Monday, August 28, 2006

Finking It

His Assistant continues the story...

One of the peculiar features in the lush environs that we found ourselves in was the sizable breadfruit tree. Its canopy was not unlike a large elm in terms of breadth and height, but its leafiness bespoke of its polynesian requirements as if nature had mixed a tree with a head of lettuce.

Breadfruit was our staple as it was easy to harvest and could be prepared in a multitude of ways. Finknottle was quite adept with breadfruit. He served it fried, singed on skewers, baked in all manner of ways with the aid of a variety of tools made from clam and coconut shells. In one variant, my master would roast the breadfruit until it was real soft and let the rind slip off into a vessel of water where he would promptly stir it into a thick drink-like consistency. While he was particularly fond of this concoction and would often mix arva root in it and called it a 'Polynesionpolitan,' I preferred a more solid form of the breadfruit.

As I just alluded, Finknottle had discovered an arva grove inland during one of his a reconnaissance treks. After lamenting the lack of snuff, he returned chewing on an arva root, quite pleased that he found a suitable substitute. In addition to this medicinal substance, he experimented with making the various berries on the island into wines and he made extensive use of a sugarcane-like plant that grew wild among groves of coconut trees. Finknottle also knew about the different ages of the coconuts and which dishes could be prepared from each. The viands that my master offered developed into a pleasing cuisine certainly better than anything served up on the Sassy Wench, whether the captain's fowl or the ship's rats.

For the first few nights, the captain ate with us and slept under the thatched roof that Finknottle had made, but he resented it and you could tell so every time you glanced in his direction, because he would be in the shadows of the camp, some several meters away, staring menacingly at us, the campfire reflected sharply in his eyes and the glowed red off his pink white skin. Eventually, after he regained some of his strength, he withdrew from the camp entirely and slept in a cave on the beach. After that, he rarely came into eye contact with either of us at all. The master would leave food and water out at night and it would invariably be gone the next morning. Every now and then we would notice him at a distance, usually when he waded out into the water looking for fish or occasionally through the glen at a fair distance where he would have already noticed me. At some point, he stopped taking the food every night and would usually satisfy himself with the water and, if Finknottle chose, the berry wine. While rummaging for a leafy substance that Finknottle requested, I came across a clearing where the captain evidently ate his food, given all the fish bones scattered about, and beyond that, where he more or less shat like a wild creature. The horror and odor of that spot on the island sent me returning briskly to the camp.

"Sir," I said to my master later that night, "I do not trust that captain. He seems at times to be stalking me."

"You worry so, Scribble," Finknottle answered, while chewing on some arva root, "he needs us for sustenance, you are quite safe."

"Yes, but I saw where he has been living and he seems to be less human these days. I'm not sure if reason has been his companion of late."

"True, true. And who knows what he's capable of when he's hallucinating from the wine. I thought he might become a Caliban of sorts to do my bidding, but he truly has turned into a wild creature of sorts. I would not recommend that you startle him or interrupt his feeding, if you can help it. Nor approach him if he appears to be wounded. I'll consider reducing the amount of piquant stimulants available to him. And he must not discover the arva groves.

As it would later turn out, it was not the arva groves that warranted our attention.

Over the weeks and months we had established individual thatched dwellings across from each other and performed some basic landscape adjustments that made the camp quite comfortable. Finknottle had established and aqueduct to divert the medicinal waters from the arva spring down to his hut. In the evenings he would prepare increasingly elaborate meals and tell long stories about Persians and the Far East and almost every point beneath the stars.

"Sir," I finally asked my master, "how and when are we going to get off this island?"

Finknottle looked flummoxed.

"It is just now getting comfortable in this spot and now you want to leave?" he said.

"So that we may finish our quest," I explained, "as laid out in that letter."

"Quite right, Scribble, we are on a quest, but haste is not the order of the day. The treasure and glory we seek has been elusive to man for a thousand years, and will be elusive for a thousand more if we do not solve its mystery. It has remained elusive because man has pursued it hastily. We are on the quest now, already in the middle of it. Take what refuge the quest affords and do not be in such a rush like some foolhardy modern man."

"But sir, what if by not pushing on, as you would have it, we lose our opportunity and cannot finish the task at hand?"

"Tsk, tsk, Scribble! You make it sound as though the completion of our quest is the most important thing in the world. I have been on this earth for generations upon generations and in that time I haven't completed a single thing yet!" Finknottle stood up and unfurled his chest, with his shoulders cocked straight back, "Now look, do I appear the worse for it?"

"But surely the aim of our quest means something, sir, since we took such great pains to leave quickly and find cheap entry into the Sassy Wench? And what of your Readers? Was this trip not so important that you left that which you hold most dear?"

Finknottle was quick and resolute with his reply: "This island allows me peaceful and quiet time which can be devoted to answering my Readers' mail without the interference of my small minded Editor."

"But sir," I asked, "how do you intend to receive and respond to the mailbag when it is oceans away?"

"Young assistant," master replied, shaking his head, "I have prepared for that contingency and, as we speak, an armada of reader mail is drifting towards us in a thousand empty whiskey bottles of as many brands and blends. Bye and bye the mail bag will find us. The mystery of our quest can wait, but the journey cannot."

So Finknottle left the pacing of our journey up to Providence. And Providence answered by speeding us on our way through an unforeseen catalyst.

One night I awoke to the sound of the coconut bowls being knocked off the food table. By the time I reached the doorway to my hut, I saw the reptilian silhouette that was now the captain slinking away into the foliage.

I shouted for Finknottle and found him slumped over by the fire pit, having an arva hangover.

"Sir, sir!" I said, shaking him to a conscious state, "I think the captain is up to something bad."

"Is he now?"

"I'm not sure what it is, but he was quick to leave when he noticed that I was awake."

"Probably stealing some of our fowl or fish. We'll assess the damage in the morning."

That morning we found that our store of fish and fowl was untouched, but Finknottle soon discovered that the captain had stolen his mysterious letter.

"We need to go after him," I panted.

"Easy, Scribble. He is still confined to the island, same as us. We shall track him, but first we must prepare for the trek. If he tries to transverse the island, we will need our nourishment."

By midday, he had packed a satchel of dried fish, a cakey breadfruit substance and an assortment of fruits and vegetables and made provisions for water and wildberry wine in a variety of turtle-skinned bladders that could be worn over the shoulder.

"We are off, Assistant."

And with that, we made are way to the interior of the island, picking up the captain's trail a ways beyond the arva groves. The desperate animal appeared to go straight up the incline that formed the mountainous barrier between the coast and the interior. What lay beyond was anyone's guess.

It took nearly half a day to reach the peak of the incline. We stopped periodically and ate from his satchel of provisions. By the time we reached the top, we could get a good view of what lay in store: an endless procession of ridges, each as seemingly daunting as the next.

"Sir, we may have to rethink this."

"Nonsense," Finknottle said, "the time for thinking has passed." He continued down the ravine. The trees were so thick and the steepness of the terrain was such that each step was an unnatural contortion and it was a challenge just to get a solid footfall. It was impossible to see a few feet in either direction for the amount of vegetation that had engulfed us. Yet, Finknottle pressed on until we got to the stream at the bottom of the ravine.

I tasted the water and quickly spit it out. Such brackishness I had thought could not exist. Meanwhile, Finknottle, as tireless as a goat, continued up the next incline while I trailed behind him. This continued for several ravines until night had overtaken us. We found a slight clearing at the top of one of the peaks.

"We shall camp here," Finknottle said, surveying our progress and the passage ahead.

"Do you think we are still on the captain's trail?" I asked.

"I'm certain of it, Scribble. Just two ravines ago I found some fish spines that the animal captain had left behind. Soon, though, he will run out of raw fish and it will be harder to track him."

"Why do you suppose he took the mysterious letter? Surely he cannot understand it's contents."
"That's just it, Scribble, the captain has no use for the letter, itself. Yet, it is clear he has been consumed by something, I know not what and he evidently has noticed that I have taken a great interest in the letter and that I had been guarding it closely. I suspect the animal captain desires to seek some harm towards me for a sense of revenge for causing him to lose the Sassy Wench. Doubtless, he had enjoyed the control he once had over her."

"If that was the case, would he not simply destroy the letter?"

"Perhaps," Finknottle said thoughtfully, "unless he stole it for a deeper purpose. If he destroys the letter, then no doubt he realizes I would then be happy to pine away here on the island. But if he steals it and runs away, then perhaps it is to induce me to continue the journey, through which, he might make it back to civilization. After all, his complete lack of ingenuity has shown that he is incapable of surviving by his own device with any amount of dignity on this island, let alone escaping it. He needs both of us Scribble."

"That seems like an elaborate and iffy plan to come from a fellow that has taken on such an animal state."

"Well, that leaves another scenario: that he has gone completely mad. After all, he has not seen a stitch of clothing or cooked food in months. Those types of things can test one's sanity."

Whatever the reasons for the captain's actions, they would remain a mystery undecipherable to us that night beneath the Pacific stars.

The next morning, after an exhausted and fitful sleep on jagged rocks, Finknottle was up and ready to continue the trek, having nourished him self on what he called 'amar,' a cakey tart mixture that he made from the breadfruit.

"I reckon, Assistant," Finknottle said while I was not yet up, "that we should reach the other side of the island in a fortnight, provided we increase our pace."

He gave me some of the amar and I washed it down with some water from my turtle-skinned bladder.

Inspecting the amount of liquids I had left, I asked the master, "Sir, what will we do about water?"

"That will not be a problem, as I suspect we might see some torrential downpours before long."

"How can you be so certain?"

"Because I observe things, Scribble. Perhaps you should, too. Now where did you put my plugs of arva?"

I handed him a chain of strung arva roots made into chewing plugs, the totality of which looked like a sort of bandoleer. He tore from a segment and put the chaw in his mouth.

"I suggest we sally forth."

And for the next several days we pressed, tirelessly on, ravine after ravine after ravine. And, as if there was a doubt, Finknottle was right about the rain. It fell upon us mercilessly in big heavy sheets. When we depleted the food stocks, we had no choice but to press on in hopes that the other side was not far off.

Eventually, the terrain began to shift in our favor when we found a heavy stream that led us toward an alluvial plain, a valley, really, that spread out ever wider towards the shore. And looking upon that expanse of the manicured valley, we could see a village of huts and human activity.

"Good heavens, sir, this appears to be a long lost tribe!"

"Not lost," Finknottle said, "merely oblivious to civilization. I would imagine they know exactly where they are."

"Should we approach them?" I asked.

"What other choice have we?" he answered, "besides, we must assume that the captain made it this far. Pray that he hasn't effectively turned them against us."

But as it turned out, it wasn't the captain's influence that we had to fear. The tribe looked us over with intense interest and rifled through Finknottle's belongings, leaving the medicine kit untouched but helping themselves to his bandoleer and his turtle-skinned bladders of wine. And then they whisked us away to a hog pen where the captain already lay, sleeping in a bed of dried grasses. He appeared too weak to notice us.

"What lies in store, master?" I asked, the tone of my voice begging for a glimmer of hope.

"A drifter I once met in the Sandwich Islands way back - a fellow that worked in a bowling alley at the time - accounted for a tribe similar to this, though the details have escaped me. I do remember one detail."

"Oh yea, and what was that?"

"That the savages were cannibals. As such, it would appear that these present savages are intent on cooking us into a feast. The captain is no longer his significant self and would hardly be substantial enough to feed a handful, let alone the entire community. Small wonder they were happy to see us."

"Are we doomed, master?"

"Of course not, Scribble. I will soon command this scene..."

-His Assistant

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