So, you want a story of my younger days, what? When I was but a pup, wet behind the ears — ‘course, us otters do tend to be wet behind the ears — and still searching out adventure?
I suppose a blighter can oblige, though I’d expect a pretty strong brandy and S, in payment! A chap can become awful parched, regaling an audience.
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes...
I was on a boat, inexperienced young cove, joined up with the first crew that’d have me, heading over to the island. Back in the days before the observatory and all this fancy malarkey you fine fellows work with.
Jolly rum crew, most of the chappies in that boat. They’d been around a fair bit, I’d say. Most of ‘em missing at least one limb, and all of them owning at least one parrot. So it was a pretty noisy, feathery place, that boat. I’m pretty sure my aversion to feathers and squawking started right there.
‘Course, what I didn’t realise ‘til I was halfway to the bally island was they were all pirates. And not just any pirates, either, but pirates of the most blackhearted and dastardly sort. Kind of chummies who’d sell their favourite horse to a glue factory, and use the proceeds to conduct a heist on their grandmother’s jewellery. Real blaggards, you might say.
Oh, thank you, yes, I’d love another drop. No ice, thank you.
Anyway, we get to the island, and pull up on a beach so rocky it needed mountaineers to get up it, not sailors. All the pirates are eyeing one another. You could cut the tension with a knife. Or a cutlass, which they all had, and all looked pretty used to waving around with the intention of doing someone a mischief.
Surrounded by a crew of pirates, on a strange island, and all I could hear was a voice whispering my name. Dashed mysterious, you might call it. Even more mysterious was none of the other chaps around me seemed to hear it, far too concerned with cutlasses and parrots.
I had to choose whether to stick out with them, or head off on my own.
So, what d’you suppose I did?
Naturally I toddled off on my lonesome.
I’m not one to hang around, as anyone who's seen me at the bar can most assuredly attest, eh?
Anyway, I was clambering over rocks, dragging myself up the side of a pretty steep hill, when I noticed the old scenery in front of me wasn’t exactly…normal.
Over the top of that pretty sheer hill, I found myself confronted with a forest. Dashed thick forest too. Dark, old trees, y’know the type – creaking and glowering, like I owed them money. I pushed my way in there, of course, being the courageous sort of otter I am, when I realised the forest wasn’t quite as impenetrable as I’d expected. Now, I dare say you chaps, all a bit junior in this adventuring lark, are sitting there thinking:
"Well, so what? So there were fewer trees than you expected?"
And this is where an old experienced body like me gets to look all smug, shake my head, and say:
"Oh no, chappies, it’s you who’ve gone and got the wrong end of the proverbial quarterstaff here!"
It wasn’t that there were fewer trees, or anything as dashed mundane as all that. It was that they sometimes appeared, and sometimes didn’t. They were, if you’ll excuse me showing off the old Foxbridge education, fluctuating in and out of reality.
That’s what the sight elicited from me too. I’d reach out, touch a tree as solid as this brandy glass one second, try and touch it again the next… bally thing was as insubstantial as…well, as a ghost.
And speaking of ghosts, as I was standing there, in the middle of this forest, a dashed great ghost crawled its way out of the ground.
Now, again, you young-uns, with your Tomes of Undead Critters fresh in your mind, are likely thinkin’ if it’s crawling out the ground it’s probably a zombie or a wight.
Well, it was a dashed ghost, and I know it, so shtum.
Now where was I? Oh yes. The ghost creature thing.
What was it I did?
It wasn’t the first time I’d fought a ghost creature, of course. What with me being a cleric, of course.
Sort of an occupational duty, you might say.
So, I stood there, like a great hero with exceptionally sleek fur, and I read out the old formulas I learned at Foxbridge—yes, I did bally well learn something, in between betting on slug races and hiding Barmy Pongy Thistletwitch’s bed in a hedge, with poor old Barmy still in it—and what do you know?
Ghost trots off, quiet as you like. Quite the reformed chap.
So, anyway, on I crept, into that forest. Only, by this point, it had sort of stopped being a forest, and become what you might call a crevasse, or a fissure, but we older adventurers call: a ruddy great hole in the ground.
Wide enough across to make me think more than twice about trying to jump it, and deep enough to make clambering down it a bit of a poser, I don’t mind telling you.
Not one to be deterred, I did a bit of peering about down there (I had my trusty telescope with me) and was a little bit put out by all the strange faces appearing in the air up and down the sides of the pit.
Ghastly bunch of visages, I’ll tell you. Like a bunch of bookies looking for you after a bad day at the Flotsam races… but I wasn’t in much of a position. It was either go talk to some of those phantom bookies, while climbing down into the old pit, or it was a turn back and see what the old pirates had got up too.
Well, yes, of course I kept going.
Made of stern stuff though we otters most assuredly are, I won’t pretend I didn’t feel, what the poets call, ‘a presentiment of dread’ when I started climbing down into the pit.
The problem with studying such things at a place like Foxbridge (I was a student there, did I mention it?) is that big holes in the ground do tend to evoke certain images in the head of red chaps, with pointy horns, and a rather fine line in tripartite weaponry.
But I sort of sauntered vaguely downwards, trying to ignore phantom mouths forming out of the rock, and saying some really rather unpleasant stuff to old Osric—‘The dead will feast on your bones’ and that sort of rot. I’m pleased to report I was unfailingly polite in response. As dear old Mother Osric used to say: ‘threats of necromantic violence is never an excuse for bad manners.’ She was an excellent M, though I was perhaps a more challenging S than she’d expected. Always had the adventurous spirit.
There were dancing lights around me, weird visions of forgotten worlds, tempting promises of gold and riches and the sort. You know how these things are. Anyway, I eventually reached the bottom of the pit, rather fatigued as you can imagine, and that’s when I notice the whole bally place is as bright as a ballroom.
The light’s a bit green, perhaps, but still I’d not expected anything bar the darkness of the proverbial grave, so it was rather spiffy to have a look at the old catacombs. Not that they were precisely delightful to look at, bit drab, but still.
Then, there was a scuttling noise—bit like a ferret on a bass drum, you might say—and out crept a dashed odd-looking chap. And by chap, I mean, a sort of brain. Looked like a big brain, of the kind sat right inside my bally skull. Only with legs. Lots and lots of legs. Now, I’m not a squeamish sort of otter, indeed I’ve eaten a few things resembling this new blighter, but I’ll confess even I was a little unsettled.
Even more so when the damnable thing spoke!
~‘Why are you here? Why won’t you leave me alone?’~
Its voice, if it was a voice (which it wasn’t—because it was in my head [that is, the words had appeared in my head]—but anyway…) had the feeling in the old skull of a particularly bad hangover. But the question was, I had to admit, a reasonable one. So not being the sort of bloke to leave an interlocutor knocking around, I responded:
‘Oh, well, just pottering along, old chap. No harm meant.’
~‘You have not come to take me then? As all the others have, over the years?’~
‘What, me? Oh bless you, old chap. Not at all. No, I just thought I’d have a bit of a poke around, you know how it is. See what’s what.’
~‘What about those who came with you? They seem hard. Cruel.’~
‘Them? The piratical looking chaps? Nothing to do with me. Though we did share a boat. Not exactly members of the same club, though. If you know what I mean.’
~‘I don’t. But I believe you. I can see into your mind. That’s my power. It’s the island’s power. It reacts to you, to your fears, to your needs. It’s why there were fewer trees than you expected, and why there was a light at the bottom to guide you.’~
‘And why those faces threatened to eat me, eh?’
~‘Yes. You are scared of being eaten.’~
‘Well, I suppose I am a bit, eh, what? Who isn’t?’
And so we whiled away a pleasant hour or so, and I say, the little brain was a dashed decent sort. A little odd, perhaps, a little reticent, didn’t much care for racing or the sort of fun we have at the Bones Club, but thoroughly alright.
Until, of course, when I said I had to be going, and he gave me this last poser:
~‘You have found me. By rights, I am yours. You may claim me, take me from my home, from this island. But you must ask.’~
And there I was… adventurer, looking for my first big score on the old island exploration front, confronted by quite the dilemma, what? Do I ask this little thing to leave its home, for my gain? It would net me a fair trunkful of dubloons, but, on the other hand, what would the aged Mater have to say to all this ballyhoo?
I left the little beggar where he was. I thought to myself, I thought ‘Osric, you’re a fine otter-y fellow. There’ll be plenty of treasure for you, somewhere down the line.’ So I shook one of the leg-tentacle things, and I wandered out of there feeling very bally pleased with myself.
And what do you know, the journey back was a breeze.
Most of the pirates had knocked each other out, or given themselves a nasty slice with their own cutlasses and all manner of injuries even the most generous minded of souls must call ‘damn fool’, and so I did most of the rowing on the way back. But I didn’t even mind.
So, there’s one of Osric’s tales, for you. A tale of a jolly decent old otter, eh? Now, there was some talk of another B&S wasn’t there? A large one? Very generous of you, old chap. Don’t mind if I do.
Osric’s Tale was originally published in 5 parts as part of The Faraway Sea Kickstarter in July 2021.
You can get your paws on Osric and the rest of The Faraway Sea range now!