arms and great bit glowing eyes. Sometimes you see their shadow beneath your ship and when you do ... why there's nothing else for it but to run as fast as you can and hope you can get clear before they rise up, like islands of flesh and scales."
"Then after weeks of sailing you find yourself in the Sea of Salt. It's not a very exciting name, but it gets its name because the waters there are salted with the tears and the blood of the Sumaah and the Asaveans. They're always sinking each other and wailing and moaning about history centuries past. There's a lot of water there, which is just as well. If there was less, you'd not be able to move for angry ghosts of drowned Asavean sailors who can't get through the Labyrinth because they put all their faith in made-up-gods instead of in the Virtues."
"Do they come back as dolphins?" asked one earnest little boy. Some of his friends scoffed but Mirkala put on a serious expression.
"No not at all. The best of them who might have been virtuous if they had heard of The Way, they become albatrosses. You can see them sometimes drifting in the wake of an Imperial ship, especially if there is a priest on board, drawn by something they don't understand. The worst of them though are reborn as eels. Horrible big eels that lurk in the seaweed mats that float here and there in the open waters. The most wicked of all become trapped between life and death, and they end up as hungry shapechangers like the mora who pretend to be drowning sailors to lure the foolish in where they can wrap them in their sinewy bodies and drag them down into the deep!"
One of the littler children started to cry. Mirkala realised she might have overdone it a little.
"Not to worry though! They mostly try to lure in the Sumaah sailors who sank them, and while they may have poles up their arses the people of the Republic are too full of Wisdom to fall for the sob stories of unliving eel people! So they go hungry, and you can hear them moaning and grumbling at night about how famished they are - a little like Master Jubal does when he doesn't get his tea."
Mirkala laughed, and her laugh was infectious. Tears were dried and quickly forgotten.
"So that's four seas. The fifth sea is in the east, towards the Commonwealth and the Principalities. That's called the Sea of Steel because of all the warships you see. The people of the Commonwealth and the people of Jarm are great rivals, like two big dogs both thinking that the porch steps belong to them. They circle around each other and growl and show their teeth and occasionally one of them nips at the other one. Usually it means that the Sea of Steel is the safest sea, what with all those warships, but sometimes it gets a little messy. Sometimes Commonwealth censors want to board our ships and make sure we aren't transporting slaves to Jarm, or buying slaves from them."
"That's outrageous!" said the poor merrow. "The Empire would never deal in slaves!"
Several of the older children looked indignant. Mirkala realised she had gathered a couple of sailors for her audience now, leaning on the railings above her and passing a pipe back and forth between them.
Mirkala shrugged and muttered something about politics before getting back to her story.
"The sixth sea, I have never seen. It lies to the north on the far side of the Empire. The Sea of Snow the Wintermarkers call it, because it is full of ice. Great mountains of the stuff that move by themselves, and can crush a ship. They say there are all kinds of strange beasts in the Sea of Snow - massive cambion-whales with curling horns, and seahemoths with the upper bodies of mammoths and the lower bodies of black and white fish-beasts, and things like seals but the size of oxen with massive fangs - like thiff!"
Mirkala mimed the tusks of a walrus, and made dreadful faces, and the children laughed.
"You're making this up!" said the merrow child, plaintively. Mirkala raised her voice as she continued.
"The Sea of Snow stretches past Otkodov where the wicked Thule live, and I hear that no ships sail it because of the ice and the dark magic of the dragon princes. Leastways, I've never met anyone who has sailed up there and come back to talk about it."
The smallest of the children had been counting on her fingers.
"That's six seas," she said seriously. "Sighs, Teeth, Storms, Salt, Steel, and Snow. Your ship is called The Seven Seas - where's the seventh?"
Mirkala nodded and smiled, and waited until the children settled down again.
"The seventh sea is a magical place, and you can even see it from the docks here at Siroc if you know where to look, and if the waters aren't being shrouded in magical fog like they are at the moment.
"When the night is clear and the water is still, you can see it stretching around you like an ocean of light and darkness. Your prow cuts through it barely raising a wake at all, and everyone knows you're sailing through something special. It's like you're sailing in the sky itself, stars above and below, so clear you'd think you could reach up from the top of the mast and catch the Wanderer in your hand. Everyone goes quiet, everyone just watches. Sometimes it can last for hours, and when you sleep that night it seeps into your dreams."
The children had fallen silent as Mirkala spoke, spellbound. Only the little merrow boy seemed unimpressed.
"So is that it then? Only seven seas in the whole world and one of them obviously made up?"
"I'm telling you stories, you think?" She shook her head. "Well there's only one way to find out isn't there? You'll have to go to sea yourself!"
She picked up her brush again.
The children, sensing storytime was over, exploded uproariously then and raced off across the quay, dodging between workers and crates, starting up a confused but lively game of Corsairs and Pirates where it was not entirely clear who was on which side.
One of the sailors who had been listening in chuckled, and passed a bottle down to her.
"That was very funny," he said, as she took a swig.Mirkala winked at him, handed the bottle back, and went back to painting.
Over the past season, all fleets belonging to Navarr and Varushkan characters have been under a potent summer enchantment. The magic means that any captain who engaged in either privateering or trade with a foreign port has had ... adventures!
They encounter strange obstacles - mist-shrouded islands not on any map inhabited by unliving courtiers; a disgruntled Night magician with a penchant for making people think they are pigs; a pod of friendly dolphins who help lost sailors find fresh food and water on an island of marvellous orichalcum apple trees; a sea battle with an angry independent pirate who must be faced down or outrun; a ghost ship haunted by the spirits of dead Sarcophan who must be defeated in a rhyming contest lest they try to drag the Imperial vessel beneath the waters; an island populated by savage dodo birds who guard strange egg-like stones of tempest jade and emerald; a leviathan whale that spews ambergris all over the deck of a ship; strange birds with gems set in their foreheads; the ruined tower of a stormlord of ancient days, long since gone to dust, but whose walls still bear valuable tapestries; an uncharted island that turns out to be the shell of a great sea turtle ... and so forth.
Each of these encounters presents a challenge that, when overcome, leads to a little booty and a tale of derring do to tell in Anvil. This effect comes from magic employed during the Winter Solstice, given to the Empire in the form of peculiar little scrolls by heralds of an unfamiliar eternal going by the name of Rhianos.
The purely mechanical effect is that enchanted fleets gain additional random income. Within the confines of the Empire world, however, you are free to make up your own stories about how you came by this additional wealth.
Rhianos, Regent of the Eternal Ocean
This eternal appears to be from the Summer realm. Imperial scholars know very little about this individual. While there have been occasional mentions of Rhianos in books and scrolls, the Empire has had no significant interaction with them in the last several centuries. The Conclave has no clear idea of who they are or what they are about beyond what has been gleaned from talking to their heralds, or uncovered in old stories.
The enchantments were delivered by heralds in the form of scrolls that could be evoked as if they were arcane projections - scrolls that lost their potency at the end of the Equinox. Due to the bad weather, not every nation had the same chance to employ these scrolls, and the physreps themselves were a little unclear as we forgot to include the arcane projection reference on them. As a result we have decided to extend their duration until the end of the Spring Equinox.
If you have one of the scrolls, you can bring it to GOD at the next event and we will replace it with an updated scroll that has the right code on it.