Not-The-Captain’s Log

Chapter #83: The End (Part III)

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

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

Attached to his Grace.

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

Then he slept.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Hobbes was becoming one more of those dumb brutes.

Perhaps he already was one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or was this ominous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was when the Shadowman exploded.

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

All else was gone.

Particularly the Shadowman.

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

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

Thus he was the first to feel the figurehead move.

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

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

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

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

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

The rifle fell from his limp hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your acceptance of sacrifice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And in will is strength.”

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

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

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

“So you do seek to kill me.”

“That is the boon I ask.”

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

“But I have two conditions.”

“Name them.”

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

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

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

“And your second condition, my Lord?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Morrigan,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Then she kissed him, and he knew no more.

 

***

 

Balthazar Lynch had found a place to sit.

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

Wait for the Captain to return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balthazar Lynch had a place to sit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grace of Ireland had returned.

Damnation Kane had returned.

 

***

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

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

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

 

Théoden “Dusty” Humphrey

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

Chapter #82: The End (Part II)

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

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

 

***

 

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

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

They were not far wrong.

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the head did not fall.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She disappeared.

Damnation collapsed once more, and fell into another vision.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hand drew slowly back, vanishing into the dust.

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

Peace.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

Attached to his Grace.

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

Then he slept.

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

Chapter #81: The End (Part I)

Continuing With Our Story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadowman.

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

Something that the Shadowman knew quite a lot about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Damnation felt the strangler’s grip loosen.

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

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

Then the cursing started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let the prisoners go. All of them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all waited.

Nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The order was, “Begin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now.

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

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

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

Chapter #80: Change of Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacManus gave Lynch a level stare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacManus blinked. “The coppers?”

“Yah, mon, de police, de fuzz, mon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one answered.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Log #76: Strength

BLog

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

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

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

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

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

can i?

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

wil he?

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

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

 

***

 

Log

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

 

Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we find the Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

Log #75: Deadly Damn Diary

October 3

Dear Diary,

 

Well, now I have to leave the state. It’s the only way I’m ever going to get away from Brick Calhoun.

I have gotten away from that CONDESCENDING CHAUVINIST PIG, Mr. Damnation Kane – and I would go back to calling him Mortimer Snodgrass, but Damnation is completely appropriate as a name for him. I mean, Piece-of-Shit Kane would be even better, but I expect no mama would name her son that. I am still surprised that a mother would name her son Damnation, and that he would still use it even as an adult, but I suppose his mother knew that he would turn out to be the evil, lying son of a bitch he is, and he obviously still uses the name because he’s proud to be Hell-bound.

His last name is right, too. Though it should be spelled Cain. Cain, the first murderer.

Damnation Kane, the first murderer I have ever known. Ever kissed. Ever lusted after, if truth be told – and I am so thankful that I know now what he is, and also that Nana knows what he is (though she doesn’t know everything I know, which is for the best) and she made clear to him that he wasn’t welcome here any more, which is an understatement.

And Di-di, I know I said I was thankful – but I will not be thankful to Brick Calhoun. Even though he was the one who finally took the last of the sheep’s clothing off of that horrible wolf, and showed me the truth.

He had blood on his face.

Wait: let me put this all down. It’s been boiling inside me all day, because I had to fly – government charter, thank God, and not Jerry Rampaneau, though I also have to be at least a little bit grateful to him because he’s actually been able to get me flights every day I’m available to take them, and he doesn’t seem to mind when I’m not available or even when I’ve had to cancel on him, which I’ve done twice. He still slaps my ass with his eyeballs every chance he gets, and his pig clients still try to cop a feel or give me a hard pinch in a tender place, but Jerry’s kept me in the air and away from Brick, and that has been wonderful.

Except now it’s Brick who’s helping to keep me away from Damnation.

Why does this feel like the old song about the lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly inside her? I’ve got the stalker to save me from the murderer, and the Pinching Perv-Parade to save me from the stalker. What’s next?

Hey, maybe I should get a spider. A big ol’ tarantula to keep in my pocket, and when some asshole’s hand touches my butt, boom! Ol’ Spidey comes out and sinks fangs into the perv.

I’m seriously considering keeping a giant biting spider on my ass to save me from men. This is the world I live in.

All right. This isn’t what I needed to write about. Here goes: the real story.

Early this morning as I was walking out to my car to drive to the airport, I heard a man’s voice call my name. At first I thought it was one of Damnation’s pals – his goons, rather, and even though I thought Kelly was a big cuddly teddy bear (Even the fact that he’s missing an eye just made him seem like a treasured old teddy that’s lost one of its button eyes but you still love it anyway even when you’re all grown up.) and Shane, I think he wasn’t a nice guy, but he seemed like a good guy. But now I know they’re just as evil and dangerous as their boss is – so I turned towards whoever it was, not really expecting any trouble.

It was Brick.

“Stay away!” I hollered, and started to jump into the car. But he held out his hands, palms down with the fingers spread to show they were empty, trying to seem not dangerous. That’s the exact opposite of how he usually acts. And he said my name, my actual name instead of Merry, which I’ve hated being called since Lord of the Rings came out and that name became the name of a short fat guy with hairy feet, or darlin’ or sweetheart or sugar or that other shit he tries to stick on me when he’s pretending to woo me. “Meredith! Meredith, hold on,“ he said. “Please,” he said.

Yes, Di-di. Brick Calhoun actually said “please.” To me. I didn’t know Brick knew the word, or could bring himself to say it to a woman, but he did. He even sounded sincere, though I’ve heard him lie before and he usually sounds like he means what he says.

So, because I’m not stupid, I opened the car door, stood with one foot inside the car ready to jump in and slam the door closed if he tried to make a move on me, and I held my keys in my fist, two of them poking between my knuckles, ready to rip his eyeballs out – and I said, “What do you want?”

And because he is a creepy disgusting stalker, he tried to have an actual conversation with me. “How are you?” he asked. “Are you doin’ okay?” But even though I was not going to let him pretend we could have a civil discussion, it was still weird because once again, he looked and sounded sincere. I mean, he sounded like he wanted to know if I was okay.

Which, of course, I am not, and was not, even then, before I knew what I know now. But you don’t show weakness to the wolf. Or the weasel, rather. I think Brick is more like a weasel.

That murderer Kane is the wolf.

“I’m fine,” is what I said to him. “I’m in a hurry. I have to get to work. What do you want?”

Being a man, and thinking everything and everyone has to follow his priorities and his train of thought, he didn’t even listen to me. “You’re okay? He didn’t hurt you none?”

He was starting to sidle around to my side of the car. “Stop right there!” I told him. And – miracles will never cease – he stopped. He even backed up a step. Because he did that, I decided to answer his question, though first I had to find out what the hell he was talking about. “He who?” I asked. Before he could answer, though, I added, “Nobody’s hurt me at all, and the only one I worry about trying to, is you.”

He, Brick Calhoun, convicted drug dealer and attempted murderer, had the audacity to look hurt. “Hey now, darlin’, I ain’t never done nothin’ to hurt you. I love you!”

I sort of thrust my fist at him, like I was pointing with my keys, I like was going to shout, “J’accuse!” I said, “Stop that! I have told you before, you do not love me, and you are not allowed to say it!”

He sort of smirked, but he wiped it off quick, replacing it with a sorry-face. (But I saw that smirk, Di-di. I know what he is. I know he’s still Brick Calhoun.) He held up his hands in surrender, and said, “Okay, okay, darl- Meredith. Let’s just say I want to get the chance to love you proper. I would never hurt you.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his tight jeans, and frowned. “But that other fella you been goin’ around with. That Damnation, that Irish guy looks like Johnny Depp. He surely would.” He nodded slowly. “I know you think I’m a bad guy, and I done some things, sho ‘nuff. But I ain’t half as bad as that guy. Not a tenth.”

“He looks more like Orlando Bloom, not Johnny Depp,” I said, but I wasn’t thinking about that, I was thinking about Brick. I didn’t believe him, but I know he wouldn’t have said this without some kind of reason. This wasn’t his usual ploy. Usually he wanted me to think he was the dangerous one, the bad boy, because he thinks I like bad boys (And I suppose there is reason to think that – but Di-di, I don’t like men who would hurt me. Never that. I want thrills, not to be scared for my life.) and also because he wanted me scared. Because he is a horrible creepy stalker.

So why was he telling me that Damnation – who Brick saw as a rival, even though he was out of my life now, and even though Brick couldn’t have a rival because he himself was never and will never be in the running to be with me – was more dangerous than he was? “Why do you say that?” I asked.

He dug in his front pocket, and I ducked halfway into the car. “Hold on!” he said. “Meredith, hold on, it ain’t what you – it’s just my phone. Okay?” He pulled an iPhone out of his pocket and showed it to me. (And how does a redneck descended from Ozark dirt farmers afford a brand-new iPhone when he’s just out of jail? Why, through the magic of drug-dealing, of course! God bless America!) “Can I show you somethin’? It’s a video.”

I shook my head, my hair flailing – I might have been on the edge of panic at this point. “Don’t come near me!” I said. I don’t think I was shrieking. But I might have been.

He frowned angrily, but then he wiped that off of his face, too, (But I saw it. Yes, I did.) and just looked concerned. “It’s important, Meredith. You need to see this.” He held the phone out to me, but he didn’t come any closer, though I could tell he wanted to. Probably wanted to grab me and shake me, maybe give me a slap for saying no to him. You know: teach me some manners.

I sort of laughed. Sort of shrieked. “Brick Calhoun, I am not going to let you get a hold of me. Nuh uh, no way, no sir.”

The angry frown, just for a flash – and then he looked calm. Decent. Placating me. Gentling me like a nervous horse. “Okay, tell you what. You get in your car here, start ‘er up, put ‘er in gear, put y’ foot on the brake. Then I’ll show you what’s on this here phone, which you need to see. And if you don’t like it, if I make a move that scares you atall, then you drive off. Run right over m’ toes. Okay?”

I had to take a deep breath before I could speak – but this was a decent plan. And I did want to see what he had on his phone, and why he was talking about Damnation, especially because I knew if I didn’t watch the video when he said I needed to see it, he’d just keep coming back after me until I watched it. But I had a thought. “If you show me a picture of your dick, Brick Calhoun, I will run over all of you. Twice.”

He blinked, actually surprised, and then he laughed. And God damn him for having a good laugh, and cute dimples. Evil, creepy, violent stalkers should never be cute, or have good bodies. Why do they let them lift weights in prison, anyway? Isn’t that just making the criminals more dangerous and harder to control? But he shook his head, and actually drew a cross on his chest with his finger. “Cross m’ heart, darlin’.” His face turned serious. “This thing on the phone, it ain’t no joke.”

And again, he looked and sounded sincere. Actually concerned. I still didn’t believe it, of course – but I did want to know what he was acting this way, so unlike his usual self. The usual smirking, swaggering douche bag was more obnoxious – but this version was actually scaring me more. This was a Brick who could convince a judge to deny a restraining order. Maybe even talk Nana into letting him into the house to wait for me.

Note to self: Nana needs to know about Brick. And also, now, about Damnation. I can’t leave her in the dark any more. It’s too dangerous now. Lord, she is never going to let me go on a date again as long as I live, unless she picks the man. Sigh.

So I got in my car, locked the door, and started it up. Then I waved him around, through the windshield. He came slowly around the front hood, fiddling with his phone, and then bent down by my window. “You gone roll it down?” he asked.

I looked at him through the safety glass. “I can see through it. Show me what I have to see.”

He started to say something, but then he shrugged. He pressed something on his phone, and then he held it up flat against the window, right in front of my eyes.

And from inches away, I watched Damnation Kane – the man I had kissed, the man I wrote in this very diary that I might be in love with – I watched him kill people. Murder them. With a sword. He cut a man’s head off, almost. It made me sick, but I couldn’t look away. He shot people, too, at least he shot at them, and so did Kelly and Shane. The video didn’t last long, no more than a minute or two, but by the end of it, there were at least half a dozen men lying bloody and dead on the ground.

At the end of it, Damnation looked up – it was shot from above, like someone standing on a roof or looking out a window – and the picture zoomed in on him. And I could see blood. On his face. Big red drops, running down his cheek, close to his mouth, and I tried to reach out, without thinking, and wipe the blood away – it was going to get in his mouth – and my fingers hit the glass, and then I gagged and had to look away. It took everything I had not to puke into my own lap – or even to open the door and lean outside to heave my guts out, but that would have put me right in Brick’s hands, and in no shape to fight him off. So I held it down.

Brick took the phone away. “I’m sorry, Meredith,” he said, and even though he said it pretty softly, and through the glass, I heard it, and it sounded like he meant it.

So I rolled down the window. I shouldn’t have, but I needed air. He squatted down, put his arms on the window ledge, his chin on his forearms. He didn’t try to reach in, didn’t try to grab me. “You had to know,” he said.

I nodded. Maybe the first time in my life I’ve agreed with Brick Calhoun, but he was right: I needed to know what Damnation was. Is. He had blood on his face. “How’d you get it?”

“I was there,” he said. I looked at him sharply. He drew back, though he kept his hands on the car door, holding himself up as he squatted on his hams. “I set it up. I had business, asked him to come with me as backup. But I didn’t know he was gone do that. Shit, I’m lucky to be ‘live myself.”

“Why did you ask him? How do you know him?” I realized then that my leg was aching, from holding down the brake pedal, so I did a stupid thing, Di-di, without even thinking about it: I put the car in Park, and I turned in my seat to face him more. I even put my hands on the door, right next to his.

He smiled. I could tell he wanted to grin from ear to ear, but was holding it back, though I didn’t know why (I do now: he may really have wanted to warn me, but mostly, he wanted what he always wants, to get close to me, to get me to interact with him, and here I was. I’m such an idiot.) Then he shook his head. “It don’t matter. I wanted to know what kind of a man he was.” He held up the phone. “I found out,” he said. I nodded, swallowing, trying to fight back my urge to puke breakfast all over him. (Though really, I should have just gone ahead and done it.)

“I hit him,” I said, and it was like a bucket of cold water was thrown over me: I was cold as ice, suddenly shivering, every inch of me breaking out in goosepimples. “Oh, God – I hit him! He could have killed me!”

There was a new expression on Brick’s face, and it took me a minute to place it: pride. He was – he was proud of me. “Yeah, darlin’, he sho could have. Still could. So listen: he skipped town, with all his buddies.” I nodded: I knew he had left the house because Nana threw him out; but Balthazar had stayed around, for some reason, until he left the day before yesterday. Brick went on. “I don’t know if he’s comin’ back. But if he does, if you see him or hear from him, I want you to let me know. ‘Cuz then I’ll send that video to the po-lice, and they can lock his ass up, throw the key in the swamp.”

“Why don’t you just send it to them now? Aren’t they looking for whoever killed those men?”

He smirked then, at least halfway. “Well, now, that’s because I’m on that there video, too. And I think it might be a lil hard for me to convince the po-lice that I didn’t have nothin’ to do with all that killin’. ‘Specially with my record.” The smirk vanished then, turning back into the All-New Concerned Brick face. “But if I have to do it to keep you safe, Meredith, I will.” He moved his hand, put his fingers on top of mine on the door frame. I was so cold and numb that I didn’t even feel it, not at first. “I want to keep you safe,” he said, and patted my hand.

I looked down at his hand on mine, then. And I saw on his finger, his right ring finger, the copy of my ring, the one that Damnation had showed me, and thrown at me, when he called me a harlot and said I belonged to another man. I knew it was the same ring because it was dented from when he threw it, and I could see a bloodstain on the silver: and Brick’s other hand was bandaged, I noticed then, his left middle finger – the same one I wore my ring on.

I looked at his face, my jaw hanging open as I realized: it was Brick that Damnation had been talking about. He had come and laid some kind of claim on me, which Damnation had believed, and then called me a whore in his fancy words for flirting with him when I – when he thought I belonged to Brick.

And while I was realizing all of this, Brick reached into the car, grabbed a lock of my hair, and ran it through his fingers. “My mama had red hair,” he said softly.

That was when I threw the car into gear and drove away. He jumped back before I could run over his toes. I did think about turning around and running him over for real: but I’d never catch him before he made it back into his truck. And I didn’t think – don’t think – I could actually really do it. So I just drove away, to work, and sat in the hangar for an hour trying to stop shaking.

But now – now that I haven’t killed Brick, that is – I don’t know what to do. I can’t turn him in for harassing me, and I’ll never get a restraining order or get him arrested unless he actually hurts me. And I thought today that I could do that, that I could let him catch me and then make him mad so he’d hit me and leave marks, so I could get the cops to believe he was a danger to me. But what if he hit me with a brick? What if he lost control and killed me?

And if I somehow got Brick locked up: what would I do if Damnation came back?

How could I have been so stupid, and fucked up so bad, that I need Brick Calhoun to protect me?? Oh, good, Meredith – tears. Yes, crying will help. So much.

So that’s why I have to leave the state. Except of course I can’t, because Nana won’t leave her home, and I can’t disappear and leave her to deal with these two monsters, these two animals. These – men.

One thing’s for sure: I’m buying a damn gun. And a can of pepper spray for Nana. And write all this down, just in case.

And pray. Maybe I’ll pray. Though I don’t know who to pray to.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Log #74: In Captivity

Being the True Log of Ian O’Gallows, kept in Secret while Held in Durance Vile

 

I keep this Log for my Captain, Damnation Kane, so that he may know the Truth of our Treatment at the Hands of these Black-Hearted Savages: Captain Nicholas Hobbes, formerly of the Sea-Cat which is now sunk by our own Hands, and thus is some measure of Justice achieved; and wielding the Devil’s Lash, as Hobbes is Familiar-Named, the Devil Himself in a human form, him we call the Abomination. Hobbes’s men call him the Shadow-Man, but shadows be Never so Dark as that Creature. I do expect now that our captors will Murder us all, and so I keep this Log, written by Star-light with a stolen writing-stick on the Blood-spotted bandages used to bind our Wounds after those bandages have been removed; now they are kept wrapped about my Leg. I hope that Captain Kane will Find it when he finds my Corpse.

All Hope is lost.

We do not blame you, Captain You must know this, as, if I know you as I bethink myself to do, you do blame Yourself. We all know that an End like this awaits Men who do join our Brotherhood of the Coast, and we be thinking that there be some Fate in this, perhaps the hand of a wrathful God Almighty, that may be seen in how it be Englishmen from our own Time what hold us and what will bring about our Deaths. You did not bring us to this Time, nor did you Place us in the Clutches of the Abomination and the Damned English. That was the Storm, and whatever Druid-Magic your Mother worked on us. Although we’ve also no Doubt that without that Magic we would have  been Sunk to the Dark Depths by Hobbes that night he caught us in the Storm of the Faerie Fire that we all saw making our Ship to shine like the Heavens above. So Die then or Die Now, it is one to us. Our wondrous Escape, and our Final Doom, can each only be the Will of God.

The Will of God may ne’er be ‘scaped or averted. So too our Deaths. We begin to Pray that they will come quickly.

We are held in a Cage, made of links of Chain, like armor stretched and pulled large and mounted over a Steel frame. The Cage is under the open Sky, and some of the men have suggested digging into the bare Earth that is our floor and our only Bed, but we are kept carefully Guarded and often taken Out of the Cage, singly or as a crew, and methinks any Earthworks would be soon Discovered. We have aye been disarmed, stripped of Boots and Belts, though left with our shirts and breeches, for which I should be grateful as the Biting Pests are Devilish thick.  We are fed regular, though not Well and not Much. We are rarely given Water, and the Sun is a Terrible Weight on us. We have kept what Strength we have in the main as it rains near every day, and we are able to keep some Water in shallow holes scraped in the Clay, water we then soak into strips torn from shirts and use to Drink or to Cool ourselves. Or to try to Heal our Wounds, aye.

We are all Wounded. Every Man of our crew has been Flogged no less than twicet. Each man’s first Flogging was the worst, as all of us received it from Stuart, Hobbes’s great Brute of a Bosun. The more Flesh he strips from a Man, the wider grows his Slobbersome Grin. If we could have him in this Cage with us for but Five Minutes of the clock, I would Die a Happy Man. The Floggings are done aboard the Grace of Ireland, the sheer Blasphemy of it being perhaps – nay, the whipping is the worser part. But it is hard, hard, to see innocent Irish Blood shed on our Deck, soaking into the Wood of our Ship, shed by the cruel Hands of these barbarian Englishmen. They have mounted on our Grace their Figurehead, the Scourged Lady, a wood carving of a beauteous lass in Great Pain, her back and sides showing deep Scores from the Whip, the Expression on her Face and in her upraised Arms one of Anguish. We are bound to her for the Floggings, and so she is grown Familiar to us all.

After we have taken stripes from the Bosun, each of us has been taken back to the Whipping Post to be thrashed by one of the Crewmen of the Sea-Cat. Hobbes uses this Savagery to prove his Men, and three of them have Refused when handed the Whip, thus Proving themselves to my mind to be Better than the rest of the English Dogs. Two did so, one after the other, when my Third Beating in three days was Ordered. After my second Flogging when they thought me Insensate, I attempted an Ambush when they came to drag out the man we call the Lark, a slight Man to begin, who has suffered greatly from our Captivity. My main Object was achieved when Hobbes ordered me whipped in the Lark’s place. Then I won a second Victory when the two sailors, looking at the bared torn Flesh of my Back, refused to wield the Whip on me anew. ‘Twas no Victory for them, alas, as the third man Ordered to do so did flog me as hard as Hobbes could wish, and then the two who Refused were whipped in turn, and are now Locked into our Cage with us. Albert Hooke and Henry Beecham are their Names, and decent enough Fellows they are. Decent enough that I have not Strangled them with their own Shirts. We have also a third Sea-Catter, a lad of no more than sixteen summers who could not bring himself to Whip our Saltiest old fellow, who the lad said minded him of his Own Grandfather. Though methinks the Comparing to an English Gaffer might have hurt the Salty Fellow more than the stripes the Lad would have put on him. Any road, he is in here with us, as well, though we keep the three Englishmen held apart from our Counsels and Conversations. The boy is named John Robinson.

Some of our Men have been taken Out of the Cage. I do not know Why. Perhaps they put them to the Question, or perhaps they wish to Turn them against the main of us, against the Captain, to thereby gain Intelligence of them. They chose the Weakest of us, both the salty one and the lark and a third I will not name. I have seen them and received Signs by them so I know they are not Dead, but they have not been Returned to the Cage, nor have we been allowed to Speak with them. Too they did seem slow and sluggish, as though sick or drunken, though I think our Captors would not give Grog to a Prisoner. Gods, do I wish they would give me Grog. Those three are being held – or treated like Royal Guests, with Feasts, and Beds with Whores for Pillows, for all that I know of it – in the House near the Cage. In truth I do not Envy them even tho they be out of the damned Sun and the Cursed Pests. I Fear for them.

Dawn is approaching now and I must call a Halt to this Log: but I must Record the Foulest Crime they have Inflicted on us. Raymond Fitzpatrick is dead. The Shadow-Man was speaking to us, when first we were brought here from New York and released from the Grace’s Hold, where we had been kept after the Donnybrook that we made to give our Bosun his chance at Escape, and may Saint Patrick Protect and Preserve that brave and true Irishman, and Guide him to our Captain. The Abomination asked if any Man there were Kin to our Captain. In Truth, there are three Men among us who share the Captain’s Blood. Our Gunner is his own Cousin, the Son of his mother’s Brother. I will not write the Name for fear it will stand out and be noted, for though I write this in the Irish, knowing that they will not put hands on it unless and until I am Dead, and when that occurs, no other Man here can both Read and Understand Irish until our Captain returns, still if they should see a Man’s Name they may grow Suspicious and Mistreat him. But those three Men knew better than to hand over Information to our Captors. Alas, Raymond was a Good Man, a strong Sailor, but not so much of a Thinking Man. When the Abomination asked if any of us be of the Captain’s Blood, Ray said he were the Captain’s Family. He is not, in Truth, they are of the same village , along with half of the men of the crew, but have no blood ties. Ray meant that as they were both Irish and both Pirates and hailed from the same Patch of Land, it made them as good as Cousins.

The Shadow-Man cared not for the Subtleties. He took Ray aside, the rest of us off the Ship to our Cage. I know not what occurred, but we did see the Englishmen dragging a Corpse wrapped in sailcloth and giving it Burial, and we have each of us seen the terrible Blood-Stain that now Blots the poop deck of the Grace. I believe the Abomination cut my friend’s throat and spilled all of the Blood in his Body in some Heathen Sacrifice to his Infernal Gods. God keep the Soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick, and Damn the Abomination’s Immortality to Eternal Hellfire.

The Floggings began after that. They have not asked about the Captain’s Relations again. Methinks that whatever they needed his Blood-Relation for, they did not find Success at it, (May they have such Bad Cess and failing Doom at all of their Endeavors.) and so now they Crave only the Captain’s Blood. To that End they forced the Surgeon and I to write that letter to the Captain, though every word of it was a Lie, most of them told to Us by Hobbes and his Black Devil Man. The Surgeon was Helpful to them in determining what to write, giving them Claude Navarre’s name and the like. When I did Question him after, he made Clear that we want the Captain to come, and telling him Truths is the best way to bring him. The Surgeon was of the Mind that we had concealed sufficient Hints to put the Captain on his Guard, the plainest being, so he pointed for me, that if I Wished to write an Unreadable Letter to the Captain, I could write it in the Irish. That was where I found the Idea for this Log.

I do not wish to wait for the Captain to Rescue us. But the Men are weak, half of us sickened with fevers or the pain of our Wounds, all of us weakened by Despairing. I will Try to learn what I can to know what we can do and to be Prepared to do it, howsoever little it may be within our Power to Work.

The Sun rises. I must stop.

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

Log #73: Flight to Bermuda

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

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

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

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

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

***

Log for October the Second of 2011

Bermuda

 

I thought that I had flown before.

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

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

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

It was – a miracle. It was a wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye, cúl tóna,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to nod. “Aye, ’struth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps because it is closer to Hell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Though I think these men be not noble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That gave me leverage.

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

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

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

He blinked at me. “While you what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We turned to look at the man we would kill.

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

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

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

This was a dangerous man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye, we’ll do,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log #72: Parlay

Log

October 2

 

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

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

My name is their doom.

 

Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I garnered the meaning. “La policia.”

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

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

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

 

Later

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

All I feel is ash.

But soft – I think that our vessel has arrived.

To Bermuda.

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

Log #71: Captain No More

October 1

Dear Diary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

God damn all men.

 

 

BLog

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

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

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

i hav to tok 2 chester abowt vidyo.

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

i luv him alwayz.

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

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

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

 

 

The Last Captain’s Log

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

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

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

 

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

Captain Damnation Kane

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will consider it.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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