We pursue a technical vein here at AAC, with the exception of Colin and Phyllis’s destination articles. But sometimes it’s nice to take a break from anchors and electrons. To that end, I’m trying my hand at fiction:
Long ago, in the distant time of knights in shining armour, there was a tournament between kingdoms held every few years. But instead of war horses and lances, this contest was a race in sailing ships, with the winner collecting an ancient (and rather ugly) chalice.
The history of the ancient contest is too long to relate here, so I will start my story with a particular year’s contest in which King Barrymore-The-Oracle (I will call him Barry for short) held the chalice, and several crews from other kingdoms came to his cold and windy harbour to try and win it from him.
One by one the challenging kingdoms lost the sailing races, held that year with strange craft based on those from the Pacific Islands (now known as Polynesia), until only one challenger remained: A crew from the smallest kingdom of them all, led by King Galts-No-Hair.
A small kingdom, yes, but mighty at sailing. So mighty that they were near to winning, even though they had far less gold to spend on their ship than King Barry did.
King Barry, seeing the chalice slipping away from him, spent ever more gold and sent an eagle to spy on the upstart, who reported that King Galts’ men had a special way of setting their sails that made them faster.
On learning this, the great King’s men, led by Captain Boxer, spent yet more gold, copied the secret, and sailed well too, and in the end they prevailed, sending King Galts and his men back to their island kingdom sore disappointed and without the chalice that had seemed within their grasp.
To make it worse, King Galts’ countrymen were tired of spending huge amounts of gold to try and win the chalice, only to have King Barry spend much more than they could ever afford (gold he got as payment for being an oracle), so they turned their backs on the losing team.
But Galts, being a stubborn old king, would not give up, even though things looked all-black. Eventually his tenacity paid off as he recruited a new young and aggressive crew, as well as the best shipbuilders in the world, to work in an old whale oil storage depot—can’t have smelled very nice—to build a new ship to challenge for the chalice in the next contest to be held at a tiny sunlit island on the other side of the world.
And, once again, all the other crews were vanquished, leaving just the same two combatants on the field of honour. But this time the outcome was very different.
Despite all King Barry’s gold, the gritty team from the small island kingdom had built a faster ship, aided by a special invention that allowed them to trim their sails using their powerful leg muscles, and King Galts’ young crew, who had already won much gold in other tournaments, out sailed Captain Boxer and his men too.
In any decent fairy tale, at this point our heroes would live happily ever after while defeating all challengers for the ancient chalice, and reaping great riches from holding the competitions in their small kingdom. And my story would end.
But, sadly, there’s more. You see, the rules of the chalice competition, written on papyrus and handed down from antiquity, state that the kingdom that holds the chalice makes the rules, including deciding what type of ships must be used by all competitors.
King Galts and his crew had never much liked the boats from the Pacific Islands chosen by King Barry, but they had been good sports about it, played by the great king’s rules, and beat him fair and square.
So when they returned home victorious, they came up with a new and radical ship, very different than anything seen on the sea before, for the next tournament, and assumed that it was now the great king’s turn to play by their rules.
But great kings with huge stores of gold are used to always getting their own way. So King Barry ordered his chief admiral Sir Bustle Boots—who, by the way, was once a captain in the small island kingdom, but left in search of gold—to create a new tournament in the Polynesian boats, instead of competing in the ancient chalice tournament.
And, even worse, instead of just a chalice, the prize in this new upstart tournament was to be real gold. So like Sir Bustle before them, several other kingdoms were lured away by the promise of great wealth.
But wait, the news is not all bad. The great King-Of-The-Handbags, as well as King Aways-Scruffy-Beard, perhaps the greatest sailor of his time, were loyal to the chalice. And soon they were joined by a crew from a principality straddling two rivers that, so old legends say, had once held the chalice for many centuries—wow, they must have really known how to make the rules!
And now I will end my story with a question for you, girls and boys. Don’t you think King Barrymore-The-Oracle behaved badly? That’s not what I would call playing nice or fair.