Victor Kent quietly admired the schooner Victory Chimes as she rested at dockside. She wasn’t really an attractive ship, with her gaff and boom rigging, but she was a ship that had filled Kent’s childhood dreams. In fact, she was a ship who filled the dreams of many, both children and young sailors alike. For many years, the stories of Captain Smith and the mysterious VC had been told by the men of Dargon to their children, and Kent was one of those young lads whose heads had been turned by the call of adventure. His father had been a merchant, and had often returned from work with tales he had heard from the docks, and more often than not the hero of the story was the derring Captain Smith of the Victory Chimes, a swift three-masted schooner. When he was seventeen, Kent had signed onto a packet ship as a galley hand, and got his first taste of reality on the high seas. But now he was a man, and a year ago, at the young age of twenty-three he had been given the command of a merchant bark owned by the Fifth I merchant shipping firm. Yet now he was about to give up his first command to become first mate on the Victory Chimes. It had hardly been a fortnight since the word had gone out – the VC was putting to sea!
Despite the legendary accomplishments attributed to the vessel and its captain, the Victory Chimes had performed little more than routine merchant liner shipping within the rather limited memory of most people. But the word was out that Captain Smith was going to take her on an exploration mission, and that he needed crewmen. The tales of the captain’s bravery and wisdom echoed through every bar in the port section, spreading through the town of Dargon proper even to Dargon Keep and to the villages surrounding the port city. As quickly as the news could spread, men came from far and near to become crewmembers for the trip. Kent had listened to the rumors, and had decided to talk to Smith about taking him on as first mate for the voyage. This was, indeed, a dream come true.
He carefully set his foot on the gangway, and stepped aboard.
Captain Gordon Smith stood majestically on the castle as the Victory Chimes was let from her moorings. He was dressed in attire befitting a captain of a merchant vessel, and his white hair drifted casually in the salt-tanged breeze. In the port, there was a very large crowd gathered to watch their departure for unknown lands. Smith noticed that it was no longer only children who came to see the VC off, as it used to be. Today there were sailors, merchants, some warriors, and even a few dignitaries, their eyes all focused upon his figure and his ship. The harbor was filled with craft not only from Dargon, but from many other nearby ports. As the VC slowly glided by, the onlookers excitedly waved their caps at the crew, a few of whom returned the gesture. Standing tall and aloof, Smith tried to give them the best show he could, but his heart really wasn’t in it. He thought to himself perhaps he should have coaled his white hair earlier, but it was too late now.
Soon enough they would be out to sea, and the few straggling craft that followed the Victory Chimes would turn back towards port, and he would be able to relax. The crowd’s fascination with him had set him in a dark mood, and he mused silently to himself as he let the mate, a young man named Kent, guide the schooner from the harbor into open sea.
The first two weeks of travel went very well aboard the VC, Kent thought to himself. He had been given complete command of the ship by captain Smith, and he had revelled in commanding the legendary black ship. The weather had been sunny and the winds equally favorable, and they had made good headway, steering consistently west by northwest. However, Kent noticed the beginnings of a storm coming up from the southwest. Shortly after midday he had one of the crew notify the captain in his cabin, and he returned with the order to maintain their course if possible, and to come about high to the windward should the winds come from the southwest.
Within the hour the storm was upon them. Kent set the westerly course and lashed the wheel down. He stayed above deck with three other crewmen to take any necessary actions. Due to the westerly bearing, the swells broke over the port bows, setting the deck awash with foam and freezing spray, and Kent was forced to luff the ship and ease off the sheets to keep her from capsizing. Kent tried to gauge their course, and felt sure that they were being pounded leeward, far to the north of their original position.
By late evening the storm had subsided, although the seas were still heavy and the wind drove consistently from the southwest. As the night wore on, Kent maintained his course, although he was aware that the ship was still being driven far north of where they intended to be. When morning arrived the seas had calmed, yet Kent could feel a distinct chill in the air. In fact, as day broke, several large ice formations could be seen floating some ways off. They had, indeed, been blown far off course, and were now much farther north than the port they had set out from. Kent was in the process of trying to chart their position when a cry rang up from the crew: land had been sighted!
The conning mate, Lees, had sighted a mountainous island rising from the sea several leagues to the north, yet he insisted that it showed no signs of snow. As the captain came on deck, Kent climbed the rigging up to the halyards and looked. The island was small but it rose from the water directly into a large, forested mountain, and the slopes were lush with vegetation. The sky about the island was tainted a strange silvery color.
When he returned to the deck, Kent reported to the captain. The sun had warmed the chill from the air, and the captain immediately set sail for the island. However, as they approached the island, the air grew distinctly warmer, until Kent wondered how such a place could exist within the cold climate so far north of Dargon.
The island appeared to be the cap of a vast underwater mountain, rising abruptly from the sea. The steep slopes rose in jagged cliffs, making it very difficult to imagine that anyone could live there, though occasional lush valleys ran towards the mountainous center of the island. However, the most bizarre aspect of the island was the vegetation. Kent could identify many plants he had seen growing only in tropical areas in Baranur, far south of Dargon, and yet all the plants and trees had leaves which had an almost-visible quicksilver sheen to them. The captain decided to search for a suitable place to anchor and proceed to explore the island.
They hadn’t followed the coastline for more than twenty minutes when they came upon a suitable harbor. However, as the VC entered the lagoon, around the edge of the woods there appeared a small collection of primitive huts. There were people living on the island! In fact, not long after the huts came into view, an indecipherable holler went up in the woods as the ship was noticed by the inhabitants. Within minutes a handful of dugout canoes were on their way across the lagoon and towards the ship, the natives bellowing their greetings and gesticulating comically. Kent laughed as he saw one man run into the shallow water and leap awkwardly into a canoe, dumping himself and the two previous occupants into the drink. The captain ordered the anchor dropped, as the VC was soon surrounded by smaller craft, her deck overrun by curious and anxious natives. Oddly, Kent noted that their skin, very little of which was covered in most instances, was slightly dark, and that it also bore a strong sheen of that unnameable hue. In fact, he noticed that their eyes all were strongly shaded with the odd coloration. Kent watched as perhaps fifty islanders ran from one item to the next, not doing much damage. He watched as one man examined a capstan, then kicked it, then moved on to the anchor ropes, then went to examine a doorknob. Kent laughed heartily at the native’s expression when Lees, the lookout, opened the door and emerged from the galley, much to the islanders’ fascination and surprise.
Each of the crewmembers was soon surrounded by several native men and women. The ones around Kent rubbed their fingers through his dark hair (which seemed to be their method of greeting), and then proceeded to talk at him in their language and pinch and investigate his skin and eyes. He patiently let them have their insistent way, and imagined that his skin color somehow must be as strange to them as theirs was to him.
As evening finally fell, the crew could see that a large fire pit had been arranged by the beach, and that preparations for a huge feast were being made. The captain had the crew gathered on deck and, upon the urging of the natives, launched a boat for the island. Those crewmen who could not fit in the dingy were gladly accepted as honored passengers in tribal canoes. Despite Victor’s opposition, the captain did not order any of the crewmen to stand guard over the ship, reasoning that the ship was within sight, and nothing could happen on it without their knowledge. Besides, who would want to be left out of the evening’s proceedings?
The trip to shore was chaotic, but uneventful. The crew was finally assembled by the fire pit and guided to a large mat, made of fragrant, freshly-cut grasses. There they were seated, each with a native upon either hand, while the women brought exotic foods for their men and their guests. Standing at the head of the ‘table’ was a large wooden depiction of what appeared to be a bear. Stained with various colors, the massive saurian watched silently over the feast. However, a cold shiver ran down Kent’s neck when he noticed that the bear’s eyes had been painted with a stain of that ever-present quicksilver glow he had seen in the plants of the island.
The feast went on, with each course outdoing the previous in strangeness. One of the drinks the crew was introduced to was mildly intoxicating, and many had drunk far too much of it. Several left the area at the coaxing of buxom native women, but Kent spent most of his time trying to talk with one of the natives. He had learned that the man was named ‘Zut’, but that you had to accompany the sound with an rise in tone and shrugging of the shoulders. It appeared that the natives used the same words for several different ideas, and accompanying gestures often made clear which word was correct. Just watching the natives talking to one another had set many of the crew into gales of uproarious laughter. Many had made comic imitations of the speaker, who then addressed the individual again, apparently to correct the pronunciation or gestures made by the crewman.
Kent had tried to communicate with Zut, but hadn’t achieved very much. He had tried to ask the native about their chief, but Zut had emphatically pointed at the bear statue, saying “Tsiti!” Kent figured that the native had interpreted the concept of ‘chief’ as ‘god’, and had shown him the totem of Tsiti, their animal-deity. He spent some time trying to get the native to learn some words in his tongue, but only was successful in teaching him ‘Victor’, ‘victory’, and ‘skin’.
The following morning, most of the crew were again assembled upon the mat and fed. Kent was somewhat troubled by the fact that Zut was not at the meal, and tried to ask another native why Zut was not present. The native looked at him and babbled.
“Zut! na’hai Tsiti!” While speaking this, he managed to somehow shrug his shoulders, make motions like waves with his hands, and then close his eyes. Apparently Zut had something to do with Tsiti. Kent wondered. Perhaps Zut was a priest, though he carried no markings or demeanor that differed from the other men. He tried to tell the native to bring him to Zut.
“Bal’oa nia tsapful,” replied the native. Somehow Kent got the impression that the conversation was ended, though he really had no idea why.
After breakfast the native urged Kent to follow him away from the village and into the island. Kent talked Captain Smith into coming along, on the basis that they would be exploring the island. Most of the crew had all gone in separate directions, but would be back by nightfall. With that, they were off into the mountainous and overgrown island interior.
They followed a worn footpath through the woods, but the existence of a path didn’t make the going much easier. The trails had been made for bare feet, and were too soft and spongy for boots, which Kent and Captain Smith soon removed. The guide had led them on a trail which led high into the interior area of the mountain, and the going was very steep and very warm. It was some time after noon when the guide excitedly beckoned them towards a rise in the trail.
As Kent climbed up the rise, what he saw was one of the most beautiful and most bizarre scenes he had ever seen. They were standing at the top of a huge cliff which fell away several hundreds of feet to the sea. The view looked down upon the northern shore of the island, which the VC had not scouted. The view was breathtaking, but even more startling was the view to the north of the island. Several leagues distant was another island, yet this one was nearly flat, and about it there was a strong, visible aura of the strange color they had seen only in shades in the plants and animals of this island. There was no question that the northern island was the source of the unnatural hue.
“What in hell is it?” came the captain’s exclamation from behind Kent.
The native, seeming to understand, simply replied “Tsiti.”
Kent tried to describe his thoughts to the captain. “Apparently, Tsiti is the bear figure we saw at the village. They seem to worship this being, and that island is somehow linked with him. It’s obvious that they must think it’s sacred. But that’s about all I know.”
The captain pondered silently for a moment. “Damn. Well, we’re supposed to be exploring and adventuring. I guess we can’t very well turn away from something like this, can we? Let’s head back to the village and round up the crew.” With that, he turned and began carefully picking his way back down the path. Kent gave the native a reassuring look and followed.
The afternoon was cooling off, and the early twilight shadows were beginning to lengthen as the group plodded down towards the village. Captain Smith immediately had all the crew gathered by the beach, and described what they had seen that afternoon. He planned to have the crew spend that night on board ship, and in the morning set sail northward to explore the other island.
The crew had enjoyed their stay on the island, and weren’t at all pleased about returning to the Victory Chimes; however, they decided to endure it after having convinced several native women to accompany them. The night passed quietly, and the following morning the natives were asked to leave the ship, and the VC set out from the harbor. They skirted the coastline fairly closely for most of the way, and so it was not until near midday that they began to see the strange color appear pronouncedly in the sky to the northward. Finally they came around a headland and saw the northern island. Many of the crew turned away from the bizarre vision, yet many stood gaping at the unnatural sight. The flatness and lack of vegetation on the island made it seem even more alien than the rugged mountains of the southern island, and even Kent stood dumbfounded by the potency with which the abnormal coloration had contaminated the area surrounding the lifeless, featureless island.
Kent could sense the tenseness of the crew as the ship left the coastline and headed across the stretch of open sea between the two islands. As the noontime sun beat down steadily, Kent began to see heat waves rising from the water. His vision became more blurry and he thought he had become sick, until one of the crew staggered to him, complaining of the same symptoms. After asking several other men, he concluded that the color was somehow effecting their vision. He stumbled aft towards Captain Smith.
“Sir, the crew can’t function… the waves, the color is blinding them!”
Smith stood immobile and replied, “We’ll make an anchorage soon, Kent, and go ashore. I won’t flee from a little sea-blindness!”
Kent made his way to the rail and watched the island through his blurred vision as they approached. It was broad and flat and lifeless. He couldn’t make out either the southern island or the sun clearly, as his eyes began to burn and redden. Soon they dared not approach the island any closer, so Smith ordered the anchor dropped a suitable distance offshore.
Captain Smith had the crew gathered abaft and addressed them. “I have decided to send a party of men ashore to explore this island, and find the cause for these weird lights. I shall be in charge of this party, and the rest will stay behind at the ship. Now, who is willing to venture ashore?” At this, the men began to mutter lowly between themselves. At length, a voice spoke up.
“Captain!” One of the crew, a man named Jason Black, stepped forward. “Most of the crew don’t want any part of this island. It’s not something honest men should go poking at. If you go messing around in things like this,” he nodded towards the island, “there’s nothing but harm going to come of it.”
The crew seemed to be in consensus, and Kent began to suspect that a mutiny was brewing, but another voice spoke up, that of Lees, the lookout. “Jason, when you and the others signed up for this voyage you were all set for adventure and exploring. The captain has seen more than his share of the world, and if he’s not scared of this, then neither am I. I’ll go with Captain Smith, even if I’m the only one!” With that he joined Kent and Smith before the group, who continued to favor Jason’s opinion. No one else stepped forward.
“Very well, then. I shall go and explore this island with Kent and Lees.” Then, looking at Black, “I shall deal with your lack of enthusiasm later. Now, prepare to lower the boat.”
Soon thereafter Lees was rowing the ship’s boat towards the island. The haze of the midday sun bore down upon them, and Kent found it difficult to make out the shore. The captain sat in the dory, cursing the crew and the island beneath his breath. They arrived at the shoreline and stepped out onto warm, black sands. They pulled the boat high out of the water, and headed inland, occasionally stumbling on unseen rocks. Kent’s vision became worse and worse, and their progress slowed and became more arduous with each step. The heat waves blurred his vision almost completely, making it difficult to see the terrain in front of him. As they plodded forward the blinding alien color became stronger, and it became more and more difficult to continue. Kent had to fight the need to rest. He began to wonder why he had ever signed on with the insane captain Smith. His feet seemed leaden, and his very soul was dead tired. At length the captain ordered a halt and collapsed to the ground.
After a moment, captain Smith asked Lees to go forward a bit, to see if anything could be seen, but not to go far. The lookout continued on, and was gone from sight almost immediately. Kent sat down near Smith and rubbed his burning eyes in vain. They weren’t having any luck in finding an explanation for the bizarre color, and he was about to suggest that they return to the ship when he heard Lees cry out in fear. He forced himself to his feet and joined the captain in stumbling towards the sounds.
Kent outpaced the older captain, who continued to stumble behind him as Lees’ yells turned to pain-maddened screams. Kent continued to rush forward, and suddenly came upon a scene of sheerest terror. Before him stood a huge monster, which had attacked the seaman. The beast stood half again as tall as Kent, and looked vaguely bear-like. However, it was covered with thick black scales, and its eyes were faceted like those of an insect. In those eyes burned a searing flame of that color which Kent knew was from hell itself. The beast had ripped off Lees’ right arm, and held him by his left. Kent tried to master the screaming fear which was building up inside him, but he knew that Lees was already beyond rescue.
Suddenly, from Kent’s left, captain Smith staggered forward and into the beast, which turned and sent a powerful taloned fist in a wide arc towards the old man’s head. Kent leaped forward and tackled Smith, taking him backwards and out of the range of the monster’s blow. On the ground, the captain immediately turned and ran, crouching low to the ground. Kent followed, trying to keep within sight of his superior.
After several minutes of blindly stumbling away, they began to slow their retreat, but suddenly the beast came down from above them. As he rolled to his left, Kent thought he caught a glimpse of leathery wings behind the beast. Again the two ran in the direction they guessed the ship lie, although now they did not slow their pace.
Kent was never sure how long they stumbled around the island in their color- and fear-blinded madness. Finally, they came upon the black sands of the beach, and followed it until they came upon the Victory Chimes’ boat, which they quickly launched and returned to ship. There Jason Black stood on the deck, waiting.
“Where is your friend Lees, captain?”
Smith didn’t even answer him, but began giving orders to weigh anchor and unfurl the sails. Kent looked at the seaman and said “Lees is dead.” Apparently the sailor saw something strange in Kent’s eyes, for he turned and began making ready to sail without further inquisition.
Despite the onset of darkness, the VC made its way away from the island and set a southwesterly course. The captain retreated to his cabin and left Kent standing orders to continue on their present course until they reached the islands of Bichu. Through the night Kent reflected on the event, and thanked Mitra that no one else had been killed by the hell-spawned monster.
The westward voyage had been a tiring one for Kent. They had spent forty five days sailing southwest from the arctic islands, and Kent had begun to understand why so few ships had made the crossing to Bichu. He had not imagined there could be so much empty sea in the entire world. The captain had remained isolated in his cabin, leaving the command of the Victory Chimes to young Kent, who was somewhat angered that Smith hadn’t turned out to be the brave adventurer he had been portrayed as in the now distant stories of his youth in Dargon.
He gazed westward towards their destination, the mystical land known as Bichu. Nothing broke the endless horizon, which completely encircled them, blue upon blue. He had known of men who had gone insane upon long voyages. They had stared at that unchanging horizon so long that they were convinced that it was not the horizon at all, but a tapestry hung to deceive them, and that it was closing in on them. His thoughts were interrupted as Jason Black climbed up to the poop to speak with him.
“Any idea when we’ll see land, Victor?”
“Not yet. Maybe a week or so. Can’t be much more.”
The seaman looked down nervously for a moment, then faced the mate straight on. “Kent… you’re a good mate. You know that the skipper isn’t fit to command a ship. All he’s done on this voyage is sit in his cabin and drink. He had us bring him another keg of brandy this morning. And when he hasn’t been drunk, he’s led us into trouble.”
“Oh?” Kent knew that Black didn’t trust the captain, but to speak this way, he must have friends who felt the same way. The crewman read his expression perfectly.
“Most of the crew are with me. They saw what happened to men who trust the captain – men like Lees, rest his soul. Now we know you’re an able commander, and we aren’t going to die for the captain’s mistakes. You obviously should be in charge of the ship.”
Kent’s thoughts raced. The captain obviously was not capable of command under these circumstances, but Black was asking him to lead an outright mutiny against the captain who was the hero of every seafaring story in Dargon! “Look, Jason. I don’t want you boys doing anything. Let it be for now – the captain isn’t doing us any harm so long as he’s in his cabin. I want to talk to him myself. Can you keep the crew from doing anything?”
“That I can do, at least for a while.” With that, Black elbowed Kent in the stomach and stepped down towards the bows, leaving the mate wondering if it had been a gesture of friendship or of warning.
Kent stood at the door to captain Smith’s cabin. He had thought out what he was going to say to the aging captain, and all he had left to do was to gather his nerves and say his piece. After a few moments of silently wishing that the problem would resolve itself, he rapped upon the wooden door. From within a response came, and Victor Kent opened the door and stepped inside.
Smith’s cabin was a mess. Of course, Kent had seen it before and wondered at it, but as he thought about it, he realized that captain Smith had lived in the same room for probably more than twenty years. Spending that much time in one place, one could expect a man’s home to be cluttered. Smith sat in an upholstered chair, a goblet of brandy close by, idly gazing at a huge chart upon the port bulkhead. The chart showed the explored lands, and Kent had spent as much time as possible examining it, using the excuse of plotting their course. Smith looked up at Kent and motioned to another similar chair which stood back to the wall with the chart.
Kent sat down, dreading what must come. At length he began. “Captain Smith, the crew has asked me to come talk with you.” At this, Smith’s attention became focused. “They feel that you haven’t properly commanded this voyage, and that you’ve spent too much time in your cabin. They think you made some bad decisions back at those islands.”
“And they’ve asked you to mention this to me?” Smith countered. “And what do you think?”
Kent hadn’t considered his own feelings, but he tried to put them into words. “Well, you’re not the leader I thought you’d be when I signed on in Dargon. You certainly haven’t lived up to your reputation for wisdom.”
Smith leapt up angrily and paced back and forth through the room, thrashing the air with his arms. “Damn it! I left Dargon to get away from those asinine rumors! Can’t you people just let me be?” The captain, recovering from this violent emotional explosion, sat back down again. “Well, I suppose you’re right. I was hoping when we set out that it would be different, but I guess it’s true.” The captain paused, and Kent wanted to speak, but he hardly knew what to say. Eventually Smith went on. “Let me tell you a story. I have never told this to anyone, but I suspect that it would be appropriate to tell you now.” The captain looked old and tired as he drained his goblet and motioned for Kent to fill it from a decanter on the table.
“Many years ago, I got my first command. I had been working as a scribe before that, but I knew a friend in the harbormaster’s office, and I asked him to see if he could get me a ship to command, despite my lack of experience or training. He finally came through, and I was offered a position as captain of a patrol sloop called the Victory Chimes. It wasn’t this ship, mind you, it was smaller and older. So I went about my duties of stopping suspicious vessels, and so forth.
“It was during the annual summer Festival that it happened. A pirate who called himself Soloman Banshee stole the Bard’s Crown, which had been given to the winner of the minstrelry tournament for the past, oh, fifty years.” Kent knew the object, for it was the centerpiece of one of the most important events of the Festival. He also recognized the story as the one where Smith had rescued the crown. However, he did not interrupt Smith, as it might cause another outburst, and Victor was intrigued at the possibility of hearing the tale in the captain’s words.
“At the time I was at sea, patrolling the northern coastline. My mate saw Banshee’s ship sailing northwards. They apparently saw us at the same time, for they abruptly changed their course to put plenty of space between us and them. My mate, a strong lad named Larson, urged me to attack Banshee’s ship, telling me that no pirate would run from such a small craft unless he had something precious and illegal on board, but I was afraid, and I gave the order to hold our course, despite the oath I took as a patrol commander.” This was something Kent hadn’t heard in the folk tales. Indeed, the truth was not quite the same as the myth.
“That afternoon a storm blew up, and that night was a long and difficult one. Early in the morning the ship ran hard aground on a rocky headland that had gone unseen. In the morning, she lay hard on her side during low tide. I ordered the ship abandoned and struck out southward, hoping to come to a village.
“Near noontime, Larson came back from scouting ahead. He had a sword wound on his left arm, but his face was sheer ecstasy. He told us that he had come across Soloman Banshee’s camp, and dispatched the only sentry there. Then he slowly drew forth from his cloak the silver Bard’s Crown.
“We all wondered what to do, for surely Banshee would be back, and would miss the crown. Despite other advice, I decided to take the camp and wait for the pirates, and either destroy them or bring them to justice. We set up our camp in the middle of theirs, but failed to notice their arrival that evening. I was sitting by the fire, watching Larson pick over the food at the pirates’ table, when Banshee slashed his back open from behind. I grabbed the pouch beside me, which contained the Bard’s Crown, and ran like mad, while my crewmen were cut down behind me.”
Captain Smith paused, his hollow eyes staring blankly at the floor. Kent sensed that Smith’s reputation wasn’t completely deserved, and it appeared that the very event which caused his notoriety had not been one of bravery, but of cowardice. Smith took a long draught of brandy and continued.
“I finally reached a village and bought a horse. When I returned to Dargon, the Festival was still going, and I was received as a hero. I was granted honorary barddom by the College of Bards, and Lord Dargon himself insisted that he build me a beautiful ship, which is this ship, the VC that everyone knows.
“And so I was a hero to the people of Dargon. The tale grew more and more preposterous each month. The Victory Chimes was built, and I sailed ordinary voyages, but the legend couldn’t be stopped. The following year I overheard a story in a bar that I had come across a chase between a pirate drumond and a merchant galley. The person had mistaken my name for that of Simon Salamagundi, who had actually done that.” Kent started, and Smith noticed it. “Yes, Simon Salamagundi the stew vendor. He was one fine captain. Do you remember the story about a captain tricking a pirate king into forming an alliance with Dargon?”
Kent nodded. The story he had heard said that that captain had been Gordon Smith.
The old man frowned. “No, that was Salamagundi, too. My legend is a myth. It doesn’t exist. I have never been a brave or wise man, I fear.”
“Then why did you undertake this exploration voyage?”
The captain sat silently for a moment before answering. “Well, at first I thought that after all these years, maybe I could command men and a ship, and maybe do something good. Maybe after all these years, I could do something to deserve that reputation. Now I know better. But, I had another reason, as well.”
Kent looked puzzled.
“I can’t live in Dargon forever. I am a folk legend, not a man, and legends do not go out quietly. When we dock in Bichu, I will stay there, and live out my days there quietly and in peace, without young men looking at me as if I was a god.”
“And what of the ship? And what of the crew? We want to return to Dargon!”
“And so you shall, Kent. When I leave you in Bichu, I will turn over the command and ownership of the Victory Chimes to you. You’ve commanded her well on this voyage, and she deserves a better owner than I.” Kent could hardly believe his ears. Here was his childhood hero, saying openly that he wasn’t a hero at all, and now the old man suggested that he would be given the ship of his dreams as soon as they made port! Kent tried to find words to say, but realized he wasn’t even sure what he was feeling. “But… what will we tell people when we return to Dargon?”
Smith smiled slightly. “Just tell them that I stayed behind in Bichu. They will find a fitting ending to the story of Captain Gordon Smith themselves, no matter what you tell them. He will die as a lord in Bichu, or lost in some foreign land.”
Kent spent a long moment in thought.
“I’m sorry, Captain Smith. I understand now. I’ll let you know when we make landfall.”
With that, he struggled to the door and left Captain Smith, a man broken by his own legend.
The Victory Chimes lay up next to a large pier on the shore of Bichu, a mythical land with ways very unlike those of Dargon. They had been there almost a week, and the crew had enjoyed the time on land, but Kent knew that they would soon be restless to return home. They had been told that Smith was to remain in Bichu, which drew some odd looks, but no one had protested.
Gordon Smith stood upon the wooden pier with the young captain, Victor Kent. Smith noticed that Kent had matured since the time when he had stepped aboard the VC to talk with Smith about being first mate for the voyage, and he was satisfied that Kent would make a fine captain. They said respectful farewells, and the young man boarded the ship and cast off.
Smith stood upon the pier, watching the ship he had never felt he deserved move effortlessly from the port and towards her home, and he felt good. Perhaps he had finally accomplished something right, something worthy of a legend. With a deep sigh, he turned away from the slowly receding Victory Chimes and from the legend of Captain Gordon Smith, and walked quietly away.