Here's a riddle. What do Smeagol, Ragnarok, Bruce Dickinson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge all have in common?
The Rhyme of the Ancient Gold-Mariner
Written in 2004 by Smeagol (who now goes by the name Ragnarok, reads this blog, but won't participate in the comments here for the superstitious reason that every site where he comments seems to go the way of the albatross, which he then hangs around his own neck. ;)
Around the World the story had been told,
About a Race that would in time unfold,
Which would intrigue all, lofty or lowly,
With stakes higher than any in history.
The outcome would turn out to affect
Even those who didn't participate or bet.
Irresistibly altering everyone's course
In subtle or brutal ways for better or worse.
Finally the season came for which many long had yearned.
And then dawned the day on which all eyes were turned
To such a spectacle as rare as one would ever see.
Quite possibly the only of its kind to ever be.
Long in preparation with no expenses spared,
While news reporters shouted and klaxons blared,
In the morning at precisely eight-twenty on the clock,
The largest vessel the World had ever seen slid from her dock.
Christened with only the finest of Champagne
In the midst of an extravagant ad campaign,
With a thunderous wave that drenched onlookers ashore,
The Derive was launched, greater than any before.
Financed by those who had no peers,
Built by teams of respected engineers,
Underwritten by triple-A rated papers,
Her decks and bridges rose like skyscrapers.
Stronger she looked than the fortress of a treasury.
Each of her engines could power a very large city.
Her itinerary was impeccable and the menu was endless;
She would make many a tidy sum, this new empress.
One could choose to have every affair managed and let their cares go,
Or experience the thrill of risking it all in the world's largest floating casino.
Thousands boarded and the staff their merchandise stowed.
The Derive was open for business and the profits flowed.
Since she commanded resources so vast,
Against this behemoth surely no other could last.
With every option, every benefit one could describe,
What could ever compete with the great Derive?
Yet in time a glorious ship on the horizon did appear.
Old yet majestic was the Standard, proud and without fear.
Wherever and whenever her tall silver sails unfurled
She was considered the greatest ocean-going craft in the World.
Glad cries went up as the renowned Standard dropped anchor.
Trusty and secure, "Good as gold" everyone ranked her.
A boast in typical good faith her Captain did make:
"Come, Derive, we challenge you to follow in our wake!"
Then the parties commenced and everyone celebrated.
In sleepless expectation the start they anticipated,
Only to be rudely stunned awake by the news at break of day;
The great Standard had sunk, right there in the bay!
Treachery! Skullduggery! Sabotage, Cloaks and Daggers!
Conspiracy! An inquiry! yelled headlines in the papers.
But as the days passed it soon became obvious
It was unlikely that any would soon be brought to justice.
Dejected, the daily crowds of spectators milled about.
Derive remained unchallenged and many began to doubt.
"Now what? We might as well go home;
With Standard gone the Derive surely stands alone."
For the great ship Standard had been damaged beyond repair.
Indeed never would her lofty sails again embrace the air.
Meanwhile, far out on the ocean a brilliant flash of sun
Glanced from golden hulls; from the middle one,
A golden mast with yellow sail canted at a jaunty angle.
From another the legs of some of her crew did dangle.
A sleek seaworthy time-tested trimaran was she,
Skimming the sun-dappled waves like golden dolphins three.
At first few noticed the elegant ship's approach;
After all the harbor a great many and much bigger did boast.
But nimbly she wove, through and between, eventually to arrive
Right under the bow of the humongous Derive.
Her crew and captain were rugged, strong and lean as wires.
In some other tale perhaps, they might pass as miners.
"Many a thousand mile we've come to see this big pile o' ship.
I'm Captain Goldheart. Excuse me, *BAU-URR-I-I-P-P*!
But your claim to be the best we most emphatically doubt.
We're throwing down the gauntlet. Calling you out.
We've seen a few rough times, but no race we've ever lost.
I don't care how huge, how powerful or how much you cost.
Goldwing here's a four-nine ship with a mighty fine crew,
And we're just itching to trounce the likes of you!"
The multitude was bemused by Goldheart's rash bravado.
Something about the depth of passion in his voice was odd, though.
Perplexed, confused, they wondered at some hoax;
"Maybe it's someone's strange idea of a joke?"
Now Goldwing wasn't a small ship compared to some,
But when nearby the tremendous Derive did she come,
Most obvious to all was the great difference in size.
Her mast not halfway to Derive's first railing did rise.
The scene certainly didn't suggest any possibility of a race.
By now some were thinking the whole thing a disgrace.
"Give us a break!" "A trimaran?" "That design's a relic."
"Pretty, yes, but... isn't it kind of barbaric?"
Then, to the utter astonishment of all,
The Captain of Derive answered the call!
"We're going abroad no matter who you are or what you say.
You may tag along if you want, only stay out of our way!
Frankly we stand to gain whether or not a race is run.
But we like good times and speculation as much as anyone.
I bring word the Board of Directors will hand to you Derive,
Should you circle the World before us, and here return alive.
Otherwise, you must give up your antiquated ship of gold,
As our trophy to display in our Ancient Exhibits hold."
Every eye went to and fro the two ships, worlds apart.
"What say you to these terms, Captain Goldheart?"
Goldheart said nothing, carefully weighing the words.
All grew hushed, expectant; only seagulls could be heard.
Then,"You've nothing we can't get, even if we wanted it, you see.
We live life to it's fullest and make our own prosperity.
I wouldn't give anything for that, much less bet," he said.
"But if that's what you think you need then that I'll accept."
A mighty cheer went up and around the World the message ran,
And one day at noon as cannon boomed the great Race began.
All kinds of boats, from skiffs to freighters of many thousand ton,
Took to sea to see them off, even to the setting sun.
Liesurely it seemed, but never forgetting the true intent,
Around the World in fair weather and foul Derive and Goldwing went.
Occasionally lesser ships to and from Derive would ply,
Changing crew and passengers, bringing fuel and supplies.
Only rarely would anyone draw alongside Goldwing,
Save to bring news, encouragment, or perhaps trade them something.
For they were resourceful, independent and industrious.
Long ago they learned what to stow for any journey perilous.
Far too long was the Race to relate here every detail
Of the contrasts and the struggles of brute force versus sail
As each sought to divine the other's strategies,
Weaknesses, strong points, capabilities.
Making the most of breeze or calm, Goldwing expressed competence,
While Derive plowed on relentlessly, heedless of wind or currents.
Neither could gain for long a truly decisive lead;
Who the victor would eventually be was impossible to read.
Thus had they come to the most dangerous part,
The last but not the least leg of many since the start.
Ahead lay the treacherous Horn which they must round,
Then they would be homeward bound.
It had been noticed with not a little concern,
A severe storm unpredicted was brewing astern.
On all ships barometers were falling rapidly;
Dangerous weather would be upon them presently.
The wind came up hard and Goldwing made time,
Leaping easily past Derive, leaving her far behind.
For the first time some aboard Derive felt a bit seasick,
While those on Goldwing exulted in adrenaline's kick.
But like Derive the storm itself was unlike any other before.
Therefore no one really knew what it held in store.
And as the winds rose fiercer in its darkening gloom,
Goldwing's crew must trim sail and therein lay her doom.
Helpful wind had become a threat and the current only mocked -
From behind in driving rain came Derive like a juggernaut!
"Captain, it's a big storm, looks like a bad one too.
It's different than any I've ever seen before, have you?"
With easy confidence Derive's Captain reassured,
"Yes, but it matters not; by highest-rated paper we're insured."
"She's a big storm, Cap'n, an' a real blower, too.
Different, colder than any I've ever felt before, have you?"
"That's 'cause she's a perfect one." Goldheart said. "Let 'er come!"
Secure every kilogram of ballast. Pass 'round this rum."
And so it was in shrieking gale in the worst possible strait
That they went neck and neck round the Horn, there to meet their fate.
For there instead of open water an icy wall towered high;
Massive storm-carved battlements raked the ragged sky.
On Derive the sirens wailed
As her watchmen loudly hailed,
"DEBT BERG, DEAD AHEAD!"
On Derive a passenger uneasily said,
"It sounds a bit worrisome, this Debt".
"Au contraire," said the waiter, "There is no need to be alarmed.
It happens all the time. Would you like your coffee warmed?"
For indeed Derive in ponderous majesty
Always rode the sea in aloof supremacy.
Aside from her impervious hull small bergs were haughtily cast,
While titanic ones with a shuddering boom were spectacularly smashed.
Indeed it had become tradition to save a souvenir
To float in a drink or ice down some beer.
In fair weather the spectacle was a popular hit;
In conditions like this none would be bothered to see it.
On Goldwing an uneasy crewman said,
"It could be the end of us, this Debt.
We're berg-side of Derive and toward it the current's driving us.
We might avoid her but not that colossus!"
Captain Goldheart considered, then wryly shook his head.
"Looks like we'll have to one-up them both instead.
The wind's across the current seventy-nine degrees."
And he charted a course for all of them to see.
Low murmurs of "That's insane!","It's suicide!".
"I'M the Captain and I'LL decide!"
bellowed Goldheart, eyes flashing under his brow.
"Trust me nevermore but trust me now!
We've all been through many a nasty blow together.
This one's a doozy but that don't mean we can't win 'er.
Just do as I say, lash you down, raise spinnaker and bide,
And get yourselves ready for one HELLUVA ride!"
In failing light and lashing rain the orders were obeyed,
While Goldwing's crew (and her captain) silently prayed.
Wet lines snapped taut singing, slipped in white-knuckled hands;
Overstressed canvas nearly ripped from its bands.
Like a golden stone from some legendary giant's sling,
Across the spindrift-blowing breakers Goldwing shot skipping.
Right into the harrowing rapidly narrowing slot she was swept,
Between imperious Derive and importunate Debt!
Through roaring twilight's last fading
Thundered the crunching shrieking grinding
Of many dreams and hopes, of life's fortunes imagined and real,
Shredding on ice that would not yield.
Over the howl of the wind, to the soaked and shaking crew,
Goldheart shouted "We're past them, we're through!"
Sail was hurriedly gathered and all was made fast;
No one spoke and finally Goldheart said at last,
"Though it mighta looked impossible back there,
I'd've never put you through that if it wasn't clear
She's a four-nine ship with a mighty fine crew;
It was a hard test and I'm very proud of you"
But upon the wind was borne many a terrible sound;
Somewhere out there the great Derive was going down.
There was nothing else those on Goldwing could do,
Except batten down for the night as heavy rain blew.
After setting a watch they slept fitfully
In their little golden boat on the vast heaving sea.
Yet the storm did abate some time in the night,
And they began a search by morning's dreary light.
"We can make room for a few, but no more",
Thought Goldheart, looking on the grey swell in horror.
"I wish that we could've saved them all,
Goldwing my love, but that's not our shot to call."
But no flag nor flare nor smoke was to be seen
Amid the endless rafts of flotsam drifting.
In the near distance the giant berg slowly rolled over,
Mindlessly drowning the scars of the deadly encounter.
"I see no lifeboats, and that's the worst.
How could they have been so-" and he cursed.
But he knew truly wherein the tragic blame did lie:
On belief, not knowledge, did the lost rely.
Out of the thousands lost in the wreck of the Derive,
Only two dozen were found, cold, exhausted and barely alive.
With gilded life-rings attached to sturdy lines
They were drawn to safety, one or two at a time.
Over the next several days the weather gradually cleared,
And towards home still far away they steered.
As those who had been rescued regained their strength,
They talked among themselves at length.
And as they discussed the events of recent days
They discovered that each of them, to lasting amaze,
In some pocket or other for luck or so they thought,
Along on the fateful trip a coin of gold had brought.
These they decided to give to Goldheart in gratitude,
For the selfless deeds of he and Goldwing's crew.
But he said, "Don't think we don't appreciate such a gesture fair.
Someday you may need them again; it's an uncertain world out there.
"Because you had that gold your fortune was such
That you were able to escape the worst of ruin's clutch.
Keep it, save it, and remember how it proved true
As things you thought secure slipped from under you."
In the weeks ahead they busied themselves learning sailing;
Life this close to the sea they found very different, yet satisfying.
"On this ship, like it or not, you're part of the crew,"
Goldheart grinned, "but you'll find it kinda grows on you."
Forever it seemed had passed when finally they returned
To the port whence they had started, and a long rest truly earned.
They were welcomed with fireworks, celebration and laughter,
Tempered somewhat by sobering tales of the incredible Derive disaster.
Everyone wanted to know and would hardly let them rest
Until they told them all about how they survived such a grueling test.
And finally after several days when the hubbub had died down,
Captain Goldheart boarded Goldwing and took a look around.
"Well, what's the damage, or dare I ask?",
Goldheart queried a crewman as he uncapped his flask.
"She's done us more than well, Cap'n, considering what we ask of her.
None the worse for a little wear and tear; a worthy credit to her Maker.
Some nicks here and there, a few good buffs and a scratch,
But we've lost the ball from the top of the mast."
"No surprise, that," Goldheart said as he took a swig and laughed.
"'Twas her last ten-thousandth, and it was made of brass!"