The Dragon Queen's eyes narrowed. "That's nice," she said icily, glancing up at swaying rope-ends that swung in the mists nearby, "but you fail to answer my question, Royal Dragon. I ask again: Where are we?"
"Aboard . . . the Lost Ship, I believe," Azoun said slowly, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. "Vangerdahast has an ever-increasing muchness to answer for."
"Whereas you, Az," his wife observed, "need gift me with only one answer, to this: where are we? Or, as you persist in giving stonehead answers, whereabouts in the Realms is this ship beneath our feet?"
King Azoun frowned. "I'm not even sure we're still on Toril," he muttered.
Which was when the fog up by the bows suddenly rolled away, revealing a sheer -- and very solid-seeming -- mountainside dead ahead.
As the king and queen gaped, standing together, the titanic wall of rock swept up to meet them.
The Lost Ship turns translucent (and ethereal, Elminster believes, with properties described in the Manual of the Planes) when "passing through" obstacles that should destroy it, but even the Old Mage doesn't know why it almost always avoids cities, keeping largely to wilderlands. The ghostly ship follows no known course, has no crew nor anyone habitually at the helm, and doesn't seem to need helming. Its turns are always smooth, are rarely abrupt, and bear no relation to its surroundings. Sailing endlessly, it seems to range over the Heartlands of the Realms, avoiding the Sea of Swords and the Shining Sea.
The Lost Ship is rarely seen more than 60 feet off the ground. Its progress is slow (viewed from the ground, it never seems to travel faster than a galloping horse), and is never affected by gales, magical gusts of wind, spells cast at or upon the ship itself, prevailing winds, and so on. This includes all attempts to date to steer it or affect the general direction of its travel, the sole exception being (it's claimed by some) success in "sending" the ship to a particular place if certain beings sleeping aboard it dream vividly enough of that place. (Not surprisingly, some scoff at such hard-to-prove, harder-to-reenact claims.)
Many tales insist treasure is hidden aboard the Lost Ship, but Elminster believes it no longer carries any physical loot (except for the occasional chest of coins or gems, magic items, or spellbooks brought aboard by passengers). The treasure consists of "what the wraiths whisper."
To folk on the ground, the Lost Ship seems silent (people shouting from it, loud noises, and even sonic spells emanating from it can't be heard more than 10 feet distant). However, folk aboard it can hear sounds from all around normally. If such passengers fall asleep or unconscious, or doze or go into a trance (including through prayer or for spell-study purposes), they begin to hear soft, endless voices speaking. This chorus is too faint and gentle to disturb study or concentration, but can itself be concentrated upon, and it will then unravel into distinct voices uttering ancient names, dates, directions, and instructions that may prove to be invaluable -- but are usually just cryptic and meaningless to those hearing them.
From time to time, creatures find various ways aboard the Lost Ship.
Some are whisked there by magic (it seems a favorite destination for teleports gone awry), some arrive (or depart) through portals that seem to open and close at random (several tales insist that wraith doorways, described on page 57 of the Shining South sourcebook, lurk in the Lost Ship, waiting to be revealed by a passenger who casts the wrong spell or bears the wrong item), and some leap or fall onto its decks from high places. Some have even been known to swing on ropes or vines to reach the decks from nearby loft perches, and many passengers aboard have successfully let down ropes to others (who may be dragged along, suffering much harm from ground obstacles, until raised high enough) to lift them, or allow them to climb, aboard. There have even been tales of beings who were asleep in their beds, who dreamed of the Lost Ship, awakening to find themselves standing on its decks!
When a part of the Lost Ship goes ethereal, it conveys that same property to beings in that spot on the ship (so they don't "fall through" the ship, or end up plastered across a rock face, broken and dying, as the deck they were standing on "fades through" the rock).
Conditions aboard the ship seem to always be chilly and clammy, with a clinging damp mist -- even if the ship is sailing through blistering sun, a howling desert sandstorm, or the fiercest of icy winter gales.
It follows that the Lost Ship can provide uncomfortable transportation across truly inhospitable regions of the Realms, serve as "free" long-distance transportation, and even be a base for brigand raids or a home to those who don't care where they are in the Realms (such as scribes, limners, or cartographers desiring privacy for work). Inventors and spellcasters are warned that although the vessel provides a good environment for concentration and study, experimentations that involve unleashing magic or attacks upon the physical fabric of the ship (such as cutting ends of rope, or cutting or prying deck boards) seem to trigger ways to expel those experimenting from the ship. For instance, portals open beneath their feet, monsters appear out of nowhere to attack them, their own spells go awry to affect them, or they "fall through" one level of the ship at a time, subsequent falls occurring only if they persist in their activities. (The three successive falls are as follows: deck to hold, hold to bilges, and bilges to the ground below.)
Clever folk can devise several ways to collect condensation from the mists that cling to the ship, to gain drinkable (and quite safe) water, but there's no food aboard except what they may bring.
Some tales speak of various magical effects (such as those described in the Magic of Faerûn sourcebook and elsewhere; ethereal affects, detailed in the Manual of the Planes; and phenomena akin to those in the "Places of Power" chapter of Magic of Faerûn) spontaneously manifesting and affecting those aboard the Lost Ship -- but like so many other tales of the Lost Ship, these may be fabrications, embroideries of the truth, hallucinations . . . or all too true.
All in all, the Lost Ship remains an enigma, endlessly scudding through the skies of the Heartlands, haunted and eerie. Its purpose -- if it has one -- and ultimate fate remain unknown. Thus far.
Our next column will leave the Lost Ship behind, and follow the King and Queen of Cormyr somewhere even more uncomfortable. Don't worry; as their adventure involving Vangerdahast's magic item obviously occurred before Azoun's death in battle, they just as obviously survived this little foray. More or less.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .