Nestled by the harbor’s edge in a quaint but comforting tavern, dense clouds of cigarette smoke mingle with the melange of questionable clientele. Amongst sailors and side boys, traders and tramps, two young sailors sit and drunkenly spin tales of the sea as candlelight flickers upon eyelids heavy with booze and bravado. Little do they know, in less than an hour, both would be dead.
Mysterious to all, a figure looms in the corner and listens, his vantage point well considered, his patience well rehearsed, he waits in lair, ears hooked on the two young sailors’ scuttlebutt. For a long while this evening, he has waited, for it is evident the pair knew very little of the sea, and even less of life itself. So he waits and listens in his darkened corner until, amongst the natter of voices, he hears what he has been yearning for.
He soon follows them down to the haze of the docks where his men lay in waiting. Knowing they would return this way, as they always did, like fools, he silently descends, pulling his dagger and catching a shimmer of light in the blade, the signal for his men to strike.
It takes less than a minute for them to succumb, weapons still strapped to their hips, they lay, eyes wide as damn pools expand from their gaping throats, their last words now futile with cries of the Emerald lady.
Several days pass and the harbour swells with the preparedness of men, making chance for good seas as ropes strain and groan tied on deck of the many merchant vessels.
One ship- the Emerald Lady- sits aside from the others, anchored at the far end of the harbour due to the previous incident. The murder of two young deckhands had been enough to send a spooked crew to set watch over their ship night and day. Armed with rifles and bayonets, they saunter along the deck, weapons raised or dolling on their shoulder as the men whistle and make watch.
The captain observes his crew from the deck, his hands wrenching at the balustrade. The threats of the seas lay heavily on every captain, however the threat of loose lips he knew only too well of the consequences, for what has been said cannot be undone. It was under captain’s orders they had delayed departure; to regain the confidences of crew, and to save face of his own, the crew now loaded several tonnes of armaments to their already laden ship. He knew his crew mustn’t falter in their readiness, and it was decided. They would sail at dusk tonight.
As a last glow of light recedes from behind the horizon, the Emerald lady makes haste on a steady wind out of the nurture of harbor. Seasoned sailors work and scurry in hushed tones as puffs of tobacco drift and fade into the near night sky. The sails gasp and lunge with the steady breeze. Taught as the ropes, a fraught nervousness bears heavily, unsettled crew pace on deck, busying hands with whatever they can find. A man surveys the seas, high above them from his vantage point, the watchtower, he whistles then bellows observations to men below and, on occasion, requests tobacco in return.
They churn through blackened seas until the glow of land has all but dispersed, making way for the scattering of stars. They check their course with the constellations and sail beyond, attentive and at a speed considered worthy by all crew. Moving in this way, a many miles from land, the crew soften with their steed, laying rifles against the mainmast as distant islands drift within shadows amongst the glimmer of moonlight above them.
He and his men lay waiting, anchored behind a small island, much adored by the unsuspecting crew of the Emerald Lady.
‘Four o’clock captain’ the first mate says, handing him the telescope as the ship sways gently on anchor. The captain eyes her, sails aloft making gains in the distance. He draws his dagger and signals to his crew. ‘Mine’ he says to himself as he clicks the top of his teeth.
It takes less than an hour to course the seas to the Emerald Lady and they are within a few hundred yards before the first flare sounds alarm, sending a bright crimson glow high above.
The Emerald Lady drops sail as anticipated, for they know they cannot outrun a ship of his craft. His men prepare, sounding hoots from the bow into the crash of the seas as they steer around her.
“Prepare for signal” The first mate screams and crew scurry for position on the right bow of their ship. She is well made for combat, and although wise and the winds in his favor, he waits as the smell of gunpowder with fuse swills in the air. Patient though, he waits as the wind draws them to the blindside of the Lady.
Sword raised, its deadly blade at the ready, his eyes hold their grip on the Lady. His men snigger and scoop below on deck, looking up at the flicker of blade in crimson light. As a many times afore, he strikes down his sword down and cuts the mainstay’s rope and screams to his crew, “Fire!”
A violent battle ensues.
The aftermath glows with dawn as the two ships shed splinter and surge with the seas against heavy ropes that now lash them together. The smell of gunpowder hangs dense in the air as purple smoke rises from the rear of the Lady. The captain’s quarters.
The Lady’s crew whimper in desperate huddles, bound and gagged amongst a smoldering of small fires that cinder on deck of their ship. Their fate decided, it falls heavily upon them, they watch as pirates plunder their beloved, stripping her of cargo, of weaponry and any remaining gunpowder.
Aboard the Pirates ship, the captain sits bound and aside him, two heavy-set pirate guards stand, swords drawn to his throat. Their stench wafts over him as he imagines it seeping deep within his pores. A single candle flickers in front of him as he surveys the room, filled with the decadent furniture, ornate and detailed textures and fabrics. A small bowl of fresh fruit adorns as a centerpiece on the table and the large empty birdcage sits abandoned in the corner.
He wrestles slightly with frustration and eyes a series of maps that lay unfurled before him. His maps. He leans forward, straining at the ropes, but his troubles come unwelcomed by the guards and one takes to subdue him with a short smack to the head with the butt of his sword. He feels a warmth ooze, first down through his hair and then down the side of his temple toward the gape of his collar. Dazed, his mind helplessly drifts back to the maps. He knows what is coming as he thinks to himself, Loose lips.
The cabin doors boom wide open and rays of light push deep inside the cabin, framing a silhouette at the doorway. Behind him, smoke plumes and ditches amongst throes of distant cries and the moans of the sea. His blackened frame moves closer toward him as black dots dance before his eyes, slowly receding as the detail of the figure before him stands. The guards shift with attention at his presence as he plants two huge hands firmly onto the table and leans in, glaring at the captain, “Dismissed” he yells as the guards weather a moment of confusion, then scurry out, slamming the door behind.
“Well, well, well Browntooth, the captain chortles “Took you long enough!”
“It took me ‘long enough’ indeed,” Browntooth replies “but, like they say, these things take careful preparations, and of course, enough time.”
“So, I assume all the arrangements we have discussed are in place?”
“They are indeed, Captain, or should I call you Mr Burbridge as you are merely a guest on this ship?” He laughs, slapping the captain hard on the shoulder.
‘Well,” Burbridge huffs, “You’d do well not to lose your head over it. Perhaps out of mutual respect of our endeavoring friendship, let us use our professional titles.” He rocks side to side and tenses, his eyes fixed on the ropes still lashing him to the chair.
“Captain Browntooth, would you be so kind..?”
“Of course, arr, Captain Burbridge, of course.” He scrambles beside the Captain, relinquishing the lashes. “Enough said and done, Captain, I think you will find all is in order. The plan is in place and minimal damage to the hull of the Lady.” he says, pulling two brown cigars from his chest pocket, he hands one to Burbridge “but first, Captain, let us toast.”
Burbridge takes a cigar and rubs the side of his head from the blow, studying the map. “And great thanks to your crew.” He says, wiping the small line of dried blood from his neck, “be sure to thank them for me.”
“Ar, Captain,” Browntooth says, eying Burbridge from across the room, “perhaps it is time indeed for you to engage the second phase of our plan.”
“Now come, Captain Browntooth,” he leans in and lights the cigar from the lone candle, “Let us not be hasty.”
Many a tormented mind of the Lady’s crew herewith resign themselves unto a sea of anger the instant they saw the two captains stand united on main deck. The men sit bound; they hiss and moan of their immediate disapproval as one of the captains, their captain, stands forward prepared to address his crew.
“My fair and hardworking gentlemen, my companions of the sea.” Captain Burbridge says, the crew quieten as hushed tones pass, they gawk up at him,
“It is time you all must make a decision, and I’m afraid that not all of you will fair lightly. For it will take an assured man to relinquish vengeful plays of mind, to take a score of what was and draw a line over it, for what is to become will never be the same.”
The men liven and tussle under their restraints, many falling to the side as they scream forth their vows, to their countrymen, to the Lady, to the sea. Amongst the ruckus, faces withdraw, lined with bitter resentment as one word is bawled more often than any other. Mutiny.
By the time sun draws high over deck, less than half of the Lady’s crew remain, watching, eyes deep with concession as the bodies of men succumb and sink into the gloomy depths. The gangplank draws as ratification of their decision to remain, for they shall live, and die, with renewed vows built on borrowed time and repaid with promised, unimaginable riches. The shackled crew rub their wrists and stand with great caution, their backs slumped; they saunter in shallow steps, all the while averting their gaze from a traitorous man as they await their new orders.
Several days pass and the two ships sail asunder yet within eyes distance, atop heavy seas that churn as the Lady’s hull groans with the ebb of the deadening swell. Frail but intact, her sails flutter and snap with violent gusts as men scurry about their duties, destination unbeknown to them. The crew steal glances upon their captain, who silently grasps the balustrade, his eyes fixed on the horizon. Like all men aboard, the crew grasp a seafarer’s instinct for a wind that brings an unfavorable change.
Once distant on the horizon, the ships approach a small cluster of islands as the sun sets. The men resist their anguish and welcome the shelter of a cove as Browntooth’s ship sends signal for anchor. Heavy rain lashes both crew in their ships as crew aboard the Lady drop her sails, anchoring a few hundred yards away, harboured by the islands for shelter.
A small boat launches from the ship, captained by Burbridge, he barks orders at a nervous crew that row, lashed by rain and the tormented seas, they slowly make way for one of the nearby islands.
Hushed whispers drift through ears of the Lady’s crew, for many an experienced seafarer knows of these islands, though none have seen them, the tale well told, of islands haunted by a thousand souls thought lost at sea.
They run aground on a white sandy cove as Browntooth’s crew scramble their survey boat to land a few hundred meters down the beach. The men lay haste from the protection of their ship, wavering at anchor, and hesitant to follow into the dense jungle that lies beyond the beach. They huddle on the sand and wait for the pirate crew to join them.
Browntooth marches toward the captain, his demeanour purposeful and demanding, “Did you bring the map?”
“Indeed, good friend, you can be sure of that”
“And you’re sure of this?” Burbridge asks, waving at the darkening jungle. “You know the island?” he surveys the beach and crashing waves, “It looks different to what I remember.”
Browntooth does not answer, raising an unlit torch toward the jungle he signals as a pirate lunges and flints the torch, igniting it as they venture into the darkened canopy of undergrowth. Burbridge and his men follow a short distance behind.
They follow until they reach a large cave, hidden by dense reed and stinking of rot. Browntooth stands atop the mouth of the cave, the flaming torch held high, illuminating a triumphant grin.
“It is here that your maps show as the spot, but do you dare to enter?” he says, head cocked, he turns his back and looks into the cave “For it is said that when one enters, their soul may never, ever return.”
“It is a price heavy no doubt, but however that may be, I’m prepared to accept it for what lays inside.” Burbridge rises, snatching the flame from a pirate crew as he passes. Pirates and crew stand aside, all fraught with a curiosity that none feel ready to betray. They watch as Burbridge enters and is gradually swallowed by the shadows.
Burbridge walks at first, then crawls as the cave narrows, pulling smoke deep within as bats squawk from above, maddened by the flare. After an age of scrambling through the damp cave, he reaches a section so narrow he must crawl through an opening no larger than a man. Holding the torch over him, he wriggles through, and once he reaches the other side, the cave opens into a huge expansive cavern.
He wanders the space, directing the flame as he walks, exploring every corner. He notices a rock of chest height, standing distinctively centered within the cavern as the flame catches on something atop of the rock. He clambers toward, heart pacing a thousand gallops as a square metal box - no larger than his palm - glint in the flame.
He picks it up and feels its weight, no heavier than expected, and for certain not made of solid gold, nor silver. His excitement brews as he brings the flame closer and gives the box a little shake. A tiny, almost inaudible rattle comes from within and he leans the torch against the rock, kneeling with the strange metal box. He studies it in the light of the flame, shaking it again. A faint rattle can be heard once more.
Studying all sides, he sees a small line, dividing the box perfectly in half, he feels along the line with shaking hands and pulls, twists, turns the box with all his might. Until, he hears it. Click.
The box opens, revealing a browned felt interior, and within is a small scroll, no larger than a finger. He eagerly leans in toward the light, taking the small scroll by finger and thumb, he gently removes it and places the box down on the ground. He swallows, then runs his tongue over his lower lip. Eyes wide with maddening glee he gently unravels the scroll, revealing a tiny hand written message, scribed in the middle of yellowed paper…
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