I’ve sailed the seven seas nearly all my life. Fourteen of my twenty-four years, to be exact. I was never one to believe in mumbo-jumbo myths about sea monsters, mermaids, sirens or old hags. The seas are vehement enough without all that. A man could lose his life any day he sets foot on a ship. Just too many dangers to add other worries that can only hurt you when you’re asleep. I prefer my dreams to be about women.
I am a pirate. I captain my own ship and have a crew of ten sailors who would cut anyone’s throat, if they threatened me. A loyal bunch, they are. But loyalty comes with a price. They would even cut my throat, if the rewards proved worth more than what I pay for their loyalty. I remain keenly aware of that fact and keep a close eye on everyone aboard my vessel, because that was exactly how I became captain at such an early age.
I am a fearless man. I am afraid of no man, no beast, and no situation. I am a fighter and a thief. I’ve killed more men than I care to count and I have stolen enough treasure to become a myth of my own. Captain Deathblade, they call me, because of my extensive combination of skill and technique as a swordsman. My real name is Percival Nightingale. I prefer Captain Deathblade.
So what would motivate a man who has achieved as much as I to continue to sail dangerous seas into even more treacherous ports?
The answer is simple: to acquire the greatest treasure of them all.
Yea, I could retire to some beach house in a friendly port, partying my life away, sleeping with beautiful young women every night. That would be great, if I were old. I am far from old. I still have an adventurous streak in me. Ambitious, that’s what I am. I could rent a beach house with my already substantial wealth and sleep with beautiful women at every port I enter, friendly or not. No, my goals are higher. I want to have treasure no other man has had. Let me tell you all about it.
I learned of the greatest treasure, or maybe I should say rumors of the greatest treasure, before I ever even set foot on a boat. When I was ten, I acquired a job working at a tavern, which sailors frequented when they came to my hometown, which was of course, a port city. I washed dishes, rolled in kegs of beer, carried crates of whiskey and cleaned up.
The tavern owner was an asshole. He beat me even when I did my job right. He was one of the first men I killed, but I digress. In between the friendly verbal jabs, and the not so friendly swift boots to the ass, the drunken sailors dished out to me, they told some mesmerizing stories. And I listened and learned every single one of them. I learned about the ways of the sea, the ways of women and to be honest, there wasn’t much difference. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, always up and down. Ha!
I also heard some of the lamest, lousy, lies ever told. Yarns about sea monsters and how the drunken sailors battled and defeated barbarian villagers in faraway places. The villagers always outnumbered the sailors by ever increasing numbers and were always slain as if none of these villagers knew how to fight. Most of these stories were so farfetched I had trouble believing anything these men said.
But one story caught my ear like no other. It was a yarn told, slightly differently, mind you, by every group of sailors who purged their selves at my tavern. It was about the greatest treasure in the world. Men had sought this treasure for untold millenniums and no one had ever been successful in acquiring it. Some men searched for it their entire lives and never even caught of glimpse of it.
There were some who did the treasure, through dedicated quests, while others fell upon the treasure by luck, or lack of it. None of them were ever seen alive again. Unlike most treasures, which were either guarded by alive or undead warriors, or dragons, or trolls, or other mythical entities, this treasure was left completely unguarded. It was there for the taking, if anyone were bold and skillful enough to take it. The problem was the treasure itself was deadly.
Ya see, the greatest treasure of them all was a woman. Perhaps. No one knew for sure. She was said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived. More beautiful than Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Freya, or any other human or demigod you could name. So stunning was her beauty, she could control men with her eyes alone. If she looked at you and you looked back, you were helplessly under her powers.
Because she was so beautiful, she was exiled by jealous goddesses, on an uninhabited island, in the most shark infested sea in the world. It was the only way the goddesses could prevent her from controlling humankind. She would have been the most powerful conqueror in the world without killing a soul. But the goddesses disliked her because everywhere she went, men forgot them and worshipped at her feet. Even the most mighty kings and priests were vulnerable to her charms.
When they took her away, she cursed at them. Now, there is one thing goddesses will not tolerate from humans. Goddesses can endure being ignored, can put up with being belittled, and can even tolerate human disobedience. But when you hurl a curse at a god, you might as well just fall on a sword and bleed out, because things are not going to go well for you.
And such was the fate of the woman the gods dubbed Sedusa. She cursed at the gods for banishing her and they cursed her back. The problem for her was that a curse from a human may succeed, might fail and could possibly backfire with disastrous consequences. A curse from a god was a guaranteed damning. There was no escaping it and unless you were like Thor, or Hercules, or Perseus, there was little chance of ever reversing it.
Sedusa was infused with the essence of the divinity, having been born a demigod through the passionate union between her beautiful mother and a young lesser male deity. Growing up unnoticed by the major deities, she developed the incredible power of mind control. Now she would seldom get to use it. Her curse was immorality on an uninhabited island which she could never escape. Further, if any man gazed upon her private parts, they would be instantly turned to stone.
From what I gathered through the stories I heard, this worked out somewhat well for Sedusa. The island only had resources enough for her. If she took a companion, they would both starve. But by turning the men to stone, she would have immortal sex partners. Ya see, she was so beautiful that just seeing her naked would arouse even the most fickle of men. When they were turned to stone, they stayed aroused. Thus, she had a bevy of lovers to satisfy her unquenchably, insatiable lust.
The stories the sailors told me inspired me to become a sailor. The stories of Sedusa made me want to be an adventurous pirate. And not just any pirate, a captain. I am ambitious, ya see. No other sailing career would allow a grunt sailor to be taken to uninhabited island to end his life questing for a cursed mythical demigod. Only by captaining my own pirate ship could I be free to choose my own fate and find the means to fulfill my quest.
My problem was that I couldn’t find the damned cursed island! I have searched everywhere since a well planned and timed mutiny gave me my own pirate ship, and let me tell you, she’s a dandy! Despite this freedom, I have never sniffed the shore of Sedusa’s island. It seems that even though her story survived the ages, it has been so long since men quested for anything other than war, that not one soul on Earth even knows where it is located.
But that has never stopped me from searching. It became my life’s calling. Perhaps there was one port that had one person who knew the secret. Or maybe there was a clue lying somewhere that no one else could decipher or had deciphered incorrectly. There must’ve been a map somewhere that was different than all the other maps I had collected during my years of questing. One that showed a small, uninhabited island, not found on any other map. I vowed to find that map so that my real quest might begin.
I paid huge sums of money for antique maps. If the owner refused to sell, I would steal it. Before long, I became the biggest map collector in the known world. But the one map I sought the most, eluded me. That is, until the day I heard about a witch who lived high upon a forest mountain in a faraway kingdom. It was said she had ancient maps showing lands no man had trod and returned, upon seas that no man had sailed and survived. I knew I this must be the break I was looking for.
When my crew heard of my plan, I thought they would mutiny. None of them had much desire to go mountain climbing. I talked them down from the mutiny by selling them on the fact that the port city we were headed to was sunny and full of wayward women. They could have all the fun they wanted at the port while I found a guide and went to take the map from the witch.
Of course, I knew that the dirty scoundrels would soon wear out their welcome at the resort port of call, and be chased away by local authorities, like we do at every port we went into. With me on a faraway quest, they would probably just steal my ship. When I got back, I would be stranded, which was far better than being mutinied, but still, not the outcome I desired. Being the wise captain that I am, my solution was to sell the ship without their knowledge.
After they wore out their welcome, they would be chased back to a boat which I no longer owned and would be barred from entering. Then they would be thrown in jail. When I returned from my scavenger hunt, I would buy a new boat, or steal my old one if it was still anchored. After that, I would bail out the shipmates I trusted and leave the ones I didn’t rotting in a damp, dirty cell. Buying my crew out of jail would win back their trust in me and we would be able to sail again, this time toward Sedusa Island.
My plan started well. We reached the resort town at dusk. The locals were none too happy to see our likes trudging onto their pier. The good thing was they were scared of us. They were not going to attack us unless their lives and livelihoods were in jeopardy. They would soon regret that strategy.
When we walked down the street, all the people fled and all the normally bustling stores closed. Don’t these people realize that if they insult me, then I might do even more damage than I already planned? If these idiots didn’t want to get pillaged, they needed to treat us with respect and open their shops to trade with us. I yelled as much at the hiding townsfolk, while standing in the middle of their busiest street. I must have said the magic words because the lights soon came on and the doors swung open to every shop in town within just a matter of minutes.
My mates were surprised when I asked the shop owners for cash for our pillaged trading booty, instead of the normal refill of supplies. It should’ve been a dead giveaway to my real intentions, but when I started divvying out the dough, thoughts of ale, rum, music and women superseded any other thoughts in their minds. I simply told them that I would resupply when I returned from my adventure and they bought it, hook, line and sinker. They were happy they didn’t have to carry heavy crates of supplies back to the ship, and away to the tavern they went.
The first thing I did was walk into the highest quality inn in town and rented a room. I took a hot bath, put on clean clothes that I only wear when we have the occasion to be on land, and headed to the upscale tavern. My dress Captain’s outfit was amazing. I stole it from an admiral of a boat that exclusively carried a major European head of state and his entourage. It was the greatest ransom I had ever taken. The outfit gave me an air of invincibility with its sleek seams, cuts and dark colors, but also afforded me a touch of class, because of its expensive fur trim and royalty sized cuffs. As narcissistic as I can sometimes be, I knew I was the finest looking commander this dank town had ever seen.
Everyone in the tavern sat up straight when I walked in. I was sure they had heard of me; talk in a small village spreads quickly. Mind you, this wasn’t the hole in the wall bar my comrades were partying at, swilling down drinks and feeling up waitresses and women of the night. This was a right, proper establishment. The patrons that dined and drank at this tavern were the leaders of the town as well as noblemen from both there and abroad. The rich, so to speak. They were not the kind of people who would be looking for a fight. So, I had to play the role of well-bred ambassador. I could play that role for all its worth.
I met with all the important citizens and visitors of the town that night and charmed them all. I had them eating out of my hand. I joked, they laughed. I danced with the most beautiful women the town had to offer and even a couple women that were decidedly not so beautiful. Then I shared stiff drinks and cigars with the rich dignitaries and sold my ship after telling a few tall tales that greatly exaggerated its speed, power and weapons capabilities. I would collect my money the next morning when the bank opened. To finish my night, I took one of the beautiful girls I had danced with and bedded her.
I slept like a baby that night, high from booze and ecstasy. The next morning, I chugged my first shot of rum of the day and shivered. Then I drank a cup of yesterday’s coffee, left unchanged in the pot. I made a fresh pot while I drank the first cup cold and then drank another gulp of rum while the coffee percolated.
The young lady that shared intimacy with me late into the previous night had long since gone, to avoid potential damage to her reputation, no doubt. To me, sleeping with me only enhanced her reputation, but I wasn’t complaining. I had much to do this morning and was happy to not have to deal with that distraction. Collecting my money was the first order of business, followed immediately by starting a bank account of my own. Then I planned to visit the seedy part of town in order to acquire the services of a brave guide to lead me into the mountains. Finally, I would have some pints with my first mate, who was truly the only man on my ship that I fully trusted.
I walked down the lazy street as the early morning sun poked fingers of shadow killing light all through the town, causing domestic animals to stir and nocturnal beasts to flee into the further reaches of darkness. I made it to the bank just as the manager opened the front door.
“Good morning, my good man,” the short old man said. He had thinning gray hair, combed over his most noticeable bald spot, wore round frame glasses, with lenses covered with dandruff from his eyelashes, over a strangely hooked, pointy nose. He embellished his stuffy banker image with a brown wool, three piece suit, suspenders and a real bow tie. “My name is Theodore Silversmith. Welcome to my bank. What can I do to help you?”
“Good morning, Mr. Silversmith,” I replied courteously as I walked in the door he held open for me. “My name is Captain Nightingale. I will be making a rather substantial transaction very shortly with a prominent man and then I will open an account here.”
“I am sure you will find that your money will be kept in safe hands in my establishment,” the old man said, assuredly.
“Your life depends on it,” I smiled at him. I walked around the front counter to his office, walked behind his desk, sat in his chair and opened his cigar box, taking the best looking one. He looked nervously at me as I struck a match on my pants, lit the cigar and puffed a huge ring of smoke into the air. “I am going to sit right here and wait for my associate to come claim the title to my ship. Never mind me, just run your business as usual.”
“Of course,” he nodded, turned around and walked back into the bank lobby. I didn’t have to wait long for my business associate to show up. When he did, we quickly signed the papers, under the watching eye of Silverman, made the money transaction and I gave the cash right back to Silverman, to start my new account. The entire affair was completed within a half hour.
After selling my ship, I ventured to the village market to buy some fresh fruit. I started chatting with a young lady behind the first fruit stand I ran into and learned that her brother was an avid bow hunter, who knew the mountain region as well as anyone in the village. I asked her about his availability and she sent for him. I offered him a silver coin to commit to guiding me to the witch’s lair, with the promise of a gold coin upon my safe return. He happily agreed to meet me the next morning to begin our trek. I tossed the young girl a silver coin and a seductive wink for helping me and made off towards the tavern to find my first mate.
He was in a cheery mood when I found him mixing rum and coffee, our favorite drink, at a seedy pub. There were more tables than chairs and I recognized this as my crew’s handiwork. I have personally witnessed them busting chairs over drunkards’ heads in ports from Nepal to Norway. I pulled up a chair to join First Mate Carothers in a drink and gave him a stash of silver to hold him over until my return. He laughed heartily at my folly, for foolishly thinking that a master of the high seas could infiltrate a mountain witch’s fortress and steal her cherished ancient map. He also knew that if I succeeded, we would both be very rich men, and perhaps even the most famous pirates in history.
He begged me to allow him to go, but I needed him to stay behind. There was no use risking both our lives, and if I needed to make a quick getaway, then I would require the need of his behind the scenes talents. I informed him that if I had to make an emergency getaway, I would start a fire on the highest mountain between the city and the witch’s fortress. This would be his cue to gather what he could of the crew, steal back the ship, or another suitable vessel, and rob the bank of all its liquid assets.
After I laid out the plan to him and scrutinized his understanding of it, I was confident he would come through for me, if I needed him. But I still hoped I could just waltz right into the witch’s lair, take what I needed and come back unscathed. I had a lot of confidence, not only in my fighting ability, but also in my ability to persuade people to make deals with me which were clearly in my favor. I was a swindler, and a good one at that. There was no way I was coming out of those mountains without the map I needed. And no matter what the locals or even my own crew said, no witch was going to stop me!
I left the bar and my first mate and set off to locate my guide. He was right were he said he would be; by the stables. He had an old grey horse and a rickety farm wagon, still full of hay. Perfect, I thought. He placed my supplies up front and I climbed in the back. The bumpy ride made for an even more uncomfortable trip than even the heaviest of seas, but with my head swimming with rum, I slept anyways. Not that it was a particularly good sleep, just sufficient.
We arrived at the pass which led to the mountain of the witch, just as the setting orange sun peeked through bruise colored clouds. I jumped from the wagon, stretched, guzzled water from a jug and stretched some more. My guide unloaded my supplies, which consisted of bag and a box. The bag held a spare set of clothes and enough food and water to last my guide and I two days and the box was filled with knives and climbing gear, such as ropes and spikes.
The mountain hike proved arduous but not overbearingly difficult. We walked halfway through the night, taking minimal breaks for food and water, before we came to the final trail that led to the witch’s house. By this time, my guide was very nervous. I didn’t allow his apprehension to grab hold of my psyche, and as we had already planned, he went back to the wagon, while I proceeded on. He was to stay the night with the wagon and all day the next day, if necessary. If I wasn’t back by then, I would be captive of the witch and beyond his help, beyond anyone’s help, really, and he would be free to leave.
The rest of the climb was more difficult than the early going. More rocks, less path. Climbing rocks was definitely not my strong suit, but with what was at stake, I managed. I couldn’t have been pretty, as I fell more than once and had several deep bruises and scratches to show for it. I was grateful my crew wasn’t with me as I would surely have been the butt of their jokes.
Despite the challenges, I pressed on and made the witch’s house well before dusk. High upon the thin aired mountain, the sun’s early morning rays did little to warm my night air cooled bones. The smoke and smell from the chimney called to me to enter and my chilled flesh pushed me past whatever apprehension I felt towards entering the mythical witch’s lair.
Her house was much different than I expected. The tall tales of the villagers below had proved dead wrong. To them, the house was nothing short of a hallowed Dark Ages castle, made of poisonous candy, topped with a tower used to hold beautiful maidens captive and surrounded by vicious wolves and a sugary moat stocked with man eating crocs. Her supposed torture chamber, in a dark, dank dungeon was also the stuff of lore.
But in truth, it was nothing more than a rundown shack surrounded by a weed ridden garden, huge rocks and eerily creepy trees. The thing I feared the most were the wolves, but there were none of those, just a dozen or so cats, which apparently were the witch’s familiars. They all took turns running up to me, trying to rub against my legs, but I paid them no attention and strode on towards the front door.
I banged on the door hard several times, waited two seconds and pounded it some more for good measure. “Hold on, hold on,” I could hear the witch cackle from inside her house. “Who could it be, banging on my door? Who would come calling at a poor old woman’s house at this hour? Lordy be! Hold on!”
“I am Capt. Deathblade,” I announced haughtily.
“What is your desire?” she asked as she opened the heavy, squeaking, rotted wooden door. I couldn’t answer her at first. Her ugliness simply took my breath away. She was truly a hag. Her long, unkempt, gray hair went every which way, her wrinkled face was covered with dark sunspots and warts, all of which had wild hairs protruding from them, and all her teeth were missing except two on top, one on the bottom. Her eyes were covered with hazy cataracts. She was the most hideous looking woman I’d ever laid eyes upon. I quickly gathered myself, took a deep breath and started the unenviable task of charming her.
“My dear lady,” I said softly, “I am but a poor sailor, drawn far away from my normal travels in search of something which is said to be in your possession. I have come to appeal to your renowned charity, so that you may share this great treasure with your fellow man.”
She laughed at me long and hard. Finally she spoke. “The villagers down below have filled you with lies. I am but a poor, lonely crone. I have no treasure to speak of. My possessions are few and of those, they are all needed for sustenance. What value could I possibly offer you that would in any way assist your voyages?”
“I seek an ancient map,” her eyes squinted to show deep concern as I spoke. “I have heard that you have many such maps, but only one interests me.”
“Yes, I have acquired and held onto certain hides that have been marked with drawings of our world,” she whispered, then hacked up a blood streaked chunk of phlegm that she leaned around me and spit into the grass. “But why would I share them with you? What would you offer me to persuade me to even show them to you?”
“I have amassed much great treasure in my days as Captain, my lady,” I assured her. “What would interest you, gold, silver, coins, artifacts? If I do not have your pleasure, I could most assuredly acquire it.”
“Ha,” she cackled even louder, “what need would I have for earthly treasures? Having valuable things here would only invite robbers and swindlers, of which I have no defense against, besides curses.”
That was exactly what I was afraid of. Sure, I could have already ran my sword through her bony torso and tore her house apart until I found the map I sought, but with her dying breath she could put a dreaded curse upon me that would lead me to certain misfortune and doom. I was unwilling to risk that. That’s why I preferred to barter with the old bat. If I could sweet talk her out of the map with a minimal token, I would be much better off than facing the retribution of her ominous black arts. “Surely there must be something of your liking I could give you in trade for the map. I could send the finest wines and furs from town. I could have someone bring you some fresh, tasty meat, which from the looks of you, have been sorely lacking.”
“Stop right there, young man,” she put a finger in the air to halt my unabashed carpet bagging. “I have no need for any of those things. I drink spirits from the roots grown in my garden and sustain myself on a diet of berries, nuts, acorn bread and bee honey, all of which are readily available to me within a few minutes hike. Nothing you have offered me has appealed to my senses of charity regarding the map you seek.”
“Then tell me what you want, my lady,” I begged her.
“Come inside, lad and sit at my kitchen table. I will share with you fresh herbal tea, brewed from my very own garden, modest as it is.”
“I would be delighted,” I ducked my head and walked under her doorway and into her house. The musky old place smelled horrible. A rotting corpse in the sweltering dog days of summer couldn’t have smelled any worse. I soon found out why. In her kitchen was a wood fired stove. Upon it sat a soup pot, still boiling, a tea pot and a fair sized iron cauldron that was apparently responsible for the vulgar smell which saturated the stale air inside her house.
She poured us both a steaming cup of tea. I was apprehensive at first, fearing what could be infused in the liquid. But she noticed my hesitation and took the first sip. I traded her cups as soon as she put hers back down and took a sip as well. She looked at me knowingly and picked up the cup she originally gave me and tossed its contents into the barely smoldering fireplace. It erupted into flames, quickly sending a whistling flash up the chimney that quickly faded back into dimness.
“You are a very smart young man,” she hobbled back to the table.
I smiled and nodded, proud of myself for not allowing myself to be tricked into drinking poison. “If you try something like that again, my lady, my sword shall taste what little blood your feeble body may hold.”
“Come, come, young man,” she winked. “Surely, you wouldn’t blame a little old lady for wanting to protect herself from strange outsiders, would you?”
“Yes, I would,” I stared at her willfully, to let her know that the time for playing games was over. “I want the map you have. The one that shows the lone island that Sedusa has been exiled on. I will allow nothing to stand in my way. Not even curses. I would prefer to trade something of value for the map, so that you may avoid reasons to jinx me. But I will not leave here without the map, even if I have to kill you and subject myself to certain damnation.”
“I understand,” the hag smiled, got up, walked to her stove and started stirring her cauldron, which released obnoxious odors that made me gag, but affected her none whatsoever. “There is one thing I could use, but I doubt you would give to me.”
“For the sake of the ancient gods of the sea,” I roared, “tell me and I will give it to you and you will give me your map!”
“My remedy, which I am boiling in this cauldron and consume every day for my health, is missing one thing, one thing which you have.”
“Spit it out!”
“I will trade my map for one of your eyeballs.”
I was taken aback by her offer and jumped up, knocking the table over, spilling all its contents onto the dirt floor. I pulled my sword, drew it back, ready to smite her head from her neck, but stopped myself as she made a strange hand gesture that I was sure would be her dying curse upon me. I sheathed my sword, picked up the table and asked her, “How bad will this hurt?”
“It will hurt, yes, but I will give you something to lessen the pain,” she mouthed a broken toothed smile. “If you find the island you seek, then this small sacrifice will be nothing compare to the pleasure that awaits you, if you can also find a way to get past Sedusa’s defenses and feel her feminine wiles.”
“Then, let’s do it,” I said, immediately regretting it. She opened her cupboard, pulled out a glass jug full of muddy brown liquid, poured a tin gauntlet full and gave it to me.
“Drink it all,” she said. “Do not spill a drop.”