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Log #48: Cannot

Log

August 31

 

By the gods, what a wonder she is! I know not what great service I provided, what Herculean task I completed, that earned me this magnificent favor, this gift of fortune that allowed me to meet, and – though she knows it not – to love the inestimable, the ineffable, the incomparable Meredith Vance.

I pray none observe me now – I think not; all are abed – for one could not cast his gaze on me and fail to know me for a man in love. I sigh, I pace the floor and pause, my gaze wandering afar through dreams, dreams of her, ever of her. Then I return, to write in this log, of my passions, my inamorata, my joy, my love.

Christ, I am a swooning maiden.

I confess. I find myself hoping that some happenstance might occur which would permit me to woo and win this glorious creature. I know it will not come to pass. I must depart, now, and plunge back into a life of turmoil and travail, where I am beleaguered by enemies implacable, both lawful and malign; where I will, if the gods smile on my once more, return to a world where I would not have her live, even could she accompany me, for my Ireland is no place for a beautiful woman. Not where the English bastards roam the countryside. Like my thrice-damned father.

I have wondered if this, all of this, is but a dream, a phantasm created in my fevered brain by some ailment, by an injury, inflicted on me in my natural time, my natural state; perhaps I am dead, brought down by the Devil’s Lash, and this is – what? Limbo? Elysium? The White Shores of Avalon? Are we on the shores of Styx in Hades’s realm, only waiting for the Boatman to collect us? How could one know if one is in this world, or that world? Or adrift on the mind’s tides?

But here is my hope. Aye: unreal this world seems; in truth, often so. But what mad god would have made this place his Heaven? And surely, if I suffer the fate for which I was named – what infernal mind could comprehend such loveliness as Meredith? Such courage as Margaret? Such kindness as James McNally, or Maid Flora Lopez, or my Lady of Joy? I cannot believe these good souls would share my accursed doom, and I cannot think that Lucifer himself could have imagined them thus merely to torment me.

Nay: this is the world of men, and I merely one such, muddling my poor benighted way through it. I cannot love Meredith Vance, not without dragging that shining beauty down into the quagmire that pulls at me.

Oh, but if I could love her: how I would love her.

Aye: there be reason why I began to record, before my swollen heart overcame me – reason, indeed, why my mind is so whelmed by thoughts of her. ‘Tis she who has proven invaluable in the setting of our course – who has served as the pilot in our lives, illuminating the path through these shoals and to our home – our ship, our friends. Now we must see if we three babes, lost in wilderness, can navigate the course she has set.

I suppose my fevering brain turned such this last night, for I could not rest: my mind raced with questions and fantasies, and scheme after scheme for how we might reach our goal. I was relieved of one fear when I spoke to Vaughn – but then I was filled with new conceits, new fears and hopes, which robbed me of my repose.

Not so my men, thankfully, who need the rest more than I; when the dawn broke, they emerged, looking hale and lusty, color in their cheeks and fire in their eyes. And – of course – they came to me, prepared to hear the plan for how we would reunite with our company. This was the moment I had feared – or at least one such. For I knew not. The night was wasted in idle mindlessness, devoid of purpose, my thoughts a chaos that might meander thus: We must make our way to New York. But we know not the way. This place is so large, so very strange! Would that we were home – but we cannot attempt that trip, not with Nicholas bloody Hobbes straddling the ocean and blocking our path. Gods, keep that bastard from finding my Grace before I can reach her! We must make our way to New York! But we know not the way . . .

And so on, and ever, ever on.

Howbeit, I am no fool to encumber my men with the weight of my own empty pride – for pride has more weight, but less substance, than any other part of man. When Lynch and MacManus came to me and asked after our course, I admitted that I had no idea, and had been unable to see our way. I asked my good shipmates to help me, to give counsel, wisdom, and advice.

And then were we mightily distracted, for Meredith passed through my chamber, where we three sat and talked, in all her beauty, her glorious locks aflame in the morning sun flowing through the windows, her lovely face enlivened by her smile, her womanly charms and immortal grace on display, wrapped in a robe of thinnest silk over the smallclothes she weareth for her Yoga, which fit to her skin like a glove, caressing her supple curves.

Christ! How am I to keep my focus, even now, with such a vision in my poor brain? This is why the Church teaches that women be temptresses, and men be weak; ’tis but the simple truth, shown to us all who have a man’s mind and passions, enflamed and enraptured by a woman’s face and form.

Aye, we stopped our conversation and greeted her politely enough – and then MacManus and I, of one accord, rose and moved to the window whereby we could observe the removal of the robe and her Yoga-dance. We would have stayed there, too, for as long as Meredith’s spell entranced us, but Lynch brought us back. Though perhaps over-snappish he was in doing so: he struck us both on the back of the head, driving our noses into the glass most painfully; when we turned on him, he bared gritted teeth and hissed, “Get your minds on our course, and off of yon gangly trollop! Lucifer’s ballocks, yer pricks are not the compasses we follow now. Let’s find our way to New York, and ye can buy a whore then, if ye have need of such.”

Chastened by a youth – and rightfully so. I am sure the boy has no knowledge of a woman’s embrace, and so has an easier time resisting such wondrous charms as are possessed by Meredith. I did berate him briefly for insulting our good hostess – and my love, though I said naught of that – but I could not fault his naming our foolish distraction away from the vital task ahead. We got back to it then.

And came to naught.

Once Meredith returned from the garden and passed through to her morning bath – and MacManus and I pointedly ignored her passing but for a simple and civil greeting (I already held the image of her dancing in smallclothes burned in my mind; why must I look again with open eyes on her robed form?), we moved to the kitchens, where we prepared our morning refreshment, as has been our wont in our time here. I observed my two men carefully, and saw that my doubts were indeed material.

This was the difficulty. New York lay several hundreds of miles to the north, said Vaughn, and Meredith confirmed. We could not walk the distance. We knew not the management of a beast-wagon. Lynch was for booking passage on a ship, and MacManus opined that we were pirates, and should simply take a ship to sail ourselves – we had seen many a ketch and pinnace that three able seamen could man with little trouble.

But we were not able. My arm ached, my shoulder burned. MacManus could not move without pain, though he endeavored to conceal it; I saw the slowness of his movement, the brief creasing of his brow, the frown on his lips. Lynch was better, the spryness and health of youth serving to speed his recovery, but still he curses when his movements irk his wounded side, and he still cannot move his left shoulder freely – it had been dislocated, his doctor had told him; the arm had been strapped to his trunk for the first several days of our sojourn in the hospital, and has not fully healed. Thus I know we cannot follow MacManus’s advice. We have not the strength to capture nor sail a ship, not even one small enough for three. Lynch’s plan is better – but I fear the Devil’s Lash, should we return to open water. The man has haunted my dreams, and though the ocean is wide, somehow he found us in the midst of it. Perhaps he will find us again, and take us. I do fear this.

‘Twas then that Meredith rejoined us – and though her attire was more modest, still it revealed more than it concealed her ethereal beauty, beauty only increased by the warmth of her smile and her joyful greeting. Surely this woman would be the sun in a cloudy sky, even on a winter’s day in Ireland –

Damn me, and damn my fool’s mind! I cannot keep a straight and simple path even in this log – an hour have I been writing, now, nay, two hours, by the gods! And still I have not recorded what I set out to record. You see? You see the chaos that whirls in my skull? What a desolation is my mind when my heart speaks so loud.

To the point, then. Meredith solved the issue. We laid out our separate plans – I was for purchasing horses, the one land conveyance I know we understand and can manage, though I knew as well that we three had little skill in riding; I hoped to find a wagon of some sort in which we may ride – and she frowned. “Why don’t you get a flight?” she said. “I’d take you myself, but I’m booked up for the next week, and I’m not going anywhere near NYC.”

I misheard her, at first. “A fleet? Is there a fleet headed that way? We could book passage – there may be safety in numbers – ” Lynch and I began to argue this point.

Meredith interrupted us. “No, not a fleet, a flight. You know, a plain flight? What do they call them in Ireland, aren’t they air-plains?”

We looked at her, baffled. I spake first. “A plain in the air? Do you mean plein-air painting? I recall there is a Frenchman who paints thus, methinks.”

Lynch ventured: “Is’t Heaven? The Plains of Elysium, in the air, far above, in those selected – what is’t, Captain?”

“Celestial spheres. Be that your meaning, lass?”

Meredith stared at us as though we were roosters laying eggs. “Come on. You’ve got to know what an air-plain is. You’ve never flown? Haven’t you heard of flying? How did you get here from Ireland, then?”

We exchanged glances. “We sailed on my ship.” I chose not to elaborate further on the journey that had delivered us to these shores. I knew now, though, that this was the cause of the misunderstanding here: Meredith referred to something commonplace in this time, but unimaginable in ours.

These people fly. Through the air, in the sky, miles above Mother Earth, in conveyances like the beast-wagons, but – with – wings.

I cannot conceive of it. But apparently, ’tis the truth. This is what Meredith does, her employment: when she told us she is a pilot, she meant one of those who steer these flying sky-ships; that is what the word means, here and now. I think she has decided that we three are country bumpkins of the most uncivilized sort; I hope that suffices to explain our monumental ignorance. If not, I do not know how to give her the true explanation. She did not ask, any road.

We will have none of this – flight. These America-folk may think themselves immune to the fate of Icarus, but I know better, and my men are not mad enough to seek out such a peril when ’tis not needed, as now. We quickly refused Meredith’s suggestion.

But she gave another. There are large conveyances, like beast-wagons, but far greater and which, she says, ride on rails of iron; they are called “trains.” These trains stay on the ground. We have booked passage on one such which will carry us to New York and to our friends in less than a day’s time. Eight hundred miles! In a day! And yet this transport is not enough for them? They would rather – fly? Fah.

Meredith has made the arrangements for our travel by train. She gave us, as well, an atlas, an entire book of maps more detailed and precise than any I have seen in all my years at sea. She laughed when I exclaimed over its inestimable value, and said it had been hers at school – she has studied! She waved away my protestations, calling it a gift, and a small one at that. Men would have started a war for such a book in my time.

But, one supposes, if you can fly . . . perhaps a map of the land is not so much of a much.

After that, the second book of maps given us was offered with even less ceremony, no more than a hank of cloth given to one who sneezes. We inquired of Meredith as to where we might find shops, so that we could purchase traveling equippage, apparel and supplies; she offered to convey us in her beast-wagon, but then glanced at the clock and cried out that she must go, that she was late; she dashed to a cabinet in the hallway by the front entry, and withdrew a book, called Thomas’s Guide to Charleston, and dropped it in my lap with no more thought than the first princely gift of a book – a book! – of maps. And this Thomas has mapped out every street, every river, every bridge – every alleyway! – in all of this immense city. And Meredith simply – gave it to us. On her way out. After arranging for our passage by train, using the telephone and speaking with someone named Amtrack. Perhaps Anne Track, or Hamtramck, I could not tell.

She is beautiful, beyond the telling of it. She is generous, beyond comprehension. She – flies.

She cannot be mine.

I cannot think, any more.

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Log #10: A Magic Window and Food from the Pig

Captain’s Log #10

Date: 27th of June

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Ominous

 

I can no longer trust O’Flaherty.

I have never warmed to the man; his introduction of the position of Quartermaster, a Caribbean invention with no place on a good Irish ship, and his near-instantaneous assumption of that position, were close enough to mutiny to have him strung to the yardarm and shot in the belly on many another ship. But I always knew that his intentions toward the ship and crew were only for their benefit, and his decisions, while often counter to my own conceits and predilections, and sometimes deserving of the name Rash, still they were ever reasonable.

Until now. Now I can only name him a fool and pray he hasn’t doomed us.

But I must needs tell all.

I must not fail to record Vaughn’s discovery. His investigative methods may deserve to be called foolish and rash as well as O’Flaherty does; I remain unconvinced that he had sufficient reason to go prodding about the magical implements of the Palace and its absent mistress, and as my orders expressly forbade any interaction with any unrecognizable object, Vaughn might be called mutinous as well. But there is nothing of ambition in that man – not for anything but knowledge, any road. If Vaughn crept up behind me on my poop deck and shot me in the back, I know he would have intended it as a scientific experiment: studying the trajectory of the ball, perhaps, or observing the natural reactions of a pirate captain upon being shot in the back. His goal would only be publication in his Royal Society, the approbation of Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke; he would offer me a share of that same recognition as recompense as I lay dying. All he thinks of is science and curiosity and discovery; his presence on this ship owes much to that singularity of purpose, and how it has blinded him to practical considerations in his past. But that is another tale.

This tale begins three turns of the glass after my two expeditions had set off: O’Gallows to the north seeking food, O’Flaherty south-west after lumber and carpenter. I was examining Moran’s gun emplacement – a nice piece of work, that; I gain more confidence in my cousin’s ability and foresight with each task I set him, and of course his loyalty has ever been beyond question – when Lynch came running along the strand, calling out for me with an excitement that bordered on hysteria. I saw at once that though there was some fear in his eyes and in the shivering of his youthful voice, wonder glowed in his smile, and so I ordered him to stop and take deep breaths until I was finished with Moran. Though I did hurry then, to compliment Moran on his work, and order more powder and shot carried out to his emplacement, and I did run back to the Palace with Lynch cleaving to my heels all the way.

As I came into the Palace, I was greeted with a fanfare, a flourish of trumpets fit for a king: as flattering as it was mysterious, if I may say. From whence did it come? We have no horns, nor men who know their playing. As I was about to call out to Vaughn for an explanation, my sight adjusted to the dim interior after the bright sunlight without, and I saw the surgeon, and behind him the reason for Lynch’s wonder.

The magic window was alight.

In it I saw an image of madness: it appeared to be grown men running around in their underclothes, which were as brightly colored as any noblewoman’s ball gown, chasing after a child’s ball, which they kicked, and hit with their foreheads and threw themselves on the ground after. The image kept changing so rapidly that I fast grew dizzy and had to look away, just as I heard a tremendous cheer as if the king had just stepped onto the field, perhaps wearing bright red smallclothes and kicking a ball.

I turned to Vaughn, who was rapt. “Vaughn,” I said, but he did not respond. “Vaughn,” I repeated louder. Nothing. With a crewman I should have struck him or shouted my loudest in his very ear – but my surgeon was a fellow ship’s officer, and more gentleman than all the rest of us. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “Llewellyn?” Then he turned to me.

He nodded slowly. “Yes, Captain.”

“How?” I asked, gesturing at the window, which now showed horses splashing through a mountain stream. He held up the flat, knobbed wand which I had seen in the hands of the sorceress. I grew somewhat irate.  “My orders were clear: nothing mysterious is to   be – “

Vaughn cut me off with an impatient gesture. I swallowed my words. If O’Flaherty’s insubordination and foolishness have been good at all, sure they have taught me patience and forbearance.

The Welshman held out the wand, and I saw there were perhaps three dozen knobbly protrusions, pearly gray projecting from the black wand. As I looked close, I saw that there were words written on the wand beside each protrusion, in white – words and numbers. Vaughn pointed to one knobbly bit at one extreme of the wand: On/Off, it said.

“I pressed that one. None other. Observe.” He pointed the wand at the window and mashed his finger on the protrusion.

The window went dark.

He pressed it again, and the window returned; now it showed a group of people eating something fried in oil, and laughing as they ate.

“It was too clearly labeled to do anything other than what it did. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“You don’t know that, Llewellyn. It could have brought a trap On, or raised an alarm. It could have turned off the very sun, for all you knew.”

He looked at me for a moment. “But it did not.”

As I began to speak again, the fanfare played once more, shattering my thoughts. I turned back to the window. The letters “BBC News” unfurled across the face of the glass, along with a strange sketch or perhaps a carving, a frieze or bas-relief of what might have been the world, but – then it was gone, and a man was telling me, “Welcome back.” He continued on before I could respond, and though he seemed to speak directly to me, his words descended rapidly into madness, nonsense. But as I turned to Vaughn for any clarification his sharp mind might offer me, he pointed wordlessly back to the window.

Over the man’s shoulder was a map, which after a moment I recognized: it was Ireland, and England there below it. It was home. What was the man saying? Something about Euro – perhaps Europa? Receding, or recessing, and austerity. And – was that “pounds?” British pounds?

Was he speaking of treasure? Perhaps a prophecy?

I opened my mouth to ask Vaughn’s opinion; when there was the snap of a flintlock, the crash of a pistol charge from behind us. The magic window coughed and spat fire, bright white like falling stars flashing across its face and out through the hole that appeared in the middle of it: a hole the size and shape of a pistol ball. The window went black and dead, small plumes of smoke floating up from its broken face.

Vaughn and I turned slowly to the door, from whence the shot had come.

O’Grady lowered his arm, his hand shaking. His eyes bulging from his reddened face, his teeth set in his lower lip, the corners of his mouth flecked with foam: he looked like a madman. I thought, Perhaps madness is why he fired a pistol at his captain’s back.

It was apparent that he intended no more than the destruction of the magic window, and so the pistol which had leapt into my hand went back into my sash. I stepped slow and calm to O’Grady; his eyes flicked back and forth between myself and the magic window he had shot. As I reached out and took the pistol from him, slipping it from his fingers without the slightest resistance, his attention focused on me. He shook his head, slowly.

“It is evil, Captain. Evil. ‘Tis Satan’s work, I’m sure. I’m sure! It must be! I be a good, God-fearin’ man, Captain, and I cannot abide it. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live – ‘”

I cut him off with a blow to his ear, followed by a ringing slap to the other cheek. I will not listen to hypocrites quoting from their holy book, citing scripture to their purpose. I will not hear that statement again, whether it is my father speaking of my mother, or one of my pirates speaking of this fey place. Never again.

O’Grady looked daggers at me for the insult to his honor, but a moment of my own stare wilted him like water poured over stiff canvas. I held my stare while his sank down past my chest, past my belt, down to the ground under my feet. I reached out and tapped him in the chest with his pistol’s barrel, so he would look at my face, and know what I said – the man reads lips. Then I spoke slowly, but quietly, as he could not hear me in any case. “Firing a gun behind your captain’s back may be seen as mutiny, Abram. I could have you hung for it.” I paused, but he said nothing – and so perhaps saved his miserable life, as I was not much in the mood for argument. “Perhaps I should have you hung.”

He shook his head slowly, his face pale but his jaw set. “It’s the Devil’s work, sir. You said it yourself when we arrived here, I know you did. We are in Hell, sir.” His eyes came back up to mine, and they were fierce once more. “It is a test, sir. A test. We must not use what is placed before us. We must not surrender to the illusions of the Tempter! Knowledge was what he offered Adam and Eve, sir! I – ” He faltered and his eyes dropped. “I would not have you fall, Captain.” He snorted a weak laugh. “You’re a good man, sir, despite your name.”

I shook my head. He wasn’t mad, it was the world that had gone mad around him, around us all. He was a good Catholic – which was counter to my own thoughts, my own beliefs, but I could not tell him to give up his God and his Church merely because my own faith followed a different path. How could I know that he wasn’t right, and I the damned fool? He thought he was protecting me.

But I couldn’t let him go without chastisement, or the next man to pull a trigger behind me would not be aiming over my shoulder. I raised his head again with a gesture. “Ten strokes,” I told him, and his jaw clenched. “I’ll lay them on you,” I said, and he relaxed and nodded.

We did it there, to save him the shame of being watched. Vaughn left the room in search of other, less obviously infernal, sources of information. O’Grady took down his shirt, after I retrieved a tarred end of rope, and I gave him ten solid lashes below his shoulderblades. I only drew blood with the last two, and only because no lashing is finished without blood. Then I clapped him on the shoulder, and brought him out to MacTeigue, who was supervising the scraping of the Grace’s keel. MacTeigue nodded at my order without blinking it, handed O’Grady a chisel and told him off to a section of barnacled planking. I returned to the great room and awaited the next arrival. But would it be good news, or another step into madness? How long could we stay here before we all lost our senses?

Fortunately for my nerves, the next return was one of gladness, not madness: we heard a shouted hail from the landward side, and I raced to the front portal to stand beside the men on watch, all of us peering toward the road. O’Gallows came up the path, roaring a hearty greeting, which we returned, gladly. He was flanked by Carter and Sweeney; all three were sweated and red with heat and exertion, but they were hale and grinning for all that – and sweat washes off far easier than does blood, especially one’s own.

Each of them was towing a sort of metal cage on wheels, about the size of a deep wheelbarrow, perhaps a one-man handcart as are used to bring vegetables to market. And their carts were piled high with sacks and bags and boxes. Despite their red brows – and some trouble with the carts, which seemed poorly wheeled and stiff-axled – they raced up to the Palace with whoops and shouts of triumph and glad tidings.

They had brought us food. And such food as we had never seen: the largest, most succulent fruits, of the tree, the vine, and the earth; flour as white and fine as any that ever graced a king’s larder; sacks full of potatoes as large as a man’s fist, some as large as two fists – or one of Kelly’s – and meat, cut and red and dripping blood, that brought hunger roaring up from our throats, and had me roaring for O’Grady to drop his chisel and return to his proper station over the cookfires. He had built a galley on the terrace by the waterpool: he had a half-dozen small cookfires set in rings of stones he had gathered from the beach and the gardens, and over each was suspended one of the fine, shining pots he had found in the Palace’s kitchen. Our own great black cookpot, O’Grady’s favored cooking utensil, was set atop another of the Palace’s devices, though this one was not so unfamiliar: it was a firebox, a low metal frame which could be dragged from one space to another. It was made to hold charcoal or wood in a central space surrounded by a wide metal shelf for setting pots on or warming one’s feet, and thus one could have a fire in a place that wasn’t built for it, as a wooden floor or even the deck of a ship – though an open flame as this was would be sheer folly aboard. The night before, as the men had held their revels around a bonfire on the beach, as proper pirates should, O’Flaherty and I had joined O’Grady at the firebox, commandeering two of the strange Palace chairs – they seemed to be made of metal frames, with woven cloth strips forming the back and seat, but were far too light and more comfortable than any chair my posterior has experienced heretofore – and warming our feet and our wine mugs on the metal shelf. It made for a fine, if a quiet, celebration.

And speaking of celebration, there was one conspicuous absence from the bounty which O’Gallows had retrieved. “Had they no spirits?” I asked him, once the lack had been noted and bewailed by the men as they unloaded the carts under O’Grady’s direction.

Ian shook his head. “No, they had shelves of the stuff, wine and ale and whiskey, shelves a full five paces long and an arm deep – stacked three high. “Twas enough for a full voyage and a happy crew the whole way. But the proprietor was most adamant that we were not to have any – not a drop.” He scratched his head, then his beard; then he looked at his fingernails, his hands; then ran his palms over his vest front and his trews.

“What is it, man? Were ye hurt – are you checking for wounds?” I queried.

He shook his head again, frowning. “No. Tell me, Nate – do I seem over-filthy to you? Do I look the beggar?”

I stepped back and looked him over from bow to stern. “Well, I’ll say I’ve seen you cleaner than now, and closer-shaven. But I’ve seen ye a damn sight dirtier, too – and even then your rig is far too quality to be a beggar’s. Perhaps I’d mistake ye for a highwayman who stole the clothes, but you and the togs strike me as having been in the same dirt at the same time.” I looked him in the eye. “Why do ye ask?”

He hawked and spat, and accepted with grateful thanks a mug of clean water that Lynch handed him. After he’d drained the cool draught, he told me of their quest.

“We found the Piggly Wiggly easily enough – yon Dominicans gave a true bearing, and might have earned a small reward, aye?” I nodded, and he went on. “Once we made it to the town and the right street, we should have had trouble missing it: ’tis a building the size of a fort, or a good large meeting hall or church, painted white with a sign as tall as a man, shouting out ‘PIGGLY WIGGLY’ in bright red letters.” I started a laugh, and Ian grinned. “Aye, Nate – and not a pig in sight, not live nor dead.” He shrugged.

“We garnered many a stare on our way through town, though it were still early enough for the townsfolk to be about their breakfasts and suchlike, rather than out on the streets. I have not seen streets like those before: every one paved with hard stone, but not a cobble to be seen; it makes no sense at all. And the wagon-beasts – everywhere! All colors, all sizes, some honking like geese, some blowing foul-smelling smoke out their arses. I swear I heard music coming from a few, but it was never a song nor an instrument I could recognize, and I didn’t want to draw too much attention by staring and asking foolish questions, as Vaughn would.

“But there were signs naming the streets at every corner, and so we found our way, sure enough. I left Sweeney outside with the arms, so they’d know we meant no harm – I didn’t see a single sword nor flintlock on the way through town, not one, though aye, there were few people on the streets for the number of houses and structures. Carter and I went into the Pig – ’twas unguarded and unlocked – and we were hailed, right friendly, as we stood there with our jaws on the floor. Nate – ” he grabbed my arm, his eyes wide – “I swear to Christ and our two damned fathers that you’ve never seen nor heard of so much food in one place. What we have here isn’t a hundredth of it, not one tenth of one hundredth. That place could fill the holds of a dozen ships the size of the Grace, and still host a royal procession.

“Any road, we were greeted, as I said, and I asked to see the proprietor – called him the manager, the lad did who spoke to me. And he brought the man out, a wee bespectacled merchant with a fat belly and a bald head, just as you’d expect in a store with enough food for an army. He asked what he could do for us, and I showed him the jewels we had from the Palace, here – two fine rings with gemstones and a gold chain, ye recall, worth a hundred pieces of eight, easy. I offered to trade for meat and fruit, wheat and beans, salt, and rum, of course. I mentioned rum since that’s what O’Flaherty says they drink in these Caribbees, aye?

“But when I said that last, he looked up at me sharpish – he had been shaking his head slow, his face right befuddled. He looks me up and down, as you just did when I asked you to. And then he says – he had a strange accent, one I’ve never heard, a bit English but flatter and harder – he says, ‘I know what it’s like to be down on my luck. Did you steal these?’ Well, I looked properly offended, told him they were family heirlooms, meant to be worn by my sister at her wedding, but we’d just lost the lass to a fever and we were going to try our luck with a trading voyage, and needed supply. He weighed and measured me like a prize sheep at market, and then he nods and says, ‘I should send you to a pawn shop, but they’d cheat you worse than I ever could, and who knows where you’d spend cash money?'”

“What’s a pawn shop?” I interrupted him.

Ian shrugged. “I did not ask. So then he looked the gold over, and he says, ‘So does a thousand sound right for these?'”

I am sure my mouth dropped open. “A thousand pieces of eight, did he mean? Or copper pennies?”

Ian pointed at the piles of food. “Nate, there’s a hundredweight of that flour there. Have you ever seen finer? What would that cost, back home? My own mother would trade me for the bread that stuff will make, even in O’Grady’s hands. And the fruits? Here – eat this!”

One bite of the apple he handed me then, and I forgot that there were no spirits in the pile. Well, almost. “So why did ye not get the grog?”

Ian shrugged again. “The man refused when I asked. Said he’d see me fed, but would not put me in the gutter. ‘Tis why I asked if I look overmuch like a beggar. I thought it better at the time to keep my mouth shut and bring back the food. We can find liquor elsewhere – or we can go back to the Piggly Wiggly and be more impolite when we ask.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. “Ye did right, man, as ever. I always know I can trust ye.” I sighed then, and looked toward the road. “If only I could say the same for every man of the Grace.”

And as if I had wished it so, that was the moment O’Flaherty returned, bringing danger back with him, clutched tight in his fool’s hands. By the gods, if he’d been lads with me back in Ireland, not only would he have cheered me on through my ride on King Henry, but he would have demanded the next go, and called for my uncle to come watch. The stupid bastard.

What am I to do with him? What am I to do with what he brought back from Home Dee-Poe?

I wish Ian had gotten rum. I need a drink.

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