Monthly Archives: August 2017

Log 24: Clean and Clear

Captain’s Log

Date: 8th of July, 2011

Location: Redoubt at the Glass Palace

Conditions: Exhausted with hard work, but successful. Methinks things are clearer, now.

 

The Enchantress . . . is a pig.

I did not believe this position would be difficult; how much disorder could one person make? Especially one high-born woman? Now I know better.

The woman arises each morning, swims in her pond in smallclothes that would be indecent even under proper dress, and then, following her toilet (which includes still further bathing, as though she must wash off the first bath), scatters raiment like a bird shedding feathers in spring: clothing which I, as her maid, am expected to retrieve, launder, and stow in their proper cubbies in her closet. Though once that closet has been but briefly explored, it becomes instantaneously apparent why she is so indifferent to her attire as to cast it on the floor: she has more apparel than my entire village could wear, back home. And this material, strewn across the floor of the closet, and her chamber, and her bed, and the soft chairs in her chamber, and any other surface that can hold an article of dress, is not part of her attire for various occasions or functions, no: she considers it and discards it before she chooses her splendifery for the day. The apparel has not even been worn! Her maid, of course, is required to replace each piece in its proper place, neatly folded or rolled or hung or stretched, as the item warrants. It is more difficult, and time consuming, than stowing cargo in an undersized hold and lashing it tight for stormy seas.

Then there is the kitchen. Now, I am a pirate, an Irishman, and I have seen ship’s galleys that resemble the aftermath of a raging fire, sparked by a thunderstorm flooding rain, onto a battlefield churned muddy by boots and blood. But nonetheless: the Enchantress lay waste to that hearth to a degree unmatched by a score of filthy seamen. Egg shells and fruit peels, puddles of water and juice, crockery and glass containers and sliver utensils – ’twas a wasteland, a ruination, a shipwreck on a rocky shore. Which I must clean.

Two hours spent arranging women’s fripperies, another lost to hot water and rags, to crockery and kitchen scraps – I wish often for a good kitchen hound to dispose of the excess food bits properly – and then I can attend to the floors.

I have never been so happy to see a broom as I was on my first day in this role. I could not find it, at first, though Maid Flora had identified for me the antechamber where the implements of maidery were to be found; the broom, however, did not abide there, but rather stood in a corner of the large barn-shed, which I now know to be a garradge. Why did I search high and low for the broom, one might ask? Because at first I made the attempt with – the vacume. A machine risen straight from Hell, fashioned no doubt in the infernal forges of the iron city of Dis, forges sparked by the Devil’s infinite fiery hatred and fueled by the suffering souls of the damned; and that which they make there takes into itself every evil thought, every miserable suffering breath that wafts across its surface. That is the wellspring of that thrice-damned monster.

Maid Flora had instructed me to use the vacume to sweep the floors before mopping, and had shown me the beast in its den, which was the closet stocked with maid’s tools. She had pantomimed its use and pointed to me the lever that brought it awake, once it had been tethered – by something that may be a leash and may be a tail or similar appendage, I know not – to a certain hole in the wall, round with two thin vertical slots into which fit a pair of metal pieces on the appendage-leash. I did not understand how the thing was to remove dirt, but I had nodded that I understood her instructions, at least. And when the time came, I followed them: I moved its round, squat body out of the closet, uncoiled the leash and slotted it into the wall, and then I pressed the awakening lever, marked “ON.”

And then the beast roared. I was so startled I leapt back, striking the body with my foot and casting it away from me; the thick trunk-like appendage which one held when making use of the beast flipped about –and then it sought its prey. I know not if that thing be the bastard child of the Asiatic monster called an Oliphaunt, or if it be some strange hybrid of serpent and badger, but whatever it is, it is a predator, and it is hungry. It leapt and cavorted across the room, the end of its trunk-appendage roaring, a terrible inhalation drawing sundry bits into its maw where they were swallowed whole – a piece of paper and a pair of coins that had fallen when I leapt back and dashed them from the counter with my groping hand, and the cap for a jar of soap which I had opened in the closet, placing the cap in my pocket, from whence it now fell and was swallowed.

Then it came for me. I dodged to the side and kicked the body, hoping to stun or damage it, or perhaps, with luck, strike the awakening lever and put it back to sleep – though I confess I was too terrified to know what I was doing; that roar! That terrible roar! – but the action merely whipped the trunk-mouth around toward me again. It struck at my leg and attached itself, leech-like; its roar instantly grew more shrill, the keening of a hunting beast with its victim in its grasp. I shouted and struck at the trunk with my hands, but could not dislodge it, so strong was its grip on me. I could feel it pulling at my flesh through the cloth of my pantaloons, and I feared becoming envenomed and paralyzed and devoured at leisure, drawn slowly into that terrible, tiny maw. I grabbed at the body, lifted it over my head, and threw it across the great room with a shouted curse – and detached its tether from the wall, which killed the beast, or stunned it. Taking no chances, I drew my wheel-gun, which I have kept in my pocket at all times against an ambuscade by the Lions, and placed that monster in my sights. When it did not move, I used the handle of a mop held in my left hand to shove it before me into an empty closet in the room where we had imprisoned the Lopezes during our earliest acquaintance, my gun trained on its body the entire time lest it come awake once more and strike. In that closet, I swear, that horrid beastie will stay. I am well-satisfied with a proper broom. Even though that immobile rug makes it most difficult to sweep properly in the parlor. Who glues a rug to the floor like that, so that no one can sweep underneath? The Enchantress is most peculiar to me, and no less so is her abode.

It required all the hours remaining in the day to finish the floors, but I saw the job done properly: I holystoned the tile with fine white sand I brought in from the cove, and a scrub brush and bucket from the maid’s closet. Then I let it dry while I attempted to sweep the glued-rug rooms, which did not garner good results; and then I swept out the sand and swabbed the deck as Maid Flora had instructed me, using the sweet-smelling soap from the closet, even though its scent nearly overpowered me. Then the same treatment for the terrace, and I was feeling as though all was properly ship-shape and myself back in command – until the Enchantress came home.

“Daniel, did you hear?” she asked me as she strode quickly in her strange, precariously high-heeled shoes and her raiment that a Dublin whore would blush to wear.

“No, milady,” I replied, my eyes firmly fixed to the far wall, high above anything improper that might cross before my gaze, uncovered, and round and firm, and tanned by the sun.

“Huh – I thought Flora would have texted you, too, but whatever. Her house got shot up in a drive-by! Can you believe that?”

I could not understand it, and thus could not believe it – but I understood the operative words: Flora. House. Shot. “Was anyone hurt, milady?”

“I don’t think so – Flora didn’t say so, anyway. She said the neighbors called her and said a couple of gangbanger cars came by last night and just pulled up in front and unloaded. There’s a lot of damage. I asked her if she called the police or anything, but she said no – but undocumented workers don’t usually call the cops, do they? She said it was all right, that I shouldn’t worry about the house, that they’d take care of anything when they came back. She just said I should talk to you about it. Do you know Flora’s family? Are you going to check on the house for them?”

I nodded, after a moment spent unclenching my jaw, which had tautened with rage. “Yes, milady. I know her family, and her home, well.

“I will take care of it.”

***

 

The bike took me to the vicinity of House Lopez, and then I chained it and proceeded cautiously on foot. From thirty paces away I could see an hundred holes blasted in the wooden walls of the home, and broken glass in all the windows; I could also see the head of a man on watch in a beast-wagon just beyond the Lopez property line, his gaze roving the street most haphazardly, the loud rhythmic chanting I remembered from the Lions’ den emerging from the wagon, though again, I could see no musicians nor ritualizers. I shook my head: the man on watch was using neither his ears nor his eyes to advantage; any proper bosun would have had that man on his knees with a scrub brush, if not lashed to the mast and bleeding from his back, if he kept a watch that slipshod at sea – assuming his incompetence and imbecility did not have the vessel smashed on unseen rocks, that is.

I had taken the liberty of borrowing a length of slender but strong rope from the Enchantress’s garradge – I had noted it when seeking a broom, and a sailor never passes up good cordage – and as night fell and I observed the man’s miserable habits, I plotted my strategy. I did not know the man on watch, but he was without doubt one of my foes – a suspicion easily confirmed by the shirt he wore, a bright blue color much the same hue as the headscarves I had seen before – and I knew the man had most likely pulled a trigger and blown a hole in the home of my friends. In their home. Where dwelt their mother, and the boy Alejandro. Had he known the family Lopez was far gone when he aimed, when he fired? I doubted it.

I would ask him.

I crept up behind his beast-wagon, my wheel-gun in my hand, and around to the side opposite his post. Then I lay on one shoulder, my legs under me so I could move with rapidity if he did so, and, reaching under the belly of the beast, I aimed and fired a shot at the house. This brought a most satisfying response from the man, who cried out like a small child startled awake by nightmare and then leapt and stumbled out of his wagon, cursing and brandishing a pistola of his own. He had heard the shot strike the house, had heard the blast somewhere close, but he knew not where – and in his confusion, he simply ran to the house and stood staring, dumbly. It was child’s play to come up from behind and lay him out with a blow to the back of his head. A glance up and down the street showed that we two were alone; I took up his pistola, dealt him a blow or two with my heel – for the honor of Lopez – and then trussed his arms and legs. I dragged him to the small meadow behind House Lopez, where we might converse unseen by people on the street, hidden as the meadow was behind a wooden fence. I left him under a tree, and then opened the heavy garradge door to gain entry to the house and gather the other materials I required. Then I prepared him and waited for him to awaken so we could begin.

He woke soon after, and when he did, I hauled away on the rope which I had tied to his thumbs; he was soon standing on his toes, his eyes wide, his head shaking – any shouts silenced as I had bound his mouth shut, at least for the nonce. I tied off the rope on the fence, and then I aimed my wheel-gun at his left eye, and waited there until his entire body was shaking and the beads of sweat ran down his face. He had tried to let his weight back down onto his heels, and had learned what it meant to be strung up by one’s thumbs – and then he had raised up onto his toes once more, to save his thumbs from being pulled from the socket, or off entirely. This same fate had maimed my traitorous former bosun, Ned Burke, when the tribe of maroons he had been preying upon after escaping into the jungle of Hispaniola from his indenture had captured him and strung him up by his thumbs, leaving him hanging until, after days, he had – fallen down.

I put the barrel of the pistol into the hollow of my man’s throat. “Do not shout,” I said quietly. He nodded. I removed his gag.

“Please, man,” he began, but a thrust of the gun barrel into his throat stopped the words there.

“Did you fire at that house?” I asked, pointing.

I saw the lie begin in his eyes, but he saw me recognize it, and he swallowed it untold. He nodded instead.

I laughed, darkly. “So have I. Only their cowardly surrender kept me from putting a shot into the brothers themselves, when first they came against me.” I turned the smile into a snarl, and pressed close, bruising his throat with the pistol. “You insult me when you presume that these dirt-faced peasants are my allies. My – friends. How dare you think that this, this filthy scum could be the bait in a trap for me. For me!” A blow to his nose with the pistol’s butt set the claret flowing down, and surprised him enough to fall back off of his toes – stretching his thumbs agonizingly, though as of yet his hands stayed whole. He opened his mouth to scream, and I shoved the pistol into it.

“Be. Silent.” I ordered him. He followed orders. When he recovered his balance and eased the pressure on his thumbs, I removed the pistol’s barrel and asked him my questions.

“How many of you are there?”

“Nine – eighteen. Eighteen since Francisco got fucked up in that alley.”

“And your leader – is it Agro?”

“Yeah. Man, let me down, man – shit!”

“Agro is the one I stabbed in the hand at the market, yes?”

“Yeah, man, he fucking pissed at you, essay.” (Perhaps the last word was the letters S.A., but that holds no clearer meaning for me.)

“Do you know who I am?”

“Naw, man, we call you the Sparrow, after Johnny Depp, you know? Fuck, this fuckin’ hurts, essay!”

I grabbed his chin, pressed the barrel of the gun against his broken nose, which brought a shudder and a groan. “My name is Damnation Kane. Remember it. Tell the others.

“And watch your step.” I lowered my aim and fired into the ground. The shot struck his pistola, and scattered sparks, which ignited the circle of rum-soaked rags with gunpowder sprinkled o’er (gunpowder gathered from the cartridges that had been in the gun) that lay under the tree’s limb from which his rope descended. I pulled on his rope until his feet lifted free of the ground, and he swung directly over the flames, which tickled at his toes and his heels, even up to his ankles, but no higher. I tied it off there, and then dealt him a mighty blow to the belly, setting him swinging like a pendulum and silencing his cries for a time. I left him there and walked to the street and his beast-wagon. I splashed it with the remainder of the rum, and fired one more shot, my pistol laid flat on the puddle of liquor, which ignited and began to burn merrily.

I went back to the bike and rode to my redoubt at the Palace, confident that my message would be received. I would be alert for the response, whatever it may be.

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Log 23: To Safety. To War.

 

Maid Flora and I rode her beast-wagon back to the House of Lopez – now become the Infirmary of Lopez. The moment we arrived, she dashed within to check on her brothers; I followed more slowly to allow them some time as an uninterrupted family. I walked the perimeter of the house, seeking any enemy, any watchful eye that might be seeking me – that might have used those men as bait to draw me out, those men who were beaten but, strangely, not killed, not dropped in a river or a marsh to be seen no more outside of Hades; no, these men had been left alive in the street, and I could not but think this was done to a purpose. For the moment, I saw nothing – but I would need to take steps to ensure that the only traps sprung from here onward would be those I set.

I went within and found young Alejandro standing guard bravely, a wooden club in his hands and a look of grim determination on his face which almost, but not entirely, hid the terror in his eyes. I nodded to him, and he squared his shoulders, stood straighter, nodded back to me. “Be steadfast,” I said, and barely bit back the “lad” that wanted to follow these words trippingly from my tongue; but this would not have improved his confidence. I went on: “Your family needs you to protect them, now. Keep a weather eye and a ready shout, should ye see aught of the foe. Aye?”

He nodded, a bit of color returning to his face. It does wonders for a young man when he is treated as if the “man” matters more than the “young.” I was glad to see him move purposefully to the front window, where his eyes and shout might do more good than would the club in his small hands. Ye gods, the thing was half his height – what sort of combat weapon was that? A bludgeon should rarely be more than a belaying pin in length, else it is too slow and unwieldy to make good use. I noted the words “Louisville Slugger” on the smooth, polished wood, but it meant nothing to me. I moved past him and along the corridor to the sickroom.

Both men were asleep, and obviously should remain so. Were that not true, I fear the profanity I would have uttered upon seeing their wounds would have shamed the sun behind the clouds, chased the moon out of the sky, and brought a blush to every tender, innocent cheek for miles around. In silence, but with those terrible curses ringing in my head, I swore on my mother, my ship, and my own honor to avenge every hurt on these two innocent men.

Then I must leave that sorry sight before my anger overflowed and whelmed my sense. I have never sat easily when an innocent is harmed. What man could? But the cruelty and savagery exercised on these two men – these two faultless, guiltless men – was not only beyond what I might perchance accept done to a child-beating English rapist, but far worse, ’twas all done because of me. ‘Twas done to them because those filthy mongrels could not reach me. Those wounds: they are my wounds.

I suppose I made some sound in my retreat, or perhaps his injuries kept him from resting easy, but Ignacio stirred then and woke. I confess I would fain have slunk away, too craven to face his accusing eyes, but as I could not bear to increase my shame, I stepped to the side of the low bed and knelt, gently taking up his hand in mine. When his gaze cleared as his mind rose from the realm of sleep, he recognized me. “It didn’t work,” he said, and I could not but smile – though keeping that smile longer than an instant was impossible as I looked on his eye swollen shut and split at the brow, on his nose bent to the side, on the broken teeth barely visible past his torn and bloody lips.

“Nay, it did not. My fault, lad. I overestimated them, thinking them human.” I tried to chuckle as if this were witticism rather than barren truth, but not much more than a wheeze emerged from my tightened throat. Still, Ignacio smiled at the corners of his mouth, and squeezed my hand.

“They didn’t – we didn’t have a chance,” he said, the words slurred by his accent and injuries so I could barely comprehend – but damn me if I would ask him to repeat himself. “We got there, and showed them the – ‘Lito, and Juan started to say we were sorry. But Agro hit him and he fell, and then he kicked him in the head – and then the others got me. And I try to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t do it,’ I try to say, ‘Please –’ But they no listen. Then I no can talk or do nothing. They kick me until it all go black.” He pulled his hand away from mine, turned his face to the window beside him and away from me.

“Do you remember the faces? Any of the ones who kicked you?” For the bloody rage which I felt building in me would best be unleashed on those who shattered this boy’s teeth. Fortunately, he nodded.

“Two of them at the market yesterday – the tall one and the one Mama hit.”

“I remember them,” I told him.

Then his gaze went flat. “Si – and they remember you. Now they will find you and kill you, and then they will kill all of us, too, so we no talk to la policia.” (I had learned in my time here that la policia were a sort of civil guard who sought out and apprehended malefactors. I had also learned – with absolutely no surprise – that these men could not be trusted, that they could be bribed, or swayed by their own loves or hatreds, and that they sometimes did more harm to innocents than to the rogues they hunted.)

I stood then and settled my weapons in my sash. “No, my friend. They will not kill any of us. And they will not need to find me.” I leaned down and placed a hand – gently – on his shoulder. He turned to look at me with his good eye.

“I will find them.”

***

When I emerged, I sought out Mistress Lopez and Maid Flora for a council of war. The first task must be to move this poor family past the horizon and out of the range of my enemies, for the span of time whilst I am working to destroy them all. This was, therefore, the first point of contention: Maid Flora did not want her brothers moved, and Mistress Lopez would not surrender a foot of ground to such scalawags. I did manage to convince them that great danger awaited both of the brothers here and now – far greater than the danger of moving them. My assurance that I would swiftly distract the Lions’ cretinous, half-formed thoughts from the House of Lopez was sufficient to overcome Mistress Lopez. A happy chance, as I could not assure her that I would protect her home, nor that no harm would come to it once they left; I thought it highly likely that the Lions, seeking me, would burn this place to the ground.

But no harm would come to the family: on that I was determined. We came to the knowledge that another city to the north, one Orrlandoh, had friends the family could visit, as well as a place called Dizz Knee Whirled which Alejandro would gladly see. The inevitable monetary objections were quickly overcome when I pressed the eleven remaining gold coins from the seam of my vest on Mistress Lopez, accepting no argument nor polite refusal. These refusals fell away when I told them to seek a surgeon for the two brothers; this use of my money seemed fitting to them – as indeed it was, as was the conversion of any excess into funds for the maintenance of these kind folk.

The only concern that remained was Maid Flora’s position at the Glass Palace, which she would not surrender and was most loath to abandon. But we arrived at a solution for that, as well.

I straightened my new shirt and dusted off my new breeches, as we stood at the door, waiting for our knock to be answered. Maid Flora smiled anxiously at me and patted a stray hair into place. The door opened, and there stood the Enchantress herself.

Maid Flora explained, as clearly as she was able, that she would need to leave her post for at least one sevenday, perhaps two, in order to nurse her sick brothers. She offered an alternate servant in her place: myself, whom she introduced as Daniel Kane.

The Enchantress eyed me most suspiciously. “You’re supposed to be my maid?”

I made a passable leg, knuckling my brow in manner I hoped fitting. “Milady, I would not ask you to open your home to a man without scrap of introduction or recommendation. I would never ask you to trust a stranger to care for your environs and property without any knowledge of his fitness for the task. I ask only that you continue to trust in the good heart and wise discernment of your servant Flora, who verily doth recommend myself and my skills to you – and that you trust, as well, your own natural womanly intuition, which surely tells you that I mean your kind person naught but comfort and joy, as I most sincerely do.” I crafted my winningest smile for her, then.

She did look askance at me when I bowed: then when I spoke was she taken aback. At the last, she began to smile. When I finished with the matching expression on my own physiognomy, I hoped it was not too bold of me to presume my place at the Palace was assured.

It was not. The Enchantress looked me over from stem to stern, and then said, “Well, you’ll certainly be decorative to have around the house, won’t you?”

Thus did I become a domestic.

We returned to the House of Lopez, and Maid Flora joined her mother in preparing for their journey to Orr Land-Oh – which preparations gave the appearance of twin typhoons, two waterspouts circling through the house, sucking up and belching out clothing and necessaries and ephemera in staggering quantities and with much sound and fury. I, in the meantime, asked for and received the assistance of young Alejandro. I faced one more impediment: though the Lions’ den, a ramshackle house and garradge which the rogues claimed for their base of operations, stood near the House of Lopez, the Glass Palace was some ten miles away – too far to walk back and forth while in pursuit of justice. But I would never master the beast-wagon in time, nor did I wish to make the attempt. Fortunately, there was another solution: a thing called a “bike,” a staggeringly uncomfortable seat and a strange handle atop a pair of wagon wheels, which one moves forward with a sort of walking motion on two levers called “petals,” though they resemble flowers not at all. Over the course of that afternoon, Alejandro taught me to ride it; I found that my experiences riding horses, combined with my years of keeping myself upright aboard ships in stormy and wanton seas, made it fairly simple to master the balance needed to keep the bike upright. Moving my feet on the petals but not actually walking was far more difficult, but I persevered, and found success.

I asked for and received detailed instructions for locating the den of the rapscallions from Ignacio, and then I bid the Lopezes a fond and heartfelt farewell, and sent them off. Then I mounted the bike I had the loan of from Ignacio, and set off to work.

The Lions’ den itself was simplicity to identify: it was the shabbiest, most dilapidated house on an otherwise tidy and ship-shape little road. I secured the bike nearby with chain and a most ingenious little lock-and-key provided by Ignacio, and then I walked the streets all around the den, observing the movement of the local villagers, the paths by which one could approach the den, both openly and surreptitiously, the local tavern and shops where the Lions surely procured their necessaries. Then I returned and found myself a sheltered place from which I could observe the house and those coming and going.

Their time was spent largely in the garradge and on a sort of open porch appended to the front of the house. The entire time I watched, which comprised several hours, I could hear a strange rhythmic chanting over a drumbeat and an assortment of weird and eldritch noises, shrieks and whistles and thrums and others I could not begin to name. I never saw the ones doing the chanting, so I had to presume that there were people inside the house performing weird incantations or rituals; though strangely, no one seemed to react or even acknowledge the noise other than occasionally bobbing their heads up and down with the drums, perhaps agreeing or approving with what they heard. As for the words, they were all Greek to me. The garradge and the paved area before it was glutted with beast-wagons and various associated equippage; they had the maw of one beast propped open and several of them spent much time with their heads thrust deep inside the gullet. I wondered if they were feeding it, or killing it? I know not.

Several of them took their ease on the porch for the entire afternoon and evening; they talked and laughed and drank and smoked, and shouted at each other and at the passersby. I did note that several passersby approached the men seated on the porch, talked to them briefly and then made some kind of quick exchange, but I could not see what was given nor received. The visitors always left quickly, after. I know not the meaning but I wonder of the possibilities regarding my intentions.

Once dusk fell, they began to depart, mostly in groups in the various beast-wagons drawn up by the garradge. The house did not empty, and the lights that shone through the windows implied that it would not – some number of Lions must abide there, and the others gather round during their idle days.

And then, near the end of the evening, a happy chance: one of my known and sworn enemies, the tall ruffian from the donnybrook at the market – that same one whose pantaloons I had untethered, and whom Ignacio had identified as one of his tormentors – departed on foot and in my direction. I drew back and watched him pass, and then I set off in pursuit, keeping my distance.

He headed toward the row of shops I had observed in my explorations, perhaps meaning to visit the tavern close by; and in the dark alley behind the shops, I saw my chance. I sped my pace, approaching closer – and then, only a few paces from where I meant to strike, the rogue heard my step and turned. His eyes widened in recognition even as I leapt forward, hands outthrust to grapple and choke him. He leapt back from me, hands reaching to his belt for his pistola – and he stumbled over a pile of refuse on the ground, trash brought down by trash. I was on him before he recovered, and struck once, twice, thrice, once into the hollow under his right arm to stop him using his weapon on me, and then to the throat and last to the temple, which incapacitated him.

I took his pistola – ‘Struth, these dogs do grant a veritable armory unto me! – and dragged and shoved him, groaning and coughing, into the deeper darkness of the alley, where none would disturb us. I found there a large metal box, on wheels, which reeked of filth; apparently a receptacle for rubbish and kitchen leavings. I observed that it had short metal poles, like spars, outthrust from the uppermost corners on one side – and that these were very nearly the same distance, one from the other, as my foe’s widespread hands.

Perfect.

I introduced his brow to the metal box – twice, as the first meeting did not make a sufficient impression – and then drew my boot knife. I removed the rogue’s shirt by means of the blade, and cut the cloth into two long pieces. Then I tied his wrists to the two poles, with his face pressed against his new and odiferous acquaintance, and his bare back presented to me.

How I wished then for a cat-o-nine-tails, or even a tarred rope end or cane, but alas, I had naught of the kind; not even my sword, which I had left with my servant’s clothes in a sea-bag borrowed from the Lopezes and now concealed in the shrubbery outside their house. The flat of the blade would have sufficed, though I would not want to sully my new-polished blade with this cur’s flesh.

Fortune provided, however, and I observed a number of wooden platforms stacked on the ground, perhaps something meant to display goods at market, though they were rough-made and dirty. They might be used as on a ship, where we place bags of flour and salt and the like on raised wooden platforms to ensure that seawater does not ruin the dry goods. Any road, they were constructed of a wooden framework to which were nailed wooden laths – and those would do just fine. I broke one free and swung it through the air to get its feel.

My man began to regain his wits, then, and some amount of spluttering and cursing and threats emerged – the last rather laughable, considering our relative circumstances. He was still too stunned to test his bonds, though I would trust my knots against his outstretched arms for as long as I needed him held; still, ’twas time to be getting on. I took a moment to remove his headscarf, from which I fashioned a gag against his impending cries.

Then I pronounced his sentence. “For every mark you left, with your coward’s boots, on Ignacio Lopez, you will bleed. And another stripe for every mark your cursed mates left on Juan Lopez, too. We will set the number of lashes, then, at one hundred.”

He grunted in surprise when I began.

He was screaming against the gag when I had to replace my lath, which broke after thirty.

He was unconscious before sixty.

He received the full number, nonetheless.

I left him there tied to the metal box with his back awash in blood, for his mates to find. I retrieved the bike, and then my seabag, and then I rode to the Glass Palace. I crept beyond the darkened house to the strand and my redoubt, where I have kindled a small fire on the seaward side, eaten the bread and cheese from House Lopez that I had in my bag, and now I complete this log. Now to bed: and I shall sleep well.

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Log 22: Taking a Dip in the Ocean of Time

Captain’s Log

Date: 7th of July in the year 2011

Location: The Glass Palace

Conditions: At heart’s ease, but with blood high and passion enkindled.

 

Since last I was able to keep this log, while waiting for Maid Flora to return home for our parlay and then in the minutes before we departed for the disinterment, there have been developments. Now I find myself once more at the Glass Palace in the Matheson Preserve, and now I am in the employ of the Enchantress, Lady Elizabeth Cohn. And I am at war.

The recent course of events began with our quest to recover the mortal remains of one Manuelito Nieves, known as ‘Lito to his fellow Latin Lions. ‘Struth, it did seem like a fine stratagem at the time, howsoever gruesome it was.

There is truly something unnatural in digging up a corpse. Even if one has the finest intentions. In my nineteenth year, back in the Ireland of my birth, my cousin Conor O’Malley was taken by the damned English and hanged as a cattle thief. He was guilty, of course, but only of the crime of being Irish and hungry. Any action which follows from that may be forgiven, but will surely not be if ’tis English mercy one seeks. The English threw his body into a shallow and unconsecrated grave outside the black and infernal prison where stood the gallows, and so his brothers Steven and Brian, along with myself, must needs creep under the watchful eyes of the English bastards standing watch on the walls of the keep, to bring Conor to a proper kirkyard for a burial that would grant him rest, rather than the everlasting torment granted him by the English, may all the curses ever cursed light on their black souls. But when we began to dig, even though our hearts pounded with fear and excitement with the thought of the English nearby and the blood that could be spilled if we moved too quickly or too loud, the overwhelming feeling when the shovel bit into the earth was one of wrongness. I wanted to apologize to Conor, and to the earth that held him, and to all the ghosts and spirits and gods that roam the aether all around us, even though I knew our intentions were just. I knew, and Steven and Brian knew as well, that this – this was something one simply does not do.

And here we went, the Lopez brothers and sister and I, to do it once more, and the same feelings all came along for the cruise. Though discomfited by our purpose, I was somewhat gladdened to be returning this man ‘Lito to his shipmates. He was a rogue who died honorably and was treated honorably by his foes, with words of prayer spoken over his interment; but nonetheless, a man should never be placed in the earth by any but his kith and kin. Even rogues have mothers, and should feel the tears shed over them by such, instead of gruff words spake by reluctant tongues. Enough that we took his life: we should not steal his fare-wells.

Maid Flora assured us that the Enchantress was away from her Palace; she was, it seemed, a lawyer, and thus frequently in distant cities to attend to the needs of her clients. At first I was somewhat aspraddle that a woman could be in such a profession, but then I bethought myself of my own mother and her strength of spirit and of mind, how she has led the clan ably for all of my life; then I recalled a lawyer’s need for deception and artifice, and how that is not foreign nor even difficult for most women, and I understood. I was not for a moment surprised that this world, so strange and complicated and absent of any reason or sense, would have a wealth of opportunities for lawyers, nor that the resultant lucre could purchase a Palace. We paused outside the Palace’s gate while Flora proceeded in to confirm the Enchantress’s absence, and then we three, Juan, Ignacio, and myself, brought their beast-wagon as close to the spot as possible. They revealed a small cargo-hold in the rear, lined with a strange shiny cloth – it looked to me like sailcloth, though it was a blue bright enough to shame the sky, and had that strange wet-seeming sheen that I have observed to be most popular and beloved amongst these people (Truly it brings one to wondering: have they never heard the wisdom that not all that glitters is gold? Do they care nothing at all for aught that lies beneath the surface? Sure and their possessions would say: Nay.). Juan called it a tarp, and said it was made of “plasstick.” Any road, ‘twould serve to enwrap the carcass – though we had shrouded the man when we planted him, to be sure.

I think I need not record at length the details of that gruesome and horrific chore. Suffice to say that we removed him from the embrace of Mother Earth, that we assured ourselves that he was still recognizable, and was not so rotted as to make the looker incapable of gazing on his features – ’twas I who pulled back the shroud to confirm this, while Juan looked away and Ignacio retched in the bushes – and then we placed him in the beast-wagon’s hold, wrapped in the tarp to prevent corruption from marring the wagon-hold. Then Juan and Ignacio were off to deliver their grisly burden unto the only inhabitants of this Earth who would want it.

Maid Flora made an honorable attempt – limited, as ever, by her insufficient command of my only tongue and my even greater incompetence in hers – to offer me lodging in the Lopez home for another night, but I would not hear of it. This endeavor may have been doomed from the start, and myself inextricably linked with this humble family in the reddish eyes of the Lions – indeed I did fear that to be the case, though I placed responsibility not on any misstep or poor stratagem of ours, but rather on the notable dearth of either perceptiveness, or the reason and sense which nature gave a hedgehog, on the part of our adversaries; but if our attempts were to prove futile, still I would not be so foolhardy as to give the cads a single target encompassing myself and five innocents. I refused her kind offer, though I did allow myself to be cajoled into surrendering my finery for laundering in her capable hands, my best alternative to this being wearing shirt and vest and breeches and boots while bathing in the cove. These items were in certain need of unfilthing, owing to the soileous nature of my activity this day, a perspiratious fight in hot sun and an unearthing of a rotting corpse and its consequent enearthing of mine own carcass. She offered the Palace’s bathing facilities, as well, but I told her I preferred the infinite clean water of the ocean rather than stewing in a tub full of my own filthy skin. I accepted a robe and loose drawers for the nonce, being assured of the return of my finery within an hour’s time.

Thus did I find myself swimming naked across the blue water of the Palace cove and back, across and back, glorying in the salty taste and pure smell of that water, scrubbing myself with handfuls of white sand and sluicing clean liquid over me to wash away the stench of combat and corruption. ‘Twas relaxing to such a degree that I would swear the water in this cove had wafted here, driven by current and wind and tide, straight from Ireland, solely for my benefit. When this fancy struck me, granting a laugh and a smile, ’twas followed shortly by another cogitation: this water could even have come to me from my native time – for was not the ocean now the very same ocean then? Was not the earth that held it and the wind that drove it – were these not the same, then and now? Perhaps this breath of air, that splash of water – perhaps they began when I did, and have circled the world entire an hundred times, only to waft here, to me, and be the balm I most need. My heart was much eased by this thought. My people I have left far behind me: only bones and dust mouldering in the Earth remains outside of my heart and memories; my country, my struggles, and my enemies are all lost to time’s changing course. My home, my possessions, all that which I coveted and longed for, the world over – all this is passed, now, passed and past.

But this good Earth, this clear water, this soft wind and bright sun, the lovely glimmering of stars and moon in the sable velvet night – those all remain to me, all familiar, all mine, as much as ever they were. My Ireland is gone, but the Earth is still my home, and I am welcome here.

My bath and gladdening ponderations done, I was glad to accept my finery and a hearty plate of food and drink from my kind friend Maid Flora – once I had covered my nakedness with the borrowed robe, to be sure. I made much first of the snowy whiteness of my shirt, the pure crimson of my vest and the deep black of my pantaloons, all as bright as new cloth and without a hint of mark or stain. They smelled of flowers, too, which was an additional kindness; one thing I will say of this time and place, it is strangely perfumed: the stench of the beast-wagons is as noxious as any bilge or city sewer I have encountered, yet the people and their clothing are almost miraculous in their clean, lovely aroma, without whiff of sweat or the stink of sickness anywhere. I could not be quite as complimentary of the food, though it was a satiating repast, to be sure; still, I could not understand why she did not simply give me a proper hunk of bread, slice of meat, and lump of cheese, rather than assembling them all together into this thing she called a sanwitch (Perhaps San Huiche? Her accent makes a literate rendering most difficult.), combined with a piece of green leaf I had rather she fed to a cow or pig and then given me the cow or pig, and some sauce she called moose-tard which I would fain have removed, except it covered the strange taste of the bread, which was rather off-putting. She did give me a bottle of ale to wash it down, which was most welcome. When I had finished, I bade her back to her maid’s duties, though she assured me laughingly that her day was most often idle, as the Enchantress was rarely at home and even more rarely demanding of any especial service; Flora was most complimentary to her kind mistress, and grateful for her employment here. Once she had left, I took the time to clean my boots, polishing them with the tail of my borrowed robe, before I returned to my proper attire.

Then I moved out to the end of the strand, to the redoubt constructed by that capable traitor Moran – a refuge as yet undiscovered by the Enchantress, it would seem and was surely to be hoped – and lay down for some rest. The clean sea breeze and warm sun, both contradicting and complementing one another, made for a most wondrous atmosphere, made only finer by the shade cast by the dense greenery. I slept for some hours, my head pillowed on the robe, and woke most refreshed. Maid Flora had supplied me with a small bottle of clean water, made of some strange clear material far more flexible than glass, which I drained and put aside, intending to refill it from the Enchantress’s terrace pond, once darkness came to cover my movements.

For I had determined that, for the nonce, this was to be my berth. I could ask for no better bed than the sand and soft pillow-robe, no better blanket than my own clean and flower-scented finery, no better security than all-concealing forest and the ocean on three sides, no better safety for my new friends than my own disappearance to this place unbeknownst to the Lions, and our hopes placed on our plans to sever our ties. With the kind Flora to give me sustenance, and the loving embrace of constant and eternal Nature to give me peace, I was as happy as I could be, thrown out of my time and off of my ship.

Rested, refreshed, and revitalized, I had to see to my last necessity then: my armament. I had a honing-stone in my pocket, and I gave my boot-knife a brief polishing to return its fine edge, and then I turned to my new sword, the aptly-inscribed Blood, Death, and Liberty – apt for in shedding the first, it had prevented the second and preserved the third, at least for now. The fine white sand brought a proper color back to the slightly tarnished steel; I would remember to beg oil from Maid Flora to protect the blade’s surface properly. Then I carefully and meticulously honed the edge to a razor’s sharpness.

My blades thus seen to, I turned to the greater puzzle: my guns. I was now in possession of three pistols, my own recent purchase and two taken as spoils of battle. The pair of looted weapons were similar to each other, but unlike mine own: mine had a round wheel-piece, set side-to and pierced with six holes that held shot, if that’s what the amm-owe I had purchased was intended to be, yet I could not find where the powder and wadding were to be placed around that shot. But as an experiment, I placed six of my new-purchased brass-ended shot-thimbles into the holes, closed the pistol and then pulled the trigger, aiming idly at the bole of a tree – and I was rewarded by a sharp report and a hole appearing where I had aimed. In amazement, I opened the weapon again and found a mark on one of the brass thimbles, as if someone had taken hammer and awl to it; upon removing it, I found that the thimble was now hollow and empty, the interior blackened and smelling of spent powder; the round tip was gone, presumably now residing in the tree.

I realized that the amm-owe thimbles are cartridges, not unlike canister shot for ship’s cannons. They hold the ball in place, and contain the powder, as well. The spark is made with a sharp strike of metal on metal, much like a flintlock but even simpler. Most amazing is that the weapon seems able, owing to these cartridges and the wheel mechanism, to fire six shots without reloading. Six shots! I was stunned and amazed.

And ready to find those mutinous blackguards who stole my ship and give them what-for.

The pistols looted from the rogues in the market were much like that we had taken from their dead shipmate. That weapon had proven most mysterious to us, with its trigger that would not pull and its unfamiliar shape and mechanisms, until Kelly, who had had its keeping, had thought to ask Shluxer about its use. Shluxer had called it a Nine-mill O’meeter, had showed us how the small lever which, when pressed, revealed a minute red dot, was called a Safety, and would lock or unlock the trigger and firing mechanism. He showed us how to remove the box of shot from the handle, what he called “bullits;” I had not been watching his demonstration carefully enough to identify them as being akin to my amm-owe shot-thimbles, though I recognized them now, in examining my looted pistolas – and how to handle and fire it. We had scoffed at the thing then, with its quiet sound and the weak recoil of its firing, almost without fire or smoke compared to a proper powder-and-shot pistola, but Shluxer assured us it was sufficient unto its purpose. I presumed these two would be as well, and I made a place in my sash for all three of my shooting irons.

The sun was setting, then. I returned to the Palace and refilled my bottle; Maid Flora appeared, having seen me from within, and at my request brought me a proper loaf of bread (the which was still largely tasteless and strange, as if uncooked but rather allowed simply to stale to some hardness above that of dough and below that of proper bread) and a lump of cheese, three good pickles and a bottle of ale. I assured her my needs were well-met and I would not disturb the Enchantress, who was due to return soon, and then I bade her good-night and returned to my redoubt. I supped, dipping bare feet in the cool blue water and watching the waves ripple to me and away again, the eternal heartbeat of the ocean, writ small on this shore and large on another where waves crash against rocks with the roar of thunder, but always present, never-ceasing. What need have we of God? If thou seekest something infinite and eternal, and spellbinding and breathtaking in its glory, its generosity and power, its boundless gifts of life and the pure hell of its rage – look no further than the ocean.

I watched the water until it was no more than reflected starlight sparkling on a field of black, and then I lay down once more and slept well. I dreamed of home.

 

*****

 

I was shaken out of my sleep, and sprang up, bared blade in hand, before I recognized Maid Flora in the gray light of early morn. Tears streaked her cheeks and fear hollowed her eyes, so I did not need to wait for her broken English to explain why she had come for me. Still, once I calmed her slightly, I learned somewhat.

Our plan had not worked. Juan and Ignacio had suffered the wrath of the Lions, and had been beaten savagely. A kind neighbor had gathered them from the street and brought them home, where they lay even now, delirious and in great pain and risk of death. Flora feared the Lions would return again, seeking my humble self.

But I would seek them out first. And they would learn that Hell itself hath no fury so black as that of an Irishman.

And no Irishman wreaks vengeance half so terrible as doth Damnation Kane.

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Log 21: A Heated Discussion

 

In the heat of the moment, my mind racing but still not keeping pace with events, I chose caution as my watchword: though I suspected the ruffian’s voice was the one I had heard that day outside the garradge, and I was even more suspicious of the colored headscarves that resembled the cloth worn by the man killed by us at the Glass Palace, I was not positive these men here and now were enemies, and so I did not act precipitously – though I lost the element of surprise, therefore. I believed I could gain it back, but first I needs must wait and watch.

They approached Ignacio – which was all to the good, as it allowed me to draw Mistress Lopez well off to the side and out of harm’s way. While their captain spoke, I noted one crewman craning his neck, keeping a weather eye out for enemies or allies of their intended victim, while two more fanned out around Ignacio, though none came too close. I saw that the watchman had a hand under his shirt, at his belt, and I marked him as armed, though with blade or pistola, I knew not.

The captain spoke in a thick patois, which I render here as well as my poor ears and poorer memory allow. “Orralay, we didn’ ‘speck t’ see you out here, vattow. Where’s your brother at? He here? We was just talkin’ ’bout hittin’ him up at Micky Dee’s, maybe, you know, catch him on break, you know? But this is cool – we can talk to you now, instead.” He glanced at his mate, who shook his head to indicate no intruding sails on the horizon – perhaps owing to the unusual magnificence of my finery, they apparently failed to notice me, or didn’t connect me to Ignacio; the latter was a welcome advantage, the former an offense I could not let stand– and the captain grinned and stepped in closer, lowering his voice (Howbeit, since he needs must speak over the market crowd, I could still make out the lion’s share of his speech.) to say: “‘S funny who you run into when you go out, verdad? Hey, you didn’t run into ‘Lito, did you? No? Haven’t seen him anywhere?” Ignacio had not moved nor reacted to them apart from backing water a step or two as they approached; he surely wished to keep his mother out of the fray, and could not retreat without leaving her behind – so was willing to submit to a likely drubbing so that she might be safe. A good son.

One who should not fight alone.

The captain here dropped his facade of amicability, his features turning to a mask of rage on the instant as he reached out and twisted Ignacio’s shirt in his rough grip, saying, “Lessee if we can help you remember, puto.”

I recognized this as my signal flag. I pushed Mistress Lopez firmly behind a rack of wide-brimmed straw hats, holding up a hand to tell her to bide there, and then I stepped out, the sheathed sword held low in my left hand, wishing I had taken the opportunity to charge my new pistola, but glad I had more than an odd club to face four strongarms. I spoke loudly, saying: “He has not seen your shipmate. Nor will he. Nor will you, this side of Hell.” I came to stand close behind Ignacio’s left shoulder, facing the captain, whose face was now slipping from rage into bewilderment. Surreptitiously, I put my right hand close by Ignacio’s belt. I smiled at the captain and then spake: “I sent him there myself when I shot him.”

Befuddlement turned to black rage, and the captain loosed his grip on Ignacio – which action I had awaited. Quickly I seized the good son’s belt and flung him sprawling behind me; in the same motion I lunged forward with the sword in my left and planted the hilt in the captain’s belly, blowing out his wind. As the captain stumbled back, I drew my new blade with my right and flung the empty sheath at the left-most foe; it did no harm, of course, but no man can help but flinch when somewhat comes a-flying at his eyes, and that gave me some treasured seconds with only two foes.

A long lunge with now-bared steel took one through the upper arm; he howled and fell back.

The last one was he who had a weapon at his belt; he was slow to react, but now he pulled up his shirt to reveal a large and bright-gleaming pistola – one I much admired, if I may be so bold with another man’s implements. A quick step with the left and a downward slash at the uttermost of my reach, and the tip of my blade parted his belt and knocked loose the pistol ere he could draw it. His over-loose pantaloons, now untethered, slid down to tangle around his thighs as his weapon clattered to the ground.

This put me in vulnerable position, extended over my left leg with my back to the wounded man. But it did serve to put my empty left hand near my boot, wherein lay my trusty knife, and also near the captain, whose right hand closed on the pistola in his belt – though he did not draw it, rather choosing to step forward and within my reach.

One would think these people had never fought before. I suspect, in fact, that a foe who returns fire on these mongrels is indeed unusual; I assume, also, that the captain did not want to draw and fire in such a crowd, but instead sought to close and club me down with gun in fist.

Instead he got a boot-knife thrust through the back of his hand. He gasped, loosed his pistol, raised his hand to stare at his wound – and I regained my balance, rose up and planted my swinging foot into his nether region. I tell you, these Spaniards may seem swarthy, but they are white men, nonetheless – for that man’s face turned as ashy pale as any Irishman in midwinter.

The last man, he who had dodged my scabbard, now came forward with bared steel of his own, a dagger clutched in his grip and descending towards me. But the motion was too large for a short blade and close range, and I stepped back so he cut only air. I brought the sword around, reversed, and laid the dull back edge across his temple, stunning him; I finished with the hilt on his crown, which laid him out.

I spun about, expecting an assault from the first man I wounded. But lo and behold, he was well-occupied with a dread and implacable foe: the swinging arms, flashing feet, and shrill screechery of Mistress Lopez. The man backed away, arms up to defend his face, and stumbled over a pile of goods, which sent him a-sprawl. Ignacio caught his mother, who was moving forward, fire-eyed and eager for the coup de grace; though it was a struggle, he managed to draw her back to safety.

I turned to survey the field, and saw that the rearmost rogue, he of the cleft pantaloons, was down on one knee, his britches clutched in a fist as the other hand stretched out for his fallen pistola. For myself, I would have let the tatters fall; though I quail at revealing all that lies beneath the waterline, most particularly in a sunny market with women and children all about, still the loose cloth was obviously hampering his balance and movement, and I would fain be naked and alive rather than a clothed corpse.

Which fate to avoid for myself, I leapt forward and stomped down on his questing fingers. The bones crunched like empty sea-shells under my boot. The man roared and choked and spluttered until I lifted my knee into his outthrust chin, flinging him back into the darkness of unconsciousness. I bent and retrieved his pistola into my left hand; thus securely armed, I stepped back to survey my opponents.

Their fortitude in battle fails to impress. I have seen swaddling babes who dealt better with their hurts than these dogs.

I took a moment to consider my course. Of course these rogues, and any more of their bloody-minded mates, would place responsibility for my actions on the Lopezes following this day’s events; I had hoped that my admission of responsibility for the dead man would shift their sights to me, but Mistress Lopez’s intervention, howsoever kind and timely and stout-hearted, had surely linked us as allies if not shipmates.

What could I do to counteract that impression?

“Lopez! Blast your dog’s heart, thou gutless milksop, come where I can see you ‘fore I blast ye to hell – ye or your haggard witch of a mother, aye.”

Though startled, and clearly deeply confused, Ignacio stepped forward, pale and shaking, his eyes darting from one wounded rogue to another. “Bring me my scabbard, ye mawkish dastard,” I spat. I pointed imperiously with my blade while I kept the pistol and my eyes hove tight to the captain, who clutched at his nethers with one hand while he tried not to look at his knife-thrust hand, holding the shaking appendage far and away out to his side, blood a-drip, like a man averting his gaze from somewhat sacred – or profane.

Ignacio retrieved the sheath – and then stood unmoving, staring dumb as a statue at me. “Bring it here – put it through my sash.” He came, albeit slowly; his hesitation and apparent unconcern for the severity of our circumstances began to raise true impatience in me. These men, though wounded, were none of them incapacitated; they could rally at any time. And who knew how many more of these scalawags or their allies might come across this picturesque tableau we set? Our immediate departure was called for, yet I needs must tell this boy to bring the scabbard to me. And now – “On the other side, ye dolt!” I clouted him on the shoulder with my hilt, though it would have appeared to mine audience that I had sorely boxed his ear. Not that I wasn’t thus tempted.

I nodded when he had it where I wanted, and then told him to clear out and hold back his harridan of a mother (I took comfort in the sure knowledge that the stout-hearted Mistress Lopez, for whom I had and have great regard, could not understand my words.) I hurried him on his way with a boot to the stern that was of course more powder than shot. When he was clear, I bent down over the captain, who would not look at me nor at his trembling hand. I moved around so I could keep a watch on the others over his shoulder, and then I cleaned my blade on his sleeve. “I see you white-livered curs know no more of fighting than your friend did – nor no more of spirit than that ragbrained fool I sought to make my servant. I see I will need to abandon him and his brood, and find another berth to claim. ‘Tis just as well – the sister wriggles pleasantly enough, but she will not stop weeping. It wears on a man.”

He turned to look at me then, his eyes still creased with pain and the skin of his face turned now to a greyish pallor, but anger blazed into his gaze and colored spots rose on his cheeks. I grinned at him. “But look on the happy side!” I sheathed my sword and laid the pistol’s barrel against his temple, smiling all the while. “When I’ve weighed anchor, you and these other toothless rats need not fear you will cross my path again.” Here I stopped smiling. “‘Twould be a preferable fate for you, methinks.” I drew back the pistol and smiled wide once more. “Here – let me help you with that.” I grabbed the hilt of my boot knife and tore it from his wound, perhaps somewhat unkindly. He cried out and cradled his stabbed paw, arching his back and laying out flat on the ground; I quickly wiped and sheathed the blade and snatched the pistola still tucked in his belt.

I stood, now carrying a proper weight of iron. The rogues were bled dry of fight, and so I bid them a fond farewell and gathered the Lopezes to me with a curse and a vile threat, and we made off.

Upon returning to House Lopez, I asked Ignacio to waken his brother so we could have parlay. I explained the reasons for my ungallantry, saying that I hoped to convince the rogues – whom Ignacio called the Latin lions, though I think Latin kittens might be more apropos – that I was a black-hearted villain who had taken the innocent Lopez family hostage, and they had not revealed my presence previously for fear I would wreak a dread vengeance on their innocent loved ones. As much as possible, that impression had been made today; now we needs must turn these Latins’ attention away from bloodlust by giving them something to mollify their rage – their rather righteous rage, truth be told. And so far as I knew, there was only one thing we could offer that they desired.

Juan spoke to Maid Flora using these strange Verizon praying-stones; I cannot comprehend how they can cast a voice over more miles than a man could see on a clear day at sea, and the Lopezes could not explain it to me, trying words like ‘lectrissity and sattalights before throwing up their hands in surrender, but howsoever it works, Juan summoned his sister to home many hours before she would be expected. ‘Twas good, as speed was of the essence; I had no doubt that the Latins, once they had licked their wounds, would come here to find us, and we must be elsewhere when they do.

A terse Spanish conversation followed Maid Flora’s arrival, with many apparent curses and more than a few bitter, fear-sickened looks cast my way. I could not complain: my presence in their lives, begun by my action when I led my men into the Glass Palace, had brought them little but misery. Even my good deeds, saving Maid Flora and now Ignacio and his mother, were only made necessary because of me, because of my allies and my enemies.

Once this is finished, I must leave this place. I must not rely on the kindness and forbearance of others who have no reason to look kindly on my presence in their lives, and I must not force the peril of association with me on these innocents. I must have my Grace. I need my home.

Within an hour’s time, Mistress Lopez was dispatched with young Alejandro to a friend’s house across town and out of harm’s way, and myself with Juan, Ignacio, and Flora departed in a pair of beast-wagons for the Glass Palace. With shovels.

We had a corpse to retrieve.

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