Gather round children. Come now, come. My time is short and I have better things to do than sit around educating a bunch of urchins who don’t want to listen.
Now then, was that so hard?
Listen now and listen well, children, for the tale I am about to tell you has been told on the wind itself for generations now. Why, I was a boy of your age when first the wind whispered to me its most sadistic joke.
What? You say you cannot hear it? The youth these days, I swear. But how can I blame you? You are children of the port; your fathers are always out to sea. I bet most of you don’t even know who your fathers are. Alas, that is why old geezers like me exist, right? So that we can teach you the lessons your parents neglected to learn themselves? Well then lads, know this and keep it with you till the end of your days: the wind speaks to us. Verily, it was the wind in ancient days that whistled in the ears of intrepid young adventurers the secrets to mastering the seas. And none knew the voice better than Captain O’Malley.
Aha, you know him. Come now, I saw how your eyes lit up at the name. At last, a sign that our youth is not entirely ignorant of the past. Captain Ambrose O’Malley is a legend of the sea known the world round, it would have been a grave sin for you to have not known of him. The winds say that he heard their laughter from boyhood, that he mastered their ways, and that he learned their seaward games by adulthood. With their words in his ears, he became the youngest captain this port has ever seen.
The winds loved Ambrose O’Malley.
It was he that the winds guided against the blockades that choked our fair port. It was he that the winds brought against the armadas that threatened our way of life. It was he who the winds brought to undiscovered lands to expand our reach. It was he whom the winds adored more than any other. They loved him and he, in his pride, declared himself the master of the seas, the lord of the wind itself. Was this true? It doesn’t matter. For as long as O’Malley sailed the seas, the wind would forever be content with their champion. And this, my children, is when the joke begins for you see, Ambrose O’Malley found himself a woman.
While the winds loved Ambrose, Ambrose loved another.
And so, the winds became jealous. After so many centuries of whispering and whistling into curious ears, the winds finally had a man whom they could call their own, whom they could speak to as a friend or even a lover. Yet there he was, spending his time, his life, with another while the sails of his vessel aged and his ship rotted at the dock. The winds wanted Ambrose back, so a vicious gale blew in from the far corners carrying a plague to which our people had no immunity and no remedy. Many died as a result of the Windplague, as they called it, and I recall many friends who no longer walked the docks after the ravaging effects of that wicked malaise.
But the winds spared Ambrose. And so he set out to the far corners searching for wisdom from far off peoples. The expedition took months, much longer than it should have because the immortal winds, with no concern for the fragility of human lives, relished having Ambrose with them once more and steered him in all the wrong directions in their own jubilant celebration. Eventually, O’Malley returned to the port with a collection of ancient methods and medicaments to cure the ill. He was lauded as a hero and a savior. But Ambrose heard no praise, no love.
By the time he returned home, his wife had long since passed.
One could say that the winds killed her. But for those of us who depend upon the grace of the seaward gales, to utter such things would be a sacrilege and more likely than not, a death wish. But that is exactly what O’Malley did. He cursed the winds, cursed them for all that they had brought upon him, for ever teaching him their ways, for not obeying the words of their self-proclaimed master. Ambrose O’Malley cursed the seas and the winds so that they would give him the demise he so desperately desired.
But the winds loved Ambrose O’Malley.
And so, laughing as they did, they told him an ancient tale they themselves devised. They told the bereaved sailor that at the edge of this world, beyond the point where the moon rises out from the sea, there exists a passage. They deceived him that past this point lay the realm of death. And so, the master of the sea became filled with hope. Whether it was hope of finding his beloved again or finding the demise he so desperately craved, no mortal shall ever know. But what happened next we do not require the winds to tell us, for it is well recorded that Captain Ambrose O’Malley last left this port with a crew of ambitious young lads with ample supplies for a lengthy voyage some thirty-six years ago today. He told not a soul what it was he planned to do, but due to his status, he was granted leave with nary a concern. Ambrose was loved by the people. Ambrose was loved by the winds.
Ambrose loved no one. Not anymore.
But he still had faith in the guidance of the winds. Thus, as he sailed out to the open seas, he entrusted the only thing he truly had left, the schooner, Boreas, to his oldest friend and his greatest foe. The overwhelming joy of the wind was immeasurable. Finally, Ambrose O’Malley was theirs and theirs alone. Thus, the Boreas sped through the endless seas that dominate the surface of this world of ours, the wind perpetually billowing at its back. It is said that the gales that blew every ship along the sea carried the sounds of the crew’s shanties over every inch of the map and the voice heard above them all was the growling bass of that most treasured captain vaguely keeping tune as the crew would sing.
Whims of my Wind be at my back.
Hull of my Ship be free of crack.
Heart of my dearest, for you I’ll come back.
Time marched onward, as time often does, and O’Malley kept both his ship and his men at sea, never even once considering turning towards land. As the days since their departure increased in number, so too did the homesickness of every member of that ill-fated crew. Doubts festered within the minds of the sailors, rumors began to circulate among the hands that their heroic captain no longer possessed the full capacity of his mind. Others suggested that he was going to sail their ship off the edge of the world. And even others, the worst of them all, claimed that the winds were no longer whispering their secrets to him. Now, such sentiments were never voiced to the captain. No, that would be foolish. They were whispers shared in passing moments on the decks when the captain retreated to his quarters for a reluctant slumber. And though O’Malley never once heard a mutinous word from the members of his crew, the winds heard all.
The winds carried all to him.
In his dreams, in his fatigue, in the moments when his mind was most vulnerable, the wind would creep deep into his mind and whisper to him the treacheries his crew could commit if they were given leave to speak such villainy openly. With the wind swirling round his head, driving away all fears and doubts, the captain in his zeal sought to quell the fires of mutiny before the embers could even be formed. This he did in the only way that he, a seasoned captain of the seven seas, knew how. He approached the presumed source of the rumors and silenced them once and for all.
The sight of that man strung up on the mast and opened for the world to see was enough to silence every tongue on the Boreas. For a time, that is. But as time proceeded upon its endless advance and had its way with the example along with various sundry scavenging birds of the open ocean, leaving only the brittle bones of the unfortunate fellow swaying in the breeze, fear diminished, and new gossip was carried by the whispers of the wind to the corrupted captain. One by one the crew succumbed to a similar fate. At first, they were victims of their own loose lips. Can’t have those sinking any ships, right children? But eventually, they found themselves strung to the poles with clean tongues, spotless consciences, and the final thought of what did I do? You see, the whims of the wind made the old captain so paranoid that he came to think of even the most loyal members of his crew as mutinous scoundrels.
Soon enough, the crew’s love for their captain was replaced by dread.
They knew that they had but one chance to escape their most certainly bloody fate, and that was to kill or be killed. The poor lads armed themselves with cutlasses, with pistols, knives, forks, ropes, whatever they could find lying around the ship and they stormed the captain’s cabin to find the man, if he could be called such anymore.
They saw him sitting in his quarters, eyes baggy and red, hair pulled out, and all the furniture, decorations, and accouterments strewn about the place or thrown out the broken windows. The wind howled in through the empty panes and pervaded the room. And at its center Captain Ambrose O’Malley, holding a shattered picture of his dearest clutched in his hand, stood to meet the murderous band and marched toward them with malice in his empty gaze. The men rushed him, swords slashed, guns fired, knives stabbed.
Nothing could strike the captain.
To the crew it appeared as witchcraft, as some foul spell, but to us men so versed in the ways of this natural world, we understand that it was the winds themselves protecting their dearest treasure. No threat to this man could ever be allowed near him. All swords would be turned away, all bullets blown off target, even the ravages of time were driven lest the winds lose their prized possession. And so O’Malley, invincible, insane, and intoxicated by the winds swirling around within his mind, fell upon each and every single one of those horrified lads. And with each killing blow, the winds aboard and around the Boreas grew stronger until, as the last cry of fear was silenced by a bloody fist, a great tempest spanning several knots spun around the captain for he was truly the center of the world. At least to the wind, that is. With none left to crew his vessel, Captain O’Malley, crewless, wifeless, mindless, deathless, took control of the helm and his dry lips cracked open to utter that departing song.
Whims of my Wind be at my back.
Hull of my Ship be free of crack.
Heart of my Dearest, for you I’ll come back.
So now, when your fathers sail upon those seas to which they are foreigners and invaders, they must remain ever vigilant of the wind’s whispers, for when Captain Ambrose O’Malley, the puppet of the sea, nears your vessel with the Boreas bedecked with death, that infernal shanty shall be carried to your ears. May every seaman heed this warning, for to meet with the grim sight of O’Malley is to threaten the winds themselves. It is death absolute.
Know my tale and know it well, children, for when you too set sail upon those cruel waters. Huh? What do you mean? Joke? Ah yes, I did mention a joke, didn’t I? I cannot tell it to you, children, for I have already told it. The winds’ joke was the tale you have just been regaled with: a story of a man so prideful to call himself the “master of the wind” was so incredibly humbled by that same force he claimed to command until he came to be controlled by them himself. You don’t find it funny? Well, to be completely honest, children, neither do I. But I do not claim to know the nature of the winds.
Only Ambrose O’Malley will ever understand the whims of that ancient power.