Posts Tagged With: glass palace

Log 22: Taking a Dip in the Ocean of Time

Captain’s Log

Date: 7th of July in the year 2011

Location: The Glass Palace

Conditions: At heart’s ease, but with blood high and passion enkindled.

 

Since last I was able to keep this log, while waiting for Maid Flora to return home for our parlay and then in the minutes before we departed for the disinterment, there have been developments. Now I find myself once more at the Glass Palace in the Matheson Preserve, and now I am in the employ of the Enchantress, Lady Elizabeth Cohn. And I am at war.

The recent course of events began with our quest to recover the mortal remains of one Manuelito Nieves, known as ‘Lito to his fellow Latin Lions. ‘Struth, it did seem like a fine stratagem at the time, howsoever gruesome it was.

There is truly something unnatural in digging up a corpse. Even if one has the finest intentions. In my nineteenth year, back in the Ireland of my birth, my cousin Conor O’Malley was taken by the damned English and hanged as a cattle thief. He was guilty, of course, but only of the crime of being Irish and hungry. Any action which follows from that may be forgiven, but will surely not be if ’tis English mercy one seeks. The English threw his body into a shallow and unconsecrated grave outside the black and infernal prison where stood the gallows, and so his brothers Steven and Brian, along with myself, must needs creep under the watchful eyes of the English bastards standing watch on the walls of the keep, to bring Conor to a proper kirkyard for a burial that would grant him rest, rather than the everlasting torment granted him by the English, may all the curses ever cursed light on their black souls. But when we began to dig, even though our hearts pounded with fear and excitement with the thought of the English nearby and the blood that could be spilled if we moved too quickly or too loud, the overwhelming feeling when the shovel bit into the earth was one of wrongness. I wanted to apologize to Conor, and to the earth that held him, and to all the ghosts and spirits and gods that roam the aether all around us, even though I knew our intentions were just. I knew, and Steven and Brian knew as well, that this – this was something one simply does not do.

And here we went, the Lopez brothers and sister and I, to do it once more, and the same feelings all came along for the cruise. Though discomfited by our purpose, I was somewhat gladdened to be returning this man ‘Lito to his shipmates. He was a rogue who died honorably and was treated honorably by his foes, with words of prayer spoken over his interment; but nonetheless, a man should never be placed in the earth by any but his kith and kin. Even rogues have mothers, and should feel the tears shed over them by such, instead of gruff words spake by reluctant tongues. Enough that we took his life: we should not steal his fare-wells.

Maid Flora assured us that the Enchantress was away from her Palace; she was, it seemed, a lawyer, and thus frequently in distant cities to attend to the needs of her clients. At first I was somewhat aspraddle that a woman could be in such a profession, but then I bethought myself of my own mother and her strength of spirit and of mind, how she has led the clan ably for all of my life; then I recalled a lawyer’s need for deception and artifice, and how that is not foreign nor even difficult for most women, and I understood. I was not for a moment surprised that this world, so strange and complicated and absent of any reason or sense, would have a wealth of opportunities for lawyers, nor that the resultant lucre could purchase a Palace. We paused outside the Palace’s gate while Flora proceeded in to confirm the Enchantress’s absence, and then we three, Juan, Ignacio, and myself, brought their beast-wagon as close to the spot as possible. They revealed a small cargo-hold in the rear, lined with a strange shiny cloth – it looked to me like sailcloth, though it was a blue bright enough to shame the sky, and had that strange wet-seeming sheen that I have observed to be most popular and beloved amongst these people (Truly it brings one to wondering: have they never heard the wisdom that not all that glitters is gold? Do they care nothing at all for aught that lies beneath the surface? Sure and their possessions would say: Nay.). Juan called it a tarp, and said it was made of “plasstick.” Any road, ‘twould serve to enwrap the carcass – though we had shrouded the man when we planted him, to be sure.

I think I need not record at length the details of that gruesome and horrific chore. Suffice to say that we removed him from the embrace of Mother Earth, that we assured ourselves that he was still recognizable, and was not so rotted as to make the looker incapable of gazing on his features – ’twas I who pulled back the shroud to confirm this, while Juan looked away and Ignacio retched in the bushes – and then we placed him in the beast-wagon’s hold, wrapped in the tarp to prevent corruption from marring the wagon-hold. Then Juan and Ignacio were off to deliver their grisly burden unto the only inhabitants of this Earth who would want it.

Maid Flora made an honorable attempt – limited, as ever, by her insufficient command of my only tongue and my even greater incompetence in hers – to offer me lodging in the Lopez home for another night, but I would not hear of it. This endeavor may have been doomed from the start, and myself inextricably linked with this humble family in the reddish eyes of the Lions – indeed I did fear that to be the case, though I placed responsibility not on any misstep or poor stratagem of ours, but rather on the notable dearth of either perceptiveness, or the reason and sense which nature gave a hedgehog, on the part of our adversaries; but if our attempts were to prove futile, still I would not be so foolhardy as to give the cads a single target encompassing myself and five innocents. I refused her kind offer, though I did allow myself to be cajoled into surrendering my finery for laundering in her capable hands, my best alternative to this being wearing shirt and vest and breeches and boots while bathing in the cove. These items were in certain need of unfilthing, owing to the soileous nature of my activity this day, a perspiratious fight in hot sun and an unearthing of a rotting corpse and its consequent enearthing of mine own carcass. She offered the Palace’s bathing facilities, as well, but I told her I preferred the infinite clean water of the ocean rather than stewing in a tub full of my own filthy skin. I accepted a robe and loose drawers for the nonce, being assured of the return of my finery within an hour’s time.

Thus did I find myself swimming naked across the blue water of the Palace cove and back, across and back, glorying in the salty taste and pure smell of that water, scrubbing myself with handfuls of white sand and sluicing clean liquid over me to wash away the stench of combat and corruption. ‘Twas relaxing to such a degree that I would swear the water in this cove had wafted here, driven by current and wind and tide, straight from Ireland, solely for my benefit. When this fancy struck me, granting a laugh and a smile, ’twas followed shortly by another cogitation: this water could even have come to me from my native time – for was not the ocean now the very same ocean then? Was not the earth that held it and the wind that drove it – were these not the same, then and now? Perhaps this breath of air, that splash of water – perhaps they began when I did, and have circled the world entire an hundred times, only to waft here, to me, and be the balm I most need. My heart was much eased by this thought. My people I have left far behind me: only bones and dust mouldering in the Earth remains outside of my heart and memories; my country, my struggles, and my enemies are all lost to time’s changing course. My home, my possessions, all that which I coveted and longed for, the world over – all this is passed, now, passed and past.

But this good Earth, this clear water, this soft wind and bright sun, the lovely glimmering of stars and moon in the sable velvet night – those all remain to me, all familiar, all mine, as much as ever they were. My Ireland is gone, but the Earth is still my home, and I am welcome here.

My bath and gladdening ponderations done, I was glad to accept my finery and a hearty plate of food and drink from my kind friend Maid Flora – once I had covered my nakedness with the borrowed robe, to be sure. I made much first of the snowy whiteness of my shirt, the pure crimson of my vest and the deep black of my pantaloons, all as bright as new cloth and without a hint of mark or stain. They smelled of flowers, too, which was an additional kindness; one thing I will say of this time and place, it is strangely perfumed: the stench of the beast-wagons is as noxious as any bilge or city sewer I have encountered, yet the people and their clothing are almost miraculous in their clean, lovely aroma, without whiff of sweat or the stink of sickness anywhere. I could not be quite as complimentary of the food, though it was a satiating repast, to be sure; still, I could not understand why she did not simply give me a proper hunk of bread, slice of meat, and lump of cheese, rather than assembling them all together into this thing she called a sanwitch (Perhaps San Huiche? Her accent makes a literate rendering most difficult.), combined with a piece of green leaf I had rather she fed to a cow or pig and then given me the cow or pig, and some sauce she called moose-tard which I would fain have removed, except it covered the strange taste of the bread, which was rather off-putting. She did give me a bottle of ale to wash it down, which was most welcome. When I had finished, I bade her back to her maid’s duties, though she assured me laughingly that her day was most often idle, as the Enchantress was rarely at home and even more rarely demanding of any especial service; Flora was most complimentary to her kind mistress, and grateful for her employment here. Once she had left, I took the time to clean my boots, polishing them with the tail of my borrowed robe, before I returned to my proper attire.

Then I moved out to the end of the strand, to the redoubt constructed by that capable traitor Moran – a refuge as yet undiscovered by the Enchantress, it would seem and was surely to be hoped – and lay down for some rest. The clean sea breeze and warm sun, both contradicting and complementing one another, made for a most wondrous atmosphere, made only finer by the shade cast by the dense greenery. I slept for some hours, my head pillowed on the robe, and woke most refreshed. Maid Flora had supplied me with a small bottle of clean water, made of some strange clear material far more flexible than glass, which I drained and put aside, intending to refill it from the Enchantress’s terrace pond, once darkness came to cover my movements.

For I had determined that, for the nonce, this was to be my berth. I could ask for no better bed than the sand and soft pillow-robe, no better blanket than my own clean and flower-scented finery, no better security than all-concealing forest and the ocean on three sides, no better safety for my new friends than my own disappearance to this place unbeknownst to the Lions, and our hopes placed on our plans to sever our ties. With the kind Flora to give me sustenance, and the loving embrace of constant and eternal Nature to give me peace, I was as happy as I could be, thrown out of my time and off of my ship.

Rested, refreshed, and revitalized, I had to see to my last necessity then: my armament. I had a honing-stone in my pocket, and I gave my boot-knife a brief polishing to return its fine edge, and then I turned to my new sword, the aptly-inscribed Blood, Death, and Liberty – apt for in shedding the first, it had prevented the second and preserved the third, at least for now. The fine white sand brought a proper color back to the slightly tarnished steel; I would remember to beg oil from Maid Flora to protect the blade’s surface properly. Then I carefully and meticulously honed the edge to a razor’s sharpness.

My blades thus seen to, I turned to the greater puzzle: my guns. I was now in possession of three pistols, my own recent purchase and two taken as spoils of battle. The pair of looted weapons were similar to each other, but unlike mine own: mine had a round wheel-piece, set side-to and pierced with six holes that held shot, if that’s what the amm-owe I had purchased was intended to be, yet I could not find where the powder and wadding were to be placed around that shot. But as an experiment, I placed six of my new-purchased brass-ended shot-thimbles into the holes, closed the pistol and then pulled the trigger, aiming idly at the bole of a tree – and I was rewarded by a sharp report and a hole appearing where I had aimed. In amazement, I opened the weapon again and found a mark on one of the brass thimbles, as if someone had taken hammer and awl to it; upon removing it, I found that the thimble was now hollow and empty, the interior blackened and smelling of spent powder; the round tip was gone, presumably now residing in the tree.

I realized that the amm-owe thimbles are cartridges, not unlike canister shot for ship’s cannons. They hold the ball in place, and contain the powder, as well. The spark is made with a sharp strike of metal on metal, much like a flintlock but even simpler. Most amazing is that the weapon seems able, owing to these cartridges and the wheel mechanism, to fire six shots without reloading. Six shots! I was stunned and amazed.

And ready to find those mutinous blackguards who stole my ship and give them what-for.

The pistols looted from the rogues in the market were much like that we had taken from their dead shipmate. That weapon had proven most mysterious to us, with its trigger that would not pull and its unfamiliar shape and mechanisms, until Kelly, who had had its keeping, had thought to ask Shluxer about its use. Shluxer had called it a Nine-mill O’meeter, had showed us how the small lever which, when pressed, revealed a minute red dot, was called a Safety, and would lock or unlock the trigger and firing mechanism. He showed us how to remove the box of shot from the handle, what he called “bullits;” I had not been watching his demonstration carefully enough to identify them as being akin to my amm-owe shot-thimbles, though I recognized them now, in examining my looted pistolas – and how to handle and fire it. We had scoffed at the thing then, with its quiet sound and the weak recoil of its firing, almost without fire or smoke compared to a proper powder-and-shot pistola, but Shluxer assured us it was sufficient unto its purpose. I presumed these two would be as well, and I made a place in my sash for all three of my shooting irons.

The sun was setting, then. I returned to the Palace and refilled my bottle; Maid Flora appeared, having seen me from within, and at my request brought me a proper loaf of bread (the which was still largely tasteless and strange, as if uncooked but rather allowed simply to stale to some hardness above that of dough and below that of proper bread) and a lump of cheese, three good pickles and a bottle of ale. I assured her my needs were well-met and I would not disturb the Enchantress, who was due to return soon, and then I bade her good-night and returned to my redoubt. I supped, dipping bare feet in the cool blue water and watching the waves ripple to me and away again, the eternal heartbeat of the ocean, writ small on this shore and large on another where waves crash against rocks with the roar of thunder, but always present, never-ceasing. What need have we of God? If thou seekest something infinite and eternal, and spellbinding and breathtaking in its glory, its generosity and power, its boundless gifts of life and the pure hell of its rage – look no further than the ocean.

I watched the water until it was no more than reflected starlight sparkling on a field of black, and then I lay down once more and slept well. I dreamed of home.

 

*****

 

I was shaken out of my sleep, and sprang up, bared blade in hand, before I recognized Maid Flora in the gray light of early morn. Tears streaked her cheeks and fear hollowed her eyes, so I did not need to wait for her broken English to explain why she had come for me. Still, once I calmed her slightly, I learned somewhat.

Our plan had not worked. Juan and Ignacio had suffered the wrath of the Lions, and had been beaten savagely. A kind neighbor had gathered them from the street and brought them home, where they lay even now, delirious and in great pain and risk of death. Flora feared the Lions would return again, seeking my humble self.

But I would seek them out first. And they would learn that Hell itself hath no fury so black as that of an Irishman.

And no Irishman wreaks vengeance half so terrible as doth Damnation Kane.

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Log #19: Mutiny

Captain’s Log

Date: 4 July 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Betrayed, bereft, abandoned. Determined nonetheless.

 

It has required much of the past two days to unknot the tangles in my memory, to see through the snarled skeins and remember: who betrayed me, and how. (It has not helped that this day, apparently one of violent celebration – perhaps a tyrant has been overthrown? – I am continuously awakened and disturbed by explosions. Child’s toys, I am told, that explode in smoke and noise more than flame. Had I my ship, I would show them a proper booming: the roar of a full broadside. That for the Em-eighty, ha! Without the Grace, I have no desire to celebrate.) I have spent the time striving most earnestly, and I believe I have remembered it all, or nearly so.

The time I have not been casting back inside my aching skull has only served to dizzy me more. By a most remarkable turn of events – led by a most remarkable woman – I abide no longer in the Glass Palace. I am lodged in a smaller, more human and far more comfortable domicile, the which lies in South Miami, according to my most generous hostess, Flora Lopez. The maid of the Glass Palace, my erstwhile hostage, and would-be victim of the foul Shluxer’s lust.

This is what I remember: the Grace had been made ready, and I had given orders that we would sail with the morning tide. I bided in my cabin aboard, as I had been for the hours and days following Shluxer’s flogging – though I cannot now recall much of that span, nor how I occupied it; all is blurred and befogged.

It was O’Grady’s suggestion. I remember that. But does that make him a conspirator? Or was he led, a mere puppet? Fah! It matters not. Clearly they are all mutinied, every man jack of them, the faithless bastards.

O’Grady came to me and said he had prepared a special feast, a farewell to the Palace we were abandoning. He told me it were best served ashore, in the Palace itself, with the plate and crystal and cutlery found there in their native setting, as it were. He told me, too, that my officers wished a proper dinner, with the Captain at the head of his table, all the gentlemen of the ship to break bread together. Grateful for the opportunity to smooth the feathers ruffled by the Shluxer affair – and pleased by the apparent abandonment of the usual course that required all of the ship’s crew to eat together as equals, a policy to which I generally do not object, but occasionally one does tire of sailors’ manners at table – I agreed, and we dined well. Indeed, ’twas a most cheerful company, with a sumptuous repast and a vast quantity of wine.

I assume it was in the wine, whatever foul concoction they poisoned me with. I tasted nothing untoward, but many of the vintages here are uncommon strange to my ancient Irish tongue. I will say that I suspected nothing, saw no hint in their behavior that they planned this blackguardery. Shluxer was sullen, as one would expect given his tender back and wounded pride; the others, O’Flaherty, Burke, Moran, Ian O’Gallows, were all joyed at the ship’s recovery and our departure anon. Vaughn was his usual distracted self, responding to direct queries with direct answers, all in seriousness fitting to a churchman – frequently therefore becoming the butt of many crude jokes made at his expense but without his disapproval; I swear that man lacks the tiniest morsel of humor – but elsewise silent and contemplative.

The dizziness came on me suddenly, and I presumed it was but the wine and the food as my cup did runneth over. I excused myself and rose, and staggered, to much laughter. I remember catching myself on the table and upsetting dishes. I might have wondered why the wine so affected me, an Irish sailor – what potable on this green Earth could make such a man stumble? With whiskey in my blood and the sea in my legs, how could I lose equilibrium? – but I do not recall it, and if I did, I was too addled to make aught of the issue. Then – was it O’Flaherty? Or Ian? One or both gave me a shoulder, suggested the upstairs Palace rooms rather than my cabin aboard, as recommended by proximity and my extremely shakeous pins. I do not recall agreeing, nor arguing; I do not recall staggering, nor walking upright and manful, nor being carried like a babe to my bed.

No: I recall coming to myself in monstrous befuddlement, my vision blurred, my head spinning like a ship’s wheel as it comes about in a headwind, my belly churning like a storm surging o’er the rocky shore – face-down on my bed while someone bound my hands together behind my back. When I protested, muzzily, I was hauled upright – and I promptly vomited on at least one of my captors. There were curses, and perhaps some laughter, though that might be my memory’s failing; then one of them – presumably he who had received my offering of lightly-used provender – struck me a mighty blow, and all went dark. Then after a time of no time, I woke sprawled on the floor, my shoulders aching mightily from my bonds, my ankles trussed as well, and men’s boots around my head, their voices murmuring over me. I may have groaned, I may have moved; whatever the cause, they fell on me, striking me again and again. There were many hands that struck me, and I have a village-worth of bruises to show for it; but I could not look up from the rug under my nose, and I cannot recall any specific voice – save one.

Shluxer.

They put me in the closet, bound hand and foot, and put a bag over my head; I do distinctly remember Shluxer striking me then, for I recall his grunt of effort and words of encouragement from another voice, which said the name Shluxer. The raper gave me a series of weakish blows that nonetheless accomplished a fair piece of work, bleeding and bruising my face and head quite satisfactorily. I fell and was kicked; my ribs are sprung from it even now. My consciousness was lost then.

I awoke to daylight peeking under the door. After a goodly time spent praying for death to end my suffering, and many fruitless attempts to free my limbs – though the bag on my head, loose and untethered, came away easily enough – I managed to put my benumbed fingers on the blade that is ever in my boot, and was soon freed, though still terrible sick and dizzied, weak and battered. I burst forth from the closet in spite of my maladies, intent on rushing any guard left without, but there was none. I collapsed to the floor, spent by the effort, and the time again goes blank.

It was not long before I awoke once more, as I was lying in bright sun, yet my skin remained largely chilled. I managed to regain my feet, and with the walls as my guide and necessary support, I made it down the stairs and out onto the terrace. I looked out upon that beauteous little cove, with its white sand and its bright blue sea, the gentle curve of the spit, like a mother’s arm gathering her children to her bosom, the gentle strength of the tall, supple trees – and I cursed the sight, cursed it for its one lack.

My ship – my Grace – was gone.

I must have collapsed, then, still weak from poison and beating and betrayal. The next thing I recall was the blessed relief of a damp cloth daubing gently at my face, cleaning away the sticky blood, though not, alas, the pain. I opened my eyes, and when my vision cleared, I beheld Flora, the maid of the Palace, kneeling beside me with a cloth and an admixture of terror and pity on her gentle face.

After a moment of confusticated thoughts, which ended with the relieved awareness that she was unarmed and likely to remain so, I closed my eyes again and said, “Thank you.”

In a shaking voice, she asked, “They – they are gone, see? The others?”

I tried to nod, but the motion spun my head like a child’s top. “Aye, they be gone, sure as sure can be. And not apt to return to this place, curse them all to the blackest pits.”

She returned to cleansing my wounds, now with a surer touch. I opened my eyes again, and saw that the terror had largely left her features; she flashed a brief smile at me when she met my gaze.

Unable to do otherwise, I surrendered myself to her ministrations, and in a short time my wounds were cleaned, daubed with a strange-smelling salve from within the Palace, and plastered over with odd, sticky, flesh-colored patches; whatever mysteries these things held, still I felt much improved. I begged her for a glass of water, which she gave me, retrieving another for herself. I toasted her, and she tapped my glass with her own, a faint smile again on her features.

She said, “You no can stay.”

I sighed and turned my face away from her. I had no wish to consider any exigencies but one: my ship was stolen from me. I had no wish to consider any proposition save one: to regain my lovely Grace. All else came to ashes and dust beside that.

The lady pressed me. “You no stay. Missus, she come home, today. You no can stay! She call pole-ees.” This broke through my despondency and rage, reaching the practicality in me. I had no wish to confront the Enchantress, nor to explain to her the damage we had done to her home and grounds, her servants – and especially her larder, and her cellar, fast emptied by a score of hungry pirates.

But my newfound and unexpected helpmeet had still more kind succor to offer me. “You come, my house. Yes?”

I looked at her, her bedraggled state, unwashed these past days of her captivity; at her kind smile, despite the haunted look lingering in her eyes. And, gratefully, I nodded my acquiescence.

Thus do I find myself the guest – albeit not an entirely welcome one, as Flora does not dwell here alone, and her good mother and her brothers, the same Juan and Ignacio I had as my guests priorwise, do not look kindly on my tenancy here – of my former captive, whom my former ally and present Nemesis, the cursed black-hearted Shluxer, did attempt to defile. For nigh on two days I have slept in a pallet in a sort of store shed they call a “garradge,” I have recovered from my hurts, steadied my spinning brain-case, and with the kind gift of paper and a sort of charcoal wand named a “pen-sill” by mine hosts, I have writ down my memories of betrayal, both old and new, familiar ache and newfound sharpness. Should I recover the GraceWhen I recover the Grace – I will place this with the rest of my log. It is still a Captain’s log, by damn, even if my ship be far from me; still and always she is mine, to the death.

One more matter should be noted: yesterday, while I largely and profoundly slept, I did awaken once to the sound of raised voices near to the walls of my garradge. I waited until the shouting stopped, hand on my knife as small but welcome defense, for though I knew not the words – ’twas the Spanisher’s tongue, I feel – I could hear the menace and violence in the voices. When it was over, and I had heard the departure of a deep-growling beast-wagon, I groaned myself to my feet and, feeling a great thirst, staggered into the galley for water; into the house entered the brothers Lopez, who checked on seeing me and then shook their heads and went back to muttering in their own speech, though they cast glances both suspicious and irate at me the while. I know not what troubles them, but I have no doubt as to my part in their misery. Nor would any who know me doubt that I shall remove my thorny self from their hide, just as quickly as I can; I have no wish to be a burden on anyone, be they friend or foe. I have imposed on this family enough, and more than enough.

I must find my own way, to my proper place once more.

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Information. And More Questions.

Captain’s Log

Date: 26th of June

Location: Coast of Florida, America, near Miyammy (20 mi. south)

Conditions: Landbound until repairs completed. The Grace cannot sail.

 

The condition of the ship is more dire than I suspected. O’Gallows momentarily patched the hole and saved the ship, but he could not have fixed the loosened planks around it. They near sprang off the ship with the barest tug. I think if that storm had lasted one hour more, my sweet ship would be at the bottom even now.

The scraping proceeds apace, and we are cleaning out the water barrels and refilling them. The palace’s supplies are meager, at best; we will empty the larder within a day or two. We must find a source of food and good timber for our repairs. If our information may be trusted, then all we need may be within reach.

It is now the morning after the battle, such as it was. I tried to use my sextant after dawn, and got a reading of 25 Degrees North, but I do not know if the sun and horizon are the same, and therefore my measurements are suspect. I have no chart to mark our position on, in any case, and thus cannot guess at our longitude. All our information must be suspect until we have a source of knowledge which we can trust. I am not familiar with this feeling: in Ireland, in Irish seas, I am the fountainhead of knowledge, or my men are; long familiarity grants us all the surety we need. Of course we know where we are: we recognize that spit of land over there, and the stars overhead, or the shape of the winds and currents. One does not need to question what one knows of home: the mere fact that it is home is proof. This is a feeling, most joyful, that I did not recognize until it was lost to me.

Last night, after we careened the Grace and made her fast, we celebrated our survival: we emptied the whiskey stores aboard and found a few good bottles in the Palace. One called Tequila was most popular. O’Flaherty and I sampled the wine selection, finding it more than adequate to our needs.

It was a grand celebration. For all the men we lost, still our musicians survived, being my cousin Liam Finlay, and Arthur Gallagher and Roger Desmond, playing the flute, fiddle, and drums. They played many a fine air – “Roger the Cavalier,” “Sail On, Sail on, Sailor Laddie,” “The Roving Exile,” and “Willie was a Wanton Wag” among them. They trilled everything from country jigs and reels, to the melancholy songs of the hills of Ireland. Many eyes were damp at that: we all long for home, and the drunker we got, the more we longed and the easier we wept. But Ian O’Gallows, our shanty-man, leapt up as the night grew most engloomed, and sang us a rousing hornpipe, while Kelly and Lynch danced, to much laughter and loud roars of approval. Somehow the great brute’s feet proved near as quick as the slender boy’s, and at the finish, Kelly made a step of his hands, which Lynch leapt off from, and Kelly tossed him a full man’s height above his own into the air. Lynch turned two full flips and landed on his feet with a royal flourish, to great approbation. I cannot think when those two have found time to practice the move, but sure it was well polished before this night, when Kelly was already too far gone in the whiskey to have planned anything beyond putting down his feet and then picking them up again – and indeed, when the dance was done, even that sequence proved troubling for the man, who stumbled and fell back into his seat by the fire. Ah, but Lynch’s eyes were sparkling with joy as he bowed for our cheers and cries; he’ll be a right champion with the ladies, if we find any worth the wooing.

Vaughn had examined our few injuries: Kelly’s head, which he declared as rock-hard as ever and his brains no more addled than before; O’Finnegan had a cut on his cheek near his eye from a shard of glass or metal from the wagon-beast; the prisoner, Juan, had a broken ankle which Vaughn set and bound for him. After seeing to those, Vaughn explored and examined every inch of the palace, busily scribbling away in his notebook as he went. I must remember to ask him to share his notes for this recollection of our voyage; I think the man’s observations would be most useful.

The prisoner, though forthcoming, has not been entirely helpful. As often as not, my questions confused him. I know not if the cause is his shabby command of the English tongue, or if he is an imbecile. Perhaps both.

I began by asking who he was and why he had come. The Palace maid, Flora, was indeed his sister; the man who had arrived in the same wagon-beast as he, who had held the headstrong Juan back and thus saved his life, was their younger brother, Ignacio; the family name was Lopez. The other four men – three, now – were friends of theirs from what he called the Neighborhood, which I took to be the name of his village. He became rather strident, insisting that we faced future vicissitudes owing to the death of the man in the blue head-scarf, shot by MacManus; he said that the Latin lions would come looking for “payback.” This was his word for “vengeance,” it seemed, or perhaps “justice.” I know not if he speaks of a military unit, perhaps picked troops, or of some other group of men; he was not clear on the point, merely referring repeatedly to Latin lions. He said these seven came to the Palace because Flora called them, on her telleffono, which I could not make sense of. She must have some means of signaling which we had not seen, and they did not wish to reveal; I ensured that we had a close watch kept for further attempted incursions, by lions or men, and resolved to discuss it with Vaughn.

I asked Juan Lopez where we were, and he responded with “Matheson Preserve,” though he could not tell me who Matheson is or was, nor what was preserved or preserving. He said we were about twenty miles south of a place called Miyammy, a city, but when I asked for the latitude, he was flustered. I asked if he and his companions were Spaniards, and he answered affirmatively, but only after a longish and suspicious pause. Then he added “We’re Dominican.” I presumed that to mean they adhere to a certain church; certainly a Popish one, if they are Spaniards. When I asked what country this Miyammy owed allegiance to, he said, “America.” But when I said, “The British Colonies?” as simple confirmation, he became more confused. Finally he asked if I referred to Bermuda, or the British Virgin Islands (At which name some of the men in range of hearing grew quite intrigued); he said these two locales were far away, that one would have to “fly” there.

I inquired as to the local strength of the Royal Navy or the Armada, hoping to ascertain whether England or Spain held greater sway in these contested waters; his only response was a shrug and a shake of his head. Then Ignacio, his brother, volunteered the intelligence that there was a naval base by Fort Lauderdale, to the north, but he knew nothing of royal ships near Miyammy. I asked if there were marines, or other troops nearby, but they were puzzled once more. Then one of the others stated that there was a National Guards barracks in Miyammy; I took that to mean we were within a day’s ride of a military troop. We must repair the Grace and leave here soon, therefore. As soon as it is manageable.

As to the repairs, I pressed the prisoners for information regarding the location of supplies, both foodstuffs and good seasoned timber, as well as a carpenter we could hire. Strangely, they did not know of a local carpenter, though when I asked if they were recent arrivals, they claimed to have lived here for all of their lives, but for Flora, who had recently come from “the D.R.” But one of the others spoke up, saying we could find timber at a place called Home Dee-Poe; he said they would have a carpenter there, or at least someone with some expertise. I presume there are many carpenters in this Miyammy, but that is apparently where the troops are, as well, and thus is to be avoided. I pressed for detailed instructions on how we could find this Home Dee-Poe, and also a store which held foodstuffs, which they insisted on referring to as Piggly Wiggly. I presume the locals hereabouts raise hogs as their favored livestock. Perhaps they wallow in the swamps to escape the sun’s heat.

Today we will divide once more. I will send O’Gallows, Carter, and Sweeney to this Piggly Wiggly; they will carry some of the valuables from the Glass Palace to trade for foodstuffs. Moran is organizing a battery on the strand guarding the cove, and we have fortified the landward entrance of the Palace. I will send O’Flaherty, Burke, and eight more to this Home Dee-Poe (Perhaps it is Homme de Poe? Are there Frenchmen in this place?), where they will have to find a carpenter and hire his services without giving away our nature or current vulnerable position, convince him to return with them, and bring whatever supplies he will need to fix our ship. I will remain here and consult with Vaughn; I can no longer put off the satisfaction of my curiosity. I must know where we are, and how we came here.

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Log 8: Counterattack

“Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

All shook their heads. I stepped close to the shivering woman. “Do you understand me? Do you speak English?” Do you even speak the tongue of Man, I wanted to ask, but I could not tell: was this in truth Faerie-Land? She was plain to look at, no great beauty in her face and form, and if the only magic she could summon to defend herself was prayer to a piece of glass the size of my palm, then this could not be the land under the hill, as O’Flaherty’s objects had implied. But then, how could this palace be explained? This wealth, lying about unguarded but by a single terrified woman? What were those beastly machines outside? The magic mirror-wall that showed lands that were not those without these walls? The cabinet of light?

She nodded in answer to my question, but said, “See,” which made no sense to me. Perhaps she was simple, or deranged. I held the plaque out to her. “What is this? Who is Verizon?”

She looked at the plaque, then at me, her brows furrowed in confusion. “Tell Eff-oh know,” she said slowly, and then ran a string of words together, not a one of which I understood. Her tone was pleading, terrified; whatever she was, whatever she was saying, she was surely no threat to us.

I ignored her as she kept babbling, and turned to MacTeigue. “Go check on Kelly. Try to secure the door we came through. Stand guard there, the two of you.” Then to O’Flaherty: “Leave me three others to guard, and take the rest back to the Grace. Sail her to the cove, and we’ll beach her and careen.” He nodded, told off Lynch, Burke, and MacManus to remain, and led the others out the landward door and over the north wall.

I crouched down by the still-gobbling woman. “Stop,” I said, and when she did not, I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. I hoped she was not hysterical; I did not want to strike her. She stopped her babbling and met my gaze, thought she shivered and shook, and worried her lip with her teeth. Speaking slowly and clearly, I said, “Be there anyone else here?”

After a moment she shook her head. She started babbling again, but another shake made her stop. “Are there guards? Soldiers? Any men?” She frowned, seeming not to understand, but then she shook her head again. “No men? No guards?”

“No,” she said. “No pole lease.”

I frowned, and looked to Lynch and Burke, who now stood close by. “No palace?” I asked them. “Is that what she said?” They shrugged.
This was profiting us nothing. We needed to secure our position. I held the plaque out to the woman, and she reached up her hand for it; then I dropped it and stamped my heel down. It shattered most satisfactorily, and she flinched away. I grabbed her chin and turned her to face me. “Verizon cannot hear you now,” I told her. I straightened and turned to Burke. “Watch her. Don’t hurt her – she may be a hostage for us, if there are troops about.” He nodded, and rattled his chains menacingly at her; she shrank back from his grotesque leer, but did not move away or try to escape him.

I turned to Lynch. “Go up top. Try to reach the roof, or a parapet. See what you can see from –”
“Captain!” I was interrupted. It was MacManus, still guarding the landward door. I beckoned Lynch to follow, and strode to where MacManus crouched by the open portal, a loaded musket in his hands. He was peering out with one eye, all else concealed behind the doorframe. “Aye?” I asked.

“We have guests,” he said, and nodded outdoors. I moved to the other side of the doorway and looked out, but I could hear it now; a single glance showed me what my ears had already discerned.

Another beast-wagon, this one white, came roaring up the path, raising a cloud of dust as it growled and snarled. It came to a halt with a shrill screech as soon as it spied the corpse of its fellow. The sides of the wagon opened, and two men stepped out.

“Ready arms,” I told my men, and we three took aim.

Then a second beast, a black one, came growling down the road and stopped by the first; four men emerged from this one – all armed.

I tapped Lynch on the shoulder where he crouched beneath me beside the doorway. “Get MacTeigue. Tell Burke to bring the woman up here, under control.” Lynch nodded and scampered off.

“See any powder?” I asked MacManus.

He nodded, but did not lower his aim. “Aye, the one in the blue head-scarf has a pistol.” He blinked. “I think ’tis a pistol, any road.”

“Him first, aye?”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” he confirmed, and cocked back the flintlock.

The men gathered around the wreckage of the green wagon-beast, looking furious but bewildered. The spoke rapidly and loudly, gesturing to the house, the carcass, and each other; they spoke the same tongue as the woman. All were of the same race, it seemed: the same skin and hair and eyes. The one with the blue scarf carried a strange but unmistakable pistol; the others had but knives and bludgeons. We had a clear advantage, then, though we were outnumbered.

Just then Lynch and MacTeigue scurried up behind. Lynch took a position under a window to MacManus’s right, and readied his pistols; I was glad to see his hands were steady despite his youth.

“Kelly is recovered. He will hold the sea-side,” MacTeigue told me, and relief spread through me. This might have been a threat: the man with the pistol could hold us here – I had to assume he had other pistols, perhaps strapped to the beast in something like saddle-scabbards – while the others crept in the back and engaged us hand to hand; but I would pit Kelly against all the rest, even if he didn’t have an axe and a cutlass, and a narrow doorway to stand in. With those, I knew the only way into the house was through the four of us here.

Or perhaps to shatter one of the many wide windows and reach our unguarded flank. Gods, this was the barest, most vulnerable keep I have ever struck. I knew that we must handle this here, face to face: we could not bear a siege.

“Ready with the hostage, Captain,” I heard Burke growl. I turned and saw that he had his chains wrapped around her, one pinioning her elbows to her sides, the other about her throat. One pull of his arms would snap her neck – and the look in her eyes showed that she knew it.

“All right,” I said. “Stand her in the doorway, Burke. Stay behind her lest they fire. MacManus – if that pistol comes up, the man goes down. Lynch, Owen, stand ready if they charge.” All of them nodded and grunted assent, and prepared themselves. I called out, “Drop your arms!” and nodded to Burke. He shoved the woman out into the doorway, pulling back on the chain about her throat just as she called out “Juan!”

“Flora!” came the answering cry, and then more in that foreign tongue – Spanish, I thought now, if I had heard their names aright. That made sense if we were in the Indies, but then nothing else made sense with that. I glanced around the edge of the open portal and saw that all held still, that one of the two from the first wagon held back the other, who pulled toward Burke and the woman, his manner showing the desperation of either a brother or a lover.

The man with the pistol raised it and snarled, “You motherf–” A shot boomed, a puff of black smoke from MacManus’s flintlock, and the man flew back, his pistol falling to the ground – fortunately not discharging when it fell – with his life’s blood as it poured from the hole in his chest. MacManus swung the musket around and handed it to Lynch, who gave over one of his ready pistols without missing a step; he had spent a full year as a powder monkey, hauling charge and shot for the big guns, and reloading muskets and pistols for the men, and though he had proven himself capable of standing on the firing line, still old habits live long and grip hard, especially in the heat of battle. In moments the flintlock was leaning against the wall ready to MacManus’s hand, and Lynch was back under the window with his second pistol ready, a naked dagger in his left hand.

The effect of MacManus’s marksmanship was most salutary: all the men dropped their weapons and raised their hands – all but the first two, who still struggled together, one to reach the woman, the other to keep him alive instead, as MacTeigue and I planted our aim on his breast.

“If you want to live, stand still!” I shouted.

“Let her go, you son of a bitch!” the man in front shouted in response. His address to me clearly showed his failure to comprehend his circumstances.

I took up a more cheerful tone while I explained to him. “Ye have little room to stand on demands, boyo. Perhaps ye should do as I say, and hope to earn some of my goodwill.” I noted the rearguard were beginning to sidle back to their dragon-wagon. I did not want them raising an alarm, returning with more men – especially not once the Grace was beached and vulnerable. “Shane,” I murmured to MacManus,”did ye learn how to kill those metal beasts?”

He blinked. “Anything what takes punishment like that’ll no’ work so very well afters,” he muttered back. “But the feet are soft.”

“And the eyes,” Burke growled from the doorway where he still held the woman immobile, between himself and the men outside.

“Aye, and the eyes – the round bits in front,” MacManus whispered.

“Kill it, then – the one in the rear, the black one. All on my mark.” I took aim. “Left foot is mine.”

“Right foot,” called Lynch, easing one eye up over the sill.

“Left eye,” said MacTeigue.

“Let her go, you bastards! FLORA!”

“Fire.

Four shots barked as one, and the front of the black wagon-beast exploded with a crash of glass and a harsh sibilance; a thin plume of vapor spurted from the foot where my ball struck home, and a thicker spurt of steam from the middle of the metal grate where the beast’s nose should be, which must have been MacManus’s target. Lynch cursed; he had missed. The rest of us chuckled and tossed our guns to him to reload.

Once again, our gunnery was effective. The three in back stopped creeping away, and the two before stopped struggling and were still. The white beast-wagon did nothing at all; perhaps after all, they did not live.

“Down on your knees, my fine lads – don’t believe we’re out of shot in here. Or that you will fare any better than yon metal beast – for rest assured, the next pull of the trigger will spill your guts on the ground. You’re of no use to us, dead or alive, so all’s the same, to my way of thinking. Dead’s quieter.”
MacTeigue made a thoughtful noise and then said loudly, “Aye, but messier. They’ll bleed all over the stonework, if we shoot them now.” I glanced over at my cousin, and he winked. I had to hold back a laugh.

“Aye, ’tis a fair point,” I said. “You gentle souls – take five slow steps back. Any of you who does not move will cost this sweet lass a finger – move too quick, and it will be her neck.”

They stepped back smart enough, but stopped at five steps.

“Lynch – go bring Kelly up here, and take his station.” The youth scurried away on my whisper. I tapped MacTeigue, and we stepped out to flank Burke, pistols aimed at the foremost two. MacManus, his iron reloaded by the nimble fingers of Lynch, could bring down all of the other three in mere moments.

But whatever else these asses were, whether human or Fae, colonists or slaves or Spaniards, they were not fighting men. They charged into unknown danger like daft fools, and then surrendered as quick as chastised children confronted by an irate sire.

I looked at the lead fool, the angriest one. “On your knees, there, lad. Or my bosun will snap her neck.” I clapped Burke on the shoulder, and he grinned his hideous grin.

The fool frowned, but he went to his knees. Docile as a lamb, they were: all the other four knelt as well. I noticed they could not take their eyes off of their dead companion; had they never seen a man shot before?

“Captain,” Kelly rumbled from behind me.

“Kelly – find something to bind them with.”

“Aye.”

“Owen – go gather their arms. Bring me that pistola.”

MacTeigue stepped out cautiously, swinging well wide of the choleric one so the man would not be tempted to try for MacTeigue’s pistol. He took the strange pistol from the ground beside the dead man’s hand, and tucked it into his sash. He gathered up the knives and clubs the others had dropped, and cast them into the shrubs ten paces away. As he returned to me, Kelly emerged, tearing strips of cloth off of what might be a curtain, or a bedsheet, perhaps.

“Start with him,” I said, gesturing with my barrel before I stuck it into my sash and took the strange weapon MacTeigue brought me. “Don’t be gentle.”

At the word, Kelly stomped on the angry fool’s ankle, twisted back and under him, and there was a crunch. Then Kelly’s great hamfist clouted the fool on the side of his neck, and he collapsed like a sack of grain.

“Juan!” the woman called out tearfully, and Burke pulled the chain taut around her throat, stopping any other syllables short of her lips. Kelly ignored her, as well as the other front man, the one who had held the angry Juan back from his fool’s charge, and who now cursed Kelly from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head and back to his ancestors. Kelly rolled the stunned Juan onto his belly, pinioned his arms and lashed him securely. Then he stepped to the cursing one and waited for the man’s breath to run out. Then he called out to me, “Gentle or no?”

“‘Tis his choice,” I replied. Kelly curled his paw into a fist under the fool’s nose, and rumbled in a voice like thunder, “Smell ye that, aye? If ye think it smells bad now, just think of the stench after I reach into your belly and tear out your liver and lights to bait me hooks with.”

The fool’s dark skin faded pale, and he quieted, his eyes locked on Kelly’s huge, scarred – and surely odoriferous – fist. He placed his hands behind his back, wrists crossed, and hung his head.

“Aye, and that’s well,” Kelly rumbled. “I prefer gentle, I do.”

“‘Tis not what your last whore said!” called MacTeigue, in great good humor now that the battle was done, and won. MacManus and Burke guffawed at this.

Kelly was unperturbed. “So ye had occasion to speak to your sister, then?” he asked, and then all of us laughed, MacTeigue as well.

The other three chose gentle as well, and before long we had all of them inside, seated with their backs to the wall. Juan had awakened, but his anger was mollified when I had Burke remove his chains from the throat of the maid Flora, and had her trussed and seated by Juan’s side. He still was not cheerful, as Kelly had seemingly cracked his ankle, but he answered my questions fair enough, and in English, without my having to threaten the lass more than twice.

I learned all I could from him, and had just ordered Kelly and Burke to lay them out in one of the chambers and lock them in when a cry from Lynch at the seaward door brought light and joy fully into my heart.

“Captain!” he called. “Sails ahoy! ‘Tis the Grace, Captain! She comes!”

I sent MacTeigue out to join MacManus watching to landward, and then Lynch and I stepped out onto the terrace to welcome our ship and our companions.

I still do not know where we are. But for now: we are safe.

 

*****

Ahoy, me hearties: this chapter is the end of the first part of Damnation Kane’s adventures. These eight chapters will soon be collected into a short e-book which will be available for purchase. The book will include three bonus chapters that will not appear anywhere else — so be sure to get a copy! More information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, the adventures will continue with the next log one week from today.

Thank you, so very much, for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the story. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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Log #7: Assault on the Palace of Glass

Captain’s Log #7

Date: 26th of June, 1678

Location: Careened on beach at Glass Palace Cove

Conditions: Safe at last. In need of repairs.

 

Though I intend this log to serve as something of a sailor’s tale, a written record of our fantastic voyage, I must first and foremost keep the records of this ship. Thus: we have taken the Glass Palace, with a minimum of casualties but with more chaos than might be wished; the Grace of Ireland is drawn up on the beach before us, securely lashed, and is being scraped and cleaned. We must find the means to repair the hole in her, and the weakened planks and joins, and then she will be seaworthy once more. Until then, we have food and water, a clear view of the approach of enemies, by land or by sea. We are secure.

I did not foresee this outcome when I crouched in the shrubbery by Lynch, and heard his report that the palace was no longer devoid of inhabitants. I paused long enough to offer a brief string of my most pungent curses, a supplication to the gods of Ireland and a tribute to the patron deities of buccaneers. Then I took one pistol from Lynch, matched his aim, and pressed for details.

“‘Tis a woman – only one, Captain. But I don’t know if she will call out the guards, or what horrible things may come at her beck if she be an enchantress. She came in another of those growling beasts, which now waits at rest to landward.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. The men can never see their captain unsure or indecisive; it saps their courage when they need it most. “Come. The time for watching is done.”

We moved quickly back over the wall to where the men waited, and then I laid out my battle plan, with Lynch’s help describing the terrain and the targets. When all knew their bidden tasks, Lynch led us back over the wall, and at a creep through the shrubbery until we could spy the beast-wagon Lynch had seen the woman arriving in. It was a dingy green, long and low to the ground, and looked not unlike a great serpent; I feared it may prove as deadly and insidious, as well. O’Flaherty’s eyes widened when he saw it, but he nodded, his jaw firm, when I whispered, “Ye will be ready, aye?”

“Aye,” he whispered back, and directed his men to their stations and tasks. I nodded and left, with Lynch, MacTeigue, and Kelly following.

We crouched in the shrubbery, as close as we could come to the seaward door – the incredible glass portal through which we had first seen the Faerie Queen. The curtains, which I had mistaken for rippled metal, were closed once more, which suited our purposes admirably. I took a second pistol from Kelly, whose main task involved only his boarding-axe and the strength of his great bear-like frame, half a head taller than I and twice as wide, with arms and legs like tree trunks. With only one eye, as well, the man would not be performing any feats of marksmanship, which were better left to Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, the three men aboard most likely to hit any chosen target howsoever small. I pointed at the place we would strike, and then we waited.

It was not long, no more than half a minute, before we heard a roar from O’Flaherty, followed by the crash and thunder of muskets as the lads fired a broadside at their target. We were out and running, swift and silent as foxes, our eyes racing over the palace windows and walls, seeking any spying eye in hopes we could put a ball in it before the alarm was raised on this side. But anyone’s attention could not but be drawn to landward, as the first roar of the guns was followed by a bellow not far quieter, as Burke led a charge from the bushes. We heard the crash of his chains against metal, and the shattering of glass; a strange bugling sound arose, and was followed by the discharge of more flintlocks.

On the seaward side, we made it to the terrace and paused to wait for Kelly. The great brute was still half in his cups from the whiskey that O’Grady feeds him with his morning biscuit (Aye, I know of it, though they believe themselves surreptitious. A captain knows his crew and his ship, else he doesn’t live long enough to learn. Kelly’s wound festered, for all Vaughn could do, and the pain of it near drove him mad. Too, O’Grady became cook when he traded his man’s leg for one of wood, and threw in his hearing, as well, when the cannon he was manning held a spark and detonated the charge even as it was rammed home – while O’Grady’s face was laid alongside it so could examine the carriage, which was cracked. The cannon fired, the carriage failed; O’Grady became deaf and lame, and a cook instead of a gunner’s mate – a life of biscuit and porridge, of darkness in the galley rather than glory on the cannons, and of pity rather than honor. He knows that Kelly fears the same loss, that our best fighter will be reduced for the loss of an eye, and his shadow will shrink under him; and so there is whiskey in his water-mug. A clever man might note that I have allowed this to continue. He might see, as well, who I chose to lead the charge.). Though Kelly could move as softly as Lynch, MacTeigue, and I, he was not as fleet of foot, and so as we three drew to a halt on the terrace, he was still in the open. I looked back and saw his eye wildly spinning in its socket, and sweat streaming down his face, his mouth open in a grimace of anguish. He was terrified of what he saw, of the palace, the beast-wagon, the glass wall he ran toward, all of it impossible – and yet his captain asked him to throw himself directly into it. His gaze fell on mine for the briefest instant, and then he snapped his teeth together and roared through them like a snarling bull. He quickened his steps and lowered his shoulder, obviously intending, with all the cleverness of a man on the edge of panic – and of a drunk with something to prove – to burst bodily through the glass, rather than hack through the door’s latch, as I had ordered. I barely had time to call his name before he was on the terrace and past me, his face turned away and eye tight shut as he threw his formidable weight into his bull rush, a man-shaped avalanche thrown at a mere pane of glass.

All that mass of man hit the Faerie glass: and bounced. His head flew into the portal with a thrum like a hawser when a sail snaps tight in high wind, and he flew back onto the terrace as fast as he had run across it, unconscious and limp. The three of us stood dumbfounded, looking as one from Kelly, to the glass door, back to Kelly. Back to the door.

The bloody thing wasn’t even cracked.

“Sod this,” MacTeigue snarled, and aimed one of his pistols at the center of the door. A good man, he paused long enough to flicker his eyes at me; I nodded – we had already raised too much hullabaloo, and we must get inside immediately – and he fired.

The glass cracked, at least. But it did not shatter. Rather the lead ball did, and the shards stuck in the glass pane like flies caught in a spider’s web.

Bloody enchanted faeries and their bloody enchanted glass.

I could still hear the hurly-burly from O’Flaherty’s men, and so hope was not lost for my plan. I dropped my own pistols and swept up the axe from where Kelly had dropped it. My strongest swing, straight at the point where MacTeigue’s ball had cracked it, was enough to craze the glass from edge to edge; a second swing, thus heartened by apparent success, finally shattered it entire. A blast of cool air washed over me, and I shivered. Only with wonder that the palace could be cool inside while the sun burned down so fiercely: surely no more than that. I retrieved my pistols, and led the way in, ignoring Lynch as he muttered, “If the cursed glass be that strong, what will it take to shatter the guards?”

As we stepped through into the cool shade of the palace’s interior – which smelled of fruit and flowers and exotic spices – I saw a head vanish behind a closing door. “Owen!” I shouted, pointing MacTeigue at the door; he nodded and raced to it, bursting the latch with his shoulder – fortunately with more success than Kelly had found with the enchanted glass – and was gone in pursuit. Lynch and I swept our eyes around the room, saw no hazard, and leapt through the doorway into the next chamber, the which we had never clapped eyes on before. It was a dining-hall, and a well-appointed one at first glance. But we sought guards, not crockery and wall-hangings, and we moved on. A swinging door led to a dimly lit hallway – though to be sure, the entire palace was brighter than any Irish house I had stepped into; ’twas dim now in the main because of the bright sunlight dazzling our eyes but moments before – the air growing ever cooler as we moved deeper into the palace. I feared we might encounter true winter at its heart, walls rimed white, snow drifting from the ceiling; and I tried to quell the racing of my heart at the thought.

The hallway widened, opening into a greeting-room of some sort, though my knowledge of palatial architecture is somewhat limited. Light shone down through great windows set in the ceiling, thirty feet above us; a broad staircase led up and the walls beyond opened up into rooms, one on either side. Straight ahead was a door that looked like the portal we had seen the Faerie Queen emerge from with her pink traveling boxes: our goal. “‘Ware guards!” I shouted to Lynch, who dropped to one knee and spun to cover my back, while I raced to the door to let in our fellows. I grasped the handle and pulled, but it would not open; I took a moment to calm myself, and then examined the latches, of which there were several, though no bar. I turned one lock and detached a thin chain – but it was not until I turned the handle that the door opened. I shook my head. “We’re not in Ireland any more,” I muttered as I threw the door wide and stepped out to see what had befallen my men.

As I live and breathe, I swear I do not know what I saw then. Mayhap it was an artifice, a mechanical of some sort, broken and shattered to pieces by axe and cutlass and swinging chain. Mayhap it was a dragon lying slain before me, pierced by many holes from musket and pistol, its dark blood oozing out and soaking the ground beneath it; a stench like whale oil and turpentine filled the air. But I do know that whatever it was, it was now quite properly destroyed: shattered glass and bits of metal were scattered far and wide, and five full-grown men were jumping up and down on top of it and yelling curses and assorted maritime foulnesses while my bosun and quartermaster looked on like proud parents at a Mayday dance.

I will not say which of the two was the mother. Not decide if that title is the greater insult, or the implication that the other would marry such a hideous brute.

It did not matter. The time for noisy distraction was over. Clearly nothing had emerged from the barn-shed, and no unexpected patrol had charged down the road. Now we had to secure the palace. A roar of “AVAST!” was enough to halt the hornpipe of destruction being pounded out atop the wagon-beast’s carcass, and a curt wave of my hand brought the men rushing in, though I plucked MacManus by the sleeve and told him off to keep a watch on the road that led up to the palace door. To the others I called, “Spread out and search for enemies! No plunder yet! Lynch, Moran, Burke – upstairs.” I was relieved to hear Burke murmur a most respectful “Aye, Captain,” as he came through the door past me, and he took the lead up the stairs, flanked and covered by Lynch’s pistols and Moran’s blunderbuss. The man becomes calm and tractable only after he is allowed to destroy something utterly – then and only then is he a model subordinate.

“Christ in Heaven,” O’Flaherty murmured as he came in and surveyed the interior of the palace. “No wonder you thought this was Faerie-Land.” He reached out and touched a mirror on the wall, the smoothest and finest I had ever seen, and with a silver frame that would pay for a month’s supply for the Grace and her crew even without the perfect glass it surrounded. “Who lives in such wealth but a royal?” he asked.

“We do,” I replied. I gestured outside at the pitiful wreckage he and the men had left. “‘Tis surely dead now, but did it live?”

He shrugged and shook his head. “I know not. When we fired the first volley, it hissed at us, and seemed to lower one shoulder, as a bull will when it turns to charge. We didn’t have the time to determine what it meant: Burke ran to it and had its eyes with his chains, in one fell crossing-stroke.” He turned to look out at the remains. He frowned. “We fired again, and it let out a trumpeting – did ye hear it?”

I nodded. “Aye. That was the beast?”

“Aye, but it lasted only a moment. Perhaps ’twas its death cry, or perhaps it called for help. I know not.” He shook his head again, a man with a memory he would throw aside if he could. “I know it made my blood run cold, and the men’s, as well. If Burke hadn’t charged, and lived, I think we all might have broken and run. But courage prevailed, even if a mad thrashing was all we had thought for in our bewildered heads. Sure and it made a grand noise when the boys were atop it, though. Did it serve? Ye seem unblooded; were ye undetected?”

“Aye, all well.” I looked back inside; my men were gathering back in the hallway, weapons lowered, all looking mystified and befuddled. “There’s nobody here, Captain,” Carter called out, and Sweeney grunted agreement. Burke appeared at the top of the stairs. “Not a bloody damn soul,” he growled.

“Well, and there is one,” MacTeigue called out as he came from the shadowed end of the hall. He had a woman by one arm, his pistol in the other hand; he cast her down at our feet. She fell to her knees with a cry, and then crouched there, shivering and weeping, her eyes huge as she looked around at us. She wore a drab grey-blue dress with a white apron; her skirt was too short for decency, though quite a bit longer than what the Faerie Queen had flaunted about in. She was youngish, with dark hair and eyes, and brown skin, though not so brown as a Moor or an African. Perhaps she was a Turk? Of course, if she were Fae, how could a man know what her coloring signified?

MacTeigue reached into his sash and withdrew a small object, which he held out to me. “She was praying into this,” he said. “I did not know the tongue – perhaps Italian or Spanish, from the sound of it. She held it thus,” and he pressed the object to his cheek, near his ear. Then he gave it to me.

It was a small plaque, rectangular and flat, the size of my palm. It was made of some strange material, not as hard as metal or fired pottery, warmer to the touch than stone. Perhaps bone? But it was black. It lacked grain, and so was not wood – unless perhaps it was lacquered in some way. On one side a piece of glass was inset, with a tiny picture painted on it – or under it? there were words and numbers that made no sense to me, though I knew the script.

“She was praying into it?” I asked.

MacTeigue nodded. “She was kneeling in a closet, speaking fast and low, rocking back and forth. Looked like praying to me.”

I looked at the glass plaque. “Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

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Captain’s Log #6: Observations and Discoveries

Captain’s Log #6

Date: 25th of June. Noon.

Location: At anchor in cove, but not for much longer.

Conditions: Sun’s heat nigh overwhelming. But is it a human sun?

 

I sat with Lynch and looked at nothing, in all directions. I looked at the beach, the cove, the trees; I looked at the glass palace, the magical objects inside. I looked at no living soul, anywhere but for the boy next to me.

I knew then that we must seize this palace, wresting it from the grip of its sorceress-succubus-queen. But how? My mind sailed back through a hundred stories of Faerie-Land, the tales that accompany any Irish boy on the path to manhood; none told of any man conquering a Faerie keep. I knew clever ways to escape their clutches, involving wagers and games of chance or skill; but never had I heard of a man taking possession of a Faerie home.

But what choice had we? We must have shelter, and fresh food, and the Grace must have that beach. Perhaps O’Flaherty will find a place better suited, but if not, we have no time to creep along the coast in search of a more accommodating anchorage. So be it: we will treat this as a ship to be grappled and boarded, her captain’s disposition and the secrets of her hold unknown to us, and cause for caution, but not cowardice.

First, then: information. Lynch and I consulted and then split to walk the perimeter of the palace; Lynch took the landward side, as the lad cannot swim, and I went out to the strand and the sea. I gave him my pistols and powder, and cautioned him to run from all ills; he assured me he would. Good lad, that Balthazar Lynch. I watched him go, as quiet as a church mouse in his deck-rough bare feet, even slung about with enough killing implements to board a ship by himself, and then I started on my path. I do not hesitate to admit that I crawled on my belly away from that domicile: the last thing I wished was to draw the Faerie Queen’s attention.

I made it safe to the deeper brush, and then I rose to a crouch and made my way rapidly out along the strand. It was an easy enough trek, the underbrush thin, only clumps of tall grass and more of those puff-ball shrubs, with trees spreading their canopy overhead. I slowed as I neared the end of the strand, as I could readily imagine a watchtower out here; there could not be a better place to ensure early warning of attack or storm, or from whence to signal passing ships. But there was none. Perhaps they do not need this in Faerie-Land. I determined I would place men here, should our design succeed. I looked back to the north, but could not make out the Grace, hidden by a curve of the shore and treetops taller than her masts. I was gladdened by this, for we do not seek attention.

Then into the water and across the cove. I kept my stroke small, so that only my head would be visible from shore, and the burning sun still not far above the horizon would prevent any vigorous scrutiny. The water, ah! It was as warm as any bath, and a clear blue that I had never seen, not even in the purest mountain stream of my Ireland, though I have heard as much from transported men such as my quartermaster. Still, one always expects exaggeration in a seaman’s tales, so this confirmation was a surprise. A most welcome one, after three months aboard ship without bathing.

It was a matter of minutes to cross the cove, through the gentle chop, and under the calls of seabirds; with every breath, this Faerie-Land seemed more of a paradise. I knew of the temptatious nature of the dwellers Underhill, however, and I hardened my soul against the beauties and comforts around me. We will not stay here, not against our will, nor with it. Men do not belong in this place. We will take what we need, and we will depart for familiar shores. I swear it.

I emerged, dripping, and moved slowly up the beach on the southron side, crawling like a serpent until I was hidden once more from the palace’s sight by shrubbery. I made my way along, observing all I could of that Fae place, though what I saw, I could not understand.

When I had gone an hundred paces inland, I heard a rustle nearby and tensed for confrontation, but ’twas only Lynch. We withdrew somewhat from the glass palace – there was another wall, identical to the first, blocking the southern approach; we crouched close, though we did not look at each other as we spoke, but kept an eye both to the palace and to the wall, alert for sentries walking its length.

Lynch confirmed my own strange findings. This palace appeared to hold no guards at all, not a single man-at-arms, nor even a maidservant that we had seen. There were no guardroom, no watchtowers anywhere; Lynch had described a pleasant path leading right to the door, without moat or gate to bar the way! Stranger still: we found no garden, no livestock, no fishing smack or nets, not even a well or a rubbish heap or a privy – though Lynch confessed he had seen many objects and structures he could not surely identify.

Perhaps the Faerie Queen does not need guards. And perhaps she does not need servants beyond her own magic. Does she not need to eat? Do the Faerie Lands not produce food as we know it, grown from earth and water and sunlight? Too, would she not wish for a retinue, for companions to while away the lonely hours? If this sorceress’s existence be naught but solitude, silence broken only by the crash of waves, then all the beauty of this place comes to nothing. I will take my bonny ship and my salty lads, with thanks.

Lynch led me back the way he had come, so I could see some of these strangenesses myself. He showed me the door, with its welcoming path; there was a large shed, perhaps a barn, connected to the palace by another path – stones set in the even ground, bordered with a strip of tiny pebbles – but still, there were no animal sounds nor smells, and I saw neither fodder nor dung.

We were moving around to the far side of the barn-shed when the palace door opened and we held still, moving only enough to observe. The sorceress herself emerged, now dressed in clothing only slightly less strange than before: a thin skirt that met no standard of decency I have known; it covered less than a slip or nightdress, and her coat ended mere inches below her waist. Her shoes were like slippers, but her heels were raised on spikes; she wore a strange mask that covered only her eyes with a strip of dark, hard material, stone or metal, I could not say, but she could apparently see through it, somehow. She walked to the barn-shed, carrying a cloth bag of some kind behind her shoulder, the bag as wide as her shoulders and hanging behind nearly to her knees, flat and flexible as a cloak; in her other hand she held a case with a handle on top. She raised the hand that held the case – was it leather? Perhaps hardened, to hold the boxy shape? Or leather-clad wood? – and pointed at the barn-shed; there arose a rumbling noise from the far side, as of a small herd of cattle moving within; but no cattle  emerged.

I heard a bird’s chirp from inside the barn, and then sounds like heavy doors opening and closing. The sorceress returned to her palace and swiftly emerged again with two more boxes, even larger and heavier than the first two; so massy she must drag them along the ground, though quick and smooth as if she were carrying only milkpails or a posy of daisies. Surely any wooden chest of that size would be far too heavy for a woman to carry – but she is Fae. Who can say what is heavy to her, or what strange otherworldy material makes up the substance of her possessions? And they could not be wood nor leather, not of any animal I have known: both of the boxes were a pink so bright it hurt the eyes to see.

This time she set down her burden, closed the door of her palace and locked it with a key too small to see – or perhaps it was but the touch of her elfin hand – and then dragged her chests to the barn again. More heavy doors closing, and then from within we heard a rumble like the growling of some great slavering beast: we readied our weapons, sure she was setting loose a pack of Faerie hounds, or perhaps bears, wolves, lions.

I do not know what came out of that barn. It was shaped something like a wagon, and the sorceress sat within it, only her head and shoulders above the raised sides, and she was blocked on one side by a window affixed to the wagon. But the wagon was bright red, and it shone and gleamed in the sun; it had wheels, but the wheels had no spokes. There was a metal grill on the side facing us as it moved out of the barn, with two round protuberances that could have been eyes, but I saw no signs of life in that thing.

And the greatest mystery of all: if it was a wagon, there were no beasts drawing it. It moved of its own accord, though I do not doubt it was guided by the sorceress’s Fae will.

She drew away from the barn, paused, and I heard the same rumbling and clattering from the far side of the barn as the sorceress had caused with the wafture of her hand; perhaps it was a door closing as magically as the glass door of her palace had opened to the sea? Then the wagon she rode in rumbled and growled, and then moved away and out of our sight, blocked by the barn-shed we crouched beside. And we were left alone, beside the unguarded palace of a Faerie Queen.

We waited, still as calm water, for a hundred breaths. Then, when nothing else moved, we thought her gone, for now. I set Lynch by the door to keep watch for her return, after first leading me back to the north wall, closer to the Grace; I gave him the strictest instructions not to go inside, not to leave the shelter of the trees, but just to watch. Then I scaled the wall, again with the help of a close-growing tree and with no more difficulty than before, and then made my way back to my ship. I cannot describe the warm rush of joy I felt in my breast upon setting my foot once more on the Grace’s deck; this ship is my home in these strange waters, as well as my steed for traversing them, and I do love her so.

I reported only our current status to O’Gallows, gave him orders to keep watch for O’Flaherty’s return, and then retired to my cabin to set this down in my log. I am starting to believe this document is an important one: perhaps when we return to Ireland, I will carry the records of the only trip men made Underhill and back again since the days of yore.

We will make it back again. This I swear.

The glass has turned twice since I returned to the Grace, and O’Flaherty and Carter are now here, as well. I do not know what to make of their report, but I set it down here, while they refresh themselves and ready the men for the assault.

The first words out of O’Flaherty’s mouth once my cabin door had closed behind him were: “‘Tis paradise, Nate! This be the pirate’s dream, sure it is!”

“Aye,” I said. “But such is the way of this place: to seem like every glorious wonder a man ever clapped eyes on. But it is a trap, sure as you stand there before me.”

He frowned and then his brows raised with surprise. “Ye know where we are? Did ye find a landmark, or a guide?”

“We are Underhill,” I told him then, “in Faerie-Land.” I had said nothing to the men of my discoveries, nor to Ian; I wanted O’Flaherty’s opinion and any further evidence he could provide, so I could prove my sanity when I told the crew. And though I like the man not at all, and trust him but little more, I cannot fault the mind hidden behind that unpleasant face.

That face frowned again – ’twas the ugliest sight I had seen yet on this day of wonders, and it made me smile to place its scarred, filthy lumpen grotesquerie beside my memory of the Faerie Queen’s ethereal loveliness in my mind’s eye – and O’Flaherty sat himself on my sea chest. “What did ye find?” he asked. “Where is Lynch?”

Though it rankled to have to report first, as it rankled to have him make so familiar in my cabin, I reminded myself that he and I are of equal rank, according to our ship’s Articles, signed by every man aboard, and by me. So I told him of the cove and its beach, and of the palace of magical wonders, and especially its beauteous mistress. I confess I waxed somewhat poetic in describing her, since I was looking at his hairy, warty brow as I did so, which afforded me some amusement; though I kept that hidden, of course.

But when I had finished, O’Flaherty shook his head. “I do not think we are in the land of the Fair Folk,” he said to me. “The one we found was far from fair.” And he pulled from inside his shirt the three objects that rest on the shelf before my eyes as I write this. As I stare at them now, I must agree with him: the Fae would not have such things. This is the stuff of men.

But then what did I see at that glass palace?

Was it not real? Were my eyes deceived?

I know not.

_____________________________________________________________________________

O’Flaherty and Carter had trekked north, their experience identical to mine and Lynch’s, but lasting somewhat longer in the swampy act; their slog through mangrove and mud and biting insect was closer to two hours than one. But finally, the trees thinned for them as well, and they saw – the pirate’s paradise, as O’Flaherty said.

“Ships,” he told me. “Ships and boats of every size, from dinghies and wherries to craft as large as the Grace, and greater still, curse me for a liar else. There must have been a thousand of them, tied to piers and docks and quays. And not a single cannon among ’em.”

I scoffed at this, of course, but he assured me: he and Carter had explored carefully. He had even managed to creep up and peer into one of the smaller boats, and there was not a single piece aboard. Not a firing port, not a barrel of powder, not a cannonball stack, as far as the eye could see.

“‘Twas a fishing fleet, then. Was it not?” I asked him.

He scowled and nodded. “Aye, there were fisherman’s boats, right enough. I saw poles and lines, and a few nets. Some were pleasure boats, as the fine bloody folk use for boating on the Thames or the bloody Shannon, and a few were little more than small boys’ coracles. But Nate, there were masted ships like I’ve never seen before – and some even larger, without masts or sails at all, stab my liver! Perhaps they be galleys, as the heathen Moors row, but I saw no oars, nor ports nor benches. And I looked, smite my eyes if I didn’t.”

I nodded. “Aye – they are Faerie craft, no doubt, and moved by the Fair People’s magic, just like that wagon I saw that spirited away the Sorceress.”

O’Flaherty paused to consider. “Aye,” he said finally. “Perhaps.” He pushed the three objects into my hands. “But I think no Faerie magic made these.”

He had a bottle, a wine bottle with paper somehow glued to it. “Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill,” it proclaimed. I took off the top, after a few moments tugging at it before I found it had to be twisted off – and what glass blower could thread his work so a cap could be screwed on? – and sniffed. That smell was enough to convince me O’Flaherty had reason in what he said, though the glass palace in my memory still held sway over my thoughts. Perhaps a taste of the dregs left in the bottle would have convinced me entirely, but I couldn’t stand to put my tongue to the test. There was also some tobacco, tiny cigars wrapped in paper and enclosed in a paper box marked “CAMEL.” I broke one up into my pipe and lit it; it tasted strange, but still allowed me a sweet smoke, and at my urging, O’Flaherty joined me.

Then we looked at the third object.

I don’t know how to describe it. It was made of paper, but bound like a book or a pamphlet, with tiny slivers of bent metal, and it lacked a cover of leather or wood or cloth and the paper was unlike any I have ever seen: it was slick, and it shone under the light. The paper was covered with images far more than words, and such images! If they were portraits, then the greatest artists of history are mere children flinging paint around like morning porridge by the spoonful compared to the genius who painted that; but for the size, and the object in my hand, I would have thought I looked on living flesh.

Lots of living flesh. Every inch of living flesh, in fact.

I have known men who owned portraits of women. I have known many men who carried locks of hair or small swatches of cloth to remind them of a woman’s scent, the softness of her skin. Of course I have known boys who drew or carved the shape of a woman in secret, as a canvas to paint the dreams of love upon.

But this.

They were nude. Bare as any babe, but no childish shapes were these! Breasts of every sort, legs and arses and . . . and . . . EVERYTHING! Pages and pages of – EVERYTHING! I know not who this “Bare Bitches” is, whose name adorned every page and must thus be the artist behind these images (nor do I know why he bears a dog’s name), but I long to meet and talk with him. If he owns a brothel, with such ravishing beauty there, so much smooth and willing flesh, then I know where my men will spend every coin we plunder, and every one they can beg and borrow, too.

O’Flaherty had found these things, the bottle, the tobacco, the wondrous pamphlet, on a man he had discovered unconscious under a tree by the shipyard. “Sure and he was drowned in that wine, for you could smell it from ten paces away – though it might have been swallowed up in the stench of the man himself, damn my nose.” Somewhat familiar with the look and behavior of a drunkard, O’Flaherty and Carter had not hesitated in searching the snoring man’s filthy garments for booty or information. I asked if they had found any coin, and O’Flaherty said no, but the shifting of his gaze when he said it told me otherwise. I said nothing then, but kept it in mind: should our conflict ever come to a head, this would be the knife hidden in my sleeve. O’Flaherty had signed the Articles, too – had in fact introduced the idea to the men, along with the existence of his position and the insistence on every man voting on each decision affecting the ship and crew, all ideas garnered from his time cruising in the Indies – and the penalty for holding back loot from the company was as clear as the water on these shores.

But information was the most vital booty that O’Flaherty brought back. Now we know that the coast to the north is no good to us, being nothing but swamp to the edge of the shipyard that, though it might give us rich pickings in future, offers no safe haven for the wounded Grace and her exhausted, depleted crew. And now we know that, though none of us can possibly say where we are, nor what manner of people live on these shores – nor can I explain the magical place that Lynch and I saw, nor give a name to the woman who ruled it, be she human sorceress or Faerie Queen – still we are in a world of men. Men who drink, and smoke, and lust. O’Flaherty has shown that to my satisfaction.

Perhaps I should not dread a face-to-face encounter with that sorceress, after all. She did eat and drink like a woman; perhaps she is no more than she seems. I am sure to have the chance to find out, once we have taken her palace for our own.

O’Gallows will remain. It should be me, while he and O’Flaherty lead the assault, but I am needed to lead the way to the glass palace and Lynch. To make Ian’s task easier, I will take both O’Flaherty and Burke with me, along with Moran, Carter, McTeigue, MacManus, O’Finnegan, Sweeney, and Ó Duibhdabhoireann – the last only so Ian will not have to call out his name shouting orders. The man’s Christian name, Ceallachan, is not far simpler; though he responds to Kelly when the rum doesn’t make him forget. He lost an eye to a splinter when the Lash’s men fired on us, and hasn’t been the same man since.

That leaves Ian, Surgeon Vaughn, and O’Grady, the cook, along with Murphy, Finlay, Gallagher, Rearden, Fitzpatrick, Doyle, and O’Neill. ‘Tis enough to move the Grace down the shore to the cove, though not if there are any trials or terribulations. But our first assault is likely to be enough, I judge, if the glass palace holds no dangerous secrets that could bar our way – or spill our blood. If there be complications, then some of us will surely escape to carry word and warning; together with the Grace’s cannon, they should carry the day. And if none of us come out of the palace alive – if I do not come out of there alive – then I find I care not what comes of the rest of them here with my ship. Ian says we should simply bring the Grace with all hands aboard, for a frontal assault on the beach; I hope it will not be necessary to risk the ship in any but the uttermost need.

And so with sharpened swords and axes, charged locks, loaded rifles and pistols, we will fill the ship’s boat with men. We determined to row down the coastline to the strand, rather than slog through the mangroves; though we will land on the near side of the wall rather than the palace side; I do not wish to creep with ten sea-legged tars through that thin underbrush, all within sight of the palace. For myself and a few of the lads I brought aboard from my own village – Moran and McTeigue, both kin, McTeigue my own mother’s brother’s son – I know we have hunted ‘cross heath and over moor, through forest and stream and bog, and sure we could move without any more sound than an Irish deer in a spring meadow, once we stiffened our knees on land once more. But the others? Burke could not be silent if he were three days dead, and I doubt rotting in his grave would improve his smell, either, which would reveal his presence and ours as readily as the clanking of his damned manacles. Perhaps I should not bring him along. But that mad bastard of an Englishman is the bloodiest savage I have ever seen in a fight, and we do not know what we may face. Perhaps the very stones will rise up. Maybe the grounds are sown with dragon’s teeth, as Jason and his Argonauts faced, soldiers springing from the earth itself. We will have need of Burke and his swinging chains. And should he take a mortal hurt in the fight, well.

I will wish ill on no man. I do hope to take the palace without shot fired or blood spilled.

We go now. Gods be with their beloved Gaelic rogues.

_____________________________________________________________________________

O, blessed be the angels of Ireland that look over their proud, bonny sons, even in this other world! Christ and Dagda, blessed St. Brendan and Patrick, too: why can you not draw back that curtain of fear that lays over all struggles of blood and iron, that terror that has put more men in the ground than any plague, any famine, any tyrant in the annals of history? Is bravery not enough? Strength, celerity, skill with arms? Must we overcome the madness of fear, as well?

Ah, I know very well whence came the cause of this hurly-burly I have just waded through: ’tis just that my men are not soldiers. They are pirates. And pirates fight with boiling blood and roaring curses, the hack and slash of the cutlass and the blast of the thrice-charged blunderbuss; we do not know the discipline of Cromwell’s New Model Army, and would spit on it if given the chance. But I would never wish to be faced with the sight of my men charging at me with red eyes and shining swords: ’tis a braw sight, to be sure, even from amongst ’em. But ’tis a mad sight, as well. Gods damn me, what a brou-ha-ha that was.

We rowed through the calm, placid water, like one of O’Flaherty’s bloody fine folk in a pleasure craft on the Thames. We came to the strand, we landed and found the wall; I crossed, leaving the men ready at a word to swarm over and bring wrack and ruin along. I found Lynch, waiting, soaked in sweat but with his powder dry and his hand steady: he had my pistols drawn and primed, both aimed at the palace’s glass walls, where we first saw the sorceress queen. He saw me come, signaled with a tip of one barrel before he leveled his aim once more. I made my way to him, thanked him for his alertness, and asked for his report.

“The palace, Captain,” he said, then cleared his dry throat with a soft rumble. “The Palace is not empty.”

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