Posts Tagged With: battle

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

Log #11: Der Tale of Der Waffenmeister

Ye Olde Tale Of Ye Man Who Wouldeth Be A Pyrate Kyng

by Elliot Schluchzer Waffenmeister

 

When I woke up on that fateful morning, alone and lonesome in my lonely bed, I thought it would be a day like any other.

I was wrong.

Entirely and completely wrong.

Wrong.

But wait! Gentle Reader, let me begin at the beginning. A good place to start, one may perhaps presume, peradventure.

 

Fuck, this is hard. Fuck it: I should just, whatever, say it. What happened.

So I woke up like twenty minutes late or something. I was up late playing Dead Space 2. Oh, not the campaign; I already won that – are you kidding me? What are you, a retard? I beat that shit like three times the first day it was released. Finished on Hard Core. Might have been the first one in Florida, I don’t know, it’s being looked into. But they released new multiplayer maps for Xbox like three weeks ago, and I figure I might write a guide, sell to whoever publishes those, the Dummies or whatever. I guarantee my shit would be better than anyone else they got working on it. I keep my shit locked down tight, you know?

Oh right – my name’s Elliot Schluchzer. Waffenmeister is my handle. It means “Warlord.” You’ve seen it if you’re on XBox Live, all over the leaderboards. Especially CoD. Or on WoW. I’m getting into live action now, the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I just started that like two years ago, so I’m not as known. But I will be: I’m getting into building shit, armor, barding, shields. Maybe siege weapons, if I can find designs good enough for what I’d want to do. I’m good with wood, since that’s my job in the mundane world. I work at Home Depot, mostly in the lumber section. I’m on the table saw a lot. I don’t really like talking to the customers, especially the OJs (Old Jews – Miami’s fuckin filled to the brim with them.), but I like cutting their wood to the size and shape they want. I’m a craftsman, you know? A carpenter, like. At least, maybe a journeyman carpenter. I still work at Home Depot, after all. But I’ll get out of it. I’ll start making furniture or something, maybe carve stuff. Shit I can sell at Ren Faires and pirate festivals. Those guys make bank doing that. Plus there’s, like, acres of chicks at those things, and they all want to be either princesses or saucy tavern wenches, so they either want to get rescued or ravished, or both. I may not look like Prince Charming, but if I got the doubloons, right? I mean, Donald Trump looks like a fuckin gargoyle with a bad toupee, but that dude marries models. And who knows what he’s got going on the side.*

Anyway, I woke up late, so I had to hurry to get to work. That’s okay, it just means I skip the shower this morning. Back in the day they only showered like, once a year, so whatever. I still had time to take a dump and eat breakfast, though I had to eat those shitty generic PopTarts my mom keeps buying, so it was like I was just pushing shit out to make room to put shit in.

Heh. That’s pretty good. Garbage in, garbage out, right? I learned that in my programming class at Miami Dade Community College. I finished almost two semesters there before I dropped out, what, four years ago? Five? Well, in real life it’s, shit in, shit out. Then again, donuts in, Taco Bell in, fuckin pulled-pork Cuban sandwich in, it’s all shit out. So what does it all matter, anyway?

So I make it to work, and only two minutes late, which wasn’t my fault at all, but only because my fuckin Subaru wouldn’t start. My dad said he was going to take it and get it checked out this last weekend, but did he? Nooooo. Too busy going to temple and mowing the fuckin lawn. I swear, I gotta do every fuckin thing myself. Isn’t it enough that I work full, well, almost full-time? I buy my own stuff, never ask for money. I even kick down for groceries sometimes, when Mom doesn’t buy enough Pringles or Dew or something. Or frozen pizzas – she always buys the wrong kind. It’s all about the Tombstone, baby. I mean, really, I’m their child, they’re supposed to pay for me. If they couldn’t afford me, they shouldn’t have had me. Besides, I’m their only kid, so without me, the family name would die out. They should be grateful to me. Not that I’m looking to have kids any time soon. And dude, not like Schluchzer is a name that needs to live on. The only cool thing about it is it means, like, “sob” in German. So I figure, nobody would take the name “Sob” because they cry a lot, right? You’d take the name if you MADE people fuckin cry. So I think we’re descended from, like, torturers or Nazis or something. Which is badass. Even if we are Jewish.

So yeah, I got to work like two minutes late, three minutes tops. Maybe five. If I had a supervisor who knew what he was doing, it wouldn’t even be a problem. See, a guy who knows what he’s doing knows the most important thing is this: you gotta keep the Man off your back. The key to keeping the Man off your back is knowing when you’re being watched, and when you can just chill out. So at Home Depot, like, there’s a store manager, a guy who wears a suit and stays in the office upstairs. He’s in charge of the floor supervisors, and he’s on the phone all day kissing Corporate ass. So if that guy – in my store it’s a Cubano named Randy Martinez, if you can believe it – if Big Randy knew what he was doing, he’d just keep feeding Corporate a line of bullshit, and then, because Corporate never actually comes to the store, he’d run the store however he wanted, because he knows he’s not being watched. Then, most important, he could let all his employees do whatever they wanted. You should always keep your employees happy. Happy employees work harder, and get shit done faster, so they have more time to just relax after. Then the customers are happy, because the employees are happy, and everything’s perfect. That would be best. It would be so primo if the whole store was just laid back like that. But see, even if it couldn’t all be that sweet – even if Randy is a giant fuckin tool, which he is – then the floor supervisors could do the same thing, only smaller. Because Randy never really comes out on the floor, and when he does, he just wants to know that every customer has been asked if he needs help. So when he comes down from upstairs, which he does, like, once a month or something, he walks around and asks every customer he sees, “Are you being helped? Did someone in an orange apron come by and offer to help you with that?” Okay, so the floor supervisors get reamed – reamed by Randy, hah – if the customers aren’t being helped, yeah. But a floor supervisor who knew what he was doing could handle it, instead of just reaming all of us regular employees out after Randy gets done with them. They’d find a way to distract Randy, or maybe find out in advance when he was going to come down, so we could, like, blitzkrieg the whole store, run down all the aisles asking if anyone needs help. Something, you know, to handle it, just to take the pressure off, keep the Man off our backs, so all us regular people can relax a little bit, and not have to spend all fuckin day walking around in this ass-hot warehouse asking “Do you need any help? Do you need any help?”

Fuck, they want us to help a lot.

So here’s my idea, and I know I’m off topic, but whatever, this is my story, shut the fuck up, okay. You put like an employee mini-lounge – make a permanent display of lounge chairs or something – right by the front doors, and just ask every customer right when he comes in if they want any help. And if they say no, just be all, “Okay, well you know where to find us if you have any questions.” Then they can shop without being hassled by the Orange Apron squad, and all the employees can hang out. Then if Randy comes down from his throne atop Isengard (Not that Randy’s badass enough to be Saruman the White. But maybe he could pull off Wormtongue.) and roams the store, asking people if they’ve been offered help, they all have to say yes. Then we could just relax and play XBox, or something. Then this job would be sweet. If we had a boss who knew what he was doing.

But we have Randy. And Mr. Zuckow.

“You’re late, Elliot. Again.”

And I want to bust out a bo staff and hit him like 35 times in 3 seconds, and then stand over his writhing, crying busted-ass body and be all, “The name’s Waffenmeister, you corporate scum.” But I guess if I could do that, I wouldn’t be fuckin working here, would I?

“Sorry, Mr. Zuckow.” That’s what I say instead.

“Go hit your locker and sweep the section. Then set up the Makita table saw and the scroll saw. You’re giving the demo today, remember. Ten o’clock.”

Fuuuuuuuuck. “Okay.”

See, even if what happened hadn’t happened, I was still wrong when I woke up and thought this would be a regular Monday. Because it’s not: it’s a Demo Day. Fuck my fuckin life.

We do a demo every day, here at Home Depot. Take some of the big, shiny tools out front, and from ten til noon, we have to build shit. Or fix shit. Or turn shit on and off. Or assemble shit. Or take shit apart. And the whole time, the sun’s just beating down on you like Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor. And when you work in lumber, like I do, whenever it’s your turn you have to do woodworking shit, of course, and so you’re sucking sawdust and getting splinters the whole time. Then, when it’s over, you gotta clean shit up. I mean, what the fuck.
But the worst part? It’s the OJs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully not anti-Semitic. Fuck, I am Jewish. My dad’s an OJ, so’s my granddad and my uncle Peter. I’m down with the old Jews.

But those guys love to talk. They live for it. And they want to save money by doing their own home repairs, but they don’t know shit about shit. So they ask questions. A neverending stream of questions, question after question after question. “Where do you get that?” “What does that button do?” “Can I get that in pine?” “If I use one of these, can I do the same thing as that?” “How much did you say that is? Oy! What about with a senior discount?” And all you can do with all these questions is smile, and answer every. Single. One. Because when you’re out front doing a demo, every boss in the place is right up your ass, and you better fuckin smile and you better fuckin talk to all the customers, and you better fuckin help em all. Unbelievable.

So all right, this sucks. It’s my turn to do demo day. I spend an hour or so sweeping, and then I start hauling out the saws, and the lumber. I bring out an extra big pile of lumber, so I’ll have plenty to work on and won’t have to go back in for more. I paste on my happy smile, and at 10:00, maybe a minute or two late, I start sawing. I know I’ll have to stop the saws and talk to the OJs, but maybe I can, what is it, minimize that shit: the more I saw, the less I’ll have to talk. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there’ll be a big sale on bagels or something, and they won’t come by today. I can hope, right? Maybe I’ll get lucky. For once.

But that’s not what happens.

What happens is the craziest fucking thing that could ever happen to me.

What happens is my whole life changes, in less than a minute.

So I’m sawing, right? I got this OJ in front of me, and he’s trying to ask me a question but I just keep sawing, and smiling, and trying to pretend I can’t hear him. And then I hear something else. I hear shouting. Loud shouting, not like somebody-got-in-a-fender-bender shouting, but like asteroids-are-falling-from-the-sky-and-blowing-shit-up shouting, the kind of sheer, total volume that goth kids pay bank to hear in concert and all the rest of us avoid at all costs. So I stop sawing, and I turn around to look where the sound’s coming from.

Charging from around the corner, where the Garden Center guys have their tree-and-shrub display, come like ten guys. At first, I think it might be the SCA pulling a joke raid or something, but it only takes maybe two seconds for me to realize: this is not the SCA, and this is not a joke. These guys are nothing like my medieval-reenactment brothers.

These guys are fucking scary.

They’re filthy, blackened with soot and dirt and old bloodstains from head to foot. They are – disfigured is the only word for it: I see fingers missing, eyes missing, parts of noses and whole ears missing. Jesus, that one guy in front, spinning black chains around like some crazy-ass kung fu movie, is missing both his thumbs. And they got scars everywhere, livid red-brown scars, raised ridges and deep trenches in their skin, like they’ve never even seen Neosporin and a Bandaid, let alone a doctor. And they are armed, with cutlasses and battle axes and old flintlock pistols, and I’ve seen replica weapons, I spend a lot of my time with replica weapons, and just by looking at these, I can tell: these are the real fuckin things. And their eyes are wild and crazy, and they are screaming louder than I’ve ever heard a person scream.

And they’re all coming right at me.

I barely have time to back away and say, “No – please!” in a shaky voice when one of them vaults over my table saw and plows into me, putting the haft of his two-handed axe right into my chest, throwing me back five feet into my pile of lumber. That crazy fucker with the chains swings one down into my table saw, and the blade snaps right out of its housing and goes flying like some giant shuriken, and I’d yell Watch out! but I think I’ve had every breath I’ve ever taken in my life knocked out of me, and I won’t be saying anything for quite a while. Chain Guy keeps spinning the other chain in a circle by his left side, and he snarls at the OJ – I mean actually snarls at him, growling like a fuckin dog – and the OJ doesn’t even say a word, he just turns and runs off into the parking lot.

Then this other one, this older one with a gray-streaked beard and the most seriously broken nose I’ve ever seen, he starts barking orders, telling the others to grab as much of my lumber pile as they can carry, starting with the widest planks. And he comes up to me and bends down and smiles at me with brown teeth and he says, “I’d be obliged for the favor of your services, good squire.”

Then somebody puts a bag over my head, and they tie my wrists together. They make me stand up and run, with my hands holding onto somebody’s belt, and somebody else shoving a gun barrel in my back and telling me to stop, and duck, and go faster – or they’d kill me.

And I am so scared. So very scared.

We run, and duck, and hide, and run some more, and it seems like it takes hours, but who knows how long it takes time to pass when you’ve got a bag over your head, and you’ve already pissed yourself, and you know that these guys are terrorists, fuckin Islamic jihadists – though that sounded like an Irish accent, maybe, but whatever, that’s like some ex-IRA guy who’s now a mercenary or some shit – and as soon as you get where you’re going, they’re going to sit you in a chair and cut your fuckin head off and put it on YouTube.

What I’m saying is, you can’t estimate time or distance when you know you’re about to die.

And then, after forever of running and my legs are killing me and my hands are throbbing and burning from the circulation being cut off (and all I can think is “Ligature marks. CSI will find ligature marks on my wrists.”) and I feel like so much sweat has poured out of my head inside this bag that now it must be blood I feel running down my face and neck, and this bag stinks and I can’t breathe and my lungs are collapsing, and ah, God, they’re going to cut my head off – they slow down. I hear some shouting back and forth, and then everything goes quiet, except for me whooping for air and trying to get enough breath to beg for my life. Then they yank the bag off.

The sunlight hurts, at first, but we’re inside a house or something, so it isn’t too bad, and I can breathe. When my eyes adjust and I can blink some of the blood-sweat out of my eyes, I see that I am standing in front of an honest-to-God, no-shit, Jack Sparrow pirate, everything from the tri-corner hat to the sash with the sword and the flintlock pistols in it to the turned-down leather boots. He’s looking at me, and he looks pissed. Pissed on a scale I don’t even want to think about, like not like Mr. Zuckow’s going to yell at me, but more like Captain Jack is actually going to take out those guns and shoot someone in the face; like this guy’s temper already goes to 11, but right now he’s on 26.

He points at me, looks at Gray-Beard, and he says, “What, in the name of Satan and all the saints he’s burning, have ye done, O’Flaherty?”

 

 

*Author’s note: I’d just like to point out that I originally wrote this in 2013. Just sayin’.

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Log #4: The Chase, Part II

Captain’s Log #4

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Evening, or so: twilight hidden by storm clouds.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Thunder and Lightning. Very very frightening. Wind and waves high, but ebbing.

 

For two months, Hobbes’s ship never left us. We made what repairs we could, but our mainmast yard was damaged beyond repair by chainshot, and we had no way to replace it. Perhaps something could have been found, but McLoughlin, our carpenter, had been killed by a musket-ball, and no one else had any particular skill at woodcraft. We tried to hoist more sails, to lighten our load, to make better use of the wind – but all was for naught. We sailed dark in the night and took unexpected turns in the blackness; but somehow, whenever we tried such tactics, the sun would rise and show sails behind us, sometimes far away, but always visible. And they always gave chase, eventually closing what gap we had opened, never coming close enough to enter battle.

I do not believe I truly slept for those two months. I cannot even be sure it was two months; I missed days in this log, and no man aboard kept his own calendar. Even Vaughn, the surgeon and an educated man, stayed below with his books, as ever; the sailing of the ship means no more to him than the pulling of a plow concerns a field mouse: occasionally he is disturbed by it. The passing of time follows that same path for him, unnoticed and unmourned. Perhaps he has the right of it.

But for two months, the wind never slackened or changed and no storms came; there was enough rain and enough fishing to keep us alive, but we saw no other sails and never lost sight of the Sea-Cat. It was enough to drive us all mad, the months of waiting, imagining our fate yet hoping for a reprieve – a reprieve that did not need to be as miraculous as the one I had hoped for as a lad, awaiting my mother’s return: all we needed now was for Hobbes to give up the chase. Who were we? One Irish pirate vessel, perhaps with some small repute due our success in the English shipping lanes, but no Henry Morgan, no Francis Drake. Why did he not give up?

Someday I will have Hobbes at my mercy. I will ask him then.

It may have been madness that brought us so close to our doom, at the end. Certain if it was not madness, ’twas folly. I took ill, of course, for no man can stay upright under that strain for that long. When I did, ’twas left to my mate, Ian O’Gallows, to carry out my wishes. But he found himself pressed on two sides by the ship’s quartermaster, Sean O’Flaherty, and the bosun, Edmund Burke, a brute of an Englishman allowed aboard my ship only for the sake of O’Flaherty’s patronage, and the need to keep peace between myself and the man elected by my crew to be my equal in all things but battle. O’Flaherty chafed under the fact that we were on the eve of battle every hour of two months, and thus my word was law throughout; so when I lay insensate in my cabin, he seized his moment. With Burke at his side, they overruled Ian and commanded the men themselves. Perhaps Ian allowed it to happen, and if so, I cannot fault him; though their course was folly, it was a possibility that called to us all for those months, and may have become inevitable even had I stayed at the helm to the bitter end.

They slowed the ship and prepared for battle.

I regained myself in the night, and staggered out of my cabin to see what I had transpired during my incapacity. O’Flaherty had command, with Duffy at the helm; it was a cloudy night, and we were running silent and dark, so that I almost stumbled over them in the darkness as I moved blearily toward the dim light of the hooded lantern standing at O’Flaherty’s feet. They greeted me, somewhat warily, I think now, though I saw nothing amiss at the time. O’Flaherty told me how long I had been below – the better part of two days – and our approximate position, though we had sailed off the edge of our charts more than a month ago, and were navigating mostly by legend and hearsay about the length of a cruise from Ireland to the English colonies of the New World, where so many Irishmen suffered in chains after Devil Cromwell came to our shores. They assumed we were somewhere east of the Carolinas, but did not know how far away from the shore – perhaps as much as a thousand miles. They thought we might be close to the island called Baramundi, or perhaps it was Bermuda – they could not recall the name.

I began to examine what I could discern of the distribution of our sails, and grew alarmed as I realized that sails had been reefed: my ship had been slowed. It was then that the most peculiar sight ever to light my eyes came to pass. I realized that the rigging was growing far easier to discern; that there was, in fact, light in the darkness. It was a blue light, unlike any illumination I had heretofore experienced, and as I rubbed my eyes, trying to clear away any lingering phantoms of sleep, I found that the hair on my arms, and on my neck, was standing erect. Then I knew what it was, this light, from many stories told by old sea-dogs around tavern tables: it was the fire of St. Elmo, seen by one mariner in a thousand but boasted of by every man jack who sails the sea.

Imagine my wonder as I observed my ship, every inch of her glowing like a falling star, growing bright enough to see, and then to read by. It was a sublime beauty, a moment out of time: a waking dream that brought joy to my heart, a heart which had felt no goodness for weeks, aa heart which was filled with nothing but a rising dread and falling hopes.

And then imagine my horror as I turned to look at O’Flaherty and Duffy behind me, and saw the same eldritch fire crawling over the sails and lines and rails of the Sea-Cat, the scourged lady at her bow almost near enough to spit on. “To arms!” I cried. “To arms, and ‘ware boarders! All men on deck!”

O’Flaherty attempted to forestall me, but it was too late. My awaking at the wrong moment, my awareness of the enemy ship at the same moment, thanks to a mysterious wonder of the sea – it had to have been fate, or the caprice of the gods, that saw fit to ruin the plans of O’Flaherty. I do not know if I should regret it.

For the moment my voice was raised, the hatch burst open and the men came boiling out, wide awake, armed to the teeth and ready to kill Englishmen. For indeed, O’Flaherty and Burke had intended to bring our pursuers to the fray, and, hoping surprise would balance their greater numbers, had hidden the men belowdecks until Hobbes’s men had grappled and boarded us, thinking our boys foolishly asleep, and thus boarding with false confidence instead of battle-ready wills. Perhaps it would have worked, if the timing had come together properly.

But now it was ruined. For the men rushed above yelling, and the English spotted us and veered off our stern just long enough to fire on us with grape shot and muskets. My men went down like mown hay before the scythe. I fell, as well, wounded in the arm and lightly across my scalp, a minor gash that bled more than it harmed, though it was enough to stun me for a moment as my blood and the blood of my men pooled on the deck of my ship.

Then the blue fire of St. Elmo flared like lightning, turning as white as moonlight and as brilliant as the sun on the waves. There was a clap of thunder, and the deck reeled beneath us. “Rogue wave!” rose the cry, and perhaps it was. The light turned a color I have never seen, a lurid brilliance tinged with darkness: as if a rainbow bled its life’s blood on our eyes. I heard the screaming of a ban-sidhe rise far off and then fly at us at great speed, arriving with a tumult and crash as of a cannonade. The deck bounced once more, the light flashed, and then all was still. All was silent.

The sun broke the horizon then, and we saw that the ship had turned, and the sun was rising before us, a line of dark storm clouds just above her bright face, like the angry brows of a goddess scorned. The seas were calmed, but for the three-foot chop; no sign of the rogue wave that had tossed us moments before.

And no sign of the Devil’s Lash. The cry went up as we realized, and we rushed from rail to rail, like children following a soldier’s parade through town. But there was nothing, no ship, no sails in sight. There was a brief cheer, quickly lost in confusion; and then I set men to tasks, seeing to the wounded and the dead, turning the ship about to sail due west and seek landfall and safety from the coming storm. It was not an hour before we spied land ahead, and a matter of half a day before we could make out the trees along the shore. So much for O’Flaherty’s navigation. Perhaps it was Duffy’s, but he fell in the fusillade, so I will not speak ill of the dead.

Thus came we here. The storm is upon us now, and my strength flags again, my eyes heavy, my hand numb and shaking on the quill. I must rest. Perhaps I will wake in Hell. Perhaps I am there now.

But if I am in Hell, where is the Devil’s Lash?

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Captain’s Log #2: The Trap

Captain’s Log #2

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Dawn.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Storm, high wind and waves. Anchored in unknown bay.

We are at anchor, riding out the storm that chased us into the shore. The land holds no hints to our position, there is naught in sight but trees. The wind is strong enough to tear off the canvas like whore’s smallclothes, were the sails not reefed; the waves lap the rails and surge ever higher. Eight men needed to work the pumps, and I fear they may not suffice.

I was fool enough to mutter somewhat about Hell and our position, in the presence of the men. They are terrified now, hunched below decks like damned souls on Charon’s galley, crying out as if they feel the flames already with every lightning flash and thunder clap. O’Flaherty has tried to calm them, but to no avail; I think Burke may be riling them up and laughing behind his hand.

But perhaps it is neither Burke nor my tongue’s slip that has put infernal thoughts into the men; after all, they crew a ship for a man named Damnation, and we were pursued across the ocean by the one they call the Devil’s Lash. What is a humble sea-dog to think?

I confess that I will abide in Hell, and right merrily, if it means that whoreson Nicholas Hobbes be off my rudder, and never darken my spyglass again.

As this is the first opportunity I have found to write at length, I will lay out the whole tale for this record. We shipped out of Galway, at night, to cruise south and east around Cork and toward Cornwall and Wales, where fat English tubs waddle along the coast, full of English wealth. And if we came across any Irish ships, well, so long as they were not of the same clan and sept as I or the men, then we would participate in the ancient Gaelic tradition of sharing the wealth: some for he at the point of the sword, and more for the one at the hilt.

We had only been eight days at sea, just passing Cruachan and looking toward Clear Island, when we spotted an English carrack with her mainmast down, limping along only with her fore and mizzen, and the canvas on those letting through more wind than it caught. We had a disputation, with Quartermaster O’Flaherty and Bosun’s Mate Burke proposing an immediate assault, and Master’s Mate O’Gallows and I in favor of sailing by in preference of richer prizes. I contended that the ship, clearly the worse off for a sea battle, would have nothing left to take; the romantic Ian quoth, “‘Twould be base to set on an ill and wounded gaffer such as this! Let him limp home and ease into a mug of ale and a chair by the fire!” Indeed, the ship did look much like a toothless maunderer, weatherbeaten and frailed by years and hard use. But O’Flaherty would fain waylay that poor benighted vessel, for any fight had long since been knocked from its decks. “Sure and there may be but little to lay hand to – but what ’tis, ’twill fall into our palms like overripe berries.”

Alas, while I had called O’Flaherty and O’Gallows to my poop deck for this discussion, Burke had taken his and the Quartermaster’s argument straight to the men, and my brave Irish sea-wolves were eager to see what scraps could be gnawed off the tattered bone. I confess I let myself be swayed by their cries and pleas, perhaps because I knew that my fellow sea-brigands often miss valuable goods, taking only what comes first to hand or what is plainly worth stealing. But not all that glitters is gold, we are taught – and not all that is gold, glitters.

So we attacked. The carrack fired but one culverin, which was overcharged so that the shot flew far beyond the Grace, the sound rolling and echoing like thunder. The sound, in truth, did us more harm than the shot, though we knew it not, then. We tacked nearer with great care, for the carrack was upwind of the Grace and close enough to land that we needs must keep a weather eye open for shoal water. As we approached, Burke gave a glad shout: “Look! There’s naught but a few sorry bastards left!” For indeed, we could see but little activity on her decks: two men back by the tiller, two more attempting to reload the culverin, and but a single man on the lines, for which reason the poor battered ship sailed straight for shore with what wind she could catch on her quarter.

“Just sit back, lads! I’ll handle this myself,” boasted Burke, that gibbering ape. The men laughed, but even that day, when none of us knew what misery and what tribulations O’Flaherty and his trained monkey had brought down on our heads, I cursed the day our quartermaster forced that blackguard of an Englishman on me as my bosun.

For it was just as Burke was posturing, cutlass and pistol in hand, that an alarum was raised from the lookout above. “Two sails! Northwest! Sails ahoy!” Bless that man – ’twas young Balthazar Lynch – for not forgetting his duty and losing himself in the excitement of the coming plunder and my bosun’s capering. He saved us that day.

Two sails indeed: they came around the head of Clear Island, where they had lain hidden in wait. The double-powder shot had been a signal that someone had taken the bait: and now the noose was tightening ’round us. Two fine ships, a brig and a galleon, flying British colors; their sails were crisp and white, stretched taut by a good wind that brought them directly across our bow. Their cannons gleamed, and their decks and rigging held dozens, scores, of men.

I lost no time: I roared at the helmsman, MacTeigue, to come about, and sent the men up to drop all sails. We had a lead now, being downwind already, and I hoped we could escape in my good speedy ship.

But while I had been watching the approaching enemy, I had, like a fool, forgotten the third ship: the bait ship. As soon as they saw us start our turn, men which had been crouched behind her rail leapt up and lined the bow, some climbing into the rigging, some running out cannons that had been covered with canvas and debris. And as we slowed and turned, our sails flapping, they fired on us. The Grace was holed – alas, my lovely lady! But her wound lay above the waterline, thankfully. The yards on both masts were damaged by chain shot, and eight good men went down in a hail of musket-fire. Eleven more were wounded in that volley, and five of them would die in the coming days.

I almost wished that Burke and O’Flaherty had been numbered among the dead, except my mother taught me never to wish death on any man, as it brings the Reaper’s attention on the wisher as much as the target. And a moment later, I was glad for their continued health, as both men leapt into action, chivvying and hurrying the men to the lines, to bring the wounded to Vaughn’s cabin below, to ready the cannon should we need to fire. With their help, we made the turn and fled south-west – into the horizon and the trackless sea.

They came after us, of course. The bait ship was left behind soon enough: she did not have new sails or a smooth hull hidden behind the rail with the men and cannon. But the brig and the galleon came for us. The galleon had a bow chaser, a basilisk, but by fortune’s blessing we were out of range and stayed there.

As it turned, it was the other ship that we grew to fear. The brig carried less armament, which let her fly over the waves, nearly as fleet as my Grace. And in our damaged, undermanned state, she could match us.

And match us she did.

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