Posts Tagged With: Captain

Log #79: Caged

All is lost.

No. Not all. If all were lost, what matter this log, these pages that record my life? My mind?

I know not for whom I write. At the first, and at various times since our arrival here, I have taken up this pen as a way to order my mind: I find that constricting my rampant thoughts into determinate words, especially those inscribed in the permanence of ink on paper, is a great aid to the elimination of confusion, the solution of dilemma, as the act often leads to a certainty in plans of action henceforward. After I thought that I knew our place, I hoped the tale might be preserved for posterity and the general interest – aye, and my name preserved as well, I did hope. I thought then that we would return to our native land, and my fellow men would read these words and know of our deeds, our failures and triumphs. Of late I think I have taken to this log as something of a confessor: I unburden my soul by writing here of my weaknesses and iniquities and follies, too numerous now to count.

Methinks I must write these words for my men. Soon I will be gone from them, and they may be lost; I must attempt to explain the steps we took to reach this place, so that they may find a path forward. Of course some of ye know somewhat of this, being a part of it; but I think ye do not know the whole of what I have done and the reasoning wherefore.

Thus I say, if you are reading this, my friends, Ian, Llewellyn, Balthazar, my good cousin Owen, stout Kelly, Sergeant MacManus, my strong-hearted lads: I beg your forgiveness. I have led you all so far astray. I regret it more than any sin of my thrice-cursed life that I cannot bring ye all home again.

I cannot. My ship – the Grace is, though she floats still, now shorn of that enchantment which, I believe, opened the way through Time itself to bring us here. She will never sail those mystical waters again. This world, now, is your only world. I wish you well of it.

I hope that the sacrifice of my life to save yours brings me some measure of atonement.

I will now recount for you all of what I have learned this night, so that ye may all comprehend what I now do: I know elsewise will I seem enmaddened, and I know not what constraints my madness may place on you. There are no constraints, lads: I am sound, and I am content with the one act left to me. I do this freely. Ye are free men – Irishmen. Gentlemen of fortune. Do as you will. I wish ye all joys this world may offer ye.

***

 

Once I had learned of Nicholas Hobbes the location of my captive friends, and the name of the villain who held them captive, I urged our hired pilot Andre to course us there directly so I could learn of the disposition of our foes and form stratagems. Howsoever, once Andre had learned of Lyle Okagaweh’s involvement, he insisted on speaking to Two-Saint before proceeding against such a foe; if I had needed further proof that a man may not serve two masters, I have such. As Andre served as our pilot, the steering of the ship was in his hands and his hands alone; had I wrested the conveyance from him, still I could not have found our destination without his assistance. Hence I acquiesced, though bitterly, and we returned to our lodging. Andre there did make the attempt to contact Two-Saint by ‘phone, but could not, said he, get a signal, and so he departed alone to seek out his liege. I conferred with my men, who all agree that, subtlety and subterfuge being requisite for a nighttime invasion seeking mainly intelligence, Balthazar Lynch should be my accomplice, as he is the slightest, quickest, and most silent hunter of we four. Then we had naught to do but wait, and so did we, I keeping this log and recording my conversation with Hobbes. I wondered, and worried, over his description of this man Okagaweh, this Shadowman, he calls him, and that he held my men at his mercy; what toxin did he infuse in this so-called physic that delivered both euphoria and will-sapping enslavement? Would my men still be under his sway, even though I tore them bodily from his clutches?

Will any of us be truly free? Have we ever been?

At length, and surely mere moments before the last tether of my sanity broke under the strain of waiting in idleness, Andre returned. Two-Saint had sanctioned this initial foray, but he wanted us not to engage with Lyle Okagaweh or his men, and not to underestimate them, for this Shadowman is a dire adversary. But I and my men have fought the weight of the British Empire for all of our lives; Irishmen fear no foe. Lynch and I were secured into the Jeep-beast ere Andre was finished speaking, and so soon as we could acknowledge his warnings, we weighed anchor and sailed.

To our advantage, the clouds overhead had hooded the moon’s lantern; Lynch’s apparel was dark already, and I was able to borrow a shirt of Diego Colina’s – the man has proved both an honorable and generous host, and a staunch ally; I beg you gentlemen to prefer him if you can – to replace my white finery; we smeared mud on our milk-white Irishness once we arrived. Andre halted the Jeep-beast some several ship’s-lengths away from the place, so as not to alert sentries with the beast’s grumbling; he remained aboard to keep watch, having taken note of Lynch’s eye-phone and ascertaining how he could give and receive signals, were there need. Lynch and I crept through black-hearted jungle, then, snared and clutched by the foliage, stumbling on the uneven terrain, hunted by the night-calls of animals such as we had never heard before. We sensed perils all about us, above us and below us, before and behind; if Lynch was not as terrified as I, then I am mad.

Soon enough, though, we broke from cover into a long clear slope leading down towards the shore, though a forested rise betwixt us and the sea kept us from seeing the water. Even in the darkness, we could make out the road, a band of lighter earth leading to the house we sought, which had some lamps burning dimly against the night. Assured therefore that the night-eyes of any guards would be light-blind, we made our way quickly to the vicinity of the domicile, taking shelter behind a copse of low trees.

We soon espied that which we sought: a metal cage with the forms of men spread across the ground within; in the moments when the breeze quieted, we could hear their grunts and grumbles, and not a few moans of sore suffering. We could hear too the slow crash of waves, telling us that the shore was indeed close, and giving me hope that my Grace might be near as well.

We also spied that which we had not sought, though of course we expected: a watch kept by the house. Two guards stood and conversed, one diligently searching the darkness, the other seated, nodding, seeking the plum coveted by all men on watch: the kiss of sweet slumber. Though we could not hear their converse, as any men who have kept a night’s watch, we knew the thrust of it: one man sought to keep honorable vigil, while the other assured him, after what days or weeks of fruitless alertness, that they should sleep without fear; the final compromise was that each man followed his heart, and soon there was but one guard on watch, while one man snored in a chair on the porch of the house.

We watched as the sentry circled the house, keeping a regular pattern of movement, until we knew that we might have some minutes to approach and investigate the cage and its contents. Lynch stayed back in case I might need a diversion of the guard’s attention, or to call in Andre for our speedy withdrawal, and I crept to the cage, crawling on my belly while the guard faced my direction, and then scuttling crab-wise as he vanished around the house’s corner.

I approached the cage, and I stopped and stared, trusting my dark attire and mud-smeared skin to hide me from the sentry’s nearby perambulations. I thought I might recognize one of the men nearest me – Malachy Rearden, I thought – but I was certain I did not recognize the pale flaxen-haired youth who groaned and moaned beside him, clearly in discomfort and perhaps fevered, though the darkness hid detail. But I had not doubt that he was not of my crew. Perhaps I was deceived about Rearden, and these were some other men. Could there possibly be two such cages filled with miserable men? Might Hobbes have misled me?

Had I fallen into another trap set by the Devil’s Lash?

It took every bit of my will to hold me there and prevent my leaping up and absquatulating at top speed. I rehearsed the words I traded with Hobbes, recalled his demeanor and expression; I was as certain as I could be that he had spoke the plain truth. Which was not entirely certain, nay, as Hobbes is English and therefore untrustable; also he is by his own admission no longer the commander of this voyage, and thus may himself be ignorant or misled, and myself the same at one remove. But even if this were not an ambush, I asked myself: who were these men in this cage? Cage there surely was, and men within; if they were not my men, might they know the way to my crew? Could I free them, would they stand with us? Or at the least serve to distract our enemies?

Reasoning thus, I crept closer while the guard was beyond the house, and came around to the side of the cage, where I once more lay still and peered through the darkness at the mounds of the men who there lay. Was that – a man’s round belly, rising up where he lay on his back? Could it be Padraig Doyle, who carried such a belly? There, that man: was that the white hair of our Salty O’Neill? How could I be certain, looking in pure darkness on huddled men sleeping ten yards away from me?

But then a man rose up on an elbow and spoke, loudly, these words: “If ye be kickin’ me the once more, Robert Sweeney, ye horn-footed goat-shite, I’ll gnaw yer foot off with me bloody eyeteeth!” The man sounded as though more than half of him was asleep and the rest was cross, but ‘twas all Ian O’Gallows. These were my men. Now I moved closer with confidence, and had to stem my eagerness so that I could maintain surreptitiousness.

Despite my efforts, I made some sound, and one of the men lying at the very edge of the cage heard me then, and lifted his head to peer out into the darkness. Soon his gaze must have caught on the one part of myself I could not black with mud nor cloth: the whites of my eyes. I saw him stiffen, saw his hand clutch at the metal mesh that enclosed them, and I knew that I was seen. I raised a hand and covered my mouth, pointing at him with the other hand to enjoin his silence, and the man nodded; I crept closer, having to pause for the time when the sentry ambled by, on the far side of the cage from where I lay on my belly, but still in plain sight through the unsolid walls of the enclosure.

When I was within a man’s length of the cage, I recognized the man who seen me: ‘twas Llewellyn Vaughn. I had to smile at how his vigilance surpassed that of all my battle-tested sea-wolves; Vaughn is no warrior, but his is the broadest intellect, the deepest thought, and the sharpest fine perception of us all. I heard him whisper then, no more than a breath of air, and easily mistaken for the murmur of a sleeping man, “Captain?”

I waved my fingers at him and crept closer still, unwilling to speak until I was beside the cage, and my whisper could become indistinguishable from that of one of the captive men (were I to whisper from six feet away, it may be noted by one within as coming from an unlikely direction). Soon I was near enough to reach the metal mesh myself, and I reached and clasped Vaughn’s fingers, he gripping in return with the strength of great hope’s return into a heart full of despair.

“You came,” he whispered to me.

“Well and how could I not, seeing how pleasant your letter made it all seem?” I winked at him to show I jested; Vaughn has many great gifts, but a sense of humor is not among them, nor an understanding of ironical comments. “How fare you all?”

“We are wounded,” Vaughn  replied. “All of us, as well as the three sailors from Captain Hobbes’s crew who were placed in the cage with us. Several of the men have fevers, and all are weak from sun and a lack of water and food.”

I squeezed his fingers to stop him ere he could sail off into a specific and detailed report of every man’s every hurt; Vaughn never considered a question as having been answered until he had imparted every fact in his mind that related to the query – and his mind could hold enough facts to fill a ship’s hold. “Hobbes has men in there?” I lowered my whisper until it was barely enough breath to stir a fly from my lip.

Vaughn still heard me, and he nodded. “Three. They refused orders and this is their punishment. It is not clear if their ostracism is permanent, or intended to create an opportunity to infiltrate and gather intelligence from our men. In my opinion, there is little need for subterfuge; all that they wish to know is your whereabouts, Captain. They have had no use for us but as proverbial whipping boys.”

I frowned at him. “They flogged ye? All of ye?”

He nodded. “At least twice for every man in this cage. Three for O’Gallows who attempted to intercede and prevent a flogging that likely would have proved fatal for O’Neill, and nearly was for Ian.”

I had to take a deep breath and let it out slowly to control my temper, and it was only when Vaughn softly whispered, “Ow,” that I realized my grip was crushing his fingers through the metal mesh. Quickly I let go, dipping my head in apology. “Will ye fetch Ian for me, Llewellyn?”

He nodded, and shifted himself to his left, reaching out to the nearest prone form and gripping the man’s calf. After a moment, the man started out of sleep, muttering, “Wha? Whozzat?” Vaughn left his hnd on the man’s leg until he turned his head, and I saw it was Ian O’Gallows. Ian rubbed his eyes, gazing a bleary-eyed query at Vaughn; the Welshman merely pointed at me. Ian looked my way, and I raised a hand and waggled my fingers in greeting; I don’t know that he recognized me through the mud on my face or if he saw that I was without the cage and simple deduced who I must be, but first he said “Christ’s shite!”, then clapped a hand over his own mouth, and looked to the house where the sleeping sentry was the only guard in sight, the watchful sentry having gone around to the far side. Then Ian looked around the cage, though to my eyes none of the other men had reacted to his cursing. Still he slapped a hand at his leg, muttered somewhat about accursed biting fleas, and then shifted around until his head was near me. He pillowed his head on his hands and whispered, “Thank God for ye, Nate.” Then he feigned a snore.

I will not recapitulate what he told me then; he repeated Vaughn’s uncertainty about the Sea-Cat men in the cage, though at least he thought to tell me that they all slept at the other end and could not hear us over the sound of more than a dozen men snoring. I asked if they could escape, or fight their way free, and he told me nay, as they were too weak, hungry, and sick. I asked for the details of how they had come to this pass, and he reached to his ribs, removing a packet of blood-spotted bandages, which he stuffed through a hole in the fence; I knew not why he wanted me to have it until he named it his log. I will include it with these pages, and save myself the reiteration. Even rescue by myself, Kelly, MacManus and Lynch was problematic as, O’Gallows told me, three of our men were not held in the cage: Salty O’Neill, Abram O’Grady, and my cousin Owen MacTeigue, were all three held inside the house, in he knew not what condition.

Hearing that, I knew there was no choice: Hobbes had been right. I patted Ian’s hand, told him not to worry, and to tell the men that all would soon be well. I made to withdraw, asking only if my Grace was indeed nearby; I wished for lone last look at her before I do what I must for my men.

‘Twas Vaughn that answered. “Yes, Captain, the Grace is just beyond those trees, at anchor in the cove below. But – Captain, I fear that she will not sail as before.”

I hissed in a breath, but Ian frowned at Vaughn and whispered, “Nay, there be naught wrong wi’ the ship. Apart from the bilge rats who have crawled up to man her decks, and that horror they have nailed down before the mast.” I knew he must refer to the Scourged Lady, as Kelly had told me they had brought their accursed figurehead aboard my sweet Grace when they captured her in New York.

Vaughn looked at me and then at Ian. “I refer to her – inexplicable sailing. How she brought us here.” He looked back at me. “It was that voyage that drew the attention of our captor, the one referred to by his men as the Shadowman. He seeks the ship’s power. It seems that he thinks you yourself are required for the ship to perform in the manner he wishes.” He paused for a moment, cleared his throat quietly – and then we waited for the sentry to pass around the corner once more before he continued. “If his first experiment is an indication, he believes that your blood is the key to the ship’s ability. Or perhaps your death. I speculate that his killing of Raymond Fitzpatrick, who claimed to be your blood relative, was his first attempt to command the Grace’s performance. Ironic, then, that this same murder may have removed that power from the Grace entirely.”

I had to stop myself from shouting at him to get to the point; I merely gripped the mesh, hard, and hissed at him, my eyes wide, my face surely that of a madman.

He got to the point. “The runes, Captain. The glowing runes on the ship’s stern are now gone, blotted out, it seems, by Mr. Fitzpatrick’s life’s blood. I have seen the ship in starlight and moonlight, and I saw not a glimpse of its former luminescence. Naught but a dark stain now decorates the Grace’s stern.”

We each glanced up to the sky, and realized then that the clouds had broken, and we were bathed in the light of the moon’s full face. I had to retreat, then, as the light would make me too easily seen, should the sleeping sentry awaken or the wakeful one glance my way as I retreated. I bid my friends farewell, knowing in my heart that it was likely for the last time, though I said nothing of that. I bid them take heart, keep hope, and wait.

Then I went to see my ship.

Ah, ye gods! She is such beauty, such an incarnation of pure freedom and might, made into a construct of sailcloth and rope, wood and nails and tar. And now: blood. And no longer: magic. Vaughn is right; I saw the dark stain, saw where my mother’s runes are no longer visible. If he is correct that those letters inscribed on the Grace were the means of our travel through time – and I believe that is the truth – then they are gone, and all hope of our returning home is gone with them.

I stayed in my shadowed space, under the line of trees atop the small rise, gazing down on my lovely ship, for as long as I could. When I knew that Lynch and Andre would be growing anxious, and may endeavor to seek me, I turned my back on my Grace, and crept back, with a heavy heart and a jet-black mind, to where Lynch waited, and then together we returned to Andre, and then here, to the house of Diego Colina.

On the morrow I will take the last steps required to see my men freed, though if the Grace can no longer sail through time, I know not how the Shadowman will respond. It does not change what I must do. I will give this log to Lynch, who can carry it to Ian or Vaughn, who can read it; they will together plot a new course for the men who have followed me, and now will follow me no more, for they must not go where I go.

I shall not return.

I wish ye well, lads, and may all the blessings of Heaven and Earth descend upon ye all. Ye deserve every one.

Goodbye.

Signed this day, the Seventh of October in the year Two Thousand and Eleven,

Damnation Kane

Once Captain of the Grace of Ireland, and her crew

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Log #71: Captain No More

October 1

Dear Diary,

The government charter is finished. Three flight days stretched to five, like I hoped. I managed, despite my life descending into a pit of burning pigshit, to be both professional and friendly when Dr. Sandhu smiled and said they would love to hire me again, which made me feel a little better even though it SUCKS that this job is over.

But then I went home, and found that the pirates have left port, all except the young one, Balthazar Lynch. It should have cheered me up. It didn’t. Especially not after I talked to Balthazar about what happened. He didn’t want to talk to me, in fact I think he sort of hates me, though I’m not sure why. Maybe he thinks what that pig son of a bitch he calls Captain thought, that I was owned by some fucking man, and that I was a slut for using my “feminine wiles” – fucking feminine wiles?!? What the fuck??

I have to stop thinking about it. It just makes me furious.

Anyway, I talked to Balthazar (What a name!) and I found out some of what happened. I should have known, though. I saw the bruises on that chauvinist son of a bitch even before I hit him (and kicked him, and slapped him, and I should have kicked him right in the dick and then spit in his goddamn face! No. Stop, Mer. Stop.) and I should have known. Hmmm, let me think, who do I know that would come around my house, claim he owned me, and show a ring that looks just like the one Mama gave me for my 15th birthday, and then get into some knockdown, drag-out fight about it?

Looks like Damnation the Chauvinist has met Mr. Brick Calhoun, violent felon and Stalker Extraordinaire. And it turned out just about as well as I thought, though I am glad no one died. Balthazar wouldn’t tell me everything that happened, he just shook his head and clammed up no matter what I said after that.

Lord, I hope Damnation hasn’t gotten mixed up with Brick. Sure as eggs in April, someone will end up dead.

No. You know what, Di-Di? I am not going to feel bad about this. That fucking pig took Brick Calhoun – Brick! Fucking! Calhoun! – at his word. Believed that I was taken, that I was owned by that redneck turkey-fucker. Believed that, whatever flirting he and I may have done, I did it while I was involved with another man who I never mentioned to him. Believed that I would be like that, that all women would be like that, simply because we are women when, oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE shows that men are the faithless pigs who will fuck anything that will let them and most things that won’t. Then, instead of asking me nicely why the stupid ugly man would say such a stupid ugly AND OBVIOUSLY FALSE thing, he attacked me. If he had spoken to me about it like a civilized human being – like a gentleman – then I could have explained why nothing Brick says is ever true, especially not about me. Then maybe I could have gotten him and his equally stupid friends to testify that Brick started the fight, and he could have gone back to jail and I would be safe.

Oh, sorry, Diary. Didn’t mean to cry on you. I’m just so scared. He was at my house. Doing violence, causing mayhem. And claiming he owns me. He was wearing my ring.

What am I going to do? Thankfully, I haven’t actually seen him myself, not since that night I went to the Watermark with Melly and he was there. I suppose he’s busy dealing with Damnation. Maybe I should be happy that sexist asshole was around to run interference for me with that other psycho.

Maybe the redneck asshole and the Irish asshole will vanish together, and leave me in peace. But I suppose that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it?

Oh right. I forgot. Nana apologized to me for having the wrong idea about Damnation, and for letting that pig say all those terrible things to and about me. Oh my GOD we both cried and it was terrible and I can’t say anything more about it except I love my Nana with all of my heart and everyone else’s heart, too.

 

I called Jerry Rampaneau. He was ever so happy to hear from me, since usually he’s the one who has to call me – Lord, he probably thinks I’m flirting with him. Good God Almighty, Diary, how many men think they can own me? Why does this have to keep happening, and happening, and happening? But he said he’d have a client for the day after tomorrow, and that he could line one up for probably every day after that. Tomorrow I’ll go over the plane, and then I’ll fly Dirty Old Man Charters for as long as I can. Because as long as I’m in the sky, I know Damnation Kane and Brick Calhoun will leave me alone.

I’ll have to pad my shorts so my ass doesn’t get pinch-shaped bruises on it.

God damn all men.

 

 

BLog

i see on my phone a word blog al the tym so i wil cal this BLog for B. Lynch log.

mayhap she is not a slut. i red sum uv hur diry becuz Captin was diseeved and lyed 2 and that man brick sed Mery was his woman. he had hur ring i saw it. she was gon al day and so i went in hur rum 2 see wut i can find. i find hur diry. i red it sum uv it. i got anguree becuz she cal Captin naymz and say he haz a lidl prik and cal him a lyer but Captinz not a lyer. i tor that payj owt 2 sho Captin so he wil no wut she thinks uv him.

but i red mor. she is scard uv brick. she duzint luv him. she is not his. he is the lyer not Captin. i wantid 2 tel Captin but i was 2 angeree withim. and then he is trapt by brick and now he is gon. i wood find a way 2 kil brick but Captin needz him 2 get 2 bermyooduh and if he dyz then Captin and kellee and shayn are in trubl with lawz. i tol brick if he hurts Captin i wil kil him.

i hav to tok 2 chester abowt vidyo.

i hav 2 be redy 2 go if brick senz wurd becuz Captin wil go and i wil go withim. no matr ware no mater how stoopid heez beein abowt mery vans or abowt brick. he is my Captin. i faloh him alwayz.

i luv him alwayz.

mindy sayz i must tel him. but i cant wen his hart is ful uv mery vans. i cant wen the men are arownd. i cant when he thinks he is not a gud man. and he wil be angeree at me 4 lying 2 him.

pleez God let us get back to the Grace. then Captin will be hapee then i can tel him the trooth.

i no hoo 2 cal. Captin is in trubl withe lawz so he needz help withe lawz. the lawz uv this plays uv this tym. he needz McNally. i remembr how he rote his naym and i can find him with my phon. i wil cal him and ask 4 help 4 Captin.

 

 

The Last Captain’s Log

On this day, the First of October in the year 2011 anno domini, I do hereby record my intention to relinquish and abdicate my position as Captain of the ship the Grace of Ireland, and commander of her crew.

I record this as my intention and not an act for a single reason. I am not currently in possession of my ship, nor do I have before me my crew. When it is possible to achieve that confluence of circumstances, then will I declare this as a fait accompli. I record my intention so that, should I fall in the attempt to regain my ship and the freedom of her crew, they will know what was in my mind and my heart, and may act accordingly, without scruple or hesitation on my behalf.

To any of my men reading this: the Grace is yours. If she is mine to give, then I give her, in entirety and in perpetuity, to the collective ownership of all of the good men who came with her under my command from Ireland of old to this place and time. I make the obvious exception that Donal Carter, Ned Burke, and Sean O’Flaherty have no rights and no claim to the Grace. Any other men who survive should consider themselves the masters of the Grace and should dispose of her according to your wills. As for my body, let it rot; for my immortal soul, the same; my honor has been decimated and desecrated by I myself, and therefore I proscribe and deny any attempts to avenge me, to consecrate me, or to save me, should such noble intentions enter into your hearts. Do not. I am undeserving of justice.

 

With my signature I make this document of binding power and authority.

Captain Damnation Kane

 

***

 

There. ‘Tis done. As, it seems, I should have done long ago; perhaps if I had, then we would not now be here – in this now. Perhaps my men would all be alive. Surely I would be less of a damned fool, or if I were still a fool, if ‘tis the inevitable result of my being and not a momentary caprice of my fate, at the least the consequences of my folly would be insignificant, as they would affect only me and no other.

I must say, writing this, determining on this path, has lifted a terrible weight from my shoulders. First the weight of authority: I feel great solace in knowing that I will no longer need make decisions, or at the least that my decisions will affect none but my own self. Second is the weight of my mistakes: I have felt petrified, turned into stone, by the full and pernicious awareness of how I have failed, these past months. Yesterday I could not come to a single decision, not even when MacManus and O Dubhdoireann begged me to do so; I could think of nothing but how my failure had put those two stout men into the clutches of an extortioner, a worm as low as Brick Calhoun, who yet somehow was able to get the best of me. So when Shane and Kelly caught me up, walking slowly – plodding, trudging despondently – eastwards from Dame Margaret’s home, I could offer them no guidance, could not bring myself to command them. They asked whither we were headed; I said I knew not. They asked what we must do next; I said I could offer neither plans nor suggestions for them. They asked me what my wishes were; I said I had none.

So now, we have found a small copse of old trees where we may sleep on the ground. Kelly and MacManus have decided that we should prepare ourselves, so much as we are capable of it, for the course that lies ahead, and so they have sought out and purchased maps of the place we currently inhabit – the large Americalish city of Charleston, in a province called South Carolina – and of the great Atlantic to our east, and the coastline, and even of the island of Bermuda, which is our eventual destination. They have decided that we must accrue funds, and so we have acquired hats and masks, as in Florida when I played the highwayman with Lynch and McTeigue. We have raided three small shops of their dollar-papers. I have carried my weight as a fighter on these raids, but all of the commands and decisions have come from Kelly and Shane, who are clearly performing better than I could, as we remain uncaptured, without a threat of doom lowering over us, and we have already achieved our goal.

‘Tis further proof that I must not be Captain any longer. When we return to the Grace, I shall make it so in perpetuity.

Perhaps I should not wait. Perhaps I should simply relinquish all claims, all allegiances, and walk away. Brother Bob told me the country of America stretched west for thousands of miles; I should like to see that, I think. I have no reason to believe that I can return to mine own time, and though I would give much to see my mother once more, sure and there will come a day when I shall see her never again on this side of the veil. If it had not been this voyage, it would have happened when I fell in battle, or my ship sank in a storm, or a fever took her from me or me from her. And if none of those, then one day, age and time would sever our bond. Time has so done. Perhaps I should simply accept this as our eternal separation, grieve for her, and – continue.

Without the intent to return to my time, I have no more need for my ship. If I am gone, then my crew will have no reason to attempt to defend or recapture the Grace. They should have little trouble freeing themselves from Hobbes’s clutches – if he even holds them still – and he may have my ship to do with what he will. I wish him well of her.

I will consider this. I could send Kelly, Shane, and Lynch to aid the others, and to bear a message to Hobbes: I am gone, and the ship is his.

I will consider it.

 

***

 

Lynch has come, bearing messages. Seeing him as he approached our camp, I was struck with both shame at my indecision – for I have not yet reached a determination regarding my abdication, whether I should enact it immediately or once I have retrieved my Grace – and with anticipation that we might be moving forward, that Calhoun had arranged our passage and we might depart for Bermuda and the final stage of our quest. But ‘twas not so: instead, Lynch brought word, from two unexpected directions.

First, he brought a letter from Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn. I have read it over, and thought through it, and I see what they say and what they do not say: first and foremost, my ship and my men are indeed held in Bermuda, by Hobbes and an ally – said ally is likely that dark man I did see with Hobbes when we sank the Sea-Cat. The next most vital information is this: they have set us a trap. Ian and Vaughn spoke of Clear Island, where Hobbes tricked us with his derelict ship; I can expect something similar here.

Less clear are the details about this local man. They say he is a man of learning similar to my mother’s, and the man admires her work; do they mean her leadership of our clan? Her druid’s knowledge of the natural world? And what is all this about Raymond Fitzpatrick, and my blood? Fitzpatrick is from Belclare, as am I; I am sure that we have some blood tie far back, but I could not name nor delineate it, so minor must it be; why would he claim closer kinship? What do they mean, he paid the ultimate price? Has Hobbes murdered my man?

This settles the matter for me. Hobbes is killing my men, in hopes of luring me to him; therefore I cannot yet abandon my duties. We will go to Bermuda, find the Grace, free my men, and deal with Hobbes.

Then I will leave my ship forever, her Captain no more.

 

Ah yes – Lynch brought word, too, that Master McNally, who received this letter through Claude Navarre, who had it direct from Llewellyn through the mails of this time (And of course Hobbes and his ally read the letter’s contents before that; the absurdity about the boy’s trustworthiness makes that clear, and explains their need to be circumspect), desires to speak with me as soon as I can contact him. Lynch offered the lending of his eyephone, but my glare sufficed as response, and he left without another word, his thin shoulders slumped in defeat. I am shamed to have disappointed him. I will endeavor, this one last time, to stand and deliver a worthwhile result: enemies defeated, men freed. I wish to bid Lynch farewell fondly, not with downcast eyes. McNally can wait, though he has my gratitude for his continued kind friendship to us.

Damn that Calhoun, when will his arrangements be made? My patience, never large, has left me entirely. I fear I may go mad before we reach Bermuda.

Tcha. I have lost all else; why not my mind, as well?

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Log #67: Entanglements

Log

September 26

 

And so my first attempt at unknotting this tangle has gone less well than one would have hoped. In truth, I appear to have tried cutting the Gordian knot with my dull and clumsy tongue, instead of a blade as Alexander used. And in the attempt, it seems, I have made the knot worse. Aye, I have indeed entangled my tongue into that knot.

After we chased the rogue Calhoun away and doctored the hurts he dealt me, I did little over the course of the evening, even as my men and the Grables kept Dame Margaret company, but sit on the porch and stare at the ring I had taken from that split-tongued scupperlout. I stared at the ring, and pictured the similar circlet of silver on Meredith’s finger, and I waited, impatient for her return.

She came at last near six bells of the first watch, a mere hour before midnight. I had placed myself in the shadows, lest she use another entry to the house and avoid me thus, as she had done when last I saw her. The subtlety was successful: she came to the porch from her beast-wagon, her gaze on the van, watching carefully for me, and I let her mount the steps before I sprang my ambuscade. She moved slowly, seeming exhausted, worn thin.

Perfect, thought I. Easy prey.

I stood and strode into the light, giving her a start – perhaps more than a start, as she voiced a cry nigh unto a scream, and fell back against the railing, the presence of which was her sole savior from a tumble off the porch. She saw it was I and closed her eyes, breathing deep, hand on her chest, presumably to slow her racing heart. If she hath a beating heart at all, that is.

“I met a man today,” I told her, without preamble. I held out my hand with the ring, still blood-marked, on my open palm. “He wore this.”

She frowned at it, looking to her own ring, set on the middle finger of her left hand. “It looks like mine.”

The flood of ire that had been held back heretofore by my will broke the dam, then, and I closed my hand and then flung the ring against the side of the house, where it struck with a crack like a whip. “Aye!” I shouted at her. “It looks like yours because ‘tis the mate of yours! Because you, like that ring, have a mate!”

She pulled her head back, frowning at me, her face as pale as milk. “What are you talking about?”

I slapped the pillar beside me so I would not strike her – because in truth I wished to strike her, aye. “Ye know right well! You – are – betrothed!”

Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I’m – what?”

I did shake my fists at her then, though I did not threaten her. “Betrothed, damn ye! That ring shows that ye be claimed as another man’s property! And yet ye cozened with me while ye wore it!”

Meredith’s fists went to her hips and now she thrust her face forward, her teeth bared as though she would snap at me, her pale cheeks now flushing bright red. “Excuse me? I am no one’s goddamn property! And what did you say – cozened with you? How dare you?”

I stepped forward to meet her, the two of us eye to eye, near nose to nose as we shouted and cursed one another. “Aye, cozened me, like a strumpet! Trying to turn your betrothed into a cuckold, and have me put the horns on him!” I had to turn away then, for I will never strike a woman. No matter how I am provoked.

“You son of a bitch –” she spat out at me, but I o’ershouted her. “Why? Tell me why ye did it, why ye did not tell me ye were promised and bound to another!”

She stamped her foot. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’m not fucking bound to anyone, I have never seen that ring, and who the fuck are you to attack me like this?”

I had to laugh at that, a bitter chuckle without a scrap of mirth: I felt as though I might never feel mirth again in this life. “Ah, lass, when ye play with a man, lie to a man, betray a man, ye give him some right to demand satisfaction of ye, as the injured party.”

She had naught to say to that, her mouth flapping like a hooked fish’s.

I knew I had her, then, caught in her own web of deceit. I held up a hand. “Nay, ye need not speak; I know just what ye’d say. Your man was away, perhaps ye had doubts that ye could keep him to home, and so ye played your feminine wiles, played the harlot, to test your power over men. Over me. Ye meant no harm by it, it perhaps went further than ye intended it to go, and then ye could not bring yourself to speak of it, did not want to admit ye’d betrayed your lord and master.”

I had meant to go on, to say that I understood and I forgave her her flirting, which I know is simply part of a woman’s nature. But that was when she hit me.

Hit me right in the jaw, she did – precisely where her brute of a lover had struck me earlier, and, it seemed to me, she hit me harder. Sure and it hurt more. And then she kicked me! Truly those two are a match for each other, aye. I’m well out of it.

I am.

As I reeled, catching myself on the porch railing, Meredith grabbed my shirt in a grip far stronger than I’d have expected from a lass. She pressed her face close to mine, and all I could see was her wide green eyes, and the fires that roared behind them.

“Now you shut the fuck up, and you listen to me, you piece of shit. I have no master. Nobody fucking owns me. Nobody. You do not have the right to question me, or to judge me, no matter what I choose to do: because I choose. Not you.” She swallowed – she had sprayed me with spittle in her fury – and then drew back. “And I choose to remove you from my life. I choose to never fucking see you again.”

Then she slapped me. In the same eye that the rogue had cut earlier. Again, I reeled under the pain, as Meredith let go of her hold on my shirt, walked back down the steps, and drove off in her beast-wagon. I watched her go with blood running into my eye, the cut opened anew by her ring.

I am suddenly very tired.

Perhaps I do not understand this. There is so much else that is strange, here; perhaps I am wrong in this instance as I have been before, as when I marooned Morty the shopkeep; what I had hoped would keep him from causing trouble for us ere we departed led to greater trouble than I would have found had I been seeking it. Too, my involvement with the Latin Lions led to suffering for the Family Lopez, as well as for myself and my crew; and though they did not weigh heavily on my conscience, being the pack of scalawags they had been, still there had been much blood spilled, almost entirely by myself and my men. Too much blood. I have thought, since then, that less mayhem could have ensued had I acted elsewise than I did.

Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of two rings of one pattern, worn on the hands of a man and a woman. Perhaps the trouble was the term “betrothed;” in truth I am often incapable of making myself understood to these people of this world. Perhaps that was the trouble.

Perhaps the trouble is merely that I tried to talk about honor to a woman. My mother understands honor; I have known a few other women who do, as well. None since we came to this time. Well – Dame Margaret does, it seems. But surely not her granddaughter.

I have recorded all of this in detail so that I may think it over again, and see if I have gone wrong, and if so, where.

Bah. Women.

 

Log

27th of September in the year 2011

Well, and if I had thought that all I would have to bear was the pain suffered from Meredith’s betrayal and from the twin thrashings she and her man inflicted – sure and this would be a fine honeymoon, would it not? “Come beat the heartsick Irishman, man and wife together for a single price!” – I would have been wrong. There was far more suffering to come.

And – perhaps – a remedy to all ills.

It began this morn with Lynch. I have not been easy with him since he insulted me at the inn, when I would not interfere in the kerfuffle between the man and his woman in the adjacent room and he implied that I am no good man. Though I did argue with him when he first applied that description to me, nonetheless it did sting when he seemed to withdraw it. I have felt his continued disapprobation directed towards my deeds and decisions here in Charleston, though he has not seen fit to voice an objection.

Until this morn.

As we broke our fast, I grumbling as I chewed of the pain in my twice-struck jaw, Lynch dropped his spoon in his bowl with a clatter (Though I and the other men prefer the local porridge, called by Dame Margaret “grits,” and the Grables are fond of eggs atop toasted bread, Lynch opts for a strange form of clotted cream called yogurt, with fruit mixed in. Seems a cold, clammy sort of meal.) after I had made some remark or other about seeking out Meredith and giving her and her shrewishness a thorough tongue-lashing. He looked at me with fiery eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”

I noticed, but did not comment on, how he left off the Captain he usually entitles me. I met his glare, somewhat belligerent from the ache in my jaw and brow, and asked, “What do ye mean, boy?”

He stood from his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain?” Since I said “boy” instead of “lad,” my title received a thick tarring of sarcasm. He went on. “Why are ye acting like some dandified noble grousing on insults to his honor? Or to a lady’s honor?”

I tried to interject, but now the boy had the bit between his teeth, and he ran on. “Are ye our captain, our pirate captain, or are ye some cock-o-the-walk popinjay who will challenge any man to a duel who looks at him cross-wise?”

I slapped the table. “Ye heard what that pig said to me! What would you have me do? Should I not defend my lady’s honor when her good name must bear such dire insult?”

He threw his hands in the air. “She’s not your lady, Captain! That’s what that rogue said to ye, and I heard it well!” He leaned on his fists on the table. “I heard what ye said to the lady Meredith last night, as well, and ye did not seem so very concerned with sparing her insult.”

I came out of my chair, turning my back on him. “Bah – what do you know of matters between men and women, ye wee stripling!” But even while I said this, I did not – I could not – defend what I had spake to Meredith Vance. Recalling it, and thinking of that ballyhoo being overheard by other ears, I felt shame.

I was soon to feel more.

But I went on. “I recall ye saying to me, not two days gone, that a good man should do more. So ye’d have me defend a woman I know not, but ignore when a lout ill-uses our hostess here? Have ye no honor yourself, boy?”

Lynch recoiled as though I had struck him. Then he nodded. “So. Ye’d have me – us – think ye were defending Meredith Vance’s honor. And not fighting like a jealous stallion over another who threatened to take your mare.”

I scoffed and said, “Aye! ‘Tis true. I’d defend any lady’s honor in similar distress.”

His eyes narrowed. “Would you defend my honor, then?” I blinked at this, and he turned red in the face. Then he flipped his hand to dismiss the slip and said, “Would ye defend the honor of your crew, of your shipmates?”

‘Twas a deep blow, and I drew up proudly and said, “Aye! I would!”

His eyes glittered like a viper’s as he struck. “Then why haven’t you? Our crew – your men – are held captive! Along with your ship! We have not one bit of knowledge of how they fare, nor if they even live! And here you sit, carping over your – your jealous spat?”

I admit I spluttered at this, but I rallied quickly. “Nay! Nay, I seek only – Meredith is a pilot! She can fly us to the Grace and the men!” I looked to the others for support of this, our plan all along, the goal I had been working towards.

Hadn’t I?

They would not meet my gaze.

Lynch would. “Perhaps ye have not noticed, Captain;” now I wished he would stop calling me that, so contemptuous did he sound; “perhaps your gaze has been elsewhere, but I have seen those same flying ships overhead every day! There be hundreds of them, not just one, not just Lady Meredith’s! While we sit here in this house and you get in lover’s brawls, we could be finding another pilot, another flying ship! We could be booking passage on one, as she suggested we do to go north!”

I was in full retreat now. “We – we have not the funds.”

He slapped the table. I jumped. “Damn it, man, are ye not a pirate? If we have not wealth, we take it! If we cannot do that, we could bargain, trade our service for passage! If ye would only pull your head out of your arse!”

He stormed from the room.

Kelly and Shane and the Grables followed in silence. None had a word to say to me, kind or otherwise.

I fell back into my chair and stared at – nothing. At my own folly, writ large now that Lynch had torn the scales from my eyes and showed it to me. Showed me myself.

I think now that the trouble we have faced did not spring from a woman. I think it sprang from me.

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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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