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The Seventh Seal
(* signifies a new contribution)

* Mr Martin had always been an indifferent chess player, and Stephen was nearly distracted from overlooking the parson's latest mistake by the passing of the shadow of the mizzensail away from their little table by the taffrail; he was uncertain that the ensuing brilliance could be separated from the embryonic headache that shimmered into his consciousness from time to time. Another shadow, smaller than the mizzensail but large enough for a mortal man, fell across the deck beside them. Captain Aubrey said

* "Mr Martin, Doctor, now that the White Queen has the enemy clear in her sights at last should you like to join me in the ocean? For, as you cannot have failed to observe, we have lost our breeze again and with it, our steerage way, are merely swinging with the current."

"Thankyou, Captain Aubrey, but I fear that after my misadventure of yesterday I may never attempt ocean bathing again. I am entirely a land creature, it seems. No, no, you and the Doctor may frolic in the waves with the Nereids but I shall busy myself with reviewing our moves for the Doctor has been exceedingly cunning I find and my Bishop has been caught in flagrante delicto".

Jack busied himself with throwing off his clothes. He felt a curious pang that after all these months the parson could mistake the name of the dear ship.

*Soon Stephen joined him the storm foretopsail that had been buoyed at the corners to allow the paradoxically unaquatic majority of the crew to cool themselves without sinking very far. With a furious, spasmodic series of uncoordinated jerks, Stephen Maturin made his way to the farthest buoy where Jack, having already circled the ship, rested on the shallow canvas.

"Why there you are," said Jack. "A swim is they very thing to set you up, I always say."

"Oh indeed," gasped Stephen, his eyes still out of focus. His eyes might not have been altogether, but his skin was preternaturally sensitive in this alien environment. Surely these gentle but persistent agitations of the sailcloth were unusual for such a quiet sea. Snooks?

Mrs Oakes has been much on my mind," began Jack.

"I am not surprised to hear it", said Stephen. "Is that not her with Martin about to take her air?"

"Oh my God," said Jack and threw himself over the edge of the sail. Stephen uncharacteristically looked before he leapt. He forgot Mrs Oakes. He considered. He paused. He said -

"Jack, do not be alarmed. There is

* a family of seals on your larboard bow. Nine, no, four, no...what comes after five? Brother, do not harrass them so, they are merely being inquisitive as is their nature".

The alacrity with which the Surprises abandoned their natural element was exceeded only by the speed with which several of them abstracted themselves from the mass of seamen now crouching and shivering on deck to rouse out the weapons stashed in unlikely parts of the forepeak, orlop and even the Captain's quarter gallery. The most impressive of the seal hunters was the irascible Ingmar Bergman who had returned to the ship shockingly late in Goteborg, pursued by each of his wives and some fourteen of his offspring. His espadroon was of the finest Swedish steel and

*Awkward Davies, among others, looked forward to seeing it used with immense relish. The afterguard clustered around the hunters while Babbington waved them back, fearing for the captain. So great was their keeness for fresh meat that Stephen grew concerned and called out "Why, Mr Babbington, what are they about? Do they not know they must not shoot mermen? I though I saw a mermaid swim under the bow just now." The crowd rushed off forward, hotly pursued by the bosun's mates and Master at arms who were trying to return the weapons to their rightful places. By the time Jack saw just what it was that the seals were fleeing

*so had Martin, for Clarissa's stinging "Sir, you have been at the portable soup again" had been accompanied by the horizontal swipe of a spadroon wielded by the most powerful and violent of her admirers, Ingmar "Wild Strawberries" Bergman himself whose recent attempt to drown the parson would have been horribly successful had he not been recalled to his duty by the sudden illusion of a breeze and the need to set all possible sail. Martin's frantic leap at the boom of the mizzensail had both relieved and disconcerted him by its success and as the great spanker swung out over the Bristol blue ocean, quite clearly to be seen, forty fathoms down was

*a mermaid, smiling engagingly and swimming steadily upwards to meet him, her broad blue tail steadily sweeping behind her. Martin gaped, forgot Clarissa, forgot chess, forgot Bergman, and dropped into the water where, instead of thrashing and choking, he was greatly surprised to find himself gently and peacefully sinking in the warm ocean, until he reached the mermaid. He resolved to lessen his quicksilver treatments.

"Nathaniel Martin," she smiled, "How do you do? My name is Liv."

Martin had nothing to say, but Liv took him by the arm and swam to her cave in a shallow reef, where they dined on sea gooseberries and sea cucumbers and she named the fishes for him in all their dizzying variety and ceaseless motion. Presently it grew dark. The collation, and even their teeth, had been tidied up by the wrasses and Liv said:

"There are three smiles to a summer night. The first

*is emerald## - and the mermaid's sea green hair cast a soft luminesence as it lifted and floated on the current. "The second is pearl" -and Martin wanted to drown in her shining nacreous eyes. "The third - but you must guess what the third smile is. If you should guess correctly, I will take you to my father, Nereus, of whose palace no earthly man has told for none who have seen it has ever wished to leave."

"And shall you be there, Liv, my Liv?"

"I will be wherever you wish me to be". And Liv gently swished her blue tail.

"Then I must smile like no mere mortal man I think? It is not the smirk of position or estate or the grosser appetites satisfied? Is it? Can it be...?" He peered into the depths of the dimly glittering cave for an answer but saw instead

*, through the other end, a straggling, struggling heap of hatless seamen, slowly walking across the ocean floor. Some carried ditty bags and, others, small sea chests. They were followed by other groups, and more, until it became clear that hundreds and hundreds of men were making their way across the shimmering moonlit white sand, officers in front in their dark blue coats.

"Hundreds and hundreds," said Martin, his one eye agitated, "Pray, dear lady: what can it mean?"

Oh, them," said Liv. "It is only the Dutchmen, six hundred of them. They were making for home from the South Atlantic. They turned wrong at the Cape. Now their way home is much longer, I am sorry to say."

Martin thought for a moment, and the rest of him grew as agitated as his eye.

"Are there more of them?" he cried. "Is all drowned humanity here?"

"Never fret, by dear sir," smiled Liv, again placing her hand on his arm, "For the sea bottom is a very, very large place, and a great many of the drowned eventually find their way home. But now, Mr Martin, you are to tell me the third smile."

"How I hate, hate and loathe parlour games," said Martin, but to himself, and said to his scaly companion with as much confidence as he could simulate, for the sight of the six hundred had greatly diminished his appetite for profundal dalliances, "The third smile is

*... Oh, now I know you! God between me and evil! You are no Nereid! You are the witch Lorelei!"

"Now you know me, now you know me indeed! From my cave I look up at poor fools with their petty lusts and vanities and sometimes I desire their better acquaintance...Nathaniel Martin, you are a chess player. There are 64 squares on the chess board. There are 63 wrong smiles and only one smile that can free you from my thrall. But I warn you that none has guessed it" - and her scales flashed with a virulent irridescence in the fleeting light of a passing ray, dazzling the parson and confusing his poor mind.

As his vision cleared, Martin felt himself gasping for air, for sweet air. The raptures of the deep had given way to choking horror; the marvellous cave had become a suphorous vent of the earth; through a glass darkly yet another monster could be seen swimming his way with a trident in his hand...

"Komm!##" and Ingmar Bergman had the swooning parson's hair in his mighty grip. "Komm!" and now Martin heard only cries and whispers as the deep moaned round with many voices. "Komm!" and he was being handed up to a concerned Bonden and Plaice and hung by his heels to cough out the mortal seawater from his lungs. With profound unconcern he noticed Clarissa pausing on her way below decks to listen to the singing on the focs'le:

... the Captain he spied a mermaid so fair
With a comb and a glass in her hand.
Oh the rolling seas may foam
And the roaring winds may blow
But we lucky sailors are skipping at the top
While the dead men lie down below, below, below
While the dead men lie down below.
 

# at which point the reader becomes aware that contributor 2 has not seen the film.
## it becomes apparent that Ingmar Bergman can talk underwater.

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