Posts Tagged With: Charleston

Log #70: Blackmail

Log

I am a fool.

I cannot now conceive of what madness struck me and persuaded me to trust Calhoun. Lynch, of course, had the right of it, and did not grant one iota of faith in that lying, mendacious blackguard; and so is Lynch innocent, both of folly, and of murder.

It is only we three, Kelly, Shane and myself, who are murderous fools.

After the slaughter, we returned to Dame Flanagan’s abode, Lynch opening the portal for MacManus and Kelly, though I am still barred from the house owing to my mistreatment of Meredith Vance. I laid my head in the beast-wagon, of course, as I have done these last many days; I kept my log, full of pride and vanity, and then slept the contented slumber of the victorious, of the righteous.

Until this morn, when I found that I had slept in the innocent oblivion of a fool for days; even though I have walked about, spoken, fought, struck devil’s bargains and, aye, committed more than one murder.

I discovered this in the late morning, near midday, when I was on the porch with my companions, plotting our course once we reach Bermuda, trying to determine how we would find our ship in that place, and how retrieve her. Lynch was within the house, pursuing I knew not what course. As we palavered thus, we were interrupted by the arrival of one Brick Calhoun, Bastard of Charleston. He arrived in a different beast-wagon than the decrepit tin-pot he had steered last night; this one was tall and shining like new silver, where it wasn’t lacquered a rich, gleaming black; the shape was more akin to a proper wagon, having a compartment for men near to the front and a long, low bed for cargo behind it. He came to a halt, making the beast growl – its voice was deeper and more powerful by far than the usual run of beast-wagons; this one made the window panes in Dame Flanagan’s house tremble as if in a storm blown down from the wintry north – and then he emerged, strutting, smiling, as if he had not a care in this world or the one after.

But he did bring cares for the rest of us, aye. Direful, woeful cares.

“Hey there, fellers,” he called out, with the bonhomie of a drunkard on New Year’s Eve, when every man will stand a drink for good luck’s sake. “How ye’all doin’ this fine and glorious Dixy-land day?” (I have not a single thought as to why he would call us fellers, which are, to my knowledge, woodsmen who fell trees. But there are many words that Calhoun uses, or misuses, and I do not understand why; so I have merely rendered his speech as I hear it.)

We three did glare at him in silence for some moments, proffering no further response to his greeting. “We have made a bargain with you, Calhoun,” quoth I, “but ‘twas neither for amicability nor hospitality, so press us not for civil intercourse with the likes of you.”

His smile vanished as I spoke, then slowly returned, like water seeping through a leak in a hull. “Shucks, I didn’t come here to press ye’all. Gnaw, I’m here to give you a present! A gift!” He removed a cell-phone from his pocket, showing it to us. “Ye’all want to see it? Take a look!” He touched the phone, tapping its glass face for some moments. Then he held it upright, the expression on his face one of eager anticipation.

It was a magic-window scene, and as such, something I did not wish to observe closely. I find that these magic windows give me a pain in my skull, and rarely if ever stand to a purpose beyond lies, vanity, and foolery for the sport of children. But I frowned and gazed into the glass in his hand, knowing that Calhoun would not come here without cause, and it behooved us to know what his intention was so that we might dismiss it, impede it, or permit it, as the case may be. Most like not the last, I did think. How little did I know.

It was a scene looked down upon from on high, as though we were cushion owners at a theatre, watching a performance from a rented box. There were four primary figures, all seemingly men, two pale and two dark of skin; one of the dark ones held his arm outstretched, pointing his finger – nay, it was a pistola – and speaking to the pale man, who held a sword –

The very moment I realized it, Kelly said, “Captain – it’s you!”

MacManus murmured, “It’s us,” and pointed towards the left side of the stone, where stood two men, farther away but still recognizable, largely because of Kelly’s size. When MacManus gestured, Calhoun drew the stone back, clearly not wishing MacManus to touch it; when MacManus dropped his hand, Calhoun thrust the stone closer to us once more, saying, “Look close, now. Don’t want to miss the good part.”

And we watched as I slashed the gun-toting dog’s wrist, and then hewed through the other’s neck. We could not see either the man above that Shane killed, nor the mighty stone that Kelly threw – that is, we watched him heft and hurl it, with a great shout, but not where it landed nor to what effect – but then the magic window turned, and we watched as we three slaughtered the men in the beast-wagon. Then it drew closer as I walked to the wounded dog, now lying on the ground, and I seemed just out of arm’s reach as I blinded the man and slew him with my blade. I looked back over my shoulder – at Calhoun, if I recall correctly – and then the window stopped moving, presenting a single image of my face, with the dead man lying on the ground behind me. Calhoun returned the glass to his pocket.

Gods. What have I gotten my men into? What have I done?

He held up one finger. “First thing: you boys need to know that I got friends, and they got copies o’ that there viddy-o. Anythin’ happens to me, they gone send it with your names an’ descriptions straight on to the police. So don’t be thinkin’ nothin’ ‘bout doin’ me like you done them fellers. Right?”

I exchanged a look with my men. We did not, if I may speak for them as well as for myself, understand all of what we had seen: we did not know how this magic window could see our past deeds as if they were occurring right now, nor if la policia would take our actions as murder, or a fair fight fairly won; nor if la policia could even find us, with but our names and descriptions. After all, the English have known my name, my ship, my face, for many a year, and still I had remained a free rover on the Irish seas; thus far we had known only the iron ships of the Guards of the Coast to be a formidable foe to us, and not the men of the city watch of Charleston. But we were all of us familiar with the ways of the blackmailer, the extortionist; ‘twas not often a stratagem between pirates, as we are not often protective of our good name and reputation in society; but we were not ignorant of the intrigues that happened in court and the like. I had no doubt that Calhoun would have made sure that his threats were both sincere and perilous before confronting us with them, knowing it would be the work of a moment for us to kill him where he stood. If he had learned nothing else from the killing last night, he would have learned that, having watched us butcher nine armed men like spring lambs.

“Aye,” I said to him, Kelly and Shane nodding beside me.

His arrogant face split into that impish grin. He held up another finger. “Second thing. I just gotta ask: does your arse hurt?”

I blinked my confusion, then shook my head. “Nay, we took no harm from the battle.”

Calhoun shook his head, and curled his two fingers back into his fist. “See, I would ha’ thought your arse would be burnin’ today. I mean, after I fucked that arse, and wrecked that arse – I’m surprised bein’ my bitch don’t hurt you none. But maybe after the shock wears off.” Then he laughed, long and loud and booming.

I mastered my temper by remembering my men. Just at this moment, I would fain have slaughtered this pig, and gone smiling to the gibbet for it – except I would not hang alone.

“What would ye have of us?” I asked him when his amusement fell to a pig’s snorts and grunts. “We’ve little money. Ah,” I said as it came to me then, “of course. We will move on and clear the field for ye to woo Meredith.” I started to turn and order my men to gather their belongings and weigh anchor, but Calhoun stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do to resist the urge to break his arm, but I was able to turn back to confront that grinning pig’s face.

“Hold on, now. That aint what this is about. Besides, Merry aint yours to give. Tell you the truth, if I wanted to take Meredith, there aint shit you could do to stop me.” He paused then, and after a moment raised his eyebrows. I realized he was awaiting some response from me, and so I nodded and gestured for him to go on. Perhaps he has the right of it; I have been enough of a fool over Meredith Vance, and I intend to stop dancing to her tune, any road. Saying this to the pig bothered my pride far less than the constant haranguing knowledge that I had given my men over to the grasp of this extortionist devil.

He smiled wide at what he saw as my capitulation, and then said, “Gnaw, I told you before, you go to that meetin’ with me, I’d see you get to Bermuda. I’m a man o’ my word, and so to Bermuda you go. But when you get there, see, there’s a thing ye’all’s gone do for me. Don’t worry,” he drew the Verizon-stone again and waggled it at us, “it aint nothin’ you didn’t already do nine times last night.” He put the cell-phone back into his pocket and turned away, laughing his booming pig-snort of a guffaw.

And then he ran face-to-face into Balthazar Lynch. Well, face-to-chest; Calhoun is my height, well above young Lynch, and twice the weight of the slender youth. But my man held his ground, and it was Calhoun who fell back from him, though from startlement, in the main. Lynch stared at him coldly. Calhoun cursed and reddened, his amusement curdled quickly into ire. He stepped close, looming over Lynch; and yet the lad backed away not an inch, not a step.

“You got somethin’ you want to say, you little shit?” Calhoun snarled, hands in white-knuckled fists. But the sly look was never far from his eyes, it seemed, and his gaze flickered back towards the three of us, his lip curling. “You didn’t see what I got on your boys, there. Want to look? See what it looks like to have three sets o’ balls in a vise?” He took out the cell-phone and waggled it – though he was careful to keep it out of Lynch’s easy reach, I saw. But Lynch did not react. His wintry stare remained frozen to Calhoun’s flushed face, which, I saw, was rapidly sallowing as the lad – no, as my man – stared him down, entirely without fear.

Then he spoke. “I follow my captain. He wishes to allow you to set our course for now, so be it. ‘Tis often the best way when facing a coward, and I will go where he wills it.” Lynch pointed at me, to show whose will he would follow. Then he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “But ere you leave, you will know this: if you make good on your threats, and doom my captain and my shipmates with whatever ye have on that ‘phone, then I will cut you open and feed your innards to the sharks while you watch.”

His face turning red once more, Calhoun grabbed for Lynch, but my man leaned back out of his grasp, and, with the speed of a hunting cat striking, he had a dagger drawn and the tip against Calhoun’s gut. Calhoun went still as a stump, and stand there for a moment, they did. Then Lynch said softly, “If they die, you die. Remember it.” He lowered the blade, stepped back and out of Calhoun’s path. The pig looked at him, then nodded, wiping his mouth. It was the nod of a man who recognizes an enemy; it held the assurance of enmity, Calhoun’s promise that he would find a way to best Balthazar Lynch, or die trying.

Lynch’s expression said clearly that he would die trying.

The pig looked back at the three of us – the weak-minded fools whom he had bested already – and his smile returned, his swagger with it. Ye gods, but I hate that I have given that verminous toad a reason to gloat. He strutted past Lynch without another glance, and swung up into his beast-wagon. He shut the hatch, brought the beast to life with a thunderous growl, and then pointed at me and called out, “I’ll be in touch, boys. Don’t go nowheres.” Off he roared.

Lynch turned to look at me, and I could not meet his eyes. There was but one man of worth in that place that day, and I could not bear the shame of it. It sickens me even now to write of it, to write of any of this. “Kelly, Shane,” I said, turning to them, seeing in their eyes the same humiliation I felt tearing at my gut, “Gather your gear. We be a danger to Dame Margaret’s house, now.” I turned halfway back, but could not bear to look at him to whom I now spoke. “Mr. Lynch,” I said, “I would ask that you stay, and bring us word from Calhoun when – when it comes.”

“Captain,” Lynch said then. He took a step toward me, reaching out with one hand.

I wish it had held the dagger, still. Perhaps I could have thrown myself upon it, regained some worth as a man. But his hand was empty.

“Nate?” he said.

I said nothing. I turned away. I skulked to my wagon-van, and then thought better of it. “Tell the Grables they have earned this wagon. They should take it and depart: there is naught else of value for them here.” I turned and looked at MacManus. “I will head east. Catch me up when you are equipped.” He nodded, and he and Kelly went inside, moving quickly but with heads low and shoulders bent.

Lynch reached me. He grabbed hold of my wrist. “Nate, wait,” he said.

I pulled my arm from his grasp. I’d have done it with force, perhaps cuffed the boy for his impudence, but I had not the authority to chastise him; not now. Nor the strength: the weight of my shame had exhausted me entirely. Without looking at him, I spake these words. “If ye wish to remain when we three sail to Bermuda, I do hereby set ye free of all oaths, all bonds of loyalty. They are nothing now but chains, that will weigh ye down, drag ye to the hellish depths where I writhe now. If ye will bear word to us, that is all I would ask. All I can ask of ye, now.”

“Nate, please!” he said, and I heard tears in his words.

I looked at him then, at his clear features, his large eyes now awash with salt drops. “Ye’re a good man, Balthazar,” I told him. “I am sorry that I am not.”

Then I walked away. Lynch let me go.

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Log #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

HA! The men of the Grace of Ireland play the heavy better than does any rogue of this age! Sure and we fell too heavily for them to bear, this night.

Perhaps I should not gloat: men have died; these past hours their last. But ‘twas not I and ‘twas not my men: we have evaded harm and turned that harm upon our enemies, though they did outnumber us two to one. Three to one if I count not our erstwhile leader into this fray, Brick Calhoun, and as he proved useless when called to the line, I do hereby discount him, and claim the victory and the glory entire for the men of the Grace. The men of Ireland.

Allow me to record the events of this past evening. I find I am too wakeful to seek the embrace of night’s dreams; when a warrior’s blood is roused, it does not calm quickly, nor with ease; perhaps the task of encapsulating these circumstances on these pages will soothe my reddish gaze back into placidity.

Calhoun brought a beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode this eve, the very night selected for this rendezvous. The wagon was in poor repair, even to eyes as inexperienced as mine own in these matters; I could discern gaps where the skin should be whole, rust and scars and wounds where it should be smooth. Even the sound of its rumbling growl minded me of an aged hound with catarrh. Shane did offer to bring Calhoun aboard our wagon-van, but the American insisted on piloting his own sickly beast with myself seated beside him. So Kelly and MacManus did follow in the van, while Lynch, who refuses to have aught to do with the entire endeavor, will remain at Dame Margaret’s to stand guard here. I know not if the lad be more disgusted with Calhoun or myself; I suspect the latter, however. No matter: though he be a doughty ally in a donnybrook, he does not look altogether menacing, the which being our primary purpose, we supposed it were just as well that Lynch would remain behind to watch over our friends and allies. We did not doubt that we three could play the heavy to Calhoun’s heart’s content.

And thus I rode with him, though I maintained a cold distance between us where he would have warm fellow-feeling. He tried to speak with me on many a topic, ranging from women, to female creatures, to the fairer sex, to one woman in particular and common between we two; but I had not interest in plumbing the depths of that cad and his scoundrel’s treatment of Meredith. He did endeavor to speak of the games they play hereabouts, to which he applied the term “sport.” But I have less enchantment with conversation about frolicking and lollygagging than I do in the assertions made vis-a-vis femininity by one Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun of South Carolina; when he did mention this sport, I withered the topic with a glance; eventually he turned to the confrontation impending, and what I could expect from same.

“Awright,” he slurred, “so these boys we gone meet with, they call theyselves gangstas, you unnerstan?”

Of course I did not, and accordingly I informed him.

“Awwwwright,” he slurred his words even slower, rendering them even more difficult to comprehend, “they think they thugs.”

“And what be this thugs?”

I endeavored not to enjoy his discomfiture overmuch, but the pleasure was undeniable.

“They think they hard, okay?” he said after some time grinding his teeth like millstones, and blowing air out of his nose like a heated bull.

I nodded complacently. “Of course,” I told him, straining to hold the smile off of my face. “’Tis little worse than a man who believes himself greater or more terrible than he truly is. Such vanity is the cause of much suffering, not least for the man himself.” He glanced at me with suspicion in his countenance, but I merely stared forward, my expression clean and pure as new snow.

“Right. So the play is like this. We all, them and me, we in the same business, same line of work, right? Now there’s plenty of room for my operation alongside theirs, but they don’t see it that way. So we, tonight, we gone convince them to share the wealth, like.”

I nodded slowly. “And if they are averse to sharing?”

Calhoun smiled his true smile: the sinister one. “Then we – persuade them.” I nodded again, though I perceived a distinct lack of forethought and consideration in this course he plotted.

I had known men like Calhoun, and circumstances like this one, ere now. In some ways Calhoun was like myself: what he could not earn fairly, he would take at the point of a sword. Well and good, says Damnation Kane of the Brotherhood of the Coast; I cannot even fault him for being unwilling to spend his youth patiently waiting for a more virtuous opportunity; I have writ before of the impatience epitomized in myself and in my brother pirates.

But the differences ‘twixt Calhoun and rovers such as I myself are vast chasms, in truth. For I would not attack a fellow rover in order to take from him some territory he did lay claim to. Especially not in my home port, which I wot Charleston was to this rascal. I cannot fathom a man who, rather than striking out at distant enemies while keeping his blade sheathed and spreading goodwill while he is to home, would turn and fire at the men beside him, walking the same streets, drinking from the same stream, as he himself. Why would he begin a blood feud in his own home? Where he lays his head to rest? Where he is at his most vulnerable and in need of staunch allies – such as these fellow gentlemen of fortune, who, being as they pursued the same endeavors in the same locale, would surely make better shipmates than rivals?

And then, the matter of shipmates. Why would a man setting out on a hazardous course sail alongside utter strangers – particularly one whom he did see as a rival to his would-be love’s affections? Why would you trust a man with whom you had traded blows, to stand at your back with naked steel, while you turned those who could be friends into bitter foes?

Aye. I saw it, too. A man would more likely bring that rival into a trap. I suspected these hard men of Calhoun’s were in truth Calhoun’s men, and rather than a negotiation, we were headed for what Calhoun hoped would be an execution. Shane and Kelly and I had discussed this very possibility earlier this day, and we expected to find ourselves in Calhoun’s snare. But of course, a snare spied before one steps into the loop is more likely to turn deadly for the trapper than the erstwhile prey.

For now, to keep him complacent, I pretended a sincere credulity with Calhoun’s falsehoods, and attempted to appear eager for the task he would set for us. “Be there any limit to how we should persuade them, should the need arise?” asked I.

Calhoun shrugged. “Go as far as you got to, as far as you willing.” He looked over at me while the beast-wagon grumbled and coughed idly, its froward motion stilled at a crossroads. “I guess it depends on just how far you willing to go to win Merry. Remember, she’s the prize here, not my business. That’s my business. Yours is the girl. Aint it?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded. “Aye. For her. I do this for Lady Meredith’s sake.” And I knew this was why his trap was so poorly concealed: he thought me too besotted to see any danger.

He does not know Damnation Kane.

We arrived soon after – ahead of schedule, as Calhoun had intended. The parlay was to occur in a structure named, according to a placard affixed to its street-side face, Parking Garage. ‘Twas like unto a stone marketplace, a wide open space without walls, reached by mounting a spiraled rampart; it seemed there were several marketplaces placed one atop the other in this Garage of Parking. Yet all of them stood empty; of course this was after sun’s set, and the close of the day’s commerce; but none of the stalls held a seller’s structures, not tents nor shelves nor containers; none of them gave evidence of being the sole property of a merchant who has claimed a favored place, and disallows another to take it from him, by building something permanent in the space or by manning it overnight with a guardian. So what use are these many marketplaces, then, if they have no marketeer? I could not see the wisdom in crowding good open spaces atop one another like the decks of a ship; again, these Americalish seem unwilling to live in the vast spaces they possess, preferring to crowd together like men in a prisoning cell. But I did see on the instant how well-suited was this place for this sort of affair: given privacy from passersby because of the heighth of the upper levels, still it was sufficiently open to prevent hidden ambuscades or surreptitiousnesses – or so I thought. We four mounted to the upmost level, open to the sky and bounded on two sides by taller structures, but empty otherwise. Calhoun told off Kelly and MacManus, placing them by the back wall, beside the open doors of our beast-van, while he and I stood in the open center and waited.

We did not wait long. Soon our guests arrived, riding in a wide, flattish barge-like beast-wagon, gliding low to the ground and thumping with what passed for music on these shores. They, too, stopped at the far wall; there were six of them, all Africk by their dark skin, and four did remain inside the wagon while two emerged and came forward to dicker with Calhoun.

I stood, arms crossed and boots planted, awaiting them; Calhoun raised a hand in greeting. The one rogue tossed his head back – much as had that traitorous serpent Shluxer – and said, “You Brick?”

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

The men approached within three paces – just out of arm’s reach, if a man were to reach out with naught in his hand – and stopped. “I’m Vincent. This my boy Elton.”

The second man had eyes only for me, and a grin as insolent as Calhoun’s. “Damn, son – where you find Captain Hook at?” he inquired, and though he had the name wrong, I was impressed that he knew me for a pirate captain.

And perhaps he had been forewarned that one such as I would be present this eventide.

I did not reach for my hilt, but I uncrossed my arms and let my hands hang loose and ready by my belted sash.

Calhoun gestured towards me. “This’s Damnation Kane.” Elton chortled at my name, but I am inured to laughter and gibes, and it bore no sting. Calhoun glanced at me, but said nothing.

Vincent, clearly the man in command, pointed back at my two men by the beast-wagon. “Who they?” he asked.

“They are my men,” I spake, though he had addressed his query to Calhoun. “They will bide as they are unless I hail them. And stay peaceful until, and unless, I command elsewise.”

The fool, Elton, chortled anew. “Oh, you plannin’ to go to war, Cap’n?” He pointed at the sheathed blade on my hip. “With that? Look, V – he brought a sword. That a sword, Cap?”

At this invitation, I drew my blade, to let the steel answer his question for me.

But it seemed that this answer was insufficiently clear, for he scoffed. “That real?”

I raised an eyebrow, turned the sword so that the light, provided mainly by the three beast-wagons, struck the blade. “If your eyes cannot see steel, perhaps you should question your eyes more than the blade, or the mind behind them. For it is not my sword that is dull.”

The mirth drained from his face, and we did lock gazes for a long moment. Then he drew a pistola from his belt. “You see that shit, Cap’n?” he asked, taking aim at me.

Well, and I had drawn first. Since we were still speaking to one another, I felt little threat, for the nonce. “Aye, I see it well, but my eyes were not the ones in question.”

His eyes widened while his mouth pursed smaller. He took a step towards me. “If you see this gun, then why you still mad-doggin’ me? You think I won’t shoot yo ass?” His accent broadened as his agitation increased. No better control of himself than has the mad dog he named me, though for my part, my sword’s point was grounded by my boot.

I smiled for him. “I think you will wish you had,” I told him. Calhoun stepped a pace away from me then, and in that movement, I had my confirmation of his intent – or perhaps of his cowardice. Either impelled me to spring the trap before it could close its teeth on me, and I readied my strike, awaiting my moment.

But Vincent spoke first. “Hold on, hold on – something you white boys should see.” He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Coming around a corner on our right flank, where a sign read “STAIRS,” two men stepped forward, both carrying thunder-guns; another man on our left flank, stepping out of shadows atop the structure that stood beside this Parking Garage, took aim along the barrel of his musket at Calhoun and myself. I would have said his distance was too great to threaten me, but I am still unfamiliar with the attributes of these modern weapons.

I tightened my grip on my ancient weapon. Calhoun took another step back.

The fellow Elton took a step towards me. “That’s right, you think we don’t roll deep, motherfucker?”

My patience vanished like clouds at noon. “Do not speak of my mother –” I began.

The man’s brows lowered and he shook the pistola at me. I wished to tell him that such was not the manner of a pistola’s use; I would have to take it from him and instruct him properly. He spat words at me: “Nigga, if I fucked yo mama right in front of you with my big black dick, you shut up and say Thank you, just like she would!” At this sally, his crewmate Vincent laughed, and the rogue turned to grin at his companion, saying, “The fuck this guy thinkin’?”

Dull indeed: I would have to teach him not to lose sight of a threat as well as instructing him in manners. Alas that he would not live to retain the lessons. I struck as he turned: the blade, already bared and in my hand, swung up, the point slicing into the man’s wrist, spraying blood as his pistola clattered to the ground. He clutched at his wound with a cry, and I completed my stroke, spinning the blade over my head, taking a two-handed grip and slashing halfway through the neck of Vincent, my blade too light to part his spine, but sharp enough to spill his life’s blood on the ground.

I looked into the man’s dying eyes. He put a hand on the blade, disbelieving its presence in his throat; his other hand tried to draw a pistola from his belt, but I reached down and plucked it from his hand. “I’m thinking you should not have come here this night,” I told him. Then he fell. A shout rose, and I called out, “Ireland! Kill them all!” and then lunged towards the dull rogue as the shooting began.

It began with our enemies: the man high above fired at me, while the beast-barge before us roared into life, men leaning out of the sides with pistolas and thunder-guns. The two men on our right flank were unready; I heard shouts, but not shots.

Then my men entered the fray. Shane, standing on the port side of the van-wagon, raised the pistola he had concealed in his shirt, took careful aim, and fired several shots at the sharpshooter on the roof beside; the man spun and fell, plummeting down to the Parking Garage. Kelly, in the meantime, drew from the side of our wagon-beast his own particular weapon for this fight: a great jagged stone, the size of two men’s heads. He heaved it to his shoulder, stepped forward, and flung it with all his force: it arced over the battle and plummeted directly through the eye-window of the beast-barge just as it started forward. The glass shattered with a mighty crash and the wagon spun to a halt. This remarkable sight stunned the two flankers, allowing MacManus to turn and fire on them, killing both.

In the meantime, my dull-eyed, flap-tongued rogue appeared not to understand that a sword-slashed wrist will not hoist a pistola; he fumbled for some seconds on the ground for his weapon, cursing steadily; this gave me time to withdraw my sword from his crewmate’s weasand, and find a grip on my newly-acquired pistola, just as he thought to try with his left hand. Too late: I lunged forward, thrusting the point through his right shoulder; he cried out and fell, and I slashed along his leg as he sprawled before me. I trod on his pistola to keep it from his sinister grasp, and then I raised Vincent’s weapon in my left hand, aimed, and fired, killing one of the thunder-guns leaning from the side of the beast-barge. The other men fired at me, and I crouched to make a smaller target of myself as shot droned and screamed around me; Calhoun shouted and ran several steps away, throwing himself to the ground to escape the broadside. Kelly and Shane raced forward, shouting, their guns adding their voices to the battlecry. The rogues in the beast-barge turned their aim on my men, allowing me to aim and fire, killing another; they turned their aim on me, and Shane shot the third man, leaving only the pilot of the barge-wagon. And then Kelly reached the wagon, and, reaching in through the shattered eye-glass, he drew the man half out of the wagon, and beat his head against the metal skin, and then throttled him with those mighty hands, at last breaking the man’s spine with a sharp twist of the neck.

The rest of his crew sent to Hell, I strode to where Elton lay bleeding. He looked up at me, pleading with those dull, stupid eyes.

I swung my blade and cut them out of his head. Then I stabbed him through the heart. I know not how many men of this time that I will have to kill before the learn not to insult my mother to me; but this was one more towards that aim.

“Holy shit!”

It was Calhoun, and I turned to face him, prepared – though unwilling – to kill one more man this night. I whistled, and my men came to my side. But Calhoun was not seeking a fray; rather he was grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as wide as a child’s at a fair-day feast. “You fuckin’ killed all of ‘em! Holy shit!” he cried out again, rising from his knees to his feet, stumbling first towards the two corpses at my feet, then towards the beast-barge and its load of death, and then towards the sprawled and broken limbs of the sharpshooter, closest to where Calhoun had gone to ground.

“Aye, with not a bit of help from thee,” I retorted, stooping to wipe the blood from my blade against the corpse of the fool who had begun this hurly-burly – though I still doubted not that, had the dull lump not spake against my mother, then somewhat else would have set the guns to blasting; this battle had been foreordained ere we arrived at this place, and would have happened whether I drew first blood or no.

Something flashed in Calhoun’s eyes, and he cocked his head, putting his fingers to his ear. “What was that? Say it again?” he asked loudly.

By the Morrigan’s crows, we are surrounded by the daft and the lame: the man who could not see, the crew of rogues who could not aim – all those shots, and my men and I ‘scaped injury entirely – and now this dastard who could not hear? “Without any help from you,” I said loudly. “We three won this day.”

Calhoun grinned like the fool he is and nodded. “That’s right, you boys won, all right. Won big. You done all this, and I aint done nothin’, aint raised a finger. Just standin’ here, this whole time.” He looked around at the carnage, shaking his head and – laughing? “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” He drew his finger across his throat and then laughed again. “Goddamn!” he said.

Then came we thus away. We drove our wagons some short distance, and then he stopped, unhesitatingly shook my bloody hand with his clean one, and bade us return in our beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode. He waxed poetic to me over our prowess and valor in combat, and said he had no remaining doubts in offering Meredith to me. Then off he drove in his rattling derelict, and MacManus piloted us here, where I have kept this log.

 

Calhoun may have no doubts. I have them all. He was joyed by our victory; yet surely that trap was meant to destroy us. Were those not his allies, called forth to smite his rival? Was that not why, as I had suspected despite the hot blood that made me strike, the dull fool had been so quick to speak curses and draw his pistola? If not, why did Calhoun lead us into a rendezvous that should not, in the common run of events, have ended with our victory? We were outnumbered; why would he expect us to emerge unconquered? If he wanted our defeat, as seemed more likely, then why was he joyed that we did vanquish our foes?

And what of Meredith Vance? Is she mine? Is she Calhoun’s to give to me, like coins for services rendered? Whatever he might answer, or my heart, I think I know what Meredith would say to that. Can I trust that Calhoun will give us the promised aid in reaching my true aim, my beloved Grace? If he will not, will Meredith pilot us there? Should I ask her as though begging a boon of an ally, or as a lover seeking a token of affection? Which will be more like to succeed? Which will be more like to draw her ire?

Aye. We were the heavy tonight. And now it is my heart that is heavy, my heart and my mind. I fear I will sink forever into these murky depths, and emerge nevermore.

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Log #66: Complications

Captain’s Log

September 26th

 

The situation has grown complicated.

It well may be that these complications began with my first action upon our arrival here. Had I, rather than attempting to woo my lady Meredith Vance (with the ultimate object being the same, namely to win her assistance with our effort to reach Bermuda and win back the Grace; I grant myself that much consideration, holding fast to the belief that this is my true aim, my first cause), simply approached her and asked for her aid, then well might she have granted it; then in the course of making ready to weigh anchor and cruise to Bermuda, I might have found an opportunity to pursue my other object, the winning of Meredith Vance’s heart. But my impatience and my desire won me over, and now, perhaps, I have lost – all.

As a consequence of my lapse, Dame Margaret has striven to show us that her hospitality and gentility are beyond reproach; for my part, I have striven to assure her that such qualities were never in doubt. Still she strives, however: she has fed us, entertained us, granted a chamber to the Grables and a second to my three men, so that our party can refresh and recreate themselves after our journey.

As for my accommodation, Dame Margaret took me aside as she showed the men to their rooms. “Mister Kane,” quoth she – alas that I, who had been Nate to her goodness, was now held off as Mister Kane! – “as it seems that there is some personal connection between you and my granddaughter, of course I cannot ask you to stay beneath my roof alongside her. I cannot risk scandal.” Then she stabbed me with a look. “And no matter how discreet we might think we all are, I will not risk any hallway-creeping in the middle of the night – something I think very likely, to be frank, knowing my granddaughter as I do, and being somewhat acquainted with charming rogues like yourself.”

I could not but duck my head, having earned all of her disapprobation and caution. “Of course, my lady. I trust honor will be sufficiently preserved if I make my bed in our wagon this eve.”

Dame Margaret shook her head. “That is precisely the trouble, Mister Kane. You trust that honor will be sufficiently preserved? Honor must be cherished. Pursued, with a full and eager heart. Either honor is held above all else, or it is dragged through the mud. You work hard to find what you can get away with while still seeming honorable, as my granddaughter does, but honor is not preserved simply by appearances. If no one knows of one‘s dishonorable acts, that does not make one honorable.”

Ye gods and devils, I wished to sink beneath the ground, then, so that my ragged, battered cadaver could be as low as my soul felt. Dame Margaret saw this in me, and granted me the mercy of saying thus: “The wagon will be fine, Mister Kane. Please do enjoy the evening.” Then she rested a hand lightly on my arm, signifying that I was not so loathsome that she could not abide my presence. ‘Twas a comfort.

Thus did I spend that evening doing my uttermost to show honor to my hostess and my men. I was the soul of civility, and, I think, a pleasant companion to the room. I did not brood on future struggles, nor did I pine for Meredith; I made merry with those present, all of whom are close to my heart – even the Grables, who have grown to be a valued part of our wandering crew. I did make an especial effort to be good to my friend Balthazar Lynch, as the lad has lost his good opinion of me – or rather, I lost it, when I failed to assist the maid in the next room at the inn. I did win a true smile from him by the evening’s close, the which I consider a victory.

But regardless of my standing and reputation among those closest to me, the true object of our visit to this place was not achieved, for Lady Meredith did not return to join our gathering. Only after all were abed did I, in my lonely monk’s cell in the beast-wagon, hear the sound of her beast-wagon’s growl approaching Dame Margaret’s demesne. I emerged from the van, but mindful of Dame Margaret’s words regarding honor and honor’s loss, I did not approach Meredith. She emerged from her beast-wagon, looking bedraggled and forlorn; she stopped suddenly, having looked up and seen myself. I raised a hand in greeting, and she did likewise; but then she ducked her head and hurried indoors without another glance. I could do naught but watch her go, and then return to my wagon-cell to sleep.

I was determined to find a moment to speak with her with the break of day, but I was awakened from my slumber by the rumble of her beast-wagon departing ere the sun could strike through the windows of the van.

I do not know how severely I have scuttled this endeavor, but I fear I may have sunk this ship entirely. Perhaps we should swim to Bermuda.

For the travails we face, the complications I have raveled into this skein, do not stop with Lady Meredith and Dame Margaret. No, I seem to attract troubles to me as a lodestone draws iron. Though of course, this trouble was drawn to my Lady Meredith, and I simply stood between it and her.

I must say that I stood stout, immovable, impassable. At least I may say that much.

We were on the porch close to the road, my men seated at their ease, I pacing as I fretted over Lady Meredith and her refusal to meet with me. My men were making mock of me, which I had not the time to rail against for the sake of dignity or propriety, nor the heart to gibe back at them. I could merely pace and fret, fret and pace.

At last, Shane MacManus said, “Captain, if this road will not take us where we must go, might be we should seek another way.”

Lynch pounded a fist on the porch’s rail and said, “Aye!”

I shook my head. “Nay. We’ve no need of that. Meredith and I are bound. She will give me what I need from her.”

Lynch jutted his chin out at me. “Captain, I –”

I cut him off. “Meredith will give it to me!”

At that very moment, a new voice, speaking in the slow accents of this place – like a mixture of English and French, it seems to me – spoke from the path behind me. “Now I know you boys aint talkin’ ‘bout my girl like that.”

I spun about and faced the interloper. He was a tall, broad-shouldered square-jawed ruffian, with a sanguine face and thews bulging like a stonecutter’s. He wore a sneer on his lip of the sort that one instantly wished to knock off of the face that carried it. I stared down at him from the porch, and he met me glare for glare.

“I do not know you,” I said at last. “What business have ye with this House?”

He snorted and raised his brows. “My business? My business is findin’ out your damn business. Who the hell are you, and what are you doin’ on my girl’s property?

I frowned at him, feeling an unwelcome tightening in my gut. “Your girl?”

He nodded slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “Yeah, boy, my girl. Meredith. Meredith Vance. Who I do hope is not the one you were sayin’ is gone give it to you. ‘Cause my girl don’t give nothin’ to nobody ‘cept for me.” Then he grinned the most vile, contemptible grin I think I have ever seen on another man. “And it’s too damn bad for the rest o’ ye’all, ‘cause aint nobody give it as good as my Merry do. That girl is a red-hot fireball in the sack, that’s for damn sure.”

Of course there was but one response to this: I drew my wheel-gun and took aim on that filthy grinning mouth of his. “You lie,” I proclaimed. My men had come to their feet, and Lynch did say warningly, “Captain,” as I am sure he was wary of the dangers in disturbing the peace, and in spilling blood on Dame Margaret’s flagstones; not least was the likelihood that someone nearby would summon la policia. But none of that had any import: I could not allow this smear on Meredith’s honor. Not from the noblest man in Charleston; never from this cur.

The cur had courage. He did not blink in the face of my armament – which is quite contrary to what I have seen on these shores. He met my gaze levelly, and said, “You callin’ me a liar?”

“Aye,” I rejoined without pause. “And a bilge-tongued dog not fit to wash the feet of Meredith Vance. Who, I’ve no doubt, has never set eyes on you, you whom she has never mentioned to me.”

He shook his head. “Aint nobody callin’ Brick Calhoun a liar and walkin’ away with all of his teeth. Come put that pea shooter down so’s I can knock your fuckin’ teeth down your throat.”

I had to smile at that. “I am not in the habit of offering terms to liars and slanderers. You will turn and walk quickly off of this property, or,” and I lowered my aim to his knee joint, “you will never walk quickly again in this life.”

His face screwed up into an ugly red-flushed snarl. He spat on the ground between us, and then turned and began to walk away – slowly. He kept his glare on me every moment, over his shoulder as he sidled away. I came down to the flagstones to encourage his departure. He raised a hand and pointed at me. “We’ll fuckin see ‘bout this, you cocksucker. Soon’s I talk to Merry, we gone see who’s got bidness on this p’operty. And ‘bout who’s a fuckin’ liar.”

I strode towards him. He stopped and turned to face me square. “Ye’ll not bloody speak to Meredith, ye goat-swivin’ bastard!” I admit that in my rage, my civil tongue abandoned me, and I reverted back to the common sailor I be at heart.

His eyes bulged. “That aint fuckin’ up to you, is it, you pussy? You coward! Can’t even face me ‘thout your fuckin’ gun!”

“It falls to me to defend her from pig-faced shite-buckets like you!”

“You aint defendin’ her from me, fuck-stick, I’m her man! She’s wearin’ my ring!” He lifted his hand, waggled his fingers at me. I was so startled by this claim that I looked: and indeed, he wore a ring that was the mate of one I had seen often on the hand of my Meredith.

Perhaps she is not my Meredith.

But that was a thought for cooler blood to consider; in the moment, I could not stand any more. “Lynch!” I called, and as he came to the top step behind me, I tossed him my wheel-gun and said “Stay back!” I turned back, and in the same motion, struck that dull-eyed pustule square in his gob.

Then was battle joined. He tried to grab me – he was the taller and of greater bulk, and would likely have done me some harm: if he could catch me. But I was the quicker, and I bent under his groping ape-arms and struck three more swift blows to his middle and ribs. Three was one too many: I gave him time to strike, and his great fist mashed into my jaw like an oaken gaff swinging in a gale. Made me see stars, he did. A second blow grazed my eye, split the skin of my brow; had he hit square, I’d have been flat. But instead, I stayed on my feet and withdrew out of his reach. He kicked me then, the base coward, and stole my balance; I fell back and he attempted to stomp on me, but I rolled out of the way and started to come to my feet. He closed swifter than I had expected, though, and caught me first with a kick and then with a two-fisted overhand blow across my back. ‘Twas a sore blow, and it threw me down to the earth.

But then he stepped astride me and grabbed at my hair, likely meaning to drive my face into the ground, but I was able to turn over, like an eel – and since we were, it seemed, kicking in this kerfuffle, and his groin was right above me, well.

He fell back, clutching himself, his face even redder. I rose to my feet, took his shirt in hand, and then dealt him my mightiest blow, and then another, and then still another: at the third he fell back, stunned. When I stepped forward to strike once more, he held up his hands in surrender.

I clutched at his right hand and twisted the ring off his finger, the one that was the mate of Meredith’s ring. He bawled, as strips of skin came off with the band; I was none too gentle, which was as he deserved. Speaking slush-mouthed, he grunted out, “Fuck your mother, you asshole.”

I drew back to strike once more – but a hand caught my arm. I spun about to look at who had stymied my revenge and my triumph, and there were my men, come down from the porch to surround me. ‘Twas Kelly who held me, and he shook his head; I cursed and stomped away. Behind me I heard Shane say, “Time to be gone, boyo. And ye’ll not be wantin’ to come back, aye?”

I heard the pig snort and spit. But I glanced back and saw him rise to his feet and limp away. Shane followed close behind until he had gone, and then we adjourned inside the house to address my hurts.

The men didn’t speak to me beyond joining me in cursing the filthy bastard. But the ring I held, taken from him, brought silence to us all. They didn’t need to say aught. I knew what was in their minds, aye; it was in mine as well.

What if he spoke truth? What if it was Meredith who lied, who had played me false, tried to make me cuckold her betrothed?

If so, what were we to do? How would we reach Bermuda and the Grace?

What could I do? How could I ever regain my honor? Or my heart?

So do I keep this log as I wait for Meredith to return. I am attempting to think of what I should say to her.

I know not.

I do not know.

The situation has grown complicated. And I do not know how to unravel this knot.

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Log #52: Beloved Diary

September 4

Dear Diary,

Hooray! Nana’s home! She’s upstairs right now, asleep in her own bed. I’m going to stick around for a few more days to make doublesure she’s doing all right. I know it was only pneumonia, and Nana’s “healthy as a horse and tough as a sun-dried mule,” as she says, but she’s also no spring chicken. And she was sick for a long time.

I still can’t believe that fucking hospital gave her pneumonia. Well, gave her the infection in her lungs that turned into pneumonia later, after her biopsy (Thank God THAT was all clean and clear!). I keep telling her she should sue, but she won’t. They gave her free care and the private room for as long as she needed it, and too goddamn right they did, but those people will just keep cutting corners and taking stupid chances until someone dies. All those ridiculous people saying that we have the greatest health care system in the world, and Obamacare will make it terrible because it will be socialist – yeah, tell that to all the people who leave the doctor sicker than when they went! I tell you the Lord’s honest truth, little Diary, if they had killed my Nana? I would have come down on that hospital like Rambo.

Fuck. Now I’m crying.

All right, better. Mmm, that’s goooood whiskey! Anyway, Nana’s all right and she’s not dying and she’s never going to die, not if I have anything to say about it. I think after God took both of my parents when I was only 16, he owes me the longest-lived Nana there ever was. You hear me, God? Keep my Nana safe. You owe me.

I told Nana all about Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass of Butthole, Indiana, he whom she knows as Damnation Kane. I told her everything that happened: he and his two friends staying here, on the run from the police and the hospital, how he got a phone call at a payphone from some mysterious person, which is exactly what drug dealers do, and I surely mentioned that to her. But she just gave me the Nana-look, the same one I used to get when I tried to explain to her how my friends had kidnapped me and kept me out past my curfew even when I insisted to them that I must be home on time because I was a good and dutiful young woman of grace and character and a solid Christian upbringing.

Well, it is what drug dealers do. Okay, fine, drug dealers don’t usually bury wooden boxes full of cash – but shit, he surely isn’t a pirate!

Yes, I told her about the money box, and I told her about how he claimed he had never even heard of an airplane, and how he couldn’t drive and how he always looked terrified when I drove. (Nana said that was because I drive like a homicidal maniac. Ha ha, very funny, Nana. Oh, don’t forget to pay that speeding ticket.) And the look on his face when he saw the train! I told her I did not believe he was even injured, because the three of them didn’t have any trouble doing chores, or hopping the fence at the train station. (Though I did NOT tell Nana about that, how I bought them tickets but forgot you need to show ID at the station when you board, and then helped them sneak on the train anyway. God, I hope they weren’t terrorists! No, couldn’t be. Never mind. Just paranoid and thinking the worst.) I told her that I suspect he has a partner in that hospital (I decided he surely had a partner there, since that’s where he picked out his next mark for his con games, but it had to be someone low down on the totem pole, or else they would have known that Nana isn’t rich, she got a free private room because she had dirt on the hospital and she’s friends with the mother of the nastiest lawyer in Charleston, the one with his face on the side of buses and the 1-800 number. I bet his partner was that dipshit Nana had helping her out, the one who spent every waking second texting his stoner buddies) and that he was a conman after her money and that was all there was to Mr. Damnation Kane.

She was sitting in her chair, looking at the checkers board he bought for her (with the buried pirate drug money!) and smiling as she ran her fingers over the carved pieces. It is a beautiful set, I’ll give him that: Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass has excellent taste. And when I finished telling her everything about him, she looked up at me and said, “He certainly is handsome, isn’t he?” Then as I was spluttering that that wasn’t at ALL the point, that truly noxious things can come in very pretty packages, she just stood up, patted me on the cheek, and touched my cameo. Then she smiled and said she was going to bed. I don’t think I’ve blushed like that in five years. But just because he’s a liar and a conman is no reason not to wear the necklace, is it? It’s not like wearing it means I trust him, I certainly do not! It just so happens that it’s a beautiful piece that happens to look quite fetching on me. Where it came from is irrelevant.

Nana stopped just at the doorway and turned to look at me. “I do not know Mr. Kane’s story. Neither do you, girl. The man certainly has secrets, and that means that any lady, young or old, should be cautious with her heart where he is concerned. But whatever else he may be, Damnation Kane is a true gentleman, as true as any I have ever met. And you know that as well as I do.” And then she turned and left and went to bed.

Fuck and doublefuck. She’s right. Of course she is: she’s my Nana. She’s always right. Just ask her.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 27, 2011

Location: New York City

Conditions: Recovering

We be docked at a pier in a place called Brooklyn, in a city called New York. But I ha’ been in York, and by God and Christ and all the saints, this place be nothing like its namesake. As far as the eye can see, there be buildings, towers and forts and I ha’ not the tiniest shred of an idea o’ what they all be, but there be a mighty plenitude of ’em, aye, scupper me and sink me else. There be plenty ships in this harbor, too, and the Grace be near the smallest of the lot.

Aye, the Grace. She ha’ lost her foremast, as I did say, and the rudder be damaged below, we think, since her steering be as sloppy as me old gaffer a-comin’ home from the Fox’s Whiskers, God’s blessing on the auld fellow wheresoe’er he be. After we up anchor and staggered into dock, one last great wave came and crashed us into the pilings, and we ha’ sprung at least a hand of leaks, three of them quick ones.

But then, for a wonder, the boys in the ship hard alongside us, boys we’d never met, and they be as dark as Turks, and speaking some kind of heathen Moorish tongue, as well: they saw our plight, and tossed us down a grand tarpaulin, blue as a robin’s egg and slick as sausage grease, wi’ grommets in the corners. I gave a line to Lark Finlay, who can swim like a selkie, and he dove in and brought it under the ship and to t’other side, where he came up a rope ladder we lowered him. Then we brought the blue tarpaulin under the ship, brought it up and tied it fast. And by Neptune’s barnacled arse, the bloody leaks stopped dead! Well, we raised three cheers to our new Turkomen mates, and shared a keg o’ rum with ’em as well, by Lucifer.

We ha’ spent the last day and night trying to keep our ship afloat, and we joined the Turkomen, for one of them had good English, fellow named Mahmoud, in moving up and down the pier, calling on all the ships what had docked there, to see if they were in any need. Vaughn has been sewin’ and bandagin’ like a madman, for few o’ these people has any doctoring. Tho he be sending the real hurts off to the hospitallers.

I asked him about that. Seems like I ha’ seen ship’s surgeons take on the bad cases, the broken bones and the bullet holes, the men ripped up by fire and flying splinters after a sea battle. Why, I asked him, ha’ ye been passing by the ones what be needing your help the most? I didn’t ask, but was thinking: why did ye throw our Captain over to that poxy wart of a hospital, when we could ha’ kept him aboard, if Vaughn ha’ done his job proper-like.

Aye, and he told me, right enough. He asked me how many men I ha’ seen still talking and walking after a sawbones got into ’em, with the leeches and the knives and the clamps, and how many men I ha’ seen be wrapped in a sail and dropped o’erboard after. Aye. He be right. If that bloody place can keep the Captain alive, and Lynch and me mate Shane, as well, then good and proper, I name them.

But if they ha’ died, by the Morrigan’s claws, I’ll come down on that hospital like the plagues of Egypt.

But aye: ‘tween Vaughn’s skills and the boys’ hard work, both given freely to those in need, we are become well-loved. Much of our time here has been spent ashore, in truth, where the storm has thrown down all that was built up, and torn up all that was held down. Aye, very well-loved. O’ course, the rum and grog, of which we had a plenty, and which we ha’ shared out as freely as our backs and hands, has had somewhat to do with our newfound friendships, aye. But no matter: every crew o’ the Brotherhood shares a bond built with casks o’ rum. That or else the lash. God’s truth.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 29th, 2011

Location: Brooklyn Harbor

Conditions: As before.

Our friendships ha’ brought rewards, aye, burn me else. The Harbormaster came about looking after papers, documents, the De’il knows what-all. Such as we don’t ha’ none of, sure.

But our mates, they stood for us. The Captain from two ships down, what sails a merchant ship o’ sorts name Belo Oceano, came o’er and tore up the Harborman right well indeed. “Ask those men, those good men, for papers? They be heroes! They be savin’ lives and property! What the hell ha’ you been doin’ since that bitch Irene blew through, sittin’ on your own dick?” Aye, we had a good roarin’ laugh o’er that one, later. He’s a good man, he is. Portugee. Name o’ Verrasow or some such. Joaquin be his Christian name, and he insists we use such. Cap’n Joaquin ha’ told the harborman that if we were smugglers, we’d not sail on an old wood ship wi’ masts and canvas, an’ if we be boat people, he called it, tho I know not what he meant, then we’d not still be aboard but would ha’ skarkered off to the city streets in the madness after the storm. I sent Vaughn in to ease the tension, for Cap’n Joaquin was right scarlet wi’ rage, spittin’ and fumin’ like Stromboli fit to burst, and Vaughn told the man as we were a pleasure craft a-cruising to Bermuda from Ireland, what got caught in the storm and blown westward to shore. He said as soon as we was repaired proper, we’d be off again, and none the worse for it.

And then we bribed the rotten bastard. Took up what was left of our treasury, may God blight his bones with pox and pus.

We still need a mast, and ha’ no thought how to find one. The leaks be sealed but not repaired, as we ha’ no place to careen and patch, and no way to leave here without a working rudder. We can ha’ the Grace lifted out into dry dock: they ha’ mechanicals what can take ten times her tonnage, and berths that’ll hold twenty times her length and beam. But such costs plenty o’ clink, and we be near out. We ha’ gratitude and friendship from the ships on our flanks, but they ha’ nae money too.

We need Nate. But he’s not here, and we cannot call him. The telephones be out, Vaughn says.

I don’t know what to do.

Setpembr 4

Wee havint fown the Captin yet. We surch the streets. We fown the jail an askt but no Captin. Wee surch al the beest waginz. Al the shops.

Its warm and wee sleep in aleez. Mee an Macmanis. Hiz leg hurts. My syde hurts. Wen Macmanis sleeps I reed this log.

Hee lovs hur. Hee sez so. Alot. Goddam tal skinee red hed bitch showing hur tits al the tyme. Wy do they al look at tits? Jus big bumps. Lyke cows. Jus maik milk an if they dont then no good at all jus flop arown. So wat?

Hee lovs hur.

I lov him. All hee sez abowt hur I think abowt him. I lov him. Wen I look at him my hart powns so hard it hurts but it feelz good. Heez so beauteous, lyke hee calz hur. Tal an strong an so braiv an so smart. Hee saivd my lyfe agin an agin. I want to kis him. Lyke hee kist hur. I want him to giv mee a pritty neklus. I want him to look at mee lyke hee looks at hur.

Hee wont. I no.

I jus want him to bee saif and sown.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log 51: Dear Diary

September 3, 2011

Dear Diary,

Wow – can’t be that dear, can you? I haven’t written in you in years, not since – hold on.

God. Not since Mom and Dad.

Well that was unexpectedly painful. Looking back, seeing what I wrote about them right after their funeral felt like I swallowed a great big ball of ice and it burned all the way down. Still hurts. Hurts to swallow and my stomach hurts. I wish you could be here, Daddy, to hug me. Mom, you too, even though you weren’t the hugging type. But that was me, too. I was always Daddy’s Little Girl. Even became a pilot, Dad, just like you. Even after it killed you and Mom. People never understood about that. Especially not Nana. “How can you get in one of those contraptions after all it took from you? Do you want to end up the same way?”

Yes, actually, Nana, I would love to end up the same way. They were so happy. They were so in love, so totally enchanted by each other that sometimes they even forgot about me, sort of, but that was OK because I had Nana, and she always paid attention to me.

Haha, sometimes she paid too much attention. Remember that time when she heard through her winevine (She always called it that. “Because the grapes have aged, girl. But they matured into a fine and potent vintage, yes indeed.”) about me running around with Carey Broussard, and how we used to ditch school and go parking in his car behind the Episcopal Church, and Nana was so outraged she marched down there looking for us, and she found us, alright, buck naked and humping like, well, like horny teenagers in the backseat of a Lincoln Towncar. My stars, I believe I’m actually getting a bit misty remembering that car. It was very comfortable, indeed. Carey not so much, though that is no criticism: I’d rather a man be – let’s say, exciting than relaxing. And it was certainly not relaxing when my Nana came right up to the window and yelled, “Meredith Rose Vance, you get off that boy this instant! How dare you, girl? In the very shadow of the Lord’s House? Even if those Episcopals are heathens and heretics, they are Christians and do not deserve to have their property turned into a place of sin! And on a school day!” Haha, I don’t know what upset her most, that I was ditching school, that I was having sex near a church, or that it was an “addlepated lump” like Carey Broussard, if I recall correctly how she referred to that young man. Well, she was right about Carey. Of course, Nana was right about everything: just ask her. Carey was a dim bulb, yes indeed. But so cute! That jet black hair, and those blue eyes, and that little half-smile, mmmm oh yes. And he was always happy to let me be on top. In the pilot’s position, as we say. We pilots always love to be on top. In command. You understand, I’m sure.

Speaking of cute boys . . . That’s why I started writing in you in the first place, Diary Dear. Because I’ve been living with a man. A very handsome man. Under my Nana’s own roof! My stars and garters, the scandal, Miss Scarlett! Haha. Well, to tell the truth and shame the devil, I’ve been living with three men. Three outlaws. Irish outlaws, for a fact. But only one of them was cute. One was a little too rough-looking – so many scars! And the other was just a teenager, 14 or small for 15. But oh, Diary, that one!

All right. Enough. It’s been fun pretending to be a giggly schoolgirl, but I’m not. And yes, he was cute, lean muscles and strong hands, black hair and bright green eyes, but he was not all that he seemed. I do not believe him. I do not believe he and his friends are Irish. I do not believe his name is actually Damnation Kane. Damnation! Who names a child that in this day and age? Or any day and age, for that matter? I do not believe that his manners were actually that fine, like an Old World nobleman, like a Southern gentleman is supposed to be and none are, in my personal experience, not a one.

Though he never did try anything while he was here that would have forced me to deck him. Not even when I flirted shamelessly in my yoga clothes. And he did give me the loveliest gift I believe I have ever received. And the loveliest kiss, too. Oh, yes.

But here’s what I believe about Mr. Damnation Kane. I believe he is a con artist. I believe he put on a fine manner to get into my Nana’s good graces. I believe he has read romance novels. Probably quite a number, actually, for he did seem intelligent and literate, I will say. It was his writing in his own logbook, he called it, which inspired me to dig this old diary out again.

Stop it, Meredith! He is a con artist, and a LIAR. There. That’s better. As I was saying, he read romance novels and found that modern women swoon over the Old World type, most especially with an accent. Yes indeed, my God, that accent! No. Stop it! Be strong. He said he never heard of an airplane. Never heard of an airplane! Didn’t recognize the word!

No. It was a lie. Everything he said. I will bet that his name is actually Mortimer Snodgrass, that he hails from the slums outside of Pittsburgh, and that he steals money from lonely old ladies, using a fake Irish accent when he learns the lady has an Irish name, and a private hospital room, which tells him she has money to steal. And he’s had plastic surgery. Extensive plastic surgery, like butt implants. And he wears a toupee. And has a tiny little uncircumcised dick.

He’s just a con artist, that’s all. And he used Nana and me to get out of paying his hospital bill, and then once he was on the street, he went and made some connection with his dealer, at that payphone. Digging up $5000 in cash, indeed! And a pistol, too! And then I bought him and his two friends a free train ticket to New York! God, Meredith! How did your Nana raise such a fool?

Well, fool me once, shame on you, Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass of Butthole, Indiana (I have decided that he is actually from Indiana. From a small, ugly town called Butthole. Where he was raised by possums and one-eyed alley cats.) Fool me twice, and I will break you in half. And I guarantee you will never come near my Nana again. Good riddance to him. Bad rubbish.

He said it looked like me. It does. He said he would love me forever. And he kissed me like he meant it.

Fuck.

***

Captain’s Log

Date: August 12, 2011

Location: Charleston Harbor

Conditions: Christ’s blood and bones, I don’now. Bad. Could be worse yet, aye.

Captain Kane be off of the ship now, so I do think this falls to me. Ship’s Surgeon insisted three of ours be left with the medics of the here-and-now, else they’ll not live, says he. So my dear friend and Captain, along with two other of our finest boys, ha’ been handed o’er to whosoe’er Surgeon Vaughn finds who’ll take o’er the keeping of them. I don’now. It feels right bloody awful, and no lie, that. I be ‘gainst leaving men behind in any cause, and the Captain? We sail his ship without himself on board? Bloody close to mutiny, and we seen enough of that, aye, and twicet enough.

But we cannt stay. The cursed Devil’s Lash Hobbes may follow, and we must draw him away from our fallen mates. Vaughn and I and MacTeigue spoke on it: Hobbes did not fire on us, even with the greater weight of cannon. His men tore up the deck, but we were all below, as he had to see; sure and they meant to stop our sailing and board us. So he does not want us all dead, nor this ship sunk. He wants the ship, or he wants her crew alive and captive, or he wants both. And what greater prize than the Captain his own self? We cann’t stand guard, not against those damned thunder-guns.

And so like a bloody mother bird we must limp away from the nest where our helpless bairns lie, trusting that the bloody serpent will not find them despite the ruse. Praying too that we can escape our own selfs, at the last moment.

I ha’ managed to sniff out somewhat as will help us in our limping. While Vaughn and Kelly and four of the boys took the Captain and Lynch and MacManus away to the sawbones, MacTeigue manned the Grace at anchor in the harbor, and Salty O’Neill and I did cast off into the city to seek supplies. A simple question to the nearest native who did not look o’er-doltish, and we were directed to a Rite-Aid. We walked the aisles, Salty and me, o’ercome by all the whatnots and hugger-mugger, until a man asked if we be needing help finding anything. Aye, sure enough, did we. I mere showed the man the clink I carried, tho it be o’ the folding kind, not the clinking kind, in truth, some 500 of the dollars they use here-and-now, and said I had friends wi’ small hurts, cuts and sores and burns and the like. We put ourselves in his hands, and he did lade us heavy, aye. We thanked him, paid him, returned to the ship and tossed it all into Vaughn’s cabin to sort out on his return. Then we went, in cover o’ night, to a spot nearby where we buried somewhat against the Captain’s need when he recovers.

Now we do wait. When Vaughn returns, we’ll set our course (I think to the north, as the south holds enemies and the east the same) and then sail, ready for whate’er may come.

Pray it be nothing at all.

Ian O’Gallows, Mate of the Grace of Ireland

Captain’s Log

Date: August 13, 2011

Location: North of Charleston, in a wooded cove.

Conditions: Nae so fine as a king, nor so poor as a corpse.

We ha’ laid up, near forty miles north of Charleston, where we left the Captain, by a part of the coast that be unpeopled, to our eyes and ears. Here we stay while the men recover to Vaughn’s satisfaction. MacTeigue took Rearden and Doyle ashore to hunt, came back with half a brace of fowl and a wee hog, so we feasted well.

***

We will stay for two days, no more. I do feel a prickle at the back o’ my neck, as if someone watches and stalks closer with every hour. ‘Tis maddening.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 17, 2011

Location: 300 miles north, fifty east of last position, near enough.

Conditions: Weather glorious, men healed, sails fixed. All is well, but for the men we left behind.

Aye, life be fine and good. I struck a bargain with Vaughn, who wanted to lay up until the men were full healed and the ship repaired. We took damage to sails, rails and rigging from the thunder-guns. Nothing we could not fix aboard, but it all takes time, particular the splicing of new cordage. But I did not trust the Devil’s Lash to stay away from our backs. So we sail a night and a day, and rest a night and a day, and so hop north by degrees. Every time we lay up, and then again before we weigh anchor, Vaughn goes ashore and calls for the Captain as he arranged. So far, nothing.

The salves and bandages I ha’ from Rite-Aid be wonders: a hurt heals twicet as fast under ’em as without ’em. We be good as new. Surely they ha’ the same for Nate and the boys?

Any road, we be ready for the Captain’s return, at last. We ha’ finished repairs from the battle, at last, and the men be well enow to scrub the last of the blood from the deck. Nate’s blood clung harder than any other stain. Took two extra holystonings before the planks was clean. He bled more than the rest of us. And even his blood cleaves to his ship, aye, God’s truth.

Captain’s Log

Date: Devil take it, who knows?

Location: We’re in a harbor somewhere, and thanks to Christ for it.

Conditions: Neptune’s beard, we’re right well fucked.

Lord God Amighty, surely this storm was blown from Gabriel’s trumpet itself, to sound the Day of Judgment and bring all us sinners to the Heavenly Seat for our eternal rewards. Or else we already be judged, and this be our infernal home, now. Storm-wracked seas and a crippled ship to sail ’em.

Bloody tired. Wrung out. ‘Tis a day and a night of fighting, fighting the waves that try to turn us and roll us, thrash us and break us, and wash us o’er the side all the while. A day and a night of fighting a wind like I’ve only seen twicet, maybe three times, or four? Not very bloody oft afore now, and never one that’s lasted so cursed long! Skin my eyes, the spray reaches higher than the mast! The waves be walls of water, keeps, castles, whole bloody cities of sea-green and salt, tossed at us again and again and again!

The blasted wind near tore the mast off when the first blow fell. We were riding with it, meaning to stay ahead of it. Fools to think we could. I heard the mast creak, felt the deck shudder as the collar and bolts strained to hold on, but the wind was as fierce as God’s wrath. But the ship would not fly with it! And that be the trouble, aye. We lowered the sails, almost lost Sweeney o’erboard doing it, and lashed tight for a storm, all hands below but for a lookout for rocks before and the steersman and myself aft, and two men at the pumps at all times. We did finally lose the foremast. A wave struck us, taller than the sides of the ship, and did sweep across, and take the mast with it. Thanks be that the boys at the pumps were lashed to rings set in the deck. The mast were weakened by that first wind, and the canvas was heavy with rain and spray. One more blow was all it took.

But ‘pon my blackened soul, I ha’ seen this ship take blow after blow after blow, and ne’er the worse for it. We ha’ sailed through storms before, some black-hearted and fire-spitting beasts of the sky, and always, the Grace ha’ sailed true to her name, dancing atop the waves and flying with the wind. She did not sail so, for us. Mayhap this storm was the king – the emperor – of all such cattyclisms. More like, Nate be a finer commander than I, with a bloody fine sense for the true course to take to move through the storm and not ‘gainst it.

All I know is this. This ship sails better for Nate than it e’er will for another. Even one who sails her with his blessing. Which I hope I have.

We near wrecked a dozen times, rolled by waves or crashed on rocks. But we made safe. We came into a great sheltered bay, which blocked the worst of the waves from us. With naught but the blasted devil’s wind, we could steer better, though still the ship turned slow and sailed heavy in the water. She mopes. She pines for her Captain, says I. We can see nothing of the land, apart from dark shadows less than a mile off. ‘Tis night now, and the storm eases but still blows hard. We be at anchor, riding o’er the waves, small swells as in Irish seas and familiar. I ha’ recorded our plight. Now I must sleep. And if I ne’er wake, may Neptune choke on my bones!

Ian o’Gallows, mate, Grace of Ireland

Septembr 2 I think

Wee havint fown the Captin. Wee surcht al the train-hal. Wee crept unseen into the bak of the hal. Wee wur not alowd thair but wee went aneewai. Hee wazint thair.

I fown blood wen I fown the log. It wuz in the pissroom. Maihap hee wuz hurt. Is the blood hiz? Hee wuz so mad on the train lyke hee went mad lyke I dont no the wurd but troolee mad. Hee cood uv hit sumwun. Maid them bleed.

Hee woodint leev his log. Wood hee? Hee woodint leev us. Captin is loyul. Captin iz alwaiz loyul.

No. Hee woodint leev us. I wil prai wee fyned him.

MacManis askt sumwun. A man saw a tal man with blak hair cum owt uv the pissroom with blood on his fais and hee wuz stumbuling lyke hee wuz hurt. The man askt if hee wuz alryte and the bloodee man sed I, I bee fyne az a sumir breez. That sownz lyke Captin. The man sed the bloodee man went owtsyde. Wee ar leeving the train-hal. Macmanis thinks wee can fyned him kwiklee. Hee iz asking abowt the sittee owtsyde the train-hal and I am ceeping the log for Captin. I prai wee wil fyned him. I prai hee wil bee saif.

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Log #49: Gifts and Departures

Log

Ah gods, devils, my heart – my brain – my eyes!

‘Tis all too much. Surely some dam must burst, some wall crumble. An inferno will rage forth, and flesh will melt and bones will char, and perchance the Earth will open and swallow me whole. I hope it does.

It is not – pain. It could be pain. Part is. The heart – there is pain there. But there is so much else. All in the same moment – and in the next, twice as much again! Thrice!

I will close my eyes. Perhaps oblivion, even for a heartbeat, will save me from exploding.

Later – eight bells o’ the first watch

I am better now. Stab my liver, but I must have been a spectacle an hour gone! There were tears rolling down my cheeks like rainwater, my breath bellowing and steaming like a bull’s. I could not hold my limbs’ shaking nor keep my eyes from rolling. A proper madman, I was.

I am.

No. I will not think it all, nor allow it to overwhelm me anew. I am but a man, and weak – but I am a man. Weakness will not rule me.

One at a time, then. And bless this humble pen and paper: ’tis my crutch, my balm, my confessor and confidante. I do not understand why it should be that writing out my sorrows and my vexations in ink should lessen their weight on my heart, but it is so, and has ever been since I began this log – aye, two months ago? Is’t all? Christ’s tears.

Aye. One at a time.

My heart aches. ‘Tis hollowed out, a gourd emptied and dried and left to harden and wither to stone. It was so full; this is why it is now so very empty. I did love Meredith Vance – aye, still and all I do, in truth – and she did begin to love me. I know. I did see it in her eyes. ‘Twas the gift I gave – and perhaps the leavetaking after. Many’s the time I have seen strong men weep and hard women soften, as the ship sails from harbor and the loved one shrinks from sight, diminishing and dwindling mile after mile but still visible all the way to the horizon: ’tis the hardest way to say goodbye, to watch them fade from sight over a time, bit by bit by bit. And such a leavetaking makes the heart swell and tear and burst as the love is drawn forth from it, drawn to the departing one like iron to a lodestone, like an anchor torn loose from its mooring by the inexorable pull of the tide. To say goodbye is to know the strength of your love, and so, methinks, it was with Meredith Vance. Sure it was so for mine own love, mine own heart now torn asunder.

Aye, the gift: our passage departed in the eventide, about three bells of the first watch, and so we had this past day to ourselves, as Meredith was employed once more. I did look to the sky more this day than before, and I wondered: is that speck a bird, or a winged beast-wagon filled with madmen and imminent saints? By Hermes, they fly. She flies. She captains a ship that sails on aether. No – I cannot. One thing, each for itself. The gift.

We three – Lynch, MacManus and I – made use of Sir Thomas’s guiding maps, and we found our way to streets of shops, where we purchased what was needful: new clothing for all three – closer to proper finery ’tis, but the boots – fah! If one be not a woman, this world offers naught with any spirit or flair. Square and clunky as a Spanish galleon in dead calm, my feet are in these – boots. Ugly as a warthog and half as soft, as well, and the color of an ill babe’s shite – why do they wear these? Fah. Hades take them. But aye, we purchased attire, and some small supplies – the grocer, when we inquired as to food prepared for journeying, proffered us items called granola bars and beef jerky – ship’s biscuit and hardtack, says I, but I give them their due: in all my years of eating ship’s biscuit and hardtack, this is the most tasteful and savory I have struck. Easier to chew, as well.

By Athena! I cannot stay on a single thought. There is too much! This was the thought, and the sensation, that tortured my mind two hours ago, ere I slept. Aye – I slept, did I not say? Driven to slumber by exhaustion of mind, of body, of soul; driven to sleep despite my surroundings and circumstances. And the madness that consumed me was this: there is too much on which I must think, and too many errant thoughts that capture my mind and steal it away from its intended and useful heading – I fall off the course of my thoughts at the smallest sight, at the merest oddity, and fall to rapt contemplation of same, like a small child given a new toy who then casts it aside to play with a pretty stone, which is in turn abandoned for a puddle of water. And because the whole world is new to me now, there is distraction – everywhere. I cannot grasp it, for too many fall to my hand. I cannot steer straight, for the winds come from all directions, all at once. It is mad – I fear I may be mad, soon if not now. When my heart is filled, as well, as it was with the sorrow of my departing love – well, my cup runneth over, so they do say.

But: once more, I will attempt focus, once more sally forth into the swirling madness of my brain to seek out a path that may lead me to safety and surety. We did visit the shops. We bought clothing and shod our feet, and found supplies (The which we did not need, it obtains, but later for that.). ‘Twas then, after the grocer, that I found a pawn shop, much like Morty’s of Florida – but with a proprietor who was courteous and helpful, rather than a black-hearted bastard with acid in his tongue and an arsehole for a mouth. There I bought gifts for Margaret and Meredith – and for Lynch and MacManus, too, for they have been stout and true, following me loyally despite my floundering, my failure to lead so well as they follow. For Lynch – who had seemed most irritated by the purchasing of attire, as he could find naught that fit him well, particularly shoes for his feet: all were too large for those dainty flappers of his and would chafe him raw where he to wear such; we did at last find a decent shirt and breeches in a shop that sold to children, which near slaughtered his pride – for Lynch I found a proper pair of boots, decent leather if a bit cracked, with turn-down tops and brass buckles, and a finely tooled belt to match. They fit him perfectly, and he flushed with joy at the gift, the soft-hearted lad. For MacManus I found a cane, the which he needs, as he was limping badly ere the end of our excursion, and we have many miles yet to go – ah, but to assuage his wounded pride, and to serve our needs well, as even an injured MacManus is a warrior both doughty and ferocious as the situation commands, this cane is in truth a weapon: the top hand-and-a-half make up the hilt of a sword which draws forth from the rest of the cane, which is scabbard for it. ‘Tis good steel, a full two feet in length, near as well-crafted as my Libertad. ‘Twill serve MacManus well, and thus all of us. He is as pleased as Lynch.

For our kind savior and hostess, Margaret Boyle Flanagan, I found a draughts board carved from ash-wood by a proper Irish craftsman: ’twas decorated with Celtic knots and suchlike, the counters each carved with the likeness of trees native to Ireland, rowan and holly and oak and pine. ‘Tis a lovely thing, but still far short of the debt we owe her. Still: Meredith assured me that she will adore it, and so I am satisfied.

And for Meredith. For Meredith I found a necklace, a thing of beauty surpassing any such accoutrement I have yet seen in all my years of plundering. ‘Tis a fine silk ribbon, in a deep green that complements the maid’s beauteous eyes, that carries an oval carved of ivory and circled by reddish gold filigree, and on the oval is carved an image – a dark shadow of a face. The proprietor called it a cameo, and the shadow a silhouette, words he kindly wrote out for me. ‘Tis a gorgeous piece, but what’s more – what brought it to my hands, calling out for to grace my love’s delicate throat, was this: that shadow, that silhouette – it is hers. Aye, it was carved a century before, yon pawnman told, but I swear it is Meredith’s true likeness.

I gave it her on the porch of Margaret’s home, as the sun shone through the trees and set her hair alight with golden glory amid the flames of her tresses. I told her that now her beauty would last, carved in ivory, for a thousand years – as it would last in her for all of her life, and would last in my heart for all of mine.

She kissed me, then. Her fire set me alight. I burn still.

I cannot write more of this.

But an hour later, we found ourselves at the – the station, Meredith called it, the place where the trains arrive and depart. ‘Twas there that my mind filled, as my heart had, for – a train? That is what they name this?

A dragon, says I.

It is as long as a road – longer by far than any man-o-war or ship of the line, longer than anything I have seen built by men, even in this time. It is steel, from end to end, though pierced by glass windows – ’tis finer armor than anything worn by the noblest cavaliers of King Charles’s court. The beast must weigh more than London Bridge. And it moves. It screamed as it arrived, and hissed out breath; it chuffs, like a bull readying to charge, as it moves – and it is as fast as the beast-wagons which it dwarfs.

Our departure on the dragon was somewhat troublous. We arrived at the station a full turn of the glass before the appointed hour for casting off; indeed, the monster was not yet there. Meredith went to a magic window set in a sort of cabinet; she pressed various switches and touched the face of the magic window here and there, and soon the cabinet ejected three rectangles of stiff parchment – our tickets, Meredith named them. But as she gave them us – each printed with our own names – her movements slowed and she frowned at one of the parchments. Her consternation tugged at me, and I placed a hand on her arm. “What is it, lass?”

She looked up, past me, to a place where large doorways opened to the outside, and where a number of folk were in a queue, leading to a man in livery behind a counter. “Shit,” she said. “I forgot about that.”

My touch became a gentle squeeze – and such a fool am I, even this set my blood racing. “What, lass? What’s amiss?”

She turned to me and said, “You can’t get on the train here. I forgot, you need eye-dee.” My query clarified this to identification, such as the portrait cards of St. Vincent’s. Just then, as if to illuminate our need, the train arrived, with a shriek and a hiss that had we three Irishmen, with our stout hearts and battle-hard nerves, pale and shaking, though babes and grannies but smiled at the horrendous sounds. We saw yon steel leviathan creeping by, through the doorways beside the queue and counter, and we exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

“Come on,” Meredith said. “Hurry.” And we departed through the door by which we had entered, away from the dragon-train, at a near run – as near as Lynch and MacManus could handle.

Meredith stopped us again, just without. The station-house was a long, low building of brick and stone, not terribly large, perhaps two hundred paces in length and fifty in breadth. To either side stretched a sort of screen, of bright metal in a checkered pattern, like a wall of chainmail links. ‘Twas near the height of a man, and did naught to conceal the mighty beast that crouched behind it, which immediately arrested we three.

“You can’t take the bag,” Meredith spake, her words quick and terse. “Here, over here.” She drew us to a corner of the station-house, somewhat concealed, and there opened the bag wherein we had put our old clothing, our supplies, and the atlas she had given us – along with our pistolas and the wooden box holding our remaining dollar-papers, some three thousand after our purchases. She rummaged through the bag, withdrawing the box and handing it to me, and the two pistolas, which she thrust at MacManus – who, not expecting her agitation, dropped them a-clatter at his feet. Lynch stooped and retrieved them, tucking one in his belt and handing the other to Shane, with somewhat more success this time. To me, Meredith said, “Take the cache out, leave the box. Hurry.” I quick opened the money-box, took out the dollar-papers and thrust them in my pockets, dropping the box atop the bag of now-discarded goods. I grasped her design as she stood, then, and walked to the linked-chain screenwall. She looked around briefly for observers and then placed her fingers and toes in the holes in the screen, preparing to scale it.

Ah: a surreptitious entry. This was a task we grasped. “Not there, lass,” I called. I looked around more carefully than she, and saw two men smoking tobacco-sticks; they had spied us rummaging through the equippage, and watched us now. We needed better cover for this subterfuge. I motioned to my men, and led our party to a place I spied a dozen paces farther along, where a pair of stout trees grew close by the screen wall, which would offer assistance in climbing and concealment, too. The two smoking men had turned away, losing interest – now was the moment. We scaled the barrier behind the trees’ cover, with main ease, though MacManus turned pale and sweated with the exertion, and Lynch grunted and stumbled when he dropped to his feet on the far side.

There before us was the dragon, massive steel body stretching away for – five hundred paces? More? Longer than the station-house, it was, and my mind boggled at it. Meredith had to coax us into movement, but we quickly recovered from the shock sufficient to trot after her, to where the orderly queue within had become a milling crowd; we slipped into their midst, and none the wiser about our uncommon approach.

Meredith steered us to another liveried man – an officer of the dragon-train, I surmised – and we proffered our tickets, and were instructed to enter the portal in the monster’s side. We took our leave of my lady – of which I cannot write – and we made our way into the dragon’s belly.

And within? Every creature comfort, we found! There are – toilets, just as the houses here possess, for elimination. With sinks! With water! And there are cushioned seats which lay back into near-beds, and lights, and a voice that speaks from the air and announces to the passengers – of which there are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, all carried in safety and sheer sumptuousness inside a dragon’s belly – announces to them the sights that can be observed out of the windows, and – I could not believe it, I would not believe it, had I not heard it with my own ears and, driven by irresistible curiosity, confirmed this with my eyes – food. Supper, a meal service, a fine, fresh-made repast, served at table, on plates, with cutlery, with liquid refreshment of various potations of wine and ale as well as water – and milk! – served hot from kitchens, in a place named the dining car. Served as we fly forward, rumbling and clacketing, hissing and screeching, occasionally trumpeting out a call louder than any beast that walks this Earth. We ride inside a dragon – and we feast.

We ride towards my ship, and my men, and once there, I will again take up command. I know not where we will go, nor what we can do to improve our lot.

We ride away from the woman I love, who, it seems, loves me as well – her kiss told me so, and most eloquently. I may never see her again.

My mind is full, and my heart empty. Love and madness, hope and despair.

Ah, gods, ah, devils: take me now.

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Log #48: Cannot

Log

August 31

 

By the gods, what a wonder she is! I know not what great service I provided, what Herculean task I completed, that earned me this magnificent favor, this gift of fortune that allowed me to meet, and – though she knows it not – to love the inestimable, the ineffable, the incomparable Meredith Vance.

I pray none observe me now – I think not; all are abed – for one could not cast his gaze on me and fail to know me for a man in love. I sigh, I pace the floor and pause, my gaze wandering afar through dreams, dreams of her, ever of her. Then I return, to write in this log, of my passions, my inamorata, my joy, my love.

Christ, I am a swooning maiden.

I confess. I find myself hoping that some happenstance might occur which would permit me to woo and win this glorious creature. I know it will not come to pass. I must depart, now, and plunge back into a life of turmoil and travail, where I am beleaguered by enemies implacable, both lawful and malign; where I will, if the gods smile on my once more, return to a world where I would not have her live, even could she accompany me, for my Ireland is no place for a beautiful woman. Not where the English bastards roam the countryside. Like my thrice-damned father.

I have wondered if this, all of this, is but a dream, a phantasm created in my fevered brain by some ailment, by an injury, inflicted on me in my natural time, my natural state; perhaps I am dead, brought down by the Devil’s Lash, and this is – what? Limbo? Elysium? The White Shores of Avalon? Are we on the shores of Styx in Hades’s realm, only waiting for the Boatman to collect us? How could one know if one is in this world, or that world? Or adrift on the mind’s tides?

But here is my hope. Aye: unreal this world seems; in truth, often so. But what mad god would have made this place his Heaven? And surely, if I suffer the fate for which I was named – what infernal mind could comprehend such loveliness as Meredith? Such courage as Margaret? Such kindness as James McNally, or Maid Flora Lopez, or my Lady of Joy? I cannot believe these good souls would share my accursed doom, and I cannot think that Lucifer himself could have imagined them thus merely to torment me.

Nay: this is the world of men, and I merely one such, muddling my poor benighted way through it. I cannot love Meredith Vance, not without dragging that shining beauty down into the quagmire that pulls at me.

Oh, but if I could love her: how I would love her.

Aye: there be reason why I began to record, before my swollen heart overcame me – reason, indeed, why my mind is so whelmed by thoughts of her. ‘Tis she who has proven invaluable in the setting of our course – who has served as the pilot in our lives, illuminating the path through these shoals and to our home – our ship, our friends. Now we must see if we three babes, lost in wilderness, can navigate the course she has set.

I suppose my fevering brain turned such this last night, for I could not rest: my mind raced with questions and fantasies, and scheme after scheme for how we might reach our goal. I was relieved of one fear when I spoke to Vaughn – but then I was filled with new conceits, new fears and hopes, which robbed me of my repose.

Not so my men, thankfully, who need the rest more than I; when the dawn broke, they emerged, looking hale and lusty, color in their cheeks and fire in their eyes. And – of course – they came to me, prepared to hear the plan for how we would reunite with our company. This was the moment I had feared – or at least one such. For I knew not. The night was wasted in idle mindlessness, devoid of purpose, my thoughts a chaos that might meander thus: We must make our way to New York. But we know not the way. This place is so large, so very strange! Would that we were home – but we cannot attempt that trip, not with Nicholas bloody Hobbes straddling the ocean and blocking our path. Gods, keep that bastard from finding my Grace before I can reach her! We must make our way to New York! But we know not the way . . .

And so on, and ever, ever on.

Howbeit, I am no fool to encumber my men with the weight of my own empty pride – for pride has more weight, but less substance, than any other part of man. When Lynch and MacManus came to me and asked after our course, I admitted that I had no idea, and had been unable to see our way. I asked my good shipmates to help me, to give counsel, wisdom, and advice.

And then were we mightily distracted, for Meredith passed through my chamber, where we three sat and talked, in all her beauty, her glorious locks aflame in the morning sun flowing through the windows, her lovely face enlivened by her smile, her womanly charms and immortal grace on display, wrapped in a robe of thinnest silk over the smallclothes she weareth for her Yoga, which fit to her skin like a glove, caressing her supple curves.

Christ! How am I to keep my focus, even now, with such a vision in my poor brain? This is why the Church teaches that women be temptresses, and men be weak; ’tis but the simple truth, shown to us all who have a man’s mind and passions, enflamed and enraptured by a woman’s face and form.

Aye, we stopped our conversation and greeted her politely enough – and then MacManus and I, of one accord, rose and moved to the window whereby we could observe the removal of the robe and her Yoga-dance. We would have stayed there, too, for as long as Meredith’s spell entranced us, but Lynch brought us back. Though perhaps over-snappish he was in doing so: he struck us both on the back of the head, driving our noses into the glass most painfully; when we turned on him, he bared gritted teeth and hissed, “Get your minds on our course, and off of yon gangly trollop! Lucifer’s ballocks, yer pricks are not the compasses we follow now. Let’s find our way to New York, and ye can buy a whore then, if ye have need of such.”

Chastened by a youth – and rightfully so. I am sure the boy has no knowledge of a woman’s embrace, and so has an easier time resisting such wondrous charms as are possessed by Meredith. I did berate him briefly for insulting our good hostess – and my love, though I said naught of that – but I could not fault his naming our foolish distraction away from the vital task ahead. We got back to it then.

And came to naught.

Once Meredith returned from the garden and passed through to her morning bath – and MacManus and I pointedly ignored her passing but for a simple and civil greeting (I already held the image of her dancing in smallclothes burned in my mind; why must I look again with open eyes on her robed form?), we moved to the kitchens, where we prepared our morning refreshment, as has been our wont in our time here. I observed my two men carefully, and saw that my doubts were indeed material.

This was the difficulty. New York lay several hundreds of miles to the north, said Vaughn, and Meredith confirmed. We could not walk the distance. We knew not the management of a beast-wagon. Lynch was for booking passage on a ship, and MacManus opined that we were pirates, and should simply take a ship to sail ourselves – we had seen many a ketch and pinnace that three able seamen could man with little trouble.

But we were not able. My arm ached, my shoulder burned. MacManus could not move without pain, though he endeavored to conceal it; I saw the slowness of his movement, the brief creasing of his brow, the frown on his lips. Lynch was better, the spryness and health of youth serving to speed his recovery, but still he curses when his movements irk his wounded side, and he still cannot move his left shoulder freely – it had been dislocated, his doctor had told him; the arm had been strapped to his trunk for the first several days of our sojourn in the hospital, and has not fully healed. Thus I know we cannot follow MacManus’s advice. We have not the strength to capture nor sail a ship, not even one small enough for three. Lynch’s plan is better – but I fear the Devil’s Lash, should we return to open water. The man has haunted my dreams, and though the ocean is wide, somehow he found us in the midst of it. Perhaps he will find us again, and take us. I do fear this.

‘Twas then that Meredith rejoined us – and though her attire was more modest, still it revealed more than it concealed her ethereal beauty, beauty only increased by the warmth of her smile and her joyful greeting. Surely this woman would be the sun in a cloudy sky, even on a winter’s day in Ireland –

Damn me, and damn my fool’s mind! I cannot keep a straight and simple path even in this log – an hour have I been writing, now, nay, two hours, by the gods! And still I have not recorded what I set out to record. You see? You see the chaos that whirls in my skull? What a desolation is my mind when my heart speaks so loud.

To the point, then. Meredith solved the issue. We laid out our separate plans – I was for purchasing horses, the one land conveyance I know we understand and can manage, though I knew as well that we three had little skill in riding; I hoped to find a wagon of some sort in which we may ride – and she frowned. “Why don’t you get a flight?” she said. “I’d take you myself, but I’m booked up for the next week, and I’m not going anywhere near NYC.”

I misheard her, at first. “A fleet? Is there a fleet headed that way? We could book passage – there may be safety in numbers – ” Lynch and I began to argue this point.

Meredith interrupted us. “No, not a fleet, a flight. You know, a plain flight? What do they call them in Ireland, aren’t they air-plains?”

We looked at her, baffled. I spake first. “A plain in the air? Do you mean plein-air painting? I recall there is a Frenchman who paints thus, methinks.”

Lynch ventured: “Is’t Heaven? The Plains of Elysium, in the air, far above, in those selected – what is’t, Captain?”

“Celestial spheres. Be that your meaning, lass?”

Meredith stared at us as though we were roosters laying eggs. “Come on. You’ve got to know what an air-plain is. You’ve never flown? Haven’t you heard of flying? How did you get here from Ireland, then?”

We exchanged glances. “We sailed on my ship.” I chose not to elaborate further on the journey that had delivered us to these shores. I knew now, though, that this was the cause of the misunderstanding here: Meredith referred to something commonplace in this time, but unimaginable in ours.

These people fly. Through the air, in the sky, miles above Mother Earth, in conveyances like the beast-wagons, but – with – wings.

I cannot conceive of it. But apparently, ’tis the truth. This is what Meredith does, her employment: when she told us she is a pilot, she meant one of those who steer these flying sky-ships; that is what the word means, here and now. I think she has decided that we three are country bumpkins of the most uncivilized sort; I hope that suffices to explain our monumental ignorance. If not, I do not know how to give her the true explanation. She did not ask, any road.

We will have none of this – flight. These America-folk may think themselves immune to the fate of Icarus, but I know better, and my men are not mad enough to seek out such a peril when ’tis not needed, as now. We quickly refused Meredith’s suggestion.

But she gave another. There are large conveyances, like beast-wagons, but far greater and which, she says, ride on rails of iron; they are called “trains.” These trains stay on the ground. We have booked passage on one such which will carry us to New York and to our friends in less than a day’s time. Eight hundred miles! In a day! And yet this transport is not enough for them? They would rather – fly? Fah.

Meredith has made the arrangements for our travel by train. She gave us, as well, an atlas, an entire book of maps more detailed and precise than any I have seen in all my years at sea. She laughed when I exclaimed over its inestimable value, and said it had been hers at school – she has studied! She waved away my protestations, calling it a gift, and a small one at that. Men would have started a war for such a book in my time.

But, one supposes, if you can fly . . . perhaps a map of the land is not so much of a much.

After that, the second book of maps given us was offered with even less ceremony, no more than a hank of cloth given to one who sneezes. We inquired of Meredith as to where we might find shops, so that we could purchase traveling equippage, apparel and supplies; she offered to convey us in her beast-wagon, but then glanced at the clock and cried out that she must go, that she was late; she dashed to a cabinet in the hallway by the front entry, and withdrew a book, called Thomas’s Guide to Charleston, and dropped it in my lap with no more thought than the first princely gift of a book – a book! – of maps. And this Thomas has mapped out every street, every river, every bridge – every alleyway! – in all of this immense city. And Meredith simply – gave it to us. On her way out. After arranging for our passage by train, using the telephone and speaking with someone named Amtrack. Perhaps Anne Track, or Hamtramck, I could not tell.

She is beautiful, beyond the telling of it. She is generous, beyond comprehension. She – flies.

She cannot be mine.

I cannot think, any more.

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Log 45: A Fool Before Beauty

Log

Damn me but I hate to look a fool in front of a woman. Having done so twice this night, I cannot decide if it is worse to play the fool before a woman I respect and admire, or before a woman of great beauty, of surpassing loveliness of face and form, and who, too, I admire, though it is admiration of the most penetrative . . . the most – overwhelming. Underwhelming? – Fah! I know not what I say. These women, this night, have me all in a dither and a twist. I curse myself for a fool when ’tis any soul who thus beholds my folly, or indeed if none espy me but the empty sky above and the fallow earth below.

First there was my idiotic escape attempt, wherein I cleverly led my men, who could barely make their way down a flight of stairs, to a garden enclosed by a high wall, a wall the which I had failed to discern in all my wandering there, despite every promenade around the garden paths that I made with my lady Flanagan. She knew of the wall, even with her ancient eyes: she had seen it and recognized how it would foil our plans – plans she had descried in mere moments, just as quick as she pierced our disguises. ‘Twas she who kindly saved us, this past night – and she who, with kindness all the greater, said naught and laughed not, but simply came to our aid.

And then, but an hour later, we feature the second act of this great farce entitled “The Illimitable Folly of Damnation Kane –An Addlepated Ass In Two Eras.”

We waited in kind Margaret’s chambers until her grand-daughter – noble and loyal, she is, albeit not so much as she is lovely – arrived and informed Lady Flanagan by telephone. Then Margaret brought us to the stairs, where we said our farewells with many thanks and a sweet kiss ‘pon her soft cheek; then made we our slow, clumsy way down. Upon opening the door at the bottom, the building awoke in lights and shrieks as if bogeys and ban-sidhe had arisen from the very walls! Thank the gods that Margaret had forewarned us that opening the door would set off the fire alarm, else we might have frozen in panic and been apprehended once more, and aye, e’en more ignominiously! It was a close thing, in truth, as Margaret’s concept of a “fire alarm” differs from ours by – aye, well, by three centuries, isn’t it? I and Lynch and MacManus all bethought that a man’s voice would cry out the alarm, such cry being taken up then by several others, with perhaps a ringing bell to carry the signal: little did we know that directly o’er our heads, close enough to touch with outstretched hand as we passed through the door, would be a light as bright as any lantern and red as a cock’s comb, spinning and flashing fit to dizzy a man who, naturally, looks up at such a thing when it comes to life just above him; and with this light – by Lucifer, what a braying! ‘Tis loud enough to wake the dead, split the ground above ’em, and shake their bones back to life! My ears do ring still even now. I have heard quieter cannons. Perhaps they seek to frighten the fire out.

Still and all: we did escape the onslaught of noise and light, and made our way to our arranged rendezvous with Margaret’s grand-daughter, the beauteous and dauntless Meredith Vance. She hesitated not at all, despite our assuredly wild-eyed desperation, but helped MacManus and Lynch into her beast-wagon – a much larger breed than those we knew from the Glass Palace and the House of Lopez – as she directed me to put MacManus’s wheeled chair into the stern, through a hatch the which she opened with a wave of her hand, from which was emitted a strange and otherworldly chirrup, somewhat like the chirping of my ivy box within the hospital, but now coming in two notes, lower then higher (though both equally shrill) not unlike a bosun’s whistle. Alas, I could not force the chair into the cargo space thus revealed; it remained too bulky. Until the enchanting Meredith, finished with her own tasks with remarkable alacrity, came to assist the Fool Eternal with his own smaller duty, and showed me how the conveyance folded into itself for ease of storage. I was struck dumb by my own incompetence, though the genteel maid forbore from comment. She simply ushered me to my place, took her own at the wheel, and ferried us to freedom.

And then began our second display of folly.

To start, MacManus could not describe the dock where we had made landing. He directed Lady Meredith to the harbor, presuming there to be but one such, but her immediate rejoinder – to wit, “Which harbor?” – quickly put the lie to his presumption. He endeavored to peer out the ports of the beast-wagon, attempting recognition of our surroundings, but failing: it has been a fortnight and more since we passed this way, and then it was daylight but now ’tis the blackest night without moon nor stars; and Lynch and I, fevered and unconscious at the time, were of no use to him. I thought to ask how we had been conveyed, and learned that Vaughn had solicited from a local citizen the site of the nearest doctorage, and we had been carried there on litters made of boarding pikes and sailcloth. It had been a painful trek for him, and he remembered little more than discomfort and the odd stares from the people of this time, the which we have grown accustomed but not inured to.

But this gave Meredith a clew, for her mind is as quick and sharp as her face is lovely: she made for the nearest pier, in relation to the hospital, assuming that the men would not have trekked far with such a burden and such scrutiny. And on the second attempt, we struck it aright; MacManus shouted out that he knew the place.

Aroused and confident now that we would soon rejoin our shipmates, we stepped out and I offered my deepest and most sincere gratitude to our bewitching savior, while Lynch assisted MacManus in disembarking from the beast-wagon. Lady Meredith – though I quiver to state that she blushed, most fetchingly, as I laid a gentle kiss on her graceful hand – frowned (Still most becoming!) and said, “Are you sure this is where you want me to leave you? There’s nothing here, and it’s the middle of the night.”

I waved away her concern. “Ta, milady, the night is our shipmate, sure. A friend and ally, cloaking us in her shadows that we might find our way unseen by our foes. And we do not intend to abide in this place for more than minutes, I assure you.”

Her smooth white brow furrowed at this, her large and luminous eyes narrowing as her delicate lips made a pretty moue. Then her face cleared, like the dawn sky after a storm. “Oh – is someone else coming to get you?”

I bowed. “Such is our belief and our hope, milady.”

One perfectly shaped brow raised. “But – you’re not sure?”

I shrugged. “What is sure in this life?”

A wry smile crossed her generous mouth, showing the perceptiveness belied and camouflaged by such ethereal beauty. “Tell you what – why don’t I just wait here until your friends arrive, okay? Just in case.”

I shook my head. “Nay, milady, there is no need. I assure you that we are prepared to confront and conquer any obstacle, dare any hazard that may arise in our path, as we have done countless times before.”

Gently rounded white arms, dotted with the faerie-kisses of freckles, crossed over shapely bosom. “Do you all have any other clothes?”

“Nay, milady, but these will suit for as long as needed, to cover identities and protect modesty.”

“Mmm-hm,” seemed to be her response. “Any money?”

“Money can always be found and acquired.”

“Of course. Ever been in Charleston before? Know your way around?”

“I have sailed across the ocean! How difficult could a city be?”

She nodded, her fiery tresses curling becomingly around her angel’s face and smooth white shoulders. “I’ll just wait. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you – I’ll just stay in the car.”

She suited deed to word, the grace in each motion not hidden by the darkness nor lessened by her attire – well-fitted britches of blue broadcloth and a sleeveless sort of tunic of pale green that did not quite cling, and did not quite reveal – but I could live my life in that “not quite” and die a happy man. I shook myself from my reverie when Lynch – rather snappishly, I thought – called my name, and I turned and saw that he had MacManus situated, and was prepared to follow our course from here.

And so we did: MacManus identified the pier where the Grace had docked, we made our way to the very spot, and then I paced while MacManus counted aloud, as Lynch propelled his chair a step behind me. As the directions were simple enough, I could look ahead and discern our approximate destination: ’twas an establishment on the docks, though set back from the actual pier, with a sign naming it Bucky’s Bait Shop and Fishing Tours. Was this Bucky, then, our ally and informant? Had Vaughn left a message with the proprietor? What of Clio, the word left with Lynch?: A momentary survey showed me no sign reading Clio, nor anything similar, nor yet Lynch’s second clew, “setting.”

We completed the count, and found we had moved just past Bucky’s place of commerce; thirty paces to port took us into a shadowed alcove where there was – nothing. Naught but a large container for refuse – I was minded of the Latin Lion I had flogged in a similar alley behind another shop, after tying him to a similar container, back in Florida – and a telephone attached to the wall of Bucky’s Bait Shop.

So this, then, is our intended means of contact. Fine, Master Vaughn. Now what? MacManus is napping in his chair – the escape was most difficult for him, who should still be abed. Good man. Lynch is staring at the telephone and brooding over his useless, meaningless clews, and I record this log with near as much use and meaning to it. We had thought, upon Lynch’s discovery that the number-toggles on the telephone had letters inscribed thereupon, that we could spell out his words to reach Vaughn, but it proved to be of no use. Pressing C-L-I-O-S-E-T-T-I-N-G summoned to the earpiece a woman’s voice, who most frustratingly would not respond to any words of mine, but merely repeated the same cursed phrase over and over: “You must press one before the number you have dialed.” When I gave over my attempts to communicate directly with that ice-throated wench and followed her instructions, she demanded eighty-five scents! Damning her to Hades’ blackest fire-pits served no purpose, of course, though it was somewhat satisfying. Nothing we said would impel her to explain what on Danu’s green and verdant Earth she wanted from us: how in the name of all the saints and angels are we to acquire what she asked? How would we give them to her that demanded them? Frustrated at last, we replaced the handset in its holder, which shut the bitch up, at the least; then we tried, one after the other, C-L-I-O, which brought nothing but a pause, and then that same harridan’s mocking tone informed us that our call could not be completed as dialed; and then S-E-T-T-I-N-G, followed by S-E-T-T-I-N-G-C-L-I-O, both of which brought further demands that we deposit scents. Lynch had the rather esoteric idea that the woman was a witch, and wanted to smell us for some arcane and mysterious reason, but even were I willing to rub the telephone under my arms, the hag demanded eighty-five scents, fifty scents, and ninety-five scents for our three completed pressings. I was certainly not going to find near a hundred strangers and cajole or compel them to press the telephone into their oxters; even were I to do so, I would not then willingly put the same to my face.

And so, frustrated and stymied at the last, I sit at a table set out before Bucky’s Bait Shop, and keep my log. And I feel a consummate fool, for here I am, writing these purposeless words in this worthless log, while Lynch stares at that thrice-damned telephone, and MacManus sleeps, fitfully and clearly in pain but too exhausted to care – and a hundred paces away sits an intelligent and genteel and sublimely beautiful woman, watching me, watching us in all our gloriously asinine folly. I cannot bear to look up for shame – even though, by God Almighty, I hear her approach us now. Curse the gods for making beautiful women to be the bane of we dim-witted men.

Later

We have taken advantage of Lady Meredith’s most kind and generous offer of hospitality – and my dear Margaret’s, as well, for it is her domicile where we bide this night, and seek rest, each of my companions granted a bedchamber to sleep in, with a wonderfully cushioned bench for myself – more than adequate to my needs.

The beauteous Meredith spoke to me of the need to stay off of the city streets, as she put it, as we are likely now wanted men; too, she did not need to do more than glance at MacManus, who is in dire need of decent rest, which he could never find in that chair, outside in the damp night’s humors – the atmosphere in this city is most close and pressing! ‘Tis like breathing through damp wool. Though that would smell better, to my nose. Perhaps that telephone-witch sought relief from this city’s stink, with her absurd demand for scents. Did she want perfumes? Bah! The very thought renews my ire, and chases away the rest I need.

I will think of Meredith, and so to sleep.

28th of August – is it still?

As it ever is, all is brighter with the dawn. I am sure we will find the solution to this mystery, and in the meantime, we are free, we are comforted and secure in the house of my good friend – whose generosity I will endeavor to, but fear I cannot, repay – and I am in love. For milady Meredith Vance, I have now discovered, performs a rite called Yoga.

I cannot even describe it. I slept deeply and well, in smallclothes under a thin but soft blanket as Meredith kindly (and ably) laundered Jackson the guardsman’s uniform along with the clothes MacManus wore; Lynch is slight enough to wear some of the attire in this abode – Meredith claims it was her grandfather’s clothing, but I think it likely her own, and I curse the breadth of my shoulders that I cannot let her dress me, as well, in her own apparel. Any road, I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through the many glass windows that pierced the walls of the room – ’tis a parlor, rather than a bedchamber, and thus far more open; though the couch where I lay my head was as soft and restful as any bed I have known. I rose and went to the windows to greet the day – and there, on the lawn behind the house, the which is surrounded by trees and high hedges, there I saw Meredith, wearing little more than her own silken skin, as she – danced.

She is dressed much as the Enchantress was, when I first spied her in her glory as she swum in her pool; but Meredith’s attire, while similarly fitted to her skin, covers somewhat more. She stands on a small rectangular cloth, a thin carpet, perhaps, on the grass; she faces the rising sun. She stands on one leg and raises the other, as she lifts her hands over her head. She is in profile to me, and I can see that her eyes are closed, her face serene. Her hair is drawn back into a tail which spills down her back like a stream of fire. She lowers her arms and her leg, and then – bends over at the waist and touches her toes. Then she leans far to the left, and then the right, just as a swordsman might when he thrusts, but a hundred times slower, with wondrous grace; and to watch the smooth movement of her limbs, the flexion of her taut sinews under such gleaming porcelain skin – my God, I have never seen anything so lovely. I know not how long I watched her slow, lithe movement, but she never opened her eyes, and I never closed mine. Until she finished with her hands folded before her and her head bowed, as though in prayer; I managed to break myself away from the window, then, before she could catch me in my admiration. She came into the house, now covered in a thin robe, and greeted me where I sat on my couch – with the blanket providing modesty to my smallclothes. I inquired as to her health and activity on this fine morning, and she told me she was well, and had been doing her Yoga.

Gods bless that Yoga, and Meredith Vance, as well.

And may the saints preserve me. For I am a pirate, and a fugitive, and a man lost in time, without resources or prospects, or even a shirt I can name my own. And I am in love.

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Log 43: Most Interesting Encounters

Log

August the 24th

Yesterday after noontide, I had a most interesting encounter. I woke from my postprandial slumber and made my way out to the gardens for my evening game of draughts with my dear Margaret – who, like many of nature’s most graceful creatures, is most active about the hours of dawn and dusk. I found her in the gardens already, and accompanied: accompanied by a vision of beauty that set my heart to racing, and dazzled my poor rattled brain.

‘Twas Margaret’s grand-daughter, one Meredith Vance. Tall she is, for a lass, and slender and shapely, by Jove. Locks of deep red, nearly crimson, and skin of ivory, and a smile that would charm a dead man, with a voice so melodious that the birds themselves must hush to listen. I did approach, nowise showing my flusteration, and made my courtesies and obeisances; I flatter myself to think that I did detect a becoming flush in Meredith Vance’s cheek when I smiled and bowed to kiss her soft hand.

Then she crushed me at draughts. While Margaret sat and watched and the two of them laughed and laughed.

A most fetching woman, this Meredith Vance. Alas that she must see me thus, aswaddle in bandages and without my finery, my weaponry, my gold, or my ship. My humble self did seem to her liking, though, so perhaps I can impress her anon.

I hope she will visit Margaret again.

Later

Ah, and here I thought la policia would be the dread and torment of this serene place. But Drucker and Rice have been as mere gadflies to he whom I did encounter this day.

Today, at luncheon’s hour, I was visited by one Tobias Sanderson, hospital accountman. A factor, it seems. A rabbity fellow, of damp eyes and pale flesh; one more at home with books and parchment than wind and rain, or sun and moon and sky.

Master Sanderson made a brief courtesy, and then moved right to the heart of the matter: the bill for my keep. Apparently, the hospital had contacted my mother country, as Ireland now offers her aegis to her sons when they ail; something called the National Health Service pays the doctors’ wergild – the blood price, that is. But neither the consulate, an office I know nothing of, nor the National Health, had heard of an Irish son by the name of Damnation Kane.

Aye, I thought, for such a name surely vanished when I did so, in 1678.

But I smiled my most charming grin, and told Master Sanderson: Nay! Damnation be but a friend’s name for my humble self. My Christian name is Nathaniel, known also as Nate. What kind of mother, I scoffed, would name her child “Damnation?”

As he wrote this new intelligence in his folio (I have my own folio?), my mind was racing. Once he fails to find this Nate Kane, I thought – or, if one such there be, by chance, once the accountman discovers that he is not I – I feared this acquaintance would grow rapidly discomfortable. How does one dissuade and put off a functionary, I wondered. Then it came to me: like a nobleman, of course; the bane of all government.

“My good man,” quoth I, in my haughtiest tones, “There is no need to search me out in this, this – National Health. I am here. I am all that you will ever require. The Kane name is one of the finest in all of Europe; of course we will stand for our obligations. I will make good on whatever is owed; for myself and my companions, as well.”

He looked me askance, then, peering over the top of the folio and the spectacles he wore. “Well, Mister Kane,” he said slowly.

Lord Kane,” I interrupted him. In for a penny, in for a pound, so they do say.

He coughed dryly into his fist. “Excuse me, of course. Lord Kane. You should be aware, er, sir, that the American health care system is quite different from the British system you’re used to. Primarily in the matter of cost.”

I waved my hand impatiently. “Bah! Money is not a concern, I say. It matters not to me – bother me not with your pounds and shillings and pence, I – “

As I preparing to wax rhapsodic on the matter of my supposed immunity to Mammon, he flipped through the papers in the folio, and then put his finger on one and interrupted me (Clearly he has no experience with nobility; lucky to still have his head and whole skin, I should say.), saying, “Your current amount owed is just under 85,000 dollars. Lord Kane.”

Into the dead silence that followed this pronouncement, while my mind reeled – by Lucifer’s ballocks, Master MacNally asked less than a fifth that for freeing all of my men from the Florida gaol! – Sanderson looked at me again and then added a second blow while I reeled: “The balances on your companions’ accounts are considerably higher, as both required the aid of surgical specialists, as I recall.”

Were I but myself at this moment, I would have swallowed my tongue and spat fire at this highway robbery – and this man’s name is Toby, the very word the English use for such iniquity! – but Lord Kane must care nothing for amounts, no matter how exorbitant; he must not haggle like a merchant. And so, to cover my discomfiture, I put my hand to my head as though my wound pained me, and then waved him off again, repeating that money was no matter, that the Kanes ever paid their debts. I dismissed him, peremptorily, and ordered him out so I could rest. Sanderson closed his mouth – as tight as his pursestrings, I wager – bowed over his folio, and left the room, muttering about telephone calls he would make.

By Saint Patrick, what bloody money-grubbing bastard has been allowed to run rampant over the medics here? Who permits this pillaging? Have they no king, no chieftain, no man of honor to defend holy justice? I recall what I was paid for my service as the Enchantress’s maid-man; how would a working man ever earn enough to pay such a debt as this place would load onto my shoulders? Let alone a sick man, in need of such care? It was the sort of thing I might expect in my Ireland, the Ireland held firmly under a conqueror’s bootheel, and pillaged by foreign soldiers every single day; but I had thought that these people were free citizens under a sovereign state. But it seems they are in truth ruled by these avaricious doctors – or else by the functionaries who keep the books, by Sanderson and his High-Toby ilk. ‘Tis madness. Sheer madness.

And so, it seems, we will not be staying in this hospital. My lies may have earned us two days, perhaps three, but before such time passes and Sanderson returns, we must be gone from here.

I must rest, now. I will need my strength later.

25th August

I bid farewell to Margaret this morning – and in a fit of foolishness, bid her give my fond regards to her lovely and charming grand-daughter. To no good purpose, as I do not expect to see them ever again in this life. Still, she has my regard, and it is no ill thing for her to know it. Lynch, MacManus and I had laid out much of our plan, this yesternight, after I rolled Lynch’s chair down to Shane’s room and informed them of the exorbitant wealth I had purported but in fact lacked, and our need, therefore, to flee.

This afternoon, then, Lynch and I must explore these halls. I know the route we must follow to escape the building entirely, but before then, we will need uniforms for myself and for Lynch, and ordinary clothes for MacManus. We will pretend to be in service here, Lynch and I, like that simpleton attending Margaret when first she and I met, and we will claim to any interrogatories that we are taking Master MacManus for some fresh air out of doors. Lynch is sure that he can walk, though not far; he will lean on the chair as he rolls it, for support, and I will help when I can.

We must find, too, some means to disguise this stone sheath on my arm.. I have asked the doctor, and it must not come off for at minimum another fortnight, or my arm will be too weak to be of any use to me. Then, with the quiet confusion of the hours before dawn to conceal our disappearance, we hope to walk right out of St. Vincent’s hospital, and seek out my ship and our shipmates, if they still be free, and if we can find them.

Clio. Setting.

Damn it all.

Later

We have it. The attendants arrive in clothes suitable for wear in the city streets, and then re-dress themselves in hospitallers’ uniforms. There is a chamber, at the end of a hall that crosses ours, where they effect this change and then store their unused clothing. We watched two women enter wearing the blue livery of the staff here, and then depart in ordinary habiliments; at the same time, a man made the reverse transformation. There are two doors to two chambers, it seems, dividing the sexes and preserving propriety; I cannot be sure as I was prevented from entering. We will endeavor to go there undetected this night, and obtain such apparel as we need.

Later

I cannot sleep. I know I must, I need rest so that I might have all of my faculties and all of my strength, as I must not merely captain this journey, but also lend my good right arm to my companions, a shoulder to lean on and a hand to help, perhaps even an arm to shield. But I have no good arm left me.

This reminds me: I must find armament for us. La policia may pursue us, and I feel sure that the accountman Sanderson will have strongarms at his disposal, and will likely set them on our trail, considering the clink they say we owe, the which we will not, of course, be paying. I must be ready. I must be strong. I must sleep.

I cannot.

My mind will not be still. I find myself pondering the possibilities, and dithering. Me! I am Damnation Kane, captain of the Irish rover the Grace of Ireland, and master of the manly and barbarous scalawags what crew her. I am not this indecisive namby-pamby who fears to be caught on the spot without a plan formulated already. I have no need to predict and counterbalance every contingency: I will face what comes when it comes, and confront it, and conquer it! Who is this coward that occupies my mind? Who made my hands tremble when questioned – without a single threat, without one instant of torture either implied or applied – by a pair of fat, aged West English policias? Who keeps me from my rest now?

Who am I become? Am I not me? Am I not Damnation Kane, dread pirate of the Irish seas?

I know not what to do. And that, too, is not me.

Perhaps the blow to my head has addled my wits. Perhaps the long time abed and away from my ship has stolen the strength from me, has cooled the fires of my blood. Perhaps the medicaments, the potions and infusions and tinctures, and perhaps the limp and tasteless food, have all served to weaken my heart and mind.

Bah. Perhaps I just need a drink.

It matters not. Whatever fear I feel, however I may lack rest – on the morrow, I depart. Then we will see if I am who I should be, and if I can do what must be done.

Then we will see if I am still Damnation Kane.

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Log 42: Draughts

Log

The Twentieth of August in the Year 2011

My exploration met with success! Today I did find gardens, which I am permitted – though it sore chafes me to admit I am liable to be permitted anything, rather than taking whatever I want; but still I am not hale – to wander. The heat of the noon sun is oppressive, but the light falling on my flesh is most welcome, most invigorating. At last, I have cast off this feeling of entrapment, of entombment, in this place with its ever-white walls, unpierced by sight of azure sky, its air that whispers through grates rather than singing through open windows with Nature’s breath.

It has also greatly advantaged me that at last the good doctors have removed my ivies; the visit to MacManus had been made doubly awkward, and vexatious, by the necessity of hauling along my chirping fluid-filled ivy box, which at the least is on a wheeled stand and thus can be rolled (and used as some manner of support, should one be struck by a wave of weakness and wish to avoid shaming one’s self by falling to the floor like an inveterate drunkard) as one walks. But still and all, I am most cheered thus to be rid of its aid and its incessant chirruping and tugging at my limbs, tethered to it by ivy strands rooted in my flesh. Extricating these from mine extremities in a fit of pique was entirely inadvisable; and made of me a most compliant and complacent patient thereafter.

I had, as well, an amusing encounter. These gardens without the hospital are reached through a pair of heavy glass doors, which took some strength to open; I surmise it to be some form of test of one’s recovery, that if one is incapable of passing through this portal, then one should remain abed. But just without, a reward: a wooden bench, most comfortous, and which affords a splendidly pleasing view; it is flanked by large and vigorous flowering plants, the blossoms of which flood the air with a perfume as lovely as ever met my senses.

As I sat, enjoying my time in the sun (and I did vow that I would roll Lynch’s chair out here on the morrow; on this day, he slept), I heard a rattle-scratch at the door, which was astern of my left shoulder. I turned to look, and beheld two figures at the portal, visible through the glass. One was a youth in the livery of the hospital and apparently in its employ – though I question his actual capacity for such employment – who stood idle before one of the heavy doors, his hands drawn up before his face like a nearly-blind deacon holding his Scriptures, and in the boy’s hands was one of the Verizon-stones that I have seen frequently since our arrival here. This was obviously one of the god Verizon’s most devout worshipers, as he did not look away for an instant, so enraptured was he by the face of his god.

The other personage, clearly a fellow sufferer come here for succour, was an elder woman, her hair white as thistle-down, her face a map of the passage of many and many a year, but her back straight and her eyes clear. She pushed lightly at the heavy door as I watched, the which did make the rattle-scratch sound I had heard; then she turned and stared at the youth, clearly waiting for him to break the chains of inhuman stupidity that kept him from realizing: not only was she a lady of some dignity, not only was she a grandmother and deserving of great respect, but she was a weak and injured patient of his employer, and obviously he had been assigned to see to her needs. Yet there he stood, unmoving but for his thumbs, which caressed the Verizon-stone as obsessively as a friar with his rosary.

I made to rise and carry out the fool’s proper duty, but ere I could do more than stand, the lady threw up her hands and shoved her way through the portal – showing an impressive vigor for her age and condition. The lad, still without looking up – his hair, which fell foolishly before his eyes, may have served as a second barrier to observation of the world, just after his ape-like imbecility – stepped to the side and then quickly through the door which the lady had opened.

Shaking my head and gritting my teeth, still I must first offer the lady some courtesy, as it was so sorely lacking from other quarters. I bowed to her, and gestured to the bench beside me.

The boy sat down. “Let me know if you need anything, okay, Mrs. F.,” he mumbled.

The cast on my left wrist, it obtains, is a fair club: it made a most satisfying thump on the back of the imbecile’s head. He cried out and at last – for a wonder – looked up. I struck down at his god, then, and sent it rattling across the ground – broken into pieces, I saw with no small satisfaction. “Hey!” he yelled, stretching his hands out toward his broken stone, like a child deprived of its sugar-sop.

“Aye, the lady doth need something, in truth,” I growled at him. “She needs to be treated with due reverence, and some semblance of manners. But not nearly so much as you need a drubbing for manners’ lack.”

He opened his mouth to protest, surely, but then a toss of his head cleared the hair from his vision – and perhaps the shaking of his rattling-dry walnut of a head cleared some of the cobwebs from his brain, what little there be of that organ – and he saw my expression. His mouth closed and he slunk off to retrieve his broken stone, which he proceeded to manipulate mournfully, clearly unable to return it to its proper shape. I shook my head once more, muttering a Gaelic imprecation, but I wished to help the lady more than I wished to beat the lad. Though ’twas a slim margin, in truth.

“Please, Madame, I beg thee to join me. This pleasant garden lacks but gentle company – a dearth I vow thou canst most ably fill.” With a flourish, I bowed the lady to the bench, where she sat after placing her dainty, wizened hand in mine and murmuring a delicate thanks for my humble assistance.

“Nay, milady, thou hast my gratitude for thy fair presence, which doth make this good garden all the more lovely.”

The lady arched a brow at me and then laughed. “Well, aren’t you the honey-tongued devil,” she said.

I bowed my head at the compliment. “‘Tis only meet to whisper sweet words into this well-perfumed air, and only a gentle manner should greet such a rare and beauteous lady as yourself.”

She snorted (in a most unladylike manner, though to say true, it made me glad, for though I can don a semblance of manners, ’tis not to my comfort, who am happiest with my salty brethren and the buxom tavern-wenches who keep us company) and said, “Too bad I have to be followed around by Justin Beeber over there, then. Though his manners are about what I expect from his generation, in this country, at least.” She shook her head at him – I would swear she spat! – and then turned to me. “You’re from Ireland, unless my ears have finally gone on me. I thought I heard you use a touch of the Gaelic to that hairy dullard.”

I bowed my head once more. “Aye, milady. I find my mother tongue to be unmatched in the application of vigorous insult. And if I may, I am Damnation Kane, of the Ireland of old.”

She held out her hand, and I took it and brushed a kiss across her knuckles – gnarled they were, but her grip was strong. “Margaret Boyle Flanagan, born in Dublin but raised on these barbaric shores. A pleasure, Mister Kane.”

“Nay, the pleasure is mine, milady, especially knowing thou to be of the right and proper blood.” I winked and placed another kiss on her hand, and she laughed. A proper laugh, too, full-throated and honest. A tavern-wench’s laugh.

“Tell me, Mister Kane. Do you play draughts?”

This was a good day.

 

Log August 22nd

This place, this hospital, has at last become hospitable. Though the food remains questionable – ample in quality but sorely lacking in savor – all else is grown most comfortable. La policia did return to question me once more, but the same application of hand to head and furrowing of heavy brow did foist them off once more. I feigned to remember a detail or two, selecting the most apt of MacManus’s tale; ’tis to be hoped they will be satisfied with this narrative, and be off to find an imagined ship and imagined enemies, and leave us in peace. The medicaments given me by the doctors have greatly eased the pain of my wounds, and my strength returns rapidly; the bedchamber and washroom adjacent are small, but adequate to my needs, and clean and well-maintained by the staff, who are numerous and generally quite solicitous. Now that I am ambulatory and can visit my companions at will, and with access to the gardens and my newfound and most delightful friend Margaret Flanagan – I find these accommodations most satisfactory. We will stay here, I think, until our hurts are well healed.

Margaret (as she insists I call her) is a woman of grace and gentility – though not, I must hasten to add, in the manner of one of those insufferable noblewomen, haughty and priggish. We have spent much of the last two days in company in the gardens; we found the means to play draughts, and with this and with conversation were thus occupied for many hours, though the time seemed far shorter, in our tranquil and enchanting amusement. Between games we walk through the gardens, her hand on my arm for support, and talk endlessly. I had her cackling like a hencoop over the exploits of my young self; particularly the occasion when my cousin Colin and I determined to set a trap for a giant, an endeavor that ended with a sheep bleating piteously, a-dangle from a tree limb with a rope about its middle, and Colin’s Da flat on his back in a mudpuddle, as Colin and I hied for the hills. Margaret, in turn, sang me a ribald song about a Scotsman which I must learn to heart so I may sing it for O’Gallows, that half-Scotch bastard.

Aye: with Margaret and the gardens to fill my days, and restful sleep o’nights, I find myself – happy.

 

August the 23rd

Today I met with Lynch and MacManus. I had woken in the night from a dream of the Grace, and bethought myself to read again the letter I have from Vaughn. This sparked my curiosity, when I read of how my companions held clues to the whereabouts of our beloved ship – or rather, the means to ascertain such knowledge. I called Lynch to come to MacManus’s room, and we discussed the matter.

They had clues, indeed, but none of us knows the meaning of them. Lynch had been told two words, which had been repeated often enough to root them well in his fevered memory, though the lad knew but the syllables and not the sense: the word “setting,” and the name Clio. I wonder if my educated friend Llewellyn meant to refer to the Muse of history. Or perhaps it is the name of a person, or an establishment hereabouts; I recall seeing taverns and eateries with similar names in Florida, while we sojourned there.

MacManus, who had maintained control of his faculties despite his wounds, had been given directions. He had been told, by Vaughn, to return to the point where they had docked the Grace – an old and unused pier in a quiet harbor not far from here – and then proceed, with his back to the ocean, for 100 paces, there to turn left and walk 30 more. Simple enough, but as these instructions had been withheld until after arrival at this hospital of St. Vincent, MacManus had no idea where they would lead. I hope then when we stand at that spot as directed, the words given Lynch will reveal their meaning, as well.

But this can all wait for another time. I must eat, and then sleep, and then – draughts!

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