The Forbidden Sands
PIRATES OF THE SEVEN SEAS
THE FORBIDDEN SAND
Captain William McNeal
People will talk about Black Beard and Captain Kid and many others. But there is one most have forgotten: Captain William McNeal. The reason people stayed far away from him is because he was Irish and had a typical Irish temper. His ship, the Centaur, stolen from Captain James Norington, was an English military vessel that was very fast. Moreover, it was said to be the most powerful ship in all the seven seas. William McNeal’s goal was to go to an island called Richontor. Whoever went on the sand of that place was never seen again.
“You want me ship to sail to that bloody island and discover what’s go’n on!” shouted McNeal
“Aye that’s what I’m talk’n about.” Duvall, the first mate of the famous captain John Horner, replied, in a level tone.
“Gory, you must be crazy.” said McNeal with an expression somewhere between one of anger and astonishment.
“William, what I hear is that there is some booty hidden there. Your share will be eighty percent, if you get it” Duvall repeated.
“Well if that’s the case, I agree. Gory! Eighty percent! And no one knows how much is there!” said the overwhelmed captain.
“Do we have a deal, then?” Duvall asked, anxious to be sure that McNeal would not reconsider this rash decision to sail to such a mysterious place. But, he thought, he must have spoken too soon after all; McNeal was even now voicing doubts.
“Wait just one moment, mate! How is it that you have heard about this loot, when all the world’s been told no one ever returned alive from that place?!”
Jack Duvall hated William McNeal. With all his heart he wished never to see him alive again. He had been hoping against hope that McNeal would not catch the slip. But he had. Desperate measures were called for. Drawing a pistol from his belt and pointing it at McNeal, Duvall said slowly “One step closer would be the end of you, William McNeal. I’ve been looking for you throughout the seven seas, and now I’ve got you, you won’t slip away.”
Completely surprised, the Irish captain exclaimed “What have I ever done to you?! Who are you, anyway?!”
In the same low, menacing voice, Duvall replied “If every man who had ever lost a brother or a friend to you were hunting you, McNeal, a thousand men would be coming down on this ship at this moment. Count yourself fortunate that there is only one. Now, we were speaking of treasure.”
Glancing at the pistol to avoid meeting Duvall’s gaze, McNeal replied “I reckon I’ll have to go along, then. But remember, my share is eighty percent.”
“Yes. If you survive. Only a brave and cunning captain could survive Richontor. But I must say, I don’t believe you’re one of those.”
“You don’t, eh?” McNeal replied, growing more furious by the second. Suddenly, there was a pistol in his hand and he had fired, sending the bullet clean through Duvall’s own gun and causing it to explode in his hand.
Letting the pistol butt fall from his burned hand, Duvall screamed “You’ve ruined me! What good am I to anybody now! John Horner will be after you for this!”
McNeal had now become calm once more, for the first time since Duvall had told him of the treasure. “If, as you say, a thousand men are hunting me, one more will make little difference. Men!”
At the last word, several men on watch on the deck came running into the cabin. Gesturing toward Duvall, McNeal said dismissively “Keep this man under guard. And pay him for that hand.”
As the men left, holding Duvall by both arms, McNeal sat down at the ornate desk in his cabin. Looking at a chart he had been drawing throughout his wide-spread travels, he noticed a new place, situated in the Pacific Ocean, which had been drawn and labeled by a different hand. Then he remembered the moment when, Duvall, while making his offer, had bent down and drawn that spot on the map, to point out where it lay.
“Ah… That man knows more of the place than he would care to tell me, but he will be a help to me after all.” thought McNeal, leaning back in his chair and gazing up at the ceiling of his cabin, dreaming of the untold riches of Richontor and scheming to get not just eighty percent, but all of it.
Later that day, McNeal went ashore, heading in the direction which lead to his favorite tavern, the Leprechaun’s Gold. It was a haven for unsavory characters. Most especially unsavory Irishmen like himself. It was there that he had picked up most of his crew, as he had little trust in hands who were not fellow Irishmen. The effect of his reputation could be felt and heard as soon as he came through the door.
“Best move aside. It’s McNeal…”
“…liable to kill ye for looking at him…”
“Nobody move ‘till he’s said his piece. We all know he only comes in here when he’s got news.”
Knowing the men were remaining silent in anticipation of his words did not give McNeal cause to accelerate his pace across the floor. He maintained his pace, seating himself at a table at the far end of the room, where he had his back to the wall and could watch the other occupants of the room. Clapping a gold piece down upon the table, he called “Bring up your best ale, man! And be quick about it!”
As the host hurried off to the cellar, McNeal rose from his place and called to the collective assembly “I need men! Who’ll join up with William McNeal and the swiftest ship in all the seven sea?!”
Several voices rose as McNeal quaffed a large amount of the ale which had been brought to him. Slamming it down on the table, once more, he counted the hands which had been raised. “Ten. I need more! Or are the rest of ye all cowards?!”
Faced with a demand like this, no man could keep his hand down, lest he be branded a coward by his mates. With one voice, the crowd replied “We’re with ye, Captain McNeal! Wither are we bound?”
Draining his tankard, McNeal sprang upon the table. Drawing his sword, a long saber, which was a sword most pirates shunned, he pointed it at the door of the tavern, shouting “Richontor! A place no man has ever returned from! Why do so many venture there? Because, it’s been said, there are untold riches waiting there for the first men clever enough to survive that accursed place! And I aim to be the captain of the crew which claims the treasure!” Leaping down from the table, he charged out of the building, followed by the rest of the seamen who had lately been patronizing the place.
When McNeal had regained the deck of his ship once more, his first mate immediately came up to him where he stood near the starboard rail and reported “The prisoner is secure in the lower deck, Captain.” Looking around at the new men who were streaming over the railing, the mate inquired “And what are all those men boarding us for? Should we not be resisting?”
“They are here because I wanted them. We’ll need them where we are going. Tell the crew to set the sails. We leave on the tide.”
The tide came up only an hour later, and Captain William McNeal and the Centaur, with nearly forty extra men and a prisoner below the deck, sailed out of Glasgow harbor under all sails, bound for Richontor, the isle of the forbidden sand.
One week out of Glasgow, as the Centaur was lying becalmed off the southern coast of Ireland, McNeal was aroused from his thoughts by cries from the deck of “Sail ho! Two points off the port bow, and coming in quickly!”
Jumping out of his chair, McNeal rushed out on deck. “Can you see their flag?”
“Aye, sir! I can just make it out! It’s Captain Jack Maturin of the brotherhood!”
“Jack Maturin, eh? Pull alongside and ask if he’s not afraid to make the voyage to Richontor.”
At this, McNeal’s mate came up to him and asked “Really? I have never heard that you would ever share your wealth with any other captains.”
“I have never wished to travel to Richontor before this. I shall need all the men I can get to be sure that some survive. But do not worry. I do not plan to share the treasure with any but my own crew, as the laws dictate.”
By this time, the Centaur was within hailing distance of Maturin’s vessel, the Destroyer. Taking the speaking trumpet from the mate, McNeal called to the crew of the other ship. “Destroyer ho! I’ll have words with your Captain!”
At a sign of acknowledgement from the other ship, McNeal lowered the speaking trumpet and spoke to his mate once more. “Bring another bottle of the good wine to my cabin. Brandy, too if he won’t take the wine. And tell the cook to double my midday meal.”
Saluting, the mate left his captain’s presence to comply.
Only a minute later, McNeal spied the Destroyer’s cutter coming across the space between the ships. Scarcely another minute had passed before McNeal’s fellow captain, Jack Maturin, stood on the deck of the Centaur. Immediately, McNeal began making a show of enjoying Maturin’s presence. “Come, my friend! You must sit with me awhile in my cabin while we exchange our news. I trust you had a successful expedition?”
Maturin, who was slightly more than six feet in height, as thin as a man could be while retaining perfect health, and wore his light brown hair down to his shoulders, did not seem nearly as cheerful as McNeal. “I do not have the time for that now. I have come, not as a friend, but simply as a fellow captain of the brotherhood, for aid against a common enemy.”
“An enemy? What ship could oppose my Centaur? You are safe on board this ship, my friend.”
“How many guns do you carry?”
“At this moment, there are two British frigates of eighty guns chasing my ship. There they are now.”
At this, McNeal suddenly grew apprehensive. The Centaur can stand and fight against any one ship, mate, but two is not to her liking. We’d best cut and run.”
“What shall we do for my ship and men, though?”
“Nothing we can do. We’ll be surrounded and blown out the water if we tarry here. You can swim back to your ship if you like. Or stay aboard and sail for Richontor.” McNeal added slyly.
Richontor? The isle no one has ever come back alive from?”
“Exactly. There’s treasure for the taking by the first man to survive that isle. And I aim to be the man. But I’ll give you a share if you come along. Come into my cabin, where I can explain over a bottle of wine. Cut the cable, men!”
As McNeal’s crew began to set the sails to flee from the British men o’ war, their captain settled himself into his cabin with his reluctant guest, Jack Maturin. “Now, I tell you, man!” McNeal exclaimed as he opened the bottle of wine. “You must be of good cheer! You are a guest aboard the swiftest eighty gun frigate on the ocean. We will not be caught. And you are on your way to untold riches.”
Maturin remained sullen and morose. “You are keeping me as a captive. You forced me to remain here instead of returning to my own men in their time of need. Why should I be cheerful?”
“Must I remind you? You are bound for the riches of Richontor! If you will only stop complaining, you’ll be rich enough to forget that ship and get yourself anything you wish! Even a respectable life! A lot of money in the right places can do wonders!”
Heaving himself off of McNeal’s hammock, Maturin replied “If you must. Where is the brandy? I don’t take wine. Awful French swill.”
Producing a tankard which he had kept hidden, McNeal agreed “Precisely my opinion, my friend. I drink good Irish ale, and don’t tell my crew that I only pour this on my meat. The meat needs something to soften it up before it’s fit for my consumption.”
Nearly an hour later, after McNeal and Maturin had feasted on the best of the stores, Maturin’s mood improved visibly. “So, McNeal, you are bound for Richontor?”
“Yes. And I am going to bring back the treasure, too.”
“What makes you so sure that you will accomplish what so many others have failed to do?”
“Two reasons.” McNeal replied, after swallowing another swig of ale. “I am William McNeal, and I know something others don’t.” He leaned back slowly, allowing a wide smile to make its way across his face while Maturin watched silently. Suddenly Maturin grew curious and snapped at the bait which McNeal had left dangling in front of his face.
“What do you know, that the rest of us don’t know! It should be enough for you that you have command of the finest ship throughout the brotherhood!”
Rising from his chair, McNeal leaned forward and whispered a few words into Maturin’s ear. At the sound, Maturin grew cheerful once more. “Yes. Yes. It would be the summit of my career to succeed in such a feat. He is a popular man among the brotherhood. Too popular for us…. I’m with you to the death!”
Turning to go back on deck, McNeal thought to himself “To the death, yes. To the death of whom, we shall see…”
It was not until nearly two weeks later that McNeal’s came across a prize he considered worthy to be captured by him. Pointing it out to Maturin after the lookout had informed him of its presence, he said “Now feast your eyes on that little ship, mate. By the stone of Saint Patrick, there ain’t a finer ship on the water, save my own! We shall capture her!” Turning away from the rail on the quarterdeck where he had been standing, he called out “Hard to port! Set the stunsails! We’ll have that ship if we must chase it until up is down!”
Several hours later, they had come no closer to the elusive ship. It was then that the wind changed, and allowed the Centaur the weather-gage. “All sail she’ll bear!” cried McNeal, delighted with this sudden turn. “Before you can say ‘belay’, we shall cross her bows and rake her!”
“Belay.” Said Maturin quietly. He had been silent until now, staring out at the prize he would soon call his own. Hearing what he said, McNeal only laughed again, so exhilarated was he by the speed of his ship.
“Heave the log!” he called. “I have never yet stretched this ship to it’s utmost speed, and this as good a time as any!”
A few moments later, after the log had been heaved, he heard the cry. “Ten knots, and we ain’t set our royals nor is the mizzen completely unfurled!”
“Well then unfurl it, me hearties! We’ve got a prize to catch!” By this time, they were within one thousand yards of the enemy, nearly within the range of true aim.
Looking through his glass again, McNeal was startled. “They’ve hauled their wind and stopped, mate! They mean to fight with us!”
Just then, a ball came whistling over his head. “They must have some chasers, testing their aim. Another hundred yards and I’m sure we’ll smash them! Cowards! They’re turning and running again!”
Now, the chase was tacking, apparently attempting to come up under McNeal’s stern and shoot away his steering. He immediately called out “Leave the Main, Fore, and Mizzen sails, but bring all others down! Unship the larboard guns and bring her about!” Turning to Maturin, he added “If they want close action, they shall have close action! We shall blow them out of the water!”
“You are not to damage it. It shall be my ship.”
“Did I say it would be your ship? I did not. I said I would sink it. You are going on to Richontor, or dying where you stand the next time you dislike my orders!”
When he turned back to the working of the ship, McNeal was startled again. His ship was not in the position he had ordered; the enemy ship had come up so fast that it had cut across the Centaur’s wind from behind. The Centaur had missed it’s stay with the sudden slackening of the sails. A moment later, he heard the thundering broadside of the opposing ship.
But Captain McNeal was not done yet. Even though his steering would no longer answer, he was still dangerous. “Run out all the guns! Give ‘em both decks when they turn to cut across our bow! William McNeal strikes his colors to no man!”
The order had not come a moment to soon. In the next minute, the other ship was tacking, gaining steerage way to come across the centaur’s side and fire once more. But McNeal was ready for them this time. As the enemy began his maneuver, waiting till he was alongside the center of the pirate before firing, McNeal passed the order that the guns were to fire in succession, aiming at masts and spars.
Within moments, the firing had begun. It was over only two mines later. When the smoke had cleared, McNeal could see that his gunners had shot away the jib boom, and the enemy’s fore- and mizzen-masts had sustained heavy damage. The foremast especially. It hung over the side at an odd angle, and the enemy crew was busy chopping it away as fast as they could manage.
“They will not get away.” McNeal remarked to Maturin. “I have all the time I could wish to send my men over their side and finish them.”
“They will yet be manning their guns. They will sink your men before they get halfway there.”
“True. I had not thought of that.” Turning to a man standing nearby, McNeal added “Go below and tell them to load grape this time. Sweep the deck. Full broadside.”
Five minutes later, after three or four broadsides of grape had swept the deck, McNeal spoke again. “We will meet no resistance this time, my friend. We had best go aboard our prize, to see about repairs to both of my vessels.”
“Why do you insist that I will not command this ship? You can not command two ships! Or are you afraid of what I might do if you give me a command!”
“William McNeal fears no man, even less what any man does. I choose not give you a ship. That should be enough for you. Unless you wish that your days should end now?”
“Do you whish your days to end now?” Maturin shouted growing angrier by the second.
“Let me put it this way, my friend.” replied McNeal, staring out at the ship in question. “If I were to give you that ship, I have no doubt that you would turn around and sail back where you came from and proceed to tell every brotherhood captain you met of the untold riches of Richontor, causing every brethren vessel in port to promptly come sailing after me. I would not enjoy sinking our fellow captains, Maturin. What is more, you would not get a single piece of the whole trove, even if you survived the venture.”
“You know well enough that I do not have the least part of a hint concerning the location of that island, and also know enough not to send all the brethren out on a wild goose chase and, consequentially, have them all desiring me dead!”
“So it appears that you accept my offer of passage?” McNeal answered, staring out to sea in an attempt to hide the devious expression that had sprung to his face suddenly.
“I have never before met a man, of the brethren or otherwise, who would dare to call inviting an acquaintance aboard and then sailing off, like a coward, while that man’s ship sank behind him, an offer of passage! Your days are numbered, McNeal!”
“Maybe they are, but you, Maturin, are too weak to tell me just how many days I have.” McNeal walked off, calling to his lieutenant “Rouse out the topsails! Smartly now!”
As McNeal’s crew began to rouse out the sails he had ordered, Maturin, from his position on the quarterdeck, stood watching them. “I’ll teach him that no man treats Jack Maturin the way he has done and lives. But how shall I go about doing that? Ah… The brig! Exactly! None better!” Concluding this thought, Maturin promptly left the quarterdeck. Striding across to the nearest hatchway, he had soon disappeared below the deck.
Treading carefully in the darkness below the deck, Jack Maturin made his way through the ship until he reached the portion which had been set aside for the confinement of the prisoner. Approaching the sentry silently, he said “I am Captain Maturin. I have leave to speak to the prisoner.”
The sentry replied rudely, saying “A captain without a ship ain’t got leave to do anything… Sir. Maybe if you knock McNeal on the head someday, then you might have leave to act.”
“I’ve had enough of this ship. If you don’t move aside, I have leave to knock you on the head.” Maturin gritted out, letting his hand stray toward a knife he carried in his belt.
“If he matters that much, then I believe I can give you a few moments.” The sentry admitted, stepping out of the path to the door.
“I will take as long as I wish! And you will mind that you don’t hang about the door!” Without another word, Maturin pushed past the sentry and forced open the door of the prisoner’s cell.
The prisoner’s room was so small that it was nearly pitch-black, even at the height of the afternoon when the hatches were open. Maturin stood, silent and motionless, for what might have been several minutes before a voice came out of the darkness.
“What have you come for? I ain’t tellin’ you anything, so kill me now, why don’t you?”
“The reason, Jack Duvall, that I have not tried to knock you on the head already is that I am not William McNeal. I am Jack Maturin, whom McNeal treacherously held aboard this ship while my own sank not one hundred yards away.”
“I can tell by your voice that you ain’t that blackhearted coward, so as you’re someone else, what do you want from me? I haven’t got anything to give.”
“What I have come for is the only thing you have to give: information on the island of Richontor. McNeal is already suspicious of you, and has told me as much. If you tell me everything, we will be able to join forces, defeat McNeal, and keep all the treasure to ourselves. We have both suffered injustice at McNeal’s hands, and we shall make him pay. What do you say, my friend?”
“I say” replied Duvall “That you must listen carefully, for this is how to-“
“Just a moment” Maturin said, cutting Duvall off. Opening the door, he grabbed the sentry and quickly dispatched him with the knife in his belt, pulled the body into the cell, and shut the door once more. “Go on.”
Maturin returned to the main deck a great deal happier than he had been when he had left it, and remained so throughout the long weeks that followed his speech with Duvall. For he was now armed with the knowledge which would allow him to survive the forbidden sands and claim half the treasure, sharing it with Duvall. He was now just as eager as McNeal to reach the isle of Richontor as fast as the ship could carry them. Oh, that fool, McNeal! Making enemies at every turn, as he had, it was a wonder that he remained alive! But attacking and holding Duvall as a prisoner, and holding Maturin himself as a ‘guest’ on board his ship were the greatest mistakes McNeal ever made.
One day nearly three months after Duvall had revealed the secret to him, Maturin was leaning against the starboard rail, stretching his legs on the nearest cannon, his hands behind his head, when the cry that he and McNeal had been awaiting eagerly for the past week came down from the maintop. “Land ho! Two points off the port bow!”
Ah, yes. Land. Exactly where Duvall’s mark placed the isle of Richontor. Richontor. The treasure isle, which was death to any who did not hold the key. But as it happened, whatever McNeal might think, it was Maturin who now held the key to surviving the island. Yes, McNeal held the key, or had, for some time already, but to Maturin’s knowledge, had only shot it and never tried to use it for his own gain. Instead, Maturin had found Duvall and gotten the key to the island. For this reason he found it hard to restrain himself from leaping up in excitement at imminent landfall on the approaching isle.
At the same moment, McNeal was sitting at his desk in his cabin, plotting how he would foil the plans of his foes, Maturin and Duvall. Oh, yes… he knew. He had spies everywhere on board the ship. A man could not say one word against him before he knew exactly what was being said below the deck. He chuckled at the thought that Maturin and Duvall still believed their plan to be between them two alone. McNeal knew exactly what the plan was, and had his own reasons for keeping them alive. He had his own reasons for being Captain William McNeal, most wanted man on the high seas.
Calling his first mate into the cabin, he said “Maturin is planning to break Duvall out of his cell tonight, as soon as we drop anchor, is he not?”
“He is, Captain.”
“Very well then. He shall do so.”
“He will, sir? Are we not to stop him?”
“No. If I wanted you to stop him, I would have said so. My plan requires that my prisoners remain unaware that I know their plan.”
“Their plan? To do what?”
“Could you be any duller?! Their plan to kill me and take all the treasure! Get out!” McNeal shouted this last statement loudly enough that it could be heard on the maintop, where Maturin was now positioned in an attempt to spot the landmarks Duvall had told him of. “Excellent” he thought “As soon as that fool leaves, McNeal will remember that he just revealed his secret loudly enough for the whole ship to hear, and it will drive him mad. He will also know that if I was yet unaware that he knew of the plan, I would surely know now. Therefore, he will decide that I will not jump ship with Duvall tonight after all. As that is the case, I will do so anyway simply because he is no longer expecting me to.”
Following McNeal’s outburst, nothing of any consequence occurred until after dark had fallen, when the Centaur was safely moored off the coast of the fabled treasure isle of Richontor. It was then, about an hour after sundown, that Maturin decided that he had no business waiting any longer when a half share of an enormous hoard of treasure was waiting for him on the land not one hundred yards away. Therefore, he rose from his bunk, and with his unsheathed knife in his hand, stepped silently through the length of the ship until he reached Duvall’s cell. When he had reached the door, he put out his empty hand and ran it along the surface of the door until he found the keyhole. Using his left arm as a guide, he moved the blade in his other hand forward slowly until he reached the end of his arm. Sticking the knife in the hole, he gave it a swift jerk, unlocking the cell in an instant. Once inside, he whispered “I’ve come. It’s time we made our landfall.”
A dim figure limped out of the shadows toward him. “If this is our time, then this is when we make our escape and begin our revenge upon that fool McNeal. Well? What are you waiting for? Someone to find you in here?”
Without answering, Maturin strode out the door ahead of Duvall, climbed the nearest hatchway ladder, and stopped on deck to wait for him. Looking around, Maturin saw that no crewmen were within fifty feet of the opening; they could make a clean run to the side.
As soon as Duvall had emerged from the hatch, the two started the next part of their journey, which was to cross the deck to the rail without exciting the notice of the night watch. They had to move slowly, because Duvall’s long inactivity rendered his legs nearly useless in the first moments of motion. But with Maturin supporting him, Duvall reached the rail after twenty minutes of strenuous effort. Just before he leaped overboard, Maturin inquired of his companion “Can you swim?” When he saw Duvall give the negative response, Maturin replied “I will carry you, as long as you come after me.” With that, he leapt over the side into the clear water below.
Duvall mastered himself well enough to follow Maturin only an instant later. As soon as Duvall had hit the water, Maturin pulled him onto his own back and struck out for the shore. Nearly half an hour later, the two men washed up on that shore, the one exhausted by his fear of drowning, and the other exhausted twice as much by the effort of staying afloat with the added weight on his back, besides his companion’s iron grip of terror digging into his shoulders.
When they had lain on the beach for nearly twenty minutes, Maturin rose and said to the other “McNeal knows we are here. We have to find the den quickly, before morning.” Maturin pulled Duvall up onto his feet, and the two limped off toward the densely wooded center of the island.
When Maturin and Duvall landed on Richontor, They were being watched by unseen companions. They knew this was true, but it did not concern them. In fact, their only wish was to reach the point from which the watchers were observing their approach. When the two men had covered a distance of five hundred yards, and were nearing the fringe of the forest, they were stopped in their tracks by a voice which cried out “Williams. Johnson. Smith. Fire.”
Duvall had been ready for this, and he immediately replied with the proper answer. “Hold. Duvall. Friend. Maturin.”
The voice replied with nothing more than the one word. “Hold.”
Hearing this, Duvall turned to Maturin and said “We are safe now. These men are in my watch on board Captain John Horner’s vessel. They will give the same question when McNeal arrives. He has no hope of getting past them.”
The ex-prisoners of McNeal continued on past the sentries. A short time later, they came to a clearing which contained four or five one man huts built in a circle around a large firepit in the center of the space. Only steps away from the firepit, there was a circular, shield-like cover large enough for a man to fit through.
When one lifts this cover and moves it, one discovers a tunnel leading straight down, equipped with a rope ladder hanging down the side, in the manner of a ship’s hatchway. When one descends down the ladder through the shaft, one finds oneself in a large cavern, which is clearly large enough to hold five men in relative comfort in addition to the vast amount of supplies which were required to keep the men in health and safety.
As the two fugitives stood in the center of this cavern, Duvall remarked to his companion “I was the first leader of this band. I was Captain’s Horner’s most trusted officer. That is why I know where the treasure is hidden. McNeal is Captain Horner’s greatest enemy. No other man has a chance against him. I was sent aboard McNeal’s ship to convince him to do exactly what he has done; sail to Richontor in pursuit of the treasure. I did not plan to be a passenger on the Centaur any more than you did. McNeal showed why Horner fears him, when he caught the slip in my offer. “Nobody’s ever come back alive” I said. And it’s true. This island is white with the bones of less perceptive captains who accepted the offer just as I repeated it to McNeal. I did know, and I am still sure, that Captain Horner goes through ‘most trusted officers’ the way another man goes through boots. In other words, he gets a new one every year. The last thing I can tell you now is that Captain Horner returns to this island once a year, on the third night of the sixth full moon of the year.”
At the same moment that Duvall was telling Maturin all these things, McNeal was making plans aboard his ship. Half an hour since, a member of the watch had run into the cabin and said “Captain, you told us you wished to be informed shortly after the prisoners jumped ship. They just did so not half an hour ago.”
After sending the man away with the smallest of compliments in return for the message, McNeal sat down at his desk and began to lay out a scheme with which he planned to recapture Duvall, force him to reveal the treasure, and then take it all for himself. The only sticking point was the first question: How was he to go about capturing Duvall?
Later that night, McNeal called several men to his side on the deck. He spoke quickly and quietly. “Our prisoners have escaped. We must find them as fast as we are able. If we do not, we shall never find the treasure that is said to be hidden on shore. One fiftieth part of that treasure would make a man wealthy for the rest of his days. But I won’t stop there. The man who brings back the prisoner Duvall alive has a claim to a twentieth part of the whole hoard. You may do what you like with the other, Maturin.”
At the conclusion of this speech, McNeal turned back toward his cabin, calling back “Arm yourselves as you like, but don’t come back without Duvall, or Maturin, or both of them, dead or alive! If you return without them, Davy Jones’ll have to build himself an extra locker.”
As he listened with satisfaction to the sound of as many as twenty crewmen leaping overboard to wade ashore, McNeal allowed the faintest hint of a smile to flit across his face. “The fools! They never learn! Never learn that without McNeal, they are as hopeless as fish in a net. Yet they still persist in their belief that if they try harder, they will succeed... Davy Jones drives a hard bargain, but he always holds up his end of the deal, at least.” With this less than charitable thought in his mind, McNeal retired to his cabin to await the results of the expedition.
After a few moments of silence, Duvall began to move deeper into the cave. Maturin, utterly perplexed, followed a short distance behind him, calling “Where are you off to? Would it not be simpler to return to the surface?”
“Do you want the treasure, or should we go back above ground and turn ourselves into that fiend we escaped from? Follow me. I know where I’m going!”
Without wasting an instant more in speech, Maturin began to run after Duvall until he had come alongside him once more. The two men walked side by side in silence until Duvall stopped abruptly, holding the torch high above his head. The raised torchlight now illuminated the bottom part of a large rock, which had been set in a hole which had been dug very precisely, with the intent that it should remain supported by the earth, yet still be possible to remove from underneath, if one had the size and strength to do so. Drawing Maturin’s attention to it, Duvall said “Lift that, if you still have the strength. It is our only way out of this place.”
Preferring to let his actions speak for him, Maturin, who was at least six inches taller than Duvall, stepped into position directly underneath the rock and extended his arms. The hole was shallower than it seemed, which was the main reason why no one who found it would have guessed that it was the exit to a tunnel. It was but the work of a moment for Maturin to lift the rock from it’s resting place. Stopping for a moment to shade his eyes from the sunlight which was now streaming in, he turned to Duvall and asked “What’s our next move? We’re still stuck.”
Let me climb out over your back, then I will help you.”
“No you don’t. If you do that, you’ll just push the rock back over the hole and shove off.”
“Are you saying you don’t want the treasure after all?” Duvall paused as both men became aware of the sound of gunshots, faint as it was. “McNeal has already sent men after us, it seems. Soon, he will be coming himself. He was always famous for overmanning his ships. So, shall we get the treasure, or will McNeal?”
“We will.” Maturin replied sharply, moving into the center of the light shaft and bracing himself as Duvall climbed out over his back. A moment later, Duvall dropped a ladder down into the shaft.
Maturin climbed out quickly. As soon as he had reached the surface, Duvall turned and ran off, calling over his shoulder “Follow me! It’s on the coast!”
Maturin did not waste his breath in reply. In a moment, he was running alongside Duvall. They ran side by side, crashing through the underbrush of the densely forested island, until they reached the edge of the beach which fringed the island on all sides.
Duvall paused for a moment, looking for a landmark. Suddenly, he found it, a spire of rock sticking up out of then water fifteen yards off the coast. Lying down on the beach, Duvall announced “Now we wait for low tide. We will not be able to reach the treasure until then.”
In a flash, Maturin understood what Duvall meant and knew that there was nothing left for them to do but sleep to regain the strength they would need to uncover the treasure. But before closing his eyes, he turned to Duvall and and asked “Would it not be better to leave the treasure undisturbed until John Horner arrives?”
“Of course we shall leave it there. Do you think two men would be able to hide all that treasure successfully from one such as McNeal unless it was underwater?”
Several hours later, when the two men woke from their nap, they discovered that they had missed their chance. The rock that served as their landmark was uncovered, yes, but they could now see the Centaur, the most feared ship in the ocean, standing fifty yards offshore. Duvall, who had risen first, shook Maturin roughly, shouting “Quick! We must run! McNeal’s onto us!”
Getting to their feet in seconds, the two fugitives dashed off back into the forest they had struggled through only hours ago. McNeal, his glass to his eye, watched them run, laughing harder than he had in may a year. “Hahahahaha! No one escapes from McNeal! Especially here! That treasure’s as good as mine now! There are only two reasons why they would have stopped there, and then run off like scared rabbits when they caught sight of me! That treasure is either underwater or under the sand! Let us look underwater first! Every man overboard! If you can’t swim, you’ll learn today!”
Goaded on by their sadistic captain, a large part of McNeal’s crew leapt overboard into the swirling waves which had spent their force against the side of the ship. With as many as a hundred men searching, there was barely room to move. Nevertheless, it was not long before someone had spotted what they were looking for. Scarcely ten minutes had passed before a muscular crewman wearing a red bandanna around his long hair broke water close by the ship and called out “It’s there, Captain! All caulked tight and sealed in its cave! We’ll have to move in closer to shore to bring it aboard, though!”
When the man had finished, McNeal called out “Every man who hasn’t been eaten by a shark back aboard on the double! We’ll bring her into shore!”
From the underbrush at the edge of the forest, Maturin and Duvall watched the Centaur move closer to the beach. Duvall spoke, his voice bitter. “The treasure is his, unless...” He trailed off, hoping Maturin would ask what he meant.
Maturin obliged in a moment. “Unless what?”
“Unless his draught is high enough to cross the reef safely.”
“The reef? There’s a reef out there?”
“Did you think you that rock was out there by itself?! There’s a reef! Now we must hope that either his crew didn’t warn him, or that McNeal tries it anyway. I’m sure he will. He’s too big for his boots.”
The two fugitives watched with bated breath as the Centaur inched closer to the rock. Noticing a distinct change in the tide, Duvall cried “No better! They are crossing at low tide! Grounded! And breached!” Just as Duvall cried ‘And breached!’, both fugitives heard a sound like a cannon firing, which, from their vantage point, they could see was caused by a newly uncovered rock ripping a hole in the bottom of McNeal’s ship.
Maturin and Duvall watched happily as McNeal grew steadily angrier with his crew for the blunder which had, in fact, been caused by the mutual spite felt by McNeal against his crew and his crew against him. When all the men had come back aboard, the one who had found the treasure had added “I wouldn’t take the ship any farther if I were you, captain. We don’t want anything costly happening now, so close to the treasure.”
Sensing another meaning behind the crewman’s words, McNeal had ordered that the ship move forward. Straight onto the reef which the crew knew perfectly well was there. The moment the ship was torn open, McNeal ordered that half the guns be lowered out of the ship onto the rocks in order that the ship might tip on it’s side and leave the hole open to repair.
Suddenly, Duvall said “We’ve been here long enough. It will not be long before McNeal’s men are blundering through, missing the trees for the forest.”
Several minutes later, Duvall spoke again. “Now we wait for John Horner to arrive. He’s due tonight.”
“He had better arrive for his appointment, or someone will be dead soon.”
“Are you threatening me?” Duvall exclaimed in indignation.
“I am not. It is a fact that several men will be dead soon if Horner doesn’t arrive.”
“We shall see.”
The next day began just as any other day on the island had. Soon after dawn, Maturin and Duvall emerged from their place of refuge in the island’s central cave, intending to return to the coast and see what McNeal had accomplished.
What McNeal had accomplished exceeded the fears of the two castaways. In the time since they had left, McNeal had succeeded in positioning at least half his guns, with all their accompanying accruements, in serviceable positions, pointed toward the sea. Not only did he have the firepower to hold off any ship afloat, but McNeal had also had the work of raising the treasure begun. Yet another band of men was hard at work on the damaged hull, working feverishly to re-float the ship.
Duvall took all this in with a look of dismay. “Horner does not stand a chance against a crew working like this. It is no wonder that he fears McNeal.”
“McNeal has but one weakness, and that is that he is totally unprepared for an attack from over land.”
“It is as if he can hear us. Look, he has stopped all work, and has now sent every man on shore. We can see from here that they are well armed.” After a pause, Duvall attempted to reassure himself as well as Maturin. “He is not suspicious. How could he know that Horner always comes on this day? He did not even know where the island was before I let it slip. Damn me.”
A moment later, Duvall jumped with astonishment when he felt a hand upon his shoulder. Turning to see who it was, Maturin and Duvall found themselves looking up into the face of John Horner himself.
“Yes” Horner told them. “I heard everything you said just now. Will you fight with me, to reclaim my treasure?” Horner asked, looking at Maturin. As he spoke, he ran Duvall through with a knife he had just produced without giving him a second glance.
This unprovoked, apparently spontaneous, act shocked Maturin. Looking down at the body, he asked “What did he do to deserve that?”
“He led McNeal to my treasure. I can not spare a man who would do that.”
“He said he acted under your orders! He said it was all part of your plan to trap McNeal here!”
At this, Horner laughed in Maturin’s face. “He said that? That it was under my orders? You have been fooled! He was always a liar. I discovered that for myself and let him go. Perhaps he was expecting some reward for bringing my worst enemy to me and death! Well, he’s received all the reward he was going to get!” Waving to hidden followers, Horner called out “Come armed, men! It’s time to finish this here and now!”
Maturin stared as hundreds of men stepped out from behind their cover, armed to the teeth. “Come on!” Horner called. “McNeal’s waiting for us! It won’t be long now! We’re only waiting for the others to bring the ship around!”
From the reef, McNeal was watching the beach, glass to his eye. He laughed at what he saw. “John Horner, eh? No doubt he’s come for his treasure. Well, I’ve no objections. He can have it. If he can reach it! Turn those guns around!”
Horner watched this new activity with increasing consternation. “Damn his eyes! He’s seen us! We can’t wait any longer! Wait! I see our ship just coming up on him! Every man back under cover! We’ll charge when the battle has begun!”
Maturin was surprised again. “Would it not be better to charge now, before all their guns are in place?”
“Are you giving the orders around here? Funny, I thought I was John Horner!--- Oh, blast it, there they go! Come on, men!” Following Horner and Maturin, most of the crew of Horner’s vessel, which was now in the bay firing at the Centaur and it’s crew, streamed out from the trees, yelling wildly. In the course of the charge, Maturin got slightly ahead of Horner. Without breaking stride, Horner pulled a gun and shot Maturin in the back, crying “I can’t spare you either!”
While Horner pressed his attack, McNeal, who had now stepped behind the shelter of his ship, watched calmly, only occasionally calling out “Keep firing! They can’t hold out against us!” McNeal’s men on shore had managed to fire one devastating broadside into the closely packed ranks of Horner’s men, and had then spiked the guns to render them useless. Now, the battle was joined, and no one could say who wold gain the victory.
After an hour of constant combat, Horner’s ship’s crew had destroyed the batteries firing at them, but had lost the ship, which was settling in the water under their feet. Moments later, it broke up. Not a man survived, as few could swim.
Seeing this, McNeal swam across the bay and joined his men on the shore. The captains of the respective crews were not the most feared men on the ocean for nothing. Both fought far better than any of their men, and so were, after much more fighting, literally the last men standing. Or rather, Horner was the last man standing, as he was walking among the dead, methodically stabbing every man to ensure that none could rise against him. McNeal lay among his men, feigning death, waiting for Horner to come for him.
Finally, Horner did reach McNeal, last of all. As Horner leaned over him and delivered the death blow, McNeal, his face blank, fired a loaded pistol into his rival. Horner fell beside him, and both died moments later.
Richontor, the isle of the forbidden sand, the island of death, had claimed it’s last victims. True to the words of Duvall, the first to die, no man ever returned alive. Years passed, and the bodies of the captains and their crews, along with the unlucky Maturin, were covered by the sand. Horner’s marvelous treasure, which he had accumulated throughout his years of piracy, lay undisturbed at the bottom of the bay. No one ever discovered what had become of John Horner, William McNeal, or their crews. The legend of Richontor, with no one left alive to tell it, died with them.