Captain’s Log

Log #68: Entanglements, continued

(Continued)

I do not know how long I sat there, but after some time, Dame Margaret came into the room. I stood, of course, and wished her a good morning. She nodded, but did not smile nor return my good wishes. Instead she said, “I hope, Mister Kane, that I may still call you friend.”

This knocked the wind from my sails. “My lady – Margaret – I wish you would call me Nate, or Damnation, as you have in past.”

She looked long at me, but not fondly. Then she shook her head. “I will not. You see, I heard what you said to my granddaughter last night. I would ask your forgiveness for eavesdropping, but I do not want forgiveness from you.”

I had to drop my gaze lest I burn to a cinder on the spot from pure shame.

She went on. “I will not withdraw my offer of hospitality, as I understand that you are in need – and your men have a place in my heart, and therefore in my home – but I will insist that you focus your efforts towards moving on from here. And that while you are still here, you do not try to speak to Meredith.”

She came to my side, placing her hand on my shoulder. “I am not naive, Mister Kane. I recognize that it takes two to tango, and that three in the dance is bound to cause a fall. I am sure that Meredith is not innocent of blame, and that is why I hope I can, at least, still call you friend.” She patted my shoulder and then withdrew her hand. “But friend or not, no one who speaks that way to my only granddaughter will ever again be welcome in my home.”

She went out. When I could rise, and trust my legs to bear both my weight and the weight of my shame, I went out, as well, to the van, where I sat and tried to gather my wits, so that I could find and take the next step, not that the path had been so clearly laid out for me as to where I must walk away from, if not entirely where I must go.

Should I seek out a new pilot, a new flying ship? There were complications, of course; Meredith had seen fit to conceal our entry onto the dragon-train, and had said somewhat about necessary items which we lacked. I must presume that these same sorts of items would be requisite for passage aboard a flying ship. Of course any lack of permission could be overcome with sufficient silver; Morty had shown me that with his selling of a “permit” to accompany my wheel-gun. Bribing a man you do not know, who does not have a reputation for being available to bribe, is a most dangerous deed to attempt; a bribe to the wrong person, or the wrong bribe to the right person, would sour the deal entirely, and leave us with nothing – perhaps even a new enemy, if the offer of a bribe should be taken as insult, as indeed it may well be.

We could not steal a flying ship, but we could press the pilot into service. Such was a choice of last resort, though, as we could not possibly expect to read a flying ship’s course or charts and know if the pilot took us in the demanded direction, towards the intended destination. We could sail out to the middle of the empty sea, and there perish.

We could steal a ship. Perhaps we should steal a ship. Alas that I had not taken the Emperor Grable when opportunity presented itself! Damn Lynch for telling me I was too good to take a ship, when he himself now thinks I am not good enough for anything!

Damn him for being right.

 

Later

And now, a new path has appeared, from an entirely unanticipated direction.

As I sat there, the hatch on the side of the van open so that I could perch on the frame with my boots planted on the ground beside it, recording this log and simmering in my shame and ire, I heard footsteps approach, and then stop some distance away. Wary that it may be another round of humiliation and chastisement, I took my time looking up from the log to recognize my visitor. But then recognize him I did.

‘Twas Brick Calhoun.

I came to my feet, throwing this log back into the van and clenching my fists, but he held up his empty hands, taking a step back. “Whoa, there, fella, I come in peace,” he said, waving his hands as though to dissuade me from exacting some measure of revenge for my misery.

“Have ye, now,” I asked, my blood beginning to boil at that black-eyed serpent’s temerity – and aye, that anger felt a thousandfold better than did my shame. “’Tis a pity, then, that I do not feel peaceable towards you.” I took a step towards him. I thought then that if he had never come to this house, then none of this terrible storm of shite would have descended on us: I would still be wooing my Meredith – who would still be my Meredith – and my men could be planning how we would find the Grace once I had won her heart enough, at least, to ask her for the boon of passage to Bermuda. But all, all, had been laid waste by this filthy, dung-souled, crass misbegotten ruffian.

He took another step back. “Hold on, now, dammit, just hold on a minute. Listen – I talked to Merry.”

Now why would he think that talking to the woman I would have loved, had he not descended on us like fire and brimstone shat from the devil’s arse, would calm my ire? But I did pause: because a small, foolish part of my soul said to me, Perhaps she regrets her words, her deeds. Perhaps she sent him to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps even a fresh start for we two, without the weight of a Brick.

I did pause, at the least. “Aye?” I muttered, my teeth still clenched with rage.

He nodded. “Yeah. I went and saw her at work, this mornin’. I wanted her side of the story. She said –” He put his hands down, rubbed them on his trousers. He dropped his gaze, as well. “She said that, while I was gone – I been gone for a good long while – she met you. And she didn’t mean for it to happen, but, you two had something. A connection. A spark.”

For a moment, his words made joy leap into my heart, the small foolish voice in me beginning to soar forth in song. But the ice in my breast stopped that joy dead. “I think she would not say that now,” I said quietly.

He looked at me from the corner of his eye. “What, did you all have yourselves a lil’ tiff of somethin’?” I saw the beginning of his ugly sneer, and my ire rose once more. But then he wiped the smirk away, and said, “Doesn’t matter. Ye all can work that out. What matters is this: I aint gonna hold Merry back from what she wants, even if what she wants is – if it aint me.”

I looked him in the eye, and judged him sincere. I nodded in acknowledgement.

“But listen,” he went on. “Damn – is your name really Damnation?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Aye. And your mother named ye Brick, did she?”

He smiled a wide, toothy grin – though I noted, not without pleasure, that he winced and touched at his swollen and split lower lip. My own jaw was throbbing apace with my heart. “Naw, Mama named me Beaujolais after her favorite wine. Brick’s just a nickname I picked up.” He held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Damnation.”

I did not want to clasp his hand. I wanted to beat him into a bloody smear on the ground. But I had to right this ship, take us off of the shoals where I had nearly wrecked us. So I took his hand with mine, and said, “’Tis more of a pleasure than our first meeting.”

Wonder not, any soul reading of this log, how I could manage to clasp hands with a man for whom I felt naught but the blackest hatred, that I could tamp down my burning ire sufficient to find words, and polite words, at that. I am Irish. I have had to smile in the face of Englishmen as they robbed and beat my friends, my mates, my family. I have had to smile in the face of Irishmen as they did the same, because we were of a different clan, or because they were Catholic and we were Protestant – or because they were Protestant and I and my mother were – something else. The anger burns on: but I can smoor it when the need arises. Too, though the rage was burning, there was that small part of my soul, still wishing to believe the truth in his words, still wishing to burst into song. Still hoping that she – might love me, and only me.

I realized, as our hands gripped one another, that his finger was bandaged, and I fished the ring out of my sash, having retrieved it from the porch this morning. I offered it to him, and he released our clasp and took the ring with another cheek-splitting grin. Unable to put it on, he put it in his pocket.

“But listen, there’s somethin’ I gotta know. You understand that if I’m gonna step aside for you and Merry, I gotta make sure you can take care of her, you know? You get me?” I nodded and opened my mouth to speak, but he went on, my nod having been sufficient reply. “So I got this proposition, then. I got some business to take care of, and it might get a little rough. So I was thinkin’, if you and me could, y’know, bury the hatchet, and you could come and help me out – well, then I’ll see with my own eyes that you can handle yourself, and since you’ll be doin’ me a solid, it won’t be so hard for me to lose Merry to you, y’know?” He looked me in the eyes, and I could see him weighing, calculating, trying to sound how I took his proposal. “So, what d’you say?”

It was an honorable offer to make, both in the making of it to me, and in the reason behind it. A man should know that his rival is worthy of the prize before he surrenders it to him; else, a proper man, who has some understanding of how to protect and provide for a woman, must kill the other man rather than allow him to seduce and degrade the woman he loves, even if the act means the woman will not belong to either man. I had to admit a growing respect for this Brick – and I had to quash the still-urgent need to beat him into the ground, and the distaste I felt whenever he smiled. Again, though, this was not a prodigious difficulty for me to overcome: these are the same urges I have felt every time I had seen and spoken with Sean O’Flaherty or Ned Burke for these last years, and before they betrayed me, I was able to both respect and fight with them. I should have the same capacity for this rogue – for am not I, too, a rogue? Pirate that I am, and bastard?

But Lynch’s words echoed in my mind, then, and I knew that I had to refuse him. “I grant ye honor, sir, and my respect for this day’s words from ye. ‘Tis a manly offer ye make, and ye make it like a man. But I must tell ye that I am not come here to woo the lady. I have let my heart distract me from my true purpose, and I must now return to seeking my goal, and shut my heart up once more within my breast. I had come to Charleston to ask Meredith to give passage to myself and my men in her flying ship; now that – our lover’s tiff, as you say – has sunk this endeavor, I must seek passage elsewhere.” I tried to smile, but I fear it was more bitter than gallant. “So I think I must offer my best wishes to ye and – your Meredith.” Then I held out my hand once more.

His face turned sly. The expression suited his physiognomy far closer than a friendly smile or honest contrition. “Hold on, now. Now this changes things. Maybe now you and me can do some business like a couple of friendly fellas, ‘stead of all this pussy-footin’ around lovey-dovey shit.” I let my hand sink, but he grasped my arm. “Now hold on. You’re sayin’ you wanted to get Meredith to – what, to fly you somewheres?”

I nodded. Despite my newfound respect for him, his touch still perturbed me. “I and my men, aye.”

He smirked at me, but with humor more than smuggery. “I and aye? What are ya, some kinda rasta?” I must have shown my confusion on my face, for he waved it away. “Where to?” he asked, returning to the concern at hand.

I wanted to conceal it from him – but for what reason? “The island of Bermuda.”

His face lit like a lantern. His eyes became even more sly, and I began to feel like a hen conversing with a weasel. “Well, hell, boy, we can make a deal! Listen: let’s put aside everything, ‘kay? All that ruckus yesterday, and ever’thing ‘bout Merry. Just hear me out. I need help, the kinda help I’m bettin’ you and your boys’d be plenty good at. And if you all help me out, I’ll fly ye all to Bermuda ‘fore the week is up. I gotta buddy got an airplane, and I’ll charter the flight myself. You know Merry’s got herself a gummint charter anyhow, gone last a week or more, so even if she said she’d do it, she couldn’t get you there, not so soon as I can.”

I shook my head slowly. “This is too fortuitous a circumstance. You coincidentally happen to have need of myself and my men? And by some lucky chance you happen to have – an ally” (I know not what this “buddy” is, but presume since he felt he could promise passage on the man’s vessel that my word was sufficient. It could not be a gardener, could it? One who deals in flower buds?) “who can get us to our destination?” I crossed my arms. “It strains credulity.”

He blinked at me, clearly not comprehending my words. But he caught the heart of it, and responded. “Hey, man, it aint like what you and your boys do is unusual. Ye all bad-asses, right? Least you is, as I have reason to know. Figure boys that hang with a bad-ass gone be bad-asses themselves, ‘specially that big fella with the one eye.”

I could not understand why he would refer to us as poor donkeys, but he went on before I could inquire.

“I got this meetin’ I got set up. With people who – don’t really want to work with me. In fact, they may have reason to try to sink me in the swamp, you get me?”

Now this did not strain credulity: in point of fact, I would have been far more surprised if this man had not had enemies who wished to kill him. I found it serendipitous that the people of this land made use of their own swamps – which I thought were somewhat like our Irish peat bogs – for the same purpose they served back home: to hide that which would best never see the light of day. I confess I would not have grieved had this man found himself in the depths of this swamp. But to the point: this made sense to me. “Very well,” I said.

He continued. “As for me havin’ a buddy what can fly ye all to where you wanta go, well, hell, I gotta lotta buddies. And you ask around, you’re gone find there’s a lotta folks can fly them little swampjumpers ’round here. Little planes, hold ‘bout four, six people,” he clarified when I looked askance. Because I looked askance, he moved in closer and lowered his voice. “’Nother thing. My business I got? With these fellas? Well, it’s got somethin’ to do with bringin’ things into town. Things I don’t want the authorities to know ‘bout, you get me?”

It struck me then. “You’re a smuggler!”

He frowned, blinked, and then shrugged. “Yeah, guess you could say so, sure. I bring shit in I aint supposed to bring in, and sell it in town.”

I nodded. “Aye, avoiding the excisemen.”

He blinked again. “Uhhh, sure, yeah. And so these fellas, they’re in the same line o’ work, and they don’t necessarily want to share it with me, even though there’s plenty room for all of us, and if they work with me I’ll be makin’ ever’body a whole lot of cheddar, if y’ follow me. So I got this meetin’ with ‘em, but if I go all by my lonesome, they aint gone take me serious.”

I nodded. “You need myself and my men to play the heavy.”

Brick smiled. Somehow, this smile I liked. “You got it, boy. Play the heavy at my meet, and then I’ll get you on a plane to Bermuda.”

This put an entirely different face on it. Of course he had access to transport; I would lay a feather against a doubloon that the same craft that carried us away would bring an illicit cargo back, thus assuring his profit and explaining his apparent generosity to me. And he would be a man who would seek those outside the law, as I and my men, to serve as his guard as he attempted to force his way into a closed market, as it were – and though I could call on my crew should I find myself in similar circumstances, should I have a reason to hold a perilous converse with an enemy, well I knew that there were many and many a man living in the shadows as we did, who had no close allies or compatriots, but who would rely on those he could hire as necessary. Again, I could well imagine this man as one who had many connections and bargain-partners, but no close friends; who could abide his company joyfully?

How could Meredith abide him?

But that was of no matter now. What was of import was that this man, with his business clandestine, outside the law and likely outside propriety, could very well furnish to us what we had need of, in exchange for a task that was, indeed, well within our area of expertise. In truth, though I did not and never would be fond of him, still I would far more readily trust a rogue than an honest man, for an endeavor such as this; for as Lynch had asked me: am I not a pirate?

Brick held out his hand. “What d’you say?”

This time, I took his hand readily, and clasped it manfully. Said I, “We have an accord.”

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Log #67: Entanglements

Log

September 26

 

And so my first attempt at unknotting this tangle has gone less well than one would have hoped. In truth, I appear to have tried cutting the Gordian knot with my dull and clumsy tongue, instead of a blade as Alexander used. And in the attempt, it seems, I have made the knot worse. Aye, I have indeed entangled my tongue into that knot.

After we chased the rogue Calhoun away and doctored the hurts he dealt me, I did little over the course of the evening, even as my men and the Grables kept Dame Margaret company, but sit on the porch and stare at the ring I had taken from that split-tongued scupperlout. I stared at the ring, and pictured the similar circlet of silver on Meredith’s finger, and I waited, impatient for her return.

She came at last near six bells of the first watch, a mere hour before midnight. I had placed myself in the shadows, lest she use another entry to the house and avoid me thus, as she had done when last I saw her. The subtlety was successful: she came to the porch from her beast-wagon, her gaze on the van, watching carefully for me, and I let her mount the steps before I sprang my ambuscade. She moved slowly, seeming exhausted, worn thin.

Perfect, thought I. Easy prey.

I stood and strode into the light, giving her a start – perhaps more than a start, as she voiced a cry nigh unto a scream, and fell back against the railing, the presence of which was her sole savior from a tumble off the porch. She saw it was I and closed her eyes, breathing deep, hand on her chest, presumably to slow her racing heart. If she hath a beating heart at all, that is.

“I met a man today,” I told her, without preamble. I held out my hand with the ring, still blood-marked, on my open palm. “He wore this.”

She frowned at it, looking to her own ring, set on the middle finger of her left hand. “It looks like mine.”

The flood of ire that had been held back heretofore by my will broke the dam, then, and I closed my hand and then flung the ring against the side of the house, where it struck with a crack like a whip. “Aye!” I shouted at her. “It looks like yours because ‘tis the mate of yours! Because you, like that ring, have a mate!”

She pulled her head back, frowning at me, her face as pale as milk. “What are you talking about?”

I slapped the pillar beside me so I would not strike her – because in truth I wished to strike her, aye. “Ye know right well! You – are – betrothed!”

Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I’m – what?”

I did shake my fists at her then, though I did not threaten her. “Betrothed, damn ye! That ring shows that ye be claimed as another man’s property! And yet ye cozened with me while ye wore it!”

Meredith’s fists went to her hips and now she thrust her face forward, her teeth bared as though she would snap at me, her pale cheeks now flushing bright red. “Excuse me? I am no one’s goddamn property! And what did you say – cozened with you? How dare you?”

I stepped forward to meet her, the two of us eye to eye, near nose to nose as we shouted and cursed one another. “Aye, cozened me, like a strumpet! Trying to turn your betrothed into a cuckold, and have me put the horns on him!” I had to turn away then, for I will never strike a woman. No matter how I am provoked.

“You son of a bitch –” she spat out at me, but I o’ershouted her. “Why? Tell me why ye did it, why ye did not tell me ye were promised and bound to another!”

She stamped her foot. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’m not fucking bound to anyone, I have never seen that ring, and who the fuck are you to attack me like this?”

I had to laugh at that, a bitter chuckle without a scrap of mirth: I felt as though I might never feel mirth again in this life. “Ah, lass, when ye play with a man, lie to a man, betray a man, ye give him some right to demand satisfaction of ye, as the injured party.”

She had naught to say to that, her mouth flapping like a hooked fish’s.

I knew I had her, then, caught in her own web of deceit. I held up a hand. “Nay, ye need not speak; I know just what ye’d say. Your man was away, perhaps ye had doubts that ye could keep him to home, and so ye played your feminine wiles, played the harlot, to test your power over men. Over me. Ye meant no harm by it, it perhaps went further than ye intended it to go, and then ye could not bring yourself to speak of it, did not want to admit ye’d betrayed your lord and master.”

I had meant to go on, to say that I understood and I forgave her her flirting, which I know is simply part of a woman’s nature. But that was when she hit me.

Hit me right in the jaw, she did – precisely where her brute of a lover had struck me earlier, and, it seemed to me, she hit me harder. Sure and it hurt more. And then she kicked me! Truly those two are a match for each other, aye. I’m well out of it.

I am.

As I reeled, catching myself on the porch railing, Meredith grabbed my shirt in a grip far stronger than I’d have expected from a lass. She pressed her face close to mine, and all I could see was her wide green eyes, and the fires that roared behind them.

“Now you shut the fuck up, and you listen to me, you piece of shit. I have no master. Nobody fucking owns me. Nobody. You do not have the right to question me, or to judge me, no matter what I choose to do: because I choose. Not you.” She swallowed – she had sprayed me with spittle in her fury – and then drew back. “And I choose to remove you from my life. I choose to never fucking see you again.”

Then she slapped me. In the same eye that the rogue had cut earlier. Again, I reeled under the pain, as Meredith let go of her hold on my shirt, walked back down the steps, and drove off in her beast-wagon. I watched her go with blood running into my eye, the cut opened anew by her ring.

I am suddenly very tired.

Perhaps I do not understand this. There is so much else that is strange, here; perhaps I am wrong in this instance as I have been before, as when I marooned Morty the shopkeep; what I had hoped would keep him from causing trouble for us ere we departed led to greater trouble than I would have found had I been seeking it. Too, my involvement with the Latin Lions led to suffering for the Family Lopez, as well as for myself and my crew; and though they did not weigh heavily on my conscience, being the pack of scalawags they had been, still there had been much blood spilled, almost entirely by myself and my men. Too much blood. I have thought, since then, that less mayhem could have ensued had I acted elsewise than I did.

Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of two rings of one pattern, worn on the hands of a man and a woman. Perhaps the trouble was the term “betrothed;” in truth I am often incapable of making myself understood to these people of this world. Perhaps that was the trouble.

Perhaps the trouble is merely that I tried to talk about honor to a woman. My mother understands honor; I have known a few other women who do, as well. None since we came to this time. Well – Dame Margaret does, it seems. But surely not her granddaughter.

I have recorded all of this in detail so that I may think it over again, and see if I have gone wrong, and if so, where.

Bah. Women.

 

Log

27th of September in the year 2011

Well, and if I had thought that all I would have to bear was the pain suffered from Meredith’s betrayal and from the twin thrashings she and her man inflicted – sure and this would be a fine honeymoon, would it not? “Come beat the heartsick Irishman, man and wife together for a single price!” – I would have been wrong. There was far more suffering to come.

And – perhaps – a remedy to all ills.

It began this morn with Lynch. I have not been easy with him since he insulted me at the inn, when I would not interfere in the kerfuffle between the man and his woman in the adjacent room and he implied that I am no good man. Though I did argue with him when he first applied that description to me, nonetheless it did sting when he seemed to withdraw it. I have felt his continued disapprobation directed towards my deeds and decisions here in Charleston, though he has not seen fit to voice an objection.

Until this morn.

As we broke our fast, I grumbling as I chewed of the pain in my twice-struck jaw, Lynch dropped his spoon in his bowl with a clatter (Though I and the other men prefer the local porridge, called by Dame Margaret “grits,” and the Grables are fond of eggs atop toasted bread, Lynch opts for a strange form of clotted cream called yogurt, with fruit mixed in. Seems a cold, clammy sort of meal.) after I had made some remark or other about seeking out Meredith and giving her and her shrewishness a thorough tongue-lashing. He looked at me with fiery eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”

I noticed, but did not comment on, how he left off the Captain he usually entitles me. I met his glare, somewhat belligerent from the ache in my jaw and brow, and asked, “What do ye mean, boy?”

He stood from his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain?” Since I said “boy” instead of “lad,” my title received a thick tarring of sarcasm. He went on. “Why are ye acting like some dandified noble grousing on insults to his honor? Or to a lady’s honor?”

I tried to interject, but now the boy had the bit between his teeth, and he ran on. “Are ye our captain, our pirate captain, or are ye some cock-o-the-walk popinjay who will challenge any man to a duel who looks at him cross-wise?”

I slapped the table. “Ye heard what that pig said to me! What would you have me do? Should I not defend my lady’s honor when her good name must bear such dire insult?”

He threw his hands in the air. “She’s not your lady, Captain! That’s what that rogue said to ye, and I heard it well!” He leaned on his fists on the table. “I heard what ye said to the lady Meredith last night, as well, and ye did not seem so very concerned with sparing her insult.”

I came out of my chair, turning my back on him. “Bah – what do you know of matters between men and women, ye wee stripling!” But even while I said this, I did not – I could not – defend what I had spake to Meredith Vance. Recalling it, and thinking of that ballyhoo being overheard by other ears, I felt shame.

I was soon to feel more.

But I went on. “I recall ye saying to me, not two days gone, that a good man should do more. So ye’d have me defend a woman I know not, but ignore when a lout ill-uses our hostess here? Have ye no honor yourself, boy?”

Lynch recoiled as though I had struck him. Then he nodded. “So. Ye’d have me – us – think ye were defending Meredith Vance’s honor. And not fighting like a jealous stallion over another who threatened to take your mare.”

I scoffed and said, “Aye! ‘Tis true. I’d defend any lady’s honor in similar distress.”

His eyes narrowed. “Would you defend my honor, then?” I blinked at this, and he turned red in the face. Then he flipped his hand to dismiss the slip and said, “Would ye defend the honor of your crew, of your shipmates?”

‘Twas a deep blow, and I drew up proudly and said, “Aye! I would!”

His eyes glittered like a viper’s as he struck. “Then why haven’t you? Our crew – your men – are held captive! Along with your ship! We have not one bit of knowledge of how they fare, nor if they even live! And here you sit, carping over your – your jealous spat?”

I admit I spluttered at this, but I rallied quickly. “Nay! Nay, I seek only – Meredith is a pilot! She can fly us to the Grace and the men!” I looked to the others for support of this, our plan all along, the goal I had been working towards.

Hadn’t I?

They would not meet my gaze.

Lynch would. “Perhaps ye have not noticed, Captain;” now I wished he would stop calling me that, so contemptuous did he sound; “perhaps your gaze has been elsewhere, but I have seen those same flying ships overhead every day! There be hundreds of them, not just one, not just Lady Meredith’s! While we sit here in this house and you get in lover’s brawls, we could be finding another pilot, another flying ship! We could be booking passage on one, as she suggested we do to go north!”

I was in full retreat now. “We – we have not the funds.”

He slapped the table. I jumped. “Damn it, man, are ye not a pirate? If we have not wealth, we take it! If we cannot do that, we could bargain, trade our service for passage! If ye would only pull your head out of your arse!”

He stormed from the room.

Kelly and Shane and the Grables followed in silence. None had a word to say to me, kind or otherwise.

I fell back into my chair and stared at – nothing. At my own folly, writ large now that Lynch had torn the scales from my eyes and showed it to me. Showed me myself.

I think now that the trouble we have faced did not spring from a woman. I think it sprang from me.

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Log #66: Complications

Captain’s Log

September 26th

 

The situation has grown complicated.

It well may be that these complications began with my first action upon our arrival here. Had I, rather than attempting to woo my lady Meredith Vance (with the ultimate object being the same, namely to win her assistance with our effort to reach Bermuda and win back the Grace; I grant myself that much consideration, holding fast to the belief that this is my true aim, my first cause), simply approached her and asked for her aid, then well might she have granted it; then in the course of making ready to weigh anchor and cruise to Bermuda, I might have found an opportunity to pursue my other object, the winning of Meredith Vance’s heart. But my impatience and my desire won me over, and now, perhaps, I have lost – all.

As a consequence of my lapse, Dame Margaret has striven to show us that her hospitality and gentility are beyond reproach; for my part, I have striven to assure her that such qualities were never in doubt. Still she strives, however: she has fed us, entertained us, granted a chamber to the Grables and a second to my three men, so that our party can refresh and recreate themselves after our journey.

As for my accommodation, Dame Margaret took me aside as she showed the men to their rooms. “Mister Kane,” quoth she – alas that I, who had been Nate to her goodness, was now held off as Mister Kane! – “as it seems that there is some personal connection between you and my granddaughter, of course I cannot ask you to stay beneath my roof alongside her. I cannot risk scandal.” Then she stabbed me with a look. “And no matter how discreet we might think we all are, I will not risk any hallway-creeping in the middle of the night – something I think very likely, to be frank, knowing my granddaughter as I do, and being somewhat acquainted with charming rogues like yourself.”

I could not but duck my head, having earned all of her disapprobation and caution. “Of course, my lady. I trust honor will be sufficiently preserved if I make my bed in our wagon this eve.”

Dame Margaret shook her head. “That is precisely the trouble, Mister Kane. You trust that honor will be sufficiently preserved? Honor must be cherished. Pursued, with a full and eager heart. Either honor is held above all else, or it is dragged through the mud. You work hard to find what you can get away with while still seeming honorable, as my granddaughter does, but honor is not preserved simply by appearances. If no one knows of one‘s dishonorable acts, that does not make one honorable.”

Ye gods and devils, I wished to sink beneath the ground, then, so that my ragged, battered cadaver could be as low as my soul felt. Dame Margaret saw this in me, and granted me the mercy of saying thus: “The wagon will be fine, Mister Kane. Please do enjoy the evening.” Then she rested a hand lightly on my arm, signifying that I was not so loathsome that she could not abide my presence. ‘Twas a comfort.

Thus did I spend that evening doing my uttermost to show honor to my hostess and my men. I was the soul of civility, and, I think, a pleasant companion to the room. I did not brood on future struggles, nor did I pine for Meredith; I made merry with those present, all of whom are close to my heart – even the Grables, who have grown to be a valued part of our wandering crew. I did make an especial effort to be good to my friend Balthazar Lynch, as the lad has lost his good opinion of me – or rather, I lost it, when I failed to assist the maid in the next room at the inn. I did win a true smile from him by the evening’s close, the which I consider a victory.

But regardless of my standing and reputation among those closest to me, the true object of our visit to this place was not achieved, for Lady Meredith did not return to join our gathering. Only after all were abed did I, in my lonely monk’s cell in the beast-wagon, hear the sound of her beast-wagon’s growl approaching Dame Margaret’s demesne. I emerged from the van, but mindful of Dame Margaret’s words regarding honor and honor’s loss, I did not approach Meredith. She emerged from her beast-wagon, looking bedraggled and forlorn; she stopped suddenly, having looked up and seen myself. I raised a hand in greeting, and she did likewise; but then she ducked her head and hurried indoors without another glance. I could do naught but watch her go, and then return to my wagon-cell to sleep.

I was determined to find a moment to speak with her with the break of day, but I was awakened from my slumber by the rumble of her beast-wagon departing ere the sun could strike through the windows of the van.

I do not know how severely I have scuttled this endeavor, but I fear I may have sunk this ship entirely. Perhaps we should swim to Bermuda.

For the travails we face, the complications I have raveled into this skein, do not stop with Lady Meredith and Dame Margaret. No, I seem to attract troubles to me as a lodestone draws iron. Though of course, this trouble was drawn to my Lady Meredith, and I simply stood between it and her.

I must say that I stood stout, immovable, impassable. At least I may say that much.

We were on the porch close to the road, my men seated at their ease, I pacing as I fretted over Lady Meredith and her refusal to meet with me. My men were making mock of me, which I had not the time to rail against for the sake of dignity or propriety, nor the heart to gibe back at them. I could merely pace and fret, fret and pace.

At last, Shane MacManus said, “Captain, if this road will not take us where we must go, might be we should seek another way.”

Lynch pounded a fist on the porch’s rail and said, “Aye!”

I shook my head. “Nay. We’ve no need of that. Meredith and I are bound. She will give me what I need from her.”

Lynch jutted his chin out at me. “Captain, I –”

I cut him off. “Meredith will give it to me!”

At that very moment, a new voice, speaking in the slow accents of this place – like a mixture of English and French, it seems to me – spoke from the path behind me. “Now I know you boys aint talkin’ ‘bout my girl like that.”

I spun about and faced the interloper. He was a tall, broad-shouldered square-jawed ruffian, with a sanguine face and thews bulging like a stonecutter’s. He wore a sneer on his lip of the sort that one instantly wished to knock off of the face that carried it. I stared down at him from the porch, and he met me glare for glare.

“I do not know you,” I said at last. “What business have ye with this House?”

He snorted and raised his brows. “My business? My business is findin’ out your damn business. Who the hell are you, and what are you doin’ on my girl’s property?

I frowned at him, feeling an unwelcome tightening in my gut. “Your girl?”

He nodded slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “Yeah, boy, my girl. Meredith. Meredith Vance. Who I do hope is not the one you were sayin’ is gone give it to you. ‘Cause my girl don’t give nothin’ to nobody ‘cept for me.” Then he grinned the most vile, contemptible grin I think I have ever seen on another man. “And it’s too damn bad for the rest o’ ye’all, ‘cause aint nobody give it as good as my Merry do. That girl is a red-hot fireball in the sack, that’s for damn sure.”

Of course there was but one response to this: I drew my wheel-gun and took aim on that filthy grinning mouth of his. “You lie,” I proclaimed. My men had come to their feet, and Lynch did say warningly, “Captain,” as I am sure he was wary of the dangers in disturbing the peace, and in spilling blood on Dame Margaret’s flagstones; not least was the likelihood that someone nearby would summon la policia. But none of that had any import: I could not allow this smear on Meredith’s honor. Not from the noblest man in Charleston; never from this cur.

The cur had courage. He did not blink in the face of my armament – which is quite contrary to what I have seen on these shores. He met my gaze levelly, and said, “You callin’ me a liar?”

“Aye,” I rejoined without pause. “And a bilge-tongued dog not fit to wash the feet of Meredith Vance. Who, I’ve no doubt, has never set eyes on you, you whom she has never mentioned to me.”

He shook his head. “Aint nobody callin’ Brick Calhoun a liar and walkin’ away with all of his teeth. Come put that pea shooter down so’s I can knock your fuckin’ teeth down your throat.”

I had to smile at that. “I am not in the habit of offering terms to liars and slanderers. You will turn and walk quickly off of this property, or,” and I lowered my aim to his knee joint, “you will never walk quickly again in this life.”

His face screwed up into an ugly red-flushed snarl. He spat on the ground between us, and then turned and began to walk away – slowly. He kept his glare on me every moment, over his shoulder as he sidled away. I came down to the flagstones to encourage his departure. He raised a hand and pointed at me. “We’ll fuckin see ‘bout this, you cocksucker. Soon’s I talk to Merry, we gone see who’s got bidness on this p’operty. And ‘bout who’s a fuckin’ liar.”

I strode towards him. He stopped and turned to face me square. “Ye’ll not bloody speak to Meredith, ye goat-swivin’ bastard!” I admit that in my rage, my civil tongue abandoned me, and I reverted back to the common sailor I be at heart.

His eyes bulged. “That aint fuckin’ up to you, is it, you pussy? You coward! Can’t even face me ‘thout your fuckin’ gun!”

“It falls to me to defend her from pig-faced shite-buckets like you!”

“You aint defendin’ her from me, fuck-stick, I’m her man! She’s wearin’ my ring!” He lifted his hand, waggled his fingers at me. I was so startled by this claim that I looked: and indeed, he wore a ring that was the mate of one I had seen often on the hand of my Meredith.

Perhaps she is not my Meredith.

But that was a thought for cooler blood to consider; in the moment, I could not stand any more. “Lynch!” I called, and as he came to the top step behind me, I tossed him my wheel-gun and said “Stay back!” I turned back, and in the same motion, struck that dull-eyed pustule square in his gob.

Then was battle joined. He tried to grab me – he was the taller and of greater bulk, and would likely have done me some harm: if he could catch me. But I was the quicker, and I bent under his groping ape-arms and struck three more swift blows to his middle and ribs. Three was one too many: I gave him time to strike, and his great fist mashed into my jaw like an oaken gaff swinging in a gale. Made me see stars, he did. A second blow grazed my eye, split the skin of my brow; had he hit square, I’d have been flat. But instead, I stayed on my feet and withdrew out of his reach. He kicked me then, the base coward, and stole my balance; I fell back and he attempted to stomp on me, but I rolled out of the way and started to come to my feet. He closed swifter than I had expected, though, and caught me first with a kick and then with a two-fisted overhand blow across my back. ‘Twas a sore blow, and it threw me down to the earth.

But then he stepped astride me and grabbed at my hair, likely meaning to drive my face into the ground, but I was able to turn over, like an eel – and since we were, it seemed, kicking in this kerfuffle, and his groin was right above me, well.

He fell back, clutching himself, his face even redder. I rose to my feet, took his shirt in hand, and then dealt him my mightiest blow, and then another, and then still another: at the third he fell back, stunned. When I stepped forward to strike once more, he held up his hands in surrender.

I clutched at his right hand and twisted the ring off his finger, the one that was the mate of Meredith’s ring. He bawled, as strips of skin came off with the band; I was none too gentle, which was as he deserved. Speaking slush-mouthed, he grunted out, “Fuck your mother, you asshole.”

I drew back to strike once more – but a hand caught my arm. I spun about to look at who had stymied my revenge and my triumph, and there were my men, come down from the porch to surround me. ‘Twas Kelly who held me, and he shook his head; I cursed and stomped away. Behind me I heard Shane say, “Time to be gone, boyo. And ye’ll not be wantin’ to come back, aye?”

I heard the pig snort and spit. But I glanced back and saw him rise to his feet and limp away. Shane followed close behind until he had gone, and then we adjourned inside the house to address my hurts.

The men didn’t speak to me beyond joining me in cursing the filthy bastard. But the ring I held, taken from him, brought silence to us all. They didn’t need to say aught. I knew what was in their minds, aye; it was in mine as well.

What if he spoke truth? What if it was Meredith who lied, who had played me false, tried to make me cuckold her betrothed?

If so, what were we to do? How would we reach Bermuda and the Grace?

What could I do? How could I ever regain my honor? Or my heart?

So do I keep this log as I wait for Meredith to return. I am attempting to think of what I should say to her.

I know not.

I do not know.

The situation has grown complicated. And I do not know how to unravel this knot.

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Log #64: A Good Man

Log

September 25

 

The miles this day have passed far more quickly and with greater ease. For my part, I have Balthazar to thank, for his words did settle much of the turmoil in my soul. Now I suffer only from impatience: I must reach Charleston. I must reach Bermuda. I must reach my Grace. But this is a familiar unease, and not a perilous one; it helps to marshal my faculties for the coming struggle.

We did begin this day’s travel in a leisurely fashion; in truth, we remained at the comfortless Comfort Inn until noon. The morning was spent in fulfilling our bargain with the Grables: I and Shane are now capable of piloting a beast-wagon. We have learned to raise it from its slumber, by the turning of a key, and how to goad it forward, turn it, and bring it to a halt. There are finer details, George Grable insists; we do not use our turn-signals as he calls them – but this mystifies me: could a man not see that my beast-wagon be turning, without he sees a lantern’s intermittent glow? Have these people no powers of observation at all? – but in the main, we know the running of these metal beasts. Shane is more skilled than I, to my chagrin; I am too easily vexed by the various knobs, protrusions, mirrors, lights and sounds. Bah. I will sit beside the man at the wheel and navigate, as a captain should.

Lynch has also had a productive day of studies: he has spent the day with young Chester Grable, bent over various magic windows and Verizon stones, hearkening to the youth’s instruction in their purpose and use. Shane’s first time at the beast-wagon’s wheel coursed Lynch and the Grables to a ‘phone store, where Lynch handed over dollar-papers in exchange for a certain time of life for his new eye-phone, given him from the unclaimed and unreturnable loot held by the Grables. He then spent the entirety of our journey this day with his gaze locked to his eye-phone (‘Tis the perfect name, as it is the only object on which his eye rests), his thumbs rubbing over its smooth surface, his company lost to us. He puts me in mind of the Lotus-Eaters. I do hope he will break free of this ensorcelling in time; I have need of him.

Still and all, we have once more course three hundreds of miles; as the sun set, we came into a town of middling size that hight Kenly; tonight we have taken a room at a Quality Inn. The innkeep had but a single large room vacant of guests, a room with two of the larger sort of bed; we asked for a received a cot, as well, the which I have claimed so that I do not have to share. Kelly has sworn that he is sufficiently recovered to sleep on his side, and thus silence his baleful snoring. We shall see. Lynch will once more sleep in the beast-wagon, and MacManus has received permission to use his elbows to remind Kelly not to sleep flat on his back.

At the innkeep’s suggestion, we did dine this eve at a local tavern named Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue; they served a proper portion of meat, with a most savory sauce. It was a proper tavern, as well, with much company, conversation, and laughter, with a proper sort of music sweetening our hearts as we dined. (Though I was disappointed they did not have wine; still, there was ale to be had for all but Lynch and Chester – Lynch at first complaining, but then happily joining Chester in the consumption of this “root beer.”) Young Chester did not find the music to his taste; he named it “country” and says he prefers wrap; but I thought it most enjoyable, as it sounded in my ears as somewhat akin to the music of home: there were ballads of a mournful or lyrical nature, slow of pace and rich with pathos, and then there were faster tunes like jigs and reels, though none of the company there struck up a dance – perhaps because the music’s players themselves were not present. Many a time have I seen a minstrel cajole and chivvy a crown into dancing to his tune; without that encouragement, the music alone is not enough, it seems, to stir the blood and move the feet of these Americalish.

We then returned to the inn, where we endeavored to instruct George Grable in the art of navigation. We do not have a sextant, but we taught him to reckon direction from the Pole Star (First we taught him how to find it; I cannot understand the depths of ignorance in which these people wallow: how could knowledge as simple as the naming of stars in the sky have been lost?) and how to cast the log to reckon speed; from these, with good charts, he can begin to know his way. We showed him how to use the width of his thumb, two fingers, or his whole hand to measure the sun’s height above the horizon, and from that to know an approximation of his latitude – which is enough for a sailor, aye, if not for a mapmaker. We told him all we could of sailing a ship without being aboard an actual vessel; he seemed most avid to learn what we could tell him, and declared himself well-satisfied by our bargain.

I was not entirely satisfied: because even after I called on him to participate, Lynch did not join in and assist us with teaching Grable what he knows of sailing. He spent the eventide as had spent the day, bent into a gaffer’s hunch over his eye-phone like a monk at his copying. At last I had had enough, and while Shane and Kelly were teaching Grable to estimate wind speed and direction, I went to him and plucked it from his grasp; ‘tis a mark of his distraction that, even though the youth’s reflexes are faster than mine own, he merely blinked owlish at me for a moment, his hand rising, reaching out for the phone like a babe begging for its sugar-tit.

I looked at the ‘phone, but the light irritated my eyes. “Why have you forsaken your mates for this glowing rock?” I growled at him.

He clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. “I have not,” quoth he.

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “It seems to me that we have been bereft of your company, if not separated from your carcass, all of this past day’s hours.”

He folded his hands in his lap; he was seated on the ground at the edge of the stone field where the beast-wagons are kept, his back against a metal post. “I am learning,” he said, and I noted a glint in his eye.

“Learning what, how to lose your soul into this enchanted mirror?” I asked, waggling the ‘phone by his face.

Now I saw his reflexes: because he snatched the ‘phone from my grasp, quick as a trice. “I’m learning everything,” he said, and then hunched once more, curving his body protectively over the ‘phone like a mother over its babe. I abandoned him to it, though my heart is sore; I hope he is not lost to us. To me. I must no0t ester him over it, I know. I know it.

I had hoped to confide in him, once more.

 

Later

It has been an eventful evening. I feel I do not entirely grasp what these events portend, but I see the weight of them. I feel it.

We retired to the room, Grable the elder having proven he could read the position of the stars and approximate latitude given a specific celestial light as a marker for the sun at various times of day. Lynch accompanied us, and was closeted with young Chester – in the closet, in truth; the room is not overly spacious, and I think Balthazar has wearied of my company. Perhaps I have looked maudlin at him. Or heaved sighs. By Dagda, I hope I haven’t sighed.

Shane drove the wagon to a nearby market and returned with rum and brandy, and we had been taking our ease with it, when the noise started. It came from the adjoining room, the sounds of a vituperative argument. A married couple, I’d wager, based on the shrill screeching and the sheer venom of the voices. We could not make out the words, but the tone was clear.

“Should we do something?” Goodman Grable queried, taking a tiny sip of the brandy. He drinks like a child, or a doddering granny; but this habit means that on the morrow he will be able to steer the wagon true, so I stopped Shane from laughing at him.

At those words, we all three did stare, and his eyes tacked from man to man. “I mean, pound on the wall, or something?” he continued. “Let them know we can hear them?”

“Why would we do that?” I asked, reaching out for the brandy bottle, which he gave into my hand. As I spoke, the closet opened and Lynch and Chester Grable emerged.

“It’s really loud in there,” said Chester, gesturing towards the wall.

The elder Grable nodded to his son, and then answered my query. “You know, to try to stop it before – before somebody gets hurt.”

I exchanged a look with Kelly, and another with Shane. I did not look at Lynch, for I could see from the edge of my eye that he was glaring at me, at all three of his mates. I turned back to Grable. “’Tis no wisdom to step between lovers in a brouhaha. Less so to step between man and wife.”

“Man and wife,” Kelly murmured, meaning the couple next door; I nodded. Surely lovers would not carry on at this volume for this long.

Grable looked at all of us, then at Lynch. Lynch shook his head and then stomped into the washroom – a private lavatory, these rooms had, which was the sole claim of either comfort or quality which I had seen this inn make – and closed the door vigorously. It did seem a luxury to relieve one’s self and wash without stepping into the cold night air or fetching water; too, I appreciated not having my men use a chamberpot right by my bed as I slept. For the nonce, it served as a private cabin for Lynch’s ire. Grable shrugged, beckoned his son to sit beside him on the bed, and then he turned on the room’s magic window, the which drowned out the bulk of the hurly-burly in yonder room.

Until he began to strike her.

We could hear it all: the blow, an open hand on a cheek, with a crack like canvas in a storm wind; she cried out and then began to weep. There were more blows; she was flung against the wall, and he roared in anger while she pleaded. He struck her again. And then again.

Grable stood. “We have to call the cops!”

I stood then, and placed myself before the room’s telephone. “No policia. We be hunted men.”

Grable shook, his face pale and sickly as the woman’s cries continued. By the Morrigan, would the woman not be silent? Did she not know that her caterwauling drove him on, and on? If she would but suffer in silence, he would cease – and then she could cut his throat while he slept. I would offer my dagger to the cause.

“Then you do something!” Grable said, the effort to sound gruff clear in his voice, but belied by his face, by his shaking hands.

I shook my head. “She is no kin of mine, nor any of ours. It is not our concern.”

Grable threw up his hands. “We have to do something! He’s going to kill her!” He may have been right; her cries had fallen to whimpers and grunts, and still, the blows fell.

I crossed my arms. “If he does so, we will bring him before a magistrate to face justice.”

Grable grabbed my shirt. “That’s not good enough!”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. I drew my wheel-gun from my belt and proffered it to him. “Play the man, then, Master Grable,” quoth I.

Grable released my shirt and fell back away from me. He returned to his bed, put his arm around his son, and hung his head.

I nodded. “Aye. A man takes care of his own, first.”

Of a sudden, then, Balthazar Lynch stood before me, his eyes aflame; I flinched back from him. He snatched the wheel-gun from my hand. “A good man does more,” he said to me, his voice so low that only I could hear him.

‘Twas as if he struck a blow, and now it was I who fell back away from him. He turned from me and strode quickly out of the room. Then we heard a pounding fist on the neighboring door. “Open for the Watch,” Lynch called, trying to pitch his voice low and manly. Then he remembered where we were, and the words these people used. “Policia!” he shouted, pounding again.

The sound of blows stopped, the woman’s whimpering fading. Then we heard the door open, and the man began to speak.

Lynch did not give him the chance. Instantly we heard a sharp blow, and the man grunted; then there were two more similar sounds, and the door flung hard ’gainst a wall. The woman cried out, and there was a scuffle; we could hear Lynch cursing, and the man first grunting as blow after blow sounded through the wall – and then he was howling.

Shane winced. “Lad got him in the stones,” he said, and the rest of us winced in turn.

Then there was a second, identical howl.

Then a third.

“Christ, lad,” Shane muttered, “ye’ll geld the man, if ye keep at it.”

But it seemed that Lynch was satisfied with that, for the sounds of combat ended. We heard Balthazar’s voice, low and solicitous, and we heard the girl reply. We sat in rapt silence, listening to it all, Chester having darkened the magic window so we could hear. She spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Then Lynch asked a question – and then she said something filled with choler. Then there was a thud, and a low groan.

Kelly rumbled. “Lass kicked ‘im.”

A new commotion began; the man made some noise of protest, and there was a slap, louder than any before it. Then a scuffling – and then, through the still-open door of our room, we saw the man come stumbling out of his room, clearly violently propelled thus: he fell asprawl on the pavement and lay there bleeding, his face turning black and blue.

We raised our bottles in salute to Balthazar Lynch’s victory. We bade Chester return the magic window to life, and we returned to our drinking, waiting for Lynch to return so we could congratulate him directly, and raise a glass in his honor.

But he did not return.

‘Twas an hour later, at the least, and our bottles nearly drained, before he came back to the room. In the meantime the ejected ruffian had risen to his clumsy feet, clutching at his offended manhood; he had shouted one last imprecation – the which his lass had returned, with several more as a generous gift – and then he had stumbled to a beast-wagon and rattled his way out of the inn’s bounds. We watched him go, standing in the doorway lest he think to return – and Kelly remained there on watch against that possibility – and then returned to our drinking.

At last Kelly said, “Captain?” and I turned to see Lynch in the doorway, Kelly having stepped aside for the youth.

For the youth and his companion.

The lass was bloodied and bruised, but young and comely beneath it; and she held Lynch’s arm with both hands, clinging to him as to a lifeline.

“Captain,” Lynch said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “I will be spending the night in the next room,” Lynch said. I did not respond. After a moment, he nodded, turned, and left with the lass.

Shane and Kelly roared with laughter, and sang a bawdy song to encourage Lynch in reaping the rewards of his heroics. I did not join in. Rather, I went to sleep in the beast-wagon.

Alone.

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Log #63: Comfort

Log

September 24

 

Our road, in the event, is indeed straight; I know not, yet, if it be true. For certain sure, it is long. Yet our beast-wagon is swift as an arrow’s flight: in this one day now passed, we have traveled as far as we did over a full ten days on our journey northwards, even with the wagon and team. We are once more near Baltimore, Grable has said; a full 300 miles we have traveled this day.

I have sat, stiff and still, all this day, in the rear of the beast-wagon, where cargo would be stored. It is the wagon’s hold: an enclosed space lacking in amenities or comforts, of any kind, apart from a sort of covering for the deck, which the Grables call “carpet,” though it does not resemble cloth; it is more like a badly-tanned hide of some foul gray-furred beast. But atop a cushion atop a blanket atop that, some comfort may be found, and the Rosenbergs and the Grables did both donate blankets and cushions to us for this journey. There is little comfort for me, however, and not simply because I share this space with three other men: the hold of the wagon is capacious enough to allow each of us room to sit at ease, if not enough to lie down and sleep. No, the trouble is in my mind and my soul: I cannot find ease or respite from my thoughts, nor my fears. I try not to see this lightless boxed space as a coffin, but I do feel as immobile as a corpse. As breathless. But I have all the fears of a man who has not yet passed beyond the veil.

What if Meredith should say me Nay?

Perhaps I should have sailed in the Emperor Grable, offering this clanking, stinking thing as surety and recompense. Though this travel is faster than the ship would be.

What if Kelly heard wrongly? Or the Rosenbergs did misinterpret what Kelly did hear? Surely “The Triangle” could refer to nigh any locale; what place does not have triangles somewhere about?

What if Hobbes and the Shadowman cannot sail  my ship?

Or if they murder all my men?

What if –

A plague on my thoughts. They have strained me nigh to breaking.

***

We have stopped for the night at a place called the Comfort Inn. Though I do not find much here in the way of comfort; but then I have dined and drunk at a tavern called The King’s Glory, where on a good night they would turn the sawdust floor so the vomit was on the bottom, so perhaps I should not expect too much from this establishment.

We have taken two rooms, there being, it seems, no common room where men on a journey may lie on a bench by the fire for mere pennies, or even at the sufferance of a kind innkeep. But two rooms did suffice to house the six of us: one had two narrow beds, where the Grables shall rest; generous, to give them a private room at our expense, but it had been George begging fatigue of the road that did call for the stop, and we do want him alert and steady on the helm for the morrow. Too, I understand his fatigue: though we pass the miles more quickly, still there is no way not to feel them. And we do, aye, indeed we do. Though far easier than shank’s mare, still I can feel every mile in my heart. In my bones.

The second room boasts a single larger bed, and a couch that would suffice for a small man, or a boneless one. Or a sailor, inured by sea voyages to sleeping in a berth smaller than a child’s bed, or a-swing in a hammock on rolling seas. Kelly had the most need for comfort and rest, for his hurts, and so the bed was his and mine. Aye, I could have bent myself to the couch; I slept in a sailor’s berth for many a year. But aboard my Grace, I grew accustomed to my cabin and the true bed therein, and so I find I have lost the habit of sleeping compacted into myself, my knees in my belly or my arms crushed ‘gainst my ribs. And the men call me Captain, still; I must needs keep my dignity so they might keep their pride in their loyal service. Had it been other than Kelly wounded, we might have slept three abreast, but as it is, MacManus and Lynch had to choose ‘twixt couch and floor. The problem was ably managed when Lynch seized two of the assortment of pillows (The bed was furnished with cushions enow for any noblewoman, howsoever delicate of flesh and shrewish of complaint she be) and took it upon himself to sleep in the beast-wagon, and there to keep a watch.

But enough: the log is kept. I must sleep.

***

I cannot sleep.

Kelly snores, is the bother, and I cannot prod him to roll over as he is wounded in my service.

Nay, that is not the bother. If it were I would take myself to the Grables’ room and sleep on their floor. It is still my soul that twists and strains at me, that disturbs my respite. They are the same thoughts as before, and no better for having aged some hours.

I cannot simply lie here. Lynch. I will speak to Lynch.

 

 

September 25

‘Tis morning now. I have slept, not overlong, but well. Quite well. Thanks to my man – my friend, Balthazar. He has gone to the room to use the head and the washtub, so I am alone in the beast-wagon. And I am at ease.

I roused him last night at my soul’s deepest ebb; he was soundly asleep when I rapped on the door and called his name, but still he opened the hatch instantly, rubbing sleep from his eyes and asking if there were danger.

“Only that I will lose my mind,” I said, climbing into the hold and seating myself cross-legged on the carpet-hide.

He shook his head and smiled. “Ye’ll not lose your mind, Cap’n. Ye’ve the strongest mind of any man I have ever known. No puzzle will overcome you.”

“I wish I had your faith,” said I.

“Ye may take mine from me, and anything else ye wish to have of me,” he said. The boy’s loyalty and good heart touched me, and I placed my hand atop his; he shuddered and then put his other hand over mine, and the touch gave me comfort, at last.

Then I unburdened my mind to him. I should not have; he is my man, one of my crew, and so should not have to bear his captain’s worryings. But my first mate was not here, nor my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn; and this youth and I have grown closer through these past months’ tribulations. I have come to rely upon him, and he has never failed me. Nor did he this night; even if my troubles were prodigious, still he bore up under them and gave me his strength.

“Are we on the correct path?” I fretted. “Aye, Captain,” said he, “this be the swiftest course to our lady Grace. I know it chafes you to travel so, and aye it does me, but speed is our weapon.” “But what if we are aimed in the wrong direction? What if Kelly misheard their speech?” He grinned at that; I could see his straight, white teeth in the light of the moon and stars above. “Kelly never mishears. ‘Tis a part of him, like the voices. I have heard him speak over whole conversations without a single slip.”

Aye, of course; I had forgotten that. This is why a companion is a true necessity: when one’s mind is too filled with ballast and bilge to sail well, a companion can remind one of what one forgets. I continued to bail my troubles into the lad. “What of the Rosenbergs’ Triangle? If they have named us the wrong destination?”

He nodded at that. Here is the true quality of Balthazar Lynch: he did not merely flatter me and assure me that all was well simply because it was I who steered the course. Aye – he did flatter me, in truth, but then he acknowledged the perils we faced, so I would not need to feel a fool for worrying over them. “Aye, that may be. But they are of this time, and he a sailor; I think it best we follow their course. If it be false, we will see where we be, and strike out again.” I felt the pressure of his hands on mine. “We will get her back, Nate. The Grace is your lady, your ship. I think nothing can keep you from her.”

I hesitated then, loath to reveal my deepest and most painful canker of doubt. But I did. Because I have come to rely on him. “What if Meredith refuses me?”

He bowed his head. Then he lifted it again and whispered, “No woman could refuse you. That sl- She. She will surely not.” He chuckled then. “’Tis – ‘twould be the curse of loving you, that a woman would have so many rivals for your affection.” He tilted his head and regarded me, and I saw his large, dark eyes reflecting the moon’s light. “Though I know that your loyal heart, once given, would always stand true. ‘Tis too good a heart to be false.”

I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder to thank him for the compliment – what an honest lad he is! What man would say such tender things to another man? – and then I said that we should go to sleep, if he wouldn’t mind sharing the wagon’s hold with his captain. He said, “I’d share any bunk with ye,” and then coughed and moved his blankets to the side, leaving a space for me beside him. I stretched out, stealing a blanket and a pillow from him, and putting my back against his for warmth and the simple comfort of touch.

Before I drifted off, I did ask him one last query. “In New York you called me a good man.”

“Aye,” he said, his back to mine. “And a pirate.”

“Aye. But that’s the rub: I am a pirate. I pillage and plunder, rob and murder. I am no good man.”

“Ye do those things, aye,” he said. “But not by chance. Ye do not prey on all weaker than ye. Ye be an Irishman: and, though I would not insult your blessed mother, ye be a fatherless Irishman.”

I had to chuckle at that. But then, he did not know. Most of my men did not, as I never spoke of it. “No. I have a father.”

He shifted, lifting his head to look at me. “Aye?” he asked, startlement in his voice and manner.

I nodded, though I did not look straight at him. “Aye. My mother was at Drogheda. My father – my father is an Englishman.”

He stared down at me. “She were raped?”

I could only nod; even the thought of it clenched my jaw and made my blood burn.

He lay back down. “Bless Lady Maeve for her strength.”

I could have embraced him then; had he been a woman, I would have kissed him for his kindness and compassion. I did not speak of this to my crew first because I did not want my men to mistrust my half-English blood – though the fact of my bastardy, the which my men assumed anyway, simply put me level with the main of them – but far more because I would not have my salty tars think less of my mother. The injustice of it has ever torn at me: had she been a harlot, the rough men I sailed with would think no less of her; but as she was raped, they would think her both a fallen woman and a weakling, because they would think that she surrendered.

Nothing could be less true: ‘tis no shame that a young girl – but seventeen she was, at Drogheda – could not fight off a man of Lord Blackwell’s strength and years soldiering. Her strength shows in that she did not hurl herself off a cliff afterwards. She stood straight in the face of unjust judgments of her characters and bore – me. Lynch named me the strongest will he knows; but I am not. She is.

And I could bless him for seeing it so. But I only said, “Aye.”

After a moment he went on. “For an Irishman in our time, the only way to live is to surrender and be enslaved – or to fight. You fight. You rob and plunder, aye – but only the English.”

I had to object. “We have taken many an Irishman’s ship, and ye know it.”

“Aye,” he rejoined, “but they are the Irishmen who have surrendered. The only way an Irishman could be a merchant and fill a ship with wealth is if he bent knee and neck to the English, and became their creature. He might as well be English.”

I had to agree. “But I have struck at others. On these shores and at home. And I have murdered.”

“Aye, Nate – I’ve murdered with ye. Think ye the only one whose conscience twinges?”

Well, it was twinging now at his words, but I did not speak.

He went on. “Ye do not do anything unless it is in service of those who have your loyalty. Your family, your clan, your country – and your crew. Not ever for yourself. All the plunder ye’ve taken in your years on the seas, and how much have ye kept for yourself? Where are your chests of gold, your jeweled trinkets? Where is your pirate’s hoard, Captain Kane?”

It was the truth: I kept little of what I took. It went to my ship, or my men, or back to the people at home. “I do not always kill for gold,” I said.

Why do we always fight the hardest when others try to see the good in us? I would never argue if someone spoke kindnesses of my mother or my companions – or my ship. But say them of me, and I will deny and rebuff and scoff all the hours of the day and night. Is it humility? Are all men simply fools?

But this is why we need true friends, strong friends, friends who will stand up under such circumstances and say, Nay.

“Nay,” said my friend Balthazar. “Ye do not always kill for gold. Ye kill for justice, betimes. And aye, ye have a temper to ye, so that when ye do strike out, ye may do greater harm than would another man. But even in a temper, ye choose your targets well. Ye fight justly, and wi’ honor, and for honor. That is why ye have the loyalty and the – love – of your men. Of – of me.”

He fell silent. I did not mention the mutiny; men do slip, sometimes. If he could forgive me my wrath, then I could forgive me men their doubts and fears and anger that made them steal my ship. At the least, I could forgive those who returned and swore fealty to me. And though a small voice still wanted to deny what he said, to search in my past for some misdeed that would disprove his words, I silenced it. I chose to accept what he said as the truth. It did bring me comfort, at last.

“Ah, man,” I said to him, “I hope ye know that ye have my loyalty as well. And my love.”

I felt a shudder go through him, his back against mine. “Aye,” he said, in a muffled voice.

Then we fell asleep.

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Log #62: Gratitude and Gifts

The Next Day

Last night my sleep held more rest than I have had for weeks – ever since I first woke in the hospital, severed from my ship. Methinks my sleep will not be entirely peaceful until I regain her, but this past eventide, by the kind agency of the Rosenblums of the Volare, at the least I did sleep aboard a ship. Cradled in salt-scented air, rocked by the night’s gentle waves as soft as moonbeams; aye, ’twas a sumptuous repose. MacManus and I slept athwart the benches on the Volare’s deck, while Kelly snored thunderously in the cabin below – and my pity was with my thanks, on the heads (and the ears) of the Rosenblums, and I know not which is upmost for those kind folk, who cared for my bosun and then slept rocked by his breath. Like a stag in heat, that man blows. Lynch had the right of it: rather than share a cabin with the drums and pipes of Kelly’s slumber, he accepted a bench like mine aboard the Emperor Grable.

Aye – the Grables. A most puzzling clan. I have come to know George Grable and his son; Chester has a flair for the shifting of face and form, of voice and manner, that befits a smuggler or an actor – aye, or a Brother of the Coast. But he hath it not from his father, whose face is as clear as glass whene’er there be somewhat shadowed behind it.

He attempted to make the first contact with the rightful owner of the Verizon-stones; it was agreed that he and I, once I had learned the manner of it by observation of him, would assay the telephone contacts, while Chester, a dab hand with the magic windows, would navigate those waters. But his father George so stammered and quavered through his first parley that we were forced to change our course: he would push buttons and activate the spirits within the stones, and then hand them to me or to Lynch, and we would speak to them what answered the call.

The manner of it was simple enough. These cell-phones could signal the allies and compatriots of their owners; George had a means of reaching first to those closest, the which he called “speed-dial.” Then I would address this person and inquire if the person whose cell-phone I was calling from was in truth connected to the personage to whom I spake, and if said erstwhile ‘phone-owner was currently bereft of this very property. If so, I begged, might I have an introduction to the aggrieved party, that I might return their rightful property? Often the man or woman to whom I spoke would beg time to contact the owner, the which I granted gladly; then would I hand the cell-phone back to Master Grable. The greater part inquired as to how I came into possession of this object; had it not been plundered? To this I replied succinctly: “The men who stole it attempted to rob myself and my companions, as well. We did not permit them. This cell-phone and several others were recovered therefrom, and we seek to ameliorate what harm these dogs inflicted on innocents – innocents such as your friend. Will you help?” ‘Twas most efficacious.

This friend would signal the owner of the Verizon-stone, or grant us a number-set by which we might hail him ourselves, and these owners were most oft overjoyed to hear of our intent, and eager to meet with us in order to receive their property.

This was yestere’en, after I last kept this log. Now this day, which now settles with the sun into the west, to sleep through the night with us all, we made our way through the streets and villages of this mighty city of New York, dispensing cell-phones – and aye, collecting the rewards proffered in exchange: for Master Grable hath not a silver tongue – but he doth have a nose for the gold, as my brethren would say were he one of our number, and joyously would they speak it, too.

Young Chester, who had managed to “unlock” some, though not all, of the magic windows he called lap-tops, used one of the same to plot our course, with the aid of something he called Goo-Gull – most strange. He laid all of our ports of call into a single map, and then called out headings to his father, who manned the wheel.

What did he steer, might one ask? The great white-painted beast-wagon which had been stabled ashore beside the pier, the keys to which Master Grable produced, most fortuitously, as we were steeling ourselves to front Brother Bob and regain our wagon and team for the day’s work. When he produced them and offered the use of the beast-wagon, I thought he acted somewhat abashed; but produce keys he did, and offer to steer, he did, while young Chester sat beside him, magic window alight on the boy’s lap, calling out directions and chattering excitedly the while. The boy is enraptured by this pirate’s tale in which he finds himself.

The general manner of our encounters with the owners of Verizon-stones was thus: we would arrive at a destination chosen by young Chester’s magic Goo-Gull – betimes ‘twould be a house, and recognizable; at times a tall tower, the which the Grables referred to as “apartments,” though as I understood it, these mighty keeps were the homes of many and many, and all sleeping right atop and beside each other, as at an inn on a crowded crossroads; such a situation does not put people “apart,” and thus I took to calling them Togetherments – and we would stop the beast-wagon, rummage through the sack of cell-phones for one labeled according to Chester’s reckoning as attached to this domicile, and then he and I would exit. A house we would approach directly; a Togetherment would call for the press of a button. At some smaller Togetherments, only slightly larger than the richest man’s city dwelling in my Ireland, there would be but four or six buttons – which for some daft reason he could not explain to me (any more than he could explain why they were called “buttons” when they clearly hold no clothing together; though at least there is somewhat of a resemblance in this name), young Chester continually referred to as “bells” or “doorbells.” Clearly they were not affixed to any doors, and just as clearly, the sound they made was more akin to the croak of a dying crow, or perhaps a young boar divided from its mother. Sure and there was nothing of bells about those buttons. And little of buttons.

Any road, the Togetherment buttons would summon a voice, inquiring as to our business. It struck me as passing rude that these people cannot even be bothered to open a door and greet a guest, invite him to share at least a modicum of one’s hospitality. In my mind, an open and welcoming home is a place of pride and the receiver as well as the giver of blessings, whether of the Lord – for the Bible teaches hospitality, does it not? – or of Dame Fortune; but here, and now, these people do not even greet a man with a humble blessing or a Well-met, sir; no, ’twas oft only an impatient-sounding “Yes?”

If these people do not enjoy each other’s company, why do they live so close? On a ship we live in one another’s pockets from necessity; but here, I passed through hundreds of miles of land that was all but empty. Why do these people not live there, with some peace and quiet away from the people they seemingly loathe? Why do they choose a life that does not bring them joy?

Could it be that they do not choose? Is this land so tyrannical, these people so lacking in natural liberty, that they cannot, any of them, choose the manner in which they live? Or could they be so ignorant they do not know that better exists?

Perhaps it is but my ignorance at hand, here, and I should not sit in judgment.

‘Tis hard, though, when they be so clearly wrong.

Aye: stay the course, man.

The “bell” would “ring,” and the somewhat irate “Yes?” issue forth. I spoke first, controlling my temper and my desire to correct their want of manners, and identified myself as sire of Chester; I would inform them that my erstwhile son would like to return something of theirs. Then Chester would interrupt – by the third iteration, we had our timing set, and we wove around each other as do shipmates singing chanteys as they weigh anchor and set sails – and call out, “We have your phone!” He pitched his voice high, so as to seem young; he opened his eyes wider, too, to improve the deception. I would then repeat the lad’s words, and beg entry, which was granted nigh invariably. When so, we would climb some flights of stairs, or stand in a strange doored box called an “elevator” for some moments. (I do not comprehend these “elevators.” I press a button, a door opens; I stand within, press another button, the door closes. There is some sense of motion, not unlike standing on a deck when a wave rocks the ship, but nothing like riding up and down swells in a clean wind, and nothing like the living motion of a horse; nor yet the jarring of a wagon crossing over ruts. Ah! Now it comes to me that it is akin to riding in a beast-wagon: perhaps these elevators are similar. Some displacement must occur, for when the doors open anew, the vista without is changed, generally from one corridor to a somewhat darker corridor. Bah. Americalish magic. Though I would wager that I would be more unsettled by this had I not been transported across 300 years by my Druid mother and an enchanted ship.) Then we would arrive at another door, on which I was to rap with my knuckles; the door would open, and the wide-eyed youth with me would thrust forward a Verizon-stone, the words “Is this yours?” bursting forth from between his teeth, though he knew full well that it was, having aided in bringing this prey to ground.

In the general, we met with success. I would act the part of a proud Da; I confess I ruffled the boy’s hair a time or two, in pursuit of my role. We would make much – more than was deserved – of the boy’s cleverness and honorable intent in seeking out the true owners of the cell-phone; if the recipient pursued it, I would make some shadowed reference to the manner by which I came to possess it: somewhat in the drift of, I and my several cousins and siblings (the elder Grable had intimated that, myself being tangibly, audibly Irish, this would not be glanced at askew; this made me question my people’s reputation in this time, but it proved correct) had tripped to the deceit with these would-be charitable fellows collecting for victims of The Bitch Irene; there had followed something of a donnybrook, ending in the recovery of loot. Et voila. Those who were charmed by the lad gave dollar-papers to him in reward; those who smiled at the thought of a sound pummeling chastisement of the mongrels what had pillaged them handed the money to me. All but one Verizon-stone was returned fitly; for that one, the owner shrugged and told young Chester, “Keep it. I bought a newer one.” On our way back down the stairs, Chester proffered the cell-phone in question to me, saying, “Do you want it?” I was fair loath even to lay a finger on it, and responded, “Do you not?” But the boy shook his head, and with a somber mien but a glint in his eye said, “There were two others that I couldn’t find the owners at all, so I figured they were mine now. Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

I laughed at that, loud and long, and clapped the boy on the shoulder. I have not heard a more apt motto for a rover such as myself. The boy would make a fine pirate. I took the stone from him, giving it in turn to Lynch, who seems both intrigued by the trinket and capable, with Chester’s help, of making it answer to his call.

This day has made me wonder a thing I have not in many a year – aye, not since my Genevra died, and I wed myself to the sea. I wonder thus: how would I stand as a father? Having had none of my own, I do not know the manner of it, though it seems I can counterfeit the part sufficiently to earn gold. But in truth: could I be a Da?

What would my sons be? Would they be true men, or would my corrupted blood out in them, and they take the fashion of Lord Blackwell?

Would my lassies be bonny?

Ha – that would depend on the mother, I trust.

Ah: and on the thought of fathers, one more chance of this day must I record. We did anchor at midday, purchasing sausage-bridies for our supper – the which all the Americalish called “hot dogs,” prompting just a bit of consternation in Kelly, who had to be reassured that these meat-pies were not in fact dog meat, but rather beef ground fine – and I found a moment alone with the elder Grable. I gave him my thanks for piloting the beast-wagon for us, and he did blush at it and look abashed. Said I, “I noticed that you did – hesitate, in producing yon wagon. Did you not?”

Grable sighed, and then nodded. It needed more than one attempt, but at the last, he spoke his confession manfully: “Yea, I was sort of – telling myself it was all right not to mention it to you. It wasn’t really yours, after all, or Ian’s – I mean, he stole it from thieves. And then I told myself that he gave it to me. Or at least, he gave me the van, and the phones, and I thought, if I gave you the phones, then I could – you know – ”

“Keep the wagon,” I finished for him, mortaring in the gap in his speech.

“Yea.” He nodded. He would not meet my eyes.

“Is not the wagon of more value than the phones?”

His shoulders sagged like a sail when the wind dies, and he roughed his hands together as though they had something unclean on them that he would remove by this chafing. He did not speak for a span of breaths; I held my tongue and let his conscience devil him as it would.

Aye: in truth, I thought the wagon were his. I certainly had no claim to it, other than an Englishman’s claim – my man had taken it in battle, and thus it was mine as wergild. ‘Tis much how the English kings held sovereignty o’er the free peoples of Ireland, aye, and of Scotland and Wales and many another place. But I have rights only to what is given to me and what I win by mine own efforts. The Grace of Ireland is mine, for I paid for her with my well-earned gold. When I take another man’s ship, either he gives me what value he hauls, or else I take it in battle. I share equally with my men whose strong backs and arms have allowed me the capture and the victory; they do agree to grant me an extra share for the maintenance of the ship that keeps and sustains us all. ‘Tis all the efforts of each separate man, or else gifts freely given.

Well. Perhaps not freely given. Bah. What do I care of the right of it? This is the way of the world, and I have pulled this thread overlong.

The wagon was Ian’s, who took it in battle. He gave it and the phones to Master Grable, and were it me to whom O’Gallows had given such prizes, I know well they would have stayed mine, come Hell or high water, or Ian himself to reclaim his property. So I thought no less of Grable for his wish to retain the greater prize. But if his conscience wished to give all the plunder to me, well. How can I stand betwixt a man and what he thinks is the right?

“I’ve got a family on that boat,” he said, his hands still wiping at one another, his gaze fixed on the ground at his feet, a thousand miles beyond the horizon. “Four kids. I told them this was a vacation, a big adventure – we’ll sail the ocean blue! All summer! What I didn’t tell them is that we don’t have a home to go back to at the end of summer.” He looked – not to me, but past me, then; I saw that he had the eyes of a father. I have seen them before, in men worn down to the ends of their bones, who have given all they have and then robbed themselves to give more – because behind those eyes are their children, and their children are in need. It is a look beyond mere fatigue, and far beyond worry or fear; it is a deadness, held up by love: it is a look that says this man would gladly lie down and let the Earth cover him – except he has children, and they need food.

Aye. Perhaps it is best I do not have sons.

Grable went on. “I lost my job a year ago. We lost the house in June. This boat and the clothes on our backs are all we have left.”

“I have known men with far less,” I said, gently, but in truth, what need had this man for this maudlin self-sorrow? He had a ship. And she was a fine craft, despite her addlepated name.

He nodded. “I know. But we can’t live on the boat. Not any more. The kids have to be back in school – already should have been. And we can’t stay in this harbor – the harbormaster’s been looking the other way with the fees, because of the storm, but he won’t do that forever. So I’ll have to sell the boat and find us an apartment to rent. But New York rents – they’ll kill us quick. There’s no way I’ll make enough starting out, even if I find a job. I was hoping we could sail somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere cheaper, but I don’t know how to navigate. And if we’d been out in the water when Irene hit, we’d all be dead.” He sighed. “I was hoping that I could sell the van and get some leeway. Or even, I don’t know, keep it – it would help with work.” He shrugged, and then to my surprise he spoke in French. C’est la vie,” he said, and sighed again. I had thought these Americalish had no interest in the tongues and manners of other peoples; those to whom I have spoken have barely heard of Ireland, most of them, and not one in fifty knows that ’tis the mark of Erin on my speech, not the damned King’s English.

Grable went on. “I am glad it’s going to help you guys, though. And Ian, and Llewellyn and everyone.” He met my gaze, at last. “You’re stand up guys. All of you. I’m glad Chester got to know you.”

So ’twas then that I cursed his name, spat in his eye, robbed him blind, and took his wife to be my molly and his children to swab my deck. Aye – sounds like, does it not? How, after that speech, could I do other than I did then?

“Ye can keep the wagon, man,” I said, and clapped him on the shoulder when his jaw dropped agape. “I and mine have no use for the vile-smelling thing. Consider it your wages, you and the lad, for the fine service ye’ve done us this day, and yester.” I reached into my shirt to withdraw a respectable wad of dollar-papers. Grable swallowed twice, his eyes shining, and then thanked me, quietly and manfully.

Aye – I did wonder if ’twas a machination: had he tugged at my heartstrings – already tuned and ready by the mere fact of my Irish blood – hoping for my pity and subsequent largesse? He knew that none of us could handle the infernal thing. I thought back over his words – and an idea came to me then.

“I’ll offer ye a bargain,” says I. Grable tore his eyes away from the beast-wagon, his mind from the calculations and aspirations I had no doubt were whirling within his brain-case. But I had seen that his gaze rested as much on his son, laughing with Lynch and Kelly over a flock of gray-and-white birds that sought bits of Kelly’s luncheon, as they did on his new prize, and I have no doubt as well that those calculations and aspirations were of the father’s sort, not the trickster’s.

When he turned to me now, I cast out my line. “Ye know that we have places we must go, and tasks before us. But the gods willing, we will win the day – and then we shall be as free as birds, and ready to repay good service rendered us.” I paused, and after a moment, Grable urged me on, having sighted my bait. Now for the hook.

“If ye are willing to pilot this wagon for us southwards to Charleston, not only can ye take yon carriage with ye – but after we have taken back what is ours, I and my men will come back here and sail your ship wheresoe’er ye wish it.”

His eyes widened – but his mouth pursed.

A tug on the line was required.

“And if ye’ll teach one of us the manner of managing these wagons – we’ll take it in turn to show ye the way to steer by stars and sextant, and lay your own course. The world’s seas will all be yours – and the beast-wagon, too.”

The corners of his mouth turned up, and I knew I had my man. This was a man in love with the sea; ’twas but his family that held him ashore. But it spoke well of him that he stayed dry for them, and despite his yearning for the wind and the waves. All I offered him was his heart’s wish; how could he say nay?

He had but two more questions – could his boy Chester come along? and Would we pay for fuel for the beast? I answered both in the affirmative, and thus was our bargain struck.

And now, ’tis night, and the moon shines down on me on the deck of the Volare, its light the means by which I keep this log. We have 430 dollar-papers, and we have transportation to Charleston. We have a cell-phone of our own, and soon we will be able to steer a beast-wagon for ourselves.

I pray our course remains so straight and true.

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Log #61: Debts and Assets

Log

I made it but a handful of steps nearer to the Volare when I was hailed anew, once more by name.

“Captain Kane?”

On this occasion, the call came from the second sailing ship on this pier, the Emperor Grable. A man was just stepping down from its gangplank, one arm raised and his hand cautiously a-wave as he peered at me, his head thrust slightly forward in the way of one who seeks notice but fears rebuke.

“Should I ever enter the trades, I should not need to hang a shingle; everyone knows my name already!” I muttered mannerlessly through my frown. I was still discomposed by the dispute with Brother Bob. Aye, well: more by the thought that that unfrocked pedant might be in the right, and the fates of all of my men and my ship all hang from the web of my lies, my crimes, my failures. But I gave myself a vigorous shake, as a sail snapping full of wind after coming about, and I cast aside these doubts and aspersions. It matters not who is to blame: it matters what is to be done. And whatever is required to see my men and my ship safe, I will do it.

I faced the man as he approached and bowed to him so he would not take umbrage at my initial discourtesy. “Aye, good sir. Captain Damnation Kane am I, of the Grace of Ireland, may she be blessed wheresoever she be.”

He nodded and looked more at ease, his head drawing back over his shoulders, and he thrust out a hand, the which I took with all respect due to a fellow ship’s captain, and all the warmth I felt for another salty dog o’ the sea. “Everett Grable,” he said. “That’s my lady there – the Emperor Grable.”

I nodded. “Aye, she is a lovely craft, indeed. Are you her namesake, sir?”

He smiled and waved a hand. “No – that was my father. I’m afraid he was a little – full of himself. But he taught me to sail on her, and it didn’t seem right to change the name after he died.”

I shook my head vigorously at that. “No, indeed! ‘Tis the worst sort of luck to change a ship’s name. It confuses her, you see, and she’ll not hearken to you at all, after.”

Captain Grable frowned, but then shrugged. Aye – just let him try it, and he’d see. Changing a name, taking away an identity built by miles and years, by storms and suns, by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, merely for the pleasure or convenience of another – ’tis not only confusing, but ’tis a terrible insult. When I write my bosun’s name in this log, I fashion it Kelly, but ’tis only because the writing of Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann gives one the wrist-cramp. When I address the man, I say Ceallachan. Aye, now that I consider it, mayhap this business of names lies close to my own heart: I served under a captain that refused to use my given name for the cursedness of it, and refused to use my family name for I was a raw hand, and a youth of barely nineteen summers; he addressed me – when he did so at all – as Nathaniel. And whene’er he did so, it ground my teeth together, and I wanted to shout: my mother gave me my name, to remind me of my father – of my enemies, and my vengeance so long deferred. I will wear it, and proudly, until I bring mine enemies to that very same state. And who are you to change it? To take away my revenge, my pride? Damn you, then, sir. I curse you with my name.

Aye. I know the worth and weight of a given name.

Though to tell true, I did think that Captain Grable had already somewhat of troublousness with the name of his ship; why anyone would lump a lovely and graceful lass like that with a masculine name like “Emperor” was a mystification to me. For a ship, any ship, is a woman, plain as the dawning sun at sea: they are beautiful, and they are graceful (Except when they are not – and sure there are a few tubs waddling about the seas what will make a man wince and turn away, grateful she isn’t his to come home to. But even those, to the men that love them, have beauty enough. My thrust is that no man is beautiful, and no man is graceful. Women are. Ships are.) and they will not listen to their captains for one instant unless you bring them gifts and coddle them and then ask politely for what you wish. The Empress Grable – now that, ’tis a name for a ship.

There are men in this world who believe that ships – and women – may be captained, and controlled, with anger and with brute strength – with a blow, rather than a kiss. Too often, such men are allowed to live, and to wield that heavy hand so oft as they wish. Such a man is my father. Such a man is Nicholas Hobbes. And he has my Grace. I shudder to think of what he will do to her.

But I take some solace in this: ships know who they are. They know their captains, too. I had no doubt that my Grace would sail but reluctantly, peevishly, shrewish in the extreme, for the thieves and liars that had taken her from me – and who, if Kelly was right, had planted the figurehead of another ship on her bow. Ha! She would be most deeply outraged at that insult, I was sure.

Howsoever, ’twas my duty, now, to rescue her from her captors. I needed to confer with my men, and determine our next steps, and so I took the liberty of inviting Captain Grable aboard the Volare, to continue our conversation there, if he had aught to add – and he did, for he accepted, and we made our way aboard and belowdecks.

Once there, I called all to order and put it to them: how would we find the Grace? I first asked for a list of our assets and advantages, which I began myself: it seemed, from Kelly’s account, that Hobbes and his Shadowman/Houndman had need of me; but they did not know where I was. They did not know that Kelly had survived and brought to me news of their actions, and of their apparent destination, this Bermuda Triangle. Thus, we had both time and surprise on our side – time as they could not carry out their plans until they found me, and surprise because we would find them first.

Then Captain Grable contributed to our conversation and to our list of assets: he went above and hailed his son, Chester; when the boy had dashed over from the Emperor Grable, he and his father made us a kind gift: they returned the swag which my men had given to them, the which comprised a large cloth sack filled with Verizon Stones and magic windows, these items so precious to the Americalish people. At first, I was adrift without words, and I fear my initial protestations of gratitude were somewhat lacking in sincerity; in truth, following my tribulations aboard the dragon-train, I wished for nothing but the destruction of all Verizon-Stones, all magic windows, every cursed one. But spying my ill-mannered hesitancy, Captain Grable explained: these objects would be of greatest value to their original owners, the which, if we could discover them, would be likely to show their gratitude for the return of their infernal mechanicals in the form of currency. For that, I had no hesitancy. I expressed my confusion as to how we would find the owners; were the items branded, or sealed, perhaps? Or was there a central authority with a list of identifying marks for magic windows? The Grables, per and fils, eyed me askance, and then offered an explanation that I could not fathom at all. Somewhat to do with charging and then checking contacts and calling to inquire if any items had been lost. Though I could not comprehend, they seemed most sure of the efficacy of this proposed solution, and I bowed to their greater knowledge.

I was silenced, then, by Mistress Rosenblum, for that kind lady rose, went to a small shelf, and withdrew from a drawer a pistola and a quantity of dollar-papers, which she attempted to press on me, saying that my men had given them to her, and she wished to return them. I did endeavor to refuse – for how could she return to me that which had never been mine to claim? And how could I accept this kindness from her without returning already that which she gave me in hospitality, and succor of my men? – but her insistence was most – insistent. Thus, I thanked her as effusively as I could, and accepted.

And there ended our advantages. Our defects and weaknesses began: we had no ship and no crew, and no way to follow the Grace to her destination, nor means of regaining control of her should we find means to arrive there. We had no real concept of what Hobbes and the Shadowman intended with her, though we let ourselves roam in speculation: perhaps they meant to carry on where Shluxer and O’Flaherty had been prevented, and sail these shores, this time, as a pirate craft; with the Sea-Cat gone, such a turn would bring their thoughts naturally to my Grace, the stealing of which would also serve to avenge Hobbes’s own loss at my hand. But for the sake of vengeance, I saw the matter more likely following this course: the object of that vengeance was myself, and holding the Grace was the surest way to draw me to them.

Talking of this leeched the peace from me, and I rose and paced, casting about the cabin of the Volare for somewhat to soothe me; but nothing could. All I could think was: they have my ship. I cannot follow. I cannot take her back from them. They have my ship. Around my head went these words, as around the cabin went my stride, and in neither case was there progress.

At last, I was forced to leave. I begged forbearance of my hosts and allies, and made my way above and then down the Volare’s gangplank to the pier. I walked to the end and then stood gazing out at the uneasy waters; the tide was at its turn, and the swells wobbled and fell against one another like men far gone in drink, attempting to make their way homeward. I found myself wishing – aye, even praying – that my Grace could somehow stumble her own way home to me.

Then I found myself gazing at the Emperor Grable. She was a doughty craft, thought I. Sturdy. She rode the larger swells with ease, breasting the smaller ones handily. Perhaps I had been wrong, in thinking her too small and too delicate to make way through open seas. If we had good weather – and too, her single mast meant that four able seamen could sail her . . . and but one man and a boy to defend her . . . and they had womenfolk to worry about . . .

“No, Captain,” spake a voice behind me. I started, sure for a moment that mine own conscience had spoken to me, that some angel or spirit was standing by my shoulder, whispering into my ear. I turned on my heel – and there stood Balthazar Lynch, his jaw set, his gaze steady on mine. He shook his head, and said again, “No, sir. She is not for us. That is not our way.”

I parted my lips to deny, to spout outrage that he could think that I would – but ‘struth, I would. I turned away from his gaze. After a breath, I said, “It is the only way. I cannot just let her go.”

I turned back to him – nay, in truth, I rounded on the lad, looming, my fists clenched. I confess that a part of my soul was truly outraged: outraged that this boy, this stripling, would say his captain Nay. “I will not let that soulless damned bastard take my ship,” I growled at him. “And you did hear that man – we must have a ship. We cannot make the journey to this Triangle without we sail there.”

He shook his head, bending not at all, though my greater height forced his chin up to meet my gaze with his bottomless eyes. “That is not all he said,” he hissed.

I threw up my hands. “Aye – he said we could fly,” I said, my voice mocking. I turned and kicked a stone into the air – and then it fell into the sea, and vanished beneath. That for flying, thought I. I said, “That is a ship, there. And I – I am a pirate!”

I felt Lynch’s hand on my shoulder, and somehow, it eased my tautened limbs, slowed my racing heart. “You are a pirate, aye,” he spoke, his words but a whisper. “And you are a good man. You cannot do this and remain such. You cannot lose your goodness and remain Damnation Kane. My – captain. My friend.”

I felt all the strength go out of me. “So what would you have me do? I cannot fly there for the wishing. We have not the gold to buy our passage aboard the air-planes.”

Lynch made a noise that shared both anger and disgust – but it was not a hopeless sound. He knew something, but he did not want to speak of it. Heartened, I turned to him; he had his back to me, but I grabbed his slender shoulders and turned him back to face me: now he would not meet my gaze. “What?” I asked him. “Speak!”

He sighed and looked up at me. “Must I say it, Nate? Must I?”

I tightened my grip. “What, man! Tell me!”

With a sudden movement, he broke free of my grasp, and took two quick steps away. He stopped and glared angrily at me, his color high, his lips parted over clenched teeth. “You can fly. She will take you.

Meredith,” he said, and her name was a curse he spat at me. He turned then and stalked away, even as I cried out at his glad tidings.

For he was right! My lady, my love – she is a pilot. She has her own craft! And though we had not enough for the purchase of an air-plane cabin – we could find the clink for a berth aboard a dragon-train, I knew. With the hundred dollars from the Rosenblums, and the dollars from the magic windows’ return – aye, we’d find a way. We’d make a way.

I know not why Lynch was so reluctant to speak of this. I am glad he did, for he has given me a new hope.

Now: now I will go and see if the lad Chester has charged his Verizon-stones – perhaps they require powder and fuse? Must they be loaded and primed, like muskets? – and we shall see if I may charm my way into recompense generous enough to pay my way.

My way back to Charleston. And my lady fair.

And then, into the skies: to Bermuda, and the fairest lady of them all. My Grace.

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Log #60: Karma

“Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

The Englishmen had tramped aboard at a quick march; together with the dark men, they outnumbered my depleted crew, and outgunned them, as well. O’Gallows had seen the folly of fighting, and had instantly ordered surrender – “Though he bloody well choked on the words, Cap’n. Had to cough and spit t’ get ’em out with heft enow to be heard.” But say those words he had, and my men had obeyed. Hobbes and the Shadowman had bound the wrists of my crew and tied them to the rails.

Kelly grinned then, which split his injured mouth and sent fresh trickles of blood down his chin – a most gruesomely piratical grin, it was. “They tied us – but they did not search us proper. I had a knife in me boot, and so did half the others. Salty had a full marlinspike in his trousers, though I don’t know how they missed that. P’raps they thought ’twas his cock.” His eyes widened then, even as I managed a small smile, and he ducked his head to Mistress Rosenblum, who was dabbing at his cuts with a cloth dipped in something the color of old blood – “Iodine” was writ on the bottle, though I know not this physic. “Begging your pardon, Mistress,” he said, but she shook her head and patted his cheek gently. “You’re a sailor, young man. And I live on a boat.” She flashed a smile at her man. “With a sailor,” she said, and both of them grinned like mischievous children.

Kelly went on. “They had bound me beside MacTeigue, and he and I whispered together when the men guarding us walked away – ’twas the dark men, for the Englishers were making ready to sail. O’Gallows they kept on the poop deck with Hobbes and that thin bastard; that thin one wanted to know where you were, Cap’n, and when you’d be back. I weren’t close enow to hear all of it, but your name was shouted more than once.” He met my gaze then, though he had been lying back on the bench as he spoke. “Hobbes, he wanted you something fierce, true enough. He surely does.”

“Aye,” I said. “‘Tis mutual.”

“But while I could not hear all that they were sayin’, I did hear this: two of the dark men who kept the watch on us spoke on how much longer the business would last. I got the idea that they were hired hands, sir – pressed just for the taking of the ship. For one said, ‘We don’t be sailing on this ship, do we man?’ And t’other shook his head and said, “Nah, man, they be taking this to the Triangle. Make we no business there. The Houndman – he don’t need us, once the boat go. We stay here.’ T’other one laughed and said, ‘He no need us for this at all, man. Him a real bad mo-jo man. Him use us for that he no want no blood spilled, not in the clash and botheration and all.'”

When he spoke as the dark men, Kelly’s deep rumble of a voice and his thick Irish brogue vanished, his voice and accent becoming that of another man entire; I had heard him perform thus in the past, but the Rosenblums were startled. It is indeed remarkable to hear another’s voice coming from that mighty frame, but I have never known a better mimic than he. I stopped Kelly then, however, for I had questions to ask: “Houndman? Be that what they called their master, the thin one? And mo-jo man?” I leaned forward in my excitement and grabbed his wrist, but he winced at the touch and I drew back my hand. But not the query, which I pressed again.

But ’twas Master Rosenblum who spoke. “I don’t know about Houndman, but mo-jo is a word for magic, like witchcraft, or vudu. And if that was an island accent – didn’t it sound like the islands, Iris?” He turned to his lady, who nodded vigorously and murmured compliments for Kelly’s mimicry. Master Rosenblum went on. “If those men were from the islands, then the ‘Triangle’ is probably the Bermuda Triangle.

“They’re taking your ship to Bermuda.”

***

Kelly told the rest of his tale, but I confess I listened with but half an ear, having heard all that I wanted to know: their destination. Having heard this from the dark men, and knowing as he did the need to get this information to me, Kelly had resolved to find a way off the ship; but before he could cut his bonds and make his escape, the Grace had weighed anchor and left the dock. Kelly despaired, then, but soon another came to the rescue. That is, came to my rescue; for ’twas nearly the doom of poor Kelly. His staunch loyalty does him the greatest of honor. ‘Twas my true friend, Ian O’Gallows, who saw the way: being that the theft was accomplished and the Grace was under sail, Hobbes and the Houndman dismissed O’Gallows. My mate went to sound the men, whispering queries under the guise of checking for any hurts or malcontents; and finding them determined, he whispered his plan: one of them must feign death, so as to be thrown overboard. If they acted swiftly, the false corpse would be close enough to shore to swim it, and then return to Pier Eighty-Three and wait for my arrival. They could not simply slip one man over the rail, as the guards would see, and the thunder-guns tear him to pieces. O’Gallows had left them then, before the guards grew over-suspicious; the rest of the crew had consulted, and decided quickly that there was only one course to chart: since the dark men had stated that their shadowy master wanted no blood spilled, then any fighting would surely be done with fists, not with blades or bullets. So one of the Grace’s men would slip his bonds and attack, and be beaten to the appearance of death; the man would need to pretend it, but not too soon – not until he had suffered sufficient injury that could cause a man’s demise – so the guards would believe. Vaughn could attest to the man’s apparent death. This man would then be cast over the rail, and find himself buffeting the cold waves for perhaps a mile or more; this distance continuing to grow as they conferred in whispers snatched behind the backs of the dark men, as the Grace sailed farther and farther out to sea.

Kelly was the only choice. He was the largest, the strongest, and the most tar-headed of all the men; this folly would need to be his. O’Gallows had meandered over, heard the plan, agreed to carry word of his role to Vaughn on the poop deck, and then he ordered them to proceed. No sooner had the mate walked away than Kelly had cut his bonds, handed the blade to Salty so the fisticuffs would not escalate to blood-letting, and then leapt to the fray. The result, I saw before me – though in telling of it, Kelly smiled around bloody teeth and said, “Aye, Cap’n – but ye should see them other bastards.”

Having heard all that Kelly could tell, I thanked him, most sincerely, and ordered him to the hospital, accompanied by the Rosenblums and ferried by Brother Bob and the wagon and team. Lynch, MacManus and I were kindly given permission to remain aboard the Volare as we charted our future course. The last favor I asked of the already-generous Rosenblums was the answer to a single question: how best to hie to Bermuda in pursuit of my Grace?

Master Rosenblum pursed his lips and shook his head. “You’d have to fly. Or sail, though you’d need an ocean-ready boat. It’s an island, and a pretty good ways away – a thousand miles from here. Maybe two. Out into open ocean – and it’s hurricane season.”

Aye. I admit it. When they had gone, leaving me unattended and in command of their craft, I did consider taking it and setting sail. But in truth, the craft was too small to make a sea voyage of that distance – and though the Emperor Grable, two berths down-pier, was larger, it would be difficult for we three to sail it through heavy seas; the same was true for any craft large enough to brave rough weather. Too, doing this would require abandoning Kelly to be held ransom, and I had no doubt that Brother Bob would summon la policia were I to add to my list of crimes.

The which I very nearly did, and on his person, when the man returned from his errand; for this sanctimonious fool of an unfrocked priest had words for me. Nay: ’twas but one word.

“Karma,” quoth he, as Lynch and MacManus were aiding the Rosenblums down from the wagon and aboard the Volare. I had queried them as they arrived as to my bosun’s situation, and been told that he would be well, but was required to abide in the hospital until the morrow. I stayed for a moment, brooding on this – would we need to flee the attention of another Accountman? At this rate we might run through all of the hospitals in America! – when Brother Bob spoke. Distracted, I turned to him and made some interrogatory noise, thus releasing the flood.

“Karma. K-A-R-M-A. It’s the word we use for when the universe balances the scales, and gives you exactly what you deserve.”

I scoffed at him. “The godly men that I have known would call that Divine Justice. But then, they had faith in the will of the Lord.” Aye, ’twas uncouth to badger him so over a thing so personal to a man as his faith, but I had no patience left for Brother Bob’s carping, having carried that weight so far and for so long; most particularly at this hour was I not a-brim with patience.

“Yes – I mean, I do believe in God’s justice. I was only – fine. Divine justice, then. You’re looking right at it.” He slapped his hand down on the wooden seat under him. “You stole this wagon – and now your ship has been stolen from you. ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.'”

In a trice, I had leapt up onto the seat, and took his shirt in my hands, torn between throwing the Puritanical prig to the ground, and lifting him up to put his donkey’s ears close enough to hear my words properly. I settled on the latter course. “You think those men were godly?” I hissed at him, my anger boiling in my blood – anger set aflame by Hobbes and his pillaging, by my own frustration at how close I had come to sailing free on my own ship, and how far I was now from regaining her: a thousand miles or more? Across open ocean in hurricane season? Christ and Danu! – anger that now had a focus. I shook him just to hear his teeth rattle in his flap-hinged mouth. “You think that bloodsucking bastard Hobbes is the tool of Providence? Yon black-eyed cur has murdered more than half of my men! Chased us across the ocean, pushed us here, to this – this abyss unfit for any man of honor or of worth – and all for what? For bloody prize-money! I shook him again, harder; I did wish that it were Hobbes in my grasp. “That is justice? You call it so? What of Kelly? Is his pain, the risk of his life – is that my punishment for this wagon? Or perhaps for these horses?” I tore my hands from his cloth, then, staggering back to stand straight in the bed of the wagon, my every effort bent on resisting the urge to strike him down – an effort aided somewhat by the fact that I was unarmed.

Brother Bob did not make my forbearance easy. He shook his finger in my face and shouted, “It’s all your fault! You brought this on yourself and on your men! You are pursued by violent men because you are a violent man! These are the wages of your sins! Your men suffer because you led them into iniquity! You are the villain here!”

Teeth gritted, my vision turned the color of blood, I drew back my fist to strike – and was clasped about the wrist by MacManus, who had returned to quell the shouting. “Captain,” he said, and I rounded on him, though I retained sense enough to resist lashing out at any who stood before me; facing my loyal friend now began to cool my ire. Shane met my gaze and said, “We are for the ship, sir. For the Grace of Ireland. Stay the course.”

‘Twas enough. Without turning back or uttering another word to Brother Bob, I leapt down from the wagon. I took a deep and calming breath, and then blew it out. I nodded to MacManus and clapped him on the shoulder. I pointed to the wagon and its load of folly. “Watch him. See he doesn’t leave.” I smoothed a hand over the near horse’s back, aware (albeit too late) of how our dispute had agitated them. I spoke softly, now. “This may be our only means of transport.” Brother Bob, hearing this, began to harangue and hector me anew, now with the theme of my worthless promises, my broken word that he could return the wagon and team. I turned my gaze on him, and ’twas enough to close his mouth, the look in my eye.

Softly, still, for the sake of the horses’ nerves, I said to him, “I told you that the wagon and the beasts would be returned after we reached my ship.” I looked weightily at the empty space where the Grace had been – ah, ’twas reflected in the empty space in my heart! – and then raised an eyebrow at him. I turned my back on his red-faced silence and walked towards the Volare.

Divine justice. Bah.

Of course he was right. Of course he was. The fault is mine. But so too was MacManus right: I am for the Grace. I must stay the course. If I must suffer to atone for my sins, I will do so: but I will do it aboard the deck of my ship. Then I will bleed as the gods will it.

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Log #59: Curses

BLOODY BUGGERING POXY HELLFIRE GOBSHITE!

Bah! It is no help.

Ye gods, ye gods! She is gone. How can this be?

Perhaps it is not. I swooned, I think, though my men will not say so for the shame of my weakness. But when we saw the empty space where my Grace

Ah, God, I cannot write her name.

Please, God. I beg of Thee. I must have my ship. I cannot live without her, Lord. Please. Hear me. Help me. God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In Nomine Patri, et fi – I cannot remember it. Stab me, split me, burn me, and sink me, I cannot remember it!

Please, Almighty God. Amen.

Later

I would that I knew how to pray, what words, what language – the Gaelic for the gods of my mother, to be sure; is it Latin for the God of my father? Or is it enough that my heart cries out to the skies and to the heavens above, wordless cries of anguish and grief and rage?

BAH! No. I will not. I will not pray to the god of Devil Cromwell, the god of the Inquisition. The god of Puritan rapists. Aye, aye, I did just that on this very page, not two hours past. But that I did write in the depths of black despair. I seek now for the words to give my gratitude to those powers and deities that watch me, and that saw fit to set me on my path. I would thank the gods for the knowledge of my ship’s fate. For I know that she lives, still. I know where she has gone, and wherefore.

And for every laud, every psalm, every paean I would wing up to those beings above for their kind guidance, I have a thousand curses to heap on the head of Nicholas Hobbes for his vile iniquity. ‘Twas he.

I have not time for this log. But I will write my thanks, for I wrote my plea, and ’twas answered; perhaps it is this pen, this ink, this paper that carries my words, my thoughts, my soul aloft into the eyes and ears of the Divine.

I would tear out that place where I turned to my father’s despised and despicable god, both from these papers and from my breast; but as it clearly rests within me even now, let my shameful cowardice remain here, as well. I knew not what I wrote; the roots are sunk deep in me, that this hypocrisy flows so readily from me in my extremity. Aye: it be in my blood, not so? Some awe, some dread, some desperate – longing? Nay!

Bah. Enough. ‘Tis not the time to meditate on my faltering.

I thank thee, Danu, Lugh, Manannan Mac Lir, Lord of the Sea. I thank thee, oh Fates, who weave the tapestry of our lives. I thank thee, Mother Earth, and Father Ocean, for thy kind succor in my time of need. Thou wilt all have my fealty, my obeisance, and my right arm to defend thee.

And in exchange, if any of you be listening: I will have my ship. And Nicholas Hobbes’s head. For if I cannot take God’s head, then the Devil’s will serve.

Later

Perhaps I should not have written what I did about beheading the Almighty. It would seem that the powers above take such threats amiss – aye, well, not amiss, for I did aim and hit my mark, in truth; they be not pleased with it, nor me, is my meaning – and seek to chastise me by the simple expedient of setting my passions aflame, lighting the fuse to the powderkeg that is my heart, and blowing me to Kingdom Come.

Nay, to be sure it is not so, as I have just been disputing with that rock-headed, burnt-arsed dolt, Brother Bob. I but jest, and ’tis not having the desired calming effect on myself.

I will turn the page to hide all this, and begin anew.

Now: I have a task, and my task is to find peace, to soothe my thrumming nerves and cool my sparking, sputtering temper. I have taken to the water and bathed ‘neath the waves, at MacManus’s urging; clever man. The struggle against the tide and the chop has eased my limbs, tautened by the need to fight, to attack, that has squeezed me and slashed at me from the moment I could put a name and a face to my Nemesis, the one who has stolen my Grace. Now my arms, my legs, my back, are all pleasantly wearied. It is my hope that the effort of writing out all of this day’s events in this log will have a similar effect on my mind and heart, and this ink will act as did the cool waters on my heated flesh, the taste of salt on my lips that quieted my tongue that did thirst for the blood of my enemies, and aye, even my friends. I have tried to spill that good blood, this day, more than once. Curse me for a hot-tempered fool.

But now the tale, and a hope for serenity at its close.

We arrived here, at Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, and looked for the masts; for though there are dozens of ships docked here, none of them are sailing ships like my Grace. And at the end of the pier, we did see masts upthrust from the water; overjoyed at this sight, I leapt from the wagon, followed on the instant by Lynch, and we raced to those masts, laughing and capering like buffoons – or like sailors coming home at last. Only to find that these were not the masts we were looking for.

These masts belonged to a pair of small pleasure craft of this time, not to my beautiful Grace of Ireland. But in seeing the names writ on the sides and stern of these craft – the smaller one called the Volare, the larger the Emperor Grable – I knew we were in the right place, for these were the names Vaughn had told me, of the sister ships whose masters had served as boon companions to my men after the bitch-storm Irene.

But the Grace was gone.

I sent Lynch and MacManus to search the entire pier, and to confirm that ’twas Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, while I would search the water, so far as I could see. But we found nothing. I returned to Brother Bob, who waited atop the wagon seat, a look of concern returned to his kind features, effacing the condemnation that had twisted his mien since Amish lands. I wrote something in my log while awaiting my men’s report, I know not what without looking, the which I shall not do for the sake of my would-be equanimity. Then Lynch called out to me from farther up the pier: “Captain! ‘Tis the right pier, but no sign of her, sir. Shall we search the next piers, as well?” I shouted aye, search all the eighties (For perhaps they had needed to move berths to avoid la policia or some such – but if ’twere true, they would not go far. Would they? I cursed myself then for not determining a second meet-point in case of discovery and tribulations, like a green captain new to the Brotherhood, the which I most certainly am not.). Lynch called out, “Aye, Captain!” and raced off to tell MacManus.

As I walked to and fro in my agitation, then, of a sudden I was hailed, from the smaller of the masted pleasure craft nearby. “Excuse me, sir. Are you the Captain? Captain Kane?”

My blood surged at the words, even as I surged forward to the ship’s rail. “Aye, I am Damnation Kane, captain of the – Grace of Ireland.” I coughed to clear the clot from my throat. “Do I know you, sir?”

The man who stood by the hatchway that led below the little craft’s deck shook his grey-locked head. “No, you don’t. But this man knows you.” He reached down, grasped an outstretched hand – a very large outstretched hand – and aided two people up to the deck: a woman as grey-haired and bent-backed as he, who was almost vanished under the man whose arm was around her shoulders for support as he staggered up the ladder: my bosun, Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Kelly.

I cried out with joy at he sight, and leapt aboard to relieve the oldsters of their prodigious burden; in the process, all the four of us stumbled our way to berths on the cushioned benches on deck. As the kindly old folk – Master and Mistress Rosenblum, they informed me – as they gasped and coughed, sore winded by the massive man they had been hauling about, I took stock of my man, and saw on the instant why he had needed the support of a granny to make it up the ladder: I have never seen a man more gravely beaten. His flesh was black and blue, where it was not reddened with dried blood, over nearly every inch the eye could touch upon. His face had been washed, but was so swollen and cut from lip to nose to eye, so that only his size and the patch he wore over his missing left eye – lost in our second battle with that motherless bastard Hobbes – could identify him.

I asked after his health, and was assured that he would recover – which statement was cast into some doubt by the cough that racked him while he answered, and the blood that he spat to the deck after he coughed; though I could see that this claret came from but a split lip, and not from the lungs – that naught was broken but a few ribs and his fingers. “I ne’er thought you’d find a skull harder than your fist, man,” I jested, and Kelly smiled, so far as he could.

“Twas by reason o’ quantity, like, Cap’n, not the hardness,” he said. Then he coughed again, one hand on his side; I lifted his shirt, and saw a great black mark there, stretched from his first rib to his last; he had taken a mighty blow, perhaps struck with a mallet, or an oar.

“He needs a hospital,” Mistress Rosenblum said, as she came quickly up from below with a cup of water, the which she held to Kelly’s bloody lips as he drank thirstily. “He needs to see a doctor.” She looked at me with a gimlet eye. “But he wouldn’t leave. Said he had to wait for you. He was sure you would come.”

I nodded and patted his knee through his breeches, as I could not see a place on him that wasn’t bloody or bruised. “Aye, he’s a good man. Fear not, Madame, I shall have him seen to.”

Kelly pushed away the cup with another weak cough, and then his one good eye, swollen near shut and bloodshot as well, fixed on me.

“‘Twas Hobbes, Captain. ‘Twas the Devil’s Lash. He took the Grace.”

And ’twas then that I swooned. At the least, I have no memory of the next few breaths, until I came to myself sprawled athwart the cushioned bench, my heart galloping and my skin turned all to gooseflesh. My breath panted shallow and quick, like a beast at bay, and my lips curled around every curse and oath that I have ever heard, and all directed at Thomas Hobbes. Fortunately, I spoke too low for the lady to hear, and I ceased as soon as I knew where and who I was, and gathered myself once more. That is to say: I ceased forming the words with my mouth, though they continued on marching in rank and column through my mind. They do it still, waving the flag of Hobbes before them.

Kelly told me, once I had begged a drink stronger than water from the hospitable Master Rosenblum, of all that had befallen the day before – but one day! Curse the fates for that. Curse me for leaving that dragon-train, and for allowing myself to be taken and robbed. Had I been here one day earlier, then I would be the one sailing away aboard my ship, and not that walking mass of pig shite and brimstone.

“They asked permission, Cap’n. Permission to come aboard. Said they had news of you – knew your name, Cap’n. Had it from Hobbes, I reckon.”

I frowned at him. “You let those English bastards aboard?”

He shook his head, and winced at it. “Nay, Cap’n, not they. ‘Twas six or seven dark men, Africans, like, wi’ long knotted hair. Long as a woman’s braids, but all over the head, like.”

“They call them dread-locks,” Mistress Rosenblum interjected.

My blood turned to ice, then. “Was one of them clean-headed, thin as a whip, with a smile like a death’s head?”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. ‘Twas him what did the talking.”

Once O’Gallows – who had never seen the Shadowman, as I had, and therefore had no reason to suspect foul play – had given them permission to board, the dark men had drawn pistolas and taken O’Gallows, Vaughn, and two others captive; a signal had been given, and from behind a warehouse came the English bearing thunder-guns. And something else.

“They had the Scourged Lady, Cap’n.”

I goggled at him. “The figurehead? From the Sea-Cat?”

He nodded. “Aye. And when they had the Grace, and all of us bound and tethered to the rails, Hobbes ordered her lashed to the foremast.”

It came to me then. “We sank her. We sank his ship, didn’t we.”

“Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

The momentary sense of triumph fell away. “And now he’s taken mine, in return.”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

My hands clenched into fists. “Then we will take it back,” I said, my throat choked near closed with hatred. But my words were heard, for Kelly nodded once more. “Aye, Cap’n,” quoth he, his voice like thunder rumbling in the distance – a storm coming soon. “I reckon so.”

It took some effort to unbend my fingers, to loosen the taut knot of my throat, but I did so; the whiskey that Master Rosenblum had kindly provided was a true helpmeet in this. I took several deep breaths, and my enkindled blood cooled slightly. For the nonce. “Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

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Log #58: Horror, Fool, and the Cliff

Log

September 19

Arrrr, blast me brain and sink me to the depths, ye scurvy scalawags.

I do not know why I wrote that. I have not the will nor the strength to blot it nor tear it from the page. My reserves are not merely depleted, but entirely exhausted: there is nothing left. All I can do is follow the road, this black, unyielding, iron-shot, soul-searing – this never-ending infernal road! All of my might is focused merely on continuing to breathe this foul air, with its smokes and its stinks. I am grateful that Brother Bob has accompanied us, and what’s more, that he has not only ceased to speak of our sins in taking this wagon and team (By the gods, I do not care to imagine what we would be if but our feet carried us thus far and forward from here: skeletons atop bloody stumps with madness in our eyes, methinks), but he has also most generously volunteered to purchase provisions for the four of us, and thus have we been fed on this journey; I assume he knows that my men would be taking food as we took the wagon, at the end of the pistola, and thus to avoid, he opens his purse-strings for us. ‘Tis well: I do not wish to have la policia know of us this far north; if they should commune with their brethren to the south, they would soon find our names black-marked in Charleston. Best we avoid notice. Aye, aye, the wagon, but – ’twas necessary. And has not yet brought misfortune to us, so we will keep hope, and carry on. On this thrice-damned Hell-burned road.

I find my pen is run dry: not of ink, but of words. I have this day seen yet another – monstrosity – of this age. I know not how to describe it for these pages. How many of these horrors can I find, and then enscribe herein, before they all blur into a single grotesque of metal and smoke and unnatural foulness?

What is this age? Who are these men? How can they live thus?

They cannot even claim to lack examples of a more proper life, for even if they forget their history, the time when I was born and where I should be, they have these Amish men to show them a better way – and yet they eschew the green fields, the woods, the open land; they build cities, and ride in the bellies of beast-wagons and dragon-trains and air-planes. And, now that we have crossed the bounds of this state Brother Bob names New Jersey, we find that they poison the very earth beneath their feet, the very air they breathe.

It began with a stench, a stench I cannot describe – smoke and death, like a midden heap outside a slaughterhouse, doused with tar and set afire and then heaped with damp and rotten straw to increase the smoke. Aye, well, I can describe it, true enough. Fah – ’tis a great frustration to me, to find myself so bone-wearied by my journey and by my fears for my ship and my men and our future path even after we reunite, and then atop that to see terrible, soul-darkening sights, day after day after day. I cannot tell (Aye, again, perhaps I can, but I know not where I find the strength to draw the words, what well sinks deep enough within to fill my pen with a stream of language that may be pure. But I must wonder: do I drink of that purity and goodness within, and am I thus renewed? Or do I draw out and spill forth on these pages, with these words, my last remaining goodness, my last featherweight of beauty? Be there more within, or now less and now less and now less? Aye, and here is another fear to weigh upon me, and perhaps to taint but more of that goodness within.), I cannot say how truly I long for the ocean, and no sight but wind and waves to all horizons.

After the stink, there was the sight: here I know not what to say, truly. It was a construct, a mass of metal and stone rising from the ground, as large as any other I have seen, fortress nor palace nor cathedral. Tall chimneys rose up like towers above a keep, but rather than flying pennons in the air, they flew flags of black smoke, rising for miles into the sky, darkening the blue of heaven with their foulness – and spreading the stench we had been breathing all that morning.

I asked aloud what it was, and Brother Bob – who had paid it no mind, a fact I find as chilling as the fact of this thing’s very existence, for it means that such corruption is common in his life, in this world – said it was an oil refinery. I did shake my head. “There is nothing fine, nor refined, about yon Hell,” I told him. He but shrugged his shoulders. Brother Bob finds us poor company, now. Though why he sees our small crime as a worse offense to the eyes of the gods, or of his One God, than that refinery, I know not.

“That’s industry,” he said. “That’s jobs. If it’s a choice between the environment suffering a little smoke, a little spilled oil, or men starving without work, watching their families go hungry, then it’s no choice at all.”

Aye, I grasp that. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of my countrymen starved after Devil Cromwell conquered us, and his Puritan men prevented the Irish from growing food for themselves, slaughtering our livestock and burning our fields. But I do not see men hard at work in this age. I have seen no man tilling a field, not in the hundreds of miles we have traveled: I have seen more metal engines, which Bob named combines and tractors and threshers. I have seen no man bringing his goods from one place to another on these roads: I have seen beast-wagons. I have seen no men at work manufacturing products for market: I have seen this oil refinery, and many another place Bob has called “industry.” But how can a man be industrious when his own hands are idle, when his own feet move not nor bear his weight, when he but rides in a machine and commands other machines to do the work?

I think the devil has found here a whole nation of men ready to listen to his whispers, and their hands are thus made idle. Aye, and their souls, too, and their minds, and their hearts, as well.

I must go home.

September 20

Tomorrow I think we will arrive. Bob says we are close. I endeavored to find a telephone that could reach out to my friend Vaughn, but we passed none. No matter: tomorrow I will speak to him with my own mouth, to his own ears. Tomorrow, I will stand aboard my ship. Tomorrow.

Today, we met a fool. Two, in truth.

We made for the ocean, this morning, to let its salty winds blow from our noses the stench of this age’s industry, to let the sight of those mighty waves ease the turmoil in our hearts. The road offered us a choice, and when Bob told us where those ways led, we made our choice with no thought and no hesitation: to the Jersey Shore, we said, and thus went we.

Many and many a man had made the same choice, it seems; alas, but they have built too many houses, too many shops, too many piers: they block the ocean’s beauty. Aye, this is not new to this age; every coastal city I have seen, and many a small village, too, builds as near to atop the waves as they can. Merely evidence that men know their need for the sea, and wish to be within it, held in the bosom of the water, like the embrace of Gaia herself – or of Danu, to hear my mother tell it in the language of the Druids.

Two of these men saw us, and pointed and laughed, long and loud. MacManus and Lynch were atop the wagon’s bench at the time, with Lynch at the reins; as the day was sunny and warm, they wore the wide-brimmed black hats we had found tucked beneath the bench when first we took this wagon – hats that belonged to the Amish boys who had ridden here before. They had left other baggage, which included well-made shirts of white cloth, soft as fine wool, and short coats of black cloth; as our own clothing had grown ragged, we had made use of this wardrobe thus offered (all of us but Bob, of course, who would touch nothing that he deemed “stolen”). Thus we three ancient Irishmen were dressed to resemble Amish men. This, in combination with our mode of transport – so rare that we have seen not one other such in all our days on this road – seemed to be the source of their hilarity. I could not but assume they had never seen a mirror, nor their reflection in a pond of still water: for they had dyed their skin, it seemed, as our Celtic ancestors once did with woad before they marched to war, but these men had chosen – dirt. Reddish brown, or orange, dirt; Spanish clay has a similar hue, I think. They wore loose pantaloons and tight tunics, and hats that did not fit, but merely rested atop their heads, with strange abbreviated brims that they wore away from their faces, and so clearly served no purpose in keeping the sun from one’s eyes; too they had these tinted eye-pieces we have seen on so many Americalish, but again, these fools did not wear them before their eyes: they wore them at their necks, where they served no clear purpose whatsoever. They shielded their eyes from the burning sun with their hands. I cannot understand why a man would do this.

Like their dress and actions, their speech was too hard for me to understand, at first; but their laughter needed no translation. We were at a stop, at Brother Bob’s request; he required a place of relief, and had stepped into an inn by the road to answer nature’s call. Many people had seen us and pointed and whispered, but in the main, they waved and greeted us in amicable fashion, greetings we gladly returned. Until these two, with their loud laughter and wild gesticulations, slapping each other on the back and holding their hands before their mouths as though they would sneeze or cough, but naught emerged but howls of mirth.

They approached us close. Lynch paid mind to the horses, clucking at them to keep calm despite the mass of people crowding close around them; MacManus was seated closest, and he held his gaze on them: for Shane is no fool, and he knew that such men often try to play up strangers for amusement – to the strangers’ sorrow. And just so, with these two.

As they approached closer, they nonetheless spoke loudly, as though we were too far to hear, or as though they played to an audience, though none stopped to watch their antics. This made it simpler to understand their speech, though I can but render some of their words as I heard them, knowing not the meaning. “Nah, bro, Amish don’t fight back! For real, check me out, bro!” The nearer fool stepped up to MacManus and fondled himself obscenely. “Suck this, bro!” he shouted, and the two fell over laughing. MacManus looked back at me and raised one brow. I shrugged. “We do not want a brouhaha,” I said. “But I’ll not tell ye to surrender honor.” He nodded understanding, and turned back to face the two.

“Nice swag, bro – where’d you get that shit, like the dark ages?” This was their next sally, which brought forth more peals of laughter, and still naught but indifference from MacManus. I did see his hand tighten into a fist, though, as the gesticulations of the two seemed to be disturbing our horses, still calmed by Lynch’s soothing, but nonetheless growing more nervous the louder and more rambunctious grew our pair of jesters.

It was their third act that brought a response from MacManus: one of them held a cup of some frothy white drink, and he threw this at Shane, soaking the leg of his breeches. What was more, the horse attempted to rear, feeling the liquid splash against its flank, and only a quick leap to its side by Lynch, who held his hands over the beast’s eyes and whispered softly into its ears to soothe it once more, prevented serious trouble.

MacManus stepped down from the bench and stood before the two. Their laughter but grew the louder. One said, “Come at me, bro!” which brought shouts of delight. The other then reached out and pushed at Shane’s shoulder; the first leaned forward and knocked Shane’s wide black hat from his head, and then drew back his fist as if to throw a blow, the two of them laughing all the while.

So Shane shot him.

It was but a glancing shot, as Shane intended; fools should be thrust away when they grow bothersome, but it is never their fault if the gods made their brains as thin as gruel, and as incapable of sense. A crease in the lower leg, drawing blood but doing no permanent harm – though Shane did raise the pistola and place his aim on their foolish faces, faces no longer amused but rather dumb with shock; for the time had come and passed for these two to abandon their game and depart. Shane said nothing, merely raised one eyebrow, his weapon more eloquent than any words. The two fell over each other running away, the one with the scratched leg screaming and crying, “He shot me, bro! He shot me!”

Now, that was an amusing sight.

The crowd had gone entirely silent as the scene unfolded; after the two ran away, MacManus tucked his pistola back into his sash and climbed into the wagon seat once more, as did Lynch, the horse now calmed and still. Brother Bob returned at that moment, and perceiving naught amiss, climbed in back and said, “Let’s go.” Thus we went.

And for our final farewell to the Jersey Shore, we heard a voice from behind us speak softly into the silence these words: “Those are the baddest mother-fucking Amish I ever heard of.”

September 21

We have reached New York. Taller than mountains, is this place: the sun does not fall to the street, blocked by the buildings of men. We have crossed bridges that would dwarf the mighty span of London, seen more beast-wagons than a man could count.

And every step, every passing moment, my heart has grown colder and darker in my chest. somewhat is wrong, I know it.

We have found a guide, however, and I am most gladdened that someone in this stone Hell has a warm and welcoming heart. He is of the City Watch – aye, of la policia, of the New York house by his badges, worn proudly over his heart and on his brow – but he is mounted properly atop a steed, a living, breathing horse, and he approached us as a friend, greeting our horses with a smile, and saluting us kindly and with deep respect. Though he, as did the fools of Jersey, thinks us Amish; perhaps his friendship would be colder if he knew us for what we are. But perhaps not, for there is a warm heart, indeed, beneath that silver badge. He is guiding us through the streets to the proper place, once we had named the harbor where our ship is located; he said he couldn’t just leave a fellow horseman to wander the stone streets of this city. A good man: a welcome treasure, no matter where ’tis found.

We will be there soon, he says. Ah! My eyes strain to see her, my heart races to be near my Grace.

Yet I am afraid. I know not why. I wish I had spoken to Vaughn.

Bah! We will be there soon. And all will be well. Aye, all will be well. It must be.

***

We have found the place, we are sure: this is, our mounted policia guide tells us, Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn. We have spoken to a lad, from a craft named The Emperor Grable, who knows my ship, and his father knows Vaughn, and O’Gallows. This is the proper place, our destination on this endless, evil journey, where we would find our friends, and our way home.

But the Grace of Ireland is gone. My ship, and my friends, are gone. My home, my way, is gone.

All is lost.

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