The following is a preliminary version of the prologue for the as-yet-unfinished third book of the Missionary Max series. It may change substantially before publication. Once again, artist Zilson Costa has provided an illustration exclusively for this preview.
The mountainous waves tossed the wooden ship to and fro as if it were so much driftwood. Its single sail hung in useless tatters from the mast. Sailors strained in vain at the two large oars located on either side of the craft, praying, also in vain, to the deities of their homelands.
In the ship’s hold, another man, Jacob ben Israel, also prayed fervently to the Deity of his homeland.
“Yahweh, God of my fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, deliver me this day by your mighty hand from the jaws of the deep…”
He stood with a handful of other passengers, nervously twisting the gold ring on his finger, and gazed up at the stormy sky through a square hole cut in the deck, which gave access to the cargo hold. Judah and his companions, merchants all from a variety of Mediterranean cities and speaking a variety of tongues, watched the dark silhouette of the horse-head shaped prow as it was illuminated by frequent flashes of lightning.
Gone from their minds were thoughts of merchandise to be traded and profits to be made. Terror and a sense of an imminent and watery doom replaced all commercial considerations.
Suddenly Jacob heard a shout from the sailors on the deck. He was familiar enough with the Phoenician tongue to recognize its meaning.
Dare they hope? Ignoring the risk, Jacob pulled himself up so that his eyes were level with the rain-lashed deck. Straining, he thought he could make out a dark shadow in the distance, stationary among the angry, billowing waves. A flash of lightning and his impression was confirmed. The millisecond of light revealed trees, a river inlet, and a spire-like mountain reaching into the sky.
The sailors too had seen the same vision, and the hope that it inspired strengthened them to redouble their desperate efforts. Holding his position, Jacob saw, illuminated by flashes of lightning, that their frantic rowing was bearing fruit. Little by little the island – for by now Judah was certain that it was indeed such – grew closer. At the same time he noticed that the wind seemed to be dissipating, the lightning growing less frequent, the thunder less intense.
“Praise be to Yahweh,” he whispered.
And then there was chaos. The ship heaved beneath him as a freak wave lifted it high into the air. The men in the cargo hold fell into each other while trying, unsuccessfully, to maintain their balance. For a brief moment all was still as the wave reached its apex. Then the floor seemed to drop out from beneath them. What followed was a sickening, splintering crash as the timbers of the vessel were broken up on a treacherous rocky shoal. It was the last sound that all but one of the men on board ever heard.
Jacob ben Israel was aware of heat on one side of his head, and coolness on the other. Opening his eyes, he realized that he was lying on a sandy beach. The sun beat brutally on the upturned side of his face. Slowly he tested his limbs and determined that, while sore, nothing was broken. Lifting himself with some effort, he took his time wiping the sand from his head, his beard, and his clothes.
Two other bodies lay near him in the sand. A quick search of the area told him he was the only survivor. Breathing a prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh he began to gather what he could find of the ship’s cargo.
It was only as twilight fell and he was collecting dry driftwood to make a fire that he noticed his gold ring was missing.
“If ye be takin’ me on a wild goose chase, a keel-haulin’s too good for ye, Beanie!” the tall man in the feather-plumed hat only half-joked to his companion, a smaller, dark-complexioned man sporting a red bandana.
“Calma, Capitão,” Beanie replied. The nickname derived from his surname, Feijão, Portuguese for “bean”. “I know what I saw, and I know where I saw it.”
Captain Roger Bolton looked back at his ship, moored at the entrance to the Ipuna River on the Island of Cabrito. The former Spanish galleon was his pride and joy. It had originally been part of a fleet of ships entrusted with taking New World treasure back to Spain. Bolton – tired of being a lowly first mate on an English merchant vessel – had acquired it in a daring raid while it sat at port in Havana. Fleeing the Spanish Navy, he had hid out in an obscure port in Central America, re-outfitting the ship according to his own specifications. Most of the gilded trimming had been removed, and the ship had been painted black – as much for camouflage as for putting fear into the hearts of his foes. A new name, “The Green Monkey”, was inspired by a carving of a monkey that grinned maliciously from the prow. He had purchased the statue from a local dealer who claimed it was an ancient artifact from some obscure tribe, imbued with supernatural powers. Bolton had no real time for the supernatural, but the malevolent smile on the monkey’s face seemed a lot more “pirate-ey” than the previous figurehead – a rather doey-eyed mermaid.
Changes made, crew recruited, Captain Bolton had come out from hiding with his newly-christened vessel to wreak havoc on Spanish shipping in the Atlantic.
Although he would never admit it out loud, much of the success of his buccaneering was due to the diminutive man who now kicked at tufts of grass along the banks of the Ipuna. Thin, wiry, a master tactician and extremely knowledgeable of the seas, the Portuguese Feijão was the best first mate an enterprising pirate/privateer could ask for. And ever since that night in a ratty dive in Havana when they had planned together the seizure of the Green Monkey, Feijão had been telling him of a vast treasure hidden on the island of Cabrito. Captain Bolton had humored his friend for as long as he could. Finally however, their travels had taken them to Cabrito, and the Captain could no longer put his first mate off. Truth be told, he would much rather have been enjoying himself in the many dubious attractions of Santo Expedito than on this riverbank fending off mosquitos while keeping a look-out out for the feared Yamani Indians.
“Here it is, Capitão!”
Bolton turned back to see Feijão scraping debris from the face of a rock set back about twenty feet from the riverbank. As he moved closer, he could make out some sort of writing on it, although none of the letters looked familiar.
“A lot of good that’ll to do us, Beanie,” he snorted. “We got no Chinaman with us so’s to tell us what it says.”
“Then it’s a good thing this isn’t Chinese,” the first mate retorted. “Lucky for you, it’s written in the language of my people.”
Bolton squinted again at the curious markings. “I ain’t no literary man, Beanie, but I’m fairly certain that ain’t no Portagee lingo.”
“I said the language of my people, Capitão. I was born and raised in Lisbon, but Portuguese is not the language of my people.” He then knelt down and, tracing his fingers right to left, he began to utter strange syllables.
“Aye, get ye out with that Voodoo mumbo jumbo!” exclaimed Bolton. Feijão rolled his eyes.
“It’s not Voodoo and it’s not ‘mumbo jumbo’. It’s Hebrew. And if you had spent more time reading the Bible and less time in London’s less savory districts when you were growing up you would know that.” Then he returned his finger to the top of the script and began again, this time translating into English.
I am Jacob ben Israel, of the tribe of Judah, of the royal house of David. I was sent by the great and wise king Solomon to accompany the servants of his friend, the most honorable king Hiram of Tyre, to the end of the great sea and the islands beyond.
“Wait…David, Solomon, Hiram…let me guess…Italians?” Bolton asked.
Feijão stared at him for a moment then shook his head. “Truly, more church and less carousing would have done you a world of good,” he sighed, then returned to his reading.
After many days’ travel, and many stops to take on passengers and goods, we passed by the rock known to the sailors as Calpe. We desired to turn towards the fabled northern islands. However, a great wind rose up and blew our ship southward and into the open sea. After many hours, we were driven onto the rocks near this island. The ship was broken to pieces, and of the men on board, only I survive.
“So…a shipwreck from a couple hundred years ago. So what?”
“A couple thousand years ago…and quit interrupting me.” Once again, Feijão turned to the inscription and read aloud.
I was entrusted by my king with a large sum of gold for the purpose of trade. Most of this I have recovered from the wreckage. In addition to this, I have been able to salvage much of the treasure that was located in the hold of the ship – 30 talents of gold and 10 talents of silver in all.
“Thirty gold…ten silver…that doesn’t be sounding like much to me, I’ll warrant,” Bolton observed.
“A talent is seventy pounds.”
Bolton squinted as he made the calculation in his head…then his eyes went wide.
“Over a ton of gold and almost half that of silver. Interested now?”
“Aye, and very,” Bolton replied. “Please, keep reading.”
“As you command, capitão,” said Feijão with a wry smile and continued.
I have been on this island for three months. I have seen neither man nor woman, and have abandoned all hope of rescue. But it may be that one day the servants of my king, or the servants of the descendants of my king, may find this marker. If that is the case, know that I have hidden the treasure, along with important tablets pertaining to our voyage, in Adullam. May the reader understand.
“Adullam? You’ve spent more time here than I, Beanie. D’ye know of such a place?”
“Seriously, Capitão. Would it have hurt you to go to church at least once in your life?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bolton wanted to know.
“Never mind. Did you bring the paper and graphite?”
“’Aye.” Bolton fished the items out of his pocket. Feijão took the paper, actually a blank page ripped out of the ship’s log, unfolded it and placed it on the surface of the rock, covering the writing. Taking the graphite next, he began to rub on the paper. Bolton watched as a shadowy reproduction of the Hebrew script materialized.
Suddenly there was a shout from the ship. Bolton turned his head, and the action saved his life. A spear whooshed passed his ear and embedded itself, quivering, in the trunk of a nearby tree. Bolton turned in the direction the spear had come from, a sword in his left hand, a flintlock pistol – preloaded and cocked – in the other, ready for action.
The river bank was boiling over with Yamani, their bodies painted in garish colors and decked out with feathers.
“We’ve got to get back to the ship, Beanie!” Bolton shouted. “Now!”
“Almost done!” replied Feijão, furiously rubbing the graphite on the paper.
Bolton’s pistol barked in his hand. The warrior closest to them pitched over into the mud. The loud report of the gun and the sudden demise of their comrade gave the Yamani pause, but only momentarily. They had been dealing with the Portuguese for over a century, and they knew what guns were. With a yell they surged forward again.
“Beanie!” Bolton urged.
“Done!” Feijão shouted in triumph. He turned and started off towards the ship, stuffing the paper into a leather satchel that hung around his shoulders. The captain followed close behind him.
Another spear whizzed by Bolton’s head, and this time he watched in horror as it lodged itself with a sickening “thud” in Feijão’s back.
“Beanie!!!” Casting aside the useless pistol and clenching his sword in his teeth he reached out and grabbed his stricken first mate. Scooping him up in one arm he splashed out into the water. A rope snaked towards them from the Green Monkey, thrown there by the crew. They had seen the danger and were frantically trying to turn the ship to a position where they could bring the canon to bear on the oncoming natives.
Carrying the wounded Feijão under one arm, still clenching the sword between his teeth, Bolton grabbed the rope with his free hand and dove under water. Another spear shot by him, streaming bubbles as it sped to the river’s bottom. Bolton felt the rope tighten. The crewmen were pulling. Still underwater, he managed to wrap the rope around his waist, then grab on to his first mate with both arms. The spear was still lodged in Beanie’s flesh – it was most likely barbed and would not come out easily. The water around them was swirling with blood.
Another yank and the two men were lifted from the water. There were now several crewmen on the other end of the rope, and in seconds Bolton found himself unceremoniously sprawled out on the deck. He opened his mouth to gasp for breath and the sword clattered to the wooden floorboards. The crewmen were trying to put Feijão in a comfortable position while the ship’s sawbones went to work on the spear.
As he approached, Bolton saw immediately that the end was nearing for his friend.
The captain squatted down next to the first mate. “Aye, amigo,” he said, trying to sound upbeat. “What’re ye doin’ a-sittin’ there? We got ourselves a treasure to find.”
Feijão gave him a weak grin. “Capitão, you’ll have to find it without me, I’m afraid. But it is there. I know it is. Look.” With some effort he reached his left hand – the uninjured side – into his right pocket, and placed what appeared to be a gold ring into the captain’s hand. Bolton examined it. The circular top had what looked like a candlestick on it, along with a script similar to that on the stone.
He looked quizzically at Feijão. “I still can’t read this, Beanie.”
“I bought it in the marketplace of Santo Expedito years ago,” Feijão explained, his voice weakening as he talked. “The man who sold it to me said he found it on the beach at the mouth of the river. I came out here and, after some searching, found the rock. The writing says ‘Jacob ben Israel, official in the court of king Solomon’. It’s real, Capitão. Solomon’s gold, or some of it, is on this island.”
“Adullam…” the dying first mate gasped. “It’s…a…”
But he didn’t finish. No stranger to death, Captain Roger Bolton still had to grit his teeth and choke down sobs as he stared at the lifeless form of his first mate.
“Hey Cap’n…come look at this. It’s the strangest thing.”
Numbly the captain stood up and walked over to the railing, where one of his crewmen was pointing back towards the river bank. The Yamani, crowded on both banks, had stopped still and were staring, gape-mouthed, at the ship. Following their gaze, Bolton saw that they were all looking at the figurehead carving of the green monkey with the grotesque grin.
Then, one by one, the natives fell to their knees and bowed to the monkey, faces pressed to the mud.
Look for Missionary Max and the Ancient Treasure to hit the shelves in 2021. Meanwhile, you can catch up on the story by reading the first two books.
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