Alvara’s father had always told her about the chest of gold coins buried within the sands of Selle island. He had intended it to be her inheritance one day. He had long since given up pirating but had kept a map to this last vestige of treasure that he promised to gift her come her twenty-first birthday. After his death, Alvara had not been able to find that map anywhere. She had lost both her beloved father and the promise of a future fortune that she’d dreamt about since she was a child.
Until one morning when she was walking through the fading night-time darkness along the solitary streets of Freywood harbour. Opposite the harbour, hidden in the alcoves of Dahlia Street stood The Dead Helm—a tavern bustling with travellers alongside villagers, mercenaries and the occasional guild meeting. Alvara worked there most mornings, heaping bowls with soup of stewed meat and vegetables. She plated the steaming piles of food and placed them on the stained wooden countertop and continued with the next batch of food. She heard of a docked pirate ship at the port and surveyed the room, a rowdy bunch of pirates sat at the centre of the room sculling tankards of beer.
She overheard a man wearing a long gold-threaded coat, she assumed he was the Captain, rambling to his crew. ‘It’s East of Selle. That’s where it’s buried, not West.’
‘Ay,’ The crew jeered.
She stopped ladling soup into bowls at the words of a foreign location. It was not so foreign to her. Selle’s coordinates were ingrained in her head.
Isn’t this the map father spoke of?
Alvara flung the ladle back into the steel pot and approached the congested table of pirates. She slapped the bowls down. There was a moment of startled silence at her intrusion, accusatory curses murmured from the crew.
Self-righteous pricks, she thought to herself.
The man who had been addressed just now as ‘Captain’ turned to his seatmate questioning the map’s presumed written clue.
Wandering and tumbling down the hills. The weeping willow sat still, she repeated in disbelief at the words spoken aloud. Father left it for me.
Alvara collected the empty tankards and returned to the kitchen, bumping into others on the way, ignoring their stares. She frantically placed the tankards amongst the organised chaos.
How did those low lives get my father’s map, Alvara wondered.
There was only one explanation, she decided as she buried herself away back in the kitchen. They murdered him. Alvara clutched a knife and buried it into the ingrained oak table.
She breathed in and out, not understanding the weight of her emotions. A grin curled on her face as she snatched the barman’s loose shirt, trousers and belt before she made her way out of the tavern.
She had a plan in mind.
Alvara scurried along the dockside in her loose attire, searching for the Captain’s vessel. She came upon a grand Brigantine ship, its beige sails billowing above its black hull. The vessel’s figurehead was a veiled skulled woman, a guiding eye for the men at sea.
Revenge of the Damned, she read on the ship’s side. Alvara continued and walked the gangplank onto the docked ship, surveying her surroundings. She stood along the deck at the bow, a cool draught of air blew errant strands of her short onyx hair. The breeze howled in a low whistle. The ocean breathed, the surface rising and falling with rhythmic ease. The waves echo of the souls kept safe in its cradle of brine.
The only woman allowed on this ship is a dead one, Alvara threw her head back in frustration.
A commotion arose from the docks as the rest of the crew began trailing their way back onboard, the wooden floors creaked. Alvara winced. She reclined onto the beams and huffed.
‘A boy, Captain Warwick! Aboard our ship.’ Murmurs of confusion encompassed the crew as they saw a petite figure aboard their vessel.
Men were shoved to the side as the Captain ventured closer to Alvara. ‘What are you doing on my ship?’
‘To join your crew.’
‘You? A puny boy like yourself.’
‘I can pull my own weight,’ Alvara pushed off the beam, ‘I assure you, Capt’n.’
A man stood behind the Captain with the leather map grasped between his hands. Alvara viciously eyed it. Silence surrounded the deck in anticipation of his decision.
‘Fine boy! You can join. ‘If you slight me in any way,’ the Captain gesturing to the figurehead, ‘I’ll skull you like Old Ada over there.’ Captain nodded to the man by his side. ‘Fletcher here will tell you of your duties. Do you understand, boy?’
Alvara stared blankly at him. ‘Yes, sir!’ she mockingly asserted.
‘Captain, best be on our way to Selle now,’ Fletcher interjected, ‘You. Need to get you to work.’
Alvara’s mouth twitched at the Captain’s agitation. She hoped his head would soon get decapitated by a broken mast.
He wrenched his intense gaze off of her, turned to Fletcher and tore the map from his grasp. ‘Set the sails!’ he bellowed.
The crew flurried at the Captain’s instructions. Alvara stared at the leather bounded map clasped in the Captain’s hands soiled with dirt and remains of an early morning supper.
‘What’s your name? Or I’ll keep calling you boy,’ Fletcher interrupted Alvara’s thoughts.
Ace? That’ll do, she thought. ‘The name’s Ace.’
‘You’re the new Deckhand.’ Fletcher brought Alvara over to a bucket and mop. ‘Welcome aboard Ace,’ he pushed the mop into her chest, fixed his spectacles and left her with her duties.
Above, the clouds settled low and dark in the sky; a storm was making itself known.
Bloody four-eyed bastard. Alvara hauled the bucket, water splashing uncontrollably. She dipped the unruly mop into the bucket and got to swabbing the deck.
With rough waves ahead, the crew worked hard to rig the ship whilst Alvara was hard at work scrubbing the deck of dirt and build-up of salt. Her bones ached and creaked like the panelled floors she mopped.
‘Eh, boy over here. Over here,’ one of the riggers pointed to the front-left of the deck, ‘You missed a spot.’ He spat. The rest of the riggers laughed alongside him.
Useless, she kept swabbing the deck. Piece of shit. Up and down in a row. She tossed the bucket and strode to the rigging crew with the mop in hand. She tossed it in the air, caught it by the bottom and swept it under the offender’s legs.
She sneered. The crew stopped laughing, the rigger swore at her while the Captain watched from the upper deck. ‘Boy! Watch it.’
Alvara swivelled her smirk now a grimace. ‘I…’ Darkness engulfed Alvara, a storm of fury quelling her rebuttal.
‘Sails down. NOW.’
As they struggled against the gale, the gulls are tossed paper in a storm, flashes of white amongst the grey. Beneath them, the sea rises as great mountains, anger in the form of water, turbulent and unforgiving.
‘Ace! Continue swabbing,’ shouted Fletcher.
The crew began furling the sails, brine water crashed on the deck. The ship was rocking side to side like a baby’s cradle in the ocean’s palms. There was no end in sight. While the men around her ran around screaming orders or yelling desperate prayers, she found herself moving in slow motion. Not even a life-threatening storm could wrench her away from her revelation and grief, reliving the moment she had realised these men were her father’s murderers. She felt almost as hollowed out and hopeless as she had when she’d first come across her father’s cold body, so still and lifeless. Another wave crashed against the starboard side and sent another pirate crashing into her. Alvara managed to break their fall by bracing herself against the boat side railing. She was about to savagely rebuke the pirate when she noticed a golden coin dangling from his neck, hanging off a black thread. The shiny metal glinted in the moonlight. Her heart stuttered and she felt herself move headily past grief and into a mind-numbing rage. That was her father’s necklace. She remembered it as clearly as if it were yesterday.
She pounced forward, the pirate her prey as she clutched the necklace between her slender fingers, ‘Where did you get this?’ she hissed. She coiled the cord around his neck, restricting his airways, suffocating her prey every time he breathed. She straddled his slumped body on the ground, all his colour drained. She tore and draped the necklace around her own, fingers dragging against the engraved coin with her initials. The necklace reminded her of good memories amongst all the cruel ones she had.
They killed him. Alvara choked back her tears. Her bloodthirst was still unsated.
A hand clawed outside of the ship, another man dangled from the starboard side screaming for help. Alvara’s rage destroyed her from the inside, an inferno of emotions erupted as she dragged herself to the starboard in front of the screaming man. Her hot rage became a cold smoulder of suppressed anger. She plucked each of the man’s fingers off the railing—one, two, three…until he was engulfed by pacifying waves.
The ship battered and bruised from oncoming waves, the ocean poured countless tears at the feet of men onboard before calming at the arrival of nightfall. As the ship sailed on through the night, Alvara watched on in silence, her nails cutting into her palms, drawing scarlet blood from beneath.
At dawn, the ship docked on the island of Selle with fewer men than they left with. Alvara trailed behind the Captain, the rest following behind, except for Fletcher who stayed on the ship.
‘Keep up the pace,’ the Captain said. He held the map tightly in his agitated state. The trek was long and his agitation grew with each failed attempt at locating the treasure.
Alvara and the entire crew followed through tangled roots and broken vines, winding their way through the jungle into an open space. The sun blinded Alvara as she stepped into patches of golden sand. The Captain procured a brass compass out from his coat. He located the East of Selle and trekked towards the awaited gold. Palms waved in the breeze as the crew strode between each massive tree. They came to a stop in front of boulders piled on top of each other, trickles of evergreen moss clinging to the crevices.
‘It says the treasure is here. Start digging.’ The Captain shut the compass and grunted in anticipation.
Alvara bounded over and started digging with the others.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! The crew dug with intensity, spades filling up with wet sediment, sand and rocks. Again, and again. A repetitive flow of digging continued, until, a sharp sound of metal slammed against a chest. Alvara looked on in shock. The Captain pushed through, tossed the map onto the ground and tugged the chest from below with the help of the crew. He grinned in glee as he unlatched the hook revealing gold coins, jewellery and a hardbound journal. Alvara’s eyes widened at the fortune. Her anger flared.
My father didn’t disappear.
Alvara’s hands tremored as she arose from the pit.
They killed him.
She grabbed a curved splintered rock as she approached the Captain from behind. ‘Do you know a W.H. Leighstone?’ she whispered.
Before creeping up behind him and bashing the rock against his skull. He fell to the ground in pain, ‘You little shit.’ Warm blood trickled down his forehead.
‘You killed a man, Captain,’ she crouched down to be level with his gaze.
‘I’ve killed many men, boy,’ he croaked.
‘You killed my father. I’ll avenge him for it,’ she didn’t let him speak, ‘You got another thing wrong. I’m not a boy.’ She held him and impaled the rock down into his chest, repeatedly stabbing him in her rage, painting her face with his splattering blood.
The crew watched in horror at her wrathful vengeance. The Captain’s indistinguishable face was nothing but a battered carcass of flesh and bones. Alvara stood and faced the crew directly with blood dripping down her face, she grinned menacingly at them. She made her way back to the ship with the treasure in tow.
The Captain’s body was left to rot.
Ahrya Reddy is a poet and writer who is inspired by her culture and experience of being a South Asian woman of colour. She is passionate about exploring and celebrating queerness, mental health, and feminism within her writing. Outside of writing, Ahrya indulges in book-hoarding tendencies and excessive daydreaming.