Friday, November 30, 2007

Lunch on the BAS Fernmarvel

There's still no sign of the road, but we found something much more interesting today.

We had been walking for most of the morning, passing hot springs and salamander hunters crouched over lava pools, when the scraps started appearing. They were widely scattered at first - just a shred here and there, pieces of the tough grub silk used for airship balloons. The airtight wax had melted off long ago.

We followed them for a while, having nothing better to do while looking for the road. I picked them up idly as we walked.

There were more of them the farther we went. It was getting hard to find a spring or patch of ground that didn't have a scrap of cloth in it somewhere when we came around a steam vent and saw the gondola.

It was obviously the source of the scraps: an old airship gondola, practically an antique, covered with old-fashioned Caroque scrollwork and tarnished brass. It was half-submerged, nose-down, in a steaming hot spring. The cockpit was completely underwater. It had been brightly painted once; faint patches of red and gold remained in crevices and the frames of the shattered windows. The steam had taken most of it off.

It took me a moment to realize what it was, as I'd never seen an airship gondola without its balloons before. They were completely gone. That was hardly surprising, though, as their remains were spread over several miles of the canyon. The hydrogen must have ignited at some point. The support ropes drooped forlornly from their hooks, rotting in the damp.

As we got closer (after all, if you find a crashed airship, how can you not investigate it?), we saw that the spring it was sticking out of was an odd gray-green color. It smelled like an explosion in a tea shop. Some sort of mineral thing, I assumed. That happens to some hot springs.

We were sitting there staring when a man came out of a small hatch near the back (now the top) of the airship. All we could see from the ground was that he was small and purple.

"Ahoy, visitors!" he shouted. "That's the sight I like to see, yes sir, it is! Got any tea? No? No, you don't look like the type. That's all right, we can't all have tea, after all. Well, what are you waiting for? Come in, come in! I haven't got all day! Well, actually I do, but who cares about that? I've got lunch, that's what matters! Come in and we'll eat it!"

With that, he disappeared back inside, still talking.

We hesitated for a moment. It had been a rather unusual greeting. After walking unsuccessfully all morning, though, I was rather tired of it, and an invitation to lunch was no less welcome because the person who gave it was a bit odd. Most people are a bit odd.

Fortunately, there was another door farther down the airship; there was enough ornamentation on the hull that I could have climbed to the upper door, but Plack couldn't have managed it. Llamas can't climb vertical surfaces. He was reluctant to go in at all at first, but the promise of lunch was enough to tempt someone who had been eating nothing but cube turnips since we left the upper jungle.

The man we had seen opened the lower door as we reached it. He was a reptile of some sort, about four feet tall and stocky, with the most enormous ears I've ever seen. Except for his silver-tinged purple scales, he looked almost like a flightless bat. He was wearing an old captain's uniform, very worn and faded, patched with scraps of the same fabric that lay all over the ground outside. I think it had once been blue. The shoulders and lapels were trimmed with scuffed gold braid.

"Ah, there you are, good!" He beamed up at us. "Come right in, I got lunch all ready on the boiler, we can use the good china from the old days! You must be wondering who I am, eh? I'm the captain of this here ship! Been sailing the skies for thirty years! Been sailing this here puddle for the last twelve, actually, but I likes it here, so that's all right. Only problem is there's no one to talk to. Had to talk to myself since last week. You're here now, though, so I can make up for lost time! Come in and eat!"

The captain spent the next few hours showing us around his airship - the parts of it still above water, anyway - and served us a lunch of boiled cacti (deflated), geyser shrimp, and scones on chipped, fern-patterned gilt china. Apparently, he boiled his food in the hottest part of the spring. It had the same strange herbal smell that the water did. I don't normally drink water that smells strange; the captain seemed perfectly healthy, though - almost frighteningly so - so I didn't worry about it. It did make the food taste good.

The airship was magnificent. It was gradually disintegrating in the heat and the damp of the Boiler Room, but it must have been one of the most splendid airships in the sky before it crashed. Every room was a masterpiece of lightweight Caroque architecture. Carved float-wood panels made up the walls, every unmildewed curve and curlicue still gleaming in the dim orange light coming in through the cracked gallery windows. Light bronze leaf coated the banisters of the stairs. The grand ballroom was missing the entire upper wall; trees grew there, sheltered from the heat outside. Their branches echoed the arches of the broken Palladian windows. Fifteen years of fallen leaves and branches from the jungle overhead had turned into a thick layer of soil, perfect for their fallen seeds.

"Not much of a ballroom now, this place," the captain commented. "A conservatory, that's what it is, and you won't find better on any other airship, they got to be retired like the old Fernmarvel here." (That was how we found out the airship's name; the gilded letters on the hull had long since vanished, either fallen off or stolen.) "You like jellyapples? Course you do, who doesn't like jellyapples, no one I know, and I got 'em growing right over there by the staircase. I'll get us a few after lunch."

We finished lunch (and the promised jellyapples) in the old navigator's cockpit, a small, cozy room full of rusted machinery and water that had leaked in through the shattered observation windows. Like the water outside - even more so, actually - it was green and steaming and smelled like tea. The captain sat right in the middle of the rising steam, perched on the back of an old swiveling chair bolted to the deck. It stuck out diagonally over the water now.

The cockpit was full of souvenirs of the airship's travels: fossils from the Golden Desert, cyclonoscopes from Mount Moler, a compass still faithfully pointing to a tree in Bannarbangle, seashells resplendent with spines and spirals, a tiny lizard saddle, a four-foot havernack tooth from Morianny carved into the shape of a lighthouse, tasselled Tetravanian tapestries, coins from all over Hamjamser strung from the ceiling... An airship can pick up a lot in thirty years. An antique pipe crawler, still ticking, slept in a glass case to keep its clockwork dry. None of the airship's plumbing worked anymore; the captain had replaced its pipe-wrench claws with scissors and a sewing machine needle so that it could repair his uniform. The strange green scent of the water filled the room.

The captain sighed happily and settled down in the middle of it all to chew his jellyapple. "I've never liked the cold." He shook his head fiercely. "Not even when I was young. Never liked it. Only thing I didn't like about flying an airship, well, that and snobby passengers, never liked them either. I'm more comfortable here than I've been in decades. After we crashed, the crew, passengers all left. I stayed behind. Went down with my ship, I did, and I'm not about to come back up without it, no sir! (That's me, you see - sir - since I'm the captain.) I like this place. I got heat, I got steam for me old lungs, high altitudes weren't good to 'em, and-" he pointed to the steaming, greenish water below - "I got the biggest teapot in the world!"

That explained the smell and the odd greenish color, then. Not minerals after all. It was an entire spring of tea.

He grinned. "You must be wondering where I gets it, yes?" (I was, in fact, but he didn't wait for an answer.) "Hunters bring it to me. All kinds. Green tea, chamomile, Vinchess Purple, mint, fruit zinger - I got 'em all mixed in there. I gives 'em information, you see. I know where the big salamanders hide. I can hear 'em." He tapped one enormous, leathery ear. "Hear 'em all the way from here, humming to themselves down in the lava."

We sat there in the tea-steamed clutter of the cockpit for several hours, listening to the captain tell stories of his travels. I might post a few of them someday if I remember. He sent us off near sunset with the leftovers; there was far more food than the three of us could eat in one meal. We've got a whole bag full of cacti, shrimp, and everlasting ship's scones. Overall, it was the best lunch I've had since eating at the Potted Pumpkin in Cormilack. I don't think the salamander hunters just come for advice.

Neither Plack nor I had a chance to say a single word the whole time. The captain talked constantly. We did say goodbye when we left, but he had started an impassioned monologue to his pipe crawler by then, and I don't think he heard us.

I'll have to remember to bring some tea the next time I cross the Greenhouse Cliff.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter