The below story was written as part of a challenge over at Chuck Wendig's blog for his website, Terrible Minds. The challenge was to compose a work of Flash Fiction (a really short story) based on a randomly generated title. As you can see above, my assignment was based on the title, Cartographer's Fear. I hope you enjoy it.
Damario Aiza cursed his father’s name. The waves lapped against the small rowboat as the waters churned about him on all sides. He hated the sea. Hated it. He longed for dry land, the warm embrace of one of the young fishwives from the docks and bread that wasn’t hard as stone and riddled with mold. One good night’s sleep, undisturbed by the sound of rats slinking about his bed would also be lovely. But he had been at sea for many weeks now and such was his life. The others on the ship didn’t seem to understand. Most were ne’er do wells with limited choices and the idea of adventure on the high seas seemed more attractive than the back-breaking labour of a farmer or blacksmith. And so they would sign on with the ships that arrived in Vigo, keen for this exciting new career path. Explore new worlds! Meet exotic foreigners! Secure your fortune! The reality was that the average day onboard a galleon was little better than forced labour while fighting a constant battle against roiling waves, bitter winds and the vast unknown of the open sea. Besides, nobody every drowned while planting turnips.
This was not Damario’s first choice. He was an artist at heart. He loved to work with stone, pulling the beauty from within the depths of the rock. Oftentimes he could see the finished piece immediately upon laying eyes upon a large slab of granite. But there was no money in art; not in Vigo at any rate. And so his father had pushed him into the family business as it were. Tavio Aiza had earned his living on the seas, working his way up from a simple deck hand to captaining a ship for the Spanish King. At the first opportunity he had found work in the fleet for Damario who had turned his artistic abilities toward a more practical trade - cartography.
And so it was that he found himself alone in a small boat, pulling at the oars, fighting the swells, preparing to capture the lines of this jagged outcropping of rock and sand that loomed up out of the waters before him. The waters here were too shallow and treacherous for the ship to come in closer so the artist often used one of the small rowboats for his work. He was usually accompanied by another sailor who would pilot the boat, allowing Damario the freedom to sketch at his leisure, but on this day everyone seemed otherwise occupied and so the captain had sent him out alone. The Captain had insisted that they could not delay; Damario would need to chart this stretch of small, coarse spits of land as they were deemed ship killers. The vessel that sailed into this area unawares would end it’s voyage as little more than kindling.
The small joy he did find in his work was discovering and revealing the truth. His job consisted of mapping the uncharted and undefined zones on the fleet’s maps. Though an artist, he also had a penchant for critical thinking and reason and so felt strongly that the fuzzy areas at the edges of the maps merely represented limits of travel and documentation. The same could not be said of the sailors that surrounded him on each trip. They typically eschewed reason, instead clinging to superstition, mythology and ignorance. This often lead to differences of opinion with his fellow crewmen. Though self-educated, Damario considered himself scholarly nonetheless and certainly far removed from the circles that the cretins he found himself sharing quarters with occupied.
He was surprised to learn that on this particular vessel the Captain was little better than the crew. Most of the vessels he had sailed on had been commanded by educated men, or at least, men whom through experience and proximity to people of class and power had developed a level of refinement equal to their roles as leaders. However, this Captain was boorish and crude; Damario had tried to engage him in conversations about current politics, the arts, and philosophy but had been met by sneers and barbs. It had reached a head a few days earlier and Damario had let the Captain know just how little respect he had for the man, indicating that if not for his ability to follow a compass the Captain’s intellect would see him best suited for cleaning up dung below the gallows. Damario smiled slightly to himself, thinking about how he had left the Captain looking stunned and bewildered. It had felt good to speak his mind and put the idiot in his place.
The cartographer saw that the ship had turned away from him, pointed back in the direction from which they had come. These mariners were still a mystery to him, constantly adjusting their bearing and course based on the whims of water and air. He let go the oars and drifted, reaching for the tube that held the rough copy of the map he would be working on. The details he captured here would then be transferred to the originals back on the ship; that is where her would perform his real artistry. As he unfurled the map all superiority drained from him. There would be no need to sketch these shores. He looked towards the ship.
“Cap’n, what’ll we do about the unfinished chart?” asked the First Mate.
The Captain grinned at his First Mate. “Advise the crew to raise the anchor and set sail. Mind those rocks and bear wide around this place.” Then he pulled his quill from the cup where it sat, unstoppered an inkwell and dipped the quill. He leaned over the map laid on the table before them and in a fluid script scrawled something across the expanse of water where they were currently positioned. The First Mate glanced at the chart quickly as he headed out to relay the Captain’s commands. In fresh red ink, were three words: “HERE BE DRAGONS”.