"I cannot believe that the vampire would waste our time in this way." said Agent Aralina. "Not only would she send us to retrieve an object that exists only in fiction, but it is aboard a fictional boat too."
"Do not draw attention to us." said Eldaline.


"Hey, Auntie Eldaline, are these town guards real live Stormcloaks? I bet they hate you. My Ma says that the Stormcloaks are traitors to the Empire and death's too good for 'em." said Rufus.


The Fat Dragon was nowhere in sight. But a smaller ship was docked. Eldaline made for the jetty.


"Mmmm?" said Aranwen, who had still not been given permission to speak.


"Not now, Aranwen." said Eldaline.


Skavild wondered if it might not have been a better idea to leave Rufus in Solitude with the junior archivists. He had worried that he would find them boring.


Bringing him along to a vampire negotiation had seemed safe enough. But none of the party could imagine where the next days would take them.


"Any news of the ship Fat Dragon?" Eldaline said.
"Not since she sailed due north to a place that doesn't exist." said the captain.
"What do you mean?"


"Her captain kept blithering about a wonderful abandoned pirate cove on an island. He said it was a trading hub until a few years back. Looked at me like I was crazy when I said I didn't know of the place. Said he had a map, but wouldn't show it to me."


"Obviously the poor bastards haven't been back in four months. I even had some men go and tell the Jarl, but he wouldn't stop them leaving the harbour."


"We will pay you very generously to take us into the sea of ghosts in search of the vessel." said Eldaline.
"Not generously enough." said the captain. "I'm sorry, lady elf, but her crew were tapped after too much rum and seawater, and you are, too, if you think there's anything due north but ice."


"But if you'd like to borrow a boat, you can sail due north. You'll come back after less than a day, when you reach the wall of ice."
"Mmm mmmm?! said Aranwen.
"Very well." said Eldaline.


As familiar as the coast appeared to Eldaline and Skavild, the icy sea to the north was vast and unknown. As the captain in Dawnstar had already affirmed, there was no sign of any habitable land.


As behind them the distant College of Winterhold almost faded into the blizzard, nothing new appeared in the rolling expanse before them.


"How much further shall we sail before we turn back, Second Archivist?" said Agent Aralina. "It will be dark in three hours at the most."


"As far as we need to travel before we find the Fat Dragon, Flopsy."


"But, what about sea monsters, Second Archivist Eldaline?"


"Not to mention your own admission that the quill is not real. I protest, Second Archivist, against sailing another step in this direction." said Aranwen. "We will be drowned."


Eldaline said, "Did you know, Aranwen, that Insubordination is called Mutiny when at sea, so that the sentence could be increased to two lightning bolts?"


"I am very aware that it is very dark. However, since we are bound to encounter this wall of ice before it is too dark to see, that is where I hope to find the broken remains of the Fat Dragon."
As Aranwen muttered under her breath about drowning and how she didn't want it, Eldaline went on:


"And once we have found this ship, which I hope has run aground and not sunk, I would like very much to inspect this strange map to a pirate cove."


"But," said Aralina. "Second Archivist Eldaline, supposing the ship did navigate the treacherous ice floes? I know the captain in Dawnstar said it was impossible, but... oh!"
"What is it, Flopsy?"


"Behind you!"


"Told you so." said Eldaline. "One Fat Dragon."


Rufus said, "Is that a ghost ship, Auntie Eldaline? And can I play on it?"
"Yes, and yes. I mean, ask your father. Skavild, is your son old enough to play with ghosts yet?"


"Rufus, stay in the boat until we know the ghost ship's safe." said Skavild.


Rufus fell out of the boat.


Then he found some ice monsters.


The ice monsters found Rufus upsetting.


Aranwen tried to shoot the ice monsters.


Rufus got in the way and fell over again.


Eldaline shouted at them both.


"Do not shoot a lightning bolt at me, Second Archivist Eldaline. What do you expect to find aboard this ship, other than dead or very mad but definitely frozen sailors?"
  "Some idea where they thought they were going. The vampires are very old and not easily deluded by such things. This ship was sent to recover a cursed quill that has never been known to exist."


"Count Spoonface is a pirate." said Rufus.
"Then he must be executed immediately." said Aralina. "And your doll is a girl."


"Ahh!" said Rufus.
  "I know, and I don't care." said Eldaline. "Bring any survivors you find to me for questioning. But I don't suppose you'll find any."


"Aralina. Did you try to execute Count Spoonface?" said Skavild.


"Skavild, abandon this ludicrous conversation immediately." said Eldaline.


Aralina said, "Your hatchling said it was a pirate."


"Anybody down here?" said Skavild, abandoning the previous conversation as instructed.
"Careful, Skavild."
"There's nothing down here but furs and empty sacks, Eldaline. Looks like the crew abandoned ship. Come down."


"No. You come up, Skavild. This ship is full of holes and held above the waterline by ice. I will not risk being pulled under."


Skavild returned to the upper deck. "Then, if you're worried about melting ice, which one of your idiot soldiers lit this really hot flame atronach?"
"Da, that lady's underthings are on fire." said Rufus.


"Insolent human." said Ondolemar. "I was using her as a light."
"Put the flame atronach back in Oblivion where you found her." said Eldaline.


"You hear that?" Skavild murmured.


"It's a ghost, Da! The ghost that sounds like creaking wood!"


"Everybody make your way back above deck." said Eldaline. "Immediately."


"Well, this is strange." said Skavild.
Eldaline scrambled up after her staff, still expecting the Fat Dragon to give way under her at any minute. "Which part is strange?"
"Just everything."


"Yes, the ice everywhere else seems to have melted and the ship is inexplicably afloat."


"Da, I found a city!" Rufus insisted.

 
"He probably means a rock." said Aranwen.


"Where is this bloody..." Eldaline began.


"All right, you sour-faced strumpet, you'd better not be calling my boy a ninny." said Skavild.
"And you're going to stop me, are you, shiny head?"


"Oh, I see, that's how it is." said Eldaline. "It's like that, is it?"


To be continued.