Posts Tagged With: Nicholas Hobbes

Log #74: In Captivity

Being the True Log of Ian O’Gallows, kept in Secret while Held in Durance Vile

 

I keep this Log for my Captain, Damnation Kane, so that he may know the Truth of our Treatment at the Hands of these Black-Hearted Savages: Captain Nicholas Hobbes, formerly of the Sea-Cat which is now sunk by our own Hands, and thus is some measure of Justice achieved; and wielding the Devil’s Lash, as Hobbes is Familiar-Named, the Devil Himself in a human form, him we call the Abomination. Hobbes’s men call him the Shadow-Man, but shadows be Never so Dark as that Creature. I do expect now that our captors will Murder us all, and so I keep this Log, written by Star-light with a stolen writing-stick on the Blood-spotted bandages used to bind our Wounds after those bandages have been removed; now they are kept wrapped about my Leg. I hope that Captain Kane will Find it when he finds my Corpse.

All Hope is lost.

We do not blame you, Captain You must know this, as, if I know you as I bethink myself to do, you do blame Yourself. We all know that an End like this awaits Men who do join our Brotherhood of the Coast, and we be thinking that there be some Fate in this, perhaps the hand of a wrathful God Almighty, that may be seen in how it be Englishmen from our own Time what hold us and what will bring about our Deaths. You did not bring us to this Time, nor did you Place us in the Clutches of the Abomination and the Damned English. That was the Storm, and whatever Druid-Magic your Mother worked on us. Although we’ve also no Doubt that without that Magic we would have  been Sunk to the Dark Depths by Hobbes that night he caught us in the Storm of the Faerie Fire that we all saw making our Ship to shine like the Heavens above. So Die then or Die Now, it is one to us. Our wondrous Escape, and our Final Doom, can each only be the Will of God.

The Will of God may ne’er be ‘scaped or averted. So too our Deaths. We begin to Pray that they will come quickly.

We are held in a Cage, made of links of Chain, like armor stretched and pulled large and mounted over a Steel frame. The Cage is under the open Sky, and some of the men have suggested digging into the bare Earth that is our floor and our only Bed, but we are kept carefully Guarded and often taken Out of the Cage, singly or as a crew, and methinks any Earthworks would be soon Discovered. We have aye been disarmed, stripped of Boots and Belts, though left with our shirts and breeches, for which I should be grateful as the Biting Pests are Devilish thick.  We are fed regular, though not Well and not Much. We are rarely given Water, and the Sun is a Terrible Weight on us. We have kept what Strength we have in the main as it rains near every day, and we are able to keep some Water in shallow holes scraped in the Clay, water we then soak into strips torn from shirts and use to Drink or to Cool ourselves. Or to try to Heal our Wounds, aye.

We are all Wounded. Every Man of our crew has been Flogged no less than twicet. Each man’s first Flogging was the worst, as all of us received it from Stuart, Hobbes’s great Brute of a Bosun. The more Flesh he strips from a Man, the wider grows his Slobbersome Grin. If we could have him in this Cage with us for but Five Minutes of the clock, I would Die a Happy Man. The Floggings are done aboard the Grace of Ireland, the sheer Blasphemy of it being perhaps – nay, the whipping is the worser part. But it is hard, hard, to see innocent Irish Blood shed on our Deck, soaking into the Wood of our Ship, shed by the cruel Hands of these barbarian Englishmen. They have mounted on our Grace their Figurehead, the Scourged Lady, a wood carving of a beauteous lass in Great Pain, her back and sides showing deep Scores from the Whip, the Expression on her Face and in her upraised Arms one of Anguish. We are bound to her for the Floggings, and so she is grown Familiar to us all.

After we have taken stripes from the Bosun, each of us has been taken back to the Whipping Post to be thrashed by one of the Crewmen of the Sea-Cat. Hobbes uses this Savagery to prove his Men, and three of them have Refused when handed the Whip, thus Proving themselves to my mind to be Better than the rest of the English Dogs. Two did so, one after the other, when my Third Beating in three days was Ordered. After my second Flogging when they thought me Insensate, I attempted an Ambush when they came to drag out the man we call the Lark, a slight Man to begin, who has suffered greatly from our Captivity. My main Object was achieved when Hobbes ordered me whipped in the Lark’s place. Then I won a second Victory when the two sailors, looking at the bared torn Flesh of my Back, refused to wield the Whip on me anew. ‘Twas no Victory for them, alas, as the third man Ordered to do so did flog me as hard as Hobbes could wish, and then the two who Refused were whipped in turn, and are now Locked into our Cage with us. Albert Hooke and Henry Beecham are their Names, and decent enough Fellows they are. Decent enough that I have not Strangled them with their own Shirts. We have also a third Sea-Catter, a lad of no more than sixteen summers who could not bring himself to Whip our Saltiest old fellow, who the lad said minded him of his Own Grandfather. Though methinks the Comparing to an English Gaffer might have hurt the Salty Fellow more than the stripes the Lad would have put on him. Any road, he is in here with us, as well, though we keep the three Englishmen held apart from our Counsels and Conversations. The boy is named John Robinson.

Some of our Men have been taken Out of the Cage. I do not know Why. Perhaps they put them to the Question, or perhaps they wish to Turn them against the main of us, against the Captain, to thereby gain Intelligence of them. They chose the Weakest of us, both the salty one and the lark and a third I will not name. I have seen them and received Signs by them so I know they are not Dead, but they have not been Returned to the Cage, nor have we been allowed to Speak with them. Too they did seem slow and sluggish, as though sick or drunken, though I think our Captors would not give Grog to a Prisoner. Gods, do I wish they would give me Grog. Those three are being held – or treated like Royal Guests, with Feasts, and Beds with Whores for Pillows, for all that I know of it – in the House near the Cage. In truth I do not Envy them even tho they be out of the damned Sun and the Cursed Pests. I Fear for them.

Dawn is approaching now and I must call a Halt to this Log: but I must Record the Foulest Crime they have Inflicted on us. Raymond Fitzpatrick is dead. The Shadow-Man was speaking to us, when first we were brought here from New York and released from the Grace’s Hold, where we had been kept after the Donnybrook that we made to give our Bosun his chance at Escape, and may Saint Patrick Protect and Preserve that brave and true Irishman, and Guide him to our Captain. The Abomination asked if any Man there were Kin to our Captain. In Truth, there are three Men among us who share the Captain’s Blood. Our Gunner is his own Cousin, the Son of his mother’s Brother. I will not write the Name for fear it will stand out and be noted, for though I write this in the Irish, knowing that they will not put hands on it unless and until I am Dead, and when that occurs, no other Man here can both Read and Understand Irish until our Captain returns, still if they should see a Man’s Name they may grow Suspicious and Mistreat him. But those three Men knew better than to hand over Information to our Captors. Alas, Raymond was a Good Man, a strong Sailor, but not so much of a Thinking Man. When the Abomination asked if any of us be of the Captain’s Blood, Ray said he were the Captain’s Family. He is not, in Truth, they are of the same village , along with half of the men of the crew, but have no blood ties. Ray meant that as they were both Irish and both Pirates and hailed from the same Patch of Land, it made them as good as Cousins.

The Shadow-Man cared not for the Subtleties. He took Ray aside, the rest of us off the Ship to our Cage. I know not what occurred, but we did see the Englishmen dragging a Corpse wrapped in sailcloth and giving it Burial, and we have each of us seen the terrible Blood-Stain that now Blots the poop deck of the Grace. I believe the Abomination cut my friend’s throat and spilled all of the Blood in his Body in some Heathen Sacrifice to his Infernal Gods. God keep the Soul of Raymond Fitzpatrick, and Damn the Abomination’s Immortality to Eternal Hellfire.

The Floggings began after that. They have not asked about the Captain’s Relations again. Methinks that whatever they needed his Blood-Relation for, they did not find Success at it, (May they have such Bad Cess and failing Doom at all of their Endeavors.) and so now they Crave only the Captain’s Blood. To that End they forced the Surgeon and I to write that letter to the Captain, though every word of it was a Lie, most of them told to Us by Hobbes and his Black Devil Man. The Surgeon was Helpful to them in determining what to write, giving them Claude Navarre’s name and the like. When I did Question him after, he made Clear that we want the Captain to come, and telling him Truths is the best way to bring him. The Surgeon was of the Mind that we had concealed sufficient Hints to put the Captain on his Guard, the plainest being, so he pointed for me, that if I Wished to write an Unreadable Letter to the Captain, I could write it in the Irish. That was where I found the Idea for this Log.

I do not wish to wait for the Captain to Rescue us. But the Men are weak, half of us sickened with fevers or the pain of our Wounds, all of us weakened by Despairing. I will Try to learn what I can to know what we can do and to be Prepared to do it, howsoever little it may be within our Power to Work.

The Sun rises. I must stop.

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

Log #71: Captain No More

October 1

Dear Diary,

The government charter is finished. Three flight days stretched to five, like I hoped. I managed, despite my life descending into a pit of burning pigshit, to be both professional and friendly when Dr. Sandhu smiled and said they would love to hire me again, which made me feel a little better even though it SUCKS that this job is over.

But then I went home, and found that the pirates have left port, all except the young one, Balthazar Lynch. It should have cheered me up. It didn’t. Especially not after I talked to Balthazar about what happened. He didn’t want to talk to me, in fact I think he sort of hates me, though I’m not sure why. Maybe he thinks what that pig son of a bitch he calls Captain thought, that I was owned by some fucking man, and that I was a slut for using my “feminine wiles” – fucking feminine wiles?!? What the fuck??

I have to stop thinking about it. It just makes me furious.

Anyway, I talked to Balthazar (What a name!) and I found out some of what happened. I should have known, though. I saw the bruises on that chauvinist son of a bitch even before I hit him (and kicked him, and slapped him, and I should have kicked him right in the dick and then spit in his goddamn face! No. Stop, Mer. Stop.) and I should have known. Hmmm, let me think, who do I know that would come around my house, claim he owned me, and show a ring that looks just like the one Mama gave me for my 15th birthday, and then get into some knockdown, drag-out fight about it?

Looks like Damnation the Chauvinist has met Mr. Brick Calhoun, violent felon and Stalker Extraordinaire. And it turned out just about as well as I thought, though I am glad no one died. Balthazar wouldn’t tell me everything that happened, he just shook his head and clammed up no matter what I said after that.

Lord, I hope Damnation hasn’t gotten mixed up with Brick. Sure as eggs in April, someone will end up dead.

No. You know what, Di-Di? I am not going to feel bad about this. That fucking pig took Brick Calhoun – Brick! Fucking! Calhoun! – at his word. Believed that I was taken, that I was owned by that redneck turkey-fucker. Believed that, whatever flirting he and I may have done, I did it while I was involved with another man who I never mentioned to him. Believed that I would be like that, that all women would be like that, simply because we are women when, oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE shows that men are the faithless pigs who will fuck anything that will let them and most things that won’t. Then, instead of asking me nicely why the stupid ugly man would say such a stupid ugly AND OBVIOUSLY FALSE thing, he attacked me. If he had spoken to me about it like a civilized human being – like a gentleman – then I could have explained why nothing Brick says is ever true, especially not about me. Then maybe I could have gotten him and his equally stupid friends to testify that Brick started the fight, and he could have gone back to jail and I would be safe.

Oh, sorry, Diary. Didn’t mean to cry on you. I’m just so scared. He was at my house. Doing violence, causing mayhem. And claiming he owns me. He was wearing my ring.

What am I going to do? Thankfully, I haven’t actually seen him myself, not since that night I went to the Watermark with Melly and he was there. I suppose he’s busy dealing with Damnation. Maybe I should be happy that sexist asshole was around to run interference for me with that other psycho.

Maybe the redneck asshole and the Irish asshole will vanish together, and leave me in peace. But I suppose that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it?

Oh right. I forgot. Nana apologized to me for having the wrong idea about Damnation, and for letting that pig say all those terrible things to and about me. Oh my GOD we both cried and it was terrible and I can’t say anything more about it except I love my Nana with all of my heart and everyone else’s heart, too.

 

I called Jerry Rampaneau. He was ever so happy to hear from me, since usually he’s the one who has to call me – Lord, he probably thinks I’m flirting with him. Good God Almighty, Diary, how many men think they can own me? Why does this have to keep happening, and happening, and happening? But he said he’d have a client for the day after tomorrow, and that he could line one up for probably every day after that. Tomorrow I’ll go over the plane, and then I’ll fly Dirty Old Man Charters for as long as I can. Because as long as I’m in the sky, I know Damnation Kane and Brick Calhoun will leave me alone.

I’ll have to pad my shorts so my ass doesn’t get pinch-shaped bruises on it.

God damn all men.

 

 

BLog

i see on my phone a word blog al the tym so i wil cal this BLog for B. Lynch log.

mayhap she is not a slut. i red sum uv hur diry becuz Captin was diseeved and lyed 2 and that man brick sed Mery was his woman. he had hur ring i saw it. she was gon al day and so i went in hur rum 2 see wut i can find. i find hur diry. i red it sum uv it. i got anguree becuz she cal Captin naymz and say he haz a lidl prik and cal him a lyer but Captinz not a lyer. i tor that payj owt 2 sho Captin so he wil no wut she thinks uv him.

but i red mor. she is scard uv brick. she duzint luv him. she is not his. he is the lyer not Captin. i wantid 2 tel Captin but i was 2 angeree withim. and then he is trapt by brick and now he is gon. i wood find a way 2 kil brick but Captin needz him 2 get 2 bermyooduh and if he dyz then Captin and kellee and shayn are in trubl with lawz. i tol brick if he hurts Captin i wil kil him.

i hav to tok 2 chester abowt vidyo.

i hav 2 be redy 2 go if brick senz wurd becuz Captin wil go and i wil go withim. no matr ware no mater how stoopid heez beein abowt mery vans or abowt brick. he is my Captin. i faloh him alwayz.

i luv him alwayz.

mindy sayz i must tel him. but i cant wen his hart is ful uv mery vans. i cant wen the men are arownd. i cant when he thinks he is not a gud man. and he wil be angeree at me 4 lying 2 him.

pleez God let us get back to the Grace. then Captin will be hapee then i can tel him the trooth.

i no hoo 2 cal. Captin is in trubl withe lawz so he needz help withe lawz. the lawz uv this plays uv this tym. he needz McNally. i remembr how he rote his naym and i can find him with my phon. i wil cal him and ask 4 help 4 Captin.

 

 

The Last Captain’s Log

On this day, the First of October in the year 2011 anno domini, I do hereby record my intention to relinquish and abdicate my position as Captain of the ship the Grace of Ireland, and commander of her crew.

I record this as my intention and not an act for a single reason. I am not currently in possession of my ship, nor do I have before me my crew. When it is possible to achieve that confluence of circumstances, then will I declare this as a fait accompli. I record my intention so that, should I fall in the attempt to regain my ship and the freedom of her crew, they will know what was in my mind and my heart, and may act accordingly, without scruple or hesitation on my behalf.

To any of my men reading this: the Grace is yours. If she is mine to give, then I give her, in entirety and in perpetuity, to the collective ownership of all of the good men who came with her under my command from Ireland of old to this place and time. I make the obvious exception that Donal Carter, Ned Burke, and Sean O’Flaherty have no rights and no claim to the Grace. Any other men who survive should consider themselves the masters of the Grace and should dispose of her according to your wills. As for my body, let it rot; for my immortal soul, the same; my honor has been decimated and desecrated by I myself, and therefore I proscribe and deny any attempts to avenge me, to consecrate me, or to save me, should such noble intentions enter into your hearts. Do not. I am undeserving of justice.

 

With my signature I make this document of binding power and authority.

Captain Damnation Kane

 

***

 

There. ‘Tis done. As, it seems, I should have done long ago; perhaps if I had, then we would not now be here – in this now. Perhaps my men would all be alive. Surely I would be less of a damned fool, or if I were still a fool, if ‘tis the inevitable result of my being and not a momentary caprice of my fate, at the least the consequences of my folly would be insignificant, as they would affect only me and no other.

I must say, writing this, determining on this path, has lifted a terrible weight from my shoulders. First the weight of authority: I feel great solace in knowing that I will no longer need make decisions, or at the least that my decisions will affect none but my own self. Second is the weight of my mistakes: I have felt petrified, turned into stone, by the full and pernicious awareness of how I have failed, these past months. Yesterday I could not come to a single decision, not even when MacManus and O Dubhdoireann begged me to do so; I could think of nothing but how my failure had put those two stout men into the clutches of an extortioner, a worm as low as Brick Calhoun, who yet somehow was able to get the best of me. So when Shane and Kelly caught me up, walking slowly – plodding, trudging despondently – eastwards from Dame Margaret’s home, I could offer them no guidance, could not bring myself to command them. They asked whither we were headed; I said I knew not. They asked what we must do next; I said I could offer neither plans nor suggestions for them. They asked me what my wishes were; I said I had none.

So now, we have found a small copse of old trees where we may sleep on the ground. Kelly and MacManus have decided that we should prepare ourselves, so much as we are capable of it, for the course that lies ahead, and so they have sought out and purchased maps of the place we currently inhabit – the large Americalish city of Charleston, in a province called South Carolina – and of the great Atlantic to our east, and the coastline, and even of the island of Bermuda, which is our eventual destination. They have decided that we must accrue funds, and so we have acquired hats and masks, as in Florida when I played the highwayman with Lynch and McTeigue. We have raided three small shops of their dollar-papers. I have carried my weight as a fighter on these raids, but all of the commands and decisions have come from Kelly and Shane, who are clearly performing better than I could, as we remain uncaptured, without a threat of doom lowering over us, and we have already achieved our goal.

‘Tis further proof that I must not be Captain any longer. When we return to the Grace, I shall make it so in perpetuity.

Perhaps I should not wait. Perhaps I should simply relinquish all claims, all allegiances, and walk away. Brother Bob told me the country of America stretched west for thousands of miles; I should like to see that, I think. I have no reason to believe that I can return to mine own time, and though I would give much to see my mother once more, sure and there will come a day when I shall see her never again on this side of the veil. If it had not been this voyage, it would have happened when I fell in battle, or my ship sank in a storm, or a fever took her from me or me from her. And if none of those, then one day, age and time would sever our bond. Time has so done. Perhaps I should simply accept this as our eternal separation, grieve for her, and – continue.

Without the intent to return to my time, I have no more need for my ship. If I am gone, then my crew will have no reason to attempt to defend or recapture the Grace. They should have little trouble freeing themselves from Hobbes’s clutches – if he even holds them still – and he may have my ship to do with what he will. I wish him well of her.

I will consider this. I could send Kelly, Shane, and Lynch to aid the others, and to bear a message to Hobbes: I am gone, and the ship is his.

I will consider it.

 

***

 

Lynch has come, bearing messages. Seeing him as he approached our camp, I was struck with both shame at my indecision – for I have not yet reached a determination regarding my abdication, whether I should enact it immediately or once I have retrieved my Grace – and with anticipation that we might be moving forward, that Calhoun had arranged our passage and we might depart for Bermuda and the final stage of our quest. But ‘twas not so: instead, Lynch brought word, from two unexpected directions.

First, he brought a letter from Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn. I have read it over, and thought through it, and I see what they say and what they do not say: first and foremost, my ship and my men are indeed held in Bermuda, by Hobbes and an ally – said ally is likely that dark man I did see with Hobbes when we sank the Sea-Cat. The next most vital information is this: they have set us a trap. Ian and Vaughn spoke of Clear Island, where Hobbes tricked us with his derelict ship; I can expect something similar here.

Less clear are the details about this local man. They say he is a man of learning similar to my mother’s, and the man admires her work; do they mean her leadership of our clan? Her druid’s knowledge of the natural world? And what is all this about Raymond Fitzpatrick, and my blood? Fitzpatrick is from Belclare, as am I; I am sure that we have some blood tie far back, but I could not name nor delineate it, so minor must it be; why would he claim closer kinship? What do they mean, he paid the ultimate price? Has Hobbes murdered my man?

This settles the matter for me. Hobbes is killing my men, in hopes of luring me to him; therefore I cannot yet abandon my duties. We will go to Bermuda, find the Grace, free my men, and deal with Hobbes.

Then I will leave my ship forever, her Captain no more.

 

Ah yes – Lynch brought word, too, that Master McNally, who received this letter through Claude Navarre, who had it direct from Llewellyn through the mails of this time (And of course Hobbes and his ally read the letter’s contents before that; the absurdity about the boy’s trustworthiness makes that clear, and explains their need to be circumspect), desires to speak with me as soon as I can contact him. Lynch offered the lending of his eyephone, but my glare sufficed as response, and he left without another word, his thin shoulders slumped in defeat. I am shamed to have disappointed him. I will endeavor, this one last time, to stand and deliver a worthwhile result: enemies defeated, men freed. I wish to bid Lynch farewell fondly, not with downcast eyes. McNally can wait, though he has my gratitude for his continued kind friendship to us.

Damn that Calhoun, when will his arrangements be made? My patience, never large, has left me entirely. I fear I may go mad before we reach Bermuda.

Tcha. I have lost all else; why not my mind, as well?

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

Log #61: Debts and Assets

Log

I made it but a handful of steps nearer to the Volare when I was hailed anew, once more by name.

“Captain Kane?”

On this occasion, the call came from the second sailing ship on this pier, the Emperor Grable. A man was just stepping down from its gangplank, one arm raised and his hand cautiously a-wave as he peered at me, his head thrust slightly forward in the way of one who seeks notice but fears rebuke.

“Should I ever enter the trades, I should not need to hang a shingle; everyone knows my name already!” I muttered mannerlessly through my frown. I was still discomposed by the dispute with Brother Bob. Aye, well: more by the thought that that unfrocked pedant might be in the right, and the fates of all of my men and my ship all hang from the web of my lies, my crimes, my failures. But I gave myself a vigorous shake, as a sail snapping full of wind after coming about, and I cast aside these doubts and aspersions. It matters not who is to blame: it matters what is to be done. And whatever is required to see my men and my ship safe, I will do it.

I faced the man as he approached and bowed to him so he would not take umbrage at my initial discourtesy. “Aye, good sir. Captain Damnation Kane am I, of the Grace of Ireland, may she be blessed wheresoever she be.”

He nodded and looked more at ease, his head drawing back over his shoulders, and he thrust out a hand, the which I took with all respect due to a fellow ship’s captain, and all the warmth I felt for another salty dog o’ the sea. “Everett Grable,” he said. “That’s my lady there – the Emperor Grable.”

I nodded. “Aye, she is a lovely craft, indeed. Are you her namesake, sir?”

He smiled and waved a hand. “No – that was my father. I’m afraid he was a little – full of himself. But he taught me to sail on her, and it didn’t seem right to change the name after he died.”

I shook my head vigorously at that. “No, indeed! ‘Tis the worst sort of luck to change a ship’s name. It confuses her, you see, and she’ll not hearken to you at all, after.”

Captain Grable frowned, but then shrugged. Aye – just let him try it, and he’d see. Changing a name, taking away an identity built by miles and years, by storms and suns, by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, merely for the pleasure or convenience of another – ’tis not only confusing, but ’tis a terrible insult. When I write my bosun’s name in this log, I fashion it Kelly, but ’tis only because the writing of Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann gives one the wrist-cramp. When I address the man, I say Ceallachan. Aye, now that I consider it, mayhap this business of names lies close to my own heart: I served under a captain that refused to use my given name for the cursedness of it, and refused to use my family name for I was a raw hand, and a youth of barely nineteen summers; he addressed me – when he did so at all – as Nathaniel. And whene’er he did so, it ground my teeth together, and I wanted to shout: my mother gave me my name, to remind me of my father – of my enemies, and my vengeance so long deferred. I will wear it, and proudly, until I bring mine enemies to that very same state. And who are you to change it? To take away my revenge, my pride? Damn you, then, sir. I curse you with my name.

Aye. I know the worth and weight of a given name.

Though to tell true, I did think that Captain Grable had already somewhat of troublousness with the name of his ship; why anyone would lump a lovely and graceful lass like that with a masculine name like “Emperor” was a mystification to me. For a ship, any ship, is a woman, plain as the dawning sun at sea: they are beautiful, and they are graceful (Except when they are not – and sure there are a few tubs waddling about the seas what will make a man wince and turn away, grateful she isn’t his to come home to. But even those, to the men that love them, have beauty enough. My thrust is that no man is beautiful, and no man is graceful. Women are. Ships are.) and they will not listen to their captains for one instant unless you bring them gifts and coddle them and then ask politely for what you wish. The Empress Grable – now that, ’tis a name for a ship.

There are men in this world who believe that ships – and women – may be captained, and controlled, with anger and with brute strength – with a blow, rather than a kiss. Too often, such men are allowed to live, and to wield that heavy hand so oft as they wish. Such a man is my father. Such a man is Nicholas Hobbes. And he has my Grace. I shudder to think of what he will do to her.

But I take some solace in this: ships know who they are. They know their captains, too. I had no doubt that my Grace would sail but reluctantly, peevishly, shrewish in the extreme, for the thieves and liars that had taken her from me – and who, if Kelly was right, had planted the figurehead of another ship on her bow. Ha! She would be most deeply outraged at that insult, I was sure.

Howsoever, ’twas my duty, now, to rescue her from her captors. I needed to confer with my men, and determine our next steps, and so I took the liberty of inviting Captain Grable aboard the Volare, to continue our conversation there, if he had aught to add – and he did, for he accepted, and we made our way aboard and belowdecks.

Once there, I called all to order and put it to them: how would we find the Grace? I first asked for a list of our assets and advantages, which I began myself: it seemed, from Kelly’s account, that Hobbes and his Shadowman/Houndman had need of me; but they did not know where I was. They did not know that Kelly had survived and brought to me news of their actions, and of their apparent destination, this Bermuda Triangle. Thus, we had both time and surprise on our side – time as they could not carry out their plans until they found me, and surprise because we would find them first.

Then Captain Grable contributed to our conversation and to our list of assets: he went above and hailed his son, Chester; when the boy had dashed over from the Emperor Grable, he and his father made us a kind gift: they returned the swag which my men had given to them, the which comprised a large cloth sack filled with Verizon Stones and magic windows, these items so precious to the Americalish people. At first, I was adrift without words, and I fear my initial protestations of gratitude were somewhat lacking in sincerity; in truth, following my tribulations aboard the dragon-train, I wished for nothing but the destruction of all Verizon-Stones, all magic windows, every cursed one. But spying my ill-mannered hesitancy, Captain Grable explained: these objects would be of greatest value to their original owners, the which, if we could discover them, would be likely to show their gratitude for the return of their infernal mechanicals in the form of currency. For that, I had no hesitancy. I expressed my confusion as to how we would find the owners; were the items branded, or sealed, perhaps? Or was there a central authority with a list of identifying marks for magic windows? The Grables, per and fils, eyed me askance, and then offered an explanation that I could not fathom at all. Somewhat to do with charging and then checking contacts and calling to inquire if any items had been lost. Though I could not comprehend, they seemed most sure of the efficacy of this proposed solution, and I bowed to their greater knowledge.

I was silenced, then, by Mistress Rosenblum, for that kind lady rose, went to a small shelf, and withdrew from a drawer a pistola and a quantity of dollar-papers, which she attempted to press on me, saying that my men had given them to her, and she wished to return them. I did endeavor to refuse – for how could she return to me that which had never been mine to claim? And how could I accept this kindness from her without returning already that which she gave me in hospitality, and succor of my men? – but her insistence was most – insistent. Thus, I thanked her as effusively as I could, and accepted.

And there ended our advantages. Our defects and weaknesses began: we had no ship and no crew, and no way to follow the Grace to her destination, nor means of regaining control of her should we find means to arrive there. We had no real concept of what Hobbes and the Shadowman intended with her, though we let ourselves roam in speculation: perhaps they meant to carry on where Shluxer and O’Flaherty had been prevented, and sail these shores, this time, as a pirate craft; with the Sea-Cat gone, such a turn would bring their thoughts naturally to my Grace, the stealing of which would also serve to avenge Hobbes’s own loss at my hand. But for the sake of vengeance, I saw the matter more likely following this course: the object of that vengeance was myself, and holding the Grace was the surest way to draw me to them.

Talking of this leeched the peace from me, and I rose and paced, casting about the cabin of the Volare for somewhat to soothe me; but nothing could. All I could think was: they have my ship. I cannot follow. I cannot take her back from them. They have my ship. Around my head went these words, as around the cabin went my stride, and in neither case was there progress.

At last, I was forced to leave. I begged forbearance of my hosts and allies, and made my way above and then down the Volare’s gangplank to the pier. I walked to the end and then stood gazing out at the uneasy waters; the tide was at its turn, and the swells wobbled and fell against one another like men far gone in drink, attempting to make their way homeward. I found myself wishing – aye, even praying – that my Grace could somehow stumble her own way home to me.

Then I found myself gazing at the Emperor Grable. She was a doughty craft, thought I. Sturdy. She rode the larger swells with ease, breasting the smaller ones handily. Perhaps I had been wrong, in thinking her too small and too delicate to make way through open seas. If we had good weather – and too, her single mast meant that four able seamen could sail her . . . and but one man and a boy to defend her . . . and they had womenfolk to worry about . . .

“No, Captain,” spake a voice behind me. I started, sure for a moment that mine own conscience had spoken to me, that some angel or spirit was standing by my shoulder, whispering into my ear. I turned on my heel – and there stood Balthazar Lynch, his jaw set, his gaze steady on mine. He shook his head, and said again, “No, sir. She is not for us. That is not our way.”

I parted my lips to deny, to spout outrage that he could think that I would – but ‘struth, I would. I turned away from his gaze. After a breath, I said, “It is the only way. I cannot just let her go.”

I turned back to him – nay, in truth, I rounded on the lad, looming, my fists clenched. I confess that a part of my soul was truly outraged: outraged that this boy, this stripling, would say his captain Nay. “I will not let that soulless damned bastard take my ship,” I growled at him. “And you did hear that man – we must have a ship. We cannot make the journey to this Triangle without we sail there.”

He shook his head, bending not at all, though my greater height forced his chin up to meet my gaze with his bottomless eyes. “That is not all he said,” he hissed.

I threw up my hands. “Aye – he said we could fly,” I said, my voice mocking. I turned and kicked a stone into the air – and then it fell into the sea, and vanished beneath. That for flying, thought I. I said, “That is a ship, there. And I – I am a pirate!”

I felt Lynch’s hand on my shoulder, and somehow, it eased my tautened limbs, slowed my racing heart. “You are a pirate, aye,” he spoke, his words but a whisper. “And you are a good man. You cannot do this and remain such. You cannot lose your goodness and remain Damnation Kane. My – captain. My friend.”

I felt all the strength go out of me. “So what would you have me do? I cannot fly there for the wishing. We have not the gold to buy our passage aboard the air-planes.”

Lynch made a noise that shared both anger and disgust – but it was not a hopeless sound. He knew something, but he did not want to speak of it. Heartened, I turned to him; he had his back to me, but I grabbed his slender shoulders and turned him back to face me: now he would not meet my gaze. “What?” I asked him. “Speak!”

He sighed and looked up at me. “Must I say it, Nate? Must I?”

I tightened my grip. “What, man! Tell me!”

With a sudden movement, he broke free of my grasp, and took two quick steps away. He stopped and glared angrily at me, his color high, his lips parted over clenched teeth. “You can fly. She will take you.

Meredith,” he said, and her name was a curse he spat at me. He turned then and stalked away, even as I cried out at his glad tidings.

For he was right! My lady, my love – she is a pilot. She has her own craft! And though we had not enough for the purchase of an air-plane cabin – we could find the clink for a berth aboard a dragon-train, I knew. With the hundred dollars from the Rosenblums, and the dollars from the magic windows’ return – aye, we’d find a way. We’d make a way.

I know not why Lynch was so reluctant to speak of this. I am glad he did, for he has given me a new hope.

Now: now I will go and see if the lad Chester has charged his Verizon-stones – perhaps they require powder and fuse? Must they be loaded and primed, like muskets? – and we shall see if I may charm my way into recompense generous enough to pay my way.

My way back to Charleston. And my lady fair.

And then, into the skies: to Bermuda, and the fairest lady of them all. My Grace.

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Log #60: Karma

“Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

The Englishmen had tramped aboard at a quick march; together with the dark men, they outnumbered my depleted crew, and outgunned them, as well. O’Gallows had seen the folly of fighting, and had instantly ordered surrender – “Though he bloody well choked on the words, Cap’n. Had to cough and spit t’ get ’em out with heft enow to be heard.” But say those words he had, and my men had obeyed. Hobbes and the Shadowman had bound the wrists of my crew and tied them to the rails.

Kelly grinned then, which split his injured mouth and sent fresh trickles of blood down his chin – a most gruesomely piratical grin, it was. “They tied us – but they did not search us proper. I had a knife in me boot, and so did half the others. Salty had a full marlinspike in his trousers, though I don’t know how they missed that. P’raps they thought ’twas his cock.” His eyes widened then, even as I managed a small smile, and he ducked his head to Mistress Rosenblum, who was dabbing at his cuts with a cloth dipped in something the color of old blood – “Iodine” was writ on the bottle, though I know not this physic. “Begging your pardon, Mistress,” he said, but she shook her head and patted his cheek gently. “You’re a sailor, young man. And I live on a boat.” She flashed a smile at her man. “With a sailor,” she said, and both of them grinned like mischievous children.

Kelly went on. “They had bound me beside MacTeigue, and he and I whispered together when the men guarding us walked away – ’twas the dark men, for the Englishers were making ready to sail. O’Gallows they kept on the poop deck with Hobbes and that thin bastard; that thin one wanted to know where you were, Cap’n, and when you’d be back. I weren’t close enow to hear all of it, but your name was shouted more than once.” He met my gaze then, though he had been lying back on the bench as he spoke. “Hobbes, he wanted you something fierce, true enough. He surely does.”

“Aye,” I said. “‘Tis mutual.”

“But while I could not hear all that they were sayin’, I did hear this: two of the dark men who kept the watch on us spoke on how much longer the business would last. I got the idea that they were hired hands, sir – pressed just for the taking of the ship. For one said, ‘We don’t be sailing on this ship, do we man?’ And t’other shook his head and said, “Nah, man, they be taking this to the Triangle. Make we no business there. The Houndman – he don’t need us, once the boat go. We stay here.’ T’other one laughed and said, ‘He no need us for this at all, man. Him a real bad mo-jo man. Him use us for that he no want no blood spilled, not in the clash and botheration and all.'”

When he spoke as the dark men, Kelly’s deep rumble of a voice and his thick Irish brogue vanished, his voice and accent becoming that of another man entire; I had heard him perform thus in the past, but the Rosenblums were startled. It is indeed remarkable to hear another’s voice coming from that mighty frame, but I have never known a better mimic than he. I stopped Kelly then, however, for I had questions to ask: “Houndman? Be that what they called their master, the thin one? And mo-jo man?” I leaned forward in my excitement and grabbed his wrist, but he winced at the touch and I drew back my hand. But not the query, which I pressed again.

But ’twas Master Rosenblum who spoke. “I don’t know about Houndman, but mo-jo is a word for magic, like witchcraft, or vudu. And if that was an island accent – didn’t it sound like the islands, Iris?” He turned to his lady, who nodded vigorously and murmured compliments for Kelly’s mimicry. Master Rosenblum went on. “If those men were from the islands, then the ‘Triangle’ is probably the Bermuda Triangle.

“They’re taking your ship to Bermuda.”

***

Kelly told the rest of his tale, but I confess I listened with but half an ear, having heard all that I wanted to know: their destination. Having heard this from the dark men, and knowing as he did the need to get this information to me, Kelly had resolved to find a way off the ship; but before he could cut his bonds and make his escape, the Grace had weighed anchor and left the dock. Kelly despaired, then, but soon another came to the rescue. That is, came to my rescue; for ’twas nearly the doom of poor Kelly. His staunch loyalty does him the greatest of honor. ‘Twas my true friend, Ian O’Gallows, who saw the way: being that the theft was accomplished and the Grace was under sail, Hobbes and the Houndman dismissed O’Gallows. My mate went to sound the men, whispering queries under the guise of checking for any hurts or malcontents; and finding them determined, he whispered his plan: one of them must feign death, so as to be thrown overboard. If they acted swiftly, the false corpse would be close enough to shore to swim it, and then return to Pier Eighty-Three and wait for my arrival. They could not simply slip one man over the rail, as the guards would see, and the thunder-guns tear him to pieces. O’Gallows had left them then, before the guards grew over-suspicious; the rest of the crew had consulted, and decided quickly that there was only one course to chart: since the dark men had stated that their shadowy master wanted no blood spilled, then any fighting would surely be done with fists, not with blades or bullets. So one of the Grace’s men would slip his bonds and attack, and be beaten to the appearance of death; the man would need to pretend it, but not too soon – not until he had suffered sufficient injury that could cause a man’s demise – so the guards would believe. Vaughn could attest to the man’s apparent death. This man would then be cast over the rail, and find himself buffeting the cold waves for perhaps a mile or more; this distance continuing to grow as they conferred in whispers snatched behind the backs of the dark men, as the Grace sailed farther and farther out to sea.

Kelly was the only choice. He was the largest, the strongest, and the most tar-headed of all the men; this folly would need to be his. O’Gallows had meandered over, heard the plan, agreed to carry word of his role to Vaughn on the poop deck, and then he ordered them to proceed. No sooner had the mate walked away than Kelly had cut his bonds, handed the blade to Salty so the fisticuffs would not escalate to blood-letting, and then leapt to the fray. The result, I saw before me – though in telling of it, Kelly smiled around bloody teeth and said, “Aye, Cap’n – but ye should see them other bastards.”

Having heard all that Kelly could tell, I thanked him, most sincerely, and ordered him to the hospital, accompanied by the Rosenblums and ferried by Brother Bob and the wagon and team. Lynch, MacManus and I were kindly given permission to remain aboard the Volare as we charted our future course. The last favor I asked of the already-generous Rosenblums was the answer to a single question: how best to hie to Bermuda in pursuit of my Grace?

Master Rosenblum pursed his lips and shook his head. “You’d have to fly. Or sail, though you’d need an ocean-ready boat. It’s an island, and a pretty good ways away – a thousand miles from here. Maybe two. Out into open ocean – and it’s hurricane season.”

Aye. I admit it. When they had gone, leaving me unattended and in command of their craft, I did consider taking it and setting sail. But in truth, the craft was too small to make a sea voyage of that distance – and though the Emperor Grable, two berths down-pier, was larger, it would be difficult for we three to sail it through heavy seas; the same was true for any craft large enough to brave rough weather. Too, doing this would require abandoning Kelly to be held ransom, and I had no doubt that Brother Bob would summon la policia were I to add to my list of crimes.

The which I very nearly did, and on his person, when the man returned from his errand; for this sanctimonious fool of an unfrocked priest had words for me. Nay: ’twas but one word.

“Karma,” quoth he, as Lynch and MacManus were aiding the Rosenblums down from the wagon and aboard the Volare. I had queried them as they arrived as to my bosun’s situation, and been told that he would be well, but was required to abide in the hospital until the morrow. I stayed for a moment, brooding on this – would we need to flee the attention of another Accountman? At this rate we might run through all of the hospitals in America! – when Brother Bob spoke. Distracted, I turned to him and made some interrogatory noise, thus releasing the flood.

“Karma. K-A-R-M-A. It’s the word we use for when the universe balances the scales, and gives you exactly what you deserve.”

I scoffed at him. “The godly men that I have known would call that Divine Justice. But then, they had faith in the will of the Lord.” Aye, ’twas uncouth to badger him so over a thing so personal to a man as his faith, but I had no patience left for Brother Bob’s carping, having carried that weight so far and for so long; most particularly at this hour was I not a-brim with patience.

“Yes – I mean, I do believe in God’s justice. I was only – fine. Divine justice, then. You’re looking right at it.” He slapped his hand down on the wooden seat under him. “You stole this wagon – and now your ship has been stolen from you. ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.'”

In a trice, I had leapt up onto the seat, and took his shirt in my hands, torn between throwing the Puritanical prig to the ground, and lifting him up to put his donkey’s ears close enough to hear my words properly. I settled on the latter course. “You think those men were godly?” I hissed at him, my anger boiling in my blood – anger set aflame by Hobbes and his pillaging, by my own frustration at how close I had come to sailing free on my own ship, and how far I was now from regaining her: a thousand miles or more? Across open ocean in hurricane season? Christ and Danu! – anger that now had a focus. I shook him just to hear his teeth rattle in his flap-hinged mouth. “You think that bloodsucking bastard Hobbes is the tool of Providence? Yon black-eyed cur has murdered more than half of my men! Chased us across the ocean, pushed us here, to this – this abyss unfit for any man of honor or of worth – and all for what? For bloody prize-money! I shook him again, harder; I did wish that it were Hobbes in my grasp. “That is justice? You call it so? What of Kelly? Is his pain, the risk of his life – is that my punishment for this wagon? Or perhaps for these horses?” I tore my hands from his cloth, then, staggering back to stand straight in the bed of the wagon, my every effort bent on resisting the urge to strike him down – an effort aided somewhat by the fact that I was unarmed.

Brother Bob did not make my forbearance easy. He shook his finger in my face and shouted, “It’s all your fault! You brought this on yourself and on your men! You are pursued by violent men because you are a violent man! These are the wages of your sins! Your men suffer because you led them into iniquity! You are the villain here!”

Teeth gritted, my vision turned the color of blood, I drew back my fist to strike – and was clasped about the wrist by MacManus, who had returned to quell the shouting. “Captain,” he said, and I rounded on him, though I retained sense enough to resist lashing out at any who stood before me; facing my loyal friend now began to cool my ire. Shane met my gaze and said, “We are for the ship, sir. For the Grace of Ireland. Stay the course.”

‘Twas enough. Without turning back or uttering another word to Brother Bob, I leapt down from the wagon. I took a deep and calming breath, and then blew it out. I nodded to MacManus and clapped him on the shoulder. I pointed to the wagon and its load of folly. “Watch him. See he doesn’t leave.” I smoothed a hand over the near horse’s back, aware (albeit too late) of how our dispute had agitated them. I spoke softly, now. “This may be our only means of transport.” Brother Bob, hearing this, began to harangue and hector me anew, now with the theme of my worthless promises, my broken word that he could return the wagon and team. I turned my gaze on him, and ’twas enough to close his mouth, the look in my eye.

Softly, still, for the sake of the horses’ nerves, I said to him, “I told you that the wagon and the beasts would be returned after we reached my ship.” I looked weightily at the empty space where the Grace had been – ah, ’twas reflected in the empty space in my heart! – and then raised an eyebrow at him. I turned my back on his red-faced silence and walked towards the Volare.

Divine justice. Bah.

Of course he was right. Of course he was. The fault is mine. But so too was MacManus right: I am for the Grace. I must stay the course. If I must suffer to atone for my sins, I will do so: but I will do it aboard the deck of my ship. Then I will bleed as the gods will it.

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Log #59: Curses

BLOODY BUGGERING POXY HELLFIRE GOBSHITE!

Bah! It is no help.

Ye gods, ye gods! She is gone. How can this be?

Perhaps it is not. I swooned, I think, though my men will not say so for the shame of my weakness. But when we saw the empty space where my Grace

Ah, God, I cannot write her name.

Please, God. I beg of Thee. I must have my ship. I cannot live without her, Lord. Please. Hear me. Help me. God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In Nomine Patri, et fi – I cannot remember it. Stab me, split me, burn me, and sink me, I cannot remember it!

Please, Almighty God. Amen.

Later

I would that I knew how to pray, what words, what language – the Gaelic for the gods of my mother, to be sure; is it Latin for the God of my father? Or is it enough that my heart cries out to the skies and to the heavens above, wordless cries of anguish and grief and rage?

BAH! No. I will not. I will not pray to the god of Devil Cromwell, the god of the Inquisition. The god of Puritan rapists. Aye, aye, I did just that on this very page, not two hours past. But that I did write in the depths of black despair. I seek now for the words to give my gratitude to those powers and deities that watch me, and that saw fit to set me on my path. I would thank the gods for the knowledge of my ship’s fate. For I know that she lives, still. I know where she has gone, and wherefore.

And for every laud, every psalm, every paean I would wing up to those beings above for their kind guidance, I have a thousand curses to heap on the head of Nicholas Hobbes for his vile iniquity. ‘Twas he.

I have not time for this log. But I will write my thanks, for I wrote my plea, and ’twas answered; perhaps it is this pen, this ink, this paper that carries my words, my thoughts, my soul aloft into the eyes and ears of the Divine.

I would tear out that place where I turned to my father’s despised and despicable god, both from these papers and from my breast; but as it clearly rests within me even now, let my shameful cowardice remain here, as well. I knew not what I wrote; the roots are sunk deep in me, that this hypocrisy flows so readily from me in my extremity. Aye: it be in my blood, not so? Some awe, some dread, some desperate – longing? Nay!

Bah. Enough. ‘Tis not the time to meditate on my faltering.

I thank thee, Danu, Lugh, Manannan Mac Lir, Lord of the Sea. I thank thee, oh Fates, who weave the tapestry of our lives. I thank thee, Mother Earth, and Father Ocean, for thy kind succor in my time of need. Thou wilt all have my fealty, my obeisance, and my right arm to defend thee.

And in exchange, if any of you be listening: I will have my ship. And Nicholas Hobbes’s head. For if I cannot take God’s head, then the Devil’s will serve.

Later

Perhaps I should not have written what I did about beheading the Almighty. It would seem that the powers above take such threats amiss – aye, well, not amiss, for I did aim and hit my mark, in truth; they be not pleased with it, nor me, is my meaning – and seek to chastise me by the simple expedient of setting my passions aflame, lighting the fuse to the powderkeg that is my heart, and blowing me to Kingdom Come.

Nay, to be sure it is not so, as I have just been disputing with that rock-headed, burnt-arsed dolt, Brother Bob. I but jest, and ’tis not having the desired calming effect on myself.

I will turn the page to hide all this, and begin anew.

Now: I have a task, and my task is to find peace, to soothe my thrumming nerves and cool my sparking, sputtering temper. I have taken to the water and bathed ‘neath the waves, at MacManus’s urging; clever man. The struggle against the tide and the chop has eased my limbs, tautened by the need to fight, to attack, that has squeezed me and slashed at me from the moment I could put a name and a face to my Nemesis, the one who has stolen my Grace. Now my arms, my legs, my back, are all pleasantly wearied. It is my hope that the effort of writing out all of this day’s events in this log will have a similar effect on my mind and heart, and this ink will act as did the cool waters on my heated flesh, the taste of salt on my lips that quieted my tongue that did thirst for the blood of my enemies, and aye, even my friends. I have tried to spill that good blood, this day, more than once. Curse me for a hot-tempered fool.

But now the tale, and a hope for serenity at its close.

We arrived here, at Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, and looked for the masts; for though there are dozens of ships docked here, none of them are sailing ships like my Grace. And at the end of the pier, we did see masts upthrust from the water; overjoyed at this sight, I leapt from the wagon, followed on the instant by Lynch, and we raced to those masts, laughing and capering like buffoons – or like sailors coming home at last. Only to find that these were not the masts we were looking for.

These masts belonged to a pair of small pleasure craft of this time, not to my beautiful Grace of Ireland. But in seeing the names writ on the sides and stern of these craft – the smaller one called the Volare, the larger the Emperor Grable – I knew we were in the right place, for these were the names Vaughn had told me, of the sister ships whose masters had served as boon companions to my men after the bitch-storm Irene.

But the Grace was gone.

I sent Lynch and MacManus to search the entire pier, and to confirm that ’twas Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, while I would search the water, so far as I could see. But we found nothing. I returned to Brother Bob, who waited atop the wagon seat, a look of concern returned to his kind features, effacing the condemnation that had twisted his mien since Amish lands. I wrote something in my log while awaiting my men’s report, I know not what without looking, the which I shall not do for the sake of my would-be equanimity. Then Lynch called out to me from farther up the pier: “Captain! ‘Tis the right pier, but no sign of her, sir. Shall we search the next piers, as well?” I shouted aye, search all the eighties (For perhaps they had needed to move berths to avoid la policia or some such – but if ’twere true, they would not go far. Would they? I cursed myself then for not determining a second meet-point in case of discovery and tribulations, like a green captain new to the Brotherhood, the which I most certainly am not.). Lynch called out, “Aye, Captain!” and raced off to tell MacManus.

As I walked to and fro in my agitation, then, of a sudden I was hailed, from the smaller of the masted pleasure craft nearby. “Excuse me, sir. Are you the Captain? Captain Kane?”

My blood surged at the words, even as I surged forward to the ship’s rail. “Aye, I am Damnation Kane, captain of the – Grace of Ireland.” I coughed to clear the clot from my throat. “Do I know you, sir?”

The man who stood by the hatchway that led below the little craft’s deck shook his grey-locked head. “No, you don’t. But this man knows you.” He reached down, grasped an outstretched hand – a very large outstretched hand – and aided two people up to the deck: a woman as grey-haired and bent-backed as he, who was almost vanished under the man whose arm was around her shoulders for support as he staggered up the ladder: my bosun, Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Kelly.

I cried out with joy at he sight, and leapt aboard to relieve the oldsters of their prodigious burden; in the process, all the four of us stumbled our way to berths on the cushioned benches on deck. As the kindly old folk – Master and Mistress Rosenblum, they informed me – as they gasped and coughed, sore winded by the massive man they had been hauling about, I took stock of my man, and saw on the instant why he had needed the support of a granny to make it up the ladder: I have never seen a man more gravely beaten. His flesh was black and blue, where it was not reddened with dried blood, over nearly every inch the eye could touch upon. His face had been washed, but was so swollen and cut from lip to nose to eye, so that only his size and the patch he wore over his missing left eye – lost in our second battle with that motherless bastard Hobbes – could identify him.

I asked after his health, and was assured that he would recover – which statement was cast into some doubt by the cough that racked him while he answered, and the blood that he spat to the deck after he coughed; though I could see that this claret came from but a split lip, and not from the lungs – that naught was broken but a few ribs and his fingers. “I ne’er thought you’d find a skull harder than your fist, man,” I jested, and Kelly smiled, so far as he could.

“Twas by reason o’ quantity, like, Cap’n, not the hardness,” he said. Then he coughed again, one hand on his side; I lifted his shirt, and saw a great black mark there, stretched from his first rib to his last; he had taken a mighty blow, perhaps struck with a mallet, or an oar.

“He needs a hospital,” Mistress Rosenblum said, as she came quickly up from below with a cup of water, the which she held to Kelly’s bloody lips as he drank thirstily. “He needs to see a doctor.” She looked at me with a gimlet eye. “But he wouldn’t leave. Said he had to wait for you. He was sure you would come.”

I nodded and patted his knee through his breeches, as I could not see a place on him that wasn’t bloody or bruised. “Aye, he’s a good man. Fear not, Madame, I shall have him seen to.”

Kelly pushed away the cup with another weak cough, and then his one good eye, swollen near shut and bloodshot as well, fixed on me.

“‘Twas Hobbes, Captain. ‘Twas the Devil’s Lash. He took the Grace.”

And ’twas then that I swooned. At the least, I have no memory of the next few breaths, until I came to myself sprawled athwart the cushioned bench, my heart galloping and my skin turned all to gooseflesh. My breath panted shallow and quick, like a beast at bay, and my lips curled around every curse and oath that I have ever heard, and all directed at Thomas Hobbes. Fortunately, I spoke too low for the lady to hear, and I ceased as soon as I knew where and who I was, and gathered myself once more. That is to say: I ceased forming the words with my mouth, though they continued on marching in rank and column through my mind. They do it still, waving the flag of Hobbes before them.

Kelly told me, once I had begged a drink stronger than water from the hospitable Master Rosenblum, of all that had befallen the day before – but one day! Curse the fates for that. Curse me for leaving that dragon-train, and for allowing myself to be taken and robbed. Had I been here one day earlier, then I would be the one sailing away aboard my ship, and not that walking mass of pig shite and brimstone.

“They asked permission, Cap’n. Permission to come aboard. Said they had news of you – knew your name, Cap’n. Had it from Hobbes, I reckon.”

I frowned at him. “You let those English bastards aboard?”

He shook his head, and winced at it. “Nay, Cap’n, not they. ‘Twas six or seven dark men, Africans, like, wi’ long knotted hair. Long as a woman’s braids, but all over the head, like.”

“They call them dread-locks,” Mistress Rosenblum interjected.

My blood turned to ice, then. “Was one of them clean-headed, thin as a whip, with a smile like a death’s head?”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. ‘Twas him what did the talking.”

Once O’Gallows – who had never seen the Shadowman, as I had, and therefore had no reason to suspect foul play – had given them permission to board, the dark men had drawn pistolas and taken O’Gallows, Vaughn, and two others captive; a signal had been given, and from behind a warehouse came the English bearing thunder-guns. And something else.

“They had the Scourged Lady, Cap’n.”

I goggled at him. “The figurehead? From the Sea-Cat?”

He nodded. “Aye. And when they had the Grace, and all of us bound and tethered to the rails, Hobbes ordered her lashed to the foremast.”

It came to me then. “We sank her. We sank his ship, didn’t we.”

“Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

The momentary sense of triumph fell away. “And now he’s taken mine, in return.”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

My hands clenched into fists. “Then we will take it back,” I said, my throat choked near closed with hatred. But my words were heard, for Kelly nodded once more. “Aye, Cap’n,” quoth he, his voice like thunder rumbling in the distance – a storm coming soon. “I reckon so.”

It took some effort to unbend my fingers, to loosen the taut knot of my throat, but I did so; the whiskey that Master Rosenblum had kindly provided was a true helpmeet in this. I took several deep breaths, and my enkindled blood cooled slightly. For the nonce. “Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

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Book II: Chapter 1, of The Adventures of Damnation Kane — Log 39

Captain’s Log

But am I still captain? I am not on my ship. Where is my ship? Am I even myself?

I have slept long and dreamt – strangely. How long? How strange!

I dreamt that I was home, in my mother’s house. I awoke in her bower, the carved oak bench she was wont to recline on, the which I would steal for slumber whenever opportunity arose. And the dawn sun shone through the flowers that grew there, up trellises and down walls so that within the bower, all seemed a fairyland, without hint of human corruption in the sweet breath of nature. The perfume of the flowers drifted to me, and the birds gently chirruped, weet, weet, weet.

My mother came to me, moving slow as the tides, the sun shining on her face, her golden hair. She wore a gown of blue, and with gold shining at her wrists and her pale throat, she seemed the very sky itself, the heavens come down to bless me and ease away my cares.

“Are you home?” she asked with a warm smile.

“Aye, mother, I have returned to thee,” I said. I tried to arise, but – could not.

“Are you home?” she said again, and her smile faded. The bright dawn did as well, and a shadow crept into the bower. Again I tried to rise, but could not. Something held me to the bench, flat on my back. Helpless.

Then my mother raised her hands from her sides, and I saw she held an athame, the druid’s dagger, the weapon used for rituals. For sacrifices. “Are you home?” she hissed, and now her lovely face twisted with anger. Of a sudden her slow, tranquil movements flowed as quick as thought. And my mother stabbed me, and stabbed again. Behind her, in the leaves and vines and blooms, the birds chirruped on.

***

I dreamt I walked a road in the night, the moon bright above and a thousand thousand stars that danced musingly across the sky. From a thicket nearby came the slow sound of an owl hoo-hoo-hoo in the darkness. And as I walked, I felt a hand slip into mine, a hand soft and cool. I turned to look, and beheld – Genevra. My Genevra, alive again, in the perfect blossom of youth and health, as she had been once, but was not, that last time I looked on her. She smiled at me and said, “Hello, my darling devil. Give us a kiss, and then dash us away to your fiery pit.” ‘Twas such she ever said to me. I caught her up in my arms, laughing with her, her voice ringing like bells, like bird’s song, and I kissed her, aye, I did.

And as I drew back, her face looked as it had when last I looked on her: pallid and drawn, her eyes shrunk into her skull, her sweet lips drawn back from her teeth by the pain, her soft white throat swelled up like a frog’s by the buboes, her flesh blackened by that bloody English plague. They brought it to us after their city burned (When God wreaked his vengeance on them, aye, did he.) and they took my Genevra from me, and drove me thus to a life at sea.

That dying, agonized face looked back at me from my embrace, and now her grimace seemed a smile, and she licked her lips with blackened tongue and said, “Welcome to Hell, my devil, my Damnation.

“Give us a kiss.”

And she laughed like bells.

***

I dreamt I stood on the deck of my ship, my Grace, and the wind filled the sails and carried us over the waves. From somewhere far off, gulls cried, their harsh voices softened by distance into a gentle, regular note, repeating every second or two, Ha! Ha! Ha! As always, I looked to the sails, the lines, the coursing of the sea: all was as it should be, and I smiled as my heart swelled with joy, to be where I was. Where I belonged.

“Steady as she goes, Captain?” called a voice, and I turned to see my friend and shipmate Balthazar Lynch at the wheel. Gladly I climbed to the poop deck to stand beside him, clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Aye, we sail fine and true, and naught is ill in all this wide world.” The boy smiled at that, and I noticed the gleam of his white teeth, hale and straight and true, and the blush of health in his smooth cheeks – still too young to shave? – and the sparkle of his green eyes. He’ll reap through the lasses like a very scythe, I thought, as I have many times before, they’ll fall before him and aye, beneath him, too.

Then I noted a tear, bright and full, trickling down from the corner of his wide eye. “Why weepest thou, my lad?” I asked him.

He smiled bravely, though his eyes were full of suffering. “Because it hurts, Captain.” He looked down, and I followed his gaze to where a blade was sunk deep into his chest, and on the hilt were curled my own fingers. Blood burst forth from the wound then, hot and wet on my hand. I tried to release the dagger, but could not. I looked into Lynch’s eyes once more, and I tried to speak, but my tongue cleaved to my teeth, and my lips would not open.

“Please stop killing me, Nate. Please stop killing me.” And his face became Genevra’s face, and then my mother’s, and still the blade in my hand, in her heart, ran red with blood, and I could not let go.

***

I dreamt that I sat in a tavern, in a dark corner by the fire. I looked around the room – ’twas a fine place, a proper Irish pub, with smoking torches in sconces and warm smells thickening the air, though a cool breeze from the open door cut through the room and freshened a man’s breath. In the corner, on a raised platform, three musicians stood, tuning their instruments, fiddle and flute and drum, and the fiddle and the flute played a single note back and forth, back and forth, while the drummer tapped gently at the skin, a slow beat like a heart’s.

I looked to the bar, and behind it stood a man I knew, though he was dressed as an innkeeper, in an apron and shirtsleeves stained with food and ale: ’twas Sean O’Flaherty, my Quartermaster that was. At the bar sat Edmund Burke, who raised his mug to me, and I saw a long chain dangling from his wrist, and blood dripping down its length. Beside him was Donal Carter, sawing at a hunk of meat with a great, curved blade, and Elliott Shluxer, who had a barmaid pinned against the bar, hemmed in by his arms, though she laughed and tickled his cheeks. She glanced back over her shoulder, and I saw ’twas the Enchantress. She winked at me most saucily.

And on top of the bar, laid out like a roast goose at Christmas, was my cousin, Hugh Moran. And all of them sliced and tore at Hugh’s flesh, thrusting dripping chunks into their gaping, bloody mouths, and laughing as they swallowed. Hugh struggled, and tried to scream, but he had an apple in his mouth, and O’Flaherty held him down. Hugh looked at me, his eyes pleading.

I turned away.

“Would you care for a plate, Master Kane?”

The voice, mellifluous of tone and refined of accent, came from my table companion: Captain Nicholas Hobbes of the Sea-Cat, known as the Devil’s Lash. He sat in deep shadow, though I could make out the outline of his thin features, and the shine of his white teeth, the gleam of his eyes. He smoked a pipe, the white plumes curling idly between us.

I shook my head. “‘Tis not to my taste, sir.”

“Then perhaps a draught, to quench thy thirst?” From the shadows that enwrapped his side of the table, he pushed a goblet brimming with a red fluid. Wine? Blood?

I demurred once more. “I do not thirst,” I spake, but I lied – my throat was a fire, my voice cracking like a pine log on the hearth. I strained my eyes, peering through the smoke and darkness, and I saw that there was not only one smile, or one man’s eyes agleam in the dimness, but two: behind Hobbes lurked another, lost in the shadows but for the white of his smile and his gaze, the which gleamed hungrily.

“Then mayhap this is what you seek,” Hobbes said and across the table he thrust a pistola. As he leaned forward, he came into the light, and I saw that his face bore the waxy yellow pallor of the dead, and around his throat I saw two hands wrapped tight and squeezing, the fingers dark and scarred.

“Aye, I thank thee kindly, sir,” I heard myself saying. And I took up the pistol from the tabletop, pressed the barrel against my head, and pulled the trigger.

***

***

I am thankful that I have never been press-ganged. I’ve known men who have, and I have spoken with them about the experience. Some were pressed into a better life than that they left, for all that it was the British navy they now must needs serve; still, a British seaman gets food and clothing, a berth and companions, and if he serve loyally, mayhap even the gratitude of the Crown. And some, of course, were stolen away from happiness, from hearth and home, companions and kin, to be flogged like brutes and treated like beasts. These latter had escaped, while the former were generally released from service after some years before the mast.

But for all, that first waking was a memory that haunted. That first moment of awareness, when the last thing you recalled was a walk through dark streets, or perhaps a drink of ale or wine in a tavern by the docks, and now you find yourself with aching head in a hammock, or sprawled across the rough planks of a deck, on a ship at sea, moving with the waves when last you stood on solid land; in your nose the smells of salt air and a ship and men, and in your ears the sounds of wind and waves, sails and shrouds, and chanteys and shouted orders to rise and work – perhaps punctuated with a kick, or a blow from a belaying pin or marlinspike: every man to whom I spoke of it said that the confusion, the bewilderment of such a change, from landsman’s life to the world of a ship at sea, all of the world altered in the single closing and opening of an eye, had filled them with a terror and a despair that none had otherwise known. Their lives had gone, and they had no memory of the going. The sensation did not last long, but those moments were sheer and absolute Hell.

And now I know what they meant.

I am in a room with white walls, without window, with one door. I am in a bed, clothed but in a thin wrap like a robe made of parchment or threadbare linen. My arms are tied by leather thongs lined with some soft material, bound to the rails that run on both sides of this bed, and thin tubes are – attached to me, somehow. The tubes lead to a contraption of metal and white-lacquered stuff, with clear sacs like wineskins made of glass, filled with variously colored fluids. The thing chirps like a bird, though more regular-like. My left forearm is well-bandaged, as is my right shoulder, and both pain me severely. My head seems awash in porridge: somewhat thick and warm and impossible to grip are my thoughts. I have slept and woke and slept again, sometimes dreaming, sometimes aware, even as I have written this. I write these words on a bound sheaf of paper which rests on my hip, with a pen I found alongside the sheaf when I woke.

I do not know where I am. I do not know the fate of my ship, or my men, or even myself. I do not know how much time has passed, or what has befallen us since – I do recall the battle, though I know not how it has ended.

Aye, this confusion is terrible, in truth. I am adrift, and alone. It would, like those press-ganged men I have known, be the worst sensation I have ever felt in this life; except for that I have felt it before. When my ship sailed through time, stranding my crew and I three centuries lost from home.

Has it happened again? I do not know.

Sleep pulls me down. I fear my dreams.

Gods and saints preserve me.

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Log #4: The Chase, Part II

Captain’s Log #4

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

Location: Unknown

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

They slowed the ship and prepared for battle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain’s Log #3: The Chase

Captain’s Log #3

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Noon.

Location: Unknown

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

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

 

Returning to my narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

Surely the devil was giving chase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the next day. And the next.

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

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

No: she took me to meet my father.

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

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Captain’s Log #2: The Trap

Captain’s Log #2

Date: 24th of June, 1678. Dawn.

Location: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And match us she did.

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