And so my first attempt at unknotting this tangle has gone less well than one would have hoped. In truth, I appear to have tried cutting the Gordian knot with my dull and clumsy tongue, instead of a blade as Alexander used. And in the attempt, it seems, I have made the knot worse. Aye, I have indeed entangled my tongue into that knot.
After we chased the rogue Calhoun away and doctored the hurts he dealt me, I did little over the course of the evening, even as my men and the Grables kept Dame Margaret company, but sit on the porch and stare at the ring I had taken from that split-tongued scupperlout. I stared at the ring, and pictured the similar circlet of silver on Meredith’s finger, and I waited, impatient for her return.
She came at last near six bells of the first watch, a mere hour before midnight. I had placed myself in the shadows, lest she use another entry to the house and avoid me thus, as she had done when last I saw her. The subtlety was successful: she came to the porch from her beast-wagon, her gaze on the van, watching carefully for me, and I let her mount the steps before I sprang my ambuscade. She moved slowly, seeming exhausted, worn thin.
Perfect, thought I. Easy prey.
I stood and strode into the light, giving her a start – perhaps more than a start, as she voiced a cry nigh unto a scream, and fell back against the railing, the presence of which was her sole savior from a tumble off the porch. She saw it was I and closed her eyes, breathing deep, hand on her chest, presumably to slow her racing heart. If she hath a beating heart at all, that is.
“I met a man today,” I told her, without preamble. I held out my hand with the ring, still blood-marked, on my open palm. “He wore this.”
She frowned at it, looking to her own ring, set on the middle finger of her left hand. “It looks like mine.”
The flood of ire that had been held back heretofore by my will broke the dam, then, and I closed my hand and then flung the ring against the side of the house, where it struck with a crack like a whip. “Aye!” I shouted at her. “It looks like yours because ‘tis the mate of yours! Because you, like that ring, have a mate!”
She pulled her head back, frowning at me, her face as pale as milk. “What are you talking about?”
I slapped the pillar beside me so I would not strike her – because in truth I wished to strike her, aye. “Ye know right well! You – are – betrothed!”
Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I’m – what?”
I did shake my fists at her then, though I did not threaten her. “Betrothed, damn ye! That ring shows that ye be claimed as another man’s property! And yet ye cozened with me while ye wore it!”
Meredith’s fists went to her hips and now she thrust her face forward, her teeth bared as though she would snap at me, her pale cheeks now flushing bright red. “Excuse me? I am no one’s goddamn property! And what did you say – cozened with you? How dare you?”
I stepped forward to meet her, the two of us eye to eye, near nose to nose as we shouted and cursed one another. “Aye, cozened me, like a strumpet! Trying to turn your betrothed into a cuckold, and have me put the horns on him!” I had to turn away then, for I will never strike a woman. No matter how I am provoked.
“You son of a bitch –” she spat out at me, but I o’ershouted her. “Why? Tell me why ye did it, why ye did not tell me ye were promised and bound to another!”
She stamped her foot. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’m not fucking bound to anyone, I have never seen that ring, and who the fuck are you to attack me like this?”
I had to laugh at that, a bitter chuckle without a scrap of mirth: I felt as though I might never feel mirth again in this life. “Ah, lass, when ye play with a man, lie to a man, betray a man, ye give him some right to demand satisfaction of ye, as the injured party.”
She had naught to say to that, her mouth flapping like a hooked fish’s.
I knew I had her, then, caught in her own web of deceit. I held up a hand. “Nay, ye need not speak; I know just what ye’d say. Your man was away, perhaps ye had doubts that ye could keep him to home, and so ye played your feminine wiles, played the harlot, to test your power over men. Over me. Ye meant no harm by it, it perhaps went further than ye intended it to go, and then ye could not bring yourself to speak of it, did not want to admit ye’d betrayed your lord and master.”
I had meant to go on, to say that I understood and I forgave her her flirting, which I know is simply part of a woman’s nature. But that was when she hit me.
Hit me right in the jaw, she did – precisely where her brute of a lover had struck me earlier, and, it seemed to me, she hit me harder. Sure and it hurt more. And then she kicked me! Truly those two are a match for each other, aye. I’m well out of it.
As I reeled, catching myself on the porch railing, Meredith grabbed my shirt in a grip far stronger than I’d have expected from a lass. She pressed her face close to mine, and all I could see was her wide green eyes, and the fires that roared behind them.
“Now you shut the fuck up, and you listen to me, you piece of shit. I have no master. Nobody fucking owns me. Nobody. You do not have the right to question me, or to judge me, no matter what I choose to do: because I choose. Not you.” She swallowed – she had sprayed me with spittle in her fury – and then drew back. “And I choose to remove you from my life. I choose to never fucking see you again.”
Then she slapped me. In the same eye that the rogue had cut earlier. Again, I reeled under the pain, as Meredith let go of her hold on my shirt, walked back down the steps, and drove off in her beast-wagon. I watched her go with blood running into my eye, the cut opened anew by her ring.
I am suddenly very tired.
Perhaps I do not understand this. There is so much else that is strange, here; perhaps I am wrong in this instance as I have been before, as when I marooned Morty the shopkeep; what I had hoped would keep him from causing trouble for us ere we departed led to greater trouble than I would have found had I been seeking it. Too, my involvement with the Latin Lions led to suffering for the Family Lopez, as well as for myself and my crew; and though they did not weigh heavily on my conscience, being the pack of scalawags they had been, still there had been much blood spilled, almost entirely by myself and my men. Too much blood. I have thought, since then, that less mayhem could have ensued had I acted elsewise than I did.
Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of two rings of one pattern, worn on the hands of a man and a woman. Perhaps the trouble was the term “betrothed;” in truth I am often incapable of making myself understood to these people of this world. Perhaps that was the trouble.
Perhaps the trouble is merely that I tried to talk about honor to a woman. My mother understands honor; I have known a few other women who do, as well. None since we came to this time. Well – Dame Margaret does, it seems. But surely not her granddaughter.
I have recorded all of this in detail so that I may think it over again, and see if I have gone wrong, and if so, where.
27th of September in the year 2011
Well, and if I had thought that all I would have to bear was the pain suffered from Meredith’s betrayal and from the twin thrashings she and her man inflicted – sure and this would be a fine honeymoon, would it not? “Come beat the heartsick Irishman, man and wife together for a single price!” – I would have been wrong. There was far more suffering to come.
And – perhaps – a remedy to all ills.
It began this morn with Lynch. I have not been easy with him since he insulted me at the inn, when I would not interfere in the kerfuffle between the man and his woman in the adjacent room and he implied that I am no good man. Though I did argue with him when he first applied that description to me, nonetheless it did sting when he seemed to withdraw it. I have felt his continued disapprobation directed towards my deeds and decisions here in Charleston, though he has not seen fit to voice an objection.
Until this morn.
As we broke our fast, I grumbling as I chewed of the pain in my twice-struck jaw, Lynch dropped his spoon in his bowl with a clatter (Though I and the other men prefer the local porridge, called by Dame Margaret “grits,” and the Grables are fond of eggs atop toasted bread, Lynch opts for a strange form of clotted cream called yogurt, with fruit mixed in. Seems a cold, clammy sort of meal.) after I had made some remark or other about seeking out Meredith and giving her and her shrewishness a thorough tongue-lashing. He looked at me with fiery eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”
I noticed, but did not comment on, how he left off the Captain he usually entitles me. I met his glare, somewhat belligerent from the ache in my jaw and brow, and asked, “What do ye mean, boy?”
He stood from his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain?” Since I said “boy” instead of “lad,” my title received a thick tarring of sarcasm. He went on. “Why are ye acting like some dandified noble grousing on insults to his honor? Or to a lady’s honor?”
I tried to interject, but now the boy had the bit between his teeth, and he ran on. “Are ye our captain, our pirate captain, or are ye some cock-o-the-walk popinjay who will challenge any man to a duel who looks at him cross-wise?”
I slapped the table. “Ye heard what that pig said to me! What would you have me do? Should I not defend my lady’s honor when her good name must bear such dire insult?”
He threw his hands in the air. “She’s not your lady, Captain! That’s what that rogue said to ye, and I heard it well!” He leaned on his fists on the table. “I heard what ye said to the lady Meredith last night, as well, and ye did not seem so very concerned with sparing her insult.”
I came out of my chair, turning my back on him. “Bah – what do you know of matters between men and women, ye wee stripling!” But even while I said this, I did not – I could not – defend what I had spake to Meredith Vance. Recalling it, and thinking of that ballyhoo being overheard by other ears, I felt shame.
I was soon to feel more.
But I went on. “I recall ye saying to me, not two days gone, that a good man should do more. So ye’d have me defend a woman I know not, but ignore when a lout ill-uses our hostess here? Have ye no honor yourself, boy?”
Lynch recoiled as though I had struck him. Then he nodded. “So. Ye’d have me – us – think ye were defending Meredith Vance’s honor. And not fighting like a jealous stallion over another who threatened to take your mare.”
I scoffed and said, “Aye! ‘Tis true. I’d defend any lady’s honor in similar distress.”
His eyes narrowed. “Would you defend my honor, then?” I blinked at this, and he turned red in the face. Then he flipped his hand to dismiss the slip and said, “Would ye defend the honor of your crew, of your shipmates?”
‘Twas a deep blow, and I drew up proudly and said, “Aye! I would!”
His eyes glittered like a viper’s as he struck. “Then why haven’t you? Our crew – your men – are held captive! Along with your ship! We have not one bit of knowledge of how they fare, nor if they even live! And here you sit, carping over your – your jealous spat?”
I admit I spluttered at this, but I rallied quickly. “Nay! Nay, I seek only – Meredith is a pilot! She can fly us to the Grace and the men!” I looked to the others for support of this, our plan all along, the goal I had been working towards.
They would not meet my gaze.
Lynch would. “Perhaps ye have not noticed, Captain;” now I wished he would stop calling me that, so contemptuous did he sound; “perhaps your gaze has been elsewhere, but I have seen those same flying ships overhead every day! There be hundreds of them, not just one, not just Lady Meredith’s! While we sit here in this house and you get in lover’s brawls, we could be finding another pilot, another flying ship! We could be booking passage on one, as she suggested we do to go north!”
I was in full retreat now. “We – we have not the funds.”
He slapped the table. I jumped. “Damn it, man, are ye not a pirate? If we have not wealth, we take it! If we cannot do that, we could bargain, trade our service for passage! If ye would only pull your head out of your arse!”
He stormed from the room.
Kelly and Shane and the Grables followed in silence. None had a word to say to me, kind or otherwise.
I fell back into my chair and stared at – nothing. At my own folly, writ large now that Lynch had torn the scales from my eyes and showed it to me. Showed me myself.
I think now that the trouble we have faced did not spring from a woman. I think it sprang from me.