Posts Tagged With: freedom

Log #73: Flight to Bermuda

Dear Reader: Hello! Thanks for continuing to come back — or thanks for checking out the site for the first time. 

This chapter is a long one, twice as long as the usual. Normally I’d split it into two and run it over two weeks, but there really wasn’t a good place to break this in the middle; there are essentially three episodes that are all of equal length, so one of the halves would be too short, the other too long.

Instead, I’m just going to slap up the whole thing, and then, with your forgiveness, I’m going to take off next weekend. The school year has started, and gotten immediately difficult; and I got the traditional cold from the little germ-factories we call “students.”

I will be back in two weeks, on the 1st of SeptembARRRRRRR. I have the rest of this part of Damnation’s adventures written out, and I am very excited to get it edited and posted; I’m not sure how many chapters it will come out to, but I guarantee that it will finish up before the end of the year. Probably by Halloween.

So please, enjoy, and next week come back and read it again. 

***

Log for October the Second of 2011

Bermuda

 

I thought that I had flown before.

That is as we have often spake, we sons of the salt, we fellows of the winds and waves. When the gale comes, and the tide flows, and the ship is clean with her ballast proper and her canvas white and strong, we fly over the seas. The breeze slips its fingers through your hair like a lover, and the ship beneath your feet dances with you: the perfect partner, every movement and every turn and every step in perfect harmony with you as you rise when she rises and fall when she falls, you are never out of synchronicity as the ship follows your every command, to speed, to slow, to turn. Unless you are high in the rigging, and then are you being led in the dance, spinning and twirling about, and you kick out your legs and twine your arms about the lines, limbs entangled in love, making every touch a caress, every breath shared as the wind fills your lungs and the ship’s sails as one, together. Then, we say, you are flying. Then, I say, you are in love.

But we are wrong. Oh, the love is true – and I miss it sorely – but that is not flying. For still, on a ship, the Earth holds you; you stand on your legs on your feet, on the deck, on the water. You sway with the movement of the rhythm of the dance, with the rise and fall of the waves. You know you are conjoined with a great creation, atop a tremendous foundation; you feel, perhaps, like a child in a sling, held and supported above the Earth, and yet still feeling, with every impact of your mother’s feet as she walks, that you are connected to the ground, to the world: babe to sling to mother to land, as man to ship to ocean to the Earth that holds the mighty sea like wine in a cup. Even in the rigging, as I have described, when the waves shift the ship, the masts and shrouds swing to and fro, and you with them – you feel the weight of the ship, of the ocean beneath it, anchoring you, holding you aloft while you fly across the sea.

In the air, I now know, there is nothing. No thing. We flew in utter incomprehensible truth, and we were seated in a plane, ensconced within its belly, surrounded by metal and glass so that we could hear the wind but not feel its kiss on our cheeks, and yet despite our insulation from all, there was no mistaking the situation: there was nothing holding us up. There was nothing tying us down. We flew. We were free. Detached, disconnected, we could have spun, tumbled end over end, top over bottom; we did not need to catch ourselves before the impact with the ground beneath – for there was no impact. There was no ground beneath us! Far below us spread out like – like a cloth on a table, aye, like a map, like the finest chart ever inked – there we could see the ocean, the Earth; but between us and that smooth expanse of blue, there was nothing. Space. Air. Aether. The magic that carried us – of which I have no words, for I have no conception – was entirely immaterial, invisible, unreal; we could see below us – for the plane did lean, when it turned, like a ship side-on to a gale or sliding down the trough of a wave, and our port or our starboard windows were suddenly faced down: and below us there was nothing. Imagine being that babe in arms, enwrapped in a cloth sling – but there is no mother, no person holding the sling, the child has lifted itself with its own will and moves forward, hovering high above the ground, untethered, untrammeled.

It was – a miracle. It was a wonder.

While it was ongoing, I lost all sense of myself as a man; I forgot my ship, my crew, my troubles; I forgot Damnation Kane entirely. I was eyes, rapt with enchantment, breath held, a body that scintillated and glowed like sparks blown from a fire. I thought nothing, felt amazement. I was free.

Until – as it seems we must, even in this age of wonders undreamt of in the world of my birth and rearing – we returned to land, our trip ended after, as our pilot us informed, better than 800 miles of travel completed in a morning. And that speed, that traversing of the very sea, was the least wondrous of what we did experience.

Alas that this, surely the most glorious hours I have known, should serve to deposit us back into this pit of vipers, this pack of malevolent and dishonest rogues with which we are surrounded. It seems that the gods are determined to give us our just due: alongside the great freedom we have now felt as we flew through the air, in light and beauty, we are now as trapped and as helpless, as enjoined and compelled, as we were released from all bonds. We have seen the heights, and now we do sink into the blackest depths. My heart is the anchor, methinks, that doth drag us downwards.

Our flying ended, we returned to the surface of the ocean – this seaplane, cleverly, is a ship first, floating to us across the waves when we waited ere the dawn at Pier Fourteen in Charleston Harbor, and then splashing back to the water like a jollyboat lowered on lines when we had reached this distant shore, of Bermuda. We were soon met by men on a boat, a true boat, though one without oars, that was propelled by some growling, spitting beast of a contraption attached to the stern like a rudder, but with a noise and a stink like the rudest of beast-wagons; the two men aboard the boat, both black-skinned, stayed silent throughout our transport from plane to shore. ‘Twas there that we met our host, the aforementioned Two-Saint.

He is a well-formed man, dark-complected as it seems these Bermudamen are, of a height with myself and standing straight, broad-shouldered and with his arms swinging freely, as a man prepared to lean into a fray, or dash to the lines in a storm, either as the circumstances merit. He smiles easily, his teeth white and straight against his skin that is the color of good earth, like seeds that might sprout goodwill and friendship – or, like the teeth sown by Jason of the Argo in days long gone, spring forth with enemies. For though this Two-Saint is true-seeming, he is not our ally, but rather our foe.

Once the initial introductions and pleasantries (As I was raised in a polite house and now spend my days surrounded by cutthroats and rogues, I stand ready to shake either hands, or fists, with those new-met; my natural inclination is for the first, but sure and these times have blown me in the latterly direction) were past, and Two-Saint had heard the names of my men as I had heard his, his nephew Jean-Paul – they are of Haiti by birth, as Claude Navarre of the Maritime Museum of Florida, he who so kindly cared for my Grace, and his nom de guerre is a corruption of their family name Toussaint – a sallow English looking fellow named Belmont, and a hulking fellow named Abner who puts me in mind of Burke, then the man moved swiftly to show that we were not guests of and not friends.

“All right,” he said, rubbing his hands together like a hungry man at a feast, “Brick told me he gave you the idea, and I give you details, yes?”

Whatever lightness remained in my heart from our wonderous flight was flung into darkness by the remembrance of that name, and that shite-grinned bastard who wore it. “We are here to seek my ship, and our crewmates,” I said, my tone as bitter as the taste in my mouth, as the blood in my heart.

Two-Saint frowned then, his hands turning into fists. He pointed one finger at me. “You are here to do as you are told. Brick told me what he’s got on you, and if you refuse him, if you refuse me, then you’re all finished. All dead.” He smiled once more then, but this had far more of the fox’s character to it: a fox gazing at a clutch of sleeping chickens. “Being Irish won’t help you, either – this island’s part of the British Empire. I call the police here, and they won’t even need to extradite you. They’ll just take you and lock you down until they try you and skin you alive for what you done back in the States.”

I looked at my men. I saw their resignation, their hopelessness.

I knew then that we were no longer pirates. For pirates are free men, and we are animals caught in a trap; the only question remaining being whether we would be killed and skinned, as he had said, or if we would gnaw off our own legs to free ourselves.

Bah. Who needs two legs? Give me freedom and a peg. ‘Tis a pirate’s life for me.

“All right, cúl tóna, then tell us what we are here to do, so we may do it and be quit of ye,” quoth I.

He frowned, his hands still in fists. “What’s this cúl tóna?”

It means he has a prick for a head. “Sir,” I replied with a smooth face. I was grateful to hear a smothered laugh from both Kelly and Lynch. Shane, having served in the King’s army, has better control over himself and gave no sign at all.

After a moment, Two-Saint nodded. “Well. You know why you are here. We go see him you do it to.”

“Aye, cúl tóna,” I replied.

Why make mock of him? Because even when I am conquered, sill I am Irish. Because even if there is no hope for my own self – and I know well that there is not – I cannot bear to steal it all from my men.

Bah. I must cease calling them my men. They are good men, loyal, strong, brave. They are better than I.

Two-Saint led the way to a pair of beast-wagons. “Two of you ride with Abner and Belmont, and two with me. You,” he pointed his finger at me, narrowing his eyes. “With me.”

I nodded. “Lynch,” I said, but got no further.

“I’ll ride wi’ ye, Cap’n,” said MacManus, stepping between Lynch and I. He looked back at Lynch. “Ye’re the only one what can share space wi’ yon great brute,” he said, thrusting a thumb at Kelly. Lynch shrugged and moved to Kelly’s side, and Shane came to mine.

I raised a brow at him. He tilted his head. “I’d speak wi’ ye,” he murmured.

Two-Saint turned and boarded a beast-wagon, his nephew climbing into the pilot’s seat. MacManus and I embarked into the rear bench, Lynch and Kelly drifting back and boarding with the sallow Englishman and the great brute Abner. Though even he was not larger than Kelly, or if he was, ‘twas by a hair’s breadth. I had to smile watching the man attempt to loom over his passengers, while Kelly met his gaze levelly.

It seems I am not the only Irishman who refuses to bend a knee without spitting on the man who’s foot is on my neck.

Once all were aboard, I placed my scabbarded sword across my lap, earning another suspicious glance from Two-Saint, for which I gave him back a smile, and we weighed anchor. The road from the shore was narrow and rough, though the beast-wagons handled it far better than an English horse-drawn wagon would have, or an Irish one, aye. Two-Saint said somewhat to his nephew, speaking French; I took this as sanction, and I turned and spoke to Shane in Irish.

“All right, man, why did ye wish to ride with me?”

He shrugged. “I know ye have a fondness for the lad, Captain, and ye choose your companions as ye see fit –” here he paused and met Two-Saint’s gaze, who was glaring at us biliously; Shane tossed him a smile and a nod, and went on, still speaking our mother tongue: “but I’ve been thinking. O’Gallows is mate, Kelly is your bosun, McTeigue our gunner – but all that be aboard the ship.” He turned to me, then. “I have been beside ye this past month we have been marooned on land. I think I’ve stood by ye.”

He paused, and I nodded. “Aye, man, ye have, and right well.”

Shane nodded in acknowledgement. “Right, so my thinking is that while we be on land, I should have something in the way of a rank. I’ve the most experience in land-fighting, too, being a King’s Army man ere I took to the sea.”

I had to nod. “Aye, ’struth.”

Shane turned a wee bit bashful then. “I was – I thought, perhaps – sergeant.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Sergeant,” I repeated – using the English word as he did, there not being a proper equal in Irish.

He nodded and scratched the back of his neck. “Aye. Sergeant at arms.”

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “So be it.” I gestured with my sword. “Shall I dub thee so?”

He looked relieved, and grinned at me. “Ah, no, t’won’t be necessary.” He frowned at the men in the front, then, who were ignoring our conversation. “Methinks we’ll bear no titles for the time being.” He grinned and looked sidelong at me. “Sir,” he said, though of course he called me cúl tóna.

I nodded. “Thank ye for paying your respects, Sergeant,” I returned. “I’ll enter it in the log, and tell the men, aye?” He nodded, and looked a mite more at ease. Then we fell into silence. I turned and watched the land pass by the window of the beast-wagon, as we jounced along the broken and pitted road – though I did note it grew smoother as we left the coast behind; especially if this be British land, I suspect we disembarked the seaplane at a point far from any official post or point of entry. This struck me as a smuggler’s road.

Though I did not know if we four be the crew, or the cargo.

This land is lovely, nonetheless. Far warmer than my Ireland, still it is as green as home, the road walled in with mighty trees , vines hanging everywhere and shrubs filling in the spaces between trunks. The air is thick with bird’s calls of a type I do not recognize, and the breeze smells rich and fecund, the sun brighter and hotter than the sun in Ireland – but this entire sojourn has been over-warm, to me. Can it be that the world is warmer, now, than it was where I should have remained?

Perhaps because it is closer to Hell?

Ere long we returned to familiar environs, inasmuch as we rode into a town with overmany people and beast-wagons, noise and stink and filth such as overwhelmed the good green earth-smell of the smuggler’s road. I had no interest in viewing such, and so I struck up a conversation with our gentle host.

“Can ye tell us anything of our task?” Shane turned from the window and interjected, “cúl tóna?” as though I had forgotten to show proper respect. I nodded and raised a hand, repeating the term as though accepting a gentle reminder of my manners; ‘twas onerous not to peal out laughter, but I think now that there was more than a touch of madness in me at that moment. I think, too, that it has not left. I fear it will never.

Two-Saint half-turned and looked me in the eye. “What Brick tell you, exactly?”

I raised an empty hand. “Exactly, nothing. He hinted and teased that we would murder a man.”

Two-Saint raised one eyebrow, and then nodded. “There’s a man, a bloody bastard, who is causing us trouble, man. His name is Hargreaves, Charlie Hargreaves.” He paused, glancing at his nephew, and then he said, “He a lieutenant of police.”

And so this was the reason why Calhoun had been so coy on the matter. This would be akin to murdering a British officer in front of a garrison, or a magistrate; there would be reprisals, rage, and recriminations after, and it would take much blood and many victims to slake the vengeful thirst of la policia. No doubt Two-Saint and the dog Calhoun intended to throw our carcasses to the wolves after we had done the deed. Shane and I exchanged a glance, and he shrugged. “We’ll no stay about,” he murmured in Irish. Aye: once the deed was done, we would soon after leave this island; what matter then what we had done while here? We would make the attempt, and succeed or fail; afterwards, future consequences did not weigh so heavy on us as they might on someone of this time and place. ‘Twas ever the reason to bring in foreign mercenaries to do the dirty business that often occurred between noblemen of any land; and who could be more foreign than we?

Though I think these men be not noble.

I did think then of one reason that would make this task easier: Two-Saint had said that this island flew the flag of our enemies. “Is he English?” I asked. I saw Shane’s eyes widen, and he nodded slowly.

“Yah,” Two-Saint replied. “That is, he’s from this island, a local, so he’s English by law.” His nephew said somewhat in French, and Two-Saint replied.

Shane and I shared a small smile. English by law, and a member of the city watch – aye, the man was English enough for killing.

The beast-wagon came to a halt, moving to the side of the road and ceasing its growling; the second wagon, with our crewmates aboard, drifted into a berth at our stern. Two-Saint pointed to a building, what seemed to be a tavern. “Hargreaves comes here every day, about now. We’ll wait here so you can see him yourselves.”

I bared a handspan of my blade. “Are we to kill him in the street, then?”

Two-Saint shook his head. “No, no! You don’t do nothing while we here! You will come back, alone, follow him, choose a place, a time. I won’t know nothing at all of when or how you do this, you understand? I will not be involved in any way.”

I slid the sword home into the sheath. “As you say, cúl tóna.” Mollified, he turned to Jean-Paul and gave an order in French; the younger man disembarked and trotted back to the other wagon, where he leaned in through the window, presumably informing Kelly and Lynch what we were about here, and what we were to do – but not now.

Two-Saint watched the tavern; I took the opportunity to speak of the only matter of import, to me. “Once this deed is done, what then?”

He shrugged and spoke without looking at me. “This is the only thing between us. When it’s done, then you do as you like, man.”

So they had carried us some eight hundreds of miles through the skies, arranged a boat, beast-wagons, half a dozen men, a smuggler’s rendezvous – for the sake of a single murder. It seems this lieutenant of la policia was a man worth considerations.

That gave me leverage.

“You say we are to follow him, aye? Learn his habits, choose a time, lay him low and leave no trail back to you?”

He looked at me now. “That’s it.” He pointed at me. “And you understand what will happen if you fuck this up, yah?”

I smiled at him. His nephew returned to the wagon then and resumed his seat behind the wheel. “Aye. But you understand that we will need time, transport, and accommodations while we course this hind?”

He blinked at me. “While you what?”

“While we hunt,” I said, speaking slowly.

He nodded then, gesturing assent. “All good, man. You get a place to sleep, and cars, sure.” His gaze returned to the tavern.

“Aye, that’s well,” I said. “We will need – cars. Two of them. And for one, a pilot who knows the coves along the northern coast of the island.”

His gaze returned slowly to me. “Why do you need this?” he inquired, and I could hear him gripping tight to his patience.

I gave up any pretense of subtlety. “We did not come here for this task. This was what we traded in order to gain passage to this island.” He started to protest, but I raised a hand and spoke over him; he stopped speaking and listened to me as I said, “We will do this thing, send your Lieutenant Hargreaves down to Hell for you. But it will take some time, and it will not require all of us as we stalk the man – in truth, it seems the four of us would be a bit too apparent, considering our complexions.”

Two-Saint and his nephew exchanged a glance at that, the nephew nodding agreement.

I went on. “Hence, my proposal is this. Two of us will watch and follow this man Hargreaves, while the other two will pursue the course that brought us to this island in truth.”

Two-Saint said, “And what is it that brought you here, then?”

I leaned close and spoke softly. “We seek my ship.”

He nodded slowly. “Which is in a cove along the north coast, you believe.”

I sat back, nodding. “Aye. We were so informed.”

“But you don’t know which cove – and you don’t know how to find out. That’s why you need – a pilot? You mean a guide?”

I shrugged. “A man who knows the coast and knows the roads, so that we may search.”

He nodded his understanding. “You know, man, this island’s not very big – but there’s still many coves on the coast. Many places you could hide a boat. Are you sure it’s even in the water still?”

I smiled at him. “Aye. She’s in the water, or at most beached beside it. And my ship will be hard to mistake for any other vessel in these waters.” My smile vanished. “But that be our concern, and none of yours. We will take on your concern, and also our own – leaving you care-free, and costing you naught but the lending of two cars and one man.” I paused to let him chew on that, and then put out a hand. “Do we have an accord?”

He thought for a moment more, exchanged a few words with his nephew, and then said, “All right, man – you got a deal.” We clasped hands to seal the agreement.

Just them, Jean-Paul said, “There he is!” He pointed, though he was careful to keep the gesture small, unseen by anyone without the beast-wagon – the car.

We turned to look at the man we would kill.

After a moment, Shane said softly, “Well, he’ll be easy to follow, sure enough.”

He was the tallest man I have ever seen. Standing head and shoulders above everyone else around, he was lighter of skin than Two-Saint and his men, but still of the same race; his head was shaved, and he wore a beard on his chin. He was thin as a mast but for an appreciable belly; this was a man who enjoyed his pleasures. I could observe, as well, the play of muscle and sinew in his arms, as he wore a shirt with abbreviated sleeves, nearly a tunic but with a collar; his neck, too, was columned with muscle, sloping down into his shoulders, his hands large-knuckled and strong. We watched him saunter along the street towards the tavern, passing other folk with his long, long strides – but he looked neither left nor right as he walked, seeming indifferent to his surroundings; he did not even look down at the people before him, who scuttled out of his way, ducking their heads, clearly preferring to escape his notice entirely – for they were all surely aware of him, eyes widening and mouths dropping agape all along the walk as the people caught sight of him.

As he neared the tavern, of a sudden a young boy ran at full wind out of an alley, and nearly barreled into the tall man; but without glancing to the side – without even, so far as I could discern, moving his eyes in their sockets – this man paused his step, allowing the boy to sprint by him and away before he went on, unperturbed. Without seeming to be, this lieutenant had a fine awareness of his surroundings, and the quickness, the celerity, of a hunting cat.

This was a dangerous man.

“This may take some days,” I said to Two-Saint. “That is no man to be trifled with.”

Where many a man – particularly a man like this, clearly one who lived against the law of the land, and with violence and blood and steel in his heart and hands – would have scoffed and called us cowards, or raged and insisted we move with alacrity, Two-Saint merely nodded. “You speak the truth, man,” he said. “All truth.” We watched as the man disappeared into the tavern.

Then Two-Saint turned to me. “Take all the time you need, man,” he said. “So long as you get it done.”

Two-Saint gave a sign to Jean-Paul, who leaned out of his window and waved to the car-beast astern; then he began the growling, and we moved away and along the street, slowly at first and then more rapidly as we turned a corner and left our would-be prize behind.

“What are your thoughts?” I inquired of Shane, speaking Irish in a low voice.

He tilted his head in thought, something of a shrug as he gazed out the window at the island sweeping by. “If we had the crew I would say we should attack his chamber as he slept. Though I would expect to lose at least three men in the process.”

“Aye,” I replied, “but we have only the four of us, and I like not the thought of losing three in order to kill that one.”

He shrugged again. “We must look for our chance.“ He turned to meet my gaze. “The belly gives me hope. The belly is the key: it is where he is soft.”

I nodded thoughtfully; he had seen clear. And he was right that we would need to stalk this Hargreaves very carefully. “You and Lynch should be the ones to watch him.”

He smiled and nodded. “Aye. Kelly’d be seen in an hour’s time. And you must seek the ship, Captain.”

“Aye,” I said with a slow nod. I wished, though, that I could tell him then, and Lynch, and Kelly and all the rest of them that I sought only to free the ship and return her to my men before I left them all without the burden of my doomed folly.

I turned to my window, then, and saw that we had once more retreated from the town to the greenwood. “Where are we bound?” I asked out host.

“We going to the place where you sleep, eat, get ready to do your work. I got a safe house, with a man to take care of things, make you food, all of that. Diego, his name is.” He turned then and proffered a brilliant smile. “You like him, I think, man.”

Ere a quarter of an hour had gone, we left the road for a track through the wood, which ended at a wooden house, somewhat ramshackle but with all four walls and a roof, a door and windows with wooden shutters thrown open. A man seated before the house arose as we came near; he was holding a white hen, which he cast gently aside to flutter her way to the ground. The man was wrinkled of face and white of hair, but he stood straight and seemed to move with ease; his glare, though was, singularly malevolent: his eyes wide and round under high arched brows, the corners of his mouth drawn down as his nostrils flared wide, and I saw his lips moving as he muttered what I took to be imprecations and defamations, cast willy-nilly across a broad swath, as his gaze roved from our car-beast to the one following and then back once more.

Our car came to a halt, and Two-Saint emerged, with a hand raised in salutation. The man, focusing on Two-Saint, threw up his hands and spat, and then turned, threw open his door, and stomped inside.

Two-Saint bent and leaned into the car-beast, smiling at us with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “All right, man, Diego he get rooms ready for you, then he cook you something for your supper. I hope you like goat, because Diego, he don’t cook the chickens. They his friends.” He flashed a glance at his nephew, who laughed.

I looked at Shane, who shrugged. “Get the lay of the place, aye?” I asked him.

“Aye, we’ll do,” he replied.

I met Two-Saint’s gaze. “Where does Master Diego keep his goats?”

The smile faded a bit. “’Round the back there.” He pointed with a thumb back over his shoulder.

I disembarked, and Two-Saint straightened to meet my gaze. “Will ye leave your man as our guide, or send another?” I inquired, as I took the knife from my boot, checked the edge, and stuck it in my sash. I whistled as Shane emerged, and tossed him my scabbarded sword – ‘twas not the tool for preparing a goat for eating.

Two-Saint’s smile left entirely. “We’ll leave that car for you to use, for Hargreaves. I’ve got a man who knows the water; he’ll come with a second car.”

I nodded, raised a hand in farewell, and went around the house to the back. The old man was just leading a yearling goat with a rope tied around its neck to the back of the house. He frowned when he saw me. I didn’t speak, I merely looked around until I saw where he slaughtered his kine; a stump with an axe, a long-bladed knife, a frame for hanging and a trough to catch the blood. I moved the trough under the frame, and then took the rope off it and went to where he stood with the goat, which had been bleating nervously and pulling at the rope collar, but was now struck with curiosity when it spied me. I scratched its chin, took the rope on its neck and led it close, murmuring softly in Irish, telling it what a fine and handsome beast it was. When I had it close, I looped the rope around its rear legs and quick-raised it to the top of the frame, ignoring its bleats and kicks, swinging the hooves away from me as I had learned as a lad in Belclare. I drew my knife, proffered it to the farm’s master, but he waved me on; I saw that his expression was now more thoughtful than irate.

I nodded, knelt by the swinging goat, and said the brief prayer of thanks that Mam taught me, and then I cut its throat and held it until it stilled, catching the blood in the trough below. When the stream of blood slowed to a trickle, I looked back at the man Diego.

He nodded. “Good,” he said. “Come.” He led the way into the house.

The interior was what I would expect of a white-haired landsman: the house was simple, with three rooms; two held beds, one with bunks set atop each other, where I and my men would sleep, and the third room the large common room, both kitchen and sitting room, furnished with a good, solid table and chairs, and a well-work cushioned chair drawn up by the largest window, with the best light. I saw none of the modern lights or gewgaws, no magic windows, no enchanted cupboard to keep food cool; just a lamp and some candles, a large and well-thumbed Bible, a basket of half-mended leather harness and bits, and some rope ends half-spliced.

My men – the men were standing in the main room as we came in, and as they met my gaze, they all smiled: for the first time since we came to this new world, we had found a place that felt like home. The old man cleared his throat. “Welcome.”

I nodded thanks. “Thank ye. We’re right glad to be here.”

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

Log #55: Free Men

Log

9 September 2011

In Ireland, there was a man, who spent aye his time in the public houses slurping from the bottom of a tankard, named Seamus O’Monaghan. And though Auld Seamus, as he was known (or Old Shame-Us, as some wags referred to him, with a gimlet eye and a curse for his old bones) ne’er stirred himself to set his idle hands to any honest work, still his cup ne’er went dry for long. Auld Seamus, you see, was the finest talker in a country famed for drunkards and poets. Famed to us, at the least: I know not how Ireland has fared over the years. I will ask Brother Bob on the morrow.

Aye, Auld Seamus, he could talk. He would spin a tale that would have left Shakespeare gaping in wonder, or Amergin mac Eccit himself a-dandling on his harp strings, empty of poetry. Auld Seamus could paint a scene with words that would have you not only seeing every leaf and every blade of grass, but smelling it, too. He could make his voice as high as a maiden’s or as gruff as the Devil himself, and his face and his hands would follow the same road, his eyelids fluttering and lips pursing delicately as his maiden hands sought demurely to hide his face – despite the snowy stubble across that chin, mind – or his brow lowering, his wide mouth curled into a sneer and a leer, both at once, his every feature turned infernal. Auld Seamus knew every tale, from books or from villages across the land, and he’d tell any that was asked for, so long as it was asked for with a full mug of ale. And Auld Seamus never went thirsty.

In between tales, while other men would argue over the weather or women or warfare, Auld Seamus would weigh in with his views, of the which he ever had a plenitude, suited for any topic and any occasion; and though his words in conversation never earned him any ale (for every man has an opinion, and no one’s are of value close to my own, in my eyes), those opinions would oft bring the conversation to a close – thus drawing the house down into a lull, which would never last more than a few heartbeats before someone would call out “Give us a tale, then, Seamus!” And he would place his hands on either side of his empty tankard and wait. Aye, there was no dust on Auld Seamus, for all his white hair.

And how would Auld Seamus scuttle a topic? Why, by proffering opinions so absurd, so fantastical – and yet so seemingly logical – that no man could possibly refute them. For the wise would know the argument to be too mad to merit rebuttal, and the fools (of which there are always a majority) would either believe Auld Seamus’s words as he spake them, or be so enchanted by them that they would profess belief merely to amuse themselves in repeating and chuckling over what Auld Seamus had said. Such as the one about rain being the soul’s tears, that was a favored speech, I recall. Some men were arguing over the rain, which was surprisingly sparse that year, and whether or not it would return to its usual pattern in time to increase the crops, or if they would stay dry and thin. Auld Seamus, he broke in with this: “O’ course there has been na’ rain: the English hath gone home, have they na’?” Well, naturally the crowd needed to hear how these two statements related, one to the other, so Auld Seamus explained: it was misery that made rain fall. The more people there were suffering, the more tears, not true? Of course all agreed, in terms of sheer volume of salt water. Ah! And where the men have hearts of lions, and the women, as well, and they turn hard as stones and shed not the tears brought by their suffering, where then, Auld Seamus asked, do those unshed tears go? Why, they travel up into the sky, like mist rising in the morning, and when enough such tears gather in the clouds, they fall as rain. That is why fair Ireland, ever beset by foes and ravaged by feud and turmoil – and where, Auld Seamus said, the people are wise enough to know their misery, and hath long memories for past sufferings, too – Ireland is nigh flooded with precipitation, and Scotland, the same; England, of course, suffers less, and France less still; the Holy Land, where our Lord and Savior walked, will ever be a place of joyful hearts, made so by the memory of the Christ, regardless of what strife may tear at the land; thus it will remain a desert of smiling faces. And, he finished, since the English are now leaving Ireland (’twas when Charles II returned to his throne, after the happy death of Devil Cromwell), the Irish are not suffering sufficiently to bring the rain to our crops.

Aye – it works, does it not? Wherever the people are in the main more blissful and content, the skies are, in the main, more clear. Rain is soul’s tears. Auld Seamus said so.

Here is another of Auld Seamus’s finest oratorical meanderings: Ireland, though plagued by marauders and savage Englishmen, was nevertheless – free. Or at least more free than the homeland of those same Englishmen. “For Ireland hath na’ king, is’t not so?”

“Aye,” the befuddled listeners would answer. “For we are conquered by the damned English, who rule us.”

“Aye, and precisely where my aim lieth, lads!” crowed Auld Seamus. “For a king – a good king, a wise king, just and manly – maketh men loyal. Loyal men follow the laws set down, like stones in a wall, by that just, wise king. That’s what taketh off a man’s freedom: his own choice to loyally follow the laws of his righteous lord.

“But when ’tis a foreign conqueror behind the laws, or an evil king – a man like Devil Cromwell, aye, struth – then no one feeleth the sting o’ conscience when the law be broken nor bent. Then the only matter is, can ye avoid bein’ caught? And any Irishman wi’ a brain in his head and two eyes to see, and two feet to run, will ne’er be caught by those English clods. That’s why we are free!”

And then the men pause, and ponder; then shrug and say, “That’s Auld Seamus!” Then all share a laugh and a round of full mugs. But not a one argues against Auld Seamus’s words. How can you?

Damn me but I miss the old gaffer. Him and all the rest.

It seems to me that if Auld Seamus could have set sail from Ireland (on a ship filled with casks of ale, of course) and settled his own land, where the only history is what Auld Seamus tells them, and the only philosophy what he offers them over a full mug, that land would be America. For surely, this place is madder than any land that has ever reverberated to the tread of man. This day, what I have seen, and what I have heard said, with all sincerity, by Brother Bob, has shown this to be true, and put me in mind of Auld Seamus that was. So now, like then, I will shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s America.” Then call for an ale. There is nothing else that I can do in the face of such lunacy as that of these free men.

We rose early and walked on, after an easy meal of bread and crisp bacon. The woods did not last more than half a mile – surely why Lynch had no luck in hunting – and then opened up to a view of wonder, and horror, both. We looked down from that hill and saw – city. Nothing else but city, from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could leap: buildings and streets and beast-wagons, followed by more buildings and more streets and more wagons. And then still more.

Brother Bob stood with a smile on his face (As, it seems, he does at most every moment, regardless of circumstance – a fine jolly man, he is.) and said, “Isn’t that amazing? That right there, gentlemen, is Washington, D.C. The capitol city of this magnificent country.” (Brother Bob cleared up my confusion regarding the name, which I had believed to be partly French: the city is called the District of Columbia, and given the initials to differentiate it from another place named Washington. I asked him from whence this term originated, but he knew not.)

We made appropriate noises of awe and amaze, and then began the trek down into that labyrinth of humanity and all their works. And who did we find, once we plunged past the outskirts, behind the veil of buildings? Any man who has been to Dublin, or London, Paris, Lisbon, or Rome, anyone who has walked from without to within one of the world’s great cities knows the answer: we found poverty, misery, corruption, degradation, and suffering. We found humanity, in all the tattered glory that is a city of men.

It was perhaps less apparent to our eyes, I and my two fellow ancients, than it would have been to a native of this land; we did not recognize houses and edifices that are shoddy, shabby, small and lowly – to us they are all incredible giants, filled with sparkling glass and the eldritch light made in glass balls they call electricity. But we knew beggars when we saw them, and good folk wasted by poverty and hunger, and young men turned to surly, hard-hearted toughs – turned by anger that has no target, no release, and no respite. Aye, we knew these people well: they are our people. They are we.

Brother Bob did not show poorly, as we made our way down streets filled with the idle, the inebriated, the insane, and the indigent; I have seen many an American turn away and ignore his fellow – a habit I saw as well in the English these people so resemble. But Brother Bob behaved more like an Irishman among his brothers: he met their gaze, whether the eyes behind were mad or sad or forlorn, and nodded and smiled and murmured greetings and well wishes, raising his hand to the men and giving a slight bow of respect to the ladies he passed: whether granny or child or painted harlot, he spurned none. My shipmates and I exchanged a glance and a smile; we might be in the wrong place (For ye must pity the poor and destitute, but among ’em, remember to watch thy purse) and the wrong time, but we were with the right man.

After a time – a longish time, and a good distance: four or five miles, methinks, though these buildings so close and so looming-tall do make it hard to judge distance over land – we passed out of the outer city and into the inner city, the home of the prosperous and the noble. A spring came into Brother Bob’s step again, and he began to point out sights for our amazement and edification. He asked if we had ever seen the White House, and when we confirmed our innocence of such, he clapped his hands with glee and turned us down a street crying, “This way!” and setting off with vigor.

Indeed, we were amazed again. This White House was a palace beyond any we had ever seen – perhaps rivaling St. Peter’s in Rome, or that place Louis of France was rumored to be building, in Versailles, if I remember aright, though I have never seen either, to compare. ‘Tis a mighty colonnaded manor, as white as new-fallen snow, seen at a fair distance across perfectly kept grounds behind a tall black iron fence with guards posted at the entry gate, kept busy by swarms of courtiers and audience-seekers, as any palace must be.

I inquired of Brother Bob the name of the sovereign who ruled there – curious I was, whether these once-English colonies were now under a Tudor, or a Stuart, or perhaps a Bourbon. But he scoffed at this. “We don’t have kings here! This is a free country!”

I set my gaze on that White House, this lavish prodigy built for one man’s vanity and comfort, and I scoffed in return. “I have seen palaces ere this, my brother – and that is a palace. With palaces come kings.” He shook his head, saying I did not understand, and I let it pass.

He led us to more magnificence then – more great buildings, all of them pure white and colonnaded (clearly meant to flatter the king by imitating the style of his palace), which he called the Capitol, and the Supreme Court, and other such; this Capitol, quoth Bob, housed what he called the Senate – as in Rome of old – and a House that he compared to Parliament, a term that we three ancient Irishmen, who had lived through the rule of Devil Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, started at and exchanged glances over. Perhaps it is true that they have no kings here, I thought and whispered to my compatriots: if their Parliament has beheaded them as Cromwell did to Charles of England. Then Brother Bob showed us the monuments – built in one of the loveliest places I have seen, in this land or any other, in a park with a pool of water that reflected the clear blue sky above, and pavilions, graceful and clean, all about.

There were monuments to the glorious dead, fallen in battle – one, Bob said, for an unknown soldier, which befuddled me: why would you cast shame on the dead, being forgotten, or on yourselves for forgetting him? Another, where Brother Bob took some time to visit and say prayers, was a vast wall of black stone, with thousands of names carved into it – the names of all the men torn from this world by fire and by sword in that war. I must say, ’twas a magnificent tribute, a fine way to honor lost heroes. ‘Twas most affecting to us all. Especially when we realized the sheer extent of it, and the number of the fallen – a terrible weight of names, in truth, and of lives lost.

Then Brother Bob showed us the memorials for past kings. And these showed once more that my surmise regarding the White House was correct – a point I made to Brother Bob. This Lincoln, this Jefferson, and most particularly this Washington for whom the city is named – who raised himself a pagan obelisk taller than any spire I have ever seen, taller by far than the great cathedrals of Europe, as if this man would set his glory above that of God himself – clearly, these men, though they wore no crowns, were kings of old.

“You don’t understand,” said Brother Bob. “This is a free country. It’s a democracy. We choose our leaders.”

“Aye, so did the Romans,” I rejoined. “‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ Is that it? You have chosen to set these men so far above you that they ‘bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.’ Aye? ‘I know he would not be a wolf but that he sees the Romans are but sheep.’ Be that your meaning?”

He shook his head. “No! We cast votes, and select our leaders of our own free will. They only rule by the consent of the governed, by the will of the people, and according to the laws of the country.”

I frowned at him. “So then the people – those people, living in squalor and deprivation out there, miles of misery surrounding this opulence, this splendid vainglory – they choose this? They cast a vote for men who live thus, and who allow them to continue to live like that – and each within a stone’s throw of the other?” I laughed. “No, my friend, it is but a child’s story, meant to placate.” (It was here, indeed, that I thought of Auld Seamus.) “There is no freedom here. This is despotism, whatever they may tell you to the contrary.”

We stood beneath the prodigious Washington Monument, and Brother Bob – somewhat exercised now, and spluttering – pointed up at it and said, “No. They wanted to make him a king, wanted him to lead for the rest of his life. He refused. He gave up his power after only eight years. And every president” (This is the term they apply to themselves, these American kings, and most clever are they to refer to their rule as “presiding,” rather than ruling. Somewhat like Julius Caesar choosing the title of dictator – speaker, commander – rather than Imperator or Rex. And just as truthful as Caesar, methinks.) “– every president since then – well, almost every one – has stuck to that. Now it’s in the laws: no one can be in charge for more than eight years, and that’s only if they win two national elections.”

“Eight years?” quoth I. “Caesar himself ruled for less. As did Caligula. And Bloody Mary. Devil Cromwell himself held sway for not more than twice that span. Surely a tyrant may cause untold harm in eight years. I fail to see how that makes you free.”

“Because the President doesn’t have absolute power!”

“This President of yours: does he demand show of obeisance? Does he walk into a room with a fanfare, and must others stand, or bow?”

“Well, yes, but –”

“Does he have a personal guard, loyal to the death, who will kill any who threaten him?”

“The Secret Service, yes, but –”

“Does he take all of the laurels for good fortune unto himself, and push all blame onto his subordinates and rivals?”

“Okay, yes, but still –”

“Then he’s a king.”

“But we elect them,” Brother Bob said. “We have free choice!”

“Can ye choose to elect none of them, to rule yourselves?” He shook his head. “Well then,” I went on, “can any man become king? Any man may choose any name to cast a vote for?”

“Well, no,” he said, hedging and retreating, as he must. “There are two major parties, and we pick from those.”

I had to laugh. “Aye – like the War of the Roses, is’t not? This House or that House, White or Red, and not a hair’s difference between the two. All of them leave your people in poverty. All of them put good men in gaol. All of them send young men to die in wars, fought for the ruler’s glory and at his command.

“No, my friend. Take it from me: I know what it is to be ruled by a tyrant who uses noble and lofty speech to describe the ravaging of a land and her people. This is a kingdom, under the feet of despots, whether they be one single man or one of a faction. You are not free.”

Brother Bob had naught to say. So, pitying him – for it is most painful when the scales fall from one’s eyes (if indeed they did fall – Auld Seamus never surrendered his opinions, even if someone did argue, as happened once or twice) – we set out on our northward journey once more, and left politics behind. Within a mile, Brother Bob had cast off his melancholy and was back to his cheerful self. He took us then to a house of comfort, where the poor were given food and shelter; he spoke with the proprietor, a kind soul by the name of Beatrice Everstone, and then proposed to we three that we should spend the remainder of that day there, offering what assistance we could in exchange for a meal and a bed for the night.

Such generous terms were well to our liking, and we swiftly agreed. We were able to offer ourselves as carpenters, making various repairs, as well as maidservants and serving wenches, cleaning the sprawling hall and doling out victuals to the paupers. MacManus and I even kept the peace, stepping into an argument that was fast turning to fisticuffs, but for our timely intervention and stern correction.

The labor made the simple fare delicious, and the beds into sumptuous bowers. I put a hand on Brother Bob’s shoulder as we readied ourselves for sleep, smiled and said, “Here is where men are free. Tyrants hold no sway in generous hearts.” He smiled and nodded in return.

And so, after keeping this log, to bed.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

Ramirez Reviews

Movie Reviews from a Film Student

Zezee with Books

...random as my thoughts go...

Branwen Reads

Fantasy book reviews

Lit Lens

Take a Look through our Lens

Thrice Read

A book blog by 3 best friends.

Pompous Porcupines

Predictably Pretentious yet Irresistibly Excellent

RiverMoose-Reads

Books, Reviews, Writing, & Rambling

Live, Laugh, Love With Gladz

All Things Beauty, Books And Anything In Between