The wind picked up and billowed the sails of the Scarlet Wind as Augustus came on deck. It was a beautiful day of bright blue skies with a scattering of white clouds. Still morning, the harshness of the sun which had become increasingly unpleasant lately hadn’t set in yet. Augustus smiled as he looked out at the horizon where he could see an island, although details were faded by the distance. Only moments before, one of the crew had announced that they had spotted land, so Augustus and two of his attendants, came out to see it for themselves.
Augustus wore a robe of fine linens, dyed red and yellow, with an elegant hand-embroidered pattern of deeply dyed golden lace, as a brazen example of the Castellian family’s wealth. Along with his well-groomed curly brown hair and slender body, clearly, he was not accustomed to the manual labour the ship’s crew would perform. At seventeen years of age, he was the youngest person to join this voyage.
His bodyguard Heratio was a tall and muscular man with tanned skin, wearing light armours and always carrying a sabre in a sheath on his hip. He had wild black hair that went down to his shoulders and kept himself as hygienic as required of anyone who was a direct attendant of Augustus.
Castor was one of many tutors that were vassals to the family, but only he accompanied Augustus on this voyage. He was old. A crown of grey hair surrounded his generous bald spot, with his face covered in wrinkles. He wore white linens nowhere near as majestic as his student’s.
“Hopefully this is the island. We’ve spent enough time on this boat,” said Heratio with his hand resting on the hilt of his sabre. “We should have at least tried to land on the last island.” He referred to two days earlier when they had come across a small barren island that couldn’t have been the destination since it was so obviously not the island they were looking for. The captain had decided to just sail past without a second thought.
“It was the wrong place, we don’t have time to visit every piece of dirt we come across. And there was pretty much nothing there.” Castor retorted.
“It was the first island we saw in weeks! And there were a few birds, I’m sure we could have gotten a little bird meat for variety. And suppose we couldn’t catch anything? We could have still gotten to stretch our legs.” Heratio said smiling and staring at Castor.
“I definitely wouldn’t mind some meat for a change. It has been nothing but oats and fish lately. I’m sure the Captain will stop here whether it’s the right place or not, this island looks a lot bigger, and even from a distance I can tell there’s thick vegetation.” Castor said as he squinted and stared out at the horizon.
“I see you aren’t as blind as I thought!” Heratio laughed. Castor ran his hand through his thin grey hair, in an act to acknowledge his advanced age.
The ship was headed straight for the island, and now that they were closer, it was obvious to Augustus that it was covered in a dense jungle. Stretching their legs could end up as a slow and arduous hike through the jungle.
Augustus looked around the deck and saw the ship’s crew going about their work at a quicker than normal pace, and near the bow, he spotted the captain holding his telescope casually and talking with his first mate. Augustus headed towards them and the attendants followed their master’s lead.
“That looks like quite the jungle. Maybe the young master will end up getting his nice clothes dirty.” Heratio said with his typical smile, that was always on the verge of breaking into a laugh. “Up for a hunt?”
“Obviously I would change into something more appropriate if we went for a hike. I’d just have someone carry a dignified change of clothes in a wooden box while trailing behind us. As for the hunt, I wouldn’t want to do anything leisurely until we reach our destination.” Augustus rolled his eyes at his bodyguard. “So, Captain, how do we fare?”
“This might be the place, we will sail once around the coast, looking for the inlet in the sketch. Even if we don’t find the inlet, this island is large enough and has enough vegetation that we’ll land for a day and look around.” Said Yander, the captain of the Scarlet Wind. He had blonde hair and fair skin, and was as large as Heratio. Wearing clothing mostly made of leather in brown and green colours over his clothes was a sash in red and yellow that bore the crest of the Castellian family.
“Very well, captain. Castor, as of now, does the island before us match the notes from the Caravel?” At Augustus’ question, Castor squinted and scratched his head.
“The notes say that we should find the Killian at an inlet of a large island with dense vegetation. We followed the bearings they gave us and travelled the right distance, give or take some margin of error. But as we know from experience, these islands tend to appear in groupings, forming chains of islands. This might be a sister island of the one we’re looking for.” Castor answered calmly and deep in contemplation as he often would be whenever he answered a question from Augustus.
“Only time will tell, Master Augustus.” Yander declared curtly to end the conversation. He had work to do. Yander trotted off heading back to the captain’s cabin.
Augustus, Heratio and Castor, began walking the length of the ship as they often would to get in some exercise on what could often be a cramped ship. The Scarlet Wind was a medium-sized trading vessel, one of a handful in the Castellian fleet. Below the deck, the storage was packed with an eclectic mix of trade goods, bought from stops along the coast, from the port of Venocia to the cities of the Bremen archipelago. From Bremen, the Scarlet Wind left all sight of land for weeks in search of these islands deep in the Maysian ocean.
Over the next few hours, the island crept closer until the crew could make out each tree and see wildlife moving through the jungle. Birds of fanciful colours would dive from one tree to another. Branches were disturbed indicating some other animals perhaps were moving from branch to branch in a path. The crew on the ship moved with efficiency to and fro, adjusting the sails so The Scarlet Wind turned parallel to the island to continue moving on in an orbiting path. Two of the crew were assigned to watch the coast and alert anyone if the coastline matched the sketch the Caravel had provided.
The coast changed gradually, from jungle to rocky shores, to a grand cliffside made of red dirt. Eventually, that broke to form the inlet they were searching for, and inside that inlet was the Killian. The Killian was a spry exploration ship, half the size of the Scarlet Wind and had half the sails. It was anchored in the bay and the spotters even saw men walking along the deck through their telescopes.
“We found em!” Shouted one of the spotters as he burst through the door to the captain’s quarters. Augustus, his two attendants and captain Yander were eating lunch together.
“Splendid!” Augustus said, gracing everyone with a broad smile.
“Pull up alongside them and prepare the gangway to board them.” Ordered the captain. Yander then stood up and walked towards the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get everything ready.”
“You are excused. I’ll come out when I’m done,” Augustus said as he continued eating his meal. Yander left, and the three remaining continued their meal.
“Finally!” Heratio exclaimed. His eating pace quickening. Because of that, he finished his meal before the other two. He leaned back for a second then noticed the captain’s half-eaten meal. He leaned forward and swapped out for the captain's plate and finished that off too. “Heh, that tasted good.”
They sat in silence for a bit, before Augustus finished. “Alright, let’s go.” Augustus stood up and headed for the door and Heratio quickly followed. Castor took one last quick bite from his half-full plate before he had to follow.
The three watched as the gangway was set up and a group from the Killian crossed over. Yander identified the person in charge amongst the visitors and began introductions.
“This is master Augustus DeCastellian, third son of Giovanni DeCastellian,” Yander said in a sombre tone, while gracefully signalling towards Augustus, and bowing his head slightly. That demeanour quickly reset to normal as he casually gestured to one of the visitors from the Killian. “This is Juan DeMerio, first mate of the Killian.” Juan bowed towards Augustus. “And, I am Yander DeMerio, the captain of the Scarlet Wind.”
“Very well. Where is your captain?” Augustus asked Juan directly.
“He is inland, living near the native’s main settlement,” responded Juan. “You see those trees?” Juan pointed to the back of the inlet where the cliffs broke to a shoreline lush with trees. From the shoreline, the land had a gradient increase in altitude up to a plateau formed with the top of the massive cliffs. “There’s a path in there that’ll lead to the settlement. It's a bit of a trek though.”
“First off, is it safe for us to head off to the settlement?” Augustus asked, and Juan nodded in response. Augustus gave a quick gesture with his hand, which Yander immediately understood.
“Alright, let’s get the rowboats ready!” bellowed Yander. The crew livened up and bustled around, getting to work.
“Let us talk in private while they ready the supplies, come with me.” Augustus didn’t wait for a response before heading back to the captain’s quarters. Juan obediently followed. “Let’s sit. Heratio, please would you guard the door. Castor, of course, you may join us.” Heratio did as he was asked and Augustus, Castor and Juan sat at the table, still containing the plates and leftover food from lunch.
Augustus leaned back in his chair casually, and calmly probed for the information he sought. “It has been over two years since your ship, the Killian, and the Caravel set sail for these Maysian isles. I have read the notes of the Caravel, which returned to Venocia. But, I would like to hear from your perspective, and to learn what progress you’ve made since the Caravel departed from here.”
The first mate of the Killian looked from side to side, then sighed meekly. “Yes… We left and voyaged together. It took us a while to find the island, we had wandered, seemingly aimlessly searching for land. As I’m sure you know, when Giovanni DeCastellian sent us, he had only vague directions. He had only heard about these isles from strange rumours. And who even knows where those rumours came from.”
“We do not need your speculation. Just the facts,” Castor interjected.
Juan gave a nervous smile then he indeed continued. “Once we arrived, we landed and searched until we met the natives. They were mostly indifferent to our presence. The natives are primitive. The captain of the Killian, the one living near them now, tried his best to communicate with them, but the language barrier was great enough he didn’t accomplish much before the Caravel had left. The Caravel loaded up on supplies and whatever animal pelts we could get, and set off back home, leaving the Killian here to prepare for the arrival of the trade ship that would follow up.” Juan let out a big sigh, with an exasperated expression hanging from his face.
“Yes, that’s us.” Augustus nodded. “Continue.”
“Our captain, Marcus Dayton, is a well-founded academic in service to your family. Over time he managed to learn some of their language, enough to communicate. He even managed to ingratiate himself among them, at least until a few months after our arrival when a plague swept across their village.” Juan looked down. “The plague didn’t affect Marcus or our crew. But the natives got angry and almost killed the captain. He made it back to the boat by the skin of his teeth.”
Augustus now had a serious look on his face. He furrowed his brow, and his finger tapped on the table.
“So the captain gathered up the crew and we went back to the village altogether, you see. The captain tried to explain it to them. A plague like they saw only comes from Horus the god of filth. And Horus is the god that’s gone mad, inflicting punishments at random. The captain told them we’d try our medicines if they would allow it, but they didn’t. The captain explained it to them but they didn’t care. They yelled and things kept escalating. They tried to get one of us with a spear. But that’s all they’ve got, spears. A fight broke out and we killed a few of them with arrows. Hung their bodies from some branches and that learned them. Not to mention they were weak from the plague. After we displayed our dominance, we deputized a few of their younger boys. Marcus separated those boys from the village, so they lived with him outside it. We taught them about our gods then gave them weapons. We had food they didn’t have in the village, we had drinks too, and some other luxuries they weren’t used to. We made them loyal.” Augustus looked over to Castor whose eyes were dripping with disgust.
“Once that was done, we put those that remained in the settlement to work. We found an ore that could be cut to make some valuable gems. And a new spice made from the bark of a tree here. We got them gathering the spice and now we have a stockpile to take with us back, but for the ores, we didn’t have the right tools. So we only got a bit of that.”
Augustus nodded his head, then lifted it back in thought. Castor had his hand rubbing his forehead as he looked down at the floor. There was silence for a time until Augustus spoke. “We have the tools amongst our cargo. Castor, tell the captain to make sure the mining tools are loaded on our rowboats. We will prioritize bringing them first to our basecamp. And Castor, don't bother preparing yourself for this hike, you would only slow down the group. ” Castor got up shakily then left the room. “Juan, you will be coming with us to guide us along the trail. Bring along a few of your crew, prioritize anyone who speaks their language even if it’s just a little.” Augustus got up from the table, and in response, Juan stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to change clothes.”
Augustus left the room to disappear below deck. Reappearing later dressed in mostly leather clothing over cheap linens and wearing sturdy leather hiking boots. In his hands, he was carrying a wooden box. The preparations were all but completed when Augustus sauntered over and handed the box to Heratio. “We’re pretty much ready to go,” he said while accepting the box. “Go ahead and climb on over.”
Heratio, then Augustus, hopped on over to the rowboat, and Heratio found a place for the box. Once both of them were seated, the captain of the Scarlet Wind and his first mate, along with Juan and three other of the Scarlet Wind’s crew seated themselves on the same rowboat, then the boat slowly lowered down into the water. Augustus grabbed the railings of the shaking boat as it touched down, forcing Augustus to grab the railings, and when he looked up he could see Heratio grinning ear to ear.
There were eight rowboats, all loaded up with men and cargo. In total the landing party was fifty men. Once ashore Juan showed them the path and they started their trek, single file.
All, except for Augustus, had some luggage to carry. Some had more than others. Heratio and captain Yander were still light on their feet, carrying just a small backpack each. Others were encumbered under the weight of a giant pack, or in tandem had to hoist a wooden chest attached to wooden beams. As they traversed the path the men would stumble from time to time dealing with their new awkward centers of gravity.
As the journey progressed Augustus, with Heratio by his side, found the group from the Killian hiking and chatting among themselves, and Augustus intentionally nestled into their part of the pack. However, Juan was absent from them as he was leading the hike with Captain Yander.
At first, their conversation was simple introductions. "Are you all from Venocia?" And they all nodded in response. Of course they were, after all, they all worked for the Castellian family. Each of them in turn expanded on which part of the city they grew up in while Heratio would crack his usual jokes helping to break the tension. Then they talked about what jobs they did, which crafts they learned, and where they were taught them.
They were all smiling, glad to be socializing with a member of the main branch of the Castellian family. "So I heard about the troubles you had here from Juan, a bit of nasty stuff." They fell silent. "Talking about the nasty stuff though would ruin the mood. Tell me about the rest of your time here. Did you enjoy the weather?"
"It can get so hot here. But at least it rains every day. There's a lot of good game to hunt. There are these giant turtles here and they are delicious. Their meat is so tender and moist!" The crewmen of the Killian went on for longer than was necessary about how great those giant turtles taste. "They are incredibly delicious!"
"Can't wait to try 'em!" Said Heratio, eyes gleaming.
"Do the natives normally eat them? Did they teach you to cook them?" Augustus said casually while attempting to scramble over some rocks.
"Yeah they do, or they used to. That's why you can only find them in the middle of that stretch of coast that's high cliffs. It's where the natives can't get to them. The other turtles all got eaten," Gregor said. He was the youngest and most talkative of the group Augustus talked to.
"Who did they teach?"
"Marcus at first. But they taught me too," Gregor replied.
"Oh, have you spoken with them much?"
"A good amount. I don't know their language that well, but I can get a point across. Spend enough time with them and the language will just sink itself in," Gregor bragged.
"Would you say you all have enough skill to have a rudimentary conversation with them?" They all nodded in response to Augustus' question. "Well, that's good to know."
After that Augustus told them about himself. He talked about his life before the voyage, with his days mostly spent studying. He talked about his family briefly, at their urging. Augustus described his father Giovanni, a brilliant and strict man who would, on occasion, have his son shadow him as he conducted his business. Augustus never said anything unkind about his father, but still, Gregor and his crewmates were surprised at how openly someone of such high status talked about the subject. Then Augustus talked about the past two years, there had been a bit of flooding in the eastern lower city around the Typers river, and last year the harvests were better than average. The businesses under the Castellian family were doing fine, and the family had even picked up another Senate seat in the last elections.
All the talk about Venocia reminded Augustus of something he needed to tell them, “Oh yeah, we have a box of letters from your families back on the Scarlet Wind.” Gregor and his crewmates’ faces all lit up at that news. “I’m sure Castor hasn’t forgotten and has already started to distribute the letters back at the ships. After we set up camp we can send someone to get your letters.”
“Thank you! I’ve missed my family so much over the past two years.” Gregor was beaming as he said it.
After a bit more of a hike, they finally reached Marcus’ basecamp.