The first mate of The Burning Ember despises its captain. They were once friends in childhood but since the death of the first mate’s father, he has been filled with thoughts of revenge on those who caused his father’s demise. He blames the captain and his father (as he is unaware of his own father’s true identity and evil deeds) and this hatred only intensifies as they grow up – the first mate fatherless and suffering, fighting against terrible luck and destitution to get even the smallest of rewards, while his once friend becomes captain of a prosperous ship, marries and father’s a daughter, and is adored and respected by his village community.
The plan was to usurp the captain, taking control of The Burning Ember and all the trade wealth that comes with it. An ‘attack’ on the village was in fact orchestrated by the devious first mate, paid for with stolen money. He and his mutinous band would then make the captain look inept by foolishly setting sail with no heading and with not enough supplies to go round (most of the supplies were cunningly hidden by the first mate and mutineers), then they would make it seem as if he selfishly drank himself to death aboard the ship as the villagers and crew died of starvation around him. With a dead, disgraced captain and an exhausted population, the obvious choice as leader and hero would be the first mate and the only memory of the captain would soon be a drunken, callous old fool. The final part of the first mate’s plan would be to apparently use his superior seamanship and intuition to firstly ‘discover’ chests full of supplies bobbing in the water one morning (secretly thrown overboard by his accomplices) and reinterpret the maps the captain had been misreading – as he was unbeknownst to himself using a broken compass, supplied by the first mate – However, at the crucial moment, one of the sailors aboard The Burning Ember discovers land and the first mate’s plans are in ruins…
After his village was attacked and ransacked by bandit slavers, a captain – aided by his first mate – rescue as many villagers as possible by herding them aboard his ship The Burning Ember. They are forced to leave in a hurry in bad weather (and fearing for their lives) so provisions are low, and the ship is not set on any meaningful course. There is a suspicion the first mate is not carrying out his navigational duties properly and the captain cannot himself understand why they have not quickly found land.
Days drift by with no end to the journey in sight. The crew are exhausted and the villagers, many of whom are injured already, are dying. In that sense they are not yet rescued, merely in a hellish limbo, unable to move on from their nightmare.
The captain struggles with the responsibility of protecting everyone aboard and he knows the longer the ship is adrift, the more innocent people will die. Each night he drinks himself into rage (bottle after bottle of spirits supplied to him by the first mate), but each day pores over maps and charts in a vain, hungover, attempt to reach safety. The captain calls for the first mate’s assistance, but he is in another room with one or two crew, eating an apple from a clandestine chest full of supplies.
One morning a delirious crew member is watching a bird’s shadow dance across the deck. He realises it’s not a delusion but is a living, breathing seagull. Surely land is near! He rings the bell to alert the captain as all aboard start to look into the sky and watch the seagull twist and turn, eventually heading off towards the sun. As they follow its path, they see what they have dreamed of for weeks: an island.
Everyone aboard leap into action, fuelled by adrenaline, to beach The Burning Ember as fast as possible. The first mate is conspicuous by his absence; he is meeting below deck with a his huddle of turncoat crew members to reassure them the plan is working. He is explaining that the captain is almost overcome with exhaustion and paranoia that he is cursed to sail forever without solace, with only the sharks and the ghosts of the fallen for company. The first mate claims tonight will be the night the finally ‘discover’ the captain dead having fallen overboard.
As the traitors come back on deck they are confused to find mood is jubilant, with the charismatic captain singing songs and cajoling his crew to get more wind in the sails and to row with all their strength. Any villager who can hold on to an oar or a rope is working as hard as they can to bring The Burning Ember to shore. There is overwhelming relief when they reach their destination and step on to the sand. That is, relief for everyone except the seething first mate and his furious band.
The island is mysterious, with runic symbols carved into the rocks that line the beach and curious noises emanating from the jungle beyond, but also abundant with fruit trees, birds, crabs and plenty more edible treats… including frogs. The villagers and crew start to spread out looking for somewhere to set up camp. Some begin to collect firewood; others have replenished water flagons and are sharing them amongst each other.
The mutinous group begin to argue among themselves, blaming one another for letting the plan slip through their fingers. The first mate grabs one by the scruff of the neck and threatens him through gritted teeth, ready to start strangling. The terrified sailor points and gestures with his eyes that the first mate should look over his shoulder. As he does so, he sees that the captain is alone, not protected by any crew, and he appears off guard – finally having a moment of rest to himself after the horrendous ordeal of the voyage. The first mate’s eyes fill with rage as he slowly draws his father’s dagger from its scabbard. The moment has arrived that he will take his revenge.
His calm façade now totally lost; the first mate lets his murderous character take over. He launches after the captain seeing visions before his eyes of all that has happened up to this point: his childhood friend, the captain, leading a successful life with his father helping to guide him, while the first mate himself had to fight for everything he had after his own father was killed at hands of the captain’s…the failure of his plan when everything was in his grasp…the inevitable adoration and credit that would follow for the heroic captain which he would one again not receive.
The loyal crew have spotted the deranged first mate and as they run towards him to stop the attack on the captain, the mutinous crew engage them in a melee of fists and weapons. The captain has his back to the action, watching the seagull once again dance in the air over the bay. The first mate gets within striking distance and without hesitation, pushes the dagger into the captains back and twisted for good measure, before being pulled firmly out.
The captain falls to his knees looking up at the smirking traitor, but in the corner of his eye, his blurry vision makes out the seagull flying away from the area as if almost in slow motion, and just below the seagull the sight of his wife and daughter being shepherded away from the fight. The captain smiles as he knows they are safe. Blood pours from his mouth onto his hands which are desperately trying to hold his body weight off the ground. Underneath his hands are a small gathering of stones, laid out in a strange runic formation, and they begin reacting to the blood.
Smoke begins to envelop the area, and the dagger that had punctured the captain’s back, falls to his side, next to the stone formation, right out of the first mate’s hand as if it was snatched out.
As more and more smoke fills the air, the first mate’s face, whilst looking down at the dying captain, turns to worry as he began to lose his vision. He looks around, searching for his accomplices, but he can’t see anything clearly. It isn’t just the smoke, there is something else happening and he quickly feels blind. It is pitch black, but he can hear screaming and fighting around him. Suddenly he feels intense agony, screaming out, holding his head as if it was on fire.
He can hear whispers, telling him horrible things which he can’t bear. One after the other the whispers turn to shouts, then screams, as if right in his ear. He becomes wild, swinging his arms erratically, groaning and screaming in pain. He cannot see and suddenly he can’t hear anything either. The agony hits its limit – almost as if he feels, in one dreadful moment, all the pain he himself has inflicted on others through his merciless plan.
His body gives in, falling to the ground, next to the lifeless body of the captain. As he lies on the floor confused, and his vision all but gone, he blindly examines the dagger after feeling its cold blade against the warm sand. All he can hear are the faint screams of a little girl in the distance. No voices are around him, nor any hint of movement.
Two figures then appear, he could just about make them out as shadows. One lifts the dagger out of his hand. The figure then cuts their hand and the blood oozes down their palm and splashes on to the first mate’s cheek. The figures mutter something and the first mate can’t understand what’s happening. Everything is nauseating and confusing. He can barely breath and starts feeling a tightness around his throat. His arms are numb, his chest like lead, and his head falls back on to the sand, looking up at the sky.
All the light leaves his eyes again and he prepares for death.
The first mate wakes to the sound of wind. He gets up, but the world around him seems strange. Everything feels different and his movements are odd. Trees tower above him and the earth beneath feels much closer than it should, almost like vertigo.
He tries to shout but can’t move his mouth. He tries to lift his hands, but they are unresponsive. He feels paralysed and helpless, and then the whispers start again, all of them at once, screaming in one ear, maniacal laughing in another, louder and louder and louder.
A frog sits by a bloody dagger.