A Tall Ship Tale #13: Duck Soup

The next from the collection by Paul de Anguera.

“Now, where can we get tinned duck?” the First Mate asked Quid cannily. They were hurrying around the Constantinople bazaar in what had suddenly become an urgent supply mission, thanks to a deal between the Harbor Master and a loan shark to which the H.M.S. Legume had somehow become a party. “And oil — where can we get that?” he added to the Captain wickedly. Captain Quid pointed at a ceramics display.

“A dozen big clay pots!” Quid fired at the kilnmaster. Then he turned and saw a rack of bamboo. “One pole!” he ordered disjointedly.

The bamboo seller argued with the Captain in Turkish, but finally let him have his stick for an outrageous price. Quid and the First Mate found their way back to the ship’s launch. Just as they were climbing in, the bamboo seller hustled up, dragging another man by the arm. “You forgot your Pole!” he laughed, thrusting the second man into the boat. “Silly barbarians!”

“We need a pilot,” the First Mate said as they were rowed out to the ship. “Do you know this area?”

“Well, I am a, as you might say, sky pilot! Sigmund Fraude at your service,” the Pole said loftily.

“That’s just the sort of pilot we need for a flying ship!” the First Mate exclaimed to the Captain. “Where are we going?”

“Source of the Nile,” he grunted. As the frigate got underway, the First Mate took Sigmund to the cabin to plot their course. But moments later he reappeared on deck, dragged Sigmund to the rail and threw him overboard with a noisy splash.

“What happened in there?” Owen Anatu asked.

“He wanted to talk about my dreams. And my mother!” the First Mate complained incestantly.

They heard shouting from the water below. “You are a most difficult patient! If you won’t cooperate, we’ll never get to the source of denial!” Sigmund warned as the ship drew away. Then he noticed the loan sharks and struck out desperately for shore.

As the Legume crossed the Mediterranean and sailed up the Nile, Ian Vilcorus the blacksmith cut the bamboo pole into sections. Then he fashioned them into duck calls. As they were sailing past Aswan, he gave some to Owen to test. He stood at the rail and blew a duck call. “Hello, I’m Gertrude,” the swan said as she landed on the deck. “I can’t say much for your voice, but you’re not a bad looking fellow, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” she added as she folded a wing around him. Strange to tell, this odd couple grew to be great friends, and the crew thought it pleasingly symmetrical that the Boatswain and the boat-swan were together.

Now things were moving rapidly. The ship took to the air and landed in Lake Victoria, which was full of ducks that had migrated from the north. The crew removed the main hatch. Owen stood at the bottom of the hold, blowing duck calls one by one, then two and three at a time. But nothing entered the hatchway, other than perhaps some duckish laughter. Finally Gertrude the swan fluttered down. She nudged him affectionately aside and let out a series of beguiling waterfowl cries. The hatchway darkened as dozens of ducks flapped eagerly inside.

Gertrude regarded the Boatswain lovingly and concluded,

“It takes swan tune, Owen!”

Chris Cole sent the very helpful commentary:


Don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but a punster’s delight awaits you in the works of Gosciny and Uderzo (spelling?), who’ve in years past penned various adventures of Asterix the Gaul. It’s originally written in French, but the English versions I’ve read are peppered with glorious puns and historic allusions galore. (I can’t begin to imagine the stretch of translating such stuff from French into English?)

To give some examples, many ancient Gaulish names ended in “x” and, as the first Asterix the Gaul comic book (hardbound ones, lovely artwork… have to order through bookstores) notes, Ceasar conquored all of Gaul except for one stubborn village that could not be conquored, home to Asterix, our very small hero. He gets his superhuman strength from exotic potions brewed up by the eccentric village druid, Getafix. (*ahem!* figured you’d like THAT character!) Asterix’s best chum is a huge, dimwitted Menhir-stone delivery man, named Obelix. The village blacksmith — advertising “Weapons for the entire family” — is Semiautomatix (I think…). And so on…

Likewise, other characters bear similar linguistic traits of their ancestry… a Roman Centurion named Crismus Bonus, another Roman soldier, Marcus Ginantonicus… and one of my all-time favorites… one of Julius Caesar’s bodyguards — Superfluous.

To wit —

In “Asterix the Gaul and Cleopatra”, a group of Roman soldiers are in fear of being defeated and driven back into the river, at which point one of them wails mournfully, “We’ll be annihilated!” .. to the glares of his unappreciative comrades.

At another point, when a group of Egyptian peasants are celebrating, the comic’s editorial blurb notes that they invoke the name of their sun god, whereupon the comic frame shows them all shouting, “Ra! Ra!”

Part of that story also involves rival Egyptian architects — Artifis and Edifis.

And so on…. Fun stuff!

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