Posts Tagged With: Devil’s Lash

Log #78: Meeting With The Devil

Captain’s Log, October the Sixth: Midnight

 

By the Morrigan, patience is – no. She is not the deity I should swear to, if patience is what I seek. The war goddess, the devourer; this is not her virtue. I should swear by Lugh, the long-handed, and by Goibniu; the smiths, the craftsmen. They know the necessity of waiting.

But by all the gods, and all the devils, it is hard.

I will record what has transpired this evening so that I may gather my wits about me, for I have need of them all. There is more work still to be done, this night. I will wait while Andre goes to confer with Two-Saint; the passage of hours cannot but help the chances of our success, and so it is not a hindrance that he has gone. It is not our endeavor that is at risk, only my sanity. Only my sanity.

I will write. I will write slowly, recording all detail, and empty my mind of all thoughts, the better to prepare myself for the course ahead.

It is, in  truth, the better way, for in haste lies folly, rash mistakes that can – and often do, and often have in mine own life’s book – mount and multiply into a tidal wave of error that may wash over a man and sink his every plan. A minor instance: the name I learned this evening past, I heard at the outset as Irish: it begins with the O of our fathers, and I did not consider the unlikelihood of the man who bears it having Irish blood flowing under his black skin. When I conferred with Andre as to the identity of our foe, I gave the name a touch of the lilt of Erin – O’Caughgaweay, perhaps; enough of an Irishing that Andre did not recognize the appellation. After many repetitions as we drove the Jeep-beast to the house of Diego Colina, it struck him that what I tried to speak was in truth the name Okagaweh. It is African, Andre told me, after giving me the proper shape of it. That name, he knew. That name, he must speak of to Two-Saint.

And I must wait.

And record how I did learn it.

I want to trust the man. My heart and my wits are unified in urging me to do so; his demeanor was sober and sincere – and utterly without hope. That last was perhaps the most persuasive, as it showed me that he has no hidden motivations, no subtle intentions; he has thrown his longings and ambitions over the rail, and allows the winds of the world to carry him wheresoever they will. But is despair to serve as proof of constancy?

Was Lucifer himself not the most beautiful and best loved of the angels until the very moment of his fall? I wonder, when the Morning Star rebelled against the Almighty – did he have hope of success? Or was his despair so absolute that even his own immolation would be preferable to continuing to bear that weight of hopelessness? I can not rely on my impression of this man. But then, I am not God, nor is that creature with his claws sunk into the man’s throat – I remember the dream I had in Charleston, while delirious at St. Vincent’s hospice, and that, at least, seems to have been a true vision.

But by the gods, I trust my own prophesy no better than that man I saw today.

Aye. I must rely on him. ‘Tis a trap to think that he hath changed his colors, his blood, his loyalty. I do stand assured that his words were true; but I will remember that the Devil may cite scripture to his purpose. And he is the Devil’s Lash, and may use true words to work sinister plots. I will use his truth to accomplish my own purpose, and not to serve his.

***

I spoke with Captain Nicholas Hobbes this day.

We did return after supper to Jack’s Bar and Grill, where Andre, as the least obtrusive of our company, stepped within the common room to seek an English sailor within. Having sighted one such – and only one, showing that our luck, or providence, or the favor of my mother’s gods for her blood in me, has not wholly abandoned us – he withdrew and kept a watch without while Kelly and I strode boldly in to confront whatever man Jack of the Sea-Cat was imbibing ale by his lonesome.

When I saw that it was Hobbes himself; when I saw that he sat in a shadowed corner, at a table for two, with a bottle of wine before him; when I saw that, in all particulars that I could recall, the interior of this establishment coincided precisely with my dream – I felt a cold hand grip my heart, my breath, my thoughts. I stopped instantly, looking (without any need to search the space, so familiar was it to me) to the counter to see if Donal Carter was serving plates from the body of my cousin Hugh Moran.

God rest his soul. And forgive me for cursing him for his betrayal. And may it please thee, Lord – or thee, Dagda, Morrigan, Manannán Mac Lir who watcheth over sailors – protect me from what enchantment has placed foreknowledge into my mind. I do not seek or wish to possess the powers of the gods. I wish only to free my ship and my men. But let Thy will be done, whosoever’s gaze be peering down on me. Let it be done.

Carter was not there. My sudden movement and abrupt halt caught Hobbes’s attention, and he rose from his seat, staring at Kelly and I – myself being the main target of his attention, as he and I have clapped glims on one another ere now. I saw that my dream had also been wrong in placing the dark man in Hobbes’s own shadow, hands about his throat – though I would soon learn that my dream had more of truth than did my eyes, in this instance.

If I can trust Hobbes’s words, that is.

His first words then were plain enough: “You came,” he said, and “Thank God Almighty.”

“I have not use for your English God, Hobbes, and I have it on good authority that he wants naught to do with me,” I spat through gritted teeth, knowing I should not offend him with such blasphemy until after he had give me the intelligence I needed, but unable to stop the words unspoken.

He blinked – and then he smiled. It was a grotesque smile, the smile of a skull or a days-dead corpse. “Then for the nonce, I will thank what heathen gods receive your prayers, or even the Devil himself, for guiding your steps here. And if God will not forgive me the disloyal words, well – ‘tis no less than the wages of what I have done in His name.” Then he clicked his heels together and bowed formally to me. “Captain Kane, I believe we have never been formally introduced. I am Nicholas Hobbes. Will you join me, please, sir?” He gestured to his table, and then signaled the publican. “Another glass and a new bottle of the same – or two new glasses?” he added, looking at Kelly and then back to me.

I half-turned to Kelly, though I kept my eyes hove tight to Hobbes. “Check the place,” I said to my bosun in Irish. “Make sure we’re alone. then have your drink at the counter, aye? Let me speak to the bastard alone.”

“Aye, Captain,” he rumbled, and then walked the room’s perimeter. I turned back to Hobbes and said, “He’ll see that we two are not disturbed. Captain.” Hobbes nodded and bowed again, repeating his request for a bottle and a glass, and then we sat.

When the bottle came, he let me remove the stopper and pour, and then he raised his glass. “To your very good health, for all the good it will do you here,” he said, and then he took a drink, swallowed, and sat still, waiting, so that I would know it was not poisoned when he did not die. After a moment I lifted my glass to him and said, “May your bones sink to the depths with your ship, and your soul go lower still,” and then I drank deep.

Hobbes laughed. Not long nor vigorously; he did not appear well. Pale as an Englishman, still he should have been sun-browned as sailors are, especially after some time in this island clime; but he appeared sallow and wan, having left behind his habitual thinness for a cadaver’s wasted condition, his cheeks hollow, his eyes shadowed and haunted. He raised his glass once more and drank to my toast, then put the wine down and said, “My soul is already in Hell, Kane. Sent there by you and your deviltry, and by my own sinful pride and wrath.”

I took another sip. The wine was not good, but not the worst I have drunk. In truth I wanted to cast the glass aside, take up the bottle and club him to death with it, crying, “Where is my ship, you English whoreson bastard?” with every blow. But if polite discourse over wine would gain me the intelligence I required, then I would forego the bludgeoning.

For now.

“I’ll admit – nay, I’ll boast – that I did sink your ship, Hobbes, but I think I do not bear responsibility for the condition or direction of your soul. Either men choose their own fates, and so you chose yours, or else your Almighty God has foreordained your doom, not I.”

He nodded. “True, you and that accursed ship of yours did not choose my course for me, you merely tempted my righteousness as an Englishman and a Christian. I will step aside from the question of man’s will or God’s will; it all comes to the same, for it if was my will that chose, then I was following God’s injunction in his Holy Book: Thou shalt not suffer a witch –”

“To live,” I interrupted and completed for him. Now it was my turn to voice a humorless laugh. “Ah, Hobbes, if ye were another man I would keep to my vow, made many years ago, to murder any man who spat that bloody verse at me. But for ye, I’ll simply take solace in the knowledge that the woman I would murder ye for is now turned to dust in her grave – and that, if I am not mistook, that ‘twas her witchcraft, as ye say, that has sent ye here to the ends of the Earth.”

He leaned forward eagerly – and I clapped hand on my wheel-gun as he did so. He saw me, and raised his empty hands as sign of peaceful intent, sitting back in his seat slowly. But his hands were tightened into whitened fists on the table, and they trembled. “So you know, then, the means and manner of our exile into this Hell?”

I frowned at him. “Think ye this be Hell, man? D’ye not know our circumstances?”

He nodded. His eyes glittered now, but it was a poisonous energy that animated them. “I know, Kane. It is the year of our Lord 2011, and this is the island of Bermuda – still English soil, for all the good it does now to know it.” Then he leaned forward again, slowly. “Make no mistake, Kane: this is Hell.” He looked down into his wine, and drained the glass at a draught, his lips twisting against the sour taste. Or perhaps it was the sour taste of the words he spoke then, softly: “And I am allied with the Devil himself.”

So it seemed Hobbes was unfortunate in his choice of friends. Well, bad cess to him who deserves it, thought I. But I had had enough of this merry banter, so as Hobbes poured more wine, I asked, “Do you hold my ship and my crew, or does the Devil have them now?” As I said it, though I had but referred to his own naming of his ally the Shadowman, I felt an icy cold spread though me, and of a sudden I felt sure that the Devil indeed did have my men and my Grace; that all were dead and obliterated, and the Devil’s Lash would now smile and tell me so with both pleasure and pride. Then I would kill him.

He smiled. He said, “I have nothing, Kane. Even what I hold in these hands is the possession of the Devil, for he owns all of me.” He sipped his wine as I felt a roaring in my head, in my heart, and I prepared myself to shatter him. But then he said, calmly uttering a matter of fact, “Your ship is manned by my crew. Your crew is held by men of this time, who serve the same incarnate evil as do I. Both are in the same locale.” He sipped his wine again and the breath slipped out of me, taking the killing rage with it.

“Where?” I asked him, ready to begin the bludgeoning if he equivocated or refused to tell me.

He did not. “Have you a guide who knows this isle?” At my nod, he said, “Then tell him to lead you to the end of Old King’s Road, to the beach between the Serpent’s Fangs. Your men are held at the house there, a house owned by a man named Fournier, Michel Fournier. But they are in truth held by the same devil who holds the souls of my men in his black hands.”

“My ship is there as well?” I asked him. I knew not what he intended, in simply revealing this to me without coercion; I presumed it was a trap – though I could not imagine that he had predicted that I would seek him out himself. Perhaps he feared that I was armed, and eager to do him violence? Did he speak out of fear for his life? He did not have the manner of a man afraid, but seemed entirely calm.

He did show some spirit then: he leaned forward, his hands flat on the table, his fingers spread wide. “What are your intentions, Kane? Will you kill me? Is that your desire?”

I leaned forward as well, until we were nigh touching one another. “If I wanted ye dead, Hobbes, ye’d be bleeding on this floor.”

He did not flinch away from my gaze, though I doubt not he could see that his spilled blood was indeed my heart’s desire. “As I thought when you came in here and did not kill me on the instant. Then what is it you wish dearer than my death?”

I blinked at this. Then, though I know not why I would admit anything to this black-hearted villain, I said, “I want to go home.”

His eyes shone, and did not blink as he looked deep into mine. “And do you know how to accomplish that?”

I sat back, and saw, even before I spoke, the light go out of Hobbes’s eyes. “I do not. I think I know how we were brought here, I and my men and the Grace, but I do not know how to return. And I have not the least scrap of a notion why your ship came along with us.”

He turned one hand palm up. “We were grappled onto you.”

I nodded. “Aye. Perhaps it is so simple.”

He breathed out air in a sort of tired laugh. “It is always simple to find the way to Hell, Kane. Getting back – now that is the difficulty.” He leaned back. “Do you mean to seek that path?”

I shook my head. I looked around, saw Kelly drinking at the counter, paying us no mind, too far away to overhear. “I want only to free my ship and my crew, Hobbes.”

He looked into me for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Your ship will never be yours again. He has it, he desires it; you will not take it from him.”

I pounded a fist down on the table, shaking the bottle and the glasses. “No man can keep my ship while I live!” I barked at him.

He chuckled. “He is no man.”

I threw up my hands. “I have heard you called the Devil, too, Hobbes, have thought it myself, but you are a man, nonetheless. Who is this devil of yours that he has so unmanned the Devil’s Lash?”

He looked down at his hands, toying idly with his empty wineglass. “His name is Lyle Okagaweh. But that is only the name he goes by. He is a demon, who speaks to other demons, and binds them to his will. I have seen this with my own eyes, have head voices speak from flames, from air. I have seen wonders that have nothing of goodness in them, nothing of God. He has powers I cannot describe, and which you cannot overcome.”

“How do you presume to know what I can or cannot do?” I asked, perhaps peevishly.

Hobbes laughed – and if I had done nothing else this day, at the least I gave Hobbes back his humor. “You are a formidable foe, Kane, but if you could have bested me as easily as the Shadowman has, you would have done it ere I chased you across the ocean. And if you could defeat him directly,” he spread his hands, “he would not have your ship, and you would have no need to speak to me.”

He leaned forward once more. “Listen to me, Kane. The ship is out of your reach – but you may save your men. Despite all the gulf that yawns between you and I, as one captain to another, as one man to another, I pray you – I beg you: save them. Save them from the Shadowman. He is doing to them what he did to my men: he gives them what he says is physic, what he says will cure their hurts and heal their spirits. And it does bring them peace and joy, at first – but it takes their will from them, even as it gives them bliss. It makes men into slaves, into beasts without courage or strength. It makes them his.” He paused to see that I understood. I did, and he went on. “He has only begun with your men. My men have been in his clutches now for months, and nearly all of them are lost. You must do what I could not. Save the men who gave you their loyalty, who sailed the seas with you.”

I considered him. I believed him, but – “If you are so certain that this Shadowman of yours cannot be beaten by the likes of me, how am I to free my men from him?”

He smiled at that, and poured the last of the wine into my glass. “Because, my dear fellow, he does not want your men, other than as mere counters to add to his pile. He wants you. If you offer yourself in exchange for the freedom of your crew, then it will be accomplished, on the instant, without any struggle whatever.”

I frowned at him. “You want me to surrender,” I said.

Hobbes shook his head. “I want to destroy the both of you myself, you Irish bastard.” I saw the gleam in his eye, and knew that he spoke only the truth. He stood from the table, drawing a dollar-paper of a sort I had not seen before from his pocket, dropping it beside the wine bottle. “I am telling you the only way you will save your men. For their sake, not yours or mine. And only because they are men, and some of them are Christians. Even if they are Irish.”

And with that, he left. Kelly rose, prepared to seize Hobbes, but I waved him back. Hobbes had told me what I needed to know, and more besides.

My path is clear.

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Log #40: Hospital

Log August 17

 

I will not say my situation has improved over what I found when first I awoke in this place, but at the least, I do understand it, now. Howbeit, I understand this place just so well as I understand any place in this world of 2011; that is to say, not so very well at all.

I drifted rudderless, in and out of my dreams, for many days. I remember seeing this place, the white ceiling and walls, the strange pipping of a tiny bird, slow and stately and regular as a funeral march, as if a sparrow were singing me to my grave, myself flat on my back and unable to move; I had some recollection of waking and choking on a thing which passed through my mouth and down my throat into my gullet as it was being removed, but the memory was strange and befuddling. I felt no pain, but I could not grasp and hold a thought, not a single one; and often I heard a quiet susurration, a whisper as of words spoke just beyond my hearing.

Aye: in my dreams, I did think this place to be Heaven, or Avalon, or Elysium, I know not what awaits us in that far-off country. But I bethought myself there, aye.

And then I woke, truly woke, and felt my mind catching hold; like an ox pulling a cart through spring mud, the great hooves slipping and sinking, and slipping and sinking, and then, at last, the hooves strike ground just firm enough beneath the muck to press back, and the cart begins to move: thus did I arise to the waking world. I knew myself alive, then, and in pain. My arms were strapped down, and my legs, as well. I had strands of clear stuff attached to my arms and my face, below my nose, and thin strands of white like spider’s webs or thread ran to my chest and brow; following them back led my eye to a tall white box, on a metal stand, with a quantity of depressions and obtrusions and dark places, numbers and letters and strange words written around and about, here and there. Above it on metal hooks hung two sacs of fluid, like wineskins made of glass; from these ran the clear strands to my arm. I felt a terrible thirst.

I attempted to call out, but could do no more than croak weakly. I fain would struggle against my bonds, but my strength had fled. Then the tall box gave a louder chirp, and then – cool, soft peace stole over me, starting with my right arm, spreading quickly across my chest and shoulders, my neck, my jaw, my head – and then again I slept.

When next I woke, the mud enmiring my brain was drier, easier to pull through and then out of. My pain was back, and the thirst; I bit at my tongue until I made enough spittle to swallow and ease my aching throat, and then I called out, “Hallloooo!” Soft at first, bare more than a whisper, but then a bit louder and stronger, and then a bit more with the third repetition.

After my fourth call, a door opened behind me, and soft footsteps padded in. A woman appeared at my right side, and smiled down on me. Neither young nor old, her golden hair tied back from her face, she wore a strange tunic and loose trousers, brightly colored and bearing images of – were those kittens?

Her cool fingers touched my arm, then my brow. “Are you awake?” she asked. “More than a quick breath before you go back under, I mean?” I frowned at her and tried to speak, but coughed through my dry throat. “Thirsty? Here, let me get you some ice chips.” She vanished. I croaked after her and struggled weakly, feeling like a toad tied to a board by a cruel boy. Did they plan the same sorts of childishly evil tortures for me as that toad would suffer of a heartless lad? I strained, but I could barely make a fist, let alone loosen my bonds.

The woman returned, a small cup in her hand. She touched something on the side of the bed near my hand, and suddenly the bed moved beneath me, lifting my head and trunk until I sat nigh upright. She held the cup to my lips, and when I opened, tipped it so that many small fragments of ice fell into my mouth; ’twas not unlike eating snow. They melted on the instant, and brought blessed relief to my raging thirst. The lady gave me a second and a third mouthful ere I pulled my lips from the cup.

She placed the cup on a tray and turned to the chirping box whereto my strands were tied.

“Where am I?” I asked in my toad’s croak.

“In St. Vincent’s Hospital,” she replied.

“And where be that?”

She looked somewhat strangely at me, and thus became familiar; now I knew myself to be, still, in the world of 2011, in the land of America, where all my questions are met with that same look. I could not suppress the sigh which escaped me at this revelation.

The woman returned to my side, placing cool fingers on my wrist. “It’s in Charleston.”

I said nothing.

She looked to my eyes and saw my befuddlement. “In South Carolina? In America? The United States?” When I showed no particular response, she put a hand on her hip, tipped her head to the side, and asked, “Say, where are you from?”

“Ireland,” quoth I.

She shook her head. “First time I ever met a white illegal,” she murmured. She had a pleasant accent, somewhat English, but softened in a way that seemed French to my ear.

My initial query answered so well as it could be, I moved to my next most pressing ignorance. “Wherefore am I bound?” I strained lightly against the strap crossing my forearms in illustration.

“You were struggling, flailing your arms all over. You kept pulling out the ivies.”

I looked wide-eyed at the strands attached to my arms, and I saw now that they pierced my skin – as if they were taking root in me. “Ivies? Why are there ivies planted in me? What hell is this, woman?” I began to struggle against my bonds, but I had not strength; the slight woman took hold of my shoulders and pressed me back against the bed-chair, restraining me with shameful ease.

“Calm down now, you just calm down. You need the ivies to get well again. They’ll come right out when you don’t need them any more.” I fell limp once more, already exhausted, and she released me. She arched one brow, hands once more placed on her hips. “And my name is not ‘Woman,’ it is Julie Winslow, RN.” She tapped at a card pinned to the breast of her tunic, which bore a tiny portrait of her. “You may call me Miss Winslow, for now.”

I turned my head away, shamed by my weakness and dulled by despair.

“I’m going to get the doctor now, all right? He can answer any of your questions.”

My innards growled then. “Will I be fed with more than mouthfuls of snow?”

“That’s up to the doctor. Just a moment.”

She departed, and then my throat informed me that it would appreciate another mouthful of cold relief. I looked down at the cup, placed on a tray that was easy to hand – or would have been, were my arms unbound and uninvaded. I looked more closely at my hands and saw that I was held only by wide leathern thongs, without locks; perhaps I could get my fingers to the clasp . . .

The door opened, and a manly voice said, “Well now, I hear someone’s finally had enough napping.” A man appeared at my bedside then, with white hair and beard. He wore a white coat over a blue shirt and a brightly colored neck-scarf; I had seen similar attire on Master McNally, and so took this man to be a gentleman of breeding, as well – as befit a medic.

“Aye,” I spake, my voice coarse. “How long did I sleep?” There was no window, no way to read the hour – or season, for that matter. By my dreams, it had been days, but what truth is there in dreams?

The medic repeated many of Miss Winslow’s motions, examining the ivy-box, placing fingers on my wrist while staring at an ornate golden torc on his own wrist, which resembled a compass. “What do you remember?” he asked me.

The shuddering blast of cannon. The stench of smoke, and salt spray – and blood, the corrupt stink of death. Hobbes, grinning like a skull, with a shadow-man at his back. Men rising from behind the rail of the Sea-Cat, thunderguns bursting, and screaming – my men – I fired and –

“I was – shot?”

The man nodded, his bright, intelligent eyes meeting my own. “Twice, once in the right shoulder and once in the left forearm. Both bullets passed through, but left you some fairly severe damage. You also suffered a fractured skull and a serious concussion, so I would expect your memory to be a bit fuzzy.” He drew a metal tube from his pocket, and with it, beamed a searingly bright light directly into my eye. I cried out, partly with shock at the brightness of the tube-torch, and partly with outrage at this imposition, and drew away. He frowned at me and at his tube, and then placed a gentle but firm hand on my brow, holding me like a fractious child, and moving more carefully, shone the light into my eyes for but an instant before releasing me, murmuring comfortingly all the while, to wit: “Don’t worry, I just need to examine you, only take a second, that’s it,” and so forth.

“Unhand me, sir!” I said then, and he did. When he was finished gentling me and prodding at my very sight.

He stepped back and put his hands in his pockets. “Do you know where you are?”

“Aye, the lass told me where I am. A hospital of the order of St. Vincent, though I do not know those monks.”

He frowned at me. “Do you know who you are?”

I stared for a moment. “Aye – I am Damnation Kane, captain of the good ship the Grace of Ireland.

Christ! I had not thought of her afore now; my brain still wallowed half in the mud of sleep. “Where is my ship? My crew?” I had a new thought, then, an explanation for my bonds. “Are you holding me captive? Are ye in league with the Devil’s Lash?”

He held up his hands placatingly. “Hold on, hold on, simmer down, now. You’re not captive, you’re not under arrest, and I’m certainly not in league with the Devil. We’re here to help you. The restraints are only so you don’t hurt yourself, and if you’ll promise me you won’t struggle or try to get out of the bed, I’ll take them off right now.”

I relaxed my limbs. “I am not held for Nicholas Hobbes? Nor for la policia?”

He shook his head. “The police will have some questions for you; we had to report your wounds, as they were gunshots, and the whole story isn’t yet clear. But you are not under arrest, or any suspicion, and you are free to go as soon as you are physically healthy enough.”

“I have your word on that?”

He paused, frowning slightly. Then he nodded. “You do.”

“Then ye have mine. I’ll not struggle nor fight you.”

He nodded again, and then he released the leather thongs that held my arms and legs. I tried to stretch my limbs, but was hampered by the strands of ivy. “Will ye take these out of me, as well?”

Now he shook his head. “I’m afraid you still need those. We are giving you fluids and antibiotics. You lost quite a bit of blood, there, and there was a fairly serious infection in the shoulder wound. Your friends bound it, but their materials were none too sterile, it seems.”

“What of my friends? Where are my shipmates?” I coughed at the last word, and the doctor took up the cup of snow and placed it in my hand; I emptied it gratefully.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about a ship. You were brought to the hospital, along with two others, who were also shot. They’re still here, and you can visit them when you’re feeling up to it. The men who brought all of you here left as soon as we took custody of you. The police have spoken to your two friends about them, but I don’t know any more than that.”

I returned to an earlier question. “How long have I been here?”

He paused, then said, “You’ve been here for seven days.”

Gods! I’d been shot twice, broken my head, and been feverish and delirious for a full week – and now I felt nearly hale, though weak and in pain. Not nearly so much pain as I would expect, howbeit. I nodded to the medic. “Thank you for your good care for myself and my compatriots.” I attempted to place the cup on the tray, but could not reach; the man took the cup from my hand.

“I want you to rest now,” he said. “In a little while I’ll have Miss Winslow bring you some soup to eat – and maybe a little surprise, if you’re feeling up to it.” He touched the side of the bed as had Miss Winslow, and I found myself reclining again. “Now you should try to sleep. It will help you get better.”

If he said more, I did not hear it. I fell into a deep and thankfully dreamless slumber.

I woke but slowly; as I lay dozing, the door opened and another woman came in, this one younger and darker-hued than Miss Winslow. I wakened further as she came to my ivy-box and examined its lineaments – why did they all stare at that box? And where was that damned cheeping bird, or the whisperers behind my head? – and gave her greeting. She smiled at me most prettily, and soon enough I had been brought upright once more – and the means of so adjusting my position shown to me – and she brought me a bowl of broth and a glass of golden juice, most delicious both, and surprisingly filling, though my gut did rumble ominously as I ate.

The doctor returned as I broke my long fast, and introduced himself as Albert Kelashnikskaya, a name I had to see writ on his portrait card ere I could repeat it. After a cursory examination and some idle questions regarding my mental state, he drew a folded paper from his pocket and gave it me. Then he politely withdrew – a man of quality, indeed.

It was a letter, from my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn, and reading it gave me more peace than even that good soup.

***

Captain Kane,

It is my fondest wish that this letter will soon find you hale and well, once more. My deepest regret is that I could neither return you to health myself, nor be present when these kind folk do so; but my own skills are far too meager for the first task, and our situation too dire for the second.

As of this morning, we are free of the Devil’s Lash. The Grace sustained but minor damage, apart from our casualties, and we had soon sailed out of sight of the Sea-Cat. O’Gallows has command, and after we are assured that you will be safe, we will sail elsewhere, to escape and perhaps draw Captain Hobbes away from you. I will not say where, as I cannot be sure Hobbes will not retrieve this letter. If you wake (and God will it so!), inquire of your companions, who will have the means to guide you to us.

God keep and preserve you, Captain, and us as well.

Llewellyn Vaughn

***

My ship was safe. My crew were safe, but for the casualties – and those were not so many that my dear friend Ian could not sail my ship to safety. Satisfied for the nonce, I held the letter to my breast, and thus slept.

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Log #4: The Chase, Part II

Captain’s Log #4

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Evening, or so: twilight hidden by storm clouds.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Thunder and Lightning. Very very frightening. Wind and waves high, but ebbing.

 

For two months, Hobbes’s ship never left us. We made what repairs we could, but our mainmast yard was damaged beyond repair by chainshot, and we had no way to replace it. Perhaps something could have been found, but McLoughlin, our carpenter, had been killed by a musket-ball, and no one else had any particular skill at woodcraft. We tried to hoist more sails, to lighten our load, to make better use of the wind – but all was for naught. We sailed dark in the night and took unexpected turns in the blackness; but somehow, whenever we tried such tactics, the sun would rise and show sails behind us, sometimes far away, but always visible. And they always gave chase, eventually closing what gap we had opened, never coming close enough to enter battle.

I do not believe I truly slept for those two months. I cannot even be sure it was two months; I missed days in this log, and no man aboard kept his own calendar. Even Vaughn, the surgeon and an educated man, stayed below with his books, as ever; the sailing of the ship means no more to him than the pulling of a plow concerns a field mouse: occasionally he is disturbed by it. The passing of time follows that same path for him, unnoticed and unmourned. Perhaps he has the right of it.

But for two months, the wind never slackened or changed and no storms came; there was enough rain and enough fishing to keep us alive, but we saw no other sails and never lost sight of the Sea-Cat. It was enough to drive us all mad, the months of waiting, imagining our fate yet hoping for a reprieve – a reprieve that did not need to be as miraculous as the one I had hoped for as a lad, awaiting my mother’s return: all we needed now was for Hobbes to give up the chase. Who were we? One Irish pirate vessel, perhaps with some small repute due our success in the English shipping lanes, but no Henry Morgan, no Francis Drake. Why did he not give up?

Someday I will have Hobbes at my mercy. I will ask him then.

It may have been madness that brought us so close to our doom, at the end. Certain if it was not madness, ’twas folly. I took ill, of course, for no man can stay upright under that strain for that long. When I did, ’twas left to my mate, Ian O’Gallows, to carry out my wishes. But he found himself pressed on two sides by the ship’s quartermaster, Sean O’Flaherty, and the bosun, Edmund Burke, a brute of an Englishman allowed aboard my ship only for the sake of O’Flaherty’s patronage, and the need to keep peace between myself and the man elected by my crew to be my equal in all things but battle. O’Flaherty chafed under the fact that we were on the eve of battle every hour of two months, and thus my word was law throughout; so when I lay insensate in my cabin, he seized his moment. With Burke at his side, they overruled Ian and commanded the men themselves. Perhaps Ian allowed it to happen, and if so, I cannot fault him; though their course was folly, it was a possibility that called to us all for those months, and may have become inevitable even had I stayed at the helm to the bitter end.

They slowed the ship and prepared for battle.

I regained myself in the night, and staggered out of my cabin to see what I had transpired during my incapacity. O’Flaherty had command, with Duffy at the helm; it was a cloudy night, and we were running silent and dark, so that I almost stumbled over them in the darkness as I moved blearily toward the dim light of the hooded lantern standing at O’Flaherty’s feet. They greeted me, somewhat warily, I think now, though I saw nothing amiss at the time. O’Flaherty told me how long I had been below – the better part of two days – and our approximate position, though we had sailed off the edge of our charts more than a month ago, and were navigating mostly by legend and hearsay about the length of a cruise from Ireland to the English colonies of the New World, where so many Irishmen suffered in chains after Devil Cromwell came to our shores. They assumed we were somewhere east of the Carolinas, but did not know how far away from the shore – perhaps as much as a thousand miles. They thought we might be close to the island called Baramundi, or perhaps it was Bermuda – they could not recall the name.

I began to examine what I could discern of the distribution of our sails, and grew alarmed as I realized that sails had been reefed: my ship had been slowed. It was then that the most peculiar sight ever to light my eyes came to pass. I realized that the rigging was growing far easier to discern; that there was, in fact, light in the darkness. It was a blue light, unlike any illumination I had heretofore experienced, and as I rubbed my eyes, trying to clear away any lingering phantoms of sleep, I found that the hair on my arms, and on my neck, was standing erect. Then I knew what it was, this light, from many stories told by old sea-dogs around tavern tables: it was the fire of St. Elmo, seen by one mariner in a thousand but boasted of by every man jack who sails the sea.

Imagine my wonder as I observed my ship, every inch of her glowing like a falling star, growing bright enough to see, and then to read by. It was a sublime beauty, a moment out of time: a waking dream that brought joy to my heart, a heart which had felt no goodness for weeks, aa heart which was filled with nothing but a rising dread and falling hopes.

And then imagine my horror as I turned to look at O’Flaherty and Duffy behind me, and saw the same eldritch fire crawling over the sails and lines and rails of the Sea-Cat, the scourged lady at her bow almost near enough to spit on. “To arms!” I cried. “To arms, and ‘ware boarders! All men on deck!”

O’Flaherty attempted to forestall me, but it was too late. My awaking at the wrong moment, my awareness of the enemy ship at the same moment, thanks to a mysterious wonder of the sea – it had to have been fate, or the caprice of the gods, that saw fit to ruin the plans of O’Flaherty. I do not know if I should regret it.

For the moment my voice was raised, the hatch burst open and the men came boiling out, wide awake, armed to the teeth and ready to kill Englishmen. For indeed, O’Flaherty and Burke had intended to bring our pursuers to the fray, and, hoping surprise would balance their greater numbers, had hidden the men belowdecks until Hobbes’s men had grappled and boarded us, thinking our boys foolishly asleep, and thus boarding with false confidence instead of battle-ready wills. Perhaps it would have worked, if the timing had come together properly.

But now it was ruined. For the men rushed above yelling, and the English spotted us and veered off our stern just long enough to fire on us with grape shot and muskets. My men went down like mown hay before the scythe. I fell, as well, wounded in the arm and lightly across my scalp, a minor gash that bled more than it harmed, though it was enough to stun me for a moment as my blood and the blood of my men pooled on the deck of my ship.

Then the blue fire of St. Elmo flared like lightning, turning as white as moonlight and as brilliant as the sun on the waves. There was a clap of thunder, and the deck reeled beneath us. “Rogue wave!” rose the cry, and perhaps it was. The light turned a color I have never seen, a lurid brilliance tinged with darkness: as if a rainbow bled its life’s blood on our eyes. I heard the screaming of a ban-sidhe rise far off and then fly at us at great speed, arriving with a tumult and crash as of a cannonade. The deck bounced once more, the light flashed, and then all was still. All was silent.

The sun broke the horizon then, and we saw that the ship had turned, and the sun was rising before us, a line of dark storm clouds just above her bright face, like the angry brows of a goddess scorned. The seas were calmed, but for the three-foot chop; no sign of the rogue wave that had tossed us moments before.

And no sign of the Devil’s Lash. The cry went up as we realized, and we rushed from rail to rail, like children following a soldier’s parade through town. But there was nothing, no ship, no sails in sight. There was a brief cheer, quickly lost in confusion; and then I set men to tasks, seeing to the wounded and the dead, turning the ship about to sail due west and seek landfall and safety from the coming storm. It was not an hour before we spied land ahead, and a matter of half a day before we could make out the trees along the shore. So much for O’Flaherty’s navigation. Perhaps it was Duffy’s, but he fell in the fusillade, so I will not speak ill of the dead.

Thus came we here. The storm is upon us now, and my strength flags again, my eyes heavy, my hand numb and shaking on the quill. I must rest. Perhaps I will wake in Hell. Perhaps I am there now.

But if I am in Hell, where is the Devil’s Lash?

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Captain’s Log #3: The Chase

Captain’s Log #3

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Noon.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Anchored and slowly sinking in the storm. But alone.

Inspection complete, so much as possible in storm. Leak worsening, water coming over the rail with every fifth wave. Meal of rotting biscuit and raw fish. Most eager to make landfall, but bloody storm continues.

 

Returning to my narrative.

Thus began the most hellish, gods-cursed time I have known in my eight-and-twenty years. I have known battle, as sailor and as captain; I have been deprived; I have been ill. God’s teeth, I’m Irish, born of an English rapist in the time of Devil Cromwell. I have known suffering before.

But sea battles are short, a matter of hours at most, and frequently the fighting itself a mere pocketful of minutes. ‘Tis the sailing, the tacking, the wearing, the coming about and bearing into the wind, that swallows the sand in the glass. A hurly-burly ashore is measured in heartbeats and footfalls, and quickish ones at that.

Growing up Irish under English tyranny took longer, but ’twas never all bad. I had my mother’s love, and the love of my sept and clan, who forgave me my English blood for the sake of the love they carried for my mother, love which ran hot in their blood and burned deep in their bones. And aye, we went hungry at times, when the English stole our crop or our catch; there was illness, as there ever is; I bore the shame of bowing to English soldiers as they beat and chastised my kin. But there was always revenge to look forward to, with the English. And always, hungry days, sick days, every day, there was music, and ale, and my mother’s laugh, as high and rich as the lark’s call. She acted as chieftain, in those days when the English had ripped out our heritage and broken the lines of battle chiefs and Gaelic kings. She would call the sept together whenever food ran short: first she would plan for the next day, when every man would go to the boats to take what we could from the sea, and every woman and girl would find roots and nuts and watercress; anything we could put in our bellies. Then once the plans were set and everyone knew his task, and we all knew that the morrow would bring some sustenance for us – at least enough to keep a space between belly and backbone – then we would sing and dance, and drink, if there were ale or whiskey to be had. Mad Cousin Diarmuid would even share out his mead, though no one else could taste that foul Northman’s brew without your tongue curdling up in your mouth, poisoned with sweetness. But we’d drink it, right enough, and we’d forget our hunger and our anger and our despair. And my mother would laugh. Our suffering would ease, at least for a while.

But this Hell that I and my men have lived for the last two months: it never stopped. It never went away. That pox-hollowed, malformed, gods-rotted shite-kettle has sailed after us for two months. It never left our sight.

The wind was perfect, the seas and skies calm but for an occasional summer squall that refreshed like a good Irish rain, and kindly topped our water barrels for us. The wind never failed, never changed direction; it blew from the northeast as if it were going home after a battle, and we sailed before it as though the gods called us on.

Surely the devil was giving chase.

That first dawn was the worst. We saw the galleon turn away and give up the chase as night fell on the day of the battle; as darkness overtook us, we were sure the brig would fall off, as well. ‘Twas a hard night, filled with the stink of powder and smoke and the pall of blood, as Surgeon Vaughn wielded the knives and the saws and the hot irons of his trade. Three men succumbed to their wounds that night, and the rest of us felt every inch of our hurts as the fever of battle drew down and left us cold and empty as the grave. I found that I had taken a splinter to the shoulder-blade, but had not known it in the madness of battle; ’twas a simple wound, sewn up ably by young Lynch, who wields a fine needle. ‘Twas the first time I had bled on the decks of the Grace, as we have never been boarded, but the stains of my blood were not the only ones on her planks that day. Those who could, slept, but most sat awake, mending sail or splicing line, hoping that busy hands could stop the screams of Vaughn’s surgery from reaching our ears. It did not work.

And then morning dawned, and our spirits lifted even as the darkness did. There is no more beautiful sight than the sun rising on a new day that you never expected to see.

I bear witness to this: there is no uglier sight than the sails of your enemy seen in that same dawn’s rosy glow.

That whore’s bastard did not fall off with darkness, and he hadn’t given up in the night. He had followed us, without burning a single lamp, never changing his course. We had slowed some, sure that we were alone; I was glad now that I had not given the order to reef the sails so we could tend to our wounded men and ship. The gods’ mercy had stayed my command, and so we sailed through the night, and lived.

He was close enough to fire, had he bow chasers, but he did not; instead he had a figurehead that could be made out clearly in the bright dawn light, without a glass. And that statue put more fear into us than any cannon would have. No cry went up when the sun’s rays revealed that ship, a mere three hundred yards away; we all saw it about the same time, the only signal needed a pointed finger and a growing silence that called out louder than any bosun’s roar. And as we all looked out on it, our eyes, sad and reddened with smoke and exhaustion, all drew to the figurehead: it was the shape of a beautiful woman, bare-breasted, with her hands raised over her head; on her face was a look of anguish, and across her sides and hips were the marks of a whip, red stripes painted and carved into the wood, where her skin was cruelly torn.

We knew of that figurehead, as every Irish rover did. A few whispered to those whose eyesight was too blurred with age or injury or lack of sleep: “‘Tis the Lash! The Devil’s Lash!”

Even among the English, there is but one captain cruel enough to adorn his very ship with the marks of his favorite device. The man christened with not one, but two of the Devil’s own names: Captain Nicholas Hobbes.

I ask you, how can that be? Did his mother – if he had one, if he was not spawned from a blood pool under a headsman’s block – did she never hear the boys down the lane damning each other to Old Hob for a bloody nose or a splash into a puddle? Did no carriage driver threaten the wrath of Splitfoot Nick on a slug-paced oxcart blocking the road? Did she not think of the man her son would become if she added Nick to the nigh-curst surname she already had fitted out for the bawling babe? Why not just call him Lucifer’s Spawn Hobbes and call it a day? If you’re bound and determined to do aught you shouldn’t, then be sure you do it with a whole heart and not a half-measure, as my mother taught me. Mayhap Fucking Bastard Hobbes would suit the man better, at that.

Any road, it was he: Captain Nicholas Hobbes of the Sea-Cat. Better known as the Devil’s Lash, when not in polite company – nor in society impolite enough to curse him as he deserves. He is perhaps the most feared and most reviled privateer captain who sails under English colors; certainly he is the most feared and hated on this ship of mine. His tenacity is legendary – and not exaggerated, I assure you – and matched only by his cruelty. It is said that every man aboard was pressed into service by Hobbes himself, and his equally heinous mates Stuart and Sinclair – one the first mate and one the bosun, but the two so alike and both such brutes that no one knows which is which, nor who is who. Sailor’s lore is sure only that those two savages are the only ones who would willingly sail on that ship, even when this profession of ours includes the foulest, basest dregs of humanity as can be dredged from under the tables in the stinking hells and poxy brothels in the most benighted ports on this green and glowing Earth.

Well. The sun rose, the ship was spotted and named for what she was, the vessel of Hellspawn. The order was given to lower all sails once more and crowd the canvas, and we pulled away from the Sea-Cat. But we did not lose Hobbes. He never fell below the horizon, and no fortunate fog bank arose; of course there was no land to hide us from his sight, or even to make landfall and disperse, leaving our ship but saving our lives. There was nothing but ocean ahead, and the Sea-Cat and her whipped lady behind, all that day.

And the next day. And the next.

When I was nine years old, I spent two weeks with my uncle Seamus while my mother traveled to Dublin to bear witness between a family of our clan, the O’Learys of Knocknagroagh, and the Englishmen who had despoiled their land and robbed them of their meager possessions. Not a day passed after her departure before I got it into my head that I could, and should, use our bull, King Henry (My mother named all our animals after Englishmen. She found them to be fitting appellations.) as my steed as I reenacted the exploits of Finn MacCool. Suffice it to say that King Henry, while he seemed at first amenable to taking on the role, eventually objected strenuously to my direction. He broke the fence of his paddock, shattered the chicken coop, trampled half a dozen of our chickens and my mother’s favorite cat, Guinevere. He also broke my leg, which was certainly the least important bit of destruction, as he also broke his own, and Uncle Seamus was finally forced to kill the sad beast. As I was lamed and, at first, unconscious, Uncle Seamus could not thrash me properly for the deed when his blood was still high; and so he determined a course that would cause me far more torment: he declared that my punishment would wait until my mother returned home and learned of what I had done.

Those two weeks, which stretched almost to three as my mother was delayed in Dublin, had been the longest of my life. Trapped indoors by my broken leg, denied any pastime apart from meditation on my crime and my impending doom, by the end I had concocted such torments that I nearly swooned with terror when my mother came into the room, having been informed by Seamus that I had somewhat to tell her. Perhaps she knew that I would have done myself more misery than she could inflict, and so she did not have me go out to the yard and eat the mouldering remains of King Henry’s dungheap, nor did she coat me in chicken offal and set her three remaining cats on me, two of the gentler thoughts I had crafted in her absence.

No: she took me to meet my father.

But that is a tale for another day; I lack the strength to set my pen to the deeds of a second English bastard. All I will say is that those three weeks of waiting, imagining what my mother would do to me but always hoping for some miraculous reprieve, were the worst agony I had known. Until Nicholas Hobbes chased my ship across the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Captain’s Log #2: The Trap

Captain’s Log #2

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Dawn.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Storm, high wind and waves. Anchored in unknown bay.

We are at anchor, riding out the storm that chased us into the shore. The land holds no hints to our position, there is naught in sight but trees. The wind is strong enough to tear off the canvas like whore’s smallclothes, were the sails not reefed; the waves lap the rails and surge ever higher. Eight men needed to work the pumps, and I fear they may not suffice.

I was fool enough to mutter somewhat about Hell and our position, in the presence of the men. They are terrified now, hunched below decks like damned souls on Charon’s galley, crying out as if they feel the flames already with every lightning flash and thunder clap. O’Flaherty has tried to calm them, but to no avail; I think Burke may be riling them up and laughing behind his hand.

But perhaps it is neither Burke nor my tongue’s slip that has put infernal thoughts into the men; after all, they crew a ship for a man named Damnation, and we were pursued across the ocean by the one they call the Devil’s Lash. What is a humble sea-dog to think?

I confess that I will abide in Hell, and right merrily, if it means that whoreson Nicholas Hobbes be off my rudder, and never darken my spyglass again.

As this is the first opportunity I have found to write at length, I will lay out the whole tale for this record. We shipped out of Galway, at night, to cruise south and east around Cork and toward Cornwall and Wales, where fat English tubs waddle along the coast, full of English wealth. And if we came across any Irish ships, well, so long as they were not of the same clan and sept as I or the men, then we would participate in the ancient Gaelic tradition of sharing the wealth: some for he at the point of the sword, and more for the one at the hilt.

We had only been eight days at sea, just passing Cruachan and looking toward Clear Island, when we spotted an English carrack with her mainmast down, limping along only with her fore and mizzen, and the canvas on those letting through more wind than it caught. We had a disputation, with Quartermaster O’Flaherty and Bosun’s Mate Burke proposing an immediate assault, and Master’s Mate O’Gallows and I in favor of sailing by in preference of richer prizes. I contended that the ship, clearly the worse off for a sea battle, would have nothing left to take; the romantic Ian quoth, “‘Twould be base to set on an ill and wounded gaffer such as this! Let him limp home and ease into a mug of ale and a chair by the fire!” Indeed, the ship did look much like a toothless maunderer, weatherbeaten and frailed by years and hard use. But O’Flaherty would fain waylay that poor benighted vessel, for any fight had long since been knocked from its decks. “Sure and there may be but little to lay hand to – but what ’tis, ’twill fall into our palms like overripe berries.”

Alas, while I had called O’Flaherty and O’Gallows to my poop deck for this discussion, Burke had taken his and the Quartermaster’s argument straight to the men, and my brave Irish sea-wolves were eager to see what scraps could be gnawed off the tattered bone. I confess I let myself be swayed by their cries and pleas, perhaps because I knew that my fellow sea-brigands often miss valuable goods, taking only what comes first to hand or what is plainly worth stealing. But not all that glitters is gold, we are taught – and not all that is gold, glitters.

So we attacked. The carrack fired but one culverin, which was overcharged so that the shot flew far beyond the Grace, the sound rolling and echoing like thunder. The sound, in truth, did us more harm than the shot, though we knew it not, then. We tacked nearer with great care, for the carrack was upwind of the Grace and close enough to land that we needs must keep a weather eye open for shoal water. As we approached, Burke gave a glad shout: “Look! There’s naught but a few sorry bastards left!” For indeed, we could see but little activity on her decks: two men back by the tiller, two more attempting to reload the culverin, and but a single man on the lines, for which reason the poor battered ship sailed straight for shore with what wind she could catch on her quarter.

“Just sit back, lads! I’ll handle this myself,” boasted Burke, that gibbering ape. The men laughed, but even that day, when none of us knew what misery and what tribulations O’Flaherty and his trained monkey had brought down on our heads, I cursed the day our quartermaster forced that blackguard of an Englishman on me as my bosun.

For it was just as Burke was posturing, cutlass and pistol in hand, that an alarum was raised from the lookout above. “Two sails! Northwest! Sails ahoy!” Bless that man – ’twas young Balthazar Lynch – for not forgetting his duty and losing himself in the excitement of the coming plunder and my bosun’s capering. He saved us that day.

Two sails indeed: they came around the head of Clear Island, where they had lain hidden in wait. The double-powder shot had been a signal that someone had taken the bait: and now the noose was tightening ’round us. Two fine ships, a brig and a galleon, flying British colors; their sails were crisp and white, stretched taut by a good wind that brought them directly across our bow. Their cannons gleamed, and their decks and rigging held dozens, scores, of men.

I lost no time: I roared at the helmsman, MacTeigue, to come about, and sent the men up to drop all sails. We had a lead now, being downwind already, and I hoped we could escape in my good speedy ship.

But while I had been watching the approaching enemy, I had, like a fool, forgotten the third ship: the bait ship. As soon as they saw us start our turn, men which had been crouched behind her rail leapt up and lined the bow, some climbing into the rigging, some running out cannons that had been covered with canvas and debris. And as we slowed and turned, our sails flapping, they fired on us. The Grace was holed – alas, my lovely lady! But her wound lay above the waterline, thankfully. The yards on both masts were damaged by chain shot, and eight good men went down in a hail of musket-fire. Eleven more were wounded in that volley, and five of them would die in the coming days.

I almost wished that Burke and O’Flaherty had been numbered among the dead, except my mother taught me never to wish death on any man, as it brings the Reaper’s attention on the wisher as much as the target. And a moment later, I was glad for their continued health, as both men leapt into action, chivvying and hurrying the men to the lines, to bring the wounded to Vaughn’s cabin below, to ready the cannon should we need to fire. With their help, we made the turn and fled south-west – into the horizon and the trackless sea.

They came after us, of course. The bait ship was left behind soon enough: she did not have new sails or a smooth hull hidden behind the rail with the men and cannon. But the brig and the galleon came for us. The galleon had a bow chaser, a basilisk, but by fortune’s blessing we were out of range and stayed there.

As it turned, it was the other ship that we grew to fear. The brig carried less armament, which let her fly over the waves, nearly as fleet as my Grace. And in our damaged, undermanned state, she could match us.

And match us she did.

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