Posts Tagged With: death

Chapter #83: The End (Part III)

Hobbes offered the metal bottle, and he drank more until the water was gone. Without a word, the Englishman disappeared, as well.

As well as he could, though he could not free himself, Damnation turned away from the Scourged Lady. She was not his solace; for him, she held no true comfort. He saw a slight movement behind her, and he stretched out his hand and caught – a rope. A length of two-inch rope, sticky with tar, swinging free at one end since the ship was at anchor, but attached to the foremast above.

Attached to his Grace.

He held that rope with both hands, his face turned away from the statue to which he was bound; and, softly, he sang a song to his ship. A love song.

Then he slept.

 

***

 

When Damnation awoke once more, tethered still to the Scourged Lady – the last time he would so awaken – it was not rain, nor blood, nor cool water that he felt on his skin: it was spittle. The sticky gob spattered into his left eye, and he jerked away from it – and then groaned, his gorge rising as his arms, his shoulders, and, now that the drugs in the salve had worn off, his ravaged back, all cried out in rusted iron agony. The feel of the spit oozing down his cheek sent him over the edge, and he vomited weakly, bringing up little more than bile which trickled down his chin and dripped onto his chest.

He opened his right eye, and saw a British sailor holding a lantern and grinning happily. “’At’s yer wake-up call, captain. You wouldn’t want ter miss anchors aweigh, wouldja?” The man laughed and walked off, leaving Damnation in the pre-dawn darkness, alone but for the statue in his embrace and the overwhelming feeling of filth and corruption that filled him.

Never in his life had he felt so dirty as he did right now, with the Englishman’s spit, and his own blood, vomit, sweat, and excreta drying on his skin. He leaned forward and tried to wipe his cheek clean against the wooden statue, but the surface was rough and ridged by the carving and years in the salt spray of the ocean, and he felt as if more dirt had stuck to his cheek. He rested his brow against the Lady’s chin, and prayed for rain.

Slowly, he became aware of activity all around him, increasing in pace as the sky began to lighten before the dawn. Lines were pulled taut and knotted clean, sails were being unfurled and tied in place, and the wind, just starting to blow, began to make the canvas billow and snap. The command was given, and men began circling the two capstans that raised the anchors, singing a low chantey to keep time as they struggled against the weight. The anchors aweigh, the ship began to swing about, the offshore breeze catching the gaff-rigged sail on the mainmast, which men held at an angle; when her prow was pointed in the proper direction, the gaff would be turned square with the ship and tied in place, and they would be off.

A longing filled Damnation’s dry mouth, seemed to swell his belly and strain his jaw. His legs twitched, his fingers cramping. Here he was, tied up and ignored, as his ship, his ship, which he had not even stood upon for three months let alone captained, came to life and motion around him. He yearned to walk the deck, check the lines and the trim of the sails, to shout commands and instructions and to ask for reports: what was their heading, what the speed, what lay before them; what potential problems would arise that he and his crew must overcome?

This ship – not Ireland, not his village, not even his own bed in his mother’s house, where he had slept since he was a child and still did when he returned with a hold full of plunder and trade – this ship was his home. The only place where he belonged, where the world felt right and true, particularly since he had been wrenched so very far off course, had journeyed so far from familiar waters. He had been separated from her for too long, and the need to return to her deck had been growing in every bit of him, these past weeks. No doubt that deep, mindless need had influenced his actions and decisions, had made him rash and impatient, even foolhardy. But how could he think clearly when his mind was full of nothing but getting back to his ship, finding once more his proper place in the world, whatever world he might find himself in?

And now here he was. Not the captain, but a prisoner aboard his own ship. Not in command, but on display. Not brimming with vitality and energy, his mind and will driving the actions of all aboard: stripped, beaten, soiled – and then ignored.

At least the tears that came helped clean the English spittle from his eye.

When the order went out to lower all sails and men scurried into the rigging to release the tied cords and let the canvas sheets come flapping down, the Grace seemed to leap forward, eager to sail, ready to move. When she did, the wind driving her into the waves, sending blasts of cold salt spray as high as the sails, Damnation’s spirits rose, as well – though their upward climb was rapidly checked by the coils of rope digging into his wrists, by the sting of the spray washing over his raw back, the loose and sagging bandages offering little protection from the salt water. Still, despite the sting, the wash of clean sea water over him seemed to clear away some of the filth that clung to his skin, and also the despair that clung to his soul. He drew himself upright, shaking and stretching the aches out of his legs and arms, wiping his eyes clean on the skin of his shoulders until he felt that he could at last see clearly – an effort aided by the growing light in the sky, as dawn began to break. He stood straight, arms resting on the Scourged Lady’s shoulders but no longer holding him up, and he looked around.

Nicholas Hobbes stood on the poop deck, one hand on the forward rail, eyes on the sails and the waves and everything in between. Damnation felt a strange sort of relief, spying the Englishman there; the Grace was and always would be Damnation Kane’s ship, until his death or her destruction, but he knew that the installation of the Scourged Lady made Hobbes see the Grace as his ship; and that meant that Hobbes would sail her as truly and as ably as he could – and in his years on the sea, he had not met a more able captain than the Devil’s Lash. Hobbes would take care of his Grace. Beside Hobbes stood his first mate, the sullen and brooding Mr. Sinclair; standing on the deck below them, his barbed whip coiled in his right hand, was the brute of a bosun, Mr. Stuart. Damnation felt a sharp twinge in his back as he looked at the slack-lipped giant; the lash that had torn him apart yesterday was the one in the bosun’s hand, and Stuart the man who had wielded it on him. The man surely would have whipped him to death, and smiled his idiot’s smile as he did, had not the ship come to life when she did.

He had not expected that to happen. He had thought, when he had seen what Vaughn had told him of, that the blood of poor Raymond Fitzpatrick had blotted out the runes his mother had inscribed on the Grace, and had destroyed the enchantment on the ship, as well. But it seemed that the magic remained, and enough of his blood on the Grace’s deck was the means by which the spell was cast. Knowing this, he knew regret: perhaps he should not have surrendered himself into the clutches of the Shadowman. Perhaps he should have found a way to free his men, and take his ship, and make the attempt to return to their own time, where – when – they belonged. By acting too precipitately, assuming they were stranded in this time, he had now made that assumption the truth, because as soon as the Shadowman killed him – he had no doubt as to the houngan’s intent on that score, especially after the way Damnation had manhandled him the day before – the magic would, he assumed, die with him, and his men would be truly stuck here, for the remainder of their lives.

He could not, right at this moment, decide if that fate would be worse than what awaited him now, at the Shadowman’s hands.

But then he saw, over the Scourged Lady’s shoulder, the voodoo priest emerge from the captain’s cabin beneath Hobbes’s feet, followed by his four dead-faced followers. The Shadowman tapped one of his four brutes on the arm and pointed up to the crow’s nest; that man turned, without a word or even a gesture to acknowledge the command, and began climbing up the rope lattice that led to the top of the mainmast. In moments, he was once more installed some thirty feet above their heads; and as before, he kept no watch for weather nor sails nor threats from beyond the near horizon: his gaze, and his automatic rifle, were aimed squarely down at the men on the deck. The other three trailed after their master as he approached the bow; he paused to exchange a few words with Captain Hobbes, and then nodded and continued towards Damnation, calling back over his shoulder, “Just get us into clear water and keep sailing. East!” Hobbes looked down at the Shadowman’s back, making no more sign of acknowledgement than had the houngan’s silent minions.

Perhaps Hobbes was becoming one more of those dumb brutes.

Perhaps he already was one.

As he drew close, the Shadowman glanced up and saw Damnation watching him through the space between the Lady’s head and her upraised arm, and he smiled. He raised his hands, which held a gourd covered with strange shapes and patterns in white and grey paint, and a knife with a blade that was a dull, matte black color. The three men following unspeaking behind him carried other strange objects: a bowl filled with a red paste, a black stone flecked with glittering silver specks, a bundle of dried twigs and another of herbs and – a chicken?

The Shadowman stopped at the Scourged Lady’s back. smiling over her shoulder at Damnation. Summoning all of his strength, and channeling it into nonchalance, Damnation quirked his eyebrow, tilted his head to one side, and asked, “Are we having a wee bit o’ soup, then?”

The Shadowman’s smile wavered, but then widened. “Indeed we are.” Without seeming to step forward, he suddenly pressed against the back of the figurehead, his face inches from Damnation’s, his chin digging sharply into the pirate’s left biceps. “But you won’t be the one with the spoon,” the dark man hissed. Then he disappeared from Damnation’s view.

Damnation shivered, despite all his efforts to suppress it; suddenly he was very aware that he was naked, and wounded, and bound. The Shadowman was going to do – something – to him, and, he realized now, there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it. He closed his eyes, took a deep shuddering breath that tasted like fear, and said a prayer to his gods. He prayed to Brigid, goddess of poetry and fire and love, for enough life in his body to give him a chance to fight; to the Morrigan, the Battle-Crow, for a good death if he could not live; and to Manannan Mac Lir, to guard and guide his soul home, should he die on or under the waves.

When he opened his eyes once more, he was as calm and as prepared as he could be. And then he saw the Shadowman kneeling at his feet, drawing strange mystical designs on the deck around both Damnation and the Scourged Lady, his three minions handing him materials as he asked for them with grunts and impatient gestures; and suddenly the little calm he had found was gone, once more. His throat was too dry: it had been too long since Hobbes had given him water; he was alone, surrounded by enemies, even above and below him; he was weak, his back shivering and twitching, his body aching, almost feverish. He did not even truly believe in the gods to whom he had prayed.

There was no hope. Damnation accepted that. He leaned his brow against the Scourged Lady’s breast, closed his eyes, and waited to die.

The Shadowman took his time preparing his ritual while Hobbes sailed the ship north and then, as ordered, turned due east into the sun, as soon as they had come far enough to clear the land. Now they sailed towards open ocean, a strong cross breeze pushing them forward at a good pace. On the poop deck, Hobbes smiled as the Grace came alive for him as she had not done while they sailed her from New York to Bermuda; then she had trudged along, wallowing through the swells, the wind obstinately turning to the wrong direction, her lines coming loose, everything going wrong that could do so. But now, she did not only sail, she flew, and Hobbes had the sense that he could be alone at the wheel, and the Grace would sail herself.

He was wrong, of course: if he had stood alone on the poop deck, she would not have flown. It was not for him that the Grace spread her wings. But in that moment of joyous freedom, Hobbes felt intensely glad that he had not sunk this ship, this beautiful ship.

When the Shadowman was ready – Damnation had neither moved nor opened his eyes, even as the houngan smeared lines of red paste over his skin, drawing designs up Damnation’s legs to his belly, up to his throat and then down his arms to his wrists – he set his three men at the cardinal points, north, south, and west, while he himself knelt to the east, the rising sun at his back, the Irishman’s bound, torn body in front of him, inside the ritual circle. Then he killed the cock, cutting its throat with his knife and draining the blood into a clay cup; he took a mouthful of rum and spit into the cup as well, and then two more mouthfuls before he placed the bottle at the feet of the white man. He lit the cigar with a wooden match, struck carelessly on the base of the Scourged Lady; he blew smoke in the face of each of his men, and then cupped it and waved it back into his own eyes before balancing the cigar across the mouth of the clay cup. Fire and air, earth and water, blood and rum: all was in readiness. He began the final chant that would summon the loa to him.

On the poop deck, Hobbes allowed himself to hope that the ship would sail for him as it had for Kane even after the savage had torn out the Irishman’s heart; if it did, he promised God in heaven that he would personally put that black witch to the torch.

Standing against the Scourged Lady, Damnation smelled each step of the ritual: the blood, the rum, the tobacco; he did not open his eyes and did not move. He wished the Shadowman would just get on with it.

The Shadowman expected to have to chant for anywhere from an hour to half a day; the loa came when he called, but they decided when, and they never hurried. So when he felt the presences not ten minutes after he began chanting, he actually stumbled over the words, his mouth hanging open for a moment as he wondered: was this a sign of good fortune, that the gods smiled on him?

Or was this ominous?

A sensation of irritation from the presences reminded him that the ritual was not finished, and whatever it meant that the loa had come so quickly, if he let the ritual collapse in the middle, the consequences would be deadly. He quickly picked up the chant once more, and now he rose from his knees and began to dance around the circle, calling the names of the loa: Agwe, the ruler of the sea; Met Kalfu, the lord of crossroads; and Baron Samedi, the master of the dead. The Shadowman cut his flesh, used his blood to draw the veves for each loa on the brow and breast of each of his three zombi servants – those men who made the perfect slaves, both for him and for the loa, as they had no wills nor souls of their own to get in the loa’s way. Agwe he called to the zombi to the north, Met Kalfu to the man to the south, and Baron Samedi went to the west, the way to the land of the dead where he ruled.

Again, it should have taken time for the loa to mount their horses, especially three such proud and powerful spirits; he had brought extra gifts to offer as propitiation should the three prove reluctant. But none of it was necessary, neither the gifts nor the time: almost as soon as he finished drawing the veves in his blood, each man’s expression changed, and an ancient spirit looked out at him from each zombi’s hollow eyes.

He knelt and bowed in obesiance. “My lords, I welcome you,” he said in French. “I have asked you here to honor you with the power I will now summon. I wish to put that power, and myself, at your service.” He paused, his forehead pressed against the deck; there was a chance – a good chance – that these three loa would argue over who would receive the offered gift; if they did, it would be best to let them work it out without his drawing any attention to himself.

But his words were met only with silence. Some moments went by, and then he heard the deep nasal voice of Baron Samedi say, “Proceed.”

He opened his mouth to ask if they had any need to discuss who was in control here, but then he shut it again: when the Lord of Death instructed you to proceed, it was best not to delay.

Thus he rose, in his hand the black-bladed knife, its blade stained with soot and burnt blood, and he stepped to the Irishman whose soul was tied to the boat’s: the man who was a conduit of power such as the Shadowman had never known. He allowed his envy of that power – undeserved and unearned; the man was a fool with no understanding at all of what he made possible, of what his ship made possible – to curve his lip into a sneer, and he reached up and took hold of the man’s sweat-matted hair, yanking him backwards until his arms were stretched tight, his body leaning away from the statue, held up by his bound wrists clinging to the Scourged Lady’s neck. The Shadowman pulled the man’s head back cruelly, exposing his throat, the pulse surging under the pale skin, and he smiled as he placed the edge of his knife against that throat; here was his revenge for the previous day’s humiliation, when the Irishman had dared to draw his blood, the blood of a bokor! He pressed the knife harder by small increments until he just pierced the skin; the man’s eyes rolled wildly, his nostrils flaring in panic as the Shadowman stretched him out like a cock for the sacrifice. A drop of the man’s blood dripped from the tip of the knife, and plashed on the deck.

As if a switch had been thrown, instantly the ship lit up with the blue-white glow of St. Elmo’s Fire; the hair of every man’s head and body standing up as the power played over each of them, and over every inch of the ship. The English sailors cursed and cried out in fear; the Irishman moaned in despair; the loa made no sound at all.

The Shadowman laughed. He raised the knife, feeling the power flow over his skin, knowing that he was the master of it, that this power was his, won with courage and guile, paid for in blood and death. “Hear me, spirits of this ship! I will kill this man! I will spill his life’s blood on your decks! If you wish to save the life of Damnation Kane, YOU WILL OBEY ME!”

A thrumming, moaning noise began, quickly rising in volume and pitch until it was nearly a scream. The ship shook from stem to stern, from keel to mast, as if it was the center of an earthquake, of a tempest; surely it would shake itself to pieces.

The Shadowman turned, wild-eyed, knife outthrust, his left hand still holding Damnation’s hair in its powerful grip, his body pulled taut as though he were on a rack. “OBEY ME!” the Shadowman screamed. “SAIL FOR ME!” he cried, his words nearly drowned out by the vibrating scream of the ship.

And before the Shadowman’s eyes, the risen sun suddenly sank: down into the east. The sun reversed its course, and night rose in place of day. Wild with ecstasy, the Shadowman spun about, facing the ship’s stern; a moment later, the sun rose in the west, and arced across the sky like a flaming stone flung from a catapult. Inside his gut, over his skin, he felt the power building, and building, and he knew that power was his.

Tears streaming down his cheeks, his eyes so wide it seemed that any moment they would burst from their sockets, the Shadowman turned back to his prisoner, his conduit, Damnation Kane. With a burst of wild laughter, seemingly pushed out of him by the power that continued to build, and build, and build within him, growing until it seemed he could not take in a breath, that the power left no room in him for anything so mundane as air – and still it grew – the Shadowman laid the knife blade along the Irishman’s throat. “MINE!” he cried out, “THE POWER IS MINE!” He glanced up to see the sun burn another flaming streak across the sky, its third such trip in the wrong direction, and faster each time: now the night unwinding took but a heartbeat, and then the sun rose in the west for the fourth time.

That was when the Shadowman exploded.

A wave of boiling hot liquid passed over Damnation like a single perfect curtain of rain: it was the blood and the liquified remains of what had been Lyle Okagaweh, expanding outward like a soap bubble: but this bubble did not burst. The curtain of liquid Shadowman expanded and thinned until it surrounded the entire ship: the sunlight was reduced to a dim sullen red, the blue sky and the green-grey water of the Atlantic disappearing along with the world outside. Inside this bubble of blood and bone and flesh there was only the ship, the men aboard – all touched by the searing liquid, but none of them burned or even made wet by it; it left no trace of itself as it passed over and around and through – and the water in which the ship floated.

All else was gone.

Particularly the Shadowman.

The loa stood, cursing in inhuman tongues, their ancient gazes flickering about, taking in what surrounded them. Baron Samedi began to laugh. Agwe and Met Kalfu exchanged glances, and then both advanced on Damnation, who had hauled himself upright, heaving desperate breaths, trying to understand that he was not dead, and that the Shadowman seemingly was.

He noticed the two men advancing on him, their eyes glowing in the murky red darkness inside the blood-bubble; he cried out in fear, tugged at the bonds holding his arms, then cringed in on himself, expecting a mortal blow, pressing his bare skin against the painted wooden surface of the Scourged Lady.

Thus he was the first to feel the figurehead move.

Even as the two loa stepped close, raising angry fists and growling deep in their throats, the wooden statue suddenly unclasped her hands from where they had been knotted together above her head since she had been carved. One arm lifted Damnation’s arms up, and the Lady ducked her head out from between his bound wrists. The other arm reached out and caught the deadly blows of the loa before they could smash Damnation into a bloody pulp. There was a sound like thunder, and the Lady’s wooden arm cracked, chips of paint bursting away from the impact; but from the cracks in her wooden arm, light glowed, and from that light, Agwe and Met Kalfu cowered back.

The Lady tossed Damnation aside as though he were a scarf she doffed, and then she lunged forward, coming up under where her cracked right arm caught the loas’ blows, and her left forearm slammed into the belly of Met Kalfu, propelled forward by the power of the Lady’s legs. The zombi horse of the loa, who was, after all, no more than flesh and bone, however mighty the spirit that rode him, flew backwards through the air, launched completely off the ship: and when he hit the bubble of blood, he was still rising towards the apex of his flight. That was as far as he got, though, for with a sound like a mighty whale slapping the ocean with its tail, the zombi struck the blood bubble and burst himself, disintegrating in a ripple of liquid that mixed with the thin bubble of Shadowman; now the bubble was, in that direction, thicker, less light shining through the red.

The horse of Agwe watched open-mouthed as the mighty Met Kalfu was thrown through the air: thus he had no time to escape before the hands of the Scourged Lady caught his shoulder and thigh. She lifted him over her head, and drew back mightily – only then did Agwe struggle, striking in vain with flesh and bone hands on the wooden Lady; the blows had no effect. But then Agwe began growling strange otherworldly sounds that somewhat resembled words, and a rising glow emanated from his eyes, a glow that made wisps of smoke rise from the animated wooden statue –

Too late. The Lady flung the loa, who like his fellow struck the blood bubble and burst and was consumed.

The roar of a machine gun filled the air, and jagged splinters of wood were blasted from the Scourged Lady as a line of bullets lanced across her back. Every hole freed a new beam of light, and now a man brave enough to look into that light could see that it was both light and dark, the crimson of fresh blood and the livid green of putrid flesh; if that man did not look away, he would quickly lose his mind. No man on board looked except for the zombi gunman perched above, who drew a bead on his target – and was instantly lost in the impossible light that shone from her like ethereal blood. The Lady turned, looked up at him, and her wooden eyes opened, new light pouring forth from those twin holes, the light falling full on the face of the man looking down from the crow’s nest above.

The rifle fell from his limp hand.

The Lady opened her wooden mouth and said, “Come to me.” She spoke neither English nor French, yet everyone within hearing understood her words. With a convulsive heave, the man threw himself off the crow’s nest, and plummeted thirty feet down to the deck below, where he broke, and died. The Scourged Lady knelt by his side, his empty eyes now veiled in death; she caressed his cheek with infinite tenderness.

Then she grabbed him by his broken neck and flung him over the side. He sank quickly into the now perfectly still water trapped in the bubble with the ship; a minute or so later, they heard a muffled thump, and the water rippled, and was still.

Silence fell. Darkness soon followed, the red light in the bubble now dimming to late twilight. From where he cowered on the deck, entirely amazed and trying desperately not to run gibberingly mad, Damnation turned his head and looked. The Scourged Lady no longer shone with the light of madness; she brushed her hands over her arms, down her back, and she was whole once more. She no longer resembled wood: now she had all the seeming of a human woman, albeit seven feet tall and impossibly beautiful, even with the scars of the whip still livid on her sides.

The silence was broken by laughter. The Scourged Lady and Damnation both turned towards its source: the third loa, Baron Samedi, lounged against the rail, and he clapped his hands, applauding the show. He straightened and faced the Lady, and made her an elegant bow.

“My Lady Death,” he said in his deep voice.

The Lady, a slight, cold smile on her lips, nodded her head. “My Lord Death,” she replied. She raised her head again, looking imperiously down on the shorter zombi who carried the spirit of the Baron. “I have a boon to ask of you, my Lord.”

The Baron cocked his head. “I was invited to this place, Lady, I do not trespass. You have already punished the instigator of this affair.” He gestured to the blood bubble surrounding them, all that remained of the Shadowman.

The Lady gazed up at the curve of liquid human. “No. He brought it on himself.” She looked back to the Baron, but Damnation, cowering on the deck of his ship, just beginning to think that he might not be dead, nor mad, felt as though she spoke to him rather than to the loa. “To travel with the sun, even to race ahead of it, is simple, is safe. Relatively. But to challenge the sun in its path, to stand against it and to try to reverse its course: that is death. As you see,” she said, gesturing at the blood. Now she looked at the English sailors, all of them cowering and many of them gibbering. “The blood is now all that protects these men. Without it, they would be in the world, the world that they are in already, as their selves who lived three days before the time their journey began. Men may not exist in the world twice. It would be their doom.” She turned and looked directly at Damnation as she said, “They are not gods.”

He dropped his gaze, and did not look up again as the two beings conversed.

“So what is it you wish of me, Lady?” the Baron asked.

“The only thing I cannot take,” the Lady responded.

“Ah,” said the Baron softly. “My willing agreement.”

“Your acceptance of sacrifice.”

“Of my horse, this body,” the Baron said.

“Of course. I would not threaten the spirit of the Baron of the Grave, himself.”

The Baron was silent for a moment. “Surely I could not best you in that magnificent form,” he said.

“You could not,” she agreed. “But the blood of that body, even combined with the blood of the others, is not enough. The protection will not last without will.”

“Mm,” the Baron mused. “The blood is weak.”

“There is none of your brethren in the blood, and no will in any of these but the first, their master.”

“And in will is strength.”

“There is power in blood, but it grows only with time, and these men were too young to be strong. The protection will not last.” She paused and then said, “I wish it to last.”

“And I must remain in this body as it dies, yes?”

“Yes, my lord Death. Without you, the body has no will.”

“So you do seek to kill me.”

“That is the boon I ask.”

A pause, then, that stretched longer, and longer. And then – the Baron laughed. He laughed loud and long. At last he spoke. “I will grant your boon, my Lady. I never could say no to a beautiful woman.

“But I have two conditions.”

“Name them.”

“First, let all of these humans stand witness. It is a thing that seldom occurs, the death of a god, and it should be seen, and spoken of until these men can speak no more.”

Damnation felt a sudden and irresistible urge to rise: he did so. He needed to turn and face the two Deaths: he did so. He must open his eyes and look, and watch and remember all that occurred: he would. He would also, whether he wanted to or not, keep his sanity, and keep this memory in perfect detail until his death – and perhaps beyond.

Such was the will of the goddess who resided in the Scourged Lady.

“And your second condition, my Lord?”

The Baron smiled as wide as a skull. He held his arms out to the sides, like a performer’s flourish before he takes his final bow. “Make it a death worth having,” Baron Samedi said.

The Scourged Lady took a step towards him: and with that step, her hands became great curving talons. Another step, and her lovely face stretched, becoming a sharp beak; her hair flowed into a crown of black feathers. With her last step, she clutched the Baron’s shoulders with her claws, and then, as every living man aboard the Grace of Ireland watched, the beak struck, and tore out the Baron’s left eye. He groaned in pain as the bird-goddess tossed her beak upwards, throwing the eye in an arc, catching it again, and swallowing it whole. The right eye followed, and then, as the Baron’s screams grew louder and became inarticulate, the goddess tore the tongue from his mouth, swallowing it like a worm as it writhed out of the side of her beak, spattering her with blood.

Then she reared back and struck: her beak stabbed into the zombi’s chest, and pierced the Baron’s heart. With one final convulsion, the Lord of Death – died. Gently the Lady lay him down, and then stood back and away. The body floated up off the deck, and then burst, as had the Shadowman, but this time it was with a brilliant flare of beautiful light; the men felt their eyes burn from the light, but they could not look away, could not close their eyes: they watched as the Baron’s form melted into a swirling maelstrom of light, and compressed down into a single point that burned into their minds: and then flashed out, washing over them again as the first blood-bubble had. The Baron was gone, and the blood-shell around them appeared smooth, and hard, and it gave off a gentle glow.

The Scourged Lady, her face still coated in blood, still beaked and feathered, turned towards where Nicholas Hobbes stood at the rail of the poop deck, his eyes glowing with awe and a deep longing as he watched his beautiful, battered figurehead move and live. She spoke to him, the words emerging without any movement of the beak, still in no language they could know, but still perfectly understood by all. “I thank you, Nicholas Hobbes, for the blood you offered to me in this statue: the blood and the pain and the death. You made this a strong vessel for me.” She took a step towards him then, and said, “But you fell short of the truth. I do not bear the lash. I wield it.” Quicker than the eye could follow, her talons lashed out and pierced the shoulder and upper arm of the bosun Stuart, who stood mouth agape on the main deck; he roared in pain, and the barbed whip fell from his hand. The Lady’s other taloned hand caught it, snapped the whip in the air with a crack like thunder, like a mast giving way in a storm. Stuart fell to his knees, and the Lady’s talons drew out of his flesh. She snapped the whip again, and the crack was even louder: a ship wrecking on rocks. The third time, when the whip cracked, the wooden statue fractured and fell away in pieces: and the Goddess herself was revealed.

She was pale, the dead white of bone, but her eyes were a deep burning red, her lips as red and wet as hot blood. Her hair was the gleaming blue-black of a raven’s feathers, cascading down her back in a fluttering mane that seemed to have a life of its own. She stood nude, and so gloriously, impossibly beautiful was she that every man there was instantly inflamed by her face and figure, and wanted her – and knew themselves unworthy of her caresses, and turned away, in fear and anger and shame and burning lust.

All but Damnation Kane. For he, unlike the Englishmen, recognized her. And as she turned and smiled at him alone, he whispered her name aloud.

“Morrigan,” he said.

The Battle-Crow smiled wider, and stepped close to him then. For a moment he thought she would embrace him, would kiss him; and he knew if she did, it would destroy him utterly: and he longed for her to do it. But she did not. Instead she spoke, the power and glory in her voice suppressed now, her words for his ears alone: now she spoke Irish.

“I did not come here for you,” she said. “I came for Manannan Mac Lir. He asked me to serve his will, and offered me blood and death in exchange.” Still smiling, she said, “I am satisfied with my bargain.” She looked out at the water, at the blood, and her smile turned sultry and satisfied, and again Damnation’s lust burned brighter than his will to live: he began to move towards her, reaching out to take her in his arms. She glanced towards him as he stepped within a pace of her perfect beauty.

The smile faded, and a bottomless, eternal anger burned in those eyes, which now turned the impossible color of the light that had shone from the cracks in the statue: the light of madness, in the color of death. “Impudent man,” she said, spitting the words with immortal contempt, the sound of her teeth clashing together like the fall of a mountain of skulls, the hissing of her breath the spurt of blood from a thousand cut throats. “You would smear your filthy human lust on me?” She opened her mouth, and her teeth were jagged fangs, her throat the opening of a bottomless pit of darkness. The last of Damnation’s lust was washed away by terror as she opened her mouth wider, wider, wide enough to swallow him whole: and he cowered back from her then, and looked away.

She paused. Then she spoke again, her voice again no more than human; but he would not look to see if her mouth was human as well. “Manannan Mac Lir will protect you until you can return to the time you left. When the blood is gone, he will leave you to your own devices.” She paused, and then said, sounding reluctant, “He may be right about you, mortal. Perhaps.”

Her hand grasped his chin: her skin was both smooth as silk and hard as steel, hot as fire and cold as death. She turned his face to hers, and he could not keep his eyes closed while she wished him to look at her. Anger flashed in her eyes, tiny bursts of green-red dark-light blooming and fading; with each bloom, he felt as though his soul cringed back from a blow. “I am displeased with you, Damnation Kane. And so I will tell you only this: I will have your blood. If you stay in this time, then I will drink your blood from your veins.” The Morrigan pressed her face close to his, and the light in her eyes battered him, smashing into him again and again. “If you can return to the time of your birth, then your blood will feed my land.” She came even closer, and her eyes were the whole world, and the whole world was pain. “The choice is yours.”

Then she kissed him, and he knew no more.

 

***

 

Balthazar Lynch had found a place to sit.

He had snuck down to the cove as soon as the bus had arrived at the farm, bringing back the men, but not Captain Kane. It was not difficult, as the men remaining at the cove did not have a reason to keep a careful watch; still, they did come and go frequently, and always armed, and Balthazar thought he would not be welcomed there if they found him. So he snuck down through the trees to the shore, and he sought a place to hide, a place where he could sit and wait.

Wait for the Captain to return.

He had no reason to think the Grace would come back here; if what Vaughn and O’Gallows and the others had said was true, the man they called the Abomination had wanted only two things: the ship, and the Captain. Now that he had them both, he might do – anything. Go anywhere, follow whatever course to whatever evil purpose his twisted mind imagined. Why think they would come back?

But then, Balthazar told himself, why think they wouldn’t?

It was a weak hope, but it was enough. And once he found a way to climb the Serpent’s Fang, the tall stand of rock to the west of the cove (there was another to the east, but it was thinner and could not be easily scaled) from the side opposite the house and the guards, and found a ledge wide enough to perch on, where he could sit comfortably and watch the sea while remaining unseen – well, it was so easy that it felt like he had two reasons to come and keep watch.

No: he had only one reason. But it was the only reason that mattered.

He passed the time reading on his phone, practicing his mathematics, drilling himself on proper writing and spelling. He had long conversations with his friend Mindy, who wavered back and forth between encouraging his vigil and telling him to give up. Chester Grable, his other friend from the New World (as Balthazar thought of 2011), was sure that there was no hope, and so Balthazar stopped reading his messages after the second day.

After the tenth day, however, he began to look back at them, and he could not say that Chester was wrong.

But still he came to this ledge every day. The men were camped at the farm of Diego Hill, recovering from their captivity and the floggings, and the vile medicines with which the Abomination had sought to break their will – heroin, Diego had named it, and had cursed the Shadowman soundly, and immediately made it his personal mission to save the men from the clutches of this poison. He himself had lost his soul to it, once, he said; he would not let it happen to another man if he could help. So the crew had a home, for now, and the haler, stronger men, especially Kelly and MacManus, had begun working for Two-Saint, in small ways. So perhaps they had prospects, and even – hope.

Balthazar Lynch had a place to sit.

When three weeks had passed without a single sign, Balthazar knew that Chester was right: the ship was gone. The Captain was gone. They would not return here.

But still Balthazar came, and sat, and watched, even though he could not have said why. If he had the words, he might have said, “Why does the heart beat, the blood flow? Why do children dream, and birds sing? It is life. There is nothing else.” But nobody said anything to him when he left each morning, riding a borrowed bicycle to the cove, where he hid it in the trees and crept down to the shore before climbing to his ledge, nobody asked, and so he said nothing at all. He tried to think nothing at all, too, but was less successful at that.

On the twenty-second day of his vigil, Balthazar Lynch fell asleep. He dreamed strange, disturbing dreams, dreams of crows tearing eyes out of men’s heads, and of a beautiful woman wielding a whip across the bloody back of a man, and of a man melting into a cloud of dust and blowing away in a wind that came from everywhere at once.

At last he started awake, so violently that he nearly fell from his ledge; for some moments he had to lay still, clinging to handholds on the rock face, letting his racing heart slow and return to a normal pace.

When he felt himself again, and the dreams had faded into unreality once more, he knew that there was no reason to come back again. That night would mark Samhain, the feast of the dead; he would pray to all the gods to care for the soul of Damnation Kane, his captain and friend: the man he loved.

He looked out to sea just as the sun slipped beneath the horizon in the west: and in that instant, he saw the green flash, the last glimpse of light at the moment of sunset.

And in that instant, he saw a ship. Far out to sea, but near enough that he could make out two masts, and square-rigged sails.

The Grace of Ireland had returned.

Damnation Kane had returned.

 

***

And on that note, the second book of the adventures of Damnation Kane comes to an end. I hope, friends and readers and fellow lovers of all things pirate, that it has not been a disappointment; I hope that you will continue reading the third and final volume, until we come to the end of this journey together.

For those who do wish to keep reading, I’m sorry to say that there will be some delay; I now have another book to organize, edit, format, and publish; and before I do all of that, I’m also going to write some bonus chapters, so that those of you who have followed along online will have a reason (I hope) to buy the book when it’s ready, beyond (I hope) simply wanting your own copy of this story. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I promise you this: I can see the end of this story, and I want to get there more than anyone else — except maybe Damnation. I will get to the next part as soon as I possibly can.

Until then, please keep an eye on this space, where I will post updates about the second book; please consider purchasing the first book, if you haven’t already: you can find links to the electronic and print versions on my website, here. And thank you for reading.

 

Théoden “Dusty” Humphrey

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

Chapter #82: The End (Part II)

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

 

***

 

Some time later, he woke in a momentary burst of perfect crystalline agony, as if the whole world had frozen solid, and then shattered into splinters – and then each and every one of those needle-sharp shards stabbed into his flesh. He arched his back, groaning, every muscle taut with agony; and then he fainted once more.

The English sailor chortled and then threw a second bucket of seawater across the Irishman’s back; unfortunately, the bloody pirate didn’t react the second time. The man shrugged and smeared the strange milky-blue ointment he had been given by the Shadowman and told to use on the pirate’s raw, bleeding back; had he known what was infused into the salve, he might have been more cautious about applying it. Or perhaps he might have kept it for himself. As it was, he would feel the effects later, and would chalk it up, as the men did whenever they were visited by evil visions, to the malevolent spirits that gathered around the Shadowman.

They were not far wrong.

The sailor finished his ministrations, tying clean strips of cloth over the wounds, and then leaving the unconscious pirate tied to the Scourged Lady, like a bride and groom in Hell, dancing together as the devil’s whips slashed and tore at them, and the blood flowed like wine.

The drugs in the salve worked quickly into Damnation’s bloodstream; deadening his pain, they allowed him to fall into a deeper slumber: and then the hallucinogenic compounds flooded his brain and Damnation began to moan and whimper as the nightmares stooped down, caught him in their terrible claws, and swept him away.

 

***

 

He dreamed that he stood on a beach, a beach that seemed familiar, though the sea before him was black, and the sky above a turgid, looming maelstrom of red and dark grey, smoke and fire and thunder coursing and writhing above. He stood with both his arms outstretched, and in his hands was his sword, pointed at the sky; the blade gleamed, and the words Sangre-Muerte-Libertad flashed red in the hellish blood-colored light. He looked up from the blade and saw, between him and the black waves crashing onto the gray-brown mottled sand – the foam running in sickly green gouts and swaths across the sand like corruption from a wound – a line of men kneeling one behind the other all the way to the water’s edge. He looked closer and saw that they were his men, the crew of the Grace of Ireland. As he realized it, they stood, moving as one, and marched in a line until the first – his mate and right-hand man, Ian O’Gallows – stood directly before him. Ian’s face was somber, even sad, and Damnation wanted to say something to comfort his friend; wanted to smile,  wanted to put down the sword ( surely there was no reason to hold a blade when facing his own crew?) and clap Ian on the shoulder, clasp his arm in friendship, offer him some solace for his suffering. But Damnation could not move, not a muscle, not an inch; he could not open his mouth even to speak, could make no sounds emerge from his throat.

But then, without him willing it to happen, his arms moved: the tip of the sword turned down, down, until it pointed straight at the center of Ian’s breast.

Then Ian, eyes on Damnation, walked forward, moving steadily. The sword pierced him, and blood flowed; Damnation tried to shout, to drop the blade, to throw the sword from him, but he could only stand still as Ian thrust himself forward, driving the blade deeper into his own chest, deeper, and then through him: and still he came, until his breastbone pressed against the crossguard, and Damnation could feel the hot blood on his petrified fingers. He did not look down, though: he looked only into Ian’s eyes, seeing the sorrow there, the grief, grief that was reflected on Damnation’s heart.

Ian’s knees gave, and he sagged down, and though it burned and tore at the muscles of his arms, his shoulders, his back, still Damnation could not lower his arms, could not lower the blade: he held it outstretched, parallel to the ground. Ian’s eyes slowly rolled back in his head, his face going slack: dead. His head fell to the side, his body falling limp, the blood slowing to a trickle, a creep. And then the sharp blade began to cut up through Ian’s flesh, as his weight pulled down, until finally the sword burst free from Ian’s shoulder, the lifeless body collapsing to the sand at Damnation’s feet.

Revealing, standing behind him, Damnation’s cousin, Owen McTeigue. And everything repeated, with Owen: sad-eyed, he walked onto Damnation’s blade, bled, died, and slowly fell as the blade worked its way up through his corpse.

And was succeeded by Llewellyn Vaughn. And then Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Shane MacManus. His kinsmen Arthur Gallagher and Michael Rearden. Salty O’Neill. Liam Finlay. Padraig Doyle. Roger Desmond and Robert Sweeney. Abram O’Grady, moving steadily over the sand even on his pegleg. One by one they died, and fell, their bodies tumbling over each other, now pressing up against his legs like a woodpile that had fallen into him.

The last was Balthazar Lynch. He was weeping openly, and Damnation could feel tears rolling down his own cheeks. But the sword never wavered: and Lynch, who was a full head shorter than most of his crewmates, was not tall enough for the sword’s point to run through his chest: it slid into his throat, just below his softly rounded chin. His blood sprayed as the sword pierced his neck, sprayed hot across Damnation’s face: and when Lynch died and fell, the sword slewed suddenly sideways, and severed the youth’s head entirely.

But the head did not fall.

Lynch’s eyes opened. As they did, his body, and the bodies of all of the other dead men, rose to their feet. They stood in a circle around Damnation, and he began to spin, his arms still holding the sword outstretched as he turned rapidly in place – not moving his feet, simply spinning like a top. As he watched, his gaze going form man to man, the men raised their hands, and dug their nails into the wounds in their chests and in Lynch’s neck. They tore their flesh like cloth, like paper, and ripped it away, revealing themselves changed, underneath.  They were still themselves, but now every one was aged into his dotage: wrinkled and sagging flesh covered with liver spots, hair white and falling out, teeth gone, yellowed filmy eyes swaddled in plum-colored pouched lids. He spun, and saw them all ancient, decrepit – Lynch’s head now settled back onto his neck, the wound vanished in the sagging jowls drooping from his chin.

Their hands raised again, now to their faces: they scratched and clawed at their eyes, their ears, their mouths; they found purchase, dug in, tore the paper-thin skin away –

They stood in a circle around him, and they were beings of light, glorious, exalted. Human shapes gone, frailties and infirmities vanished, they burned and shone like stars. The red-grey turbulence above reeled back, fleeing to the horizon, fleeing the light; and Damnation was blinded by it, so much light he could see nothing at all.

 

***

 

He opened his eyes. The light was gone, his men were gone, the beach, the sword, all vanished. He looked about him now and saw only darkness. It was a comfort, now.

Then he heard a voice, a familiar voice, speaking words in a dead tongue, speaking at a slow, rhythmic pace. A longing burst into him, a longing so deep, so poignant, that he cried out, wordlessly; he thought the steady chanting paused then, even missed a beat – but then it continued, and perhaps it had not paused at all. Though he could not sense his body, could not tell direction nor sense where he was, he had a feeling of turning around, turning, turning – there.

Surrounded by the flickering glow of torchlight, his mother knelt, somewhere before him, though he could not tell how close or far, nor where she was. He longed to reach out to her, to call out to her, to see her eyes as she recognized him, to hear her say his name; but he could not find his own body to move his limbs, his lips, his lungs. He drank in the sight of her: he saw new grey strands in her hair, saw that she wore a dark robe of heavy material that swaddled her completely, saw the lines carved deeper at the sides of her mouth and the corners of her eyes, saw the crease between her brows that came when she was worried or afraid. He listened to her chanting, speaking the language of the druids, and he knew she was seeking him.

He could not reach out to her. He could not even find himself to try.

He watched as her head began to fall forwards, as her eyelids drooped down, her chanting slowed; the light around her seemed to dim, and she – or he – began to recede. With no idea how he did it, he opened a mouth he did not have, breathed air into lungs that did not exist, and called out, “Mam!”

Her eyes jumped open. Her head snapped up. Her mouth fell agape, the chant stopping entirely. She looked: and she saw him. She reached out, she cried out, “Nate!”

She disappeared.

Damnation collapsed once more, and fell into another vision.

 

***

 

He wakened in pain, his back on fire, arms shaking with cramps; he bit his tongue to keep from crying out, and slowly raised his head and looked around through slitted eyes. Rain washed down his face in streams, and he blinked it away so he could see.

He saw the Scourged Lady. He was tied to her, chest to chest, hanging back from arms wrapped around her neck, his wrists bound together behind her, his arms looped through the spaces between her head and her raised arms, her own wrists bound together as his were, but with the wood that comprised her, rather than rope: her bonds were part of her substance. Rain washed down her face and made it seem as though she wept. From the sky above, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled and boomed.

With a groan, he pulled himself upright, his arms quivering and aching with the motion, his shoulders nearly crying out with relief as his weight eased off of them. His legs shook as he stood upright – and suddenly his strength fell away like autumn leaves blown from their branches, and he collapsed forward, sagging against the Lady, who held him up, held him almost in an embrace, as if she tried to comfort him. He sighed and leaned into her, his arms clasped about her neck. The storm above eased, the thunder passing into the distance, the rain tapering to a drizzle and then nothing.

Then, in the quiet after the storm, he heard a strange sound. It was almost a cracking, a snapping, but it was drier, quieter; not the snapping of a twig, but the crumpling of folded paper. He tried to ignore it: but this was his ship, and he could not ignore it when his senses detected something out of the ordinary; too much of being a captain over a ship was paying attention, was never turning a blind eye to something that looked not quite right – or a deaf ear. It was too ingrained in him to deny, even now, even as he was. He turned his head wearily, opened his eyes to see what it was.

It was his beloved Grace: she was falling to pieces. As he watched, the yards fell from the mainmast, making again that crumpling, crumbling sound; the wooden yards fell into splinters as they came down, pattering onto the deck like dry rain. He felt something soft and desiccated brush by his face, his shoulders; he looked up and saw the sails and shrouds of the foremast, rising up directly above him, now falling in flakes and flinders like cold ash, like burned snow. As he looked up, the foremast broke in half with a dry snap!, and then broke again; the segments clattered to the deck, shattering when they hit with a sound like old bones thrown onto a wooden table. The mainmast followed, the shrouds and lines puffing into clouds of dust. He breathed it in, and it coated his throat so that he choked, the ash sticking to his rain-wet skin in dry, itching clumps.

His heart leapt into his throat. His ship! His ship was – was dying, was crumbling into ashes and dust! As he watched, the rails cracked and fell away, the poop deck and the cabins beneath fell in on themselves in a cloud of grey particles and fragments of wood. The deck groaned and shuddered under his feet, a crack suddenly splitting across from port to starboard, then running suddenly to stern – and then under his feet – and then he was falling, crashing through the decks which blew apart as he struck them, like dry crusts of bread crushed under a bootheel.

But the Scourged Lady remained: solid and heavy, she fell with him, fell below him, and then she hit the water with a splash, he falling across her, his arms around her neck and his hands in the water; all around them, the shell of the ship shivered and whispered as it crackled into dust and fell away.

He straddled the wooden Lady, tried to sit upright – tried to reach out to his ship, to call to her, to save her; but he was bound tightly and could not free himself, and could not turn away nor reach out his hand. He lowered his face to the Lady’s, closed his eyes, and wept.

He sensed movement. He raised his head and opened his eyes. At first he saw nothing but a cloud all around him, like dark grey fog: it was all that remained of his beauty, of his Grace. A sob shook his throat and made him cough: the expulsion of his breath roiled the cloud, and then he saw what had moved: it was a hand, an arm, reaching out to him, the fingers outspread, stretching towards him. The arm was slender, the hands smaller than a man’s, but seeming strong, nonetheless; and they reached for him, to him: reached to save him.

As he looked at that hand, a word flashed into his mind, a word he somehow knew was attached to that arm, to the person behind that reaching hand, the person he could not see. Traitor. Betrayer. He felt a hot anger wash through him, and his eyes and throat burned with the heat of his rage and the dust of his Grace.

The traitor’s arm reached out to him, reached to save him. It could not get to him unless he reached out, as well, met the traitor halfway.

Damnation turned away from the saving hand. He lay full-length atop the floating figurehead: he embraced the Scourged Lady, finding solace there in pain, in her unchanging solidity, her reliable unliving immobility.

The hand drew slowly back, vanishing into the dust.

Damnation and the Scourged Lady sank beneath the surface of the water, down into the endless cold depths. The sea poured into him, washing away the heat of his rage, washing away the last clinging remnants of his ship. He was left with – nothing. Cold. Dark.

Peace.

 

***

 

He woke, choking on a mouthful of fresh water. His back was numb, his arms afire, his head pounding. He groaned, cracked one eye open; a man’s head, silhouetted darkness against the starry sky, leaned close. Damnation made a noise like words, and the silhouette leaned closer, said softly, “Take more. You’ll need it.”

Hobbes. A cool metal pressed against his lips, and Damnation opened his mouth: cool, sweet, fresh water poured slowly into him, and he swallowed again and again, feeling the burning ache in his throat vanish, feeling his limbs and extremities sighing in relief. The water slowed and stopped, and he held the last mouthful for a moment, sluicing it around in his mouth; then he swallowed. With that, his consciousness returned fully, and he was alert. He nodded to Hobbes and said, “Thank you.” Then with a moan and a curse, he stood upright, finding himself as in his dream, tied to the Scourged Lady – but his ship, thankfully, remained whole around and under him.

Hobbes offered the metal bottle, and he drank more until the water was gone. Without a word, the Englishman disappeared, as well.

As well as he could, though he could not free himself, Damnation turned away from the Scourged Lady. She was not his solace; for him, she held no true comfort. He saw a slight movement behind her, and he stretched out his hand and caught – a rope. A length of two-inch rope, sticky with tar, swinging free at one end since the ship was at anchor, but attached to the foremast above.

Attached to his Grace.

He held that rope with both hands, his face turned away from the statue to which he was bound; and, softly, he sang a song to his ship. A love song.

Then he slept.

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

Log #76: Strength

BLog

we ar on bermuda now. me and shayn wach tol police man hargreevs and Captin and kelee wach 4 Grace. we hav ben heer 3 dayz. Captin has not see ship. me and shayn see 2 much hargreevs.

it hurts 2 see Captin. he is so sad. he hav sad hart becuz he and men get trikt by bastard calhoon in charlztun. Captin thinks it his mistayk. his falt. he want to be good. i donnow wy he duz not unnerstan he is good. i think he forget.

i wish i cud tel him.tel him he is good. tel him the trikt is not his falt. he did best he thot and then wen it was bad he tri mor and mayk it best he can. he not srender he never srender he fite 4 men 4 ship 4 onner.

i wish i cud tel him i sorry 4 wut i sed befor. i was rong. i no that now. i wish i cud hold him and kiss him and tel him it wil be best. we wil win at the end.

he need sum 1 2 hold him and kiss him. he duz not need me to be crew man. he needs me 2 be his woman. but i cant be.

can i?

can he luv me and let me luv him? let me hold him and kiss him? giv him. wut is word. ease. comfort. he need comfort. he needs help. befor he laff and joak with us all ways. he nevr sad. nevr loos hart. but now he duz not laff. duz not smiyl. he need comfort. i cud giv it 2 him if he let me.

wil he?

hargreevs is not trubl. he is a blagard a rowg a vilin. shayn and me wach him tak munee from shop men. we wach him thrash a man in allee and tak munee. if hargreevs goz away no 1 sad. every 1 best with no tol police man.

i hav a thot 4 mayk hargreevs go away. no need blud. and i got thot from calhoon. i can not giv Captin comfort and help he needs but i can giv him this.

 

***

 

Log

Three days’ search and no result. How much bloody coastline does this pestilent island possess! How many gods-rotted coves dot this land like pox scars! Damn it all! Where is my Grace!

 

Later

Aye, reading that last, it strikes me that my ship does indeed hold my grace: what goodness my soul possesseth, what virtues of patience, equanimity, duty: all are bound to her. When I have her not, I have them not; and therefore do I explain the terrible and foolhardy choices that I have made. At sea, I am a captain – but on land, I am a fool.

But I did not take up this pen to brood, once again, on my many failures. Instead I wish to record an illuminating conversation I shared this evening with my men, and with our taciturn but worthy host, Diego Hill. (He tells me that his family name is in truth Colina, but the Spanishers being somewhat unwelcome among the peoples of this isle, many of whom are descended from slaves who suffered under the Spaniards or Britishers who fought Spain for generations, he was dubbed with the English meaning of his Spanish name. It strikes me that the old pain that roots this strife hearkens back to my own age: it doth make the time between my birth and now seem less. Any road, he has invited me to use his Christian name, and so I shall.)

We had supped on the last of the yearling goat, cooked with beans and carrots and most hearty, and were seated about the bonfire, it being too close indoors with the damp summer air of this island; the smoke of the fire served to blockade the mosquitoes, as Diego calls them – bitemes, they be to my mind. We were sitting idly, drinking a liquor that Diego brews himself (that fortunately numbs the tongue within but a few sips), Shane and I discussing our progress thus far on our individual quests, when I did realize that Lynch was no longer among us. I inquired where the lad had gone, and Kelly stated that he was around the side of the house: in company with a mechanical contrivance, the which, when brought to life, provides a charge to Lynch’s eyephone. I professed mystification regarding all of this; Diego attempted to elucidate for me, explaining that the contrivance was a generator – which made a loud burring noise that I had heard but not understood – and that the eyephone was electric, he said, and needed “juice” from the generator. Power, he reiterated. He drew a similar ‘phone from his own pocket, explaining that he had poor service, as he called it, but could nonetheless make use of his ‘phone to contact Two-Saint should there be need. I nodded but waved it all away: I do not care for these matters. In truth, I was carping somewhat as to Lynch’s possession of, and by, his eyephone; the lad cannot seem to relinquish it, and now here it is, taking him away from the company of his fellows. But then I minded me of my own intention to quit this company for the good of all, so soon as my ship is recovered and the men freed, and I fell silent.

Shane then spoke into the quiet. “Lynch was wrong, Cap’n.” I looked at him querulously, and he expanded. “Back in Charleston, when he was sayin’ that ye should not ha’ fought that bastard Calhoun. Over the woman, Meredith.” He took a sip from his cup, grimaced, and plashed the rest into the fire, where it swelled the flames for a moment with a snap and a roar, as if a musket had been fired into the night sky. Shane grinned appreciatively and held his cup out to Diego, who refilled it from the jug.

“Think you so?” murmured I, drinking from my own cup. I did not ask him why, then, he had said nothing in my defense when Lynch had abused me for my conduct on the matter.

He nodded. Then he pointed at me – or near me, in truth; he had drunk more than a few cups of Diego’s liquor, which is as potent as it is vile-tasting, and, it seems, as it is flammable – and said, “But mind ye, Cap’n, I do think ye should ha’ put yon strumpet in her place.”

I stared at him across the fire, my own gaze steady as I had had only one or two cups of the liquor. “Should I,” I said, my tone surely more belligerent than curious.

But Shane heard only the words, and he nodded passionately, and sat forward, putting his cup down at his feet. “Aye, sir! Beggin’ pardon, Cap’n, for I don’t mean to tell a man how to handle a woman, but to my eye, that scarlet wench would be far better for a thrashin’. I don’t know the truth of it all wi’ ye and her and Calhoun, but I see how she tangled ye up, Cap’n, like a shark in a net!” He thrust his chin forward with this, his eyes glittering; then he belched, pounded his chest, and sat back. “Woman acts like that, she needs a strong lesson from a man. Teach her who’s in command, and what happens when ye act up against your master. Or behind his back.” He snatched up his cup and took another long drink, finishing with an explosive breath and a shudder as he lowered the cup.

I let the drink  in him bear the weight of my irritation at being called to task by a sailor of my crew; we weren’t speaking of ship’s matters, here, but of matters that any man and every man has an interest in, and some hard-won wisdom to share: and in truth, Shane, as my elder in years, may have had more than I. I decided to plumb his knowledge. “Have ye been wedded, Shane?” I asked him.

He shook his head, which made him wobble on his seat, and then pointed at me again. “Nay, never, but if I did, I’d be sure to keep my woman as a woman should be kept: obedient and quiet. ‘Tis a man’s duty to control his woman.”

“Have ye lived with a woman, then?” I asked, quirking a brow.

“Only until I could not get it up any more!” he said, grasping at his manhood. He burst into a roaring laugh, joined with somewhat less vigor by Kelly and Diego – aye, and by me. But it served to sharpen my thrust.

“Then ye speak not from experience, aye?” I said, taking a drink.

His smile faded and he grew solemn. “Nay, Cap’n. I have experience of these matters. I watched my da wi’ me mum. Me da, he were a hard man, aye, and heavy wi’ his fists. In truth, when I were a wee lad I were a-scairt o’ him. He’d take to me and me brothers now and again. But me mum took more of it, and at first, I hated him for it.”

He sighed and shook his head vigorously, as though seeking to rattle his thoughts into place, or to shake off a black memory, one of those which cling and clutch and claw at a man’s mind until he can pry it loose. He drained the dregs in his cup, perhaps hoping the liquor would weaken the dark thought’s grip, or would give him a better grip on the thoughts he sought (Men often think liquor is efficacious in such matters. We are ever wrong: drink weakens the thoughts you do want, and strengthens those you would avert. We men are fools.), and then he went on.

“But then, when I was eleven years, me da died of the plague. He fought it hard, and Mum near kilt herself trying to nurse him while caring for the children, she did love him so. But the fever took him. And then I learned why Da had been so hard on her. For as soon as he was in his grave, Mum took to the drink herself. She took to the drink like a sailor coming back into port and to the arms of his favorite whore. Soon she drank through what little money that Da saved, and then through the money for our rent, and then, when we were livin’ out in the weather and learnin’ to beg, she drank through the money we should have used for food.” He tried to drink from his cup, and frowned at the emptiness he found there; Diego held out the jug without a word, and Shane thrust his cup in the jug’s direction until it was up-filled and he could drink to drown the taste of what he said next.

“She found us a roof before we died of the cold. I’m happy that I were the eldest, as I think I was the only one who understood why old Tom Farley took us all in. Perhaps I should be grateful as he were a drunkard, or he’d never have taken a woman past 30, wi’ four young’uns and about as many teeth in her head. But he couldn’t see past the mug she kept fillin’, or the bed she filled, too.” He fell silent for a long moment, then he looked around and met each man’s gaze in turn, ending with me. “Me da kept me mum from drinkin’ and whorin’. She were weak, and wi’out a strong man, she fell into wickedness.” He drank from his cup, and then grinned and wiped his chin. “Mind, I’ve the same ways, and am glad of it – but I’ve no wee ones to care for. None as I know of, any road.” He belched. “And I have strength enough to drink meself to the ground but then arise and do my – do my duty.” He raised the cup in a toast, with such vigor he splashed liquor down his arm. “I’m a man!” he said.

I raised my cup to him. “Aye, that ye are, Shane MacManus. A good man.” I leaned over and clacked my cup against his and drank to him – though I did wave off Diego and his jug, for though I may, like Shane, have a man’s strength to drink myself insensate and then carry on the next day, I must also have a captain’s prudence: and strength to soldier on the day after a debauch does not come with the wits to plan, as I must do, when we find the Grace.

If we find the Grace.

Another voice broke the stillness then: that of Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. He spoke softly, staring into the flames all the while as though seeking wisdom there; he did not sip from his cup, though I knew Diego had already refilled it no less than thrice. He did not slur his speech, however, but spoke as clearly as one stone sober.

“My father was strong. He never used his fists; he never had to. Everyone knew that he was the master of our house. When his temper got hot, then would he should at us, and so loud was it that we thought the walls might come down, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his horn.” He smiled, though there was no humor in his one eye. “That is near enough what killed him, finally – the walls came down atop him. He was breaking a new stone face in the quarry, and there was a crack he did not know of, so when he set his bar and pried, half the whole face came down on him. It took me two days to dig him out just so we could bury him again, but we could not have him rest in unholy ground. He was a good man.” He nodded slowly. “I tried to be the man he was, but I don’t have – I don’t have his voice. I can’t shout and bring every person in hearing of me to a dead halt. I could not bring down the walls. Oh, I could break and shape stone with my hands, he taught me all of that, and I’d the size and strength of arm to keep us in coin until the fever took my mother and brother and sisters – but I’m not the man he was. ‘Tis why I’ve never married, for I do not know that I can be the master, as he was.” His gaze flicked to me, then. “’Tis why I’ve allowed as I’ll be your bosun, Captain. I hoped ‘twould make me stronger. I’d like a family. You need the strength of the Almighty to be a father, I think. To be a husband, too.” Shane was nodding in agreement – or perhaps nodding with the liquor, as the words Kelly had put forward were along a somewhat different course than Shane’s.

Still they traveled on the same heading. And I did wonder, then, had I owned strength enough to master Meredith, if our current difficulties could have been avoided. But it did not rest easy in my heart, this conceit that a man must be an Atlas, a Hercules, to take control of a woman, of a marriage. Surely it could explain why my mother never married, as it would take the true Atlas himself to overpower my mother’s boundless strength of heart; that much seemed to ring true. But I did not know if a husband for her would have made our lives better. My mother did not turn to drink as Shane’s had; perhaps if she had – and in truth, taking into consideration the trials and tribulations she faced, I could not blame her if she had turned to drink to dull the pain – then I might see it Shane’s way.

If I was stronger, could I have held Meredith to my chosen course? If I had struck her, as Shane would, it seemed, have wished, would my life and the lives of my men be better, easier, safer? Had I failed them by my scruples against striking a woman?

But there was more to be said yet: for there was another man beside our fire, with his own tale to tell. After Kelly fell silent in turn, of a sudden Diego began to speak, his English strongly accented but intelligible – I will not render its simulacrum here, but record only his meaning.

“My mother met my father when the tree he was cutting down fell on top of him. He had it near cut through and ready to drop, when a great wind came from the ocean – a piece of a hurricane, maybe, or maybe God just sneezed – came from the wrong way and pushed that tree right over backwards, came right down on top of him. Trapped him. He was far from the road, and had no one back at his home to look for him or even know he was gone, so he was stuck there four days with no food and a broken leg. It rained for him, or he’d have died of thirst; as it was, he was dying-sick and mad-tongued with a fever. And then my mother came. She was a young girl, just grown about too old for my grandfather to let her go walking in the woods alone – but not just yet. Good for my father. Good for me.

“She heard him raving with the fever, and she found him under that big old tree. He told her to go get help, find men strong enough to lift that tree off his broken leg, but she just looked at him, looked at the tree, and looked at his axe. Then she took that axe, cut her off a strong branch, and used it to pry that whole tree trunk up far enough to slide a stone under there – she had him move the stone while she held the lever, and she had a time getting him to follow her lead instead of yelling at her to go find men to help. But she did it, and after he braced the tree, she dragged him out from under it. He couldn’t walk, so she made a litter out of branches she cut and tied together with cloth from his pants, which she knew would have to be cut off of him at the doctor’s, anyway. Then she dragged him five miles, up hills and down, through jungle and brush, to town to the doctor to fix his leg and his fever.

“After the doctor cured his fever and set and splinted his leg, my father wouldn’t lie quiet and rest there – said he would rather walk home on one leg. My father, he never got along with other folks so well. His parents died in a hurricane when he was a boy, and he’d lived on his own ever since, earning pennies by sweeping out shops and running errands until he was strong enough to swing an axe, and then he cut wood. The priest in the town, the neighbors, the people who knew him all tried to put him into the orphan’s home that the Catholics had then. But he never would. Nobody could tell him what to do. When they tried to make him live with the nuns at Saint Lucia’s, he ran away, four times, until they stopped trying to keep him there. He used to say that there were only two people who could tell him what to do, and since his father was dead, that left only himself.

“He did not listen to that doctor, that’s for sure, even after he saved my father’s life with that” (I do not know the word – penny shilling? Pennasillion? A medicament, I trust.)  “He said my father must lay in the bed and rest for a month, maybe two, but my father kept standing up on one leg, swaying with the pain and the sickness, pale as a ghost, but standing. And trying to walk. The doctor wanted to hit him, my father told me, just to make him lie down – but he knew my father would have hit back.

“Then my mother came. She’d been visiting while my father healed from the fever, until her father found out that she’d been going to town to sit with a strange young man, and then he forbade her go; until three days later, when she snuck out and went to my father. She found him half out of bed, yelling at the doctor to give him a crutch so he could walk home. He still lived in the same house where his parents had been killed, and in the years since that hurricane blew the roof down on them, he had repaired it and rebuilt it and made it stronger than ever.” Here Diego paused and smiled, nodding at the structure behind us. “This house. It was the only house he ever lived in, and the same for me. My grandparents are where he buried them, over on that hill, and he and my mother are beside them, where I buried them.

“My mother walked in, and my father stopped yelling. He looked at her. He was not a good man with words, but he thanked her for saving his life. She looked at the doctor and said, ‘If he goes home, will the fever come back?’ Doctor said no, the fever was cured, but he needed to stay off his leg and let it heal – he broke the strong bone, the thigh bone, and it needed proper rest or it would never be right again.

“She nodded, and then she helped my father stand and lean on her. ‘I’ll be your crutch,’ she told him. ‘I’ll hold you up until you can stand alone.’ And then she walked him home, a young girl holding up a grown man for a full day’s travel.

“She got him home, she put him in his bed – and then she made him stay there. She tended his animals. The chickens and the goats had run off into the jungle while he was gone, but she gathered them all back again. She cared for his garden. She cleaned the house. And every day, she fought with him when he tried to get up and do for himself. Her father found out, finally, where she’d run off to, and came to get her back; but she wouldn’t leave, and Grandfather couldn’t make her: my father had a gun for hunting, and she threatened her own father with it. Said she had taken on a duty, and she’d be damned if she left it unfinished.

“She nearly had to use that gun on my father, before his healing time was done. She couldn’t keep him in the bed, but had to let him limp around and do the work he could on one leg and a crutch. But she got him to lie still by teaching him to read, as she’d learned from the nuns but he never had.”

Diego smiled again. “Then towards the end, when his leg was mended but not yet strong and true, she found another way to keep him in the bed. Nine months later, I was born. My mother was fifteen years old.” His smile faded then, and he looked down at the jug in his hand. “My father was strong. My mother was strong. But I am not. I think maybe because they tried to protect me and keep me from the troubles they had. And so because my life was soft, I grew soft. I don’t know now if that’s why the heroine got me, or if I could have been a good man if I’d never touched that stuff, if it made me weak or if my weakness made me need it, but it got me. It took a long time for it to break me, and before it did, I seemed like a man, on the outside. Nobody could tell that it hollowed me out, inside.

“Except my mother. She knew. And when my girl and I made a baby, and I wanted to marry her, my mother told me: ‘No. That girl’s no good for you, my son. And you are no good for her, nor for that baby she’s carrying, either.’ She took my chin in her hand, she made me look her in the eye. She told me, ‘This ends bad.’

“And she was right. Of course. She could see the weakness in me, in my woman. The same weakness that made me get high, get drunk, all the time. We were high when we made the baby, high when we got married. She was high when the baby was born – our little girl. We were both high when the baby died. Soon after, she oh-deed. I buried her and our daughter. Then I lose my mind, and when I come out of it, a man is dead with my knife in him, and I’m in a prison cell. I stayed there ten years. I got clean, but I didn’t get strong. When I got out, I came back home, with my mother and father, so they could be strong for me. They kept me away from the heroine. I took to the drink anyway; they couldn’t fight that weakness for me. But at least I had enough strength to keep away from another wife, from more children. I can’t dig any more graves.”

Diego took a drink from his jug then. He looked around at all of us, one at a time. “You’ve got it wrong,” he said to Shane, his voice low, calm, without accusation, but with true assurance. “Your mother was weak, you said it and it’s true. She didn’t need your father’s strength to make her good, she needed her own strength. She stole your father’s strength, and that’s what killed him.” He turned to Kelly. “Your mother, too, was weak, though not so weak as his,” he said, nodding towards Shane, who was frowning into his cup and considering Diego’s words – I could have told him that the man had hit the target dead center, but methinks that, though the liquor slowed it, that same thought was creeping through Shane’s mind. “But when your father died,” Diego went on, “she had your strength to go on with.”

Now he looked squarely at me. “You’re a strong man. You don’t need a woman who will bend to your will. You need a woman with the strength to match it. If you mean to marry and have sons, you must have a wife with the strength to rule that house. Your strength is for outside the house. You’re a captain, yes? Of a ship, somewhere? You look for it now?”

I nodded, though after a moment of hesitation. But for the nonce, ‘tis still true, and so – “Aye,” I confirmed.

He leaned forwards. “Your strength is there. Your men, your ship. If you must use that strength at home, too?” He sat back, holding one hand palm-up. “Not enough. Somewhere, it will fail.” His eyes turned sad. “I was not strong enough for my wife, for my family. The drugs and the drink made me weak, and I let them.” He gazed long at the jug in his hand, and then he upended it and drank deeply, his throat working as he swallowed the liquor. He lowered the jug again with a burst of breath, then coughed. Then he said, “My wife and daughter are buried with my parents and grandparents, with everyone who was stronger than me. Better than me.” He stood, handing the jug to Shane, who took it numbly. Looking down at me, Diego said, “Find a strong woman, one who will hold you up when you cannot stand alone. Be strong enough to hold her up when she needs you. If you can’t, then spare everyone pain: live alone and drink.”

He walked unsteadily into the house. As he did, I saw that Lynch had come to stand in the doorway, and he moved aside and let Diego pass within. Then Lynch looked at me, and held my eyes with his for a great span of time.

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

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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