A short story written for the WDC Journey Through The Genres competition, November 2020.
|A Voyage Of Discovery
Willem Janszoon gathered together his crew. They were men he was used to sailing with; and more importantly, they were used to him. A few words said and they would understand exactly what he wanted from them; far easier than dealing with a sailor that needed everything spelled out in minute detail.
While they got the ship ready to leave Bantam, Willem shut himself away inside his cabin and studied the charts. Whole areas were left blank, and it was to these empty places that the ship would be heading towards. It was quite feasible to believe that there was nothing to find out there other than the sea and its rolling waves, but the possibility that there might be something out there was what he lived for.
Other men might be content with living quite predictable lives, knowing what they would most likely be facing on any single day. Willem had to admit to himself that such a life would be not much of an improvement on no life for himself. He thrived on adventure, on seeking out what no one had found before. It was the thrill of discovery that motivated him into navigating through uncharted waters. On such a voyage he never knew what he might find.
Of course, the Duyfken was not his ship. Willem was the navigator, not the owner, and he had a job to do. The ship belonged to the Dutch East India Company, and while they were happy with the spirit of adventure, their true purpose was to find gold, spices, even people to convert to Christianity. Janszoon had proved himself to be a trustworthy and at the same time an intrepid navigator; who better to place in charge of the voyage.
They left Java the following day, not long after dawn. It was a fine day, and a gentle breeze filled the sails. Willem took the wheel and called out the occasional instruction to get them sailing through waters known and then into those that no one had ever recorded a single piece of information about.
All eyes needed to be kept peeled, for who knew what dangers lurked beneath the waves. Several times, the breeze seemed to still and the ship did little more than drift. Willem watched the sky and carefully noted every change of direction that the ship took.
One day passed by, and then another and another. It really was beginning to seem as though the uncharted waters were just that. Willem was in his cabin, writing in the ship’s log and drawing in the line of their journey when a knock sounded on his cabin door.
“Sir, Sir, come quickly. Land has been spotted.”
Willem did not need telling twice. Leaving the log on top of his desk and the chart unfurled, he hurried from his cabin, and stared off into the distance. It was still a long way off, but there was no doubt what he and his crew were looking at – undocumented land. Land that for most of the world simply did not exist.
His pulse began to race with the thrill of excitement that had accompanied such a discovery before. But as much as he wanted to get there with speed, like any good navigator, Willem realized that extreme care and attention were necessary. Reluctantly, he made the necessary orders to slow the ship’s approach.
Not wanting to leave the deck, Willem carefully made mental notes. He had a good memory; once they had made landfall and taken in their immediate surroundings only the would he commit his thoughts and the details to paper. The crew were also caught up in the excitement. Thoughts of riches never known before battled against Janszoon’s instructions. It was slow going but the land became clearer and clearer.
“Slowly now,” Willem called. He had seen no sign of rocks beneath the waves but he knew that did not mean they were not there.
The Duyfken was a ship built for both speed and shallow water. It allowed access to places that the larger ships would never be able to reach. Even so, there was still plenty of timber beneath the water and caution had to win over the desire to step out onto land.
As the ship drew closer, Willem spotted an inlet. It was towards that that he steered the ship. Shouting out orders to cut the sails back, they approached the coastal river and suddenly they were sailing along it.
They did not go too far inland before Janszoon called for the anchor to be dropped. The ship stopped floating along the river and Willem together with his crew looked out across the land. There was no sign of humanity, but that did not mean they had not been spotted. Natives could be hiding behind the hilly ground, which, Willem noted, looked very boggy.
Would it be safe to walk across?
He could see that his crew were eager to disembark, but he held them back. “Keep looking, men,” he instructed, as he continued to scan the surroundings for any sign of life.
Nothing moved, at least so far as he could see. Willem decided that he would go ashore, and take just two crew members with him. After making his selection the small group walked along the gangplank to the shore.
It did not take long for his assessment of the land to prove true. When they stepped onto the water-logged ground the three men sunk ankle-deep in the boggy earth. There was still no sign of life; not even a bird in the sky.
“Should we call out, Sir?” one of his companions asked.
Willem was just about to assent when there was a cry from the deck of the Duyfken. “Movement, Sir. We can see movement!”
The three men looked all around and at first could see nothing, but then there appeared the strangest thing. Long and slim, it looked just like the leg of a spider, but it was far too big for that.
“What can you see?” Willem called back to the ship.
“Get back on board, Sir! Run! There’s monsters and they are closing in on you.”
Willem and his two companions turned and ran. He had to fight against the impulse to stop and look round. After all, did he not thrive on discovering new things. It was only the urgency in the shouts of his crew that prevented him from doing so.
Only when they were all safely on board did Janszoon look back. Spiders they looked like, but they were huge creatures, dwarfing even a full-grown man.
“Hoist the anchor,” he ordered. “Prepare the cannons!”
The Duyfken was not a heavily armed vessel having only eight cannons in total. More would have slowed it, made it weigh heavy in the water. Besides the ship was built for discovery and not combat.
The ship was making its way down-river towards the sea but the spiders were catching up. Their long legs gave them great speed.
“Fire when you have to.”
Willem watched as one of the huge arachnids seemed to rear up, a cannonball striking its body, but it did not stop it for long. Eight, ten, another ten; the spiders kept on coming as the small ship struck the waves. Sails adjusted, the Duyfken made a narrow escape.
Once there was sufficient distance between the ship and that blighted land, Willem went to his cabin and erased all traces of the land from his mind. Better, he thought, that this piece of land remain undiscovered by mankind.