A most unexpected journey

Dyrne they call it, the City of Words. Only went there the once, but that’s more than most I reckon. Step into any pub in town and by night’s end every feller in earshot’ll be spinning tales of Dryne and its secrets. But that’s just the booze talking. Everyone knows everyone else is talking fishguts, but no bugger’ll admit it case they ever takes a turn. But not me. I been there. I can prove it.

Ten years ago it was, give or take a cycle. I was a seaman back then, a drover. We use to run the shepherd boats out of Wedlock, but that was before your time. Groups of us would sail out past the buoys to drive off the whalecrabs. They were rife back then, used to mess up the steam props of the big tankers something awful, not to mention the mess those clampers could make of your common-a-garden gleam-barge.

Anyway.

One day we gets a feller in the mess, proper toff. We gave him the old seafarers welcome, but he just stood and listened to us cussing and hollering til we wore ourselves out. Solid he was, unreadable. Should have known from the start something was off with that one. Soon he starts a-lecturing and we figure the shows over, so we drifts off. But then he flashes some paper. Proper notes, none of the flimsy gutter leaf we were used to. Two months pay he was flashing about, two months for the whole crew. A mummering raised up then, whether we could scrag him and get away with it. I didn’t fancy such endeavours, I had a wife and nipper, so I begins to listen. Needs men, he said, for a journey. A long journey, full of danger and such. And the two months pay? For the first leg alone. Per man.

I may be a simple salt-swallower but I am not nor have I ever been a fool. This stranger was offering real notes worth more than I could count for a crewhand? Then came the kicker: Dyrne. We damn near threw him out then and there. Everyone had heard of the place of course, the phantom city, the town on the edge of nowhere, as close to the Dreamplace as any bugger had gotten and lived. It were a legend back then, a myth you heard whispered in alleys after kick-out. But he was serious as a Forlog on slavin’ day. And I said yes. More money than I could dream of to help a lunatic on his fancy flight of frivolity? Too good to pass up.

If I could go back now I’m not sure what I’d do, knowing what I know. But, aye. Soon as he left, telling me to meet him on the morrow by the docks, I’d have gone home to my Gwyn and Teddy. Said a proper goodbye. Of all the horrors I seen since, it’s their faces that haunt me most.

Spent that night boozin’ with the lads of course. Managed to piss away a fair clod of those notes. I was a drinker back then, could drink an Urg-maiden off her patch I could. But I kept me word, I was there on the docks and on time. Wasn’t hard to find wasn’t our stranger. Stuck out like a helios in a haul of bogfins with his fancy suits and hat. The dock boys were knocking seven shades of shit out of the poor bugger, vocally you understand, giving him even worse than my lads had given the night before. Never flinched he didn’t, not once. I gave my greetings and he just pointed to a skiff a few berths away. It weren’t that it were large, I reckoned at the time it’d be a snug journey for just the two of us, more that it looked like 15 boats smashed together. The mast, such as it was, was the width of a toothpick and the bow the width of the stern twice over. There was a metalworking here and there, a misshapen cab and I’ll be damned if I could see a wheelhouse. I thought of the notes though, and made myself at home.

That’s when I met Seagull. I’d never had much call to speak to ladies, outside of our Gwyn of course, and Seagull she was a Lady with a capital L. A vision she was. If our strange friend told me he’d hauled a Siren aboard I’d have believed him. Eyes like gleamstones she had. Took me more’n a second to notice her getup though. Dressed like a ‘neer she was. Overalls, blast-cap, the whole caboodle. It may surprise you to learn I ain’t what you might call a blushing meadoweed but at that moment I couldn’t get more’n a mummer past those lips of mine. Dumbstruck so I was. Afore I knows it she’d gone, down below with a cheery greeting hanging on the wind. The stranger padded down beside me, mooring rope in hand and before I could get me voice back we were on our way.

Now I shan’t bore you with the particulars of that journey. Long it was, longer than any I’d done before or since. The stranger, went by HP, set me right to work. Coaling, drudging, navigating, I ran that tub while Seagull kept her fixed and HP kept to himself. There were only two rooms and one of those was damn sure for him alone, so me an Seagull took t’other. Imagine that, this old drover sharing a room with a Lady. But don’t you go gettin’ any ideas, I had my Gwyn back then and not a day went by where I didn’t look at that derograph and think of her. And Seagull, she wasn’t your average lady. Told me she’d gotten tangled in love when she were a youngun. Her parents kicked off so she kicked down the door and left. See, it were steam she’d fallen for, the engines and gears and the oil stains. She were a natural ‘neer, cept for her being a woman of course. She sat outside the Guild for three straight weeks ’til they let her in the door, and by the next chiming she was a trainee. So she said, leastwise. Who knows, she could of been a whore made good for all I knows. She had her fair share of secrets I reckon, but when she spoke I believed her.

The Mass ain’t a place you take lightly and we had our run ins. The whalecrabs had a go at us every so often, but that crate was tougher than she looked. The metalwork I’d taken heed of at the docks? Plating. Each time those bugger’s took a swipe they hit iron, like the plates were a magnet for those giant claws. Then there were the skivvies and the bullhawks but we shooed ’em off well enough.

Then, two days before our second month we saw it: the city. Could have been any place to my eyes but HP, he jumped up with a shout that scared me an Seagull witless. Less than two words that man had utter on our trip, but now he was jammering and hollering like a madman.

Dyrne, he said, we’d made it to Dyrne.