The following was originally written by me at: New SouthPort Forums. Thanks to all my friends there, and thanks to Rolf at Wurm.
When a man finds refuge from his personal life in his work, severe suffering sometimes produces significant works. Truly, the work of fine artists and musicians manifests this claim. So, too, is the nature of a shipwright. The following is the story of pain, turned into passion.
Before the first tree was felled, before plans were drawn for a great vessel, the sanguine cracks into the spirit of the shipwright ran fast and flowing with the pain of great loss. His love of more than a decade, the mother of his children had, in her depression and selfishness, betrayed their covenant and pursued him with all manner of murderous beasts and villains, including hired assassins, esquire. Her goal was to steal and destroy, and well she met those heathen goals. After several weeks at sea, the shipwright took refuge in his work, to staunch the effluence of his very spirit.
Comfort, camaraderie, and compassion sought the heart of the shipwright as he began to learn his trade. His first days at New SouthPort, down by the docks, he spent crafting bits and bobs for a rowboat, left unfinished and abandoned by a former resident of the village. Soon, the work of another's rowboat required his assistance. Upon completion of this sturdy yet simple craft, he dyed it blue to match his asphyxiated spirit, and the two friends named it Blue Snake after its slender form and gliding characteristic in the water. Secretly, the shipwright had also named it after the beast that tricked and deceived him, his lost love.
With the queer filth of crushed woad still tainting his fingernails, the shipwright sought a greater project, to find healing, a cover for the small hole in his chest and the bruise around his heart. He had seen the failed construction of a Corbita lie derelict to the West of the docks, a false start and a fleeting hope. Although the Corbita was a reasonable craft to build, it lacked ambition, and more importantly, it lacked a crow's nest. No vision for the future, and a stunted eye for the horizon. At a late hour, under the red glow of his office lamp, he poured over various plans and schematics, seeking a goal and a target for his healing, his freedom. Knarrs lacked speed. Caravels were too grandiose with their dolphin strikers and busy staysails. Sloops, yawls, ketches, skiffs, luggers, brigs, snows, and fluyts... none seemed to fit. Finally, after reviewing countless strake-laying patterns, weighing the trade-offs of a full draw keel versus a flattened hull amidships, and measuring for crew, cargo, and cost, the shipwright, exhausted, scribbled "Cog" on a scrap of leather, nailed it to his door, and fell into his chaise by the window.
A flickering glint of late sunrise light glanced gracefully off the deadly edge of the weapon smith's morning craft, piercing through the veiled shade of the somber willow fronds that draped before the shipwright's window, the twinkle pricking his eyes and blinking him awake. The smells of town greeted him immediately. Although some were welcome, as the cookhouse was crackling and bubbling with the promise of a good meal, others, he resolved, should be eliminated in haste, as the scat of various pets and livestock was doing more for the nose and less for the crops to the East of town. After refreshment and comestibles, a stop at the commode, and a heartfelt prayer, the work of the day was upon him.
The first, and several thereafter, of days, was spent at the base of trees. Several varieties were needed, but only some were suited for felling. A great quantity of oak meant the end of several copses around town. Teak was not to be found on the continent, and the shipwright knew he would settle for lemonwood as a substitute planking. He would have preferred limewood or any other citrus; the pungent fragrance had always made him heave. Although pine was in vast abundance, it splintered quickly, sapped and knotted many holes, and generally speaking was only suitable for house construction and fueling a forge. Still, he was unsure of the new forms required for building the Cog, and felt that practice on an abundant, disposable timber was wise.
When the sweat, grime, and pollen of a score of harvested pine trees littered the path down to the docks, the shipwright stuck his warm axe into a nearby stump and began the next task. Passing a glance to the busy axehead, he wondered whether the rapid chopping had come from the axehead, his skill, or his cathartic imagination. Drawing the load into a boathouse on a rudimentary cart, he adjusted and placed his large tools carefully along the wall and arrayed the rest on his toolbelt. With all his might, he strained to heft the first felled tree. It was too much. He emptied his pockets, dropped his belt, laid all his belongings down, and still the massive timber conquered him. He stepped outside to reclaim his axe from the heart of the tree stump, and carefully lopped off a cubit-sized log. Again, the shipwright strained to hoist the load, and again, he was too weak. Two more logs were removed before the load was possible. When he began to measure out the remainder of the felled tree, he realized his error, and there was not enough for a section of the keel remaining. Disappointed, he picked his saw up, made some planks, and moved to the next tree.
The second tree was different. A bit smaller, he felt more confident he could cut it to the right size and yet not beyond his capacity to lift it. With a steady increase in the accumulation of logs and wood chips, the shipwright had just the right size. Without rest, he began crafting a keel section. A nearby penned animal, unhappy with its confinement, let out an ugly cry, and this startled the shipwright, right during an axe swing. The axehead fell off funny, split the beam lengthwise just a little, and rendered it completely useless. An entire tree, wasted. Nothing but firewood. Looking around, the shipwright noted that he was making more progress with befriending the blacksmith by creating scrap that fit into the forge than he was at making parts for the Cog. Sometime past the noon hour, mostly planks and bits and bobs were made. A couple keel sections managed to survive massive heaps of failure. The shipwright took a strained cartload of scrap up to the weapon smith, and came down with his belated noontime meal.
While he nourished his stomach, his heart was still starving as he returned to the task. Without noticing it, the acrid tinge of pine pitch in the air that had reddened his eyes earlier, were now the fount of steady tears. The shipwright, awash with a sting in his eyes and a thorn in his heart, crumpled atop a high shelf of planks, burying his eyes in his palms. He shook and then sobbed, openly. The ache in his heart and the ache of his back were a match. An unfamiliar step on the path to New SouthPort startled him from his grief. He stood up and reached for his tools again. For just a moment, he paused. Rather than returning to his work, he held the tool in odd ways, studying it, as if it could have other purposes. His mind raced in a flood of thoughts that seemed to come from outside his mind. His grip on the tool changed, as the umbra of dark thoughts seized his arms and his body. No! As casually as he had first grabbed the tool, he put it down with the grace as before an altar. "These tools will heal me, not destroy me," he resolved, aloud.
His comments were met with an unexpected knock at the boathouse. An opened door welcomed the familiar but distant citizen into the boathouse.
"Hullo," greeted the citizen.
The encumbered response came in the form of: "Oh, yes, hello. Right."
"What are you doing?"
After a moment's collect, the shipwright responded "I'm building a Cog. Just started today. What brings you here?"
"Ah, well, to the East, I'm building a peninsula home for myself. I need some space. Say, this is awfully small a space to be building a ship. How will you get the Cog out when it is built?"
"You know, that's a good question. Last time, we had to bust two walls to get just a rowboat out of here. It was a waste of time, but nobody stole the boat at least."
"I can see that as a problem. Well, if you'd like to see my place, feel free to follow me along the coast."
"I think I will. I've not seen it yet."
The pair made their way on foot along the shore and a bit into the water. There were several trees slowing their approach at certain points. When they arrived, the citizen remarked that the trees were really in the way. A quick tour of the plot explained the intended locations of various construction areas:
"And over here, I'm planning a walk lined with oaks. They are such handsome trees, and they are somewhat easy to plant. Beyond the shore, I have a lot of wood I need to clear for a patch of farmland. No use for the wood, though, I build only in stone."
The shipwright fished around his face with his hand for a minute and found a smile when his hand withdrew. "You know," he began, "I could really use a lot of that lumber if it is just going to waste. I don't like the idea of building out in the open, though. Perhaps you'd let me haul the wood back to my boathouse?"
The citizen thought for a moment. "Well, I'll have guards protecting my deed if you'd like to build on that. I don't pay them much, but a thief would think twice. The guards aren't very tough, but they do manage a good journal of the goings on. At the very least, you'd have a quarry for your retribution if larceny is even possible."
For the first time all day, the shipwright lit up. "It's settled then. Thank you. Please let me know how I can help you while I'm here."
"Good company, for starters. Hardly anyone is around when I'm at work and being alone is a transition for me. I'm getting over a break-up with my sweetheart."
"Really?" came the reply. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know how you feel, I'm in a bad spot with my wife, and coming to grips with losing her. You know, I could put a simple path in back along the shore. I'll need it to get my supplies over here anyway."
"Ah, I'm sorry too, and yes, the path would be a good idea, thank you."
Within a couple more hours, the path to the homestead had been mostly carved out of the earth, and the shipwright was cheerfully dragging his cart along, full of what useful lumber or parts he had made, as well as a run of scraps from previous works at the docks. A pungent bucket of tar was also in the mix, the diggings from a recent pit discovered North of the village. He set up neat piles quickly, and left for the boathouse to carry his few successful keel sections. For some peculiar reason, the keel sections kept rolling out or off the back of the cart, and would not dependably stay inside, even though a pair of felled trees would consistently nestle in either corner of the cart and stay put. It was frustrating to have to carry them, after having spent all that time on the path, but options were not in abundance and the walk was relatively short.
The end of the first day saw the shipwright leave to his house in New SouthPort for the night, the citizen build a corner of his home, and the arrival of some gaunt but friendly guards to the plot. The citizen had named his plot "Ascension," and it inspired the shipwright on his walk home.
Getting an earlier start on the next day fueled the forge of optimism for the shipwright, as he strolled along the path to his works. Along the way, he chopped down and dragged a few cedar trees, intent on making them serve some purpose on the Cog, perhaps as footplanks in the cargo hold. By the time he arrived at the plot, which was quickly shaping into a sturdy keep along the water, the citizen had felled several trees of his own to make a path to his rock mine. With the abundance of timber about, the shipwright was elated at the possibility of getting a good start with the keel sections. Before the noon hour, he had produced a total of five, in varying quality. He chose one to be the starting keel, and carved, polished, filed, and hammered it until he could do no more to improve it.
"I'm going to start now."
"Good luck. What are you building again?" came the reply from the citizen.
"A Cog. It is harder, but not impossible. My chances are low but I think it is worth it."
"Did you talk to the shipwright in Mystery Glade? I hear they have built a lot more ships already."
"Yeah, the one gal says I'm crazy. I heard someone say she dabbles in healing minds, so I wonder if that was a professional opinion. She told me I'm too inexperienced and it will take forever."
"You know, I've built a couple sailboats, they seem more reasonable. Why not build one of those?"
"Yeah, all the advice is logical, but I don't feel very logical right now, so I'm going to just do it my way and see if it was worth it. Our village could use a decent ship as it is. The small boats don't hold funny items."
And with that, the shipwright began. The first attempt failed, leaving one busted keel section and a stunned hand. The second was also a loss, but with the third, everything came together. In an instant, staring at the successful join, the shipwright could see the whole Cog before him. Unfinished, but in his mind's eye, it was done, and only work remained to take it from his mind to the real form. With a shout that startled an unusually close-by unicorn, the shipwright proclaimed: "I did it, I started the Cog! You hear me Mystery Glade? Not even one chance in ten and I did it."
"It will take you months to get it done," came the response from the forest. The shipwright wondered whether it was his fellow citizen, or perhaps the sage wisdom echoing down all the way from Mystery Glade. Amused, he kept at his task.
For the next several days, the shipwright continued on his construction, sharing conversation with villagers and citizens about his project. Occasionally, folks would come down for an hour or two to tack on some parts, as it was good experience. Although the construction was haphazard, and work was done without a specific order or pattern, the work was getting done, bit by bit.
One day, another villager, who had been turning a tidy profit building and selling small sailboats way up North in the center of the continent, came down to discuss the project with the shipwright. He was also on the city council.
"You know, the wood parts aren't easy, but rigging this Cog of yours is going to take skills you don't have. I've made some sails and rigging before and I could help you," advised the councilor.
"Wow, I'd really appreciate your help, and you're right. Would you do that for me?"
"Sure I would. Always help folks if you can. When you need a break though, the docks aren't nearly half-done yet, and nobody is working on them."
"You are quite right. Some days, I spend an hour and feel like I failed nine times out of ten, just hammering a single peg into place. I'll take a break."
With the promise of a big problem solved, the shipwright was happy to pick up a shovel and lay down his wood tools for a couple of weeks. With this change of activity, he became skilled enough to earn a title working with the earth, and shared his learnings with others in the community. His one continuing frustration was the fluctuation in the plan for the docks. The councilor had laid some massive stones in the water to mark off construction points, but the entire vision was as cloudy as the water in the port itself. While he worked, he thought about his ship and occasionally reminded himself that every ship needs a port. Perhaps he was finding a place to berth his cares. The villagers had been kind to him, compassionate, and tolerant while he sorted through his feelings. The mayor had even given him a private study and a desk to work his thoughts down into a journal, to process his feelings about the matter with his wife. Although he had a desk of his own at his office in his house, the invitation to record it somewhere else was irresistible and it was healing to know people cared so much for him.
Two months into the construction of the Cog, the shipwright became discouraged. The more complete the ship got, the harder it was to fit things together. Although his skills were dramatically improved, it was like the work got harder even faster than he could improve. Progress was slow and defeating. The shipwright worked on the docks again, started up a field for an archery range, participated on hunts, and did everything but work on the Cog. One day changed all that.
As the shipwright came back to the village one night, he noticed that the councilor was, true to his word, working on the rigging. Several grunts and false starts reminded him of his first attempts to lay the keel. Knowing that someone else was facing the same frustration as an act of generosity made him realize the healing of selflessness. For a time, he worked on someone else's ambitious project to build a tunnel up the side of a mountain, and when news came that some of the rigging had been finished, he returned to the Cog, almost embarrassed by the distractions.
When he returned, looking at the Cog, he didn't see a finished craft with parts missing in reality, he saw it for what it was: an open hull with a lot of work done so far. It wasn't that the vision of what was to be done was gone, but merely, he had to see only the work that was done, the tangible accomplishments of now a group of effort. Looking upon his own life, his troubles and pains, he saw himself as an unfinished vessel, but a long project, and he was satisfied. He noticed that in his own healing, some parts were still in progress while others were well on their way to completion. Looking back upon his development, he realized that like the Cog, work was done not by just himself but also by others. He could point to new habits and new ways of thinking and say where someone else did the work on his plan, just as easily as he could point to a plank or board and recognize the craft of another upon the work of the Cog.
The remaining eleven days went quickly. Excitement was brewing about the completion, and more than once, he had two citizens help him for over an hour. The rigging finally got hauled all the way over from New SouthPort to "Ascension," and there was very little left to do. Ascension itself had been completed more than a month ago, and true to his word, the master of the keep had left a gap in the wall so the Cog could be dragged out to the water. Also, the docks had made significant progress, although it was quite unclear as to what constituted completion.
It was a late hour when the last peg was knocked in place, the last tenon matched. To the shipwright, it looked finished, but he wasn't certain. He examined it all around and consulted his plans. It even bore his name. At last, he shouted "I'm done! The Cog is finished. Our port finally has a ship." His cries, which well could have carried all the way to Mystery Glade, were met with cheers and congratulations, balanced with heartfelt thanks and approval. A name came forth from this experience. One of courage and accomplishment: Retribution, the returning gift. It was a good, sound choice, and well-met by the townsfolk of New SouthPort.
In the world, there are certain ironies when it comes to the work of man. Perhaps the greatest was that the shipwright, although accomplished in his task, was no sea captain, and could not skipper his own vessel for nearly two months. In that time, he resolved to serve as spotter, and even slept nights in that crow's nest. On more than several occasions, roused from sleep, he stumbled afoot and came crashing down on the shore, to the contusion of his head and the confusion of his pilot. In her first few months of service, Retribution sailed across the great oceans, was a ruckus of fun with fishing poles and a jug of rum, and it provided excitement and enchantment to the whole of New SouthPort.
For as much went into NSPS Retribution for the vessel, much was drawn from it for the voyage of its completion. To every degree that every man will wield a hammer, draw a blade, or swing an axe, we hew our own craft. Like the shipwright, many of us will abandon or fail on tasks alone. It is from stout hearts that we draw our courage and the enemy we deny.