Captain’s Log

Chapter #83: The End (Part III)

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.

 

***

 

When Damnation awoke once more, tethered still to the Scourged Lady – the last time he would so awaken – it was not rain, nor blood, nor cool water that he felt on his skin: it was spittle. The sticky gob spattered into his left eye, and he jerked away from it – and then groaned, his gorge rising as his arms, his shoulders, and, now that the drugs in the salve had worn off, his ravaged back, all cried out in rusted iron agony. The feel of the spit oozing down his cheek sent him over the edge, and he vomited weakly, bringing up little more than bile which trickled down his chin and dripped onto his chest.

He opened his right eye, and saw a British sailor holding a lantern and grinning happily. “’At’s yer wake-up call, captain. You wouldn’t want ter miss anchors aweigh, wouldja?” The man laughed and walked off, leaving Damnation in the pre-dawn darkness, alone but for the statue in his embrace and the overwhelming feeling of filth and corruption that filled him.

Never in his life had he felt so dirty as he did right now, with the Englishman’s spit, and his own blood, vomit, sweat, and excreta drying on his skin. He leaned forward and tried to wipe his cheek clean against the wooden statue, but the surface was rough and ridged by the carving and years in the salt spray of the ocean, and he felt as if more dirt had stuck to his cheek. He rested his brow against the Lady’s chin, and prayed for rain.

Slowly, he became aware of activity all around him, increasing in pace as the sky began to lighten before the dawn. Lines were pulled taut and knotted clean, sails were being unfurled and tied in place, and the wind, just starting to blow, began to make the canvas billow and snap. The command was given, and men began circling the two capstans that raised the anchors, singing a low chantey to keep time as they struggled against the weight. The anchors aweigh, the ship began to swing about, the offshore breeze catching the gaff-rigged sail on the mainmast, which men held at an angle; when her prow was pointed in the proper direction, the gaff would be turned square with the ship and tied in place, and they would be off.

A longing filled Damnation’s dry mouth, seemed to swell his belly and strain his jaw. His legs twitched, his fingers cramping. Here he was, tied up and ignored, as his ship, his ship, which he had not even stood upon for three months let alone captained, came to life and motion around him. He yearned to walk the deck, check the lines and the trim of the sails, to shout commands and instructions and to ask for reports: what was their heading, what the speed, what lay before them; what potential problems would arise that he and his crew must overcome?

This ship – not Ireland, not his village, not even his own bed in his mother’s house, where he had slept since he was a child and still did when he returned with a hold full of plunder and trade – this ship was his home. The only place where he belonged, where the world felt right and true, particularly since he had been wrenched so very far off course, had journeyed so far from familiar waters. He had been separated from her for too long, and the need to return to her deck had been growing in every bit of him, these past weeks. No doubt that deep, mindless need had influenced his actions and decisions, had made him rash and impatient, even foolhardy. But how could he think clearly when his mind was full of nothing but getting back to his ship, finding once more his proper place in the world, whatever world he might find himself in?

And now here he was. Not the captain, but a prisoner aboard his own ship. Not in command, but on display. Not brimming with vitality and energy, his mind and will driving the actions of all aboard: stripped, beaten, soiled – and then ignored.

At least the tears that came helped clean the English spittle from his eye.

When the order went out to lower all sails and men scurried into the rigging to release the tied cords and let the canvas sheets come flapping down, the Grace seemed to leap forward, eager to sail, ready to move. When she did, the wind driving her into the waves, sending blasts of cold salt spray as high as the sails, Damnation’s spirits rose, as well – though their upward climb was rapidly checked by the coils of rope digging into his wrists, by the sting of the spray washing over his raw back, the loose and sagging bandages offering little protection from the salt water. Still, despite the sting, the wash of clean sea water over him seemed to clear away some of the filth that clung to his skin, and also the despair that clung to his soul. He drew himself upright, shaking and stretching the aches out of his legs and arms, wiping his eyes clean on the skin of his shoulders until he felt that he could at last see clearly – an effort aided by the growing light in the sky, as dawn began to break. He stood straight, arms resting on the Scourged Lady’s shoulders but no longer holding him up, and he looked around.

Nicholas Hobbes stood on the poop deck, one hand on the forward rail, eyes on the sails and the waves and everything in between. Damnation felt a strange sort of relief, spying the Englishman there; the Grace was and always would be Damnation Kane’s ship, until his death or her destruction, but he knew that the installation of the Scourged Lady made Hobbes see the Grace as his ship; and that meant that Hobbes would sail her as truly and as ably as he could – and in his years on the sea, he had not met a more able captain than the Devil’s Lash. Hobbes would take care of his Grace. Beside Hobbes stood his first mate, the sullen and brooding Mr. Sinclair; standing on the deck below them, his barbed whip coiled in his right hand, was the brute of a bosun, Mr. Stuart. Damnation felt a sharp twinge in his back as he looked at the slack-lipped giant; the lash that had torn him apart yesterday was the one in the bosun’s hand, and Stuart the man who had wielded it on him. The man surely would have whipped him to death, and smiled his idiot’s smile as he did, had not the ship come to life when she did.

He had not expected that to happen. He had thought, when he had seen what Vaughn had told him of, that the blood of poor Raymond Fitzpatrick had blotted out the runes his mother had inscribed on the Grace, and had destroyed the enchantment on the ship, as well. But it seemed that the magic remained, and enough of his blood on the Grace’s deck was the means by which the spell was cast. Knowing this, he knew regret: perhaps he should not have surrendered himself into the clutches of the Shadowman. Perhaps he should have found a way to free his men, and take his ship, and make the attempt to return to their own time, where – when – they belonged. By acting too precipitately, assuming they were stranded in this time, he had now made that assumption the truth, because as soon as the Shadowman killed him – he had no doubt as to the houngan’s intent on that score, especially after the way Damnation had manhandled him the day before – the magic would, he assumed, die with him, and his men would be truly stuck here, for the remainder of their lives.

He could not, right at this moment, decide if that fate would be worse than what awaited him now, at the Shadowman’s hands.

But then he saw, over the Scourged Lady’s shoulder, the voodoo priest emerge from the captain’s cabin beneath Hobbes’s feet, followed by his four dead-faced followers. The Shadowman tapped one of his four brutes on the arm and pointed up to the crow’s nest; that man turned, without a word or even a gesture to acknowledge the command, and began climbing up the rope lattice that led to the top of the mainmast. In moments, he was once more installed some thirty feet above their heads; and as before, he kept no watch for weather nor sails nor threats from beyond the near horizon: his gaze, and his automatic rifle, were aimed squarely down at the men on the deck. The other three trailed after their master as he approached the bow; he paused to exchange a few words with Captain Hobbes, and then nodded and continued towards Damnation, calling back over his shoulder, “Just get us into clear water and keep sailing. East!” Hobbes looked down at the Shadowman’s back, making no more sign of acknowledgement than had the houngan’s silent minions.

Perhaps Hobbes was becoming one more of those dumb brutes.

Perhaps he already was one.

As he drew close, the Shadowman glanced up and saw Damnation watching him through the space between the Lady’s head and her upraised arm, and he smiled. He raised his hands, which held a gourd covered with strange shapes and patterns in white and grey paint, and a knife with a blade that was a dull, matte black color. The three men following unspeaking behind him carried other strange objects: a bowl filled with a red paste, a black stone flecked with glittering silver specks, a bundle of dried twigs and another of herbs and – a chicken?

The Shadowman stopped at the Scourged Lady’s back. smiling over her shoulder at Damnation. Summoning all of his strength, and channeling it into nonchalance, Damnation quirked his eyebrow, tilted his head to one side, and asked, “Are we having a wee bit o’ soup, then?”

The Shadowman’s smile wavered, but then widened. “Indeed we are.” Without seeming to step forward, he suddenly pressed against the back of the figurehead, his face inches from Damnation’s, his chin digging sharply into the pirate’s left biceps. “But you won’t be the one with the spoon,” the dark man hissed. Then he disappeared from Damnation’s view.

Damnation shivered, despite all his efforts to suppress it; suddenly he was very aware that he was naked, and wounded, and bound. The Shadowman was going to do – something – to him, and, he realized now, there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it. He closed his eyes, took a deep shuddering breath that tasted like fear, and said a prayer to his gods. He prayed to Brigid, goddess of poetry and fire and love, for enough life in his body to give him a chance to fight; to the Morrigan, the Battle-Crow, for a good death if he could not live; and to Manannan Mac Lir, to guard and guide his soul home, should he die on or under the waves.

When he opened his eyes once more, he was as calm and as prepared as he could be. And then he saw the Shadowman kneeling at his feet, drawing strange mystical designs on the deck around both Damnation and the Scourged Lady, his three minions handing him materials as he asked for them with grunts and impatient gestures; and suddenly the little calm he had found was gone, once more. His throat was too dry: it had been too long since Hobbes had given him water; he was alone, surrounded by enemies, even above and below him; he was weak, his back shivering and twitching, his body aching, almost feverish. He did not even truly believe in the gods to whom he had prayed.

There was no hope. Damnation accepted that. He leaned his brow against the Scourged Lady’s breast, closed his eyes, and waited to die.

The Shadowman took his time preparing his ritual while Hobbes sailed the ship north and then, as ordered, turned due east into the sun, as soon as they had come far enough to clear the land. Now they sailed towards open ocean, a strong cross breeze pushing them forward at a good pace. On the poop deck, Hobbes smiled as the Grace came alive for him as she had not done while they sailed her from New York to Bermuda; then she had trudged along, wallowing through the swells, the wind obstinately turning to the wrong direction, her lines coming loose, everything going wrong that could do so. But now, she did not only sail, she flew, and Hobbes had the sense that he could be alone at the wheel, and the Grace would sail herself.

He was wrong, of course: if he had stood alone on the poop deck, she would not have flown. It was not for him that the Grace spread her wings. But in that moment of joyous freedom, Hobbes felt intensely glad that he had not sunk this ship, this beautiful ship.

When the Shadowman was ready – Damnation had neither moved nor opened his eyes, even as the houngan smeared lines of red paste over his skin, drawing designs up Damnation’s legs to his belly, up to his throat and then down his arms to his wrists – he set his three men at the cardinal points, north, south, and west, while he himself knelt to the east, the rising sun at his back, the Irishman’s bound, torn body in front of him, inside the ritual circle. Then he killed the cock, cutting its throat with his knife and draining the blood into a clay cup; he took a mouthful of rum and spit into the cup as well, and then two more mouthfuls before he placed the bottle at the feet of the white man. He lit the cigar with a wooden match, struck carelessly on the base of the Scourged Lady; he blew smoke in the face of each of his men, and then cupped it and waved it back into his own eyes before balancing the cigar across the mouth of the clay cup. Fire and air, earth and water, blood and rum: all was in readiness. He began the final chant that would summon the loa to him.

On the poop deck, Hobbes allowed himself to hope that the ship would sail for him as it had for Kane even after the savage had torn out the Irishman’s heart; if it did, he promised God in heaven that he would personally put that black witch to the torch.

Standing against the Scourged Lady, Damnation smelled each step of the ritual: the blood, the rum, the tobacco; he did not open his eyes and did not move. He wished the Shadowman would just get on with it.

The Shadowman expected to have to chant for anywhere from an hour to half a day; the loa came when he called, but they decided when, and they never hurried. So when he felt the presences not ten minutes after he began chanting, he actually stumbled over the words, his mouth hanging open for a moment as he wondered: was this a sign of good fortune, that the gods smiled on him?

Or was this ominous?

A sensation of irritation from the presences reminded him that the ritual was not finished, and whatever it meant that the loa had come so quickly, if he let the ritual collapse in the middle, the consequences would be deadly. He quickly picked up the chant once more, and now he rose from his knees and began to dance around the circle, calling the names of the loa: Agwe, the ruler of the sea; Met Kalfu, the lord of crossroads; and Baron Samedi, the master of the dead. The Shadowman cut his flesh, used his blood to draw the veves for each loa on the brow and breast of each of his three zombi servants – those men who made the perfect slaves, both for him and for the loa, as they had no wills nor souls of their own to get in the loa’s way. Agwe he called to the zombi to the north, Met Kalfu to the man to the south, and Baron Samedi went to the west, the way to the land of the dead where he ruled.

Again, it should have taken time for the loa to mount their horses, especially three such proud and powerful spirits; he had brought extra gifts to offer as propitiation should the three prove reluctant. But none of it was necessary, neither the gifts nor the time: almost as soon as he finished drawing the veves in his blood, each man’s expression changed, and an ancient spirit looked out at him from each zombi’s hollow eyes.

He knelt and bowed in obesiance. “My lords, I welcome you,” he said in French. “I have asked you here to honor you with the power I will now summon. I wish to put that power, and myself, at your service.” He paused, his forehead pressed against the deck; there was a chance – a good chance – that these three loa would argue over who would receive the offered gift; if they did, it would be best to let them work it out without his drawing any attention to himself.

But his words were met only with silence. Some moments went by, and then he heard the deep nasal voice of Baron Samedi say, “Proceed.”

He opened his mouth to ask if they had any need to discuss who was in control here, but then he shut it again: when the Lord of Death instructed you to proceed, it was best not to delay.

Thus he rose, in his hand the black-bladed knife, its blade stained with soot and burnt blood, and he stepped to the Irishman whose soul was tied to the boat’s: the man who was a conduit of power such as the Shadowman had never known. He allowed his envy of that power – undeserved and unearned; the man was a fool with no understanding at all of what he made possible, of what his ship made possible – to curve his lip into a sneer, and he reached up and took hold of the man’s sweat-matted hair, yanking him backwards until his arms were stretched tight, his body leaning away from the statue, held up by his bound wrists clinging to the Scourged Lady’s neck. The Shadowman pulled the man’s head back cruelly, exposing his throat, the pulse surging under the pale skin, and he smiled as he placed the edge of his knife against that throat; here was his revenge for the previous day’s humiliation, when the Irishman had dared to draw his blood, the blood of a bokor! He pressed the knife harder by small increments until he just pierced the skin; the man’s eyes rolled wildly, his nostrils flaring in panic as the Shadowman stretched him out like a cock for the sacrifice. A drop of the man’s blood dripped from the tip of the knife, and plashed on the deck.

As if a switch had been thrown, instantly the ship lit up with the blue-white glow of St. Elmo’s Fire; the hair of every man’s head and body standing up as the power played over each of them, and over every inch of the ship. The English sailors cursed and cried out in fear; the Irishman moaned in despair; the loa made no sound at all.

The Shadowman laughed. He raised the knife, feeling the power flow over his skin, knowing that he was the master of it, that this power was his, won with courage and guile, paid for in blood and death. “Hear me, spirits of this ship! I will kill this man! I will spill his life’s blood on your decks! If you wish to save the life of Damnation Kane, YOU WILL OBEY ME!”

A thrumming, moaning noise began, quickly rising in volume and pitch until it was nearly a scream. The ship shook from stem to stern, from keel to mast, as if it was the center of an earthquake, of a tempest; surely it would shake itself to pieces.

The Shadowman turned, wild-eyed, knife outthrust, his left hand still holding Damnation’s hair in its powerful grip, his body pulled taut as though he were on a rack. “OBEY ME!” the Shadowman screamed. “SAIL FOR ME!” he cried, his words nearly drowned out by the vibrating scream of the ship.

And before the Shadowman’s eyes, the risen sun suddenly sank: down into the east. The sun reversed its course, and night rose in place of day. Wild with ecstasy, the Shadowman spun about, facing the ship’s stern; a moment later, the sun rose in the west, and arced across the sky like a flaming stone flung from a catapult. Inside his gut, over his skin, he felt the power building, and building, and he knew that power was his.

Tears streaming down his cheeks, his eyes so wide it seemed that any moment they would burst from their sockets, the Shadowman turned back to his prisoner, his conduit, Damnation Kane. With a burst of wild laughter, seemingly pushed out of him by the power that continued to build, and build, and build within him, growing until it seemed he could not take in a breath, that the power left no room in him for anything so mundane as air – and still it grew – the Shadowman laid the knife blade along the Irishman’s throat. “MINE!” he cried out, “THE POWER IS MINE!” He glanced up to see the sun burn another flaming streak across the sky, its third such trip in the wrong direction, and faster each time: now the night unwinding took but a heartbeat, and then the sun rose in the west for the fourth time.

That was when the Shadowman exploded.

A wave of boiling hot liquid passed over Damnation like a single perfect curtain of rain: it was the blood and the liquified remains of what had been Lyle Okagaweh, expanding outward like a soap bubble: but this bubble did not burst. The curtain of liquid Shadowman expanded and thinned until it surrounded the entire ship: the sunlight was reduced to a dim sullen red, the blue sky and the green-grey water of the Atlantic disappearing along with the world outside. Inside this bubble of blood and bone and flesh there was only the ship, the men aboard – all touched by the searing liquid, but none of them burned or even made wet by it; it left no trace of itself as it passed over and around and through – and the water in which the ship floated.

All else was gone.

Particularly the Shadowman.

The loa stood, cursing in inhuman tongues, their ancient gazes flickering about, taking in what surrounded them. Baron Samedi began to laugh. Agwe and Met Kalfu exchanged glances, and then both advanced on Damnation, who had hauled himself upright, heaving desperate breaths, trying to understand that he was not dead, and that the Shadowman seemingly was.

He noticed the two men advancing on him, their eyes glowing in the murky red darkness inside the blood-bubble; he cried out in fear, tugged at the bonds holding his arms, then cringed in on himself, expecting a mortal blow, pressing his bare skin against the painted wooden surface of the Scourged Lady.

Thus he was the first to feel the figurehead move.

Even as the two loa stepped close, raising angry fists and growling deep in their throats, the wooden statue suddenly unclasped her hands from where they had been knotted together above her head since she had been carved. One arm lifted Damnation’s arms up, and the Lady ducked her head out from between his bound wrists. The other arm reached out and caught the deadly blows of the loa before they could smash Damnation into a bloody pulp. There was a sound like thunder, and the Lady’s wooden arm cracked, chips of paint bursting away from the impact; but from the cracks in her wooden arm, light glowed, and from that light, Agwe and Met Kalfu cowered back.

The Lady tossed Damnation aside as though he were a scarf she doffed, and then she lunged forward, coming up under where her cracked right arm caught the loas’ blows, and her left forearm slammed into the belly of Met Kalfu, propelled forward by the power of the Lady’s legs. The zombi horse of the loa, who was, after all, no more than flesh and bone, however mighty the spirit that rode him, flew backwards through the air, launched completely off the ship: and when he hit the bubble of blood, he was still rising towards the apex of his flight. That was as far as he got, though, for with a sound like a mighty whale slapping the ocean with its tail, the zombi struck the blood bubble and burst himself, disintegrating in a ripple of liquid that mixed with the thin bubble of Shadowman; now the bubble was, in that direction, thicker, less light shining through the red.

The horse of Agwe watched open-mouthed as the mighty Met Kalfu was thrown through the air: thus he had no time to escape before the hands of the Scourged Lady caught his shoulder and thigh. She lifted him over her head, and drew back mightily – only then did Agwe struggle, striking in vain with flesh and bone hands on the wooden Lady; the blows had no effect. But then Agwe began growling strange otherworldly sounds that somewhat resembled words, and a rising glow emanated from his eyes, a glow that made wisps of smoke rise from the animated wooden statue –

Too late. The Lady flung the loa, who like his fellow struck the blood bubble and burst and was consumed.

The roar of a machine gun filled the air, and jagged splinters of wood were blasted from the Scourged Lady as a line of bullets lanced across her back. Every hole freed a new beam of light, and now a man brave enough to look into that light could see that it was both light and dark, the crimson of fresh blood and the livid green of putrid flesh; if that man did not look away, he would quickly lose his mind. No man on board looked except for the zombi gunman perched above, who drew a bead on his target – and was instantly lost in the impossible light that shone from her like ethereal blood. The Lady turned, looked up at him, and her wooden eyes opened, new light pouring forth from those twin holes, the light falling full on the face of the man looking down from the crow’s nest above.

The rifle fell from his limp hand.

The Lady opened her wooden mouth and said, “Come to me.” She spoke neither English nor French, yet everyone within hearing understood her words. With a convulsive heave, the man threw himself off the crow’s nest, and plummeted thirty feet down to the deck below, where he broke, and died. The Scourged Lady knelt by his side, his empty eyes now veiled in death; she caressed his cheek with infinite tenderness.

Then she grabbed him by his broken neck and flung him over the side. He sank quickly into the now perfectly still water trapped in the bubble with the ship; a minute or so later, they heard a muffled thump, and the water rippled, and was still.

Silence fell. Darkness soon followed, the red light in the bubble now dimming to late twilight. From where he cowered on the deck, entirely amazed and trying desperately not to run gibberingly mad, Damnation turned his head and looked. The Scourged Lady no longer shone with the light of madness; she brushed her hands over her arms, down her back, and she was whole once more. She no longer resembled wood: now she had all the seeming of a human woman, albeit seven feet tall and impossibly beautiful, even with the scars of the whip still livid on her sides.

The silence was broken by laughter. The Scourged Lady and Damnation both turned towards its source: the third loa, Baron Samedi, lounged against the rail, and he clapped his hands, applauding the show. He straightened and faced the Lady, and made her an elegant bow.

“My Lady Death,” he said in his deep voice.

The Lady, a slight, cold smile on her lips, nodded her head. “My Lord Death,” she replied. She raised her head again, looking imperiously down on the shorter zombi who carried the spirit of the Baron. “I have a boon to ask of you, my Lord.”

The Baron cocked his head. “I was invited to this place, Lady, I do not trespass. You have already punished the instigator of this affair.” He gestured to the blood bubble surrounding them, all that remained of the Shadowman.

The Lady gazed up at the curve of liquid human. “No. He brought it on himself.” She looked back to the Baron, but Damnation, cowering on the deck of his ship, just beginning to think that he might not be dead, nor mad, felt as though she spoke to him rather than to the loa. “To travel with the sun, even to race ahead of it, is simple, is safe. Relatively. But to challenge the sun in its path, to stand against it and to try to reverse its course: that is death. As you see,” she said, gesturing at the blood. Now she looked at the English sailors, all of them cowering and many of them gibbering. “The blood is now all that protects these men. Without it, they would be in the world, the world that they are in already, as their selves who lived three days before the time their journey began. Men may not exist in the world twice. It would be their doom.” She turned and looked directly at Damnation as she said, “They are not gods.”

He dropped his gaze, and did not look up again as the two beings conversed.

“So what is it you wish of me, Lady?” the Baron asked.

“The only thing I cannot take,” the Lady responded.

“Ah,” said the Baron softly. “My willing agreement.”

“Your acceptance of sacrifice.”

“Of my horse, this body,” the Baron said.

“Of course. I would not threaten the spirit of the Baron of the Grave, himself.”

The Baron was silent for a moment. “Surely I could not best you in that magnificent form,” he said.

“You could not,” she agreed. “But the blood of that body, even combined with the blood of the others, is not enough. The protection will not last without will.”

“Mm,” the Baron mused. “The blood is weak.”

“There is none of your brethren in the blood, and no will in any of these but the first, their master.”

“And in will is strength.”

“There is power in blood, but it grows only with time, and these men were too young to be strong. The protection will not last.” She paused and then said, “I wish it to last.”

“And I must remain in this body as it dies, yes?”

“Yes, my lord Death. Without you, the body has no will.”

“So you do seek to kill me.”

“That is the boon I ask.”

A pause, then, that stretched longer, and longer. And then – the Baron laughed. He laughed loud and long. At last he spoke. “I will grant your boon, my Lady. I never could say no to a beautiful woman.

“But I have two conditions.”

“Name them.”

“First, let all of these humans stand witness. It is a thing that seldom occurs, the death of a god, and it should be seen, and spoken of until these men can speak no more.”

Damnation felt a sudden and irresistible urge to rise: he did so. He needed to turn and face the two Deaths: he did so. He must open his eyes and look, and watch and remember all that occurred: he would. He would also, whether he wanted to or not, keep his sanity, and keep this memory in perfect detail until his death – and perhaps beyond.

Such was the will of the goddess who resided in the Scourged Lady.

“And your second condition, my Lord?”

The Baron smiled as wide as a skull. He held his arms out to the sides, like a performer’s flourish before he takes his final bow. “Make it a death worth having,” Baron Samedi said.

The Scourged Lady took a step towards him: and with that step, her hands became great curving talons. Another step, and her lovely face stretched, becoming a sharp beak; her hair flowed into a crown of black feathers. With her last step, she clutched the Baron’s shoulders with her claws, and then, as every living man aboard the Grace of Ireland watched, the beak struck, and tore out the Baron’s left eye. He groaned in pain as the bird-goddess tossed her beak upwards, throwing the eye in an arc, catching it again, and swallowing it whole. The right eye followed, and then, as the Baron’s screams grew louder and became inarticulate, the goddess tore the tongue from his mouth, swallowing it like a worm as it writhed out of the side of her beak, spattering her with blood.

Then she reared back and struck: her beak stabbed into the zombi’s chest, and pierced the Baron’s heart. With one final convulsion, the Lord of Death – died. Gently the Lady lay him down, and then stood back and away. The body floated up off the deck, and then burst, as had the Shadowman, but this time it was with a brilliant flare of beautiful light; the men felt their eyes burn from the light, but they could not look away, could not close their eyes: they watched as the Baron’s form melted into a swirling maelstrom of light, and compressed down into a single point that burned into their minds: and then flashed out, washing over them again as the first blood-bubble had. The Baron was gone, and the blood-shell around them appeared smooth, and hard, and it gave off a gentle glow.

The Scourged Lady, her face still coated in blood, still beaked and feathered, turned towards where Nicholas Hobbes stood at the rail of the poop deck, his eyes glowing with awe and a deep longing as he watched his beautiful, battered figurehead move and live. She spoke to him, the words emerging without any movement of the beak, still in no language they could know, but still perfectly understood by all. “I thank you, Nicholas Hobbes, for the blood you offered to me in this statue: the blood and the pain and the death. You made this a strong vessel for me.” She took a step towards him then, and said, “But you fell short of the truth. I do not bear the lash. I wield it.” Quicker than the eye could follow, her talons lashed out and pierced the shoulder and upper arm of the bosun Stuart, who stood mouth agape on the main deck; he roared in pain, and the barbed whip fell from his hand. The Lady’s other taloned hand caught it, snapped the whip in the air with a crack like thunder, like a mast giving way in a storm. Stuart fell to his knees, and the Lady’s talons drew out of his flesh. She snapped the whip again, and the crack was even louder: a ship wrecking on rocks. The third time, when the whip cracked, the wooden statue fractured and fell away in pieces: and the Goddess herself was revealed.

She was pale, the dead white of bone, but her eyes were a deep burning red, her lips as red and wet as hot blood. Her hair was the gleaming blue-black of a raven’s feathers, cascading down her back in a fluttering mane that seemed to have a life of its own. She stood nude, and so gloriously, impossibly beautiful was she that every man there was instantly inflamed by her face and figure, and wanted her – and knew themselves unworthy of her caresses, and turned away, in fear and anger and shame and burning lust.

All but Damnation Kane. For he, unlike the Englishmen, recognized her. And as she turned and smiled at him alone, he whispered her name aloud.

“Morrigan,” he said.

The Battle-Crow smiled wider, and stepped close to him then. For a moment he thought she would embrace him, would kiss him; and he knew if she did, it would destroy him utterly: and he longed for her to do it. But she did not. Instead she spoke, the power and glory in her voice suppressed now, her words for his ears alone: now she spoke Irish.

“I did not come here for you,” she said. “I came for Manannan Mac Lir. He asked me to serve his will, and offered me blood and death in exchange.” Still smiling, she said, “I am satisfied with my bargain.” She looked out at the water, at the blood, and her smile turned sultry and satisfied, and again Damnation’s lust burned brighter than his will to live: he began to move towards her, reaching out to take her in his arms. She glanced towards him as he stepped within a pace of her perfect beauty.

The smile faded, and a bottomless, eternal anger burned in those eyes, which now turned the impossible color of the light that had shone from the cracks in the statue: the light of madness, in the color of death. “Impudent man,” she said, spitting the words with immortal contempt, the sound of her teeth clashing together like the fall of a mountain of skulls, the hissing of her breath the spurt of blood from a thousand cut throats. “You would smear your filthy human lust on me?” She opened her mouth, and her teeth were jagged fangs, her throat the opening of a bottomless pit of darkness. The last of Damnation’s lust was washed away by terror as she opened her mouth wider, wider, wide enough to swallow him whole: and he cowered back from her then, and looked away.

She paused. Then she spoke again, her voice again no more than human; but he would not look to see if her mouth was human as well. “Manannan Mac Lir will protect you until you can return to the time you left. When the blood is gone, he will leave you to your own devices.” She paused, and then said, sounding reluctant, “He may be right about you, mortal. Perhaps.”

Her hand grasped his chin: her skin was both smooth as silk and hard as steel, hot as fire and cold as death. She turned his face to hers, and he could not keep his eyes closed while she wished him to look at her. Anger flashed in her eyes, tiny bursts of green-red dark-light blooming and fading; with each bloom, he felt as though his soul cringed back from a blow. “I am displeased with you, Damnation Kane. And so I will tell you only this: I will have your blood. If you stay in this time, then I will drink your blood from your veins.” The Morrigan pressed her face close to his, and the light in her eyes battered him, smashing into him again and again. “If you can return to the time of your birth, then your blood will feed my land.” She came even closer, and her eyes were the whole world, and the whole world was pain. “The choice is yours.”

Then she kissed him, and he knew no more.

 

***

 

Balthazar Lynch had found a place to sit.

He had snuck down to the cove as soon as the bus had arrived at the farm, bringing back the men, but not Captain Kane. It was not difficult, as the men remaining at the cove did not have a reason to keep a careful watch; still, they did come and go frequently, and always armed, and Balthazar thought he would not be welcomed there if they found him. So he snuck down through the trees to the shore, and he sought a place to hide, a place where he could sit and wait.

Wait for the Captain to return.

He had no reason to think the Grace would come back here; if what Vaughn and O’Gallows and the others had said was true, the man they called the Abomination had wanted only two things: the ship, and the Captain. Now that he had them both, he might do – anything. Go anywhere, follow whatever course to whatever evil purpose his twisted mind imagined. Why think they would come back?

But then, Balthazar told himself, why think they wouldn’t?

It was a weak hope, but it was enough. And once he found a way to climb the Serpent’s Fang, the tall stand of rock to the west of the cove (there was another to the east, but it was thinner and could not be easily scaled) from the side opposite the house and the guards, and found a ledge wide enough to perch on, where he could sit comfortably and watch the sea while remaining unseen – well, it was so easy that it felt like he had two reasons to come and keep watch.

No: he had only one reason. But it was the only reason that mattered.

He passed the time reading on his phone, practicing his mathematics, drilling himself on proper writing and spelling. He had long conversations with his friend Mindy, who wavered back and forth between encouraging his vigil and telling him to give up. Chester Grable, his other friend from the New World (as Balthazar thought of 2011), was sure that there was no hope, and so Balthazar stopped reading his messages after the second day.

After the tenth day, however, he began to look back at them, and he could not say that Chester was wrong.

But still he came to this ledge every day. The men were camped at the farm of Diego Hill, recovering from their captivity and the floggings, and the vile medicines with which the Abomination had sought to break their will – heroin, Diego had named it, and had cursed the Shadowman soundly, and immediately made it his personal mission to save the men from the clutches of this poison. He himself had lost his soul to it, once, he said; he would not let it happen to another man if he could help. So the crew had a home, for now, and the haler, stronger men, especially Kelly and MacManus, had begun working for Two-Saint, in small ways. So perhaps they had prospects, and even – hope.

Balthazar Lynch had a place to sit.

When three weeks had passed without a single sign, Balthazar knew that Chester was right: the ship was gone. The Captain was gone. They would not return here.

But still Balthazar came, and sat, and watched, even though he could not have said why. If he had the words, he might have said, “Why does the heart beat, the blood flow? Why do children dream, and birds sing? It is life. There is nothing else.” But nobody said anything to him when he left each morning, riding a borrowed bicycle to the cove, where he hid it in the trees and crept down to the shore before climbing to his ledge, nobody asked, and so he said nothing at all. He tried to think nothing at all, too, but was less successful at that.

On the twenty-second day of his vigil, Balthazar Lynch fell asleep. He dreamed strange, disturbing dreams, dreams of crows tearing eyes out of men’s heads, and of a beautiful woman wielding a whip across the bloody back of a man, and of a man melting into a cloud of dust and blowing away in a wind that came from everywhere at once.

At last he started awake, so violently that he nearly fell from his ledge; for some moments he had to lay still, clinging to handholds on the rock face, letting his racing heart slow and return to a normal pace.

When he felt himself again, and the dreams had faded into unreality once more, he knew that there was no reason to come back again. That night would mark Samhain, the feast of the dead; he would pray to all the gods to care for the soul of Damnation Kane, his captain and friend: the man he loved.

He looked out to sea just as the sun slipped beneath the horizon in the west: and in that instant, he saw the green flash, the last glimpse of light at the moment of sunset.

And in that instant, he saw a ship. Far out to sea, but near enough that he could make out two masts, and square-rigged sails.

The Grace of Ireland had returned.

Damnation Kane had returned.

 

***

And on that note, the second book of the adventures of Damnation Kane comes to an end. I hope, friends and readers and fellow lovers of all things pirate, that it has not been a disappointment; I hope that you will continue reading the third and final volume, until we come to the end of this journey together.

For those who do wish to keep reading, I’m sorry to say that there will be some delay; I now have another book to organize, edit, format, and publish; and before I do all of that, I’m also going to write some bonus chapters, so that those of you who have followed along online will have a reason (I hope) to buy the book when it’s ready, beyond (I hope) simply wanting your own copy of this story. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I promise you this: I can see the end of this story, and I want to get there more than anyone else — except maybe Damnation. I will get to the next part as soon as I possibly can.

Until then, please keep an eye on this space, where I will post updates about the second book; please consider purchasing the first book, if you haven’t already: you can find links to the electronic and print versions on my website, here. And thank you for reading.

 

Théoden “Dusty” Humphrey

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Categories: Book II, Captain's Log, 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

Log #78: Meeting With The Devil

Captain’s Log, October the Sixth: Midnight

 

By the Morrigan, patience is – no. She is not the deity I should swear to, if patience is what I seek. The war goddess, the devourer; this is not her virtue. I should swear by Lugh, the long-handed, and by Goibniu; the smiths, the craftsmen. They know the necessity of waiting.

But by all the gods, and all the devils, it is hard.

I will record what has transpired this evening so that I may gather my wits about me, for I have need of them all. There is more work still to be done, this night. I will wait while Andre goes to confer with Two-Saint; the passage of hours cannot but help the chances of our success, and so it is not a hindrance that he has gone. It is not our endeavor that is at risk, only my sanity. Only my sanity.

I will write. I will write slowly, recording all detail, and empty my mind of all thoughts, the better to prepare myself for the course ahead.

It is, in  truth, the better way, for in haste lies folly, rash mistakes that can – and often do, and often have in mine own life’s book – mount and multiply into a tidal wave of error that may wash over a man and sink his every plan. A minor instance: the name I learned this evening past, I heard at the outset as Irish: it begins with the O of our fathers, and I did not consider the unlikelihood of the man who bears it having Irish blood flowing under his black skin. When I conferred with Andre as to the identity of our foe, I gave the name a touch of the lilt of Erin – O’Caughgaweay, perhaps; enough of an Irishing that Andre did not recognize the appellation. After many repetitions as we drove the Jeep-beast to the house of Diego Colina, it struck him that what I tried to speak was in truth the name Okagaweh. It is African, Andre told me, after giving me the proper shape of it. That name, he knew. That name, he must speak of to Two-Saint.

And I must wait.

And record how I did learn it.

I want to trust the man. My heart and my wits are unified in urging me to do so; his demeanor was sober and sincere – and utterly without hope. That last was perhaps the most persuasive, as it showed me that he has no hidden motivations, no subtle intentions; he has thrown his longings and ambitions over the rail, and allows the winds of the world to carry him wheresoever they will. But is despair to serve as proof of constancy?

Was Lucifer himself not the most beautiful and best loved of the angels until the very moment of his fall? I wonder, when the Morning Star rebelled against the Almighty – did he have hope of success? Or was his despair so absolute that even his own immolation would be preferable to continuing to bear that weight of hopelessness? I can not rely on my impression of this man. But then, I am not God, nor is that creature with his claws sunk into the man’s throat – I remember the dream I had in Charleston, while delirious at St. Vincent’s hospice, and that, at least, seems to have been a true vision.

But by the gods, I trust my own prophesy no better than that man I saw today.

Aye. I must rely on him. ‘Tis a trap to think that he hath changed his colors, his blood, his loyalty. I do stand assured that his words were true; but I will remember that the Devil may cite scripture to his purpose. And he is the Devil’s Lash, and may use true words to work sinister plots. I will use his truth to accomplish my own purpose, and not to serve his.

***

I spoke with Captain Nicholas Hobbes this day.

We did return after supper to Jack’s Bar and Grill, where Andre, as the least obtrusive of our company, stepped within the common room to seek an English sailor within. Having sighted one such – and only one, showing that our luck, or providence, or the favor of my mother’s gods for her blood in me, has not wholly abandoned us – he withdrew and kept a watch without while Kelly and I strode boldly in to confront whatever man Jack of the Sea-Cat was imbibing ale by his lonesome.

When I saw that it was Hobbes himself; when I saw that he sat in a shadowed corner, at a table for two, with a bottle of wine before him; when I saw that, in all particulars that I could recall, the interior of this establishment coincided precisely with my dream – I felt a cold hand grip my heart, my breath, my thoughts. I stopped instantly, looking (without any need to search the space, so familiar was it to me) to the counter to see if Donal Carter was serving plates from the body of my cousin Hugh Moran.

God rest his soul. And forgive me for cursing him for his betrayal. And may it please thee, Lord – or thee, Dagda, Morrigan, Manannán Mac Lir who watcheth over sailors – protect me from what enchantment has placed foreknowledge into my mind. I do not seek or wish to possess the powers of the gods. I wish only to free my ship and my men. But let Thy will be done, whosoever’s gaze be peering down on me. Let it be done.

Carter was not there. My sudden movement and abrupt halt caught Hobbes’s attention, and he rose from his seat, staring at Kelly and I – myself being the main target of his attention, as he and I have clapped glims on one another ere now. I saw that my dream had also been wrong in placing the dark man in Hobbes’s own shadow, hands about his throat – though I would soon learn that my dream had more of truth than did my eyes, in this instance.

If I can trust Hobbes’s words, that is.

His first words then were plain enough: “You came,” he said, and “Thank God Almighty.”

“I have not use for your English God, Hobbes, and I have it on good authority that he wants naught to do with me,” I spat through gritted teeth, knowing I should not offend him with such blasphemy until after he had give me the intelligence I needed, but unable to stop the words unspoken.

He blinked – and then he smiled. It was a grotesque smile, the smile of a skull or a days-dead corpse. “Then for the nonce, I will thank what heathen gods receive your prayers, or even the Devil himself, for guiding your steps here. And if God will not forgive me the disloyal words, well – ‘tis no less than the wages of what I have done in His name.” Then he clicked his heels together and bowed formally to me. “Captain Kane, I believe we have never been formally introduced. I am Nicholas Hobbes. Will you join me, please, sir?” He gestured to his table, and then signaled the publican. “Another glass and a new bottle of the same – or two new glasses?” he added, looking at Kelly and then back to me.

I half-turned to Kelly, though I kept my eyes hove tight to Hobbes. “Check the place,” I said to my bosun in Irish. “Make sure we’re alone. then have your drink at the counter, aye? Let me speak to the bastard alone.”

“Aye, Captain,” he rumbled, and then walked the room’s perimeter. I turned back to Hobbes and said, “He’ll see that we two are not disturbed. Captain.” Hobbes nodded and bowed again, repeating his request for a bottle and a glass, and then we sat.

When the bottle came, he let me remove the stopper and pour, and then he raised his glass. “To your very good health, for all the good it will do you here,” he said, and then he took a drink, swallowed, and sat still, waiting, so that I would know it was not poisoned when he did not die. After a moment I lifted my glass to him and said, “May your bones sink to the depths with your ship, and your soul go lower still,” and then I drank deep.

Hobbes laughed. Not long nor vigorously; he did not appear well. Pale as an Englishman, still he should have been sun-browned as sailors are, especially after some time in this island clime; but he appeared sallow and wan, having left behind his habitual thinness for a cadaver’s wasted condition, his cheeks hollow, his eyes shadowed and haunted. He raised his glass once more and drank to my toast, then put the wine down and said, “My soul is already in Hell, Kane. Sent there by you and your deviltry, and by my own sinful pride and wrath.”

I took another sip. The wine was not good, but not the worst I have drunk. In truth I wanted to cast the glass aside, take up the bottle and club him to death with it, crying, “Where is my ship, you English whoreson bastard?” with every blow. But if polite discourse over wine would gain me the intelligence I required, then I would forego the bludgeoning.

For now.

“I’ll admit – nay, I’ll boast – that I did sink your ship, Hobbes, but I think I do not bear responsibility for the condition or direction of your soul. Either men choose their own fates, and so you chose yours, or else your Almighty God has foreordained your doom, not I.”

He nodded. “True, you and that accursed ship of yours did not choose my course for me, you merely tempted my righteousness as an Englishman and a Christian. I will step aside from the question of man’s will or God’s will; it all comes to the same, for it if was my will that chose, then I was following God’s injunction in his Holy Book: Thou shalt not suffer a witch –”

“To live,” I interrupted and completed for him. Now it was my turn to voice a humorless laugh. “Ah, Hobbes, if ye were another man I would keep to my vow, made many years ago, to murder any man who spat that bloody verse at me. But for ye, I’ll simply take solace in the knowledge that the woman I would murder ye for is now turned to dust in her grave – and that, if I am not mistook, that ‘twas her witchcraft, as ye say, that has sent ye here to the ends of the Earth.”

He leaned forward eagerly – and I clapped hand on my wheel-gun as he did so. He saw me, and raised his empty hands as sign of peaceful intent, sitting back in his seat slowly. But his hands were tightened into whitened fists on the table, and they trembled. “So you know, then, the means and manner of our exile into this Hell?”

I frowned at him. “Think ye this be Hell, man? D’ye not know our circumstances?”

He nodded. His eyes glittered now, but it was a poisonous energy that animated them. “I know, Kane. It is the year of our Lord 2011, and this is the island of Bermuda – still English soil, for all the good it does now to know it.” Then he leaned forward again, slowly. “Make no mistake, Kane: this is Hell.” He looked down into his wine, and drained the glass at a draught, his lips twisting against the sour taste. Or perhaps it was the sour taste of the words he spoke then, softly: “And I am allied with the Devil himself.”

So it seemed Hobbes was unfortunate in his choice of friends. Well, bad cess to him who deserves it, thought I. But I had had enough of this merry banter, so as Hobbes poured more wine, I asked, “Do you hold my ship and my crew, or does the Devil have them now?” As I said it, though I had but referred to his own naming of his ally the Shadowman, I felt an icy cold spread though me, and of a sudden I felt sure that the Devil indeed did have my men and my Grace; that all were dead and obliterated, and the Devil’s Lash would now smile and tell me so with both pleasure and pride. Then I would kill him.

He smiled. He said, “I have nothing, Kane. Even what I hold in these hands is the possession of the Devil, for he owns all of me.” He sipped his wine as I felt a roaring in my head, in my heart, and I prepared myself to shatter him. But then he said, calmly uttering a matter of fact, “Your ship is manned by my crew. Your crew is held by men of this time, who serve the same incarnate evil as do I. Both are in the same locale.” He sipped his wine again and the breath slipped out of me, taking the killing rage with it.

“Where?” I asked him, ready to begin the bludgeoning if he equivocated or refused to tell me.

He did not. “Have you a guide who knows this isle?” At my nod, he said, “Then tell him to lead you to the end of Old King’s Road, to the beach between the Serpent’s Fangs. Your men are held at the house there, a house owned by a man named Fournier, Michel Fournier. But they are in truth held by the same devil who holds the souls of my men in his black hands.”

“My ship is there as well?” I asked him. I knew not what he intended, in simply revealing this to me without coercion; I presumed it was a trap – though I could not imagine that he had predicted that I would seek him out himself. Perhaps he feared that I was armed, and eager to do him violence? Did he speak out of fear for his life? He did not have the manner of a man afraid, but seemed entirely calm.

He did show some spirit then: he leaned forward, his hands flat on the table, his fingers spread wide. “What are your intentions, Kane? Will you kill me? Is that your desire?”

I leaned forward as well, until we were nigh touching one another. “If I wanted ye dead, Hobbes, ye’d be bleeding on this floor.”

He did not flinch away from my gaze, though I doubt not he could see that his spilled blood was indeed my heart’s desire. “As I thought when you came in here and did not kill me on the instant. Then what is it you wish dearer than my death?”

I blinked at this. Then, though I know not why I would admit anything to this black-hearted villain, I said, “I want to go home.”

His eyes shone, and did not blink as he looked deep into mine. “And do you know how to accomplish that?”

I sat back, and saw, even before I spoke, the light go out of Hobbes’s eyes. “I do not. I think I know how we were brought here, I and my men and the Grace, but I do not know how to return. And I have not the least scrap of a notion why your ship came along with us.”

He turned one hand palm up. “We were grappled onto you.”

I nodded. “Aye. Perhaps it is so simple.”

He breathed out air in a sort of tired laugh. “It is always simple to find the way to Hell, Kane. Getting back – now that is the difficulty.” He leaned back. “Do you mean to seek that path?”

I shook my head. I looked around, saw Kelly drinking at the counter, paying us no mind, too far away to overhear. “I want only to free my ship and my crew, Hobbes.”

He looked into me for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Your ship will never be yours again. He has it, he desires it; you will not take it from him.”

I pounded a fist down on the table, shaking the bottle and the glasses. “No man can keep my ship while I live!” I barked at him.

He chuckled. “He is no man.”

I threw up my hands. “I have heard you called the Devil, too, Hobbes, have thought it myself, but you are a man, nonetheless. Who is this devil of yours that he has so unmanned the Devil’s Lash?”

He looked down at his hands, toying idly with his empty wineglass. “His name is Lyle Okagaweh. But that is only the name he goes by. He is a demon, who speaks to other demons, and binds them to his will. I have seen this with my own eyes, have head voices speak from flames, from air. I have seen wonders that have nothing of goodness in them, nothing of God. He has powers I cannot describe, and which you cannot overcome.”

“How do you presume to know what I can or cannot do?” I asked, perhaps peevishly.

Hobbes laughed – and if I had done nothing else this day, at the least I gave Hobbes back his humor. “You are a formidable foe, Kane, but if you could have bested me as easily as the Shadowman has, you would have done it ere I chased you across the ocean. And if you could defeat him directly,” he spread his hands, “he would not have your ship, and you would have no need to speak to me.”

He leaned forward once more. “Listen to me, Kane. The ship is out of your reach – but you may save your men. Despite all the gulf that yawns between you and I, as one captain to another, as one man to another, I pray you – I beg you: save them. Save them from the Shadowman. He is doing to them what he did to my men: he gives them what he says is physic, what he says will cure their hurts and heal their spirits. And it does bring them peace and joy, at first – but it takes their will from them, even as it gives them bliss. It makes men into slaves, into beasts without courage or strength. It makes them his.” He paused to see that I understood. I did, and he went on. “He has only begun with your men. My men have been in his clutches now for months, and nearly all of them are lost. You must do what I could not. Save the men who gave you their loyalty, who sailed the seas with you.”

I considered him. I believed him, but – “If you are so certain that this Shadowman of yours cannot be beaten by the likes of me, how am I to free my men from him?”

He smiled at that, and poured the last of the wine into my glass. “Because, my dear fellow, he does not want your men, other than as mere counters to add to his pile. He wants you. If you offer yourself in exchange for the freedom of your crew, then it will be accomplished, on the instant, without any struggle whatever.”

I frowned at him. “You want me to surrender,” I said.

Hobbes shook his head. “I want to destroy the both of you myself, you Irish bastard.” I saw the gleam in his eye, and knew that he spoke only the truth. He stood from the table, drawing a dollar-paper of a sort I had not seen before from his pocket, dropping it beside the wine bottle. “I am telling you the only way you will save your men. For their sake, not yours or mine. And only because they are men, and some of them are Christians. Even if they are Irish.”

And with that, he left. Kelly rose, prepared to seize Hobbes, but I waved him back. Hobbes had told me what I needed to know, and more besides.

My path is clear.

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Log #77: A New Ally

Log, October the Sixth

 

At last, at last! Four useless days spent roaming this damned island, seeking something which, as we did learn today, we most likely would not ever have found. Four days wasted, even more so than we knew. But today, this day – we have found a path. We have plotted our course, with a destination in mind, and even in sight.

Pray that this course be true.

We began this day just as we have the others since we here arrived: we broke our fast after aiding Diego with the tasks of the farm, and then our pilot – a dark-skinned man named Andre – arrived in a tall, boxy beast-wagon named a Jeep. Kelly and I boarded to the rear bench and without a word of direction or even greeting, Andre cracked the whip, as it were, and our Jeep-beast was off. Shane has told me that his man is not this way, that they take time to discuss the movements and intentions of the day, that they converse as to the known habits and character of their target, the lieutenant Hargreaves. But our man Andre merely takes us to the shore, where Kelly and I strain our eyes looking for that which we seek. For that purpose this Jeep-beast is most well-suited, as it lacks a top deck overhead, and Kelly and I can stand on the bench when the beast is still, and see as from a crow’s nest. But thus far, at each halt we have seen naught, and when we so inform Black Andre, he returns us a grunt, and then off the Jeep-beast goes to the next cove along this island’s interminable north coast. (At the least, we had told each other, this fellow knows what is a cove and which side of the island is north – and does not believe that we Irishmen would be unaware of what direction we faced, or where the ocean should lay; we have know far too many of the people in this time to lack even that much of intelligence and honor. But we have both.)

Today there was somewhat of a difference – a difference that has changed all from dark despair into gleaming hope. Each day that we have searched, we have taken a halt for a midday meal, Andre piloting us to a nearby tavern for sustenance, the which Kelly and I have provided for ourselves and for Andre; this did seem a reasonable fee, since we give the man naught otherwise but courtesy. On this day at the noontide we arrived at Chazzer’s Chicken Shack. We Irishmen disembarked to stretch our legs; meanwhile, Andre sought to stretch other limbs: there was a young lass there, seated alone at a table, drinking from a cup. I’ll say this for our pilot: he has no skill at conversation, but his eye for beauty is beyond reproach; I have rarely seen a fairer lass, her skin the reddish-brown of polished wood, her hair a golden-brown cloud, her form and features flawless and alluring, indeed.

But though Black Andre’s eye for beauty is fine, his prudence is somewhat lacking: only a fool would expect a cailín like that one to visit a tavern unchaperoned. Indeed, near as soon as Andre had taken a seat beside her, and won himself a smile from the lass, her chaperones returned from whence they had gone. There were two: one the young lady’s sweetheart, the second her brother, as they informed Andre with both fury and menace (And I take the liberty of criticizing them for their laxity: they were two, and yet the lass was left by herself? Fortunate that she caught the eye of our Andre, and not some villain who would wish her ill!).

Our man tried to back water, apologizing the while, but the men’s tempers were heated, and they pursued him, trapping him between them and a wall, their fists bunched, their teeth bared, Andre growing more and more desperate as violence began to seem inevitable – to Andre’s detriment, that would be, as both men were larger and stouter than he. That was the moment when Kelly and I returned from our constitutional, and saw our pilot in dire straits. Kelly looked his query at me, and I nodded; I did not think we owed our man loyalty, but still we did require his continued service, and thus his continued consciousness and mobility.

To that end, we approached, and Kelly tapped the nearer fellow, the larger one, on the shoulder. The man turned his head just enough to warn off the interloper – but then he started and turned fully, the truth dawning that Kelly was as much larger than he as he was than Black Andre. “As my friend here has already offered an apology,” quoth Kelly,  “methinks ye should take his interest in the lady as a compliment. Be it not so?”

The man’s mouth flapped a time or two, and then he seemed to bite down on Kelly’s words. “Compliment? Nah, man! Him try play slap an’ tickle wit’ my girl! Wit’ him sista!” The man pointed a shaking finger at Andre, baring his teeth as he growled at Kelly, surely trying to show Kelly that he was not afraid.

Kelly nodded. “Well and sure that does put another face on it.” He frowned at Andre. “Come man, ye canna play the slap-an’-tickle wi’ a lassie.” The frown turned to a grin: and Kelly reached out, quick as a cat, and took the man by the shirt, spun him away from Andre, slammed the man’s back against the wall of the tavern. Kelly pressed close against the man and said, “That’s a man’s game, it is. So, mo chara, d’ye want the slap first, or the tickle?”

The man spluttered. “Tickle? No –”

That was as far as he got before my bosun’s hand, broad as a board and as weighty and hard as the stone he once quarried, smashed into the man’s cheek, throwing him sideways with a cry. Kelly grabbed his shoulder once more with his left hand, pushed the man’s back against the wall once more.

The other man, the girl’s brother, cried out then. “Hey man, you can’t slap a fella!”

Kelly frowned in mock confusion. “But he said he didn’t want the tickle, so that left the slap.” The man had straightened up again, his hand on his own cheek, a trickle of blood oozing from his fast-swelling lip; he snarled and pushed Kelly, hard, knocking my bosun back a step.

Whereupon Kelly drew his knife. Reaching out, he laid the flat of the blade on the man’s hip. “Tickle it is, then. You wish me to tickle your guts with the point of me knife, aye, I can play that game, too.” The smile was gone from Kelly’s face now as he looked into the man’s furious eyes, his own features as blank as a stone.

The other man reached into his pocket, muttering curses. Surely I could not allow him to draw whatever weapon he possessed and wield it against my mate: I drew my wheel-gun from the back of my sash, pointed it at the man’s anger-twisted visage, and then whistled for his attention. He gave it to me, and I said, “Now, now, we mustn’t interfere with the game. ‘Tis only they two who play; you and I shall observe.” I pointed with my left hand at his hand in his pocket, and he drew it out slowly, empty, earning a smile and a nod from me.

The man under Kelly’s knife was shaking, sheened with sweat. “Don’t cut me, man. She my girl, man. What would you do?”

Kelly drew his head back in surprise. “Why, if I loved her, I’d marry her. If I was steppin’ out wi’ her, I surely would not leave her alone to be accosted by rogues. And if she were bothered thus –” Without warning, Kelly took the blade away from the man’s belly, replacing it with his fist, which sunk to the thick wrist in the man’s flabby gut. The man dropped to his knees, choking and wheezing. Kelly finished his sentence: “–I’d strike first, and swiftly. And hard.” He tossed the knife from right hand to left, and then his right fist swung in a short, hard arc, crashing into the man’s head like a cannonball. The man sprawled in the dirt.

I beckoned Andre away, keeping my aim firm on the brother. But, as Kelly turned to face him, the man held up both hands, clearly unwilling to take on such foes at such odds. With barely a glance for the downed man, he sidled over to his sister, took her hand in his, and drew her away. She went where he led, though she stared, mouth agape, at Kelly and I until she vanished around the corner of the tavern.

Kelly sheathed his knife, dusted his hands, and said, “Well and that was sure a fine way to break up a dull watch. Shall we dine?” With a laugh, I tucked away my wheel-gun, took Andre by the elbow, and led him within the establishment to assuage our hunger.

We sat at an empty table, and Andre, mopping the sweat from his brow, told us that he would procure our luncheon, the which he proceeded to do, rushing to the counter, speaking rapidly to the proprietor and then rushing back to our table bearing plates heaped with food. We nodded and tucked in; Andre returned a second time with his own plate and a fistful of cutlery – though when he saw that we made do with hands and belt knives, as jack-tars are wont to, he discarded the pile of silver on the table and went back for three ales. When he joined us once again, I thanked him for the food and drink, and Kelly raised a toast in his honor.

“No, man – I gots to thank you fellows. Them rough boys would have pounded me flat, sure enough.” His expression turned hard, then, his gaze focused out the window; Kelly and I turned to see what he observed, and saw the rogue that Kelly had downed was now back on his feet, and staring dully into the tavern. Kelly turned in his seat to face the man squarely – though he did not pay him the compliment of standing in readiness should the man seek vengeance, for indeed, what risk did such a wilted fool pose to such as we? The man’s slack, stunned eyes came back to sharpness as he recognized Kelly, and then he vanished like a cannonball beneath the waves, bending below the sill and scuttling away like a crab. Kelly and I shared a laugh at that.

Andre did not laugh, but rather shook his head ruefully. “See there? He not even stay down long. He’d’a taken me apart, man. I owe you two big. You didn’t even need to back me up, we not friends.” He knocked on the tabletop. “Well, we friends now. Shake.” He held out his hand, first to Kelly and then to me, the both of us clasping fingers with him. We ate for a few silent moments, and then Andre rose. “Got to make a call,” he told us, stepping outside of the tavern, drawing his cell-phone from his pocket.

I shook my head. “People of this time fear pain more than a man should,” said I. Kelly grunted, raising his cup in agreement.

We had finished the food – quite toothsome it was, a richly spiced dish of rice with chunks of well-seasoned fowl in-mixed – ere Andre returned. He gestured to us with the cell-phone, and took his seat, tucking into his own plate of provender. Mouth full, he leaned close and murmured, “I called Two-Saint. He said I should help you fellas, no problem.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Have you not been helping us these past four days, then?”

He shrugged, swallowed, wiped his lips with one of the strange flimsy cloths they seem to prefer here for such tasks, drawing them from a box filled with the things on the table – though surely they cannot even be cloth, unless it is cloth spun of gossamer and spider-silk. ‘Tis like wiping one’s hands and face with ancient, brittle paper, but what madman uses paper for a napkin? Give me a proper rag, or at least the back of a well-furred dog. “Look man, you fellas here to do a thing for Two-Saint and his boy back state-side, that white boy who smile too much. Two-Saint tell me you need a driver, want to look at coves on the north shore, only the north shore and not in town. Him never say why, what you need to find, what you looking for. So I show you coves, sure – but all the same ones, over and over.”

Damn it. I had suspected that we were surrendering precious time for no reward, calmed in the doldrums by our ignorance and reliance on those who were not our allies. Too, I had thought the coves had begun to look familiar, though I had ascribed such thoughts to the alien character of this island and my disfamiliarity with it; so different did it appear from the Ireland I had known that it all seemed to be one, to my eyes. But it seemed that was not due to my lack of perception, but rather to my guide’s deception.

I must have showed my ire, for Andre held out his hands and pleaded his case. “Hey, man, Two-saint and me aren’t here to do a thing for you: you here to do a thing for him. But,” he patted the air, a gesture of placation, “now I owe you. I do a thing for you. Just tell me what you doing, I make sure it gets done, no waitin’, right now, man. Tell me what you boys up to in Bermuda.”

I murmured something profane and unpleasant under my breath, cradling my head in my hands. Four days we had wasted – and for what? Only because this man could not be concerned with ourselves or our needs? Only when there was a debt to be paid, only when he himself could profit from the act, did he solicit our friendship. These men had little honor, and no sense of hospitality (though indeed I could not place our host Diego into that estimation; he had done quite well by us).

While I grumbled, though, Kelly pushed past the questions of courtesy and seized the main chance. “We’re looking for a ship. A wooden ship, old, two masts, square sails. Not like most ships today.”

Andre frowned at him, wiping his chin with more flimsy paper-cloths. “I don’t know, man. I mean, I can ask around, but nobody really pays no never-mind to ships, you know? I mean, this an island, boats everywhere. Why look at just one when there’s a thousand more on both sides of you?”

“Why look at that lass outside when there are countless others?” I snapped at him. I slapped the table and leaned close. “Because that one lass is worth more than all the rest. Her beauty surpasses them all, draws the eye as a flame draws moths. So is my ship.”

He nodded. “Yeah, man. I hear you. Okay, you looking for the most beauteous ship on the island. Anythin’ else?”

“My crew,” I said. “A dozen men, much like we two, Irish sailors all – or nearly all,” I amended, thinking of Vaughn. “They are held captive near the ship’s berth.”

He shook his head slowly. “If they held captive, nobody gone know about it. Do you know anything ‘bout who got you boat, who hold you men?”

I wished to tell him that my Grace was no boat, no scrap-wood dinghy pounded together by boys in search of adventure, but I held my tongue. Into the space left as I controlled myself Kelly spoke: “They are English. Do you know English from Irish?” He did not sound hopeful as he asked this, as indeed the people of this time have given us little reason to be; with very few exceptions, they have thought every man of us, from the Welshman Vaughn to the half-Scotch O’Gallows, to Salty O’Neill, a Derryman from the northern reaches, to I and my cousins, southrons all – to be English by our accent and speech. But Andre surprised us, for he did smile and nod. “Yea, man. We the last outpost of the British Empire, of course we know an Englishman from an Irishman. So your Irish boys be held by Englishmen, yea?”

“Aye,” I confirmed. “English sailors. Their captain is named Nicholas Hobbes, a tall, gaunt man with not a smile nor a laugh in his soul.”

“There may be men like you, too – Africans,” Kelly added. “With long hair in tangles.”

Andre gave him an incredulous look. “I’m no African, man, I’m black. From the islands, not from the damn Congo.” Kelly nodded, acknowledging the correction, and Andre looked thoughtful. “They got dreads on they side, ah? You know who they are, who they wit’?”

I had a suspicion. But should I tell this man of the one enemy I dreaded most? The Houndman, the dark shadow I had seen in my dream, the one who seemed to have infested and – I would say corrupted, but I think the man was already Hell-black inside his heart – perhaps “allied with,” the Devil’s Lash? I feared that knowledge of the forces arrayed against us would quickly scuttle the man’s newfound willingness to be of genuine service to our quest.

Aye, said I to myself, and if it does, are we any the worse than we’ve been these past days? And weeks? Perhaps the Shadow-man is of this land, and is known. Had not my letter from O’Gallows and Vaughn described a local man of some repute? “Their leader may be a dark-skinned man – a black man, as you say – thin, with a shorn pate. He may be called Houndman, or something similar.”

Andre frowned and he tilted his head. “Houngan? This man, he a houngan?” I halted him and asked after this word. “It mean a priest, a priest of the voodoo.” Then I stopped him once more to ask about that word, the which he also explained.

Witchcraft. Evil, island witchcraft, come from Africa with the slaves. Andre seemed not overly cautious on the matter, discussing it openly without crossing himself as any good Christian would do when speaking of witches and devilry. Bu then, many and many a Christian is quick to cry Witch! where there is merely somewhat outside their familiarity; my mother and her fellow Druids have ever trod circumspectly for such a reason, particularly around the damned English. Most of the sons of Ireland know better, though not all condone the ancient ways – and many a Catholic would cry heresy on a Protestant who might follow some of the old rituals, or the reverse, indeed and aye. But as Andre spoke of it, this voodoo seemed the very heart and name of that dreaded corruption that has sent so many to the stake and the dungeons of the Inquisition.

Alas, as to our immediate need, it appeared that men who called themselves houngans, who purported to practice the voodoo or who did in truth adhere to it, were none too rare on this island. So too black men with tangled hair-locks, what Andre called “dreads.” He did not know this man from my description. But he did say he would make inquiries, and while Kelly and I enjoyed  a second ale, Andre withdrew to use his cell-phone and seek some information.

‘Twas not long then before he struck gold: a man of Andre’s acquaintance knew of a tavern, what he called a bar, that had been enjoying the custom of a large group of English sailors with a dour and humorless master. Andre knew the place; he would drive us there. Quickly we settled our account and went to board the Jeep-beast.

I will abbreviate the recounting thus: we found the tavern, one Jack’s Bar and Grill, scouted it and found it empty of Englishmen; but a cursory interrogation of the proprietor revealed that indeed a number of English sailors were wont to patronize the establishment. We returned to the farmhouse, determined to go back to the place after supper’s hour and seek our quarry then, when they are most likely to be present there; here in this waiting-space I have sat to record this log.

But I must append here one last curiosity: our foray from the tavern to the Jeep-beast was briefly interrupted – by the lass who had started the donnybrook with her temptatious beauty. She had returned, equally enchanted, so it seems, by our man Andre – and, most contemptuous of the ease with which our Kelly had downed her erstwhile paramour, she came seeking a replacement for same.

Now Andre has two reasons to render us loyal service. And a reason to smile while he does so.

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

Log #76: Strength

BLog

we ar on bermuda now. me and shayn wach tol police man hargreevs and Captin and kelee wach 4 Grace. we hav ben heer 3 dayz. Captin has not see ship. me and shayn see 2 much hargreevs.

it hurts 2 see Captin. he is so sad. he hav sad hart becuz he and men get trikt by bastard calhoon in charlztun. Captin thinks it his mistayk. his falt. he want to be good. i donnow wy he duz not unnerstan he is good. i think he forget.

i wish i cud tel him.tel him he is good. tel him the trikt is not his falt. he did best he thot and then wen it was bad he tri mor and mayk it best he can. he not srender he never srender he fite 4 men 4 ship 4 onner.

i wish i cud tel him i sorry 4 wut i sed befor. i was rong. i no that now. i wish i cud hold him and kiss him and tel him it wil be best. we wil win at the end.

he need sum 1 2 hold him and kiss him. he duz not need me to be crew man. he needs me 2 be his woman. but i cant be.

can i?

can he luv me and let me luv him? let me hold him and kiss him? giv him. wut is word. ease. comfort. he need comfort. he needs help. befor he laff and joak with us all ways. he nevr sad. nevr loos hart. but now he duz not laff. duz not smiyl. he need comfort. i cud giv it 2 him if he let me.

wil he?

hargreevs is not trubl. he is a blagard a rowg a vilin. shayn and me wach him tak munee from shop men. we wach him thrash a man in allee and tak munee. if hargreevs goz away no 1 sad. every 1 best with no tol police man.

i hav a thot 4 mayk hargreevs go away. no need blud. and i got thot from calhoon. i can not giv Captin comfort and help he needs but i can giv him this.

 

***

 

Log

Three days’ search and no result. How much bloody coastline does this pestilent island possess! How many gods-rotted coves dot this land like pox scars! Damn it all! Where is my Grace!

 

Later

Aye, reading that last, it strikes me that my ship does indeed hold my grace: what goodness my soul possesseth, what virtues of patience, equanimity, duty: all are bound to her. When I have her not, I have them not; and therefore do I explain the terrible and foolhardy choices that I have made. At sea, I am a captain – but on land, I am a fool.

But I did not take up this pen to brood, once again, on my many failures. Instead I wish to record an illuminating conversation I shared this evening with my men, and with our taciturn but worthy host, Diego Hill. (He tells me that his family name is in truth Colina, but the Spanishers being somewhat unwelcome among the peoples of this isle, many of whom are descended from slaves who suffered under the Spaniards or Britishers who fought Spain for generations, he was dubbed with the English meaning of his Spanish name. It strikes me that the old pain that roots this strife hearkens back to my own age: it doth make the time between my birth and now seem less. Any road, he has invited me to use his Christian name, and so I shall.)

We had supped on the last of the yearling goat, cooked with beans and carrots and most hearty, and were seated about the bonfire, it being too close indoors with the damp summer air of this island; the smoke of the fire served to blockade the mosquitoes, as Diego calls them – bitemes, they be to my mind. We were sitting idly, drinking a liquor that Diego brews himself (that fortunately numbs the tongue within but a few sips), Shane and I discussing our progress thus far on our individual quests, when I did realize that Lynch was no longer among us. I inquired where the lad had gone, and Kelly stated that he was around the side of the house: in company with a mechanical contrivance, the which, when brought to life, provides a charge to Lynch’s eyephone. I professed mystification regarding all of this; Diego attempted to elucidate for me, explaining that the contrivance was a generator – which made a loud burring noise that I had heard but not understood – and that the eyephone was electric, he said, and needed “juice” from the generator. Power, he reiterated. He drew a similar ‘phone from his own pocket, explaining that he had poor service, as he called it, but could nonetheless make use of his ‘phone to contact Two-Saint should there be need. I nodded but waved it all away: I do not care for these matters. In truth, I was carping somewhat as to Lynch’s possession of, and by, his eyephone; the lad cannot seem to relinquish it, and now here it is, taking him away from the company of his fellows. But then I minded me of my own intention to quit this company for the good of all, so soon as my ship is recovered and the men freed, and I fell silent.

Shane then spoke into the quiet. “Lynch was wrong, Cap’n.” I looked at him querulously, and he expanded. “Back in Charleston, when he was sayin’ that ye should not ha’ fought that bastard Calhoun. Over the woman, Meredith.” He took a sip from his cup, grimaced, and plashed the rest into the fire, where it swelled the flames for a moment with a snap and a roar, as if a musket had been fired into the night sky. Shane grinned appreciatively and held his cup out to Diego, who refilled it from the jug.

“Think you so?” murmured I, drinking from my own cup. I did not ask him why, then, he had said nothing in my defense when Lynch had abused me for my conduct on the matter.

He nodded. Then he pointed at me – or near me, in truth; he had drunk more than a few cups of Diego’s liquor, which is as potent as it is vile-tasting, and, it seems, as it is flammable – and said, “But mind ye, Cap’n, I do think ye should ha’ put yon strumpet in her place.”

I stared at him across the fire, my own gaze steady as I had had only one or two cups of the liquor. “Should I,” I said, my tone surely more belligerent than curious.

But Shane heard only the words, and he nodded passionately, and sat forward, putting his cup down at his feet. “Aye, sir! Beggin’ pardon, Cap’n, for I don’t mean to tell a man how to handle a woman, but to my eye, that scarlet wench would be far better for a thrashin’. I don’t know the truth of it all wi’ ye and her and Calhoun, but I see how she tangled ye up, Cap’n, like a shark in a net!” He thrust his chin forward with this, his eyes glittering; then he belched, pounded his chest, and sat back. “Woman acts like that, she needs a strong lesson from a man. Teach her who’s in command, and what happens when ye act up against your master. Or behind his back.” He snatched up his cup and took another long drink, finishing with an explosive breath and a shudder as he lowered the cup.

I let the drink  in him bear the weight of my irritation at being called to task by a sailor of my crew; we weren’t speaking of ship’s matters, here, but of matters that any man and every man has an interest in, and some hard-won wisdom to share: and in truth, Shane, as my elder in years, may have had more than I. I decided to plumb his knowledge. “Have ye been wedded, Shane?” I asked him.

He shook his head, which made him wobble on his seat, and then pointed at me again. “Nay, never, but if I did, I’d be sure to keep my woman as a woman should be kept: obedient and quiet. ‘Tis a man’s duty to control his woman.”

“Have ye lived with a woman, then?” I asked, quirking a brow.

“Only until I could not get it up any more!” he said, grasping at his manhood. He burst into a roaring laugh, joined with somewhat less vigor by Kelly and Diego – aye, and by me. But it served to sharpen my thrust.

“Then ye speak not from experience, aye?” I said, taking a drink.

His smile faded and he grew solemn. “Nay, Cap’n. I have experience of these matters. I watched my da wi’ me mum. Me da, he were a hard man, aye, and heavy wi’ his fists. In truth, when I were a wee lad I were a-scairt o’ him. He’d take to me and me brothers now and again. But me mum took more of it, and at first, I hated him for it.”

He sighed and shook his head vigorously, as though seeking to rattle his thoughts into place, or to shake off a black memory, one of those which cling and clutch and claw at a man’s mind until he can pry it loose. He drained the dregs in his cup, perhaps hoping the liquor would weaken the dark thought’s grip, or would give him a better grip on the thoughts he sought (Men often think liquor is efficacious in such matters. We are ever wrong: drink weakens the thoughts you do want, and strengthens those you would avert. We men are fools.), and then he went on.

“But then, when I was eleven years, me da died of the plague. He fought it hard, and Mum near kilt herself trying to nurse him while caring for the children, she did love him so. But the fever took him. And then I learned why Da had been so hard on her. For as soon as he was in his grave, Mum took to the drink herself. She took to the drink like a sailor coming back into port and to the arms of his favorite whore. Soon she drank through what little money that Da saved, and then through the money for our rent, and then, when we were livin’ out in the weather and learnin’ to beg, she drank through the money we should have used for food.” He tried to drink from his cup, and frowned at the emptiness he found there; Diego held out the jug without a word, and Shane thrust his cup in the jug’s direction until it was up-filled and he could drink to drown the taste of what he said next.

“She found us a roof before we died of the cold. I’m happy that I were the eldest, as I think I was the only one who understood why old Tom Farley took us all in. Perhaps I should be grateful as he were a drunkard, or he’d never have taken a woman past 30, wi’ four young’uns and about as many teeth in her head. But he couldn’t see past the mug she kept fillin’, or the bed she filled, too.” He fell silent for a long moment, then he looked around and met each man’s gaze in turn, ending with me. “Me da kept me mum from drinkin’ and whorin’. She were weak, and wi’out a strong man, she fell into wickedness.” He drank from his cup, and then grinned and wiped his chin. “Mind, I’ve the same ways, and am glad of it – but I’ve no wee ones to care for. None as I know of, any road.” He belched. “And I have strength enough to drink meself to the ground but then arise and do my – do my duty.” He raised the cup in a toast, with such vigor he splashed liquor down his arm. “I’m a man!” he said.

I raised my cup to him. “Aye, that ye are, Shane MacManus. A good man.” I leaned over and clacked my cup against his and drank to him – though I did wave off Diego and his jug, for though I may, like Shane, have a man’s strength to drink myself insensate and then carry on the next day, I must also have a captain’s prudence: and strength to soldier on the day after a debauch does not come with the wits to plan, as I must do, when we find the Grace.

If we find the Grace.

Another voice broke the stillness then: that of Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. He spoke softly, staring into the flames all the while as though seeking wisdom there; he did not sip from his cup, though I knew Diego had already refilled it no less than thrice. He did not slur his speech, however, but spoke as clearly as one stone sober.

“My father was strong. He never used his fists; he never had to. Everyone knew that he was the master of our house. When his temper got hot, then would he should at us, and so loud was it that we thought the walls might come down, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his horn.” He smiled, though there was no humor in his one eye. “That is near enough what killed him, finally – the walls came down atop him. He was breaking a new stone face in the quarry, and there was a crack he did not know of, so when he set his bar and pried, half the whole face came down on him. It took me two days to dig him out just so we could bury him again, but we could not have him rest in unholy ground. He was a good man.” He nodded slowly. “I tried to be the man he was, but I don’t have – I don’t have his voice. I can’t shout and bring every person in hearing of me to a dead halt. I could not bring down the walls. Oh, I could break and shape stone with my hands, he taught me all of that, and I’d the size and strength of arm to keep us in coin until the fever took my mother and brother and sisters – but I’m not the man he was. ‘Tis why I’ve never married, for I do not know that I can be the master, as he was.” His gaze flicked to me, then. “’Tis why I’ve allowed as I’ll be your bosun, Captain. I hoped ‘twould make me stronger. I’d like a family. You need the strength of the Almighty to be a father, I think. To be a husband, too.” Shane was nodding in agreement – or perhaps nodding with the liquor, as the words Kelly had put forward were along a somewhat different course than Shane’s.

Still they traveled on the same heading. And I did wonder, then, had I owned strength enough to master Meredith, if our current difficulties could have been avoided. But it did not rest easy in my heart, this conceit that a man must be an Atlas, a Hercules, to take control of a woman, of a marriage. Surely it could explain why my mother never married, as it would take the true Atlas himself to overpower my mother’s boundless strength of heart; that much seemed to ring true. But I did not know if a husband for her would have made our lives better. My mother did not turn to drink as Shane’s had; perhaps if she had – and in truth, taking into consideration the trials and tribulations she faced, I could not blame her if she had turned to drink to dull the pain – then I might see it Shane’s way.

If I was stronger, could I have held Meredith to my chosen course? If I had struck her, as Shane would, it seemed, have wished, would my life and the lives of my men be better, easier, safer? Had I failed them by my scruples against striking a woman?

But there was more to be said yet: for there was another man beside our fire, with his own tale to tell. After Kelly fell silent in turn, of a sudden Diego began to speak, his English strongly accented but intelligible – I will not render its simulacrum here, but record only his meaning.

“My mother met my father when the tree he was cutting down fell on top of him. He had it near cut through and ready to drop, when a great wind came from the ocean – a piece of a hurricane, maybe, or maybe God just sneezed – came from the wrong way and pushed that tree right over backwards, came right down on top of him. Trapped him. He was far from the road, and had no one back at his home to look for him or even know he was gone, so he was stuck there four days with no food and a broken leg. It rained for him, or he’d have died of thirst; as it was, he was dying-sick and mad-tongued with a fever. And then my mother came. She was a young girl, just grown about too old for my grandfather to let her go walking in the woods alone – but not just yet. Good for my father. Good for me.

“She heard him raving with the fever, and she found him under that big old tree. He told her to go get help, find men strong enough to lift that tree off his broken leg, but she just looked at him, looked at the tree, and looked at his axe. Then she took that axe, cut her off a strong branch, and used it to pry that whole tree trunk up far enough to slide a stone under there – she had him move the stone while she held the lever, and she had a time getting him to follow her lead instead of yelling at her to go find men to help. But she did it, and after he braced the tree, she dragged him out from under it. He couldn’t walk, so she made a litter out of branches she cut and tied together with cloth from his pants, which she knew would have to be cut off of him at the doctor’s, anyway. Then she dragged him five miles, up hills and down, through jungle and brush, to town to the doctor to fix his leg and his fever.

“After the doctor cured his fever and set and splinted his leg, my father wouldn’t lie quiet and rest there – said he would rather walk home on one leg. My father, he never got along with other folks so well. His parents died in a hurricane when he was a boy, and he’d lived on his own ever since, earning pennies by sweeping out shops and running errands until he was strong enough to swing an axe, and then he cut wood. The priest in the town, the neighbors, the people who knew him all tried to put him into the orphan’s home that the Catholics had then. But he never would. Nobody could tell him what to do. When they tried to make him live with the nuns at Saint Lucia’s, he ran away, four times, until they stopped trying to keep him there. He used to say that there were only two people who could tell him what to do, and since his father was dead, that left only himself.

“He did not listen to that doctor, that’s for sure, even after he saved my father’s life with that” (I do not know the word – penny shilling? Pennasillion? A medicament, I trust.)  “He said my father must lay in the bed and rest for a month, maybe two, but my father kept standing up on one leg, swaying with the pain and the sickness, pale as a ghost, but standing. And trying to walk. The doctor wanted to hit him, my father told me, just to make him lie down – but he knew my father would have hit back.

“Then my mother came. She’d been visiting while my father healed from the fever, until her father found out that she’d been going to town to sit with a strange young man, and then he forbade her go; until three days later, when she snuck out and went to my father. She found him half out of bed, yelling at the doctor to give him a crutch so he could walk home. He still lived in the same house where his parents had been killed, and in the years since that hurricane blew the roof down on them, he had repaired it and rebuilt it and made it stronger than ever.” Here Diego paused and smiled, nodding at the structure behind us. “This house. It was the only house he ever lived in, and the same for me. My grandparents are where he buried them, over on that hill, and he and my mother are beside them, where I buried them.

“My mother walked in, and my father stopped yelling. He looked at her. He was not a good man with words, but he thanked her for saving his life. She looked at the doctor and said, ‘If he goes home, will the fever come back?’ Doctor said no, the fever was cured, but he needed to stay off his leg and let it heal – he broke the strong bone, the thigh bone, and it needed proper rest or it would never be right again.

“She nodded, and then she helped my father stand and lean on her. ‘I’ll be your crutch,’ she told him. ‘I’ll hold you up until you can stand alone.’ And then she walked him home, a young girl holding up a grown man for a full day’s travel.

“She got him home, she put him in his bed – and then she made him stay there. She tended his animals. The chickens and the goats had run off into the jungle while he was gone, but she gathered them all back again. She cared for his garden. She cleaned the house. And every day, she fought with him when he tried to get up and do for himself. Her father found out, finally, where she’d run off to, and came to get her back; but she wouldn’t leave, and Grandfather couldn’t make her: my father had a gun for hunting, and she threatened her own father with it. Said she had taken on a duty, and she’d be damned if she left it unfinished.

“She nearly had to use that gun on my father, before his healing time was done. She couldn’t keep him in the bed, but had to let him limp around and do the work he could on one leg and a crutch. But she got him to lie still by teaching him to read, as she’d learned from the nuns but he never had.”

Diego smiled again. “Then towards the end, when his leg was mended but not yet strong and true, she found another way to keep him in the bed. Nine months later, I was born. My mother was fifteen years old.” His smile faded then, and he looked down at the jug in his hand. “My father was strong. My mother was strong. But I am not. I think maybe because they tried to protect me and keep me from the troubles they had. And so because my life was soft, I grew soft. I don’t know now if that’s why the heroine got me, or if I could have been a good man if I’d never touched that stuff, if it made me weak or if my weakness made me need it, but it got me. It took a long time for it to break me, and before it did, I seemed like a man, on the outside. Nobody could tell that it hollowed me out, inside.

“Except my mother. She knew. And when my girl and I made a baby, and I wanted to marry her, my mother told me: ‘No. That girl’s no good for you, my son. And you are no good for her, nor for that baby she’s carrying, either.’ She took my chin in her hand, she made me look her in the eye. She told me, ‘This ends bad.’

“And she was right. Of course. She could see the weakness in me, in my woman. The same weakness that made me get high, get drunk, all the time. We were high when we made the baby, high when we got married. She was high when the baby was born – our little girl. We were both high when the baby died. Soon after, she oh-deed. I buried her and our daughter. Then I lose my mind, and when I come out of it, a man is dead with my knife in him, and I’m in a prison cell. I stayed there ten years. I got clean, but I didn’t get strong. When I got out, I came back home, with my mother and father, so they could be strong for me. They kept me away from the heroine. I took to the drink anyway; they couldn’t fight that weakness for me. But at least I had enough strength to keep away from another wife, from more children. I can’t dig any more graves.”

Diego took a drink from his jug then. He looked around at all of us, one at a time. “You’ve got it wrong,” he said to Shane, his voice low, calm, without accusation, but with true assurance. “Your mother was weak, you said it and it’s true. She didn’t need your father’s strength to make her good, she needed her own strength. She stole your father’s strength, and that’s what killed him.” He turned to Kelly. “Your mother, too, was weak, though not so weak as his,” he said, nodding towards Shane, who was frowning into his cup and considering Diego’s words – I could have told him that the man had hit the target dead center, but methinks that, though the liquor slowed it, that same thought was creeping through Shane’s mind. “But when your father died,” Diego went on, “she had your strength to go on with.”

Now he looked squarely at me. “You’re a strong man. You don’t need a woman who will bend to your will. You need a woman with the strength to match it. If you mean to marry and have sons, you must have a wife with the strength to rule that house. Your strength is for outside the house. You’re a captain, yes? Of a ship, somewhere? You look for it now?”

I nodded, though after a moment of hesitation. But for the nonce, ‘tis still true, and so – “Aye,” I confirmed.

He leaned forwards. “Your strength is there. Your men, your ship. If you must use that strength at home, too?” He sat back, holding one hand palm-up. “Not enough. Somewhere, it will fail.” His eyes turned sad. “I was not strong enough for my wife, for my family. The drugs and the drink made me weak, and I let them.” He gazed long at the jug in his hand, and then he upended it and drank deeply, his throat working as he swallowed the liquor. He lowered the jug again with a burst of breath, then coughed. Then he said, “My wife and daughter are buried with my parents and grandparents, with everyone who was stronger than me. Better than me.” He stood, handing the jug to Shane, who took it numbly. Looking down at me, Diego said, “Find a strong woman, one who will hold you up when you cannot stand alone. Be strong enough to hold her up when she needs you. If you can’t, then spare everyone pain: live alone and drink.”

He walked unsteadily into the house. As he did, I saw that Lynch had come to stand in the doorway, and he moved aside and let Diego pass within. Then Lynch looked at me, and held my eyes with his for a great span of time.

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

Log #73: Flight to Bermuda

Dear Reader: Hello! Thanks for continuing to come back — or thanks for checking out the site for the first time. 

This chapter is a long one, twice as long as the usual. Normally I’d split it into two and run it over two weeks, but there really wasn’t a good place to break this in the middle; there are essentially three episodes that are all of equal length, so one of the halves would be too short, the other too long.

Instead, I’m just going to slap up the whole thing, and then, with your forgiveness, I’m going to take off next weekend. The school year has started, and gotten immediately difficult; and I got the traditional cold from the little germ-factories we call “students.”

I will be back in two weeks, on the 1st of SeptembARRRRRRR. I have the rest of this part of Damnation’s adventures written out, and I am very excited to get it edited and posted; I’m not sure how many chapters it will come out to, but I guarantee that it will finish up before the end of the year. Probably by Halloween.

So please, enjoy, and next week come back and read it again. 

***

Log for October the Second of 2011

Bermuda

 

I thought that I had flown before.

That is as we have often spake, we sons of the salt, we fellows of the winds and waves. When the gale comes, and the tide flows, and the ship is clean with her ballast proper and her canvas white and strong, we fly over the seas. The breeze slips its fingers through your hair like a lover, and the ship beneath your feet dances with you: the perfect partner, every movement and every turn and every step in perfect harmony with you as you rise when she rises and fall when she falls, you are never out of synchronicity as the ship follows your every command, to speed, to slow, to turn. Unless you are high in the rigging, and then are you being led in the dance, spinning and twirling about, and you kick out your legs and twine your arms about the lines, limbs entangled in love, making every touch a caress, every breath shared as the wind fills your lungs and the ship’s sails as one, together. Then, we say, you are flying. Then, I say, you are in love.

But we are wrong. Oh, the love is true – and I miss it sorely – but that is not flying. For still, on a ship, the Earth holds you; you stand on your legs on your feet, on the deck, on the water. You sway with the movement of the rhythm of the dance, with the rise and fall of the waves. You know you are conjoined with a great creation, atop a tremendous foundation; you feel, perhaps, like a child in a sling, held and supported above the Earth, and yet still feeling, with every impact of your mother’s feet as she walks, that you are connected to the ground, to the world: babe to sling to mother to land, as man to ship to ocean to the Earth that holds the mighty sea like wine in a cup. Even in the rigging, as I have described, when the waves shift the ship, the masts and shrouds swing to and fro, and you with them – you feel the weight of the ship, of the ocean beneath it, anchoring you, holding you aloft while you fly across the sea.

In the air, I now know, there is nothing. No thing. We flew in utter incomprehensible truth, and we were seated in a plane, ensconced within its belly, surrounded by metal and glass so that we could hear the wind but not feel its kiss on our cheeks, and yet despite our insulation from all, there was no mistaking the situation: there was nothing holding us up. There was nothing tying us down. We flew. We were free. Detached, disconnected, we could have spun, tumbled end over end, top over bottom; we did not need to catch ourselves before the impact with the ground beneath – for there was no impact. There was no ground beneath us! Far below us spread out like – like a cloth on a table, aye, like a map, like the finest chart ever inked – there we could see the ocean, the Earth; but between us and that smooth expanse of blue, there was nothing. Space. Air. Aether. The magic that carried us – of which I have no words, for I have no conception – was entirely immaterial, invisible, unreal; we could see below us – for the plane did lean, when it turned, like a ship side-on to a gale or sliding down the trough of a wave, and our port or our starboard windows were suddenly faced down: and below us there was nothing. Imagine being that babe in arms, enwrapped in a cloth sling – but there is no mother, no person holding the sling, the child has lifted itself with its own will and moves forward, hovering high above the ground, untethered, untrammeled.

It was – a miracle. It was a wonder.

While it was ongoing, I lost all sense of myself as a man; I forgot my ship, my crew, my troubles; I forgot Damnation Kane entirely. I was eyes, rapt with enchantment, breath held, a body that scintillated and glowed like sparks blown from a fire. I thought nothing, felt amazement. I was free.

Until – as it seems we must, even in this age of wonders undreamt of in the world of my birth and rearing – we returned to land, our trip ended after, as our pilot us informed, better than 800 miles of travel completed in a morning. And that speed, that traversing of the very sea, was the least wondrous of what we did experience.

Alas that this, surely the most glorious hours I have known, should serve to deposit us back into this pit of vipers, this pack of malevolent and dishonest rogues with which we are surrounded. It seems that the gods are determined to give us our just due: alongside the great freedom we have now felt as we flew through the air, in light and beauty, we are now as trapped and as helpless, as enjoined and compelled, as we were released from all bonds. We have seen the heights, and now we do sink into the blackest depths. My heart is the anchor, methinks, that doth drag us downwards.

Our flying ended, we returned to the surface of the ocean – this seaplane, cleverly, is a ship first, floating to us across the waves when we waited ere the dawn at Pier Fourteen in Charleston Harbor, and then splashing back to the water like a jollyboat lowered on lines when we had reached this distant shore, of Bermuda. We were soon met by men on a boat, a true boat, though one without oars, that was propelled by some growling, spitting beast of a contraption attached to the stern like a rudder, but with a noise and a stink like the rudest of beast-wagons; the two men aboard the boat, both black-skinned, stayed silent throughout our transport from plane to shore. ‘Twas there that we met our host, the aforementioned Two-Saint.

He is a well-formed man, dark-complected as it seems these Bermudamen are, of a height with myself and standing straight, broad-shouldered and with his arms swinging freely, as a man prepared to lean into a fray, or dash to the lines in a storm, either as the circumstances merit. He smiles easily, his teeth white and straight against his skin that is the color of good earth, like seeds that might sprout goodwill and friendship – or, like the teeth sown by Jason of the Argo in days long gone, spring forth with enemies. For though this Two-Saint is true-seeming, he is not our ally, but rather our foe.

Once the initial introductions and pleasantries (As I was raised in a polite house and now spend my days surrounded by cutthroats and rogues, I stand ready to shake either hands, or fists, with those new-met; my natural inclination is for the first, but sure and these times have blown me in the latterly direction) were past, and Two-Saint had heard the names of my men as I had heard his, his nephew Jean-Paul – they are of Haiti by birth, as Claude Navarre of the Maritime Museum of Florida, he who so kindly cared for my Grace, and his nom de guerre is a corruption of their family name Toussaint – a sallow English looking fellow named Belmont, and a hulking fellow named Abner who puts me in mind of Burke, then the man moved swiftly to show that we were not guests of and not friends.

“All right,” he said, rubbing his hands together like a hungry man at a feast, “Brick told me he gave you the idea, and I give you details, yes?”

Whatever lightness remained in my heart from our wonderous flight was flung into darkness by the remembrance of that name, and that shite-grinned bastard who wore it. “We are here to seek my ship, and our crewmates,” I said, my tone as bitter as the taste in my mouth, as the blood in my heart.

Two-Saint frowned then, his hands turning into fists. He pointed one finger at me. “You are here to do as you are told. Brick told me what he’s got on you, and if you refuse him, if you refuse me, then you’re all finished. All dead.” He smiled once more then, but this had far more of the fox’s character to it: a fox gazing at a clutch of sleeping chickens. “Being Irish won’t help you, either – this island’s part of the British Empire. I call the police here, and they won’t even need to extradite you. They’ll just take you and lock you down until they try you and skin you alive for what you done back in the States.”

I looked at my men. I saw their resignation, their hopelessness.

I knew then that we were no longer pirates. For pirates are free men, and we are animals caught in a trap; the only question remaining being whether we would be killed and skinned, as he had said, or if we would gnaw off our own legs to free ourselves.

Bah. Who needs two legs? Give me freedom and a peg. ‘Tis a pirate’s life for me.

“All right, cúl tóna, then tell us what we are here to do, so we may do it and be quit of ye,” quoth I.

He frowned, his hands still in fists. “What’s this cúl tóna?”

It means he has a prick for a head. “Sir,” I replied with a smooth face. I was grateful to hear a smothered laugh from both Kelly and Lynch. Shane, having served in the King’s army, has better control over himself and gave no sign at all.

After a moment, Two-Saint nodded. “Well. You know why you are here. We go see him you do it to.”

“Aye, cúl tóna,” I replied.

Why make mock of him? Because even when I am conquered, sill I am Irish. Because even if there is no hope for my own self – and I know well that there is not – I cannot bear to steal it all from my men.

Bah. I must cease calling them my men. They are good men, loyal, strong, brave. They are better than I.

Two-Saint led the way to a pair of beast-wagons. “Two of you ride with Abner and Belmont, and two with me. You,” he pointed his finger at me, narrowing his eyes. “With me.”

I nodded. “Lynch,” I said, but got no further.

“I’ll ride wi’ ye, Cap’n,” said MacManus, stepping between Lynch and I. He looked back at Lynch. “Ye’re the only one what can share space wi’ yon great brute,” he said, thrusting a thumb at Kelly. Lynch shrugged and moved to Kelly’s side, and Shane came to mine.

I raised a brow at him. He tilted his head. “I’d speak wi’ ye,” he murmured.

Two-Saint turned and boarded a beast-wagon, his nephew climbing into the pilot’s seat. MacManus and I embarked into the rear bench, Lynch and Kelly drifting back and boarding with the sallow Englishman and the great brute Abner. Though even he was not larger than Kelly, or if he was, ‘twas by a hair’s breadth. I had to smile watching the man attempt to loom over his passengers, while Kelly met his gaze levelly.

It seems I am not the only Irishman who refuses to bend a knee without spitting on the man who’s foot is on my neck.

Once all were aboard, I placed my scabbarded sword across my lap, earning another suspicious glance from Two-Saint, for which I gave him back a smile, and we weighed anchor. The road from the shore was narrow and rough, though the beast-wagons handled it far better than an English horse-drawn wagon would have, or an Irish one, aye. Two-Saint said somewhat to his nephew, speaking French; I took this as sanction, and I turned and spoke to Shane in Irish.

“All right, man, why did ye wish to ride with me?”

He shrugged. “I know ye have a fondness for the lad, Captain, and ye choose your companions as ye see fit –” here he paused and met Two-Saint’s gaze, who was glaring at us biliously; Shane tossed him a smile and a nod, and went on, still speaking our mother tongue: “but I’ve been thinking. O’Gallows is mate, Kelly is your bosun, McTeigue our gunner – but all that be aboard the ship.” He turned to me, then. “I have been beside ye this past month we have been marooned on land. I think I’ve stood by ye.”

He paused, and I nodded. “Aye, man, ye have, and right well.”

Shane nodded in acknowledgement. “Right, so my thinking is that while we be on land, I should have something in the way of a rank. I’ve the most experience in land-fighting, too, being a King’s Army man ere I took to the sea.”

I had to nod. “Aye, ’struth.”

Shane turned a wee bit bashful then. “I was – I thought, perhaps – sergeant.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Sergeant,” I repeated – using the English word as he did, there not being a proper equal in Irish.

He nodded and scratched the back of his neck. “Aye. Sergeant at arms.”

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “So be it.” I gestured with my sword. “Shall I dub thee so?”

He looked relieved, and grinned at me. “Ah, no, t’won’t be necessary.” He frowned at the men in the front, then, who were ignoring our conversation. “Methinks we’ll bear no titles for the time being.” He grinned and looked sidelong at me. “Sir,” he said, though of course he called me cúl tóna.

I nodded. “Thank ye for paying your respects, Sergeant,” I returned. “I’ll enter it in the log, and tell the men, aye?” He nodded, and looked a mite more at ease. Then we fell into silence. I turned and watched the land pass by the window of the beast-wagon, as we jounced along the broken and pitted road – though I did note it grew smoother as we left the coast behind; especially if this be British land, I suspect we disembarked the seaplane at a point far from any official post or point of entry. This struck me as a smuggler’s road.

Though I did not know if we four be the crew, or the cargo.

This land is lovely, nonetheless. Far warmer than my Ireland, still it is as green as home, the road walled in with mighty trees , vines hanging everywhere and shrubs filling in the spaces between trunks. The air is thick with bird’s calls of a type I do not recognize, and the breeze smells rich and fecund, the sun brighter and hotter than the sun in Ireland – but this entire sojourn has been over-warm, to me. Can it be that the world is warmer, now, than it was where I should have remained?

Perhaps because it is closer to Hell?

Ere long we returned to familiar environs, inasmuch as we rode into a town with overmany people and beast-wagons, noise and stink and filth such as overwhelmed the good green earth-smell of the smuggler’s road. I had no interest in viewing such, and so I struck up a conversation with our gentle host.

“Can ye tell us anything of our task?” Shane turned from the window and interjected, “cúl tóna?” as though I had forgotten to show proper respect. I nodded and raised a hand, repeating the term as though accepting a gentle reminder of my manners; ‘twas onerous not to peal out laughter, but I think now that there was more than a touch of madness in me at that moment. I think, too, that it has not left. I fear it will never.

Two-Saint half-turned and looked me in the eye. “What Brick tell you, exactly?”

I raised an empty hand. “Exactly, nothing. He hinted and teased that we would murder a man.”

Two-Saint raised one eyebrow, and then nodded. “There’s a man, a bloody bastard, who is causing us trouble, man. His name is Hargreaves, Charlie Hargreaves.” He paused, glancing at his nephew, and then he said, “He a lieutenant of police.”

And so this was the reason why Calhoun had been so coy on the matter. This would be akin to murdering a British officer in front of a garrison, or a magistrate; there would be reprisals, rage, and recriminations after, and it would take much blood and many victims to slake the vengeful thirst of la policia. No doubt Two-Saint and the dog Calhoun intended to throw our carcasses to the wolves after we had done the deed. Shane and I exchanged a glance, and he shrugged. “We’ll no stay about,” he murmured in Irish. Aye: once the deed was done, we would soon after leave this island; what matter then what we had done while here? We would make the attempt, and succeed or fail; afterwards, future consequences did not weigh so heavy on us as they might on someone of this time and place. ‘Twas ever the reason to bring in foreign mercenaries to do the dirty business that often occurred between noblemen of any land; and who could be more foreign than we?

Though I think these men be not noble.

I did think then of one reason that would make this task easier: Two-Saint had said that this island flew the flag of our enemies. “Is he English?” I asked. I saw Shane’s eyes widen, and he nodded slowly.

“Yah,” Two-Saint replied. “That is, he’s from this island, a local, so he’s English by law.” His nephew said somewhat in French, and Two-Saint replied.

Shane and I shared a small smile. English by law, and a member of the city watch – aye, the man was English enough for killing.

The beast-wagon came to a halt, moving to the side of the road and ceasing its growling; the second wagon, with our crewmates aboard, drifted into a berth at our stern. Two-Saint pointed to a building, what seemed to be a tavern. “Hargreaves comes here every day, about now. We’ll wait here so you can see him yourselves.”

I bared a handspan of my blade. “Are we to kill him in the street, then?”

Two-Saint shook his head. “No, no! You don’t do nothing while we here! You will come back, alone, follow him, choose a place, a time. I won’t know nothing at all of when or how you do this, you understand? I will not be involved in any way.”

I slid the sword home into the sheath. “As you say, cúl tóna.” Mollified, he turned to Jean-Paul and gave an order in French; the younger man disembarked and trotted back to the other wagon, where he leaned in through the window, presumably informing Kelly and Lynch what we were about here, and what we were to do – but not now.

Two-Saint watched the tavern; I took the opportunity to speak of the only matter of import, to me. “Once this deed is done, what then?”

He shrugged and spoke without looking at me. “This is the only thing between us. When it’s done, then you do as you like, man.”

So they had carried us some eight hundreds of miles through the skies, arranged a boat, beast-wagons, half a dozen men, a smuggler’s rendezvous – for the sake of a single murder. It seems this lieutenant of la policia was a man worth considerations.

That gave me leverage.

“You say we are to follow him, aye? Learn his habits, choose a time, lay him low and leave no trail back to you?”

He looked at me now. “That’s it.” He pointed at me. “And you understand what will happen if you fuck this up, yah?”

I smiled at him. His nephew returned to the wagon then and resumed his seat behind the wheel. “Aye. But you understand that we will need time, transport, and accommodations while we course this hind?”

He blinked at me. “While you what?”

“While we hunt,” I said, speaking slowly.

He nodded then, gesturing assent. “All good, man. You get a place to sleep, and cars, sure.” His gaze returned to the tavern.

“Aye, that’s well,” I said. “We will need – cars. Two of them. And for one, a pilot who knows the coves along the northern coast of the island.”

His gaze returned slowly to me. “Why do you need this?” he inquired, and I could hear him gripping tight to his patience.

I gave up any pretense of subtlety. “We did not come here for this task. This was what we traded in order to gain passage to this island.” He started to protest, but I raised a hand and spoke over him; he stopped speaking and listened to me as I said, “We will do this thing, send your Lieutenant Hargreaves down to Hell for you. But it will take some time, and it will not require all of us as we stalk the man – in truth, it seems the four of us would be a bit too apparent, considering our complexions.”

Two-Saint and his nephew exchanged a glance at that, the nephew nodding agreement.

I went on. “Hence, my proposal is this. Two of us will watch and follow this man Hargreaves, while the other two will pursue the course that brought us to this island in truth.”

Two-Saint said, “And what is it that brought you here, then?”

I leaned close and spoke softly. “We seek my ship.”

He nodded slowly. “Which is in a cove along the north coast, you believe.”

I sat back, nodding. “Aye. We were so informed.”

“But you don’t know which cove – and you don’t know how to find out. That’s why you need – a pilot? You mean a guide?”

I shrugged. “A man who knows the coast and knows the roads, so that we may search.”

He nodded his understanding. “You know, man, this island’s not very big – but there’s still many coves on the coast. Many places you could hide a boat. Are you sure it’s even in the water still?”

I smiled at him. “Aye. She’s in the water, or at most beached beside it. And my ship will be hard to mistake for any other vessel in these waters.” My smile vanished. “But that be our concern, and none of yours. We will take on your concern, and also our own – leaving you care-free, and costing you naught but the lending of two cars and one man.” I paused to let him chew on that, and then put out a hand. “Do we have an accord?”

He thought for a moment more, exchanged a few words with his nephew, and then said, “All right, man – you got a deal.” We clasped hands to seal the agreement.

Just them, Jean-Paul said, “There he is!” He pointed, though he was careful to keep the gesture small, unseen by anyone without the beast-wagon – the car.

We turned to look at the man we would kill.

After a moment, Shane said softly, “Well, he’ll be easy to follow, sure enough.”

He was the tallest man I have ever seen. Standing head and shoulders above everyone else around, he was lighter of skin than Two-Saint and his men, but still of the same race; his head was shaved, and he wore a beard on his chin. He was thin as a mast but for an appreciable belly; this was a man who enjoyed his pleasures. I could observe, as well, the play of muscle and sinew in his arms, as he wore a shirt with abbreviated sleeves, nearly a tunic but with a collar; his neck, too, was columned with muscle, sloping down into his shoulders, his hands large-knuckled and strong. We watched him saunter along the street towards the tavern, passing other folk with his long, long strides – but he looked neither left nor right as he walked, seeming indifferent to his surroundings; he did not even look down at the people before him, who scuttled out of his way, ducking their heads, clearly preferring to escape his notice entirely – for they were all surely aware of him, eyes widening and mouths dropping agape all along the walk as the people caught sight of him.

As he neared the tavern, of a sudden a young boy ran at full wind out of an alley, and nearly barreled into the tall man; but without glancing to the side – without even, so far as I could discern, moving his eyes in their sockets – this man paused his step, allowing the boy to sprint by him and away before he went on, unperturbed. Without seeming to be, this lieutenant had a fine awareness of his surroundings, and the quickness, the celerity, of a hunting cat.

This was a dangerous man.

“This may take some days,” I said to Two-Saint. “That is no man to be trifled with.”

Where many a man – particularly a man like this, clearly one who lived against the law of the land, and with violence and blood and steel in his heart and hands – would have scoffed and called us cowards, or raged and insisted we move with alacrity, Two-Saint merely nodded. “You speak the truth, man,” he said. “All truth.” We watched as the man disappeared into the tavern.

Then Two-Saint turned to me. “Take all the time you need, man,” he said. “So long as you get it done.”

Two-Saint gave a sign to Jean-Paul, who leaned out of his window and waved to the car-beast astern; then he began the growling, and we moved away and along the street, slowly at first and then more rapidly as we turned a corner and left our would-be prize behind.

“What are your thoughts?” I inquired of Shane, speaking Irish in a low voice.

He tilted his head in thought, something of a shrug as he gazed out the window at the island sweeping by. “If we had the crew I would say we should attack his chamber as he slept. Though I would expect to lose at least three men in the process.”

“Aye,” I replied, “but we have only the four of us, and I like not the thought of losing three in order to kill that one.”

He shrugged again. “We must look for our chance.“ He turned to meet my gaze. “The belly gives me hope. The belly is the key: it is where he is soft.”

I nodded thoughtfully; he had seen clear. And he was right that we would need to stalk this Hargreaves very carefully. “You and Lynch should be the ones to watch him.”

He smiled and nodded. “Aye. Kelly’d be seen in an hour’s time. And you must seek the ship, Captain.”

“Aye,” I said with a slow nod. I wished, though, that I could tell him then, and Lynch, and Kelly and all the rest of them that I sought only to free the ship and return her to my men before I left them all without the burden of my doomed folly.

I turned to my window, then, and saw that we had once more retreated from the town to the greenwood. “Where are we bound?” I asked out host.

“We going to the place where you sleep, eat, get ready to do your work. I got a safe house, with a man to take care of things, make you food, all of that. Diego, his name is.” He turned then and proffered a brilliant smile. “You like him, I think, man.”

Ere a quarter of an hour had gone, we left the road for a track through the wood, which ended at a wooden house, somewhat ramshackle but with all four walls and a roof, a door and windows with wooden shutters thrown open. A man seated before the house arose as we came near; he was holding a white hen, which he cast gently aside to flutter her way to the ground. The man was wrinkled of face and white of hair, but he stood straight and seemed to move with ease; his glare, though was, singularly malevolent: his eyes wide and round under high arched brows, the corners of his mouth drawn down as his nostrils flared wide, and I saw his lips moving as he muttered what I took to be imprecations and defamations, cast willy-nilly across a broad swath, as his gaze roved from our car-beast to the one following and then back once more.

Our car came to a halt, and Two-Saint emerged, with a hand raised in salutation. The man, focusing on Two-Saint, threw up his hands and spat, and then turned, threw open his door, and stomped inside.

Two-Saint bent and leaned into the car-beast, smiling at us with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “All right, man, Diego he get rooms ready for you, then he cook you something for your supper. I hope you like goat, because Diego, he don’t cook the chickens. They his friends.” He flashed a glance at his nephew, who laughed.

I looked at Shane, who shrugged. “Get the lay of the place, aye?” I asked him.

“Aye, we’ll do,” he replied.

I met Two-Saint’s gaze. “Where does Master Diego keep his goats?”

The smile faded a bit. “’Round the back there.” He pointed with a thumb back over his shoulder.

I disembarked, and Two-Saint straightened to meet my gaze. “Will ye leave your man as our guide, or send another?” I inquired, as I took the knife from my boot, checked the edge, and stuck it in my sash. I whistled as Shane emerged, and tossed him my scabbarded sword – ‘twas not the tool for preparing a goat for eating.

Two-Saint’s smile left entirely. “We’ll leave that car for you to use, for Hargreaves. I’ve got a man who knows the water; he’ll come with a second car.”

I nodded, raised a hand in farewell, and went around the house to the back. The old man was just leading a yearling goat with a rope tied around its neck to the back of the house. He frowned when he saw me. I didn’t speak, I merely looked around until I saw where he slaughtered his kine; a stump with an axe, a long-bladed knife, a frame for hanging and a trough to catch the blood. I moved the trough under the frame, and then took the rope off it and went to where he stood with the goat, which had been bleating nervously and pulling at the rope collar, but was now struck with curiosity when it spied me. I scratched its chin, took the rope on its neck and led it close, murmuring softly in Irish, telling it what a fine and handsome beast it was. When I had it close, I looped the rope around its rear legs and quick-raised it to the top of the frame, ignoring its bleats and kicks, swinging the hooves away from me as I had learned as a lad in Belclare. I drew my knife, proffered it to the farm’s master, but he waved me on; I saw that his expression was now more thoughtful than irate.

I nodded, knelt by the swinging goat, and said the brief prayer of thanks that Mam taught me, and then I cut its throat and held it until it stilled, catching the blood in the trough below. When the stream of blood slowed to a trickle, I looked back at the man Diego.

He nodded. “Good,” he said. “Come.” He led the way into the house.

The interior was what I would expect of a white-haired landsman: the house was simple, with three rooms; two held beds, one with bunks set atop each other, where I and my men would sleep, and the third room the large common room, both kitchen and sitting room, furnished with a good, solid table and chairs, and a well-work cushioned chair drawn up by the largest window, with the best light. I saw none of the modern lights or gewgaws, no magic windows, no enchanted cupboard to keep food cool; just a lamp and some candles, a large and well-thumbed Bible, a basket of half-mended leather harness and bits, and some rope ends half-spliced.

My men – the men were standing in the main room as we came in, and as they met my gaze, they all smiled: for the first time since we came to this new world, we had found a place that felt like home. The old man cleared his throat. “Welcome.”

I nodded thanks. “Thank ye. We’re right glad to be here.”

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

Log #72: Parlay

Log

October 2

 

Lynch has had word from Calhoun. We will parlay with him this eve at a tavern called BuckaRudy’s. Lynch has somehow located a map of this city on his eye-phone, and so we are setting out now, as it is a distance of some five miles from our camp. We have considered plundering a beast-wagon, but there are too many possible avenues towards failure: it may be of a sort we can not manage, we may not find the key that will unlock its motion, or la policia may hunt us down, especially if we stay within the city’s bounds. We have observed many and many a beast-wagon bearing the colors and pennants of la policia here; they roam constantly like a pack of mongrel dogs at a fish market. They would catch us up quickly. We could murder a beast-wagon’s master and be assured of our possession of a functioning wagon – but I do not wish to commit more murders. Not when our last blood-letting has brought us to this pass, serving as dogsbodies to a cur.

Nay. We will walk to meet our – master. Call it penance. Christ, but I’d wear a hair shirt and a crown of bloody thorns if I could absolve my men of their sins committed in my name. But my name is not Jesus of Nazareth.

My name is their doom.

 

Later

I have discovered that I have the capacity to hold my temper and my tongue. I have discovered also that so doing has burned my soul, my mind, my strength, all to ashes. I feel naught but gray cold, and sure I am that a stiff gale would cast me out into the darkness, scatter me to the points of the compass and out of the knowledge of men. Sure I am, as well, that such would be a better fate than servitude under that capering jackal Calhoun.

I record all of this precisely, so that I may take to heart, what Calhoun is, and the depths of my failure in trusting him.

We arrived at this BuckaRudy’s tavern before the appointed hour and with a great thirst, owing both to our long tramp across this city and our despondency over our circumstances. I wished to grip tight to my wits for the parlay, and so asked only for ale, but Shane and Kelly bought a bottle of whiskey to share, and wasted no time in emptying it down their gullets and ordering a second. Lynch asked for another of his root beers; he has tired of being told that he is too young for a man’s drink – this brave youth who has stood beside the stoutest of Irishmen, who has both spilled and shed blood – and so he makes do with a lad’s refreshment (Though of course, some of the whiskey made it into his cup). Too, he sees little cause to celebrate. He wished to converse with me, to attempt to lay a strategy for our proceeding to Bermuda, but I cannot; I have no wish to presume command, to give orders, to make decisions. I will merely do as I am told until I can free myself of my responsibilities. The weight of them is crushing me. So we sat and drank in sullen silence until Calhoun arrived, a full half of an hour past the appointed time, the laggard.

He smirked and clapped me on the back when he did come: that was the first flame that I had to smother inside of me, lest I stand and cut his gizzard out with my boot knife. “How you boys doin’ tonight?” he asked, in jolly tones. “Havin’ a good time? Aint this place the shit?” He signaled to the barkeep, hollered for a bud (To my consternation: what have flowers to do with drinking?), and brought another chair to our table.

To the very depths of my soul – and it has sunk deep, these past days – I had no wish to converse with that pox pustule on a hog’s arse. But Lynch was pale and wide-eyed, clearly ready to draw steel as he had the last time they two had exchanged words; and Shane and Kelly, though they blinked slow and bleary-eyed at him, still they bared their teeth and clenched their fists; if I did not speak for us all, and continue this parlay in a peaceful manner, sure and the three of them would spill blood. And then be clapped in the gaol for it.

“Aye,” I said, and every word tasted and smelt of ash. “’Tis a fine tavern. And we be well, as well as we can be.” I leaned closer. “We stand ready to depart, so soon as our path be clear. Be it so?”

Calhoun smiled his wolf’s grin at my ire, my impatience. “Woe, woe – hold on, pals! I aint even got my beer yet!”

Lynch stood, knocking back his chair; his hand was under his shirt, the which he had pulled over his sash to conceal his armament. “By the Lord of Hosts, you strutting cockerel, I will tear off your ballocks and pin them to your ears if you make mock of us!” By his last word, I was standing as well, a hand on his wrist, trying to calm him and ease him back into his seat. He looked around, at my urging; he saw that he had drawn the attention of the taverngoers, and he sat down once more, as quickly as he had risen – but with his hand still inside his shirt.

A barmaid, wearing a pretty frown, brought Calhoun’s ale on a tray. “You boys all right?” she inquired. “Ever’body doin’ O’Kay?”

Calhoun took his ale with a broad grin and drank from the bottle, blowing out a satisfied sigh. “We’re doin’ better than O’Kay, darlin’—we’re as fine as wine in the sunshine.” She looked to the rest of us, still frowning prettily – but then she jumped, as Calhoun pinched her bottom. She shook her head and departed angry, as Calhoun guffawed uproariously.

Lynch leaned forward and slapped the table. “We be here not for pleasure, ye dog! And remember that ye have no hold over me, and my patience with ye is near it’s end!”

Calhoun finished his laugh, smiled at Lynch, scratched his belly, drank from his ale. Then he leaned forward to speak in a gentle tone of false sympathy. “Hey –” he looked to me, feigning confusion though a hint of low humor shone in his shite-colored eyes. “How come ye‘all aint stayin’ at Merry’s no more? I went there lookin’ for you, Damny – hey, that’s pretty good, aint it?” And then he began singing. “Ohhh Damny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin’!” His voice rose to a bellow, and he capped his caterwauling with another mocking belly-laugh. Lynch snarled and started to stand again – but I forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. “We are observed,” I hissed at him in Irish, and he looked around the room; Calhoun’s antics had drawn the attention of half of the patrons: as the dog had surely intended. Lynch sat back down.

Calhoun returned to his topic of discussion, the which I had suspected he would raise. He had won, after all, and I doubt if Brick Calhoun has ever failed to gloat, even once in his pestiferous life. “I guess you ‘n’ Merry are on the outs, huh? That’s too bad, Damn – hey, that’s a damn shame,” and he guffawed again, clashing his bottle of ale against mine so vigorously that foam sprayed from both, spattering my men, who snarled and moved forward; they drew back once more at my calming gesture. I needed to bring this gathering to an end, before it reached the end my men so eagerly sought.

“Aye,” said I, and drank from my ale – the which I did not enjoy (I do not understand the foam. Why does their ale froth so? And why is it served so bloody cold? ‘Struth, this country’s weather has been overwarm throughout our time here – but the ale in these taverns is so cold that one can not even taste it, as one’s tongue is sheeted in hoarfrost at the first sip. Though perhaps that is the intent, as the ale tastes better when it does not.) but I needed to wash the taste of the ashes of my fallen pride out of my throat. “I have not been a gentleman in my behavior with her, and so I am fallen from her grace.” Even as I used the words, my heart broke in my breast – for I am fallen from my own Grace, as well, and I think I will never regain her again, not truly.

Calhoun nodded, with that sheen of impish delight still in his pig’s eyes. “Yea, I hear you. Well, I tell you what,  it may even be better this way, because if you were still sniffin’ around her, I mighta been forced to show her that viddy-oh,” and here he unpocketed his cell-phone, placing it flat on the table and spinning it idly with his finger, daring me to snatch it, “and that Meredith, she likes her a bad boy to warm up that fireplace o’ hers – but a fellow killin’ fellows? Usin’ some big ol’ pigsticker to cut some son-bitch’s head off, near enough?” He shook his head and pulled from his bottle. “That shit don’t play, Damny-boy. Not with the high and mighty perfect Ms. Vance.”

I nodded. I did not reach for his ‘phone: I do not understand them, but I know that the magic window’s vision is not contained within the window itself, merely seen through it, and so taking it would be useless provocation, and surely Calhoun’s intended goal, an excuse to respond in kind. I swallowed more ash. “Aye. I am not the man for her.” I met his gaze. “I am the man for you. Tell us what you would have of us.”

Calhoun’s eyes widened. “Woe, there, fellows – I aint havin’ none o’ that faggot stuff talked around me.” Why he brought up sticks of wood, I have not a clue. But it seemed to break through his amicable facade, and at last, we got to the meat of the matter. He leaned close and spoke low. “All right, we can get down to business. Aint like you four fuck-ups is my kinda comp’ny. So here’s the deal. I got a buddy, got a sea-plane, six-seater so it’ll take all of you boys, even that big bastard, there,” he said, gesturing at Kelly. “Tomorrow mornin’ he’s gone be at the harbor, Pier Fourteen, and ye’all gone meet him ‘bout six, six-thirty.” He grinned. “Sorry if that’s too early. Say, I hope you fellows can handle a hang-over.” I did not grasp his meaning, and so gestured for him to go on; anything he gibbered out while grinning thus was without import, I knew. “Then ye’all flies to Bermuda. Ye’all ‘ll meet my partner, Two-Saint’s his name – that’s Two, like two,” he held up two fingers, “and saint like New Orlands.”

‘Tis amazing to listen to a kack-headed dullard endeavor to explain somewhat. They attempt to illuminate what does not require illumination – what signifies it if I know the derivation or composition of this man’s name? Will there be hordes clamoring to meet with us following our arrival in Bermuda? Would the game be ended if we went with a man calling himself Three-Saint, or a Two-Devil? And then what the bloody eejit tried to clarify was muddied further by his words, for I knew nothing of this New Orlands, nor its reputation for saintliness; I did, however, know the Catholic saints, as what Irishman does not, even if he holds not with the Catholic Church as I do not. But it signifies not, and so I nodded that I comprehended him – ever the best response to a fool – and he went on.

“Two-Saint gone set ye’all up there with what ye’all gone need to do the job, but since ye’all aint comin’ in official like, ye’all might as well bring your own shootin’ irons – and maybe that big head-chopper you got, Damny. That might come in real handy.”

I nodded. “And what is the task that we will see through to its completion?”

He sat back, staring at me – I will not say thoughtfully, as I doubt he thinks thoughts with any coherence. Perhaps “shrewdly.” He drained the last of his ale, raised the empty bottle over his head and shook it as a signal to the barmaid. Then quoth he, “Why, you gone do what you boys do best.” He dragged his thumb across his throat. I put a hand on Lynch’s arm where it rested on the table; I knew that he would be tempted to make good on Calhoun’s gesture here and now, but with steel rather than flesh drawing a sharp line across that gullet. I knew he would because I was surely tempted myself. “Only difference,” Calhoun went on, his voice pitched only for our ears, “is that ye’all gone be doin’ it to a cop.”

The barmaid brought him ale, and another for me and a third root beer for Lynch. Shane and Kelly were not yet through their second bottle, their drinking having come to a halt as they waited for the signal to out blades and cut Calhoun to ribands. I nodded and thanked her for the fine service; I noted that she gave Calhoun his drink from across the table and out of reach of his hand, a caution that made him grin.  The lass departed and we all drank; then I did ask Calhoun, “What is a cop?”

He choked on his ale, and had I not had a bellyfull of ash, I would have laughed at it; Shane and Kelly did chortle drunkenly, mockingly. Calhoun frowned at them as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Ye’all fuckin’ with me?” he asked.

I gave him a level look, holding tight to my patience. “I can assure you we are not.”

He shook his head. “Jesus wept. A cop, dumb-ass. The five O’. The Po-lease.”

Now I garnered the meaning. “La policia.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Now ye’all fuckin’ meck-see-can. Yea, sure, whatever.” He drank from the bottle, draining it at a draught. Then he rose, and Lynch and I with him – Lynch pushing his chair back and gripping his weapon, lest Calhoun begin a kerfuffle. A few heartbeats later, Shane and Kelly staggered to their feet, as well. “Well boys,” Calhoun said, “it’s been real. But I got to be goin’. Remember, six o’clock in the mornin’, Pier Fourteen. Don’t miss the buss.” He saluted us apishly, a finger tapped to his forehead. “Thanks for the beers. Give that honey a good tip, now, she got a fine ol’ ass.” And then off he went, swaggering out of the door without a glance back.

We paid for the ales (Thankful am I now that Shane and Kelly did see to it that we should have some coin of the realm) and departed. Kelly and Shane were stumbling, but the journey will sober them sufficiently. It does seem as though we are meeting men allied with Calhoun, rather than going into any immediate peril; we must not put trust in them, but neither need we put blades in them. A brief consultation with Lynch, and we two sober men agreed that we should all bear directly for our departure, once we revisited our camp to retrieve our weaponry and what equippage we have accumulated. It took us most of the hours of darkness to walk to the pier, where we now rest, my men sleeping off their drink as I keep this log and Lynch gazes into his eye-phone.

I will speak to him, now. I will make him see that he need not accompany we three, we doomed fools, as we dig deeper into this pit where we be trapped. He is still free, and should remain so: he should remain here. I will tell him.

 

Later

I suppose that it should not surprise me that Lynch should be so adamant that he will stay by our sides, will fight for our cause. I am not certain if this loyalty warms, or chills me.

All I feel is ash.

But soft – I think that our vessel has arrived.

To Bermuda.

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

Log #71: Captain No More

October 1

Dear Diary,

The government charter is finished. Three flight days stretched to five, like I hoped. I managed, despite my life descending into a pit of burning pigshit, to be both professional and friendly when Dr. Sandhu smiled and said they would love to hire me again, which made me feel a little better even though it SUCKS that this job is over.

But then I went home, and found that the pirates have left port, all except the young one, Balthazar Lynch. It should have cheered me up. It didn’t. Especially not after I talked to Balthazar about what happened. He didn’t want to talk to me, in fact I think he sort of hates me, though I’m not sure why. Maybe he thinks what that pig son of a bitch he calls Captain thought, that I was owned by some fucking man, and that I was a slut for using my “feminine wiles” – fucking feminine wiles?!? What the fuck??

I have to stop thinking about it. It just makes me furious.

Anyway, I talked to Balthazar (What a name!) and I found out some of what happened. I should have known, though. I saw the bruises on that chauvinist son of a bitch even before I hit him (and kicked him, and slapped him, and I should have kicked him right in the dick and then spit in his goddamn face! No. Stop, Mer. Stop.) and I should have known. Hmmm, let me think, who do I know that would come around my house, claim he owned me, and show a ring that looks just like the one Mama gave me for my 15th birthday, and then get into some knockdown, drag-out fight about it?

Looks like Damnation the Chauvinist has met Mr. Brick Calhoun, violent felon and Stalker Extraordinaire. And it turned out just about as well as I thought, though I am glad no one died. Balthazar wouldn’t tell me everything that happened, he just shook his head and clammed up no matter what I said after that.

Lord, I hope Damnation hasn’t gotten mixed up with Brick. Sure as eggs in April, someone will end up dead.

No. You know what, Di-Di? I am not going to feel bad about this. That fucking pig took Brick Calhoun – Brick! Fucking! Calhoun! – at his word. Believed that I was taken, that I was owned by that redneck turkey-fucker. Believed that, whatever flirting he and I may have done, I did it while I was involved with another man who I never mentioned to him. Believed that I would be like that, that all women would be like that, simply because we are women when, oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE shows that men are the faithless pigs who will fuck anything that will let them and most things that won’t. Then, instead of asking me nicely why the stupid ugly man would say such a stupid ugly AND OBVIOUSLY FALSE thing, he attacked me. If he had spoken to me about it like a civilized human being – like a gentleman – then I could have explained why nothing Brick says is ever true, especially not about me. Then maybe I could have gotten him and his equally stupid friends to testify that Brick started the fight, and he could have gone back to jail and I would be safe.

Oh, sorry, Diary. Didn’t mean to cry on you. I’m just so scared. He was at my house. Doing violence, causing mayhem. And claiming he owns me. He was wearing my ring.

What am I going to do? Thankfully, I haven’t actually seen him myself, not since that night I went to the Watermark with Melly and he was there. I suppose he’s busy dealing with Damnation. Maybe I should be happy that sexist asshole was around to run interference for me with that other psycho.

Maybe the redneck asshole and the Irish asshole will vanish together, and leave me in peace. But I suppose that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it?

Oh right. I forgot. Nana apologized to me for having the wrong idea about Damnation, and for letting that pig say all those terrible things to and about me. Oh my GOD we both cried and it was terrible and I can’t say anything more about it except I love my Nana with all of my heart and everyone else’s heart, too.

 

I called Jerry Rampaneau. He was ever so happy to hear from me, since usually he’s the one who has to call me – Lord, he probably thinks I’m flirting with him. Good God Almighty, Diary, how many men think they can own me? Why does this have to keep happening, and happening, and happening? But he said he’d have a client for the day after tomorrow, and that he could line one up for probably every day after that. Tomorrow I’ll go over the plane, and then I’ll fly Dirty Old Man Charters for as long as I can. Because as long as I’m in the sky, I know Damnation Kane and Brick Calhoun will leave me alone.

I’ll have to pad my shorts so my ass doesn’t get pinch-shaped bruises on it.

God damn all men.

 

 

BLog

i see on my phone a word blog al the tym so i wil cal this BLog for B. Lynch log.

mayhap she is not a slut. i red sum uv hur diry becuz Captin was diseeved and lyed 2 and that man brick sed Mery was his woman. he had hur ring i saw it. she was gon al day and so i went in hur rum 2 see wut i can find. i find hur diry. i red it sum uv it. i got anguree becuz she cal Captin naymz and say he haz a lidl prik and cal him a lyer but Captinz not a lyer. i tor that payj owt 2 sho Captin so he wil no wut she thinks uv him.

but i red mor. she is scard uv brick. she duzint luv him. she is not his. he is the lyer not Captin. i wantid 2 tel Captin but i was 2 angeree withim. and then he is trapt by brick and now he is gon. i wood find a way 2 kil brick but Captin needz him 2 get 2 bermyooduh and if he dyz then Captin and kellee and shayn are in trubl with lawz. i tol brick if he hurts Captin i wil kil him.

i hav to tok 2 chester abowt vidyo.

i hav 2 be redy 2 go if brick senz wurd becuz Captin wil go and i wil go withim. no matr ware no mater how stoopid heez beein abowt mery vans or abowt brick. he is my Captin. i faloh him alwayz.

i luv him alwayz.

mindy sayz i must tel him. but i cant wen his hart is ful uv mery vans. i cant wen the men are arownd. i cant when he thinks he is not a gud man. and he wil be angeree at me 4 lying 2 him.

pleez God let us get back to the Grace. then Captin will be hapee then i can tel him the trooth.

i no hoo 2 cal. Captin is in trubl withe lawz so he needz help withe lawz. the lawz uv this plays uv this tym. he needz McNally. i remembr how he rote his naym and i can find him with my phon. i wil cal him and ask 4 help 4 Captin.

 

 

The Last Captain’s Log

On this day, the First of October in the year 2011 anno domini, I do hereby record my intention to relinquish and abdicate my position as Captain of the ship the Grace of Ireland, and commander of her crew.

I record this as my intention and not an act for a single reason. I am not currently in possession of my ship, nor do I have before me my crew. When it is possible to achieve that confluence of circumstances, then will I declare this as a fait accompli. I record my intention so that, should I fall in the attempt to regain my ship and the freedom of her crew, they will know what was in my mind and my heart, and may act accordingly, without scruple or hesitation on my behalf.

To any of my men reading this: the Grace is yours. If she is mine to give, then I give her, in entirety and in perpetuity, to the collective ownership of all of the good men who came with her under my command from Ireland of old to this place and time. I make the obvious exception that Donal Carter, Ned Burke, and Sean O’Flaherty have no rights and no claim to the Grace. Any other men who survive should consider themselves the masters of the Grace and should dispose of her according to your wills. As for my body, let it rot; for my immortal soul, the same; my honor has been decimated and desecrated by I myself, and therefore I proscribe and deny any attempts to avenge me, to consecrate me, or to save me, should such noble intentions enter into your hearts. Do not. I am undeserving of justice.

 

With my signature I make this document of binding power and authority.

Captain Damnation Kane

 

***

 

There. ‘Tis done. As, it seems, I should have done long ago; perhaps if I had, then we would not now be here – in this now. Perhaps my men would all be alive. Surely I would be less of a damned fool, or if I were still a fool, if ‘tis the inevitable result of my being and not a momentary caprice of my fate, at the least the consequences of my folly would be insignificant, as they would affect only me and no other.

I must say, writing this, determining on this path, has lifted a terrible weight from my shoulders. First the weight of authority: I feel great solace in knowing that I will no longer need make decisions, or at the least that my decisions will affect none but my own self. Second is the weight of my mistakes: I have felt petrified, turned into stone, by the full and pernicious awareness of how I have failed, these past months. Yesterday I could not come to a single decision, not even when MacManus and O Dubhdoireann begged me to do so; I could think of nothing but how my failure had put those two stout men into the clutches of an extortioner, a worm as low as Brick Calhoun, who yet somehow was able to get the best of me. So when Shane and Kelly caught me up, walking slowly – plodding, trudging despondently – eastwards from Dame Margaret’s home, I could offer them no guidance, could not bring myself to command them. They asked whither we were headed; I said I knew not. They asked what we must do next; I said I could offer neither plans nor suggestions for them. They asked me what my wishes were; I said I had none.

So now, we have found a small copse of old trees where we may sleep on the ground. Kelly and MacManus have decided that we should prepare ourselves, so much as we are capable of it, for the course that lies ahead, and so they have sought out and purchased maps of the place we currently inhabit – the large Americalish city of Charleston, in a province called South Carolina – and of the great Atlantic to our east, and the coastline, and even of the island of Bermuda, which is our eventual destination. They have decided that we must accrue funds, and so we have acquired hats and masks, as in Florida when I played the highwayman with Lynch and McTeigue. We have raided three small shops of their dollar-papers. I have carried my weight as a fighter on these raids, but all of the commands and decisions have come from Kelly and Shane, who are clearly performing better than I could, as we remain uncaptured, without a threat of doom lowering over us, and we have already achieved our goal.

‘Tis further proof that I must not be Captain any longer. When we return to the Grace, I shall make it so in perpetuity.

Perhaps I should not wait. Perhaps I should simply relinquish all claims, all allegiances, and walk away. Brother Bob told me the country of America stretched west for thousands of miles; I should like to see that, I think. I have no reason to believe that I can return to mine own time, and though I would give much to see my mother once more, sure and there will come a day when I shall see her never again on this side of the veil. If it had not been this voyage, it would have happened when I fell in battle, or my ship sank in a storm, or a fever took her from me or me from her. And if none of those, then one day, age and time would sever our bond. Time has so done. Perhaps I should simply accept this as our eternal separation, grieve for her, and – continue.

Without the intent to return to my time, I have no more need for my ship. If I am gone, then my crew will have no reason to attempt to defend or recapture the Grace. They should have little trouble freeing themselves from Hobbes’s clutches – if he even holds them still – and he may have my ship to do with what he will. I wish him well of her.

I will consider this. I could send Kelly, Shane, and Lynch to aid the others, and to bear a message to Hobbes: I am gone, and the ship is his.

I will consider it.

 

***

 

Lynch has come, bearing messages. Seeing him as he approached our camp, I was struck with both shame at my indecision – for I have not yet reached a determination regarding my abdication, whether I should enact it immediately or once I have retrieved my Grace – and with anticipation that we might be moving forward, that Calhoun had arranged our passage and we might depart for Bermuda and the final stage of our quest. But ‘twas not so: instead, Lynch brought word, from two unexpected directions.

First, he brought a letter from Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn. I have read it over, and thought through it, and I see what they say and what they do not say: first and foremost, my ship and my men are indeed held in Bermuda, by Hobbes and an ally – said ally is likely that dark man I did see with Hobbes when we sank the Sea-Cat. The next most vital information is this: they have set us a trap. Ian and Vaughn spoke of Clear Island, where Hobbes tricked us with his derelict ship; I can expect something similar here.

Less clear are the details about this local man. They say he is a man of learning similar to my mother’s, and the man admires her work; do they mean her leadership of our clan? Her druid’s knowledge of the natural world? And what is all this about Raymond Fitzpatrick, and my blood? Fitzpatrick is from Belclare, as am I; I am sure that we have some blood tie far back, but I could not name nor delineate it, so minor must it be; why would he claim closer kinship? What do they mean, he paid the ultimate price? Has Hobbes murdered my man?

This settles the matter for me. Hobbes is killing my men, in hopes of luring me to him; therefore I cannot yet abandon my duties. We will go to Bermuda, find the Grace, free my men, and deal with Hobbes.

Then I will leave my ship forever, her Captain no more.

 

Ah yes – Lynch brought word, too, that Master McNally, who received this letter through Claude Navarre, who had it direct from Llewellyn through the mails of this time (And of course Hobbes and his ally read the letter’s contents before that; the absurdity about the boy’s trustworthiness makes that clear, and explains their need to be circumspect), desires to speak with me as soon as I can contact him. Lynch offered the lending of his eyephone, but my glare sufficed as response, and he left without another word, his thin shoulders slumped in defeat. I am shamed to have disappointed him. I will endeavor, this one last time, to stand and deliver a worthwhile result: enemies defeated, men freed. I wish to bid Lynch farewell fondly, not with downcast eyes. McNally can wait, though he has my gratitude for his continued kind friendship to us.

Damn that Calhoun, when will his arrangements be made? My patience, never large, has left me entirely. I fear I may go mad before we reach Bermuda.

Tcha. I have lost all else; why not my mind, as well?

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

Log #70: Blackmail

Log

I am a fool.

I cannot now conceive of what madness struck me and persuaded me to trust Calhoun. Lynch, of course, had the right of it, and did not grant one iota of faith in that lying, mendacious blackguard; and so is Lynch innocent, both of folly, and of murder.

It is only we three, Kelly, Shane and myself, who are murderous fools.

After the slaughter, we returned to Dame Flanagan’s abode, Lynch opening the portal for MacManus and Kelly, though I am still barred from the house owing to my mistreatment of Meredith Vance. I laid my head in the beast-wagon, of course, as I have done these last many days; I kept my log, full of pride and vanity, and then slept the contented slumber of the victorious, of the righteous.

Until this morn, when I found that I had slept in the innocent oblivion of a fool for days; even though I have walked about, spoken, fought, struck devil’s bargains and, aye, committed more than one murder.

I discovered this in the late morning, near midday, when I was on the porch with my companions, plotting our course once we reach Bermuda, trying to determine how we would find our ship in that place, and how retrieve her. Lynch was within the house, pursuing I knew not what course. As we palavered thus, we were interrupted by the arrival of one Brick Calhoun, Bastard of Charleston. He arrived in a different beast-wagon than the decrepit tin-pot he had steered last night; this one was tall and shining like new silver, where it wasn’t lacquered a rich, gleaming black; the shape was more akin to a proper wagon, having a compartment for men near to the front and a long, low bed for cargo behind it. He came to a halt, making the beast growl – its voice was deeper and more powerful by far than the usual run of beast-wagons; this one made the window panes in Dame Flanagan’s house tremble as if in a storm blown down from the wintry north – and then he emerged, strutting, smiling, as if he had not a care in this world or the one after.

But he did bring cares for the rest of us, aye. Direful, woeful cares.

“Hey there, fellers,” he called out, with the bonhomie of a drunkard on New Year’s Eve, when every man will stand a drink for good luck’s sake. “How ye’all doin’ this fine and glorious Dixy-land day?” (I have not a single thought as to why he would call us fellers, which are, to my knowledge, woodsmen who fell trees. But there are many words that Calhoun uses, or misuses, and I do not understand why; so I have merely rendered his speech as I hear it.)

We three did glare at him in silence for some moments, proffering no further response to his greeting. “We have made a bargain with you, Calhoun,” quoth I, “but ‘twas neither for amicability nor hospitality, so press us not for civil intercourse with the likes of you.”

His smile vanished as I spoke, then slowly returned, like water seeping through a leak in a hull. “Shucks, I didn’t come here to press ye’all. Gnaw, I’m here to give you a present! A gift!” He removed a cell-phone from his pocket, showing it to us. “Ye’all want to see it? Take a look!” He touched the phone, tapping its glass face for some moments. Then he held it upright, the expression on his face one of eager anticipation.

It was a magic-window scene, and as such, something I did not wish to observe closely. I find that these magic windows give me a pain in my skull, and rarely if ever stand to a purpose beyond lies, vanity, and foolery for the sport of children. But I frowned and gazed into the glass in his hand, knowing that Calhoun would not come here without cause, and it behooved us to know what his intention was so that we might dismiss it, impede it, or permit it, as the case may be. Most like not the last, I did think. How little did I know.

It was a scene looked down upon from on high, as though we were cushion owners at a theatre, watching a performance from a rented box. There were four primary figures, all seemingly men, two pale and two dark of skin; one of the dark ones held his arm outstretched, pointing his finger – nay, it was a pistola – and speaking to the pale man, who held a sword –

The very moment I realized it, Kelly said, “Captain – it’s you!”

MacManus murmured, “It’s us,” and pointed towards the left side of the stone, where stood two men, farther away but still recognizable, largely because of Kelly’s size. When MacManus gestured, Calhoun drew the stone back, clearly not wishing MacManus to touch it; when MacManus dropped his hand, Calhoun thrust the stone closer to us once more, saying, “Look close, now. Don’t want to miss the good part.”

And we watched as I slashed the gun-toting dog’s wrist, and then hewed through the other’s neck. We could not see either the man above that Shane killed, nor the mighty stone that Kelly threw – that is, we watched him heft and hurl it, with a great shout, but not where it landed nor to what effect – but then the magic window turned, and we watched as we three slaughtered the men in the beast-wagon. Then it drew closer as I walked to the wounded dog, now lying on the ground, and I seemed just out of arm’s reach as I blinded the man and slew him with my blade. I looked back over my shoulder – at Calhoun, if I recall correctly – and then the window stopped moving, presenting a single image of my face, with the dead man lying on the ground behind me. Calhoun returned the glass to his pocket.

Gods. What have I gotten my men into? What have I done?

He held up one finger. “First thing: you boys need to know that I got friends, and they got copies o’ that there viddy-o. Anythin’ happens to me, they gone send it with your names an’ descriptions straight on to the police. So don’t be thinkin’ nothin’ ‘bout doin’ me like you done them fellers. Right?”

I exchanged a look with my men. We did not, if I may speak for them as well as for myself, understand all of what we had seen: we did not know how this magic window could see our past deeds as if they were occurring right now, nor if la policia would take our actions as murder, or a fair fight fairly won; nor if la policia could even find us, with but our names and descriptions. After all, the English have known my name, my ship, my face, for many a year, and still I had remained a free rover on the Irish seas; thus far we had known only the iron ships of the Guards of the Coast to be a formidable foe to us, and not the men of the city watch of Charleston. But we were all of us familiar with the ways of the blackmailer, the extortionist; ‘twas not often a stratagem between pirates, as we are not often protective of our good name and reputation in society; but we were not ignorant of the intrigues that happened in court and the like. I had no doubt that Calhoun would have made sure that his threats were both sincere and perilous before confronting us with them, knowing it would be the work of a moment for us to kill him where he stood. If he had learned nothing else from the killing last night, he would have learned that, having watched us butcher nine armed men like spring lambs.

“Aye,” I said to him, Kelly and Shane nodding beside me.

His arrogant face split into that impish grin. He held up another finger. “Second thing. I just gotta ask: does your arse hurt?”

I blinked my confusion, then shook my head. “Nay, we took no harm from the battle.”

Calhoun shook his head, and curled his two fingers back into his fist. “See, I would ha’ thought your arse would be burnin’ today. I mean, after I fucked that arse, and wrecked that arse – I’m surprised bein’ my bitch don’t hurt you none. But maybe after the shock wears off.” Then he laughed, long and loud and booming.

I mastered my temper by remembering my men. Just at this moment, I would fain have slaughtered this pig, and gone smiling to the gibbet for it – except I would not hang alone.

“What would ye have of us?” I asked him when his amusement fell to a pig’s snorts and grunts. “We’ve little money. Ah,” I said as it came to me then, “of course. We will move on and clear the field for ye to woo Meredith.” I started to turn and order my men to gather their belongings and weigh anchor, but Calhoun stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do to resist the urge to break his arm, but I was able to turn back to confront that grinning pig’s face.

“Hold on, now. That aint what this is about. Besides, Merry aint yours to give. Tell you the truth, if I wanted to take Meredith, there aint shit you could do to stop me.” He paused then, and after a moment raised his eyebrows. I realized he was awaiting some response from me, and so I nodded and gestured for him to go on. Perhaps he has the right of it; I have been enough of a fool over Meredith Vance, and I intend to stop dancing to her tune, any road. Saying this to the pig bothered my pride far less than the constant haranguing knowledge that I had given my men over to the grasp of this extortionist devil.

He smiled wide at what he saw as my capitulation, and then said, “Gnaw, I told you before, you go to that meetin’ with me, I’d see you get to Bermuda. I’m a man o’ my word, and so to Bermuda you go. But when you get there, see, there’s a thing ye’all’s gone do for me. Don’t worry,” he drew the Verizon-stone again and waggled it at us, “it aint nothin’ you didn’t already do nine times last night.” He put the cell-phone back into his pocket and turned away, laughing his booming pig-snort of a guffaw.

And then he ran face-to-face into Balthazar Lynch. Well, face-to-chest; Calhoun is my height, well above young Lynch, and twice the weight of the slender youth. But my man held his ground, and it was Calhoun who fell back from him, though from startlement, in the main. Lynch stared at him coldly. Calhoun cursed and reddened, his amusement curdled quickly into ire. He stepped close, looming over Lynch; and yet the lad backed away not an inch, not a step.

“You got somethin’ you want to say, you little shit?” Calhoun snarled, hands in white-knuckled fists. But the sly look was never far from his eyes, it seemed, and his gaze flickered back towards the three of us, his lip curling. “You didn’t see what I got on your boys, there. Want to look? See what it looks like to have three sets o’ balls in a vise?” He took out the cell-phone and waggled it – though he was careful to keep it out of Lynch’s easy reach, I saw. But Lynch did not react. His wintry stare remained frozen to Calhoun’s flushed face, which, I saw, was rapidly sallowing as the lad – no, as my man – stared him down, entirely without fear.

Then he spoke. “I follow my captain. He wishes to allow you to set our course for now, so be it. ‘Tis often the best way when facing a coward, and I will go where he wills it.” Lynch pointed at me, to show whose will he would follow. Then he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “But ere you leave, you will know this: if you make good on your threats, and doom my captain and my shipmates with whatever ye have on that ‘phone, then I will cut you open and feed your innards to the sharks while you watch.”

His face turning red once more, Calhoun grabbed for Lynch, but my man leaned back out of his grasp, and, with the speed of a hunting cat striking, he had a dagger drawn and the tip against Calhoun’s gut. Calhoun went still as a stump, and stand there for a moment, they did. Then Lynch said softly, “If they die, you die. Remember it.” He lowered the blade, stepped back and out of Calhoun’s path. The pig looked at him, then nodded, wiping his mouth. It was the nod of a man who recognizes an enemy; it held the assurance of enmity, Calhoun’s promise that he would find a way to best Balthazar Lynch, or die trying.

Lynch’s expression said clearly that he would die trying.

The pig looked back at the three of us – the weak-minded fools whom he had bested already – and his smile returned, his swagger with it. Ye gods, but I hate that I have given that verminous toad a reason to gloat. He strutted past Lynch without another glance, and swung up into his beast-wagon. He shut the hatch, brought the beast to life with a thunderous growl, and then pointed at me and called out, “I’ll be in touch, boys. Don’t go nowheres.” Off he roared.

Lynch turned to look at me, and I could not meet his eyes. There was but one man of worth in that place that day, and I could not bear the shame of it. It sickens me even now to write of it, to write of any of this. “Kelly, Shane,” I said, turning to them, seeing in their eyes the same humiliation I felt tearing at my gut, “Gather your gear. We be a danger to Dame Margaret’s house, now.” I turned halfway back, but could not bear to look at him to whom I now spoke. “Mr. Lynch,” I said, “I would ask that you stay, and bring us word from Calhoun when – when it comes.”

“Captain,” Lynch said then. He took a step toward me, reaching out with one hand.

I wish it had held the dagger, still. Perhaps I could have thrown myself upon it, regained some worth as a man. But his hand was empty.

“Nate?” he said.

I said nothing. I turned away. I skulked to my wagon-van, and then thought better of it. “Tell the Grables they have earned this wagon. They should take it and depart: there is naught else of value for them here.” I turned and looked at MacManus. “I will head east. Catch me up when you are equipped.” He nodded, and he and Kelly went inside, moving quickly but with heads low and shoulders bent.

Lynch reached me. He grabbed hold of my wrist. “Nate, wait,” he said.

I pulled my arm from his grasp. I’d have done it with force, perhaps cuffed the boy for his impudence, but I had not the authority to chastise him; not now. Nor the strength: the weight of my shame had exhausted me entirely. Without looking at him, I spake these words. “If ye wish to remain when we three sail to Bermuda, I do hereby set ye free of all oaths, all bonds of loyalty. They are nothing now but chains, that will weigh ye down, drag ye to the hellish depths where I writhe now. If ye will bear word to us, that is all I would ask. All I can ask of ye, now.”

“Nate, please!” he said, and I heard tears in his words.

I looked at him then, at his clear features, his large eyes now awash with salt drops. “Ye’re a good man, Balthazar,” I told him. “I am sorry that I am not.”

Then I walked away. Lynch let me go.

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Log #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

HA! The men of the Grace of Ireland play the heavy better than does any rogue of this age! Sure and we fell too heavily for them to bear, this night.

Perhaps I should not gloat: men have died; these past hours their last. But ‘twas not I and ‘twas not my men: we have evaded harm and turned that harm upon our enemies, though they did outnumber us two to one. Three to one if I count not our erstwhile leader into this fray, Brick Calhoun, and as he proved useless when called to the line, I do hereby discount him, and claim the victory and the glory entire for the men of the Grace. The men of Ireland.

Allow me to record the events of this past evening. I find I am too wakeful to seek the embrace of night’s dreams; when a warrior’s blood is roused, it does not calm quickly, nor with ease; perhaps the task of encapsulating these circumstances on these pages will soothe my reddish gaze back into placidity.

Calhoun brought a beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode this eve, the very night selected for this rendezvous. The wagon was in poor repair, even to eyes as inexperienced as mine own in these matters; I could discern gaps where the skin should be whole, rust and scars and wounds where it should be smooth. Even the sound of its rumbling growl minded me of an aged hound with catarrh. Shane did offer to bring Calhoun aboard our wagon-van, but the American insisted on piloting his own sickly beast with myself seated beside him. So Kelly and MacManus did follow in the van, while Lynch, who refuses to have aught to do with the entire endeavor, will remain at Dame Margaret’s to stand guard here. I know not if the lad be more disgusted with Calhoun or myself; I suspect the latter, however. No matter: though he be a doughty ally in a donnybrook, he does not look altogether menacing, the which being our primary purpose, we supposed it were just as well that Lynch would remain behind to watch over our friends and allies. We did not doubt that we three could play the heavy to Calhoun’s heart’s content.

And thus I rode with him, though I maintained a cold distance between us where he would have warm fellow-feeling. He tried to speak with me on many a topic, ranging from women, to female creatures, to the fairer sex, to one woman in particular and common between we two; but I had not interest in plumbing the depths of that cad and his scoundrel’s treatment of Meredith. He did endeavor to speak of the games they play hereabouts, to which he applied the term “sport.” But I have less enchantment with conversation about frolicking and lollygagging than I do in the assertions made vis-a-vis femininity by one Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun of South Carolina; when he did mention this sport, I withered the topic with a glance; eventually he turned to the confrontation impending, and what I could expect from same.

“Awright,” he slurred, “so these boys we gone meet with, they call theyselves gangstas, you unnerstan?”

Of course I did not, and accordingly I informed him.

“Awwwwright,” he slurred his words even slower, rendering them even more difficult to comprehend, “they think they thugs.”

“And what be this thugs?”

I endeavored not to enjoy his discomfiture overmuch, but the pleasure was undeniable.

“They think they hard, okay?” he said after some time grinding his teeth like millstones, and blowing air out of his nose like a heated bull.

I nodded complacently. “Of course,” I told him, straining to hold the smile off of my face. “’Tis little worse than a man who believes himself greater or more terrible than he truly is. Such vanity is the cause of much suffering, not least for the man himself.” He glanced at me with suspicion in his countenance, but I merely stared forward, my expression clean and pure as new snow.

“Right. So the play is like this. We all, them and me, we in the same business, same line of work, right? Now there’s plenty of room for my operation alongside theirs, but they don’t see it that way. So we, tonight, we gone convince them to share the wealth, like.”

I nodded slowly. “And if they are averse to sharing?”

Calhoun smiled his true smile: the sinister one. “Then we – persuade them.” I nodded again, though I perceived a distinct lack of forethought and consideration in this course he plotted.

I had known men like Calhoun, and circumstances like this one, ere now. In some ways Calhoun was like myself: what he could not earn fairly, he would take at the point of a sword. Well and good, says Damnation Kane of the Brotherhood of the Coast; I cannot even fault him for being unwilling to spend his youth patiently waiting for a more virtuous opportunity; I have writ before of the impatience epitomized in myself and in my brother pirates.

But the differences ‘twixt Calhoun and rovers such as I myself are vast chasms, in truth. For I would not attack a fellow rover in order to take from him some territory he did lay claim to. Especially not in my home port, which I wot Charleston was to this rascal. I cannot fathom a man who, rather than striking out at distant enemies while keeping his blade sheathed and spreading goodwill while he is to home, would turn and fire at the men beside him, walking the same streets, drinking from the same stream, as he himself. Why would he begin a blood feud in his own home? Where he lays his head to rest? Where he is at his most vulnerable and in need of staunch allies – such as these fellow gentlemen of fortune, who, being as they pursued the same endeavors in the same locale, would surely make better shipmates than rivals?

And then, the matter of shipmates. Why would a man setting out on a hazardous course sail alongside utter strangers – particularly one whom he did see as a rival to his would-be love’s affections? Why would you trust a man with whom you had traded blows, to stand at your back with naked steel, while you turned those who could be friends into bitter foes?

Aye. I saw it, too. A man would more likely bring that rival into a trap. I suspected these hard men of Calhoun’s were in truth Calhoun’s men, and rather than a negotiation, we were headed for what Calhoun hoped would be an execution. Shane and Kelly and I had discussed this very possibility earlier this day, and we expected to find ourselves in Calhoun’s snare. But of course, a snare spied before one steps into the loop is more likely to turn deadly for the trapper than the erstwhile prey.

For now, to keep him complacent, I pretended a sincere credulity with Calhoun’s falsehoods, and attempted to appear eager for the task he would set for us. “Be there any limit to how we should persuade them, should the need arise?” asked I.

Calhoun shrugged. “Go as far as you got to, as far as you willing.” He looked over at me while the beast-wagon grumbled and coughed idly, its froward motion stilled at a crossroads. “I guess it depends on just how far you willing to go to win Merry. Remember, she’s the prize here, not my business. That’s my business. Yours is the girl. Aint it?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded. “Aye. For her. I do this for Lady Meredith’s sake.” And I knew this was why his trap was so poorly concealed: he thought me too besotted to see any danger.

He does not know Damnation Kane.

We arrived soon after – ahead of schedule, as Calhoun had intended. The parlay was to occur in a structure named, according to a placard affixed to its street-side face, Parking Garage. ‘Twas like unto a stone marketplace, a wide open space without walls, reached by mounting a spiraled rampart; it seemed there were several marketplaces placed one atop the other in this Garage of Parking. Yet all of them stood empty; of course this was after sun’s set, and the close of the day’s commerce; but none of the stalls held a seller’s structures, not tents nor shelves nor containers; none of them gave evidence of being the sole property of a merchant who has claimed a favored place, and disallows another to take it from him, by building something permanent in the space or by manning it overnight with a guardian. So what use are these many marketplaces, then, if they have no marketeer? I could not see the wisdom in crowding good open spaces atop one another like the decks of a ship; again, these Americalish seem unwilling to live in the vast spaces they possess, preferring to crowd together like men in a prisoning cell. But I did see on the instant how well-suited was this place for this sort of affair: given privacy from passersby because of the heighth of the upper levels, still it was sufficiently open to prevent hidden ambuscades or surreptitiousnesses – or so I thought. We four mounted to the upmost level, open to the sky and bounded on two sides by taller structures, but empty otherwise. Calhoun told off Kelly and MacManus, placing them by the back wall, beside the open doors of our beast-van, while he and I stood in the open center and waited.

We did not wait long. Soon our guests arrived, riding in a wide, flattish barge-like beast-wagon, gliding low to the ground and thumping with what passed for music on these shores. They, too, stopped at the far wall; there were six of them, all Africk by their dark skin, and four did remain inside the wagon while two emerged and came forward to dicker with Calhoun.

I stood, arms crossed and boots planted, awaiting them; Calhoun raised a hand in greeting. The one rogue tossed his head back – much as had that traitorous serpent Shluxer – and said, “You Brick?”

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

The men approached within three paces – just out of arm’s reach, if a man were to reach out with naught in his hand – and stopped. “I’m Vincent. This my boy Elton.”

The second man had eyes only for me, and a grin as insolent as Calhoun’s. “Damn, son – where you find Captain Hook at?” he inquired, and though he had the name wrong, I was impressed that he knew me for a pirate captain.

And perhaps he had been forewarned that one such as I would be present this eventide.

I did not reach for my hilt, but I uncrossed my arms and let my hands hang loose and ready by my belted sash.

Calhoun gestured towards me. “This’s Damnation Kane.” Elton chortled at my name, but I am inured to laughter and gibes, and it bore no sting. Calhoun glanced at me, but said nothing.

Vincent, clearly the man in command, pointed back at my two men by the beast-wagon. “Who they?” he asked.

“They are my men,” I spake, though he had addressed his query to Calhoun. “They will bide as they are unless I hail them. And stay peaceful until, and unless, I command elsewise.”

The fool, Elton, chortled anew. “Oh, you plannin’ to go to war, Cap’n?” He pointed at the sheathed blade on my hip. “With that? Look, V – he brought a sword. That a sword, Cap?”

At this invitation, I drew my blade, to let the steel answer his question for me.

But it seemed that this answer was insufficiently clear, for he scoffed. “That real?”

I raised an eyebrow, turned the sword so that the light, provided mainly by the three beast-wagons, struck the blade. “If your eyes cannot see steel, perhaps you should question your eyes more than the blade, or the mind behind them. For it is not my sword that is dull.”

The mirth drained from his face, and we did lock gazes for a long moment. Then he drew a pistola from his belt. “You see that shit, Cap’n?” he asked, taking aim at me.

Well, and I had drawn first. Since we were still speaking to one another, I felt little threat, for the nonce. “Aye, I see it well, but my eyes were not the ones in question.”

His eyes widened while his mouth pursed smaller. He took a step towards me. “If you see this gun, then why you still mad-doggin’ me? You think I won’t shoot yo ass?” His accent broadened as his agitation increased. No better control of himself than has the mad dog he named me, though for my part, my sword’s point was grounded by my boot.

I smiled for him. “I think you will wish you had,” I told him. Calhoun stepped a pace away from me then, and in that movement, I had my confirmation of his intent – or perhaps of his cowardice. Either impelled me to spring the trap before it could close its teeth on me, and I readied my strike, awaiting my moment.

But Vincent spoke first. “Hold on, hold on – something you white boys should see.” He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Coming around a corner on our right flank, where a sign read “STAIRS,” two men stepped forward, both carrying thunder-guns; another man on our left flank, stepping out of shadows atop the structure that stood beside this Parking Garage, took aim along the barrel of his musket at Calhoun and myself. I would have said his distance was too great to threaten me, but I am still unfamiliar with the attributes of these modern weapons.

I tightened my grip on my ancient weapon. Calhoun took another step back.

The fellow Elton took a step towards me. “That’s right, you think we don’t roll deep, motherfucker?”

My patience vanished like clouds at noon. “Do not speak of my mother –” I began.

The man’s brows lowered and he shook the pistola at me. I wished to tell him that such was not the manner of a pistola’s use; I would have to take it from him and instruct him properly. He spat words at me: “Nigga, if I fucked yo mama right in front of you with my big black dick, you shut up and say Thank you, just like she would!” At this sally, his crewmate Vincent laughed, and the rogue turned to grin at his companion, saying, “The fuck this guy thinkin’?”

Dull indeed: I would have to teach him not to lose sight of a threat as well as instructing him in manners. Alas that he would not live to retain the lessons. I struck as he turned: the blade, already bared and in my hand, swung up, the point slicing into the man’s wrist, spraying blood as his pistola clattered to the ground. He clutched at his wound with a cry, and I completed my stroke, spinning the blade over my head, taking a two-handed grip and slashing halfway through the neck of Vincent, my blade too light to part his spine, but sharp enough to spill his life’s blood on the ground.

I looked into the man’s dying eyes. He put a hand on the blade, disbelieving its presence in his throat; his other hand tried to draw a pistola from his belt, but I reached down and plucked it from his hand. “I’m thinking you should not have come here this night,” I told him. Then he fell. A shout rose, and I called out, “Ireland! Kill them all!” and then lunged towards the dull rogue as the shooting began.

It began with our enemies: the man high above fired at me, while the beast-barge before us roared into life, men leaning out of the sides with pistolas and thunder-guns. The two men on our right flank were unready; I heard shouts, but not shots.

Then my men entered the fray. Shane, standing on the port side of the van-wagon, raised the pistola he had concealed in his shirt, took careful aim, and fired several shots at the sharpshooter on the roof beside; the man spun and fell, plummeting down to the Parking Garage. Kelly, in the meantime, drew from the side of our wagon-beast his own particular weapon for this fight: a great jagged stone, the size of two men’s heads. He heaved it to his shoulder, stepped forward, and flung it with all his force: it arced over the battle and plummeted directly through the eye-window of the beast-barge just as it started forward. The glass shattered with a mighty crash and the wagon spun to a halt. This remarkable sight stunned the two flankers, allowing MacManus to turn and fire on them, killing both.

In the meantime, my dull-eyed, flap-tongued rogue appeared not to understand that a sword-slashed wrist will not hoist a pistola; he fumbled for some seconds on the ground for his weapon, cursing steadily; this gave me time to withdraw my sword from his crewmate’s weasand, and find a grip on my newly-acquired pistola, just as he thought to try with his left hand. Too late: I lunged forward, thrusting the point through his right shoulder; he cried out and fell, and I slashed along his leg as he sprawled before me. I trod on his pistola to keep it from his sinister grasp, and then I raised Vincent’s weapon in my left hand, aimed, and fired, killing one of the thunder-guns leaning from the side of the beast-barge. The other men fired at me, and I crouched to make a smaller target of myself as shot droned and screamed around me; Calhoun shouted and ran several steps away, throwing himself to the ground to escape the broadside. Kelly and Shane raced forward, shouting, their guns adding their voices to the battlecry. The rogues in the beast-barge turned their aim on my men, allowing me to aim and fire, killing another; they turned their aim on me, and Shane shot the third man, leaving only the pilot of the barge-wagon. And then Kelly reached the wagon, and, reaching in through the shattered eye-glass, he drew the man half out of the wagon, and beat his head against the metal skin, and then throttled him with those mighty hands, at last breaking the man’s spine with a sharp twist of the neck.

The rest of his crew sent to Hell, I strode to where Elton lay bleeding. He looked up at me, pleading with those dull, stupid eyes.

I swung my blade and cut them out of his head. Then I stabbed him through the heart. I know not how many men of this time that I will have to kill before the learn not to insult my mother to me; but this was one more towards that aim.

“Holy shit!”

It was Calhoun, and I turned to face him, prepared – though unwilling – to kill one more man this night. I whistled, and my men came to my side. But Calhoun was not seeking a fray; rather he was grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as wide as a child’s at a fair-day feast. “You fuckin’ killed all of ‘em! Holy shit!” he cried out again, rising from his knees to his feet, stumbling first towards the two corpses at my feet, then towards the beast-barge and its load of death, and then towards the sprawled and broken limbs of the sharpshooter, closest to where Calhoun had gone to ground.

“Aye, with not a bit of help from thee,” I retorted, stooping to wipe the blood from my blade against the corpse of the fool who had begun this hurly-burly – though I still doubted not that, had the dull lump not spake against my mother, then somewhat else would have set the guns to blasting; this battle had been foreordained ere we arrived at this place, and would have happened whether I drew first blood or no.

Something flashed in Calhoun’s eyes, and he cocked his head, putting his fingers to his ear. “What was that? Say it again?” he asked loudly.

By the Morrigan’s crows, we are surrounded by the daft and the lame: the man who could not see, the crew of rogues who could not aim – all those shots, and my men and I ‘scaped injury entirely – and now this dastard who could not hear? “Without any help from you,” I said loudly. “We three won this day.”

Calhoun grinned like the fool he is and nodded. “That’s right, you boys won, all right. Won big. You done all this, and I aint done nothin’, aint raised a finger. Just standin’ here, this whole time.” He looked around at the carnage, shaking his head and – laughing? “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” He drew his finger across his throat and then laughed again. “Goddamn!” he said.

Then came we thus away. We drove our wagons some short distance, and then he stopped, unhesitatingly shook my bloody hand with his clean one, and bade us return in our beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode. He waxed poetic to me over our prowess and valor in combat, and said he had no remaining doubts in offering Meredith to me. Then off he drove in his rattling derelict, and MacManus piloted us here, where I have kept this log.

 

Calhoun may have no doubts. I have them all. He was joyed by our victory; yet surely that trap was meant to destroy us. Were those not his allies, called forth to smite his rival? Was that not why, as I had suspected despite the hot blood that made me strike, the dull fool had been so quick to speak curses and draw his pistola? If not, why did Calhoun lead us into a rendezvous that should not, in the common run of events, have ended with our victory? We were outnumbered; why would he expect us to emerge unconquered? If he wanted our defeat, as seemed more likely, then why was he joyed that we did vanquish our foes?

And what of Meredith Vance? Is she mine? Is she Calhoun’s to give to me, like coins for services rendered? Whatever he might answer, or my heart, I think I know what Meredith would say to that. Can I trust that Calhoun will give us the promised aid in reaching my true aim, my beloved Grace? If he will not, will Meredith pilot us there? Should I ask her as though begging a boon of an ally, or as a lover seeking a token of affection? Which will be more like to succeed? Which will be more like to draw her ire?

Aye. We were the heavy tonight. And now it is my heart that is heavy, my heart and my mind. I fear I will sink forever into these murky depths, and emerge nevermore.

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