Captain’s Log

Log 22: Taking a Dip in the Ocean of Time

Captain’s Log

Date: 7th of July in the year 2011

Location: The Glass Palace

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*****

 

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

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

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

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

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Log 21: A Heated Discussion

 

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

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

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

One who should not fight alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could I do to counteract that impression?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had a corpse to retrieve.

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Log 20: To Arms

Captain’s Log

Date: 5th of July, 2011

Location: Miami, Florida. The home of the Family Lopez.

Conditions: Marooned, but regaining my land legs.

 

I awoke in my garradge feeling much improved of body, this morn. I emerged to greet mine hosts, and found that Maid Flora’s brother Alejandro, a lad of only ten summers and the youngest child of Mistress Clara Lopez, was the sole Lopez yet returned from the Elysian fields of slumber. Alejandro was enraptured by the images on their magic window. This was much like the magic window which Vaughn had shown me at the Palace, before that thrice-damned sanctimonious hypocritical poisoner O’Grady had smashed it, only this window was smaller; I sat down beside him to attempt to learn what I could from this ever-mysterious oracle. The lad quite sensibly was stretched prostrate across a thin rug on the tiled floor; the reclining couches in this house, like those at the Palace, are utterly absurd in their sybaritic decadence; I find them too comfortable for comfort. I think no one but a hedonistic nobleman of old Rome – nothing less than a new Caligula, a Nero – would need a seat so laughably soft. Why have a bench that does not support you, but rather swallows you into its pillowed embrace? I must note that if these sorts of engulfing pillow-thrones are commonplace, methinks the people of this time will prove easy pickings for a rough and ready pirate crew. One could storm and loot an entire house before the inhabitants even managed to raise themselves out of the depths of their chairs.

Though young Alejandro had sense in his choice of place, I soon found the magic window’s images far too lunatic and manic to observe. I tried asking the boy – who speaks a better English than his siblings or mother, and so has frequently served a turn as translator in my time here – for explanations, but beyond the knowledge that this was some depiction of a story (or perhaps a hero?) named Dragon Ball Zee, I was more frequently instructed to be quiet so as not to interrupt the beguiling madness behind the window. It soon made my head ache and swim at once, as though I had drained the foul dregs of a cask of new whiskey, and I excused myself to perform my morning ablutions.

This has not ceased to amaze me. Maid Flora kindly instructed me in the use of the washing-room (Ell Ban-yo, I believe is the Spanish), and I have learned from observation that these people bathe daily. The boy Alejandro, indeed, bathes even more frequently, being impelled to do so by Mistress Lopez whensoe’er the boy returns enmuddied by his games. This washing-room has the same incredible water-spouts as did the Palace; I cannot fathom where such a wealth of clean water is stored in this modest home. It has not rained since I arrived here, and I saw no aqueducts, and yet the well has not run dry, nor have the Lopezes evinced the slightest worry that it will do so. I have taken my lesson from them, and have made use of this unending water to clean my tarry hide as I have not done in months, as a single rinsing cannot accomplish. Maid Flora was kind enough to launder my togs, as well, offering me the underclothes of either Juan or Ignacio to cover my nakedness in the meantime – I did not ask which, owing to the intimacy of the clothing in question. I was forced to remain cloistered in the garradge for the sake of propriety; the thinness of the shirt and britches would have made any public appearance quite indecent. I was most gladdened to return to my proper clothing.

When I was finished cleansing my carcass, which was now returning to its former state of pinkness, I found that Maid Flora and Mistress Lopez had arisen and made a fine meal to break our fast; I made my best effort to be glad company to my kind hosts – especially as I have observed that their menfolk seem generally sullen at meals; Juan and Ignacio are habitually silent, or else spend the time at table staring at the magic window, observing the same strange ritual I saw with Vaughn, involving several men in colored smallclothes kicking and chasing a child’s ball across a grassy meadow. They named it foot-ball, which seems to me a childishly simple name – though it is a childish game, as well, so small wonder. This morning, neither brother was even present: Juan had not returned from his employment, and Ignacio had not risen from bed.

Allow me the indulgence of paying my hosts yet another compliment, in regards to the table they set, which is ever generous as well as sublimely sumptuous to the palate; so accustomed am I to sailor’s fare, salted and boiled and peppered meat and biscuit, with hunger as the only spice, that I fear I make quite the glutton of myself, though these ladies seem gladdened by my visible and audible appreciation. Once we were sated, Maid Flora prepared to leave for the Palace. Her brother Juan, who has employment at some sort of tavern, owned by one MacDonald, returned then, his master requiring his services in the dark hours of the night – which makes me wonder at the sort of base, lawless establishment this MacDonald runs, that he serves his customers when decent folk are a-bed (and, too, if I might find a decent mug of grog and a comely wench there for my own self; Juan seems to think not). Juan’s return roused Ignacio, and the ensuing conversation, held in Spanish, with the pertinent elements translated for me by Maid Flora, resulted in Ignacio and Mistress Lopez extending an invitation to myself to go to market with them, had I any need to make a purchase.

I had great need, though at first I could not communicate it. Apart from my boot knife with blade, though sharp, a mere handspan in length, I have been left utterly defenseless by those black-hearted scoundrels who stole my ship. The Lopez family nodded at the word pistola, though Juan and Ignacio exchanged a dark look when I spake it – but I could not bring them to understand either “sword” or “blade,” “rapier” nor “cutlass,” nor any other word I could manage. Finally I took up a cooking knife – a blade of goodly heft, I must say, though of course it has no fighting balance – and pantomimed a duel. The Spanish word is espada, it seems. More conversation followed, resulting in a question, delicately proffered, regarding any available funds; I showed them my ring, gold with a cabochon ruby inset, and they seemed relieved.

We departed in their wagon-beast and soon arrived at a shop where the proprietor bought and sold goods of every stripe and kind imaginable. Upon entry, I was dazzled by the display: there were ladies’ parasols and gentlemen’s canes, coats and hats and boots, jewelry and paintings, magic windows, musical instruments, and a thousand things I could not fathom. At Mistress Lopez’s urging, I offered the man my ruby ring; he gazed at it through some arcane eyepiece, and then he said, “Fifty bucks.” Before I could express my confusion – was he offering me fifty male deer in exchange for a single gemstone? How had he gathered so many? And what would I with such a prodigious herd? – Mistress Lopez exploded into violent Spanish, with much shouting and gesticulating, which the merchant returned in kind. I gathered, when I realized Mistress Lopez indicated a display of finger rings, which generally had smaller stones than mine or none at all, each ring sporting a small slip of paper reading 50 and 100 and 200 and 350 and the like, that the man’s first offer was offensively low. At the end of the haranguing, the man counted out five pieces of green-tinted paper, all numbered 100 and bearing a portrait of a distinguished gentleman with spectacles and white hair, and Mistress Lopez nodded in satisfaction and gestured that I should retrieve the paper and surrender my ring. I was still confused by the term “bucks,” as there were no deer represented nor named on the paper; as they seem to be named “dollars,” I will call them such here.

At Ignacio’s urging, I asked the man for a pistola, such apparently being within his purview, too. He walked me to another display, behind metal bars and a pane of fine, flawlessly clear glass, of a dozen or more weapons much like the strange one we had taken from the man MacManus shot at the Palace. Even as I hold one now, I am confused by the configuration, and the lack of a proper wooden stock, but the greatest puzzle of the weapons to me is their size! Like a child’s playthings, they are! And all without ramrod or lock of any kind, flint or wheel or even match. I asked about the largest, a piece of black iron still half the size of a proper pistola. The man looked askance at me, scratching at his large and bearded chin, and then asked, “You got a license?” My bewilderment answered his question, because he then asked, “You got any more cash?” On my returning precisely the same response again – namely a confused silence – he snorted and said, “You can’t afford that one.”

I was alerted by Mistress Lopez’s action, and I peered at the paper affixed to my choice. “It says 500, there. Is it not the same as these?” I waved my dollars at the man.

He narrowed his eyes. “What the hell else would it be? It ain’t goddamn pesos. But I gotta sell you a license, too, and that’ll cost ya 200 on top of the gun.”

That put the majority of the weapons here out of my reach. I considered haggling – or releasing the wrath of Mistress Lopez once more, who still looked daggers at the merchant, though he avoided her gaze most assiduously – but as I could not fathom this talk of licenses, I decided to take him at his word. I was not offended by his attempt to gain my ring at a tenth its worth; rather I felt some kinship. A proper pirate he would have made, I wot.

Thus I indicated a pistola which was labeled 200, and he gladly sold me that. I asked for the license he spoke of, but he gave me a look so laden with sardonic contempt that I at last grasped the nature of this license – that it was a bribe. There must be some law controlling the sale and ownership of weapons, here. Cromwell had done the same to my beloved Ireland, as the damned English had done to our Scotch cousins, too. I wondered if there were some vile tyrant with this land in his iron fist – though if that were the case, it seemed terribly foolhardy of this man to display forbidden weapons to all and sundry.

This world is a terrible confusion to me.

Any road, I returned four of the five green dollar-papers, and the merchant gave me the pistola. I hefted it – satisfyingly solid, albeit small – and then asked the man, “How does it work?”

Apparently I am a terrible confusion to this world, also.

We left the shop as unarmed as we came, for the merchant did not sell powder and shot – what he called Amm-owe – and thus I had naught but a boot knife and a small oddly-shaped club.

The company journeyed on to a place that brought me great comfort, owing to the familiarity of the sights, the sounds, the very air redolent of pasties and meat pies, sugared snacks and fruit, and ale, and mead, and wine – this, this was a proper market. Stalls in rows filled a great open square, with a multitude of voices raised: in negotiations, both friendly and pointed; in the joy of discovery, and in sorrow over broken dreams – as the price is revealed beyond the wanter’s means, as the customer walks away with hands empty and purse un-lightened. Merchants spread goods on blankets, across tables and chests or strung on lines between poles; some under tents and some under the open sky. Clothing sold beside fresh food beside tools beside objects I could not hope to identify, beside boots and sandals that would not have looked amiss at home, three centuries ago and thousands of miles away.

This was, bespoke a sign at the entrance, the South Miami Flea Market. I did ask why the market was named for pestiferous vermin, but could not make myself understood to my companions.

Ignacio quickly guided me to a large stall that sold goods to hunters: mock waterfowl, apparently for use as lures; bows and arrows of a sort I had not seen; game bags and boots, coats and hats, all in a shockingly ugly sort of mottled green-brown cloth that looked filthy and mud-caked even when clearly never worn. I presented my new small, odd club to the merchant and asked for amm-owe; the man looked, nodded, and said, “Thirty-eight.” He rummaged through some crates behind his table and presented me with a small square box; he lifted the fitted lid and showed me an array of small brass trinkets. When I did not react at all, he asked for my pistola, which I gave him; he opened it smoothly, pulled the brass trinkets from their rack – they are round and oblong, somewhat like smooth thimbles, or perhaps replicas of a large animal’s teeth – and placed them into holes in the pistola. They fit perfectly, as he showed me, and when I nodded, he put them back in the rack, gave me back my empty weapon, and traded me my last 100-dollar paper for the box of amm-owe and four new sheets of paper numbered 50, 10, 10, and 5. At my request he repeated the opening and loading of the pistola twice more until I saw the way of it.

We meandered through the rows, the sights and sounds easing knots in my viscera I had not known were there; there is a dis-ease in being in such a strange place that may not be immediately apparent even in one’s self, but which, when it be even slightly ameliorated, is replaced with a relief and a bliss that makes one nigh giddy. So a spring came back in my step, and before long, I found myself whistling and laughing aloud, as Mistress Lopez poked and frowned her way through goods and sundries, taking very little and leaving a string of sour-faced merchants in her wake.

Partway along our third row, we came across what I sought – or so I at first believed. It was a merchant – a prosperous one, with tent and cloth-covered table – who sold weapons, the kind of weapons I knew and longed for: blades. For the first time, when I espied the black scabbards and gleaming naked steel, I hastened forward alone, leaving my companions well behind me. The merchant was engrossed in conversation with a thin spotty-faced youth, and so I strode directly to the table of goods and clapped hands on the first likely-looking weapon: a rapier of moderate length with a simple guard.

To my disappointment. I did not even need to draw it from its sheath to know that it was a piece of work so shoddy as to hardly deserve the name “sword.” The steel was far too light, the blade clearly virgin and too dull to cut my fingertip, and the hilt rattled, so poorly was it affixed to the tang. A slip of paper attached to the hilt with string read “Captain Jack Sparrow: $125.” I dropped the sorry thing, pitying this Captain Sparrow had he ever possessed such a miserable blade, and took up another, this a sort of broadsword with a hand-and-a-half hilt – useful for heavy work.

But this was even worse. The grip was a leather slick to the touch even without the blood and sweat that soon enough coat one’s hands in any combat. I bared the blade to find that this one had apparently never even heard of a whetstone, so dull was its edge, and there was apparently no balance at all; it was no surprise that this one also showed not a nick, not a scratch, no evidence of use. This one bore a tag reading, “Aragorn: $180.” I made a noise of disgust and threw this miserable metal stick down on the table, where it rattled against the first.

“Hey! Careful with those!” the merchant called out.

“Why?” I retorted. “They seem entirely harmless.” He turned back to his companion, though he kept his gaze on me. Perhaps one of these odd-hilted pieces, which seem the favored and popular style here: a long, two-hand hilt, cloth-wrapped, with a round guard merely the size of a large coin – smaller than a man’s fist on the hilt, which, one would think, would defeat the point of a guard entire. I took one up, bared the blade – single edged and slightly curved, like a saber, but straighter than any saber I had seen, and with a triangular tip – and examined it. I was surprised to see that this had something of an edge, but – the steel. As an experiment, I laid the flat of the blade across one raised knee, and pressed, almost delicately.

The blade snapped.

“Hey!” the merchant – the blackguard – shouted again, now leaving his conversation to accost me, but I denied him the chance.

“How dare you, sir!” I shouted, and rammed the inch of broken blade affixed to the hilt into the table before me with force sufficient to bite into the wood. “How dare you sell weapons that would kill the wielder ere he ever had a chance to defend himself ‘gainst his foe!” I took the blade in hand and snapped it again, with not more force than the first time; I dropped the pieces of – it could not be genuine steel; was it tin? Perhaps painted wood? – on the ground and thrust my extended finger into his chest, surely doing more injury than I could have with a similar thrust of one of his blades. “I have seen shoddy workmanship before, sir, but this is beyond the pale! Is there no craft in these at all? Were they manufactured by trained dogs, sir? Are these toys for children, perhaps?” I punctuated my words with ever-stronger thrusts of my finger-rapier, first halting his froward motion and then forcing him back. “Or do you perhaps have an arrangement with a band of rogues, highwaymen who set upon your customers at your signal, assured that the man will be defenseless howsoever he believes otherwise?”

The blackguard, cowed by my righteous fury, blinked, and held up his hands placatingly. “No, no, they – they’re just for display. They’re replicas. You know? Lord of the rings? Pirates of the Caribbean?” This last phrase gave him pause, as he took in my piratical appearance, frilled shirt and vest and sash over loose pantaloons gathered into my high boots.

I scoffed at him. “A pirate would be gladder of a marlinspike or a belaying pin in fist rather than one of these. For myself, I would rather have my empty hand,” and here I lunged forward again and slapped him across the cheek with that same empty hand. And then I bid him good day, took up the arm of Mistress Lopez, who had approached the hurly-burly when she heard me shouting, and marched off with my dignity, but still no blade.

I found it at last among a jumble of swag – clearly the emptied contents of a traveling trunk or sea-chest – which included clothing, a bit of jewelry, a leather belt, some books and pens and paper and the like. The scabbard was beaten and scarred, as a scabbard should be, the blade was as well, but these were the scars of use. This was a proper saber, the blade perhaps two feet in length – a mounted man’s weapon, made for slashing rather than thrusting, yet capable of both, and light enough to parry well, while heavy enough to block a cutlass-slash. As I admired the blade, which had a serviceable hilt and a proper balance just beyond the guard, the merchant told me of its provenance. It had come from Cuba, he said, from the revolution; he told me it had belonged to a man allied with someone named Shay, a rebel against the tyrant who had ruled that land. The rebels had taken it from a wealthy landowner, vassal to the tyrant and oppressor of the people; the man had had it engraved to show its new ownership and purpose – the merchant indicated the words, still visible despite age and wear: on one side of the blade it read “Sangre,” on the other, “Muerte,” and on the hilt, “Libertad.” Blood, death, and – the third word needed no translation. I had my sword. The man asked 150 dollars, but gladly took my remaining 75 and one of the gold coins I carried in my boot, having plucked them from the lining of my vest earlier for this purpose. We shook hands, and I thrust the sheath through my sash: once again, I felt whole.

And none too soon, it chanced, for at that very moment, a voice called out “Ignacio! Hey, Nacho!” We three looked back the way we had come, and saw four young swaggerers approaching, all wearing something blue, a shirt or headscarf or shoes dyed the color, all with the grins of hunting cats who find a nest with helpless chicks inside. The one in the lead spoke again. “Hey, man – we was just coming to see you, puto.” I recognized the voice as the one shouting outside my garradge, the day Juan and Ignacio had been so exercised, and at that moment, I recognized the blue headscarf: it was the same color as the one worn by the man MacManus had killed, blood spilled on my orders, at the Glass Palace a week or more ago.

These were his friends. And they were looking to spill some blood, too. Ours.

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Log #19: Mutiny

Captain’s Log

Date: 4 July 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Betrayed, bereft, abandoned. Determined nonetheless.

 

It has required much of the past two days to unknot the tangles in my memory, to see through the snarled skeins and remember: who betrayed me, and how. (It has not helped that this day, apparently one of violent celebration – perhaps a tyrant has been overthrown? – I am continuously awakened and disturbed by explosions. Child’s toys, I am told, that explode in smoke and noise more than flame. Had I my ship, I would show them a proper booming: the roar of a full broadside. That for the Em-eighty, ha! Without the Grace, I have no desire to celebrate.) I have spent the time striving most earnestly, and I believe I have remembered it all, or nearly so.

The time I have not been casting back inside my aching skull has only served to dizzy me more. By a most remarkable turn of events – led by a most remarkable woman – I abide no longer in the Glass Palace. I am lodged in a smaller, more human and far more comfortable domicile, the which lies in South Miami, according to my most generous hostess, Flora Lopez. The maid of the Glass Palace, my erstwhile hostage, and would-be victim of the foul Shluxer’s lust.

This is what I remember: the Grace had been made ready, and I had given orders that we would sail with the morning tide. I bided in my cabin aboard, as I had been for the hours and days following Shluxer’s flogging – though I cannot now recall much of that span, nor how I occupied it; all is blurred and befogged.

It was O’Grady’s suggestion. I remember that. But does that make him a conspirator? Or was he led, a mere puppet? Fah! It matters not. Clearly they are all mutinied, every man jack of them, the faithless bastards.

O’Grady came to me and said he had prepared a special feast, a farewell to the Palace we were abandoning. He told me it were best served ashore, in the Palace itself, with the plate and crystal and cutlery found there in their native setting, as it were. He told me, too, that my officers wished a proper dinner, with the Captain at the head of his table, all the gentlemen of the ship to break bread together. Grateful for the opportunity to smooth the feathers ruffled by the Shluxer affair – and pleased by the apparent abandonment of the usual course that required all of the ship’s crew to eat together as equals, a policy to which I generally do not object, but occasionally one does tire of sailors’ manners at table – I agreed, and we dined well. Indeed, ’twas a most cheerful company, with a sumptuous repast and a vast quantity of wine.

I assume it was in the wine, whatever foul concoction they poisoned me with. I tasted nothing untoward, but many of the vintages here are uncommon strange to my ancient Irish tongue. I will say that I suspected nothing, saw no hint in their behavior that they planned this blackguardery. Shluxer was sullen, as one would expect given his tender back and wounded pride; the others, O’Flaherty, Burke, Moran, Ian O’Gallows, were all joyed at the ship’s recovery and our departure anon. Vaughn was his usual distracted self, responding to direct queries with direct answers, all in seriousness fitting to a churchman – frequently therefore becoming the butt of many crude jokes made at his expense but without his disapproval; I swear that man lacks the tiniest morsel of humor – but elsewise silent and contemplative.

The dizziness came on me suddenly, and I presumed it was but the wine and the food as my cup did runneth over. I excused myself and rose, and staggered, to much laughter. I remember catching myself on the table and upsetting dishes. I might have wondered why the wine so affected me, an Irish sailor – what potable on this green Earth could make such a man stumble? With whiskey in my blood and the sea in my legs, how could I lose equilibrium? – but I do not recall it, and if I did, I was too addled to make aught of the issue. Then – was it O’Flaherty? Or Ian? One or both gave me a shoulder, suggested the upstairs Palace rooms rather than my cabin aboard, as recommended by proximity and my extremely shakeous pins. I do not recall agreeing, nor arguing; I do not recall staggering, nor walking upright and manful, nor being carried like a babe to my bed.

No: I recall coming to myself in monstrous befuddlement, my vision blurred, my head spinning like a ship’s wheel as it comes about in a headwind, my belly churning like a storm surging o’er the rocky shore – face-down on my bed while someone bound my hands together behind my back. When I protested, muzzily, I was hauled upright – and I promptly vomited on at least one of my captors. There were curses, and perhaps some laughter, though that might be my memory’s failing; then one of them – presumably he who had received my offering of lightly-used provender – struck me a mighty blow, and all went dark. Then after a time of no time, I woke sprawled on the floor, my shoulders aching mightily from my bonds, my ankles trussed as well, and men’s boots around my head, their voices murmuring over me. I may have groaned, I may have moved; whatever the cause, they fell on me, striking me again and again. There were many hands that struck me, and I have a village-worth of bruises to show for it; but I could not look up from the rug under my nose, and I cannot recall any specific voice – save one.

Shluxer.

They put me in the closet, bound hand and foot, and put a bag over my head; I do distinctly remember Shluxer striking me then, for I recall his grunt of effort and words of encouragement from another voice, which said the name Shluxer. The raper gave me a series of weakish blows that nonetheless accomplished a fair piece of work, bleeding and bruising my face and head quite satisfactorily. I fell and was kicked; my ribs are sprung from it even now. My consciousness was lost then.

I awoke to daylight peeking under the door. After a goodly time spent praying for death to end my suffering, and many fruitless attempts to free my limbs – though the bag on my head, loose and untethered, came away easily enough – I managed to put my benumbed fingers on the blade that is ever in my boot, and was soon freed, though still terrible sick and dizzied, weak and battered. I burst forth from the closet in spite of my maladies, intent on rushing any guard left without, but there was none. I collapsed to the floor, spent by the effort, and the time again goes blank.

It was not long before I awoke once more, as I was lying in bright sun, yet my skin remained largely chilled. I managed to regain my feet, and with the walls as my guide and necessary support, I made it down the stairs and out onto the terrace. I looked out upon that beauteous little cove, with its white sand and its bright blue sea, the gentle curve of the spit, like a mother’s arm gathering her children to her bosom, the gentle strength of the tall, supple trees – and I cursed the sight, cursed it for its one lack.

My ship – my Grace – was gone.

I must have collapsed, then, still weak from poison and beating and betrayal. The next thing I recall was the blessed relief of a damp cloth daubing gently at my face, cleaning away the sticky blood, though not, alas, the pain. I opened my eyes, and when my vision cleared, I beheld Flora, the maid of the Palace, kneeling beside me with a cloth and an admixture of terror and pity on her gentle face.

After a moment of confusticated thoughts, which ended with the relieved awareness that she was unarmed and likely to remain so, I closed my eyes again and said, “Thank you.”

In a shaking voice, she asked, “They – they are gone, see? The others?”

I tried to nod, but the motion spun my head like a child’s top. “Aye, they be gone, sure as sure can be. And not apt to return to this place, curse them all to the blackest pits.”

She returned to cleansing my wounds, now with a surer touch. I opened my eyes again, and saw that the terror had largely left her features; she flashed a brief smile at me when she met my gaze.

Unable to do otherwise, I surrendered myself to her ministrations, and in a short time my wounds were cleaned, daubed with a strange-smelling salve from within the Palace, and plastered over with odd, sticky, flesh-colored patches; whatever mysteries these things held, still I felt much improved. I begged her for a glass of water, which she gave me, retrieving another for herself. I toasted her, and she tapped my glass with her own, a faint smile again on her features.

She said, “You no can stay.”

I sighed and turned my face away from her. I had no wish to consider any exigencies but one: my ship was stolen from me. I had no wish to consider any proposition save one: to regain my lovely Grace. All else came to ashes and dust beside that.

The lady pressed me. “You no stay. Missus, she come home, today. You no can stay! She call pole-ees.” This broke through my despondency and rage, reaching the practicality in me. I had no wish to confront the Enchantress, nor to explain to her the damage we had done to her home and grounds, her servants – and especially her larder, and her cellar, fast emptied by a score of hungry pirates.

But my newfound and unexpected helpmeet had still more kind succor to offer me. “You come, my house. Yes?”

I looked at her, her bedraggled state, unwashed these past days of her captivity; at her kind smile, despite the haunted look lingering in her eyes. And, gratefully, I nodded my acquiescence.

Thus do I find myself the guest – albeit not an entirely welcome one, as Flora does not dwell here alone, and her good mother and her brothers, the same Juan and Ignacio I had as my guests priorwise, do not look kindly on my tenancy here – of my former captive, whom my former ally and present Nemesis, the cursed black-hearted Shluxer, did attempt to defile. For nigh on two days I have slept in a pallet in a sort of store shed they call a “garradge,” I have recovered from my hurts, steadied my spinning brain-case, and with the kind gift of paper and a sort of charcoal wand named a “pen-sill” by mine hosts, I have writ down my memories of betrayal, both old and new, familiar ache and newfound sharpness. Should I recover the GraceWhen I recover the Grace – I will place this with the rest of my log. It is still a Captain’s log, by damn, even if my ship be far from me; still and always she is mine, to the death.

One more matter should be noted: yesterday, while I largely and profoundly slept, I did awaken once to the sound of raised voices near to the walls of my garradge. I waited until the shouting stopped, hand on my knife as small but welcome defense, for though I knew not the words – ’twas the Spanisher’s tongue, I feel – I could hear the menace and violence in the voices. When it was over, and I had heard the departure of a deep-growling beast-wagon, I groaned myself to my feet and, feeling a great thirst, staggered into the galley for water; into the house entered the brothers Lopez, who checked on seeing me and then shook their heads and went back to muttering in their own speech, though they cast glances both suspicious and irate at me the while. I know not what troubles them, but I have no doubt as to my part in their misery. Nor would any who know me doubt that I shall remove my thorny self from their hide, just as quickly as I can; I have no wish to be a burden on anyone, be they friend or foe. I have imposed on this family enough, and more than enough.

I must find my own way, to my proper place once more.

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Log 18: Betrayal

Captain’s Log

Date: July 4, 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Back-stabbed. Marooned. Stranded. Heart-torn.

 

I was nine years old when my heart first broke. ‘Twas after I rode King Henry, the bull that I had been charged with keeping (along with keeping all our other animals) during my mother’s three-week absence in Dublin. When my mother finally returned and walked into Uncle Seamus’s house, where I lay with my leg broken and a thousand imagined torments piled up in my mind, a thousand possible punishments she could lay upon me for my crime – which seemed unforgivable, then, and only slightly less so now, when I understand how she felt – my tongue seemed to dry up in my mouth, my throat swelling shut with fear even as my eyes stood wide as church doors. I stared at her face, looking for a sign of how my doom would fall. I saw anger, there, and bitter disappointment – but most of all, I saw betrayal. She had trusted me, her only son, to care for her home and livestock in her absence; and not only had I failed, but I myself had been the instrument of her home’s destruction with my blind, foolish mischief. When I saw how deeply that betrayal of her trust had wounded her, I began to weep. I turned away, unable to look at her any more. I longed for her to kill me and end it all.

I hope that those who have betrayed me in this way, who have taken my only home, my only hope, away from me, may feel the same. A curse upon them all.

She came to my side where I lay on a bench, swaddled in blankets. She exposed my broken leg and examined the splint and the set of the injury; she felt my brow, turned my face to her and looked at my eyes, opened my mouth and examined my tongue. Then, without having spoken a word, she turned away and walked out. In the next room I heard her say, “We’ll leave before dawn. Put him in the wagon in the morning.”

Needless to say, this did not assuage my fears, nor my guilt. She couldn’t even stand to talk to me, not even to yell and rage and curse my stupidity. And we would be leaving? Where would we go? Was this the first stage of my own punishment? Dawn – because I faced execution like a common criminal? Was the instrument of my chastisement so prodigious, so awful, that we had to travel to reach it?

Was it a dungeon?

A torture chamber?

Would she have me thrown in the ocean, or abandoned on a mountaintop for wild animals to rend and tear and devour?

I tried to ask my uncle Seamus when he brought me supper, but he shook his head and refused to speak to me, surely forbidden to do so on my mother’s word. Only my exhaustion from hours of worry put me to sleep that night; I still woke when it was the deepest dark, and picked up the thread of my fretting without hesitation.

Within an hour, still before the dawn’s light reddened the sky, my cousin Patrick, Seamus’s eldest son, who had escorted my mother on her journey to Dublin, brought me in a bowl of morning porridge. When I had eaten and stumbled through my morning wash, Patrick came and lifted me in his arms, carrying me out to the wagon. He set me in the back, propping my leg on a bundle and cushioning my back with blankets. When he saw I was secure, he went back into the house. He hadn’t spoken a word.

That was the first part of my punishment. Cousin Patrick drove the team and my mother sat beside him, and they spoke to each other only in voices too low for me to hear. They did not say a single word to me, not for the entire week we traveled. If I said I was hungry or thirsty, Patrick would stop the wagon and bring me bread or a leather bottle of water; if I claimed to feel sick or in pain, my mother would come to check on me, examine my leg, touch my face, check my eyes and tongue as before. Sometimes she would give me a sprig of herbs to chew, or dissolve somewhat in my water and have me drink it; sometimes she would simply return to the wagon’s eat and Patrick would drive on. Her gaze was indifferent when she looked at me, no more caring than if she were checking a dog for worms. She didn’t even look angry any more.

I began to fear that I had lost her. That we were on our way to the place where she would abandon me: perhaps placing me into a monastery, or giving me over to an apprenticeship, or selling me into a workhouse. I stopped complaining of pain or hunger, and drew into myself, becoming little more than a shell surrounding my fear and sorrow.

And then one morning, after a brief breakfast, my mother and Patrick washed and dressed me in my best clothing – still only a wool tunic and trousers, but they were finely made and clean. They put me in the wagon and off we went, still in silence, my fear growing still more intense by the minute, though before I would have sworn that it could not be greater. But this was it. We were here. My doom had arrived.

Imagine my surprise, then, when we turned off the road at the gate of a fine manor house, just visible behind a screen of elms and sycamores. A man in armor, holding a pike, challenged us at the gate, his eyes hard and suspicious, though his speech was polite enough.

My mother told him, “Tell Lord Blackwell that Maeve of Drogheda requests an audience. And she has brought her son.”

The guard blinked and stepped back when my mother named Drogheda. I was confused; we lived in Belclare, clear across Ireland from Drogheda. What was going on? Where were we? Who was this Blackwell? The guard opened the gate for us, instructed Patrick to halt the wagon just inside, and then strode quickly to the door of the manor house and vanished within.

My mother stepped down from the wagon’s seat and came back to me. She helped me down, stood me up straight and brushed off the road dust and bits of hay from the wagon bed. Then she stood, tall and proud with her fists on her hips and her chin high, and looked me over. I tried to stand as well as she, despite my fear that that she was about to inform me that she was handing me over into the service of some English lord, that she would never see me again and was happier for it, seeing as I was such a dangerous and disobedient child. I held back the pleas for mercy, the oaths of love and of the eternal perfection of my future obedience to her every whim, if only – if only she would take me home with her. The tears I could not stop.

She spoke at last – for the first time in nearly a month, speaking directly to me – and her voice was hard and proud. “Though we call you Nate, your name is Damnation. Damnation Kane. The Kane is from me, my family name, and a good Irish name it is, even if the English cannot spell it properly. You are my son, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh.”

She paused then, and her gaze moved to the manor house that loomed before us, built of cold white stone, like ice and snow, without a flower bed or a statue or a single scrap of decoration to lend charm to its cold facade – as I was about to learn, the house was the perfect reflection of its owner. Then my mother said, “It is time you met the man who gave you your other name, and the other half of your blood. Your father.”

My father? My mother had never told me of my father. I think she had never spoken those words in my life. Whenever I asked her, she left the room. If I asked anyone else, no matter who it was, the reaction was ever the same: the face closed up, and turned sad. The eyes pitied me, and then looked for my mother, wherever she was. I learned to stop asking.

But now, at this moment when I had begun to doubt my mother, the one strong pillar that I did have in my life, which had always held me up despite the apparent non-existence of a father; and in this place, this manor house which, for all its stark exterior, still it was all finished stone and dark, rich wood, and large enough to house my entire village – here and now I was to meet the man who made me, whose blood ran in my veins. And – what? Did Mam plan to leave me here with him?

Did I want her to?

I could feel my body begin to shake, the fear in me being replaced by – anticipation. Hope. I did not want to leave my mother, but all of my life I had longed for a father, for the right father, a strong and upright and just man, a man I could take pride in claiming as my own, even as he claimed me as his. Immediately I began to spin a tale in my mind whereby he could have remained out of my life until this point and still been an honorable man: he was wealthy, obviously, and a lord, so perhaps theirs had been a forbidden love. Perhaps my mother had hidden me away, and never told my father of my existence; perhaps he was wed already when they had made me, and in her deep love for him, she had left rather than destroy him with her shame. Perhaps on her recent trip, she had found that he was now a widower, or in some other way free to love her – to love me.

The door opened. My heart seemed to stop – but it was only the guard. He came back across the lawn – which, though it could have supported two or three good milch cows, was clearly trimmed by hand, the blades all perfectly uniform in length – and beckoned peremptorily to my mother. “Come. Bring the boy. Leave your man with the beasts.”

I saw my mother’s jaw clench and her knuckles turn white. I glared at the man, prepared myself to kick him in the shins for angering my mother, noting carefully where his armored greaves ended, just above his ankle. But then I hesitated. This man was my father’s man. Surely I had to defend him, as well? Didn’t we share allegiance? And what had he said to upset her? Was she as nervous as I, to see my father, to realize or end the hope that their love could be rekindled? Was she upset that she had to present me to my father in such a situation, when I had broken her heart with my betrayal of her trust? Was it – it couldn’t be because of Patrick, who had to stay out here with the horses? It couldn’t be: Patrick looked palpably relieved to be excused from going into the house, and I wasn’t sure I didn’t envy him.

But no. This was my father’s house. My father was inside. Of course I wanted to meet him, to see his home, his belongings, his manner of living. Didn’t I?

I had little choice, of course. The guard turned to lead us in, and my mother grabbed my arm in an iron grip and hauled me along at a rapid pace. I could no longer make sense of my emotions: they were too many, and too mixed.

At the door the guard turned us over to a serving man. Tall and thin, old but not in his dotage, the man wore a crisp black suit with a white cravat, a powdered wig, and a deeply contemptuous frown. He gave us a long appraisal, his lip curling more with every moment, my mother’s flush deepening with every lip-curl as her grip on my arm tightened into pain. Clearly this man was not familiar with my mother’s pride, or her temper. Any moment, I thought, she will swing me around her head and beat this man to death with my body as her club.

The man said, “This way. Do not touch anything.” Then he turned and led us down a long hall, the walls of which were as blank and white and clean as the outside of the house, the only color coming from the sconces set on the walls, where pine torches burned with a red, popping flame, the plaster above them seared black with soot. With its high, vaulted ceilings and the doors we passed, doors of dark oak bound with iron straps, this place looked to me like the most sinister and frightening church one could imagine.

Who was my father, that he lived in this place?

The serving man knocked at a door, and then swung it open. He blocked the doorway with his body, snapped his heels together and said, “The strumpet is here, milord. With the boy.”

I glanced at my mother, sure the swinging and clubbing would now commence. But I was shocked to see that all the color had fled her face, leaving her as pale as snow. She looked – scared.

The serving man nodded and stepped aside. Mockingly, he bowed us into the room, but my mother nodded at him just as if she were royalty, and with her head high and her jaw firm, she swept me into my father’s presence.

The first thing I saw was the wall before us, behind him: the windows were covered with heavy drapes, blocking the light, casting the room into darkness despite the early hour and the bright sun outside. Other than the windows, the entire length and height of the wall was covered with books, shelves and shelves of books and piles of unbound pages. I had never seen so many books in my life – I hadn’t thought so many could exist in one place. Those books buoyed up my spirits: my father was the richest man I had ever known! Perhaps all of the lean times, the ragged and mended clothing and the nights when we had to drink and dance and laugh because we had no food to fill our bellies – perhaps those days were all over for us now. I looked around at the other walls: this room was not blank and empty, as the rest of the house had seemed. Other than a cross large enough to hang me on – which, while something that my pagan mother wouldn’t have in our own home, was certainly nothing new to me in Catholic Ireland, though I did wonder why it wasn’t a proper crucifix with the figure of Christ suffering upon it – the walls were covered with battle-trophies. Broken shields, dull and rust-flecked swords and axes, wooden clubs and steel maces with dark stains on them still – perhaps that wasn’t rust dotting the sword blades, after all – bows and arrows, flintlock pistols and older wheel-lock muskets, all hung below a row of torn and muddied flags and pennants, which lined the walls just under the ceiling’s beams.

My spirits took another step up. My father was a warrior! And a great one! Could it be that I would actually have something to be proud of, someone I could brag about to the other boys, when I had heretofore had nothing but sullen silence and fists to answer their teasing with? Oh, I could not wait to tell Angus about this! Him and his father, the best wrestler in our tiny village – pah!

He stood up from behind his desk, and my gaze snapped to him then. My father. And the moment I looked at him, I know I could not brag to the other boys about this man.

Because my father was English.

I recognized the bluff jaw, the stocky physique of a man well-fed on beef and mutton and ham for all of his life. I knew the Puritan’s coat, unrelieved black wool, worn even in his own study in his own home, even on a warm summer morning. I recognized the blond hair turning gray, the sallow cheeks, and the pale eyes, the color of smoke on a winter’s day. And I knew that look of utter contempt, the look every Englishman wears when he sees an Irish face.

In later days, thinking back on that moment, I decided it might have been the worst part of my first encounter with my father, that when he looked at me, his expression changed not at all. He didn’t see a son, neither a source of pride nor of shame, neither heir nor by-blow. He looked at me, and all he saw was: Irish.

He came around the desk, which was massive and plain, like everything else in this house, including the master himself. He stood in front of me and measured and weighed every inch and ounce of me with his eyes. At first I looked carefully, searching for my features in his: perhaps the ears? Something of the chin? But I could not meet his cold, hard gaze, and finally I turned to contemplation of his boots. They were large, heavy, and plain.

“He looks Irish,” were the first words I heard my father say in my presence.

“He is Irish,” my mother responded. My father snorted.

“What name does he use?” he asked.

“Nate,” I spoke up. “Everyone calls me Nate.” I raised my eyes to look at him when I spoke, as I had been taught.

It wasn’t a particularly hard blow; more what one would use to swat a fly, perhaps a wasp. Something unpleasant that one would want to smash. But still, it knocked me back, mainly from surprise; I had never been struck before, not by the back of a man’s hand.

That was the first time my father touched me.

“Children are seen and not heard,” he said to me – or at least in my general direction, as he did not lower his gaze to meet mine.

“His name is Kane,” my mother said, her voice quivering but controlled, her pale face now highlighted by two bright spots of red burning high on her cheeks.

He nodded. “Good. He will never use the name Blackwell, nor FitzBlackwell. I will not acknowledge him, not even as my bastard. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” my mother said.

When he struck her, it was no harder than when he had struck me; my mother didn’t even rock back, though she turned her face away. I was looking at his face when he hit her, and it did not change, not a hair, not a wrinkle. It was as if a man were correcting a dog, or giving a plowhorse instructions to turn, or stop. There was no anger there, no outrage, not even any pleasure.

By the gods, there was anger on my face, then, as I charged him, yelling wordlessly, my small fists flailing. This time he struck me harder, knocking me sprawling on my hands and knees, the taste of blood in my mouth. My mother’s arm swung back, her mouth opened – and then she stopped herself, shaking with the effort. Her teeth bit into her bottom lip hard enough to draw a thin line of blood. She started to kneel down to me, and then stopped herself again, and turned away with her head bowed.

My father looked at me dispassionately with those eyes of ice and smoke. “He has spirit. Good.” He looked at my mother again. “But the both of you are far too pert. Like all your cursed heathen race. When you address me, particularly when you acknowledge my commands, you will say, ‘Yes, my lord’ or ‘Yes, Lord Captain.’ Is that clear?”

“Yes, my lord,” my mother said, her voice as cold as his gaze.

He turned back to me, running one hand over his chin; I could see now that his hands were criss-crossed with scars, the fingers gnarled from old breaks, his wrists as thick as my legs. This man had spent his life using those hands to do violence. Had it always been against women and children as well as men?

“Of course you did not come here hoping that I would accept him as my get. Does he need a place? I will find a workhouse that will take him. Or better, a ship that will transport him to the Indies. The Lord Protector needs men on the sugar plantations there. He is large enough to cut cane, I judge.”

My mother took a deep, heaving breath, and turned back to face him, once more outwardly calm. “No. My lord. I only wished him to meet his father, my lord. To learn of his heritage.”

He snorted again. “Looking at him now, I think there may be some question regarding that connection to myself. I find it difficult to credit that your insipid Irish blood would so overwhelm my own that no trace of me would be visible in the mongrel thus spawned.” He met her gaze. “You were virgin when I took you, but afterwards? Surely a woman of your charms would have no trouble finding an Irish peasant to rut with. If you were quick enough, you could have whelped at the appropriate time to claim a greater sire for your brat.”

My mother smiled, though there was no humor in it. “Whether you believe it or not, my lord, there were no others. Not then, and not since.” She looked at me then, and nodded to the man who stood before us. “Lord Blackwell is your father, Nate. His blood is in your veins.”

I got to my feet, struggling with my splinted leg; both of them stood and watched without offering to help. I went to her, taking her hand in mine. I was too afraid, too angry to speak, but I wanted to beg her to take me home, not to leave me with this man, not to give me away to a workhouse or a plantation in the Indies. I said nothing, but I looked at her with tears in my eyes. She nodded. She squeezed my hand.

She curtsied to my father, and said, “I thank you for your time, my lord. I assure you, you will never need see us again.” We turned away and started to leave.

“You should marry, woman,” he said. My mother stopped, but did not turn back. “Your boy needs training. Even an Irishman could teach you both some better manners. Your beauty has not faded, nor your figure.” He strode to the cross on the wall, running his fingers along it idly.

My mother turned, and speaking to my father’s back, she said, “Somehow, Irishmen are reluctant to wed a woman raped by an Englishman, and with a half-English child because of it.” She squeezed my hand, and when I met her gaze, I could see a love more fierce than I could have imagined, stronger than any adversity – stronger than any shame could ever be. “I have given up hope of marriage, then, rather than give up my son.” She leaned close and put her hand on my cheek, bruised where he had struck me. She whispered, “You are my son. Mine.” I nodded, and she kissed my head. She straightened and took a deep breath. “Come, Nate,” she said to me.

Lord Blackwell said, “You call him Nate. Is it Nathaniel, then?”

My mother stopped and spoke over her shoulder. “No, my lord. When he was born and I presented him to you, you told me then that he was your damnation, and mine.” She met his gaze then. “I named him as you commanded.

“His name is Damnation Kane.”

*       *       *

I have been shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, and near-drowned. I have suffered insult, injury, heartache, shame, sorrow, and unquenched rage. But that day, when my father struck me down and gave me reason to hate every drop of English blood in my veins – which was, in truth, the reason my mother had brought me there, to show me and give me warning of what lurked in my blood, in the parts of me that came from my father and which she feared had begun to show themselves in my act of wanton, selfish destruction – what I felt then was the deepest agony of my life.

Until I woke in the Glass Palace this yesterday, stuffed into the wardrobe in my adopted chamber there, my head pounding from the blows rained on me and my vision blurred from the drugs fed to me. Until I staggered downstairs and out to the terrace to find that my ship, and my mutinous crew, had left without me.

I am marooned.

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Log 17: Coming Up to Speed

Captain’s Log

Date: 29 June 1678 2011

Location: Glass Palace Beach House, 10 mi. South of Miami, Florida, United States of America

Conditions: Improving Ship repairs near completion

 

I don’t know how to tell the men.

They have been busy, working steadily – after first celebrating Shluxer’s bounty. They emptied a crate of rum that first night, not realizing that Shluxer’s rum is more potent than the rum we knew. They were near paralyzed with remorse the following morning. In the afternoon, though, O’Flaherty and Burke got them up and back to work on the Grace. They also sent Shluxer for more rum, which he retrieved without difficulty. The which made him, once more, the hero in the hearts of my crew.

I will not kill him. I was in my cups myself when I wrote that last entry, having commandeered the whiskey and made a most strenuous and valiant attempt to consume every drop; without mixing it with water, I might add. I spent all of yesterday thus engaged in my cabin, which necessitated this day be spent recovering. At last, I have been able to eat some food, and now I drink but clean water from the Palace’s taps. Ah – it is a beach house, not a Palace, avers Shluxer.

I will not kill Shluxer, no. It would not change our situation, I know. He was but the messenger. Too, he has proved most helpful. Not only has he taken up the mantle of ship’s carpenter, helping the men to repair the hole in the Grace’s hull to anyone’s satisfaction, and then retrieving for us a great quantity of a white paste he calls caulk, though it bears little resemblance to the tarred rope fibers we have always used to fill the cracks between the planks of the hull – he has also shown us much about this Beach House we have inhabited, and made our daily lives far easier.

I found today that he released our hostages. All but the woman, Flora, the Palace maid. Apparently, at some time on the night of revelry, he struck up a conversation with Ian – and I must note that my dear friend and great ally took responsibility for the ship and crew whilst I was out of my mind with Shluxer’s revelations; it was Ian who stayed sober and ensured that watches were kept; we had moved our landward watch post to the gate Shluxer found for us, the which we have reinforced with blockades on the road, and locked in place with hammered wedges and chains. The men stationed there have begun to grow accustomed to the beast-wagons – Shluxer names them “cars” – for they pass by the gate with mind-numbing regularity. But to the point, to the point – too many wonders, too many distractions. Shluxer spoke with Ian, Ian told me later, and mentioned that the owner of the car, the wagon named Kia which we used to retrieve O’Flaherty, would be irate when he saw the damage done to his beast. Ian, laughing, said they could ask the man, as he was locked and under guard along with the other hostages inside the Beach House. Shluxer was most put out by this intelligence, though Ian said he grew calmer when he heard they had been held for no more than a single day, at that point. He asked to be taken to the hostages, which he was; he then told Ian that they must be released immediately, or else the militia assault we have feared would become imminent and inevitable – he called the militia the “police,” which seems to be the word that the Lopez siblings had used more than once in conversation with me, and also, inexplicably, the Five Oh and the Po-Po. Shluxer has the strangest tongue I have yet known. I despair of mastering it.

Any road, Shluxer and Ian came to my rooms and were repulsed without entry by myself and my fermented companion; they went to O’Flaherty instead, who was nearly as drunk but far more companionable. He granted Shluxer and Ian the authority to handle the situation. Shluxer, in subsequent conversation with the Brothers Lopez, was relieved to hear that they were themselves illegal, and thus unlikely, he claimed, to summon the police, or have said police summoned on their behalf, which seemed his greater worry, since he said we had confiscated their “sellfones.” Ian knew not to what Shluxer then referred. Shluxer determined that we should keep their sister as assurance of their continued silence, and then he returned their belongings, saw them into their Kia-wagon, and sent them away.

I want to believe that Shluxer has done us a great service. But I fear that he is gaining a taste for power, power granted him by his knowledge of this world – this time – that is so strange to us. I surmise that he has seldom if ever had authority over others, and like most such men, he revels in his elevation. But as England’s Shakespeare put it, “‘Tis the bright day that brings forth the adder, and that craves wary walking. Crown him that, and then I grant we put a sting in him, that at his will he may do danger with.”

The Bard refers to the crowning of Julius Caesar. I fear I may be cast in the role of Brutus.

For the nonce, though, we need Shluxer and his knowledge, his power. Using the maid’s beast-wagon, he has procured all manner of supplies: fresh tar for the ropes and the hull, spices for O’Grady and a remarkable quantity of salt, the which O’Grady has used to preserve the remaining meat from Ian’s trading mission; Shluxer has brought us new provisions, as well, nearly as fine as the goods Ian brought. Though I have not enjoyed all that he brought – those Doritos are vile things, like burnt, flattened goat turds dipped in gunpowder and salt – I must speak well of these Twinkie cakes. Delicious.

When Shluxer learned that we had been drinking the water from the pool on the terrace despite its bitter taste – which he called “cloreen,” or some such – he showed us that the fixtures in this dwelling provide limitless fresh water. But to speak truth, as my mother taught me I ever should, to a tongue raised on new rain caught in clay jugs and copper pots, and to the crisp cool drink of mountain springs, the water from within tastes little better than that from the pool. Of course, life on board ship nearly always entails the drinking of stale and sour water; the moment it is stored in casks, it begins to turn, but we needs must drink it anyway. ‘Tis at least part of the reason the men prefer grog – though now they are grown mighty fond of the beer Shluxer brought us in metal barrels, this Coors that he insists on referring to as the silver bullet.

What matters most to me is that Shluxer has indeed managed to repair my lovely ship. The hull appears to be even more watertight than when she was new. We will let his caulk dry another day, and then cover it with tar and float the ship once the tide is high. If she doesn’t take on water then, we will sail, in three days’ time.

Though I do not know where we will go then.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 1 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: Improved, at last.

The caulking and tarring is done. The mast is repaired, and the men have begun digging out the sand around the Grace to the level of the tide; when the water flows in, it will, with the blessings of fortune, float our ship, and we will once more be men of the sea. I find I am tired of standing on this land. I have been considering a return to Ireland, though I know not what we will find there in this time. I have not consulted with Shluxer on the matter, though if past conversation be any guide, his knowledge of the great nations of Europe is spotty at best. He claims there are no more kings in the world, at least not in any but the darkest and most savage nations; this gave me a cold chill, as it brought to mind Devil Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, and my father. But Shluxer knew nothing at all of Cromwell, or the wars for Charles’s throne, or the devastation of Ireland under the New Model Army. It is most odd, what he knows and what he does not.

But however odd the man is, I had best become accustomed to him: he has signed the Articles, and joined the crew of the Grace of Ireland as our carpenter. He was sponsored by O’Flaherty and Carter, with whom he has grown most amicable, but his great benefit to our ship and crew would have been enough regardless.

I confess I hold reservations about the man’s inclusion in our merry band. When I asked him about the home and family he would leave behind to become a rover – he has mentioned his mother and father before – he shrugged and said, “Fuck them – I want to be a pirate. Yo ho!” He is most fond of that phrase. But it was the first part of that utterance that stuck with me. What loyalty can a man have, if he have none to his own blood?

But perhaps I should ask my father that question.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 2 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: The ship is once more on water. Situation on land, alas, has sunk to the depths.

I was right not to trust Shluxer.

This past night, while the men slept on the beach, I came off the Grace, where I had been sleeping in my cabin; I find it far more comfortable for its familiarity than even the softest bed in this house. I went inside in search of a cool drink of water. When I entered the kitchen, I heard some noise of struggle; investigating I found the guard outside the prisoner’s chamber had been dismissed, and inside, I found Shluxer attempting to defile the maid, Flora. I prevented him, and struck him down; this morning, at dawn, I had him tied to the mast and given twenty lashes. I twice had to order Burke to put his back into it. Burke – the man who wears a devil’s grin at the mere thought of applying stripes to a man’s back – now he grows reluctant? In truth, I have never heard caterwauling and pleas like those uttered by Shluxer once his pale, scarless skin felt the bite of the lash; he has lived a soft life till now. No more.

O’Flaherty came to me with objection, for my assault on the foul rapist. The stripes he earned, according to our Articles, which prescribe this penalty for any man who attempts to force his attentions on any unwilling woman, and death or marooning for any man who is successful in his vile designs; but those same Articles expressly forbid any member of the crew, and any officer, from striking another. And I had struck Shluxer many times, in my rage. I argued that the defense of our own honor required my actions in order to stop Shluxer, and though O’Flaherty grumbled, he went away.

But he was succeeded by Ian. Who repeated the complaint. Though his reasoning was more pragmatic: in our dire straits, he said we need Shluxer more than we need justice. He felt I should have simply warned the bastard away and doubled the woman’s guard, so as to avoid dissension and resentment among the crew, for whom Shluxer has gained a most favorable hue of approval – and whose crime, generally speaking, is frequently shrugged at indifferently. I am afraid Ian and I both became intemperate in our discussion of this matter, until at last I ejected him from my cabin and locked myself in, to keep this log and to brood on our circumstance. And aye, to keep from laying eyes on that slug Shluxer, lest I open his belly for the gulls.

I cannot face the crew. I cannot lie to them, and I cannot speak to them without addressing our situation; I know the talk amongst them is of little else but where we are, and where we must go. I hope once we put out to sea, I will gain the courage and the strength to tell them the truth; I know if I do not, then Shluxer will, and he will say it – poorly. Until then, I have given my orders, and I will stay in my cabin while they are carried out. I have entrusted the maid’s safety to Lynch and MacTeigue until we depart, as they see the situation my way, I know – indeed, Lynch was so enraged he demanded Shluxer’s throat be cut for his crime, but I ordered him to let the blood spilled by the lash suffice. After all, I did prevent Shluxer from achieving his intent. Lynch was not satisfied, but he agreed and swore to abide by my wishes.

We must get to sea. All will be well when we are on the waves once more.

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Log 16: Elliott’s Beer Run

I can’t believe this. I mean, seriously, I just can’t fuckin believe this shit.

You know in A Princess Bride how Vizzini always says “Inconceivable!” and Inigo finally says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That’s how I feel. This shit here is inconceivable. But just like with Vizzini, who says that about shit that’s already happening, which means it’s, like, conceivable, this shit that I can’t believe is happening right now.

I’m on a beer run with a pirate.

I glance in the rearview – which catches me a look at the hole that huge dude Kelly put in the roof with his dagger – and then I stop at a Stop sign. And next to me, this guy Ian – who, no homo, but he’s like the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen, all sparkling blue eyes and curly red-gold hair and tan skin and white teeth (How does a pirate get white teeth? What, did they jack a floss shipment? For that matter, I thought British people all had fucked-up teeth. Whatever: homey’s got prom king genes, that’s all.) – Ian throws his hands up on the dash to stop himself from flying through the windshield, even though I didn’t actually stop hard at all. And he laughs through those shiny white teeth and he’s all “She stops like a horse refusing a fence. How do ye keep from flailin’ about?” in that Irish accent.

Oh, I have got to go clubbing with this guy. Just being seen with his castoffs would up my game, like, ten levels.

I shrug. “You just get used to it, I guess. I dunno. I had to stop for the sign.” Road’s clear, so I step on it. The Kia – which is hot, so I’m a little freaked out about driving it around, but it wasn’t too bad, I had my shit pretty together, until Kelly just whipped out his dagger and punched it through the roof like it was fucking nothing, and then I thought “What exactly did they do with the guy who owned this car, and all those keys and shit they had? And who owns that house? Fucking beach front with a private cove, that place was like two, three million dollars worth of Florida real estate, easy. So where’s the owner? Why did he let a bunch of raggedy-ass thugs dressed up like pirates crash in his crib?” And then I started thinking – maybe they’re not just crazy-looking. And maybe the people who own the house, and the cars and the keys, maybe they won’t be calling the po-po any time soon because they’re, like, buried in the backyard or cut up in pieces and sunk in the ocean, like on Dexter. Then I started getting a little freaked out like: I’m driving around in a dead dude’s car. With the dude who fuckin killed him. Cause that Kelly guy was big, and had no problem stabbing shit, and those four guys we chased down were all thugged up and all – but if any of these guys has ever capped anyone, it’s that Damnation guy. When he was pissed off about his boys treatin him like a bitch – man, just looking at him and you know that muthafucka’s cold-blooded, like ice cold. Him or that crazy fuck with no thumbs. So I’m glad they’re out of the car, and I’m just rollin with Pretty-Boy here.

No homo.

Anyway – what was I saying? Oh, right: the Kia’s actually got some cojones, way more than you would expect from the car that drives those fuckin hamsters around (and I figure maybe the cholos who drive it suped that shit up a little) so it pushes us back in the seats when I hit the gas, and Ian laughs and says “Good Lord of Hosts, this wagon is truly a miracle. It doesna live, and it has na horses nor oxen to pull it. How does it go?”

So I start to tell him – not that I know everything about cars, not a fuckin gearhead or whatever – but you can’t tell this guy anything. I’m all “When I step on this pedal –” and he goes “What’s a pedal?” So I point to the gas and brake, right, and he comes, like, into my fuckin lap to stare down at them, bending over me like he’s about to start polishing my tool. and I’m all “Whoa, back the fuck up, you fag!” and he sits back and says “A lever,” but he says it all weird, like, “LEE-ver,” and I’m all “A what?” and he goes “A LEE-ver, a pedal’s a LEE-ver for your foot.” And then I realize what he’s saying and I nod and shit, and then I say “So when I step on it, it sends more gas to the engine –”
And he goes “What is gas?”

You can’t tell this guy anything. You shoulda heard how he took traffic lights, when we got stuck at a long red on Kennedy Drive. He fuckin thought there were like, monkeys or something inside it, with lanterns, changing the colored lights. You fuckin try explaining computers and automatic timers and shit – fuck, try explaining electricity. Once you get past “It’s lightning,” what the fuck do you say next?

Who the fuck are these guys, anyway?

So we get to Casa de Schluchzer, and we’re in luck – the parentals are both out. Good, because I do not want to explain who my “little friend” is to my mom, and fuck, what if the Depot called here looking for me? Or what if the cops came by? Maybe they think I got kidnapped, I dunno.

Whatever. I leave Ian with the TV, after I show him like three buttons on the remote – and which channel has porn on it – and I go get my shit. First thing is in Dad’s office, in the back of his top right desk drawer – it’s his “emergency” credit card. Well, Pops, this is a fuckin emergency if I ever saw one. Then I bust a quick shower, cause I’m all stankin from running with that bag on my head and sweatin like a mutherfucker when they kidnapped me and shit, and then I go to my room and pack some shit, just the essentials.

And I get my sword. It’s a Crusader broadsword, and it cost me like 400 bucks online, and that shit’s for real. I feel better knowing I’m armed. Then I stash away a nice little boot-knife I got at a Faire, because it feels even better to be armed when nobody else knows you’re armed, am I right? I wish we had a fuckin 9-millimeter, but Mom’s anti-gun and Dad’s a pussy. Whatever.

I think about leaving them a note, but then I think Fuck ’em. Let ’em wonder. I get Ian and we roll out for the liquor store.

I talk to Ian, and he says they got twenty guys back at their crib – well, no, first he says there’s a “score” of ’em, but I’m like “Score? What score? What the fuck’s a score? Like a game score?” and then he says there’s twenty. So I ask what they like to drink, and he says ale and whiskey and grog. And wine for the captain. And I’m all “Aight, what the fuck is grog?” So he says – check this shit – it’s rum mixed with water and fuckin gunpowder. And I’m all “No shit?” and he grins and he’s all like “Aye – it gives it a wee kick. Like a beestung mule.”

So okay, we go in and get like a case of whiskey and three cases of rum, and I get the guy to bring out three kegs of Coors and a tap, and I ask him to pick out, like, a dozen bottles of wine for the captain. And he asks how I’m paying, and I bust out the credit card and my ID – and for maybe the first time in my life, I’m glad I’m Elliott Schluchzer, Junior.

Ian loads all that shit in the car while I’m paying – after I run out to pop the trunk, instead of trying to explain to him how to do it – and then we roll out and head back.

We drive past Home Depot, and I think about stopping in to tell them I quit – maybe taking a table saw as my severance, like – but I see a cop car in the lot, and I’m thinking they might still be looking for the crazy fuckers who stole a couple hundred bucks’ worth of lumber and nothing else. And I’m thinking they might be thinking I was in on it, since I disappeared with them and people around here know I’m into the Ren Faires and pirate festivals and shit. So we drive on by. And I’m thinking I might never be coming back here, if the idea that’s bouncing around in my head turns out, and I think about my job, and my car, and my room, and my computers, and my parents, and my whole life – and I think leaving it all behind would suit me just fine. Fuck all of it.

We get back to the crib, and I stop the car at the top of the driveway, where there’s a wall all covered with ivy and shit and a bunch of tall trees, mostly palms, and I know there’s a rolling metal gate stuck back behind some bushes, and when I reach in and grab it and roll it out, Ian’s all shocked and shit that I even knew it was back there. But I’m all, “Homey, no house like this doesn’t have a gate on the drive.” It just got left open by somebody, probably because it’s not automatic – it’s an old gate, like from the fifties or something, before they had remotes, and whoever lives here probably didn’t want to fuck it up installing a chain drive and sensors and shit. But Ian’s all jizzed up and says the captain will be pleased, and I’m like “Eeeeex-cellent” like Mr. Burns in my head. My plans are coming together.

We drive up to the crib – and when I see it, really see it, with no bag over my head and my thoughts not all fucked up by what’s going on around me, I think Yeah, I could live like this. Even if – no, better if they stole it, even capped the guy who lived here and sunk him in the cove tied to a rock and shit. We drive up and Ian gets like the full hero’s welcome – and that’s before we break out the booze that’s got the Kia’s back end scraping the ground, the shit’s so heavy. Then me and Ian both get three cheers.

And Captain Kane comes out and smiles and slaps us on the back and everything – I hold up for a high-five, but he just looks at me like “What the fuck are you waving at?” and leaves me hanging. But for sure he’s happy to see me, and he says so. He thanks me for doing the liquor run, and for driving to catch up with his boys. So I turn to him, and I go like this, talking all slow and raspy and shit: “Some day – and that day may never come – I may call upon you to do a favor for me. Until that day, accept this as a gift.” And he looks at me all thoughtful and calculating, and then he nods and says, “Done,” and shakes my hand.

And he didn’t even know that was from The Godfather, Part I. That clinches it.

“So Damn,” I say, and throw my arm around his shoulders. “Tell me. What year do you think it is?”

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June, 2011.

Location: 2011.

Conditions: All is lost.

We have traveled through time, he tells me. It’s the future, he tells me. He was smiling.

It cannot be true. I must find a reason why Shluxer would lie to me. Then I can kill him and it won’t be true.

Three hundred and thirty-three years. All is dust. Everything and everyone we know is dust, now. All – all is lost.

All is lost.

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Log 15: Joyriding

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

It came to be known that the keys for the beast-wagon lay in the miscellany of odds and ends we had taken from the Dominicans’ pockets before locking them in; we identified the correct ring, from among several small rings of tiny-seeming keys, with Shluxer’s guidance. Then I must needs ask for volunteers, with myself as first example – though all gods in heaven and earth know that I would rather dive into a whale’s mouth from the crow’s nest than ride on that thing. But I cannot ask my men to do a thing the which I would not do; if not for honor’s sake, then simply because they would refuse to do it, with mine own example as sufficient justification. But with myself standing tall, and Shluxer smirking at us, soon enough Kelly stepped forward, with only a slight stagger to reveal the source of his courage; and then my good friend Ian took a surer step to join him. Lynch tried to step up, but I ordered the youth back into line. Such heart in a small and youthful chest shamed two more men into taking the step, Lochlan O’Neill and my cousin, Owen MacTeigue. I chose O’Neill, as he is a fast friend of Donal Carter and could sway the man to listen to reason; also I trusted MacTeigue to stay behind and supervise the fortifications of the Palace should all this go for naught.

Kelly offered to sit on the rear of the wagon, where a footman might ride if it were the carriage it somewhat resembled, but Shluxer refused him and demanded we all crawl inside, after he used the key to open the – doors, I suppose they are, though damned if they don’t more resemble a bird’s wings, or the fins of a fish.

Perhaps this thing is fashioned from the skeleton of some fantastic beast?

Any road, Shluxer and I were trying to coax Kelly into the sternward bench when there was a crash of glass; on the port side of the beast, Ian O’Gallows was knocking out the last few fragments from the sternward fin-door with the butt of his pistol. I feared for a moment that this attack would anger the beast – and my men stepped back with me, all eyes on O’Gallows – but Shluxer cursed and said he would “roll down the fucking windows.” Which made no sense as one cannot roll glass. While we discussed it, however, Kelly found a mount to his liking: he stood on the metal edge below the bench, with one hand grasping the open door-fin-wing, and stabbed his dagger through the – the scalp? The back? The thin metal (or perhaps bone) plate atop the beast, whichever side of the thing one calls it. It gave him a fine hold, and he declared himself ready to weigh anchor. Shluxer yelled and swore again, but I and my men took heart: this further injury once more provoked no response at all from the beast. Perhaps it was not to be feared.

We all took our places, Ian behind Shluxer on the port side and Kelly hanging off the beast’s starboard side behind me, with O’Neill white-faced between the two sternward stalwarts. I took the forward bench beside Shluxer, who sat behind a wheel, though I know not how that could steer the beast. He said, “All right, hold on to your butts,” (at which saying we all took hold of our pistols) and then applied the key; now we heard the beast roar and growl. Mysteriously, we also heard a blast of music, but Shluxer poked the beast in the mystically-engraved panel facing us, and it stopped. Once Shluxer coaxed Kelly back onto the thing’s flank, he having leapt off and drawn his iron at the sound of the thing’s roaring, my new navigator plied his hands and feet in an arcane manner, and – we were off!

It was, at first, simply a wonder. Shluxer somehow made the glass window beside me vanish, and then, as we moved farther away from the Glass Palace at a speed faster than a grown man’s trot, I could feel the wind, though only from my side. Straight ahead I watched the ground move, the trees coming closer, and yet it seemed unreal – the motion too smooth, and without a direct wind in my face coming from the forward quarter, it felt wrong to me.

Then we reached the road – we had been moving along the track from the Palace, which was lengthy and narrow; this that lay ahead was a smooth-paved road four times the width, at least – and turned to starboard, and suddenly we were moving faster than I have ever moved before on this Earth, faster than a horse at the gallop, faster than ever the fleetest ship raced before the wind and tide. At first I felt near a swoon – a sensation increased, along with my terror, when I saw another beast-wagon apparently aimed directly at us and charging, before it missed us just to our port side, as though we were jousters in the lists. It was followed by another beast-wagon, and another, and another. The road turned to the left, and then the right; the beast-wagon barely slowed, and with each turn, I and my men drifted to the side, like green sailors in their first swell, with cries and murmurs of alarm. It was the most frightful experience of my life, saving only, perhaps, the encounters with Hobbes and the Sea-Cat.

Then Ian started laughing.

I looked back at him, incredulous; it was in my mind that he had lost his sanity and was in hysterics. But no, he met my gaze and I saw that he was himself. He had thrust his head out through the porthole in the door-wing where he had broken the glass pane, and the wind of his passing was tearing through his hair and blowing out the collar of his shirt. “Try it, Nate!” he shouted to me, grinning like a child on Christmas morning – though he did flinch away from the oncoming beast-wagons, which trumpeted their strange cries at him, or perhaps at our beast. Shluxer cursed and steered us farther to starboard, giving Ian room away from the jousting wagons. Then I heard a whoop from Kelly on the other side, but his head was above the top of the opening he stood in and could not be seen. I glanced at O’Neill, and saw that he was not amused: his gaze was glassy, his mouth open and slack, his skin pallid and rapidly becoming green; I recalled that O’Neill was one of those who struggled with sea-sickness, and I surmised that the beast-wagon’s strange motion was too much for him. It certainly put a flutter in my own gut, though the like didn’t affect me at sea, but this thing jerked from side to side far more rapidly than any ship, and the movement forward pressed us back into our seats before the long turns pulled us to the outward side, and it was all very strange. I clapped O’Neill on the knee, and he met my gaze, swallowing painfully, beads of sweat on his brow. “Will ye live?” I asked him.

He started to nod, then closed his eyes and shivered. “Aye.”

I turned to Shluxer. “How much longer?” I had to repeat the question, as his attention was fixed on Kelly and Ian; Ian was now seated in the porthole, his entire trunk outside the beast-wagon. He and Kelly were shouting back and forth and in unison, no words, just cries of pure joy.

“WHEEEEE!”

“AYYYIIIIEEEEEEE!!”

“YAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA!”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘Yo-ho-ho?'” Shluxer muttered.

I said his name again, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, right – uh, how much longer? I dunno – five minutes if they haven’t left this road. Maybe less.”

I nodded and then clapped O’Neill on the knee again. “Ye’ll live, man. If ye have to purge, do it towards Kelly.” Then I put my head out the window, as well, to see what all the fuss was about.

The moment I felt the wind on my face, coming from what my eyes and mind told me was the proper direction, rather than blowing from a quarter-turn to the side, then the sensation of strangeness disappeared. My gut subsided its churning, the clench of my jaw eased; suddenly it was as if we were sailing the swiftest ship across calm waters, or riding the fleetest horse with the smoothest gait – I know not how to describe it! Our speed was magnificent, but there was no sense of the motion, none of the up-and-down or back-to-front jerking that accompanied any other means of such speed, whether it be a horse’s hoofbeats or a team pulling a wagon or a ship going over waves and swells. I have never felt anything like it. I presume this is what the birds feel when they spread their wings and glide through the air. It was glorious. Soon all three of us, Ian, Kelly, and myself, were crying out with joy as we leaned out of the beast-wagon and waved our hands in the wind.

But then, as I was seated on my own porthole and turned towards Ian to share a grin, Kelly shouted “Captain!” I glanced to him, and he nodded to the starboard bow quarter and shouted, “‘Tis them, sir.” I turned quickly and spotted my wayward bully boys immediately: there were no other people on this road – reasonable, considering the speed and frequency of beast-wagons on it! These folk must have separate roads for people to walk or ride more ordinary steeds. Their clothing, too, stood out clearly against the dull green mangroves and other trees to either side of us. They had not yet noticed us as different from any other beast-wagon.

I ducked back into the beast-wagon and marked the target for Shluxer, who muttered, “No shit, Sherlock.” I swear, the man speaks an English almost incomprehensible to me. But he turned and stopped, all of a sudden, just as we passed them, bringing us to a dead halt not twenty feet from the four runaways. Remarkable.

Kelly was already off the wagon and facing them, weapons in hands. I opened the portal – after Shluxer pointed out the handle to me – and stood by him; behind his great frame, O’Neill crawled from the beast’s guts and heaved up his own. Ian, his face still red and grinning from the wind, leapt to the top of the wagon and struck a stance, fists on hips. He cried, “What ho, me hearties!”

I looked at my men with somewhat less joy. Of the four, Moran looked the most abashed, and would not meet my gaze. Carter simply stood and looked at us with both equanimity and a certain amount of wonder at the means of our arrival; Burke sneered and smirked; and O’Flaherty clenched his jaw with anger. I strode slowly up to them, looking from one face to the next.

“Out for a wee stroll, are we?” I asked sardonically.

“Aye,” O’Flaherty spat back. “Out to correct that one’s failure,” he said, pointing a thumb at O’Gallows. Ian’s good humor ended instantly, and he leapt down from the beast-wagon and marched toward O’Flaherty with grim intent, but I waved him back.

“You think the provisions he gathered for us insufficient?”

O’Flaherty, who had been sneering a challenge at Ian, now looked back to me. “Aye, o’ course t’were insufficient, man. Ye canna expect a pirate crew to live without spirits. Especially not in the midst of all this madness we go through in this place where you brought us, Captain.” He stepped closer. “And don’t try to foist it off on me, again. Ye put on a nice bit o’ theater for the men, but ye canna have it both ways. If ye be the captain, then the responsibility for our mishaps be yours. And ye knows it.”

I nodded, for he was in the right. “Aye, I’ve made many mistakes, o’ course. Any man in command will do the same. What matter, though, is that I must recognize my mistakes, and ensure that more and poorer choices do not worsen our situation beyond repair – as this little excursion of yours would do. What in the name of all the hells were you thinking, Sean?” I shouted, throwing my hands up in exasperation.

Never one to back down, O’Flaherty bellowed right back. “Your man there said t’were no guards! The boys need a bit o’ cheer, and we mean to get it for them.”

“You daft fool,” spake I, with perhaps less diplomacy than the circumstances asked, “I sent Ian off with mere trinkets, and he traded them for a month’s provisions. Did ye think we couldn’t do the same twice, only this time with rum as the goal? What, do ye not remember the remaining wealth in the Palace we took? – Aye, took under my command?”

O’Flaherty laughed, without mirth. “Trade? We’re not merchants, Nate. We be pirates. We take what we want.” Carter and Burke both nodded at this, and Moran looked as though he wanted to.

I laughed back. “Pirates, Sean? Ye be pirates?” I stepped up and pressed my chest to his. “Then where be your ship?” I shouted in his face. He stepped back then, but I stepped with him. “You know where. She be on the beach. On her side in the sand, wi’ a great hole blown in her flank. You know – you all know,” I said, turning to include the other three with a look and a gesture, “you know that I have no compunction against taking what I desire. The world owes me that, as it owes each of you. Aye?” They nodded again, and from behind me, Ian growled, “Aye, it bloody well does.”

I turned back to O’Flaherty. I stopped shouting; we needed to remove the spark from this discussion, not throw it into the powder keg. “But we need the ship. We need the Grace, Sean – need her in the water and catching the wind. Aye, of course I took note when Ian said there were no guards at the Piggly-Wiggly, but think ye we have no enemies hereabouts? If this be a colony, there will be troops here, somewhere; if it be a sovereign nation, they will have militia. Either way, your little raid would bring them down on us. Now, if we could escape to sea in our fair ship, then I would lead the way, and carry a cask of rum myself! I planned to do just that. But not –” and here I shouted once more, as I felt this point deserving of special emphasis: “NOT UNTIL WE HAVE OUR SHIP BACK!”

O’Flaherty and I glared at each other in silence. I knew what he wanted: he wanted to name me coward, shame me with my unwillingness to take this risk when such an easy prize beckoned. But he knew that if he said it, I would draw arms to defend my honor – and he would lose against me, with pistol or with blade, and he knew that, too. So we waited, and I watched him swallow the words he wanted to say to me then. They looked bitter.

Then another voice broke into the tableau we had made: “Hey!” We all turned and looked: it was Shluxer, standing with his arms crossed, his face pale and nervous. “If you dudes, you know, want some booze or something, you know, I can get it for you.”

I raised one eyebrow and asked what we all wondered: “What is booze?”

He rolled his eyes. “You know, booze. Liquor, beer, whiskey, wine, shit like that.” He shrugged. “I can get other shit, too, if you want to get really fucked up. But booze, that’s easy.”

“How much?” O’Flaherty asked, even as I asked, “What risks will there be?” We glared at each other some more.

“As much as you want. No trouble – I got this shit covered, yo.”

I looked the question at O’Flaherty, and after a moment, he nodded. I turned back to Shluxer and said, “Yo-ho-ho.”

So it went: Ian accompanied Shluxer in the beast-wagon, and the rest of us marched back to the Palace, in silence but for some brief muttering between O’Flaherty and Burke, and Burke and Moran, and then a low conversation between Carter and O’Neill, once O’Neill recovered from his illness – which largely came the moment he found he would not have to mount the wagon once more. I was chagrined to see that Carter did much of the talking, but if I walked closer, they turned to silence until I moved away. Perhaps I should not have brought O’Neill.

I am sure this is not the last trouble these four will cause me, but I have no idea how to prevent them.

The situation is fast becoming dire.

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Log 14: Guards and Grog

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June

Location: In a madhouse.

Conditions: As should be expected: mad.

 

If a man were to ask me what is the experience of captaining a ship, of leading a crew, I would say this: when you are the captain of a ship, everything goes wrong all at once. It is never simply that your vessel is blown into a storm; it is ever that your ship is blown into a storm – when your food stores have turned up rotten, and all your men are drunk on grog poured into empty bellies to quiet the pangs, and the lines have been poorly lashed by fainting fog-headed men, and the steersman collapses in a swoon and heels the boat crosswise to the waves just as the wind tears loose the moorings and leaves the sails flapping and the ship out of control – even as the cry of “Fire!” issues from the galley. That is the life of a ship’s captain. But with one difference from my depiction: generally the threats a captain faces are invisible and unknowable before they strike.

Here I had a group of men, three of them my own officers, who saw fit to defy my orders even after they joined their voices in affirmation of my right to command. Four men who were such blithering, vacuous idiots that they apparently did not understand the danger of piling more risk onto the perils we already face, who sought to prod the sleeping animal whose den we had invaded, and whose nature we could not discern: was it, perhaps, merely an aged and toothless dog, who would grumble at our violation of its rest and then turn to sleep once more? Or was it a savage bear with a sore tooth, awakening ravenous from a winter’s sleep, which would prove the destruction of us all? In less poetic terms: would a raid on a local establishment spur the far-flung and isolated colonials to flee our wrath, surrendering to our dominant wills if caught? Or would it break the dam and release a flood of heavily-armed soldiers on us? We did not know, and yet those men – my men, my officers, my own cousin, men whom I trusted to bear responsibility with probity and wisdom and fortitude – those men chose to take that risk for us all, and prod yon sleeping beast.

While our ship, our greatest weapon and only means of escape, lay mortally wounded on the sand.

And they did this all for grog.

And – most immediate – someone allowed them to go.

I strode through the Palace with Lynch at my heels, to the landward portico. The two men on watch – Shane MacManus and Raymond Fitzpatrick, a man whose loyalty I questioned and another whose witlessness, unfortunately, I did not – took their ease in two of the woven-cloth chairs that had previously stood on the seaward pavilion, but now stood in shaded places somewhat near the front door, and somewhat within reasonable view of any approaching enemies.

Perhaps I misspoke, before; perhaps the essence of captainhood is this: when your subordinates, in everything they do from sleep to eat to work to watch to fight to shit, are incessantly toeing the line of indolence and insubordination, but never quite far enough over it to deserve chastisement. A captain is ever left with two unpalatable choices: berate and punish those who have done very little that is wrong, and be known as a tyrant and martinet, or allow standards to slacken lower and lower until doom is as assured as the captain’s reputation for laxity. After all, these men were at their stations, and they were awake and unintoxicated, and they faced the road. Could I really begrudge them a comfortable seat in this tedious duty?

At the moment: a thousand times yes. “AVAST!” I roared as I came through the door and espied their lazy carcasses. “STAND AND REPORT, YE IDLE SWINE!” The two leapt from their chairs with satisfying alacrity, MacManus with a charged musket in his hands and Fitzpatrick sending his chair flying all a-tangle with the vigor of his upright leap. MacManus, seeing no immediate threat but my own humble self, turned and snapped off a crisp salute, knuckles to brow. “Nothin’ to report, Captain, sir!” he said, his words brusque and his stare blank. MacManus had served in the Royal Navy and was no stranger to surprise inspections from angry officers. Fitzpatrick shook his head to confirm MacManus’s negative reply.

I stepped close, pressing my face within inches of MacManus’s. “Where are O’Flaherty and Burke, Shane? Where is Carter? And Moran?”

He blinked and reddened, slightly, though it may have been the heat. “They . . . they left, sir. Half a turn gone, now, fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d say.”

I stepped closer, forcing him back on his heels. “And you didn’t stop them?”

He frowned. “No, Captain. By what authority would I stop the Quartermaster goin’ where he likes, sir?”

By the authority of your own brain, were it not as shriveled and worm-eaten as his!” I snarled, pointing at the slack-jawed Fitzpatrick.

MacManus’s flush deepened. Definitely not the heat. Not the sun’s heat, at least. “They claimed to be acting under orders, sir. I had no orders to hold or question or countermand their leavin’. Captain.”

Damn it all, he was right. I should have guessed that this was a possibility, and I should have expressly forbidden their departure, or any others’. I can only say in my defense that I had been too preoccupied with the storm and the flapping sails to also fight the galley-fire below – the fire named O’Flaherty. And “grog.”

But MacManus was not free of sin, here. I stepped back and stared at him some more, before saying quietly, “Why did I not receive a report of their leaving?”

MacManus paled even faster than he had reddened. “I – I thought you knew, Captain. They said you had ordered them.” He trailed off without any word from me. He knew better than that. On a ship, any ship, anything and all things must be reported up the chain of command. Always. All commands, all shouts of warning, even simple declarations of fact, are repeated again and again. Too much depends on men doing the right thing at the right moment, and on the officers knowing the right thing to do and the right moment to do it. If I am told by my Sailing Master that the wind is turning, and I give the order to come about, then the Master repeats it for clarity, and then tells the same to the steersman. The steersman says, “Aye, coming about, sir,” and shouts it to the Bosun. The Bosun, who must make the men reorient the sails as we change course, cries out, “Coming about!” And the men, to acknowledge the order and verify that it was the correct order, all shout, “Coming about!” Then the ship begins to turn. Not before.

MacManus should have reported the departure. The reason he hadn’t was clear to me: he knew I’d have stopped them, and he hadn’t wanted them stopped before they accomplished this errand. It was most likely the siren call of the grog which had whelmed his thoughts and suborned him from doing his duty.

I merely waited until he dropped his gaze, and then I began issuing new orders. “We will fortify this door, now. You two will dig a trench and build a breastworks with the earth, to either side of the palace. Take tools from the barn-shed if there be any. And if not, use your bloody hands.”

I watched them salute and trot off to the barn-shed; I told Lynch off to stand watch for now, and he nodded. Should have had him there in the first place, curse me for a trusting fool.

As I came back through the doorway into the entry hall, I encountered once more another unwelcome complication: our new carpenter, Shluxer. He stood, cowed but trying nonetheless to catch glimpses of the goings-on from where he was, confronted and halted from going any further by a surly and silent Owen MacTeigue. I clapped my cousin gratefully on the shoulder, and he nodded and relaxed – but he did not leave.

“I regret, Master Shluxer, that the realization of our partnership must be postponed. I trust that my assurances of your future enrichment will prove sufficient for the nonce, and I would also ask that you endeavor to keep our presence here a secret, moot as the request may be.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, still craning his neck to see around my and out the front door.

“Some of my men have gone to beard the lion in his den. We must prepare to face the wrath.” I turned to MacTeigue. “Go find two of the men who brought him here, and have them escort Master Shluxer home. Then –”

Shluxer interrupted me. “They left on foot? Why don’t you just go after them?”

I turned to him with raised brow and lowered patience. “Because they left twenty minutes ago. They would reach their destination before we caught them, even at a dead run.”

He stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending, I thought – and how amazed I was that he couldn’t grasp such a simple problem! Then he said, “Why don’t you just take the car?”

Now I had to stare, uncomprehending. “Take the what?”

“The car.” He pointed out the door. “What is that, an Accord? It’s got balls, for a riceburner. It could catch them. You got the keys?”

I turned to see where he was pointing: it was the nearer of the two beast-wagons, the one that Juan and Ignacio Lopez had arrived in – the one which we had not shot. I turned back to Shluxer. “That thing could catch them? Before they reached the Piggly-Wiggly?”

He snorted. “Sure. What are they going to do, grow wings and fly? It’s a car, dude. That thing could break a hundred, easy.”

I stared some more. Surely his language was English, I knew each individual word, but he made no sense to my ears. “Break a hundred what?” I asked him.

He looked at me as if I were the idiot. “M.P.H., dude.” And when this clearly offered me no help, he said, “Miles per hour?” as though questioning me, and vastly fatigued for doing so.

It took me a moment, but it started to dawn on me. “That thing,” I said, pointing, “that beast out there, could run one hundred miles – that’s two days good riding on a strong horse over adequate roads – in only one hour?”

He shrugged, palms up, and raised his eyebrows at me. “Duh. It’s a car?”

I merely stared.

His brows lowered. “You really don’t know what a car is, do you?”

Slowly I shook my head. I didn’t like to confess my ignorance, but a fool’s bluff would have been no improvement.

Shluxer’s hand darted out and flicked at the wall near him, as through brushing at a fly. Brilliant light burst forth from the ceiling, where shining round objects like enormous pearls hung; we had thought them merely idle decoration, but now they glowed as if they were tiny suns, or great lanterns encased in smooth white glass – but we saw no flame. And from whence had the spark come? MacTeigue and I both flinched away, our hands going to weapon hilts in our startlement.

“Jesus Christ,” Shluxer swore quietly. He brushed the wall again, and now I noticed a small rectangle with a peg of some kind sticking out of it where his hand touched; he moved the peg so it pointed down, and the light vanished, as quickly as it had come – startling MacTeigue and I anew. Shluxer snapped his fingers, and when I looked at him, he said, “Find the keys. I’ll drive.”

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Log 13: Conversations with a Carpenter

Captain’s Log

Date: 27th of June, 1678

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Situation improving, but morale flags.

 

I stood before the man O’Flaherty had so basely stolen away. I did wonder if my quartermaster had not, in fact, taken a journeyman, or even an apprentice, rather than the master carpenter; he seemed very young, the skin of his face and hands smooth and unlined but for a youth’s blemishes, of the which he wore several. He was certainly fat enough to be wealthy, which might have brought O’Flaherty’s gimlet eye ‘pon him; Sean has ever had an itch to stab at men of wealth and quality wheresoever he finds them. He was certainly as terrified as any man I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed and sheened with sweat.

Damn your liver, Sean. How could I win this youth over now, to gain his willing assistance? I confess that for a moment I was tempted simply to follow O’Flaherty’s lead and compel the man with the strength of arms; but I will not put my ship’s fate into the hands of a fearful and desperate man. How can you trust the work of men you have pressed into service? We should have to drag him along with us, to compel any further repairs due to his slipshod work – or even sabotage – with an unending chain of threats against his life and well-being. I would not take this man from his home merely because I could not think of a better way to get what I need. I find I have no taste for stealing men away from their homes.

At least the first step to winning the man’s favor was obvious. I whistled up MacTeigue and ordered him to cut the man’s bonds at once, and fetch him a bottle of wine, if any were left. I held Owen for another moment, and whispered further orders in his ear: my cousin was to stay out of easy sight, but keep a close watch in case the man slipped away from me. I did not wish to compel his service, but I could not have him raising the alarm, perhaps bringing a militia or a troop of King’s men down on us.

I made use of the minutes whilst MacTeigue sought out refreshment to tender to the man the most humble and genteel apology I could compose. I pride myself on my apologies; they have kept many a colleen from drumming a beat ‘pon my pate with cookware, as Irish lasses are wont to do when they discover themselves members of a plurality, rather than the sole monarch of an Irishman’s heart. Ah, now, they say it takes a village to raise a child; I fail to see why a man cannot be so raised, as well. Parts of him, at least.

My final flourishes and bon mots flowered the air as MacTeigue returned with a bottle of clear golden wine; I swallowed a long draught to show there was no poison, and then handed it to my erstwhile guest. He took it with a shaking hand and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. I had found several of the Glass Palace’s vintages too sweet, as well, but this one was quite nice; perhaps he had a foul taste in his mouth before. MacTeigue shrugged and removed himself from sight. I sat and invited the man to do the same, the which he did following a moment of wary staring.

“I am Damnation Kane, captain of the ship Grace of Ireland.” I held out my hand to him, and after a pause – which is often occasioned by the first mention of my name – he met it with his own somewhat clammier hand. “Elliott Shluxer,” he told me then (I can but guess at the spelling of it, never having encountered the name before). “Where do ye hail from, Sir Shluxer?” I queried. “We live in The Hammocks,” he said (again, I am unsure of the writing of the name), taking a pull of his wine; its taste, like so many others, was improved with repeated applications. “And you are a carpenter, in truth?” I tried to keep my tone simple and friendly-like, but if his answer here were in the negative, he would shortly find himself clapped with a hand-full of Dominicans, and O’Flaherty would be walking home to Ireland.

After a moment, punctuated by several eyeblinks and the forming of a new sheen of sweat, the man said, “I guess, yeah. I mean, I work with wood.”
Well at least O’Flaherty didn’t attack a pig farmer.

“It is my fondest wish, Master Shluxer, that my compatriots’ overzealous introductions of your good self to our humble band will not destroy the chance that we might work together, you and I, and both be enriched by the experience.” Aye: many a colleen. They may be won by the line of one’s jaw, the turn of a calf, white teeth and a roguish smile – but they are kept by the tongue.

This man, for all that he lacked a grown man’s creased brow, or a working man’s physique, or, apparently, the brains of a schoolboy, still he was no colleen. “You guys are fucking nuts,” was his response to my sally.

I informed the man – politely, despite his tone, for I was determined to take no offense from his words, my own men having offered offense enough for all – that I was unfamiliar with this particular colloquialism. “You’re nuts, you’re all fucking crackpots. A bunch of crazy fucking lunatics,” he expanded.

“Ah,” I exclaimed, grasping his meaning, “you mean we are madmen.” I laughed at this. “Such was never in doubt, good squire. Nonetheless, I have sailed with many and many a madman afore this, and I have found that their gold spends as well as that of a man in full control of his senses.” I took a doubloon from my purse, then, and let him see its golden shine. “Sometimes,” I went on, and here I added a second bit of shine to my palm, “sometimes it even spends twice as well.” I grasped his wrist, turned up his palm, and placed my two most persuasive arguments therein with a gentle clinking.

Shluxer put down his wine bottle and looked at the coins. “Holy fuck,” he said, an oath I had never heard – and considering the scruples of most saints, including Our Lord and Savior, it was an oath I found rather puzzling. “Are these real?”

“Indeed they are, stout yeoman. And Spanish weight, not Irish, I assure you. For ’twas a Spaniard we liberated them from, along with many of their brethren formerly trapped in Spanish pockets.”

He looked up at me then, his mouth unfortunately hanging agape: unfortunate, for his physiognomy did not vouch to me proof of his competence and intelligence, nor even his comprehension of my words. “You’re giving me these?” he asked.

I resolved to speak slower, and perhaps a bit louder: I could discern the dirt in his ears from where I sat; perhaps his hearing was blocked by effluvia. Or perhaps it was his thoughts. “I am giving you those, and I will give you more of you will agree to work with me.” I accompanied these words with a brief pantomime of sawing and hammering, so my meaning would be clear, it was to be hoped. I gave my belt pouch a jingle, as well.

Shluxer wiped at his brow, and then pressed his hands into his eyes, like a man waking from an unlikely dream into an even more improbable reality. “I don’t fucking believe this,” he muttered. He stared at the coins once more, turning them to glance at the visage of King Phillip IV minted on one side. Then he took another pull at the wine bottle, and met my gaze at last. “What exactly do you want me to do?” he asked me.

I clapped him on the shoulder – perhaps a trifle too vigorously, as he lost his balance and needed to be uprighted, though he had certainly suffered a shock from O’Flaherty’s treatment which might explain his weakness – and rose to show him the task at hand. I guided him to the Grace, offered an introduction to my good friend Ian – who explained the provenance of his surname, a tale which generally wins a laugh, but garnered us merely a stupefied gaze and more doubts as to our guest’s mental capacity – and showed him the hole in the Grace’s hull, and the missing yardarm on the mainmast. He gazed into the hole for some minutes, looking as well at the stack of finished planks the men had placed nearby, the only intelligent acquisition they had made, as my present companion apparently possessed less wit than that same pile of wood.

To wit: “You want me to help you fix the hole,” he said then.

I nodded, slowly. “And replace the yardarm on the mainmast, and help make her water-tight and sea-worthy. Aye.”

“And you’ll pay me for it.”

Another slow, exaggerated nod. “At twice your going rate. Aye.”

He held up the doubloons. “In gold, like this.”

I shrugged. “Perhaps some silver. We generally have a fair motley of coins about us, considering their variegated sources.”

He blinked, and I sighed. “Yes. We will pay in gold.”

“That’s why you kidnapped me?”

I winced. I took a breath, ready to explain that the political realities of O’Flaherty’s rank despite his incompetence and rash judgment, but Ian stepped in then, smooth as cream.

“Of course we will offer you wergild for that offense against your honor, along with the apology you have already received from our generous captain.” This last part came with a glance my way, which met a nod; but Ian could be confident that I would have apologized, first because he knew me for a gentlemen of breeding, and second because he has frequently been apologizing to his own colleen even as I mollify mine. “Or perhaps you would rather have a boon, if there is some service we might offer,” Ian finished.

It was then that I first spied the crafty look come into the eyes of Elliott Shluxer. It was a look I would become most familiar with, to my deep regret. How much would have been easier for me, had I only paid more attention then! I should have known that such apparent imbecility was sure to be joined with a low, animal cunning, and the savage, wanton greed of a starving dog.

“A boon? Like a favor?” Something akin to a smile curved his lips. “What kind of a favor are we talking about here?”

Ian looked my way, unwilling to speak further in my stead. I smiled at the carpenter and raised my open palms. “We have a fine ship and a good crew, once we can set sail once more. We would be honored to transport yourself, or whatever goods you wished, to the destination of your choice. Even back to England, or Spain or France, perhaps.” Ian looked a question at me for this over-generous offer, but I ignored it. I would fill the hold with another man’s profit if it meant I could take my ship and my men home again. “Or we could lend the strengths of our arms and backs, if you need land cleared, or a barn raised or other such tasks.”

But this struck no spark of joy in the visage of our would-be carpenter. I tried again, my tone growing soft and shadowy, like the subject of this speaking – I would offer craft to this crafty man, if it would get my ship back on the water. “Then there are our more surreptitious skills, the which we could offer into your service.”

Shluxer seemed intrigued, and I went on. “Perhaps there are goods of some kind, that are wrongfully in the possession of another man: a situation we could easily remedy. Or,” and I laid a hand ostentatiously on the butt of my pistol, “perhaps there is a personage whose acquaintance you would like to un-make.”

A smile creased the greasy face of my new ally. “Whoa, shit! You guys – you’ll cap someone on my say-so?”

I had to blink at the wording, but how many meanings could there be in this conversation? I nodded, slowly so he would understand me. He did, and rubbed his hands together in unmistakable glee.

This is ever the way, it would seem. If you offer a man a generous profit, advancement for himself and his kin in your right hand – and vengeance, no matter how petty, in your left hand, ’tis always the second hand he’ll grasp in agreement. The sinister hand.

It was while Shluxer was considering his possible targets and I was pondering the chance that I would regret my offer – sadly a most likely occurrence, but what choice had I? – that I heard a voice call out “Captain!” I turned and stepped quickly toward the Palace, from whence the call came; young Lynch dashed out to meet me.

“Captain – it’s the Quartermaster, sir, and the Bosun. And Carter, and Gunner Moran, too. They’ve gone.”

I loosed an oath then that would strike my old granny dead, did she hear it from my lips. “Where have they gone?”

Lynch, who had stopped to admire my swearing, now turned grim once more. “They’ve gone to the Piggly Wiggly, sir. They’ve gone to steal grog.”

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