Madness and Brilliance
Toliver looked up from the map he was hastily drawing and checked the ship’s course.
“Turn her a couple degrees to port, Morthgow. We’re getting a bit close to the shoreline for my liking.”
“Aye, sah,” replied the helmsman, pulling the whipstaff towards him slightly. “Though if I do say so, sah, aren’t we already plenty far out?”
“If we were near any Roawian coast, I’d say yes,” answered Toliver. He pointed over the starboard rail at a mass of whitecaps foaming about two hundred yards from the shore. “But there’s some strange current here pulling south and towards the shore. That’s what’s making me suspect this is an island. The water’s getting sucked around the southern horn.” He looked back down at the parchment and continued sketching. “And that gives me hope of finding a way back to Roawia.”
Morthgow was somewhat confused. “But how are we going to sail back to the east if we’re on the western side of an island?”
“We’re going to sail north and shoot around the tip of the island,” said Toliver calmly. He continued to draw, glancing up every now and then to observe the shape of the shoreline or the formation of waves.
Morthgow’s brow remained furrowed. “But sah, with the wind from the nor’east, those mountains will block it from reaching our sails on the far side!”
Toliver continued his drawing coolly. “Indeed, there is that risk. But I estimate that the island will actually help turn the winds- and waves- in our favor.”
Morthgow grew silent. This plan didn’t quite make sense to him, and he suspected that Toliver was riding on good fortune and a gut feeling. Still, the navigator had yet to be incorrect…
“SIR!” came the cry from the lookout.
Toliver sprang to his feet. “Do you see it, sailor?!” he called up to the crow’s nest.
“Aye, sir! The land starts to curve almost due west! And there’s nothing but sea to the south of it.”
Toliver smiled, satisfied. “You see, Morthgow? Just as I promised.”
Morthgow shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know, sah. Could just be a wide bay or something of the sort. Doesn’t mean this is an island for sure.”
Toliver returned again to his quill and chart.
“Oh, but it is, Morthgow,” he said confidently. “And we’re about to round the horn.”
“…Two…Three, HEAVE!” yelled Scraff, pouring all of his considerable strength into his efforts.
The marines beside him grunted and gasped as they strained to lift the enormous head of the beast. They managed to shift the head and neck of the slain creature, but they could not lift it from the ground.
“It’s no use,” said Felnor with dismay. We’re just dragging the thing across the ground.”
“Aye,” chimed in another marine, breathing heavily. “And dragging the poor ranger’s body along with it. We-“
“SILENCE!” roared Scraff. “Don’t you think like that! Bring me an axe- now!”
A boarding axe was passed to the commander and he snatched it quickly, trotting over to the base of the beast’s neck. He raised it wildly above his head, burying it with a sickening crunch into the creature’s shoulder. It lodged firmly in the bone and hide of the monster, and even Scraff struggled to remove it, tugging at it with great force.
“Come on, come on!” he roared, but try as he might, he could not dislodge the blade. “Bring me another axe!” he bellowed. “Hang on, Abner! I’m coming for you!”
Another axe was brought up and Scraff took it, raising it above his head again for a second powerful strike.
“Before you run out of weapons, I would highly advise taking a brief moment to observe your surroundings,” came a quiet voice from somewhere nearby.
Scraff paused, slowly lowering the axe and looking around him. The other marines raised their weapons and formed up hastily.
“After all,” continued Abner, stepping forward into the clearing made by the monster, “that’s why I’m not actually strapped under that monstrosity.”
Scraff and the other marines looked at the ranger with wonder and disbelief.
“This can’t be… that’s impossible,” murmured the men, lowering their weapons.
“By the stars…” said Scraff with awe. “But how- I saw you… you were right under the beast when it fell!”
“Was being the key word here,” said Abner with a mischievous smile. He leapt up and hurdled the monster’s neck, landing softly beside Scraff. “But I decided that I didn’t feel like dying today.”
Scraff crossed his arms. “You would’ve had me hacking away at that thing all day!” he said.
“And we all thought you was dead!” chimed in one of the marines happily. “But now you’s not.”
“No, indeed I am very much alive,” grinned Abner. “And, Scraff, I even stopped you after the first axe. You’re welcome.”
Scraff couldn’t help but chuckle. He patted Abner on the back even harder than usual. “You really had me worried there for a minute, didn’t you? You sly dog! I bet you think yourself mighty clever for that. Which reminds me, what in blazes did you do to this thing, anyway?”
Abner raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Scraff glared at the ranger playfully. “Don’t make me hurt you… Cap’n!”
“Alright, alright,” Abner relented. “Remember that plant that almost ate you? You know, the second time you tried to get yourself killed?”
“I’ll have you know I could have beaten both the bull tortoise and some stupid flower thing,” retorted Scraff. “But yes, I remember.”
“The bull tortoise I will give you, but you would not have beaten the flower,” replied Abner. “Because that’s what I used to bring down the beast. Think about it, the mighty Commander Scraff, fallen to the mighty power of the flower…”
“You know, if I wasn’t so happy that you’re alive right now, I’d kill you,” said Scraff. “But you know you’re teasing us. Out with it. What did you do to that thing?”
“Well, I figured that since that carnivorous plant is basically a giant version of the ones that eat insects back home, it probably works the same way,” answered Abner. “And the little ones excrete a fluid that paralyzes their prey so the bugs can’t fly away. Then the plant devours them. I figured that since most of the creatures we’ve run into in New Lenfald have been much larger, it’s a fair assumption that this flower’s toxin is much more potent. I thought it would make a useful weapon against whatever we ran into. Turns out I was right.”
Scraff shook his head. “Let me get this straight. You reached in and picked up poison that could paralyze you- but didn’t- then used it to take down something twenty times your size? That doesn’t even make sense.”
Abner laughed. “Not quite. I extracted the secretion with the tip of an arrow. That’s what I was doing while we were fleeing- making sure I didn’t get any on myself. I also suspect that our monstrous friend here wouldn’t feel any effects if he just got the substance on his skin. He’s much too large for those plants to eat. But getting the poison planted in his tongue with an arrow- well, he wasn’t expecting that. And I wasn’t expecting full paralysis that quickly. Hence my rushing forward with a sword. I expected to have to distract him before the toxin took effect.”
Scraff shook his head. “That was absolute madness,” he said. “Or brilliance. I’m not quite sure. Regardless, how did you get away?”
“Ah. That was the easy part,” said Abner. “I just jumped out of the way.”
Scraff looked at him quizzically. “Seriously?”
Abner shrugged. “Yeah, I mean his neck is only a few feet wide. Made a lot more sense than just standing there waiting for him to crush me.”
“Unbelievable,” said Scraff. His brow suddenly furrowed. “Wait a moment, if you jumped aside, then your blade never pierced this beast. And the poison paralyzes. Are you saying this thing is still alive?!?”
Abner shrugged again. “So far as I know. I’m guessing the toxin probably kills its victims over time so I wouldn’t waste time worrying about it. Shall we?” He started off through the jungle again.
“Un-flippin-believable,” muttered Scraff again, drawing his sword. He plunged the blade into the soft belly of the beast for good measure, wiped his blade, and started after the rest of the party.
“I figured you would take care of that!” called Abner.
The explorers stayed one more restless night in the jungle before they made it to the less densely forested slopes of the mountains. Open ground was a welcome sight for the men, and even though the terrain was significantly steeper than they had previously encountered, no one complained. It took them four days to climb the deceivingly tall mountains, but the journey was relatively uneventful. They encountered some harmless mountain sheep (finally something that looked relatively familiar!) and a nest of large, strange looking flying creatures, but they were not threatened by any great danger.
They reached the summit on the fourth day just as the sun set on the western horizon. The peak they stood upon was mostly bare, providing a commanding view of everything for miles around. From this height, the island was astonishingly beautiful. There was lush foliage in all directions, and to the west the mountains descended more gently until they opened up onto sparkling waters.
Scraff shielded his eyes and squinted due west. “That is quite possibly the most beautiful sunset I have ever witnessed,” he said. “And Toliver was right, this is indeed an island.” He squinted harder. “Though I think I can make out another small shore across the waves.”
“Indeed,” replied Abner. “I agree with you on all counts.” He gazed slowly to the south, following the curvature of the shoreline with his eyes. To the south the water cut into the land sharply, butting up to the base of the mountains. Abner pointed. “Look, Scraff, That could prove to be quite a safe haven for ships.”
Scraff followed Abner’s hand. “Aye, and the land grows flat, broad, and open along the shore there, but the ground is more upon rock than it is sand. That’s an ideal place to build a harbor if you ask me. In fact, I’ve never seen a better location in all my travels.”
Abner nodded. “Agreed. Now we just have to get back to Lenfald so we can tell someone about- oh!”
“What is it?” asked Scraff, following Abner’s gaze. Then he saw it too. “My word,” he breathed. “Toliver’s madness paid off too.”
There, at the edge of the inlet, rested the Spirit of Lenfald at anchor.