Posts Tagged With: Captain

Log 27: Letter from the Gallows

Date Unknown: The 9th Day after the Cursed Mutiny.

A Letter to my Captain and the Man I once called Friend, and would give my Right Hand to call such again: Damnation Kane, EVER AND ALWAYS Master of the Grace of Ireland.

Captain,

I do beg ye not to misapprehend the apparent Coolness of my Address. ‘Tis not because I love ye any the less than when I called ye Nate, and thought of ye as my Brother. But I ha’ failed ye so utterly that I cannot speak ye familiar until I ha’ redeemed myself. I may ne’er do so. I will not ask Forgiveness, for how could any Man of true Heart and hot Blood forgive Betrayal so base as ye ha’ suffered? Na’theless, I do, ‘pon my knees, offer to ye my humblest and deepest Apologies and Regrets. When ye did set me Mate, an honor that warms my Soul e’en now, in the black depths of my despair, ye gave me the task of preserving your command, your fine ship, above all else. And now I do fear she will be lost.

Curse me, ye will ne’er forgive me. Curse me to the end of days. And curse that gut-worm Shlocksir thrice again. Ye ha’ ne’er failed as Captain, sir, but perhaps that once, when ye allowed that Spawn of Corruption into our company, whate’er our need may ha’ been. Aye and perhaps one other time, when ye let those pestilent mongrels O’Flaherty and Burke take authority that ye should ha’ kept. Well I know that the men did give ye little choice. But blast me, Captain, better ye had taken on whole new crew than keep those two aboard with daggers e’er pointed at your Heart, and Lust for your Ship in theirs.

But whate’er missteps our twisted and malignant Fate has pushed ye into, ye ne’er lost our Ship. Nay, that sin be mine, and the fault lies in me that landed those poxy fools on the poop deck in your place.

‘Twas Shlocksir’s plan, Captain, tho I know O’Flaherty and Burke and Carter all pressed for a Sea Battle. The land-grabs we ha’ done e’er since stealing your Grace ha’ brought a fine heap o’ paper, and little else besides, pleasing no one but our ferret-eyed whore’s son of a Carpenter. Too, the loss of the boat means we can no longer anchor the Grace and reach the shore at our Leisure, and that too pushed us into this ill-fated Folly.

We did try to take a Ship, this day. A Ship bearing passengers, as Shlocksir avowed that our sweet Grace could not threaten the cargo vessels that sail these Seas, so large as those Ships be. But Shlocksir told us of the Ships of the wealthiest merchants, Ships he called yots, if that were his word aright. These yots sailed Unarmed and Unsuspecting of Attack, and we could hail the yotsmen as if in Friendship, or perhaps as tho we were in Distress, and we should find Riches aboard.

We made South-South-West for a day, headed for the Keys, as Shlocksir named them, islands where the yots made passage to and fro. We sighted a Fine Specimen, a Ship twice the Grace from stem to stern, with three decks, white as snow and with music and good cheer pouring out to our ears e’en a half mile distant. Shlocksir called it a “party boat,” a “day-tripper,” and said we could handle it with ease, may the Devil gnaw at his greedy heart.

Shlocksir ordered us to come alongside and board her. Why that bag of rancid suet fancies himself capable or deserving of command, I ha’ not an idea. And less why O’Flaherty and Burke allow it. But they do, for Shlocksir is e’er shouting commands, e’er the wrong ones, and they ne’er gainsay him but when the Ship should sink if they held their tongues, as when he ordered us to come to port when he meant starboard, and there were rocks to port. Yet all other orders we follow, in our Folly and to our Doom. We did so now, tho he railed at the slowness of our approach for some minutes, until Burke took him aside roughly and pointed out the direction of the wind, which was against us, but apparently past the understanding of a calf-brained lubber such as this.

But he was not the only calf-brained lubber, it seemed, as the Captain of the yot did nothing to stem our approach, nor to escape. He came to the rail and bespoke us through some Magickal Device that made his Voice boom like storm waves crashing ashore. All vile Shlocksir spake in return was that we be Pirates looking for a good time, and bearing Grog. He did ask for permission to come aboard, and had me and Sweeney smile and wave. Certain ’tis that we two looked less Forbidding than Burke or Kelly. And that, it seemed, were enough, as we were able to come alongside and make Fast to their rail.

Then we climbed aboard, and the time for smiling was done. We went armed, secured the Men, there being but ten aboard and eight Women, one lass in uniform, which did Mystify us, but Shlocksir claims ’tis the way of things here. Tho I know not why we do continue to take his word, the Mendacious Idiot. They did not believe our Menace until Carter, who has been almost continually drunk these past nine days, shot the Mate, killing him on the spot, his blood pooling on the deck making a most Persuasive Argument. The Captain then, too late, did raise a Shout, but Burke beat him unconscious and then heaved him o’erboard. All was silent but for Tears after that.

We searched the Ship, finding little enough of value. Some Spirits, some Victuals, a fair quantity o’ jewelry on the passengers, some strange objects Shlocksir claimed valuable, naming them selfowns and laptops. Nothing worth the hanging we surely now have waiting for us ashore. We trussed up the remaining passengers and crew and made to Depart. But then Shlocksir said that we should take hostages.

I did see his eye fall on the comeliest female passengers, both wearing little more than skin, both young and shapely. I knew he did not mean to keep them as hostages. I saw other men, Burke, and Carter, and perhaps more, grin at Shlocksir’s idea. I did speak against it, Loud and strong, aye. I named Shlocksir a Vile Rapist.

His response? Naught but a grin and the words, “No, man, I’m a pirate.”

I moved to strike him then, but he drew his pistol on me. I had no doubt he would use it. I might ha’ charged anyway, for I could ha’ had him o’er the rail e’en as he killed me, and then he would drown and save the women, but I could not abandon the Grace. And so, to my Shame, I backed down, and let Shlocksir and Burke haul those poor screaming lasses aboard our ship, our ship blessed by your own Sainted Mother and baptized in your Blood.

Ah, God, what have I done?

I could not, Captain. I could not let them get away with this, not this. As we were departing and preparing to cut loose from the yot, I did loosen the bonds of one of the Crewmen. I did whisper to him that we would likely head East, as Shlocksir had mentioned afore, aiming for Bermuda or a similar port of call.

I gave him our Ship, Captain. I know that, even as we sail away filled with good Cheer at our Success, the forces of Just Retribution are descending on us. I know that the Magick of this day, of this place, can surely find us wheresoe’er we go, can surely outrun and outgun us. Shlocksir has said this many a time, making much of our ability to Surprise as our Greatest Asset, and our ability to sneak away and vanish in the vasty Ocean.

But now they know where we are. They will find us. They will likely destroy us, and your Ship with us.

I am sorry, Nate. So very sorry. I will await your Forgiveness, or your Vengeance, when I am in Hell, my corpse dangling from a gibbet.

I be standing guard o’er the hostages. Kelly is with me, and sober for a Wonder. We are agreed that Blood will spill afore we allow Innocents to be despoiled on our Blessed Ship. Kelly rests now, and I write so that I may stay awake. It has been two days, and hard days, since I did sleep, and ten since I did sleep well.

With each Sunset I do gain another day’s doubts. Every night, I lay in my bunk, for I be demoted from Mate, o’ course, and broken down to a sailor’s berth, and as I lay I do cast back o’er the last day, the last two or three or ten days. Did I do all that I might? Did I choose aright, this day? These last ten nights, the Question that consumes my Mind is this: did I do what I could to bring back the Grace? To bring her back to her Owner and Captain, to bring her back to the course she was meant to sail?

I cannot think how we could ha’ done differently.

That first day we thought ye in your cabin. I swear that to be God’s Own Truth. I remember drinking too much Wine and falling asleep at table the night afore; Master Vaughn feels sure we were drugged, as he also fell unconscious in his cups tho he had but one or two glasses of Wine, and for myself, I ha’ not lost my wits to drink since I was a wee lad. In the morning, my head pounding like the Devil’s dancing hoofsteps, I asked after ye, and O’Flaherty said ye were sleeping off the Wine and should not be disturbed. He did say we should make way, tho, so as not to lose the Tide; he said that ‘twould be a fine Surprise for ye to wake and see the Grace far out to Sea already.

I suppose it was, at that.

Ye ha’ been in the habit o’ staying in your Cabin of late, and my head Ached so that I could not but wish I was asleep, myself. Surely I could not, did not think straight, else I would have, I should have!, checked to see ye for myself. But I did not, to my Shame, both as Mate and Friend. Instead I did take Command in your Absence from the poop deck, and got us out to Sea and running well.

‘Twas then, four bells through the midmorning watch, that the Truth was Revealed. O’Flaherty put Carter on the wheel and called all Hands on Deck. Then he told us that ye had been relieved o’ your Command. He told us that ye had not only Beaten and Whipped a man Unjustly, and tho Shlocksir be unfamiliar to the men, his crime is not mysterious to their thoughts, and so they fear his Fate for themselves, as I did try to tell ye then, Curse me, but also he did say that ye had Lied to us. Ye had withheld vital information, because ye did not trust us to take it like Men, and, he said, ye likely had some Villainous Plot in mind, perhaps to Betray us and take on new crew, men more to your way o’ thinking. I stood to defend ye and your decisions as Captain, but was Silenced by what O’Flaherty said next. We ha’ traveled through Time, he said. Three hundred years, he said, and more. All that we did know then, all is now dust and ashes, and Relicks in a Museum.

We were so stunned by this that we did not object when O’Flaherty took Command, naming Moran as Mate, Burke to Gunner, Carter as the Bosun and Shlocksir as Navigator. He told us his intentions: we would find our way back to our own Time, but first we had to do what ye, in your Cowardice and broken-minded befuddlement, Forgive me for repeating his words, what ye had failed to do. We must take advantage of this strange Miracle which Providence had cast in our way. For we do be the only Pirates in these Seas, the only Pirates in Two Hundred Years! He said the people here do be soft and trusting as Lambs. He did not even need to look at Shlocksir to make his point, for we all knew that he was right. He said we did not even need to Pluck this ripened Fruit that hung all around us; all we need do is open our mouths and let the rich Juices run down our gullets ’til our bellies be filled. Then we would find our way home, and live like Kings.

‘Twas a masterful job, Captain. He scattered our wits with his Revelation, like a grenado cast into our midst, and then in one stroke, he blamed ye for the Devastation he had wrought and also gave us a Way out of it, one which appealed to our Greed as well as offering a chance to not feel the Terror of being 300 years Lost.

Ye should ha’ told us, Nate. Tho the result be not deserved, still ye should ha’ told us. It went poorly when I asked after ye. The men shouted me down and named ye Traitor to the Company for keeping such a Secret. When Moran stood and did swear that ye lived and were unharmed, that he would ne’er spill the blood of his own Cousin, the men were well satisfied, and agreed on the spot to follow O’Flaherty as Captain o’ our Grace.

There were Three, tho, who came to me later and did express deep Misgivings about your loss and O’Flaherty’s gain. We met again, often, o’er the next few days, as our Misgivings grew under O’Flaherty’s Command and Shlocksir’s guidance. When we saw the heading they intended for us to follow, we decided to take Action.

‘Twas miserable, Captain. The only one excited was Shlocksir, who sweated and capered about so you’d think him a young Horse, new-broken and ridden hard and let to Pasture. The crew did question the value in such a simple and unambitious Assault, for we put four men in the boat and rowed ashore at night, and robbed a Store, something named Seven-Eleven. We took their paper money and some small supplies, and Naught else. Aye, ’twas easy and free o’ Risk, but where were the great Rewards promised us? That were the grumbles.

Tho I admit: those Potato Chips are entirely Delicious.

The next night, to Silence those grumblings, our Target was a Grog Shop. Along with more paper, of which Shlocksir seems inordinately fond, we captured crates of Liquor, and had a fine proper Drunkening. The next night we waited until later, and then took a Tavern, just after it closed, using Kelly to burst the door in. We took a grand lot o’ paper that night, aye, and more Rum to keep the crew jolly.

We saw then, myself and my three Companions in Misery, that this would be our Fate: we would run up and down the Coastline, Robbing local shopkeeps o’ paper and Potato chips and Grog. Shlocksir would be happy with his piles o’ green scraps, O’Flaherty with his usurped Command; Burke would surely find opportunities to Exercise his Cruelty (He has already flogged two men, and Savagely), and the men would merely stay drunk, and Complacent Thereby.

We four could not Stomack this. What Pride was there, what Glory, in Midnight raids on unarmed townsfolk? We are Pirates, by God, Gentlemen of Fortune! And Irishmen, too! Half of us joined this crew because we did know that Damnation Kane would give us the chance to spill English blood, and to Fight, in some small way, for our Country against her Oppressors. Who were we fighting now, Seven-Eleven? We found it less than satisfying.

But the men were Drunk. And the course we followed was, if nothing else, Supremely Easy. We made out to Sea at night, fished and lazed during the Day, then sailed to shore after nightfall, cruising until we spotted a Target, when we would anchor and send out the boat, with Shlocksir, Burke, and two men to row. Why would the crew Rebel against that?

We needed our Leader, the Man who could wake up their Blood and give them Purpose again. We needed ye, Captain.

So finally, we four decided to steal the boat, and Make our way back to ye. I agreed to stay aboard the Grace, to watch out for Her so Well as I could. Three nights ago we had our Chance, when O’Flaherty found a quiet cove to anchor in after our petty theft, and Declared we would spend the night at rest, without a watch, so that all could Celebrate the ease of our Success. They did get Masterfully Drunk, and we did steal their boat.

In the morning, when they did find the boat gone, and with it their ability to make these easy raids on townsfolk, our Leaders decided to make an Assault on a Ship.

And here we are.

Now my three Compatriots, young Lynch, your cousin Owen MacTeigue, and Master Vaughn, are gone with the boat, and I know not what has become of them. And I squat in the companionway outside the Mate’s Cabin belowdecks, and listen to the Wailings and Whimpers of two Terrified and Innocent women who are prisoned where once I made my berth. I hope it will not come to Blows if they come for the women, for Kelly and I will stand Honorably, but we will not win, and I hate that Blood may be spilled on our lovely Ship. And I hope that the local Navymen will find us, but will not sink us, for I Dread most of all if these Serpents in the shape of men be allowed to Pillage and Plunder at their will. If they earn some ill Repute for their Beastly deeds and Savage treatment of Innocents, then what show of force, what sort of Ship, what manner of destructive Magick incomprehensible and Terrible to us will be brought to bear? We must not risk that. This cruise must be Stopped now.

God Almighty, let the Risks I take be for the best for my Ship, my Captain, and my Friends. I Beg of Thee.

Ian O’Gallows, Mate of the Grace of Ireland

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Log 14: Guards and Grog

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June

Location: In a madhouse.

Conditions: As should be expected: mad.

 

If a man were to ask me what is the experience of captaining a ship, of leading a crew, I would say this: when you are the captain of a ship, everything goes wrong all at once. It is never simply that your vessel is blown into a storm; it is ever that your ship is blown into a storm – when your food stores have turned up rotten, and all your men are drunk on grog poured into empty bellies to quiet the pangs, and the lines have been poorly lashed by fainting fog-headed men, and the steersman collapses in a swoon and heels the boat crosswise to the waves just as the wind tears loose the moorings and leaves the sails flapping and the ship out of control – even as the cry of “Fire!” issues from the galley. That is the life of a ship’s captain. But with one difference from my depiction: generally the threats a captain faces are invisible and unknowable before they strike.

Here I had a group of men, three of them my own officers, who saw fit to defy my orders even after they joined their voices in affirmation of my right to command. Four men who were such blithering, vacuous idiots that they apparently did not understand the danger of piling more risk onto the perils we already face, who sought to prod the sleeping animal whose den we had invaded, and whose nature we could not discern: was it, perhaps, merely an aged and toothless dog, who would grumble at our violation of its rest and then turn to sleep once more? Or was it a savage bear with a sore tooth, awakening ravenous from a winter’s sleep, which would prove the destruction of us all? In less poetic terms: would a raid on a local establishment spur the far-flung and isolated colonials to flee our wrath, surrendering to our dominant wills if caught? Or would it break the dam and release a flood of heavily-armed soldiers on us? We did not know, and yet those men – my men, my officers, my own cousin, men whom I trusted to bear responsibility with probity and wisdom and fortitude – those men chose to take that risk for us all, and prod yon sleeping beast.

While our ship, our greatest weapon and only means of escape, lay mortally wounded on the sand.

And they did this all for grog.

And – most immediate – someone allowed them to go.

I strode through the Palace with Lynch at my heels, to the landward portico. The two men on watch – Shane MacManus and Raymond Fitzpatrick, a man whose loyalty I questioned and another whose witlessness, unfortunately, I did not – took their ease in two of the woven-cloth chairs that had previously stood on the seaward pavilion, but now stood in shaded places somewhat near the front door, and somewhat within reasonable view of any approaching enemies.

Perhaps I misspoke, before; perhaps the essence of captainhood is this: when your subordinates, in everything they do from sleep to eat to work to watch to fight to shit, are incessantly toeing the line of indolence and insubordination, but never quite far enough over it to deserve chastisement. A captain is ever left with two unpalatable choices: berate and punish those who have done very little that is wrong, and be known as a tyrant and martinet, or allow standards to slacken lower and lower until doom is as assured as the captain’s reputation for laxity. After all, these men were at their stations, and they were awake and unintoxicated, and they faced the road. Could I really begrudge them a comfortable seat in this tedious duty?

At the moment: a thousand times yes. “AVAST!” I roared as I came through the door and espied their lazy carcasses. “STAND AND REPORT, YE IDLE SWINE!” The two leapt from their chairs with satisfying alacrity, MacManus with a charged musket in his hands and Fitzpatrick sending his chair flying all a-tangle with the vigor of his upright leap. MacManus, seeing no immediate threat but my own humble self, turned and snapped off a crisp salute, knuckles to brow. “Nothin’ to report, Captain, sir!” he said, his words brusque and his stare blank. MacManus had served in the Royal Navy and was no stranger to surprise inspections from angry officers. Fitzpatrick shook his head to confirm MacManus’s negative reply.

I stepped close, pressing my face within inches of MacManus’s. “Where are O’Flaherty and Burke, Shane? Where is Carter? And Moran?”

He blinked and reddened, slightly, though it may have been the heat. “They . . . they left, sir. Half a turn gone, now, fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d say.”

I stepped closer, forcing him back on his heels. “And you didn’t stop them?”

He frowned. “No, Captain. By what authority would I stop the Quartermaster goin’ where he likes, sir?”

By the authority of your own brain, were it not as shriveled and worm-eaten as his!” I snarled, pointing at the slack-jawed Fitzpatrick.

MacManus’s flush deepened. Definitely not the heat. Not the sun’s heat, at least. “They claimed to be acting under orders, sir. I had no orders to hold or question or countermand their leavin’. Captain.”

Damn it all, he was right. I should have guessed that this was a possibility, and I should have expressly forbidden their departure, or any others’. I can only say in my defense that I had been too preoccupied with the storm and the flapping sails to also fight the galley-fire below – the fire named O’Flaherty. And “grog.”

But MacManus was not free of sin, here. I stepped back and stared at him some more, before saying quietly, “Why did I not receive a report of their leaving?”

MacManus paled even faster than he had reddened. “I – I thought you knew, Captain. They said you had ordered them.” He trailed off without any word from me. He knew better than that. On a ship, any ship, anything and all things must be reported up the chain of command. Always. All commands, all shouts of warning, even simple declarations of fact, are repeated again and again. Too much depends on men doing the right thing at the right moment, and on the officers knowing the right thing to do and the right moment to do it. If I am told by my Sailing Master that the wind is turning, and I give the order to come about, then the Master repeats it for clarity, and then tells the same to the steersman. The steersman says, “Aye, coming about, sir,” and shouts it to the Bosun. The Bosun, who must make the men reorient the sails as we change course, cries out, “Coming about!” And the men, to acknowledge the order and verify that it was the correct order, all shout, “Coming about!” Then the ship begins to turn. Not before.

MacManus should have reported the departure. The reason he hadn’t was clear to me: he knew I’d have stopped them, and he hadn’t wanted them stopped before they accomplished this errand. It was most likely the siren call of the grog which had whelmed his thoughts and suborned him from doing his duty.

I merely waited until he dropped his gaze, and then I began issuing new orders. “We will fortify this door, now. You two will dig a trench and build a breastworks with the earth, to either side of the palace. Take tools from the barn-shed if there be any. And if not, use your bloody hands.”

I watched them salute and trot off to the barn-shed; I told Lynch off to stand watch for now, and he nodded. Should have had him there in the first place, curse me for a trusting fool.

As I came back through the doorway into the entry hall, I encountered once more another unwelcome complication: our new carpenter, Shluxer. He stood, cowed but trying nonetheless to catch glimpses of the goings-on from where he was, confronted and halted from going any further by a surly and silent Owen MacTeigue. I clapped my cousin gratefully on the shoulder, and he nodded and relaxed – but he did not leave.

“I regret, Master Shluxer, that the realization of our partnership must be postponed. I trust that my assurances of your future enrichment will prove sufficient for the nonce, and I would also ask that you endeavor to keep our presence here a secret, moot as the request may be.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, still craning his neck to see around my and out the front door.

“Some of my men have gone to beard the lion in his den. We must prepare to face the wrath.” I turned to MacTeigue. “Go find two of the men who brought him here, and have them escort Master Shluxer home. Then –”

Shluxer interrupted me. “They left on foot? Why don’t you just go after them?”

I turned to him with raised brow and lowered patience. “Because they left twenty minutes ago. They would reach their destination before we caught them, even at a dead run.”

He stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending, I thought – and how amazed I was that he couldn’t grasp such a simple problem! Then he said, “Why don’t you just take the car?”

Now I had to stare, uncomprehending. “Take the what?”

“The car.” He pointed out the door. “What is that, an Accord? It’s got balls, for a riceburner. It could catch them. You got the keys?”

I turned to see where he was pointing: it was the nearer of the two beast-wagons, the one that Juan and Ignacio Lopez had arrived in – the one which we had not shot. I turned back to Shluxer. “That thing could catch them? Before they reached the Piggly-Wiggly?”

He snorted. “Sure. What are they going to do, grow wings and fly? It’s a car, dude. That thing could break a hundred, easy.”

I stared some more. Surely his language was English, I knew each individual word, but he made no sense to my ears. “Break a hundred what?” I asked him.

He looked at me as if I were the idiot. “M.P.H., dude.” And when this clearly offered me no help, he said, “Miles per hour?” as though questioning me, and vastly fatigued for doing so.

It took me a moment, but it started to dawn on me. “That thing,” I said, pointing, “that beast out there, could run one hundred miles – that’s two days good riding on a strong horse over adequate roads – in only one hour?”

He shrugged, palms up, and raised his eyebrows at me. “Duh. It’s a car?”

I merely stared.

His brows lowered. “You really don’t know what a car is, do you?”

Slowly I shook my head. I didn’t like to confess my ignorance, but a fool’s bluff would have been no improvement.

Shluxer’s hand darted out and flicked at the wall near him, as through brushing at a fly. Brilliant light burst forth from the ceiling, where shining round objects like enormous pearls hung; we had thought them merely idle decoration, but now they glowed as if they were tiny suns, or great lanterns encased in smooth white glass – but we saw no flame. And from whence had the spark come? MacTeigue and I both flinched away, our hands going to weapon hilts in our startlement.

“Jesus Christ,” Shluxer swore quietly. He brushed the wall again, and now I noticed a small rectangle with a peg of some kind sticking out of it where his hand touched; he moved the peg so it pointed down, and the light vanished, as quickly as it had come – startling MacTeigue and I anew. Shluxer snapped his fingers, and when I looked at him, he said, “Find the keys. I’ll drive.”

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Log 12: O’Flaherty’s Comeuppance

(Continued)

“What, in the name of Satan and all the saints he’s burning, have ye done, O’Flaherty?”

That’s what I asked the man, and a right fair question it was. But the man was standing on his pride – or perhaps believed that I was – and he objected to the manner of my speech. Perhaps he had expected laurels on his brow, huzzahs shouted for his triumph. Bah!

…But perhaps I should have spoken him more gently.

His chest swelled and jaw clenched as his brow lowered in anger. “Ye had best not speak so to me, Cap’n. We’re not aboard ship, and this is no’ battle. I be your equal –”

I cut him off with an impolite gesture. “Ah, belay that quartermaster shite, ye bilge-brained mongrel. We have no time for it. Think you this is not battle? We are in the greatest danger of our lives, every second. And you have made it worse, you daft idiot!” Perhaps I regained some of my wits, then, for I hesitated for a moment and then looked around at all the men hearing this. I had not meant to shame O’Flaherty with such a public comeuppance. I beckoned him towards the staircase, and the room above, which I had claimed as my quarters.

But he refused. “Nay, Cap’n,” he spat. “Let all the men hear what ye have to say, and respond as they have a mind to, aye. If this be a proper pirate ship, and we be of the Brotherhood, then all the men aboard have the right.” He stepped closer and asked quietly, “Or do they not, Captain?” Again he spat out my title like a bit of underdone potato.

I recognized this speech. It was this philosophy, what O’Flaherty claimed was the Pirate’s Code, which gave him equal standing on what had been my ship. Before his coming aboard, the men had all been loyal to me as their captain, as knights to their liege lord, as warriors to their clan chief, as it has ever been on Irish ships. O’Flaherty was behind the conceit that the men should choose their leaders, that they should vote, that every man’s voice should be equal; and that the men should choose not only their captain, but also their Quartermaster, equal in authority to the captain in all things but battle. Truth be told, I allowed it because others of my men – Donal Carter, Shane MacManus, Padraig Doyle, my own cousin and gunner’s mate Hugh Moran, and some that did not live to reach these strange shores, Ian Duffy who was my steersman, Albert Donovan and his brother Tiernan, and Colin Fitzpatrick, gods rest their souls – all of them fine sailors and brave warriors – they took his words to heart. Had I not granted O’Flaherty what he sought and let the men vote for their captain and quartermaster, let them write and sign Articles governing our ship and crew, I feared those men would leave the ship, and the heart of my crew would go with them, before the voyage even began. But I did allow it, and they did stay – thankfully choosing me unanimously as captain, which vote having gone otherwise would have occasioned a very different and much less civil conversation about my ship and the owning of her. We had a fine voyage after that day, even with O’Flaherty as Quartermaster and his Code ruling our ship – our ship that had been my ship. And several other fine cruises since then; until now, of course. O’Flaherty’s Code did make the men feel stronger, more as though they chose this life, this ship, and myself as their captain. Men should know that they choose their own destiny, and I could not but approve of that, and the great fondness the men gained for my fair Grace, since all felt some ownership of her.

But here is the truth: the Grace of Ireland is my ship. I commissioned her, I gave her specifics to Master Spaulding, the shipbuilder in Cork; I paid for her with the legacy my family granted me on my twenty-first birthday, with the money I had saved serving on other men’s vessels, leading trade voyages for my mother and our clan, sailing on raids against the British, the Welsh, even the Spanish and the French and the Moors of Algiers. When even that was not enough, I paid with shares in the Grace’s future plunder, on which I made good for two years before the accounts were closed. I captained her on her maiden voyage, when I and my crew – without O’Flaherty and that apish bastard Burke – cruised through the Irish Sea and lightened half a dozen English vessels before we escaped the King’s ships and returned home, safe and sound. I was the sole commander for four years after that, too, and a grand time it was, aye; until O’Flaherty and Burke came aboard with their tales of the Caribbean and the Brotherhood of the Coast, three years ago. It had been near two years since O’Flaherty had convinced us to adopt Articles and cast ballots for the ship’s captain and quartermaster.

It was time I took back command of my ship. Past time.

So I agreed to O’Flaherty’s demands, and gathered all the men into a circle on the beach before the Grace. As they found places to stand or sit in the sand, I saw that they had brought O’Flaherty’s prisoner with them; I ordered that he be allowed to stay and listen, as this concerned him near as much as it did the rest of us. I wanted him to see what manner of men had taken him captive, and into whose hands he should trust his keeping.

As soon as O’Flaherty, who had been a-whispering with Burke, joined me in the center of the circle, I asked him, “Who is the captain of this ship?” and I pointed at the Grace.

“You are,” he said. “But –”

I did not give him the opportunity to but his buts; I stepped to where Ian O’Gallows stood, his thumbs in his belt by his weapons. “Who is the captain of that ship?” I asked him loudly.

“You are, Captain Kane, sir,” he responded sharply, without the breath of hesitation that O’Flaherty had taken. Ian’s eyes roved over the men as he said, “You are captain of the ship and her crew – you and no other man, sir.” This last he directed at O’Flaherty.

Though warmed by his loyalty, I did not give him the gratitude he deserved, but stepped to the man beside Ian in the circle: it was Robert Sweeney, one of the younger men aboard, and one much in awe of O’Flaherty’s tales and in fear of Burke’s chains – though a good and loyal man, for all that. He hesitated a moment, and cleared his throat when I put the question to him, though I believe his hesitation to be due to nervousness rather than mutinous thoughts. He said, “You are, sir.” He cast his eyes down after he said it.

They all responded with those words, as indeed they should. Even Burke, though he stared at me for better than a minute, and sneered when he named me captain of my own vessel. But Burke’s insubordinate nature is no surprise; I was more concerned by the number of other men who hesitated before answering. Some even glanced at O’Flaherty before they gave their response. But give it they all did, all naming me; after Burke’s belabored answer, I stepped smartly back to where O’Flaherty stood with arms crossed and lips pressed tight together with ire. Still I did not allow him time to speak. “There ye have it. I am the captain – I and no other.”

He nodded. “Aye-aye, and aye once more, Nate. But if I were to ask them all who be the Quartermaster of this ship, what then?”

I softened my tone then. I needed O’Flaherty, and Burke, and all the hesitant men. I could not drive them away from me, not now, not here. But when we return to Ireland, and I can find a good, loyal, Irish crew . . . I will not forget who hesitated in answering my question. Not even my cousin Hugh, damn him.”They would say you, Sean,” I answered O’Flaherty. “And they’d be right to do so.”

I turned and addressed the men. “None of us knows where we are. The Dominicans called it Florida, and Miyammy, and America, but all I know is that it is not our beloved Ireland. We are far off the edge of the charts, lads.

“Ye all know, as I do, that the greatest danger we face on a voyage is not the British, and not famine, nor plague, nor even fire in the hold. The greatest danger is losing our way.” I paused then, and a few of the older men nodded. I continued. “If we cannot find our way home, then nothing else has consequence: not our courage, nor our strength, nor the weight of plunder in our holds and our pockets. If we have water, and food, and a fair wind and clear skies – but we do not know where we are nor where we are heading – we have nothing. For the water will run out, and the food; and the clear skies will turn to black storms; and all of these things may be repaired. But without a location and a destination, we will do nothing but wander. What good then the wealth in our purses?” I looked at O’Flaherty. “What good then the code we follow, or the title we claim?”

I turned back to the men. “Now, I’ve been caught in a fog that the sun did not dry up. Of course I have: I’m Irish.” They all laughed at that; no Irish sailor is innocent of fog. “I was caught in one on the Gaelic Tiger, under Silas McNulty, that lasted better than seven days before the wind rose and blew it away. Seven days, becalmed in a gray world without sky, without horizon, without land in sight.” MacTeigue, who had been with me on that voyage, added his voice and memory to mine – as did Donal Carter, I was glad to see, for all that his hesitancy had been second only to Burke’s before he named me captain but moments ago. I went on. “We had no idea how long it would last, no idea how close we may have been to rocks, or to British ships, or to a storm that would put us on the bottom. We had no idea if we were sailing closer to home, or farther away. It seemed the very air had no breath to sustain us, after a while. Every morning, we’d wake and hope to see the sea and sky and sun – and every morning it was naught but more gray. That was the most frightened I’ve ever been at sea, I don’t mind telling you lads.

“Until this voyage. Until this day, right now.” I paused, to let them think on my words. In the usual course of events, I would never admit to my men that I felt any fear, or that I had the least doubt as to our course, our destination, or the wisdom of our actions. But this day was not in the usual course of events. We were off the map in more ways than one, and they knew it. If I said aught else, I’d lose them, too. “We are lost, and badly lost. We do not know our way home, and what’s worse, we do not know how to find our way home. In Irish seas, the compass, or even one glimpse of the sky, could tell us which direction was East, and we could sail to Europe and then from wherever we struck, we could find our way home. But if we sail East now, what will we strike? Is the compass even true, now? Are we even on the seas of the Earth we know? What dangers lie out there – only the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch? The Devil’s Lash? Or something more? Be there dragons and demons, Scylla and Charybdis?

“We are in the gravest peril we have ever faced, right now, and every minute until we can point the bow of our ship – our ship – toward home. Graver even than when we had the Sea-Cat hard on our stern.”

I rounded on O’Flaherty once more. “Do ye recall, Sean, whose counsel led us into Hobbes’s trap? Who led to the deaths of thirteen men, the wounding of three more?” I watched him redden, but he held his tongue. I did not. “Aye, and whose plan was it to put the Devil’s Lash right atop us, and killed another sixteen of our brothers?” I hurried past that, as I did not want O’Flaherty reminding them who had ruined that attempted ambush with an unfortunate cry of alarm. “We seem to be in or near the Caribbean, Sean – ye have named the flora and the fauna, and the sands and seas match your tales of the Indies. Do ye know, then, where we are? Can ye lead us to safety?”

A moment’s fierce glare, and then O’Flaherty dropped his gaze to the sand at my feet.

I stepped to him, clasped his shoulder warmly. “Ye be a fine quartermaster, Sean, and the only man I’d want as my second in command.” I felt sure my friend and mate – and true choice for second – Ian O’Gallows would know and forgive this lie. “But you have not been plotting the best course. Not on this voyage.” I pointed at the bewildered man kneeling beside Burke, the one whose help we needed desperately, and whom they had taken hostage and scared witless. “Not this day. Ye should not be in command.” I stepped even closer, my nose a mere handspan from his. “And you are not. We are still in battle, even now, even here: we fight for our very lives. We fight our own ignorance, and our own rash impulses, like the thrashings of a drowning man, which just make him sink all the faster. If we make one wrong step, we will all of us die. That is battle. And so long as we are in battle, your own Code, and our ship’s Articles, signed by every man here and many who have fallen, say that I am in command – I and no other.” My grip on his shoulder turned hard. “Until we are home, you will do what I say, and only what I say. Until we reach Ireland.” I put my other hand on the grip of the pistol in my sash. I whispered, “And if ye say anything right now other than ‘Aye, Captain,’ I’ll spill your heart’s blood on this ground.” I clapped him on the shoulder, stepped back, and waited, hand on my pistol.

“Aye, Captain,” O’Flaherty said loudly. Then he whispered, for my ears alone, “Until Ireland.”

I nodded, and smiled wide. “Until Ireland.”

“UNTIL IRELAND!” Ian roared, and the men all yelled with him. But I saw Carter, and Burke, and Hugh Moran casting glances, one to the other and back. I admit I longed for home, then, with every scrap of me. As if there is not enough to beware, I must needs watch my own men?

There is no greater gift, no more valuable possession, than loyalty.

I dispersed the men back to their tasks and stations then. I was irked to see Burke, Carter, Moran, and O’Flaherty gather and mutter together. But I must convince them, for I cannot control them – they are free men. I will be sure to speak of O’Flaherty’s several mistakes in Carter’s hearing, and wax poetic on the ties of family near my cousin Hugh.

I may have to watch for a chance to put a blade in Burke. Naught else will sway him.

But speaking of O’Flaherty’s mistakes: now I must deal with his latest.

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