The other night, summertime, just after dark, in a light rain, I lazily rowed my dinghy out of the marina and toward my sailboat moored out about 50 yards. The water dripping from my oar blades blended with the sleepy raindrops on the water, and as I stealthily passed the marina owner’s 102-foot motor yacht, from inside I could hear the old man’s voice and the chit-chat of his guests, including the recognizable hearty laughter of the barrel-chested bartender, a friend of mine. Gliding past the tall, steep, white hull of the yacht, I was reminded of the opening scene of the famous classic The Oddyoullsee, the epic voyage of Miklysses.
In case you don’t immediately recall the opening scene from reading the book in its entirety in high school, I’ll summarize it here for you. I’m sure my rendition will not be nearly as poetic as the original, but here goes:
The great voyage began with Miklysses rowing a tiny boat away from a small seafaring village and in to the sun setting on the sea. On shore, all the women waved farewell, wept, and wailed; all the men – the husbands, the boyfriends, the lonely but hopeful single men – gestured disgustingly, threw curses and rocks and insults, and then shouted with joy, clapped each other soundly around the shoulders, drank heroically, and celebrated better days to come. None of this fazed Miklysses: over the years, he had become quite accustomed to this sort of farewell. At each of his departures, the satisfied women and moon-eyed girls and the frustrated men, all behaved this same way, here, there, this year, last year . . . ad nauseum – ya, I think that’s the phrase.
Anyways, Miklysses rowed away into the falling night, less concerned with the inconsolable women and the relieved men on shore than the immediate dangers of the darkening water. Near the village, still relatively close to shore, there were the Water Snakes of Death, monstrous things that could tip a boat and swallow a man whole. Only their very young, still the size of finger-thick ropes just a foot or two long, would be seen during the day; the big ones hunted exclusively at night. Some brave but foolish men would use wine to lure them in to their vision, but that usually did not end well: it was best to keep your distance (from the Water Snakes of Death, not the wine.) A little farther out, there were the dreaded, massive, menacing Ducks of Death (in other surviving texts from ancient times, these are commonly referred to as Duhhhhhcks ovvvvvvv Deaeaeath.) He couldn’t see them, but he could hear, he could feel in his vibrating bones, the low grumbling roar of their of thunderous QUAAAACK. By sound alone he judged their changing positions, adjusting his course this way and that, undetected and undeterred, snaking and sneaking his way through the frightful flock. Then, a bit further, were the Straits of Liquidity.
The Straits of Liquidity were not dangerous waters per se, but on the south side, cutting cleanly into the water, there was a sheer white cliff that towered high overhead, and there, high above the water, was the haunt of a giant. The problem was that if he saw you passing the cliffs, he would invite you to visit. He would reach down from above to lift you up, and then he would give you copious amounts of exquisite honeymeade to slake your thirst. All of this was not particularly perilous in itself. The giant – tall, strong, white-haired, and clear-eyed – was not very dangerous, that is, unless someone attempted to trick him or take advantage of him. Otherwise he was considered by all to be rather jovial and generous. The real problem was that he tended to take in a variety of orphaned goblins that hung about underfoot, eating his food and drinking his prime wine, mead, and ale. Some of those smiling goblins would refill your bull’s horn or mug until you were unaware that they were magically sucking the life force from your soul, literally taking time from the span of your life, one heartbeat at a time, to add to theirs. Horrid, horrid little beasts!
In the preceding years many times Miklysses had visited the dear old giant, and he considered him a friend. In what little ways he could, he repaid, or at least attempted to repay, the old giant’s benevolence. This night, though, he did not stop, could not stop to visit. He worked his rowboat through the Straits of Liquidity and out onto Decker Flats. Not stopping, though, on this particular night, might have been a mistake.
The Straits had been calm, nary even a wavelet, only ripples echoing from the now far-away mighty Ducks of Death. The Flats, though, out in the open, with tremendous fetch to form waves, waves made steep and tall by the shallow bottom, were, this night, much more than just a bit treacherous. Miklysses’s ocean-going boat Kala Nag was heavily anchored safe on the edge of the flats. The problem? It was far, far away on the other side of the flats!
Other, more fearful sailors would have waited for less threatening conditions, but Miklysses didn’t hesitate to point the bow of his tiny rowboat toward Kala Nag, his voyaging vessel, his home. Up one side of a random wave and down the other, the tiny boat heaving and yawing every which way the waves and wind could imagine, but with his oars cycling rhythmically despite the chaos, Miklysses held his course arrow straight. He had to aim upwind to allow for leeway, of course, but when he reached the stern of his stout voyaging vessel, he had to make only a single correcting stroke. And he accomplished this in the near blackness of the night!
Sensing the surge of a wave under his rowboat, he leaped into the near blackness, timing his jump as the rowboat rose while his already famous sailboat Kala Nug plummeted down into the wave’s trough nearby. In midair he flicked his wrist and snapped the tender’s painter into a solid cleat hitch on Kala Nag’s stern, securing the rowboat before he landed on deck. With a twist and a turn he vaulted himself – he did NOT trip and fall – through the split backstay, over the coaming, around the tiller, and into the cockpit. The boat was bouncing like a ball being batted around by anthropomorphic waves, but, I’m telling you, he did NOT trip and fall. He did not. He braced himself in a three-point ready stance, the position to be made famous many centuries later by Spiderman and other incredibly athletic superheroes. He did NOT trip and fall into the cockpit like a loose bag of broken sticks. He did NOT.
Once aboard the admirable sailing vessel Kala Nag, he looked about, checking her lines and state of readiness, surveying his realm. He did not weigh anchor and slip away, though: no, because he was a sailor’s sailor, because he was Miklysses, salty, seasoned, and prudent, he went below, took a nip of whiskey to ward off any evil spirits lurking nearby, then promptly fell asleep, wisely waiting until “first light” to begin his voyage and continue his adventure.
So, there you have it, a humble re-telling of the opening of The Oddyoullsee, a mere glimpse into the life of Miklysses. Not until two millennia had passed, not until the likes of Sir Walter Mitty and Commander McBragg, would the world see the likes of such a man.