Posts Tagged With: Ireland

Log 18: Betrayal

Captain’s Log

Date: July 4, 2011

Location: Miami, Florida

Conditions: Back-stabbed. Marooned. Stranded. Heart-torn.

 

I was nine years old when my heart first broke. ‘Twas after I rode King Henry, the bull that I had been charged with keeping (along with keeping all our other animals) during my mother’s three-week absence in Dublin. When my mother finally returned and walked into Uncle Seamus’s house, where I lay with my leg broken and a thousand imagined torments piled up in my mind, a thousand possible punishments she could lay upon me for my crime – which seemed unforgivable, then, and only slightly less so now, when I understand how she felt – my tongue seemed to dry up in my mouth, my throat swelling shut with fear even as my eyes stood wide as church doors. I stared at her face, looking for a sign of how my doom would fall. I saw anger, there, and bitter disappointment – but most of all, I saw betrayal. She had trusted me, her only son, to care for her home and livestock in her absence; and not only had I failed, but I myself had been the instrument of her home’s destruction with my blind, foolish mischief. When I saw how deeply that betrayal of her trust had wounded her, I began to weep. I turned away, unable to look at her any more. I longed for her to kill me and end it all.

I hope that those who have betrayed me in this way, who have taken my only home, my only hope, away from me, may feel the same. A curse upon them all.

She came to my side where I lay on a bench, swaddled in blankets. She exposed my broken leg and examined the splint and the set of the injury; she felt my brow, turned my face to her and looked at my eyes, opened my mouth and examined my tongue. Then, without having spoken a word, she turned away and walked out. In the next room I heard her say, “We’ll leave before dawn. Put him in the wagon in the morning.”

Needless to say, this did not assuage my fears, nor my guilt. She couldn’t even stand to talk to me, not even to yell and rage and curse my stupidity. And we would be leaving? Where would we go? Was this the first stage of my own punishment? Dawn – because I faced execution like a common criminal? Was the instrument of my chastisement so prodigious, so awful, that we had to travel to reach it?

Was it a dungeon?

A torture chamber?

Would she have me thrown in the ocean, or abandoned on a mountaintop for wild animals to rend and tear and devour?

I tried to ask my uncle Seamus when he brought me supper, but he shook his head and refused to speak to me, surely forbidden to do so on my mother’s word. Only my exhaustion from hours of worry put me to sleep that night; I still woke when it was the deepest dark, and picked up the thread of my fretting without hesitation.

Within an hour, still before the dawn’s light reddened the sky, my cousin Patrick, Seamus’s eldest son, who had escorted my mother on her journey to Dublin, brought me in a bowl of morning porridge. When I had eaten and stumbled through my morning wash, Patrick came and lifted me in his arms, carrying me out to the wagon. He set me in the back, propping my leg on a bundle and cushioning my back with blankets. When he saw I was secure, he went back into the house. He hadn’t spoken a word.

That was the first part of my punishment. Cousin Patrick drove the team and my mother sat beside him, and they spoke to each other only in voices too low for me to hear. They did not say a single word to me, not for the entire week we traveled. If I said I was hungry or thirsty, Patrick would stop the wagon and bring me bread or a leather bottle of water; if I claimed to feel sick or in pain, my mother would come to check on me, examine my leg, touch my face, check my eyes and tongue as before. Sometimes she would give me a sprig of herbs to chew, or dissolve somewhat in my water and have me drink it; sometimes she would simply return to the wagon’s eat and Patrick would drive on. Her gaze was indifferent when she looked at me, no more caring than if she were checking a dog for worms. She didn’t even look angry any more.

I began to fear that I had lost her. That we were on our way to the place where she would abandon me: perhaps placing me into a monastery, or giving me over to an apprenticeship, or selling me into a workhouse. I stopped complaining of pain or hunger, and drew into myself, becoming little more than a shell surrounding my fear and sorrow.

And then one morning, after a brief breakfast, my mother and Patrick washed and dressed me in my best clothing – still only a wool tunic and trousers, but they were finely made and clean. They put me in the wagon and off we went, still in silence, my fear growing still more intense by the minute, though before I would have sworn that it could not be greater. But this was it. We were here. My doom had arrived.

Imagine my surprise, then, when we turned off the road at the gate of a fine manor house, just visible behind a screen of elms and sycamores. A man in armor, holding a pike, challenged us at the gate, his eyes hard and suspicious, though his speech was polite enough.

My mother told him, “Tell Lord Blackwell that Maeve of Drogheda requests an audience. And she has brought her son.”

The guard blinked and stepped back when my mother named Drogheda. I was confused; we lived in Belclare, clear across Ireland from Drogheda. What was going on? Where were we? Who was this Blackwell? The guard opened the gate for us, instructed Patrick to halt the wagon just inside, and then strode quickly to the door of the manor house and vanished within.

My mother stepped down from the wagon’s seat and came back to me. She helped me down, stood me up straight and brushed off the road dust and bits of hay from the wagon bed. Then she stood, tall and proud with her fists on her hips and her chin high, and looked me over. I tried to stand as well as she, despite my fear that that she was about to inform me that she was handing me over into the service of some English lord, that she would never see me again and was happier for it, seeing as I was such a dangerous and disobedient child. I held back the pleas for mercy, the oaths of love and of the eternal perfection of my future obedience to her every whim, if only – if only she would take me home with her. The tears I could not stop.

She spoke at last – for the first time in nearly a month, speaking directly to me – and her voice was hard and proud. “Though we call you Nate, your name is Damnation. Damnation Kane. The Kane is from me, my family name, and a good Irish name it is, even if the English cannot spell it properly. You are my son, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh.”

She paused then, and her gaze moved to the manor house that loomed before us, built of cold white stone, like ice and snow, without a flower bed or a statue or a single scrap of decoration to lend charm to its cold facade – as I was about to learn, the house was the perfect reflection of its owner. Then my mother said, “It is time you met the man who gave you your other name, and the other half of your blood. Your father.”

My father? My mother had never told me of my father. I think she had never spoken those words in my life. Whenever I asked her, she left the room. If I asked anyone else, no matter who it was, the reaction was ever the same: the face closed up, and turned sad. The eyes pitied me, and then looked for my mother, wherever she was. I learned to stop asking.

But now, at this moment when I had begun to doubt my mother, the one strong pillar that I did have in my life, which had always held me up despite the apparent non-existence of a father; and in this place, this manor house which, for all its stark exterior, still it was all finished stone and dark, rich wood, and large enough to house my entire village – here and now I was to meet the man who made me, whose blood ran in my veins. And – what? Did Mam plan to leave me here with him?

Did I want her to?

I could feel my body begin to shake, the fear in me being replaced by – anticipation. Hope. I did not want to leave my mother, but all of my life I had longed for a father, for the right father, a strong and upright and just man, a man I could take pride in claiming as my own, even as he claimed me as his. Immediately I began to spin a tale in my mind whereby he could have remained out of my life until this point and still been an honorable man: he was wealthy, obviously, and a lord, so perhaps theirs had been a forbidden love. Perhaps my mother had hidden me away, and never told my father of my existence; perhaps he was wed already when they had made me, and in her deep love for him, she had left rather than destroy him with her shame. Perhaps on her recent trip, she had found that he was now a widower, or in some other way free to love her – to love me.

The door opened. My heart seemed to stop – but it was only the guard. He came back across the lawn – which, though it could have supported two or three good milch cows, was clearly trimmed by hand, the blades all perfectly uniform in length – and beckoned peremptorily to my mother. “Come. Bring the boy. Leave your man with the beasts.”

I saw my mother’s jaw clench and her knuckles turn white. I glared at the man, prepared myself to kick him in the shins for angering my mother, noting carefully where his armored greaves ended, just above his ankle. But then I hesitated. This man was my father’s man. Surely I had to defend him, as well? Didn’t we share allegiance? And what had he said to upset her? Was she as nervous as I, to see my father, to realize or end the hope that their love could be rekindled? Was she upset that she had to present me to my father in such a situation, when I had broken her heart with my betrayal of her trust? Was it – it couldn’t be because of Patrick, who had to stay out here with the horses? It couldn’t be: Patrick looked palpably relieved to be excused from going into the house, and I wasn’t sure I didn’t envy him.

But no. This was my father’s house. My father was inside. Of course I wanted to meet him, to see his home, his belongings, his manner of living. Didn’t I?

I had little choice, of course. The guard turned to lead us in, and my mother grabbed my arm in an iron grip and hauled me along at a rapid pace. I could no longer make sense of my emotions: they were too many, and too mixed.

At the door the guard turned us over to a serving man. Tall and thin, old but not in his dotage, the man wore a crisp black suit with a white cravat, a powdered wig, and a deeply contemptuous frown. He gave us a long appraisal, his lip curling more with every moment, my mother’s flush deepening with every lip-curl as her grip on my arm tightened into pain. Clearly this man was not familiar with my mother’s pride, or her temper. Any moment, I thought, she will swing me around her head and beat this man to death with my body as her club.

The man said, “This way. Do not touch anything.” Then he turned and led us down a long hall, the walls of which were as blank and white and clean as the outside of the house, the only color coming from the sconces set on the walls, where pine torches burned with a red, popping flame, the plaster above them seared black with soot. With its high, vaulted ceilings and the doors we passed, doors of dark oak bound with iron straps, this place looked to me like the most sinister and frightening church one could imagine.

Who was my father, that he lived in this place?

The serving man knocked at a door, and then swung it open. He blocked the doorway with his body, snapped his heels together and said, “The strumpet is here, milord. With the boy.”

I glanced at my mother, sure the swinging and clubbing would now commence. But I was shocked to see that all the color had fled her face, leaving her as pale as snow. She looked – scared.

The serving man nodded and stepped aside. Mockingly, he bowed us into the room, but my mother nodded at him just as if she were royalty, and with her head high and her jaw firm, she swept me into my father’s presence.

The first thing I saw was the wall before us, behind him: the windows were covered with heavy drapes, blocking the light, casting the room into darkness despite the early hour and the bright sun outside. Other than the windows, the entire length and height of the wall was covered with books, shelves and shelves of books and piles of unbound pages. I had never seen so many books in my life – I hadn’t thought so many could exist in one place. Those books buoyed up my spirits: my father was the richest man I had ever known! Perhaps all of the lean times, the ragged and mended clothing and the nights when we had to drink and dance and laugh because we had no food to fill our bellies – perhaps those days were all over for us now. I looked around at the other walls: this room was not blank and empty, as the rest of the house had seemed. Other than a cross large enough to hang me on – which, while something that my pagan mother wouldn’t have in our own home, was certainly nothing new to me in Catholic Ireland, though I did wonder why it wasn’t a proper crucifix with the figure of Christ suffering upon it – the walls were covered with battle-trophies. Broken shields, dull and rust-flecked swords and axes, wooden clubs and steel maces with dark stains on them still – perhaps that wasn’t rust dotting the sword blades, after all – bows and arrows, flintlock pistols and older wheel-lock muskets, all hung below a row of torn and muddied flags and pennants, which lined the walls just under the ceiling’s beams.

My spirits took another step up. My father was a warrior! And a great one! Could it be that I would actually have something to be proud of, someone I could brag about to the other boys, when I had heretofore had nothing but sullen silence and fists to answer their teasing with? Oh, I could not wait to tell Angus about this! Him and his father, the best wrestler in our tiny village – pah!

He stood up from behind his desk, and my gaze snapped to him then. My father. And the moment I looked at him, I know I could not brag to the other boys about this man.

Because my father was English.

I recognized the bluff jaw, the stocky physique of a man well-fed on beef and mutton and ham for all of his life. I knew the Puritan’s coat, unrelieved black wool, worn even in his own study in his own home, even on a warm summer morning. I recognized the blond hair turning gray, the sallow cheeks, and the pale eyes, the color of smoke on a winter’s day. And I knew that look of utter contempt, the look every Englishman wears when he sees an Irish face.

In later days, thinking back on that moment, I decided it might have been the worst part of my first encounter with my father, that when he looked at me, his expression changed not at all. He didn’t see a son, neither a source of pride nor of shame, neither heir nor by-blow. He looked at me, and all he saw was: Irish.

He came around the desk, which was massive and plain, like everything else in this house, including the master himself. He stood in front of me and measured and weighed every inch and ounce of me with his eyes. At first I looked carefully, searching for my features in his: perhaps the ears? Something of the chin? But I could not meet his cold, hard gaze, and finally I turned to contemplation of his boots. They were large, heavy, and plain.

“He looks Irish,” were the first words I heard my father say in my presence.

“He is Irish,” my mother responded. My father snorted.

“What name does he use?” he asked.

“Nate,” I spoke up. “Everyone calls me Nate.” I raised my eyes to look at him when I spoke, as I had been taught.

It wasn’t a particularly hard blow; more what one would use to swat a fly, perhaps a wasp. Something unpleasant that one would want to smash. But still, it knocked me back, mainly from surprise; I had never been struck before, not by the back of a man’s hand.

That was the first time my father touched me.

“Children are seen and not heard,” he said to me – or at least in my general direction, as he did not lower his gaze to meet mine.

“His name is Kane,” my mother said, her voice quivering but controlled, her pale face now highlighted by two bright spots of red burning high on her cheeks.

He nodded. “Good. He will never use the name Blackwell, nor FitzBlackwell. I will not acknowledge him, not even as my bastard. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” my mother said.

When he struck her, it was no harder than when he had struck me; my mother didn’t even rock back, though she turned her face away. I was looking at his face when he hit her, and it did not change, not a hair, not a wrinkle. It was as if a man were correcting a dog, or giving a plowhorse instructions to turn, or stop. There was no anger there, no outrage, not even any pleasure.

By the gods, there was anger on my face, then, as I charged him, yelling wordlessly, my small fists flailing. This time he struck me harder, knocking me sprawling on my hands and knees, the taste of blood in my mouth. My mother’s arm swung back, her mouth opened – and then she stopped herself, shaking with the effort. Her teeth bit into her bottom lip hard enough to draw a thin line of blood. She started to kneel down to me, and then stopped herself again, and turned away with her head bowed.

My father looked at me dispassionately with those eyes of ice and smoke. “He has spirit. Good.” He looked at my mother again. “But the both of you are far too pert. Like all your cursed heathen race. When you address me, particularly when you acknowledge my commands, you will say, ‘Yes, my lord’ or ‘Yes, Lord Captain.’ Is that clear?”

“Yes, my lord,” my mother said, her voice as cold as his gaze.

He turned back to me, running one hand over his chin; I could see now that his hands were criss-crossed with scars, the fingers gnarled from old breaks, his wrists as thick as my legs. This man had spent his life using those hands to do violence. Had it always been against women and children as well as men?

“Of course you did not come here hoping that I would accept him as my get. Does he need a place? I will find a workhouse that will take him. Or better, a ship that will transport him to the Indies. The Lord Protector needs men on the sugar plantations there. He is large enough to cut cane, I judge.”

My mother took a deep, heaving breath, and turned back to face him, once more outwardly calm. “No. My lord. I only wished him to meet his father, my lord. To learn of his heritage.”

He snorted again. “Looking at him now, I think there may be some question regarding that connection to myself. I find it difficult to credit that your insipid Irish blood would so overwhelm my own that no trace of me would be visible in the mongrel thus spawned.” He met her gaze. “You were virgin when I took you, but afterwards? Surely a woman of your charms would have no trouble finding an Irish peasant to rut with. If you were quick enough, you could have whelped at the appropriate time to claim a greater sire for your brat.”

My mother smiled, though there was no humor in it. “Whether you believe it or not, my lord, there were no others. Not then, and not since.” She looked at me then, and nodded to the man who stood before us. “Lord Blackwell is your father, Nate. His blood is in your veins.”

I got to my feet, struggling with my splinted leg; both of them stood and watched without offering to help. I went to her, taking her hand in mine. I was too afraid, too angry to speak, but I wanted to beg her to take me home, not to leave me with this man, not to give me away to a workhouse or a plantation in the Indies. I said nothing, but I looked at her with tears in my eyes. She nodded. She squeezed my hand.

She curtsied to my father, and said, “I thank you for your time, my lord. I assure you, you will never need see us again.” We turned away and started to leave.

“You should marry, woman,” he said. My mother stopped, but did not turn back. “Your boy needs training. Even an Irishman could teach you both some better manners. Your beauty has not faded, nor your figure.” He strode to the cross on the wall, running his fingers along it idly.

My mother turned, and speaking to my father’s back, she said, “Somehow, Irishmen are reluctant to wed a woman raped by an Englishman, and with a half-English child because of it.” She squeezed my hand, and when I met her gaze, I could see a love more fierce than I could have imagined, stronger than any adversity – stronger than any shame could ever be. “I have given up hope of marriage, then, rather than give up my son.” She leaned close and put her hand on my cheek, bruised where he had struck me. She whispered, “You are my son. Mine.” I nodded, and she kissed my head. She straightened and took a deep breath. “Come, Nate,” she said to me.

Lord Blackwell said, “You call him Nate. Is it Nathaniel, then?”

My mother stopped and spoke over her shoulder. “No, my lord. When he was born and I presented him to you, you told me then that he was your damnation, and mine.” She met his gaze then. “I named him as you commanded.

“His name is Damnation Kane.”

*       *       *

I have been shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, and near-drowned. I have suffered insult, injury, heartache, shame, sorrow, and unquenched rage. But that day, when my father struck me down and gave me reason to hate every drop of English blood in my veins – which was, in truth, the reason my mother had brought me there, to show me and give me warning of what lurked in my blood, in the parts of me that came from my father and which she feared had begun to show themselves in my act of wanton, selfish destruction – what I felt then was the deepest agony of my life.

Until I woke in the Glass Palace this yesterday, stuffed into the wardrobe in my adopted chamber there, my head pounding from the blows rained on me and my vision blurred from the drugs fed to me. Until I staggered downstairs and out to the terrace to find that my ship, and my mutinous crew, had left without me.

I am marooned.

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

Log #4: The Chase, Part II

Captain’s Log #4

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Evening, or so: twilight hidden by storm clouds.

Location: Unknown

Conditions: Thunder and Lightning. Very very frightening. Wind and waves high, but ebbing.

 

For two months, Hobbes’s ship never left us. We made what repairs we could, but our mainmast yard was damaged beyond repair by chainshot, and we had no way to replace it. Perhaps something could have been found, but McLoughlin, our carpenter, had been killed by a musket-ball, and no one else had any particular skill at woodcraft. We tried to hoist more sails, to lighten our load, to make better use of the wind – but all was for naught. We sailed dark in the night and took unexpected turns in the blackness; but somehow, whenever we tried such tactics, the sun would rise and show sails behind us, sometimes far away, but always visible. And they always gave chase, eventually closing what gap we had opened, never coming close enough to enter battle.

I do not believe I truly slept for those two months. I cannot even be sure it was two months; I missed days in this log, and no man aboard kept his own calendar. Even Vaughn, the surgeon and an educated man, stayed below with his books, as ever; the sailing of the ship means no more to him than the pulling of a plow concerns a field mouse: occasionally he is disturbed by it. The passing of time follows that same path for him, unnoticed and unmourned. Perhaps he has the right of it.

But for two months, the wind never slackened or changed and no storms came; there was enough rain and enough fishing to keep us alive, but we saw no other sails and never lost sight of the Sea-Cat. It was enough to drive us all mad, the months of waiting, imagining our fate yet hoping for a reprieve – a reprieve that did not need to be as miraculous as the one I had hoped for as a lad, awaiting my mother’s return: all we needed now was for Hobbes to give up the chase. Who were we? One Irish pirate vessel, perhaps with some small repute due our success in the English shipping lanes, but no Henry Morgan, no Francis Drake. Why did he not give up?

Someday I will have Hobbes at my mercy. I will ask him then.

It may have been madness that brought us so close to our doom, at the end. Certain if it was not madness, ’twas folly. I took ill, of course, for no man can stay upright under that strain for that long. When I did, ’twas left to my mate, Ian O’Gallows, to carry out my wishes. But he found himself pressed on two sides by the ship’s quartermaster, Sean O’Flaherty, and the bosun, Edmund Burke, a brute of an Englishman allowed aboard my ship only for the sake of O’Flaherty’s patronage, and the need to keep peace between myself and the man elected by my crew to be my equal in all things but battle. O’Flaherty chafed under the fact that we were on the eve of battle every hour of two months, and thus my word was law throughout; so when I lay insensate in my cabin, he seized his moment. With Burke at his side, they overruled Ian and commanded the men themselves. Perhaps Ian allowed it to happen, and if so, I cannot fault him; though their course was folly, it was a possibility that called to us all for those months, and may have become inevitable even had I stayed at the helm to the bitter end.

They slowed the ship and prepared for battle.

I regained myself in the night, and staggered out of my cabin to see what I had transpired during my incapacity. O’Flaherty had command, with Duffy at the helm; it was a cloudy night, and we were running silent and dark, so that I almost stumbled over them in the darkness as I moved blearily toward the dim light of the hooded lantern standing at O’Flaherty’s feet. They greeted me, somewhat warily, I think now, though I saw nothing amiss at the time. O’Flaherty told me how long I had been below – the better part of two days – and our approximate position, though we had sailed off the edge of our charts more than a month ago, and were navigating mostly by legend and hearsay about the length of a cruise from Ireland to the English colonies of the New World, where so many Irishmen suffered in chains after Devil Cromwell came to our shores. They assumed we were somewhere east of the Carolinas, but did not know how far away from the shore – perhaps as much as a thousand miles. They thought we might be close to the island called Baramundi, or perhaps it was Bermuda – they could not recall the name.

I began to examine what I could discern of the distribution of our sails, and grew alarmed as I realized that sails had been reefed: my ship had been slowed. It was then that the most peculiar sight ever to light my eyes came to pass. I realized that the rigging was growing far easier to discern; that there was, in fact, light in the darkness. It was a blue light, unlike any illumination I had heretofore experienced, and as I rubbed my eyes, trying to clear away any lingering phantoms of sleep, I found that the hair on my arms, and on my neck, was standing erect. Then I knew what it was, this light, from many stories told by old sea-dogs around tavern tables: it was the fire of St. Elmo, seen by one mariner in a thousand but boasted of by every man jack who sails the sea.

Imagine my wonder as I observed my ship, every inch of her glowing like a falling star, growing bright enough to see, and then to read by. It was a sublime beauty, a moment out of time: a waking dream that brought joy to my heart, a heart which had felt no goodness for weeks, aa heart which was filled with nothing but a rising dread and falling hopes.

And then imagine my horror as I turned to look at O’Flaherty and Duffy behind me, and saw the same eldritch fire crawling over the sails and lines and rails of the Sea-Cat, the scourged lady at her bow almost near enough to spit on. “To arms!” I cried. “To arms, and ‘ware boarders! All men on deck!”

O’Flaherty attempted to forestall me, but it was too late. My awaking at the wrong moment, my awareness of the enemy ship at the same moment, thanks to a mysterious wonder of the sea – it had to have been fate, or the caprice of the gods, that saw fit to ruin the plans of O’Flaherty. I do not know if I should regret it.

For the moment my voice was raised, the hatch burst open and the men came boiling out, wide awake, armed to the teeth and ready to kill Englishmen. For indeed, O’Flaherty and Burke had intended to bring our pursuers to the fray, and, hoping surprise would balance their greater numbers, had hidden the men belowdecks until Hobbes’s men had grappled and boarded us, thinking our boys foolishly asleep, and thus boarding with false confidence instead of battle-ready wills. Perhaps it would have worked, if the timing had come together properly.

But now it was ruined. For the men rushed above yelling, and the English spotted us and veered off our stern just long enough to fire on us with grape shot and muskets. My men went down like mown hay before the scythe. I fell, as well, wounded in the arm and lightly across my scalp, a minor gash that bled more than it harmed, though it was enough to stun me for a moment as my blood and the blood of my men pooled on the deck of my ship.

Then the blue fire of St. Elmo flared like lightning, turning as white as moonlight and as brilliant as the sun on the waves. There was a clap of thunder, and the deck reeled beneath us. “Rogue wave!” rose the cry, and perhaps it was. The light turned a color I have never seen, a lurid brilliance tinged with darkness: as if a rainbow bled its life’s blood on our eyes. I heard the screaming of a ban-sidhe rise far off and then fly at us at great speed, arriving with a tumult and crash as of a cannonade. The deck bounced once more, the light flashed, and then all was still. All was silent.

The sun broke the horizon then, and we saw that the ship had turned, and the sun was rising before us, a line of dark storm clouds just above her bright face, like the angry brows of a goddess scorned. The seas were calmed, but for the three-foot chop; no sign of the rogue wave that had tossed us moments before.

And no sign of the Devil’s Lash. The cry went up as we realized, and we rushed from rail to rail, like children following a soldier’s parade through town. But there was nothing, no ship, no sails in sight. There was a brief cheer, quickly lost in confusion; and then I set men to tasks, seeing to the wounded and the dead, turning the ship about to sail due west and seek landfall and safety from the coming storm. It was not an hour before we spied land ahead, and a matter of half a day before we could make out the trees along the shore. So much for O’Flaherty’s navigation. Perhaps it was Duffy’s, but he fell in the fusillade, so I will not speak ill of the dead.

Thus came we here. The storm is upon us now, and my strength flags again, my eyes heavy, my hand numb and shaking on the quill. I must rest. Perhaps I will wake in Hell. Perhaps I am there now.

But if I am in Hell, where is the Devil’s Lash?

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

Captain’s Log #2: The Trap

Captain’s Log #2

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Dawn.

Location: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And match us she did.

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

Captain’s Log #1: Arrival

Captain’s Log

Date:

Location:

Conditions:

 

It cannot be.

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

if I could just know

It cannot be, it cannot!

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

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

Unless, of course, we are already dead.

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

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

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

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

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

My friends call me Nate.

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

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

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

Such things . . . –

I must be mad.

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

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

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

I must be mad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are in Hell.

Categories: Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Lit Lens

Take a Look through our Lens

Thrice Read

A book blog by 3 best friends.

Pompous Porcupines

Predictably Pretentious yet Irresistibly Excellent

RiverMoose-Reads

Books, Reviews, Writing, & Rambling

Live, Laugh, Love With Gladz

All Things Beauty, Books And Anything In Between

The Shameful Sheep

shit storms, shame, and stories that make you cringe

20th Century Protest Poetry

Poems That Make A Difference

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf