Chapter 39: The long-necked turtle at Dodo Rock

The next days were uneventful.  The pirates made their way slowly east, winding through the ever-thickening forest.  At times TT and Starfish took turns using a big blade  TT otherwise kept tucked in his belt to cut through the vines and ferns and bushes that blocked their path.

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As time passed the blade came out more and more often.  Sometimes they had to backtrack and find other ways through the dense growth.  Often the gang of pirates found themselves sitting around while TT or Starfish cut painfully slowly through the thicket.  The journey was going to be fantastically long, Harrison Gus thought, if the distance they were able to cover in a day was but two or three miles at best, and as little as one mile on the worst days.

In the evenings the routine was always the same.  They would make a small clearing, pitch some tents and light a fire.  Cook would cook under the watchful eye of his huge blue parrot and the other men would take turns standing guard.  After dinner, they would huddle around the fire and listen to Harrison Gus read from Don Quixote.  Sir Jones would sit right next to him and follow the words on the page as Harrison Gus traced his finger along the lines.  Their movement through the story felt to Harrison Gus, when he was feeling particularly impatient, like the only progress they were making on the island at all.

He asked about the alternate route, to the west and across the steep needle peaks.  But the pirates assured him that way was even more difficult.  The landscape was perhaps less densely covered with vegetation, but it was steep.  Once you broke up through the treeline, the needle peaks became too steep to scramble up without hooks and ropes.  It was possible to climb them, and indeed, it had frequently been done, but it was dangerous and painfully slow, and before you reached the pass that allowed you to cross and descend on the other side, temperatures dropped to well below freezing.

So the pirates continued to work their way slowly through the forest towards the mysterious Dodo Rock.  And at night the tale of Don Quixote continued. The pirates listened as quietly as pirates might, with really only a few loud burps, snorts and guffaws, as Don Quixote attacked a set of windmills he had mistaken for giants.  Next Don Quixote and his squire Sancho ran into a coach of travellers and two friars, or, as Don Quixote believed, a stolen princess and her entourage being held captive by two evil wizards.  Quixote attacked the wizards, was attacked in return, and eventually departed victorious with his squire, though having lost half an ear.  They chatted about the prize Quixote would win someday for Sancho to repay him for his services.  An island, Denmark, a potion that will heal any wound….

Sir Jones sat faithfully next to Harrison Gus all the while, watching carefully as Harrison Gus read.  Every now and then, Harrison Gus would let him try a word or two.  Sir Jones would sweat, cough, stutter, mumble and finally try to read the word out loud.

“When in some battle”, Harrison Gus would read, “thou seest they have cut me in half through the middle of the body—as is wont to happen frequently—but neatly and with great nicety, ere the blood congeal, to place that portion of the body which shall have fallen to the ground upon the other half which remains in the saddle, taking care to fit it on evenly and exactly.  Then”, Harrison Gus continued, “thou shalt give me to drink but two drops of the balsam I have mentioned, and thou shalt see me become sounder than an…”.  Harrison Gus pointed to the word, and looked encouragingly at Sir Jones.

Sir Jones coughed, cleared his throat, pointed to the word and said slowly, “Ah… Ah… Peh… Peh… L… App… L… Apple… apple!”

“Sounder than an apple, yes!” Harrison Gus beamed at Sir Jones.

“But ‘ow can a man get put back t’gether after bein’ cut in ‘alf!  Sounder than an apple indeed…” Starfish muttered.

Sir Jones sat back, grinning with satisfaction.

“It’s just a story”, Harrison Gus explained.

“Hmmpf” Starfish shook his head. “Should be some sense in it though.  Not completely daft!”

And so the pirates walked and walked, and Harrison Gus read and read…  Slowly the bush became a little less dense, and the path began to climb.  It rose imperceptibly at first, but as the days passed the path became positively steep.

“I thought the way to the needle peaks was steep, not the path to Dodo Rock?” Harrison Gus asked the Captain.

“Aye lad, this ain’t steep, trust me.  The needle peaks needs proper gear to climb, this ‘ere’s just a bit of a walk.” The Captain laughed at Harrison Gus’ dismayed expression.

“How much longer?”

“Oh, not too much longer lad.  A few more days.”

Harrison Gus sighed and hung his head, watching the ground rather than the horizon, which swelled before him in what Harrison Gus felt was rather a taunting manner.

But indeed the Captain had told the truth.  Within three days they reached a plateau.  The vegetation on the plateau was fairly sparse and it was a quick walk across to the other side.  There they began a rather rapid descent.  Soon the vegetation began to close in on them once more, but Harrison Gus didn’t mind.  At least they were going downhill.  And in the distance he could hear running water.  The sound became louder and louder.  TT cut through a thick layer of vines that hung like a curtain before them.  On the other side  they saw a huge, bright clearing that was filled to the brim with a crystal clear lake.  A huge waterfall poured into the lake on their left.  On their right was an equally enormous and very bare rock that looked, if you squinted and tilted your head just so, a little, tiny bit like a dodo.

They had arrived at Dodo Rock at last.

It was a spectacular place.  The lake boiled wildly where the waterfall hit it but on the opposite shore it was perfectly calm and flat.  The water was icy cold, but all the same, many of the men jumped in and splashed around, yelping and laughing, washing themselves and their clothes, their parrots flying anxiously around and around, watching their masters frolick or drown in the water, it was hard to tell which.  Harrison Gus waded in as well.  It had been many days since he’d had a shower and he’d noticed the growing, unpleasant odour among the men.  He could only assume he was adding something to it.

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After a while the men climbed out of the water, putting their shirts on rocks to dry.  Harrison Gus followed suit and sat on a rock in the sun beside the Captain.

Sir Jones had been the only one to abstain from the lake.  He now lay his precious parrot with its heavy golden beak carefully on a rock, by Harrison Gus, where it stayed, not moving, too tired to lift the weight of its head.  Sir Jones slipped into the lake and with his chin sticking up high out of the water he swam slowly around the lake looking for all the world like a prim and pompous long-necked turtle.  Loop after loop Sir Jones swam his turtle stroke, while the men sat merrily on the rocks and chortled and laughed in the sunshine.

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