Ah gods, devils, my heart – my brain – my eyes!
‘Tis all too much. Surely some dam must burst, some wall crumble. An inferno will rage forth, and flesh will melt and bones will char, and perchance the Earth will open and swallow me whole. I hope it does.
It is not – pain. It could be pain. Part is. The heart – there is pain there. But there is so much else. All in the same moment – and in the next, twice as much again! Thrice!
I will close my eyes. Perhaps oblivion, even for a heartbeat, will save me from exploding.
Later – eight bells o’ the first watch
I am better now. Stab my liver, but I must have been a spectacle an hour gone! There were tears rolling down my cheeks like rainwater, my breath bellowing and steaming like a bull’s. I could not hold my limbs’ shaking nor keep my eyes from rolling. A proper madman, I was.
No. I will not think it all, nor allow it to overwhelm me anew. I am but a man, and weak – but I am a man. Weakness will not rule me.
One at a time, then. And bless this humble pen and paper: ’tis my crutch, my balm, my confessor and confidante. I do not understand why it should be that writing out my sorrows and my vexations in ink should lessen their weight on my heart, but it is so, and has ever been since I began this log – aye, two months ago? Is’t all? Christ’s tears.
Aye. One at a time.
My heart aches. ‘Tis hollowed out, a gourd emptied and dried and left to harden and wither to stone. It was so full; this is why it is now so very empty. I did love Meredith Vance – aye, still and all I do, in truth – and she did begin to love me. I know. I did see it in her eyes. ‘Twas the gift I gave – and perhaps the leavetaking after. Many’s the time I have seen strong men weep and hard women soften, as the ship sails from harbor and the loved one shrinks from sight, diminishing and dwindling mile after mile but still visible all the way to the horizon: ’tis the hardest way to say goodbye, to watch them fade from sight over a time, bit by bit by bit. And such a leavetaking makes the heart swell and tear and burst as the love is drawn forth from it, drawn to the departing one like iron to a lodestone, like an anchor torn loose from its mooring by the inexorable pull of the tide. To say goodbye is to know the strength of your love, and so, methinks, it was with Meredith Vance. Sure it was so for mine own love, mine own heart now torn asunder.
Aye, the gift: our passage departed in the eventide, about three bells of the first watch, and so we had this past day to ourselves, as Meredith was employed once more. I did look to the sky more this day than before, and I wondered: is that speck a bird, or a winged beast-wagon filled with madmen and imminent saints? By Hermes, they fly. She flies. She captains a ship that sails on aether. No – I cannot. One thing, each for itself. The gift.
We three – Lynch, MacManus and I – made use of Sir Thomas’s guiding maps, and we found our way to streets of shops, where we purchased what was needful: new clothing for all three – closer to proper finery ’tis, but the boots – fah! If one be not a woman, this world offers naught with any spirit or flair. Square and clunky as a Spanish galleon in dead calm, my feet are in these – boots. Ugly as a warthog and half as soft, as well, and the color of an ill babe’s shite – why do they wear these? Fah. Hades take them. But aye, we purchased attire, and some small supplies – the grocer, when we inquired as to food prepared for journeying, proffered us items called granola bars and beef jerky – ship’s biscuit and hardtack, says I, but I give them their due: in all my years of eating ship’s biscuit and hardtack, this is the most tasteful and savory I have struck. Easier to chew, as well.
By Athena! I cannot stay on a single thought. There is too much! This was the thought, and the sensation, that tortured my mind two hours ago, ere I slept. Aye – I slept, did I not say? Driven to slumber by exhaustion of mind, of body, of soul; driven to sleep despite my surroundings and circumstances. And the madness that consumed me was this: there is too much on which I must think, and too many errant thoughts that capture my mind and steal it away from its intended and useful heading – I fall off the course of my thoughts at the smallest sight, at the merest oddity, and fall to rapt contemplation of same, like a small child given a new toy who then casts it aside to play with a pretty stone, which is in turn abandoned for a puddle of water. And because the whole world is new to me now, there is distraction – everywhere. I cannot grasp it, for too many fall to my hand. I cannot steer straight, for the winds come from all directions, all at once. It is mad – I fear I may be mad, soon if not now. When my heart is filled, as well, as it was with the sorrow of my departing love – well, my cup runneth over, so they do say.
But: once more, I will attempt focus, once more sally forth into the swirling madness of my brain to seek out a path that may lead me to safety and surety. We did visit the shops. We bought clothing and shod our feet, and found supplies (The which we did not need, it obtains, but later for that.). ‘Twas then, after the grocer, that I found a pawn shop, much like Morty’s of Florida – but with a proprietor who was courteous and helpful, rather than a black-hearted bastard with acid in his tongue and an arsehole for a mouth. There I bought gifts for Margaret and Meredith – and for Lynch and MacManus, too, for they have been stout and true, following me loyally despite my floundering, my failure to lead so well as they follow. For Lynch – who had seemed most irritated by the purchasing of attire, as he could find naught that fit him well, particularly shoes for his feet: all were too large for those dainty flappers of his and would chafe him raw where he to wear such; we did at last find a decent shirt and breeches in a shop that sold to children, which near slaughtered his pride – for Lynch I found a proper pair of boots, decent leather if a bit cracked, with turn-down tops and brass buckles, and a finely tooled belt to match. They fit him perfectly, and he flushed with joy at the gift, the soft-hearted lad. For MacManus I found a cane, the which he needs, as he was limping badly ere the end of our excursion, and we have many miles yet to go – ah, but to assuage his wounded pride, and to serve our needs well, as even an injured MacManus is a warrior both doughty and ferocious as the situation commands, this cane is in truth a weapon: the top hand-and-a-half make up the hilt of a sword which draws forth from the rest of the cane, which is scabbard for it. ‘Tis good steel, a full two feet in length, near as well-crafted as my Libertad. ‘Twill serve MacManus well, and thus all of us. He is as pleased as Lynch.
For our kind savior and hostess, Margaret Boyle Flanagan, I found a draughts board carved from ash-wood by a proper Irish craftsman: ’twas decorated with Celtic knots and suchlike, the counters each carved with the likeness of trees native to Ireland, rowan and holly and oak and pine. ‘Tis a lovely thing, but still far short of the debt we owe her. Still: Meredith assured me that she will adore it, and so I am satisfied.
And for Meredith. For Meredith I found a necklace, a thing of beauty surpassing any such accoutrement I have yet seen in all my years of plundering. ‘Tis a fine silk ribbon, in a deep green that complements the maid’s beauteous eyes, that carries an oval carved of ivory and circled by reddish gold filigree, and on the oval is carved an image – a dark shadow of a face. The proprietor called it a cameo, and the shadow a silhouette, words he kindly wrote out for me. ‘Tis a gorgeous piece, but what’s more – what brought it to my hands, calling out for to grace my love’s delicate throat, was this: that shadow, that silhouette – it is hers. Aye, it was carved a century before, yon pawnman told, but I swear it is Meredith’s true likeness.
I gave it her on the porch of Margaret’s home, as the sun shone through the trees and set her hair alight with golden glory amid the flames of her tresses. I told her that now her beauty would last, carved in ivory, for a thousand years – as it would last in her for all of her life, and would last in my heart for all of mine.
She kissed me, then. Her fire set me alight. I burn still.
I cannot write more of this.
But an hour later, we found ourselves at the – the station, Meredith called it, the place where the trains arrive and depart. ‘Twas there that my mind filled, as my heart had, for – a train? That is what they name this?
A dragon, says I.
It is as long as a road – longer by far than any man-o-war or ship of the line, longer than anything I have seen built by men, even in this time. It is steel, from end to end, though pierced by glass windows – ’tis finer armor than anything worn by the noblest cavaliers of King Charles’s court. The beast must weigh more than London Bridge. And it moves. It screamed as it arrived, and hissed out breath; it chuffs, like a bull readying to charge, as it moves – and it is as fast as the beast-wagons which it dwarfs.
Our departure on the dragon was somewhat troublous. We arrived at the station a full turn of the glass before the appointed hour for casting off; indeed, the monster was not yet there. Meredith went to a magic window set in a sort of cabinet; she pressed various switches and touched the face of the magic window here and there, and soon the cabinet ejected three rectangles of stiff parchment – our tickets, Meredith named them. But as she gave them us – each printed with our own names – her movements slowed and she frowned at one of the parchments. Her consternation tugged at me, and I placed a hand on her arm. “What is it, lass?”
She looked up, past me, to a place where large doorways opened to the outside, and where a number of folk were in a queue, leading to a man in livery behind a counter. “Shit,” she said. “I forgot about that.”
My touch became a gentle squeeze – and such a fool am I, even this set my blood racing. “What, lass? What’s amiss?”
She turned to me and said, “You can’t get on the train here. I forgot, you need eye-dee.” My query clarified this to identification, such as the portrait cards of St. Vincent’s. Just then, as if to illuminate our need, the train arrived, with a shriek and a hiss that had we three Irishmen, with our stout hearts and battle-hard nerves, pale and shaking, though babes and grannies but smiled at the horrendous sounds. We saw yon steel leviathan creeping by, through the doorways beside the queue and counter, and we exchanged a wide-eyed glance.
“Come on,” Meredith said. “Hurry.” And we departed through the door by which we had entered, away from the dragon-train, at a near run – as near as Lynch and MacManus could handle.
Meredith stopped us again, just without. The station-house was a long, low building of brick and stone, not terribly large, perhaps two hundred paces in length and fifty in breadth. To either side stretched a sort of screen, of bright metal in a checkered pattern, like a wall of chainmail links. ‘Twas near the height of a man, and did naught to conceal the mighty beast that crouched behind it, which immediately arrested we three.
“You can’t take the bag,” Meredith spake, her words quick and terse. “Here, over here.” She drew us to a corner of the station-house, somewhat concealed, and there opened the bag wherein we had put our old clothing, our supplies, and the atlas she had given us – along with our pistolas and the wooden box holding our remaining dollar-papers, some three thousand after our purchases. She rummaged through the bag, withdrawing the box and handing it to me, and the two pistolas, which she thrust at MacManus – who, not expecting her agitation, dropped them a-clatter at his feet. Lynch stooped and retrieved them, tucking one in his belt and handing the other to Shane, with somewhat more success this time. To me, Meredith said, “Take the cache out, leave the box. Hurry.” I quick opened the money-box, took out the dollar-papers and thrust them in my pockets, dropping the box atop the bag of now-discarded goods. I grasped her design as she stood, then, and walked to the linked-chain screenwall. She looked around briefly for observers and then placed her fingers and toes in the holes in the screen, preparing to scale it.
Ah: a surreptitious entry. This was a task we grasped. “Not there, lass,” I called. I looked around more carefully than she, and saw two men smoking tobacco-sticks; they had spied us rummaging through the equippage, and watched us now. We needed better cover for this subterfuge. I motioned to my men, and led our party to a place I spied a dozen paces farther along, where a pair of stout trees grew close by the screen wall, which would offer assistance in climbing and concealment, too. The two smoking men had turned away, losing interest – now was the moment. We scaled the barrier behind the trees’ cover, with main ease, though MacManus turned pale and sweated with the exertion, and Lynch grunted and stumbled when he dropped to his feet on the far side.
There before us was the dragon, massive steel body stretching away for – five hundred paces? More? Longer than the station-house, it was, and my mind boggled at it. Meredith had to coax us into movement, but we quickly recovered from the shock sufficient to trot after her, to where the orderly queue within had become a milling crowd; we slipped into their midst, and none the wiser about our uncommon approach.
Meredith steered us to another liveried man – an officer of the dragon-train, I surmised – and we proffered our tickets, and were instructed to enter the portal in the monster’s side. We took our leave of my lady – of which I cannot write – and we made our way into the dragon’s belly.
And within? Every creature comfort, we found! There are – toilets, just as the houses here possess, for elimination. With sinks! With water! And there are cushioned seats which lay back into near-beds, and lights, and a voice that speaks from the air and announces to the passengers – of which there are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, all carried in safety and sheer sumptuousness inside a dragon’s belly – announces to them the sights that can be observed out of the windows, and – I could not believe it, I would not believe it, had I not heard it with my own ears and, driven by irresistible curiosity, confirmed this with my eyes – food. Supper, a meal service, a fine, fresh-made repast, served at table, on plates, with cutlery, with liquid refreshment of various potations of wine and ale as well as water – and milk! – served hot from kitchens, in a place named the dining car. Served as we fly forward, rumbling and clacketing, hissing and screeching, occasionally trumpeting out a call louder than any beast that walks this Earth. We ride inside a dragon – and we feast.
We ride towards my ship, and my men, and once there, I will again take up command. I know not where we will go, nor what we can do to improve our lot.
We ride away from the woman I love, who, it seems, loves me as well – her kiss told me so, and most eloquently. I may never see her again.
My mind is full, and my heart empty. Love and madness, hope and despair.
Ah, gods, ah, devils: take me now.