Posts Tagged With: magic

Chapter #83: The End (Part III)

Hobbes offered the metal bottle, and he drank more until the water was gone. Without a word, the Englishman disappeared, as well.

As well as he could, though he could not free himself, Damnation turned away from the Scourged Lady. She was not his solace; for him, she held no true comfort. He saw a slight movement behind her, and he stretched out his hand and caught – a rope. A length of two-inch rope, sticky with tar, swinging free at one end since the ship was at anchor, but attached to the foremast above.

Attached to his Grace.

He held that rope with both hands, his face turned away from the statue to which he was bound; and, softly, he sang a song to his ship. A love song.

Then he slept.

 

***

 

When Damnation awoke once more, tethered still to the Scourged Lady – the last time he would so awaken – it was not rain, nor blood, nor cool water that he felt on his skin: it was spittle. The sticky gob spattered into his left eye, and he jerked away from it – and then groaned, his gorge rising as his arms, his shoulders, and, now that the drugs in the salve had worn off, his ravaged back, all cried out in rusted iron agony. The feel of the spit oozing down his cheek sent him over the edge, and he vomited weakly, bringing up little more than bile which trickled down his chin and dripped onto his chest.

He opened his right eye, and saw a British sailor holding a lantern and grinning happily. “’At’s yer wake-up call, captain. You wouldn’t want ter miss anchors aweigh, wouldja?” The man laughed and walked off, leaving Damnation in the pre-dawn darkness, alone but for the statue in his embrace and the overwhelming feeling of filth and corruption that filled him.

Never in his life had he felt so dirty as he did right now, with the Englishman’s spit, and his own blood, vomit, sweat, and excreta drying on his skin. He leaned forward and tried to wipe his cheek clean against the wooden statue, but the surface was rough and ridged by the carving and years in the salt spray of the ocean, and he felt as if more dirt had stuck to his cheek. He rested his brow against the Lady’s chin, and prayed for rain.

Slowly, he became aware of activity all around him, increasing in pace as the sky began to lighten before the dawn. Lines were pulled taut and knotted clean, sails were being unfurled and tied in place, and the wind, just starting to blow, began to make the canvas billow and snap. The command was given, and men began circling the two capstans that raised the anchors, singing a low chantey to keep time as they struggled against the weight. The anchors aweigh, the ship began to swing about, the offshore breeze catching the gaff-rigged sail on the mainmast, which men held at an angle; when her prow was pointed in the proper direction, the gaff would be turned square with the ship and tied in place, and they would be off.

A longing filled Damnation’s dry mouth, seemed to swell his belly and strain his jaw. His legs twitched, his fingers cramping. Here he was, tied up and ignored, as his ship, his ship, which he had not even stood upon for three months let alone captained, came to life and motion around him. He yearned to walk the deck, check the lines and the trim of the sails, to shout commands and instructions and to ask for reports: what was their heading, what the speed, what lay before them; what potential problems would arise that he and his crew must overcome?

This ship – not Ireland, not his village, not even his own bed in his mother’s house, where he had slept since he was a child and still did when he returned with a hold full of plunder and trade – this ship was his home. The only place where he belonged, where the world felt right and true, particularly since he had been wrenched so very far off course, had journeyed so far from familiar waters. He had been separated from her for too long, and the need to return to her deck had been growing in every bit of him, these past weeks. No doubt that deep, mindless need had influenced his actions and decisions, had made him rash and impatient, even foolhardy. But how could he think clearly when his mind was full of nothing but getting back to his ship, finding once more his proper place in the world, whatever world he might find himself in?

And now here he was. Not the captain, but a prisoner aboard his own ship. Not in command, but on display. Not brimming with vitality and energy, his mind and will driving the actions of all aboard: stripped, beaten, soiled – and then ignored.

At least the tears that came helped clean the English spittle from his eye.

When the order went out to lower all sails and men scurried into the rigging to release the tied cords and let the canvas sheets come flapping down, the Grace seemed to leap forward, eager to sail, ready to move. When she did, the wind driving her into the waves, sending blasts of cold salt spray as high as the sails, Damnation’s spirits rose, as well – though their upward climb was rapidly checked by the coils of rope digging into his wrists, by the sting of the spray washing over his raw back, the loose and sagging bandages offering little protection from the salt water. Still, despite the sting, the wash of clean sea water over him seemed to clear away some of the filth that clung to his skin, and also the despair that clung to his soul. He drew himself upright, shaking and stretching the aches out of his legs and arms, wiping his eyes clean on the skin of his shoulders until he felt that he could at last see clearly – an effort aided by the growing light in the sky, as dawn began to break. He stood straight, arms resting on the Scourged Lady’s shoulders but no longer holding him up, and he looked around.

Nicholas Hobbes stood on the poop deck, one hand on the forward rail, eyes on the sails and the waves and everything in between. Damnation felt a strange sort of relief, spying the Englishman there; the Grace was and always would be Damnation Kane’s ship, until his death or her destruction, but he knew that the installation of the Scourged Lady made Hobbes see the Grace as his ship; and that meant that Hobbes would sail her as truly and as ably as he could – and in his years on the sea, he had not met a more able captain than the Devil’s Lash. Hobbes would take care of his Grace. Beside Hobbes stood his first mate, the sullen and brooding Mr. Sinclair; standing on the deck below them, his barbed whip coiled in his right hand, was the brute of a bosun, Mr. Stuart. Damnation felt a sharp twinge in his back as he looked at the slack-lipped giant; the lash that had torn him apart yesterday was the one in the bosun’s hand, and Stuart the man who had wielded it on him. The man surely would have whipped him to death, and smiled his idiot’s smile as he did, had not the ship come to life when she did.

He had not expected that to happen. He had thought, when he had seen what Vaughn had told him of, that the blood of poor Raymond Fitzpatrick had blotted out the runes his mother had inscribed on the Grace, and had destroyed the enchantment on the ship, as well. But it seemed that the magic remained, and enough of his blood on the Grace’s deck was the means by which the spell was cast. Knowing this, he knew regret: perhaps he should not have surrendered himself into the clutches of the Shadowman. Perhaps he should have found a way to free his men, and take his ship, and make the attempt to return to their own time, where – when – they belonged. By acting too precipitately, assuming they were stranded in this time, he had now made that assumption the truth, because as soon as the Shadowman killed him – he had no doubt as to the houngan’s intent on that score, especially after the way Damnation had manhandled him the day before – the magic would, he assumed, die with him, and his men would be truly stuck here, for the remainder of their lives.

He could not, right at this moment, decide if that fate would be worse than what awaited him now, at the Shadowman’s hands.

But then he saw, over the Scourged Lady’s shoulder, the voodoo priest emerge from the captain’s cabin beneath Hobbes’s feet, followed by his four dead-faced followers. The Shadowman tapped one of his four brutes on the arm and pointed up to the crow’s nest; that man turned, without a word or even a gesture to acknowledge the command, and began climbing up the rope lattice that led to the top of the mainmast. In moments, he was once more installed some thirty feet above their heads; and as before, he kept no watch for weather nor sails nor threats from beyond the near horizon: his gaze, and his automatic rifle, were aimed squarely down at the men on the deck. The other three trailed after their master as he approached the bow; he paused to exchange a few words with Captain Hobbes, and then nodded and continued towards Damnation, calling back over his shoulder, “Just get us into clear water and keep sailing. East!” Hobbes looked down at the Shadowman’s back, making no more sign of acknowledgement than had the houngan’s silent minions.

Perhaps Hobbes was becoming one more of those dumb brutes.

Perhaps he already was one.

As he drew close, the Shadowman glanced up and saw Damnation watching him through the space between the Lady’s head and her upraised arm, and he smiled. He raised his hands, which held a gourd covered with strange shapes and patterns in white and grey paint, and a knife with a blade that was a dull, matte black color. The three men following unspeaking behind him carried other strange objects: a bowl filled with a red paste, a black stone flecked with glittering silver specks, a bundle of dried twigs and another of herbs and – a chicken?

The Shadowman stopped at the Scourged Lady’s back. smiling over her shoulder at Damnation. Summoning all of his strength, and channeling it into nonchalance, Damnation quirked his eyebrow, tilted his head to one side, and asked, “Are we having a wee bit o’ soup, then?”

The Shadowman’s smile wavered, but then widened. “Indeed we are.” Without seeming to step forward, he suddenly pressed against the back of the figurehead, his face inches from Damnation’s, his chin digging sharply into the pirate’s left biceps. “But you won’t be the one with the spoon,” the dark man hissed. Then he disappeared from Damnation’s view.

Damnation shivered, despite all his efforts to suppress it; suddenly he was very aware that he was naked, and wounded, and bound. The Shadowman was going to do – something – to him, and, he realized now, there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent it. He closed his eyes, took a deep shuddering breath that tasted like fear, and said a prayer to his gods. He prayed to Brigid, goddess of poetry and fire and love, for enough life in his body to give him a chance to fight; to the Morrigan, the Battle-Crow, for a good death if he could not live; and to Manannan Mac Lir, to guard and guide his soul home, should he die on or under the waves.

When he opened his eyes once more, he was as calm and as prepared as he could be. And then he saw the Shadowman kneeling at his feet, drawing strange mystical designs on the deck around both Damnation and the Scourged Lady, his three minions handing him materials as he asked for them with grunts and impatient gestures; and suddenly the little calm he had found was gone, once more. His throat was too dry: it had been too long since Hobbes had given him water; he was alone, surrounded by enemies, even above and below him; he was weak, his back shivering and twitching, his body aching, almost feverish. He did not even truly believe in the gods to whom he had prayed.

There was no hope. Damnation accepted that. He leaned his brow against the Scourged Lady’s breast, closed his eyes, and waited to die.

The Shadowman took his time preparing his ritual while Hobbes sailed the ship north and then, as ordered, turned due east into the sun, as soon as they had come far enough to clear the land. Now they sailed towards open ocean, a strong cross breeze pushing them forward at a good pace. On the poop deck, Hobbes smiled as the Grace came alive for him as she had not done while they sailed her from New York to Bermuda; then she had trudged along, wallowing through the swells, the wind obstinately turning to the wrong direction, her lines coming loose, everything going wrong that could do so. But now, she did not only sail, she flew, and Hobbes had the sense that he could be alone at the wheel, and the Grace would sail herself.

He was wrong, of course: if he had stood alone on the poop deck, she would not have flown. It was not for him that the Grace spread her wings. But in that moment of joyous freedom, Hobbes felt intensely glad that he had not sunk this ship, this beautiful ship.

When the Shadowman was ready – Damnation had neither moved nor opened his eyes, even as the houngan smeared lines of red paste over his skin, drawing designs up Damnation’s legs to his belly, up to his throat and then down his arms to his wrists – he set his three men at the cardinal points, north, south, and west, while he himself knelt to the east, the rising sun at his back, the Irishman’s bound, torn body in front of him, inside the ritual circle. Then he killed the cock, cutting its throat with his knife and draining the blood into a clay cup; he took a mouthful of rum and spit into the cup as well, and then two more mouthfuls before he placed the bottle at the feet of the white man. He lit the cigar with a wooden match, struck carelessly on the base of the Scourged Lady; he blew smoke in the face of each of his men, and then cupped it and waved it back into his own eyes before balancing the cigar across the mouth of the clay cup. Fire and air, earth and water, blood and rum: all was in readiness. He began the final chant that would summon the loa to him.

On the poop deck, Hobbes allowed himself to hope that the ship would sail for him as it had for Kane even after the savage had torn out the Irishman’s heart; if it did, he promised God in heaven that he would personally put that black witch to the torch.

Standing against the Scourged Lady, Damnation smelled each step of the ritual: the blood, the rum, the tobacco; he did not open his eyes and did not move. He wished the Shadowman would just get on with it.

The Shadowman expected to have to chant for anywhere from an hour to half a day; the loa came when he called, but they decided when, and they never hurried. So when he felt the presences not ten minutes after he began chanting, he actually stumbled over the words, his mouth hanging open for a moment as he wondered: was this a sign of good fortune, that the gods smiled on him?

Or was this ominous?

A sensation of irritation from the presences reminded him that the ritual was not finished, and whatever it meant that the loa had come so quickly, if he let the ritual collapse in the middle, the consequences would be deadly. He quickly picked up the chant once more, and now he rose from his knees and began to dance around the circle, calling the names of the loa: Agwe, the ruler of the sea; Met Kalfu, the lord of crossroads; and Baron Samedi, the master of the dead. The Shadowman cut his flesh, used his blood to draw the veves for each loa on the brow and breast of each of his three zombi servants – those men who made the perfect slaves, both for him and for the loa, as they had no wills nor souls of their own to get in the loa’s way. Agwe he called to the zombi to the north, Met Kalfu to the man to the south, and Baron Samedi went to the west, the way to the land of the dead where he ruled.

Again, it should have taken time for the loa to mount their horses, especially three such proud and powerful spirits; he had brought extra gifts to offer as propitiation should the three prove reluctant. But none of it was necessary, neither the gifts nor the time: almost as soon as he finished drawing the veves in his blood, each man’s expression changed, and an ancient spirit looked out at him from each zombi’s hollow eyes.

He knelt and bowed in obesiance. “My lords, I welcome you,” he said in French. “I have asked you here to honor you with the power I will now summon. I wish to put that power, and myself, at your service.” He paused, his forehead pressed against the deck; there was a chance – a good chance – that these three loa would argue over who would receive the offered gift; if they did, it would be best to let them work it out without his drawing any attention to himself.

But his words were met only with silence. Some moments went by, and then he heard the deep nasal voice of Baron Samedi say, “Proceed.”

He opened his mouth to ask if they had any need to discuss who was in control here, but then he shut it again: when the Lord of Death instructed you to proceed, it was best not to delay.

Thus he rose, in his hand the black-bladed knife, its blade stained with soot and burnt blood, and he stepped to the Irishman whose soul was tied to the boat’s: the man who was a conduit of power such as the Shadowman had never known. He allowed his envy of that power – undeserved and unearned; the man was a fool with no understanding at all of what he made possible, of what his ship made possible – to curve his lip into a sneer, and he reached up and took hold of the man’s sweat-matted hair, yanking him backwards until his arms were stretched tight, his body leaning away from the statue, held up by his bound wrists clinging to the Scourged Lady’s neck. The Shadowman pulled the man’s head back cruelly, exposing his throat, the pulse surging under the pale skin, and he smiled as he placed the edge of his knife against that throat; here was his revenge for the previous day’s humiliation, when the Irishman had dared to draw his blood, the blood of a bokor! He pressed the knife harder by small increments until he just pierced the skin; the man’s eyes rolled wildly, his nostrils flaring in panic as the Shadowman stretched him out like a cock for the sacrifice. A drop of the man’s blood dripped from the tip of the knife, and plashed on the deck.

As if a switch had been thrown, instantly the ship lit up with the blue-white glow of St. Elmo’s Fire; the hair of every man’s head and body standing up as the power played over each of them, and over every inch of the ship. The English sailors cursed and cried out in fear; the Irishman moaned in despair; the loa made no sound at all.

The Shadowman laughed. He raised the knife, feeling the power flow over his skin, knowing that he was the master of it, that this power was his, won with courage and guile, paid for in blood and death. “Hear me, spirits of this ship! I will kill this man! I will spill his life’s blood on your decks! If you wish to save the life of Damnation Kane, YOU WILL OBEY ME!”

A thrumming, moaning noise began, quickly rising in volume and pitch until it was nearly a scream. The ship shook from stem to stern, from keel to mast, as if it was the center of an earthquake, of a tempest; surely it would shake itself to pieces.

The Shadowman turned, wild-eyed, knife outthrust, his left hand still holding Damnation’s hair in its powerful grip, his body pulled taut as though he were on a rack. “OBEY ME!” the Shadowman screamed. “SAIL FOR ME!” he cried, his words nearly drowned out by the vibrating scream of the ship.

And before the Shadowman’s eyes, the risen sun suddenly sank: down into the east. The sun reversed its course, and night rose in place of day. Wild with ecstasy, the Shadowman spun about, facing the ship’s stern; a moment later, the sun rose in the west, and arced across the sky like a flaming stone flung from a catapult. Inside his gut, over his skin, he felt the power building, and building, and he knew that power was his.

Tears streaming down his cheeks, his eyes so wide it seemed that any moment they would burst from their sockets, the Shadowman turned back to his prisoner, his conduit, Damnation Kane. With a burst of wild laughter, seemingly pushed out of him by the power that continued to build, and build, and build within him, growing until it seemed he could not take in a breath, that the power left no room in him for anything so mundane as air – and still it grew – the Shadowman laid the knife blade along the Irishman’s throat. “MINE!” he cried out, “THE POWER IS MINE!” He glanced up to see the sun burn another flaming streak across the sky, its third such trip in the wrong direction, and faster each time: now the night unwinding took but a heartbeat, and then the sun rose in the west for the fourth time.

That was when the Shadowman exploded.

A wave of boiling hot liquid passed over Damnation like a single perfect curtain of rain: it was the blood and the liquified remains of what had been Lyle Okagaweh, expanding outward like a soap bubble: but this bubble did not burst. The curtain of liquid Shadowman expanded and thinned until it surrounded the entire ship: the sunlight was reduced to a dim sullen red, the blue sky and the green-grey water of the Atlantic disappearing along with the world outside. Inside this bubble of blood and bone and flesh there was only the ship, the men aboard – all touched by the searing liquid, but none of them burned or even made wet by it; it left no trace of itself as it passed over and around and through – and the water in which the ship floated.

All else was gone.

Particularly the Shadowman.

The loa stood, cursing in inhuman tongues, their ancient gazes flickering about, taking in what surrounded them. Baron Samedi began to laugh. Agwe and Met Kalfu exchanged glances, and then both advanced on Damnation, who had hauled himself upright, heaving desperate breaths, trying to understand that he was not dead, and that the Shadowman seemingly was.

He noticed the two men advancing on him, their eyes glowing in the murky red darkness inside the blood-bubble; he cried out in fear, tugged at the bonds holding his arms, then cringed in on himself, expecting a mortal blow, pressing his bare skin against the painted wooden surface of the Scourged Lady.

Thus he was the first to feel the figurehead move.

Even as the two loa stepped close, raising angry fists and growling deep in their throats, the wooden statue suddenly unclasped her hands from where they had been knotted together above her head since she had been carved. One arm lifted Damnation’s arms up, and the Lady ducked her head out from between his bound wrists. The other arm reached out and caught the deadly blows of the loa before they could smash Damnation into a bloody pulp. There was a sound like thunder, and the Lady’s wooden arm cracked, chips of paint bursting away from the impact; but from the cracks in her wooden arm, light glowed, and from that light, Agwe and Met Kalfu cowered back.

The Lady tossed Damnation aside as though he were a scarf she doffed, and then she lunged forward, coming up under where her cracked right arm caught the loas’ blows, and her left forearm slammed into the belly of Met Kalfu, propelled forward by the power of the Lady’s legs. The zombi horse of the loa, who was, after all, no more than flesh and bone, however mighty the spirit that rode him, flew backwards through the air, launched completely off the ship: and when he hit the bubble of blood, he was still rising towards the apex of his flight. That was as far as he got, though, for with a sound like a mighty whale slapping the ocean with its tail, the zombi struck the blood bubble and burst himself, disintegrating in a ripple of liquid that mixed with the thin bubble of Shadowman; now the bubble was, in that direction, thicker, less light shining through the red.

The horse of Agwe watched open-mouthed as the mighty Met Kalfu was thrown through the air: thus he had no time to escape before the hands of the Scourged Lady caught his shoulder and thigh. She lifted him over her head, and drew back mightily – only then did Agwe struggle, striking in vain with flesh and bone hands on the wooden Lady; the blows had no effect. But then Agwe began growling strange otherworldly sounds that somewhat resembled words, and a rising glow emanated from his eyes, a glow that made wisps of smoke rise from the animated wooden statue –

Too late. The Lady flung the loa, who like his fellow struck the blood bubble and burst and was consumed.

The roar of a machine gun filled the air, and jagged splinters of wood were blasted from the Scourged Lady as a line of bullets lanced across her back. Every hole freed a new beam of light, and now a man brave enough to look into that light could see that it was both light and dark, the crimson of fresh blood and the livid green of putrid flesh; if that man did not look away, he would quickly lose his mind. No man on board looked except for the zombi gunman perched above, who drew a bead on his target – and was instantly lost in the impossible light that shone from her like ethereal blood. The Lady turned, looked up at him, and her wooden eyes opened, new light pouring forth from those twin holes, the light falling full on the face of the man looking down from the crow’s nest above.

The rifle fell from his limp hand.

The Lady opened her wooden mouth and said, “Come to me.” She spoke neither English nor French, yet everyone within hearing understood her words. With a convulsive heave, the man threw himself off the crow’s nest, and plummeted thirty feet down to the deck below, where he broke, and died. The Scourged Lady knelt by his side, his empty eyes now veiled in death; she caressed his cheek with infinite tenderness.

Then she grabbed him by his broken neck and flung him over the side. He sank quickly into the now perfectly still water trapped in the bubble with the ship; a minute or so later, they heard a muffled thump, and the water rippled, and was still.

Silence fell. Darkness soon followed, the red light in the bubble now dimming to late twilight. From where he cowered on the deck, entirely amazed and trying desperately not to run gibberingly mad, Damnation turned his head and looked. The Scourged Lady no longer shone with the light of madness; she brushed her hands over her arms, down her back, and she was whole once more. She no longer resembled wood: now she had all the seeming of a human woman, albeit seven feet tall and impossibly beautiful, even with the scars of the whip still livid on her sides.

The silence was broken by laughter. The Scourged Lady and Damnation both turned towards its source: the third loa, Baron Samedi, lounged against the rail, and he clapped his hands, applauding the show. He straightened and faced the Lady, and made her an elegant bow.

“My Lady Death,” he said in his deep voice.

The Lady, a slight, cold smile on her lips, nodded her head. “My Lord Death,” she replied. She raised her head again, looking imperiously down on the shorter zombi who carried the spirit of the Baron. “I have a boon to ask of you, my Lord.”

The Baron cocked his head. “I was invited to this place, Lady, I do not trespass. You have already punished the instigator of this affair.” He gestured to the blood bubble surrounding them, all that remained of the Shadowman.

The Lady gazed up at the curve of liquid human. “No. He brought it on himself.” She looked back to the Baron, but Damnation, cowering on the deck of his ship, just beginning to think that he might not be dead, nor mad, felt as though she spoke to him rather than to the loa. “To travel with the sun, even to race ahead of it, is simple, is safe. Relatively. But to challenge the sun in its path, to stand against it and to try to reverse its course: that is death. As you see,” she said, gesturing at the blood. Now she looked at the English sailors, all of them cowering and many of them gibbering. “The blood is now all that protects these men. Without it, they would be in the world, the world that they are in already, as their selves who lived three days before the time their journey began. Men may not exist in the world twice. It would be their doom.” She turned and looked directly at Damnation as she said, “They are not gods.”

He dropped his gaze, and did not look up again as the two beings conversed.

“So what is it you wish of me, Lady?” the Baron asked.

“The only thing I cannot take,” the Lady responded.

“Ah,” said the Baron softly. “My willing agreement.”

“Your acceptance of sacrifice.”

“Of my horse, this body,” the Baron said.

“Of course. I would not threaten the spirit of the Baron of the Grave, himself.”

The Baron was silent for a moment. “Surely I could not best you in that magnificent form,” he said.

“You could not,” she agreed. “But the blood of that body, even combined with the blood of the others, is not enough. The protection will not last without will.”

“Mm,” the Baron mused. “The blood is weak.”

“There is none of your brethren in the blood, and no will in any of these but the first, their master.”

“And in will is strength.”

“There is power in blood, but it grows only with time, and these men were too young to be strong. The protection will not last.” She paused and then said, “I wish it to last.”

“And I must remain in this body as it dies, yes?”

“Yes, my lord Death. Without you, the body has no will.”

“So you do seek to kill me.”

“That is the boon I ask.”

A pause, then, that stretched longer, and longer. And then – the Baron laughed. He laughed loud and long. At last he spoke. “I will grant your boon, my Lady. I never could say no to a beautiful woman.

“But I have two conditions.”

“Name them.”

“First, let all of these humans stand witness. It is a thing that seldom occurs, the death of a god, and it should be seen, and spoken of until these men can speak no more.”

Damnation felt a sudden and irresistible urge to rise: he did so. He needed to turn and face the two Deaths: he did so. He must open his eyes and look, and watch and remember all that occurred: he would. He would also, whether he wanted to or not, keep his sanity, and keep this memory in perfect detail until his death – and perhaps beyond.

Such was the will of the goddess who resided in the Scourged Lady.

“And your second condition, my Lord?”

The Baron smiled as wide as a skull. He held his arms out to the sides, like a performer’s flourish before he takes his final bow. “Make it a death worth having,” Baron Samedi said.

The Scourged Lady took a step towards him: and with that step, her hands became great curving talons. Another step, and her lovely face stretched, becoming a sharp beak; her hair flowed into a crown of black feathers. With her last step, she clutched the Baron’s shoulders with her claws, and then, as every living man aboard the Grace of Ireland watched, the beak struck, and tore out the Baron’s left eye. He groaned in pain as the bird-goddess tossed her beak upwards, throwing the eye in an arc, catching it again, and swallowing it whole. The right eye followed, and then, as the Baron’s screams grew louder and became inarticulate, the goddess tore the tongue from his mouth, swallowing it like a worm as it writhed out of the side of her beak, spattering her with blood.

Then she reared back and struck: her beak stabbed into the zombi’s chest, and pierced the Baron’s heart. With one final convulsion, the Lord of Death – died. Gently the Lady lay him down, and then stood back and away. The body floated up off the deck, and then burst, as had the Shadowman, but this time it was with a brilliant flare of beautiful light; the men felt their eyes burn from the light, but they could not look away, could not close their eyes: they watched as the Baron’s form melted into a swirling maelstrom of light, and compressed down into a single point that burned into their minds: and then flashed out, washing over them again as the first blood-bubble had. The Baron was gone, and the blood-shell around them appeared smooth, and hard, and it gave off a gentle glow.

The Scourged Lady, her face still coated in blood, still beaked and feathered, turned towards where Nicholas Hobbes stood at the rail of the poop deck, his eyes glowing with awe and a deep longing as he watched his beautiful, battered figurehead move and live. She spoke to him, the words emerging without any movement of the beak, still in no language they could know, but still perfectly understood by all. “I thank you, Nicholas Hobbes, for the blood you offered to me in this statue: the blood and the pain and the death. You made this a strong vessel for me.” She took a step towards him then, and said, “But you fell short of the truth. I do not bear the lash. I wield it.” Quicker than the eye could follow, her talons lashed out and pierced the shoulder and upper arm of the bosun Stuart, who stood mouth agape on the main deck; he roared in pain, and the barbed whip fell from his hand. The Lady’s other taloned hand caught it, snapped the whip in the air with a crack like thunder, like a mast giving way in a storm. Stuart fell to his knees, and the Lady’s talons drew out of his flesh. She snapped the whip again, and the crack was even louder: a ship wrecking on rocks. The third time, when the whip cracked, the wooden statue fractured and fell away in pieces: and the Goddess herself was revealed.

She was pale, the dead white of bone, but her eyes were a deep burning red, her lips as red and wet as hot blood. Her hair was the gleaming blue-black of a raven’s feathers, cascading down her back in a fluttering mane that seemed to have a life of its own. She stood nude, and so gloriously, impossibly beautiful was she that every man there was instantly inflamed by her face and figure, and wanted her – and knew themselves unworthy of her caresses, and turned away, in fear and anger and shame and burning lust.

All but Damnation Kane. For he, unlike the Englishmen, recognized her. And as she turned and smiled at him alone, he whispered her name aloud.

“Morrigan,” he said.

The Battle-Crow smiled wider, and stepped close to him then. For a moment he thought she would embrace him, would kiss him; and he knew if she did, it would destroy him utterly: and he longed for her to do it. But she did not. Instead she spoke, the power and glory in her voice suppressed now, her words for his ears alone: now she spoke Irish.

“I did not come here for you,” she said. “I came for Manannan Mac Lir. He asked me to serve his will, and offered me blood and death in exchange.” Still smiling, she said, “I am satisfied with my bargain.” She looked out at the water, at the blood, and her smile turned sultry and satisfied, and again Damnation’s lust burned brighter than his will to live: he began to move towards her, reaching out to take her in his arms. She glanced towards him as he stepped within a pace of her perfect beauty.

The smile faded, and a bottomless, eternal anger burned in those eyes, which now turned the impossible color of the light that had shone from the cracks in the statue: the light of madness, in the color of death. “Impudent man,” she said, spitting the words with immortal contempt, the sound of her teeth clashing together like the fall of a mountain of skulls, the hissing of her breath the spurt of blood from a thousand cut throats. “You would smear your filthy human lust on me?” She opened her mouth, and her teeth were jagged fangs, her throat the opening of a bottomless pit of darkness. The last of Damnation’s lust was washed away by terror as she opened her mouth wider, wider, wide enough to swallow him whole: and he cowered back from her then, and looked away.

She paused. Then she spoke again, her voice again no more than human; but he would not look to see if her mouth was human as well. “Manannan Mac Lir will protect you until you can return to the time you left. When the blood is gone, he will leave you to your own devices.” She paused, and then said, sounding reluctant, “He may be right about you, mortal. Perhaps.”

Her hand grasped his chin: her skin was both smooth as silk and hard as steel, hot as fire and cold as death. She turned his face to hers, and he could not keep his eyes closed while she wished him to look at her. Anger flashed in her eyes, tiny bursts of green-red dark-light blooming and fading; with each bloom, he felt as though his soul cringed back from a blow. “I am displeased with you, Damnation Kane. And so I will tell you only this: I will have your blood. If you stay in this time, then I will drink your blood from your veins.” The Morrigan pressed her face close to his, and the light in her eyes battered him, smashing into him again and again. “If you can return to the time of your birth, then your blood will feed my land.” She came even closer, and her eyes were the whole world, and the whole world was pain. “The choice is yours.”

Then she kissed him, and he knew no more.

 

***

 

Balthazar Lynch had found a place to sit.

He had snuck down to the cove as soon as the bus had arrived at the farm, bringing back the men, but not Captain Kane. It was not difficult, as the men remaining at the cove did not have a reason to keep a careful watch; still, they did come and go frequently, and always armed, and Balthazar thought he would not be welcomed there if they found him. So he snuck down through the trees to the shore, and he sought a place to hide, a place where he could sit and wait.

Wait for the Captain to return.

He had no reason to think the Grace would come back here; if what Vaughn and O’Gallows and the others had said was true, the man they called the Abomination had wanted only two things: the ship, and the Captain. Now that he had them both, he might do – anything. Go anywhere, follow whatever course to whatever evil purpose his twisted mind imagined. Why think they would come back?

But then, Balthazar told himself, why think they wouldn’t?

It was a weak hope, but it was enough. And once he found a way to climb the Serpent’s Fang, the tall stand of rock to the west of the cove (there was another to the east, but it was thinner and could not be easily scaled) from the side opposite the house and the guards, and found a ledge wide enough to perch on, where he could sit comfortably and watch the sea while remaining unseen – well, it was so easy that it felt like he had two reasons to come and keep watch.

No: he had only one reason. But it was the only reason that mattered.

He passed the time reading on his phone, practicing his mathematics, drilling himself on proper writing and spelling. He had long conversations with his friend Mindy, who wavered back and forth between encouraging his vigil and telling him to give up. Chester Grable, his other friend from the New World (as Balthazar thought of 2011), was sure that there was no hope, and so Balthazar stopped reading his messages after the second day.

After the tenth day, however, he began to look back at them, and he could not say that Chester was wrong.

But still he came to this ledge every day. The men were camped at the farm of Diego Hill, recovering from their captivity and the floggings, and the vile medicines with which the Abomination had sought to break their will – heroin, Diego had named it, and had cursed the Shadowman soundly, and immediately made it his personal mission to save the men from the clutches of this poison. He himself had lost his soul to it, once, he said; he would not let it happen to another man if he could help. So the crew had a home, for now, and the haler, stronger men, especially Kelly and MacManus, had begun working for Two-Saint, in small ways. So perhaps they had prospects, and even – hope.

Balthazar Lynch had a place to sit.

When three weeks had passed without a single sign, Balthazar knew that Chester was right: the ship was gone. The Captain was gone. They would not return here.

But still Balthazar came, and sat, and watched, even though he could not have said why. If he had the words, he might have said, “Why does the heart beat, the blood flow? Why do children dream, and birds sing? It is life. There is nothing else.” But nobody said anything to him when he left each morning, riding a borrowed bicycle to the cove, where he hid it in the trees and crept down to the shore before climbing to his ledge, nobody asked, and so he said nothing at all. He tried to think nothing at all, too, but was less successful at that.

On the twenty-second day of his vigil, Balthazar Lynch fell asleep. He dreamed strange, disturbing dreams, dreams of crows tearing eyes out of men’s heads, and of a beautiful woman wielding a whip across the bloody back of a man, and of a man melting into a cloud of dust and blowing away in a wind that came from everywhere at once.

At last he started awake, so violently that he nearly fell from his ledge; for some moments he had to lay still, clinging to handholds on the rock face, letting his racing heart slow and return to a normal pace.

When he felt himself again, and the dreams had faded into unreality once more, he knew that there was no reason to come back again. That night would mark Samhain, the feast of the dead; he would pray to all the gods to care for the soul of Damnation Kane, his captain and friend: the man he loved.

He looked out to sea just as the sun slipped beneath the horizon in the west: and in that instant, he saw the green flash, the last glimpse of light at the moment of sunset.

And in that instant, he saw a ship. Far out to sea, but near enough that he could make out two masts, and square-rigged sails.

The Grace of Ireland had returned.

Damnation Kane had returned.

 

***

And on that note, the second book of the adventures of Damnation Kane comes to an end. I hope, friends and readers and fellow lovers of all things pirate, that it has not been a disappointment; I hope that you will continue reading the third and final volume, until we come to the end of this journey together.

For those who do wish to keep reading, I’m sorry to say that there will be some delay; I now have another book to organize, edit, format, and publish; and before I do all of that, I’m also going to write some bonus chapters, so that those of you who have followed along online will have a reason (I hope) to buy the book when it’s ready, beyond (I hope) simply wanting your own copy of this story. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I promise you this: I can see the end of this story, and I want to get there more than anyone else — except maybe Damnation. I will get to the next part as soon as I possibly can.

Until then, please keep an eye on this space, where I will post updates about the second book; please consider purchasing the first book, if you haven’t already: you can find links to the electronic and print versions on my website, here. And thank you for reading.

 

Théoden “Dusty” Humphrey

Advertisements
Categories: Book II, Captain's Log, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter #82: The End (Part II)

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

 

***

 

Some time later, he woke in a momentary burst of perfect crystalline agony, as if the whole world had frozen solid, and then shattered into splinters – and then each and every one of those needle-sharp shards stabbed into his flesh. He arched his back, groaning, every muscle taut with agony; and then he fainted once more.

The English sailor chortled and then threw a second bucket of seawater across the Irishman’s back; unfortunately, the bloody pirate didn’t react the second time. The man shrugged and smeared the strange milky-blue ointment he had been given by the Shadowman and told to use on the pirate’s raw, bleeding back; had he known what was infused into the salve, he might have been more cautious about applying it. Or perhaps he might have kept it for himself. As it was, he would feel the effects later, and would chalk it up, as the men did whenever they were visited by evil visions, to the malevolent spirits that gathered around the Shadowman.

They were not far wrong.

The sailor finished his ministrations, tying clean strips of cloth over the wounds, and then leaving the unconscious pirate tied to the Scourged Lady, like a bride and groom in Hell, dancing together as the devil’s whips slashed and tore at them, and the blood flowed like wine.

The drugs in the salve worked quickly into Damnation’s bloodstream; deadening his pain, they allowed him to fall into a deeper slumber: and then the hallucinogenic compounds flooded his brain and Damnation began to moan and whimper as the nightmares stooped down, caught him in their terrible claws, and swept him away.

 

***

 

He dreamed that he stood on a beach, a beach that seemed familiar, though the sea before him was black, and the sky above a turgid, looming maelstrom of red and dark grey, smoke and fire and thunder coursing and writhing above. He stood with both his arms outstretched, and in his hands was his sword, pointed at the sky; the blade gleamed, and the words Sangre-Muerte-Libertad flashed red in the hellish blood-colored light. He looked up from the blade and saw, between him and the black waves crashing onto the gray-brown mottled sand – the foam running in sickly green gouts and swaths across the sand like corruption from a wound – a line of men kneeling one behind the other all the way to the water’s edge. He looked closer and saw that they were his men, the crew of the Grace of Ireland. As he realized it, they stood, moving as one, and marched in a line until the first – his mate and right-hand man, Ian O’Gallows – stood directly before him. Ian’s face was somber, even sad, and Damnation wanted to say something to comfort his friend; wanted to smile,  wanted to put down the sword ( surely there was no reason to hold a blade when facing his own crew?) and clap Ian on the shoulder, clasp his arm in friendship, offer him some solace for his suffering. But Damnation could not move, not a muscle, not an inch; he could not open his mouth even to speak, could make no sounds emerge from his throat.

But then, without him willing it to happen, his arms moved: the tip of the sword turned down, down, until it pointed straight at the center of Ian’s breast.

Then Ian, eyes on Damnation, walked forward, moving steadily. The sword pierced him, and blood flowed; Damnation tried to shout, to drop the blade, to throw the sword from him, but he could only stand still as Ian thrust himself forward, driving the blade deeper into his own chest, deeper, and then through him: and still he came, until his breastbone pressed against the crossguard, and Damnation could feel the hot blood on his petrified fingers. He did not look down, though: he looked only into Ian’s eyes, seeing the sorrow there, the grief, grief that was reflected on Damnation’s heart.

Ian’s knees gave, and he sagged down, and though it burned and tore at the muscles of his arms, his shoulders, his back, still Damnation could not lower his arms, could not lower the blade: he held it outstretched, parallel to the ground. Ian’s eyes slowly rolled back in his head, his face going slack: dead. His head fell to the side, his body falling limp, the blood slowing to a trickle, a creep. And then the sharp blade began to cut up through Ian’s flesh, as his weight pulled down, until finally the sword burst free from Ian’s shoulder, the lifeless body collapsing to the sand at Damnation’s feet.

Revealing, standing behind him, Damnation’s cousin, Owen McTeigue. And everything repeated, with Owen: sad-eyed, he walked onto Damnation’s blade, bled, died, and slowly fell as the blade worked its way up through his corpse.

And was succeeded by Llewellyn Vaughn. And then Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Shane MacManus. His kinsmen Arthur Gallagher and Michael Rearden. Salty O’Neill. Liam Finlay. Padraig Doyle. Roger Desmond and Robert Sweeney. Abram O’Grady, moving steadily over the sand even on his pegleg. One by one they died, and fell, their bodies tumbling over each other, now pressing up against his legs like a woodpile that had fallen into him.

The last was Balthazar Lynch. He was weeping openly, and Damnation could feel tears rolling down his own cheeks. But the sword never wavered: and Lynch, who was a full head shorter than most of his crewmates, was not tall enough for the sword’s point to run through his chest: it slid into his throat, just below his softly rounded chin. His blood sprayed as the sword pierced his neck, sprayed hot across Damnation’s face: and when Lynch died and fell, the sword slewed suddenly sideways, and severed the youth’s head entirely.

But the head did not fall.

Lynch’s eyes opened. As they did, his body, and the bodies of all of the other dead men, rose to their feet. They stood in a circle around Damnation, and he began to spin, his arms still holding the sword outstretched as he turned rapidly in place – not moving his feet, simply spinning like a top. As he watched, his gaze going form man to man, the men raised their hands, and dug their nails into the wounds in their chests and in Lynch’s neck. They tore their flesh like cloth, like paper, and ripped it away, revealing themselves changed, underneath.  They were still themselves, but now every one was aged into his dotage: wrinkled and sagging flesh covered with liver spots, hair white and falling out, teeth gone, yellowed filmy eyes swaddled in plum-colored pouched lids. He spun, and saw them all ancient, decrepit – Lynch’s head now settled back onto his neck, the wound vanished in the sagging jowls drooping from his chin.

Their hands raised again, now to their faces: they scratched and clawed at their eyes, their ears, their mouths; they found purchase, dug in, tore the paper-thin skin away –

They stood in a circle around him, and they were beings of light, glorious, exalted. Human shapes gone, frailties and infirmities vanished, they burned and shone like stars. The red-grey turbulence above reeled back, fleeing to the horizon, fleeing the light; and Damnation was blinded by it, so much light he could see nothing at all.

 

***

 

He opened his eyes. The light was gone, his men were gone, the beach, the sword, all vanished. He looked about him now and saw only darkness. It was a comfort, now.

Then he heard a voice, a familiar voice, speaking words in a dead tongue, speaking at a slow, rhythmic pace. A longing burst into him, a longing so deep, so poignant, that he cried out, wordlessly; he thought the steady chanting paused then, even missed a beat – but then it continued, and perhaps it had not paused at all. Though he could not sense his body, could not tell direction nor sense where he was, he had a feeling of turning around, turning, turning – there.

Surrounded by the flickering glow of torchlight, his mother knelt, somewhere before him, though he could not tell how close or far, nor where she was. He longed to reach out to her, to call out to her, to see her eyes as she recognized him, to hear her say his name; but he could not find his own body to move his limbs, his lips, his lungs. He drank in the sight of her: he saw new grey strands in her hair, saw that she wore a dark robe of heavy material that swaddled her completely, saw the lines carved deeper at the sides of her mouth and the corners of her eyes, saw the crease between her brows that came when she was worried or afraid. He listened to her chanting, speaking the language of the druids, and he knew she was seeking him.

He could not reach out to her. He could not even find himself to try.

He watched as her head began to fall forwards, as her eyelids drooped down, her chanting slowed; the light around her seemed to dim, and she – or he – began to recede. With no idea how he did it, he opened a mouth he did not have, breathed air into lungs that did not exist, and called out, “Mam!”

Her eyes jumped open. Her head snapped up. Her mouth fell agape, the chant stopping entirely. She looked: and she saw him. She reached out, she cried out, “Nate!”

She disappeared.

Damnation collapsed once more, and fell into another vision.

 

***

 

He wakened in pain, his back on fire, arms shaking with cramps; he bit his tongue to keep from crying out, and slowly raised his head and looked around through slitted eyes. Rain washed down his face in streams, and he blinked it away so he could see.

He saw the Scourged Lady. He was tied to her, chest to chest, hanging back from arms wrapped around her neck, his wrists bound together behind her, his arms looped through the spaces between her head and her raised arms, her own wrists bound together as his were, but with the wood that comprised her, rather than rope: her bonds were part of her substance. Rain washed down her face and made it seem as though she wept. From the sky above, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled and boomed.

With a groan, he pulled himself upright, his arms quivering and aching with the motion, his shoulders nearly crying out with relief as his weight eased off of them. His legs shook as he stood upright – and suddenly his strength fell away like autumn leaves blown from their branches, and he collapsed forward, sagging against the Lady, who held him up, held him almost in an embrace, as if she tried to comfort him. He sighed and leaned into her, his arms clasped about her neck. The storm above eased, the thunder passing into the distance, the rain tapering to a drizzle and then nothing.

Then, in the quiet after the storm, he heard a strange sound. It was almost a cracking, a snapping, but it was drier, quieter; not the snapping of a twig, but the crumpling of folded paper. He tried to ignore it: but this was his ship, and he could not ignore it when his senses detected something out of the ordinary; too much of being a captain over a ship was paying attention, was never turning a blind eye to something that looked not quite right – or a deaf ear. It was too ingrained in him to deny, even now, even as he was. He turned his head wearily, opened his eyes to see what it was.

It was his beloved Grace: she was falling to pieces. As he watched, the yards fell from the mainmast, making again that crumpling, crumbling sound; the wooden yards fell into splinters as they came down, pattering onto the deck like dry rain. He felt something soft and desiccated brush by his face, his shoulders; he looked up and saw the sails and shrouds of the foremast, rising up directly above him, now falling in flakes and flinders like cold ash, like burned snow. As he looked up, the foremast broke in half with a dry snap!, and then broke again; the segments clattered to the deck, shattering when they hit with a sound like old bones thrown onto a wooden table. The mainmast followed, the shrouds and lines puffing into clouds of dust. He breathed it in, and it coated his throat so that he choked, the ash sticking to his rain-wet skin in dry, itching clumps.

His heart leapt into his throat. His ship! His ship was – was dying, was crumbling into ashes and dust! As he watched, the rails cracked and fell away, the poop deck and the cabins beneath fell in on themselves in a cloud of grey particles and fragments of wood. The deck groaned and shuddered under his feet, a crack suddenly splitting across from port to starboard, then running suddenly to stern – and then under his feet – and then he was falling, crashing through the decks which blew apart as he struck them, like dry crusts of bread crushed under a bootheel.

But the Scourged Lady remained: solid and heavy, she fell with him, fell below him, and then she hit the water with a splash, he falling across her, his arms around her neck and his hands in the water; all around them, the shell of the ship shivered and whispered as it crackled into dust and fell away.

He straddled the wooden Lady, tried to sit upright – tried to reach out to his ship, to call to her, to save her; but he was bound tightly and could not free himself, and could not turn away nor reach out his hand. He lowered his face to the Lady’s, closed his eyes, and wept.

He sensed movement. He raised his head and opened his eyes. At first he saw nothing but a cloud all around him, like dark grey fog: it was all that remained of his beauty, of his Grace. A sob shook his throat and made him cough: the expulsion of his breath roiled the cloud, and then he saw what had moved: it was a hand, an arm, reaching out to him, the fingers outspread, stretching towards him. The arm was slender, the hands smaller than a man’s, but seeming strong, nonetheless; and they reached for him, to him: reached to save him.

As he looked at that hand, a word flashed into his mind, a word he somehow knew was attached to that arm, to the person behind that reaching hand, the person he could not see. Traitor. Betrayer. He felt a hot anger wash through him, and his eyes and throat burned with the heat of his rage and the dust of his Grace.

The traitor’s arm reached out to him, reached to save him. It could not get to him unless he reached out, as well, met the traitor halfway.

Damnation turned away from the saving hand. He lay full-length atop the floating figurehead: he embraced the Scourged Lady, finding solace there in pain, in her unchanging solidity, her reliable unliving immobility.

The hand drew slowly back, vanishing into the dust.

Damnation and the Scourged Lady sank beneath the surface of the water, down into the endless cold depths. The sea poured into him, washing away the heat of his rage, washing away the last clinging remnants of his ship. He was left with – nothing. Cold. Dark.

Peace.

 

***

 

He woke, choking on a mouthful of fresh water. His back was numb, his arms afire, his head pounding. He groaned, cracked one eye open; a man’s head, silhouetted darkness against the starry sky, leaned close. Damnation made a noise like words, and the silhouette leaned closer, said softly, “Take more. You’ll need it.”

Hobbes. A cool metal pressed against his lips, and Damnation opened his mouth: cool, sweet, fresh water poured slowly into him, and he swallowed again and again, feeling the burning ache in his throat vanish, feeling his limbs and extremities sighing in relief. The water slowed and stopped, and he held the last mouthful for a moment, sluicing it around in his mouth; then he swallowed. With that, his consciousness returned fully, and he was alert. He nodded to Hobbes and said, “Thank you.” Then with a moan and a curse, he stood upright, finding himself as in his dream, tied to the Scourged Lady – but his ship, thankfully, remained whole around and under him.

Hobbes offered the metal bottle, and he drank more until the water was gone. Without a word, the Englishman disappeared, as well.

As well as he could, though he could not free himself, Damnation turned away from the Scourged Lady. She was not his solace; for him, she held no true comfort. He saw a slight movement behind her, and he stretched out his hand and caught – a rope. A length of two-inch rope, sticky with tar, swinging free at one end since the ship was at anchor, but attached to the foremast above.

Attached to his Grace.

He held that rope with both hands, his face turned away from the statue to which he was bound; and, softly, he sang a song to his ship. A love song.

Then he slept.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter #81: The End (Part I)

Continuing With Our Story…

It was mid-afternoon when Damnation and Andre arrived at the cove where the Grace of Ireland and her crew were held. The light seemed to gleam in the humid air, giving everything the glow of well-polished wood. The air was still, without breeze, as though the world held its breath; below the horizon, clouds were climbing atop one another, reaching higher and higher, and soon they would spill out across the sky, hiding the stars and moon and sun, bringing rain, perhaps, or only the threat and promise of it. Who can say? The clouds their own counsel keep.

The Jeep came to a slow stop some two hundred yards from the farmhouse and its armed guards and its cage of prisoners. Damnation strained his eyes, trying to pierce the screen of trees, to see the ocean beyond and what lay on it. He did not look at his men, though several of them had spied the Jeep and were pointing and murmuring, seeking to determine what had arrived into their lives this day, and what would be the price of knowing.

As they sat in the Jeep, parked in the middle of the long packed-dirt driveway, Andre’s phone rang. He answered it with a terse, “Yah,” and then paused to listen. Then, “Right, Old King’s Road, ‘bout seven, eight mile pas’ Morgan Point. Look for de Serpent’s Fangs. Yah.” He hung up, and then, without looking at his passenger, said, “De bus is comin’. Be here ten, fitteen minutes, maybe.”

Damnation nodded. “And you’re certain ‘twill carry them all?”

Andre nodded. “Hold 40, 45 passengers. No problem.” He tuned to look at the pirate then. “You just ‘ave to get dem out de cage.”

Again, Damnation nodded. Suddenly he turned to Andre and grinned – though his eyes were hollow, still. “No problem,” he said, and then without any further discussion, he was out of the Jeep and walking towards the line of trees, his back straight and his shoulders tall.

When he was halfway to the line of trees, a cry went up from the men in the cage: they had recognized him. “Kane! Captain Kane! It’s the Captain, lads!” Damnation’s jaw tensed, his fists clenched, but he kept walking. Towards the trees: not towards the cage. He did not look at his men, nor respond to their shouts. Those shouts grew more desperate, as though the men’s rescue from their cage relied on their captain recognizing them, acknowledging them; and perhaps it did. If men can be ignored, denied, they may be left behind: they may be sacrificed. Soon the men lined the side of the cage, their fingers knotted through the chain-link fencing, clutching the solid steel poles of the frame; the cords in the necks stood out, their eyes wide and bulging, as they shouted, louder, and louder, and louder: “Captain! Captain Kane! We’re here! Over here, sir! Sir! Captain! Help us! Save us!”

Damnation did not look at them. But had they been closer, had they stood right before him, they might have noticed his lips moving, might have heard the words he muttered; though his voice was so low, so quiet, that even had they been before him, they may not have been able to make it out. He said: “No. I am not. Not your captain. I can’t help you. I can’t. I will do what I can but I can’t save you. Not I.”

As he passed the cage and walked on towards the line of trees, the shouts trailed off, ending with a last few desperate pleas, and angry questions; finally a wordless cry of despair. At this last, Damnation’s gaze snapped towards the cage, and the men who stared after him – the ones who had not already given up hope and turned away in confused resignation – held their breath and leaned collectively forward, their faces now pressed against the steel fence. Without raising his voice, speaking in a conversational tone, so soft they would not have heard him had there been a wind and had he not spoken in the breath between waves crashing on the shore, Damnation said, “I will free you.” And then he was gone into the trees, and the men fell away from the chainlink as if the last of their strength had left with their captain.

Not a minute later, a strange conveyance, twice the height and three times the length of the beast-wagons they had grown accustomed to, arrived at the farm and came to a halt behind the Jeep that was still parked two hundred yards away. From the long, tall wagon a man emerged, and came to speak to the driver of the Jeep. Then all of them waited, unsure of what would happen next.

Damnation, however, was sure. He expected the lift he felt when he came through the screen of trees and saw the ocean, and his ship, once more; he expected the subsequent plunge as he remembered that the ship, like the crew he had left behind, was no longer his to command, or to save; if they were to be saved, it would be by another, by themselves, by a watchful God, if such a thing could be. The best that he could do was to trade his life for the bare fact of their freedom from their current captivity – and for his ship, he could not even offer that. He raised his eyes to the sky and said a brief prayer, asking for forgiveness for his failure, for his weakness; though he did not know to whom he prayed, nor what he would have if his prayers were answered.

Regardless, though, he walked with confidence down to the water’s edge, where a ship’s boat was drawn up on the sand. The Grace floated at anchor a quarter mile out to sea; on either side of her, the small cove was hemmed in by a tall spike of stone, and the two together did indeed resemble the fangs of a giant serpent. The sea was calm, only low swells rolling in, and he could see men moving around on the ship, though he could not tell what they were doing; that ignorance, and the fact that, even if he had known what those men out there were doing to his ship, he himself had no power whatsoever to change it, were bitter in his throat, bitter and sharp as a swallow of nails.

Damnation was at the boat before the two men guarding it were aware of him; when they finally noticed the tall man standing before them, gaze fixed to the ship, they cursed and scrambled up from where they had been sprawled in the sand, drowsing over their uneventful guard detail. They came towards him warily, guns pointed in his direction; for a moment, Damnation looked at the two men, and the contempt in that gaze was sharper than any blade.

He looked back to the ship and nodded in her direction. “Take me out to her,” he ordered.

One of the men scoffed at this stranger’s attempt to command them; the other – the smarter one – narrowed his eyes, wondering who this man was to think he could order them so. Neither spoke, nor moved to shove the boat into the water and man an oar.

Damnation glanced at them again, the contempt now exchanged for impatience. “I am – well, if not expected, I am at the least sought after.”

The two men frowned, and still did nothing but stand warily and point gun barrels at the strange Irishman.

Damnation sighed. It seemed he had spoken beyond, or above them; clearly the brains of these two did not have much reach. “I am Damnation Kane,” he told them. “That was once my ship. The man who has it now has been looking for me.”

The two guards reacted to that. The men were dressed in modern attire, blue jeans and low canvas sneakers and loose cotton shirts with short sleeves; one man had a black-and-white patterned bandanna tied around his head and the other was shaved bald with a patchy beard trying (and failing) to make up for it; because of their clothes, Damnation had not expected what he now saw in their faces, heard in their voices: recognition. And the accents of British sailors.

“Izzit ‘im?” the sailor in the bandanna asked the bald one. “Izzit Kane?”

The bald sailor nodded, a wondering sort of smile – mixed with an eagerness, a hunger, that spoke of danger – spreading his lips, revealing brown and broken teeth. “Aye. ‘At’s ‘im, right enough. I seen ‘im when we came at ‘im back ‘ome, afore –” the man spat.

Then he leaped to his companion, catching his shoulders and holding him back as the slighter man cursed and snarled and struggled to break free and reach Damnation. Damnation, nonplussed, took a step back, looking at the Englishman who seemed to have forgotten he held a firearm, or perhaps he wanted to use his bare hands and feel the Irishman’s blood running over his knuckles. The curses and threats trailed off, and then Damnation realized the man was shouting a single sentence, over and over.

“Take us back! Take us back! Take us back!”

Damnation looked at the two men, his face blank; but behind that mask, his eyes, hollow before, were now filled with sorrow. With regret.

The sailor trailed off into cries that were half-weeping. And Damnation said, softly, “If I could apologize to ye, I would.”

His words seemed to deflate the man, and he fell to his knees in the sand. The bald sailor let his partner drop, and sneered at Damnation; then he spat at the pirate’s feet, turned away and started hauling the boat out into the water. After a moment, Damnation went to help him, and by the time they had the wooden boat floating, the third man had scrubbed the tears from his eyes, and he waded out and climbed into the boat, taking an oar. The bald sailor joined him on the other oar, and Damnation sat in the stern, facing their angry, accusatory eyes, but never meeting their gazes; he watched over their shoulders as his ship grew closer, grew larger.

As they neared the Grace, a man on board (who, it seemed, kept a better watch than these two) called out, “Boat on the port side!” Men came to the rail, vanished, then returned with boat hooks and ropes, and a rope ladder was unfurled over the ship’s side. The two sailors maneuvered the boat expertly against the side of the ship; the bald sailor shipped his oar and caught the rope ladder; two boat hooks snagged the gunwale of the boat, and a rope was tossed to the other sailor, who tied it to a cleat and made it fast. He looked up at the men at the rail and half-called, half-hissed, “It’s ‘im! It’s the Irishman! Kane!”

Suddenly the men at the rail held weapons, and as Damnation climbed the rope ladder, he felt an itch move from between his shoulder blades to his breastbone, then up to his forehead; and he knew he was feeling the sharp gaze of men who were not only willing, but eager, to murder him on the spot and watch his bloody corpse sink beneath the waves.

But this was his ship, and the second his hands gripped the wood of her rail, all fear and all regret left him. He was nothing now but iron determination. He came aboard, moving slowly, holding his hands out wide to show he was completely unarmed, and then he said loudly, clearly, “I am Damnation Kane. This is my ship.”

One of the British sailors snarled and swung a fist at Damnation’s gut, but the Irishman spotted the movement, and somehow managed to move even quicker than the Englishman, stepping out of the way of the blow. The sailor stumbled as his punch struck only air; Damnation stood unmoving, though he could have struck easily at the off-balance attacker. The man looked, mouth agape, over his shoulder at Damnation, who smiled, his hands still empty and spread wide. From behind, a voice said, ‘”How did he move –” and another snickered. The Englishman reddened, straightened up and faced the Irish pirate squarely; he drew his fist back for another swing, when a voice said, “Stop.”

That voice had come from the poop deck, where the wheel was that steered the ship, where the man stood who set the course: but this voice was not the voice of command, not a captain’s voice barking out orders. This voice seemed to creep, to seep into one’s ears, to trail along one’s skin, creating a sensation of slithering: of infiltrating, sneaking down under the surface and planting unseen hooks. Captain’s voice or not, this was a voice to be obeyed. And all the men on board did so, the fist lowering, Damnation dropping his hands to dangle by his sides, all of them turning to face – him.

The Shadowman.

Even in bright daylight, the late summer afternoon sun of Bermuda, it was difficult to see clearly what he looked like: the sunlight seemed to draw back from him, unwilling to touch, or even to come too close. His skin was quite dark, with the reddish undertones of West Africa, of the Ibo, of the Ivory Coast, the people who had made up the majority of the victims of chattel slavery – and also, the people whose religion and rituals had served as the foundation for what was now called voodoo.

Something that the Shadowman knew quite a lot about.

Damnation looked up at the man who, if he did not own it, at the least controlled his ship. He saw flat black eyes, deepset and hooded by a high brow that swept back into a smoothly shaven head, sitting atop a thin neck over narrow shoulders and a frame that approached gaunt. The hands that gripped the rail were long, thin, and spidery – but also looked strong, with large knuckles and veins snaking across the lines of the tendons. The man wore dark clothing, loose fitting, that covered him to the wrist and the ankle; but somehow one had the sense that he would make even bright clothing look dark: and if he stood nude, he would be clothed in shadows.

The Shadowman looked down at him, but Damnation felt no fear.

“I am Damnation Kane, the captain of this ship,” he said in a clear voice. He took another step towards the poop deck. “I am the man you have been looking for.”

The Shadowman’s hands tightened on the rail. When he spoke, his mouth opened wide, and yet one could not see teeth behind those thin lips, nor the pink of gums nor tongue: only the blackness of a cavern, of a pit. And out of that cavern crept that voice, that venomous, desiccated voice, like a deadly serpent slithering into your ear. “What makes you think you know what I seek?” The sibilant whisper should have been too quiet for Damnation to hear over the sound of the waves, the creaking of the ship; but he heard every word perfectly. And every word made his skin crawl.

But he showed no sign of it, merely staring boldly back at the Shadowman. He did not answer the question; he was here for a purpose, not a conversation. “I have come to offer myself in exchange for the release of my men, whom you hold on shore,” he said: and his voice was the voice of a captain, the sounds ringing out as clear as the pealing of a bell.

The Shadowman tilted his head, and with the movement, one very much expected a long forked tongue to flick from his mouth, tasting the air, feeling for the heat of his prey: hunting. “One man for eleven? That seems a poor bargain for me,” he said softly.

“Fourteen,” said Damnation. “I want the Englishmen, too.” He turned a baleful gaze on the sailors around him. “The ones with honor and courage enough to refuse to scourge my men.” Sneers and snarls met his words – and a few downcast eyes. Damnation looked back to the Shadowman. “But they are all nothing to you: I am the only one you seek. My blood is what you seek.”

The dark eyes widened, showing a flash of white in the shadows; the head seemed to slither forward on the thin neck, as if it could now taste its prey. No forked tongue slipped from between the lips, but the nostrils flared, perhaps catching a scent. “So it is blood we are speaking of,” the Shadowman whispered – perhaps even hissed. He leaned forward over the rail, his slender body seeming to curve more than bend. “Perhaps you should allow me to sample what you offer.”

Damnation once more suppressed a shudder; then he nodded curtly. With a brief glance to the armed men standing on either side of him, he bent down and quickly drew a knife from his tall leather boot, a utilitarian blade, sharp but stained steel with a well-worn wooden handle. There was some slight closing in as he rose, now armed, but the Shadowman had slid (seemingly without steps, or strides) to the top of the companionway from the poop to the main deck; he paused there and raised his head indignantly, frowning at the sailors. He did not speak, but his expression was eloquent in saying, Surely you don’t think I need protection from him? The Englishmen melted back away without a murmur, but with many fearful and a few resentful glances. The Shadowman oiled down the stairs, his upper body seeming to float over his legs, undisturbed by the motion of walking. He slid to a spot in front of Damnation and two paces away, and the two men locked eyes, each taking the measure of the other: the Irishman was taller, broader, his hands callused from sailing and from fighting; the houngan wore an aura of power along with the predatory menace that wrapped around him as closely as his shadows.

Without a word, Damnation brought the knife to his left forearm and cut the skin there, drawing a line of blood from the back of his wrist. He lowered the blade and held out his left hand. The Shadowman glanced from the blood to Damnation’s face – and then, quick as a striking viper, he snapped forward, clutched Damnation’s arm with both hands (the grip of those long fingers shockingly strong) and, bringing his face close, he licked the blood from the wound. Now Damnation did recoil: and the Shadowman smiled, revealing clean white teeth with a thin line of red between the upper and lower. His grip kept Damnation from stepping back, and with a visible effort, the pirate controlled himself and stood still. The Shadowman closed his lips, worked his tongue around in his mouth; then his eyes rolled back in their sockets, his face falling slack, his head rolling back on his neck as if in a trance or in sheer ecstasy, and he groaned softly.

And Damnation felt the strangler’s grip loosen.

Now it was the pirate who moved with stunning quickness: in an instant he had twisted his left arm out of the Shadowman’s grip and grabbed the man’s right wrist in his left hand. He pulled the man close, stepping back and swinging his elbow up and over the dark head, and now he brought that sharp boot knife up and pressed the blade against the thin, wiry neck.

The Shadowman spat a curse in a spray of blood and began to struggle: in that first instant, he nearly broke free as he twisted his arm in Damnation’s grip and unexpectedly tried to drop to the ground. But the pirate had seen the serpentine agility and quickness; he had felt the strength in those hands and wrists; and he held on to the Shadowman as tightly as he would grip a line in a storm, knowing if he lost control of the line he would lose control of the ship, and all would be lost. That strength was enough, and the Shadowman stayed in his grasp. Then the free left arm snatched at his right wrist – until he pressed the blade tight against the line of the man’s jaw, piercing the skin, drawing a new line of blood. The Shadowman stopped struggling then.

Then the cursing started.

At first it was simply a string of profanity in at least three languages, and the words that Damnation understood were pungent enough to make him wish he spoke the other tongues as well, so that he could learn new foulnesses for his own repertoire. The furious houngan split the epithets and disapprobations equally between Damnation and the English sailors who had failed to stop him; apparently the Shadowman himself deserved no blame for his unwary actions.

Then the man stopped even his idle struggling, and became still. Damnation felt him take a deep breath, and then a sibilant rattle of strange sounds emerged from him; it was barely recognizable as a language, but the ominous threat was unmistakable. Immediately Damnation leaned back, pulling the man’s right arm up and over his shoulder, turning the elbow painfully; at the same time, he pressed the knife into the flesh of the neck once more, drawing new blood and threatening to draw it all. And in the man’s ear, Damnation murmured, “With you dead, what have I to fear?”

Once more the Shadowman grew still, and this time, silent. Damnation allowed the pressure on the blade to slack, while he kept the man’s arm at a painfully twisted angle – though the dark man did not seem to even feel the pain of his overextended joints. After a moment the Shadowman said, “If I die, they will kill you.”

Damnation cocked an eyebrow at the English sailors. “Will they?” he asked, his query directed at both the Shadowman and the Englishmen, expecting two different answers.

He got one unexpected answer: the Shadowman laughed. “Not the white men. Them.” He pointed, with his free left hand, back up the companionway to the poop deck. Damnation looked, instinctively hunkering down slightly so that the Shadowman’s body was between him and the threat. Standing at the rail were three enormous men: all the size of Kelly or Ned Burke, all with full beards and long dreadlocked hair, all as dark of skin as the Shadowman – and all, like him, darker still because the sunlight seemed to shun them. They stood, expressionless and unmoving, their eyes directed towards Damnation, though it was not clear if they looked at him, if they saw him – if they saw anything. Their eyes, their faces, were – empty.

Though no less intimidating for that. Damnation turned farther, ducking lower behind the shorter houngan, peering now over the man’s right shoulder. The Shadowman laughed again, though the noise was somewhat constricted, as Damnation’s grip had tightened. “Look up,” the Shadowman gurgled.

Damnation looked up. Above his head, the mainmast stretched forty feet up from the deck; 25-foot crosspieces, the yards, set at three different heights. To each yard a canvas sail was attached with brass rings; the sails were gathered and tied with rope to the yards; the longer ropes – the shrouds – that connected the yards and the sails down to the rails, so that men on deck could raise or lower or tighten or loosen or even turn the sails, were gathered together and tied back, or else Damnation wouldn’t have seen much when he looked up other than canvas and rope and wood. But his view was clear to the wooden platform that circled the top of the mainmast, the crow’s nest: and over the edge of that platform leaned a fourth man, a near-perfect replica of the other three as to size, hair, beard, skin, and dead-eyed expressionlessness. That man held an automatic rifle; Damnation could see the barrel and the magazine outthrust past the edge of the crow’s nest. If the man should turn that barrel down towards the deck, there would be no place to hide from the rain of deadly lead that would fall from above.

Damnation straightened up. He did not let go. “Well and so here we are. We both may die – because even yon lookout high above could not fire on me without peppering you as well – or we both may live. Shall I ask which ye prefer? Shall I tell ye my own feelings on the matter?”

The Shadowman slowed and then stilled his struggling. He was thinking, presumably about ways that Damnation could be killed without risk to himself.

Damnation spoke, trying to put a thumb on the side of the scales that held “No violence and let everyone live.” He put his lips right by the Shadowman’s ear and murmured, so low that the sailors standing nearby could not even be sure he spoke: “How did the blood taste?”

The Shadowman turned his head, just enough so that Damnation could see the side of his mouth, the corner of his eye. Damnation tipped his own head forward, so the Shadowman could see him raise an eyebrow. After a moment the Shadowman called out, his voice now coming loud and clear, without the sibilant slithering though still with the perilous feel: “Abner! Bring me my phone!” One of the men on the poop deck moved toward the companionway; Damnation turned to face the man, tightening his grip, tensing his body to move and fight. In the strangled gurgle, the Shadowman said, “Leave your guns up there!”

The man paused, put down the pistol he held, drew a second pistol from the small of his back, and placed it on the deck with the first. Then he drew a cellphone from his pocket and, holding it high, came down the companionway. Damnation didn’t relax, but he did allow the man to approach, and when he was within a pace, the Shadowman reached out with his left hand and took the phone. The houngan tapped the screen several times, and then brought the phone to his ear. Damnation pressed close to hear both sides of the conversation.

After three rings, the phone was answered; a voice with a deep Island accent said, “Yah, boss?”

“Let the prisoners go. All of them.”

There was a pause, and then the voice asked, “Ya want us t’ follow dem, or hold one, two?”

Damnation pressed the knife against his throat, and the Shadowman said, “Let them go. Send them down to the shore so we can see them from the ship, then let them go. Do not follow.”

“Yah, boss, you got it,” the voice said. The Shadowman ended the call and then held the phone out to Abner, who took it and put it back in his pocket. “Go back up,” the Shadowman said, and Abner returned to the poop deck rail, collecting his guns in passing.

A minute passed, and then another. The British sailors, standing around on the deck, began to shift idly, uneasily. The three men standing on the poop deck did not. After a third minute, the Shadowman tugged gently on his trapped right arm, clearing his throat and rolling his head on his neck. “You can let me go now,” the Shadowman said. “My men will do as I ordered them.”

Damnation tightened his grip, instead. He pulled his knife hand away from the houngan’s throat, quickly sliding his right arm under the Shadowman’s, the point of his knife now resting on the man’s belly. “When I see my men and know they are safe, I’ll let ye go and surrender to ye.”

The Shadowman was silent for a moment. Then he said, as if nothing had occurred since Damnation had asked the question, “Your blood tastes strong. Powerful.” Again he turned in Damnation’s grip, just enough to look into the pirate’s eyes from the corner of his own. “But it is not for me to taste it.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. Ye need it to move the ship. Ye need me.”

The Shadowman tipped his head. “You’re half right,” he said, and Damnation saw the corner of his mouth turn up in a smile.

Just then, a shout came from the shore, just audible from the deck. “Captain!” Damnation tried to turn to face the shore, but could not do so while holding so tight to his captive. He hesitated, but then released the man’s right arm, changing his grip to the collar of the Shadowman’s loose shirt, holding him tight with his left, laying the knife blade along the line of the man’s spine, the tip of the blade pricking the back of the shaved skull. A moment to ensure that the Shadowman would not struggle – he did not, merely shrugging his shoulder and shaking his right hand to bring back circulation – and then Damnation squinted at the shore, where he saw a tall man in tattered clothes limping rapidly along the beach, headed towards where the boat had launched, which was the closest point to the ship. The man cupped his hands to his mouth and again shouted, “Captain!”

Damnation pressed the knife close, and then he raised his left hand and waved. “Ian!” he shouted.

O’Gallows waved vigorously, and Damnation thought he could see the smile on his mate’s face from here. Cupping his hands, O’Gallows shouted, “Orders, sir!”

If O’Gallows could have made out Damnation’s face from where he stood, he wouldn’t have had to hear the orders: the sorrow webbed across the captain’s eyes, gathered in the corners of his mouth, weighing down his jaw, would have made it clear before Damnation even said what he did now. “Take the men and go,” he shouted, his voice rough, breaking on the last word. “Follow the road.” Damnation paused, and swallowed, and then said, “Don’t wait for me.”

O’Gallows actually took two steps into the water, the waves washing around his feet. “Sir!” he called out, and then, “Nate!”

The sadness turned to steel, and this time his voice did not break. “You have your orders, O’Gallows!” Damnation took a stronger hold on the Shadowman’s shirt, his gaze turning to the back of that dark, shaved head. “You will see the men safe. The ship, I will see to.” His gaze flicked back to the shore, where now he saw two more men, whom he recognized as Llewellyn Vaughn and Owen McTeigue, come along the shore to stand with O’Gallows. “Go!” Damnation shouted, as loudly, as strongly, as he could.

O’Gallows let his cupped hands fall from his mouth. Vaughn said something to him, inaudible from the ship; McTeigue stepped out into the water and laid a hand on O’Gallows’s arm. The taller man shook it off, but McTeigue reached out again; this time, O’Gallows turned away from the ship and stepped out of the water.

McTeigue hesitated for a moment, and then cupped his own hands around his mouth and called out, “Slán leat, col ceathrar!”

Damnation rocked back as if struck, and blinked his eyes, hard. “Fare thee well, too, cousin,” he called back, his voice fading at the end.

McTeigue waved; Vaughn did as well. Then they turned and, gathering O’Gallows with an arm around his shoulders, they walked away from the water, away from the ship, and away from their captain, cousin, and friend, Damnation Kane.

Once the three had vanished into the line of trees, the Shadowman turned his head; freer now, he turned until he could look at Damnation, though the Irishman still held the houngan’s shirt, and the blade of the knife stayed against the back of his neck. The Shadowman turned up his hands, not needing to actually say, “Well?”

Damnation shoved him. “Not yet,” he said gruffly. The Shadowman turned his back on Damnation without another sound.

Some minutes later, a car horn honked, then honked twice more, and then three more times. Damnation’s shoulders sagged. He let go of the Shadowman and took three steps back. He could feel English sailors pressing up close behind and to his sides, but he kept his gaze on the houngan. When the Shadowman turned slowly around to face him, Damnation held out the knife, the wooden handle turned towards the houngan.

The man stepped forward slowly, reached gingerly for the knife, and took it gently from Damnation’s hand. Damnation let his arm drop, and then squared his shoulders, facing the man head-on, accepting his fate now. Trying to.

Quick as a snake, his arm stabbing out in much the same motion as a serpent striking and sinking fangs into its prey, the Shadowman slashed Damnation’s own knife across the Irishman’s chest, tearing a gash in his shirt and drawing a line of blood from his skin. Damnation hissed in pain but did not fall back away: he kept his gaze locked on the Shadowman. The Shadowman raised the knife, pinched his thumb and finger against the sides of the blade, and drew off the blood; he knelt down and smeared his fingers across the deck of the ship, leaving a streak of crimson on the planks.

They all waited.

Nothing happened.

After a long minute, the Shadowman’s lip curled. His right hand went to his throat as he shook the knife in his left hand at Damnation. He drew his right hand away, held up his newly-bloodied fingers for Damnation to see. “Perhaps there was too much of my blood on the blade,” he growled. He crept closer and hissed. “Perhaps it needs more blood.”

He stood and shouted, “Scourge him!” The English sailors cheered. They rushed to Damnation, grabbing his arms, and dragged him towards the bow. Damnation neither resisted nor assisted. He had expected nothing to happen when his blood touched the deck, which was why he had forced the Shadowman to wait until Andre’s signal told him that the bus had driven away safely with all of his men; now, Damnation expected only to die. His only remaining wishes were that it would not be too long, or too painful, and that when he died he would still be on his ship, and not cast into the watery depths.

Well. It looked as if he would have one of those wishes granted him. But not the other two.

The Englishmen bound him to the Scourged Lady. Damnation did not resist, allowing them to put him in place and tie his arms around her. He peered up at her lovely face, carved and painted in an expression of agony, and he wondered why any man would want such a visage to embody his ship. Then he looked down at the base of the carved wooden statue, which had been crudely bolted to the deck of his lovely Grace, and he grieved that his beautiful ship would end her days thus altered, thus corrupted. Perhaps it was to the good that whatever spirit had been in her had apparently been washed away by the blood of an innocent man. Damnation closed his eyes and said a brief prayer for the soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick: first to God the Father and Christ the Son; and then to the Morrigan, she who reveled in deaths soaked in blood and stabbed with pain, and to Manannan Mac Lir, Keeper of the Ways, who would guide the souls of dead sailors through the dark waters to their final rest.

He could not help but ask for a blessing for himself, as well.

“Strip him!” the Shadowman ordered after Damnation was tethered to the Lady. “The blood must flow free.” Damnation kept his eyes closed as they cut his clothes off of his body, so they would not see the fear in his eyes.

When he was bare, left only with the sleeves of his shirt trapped under the cords that had tied him in place, the Englishmen backed away, and then there was a silence. He listened to the waves coming in to the shore, to the creaks and moans of his ship, his lovely ship, and he tried not to listen for the sound of the lash coming through the air, the sound of the hooks sinking into his bare back. He had been flogged before, as all sailors inevitably are; but never like this. He knew himself unprepared, and he prayed only that he would die well.

Then: a surprise. A voice, familiar and unexpected – the voice of Nicholas Hobbes. He heard it and knew it, though he could not make out the words Hobbes exchanged with the malevolently hissing Shadowman; he was just about to open his eyes, to see what expression, what emotion, might be on Hobbes’s face, but then Hobbes gave an order, in a clear voice, and Damnation squeezed his eyes tight shut and clenched his jaw.

The order was, “Begin.”

The lash fell almost immediately – but it did not fall, it struck, coming around his left side to his right, and the agony was instant and overwhelming. The hooks were then pulled out as the lash was drawn back for the next blow, and Damnation bared his gritted teeth; he felt blood trickling down his back, down his bare leg, and he thought he heard it pattering on the deck.

Then the lash bit him again, and he heard only the screaming in his own mind, felt only the lightning blasts of pain and the ache in his throat as he struggled, with all of his strength, with all of his will, not to let those screams out into the air: he did not want his cries to please the Shadowman and his minions.

But of course, at last, he did scream aloud, and curse them, and plead with them to stop. No matter what sound he made, how he begged, the lash struck again, and again, the hooks tearing out pieces of his flesh, spurting gouts of blood, tearing his cries from his throat, ripping his life from his body.

Until at last, a new sound could be heard. A rumbling, shaking sound, as of an enraged bull tied into a stall and beginning to tear down the very walls with its mighty struggles. When it began, the lash still struck, but as the rumbling sound grew, the lash struck but weakly, the hooks failing to catch, and then the flogging stopped.

Some moments later, Damnation’s hoarse screams faded, and then he too heard the noise. With some effort, he pried open his eyes.

The ship was on fire. But it was not a flame of red and yellow and orange, and the ship was not consumed: the Grace burned with a blue-white light flickering from every inch of her from water to sky, keel and hull to mast and sail, and he saw, through bleary eyes, the gape-mouthed sailors looking wildly around as their hair stood on end.

The deck began to shake and rock beneath them, the shrouds and lines thrumming as if in a high wind; but the sun shone down, the sea was calm with only a gentle swell – over which the Grace now pitched and tossed.

“She lives,” Damnation whispered, his torn voice full of wonder, perhaps even joy.

Then the Shadowman began to laugh. The laugh was strong and loud, without the sibilant hiss of his speech, but with every bit as much malice. Damnation turned his head, though it seemed to weigh as much as the very Earth itself, and saw the dark glee on that shadowed face. The Shadowman gestured, and Hobbes – his own expression unreadable, though he avoided looking directly at his Irish counterpart – put a hand on the arm of his giant bosun, who let his lash-arm go limp at the touch. The scourging was ended.

For now.

The Shadowman stepped close, looking into Damnation’s eyes until he saw the Irishman recognize and focus on him. Then he nodded. “You were right. You were the one I sought.” The houngan smiled wide, revealing just a hint of blood still on his white teeth. “We depart in the morning,” he said. “Before dawn.

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #79: Caged

All is lost.

No. Not all. If all were lost, what matter this log, these pages that record my life? My mind?

I know not for whom I write. At the first, and at various times since our arrival here, I have taken up this pen as a way to order my mind: I find that constricting my rampant thoughts into determinate words, especially those inscribed in the permanence of ink on paper, is a great aid to the elimination of confusion, the solution of dilemma, as the act often leads to a certainty in plans of action henceforward. After I thought that I knew our place, I hoped the tale might be preserved for posterity and the general interest – aye, and my name preserved as well, I did hope. I thought then that we would return to our native land, and my fellow men would read these words and know of our deeds, our failures and triumphs. Of late I think I have taken to this log as something of a confessor: I unburden my soul by writing here of my weaknesses and iniquities and follies, too numerous now to count.

Methinks I must write these words for my men. Soon I will be gone from them, and they may be lost; I must attempt to explain the steps we took to reach this place, so that they may find a path forward. Of course some of ye know somewhat of this, being a part of it; but I think ye do not know the whole of what I have done and the reasoning wherefore.

Thus I say, if you are reading this, my friends, Ian, Llewellyn, Balthazar, my good cousin Owen, stout Kelly, Sergeant MacManus, my strong-hearted lads: I beg your forgiveness. I have led you all so far astray. I regret it more than any sin of my thrice-cursed life that I cannot bring ye all home again.

I cannot. My ship – the Grace is, though she floats still, now shorn of that enchantment which, I believe, opened the way through Time itself to bring us here. She will never sail those mystical waters again. This world, now, is your only world. I wish you well of it.

I hope that the sacrifice of my life to save yours brings me some measure of atonement.

I will now recount for you all of what I have learned this night, so that ye may all comprehend what I now do: I know elsewise will I seem enmaddened, and I know not what constraints my madness may place on you. There are no constraints, lads: I am sound, and I am content with the one act left to me. I do this freely. Ye are free men – Irishmen. Gentlemen of fortune. Do as you will. I wish ye all joys this world may offer ye.

***

 

Once I had learned of Nicholas Hobbes the location of my captive friends, and the name of the villain who held them captive, I urged our hired pilot Andre to course us there directly so I could learn of the disposition of our foes and form stratagems. Howsoever, once Andre had learned of Lyle Okagaweh’s involvement, he insisted on speaking to Two-Saint before proceeding against such a foe; if I had needed further proof that a man may not serve two masters, I have such. As Andre served as our pilot, the steering of the ship was in his hands and his hands alone; had I wrested the conveyance from him, still I could not have found our destination without his assistance. Hence I acquiesced, though bitterly, and we returned to our lodging. Andre there did make the attempt to contact Two-Saint by ‘phone, but could not, said he, get a signal, and so he departed alone to seek out his liege. I conferred with my men, who all agree that, subtlety and subterfuge being requisite for a nighttime invasion seeking mainly intelligence, Balthazar Lynch should be my accomplice, as he is the slightest, quickest, and most silent hunter of we four. Then we had naught to do but wait, and so did we, I keeping this log and recording my conversation with Hobbes. I wondered, and worried, over his description of this man Okagaweh, this Shadowman, he calls him, and that he held my men at his mercy; what toxin did he infuse in this so-called physic that delivered both euphoria and will-sapping enslavement? Would my men still be under his sway, even though I tore them bodily from his clutches?

Will any of us be truly free? Have we ever been?

At length, and surely mere moments before the last tether of my sanity broke under the strain of waiting in idleness, Andre returned. Two-Saint had sanctioned this initial foray, but he wanted us not to engage with Lyle Okagaweh or his men, and not to underestimate them, for this Shadowman is a dire adversary. But I and my men have fought the weight of the British Empire for all of our lives; Irishmen fear no foe. Lynch and I were secured into the Jeep-beast ere Andre was finished speaking, and so soon as we could acknowledge his warnings, we weighed anchor and sailed.

To our advantage, the clouds overhead had hooded the moon’s lantern; Lynch’s apparel was dark already, and I was able to borrow a shirt of Diego Colina’s – the man has proved both an honorable and generous host, and a staunch ally; I beg you gentlemen to prefer him if you can – to replace my white finery; we smeared mud on our milk-white Irishness once we arrived. Andre halted the Jeep-beast some several ship’s-lengths away from the place, so as not to alert sentries with the beast’s grumbling; he remained aboard to keep watch, having taken note of Lynch’s eye-phone and ascertaining how he could give and receive signals, were there need. Lynch and I crept through black-hearted jungle, then, snared and clutched by the foliage, stumbling on the uneven terrain, hunted by the night-calls of animals such as we had never heard before. We sensed perils all about us, above us and below us, before and behind; if Lynch was not as terrified as I, then I am mad.

Soon enough, though, we broke from cover into a long clear slope leading down towards the shore, though a forested rise betwixt us and the sea kept us from seeing the water. Even in the darkness, we could make out the road, a band of lighter earth leading to the house we sought, which had some lamps burning dimly against the night. Assured therefore that the night-eyes of any guards would be light-blind, we made our way quickly to the vicinity of the domicile, taking shelter behind a copse of low trees.

We soon espied that which we sought: a metal cage with the forms of men spread across the ground within; in the moments when the breeze quieted, we could hear their grunts and grumbles, and not a few moans of sore suffering. We could hear too the slow crash of waves, telling us that the shore was indeed close, and giving me hope that my Grace might be near as well.

We also spied that which we had not sought, though of course we expected: a watch kept by the house. Two guards stood and conversed, one diligently searching the darkness, the other seated, nodding, seeking the plum coveted by all men on watch: the kiss of sweet slumber. Though we could not hear their converse, as any men who have kept a night’s watch, we knew the thrust of it: one man sought to keep honorable vigil, while the other assured him, after what days or weeks of fruitless alertness, that they should sleep without fear; the final compromise was that each man followed his heart, and soon there was but one guard on watch, while one man snored in a chair on the porch of the house.

We watched as the sentry circled the house, keeping a regular pattern of movement, until we knew that we might have some minutes to approach and investigate the cage and its contents. Lynch stayed back in case I might need a diversion of the guard’s attention, or to call in Andre for our speedy withdrawal, and I crept to the cage, crawling on my belly while the guard faced my direction, and then scuttling crab-wise as he vanished around the house’s corner.

I approached the cage, and I stopped and stared, trusting my dark attire and mud-smeared skin to hide me from the sentry’s nearby perambulations. I thought I might recognize one of the men nearest me – Malachy Rearden, I thought – but I was certain I did not recognize the pale flaxen-haired youth who groaned and moaned beside him, clearly in discomfort and perhaps fevered, though the darkness hid detail. But I had not doubt that he was not of my crew. Perhaps I was deceived about Rearden, and these were some other men. Could there possibly be two such cages filled with miserable men? Might Hobbes have misled me?

Had I fallen into another trap set by the Devil’s Lash?

It took every bit of my will to hold me there and prevent my leaping up and absquatulating at top speed. I rehearsed the words I traded with Hobbes, recalled his demeanor and expression; I was as certain as I could be that he had spoke the plain truth. Which was not entirely certain, nay, as Hobbes is English and therefore untrustable; also he is by his own admission no longer the commander of this voyage, and thus may himself be ignorant or misled, and myself the same at one remove. But even if this were not an ambush, I asked myself: who were these men in this cage? Cage there surely was, and men within; if they were not my men, might they know the way to my crew? Could I free them, would they stand with us? Or at the least serve to distract our enemies?

Reasoning thus, I crept closer while the guard was beyond the house, and came around to the side of the cage, where I once more lay still and peered through the darkness at the mounds of the men who there lay. Was that – a man’s round belly, rising up where he lay on his back? Could it be Padraig Doyle, who carried such a belly? There, that man: was that the white hair of our Salty O’Neill? How could I be certain, looking in pure darkness on huddled men sleeping ten yards away from me?

But then a man rose up on an elbow and spoke, loudly, these words: “If ye be kickin’ me the once more, Robert Sweeney, ye horn-footed goat-shite, I’ll gnaw yer foot off with me bloody eyeteeth!” The man sounded as though more than half of him was asleep and the rest was cross, but ‘twas all Ian O’Gallows. These were my men. Now I moved closer with confidence, and had to stem my eagerness so that I could maintain surreptitiousness.

Despite my efforts, I made some sound, and one of the men lying at the very edge of the cage heard me then, and lifted his head to peer out into the darkness. Soon his gaze must have caught on the one part of myself I could not black with mud nor cloth: the whites of my eyes. I saw him stiffen, saw his hand clutch at the metal mesh that enclosed them, and I knew that I was seen. I raised a hand and covered my mouth, pointing at him with the other hand to enjoin his silence, and the man nodded; I crept closer, having to pause for the time when the sentry ambled by, on the far side of the cage from where I lay on my belly, but still in plain sight through the unsolid walls of the enclosure.

When I was within a man’s length of the cage, I recognized the man who seen me: ‘twas Llewellyn Vaughn. I had to smile at how his vigilance surpassed that of all my battle-tested sea-wolves; Vaughn is no warrior, but his is the broadest intellect, the deepest thought, and the sharpest fine perception of us all. I heard him whisper then, no more than a breath of air, and easily mistaken for the murmur of a sleeping man, “Captain?”

I waved my fingers at him and crept closer still, unwilling to speak until I was beside the cage, and my whisper could become indistinguishable from that of one of the captive men (were I to whisper from six feet away, it may be noted by one within as coming from an unlikely direction). Soon I was near enough to reach the metal mesh myself, and I reached and clasped Vaughn’s fingers, he gripping in return with the strength of great hope’s return into a heart full of despair.

“You came,” he whispered to me.

“Well and how could I not, seeing how pleasant your letter made it all seem?” I winked at him to show I jested; Vaughn has many great gifts, but a sense of humor is not among them, nor an understanding of ironical comments. “How fare you all?”

“We are wounded,” Vaughn  replied. “All of us, as well as the three sailors from Captain Hobbes’s crew who were placed in the cage with us. Several of the men have fevers, and all are weak from sun and a lack of water and food.”

I squeezed his fingers to stop him ere he could sail off into a specific and detailed report of every man’s every hurt; Vaughn never considered a question as having been answered until he had imparted every fact in his mind that related to the query – and his mind could hold enough facts to fill a ship’s hold. “Hobbes has men in there?” I lowered my whisper until it was barely enough breath to stir a fly from my lip.

Vaughn still heard me, and he nodded. “Three. They refused orders and this is their punishment. It is not clear if their ostracism is permanent, or intended to create an opportunity to infiltrate and gather intelligence from our men. In my opinion, there is little need for subterfuge; all that they wish to know is your whereabouts, Captain. They have had no use for us but as proverbial whipping boys.”

I frowned at him. “They flogged ye? All of ye?”

He nodded. “At least twice for every man in this cage. Three for O’Gallows who attempted to intercede and prevent a flogging that likely would have proved fatal for O’Neill, and nearly was for Ian.”

I had to take a deep breath and let it out slowly to control my temper, and it was only when Vaughn softly whispered, “Ow,” that I realized my grip was crushing his fingers through the metal mesh. Quickly I let go, dipping my head in apology. “Will ye fetch Ian for me, Llewellyn?”

He nodded, and shifted himself to his left, reaching out to the nearest prone form and gripping the man’s calf. After a moment, the man started out of sleep, muttering, “Wha? Whozzat?” Vaughn left his hnd on the man’s leg until he turned his head, and I saw it was Ian O’Gallows. Ian rubbed his eyes, gazing a bleary-eyed query at Vaughn; the Welshman merely pointed at me. Ian looked my way, and I raised a hand and waggled my fingers in greeting; I don’t know that he recognized me through the mud on my face or if he saw that I was without the cage and simple deduced who I must be, but first he said “Christ’s shite!”, then clapped a hand over his own mouth, and looked to the house where the sleeping sentry was the only guard in sight, the watchful sentry having gone around to the far side. Then Ian looked around the cage, though to my eyes none of the other men had reacted to his cursing. Still he slapped a hand at his leg, muttered somewhat about accursed biting fleas, and then shifted around until his head was near me. He pillowed his head on his hands and whispered, “Thank God for ye, Nate.” Then he feigned a snore.

I will not recapitulate what he told me then; he repeated Vaughn’s uncertainty about the Sea-Cat men in the cage, though at least he thought to tell me that they all slept at the other end and could not hear us over the sound of more than a dozen men snoring. I asked if they could escape, or fight their way free, and he told me nay, as they were too weak, hungry, and sick. I asked for the details of how they had come to this pass, and he reached to his ribs, removing a packet of blood-spotted bandages, which he stuffed through a hole in the fence; I knew not why he wanted me to have it until he named it his log. I will include it with these pages, and save myself the reiteration. Even rescue by myself, Kelly, MacManus and Lynch was problematic as, O’Gallows told me, three of our men were not held in the cage: Salty O’Neill, Abram O’Grady, and my cousin Owen MacTeigue, were all three held inside the house, in he knew not what condition.

Hearing that, I knew there was no choice: Hobbes had been right. I patted Ian’s hand, told him not to worry, and to tell the men that all would soon be well. I made to withdraw, asking only if my Grace was indeed nearby; I wished for lone last look at her before I do what I must for my men.

‘Twas Vaughn that answered. “Yes, Captain, the Grace is just beyond those trees, at anchor in the cove below. But – Captain, I fear that she will not sail as before.”

I hissed in a breath, but Ian frowned at Vaughn and whispered, “Nay, there be naught wrong wi’ the ship. Apart from the bilge rats who have crawled up to man her decks, and that horror they have nailed down before the mast.” I knew he must refer to the Scourged Lady, as Kelly had told me they had brought their accursed figurehead aboard my sweet Grace when they captured her in New York.

Vaughn looked at me and then at Ian. “I refer to her – inexplicable sailing. How she brought us here.” He looked back at me. “It was that voyage that drew the attention of our captor, the one referred to by his men as the Shadowman. He seeks the ship’s power. It seems that he thinks you yourself are required for the ship to perform in the manner he wishes.” He paused for a moment, cleared his throat quietly – and then we waited for the sentry to pass around the corner once more before he continued. “If his first experiment is an indication, he believes that your blood is the key to the ship’s ability. Or perhaps your death. I speculate that his killing of Raymond Fitzpatrick, who claimed to be your blood relative, was his first attempt to command the Grace’s performance. Ironic, then, that this same murder may have removed that power from the Grace entirely.”

I had to stop myself from shouting at him to get to the point; I merely gripped the mesh, hard, and hissed at him, my eyes wide, my face surely that of a madman.

He got to the point. “The runes, Captain. The glowing runes on the ship’s stern are now gone, blotted out, it seems, by Mr. Fitzpatrick’s life’s blood. I have seen the ship in starlight and moonlight, and I saw not a glimpse of its former luminescence. Naught but a dark stain now decorates the Grace’s stern.”

We each glanced up to the sky, and realized then that the clouds had broken, and we were bathed in the light of the moon’s full face. I had to retreat, then, as the light would make me too easily seen, should the sleeping sentry awaken or the wakeful one glance my way as I retreated. I bid my friends farewell, knowing in my heart that it was likely for the last time, though I said nothing of that. I bid them take heart, keep hope, and wait.

Then I went to see my ship.

Ah, ye gods! She is such beauty, such an incarnation of pure freedom and might, made into a construct of sailcloth and rope, wood and nails and tar. And now: blood. And no longer: magic. Vaughn is right; I saw the dark stain, saw where my mother’s runes are no longer visible. If he is correct that those letters inscribed on the Grace were the means of our travel through time – and I believe that is the truth – then they are gone, and all hope of our returning home is gone with them.

I stayed in my shadowed space, under the line of trees atop the small rise, gazing down on my lovely ship, for as long as I could. When I knew that Lynch and Andre would be growing anxious, and may endeavor to seek me, I turned my back on my Grace, and crept back, with a heavy heart and a jet-black mind, to where Lynch waited, and then together we returned to Andre, and then here, to the house of Diego Colina.

On the morrow I will take the last steps required to see my men freed, though if the Grace can no longer sail through time, I know not how the Shadowman will respond. It does not change what I must do. I will give this log to Lynch, who can carry it to Ian or Vaughn, who can read it; they will together plot a new course for the men who have followed me, and now will follow me no more, for they must not go where I go.

I shall not return.

I wish ye well, lads, and may all the blessings of Heaven and Earth descend upon ye all. Ye deserve every one.

Goodbye.

Signed this day, the Seventh of October in the year Two Thousand and Eleven,

Damnation Kane

Once Captain of the Grace of Ireland, and her crew

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

My Random Thoughts

There is More than One Way to Look at Life

Ramirez Reviews

Movie Reviews from a Film Student

Zezee with Books

...random as my thoughts go...

Branwen Reads

Fantasy book reviews

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