Posts Tagged With: Fiction

Log 15: Joyriding

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

It came to be known that the keys for the beast-wagon lay in the miscellany of odds and ends we had taken from the Dominicans’ pockets before locking them in; we identified the correct ring, from among several small rings of tiny-seeming keys, with Shluxer’s guidance. Then I must needs ask for volunteers, with myself as first example – though all gods in heaven and earth know that I would rather dive into a whale’s mouth from the crow’s nest than ride on that thing. But I cannot ask my men to do a thing the which I would not do; if not for honor’s sake, then simply because they would refuse to do it, with mine own example as sufficient justification. But with myself standing tall, and Shluxer smirking at us, soon enough Kelly stepped forward, with only a slight stagger to reveal the source of his courage; and then my good friend Ian took a surer step to join him. Lynch tried to step up, but I ordered the youth back into line. Such heart in a small and youthful chest shamed two more men into taking the step, Lochlan O’Neill and my cousin, Owen MacTeigue. I chose O’Neill, as he is a fast friend of Donal Carter and could sway the man to listen to reason; also I trusted MacTeigue to stay behind and supervise the fortifications of the Palace should all this go for naught.

Kelly offered to sit on the rear of the wagon, where a footman might ride if it were the carriage it somewhat resembled, but Shluxer refused him and demanded we all crawl inside, after he used the key to open the – doors, I suppose they are, though damned if they don’t more resemble a bird’s wings, or the fins of a fish.

Perhaps this thing is fashioned from the skeleton of some fantastic beast?

Any road, Shluxer and I were trying to coax Kelly into the sternward bench when there was a crash of glass; on the port side of the beast, Ian O’Gallows was knocking out the last few fragments from the sternward fin-door with the butt of his pistol. I feared for a moment that this attack would anger the beast – and my men stepped back with me, all eyes on O’Gallows – but Shluxer cursed and said he would “roll down the fucking windows.” Which made no sense as one cannot roll glass. While we discussed it, however, Kelly found a mount to his liking: he stood on the metal edge below the bench, with one hand grasping the open door-fin-wing, and stabbed his dagger through the – the scalp? The back? The thin metal (or perhaps bone) plate atop the beast, whichever side of the thing one calls it. It gave him a fine hold, and he declared himself ready to weigh anchor. Shluxer yelled and swore again, but I and my men took heart: this further injury once more provoked no response at all from the beast. Perhaps it was not to be feared.

We all took our places, Ian behind Shluxer on the port side and Kelly hanging off the beast’s starboard side behind me, with O’Neill white-faced between the two sternward stalwarts. I took the forward bench beside Shluxer, who sat behind a wheel, though I know not how that could steer the beast. He said, “All right, hold on to your butts,” (at which saying we all took hold of our pistols) and then applied the key; now we heard the beast roar and growl. Mysteriously, we also heard a blast of music, but Shluxer poked the beast in the mystically-engraved panel facing us, and it stopped. Once Shluxer coaxed Kelly back onto the thing’s flank, he having leapt off and drawn his iron at the sound of the thing’s roaring, my new navigator plied his hands and feet in an arcane manner, and – we were off!

It was, at first, simply a wonder. Shluxer somehow made the glass window beside me vanish, and then, as we moved farther away from the Glass Palace at a speed faster than a grown man’s trot, I could feel the wind, though only from my side. Straight ahead I watched the ground move, the trees coming closer, and yet it seemed unreal – the motion too smooth, and without a direct wind in my face coming from the forward quarter, it felt wrong to me.

Then we reached the road – we had been moving along the track from the Palace, which was lengthy and narrow; this that lay ahead was a smooth-paved road four times the width, at least – and turned to starboard, and suddenly we were moving faster than I have ever moved before on this Earth, faster than a horse at the gallop, faster than ever the fleetest ship raced before the wind and tide. At first I felt near a swoon – a sensation increased, along with my terror, when I saw another beast-wagon apparently aimed directly at us and charging, before it missed us just to our port side, as though we were jousters in the lists. It was followed by another beast-wagon, and another, and another. The road turned to the left, and then the right; the beast-wagon barely slowed, and with each turn, I and my men drifted to the side, like green sailors in their first swell, with cries and murmurs of alarm. It was the most frightful experience of my life, saving only, perhaps, the encounters with Hobbes and the Sea-Cat.

Then Ian started laughing.

I looked back at him, incredulous; it was in my mind that he had lost his sanity and was in hysterics. But no, he met my gaze and I saw that he was himself. He had thrust his head out through the porthole in the door-wing where he had broken the glass pane, and the wind of his passing was tearing through his hair and blowing out the collar of his shirt. “Try it, Nate!” he shouted to me, grinning like a child on Christmas morning – though he did flinch away from the oncoming beast-wagons, which trumpeted their strange cries at him, or perhaps at our beast. Shluxer cursed and steered us farther to starboard, giving Ian room away from the jousting wagons. Then I heard a whoop from Kelly on the other side, but his head was above the top of the opening he stood in and could not be seen. I glanced at O’Neill, and saw that he was not amused: his gaze was glassy, his mouth open and slack, his skin pallid and rapidly becoming green; I recalled that O’Neill was one of those who struggled with sea-sickness, and I surmised that the beast-wagon’s strange motion was too much for him. It certainly put a flutter in my own gut, though the like didn’t affect me at sea, but this thing jerked from side to side far more rapidly than any ship, and the movement forward pressed us back into our seats before the long turns pulled us to the outward side, and it was all very strange. I clapped O’Neill on the knee, and he met my gaze, swallowing painfully, beads of sweat on his brow. “Will ye live?” I asked him.

He started to nod, then closed his eyes and shivered. “Aye.”

I turned to Shluxer. “How much longer?” I had to repeat the question, as his attention was fixed on Kelly and Ian; Ian was now seated in the porthole, his entire trunk outside the beast-wagon. He and Kelly were shouting back and forth and in unison, no words, just cries of pure joy.

“WHEEEEE!”

“AYYYIIIIEEEEEEE!!”

“YAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA!”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘Yo-ho-ho?'” Shluxer muttered.

I said his name again, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, right – uh, how much longer? I dunno – five minutes if they haven’t left this road. Maybe less.”

I nodded and then clapped O’Neill on the knee again. “Ye’ll live, man. If ye have to purge, do it towards Kelly.” Then I put my head out the window, as well, to see what all the fuss was about.

The moment I felt the wind on my face, coming from what my eyes and mind told me was the proper direction, rather than blowing from a quarter-turn to the side, then the sensation of strangeness disappeared. My gut subsided its churning, the clench of my jaw eased; suddenly it was as if we were sailing the swiftest ship across calm waters, or riding the fleetest horse with the smoothest gait – I know not how to describe it! Our speed was magnificent, but there was no sense of the motion, none of the up-and-down or back-to-front jerking that accompanied any other means of such speed, whether it be a horse’s hoofbeats or a team pulling a wagon or a ship going over waves and swells. I have never felt anything like it. I presume this is what the birds feel when they spread their wings and glide through the air. It was glorious. Soon all three of us, Ian, Kelly, and myself, were crying out with joy as we leaned out of the beast-wagon and waved our hands in the wind.

But then, as I was seated on my own porthole and turned towards Ian to share a grin, Kelly shouted “Captain!” I glanced to him, and he nodded to the starboard bow quarter and shouted, “‘Tis them, sir.” I turned quickly and spotted my wayward bully boys immediately: there were no other people on this road – reasonable, considering the speed and frequency of beast-wagons on it! These folk must have separate roads for people to walk or ride more ordinary steeds. Their clothing, too, stood out clearly against the dull green mangroves and other trees to either side of us. They had not yet noticed us as different from any other beast-wagon.

I ducked back into the beast-wagon and marked the target for Shluxer, who muttered, “No shit, Sherlock.” I swear, the man speaks an English almost incomprehensible to me. But he turned and stopped, all of a sudden, just as we passed them, bringing us to a dead halt not twenty feet from the four runaways. Remarkable.

Kelly was already off the wagon and facing them, weapons in hands. I opened the portal – after Shluxer pointed out the handle to me – and stood by him; behind his great frame, O’Neill crawled from the beast’s guts and heaved up his own. Ian, his face still red and grinning from the wind, leapt to the top of the wagon and struck a stance, fists on hips. He cried, “What ho, me hearties!”

I looked at my men with somewhat less joy. Of the four, Moran looked the most abashed, and would not meet my gaze. Carter simply stood and looked at us with both equanimity and a certain amount of wonder at the means of our arrival; Burke sneered and smirked; and O’Flaherty clenched his jaw with anger. I strode slowly up to them, looking from one face to the next.

“Out for a wee stroll, are we?” I asked sardonically.

“Aye,” O’Flaherty spat back. “Out to correct that one’s failure,” he said, pointing a thumb at O’Gallows. Ian’s good humor ended instantly, and he leapt down from the beast-wagon and marched toward O’Flaherty with grim intent, but I waved him back.

“You think the provisions he gathered for us insufficient?”

O’Flaherty, who had been sneering a challenge at Ian, now looked back to me. “Aye, o’ course t’were insufficient, man. Ye canna expect a pirate crew to live without spirits. Especially not in the midst of all this madness we go through in this place where you brought us, Captain.” He stepped closer. “And don’t try to foist it off on me, again. Ye put on a nice bit o’ theater for the men, but ye canna have it both ways. If ye be the captain, then the responsibility for our mishaps be yours. And ye knows it.”

I nodded, for he was in the right. “Aye, I’ve made many mistakes, o’ course. Any man in command will do the same. What matter, though, is that I must recognize my mistakes, and ensure that more and poorer choices do not worsen our situation beyond repair – as this little excursion of yours would do. What in the name of all the hells were you thinking, Sean?” I shouted, throwing my hands up in exasperation.

Never one to back down, O’Flaherty bellowed right back. “Your man there said t’were no guards! The boys need a bit o’ cheer, and we mean to get it for them.”

“You daft fool,” spake I, with perhaps less diplomacy than the circumstances asked, “I sent Ian off with mere trinkets, and he traded them for a month’s provisions. Did ye think we couldn’t do the same twice, only this time with rum as the goal? What, do ye not remember the remaining wealth in the Palace we took? – Aye, took under my command?”

O’Flaherty laughed, without mirth. “Trade? We’re not merchants, Nate. We be pirates. We take what we want.” Carter and Burke both nodded at this, and Moran looked as though he wanted to.

I laughed back. “Pirates, Sean? Ye be pirates?” I stepped up and pressed my chest to his. “Then where be your ship?” I shouted in his face. He stepped back then, but I stepped with him. “You know where. She be on the beach. On her side in the sand, wi’ a great hole blown in her flank. You know – you all know,” I said, turning to include the other three with a look and a gesture, “you know that I have no compunction against taking what I desire. The world owes me that, as it owes each of you. Aye?” They nodded again, and from behind me, Ian growled, “Aye, it bloody well does.”

I turned back to O’Flaherty. I stopped shouting; we needed to remove the spark from this discussion, not throw it into the powder keg. “But we need the ship. We need the Grace, Sean – need her in the water and catching the wind. Aye, of course I took note when Ian said there were no guards at the Piggly-Wiggly, but think ye we have no enemies hereabouts? If this be a colony, there will be troops here, somewhere; if it be a sovereign nation, they will have militia. Either way, your little raid would bring them down on us. Now, if we could escape to sea in our fair ship, then I would lead the way, and carry a cask of rum myself! I planned to do just that. But not –” and here I shouted once more, as I felt this point deserving of special emphasis: “NOT UNTIL WE HAVE OUR SHIP BACK!”

O’Flaherty and I glared at each other in silence. I knew what he wanted: he wanted to name me coward, shame me with my unwillingness to take this risk when such an easy prize beckoned. But he knew that if he said it, I would draw arms to defend my honor – and he would lose against me, with pistol or with blade, and he knew that, too. So we waited, and I watched him swallow the words he wanted to say to me then. They looked bitter.

Then another voice broke into the tableau we had made: “Hey!” We all turned and looked: it was Shluxer, standing with his arms crossed, his face pale and nervous. “If you dudes, you know, want some booze or something, you know, I can get it for you.”

I raised one eyebrow and asked what we all wondered: “What is booze?”

He rolled his eyes. “You know, booze. Liquor, beer, whiskey, wine, shit like that.” He shrugged. “I can get other shit, too, if you want to get really fucked up. But booze, that’s easy.”

“How much?” O’Flaherty asked, even as I asked, “What risks will there be?” We glared at each other some more.

“As much as you want. No trouble – I got this shit covered, yo.”

I looked the question at O’Flaherty, and after a moment, he nodded. I turned back to Shluxer and said, “Yo-ho-ho.”

So it went: Ian accompanied Shluxer in the beast-wagon, and the rest of us marched back to the Palace, in silence but for some brief muttering between O’Flaherty and Burke, and Burke and Moran, and then a low conversation between Carter and O’Neill, once O’Neill recovered from his illness – which largely came the moment he found he would not have to mount the wagon once more. I was chagrined to see that Carter did much of the talking, but if I walked closer, they turned to silence until I moved away. Perhaps I should not have brought O’Neill.

I am sure this is not the last trouble these four will cause me, but I have no idea how to prevent them.

The situation is fast becoming dire.

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Log 13: Conversations with a Carpenter

Captain’s Log

Date: 27th of June, 1678

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Situation improving, but morale flags.

 

I stood before the man O’Flaherty had so basely stolen away. I did wonder if my quartermaster had not, in fact, taken a journeyman, or even an apprentice, rather than the master carpenter; he seemed very young, the skin of his face and hands smooth and unlined but for a youth’s blemishes, of the which he wore several. He was certainly fat enough to be wealthy, which might have brought O’Flaherty’s gimlet eye ‘pon him; Sean has ever had an itch to stab at men of wealth and quality wheresoever he finds them. He was certainly as terrified as any man I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed and sheened with sweat.

Damn your liver, Sean. How could I win this youth over now, to gain his willing assistance? I confess that for a moment I was tempted simply to follow O’Flaherty’s lead and compel the man with the strength of arms; but I will not put my ship’s fate into the hands of a fearful and desperate man. How can you trust the work of men you have pressed into service? We should have to drag him along with us, to compel any further repairs due to his slipshod work – or even sabotage – with an unending chain of threats against his life and well-being. I would not take this man from his home merely because I could not think of a better way to get what I need. I find I have no taste for stealing men away from their homes.

At least the first step to winning the man’s favor was obvious. I whistled up MacTeigue and ordered him to cut the man’s bonds at once, and fetch him a bottle of wine, if any were left. I held Owen for another moment, and whispered further orders in his ear: my cousin was to stay out of easy sight, but keep a close watch in case the man slipped away from me. I did not wish to compel his service, but I could not have him raising the alarm, perhaps bringing a militia or a troop of King’s men down on us.

I made use of the minutes whilst MacTeigue sought out refreshment to tender to the man the most humble and genteel apology I could compose. I pride myself on my apologies; they have kept many a colleen from drumming a beat ‘pon my pate with cookware, as Irish lasses are wont to do when they discover themselves members of a plurality, rather than the sole monarch of an Irishman’s heart. Ah, now, they say it takes a village to raise a child; I fail to see why a man cannot be so raised, as well. Parts of him, at least.

My final flourishes and bon mots flowered the air as MacTeigue returned with a bottle of clear golden wine; I swallowed a long draught to show there was no poison, and then handed it to my erstwhile guest. He took it with a shaking hand and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. I had found several of the Glass Palace’s vintages too sweet, as well, but this one was quite nice; perhaps he had a foul taste in his mouth before. MacTeigue shrugged and removed himself from sight. I sat and invited the man to do the same, the which he did following a moment of wary staring.

“I am Damnation Kane, captain of the ship Grace of Ireland.” I held out my hand to him, and after a pause – which is often occasioned by the first mention of my name – he met it with his own somewhat clammier hand. “Elliott Shluxer,” he told me then (I can but guess at the spelling of it, never having encountered the name before). “Where do ye hail from, Sir Shluxer?” I queried. “We live in The Hammocks,” he said (again, I am unsure of the writing of the name), taking a pull of his wine; its taste, like so many others, was improved with repeated applications. “And you are a carpenter, in truth?” I tried to keep my tone simple and friendly-like, but if his answer here were in the negative, he would shortly find himself clapped with a hand-full of Dominicans, and O’Flaherty would be walking home to Ireland.

After a moment, punctuated by several eyeblinks and the forming of a new sheen of sweat, the man said, “I guess, yeah. I mean, I work with wood.”
Well at least O’Flaherty didn’t attack a pig farmer.

“It is my fondest wish, Master Shluxer, that my compatriots’ overzealous introductions of your good self to our humble band will not destroy the chance that we might work together, you and I, and both be enriched by the experience.” Aye: many a colleen. They may be won by the line of one’s jaw, the turn of a calf, white teeth and a roguish smile – but they are kept by the tongue.

This man, for all that he lacked a grown man’s creased brow, or a working man’s physique, or, apparently, the brains of a schoolboy, still he was no colleen. “You guys are fucking nuts,” was his response to my sally.

I informed the man – politely, despite his tone, for I was determined to take no offense from his words, my own men having offered offense enough for all – that I was unfamiliar with this particular colloquialism. “You’re nuts, you’re all fucking crackpots. A bunch of crazy fucking lunatics,” he expanded.

“Ah,” I exclaimed, grasping his meaning, “you mean we are madmen.” I laughed at this. “Such was never in doubt, good squire. Nonetheless, I have sailed with many and many a madman afore this, and I have found that their gold spends as well as that of a man in full control of his senses.” I took a doubloon from my purse, then, and let him see its golden shine. “Sometimes,” I went on, and here I added a second bit of shine to my palm, “sometimes it even spends twice as well.” I grasped his wrist, turned up his palm, and placed my two most persuasive arguments therein with a gentle clinking.

Shluxer put down his wine bottle and looked at the coins. “Holy fuck,” he said, an oath I had never heard – and considering the scruples of most saints, including Our Lord and Savior, it was an oath I found rather puzzling. “Are these real?”

“Indeed they are, stout yeoman. And Spanish weight, not Irish, I assure you. For ’twas a Spaniard we liberated them from, along with many of their brethren formerly trapped in Spanish pockets.”

He looked up at me then, his mouth unfortunately hanging agape: unfortunate, for his physiognomy did not vouch to me proof of his competence and intelligence, nor even his comprehension of my words. “You’re giving me these?” he asked.

I resolved to speak slower, and perhaps a bit louder: I could discern the dirt in his ears from where I sat; perhaps his hearing was blocked by effluvia. Or perhaps it was his thoughts. “I am giving you those, and I will give you more of you will agree to work with me.” I accompanied these words with a brief pantomime of sawing and hammering, so my meaning would be clear, it was to be hoped. I gave my belt pouch a jingle, as well.

Shluxer wiped at his brow, and then pressed his hands into his eyes, like a man waking from an unlikely dream into an even more improbable reality. “I don’t fucking believe this,” he muttered. He stared at the coins once more, turning them to glance at the visage of King Phillip IV minted on one side. Then he took another pull at the wine bottle, and met my gaze at last. “What exactly do you want me to do?” he asked me.

I clapped him on the shoulder – perhaps a trifle too vigorously, as he lost his balance and needed to be uprighted, though he had certainly suffered a shock from O’Flaherty’s treatment which might explain his weakness – and rose to show him the task at hand. I guided him to the Grace, offered an introduction to my good friend Ian – who explained the provenance of his surname, a tale which generally wins a laugh, but garnered us merely a stupefied gaze and more doubts as to our guest’s mental capacity – and showed him the hole in the Grace’s hull, and the missing yardarm on the mainmast. He gazed into the hole for some minutes, looking as well at the stack of finished planks the men had placed nearby, the only intelligent acquisition they had made, as my present companion apparently possessed less wit than that same pile of wood.

To wit: “You want me to help you fix the hole,” he said then.

I nodded, slowly. “And replace the yardarm on the mainmast, and help make her water-tight and sea-worthy. Aye.”

“And you’ll pay me for it.”

Another slow, exaggerated nod. “At twice your going rate. Aye.”

He held up the doubloons. “In gold, like this.”

I shrugged. “Perhaps some silver. We generally have a fair motley of coins about us, considering their variegated sources.”

He blinked, and I sighed. “Yes. We will pay in gold.”

“That’s why you kidnapped me?”

I winced. I took a breath, ready to explain that the political realities of O’Flaherty’s rank despite his incompetence and rash judgment, but Ian stepped in then, smooth as cream.

“Of course we will offer you wergild for that offense against your honor, along with the apology you have already received from our generous captain.” This last part came with a glance my way, which met a nod; but Ian could be confident that I would have apologized, first because he knew me for a gentlemen of breeding, and second because he has frequently been apologizing to his own colleen even as I mollify mine. “Or perhaps you would rather have a boon, if there is some service we might offer,” Ian finished.

It was then that I first spied the crafty look come into the eyes of Elliott Shluxer. It was a look I would become most familiar with, to my deep regret. How much would have been easier for me, had I only paid more attention then! I should have known that such apparent imbecility was sure to be joined with a low, animal cunning, and the savage, wanton greed of a starving dog.

“A boon? Like a favor?” Something akin to a smile curved his lips. “What kind of a favor are we talking about here?”

Ian looked my way, unwilling to speak further in my stead. I smiled at the carpenter and raised my open palms. “We have a fine ship and a good crew, once we can set sail once more. We would be honored to transport yourself, or whatever goods you wished, to the destination of your choice. Even back to England, or Spain or France, perhaps.” Ian looked a question at me for this over-generous offer, but I ignored it. I would fill the hold with another man’s profit if it meant I could take my ship and my men home again. “Or we could lend the strengths of our arms and backs, if you need land cleared, or a barn raised or other such tasks.”

But this struck no spark of joy in the visage of our would-be carpenter. I tried again, my tone growing soft and shadowy, like the subject of this speaking – I would offer craft to this crafty man, if it would get my ship back on the water. “Then there are our more surreptitious skills, the which we could offer into your service.”

Shluxer seemed intrigued, and I went on. “Perhaps there are goods of some kind, that are wrongfully in the possession of another man: a situation we could easily remedy. Or,” and I laid a hand ostentatiously on the butt of my pistol, “perhaps there is a personage whose acquaintance you would like to un-make.”

A smile creased the greasy face of my new ally. “Whoa, shit! You guys – you’ll cap someone on my say-so?”

I had to blink at the wording, but how many meanings could there be in this conversation? I nodded, slowly so he would understand me. He did, and rubbed his hands together in unmistakable glee.

This is ever the way, it would seem. If you offer a man a generous profit, advancement for himself and his kin in your right hand – and vengeance, no matter how petty, in your left hand, ’tis always the second hand he’ll grasp in agreement. The sinister hand.

It was while Shluxer was considering his possible targets and I was pondering the chance that I would regret my offer – sadly a most likely occurrence, but what choice had I? – that I heard a voice call out “Captain!” I turned and stepped quickly toward the Palace, from whence the call came; young Lynch dashed out to meet me.

“Captain – it’s the Quartermaster, sir, and the Bosun. And Carter, and Gunner Moran, too. They’ve gone.”

I loosed an oath then that would strike my old granny dead, did she hear it from my lips. “Where have they gone?”

Lynch, who had stopped to admire my swearing, now turned grim once more. “They’ve gone to the Piggly Wiggly, sir. They’ve gone to steal grog.”

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Log #5: The Glass Palace

Captain’s Log #5

Date: 25th of June. Dawn.

Location: At anchor in cove. Still afloat.

Conditions: The sun shines, and hope blooms in those golden rays.

We live. I say again: the fairest sight of all is the sun’s rise on a new day, arriving like an unexpected guest who bears good tidings.

The storm broke and fled in the night, though in truth it should have spelled our doom before it did. For our survival this dawn, we must give thanks to the capricious gods, and to my mate and friend, Ian O’Gallows. (A name he bears half for his father, a Scotch gallowglass, a mercenary who came to Ireland to fill his pouch with gold fighting in our wars, and instead found himself filling the pouch of a comely Irish maid, one of such spirited blood and poetic temperament that she loved the man but never bothered to know his name beyond, “Ah, Love!” The other half-measure of the name O’Gallows is the just reward for Ian’s meritorious service in a lifelong quest to end on that renowned apparatus, made holy by the blood of so many Irish kings. And the shite of an even greater number of English rogues, as Ian says it true.)

The seas found the hole in the Grace’s hull at last. Ian was at the watch and heard a report from the men at the larboard pumps that they could no longer keep pace with the water in the bilge. Ian went below to inspect, and found water pouring in through the wound in our lovely lady’s skin. He went to the carpenter’s closet, near abandoned since McLoughlin’s death on Irish seas, and found a short plank end, a great handful of long nails, and a hammer. He held the plank in place with his feet, his back braced against the deck and muscles straining against the might of the seas, while Roger Desmond nailed the board in place with enough iron to charge a cannon. It was nothing like a proper patch, but it held back the water enough to let the pumps keep us afloat.

Now with the dawn we are at last headed ashore. I will take Lynch and explore on foot to the south, and O’Flaherty and Carter will head north. We seek a strand where we can beach the ship without fear of intrusion. We seek also for civilization, and knowledge of our whereabouts – but always, the ship’s health comes first.

_____________________________________________________________________________

I have returned. I do not know what is uppermost in my mind, in my heart: the dread I feel, or the wonder. For the nonce, it is perplexity, bewilderment, and confustication. WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE WE?

We took the boat to the shore, found a bare patch between trees – and such strange trees! Standing aloft on roots like a cathedral’s buttresses, growing right from the sea, with salt crystals visible on their tangled roots. O’Flaherty calls them mangroves. He was transported to the Indies where he turned pirate before returning to Ireland, so I take his word on matters of local knowledge now. Though I don’t know why: wherever we are, it is not the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. I do not believe O’Flaherty has ever seen these shores any more than I have. Nonetheless, we tied the boat to one and spent some minutes regaining our land legs, learning the uncertainty of the land around these mangrove trees, which is softer even than a peat bog, though perhaps not quite as odoriferous, and then we were off.

Lynch and I slogged through mangrove bog for a mile or so before the ground came solid to our step. We knew to use the mud to keep off the insects, or we would have lost more blood to them than we ever have to the English. But the stench was most unpleasant, as was the heat, even in the trees’ shade.

Not half a mile after the bog turned to good earth and the mangroves made way for proper trees, we came to a wall. I cannot say how that sight heartened me: we were not lost, we were not doomed to wander in the wilderness until my ship sank and we starved for our ignorance. A wall meant men, and with men we had a fighting chance. That’s all an Irishman needs.

The wall was six feet high, with broken glass embedded in the top. A fine piece of masonry, too, as good as any cathedral wall I have seen. The surface was covered with a plaster smooth as a shaved and sanded plank, the extent slightly curved but the top straight and level as the horizon. But trees grew within a pace of it, so its defensive value was somewhat less than its craftsmanship. Lynch scurried over it with no more difficulty than he had climbing the rigging, and though my days as a mast-monkey were far behind me, still I had not much more trouble. The woods continued on the other side for a dozen paces, and then cleared. We paused at the edge to take stock.

That’s when we saw the house.

House? Fah. ‘Tis a palace the likes of which no man has ever laid eyes on, I warrant.

There were brief gardens with plants unknown to me or Lynch; puffed shapes like immense dent-de-lion gone to seed, and tall trees with nary a branch on slender trunks but for a crown of great leaves, bright green and serrate, bursting out of the top, many times the height of a man – they might make fine masts, perhaps, though they may be too flexible. Then a terrace of some sort, with a columned portico or promenade – Christ and Dagda, I have not the words for it. I have never seen architecture like it.

It was the size of a vast cathedral, a king’s palace: thirty or forty feet high, an hundred feet across – nay, more. It lacked ornament: not a single piece of statuary, no mural nor frieze, not even a curved band of stone. I’d call it a Puritan’s proclivities that stripped it bare, knowing that humorless race landed on the New World’s shores and live there still, but no: ’twas the edifice itself that served as decoration, that gloried the eye and honored the wizard who built it.

The walls shimmered and shone as we approached cautiously through the gardens. I noticed there were no crops, no edibles, and surmised we must be on the far side from the kitchens. I told Lynch through signs to ‘ware guards on the parapets, but we saw not a soul. As we drew closer, the risen sun gleamed from the walls, which had a strange appearance: smoother even than the wall we had crossed, yet rippled, and the sunlight reflected from the surface. I surmised they were solid steel, as I have seen such metal forged so that light ripples on its surface like that of a pond teeming with fish and fragments of wind. This wall curved, as well, and I wondered if the people dwelling here could not lay a straight line.

But then before our eyes, the wall changed. What I had taken for ripples of forged steel was in truth a curtain, a curtain than now drew away, moved by no hand. Why did this curtain wall gleam in the sun, you ask?

Because the curtain was inside of a wall made of glass.

I could not fathom it, at first. ‘Twas Lynch, crouched beside me, whispering, “Glass! ‘Tis made of glass!” that set the truth in my ‘mazed mind. I know not how to imagine a wall made of glass, without flaw, without blemish, without frame, ten feet high and a hundred feet wide, without saying that it must be magic. This was a sorceror’s palace, I thought then.

And then, within the glass – though the eye did not pause for an instant at its surface, clear as the mountain air – we saw the master of this palace, and I corrected myself: this was the palace of a sorceress. Her robe – silk, I thought, though I have never seen it on a person, only on a bolt liberated from an English trader; sure it was not the rough-dyed homespun I have seen on most colleens at home – that robe revealed more of her curves than it concealed, and lovely curves they were, indeed. I glanced at Lynch to be sure he was not entranced or inflamed by this first sight of a woman in nigh three months, but he was glancing at me to determine the same, and so we looked back at the marvels before us.

She stood at the window for a moment, staring out at the sun on the water, a delicate half-smile on her face – a face as lovely as the rest of her, a face to bring out the poet in any Irishman – and then she turned and walked across a wide room, a reception hall, perhaps, though I saw no table large enough to seat a proper company of men. There were low couches and chairs, rich carpets; the floors were of some pale stone, and as smooth as the glass wall I saw them through.

The sorceress went to a wall of cabinets, and produced a miracle. She grasped a handle, pulled the cabinet open – and light shone forth from within, brighter than any lantern I have seen! Within the cabinet, and affixed to the inside of the door, there were what appeared to be foodstuffs, though the room was so wide that I could not make out all the details; too, I was dazzled by that light: surely she did not keep a candle burning inside a closed cabinet! But then, no candle ever shone like that.

She removed a bottle of some kind, and a smaller handful. Another cabinet, which I could not see into, and then she poured, with her back to us. She turned and we saw she was drinking a golden fluid from a clear glass cup; in her hand she held something that might be fruit, though I did not know its shape. It looked to me like a golden sausage. But I watched her peel it and eat it raw, so a fruit it must have been.

But what can I know of this? Perhaps she devoured the severed finger of a demon before my eyes. Or perhaps it was . . . some other part.

She put down the glass of golden nectar and took up a strange object: only just larger than her hand, slim and long and flat, covered in knobbly protrusions. She waved it at the wall, and then I knew it was her sorceress’s wand, for the wall opened, of its own accord, revealing a great mirror in a black frame. She waved the wand again, and the mirror showed images – but not images, for they moved. They moved! It was a window of some kind, revealing not the other side of the palace’s grounds, but showing other places and people, like a scrying pool or some such wizardry. As Lynch and I watched, it changed a dozen times, revealing a man’s face, then three people gathered around a strange object I did not know, then a map with strange names written on it – alas, she waved her wand and the map disappeared before I could discern any useful details; but I will swear the words were in a script I recognized, even if I could not see what words they spelled out. Then it was a woman with a metal rod pressed to her wide open mouth – was she singing? – and then a jeweled pendant, surrounded by words, like the illuminated page of a monk’s manuscript. I made out the number 29.99, before the mirror’s magic showed two faces – no, it was one face, but shown twice, side-by-side. But perhaps it was not the same face, for the one on the left was older, more blemished than the right side face. Mother and daughter, perhaps?

The sorceress stepped closer to the mirror then, and gazed at it; it was now that she ate her golden sausage-fruit and drank her golden nectar. She dropped the peel – the skin? – and the empty glass onto a wide shelf beside the cabinets full of light, and then took up her wand again and waved it at the wall of glass. And the wall opened.

Two doors, framed in some strange, smooth white stone but made of glass, swung wide without a hand to move them. Lynch and I froze, knowing the slightest movement might draw the sorceress’s attention to us. I know his fondest wish now was the same as mine: we had seen enough, and now we wanted nothing but her departure, so that we could return to the safety of our ship and our friends. But she did not leave: she came out onto the terrace, no more than thirty feet from where we crouched behind shrubbery. Then she took off her robe.

I will not speak of what I saw then; it would be ungallant. Suffice to say that I am not innocent of women, that I have known the fond caresses of more than a few generous and loving lasses; but never had I hoped to see so much bared flesh outside of a bed. What garment she did wear was little more than paint on her skin; certainly it hid no more from our sight than it did from the gods.

She walked across the terrace, away from us – I can close my eyes and see every single step, so closely did I observe her every swaying, undulating movement – and then dove into a pond that we had not noticed hitherto. She swam – better than any man I have ever seen, and more than a few fish, as well – across and back, across and back, a score of times. Then she emerged once more, taking up a small blanket to dry herself, an operation I observed just as carefully, especially when she bent to rub the blanket down her smooth leg – but I blush to continue.

She went inside, closing the glass doors, this time by hand. She disappeared through a doorway, granting Lynch’s and my wish of minutes before – though I confess my wish had become somewhat different by that point.

When we spoke, when we had recovered our wits enough to whisper, Lynch asked, “Is she a temptress demon, Captain? A succubus?”

I shook my head, but not because I knew him to be wrong. “She may be. Though I think this land too fair to be infernal. Look you.” I pointed to the ocean, visible to our left; before the glass palace was the perfect cove, ideal for our purposes. A wide, flat expanse of white sand that we could draw the ship upon, a spit of land dense with trees and shrubs to hide us from the view of passing ships, should such exist in this strange place (We have seen none). Stout trees to anchor lines for drawing the Grace out of the water, and lashing her safe against the tide’s caprices. And overlooking all, this glass palace, with a pond of clear water to drink and magical cabinets full of food, howsoever strange.

“Hell would not have such perfection laid before us,” I told Lynch. “Not without a legion of demons, armed and belligerent, to keep us from it.”

No, I had realized, as we watched the beautiful sorceress emerge from her magical, impossible palace, where we were and what we were seeing. “She is no devil,” I told Lynch. “She is a Faerie Queen.

“We are Underhill, in the Land of the Fae.”

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