The Tale of the 'Batavia' - Waiting in Turn to Die Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Tale of the 'Batavia' - Waiting in Turn to Die

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A clipper sailing the seas with a skull forming in the clouds above

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest

The Scene at Sea

Behold an instrument of the most powerful organisation on Earth. She is the Batavia, a merchantman of the Dutch East Indies Company, en route for the Spice Islands with a fortune in silver bullion aboard.

Eight months ago, in the October of 1628, she put to sea from the port of Amsterdam. To understand her fate, you must first comprehend a culture in which mercantile acumen has far outstripped charity and human decency. You must perceive that morality here begins and ends with the fear of divine retribution. You might then appreciate that this world's Nemesis will take the form of a smooth-tongued and Godless madman.

Jeronimus Cornelisz is the under-merchant on board the Batavia, the second-in-command for the company after Francisco Pelsaert. Neither of these educated gentlemen has the slightest idea of how to sail this ship. That responsibility belongs to Ariaen Jacobsz, the skipper, but his authority may be countermanded at any time by the companymen.

Little more than a year ago, Cornelisz's future seemed assured. He had qualified as a Haarlem apothecary and established his own business. Then his newborn son died of syphilis, and his professional and social reputation were simultaneously ruined. His creditors uncovered an association with a heretical Epicurean sect. As the authorities closed in, Jeronimus sought the refuge of the desperate, a flight to the end of the world, to the East Indies in the service of the Company.

Jacobsz and Cornelisz are dangerous allies aboard the Batavia. The roughness and resentment of the sailor is fuelled by the conscienceless persuasiveness of the disgraced apothecary. A mutiny is gestating here, but circumstance will deliver it in grotesque form.

Not all femme fatales are willing. Her name is Lucretia Jans, but we will call her Creesje. Familiarity with a beauty such as this is a natural temptation, but it is also perilous under these circumstances.

We are perhaps 40 days from landfall in the Spice Islands. The captain and the under-merchant have recruited some would-be mutineers among the hot-headed young cadets and the disillusioned sailors. This ship is late and their salaries are dwindling to nothing, but the malcontents are running out of time in another way too. There are still very many of the crew who would stand by Pelsaert and the company in the event of a confrontation. Cornelisz needs to turn the neutrals against the upper-merchant. To his chagrin, Pelsaert's manner is monotonously passive and reasonable.

But Jeronimus has seen those admiring glances towards Creesje. If someone were to violate her, Pelsaert would surely lash out.

A couple of days slip by and Creesje is locked in her cabin, unconsolable. They stopped short of rape, but they stripped her and smeared her genitalia with tar and excrement, in a mocking parody of the novice seaman's initiation rite. Perhaps half-a-dozen took part in the cloying darkness. She has told Pelsaert that she can identify only one with certainty. His name is Jan Evertsz, the high-boatswain.

The upper-merchant does not yet suspect Cornelisz, and even confides in him. Pelsaert's disgust and anger are plain enough, and Jeronimus fans them as much as he dares. But his superior is a practical coward, and does nothing. Justice can wait for port.

Time moves on at the numbing pace of the sea. These hesitant mutineers are still prevaricating over their next move. Before they act, Fate will overturn their chessboard.

It is the 3 June, an hour or so before dawn. Some 300 souls are huddled aboard this ship. There are troops for the colonies down in the dank and vermin-ridden confines of the lower decks. There are the sailors, also before the mast and companions in squalor. There are passengers, all of them bound for a new life at the edge of the Empire. The life expectancy of Europeans out there is about three years, but these people all have something in common. They are far beyond a homeland that has no need of them. Their future prospects may be dismal, but they no longer have any past. This world is bound together by the slender and pathetic hopes of its refugees.

Many here are destitute, pinning their dreams to their skills as craftsmen, their fortitude as labourers or their feats at arms. A few are wealthy, cosseted in the relative comfort of the cabins astern. There are women, children and even newborns among this host. History will assiduously record the names and fates of around two-thirds of them. The company is nothing if not meticulous.

The Wreck

Three hundred souls, all so very different in prospect and station. In a few moments' time, they will all be equal.

We are 60 miles off the coast of what will one day be Western Australia. But longitude is notoriously difficult to measure with the crude timepieces of this age. Jacobsz believes that he is 500 miles away from the vaguely-charted shores of Terra Australis Incognita. His charges will come to bitterly regret his error.

In better light, the surf rimming the low-lying bars and reefs of Houtman's Abrolhos would be visible to a diligent watchman. In the darkness, the Batavia ploughs instead into the coral with sails full set. The eight-inch double hull of fine Dutch oak withstands the impact, but the ship rides high out of the water and lists critically to port. The high tide now recedes, and the falling waterline condemns the weakened hull to the devastating cantilever of her masts and spars. Not long after dawn, Jacobsz and Pelsaert make the irrevocable decision to dismast their ship. It buys them days rather than hours of structural integrity, and the chance at least of an orderly salvage of provisions. In return, they accept the certainty of marooning on a square mile of salt-caked rock.

It is mid-morning, some six hours since the impact. Jacobsz and a pair of trusted steersmen come back alongside in the Batavia's yawl. The skipper's report brings a glimmer of hope, for there is a navigable gap in the reef within a few hundred yards and a small island beyond on which rainwater pools persist above the tideline. Within half a mile, a second and larger outcrop breaks the surf. On the north-western horizon, further islands can be seen.

Pelsaert now begins to direct a fraught operation. He carries the hopes of many frightened people as well as a duty to protect and deliver the Company's silver. Over the next two days, he shuttles survivors via the first island to the larger one beyond, and recovers all the casks he can from the doomed vessel. The exercise is becoming ugly, however. There are now nearly 200 people on the further island, and some 70 left on the ship. The majority of the latter are seasoned seamen, and they are by now drunk, reckless and violent. The other group are becoming desperate and disorderly through thirst and realisation of their plight.

Pelsaert's nerve fails him. With Jacobsz and 46 others on the smaller island, he gives the instruction to build up the sides of the longboat for an ocean voyage. Java lies fully 2000 miles to the north, but the upper-merchant consoles himself with the conclusion that the others can be saved only through his departure. On the morning of 7 June, the 48 set out, taking even the yawl with them. The survivors will name the scrap of coral that they leave behind 'Traitors' Island'. The larger but equally barren ground beneath their feet they now dub 'Batavia's Graveyard'. They cannot yet know how apt that title will prove to be.

Among the men ashore, some with experience of maritime discipline appreciate the need to take control. Unless rigorously directed, these people will fight and squander the precious water. The ship's provost, Pieter Jansz, and the surgeon, the unrelated Frans Jansz form a council, co-opting also a chaplain, Gijsbert Bastiaenz and a couple of others. These men are just, but they are robust and they are also armed. The powers they declare for themselves are vital for survival.

It is now nine days since the wreck. Suddenly and violently, the Batavia's hull fails under the onslaught of the waves. Many of those left on board drown in seconds, trapped below deck. Most of those who enter the sea alive will be cut to pieces against the reef. Around 20 make it ashore, but of under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, now the most senior officer present, there is no sign. By an outrageous stroke of fortune, the bow section to which he clings drifts through the reef and is grounded two days later in the shallows off Batavia's Graveyard. Jeronimus cannot swim, but his peers come to his aid. The last man to escape the Batavia alive is carried gasping onto the shores of a hell ready-fashioned for him.

Jeronimus Takes Control

Within a week, the under-merchant has recovered and has quite naturally been co-opted to the council. He notes that soldiers already party to the shipboard mutiny are guarding the rough tent containing the weapons and provisions. He notes also that more than 200 people are trying to survive on this bare and lifeless strip of ground. Some 20 of the original escapees are dead already, most through dehydration compounded by the drinking of sea-water in the early days of their plight. As many again are seriously ill.

Jeronimus considers this predicament with the detachment of the psychopath. We can only speculate about his state of mind, his reasoning, his reasons. The under-merchant will never tell us.

But there are literally tons of lucre lying in the shallows out there. The Company will certainly come looking for it. If Pelsaert succeeds in bringing help, the planned mutiny will surely be uncovered. If help is slow to come, then a dreadful death awaits those stranded here.

Who knows what notions will become convictions in a mind like this one, under circumstances like these? Jeronimus has already committed sufficient crime to hang. It is a toss-up whether civilisation or nature kills him first. His only potential salvation, unlikely though it may be, would be to overcome his rescuers and to disappear with enough booty to buy his lifelong safety.

The mission is now straightforward: to annex these sparse resources in the coming weeks, and to command a fighting force capable of seizing a rescue vessel should one arrive. In the under-merchant's chilling mind, the sea-going mutiny is transposed to the Abrolhos. Around three-quarters of those here must die. The remainder must serve Cornelisz unquestioningly. The logic is as simple as the implications are horrible.

The under-merchant is nothing if not cunning. For as long as possible, his actions will be plausible and consistent with the welfare of the castaways. Rough skiffs are constructed from driftwood from the wreck, and a party comprising most of the uncommitted professional soldiers are ferried to the far islands, some six miles to the northwest. Under the command of one Wiebbe Hayes, they are instructed to light fires if they find fresh water. They are left without boats or weapons, but they have been promised frequent visits and have no reason to mistrust this assurance. They do not know that Jeronimus' henchmen have already reconnoitred these islands and found them arid.

Splitting up the senior councillors between the various local islands, ostensibly to lead the search for water, seems so reasonable. The provost, his family and a dozen others are returned to Traitors' Island. Another councillor is put in charge of around 30, many of them very young, on an island about two miles to the west, just beyond the deepwater channel. They call it Seal Island, because sea lions appear to frequent it, but Jeronimus knows already that it is just as barren as the others.

The under-merchant now synthesises an excuse for reconstituting the council, demanding execution for a self-confessed accessory to a minor instance of pilfering. The punishment is clearly disproportionate. The surgeon protests, and finds himself ejected from the group that runs this island. Unconsulted, the now-absent councillors share a similar fate. Their replacements are predictable: Jeronimus' henchmen.

Within a few days, the shipping of provisions from Batavia's Graveyard to these outlying parties abruptly stops. The under-merchant forgets them for the time being. Back in his own domain, it is time for a more active killing spree to begin.

Two Months of Mayhem

Jeronimus has willing lieutenants here. There are half-a-dozen merciless individuals, none as clever as the under-merchant, but all utterly persuaded by the logic of his mission. They are mostly soldiers and cadets, already deeply implicated in the original plot to seize the ship. For them too, rescue equates with death. They include the cadets Zavenck and van Huyssen, and the lance-corporal Pietersz, known as the 'Stone-cutter'. Their first victims are the recipients of summary justice. Perhaps three men really do attempt to steal provisions in the first week of July. Their executions do not cause particular alarm in this numb and weary community. At about this time, something like two dozen more are surreptitiously dispatched. There are two methods. One is the killing of those already sick, at first by strangulation or suffocation. The second is to feign the sending of assistance to the outlying parties, a particularly effective way to eliminate the fitter potential adversaries, since they make natural candidates for the ostensible task. They are sent off numbering one or two in a skiff, accompanied by a slightly greater number of well-armed mercenaries. Nobody expects their return.

It is 9 July, around midday. Jeronimus' despicable plan is working well. The dispirited and weak inmates of a death-camp are perhaps not so hard to murder after all. And then, quite suddenly, fires are burning away on Hayes' Island.

No reaction to this eventuality can maintain both the plan and the deception. Given time, Jeronimus would probably decide to rejoin with the outliers, excuse the failure to send provisions and set about a fresh scheme fortified by the newly-discovered water. Instead, something else happens almost immediately. There are makeshift boats setting out from Traitors' Island. The provost and his charges must have fashioned them from jetsam. They are making for Hayes' Island.

Jeronimus makes a snap decision. He feels confident enough to expose his designs. His men set out in their skiffs, and these craft have been built by experienced carpenters using authentic tools. They overhaul the provost easily. Hayes and his men do not see what happens now, since they are miles distant. But the castaways on Batavia's Graveyard witness the slaughter of some 15 of their defenceless companions.

From this moment on, all except the mutineers are in minute-by-minute fear for their lives. Small wonder, then, that dozens more will declare for the under-merchant in the coming days.

Jeronimus is sceptical about the new converts and demands a typically chilling proof of their commitment. Systematically, he obliges them to prove themselves by killing those who remain outside the mutiny. The methods become more violent and more overt. Usually by night, victims are picked out and killed in their tents, using the swords, axes and daggers which only the mutineers control.

The events on Houtman's Abrolhos in the six weeks from mid-July till late August 1629 belong to a fuller account of the tragedy of the Batavia. All the facts are there to be read, if fascination compels it. Versions are legion, in fact, because the inquisition will be painstaking and the interests of the witnesses are diverse. And there are very many graves to be explained.

Any decent person will be satisfied with a summary of the story. Jeronimus succeeds in his prime aim of reducing the population of the Graveyard to around 45 souls. Of these, 31 are his sworn supporters, implicated by their own hand in the form of a written oath. They can never betray the mutiny now. Most of the remainder are the surviving women, around half a dozen summarily assigned to the pleasuring of the murderers on demand. Two more have been reluctantly and grotesquely betrothed, to Cornelisz and the impetuous van Huyssen respectively. There are a further seven men who will not declare for the mutiny, but who are tolerated for their invaluable skills: carpenters, cooks and the like. They are terrorised mercilessly, and they surely realise that they will be slaughtered without compunction if a sail appears on the horizon.

Throughout the bloody orgy, some episodes stand out as even more horrible than the norm of steady killing. The unfortunate inhabitants of Seal Island are wiped out in three waves over the period of a fortnight. With nowhere to hide and no means to defend themselves, half of them are denied even the mercy of a quick end. The chaplain's wife and six of his seven children die in a single night, though Cornelisz perversely spares the pathetic churchman himself. The under-merchant poisons a newborn, for no deeper reason than its disturbance of his sleep. Even then, he fails to kill her, and a newcomer to the oath is compelled to finish the job by strangling the comatose infant the next day. A day later still, and more enthusiastic accomplices hack the child's bereft mother to death.

The Beginning of the End

You want to know more? No, really, you don't. It has all happened many times in history, and this is just one insignificant example. You ought to have realised by now that wanton cruelty lies deep in your own psyche too. Under duress as dire as this, perhaps it would come out. A lesser sense of despair and desolation might suffice, and you would yourself succumb to a monster's persuasion. So don't even ask. Don't even think of finding out.

Throughout this time of horror, Jeronimus never himself lays a violent hand on anyone. His casual experiment with the baby is as close as he gets. But nobody ever resists his orders to kill. Some are too scared. Some find their own psychoses sated by the under-merchant's detached justification. Zavenck and Hendricxz in particular are killing on their own impulse now, and Jeronimus neither approves nor disapproves. Events are progressing in the right general direction as far as he is concerned. A little blood-lust among the mechanical rituals does not greatly worry him.

In fact, Jeronimus now seems far more interested in bedecking his ridiculous 'uniform' with Pelsaert's jewels, and with proclaiming absurd titles. He increasingly espouses the heretic's belief that all that he does is ordained by God, that Sin does not exist, that he is somehow indestructible.

At some point in the recent past, Jeronimus has crossed the line between a different rationality and true madness. Nothing can save him from himself now.

The Traitors' Story

There is, of course, a parallel adventure taking place. It is no less perilous, though rather more noble. It concerns Pelsaert, Jacobsz and the longboat.

The northwest coast of future-Australia is barren and sheer. For many days, the party skirt it, finding a single miraculous haven where they can replenish their dwindling water-casks. Then the wind and tide abruptly seize them, and sweep them rapidly north. Jacobsz and his high-boatswain Evertsz excel themselves in this struggle to navigate the flimsy craft, and make landfall on Java on 3 July. All 48 of their company have survived, including even a babe-in-arms, who has lived more than half of her short life as a castaway.

This is another Batavia, the Dutch trading bastion after which the lost ship was named. It used to be Jakarta, and it will be so again. But now it is half-burned after persistent native attacks, and it is locked in a brutal and rapacious war with the English. The early 17th Century's version of global capitalism is forever one step from catastrophe. One man's brand of justice keeps disaster at bay, and that man is the fearsome Governor of the garrison, Jan Coen.

The wretch before him has lost one of the most valuable ships on Earth, plus most of the hundred men who were sent to bolster this very fort. Pelsaert is in deep trouble. The first consequence of his pleas of mitigation is Jacobsz's incarceration in a dungeon from which he will never emerge alive. Within days, Evertsz hangs for his part in the assault on Creesje Jans, the same unfortunate woman that Cornelisz himself will soon claim as his common-law wife. Such is justice in this ruthless place. It has to be so, when anarchy ever knocks.

But Coen would not be where he is without a streak of pragmatism. Pelsaert is soon aboard a yacht, the Sardam, with a crew of 40, with ringing orders to salvage the treasure. So swift was the longboat's progress that the Sardam's captain disbelieves the claimed position of the reefs, and loses many days sweeping the seas too far to the north. Except for this, the Sardam would perhaps have encountered the under-merchant's massacre at its height. As it is, she is now lost, some 50 miles north of the Abrolhos. But men are aloft, scouting the horizon, and this has an important consequence. The Sardam will make for the island that shows smoke, and the incentive for beacons belongs with Wiebbe Hayes rather than with the mutineers.

The Other Island

Of all Cornelisz's mistakes, the most costly will turn out to be his misjudgments concerning Hayes' Island. When the flares signalled the discovery of fresh water, the under-merchant should have appreciated that his adversary now held superior and long-lasting resources. The situation would continue to move in Hayes' favour, so an early attack or at least some subterfuge to neutralise him became an imperative. Instead, Jeronimus did nothing. Now he moves, but too late.

Hayes and his men have found not one, but two wells below the coral. Water is so plentiful that there is scarcely a need for rationing. Somehow missed by the mutineer's hurried survey, there is also wildlife commensurate with the water supply. Fresh meat in the form of wallabies is always on the menu. The people on this island-prison are in much better shape than their warders, and bemused, at least at first, as to why nobody has answered their triumphant flares.

But now Wiebbe Hayes knows much of what has been happening on Batavia's Graveyard. His first inkling came from escapees from Seal Island, driftwood sailors who escaped before Cornelisz's final attack. The under-merchant has carelessly failed to realise that there are corpses missing. Worse still for Cornelisz, none of his band has told him of the theft of one of the skiffs. On the night of the murder of the chaplain's family, drunken and inflamed mutineers went on to attack one Aris Jansz, the ship's barber. They wounded him, but allowed him to escape.

Hayes could scarcely believe the barber's tale, but the fresh knife-wounds lent it authenticity. Preparations for the defence of the island were begun at once. Now Hayes and his men have become the loyalists in an impending war. They have the high ground, troops in good condition and a force swelled to 40 men through the mutineers' carelessness. Their weapons are makeshift, but wreckage from the Batavia has been washed up here at last. Pikes festooned with 16-inch nails will be an unwelcome sight at the end of a half-mile struggle across the mudflats. Coral shards are lethal projectiles when launched from rope slings and catapults. In Wiebbe Hayes, the under-merchant finally has a competent adversary.

Twice in the last three weeks, a skiff has approached the island, and Cornelisz's men have alighted. On both occasions, they were only half a dozen in number. On both, they waded up to the beach, but the array of pikes persuaded them to come no closer. Insults were exchanged, and the mutineers retreated. If the under-merchant thought before that Hayes' men would be weak and on the point of surrender, then he has been well and truly disabused of that notion now.

Two days ago, there was a third visit, but this time the chaplain approached the head of the beach alone. Reticent and downcast, he brought Hayes the news that Cornelisz wished to parley, and that as a sign of good faith he would bring sailcloth, leather and wine from the Batavia's stores. It is the afternoon of 2 September, and the under-merchant has spent the whole morning ferrying around 20 of his men to an islet offshore of the defenders' position. The rivals are separated by perhaps 400 yards of shallow water and muddy silt.

So far, Jeronimus' actions have been crazed but never stupid. That is about to change. He comes forward himself with a group of just five armed men. Three are his most trusted lieutenants: Zervanck, van Huyssen and Gijsbert van Welderen. The other two, Wouter Loos and Cornelis Pietersz are more circumspect killers but capable soldiers. Nonetheless, the party is heavily outnumbered, and Hayes' mistrust can hardly have been more telegraphed.

To Hayes' disbelief, Cornelisz attempts to persuade him to join him and share his future wealth, in place of the lesser men back on Batavia's Graveyard. The soldier immediately calls upon his men to seize the mutineers, but their allies below begin to advance up the beach. These reinforcements carry swords, and Hayes realises that to meet them while attempting to restrain prisoners will put him at an impossible disadvantage. In his later confession, Jeronimus will admit amazement at the alacrity with which another gives the order to kill. Turmoil follows. Loos breaks free and is allowed to run, but his four companions are run through with pikes. Burly soldiers kneel on Jeronimus and prevent him from crying out. There is an uneasy stand-off, which is broken when the bodies of four of the most feared men in the Abrolhos are flung defiantly into the surf.

It is all over for the under-merchant. Hayes consigns his prisoner to a pit in his camp. The self-proclaimed Captain-General, still dressed in his absurd finery, is thrown seagulls to pluck. Every ninth one he is allowed to keep and eat raw.


Back on the Graveyard, the despondent mutineers appoint a new leader. They choose Wouter Loos, passing over the Stone-cutter, who had been Cornelisz's self-appointed deputy. Time moves on to the morning of 17 September. Another, and this time final, attack on Hayes' bastion begins. Loos brings into service two long-barrelled muskets recovered from the wreck. The defenders are pinned down, and one of their number, Jan Dircxsz, incurs a fatal wound. At a best estimate, he is the 115th person to be killed by the mutineers, and he will certainly be the last.

Loos' patient sniping is proving to be a serious problem for Hayes, when he receives word from lookouts on the high ground behind that a yacht is on the horizon. The beacon is lit. Although the mutineers man their skiffs in an effort to present their case first, it is to the island with the beacon that the Sardam comes. The mutineers stand off in disarray, their doom now inevitable.

It takes Pelsaert well over three months to conduct both the salvage and the assize. Under Dutch law of this time, torture is permitted as a means of extracting a confession, provided that a further confession is later made with free will. With the evidence of carnage all around, the liberators of the Abholros have little hesitation in resorting to these methods. To Pelsaert's dismay, Cornelisz shows no sign of remorse. He anticipates a declaration of guilt and execution for no other reason than his intent to steal from the all-powerful company.

Francisco Pelsaert records these final days of Jeronimus Cornelisz's life in his journal. To the shock of any reader, the formal, convention-bound style is shot through with abject fury. It is the condemned man who dominates his accuser. Jeronimus demands to face a court in Java, not to eke out time but instead to perform his final act on a more fitting stage.

Pelsaert is too weak to make this heretic recant, and almost seems to fear the twisted logic of his prisoner. Cornelisz will not get his wish; he will die here, and very soon. But he will never believe in his guilt, and through these journal-notes the pathetic upper-merchant finally reveals his impotence.

How does a man justify crimes such as these? Here's how. Listen and be afraid.

Jeronimus has always been much better at dreaming than at planning. He is by nature a provocateur, a catalyst, a siren. Actions belong to others, and it is actions, not their suggestion, which collect guilt.

Jeronimus really believes that all of this is someone else's fault. After all, he has been sorely provoked. Who wouldn't entertain a few wild thoughts with death and treasure strewn around in equal excess? Who wouldn't play God, just a little, amid this ridiculous situation?

You can see it, can't you? Jeronimus has simply been killing time. It's the others who have been killing people.

It is on Seal Island that the sentences are carried out, using a makeshift scaffold constructed in part from the remains of the Batavia. Jeronimus is the first to hang. They cut off his hands before applying the noose. In spite of Pelsaert's vengeful intentions, this is probably a mercy. The gallows has no trap, so that death by hanging is likely to be through strangulation. Fainting through blood-loss is surely quicker.

Most of the other mutineers are put to death, too. Some minor participants are variously flogged, dropped from the mast or keelhauled. A couple of them, Loos being one, are deliberately marooned on the mainland shore. The first named men to settle in Australia are thus criminals, but on the opposite coast to the one soon to be made notorious by transportation. The final execution is that of the Stone-cutter, taken back to Java where he is broken on the wheel. It is the 1 February 1630. The death-throes of the last mutineer extended just beyond midnight.

Among the loyalists, Hayes will prosper but Pelsaert will die within two years, sent in disgrace on a disease-ridden posting by the resentful company. Creesje Jans, the young widow molested by Evertsz and later raped by the under-merchant, will come to outlive them all.

Postscript from the Future

A long time from now, in 1963 to be exact, the wreck of the Batavia will be discovered and an innocuous reef named Beacon Island will be identified as her graveyard. The deeds of the psychopath who ruled her for a few terrible weeks will briefly be remembered.

In the midst of Beacon Island, amid the coral grit where nothing grows, they will discover a pit full of a fine black deposit and the remains of long-dead plants. In a place such as this, the flora consumes whatever nourishment it can. Though the flowers fed on the bodies of the dead, those people of the future will realise that this place once bloomed, in a fleeting time long ago. They will realise too that nobody ever saw the flowers above this grave. We can only pray that they will pity the poor souls who lie here forever.

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