When last we left our heroes, they escaped from the Isle of Hephestaeus with the help of the ship that stranded them there in the first place… the ghost ship, The Cheated! Now they stand before her captain waiting to learn their fate.
“Welcome to the Cheated,” the captain said.
“Is that the name of your ship,” Lord Marston asked, more to hear a living voice than anything else, “or… your crew?”
The captain smirked. “Hardly matters, anymore.”
Sir Charles, who had been spending the last moment poking his finger at a barrel to see if it was immaterial, turned to the grey captain and, as usual, asked the most obvious question.
“M-might I ask what it is that you were, ah, cheated out of?”
“I have always hated those folk who had nothing better to do than spin their tales of woe,” the captain said. “I always considered Dexy LaRue to be above that sort of thing.”
He exchanged a glance with a ghostly woman standing at the edge of the deck, but she turned back to the sea after only the slightest connection. His lips drew thinner in a resigned frown.
“Still,” he continued, “it seems’t there’s no likely way of ever escaping our fate if we can’t find ourselves some sympathetic allies among the still living.”
“Tell us,” Sir Charles said, rapt. “We like long stories.”
Victor and Augustus exchanged their own glances, but these were less of the longing sort and more of the “oh my god, did he really just ask the ghost pirate captain to tell us his entire tale?” kind.
“It was the year of our Lord sixteen-eighty-eight when the map came into my possession,” LaRue started, confirming the two men’s fear.
“The ship was still called the Lucky Bones then. I had sailed her under a letter of marque to the King of England, but the struggle for the throne had made that position far too political for the likes of me. I chose instead to take up the path of piracy, and my crew loyally followed me along it.
“We had boarded a Spanish galleon carrying a load of sugar back from the West Indies only to discover beneath decks that the ship had taken on passengers from the New World… an Englishman and his daughter traveling with a Moorish monk in robes of a dark scarlet.
“It came to me to ransom the Englishman. Being landed gentry, ’twas likely he had a modest fortune that might be worth his freedom. His daughter I took for myself and the monk we left to sink with the galleon.
“In going through the Englishman’s logs, I read how he and the monk were returning to the continent with a map that they had ‘procured’ from a Spanish conquistador… one who claimed to be over one hundred and seventy-five years old, kept young by a magical spring.
“We had all heard the tales of such a spring in the New World, the usual superstition of a people out of place, looking to soothe the hardships of an unfamiliar land with fantastic dreams of gold mountains magical treasures… but the map I found was to a land that I myself had once seen as a child, far off the bow of the ship where I had served.
“For a ghost, he has no small lack of wind,” Cassandra whispered in Kenneth’s ear, but the rapt Earl of Marston silenced her with a pinched frown.
The captain of the Cheated, if he heard, gave no notice and continued his tale of doom.
“This was a map to the lost Isle of the Seven Cities, Antillia.”
That shut even Mrs. Cassandra Chatterton up.
“This was no colonist’s myth, this was a chart inscribed by Grazioso Benincasa himself. Unlike the maps in the Bibliotheca Phillipica, where the lost isle was easily mistaken for the West Indies or Spanish Main, this map clearly indicated Antillia between the Canary Islands and Newfoundland.
“Unfortunately, there were several navigational notations in a language or cipher that none of us were familiar with.
“Over the next several weeks, we importuned the Englishman, a Mister Henry Savage, to tell us of the map, to give us the key to the instructions… but he consistently refused. We would have continued to request his willing assistance, but his constitution was weak. He came down with scurvy and died.
“By this time, I had come to an… accord with his daughter, Fiona. In return for allowing her to tend to her father through his sickness, she promised to assist us in deciphering the Antillia map.
“To our understandable but no less tragic misfortune, we had forgotten about the monk. I assumed he had died when the Spanish ship, damaged in our attack, sunk. After the death of Mister Savage, however, some of my sailors began reporting seeing a monk with black skin appearing on the Lucky Bones.
“It was shortly after this that the deaths began.
“Sailors, trusted men, disappearing at night. Some men heard screams but couldn’t find who made them. A night watch saw a man being pulled behind a stack of crates by a robed figure… it could have been the monk, but when the watch went to look, there was no sign of man or monk save a stain of blood on the boxes about as high as his heart would have been.
“Soon more than half of my crew had disappeared. We were caught out deep in the Atlantic and we barely had the hands to turn back to Europe.
“Lady Savage and I determined to entrap the Black Monk, and so one night we stayed together above deck, waiting, watching for his appearance.
“Fiona found him first…”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.