Suggested by: Suzanne Wdowik
Name: Will (I instinctively trust all Wills)
Time: sunset (as in the picture), I'm picturing some time in the past for some reason
Place: Purgatory (or something similar)
Object: a sextant, very ornate and beautiful but maybe a bit rusted
"Leaving The Bottle"
Will nearly tumbled out of his perch at the shout. His hands gripped the nearest line just in time. He glanced over at the crow's nest, just level with the hanging net in which he now sat. Goffrey winked at him and gave a little salute. Will snorted and began swinging over to the mast. The lookout never tired of reminding the cabin boy how little attention Will actually paid to the ship anymore. His bare toes gripped the wood as he picked his way down to the deck, where all hands milled about, preparing to cast anchor and trim the sails.
"Will!" A deep voice coughed his name over the hubbub. First Mate Lance broke away from the group securing the loose rigging and beckoned to the boy.
"Cap'n wants ya."
Will nodded and headed for the captain's quarters at the stern. He stopped to brush his feet on the rug nailed to the deck before the door. The captain was a fastidious man.
Will knocked on the door.
"Come in!" A rough voice barked.
He scurried inside. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Captain Lawrence Markham squinted at him from behind the desk. He had a map of the world spread out before him, with every island depicted and each port marked unfriendly or friendly. A compass laid out in the middle of The Sea pointed due west, toward the island of Brina, where they had done trade before. Will could guess, from what he knew of Captain Markham's methods, that this was the harbor they neared.
Will watched the man behind the desk carefully.
Markham was by no means portly, but burly, and round. The great, flowing, curly black beard was the first thing Will remembered, in his early days as a wee toddler aboard the Philomena. How it had stayed so black and thick over the last twenty years remained a closely-guarded mystery. Some of the sailors said he used tar to keep the black color.
"Will?" Keen green eyes grabbed his attention. "I wanted to ask you something, and I want your honest answer. Can I trust you?"
Will nodded. "Of course, sir."
The captain pressed his fingertips together like the steep roof of the chapel on Norburn. "What would you do if I gave you your whole cut right now and said you were a free man?"
The idea struck Will with a force that seemed to empty him. Where he was warm, he felt cold; all semblance of coherent thought vanished. "Leave the ship?" He spluttered.
The captain nodded. "Twenty years is a fair term of service; more than half my crew has changed twice in the time that you've been here."
Will felt the emptiness slowly fill with anxiety; why was the captain sending him away from the only life he had known? "But my father—"
"Was a good man, and served his time," the captain sighed, raising his glass to the memory of the late Richard Bonaparte, his first mate till the fateful raid that spared a battle in which Rick had met his maker. "But you," he pointed a finger at the fresh face standing before him. "You are your own man, Will Bonaparte. If I say you owe no fealty to the Philomena, you are a free man. What would you do with your time? Where would you go?"
Will rubbed the back of his neck in thought, and his hand slid over to his cheek. "Well, there is one thing I have always wondered..."
The green eyes lit up as the thick beard shifted over a wide grin. "Go on," Markham prompted.
"I would probably book passage to sail to Caverness," said Will. He felt the captain had a right to know; growing up without a mother, his father had died when he was very young, so Lawrence had stepped in to raise the young man as best he could. Will knew and trusted the captain as much as the captain knew and trusted him.
The anticipation dimmed somewhat. "What is in Caverness? Why there?"
Will grinned. "I saw a girl there, and she looked very nice. I didn't get to ask her name, though, and I have thought about her quite a bit since that day."
The only indication of Markham's raised eyebrow was the temporary disappearance of the narrow line of skin separating his scalp from his face. "Quite a lot, eh?"
His tone wasn't intimidating in the least, and Will knew his admission was perfectly acceptable, but he couldn't restrain the violent rush of vermillion crawling over his face. "Yes, sir; if I wasn't on this ship, I would probably like to find her again, and settle down somewhere like Finnegan, with it's good climate and secure economy—if she'll have me."
The captain stroked his beard. Finally, he let out a heavy sigh. "I have been watching you work for some time, Will," he said heavily. "And part of me was afraid you would say something like that."
Will felt the rising warmth of his body suddenly cool. "Afraid?" He nearly tripped over the word. "Why?"
The captain stood and reached toward his desk. "Will, my boy, there's something you should know; I—"
A knock interrupted him. Derwin popped his head into the cabin.
"Beg pardon, captain," he nodded. "We're moored in the harbor, and Sir Grandmire and his company have arrived."
Captain Markham nodded. "I will be out presently."
Derwin nodded and withdrew.
Will, in the meantime, felt his heart hammering in his chest. Captain Markham came around the desk and clapped a rough, calloused hand on his shoulder.
"Meet me over supper," he said. "I swear I will tell you everything before the sun sets today."
Will nodded, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut. What would the captain have to say? What was he hiding in his desk?
Will jumped to his feet, sending the plate of roast flying into the air.
“My mother?” he screamed.
Captain Lawrence nodded. “It was a mistake I made, stealing from that woman; I roped your father into it, too, so we both had a price to pay: the world, Will—the real world—is not all islands and sea and harbors and pirates. You could probably spend the rest of your life out there and never see the sea again.”
The words scrambled in the poor boy’s brain; first the captain he trusted so implicitly tells him that his mother, whom he had assumed died in childbirth, is in fact still alive and unaware of his continued existence—then the man tries to convince him that the whole world was in fact some kind of enchanted Purgatory, contained inside something no bigger than a bottle, a prison fashioned expressly for two men.
“Your father’s punishment was to be separated from his wife for the rest of his life; your mother’s was never knowing if her son would survive.”
Will stared at Captain Lawrence as if looking at a stranger. “And what was yours?”
The captain sighed and pulled out a device Will knew well. “My punishment was this.”
Will still stood stiffly beside the table. “Your sextant?” he asked. It lay between them, decorated with ornate scrollwork, yet slightly rusted from use.
“What makes you say it’s mine?” Markham replied.
Will shrugged. “I’ve seen it on your desk many times,” he said, “but you—“
“Have never used it,” Markham nodded. He picked it up and held it out to the young man. “You see that mark there?” he pointed to the compass.
Will took the device and examined it. “Why have you marked that heading?”
Captain Markham sighed. “It wasn’t me who marked it. I woke up inside this bottle—yes, Will, I said bottle—with nothing but the sextant and a ship coming toward the island to treat me like their marooned captain in need of rescue. When you’re ready to believe me, son, take that sextant and find that heading.”
Will regarded the captain dubiously. “What will I see?”
Markham smirked ruefully. “You will see the outside world. That was my punishment; I had the power to know that there was more, but I could never regain what had been lost.” He pointed at Will. “But you have no such regret. You’ve only done right by everyone your entire life. My punishment is just; it should not fall on you.”
So that’s why the captain was sending him away. Will could almost hear the sound of breaking glass as his whole world came crumbling down in that moment. “But, Captain Markham, I—“
“Go!” the captain thundered. “Get out of here!”
Will clutched the sextant tightly as he ducked out of the cabin.
The sun hung golden on the horizon as Will shifted the knapsack on his shoulder. The sextant rested in his hands. Trembling, he adjusted the compass to the marked heading. Raising the telescope to his eye, he stared out into the sky.
A cry escaped his lips as he nearly dropped the sextant. For a moment, he gazed around the ship to remind himself where he stood. His mind fought to comprehend what his eye had seen: tall blades of grass, higher than mountains, with tree roots like massive cliffs. Through a curved, glassy lens, he had seen the monstrous form of a gargantuan blue jay. But how? Did the captain expect him to rejoin a world in which humans were so very obviously minuscule? Why couldn’t he remain where everything was his own size? Gulping down his fear, Will steeled himself and raised the sextant again. This time, he saw the treetops, far in the distance, and a small patch of the sky. In the center of the sky beyond, a single star appeared.
The ground beneath him quivered, and Will’s concentration broke—but he was no longer on the ship. He sat on the ground, sextant in his hand, in the very forest he had been looking at. A blue jay--small enough to fit into his hand--chirped as it flew over his head. A bottle rested on the ground beside him. Will crouched down to get a better look. He could see water inside it, and the tiny form of a ship sailing away to some imperceptible distance, into a sunset so much smaller than the one over Will.
He had made it out of Purgatory. He could find his mother. Will left the bottle where it lay, as he walked down the path that would lead him out of the forest.
Previously In This Series:
Crossover Parts: "Rendezvous" (SM 6/SL 2) "The Viking and the Lore-Master" (SM 9/SL 4)
#26 "The Tides of Battle"
#1 "Red of Morning"