Ever since I took to the seas, I have heard whispers of an island that lay undiscovered. Unknown, yet bountiful with treasure. Like ghosts on the wind, it would seem this island had thwarted any one who attempted its discovery.
I first heard it whispered between the crew when I was but a mere deckhand, often while laying up in some thick fog, not a breath of wind to stir the sails. The crew would become hushed, and seemingly gather in pairs to share a smoke or lantern – nothing to do while we waited for the return of the wind. In these quiet moments, there would be hushed talk of the fabled island.
“Do you think we’re near?”
“I heard talk its in these waters.”
“Could this be it?”
Each whisperer not even daring to name what they were hinting at. In these moments, the waves would lap the hull, and the world would grow dim. It was just us, those on this boat. Us and the ocean’s mysteries.
Yet always, the sun would break through the fog, the wind would pick up and all talk of the island be forgotten until the next time.
I was but a wee lad then, sailing with a bunch of scallywags as we made our own way on the seas. Some would say we were lawless, but we had our own rule. We were strong men, and only bowed to one queen – the sea herself. And as one finds themselves when on the seas, some kings bounty would make its way into our hands, and some ports would rather see us dancing the hempen jig than put up for a night. But all in all, twas a good life, with a good bunch of folk who are sooner family than any one sharing a name.
I grew, and made a name for myself on these seas, and yet the island was always there. Always calling out to me. I became a captain, with my own ship, from our more prosperous earnings. I had a crew, a band of men I’d no sooner die for and them for me. We traded blows with the empire together. We fought and bled together.
Alas, good times are not with us for ever, and the sea is a harsh mistress. We took to fighting a ship faster and sturdier than ours, and in my bravado, believed we could could have her. She lead us closer to the shore than we could go. The rocks claimed my ship and more than half my crew that day. What good is a captain without a ship, or a crew to man her?
And yet, even in my foulest mood, when drinking my demons away, I’d hear the whisper’s in the tavern. Whispers that the island was found, that there was a map. For years, I visted every tavern, trying to get rid of my wealth and drown my thoughts. And in every tavern, in the corner of every pub, I’d hear the faintest of voices.
“There is a map. The island is found. It can be yours.”
“It would give your crew something to brag about…”
Then it had me. This myth. This legend. I spent days, weeks, months, backtracking my drunken stupor. Which tavern did I hear it first? In which dark pub?
Eventually I came to a small port town, the name escapes me now. The first town myself and the remainder of my crew washed up on after I lead them astray. I found the dockside pub – a wooden shanty barely keeping upright. It was a host to rough sorts, sorts I’d long ago turned my back on. And there, in the corner, an old man with a gleam in his eye. I remember him. He was there the first night we went looking for lodgings. He’d not aged a day, and still in the same spot. I got an ale for myself and for this man, his face looking ever more familiar.
“Eight pieces of gold.” he croaked, as I placed his ale down, before I’d even take a seat for myself.
“Eight pieces of gold, and the map is yours.”
“Five.” I replied.
“Come now, Captain Barnabus… Don’t you want to find it? The island? Don’t you want to give your crew something to brag about?”
I knew then I had to have it. I’d do almost anything to win back my crew, to find some more, to make a new crew and to give them penance for my sins. My vision blurred and I could see the island. I could see the azure waves crashing on the golden shore, my ship anchored in the bay, the crew hauling chest after chest after chest into the hold… Yes. This is my quest, this is my mission.
Without thinking, I took ten gold pieces and placed them on the table, next to the old man’s untouched flask. The map, give it me, I must have it. I was about to speak when the tavern wench appeared behind my elbow asking about a refill on my tankard. I nodded. This would be a great day for me, one worth the extra ale.
“And one for my companion!” I bellowed.
“You old drunk pirate you, what companion? And don’t you be making eyes at me neither. I’m taken!” She turned in a huff and walked off.
Turning back to the seat opposite me, I found only a wall. The second tankard and the gold pieces gone and in its place a rolled up parchment. I must have been taken for a fool. Until I unrolled the parchment, warm to the touch, its paper almost golden with a glow. My eyes swept over the map. It seemed to eb and flow, the lines of the ocean shimmering, the island’s trees blowing in the breeze. This was it. this was the map to the island. It was real all along, and it was about to be claimed, by me and my crew.
The next few days was spent finding a seaworthy ship. One that could withstand a fight, or run from one should the tide turn that way. Once the ship was secured, it was time to gather the crew. As if by some force, they’d all come back to this town no long after I’d acquired my map. And by their counts they’d brought a few friends. A full crew indeed. Convincing them to join on the voyage proved to be easy – all they needed to see was the mystical map and they were on board, hauling ropes and climbing masts. Singing the old sea shantys of old. Was like we never left. And then we were off.
Oh to feel the salt air in my face again, to have the ground drop and rise in time with ocean! This is where I belonged.
The map guided us into waters we’d never been, nor knew existed. At times the crew joked we’d sailed off the real map and into one of our own making. For two weeks we sailed, spirits were high, and spirits were drunk.
Until we got caught in doldrums and a fog settled in. Fog so think it cut straight through your jacket and wrapped around you bones. Still the fog closed in, cradling our minds until we could not think about anything else. It was quiet. At times we could not even hear the lapping of the water on the hull. We sat, not dropping anchor in case the wind picked up. And yet, the fog stayed. We were adrift. In unknown waters. During the day we could not see the sun and at night we could not see the stars. If you ever want to anger a crew, have them sit with nothing to do for six days straight.
On the morn of the seventh day, only one crewman had kept watch in hopes of seeing something, anything. With the rising sun, shouts rang out! The fog had lifted, the wind returned and the island was spotted! Finally, our voyage was almost complete – treasure for myself and the crew awaited. But even more than that, our names would be written on the pages of history. And I, well, I was about have an entire island named after me. Songs would be sung for years to come.
The story continues in Part Two…