Characters (so far): America, Canada, Seychelles, Spain, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland
Warnings: Some violence, a bit of blood, and sailors cursing the way they do.
Summary: AU. When a dying sailor leaves them the fabled map to Captain Roma’s Treasure Island, orphaned brothers Alfred and Matthew will have to stick together to survive an adventure full of pirates, new friendships, danger and betrayal.
Chapter Four: In Which the Expedition Receives a Financier
Miss Elizaveta Hedervary had been Seychelles’s neighbor and schoolmate since the day the island native had first immigrated to London. Though they had gone their separate ways after their school years, the two ladies kept close contact, even after Elizaveta had been wed to the young noble Squire Roderich Edelstein.
Now washed, scrubbed and wearing new clothes – purchased while they were in the bath by a dutiful Liechtenstein and her brother – Seychelles and her young wards sat in her old classmate’s parlor, nibbling at the preoffered snacks and recounting their tale as best they could.
“My goodness,” Elizaveta gasped, a hand pressed daintily over her mouth. “And you say it all burnt to the ground? The entire inn?”
“Every bit of it,” Seychelles sighed, closing her eyes as the pain of the memory washed over her.
“Good gracious,” Elizaveta breathed again, and patted her friend’s hand. “You poor thing, after all of your hard work. I’m so sorry, Seychelles.”
“So I am, Elizaveta,” Seychelles whispered, fingering her silver fish. “So am I.”
Matthew, who still had fairly little appetite after everything that had happened, nibbled half-heartedly on a biscuit. His bear, which had been hand-washed by the ever-dutiful Liechtenstein, sat on his lap with a depressed, put-upon expression. Alfred – similarly without appetite to everyone’s surprise – sat fingering the warm leather case in his lap, contemplating every crease and curve.
“It certainly seems you three have been through more than your fair share of hardships,” Elizaveta’s husband, Sir Roderich Edelstein, said gravely. He set his empty teacup on a saucer and allowed it to be spirited away by Vash, Liechtenstein’s stern-faces elder brother who seemed nothing more than a butler until you noticed the rather impressive pair of handguns strapped to his belt. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like, of course. We’ll do everything we can to help you get back on your feet.”
Seychelles smiled in spite of herself. “Thank you, Roderich, but I don’t even know where to start.
Alfred’s voice startled everyone, Liechtenstein so badly that she nearly dropped the teacup she was holding. The boys had been so quiet throughout the entire meal that the adults had almost forgotten they were there.
Alfred clutched the leather envelope tightly with both hands, a familiar look of determination spreading across his features. “I know exactly what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to go find this treasure!”
Matthew looked understandably uncertain. “Alfred…”
“Just what are you going on about?” Roderich asked, frowning at the teen. “What ‘treasure’?”
“Captain Roma’s treasure!” Alfred insisted, wheeling on his brother. “Tell him, Mattie, you were there! Antonio said that this is the map to Captain Roma’s secret island! The place where he buried all his treasure!”
Matthew squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “That’s what he said, all right.”
“See for yourself!” Alfred said, hopping out of his chair and shoving the map under Roderich’s nose. “This is the real deal, the genuine article, one-hundred percent authentic!”
“Alfred, that’s enough,” Seychelles scolded in a tone she hadn’t used since the boys had hit puberty.
Elizavetta, on the other hand, seemed fairly amused. “What is he going on about?”
Seychelles sighed. “Oh, just some nonsense fairy tale Antonio liked to fill their minds with when he got drunk.”
“No, wait,” Roderich said, taking the map. “I’ve heard this legend before. Captain Roma, you said? Imperious Roma?”
Alfred nodded eagerly and was pleased to see a spark of interest flash behind the other’s thick lenses. The ‘young master’ had been giving the twins something of a cold shoulder ever since they arrived – Al suspected that he found them uncouth or ill-mannered or somehow less civilized that his liking – but now they had his attention.
Roderich motioned for Vash to clear away a part of the table, and it was done. With steady hands, the squire drew the old parchment out of its case and spread it across the table for all to see.
It was hand-drawn, of course, but clearly the cork of a trained cartographer. The latitude and longitude lines were perfectly straight, guiding the smooth ink that pained the rugged island coastline with all the skill of a true artist. Lush forests and detailed beaches decorated the exotic new land, parting only to give way to a curving path and detailed instructions. They all lead to the darkest heart of the jungle, the very center of the island, where a large “X” marked in deep red ink – the same color as dried blood – marked the site of the hidden trove.
“The craftsmanship is exquisite,” Roderich nodded appreciatively, running his fingers along the edge of the map. “Even the artistic details are to scale. Clearly, the work of a master, but these coordinates…Vash, will you please bring me –”
Before he could even finish his sentence, the butler/bodyguard appeared with a detailed globe. “Ah, yes. Excellent. Thank you.”
Vash rolled his eyes and handed over the globe. Alfred was starting to wonder if the man was mute, or if he just didn’t like giving voice to his employer’s more foppish peculiarities.
Roderich was soon engrossed in the globe and his compass, calculating the exact location indicated on the map. Everyone was waiting in eager anticipation – even Seychelles, in spite of herself.
“Oooh,” Elizaveta gasped, practically beside herself. “Isn’t this exciting, Liechtenstein?”
“I-I suppose so,” whispered the girl, clutching her tea tray. Alfred and Matthew were holding their breath.
Finally, after double- and triple-checking his calculations, Roderich sat up and laid the globe aside with a sigh. “The coordinates indicate a yet-uncharted area on the far western edge of the Caribbean Islands territories.”
Alfred looked about ready to burst. “But what does that mean?!”
“It means,” Roderich said carefully, lifting the map off the table and into the light of the window, “that I have no reason to conclude that this map is anything but genuine.”
“Then we’ll definitely follow it!” Alfred cheered, leaping up from his couch and seizing his brother’s hands. “Think of it, Mattie, it’ll be just like we always planned! We’ll find the treasure, and we’ll bring it home and then we’ll rebuild the Admiral Benbow a hundred times over! It’ll be awesome!”
“I-I guess it would be pretty cool!” Matthew agreed with an awkward laugh. “I mean, if we could really go.”
“I see no reason why not,” chimed in Roderich with an odd tone in his voice.
Elizaveta nearly squealed. “Roderich, does that mean what I think it means?”
“Of course. If this map really does lead to the treasure of Imperious Roma, it would be more than worth any investment needed to locate it. I’ll even fund the expedition myself.”
Alfred spun around and dragged Matthew with him to look up at the young master with pleading eyes. “And we can come, too?”
“Every ship needs cabin boys,” Roderich said in an off-handed manner, rolling up the charts. “And it is your map, after all.”
“You hear that, Mattie? Do you hear that?” Alfred cheered rhetorically, hugging his twin. “This is gonna be so awesome! We’re really gonna go to sea!”
“You most certainly will not.”
The excitement and celebration was instantly killed by Seychelles’s sudden sternness. The former innkeeper had her head lowered and her hands fisted in the colorful cloth she had brought with her from the inn. Her shoulders were shaking violently, like she was trying very hard not to cry.
“How could I ever…how could I possibly let you boys go off on such a pointless expedition?!” she snapped, her tone harsh and broken. “It’s far too dangerous! You’re too young!”
“But Miss Seychelles,” Alfred said weakly. “The treasure…”
“The treasure’s not real, Alfred,” the governess insisted. “That map doesn’t prove anything. For all we know, this is just stupid Antonio’s idea of a huge prank.”
“Perhaps so,” Roderich interjected, clearing his throat. “But it’s not likely that anyone would be willing to kill a man over a prank, and there’s no way of knowing for sure without an investigation.”
“Then do it yourself, but leave the boys out of it!” Seychelles snapped. She was crying now, tears splashing against the backs of her hands. “I may have lost the Inn, but I’m still their guardian! It’s too dangerous out there, and they’re too young!”
“Miss Seychelles?” Matthew interrupted, struck with a sudden bolt of determination. “How old was our father when he first went to sea?”
Seychelles stopped short at that. The twins’ father, a dominion-born immigrant like her, had spent his life on the sea in the service of the royal navy. When he had returned from one long journey with two golden children in his arms and asked her to keep an eye on them the next time he traveled, she had been unable to refuse. Five years later, he was thrown from the deck in a battle with pirates and neither seen nor heard from again…
“Well? How old was he?”
She swallowed before answering. “Thirteen.”
“Well, Al and me are almost fourteen now,” Matthew reasoned. “It it was old enough for him, don’t you think it’s old enough for us, too?”
Seychelles bit her lip. A few tears dripped down her cheeks. “But I…I…”
“Seychelles,” Elizaveta said softly, placing a hand over the other woman’s. “They’re not children anymore. They’re young men now. You have to give them the chance to grow and explore, to come into their own. Let them discover the world for themselves.”
“I spent a few months at sea myself, when I was their age,” Roderich added, clearing his throat. “It’s a wonderful way to build a young gentleman’s character.”
Seychelles remained still and quiet for a moment longer. Then she climbed to her feet and threw her arms around the twins’ shoulders.
“You boys are all I have left in the world,” she said desperately. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t,” Matthew assured.
“Yeah, we’ll be back. We promise!” Alfred chimed in. “And we’ll really, really careful.”
Seychelles chuckled a bit and tightened her hold, her tears leaving wet spots on the shoulders of their shirts. “Just don’t get yourselves killed. And promise me you’ll look out for each other.”
“We will,” the twins chorused with conviction, and grinned at one another over the back of her head.
“Then it’s settled,” Roderich announced, clearing his throat once more for emphasis. “In one month, we depart for Treasure Island.”