A Barrel Of Bones
A Typical Tavern Tale
Every so often, sailors of the Southern Sea claim to find a sealed barrel floating in the ocean. Ordinary flotsam or jetsam, you might think, until the barrel is opened and inside are the broken bones of a dead man. And if that is the case, bad luck will befall the ship, or so they say. Some say that the Tuuma Cormayr pirates dispose of double-crossers this way, but they don't waste barrels on people, they just dump them overboard. Most people believe a more fantastic story.
The Western Ocean is an impassable storm-ridden main, and most sea-going traffic passes around the eastern edge of Perfection rather than venture too far to the west. Even following the coast can be dangerous as mighty storms blow in to destroy ships. But some adventurous captains still try.
Stories tell of a mighty maelstrom west of Vaarta, where a crack in the ocean floor opens all the way down to the Netherworld. Some stories claim that in the centre of this maelstrom there is dry land. Ships who have sailed too close and been drawn into the inexorable maw of the maelstrom have cast out lifelines, and some of the crew have escaped to this pillar of land, isolated from the rest of the world by a swirling column of water. After a while, as more ships were drawn into the maelstrom, the survivors sometimes helped crews to safety, sometimes captured the ships for materials and supplies. They scrape a living down there, so it is said, a society of shipwrecked sailors.
One day, they captured a ship, as usual, but one of the crew was an engineer, who offered an escape plan if they would let him live. His plan was to construct a mighty trebuchet that could catapult a lone man, in a barrel, out of the maelstrom and far beyond its reach. Either he could get help, or, one at a time, they could all escape.
The trebuchet was built, a volunteer was found, and the day came to test it. It worked!
To an extent.
The volunteer was cast up and out of the vortex, and his barrel did not return, so they assumed that he had been cast free of the current. But the trebuchet broke under the strain and the survivors had to wait for more ships to be captured to get enough timber to build another.
The volunteer, of course, did not survive being catapulted. His barrel was found, but by this time he was long dead, just a mess of broken bones. The people of the maelstrom had no way of knowing that their experiment was a failure, and from time to time, when they have enough timber, they send out another Barrel of Bones.
(c) 2006 The Creative Conclave.