To the Fellows of the Royal Mythological Society
I have a curious incident to relate for your archives. I am a junior officer aboard a ship lately assigned to lay new telegraph cable between the British Isles and North America. Last month, as we were returning towards Ireland in the last stage of our work, the sky turned dark as night; and the sea, previously as flat as a sheet of glass, began to churn with thirty-foot waves. I looked down and saw great shoals of fish tossed helplessly up to the surface, like the catch you may see tipped from any fisherman’s nets, but multiplied as though caught in the nets of a titan. And along with the fish were pebbles dredged up from the sea bed, and shells, and other debris impossible to identify - mere leaves on a storm raging hundreds of fathoms below.
The cause was, as I understood at once, a submarine earthquake, an event I had never before witnessed but which is not uncommon in that part of the Atlantic. I recall that I turned to shout a warning to some men who were attempting to cross from the other rail as a large wave came awash of the deck. The next moment, I was freezing cold and soaked to the skin, and I realized that I had gone over the side.
There was almost no time for fear – but panic, of course, requires no thought. I fought the urge to draw breath, knowing that it would only fill my lungs with salt water. Having no idea of up or down, I struck out in any case with all my strength. Objects buffeted me and I caught glimpses of them in the murky water. They looked like fragments of bone, pieces of classical pottery and glass, the dull glint of green-rusted armour… Strange things, artifacts that you would more expect to see washed up on the beach at Pompeii than far out in mid-ocean. Then I found myself holding a life preserver and was being hauled up, as bedraggled as the proverbial drowned rat, to the safety of the deck.
When I came to my senses some time later, my shipmates pointed to an object I had been clutching when I was rescued. I must have caught hold of it under the water, and I am told that in those minutes when shock had bereaved me of my wits I would suffer no man to take it from me. Gentlemen, it was a stone amphora that must have lain preserved in the sand for centuries, for its glazed design was still clear enough to make out images of a city of concentric walls, and men and women clad in an ancient style walking in gardens beside a peaceful harbour. There was also an inscription (of which I append a copy) but no scholar of Greek or Latin has been able to make any sense of it.
Now, all of the above is what I can tell you for your own records, and I am glad to help out with your scientific researches, but I would appreciate your advice on a personal question. I kept the bottle sealed for several weeks, but today I gave in to curiosity and broke it open. A glass of wine that I poured from it stands beside me on the desk as I write this. In the firelight it is as rich as the rubies of India, and the scent is almost overpowering in its evocation of sunlit groves, soil, sweet rain, fresh wind and growing green abundance. I sit looking at it now and I ask you. Should I drink?
Faithfully, Lt George Sterling, SS Star Treader, Milford Haven
Dr Clattercut replies: I have not yet been able to decipher the inscription you were kind enough to send, but it resembles an ur-form of Eteocretan, leading me to dare suggest – But no, it would be unprofessional to speculate at this stage…
Prof Bromfield: Oh, come out and say it, in Heaven’s name. A wine from Atlantis.
Dr Clattercut: Possibly, possibly. I cannot help but think of those lines of Mr Ambrose Bierce: “When mountains were stained as with wine by the dawning of Time, and as wine were the seas.” There is indeed a strong likelihood of it being a relic from the sunken continent.
Prof Bromfield: And the chap wants to know if he should knock it back. Well, Lieutenant Sterling, if you don’t want it –
Dr Clattercut: Wait, this is very rash advice. Lieutenant Sterling, think carefully before you taste so much as one drop. This is the rarest vintage from an island paradise that was the marvel of the ancient world. You might find no earthly thing has flavour afterwards. And where would you get more?
Prof Bromfield: But, Clattercut, you could say the same of life itself. There is no more, so savour every drop!Incidentally, what is the word for a devotee of the Fabled Lands? A Fabler? A Fablander? Any suggestions..?