White Ships

He has flung out of the house in rage again, a tall man striding furiously through the sunset quiet of the streets. His anger marks him in the scant crowds of evening, and our calm-moving people glance at him and move aside, perturbed but respectful. It is the old argument: the white ships, the legendary promise. In his mind the pale sails will crest the horizon on any tomorrow, a thing close and real, as inevitable as cream into butter, as the sprouting of the corn.

The clack of my loom is stilled as I watch his going, troubled. I have grown up on the same tales: the white ships, the travellers more like angels, their wisdom and power. Down the hill, the bronze ship statue gleams between the pale buildings, shaded by trees. I look to the tales for a vision of possibilities, but to him and others like him it is more: a reality, a promise, an inevitability which makes our shared life hollow, no more than marking time. We have lost each other because I betray his faith. He will return through the quiet night streets, to kiss my cheek, and eat, and take up his life, but he will not forgive.

Even if the ships confound me by some day cresting the rim of the world, white sails spread in the sun, who is to say their occupants will be wise rather than bloody? I do not think the white ships will save us. I do not think we need saving. I hope they do not come.

12 thoughts on “White Ships”

  1. A beautiful meditation on the nature of religion, the difference between aspiring and demanding. I love the imagery: “cream into butter”, “sprouting of the corn”. I like the mystery of the white ships clarifying into religious promises as the story progresses.

    Small niggles: I did not like the “flung” at the start, it seemed the wrong way to use it. I also was slightly jarred by “our people” – unless I am missing something? Is the central pair the king and queen or something of this sort? A bit strange to me.

    I loved the final paragraph, the defiance of “I hope they do not come.”

    Thank you!

    1. Teh lolz. When I was writing it I read back and though “Our people? could you read that as them being royalty?”, and then I thought “Naaah,” and left it in. Obviously you can :>. I wasn’t sure quite how else to convey, in 250 words, the idea of their belonging to this peaceful city full of calm, contented people. As I say, the word-limit was an enormous challenge on this one, there’s a lot of background in my mind. The half-written story I nicked it from is already several thousand words.

  2. I loved this, and thought the religious analogy was beautiful. The comparison slowly became apparent to me, and I really enjoyed its unfolding. The world is beautifully created and I also enjoyed the imagery and the use of language, e.g. “his anger marks him”. I like the sadness of the end of the second paragraph, where the consequences to the relationship are described with gentle melancholy. I also really like the firmness of the last paragraph.

    My only criticism is that I found “our calm-moving people” a little clumsy.

  3. Really enjoyed the writing and this rarely touched on idea/observation about the nature of belief.

    The imagery of the angry man standing out from the population because of his rage really worked for me.

    Love the cold-warm realness of the last sentence of second paragraph (ending in ‘..will not forgive’) – something terribly tragic and very everyday about this sentence.

    On the niggly side I found ‘flung’ disturbing – for me you cannot fling yourself out.
    Also not to fond of the last paragraph: for me this story is about belief in the mystical. Already the white sails bring images of cultural or political clashes; the addition of ‘wise rather than bloody’ leads me further down secular paths. Gods might be ‘kind or cruel’, or perhaps ‘loving or uncaring’ rather than ‘wise or bloody’.

    The final sentence is a great ending: a strong stand that transforms what went previously into an explanation of her feelings.

    1. I’m incredibly relieved that you read the white ships this way. I didn’t in any way mean for this to be about religion specifically – the people on the white ships are, indeed, perfectly mundane, just at a higher technology level. They could be wise or bloody because they’re people. The point is that the responses of the “believers” in the town has deified them unrealistically – the mystical “gosh they will rescue us” stuff is false, they’re not angels, they’re just perceived as such. I’m obviously not getting this across, which I think is because of the word limit – I had to fight this one a lot, it’s already about 10 words over limit and there’s all sorts of stuff that really needed to be in here to properly put over what I meant.

  4. Aaargh! listen, peoples, “flung out of the house” is a perfectly legitimate idiom, used perfectly correctly. It’s just a bit out-of-date; if you google for it, it turns up in the works of people like Jack London and Mark Twain. I spent a good twenty minutes trying other configurations for that action, but all of them – “storm out of the house”, “stride out of the house”, etc – are either too unspecific or too hackneyed to work as I wanted them too. Of course, if people are jarred by the unfamiliarity of the idiom, it’s obviously not working, and I’ll have to look harder for alternatives. Any suggestions welcome ;>.

    1. Ah, don’t dumb it down for s, jus’ ‘cos the English, she is hard 😉

      I am unfamiliar with the idiom, but then I have a tendency to have to ask for help with three syllable words too sometimes…

  5. For me it’s this sentence particularly that enforces the religious ideas: ‘Down the hill, the bronze ship statue gleams between the pale buildings, shaded by trees.’ – seems to speak of idols and worship.

    Indeed there are good sources for ‘flung out of the house’ – and even if the word rang very wrong for me originally; rereading it now it has a good sound out loud. Perhaps it would be better without the ‘in rage’ which seems slightly tautological.

    Also agree that the immediate alternatives that come to mind strode,charged, stomped etc seem hackneyed.

  6. This piece is about Our Hero’s reflections on their society’s belief that wise, angelic people will be coming to them on white ships. They appear to have little evidence that this will happen, or that they will even be wise and angelic.

    > His anger marks him in the scant crowds of evening, and our
    > calm-moving people glance at him and move aside …
    Great line. I enjoy the how the “anger marks him”, and how the sentence sets up an “us” vs “them” thing. I like the imagery you’ve used, such as something being as “inevitable as cream into butter”.

    I was wondering if the angry person is related to the narrator. Specifically, she says that he’ll return and kiss her cheek, and take up his life.

    I also had a problem with the flunging — took me a moment to parse the sentence.

    1. I intended the relationship to be that of romantic partners – in a sense the story is about religious differences breaking up a marriage, although reading back you could equally parse them as siblings or friends. I”m glad you liked the imagery. It was a huge challenge to try and pack the creative calm of their lives – the contented low-tech tasks of farming or weaving – into the small space so it’s compelling enough to underline how far his dissatisfaction is artificial and meaningless. The point is that their society already is wise, peaceful, happy.

      I’m still amused by how many people have reacted to “flung out of the house”. It’s never the things you expect which provoke comment :>.

  7. What they said!
    I don’t think I can add anything particularly extra / useful to the intelligent commentary above. But I will add something. :)

    I particularly liked the details of the man standing out in the crowd (flunged? flang? flan? flange? flip. Sounded archaic, but not jarring to me.) and the gleaming ship statue.

    This is really, really, good.

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