The wind, the sky, the sea. What was wrong with this picture?
A black bird wheeled overhead and spurred forward, away from the ship. The clouds rolled like sluggish authority, bringing back cobwebbed memories of his thieving life. The sea swirled hard, rocking the ship like a delicate adventurer’s dream.
As the cool salty air swept over his arms, he paused his backbreaking work for one second, one second where he allowed himself to stop and smell the roses, er, fish-- and a treacherous voice roared from behind.
As if he’d expect anything less.
“Ahaha!” Boisterous hysterics exploded as Norley turned around, his paws gripping that much more tightly on his mop handle, with sweat beads trailing down his face.
Then they appeared. Resurfacing like an unwelcome shark, the three figures he’d hoped he would never have to see again (at least, not until next morning) rematerialized before him. It was a dewy evening, the kind where the sky is blue still, and the fish were still biting. They had just returned from a fresh feast of roast fish, aka, his afternoon catch. They were the unstoppable trio, egotistical in all their own. But as for the ringleader, that was merely an understatement. The tall, leering Yurble had unruly, pompous features and razor sharp claws as long as a fish, with a signature laugh like cracking wood. He was a horrible sight to behold. Not to mention, he was completely immoral by Norley’s standards and was as selfish as the other two combined.
“Scum! Can’t handle a lil decksweeping, eh? This ship didn’t take you in fer nothin‘! Y’know what, y’can go roast us some more pretty fish! We’re pretty hungry, aren’t we, boys?” He cackled.
“But Sir... I haven’t finished sweeping the deck,” the Kougra objected. He gestured to all the gleaming, scattered brine sprayed on the deck.
“WHAT did y’just say? Eh? Questionin’ me? Eh? Do y’know what y’just got yourself into? More work! Have this deck spick’n’span by dinner!”
“But... oh, alright. Yes Sir. I thought I’d let you know, Sir, about last night. I sensed something was strange, and I realized that we don‘t seem to be going in the right direction. The wind shouldn‘t be blowing from the east....”
“Ahaha!” He laughed. “The shrimp thinks he can navigate better than me!”
“Oi, boss,” a scrawny, richly-clad Techo said. He had a thin, filthy face with a toothy snicker. “When d’ya think we’ll be a gettin’ to that them treasure? It’s bin two months... or a’least that’s how long it’s felt like.” He delicately sniffed the air.
“Ya en’t got a thing t’ worry about! I got the map, the only map, an’ I know fer sure we’re goin’ the right way. When we get it we’ll split it half me, quarter you boys. But if we don’t get it, we know who’s the saboteur. It’s just the shrimp that’ll mess us up,” he sneered.
My name’s Norley, the Kougra thought stubbornly, struggling to keep his thought suppressed.
“You’re right,” he said obediently, instead.
As night fell upon the seas, and as the gorgeous red sun sank into the sea, the trio slowly grew into their swaggering lethargy. When welcome sleep fell on the trio, they retired under deck and left Norley to his peace.
Ah, at last.
He was in the cramped and filthy kitchen, hardly more than a closet space, with its rotting dew-stained wood and the everlasting smell of burnt timber. He had just finished preparing a meal of shrimp and fish, of course, they had complained about the lack of meal variety. As if there was anything more than shrimp and fish in the sea!
He quickly snuck a piece of leftover fish for himself, dried his paws, and slunk down into the safety of the shadows-- he was under deck already, and that was the key. He sank against the cold floor and slowly crept out of the kitchen. But he didn’t climb the over deck ladder.
Instead, the door creaked monstrously open to reveal the forbidden rooms of the captains.
A lavish sight of soft beds, flickering lamps, and the delicious-smelling feast table greeted him, as it had every night this week. He cautiously scanned the room for movement. Nope, all was quiet. With this in mind, he made toward the official leader’s bedside, unworried about the groan of the floor, as their snores easily masked his paw steps.
And there it was. It was basking, still, in its quiet glory. His eyes lit up in delight, as his paws, shaking, touched the object. They slowly ran over its splintered texture, like a blind neopet would. Awe tinged the ancient dust-choked chest.
Suddenly, a chortle burst forward from the beds. He wasn’t sure which of the crew was having a pleasant dream, but he swiftly became aware of how dangerously close he was to the sleeping captain. Yet, excitement glimmered in Norley’s stormy grey eyes. Eagerly, eagerly, slowly, slowly, he fiddled with the lock and let it click open.
The lid turned open, to betray the chest’s contents. Its very, very bare contents. In fact, there was only one thing, yet it was more precious than the whole world.
It was a thin, barely preserved piece of parchment, rotting and yellow as the ages of all three swashbucklers combined. It was over four hundred years old. And what a beautiful piece of paper this was.
He took a nearby lamplight to the piece, squinting to read its elegant scrawls. They looped like fish screening the sea waves. They were as articulate as the glitter of a sunrise over water. But moreover, they were as foreign as the land. For it was in another language, and he knew for a fact the captain had no more of a clue where the buried treasure was than he did.
He carefully studied the paper, pressing his face right up against it. It released old storytelling reminiscences, the rumours of the streets. The geniuses who designed the map were nothing more than legendary adventurers, phantoms who plundered the sea. They were only referred to as The Three. They took calculations, ideas, and even a few far-fangled fantasies of their own and scrambled it all into this detailed map. There were no such things as perfectly round islands, bird-shaped islands, a whirlpool that resembled a sword. Maybe, The Three were nothing more than myth themselves.
Rumour had it that three brothers set out at sea and had captured as many ships as the eye could witness. They did not trust banks and stowed their rich loot clandestinely, like the stuff of traditional folklore. Letting no one know of their secret, they devised a navigation map for themselves that would never fail to lead to this amazing hoard. Rumour had it that their treasure would keep a neopet happy for all eternity and beyond.
As dreamy as the fortune sounded, Norley had, in fact, made very little progress in figuring out its true location. So far, he knew naught about this map. The symbols, the notes, the distances-- they just didn’t seem to click. There was a fat big ‘X’ on the map, but somehow, he knew that had nothing to do with it. Or at least, he guessed that had nothing to do with it.
Every night, he grew more and more frustrated about his inability to decode the mystery. The faster he figured it out, the faster this ship would shape up. When the crew could afford more servants, he could finally have a normal neopet to talk to. And maybe, though this hope was slim, he could filch a gold coin or two for himself.
His mind began to drift, pondering as many possibilities as it squandered. It wandered back to every day he had spent at sea, every moment. It wandered back to this evening, before the crew had yet again jeered at him... how peaceful that was...
And then, he understood. He knew where the treasure was.
He hummed softly to himself, very quietly so the crew wouldn’t hear. He was excitedly rushing through his morning chores so he could inform the Captain about the news. He knew where it was! The treasure could be found! They could take a lavish break from this gilded lifestyle, or rather he could. Perhaps he’d get the credit, or, some credit, for the treasure! Imagine!
His chance arrived when the crew left under deck and arose to give Norley their daily demand of chores and food. The Yurble, in particular, lumbered over to the Kougra in the usual fashion and appeared as if, any second, was going to reel off orders and false claims.
“Sir! Sir!” Norley broke in before the Yurble had a chance. “I’ve figured it out. I know where the treasure is. I was right; the wind shouldn’t be coming from the east, it ought to be coming from the west. The easterlies would have completely swept this ship away. And in another few--”
“Save it, y’shrimp. Look at him, he’s lying for a couple of good ol’ morning’ laughs!” The crew guffawed stupidly at Norley.
“Sir, really, I’m telling the truth. We were off-course before--”
“Turn this ship around, Joe. This shrimp can’t start thinkin’ it’s captain of the ship. D’ya know why? Because I’M captain of this here crew!” He laughed again. “Haha! Those were a few good ol’ chuckles. But for disturbing my mornin’, and you know I don’t like my mornin’ t’ be disturbed, give ’im extra t’ do. Make sure he’s busy all day. I’ll be manning this ship this ship t’day. And if I see the ship goin’ east again, he’s gonna fer sure be walkin’ the plank. Eh, boys?”
Norley sighed inwardly. They wouldn’t listen, and they had the golden key right under them! Right under their noses. It would be the ultimate victory that would keep the greedy neopets rich everlastingly. He began to sigh again. What luck, of course they wouldn’t believe him. Slowly, he resigned and resumed his sweeping, brainstorming possible ideas, knowing it was already too late...
Something was up and about the moment the sun mounted the sky. It was an unusual dawn. The wind wasn’t quite itself, the fish had retreated into their friendly depths, and there was not a bird in sight. The seas were furious- at what, no true sailor knew. They jumped restlessly and ate heartlessly and churned madly, clawing tirelessly at the sky. Foam iced its white capped, rolling waves, turbulent as they were. Claps of thunder rumbled like drums in the clouds.
It was no wonder they taunted the ship.
It first began with Norley. At the first lightning clap, he knew he was right. Working like lightning, he had tried to steer the ship straight through the expected gale, to a sheltered, gliding lake not so far ahead, but the backwash relentlessly forbid it.
When the water gained dominance, it marked its new rank by surging forward and crashing around the floorboards. The restful pirates awoke, howling, and dashed up deck to contest the storm. At that moment, the winds gathered strength and, partnered with the angry sea, ripped the ship to a lost memory.
Nothing was left of The Three’s secret now.
403 years ago...
A field of black creatures, appearing to be flying V-shaped letters, glided gracefully across the sky. They filled the sky with their screeching caw, calling out to all the flock as time drew closer. As they swooped down into a small patch of forest on the island, the scrawny trees protested rowdily with their recent invasion. Every year, they flew down here from Meridell and nested for little more than a week. Even experts were puzzled at this odd behaviour, but nevertheless, the Meridellian flock dutifully took to this unknown, insignificant speck of an island once a year.
After the last of the flock was settled, shapes began to stealthily creep among the shady trees, almost treelike themselves. There were three of them, and each handled a large bundle, yet not one figure seemed to be burdened. Stealing through the forest was not difficult for them.
Past the trees, past the right fork in a rushing stream, and there they were met with a sunken, low cove. It had a gaping, inviting mouth, like the mouth of a fish. The trio glanced around furtively, checking, then turned to crawl inside.
Within, darkness reigned over the cavern and its minimal waters. Stout stalactites and stalagmites hung like stone icicles, like threatening teeth. The water was shallow enough for the creatures to walk in. They moved like three basiliks toward a spilling pile deep inside. Treasure so great that it astonished the mind.
They carefully deposited the chests onto the pile, emptying their contents to the already great heap. It was nothing much to look at in the dark, but when the sun bestowed day with its rosy glow, it would gleam like a thousand, star-studded jewels in the strongest light. In fact, that total was nothing short of the true amount.
And their secret was lost forever...
Thank you for reading!