Sea Of Salt

The oldest of elves can remember the days when the Sea of Salt, by another name, filled nearly the entire lowlands from the foothills of Daalands and the mountainous border of the Margin, halfway to the shores of the Tradewind Ocean. But for millennia it has been in retreat, slowly evaporating in the pitiless sun, leaving bare rock, sun-fired mudflats and great, economically important salt pans. The tributaries that replenished it once have withered away to dry wadis that are now used as caravans trails. The elves tell many tales of why the waters have fled: some blame outsiders, the dwarves for diverting mountain streams for their waterwheels; many think the orcs claimed it for irrigation; others suspect that the dryads are hording it with their thirsty roots. There are more mythical explanations, too, such as the common despairing cry that Azaid is punishing them for some slight against its golden majesty, or the fanciful tale that a vast salt dragon has taken up residence in the bottom of the lake, trying to quench its infinite thirst. Whatever the reason, the waters have become increasingly brackish as the salts and minerals concentrate, and are now many times more saline than the ocean.

The remaining Sea of Salt is likely to stay at its present size for a good while, because most of its shallows have already been lost. What remains is a deep stony gash in the earth, its bottom falling away from the shores precipitously. Sailors have tried to take soundings of the deepest parts, but gave up after lowering a thousand yards of rope. The Sea is so saline that in the warmer half of the year large parts of its surface actually crust over with salt, forming a blinding white layer, bringing to mind a southern lake covered in winter ice. Young elves make a game of sprinting over the salty crust, their light bodies and the water's density allowing them to avoid sinking if they move quickly and lightly enough. During this part of the year sailors must reinforce their hulls against the corrosive and abrasive effects of the salt crust, usually with extra, sacrificial boards around the waterline of their ships.

Though the salt gathered and used for preservation and flavouring is the best known commodity to come from the Sea, the elves have other uses for it, too. Minerals found on its shores are sold to goblin apothecaries and used in cosmetics sold to vain orcish nobles, and the potash and gypsum collected there are supremely prized as a fertiliser by farmers. Only the dryads have little use for the trade: they fear the effect salt can have on their precious soils, and trafficking through the Golden Court is contraband. The Sea itself has uses, with the rumoured salubrious properties of its waters drawing wealthy travellers and desperate pilgrims to bathe and anoint themselves. The elves also use it as a construction site for Da'Janah and Ma'Janah, as the dense water makes it easy to float a hull high and the salt flats allow a good test of the runners - and because so many tribes stop at the Sea of Salt on their routes, it serves as a perfect convocation point for large projects.

The Sea of Salt should be toxic to life, but some creatures have found a way to thrive there.

  • Salt Dragons: Smaller relatives of the sea dragons, salt dragons' venom is even more concentrated, and unlike their marine cousins in the open ocean they cannot breathe in the extreme saline of the Sea of Salt. They can be seen breaching from the water in glittering sprays of salt crystals to refresh their air.
  • Alabaster Crabs: Ranging in size from a hand to larger than a dinner plate, these crustaceans have shells overgrown with gypsum deposits. When removed, they have a rainbow sheen like paua and are prized as decoration. Their flesh is delicious, provided it is treated by a sequence of soaking in oil, vinegar and pure water to remove excess salt and make it palatable.
  • Horned Eels: Corpse grey things longer than an elf and resembling a moray with a narwhal's tusk. Horned eels use this projection during mating fights, and to crack holes in the crust to breathe.
  • Brine Otters: Ugly, intelligent and curious, brine otters are treated as both adorable and annoying by the elves. They look like a hairless cross between an otter and a seal pup, using their flipper-clawed forepaws to scratch holes in the salt crust, and pick up small rocks to crack alabaster crab shells and feast on their meat. They often find their way on board Ma'Janah, where they are known for pilfering small objects that catch their attention.