Every captain of a questing ship keeps a Rumour Book, besides his official log book, as China Mieville correctly states in his “Railsea”. However from his remarks it becomes clear that he was never actually allowed to look inside one, all he had were landlubber’s rumours about them. I will not let you read what rumours I collected over the three decades on the waterfront, but a peak at an actual book is harmless.
Rumour book is something special. It is nontransferable, unique for every skipper, as it has an arcane tie to his personality.
Covers are copper plate, a noble metal, but not expensive enough to be coveted for its value.
Every book, every chapter, every narrative and polite letter starts with a “Bismillah” at the top; a benediction, which translates: “In the name of Allah, Compassionate, Merciful”.
Central motif is a medieval copper repousse, “Dragon and Phoenix playing with pearls”. Rumoured to come from a back of Chinese hand mirror, pearls have been looted and replaced with ancient coins.
The second coin which replaced the lower missing pearl, is more willful. It comes from a medieval Arab city-state of Kilwa, which flourished in East Africa, today’s Tanzania. Overrun and destroyed by Portuguese in 1505 it never recovered. Coin is 5-700 years old. I bought it in Kilwa from local kids fossiking in the extensive ruins of Kilwa Kisimani. Three identical coins were discovered during the WWII on a remote beach in Wessel’s Islands in North Australia. I tried to affix the Kilwa coin to my Rumour Book, but it steadfastly refused to lie near the Roman coin. It lives in a separate little sachet, at a distance.
Binding is held together with tanned barramundi skin. Barra is a large predatory fish from North Australia. Born male, for the first five years they live in the river systems of monsoonal Australia. When they reach about two feet in length, they change into females, and go to live in the adjacent seas. Their skin is incredibly tough and hard wearing, with crossed fibres. My mate Robbie has them tanned in all different hues. Hasps which hold the rumours from escaping are also barra, pinned together with a stainless steel chopstick.
Pages of the book come from old charts, British, Dutch, French, German, Australian and American. Back of the chart is blank, and only sections full of nothing (open sea) are used for the Rumour book. Traditionally charts were printed on a stiff high quality paper which can take a lot of wear.
Some of my old charts were printed in the 1930ies, or even earlier, as this French chart attests.
Rumour book is never finished. Its contents grown, carving on its covers become more elaborate, its power and magic waxes with the knowledge its owner possess.
Photos by Nat from smallestforest.net