The loved but respected captain of the ship Maker’s Nomad could feel the deep hunger for gold as she gazed across the stillness of the ocean. Perhaps it was because the sun setting on the horizon cast golden light on nearly everything or maybe she was finally becoming bored of the heart shaped locket she had worn around her neck for six months straight. Work was scarce and scraping the bottom of the financial barrel was making the crew anxious. Eventually, she would be asked to give up her prize. She clasped it tightly at the thought. No matter how much she longed for a new pretty thing to gaze at on lonely nights, she still loved the way the heart fit perfectly in her hand and was deep enough to hide a shot of whiskey.
“Captain Severin I…” The familiar voice of her second in command trailed off as he watched her standing in quiet contemplation. Ben knew if he startled her it might mean his head swiftly leaving his body and rolling down to galley. This was a ridiculous worry, however, because she had ears like a hawk and was familiar enough with the unusual cadence in his speech to not reach for her sword.
“What is it, Ben?” She asked, letting the locket hang from her neck once again and giving him a sideways glance.
“There is a storm brewin’ up ahead. We need you at the helm.” Ben’s dark mustache quivered and she followed his gaze as he pointed a stubby finger to the west. Angry clouds were gathering and pulsating with lightening. The thunder that accompanied it was faint but nonetheless menacing.
“Got it.” Her heart pounded in her ears and excitement rushed through her veins. This was the most action they’d had in weeks next to the cook getting hopelessly drunk and vomiting all over Ben.
The rest of the crew rushed out from all the corners of the vessel prepared to do as commanded. The Captain shouted out orders and immediately everybody was bracing themselves for the storm. Captain Severin took her place at the helm, her long curly hair blowing in the sudden gusts of wind and appearing copper in the fading light of day.
The storm swallowed up the ship into its unforgiving arms and tossed it about. Sheets of ice cold rain drenched the deck and, save for a few brave candles, lightening was the only source of illumination to navigate by. Keeping the ship afloat was proving to be difficult. Shouts from the crew were barely heard as the thunder cracked above.
She had faced more fiercesome storms than this one however, something felt different within this storm than any other she had experienced. The darkness inside was unparalleled and the thunder much louder to where she felt like she was already submerged in the water. She prayed silently that she would have the strength to continue steering and that the crew would have the endurance to make it through the night.
Hours like this passed and it was all she could do to not let go and run to help the rest of the crew. At one point she heard Ben cry out in pain somewhere below deck and Great Beard in the crows nest almost toppled out onto a sail. After hours of chaos the clouds broke and the rising sun was revealed. The thunder grumbled one last time like a child being sent to their room and the storm was behind them. From Captain Severin’s vantage point the crew was all present. Everyone looked like sewer rats after the all night shower but hopefully that would take care of signature smell some of the men carried around with them.
“Anybody dead?” She demanded, still keeping her hands firmly planted on the steering wheel.
“I wish I was.” Digger Graves said from somewhere behind Ben.
The Captain expected him to speak up first. He always had something to complain about which caused most of the crew to not like him.
“We wish you were too.” Ben shot back. The crew laughed and Digger marched off down to the galley where he could complain to the barrels of apples instead.
The Captain, feeling that the ship was moving safely across the waters without her assisting it, approached Ben and said, “Make sure everybody is accounted for. I’ll check below deck.” He nodded to acknowledge he understood. She cupped a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the face with her steely blue eyes. “Take it easy on Digger.” He nodded again.
Despite being the only woman on board the Maker’s Nomad she garnered more than enough respect to simply make a request and it be carried out. No ifs, ands, or buts. Her knee high leather boots made muffled clunks on the stairs as she went below deck. The sight that greeted her at the bottom was Digger sitting on a barrel sharpening his cutlass. His legs were unusually long and skinny in comparison to his barrel-chested torso. His curly dark black hair was plastered to his head and his dark eyes sparkled like an ink well.
“Digger, you better be getting ready to slice up some potatoes for the cook and not preparing for a fight.” Captain Severin said.
“Where does he get off making a fool of me in front of the crew, huh?”
“It was a joke. You know how Ben is. He doesn’t ever make good jokes.” It was true. Ben had never been popular among the crew but he really wanted to be, even at the expense of somebody else.
“We just went through hell. I’m lucky to be alive and he doesn’t care!”
“We’re all lucky to be alive. No need to start a fight now that we’re in the clear.”
She pivoted on her heel and proceeded to check the barracks. They were empty save for the cook, who appeared to have slept through the whole storm. An empty bottle of whiskey lay by his head. Captain Severin could almost taste it on her tongue. She shook her head fiercely and left the area. Last time she started drinking she couldn’t stop. She felt alone. People got hurt.
“Captain!” Ben came barreling down the stairs shouting. “We have a castaway.”
Her eyes widened and she sprinted past the flustered second in command to go topside. There was a drenched figure laid out on the deck surrounded by the curious crew. The crowd parted so she was able to get a closer look. His eyes were closed but he was definitely breathing. His clothing was similar to that of the northern countries. He was naturally built for strength and not speed which was the only reason he survived the storm.
“We found him clinging to some driftwood out in the water.” Ben informed her. “I think he’s a trained fighter from the north.”
The newcomer started to stir and the Captain reacted quickly. The fighter awoke from his sleep with a sword at his throat.
“Am I still asleep?” The man asked, as he took in his surroundings. He held his gaze with the Captain as he said, “I only ever see pretty women holding swords in my dreams.”
Some of the crew chuckled behind their hands at the sound of this and Captain Severin snapped, “If you had a sword you could live your dream all the time.”
“I could never be as pretty as you.”
The Captain pressed her sword into his skin drawing a drop of blood. “If you try and flatter me again I will slit your throat.”
A look of shock and amusement crossed the man’s face and he laughed nervously. “I’m sorry.”
“Respect the Captain.” Ben growled.
“Captain?” Another look of shock overtook the man’s face.
“I’m Captain Severin. Do you want to be a body without a head?”
“I personally think you’d look better.” She sheathed her sword and crossed her arms.
The newcomer sat up and slowly stood. He was a head taller than her and almost twice as wide. His dark brown hair was held back in a wet ponytail and his eyes were green like the sea. The Captain sensed she’d lose in a fight against him but for now he seemed harmless and still a little off balance from his struggle through the storm.
“What’s your name?” She demanded.
“What brings you out this way?”
“Is, ‘To see your lovely face’ the wrong answer?” Captain Severin touched the hilt of her sword again. “Okay, okay, okay. I understand.”
After an unusually silent moment the Captain cleared her throat, “Everyone, get back to work. Ben, make sure the cook is awake to make the meal.” The crew grumbled but did as they were told. When everyone was out of earshot the Captain slowly approached Jakob and looked him dead in the eyes. “You ready to talk?”
“Have you heard of the Island of Vis Vires?”
The Captain’s eyes widened. “I haven’t heard anybody but my mother talk about that place. It’s a story.”
“I’ve trained since I was eleven years old to be a fighter. I’ve learned everything I can and am unmatched in my hometown, but I won’t be unstoppable until I find the Acerbus Stone. It removes fear and only leaves room for strength.” His eyes were sparkling with excitement.
“It’s a legend. It’s a story you tell kids to make them believe fear can be destroyed. It can’t.”
“There’s gold too.”
The Captain could feel the hunger in her soul at the sound of this. She tried to appear uninterested as she asked, “Gold?”
“I know the operation you’re running here.” Jakob mirrored her posture by crossing his arms as well and whispered, “You’re pirates.”
“I think you just like the thought of being headless.”
“You know you’re interested.”
“Let’s pretend I am. How far is it?”
“About a day’s journey north.”
She rolled the idea around in her head. His face was honest. She felt she could trust him. “My ship. My rules” She said finally.
“You will do everything I say.”
“You get your stone and we’ll take the gold.”
“If you break any of these agreements I’ll break your neck, got it?”
She held out her hand to shake and he grasped it tightly. “Pleasure doing business with you. Now, like a pretty girl, I want you to go help the cook in the galley make breakfast. I doubt he’s sober.”
A white smile lit up Jakob’s face and he said, “Yes, Captain.”
This made her very agitated. He seemed to find her amusing and she didn’t like it. He seemed glad to do everything she ordered him to do and found reasons to constantly ask for more jobs. If he wasn’t careful he would push her into drinking again. At the meal Jakob was singing songs while passing around the rolls. She wasn’t used to not being the center of attention and this made her even angrier. The crew was warming up to Jakob already and the day had just started. The cook drunkenly sang along with every tune at mealtimes and Great Beard had been caught on multiple occasions asking Jakob the best way to fight somebody if they are standing over you with a cutlass. The final straw was when she found Ben comparing muscle tone with the newcomer.
“Ben, where are you supposed to be?” Captain Severin asked, hands clasped behind her back.
In mid-flex the second in command looked dumfounded. “I haven’t a clue.”
“Those muscles might better serve their purpose if you were steering instead.”
“But you always…”
When Ben was gone Jakob said, “Need me to do anything?”
“I need you to stop distracting the crew.”
“The conditions are perfect for sailing right now. The crew is bored. I’m just keeping things interesting.”
“You’re keeping them from their jobs.”
“Are you always this uptight?”
“I’m not uptight.”
If truth be told though she had been a lot more uptight since she had stopped drinking. Everybody on the Maker’s Nomad had grown to love her and knew that having fun was always something they did on slow days. But she was very possessive of her domain and Jakob was taking over and she hadn’t had a good drink in weeks.
As evening fell, the crew settled around the table for dinner. Captain Severin took her place at the head of the table and grabbed a handful of rolls. Everybody began chattering amongst themselves. She was pleased that there were no interruptions but as soon as this thought entered her head a single note rang out from the dusty piano in the corner. There sat the cook with Jakob leaning against the wall. The cook played like he was sober and Jakob sang like he was drunk. The crew clapped and cheered as the song told a story of a beautiful lady that couldn’t decide between two lovers.
Jakob looked over and saw that the Captain wasn’t joining in with the fun but instead cramming a bunch of food in her mouth so she could quickly escape to her quarters for the evening. As if by magic, the fighter produced a glass filled with a clear nasty smelling liquid and demanded she drink.
Still with a chunk of bread in her mouth she gulped down the entire glass. It burned its way down her throat and the smell seared through her nostrils like peppermint. She swallowed the roll and followed that with a sip of the red wine to chase away the horrible aftertaste. It wasn’t immediate, but after awhile the familiar giddy feeling came washing over her and any thoughts of turning in early for the night were forgotten. The crew remembered what it was like to have fun again and Jakob slowly disappeared into the background as Captain Severin took her proper place center stage to sing along as the cook accompanied her.
When crew members began falling asleep at the dinner table Digger said, “Well, I’m not cleaning any of this.” and proceeded to the barracks.
Everybody turned in for the night and barely noticed as Jakob went to the front of the ship, climbed into the lifeboat, and fell asleep.
The next morning the crew was woken up by Great Beard shouting, “Land ho’! Land ho’!”
The Captain dressed quickly and made her way to the front of the ship in time to catch Jakob climbing back on board from where he had been sleeping. “I didn’t tell you, you could sleep there.” She said, trying to keep up appearances by still being angry. After how much fun they all had last night it was difficult.
“Digger said he wanted me to keep him company last night but I refused.” Jakob said.
This brought a smile to the Captain’s face and Jakob basked in his victory.
“Does that look about right?” She asked, pointing at the piece of land about a half a mile away.
“Looks like how I imagined it. Very rocky.” Jakob stated, nodding his head.
The island looked fierce and only a small percentage of it was dotted with trees. The rest of it was a maze of caves and boulders. The excitement built as the crew all gathered on deck to see the miracle of dry land for themselves. Being at sea had its perks but nothing could replace that elation they all felt when they knew they’d be on solid ground soon.
When they were close enough to land Ben dropped the anchor and the crew, minus the cook, climbed in the lifeboat loaded down with some food, their weapons, and empty sacks for carrying the booty. After rowing several yards the boat gently bumped the shore and Ben obediently tied it to a stable rock jutting out over the water. The rest of the crew climbed out and Captain Severin shoved her way up front to lead the search. Jakob was not that far behind. The climbing was very involved and Digger immediately started complaining about being the one to carry all the food supplies on such rocky terrain.
After several hours the ground began to dip down into a rocky valley. In the center of this valley was a wall of stone and to the far right of this wall there was a cleft.
“Ben, do you have the torches?” The Captain asked.
Ben nodded and began preparing them to light. She took the first lit torch and sidled through the cleft into the darkness below. It almost felt like walking down a shallow flight of stairs. After a few feet the cleft opened up into a cave that echoed with the sound of distant running water. Anxiety flitted in and out of her mind and she tentatively walked deeper into the cave.
“It’s clear from what I can see.” She announced.
Jakob struggled through the gap but eventually was able to squeeze through, the rest of the crew in tow. They delved deeper and as they did the sound of water became louder. About a quarter of a mile down the cave took a left turn down another type of staircase. As she reached the bottom she found the source of the sound. Bubbling up from the dirt floor was water gushing over piles of stones and into a pond. In the center was a perfectly smooth black stone the size of a coconut sitting on top of a more glorious sight still: gold.
“It’s the Acerbus Stone.” Jakob whispered.
Captain Severin didn’t hear him. Her eyes were fixated on the gold. She knelt down by the pool’s edge and reached in. Her fingers ran over the cold coins in reverence. As soon as the crew saw the prize, whoops of joy echoed all around the room and everybody raced for their share. It was a free for all as the pirates took the loot and stuffed it in burlap sacks.
The Acerbus Stone was shoved aside in favor of the more beautiful treasures but before it became completely lost in the shuffle Jakob pulled the stone from the water and backed away from everyone. Suddenly, the blackness of the stone seeped onto his hands and began covering his whole body. Nobody turned to look until he cried out as the shadows pulled at his skin. The stone was white now and glowing brightly. The fears inside his heart were being pulled from him and being fed back into the stone. In the room fear became a tangible substance. It filled the air and the stone seemed to swell as the blackness was swallowed up. It continued to grow at an alarming rate.
“Calm down!” Captain Severin commanded but nobody was listening.
Digger was already running up through the cave with his bag of gold and all the food. He slipped past Jakob just before the stone grew big enough to block the exit. The Captain didn’t want to let the fear overtake her but she had never faced it in this manner before. Since she was a young girl she was afraid of so many things, but at this point in her life she was a leader and fear wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Fear, like anything else, was a choice and even in its physical form, could be defeated by taking action.
She grasped Ben’s hand and began to dance. She sang the song from last night at the top of her lungs. Ben joined in and the fact that he was tone deaf didn’t even matter. As the singing echoed around the space the Acerbus Stone shrunk. The stone was still pulsating and Captain Severin could tell it was still waiting for more fear to capture. A quivering Jakob still stood at its mercy, his sea green eyes now black. The rest of the crew started to sing and dance. The Captain approached Jakob and opened the locket around her neck to pull out the hidden shot of whiskey. She uncorked it and poured the liquid into his mouth.
“Sing.” She commanded. “Loosen up a bit.”
His voice quivered but he sang as he was told. Color returned to his eyes and the Acerbus Stone shuddered one last time as the rest of the blackness cleared from his skin. It fell to the ground and the fear in the room entirely dissipated. As it did his voice strengthened and his smile returned. He placed the stone back in the pool of water and the pirates made their way out of the cave with their treasure, still singing.