As he made his way to his quarters, he bumped into the Captain of the failed second expedition who practically knocked him down. The Third Captain reeled back from the crash and almost lost his balance as he instinctively caught hold of the man who spoke with a slur from having drunk too much local wine. “Betcha din’t find a thing,” he spat. He had been frustrated in his unproductive searches throughout the southern ports. With every failure, he would hear the familiar voice of his father who would reprimand him at every turn as a boy, telling him he would amount to nothing. This expedition was his way of proving his father wrong, and before he left he visited his father who, even from his deathbed, laughed and invoked the name of another famous captain. “With Chang at the helm, the excursion might be a success.” And those became the last words the Second Captain ever heard from his father. So, with this search coming up empty, his father’s voice grew louder and the only way to quiet it was to turn to drink, which he did with a passion.
“These islanders have a reputation of longevity,” the Second Captain snarled to the new one, “and people everywhere say that these islanders are hoarding secrets which they selfishly guard pretending not to know anything. Stories circulate that Immortals have been spotted here by visitors, but the natives deny the reports.”
The two Captains decided to join forces taking their translator with them flanked by four guards and went to work promptly moving from village to village as far as they could travel inquiring about the potion. They borrowed horses to access deeply hidden hamlets and went far north to interview as many people as they could but came up with nothing. The villagers were friendly and smiled but shook their heads. They said the rumors were false. The farmers and fishermen only laughed, not rudely or disrespectfully. They were simply aware that these dazzling stories had spread far and wide because these islanders lived to such a ripe old age. They were flattered, not angry, and found this whole business amusing.
After thorough interviews, the Captain of the second ship who had started drinking well into morning, offered, “Let’s round up hundreds of these villagers and offer them up as proof that there are no Immortals.” The Third Captain wrinkled his brow. This kind of cruelty was not a solution and convinced his fellow Captain there must be another way of breaking the news to the Emperor.
“Oh,” the Second Captain sputtered, “We can give him a poisonous decoction as the Elixir and be done with it.”
“Aye,” the Third Captain moved the jug of rice wine just out of reach of his fellow Captain, “we could do just that, but the Emperor is clever, and he would have one of his servants taste a bit first.”
The Second Captain, pulling out a knife just for effect said, “The Emperor will have our heads. Maybe we’ll kidnap the Magician and force him to admit that he had lied about the Elixir.” He stabbed the air in circles. “Or we might grab the Emperor’s favorite concubine and threaten to kill her.” He jabbed the table and started carving a small line in the wood.
The Third Captain peered at him with a side glance and pursed lips. He could see the instability of his mate and signaled his own sailors to help the drunken man to his quarters. The Second Captain did not put up a fight and was passed out within moments of leaving. The Third Captain stayed up a while longer, staring at the knife that was left behind sticking out from the table. He shook his head contemplating his own fate.
In the morning, the Third Captain approached his mate who was drinking a little something to quell his headache from the night before.
“I think we need to just tell the Emperor the truth and be done with it,” the Third Captain concluded. With heavy, fearful hearts, both Captains returned with their sailors. They docked their vessels at the Chinese port and were preparing to make their way back to the palace when the Court Magician greeted them. He was nervous when he had received news of their return. Though the skies were darkening with the promise of rain, he galloped by horseback to meet them at the port mid-afternoon.
“Hello! I heard of your arrival and came quickly. Tell me, have you found it?” yelled the Magician eagerly.
The Captains looked at each other. While the Third Captain still believed in the Magician’s abilities, the second had lost faith all together, thinking that the Magician reminded him of his deceased father. The way he walked, or the veins on his hands. He couldn’t place it. But whatever it was, he had decided long ago that the Magician only had plans to ruin him. The Magician had sent him on this fool’s errand to prove he would never amount to anything. So, with defiance the Second Captain delivered the news, “As you already know, there was nothing. Nothing. Ha ha! No Elixir. We were fools to believe it. The Elixir is nowhere to be found!”