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Cross Archipelago

by Myke Greenlese

part 1 of 2

Two hours. His arms felt like they were about to fall off; his back muscles were tense and in agony, and his brain was tired from the constant refrain of a drinking song he was singing in his mind. Two long hours, but he and Captain Shrub were finally there.

The pains in Chumboy’s arms and back were due to all the non-stop rowing he had been forced to perform. The song was to block out the incessant noise from his captain, standing behind him with one foot on the bow of the little boat, in a true explorer’s stance. If the captain wasn’t running his mouth about how good Chumboy was for doing this for him, or how he was certain that this treasure was there, he was grinding his teeth. Loudly.

The archipelago crept right up on the small rowboat — not surprising, since it was pitch black, aside from a sliver of moon and the stars twinkling in the sky.

Thank heavens, Chumboy thought, tying the boat to a rock. Two more minutes and I’d sure be dead from sheer exhaustion.

Pulling the boat closer to himself and the rock, Chumboy smiled at Captain Shrub. Not the best captain on all the seas, but at least he rewarded loyalty.

“Not here, you moron!” Shrub screamed. Chumboy’s smile disappeared. “Do you want me to ruin my boots?”

If the captain jumped from the rock to the shore, he would have landed on wet sand. He simply couldn’t ruin his new boots, so Chumboy untied the rope and dropped down into the water. Grumbling to himself, he pulled the dinghy onto shore, rapping his fist on the side of the boat when it was safe for Shrub to alight.

“You idiot,” Shrub muttered, smacking the back of Chumboy’s head. “I oughta leave you here,” he said over his shoulder. Chumboy couldn’t wait for things to lighten up.

* * *

He really was smart, this Chumboy was. He was born Philip, the son of a baker. He hated baking, so he took off on his own at sixteen. But after two years of taking on odd jobs and attempting to learn different trades, he thought there was nothing in this world that he was suited for. That was, until he moved to the seashore.

While attempting to be a fisherman’s assistant, he realized there were only two things he was good at: not shutting his mouth when he should have, and preparing chum. After seeing some monks walking through town one day, he thought a vow of silence would be a good idea. It seemed to him that by not talking, the monks were able to get things done.

Since he never talked, no one knew his name. The other sailors would call him Chumboy because he prepared the fish bait so often. Soon enough, the new, silent Philip was well on his way to being an able seaman, and possibly even captain of his own fishing vessel.

That is, until pirates showed up one day.

* * *

So there he was, still the silent one, following all the orders that Captain Shrub forced him to do.

“Did I tell you to slack off?” Shrub exclaimed.

Not even five minutes rest? he wanted to scream back, as he struggled to stand. As he took the shovel from the boat, he wondered what exactly it was Captain Shrub had planned for him when this was all over.

“Turn around and close yer ears, if’n ya know what’s good fer ya!” Shrub growled. Chumboy did as he was instructed, grinning to himself. The captain never sounded tough, no matter how hard he tried.

Since he was only counting out the steps to where the treasure was supposedly buried, Chumboy smiled again. He was the one who would be digging it up, so why should he not be allowed to know where to find it? Just another show of gross misuse of power from the captain, he assumed.

Lost in thought and ire toward the captain, Chumboy never heard his name, until a small clump of sand smacked him in the back.

“What, are you deaf, too? Get over here!”

He ran to where Shrub was standing, dragging the shovel behind him. Chumboy noticed that he was not only in the middle of the tiny island, but in the center of the whole archipelago, which was shaped like the cross he had seen around some priests’ necks. Shrub was in the middle of four rocks, about two feet wide, and three feet apart.

“Cross Archipelago,” Shrub commented to no one in particular. “They made no mistake about the name,” he mused, glancing back at his silent companion. He stepped aside, pointing to the center of the X. “Now dig!”

Chumboy wondered what sort of reward he would receive for this. Shrub did have the good sense to reward well, but for all the abuse he was taking, Chumboy felt he deserved his own cabin on the ship.

But after listening in on a conversation between several other deckhands a month ago, Chumboy knew that Shrub needed to be off the vessel. With whispered angst, the sailors talked about mutiny, marooning the captain, or even simply killing him outright. Eventually, the first mate was in on it, claiming that the man to rid the ship of the captain could take his place. Chumboy, never being a part of these discussions but privy to them nonetheless, felt that this could be his time.

He started to dig.

* * *

Two more hours went by, and somehow, Chumboy knew how long it had been. When they snuck away from their sloop, the Freedom’s Grasp, the captain muttered something about it being three hours past midnight, which meant the sun would be up soon.

The crescent moon, like a large fingernail, had been excellent light once they landed and could see the ground they walked on, but now it was low to the horizon, and back behind the clouds that had masked it while he was rowing.

He was only about three feet down, as his waist was just below the surface. The sand he was shoveling was piling up in a ring around the hole, making Chumboy seem deeper than he was. Since Shrub was standing on the western shore away from the work site, Chumboy stopped digging for a moment, leaning on the shovel’s handle. The sky was turning into a light blue, while the moon was completely below the horizon.

“I’m not hearing any digging,” Shrub called back.

Scurvy bastard, he thought, stepping on the shovel. I’ll show him. Doesn’t even deserve to be captain. With a twisted grin, he tossed more sand up.

* * *

Shrub technically should not have been captain, but he certainly acted like he deserved it. After all, his father had been captain before him, so why should a tradition die there?

But as was the custom on all pirate vessels, the captain was elected after the crew was picked and before the anchor raised. Shrub’s father had left him the boat and some money before retiring to the north.

So he picked a crew from all the motley cutthroats and freelance adventurers — Chumboy being one of them — hoping to raise hell on the high seas. One of the picks was a handsome, strapping young man who everyone claimed was the best swordsman in the whole world. Even for having such a boring personality, the swordsman won the election.

Shrub, knowing he could do a better job, had a trick up his sleeve. Since they were waiting for two of the new crew to finish swabbing the deck, Shrub told everyone to go into town for an hour or so. The ballot cards were waiting for the official count, sitting in a nicely carved wooden box, up near the stern. If everyone had voted according to their love for this swordsman, Shrub knew he stood no chance...

Once everyone was on their way, he dumped the pine box’s contents overboard, after reading them, confirming his fear. Quickly, he changed his clothes into something that looked a little more civilian-like, as to not draw attention to his pirating mantle. Then, running into town, he flagged down two constables. Within five minutes, the young swordsman was in jail for attempted murder on the governor, while the constables were a little bit richer, coins jingling in their pockets, and smiles on their faces.

Once everyone returned to the sloop, Shrub announced his captaincy, to a very small number of cheers.

* * *

Now, with the sun peeking over the horizon, he was offering words of encouragement to Chumboy, whose head was just above the ground. Wringing his hands and pacing, it was as if Shrub could almost taste the treasure.

Chumboy knew this was what he was thinking, ever since he overheard a conversation one night between the captain and several of his higher-ranking men. Shrub mentioned that every time they found a treasure or large sum of booty, his mouth watered, and the goods were sweeter than sugarcane, something he was often found sucking on.

Chumboy started to wonder what exactly this treasure was. Shrub was not too vocal in letting him know what they were searching for, and at this point he was starting to wonder if it even existed. He snuck a peek at the captain up above, who must have had the same thoughts. Turning away from Chumboy, he pulled the map from his jacket pocket, unrolling it, and reading softly to himself.

For those truly worthy
Cross Archipelago is the spot.
Dig deep, until you reach,
The sands you dig will be hot,
Treasures gold and coins and jewels
Will not be found, low nor high,
But better here it truly is
That which gives to never die.

Shrub was bursting with glee, prancing around, and lightly singing a victory tune. Chumboy glanced up at him, also noticing that the sparse clouds were pink, and the air much warmer.

He snickered when he saw the captain in what he guessed was his normal element. When the captain glanced down at him, Chumboy started coughing to cover up his laugh, and continued digging. But the words Shrub had just uttered rang louder in Chumboy’s head than anything else he had ever heard. For those truly worthy... Shrub did not seem worthy of anything other than being marooned on a desert island, and Chumboy had a feeling that Shrub would receive some sort of unexpected surprise.

The sun, which was now full in the sky, had chased away the chill that showed up in the darkness. Added to that, the digging was much easier for Chumboy. All the loose sand was gone, and now it was packed with water, which made his shovel loads simpler to remove instead of worrying about sand falling back into the hole. As tired and sore as he was, Chumboy was excited. Captain Shrub looked to share in that excitement when he heard a loud THUNK. The treasure had been reached!

Peering down the eight foot hole with every last bit of concentration, Shrub watched as Chumboy cleared off the wooden chest with one hand, while lifting it up with the other. He reached down, and eventually pulled it out one-handed, since it weighed only a few pounds.

“Now you can sit,” Shrub told him, helping him out of the hole. Chumboy tossed his sweat-soaked shirt aside, feeling the warm morning sunlight on his back.

Removing a knife from his perfectly polished boot, Shrub jimmied the lock open, and then rubbed his hands together, his excitement leaking out almost visibly.

“Now, all your work pays off!” he said to Chumboy, who, despite the unveiling of his hard work and new, sore muscles, was fighting to stay awake.

The chest was about two feet wide by one foot long by one foot tall. Its simple, wooden exterior was no match for the inside, a beautiful purple velvet lining, holding a single vial of red liquid. It was no larger than a baby’s fist, but Shrub must have known what it would do for him. A tiny piece of parchment matching the map Shrub was holding so dear to him lay underneath the vial. He read it aloud, even allowing Chumboy to hear.

When the sun and moon meet
And the sky is the color of this velvet
Drink the contents where you stand
And the treasure you shall have.

“These instructions are lacking on the poetry,” Shrub muttered nonchalantly, as if it mattered not to him. He was victorious.

Before he could turn around to tell Chumboy to sleep, he heard a soft THUD. Standing over the sleeping boy, Shrub slipped the vial into the inner pocket of his jacket. He slept on the opposite side of the small island, his hand inside his jacket, caressing his pistol.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Myke Greenlese

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