The Tale of One-Eyed Qüāgälōr

In the days of Ēlf-King Hīănthĕlŭs’s grandfather, Kriskrisālŭs the Clairvoyant, Nĕslōr—a great three-headed Sea Serpent—terrorized the Marēnēăn Ocean. From the Pearl Ports at Ōpĕr to the far off Eastern Shores, from the Southern Ocean to the Northeastern Sea, no ship was safe from the wicked Low Drăgōn—not humble fisherman’s skiff nor regal king’s tall ship, proud merchant’s cutter nor bloodthirsty pirate’s galleon. Only One-Eyed Qüāgälōr, a lowly golden-earringed pirate, dared to defy the Scourge of the Deep. Considered by some to have been nothing more than a scurvy seadog who eventually danced a lonely jig at the end of a short rope, Qüāgälōr was, nevertheless, revered to the present day by mariners of every ilk as the greatest seaman ever to have fared out upon the wild and open oceans of Ĭndrēl; for he, alone of all who have plied the wide sea roads and braved their unforgiving deeps, successfully challenged the ancient Three-headed Wȳrm of the High Seas.

Upon a day, a great storm came up out of the Landless South. The blow raged on the Southerland Main, in frothing waves and howling winds, blasting the exposed southern shores of Ĭndrēl with an incessant and devastating surge. It turned the ebb tides back upon themselves and mounted up the swells until they rolled as high as hills. But to the pirate ship Wave Wolf, caught in the powerful gale, more ominous than the tumbling waves, more fearful than the furious storm, came the dreaded roar of the mighty Sea Serpent, Nĕslōr. At her bellow, even the ship’s captain—a lame old seadog by the name of Malice MēGräg—pressed his hands to his ears and shook like the straining timbers of his rolling galleon. And at first sight of the approaching Wȳrm’s slimy oscillating humps slithering through the white-capped waters, the first mate’s quivering knees went as weak as jellyfish tendrils; and he dropped his brass spyglass to the rolling decks and wailed and moaned in mortal terror.

The first time great Nĕslōr struck Wave Wolf’s sturdy hull, her foremast and her mizzen shivered from their steps unto their topgallants, splintering to kindling at her shrouds. Snapping cables cut Men in half. Falling spars crushed sailors like seashells underfoot. The tangle of broken ratlines pulled them under as halyards, chainplates, and standing rigging were torn away and sank beneath the white-capped waves. Some among the crew threw themselves into the boiling sea foam, in mad terror; others ran the length of the ship, from stem to stern and back again, crying: “We shall be dashed to bits and all devoured alive!”

The Wave Wolf’s officers and crew, alike, from the ship’s master right on down to her cabin boy, grew pale at the sight of the undulating Sea Serpent circling ’round and ’round about the waterline, thrashing the waves with her great spiny tail and leaping out of the water to snatch Men, screaming, from the rigging, in her venomous maws. Boarding-pikes and barbed harpoons were hurled at the slimy Serpent’s seaweed-maned heads. Lead ballasts and iron anchors were cast down upon her scaly green back. But little harm did any of these do against the might of a Low Drăgōn in her watery element.

Now in those days, it was held by common sea-lore that if all the gold onboard a ship were thrown over the gunwales to an attacking Wȳrm, in her blind greed the serpent would hungrily swallow it down; and if a ship carried sufficient golden and silvery cargo (or plunder, as the case may be) in her holds, why then, it followed that the Sea Wȳrm might be fed enough bright ingots and jewelry and tableware to drag her down to the ocean’s floor, before she could reduce the vessel to drifting planks and poles. So, Wave Wolf’s crooked-legged captain ordered that all her lockers and chests of gold and treasure be brought on deck and poured into the hungry Sea Serpent’s yowling gullets. Every coin and cup, every lamp and locket, every plate and platter, goblet and grail, rhytonta and bracelet and collar & badge of office from their precious hoard was to be cast into the wide ocean…

And true to lore, the wet gold and silver was eagerly and all swallowed down by one or another of Nĕslōr’s three greedy heads.

Yet she continued to circle ’round and ’round the Wave Wolf, ramming into the ship’s timber ribs and lashing at the vessel’s twisted cables with her wickedly barbed tail.

In desperation, Malice MēGräg ordered his brigands to strip the very rings from their fingers and pull the bobs from their own ears, to take the golden chains from ’round about their necks and cast them all to the avaricious Serpent.

And this the superstitious seamen eagerly did, all except for One-Eyed Qüāgälōr, who had a plain golden earring in one lobe that he mightily fancied and with which he would not be parted. It was rather plain and of little worth, yet it had been given to him by a lovely quay-wench in Hōpshīr; and beyond reason, he cherished the spangle most dearly (for she was no more true to him than he to her, and he had an equally lovely wench in every port and pier in Ĭndrēl). Thus, without good reason or rhyme, this one small bit of gold, only, he defiantly refused to feed to the Low Drăgōn.

But when everything else had been given over to Nĕslōr, and still she had not sunk into the ocean’s depths, Qüāgälōr’s mates began to plead and to beg him to give up the worthless trinket and surrender it to the Scourge of the Deep. For they deemed that the Sea Serpent had not yet been sated, and Qüāgälōr’s bauble was the last bit of gold they had onboard—their only hope for weighing the Drăgōn down to her death. And though they knew in their hearts that one small earring would surely not now save their ship or lives, all seafaring Men are superstitious folk; and so, the pirates were bent on seeing the ritual applied to the letter of the lore, hoping beyond reason for salvation, in doing so.

Yet Qüāgälōr defiantly ignored their pleas and stubbornly refused to give up his precious trinket.

Lightning flashed in the stormy skies above, but its thunder was drowned out by great Nĕslōr’s ceaseless roaring as she, too, demanded that the earring be yielded up to her. Rain and wind lashed at the remaining rigging; but the waves that washed over the decks came not from the storm but from the Drăgōn’s thrashing tail. Then, Wave Wolf’s oaken rudder was ripped from her transom by the Sea Wȳrm, so that the ship no longer had steerage to keep her prow into the weather. Sailors were washed overboard as the wide galleon pitched and rolled, yawed and breeched, time and time again, in the high-mounting swells.

Cap’n MēGräg commanded Qüāgälōr, on penalty of keel-hauling, to throw the earring to Nĕslōr. Yet, Qüāgälōr stubbornly refused. The Captain then ordered all hands to set upon Qüāgälōr and strip from him his “precious treasure.”

When cutlasses were drawn and it came to hacking off hands and limbs, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr lost not a finger of his left hand, while seven of his fellow swabbies soon crouched clutching gushing wounds or lay a-swoon in a swath of red brine on the rolling wet decks. Their gory appendages, the defiant pirate threw to the bloodthirsty sea monster as he vowed never to give up his precious earring.

At length, the captain’s mates and all his crew rushed forth, as one, to lay hands upon the proud seafarer; and they overpowered him with their numbers. Crooked-legged MēGräg ripped the golden earring from its pierced lobe and cast it overboard, crying out: “Nĕslōr, foul wretch of the Deep! There ye have y’re gold and treasure! May it drag ye down to a tombstone of coral!”

Nĕslōr surged forth from the sea, her three heads snapping and fighting over the trinket, which bounced between them, from tooth and snout, until the central maw snapped it up and swallowed it down. Then, she laughed triumphantly, with all her horrible heads. The mocking chorus of malicious disdain pierced even Qüāgälōr’s enraged heart, so that he fell to his knees in terror and despair.

“We thank you each and all for your golden appetizers,” she taunted the Men of Wave Wolf. Then a second fin-eared head informed them: “Now shall we make our main course of the Man-beast who refused to give us our due.” “Throw him to us, ye scurvy scum, that we may drink his blood and gnash his bones to jelly!” the third black-pearl-eyed head demanded.

Qüāgälōr looked around and saw in the eyes of his shipmates that they, indeed, intended to do just as the Low Drăgōn demanded. So, leaping forward, he snatched Malice MēGräg’s cutlass from the captain’s trembling hands. Then, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr slipped the saber through the rope belt at his hip and leapt into the rigging of the last remaining pole—the lower two-thirds of the central mainmast. MēGräg feebly clutched after him but caught only sea spray and rain in his grasping hands. All three of Nĕslōr’s fierce heads shot forth and snapped at the climbing pirate’s heels. And all three missed him by a mermaid’s hair. In frustration, two of the terrible jowls turned to MēGräg and caught the gimpy captain up in their shark-like teeth. The Wȳrm’s third head fought with the other two for the prized morsel of the vessel’s master (lame and sinewy though he was) and tore old Malice MēGräg, screaming, limb from limb.

But that gave Qüāgälōr time to mount the ratlines and climb towards the `crow’s nest.

When Nĕslōr had divided and devoured the captain into three equal shares, she returned her interests to Qüāgälōr, who was, by then, far up in the rigging. “Leap down into our waiting mouths!” she bellowed. “We will have you next.” “Or have your whole ship in splinters!”

At those words, several of Qüāgälōr’s mates sprang to the ratlines or hauled themselves up the halyards to throw the defiant salt to the greedy Serpent, as she had demanded. But Qüāgälōr had the higher ground and held them off, saying, “Arrr! I would not slay a one more of ye, me salty brethren. Hearken unto me words! Nĕslōr intends to have us all, in the end. She only toys with us, turning loyal seamen against their officers and master against his mate, as she convinced us to so neatly hand all our booty over to her, without so much as a threat of resistance. See here how now she won’t even have to sift through the flotsam and wreckage of our ship for the Wave Wolf’s bounteous hoard of hard-won booty? Indeed, we helped her lose not one single golden regal to the depths of the Deep as the ship went down, where even she would not have been able to find or recover it all. Therefore, let us turn against her, me maties, as she has turned us against one another! Let us unite in defiance of her even-greater-than-our-own greed!”

And Qüāgälōr’s words swayed his fellow salts, so that they no longer tried to seize him and feed him to the colossal Sea Wȳrm.

However, his words of defiance and muster only served to enrage Nĕslōr all the more; and she began to undulate ’round about the ship, once more, faster and faster, so that a great whirlpool formed and foamed in the storm-tossed sea, and the mighty galleon spun upon her long keel like a child’s toy ship swirled in a rain barrel with a laundress’s dolly. Even sailors who had been born at sea grew sick at the whirling and churning as they clung to the shrouds like lowly landlubbers to steady their wobbly knees. Then, Nĕslōr beat upon the timbers of the hull again with her barbed tail and the caulking was fouled and the planking began to spring leaks from the bowsprit to the doghouse. “Stand fast, me brave maties! We’re no on the rocks yet!” Qüāgälōr cried encouragement to his wavering shipmates.

Then, Nĕslōr wrapped herself around the prow of the vessel and slithered half her loathsome bulk up upon the foredeck, so that the bow was submerged and Men slid and tumbled haplessly into her snapping jaws. The stench of her underbelly, as she began to spiral her way up the mainmast after her one-eyed nemesis, was enough to turn the last of the able-bodied seamen green, so that even the largest and proudest of them stepped to the rails and retched over the gunwales, some for the first time in their lives.

But moreover, their anger was now stirred up by the Sea Serpent’s trespass. It was their beloved ship that Nĕslōr had slimed aboard, and they did not intend to give her over to the Sea Drăgōn without a fight… not this time. For, all now realized that their foolish hopes of saving the Wave Wolf had only been a trick played upon them by the Wȳrm, herself; for she had swallowed enough gold to fill a king’s treasury, and it had neither sated her nor weighed her down in the water by one mark. And this realization made the sailors doubly angry. They drew their curved cutlasses and hacked at the scaly sides and underbelly of the Wȳrm, so that before Nĕslōr could reach the topgallant—and Qüāgälōr in the crow’s nest, above—she had to abandon her attack and retreat into the rolling water, once more.

The storm began to abate. Nĕslōr had been beaten back, and she disappeared below the calming waves. A great cheer went up among the sailors, calling their savior “Qüāgälōr the Brave, Nĕslōr’s Bane.”

But the Scourge of the Deep was, by no means, going to just let the Wave Wolf reef down her remaining sails and turn homeward under the power of her one standing mast. The sabers had only cut away some of the gelatinous slime that coated her underbelly and aided her movement though the cold water; they had not been able to penetrate the armor of her shimmering scales. No blade forged by Man or Ĕlf could have done that. Nĕslōr was damaged but not permanently wounded. Her under coating would soon grow back; but she vowed to have the crew one-by-one, for their insolence. But above all, she vowed to devour the Man-beast who had taunted her and then had united his mates against her. “We’ve changed our mind,” one head proclaimed. “We’ll save you for lastmost, ‘Qüāgälōr the Brave!’ ” another promised. “And your mates shall know, as we fillet them alive, that their most needless and grievous pain was but the due of your foolish defiance!”

Suddenly, Nĕslōr sprang from the water and snatched up the nearest seadog she could and began to strip the flesh from his limbs with her other two toothy jaws. The shellback screamed in agony, his skinless muscles twitching on the bared bone.

The crew looked at one another uncertainly. Then, one by one, they turned to look up at the “cause” of their cruel misery.

Qüāgälōr knew that he had to act fast or have his mates turn upon him, once more. “So, Foul Nĕslōr, ye fear me too grievously to have at me first?” he taunted the Sea Drăgōn.

Her three heads laughed in unison and then minced the bones of the sailor they were devouring, with their scissor-sharp glistening teeth. “We? Afraid of thee?” they mocked.

“Aye!” provoked her nemesis. “Afraid of One-Eyed Qüāgälōr. And right ye are to be so! For I’ll have ye and have me golden earring back, too. I’ll chase ye from ocean to ocean and over every salty sea-road, even ’round all Ĭndrēl…” He gazed about at the wrack of the Wave Wolf and added: “In a leaky rowboat, if need compels!”

His mates cheered him on. But what could Qüāgälōr really do against the mighty Sea Serpent, when legend seemed justified in claiming that no sword or weapon known to Man could pierce the Wȳrm’s scaly hide? And yet, he would not admit defeat, not to the vicious Drăgōn nor to his shipmates nor to himself.

Once more, Nĕslōr slammed against the creaking hull of the Wave Wolf; and Qüāgälōr nearly fell from the masthead as it shook at the terrible blow. But the one-eyed pirate clung to the ratlines and kept his footing sure. “May ye die on dry land, ye foul spawn of fetid sea scum!” he cursed.

“Come you down from there, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr;” “You may have your bauble back the-now…” “If you care to come looking for it.”

With those words, Nĕslōr opened her gaping maws tauntingly to the clearing sky, and Qüāgälōr saw his chance. Drawing the captain’s saber out, he leapt from the main topgallant’s crow’s nest and dove straight down into the Drăgōn’s central mouth, sword first. At the last moment, he turned the tip of the curved blade back and gave it a little twist, so that by the force of his long fall, the cutlass carved the Serpent’s innards in twain, from the roof of one mouth to the tip of her spiked tail, slicing down through her soft inner flesh and cartilage as he fell, corkscrewing all the way down through her entrails.

No blade had penetrated her scaly armor (as no blade could); and yet the great triumvirate Sea Serpent writhed and quaked, a screeching trio of agony. Bloody sea-foam frothed as she churned and twitched in her death pangs. Aboard the Wave Wolf, the jack-tars cheered wildly, when they realized what had happened. But then, they fell silent as Nĕslōr grew still and slowly began to sink below the lulling waves.

Inside the beast, Qüāgälōr realized his fate better than any. Beyond all hope, Nĕslōr was dead, killed without ever piercing her impregnable hide! But Qüāgälōr’s sharp blade had ruptured the bladder of gas that ran the length of the Wȳrm’s ribs, along her backbone, the buoyant means by which the Sea Serpent had been able to swallow a hill of golden treasure and not be dragged down into the Deeps. Now that the bladder had been punctured, Nĕslōr’s gold-filled carcass began to plummet towards the bottom of the Marēnēăn Ocean; and Qüāgälōr was trapped in the belly of the sinking behemoth. He could hardly move. He could not see or breathe. He could only feel the pressure of the ocean depths beginning to press in upon him. He knew that even from the inside, there was no way he could cut through the Wȳrm’s scaly hide and escape her body; so he let go of the cutlass and began to crawl and squirm and worm his way back through her ruptured guts and golden feast, towards the distant mouth in through which he had come.

Poisonous bile and venomous blood ate at his clothing and hair and skin. But he somehow managed to work his way back to the Serpent’s mouth, where he emerged into the salty sea, so deep under water, he could hardly tell in which direction the surface lay. He had run out of breath long ago, and air and hope were far beyond his reach, now. He had only fought to escape the Sea Serpent’s innards to avoid an eon of interment in her rotting carcass, at the icy bottom of the big blue; there was no way he could also swim to the distant surface. At least, however, he thought, I’ll not die in the Wȳrm’s foul gullet.

Without hope or expectation, he began to slowly swim towards the dim water above him. But he was too far submerged. He knew that at the start. But he struggled on, regardless. He would never make it to the life-giving air above; he could only hope, now, to at best make it far enough to escape the eternal darkness of the deeps, before he died.

Slowly, everything went black; and One-Eyed Qüāgälōr smiled to himself to know that he had died at sea, which is where every true salt wishes to have his bones laid to rest, when his life’s voyage comes to an end.

Yet, verily, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr did not die that day. He did not drown in the deep blue sea, though he lost consciousness a fifty-fathoms down. For a pod of nearby dolphins, happy to see the Sea Serpent slain, had followed Nĕslōr, and the pirate inside her, down into the murky Deeps.

Qüāgälōr came to, his ears bursting as he neared the surface. He erupted from the water “riding aback Vāndära—King of the Dolphins,” as the old shanteys told the tale, in after years. In truth, of course, he was scarcely alive, barely conscious, and badly burned from head to toe, by the Drăgōn’s acid innards; but he was alive. And the Sea Serpent was dead.

The whiskers on One-Eyed Qüāgälōr’s face, his eyebrows, and the locks on his head never grew back. Scars covered his skin, from pate to sole, so that for the rest of his life he was the palest sailor ever to fare upon the raging sea roads. And he never saw his precious earring more. Nor did he ever see, in after years, the lovely wench who had given it to him. But he was captained by his mates and served as master of the pirate ship Wave Wolf II, to the end of his days (which they say only came many and many a year later). Some sea songs tell how the One-Eyed Sea Lord died a very rich and a very happy salt, while others say he died without a copper regal to his name, of a “long stroll on a short plank.” But this here bard heard tell how the King of the Dolphins came to gather Qüāgälōr home, when his leagues were numberèd, and Vāndära carried him off to that farthest shore where all the wenches are lovely, gold dust beaches are washed by ever-gentle waves, and grog flows from springs in the ground.

The End

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