So, instead of being a good student and working on my Ottoman paper, I instead typed up the first chapter of “The Vessel,” the short story I’ve been working on between classes. It looks pretty good so far I think! Below in the entire first part – without editing, as always:
The first time that Lucius Pinius Valerius saw the great black sailing vessel was when he was young, standing near the inner docks in the port of Ostia. His parents – or rather, his father, for his mother was kept at home in Roma due to a fit of terrible consumption – stood beside him, explaining to the young heir of the river-shipping business how all of the different vessels functioned, carrying their goods – mostly salt and stone from the nearby mines and quarries – up the river Tiber to great Roma herself.
Young Lucius was the eldest son of Verus Pinius Valerius, a second generation member of the Roman equestrian class, a family of wealthy plebeians who had made their fortune in some lucrative business – in the case of Verus’ father, this was through shipping.
Their business stretched from Ostia to Rome – not a particularly long stretch, but an important one. The family’s vessels carried primarily salt, but also stone, up the river from Ostia, as well as mines and quarries along the way, to Roma itself, where the materials were used for victuals and construction. Verus did not yet own the quarries and salt mines himself, but it was well-known in Latium that he had an eye on acquiring them, once had had attained more disposable wealth.
The Valerian fleet, at this time, numbered seven working vessels, two vessels in drydock, and two more under construction. Verus hoped that by the time the four ships out of or not yet in commission became functional, a near-monopoly could be attained, and he could use his new-found wealth and status to vault himself up into the upper echelons of society, becoming perhaps a tribune or even a senator! But Verus hid his ambitions from his son as he showed him the proud Mars, flagship of his small armada, its brilliant red sails filling with a gentle wind as its flat bottom floated atop Father Tiber, bearing a heavy load of stone towards Roma.
As Lucius’ father talked on, young Lucius himself found his attention wandering – he was, after all, still a young boy – and watched instead the numerous ships passing by, his father’s words sounding to him almost Gallic, so incomprehensible were they. Roma was by no means a seaport, and its associated empire – in the loose sense of the word – had never shewed much interest in the sea, despite its prime position at the center of the Mediterranean. It was only the river that mattered to the Latin peoples, and the flat-bottomed barges that glided by so smoothly reflected that ignorance – no ship that young Lucius saw could have lasted a single day out at sea.
To the young heir, though, all of the boats were marvelous – especially that one of midnight black that floated down the Tiber, down towards the open sea beyond Ostia. Had the boy more expertise in the art of boatcraft, he would have noticed some significant differences in this vessel that separated it from those lesser vessels around it. For this vessel was a seafaring boat, the like of which few Romans had ever seen in their lives. It caught the boy’s eye due mostly to its imposing colour and size; its obsidian hull easily could have held three levels belowdecks, and it spanned forty or fifty meters from bow to stern. Its black mast sported a massive sail of the same dark colour of the rest of it that billowed out in a direction opposite the wind – but the boy did not notice this. What drew his eyes first was the massive spike jutting out of the bow; clearly an effective tool in ramming other ships.
Just behind the bow-spike were two strange devices, towers four or five meters high, with hooked tops that reminded him of a raven’s claw. Had not they been held up by ropes, the towers would have fallen until they were horizontal, creating a flat plank wide enough for two men to stand abreast with ease. These towers fascinated the imaginative mind of young Lucius and held his rapt attention for quite a while. Had he paid more attention to the water near the bottom of the great vessel, he would have seen both keel and rudder hovering slightly above the surface of the water, making no contact with it and causing no ripples or waves. Of course, the other river traffic could easily account for this going unnoticed.
Verus did eventually notice his son’s lapse in attention, and questioned him as to what was so important that he would not respect his elder father by heeding his words. Lucius immediately pointed at the black vessel that moved with no assistance from any visible crew in a direction contrary to the wind’s path, but his father saw nothing there but the sky and distant mountains. He berated his son then for acting in such a foolish fashion – the boy was growing up rapidly, and he would need to start taking a more active role in managing his father’s work. Trained well by his father, Lucius apologized for his transgression and ashamedly confessed that the vessel was a product of his overactive imagination – something that Verus had tried so hard to drive out of his son. Verus sighed and wondered what his son and heir would come to, but forgave him and began to take his son back to his personal vessel to begin the trip back to Roma.
As Lucius walked behind his father, he looked back one more time, as he had for the first time in his life lied to his father. He knew that the black vessel was no product of his imagination, for it had not faded like those other mirages had when his father caught his attention. It stayed on in his sight, solid as ever, gliding serenely above Father Tiber. In his final glance back, young Lucius saw something that caused him to almost cease breathing – the vessel, before his very eyes, passed through two smaller boats and all three ships carried on like nothing had happened. The ship with the midnight-black sails moved onwards, leaving finally the Tiber behind it and heading off out to sea. Lucius blinked, believing that the ship would vanish then, but it made no such sign of doing so, sailing off into the distance and eventually out of sight. The vessel soon slipped to the back of the young boy’s mind, however, as he delighted in the sensation of being an top of the water and river that he loved so much, forgetting almost all else in the moment. It would be a long while before he saw that vessel again.
And I probably shan’t type up any more of that until this Ottoman paper is done! However, last night I finally had time to read and so read Lovecraft’s “The Evil Clergyman” (which was terribly confusing) and “In the Walls of Eryx,” which I have heard described a science fiction story, and it clearly wasn’t – expect my next post to be a rant on what I consider “science fiction” to truly be.