Monthly Archives: October 2018

Chapter #82: The End (Part II)

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

 

***

 

Some time later, he woke in a momentary burst of perfect crystalline agony, as if the whole world had frozen solid, and then shattered into splinters – and then each and every one of those needle-sharp shards stabbed into his flesh. He arched his back, groaning, every muscle taut with agony; and then he fainted once more.

The English sailor chortled and then threw a second bucket of seawater across the Irishman’s back; unfortunately, the bloody pirate didn’t react the second time. The man shrugged and smeared the strange milky-blue ointment he had been given by the Shadowman and told to use on the pirate’s raw, bleeding back; had he known what was infused into the salve, he might have been more cautious about applying it. Or perhaps he might have kept it for himself. As it was, he would feel the effects later, and would chalk it up, as the men did whenever they were visited by evil visions, to the malevolent spirits that gathered around the Shadowman.

They were not far wrong.

The sailor finished his ministrations, tying clean strips of cloth over the wounds, and then leaving the unconscious pirate tied to the Scourged Lady, like a bride and groom in Hell, dancing together as the devil’s whips slashed and tore at them, and the blood flowed like wine.

The drugs in the salve worked quickly into Damnation’s bloodstream; deadening his pain, they allowed him to fall into a deeper slumber: and then the hallucinogenic compounds flooded his brain and Damnation began to moan and whimper as the nightmares stooped down, caught him in their terrible claws, and swept him away.

 

***

 

He dreamed that he stood on a beach, a beach that seemed familiar, though the sea before him was black, and the sky above a turgid, looming maelstrom of red and dark grey, smoke and fire and thunder coursing and writhing above. He stood with both his arms outstretched, and in his hands was his sword, pointed at the sky; the blade gleamed, and the words Sangre-Muerte-Libertad flashed red in the hellish blood-colored light. He looked up from the blade and saw, between him and the black waves crashing onto the gray-brown mottled sand – the foam running in sickly green gouts and swaths across the sand like corruption from a wound – a line of men kneeling one behind the other all the way to the water’s edge. He looked closer and saw that they were his men, the crew of the Grace of Ireland. As he realized it, they stood, moving as one, and marched in a line until the first – his mate and right-hand man, Ian O’Gallows – stood directly before him. Ian’s face was somber, even sad, and Damnation wanted to say something to comfort his friend; wanted to smile,  wanted to put down the sword ( surely there was no reason to hold a blade when facing his own crew?) and clap Ian on the shoulder, clasp his arm in friendship, offer him some solace for his suffering. But Damnation could not move, not a muscle, not an inch; he could not open his mouth even to speak, could make no sounds emerge from his throat.

But then, without him willing it to happen, his arms moved: the tip of the sword turned down, down, until it pointed straight at the center of Ian’s breast.

Then Ian, eyes on Damnation, walked forward, moving steadily. The sword pierced him, and blood flowed; Damnation tried to shout, to drop the blade, to throw the sword from him, but he could only stand still as Ian thrust himself forward, driving the blade deeper into his own chest, deeper, and then through him: and still he came, until his breastbone pressed against the crossguard, and Damnation could feel the hot blood on his petrified fingers. He did not look down, though: he looked only into Ian’s eyes, seeing the sorrow there, the grief, grief that was reflected on Damnation’s heart.

Ian’s knees gave, and he sagged down, and though it burned and tore at the muscles of his arms, his shoulders, his back, still Damnation could not lower his arms, could not lower the blade: he held it outstretched, parallel to the ground. Ian’s eyes slowly rolled back in his head, his face going slack: dead. His head fell to the side, his body falling limp, the blood slowing to a trickle, a creep. And then the sharp blade began to cut up through Ian’s flesh, as his weight pulled down, until finally the sword burst free from Ian’s shoulder, the lifeless body collapsing to the sand at Damnation’s feet.

Revealing, standing behind him, Damnation’s cousin, Owen McTeigue. And everything repeated, with Owen: sad-eyed, he walked onto Damnation’s blade, bled, died, and slowly fell as the blade worked its way up through his corpse.

And was succeeded by Llewellyn Vaughn. And then Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Shane MacManus. His kinsmen Arthur Gallagher and Michael Rearden. Salty O’Neill. Liam Finlay. Padraig Doyle. Roger Desmond and Robert Sweeney. Abram O’Grady, moving steadily over the sand even on his pegleg. One by one they died, and fell, their bodies tumbling over each other, now pressing up against his legs like a woodpile that had fallen into him.

The last was Balthazar Lynch. He was weeping openly, and Damnation could feel tears rolling down his own cheeks. But the sword never wavered: and Lynch, who was a full head shorter than most of his crewmates, was not tall enough for the sword’s point to run through his chest: it slid into his throat, just below his softly rounded chin. His blood sprayed as the sword pierced his neck, sprayed hot across Damnation’s face: and when Lynch died and fell, the sword slewed suddenly sideways, and severed the youth’s head entirely.

But the head did not fall.

Lynch’s eyes opened. As they did, his body, and the bodies of all of the other dead men, rose to their feet. They stood in a circle around Damnation, and he began to spin, his arms still holding the sword outstretched as he turned rapidly in place – not moving his feet, simply spinning like a top. As he watched, his gaze going form man to man, the men raised their hands, and dug their nails into the wounds in their chests and in Lynch’s neck. They tore their flesh like cloth, like paper, and ripped it away, revealing themselves changed, underneath.  They were still themselves, but now every one was aged into his dotage: wrinkled and sagging flesh covered with liver spots, hair white and falling out, teeth gone, yellowed filmy eyes swaddled in plum-colored pouched lids. He spun, and saw them all ancient, decrepit – Lynch’s head now settled back onto his neck, the wound vanished in the sagging jowls drooping from his chin.

Their hands raised again, now to their faces: they scratched and clawed at their eyes, their ears, their mouths; they found purchase, dug in, tore the paper-thin skin away –

They stood in a circle around him, and they were beings of light, glorious, exalted. Human shapes gone, frailties and infirmities vanished, they burned and shone like stars. The red-grey turbulence above reeled back, fleeing to the horizon, fleeing the light; and Damnation was blinded by it, so much light he could see nothing at all.

 

***

 

He opened his eyes. The light was gone, his men were gone, the beach, the sword, all vanished. He looked about him now and saw only darkness. It was a comfort, now.

Then he heard a voice, a familiar voice, speaking words in a dead tongue, speaking at a slow, rhythmic pace. A longing burst into him, a longing so deep, so poignant, that he cried out, wordlessly; he thought the steady chanting paused then, even missed a beat – but then it continued, and perhaps it had not paused at all. Though he could not sense his body, could not tell direction nor sense where he was, he had a feeling of turning around, turning, turning – there.

Surrounded by the flickering glow of torchlight, his mother knelt, somewhere before him, though he could not tell how close or far, nor where she was. He longed to reach out to her, to call out to her, to see her eyes as she recognized him, to hear her say his name; but he could not find his own body to move his limbs, his lips, his lungs. He drank in the sight of her: he saw new grey strands in her hair, saw that she wore a dark robe of heavy material that swaddled her completely, saw the lines carved deeper at the sides of her mouth and the corners of her eyes, saw the crease between her brows that came when she was worried or afraid. He listened to her chanting, speaking the language of the druids, and he knew she was seeking him.

He could not reach out to her. He could not even find himself to try.

He watched as her head began to fall forwards, as her eyelids drooped down, her chanting slowed; the light around her seemed to dim, and she – or he – began to recede. With no idea how he did it, he opened a mouth he did not have, breathed air into lungs that did not exist, and called out, “Mam!”

Her eyes jumped open. Her head snapped up. Her mouth fell agape, the chant stopping entirely. She looked: and she saw him. She reached out, she cried out, “Nate!”

She disappeared.

Damnation collapsed once more, and fell into another vision.

 

***

 

He wakened in pain, his back on fire, arms shaking with cramps; he bit his tongue to keep from crying out, and slowly raised his head and looked around through slitted eyes. Rain washed down his face in streams, and he blinked it away so he could see.

He saw the Scourged Lady. He was tied to her, chest to chest, hanging back from arms wrapped around her neck, his wrists bound together behind her, his arms looped through the spaces between her head and her raised arms, her own wrists bound together as his were, but with the wood that comprised her, rather than rope: her bonds were part of her substance. Rain washed down her face and made it seem as though she wept. From the sky above, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled and boomed.

With a groan, he pulled himself upright, his arms quivering and aching with the motion, his shoulders nearly crying out with relief as his weight eased off of them. His legs shook as he stood upright – and suddenly his strength fell away like autumn leaves blown from their branches, and he collapsed forward, sagging against the Lady, who held him up, held him almost in an embrace, as if she tried to comfort him. He sighed and leaned into her, his arms clasped about her neck. The storm above eased, the thunder passing into the distance, the rain tapering to a drizzle and then nothing.

Then, in the quiet after the storm, he heard a strange sound. It was almost a cracking, a snapping, but it was drier, quieter; not the snapping of a twig, but the crumpling of folded paper. He tried to ignore it: but this was his ship, and he could not ignore it when his senses detected something out of the ordinary; too much of being a captain over a ship was paying attention, was never turning a blind eye to something that looked not quite right – or a deaf ear. It was too ingrained in him to deny, even now, even as he was. He turned his head wearily, opened his eyes to see what it was.

It was his beloved Grace: she was falling to pieces. As he watched, the yards fell from the mainmast, making again that crumpling, crumbling sound; the wooden yards fell into splinters as they came down, pattering onto the deck like dry rain. He felt something soft and desiccated brush by his face, his shoulders; he looked up and saw the sails and shrouds of the foremast, rising up directly above him, now falling in flakes and flinders like cold ash, like burned snow. As he looked up, the foremast broke in half with a dry snap!, and then broke again; the segments clattered to the deck, shattering when they hit with a sound like old bones thrown onto a wooden table. The mainmast followed, the shrouds and lines puffing into clouds of dust. He breathed it in, and it coated his throat so that he choked, the ash sticking to his rain-wet skin in dry, itching clumps.

His heart leapt into his throat. His ship! His ship was – was dying, was crumbling into ashes and dust! As he watched, the rails cracked and fell away, the poop deck and the cabins beneath fell in on themselves in a cloud of grey particles and fragments of wood. The deck groaned and shuddered under his feet, a crack suddenly splitting across from port to starboard, then running suddenly to stern – and then under his feet – and then he was falling, crashing through the decks which blew apart as he struck them, like dry crusts of bread crushed under a bootheel.

But the Scourged Lady remained: solid and heavy, she fell with him, fell below him, and then she hit the water with a splash, he falling across her, his arms around her neck and his hands in the water; all around them, the shell of the ship shivered and whispered as it crackled into dust and fell away.

He straddled the wooden Lady, tried to sit upright – tried to reach out to his ship, to call to her, to save her; but he was bound tightly and could not free himself, and could not turn away nor reach out his hand. He lowered his face to the Lady’s, closed his eyes, and wept.

He sensed movement. He raised his head and opened his eyes. At first he saw nothing but a cloud all around him, like dark grey fog: it was all that remained of his beauty, of his Grace. A sob shook his throat and made him cough: the expulsion of his breath roiled the cloud, and then he saw what had moved: it was a hand, an arm, reaching out to him, the fingers outspread, stretching towards him. The arm was slender, the hands smaller than a man’s, but seeming strong, nonetheless; and they reached for him, to him: reached to save him.

As he looked at that hand, a word flashed into his mind, a word he somehow knew was attached to that arm, to the person behind that reaching hand, the person he could not see. Traitor. Betrayer. He felt a hot anger wash through him, and his eyes and throat burned with the heat of his rage and the dust of his Grace.

The traitor’s arm reached out to him, reached to save him. It could not get to him unless he reached out, as well, met the traitor halfway.

Damnation turned away from the saving hand. He lay full-length atop the floating figurehead: he embraced the Scourged Lady, finding solace there in pain, in her unchanging solidity, her reliable unliving immobility.

The hand drew slowly back, vanishing into the dust.

Damnation and the Scourged Lady sank beneath the surface of the water, down into the endless cold depths. The sea poured into him, washing away the heat of his rage, washing away the last clinging remnants of his ship. He was left with – nothing. Cold. Dark.

Peace.

 

***

 

He woke, choking on a mouthful of fresh water. His back was numb, his arms afire, his head pounding. He groaned, cracked one eye open; a man’s head, silhouetted darkness against the starry sky, leaned close. Damnation made a noise like words, and the silhouette leaned closer, said softly, “Take more. You’ll need it.”

Hobbes. A cool metal pressed against his lips, and Damnation opened his mouth: cool, sweet, fresh water poured slowly into him, and he swallowed again and again, feeling the burning ache in his throat vanish, feeling his limbs and extremities sighing in relief. The water slowed and stopped, and he held the last mouthful for a moment, sluicing it around in his mouth; then he swallowed. With that, his consciousness returned fully, and he was alert. He nodded to Hobbes and said, “Thank you.” Then with a moan and a curse, he stood upright, finding himself as in his dream, tied to the Scourged Lady – but his ship, thankfully, remained whole around and under him.

Hobbes offered the metal bottle, and he drank more until the water was gone. Without a word, the Englishman disappeared, as well.

As well as he could, though he could not free himself, Damnation turned away from the Scourged Lady. She was not his solace; for him, she held no true comfort. He saw a slight movement behind her, and he stretched out his hand and caught – a rope. A length of two-inch rope, sticky with tar, swinging free at one end since the ship was at anchor, but attached to the foremast above.

Attached to his Grace.

He held that rope with both hands, his face turned away from the statue to which he was bound; and, softly, he sang a song to his ship. A love song.

Then he slept.

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Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter #81: The End (Part I)

Continuing With Our Story…

It was mid-afternoon when Damnation and Andre arrived at the cove where the Grace of Ireland and her crew were held. The light seemed to gleam in the humid air, giving everything the glow of well-polished wood. The air was still, without breeze, as though the world held its breath; below the horizon, clouds were climbing atop one another, reaching higher and higher, and soon they would spill out across the sky, hiding the stars and moon and sun, bringing rain, perhaps, or only the threat and promise of it. Who can say? The clouds their own counsel keep.

The Jeep came to a slow stop some two hundred yards from the farmhouse and its armed guards and its cage of prisoners. Damnation strained his eyes, trying to pierce the screen of trees, to see the ocean beyond and what lay on it. He did not look at his men, though several of them had spied the Jeep and were pointing and murmuring, seeking to determine what had arrived into their lives this day, and what would be the price of knowing.

As they sat in the Jeep, parked in the middle of the long packed-dirt driveway, Andre’s phone rang. He answered it with a terse, “Yah,” and then paused to listen. Then, “Right, Old King’s Road, ‘bout seven, eight mile pas’ Morgan Point. Look for de Serpent’s Fangs. Yah.” He hung up, and then, without looking at his passenger, said, “De bus is comin’. Be here ten, fitteen minutes, maybe.”

Damnation nodded. “And you’re certain ‘twill carry them all?”

Andre nodded. “Hold 40, 45 passengers. No problem.” He tuned to look at the pirate then. “You just ‘ave to get dem out de cage.”

Again, Damnation nodded. Suddenly he turned to Andre and grinned – though his eyes were hollow, still. “No problem,” he said, and then without any further discussion, he was out of the Jeep and walking towards the line of trees, his back straight and his shoulders tall.

When he was halfway to the line of trees, a cry went up from the men in the cage: they had recognized him. “Kane! Captain Kane! It’s the Captain, lads!” Damnation’s jaw tensed, his fists clenched, but he kept walking. Towards the trees: not towards the cage. He did not look at his men, nor respond to their shouts. Those shouts grew more desperate, as though the men’s rescue from their cage relied on their captain recognizing them, acknowledging them; and perhaps it did. If men can be ignored, denied, they may be left behind: they may be sacrificed. Soon the men lined the side of the cage, their fingers knotted through the chain-link fencing, clutching the solid steel poles of the frame; the cords in the necks stood out, their eyes wide and bulging, as they shouted, louder, and louder, and louder: “Captain! Captain Kane! We’re here! Over here, sir! Sir! Captain! Help us! Save us!”

Damnation did not look at them. But had they been closer, had they stood right before him, they might have noticed his lips moving, might have heard the words he muttered; though his voice was so low, so quiet, that even had they been before him, they may not have been able to make it out. He said: “No. I am not. Not your captain. I can’t help you. I can’t. I will do what I can but I can’t save you. Not I.”

As he passed the cage and walked on towards the line of trees, the shouts trailed off, ending with a last few desperate pleas, and angry questions; finally a wordless cry of despair. At this last, Damnation’s gaze snapped towards the cage, and the men who stared after him – the ones who had not already given up hope and turned away in confused resignation – held their breath and leaned collectively forward, their faces now pressed against the steel fence. Without raising his voice, speaking in a conversational tone, so soft they would not have heard him had there been a wind and had he not spoken in the breath between waves crashing on the shore, Damnation said, “I will free you.” And then he was gone into the trees, and the men fell away from the chainlink as if the last of their strength had left with their captain.

Not a minute later, a strange conveyance, twice the height and three times the length of the beast-wagons they had grown accustomed to, arrived at the farm and came to a halt behind the Jeep that was still parked two hundred yards away. From the long, tall wagon a man emerged, and came to speak to the driver of the Jeep. Then all of them waited, unsure of what would happen next.

Damnation, however, was sure. He expected the lift he felt when he came through the screen of trees and saw the ocean, and his ship, once more; he expected the subsequent plunge as he remembered that the ship, like the crew he had left behind, was no longer his to command, or to save; if they were to be saved, it would be by another, by themselves, by a watchful God, if such a thing could be. The best that he could do was to trade his life for the bare fact of their freedom from their current captivity – and for his ship, he could not even offer that. He raised his eyes to the sky and said a brief prayer, asking for forgiveness for his failure, for his weakness; though he did not know to whom he prayed, nor what he would have if his prayers were answered.

Regardless, though, he walked with confidence down to the water’s edge, where a ship’s boat was drawn up on the sand. The Grace floated at anchor a quarter mile out to sea; on either side of her, the small cove was hemmed in by a tall spike of stone, and the two together did indeed resemble the fangs of a giant serpent. The sea was calm, only low swells rolling in, and he could see men moving around on the ship, though he could not tell what they were doing; that ignorance, and the fact that, even if he had known what those men out there were doing to his ship, he himself had no power whatsoever to change it, were bitter in his throat, bitter and sharp as a swallow of nails.

Damnation was at the boat before the two men guarding it were aware of him; when they finally noticed the tall man standing before them, gaze fixed to the ship, they cursed and scrambled up from where they had been sprawled in the sand, drowsing over their uneventful guard detail. They came towards him warily, guns pointed in his direction; for a moment, Damnation looked at the two men, and the contempt in that gaze was sharper than any blade.

He looked back to the ship and nodded in her direction. “Take me out to her,” he ordered.

One of the men scoffed at this stranger’s attempt to command them; the other – the smarter one – narrowed his eyes, wondering who this man was to think he could order them so. Neither spoke, nor moved to shove the boat into the water and man an oar.

Damnation glanced at them again, the contempt now exchanged for impatience. “I am – well, if not expected, I am at the least sought after.”

The two men frowned, and still did nothing but stand warily and point gun barrels at the strange Irishman.

Damnation sighed. It seemed he had spoken beyond, or above them; clearly the brains of these two did not have much reach. “I am Damnation Kane,” he told them. “That was once my ship. The man who has it now has been looking for me.”

The two guards reacted to that. The men were dressed in modern attire, blue jeans and low canvas sneakers and loose cotton shirts with short sleeves; one man had a black-and-white patterned bandanna tied around his head and the other was shaved bald with a patchy beard trying (and failing) to make up for it; because of their clothes, Damnation had not expected what he now saw in their faces, heard in their voices: recognition. And the accents of British sailors.

“Izzit ‘im?” the sailor in the bandanna asked the bald one. “Izzit Kane?”

The bald sailor nodded, a wondering sort of smile – mixed with an eagerness, a hunger, that spoke of danger – spreading his lips, revealing brown and broken teeth. “Aye. ‘At’s ‘im, right enough. I seen ‘im when we came at ‘im back ‘ome, afore –” the man spat.

Then he leaped to his companion, catching his shoulders and holding him back as the slighter man cursed and snarled and struggled to break free and reach Damnation. Damnation, nonplussed, took a step back, looking at the Englishman who seemed to have forgotten he held a firearm, or perhaps he wanted to use his bare hands and feel the Irishman’s blood running over his knuckles. The curses and threats trailed off, and then Damnation realized the man was shouting a single sentence, over and over.

“Take us back! Take us back! Take us back!”

Damnation looked at the two men, his face blank; but behind that mask, his eyes, hollow before, were now filled with sorrow. With regret.

The sailor trailed off into cries that were half-weeping. And Damnation said, softly, “If I could apologize to ye, I would.”

His words seemed to deflate the man, and he fell to his knees in the sand. The bald sailor let his partner drop, and sneered at Damnation; then he spat at the pirate’s feet, turned away and started hauling the boat out into the water. After a moment, Damnation went to help him, and by the time they had the wooden boat floating, the third man had scrubbed the tears from his eyes, and he waded out and climbed into the boat, taking an oar. The bald sailor joined him on the other oar, and Damnation sat in the stern, facing their angry, accusatory eyes, but never meeting their gazes; he watched over their shoulders as his ship grew closer, grew larger.

As they neared the Grace, a man on board (who, it seemed, kept a better watch than these two) called out, “Boat on the port side!” Men came to the rail, vanished, then returned with boat hooks and ropes, and a rope ladder was unfurled over the ship’s side. The two sailors maneuvered the boat expertly against the side of the ship; the bald sailor shipped his oar and caught the rope ladder; two boat hooks snagged the gunwale of the boat, and a rope was tossed to the other sailor, who tied it to a cleat and made it fast. He looked up at the men at the rail and half-called, half-hissed, “It’s ‘im! It’s the Irishman! Kane!”

Suddenly the men at the rail held weapons, and as Damnation climbed the rope ladder, he felt an itch move from between his shoulder blades to his breastbone, then up to his forehead; and he knew he was feeling the sharp gaze of men who were not only willing, but eager, to murder him on the spot and watch his bloody corpse sink beneath the waves.

But this was his ship, and the second his hands gripped the wood of her rail, all fear and all regret left him. He was nothing now but iron determination. He came aboard, moving slowly, holding his hands out wide to show he was completely unarmed, and then he said loudly, clearly, “I am Damnation Kane. This is my ship.”

One of the British sailors snarled and swung a fist at Damnation’s gut, but the Irishman spotted the movement, and somehow managed to move even quicker than the Englishman, stepping out of the way of the blow. The sailor stumbled as his punch struck only air; Damnation stood unmoving, though he could have struck easily at the off-balance attacker. The man looked, mouth agape, over his shoulder at Damnation, who smiled, his hands still empty and spread wide. From behind, a voice said, ‘”How did he move –” and another snickered. The Englishman reddened, straightened up and faced the Irish pirate squarely; he drew his fist back for another swing, when a voice said, “Stop.”

That voice had come from the poop deck, where the wheel was that steered the ship, where the man stood who set the course: but this voice was not the voice of command, not a captain’s voice barking out orders. This voice seemed to creep, to seep into one’s ears, to trail along one’s skin, creating a sensation of slithering: of infiltrating, sneaking down under the surface and planting unseen hooks. Captain’s voice or not, this was a voice to be obeyed. And all the men on board did so, the fist lowering, Damnation dropping his hands to dangle by his sides, all of them turning to face – him.

The Shadowman.

Even in bright daylight, the late summer afternoon sun of Bermuda, it was difficult to see clearly what he looked like: the sunlight seemed to draw back from him, unwilling to touch, or even to come too close. His skin was quite dark, with the reddish undertones of West Africa, of the Ibo, of the Ivory Coast, the people who had made up the majority of the victims of chattel slavery – and also, the people whose religion and rituals had served as the foundation for what was now called voodoo.

Something that the Shadowman knew quite a lot about.

Damnation looked up at the man who, if he did not own it, at the least controlled his ship. He saw flat black eyes, deepset and hooded by a high brow that swept back into a smoothly shaven head, sitting atop a thin neck over narrow shoulders and a frame that approached gaunt. The hands that gripped the rail were long, thin, and spidery – but also looked strong, with large knuckles and veins snaking across the lines of the tendons. The man wore dark clothing, loose fitting, that covered him to the wrist and the ankle; but somehow one had the sense that he would make even bright clothing look dark: and if he stood nude, he would be clothed in shadows.

The Shadowman looked down at him, but Damnation felt no fear.

“I am Damnation Kane, the captain of this ship,” he said in a clear voice. He took another step towards the poop deck. “I am the man you have been looking for.”

The Shadowman’s hands tightened on the rail. When he spoke, his mouth opened wide, and yet one could not see teeth behind those thin lips, nor the pink of gums nor tongue: only the blackness of a cavern, of a pit. And out of that cavern crept that voice, that venomous, desiccated voice, like a deadly serpent slithering into your ear. “What makes you think you know what I seek?” The sibilant whisper should have been too quiet for Damnation to hear over the sound of the waves, the creaking of the ship; but he heard every word perfectly. And every word made his skin crawl.

But he showed no sign of it, merely staring boldly back at the Shadowman. He did not answer the question; he was here for a purpose, not a conversation. “I have come to offer myself in exchange for the release of my men, whom you hold on shore,” he said: and his voice was the voice of a captain, the sounds ringing out as clear as the pealing of a bell.

The Shadowman tilted his head, and with the movement, one very much expected a long forked tongue to flick from his mouth, tasting the air, feeling for the heat of his prey: hunting. “One man for eleven? That seems a poor bargain for me,” he said softly.

“Fourteen,” said Damnation. “I want the Englishmen, too.” He turned a baleful gaze on the sailors around him. “The ones with honor and courage enough to refuse to scourge my men.” Sneers and snarls met his words – and a few downcast eyes. Damnation looked back to the Shadowman. “But they are all nothing to you: I am the only one you seek. My blood is what you seek.”

The dark eyes widened, showing a flash of white in the shadows; the head seemed to slither forward on the thin neck, as if it could now taste its prey. No forked tongue slipped from between the lips, but the nostrils flared, perhaps catching a scent. “So it is blood we are speaking of,” the Shadowman whispered – perhaps even hissed. He leaned forward over the rail, his slender body seeming to curve more than bend. “Perhaps you should allow me to sample what you offer.”

Damnation once more suppressed a shudder; then he nodded curtly. With a brief glance to the armed men standing on either side of him, he bent down and quickly drew a knife from his tall leather boot, a utilitarian blade, sharp but stained steel with a well-worn wooden handle. There was some slight closing in as he rose, now armed, but the Shadowman had slid (seemingly without steps, or strides) to the top of the companionway from the poop to the main deck; he paused there and raised his head indignantly, frowning at the sailors. He did not speak, but his expression was eloquent in saying, Surely you don’t think I need protection from him? The Englishmen melted back away without a murmur, but with many fearful and a few resentful glances. The Shadowman oiled down the stairs, his upper body seeming to float over his legs, undisturbed by the motion of walking. He slid to a spot in front of Damnation and two paces away, and the two men locked eyes, each taking the measure of the other: the Irishman was taller, broader, his hands callused from sailing and from fighting; the houngan wore an aura of power along with the predatory menace that wrapped around him as closely as his shadows.

Without a word, Damnation brought the knife to his left forearm and cut the skin there, drawing a line of blood from the back of his wrist. He lowered the blade and held out his left hand. The Shadowman glanced from the blood to Damnation’s face – and then, quick as a striking viper, he snapped forward, clutched Damnation’s arm with both hands (the grip of those long fingers shockingly strong) and, bringing his face close, he licked the blood from the wound. Now Damnation did recoil: and the Shadowman smiled, revealing clean white teeth with a thin line of red between the upper and lower. His grip kept Damnation from stepping back, and with a visible effort, the pirate controlled himself and stood still. The Shadowman closed his lips, worked his tongue around in his mouth; then his eyes rolled back in their sockets, his face falling slack, his head rolling back on his neck as if in a trance or in sheer ecstasy, and he groaned softly.

And Damnation felt the strangler’s grip loosen.

Now it was the pirate who moved with stunning quickness: in an instant he had twisted his left arm out of the Shadowman’s grip and grabbed the man’s right wrist in his left hand. He pulled the man close, stepping back and swinging his elbow up and over the dark head, and now he brought that sharp boot knife up and pressed the blade against the thin, wiry neck.

The Shadowman spat a curse in a spray of blood and began to struggle: in that first instant, he nearly broke free as he twisted his arm in Damnation’s grip and unexpectedly tried to drop to the ground. But the pirate had seen the serpentine agility and quickness; he had felt the strength in those hands and wrists; and he held on to the Shadowman as tightly as he would grip a line in a storm, knowing if he lost control of the line he would lose control of the ship, and all would be lost. That strength was enough, and the Shadowman stayed in his grasp. Then the free left arm snatched at his right wrist – until he pressed the blade tight against the line of the man’s jaw, piercing the skin, drawing a new line of blood. The Shadowman stopped struggling then.

Then the cursing started.

At first it was simply a string of profanity in at least three languages, and the words that Damnation understood were pungent enough to make him wish he spoke the other tongues as well, so that he could learn new foulnesses for his own repertoire. The furious houngan split the epithets and disapprobations equally between Damnation and the English sailors who had failed to stop him; apparently the Shadowman himself deserved no blame for his unwary actions.

Then the man stopped even his idle struggling, and became still. Damnation felt him take a deep breath, and then a sibilant rattle of strange sounds emerged from him; it was barely recognizable as a language, but the ominous threat was unmistakable. Immediately Damnation leaned back, pulling the man’s right arm up and over his shoulder, turning the elbow painfully; at the same time, he pressed the knife into the flesh of the neck once more, drawing new blood and threatening to draw it all. And in the man’s ear, Damnation murmured, “With you dead, what have I to fear?”

Once more the Shadowman grew still, and this time, silent. Damnation allowed the pressure on the blade to slack, while he kept the man’s arm at a painfully twisted angle – though the dark man did not seem to even feel the pain of his overextended joints. After a moment the Shadowman said, “If I die, they will kill you.”

Damnation cocked an eyebrow at the English sailors. “Will they?” he asked, his query directed at both the Shadowman and the Englishmen, expecting two different answers.

He got one unexpected answer: the Shadowman laughed. “Not the white men. Them.” He pointed, with his free left hand, back up the companionway to the poop deck. Damnation looked, instinctively hunkering down slightly so that the Shadowman’s body was between him and the threat. Standing at the rail were three enormous men: all the size of Kelly or Ned Burke, all with full beards and long dreadlocked hair, all as dark of skin as the Shadowman – and all, like him, darker still because the sunlight seemed to shun them. They stood, expressionless and unmoving, their eyes directed towards Damnation, though it was not clear if they looked at him, if they saw him – if they saw anything. Their eyes, their faces, were – empty.

Though no less intimidating for that. Damnation turned farther, ducking lower behind the shorter houngan, peering now over the man’s right shoulder. The Shadowman laughed again, though the noise was somewhat constricted, as Damnation’s grip had tightened. “Look up,” the Shadowman gurgled.

Damnation looked up. Above his head, the mainmast stretched forty feet up from the deck; 25-foot crosspieces, the yards, set at three different heights. To each yard a canvas sail was attached with brass rings; the sails were gathered and tied with rope to the yards; the longer ropes – the shrouds – that connected the yards and the sails down to the rails, so that men on deck could raise or lower or tighten or loosen or even turn the sails, were gathered together and tied back, or else Damnation wouldn’t have seen much when he looked up other than canvas and rope and wood. But his view was clear to the wooden platform that circled the top of the mainmast, the crow’s nest: and over the edge of that platform leaned a fourth man, a near-perfect replica of the other three as to size, hair, beard, skin, and dead-eyed expressionlessness. That man held an automatic rifle; Damnation could see the barrel and the magazine outthrust past the edge of the crow’s nest. If the man should turn that barrel down towards the deck, there would be no place to hide from the rain of deadly lead that would fall from above.

Damnation straightened up. He did not let go. “Well and so here we are. We both may die – because even yon lookout high above could not fire on me without peppering you as well – or we both may live. Shall I ask which ye prefer? Shall I tell ye my own feelings on the matter?”

The Shadowman slowed and then stilled his struggling. He was thinking, presumably about ways that Damnation could be killed without risk to himself.

Damnation spoke, trying to put a thumb on the side of the scales that held “No violence and let everyone live.” He put his lips right by the Shadowman’s ear and murmured, so low that the sailors standing nearby could not even be sure he spoke: “How did the blood taste?”

The Shadowman turned his head, just enough so that Damnation could see the side of his mouth, the corner of his eye. Damnation tipped his own head forward, so the Shadowman could see him raise an eyebrow. After a moment the Shadowman called out, his voice now coming loud and clear, without the sibilant slithering though still with the perilous feel: “Abner! Bring me my phone!” One of the men on the poop deck moved toward the companionway; Damnation turned to face the man, tightening his grip, tensing his body to move and fight. In the strangled gurgle, the Shadowman said, “Leave your guns up there!”

The man paused, put down the pistol he held, drew a second pistol from the small of his back, and placed it on the deck with the first. Then he drew a cellphone from his pocket and, holding it high, came down the companionway. Damnation didn’t relax, but he did allow the man to approach, and when he was within a pace, the Shadowman reached out with his left hand and took the phone. The houngan tapped the screen several times, and then brought the phone to his ear. Damnation pressed close to hear both sides of the conversation.

After three rings, the phone was answered; a voice with a deep Island accent said, “Yah, boss?”

“Let the prisoners go. All of them.”

There was a pause, and then the voice asked, “Ya want us t’ follow dem, or hold one, two?”

Damnation pressed the knife against his throat, and the Shadowman said, “Let them go. Send them down to the shore so we can see them from the ship, then let them go. Do not follow.”

“Yah, boss, you got it,” the voice said. The Shadowman ended the call and then held the phone out to Abner, who took it and put it back in his pocket. “Go back up,” the Shadowman said, and Abner returned to the poop deck rail, collecting his guns in passing.

A minute passed, and then another. The British sailors, standing around on the deck, began to shift idly, uneasily. The three men standing on the poop deck did not. After a third minute, the Shadowman tugged gently on his trapped right arm, clearing his throat and rolling his head on his neck. “You can let me go now,” the Shadowman said. “My men will do as I ordered them.”

Damnation tightened his grip, instead. He pulled his knife hand away from the houngan’s throat, quickly sliding his right arm under the Shadowman’s, the point of his knife now resting on the man’s belly. “When I see my men and know they are safe, I’ll let ye go and surrender to ye.”

The Shadowman was silent for a moment. Then he said, as if nothing had occurred since Damnation had asked the question, “Your blood tastes strong. Powerful.” Again he turned in Damnation’s grip, just enough to look into the pirate’s eyes from the corner of his own. “But it is not for me to taste it.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. Ye need it to move the ship. Ye need me.”

The Shadowman tipped his head. “You’re half right,” he said, and Damnation saw the corner of his mouth turn up in a smile.

Just then, a shout came from the shore, just audible from the deck. “Captain!” Damnation tried to turn to face the shore, but could not do so while holding so tight to his captive. He hesitated, but then released the man’s right arm, changing his grip to the collar of the Shadowman’s loose shirt, holding him tight with his left, laying the knife blade along the line of the man’s spine, the tip of the blade pricking the back of the shaved skull. A moment to ensure that the Shadowman would not struggle – he did not, merely shrugging his shoulder and shaking his right hand to bring back circulation – and then Damnation squinted at the shore, where he saw a tall man in tattered clothes limping rapidly along the beach, headed towards where the boat had launched, which was the closest point to the ship. The man cupped his hands to his mouth and again shouted, “Captain!”

Damnation pressed the knife close, and then he raised his left hand and waved. “Ian!” he shouted.

O’Gallows waved vigorously, and Damnation thought he could see the smile on his mate’s face from here. Cupping his hands, O’Gallows shouted, “Orders, sir!”

If O’Gallows could have made out Damnation’s face from where he stood, he wouldn’t have had to hear the orders: the sorrow webbed across the captain’s eyes, gathered in the corners of his mouth, weighing down his jaw, would have made it clear before Damnation even said what he did now. “Take the men and go,” he shouted, his voice rough, breaking on the last word. “Follow the road.” Damnation paused, and swallowed, and then said, “Don’t wait for me.”

O’Gallows actually took two steps into the water, the waves washing around his feet. “Sir!” he called out, and then, “Nate!”

The sadness turned to steel, and this time his voice did not break. “You have your orders, O’Gallows!” Damnation took a stronger hold on the Shadowman’s shirt, his gaze turning to the back of that dark, shaved head. “You will see the men safe. The ship, I will see to.” His gaze flicked back to the shore, where now he saw two more men, whom he recognized as Llewellyn Vaughn and Owen McTeigue, come along the shore to stand with O’Gallows. “Go!” Damnation shouted, as loudly, as strongly, as he could.

O’Gallows let his cupped hands fall from his mouth. Vaughn said something to him, inaudible from the ship; McTeigue stepped out into the water and laid a hand on O’Gallows’s arm. The taller man shook it off, but McTeigue reached out again; this time, O’Gallows turned away from the ship and stepped out of the water.

McTeigue hesitated for a moment, and then cupped his own hands around his mouth and called out, “Slán leat, col ceathrar!”

Damnation rocked back as if struck, and blinked his eyes, hard. “Fare thee well, too, cousin,” he called back, his voice fading at the end.

McTeigue waved; Vaughn did as well. Then they turned and, gathering O’Gallows with an arm around his shoulders, they walked away from the water, away from the ship, and away from their captain, cousin, and friend, Damnation Kane.

Once the three had vanished into the line of trees, the Shadowman turned his head; freer now, he turned until he could look at Damnation, though the Irishman still held the houngan’s shirt, and the blade of the knife stayed against the back of his neck. The Shadowman turned up his hands, not needing to actually say, “Well?”

Damnation shoved him. “Not yet,” he said gruffly. The Shadowman turned his back on Damnation without another sound.

Some minutes later, a car horn honked, then honked twice more, and then three more times. Damnation’s shoulders sagged. He let go of the Shadowman and took three steps back. He could feel English sailors pressing up close behind and to his sides, but he kept his gaze on the houngan. When the Shadowman turned slowly around to face him, Damnation held out the knife, the wooden handle turned towards the houngan.

The man stepped forward slowly, reached gingerly for the knife, and took it gently from Damnation’s hand. Damnation let his arm drop, and then squared his shoulders, facing the man head-on, accepting his fate now. Trying to.

Quick as a snake, his arm stabbing out in much the same motion as a serpent striking and sinking fangs into its prey, the Shadowman slashed Damnation’s own knife across the Irishman’s chest, tearing a gash in his shirt and drawing a line of blood from his skin. Damnation hissed in pain but did not fall back away: he kept his gaze locked on the Shadowman. The Shadowman raised the knife, pinched his thumb and finger against the sides of the blade, and drew off the blood; he knelt down and smeared his fingers across the deck of the ship, leaving a streak of crimson on the planks.

They all waited.

Nothing happened.

After a long minute, the Shadowman’s lip curled. His right hand went to his throat as he shook the knife in his left hand at Damnation. He drew his right hand away, held up his newly-bloodied fingers for Damnation to see. “Perhaps there was too much of my blood on the blade,” he growled. He crept closer and hissed. “Perhaps it needs more blood.”

He stood and shouted, “Scourge him!” The English sailors cheered. They rushed to Damnation, grabbing his arms, and dragged him towards the bow. Damnation neither resisted nor assisted. He had expected nothing to happen when his blood touched the deck, which was why he had forced the Shadowman to wait until Andre’s signal told him that the bus had driven away safely with all of his men; now, Damnation expected only to die. His only remaining wishes were that it would not be too long, or too painful, and that when he died he would still be on his ship, and not cast into the watery depths.

Well. It looked as if he would have one of those wishes granted him. But not the other two.

The Englishmen bound him to the Scourged Lady. Damnation did not resist, allowing them to put him in place and tie his arms around her. He peered up at her lovely face, carved and painted in an expression of agony, and he wondered why any man would want such a visage to embody his ship. Then he looked down at the base of the carved wooden statue, which had been crudely bolted to the deck of his lovely Grace, and he grieved that his beautiful ship would end her days thus altered, thus corrupted. Perhaps it was to the good that whatever spirit had been in her had apparently been washed away by the blood of an innocent man. Damnation closed his eyes and said a brief prayer for the soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick: first to God the Father and Christ the Son; and then to the Morrigan, she who reveled in deaths soaked in blood and stabbed with pain, and to Manannan Mac Lir, Keeper of the Ways, who would guide the souls of dead sailors through the dark waters to their final rest.

He could not help but ask for a blessing for himself, as well.

“Strip him!” the Shadowman ordered after Damnation was tethered to the Lady. “The blood must flow free.” Damnation kept his eyes closed as they cut his clothes off of his body, so they would not see the fear in his eyes.

When he was bare, left only with the sleeves of his shirt trapped under the cords that had tied him in place, the Englishmen backed away, and then there was a silence. He listened to the waves coming in to the shore, to the creaks and moans of his ship, his lovely ship, and he tried not to listen for the sound of the lash coming through the air, the sound of the hooks sinking into his bare back. He had been flogged before, as all sailors inevitably are; but never like this. He knew himself unprepared, and he prayed only that he would die well.

Then: a surprise. A voice, familiar and unexpected – the voice of Nicholas Hobbes. He heard it and knew it, though he could not make out the words Hobbes exchanged with the malevolently hissing Shadowman; he was just about to open his eyes, to see what expression, what emotion, might be on Hobbes’s face, but then Hobbes gave an order, in a clear voice, and Damnation squeezed his eyes tight shut and clenched his jaw.

The order was, “Begin.”

The lash fell almost immediately – but it did not fall, it struck, coming around his left side to his right, and the agony was instant and overwhelming. The hooks were then pulled out as the lash was drawn back for the next blow, and Damnation bared his gritted teeth; he felt blood trickling down his back, down his bare leg, and he thought he heard it pattering on the deck.

Then the lash bit him again, and he heard only the screaming in his own mind, felt only the lightning blasts of pain and the ache in his throat as he struggled, with all of his strength, with all of his will, not to let those screams out into the air: he did not want his cries to please the Shadowman and his minions.

But of course, at last, he did scream aloud, and curse them, and plead with them to stop. No matter what sound he made, how he begged, the lash struck again, and again, the hooks tearing out pieces of his flesh, spurting gouts of blood, tearing his cries from his throat, ripping his life from his body.

Until at last, a new sound could be heard. A rumbling, shaking sound, as of an enraged bull tied into a stall and beginning to tear down the very walls with its mighty struggles. When it began, the lash still struck, but as the rumbling sound grew, the lash struck but weakly, the hooks failing to catch, and then the flogging stopped.

Some moments later, Damnation’s hoarse screams faded, and then he too heard the noise. With some effort, he pried open his eyes.

The ship was on fire. But it was not a flame of red and yellow and orange, and the ship was not consumed: the Grace burned with a blue-white light flickering from every inch of her from water to sky, keel and hull to mast and sail, and he saw, through bleary eyes, the gape-mouthed sailors looking wildly around as their hair stood on end.

The deck began to shake and rock beneath them, the shrouds and lines thrumming as if in a high wind; but the sun shone down, the sea was calm with only a gentle swell – over which the Grace now pitched and tossed.

“She lives,” Damnation whispered, his torn voice full of wonder, perhaps even joy.

Then the Shadowman began to laugh. The laugh was strong and loud, without the sibilant hiss of his speech, but with every bit as much malice. Damnation turned his head, though it seemed to weigh as much as the very Earth itself, and saw the dark glee on that shadowed face. The Shadowman gestured, and Hobbes – his own expression unreadable, though he avoided looking directly at his Irish counterpart – put a hand on the arm of his giant bosun, who let his lash-arm go limp at the touch. The scourging was ended.

For now.

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter #80: Change of Plans

Two men and a youth sat in a green 1976 Pontiac Bonneville parked on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke Parish in Bermuda, near Spanish Point. Or perhaps it was three men – depending on how one counted. After all, if one’s age is set by the number of years that have passed since one’s birth, two of the car’s occupants were well over 300 years past birth, including the apparently youngest of the three. They sat watching a fourth man, who stood in an alley across the road from the Pontiac, leaning his right shoulder against the brick wall of a large and prestigious hotel, scrolling through something on the phone in his left hand. This fourth man had never been in the Pontiac, and was in truth unaware of the three watching him. Though if he had known of them, he would have been unconcerned; he was a policeman. The man behind the wheel of the car, who by some reckoning was far younger than the two paler men in the backseat, was just finishing up a phone call. “Yah, mon, right by de Royal Palms, ya know. De alley behin’ it. Ya.” He closed the phone and put it back on the console by the gearshift.

“Will it work from here?” the older man in the backseat – oldest of the three in the car by any reckoning – asked the youth. The youth, who was looking back and forth between the man in the alley and a smartphone in his own hand, in response to the question lifted his phone and sighted through the digital camera. Then he shrugged. “Depends what he does, right. I can capture him from here, and you’d know him for who he is, but if he does somethin’ small like take money, we won’t see what he’s doin’.”

The man who had asked nodded slowly, then leaned forward and brushed the shoulder of the third man, who had darker skin than either of the other two, not being a sunburned Irishman as the two in the backseat were, and then the Irishman asked, “We’d need t’ be seein’ what he does, aye?”

The dark-skinned man, who had not been paying attention, glanced back over his shoulder; he saw the young one holding up his phone camera, and then he looked out at the man in the alley. He nodded. “Yah, mon,” he said, his Island accent heavy but musical. “’Specially you wantin’ take down one rough son-bitch like dat wan dere. You be needin’ perfect pitchas, mon, show his face, show ‘im bein’ bad same time. Perfect pitchas, or you no chance stop dat mon.” He turned farther, looking the other man in the eye. “Den you gots to do your ting, mon.” He held his fist by his head, index finger extended against his temple, and mimed pulling a trigger and firing a shot.

In the backseat the oldest man, who was named Shane MacManus, nodded slowly, his fingers resting on the butt of the pistol tucked into the wide leather belt around his middle. He looked at the man in the alley for a few moments more, and then glanced back at his younger crewmate, whose motions with the phone in his hand echoed those of the man in the alley. “I don’t understand this video folderol, still. Tell me how this is to work, again?”

The young man, though not the youngest in the car, who was called Balthazar Lynch, looked up slowly from the phone, staring at his crewmate in exasperation. Then he sighed – and then suddenly brightened. “Here, Shane – I mean, Sergeant – I’ll show ye.” The title was coated thickly with sarcasm, but MacManus didn’t bristle at the tone; it seemed discipline was a minor concern for this particular sergeant. Lynch held the phone between them, moving his thumbs over the screen. Then he said, “All right, now, I’m goin’ t’ capture ye the way I’ll do t’ yon rough son-bitch.” the last words took on the driver’s accent, and the man started a laugh at hearing it from the pale apple-cheeked youth. “All right now: Master MacManus, can ye tell me, please, how ye managed t’ gull our Captain into givin’ ye some rank that no one on our ship has ever held before?”

MacManus gave Lynch a level stare.

“Look here, into the phone,” Lynch murmured, tapping the side of the device.

MacManus frowned, clearly uncomfortable with the whole business. “Look where? It’s like you’re holdin’ a bloody stick o’ scrap wood and tellin’ me to look into it.”

“Here,” Lynch clarified, pointing with exaggerated care. MacManus leaned closer, eyes locked on the point Lynch had indicated. Now it was Lynch’s turn to frown, and he looked at the screen, then turned the phone and stared at the back of it (On the screen, the left half of his frowning face became visible, and then vanished again as he) then turned it back. “No – here,” he said, pointing now at the camera’s lens.

Obediently, MacManus stared at the dark circle. “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. As there ever is.” He reached out, firmly pushing the phone down; Lynch looked directly into his face, then, and MacManus said, his voice low and sincere – and somewhat menacing: “Have ye a complaint on’t, boyo?”

Lynch looked quickly at the phone, tapped the Stop button, and then put it down in his lap as he looked straight into MacManus’s eyes and said, “Ye know I don’t. Ye’re the best soldier aboard, wi’ the most years marchin’ off t’ war. Ye’re the right choice.” Then he cut his gaze down and to the side, muttering something else.

“What’s that? Speak up, boy,” MacManus growled, turning his ear toward Lynch.

Lynch’s lips pressed tight, and he shook his head. “Tcha, ‘tis nothin’. Just that – there’s the Captain, o’ course, and Kelly’s the bosun’s mate, and ye’re the Sergeant-at-arms – and then I’m just . . . Lynch. Boy,” he added sarcastically.

MacManus, to his credit, nodded rather than laughing – but there was a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he said, “Aye, and ye wish the Captain would give some preference to ye, is that it? Ye wish his Royal Captainness to recognize ye before the courtiers? Kiss ye on both cheeks, give ye a ribbon? Or perhaps a red rose on a wee cushion?”

Lynch’s cheeks reddened and his eyes narrowed as MacManus mocked him, but at the end, his gaze softened slightly, his lips curling into the hint of a smile. Then he blinked, and gave MacManus a sniff. “Aye, I’d take that. Just that,” he said, and MacManus laughed.

“All right, show me this video shite,” MacManus said. Lynch, who had been going soft-eyed once more, started out of it, and took his phone from his lap and tapped the screen. Then he tapped once more, and turned it to face MacManus – who found himself looking into his own face. “Here,” Lynch’s voice said from the phone, and then MacManus’s gaze locked directly into MacManus’s gaze.

“Christ’s teeth!” the living Irishman swore as the video Irishman said, “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. And there ever is.”

Lynch stopped the recording and lowered the phone, grinning at MacManus. The older man shivered. “That’s a right deviltry, it is. Makin’ a portrait of a man what moves as he moves? What speaks his own words back at him?” He shivered again, swallowing convulsively. “’Tisn’t right.”

Lynch shrugged. “Mayhap ‘tisn’t, but sure and it’ll do the job on our Lieutenant Hargreaves out there.” He looked back out the window at the man in the alley, who was glancing slowly to his left and right, looking for someone or something; not finding it, he looked back at his phone, his face a mask of blank, unflappable patience.

MacManus frowned at Lynch, who was once more gazing at his own phone in a strange sort of echo of the man outside, the target. “I don’t understand what this video will do to him. It’s not magic, aye? So ye’re no’ tryin’ t’ capture his soul or enchant him into your service or some codswallop?”

Lynch psshed. “’Tis no magic. ‘Tis this world. ‘Tis the way of it.” He put the phone down on the seat beside him, after one last glance to ensure that Hargreaves waited still, alone still, and then he addressed MacManus. “Killin’ your enemy’s no’ the best road, any more – if it ever was. Killin’ a man only causes new problems.”

MacManus interrupted. “It solves the problem you’re havin’ wi’ th’ man ye kill, don’t it?”

The man in the front seat, who was named Peter Desmond – the only one in the Pontiac who was not 350 years removed from his birthday – nodded at this. But Lynch shook his head. “Aye, o’ course, but still he reaches out o’ his grave t’ throw a thousand ropes about ye. Take – well, take the Captain and ye and Kelly. We’re here, doin’ this, because ye three –” He paused, glanced at Desmond, who was looking at Hargreaves; then he shrugged and went on, now speaking in Irish. “Ye three killed all of those fellows. Where the American killed no one, but took a video of ye three fighters –”

“Aye, braw and valorous fighters,” MacManus interjected.

Lynch nodded. “Aye, truly so – but because ye fought, where Calhoun did not, now ye must serve him. He defeated ye, even as ye defeated the others. And because Calhoun did not kill, now there is nothing entangling him. You see?” He lifted the phone. “This way is better.”

MacManus pursed his lips, then nodded grudgingly. “Aye, perhaps so.” He switched back to English. “But how does this video give us power o’er him, if there is no magic to ‘t?”

Desmond turned to look at MacManus. “If we cotch ‘im doin’ bad tings, we can tell ‘im to do alla what we say, or else we give de video to de coppers.”

MacManus blinked. “The coppers?”

“Yah, mon, de police, de fuzz, mon.”

MacManus blinked, started to speak, but then turned his frown in Lynch’s direction. “But Hargreaves is an officer of the police, aye?”

Lynch nodded. “Aye.” He was watching the waiting man, paying little attention to MacManus’s puzzlement.

MacManus’s expression turned incredulous. “And you think the same police that are of his crew – that are under his command – will turn on him?” Lynch shook his head dismissively, looking past MacManus, unconcerned with these details.

It was Desmond who answered him, propping one leg up on the console, one arm along the back of the bench seat. “If we got video – if we get de good pitchas – den dey gots to trow ‘im out. Or else we put de pitchas on internet, show de whole world, make tings too hot for Lieutenant Hargreaves, dere.”

MacManus’s expression grew only more confused and incredulous. “Show the whole world? How would ye do that? Ye’re not God, to put a sign in the sky!”

Desmond smiled, showing teeth whiter and straighter than the ancient Irishmen were accustomed to. “Don’t fret ‘bout it, mon. Look: I talk to Two-Saint ‘bout dis, when ya boy dere bring it up. Two-Saint say it all good, video work fine, no need kill dat mon. Truth, I think him like it better if we get pitchas den if Hargreaves get shot. Dis’ll work, mon. No worries.” His phone rang, and he picked it up, flipped it open, said, “Yah, mon.” There was a pause while he listened, and then he said, “Yah, mon, same place, ‘im still dere. Still alive.” Then he folded the phone closed and returned it.

MacManus looked out at Hargreaves, and then back to Desmond. Desmond nodded. “B’lieve it, mon. You get dem pitchas, you take ‘im down.” He looked back at Hargreaves. “But we need get closer, before who ‘im waitin’ on show up. Him waitin’ like dis, back dere, dis gwan be a good pitcha – but you gots to be closer dere. We needs to see ‘im doin’ bad tings, or it no good.”

Lynch sucked on his teeth thoughtfully, idly caressing the smooth glass and plastic phone. “Should we get out? Stand nearer to him?”

MacManus shook his head. “You and I stand out in this place.”

Lynch frowned. “Nay, there be Englishmen hereabouts, and others of a lighter skin.”

MacManus gave him a level look. “Not that are equipped as we are,” he said, pointing at their somewhat incongruous clothing – Lynch’s down-turned leather boots, for one, or his own wide belt, lurid scarlet shirt, and the loose pantaloons in a bright floral print he was quite fond of (and which Peter Desmond didn’t have the heart to tell him were maternity pants).

Desmond pointed out the window. “Dere goes one,” he said.

Startled, MacManus and Lynch turned and looked: indeed, a tall man, straight and lean with black hair pulled back and tied with a leather thong, dressed in a loose white shirt, loose black pants, a bright red sash and tall leather boots, was walking purposefully down the sidewalk. “It’s the Captain,” Lynch exclaimed, starting to move to wave or thrust his head out the window to call to Captain Kane; but then he thought better of it, with a glance at Hargreaves, and he sat back. The Captain walking by did not even glance in their direction.

“What’s he doin’?” MacManus asked. No one answered.

The Captain reached the mouth of the alley, paused, looked to either side down the sidewalk, and then turned into the alley, walking straight at Hargreaves. The policeman’s eyes flicked up, saw the pale Irishman, dismissed him, and turned back down to his phone.

And as the three men in the car watched, Captain Damnation Kane walked to where Lieutenant Hargreaves stood, unhurriedly drew a revolver from his pocket, pointed it, and shot Lieutenant Hargreaves in the forehead, just as the man looked up again from his phone. The lieutenant’s head snapped back, bouncing off the wall that was now splashed with blood and brain matter, his body rocking back from his head down to his feet, as if someone had grabbed him by the ears and snapped out the wrinkles. As the ripple hit his feet, they flew up, and as his head hit the wall, he went limp, the phone flying back as his arms were flung forward and then back as he struck the wall, the glass face smashing to pieces on the ground. The tall, muscular body fell beside the broken phone, folding in half at the waist, the man’s torso sprawled across his own legs. Captain Kane lowered his aim and fired twice more into the body, which didn’t move at all from the impacts. Without a glance back, the Captain walked on down the alley and out of sight around the corner.

The two sailors stared, mouth agape. Desmond started the Pontiac, signaled, pulled out. “Well now,” he said as he hit the gas and they rumbled away from where people were starting to react to the shockingly loud explosions of the gunshots, “I guess we won’t be needin’ dem pitchas, after all.”

As they turned a corner, leaving the scene behind, Lynch slowly shook his head. What he was negating was not clear.

 

***

 

While the Pontiac was driving away, a Jeep parked on the next block, with its engine running, held two more men who were most eager to be leaving, as well, preferably as fast as possible. But both men – another Irish sailor, this one a bear of a man with auburn hair and a full beard two shades redder, and behind the wheel another Bermuda native with dark skin – kept their eyes fixed to the corner of a building, around which they had watched a man disappear, and they now awaited his return.

But so fixed were they on that particular spot that they did not see the very man coming out of an alley a hundred feet down the street; walking quickly but calmly, his face an emotionless mask (although a closer, more careful examination would reveal two things: one, the eyes in that face were not calm, were in fact so filled with feeling, filled with fear and anger and despair, that they seemed to burn with a green fire, belying the mask-like appearance of the face around those gleaming eyes; and two, there were several tiny drops of blood on the cheeks and the brow and the bridge of the nose. It was not his blood.), the man approached the Jeep, opened the door – both passengers started violently, the driver cursing and the Irishman half-drawing the sword he held from its scabbard – and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him. He pointed down the road, not looking either of his companions in the eye, and said, “Go.”

The man in the back seat leaned forward, handing the blood-spattered man the sword; but he did not take it, nor did he look back even when the large man asked, “What did ye do, Captain?”

The blood-spattered Captain turned and looked steadily at the driver, who was staring incredulously back, the car idling, still. The Captain pointed again at the road, extending his arm, turning to face forward. “You should go. You do not want to be seen here.”

The driver slapped the gear shift into first, depressed the clutch – and then paused and looked at his bloody passenger. “Dere were shots. Was dat you?” The Captain glanced at him, and the driver, looking up at the man’s brow, pantomimed wiping his forehead; the Captain ran his fingers across his face, and the tips came away smeared with blood. He looked at his red-fingered hand, rubbing the tips of his fingers against the ball of his thumb, and said, quietly, “Aye, it was.”

“You shot Hargreaves,” the driver said. It was not a question.

The Captain looked steadily at him with his burning green eyes. “Aye, I did.” He lifted three blood-tipped fingers. “Three times,” he said, his voice still calm.

The driver’s jaw clenched. “He dead?” he asked through gritted teeth.

The Captain nodded. “After the first shot. But if he could die thrice, he’d have done so.”

The driver dropped his gaze away from his passenger, and the Jeep pulled out and drove away. In the distance – but not too far – sirens could be heard approaching. The driver paused at an intersection, turning his head, trying to place the sirens; when it became clear which direction they came from, he turned the other way, and hit the gas.

In the alley, the dead man’s cell phone, the glass cracked, the case smeared with dust and blood, rang and rang.

No one answered.

 

***

 

“Two-Saint is going to be pissed,” Andre said again, not for the first time. He snatched up his cellphone, but had to drop it again in order to steer the Jeep around a slow-moving bus.

Damnation Kane gazed out the window, his eyes idly roaming over the countryside, trees and houses, families in ragged clothing, birds in spectacular plumage, the sun glittering on green plants so bright the world seemed made of emeralds under a sapphire sky. “He wanted the man dead. The man’s dead,” he said, his tone indifferent, unconcerned. Behind him, Kelly frowned, his hands running nervously over the captain’s sword, which he still held.

Andre scoffed. “Your man had a different idea. Two-Saint liked it better.” He glanced over at Damnation. “No blood,” he said pointedly.

Damnation looked at his fingers; the blood had wiped off on his pants, but the skin still seemed reddish; perhaps this blood would not wash away. He turned to face Andre, who was glancing back and forth between Damnation and the road ahead. “’Tis unfortunate when a man gets what he wants only t’ find he does no’ want it. But such is that man’s misfortune, and no other’s.” He held his gaze on Andre, who shook his head and concentrated on his driving. Damnation turned to look out the window once more. “I do not go to raise conflict, but in truth, Two-Saint is your master, no’ mine. Calhoun was the one who commanded me, and his instructions were to kill. Anythin’ else is between they two; I am only a tool.” He paused, and then so quietly that none heard it but himself, he said, “A broken one, at that.”

“We’ll see,” Andre said. “I’m takin’ you back to de farm, and den I talk to Two-Saint.”

Damnation smiled, and spoke casually. “Tell me, how long will it be before la policia find the man who killed their own lieutenant?”

Andre shook his head. “Not long. Dey’ll be boiling ovah ‘bout dis.” He sped up, honking at the slower-moving cars in his way, with no apparent effect. Then his eyes widened and he whipped around to face Damnation. “Were you seen?”

The pirate turned a wide smile on the Bermudan. Then he shrugged. “Perhaps not. Though I did no’ attempt concealment. But perchance ‘twill take them some time t’ search me out, and t’ find someone who has seen ye and I together.” He paused. Andre looked away from the road once more, and their gazes met. “Perchance,” Damnation repeated, and turned back to his window.

Andre’s nostrils flared as he sucked in a deep breath – and then he had to turn back to the road, swerving to avoid a collision with a bicycle, leaning on his horn to express – well, something. “You wanted to get caught,” he said slowly.

Damnation turned and looked at Kelly as he said, “I wished to be seen. To be known. I alone fired the shots. I alone murdered the man. I and no other.” Kelly frowned. Damnation said, “My men are innocent. They may leave, and go where they wish.”

“But what about you, Captain?” Kelly asked in his deep rumble.

Damnation smiled. There was not a breath of happiness in it. “I, too, will go where I wish.” He turned back to gazing out his window at the lovely world outside, and said no more.

 

***

 

Thirty minutes later, both the Jeep and the Pontiac had returned to the farm owned by Diego Hill; the two drivers, Peter and Andre, were out on the porch having a conversation on speakerphone with Two-Saint, while the three crewmen, sitting within the main room of the house, listened to the instructions of their captain, and held their tongues, unwillingly.

The drivers received their final orders, and hung up the phone. Exchanging a long look, they went to the Irishmen. Damnation quirked an eyebrow by way of questioning; Andre said, “He agreed. I take you dere, and he send a bus.”

Damnation stood, nodding. “We will wait there for the – what is’t? A bus?”

Now Andre quirked an eyebrow. “A bus. A school bus Two-Saint has. We use it to bring workers to de fields when we need to harvest. Or we did.” He glanced at Peter. “I tink it will still run.” Peter nodded, and Andre looked back at Damnation. “It will carry all of dem. No problem.”

Damnation nodded. He looked at his three men. “Then we will depart. If la policia are quicker in their hunt than we wish, I would not be found here, where you all may be taken with me.” A grin, this one with some actual humor, curved his mouth. “Mayhap they will take me at the cove, and arrest all of our enemies as well. ‘Twould give me some fine company in gaol, would it not?”

His crewmen, however, had no humor at all in their faces. Lynch spoke up, his voice cracking like an adolescent’s: “Ye cannot be sure, Nate – ye don’t know that the Grace has lost her – her miracle.”

Damnation’s eyes turned sad. “Aye, you’re right, lad. But I am sure that there is no other way to accomplish what must be done. We four cannot fight them free. There is no other trade that Okagaweh will make.” He walked to where Lynch had turned away, his arms wrapped tightly around his slender frame as though he must hold something powerful inside at all costs. Damnation put a hand on his shoulder, and the youth shivered. “Balthazar, it is my duty. They are my men.” He leaned close and whispered, so softly that the other men in the room could not hear. “I would be good.”

Tears erupted from Lynch’s eyes, and with a sob, he turned and ran from the room. Damnation watched him go; the other men looked away.

Then Damnation turned to Kelly and MacManus. “Right. Remember how I want you to distribute my effects.”

MacManus nodded. “Aye sir. The logbook to Vaughn, and your sword to Ian O’Gallows, if he’ll take command, else to McTeigue.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. And here –” He drew the revolver from his belt, opened the cylinder, removed and replaced three of the shells, and then handed it to MacManus. “For ye, Sergeant. With my thanks.” MacManus took the gun with a nod, and Damnation shook his hand, firmly, finally. Then the captain turned to Kelly. He reached to his ear, where a gold ring was clasped; with a twist of his fingers he broke the soldered joint, unthreaded it from the hole in his earlobe, and then pinched the soft metal back together. “Give this to Lynch, will ye? And – see that the lad is well.”

Kelly took the ring, and nodded. “Aye, Captain.” He shook Damnation’s hand as well, and then pulled him in for a fierce one-armed hug. Damnation hugged the large man back, and then stepped back. The two nodded to each other, and Kelly murmured, “Luck to ye, sir.”

With a gesture to Andre, Damnation Kane left the farmhouse then, to go to meet his fate.

 

*************************************************************************************

Hello! I hope you’ve been enjoying the story so far; we have now come to the end of the second book of Damnation’s adventures (You can tell because now it is narration rather than a log), and there are only a few chapters remaining, absolutely full of surprises and shocks, action and adventure.

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Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #79: Caged

All is lost.

No. Not all. If all were lost, what matter this log, these pages that record my life? My mind?

I know not for whom I write. At the first, and at various times since our arrival here, I have taken up this pen as a way to order my mind: I find that constricting my rampant thoughts into determinate words, especially those inscribed in the permanence of ink on paper, is a great aid to the elimination of confusion, the solution of dilemma, as the act often leads to a certainty in plans of action henceforward. After I thought that I knew our place, I hoped the tale might be preserved for posterity and the general interest – aye, and my name preserved as well, I did hope. I thought then that we would return to our native land, and my fellow men would read these words and know of our deeds, our failures and triumphs. Of late I think I have taken to this log as something of a confessor: I unburden my soul by writing here of my weaknesses and iniquities and follies, too numerous now to count.

Methinks I must write these words for my men. Soon I will be gone from them, and they may be lost; I must attempt to explain the steps we took to reach this place, so that they may find a path forward. Of course some of ye know somewhat of this, being a part of it; but I think ye do not know the whole of what I have done and the reasoning wherefore.

Thus I say, if you are reading this, my friends, Ian, Llewellyn, Balthazar, my good cousin Owen, stout Kelly, Sergeant MacManus, my strong-hearted lads: I beg your forgiveness. I have led you all so far astray. I regret it more than any sin of my thrice-cursed life that I cannot bring ye all home again.

I cannot. My ship – the Grace is, though she floats still, now shorn of that enchantment which, I believe, opened the way through Time itself to bring us here. She will never sail those mystical waters again. This world, now, is your only world. I wish you well of it.

I hope that the sacrifice of my life to save yours brings me some measure of atonement.

I will now recount for you all of what I have learned this night, so that ye may all comprehend what I now do: I know elsewise will I seem enmaddened, and I know not what constraints my madness may place on you. There are no constraints, lads: I am sound, and I am content with the one act left to me. I do this freely. Ye are free men – Irishmen. Gentlemen of fortune. Do as you will. I wish ye all joys this world may offer ye.

***

 

Once I had learned of Nicholas Hobbes the location of my captive friends, and the name of the villain who held them captive, I urged our hired pilot Andre to course us there directly so I could learn of the disposition of our foes and form stratagems. Howsoever, once Andre had learned of Lyle Okagaweh’s involvement, he insisted on speaking to Two-Saint before proceeding against such a foe; if I had needed further proof that a man may not serve two masters, I have such. As Andre served as our pilot, the steering of the ship was in his hands and his hands alone; had I wrested the conveyance from him, still I could not have found our destination without his assistance. Hence I acquiesced, though bitterly, and we returned to our lodging. Andre there did make the attempt to contact Two-Saint by ‘phone, but could not, said he, get a signal, and so he departed alone to seek out his liege. I conferred with my men, who all agree that, subtlety and subterfuge being requisite for a nighttime invasion seeking mainly intelligence, Balthazar Lynch should be my accomplice, as he is the slightest, quickest, and most silent hunter of we four. Then we had naught to do but wait, and so did we, I keeping this log and recording my conversation with Hobbes. I wondered, and worried, over his description of this man Okagaweh, this Shadowman, he calls him, and that he held my men at his mercy; what toxin did he infuse in this so-called physic that delivered both euphoria and will-sapping enslavement? Would my men still be under his sway, even though I tore them bodily from his clutches?

Will any of us be truly free? Have we ever been?

At length, and surely mere moments before the last tether of my sanity broke under the strain of waiting in idleness, Andre returned. Two-Saint had sanctioned this initial foray, but he wanted us not to engage with Lyle Okagaweh or his men, and not to underestimate them, for this Shadowman is a dire adversary. But I and my men have fought the weight of the British Empire for all of our lives; Irishmen fear no foe. Lynch and I were secured into the Jeep-beast ere Andre was finished speaking, and so soon as we could acknowledge his warnings, we weighed anchor and sailed.

To our advantage, the clouds overhead had hooded the moon’s lantern; Lynch’s apparel was dark already, and I was able to borrow a shirt of Diego Colina’s – the man has proved both an honorable and generous host, and a staunch ally; I beg you gentlemen to prefer him if you can – to replace my white finery; we smeared mud on our milk-white Irishness once we arrived. Andre halted the Jeep-beast some several ship’s-lengths away from the place, so as not to alert sentries with the beast’s grumbling; he remained aboard to keep watch, having taken note of Lynch’s eye-phone and ascertaining how he could give and receive signals, were there need. Lynch and I crept through black-hearted jungle, then, snared and clutched by the foliage, stumbling on the uneven terrain, hunted by the night-calls of animals such as we had never heard before. We sensed perils all about us, above us and below us, before and behind; if Lynch was not as terrified as I, then I am mad.

Soon enough, though, we broke from cover into a long clear slope leading down towards the shore, though a forested rise betwixt us and the sea kept us from seeing the water. Even in the darkness, we could make out the road, a band of lighter earth leading to the house we sought, which had some lamps burning dimly against the night. Assured therefore that the night-eyes of any guards would be light-blind, we made our way quickly to the vicinity of the domicile, taking shelter behind a copse of low trees.

We soon espied that which we sought: a metal cage with the forms of men spread across the ground within; in the moments when the breeze quieted, we could hear their grunts and grumbles, and not a few moans of sore suffering. We could hear too the slow crash of waves, telling us that the shore was indeed close, and giving me hope that my Grace might be near as well.

We also spied that which we had not sought, though of course we expected: a watch kept by the house. Two guards stood and conversed, one diligently searching the darkness, the other seated, nodding, seeking the plum coveted by all men on watch: the kiss of sweet slumber. Though we could not hear their converse, as any men who have kept a night’s watch, we knew the thrust of it: one man sought to keep honorable vigil, while the other assured him, after what days or weeks of fruitless alertness, that they should sleep without fear; the final compromise was that each man followed his heart, and soon there was but one guard on watch, while one man snored in a chair on the porch of the house.

We watched as the sentry circled the house, keeping a regular pattern of movement, until we knew that we might have some minutes to approach and investigate the cage and its contents. Lynch stayed back in case I might need a diversion of the guard’s attention, or to call in Andre for our speedy withdrawal, and I crept to the cage, crawling on my belly while the guard faced my direction, and then scuttling crab-wise as he vanished around the house’s corner.

I approached the cage, and I stopped and stared, trusting my dark attire and mud-smeared skin to hide me from the sentry’s nearby perambulations. I thought I might recognize one of the men nearest me – Malachy Rearden, I thought – but I was certain I did not recognize the pale flaxen-haired youth who groaned and moaned beside him, clearly in discomfort and perhaps fevered, though the darkness hid detail. But I had not doubt that he was not of my crew. Perhaps I was deceived about Rearden, and these were some other men. Could there possibly be two such cages filled with miserable men? Might Hobbes have misled me?

Had I fallen into another trap set by the Devil’s Lash?

It took every bit of my will to hold me there and prevent my leaping up and absquatulating at top speed. I rehearsed the words I traded with Hobbes, recalled his demeanor and expression; I was as certain as I could be that he had spoke the plain truth. Which was not entirely certain, nay, as Hobbes is English and therefore untrustable; also he is by his own admission no longer the commander of this voyage, and thus may himself be ignorant or misled, and myself the same at one remove. But even if this were not an ambush, I asked myself: who were these men in this cage? Cage there surely was, and men within; if they were not my men, might they know the way to my crew? Could I free them, would they stand with us? Or at the least serve to distract our enemies?

Reasoning thus, I crept closer while the guard was beyond the house, and came around to the side of the cage, where I once more lay still and peered through the darkness at the mounds of the men who there lay. Was that – a man’s round belly, rising up where he lay on his back? Could it be Padraig Doyle, who carried such a belly? There, that man: was that the white hair of our Salty O’Neill? How could I be certain, looking in pure darkness on huddled men sleeping ten yards away from me?

But then a man rose up on an elbow and spoke, loudly, these words: “If ye be kickin’ me the once more, Robert Sweeney, ye horn-footed goat-shite, I’ll gnaw yer foot off with me bloody eyeteeth!” The man sounded as though more than half of him was asleep and the rest was cross, but ‘twas all Ian O’Gallows. These were my men. Now I moved closer with confidence, and had to stem my eagerness so that I could maintain surreptitiousness.

Despite my efforts, I made some sound, and one of the men lying at the very edge of the cage heard me then, and lifted his head to peer out into the darkness. Soon his gaze must have caught on the one part of myself I could not black with mud nor cloth: the whites of my eyes. I saw him stiffen, saw his hand clutch at the metal mesh that enclosed them, and I knew that I was seen. I raised a hand and covered my mouth, pointing at him with the other hand to enjoin his silence, and the man nodded; I crept closer, having to pause for the time when the sentry ambled by, on the far side of the cage from where I lay on my belly, but still in plain sight through the unsolid walls of the enclosure.

When I was within a man’s length of the cage, I recognized the man who seen me: ‘twas Llewellyn Vaughn. I had to smile at how his vigilance surpassed that of all my battle-tested sea-wolves; Vaughn is no warrior, but his is the broadest intellect, the deepest thought, and the sharpest fine perception of us all. I heard him whisper then, no more than a breath of air, and easily mistaken for the murmur of a sleeping man, “Captain?”

I waved my fingers at him and crept closer still, unwilling to speak until I was beside the cage, and my whisper could become indistinguishable from that of one of the captive men (were I to whisper from six feet away, it may be noted by one within as coming from an unlikely direction). Soon I was near enough to reach the metal mesh myself, and I reached and clasped Vaughn’s fingers, he gripping in return with the strength of great hope’s return into a heart full of despair.

“You came,” he whispered to me.

“Well and how could I not, seeing how pleasant your letter made it all seem?” I winked at him to show I jested; Vaughn has many great gifts, but a sense of humor is not among them, nor an understanding of ironical comments. “How fare you all?”

“We are wounded,” Vaughn  replied. “All of us, as well as the three sailors from Captain Hobbes’s crew who were placed in the cage with us. Several of the men have fevers, and all are weak from sun and a lack of water and food.”

I squeezed his fingers to stop him ere he could sail off into a specific and detailed report of every man’s every hurt; Vaughn never considered a question as having been answered until he had imparted every fact in his mind that related to the query – and his mind could hold enough facts to fill a ship’s hold. “Hobbes has men in there?” I lowered my whisper until it was barely enough breath to stir a fly from my lip.

Vaughn still heard me, and he nodded. “Three. They refused orders and this is their punishment. It is not clear if their ostracism is permanent, or intended to create an opportunity to infiltrate and gather intelligence from our men. In my opinion, there is little need for subterfuge; all that they wish to know is your whereabouts, Captain. They have had no use for us but as proverbial whipping boys.”

I frowned at him. “They flogged ye? All of ye?”

He nodded. “At least twice for every man in this cage. Three for O’Gallows who attempted to intercede and prevent a flogging that likely would have proved fatal for O’Neill, and nearly was for Ian.”

I had to take a deep breath and let it out slowly to control my temper, and it was only when Vaughn softly whispered, “Ow,” that I realized my grip was crushing his fingers through the metal mesh. Quickly I let go, dipping my head in apology. “Will ye fetch Ian for me, Llewellyn?”

He nodded, and shifted himself to his left, reaching out to the nearest prone form and gripping the man’s calf. After a moment, the man started out of sleep, muttering, “Wha? Whozzat?” Vaughn left his hnd on the man’s leg until he turned his head, and I saw it was Ian O’Gallows. Ian rubbed his eyes, gazing a bleary-eyed query at Vaughn; the Welshman merely pointed at me. Ian looked my way, and I raised a hand and waggled my fingers in greeting; I don’t know that he recognized me through the mud on my face or if he saw that I was without the cage and simple deduced who I must be, but first he said “Christ’s shite!”, then clapped a hand over his own mouth, and looked to the house where the sleeping sentry was the only guard in sight, the watchful sentry having gone around to the far side. Then Ian looked around the cage, though to my eyes none of the other men had reacted to his cursing. Still he slapped a hand at his leg, muttered somewhat about accursed biting fleas, and then shifted around until his head was near me. He pillowed his head on his hands and whispered, “Thank God for ye, Nate.” Then he feigned a snore.

I will not recapitulate what he told me then; he repeated Vaughn’s uncertainty about the Sea-Cat men in the cage, though at least he thought to tell me that they all slept at the other end and could not hear us over the sound of more than a dozen men snoring. I asked if they could escape, or fight their way free, and he told me nay, as they were too weak, hungry, and sick. I asked for the details of how they had come to this pass, and he reached to his ribs, removing a packet of blood-spotted bandages, which he stuffed through a hole in the fence; I knew not why he wanted me to have it until he named it his log. I will include it with these pages, and save myself the reiteration. Even rescue by myself, Kelly, MacManus and Lynch was problematic as, O’Gallows told me, three of our men were not held in the cage: Salty O’Neill, Abram O’Grady, and my cousin Owen MacTeigue, were all three held inside the house, in he knew not what condition.

Hearing that, I knew there was no choice: Hobbes had been right. I patted Ian’s hand, told him not to worry, and to tell the men that all would soon be well. I made to withdraw, asking only if my Grace was indeed nearby; I wished for lone last look at her before I do what I must for my men.

‘Twas Vaughn that answered. “Yes, Captain, the Grace is just beyond those trees, at anchor in the cove below. But – Captain, I fear that she will not sail as before.”

I hissed in a breath, but Ian frowned at Vaughn and whispered, “Nay, there be naught wrong wi’ the ship. Apart from the bilge rats who have crawled up to man her decks, and that horror they have nailed down before the mast.” I knew he must refer to the Scourged Lady, as Kelly had told me they had brought their accursed figurehead aboard my sweet Grace when they captured her in New York.

Vaughn looked at me and then at Ian. “I refer to her – inexplicable sailing. How she brought us here.” He looked back at me. “It was that voyage that drew the attention of our captor, the one referred to by his men as the Shadowman. He seeks the ship’s power. It seems that he thinks you yourself are required for the ship to perform in the manner he wishes.” He paused for a moment, cleared his throat quietly – and then we waited for the sentry to pass around the corner once more before he continued. “If his first experiment is an indication, he believes that your blood is the key to the ship’s ability. Or perhaps your death. I speculate that his killing of Raymond Fitzpatrick, who claimed to be your blood relative, was his first attempt to command the Grace’s performance. Ironic, then, that this same murder may have removed that power from the Grace entirely.”

I had to stop myself from shouting at him to get to the point; I merely gripped the mesh, hard, and hissed at him, my eyes wide, my face surely that of a madman.

He got to the point. “The runes, Captain. The glowing runes on the ship’s stern are now gone, blotted out, it seems, by Mr. Fitzpatrick’s life’s blood. I have seen the ship in starlight and moonlight, and I saw not a glimpse of its former luminescence. Naught but a dark stain now decorates the Grace’s stern.”

We each glanced up to the sky, and realized then that the clouds had broken, and we were bathed in the light of the moon’s full face. I had to retreat, then, as the light would make me too easily seen, should the sleeping sentry awaken or the wakeful one glance my way as I retreated. I bid my friends farewell, knowing in my heart that it was likely for the last time, though I said nothing of that. I bid them take heart, keep hope, and wait.

Then I went to see my ship.

Ah, ye gods! She is such beauty, such an incarnation of pure freedom and might, made into a construct of sailcloth and rope, wood and nails and tar. And now: blood. And no longer: magic. Vaughn is right; I saw the dark stain, saw where my mother’s runes are no longer visible. If he is correct that those letters inscribed on the Grace were the means of our travel through time – and I believe that is the truth – then they are gone, and all hope of our returning home is gone with them.

I stayed in my shadowed space, under the line of trees atop the small rise, gazing down on my lovely ship, for as long as I could. When I knew that Lynch and Andre would be growing anxious, and may endeavor to seek me, I turned my back on my Grace, and crept back, with a heavy heart and a jet-black mind, to where Lynch waited, and then together we returned to Andre, and then here, to the house of Diego Colina.

On the morrow I will take the last steps required to see my men freed, though if the Grace can no longer sail through time, I know not how the Shadowman will respond. It does not change what I must do. I will give this log to Lynch, who can carry it to Ian or Vaughn, who can read it; they will together plot a new course for the men who have followed me, and now will follow me no more, for they must not go where I go.

I shall not return.

I wish ye well, lads, and may all the blessings of Heaven and Earth descend upon ye all. Ye deserve every one.

Goodbye.

Signed this day, the Seventh of October in the year Two Thousand and Eleven,

Damnation Kane

Once Captain of the Grace of Ireland, and her crew

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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