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Behind the cliff two razor-backed ridges ran parallel for almost five miles before fading into the sea. Between the two ridges a small, rugged but protected valley nurtured a hardy pine forest. At the sea end of the valley was a tiny, shallow and sheer walled bay.

A few miles away another similar, though smaller, island thrust up out of the sea, and beyond that another, smaller yet. The three islands were the peaks of drowned mountains, the three highest of a range that would have been spectacular if they had been on land.

There was life on the islands but only on the big island was there anything beyond scrub, insects and roosting birds. The pine forest nurtured a simple ecology of insects, birds and rats. The sea birds had nested here for untold millennia, and their guano helped fertilize the valley. The rats had come aboard ships and in their first hundred years had all but destroyed the rookery and other life on the island. Over the last half millennia nature had reasserted balance and now a few hunting birds kept the rats in check and the surviving sea birds were much more cautious about nesting sites.

The rain was regular and the weather relatively cool so fresh water was not a problem. A small stream ran down the middle of the valley, passing through a small pond that emptied over a cliff into the bay. It was difficult to tell now but the pond and final few yards of streambed were manmade, built hundreds of years before by Dutch merchants making sure that there was a source of fresh water if they got swept out into the great ocean by a storm while rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

The island had never been permanently inhabited - and rarely visited - since there was nothing of value, especially considering the thousand miles of sea between it and any really inhabitable piece of real estate. At least it hadn’t been purposely inhabited, twice before castaways had inhabited it. Once, a thousand years earlier, by Polynesians who had left after using local materials to repair their storm wrecked catamaran. The second and longer inhabitation had not ended so well. The crew of a foundered Chinese merchant junk had perished here one by one. The last one dying insane and alone a hundred years before the first European ever set eyes on the lonely pinnacle.

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