WASHINGTON—Thousands thronged the docks of the capital seaport last week to watch as Congressmen boarded galleys and set sail in search of the Lost Sword of Bipartisanship, a holy relic that according to legend has the power to restore collegial relations and procedural harmony to the legislative branch.

Members of Congress, above, as they embark upon a journey from which many may never return.

Initial reports from sea confirm the expedition has already faced dire peril in its quest, which was reportedly inspired by a "radiant vision" of a sword that appeared before stunned senators and representatives in the Capitol rotunda a fortnight ago during negotiations over a minor wetlands preservation bill.

"I know in my bones this is a sign," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was overheard saying as he fell to his knees, humbled by the hovering Sword's fabled embodiment of civil discourse, mutual respect, and practical, common sense. "To see an apparition of this sacred talisman, which cuts through bickering and self-interest, is to see that we have strayed in our ways, and that only the Sword itself can point us toward the true path."

"We must seek the sword at once," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who, in a rare moment of alliance, knelt to join Reid in meek supplication. "Though we do not know where it is, it may be the only thing that can save us."

Following several days of stalemates and inaction, Congress appropriated funds for a mighty fleet of ships and approved a motion to set sail, reportedly demurring at an offer of assistance from the U.S. Navy because the task of finding the Sword of Bipartisanship was "theirs, and theirs alone" to bear.

On Friday, messenger birds began to arrive with tidings of great adventure, but grim outcomes.

One scroll recounts the demise of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who died of exposure and malnutrition within sight of the shores of his beloved island home, while another tells tale of a giant ice floe that carried the entire House Ways and Means Committee into the Arctic night, never to be seen again.

Dangling desperately by a lashing line, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is said to have fallen into a churning maelstrom off the Horn of Africa while raging at the heavens and shouting, "Fools! Fools! There is no Sword! There is no Bipartisanship! It's all a lie, and we all bound for Death!"

"One of the messages, burnt on the edges and smelling of brimstone, tells how they stopped on a remote island for provisions and were imprisoned by a mighty one-eyed monster who bellowed, 'But there's no way to pay for all this!'" Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters from atop the Washington Monument, where she awaits the Congressmen's return, clad in widow's black burlap and gazing out to sea. "They seem to have defeated this Cyclops, but of the coveted saber, there is no word."

"And now I've received news that fishermen in Monterey Bay have found in their nets the bloated remains of Barney Frank," Pelosi added.

Tales sung by bards since time immemorial describe the Sword as a master blade forged at Lexington and Concord, broken during the Civil War, reforged by Abraham Lincoln, wielded by the imp Joe McCarthy until he was driven mad, used briefly at a Cleveland City Council meeting during a unanimous vote on a zoning variance, and then lost somewhere in the misty murk of Indochina.

According to a raving, half-starved Senate page found Monday clinging to an oar in the Potomac River, a pack of seductive lobbyists attempted to lure Congress to their doom upon an island's rocky shoals, a disaster averted only when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) locked his colleagues belowdecks and navigated the fleet to safety himself.

"I warned them of the dangers they would face," a mysterious and becloaked oracle known only as the Librarian of Congress told reporters. "Those who seek the Sword of Bipartisanship must confront not only the terrors that dwell in the vasty deep, but those within their very hearts."

"If that fails, the least they could do is sit down like grown-ups, have an open exchange of ideas, identify shared values, hold good-faith negotiations in which both sides make concessions, reach an agreement that a majority of them believes will advance the common good, and then vote on a goddamn bill," he added.