Saturday Seed ~ 73 (All for One)
This week’s seed is for All for One, and is something to spring on your group of adventurous musketeers while they are out of Paris and passing along the coast on the King’s business.
With the dawn, a mysterious ship is discovered to be at anchor far out in the harbor of whichever French port is convenient for you. The harbor master sailed out to her immediately, but has not returned. Hours have passed and there is no sign of life aboard. Seeing the striking uniforms of the King’s Musketeers, the group is entreated to assist in the investigation of the mysterious craft in front of a large group of curious peasants and common-folk.
The ship, still sound of hull, but black with tar, and bedecked with filthy shreds of sail lists menacingly to port as it rests at anchor at the mouth of the harbor. No light, nor sound, nor sign of life is visible from the shore, and all told, to gaze upon it leaves the viewer with a distinct sense of unease.
As the sun burns off the night’s mist, the ship does not appear to grow any more wholesome, and in fact almost takes on a glistening and dangerous look, as though awash in slime, and other unsavory oils of the inscrutable sea.
Were it not so disheartening to gaze upon the black and tattered ship, and were its posture less threatening, observers might note its look of age and worn condition, but these details are lost but to the most probing and controlled eyes.
Several hours ago, not long after the silent ship was first spotted at anchor as the sun rose fat and red on the horizon, searing away the fog and mist, and sending long, starved shadows racing up the still-sleeping streets seeking shelter and sustenance after a long night of confinement, the harbor master assembled his rowers, lowered his bulk into his longboat, and made for the hulk defiling this grand morning.
No sign of the men, the boat, or the harbor master have been spotted since. It is as though the vessel, once they’d boarded her, swallowed them all whole.
Closer inspection of the vessel, should any be brave enough to undertake it, will reveal that it has seen fighting, and its decks are in ruins. Signs of cannon fire, burning, cut ropes, and shattered wood abound. The deck is holed, and the masts are cracked. The sails are naught but rags, and the crew… there is not a soul to be seen or heard no matter how many times the ship is circled or hailed. The hull itself is sound, and all its ports are sealed up tight. Further inspection will require going aboard.
What’s going on
The ship, to all appearances is empty, although there is a subtle whiff of the infernal about the air below decks… if you know for what to sniff. It is, however, entirely deserted… but below decks, particularly among the crew spaces and hammocks, it is a charnel house. At the base of the ladder leading below decks is a fine shoe, which, if taken back to those who knew him, may be identified as that of the harbor master. No other trace of him will be found. That fact pales in the face of the sight which immediately follows. Bodies lay where they fell when killed and with even rudimentary knowledge of the tools and means with which men do harm to other men, it can be seen that the culprits are none other than the crew themselves. To a man, they killed each other, and their violence, while obviously centered at the end around something toward the bow, tool place all over the decks below, from stem to stern.
The ultimate tableau of their violence is a sailor, his throat torn and shredded, sitting back against the hull near the bow, with a look of blessed release on his tattered face as the many corpses spread about him lie in the contorted poses of their last acts of crawling, clawing, and scratching as if trying desperately to reach some prize he held above them. His left hand lays open, palm up on the top of the crushed head of the centermost sailor whose corpse still looks to be dragging itself screaming up his body, and his face is thrown back with mouth agape as if calling out praises to the blessed heavens. A large red mark, circular, is just visible in the flesh of that hand, as though until death, he had squeezed a flat, round object hard enough to deny the slavering hoards of his crewmen.
If a very thorough search is done, a catatonic man in finery will be found in a stout barrel far back in the cargo hold. Once roused with proper medicine and fresh air, he will tell a horrific tale of brutality and greed which has brought this sad end upon the once proud vessel.
The men, it seems, found a sailor adrift in a small boat, an Englishman, and when they plucked him from the sea, they were surprised by his lack of gratitude. He spat at them, insulted them, and disdainfully tossed a golden coin at them by way of saying this was all that they and their swift vessel were worth.
The Captain snatched the coin from the air, and at this the Englishman grew very still, and said something very peculiar.
He looked the Captain in the eye and stated, “Unless you kill me, this one piece of true gold will never be yours.”
The Captain, missing not even a beat, drew his sword, and ran the man through.
“So be it,” the Captain said, and kicked the man’s corpse for good measure. As the crew laughed and joked, and praised the Captain for his fine sense of timing, he grew quiet, and looking at the coin, decided something, and tossed it to his First Mate.
“For what I owe you,” he said, and then retired to his cabin and his thoughts.
The next night, the First Mate reported the coin missing and that there was a thief aboard. A search turned up nothing, but the Captain, upon trying to quell the disquiet, discovered the coin in his own pockets. The rest of the story is a bloody symphony of greed, rage, and violence, and were it not for this empty barrel, the survivor feels that his own life’s spark would have been snuffed out early on.
He is unable to answer any questions about the harbor master and his entourage, but while they are speaking, a golden coin, heavy, and thick, with clearly etched markings of a complicated emblem and a latin phrase saying ‘golden is the prince of the world’ on one side, and an eagle on the other, rolls with a solidity across the deck above, then falls with heavy raps as it drops from narrow rung to narrow rung down the ladder, to come rolling and spinning around and around to a final stop at the characters’ feet.
Unbidden, each character feels a flash of desire for the coin, and little things like its proximity to their foot, or past debts incurred by the others take on new significance.
Is this the coin of the story?
Who is the survivor?
Is their demonic influence at foot at this very moment?
These things and more are up to you~