Anxiously his eyes swept the tree line…. left and right…. back and forth…. nothing. What had gone wrong? The plan was sound…. something must have happened…. it should not have taken this long…. Gruesome images of the flesh-eating natives rumoured to inhabit the remote island of Karno once again began to play through his mind…. Drawing in a steadying breath he forced himself to slowly and methodically scan the line of trees that stood before him, looking for the smallest sign. Come on…. come on he urged silently. At his back the cold, grey waters of the Southern Oceans gently lapped the sandy shoreline, whilst overhead dark clouds gathered; the calm before the storm.
A noise, like someone or something was thrashing their way through the undergrowth toward him. Heart racing, he began to take involuntary steps backward as the sound drew nearer. A clump of bushes at the edge of the forest first began to move and then to shake violently: seconds later a boy brandishing a machete hacked his way clear of the undergrowth, staggered and fell to the sand. Quickly, the boy scrambled to his feet and, with a blood curdling cry, began to run toward him.
A jolt of fear coursed through his body; terrified he turned and fled, stumbling as he fought to cross the soft, powdery sand toward the water’s edge. The sound of the boy’s ragged breathing getting louder, closer. He knew he must keep going and not look back but the compulsion was too strong, death was at his shoulder. He stole a quick glance, the boy was now only a few feet away; in his eyes a wild, frantic look, the machete ready…. poised at head height.
‘Why…. are…. we…. running?’ he gasped, now struggling to keep up with the boy. Not breaking stride, the boy pointed wildly behind him with the heavy blade. He stopped, turned, but could see nothing. In confusion he started to call to the boy, but the shout died in his throat: all along the length of shore, as far as the eye could see, the undergrowth had begun to bend and sway. Moments later natives, too many to count, swarmed onto the beach, their bodies daubed with splashes and streaks of brightly coloured paint, the exotic feathers which adorned their hair fluttering in the breeze.
An arrow cut through the air and buried deep in the sand by his feet. For a brief moment he stood frozen, staring dumbly at the black feathered shaft, then he turned and ran for his life as now, all around, arrows and spears peppered the sand; ever closer as the natives found their range. With each terrified step he feared death…. he expected death. His foot caught a rock and he fell heavily but there was no time, desperately he pulled himself to his feet and kept running as the hail of arrows continued to narrowly miss their target. In the distance he could see the boy working feverishly to drag the small rowing boat they had hidden beneath some scrubby brush, under cover of the previous night’s darkness, toward the water’s edge.
The Chief of the pursuing natives stopped and raised his battle-scarred wooden war club to the skies: at the signal his people drew to a halt and waited as their leader considered the fleeing pairs escape plan and formulated his response. All watched intently, with a mixture of reverence and fear, as their Chief, a formidable warrior and giant of a man; broad as he was tall and as solid as if he had been hewn from one of the boulders that littered the beach, considered options. Moments later he directed his raised club, first to the left and then to the right. Instantly, at his command, two young warriors raced determinedly across the sand, axes in hands. Satisfied, the Chief turned his disdainful gaze upon those who had dared to wrong him: Alvez, a thoroughly unremarkable looking man of indeterminate age and medium height, solid but a bit too thick around the waist, clad in a well-worn leather tunic, britches and boots and possessing of what many might have considered to be a characterless and unremarkable face, his appearance topped by a shock of unruly hair. And the boy, Pukunati, small and rotund, wearing a thick woollen jumper, britches and boots, a stocking cap pulled firmly down on his head.
Realising the shower of arrows had stopped, Alvez glanced over his shoulder and felt a sickening jolt of fear upon seeing the two young natives speeding, seemingly effortlessly, across the soft sand toward him, eating up the distance, while he laboured and stumbled clumsily with each desperate step. A second glance confirmed that he would never make it to the rowing boat before they were upon him and he began to fumble in his waistband for his weapon of choice, a small axe, as he prepared to make what, he feared, might be his final stand.
A moment later, Alvez lay sprawled, face down in the sand as he tripped and fell heavily, the axe flying from his grip and landing beyond arm’s reach. A panicked glance back over his shoulder and he knew this was it, the two warriors would be upon him in seconds and certainly before he could retrieve his favoured weapon; in desperation his hand went for his knife as he rose and turned to face his adversaries. Warily, the three circled and stalked each other until, after what seemed like an eternity, the bolder of the two natives took a tentative step forward, axe raised. In that instant Alvez too stepped forward and, with his free hand, threw a fistful of sand, collected as he lay sprawled on the beach, into the faces of the natives. If you are not cheating, then you are not doing it correctly; the sage words of fighting wisdom, imparted to him as a young boy, came to mind as he gave silent thanks - the ghosts would smile tonight. He looked upon both warriors; temporarily incapacitated by the blinding grittiness which filled their eyes, flailing wildly with their arms and weapons, fearful of imminent attack. But Alvez held no such intentions, the rest of the tribe were once again in hot pursuit. Only stopping to pick up his axe, he resumed his panicked flight toward the relative safety of the water, slipping and stumbling as he carelessly crossed the smooth rocks to the water’s edge, where he could see the small boat bobbing gently in the shallows, the boy waiting, oars poised, ready to go; breathlessly urging him on, willing him to escape their pursuers. As native arrows once again began to fall, zipping into the water to the left and right, Alvez splashed into the icy cold and awkwardly launched himself at the side of the small boat, rocking it wildly as he struggled to haul himself aboard, all too aware that, at that moment, his ample backside presented the perfect target for a keen-eyed bowman.
Backside intact, man and boy pulled hard on the oars, pushing through the breaking waves, until they reached calmer waters and the sudden realization that the onslaught had stopped and they were beyond arrow range. Alvez stood and carefully scanned the surrounding water and shoreline for any sign of native canoes; to his immense relief he saw none. It seemed the time they had spent the previous night slashing the bottom of each and every canoe that they could find on the beach had paid dividends. ‘I cannot see anything,’ he muttered after some time, realising the boy was looking up at him expectantly, waiting for news.
‘Then, we’ve done it,’ said Pukunati, his voice laced with disbelief …., ‘we’ve actually done it!'
Alvez nodded, still watching the surrounding waters for any sign of anything untoward, ‘we have done it,’ he agreed quietly, ‘assuming what we have is what we came for, and not somebody’s shopping list.’
‘Do native tribes have shopping lists?’ wondered Pukunati.
‘Undoubtedly,’ replied Alvez, ‘and I am sure at the top of this tribes list will be a young thief, closely followed by a distinguished looking gentleman.’
‘Don’t forget the third item on the list,’ added Pukunati, ‘a new treasure map, leading to the greatest haul of riches in the pirate world! To replace the one they have so carelessly just lost!’