___The following pages to be sent to the Duke’s official library, to be perused by his scholars working therein. It appears to be written by a young deckhand of a schooner that went missing near a fortnight ago. Certain segments appear to have been partially erased, but are still legible with a moments concentration. Attached is a paper listing the times and headings of the ship’s course, from which a good cartographer might be able to pinpoint the final destination of their voyage, so as to improve our current knowledge of the archipelago’s surrounding seas.
___These pages, likely excerpts torn from a logbook, were found in a glass bottle on the western shores, near the old lighthouse.
___A boy stands silent, leaning against the rail near the stern of the small schooner, as he stares morosely at the wake drifting slowly away. He still ponders the moments before they’d set sail, as he waved his farewell to a frail, worried sister watching from the shore.
___He knows it’ll be many days ‘till he sees her next. He knows she’ll be left alone on the streets, striving to survive the hardships of the poor and impoverished. But this was a chance he could not miss.
___I’ve been hired by a gruff old sailor for this two-week voyage. Twelve coppers a day, and the deal was simple. “I sail, you work.” In this case, work means prepare the meals, clean, grab all the loot I can help scavenge on the islands we may cross, mark the headings as the sailor calls them, and track the hour.
___I was able to get the job by being one of the few kids around the island, I'd bothered to learn to read and write between picking pockets and stealing food. I read the poster he put up, and when he saw I was good enough to mark down some notes, he hired me. Probably doesn't even know I'm homeless.
___I'm writing this both to pass the time, as I imagine there won't be much to do on this small vessel, and for my sister. She likes it when I read her stories from the books I've pilfered at the library, and she's bound to have a whole roster of questions for when I return.
___Ah, what a good reunion that'll be! With all the coppers I’ll get, I might be able to pay for an apprenticeship, maybe as a scribe. Then me and my sister my sister and I could find a boarding house and get out of the slums.
___The sun burns a bright hole through the high clouds. The old sailor pulls his line taut, sweat trickling down his back from the intense heat, as the fore-and-aft sail swoops into tack. He grunts over at the brown-haired boy stretched across the gunwale. “Heading.”
___The boy slides deftly around the shroud, unhitching himself as he did so from the attached ratlines. Sauntering over to the compass and checking his windup timepiece, he nods complacently to his master. With a quick glance at the direction and a couple words jotted down, he responds. “225! South west.”
___So far, all the work’s been fairly straightforward, and I’m having no trouble. The old man is a bit rough—hasn’t spoken a word to me but for brusque orders—but I care not. I fare well in solitude.
___He lent me a brass timepiece for the trip, to increase efficiency whilst I mark the headings and hour. At first, I considered it a surprising show of trust—but I soon realized there isn’t much of anywhere for me to run off with it out here.
___The boy slouches across the wheel as the schooner rocks gently beneath his feet. The stars shine above him, barely illuminating the compass within its binnacle.
___A light wind tugs the boat slowly forward. Dark waves slip past the cold iron of the hull. The boy sighs. It may be beautiful, but the night is also far too long.
___Contrary to the earlier deal, I too do my fair share of the sailing. Every night, I take the helm for eight hours, following whichever star I’ve been shown while the old man sleeps. Two hours 'fore midnight I start, and once he comes to relieve me I’m to make breakfast and continue my chores. He sails the rest of the time, so I’ve come to sleep throughout the afternoon.
___He saw a couple of birds late this evening, so we’re expecting to find some form of land by morning. I’m to wake him at first sighting.
___The quill scratches across the thin vellum, leaving behind the telltale black markings of ink. A cool breeze penetrates through the boy's frayed garb, sending a slight shiver down his spine. He searches within himself, through memories, emotions, and knowledge, for inspiration.
___But only one memory occupies his wandering mind. A memory that is both his torment and his solace.
___A single tear fell forth from his cheek, alighting upon the page with a splatter and a sparkle.
___It is a memory of his sister.
___Not much to say today. We found the island—if you could call it that. Barely a yard in any one direction. At least we set anchor, se we can both now get a full night’s sleep.
___I keep thinking of my sister. Only been around for a decade, and she's stuck fending for herself amidst the beggars and the tramps. I don't know how she'll get by.
___Of course, she has gotten a couple coins in the past from her singing, but I'm the one who always pulled the weight. She's too young yet to really get into stealing, and frankly, that's the only way to get fed. When I get back, I'll have to teach her a thing or two.
___Land came into sight halfway to midnight.
___Both boy and sailor are in good spirits. Though far off, they could tell the island was sizeable enough. As the weathered sailor continues their course, the youth sets to preparing for a couple days ashore. He packs food, blankets, torches, a tent, and other necessities into the wide-hulled paddleboat.
___I’m excited. Land is near, and the two of us are ready for the first expedition. This area has never been explored before, so we’re bound to find at least something to salvage. After all, it is said the Ancestors couldn’t help but build on every piece of land they could ‘fore the great flooding.
___The machete easily chops through the thick vegetation.
___Man and boy travel through the dense forest, heavy packs upon their shoulders. The old sailor leads the way, cutting a makeshift trail through the overgrown brush, as the boy scrambles along behind, searching the ground for any hidden objects of the Ancestor’s.
___Hours pass, as they trudge slowly up a long slope, hoping to reach the top soon, so as to be able to scour the island for any hints.
___Finally, they reach the top. Ruins stand before them.
___A mass of vines, bushes, and rusted metal lay upon the crest, camouflaged amongst the trees. They enter.
___It is a small building. Only two rooms: one for the toilet, the other for just about anything else. In the latter, a single bed, torn apart long ago by years of local fowl making their nests. A kitchen sink, without working water. A gas oven. A wooden table. Some chairs. Shelves. Cupboards.
___They quickly rummage around.
___Stainless steel utensils. Plastic containers. Glass jars. Some old dysfunctional machine, useful for the small metal parts and springs hidden inside. These were things they could very easily sell, and for good money.
___It may not be a fortune, but it would definitely pay for the costs of the voyage.
___We brought anything useful down to the shore. It took two trips, over the most part of the day. Tomorrow, we’ll transport them over to the ship, and we can sail for home.
___Then my sister and I can finally start a real life!
___A shout is heard. A shout of pain.
___The boy rushes out of the tent, searching the forest line for the source of the shout.
Branches were heaved aside as the old man frantically stumbled out of the trees, his skin paler than he'd ever seen before. The boy quickly rushed over to help support his captain, dragging him over to their camp and laying him onto one of the sleeping mats. The sailor pointed at his leg, his breathing apparently hampered and thus unable to speak. Quickly pulling up the pantleg, the boy instantly knew what had happened.
___Two identical bleeding spots were surrounded by an odd, discoloured swelling. The man had been bitten by a snake.
___"H-help me…" the afflicted sailor managed.
___But the boy just stared in horror.
___It's hard to descri
___The sailor's dead. I don't know what to say.
___Seagulls circle above, hungering for the dead flesh, as the dejected boy heaves a cloth-covered form over the gunwale.
___I don’t know how to get back. I don’t know what to do.
___But my only hope is to sail.
___The old sailor was bitten by a snake yestermorn. He stumbled back to the campground, went into convulsions, and shortly thereafter, died. I was useless, pathetic. There was nothing I could do, so I watched. I sat there, consumed by shock. What else was I to do?
___So I rowed back to the schooner, and did my best to give him a sailor’s funeral. I’m going to have to sail back alone. I shan’t sleep, lest we drift off course. I can’t make a single blunder, for I know nothing of navigation. I’ll have to try to follow, backwards, the headings I’ve copied over the past couple of days. I doubt that I’ll succeed.
___And so, I send this bottle in desperation, desperation driven by hope. Hope that it will somehow reach my sister, even if I do not. She won’t be able to read, but she’ll recognize the handwriting.
___And she’ll know I tried.