Fourteen days spent locked in the dark hold below of the merchant ship Wavedancer was the fate of a crewman who just couldn’t help but crack open a bottle of one of Blackport’s finest. He told himself he’d try just one mug, I mean what’s all the fuss about? He had convinced himself that he was more than a match for any man who said he could drink a barrel dry by sunrise. Three small cups of the stuff, that was it! With barely enough room to squeeze out a gulp or two with each pouring. But it was enough to drive him to near insanity.
‘Argh, gods! That’s some bitter stuff…..that is quite strong.’
Tobyn clutches his throat as he vigorously coughs and splutters, struggling to keep his drink down.
‘Devihn, quick grab me some spiced rum from the quartermaster’s stores, before he gets back. My gods damned throats gone numb! Hmph, but by Maellor does it go down smooth and sweet.’
His first taste of the sweet sting of his ale, gone all at once.
Elderberry ale, an infamously stout drink imported from the coast cities of Elumbria, has been known to have odd and somewhat unknowable affect upon those who find its pungent aroma and bittersweet taste irresistible. It is considered to be such a potent drink that only the northerners from Lochland have been able to offer any worthwhile and long lasting demand. Perhaps it is because their naturally bulky frames and affinity for cold weather can offer some mild resistance to a brew that could transform the most decent of men into blithering fools after only a single mug.
‘This bitter berry drink, I think, makes merry this man as I sink into the fuzzy bosom of this hairy woman.’
‘Are you alright Tobyn?’
Tobyn wanders around thoughtlessly below deck, stumbling through the shadows cast by the flicker of lamplight in a haze as he tries to steady himself against the bobbing of the ship battling the wind whilst his longtime, beleaguered sailing companion, Devihn, looks on helplessly. A chubby man tasked with cleaning the deck, whose bare chest now acts as a prickly pillow for Tobyn’s increasingly heavy head, is not amused in the slightest.
‘My eyes are throbbing Devihn!’
‘Yes. Could you hold onto them for a minute while I just finish this off?’
‘You want me to look after your eyes? Are you mad?’
‘Splendid. Good man. I can always depend on dear old Devihn to lend a hand. You can have my nipples in a moment too, I never use the bloody things. Tis my gift to you.’
His blurry, almost sightless eyes wince as his throat burns from the rapid chill cascading down this throat. That aftertaste though, he feels as though he is supping of the sweetest wine straight from the naval of Lucretia, the goddess of beauty, lust and pleasure, herself.
‘I do beg your forgiveness my dear lovely lady. Would you like a sip?’
The agitated chubby sailor can stand this folly no longer as Tobyn holds his empty cup up to him with one hand and pokes at his belly button with the other. He steps backward with a massive stride causing the drunkard to crash onto the cold, damp floor of the deck.
‘Quickly Devihn, I need my eyes back now. This bed is far too wet to lie down upon. Also, I think I have pissed myself. Could you check for me please?’
The ale’s potency begins to take full effect upon finishing his second cup.
It is said that to taste it is akin to being kicked in the neck by an overzealous mare whilst swallowing a hundred sour berries that burn a man’s throat with such a bitter cold sting, it’s as if he’s having freshly carved spears of pure ice from the far Highland peaks shoved down his gullet. Many men whose pride outmatches their prowess will brag about being able to down ten mugs of this in a single night. Yet you need only ask the lonely sailor locked away for a fortnight on the good ship Wavedancer just how powerful it is.
The captain has awoken from his cabin. With heavy eyes and a foul mood, he stomps down into the bowels of the ship with Devihn to find out what woke him up in the middle of the night.
‘Could you kindly tell me why this man is floundering on the deck as naked as the day he was born?’
‘He thinks he is a fish captain.’
‘Yes captain. He told me that he was far too wet to be a man anymore and so he threw his clothes into that barrel and then started……swimming!’
The captain moves a step closer to Tobyn who is still trying to ‘swim’ away. He sniffs the stench of the man before him to smell that unmistakable reek of bittersweet ale, musty salt water air and the odour of warm piss.
‘Too many……must swim……further.’
Tobyn’s mouth is unable to fully articulate what is going through his ale addled mind, such is the strength of this particular drink.
‘I must go……see the Ephydryads below……. I have too many nipples! It’s indecent I tell you!’
‘He’s been at the elderberry batch, hasn’t he?’
‘He has, captain. Though not much of it from what I can tell.’
‘Fucking idiot! There’s a good reason why it’s kept away from our own ale supplies. Only northerners can even stand it to keep it down. How many has he had?’
‘I believe that was his third captain.’
‘Well, I’ll give him his due. That’s two more than most.’
‘Down………into the sea……I must go……. Devihn still has my eyes……. greedy bastard! How many does he need?’
‘Go and fetch the quartermaster and have him shackled down below until we reach Lochland. And you can tell that incompetent fool that he needs to keep our trade supply locked up next time. Unless he wants to tell the head of the Merchants Guild in Meriden why we’re shy a few drops of their most sought after batch.’
‘Are we to leave him as he is? Stark bollock naked, captain?’
‘Of course, crewman. If he wants to be a fish, what need has he for clothing!’
Devihn grasps Tobyn firmly by his feet and starts to drag him away across the damp wood of the deck on his back.
‘Make sure you lock the door behind him and keep him fed. Not for two days though, he’ll be a bumbling wreck incapable of even sitting up straight.’
‘You’ve seen this before, captain?’
‘Let’s just say that I know what he’s going through right now.’
‘If you don’t mind me asking captain, what kind of fish were you?’
‘Fish!? Don’t be daft man. Be gone with you.’
Devihn grunts heavily as he pulls Tobyn up the rough and splintered wooden staircase above deck to find the quartermaster.
‘I was a horse, a purebred steed from Stonehold.’