Tale of the Phantom Ship by Zdenka

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Story Notes:

Written for Back to Middle-earth Month 2012, for the Crossover I card, crossover “. . . with a story from your country” (N38). This story is loosely based on the poem “The Phantom Ship” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who states that he derived it from an incident recounted by Cotton Mather.

I don't think this quite needs a formal character death warning, but there is referenced original character death in the tale-within-a-tale.


The fields of Emeriė were wet with rain. The women of the household clustered together inside to perform their household tasks, and to make the work lighter they sang or told stories. At last the turn came around to an old woman named Zāirath, who put down her sewing in her lap and began:

“Once there was a maiden named Abāril. Her beloved was a mariner and sailed afar on many voyages; but always he would come back to her and their love was renewed. Whenever he was at sea, she feared all storms and rocks and treacherous currents, and prayed daily to Lady Uinen to keep him safe. ‘Or if that may not be,’ she said, ‘then let me at least know his fate; for to mourn his death is a lesser torment than to live forever uncertain, between doubt and hope.’

“On a fine spring morning, her lover set sail once again, and for a long time, no word came of his ship. Abāril haunted the high tower beside the harbor, looking always for a trace of his sail; but as time wore on, his ship still did not return, and there was no word of him. Years passed in this way; her parents, who had been fond of the young man, grieved also, but they besought her to pay him the rites for the dead and to choose another. ‘That I cannot,’ she said, ‘while there is a chance of his remaining alive’; and she was obdurate. Finally, in her grief she prayed to Lady Uinen: ‘I do not begrudge you his life, for it is the Doom of Men that all must die soon or late; but whether he is alive or dead, send me knowledge of the truth.’ Thus she cried out, standing on a cliff overlooking the sea.

“And then, it is said, Uinen had mercy on her. There in the harbor appeared a vision of her lover’s ship, so clearly that she could see the bough of oiolairė on the prow and recognize the faces of those on board. Then, before her eyes, the sails slipped from the mast and were blown away, though the air was calm; the stout masts themselves swayed and fell; and at last the ship broke to pieces and sank beneath the waves. Then Abāril wept, for she knew in her heart that Uinen had granted her a vision of her lover’s death and he would never again answer when she called his name. She mourned for many years, but it eased her heart to know the truth, and finally she gave her love to another and grieved no more.”

The other women immediately began to debate over her tale, some saying it could not be true and others that it could be so. Laughter broke out among them. And suddenly the laughter ceased, for the Lady Erendis stood before them. Her grey eyes were hostile as a stormy sea.

“I do not wish such tales to be told in my house, or mentioned in my daughter’s presence,” she said coldly. “If you must tell stories, make them of another sort.” The women looked from one to another, not daring to speak. Erendis, seeing that her presence was a constraint on them, would not stay where she was unwelcome. She turned and left the chamber, leaving them to do as they would. But the women’s talk was subdued and they sang no more that afternoon.




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