Posts Tagged With: grog

Log 27: Letter from the Gallows

Date Unknown: The 9th Day after the Cursed Mutiny.

A Letter to my Captain and the Man I once called Friend, and would give my Right Hand to call such again: Damnation Kane, EVER AND ALWAYS Master of the Grace of Ireland.

Captain,

I do beg ye not to misapprehend the apparent Coolness of my Address. ‘Tis not because I love ye any the less than when I called ye Nate, and thought of ye as my Brother. But I ha’ failed ye so utterly that I cannot speak ye familiar until I ha’ redeemed myself. I may ne’er do so. I will not ask Forgiveness, for how could any Man of true Heart and hot Blood forgive Betrayal so base as ye ha’ suffered? Na’theless, I do, ‘pon my knees, offer to ye my humblest and deepest Apologies and Regrets. When ye did set me Mate, an honor that warms my Soul e’en now, in the black depths of my despair, ye gave me the task of preserving your command, your fine ship, above all else. And now I do fear she will be lost.

Curse me, ye will ne’er forgive me. Curse me to the end of days. And curse that gut-worm Shlocksir thrice again. Ye ha’ ne’er failed as Captain, sir, but perhaps that once, when ye allowed that Spawn of Corruption into our company, whate’er our need may ha’ been. Aye and perhaps one other time, when ye let those pestilent mongrels O’Flaherty and Burke take authority that ye should ha’ kept. Well I know that the men did give ye little choice. But blast me, Captain, better ye had taken on whole new crew than keep those two aboard with daggers e’er pointed at your Heart, and Lust for your Ship in theirs.

But whate’er missteps our twisted and malignant Fate has pushed ye into, ye ne’er lost our Ship. Nay, that sin be mine, and the fault lies in me that landed those poxy fools on the poop deck in your place.

‘Twas Shlocksir’s plan, Captain, tho I know O’Flaherty and Burke and Carter all pressed for a Sea Battle. The land-grabs we ha’ done e’er since stealing your Grace ha’ brought a fine heap o’ paper, and little else besides, pleasing no one but our ferret-eyed whore’s son of a Carpenter. Too, the loss of the boat means we can no longer anchor the Grace and reach the shore at our Leisure, and that too pushed us into this ill-fated Folly.

We did try to take a Ship, this day. A Ship bearing passengers, as Shlocksir avowed that our sweet Grace could not threaten the cargo vessels that sail these Seas, so large as those Ships be. But Shlocksir told us of the Ships of the wealthiest merchants, Ships he called yots, if that were his word aright. These yots sailed Unarmed and Unsuspecting of Attack, and we could hail the yotsmen as if in Friendship, or perhaps as tho we were in Distress, and we should find Riches aboard.

We made South-South-West for a day, headed for the Keys, as Shlocksir named them, islands where the yots made passage to and fro. We sighted a Fine Specimen, a Ship twice the Grace from stem to stern, with three decks, white as snow and with music and good cheer pouring out to our ears e’en a half mile distant. Shlocksir called it a “party boat,” a “day-tripper,” and said we could handle it with ease, may the Devil gnaw at his greedy heart.

Shlocksir ordered us to come alongside and board her. Why that bag of rancid suet fancies himself capable or deserving of command, I ha’ not an idea. And less why O’Flaherty and Burke allow it. But they do, for Shlocksir is e’er shouting commands, e’er the wrong ones, and they ne’er gainsay him but when the Ship should sink if they held their tongues, as when he ordered us to come to port when he meant starboard, and there were rocks to port. Yet all other orders we follow, in our Folly and to our Doom. We did so now, tho he railed at the slowness of our approach for some minutes, until Burke took him aside roughly and pointed out the direction of the wind, which was against us, but apparently past the understanding of a calf-brained lubber such as this.

But he was not the only calf-brained lubber, it seemed, as the Captain of the yot did nothing to stem our approach, nor to escape. He came to the rail and bespoke us through some Magickal Device that made his Voice boom like storm waves crashing ashore. All vile Shlocksir spake in return was that we be Pirates looking for a good time, and bearing Grog. He did ask for permission to come aboard, and had me and Sweeney smile and wave. Certain ’tis that we two looked less Forbidding than Burke or Kelly. And that, it seemed, were enough, as we were able to come alongside and make Fast to their rail.

Then we climbed aboard, and the time for smiling was done. We went armed, secured the Men, there being but ten aboard and eight Women, one lass in uniform, which did Mystify us, but Shlocksir claims ’tis the way of things here. Tho I know not why we do continue to take his word, the Mendacious Idiot. They did not believe our Menace until Carter, who has been almost continually drunk these past nine days, shot the Mate, killing him on the spot, his blood pooling on the deck making a most Persuasive Argument. The Captain then, too late, did raise a Shout, but Burke beat him unconscious and then heaved him o’erboard. All was silent but for Tears after that.

We searched the Ship, finding little enough of value. Some Spirits, some Victuals, a fair quantity o’ jewelry on the passengers, some strange objects Shlocksir claimed valuable, naming them selfowns and laptops. Nothing worth the hanging we surely now have waiting for us ashore. We trussed up the remaining passengers and crew and made to Depart. But then Shlocksir said that we should take hostages.

I did see his eye fall on the comeliest female passengers, both wearing little more than skin, both young and shapely. I knew he did not mean to keep them as hostages. I saw other men, Burke, and Carter, and perhaps more, grin at Shlocksir’s idea. I did speak against it, Loud and strong, aye. I named Shlocksir a Vile Rapist.

His response? Naught but a grin and the words, “No, man, I’m a pirate.”

I moved to strike him then, but he drew his pistol on me. I had no doubt he would use it. I might ha’ charged anyway, for I could ha’ had him o’er the rail e’en as he killed me, and then he would drown and save the women, but I could not abandon the Grace. And so, to my Shame, I backed down, and let Shlocksir and Burke haul those poor screaming lasses aboard our ship, our ship blessed by your own Sainted Mother and baptized in your Blood.

Ah, God, what have I done?

I could not, Captain. I could not let them get away with this, not this. As we were departing and preparing to cut loose from the yot, I did loosen the bonds of one of the Crewmen. I did whisper to him that we would likely head East, as Shlocksir had mentioned afore, aiming for Bermuda or a similar port of call.

I gave him our Ship, Captain. I know that, even as we sail away filled with good Cheer at our Success, the forces of Just Retribution are descending on us. I know that the Magick of this day, of this place, can surely find us wheresoe’er we go, can surely outrun and outgun us. Shlocksir has said this many a time, making much of our ability to Surprise as our Greatest Asset, and our ability to sneak away and vanish in the vasty Ocean.

But now they know where we are. They will find us. They will likely destroy us, and your Ship with us.

I am sorry, Nate. So very sorry. I will await your Forgiveness, or your Vengeance, when I am in Hell, my corpse dangling from a gibbet.

I be standing guard o’er the hostages. Kelly is with me, and sober for a Wonder. We are agreed that Blood will spill afore we allow Innocents to be despoiled on our Blessed Ship. Kelly rests now, and I write so that I may stay awake. It has been two days, and hard days, since I did sleep, and ten since I did sleep well.

With each Sunset I do gain another day’s doubts. Every night, I lay in my bunk, for I be demoted from Mate, o’ course, and broken down to a sailor’s berth, and as I lay I do cast back o’er the last day, the last two or three or ten days. Did I do all that I might? Did I choose aright, this day? These last ten nights, the Question that consumes my Mind is this: did I do what I could to bring back the Grace? To bring her back to her Owner and Captain, to bring her back to the course she was meant to sail?

I cannot think how we could ha’ done differently.

That first day we thought ye in your cabin. I swear that to be God’s Own Truth. I remember drinking too much Wine and falling asleep at table the night afore; Master Vaughn feels sure we were drugged, as he also fell unconscious in his cups tho he had but one or two glasses of Wine, and for myself, I ha’ not lost my wits to drink since I was a wee lad. In the morning, my head pounding like the Devil’s dancing hoofsteps, I asked after ye, and O’Flaherty said ye were sleeping off the Wine and should not be disturbed. He did say we should make way, tho, so as not to lose the Tide; he said that ‘twould be a fine Surprise for ye to wake and see the Grace far out to Sea already.

I suppose it was, at that.

Ye ha’ been in the habit o’ staying in your Cabin of late, and my head Ached so that I could not but wish I was asleep, myself. Surely I could not, did not think straight, else I would have, I should have!, checked to see ye for myself. But I did not, to my Shame, both as Mate and Friend. Instead I did take Command in your Absence from the poop deck, and got us out to Sea and running well.

‘Twas then, four bells through the midmorning watch, that the Truth was Revealed. O’Flaherty put Carter on the wheel and called all Hands on Deck. Then he told us that ye had been relieved o’ your Command. He told us that ye had not only Beaten and Whipped a man Unjustly, and tho Shlocksir be unfamiliar to the men, his crime is not mysterious to their thoughts, and so they fear his Fate for themselves, as I did try to tell ye then, Curse me, but also he did say that ye had Lied to us. Ye had withheld vital information, because ye did not trust us to take it like Men, and, he said, ye likely had some Villainous Plot in mind, perhaps to Betray us and take on new crew, men more to your way o’ thinking. I stood to defend ye and your decisions as Captain, but was Silenced by what O’Flaherty said next. We ha’ traveled through Time, he said. Three hundred years, he said, and more. All that we did know then, all is now dust and ashes, and Relicks in a Museum.

We were so stunned by this that we did not object when O’Flaherty took Command, naming Moran as Mate, Burke to Gunner, Carter as the Bosun and Shlocksir as Navigator. He told us his intentions: we would find our way back to our own Time, but first we had to do what ye, in your Cowardice and broken-minded befuddlement, Forgive me for repeating his words, what ye had failed to do. We must take advantage of this strange Miracle which Providence had cast in our way. For we do be the only Pirates in these Seas, the only Pirates in Two Hundred Years! He said the people here do be soft and trusting as Lambs. He did not even need to look at Shlocksir to make his point, for we all knew that he was right. He said we did not even need to Pluck this ripened Fruit that hung all around us; all we need do is open our mouths and let the rich Juices run down our gullets ’til our bellies be filled. Then we would find our way home, and live like Kings.

‘Twas a masterful job, Captain. He scattered our wits with his Revelation, like a grenado cast into our midst, and then in one stroke, he blamed ye for the Devastation he had wrought and also gave us a Way out of it, one which appealed to our Greed as well as offering a chance to not feel the Terror of being 300 years Lost.

Ye should ha’ told us, Nate. Tho the result be not deserved, still ye should ha’ told us. It went poorly when I asked after ye. The men shouted me down and named ye Traitor to the Company for keeping such a Secret. When Moran stood and did swear that ye lived and were unharmed, that he would ne’er spill the blood of his own Cousin, the men were well satisfied, and agreed on the spot to follow O’Flaherty as Captain o’ our Grace.

There were Three, tho, who came to me later and did express deep Misgivings about your loss and O’Flaherty’s gain. We met again, often, o’er the next few days, as our Misgivings grew under O’Flaherty’s Command and Shlocksir’s guidance. When we saw the heading they intended for us to follow, we decided to take Action.

‘Twas miserable, Captain. The only one excited was Shlocksir, who sweated and capered about so you’d think him a young Horse, new-broken and ridden hard and let to Pasture. The crew did question the value in such a simple and unambitious Assault, for we put four men in the boat and rowed ashore at night, and robbed a Store, something named Seven-Eleven. We took their paper money and some small supplies, and Naught else. Aye, ’twas easy and free o’ Risk, but where were the great Rewards promised us? That were the grumbles.

Tho I admit: those Potato Chips are entirely Delicious.

The next night, to Silence those grumblings, our Target was a Grog Shop. Along with more paper, of which Shlocksir seems inordinately fond, we captured crates of Liquor, and had a fine proper Drunkening. The next night we waited until later, and then took a Tavern, just after it closed, using Kelly to burst the door in. We took a grand lot o’ paper that night, aye, and more Rum to keep the crew jolly.

We saw then, myself and my three Companions in Misery, that this would be our Fate: we would run up and down the Coastline, Robbing local shopkeeps o’ paper and Potato chips and Grog. Shlocksir would be happy with his piles o’ green scraps, O’Flaherty with his usurped Command; Burke would surely find opportunities to Exercise his Cruelty (He has already flogged two men, and Savagely), and the men would merely stay drunk, and Complacent Thereby.

We four could not Stomack this. What Pride was there, what Glory, in Midnight raids on unarmed townsfolk? We are Pirates, by God, Gentlemen of Fortune! And Irishmen, too! Half of us joined this crew because we did know that Damnation Kane would give us the chance to spill English blood, and to Fight, in some small way, for our Country against her Oppressors. Who were we fighting now, Seven-Eleven? We found it less than satisfying.

But the men were Drunk. And the course we followed was, if nothing else, Supremely Easy. We made out to Sea at night, fished and lazed during the Day, then sailed to shore after nightfall, cruising until we spotted a Target, when we would anchor and send out the boat, with Shlocksir, Burke, and two men to row. Why would the crew Rebel against that?

We needed our Leader, the Man who could wake up their Blood and give them Purpose again. We needed ye, Captain.

So finally, we four decided to steal the boat, and Make our way back to ye. I agreed to stay aboard the Grace, to watch out for Her so Well as I could. Three nights ago we had our Chance, when O’Flaherty found a quiet cove to anchor in after our petty theft, and Declared we would spend the night at rest, without a watch, so that all could Celebrate the ease of our Success. They did get Masterfully Drunk, and we did steal their boat.

In the morning, when they did find the boat gone, and with it their ability to make these easy raids on townsfolk, our Leaders decided to make an Assault on a Ship.

And here we are.

Now my three Compatriots, young Lynch, your cousin Owen MacTeigue, and Master Vaughn, are gone with the boat, and I know not what has become of them. And I squat in the companionway outside the Mate’s Cabin belowdecks, and listen to the Wailings and Whimpers of two Terrified and Innocent women who are prisoned where once I made my berth. I hope it will not come to Blows if they come for the women, for Kelly and I will stand Honorably, but we will not win, and I hate that Blood may be spilled on our lovely Ship. And I hope that the local Navymen will find us, but will not sink us, for I Dread most of all if these Serpents in the shape of men be allowed to Pillage and Plunder at their will. If they earn some ill Repute for their Beastly deeds and Savage treatment of Innocents, then what show of force, what sort of Ship, what manner of destructive Magick incomprehensible and Terrible to us will be brought to bear? We must not risk that. This cruise must be Stopped now.

God Almighty, let the Risks I take be for the best for my Ship, my Captain, and my Friends. I Beg of Thee.

Ian O’Gallows, Mate of the Grace of Ireland

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Log 17: Coming Up to Speed

Captain’s Log

Date: 29 June 1678 2011

Location: Glass Palace Beach House, 10 mi. South of Miami, Florida, United States of America

Conditions: Improving Ship repairs near completion

 

I don’t know how to tell the men.

They have been busy, working steadily – after first celebrating Shluxer’s bounty. They emptied a crate of rum that first night, not realizing that Shluxer’s rum is more potent than the rum we knew. They were near paralyzed with remorse the following morning. In the afternoon, though, O’Flaherty and Burke got them up and back to work on the Grace. They also sent Shluxer for more rum, which he retrieved without difficulty. The which made him, once more, the hero in the hearts of my crew.

I will not kill him. I was in my cups myself when I wrote that last entry, having commandeered the whiskey and made a most strenuous and valiant attempt to consume every drop; without mixing it with water, I might add. I spent all of yesterday thus engaged in my cabin, which necessitated this day be spent recovering. At last, I have been able to eat some food, and now I drink but clean water from the Palace’s taps. Ah – it is a beach house, not a Palace, avers Shluxer.

I will not kill Shluxer, no. It would not change our situation, I know. He was but the messenger. Too, he has proved most helpful. Not only has he taken up the mantle of ship’s carpenter, helping the men to repair the hole in the Grace’s hull to anyone’s satisfaction, and then retrieving for us a great quantity of a white paste he calls caulk, though it bears little resemblance to the tarred rope fibers we have always used to fill the cracks between the planks of the hull – he has also shown us much about this Beach House we have inhabited, and made our daily lives far easier.

I found today that he released our hostages. All but the woman, Flora, the Palace maid. Apparently, at some time on the night of revelry, he struck up a conversation with Ian – and I must note that my dear friend and great ally took responsibility for the ship and crew whilst I was out of my mind with Shluxer’s revelations; it was Ian who stayed sober and ensured that watches were kept; we had moved our landward watch post to the gate Shluxer found for us, the which we have reinforced with blockades on the road, and locked in place with hammered wedges and chains. The men stationed there have begun to grow accustomed to the beast-wagons – Shluxer names them “cars” – for they pass by the gate with mind-numbing regularity. But to the point, to the point – too many wonders, too many distractions. Shluxer spoke with Ian, Ian told me later, and mentioned that the owner of the car, the wagon named Kia which we used to retrieve O’Flaherty, would be irate when he saw the damage done to his beast. Ian, laughing, said they could ask the man, as he was locked and under guard along with the other hostages inside the Beach House. Shluxer was most put out by this intelligence, though Ian said he grew calmer when he heard they had been held for no more than a single day, at that point. He asked to be taken to the hostages, which he was; he then told Ian that they must be released immediately, or else the militia assault we have feared would become imminent and inevitable – he called the militia the “police,” which seems to be the word that the Lopez siblings had used more than once in conversation with me, and also, inexplicably, the Five Oh and the Po-Po. Shluxer has the strangest tongue I have yet known. I despair of mastering it.

Any road, Shluxer and Ian came to my rooms and were repulsed without entry by myself and my fermented companion; they went to O’Flaherty instead, who was nearly as drunk but far more companionable. He granted Shluxer and Ian the authority to handle the situation. Shluxer, in subsequent conversation with the Brothers Lopez, was relieved to hear that they were themselves illegal, and thus unlikely, he claimed, to summon the police, or have said police summoned on their behalf, which seemed his greater worry, since he said we had confiscated their “sellfones.” Ian knew not to what Shluxer then referred. Shluxer determined that we should keep their sister as assurance of their continued silence, and then he returned their belongings, saw them into their Kia-wagon, and sent them away.

I want to believe that Shluxer has done us a great service. But I fear that he is gaining a taste for power, power granted him by his knowledge of this world – this time – that is so strange to us. I surmise that he has seldom if ever had authority over others, and like most such men, he revels in his elevation. But as England’s Shakespeare put it, “‘Tis the bright day that brings forth the adder, and that craves wary walking. Crown him that, and then I grant we put a sting in him, that at his will he may do danger with.”

The Bard refers to the crowning of Julius Caesar. I fear I may be cast in the role of Brutus.

For the nonce, though, we need Shluxer and his knowledge, his power. Using the maid’s beast-wagon, he has procured all manner of supplies: fresh tar for the ropes and the hull, spices for O’Grady and a remarkable quantity of salt, the which O’Grady has used to preserve the remaining meat from Ian’s trading mission; Shluxer has brought us new provisions, as well, nearly as fine as the goods Ian brought. Though I have not enjoyed all that he brought – those Doritos are vile things, like burnt, flattened goat turds dipped in gunpowder and salt – I must speak well of these Twinkie cakes. Delicious.

When Shluxer learned that we had been drinking the water from the pool on the terrace despite its bitter taste – which he called “cloreen,” or some such – he showed us that the fixtures in this dwelling provide limitless fresh water. But to speak truth, as my mother taught me I ever should, to a tongue raised on new rain caught in clay jugs and copper pots, and to the crisp cool drink of mountain springs, the water from within tastes little better than that from the pool. Of course, life on board ship nearly always entails the drinking of stale and sour water; the moment it is stored in casks, it begins to turn, but we needs must drink it anyway. ‘Tis at least part of the reason the men prefer grog – though now they are grown mighty fond of the beer Shluxer brought us in metal barrels, this Coors that he insists on referring to as the silver bullet.

What matters most to me is that Shluxer has indeed managed to repair my lovely ship. The hull appears to be even more watertight than when she was new. We will let his caulk dry another day, and then cover it with tar and float the ship once the tide is high. If she doesn’t take on water then, we will sail, in three days’ time.

Though I do not know where we will go then.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 1 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: Improved, at last.

The caulking and tarring is done. The mast is repaired, and the men have begun digging out the sand around the Grace to the level of the tide; when the water flows in, it will, with the blessings of fortune, float our ship, and we will once more be men of the sea. I find I am tired of standing on this land. I have been considering a return to Ireland, though I know not what we will find there in this time. I have not consulted with Shluxer on the matter, though if past conversation be any guide, his knowledge of the great nations of Europe is spotty at best. He claims there are no more kings in the world, at least not in any but the darkest and most savage nations; this gave me a cold chill, as it brought to mind Devil Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, and my father. But Shluxer knew nothing at all of Cromwell, or the wars for Charles’s throne, or the devastation of Ireland under the New Model Army. It is most odd, what he knows and what he does not.

But however odd the man is, I had best become accustomed to him: he has signed the Articles, and joined the crew of the Grace of Ireland as our carpenter. He was sponsored by O’Flaherty and Carter, with whom he has grown most amicable, but his great benefit to our ship and crew would have been enough regardless.

I confess I hold reservations about the man’s inclusion in our merry band. When I asked him about the home and family he would leave behind to become a rover – he has mentioned his mother and father before – he shrugged and said, “Fuck them – I want to be a pirate. Yo ho!” He is most fond of that phrase. But it was the first part of that utterance that stuck with me. What loyalty can a man have, if he have none to his own blood?

But perhaps I should ask my father that question.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 2 July 2011

Location: Beach House Cove

Conditions: The ship is once more on water. Situation on land, alas, has sunk to the depths.

I was right not to trust Shluxer.

This past night, while the men slept on the beach, I came off the Grace, where I had been sleeping in my cabin; I find it far more comfortable for its familiarity than even the softest bed in this house. I went inside in search of a cool drink of water. When I entered the kitchen, I heard some noise of struggle; investigating I found the guard outside the prisoner’s chamber had been dismissed, and inside, I found Shluxer attempting to defile the maid, Flora. I prevented him, and struck him down; this morning, at dawn, I had him tied to the mast and given twenty lashes. I twice had to order Burke to put his back into it. Burke – the man who wears a devil’s grin at the mere thought of applying stripes to a man’s back – now he grows reluctant? In truth, I have never heard caterwauling and pleas like those uttered by Shluxer once his pale, scarless skin felt the bite of the lash; he has lived a soft life till now. No more.

O’Flaherty came to me with objection, for my assault on the foul rapist. The stripes he earned, according to our Articles, which prescribe this penalty for any man who attempts to force his attentions on any unwilling woman, and death or marooning for any man who is successful in his vile designs; but those same Articles expressly forbid any member of the crew, and any officer, from striking another. And I had struck Shluxer many times, in my rage. I argued that the defense of our own honor required my actions in order to stop Shluxer, and though O’Flaherty grumbled, he went away.

But he was succeeded by Ian. Who repeated the complaint. Though his reasoning was more pragmatic: in our dire straits, he said we need Shluxer more than we need justice. He felt I should have simply warned the bastard away and doubled the woman’s guard, so as to avoid dissension and resentment among the crew, for whom Shluxer has gained a most favorable hue of approval – and whose crime, generally speaking, is frequently shrugged at indifferently. I am afraid Ian and I both became intemperate in our discussion of this matter, until at last I ejected him from my cabin and locked myself in, to keep this log and to brood on our circumstance. And aye, to keep from laying eyes on that slug Shluxer, lest I open his belly for the gulls.

I cannot face the crew. I cannot lie to them, and I cannot speak to them without addressing our situation; I know the talk amongst them is of little else but where we are, and where we must go. I hope once we put out to sea, I will gain the courage and the strength to tell them the truth; I know if I do not, then Shluxer will, and he will say it – poorly. Until then, I have given my orders, and I will stay in my cabin while they are carried out. I have entrusted the maid’s safety to Lynch and MacTeigue until we depart, as they see the situation my way, I know – indeed, Lynch was so enraged he demanded Shluxer’s throat be cut for his crime, but I ordered him to let the blood spilled by the lash suffice. After all, I did prevent Shluxer from achieving his intent. Lynch was not satisfied, but he agreed and swore to abide by my wishes.

We must get to sea. All will be well when we are on the waves once more.

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Log 16: Elliott’s Beer Run

I can’t believe this. I mean, seriously, I just can’t fuckin believe this shit.

You know in A Princess Bride how Vizzini always says “Inconceivable!” and Inigo finally says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That’s how I feel. This shit here is inconceivable. But just like with Vizzini, who says that about shit that’s already happening, which means it’s, like, conceivable, this shit that I can’t believe is happening right now.

I’m on a beer run with a pirate.

I glance in the rearview – which catches me a look at the hole that huge dude Kelly put in the roof with his dagger – and then I stop at a Stop sign. And next to me, this guy Ian – who, no homo, but he’s like the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen, all sparkling blue eyes and curly red-gold hair and tan skin and white teeth (How does a pirate get white teeth? What, did they jack a floss shipment? For that matter, I thought British people all had fucked-up teeth. Whatever: homey’s got prom king genes, that’s all.) – Ian throws his hands up on the dash to stop himself from flying through the windshield, even though I didn’t actually stop hard at all. And he laughs through those shiny white teeth and he’s all “She stops like a horse refusing a fence. How do ye keep from flailin’ about?” in that Irish accent.

Oh, I have got to go clubbing with this guy. Just being seen with his castoffs would up my game, like, ten levels.

I shrug. “You just get used to it, I guess. I dunno. I had to stop for the sign.” Road’s clear, so I step on it. The Kia – which is hot, so I’m a little freaked out about driving it around, but it wasn’t too bad, I had my shit pretty together, until Kelly just whipped out his dagger and punched it through the roof like it was fucking nothing, and then I thought “What exactly did they do with the guy who owned this car, and all those keys and shit they had? And who owns that house? Fucking beach front with a private cove, that place was like two, three million dollars worth of Florida real estate, easy. So where’s the owner? Why did he let a bunch of raggedy-ass thugs dressed up like pirates crash in his crib?” And then I started thinking – maybe they’re not just crazy-looking. And maybe the people who own the house, and the cars and the keys, maybe they won’t be calling the po-po any time soon because they’re, like, buried in the backyard or cut up in pieces and sunk in the ocean, like on Dexter. Then I started getting a little freaked out like: I’m driving around in a dead dude’s car. With the dude who fuckin killed him. Cause that Kelly guy was big, and had no problem stabbing shit, and those four guys we chased down were all thugged up and all – but if any of these guys has ever capped anyone, it’s that Damnation guy. When he was pissed off about his boys treatin him like a bitch – man, just looking at him and you know that muthafucka’s cold-blooded, like ice cold. Him or that crazy fuck with no thumbs. So I’m glad they’re out of the car, and I’m just rollin with Pretty-Boy here.

No homo.

Anyway – what was I saying? Oh, right: the Kia’s actually got some cojones, way more than you would expect from the car that drives those fuckin hamsters around (and I figure maybe the cholos who drive it suped that shit up a little) so it pushes us back in the seats when I hit the gas, and Ian laughs and says “Good Lord of Hosts, this wagon is truly a miracle. It doesna live, and it has na horses nor oxen to pull it. How does it go?”

So I start to tell him – not that I know everything about cars, not a fuckin gearhead or whatever – but you can’t tell this guy anything. I’m all “When I step on this pedal –” and he goes “What’s a pedal?” So I point to the gas and brake, right, and he comes, like, into my fuckin lap to stare down at them, bending over me like he’s about to start polishing my tool. and I’m all “Whoa, back the fuck up, you fag!” and he sits back and says “A lever,” but he says it all weird, like, “LEE-ver,” and I’m all “A what?” and he goes “A LEE-ver, a pedal’s a LEE-ver for your foot.” And then I realize what he’s saying and I nod and shit, and then I say “So when I step on it, it sends more gas to the engine –”
And he goes “What is gas?”

You can’t tell this guy anything. You shoulda heard how he took traffic lights, when we got stuck at a long red on Kennedy Drive. He fuckin thought there were like, monkeys or something inside it, with lanterns, changing the colored lights. You fuckin try explaining computers and automatic timers and shit – fuck, try explaining electricity. Once you get past “It’s lightning,” what the fuck do you say next?

Who the fuck are these guys, anyway?

So we get to Casa de Schluchzer, and we’re in luck – the parentals are both out. Good, because I do not want to explain who my “little friend” is to my mom, and fuck, what if the Depot called here looking for me? Or what if the cops came by? Maybe they think I got kidnapped, I dunno.

Whatever. I leave Ian with the TV, after I show him like three buttons on the remote – and which channel has porn on it – and I go get my shit. First thing is in Dad’s office, in the back of his top right desk drawer – it’s his “emergency” credit card. Well, Pops, this is a fuckin emergency if I ever saw one. Then I bust a quick shower, cause I’m all stankin from running with that bag on my head and sweatin like a mutherfucker when they kidnapped me and shit, and then I go to my room and pack some shit, just the essentials.

And I get my sword. It’s a Crusader broadsword, and it cost me like 400 bucks online, and that shit’s for real. I feel better knowing I’m armed. Then I stash away a nice little boot-knife I got at a Faire, because it feels even better to be armed when nobody else knows you’re armed, am I right? I wish we had a fuckin 9-millimeter, but Mom’s anti-gun and Dad’s a pussy. Whatever.

I think about leaving them a note, but then I think Fuck ’em. Let ’em wonder. I get Ian and we roll out for the liquor store.

I talk to Ian, and he says they got twenty guys back at their crib – well, no, first he says there’s a “score” of ’em, but I’m like “Score? What score? What the fuck’s a score? Like a game score?” and then he says there’s twenty. So I ask what they like to drink, and he says ale and whiskey and grog. And wine for the captain. And I’m all “Aight, what the fuck is grog?” So he says – check this shit – it’s rum mixed with water and fuckin gunpowder. And I’m all “No shit?” and he grins and he’s all like “Aye – it gives it a wee kick. Like a beestung mule.”

So okay, we go in and get like a case of whiskey and three cases of rum, and I get the guy to bring out three kegs of Coors and a tap, and I ask him to pick out, like, a dozen bottles of wine for the captain. And he asks how I’m paying, and I bust out the credit card and my ID – and for maybe the first time in my life, I’m glad I’m Elliott Schluchzer, Junior.

Ian loads all that shit in the car while I’m paying – after I run out to pop the trunk, instead of trying to explain to him how to do it – and then we roll out and head back.

We drive past Home Depot, and I think about stopping in to tell them I quit – maybe taking a table saw as my severance, like – but I see a cop car in the lot, and I’m thinking they might still be looking for the crazy fuckers who stole a couple hundred bucks’ worth of lumber and nothing else. And I’m thinking they might be thinking I was in on it, since I disappeared with them and people around here know I’m into the Ren Faires and pirate festivals and shit. So we drive on by. And I’m thinking I might never be coming back here, if the idea that’s bouncing around in my head turns out, and I think about my job, and my car, and my room, and my computers, and my parents, and my whole life – and I think leaving it all behind would suit me just fine. Fuck all of it.

We get back to the crib, and I stop the car at the top of the driveway, where there’s a wall all covered with ivy and shit and a bunch of tall trees, mostly palms, and I know there’s a rolling metal gate stuck back behind some bushes, and when I reach in and grab it and roll it out, Ian’s all shocked and shit that I even knew it was back there. But I’m all, “Homey, no house like this doesn’t have a gate on the drive.” It just got left open by somebody, probably because it’s not automatic – it’s an old gate, like from the fifties or something, before they had remotes, and whoever lives here probably didn’t want to fuck it up installing a chain drive and sensors and shit. But Ian’s all jizzed up and says the captain will be pleased, and I’m like “Eeeeex-cellent” like Mr. Burns in my head. My plans are coming together.

We drive up to the crib – and when I see it, really see it, with no bag over my head and my thoughts not all fucked up by what’s going on around me, I think Yeah, I could live like this. Even if – no, better if they stole it, even capped the guy who lived here and sunk him in the cove tied to a rock and shit. We drive up and Ian gets like the full hero’s welcome – and that’s before we break out the booze that’s got the Kia’s back end scraping the ground, the shit’s so heavy. Then me and Ian both get three cheers.

And Captain Kane comes out and smiles and slaps us on the back and everything – I hold up for a high-five, but he just looks at me like “What the fuck are you waving at?” and leaves me hanging. But for sure he’s happy to see me, and he says so. He thanks me for doing the liquor run, and for driving to catch up with his boys. So I turn to him, and I go like this, talking all slow and raspy and shit: “Some day – and that day may never come – I may call upon you to do a favor for me. Until that day, accept this as a gift.” And he looks at me all thoughtful and calculating, and then he nods and says, “Done,” and shakes my hand.

And he didn’t even know that was from The Godfather, Part I. That clinches it.

“So Damn,” I say, and throw my arm around his shoulders. “Tell me. What year do you think it is?”

 

 

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June, 2011.

Location: 2011.

Conditions: All is lost.

We have traveled through time, he tells me. It’s the future, he tells me. He was smiling.

It cannot be true. I must find a reason why Shluxer would lie to me. Then I can kill him and it won’t be true.

Three hundred and thirty-three years. All is dust. Everything and everyone we know is dust, now. All – all is lost.

All is lost.

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Log 14: Guards and Grog

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June

Location: In a madhouse.

Conditions: As should be expected: mad.

 

If a man were to ask me what is the experience of captaining a ship, of leading a crew, I would say this: when you are the captain of a ship, everything goes wrong all at once. It is never simply that your vessel is blown into a storm; it is ever that your ship is blown into a storm – when your food stores have turned up rotten, and all your men are drunk on grog poured into empty bellies to quiet the pangs, and the lines have been poorly lashed by fainting fog-headed men, and the steersman collapses in a swoon and heels the boat crosswise to the waves just as the wind tears loose the moorings and leaves the sails flapping and the ship out of control – even as the cry of “Fire!” issues from the galley. That is the life of a ship’s captain. But with one difference from my depiction: generally the threats a captain faces are invisible and unknowable before they strike.

Here I had a group of men, three of them my own officers, who saw fit to defy my orders even after they joined their voices in affirmation of my right to command. Four men who were such blithering, vacuous idiots that they apparently did not understand the danger of piling more risk onto the perils we already face, who sought to prod the sleeping animal whose den we had invaded, and whose nature we could not discern: was it, perhaps, merely an aged and toothless dog, who would grumble at our violation of its rest and then turn to sleep once more? Or was it a savage bear with a sore tooth, awakening ravenous from a winter’s sleep, which would prove the destruction of us all? In less poetic terms: would a raid on a local establishment spur the far-flung and isolated colonials to flee our wrath, surrendering to our dominant wills if caught? Or would it break the dam and release a flood of heavily-armed soldiers on us? We did not know, and yet those men – my men, my officers, my own cousin, men whom I trusted to bear responsibility with probity and wisdom and fortitude – those men chose to take that risk for us all, and prod yon sleeping beast.

While our ship, our greatest weapon and only means of escape, lay mortally wounded on the sand.

And they did this all for grog.

And – most immediate – someone allowed them to go.

I strode through the Palace with Lynch at my heels, to the landward portico. The two men on watch – Shane MacManus and Raymond Fitzpatrick, a man whose loyalty I questioned and another whose witlessness, unfortunately, I did not – took their ease in two of the woven-cloth chairs that had previously stood on the seaward pavilion, but now stood in shaded places somewhat near the front door, and somewhat within reasonable view of any approaching enemies.

Perhaps I misspoke, before; perhaps the essence of captainhood is this: when your subordinates, in everything they do from sleep to eat to work to watch to fight to shit, are incessantly toeing the line of indolence and insubordination, but never quite far enough over it to deserve chastisement. A captain is ever left with two unpalatable choices: berate and punish those who have done very little that is wrong, and be known as a tyrant and martinet, or allow standards to slacken lower and lower until doom is as assured as the captain’s reputation for laxity. After all, these men were at their stations, and they were awake and unintoxicated, and they faced the road. Could I really begrudge them a comfortable seat in this tedious duty?

At the moment: a thousand times yes. “AVAST!” I roared as I came through the door and espied their lazy carcasses. “STAND AND REPORT, YE IDLE SWINE!” The two leapt from their chairs with satisfying alacrity, MacManus with a charged musket in his hands and Fitzpatrick sending his chair flying all a-tangle with the vigor of his upright leap. MacManus, seeing no immediate threat but my own humble self, turned and snapped off a crisp salute, knuckles to brow. “Nothin’ to report, Captain, sir!” he said, his words brusque and his stare blank. MacManus had served in the Royal Navy and was no stranger to surprise inspections from angry officers. Fitzpatrick shook his head to confirm MacManus’s negative reply.

I stepped close, pressing my face within inches of MacManus’s. “Where are O’Flaherty and Burke, Shane? Where is Carter? And Moran?”

He blinked and reddened, slightly, though it may have been the heat. “They . . . they left, sir. Half a turn gone, now, fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d say.”

I stepped closer, forcing him back on his heels. “And you didn’t stop them?”

He frowned. “No, Captain. By what authority would I stop the Quartermaster goin’ where he likes, sir?”

By the authority of your own brain, were it not as shriveled and worm-eaten as his!” I snarled, pointing at the slack-jawed Fitzpatrick.

MacManus’s flush deepened. Definitely not the heat. Not the sun’s heat, at least. “They claimed to be acting under orders, sir. I had no orders to hold or question or countermand their leavin’. Captain.”

Damn it all, he was right. I should have guessed that this was a possibility, and I should have expressly forbidden their departure, or any others’. I can only say in my defense that I had been too preoccupied with the storm and the flapping sails to also fight the galley-fire below – the fire named O’Flaherty. And “grog.”

But MacManus was not free of sin, here. I stepped back and stared at him some more, before saying quietly, “Why did I not receive a report of their leaving?”

MacManus paled even faster than he had reddened. “I – I thought you knew, Captain. They said you had ordered them.” He trailed off without any word from me. He knew better than that. On a ship, any ship, anything and all things must be reported up the chain of command. Always. All commands, all shouts of warning, even simple declarations of fact, are repeated again and again. Too much depends on men doing the right thing at the right moment, and on the officers knowing the right thing to do and the right moment to do it. If I am told by my Sailing Master that the wind is turning, and I give the order to come about, then the Master repeats it for clarity, and then tells the same to the steersman. The steersman says, “Aye, coming about, sir,” and shouts it to the Bosun. The Bosun, who must make the men reorient the sails as we change course, cries out, “Coming about!” And the men, to acknowledge the order and verify that it was the correct order, all shout, “Coming about!” Then the ship begins to turn. Not before.

MacManus should have reported the departure. The reason he hadn’t was clear to me: he knew I’d have stopped them, and he hadn’t wanted them stopped before they accomplished this errand. It was most likely the siren call of the grog which had whelmed his thoughts and suborned him from doing his duty.

I merely waited until he dropped his gaze, and then I began issuing new orders. “We will fortify this door, now. You two will dig a trench and build a breastworks with the earth, to either side of the palace. Take tools from the barn-shed if there be any. And if not, use your bloody hands.”

I watched them salute and trot off to the barn-shed; I told Lynch off to stand watch for now, and he nodded. Should have had him there in the first place, curse me for a trusting fool.

As I came back through the doorway into the entry hall, I encountered once more another unwelcome complication: our new carpenter, Shluxer. He stood, cowed but trying nonetheless to catch glimpses of the goings-on from where he was, confronted and halted from going any further by a surly and silent Owen MacTeigue. I clapped my cousin gratefully on the shoulder, and he nodded and relaxed – but he did not leave.

“I regret, Master Shluxer, that the realization of our partnership must be postponed. I trust that my assurances of your future enrichment will prove sufficient for the nonce, and I would also ask that you endeavor to keep our presence here a secret, moot as the request may be.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, still craning his neck to see around my and out the front door.

“Some of my men have gone to beard the lion in his den. We must prepare to face the wrath.” I turned to MacTeigue. “Go find two of the men who brought him here, and have them escort Master Shluxer home. Then –”

Shluxer interrupted me. “They left on foot? Why don’t you just go after them?”

I turned to him with raised brow and lowered patience. “Because they left twenty minutes ago. They would reach their destination before we caught them, even at a dead run.”

He stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending, I thought – and how amazed I was that he couldn’t grasp such a simple problem! Then he said, “Why don’t you just take the car?”

Now I had to stare, uncomprehending. “Take the what?”

“The car.” He pointed out the door. “What is that, an Accord? It’s got balls, for a riceburner. It could catch them. You got the keys?”

I turned to see where he was pointing: it was the nearer of the two beast-wagons, the one that Juan and Ignacio Lopez had arrived in – the one which we had not shot. I turned back to Shluxer. “That thing could catch them? Before they reached the Piggly-Wiggly?”

He snorted. “Sure. What are they going to do, grow wings and fly? It’s a car, dude. That thing could break a hundred, easy.”

I stared some more. Surely his language was English, I knew each individual word, but he made no sense to my ears. “Break a hundred what?” I asked him.

He looked at me as if I were the idiot. “M.P.H., dude.” And when this clearly offered me no help, he said, “Miles per hour?” as though questioning me, and vastly fatigued for doing so.

It took me a moment, but it started to dawn on me. “That thing,” I said, pointing, “that beast out there, could run one hundred miles – that’s two days good riding on a strong horse over adequate roads – in only one hour?”

He shrugged, palms up, and raised his eyebrows at me. “Duh. It’s a car?”

I merely stared.

His brows lowered. “You really don’t know what a car is, do you?”

Slowly I shook my head. I didn’t like to confess my ignorance, but a fool’s bluff would have been no improvement.

Shluxer’s hand darted out and flicked at the wall near him, as through brushing at a fly. Brilliant light burst forth from the ceiling, where shining round objects like enormous pearls hung; we had thought them merely idle decoration, but now they glowed as if they were tiny suns, or great lanterns encased in smooth white glass – but we saw no flame. And from whence had the spark come? MacTeigue and I both flinched away, our hands going to weapon hilts in our startlement.

“Jesus Christ,” Shluxer swore quietly. He brushed the wall again, and now I noticed a small rectangle with a peg of some kind sticking out of it where his hand touched; he moved the peg so it pointed down, and the light vanished, as quickly as it had come – startling MacTeigue and I anew. Shluxer snapped his fingers, and when I looked at him, he said, “Find the keys. I’ll drive.”

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Log #10: A Magic Window and Food from the Pig

Captain’s Log #10

Date: 27th of June

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Ominous

 

I can no longer trust O’Flaherty.

I have never warmed to the man; his introduction of the position of Quartermaster, a Caribbean invention with no place on a good Irish ship, and his near-instantaneous assumption of that position, were close enough to mutiny to have him strung to the yardarm and shot in the belly on many another ship. But I always knew that his intentions toward the ship and crew were only for their benefit, and his decisions, while often counter to my own conceits and predilections, and sometimes deserving of the name Rash, still they were ever reasonable.

Until now. Now I can only name him a fool and pray he hasn’t doomed us.

But I must needs tell all.

I must not fail to record Vaughn’s discovery. His investigative methods may deserve to be called foolish and rash as well as O’Flaherty does; I remain unconvinced that he had sufficient reason to go prodding about the magical implements of the Palace and its absent mistress, and as my orders expressly forbade any interaction with any unrecognizable object, Vaughn might be called mutinous as well. But there is nothing of ambition in that man – not for anything but knowledge, any road. If Vaughn crept up behind me on my poop deck and shot me in the back, I know he would have intended it as a scientific experiment: studying the trajectory of the ball, perhaps, or observing the natural reactions of a pirate captain upon being shot in the back. His goal would only be publication in his Royal Society, the approbation of Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke; he would offer me a share of that same recognition as recompense as I lay dying. All he thinks of is science and curiosity and discovery; his presence on this ship owes much to that singularity of purpose, and how it has blinded him to practical considerations in his past. But that is another tale.

This tale begins three turns of the glass after my two expeditions had set off: O’Gallows to the north seeking food, O’Flaherty south-west after lumber and carpenter. I was examining Moran’s gun emplacement – a nice piece of work, that; I gain more confidence in my cousin’s ability and foresight with each task I set him, and of course his loyalty has ever been beyond question – when Lynch came running along the strand, calling out for me with an excitement that bordered on hysteria. I saw at once that though there was some fear in his eyes and in the shivering of his youthful voice, wonder glowed in his smile, and so I ordered him to stop and take deep breaths until I was finished with Moran. Though I did hurry then, to compliment Moran on his work, and order more powder and shot carried out to his emplacement, and I did run back to the Palace with Lynch cleaving to my heels all the way.

As I came into the Palace, I was greeted with a fanfare, a flourish of trumpets fit for a king: as flattering as it was mysterious, if I may say. From whence did it come? We have no horns, nor men who know their playing. As I was about to call out to Vaughn for an explanation, my sight adjusted to the dim interior after the bright sunlight without, and I saw the surgeon, and behind him the reason for Lynch’s wonder.

The magic window was alight.

In it I saw an image of madness: it appeared to be grown men running around in their underclothes, which were as brightly colored as any noblewoman’s ball gown, chasing after a child’s ball, which they kicked, and hit with their foreheads and threw themselves on the ground after. The image kept changing so rapidly that I fast grew dizzy and had to look away, just as I heard a tremendous cheer as if the king had just stepped onto the field, perhaps wearing bright red smallclothes and kicking a ball.

I turned to Vaughn, who was rapt. “Vaughn,” I said, but he did not respond. “Vaughn,” I repeated louder. Nothing. With a crewman I should have struck him or shouted my loudest in his very ear – but my surgeon was a fellow ship’s officer, and more gentleman than all the rest of us. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “Llewellyn?” Then he turned to me.

He nodded slowly. “Yes, Captain.”

“How?” I asked, gesturing at the window, which now showed horses splashing through a mountain stream. He held up the flat, knobbed wand which I had seen in the hands of the sorceress. I grew somewhat irate.  “My orders were clear: nothing mysterious is to   be – “

Vaughn cut me off with an impatient gesture. I swallowed my words. If O’Flaherty’s insubordination and foolishness have been good at all, sure they have taught me patience and forbearance.

The Welshman held out the wand, and I saw there were perhaps three dozen knobbly protrusions, pearly gray projecting from the black wand. As I looked close, I saw that there were words written on the wand beside each protrusion, in white – words and numbers. Vaughn pointed to one knobbly bit at one extreme of the wand: On/Off, it said.

“I pressed that one. None other. Observe.” He pointed the wand at the window and mashed his finger on the protrusion.

The window went dark.

He pressed it again, and the window returned; now it showed a group of people eating something fried in oil, and laughing as they ate.

“It was too clearly labeled to do anything other than what it did. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“You don’t know that, Llewellyn. It could have brought a trap On, or raised an alarm. It could have turned off the very sun, for all you knew.”

He looked at me for a moment. “But it did not.”

As I began to speak again, the fanfare played once more, shattering my thoughts. I turned back to the window. The letters “BBC News” unfurled across the face of the glass, along with a strange sketch or perhaps a carving, a frieze or bas-relief of what might have been the world, but – then it was gone, and a man was telling me, “Welcome back.” He continued on before I could respond, and though he seemed to speak directly to me, his words descended rapidly into madness, nonsense. But as I turned to Vaughn for any clarification his sharp mind might offer me, he pointed wordlessly back to the window.

Over the man’s shoulder was a map, which after a moment I recognized: it was Ireland, and England there below it. It was home. What was the man saying? Something about Euro – perhaps Europa? Receding, or recessing, and austerity. And – was that “pounds?” British pounds?

Was he speaking of treasure? Perhaps a prophecy?

I opened my mouth to ask Vaughn’s opinion; when there was the snap of a flintlock, the crash of a pistol charge from behind us. The magic window coughed and spat fire, bright white like falling stars flashing across its face and out through the hole that appeared in the middle of it: a hole the size and shape of a pistol ball. The window went black and dead, small plumes of smoke floating up from its broken face.

Vaughn and I turned slowly to the door, from whence the shot had come.

O’Grady lowered his arm, his hand shaking. His eyes bulging from his reddened face, his teeth set in his lower lip, the corners of his mouth flecked with foam: he looked like a madman. I thought, Perhaps madness is why he fired a pistol at his captain’s back.

It was apparent that he intended no more than the destruction of the magic window, and so the pistol which had leapt into my hand went back into my sash. I stepped slow and calm to O’Grady; his eyes flicked back and forth between myself and the magic window he had shot. As I reached out and took the pistol from him, slipping it from his fingers without the slightest resistance, his attention focused on me. He shook his head, slowly.

“It is evil, Captain. Evil. ‘Tis Satan’s work, I’m sure. I’m sure! It must be! I be a good, God-fearin’ man, Captain, and I cannot abide it. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live – ‘”

I cut him off with a blow to his ear, followed by a ringing slap to the other cheek. I will not listen to hypocrites quoting from their holy book, citing scripture to their purpose. I will not hear that statement again, whether it is my father speaking of my mother, or one of my pirates speaking of this fey place. Never again.

O’Grady looked daggers at me for the insult to his honor, but a moment of my own stare wilted him like water poured over stiff canvas. I held my stare while his sank down past my chest, past my belt, down to the ground under my feet. I reached out and tapped him in the chest with his pistol’s barrel, so he would look at my face, and know what I said – the man reads lips. Then I spoke slowly, but quietly, as he could not hear me in any case. “Firing a gun behind your captain’s back may be seen as mutiny, Abram. I could have you hung for it.” I paused, but he said nothing – and so perhaps saved his miserable life, as I was not much in the mood for argument. “Perhaps I should have you hung.”

He shook his head slowly, his face pale but his jaw set. “It’s the Devil’s work, sir. You said it yourself when we arrived here, I know you did. We are in Hell, sir.” His eyes came back up to mine, and they were fierce once more. “It is a test, sir. A test. We must not use what is placed before us. We must not surrender to the illusions of the Tempter! Knowledge was what he offered Adam and Eve, sir! I – ” He faltered and his eyes dropped. “I would not have you fall, Captain.” He snorted a weak laugh. “You’re a good man, sir, despite your name.”

I shook my head. He wasn’t mad, it was the world that had gone mad around him, around us all. He was a good Catholic – which was counter to my own thoughts, my own beliefs, but I could not tell him to give up his God and his Church merely because my own faith followed a different path. How could I know that he wasn’t right, and I the damned fool? He thought he was protecting me.

But I couldn’t let him go without chastisement, or the next man to pull a trigger behind me would not be aiming over my shoulder. I raised his head again with a gesture. “Ten strokes,” I told him, and his jaw clenched. “I’ll lay them on you,” I said, and he relaxed and nodded.

We did it there, to save him the shame of being watched. Vaughn left the room in search of other, less obviously infernal, sources of information. O’Grady took down his shirt, after I retrieved a tarred end of rope, and I gave him ten solid lashes below his shoulderblades. I only drew blood with the last two, and only because no lashing is finished without blood. Then I clapped him on the shoulder, and brought him out to MacTeigue, who was supervising the scraping of the Grace’s keel. MacTeigue nodded at my order without blinking it, handed O’Grady a chisel and told him off to a section of barnacled planking. I returned to the great room and awaited the next arrival. But would it be good news, or another step into madness? How long could we stay here before we all lost our senses?

Fortunately for my nerves, the next return was one of gladness, not madness: we heard a shouted hail from the landward side, and I raced to the front portal to stand beside the men on watch, all of us peering toward the road. O’Gallows came up the path, roaring a hearty greeting, which we returned, gladly. He was flanked by Carter and Sweeney; all three were sweated and red with heat and exertion, but they were hale and grinning for all that – and sweat washes off far easier than does blood, especially one’s own.

Each of them was towing a sort of metal cage on wheels, about the size of a deep wheelbarrow, perhaps a one-man handcart as are used to bring vegetables to market. And their carts were piled high with sacks and bags and boxes. Despite their red brows – and some trouble with the carts, which seemed poorly wheeled and stiff-axled – they raced up to the Palace with whoops and shouts of triumph and glad tidings.

They had brought us food. And such food as we had never seen: the largest, most succulent fruits, of the tree, the vine, and the earth; flour as white and fine as any that ever graced a king’s larder; sacks full of potatoes as large as a man’s fist, some as large as two fists – or one of Kelly’s – and meat, cut and red and dripping blood, that brought hunger roaring up from our throats, and had me roaring for O’Grady to drop his chisel and return to his proper station over the cookfires. He had built a galley on the terrace by the waterpool: he had a half-dozen small cookfires set in rings of stones he had gathered from the beach and the gardens, and over each was suspended one of the fine, shining pots he had found in the Palace’s kitchen. Our own great black cookpot, O’Grady’s favored cooking utensil, was set atop another of the Palace’s devices, though this one was not so unfamiliar: it was a firebox, a low metal frame which could be dragged from one space to another. It was made to hold charcoal or wood in a central space surrounded by a wide metal shelf for setting pots on or warming one’s feet, and thus one could have a fire in a place that wasn’t built for it, as a wooden floor or even the deck of a ship – though an open flame as this was would be sheer folly aboard. The night before, as the men had held their revels around a bonfire on the beach, as proper pirates should, O’Flaherty and I had joined O’Grady at the firebox, commandeering two of the strange Palace chairs – they seemed to be made of metal frames, with woven cloth strips forming the back and seat, but were far too light and more comfortable than any chair my posterior has experienced heretofore – and warming our feet and our wine mugs on the metal shelf. It made for a fine, if a quiet, celebration.

And speaking of celebration, there was one conspicuous absence from the bounty which O’Gallows had retrieved. “Had they no spirits?” I asked him, once the lack had been noted and bewailed by the men as they unloaded the carts under O’Grady’s direction.

Ian shook his head. “No, they had shelves of the stuff, wine and ale and whiskey, shelves a full five paces long and an arm deep – stacked three high. “Twas enough for a full voyage and a happy crew the whole way. But the proprietor was most adamant that we were not to have any – not a drop.” He scratched his head, then his beard; then he looked at his fingernails, his hands; then ran his palms over his vest front and his trews.

“What is it, man? Were ye hurt – are you checking for wounds?” I queried.

He shook his head again, frowning. “No. Tell me, Nate – do I seem over-filthy to you? Do I look the beggar?”

I stepped back and looked him over from bow to stern. “Well, I’ll say I’ve seen you cleaner than now, and closer-shaven. But I’ve seen ye a damn sight dirtier, too – and even then your rig is far too quality to be a beggar’s. Perhaps I’d mistake ye for a highwayman who stole the clothes, but you and the togs strike me as having been in the same dirt at the same time.” I looked him in the eye. “Why do ye ask?”

He hawked and spat, and accepted with grateful thanks a mug of clean water that Lynch handed him. After he’d drained the cool draught, he told me of their quest.

“We found the Piggly Wiggly easily enough – yon Dominicans gave a true bearing, and might have earned a small reward, aye?” I nodded, and he went on. “Once we made it to the town and the right street, we should have had trouble missing it: ’tis a building the size of a fort, or a good large meeting hall or church, painted white with a sign as tall as a man, shouting out ‘PIGGLY WIGGLY’ in bright red letters.” I started a laugh, and Ian grinned. “Aye, Nate – and not a pig in sight, not live nor dead.” He shrugged.

“We garnered many a stare on our way through town, though it were still early enough for the townsfolk to be about their breakfasts and suchlike, rather than out on the streets. I have not seen streets like those before: every one paved with hard stone, but not a cobble to be seen; it makes no sense at all. And the wagon-beasts – everywhere! All colors, all sizes, some honking like geese, some blowing foul-smelling smoke out their arses. I swear I heard music coming from a few, but it was never a song nor an instrument I could recognize, and I didn’t want to draw too much attention by staring and asking foolish questions, as Vaughn would.

“But there were signs naming the streets at every corner, and so we found our way, sure enough. I left Sweeney outside with the arms, so they’d know we meant no harm – I didn’t see a single sword nor flintlock on the way through town, not one, though aye, there were few people on the streets for the number of houses and structures. Carter and I went into the Pig – ’twas unguarded and unlocked – and we were hailed, right friendly, as we stood there with our jaws on the floor. Nate – ” he grabbed my arm, his eyes wide – “I swear to Christ and our two damned fathers that you’ve never seen nor heard of so much food in one place. What we have here isn’t a hundredth of it, not one tenth of one hundredth. That place could fill the holds of a dozen ships the size of the Grace, and still host a royal procession.

“Any road, we were greeted, as I said, and I asked to see the proprietor – called him the manager, the lad did who spoke to me. And he brought the man out, a wee bespectacled merchant with a fat belly and a bald head, just as you’d expect in a store with enough food for an army. He asked what he could do for us, and I showed him the jewels we had from the Palace, here – two fine rings with gemstones and a gold chain, ye recall, worth a hundred pieces of eight, easy. I offered to trade for meat and fruit, wheat and beans, salt, and rum, of course. I mentioned rum since that’s what O’Flaherty says they drink in these Caribbees, aye?

“But when I said that last, he looked up at me sharpish – he had been shaking his head slow, his face right befuddled. He looks me up and down, as you just did when I asked you to. And then he says – he had a strange accent, one I’ve never heard, a bit English but flatter and harder – he says, ‘I know what it’s like to be down on my luck. Did you steal these?’ Well, I looked properly offended, told him they were family heirlooms, meant to be worn by my sister at her wedding, but we’d just lost the lass to a fever and we were going to try our luck with a trading voyage, and needed supply. He weighed and measured me like a prize sheep at market, and then he nods and says, ‘I should send you to a pawn shop, but they’d cheat you worse than I ever could, and who knows where you’d spend cash money?'”

“What’s a pawn shop?” I interrupted him.

Ian shrugged. “I did not ask. So then he looked the gold over, and he says, ‘So does a thousand sound right for these?'”

I am sure my mouth dropped open. “A thousand pieces of eight, did he mean? Or copper pennies?”

Ian pointed at the piles of food. “Nate, there’s a hundredweight of that flour there. Have you ever seen finer? What would that cost, back home? My own mother would trade me for the bread that stuff will make, even in O’Grady’s hands. And the fruits? Here – eat this!”

One bite of the apple he handed me then, and I forgot that there were no spirits in the pile. Well, almost. “So why did ye not get the grog?”

Ian shrugged again. “The man refused when I asked. Said he’d see me fed, but would not put me in the gutter. ‘Tis why I asked if I look overmuch like a beggar. I thought it better at the time to keep my mouth shut and bring back the food. We can find liquor elsewhere – or we can go back to the Piggly Wiggly and be more impolite when we ask.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. “Ye did right, man, as ever. I always know I can trust ye.” I sighed then, and looked toward the road. “If only I could say the same for every man of the Grace.”

And as if I had wished it so, that was the moment O’Flaherty returned, bringing danger back with him, clutched tight in his fool’s hands. By the gods, if he’d been lads with me back in Ireland, not only would he have cheered me on through my ride on King Henry, but he would have demanded the next go, and called for my uncle to come watch. The stupid bastard.

What am I to do with him? What am I to do with what he brought back from Home Dee-Poe?

I wish Ian had gotten rum. I need a drink.

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