Crow’s Map: an excerpt from Cutthroats & Curses
“Oh, then that’s fine,” the Captain said, cheering up. “Right, let’s have a look at this map you got for me.”
Crow pushed aside his bowl of rum and rolled out on the rickety table a crackly old parchment. He and the Captain bent over it, peering intently in the dim, pungent glow cast by the sputtering gull-lamps that were the only source of light in The Dirty Doxy tavern.
“The Isle of the Drowned?” the Captain read, “Why do you always want to take us to some doom-laden place or other? When are we going to go on a day trip to The Valley of Happy Unicorns, eh?”
Crow said nothing. He knew better than to bring up again the matter of the unicorn with the wonky horn. That was a sure way to get the Captain tediously wittering on for hours about old adventures.
“And what, you scab, are these numbers?” the Captain continued.
“Cap’n, it really is beyond time you learned how to navigate – you know, what with being a ship’s captain and all. Those numbers show the location of the island. Latitude and longitude.”
“Latitude and longitude be buggered. I can’t do everything, can I? That’s why I pay you to steer the ship. I’m far too busy scheming and planning to get involved in every little detail. I’m the brains of this outfit, Crow.”
Crow took out his glass eye, gave it a polish and opened his mouth to speak.
“Don’t even think of saying what’s in your head,” the Captain interrupted, removing his tricorn hat ready to wallop Crow should the first mate utter one wrong word.
“I love my Captain,” said Crow. Mollified, the Captain put his hat back over his greasy hair.
“Hmm,” growled the Captain, peering once more at the map. “There aren’t many landmarks on this, are there? What’s this say here?”
“Ah now, that’s where we’d land. Sudden Death Cove.”
The Captain gave Crow a look and took off his hat once more.
“No, no! Listen,” Crow explained hastily, “The skinny bloke reckoned that this map would lead us to treasure. Buried here, where there’s a big ‘X’, near this pool that feeds down into the bay.”
“What does the ‘X’ stand for? Oh hell, it’s not ‘xylophones’, is it? Not much call for xylophones along the Skull Coast. No wait, it’s ‘xenopus’, isn’t it? You want me to load the Little Mavis with xenopusses.”
“No, no, no, the—” Crow began, then paused. “What the flaming hell is a xenopus?”
“African clawed frog. Produces eggs in response to the urine of a pregnant woman. Used for pregnancy testing.”
“Oh,” said Crow, pausing for a moment to consider the odd mind of his captain. “No, it does not indicate the location of a xenopus. The ‘X’ doesn’t stand for anything. It just marks the spot where the treasure is buried.”
“Then why didn’t they put a ‘T’, for ‘treasure’? That would make much more sense.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t put a ‘T’,” sighed Crow, “It doesn’t matter why they didn’t put a ‘T’. What matters is that the skinny feller said that here,” Crow’s grimy fingernail indicated a scratchy ‘X’ in the centre of the map, “is a treasure more valuable than gold coin.”
“Don’t give me that malarkey. What on earth could be more valuable than gold?”
“I don’t know. Lots of things.” Crow struggled to think of an example. The Captain was a big one for examples.
“Maybe…” Crow said, off the top of his head, “Right, how about a hat that made you invisible, so you could go wherever you liked without being seen –– merchant shops, inns, anywhere – think of the potential for profit in that.”
The Captain’s eyes drifted upwards to gaze at the dark smoky roof as he considered this, and a smile appeared in the middle of his bushy dreadlocked beard.
“The point is,” Crow continued, “I don’t know what we’ll find, but the skinny bloke was not lying, I’ll warrant that. And the map cost us nothing. So what have we got to lose?”
“With such a hat I could go into ladies’ boudoirs unseen,” said the Captain, huskily, “Or bathrooms.”
“Cap’n, concentrate! What is your command? Do we follow the map?”
“Aye, Crow, we follow the map!” The Captain’s eyes gleamed. “Alert the crew. We sail on the dawn tide.”
Crow stood and bellowed loudly above the cacophonous babble in the crowded tavern.
“THE CAP’N ORDERS THAT WE SAIL ON THE DAWN TIDE!”
Every person in The Dirty Doxy, save Big Tam who owned it and Dolly the Wench, let out a huge cheer, both man and woman alike, for every customer in the tavern this night served aboard the good ship Little Mavis.
“Crew alerted, Captain,” said Crow.