Date: 5th of July, 2011
Location: Miami, Florida. The home of the Family Lopez.
Conditions: Marooned, but regaining my land legs.
I awoke in my garradge feeling much improved of body, this morn. I emerged to greet mine hosts, and found that Maid Flora’s brother Alejandro, a lad of only ten summers and the youngest child of Mistress Clara Lopez, was the sole Lopez yet returned from the Elysian fields of slumber. Alejandro was enraptured by the images on their magic window. This was much like the magic window which Vaughn had shown me at the Palace, before that thrice-damned sanctimonious hypocritical poisoner O’Grady had smashed it, only this window was smaller; I sat down beside him to attempt to learn what I could from this ever-mysterious oracle. The lad quite sensibly was stretched prostrate across a thin rug on the tiled floor; the reclining couches in this house, like those at the Palace, are utterly absurd in their sybaritic decadence; I find them too comfortable for comfort. I think no one but a hedonistic nobleman of old Rome – nothing less than a new Caligula, a Nero – would need a seat so laughably soft. Why have a bench that does not support you, but rather swallows you into its pillowed embrace? I must note that if these sorts of engulfing pillow-thrones are commonplace, methinks the people of this time will prove easy pickings for a rough and ready pirate crew. One could storm and loot an entire house before the inhabitants even managed to raise themselves out of the depths of their chairs.
Though young Alejandro had sense in his choice of place, I soon found the magic window’s images far too lunatic and manic to observe. I tried asking the boy – who speaks a better English than his siblings or mother, and so has frequently served a turn as translator in my time here – for explanations, but beyond the knowledge that this was some depiction of a story (or perhaps a hero?) named Dragon Ball Zee, I was more frequently instructed to be quiet so as not to interrupt the beguiling madness behind the window. It soon made my head ache and swim at once, as though I had drained the foul dregs of a cask of new whiskey, and I excused myself to perform my morning ablutions.
This has not ceased to amaze me. Maid Flora kindly instructed me in the use of the washing-room (Ell Ban-yo, I believe is the Spanish), and I have learned from observation that these people bathe daily. The boy Alejandro, indeed, bathes even more frequently, being impelled to do so by Mistress Lopez whensoe’er the boy returns enmuddied by his games. This washing-room has the same incredible water-spouts as did the Palace; I cannot fathom where such a wealth of clean water is stored in this modest home. It has not rained since I arrived here, and I saw no aqueducts, and yet the well has not run dry, nor have the Lopezes evinced the slightest worry that it will do so. I have taken my lesson from them, and have made use of this unending water to clean my tarry hide as I have not done in months, as a single rinsing cannot accomplish. Maid Flora was kind enough to launder my togs, as well, offering me the underclothes of either Juan or Ignacio to cover my nakedness in the meantime – I did not ask which, owing to the intimacy of the clothing in question. I was forced to remain cloistered in the garradge for the sake of propriety; the thinness of the shirt and britches would have made any public appearance quite indecent. I was most gladdened to return to my proper clothing.
When I was finished cleansing my carcass, which was now returning to its former state of pinkness, I found that Maid Flora and Mistress Lopez had arisen and made a fine meal to break our fast; I made my best effort to be glad company to my kind hosts – especially as I have observed that their menfolk seem generally sullen at meals; Juan and Ignacio are habitually silent, or else spend the time at table staring at the magic window, observing the same strange ritual I saw with Vaughn, involving several men in colored smallclothes kicking and chasing a child’s ball across a grassy meadow. They named it foot-ball, which seems to me a childishly simple name – though it is a childish game, as well, so small wonder. This morning, neither brother was even present: Juan had not returned from his employment, and Ignacio had not risen from bed.
Allow me the indulgence of paying my hosts yet another compliment, in regards to the table they set, which is ever generous as well as sublimely sumptuous to the palate; so accustomed am I to sailor’s fare, salted and boiled and peppered meat and biscuit, with hunger as the only spice, that I fear I make quite the glutton of myself, though these ladies seem gladdened by my visible and audible appreciation. Once we were sated, Maid Flora prepared to leave for the Palace. Her brother Juan, who has employment at some sort of tavern, owned by one MacDonald, returned then, his master requiring his services in the dark hours of the night – which makes me wonder at the sort of base, lawless establishment this MacDonald runs, that he serves his customers when decent folk are a-bed (and, too, if I might find a decent mug of grog and a comely wench there for my own self; Juan seems to think not). Juan’s return roused Ignacio, and the ensuing conversation, held in Spanish, with the pertinent elements translated for me by Maid Flora, resulted in Ignacio and Mistress Lopez extending an invitation to myself to go to market with them, had I any need to make a purchase.
I had great need, though at first I could not communicate it. Apart from my boot knife with blade, though sharp, a mere handspan in length, I have been left utterly defenseless by those black-hearted scoundrels who stole my ship. The Lopez family nodded at the word pistola, though Juan and Ignacio exchanged a dark look when I spake it – but I could not bring them to understand either “sword” or “blade,” “rapier” nor “cutlass,” nor any other word I could manage. Finally I took up a cooking knife – a blade of goodly heft, I must say, though of course it has no fighting balance – and pantomimed a duel. The Spanish word is espada, it seems. More conversation followed, resulting in a question, delicately proffered, regarding any available funds; I showed them my ring, gold with a cabochon ruby inset, and they seemed relieved.
We departed in their wagon-beast and soon arrived at a shop where the proprietor bought and sold goods of every stripe and kind imaginable. Upon entry, I was dazzled by the display: there were ladies’ parasols and gentlemen’s canes, coats and hats and boots, jewelry and paintings, magic windows, musical instruments, and a thousand things I could not fathom. At Mistress Lopez’s urging, I offered the man my ruby ring; he gazed at it through some arcane eyepiece, and then he said, “Fifty bucks.” Before I could express my confusion – was he offering me fifty male deer in exchange for a single gemstone? How had he gathered so many? And what would I with such a prodigious herd? – Mistress Lopez exploded into violent Spanish, with much shouting and gesticulating, which the merchant returned in kind. I gathered, when I realized Mistress Lopez indicated a display of finger rings, which generally had smaller stones than mine or none at all, each ring sporting a small slip of paper reading 50 and 100 and 200 and 350 and the like, that the man’s first offer was offensively low. At the end of the haranguing, the man counted out five pieces of green-tinted paper, all numbered 100 and bearing a portrait of a distinguished gentleman with spectacles and white hair, and Mistress Lopez nodded in satisfaction and gestured that I should retrieve the paper and surrender my ring. I was still confused by the term “bucks,” as there were no deer represented nor named on the paper; as they seem to be named “dollars,” I will call them such here.
At Ignacio’s urging, I asked the man for a pistola, such apparently being within his purview, too. He walked me to another display, behind metal bars and a pane of fine, flawlessly clear glass, of a dozen or more weapons much like the strange one we had taken from the man MacManus shot at the Palace. Even as I hold one now, I am confused by the configuration, and the lack of a proper wooden stock, but the greatest puzzle of the weapons to me is their size! Like a child’s playthings, they are! And all without ramrod or lock of any kind, flint or wheel or even match. I asked about the largest, a piece of black iron still half the size of a proper pistola. The man looked askance at me, scratching at his large and bearded chin, and then asked, “You got a license?” My bewilderment answered his question, because he then asked, “You got any more cash?” On my returning precisely the same response again – namely a confused silence – he snorted and said, “You can’t afford that one.”
I was alerted by Mistress Lopez’s action, and I peered at the paper affixed to my choice. “It says 500, there. Is it not the same as these?” I waved my dollars at the man.
He narrowed his eyes. “What the hell else would it be? It ain’t goddamn pesos. But I gotta sell you a license, too, and that’ll cost ya 200 on top of the gun.”
That put the majority of the weapons here out of my reach. I considered haggling – or releasing the wrath of Mistress Lopez once more, who still looked daggers at the merchant, though he avoided her gaze most assiduously – but as I could not fathom this talk of licenses, I decided to take him at his word. I was not offended by his attempt to gain my ring at a tenth its worth; rather I felt some kinship. A proper pirate he would have made, I wot.
Thus I indicated a pistola which was labeled 200, and he gladly sold me that. I asked for the license he spoke of, but he gave me a look so laden with sardonic contempt that I at last grasped the nature of this license – that it was a bribe. There must be some law controlling the sale and ownership of weapons, here. Cromwell had done the same to my beloved Ireland, as the damned English had done to our Scotch cousins, too. I wondered if there were some vile tyrant with this land in his iron fist – though if that were the case, it seemed terribly foolhardy of this man to display forbidden weapons to all and sundry.
This world is a terrible confusion to me.
Any road, I returned four of the five green dollar-papers, and the merchant gave me the pistola. I hefted it – satisfyingly solid, albeit small – and then asked the man, “How does it work?”
Apparently I am a terrible confusion to this world, also.
We left the shop as unarmed as we came, for the merchant did not sell powder and shot – what he called Amm-owe – and thus I had naught but a boot knife and a small oddly-shaped club.
The company journeyed on to a place that brought me great comfort, owing to the familiarity of the sights, the sounds, the very air redolent of pasties and meat pies, sugared snacks and fruit, and ale, and mead, and wine – this, this was a proper market. Stalls in rows filled a great open square, with a multitude of voices raised: in negotiations, both friendly and pointed; in the joy of discovery, and in sorrow over broken dreams – as the price is revealed beyond the wanter’s means, as the customer walks away with hands empty and purse un-lightened. Merchants spread goods on blankets, across tables and chests or strung on lines between poles; some under tents and some under the open sky. Clothing sold beside fresh food beside tools beside objects I could not hope to identify, beside boots and sandals that would not have looked amiss at home, three centuries ago and thousands of miles away.
This was, bespoke a sign at the entrance, the South Miami Flea Market. I did ask why the market was named for pestiferous vermin, but could not make myself understood to my companions.
Ignacio quickly guided me to a large stall that sold goods to hunters: mock waterfowl, apparently for use as lures; bows and arrows of a sort I had not seen; game bags and boots, coats and hats, all in a shockingly ugly sort of mottled green-brown cloth that looked filthy and mud-caked even when clearly never worn. I presented my new small, odd club to the merchant and asked for amm-owe; the man looked, nodded, and said, “Thirty-eight.” He rummaged through some crates behind his table and presented me with a small square box; he lifted the fitted lid and showed me an array of small brass trinkets. When I did not react at all, he asked for my pistola, which I gave him; he opened it smoothly, pulled the brass trinkets from their rack – they are round and oblong, somewhat like smooth thimbles, or perhaps replicas of a large animal’s teeth – and placed them into holes in the pistola. They fit perfectly, as he showed me, and when I nodded, he put them back in the rack, gave me back my empty weapon, and traded me my last 100-dollar paper for the box of amm-owe and four new sheets of paper numbered 50, 10, 10, and 5. At my request he repeated the opening and loading of the pistola twice more until I saw the way of it.
We meandered through the rows, the sights and sounds easing knots in my viscera I had not known were there; there is a dis-ease in being in such a strange place that may not be immediately apparent even in one’s self, but which, when it be even slightly ameliorated, is replaced with a relief and a bliss that makes one nigh giddy. So a spring came back in my step, and before long, I found myself whistling and laughing aloud, as Mistress Lopez poked and frowned her way through goods and sundries, taking very little and leaving a string of sour-faced merchants in her wake.
Partway along our third row, we came across what I sought – or so I at first believed. It was a merchant – a prosperous one, with tent and cloth-covered table – who sold weapons, the kind of weapons I knew and longed for: blades. For the first time, when I espied the black scabbards and gleaming naked steel, I hastened forward alone, leaving my companions well behind me. The merchant was engrossed in conversation with a thin spotty-faced youth, and so I strode directly to the table of goods and clapped hands on the first likely-looking weapon: a rapier of moderate length with a simple guard.
To my disappointment. I did not even need to draw it from its sheath to know that it was a piece of work so shoddy as to hardly deserve the name “sword.” The steel was far too light, the blade clearly virgin and too dull to cut my fingertip, and the hilt rattled, so poorly was it affixed to the tang. A slip of paper attached to the hilt with string read “Captain Jack Sparrow: $125.” I dropped the sorry thing, pitying this Captain Sparrow had he ever possessed such a miserable blade, and took up another, this a sort of broadsword with a hand-and-a-half hilt – useful for heavy work.
But this was even worse. The grip was a leather slick to the touch even without the blood and sweat that soon enough coat one’s hands in any combat. I bared the blade to find that this one had apparently never even heard of a whetstone, so dull was its edge, and there was apparently no balance at all; it was no surprise that this one also showed not a nick, not a scratch, no evidence of use. This one bore a tag reading, “Aragorn: $180.” I made a noise of disgust and threw this miserable metal stick down on the table, where it rattled against the first.
“Hey! Careful with those!” the merchant called out.
“Why?” I retorted. “They seem entirely harmless.” He turned back to his companion, though he kept his gaze on me. Perhaps one of these odd-hilted pieces, which seem the favored and popular style here: a long, two-hand hilt, cloth-wrapped, with a round guard merely the size of a large coin – smaller than a man’s fist on the hilt, which, one would think, would defeat the point of a guard entire. I took one up, bared the blade – single edged and slightly curved, like a saber, but straighter than any saber I had seen, and with a triangular tip – and examined it. I was surprised to see that this had something of an edge, but – the steel. As an experiment, I laid the flat of the blade across one raised knee, and pressed, almost delicately.
The blade snapped.
“Hey!” the merchant – the blackguard – shouted again, now leaving his conversation to accost me, but I denied him the chance.
“How dare you, sir!” I shouted, and rammed the inch of broken blade affixed to the hilt into the table before me with force sufficient to bite into the wood. “How dare you sell weapons that would kill the wielder ere he ever had a chance to defend himself ‘gainst his foe!” I took the blade in hand and snapped it again, with not more force than the first time; I dropped the pieces of – it could not be genuine steel; was it tin? Perhaps painted wood? – on the ground and thrust my extended finger into his chest, surely doing more injury than I could have with a similar thrust of one of his blades. “I have seen shoddy workmanship before, sir, but this is beyond the pale! Is there no craft in these at all? Were they manufactured by trained dogs, sir? Are these toys for children, perhaps?” I punctuated my words with ever-stronger thrusts of my finger-rapier, first halting his froward motion and then forcing him back. “Or do you perhaps have an arrangement with a band of rogues, highwaymen who set upon your customers at your signal, assured that the man will be defenseless howsoever he believes otherwise?”
The blackguard, cowed by my righteous fury, blinked, and held up his hands placatingly. “No, no, they – they’re just for display. They’re replicas. You know? Lord of the rings? Pirates of the Caribbean?” This last phrase gave him pause, as he took in my piratical appearance, frilled shirt and vest and sash over loose pantaloons gathered into my high boots.
I scoffed at him. “A pirate would be gladder of a marlinspike or a belaying pin in fist rather than one of these. For myself, I would rather have my empty hand,” and here I lunged forward again and slapped him across the cheek with that same empty hand. And then I bid him good day, took up the arm of Mistress Lopez, who had approached the hurly-burly when she heard me shouting, and marched off with my dignity, but still no blade.
I found it at last among a jumble of swag – clearly the emptied contents of a traveling trunk or sea-chest – which included clothing, a bit of jewelry, a leather belt, some books and pens and paper and the like. The scabbard was beaten and scarred, as a scabbard should be, the blade was as well, but these were the scars of use. This was a proper saber, the blade perhaps two feet in length – a mounted man’s weapon, made for slashing rather than thrusting, yet capable of both, and light enough to parry well, while heavy enough to block a cutlass-slash. As I admired the blade, which had a serviceable hilt and a proper balance just beyond the guard, the merchant told me of its provenance. It had come from Cuba, he said, from the revolution; he told me it had belonged to a man allied with someone named Shay, a rebel against the tyrant who had ruled that land. The rebels had taken it from a wealthy landowner, vassal to the tyrant and oppressor of the people; the man had had it engraved to show its new ownership and purpose – the merchant indicated the words, still visible despite age and wear: on one side of the blade it read “Sangre,” on the other, “Muerte,” and on the hilt, “Libertad.” Blood, death, and – the third word needed no translation. I had my sword. The man asked 150 dollars, but gladly took my remaining 75 and one of the gold coins I carried in my boot, having plucked them from the lining of my vest earlier for this purpose. We shook hands, and I thrust the sheath through my sash: once again, I felt whole.
And none too soon, it chanced, for at that very moment, a voice called out “Ignacio! Hey, Nacho!” We three looked back the way we had come, and saw four young swaggerers approaching, all wearing something blue, a shirt or headscarf or shoes dyed the color, all with the grins of hunting cats who find a nest with helpless chicks inside. The one in the lead spoke again. “Hey, man – we was just coming to see you, puto.” I recognized the voice as the one shouting outside my garradge, the day Juan and Ignacio had been so exercised, and at that moment, I recognized the blue headscarf: it was the same color as the one worn by the man MacManus had killed, blood spilled on my orders, at the Glass Palace a week or more ago.
These were his friends. And they were looking to spill some blood, too. Ours.