The Fogs of Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies

Sometimes at daybreak even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies is a soft and supple town, there on the northern flank of the wide salt sea, alone among cities marooned upon a spit of land. It has never been conquered, for three reasons. First, because the city is poor, poor in spirit, poor in resources, poor even in the estimation of its people. Secondly, and not leastly, because when the tide rises, the path that leads to the western gate is flooded and uncertain; when it is low, it is treacherous for all but the most skilled of wadlopers. Thus the only safe approach to Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies is by sea, and little reward waits those who make that grim and gruesome sailing. The people of Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies seem to recapitulate all the slow ascent of humanity out of primordial ooze in their uncertain and disquieting faces — there you may see the brute, rising or falling as it chances, and the shadows of ancient monsters. Minotaurs and scyllas adorn the drainpipes of the town, and their disrupted humanity stamps the features of the quiet seafolk.

Warm are the currents of the south, that bear north the explorers of Pinene, that carry the arméd might of secret Albion, that bear rich effluvia from shadowed Oast; cold are the currents that past the tundra run; at Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies they meet and mingle. From their mingling is born fogs so dense that it is told how sailors, lost and drunken and malcontent, have wandered miles from the piers and palings of the town, and plashed and drowned when the mist dispersed. Those who have not seen the town, nor set eyes upon the murky headland that bears it, they do not believe; though those who are wise hear, and are less certain.

And it is seldom spoken of — for who would believe, when such a small thing as a drowned sailor is held impossible? — but the third reason, the largest reason, that Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies has never been taken by war nor subterfuge lies within those more-than-solid fogs. Once it was tried, when the sea was at neap and the spirit of empire strong, that an army marched across the mudflats and a navy sailed across the seas and the bookmakers of every city gave great return for anyone betting that Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies should long remain free. Nor did the town itself remain quiet within its clammy heart — much was said, and slogans shouted, and tridents and boating hooks sharpened against the day to come, not so much as to drive away the conquerors as to lay a claim to honor and dignity even among the dispossessed. And prayers were said, and incense burned, and libations poured among the waves, and there was evening and there was morning in Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies; and, when the army stood so near to the town that faces might be picked out from that teeming, endless mass and the destroyers and the armadas lay so close aweather that each name blazoned high upon their leaping sides might be read unaided, did a fog to make all other fogs seem clear air fall upon the town. And true it is that the people of the town snuffed every light; and true it is that the lighthouse keeper stifled his great flame; and true it is that the sluice gates of the city were raised that the sea might rush in upon the land; and true it is that men cried out from within that stifling atmosphere as it were harshly; and true it is that when the fog lifted no ships floated there upon the salt sea, and of the army scarcely a tenth remained amid wrack and ruin.

Those who would quibble with the marriage of the North wind said and say that the sharp tridents and ready hooks of the town did work bloody work among the armies of empire beneath that blanketing weather, that sharp reefs and strong currents claimed their navies, and such is true. But those who have stayed in Ontogeny-Among-the-Lilies and spoken with its inhabitants the winter through and seen the eyes of the scyllas above the waterspouts wonder. What stains those stone hands? What rough handling has cracked and chipped their weathered faces? What words are they, just too faint to read, that are carved deep within those gaping mouths, traced upon those weeping eyes? Those who are wise wonder, and are uncertain.