Writing Exercise: The Sea of Antiquities

Mediterranian Sea – 1793 (approx.)

 

I often wonder if living humans realize the wealth they have amassed at the bottom of the ocean. None of which was intentional, certainly, or perhaps was made by some kind of madman, but I never cease to be amazed by the items long forgotten (thus dredged up by the Sea Maiden) that so frequently come aboard my father’s ship.

The Sea Maiden was the invention of the twins, Zekial and Haze, whose odd yet ingenious minds work in ways I can neither fathom nor predict. It is sort of a garden hoe designed to scrape across the ocean floor, with long iron teeth that manage to entrap those objects long forgotten on the seabed.

Today’s trove is rather conservative, though no less interesting. A piece of broken china – most likely a formal dining plate judging by the ornate design in blue ink along its trim – the head of a massive nail, probably from a ship’s hull, a few loose pieces of silver; nothing too unusual. However, most peculiar is the small trunk, no larger than a Bible, with a depth as great as a standard tankard. The wood is water-logged but still clearly maintains the reddish hue that would have been prominent in its original state. Two leather straps, one on each end, keep the lid firmly sealed. Iron locks and hinges have deteriorated greatly over time as the salt water eroded the metalwork, yet the case remains closed tight. Almost as if it were waiting for us – for the day we would lift it from its watery grave and rescue the contents within.

There’s only one way to find out.

The inside of the chest is lined with a deep green felt, almost as pure in color as the evergreens that line the English coast. It’s shallow-bottomed, barely large enough for the stack of folded papers we find inside.

There are many of them. So many, in fact, that I am worried the wind will clip the corner of one and they will all go tumbling back into the ocean.

Beetle, who currently has the stack grasped between his dirty fingers, looks like a child who’s just been told he will not be given any Christmas pudding. I would feel bad for him, join him in stewing in disappointment perhaps, if I were not one of the few people aboard the ship who knows the true value of what he holds.

Maps. So many of them I can feel the tips of my fingers tingle in anticipation. My father stands just behind Beetle, staring at everything with an air of impassivity until he sees the pages. Faster than I’ve seen him move in nearly 25 years, he grasps the old parchment to peer at it closely, blue eyes alight with something I haven’t seen in almost a century: pure, unadulterated excitement.

I cross over the deck, hoping my tense posture and sweaty palms don’t give my own excitement away as I peer over my father’s shoulder. The page’s inky lines are not the smooth, flawless strokes we are used to seeing on world maps like the one hanging in my father’s cabin. Instead, they are quick; scratched by a hand more intent on gist than accuracy. Then there are the series of dots in the bottom right corner of the pages, specks that would almost appear to be ink splatters if the images they create didn’t look so intentional. Something about those shapes is oddly familiar, though I can’t quite figure out where I’ve seen them before.

In total, it is no surprise that Beetle saw no worth in these pages; to the untrained eye, they would look no more substantial than a doodle. But to my father, whose first profession and one true love was cartography, these are maps of the unexplored world. Or, perhaps, the potential of the unexplored. I am not entirely certain what these maps are intended to represent.

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