“Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”
All shook their heads. I stepped close to the shivering woman. “Do you understand me? Do you speak English?” Do you even speak the tongue of Man, I wanted to ask, but I could not tell: was this in truth Faerie-Land? She was plain to look at, no great beauty in her face and form, and if the only magic she could summon to defend herself was prayer to a piece of glass the size of my palm, then this could not be the land under the hill, as O’Flaherty’s objects had implied. But then, how could this palace be explained? This wealth, lying about unguarded but by a single terrified woman? What were those beastly machines outside? The magic mirror-wall that showed lands that were not those without these walls? The cabinet of light?
She nodded in answer to my question, but said, “See,” which made no sense to me. Perhaps she was simple, or deranged. I held the plaque out to her. “What is this? Who is Verizon?”
She looked at the plaque, then at me, her brows furrowed in confusion. “Tell Eff-oh know,” she said slowly, and then ran a string of words together, not a one of which I understood. Her tone was pleading, terrified; whatever she was, whatever she was saying, she was surely no threat to us.
I ignored her as she kept babbling, and turned to MacTeigue. “Go check on Kelly. Try to secure the door we came through. Stand guard there, the two of you.” Then to O’Flaherty: “Leave me three others to guard, and take the rest back to the Grace. Sail her to the cove, and we’ll beach her and careen.” He nodded, told off Lynch, Burke, and MacManus to remain, and led the others out the landward door and over the north wall.
I crouched down by the still-gobbling woman. “Stop,” I said, and when she did not, I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. I hoped she was not hysterical; I did not want to strike her. She stopped her babbling and met my gaze, thought she shivered and shook, and worried her lip with her teeth. Speaking slowly and clearly, I said, “Be there anyone else here?”
After a moment she shook her head. She started babbling again, but another shake made her stop. “Are there guards? Soldiers? Any men?” She frowned, seeming not to understand, but then she shook her head again. “No men? No guards?”
“No,” she said. “No pole lease.”
I frowned, and looked to Lynch and Burke, who now stood close by. “No palace?” I asked them. “Is that what she said?” They shrugged.
This was profiting us nothing. We needed to secure our position. I held the plaque out to the woman, and she reached up her hand for it; then I dropped it and stamped my heel down. It shattered most satisfactorily, and she flinched away. I grabbed her chin and turned her to face me. “Verizon cannot hear you now,” I told her. I straightened and turned to Burke. “Watch her. Don’t hurt her – she may be a hostage for us, if there are troops about.” He nodded, and rattled his chains menacingly at her; she shrank back from his grotesque leer, but did not move away or try to escape him.
I turned to Lynch. “Go up top. Try to reach the roof, or a parapet. See what you can see from –”
“Captain!” I was interrupted. It was MacManus, still guarding the landward door. I beckoned Lynch to follow, and strode to where MacManus crouched by the open portal, a loaded musket in his hands. He was peering out with one eye, all else concealed behind the doorframe. “Aye?” I asked.
“We have guests,” he said, and nodded outdoors. I moved to the other side of the doorway and looked out, but I could hear it now; a single glance showed me what my ears had already discerned.
Another beast-wagon, this one white, came roaring up the path, raising a cloud of dust as it growled and snarled. It came to a halt with a shrill screech as soon as it spied the corpse of its fellow. The sides of the wagon opened, and two men stepped out.
“Ready arms,” I told my men, and we three took aim.
Then a second beast, a black one, came growling down the road and stopped by the first; four men emerged from this one – all armed.
I tapped Lynch on the shoulder where he crouched beneath me beside the doorway. “Get MacTeigue. Tell Burke to bring the woman up here, under control.” Lynch nodded and scampered off.
“See any powder?” I asked MacManus.
He nodded, but did not lower his aim. “Aye, the one in the blue head-scarf has a pistol.” He blinked. “I think ’tis a pistol, any road.”
“Him first, aye?”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” he confirmed, and cocked back the flintlock.
The men gathered around the wreckage of the green wagon-beast, looking furious but bewildered. The spoke rapidly and loudly, gesturing to the house, the carcass, and each other; they spoke the same tongue as the woman. All were of the same race, it seemed: the same skin and hair and eyes. The one with the blue scarf carried a strange but unmistakable pistol; the others had but knives and bludgeons. We had a clear advantage, then, though we were outnumbered.
Just then Lynch and MacTeigue scurried up behind. Lynch took a position under a window to MacManus’s right, and readied his pistols; I was glad to see his hands were steady despite his youth.
“Kelly is recovered. He will hold the sea-side,” MacTeigue told me, and relief spread through me. This might have been a threat: the man with the pistol could hold us here – I had to assume he had other pistols, perhaps strapped to the beast in something like saddle-scabbards – while the others crept in the back and engaged us hand to hand; but I would pit Kelly against all the rest, even if he didn’t have an axe and a cutlass, and a narrow doorway to stand in. With those, I knew the only way into the house was through the four of us here.
Or perhaps to shatter one of the many wide windows and reach our unguarded flank. Gods, this was the barest, most vulnerable keep I have ever struck. I knew that we must handle this here, face to face: we could not bear a siege.
“Ready with the hostage, Captain,” I heard Burke growl. I turned and saw that he had his chains wrapped around her, one pinioning her elbows to her sides, the other about her throat. One pull of his arms would snap her neck – and the look in her eyes showed that she knew it.
“All right,” I said. “Stand her in the doorway, Burke. Stay behind her lest they fire. MacManus – if that pistol comes up, the man goes down. Lynch, Owen, stand ready if they charge.” All of them nodded and grunted assent, and prepared themselves. I called out, “Drop your arms!” and nodded to Burke. He shoved the woman out into the doorway, pulling back on the chain about her throat just as she called out “Juan!”
“Flora!” came the answering cry, and then more in that foreign tongue – Spanish, I thought now, if I had heard their names aright. That made sense if we were in the Indies, but then nothing else made sense with that. I glanced around the edge of the open portal and saw that all held still, that one of the two from the first wagon held back the other, who pulled toward Burke and the woman, his manner showing the desperation of either a brother or a lover.
The man with the pistol raised it and snarled, “You motherf–” A shot boomed, a puff of black smoke from MacManus’s flintlock, and the man flew back, his pistol falling to the ground – fortunately not discharging when it fell – with his life’s blood as it poured from the hole in his chest. MacManus swung the musket around and handed it to Lynch, who gave over one of his ready pistols without missing a step; he had spent a full year as a powder monkey, hauling charge and shot for the big guns, and reloading muskets and pistols for the men, and though he had proven himself capable of standing on the firing line, still old habits live long and grip hard, especially in the heat of battle. In moments the flintlock was leaning against the wall ready to MacManus’s hand, and Lynch was back under the window with his second pistol ready, a naked dagger in his left hand.
The effect of MacManus’s marksmanship was most salutary: all the men dropped their weapons and raised their hands – all but the first two, who still struggled together, one to reach the woman, the other to keep him alive instead, as MacTeigue and I planted our aim on his breast.
“If you want to live, stand still!” I shouted.
“Let her go, you son of a bitch!” the man in front shouted in response. His address to me clearly showed his failure to comprehend his circumstances.
I took up a more cheerful tone while I explained to him. “Ye have little room to stand on demands, boyo. Perhaps ye should do as I say, and hope to earn some of my goodwill.” I noted the rearguard were beginning to sidle back to their dragon-wagon. I did not want them raising an alarm, returning with more men – especially not once the Grace was beached and vulnerable. “Shane,” I murmured to MacManus,”did ye learn how to kill those metal beasts?”
He blinked. “Anything what takes punishment like that’ll no’ work so very well afters,” he muttered back. “But the feet are soft.”
“And the eyes,” Burke growled from the doorway where he still held the woman immobile, between himself and the men outside.
“Aye, and the eyes – the round bits in front,” MacManus whispered.
“Kill it, then – the one in the rear, the black one. All on my mark.” I took aim. “Left foot is mine.”
“Right foot,” called Lynch, easing one eye up over the sill.
“Left eye,” said MacTeigue.
“Let her go, you bastards! FLORA!”
Four shots barked as one, and the front of the black wagon-beast exploded with a crash of glass and a harsh sibilance; a thin plume of vapor spurted from the foot where my ball struck home, and a thicker spurt of steam from the middle of the metal grate where the beast’s nose should be, which must have been MacManus’s target. Lynch cursed; he had missed. The rest of us chuckled and tossed our guns to him to reload.
Once again, our gunnery was effective. The three in back stopped creeping away, and the two before stopped struggling and were still. The white beast-wagon did nothing at all; perhaps after all, they did not live.
“Down on your knees, my fine lads – don’t believe we’re out of shot in here. Or that you will fare any better than yon metal beast – for rest assured, the next pull of the trigger will spill your guts on the ground. You’re of no use to us, dead or alive, so all’s the same, to my way of thinking. Dead’s quieter.”
MacTeigue made a thoughtful noise and then said loudly, “Aye, but messier. They’ll bleed all over the stonework, if we shoot them now.” I glanced over at my cousin, and he winked. I had to hold back a laugh.
“Aye, ’tis a fair point,” I said. “You gentle souls – take five slow steps back. Any of you who does not move will cost this sweet lass a finger – move too quick, and it will be her neck.”
They stepped back smart enough, but stopped at five steps.
“Lynch – go bring Kelly up here, and take his station.” The youth scurried away on my whisper. I tapped MacTeigue, and we stepped out to flank Burke, pistols aimed at the foremost two. MacManus, his iron reloaded by the nimble fingers of Lynch, could bring down all of the other three in mere moments.
But whatever else these asses were, whether human or Fae, colonists or slaves or Spaniards, they were not fighting men. They charged into unknown danger like daft fools, and then surrendered as quick as chastised children confronted by an irate sire.
I looked at the lead fool, the angriest one. “On your knees, there, lad. Or my bosun will snap her neck.” I clapped Burke on the shoulder, and he grinned his hideous grin.
The fool frowned, but he went to his knees. Docile as a lamb, they were: all the other four knelt as well. I noticed they could not take their eyes off of their dead companion; had they never seen a man shot before?
“Captain,” Kelly rumbled from behind me.
“Kelly – find something to bind them with.”
“Owen – go gather their arms. Bring me that pistola.”
MacTeigue stepped out cautiously, swinging well wide of the choleric one so the man would not be tempted to try for MacTeigue’s pistol. He took the strange pistol from the ground beside the dead man’s hand, and tucked it into his sash. He gathered up the knives and clubs the others had dropped, and cast them into the shrubs ten paces away. As he returned to me, Kelly emerged, tearing strips of cloth off of what might be a curtain, or a bedsheet, perhaps.
“Start with him,” I said, gesturing with my barrel before I stuck it into my sash and took the strange weapon MacTeigue brought me. “Don’t be gentle.”
At the word, Kelly stomped on the angry fool’s ankle, twisted back and under him, and there was a crunch. Then Kelly’s great hamfist clouted the fool on the side of his neck, and he collapsed like a sack of grain.
“Juan!” the woman called out tearfully, and Burke pulled the chain taut around her throat, stopping any other syllables short of her lips. Kelly ignored her, as well as the other front man, the one who had held the angry Juan back from his fool’s charge, and who now cursed Kelly from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head and back to his ancestors. Kelly rolled the stunned Juan onto his belly, pinioned his arms and lashed him securely. Then he stepped to the cursing one and waited for the man’s breath to run out. Then he called out to me, “Gentle or no?”
“‘Tis his choice,” I replied. Kelly curled his paw into a fist under the fool’s nose, and rumbled in a voice like thunder, “Smell ye that, aye? If ye think it smells bad now, just think of the stench after I reach into your belly and tear out your liver and lights to bait me hooks with.”
The fool’s dark skin faded pale, and he quieted, his eyes locked on Kelly’s huge, scarred – and surely odoriferous – fist. He placed his hands behind his back, wrists crossed, and hung his head.
“Aye, and that’s well,” Kelly rumbled. “I prefer gentle, I do.”
“‘Tis not what your last whore said!” called MacTeigue, in great good humor now that the battle was done, and won. MacManus and Burke guffawed at this.
Kelly was unperturbed. “So ye had occasion to speak to your sister, then?” he asked, and then all of us laughed, MacTeigue as well.
The other three chose gentle as well, and before long we had all of them inside, seated with their backs to the wall. Juan had awakened, but his anger was mollified when I had Burke remove his chains from the throat of the maid Flora, and had her trussed and seated by Juan’s side. He still was not cheerful, as Kelly had seemingly cracked his ankle, but he answered my questions fair enough, and in English, without my having to threaten the lass more than twice.
I learned all I could from him, and had just ordered Kelly and Burke to lay them out in one of the chambers and lock them in when a cry from Lynch at the seaward door brought light and joy fully into my heart.
“Captain!” he called. “Sails ahoy! ‘Tis the Grace, Captain! She comes!”
I sent MacTeigue out to join MacManus watching to landward, and then Lynch and I stepped out onto the terrace to welcome our ship and our companions.
I still do not know where we are. But for now: we are safe.
Ahoy, me hearties: this chapter is the end of the first part of Damnation Kane’s adventures. These eight chapters will soon be collected into a short e-book which will be available for purchase. The book will include three bonus chapters that will not appear anywhere else — so be sure to get a copy! More information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, the adventures will continue with the next log one week from today.
Thank you, so very much, for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the story. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.