I blew the dust off before I unsnapped the clasps of the old trunk case. Anticipation built up inside of me at what I might find within. My hopes of discovery took a nose dive though, as the lid of the old trunk came up.
Nothing but musty smelling underwear and piles of rag cloth. The Great Depression era of the nineteen twenties had been bad, but had people living during that timeframe really needed to save their old rags and ragged underwear? Apparently they had thought so.
I let the lid fall back closed and looked around the attic of the old house in disgust. What a waste of time!
Not to mention risking my life, I thought darkly to myself, as I noticed yet another old dry snakeskin laying on the grimy wooden floor of the attic. So far I hadn’t come across any live ones, which was good, but just seeing the evidence of prior existence had put me under strain all morning as I had worked at discovering the past.
I had jumped at every sound or movement. I wasn’t overly afraid of snakes, but the philosophy of the only good snake is a dead one was a tenant of belief that I had adopted since childhood, when I had awakened from a nap with a snake coiled up in my bed.
That experience had left an impression on me even at an early age and I was eager to be out of the attic, even as I was frustrated with not having found anything of value. This was the last house on the list and it was a flop just as the other eleven had been.
I stood up forgetting the low angled ceiling and cracked my head off of a rafter. In place of a choked back curse, I kicked the old trunk at my feet savagely. I abruptly forgot the pain in my head and my frustration with the day.
The old trunk had barely moved when I had kicked it. The trunk was sturdily built, but not that sturdy. The rags couldn’t be weighing it down that much.
Quickly I knelt down and reopened the lid of the trunk. I had been so excited to find the trunk in the first place, because it had matched the time era perfectly that I was interested in.
I pulled the rags and the even more raggedy underwear out to spill over the sides. I was already relishing the hot shower I would have after I was clear of this place and its musty remains of past paranoia.
The trunk was clear of the rags and I felt along the bottom of the trunk. It had a false bottom and I found the cleverly concealed release mechanism to either side. Excitement built within me as I flipped the levers and released the false bottom of the trunk.
I’d done it!
I’d found the Orlanis Star!
The false bottom clattered to the floor as I stared down into the trunk at what I had revealed.
The star resembled the pedals of a sunflower, but were broken apart into individual pieces laid out on a strip of blue velvet with the center array stone in the middle that looked to be made of pure crystal surrounded by a shiny alloy of metal infused along its edges. The pedals and the outer rim of metal surrounding the crystal were studded with what appeared to be gems of priceless value.
The star was beautiful, but it wasn’t what I had been expecting at all.
I had thought to find a cleverly designed mechanism to help me find where the wealth of the South had been stored offshore during the Civil War awaiting a British convoy, but what I was looking at was a piece of art crafted into a form that hinted at a symbolic use, of which I could only speculate.
The pieces of the star at the bottom of the trunk looked nothing like what I had imagined the American Civil War era device to appear as, instead it seemed like I was looking at something that dated far older than the Civil War. The level of craftsmanship and the gemlike crystals bore no relation to a piece that would have been crafted as a mechanical map to find a treasure offshore without the use of charts. This had to be the Orlanis Star though.
This house was one of the twelve places known of that Captain Roger Jamison, the sole survivor of the mission to enlist Britain’s aid to coming in on the side of the Confederate South, had stayed at during the remaining years of his life. This trunk had to have been his and if it had been his, then this must be the fabled Orlanis Star.
I got a feeling as if someone had walked across my grave as I stared at the curiously designed petals and its center stone of pure crystal at the bottom of the trunk. There had to be more to the story than even I had known, but what it could be I didn’t know.
In 1864 the Confederate South desperate for British aid in their struggle for survival against the North’s advances had enacted a desperate strategy that little was known of. Before and during the Civil War the South had tried to enlist the aid of the British to join in on the war against the North, but the British continually refused because they did not support slavery. There were many, though, that wished to aid the South, because England was the main buyer of the South’s cash crop, cotton.
The rumor was that a deal was struck for England to come in on the South’s side, although widely criticized by historians as simply not true. But the fact remains that under great secrecy a large flotilla of ships was congregated together in one of the few port cities remaining to the south. Details of this armada were very sketchy, as in the fact that there were practically none.
The fighting was expected to get worse before it could get better with the help of England so the wealthiest plantation owners and financiers packed their wives and children along with all the wealth meant as a payment to England for joining the war, onto the ships that made up the armada gathered in the harbor. As an added bonus, it was rumored that the ships were piled high with the cotton that had been stacking up on the docks for years.
One day the armada was at anchor and then in the midst of a foggy, overcast storm system the armada had disappeared from the port. It was commonly believed that the Union commanders of the Yankee navy blockading the harbor had been bribed to let the armada pass uncontested, but there was no proof to back that up. From there the armada had simply vanished.
All of the ships had been steam powered, but navigation had still been an issue, which is where the Orlanis Star had come into the legend. It was rumored that the South had made a technological leap forward in terms of maritime navigation.
They had created a device that plotted their course for them so they could steam away through the densest of fogs without the need for chart navigation or for looking at the stars by night for plotting their course. What lay in the bottom of the trunk did not look like such a device, but it had to be.
The rumor was that the armada was to rendezvous halfway to England with a British warship convoy, which would validate the authenticity of the payment in gold and silver, as well as the bales of cotton as meeting with the terms of the alliance agreed upon by both sides.
Nothing was ever heard of the armada again though. The mythical British convoy never met them and the armada never reached England. Some who believed in the legend proposed that the British plundered the wealth and sank the armada. Others suggested that the navigation device referred to as the Orlanis Star had led them astray off course and that they had been lost in a storm.
Twenty years later the wreckage of one of the ships in the armada was found stranded along the northern coast of Africa. There had been only one survivor, Captain Rogers.
Where the ship had been for twenty years was a mystery and Captain Rogers said nothing upon being questioned further. It was reported that he’d had an artifact with him when he had been rescued. Again the name, Orlanis Star, had come up.
Captain Rogers had quickly disappeared from the public eye, never staying in one place for too long. Reportedly, he had lived sparsely and alone for the rest of his life taking his secrets to the grave with him.
I was a treasure hunter pure and simple. I had stumbled across the legend and it had seemed to have some substance to it so I had dug deeper, particularly into Captain Rogers’s life and my research had led me here to the place where he had once lived.
My hopes were that if the Orlanis Star really was the navigational device that it was purported to be, then perhaps it could be followed backward to trace the route of the armada and find where it had gone down. The treasure would then be split between me and my crew and we would be as wealthy as kings, at least for a little while anyway.
The device in the trunk while breathtaking was also a letdown, as there appeared to be nothing mechanical about it.
I reached into the trunk and picked up the central crystal piece of the star. It was heavy and if nothing else it would bring a good price as a mysterious novelty that would more than pay for my time spent researching this legend.
I wasn’t at all sure what the slightly oxidized metal around the crystal was made of. It wasn’t gold. And what I had taken at first to be gems were really crystals. Although not gems the crystals appeared real and nothing like I had ever seen before.
Something caught my eye and I glanced down. There was a folded up paper where the crystal centerpiece had been sitting on the velvet bottom of the trunk.
I set the crystal down and picked up the paper carefully and unfolded its weathered page. Something chilled inside of me as I read the note evidently left by none other than Captain Rogers.
“I tried to burn it in a blacksmith’s forge, but it wouldn’t melt. I tried to smash the crystals, but they wouldn’t crack or shatter. I thought about burying it, but it would only be found again as it was by us. So I left it here in this attic in disguise to rot peacefully in hopes that someday it would be thrown out with the trash and lost forever. Whoever may be reading this note one day be aware for I speak of a danger to men’s souls. Do not use the star for it is cursed and has led many to their deaths and hatred is its mark. You’ve been warned, but I fear it is too late and the temptations grip before you too strong to overcome. You see the treasure before you, but beware the serpent’s bite by which causes men to murder and to do evil one to another. Black or white it does not matter the sin is the same and the curse of those who are dead and shall not rise is oppressive in how it corrupts all flesh to put on the mantle of darkness and join in with the unholy host. Be wise and listen to reason gained from the insight of one who didn’t, otherwise may God have mercy upon your soul poor wretch that you will be, if you let the star become a key and forfeit your kind to a monster’s appetite that hungers for the everlasting destruction of your soul.
Captain Rogers Jamison”
Wow! That was a good scare you away from the treasure note, but it wasn’t the first time I had been threatened with curses.
I’d taken an artifact here and there that had supposedly been under the threat of a curse and I was still here, but I couldn’t deny that this was the most chilling gloom and doom threat to date. Oh well, treasure was treasure wherever one found it.
I brought my bag close and began to carefully stack the metallic petals and then the central crystal display into it. I threw the note in with the pieces as an afterthought.
Getting up I quickly made my way down the rickety stairs with my now heavy bag slung over my shoulder. I closed the wooden door on the second story securely and locked it with the key I had been given from the homeowner. I made my way down to the first level and returned the key to the old woman who owned the house.
She gave my dusty appearance a speculative look and asked, “Did you find anything of value then?”
“I did.” I said and then I paid her three times what I had said I would for allowing me to dumpster dive through her attic.
I suppose it was still thievery, because what I was taking was of great value, but she’d said I could have anything I wanted in the attic for five hundred dollars and I had paid her fifteen hundred dollars. My consciousness would just have to live with that.
I got into my jeep and left the historic landmark community of Winchester, Virginia like I was leaving the scene of a crime.
I didn’t feel good about this. Something was off about the whole situation.
Was it the curse?
I quickly banned that thought aside, as I had no place within me for such things anymore. It didn’t really matter. I didn’t really care if I lived or died so whether there was a curse or not it was the same to me.
Being a treasure hunter and living in dangerous circumstances was just what I did to feel alive part of the time. The rest of the time I was lucky if all I felt was numbness. Numb to everything.
It was a good way to be, if you didn’t want to remember how good life had once been or to care about anything in the present. Adding another curse to my growing list of wrongs was par for the course the way my life was going.
I drove home anxious to get back to my boat. My boat was my home away from the world. I drove into Charleston in the early morning light and quickly bypassed the city as I headed for the marina where my boat was docked.
Celestia’s Prize was still there moored offshore and a part of me relaxed at the sight of her clean lines, as the sun began to shine off her white painted surfaces. I parked the jeep and grabbing the bag I headed down to the wharf and jumped into a dinghy that was tied off to a post. I cast off the line and fired up the little egg beater and headed out across the still waters of the harbor.
It was a beautiful morning. It was Sunday morning and a pang of remembrance shot through me, but there was no going back to the way things used to be. That bridge had been burned.
Ortega’s head popped over the railing as the dinghy grew close to the ship and a line was thrown down. I shut the dinghy motor off and pulled the dinghy in close to the side of the ship and tied it off. We’d have to haul it up before we left port, but I would let the crew worry about that.
I climbed up the rope ladder quickly, the weight of my bag not holding me back a bit in my quick ascent. Ortega was the only one on board, as he never left the ship, while we were in American held territory.
I’d never asked the El Salvadorian as to why that was and I didn’t intend to now. It was enough that he was faithful to me and that I had someone I could trust to watch over the Celestia’s Prize while I was away.
He greeted me with his characteristic open smile and spoke in broken English, “Your trip a success yes?”
I smiled and unslung the pack off into his waiting hands. His eyes lit up appreciatively with the feel of the weight of the pack.
“You have brought something then! It may only be lumps of pig iron, but it is something at least.” Ortega said enthusiastically.
I gazed at Ortega as his unwitting words jarred a memory of something in relation to the slightly oxidized metallic surfaces of the device in the bag. Ortega gave me a strange look and I patted him on the back and reclaimed the pack, as I stepped past him briskly headed for my quarters aboard ship.
“Call everyone in. We leave port in two days.” I called out over my shoulder to Ortega.
Ortega said something that I didn’t hear as I made my way below. When I reached my cabin I stripped off my filthy clothes stained with snake dust and jumped into the shower.
I was tired and the hot water made me even more so. Once done with the shower, I left it to tumble into my narrow bed to be overcome by sleep.