Our train was in no rush as it ambled slowly through the foothills on its way to Lake of Doom, Farynshire’s largest lake.
OK, its real name is Lake Quietus. For most of its history everyone thought that that referred to its still and peaceful waters. But the true meaning of the word is the fulfilment of a debt. And once the story of the debt became widely known the lake became associated with Doom.
Legend has it that the lake was once home to a community of Lakefolk (basically, seafolk that live in a lake). This was unusual as seafolk are usually seen on the coast. I don’t think any of them live in rivers or lakes any more. But this community did. The local human Baron kidnapped a mermaid princess after seeing her bathing in the shallows and losing his heart to her. The Lakefolk demanded her return. The Baron refused, and this led to a violent conflict between the two Peoples. The Lakefolk tried to rescue the princess, but most of them perished. Finally a noble human knight took it upon himself to rescue the mermaid princess, and because this is a fairytale legend, he succeeded. The King of the Lakefolk was so grateful that he gave his daughter (the poor princess who had already been forced into one marriage, but I’m sure she really loved the knight …) to the knight along with the entire lake, as he had decided to relocate his people back to the ocean. The knight and the princess went on to rule their now mostly empty kingdom fairly, prosperously and peacefully, and had many fishesque children – which the locals are said to be descended from. I’m not sure what the moral of tale is supposed to be, but that is why the lake is called Quietus – for the debt paid to the knight for his heroics.
Lake Quietus does not sound nearly as interesting as Lake of Doom, though, and there are so many weird and fascinating places in Farynshire that a catchy name is an essential marketing tool. So the legend has been reconfigured slightly to emphasise the attacks, kidnapping, violence and wholesale exodus and has assumed the nickname Doom.
And the locals really capitalise on their famous legend.
It’s basically a giant waterpark, and a very popular tourist destination in the summer months (who doesn’t want to be able to say that they spent their summer holidays at the Lake of Doom?). After the peaceful paradise of the mountains, it was a bit of a shock to arrive at a place full of shrieking children, stressed parents, and glassy-eyed holiday reps.
The Lake sits between two round hills. It is dominated by Trident Castle, the large waterpark that has taken over the area. A tangle of flumes loop, curl and plunge up, around and down into the cold water. Pedalos, rubber rings and large foam structures bump into each other on the surface, crowded with people. At the deep end of the lake is the diving centre with three piers and a few motorboats berthed outside. Quietus’ depths contain archaeological evidence of a long abandoned community; some believe it is the Lakefolk community of legend, others that it is a human village that had been flooded centuries ago.
We headed to this end first because I wanted to see the Education Centre, a modern glass building that holds history in displays and glass tanks. Visitors are welcomed by the Legend of the Lake of Doom depicted on large display boards in curly writing and evocative artwork. Seafolk imagery dominates the entrance: watercolours of mermaids playing in the Lake, nineteenth century portraits of seafolken hang next to modern digital photographs of murky underwater scenes. Heavy wooden bookcases sit beside glass display cases. The bookcases are tightly packed with leatherbound volumes of stories, histories and mythologies of the Lakefolk specifically, but also broader texts on seafolk in general. The glass cases display artefacts recovered from the Lake.
I was in my element: I love museums. Rookpot has plenty: as well as the infamous Rookpot Museum in Dameg Square, there is also the Museum of the Walls, Cotton Production Through the Ages, Bookbinders and their Ilk, and a Museum dedicated to the Evolution of the Cobbles. All of them utilise small squares of card to provide details on each artefact. The Education Centre does the same thing, but each card gives two possible versions of each artefact’s providence.
A smokey blue clasp caught my eye. It had been worn smooth by centuries spent underwater, but it was still recognisable as a fish with a hollow eye where I imagined a jewel had once been set. The card beside it read:
This exquisite brooch was recovered in 1976 by one if the diving teams sponsored by Rookpot Museum. It was part of a small collection retrieved from one of the Weed Caves at the north end of the Lake.
Its origin has yet to be fully determined. Its design has been found in other waterside settlements in the mountains, especially on Tlws in the Bloon Peaks. It could also be evidence of the Lakefolk that are believed to have lived in the Lake, as per the local legends.
I doubt I’m the only one to imagine a mermaid princess wearing the clasp in her long golden hair (I have no idea if mermaids have golden hair in real life; quite a few of them in the nineteenth century pictures certainly did). It was a much more exotic and romantic notion than a cold human huddled in the mountains clutching the clasp as their only solace in a bleak, endless winter. When we reached the end of the exhibition I pretty much believed in the legend of the mermaid princess and her human knight. I bought a fridge magnet, a teatowel, and a book, History of the Legend, from the little shop.
Felix had not bought into the legend. He had followed me around the exhibition making scoffing noises and rolling his eyes. I suppose it must have seemed very strange to find such an entrenched seafolk legend in the foothills of the mountains to someone from Tor Calon on the coast where seafolk were occasionally still seen.
“Have you ever seen one?” I asked, not for the first time.
“Maybe. Not up close. We get dolphins and porpoises as well, and from a distance it’s hard to tell the difference.”
“Between a dolphin and a mermaid?”
“Well, yeah. It’s the tails.”
I had tried many times over the two years of knowing Felix to break through this evasiveness, and, like on this occasion, had failed each time. We were going to end up in Tor Calon at some point (if I had any say in the matter), so maybe I would find out more then.
The village of Quietus lies above the Lake and is home to people who work in the waterpark and the Education Centre. It has been designed to look weathered – as though it has been there for centuries – but after the squat rubble houses and narrow alleyways of Hen Ffydd the wide tarmac roads and faux-Tudor buildings look far too modern. It does have lovely views over the Lake. I looked closely at the locals to see if I could discern any Lakefolken ancestry in their faces – unusual eye colour, slightly leathery skin, the hint of gills on their necks … but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and eventually Felix got embarrassed and told me to stop staring.
We left the Lake of Doom on a coach that was heading for the coast, though we would get off before we reached the sea. I had never seen such blatant and crass commercialisation cashing in on Farynshire’s unique history before, and I wasn’t sad to leave it behind.
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)