I sensed ill intent towards the captain. Being the first-mate, I was the barrier between the crew and the captain. Not only in rank. I was the reason that tried to quell the talk that would lead to mutiny. First with jokes, then with warnings. I feared that threats would be required next, but that only halts them for a moment.
An angry crew beats a captain and his loyal first-mate any day.
Pin for Later!
It was good fortune that we made it to the island before anything bad happened. At the sight of land, the crew’s thoughts turned to beaches, adventure and the promise of gold and other treasure. The captain’s mind has been preoccupied with those thoughts since the journey began, I could only imagine where they were now.
“Daniels, bring two men of your choice,” Captain Walsh told me. “Swords, muskets and shovels. The sooner we leave this island the better.”
“Is there something I should know, sir?” I asked.
Walsh turned his head to me. His eyes were glossed over, he was thinking about what to tell me. What the consequences may be. Eventually, his eyes focused on me with an unsatisfying answer.
“Nothing concerning, Daniels,” Walsh began. “Just something to keep the wildlife from bothering us.”
The rowboats were lowered and we made our way towards land. The sun was setting, yet the captain insisted that we continue despite that. That could only mean we were looking for something we would see in the dark. I kept my tongue and continued rowing until I felt the sand grate beneath the boat.
Our boots hit the water and with a combined effort we dragged the rowboat ashore until we were ashore it was out of reach of the tide. Dusting hands, we grabbed the shovels and weapons. One of the crew lit a torch and led the way while the captain gave directions. I held a second torch for him, lighting the map so the captain could make sense of where we were.
The map was a mess. It looked like a madman had scratched his thoughts on an ancient map. Despite these confusing lines, Captain Walsh seemed to know where we were and guided us ever onwards, through the jungle and across rocks.
I decided to turn my attention to the island itself.
The darkness seemed to suffocate all sounds. Even the wind couldn’t garnish much sound from the leaves. Only the occasional pop of fire from the torches and the crunching beneath our feet played accompaniment to our journey. Thinking about it further, I didn’t hear wildlife either. Not a chirp of birds or a buzz of insects; almost deathly stillness.
“Daniels, light,” Walsh muttered.
I brought the torch closer and the captain stopped immediately. We all looked around to see what the Captain was seeing, eventually, our eyes settled on a lone rock in a clearing. It was large and unassuming, yet the captain knew more than we did. He marched so quickly and suddenly towards it that we had to jog to keep up.
“Shovel,” he grunted.
One of the men jogged up to his side and handed him the shovel, muttering about doing it for the captain, but Walsh ignored him and wrenched the shovel from his hands. Walsh stopped at the rock, felt along the surface.
No response. His hands drifted up and down until he drew it sharply away from one spot. He waved his hand as if he touched fire and gave me a look.
“We’re close, Daniels,” Walsh told me, then looked at the other two. I think at that moment he noticed their fear. “You two...if you keep your hearts strong, your shares will be greater than those on the ship.”
The promise of wealth was enough for them to strengthen their wills.
The captain lifted the shovel then drove its point towards the spot where his hand jumped. The sound was similar to a sword piercing flesh and we were disgusted with what followed. The shovel created a bleeding wound, the rock began to drop steaming black blood. It hissed in the open air, steaming as it poured down the side of the rock and soaked into the sand.
The captain had only begun his assault.
Another strike followed, then another, each angrier than the last. I found myself backing away from the rock, as did the two who joined us. The captain continued to dig through the peculiar material, which I could only describe as something akin to gore. I then saw sparks. The sound of flesh being separated was interrupted by a clang of metal on metal.
I don’t know when the captain took my torch, but I saw him dig as much of the surrounding gunk away before lowering the fire. His expression and body language told us that what he was about to do was not safe, so we all backed away a little more.
The gunk caught fire and there was a soft thump as if the air-popped and a cloud of black smoke began to grow from where the captain touched the dark blood with the fire. It took only a moment for us to be caught in the cloud. It didn’t have a scent I could describe, it was bitter or sweet, but it didn’t feel right.
I could see the captain's silhouette through the fire, made clear by the torch he still carried and clearer still by a much greater light.
“To me!” Walsh yelled. “Our legacy awaits! Haha!”
Joy seemed to have washed over him instead of a sinister cloud. I was not made bold by his words, yet I walked towards him anyway. As I neared, I could see a lot of the rock had fallen away, revealing a staircase lit by a strange crystal formation that dotted the ceiling of the stairwell. The two crew members joined us and I could see their looks of wonder fight all fear away.
The two rushed down the stairs after the captain while I lingered behind. I could hear the jungle sounds now, the rustle, the buzz. I could hear life. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone at the stairs and decided to join them below. I followed quickly.
The captain and the diggers were standing in front of a bounty that made the king’s treasury look like a peasant's salary. Piles of gold chunks, ugly and beautiful, covered most of the floor, while chests of jewels were perched haphazardly here-and-there. The glow of the crystals only made the treasure glitter and gleam brighter.
“An ocean of wealth,” one crew member murmured. “A sea of treasure, rivers of fortune…”
He walked into the gold, sinking a little, showing that the room went deeper beneath the gold. It was like watching a child wade into a golden lake. When it reached his waist, he looked back at us, gold coins and nuggets pouring from his hands and making splendid sounds as it returned to the hoarded treasure.
The swimming man turned to look at us, a truly happy smile crumbling from his face, like paper burnt up in a blaze of fire, only for a look of terror to appear from the ashes.
I turned too late, feeling cold steel cut through one of my legs, a force sending me hurtling through the air. I rolled across the floor, missing a leg and my vision was already fading thanks to the shock. Despite the lack of sight, I could hear them, the people, the things that attacked me. I could hear the sounds of musket and the clash of the sword.
I felt arms around me, I felt hands on what was left of my leg. I lost consciousness and regained it in the forest, my arms over someone’s shoulders, being carried through the forest. I felt cold air, water, fire, pain, then finally peace. When I woke up, I was in the captain’s quarters, being checked by the doctor.
The doctor's face was a blur, but his words were sharp.
“What did you find? What attacked you?” the doctor hissed. “You must know something for the captain to have you in his quarters rather than sickbay. What is he hiding? What happened to James? What did they do to his face?”
I looked at the blur in the dark corner of the room. A bandaged man with a face I could tell even though the poor vision was mutilated beyond recognition. Yet, he was alive. A line had been crossed. No matter my answer, I knew the crew was going to mutiny.
“The captain...saved us…” the mutilated man groaned from the corner of the room. “In the jungle...beneath the gold...they waited…”
A violent splutter erupted from what remained of James and he decided to keep his peace, preferring to wheeze uncomfortably than to speak in pain. That made the doctor return his focus to me.
“What happened? What was there?”
“I...didn’t see…” I told him honestly. “Too...fast.”
“Doctor, I would recommend you leave these men to sleep,” Captain Walsh appeared behind the doctor.
The doctor returned his comment with anger, and an argument followed. Eventually, Walsh broke it with reason.
“I’m not hiding anything,” Walsh explained. “Those who have anything to ask me can come here and do so, or go there and find out for themselves.”
The doctor gave the four of us a look and decided which one he preferred. I saw many faces as I came in and out of sleep, but heard not a word I could make sense of. I could only wonder what took my leg as I waited for the drugs to wear off.
Before they did, a decision was made without me and those of use that weren’t injured went ashore. James, the other crew member and I could only watch as the captain and the rest of his crew became dark specks on the distant island that disappeared beyond the jungle’s edge.
“All the gold in the world,” James wheezed. “Is nothing if you’re dead.”
“We should leave them to those things,” the other crew member muttered, holding his side.
“Three cripples can’t sail a ship,” I spat. “Just...wait.”
And so we did, fearing the worst.