Posts Tagged With: Grace of Ireland

Log #40: Hospital

Log August 17

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And where be that?”

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

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

I said nothing.

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

“Ireland,” quoth I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was – shot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have your word on that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Captain Kane,

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

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

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

Llewellyn Vaughn

***

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

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Captain’s Log #3: The Chase

Captain’s Log #3

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Noon.

Location: Unknown

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

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

 

Returning to my narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

Surely the devil was giving chase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the next day. And the next.

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

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

No: she took me to meet my father.

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

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Captain’s Log #2: The Trap

Captain’s Log #2

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Dawn.

Location: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And match us she did.

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Captain’s Log #1: Arrival

Captain’s Log

Date:

Location:

Conditions:

 

It cannot be.

I am captain of the Grace of Ireland, and the twenty-one men remaining of her crew. I have been master of this ship these past five years, so I know – aye, I know – the log should begin with the day and our location and conditions, heading and speed of the ship. Curse me, but I would record all that if I could be sure –

if I could just know

It cannot be, it cannot!

– if I could only know that I am not mad. That we are not in Hell.

I believe it is the 23rd of June in the year 1678, by the common reckoning. I think we are at anchor in a cove on the eastern shore of the New World. It is the 73rd day since we started our cruise, from Galway Bay in Connacht. The ship is leaking, as it has been since we left Irish waters, but we cannot beach and careen her until the storm that chased us here has passed over. Four men are manning the pumps for now, and the Mate assures me we will survive the storm afloat.

Unless, of course, we are already dead.

I don’t know who to pray to. Or who to curse, come to that.

I prayed for our deliverance as my mother taught me: in the language of our land and our people, stretching back through the centuries, through generations of Gaelic kings to the seven Sons of Mil who wrested Erin from the Tuatha De Danann, and the gods and goddesses who birthed them and watched over them, and over the Milesians in turn.

But I confess to doubting these gods and goddesses of Ireland, for sure it is that prayers rose up to them in untold thousands, washed clean with tears and sanctified with innocent blood, when the English Devil Cromwell descended on our land like the plagues of Egypt, like all the conquerors and raiders and savages out of the west and the north who have laid waste to Ireland since the dawn of time. And these gods, Dagda and Nuada and Lugh, Danu and Goibniu and the Morrigan, they failed us in our hour of need and let the black-souled English slaughter whole generations, and paint the stones of Ireland red with blood that will never wash away.

The gods of old did not save Ireland. They did not save my mother, Maeve ni Cathan, the daughter of kings, the great-granddaughter of Grainne ni Maille herself, with ancient knowledge writ in her brain and her bones and her blood. They let her be raped by an Englishman on the streets of Drogheda. Raped by a Puritan, by a man of God come to conquer heresy and sin – so they claimed.

Raped by my father. And nine months after he gave my mother a bastard son, he gave me the name of his own fate, his doom for the sin of his lust, and the even greater sin of allowing my heathen mother to live after he defiled her: Damnation.

My friends call me Nate.

Perhaps I should pray to the God of my father, the God of Abraham and Saint Patrick. The God of Cromwell. But why should he listen to me? Sure and no man has been born so far out of His sight, the get of a corrupted hypocrite and a proud pagan, raised by one to hate the other.

And I think it no help to my pleas that I have earned my name a hundred times in the ten years since I reached manhood, in seeking my vengeance on half of my blood in the name of the other half. Even if my father’s sins had not passed on to me, I have a gracious plenty of my own, theft and piracy and plunder and aye, murder.

No, the Father of Adam will not listen to me, either. I think he may have already sent us to his Hell and barred the gate after us. Certain it is that the living world, the home of His beloved children, could not hold such things as I have seen this day.

Such things . . . –

I must be mad.

I have lived my whole life at sea, fishing with my uncles before I could walk the length of the curragh, rowing their trading galleys past the English blockades, and sometimes through them. I have been to London and seen the greatest ships ever built by the hand of man, three decks and four masts and enough cannon to drown out the thunder itself.

But that thing that I saw when we came in sight of the shore! I thought it was a part of the land: the White Cliffs of Dover on the shore of the New World. Until it moved. Until it blew smoke from its back, like the spume of a whale, and sounded a horn that could have drowned out Gabriel’s trumpet, and then it sailed across the bay before us. Against the wind. Against the tide.

I looked at it through my glass, and I swear to you it held men. Men crawled over it like lice. They waved and they cheered. It was a ship. A ship that could not be.

I must be mad.

But if I were, would not those impossible sights continue? If my eyes were deceived, if they had betrayed me then, would I see my hands on this page, the quill in my fingers, the spatters of ink from my pot? All is still, now; nothing is unfamiliar to me. We sit at anchor in a cove, the land around us thick with greenery. Though I do not know the trees, still they are trees. My men look like men, my ship still like the ship I have sailed nearly every day since she was refit three years ago, the ship I have sailed thousands of miles in the past two months, from the seas of Ireland to this distant shore.

Could it be the Isle of the Blessed? Have I followed the path of St. Brendan the Navigator, himself? How can I know? We sailed off the ends of charts a month gone. Perhaps we sailed off the edge of the world, too.

But I think we would not be welcome in Paradise. And if we were, sure my ship would not still leak.

It was a hundred feet high, two hundred. Pure white, shining like the clouds in a summer sky. It would have stretched from one end of the village where my mother raised me to the other, and beyond. It was smoking – there was fire on it – fire, the curse of ships, the terror of all sailors. And it sailed through the waves, without sail, without oars.

I looked through my glass and I saw the faces of the men and women aboard. I saw children. They smiled.

I looked at its bow and I saw written there in letters as tall as a man, “GRAND PRINCESS.”

It was a ship. A ship the size of a mountain.

We are in Hell.

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