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The Sea of Ghosts
by [author's name not yet decided]
I have lived for a large part of my life in the city of Haafingar, capital of Haafinheim Hold and one of the greatest port cities in the Empire. Seafarers of all stripes can be found here; from Nord families working the same boatmaker’s trade since before the start of the Third Era, to deckhands of every race making an all-too-short land visit before embarking once again to Anvil or Senchal. All are tied to the Sea of Ghosts, the icy and mist-wreathed waters that stretch north from the coast of Skyrim to the deserted land of Atmora.
Though more properly part of the Padomaic Ocean -- the body of water surrounding Tamriel -- the Sea of Ghosts has a curious name. It is a well-accepted belief, especially by those Nords who fish and sail these waters, that there is some sort of malign presence within to which can be attributed all related bad luck and calamity.
Intrigued by the matter, I was fortunate enough to seek out and be granted an audience with a former master of the Bards’ College, who recited for me a variety of related skjalds, or heroic songs. Many of these related the story of Ysgramor’s landing at Hsaarik Head. Several verses offered this explanation for the name:
"... and so did Ysgramor lead out his banner’d longship force
from Atmora he sailed across the vast expanse of cold
retribution for the Night of Tears his grim face foretold
until his Companions and he would return to Skyrim’s shores
But their voyage was not easy and distant seemed the coast
Rough seas and stormy weather were the least of their concerns
from fog and ice did flicker pale and shimm’ring icy forms
his Companions far too stoic to succumb to mere ghosts...”
He confided in me that, though there was no evidence outside of the stories for such wraith-like creatures ever existing, he had heard a few sailors in their cups claim to have seen such apparitions out at sea. No two men’s recollections of the ‘ghosts’ ever matched, though, and it was widely regarded by most mariners as a symptom of exhaustion on an extended voyage, as accurate as tales of selkies or siren’s calls.
I found as much first-hand, when I made an attempt to interview sailors to hear for myself accounts of this phenomenon (an unpleasant and expensive task, that involved frequenting several of the seedier dockside taverns of the city, all of which over-costed and over-watered their ale). As I had been told before, most debunked the story as hallucinations borne of the fog and aurorae that hang over the waters at night.
I was party to other attempts at explaining the soubriquet, all of which were decidedly more mundane. One Redguard suggested that it was due to the sunken vessels the sea had claimed and the many sailors on them not yet laid to rest. Another sailor, this a Nord, volunteered that the ‘ghosts’ referred to the restless spirits of those Atmorans slain by the cold and ice that reclaimed that ancient land. I was even fortunate enough to make conversation with a rare Cyrodified Altmer on a stopover from Firsthold. He grimly joked that the ghosts were sure to be those of the Aldmeri corpses of Skyrim’s first inhabitants, unceremoniously thrown into the waves in contempt!
Whatever the nature of the ghosts, Nordic shipbuilders and sailors have distinct traditions for warding them away. It is typical for Nordic longships destined to sail out of sight of land to have at their prow a carving of a fierce creature or maiden-of-the-sea, a figurehead to frighten or becalm any hostile spirits of the water. Similarly, no ship will receive a name until it is taken for a first voyage and returned safely, thereby demonstrating the spirits’ disinterest in the demise of the vessel. As a result, all Nordic sailors are supremely confident in their chosen ship, satisfied that the artifice of Haafingar’s shipwrights will protect them not only from choppy waters and storms, but also the mysterious ghosts of the sea.
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