The Red Seal of Courage


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Papa Joope begins his chronicles with a story of when he was a young cabin boy on a pirate ship. He's small, weak and constantly reminded of it, until one day he finds a small coin buried in the ground.

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The Red Seal of Courage

  1. 1. The Red Seal of Courage It was late in the day; the crew was tired. A general feeling of fatigue and apathy filled the entire ship. The sun was in its final stages for the day, but little did we know that we were certainly not about to follow in its footsteps and get our already much deserved rest. I remember vividly the waves crashing upon the mahogany planks of the side of the ship. The master craftsmanship enduring the salt spray and all else Mother Nature had to offer from her seas. We had recently had a full day of exploring. Captain Shanks had recently found a tip from the local town that there was treasure afoot. So this morning, the whole crew was in for a bittersweet surprise that we had recently found the island. It was bittersweet because we found the land before the sun found its way back into the sky. As tired and angry as can be, the crew of seventy five of the burliest and most aggressive men you could find within two hundred miles in any direction, went single file off of the side of the boat. They climbed out of their cabins and down the woven rope descending off the side, careful not to break the window on the way down. Me? Well I was a little late. I was a wee lad at the time. I couldn't have been more than twelve at the time. Unkempt, shaggy black hair with stray strands going in every which direction laid on top of a boy who was covered in dirt and salt which sullied an otherwise worn down, old, tan jacket. A little cabin boy like me couldn't stand up to the big, bad pirates that were marching out, so I had to wait my turn, I had to wait until the rest of the food chain had their way with the cabin before I could get ready and trail the pack out onto the island. “I would have my time eventually; I won't always be the small one, right?” I told myself this and just endured being the lowest one on the boat. I scurried across the deck as I hear the captain yell for me. I was the lazy one as he saw it, always last, never able to do the heavy lifting the others could. I had to grab the spyglass and sit in the crow's nest until somebody made a spill or a deck needed scrubbing, which was all too often. So, right, I'm rambling, we were getting onto the island, of course. We dug around the island according to the captain and his assistant's different translations of the tip and the map that they had found. As we were digging, I remember a guy with a tattoo that took up his entire arm to symbolize his love for the seas; he had the artist draw a cross section of the ocean on his arm! He said, with his smuggest voice, a voice that I won't ever forget, it resonated in me, and it probably was the greatest reason for the acts to follow. “Ha! Shanks is lucky to have us, he's as smart as Joope is strong. If we were as weak as him, our whole boat would be sunk in a matter of minutes! He needs us to catch the slack that his mind leaves.” They all had their smug laugh, they pushed me around, took my shovel and filled up the whole that was admittedly smaller than anybody's by a significant margin. Their jeering had been going on for the last year, and I was sick of it. Yes, I was small, yes, I was weak, but no, I didn't want to hear about it anymore. Everyday, the names they called me; everyday, the messes they made because they knew I was the one who had to clean it up; EVERY, DAY, the smug look they had on their face whenever they looked at me, as though to say, “I know the hours suck and I'm an uneducated meat head, but at least I have a use, I bet that's more than you have.” It sickened me, I was angry. What could I do about that, though? Fight them? Any given one of them weighed one hundred pounds more than I did. Forget it by drinking? I tried that a couple months beforehand, a twelve year old can't exactly hold their grog, but they do get massive hangovers none the less. I had zero effective options, so I had to keep it to myself. As I dug, about three hours into the day, I came across a small coin in the center of a four foot hole in the ground I had made. I was rather proud of the hole, it was deeper than almost any hole that anybody else was in, even if it was my third hole and they were on their fifth. Nonetheless, I picked up the coin that was almost the size of my fist with writing on it in a language I couldn't even begin to decipher. I took it over to the captain and told him about how I thought I had found the top of the treasure that we were looking for. I felt excitement in my chest, I had finally outdone all the other jerks on the ship, I thought to myself. Shanks inspected the coin, first he gave it a quick scan, and then
  2. 2. inspected the details, and I thought for sure I had finally done something significant. After he looked at it, he threw it to the ground and began kicking sand over it and into my face. “This coin, no, not a coin, this seal! It's worthless. If I were to exchange this, I couldn't buy a meal from a local vendor for just myself!” He stormed off. I was heartbroken, I was ready to break down and cry. I wanted to be buried along with the coin; I wish he would have done more than just kick sand in my face. I took the coin and put it in my jacket pocket. The rest of the day, we dug and dug, while I moved a third of the dirt they did, I could tell that we were all equally exhausted. We climbed back onto the ship as the sun was going down as I said. The wind was picking up as we all made a desperate trek from the edge of the deck back to the cabins on the opposite side. That's when the captain said it; his howl gave me more goose bumps than the cold ocean wind that was already a prominent howl at that point. “Alright! We're pushing off tonight! Even without treasure we still need to push off before this storm swallows us up along with the island.” I couldn't actually feel as bad as any other crew member, because this was one of those rare moments where I was an equal. I was booing and moaning about having to continue working and for once, I wasn't the unanimous butt of the joke. I was forgotten, it was a pretty cold feeling, but I liked it better than being judged. It was all about a hatred for Shanks and his “oppressive” work ethic. For the next hour we worked our already worn hands to the bone getting the ship ready to sail through a storm. Our job was getting all the essentials and the non-bolted-down items inside and away from the gale force winds. The rain and hail began to pour over the course of packing up. Combined with the wind and lightning in the background which made thunder so loud you would swear it was right behind you, it made for a night that would be remembered regardless of what happened in the storms unrelenting fury. We set sail with the captain steering the ship. His thick, leather jacket and his stern demeanor made him immune to the harsh weather that he would have to sail through. While he was the leader, he wasn't exempt from the hard manual labor that the rest of the crew did. He was right next to us, digging that day, in between his mapping sessions. He was truly a man worthy of praise, a tough, fair man. “Joope!” He hollered at me as I took my first step on the ladder down into the cabin, the warm, lit cabin I truly wanted to be in, “Stay here and keep the ol' captain company for a little while!” A crack of lightning sparked behind him, the thunder acting as the kind of frustration I felt as though his mission in life wasn't to simply lead a crew of pirates, but to rather keep me out of my bed until I collapsed in exhaustion. I begrudgingly gave him a nod as I closed the door to my small bed which would have felt like heaven and went back into the cold, rainy weather to meet with the captain. “You know, Joope, I wasn't mad specifically at you for this whole coin thing, it's just debilitating to not be able to do something. I couldn't find the treas-” I didn't care what else he had to say, I couldn't hear it anyway, not with the blast of thunder that almost left me deaf after than anyway. I don't remember why exactly I didn't attack him after he said that. I wanted nothing more to just jump at him and start swinging. I guess I was too much of a chicken to do it. He has no idea what it's like to not be able to do something. He had no idea how it felt to be too weak, too frail, and more than anything, too afraid to do it. The cold regret that you feel, the itching that just maybe, if I had tried a little more, if I had pushed a little harder, if I had stood up and said something, then just maybe, I would be able to sleep as I stared at the ceiling thinking about it. I drowned out the rest of what he was saying with the howling winds, the lightning, and the memories of all the times I could have done more. I touched the metal seal that I had kept in my pocket and decided that I would speak back to the captain, instead of just letting him talk at me. I told him how it was okay that he had been so angry and that I would surely get better: stronger, smarter and finally become an asset to the crew. He didn't say anything back; he just tilted his head to the side as he stared at me. He had a dumb little smirk on his face; I wasn't sure what it meant, it wasn't a smirk like the other crew members gave me. It was almost like it was out of pity, I shuddered to think that he was commenting on the futility of what I said, I thought that maybe he was reminded of something from his
  3. 3. past, maybe a friend, or maybe himself. As he looked ahead again, a blinding light engulfed the ship, a lightning strike had hit the boat, the entire ship rocked back and forth; the captain used all his might to keep the ship en route. As the boat became stable again, tattoo-arm came out of the cabin to see what had just happened. All at once, we noticed that the main sail had been set ablaze! The shock was mitigated by our collective need to find a solution to the problem, lest we all be dead at sea. Back and forth there was fervent yelling back and forth between him and Shanks, but we didn't have time for this. So as I shouted this fact to him, tattoo-arm pointed towards the miscellaneous hooks hanging down near the mast and said that he was going to go climb up and hook a piece of cloth onto the mast, and that would be enough to make it to the nearest port to get it fixed. He walked forward, ready to jump into action, but then as the storm began to move in slow motion, I reached in my pocket and clenched my seal as hard as I could, I thought that the metal was about to bend, and I ran out in front of him and shouted, “NO!” I stuck my arms out and said in a stern voice, disregarding every tremble in my body and trying my hardest to ignore my numb fingers and legs that were turning into jello. “I'll do it...” He gave me the smirk and put his hand on my shoulder to move me out of the way. I had snapped completely, I took my arms and pushed his core with all my might, pushing him back, he lost his balance because he was certainly not expecting such passion out of me. Without saying another word, I had run away from him and towards the mast. I dropped the seal at the foot of it and began to climb up the ladder going towards the crow's nest. I knew the ladder well; I had been going up and down it many times practically every day for months. The wind had found its way under my jacket, and began attempting to pull me off the ladder. But with every strike of lightning, I felt the weight of my past weigh down on my fingers, giving me an iron grip, and a will that reflected it. I kept taking step after step up the ladder, colder and more afraid every single slip and every single step. As I got right aside the hole in the mast, I noticed the fire that the lightning had caused was kept to a minimum thanks to the rain. As I sighed in relief that the fire hadn't already taken everything we had, I slipped. I had let go, I fell down three ladder steps before I grabbed back onto the third step with my right hand, my cold, tired, wet right hand. As I slammed back into the ladder because of the force, I let out a yelp and screamed in pain. I felt hopeless, I was going to fall, and then we would have no hope of fixing the mast, because it would be too late for the captain or my “friend” from the crew to help. That's when I took the last of my strength and all the courage that I had developed in those few moments before hand to take my other hand and endure the immense pain and began climbing again. I made it back up to where I was before through the wind and the rain and against every fiber of logic in my being. I took a leap of faith and jumped off the ladder onto one of the hanging hooks and used it to swing onto the front of the mast. It was at that moment that I came to the realization that I had forgotten to bring any cloth with me on my little escapade. So being the resourceful person I am, I used my wet hands to clutch the fire. The burn was so intense that I was brought to tears because of the searing pain. I swiped my beaten hands across the ashes left by the fire I had put out. “JOOPE!” I heard Shanks yell. I looked down, just then feeling like I was going to puke because of the dazzling heights I was put upon. He had thrown one of the hooks over so that I could grab it with the hand I wasn't holding onto the mast with. Thinking quickly, or rather, not thinking, I grabbed it, and put my feet through the hole in the mast, so I was upside down with one hand free to take off my jacket. The wind picked up at that point, or at least it felt like it, as hail and rain splashed against my bare arms. I impaled my jacket after a couple times getting the hook to pierce through the cloth that it was made of. As tattoo-arm and Shanks threw me three other hooks, all of which I had to connect to my jacket and then to the mast while the lightning still blinded me and the thunder still deafened me. I was able to get the jacket secured onto the mast. I looked down as the captain gave me a thumbs up and I looked down, no longer phased by the height off the deck I was currently residing, and saw that the rest of the crew was looking out the windows from the cabin to see my feat of heroism. I felt like a hero for a split second, which was all I needed, before another strike of lightning
  4. 4. missed our boat by no less than a yard and threw up water all over the deck, rocking the boat and rocking me off the front of the mass with tremendous force. I hit the deck face first. It was truly a hero's thanks, of course. I felt at this point, a good night's sleep wasn't out of the question. I was about to faint, but before I did, I crawled over and grabbed my seal with my last bit of strength by reaching my hand all the way out and grabbing the little red seal that was to blame for this. This display of bravado, of reckless endangerment and my chance to prove that I wasn't useless was all thanks to this little seal. My whole body ached, and it was because this little coin gave me the chance to prove to myself that while I was the smallest and the weakest, at that moment in time, I felt like the tallest, strongest, most courageous person in the crew. Heck, I was delusional; I was face down on top of the world. It was a great feeling, Tattoo-arm came running towards me and picked me up as I passed out laughing with a huge grin on my face. For once, the grin was on the other face as he carried me back into the cabin. A couple days later as we finally reached the port, I was finally able to stand again. We all climbed off, only this time, I was the first one off the boat, and I looked back and saw two sights that took my breath away. My jacket was haphazardly attached to the mast and had brought us all the way here, but just barely. The ship was practically wrecked because of the storm. Patches of wood were coming off, nails and windows were missing, the sails were ripped and the boat was coming apart at the seams. The storm took a toll on the boat that I had never seen before. The second sight that I found much more interesting was the grin that the captain, Tattoo-arm and the rest of the crew gave as they looked at me. It was a smirk, it wasn't the judgmental smirk, the pitiful smirk that Shanks gave me, or the insane smirk I had on the night of the storm, it was a genuine smirk that sincerely meant they were proud. They had noticed and accepted me; I wasn't the useless, weak burden anymore. It brought a tear to my eye, so I couldn't look any more, because I didn't want to soil a victory like this. A great moment couldn't be ruined by me crying, could it? It would ruin everything I had worked so hard for! Thunk! I heard something hit the ground as the crew began to walk past me as I stood there with my back to the ship facing the port that they ventured into the town to either drink, pillage, eat and flirt, or any combination of those. One of them dropped my red seal on the ground right next to me. I thought about the pain that I had felt, the numbness, the searing and the fear that I felt as I followed the advice that it had given me before. Is it really worth it to be brave? Is this what it meant to be strong and brave? Do I even want that? Then I remembered the crew, the smile I had. I remembered just how worth it is to follow what you believe, to go out and try to achieve what I wanted. I thought about how much I wanted to continue to draw the latent strength I had inside. I picked up the seal and decided, yes, I'll take my seal with me and remember to be brave. I'll continue to try and be that tallest, strongest man that I felt like the night of the storm. I'll follow the insane callings of the coin at my side. The coin so worthless it wouldn't buy me a meal, but so priceless I wouldn't sell it for the world. I clutched it, put it in my pocket, and moved forward with my head held up high. It felt weird, I couldn't remember the last time, if ever, I held my head up high, but that would change. I was different, I was great, I was strong, but more than anything else, I was brave.