Log #7: Assault on the Palace of Glass

Captain’s Log #7

Date: 26th of June, 1678

Location: Careened on beach at Glass Palace Cove

Conditions: Safe at last. In need of repairs.

 

Though I intend this log to serve as something of a sailor’s tale, a written record of our fantastic voyage, I must first and foremost keep the records of this ship. Thus: we have taken the Glass Palace, with a minimum of casualties but with more chaos than might be wished; the Grace of Ireland is drawn up on the beach before us, securely lashed, and is being scraped and cleaned. We must find the means to repair the hole in her, and the weakened planks and joins, and then she will be seaworthy once more. Until then, we have food and water, a clear view of the approach of enemies, by land or by sea. We are secure.

I did not foresee this outcome when I crouched in the shrubbery by Lynch, and heard his report that the palace was no longer devoid of inhabitants. I paused long enough to offer a brief string of my most pungent curses, a supplication to the gods of Ireland and a tribute to the patron deities of buccaneers. Then I took one pistol from Lynch, matched his aim, and pressed for details.

“‘Tis a woman – only one, Captain. But I don’t know if she will call out the guards, or what horrible things may come at her beck if she be an enchantress. She came in another of those growling beasts, which now waits at rest to landward.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. The men can never see their captain unsure or indecisive; it saps their courage when they need it most. “Come. The time for watching is done.”

We moved quickly back over the wall to where the men waited, and then I laid out my battle plan, with Lynch’s help describing the terrain and the targets. When all knew their bidden tasks, Lynch led us back over the wall, and at a creep through the shrubbery until we could spy the beast-wagon Lynch had seen the woman arriving in. It was a dingy green, long and low to the ground, and looked not unlike a great serpent; I feared it may prove as deadly and insidious, as well. O’Flaherty’s eyes widened when he saw it, but he nodded, his jaw firm, when I whispered, “Ye will be ready, aye?”

“Aye,” he whispered back, and directed his men to their stations and tasks. I nodded and left, with Lynch, MacTeigue, and Kelly following.

We crouched in the shrubbery, as close as we could come to the seaward door – the incredible glass portal through which we had first seen the Faerie Queen. The curtains, which I had mistaken for rippled metal, were closed once more, which suited our purposes admirably. I took a second pistol from Kelly, whose main task involved only his boarding-axe and the strength of his great bear-like frame, half a head taller than I and twice as wide, with arms and legs like tree trunks. With only one eye, as well, the man would not be performing any feats of marksmanship, which were better left to Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, the three men aboard most likely to hit any chosen target howsoever small. I pointed at the place we would strike, and then we waited.

It was not long, no more than half a minute, before we heard a roar from O’Flaherty, followed by the crash and thunder of muskets as the lads fired a broadside at their target. We were out and running, swift and silent as foxes, our eyes racing over the palace windows and walls, seeking any spying eye in hopes we could put a ball in it before the alarm was raised on this side. But anyone’s attention could not but be drawn to landward, as the first roar of the guns was followed by a bellow not far quieter, as Burke led a charge from the bushes. We heard the crash of his chains against metal, and the shattering of glass; a strange bugling sound arose, and was followed by the discharge of more flintlocks.

On the seaward side, we made it to the terrace and paused to wait for Kelly. The great brute was still half in his cups from the whiskey that O’Grady feeds him with his morning biscuit (Aye, I know of it, though they believe themselves surreptitious. A captain knows his crew and his ship, else he doesn’t live long enough to learn. Kelly’s wound festered, for all Vaughn could do, and the pain of it near drove him mad. Too, O’Grady became cook when he traded his man’s leg for one of wood, and threw in his hearing, as well, when the cannon he was manning held a spark and detonated the charge even as it was rammed home – while O’Grady’s face was laid alongside it so could examine the carriage, which was cracked. The cannon fired, the carriage failed; O’Grady became deaf and lame, and a cook instead of a gunner’s mate – a life of biscuit and porridge, of darkness in the galley rather than glory on the cannons, and of pity rather than honor. He knows that Kelly fears the same loss, that our best fighter will be reduced for the loss of an eye, and his shadow will shrink under him; and so there is whiskey in his water-mug. A clever man might note that I have allowed this to continue. He might see, as well, who I chose to lead the charge.). Though Kelly could move as softly as Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, he was not as fleet of foot, and so as we three drew to a halt on the terrace, he was still in the open. I looked back and saw his eye wildly spinning in its socket, and sweat streaming down his face, his mouth open in a grimace of anguish. He was terrified of what he saw, of the palace, the beast-wagon, the glass wall he ran toward, all of it impossible – and yet his captain asked him to throw himself directly into it. His gaze fell on mine for the briefest instant, and then he snapped his teeth together and roared through them like a snarling bull. He quickened his steps and lowered his shoulder, obviously intending, with all the cleverness of a man on the edge of panic – and of a drunk with something to prove – to burst bodily through the glass, rather than hack through the door’s latch, as I had ordered. I barely had time to call his name before he was on the terrace and past me, his face turned away and eye tight shut as he threw his formidable weight into his bull rush, a man-shaped avalanche thrown at a mere pane of glass.

All that mass of man hit the Faerie glass: and bounced. His head flew into the portal with a thrum like a hawser when a sail snaps tight in high wind, and he flew back onto the terrace as fast as he had run across it, unconscious and limp. The three of us stood dumbfounded, looking as one from Kelly, to the glass door, back to Kelly. Back to the door.

The bloody thing wasn’t even cracked.

“Sod this,” MacTeigue snarled, and aimed one of his pistols at the center of the door. A good man, he paused long enough to flicker his eyes at me; I nodded – we had already raised too much hullabaloo, and we must get inside immediately – and he fired.

The glass cracked, at least. But it did not shatter. Rather the lead ball did, and the shards stuck in the glass pane like flies caught in a spider’s web.

Bloody enchanted faeries and their bloody enchanted glass.

I could still hear the hurly-burly from O’Flaherty’s men, and so hope was not lost for my plan. I dropped my own pistols and swept up the axe from where Kelly had dropped it. My strongest swing, straight at the point where MacTeigue’s ball had cracked it, was enough to craze the glass from edge to edge; a second swing, thus heartened by apparent success, finally shattered it entire. A blast of cool air washed over me, and I shivered. Only with wonder that the palace could be cool inside while the sun burned down so fiercely: surely no more than that. I retrieved my pistols, and led the way in, ignoring Lynch as he muttered, “If the cursed glass be that strong, what will it take to shatter the guards?”

As we stepped through into the cool shade of the palace’s interior – which smelled of fruit and flowers and exotic spices – I saw a head vanish behind a closing door. “Owen!” I shouted, pointing MacTeigue at the door; he nodded and raced to it, bursting the latch with his shoulder – fortunately with more success than Kelly had found with the enchanted glass – and was gone in pursuit. Lynch and I swept our eyes around the room, saw no hazard, and leapt through the doorway into the next chamber, the which we had never clapped eyes on before. It was a dining-hall, and a well-appointed one at first glance. But we sought guards, not crockery and wall-hangings, and we moved on. A swinging door led to a dimly lit hallway – though to be sure, the entire palace was brighter than any Irish house I had stepped into; ’twas dim now in the main because of the bright sunlight dazzling our eyes but moments before – the air growing ever cooler as we moved deeper into the palace. I feared we might encounter true winter at its heart, walls rimed white, snow drifting from the ceiling; and I tried to quell the racing of my heart at the thought.

The hallway widened, opening into a greeting-room of some sort, though my knowledge of palatial architecture is somewhat limited. Light shone down through great windows set in the ceiling, thirty feet above us; a broad staircase led up and the walls beyond opened up into rooms, one on either side. Straight ahead was a door that looked like the portal we had seen the Faerie Queen emerge from with her pink traveling boxes: our goal. “‘Ware guards!” I shouted to Lynch, who dropped to one knee and spun to cover my back, while I raced to the door to let in our fellows. I grasped the handle and pulled, but it would not open; I took a moment to calm myself, and then examined the latches, of which there were several, though no bar. I turned one lock and detached a thin chain – but it was not until I turned the handle that the door opened. I shook my head. “We’re not in Ireland any more,” I muttered as I threw the door wide and stepped out to see what had befallen my men.

As I live and breathe, I swear I do not know what I saw then. Mayhap it was an artifice, a mechanical of some sort, broken and shattered to pieces by axe and cutlass and swinging chain. Mayhap it was a dragon lying slain before me, pierced by many holes from musket and pistol, its dark blood oozing out and soaking the ground beneath it; a stench like whale oil and turpentine filled the air. But I do know that whatever it was, it was now quite properly destroyed: shattered glass and bits of metal were scattered far and wide, and five full-grown men were jumping up and down on top of it and yelling curses and assorted maritime foulnesses while my bosun and quartermaster looked on like proud parents at a Mayday dance.

I will not say which of the two was the mother. Not decide if that title is the greater insult, or the implication that the other would marry such a hideous brute.

It did not matter. The time for noisy distraction was over. Clearly nothing had emerged from the barn-shed, and no unexpected patrol had charged down the road. Now we had to secure the palace. A roar of “AVAST!” was enough to halt the hornpipe of destruction being pounded out atop the wagon-beast’s carcass, and a curt wave of my hand brought the men rushing in, though I plucked MacManus by the sleeve and told him off to keep a watch on the road that led up to the palace door. To the others I called, “Spread out and search for enemies! No plunder yet! Lynch, Moran, Burke – upstairs.” I was relieved to hear Burke murmur a most respectful “Aye, Captain,” as he came through the door past me, and he took the lead up the stairs, flanked and covered by Lynch’s pistols and Moran’s blunderbuss. The man becomes calm and tractable only after he is allowed to destroy something utterly – then and only then is he a model subordinate.

“Christ in Heaven,” O’Flaherty murmured as he came in and surveyed the interior of the palace. “No wonder you thought this was Faerie-Land.” He reached out and touched a mirror on the wall, the smoothest and finest I had ever seen, and with a silver frame that would pay for a month’s supply for the Grace and her crew even without the perfect glass it surrounded. “Who lives in such wealth but a royal?” he asked.

“We do,” I replied. I gestured outside at the pitiful wreckage he and the men had left. “‘Tis surely dead now, but did it live?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “I know not. When we fired the first volley, it hissed at us, and seemed to lower one shoulder, as a bull will when it turns to charge. We didn’t have the time to determine what it meant: Burke ran to it and had its eyes with his chains, in one fell crossing-stroke.” He turned to look out at the remains. He frowned. “We fired again, and it let out a trumpeting – did ye hear it?”

I nodded. “Aye. That was the beast?”

“Aye, but it lasted only a moment. Perhaps ’twas its death cry, or perhaps it called for help. I know not.” He shook his head again, a man with a memory he would throw aside if he could. “I know it made my blood run cold, and the men’s, as well. If Burke hadn’t charged, and lived, I think we all might have broken and run. But courage prevailed, even if a mad thrashing was all we had thought for in our bewildered heads. Sure and it made a grand noise when the boys were atop it, though. Did it serve? Ye seem unblooded; were ye undetected?”

“Aye, all well.” I looked back inside; my men were gathering back in the hallway, weapons lowered, all looking mystified and befuddled. “There’s nobody here, Captain,” Carter called out, and Sweeney grunted agreement. Burke appeared at the top of the stairs. “Not a bloody damn soul,” he growled.

“Well, and there is one,” MacTeigue called out as he came from the shadowed end of the hall. He had a woman by one arm, his pistol in the other hand; he cast her down at our feet. She fell to her knees with a cry, and then crouched there, shivering and weeping, her eyes huge as she looked around at us. She wore a drab grey-blue dress with a white apron; her skirt was too short for decency, though quite a bit longer than what the Faerie Queen had flaunted about in. She was youngish, with dark hair and eyes, and brown skin, though not so brown as a Moor or an African. Perhaps she was a Turk? Of course, if she were Fae, how could a man know what her coloring signified?

MacTeigue reached into his sash and withdrew a small object, which he held out to me. “She was praying into this,” he said. “I did not know the tongue – perhaps Italian or Spanish, from the sound of it. She held it thus,” and he pressed the object to his cheek, near his ear. Then he gave it to me.

It was a small plaque, rectangular and flat, the size of my palm. It was made of some strange material, not as hard as metal or fired pottery, warmer to the touch than stone. Perhaps bone? But it was black. It lacked grain, and so was not wood – unless perhaps it was lacquered in some way. On one side a piece of glass was inset, with a tiny picture painted on it – or under it? there were words and numbers that made no sense to me, though I knew the script.

“She was praying into it?” I asked.

MacTeigue nodded. “She was kneeling in a closet, speaking fast and low, rocking back and forth. Looked like praying to me.”

I looked at the glass plaque. “Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

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