Posts Tagged With: battle

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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Categories: Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Log 8: Counterattack

“Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

All shook their heads. I stepped close to the shivering woman. “Do you understand me? Do you speak English?” Do you even speak the tongue of Man, I wanted to ask, but I could not tell: was this in truth Faerie-Land? She was plain to look at, no great beauty in her face and form, and if the only magic she could summon to defend herself was prayer to a piece of glass the size of my palm, then this could not be the land under the hill, as O’Flaherty’s objects had implied. But then, how could this palace be explained? This wealth, lying about unguarded but by a single terrified woman? What were those beastly machines outside? The magic mirror-wall that showed lands that were not those without these walls? The cabinet of light?

She nodded in answer to my question, but said, “See,” which made no sense to me. Perhaps she was simple, or deranged. I held the plaque out to her. “What is this? Who is Verizon?”

She looked at the plaque, then at me, her brows furrowed in confusion. “Tell Eff-oh know,” she said slowly, and then ran a string of words together, not a one of which I understood. Her tone was pleading, terrified; whatever she was, whatever she was saying, she was surely no threat to us.

I ignored her as she kept babbling, and turned to MacTeigue. “Go check on Kelly. Try to secure the door we came through. Stand guard there, the two of you.” Then to O’Flaherty: “Leave me three others to guard, and take the rest back to the Grace. Sail her to the cove, and we’ll beach her and careen.” He nodded, told off Lynch, Burke, and MacManus to remain, and led the others out the landward door and over the north wall.

I crouched down by the still-gobbling woman. “Stop,” I said, and when she did not, I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. I hoped she was not hysterical; I did not want to strike her. She stopped her babbling and met my gaze, thought she shivered and shook, and worried her lip with her teeth. Speaking slowly and clearly, I said, “Be there anyone else here?”

After a moment she shook her head. She started babbling again, but another shake made her stop. “Are there guards? Soldiers? Any men?” She frowned, seeming not to understand, but then she shook her head again. “No men? No guards?”

“No,” she said. “No pole lease.”

I frowned, and looked to Lynch and Burke, who now stood close by. “No palace?” I asked them. “Is that what she said?” They shrugged.
This was profiting us nothing. We needed to secure our position. I held the plaque out to the woman, and she reached up her hand for it; then I dropped it and stamped my heel down. It shattered most satisfactorily, and she flinched away. I grabbed her chin and turned her to face me. “Verizon cannot hear you now,” I told her. I straightened and turned to Burke. “Watch her. Don’t hurt her – she may be a hostage for us, if there are troops about.” He nodded, and rattled his chains menacingly at her; she shrank back from his grotesque leer, but did not move away or try to escape him.

I turned to Lynch. “Go up top. Try to reach the roof, or a parapet. See what you can see from –”
“Captain!” I was interrupted. It was MacManus, still guarding the landward door. I beckoned Lynch to follow, and strode to where MacManus crouched by the open portal, a loaded musket in his hands. He was peering out with one eye, all else concealed behind the doorframe. “Aye?” I asked.

“We have guests,” he said, and nodded outdoors. I moved to the other side of the doorway and looked out, but I could hear it now; a single glance showed me what my ears had already discerned.

Another beast-wagon, this one white, came roaring up the path, raising a cloud of dust as it growled and snarled. It came to a halt with a shrill screech as soon as it spied the corpse of its fellow. The sides of the wagon opened, and two men stepped out.

“Ready arms,” I told my men, and we three took aim.

Then a second beast, a black one, came growling down the road and stopped by the first; four men emerged from this one – all armed.

I tapped Lynch on the shoulder where he crouched beneath me beside the doorway. “Get MacTeigue. Tell Burke to bring the woman up here, under control.” Lynch nodded and scampered off.

“See any powder?” I asked MacManus.

He nodded, but did not lower his aim. “Aye, the one in the blue head-scarf has a pistol.” He blinked. “I think ’tis a pistol, any road.”

“Him first, aye?”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” he confirmed, and cocked back the flintlock.

The men gathered around the wreckage of the green wagon-beast, looking furious but bewildered. The spoke rapidly and loudly, gesturing to the house, the carcass, and each other; they spoke the same tongue as the woman. All were of the same race, it seemed: the same skin and hair and eyes. The one with the blue scarf carried a strange but unmistakable pistol; the others had but knives and bludgeons. We had a clear advantage, then, though we were outnumbered.

Just then Lynch and MacTeigue scurried up behind. Lynch took a position under a window to MacManus’s right, and readied his pistols; I was glad to see his hands were steady despite his youth.

“Kelly is recovered. He will hold the sea-side,” MacTeigue told me, and relief spread through me. This might have been a threat: the man with the pistol could hold us here – I had to assume he had other pistols, perhaps strapped to the beast in something like saddle-scabbards – while the others crept in the back and engaged us hand to hand; but I would pit Kelly against all the rest, even if he didn’t have an axe and a cutlass, and a narrow doorway to stand in. With those, I knew the only way into the house was through the four of us here.

Or perhaps to shatter one of the many wide windows and reach our unguarded flank. Gods, this was the barest, most vulnerable keep I have ever struck. I knew that we must handle this here, face to face: we could not bear a siege.

“Ready with the hostage, Captain,” I heard Burke growl. I turned and saw that he had his chains wrapped around her, one pinioning her elbows to her sides, the other about her throat. One pull of his arms would snap her neck – and the look in her eyes showed that she knew it.

“All right,” I said. “Stand her in the doorway, Burke. Stay behind her lest they fire. MacManus – if that pistol comes up, the man goes down. Lynch, Owen, stand ready if they charge.” All of them nodded and grunted assent, and prepared themselves. I called out, “Drop your arms!” and nodded to Burke. He shoved the woman out into the doorway, pulling back on the chain about her throat just as she called out “Juan!”

“Flora!” came the answering cry, and then more in that foreign tongue – Spanish, I thought now, if I had heard their names aright. That made sense if we were in the Indies, but then nothing else made sense with that. I glanced around the edge of the open portal and saw that all held still, that one of the two from the first wagon held back the other, who pulled toward Burke and the woman, his manner showing the desperation of either a brother or a lover.

The man with the pistol raised it and snarled, “You motherf–” A shot boomed, a puff of black smoke from MacManus’s flintlock, and the man flew back, his pistol falling to the ground – fortunately not discharging when it fell – with his life’s blood as it poured from the hole in his chest. MacManus swung the musket around and handed it to Lynch, who gave over one of his ready pistols without missing a step; he had spent a full year as a powder monkey, hauling charge and shot for the big guns, and reloading muskets and pistols for the men, and though he had proven himself capable of standing on the firing line, still old habits live long and grip hard, especially in the heat of battle. In moments the flintlock was leaning against the wall ready to MacManus’s hand, and Lynch was back under the window with his second pistol ready, a naked dagger in his left hand.

The effect of MacManus’s marksmanship was most salutary: all the men dropped their weapons and raised their hands – all but the first two, who still struggled together, one to reach the woman, the other to keep him alive instead, as MacTeigue and I planted our aim on his breast.

“If you want to live, stand still!” I shouted.

“Let her go, you son of a bitch!” the man in front shouted in response. His address to me clearly showed his failure to comprehend his circumstances.

I took up a more cheerful tone while I explained to him. “Ye have little room to stand on demands, boyo. Perhaps ye should do as I say, and hope to earn some of my goodwill.” I noted the rearguard were beginning to sidle back to their dragon-wagon. I did not want them raising an alarm, returning with more men – especially not once the Grace was beached and vulnerable. “Shane,” I murmured to MacManus,”did ye learn how to kill those metal beasts?”

He blinked. “Anything what takes punishment like that’ll no’ work so very well afters,” he muttered back. “But the feet are soft.”

“And the eyes,” Burke growled from the doorway where he still held the woman immobile, between himself and the men outside.

“Aye, and the eyes – the round bits in front,” MacManus whispered.

“Kill it, then – the one in the rear, the black one. All on my mark.” I took aim. “Left foot is mine.”

“Right foot,” called Lynch, easing one eye up over the sill.

“Left eye,” said MacTeigue.

“Let her go, you bastards! FLORA!”

“Fire.

Four shots barked as one, and the front of the black wagon-beast exploded with a crash of glass and a harsh sibilance; a thin plume of vapor spurted from the foot where my ball struck home, and a thicker spurt of steam from the middle of the metal grate where the beast’s nose should be, which must have been MacManus’s target. Lynch cursed; he had missed. The rest of us chuckled and tossed our guns to him to reload.

Once again, our gunnery was effective. The three in back stopped creeping away, and the two before stopped struggling and were still. The white beast-wagon did nothing at all; perhaps after all, they did not live.

“Down on your knees, my fine lads – don’t believe we’re out of shot in here. Or that you will fare any better than yon metal beast – for rest assured, the next pull of the trigger will spill your guts on the ground. You’re of no use to us, dead or alive, so all’s the same, to my way of thinking. Dead’s quieter.”
MacTeigue made a thoughtful noise and then said loudly, “Aye, but messier. They’ll bleed all over the stonework, if we shoot them now.” I glanced over at my cousin, and he winked. I had to hold back a laugh.

“Aye, ’tis a fair point,” I said. “You gentle souls – take five slow steps back. Any of you who does not move will cost this sweet lass a finger – move too quick, and it will be her neck.”

They stepped back smart enough, but stopped at five steps.

“Lynch – go bring Kelly up here, and take his station.” The youth scurried away on my whisper. I tapped MacTeigue, and we stepped out to flank Burke, pistols aimed at the foremost two. MacManus, his iron reloaded by the nimble fingers of Lynch, could bring down all of the other three in mere moments.

But whatever else these asses were, whether human or Fae, colonists or slaves or Spaniards, they were not fighting men. They charged into unknown danger like daft fools, and then surrendered as quick as chastised children confronted by an irate sire.

I looked at the lead fool, the angriest one. “On your knees, there, lad. Or my bosun will snap her neck.” I clapped Burke on the shoulder, and he grinned his hideous grin.

The fool frowned, but he went to his knees. Docile as a lamb, they were: all the other four knelt as well. I noticed they could not take their eyes off of their dead companion; had they never seen a man shot before?

“Captain,” Kelly rumbled from behind me.

“Kelly – find something to bind them with.”

“Aye.”

“Owen – go gather their arms. Bring me that pistola.”

MacTeigue stepped out cautiously, swinging well wide of the choleric one so the man would not be tempted to try for MacTeigue’s pistol. He took the strange pistol from the ground beside the dead man’s hand, and tucked it into his sash. He gathered up the knives and clubs the others had dropped, and cast them into the shrubs ten paces away. As he returned to me, Kelly emerged, tearing strips of cloth off of what might be a curtain, or a bedsheet, perhaps.

“Start with him,” I said, gesturing with my barrel before I stuck it into my sash and took the strange weapon MacTeigue brought me. “Don’t be gentle.”

At the word, Kelly stomped on the angry fool’s ankle, twisted back and under him, and there was a crunch. Then Kelly’s great hamfist clouted the fool on the side of his neck, and he collapsed like a sack of grain.

“Juan!” the woman called out tearfully, and Burke pulled the chain taut around her throat, stopping any other syllables short of her lips. Kelly ignored her, as well as the other front man, the one who had held the angry Juan back from his fool’s charge, and who now cursed Kelly from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head and back to his ancestors. Kelly rolled the stunned Juan onto his belly, pinioned his arms and lashed him securely. Then he stepped to the cursing one and waited for the man’s breath to run out. Then he called out to me, “Gentle or no?”

“‘Tis his choice,” I replied. Kelly curled his paw into a fist under the fool’s nose, and rumbled in a voice like thunder, “Smell ye that, aye? If ye think it smells bad now, just think of the stench after I reach into your belly and tear out your liver and lights to bait me hooks with.”

The fool’s dark skin faded pale, and he quieted, his eyes locked on Kelly’s huge, scarred – and surely odoriferous – fist. He placed his hands behind his back, wrists crossed, and hung his head.

“Aye, and that’s well,” Kelly rumbled. “I prefer gentle, I do.”

“‘Tis not what your last whore said!” called MacTeigue, in great good humor now that the battle was done, and won. MacManus and Burke guffawed at this.

Kelly was unperturbed. “So ye had occasion to speak to your sister, then?” he asked, and then all of us laughed, MacTeigue as well.

The other three chose gentle as well, and before long we had all of them inside, seated with their backs to the wall. Juan had awakened, but his anger was mollified when I had Burke remove his chains from the throat of the maid Flora, and had her trussed and seated by Juan’s side. He still was not cheerful, as Kelly had seemingly cracked his ankle, but he answered my questions fair enough, and in English, without my having to threaten the lass more than twice.

I learned all I could from him, and had just ordered Kelly and Burke to lay them out in one of the chambers and lock them in when a cry from Lynch at the seaward door brought light and joy fully into my heart.

“Captain!” he called. “Sails ahoy! ‘Tis the Grace, Captain! She comes!”

I sent MacTeigue out to join MacManus watching to landward, and then Lynch and I stepped out onto the terrace to welcome our ship and our companions.

I still do not know where we are. But for now: we are safe.

 

*****

Ahoy, me hearties: this chapter is the end of the first part of Damnation Kane’s adventures. These eight chapters will soon be collected into a short e-book which will be available for purchase. The book will include three bonus chapters that will not appear anywhere else — so be sure to get a copy! More information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, the adventures will continue with the next log one week from today.

Thank you, so very much, for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the story. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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Log #7: Assault on the Palace of Glass

Captain’s Log #7

Date: 26th of June, 1678

Location: Careened on beach at Glass Palace Cove

Conditions: Safe at last. In need of repairs.

 

Though I intend this log to serve as something of a sailor’s tale, a written record of our fantastic voyage, I must first and foremost keep the records of this ship. Thus: we have taken the Glass Palace, with a minimum of casualties but with more chaos than might be wished; the Grace of Ireland is drawn up on the beach before us, securely lashed, and is being scraped and cleaned. We must find the means to repair the hole in her, and the weakened planks and joins, and then she will be seaworthy once more. Until then, we have food and water, a clear view of the approach of enemies, by land or by sea. We are secure.

I did not foresee this outcome when I crouched in the shrubbery by Lynch, and heard his report that the palace was no longer devoid of inhabitants. I paused long enough to offer a brief string of my most pungent curses, a supplication to the gods of Ireland and a tribute to the patron deities of buccaneers. Then I took one pistol from Lynch, matched his aim, and pressed for details.

“‘Tis a woman – only one, Captain. But I don’t know if she will call out the guards, or what horrible things may come at her beck if she be an enchantress. She came in another of those growling beasts, which now waits at rest to landward.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. The men can never see their captain unsure or indecisive; it saps their courage when they need it most. “Come. The time for watching is done.”

We moved quickly back over the wall to where the men waited, and then I laid out my battle plan, with Lynch’s help describing the terrain and the targets. When all knew their bidden tasks, Lynch led us back over the wall, and at a creep through the shrubbery until we could spy the beast-wagon Lynch had seen the woman arriving in. It was a dingy green, long and low to the ground, and looked not unlike a great serpent; I feared it may prove as deadly and insidious, as well. O’Flaherty’s eyes widened when he saw it, but he nodded, his jaw firm, when I whispered, “Ye will be ready, aye?”

“Aye,” he whispered back, and directed his men to their stations and tasks. I nodded and left, with Lynch, MacTeigue, and Kelly following.

We crouched in the shrubbery, as close as we could come to the seaward door – the incredible glass portal through which we had first seen the Faerie Queen. The curtains, which I had mistaken for rippled metal, were closed once more, which suited our purposes admirably. I took a second pistol from Kelly, whose main task involved only his boarding-axe and the strength of his great bear-like frame, half a head taller than I and twice as wide, with arms and legs like tree trunks. With only one eye, as well, the man would not be performing any feats of marksmanship, which were better left to Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, the three men aboard most likely to hit any chosen target howsoever small. I pointed at the place we would strike, and then we waited.

It was not long, no more than half a minute, before we heard a roar from O’Flaherty, followed by the crash and thunder of muskets as the lads fired a broadside at their target. We were out and running, swift and silent as foxes, our eyes racing over the palace windows and walls, seeking any spying eye in hopes we could put a ball in it before the alarm was raised on this side. But anyone’s attention could not but be drawn to landward, as the first roar of the guns was followed by a bellow not far quieter, as Burke led a charge from the bushes. We heard the crash of his chains against metal, and the shattering of glass; a strange bugling sound arose, and was followed by the discharge of more flintlocks.

On the seaward side, we made it to the terrace and paused to wait for Kelly. The great brute was still half in his cups from the whiskey that O’Grady feeds him with his morning biscuit (Aye, I know of it, though they believe themselves surreptitious. A captain knows his crew and his ship, else he doesn’t live long enough to learn. Kelly’s wound festered, for all Vaughn could do, and the pain of it near drove him mad. Too, O’Grady became cook when he traded his man’s leg for one of wood, and threw in his hearing, as well, when the cannon he was manning held a spark and detonated the charge even as it was rammed home – while O’Grady’s face was laid alongside it so could examine the carriage, which was cracked. The cannon fired, the carriage failed; O’Grady became deaf and lame, and a cook instead of a gunner’s mate – a life of biscuit and porridge, of darkness in the galley rather than glory on the cannons, and of pity rather than honor. He knows that Kelly fears the same loss, that our best fighter will be reduced for the loss of an eye, and his shadow will shrink under him; and so there is whiskey in his water-mug. A clever man might note that I have allowed this to continue. He might see, as well, who I chose to lead the charge.). Though Kelly could move as softly as Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, he was not as fleet of foot, and so as we three drew to a halt on the terrace, he was still in the open. I looked back and saw his eye wildly spinning in its socket, and sweat streaming down his face, his mouth open in a grimace of anguish. He was terrified of what he saw, of the palace, the beast-wagon, the glass wall he ran toward, all of it impossible – and yet his captain asked him to throw himself directly into it. His gaze fell on mine for the briefest instant, and then he snapped his teeth together and roared through them like a snarling bull. He quickened his steps and lowered his shoulder, obviously intending, with all the cleverness of a man on the edge of panic – and of a drunk with something to prove – to burst bodily through the glass, rather than hack through the door’s latch, as I had ordered. I barely had time to call his name before he was on the terrace and past me, his face turned away and eye tight shut as he threw his formidable weight into his bull rush, a man-shaped avalanche thrown at a mere pane of glass.

All that mass of man hit the Faerie glass: and bounced. His head flew into the portal with a thrum like a hawser when a sail snaps tight in high wind, and he flew back onto the terrace as fast as he had run across it, unconscious and limp. The three of us stood dumbfounded, looking as one from Kelly, to the glass door, back to Kelly. Back to the door.

The bloody thing wasn’t even cracked.

“Sod this,” MacTeigue snarled, and aimed one of his pistols at the center of the door. A good man, he paused long enough to flicker his eyes at me; I nodded – we had already raised too much hullabaloo, and we must get inside immediately – and he fired.

The glass cracked, at least. But it did not shatter. Rather the lead ball did, and the shards stuck in the glass pane like flies caught in a spider’s web.

Bloody enchanted faeries and their bloody enchanted glass.

I could still hear the hurly-burly from O’Flaherty’s men, and so hope was not lost for my plan. I dropped my own pistols and swept up the axe from where Kelly had dropped it. My strongest swing, straight at the point where MacTeigue’s ball had cracked it, was enough to craze the glass from edge to edge; a second swing, thus heartened by apparent success, finally shattered it entire. A blast of cool air washed over me, and I shivered. Only with wonder that the palace could be cool inside while the sun burned down so fiercely: surely no more than that. I retrieved my pistols, and led the way in, ignoring Lynch as he muttered, “If the cursed glass be that strong, what will it take to shatter the guards?”

As we stepped through into the cool shade of the palace’s interior – which smelled of fruit and flowers and exotic spices – I saw a head vanish behind a closing door. “Owen!” I shouted, pointing MacTeigue at the door; he nodded and raced to it, bursting the latch with his shoulder – fortunately with more success than Kelly had found with the enchanted glass – and was gone in pursuit. Lynch and I swept our eyes around the room, saw no hazard, and leapt through the doorway into the next chamber, the which we had never clapped eyes on before. It was a dining-hall, and a well-appointed one at first glance. But we sought guards, not crockery and wall-hangings, and we moved on. A swinging door led to a dimly lit hallway – though to be sure, the entire palace was brighter than any Irish house I had stepped into; ’twas dim now in the main because of the bright sunlight dazzling our eyes but moments before – the air growing ever cooler as we moved deeper into the palace. I feared we might encounter true winter at its heart, walls rimed white, snow drifting from the ceiling; and I tried to quell the racing of my heart at the thought.

The hallway widened, opening into a greeting-room of some sort, though my knowledge of palatial architecture is somewhat limited. Light shone down through great windows set in the ceiling, thirty feet above us; a broad staircase led up and the walls beyond opened up into rooms, one on either side. Straight ahead was a door that looked like the portal we had seen the Faerie Queen emerge from with her pink traveling boxes: our goal. “‘Ware guards!” I shouted to Lynch, who dropped to one knee and spun to cover my back, while I raced to the door to let in our fellows. I grasped the handle and pulled, but it would not open; I took a moment to calm myself, and then examined the latches, of which there were several, though no bar. I turned one lock and detached a thin chain – but it was not until I turned the handle that the door opened. I shook my head. “We’re not in Ireland any more,” I muttered as I threw the door wide and stepped out to see what had befallen my men.

As I live and breathe, I swear I do not know what I saw then. Mayhap it was an artifice, a mechanical of some sort, broken and shattered to pieces by axe and cutlass and swinging chain. Mayhap it was a dragon lying slain before me, pierced by many holes from musket and pistol, its dark blood oozing out and soaking the ground beneath it; a stench like whale oil and turpentine filled the air. But I do know that whatever it was, it was now quite properly destroyed: shattered glass and bits of metal were scattered far and wide, and five full-grown men were jumping up and down on top of it and yelling curses and assorted maritime foulnesses while my bosun and quartermaster looked on like proud parents at a Mayday dance.

I will not say which of the two was the mother. Not decide if that title is the greater insult, or the implication that the other would marry such a hideous brute.

It did not matter. The time for noisy distraction was over. Clearly nothing had emerged from the barn-shed, and no unexpected patrol had charged down the road. Now we had to secure the palace. A roar of “AVAST!” was enough to halt the hornpipe of destruction being pounded out atop the wagon-beast’s carcass, and a curt wave of my hand brought the men rushing in, though I plucked MacManus by the sleeve and told him off to keep a watch on the road that led up to the palace door. To the others I called, “Spread out and search for enemies! No plunder yet! Lynch, Moran, Burke – upstairs.” I was relieved to hear Burke murmur a most respectful “Aye, Captain,” as he came through the door past me, and he took the lead up the stairs, flanked and covered by Lynch’s pistols and Moran’s blunderbuss. The man becomes calm and tractable only after he is allowed to destroy something utterly – then and only then is he a model subordinate.

“Christ in Heaven,” O’Flaherty murmured as he came in and surveyed the interior of the palace. “No wonder you thought this was Faerie-Land.” He reached out and touched a mirror on the wall, the smoothest and finest I had ever seen, and with a silver frame that would pay for a month’s supply for the Grace and her crew even without the perfect glass it surrounded. “Who lives in such wealth but a royal?” he asked.

“We do,” I replied. I gestured outside at the pitiful wreckage he and the men had left. “‘Tis surely dead now, but did it live?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “I know not. When we fired the first volley, it hissed at us, and seemed to lower one shoulder, as a bull will when it turns to charge. We didn’t have the time to determine what it meant: Burke ran to it and had its eyes with his chains, in one fell crossing-stroke.” He turned to look out at the remains. He frowned. “We fired again, and it let out a trumpeting – did ye hear it?”

I nodded. “Aye. That was the beast?”

“Aye, but it lasted only a moment. Perhaps ’twas its death cry, or perhaps it called for help. I know not.” He shook his head again, a man with a memory he would throw aside if he could. “I know it made my blood run cold, and the men’s, as well. If Burke hadn’t charged, and lived, I think we all might have broken and run. But courage prevailed, even if a mad thrashing was all we had thought for in our bewildered heads. Sure and it made a grand noise when the boys were atop it, though. Did it serve? Ye seem unblooded; were ye undetected?”

“Aye, all well.” I looked back inside; my men were gathering back in the hallway, weapons lowered, all looking mystified and befuddled. “There’s nobody here, Captain,” Carter called out, and Sweeney grunted agreement. Burke appeared at the top of the stairs. “Not a bloody damn soul,” he growled.

“Well, and there is one,” MacTeigue called out as he came from the shadowed end of the hall. He had a woman by one arm, his pistol in the other hand; he cast her down at our feet. She fell to her knees with a cry, and then crouched there, shivering and weeping, her eyes huge as she looked around at us. She wore a drab grey-blue dress with a white apron; her skirt was too short for decency, though quite a bit longer than what the Faerie Queen had flaunted about in. She was youngish, with dark hair and eyes, and brown skin, though not so brown as a Moor or an African. Perhaps she was a Turk? Of course, if she were Fae, how could a man know what her coloring signified?

MacTeigue reached into his sash and withdrew a small object, which he held out to me. “She was praying into this,” he said. “I did not know the tongue – perhaps Italian or Spanish, from the sound of it. She held it thus,” and he pressed the object to his cheek, near his ear. Then he gave it to me.

It was a small plaque, rectangular and flat, the size of my palm. It was made of some strange material, not as hard as metal or fired pottery, warmer to the touch than stone. Perhaps bone? But it was black. It lacked grain, and so was not wood – unless perhaps it was lacquered in some way. On one side a piece of glass was inset, with a tiny picture painted on it – or under it? there were words and numbers that made no sense to me, though I knew the script.

“She was praying into it?” I asked.

MacTeigue nodded. “She was kneeling in a closet, speaking fast and low, rocking back and forth. Looked like praying to me.”

I looked at the glass plaque. “Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

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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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