Posts Tagged With: Shadowman

Chapter #83: The End (Part III)

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

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

Attached to his Grace.

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

Then he slept.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Hobbes was becoming one more of those dumb brutes.

Perhaps he already was one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or was this ominous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was when the Shadowman exploded.

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

All else was gone.

Particularly the Shadowman.

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

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

Thus he was the first to feel the figurehead move.

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

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

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

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

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

The rifle fell from his limp hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your acceptance of sacrifice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And in will is strength.”

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

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

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

“So you do seek to kill me.”

“That is the boon I ask.”

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

“But I have two conditions.”

“Name them.”

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

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

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

“And your second condition, my Lord?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Morrigan,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Then she kissed him, and he knew no more.

 

***

 

Balthazar Lynch had found a place to sit.

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

Wait for the Captain to return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balthazar Lynch had a place to sit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grace of Ireland had returned.

Damnation Kane had returned.

 

***

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

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

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

 

Théoden “Dusty” Humphrey

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

Chapter #82: The End (Part II)

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

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

 

***

 

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

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

They were not far wrong.

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the head did not fall.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She disappeared.

Damnation collapsed once more, and fell into another vision.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hand drew slowly back, vanishing into the dust.

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

Peace.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

Attached to his Grace.

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

Then he slept.

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

Chapter #81: The End (Part I)

Continuing With Our Story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadowman.

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

Something that the Shadowman knew quite a lot about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Damnation felt the strangler’s grip loosen.

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

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

Then the cursing started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let the prisoners go. All of them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all waited.

Nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The order was, “Begin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now.

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

“Leave him there until then,” he ordered.

Damnation fell into darkness.

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

Log #79: Caged

All is lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You came,” he whispered to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I went to see my ship.

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

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

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

I shall not return.

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

Goodbye.

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

Damnation Kane

Once Captain of the Grace of Ireland, and her crew

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Log #78: Meeting With The Devil

Captain’s Log, October the Sixth: Midnight

 

By the Morrigan, patience is – no. She is not the deity I should swear to, if patience is what I seek. The war goddess, the devourer; this is not her virtue. I should swear by Lugh, the long-handed, and by Goibniu; the smiths, the craftsmen. They know the necessity of waiting.

But by all the gods, and all the devils, it is hard.

I will record what has transpired this evening so that I may gather my wits about me, for I have need of them all. There is more work still to be done, this night. I will wait while Andre goes to confer with Two-Saint; the passage of hours cannot but help the chances of our success, and so it is not a hindrance that he has gone. It is not our endeavor that is at risk, only my sanity. Only my sanity.

I will write. I will write slowly, recording all detail, and empty my mind of all thoughts, the better to prepare myself for the course ahead.

It is, in  truth, the better way, for in haste lies folly, rash mistakes that can – and often do, and often have in mine own life’s book – mount and multiply into a tidal wave of error that may wash over a man and sink his every plan. A minor instance: the name I learned this evening past, I heard at the outset as Irish: it begins with the O of our fathers, and I did not consider the unlikelihood of the man who bears it having Irish blood flowing under his black skin. When I conferred with Andre as to the identity of our foe, I gave the name a touch of the lilt of Erin – O’Caughgaweay, perhaps; enough of an Irishing that Andre did not recognize the appellation. After many repetitions as we drove the Jeep-beast to the house of Diego Colina, it struck him that what I tried to speak was in truth the name Okagaweh. It is African, Andre told me, after giving me the proper shape of it. That name, he knew. That name, he must speak of to Two-Saint.

And I must wait.

And record how I did learn it.

I want to trust the man. My heart and my wits are unified in urging me to do so; his demeanor was sober and sincere – and utterly without hope. That last was perhaps the most persuasive, as it showed me that he has no hidden motivations, no subtle intentions; he has thrown his longings and ambitions over the rail, and allows the winds of the world to carry him wheresoever they will. But is despair to serve as proof of constancy?

Was Lucifer himself not the most beautiful and best loved of the angels until the very moment of his fall? I wonder, when the Morning Star rebelled against the Almighty – did he have hope of success? Or was his despair so absolute that even his own immolation would be preferable to continuing to bear that weight of hopelessness? I can not rely on my impression of this man. But then, I am not God, nor is that creature with his claws sunk into the man’s throat – I remember the dream I had in Charleston, while delirious at St. Vincent’s hospice, and that, at least, seems to have been a true vision.

But by the gods, I trust my own prophesy no better than that man I saw today.

Aye. I must rely on him. ‘Tis a trap to think that he hath changed his colors, his blood, his loyalty. I do stand assured that his words were true; but I will remember that the Devil may cite scripture to his purpose. And he is the Devil’s Lash, and may use true words to work sinister plots. I will use his truth to accomplish my own purpose, and not to serve his.

***

I spoke with Captain Nicholas Hobbes this day.

We did return after supper to Jack’s Bar and Grill, where Andre, as the least obtrusive of our company, stepped within the common room to seek an English sailor within. Having sighted one such – and only one, showing that our luck, or providence, or the favor of my mother’s gods for her blood in me, has not wholly abandoned us – he withdrew and kept a watch without while Kelly and I strode boldly in to confront whatever man Jack of the Sea-Cat was imbibing ale by his lonesome.

When I saw that it was Hobbes himself; when I saw that he sat in a shadowed corner, at a table for two, with a bottle of wine before him; when I saw that, in all particulars that I could recall, the interior of this establishment coincided precisely with my dream – I felt a cold hand grip my heart, my breath, my thoughts. I stopped instantly, looking (without any need to search the space, so familiar was it to me) to the counter to see if Donal Carter was serving plates from the body of my cousin Hugh Moran.

God rest his soul. And forgive me for cursing him for his betrayal. And may it please thee, Lord – or thee, Dagda, Morrigan, Manannán Mac Lir who watcheth over sailors – protect me from what enchantment has placed foreknowledge into my mind. I do not seek or wish to possess the powers of the gods. I wish only to free my ship and my men. But let Thy will be done, whosoever’s gaze be peering down on me. Let it be done.

Carter was not there. My sudden movement and abrupt halt caught Hobbes’s attention, and he rose from his seat, staring at Kelly and I – myself being the main target of his attention, as he and I have clapped glims on one another ere now. I saw that my dream had also been wrong in placing the dark man in Hobbes’s own shadow, hands about his throat – though I would soon learn that my dream had more of truth than did my eyes, in this instance.

If I can trust Hobbes’s words, that is.

His first words then were plain enough: “You came,” he said, and “Thank God Almighty.”

“I have not use for your English God, Hobbes, and I have it on good authority that he wants naught to do with me,” I spat through gritted teeth, knowing I should not offend him with such blasphemy until after he had give me the intelligence I needed, but unable to stop the words unspoken.

He blinked – and then he smiled. It was a grotesque smile, the smile of a skull or a days-dead corpse. “Then for the nonce, I will thank what heathen gods receive your prayers, or even the Devil himself, for guiding your steps here. And if God will not forgive me the disloyal words, well – ‘tis no less than the wages of what I have done in His name.” Then he clicked his heels together and bowed formally to me. “Captain Kane, I believe we have never been formally introduced. I am Nicholas Hobbes. Will you join me, please, sir?” He gestured to his table, and then signaled the publican. “Another glass and a new bottle of the same – or two new glasses?” he added, looking at Kelly and then back to me.

I half-turned to Kelly, though I kept my eyes hove tight to Hobbes. “Check the place,” I said to my bosun in Irish. “Make sure we’re alone. then have your drink at the counter, aye? Let me speak to the bastard alone.”

“Aye, Captain,” he rumbled, and then walked the room’s perimeter. I turned back to Hobbes and said, “He’ll see that we two are not disturbed. Captain.” Hobbes nodded and bowed again, repeating his request for a bottle and a glass, and then we sat.

When the bottle came, he let me remove the stopper and pour, and then he raised his glass. “To your very good health, for all the good it will do you here,” he said, and then he took a drink, swallowed, and sat still, waiting, so that I would know it was not poisoned when he did not die. After a moment I lifted my glass to him and said, “May your bones sink to the depths with your ship, and your soul go lower still,” and then I drank deep.

Hobbes laughed. Not long nor vigorously; he did not appear well. Pale as an Englishman, still he should have been sun-browned as sailors are, especially after some time in this island clime; but he appeared sallow and wan, having left behind his habitual thinness for a cadaver’s wasted condition, his cheeks hollow, his eyes shadowed and haunted. He raised his glass once more and drank to my toast, then put the wine down and said, “My soul is already in Hell, Kane. Sent there by you and your deviltry, and by my own sinful pride and wrath.”

I took another sip. The wine was not good, but not the worst I have drunk. In truth I wanted to cast the glass aside, take up the bottle and club him to death with it, crying, “Where is my ship, you English whoreson bastard?” with every blow. But if polite discourse over wine would gain me the intelligence I required, then I would forego the bludgeoning.

For now.

“I’ll admit – nay, I’ll boast – that I did sink your ship, Hobbes, but I think I do not bear responsibility for the condition or direction of your soul. Either men choose their own fates, and so you chose yours, or else your Almighty God has foreordained your doom, not I.”

He nodded. “True, you and that accursed ship of yours did not choose my course for me, you merely tempted my righteousness as an Englishman and a Christian. I will step aside from the question of man’s will or God’s will; it all comes to the same, for it if was my will that chose, then I was following God’s injunction in his Holy Book: Thou shalt not suffer a witch –”

“To live,” I interrupted and completed for him. Now it was my turn to voice a humorless laugh. “Ah, Hobbes, if ye were another man I would keep to my vow, made many years ago, to murder any man who spat that bloody verse at me. But for ye, I’ll simply take solace in the knowledge that the woman I would murder ye for is now turned to dust in her grave – and that, if I am not mistook, that ‘twas her witchcraft, as ye say, that has sent ye here to the ends of the Earth.”

He leaned forward eagerly – and I clapped hand on my wheel-gun as he did so. He saw me, and raised his empty hands as sign of peaceful intent, sitting back in his seat slowly. But his hands were tightened into whitened fists on the table, and they trembled. “So you know, then, the means and manner of our exile into this Hell?”

I frowned at him. “Think ye this be Hell, man? D’ye not know our circumstances?”

He nodded. His eyes glittered now, but it was a poisonous energy that animated them. “I know, Kane. It is the year of our Lord 2011, and this is the island of Bermuda – still English soil, for all the good it does now to know it.” Then he leaned forward again, slowly. “Make no mistake, Kane: this is Hell.” He looked down into his wine, and drained the glass at a draught, his lips twisting against the sour taste. Or perhaps it was the sour taste of the words he spoke then, softly: “And I am allied with the Devil himself.”

So it seemed Hobbes was unfortunate in his choice of friends. Well, bad cess to him who deserves it, thought I. But I had had enough of this merry banter, so as Hobbes poured more wine, I asked, “Do you hold my ship and my crew, or does the Devil have them now?” As I said it, though I had but referred to his own naming of his ally the Shadowman, I felt an icy cold spread though me, and of a sudden I felt sure that the Devil indeed did have my men and my Grace; that all were dead and obliterated, and the Devil’s Lash would now smile and tell me so with both pleasure and pride. Then I would kill him.

He smiled. He said, “I have nothing, Kane. Even what I hold in these hands is the possession of the Devil, for he owns all of me.” He sipped his wine as I felt a roaring in my head, in my heart, and I prepared myself to shatter him. But then he said, calmly uttering a matter of fact, “Your ship is manned by my crew. Your crew is held by men of this time, who serve the same incarnate evil as do I. Both are in the same locale.” He sipped his wine again and the breath slipped out of me, taking the killing rage with it.

“Where?” I asked him, ready to begin the bludgeoning if he equivocated or refused to tell me.

He did not. “Have you a guide who knows this isle?” At my nod, he said, “Then tell him to lead you to the end of Old King’s Road, to the beach between the Serpent’s Fangs. Your men are held at the house there, a house owned by a man named Fournier, Michel Fournier. But they are in truth held by the same devil who holds the souls of my men in his black hands.”

“My ship is there as well?” I asked him. I knew not what he intended, in simply revealing this to me without coercion; I presumed it was a trap – though I could not imagine that he had predicted that I would seek him out himself. Perhaps he feared that I was armed, and eager to do him violence? Did he speak out of fear for his life? He did not have the manner of a man afraid, but seemed entirely calm.

He did show some spirit then: he leaned forward, his hands flat on the table, his fingers spread wide. “What are your intentions, Kane? Will you kill me? Is that your desire?”

I leaned forward as well, until we were nigh touching one another. “If I wanted ye dead, Hobbes, ye’d be bleeding on this floor.”

He did not flinch away from my gaze, though I doubt not he could see that his spilled blood was indeed my heart’s desire. “As I thought when you came in here and did not kill me on the instant. Then what is it you wish dearer than my death?”

I blinked at this. Then, though I know not why I would admit anything to this black-hearted villain, I said, “I want to go home.”

His eyes shone, and did not blink as he looked deep into mine. “And do you know how to accomplish that?”

I sat back, and saw, even before I spoke, the light go out of Hobbes’s eyes. “I do not. I think I know how we were brought here, I and my men and the Grace, but I do not know how to return. And I have not the least scrap of a notion why your ship came along with us.”

He turned one hand palm up. “We were grappled onto you.”

I nodded. “Aye. Perhaps it is so simple.”

He breathed out air in a sort of tired laugh. “It is always simple to find the way to Hell, Kane. Getting back – now that is the difficulty.” He leaned back. “Do you mean to seek that path?”

I shook my head. I looked around, saw Kelly drinking at the counter, paying us no mind, too far away to overhear. “I want only to free my ship and my crew, Hobbes.”

He looked into me for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Your ship will never be yours again. He has it, he desires it; you will not take it from him.”

I pounded a fist down on the table, shaking the bottle and the glasses. “No man can keep my ship while I live!” I barked at him.

He chuckled. “He is no man.”

I threw up my hands. “I have heard you called the Devil, too, Hobbes, have thought it myself, but you are a man, nonetheless. Who is this devil of yours that he has so unmanned the Devil’s Lash?”

He looked down at his hands, toying idly with his empty wineglass. “His name is Lyle Okagaweh. But that is only the name he goes by. He is a demon, who speaks to other demons, and binds them to his will. I have seen this with my own eyes, have head voices speak from flames, from air. I have seen wonders that have nothing of goodness in them, nothing of God. He has powers I cannot describe, and which you cannot overcome.”

“How do you presume to know what I can or cannot do?” I asked, perhaps peevishly.

Hobbes laughed – and if I had done nothing else this day, at the least I gave Hobbes back his humor. “You are a formidable foe, Kane, but if you could have bested me as easily as the Shadowman has, you would have done it ere I chased you across the ocean. And if you could defeat him directly,” he spread his hands, “he would not have your ship, and you would have no need to speak to me.”

He leaned forward once more. “Listen to me, Kane. The ship is out of your reach – but you may save your men. Despite all the gulf that yawns between you and I, as one captain to another, as one man to another, I pray you – I beg you: save them. Save them from the Shadowman. He is doing to them what he did to my men: he gives them what he says is physic, what he says will cure their hurts and heal their spirits. And it does bring them peace and joy, at first – but it takes their will from them, even as it gives them bliss. It makes men into slaves, into beasts without courage or strength. It makes them his.” He paused to see that I understood. I did, and he went on. “He has only begun with your men. My men have been in his clutches now for months, and nearly all of them are lost. You must do what I could not. Save the men who gave you their loyalty, who sailed the seas with you.”

I considered him. I believed him, but – “If you are so certain that this Shadowman of yours cannot be beaten by the likes of me, how am I to free my men from him?”

He smiled at that, and poured the last of the wine into my glass. “Because, my dear fellow, he does not want your men, other than as mere counters to add to his pile. He wants you. If you offer yourself in exchange for the freedom of your crew, then it will be accomplished, on the instant, without any struggle whatever.”

I frowned at him. “You want me to surrender,” I said.

Hobbes shook his head. “I want to destroy the both of you myself, you Irish bastard.” I saw the gleam in his eye, and knew that he spoke only the truth. He stood from the table, drawing a dollar-paper of a sort I had not seen before from his pocket, dropping it beside the wine bottle. “I am telling you the only way you will save your men. For their sake, not yours or mine. And only because they are men, and some of them are Christians. Even if they are Irish.”

And with that, he left. Kelly rose, prepared to seize Hobbes, but I waved him back. Hobbes had told me what I needed to know, and more besides.

My path is clear.

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Log #77: A New Ally

Log, October the Sixth

 

At last, at last! Four useless days spent roaming this damned island, seeking something which, as we did learn today, we most likely would not ever have found. Four days wasted, even more so than we knew. But today, this day – we have found a path. We have plotted our course, with a destination in mind, and even in sight.

Pray that this course be true.

We began this day just as we have the others since we here arrived: we broke our fast after aiding Diego with the tasks of the farm, and then our pilot – a dark-skinned man named Andre – arrived in a tall, boxy beast-wagon named a Jeep. Kelly and I boarded to the rear bench and without a word of direction or even greeting, Andre cracked the whip, as it were, and our Jeep-beast was off. Shane has told me that his man is not this way, that they take time to discuss the movements and intentions of the day, that they converse as to the known habits and character of their target, the lieutenant Hargreaves. But our man Andre merely takes us to the shore, where Kelly and I strain our eyes looking for that which we seek. For that purpose this Jeep-beast is most well-suited, as it lacks a top deck overhead, and Kelly and I can stand on the bench when the beast is still, and see as from a crow’s nest. But thus far, at each halt we have seen naught, and when we so inform Black Andre, he returns us a grunt, and then off the Jeep-beast goes to the next cove along this island’s interminable north coast. (At the least, we had told each other, this fellow knows what is a cove and which side of the island is north – and does not believe that we Irishmen would be unaware of what direction we faced, or where the ocean should lay; we have know far too many of the people in this time to lack even that much of intelligence and honor. But we have both.)

Today there was somewhat of a difference – a difference that has changed all from dark despair into gleaming hope. Each day that we have searched, we have taken a halt for a midday meal, Andre piloting us to a nearby tavern for sustenance, the which Kelly and I have provided for ourselves and for Andre; this did seem a reasonable fee, since we give the man naught otherwise but courtesy. On this day at the noontide we arrived at Chazzer’s Chicken Shack. We Irishmen disembarked to stretch our legs; meanwhile, Andre sought to stretch other limbs: there was a young lass there, seated alone at a table, drinking from a cup. I’ll say this for our pilot: he has no skill at conversation, but his eye for beauty is beyond reproach; I have rarely seen a fairer lass, her skin the reddish-brown of polished wood, her hair a golden-brown cloud, her form and features flawless and alluring, indeed.

But though Black Andre’s eye for beauty is fine, his prudence is somewhat lacking: only a fool would expect a cailín like that one to visit a tavern unchaperoned. Indeed, near as soon as Andre had taken a seat beside her, and won himself a smile from the lass, her chaperones returned from whence they had gone. There were two: one the young lady’s sweetheart, the second her brother, as they informed Andre with both fury and menace (And I take the liberty of criticizing them for their laxity: they were two, and yet the lass was left by herself? Fortunate that she caught the eye of our Andre, and not some villain who would wish her ill!).

Our man tried to back water, apologizing the while, but the men’s tempers were heated, and they pursued him, trapping him between them and a wall, their fists bunched, their teeth bared, Andre growing more and more desperate as violence began to seem inevitable – to Andre’s detriment, that would be, as both men were larger and stouter than he. That was the moment when Kelly and I returned from our constitutional, and saw our pilot in dire straits. Kelly looked his query at me, and I nodded; I did not think we owed our man loyalty, but still we did require his continued service, and thus his continued consciousness and mobility.

To that end, we approached, and Kelly tapped the nearer fellow, the larger one, on the shoulder. The man turned his head just enough to warn off the interloper – but then he started and turned fully, the truth dawning that Kelly was as much larger than he as he was than Black Andre. “As my friend here has already offered an apology,” quoth Kelly,  “methinks ye should take his interest in the lady as a compliment. Be it not so?”

The man’s mouth flapped a time or two, and then he seemed to bite down on Kelly’s words. “Compliment? Nah, man! Him try play slap an’ tickle wit’ my girl! Wit’ him sista!” The man pointed a shaking finger at Andre, baring his teeth as he growled at Kelly, surely trying to show Kelly that he was not afraid.

Kelly nodded. “Well and sure that does put another face on it.” He frowned at Andre. “Come man, ye canna play the slap-an’-tickle wi’ a lassie.” The frown turned to a grin: and Kelly reached out, quick as a cat, and took the man by the shirt, spun him away from Andre, slammed the man’s back against the wall of the tavern. Kelly pressed close against the man and said, “That’s a man’s game, it is. So, mo chara, d’ye want the slap first, or the tickle?”

The man spluttered. “Tickle? No –”

That was as far as he got before my bosun’s hand, broad as a board and as weighty and hard as the stone he once quarried, smashed into the man’s cheek, throwing him sideways with a cry. Kelly grabbed his shoulder once more with his left hand, pushed the man’s back against the wall once more.

The other man, the girl’s brother, cried out then. “Hey man, you can’t slap a fella!”

Kelly frowned in mock confusion. “But he said he didn’t want the tickle, so that left the slap.” The man had straightened up again, his hand on his own cheek, a trickle of blood oozing from his fast-swelling lip; he snarled and pushed Kelly, hard, knocking my bosun back a step.

Whereupon Kelly drew his knife. Reaching out, he laid the flat of the blade on the man’s hip. “Tickle it is, then. You wish me to tickle your guts with the point of me knife, aye, I can play that game, too.” The smile was gone from Kelly’s face now as he looked into the man’s furious eyes, his own features as blank as a stone.

The other man reached into his pocket, muttering curses. Surely I could not allow him to draw whatever weapon he possessed and wield it against my mate: I drew my wheel-gun from the back of my sash, pointed it at the man’s anger-twisted visage, and then whistled for his attention. He gave it to me, and I said, “Now, now, we mustn’t interfere with the game. ‘Tis only they two who play; you and I shall observe.” I pointed with my left hand at his hand in his pocket, and he drew it out slowly, empty, earning a smile and a nod from me.

The man under Kelly’s knife was shaking, sheened with sweat. “Don’t cut me, man. She my girl, man. What would you do?”

Kelly drew his head back in surprise. “Why, if I loved her, I’d marry her. If I was steppin’ out wi’ her, I surely would not leave her alone to be accosted by rogues. And if she were bothered thus –” Without warning, Kelly took the blade away from the man’s belly, replacing it with his fist, which sunk to the thick wrist in the man’s flabby gut. The man dropped to his knees, choking and wheezing. Kelly finished his sentence: “–I’d strike first, and swiftly. And hard.” He tossed the knife from right hand to left, and then his right fist swung in a short, hard arc, crashing into the man’s head like a cannonball. The man sprawled in the dirt.

I beckoned Andre away, keeping my aim firm on the brother. But, as Kelly turned to face him, the man held up both hands, clearly unwilling to take on such foes at such odds. With barely a glance for the downed man, he sidled over to his sister, took her hand in his, and drew her away. She went where he led, though she stared, mouth agape, at Kelly and I until she vanished around the corner of the tavern.

Kelly sheathed his knife, dusted his hands, and said, “Well and that was sure a fine way to break up a dull watch. Shall we dine?” With a laugh, I tucked away my wheel-gun, took Andre by the elbow, and led him within the establishment to assuage our hunger.

We sat at an empty table, and Andre, mopping the sweat from his brow, told us that he would procure our luncheon, the which he proceeded to do, rushing to the counter, speaking rapidly to the proprietor and then rushing back to our table bearing plates heaped with food. We nodded and tucked in; Andre returned a second time with his own plate and a fistful of cutlery – though when he saw that we made do with hands and belt knives, as jack-tars are wont to, he discarded the pile of silver on the table and went back for three ales. When he joined us once again, I thanked him for the food and drink, and Kelly raised a toast in his honor.

“No, man – I gots to thank you fellows. Them rough boys would have pounded me flat, sure enough.” His expression turned hard, then, his gaze focused out the window; Kelly and I turned to see what he observed, and saw the rogue that Kelly had downed was now back on his feet, and staring dully into the tavern. Kelly turned in his seat to face the man squarely – though he did not pay him the compliment of standing in readiness should the man seek vengeance, for indeed, what risk did such a wilted fool pose to such as we? The man’s slack, stunned eyes came back to sharpness as he recognized Kelly, and then he vanished like a cannonball beneath the waves, bending below the sill and scuttling away like a crab. Kelly and I shared a laugh at that.

Andre did not laugh, but rather shook his head ruefully. “See there? He not even stay down long. He’d’a taken me apart, man. I owe you two big. You didn’t even need to back me up, we not friends.” He knocked on the tabletop. “Well, we friends now. Shake.” He held out his hand, first to Kelly and then to me, the both of us clasping fingers with him. We ate for a few silent moments, and then Andre rose. “Got to make a call,” he told us, stepping outside of the tavern, drawing his cell-phone from his pocket.

I shook my head. “People of this time fear pain more than a man should,” said I. Kelly grunted, raising his cup in agreement.

We had finished the food – quite toothsome it was, a richly spiced dish of rice with chunks of well-seasoned fowl in-mixed – ere Andre returned. He gestured to us with the cell-phone, and took his seat, tucking into his own plate of provender. Mouth full, he leaned close and murmured, “I called Two-Saint. He said I should help you fellas, no problem.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Have you not been helping us these past four days, then?”

He shrugged, swallowed, wiped his lips with one of the strange flimsy cloths they seem to prefer here for such tasks, drawing them from a box filled with the things on the table – though surely they cannot even be cloth, unless it is cloth spun of gossamer and spider-silk. ‘Tis like wiping one’s hands and face with ancient, brittle paper, but what madman uses paper for a napkin? Give me a proper rag, or at least the back of a well-furred dog. “Look man, you fellas here to do a thing for Two-Saint and his boy back state-side, that white boy who smile too much. Two-Saint tell me you need a driver, want to look at coves on the north shore, only the north shore and not in town. Him never say why, what you need to find, what you looking for. So I show you coves, sure – but all the same ones, over and over.”

Damn it. I had suspected that we were surrendering precious time for no reward, calmed in the doldrums by our ignorance and reliance on those who were not our allies. Too, I had thought the coves had begun to look familiar, though I had ascribed such thoughts to the alien character of this island and my disfamiliarity with it; so different did it appear from the Ireland I had known that it all seemed to be one, to my eyes. But it seemed that was not due to my lack of perception, but rather to my guide’s deception.

I must have showed my ire, for Andre held out his hands and pleaded his case. “Hey, man, Two-saint and me aren’t here to do a thing for you: you here to do a thing for him. But,” he patted the air, a gesture of placation, “now I owe you. I do a thing for you. Just tell me what you doing, I make sure it gets done, no waitin’, right now, man. Tell me what you boys up to in Bermuda.”

I murmured something profane and unpleasant under my breath, cradling my head in my hands. Four days we had wasted – and for what? Only because this man could not be concerned with ourselves or our needs? Only when there was a debt to be paid, only when he himself could profit from the act, did he solicit our friendship. These men had little honor, and no sense of hospitality (though indeed I could not place our host Diego into that estimation; he had done quite well by us).

While I grumbled, though, Kelly pushed past the questions of courtesy and seized the main chance. “We’re looking for a ship. A wooden ship, old, two masts, square sails. Not like most ships today.”

Andre frowned at him, wiping his chin with more flimsy paper-cloths. “I don’t know, man. I mean, I can ask around, but nobody really pays no never-mind to ships, you know? I mean, this an island, boats everywhere. Why look at just one when there’s a thousand more on both sides of you?”

“Why look at that lass outside when there are countless others?” I snapped at him. I slapped the table and leaned close. “Because that one lass is worth more than all the rest. Her beauty surpasses them all, draws the eye as a flame draws moths. So is my ship.”

He nodded. “Yeah, man. I hear you. Okay, you looking for the most beauteous ship on the island. Anythin’ else?”

“My crew,” I said. “A dozen men, much like we two, Irish sailors all – or nearly all,” I amended, thinking of Vaughn. “They are held captive near the ship’s berth.”

He shook his head slowly. “If they held captive, nobody gone know about it. Do you know anything ‘bout who got you boat, who hold you men?”

I wished to tell him that my Grace was no boat, no scrap-wood dinghy pounded together by boys in search of adventure, but I held my tongue. Into the space left as I controlled myself Kelly spoke: “They are English. Do you know English from Irish?” He did not sound hopeful as he asked this, as indeed the people of this time have given us little reason to be; with very few exceptions, they have thought every man of us, from the Welshman Vaughn to the half-Scotch O’Gallows, to Salty O’Neill, a Derryman from the northern reaches, to I and my cousins, southrons all – to be English by our accent and speech. But Andre surprised us, for he did smile and nod. “Yea, man. We the last outpost of the British Empire, of course we know an Englishman from an Irishman. So your Irish boys be held by Englishmen, yea?”

“Aye,” I confirmed. “English sailors. Their captain is named Nicholas Hobbes, a tall, gaunt man with not a smile nor a laugh in his soul.”

“There may be men like you, too – Africans,” Kelly added. “With long hair in tangles.”

Andre gave him an incredulous look. “I’m no African, man, I’m black. From the islands, not from the damn Congo.” Kelly nodded, acknowledging the correction, and Andre looked thoughtful. “They got dreads on they side, ah? You know who they are, who they wit’?”

I had a suspicion. But should I tell this man of the one enemy I dreaded most? The Houndman, the dark shadow I had seen in my dream, the one who seemed to have infested and – I would say corrupted, but I think the man was already Hell-black inside his heart – perhaps “allied with,” the Devil’s Lash? I feared that knowledge of the forces arrayed against us would quickly scuttle the man’s newfound willingness to be of genuine service to our quest.

Aye, said I to myself, and if it does, are we any the worse than we’ve been these past days? And weeks? Perhaps the Shadow-man is of this land, and is known. Had not my letter from O’Gallows and Vaughn described a local man of some repute? “Their leader may be a dark-skinned man – a black man, as you say – thin, with a shorn pate. He may be called Houndman, or something similar.”

Andre frowned and he tilted his head. “Houngan? This man, he a houngan?” I halted him and asked after this word. “It mean a priest, a priest of the voodoo.” Then I stopped him once more to ask about that word, the which he also explained.

Witchcraft. Evil, island witchcraft, come from Africa with the slaves. Andre seemed not overly cautious on the matter, discussing it openly without crossing himself as any good Christian would do when speaking of witches and devilry. Bu then, many and many a Christian is quick to cry Witch! where there is merely somewhat outside their familiarity; my mother and her fellow Druids have ever trod circumspectly for such a reason, particularly around the damned English. Most of the sons of Ireland know better, though not all condone the ancient ways – and many a Catholic would cry heresy on a Protestant who might follow some of the old rituals, or the reverse, indeed and aye. But as Andre spoke of it, this voodoo seemed the very heart and name of that dreaded corruption that has sent so many to the stake and the dungeons of the Inquisition.

Alas, as to our immediate need, it appeared that men who called themselves houngans, who purported to practice the voodoo or who did in truth adhere to it, were none too rare on this island. So too black men with tangled hair-locks, what Andre called “dreads.” He did not know this man from my description. But he did say he would make inquiries, and while Kelly and I enjoyed  a second ale, Andre withdrew to use his cell-phone and seek some information.

‘Twas not long then before he struck gold: a man of Andre’s acquaintance knew of a tavern, what he called a bar, that had been enjoying the custom of a large group of English sailors with a dour and humorless master. Andre knew the place; he would drive us there. Quickly we settled our account and went to board the Jeep-beast.

I will abbreviate the recounting thus: we found the tavern, one Jack’s Bar and Grill, scouted it and found it empty of Englishmen; but a cursory interrogation of the proprietor revealed that indeed a number of English sailors were wont to patronize the establishment. We returned to the farmhouse, determined to go back to the place after supper’s hour and seek our quarry then, when they are most likely to be present there; here in this waiting-space I have sat to record this log.

But I must append here one last curiosity: our foray from the tavern to the Jeep-beast was briefly interrupted – by the lass who had started the donnybrook with her temptatious beauty. She had returned, equally enchanted, so it seems, by our man Andre – and, most contemptuous of the ease with which our Kelly had downed her erstwhile paramour, she came seeking a replacement for same.

Now Andre has two reasons to render us loyal service. And a reason to smile while he does so.

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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.

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.

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

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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