Posts Tagged With: House Lopez

Log 24: Clean and Clear

Captain’s Log

Date: 8th of July, 2011

Location: Redoubt at the Glass Palace

Conditions: Exhausted with hard work, but successful. Methinks things are clearer, now.

 

The Enchantress . . . is a pig.

I did not believe this position would be difficult; how much disorder could one person make? Especially one high-born woman? Now I know better.

The woman arises each morning, swims in her pond in smallclothes that would be indecent even under proper dress, and then, following her toilet (which includes still further bathing, as though she must wash off the first bath), scatters raiment like a bird shedding feathers in spring: clothing which I, as her maid, am expected to retrieve, launder, and stow in their proper cubbies in her closet. Though once that closet has been but briefly explored, it becomes instantaneously apparent why she is so indifferent to her attire as to cast it on the floor: she has more apparel than my entire village could wear, back home. And this material, strewn across the floor of the closet, and her chamber, and her bed, and the soft chairs in her chamber, and any other surface that can hold an article of dress, is not part of her attire for various occasions or functions, no: she considers it and discards it before she chooses her splendifery for the day. The apparel has not even been worn! Her maid, of course, is required to replace each piece in its proper place, neatly folded or rolled or hung or stretched, as the item warrants. It is more difficult, and time consuming, than stowing cargo in an undersized hold and lashing it tight for stormy seas.

Then there is the kitchen. Now, I am a pirate, an Irishman, and I have seen ship’s galleys that resemble the aftermath of a raging fire, sparked by a thunderstorm flooding rain, onto a battlefield churned muddy by boots and blood. But nonetheless: the Enchantress lay waste to that hearth to a degree unmatched by a score of filthy seamen. Egg shells and fruit peels, puddles of water and juice, crockery and glass containers and sliver utensils – ’twas a wasteland, a ruination, a shipwreck on a rocky shore. Which I must clean.

Two hours spent arranging women’s fripperies, another lost to hot water and rags, to crockery and kitchen scraps – I wish often for a good kitchen hound to dispose of the excess food bits properly – and then I can attend to the floors.

I have never been so happy to see a broom as I was on my first day in this role. I could not find it, at first, though Maid Flora had identified for me the antechamber where the implements of maidery were to be found; the broom, however, did not abide there, but rather stood in a corner of the large barn-shed, which I now know to be a garradge. Why did I search high and low for the broom, one might ask? Because at first I made the attempt with – the vacume. A machine risen straight from Hell, fashioned no doubt in the infernal forges of the iron city of Dis, forges sparked by the Devil’s infinite fiery hatred and fueled by the suffering souls of the damned; and that which they make there takes into itself every evil thought, every miserable suffering breath that wafts across its surface. That is the wellspring of that thrice-damned monster.

Maid Flora had instructed me to use the vacume to sweep the floors before mopping, and had shown me the beast in its den, which was the closet stocked with maid’s tools. She had pantomimed its use and pointed to me the lever that brought it awake, once it had been tethered – by something that may be a leash and may be a tail or similar appendage, I know not – to a certain hole in the wall, round with two thin vertical slots into which fit a pair of metal pieces on the appendage-leash. I did not understand how the thing was to remove dirt, but I had nodded that I understood her instructions, at least. And when the time came, I followed them: I moved its round, squat body out of the closet, uncoiled the leash and slotted it into the wall, and then I pressed the awakening lever, marked “ON.”

And then the beast roared. I was so startled I leapt back, striking the body with my foot and casting it away from me; the thick trunk-like appendage which one held when making use of the beast flipped about –and then it sought its prey. I know not if that thing be the bastard child of the Asiatic monster called an Oliphaunt, or if it be some strange hybrid of serpent and badger, but whatever it is, it is a predator, and it is hungry. It leapt and cavorted across the room, the end of its trunk-appendage roaring, a terrible inhalation drawing sundry bits into its maw where they were swallowed whole – a piece of paper and a pair of coins that had fallen when I leapt back and dashed them from the counter with my groping hand, and the cap for a jar of soap which I had opened in the closet, placing the cap in my pocket, from whence it now fell and was swallowed.

Then it came for me. I dodged to the side and kicked the body, hoping to stun or damage it, or perhaps, with luck, strike the awakening lever and put it back to sleep – though I confess I was too terrified to know what I was doing; that roar! That terrible roar! – but the action merely whipped the trunk-mouth around toward me again. It struck at my leg and attached itself, leech-like; its roar instantly grew more shrill, the keening of a hunting beast with its victim in its grasp. I shouted and struck at the trunk with my hands, but could not dislodge it, so strong was its grip on me. I could feel it pulling at my flesh through the cloth of my pantaloons, and I feared becoming envenomed and paralyzed and devoured at leisure, drawn slowly into that terrible, tiny maw. I grabbed at the body, lifted it over my head, and threw it across the great room with a shouted curse – and detached its tether from the wall, which killed the beast, or stunned it. Taking no chances, I drew my wheel-gun, which I have kept in my pocket at all times against an ambuscade by the Lions, and placed that monster in my sights. When it did not move, I used the handle of a mop held in my left hand to shove it before me into an empty closet in the room where we had imprisoned the Lopezes during our earliest acquaintance, my gun trained on its body the entire time lest it come awake once more and strike. In that closet, I swear, that horrid beastie will stay. I am well-satisfied with a proper broom. Even though that immobile rug makes it most difficult to sweep properly in the parlor. Who glues a rug to the floor like that, so that no one can sweep underneath? The Enchantress is most peculiar to me, and no less so is her abode.

It required all the hours remaining in the day to finish the floors, but I saw the job done properly: I holystoned the tile with fine white sand I brought in from the cove, and a scrub brush and bucket from the maid’s closet. Then I let it dry while I attempted to sweep the glued-rug rooms, which did not garner good results; and then I swept out the sand and swabbed the deck as Maid Flora had instructed me, using the sweet-smelling soap from the closet, even though its scent nearly overpowered me. Then the same treatment for the terrace, and I was feeling as though all was properly ship-shape and myself back in command – until the Enchantress came home.

“Daniel, did you hear?” she asked me as she strode quickly in her strange, precariously high-heeled shoes and her raiment that a Dublin whore would blush to wear.

“No, milady,” I replied, my eyes firmly fixed to the far wall, high above anything improper that might cross before my gaze, uncovered, and round and firm, and tanned by the sun.

“Huh – I thought Flora would have texted you, too, but whatever. Her house got shot up in a drive-by! Can you believe that?”

I could not understand it, and thus could not believe it – but I understood the operative words: Flora. House. Shot. “Was anyone hurt, milady?”

“I don’t think so – Flora didn’t say so, anyway. She said the neighbors called her and said a couple of gangbanger cars came by last night and just pulled up in front and unloaded. There’s a lot of damage. I asked her if she called the police or anything, but she said no – but undocumented workers don’t usually call the cops, do they? She said it was all right, that I shouldn’t worry about the house, that they’d take care of anything when they came back. She just said I should talk to you about it. Do you know Flora’s family? Are you going to check on the house for them?”

I nodded, after a moment spent unclenching my jaw, which had tautened with rage. “Yes, milady. I know her family, and her home, well.

“I will take care of it.”

***

 

The bike took me to the vicinity of House Lopez, and then I chained it and proceeded cautiously on foot. From thirty paces away I could see an hundred holes blasted in the wooden walls of the home, and broken glass in all the windows; I could also see the head of a man on watch in a beast-wagon just beyond the Lopez property line, his gaze roving the street most haphazardly, the loud rhythmic chanting I remembered from the Lions’ den emerging from the wagon, though again, I could see no musicians nor ritualizers. I shook my head: the man on watch was using neither his ears nor his eyes to advantage; any proper bosun would have had that man on his knees with a scrub brush, if not lashed to the mast and bleeding from his back, if he kept a watch that slipshod at sea – assuming his incompetence and imbecility did not have the vessel smashed on unseen rocks, that is.

I had taken the liberty of borrowing a length of slender but strong rope from the Enchantress’s garradge – I had noted it when seeking a broom, and a sailor never passes up good cordage – and as night fell and I observed the man’s miserable habits, I plotted my strategy. I did not know the man on watch, but he was without doubt one of my foes – a suspicion easily confirmed by the shirt he wore, a bright blue color much the same hue as the headscarves I had seen before – and I knew the man had most likely pulled a trigger and blown a hole in the home of my friends. In their home. Where dwelt their mother, and the boy Alejandro. Had he known the family Lopez was far gone when he aimed, when he fired? I doubted it.

I would ask him.

I crept up behind his beast-wagon, my wheel-gun in my hand, and around to the side opposite his post. Then I lay on one shoulder, my legs under me so I could move with rapidity if he did so, and, reaching under the belly of the beast, I aimed and fired a shot at the house. This brought a most satisfying response from the man, who cried out like a small child startled awake by nightmare and then leapt and stumbled out of his wagon, cursing and brandishing a pistola of his own. He had heard the shot strike the house, had heard the blast somewhere close, but he knew not where – and in his confusion, he simply ran to the house and stood staring, dumbly. It was child’s play to come up from behind and lay him out with a blow to the back of his head. A glance up and down the street showed that we two were alone; I took up his pistola, dealt him a blow or two with my heel – for the honor of Lopez – and then trussed his arms and legs. I dragged him to the small meadow behind House Lopez, where we might converse unseen by people on the street, hidden as the meadow was behind a wooden fence. I left him under a tree, and then opened the heavy garradge door to gain entry to the house and gather the other materials I required. Then I prepared him and waited for him to awaken so we could begin.

He woke soon after, and when he did, I hauled away on the rope which I had tied to his thumbs; he was soon standing on his toes, his eyes wide, his head shaking – any shouts silenced as I had bound his mouth shut, at least for the nonce. I tied off the rope on the fence, and then I aimed my wheel-gun at his left eye, and waited there until his entire body was shaking and the beads of sweat ran down his face. He had tried to let his weight back down onto his heels, and had learned what it meant to be strung up by one’s thumbs – and then he had raised up onto his toes once more, to save his thumbs from being pulled from the socket, or off entirely. This same fate had maimed my traitorous former bosun, Ned Burke, when the tribe of maroons he had been preying upon after escaping into the jungle of Hispaniola from his indenture had captured him and strung him up by his thumbs, leaving him hanging until, after days, he had – fallen down.

I put the barrel of the pistol into the hollow of my man’s throat. “Do not shout,” I said quietly. He nodded. I removed his gag.

“Please, man,” he began, but a thrust of the gun barrel into his throat stopped the words there.

“Did you fire at that house?” I asked, pointing.

I saw the lie begin in his eyes, but he saw me recognize it, and he swallowed it untold. He nodded instead.

I laughed, darkly. “So have I. Only their cowardly surrender kept me from putting a shot into the brothers themselves, when first they came against me.” I turned the smile into a snarl, and pressed close, bruising his throat with the pistol. “You insult me when you presume that these dirt-faced peasants are my allies. My – friends. How dare you think that this, this filthy scum could be the bait in a trap for me. For me!” A blow to his nose with the pistol’s butt set the claret flowing down, and surprised him enough to fall back off of his toes – stretching his thumbs agonizingly, though as of yet his hands stayed whole. He opened his mouth to scream, and I shoved the pistol into it.

“Be. Silent.” I ordered him. He followed orders. When he recovered his balance and eased the pressure on his thumbs, I removed the pistol’s barrel and asked him my questions.

“How many of you are there?”

“Nine – eighteen. Eighteen since Francisco got fucked up in that alley.”

“And your leader – is it Agro?”

“Yeah. Man, let me down, man – shit!”

“Agro is the one I stabbed in the hand at the market, yes?”

“Yeah, man, he fucking pissed at you, essay.” (Perhaps the last word was the letters S.A., but that holds no clearer meaning for me.)

“Do you know who I am?”

“Naw, man, we call you the Sparrow, after Johnny Depp, you know? Fuck, this fuckin’ hurts, essay!”

I grabbed his chin, pressed the barrel of the gun against his broken nose, which brought a shudder and a groan. “My name is Damnation Kane. Remember it. Tell the others.

“And watch your step.” I lowered my aim and fired into the ground. The shot struck his pistola, and scattered sparks, which ignited the circle of rum-soaked rags with gunpowder sprinkled o’er (gunpowder gathered from the cartridges that had been in the gun) that lay under the tree’s limb from which his rope descended. I pulled on his rope until his feet lifted free of the ground, and he swung directly over the flames, which tickled at his toes and his heels, even up to his ankles, but no higher. I tied it off there, and then dealt him a mighty blow to the belly, setting him swinging like a pendulum and silencing his cries for a time. I left him there and walked to the street and his beast-wagon. I splashed it with the remainder of the rum, and fired one more shot, my pistol laid flat on the puddle of liquor, which ignited and began to burn merrily.

I went back to the bike and rode to my redoubt at the Palace, confident that my message would be received. I would be alert for the response, whatever it may be.

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Log 23: To Safety. To War.

 

Maid Flora and I rode her beast-wagon back to the House of Lopez – now become the Infirmary of Lopez. The moment we arrived, she dashed within to check on her brothers; I followed more slowly to allow them some time as an uninterrupted family. I walked the perimeter of the house, seeking any enemy, any watchful eye that might be seeking me – that might have used those men as bait to draw me out, those men who were beaten but, strangely, not killed, not dropped in a river or a marsh to be seen no more outside of Hades; no, these men had been left alive in the street, and I could not but think this was done to a purpose. For the moment, I saw nothing – but I would need to take steps to ensure that the only traps sprung from here onward would be those I set.

I went within and found young Alejandro standing guard bravely, a wooden club in his hands and a look of grim determination on his face which almost, but not entirely, hid the terror in his eyes. I nodded to him, and he squared his shoulders, stood straighter, nodded back to me. “Be steadfast,” I said, and barely bit back the “lad” that wanted to follow these words trippingly from my tongue; but this would not have improved his confidence. I went on: “Your family needs you to protect them, now. Keep a weather eye and a ready shout, should ye see aught of the foe. Aye?”

He nodded, a bit of color returning to his face. It does wonders for a young man when he is treated as if the “man” matters more than the “young.” I was glad to see him move purposefully to the front window, where his eyes and shout might do more good than would the club in his small hands. Ye gods, the thing was half his height – what sort of combat weapon was that? A bludgeon should rarely be more than a belaying pin in length, else it is too slow and unwieldy to make good use. I noted the words “Louisville Slugger” on the smooth, polished wood, but it meant nothing to me. I moved past him and along the corridor to the sickroom.

Both men were asleep, and obviously should remain so. Were that not true, I fear the profanity I would have uttered upon seeing their wounds would have shamed the sun behind the clouds, chased the moon out of the sky, and brought a blush to every tender, innocent cheek for miles around. In silence, but with those terrible curses ringing in my head, I swore on my mother, my ship, and my own honor to avenge every hurt on these two innocent men.

Then I must leave that sorry sight before my anger overflowed and whelmed my sense. I have never sat easily when an innocent is harmed. What man could? But the cruelty and savagery exercised on these two men – these two faultless, guiltless men – was not only beyond what I might perchance accept done to a child-beating English rapist, but far worse, ’twas all done because of me. ‘Twas done to them because those filthy mongrels could not reach me. Those wounds: they are my wounds.

I suppose I made some sound in my retreat, or perhaps his injuries kept him from resting easy, but Ignacio stirred then and woke. I confess I would fain have slunk away, too craven to face his accusing eyes, but as I could not bear to increase my shame, I stepped to the side of the low bed and knelt, gently taking up his hand in mine. When his gaze cleared as his mind rose from the realm of sleep, he recognized me. “It didn’t work,” he said, and I could not but smile – though keeping that smile longer than an instant was impossible as I looked on his eye swollen shut and split at the brow, on his nose bent to the side, on the broken teeth barely visible past his torn and bloody lips.

“Nay, it did not. My fault, lad. I overestimated them, thinking them human.” I tried to chuckle as if this were witticism rather than barren truth, but not much more than a wheeze emerged from my tightened throat. Still, Ignacio smiled at the corners of his mouth, and squeezed my hand.

“They didn’t – we didn’t have a chance,” he said, the words slurred by his accent and injuries so I could barely comprehend – but damn me if I would ask him to repeat himself. “We got there, and showed them the – ‘Lito, and Juan started to say we were sorry. But Agro hit him and he fell, and then he kicked him in the head – and then the others got me. And I try to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t do it,’ I try to say, ‘Please –’ But they no listen. Then I no can talk or do nothing. They kick me until it all go black.” He pulled his hand away from mine, turned his face to the window beside him and away from me.

“Do you remember the faces? Any of the ones who kicked you?” For the bloody rage which I felt building in me would best be unleashed on those who shattered this boy’s teeth. Fortunately, he nodded.

“Two of them at the market yesterday – the tall one and the one Mama hit.”

“I remember them,” I told him.

Then his gaze went flat. “Si – and they remember you. Now they will find you and kill you, and then they will kill all of us, too, so we no talk to la policia.” (I had learned in my time here that la policia were a sort of civil guard who sought out and apprehended malefactors. I had also learned – with absolutely no surprise – that these men could not be trusted, that they could be bribed, or swayed by their own loves or hatreds, and that they sometimes did more harm to innocents than to the rogues they hunted.)

I stood then and settled my weapons in my sash. “No, my friend. They will not kill any of us. And they will not need to find me.” I leaned down and placed a hand – gently – on his shoulder. He turned to look at me with his good eye.

“I will find them.”

***

When I emerged, I sought out Mistress Lopez and Maid Flora for a council of war. The first task must be to move this poor family past the horizon and out of the range of my enemies, for the span of time whilst I am working to destroy them all. This was, therefore, the first point of contention: Maid Flora did not want her brothers moved, and Mistress Lopez would not surrender a foot of ground to such scalawags. I did manage to convince them that great danger awaited both of the brothers here and now – far greater than the danger of moving them. My assurance that I would swiftly distract the Lions’ cretinous, half-formed thoughts from the House of Lopez was sufficient to overcome Mistress Lopez. A happy chance, as I could not assure her that I would protect her home, nor that no harm would come to it once they left; I thought it highly likely that the Lions, seeking me, would burn this place to the ground.

But no harm would come to the family: on that I was determined. We came to the knowledge that another city to the north, one Orrlandoh, had friends the family could visit, as well as a place called Dizz Knee Whirled which Alejandro would gladly see. The inevitable monetary objections were quickly overcome when I pressed the eleven remaining gold coins from the seam of my vest on Mistress Lopez, accepting no argument nor polite refusal. These refusals fell away when I told them to seek a surgeon for the two brothers; this use of my money seemed fitting to them – as indeed it was, as was the conversion of any excess into funds for the maintenance of these kind folk.

The only concern that remained was Maid Flora’s position at the Glass Palace, which she would not surrender and was most loath to abandon. But we arrived at a solution for that, as well.

I straightened my new shirt and dusted off my new breeches, as we stood at the door, waiting for our knock to be answered. Maid Flora smiled anxiously at me and patted a stray hair into place. The door opened, and there stood the Enchantress herself.

Maid Flora explained, as clearly as she was able, that she would need to leave her post for at least one sevenday, perhaps two, in order to nurse her sick brothers. She offered an alternate servant in her place: myself, whom she introduced as Daniel Kane.

The Enchantress eyed me most suspiciously. “You’re supposed to be my maid?”

I made a passable leg, knuckling my brow in manner I hoped fitting. “Milady, I would not ask you to open your home to a man without scrap of introduction or recommendation. I would never ask you to trust a stranger to care for your environs and property without any knowledge of his fitness for the task. I ask only that you continue to trust in the good heart and wise discernment of your servant Flora, who verily doth recommend myself and my skills to you – and that you trust, as well, your own natural womanly intuition, which surely tells you that I mean your kind person naught but comfort and joy, as I most sincerely do.” I crafted my winningest smile for her, then.

She did look askance at me when I bowed: then when I spoke was she taken aback. At the last, she began to smile. When I finished with the matching expression on my own physiognomy, I hoped it was not too bold of me to presume my place at the Palace was assured.

It was not. The Enchantress looked me over from stem to stern, and then said, “Well, you’ll certainly be decorative to have around the house, won’t you?”

Thus did I become a domestic.

We returned to the House of Lopez, and Maid Flora joined her mother in preparing for their journey to Orr Land-Oh – which preparations gave the appearance of twin typhoons, two waterspouts circling through the house, sucking up and belching out clothing and necessaries and ephemera in staggering quantities and with much sound and fury. I, in the meantime, asked for and received the assistance of young Alejandro. I faced one more impediment: though the Lions’ den, a ramshackle house and garradge which the rogues claimed for their base of operations, stood near the House of Lopez, the Glass Palace was some ten miles away – too far to walk back and forth while in pursuit of justice. But I would never master the beast-wagon in time, nor did I wish to make the attempt. Fortunately, there was another solution: a thing called a “bike,” a staggeringly uncomfortable seat and a strange handle atop a pair of wagon wheels, which one moves forward with a sort of walking motion on two levers called “petals,” though they resemble flowers not at all. Over the course of that afternoon, Alejandro taught me to ride it; I found that my experiences riding horses, combined with my years of keeping myself upright aboard ships in stormy and wanton seas, made it fairly simple to master the balance needed to keep the bike upright. Moving my feet on the petals but not actually walking was far more difficult, but I persevered, and found success.

I asked for and received detailed instructions for locating the den of the rapscallions from Ignacio, and then I bid the Lopezes a fond and heartfelt farewell, and sent them off. Then I mounted the bike I had the loan of from Ignacio, and set off to work.

The Lions’ den itself was simplicity to identify: it was the shabbiest, most dilapidated house on an otherwise tidy and ship-shape little road. I secured the bike nearby with chain and a most ingenious little lock-and-key provided by Ignacio, and then I walked the streets all around the den, observing the movement of the local villagers, the paths by which one could approach the den, both openly and surreptitiously, the local tavern and shops where the Lions surely procured their necessaries. Then I returned and found myself a sheltered place from which I could observe the house and those coming and going.

Their time was spent largely in the garradge and on a sort of open porch appended to the front of the house. The entire time I watched, which comprised several hours, I could hear a strange rhythmic chanting over a drumbeat and an assortment of weird and eldritch noises, shrieks and whistles and thrums and others I could not begin to name. I never saw the ones doing the chanting, so I had to presume that there were people inside the house performing weird incantations or rituals; though strangely, no one seemed to react or even acknowledge the noise other than occasionally bobbing their heads up and down with the drums, perhaps agreeing or approving with what they heard. As for the words, they were all Greek to me. The garradge and the paved area before it was glutted with beast-wagons and various associated equippage; they had the maw of one beast propped open and several of them spent much time with their heads thrust deep inside the gullet. I wondered if they were feeding it, or killing it? I know not.

Several of them took their ease on the porch for the entire afternoon and evening; they talked and laughed and drank and smoked, and shouted at each other and at the passersby. I did note that several passersby approached the men seated on the porch, talked to them briefly and then made some kind of quick exchange, but I could not see what was given nor received. The visitors always left quickly, after. I know not the meaning but I wonder of the possibilities regarding my intentions.

Once dusk fell, they began to depart, mostly in groups in the various beast-wagons drawn up by the garradge. The house did not empty, and the lights that shone through the windows implied that it would not – some number of Lions must abide there, and the others gather round during their idle days.

And then, near the end of the evening, a happy chance: one of my known and sworn enemies, the tall ruffian from the donnybrook at the market – that same one whose pantaloons I had untethered, and whom Ignacio had identified as one of his tormentors – departed on foot and in my direction. I drew back and watched him pass, and then I set off in pursuit, keeping my distance.

He headed toward the row of shops I had observed in my explorations, perhaps meaning to visit the tavern close by; and in the dark alley behind the shops, I saw my chance. I sped my pace, approaching closer – and then, only a few paces from where I meant to strike, the rogue heard my step and turned. His eyes widened in recognition even as I leapt forward, hands outthrust to grapple and choke him. He leapt back from me, hands reaching to his belt for his pistola – and he stumbled over a pile of refuse on the ground, trash brought down by trash. I was on him before he recovered, and struck once, twice, thrice, once into the hollow under his right arm to stop him using his weapon on me, and then to the throat and last to the temple, which incapacitated him.

I took his pistola – ‘Struth, these dogs do grant a veritable armory unto me! – and dragged and shoved him, groaning and coughing, into the deeper darkness of the alley, where none would disturb us. I found there a large metal box, on wheels, which reeked of filth; apparently a receptacle for rubbish and kitchen leavings. I observed that it had short metal poles, like spars, outthrust from the uppermost corners on one side – and that these were very nearly the same distance, one from the other, as my foe’s widespread hands.

Perfect.

I introduced his brow to the metal box – twice, as the first meeting did not make a sufficient impression – and then drew my boot knife. I removed the rogue’s shirt by means of the blade, and cut the cloth into two long pieces. Then I tied his wrists to the two poles, with his face pressed against his new and odiferous acquaintance, and his bare back presented to me.

How I wished then for a cat-o-nine-tails, or even a tarred rope end or cane, but alas, I had naught of the kind; not even my sword, which I had left with my servant’s clothes in a sea-bag borrowed from the Lopezes and now concealed in the shrubbery outside their house. The flat of the blade would have sufficed, though I would not want to sully my new-polished blade with this cur’s flesh.

Fortune provided, however, and I observed a number of wooden platforms stacked on the ground, perhaps something meant to display goods at market, though they were rough-made and dirty. They might be used as on a ship, where we place bags of flour and salt and the like on raised wooden platforms to ensure that seawater does not ruin the dry goods. Any road, they were constructed of a wooden framework to which were nailed wooden laths – and those would do just fine. I broke one free and swung it through the air to get its feel.

My man began to regain his wits, then, and some amount of spluttering and cursing and threats emerged – the last rather laughable, considering our relative circumstances. He was still too stunned to test his bonds, though I would trust my knots against his outstretched arms for as long as I needed him held; still, ’twas time to be getting on. I took a moment to remove his headscarf, from which I fashioned a gag against his impending cries.

Then I pronounced his sentence. “For every mark you left, with your coward’s boots, on Ignacio Lopez, you will bleed. And another stripe for every mark your cursed mates left on Juan Lopez, too. We will set the number of lashes, then, at one hundred.”

He grunted in surprise when I began.

He was screaming against the gag when I had to replace my lath, which broke after thirty.

He was unconscious before sixty.

He received the full number, nonetheless.

I left him there tied to the metal box with his back awash in blood, for his mates to find. I retrieved the bike, and then my seabag, and then I rode to the Glass Palace. I crept beyond the darkened house to the strand and my redoubt, where I have kindled a small fire on the seaward side, eaten the bread and cheese from House Lopez that I had in my bag, and now I complete this log. Now to bed: and I shall sleep well.

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Log 20: To Arms

Captain’s Log

Date: 5th of July, 2011

Location: Miami, Florida. The home of the Family Lopez.

Conditions: Marooned, but regaining my land legs.

 

I awoke in my garradge feeling much improved of body, this morn. I emerged to greet mine hosts, and found that Maid Flora’s brother Alejandro, a lad of only ten summers and the youngest child of Mistress Clara Lopez, was the sole Lopez yet returned from the Elysian fields of slumber. Alejandro was enraptured by the images on their magic window. This was much like the magic window which Vaughn had shown me at the Palace, before that thrice-damned sanctimonious hypocritical poisoner O’Grady had smashed it, only this window was smaller; I sat down beside him to attempt to learn what I could from this ever-mysterious oracle. The lad quite sensibly was stretched prostrate across a thin rug on the tiled floor; the reclining couches in this house, like those at the Palace, are utterly absurd in their sybaritic decadence; I find them too comfortable for comfort. I think no one but a hedonistic nobleman of old Rome – nothing less than a new Caligula, a Nero – would need a seat so laughably soft. Why have a bench that does not support you, but rather swallows you into its pillowed embrace? I must note that if these sorts of engulfing pillow-thrones are commonplace, methinks the people of this time will prove easy pickings for a rough and ready pirate crew. One could storm and loot an entire house before the inhabitants even managed to raise themselves out of the depths of their chairs.

Though young Alejandro had sense in his choice of place, I soon found the magic window’s images far too lunatic and manic to observe. I tried asking the boy – who speaks a better English than his siblings or mother, and so has frequently served a turn as translator in my time here – for explanations, but beyond the knowledge that this was some depiction of a story (or perhaps a hero?) named Dragon Ball Zee, I was more frequently instructed to be quiet so as not to interrupt the beguiling madness behind the window. It soon made my head ache and swim at once, as though I had drained the foul dregs of a cask of new whiskey, and I excused myself to perform my morning ablutions.

This has not ceased to amaze me. Maid Flora kindly instructed me in the use of the washing-room (Ell Ban-yo, I believe is the Spanish), and I have learned from observation that these people bathe daily. The boy Alejandro, indeed, bathes even more frequently, being impelled to do so by Mistress Lopez whensoe’er the boy returns enmuddied by his games. This washing-room has the same incredible water-spouts as did the Palace; I cannot fathom where such a wealth of clean water is stored in this modest home. It has not rained since I arrived here, and I saw no aqueducts, and yet the well has not run dry, nor have the Lopezes evinced the slightest worry that it will do so. I have taken my lesson from them, and have made use of this unending water to clean my tarry hide as I have not done in months, as a single rinsing cannot accomplish. Maid Flora was kind enough to launder my togs, as well, offering me the underclothes of either Juan or Ignacio to cover my nakedness in the meantime – I did not ask which, owing to the intimacy of the clothing in question. I was forced to remain cloistered in the garradge for the sake of propriety; the thinness of the shirt and britches would have made any public appearance quite indecent. I was most gladdened to return to my proper clothing.

When I was finished cleansing my carcass, which was now returning to its former state of pinkness, I found that Maid Flora and Mistress Lopez had arisen and made a fine meal to break our fast; I made my best effort to be glad company to my kind hosts – especially as I have observed that their menfolk seem generally sullen at meals; Juan and Ignacio are habitually silent, or else spend the time at table staring at the magic window, observing the same strange ritual I saw with Vaughn, involving several men in colored smallclothes kicking and chasing a child’s ball across a grassy meadow. They named it foot-ball, which seems to me a childishly simple name – though it is a childish game, as well, so small wonder. This morning, neither brother was even present: Juan had not returned from his employment, and Ignacio had not risen from bed.

Allow me the indulgence of paying my hosts yet another compliment, in regards to the table they set, which is ever generous as well as sublimely sumptuous to the palate; so accustomed am I to sailor’s fare, salted and boiled and peppered meat and biscuit, with hunger as the only spice, that I fear I make quite the glutton of myself, though these ladies seem gladdened by my visible and audible appreciation. Once we were sated, Maid Flora prepared to leave for the Palace. Her brother Juan, who has employment at some sort of tavern, owned by one MacDonald, returned then, his master requiring his services in the dark hours of the night – which makes me wonder at the sort of base, lawless establishment this MacDonald runs, that he serves his customers when decent folk are a-bed (and, too, if I might find a decent mug of grog and a comely wench there for my own self; Juan seems to think not). Juan’s return roused Ignacio, and the ensuing conversation, held in Spanish, with the pertinent elements translated for me by Maid Flora, resulted in Ignacio and Mistress Lopez extending an invitation to myself to go to market with them, had I any need to make a purchase.

I had great need, though at first I could not communicate it. Apart from my boot knife with blade, though sharp, a mere handspan in length, I have been left utterly defenseless by those black-hearted scoundrels who stole my ship. The Lopez family nodded at the word pistola, though Juan and Ignacio exchanged a dark look when I spake it – but I could not bring them to understand either “sword” or “blade,” “rapier” nor “cutlass,” nor any other word I could manage. Finally I took up a cooking knife – a blade of goodly heft, I must say, though of course it has no fighting balance – and pantomimed a duel. The Spanish word is espada, it seems. More conversation followed, resulting in a question, delicately proffered, regarding any available funds; I showed them my ring, gold with a cabochon ruby inset, and they seemed relieved.

We departed in their wagon-beast and soon arrived at a shop where the proprietor bought and sold goods of every stripe and kind imaginable. Upon entry, I was dazzled by the display: there were ladies’ parasols and gentlemen’s canes, coats and hats and boots, jewelry and paintings, magic windows, musical instruments, and a thousand things I could not fathom. At Mistress Lopez’s urging, I offered the man my ruby ring; he gazed at it through some arcane eyepiece, and then he said, “Fifty bucks.” Before I could express my confusion – was he offering me fifty male deer in exchange for a single gemstone? How had he gathered so many? And what would I with such a prodigious herd? – Mistress Lopez exploded into violent Spanish, with much shouting and gesticulating, which the merchant returned in kind. I gathered, when I realized Mistress Lopez indicated a display of finger rings, which generally had smaller stones than mine or none at all, each ring sporting a small slip of paper reading 50 and 100 and 200 and 350 and the like, that the man’s first offer was offensively low. At the end of the haranguing, the man counted out five pieces of green-tinted paper, all numbered 100 and bearing a portrait of a distinguished gentleman with spectacles and white hair, and Mistress Lopez nodded in satisfaction and gestured that I should retrieve the paper and surrender my ring. I was still confused by the term “bucks,” as there were no deer represented nor named on the paper; as they seem to be named “dollars,” I will call them such here.

At Ignacio’s urging, I asked the man for a pistola, such apparently being within his purview, too. He walked me to another display, behind metal bars and a pane of fine, flawlessly clear glass, of a dozen or more weapons much like the strange one we had taken from the man MacManus shot at the Palace. Even as I hold one now, I am confused by the configuration, and the lack of a proper wooden stock, but the greatest puzzle of the weapons to me is their size! Like a child’s playthings, they are! And all without ramrod or lock of any kind, flint or wheel or even match. I asked about the largest, a piece of black iron still half the size of a proper pistola. The man looked askance at me, scratching at his large and bearded chin, and then asked, “You got a license?” My bewilderment answered his question, because he then asked, “You got any more cash?” On my returning precisely the same response again – namely a confused silence – he snorted and said, “You can’t afford that one.”

I was alerted by Mistress Lopez’s action, and I peered at the paper affixed to my choice. “It says 500, there. Is it not the same as these?” I waved my dollars at the man.

He narrowed his eyes. “What the hell else would it be? It ain’t goddamn pesos. But I gotta sell you a license, too, and that’ll cost ya 200 on top of the gun.”

That put the majority of the weapons here out of my reach. I considered haggling – or releasing the wrath of Mistress Lopez once more, who still looked daggers at the merchant, though he avoided her gaze most assiduously – but as I could not fathom this talk of licenses, I decided to take him at his word. I was not offended by his attempt to gain my ring at a tenth its worth; rather I felt some kinship. A proper pirate he would have made, I wot.

Thus I indicated a pistola which was labeled 200, and he gladly sold me that. I asked for the license he spoke of, but he gave me a look so laden with sardonic contempt that I at last grasped the nature of this license – that it was a bribe. There must be some law controlling the sale and ownership of weapons, here. Cromwell had done the same to my beloved Ireland, as the damned English had done to our Scotch cousins, too. I wondered if there were some vile tyrant with this land in his iron fist – though if that were the case, it seemed terribly foolhardy of this man to display forbidden weapons to all and sundry.

This world is a terrible confusion to me.

Any road, I returned four of the five green dollar-papers, and the merchant gave me the pistola. I hefted it – satisfyingly solid, albeit small – and then asked the man, “How does it work?”

Apparently I am a terrible confusion to this world, also.

We left the shop as unarmed as we came, for the merchant did not sell powder and shot – what he called Amm-owe – and thus I had naught but a boot knife and a small oddly-shaped club.

The company journeyed on to a place that brought me great comfort, owing to the familiarity of the sights, the sounds, the very air redolent of pasties and meat pies, sugared snacks and fruit, and ale, and mead, and wine – this, this was a proper market. Stalls in rows filled a great open square, with a multitude of voices raised: in negotiations, both friendly and pointed; in the joy of discovery, and in sorrow over broken dreams – as the price is revealed beyond the wanter’s means, as the customer walks away with hands empty and purse un-lightened. Merchants spread goods on blankets, across tables and chests or strung on lines between poles; some under tents and some under the open sky. Clothing sold beside fresh food beside tools beside objects I could not hope to identify, beside boots and sandals that would not have looked amiss at home, three centuries ago and thousands of miles away.

This was, bespoke a sign at the entrance, the South Miami Flea Market. I did ask why the market was named for pestiferous vermin, but could not make myself understood to my companions.

Ignacio quickly guided me to a large stall that sold goods to hunters: mock waterfowl, apparently for use as lures; bows and arrows of a sort I had not seen; game bags and boots, coats and hats, all in a shockingly ugly sort of mottled green-brown cloth that looked filthy and mud-caked even when clearly never worn. I presented my new small, odd club to the merchant and asked for amm-owe; the man looked, nodded, and said, “Thirty-eight.” He rummaged through some crates behind his table and presented me with a small square box; he lifted the fitted lid and showed me an array of small brass trinkets. When I did not react at all, he asked for my pistola, which I gave him; he opened it smoothly, pulled the brass trinkets from their rack – they are round and oblong, somewhat like smooth thimbles, or perhaps replicas of a large animal’s teeth – and placed them into holes in the pistola. They fit perfectly, as he showed me, and when I nodded, he put them back in the rack, gave me back my empty weapon, and traded me my last 100-dollar paper for the box of amm-owe and four new sheets of paper numbered 50, 10, 10, and 5. At my request he repeated the opening and loading of the pistola twice more until I saw the way of it.

We meandered through the rows, the sights and sounds easing knots in my viscera I had not known were there; there is a dis-ease in being in such a strange place that may not be immediately apparent even in one’s self, but which, when it be even slightly ameliorated, is replaced with a relief and a bliss that makes one nigh giddy. So a spring came back in my step, and before long, I found myself whistling and laughing aloud, as Mistress Lopez poked and frowned her way through goods and sundries, taking very little and leaving a string of sour-faced merchants in her wake.

Partway along our third row, we came across what I sought – or so I at first believed. It was a merchant – a prosperous one, with tent and cloth-covered table – who sold weapons, the kind of weapons I knew and longed for: blades. For the first time, when I espied the black scabbards and gleaming naked steel, I hastened forward alone, leaving my companions well behind me. The merchant was engrossed in conversation with a thin spotty-faced youth, and so I strode directly to the table of goods and clapped hands on the first likely-looking weapon: a rapier of moderate length with a simple guard.

To my disappointment. I did not even need to draw it from its sheath to know that it was a piece of work so shoddy as to hardly deserve the name “sword.” The steel was far too light, the blade clearly virgin and too dull to cut my fingertip, and the hilt rattled, so poorly was it affixed to the tang. A slip of paper attached to the hilt with string read “Captain Jack Sparrow: $125.” I dropped the sorry thing, pitying this Captain Sparrow had he ever possessed such a miserable blade, and took up another, this a sort of broadsword with a hand-and-a-half hilt – useful for heavy work.

But this was even worse. The grip was a leather slick to the touch even without the blood and sweat that soon enough coat one’s hands in any combat. I bared the blade to find that this one had apparently never even heard of a whetstone, so dull was its edge, and there was apparently no balance at all; it was no surprise that this one also showed not a nick, not a scratch, no evidence of use. This one bore a tag reading, “Aragorn: $180.” I made a noise of disgust and threw this miserable metal stick down on the table, where it rattled against the first.

“Hey! Careful with those!” the merchant called out.

“Why?” I retorted. “They seem entirely harmless.” He turned back to his companion, though he kept his gaze on me. Perhaps one of these odd-hilted pieces, which seem the favored and popular style here: a long, two-hand hilt, cloth-wrapped, with a round guard merely the size of a large coin – smaller than a man’s fist on the hilt, which, one would think, would defeat the point of a guard entire. I took one up, bared the blade – single edged and slightly curved, like a saber, but straighter than any saber I had seen, and with a triangular tip – and examined it. I was surprised to see that this had something of an edge, but – the steel. As an experiment, I laid the flat of the blade across one raised knee, and pressed, almost delicately.

The blade snapped.

“Hey!” the merchant – the blackguard – shouted again, now leaving his conversation to accost me, but I denied him the chance.

“How dare you, sir!” I shouted, and rammed the inch of broken blade affixed to the hilt into the table before me with force sufficient to bite into the wood. “How dare you sell weapons that would kill the wielder ere he ever had a chance to defend himself ‘gainst his foe!” I took the blade in hand and snapped it again, with not more force than the first time; I dropped the pieces of – it could not be genuine steel; was it tin? Perhaps painted wood? – on the ground and thrust my extended finger into his chest, surely doing more injury than I could have with a similar thrust of one of his blades. “I have seen shoddy workmanship before, sir, but this is beyond the pale! Is there no craft in these at all? Were they manufactured by trained dogs, sir? Are these toys for children, perhaps?” I punctuated my words with ever-stronger thrusts of my finger-rapier, first halting his froward motion and then forcing him back. “Or do you perhaps have an arrangement with a band of rogues, highwaymen who set upon your customers at your signal, assured that the man will be defenseless howsoever he believes otherwise?”

The blackguard, cowed by my righteous fury, blinked, and held up his hands placatingly. “No, no, they – they’re just for display. They’re replicas. You know? Lord of the rings? Pirates of the Caribbean?” This last phrase gave him pause, as he took in my piratical appearance, frilled shirt and vest and sash over loose pantaloons gathered into my high boots.

I scoffed at him. “A pirate would be gladder of a marlinspike or a belaying pin in fist rather than one of these. For myself, I would rather have my empty hand,” and here I lunged forward again and slapped him across the cheek with that same empty hand. And then I bid him good day, took up the arm of Mistress Lopez, who had approached the hurly-burly when she heard me shouting, and marched off with my dignity, but still no blade.

I found it at last among a jumble of swag – clearly the emptied contents of a traveling trunk or sea-chest – which included clothing, a bit of jewelry, a leather belt, some books and pens and paper and the like. The scabbard was beaten and scarred, as a scabbard should be, the blade was as well, but these were the scars of use. This was a proper saber, the blade perhaps two feet in length – a mounted man’s weapon, made for slashing rather than thrusting, yet capable of both, and light enough to parry well, while heavy enough to block a cutlass-slash. As I admired the blade, which had a serviceable hilt and a proper balance just beyond the guard, the merchant told me of its provenance. It had come from Cuba, he said, from the revolution; he told me it had belonged to a man allied with someone named Shay, a rebel against the tyrant who had ruled that land. The rebels had taken it from a wealthy landowner, vassal to the tyrant and oppressor of the people; the man had had it engraved to show its new ownership and purpose – the merchant indicated the words, still visible despite age and wear: on one side of the blade it read “Sangre,” on the other, “Muerte,” and on the hilt, “Libertad.” Blood, death, and – the third word needed no translation. I had my sword. The man asked 150 dollars, but gladly took my remaining 75 and one of the gold coins I carried in my boot, having plucked them from the lining of my vest earlier for this purpose. We shook hands, and I thrust the sheath through my sash: once again, I felt whole.

And none too soon, it chanced, for at that very moment, a voice called out “Ignacio! Hey, Nacho!” We three looked back the way we had come, and saw four young swaggerers approaching, all wearing something blue, a shirt or headscarf or shoes dyed the color, all with the grins of hunting cats who find a nest with helpless chicks inside. The one in the lead spoke again. “Hey, man – we was just coming to see you, puto.” I recognized the voice as the one shouting outside my garradge, the day Juan and Ignacio had been so exercised, and at that moment, I recognized the blue headscarf: it was the same color as the one worn by the man MacManus had killed, blood spilled on my orders, at the Glass Palace a week or more ago.

These were his friends. And they were looking to spill some blood, too. Ours.

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Log #19: Mutiny

Captain’s Log

Date: 4 July 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Betrayed, bereft, abandoned. Determined nonetheless.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shluxer.

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

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

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

My ship – my Grace – was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She said, “You no can stay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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