Posts Tagged With: Shane MacManus

Chapter #80: Change of Plans

Two men and a youth sat in a green 1976 Pontiac Bonneville parked on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke Parish in Bermuda, near Spanish Point. Or perhaps it was three men – depending on how one counted. After all, if one’s age is set by the number of years that have passed since one’s birth, two of the car’s occupants were well over 300 years past birth, including the apparently youngest of the three. They sat watching a fourth man, who stood in an alley across the road from the Pontiac, leaning his right shoulder against the brick wall of a large and prestigious hotel, scrolling through something on the phone in his left hand. This fourth man had never been in the Pontiac, and was in truth unaware of the three watching him. Though if he had known of them, he would have been unconcerned; he was a policeman. The man behind the wheel of the car, who by some reckoning was far younger than the two paler men in the backseat, was just finishing up a phone call. “Yah, mon, right by de Royal Palms, ya know. De alley behin’ it. Ya.” He closed the phone and put it back on the console by the gearshift.

“Will it work from here?” the older man in the backseat – oldest of the three in the car by any reckoning – asked the youth. The youth, who was looking back and forth between the man in the alley and a smartphone in his own hand, in response to the question lifted his phone and sighted through the digital camera. Then he shrugged. “Depends what he does, right. I can capture him from here, and you’d know him for who he is, but if he does somethin’ small like take money, we won’t see what he’s doin’.”

The man who had asked nodded slowly, then leaned forward and brushed the shoulder of the third man, who had darker skin than either of the other two, not being a sunburned Irishman as the two in the backseat were, and then the Irishman asked, “We’d need t’ be seein’ what he does, aye?”

The dark-skinned man, who had not been paying attention, glanced back over his shoulder; he saw the young one holding up his phone camera, and then he looked out at the man in the alley. He nodded. “Yah, mon,” he said, his Island accent heavy but musical. “’Specially you wantin’ take down one rough son-bitch like dat wan dere. You be needin’ perfect pitchas, mon, show his face, show ‘im bein’ bad same time. Perfect pitchas, or you no chance stop dat mon.” He turned farther, looking the other man in the eye. “Den you gots to do your ting, mon.” He held his fist by his head, index finger extended against his temple, and mimed pulling a trigger and firing a shot.

In the backseat the oldest man, who was named Shane MacManus, nodded slowly, his fingers resting on the butt of the pistol tucked into the wide leather belt around his middle. He looked at the man in the alley for a few moments more, and then glanced back at his younger crewmate, whose motions with the phone in his hand echoed those of the man in the alley. “I don’t understand this video folderol, still. Tell me how this is to work, again?”

The young man, though not the youngest in the car, who was called Balthazar Lynch, looked up slowly from the phone, staring at his crewmate in exasperation. Then he sighed – and then suddenly brightened. “Here, Shane – I mean, Sergeant – I’ll show ye.” The title was coated thickly with sarcasm, but MacManus didn’t bristle at the tone; it seemed discipline was a minor concern for this particular sergeant. Lynch held the phone between them, moving his thumbs over the screen. Then he said, “All right, now, I’m goin’ t’ capture ye the way I’ll do t’ yon rough son-bitch.” the last words took on the driver’s accent, and the man started a laugh at hearing it from the pale apple-cheeked youth. “All right now: Master MacManus, can ye tell me, please, how ye managed t’ gull our Captain into givin’ ye some rank that no one on our ship has ever held before?”

MacManus gave Lynch a level stare.

“Look here, into the phone,” Lynch murmured, tapping the side of the device.

MacManus frowned, clearly uncomfortable with the whole business. “Look where? It’s like you’re holdin’ a bloody stick o’ scrap wood and tellin’ me to look into it.”

“Here,” Lynch clarified, pointing with exaggerated care. MacManus leaned closer, eyes locked on the point Lynch had indicated. Now it was Lynch’s turn to frown, and he looked at the screen, then turned the phone and stared at the back of it (On the screen, the left half of his frowning face became visible, and then vanished again as he) then turned it back. “No – here,” he said, pointing now at the camera’s lens.

Obediently, MacManus stared at the dark circle. “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. As there ever is.” He reached out, firmly pushing the phone down; Lynch looked directly into his face, then, and MacManus said, his voice low and sincere – and somewhat menacing: “Have ye a complaint on’t, boyo?”

Lynch looked quickly at the phone, tapped the Stop button, and then put it down in his lap as he looked straight into MacManus’s eyes and said, “Ye know I don’t. Ye’re the best soldier aboard, wi’ the most years marchin’ off t’ war. Ye’re the right choice.” Then he cut his gaze down and to the side, muttering something else.

“What’s that? Speak up, boy,” MacManus growled, turning his ear toward Lynch.

Lynch’s lips pressed tight, and he shook his head. “Tcha, ‘tis nothin’. Just that – there’s the Captain, o’ course, and Kelly’s the bosun’s mate, and ye’re the Sergeant-at-arms – and then I’m just . . . Lynch. Boy,” he added sarcastically.

MacManus, to his credit, nodded rather than laughing – but there was a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he said, “Aye, and ye wish the Captain would give some preference to ye, is that it? Ye wish his Royal Captainness to recognize ye before the courtiers? Kiss ye on both cheeks, give ye a ribbon? Or perhaps a red rose on a wee cushion?”

Lynch’s cheeks reddened and his eyes narrowed as MacManus mocked him, but at the end, his gaze softened slightly, his lips curling into the hint of a smile. Then he blinked, and gave MacManus a sniff. “Aye, I’d take that. Just that,” he said, and MacManus laughed.

“All right, show me this video shite,” MacManus said. Lynch, who had been going soft-eyed once more, started out of it, and took his phone from his lap and tapped the screen. Then he tapped once more, and turned it to face MacManus – who found himself looking into his own face. “Here,” Lynch’s voice said from the phone, and then MacManus’s gaze locked directly into MacManus’s gaze.

“Christ’s teeth!” the living Irishman swore as the video Irishman said, “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. And there ever is.”

Lynch stopped the recording and lowered the phone, grinning at MacManus. The older man shivered. “That’s a right deviltry, it is. Makin’ a portrait of a man what moves as he moves? What speaks his own words back at him?” He shivered again, swallowing convulsively. “’Tisn’t right.”

Lynch shrugged. “Mayhap ‘tisn’t, but sure and it’ll do the job on our Lieutenant Hargreaves out there.” He looked back out the window at the man in the alley, who was glancing slowly to his left and right, looking for someone or something; not finding it, he looked back at his phone, his face a mask of blank, unflappable patience.

MacManus frowned at Lynch, who was once more gazing at his own phone in a strange sort of echo of the man outside, the target. “I don’t understand what this video will do to him. It’s not magic, aye? So ye’re no’ tryin’ t’ capture his soul or enchant him into your service or some codswallop?”

Lynch psshed. “’Tis no magic. ‘Tis this world. ‘Tis the way of it.” He put the phone down on the seat beside him, after one last glance to ensure that Hargreaves waited still, alone still, and then he addressed MacManus. “Killin’ your enemy’s no’ the best road, any more – if it ever was. Killin’ a man only causes new problems.”

MacManus interrupted. “It solves the problem you’re havin’ wi’ th’ man ye kill, don’t it?”

The man in the front seat, who was named Peter Desmond – the only one in the Pontiac who was not 350 years removed from his birthday – nodded at this. But Lynch shook his head. “Aye, o’ course, but still he reaches out o’ his grave t’ throw a thousand ropes about ye. Take – well, take the Captain and ye and Kelly. We’re here, doin’ this, because ye three –” He paused, glanced at Desmond, who was looking at Hargreaves; then he shrugged and went on, now speaking in Irish. “Ye three killed all of those fellows. Where the American killed no one, but took a video of ye three fighters –”

“Aye, braw and valorous fighters,” MacManus interjected.

Lynch nodded. “Aye, truly so – but because ye fought, where Calhoun did not, now ye must serve him. He defeated ye, even as ye defeated the others. And because Calhoun did not kill, now there is nothing entangling him. You see?” He lifted the phone. “This way is better.”

MacManus pursed his lips, then nodded grudgingly. “Aye, perhaps so.” He switched back to English. “But how does this video give us power o’er him, if there is no magic to ‘t?”

Desmond turned to look at MacManus. “If we cotch ‘im doin’ bad tings, we can tell ‘im to do alla what we say, or else we give de video to de coppers.”

MacManus blinked. “The coppers?”

“Yah, mon, de police, de fuzz, mon.”

MacManus blinked, started to speak, but then turned his frown in Lynch’s direction. “But Hargreaves is an officer of the police, aye?”

Lynch nodded. “Aye.” He was watching the waiting man, paying little attention to MacManus’s puzzlement.

MacManus’s expression turned incredulous. “And you think the same police that are of his crew – that are under his command – will turn on him?” Lynch shook his head dismissively, looking past MacManus, unconcerned with these details.

It was Desmond who answered him, propping one leg up on the console, one arm along the back of the bench seat. “If we got video – if we get de good pitchas – den dey gots to trow ‘im out. Or else we put de pitchas on internet, show de whole world, make tings too hot for Lieutenant Hargreaves, dere.”

MacManus’s expression grew only more confused and incredulous. “Show the whole world? How would ye do that? Ye’re not God, to put a sign in the sky!”

Desmond smiled, showing teeth whiter and straighter than the ancient Irishmen were accustomed to. “Don’t fret ‘bout it, mon. Look: I talk to Two-Saint ‘bout dis, when ya boy dere bring it up. Two-Saint say it all good, video work fine, no need kill dat mon. Truth, I think him like it better if we get pitchas den if Hargreaves get shot. Dis’ll work, mon. No worries.” His phone rang, and he picked it up, flipped it open, said, “Yah, mon.” There was a pause while he listened, and then he said, “Yah, mon, same place, ‘im still dere. Still alive.” Then he folded the phone closed and returned it.

MacManus looked out at Hargreaves, and then back to Desmond. Desmond nodded. “B’lieve it, mon. You get dem pitchas, you take ‘im down.” He looked back at Hargreaves. “But we need get closer, before who ‘im waitin’ on show up. Him waitin’ like dis, back dere, dis gwan be a good pitcha – but you gots to be closer dere. We needs to see ‘im doin’ bad tings, or it no good.”

Lynch sucked on his teeth thoughtfully, idly caressing the smooth glass and plastic phone. “Should we get out? Stand nearer to him?”

MacManus shook his head. “You and I stand out in this place.”

Lynch frowned. “Nay, there be Englishmen hereabouts, and others of a lighter skin.”

MacManus gave him a level look. “Not that are equipped as we are,” he said, pointing at their somewhat incongruous clothing – Lynch’s down-turned leather boots, for one, or his own wide belt, lurid scarlet shirt, and the loose pantaloons in a bright floral print he was quite fond of (and which Peter Desmond didn’t have the heart to tell him were maternity pants).

Desmond pointed out the window. “Dere goes one,” he said.

Startled, MacManus and Lynch turned and looked: indeed, a tall man, straight and lean with black hair pulled back and tied with a leather thong, dressed in a loose white shirt, loose black pants, a bright red sash and tall leather boots, was walking purposefully down the sidewalk. “It’s the Captain,” Lynch exclaimed, starting to move to wave or thrust his head out the window to call to Captain Kane; but then he thought better of it, with a glance at Hargreaves, and he sat back. The Captain walking by did not even glance in their direction.

“What’s he doin’?” MacManus asked. No one answered.

The Captain reached the mouth of the alley, paused, looked to either side down the sidewalk, and then turned into the alley, walking straight at Hargreaves. The policeman’s eyes flicked up, saw the pale Irishman, dismissed him, and turned back down to his phone.

And as the three men in the car watched, Captain Damnation Kane walked to where Lieutenant Hargreaves stood, unhurriedly drew a revolver from his pocket, pointed it, and shot Lieutenant Hargreaves in the forehead, just as the man looked up again from his phone. The lieutenant’s head snapped back, bouncing off the wall that was now splashed with blood and brain matter, his body rocking back from his head down to his feet, as if someone had grabbed him by the ears and snapped out the wrinkles. As the ripple hit his feet, they flew up, and as his head hit the wall, he went limp, the phone flying back as his arms were flung forward and then back as he struck the wall, the glass face smashing to pieces on the ground. The tall, muscular body fell beside the broken phone, folding in half at the waist, the man’s torso sprawled across his own legs. Captain Kane lowered his aim and fired twice more into the body, which didn’t move at all from the impacts. Without a glance back, the Captain walked on down the alley and out of sight around the corner.

The two sailors stared, mouth agape. Desmond started the Pontiac, signaled, pulled out. “Well now,” he said as he hit the gas and they rumbled away from where people were starting to react to the shockingly loud explosions of the gunshots, “I guess we won’t be needin’ dem pitchas, after all.”

As they turned a corner, leaving the scene behind, Lynch slowly shook his head. What he was negating was not clear.

 

***

 

While the Pontiac was driving away, a Jeep parked on the next block, with its engine running, held two more men who were most eager to be leaving, as well, preferably as fast as possible. But both men – another Irish sailor, this one a bear of a man with auburn hair and a full beard two shades redder, and behind the wheel another Bermuda native with dark skin – kept their eyes fixed to the corner of a building, around which they had watched a man disappear, and they now awaited his return.

But so fixed were they on that particular spot that they did not see the very man coming out of an alley a hundred feet down the street; walking quickly but calmly, his face an emotionless mask (although a closer, more careful examination would reveal two things: one, the eyes in that face were not calm, were in fact so filled with feeling, filled with fear and anger and despair, that they seemed to burn with a green fire, belying the mask-like appearance of the face around those gleaming eyes; and two, there were several tiny drops of blood on the cheeks and the brow and the bridge of the nose. It was not his blood.), the man approached the Jeep, opened the door – both passengers started violently, the driver cursing and the Irishman half-drawing the sword he held from its scabbard – and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him. He pointed down the road, not looking either of his companions in the eye, and said, “Go.”

The man in the back seat leaned forward, handing the blood-spattered man the sword; but he did not take it, nor did he look back even when the large man asked, “What did ye do, Captain?”

The blood-spattered Captain turned and looked steadily at the driver, who was staring incredulously back, the car idling, still. The Captain pointed again at the road, extending his arm, turning to face forward. “You should go. You do not want to be seen here.”

The driver slapped the gear shift into first, depressed the clutch – and then paused and looked at his bloody passenger. “Dere were shots. Was dat you?” The Captain glanced at him, and the driver, looking up at the man’s brow, pantomimed wiping his forehead; the Captain ran his fingers across his face, and the tips came away smeared with blood. He looked at his red-fingered hand, rubbing the tips of his fingers against the ball of his thumb, and said, quietly, “Aye, it was.”

“You shot Hargreaves,” the driver said. It was not a question.

The Captain looked steadily at him with his burning green eyes. “Aye, I did.” He lifted three blood-tipped fingers. “Three times,” he said, his voice still calm.

The driver’s jaw clenched. “He dead?” he asked through gritted teeth.

The Captain nodded. “After the first shot. But if he could die thrice, he’d have done so.”

The driver dropped his gaze away from his passenger, and the Jeep pulled out and drove away. In the distance – but not too far – sirens could be heard approaching. The driver paused at an intersection, turning his head, trying to place the sirens; when it became clear which direction they came from, he turned the other way, and hit the gas.

In the alley, the dead man’s cell phone, the glass cracked, the case smeared with dust and blood, rang and rang.

No one answered.

 

***

 

“Two-Saint is going to be pissed,” Andre said again, not for the first time. He snatched up his cellphone, but had to drop it again in order to steer the Jeep around a slow-moving bus.

Damnation Kane gazed out the window, his eyes idly roaming over the countryside, trees and houses, families in ragged clothing, birds in spectacular plumage, the sun glittering on green plants so bright the world seemed made of emeralds under a sapphire sky. “He wanted the man dead. The man’s dead,” he said, his tone indifferent, unconcerned. Behind him, Kelly frowned, his hands running nervously over the captain’s sword, which he still held.

Andre scoffed. “Your man had a different idea. Two-Saint liked it better.” He glanced over at Damnation. “No blood,” he said pointedly.

Damnation looked at his fingers; the blood had wiped off on his pants, but the skin still seemed reddish; perhaps this blood would not wash away. He turned to face Andre, who was glancing back and forth between Damnation and the road ahead. “’Tis unfortunate when a man gets what he wants only t’ find he does no’ want it. But such is that man’s misfortune, and no other’s.” He held his gaze on Andre, who shook his head and concentrated on his driving. Damnation turned to look out the window once more. “I do not go to raise conflict, but in truth, Two-Saint is your master, no’ mine. Calhoun was the one who commanded me, and his instructions were to kill. Anythin’ else is between they two; I am only a tool.” He paused, and then so quietly that none heard it but himself, he said, “A broken one, at that.”

“We’ll see,” Andre said. “I’m takin’ you back to de farm, and den I talk to Two-Saint.”

Damnation smiled, and spoke casually. “Tell me, how long will it be before la policia find the man who killed their own lieutenant?”

Andre shook his head. “Not long. Dey’ll be boiling ovah ‘bout dis.” He sped up, honking at the slower-moving cars in his way, with no apparent effect. Then his eyes widened and he whipped around to face Damnation. “Were you seen?”

The pirate turned a wide smile on the Bermudan. Then he shrugged. “Perhaps not. Though I did no’ attempt concealment. But perchance ‘twill take them some time t’ search me out, and t’ find someone who has seen ye and I together.” He paused. Andre looked away from the road once more, and their gazes met. “Perchance,” Damnation repeated, and turned back to his window.

Andre’s nostrils flared as he sucked in a deep breath – and then he had to turn back to the road, swerving to avoid a collision with a bicycle, leaning on his horn to express – well, something. “You wanted to get caught,” he said slowly.

Damnation turned and looked at Kelly as he said, “I wished to be seen. To be known. I alone fired the shots. I alone murdered the man. I and no other.” Kelly frowned. Damnation said, “My men are innocent. They may leave, and go where they wish.”

“But what about you, Captain?” Kelly asked in his deep rumble.

Damnation smiled. There was not a breath of happiness in it. “I, too, will go where I wish.” He turned back to gazing out his window at the lovely world outside, and said no more.

 

***

 

Thirty minutes later, both the Jeep and the Pontiac had returned to the farm owned by Diego Hill; the two drivers, Peter and Andre, were out on the porch having a conversation on speakerphone with Two-Saint, while the three crewmen, sitting within the main room of the house, listened to the instructions of their captain, and held their tongues, unwillingly.

The drivers received their final orders, and hung up the phone. Exchanging a long look, they went to the Irishmen. Damnation quirked an eyebrow by way of questioning; Andre said, “He agreed. I take you dere, and he send a bus.”

Damnation stood, nodding. “We will wait there for the – what is’t? A bus?”

Now Andre quirked an eyebrow. “A bus. A school bus Two-Saint has. We use it to bring workers to de fields when we need to harvest. Or we did.” He glanced at Peter. “I tink it will still run.” Peter nodded, and Andre looked back at Damnation. “It will carry all of dem. No problem.”

Damnation nodded. He looked at his three men. “Then we will depart. If la policia are quicker in their hunt than we wish, I would not be found here, where you all may be taken with me.” A grin, this one with some actual humor, curved his mouth. “Mayhap they will take me at the cove, and arrest all of our enemies as well. ‘Twould give me some fine company in gaol, would it not?”

His crewmen, however, had no humor at all in their faces. Lynch spoke up, his voice cracking like an adolescent’s: “Ye cannot be sure, Nate – ye don’t know that the Grace has lost her – her miracle.”

Damnation’s eyes turned sad. “Aye, you’re right, lad. But I am sure that there is no other way to accomplish what must be done. We four cannot fight them free. There is no other trade that Okagaweh will make.” He walked to where Lynch had turned away, his arms wrapped tightly around his slender frame as though he must hold something powerful inside at all costs. Damnation put a hand on his shoulder, and the youth shivered. “Balthazar, it is my duty. They are my men.” He leaned close and whispered, so softly that the other men in the room could not hear. “I would be good.”

Tears erupted from Lynch’s eyes, and with a sob, he turned and ran from the room. Damnation watched him go; the other men looked away.

Then Damnation turned to Kelly and MacManus. “Right. Remember how I want you to distribute my effects.”

MacManus nodded. “Aye sir. The logbook to Vaughn, and your sword to Ian O’Gallows, if he’ll take command, else to McTeigue.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. And here –” He drew the revolver from his belt, opened the cylinder, removed and replaced three of the shells, and then handed it to MacManus. “For ye, Sergeant. With my thanks.” MacManus took the gun with a nod, and Damnation shook his hand, firmly, finally. Then the captain turned to Kelly. He reached to his ear, where a gold ring was clasped; with a twist of his fingers he broke the soldered joint, unthreaded it from the hole in his earlobe, and then pinched the soft metal back together. “Give this to Lynch, will ye? And – see that the lad is well.”

Kelly took the ring, and nodded. “Aye, Captain.” He shook Damnation’s hand as well, and then pulled him in for a fierce one-armed hug. Damnation hugged the large man back, and then stepped back. The two nodded to each other, and Kelly murmured, “Luck to ye, sir.”

With a gesture to Andre, Damnation Kane left the farmhouse then, to go to meet his fate.

 

*************************************************************************************

Hello! I hope you’ve been enjoying the story so far; we have now come to the end of the second book of Damnation’s adventures (You can tell because now it is narration rather than a log), and there are only a few chapters remaining, absolutely full of surprises and shocks, action and adventure.

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

Log #76: Strength

BLog

we ar on bermuda now. me and shayn wach tol police man hargreevs and Captin and kelee wach 4 Grace. we hav ben heer 3 dayz. Captin has not see ship. me and shayn see 2 much hargreevs.

it hurts 2 see Captin. he is so sad. he hav sad hart becuz he and men get trikt by bastard calhoon in charlztun. Captin thinks it his mistayk. his falt. he want to be good. i donnow wy he duz not unnerstan he is good. i think he forget.

i wish i cud tel him.tel him he is good. tel him the trikt is not his falt. he did best he thot and then wen it was bad he tri mor and mayk it best he can. he not srender he never srender he fite 4 men 4 ship 4 onner.

i wish i cud tel him i sorry 4 wut i sed befor. i was rong. i no that now. i wish i cud hold him and kiss him and tel him it wil be best. we wil win at the end.

he need sum 1 2 hold him and kiss him. he duz not need me to be crew man. he needs me 2 be his woman. but i cant be.

can i?

can he luv me and let me luv him? let me hold him and kiss him? giv him. wut is word. ease. comfort. he need comfort. he needs help. befor he laff and joak with us all ways. he nevr sad. nevr loos hart. but now he duz not laff. duz not smiyl. he need comfort. i cud giv it 2 him if he let me.

wil he?

hargreevs is not trubl. he is a blagard a rowg a vilin. shayn and me wach him tak munee from shop men. we wach him thrash a man in allee and tak munee. if hargreevs goz away no 1 sad. every 1 best with no tol police man.

i hav a thot 4 mayk hargreevs go away. no need blud. and i got thot from calhoon. i can not giv Captin comfort and help he needs but i can giv him this.

 

***

 

Log

Three days’ search and no result. How much bloody coastline does this pestilent island possess! How many gods-rotted coves dot this land like pox scars! Damn it all! Where is my Grace!

 

Later

Aye, reading that last, it strikes me that my ship does indeed hold my grace: what goodness my soul possesseth, what virtues of patience, equanimity, duty: all are bound to her. When I have her not, I have them not; and therefore do I explain the terrible and foolhardy choices that I have made. At sea, I am a captain – but on land, I am a fool.

But I did not take up this pen to brood, once again, on my many failures. Instead I wish to record an illuminating conversation I shared this evening with my men, and with our taciturn but worthy host, Diego Hill. (He tells me that his family name is in truth Colina, but the Spanishers being somewhat unwelcome among the peoples of this isle, many of whom are descended from slaves who suffered under the Spaniards or Britishers who fought Spain for generations, he was dubbed with the English meaning of his Spanish name. It strikes me that the old pain that roots this strife hearkens back to my own age: it doth make the time between my birth and now seem less. Any road, he has invited me to use his Christian name, and so I shall.)

We had supped on the last of the yearling goat, cooked with beans and carrots and most hearty, and were seated about the bonfire, it being too close indoors with the damp summer air of this island; the smoke of the fire served to blockade the mosquitoes, as Diego calls them – bitemes, they be to my mind. We were sitting idly, drinking a liquor that Diego brews himself (that fortunately numbs the tongue within but a few sips), Shane and I discussing our progress thus far on our individual quests, when I did realize that Lynch was no longer among us. I inquired where the lad had gone, and Kelly stated that he was around the side of the house: in company with a mechanical contrivance, the which, when brought to life, provides a charge to Lynch’s eyephone. I professed mystification regarding all of this; Diego attempted to elucidate for me, explaining that the contrivance was a generator – which made a loud burring noise that I had heard but not understood – and that the eyephone was electric, he said, and needed “juice” from the generator. Power, he reiterated. He drew a similar ‘phone from his own pocket, explaining that he had poor service, as he called it, but could nonetheless make use of his ‘phone to contact Two-Saint should there be need. I nodded but waved it all away: I do not care for these matters. In truth, I was carping somewhat as to Lynch’s possession of, and by, his eyephone; the lad cannot seem to relinquish it, and now here it is, taking him away from the company of his fellows. But then I minded me of my own intention to quit this company for the good of all, so soon as my ship is recovered and the men freed, and I fell silent.

Shane then spoke into the quiet. “Lynch was wrong, Cap’n.” I looked at him querulously, and he expanded. “Back in Charleston, when he was sayin’ that ye should not ha’ fought that bastard Calhoun. Over the woman, Meredith.” He took a sip from his cup, grimaced, and plashed the rest into the fire, where it swelled the flames for a moment with a snap and a roar, as if a musket had been fired into the night sky. Shane grinned appreciatively and held his cup out to Diego, who refilled it from the jug.

“Think you so?” murmured I, drinking from my own cup. I did not ask him why, then, he had said nothing in my defense when Lynch had abused me for my conduct on the matter.

He nodded. Then he pointed at me – or near me, in truth; he had drunk more than a few cups of Diego’s liquor, which is as potent as it is vile-tasting, and, it seems, as it is flammable – and said, “But mind ye, Cap’n, I do think ye should ha’ put yon strumpet in her place.”

I stared at him across the fire, my own gaze steady as I had had only one or two cups of the liquor. “Should I,” I said, my tone surely more belligerent than curious.

But Shane heard only the words, and he nodded passionately, and sat forward, putting his cup down at his feet. “Aye, sir! Beggin’ pardon, Cap’n, for I don’t mean to tell a man how to handle a woman, but to my eye, that scarlet wench would be far better for a thrashin’. I don’t know the truth of it all wi’ ye and her and Calhoun, but I see how she tangled ye up, Cap’n, like a shark in a net!” He thrust his chin forward with this, his eyes glittering; then he belched, pounded his chest, and sat back. “Woman acts like that, she needs a strong lesson from a man. Teach her who’s in command, and what happens when ye act up against your master. Or behind his back.” He snatched up his cup and took another long drink, finishing with an explosive breath and a shudder as he lowered the cup.

I let the drink  in him bear the weight of my irritation at being called to task by a sailor of my crew; we weren’t speaking of ship’s matters, here, but of matters that any man and every man has an interest in, and some hard-won wisdom to share: and in truth, Shane, as my elder in years, may have had more than I. I decided to plumb his knowledge. “Have ye been wedded, Shane?” I asked him.

He shook his head, which made him wobble on his seat, and then pointed at me again. “Nay, never, but if I did, I’d be sure to keep my woman as a woman should be kept: obedient and quiet. ‘Tis a man’s duty to control his woman.”

“Have ye lived with a woman, then?” I asked, quirking a brow.

“Only until I could not get it up any more!” he said, grasping at his manhood. He burst into a roaring laugh, joined with somewhat less vigor by Kelly and Diego – aye, and by me. But it served to sharpen my thrust.

“Then ye speak not from experience, aye?” I said, taking a drink.

His smile faded and he grew solemn. “Nay, Cap’n. I have experience of these matters. I watched my da wi’ me mum. Me da, he were a hard man, aye, and heavy wi’ his fists. In truth, when I were a wee lad I were a-scairt o’ him. He’d take to me and me brothers now and again. But me mum took more of it, and at first, I hated him for it.”

He sighed and shook his head vigorously, as though seeking to rattle his thoughts into place, or to shake off a black memory, one of those which cling and clutch and claw at a man’s mind until he can pry it loose. He drained the dregs in his cup, perhaps hoping the liquor would weaken the dark thought’s grip, or would give him a better grip on the thoughts he sought (Men often think liquor is efficacious in such matters. We are ever wrong: drink weakens the thoughts you do want, and strengthens those you would avert. We men are fools.), and then he went on.

“But then, when I was eleven years, me da died of the plague. He fought it hard, and Mum near kilt herself trying to nurse him while caring for the children, she did love him so. But the fever took him. And then I learned why Da had been so hard on her. For as soon as he was in his grave, Mum took to the drink herself. She took to the drink like a sailor coming back into port and to the arms of his favorite whore. Soon she drank through what little money that Da saved, and then through the money for our rent, and then, when we were livin’ out in the weather and learnin’ to beg, she drank through the money we should have used for food.” He tried to drink from his cup, and frowned at the emptiness he found there; Diego held out the jug without a word, and Shane thrust his cup in the jug’s direction until it was up-filled and he could drink to drown the taste of what he said next.

“She found us a roof before we died of the cold. I’m happy that I were the eldest, as I think I was the only one who understood why old Tom Farley took us all in. Perhaps I should be grateful as he were a drunkard, or he’d never have taken a woman past 30, wi’ four young’uns and about as many teeth in her head. But he couldn’t see past the mug she kept fillin’, or the bed she filled, too.” He fell silent for a long moment, then he looked around and met each man’s gaze in turn, ending with me. “Me da kept me mum from drinkin’ and whorin’. She were weak, and wi’out a strong man, she fell into wickedness.” He drank from his cup, and then grinned and wiped his chin. “Mind, I’ve the same ways, and am glad of it – but I’ve no wee ones to care for. None as I know of, any road.” He belched. “And I have strength enough to drink meself to the ground but then arise and do my – do my duty.” He raised the cup in a toast, with such vigor he splashed liquor down his arm. “I’m a man!” he said.

I raised my cup to him. “Aye, that ye are, Shane MacManus. A good man.” I leaned over and clacked my cup against his and drank to him – though I did wave off Diego and his jug, for though I may, like Shane, have a man’s strength to drink myself insensate and then carry on the next day, I must also have a captain’s prudence: and strength to soldier on the day after a debauch does not come with the wits to plan, as I must do, when we find the Grace.

If we find the Grace.

Another voice broke the stillness then: that of Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. He spoke softly, staring into the flames all the while as though seeking wisdom there; he did not sip from his cup, though I knew Diego had already refilled it no less than thrice. He did not slur his speech, however, but spoke as clearly as one stone sober.

“My father was strong. He never used his fists; he never had to. Everyone knew that he was the master of our house. When his temper got hot, then would he should at us, and so loud was it that we thought the walls might come down, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his horn.” He smiled, though there was no humor in his one eye. “That is near enough what killed him, finally – the walls came down atop him. He was breaking a new stone face in the quarry, and there was a crack he did not know of, so when he set his bar and pried, half the whole face came down on him. It took me two days to dig him out just so we could bury him again, but we could not have him rest in unholy ground. He was a good man.” He nodded slowly. “I tried to be the man he was, but I don’t have – I don’t have his voice. I can’t shout and bring every person in hearing of me to a dead halt. I could not bring down the walls. Oh, I could break and shape stone with my hands, he taught me all of that, and I’d the size and strength of arm to keep us in coin until the fever took my mother and brother and sisters – but I’m not the man he was. ‘Tis why I’ve never married, for I do not know that I can be the master, as he was.” His gaze flicked to me, then. “’Tis why I’ve allowed as I’ll be your bosun, Captain. I hoped ‘twould make me stronger. I’d like a family. You need the strength of the Almighty to be a father, I think. To be a husband, too.” Shane was nodding in agreement – or perhaps nodding with the liquor, as the words Kelly had put forward were along a somewhat different course than Shane’s.

Still they traveled on the same heading. And I did wonder, then, had I owned strength enough to master Meredith, if our current difficulties could have been avoided. But it did not rest easy in my heart, this conceit that a man must be an Atlas, a Hercules, to take control of a woman, of a marriage. Surely it could explain why my mother never married, as it would take the true Atlas himself to overpower my mother’s boundless strength of heart; that much seemed to ring true. But I did not know if a husband for her would have made our lives better. My mother did not turn to drink as Shane’s had; perhaps if she had – and in truth, taking into consideration the trials and tribulations she faced, I could not blame her if she had turned to drink to dull the pain – then I might see it Shane’s way.

If I was stronger, could I have held Meredith to my chosen course? If I had struck her, as Shane would, it seemed, have wished, would my life and the lives of my men be better, easier, safer? Had I failed them by my scruples against striking a woman?

But there was more to be said yet: for there was another man beside our fire, with his own tale to tell. After Kelly fell silent in turn, of a sudden Diego began to speak, his English strongly accented but intelligible – I will not render its simulacrum here, but record only his meaning.

“My mother met my father when the tree he was cutting down fell on top of him. He had it near cut through and ready to drop, when a great wind came from the ocean – a piece of a hurricane, maybe, or maybe God just sneezed – came from the wrong way and pushed that tree right over backwards, came right down on top of him. Trapped him. He was far from the road, and had no one back at his home to look for him or even know he was gone, so he was stuck there four days with no food and a broken leg. It rained for him, or he’d have died of thirst; as it was, he was dying-sick and mad-tongued with a fever. And then my mother came. She was a young girl, just grown about too old for my grandfather to let her go walking in the woods alone – but not just yet. Good for my father. Good for me.

“She heard him raving with the fever, and she found him under that big old tree. He told her to go get help, find men strong enough to lift that tree off his broken leg, but she just looked at him, looked at the tree, and looked at his axe. Then she took that axe, cut her off a strong branch, and used it to pry that whole tree trunk up far enough to slide a stone under there – she had him move the stone while she held the lever, and she had a time getting him to follow her lead instead of yelling at her to go find men to help. But she did it, and after he braced the tree, she dragged him out from under it. He couldn’t walk, so she made a litter out of branches she cut and tied together with cloth from his pants, which she knew would have to be cut off of him at the doctor’s, anyway. Then she dragged him five miles, up hills and down, through jungle and brush, to town to the doctor to fix his leg and his fever.

“After the doctor cured his fever and set and splinted his leg, my father wouldn’t lie quiet and rest there – said he would rather walk home on one leg. My father, he never got along with other folks so well. His parents died in a hurricane when he was a boy, and he’d lived on his own ever since, earning pennies by sweeping out shops and running errands until he was strong enough to swing an axe, and then he cut wood. The priest in the town, the neighbors, the people who knew him all tried to put him into the orphan’s home that the Catholics had then. But he never would. Nobody could tell him what to do. When they tried to make him live with the nuns at Saint Lucia’s, he ran away, four times, until they stopped trying to keep him there. He used to say that there were only two people who could tell him what to do, and since his father was dead, that left only himself.

“He did not listen to that doctor, that’s for sure, even after he saved my father’s life with that” (I do not know the word – penny shilling? Pennasillion? A medicament, I trust.)  “He said my father must lay in the bed and rest for a month, maybe two, but my father kept standing up on one leg, swaying with the pain and the sickness, pale as a ghost, but standing. And trying to walk. The doctor wanted to hit him, my father told me, just to make him lie down – but he knew my father would have hit back.

“Then my mother came. She’d been visiting while my father healed from the fever, until her father found out that she’d been going to town to sit with a strange young man, and then he forbade her go; until three days later, when she snuck out and went to my father. She found him half out of bed, yelling at the doctor to give him a crutch so he could walk home. He still lived in the same house where his parents had been killed, and in the years since that hurricane blew the roof down on them, he had repaired it and rebuilt it and made it stronger than ever.” Here Diego paused and smiled, nodding at the structure behind us. “This house. It was the only house he ever lived in, and the same for me. My grandparents are where he buried them, over on that hill, and he and my mother are beside them, where I buried them.

“My mother walked in, and my father stopped yelling. He looked at her. He was not a good man with words, but he thanked her for saving his life. She looked at the doctor and said, ‘If he goes home, will the fever come back?’ Doctor said no, the fever was cured, but he needed to stay off his leg and let it heal – he broke the strong bone, the thigh bone, and it needed proper rest or it would never be right again.

“She nodded, and then she helped my father stand and lean on her. ‘I’ll be your crutch,’ she told him. ‘I’ll hold you up until you can stand alone.’ And then she walked him home, a young girl holding up a grown man for a full day’s travel.

“She got him home, she put him in his bed – and then she made him stay there. She tended his animals. The chickens and the goats had run off into the jungle while he was gone, but she gathered them all back again. She cared for his garden. She cleaned the house. And every day, she fought with him when he tried to get up and do for himself. Her father found out, finally, where she’d run off to, and came to get her back; but she wouldn’t leave, and Grandfather couldn’t make her: my father had a gun for hunting, and she threatened her own father with it. Said she had taken on a duty, and she’d be damned if she left it unfinished.

“She nearly had to use that gun on my father, before his healing time was done. She couldn’t keep him in the bed, but had to let him limp around and do the work he could on one leg and a crutch. But she got him to lie still by teaching him to read, as she’d learned from the nuns but he never had.”

Diego smiled again. “Then towards the end, when his leg was mended but not yet strong and true, she found another way to keep him in the bed. Nine months later, I was born. My mother was fifteen years old.” His smile faded then, and he looked down at the jug in his hand. “My father was strong. My mother was strong. But I am not. I think maybe because they tried to protect me and keep me from the troubles they had. And so because my life was soft, I grew soft. I don’t know now if that’s why the heroine got me, or if I could have been a good man if I’d never touched that stuff, if it made me weak or if my weakness made me need it, but it got me. It took a long time for it to break me, and before it did, I seemed like a man, on the outside. Nobody could tell that it hollowed me out, inside.

“Except my mother. She knew. And when my girl and I made a baby, and I wanted to marry her, my mother told me: ‘No. That girl’s no good for you, my son. And you are no good for her, nor for that baby she’s carrying, either.’ She took my chin in her hand, she made me look her in the eye. She told me, ‘This ends bad.’

“And she was right. Of course. She could see the weakness in me, in my woman. The same weakness that made me get high, get drunk, all the time. We were high when we made the baby, high when we got married. She was high when the baby was born – our little girl. We were both high when the baby died. Soon after, she oh-deed. I buried her and our daughter. Then I lose my mind, and when I come out of it, a man is dead with my knife in him, and I’m in a prison cell. I stayed there ten years. I got clean, but I didn’t get strong. When I got out, I came back home, with my mother and father, so they could be strong for me. They kept me away from the heroine. I took to the drink anyway; they couldn’t fight that weakness for me. But at least I had enough strength to keep away from another wife, from more children. I can’t dig any more graves.”

Diego took a drink from his jug then. He looked around at all of us, one at a time. “You’ve got it wrong,” he said to Shane, his voice low, calm, without accusation, but with true assurance. “Your mother was weak, you said it and it’s true. She didn’t need your father’s strength to make her good, she needed her own strength. She stole your father’s strength, and that’s what killed him.” He turned to Kelly. “Your mother, too, was weak, though not so weak as his,” he said, nodding towards Shane, who was frowning into his cup and considering Diego’s words – I could have told him that the man had hit the target dead center, but methinks that, though the liquor slowed it, that same thought was creeping through Shane’s mind. “But when your father died,” Diego went on, “she had your strength to go on with.”

Now he looked squarely at me. “You’re a strong man. You don’t need a woman who will bend to your will. You need a woman with the strength to match it. If you mean to marry and have sons, you must have a wife with the strength to rule that house. Your strength is for outside the house. You’re a captain, yes? Of a ship, somewhere? You look for it now?”

I nodded, though after a moment of hesitation. But for the nonce, ‘tis still true, and so – “Aye,” I confirmed.

He leaned forwards. “Your strength is there. Your men, your ship. If you must use that strength at home, too?” He sat back, holding one hand palm-up. “Not enough. Somewhere, it will fail.” His eyes turned sad. “I was not strong enough for my wife, for my family. The drugs and the drink made me weak, and I let them.” He gazed long at the jug in his hand, and then he upended it and drank deeply, his throat working as he swallowed the liquor. He lowered the jug again with a burst of breath, then coughed. Then he said, “My wife and daughter are buried with my parents and grandparents, with everyone who was stronger than me. Better than me.” He stood, handing the jug to Shane, who took it numbly. Looking down at me, Diego said, “Find a strong woman, one who will hold you up when you cannot stand alone. Be strong enough to hold her up when she needs you. If you can’t, then spare everyone pain: live alone and drink.”

He walked unsteadily into the house. As he did, I saw that Lynch had come to stand in the doorway, and he moved aside and let Diego pass within. Then Lynch looked at me, and held my eyes with his for a great span of time.

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

Log #73: Flight to Bermuda

Dear Reader: Hello! Thanks for continuing to come back — or thanks for checking out the site for the first time. 

This chapter is a long one, twice as long as the usual. Normally I’d split it into two and run it over two weeks, but there really wasn’t a good place to break this in the middle; there are essentially three episodes that are all of equal length, so one of the halves would be too short, the other too long.

Instead, I’m just going to slap up the whole thing, and then, with your forgiveness, I’m going to take off next weekend. The school year has started, and gotten immediately difficult; and I got the traditional cold from the little germ-factories we call “students.”

I will be back in two weeks, on the 1st of SeptembARRRRRRR. I have the rest of this part of Damnation’s adventures written out, and I am very excited to get it edited and posted; I’m not sure how many chapters it will come out to, but I guarantee that it will finish up before the end of the year. Probably by Halloween.

So please, enjoy, and next week come back and read it again. 

***

Log for October the Second of 2011

Bermuda

 

I thought that I had flown before.

That is as we have often spake, we sons of the salt, we fellows of the winds and waves. When the gale comes, and the tide flows, and the ship is clean with her ballast proper and her canvas white and strong, we fly over the seas. The breeze slips its fingers through your hair like a lover, and the ship beneath your feet dances with you: the perfect partner, every movement and every turn and every step in perfect harmony with you as you rise when she rises and fall when she falls, you are never out of synchronicity as the ship follows your every command, to speed, to slow, to turn. Unless you are high in the rigging, and then are you being led in the dance, spinning and twirling about, and you kick out your legs and twine your arms about the lines, limbs entangled in love, making every touch a caress, every breath shared as the wind fills your lungs and the ship’s sails as one, together. Then, we say, you are flying. Then, I say, you are in love.

But we are wrong. Oh, the love is true – and I miss it sorely – but that is not flying. For still, on a ship, the Earth holds you; you stand on your legs on your feet, on the deck, on the water. You sway with the movement of the rhythm of the dance, with the rise and fall of the waves. You know you are conjoined with a great creation, atop a tremendous foundation; you feel, perhaps, like a child in a sling, held and supported above the Earth, and yet still feeling, with every impact of your mother’s feet as she walks, that you are connected to the ground, to the world: babe to sling to mother to land, as man to ship to ocean to the Earth that holds the mighty sea like wine in a cup. Even in the rigging, as I have described, when the waves shift the ship, the masts and shrouds swing to and fro, and you with them – you feel the weight of the ship, of the ocean beneath it, anchoring you, holding you aloft while you fly across the sea.

In the air, I now know, there is nothing. No thing. We flew in utter incomprehensible truth, and we were seated in a plane, ensconced within its belly, surrounded by metal and glass so that we could hear the wind but not feel its kiss on our cheeks, and yet despite our insulation from all, there was no mistaking the situation: there was nothing holding us up. There was nothing tying us down. We flew. We were free. Detached, disconnected, we could have spun, tumbled end over end, top over bottom; we did not need to catch ourselves before the impact with the ground beneath – for there was no impact. There was no ground beneath us! Far below us spread out like – like a cloth on a table, aye, like a map, like the finest chart ever inked – there we could see the ocean, the Earth; but between us and that smooth expanse of blue, there was nothing. Space. Air. Aether. The magic that carried us – of which I have no words, for I have no conception – was entirely immaterial, invisible, unreal; we could see below us – for the plane did lean, when it turned, like a ship side-on to a gale or sliding down the trough of a wave, and our port or our starboard windows were suddenly faced down: and below us there was nothing. Imagine being that babe in arms, enwrapped in a cloth sling – but there is no mother, no person holding the sling, the child has lifted itself with its own will and moves forward, hovering high above the ground, untethered, untrammeled.

It was – a miracle. It was a wonder.

While it was ongoing, I lost all sense of myself as a man; I forgot my ship, my crew, my troubles; I forgot Damnation Kane entirely. I was eyes, rapt with enchantment, breath held, a body that scintillated and glowed like sparks blown from a fire. I thought nothing, felt amazement. I was free.

Until – as it seems we must, even in this age of wonders undreamt of in the world of my birth and rearing – we returned to land, our trip ended after, as our pilot us informed, better than 800 miles of travel completed in a morning. And that speed, that traversing of the very sea, was the least wondrous of what we did experience.

Alas that this, surely the most glorious hours I have known, should serve to deposit us back into this pit of vipers, this pack of malevolent and dishonest rogues with which we are surrounded. It seems that the gods are determined to give us our just due: alongside the great freedom we have now felt as we flew through the air, in light and beauty, we are now as trapped and as helpless, as enjoined and compelled, as we were released from all bonds. We have seen the heights, and now we do sink into the blackest depths. My heart is the anchor, methinks, that doth drag us downwards.

Our flying ended, we returned to the surface of the ocean – this seaplane, cleverly, is a ship first, floating to us across the waves when we waited ere the dawn at Pier Fourteen in Charleston Harbor, and then splashing back to the water like a jollyboat lowered on lines when we had reached this distant shore, of Bermuda. We were soon met by men on a boat, a true boat, though one without oars, that was propelled by some growling, spitting beast of a contraption attached to the stern like a rudder, but with a noise and a stink like the rudest of beast-wagons; the two men aboard the boat, both black-skinned, stayed silent throughout our transport from plane to shore. ‘Twas there that we met our host, the aforementioned Two-Saint.

He is a well-formed man, dark-complected as it seems these Bermudamen are, of a height with myself and standing straight, broad-shouldered and with his arms swinging freely, as a man prepared to lean into a fray, or dash to the lines in a storm, either as the circumstances merit. He smiles easily, his teeth white and straight against his skin that is the color of good earth, like seeds that might sprout goodwill and friendship – or, like the teeth sown by Jason of the Argo in days long gone, spring forth with enemies. For though this Two-Saint is true-seeming, he is not our ally, but rather our foe.

Once the initial introductions and pleasantries (As I was raised in a polite house and now spend my days surrounded by cutthroats and rogues, I stand ready to shake either hands, or fists, with those new-met; my natural inclination is for the first, but sure and these times have blown me in the latterly direction) were past, and Two-Saint had heard the names of my men as I had heard his, his nephew Jean-Paul – they are of Haiti by birth, as Claude Navarre of the Maritime Museum of Florida, he who so kindly cared for my Grace, and his nom de guerre is a corruption of their family name Toussaint – a sallow English looking fellow named Belmont, and a hulking fellow named Abner who puts me in mind of Burke, then the man moved swiftly to show that we were not guests of and not friends.

“All right,” he said, rubbing his hands together like a hungry man at a feast, “Brick told me he gave you the idea, and I give you details, yes?”

Whatever lightness remained in my heart from our wonderous flight was flung into darkness by the remembrance of that name, and that shite-grinned bastard who wore it. “We are here to seek my ship, and our crewmates,” I said, my tone as bitter as the taste in my mouth, as the blood in my heart.

Two-Saint frowned then, his hands turning into fists. He pointed one finger at me. “You are here to do as you are told. Brick told me what he’s got on you, and if you refuse him, if you refuse me, then you’re all finished. All dead.” He smiled once more then, but this had far more of the fox’s character to it: a fox gazing at a clutch of sleeping chickens. “Being Irish won’t help you, either – this island’s part of the British Empire. I call the police here, and they won’t even need to extradite you. They’ll just take you and lock you down until they try you and skin you alive for what you done back in the States.”

I looked at my men. I saw their resignation, their hopelessness.

I knew then that we were no longer pirates. For pirates are free men, and we are animals caught in a trap; the only question remaining being whether we would be killed and skinned, as he had said, or if we would gnaw off our own legs to free ourselves.

Bah. Who needs two legs? Give me freedom and a peg. ‘Tis a pirate’s life for me.

“All right, cúl tóna, then tell us what we are here to do, so we may do it and be quit of ye,” quoth I.

He frowned, his hands still in fists. “What’s this cúl tóna?”

It means he has a prick for a head. “Sir,” I replied with a smooth face. I was grateful to hear a smothered laugh from both Kelly and Lynch. Shane, having served in the King’s army, has better control over himself and gave no sign at all.

After a moment, Two-Saint nodded. “Well. You know why you are here. We go see him you do it to.”

“Aye, cúl tóna,” I replied.

Why make mock of him? Because even when I am conquered, sill I am Irish. Because even if there is no hope for my own self – and I know well that there is not – I cannot bear to steal it all from my men.

Bah. I must cease calling them my men. They are good men, loyal, strong, brave. They are better than I.

Two-Saint led the way to a pair of beast-wagons. “Two of you ride with Abner and Belmont, and two with me. You,” he pointed his finger at me, narrowing his eyes. “With me.”

I nodded. “Lynch,” I said, but got no further.

“I’ll ride wi’ ye, Cap’n,” said MacManus, stepping between Lynch and I. He looked back at Lynch. “Ye’re the only one what can share space wi’ yon great brute,” he said, thrusting a thumb at Kelly. Lynch shrugged and moved to Kelly’s side, and Shane came to mine.

I raised a brow at him. He tilted his head. “I’d speak wi’ ye,” he murmured.

Two-Saint turned and boarded a beast-wagon, his nephew climbing into the pilot’s seat. MacManus and I embarked into the rear bench, Lynch and Kelly drifting back and boarding with the sallow Englishman and the great brute Abner. Though even he was not larger than Kelly, or if he was, ‘twas by a hair’s breadth. I had to smile watching the man attempt to loom over his passengers, while Kelly met his gaze levelly.

It seems I am not the only Irishman who refuses to bend a knee without spitting on the man who’s foot is on my neck.

Once all were aboard, I placed my scabbarded sword across my lap, earning another suspicious glance from Two-Saint, for which I gave him back a smile, and we weighed anchor. The road from the shore was narrow and rough, though the beast-wagons handled it far better than an English horse-drawn wagon would have, or an Irish one, aye. Two-Saint said somewhat to his nephew, speaking French; I took this as sanction, and I turned and spoke to Shane in Irish.

“All right, man, why did ye wish to ride with me?”

He shrugged. “I know ye have a fondness for the lad, Captain, and ye choose your companions as ye see fit –” here he paused and met Two-Saint’s gaze, who was glaring at us biliously; Shane tossed him a smile and a nod, and went on, still speaking our mother tongue: “but I’ve been thinking. O’Gallows is mate, Kelly is your bosun, McTeigue our gunner – but all that be aboard the ship.” He turned to me, then. “I have been beside ye this past month we have been marooned on land. I think I’ve stood by ye.”

He paused, and I nodded. “Aye, man, ye have, and right well.”

Shane nodded in acknowledgement. “Right, so my thinking is that while we be on land, I should have something in the way of a rank. I’ve the most experience in land-fighting, too, being a King’s Army man ere I took to the sea.”

I had to nod. “Aye, ’struth.”

Shane turned a wee bit bashful then. “I was – I thought, perhaps – sergeant.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Sergeant,” I repeated – using the English word as he did, there not being a proper equal in Irish.

He nodded and scratched the back of his neck. “Aye. Sergeant at arms.”

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “So be it.” I gestured with my sword. “Shall I dub thee so?”

He looked relieved, and grinned at me. “Ah, no, t’won’t be necessary.” He frowned at the men in the front, then, who were ignoring our conversation. “Methinks we’ll bear no titles for the time being.” He grinned and looked sidelong at me. “Sir,” he said, though of course he called me cúl tóna.

I nodded. “Thank ye for paying your respects, Sergeant,” I returned. “I’ll enter it in the log, and tell the men, aye?” He nodded, and looked a mite more at ease. Then we fell into silence. I turned and watched the land pass by the window of the beast-wagon, as we jounced along the broken and pitted road – though I did note it grew smoother as we left the coast behind; especially if this be British land, I suspect we disembarked the seaplane at a point far from any official post or point of entry. This struck me as a smuggler’s road.

Though I did not know if we four be the crew, or the cargo.

This land is lovely, nonetheless. Far warmer than my Ireland, still it is as green as home, the road walled in with mighty trees , vines hanging everywhere and shrubs filling in the spaces between trunks. The air is thick with bird’s calls of a type I do not recognize, and the breeze smells rich and fecund, the sun brighter and hotter than the sun in Ireland – but this entire sojourn has been over-warm, to me. Can it be that the world is warmer, now, than it was where I should have remained?

Perhaps because it is closer to Hell?

Ere long we returned to familiar environs, inasmuch as we rode into a town with overmany people and beast-wagons, noise and stink and filth such as overwhelmed the good green earth-smell of the smuggler’s road. I had no interest in viewing such, and so I struck up a conversation with our gentle host.

“Can ye tell us anything of our task?” Shane turned from the window and interjected, “cúl tóna?” as though I had forgotten to show proper respect. I nodded and raised a hand, repeating the term as though accepting a gentle reminder of my manners; ‘twas onerous not to peal out laughter, but I think now that there was more than a touch of madness in me at that moment. I think, too, that it has not left. I fear it will never.

Two-Saint half-turned and looked me in the eye. “What Brick tell you, exactly?”

I raised an empty hand. “Exactly, nothing. He hinted and teased that we would murder a man.”

Two-Saint raised one eyebrow, and then nodded. “There’s a man, a bloody bastard, who is causing us trouble, man. His name is Hargreaves, Charlie Hargreaves.” He paused, glancing at his nephew, and then he said, “He a lieutenant of police.”

And so this was the reason why Calhoun had been so coy on the matter. This would be akin to murdering a British officer in front of a garrison, or a magistrate; there would be reprisals, rage, and recriminations after, and it would take much blood and many victims to slake the vengeful thirst of la policia. No doubt Two-Saint and the dog Calhoun intended to throw our carcasses to the wolves after we had done the deed. Shane and I exchanged a glance, and he shrugged. “We’ll no stay about,” he murmured in Irish. Aye: once the deed was done, we would soon after leave this island; what matter then what we had done while here? We would make the attempt, and succeed or fail; afterwards, future consequences did not weigh so heavy on us as they might on someone of this time and place. ‘Twas ever the reason to bring in foreign mercenaries to do the dirty business that often occurred between noblemen of any land; and who could be more foreign than we?

Though I think these men be not noble.

I did think then of one reason that would make this task easier: Two-Saint had said that this island flew the flag of our enemies. “Is he English?” I asked. I saw Shane’s eyes widen, and he nodded slowly.

“Yah,” Two-Saint replied. “That is, he’s from this island, a local, so he’s English by law.” His nephew said somewhat in French, and Two-Saint replied.

Shane and I shared a small smile. English by law, and a member of the city watch – aye, the man was English enough for killing.

The beast-wagon came to a halt, moving to the side of the road and ceasing its growling; the second wagon, with our crewmates aboard, drifted into a berth at our stern. Two-Saint pointed to a building, what seemed to be a tavern. “Hargreaves comes here every day, about now. We’ll wait here so you can see him yourselves.”

I bared a handspan of my blade. “Are we to kill him in the street, then?”

Two-Saint shook his head. “No, no! You don’t do nothing while we here! You will come back, alone, follow him, choose a place, a time. I won’t know nothing at all of when or how you do this, you understand? I will not be involved in any way.”

I slid the sword home into the sheath. “As you say, cúl tóna.” Mollified, he turned to Jean-Paul and gave an order in French; the younger man disembarked and trotted back to the other wagon, where he leaned in through the window, presumably informing Kelly and Lynch what we were about here, and what we were to do – but not now.

Two-Saint watched the tavern; I took the opportunity to speak of the only matter of import, to me. “Once this deed is done, what then?”

He shrugged and spoke without looking at me. “This is the only thing between us. When it’s done, then you do as you like, man.”

So they had carried us some eight hundreds of miles through the skies, arranged a boat, beast-wagons, half a dozen men, a smuggler’s rendezvous – for the sake of a single murder. It seems this lieutenant of la policia was a man worth considerations.

That gave me leverage.

“You say we are to follow him, aye? Learn his habits, choose a time, lay him low and leave no trail back to you?”

He looked at me now. “That’s it.” He pointed at me. “And you understand what will happen if you fuck this up, yah?”

I smiled at him. His nephew returned to the wagon then and resumed his seat behind the wheel. “Aye. But you understand that we will need time, transport, and accommodations while we course this hind?”

He blinked at me. “While you what?”

“While we hunt,” I said, speaking slowly.

He nodded then, gesturing assent. “All good, man. You get a place to sleep, and cars, sure.” His gaze returned to the tavern.

“Aye, that’s well,” I said. “We will need – cars. Two of them. And for one, a pilot who knows the coves along the northern coast of the island.”

His gaze returned slowly to me. “Why do you need this?” he inquired, and I could hear him gripping tight to his patience.

I gave up any pretense of subtlety. “We did not come here for this task. This was what we traded in order to gain passage to this island.” He started to protest, but I raised a hand and spoke over him; he stopped speaking and listened to me as I said, “We will do this thing, send your Lieutenant Hargreaves down to Hell for you. But it will take some time, and it will not require all of us as we stalk the man – in truth, it seems the four of us would be a bit too apparent, considering our complexions.”

Two-Saint and his nephew exchanged a glance at that, the nephew nodding agreement.

I went on. “Hence, my proposal is this. Two of us will watch and follow this man Hargreaves, while the other two will pursue the course that brought us to this island in truth.”

Two-Saint said, “And what is it that brought you here, then?”

I leaned close and spoke softly. “We seek my ship.”

He nodded slowly. “Which is in a cove along the north coast, you believe.”

I sat back, nodding. “Aye. We were so informed.”

“But you don’t know which cove – and you don’t know how to find out. That’s why you need – a pilot? You mean a guide?”

I shrugged. “A man who knows the coast and knows the roads, so that we may search.”

He nodded his understanding. “You know, man, this island’s not very big – but there’s still many coves on the coast. Many places you could hide a boat. Are you sure it’s even in the water still?”

I smiled at him. “Aye. She’s in the water, or at most beached beside it. And my ship will be hard to mistake for any other vessel in these waters.” My smile vanished. “But that be our concern, and none of yours. We will take on your concern, and also our own – leaving you care-free, and costing you naught but the lending of two cars and one man.” I paused to let him chew on that, and then put out a hand. “Do we have an accord?”

He thought for a moment more, exchanged a few words with his nephew, and then said, “All right, man – you got a deal.” We clasped hands to seal the agreement.

Just them, Jean-Paul said, “There he is!” He pointed, though he was careful to keep the gesture small, unseen by anyone without the beast-wagon – the car.

We turned to look at the man we would kill.

After a moment, Shane said softly, “Well, he’ll be easy to follow, sure enough.”

He was the tallest man I have ever seen. Standing head and shoulders above everyone else around, he was lighter of skin than Two-Saint and his men, but still of the same race; his head was shaved, and he wore a beard on his chin. He was thin as a mast but for an appreciable belly; this was a man who enjoyed his pleasures. I could observe, as well, the play of muscle and sinew in his arms, as he wore a shirt with abbreviated sleeves, nearly a tunic but with a collar; his neck, too, was columned with muscle, sloping down into his shoulders, his hands large-knuckled and strong. We watched him saunter along the street towards the tavern, passing other folk with his long, long strides – but he looked neither left nor right as he walked, seeming indifferent to his surroundings; he did not even look down at the people before him, who scuttled out of his way, ducking their heads, clearly preferring to escape his notice entirely – for they were all surely aware of him, eyes widening and mouths dropping agape all along the walk as the people caught sight of him.

As he neared the tavern, of a sudden a young boy ran at full wind out of an alley, and nearly barreled into the tall man; but without glancing to the side – without even, so far as I could discern, moving his eyes in their sockets – this man paused his step, allowing the boy to sprint by him and away before he went on, unperturbed. Without seeming to be, this lieutenant had a fine awareness of his surroundings, and the quickness, the celerity, of a hunting cat.

This was a dangerous man.

“This may take some days,” I said to Two-Saint. “That is no man to be trifled with.”

Where many a man – particularly a man like this, clearly one who lived against the law of the land, and with violence and blood and steel in his heart and hands – would have scoffed and called us cowards, or raged and insisted we move with alacrity, Two-Saint merely nodded. “You speak the truth, man,” he said. “All truth.” We watched as the man disappeared into the tavern.

Then Two-Saint turned to me. “Take all the time you need, man,” he said. “So long as you get it done.”

Two-Saint gave a sign to Jean-Paul, who leaned out of his window and waved to the car-beast astern; then he began the growling, and we moved away and along the street, slowly at first and then more rapidly as we turned a corner and left our would-be prize behind.

“What are your thoughts?” I inquired of Shane, speaking Irish in a low voice.

He tilted his head in thought, something of a shrug as he gazed out the window at the island sweeping by. “If we had the crew I would say we should attack his chamber as he slept. Though I would expect to lose at least three men in the process.”

“Aye,” I replied, “but we have only the four of us, and I like not the thought of losing three in order to kill that one.”

He shrugged again. “We must look for our chance.“ He turned to meet my gaze. “The belly gives me hope. The belly is the key: it is where he is soft.”

I nodded thoughtfully; he had seen clear. And he was right that we would need to stalk this Hargreaves very carefully. “You and Lynch should be the ones to watch him.”

He smiled and nodded. “Aye. Kelly’d be seen in an hour’s time. And you must seek the ship, Captain.”

“Aye,” I said with a slow nod. I wished, though, that I could tell him then, and Lynch, and Kelly and all the rest of them that I sought only to free the ship and return her to my men before I left them all without the burden of my doomed folly.

I turned to my window, then, and saw that we had once more retreated from the town to the greenwood. “Where are we bound?” I asked out host.

“We going to the place where you sleep, eat, get ready to do your work. I got a safe house, with a man to take care of things, make you food, all of that. Diego, his name is.” He turned then and proffered a brilliant smile. “You like him, I think, man.”

Ere a quarter of an hour had gone, we left the road for a track through the wood, which ended at a wooden house, somewhat ramshackle but with all four walls and a roof, a door and windows with wooden shutters thrown open. A man seated before the house arose as we came near; he was holding a white hen, which he cast gently aside to flutter her way to the ground. The man was wrinkled of face and white of hair, but he stood straight and seemed to move with ease; his glare, though was, singularly malevolent: his eyes wide and round under high arched brows, the corners of his mouth drawn down as his nostrils flared wide, and I saw his lips moving as he muttered what I took to be imprecations and defamations, cast willy-nilly across a broad swath, as his gaze roved from our car-beast to the one following and then back once more.

Our car came to a halt, and Two-Saint emerged, with a hand raised in salutation. The man, focusing on Two-Saint, threw up his hands and spat, and then turned, threw open his door, and stomped inside.

Two-Saint bent and leaned into the car-beast, smiling at us with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. “All right, man, Diego he get rooms ready for you, then he cook you something for your supper. I hope you like goat, because Diego, he don’t cook the chickens. They his friends.” He flashed a glance at his nephew, who laughed.

I looked at Shane, who shrugged. “Get the lay of the place, aye?” I asked him.

“Aye, we’ll do,” he replied.

I met Two-Saint’s gaze. “Where does Master Diego keep his goats?”

The smile faded a bit. “’Round the back there.” He pointed with a thumb back over his shoulder.

I disembarked, and Two-Saint straightened to meet my gaze. “Will ye leave your man as our guide, or send another?” I inquired, as I took the knife from my boot, checked the edge, and stuck it in my sash. I whistled as Shane emerged, and tossed him my scabbarded sword – ‘twas not the tool for preparing a goat for eating.

Two-Saint’s smile left entirely. “We’ll leave that car for you to use, for Hargreaves. I’ve got a man who knows the water; he’ll come with a second car.”

I nodded, raised a hand in farewell, and went around the house to the back. The old man was just leading a yearling goat with a rope tied around its neck to the back of the house. He frowned when he saw me. I didn’t speak, I merely looked around until I saw where he slaughtered his kine; a stump with an axe, a long-bladed knife, a frame for hanging and a trough to catch the blood. I moved the trough under the frame, and then took the rope off it and went to where he stood with the goat, which had been bleating nervously and pulling at the rope collar, but was now struck with curiosity when it spied me. I scratched its chin, took the rope on its neck and led it close, murmuring softly in Irish, telling it what a fine and handsome beast it was. When I had it close, I looped the rope around its rear legs and quick-raised it to the top of the frame, ignoring its bleats and kicks, swinging the hooves away from me as I had learned as a lad in Belclare. I drew my knife, proffered it to the farm’s master, but he waved me on; I saw that his expression was now more thoughtful than irate.

I nodded, knelt by the swinging goat, and said the brief prayer of thanks that Mam taught me, and then I cut its throat and held it until it stilled, catching the blood in the trough below. When the stream of blood slowed to a trickle, I looked back at the man Diego.

He nodded. “Good,” he said. “Come.” He led the way into the house.

The interior was what I would expect of a white-haired landsman: the house was simple, with three rooms; two held beds, one with bunks set atop each other, where I and my men would sleep, and the third room the large common room, both kitchen and sitting room, furnished with a good, solid table and chairs, and a well-work cushioned chair drawn up by the largest window, with the best light. I saw none of the modern lights or gewgaws, no magic windows, no enchanted cupboard to keep food cool; just a lamp and some candles, a large and well-thumbed Bible, a basket of half-mended leather harness and bits, and some rope ends half-spliced.

My men – the men were standing in the main room as we came in, and as they met my gaze, they all smiled: for the first time since we came to this new world, we had found a place that felt like home. The old man cleared his throat. “Welcome.”

I nodded thanks. “Thank ye. We’re right glad to be here.”

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

Log #72: Parlay

Log

October 2

 

Lynch has had word from Calhoun. We will parlay with him this eve at a tavern called BuckaRudy’s. Lynch has somehow located a map of this city on his eye-phone, and so we are setting out now, as it is a distance of some five miles from our camp. We have considered plundering a beast-wagon, but there are too many possible avenues towards failure: it may be of a sort we can not manage, we may not find the key that will unlock its motion, or la policia may hunt us down, especially if we stay within the city’s bounds. We have observed many and many a beast-wagon bearing the colors and pennants of la policia here; they roam constantly like a pack of mongrel dogs at a fish market. They would catch us up quickly. We could murder a beast-wagon’s master and be assured of our possession of a functioning wagon – but I do not wish to commit more murders. Not when our last blood-letting has brought us to this pass, serving as dogsbodies to a cur.

Nay. We will walk to meet our – master. Call it penance. Christ, but I’d wear a hair shirt and a crown of bloody thorns if I could absolve my men of their sins committed in my name. But my name is not Jesus of Nazareth.

My name is their doom.

 

Later

I have discovered that I have the capacity to hold my temper and my tongue. I have discovered also that so doing has burned my soul, my mind, my strength, all to ashes. I feel naught but gray cold, and sure I am that a stiff gale would cast me out into the darkness, scatter me to the points of the compass and out of the knowledge of men. Sure I am, as well, that such would be a better fate than servitude under that capering jackal Calhoun.

I record all of this precisely, so that I may take to heart, what Calhoun is, and the depths of my failure in trusting him.

We arrived at this BuckaRudy’s tavern before the appointed hour and with a great thirst, owing both to our long tramp across this city and our despondency over our circumstances. I wished to grip tight to my wits for the parlay, and so asked only for ale, but Shane and Kelly bought a bottle of whiskey to share, and wasted no time in emptying it down their gullets and ordering a second. Lynch asked for another of his root beers; he has tired of being told that he is too young for a man’s drink – this brave youth who has stood beside the stoutest of Irishmen, who has both spilled and shed blood – and so he makes do with a lad’s refreshment (Though of course, some of the whiskey made it into his cup). Too, he sees little cause to celebrate. He wished to converse with me, to attempt to lay a strategy for our proceeding to Bermuda, but I cannot; I have no wish to presume command, to give orders, to make decisions. I will merely do as I am told until I can free myself of my responsibilities. The weight of them is crushing me. So we sat and drank in sullen silence until Calhoun arrived, a full half of an hour past the appointed time, the laggard.

He smirked and clapped me on the back when he did come: that was the first flame that I had to smother inside of me, lest I stand and cut his gizzard out with my boot knife. “How you boys doin’ tonight?” he asked, in jolly tones. “Havin’ a good time? Aint this place the shit?” He signaled to the barkeep, hollered for a bud (To my consternation: what have flowers to do with drinking?), and brought another chair to our table.

To the very depths of my soul – and it has sunk deep, these past days – I had no wish to converse with that pox pustule on a hog’s arse. But Lynch was pale and wide-eyed, clearly ready to draw steel as he had the last time they two had exchanged words; and Shane and Kelly, though they blinked slow and bleary-eyed at him, still they bared their teeth and clenched their fists; if I did not speak for us all, and continue this parlay in a peaceful manner, sure and the three of them would spill blood. And then be clapped in the gaol for it.

“Aye,” I said, and every word tasted and smelt of ash. “’Tis a fine tavern. And we be well, as well as we can be.” I leaned closer. “We stand ready to depart, so soon as our path be clear. Be it so?”

Calhoun smiled his wolf’s grin at my ire, my impatience. “Woe, woe – hold on, pals! I aint even got my beer yet!”

Lynch stood, knocking back his chair; his hand was under his shirt, the which he had pulled over his sash to conceal his armament. “By the Lord of Hosts, you strutting cockerel, I will tear off your ballocks and pin them to your ears if you make mock of us!” By his last word, I was standing as well, a hand on his wrist, trying to calm him and ease him back into his seat. He looked around, at my urging; he saw that he had drawn the attention of the taverngoers, and he sat down once more, as quickly as he had risen – but with his hand still inside his shirt.

A barmaid, wearing a pretty frown, brought Calhoun’s ale on a tray. “You boys all right?” she inquired. “Ever’body doin’ O’Kay?”

Calhoun took his ale with a broad grin and drank from the bottle, blowing out a satisfied sigh. “We’re doin’ better than O’Kay, darlin’—we’re as fine as wine in the sunshine.” She looked to the rest of us, still frowning prettily – but then she jumped, as Calhoun pinched her bottom. She shook her head and departed angry, as Calhoun guffawed uproariously.

Lynch leaned forward and slapped the table. “We be here not for pleasure, ye dog! And remember that ye have no hold over me, and my patience with ye is near it’s end!”

Calhoun finished his laugh, smiled at Lynch, scratched his belly, drank from his ale. Then he leaned forward to speak in a gentle tone of false sympathy. “Hey –” he looked to me, feigning confusion though a hint of low humor shone in his shite-colored eyes. “How come ye‘all aint stayin’ at Merry’s no more? I went there lookin’ for you, Damny – hey, that’s pretty good, aint it?” And then he began singing. “Ohhh Damny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin’!” His voice rose to a bellow, and he capped his caterwauling with another mocking belly-laugh. Lynch snarled and started to stand again – but I forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. “We are observed,” I hissed at him in Irish, and he looked around the room; Calhoun’s antics had drawn the attention of half of the patrons: as the dog had surely intended. Lynch sat back down.

Calhoun returned to his topic of discussion, the which I had suspected he would raise. He had won, after all, and I doubt if Brick Calhoun has ever failed to gloat, even once in his pestiferous life. “I guess you ‘n’ Merry are on the outs, huh? That’s too bad, Damn – hey, that’s a damn shame,” and he guffawed again, clashing his bottle of ale against mine so vigorously that foam sprayed from both, spattering my men, who snarled and moved forward; they drew back once more at my calming gesture. I needed to bring this gathering to an end, before it reached the end my men so eagerly sought.

“Aye,” said I, and drank from my ale – the which I did not enjoy (I do not understand the foam. Why does their ale froth so? And why is it served so bloody cold? ‘Struth, this country’s weather has been overwarm throughout our time here – but the ale in these taverns is so cold that one can not even taste it, as one’s tongue is sheeted in hoarfrost at the first sip. Though perhaps that is the intent, as the ale tastes better when it does not.) but I needed to wash the taste of the ashes of my fallen pride out of my throat. “I have not been a gentleman in my behavior with her, and so I am fallen from her grace.” Even as I used the words, my heart broke in my breast – for I am fallen from my own Grace, as well, and I think I will never regain her again, not truly.

Calhoun nodded, with that sheen of impish delight still in his pig’s eyes. “Yea, I hear you. Well, I tell you what,  it may even be better this way, because if you were still sniffin’ around her, I mighta been forced to show her that viddy-oh,” and here he unpocketed his cell-phone, placing it flat on the table and spinning it idly with his finger, daring me to snatch it, “and that Meredith, she likes her a bad boy to warm up that fireplace o’ hers – but a fellow killin’ fellows? Usin’ some big ol’ pigsticker to cut some son-bitch’s head off, near enough?” He shook his head and pulled from his bottle. “That shit don’t play, Damny-boy. Not with the high and mighty perfect Ms. Vance.”

I nodded. I did not reach for his ‘phone: I do not understand them, but I know that the magic window’s vision is not contained within the window itself, merely seen through it, and so taking it would be useless provocation, and surely Calhoun’s intended goal, an excuse to respond in kind. I swallowed more ash. “Aye. I am not the man for her.” I met his gaze. “I am the man for you. Tell us what you would have of us.”

Calhoun’s eyes widened. “Woe, there, fellows – I aint havin’ none o’ that faggot stuff talked around me.” Why he brought up sticks of wood, I have not a clue. But it seemed to break through his amicable facade, and at last, we got to the meat of the matter. He leaned close and spoke low. “All right, we can get down to business. Aint like you four fuck-ups is my kinda comp’ny. So here’s the deal. I got a buddy, got a sea-plane, six-seater so it’ll take all of you boys, even that big bastard, there,” he said, gesturing at Kelly. “Tomorrow mornin’ he’s gone be at the harbor, Pier Fourteen, and ye’all gone meet him ‘bout six, six-thirty.” He grinned. “Sorry if that’s too early. Say, I hope you fellows can handle a hang-over.” I did not grasp his meaning, and so gestured for him to go on; anything he gibbered out while grinning thus was without import, I knew. “Then ye’all flies to Bermuda. Ye’all ‘ll meet my partner, Two-Saint’s his name – that’s Two, like two,” he held up two fingers, “and saint like New Orlands.”

‘Tis amazing to listen to a kack-headed dullard endeavor to explain somewhat. They attempt to illuminate what does not require illumination – what signifies it if I know the derivation or composition of this man’s name? Will there be hordes clamoring to meet with us following our arrival in Bermuda? Would the game be ended if we went with a man calling himself Three-Saint, or a Two-Devil? And then what the bloody eejit tried to clarify was muddied further by his words, for I knew nothing of this New Orlands, nor its reputation for saintliness; I did, however, know the Catholic saints, as what Irishman does not, even if he holds not with the Catholic Church as I do not. But it signifies not, and so I nodded that I comprehended him – ever the best response to a fool – and he went on.

“Two-Saint gone set ye’all up there with what ye’all gone need to do the job, but since ye’all aint comin’ in official like, ye’all might as well bring your own shootin’ irons – and maybe that big head-chopper you got, Damny. That might come in real handy.”

I nodded. “And what is the task that we will see through to its completion?”

He sat back, staring at me – I will not say thoughtfully, as I doubt he thinks thoughts with any coherence. Perhaps “shrewdly.” He drained the last of his ale, raised the empty bottle over his head and shook it as a signal to the barmaid. Then quoth he, “Why, you gone do what you boys do best.” He dragged his thumb across his throat. I put a hand on Lynch’s arm where it rested on the table; I knew that he would be tempted to make good on Calhoun’s gesture here and now, but with steel rather than flesh drawing a sharp line across that gullet. I knew he would because I was surely tempted myself. “Only difference,” Calhoun went on, his voice pitched only for our ears, “is that ye’all gone be doin’ it to a cop.”

The barmaid brought him ale, and another for me and a third root beer for Lynch. Shane and Kelly were not yet through their second bottle, their drinking having come to a halt as they waited for the signal to out blades and cut Calhoun to ribands. I nodded and thanked her for the fine service; I noted that she gave Calhoun his drink from across the table and out of reach of his hand, a caution that made him grin.  The lass departed and we all drank; then I did ask Calhoun, “What is a cop?”

He choked on his ale, and had I not had a bellyfull of ash, I would have laughed at it; Shane and Kelly did chortle drunkenly, mockingly. Calhoun frowned at them as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Ye’all fuckin’ with me?” he asked.

I gave him a level look, holding tight to my patience. “I can assure you we are not.”

He shook his head. “Jesus wept. A cop, dumb-ass. The five O’. The Po-lease.”

Now I garnered the meaning. “La policia.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Now ye’all fuckin’ meck-see-can. Yea, sure, whatever.” He drank from the bottle, draining it at a draught. Then he rose, and Lynch and I with him – Lynch pushing his chair back and gripping his weapon, lest Calhoun begin a kerfuffle. A few heartbeats later, Shane and Kelly staggered to their feet, as well. “Well boys,” Calhoun said, “it’s been real. But I got to be goin’. Remember, six o’clock in the mornin’, Pier Fourteen. Don’t miss the buss.” He saluted us apishly, a finger tapped to his forehead. “Thanks for the beers. Give that honey a good tip, now, she got a fine ol’ ass.” And then off he went, swaggering out of the door without a glance back.

We paid for the ales (Thankful am I now that Shane and Kelly did see to it that we should have some coin of the realm) and departed. Kelly and Shane were stumbling, but the journey will sober them sufficiently. It does seem as though we are meeting men allied with Calhoun, rather than going into any immediate peril; we must not put trust in them, but neither need we put blades in them. A brief consultation with Lynch, and we two sober men agreed that we should all bear directly for our departure, once we revisited our camp to retrieve our weaponry and what equippage we have accumulated. It took us most of the hours of darkness to walk to the pier, where we now rest, my men sleeping off their drink as I keep this log and Lynch gazes into his eye-phone.

I will speak to him, now. I will make him see that he need not accompany we three, we doomed fools, as we dig deeper into this pit where we be trapped. He is still free, and should remain so: he should remain here. I will tell him.

 

Later

I suppose that it should not surprise me that Lynch should be so adamant that he will stay by our sides, will fight for our cause. I am not certain if this loyalty warms, or chills me.

All I feel is ash.

But soft – I think that our vessel has arrived.

To Bermuda.

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

Log #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

HA! The men of the Grace of Ireland play the heavy better than does any rogue of this age! Sure and we fell too heavily for them to bear, this night.

Perhaps I should not gloat: men have died; these past hours their last. But ‘twas not I and ‘twas not my men: we have evaded harm and turned that harm upon our enemies, though they did outnumber us two to one. Three to one if I count not our erstwhile leader into this fray, Brick Calhoun, and as he proved useless when called to the line, I do hereby discount him, and claim the victory and the glory entire for the men of the Grace. The men of Ireland.

Allow me to record the events of this past evening. I find I am too wakeful to seek the embrace of night’s dreams; when a warrior’s blood is roused, it does not calm quickly, nor with ease; perhaps the task of encapsulating these circumstances on these pages will soothe my reddish gaze back into placidity.

Calhoun brought a beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode this eve, the very night selected for this rendezvous. The wagon was in poor repair, even to eyes as inexperienced as mine own in these matters; I could discern gaps where the skin should be whole, rust and scars and wounds where it should be smooth. Even the sound of its rumbling growl minded me of an aged hound with catarrh. Shane did offer to bring Calhoun aboard our wagon-van, but the American insisted on piloting his own sickly beast with myself seated beside him. So Kelly and MacManus did follow in the van, while Lynch, who refuses to have aught to do with the entire endeavor, will remain at Dame Margaret’s to stand guard here. I know not if the lad be more disgusted with Calhoun or myself; I suspect the latter, however. No matter: though he be a doughty ally in a donnybrook, he does not look altogether menacing, the which being our primary purpose, we supposed it were just as well that Lynch would remain behind to watch over our friends and allies. We did not doubt that we three could play the heavy to Calhoun’s heart’s content.

And thus I rode with him, though I maintained a cold distance between us where he would have warm fellow-feeling. He tried to speak with me on many a topic, ranging from women, to female creatures, to the fairer sex, to one woman in particular and common between we two; but I had not interest in plumbing the depths of that cad and his scoundrel’s treatment of Meredith. He did endeavor to speak of the games they play hereabouts, to which he applied the term “sport.” But I have less enchantment with conversation about frolicking and lollygagging than I do in the assertions made vis-a-vis femininity by one Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun of South Carolina; when he did mention this sport, I withered the topic with a glance; eventually he turned to the confrontation impending, and what I could expect from same.

“Awright,” he slurred, “so these boys we gone meet with, they call theyselves gangstas, you unnerstan?”

Of course I did not, and accordingly I informed him.

“Awwwwright,” he slurred his words even slower, rendering them even more difficult to comprehend, “they think they thugs.”

“And what be this thugs?”

I endeavored not to enjoy his discomfiture overmuch, but the pleasure was undeniable.

“They think they hard, okay?” he said after some time grinding his teeth like millstones, and blowing air out of his nose like a heated bull.

I nodded complacently. “Of course,” I told him, straining to hold the smile off of my face. “’Tis little worse than a man who believes himself greater or more terrible than he truly is. Such vanity is the cause of much suffering, not least for the man himself.” He glanced at me with suspicion in his countenance, but I merely stared forward, my expression clean and pure as new snow.

“Right. So the play is like this. We all, them and me, we in the same business, same line of work, right? Now there’s plenty of room for my operation alongside theirs, but they don’t see it that way. So we, tonight, we gone convince them to share the wealth, like.”

I nodded slowly. “And if they are averse to sharing?”

Calhoun smiled his true smile: the sinister one. “Then we – persuade them.” I nodded again, though I perceived a distinct lack of forethought and consideration in this course he plotted.

I had known men like Calhoun, and circumstances like this one, ere now. In some ways Calhoun was like myself: what he could not earn fairly, he would take at the point of a sword. Well and good, says Damnation Kane of the Brotherhood of the Coast; I cannot even fault him for being unwilling to spend his youth patiently waiting for a more virtuous opportunity; I have writ before of the impatience epitomized in myself and in my brother pirates.

But the differences ‘twixt Calhoun and rovers such as I myself are vast chasms, in truth. For I would not attack a fellow rover in order to take from him some territory he did lay claim to. Especially not in my home port, which I wot Charleston was to this rascal. I cannot fathom a man who, rather than striking out at distant enemies while keeping his blade sheathed and spreading goodwill while he is to home, would turn and fire at the men beside him, walking the same streets, drinking from the same stream, as he himself. Why would he begin a blood feud in his own home? Where he lays his head to rest? Where he is at his most vulnerable and in need of staunch allies – such as these fellow gentlemen of fortune, who, being as they pursued the same endeavors in the same locale, would surely make better shipmates than rivals?

And then, the matter of shipmates. Why would a man setting out on a hazardous course sail alongside utter strangers – particularly one whom he did see as a rival to his would-be love’s affections? Why would you trust a man with whom you had traded blows, to stand at your back with naked steel, while you turned those who could be friends into bitter foes?

Aye. I saw it, too. A man would more likely bring that rival into a trap. I suspected these hard men of Calhoun’s were in truth Calhoun’s men, and rather than a negotiation, we were headed for what Calhoun hoped would be an execution. Shane and Kelly and I had discussed this very possibility earlier this day, and we expected to find ourselves in Calhoun’s snare. But of course, a snare spied before one steps into the loop is more likely to turn deadly for the trapper than the erstwhile prey.

For now, to keep him complacent, I pretended a sincere credulity with Calhoun’s falsehoods, and attempted to appear eager for the task he would set for us. “Be there any limit to how we should persuade them, should the need arise?” asked I.

Calhoun shrugged. “Go as far as you got to, as far as you willing.” He looked over at me while the beast-wagon grumbled and coughed idly, its froward motion stilled at a crossroads. “I guess it depends on just how far you willing to go to win Merry. Remember, she’s the prize here, not my business. That’s my business. Yours is the girl. Aint it?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded. “Aye. For her. I do this for Lady Meredith’s sake.” And I knew this was why his trap was so poorly concealed: he thought me too besotted to see any danger.

He does not know Damnation Kane.

We arrived soon after – ahead of schedule, as Calhoun had intended. The parlay was to occur in a structure named, according to a placard affixed to its street-side face, Parking Garage. ‘Twas like unto a stone marketplace, a wide open space without walls, reached by mounting a spiraled rampart; it seemed there were several marketplaces placed one atop the other in this Garage of Parking. Yet all of them stood empty; of course this was after sun’s set, and the close of the day’s commerce; but none of the stalls held a seller’s structures, not tents nor shelves nor containers; none of them gave evidence of being the sole property of a merchant who has claimed a favored place, and disallows another to take it from him, by building something permanent in the space or by manning it overnight with a guardian. So what use are these many marketplaces, then, if they have no marketeer? I could not see the wisdom in crowding good open spaces atop one another like the decks of a ship; again, these Americalish seem unwilling to live in the vast spaces they possess, preferring to crowd together like men in a prisoning cell. But I did see on the instant how well-suited was this place for this sort of affair: given privacy from passersby because of the heighth of the upper levels, still it was sufficiently open to prevent hidden ambuscades or surreptitiousnesses – or so I thought. We four mounted to the upmost level, open to the sky and bounded on two sides by taller structures, but empty otherwise. Calhoun told off Kelly and MacManus, placing them by the back wall, beside the open doors of our beast-van, while he and I stood in the open center and waited.

We did not wait long. Soon our guests arrived, riding in a wide, flattish barge-like beast-wagon, gliding low to the ground and thumping with what passed for music on these shores. They, too, stopped at the far wall; there were six of them, all Africk by their dark skin, and four did remain inside the wagon while two emerged and came forward to dicker with Calhoun.

I stood, arms crossed and boots planted, awaiting them; Calhoun raised a hand in greeting. The one rogue tossed his head back – much as had that traitorous serpent Shluxer – and said, “You Brick?”

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

The men approached within three paces – just out of arm’s reach, if a man were to reach out with naught in his hand – and stopped. “I’m Vincent. This my boy Elton.”

The second man had eyes only for me, and a grin as insolent as Calhoun’s. “Damn, son – where you find Captain Hook at?” he inquired, and though he had the name wrong, I was impressed that he knew me for a pirate captain.

And perhaps he had been forewarned that one such as I would be present this eventide.

I did not reach for my hilt, but I uncrossed my arms and let my hands hang loose and ready by my belted sash.

Calhoun gestured towards me. “This’s Damnation Kane.” Elton chortled at my name, but I am inured to laughter and gibes, and it bore no sting. Calhoun glanced at me, but said nothing.

Vincent, clearly the man in command, pointed back at my two men by the beast-wagon. “Who they?” he asked.

“They are my men,” I spake, though he had addressed his query to Calhoun. “They will bide as they are unless I hail them. And stay peaceful until, and unless, I command elsewise.”

The fool, Elton, chortled anew. “Oh, you plannin’ to go to war, Cap’n?” He pointed at the sheathed blade on my hip. “With that? Look, V – he brought a sword. That a sword, Cap?”

At this invitation, I drew my blade, to let the steel answer his question for me.

But it seemed that this answer was insufficiently clear, for he scoffed. “That real?”

I raised an eyebrow, turned the sword so that the light, provided mainly by the three beast-wagons, struck the blade. “If your eyes cannot see steel, perhaps you should question your eyes more than the blade, or the mind behind them. For it is not my sword that is dull.”

The mirth drained from his face, and we did lock gazes for a long moment. Then he drew a pistola from his belt. “You see that shit, Cap’n?” he asked, taking aim at me.

Well, and I had drawn first. Since we were still speaking to one another, I felt little threat, for the nonce. “Aye, I see it well, but my eyes were not the ones in question.”

His eyes widened while his mouth pursed smaller. He took a step towards me. “If you see this gun, then why you still mad-doggin’ me? You think I won’t shoot yo ass?” His accent broadened as his agitation increased. No better control of himself than has the mad dog he named me, though for my part, my sword’s point was grounded by my boot.

I smiled for him. “I think you will wish you had,” I told him. Calhoun stepped a pace away from me then, and in that movement, I had my confirmation of his intent – or perhaps of his cowardice. Either impelled me to spring the trap before it could close its teeth on me, and I readied my strike, awaiting my moment.

But Vincent spoke first. “Hold on, hold on – something you white boys should see.” He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Coming around a corner on our right flank, where a sign read “STAIRS,” two men stepped forward, both carrying thunder-guns; another man on our left flank, stepping out of shadows atop the structure that stood beside this Parking Garage, took aim along the barrel of his musket at Calhoun and myself. I would have said his distance was too great to threaten me, but I am still unfamiliar with the attributes of these modern weapons.

I tightened my grip on my ancient weapon. Calhoun took another step back.

The fellow Elton took a step towards me. “That’s right, you think we don’t roll deep, motherfucker?”

My patience vanished like clouds at noon. “Do not speak of my mother –” I began.

The man’s brows lowered and he shook the pistola at me. I wished to tell him that such was not the manner of a pistola’s use; I would have to take it from him and instruct him properly. He spat words at me: “Nigga, if I fucked yo mama right in front of you with my big black dick, you shut up and say Thank you, just like she would!” At this sally, his crewmate Vincent laughed, and the rogue turned to grin at his companion, saying, “The fuck this guy thinkin’?”

Dull indeed: I would have to teach him not to lose sight of a threat as well as instructing him in manners. Alas that he would not live to retain the lessons. I struck as he turned: the blade, already bared and in my hand, swung up, the point slicing into the man’s wrist, spraying blood as his pistola clattered to the ground. He clutched at his wound with a cry, and I completed my stroke, spinning the blade over my head, taking a two-handed grip and slashing halfway through the neck of Vincent, my blade too light to part his spine, but sharp enough to spill his life’s blood on the ground.

I looked into the man’s dying eyes. He put a hand on the blade, disbelieving its presence in his throat; his other hand tried to draw a pistola from his belt, but I reached down and plucked it from his hand. “I’m thinking you should not have come here this night,” I told him. Then he fell. A shout rose, and I called out, “Ireland! Kill them all!” and then lunged towards the dull rogue as the shooting began.

It began with our enemies: the man high above fired at me, while the beast-barge before us roared into life, men leaning out of the sides with pistolas and thunder-guns. The two men on our right flank were unready; I heard shouts, but not shots.

Then my men entered the fray. Shane, standing on the port side of the van-wagon, raised the pistola he had concealed in his shirt, took careful aim, and fired several shots at the sharpshooter on the roof beside; the man spun and fell, plummeting down to the Parking Garage. Kelly, in the meantime, drew from the side of our wagon-beast his own particular weapon for this fight: a great jagged stone, the size of two men’s heads. He heaved it to his shoulder, stepped forward, and flung it with all his force: it arced over the battle and plummeted directly through the eye-window of the beast-barge just as it started forward. The glass shattered with a mighty crash and the wagon spun to a halt. This remarkable sight stunned the two flankers, allowing MacManus to turn and fire on them, killing both.

In the meantime, my dull-eyed, flap-tongued rogue appeared not to understand that a sword-slashed wrist will not hoist a pistola; he fumbled for some seconds on the ground for his weapon, cursing steadily; this gave me time to withdraw my sword from his crewmate’s weasand, and find a grip on my newly-acquired pistola, just as he thought to try with his left hand. Too late: I lunged forward, thrusting the point through his right shoulder; he cried out and fell, and I slashed along his leg as he sprawled before me. I trod on his pistola to keep it from his sinister grasp, and then I raised Vincent’s weapon in my left hand, aimed, and fired, killing one of the thunder-guns leaning from the side of the beast-barge. The other men fired at me, and I crouched to make a smaller target of myself as shot droned and screamed around me; Calhoun shouted and ran several steps away, throwing himself to the ground to escape the broadside. Kelly and Shane raced forward, shouting, their guns adding their voices to the battlecry. The rogues in the beast-barge turned their aim on my men, allowing me to aim and fire, killing another; they turned their aim on me, and Shane shot the third man, leaving only the pilot of the barge-wagon. And then Kelly reached the wagon, and, reaching in through the shattered eye-glass, he drew the man half out of the wagon, and beat his head against the metal skin, and then throttled him with those mighty hands, at last breaking the man’s spine with a sharp twist of the neck.

The rest of his crew sent to Hell, I strode to where Elton lay bleeding. He looked up at me, pleading with those dull, stupid eyes.

I swung my blade and cut them out of his head. Then I stabbed him through the heart. I know not how many men of this time that I will have to kill before the learn not to insult my mother to me; but this was one more towards that aim.

“Holy shit!”

It was Calhoun, and I turned to face him, prepared – though unwilling – to kill one more man this night. I whistled, and my men came to my side. But Calhoun was not seeking a fray; rather he was grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as wide as a child’s at a fair-day feast. “You fuckin’ killed all of ‘em! Holy shit!” he cried out again, rising from his knees to his feet, stumbling first towards the two corpses at my feet, then towards the beast-barge and its load of death, and then towards the sprawled and broken limbs of the sharpshooter, closest to where Calhoun had gone to ground.

“Aye, with not a bit of help from thee,” I retorted, stooping to wipe the blood from my blade against the corpse of the fool who had begun this hurly-burly – though I still doubted not that, had the dull lump not spake against my mother, then somewhat else would have set the guns to blasting; this battle had been foreordained ere we arrived at this place, and would have happened whether I drew first blood or no.

Something flashed in Calhoun’s eyes, and he cocked his head, putting his fingers to his ear. “What was that? Say it again?” he asked loudly.

By the Morrigan’s crows, we are surrounded by the daft and the lame: the man who could not see, the crew of rogues who could not aim – all those shots, and my men and I ‘scaped injury entirely – and now this dastard who could not hear? “Without any help from you,” I said loudly. “We three won this day.”

Calhoun grinned like the fool he is and nodded. “That’s right, you boys won, all right. Won big. You done all this, and I aint done nothin’, aint raised a finger. Just standin’ here, this whole time.” He looked around at the carnage, shaking his head and – laughing? “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” He drew his finger across his throat and then laughed again. “Goddamn!” he said.

Then came we thus away. We drove our wagons some short distance, and then he stopped, unhesitatingly shook my bloody hand with his clean one, and bade us return in our beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode. He waxed poetic to me over our prowess and valor in combat, and said he had no remaining doubts in offering Meredith to me. Then off he drove in his rattling derelict, and MacManus piloted us here, where I have kept this log.

 

Calhoun may have no doubts. I have them all. He was joyed by our victory; yet surely that trap was meant to destroy us. Were those not his allies, called forth to smite his rival? Was that not why, as I had suspected despite the hot blood that made me strike, the dull fool had been so quick to speak curses and draw his pistola? If not, why did Calhoun lead us into a rendezvous that should not, in the common run of events, have ended with our victory? We were outnumbered; why would he expect us to emerge unconquered? If he wanted our defeat, as seemed more likely, then why was he joyed that we did vanquish our foes?

And what of Meredith Vance? Is she mine? Is she Calhoun’s to give to me, like coins for services rendered? Whatever he might answer, or my heart, I think I know what Meredith would say to that. Can I trust that Calhoun will give us the promised aid in reaching my true aim, my beloved Grace? If he will not, will Meredith pilot us there? Should I ask her as though begging a boon of an ally, or as a lover seeking a token of affection? Which will be more like to succeed? Which will be more like to draw her ire?

Aye. We were the heavy tonight. And now it is my heart that is heavy, my heart and my mind. I fear I will sink forever into these murky depths, and emerge nevermore.

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

Log #64: A Good Man

Log

September 25

 

The miles this day have passed far more quickly and with greater ease. For my part, I have Balthazar to thank, for his words did settle much of the turmoil in my soul. Now I suffer only from impatience: I must reach Charleston. I must reach Bermuda. I must reach my Grace. But this is a familiar unease, and not a perilous one; it helps to marshal my faculties for the coming struggle.

We did begin this day’s travel in a leisurely fashion; in truth, we remained at the comfortless Comfort Inn until noon. The morning was spent in fulfilling our bargain with the Grables: I and Shane are now capable of piloting a beast-wagon. We have learned to raise it from its slumber, by the turning of a key, and how to goad it forward, turn it, and bring it to a halt. There are finer details, George Grable insists; we do not use our turn-signals as he calls them – but this mystifies me: could a man not see that my beast-wagon be turning, without he sees a lantern’s intermittent glow? Have these people no powers of observation at all? – but in the main, we know the running of these metal beasts. Shane is more skilled than I, to my chagrin; I am too easily vexed by the various knobs, protrusions, mirrors, lights and sounds. Bah. I will sit beside the man at the wheel and navigate, as a captain should.

Lynch has also had a productive day of studies: he has spent the day with young Chester Grable, bent over various magic windows and Verizon stones, hearkening to the youth’s instruction in their purpose and use. Shane’s first time at the beast-wagon’s wheel coursed Lynch and the Grables to a ‘phone store, where Lynch handed over dollar-papers in exchange for a certain time of life for his new eye-phone, given him from the unclaimed and unreturnable loot held by the Grables. He then spent the entirety of our journey this day with his gaze locked to his eye-phone (‘Tis the perfect name, as it is the only object on which his eye rests), his thumbs rubbing over its smooth surface, his company lost to us. He puts me in mind of the Lotus-Eaters. I do hope he will break free of this ensorcelling in time; I have need of him.

Still and all, we have once more course three hundreds of miles; as the sun set, we came into a town of middling size that hight Kenly; tonight we have taken a room at a Quality Inn. The innkeep had but a single large room vacant of guests, a room with two of the larger sort of bed; we asked for a received a cot, as well, the which I have claimed so that I do not have to share. Kelly has sworn that he is sufficiently recovered to sleep on his side, and thus silence his baleful snoring. We shall see. Lynch will once more sleep in the beast-wagon, and MacManus has received permission to use his elbows to remind Kelly not to sleep flat on his back.

At the innkeep’s suggestion, we did dine this eve at a local tavern named Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue; they served a proper portion of meat, with a most savory sauce. It was a proper tavern, as well, with much company, conversation, and laughter, with a proper sort of music sweetening our hearts as we dined. (Though I was disappointed they did not have wine; still, there was ale to be had for all but Lynch and Chester – Lynch at first complaining, but then happily joining Chester in the consumption of this “root beer.”) Young Chester did not find the music to his taste; he named it “country” and says he prefers wrap; but I thought it most enjoyable, as it sounded in my ears as somewhat akin to the music of home: there were ballads of a mournful or lyrical nature, slow of pace and rich with pathos, and then there were faster tunes like jigs and reels, though none of the company there struck up a dance – perhaps because the music’s players themselves were not present. Many a time have I seen a minstrel cajole and chivvy a crown into dancing to his tune; without that encouragement, the music alone is not enough, it seems, to stir the blood and move the feet of these Americalish.

We then returned to the inn, where we endeavored to instruct George Grable in the art of navigation. We do not have a sextant, but we taught him to reckon direction from the Pole Star (First we taught him how to find it; I cannot understand the depths of ignorance in which these people wallow: how could knowledge as simple as the naming of stars in the sky have been lost?) and how to cast the log to reckon speed; from these, with good charts, he can begin to know his way. We showed him how to use the width of his thumb, two fingers, or his whole hand to measure the sun’s height above the horizon, and from that to know an approximation of his latitude – which is enough for a sailor, aye, if not for a mapmaker. We told him all we could of sailing a ship without being aboard an actual vessel; he seemed most avid to learn what we could tell him, and declared himself well-satisfied by our bargain.

I was not entirely satisfied: because even after I called on him to participate, Lynch did not join in and assist us with teaching Grable what he knows of sailing. He spent the eventide as had spent the day, bent into a gaffer’s hunch over his eye-phone like a monk at his copying. At last I had had enough, and while Shane and Kelly were teaching Grable to estimate wind speed and direction, I went to him and plucked it from his grasp; ‘tis a mark of his distraction that, even though the youth’s reflexes are faster than mine own, he merely blinked owlish at me for a moment, his hand rising, reaching out for the phone like a babe begging for its sugar-tit.

I looked at the ‘phone, but the light irritated my eyes. “Why have you forsaken your mates for this glowing rock?” I growled at him.

He clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. “I have not,” quoth he.

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “It seems to me that we have been bereft of your company, if not separated from your carcass, all of this past day’s hours.”

He folded his hands in his lap; he was seated on the ground at the edge of the stone field where the beast-wagons are kept, his back against a metal post. “I am learning,” he said, and I noted a glint in his eye.

“Learning what, how to lose your soul into this enchanted mirror?” I asked, waggling the ‘phone by his face.

Now I saw his reflexes: because he snatched the ‘phone from my grasp, quick as a trice. “I’m learning everything,” he said, and then hunched once more, curving his body protectively over the ‘phone like a mother over its babe. I abandoned him to it, though my heart is sore; I hope he is not lost to us. To me. I must no0t ester him over it, I know. I know it.

I had hoped to confide in him, once more.

 

Later

It has been an eventful evening. I feel I do not entirely grasp what these events portend, but I see the weight of them. I feel it.

We retired to the room, Grable the elder having proven he could read the position of the stars and approximate latitude given a specific celestial light as a marker for the sun at various times of day. Lynch accompanied us, and was closeted with young Chester – in the closet, in truth; the room is not overly spacious, and I think Balthazar has wearied of my company. Perhaps I have looked maudlin at him. Or heaved sighs. By Dagda, I hope I haven’t sighed.

Shane drove the wagon to a nearby market and returned with rum and brandy, and we had been taking our ease with it, when the noise started. It came from the adjoining room, the sounds of a vituperative argument. A married couple, I’d wager, based on the shrill screeching and the sheer venom of the voices. We could not make out the words, but the tone was clear.

“Should we do something?” Goodman Grable queried, taking a tiny sip of the brandy. He drinks like a child, or a doddering granny; but this habit means that on the morrow he will be able to steer the wagon true, so I stopped Shane from laughing at him.

At those words, we all three did stare, and his eyes tacked from man to man. “I mean, pound on the wall, or something?” he continued. “Let them know we can hear them?”

“Why would we do that?” I asked, reaching out for the brandy bottle, which he gave into my hand. As I spoke, the closet opened and Lynch and Chester Grable emerged.

“It’s really loud in there,” said Chester, gesturing towards the wall.

The elder Grable nodded to his son, and then answered my query. “You know, to try to stop it before – before somebody gets hurt.”

I exchanged a look with Kelly, and another with Shane. I did not look at Lynch, for I could see from the edge of my eye that he was glaring at me, at all three of his mates. I turned back to Grable. “’Tis no wisdom to step between lovers in a brouhaha. Less so to step between man and wife.”

“Man and wife,” Kelly murmured, meaning the couple next door; I nodded. Surely lovers would not carry on at this volume for this long.

Grable looked at all of us, then at Lynch. Lynch shook his head and then stomped into the washroom – a private lavatory, these rooms had, which was the sole claim of either comfort or quality which I had seen this inn make – and closed the door vigorously. It did seem a luxury to relieve one’s self and wash without stepping into the cold night air or fetching water; too, I appreciated not having my men use a chamberpot right by my bed as I slept. For the nonce, it served as a private cabin for Lynch’s ire. Grable shrugged, beckoned his son to sit beside him on the bed, and then he turned on the room’s magic window, the which drowned out the bulk of the hurly-burly in yonder room.

Until he began to strike her.

We could hear it all: the blow, an open hand on a cheek, with a crack like canvas in a storm wind; she cried out and then began to weep. There were more blows; she was flung against the wall, and he roared in anger while she pleaded. He struck her again. And then again.

Grable stood. “We have to call the cops!”

I stood then, and placed myself before the room’s telephone. “No policia. We be hunted men.”

Grable shook, his face pale and sickly as the woman’s cries continued. By the Morrigan, would the woman not be silent? Did she not know that her caterwauling drove him on, and on? If she would but suffer in silence, he would cease – and then she could cut his throat while he slept. I would offer my dagger to the cause.

“Then you do something!” Grable said, the effort to sound gruff clear in his voice, but belied by his face, by his shaking hands.

I shook my head. “She is no kin of mine, nor any of ours. It is not our concern.”

Grable threw up his hands. “We have to do something! He’s going to kill her!” He may have been right; her cries had fallen to whimpers and grunts, and still, the blows fell.

I crossed my arms. “If he does so, we will bring him before a magistrate to face justice.”

Grable grabbed my shirt. “That’s not good enough!”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. I drew my wheel-gun from my belt and proffered it to him. “Play the man, then, Master Grable,” quoth I.

Grable released my shirt and fell back away from me. He returned to his bed, put his arm around his son, and hung his head.

I nodded. “Aye. A man takes care of his own, first.”

Of a sudden, then, Balthazar Lynch stood before me, his eyes aflame; I flinched back from him. He snatched the wheel-gun from my hand. “A good man does more,” he said to me, his voice so low that only I could hear him.

‘Twas as if he struck a blow, and now it was I who fell back away from him. He turned from me and strode quickly out of the room. Then we heard a pounding fist on the neighboring door. “Open for the Watch,” Lynch called, trying to pitch his voice low and manly. Then he remembered where we were, and the words these people used. “Policia!” he shouted, pounding again.

The sound of blows stopped, the woman’s whimpering fading. Then we heard the door open, and the man began to speak.

Lynch did not give him the chance. Instantly we heard a sharp blow, and the man grunted; then there were two more similar sounds, and the door flung hard ’gainst a wall. The woman cried out, and there was a scuffle; we could hear Lynch cursing, and the man first grunting as blow after blow sounded through the wall – and then he was howling.

Shane winced. “Lad got him in the stones,” he said, and the rest of us winced in turn.

Then there was a second, identical howl.

Then a third.

“Christ, lad,” Shane muttered, “ye’ll geld the man, if ye keep at it.”

But it seemed that Lynch was satisfied with that, for the sounds of combat ended. We heard Balthazar’s voice, low and solicitous, and we heard the girl reply. We sat in rapt silence, listening to it all, Chester having darkened the magic window so we could hear. She spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Then Lynch asked a question – and then she said something filled with choler. Then there was a thud, and a low groan.

Kelly rumbled. “Lass kicked ‘im.”

A new commotion began; the man made some noise of protest, and there was a slap, louder than any before it. Then a scuffling – and then, through the still-open door of our room, we saw the man come stumbling out of his room, clearly violently propelled thus: he fell asprawl on the pavement and lay there bleeding, his face turning black and blue.

We raised our bottles in salute to Balthazar Lynch’s victory. We bade Chester return the magic window to life, and we returned to our drinking, waiting for Lynch to return so we could congratulate him directly, and raise a glass in his honor.

But he did not return.

‘Twas an hour later, at the least, and our bottles nearly drained, before he came back to the room. In the meantime the ejected ruffian had risen to his clumsy feet, clutching at his offended manhood; he had shouted one last imprecation – the which his lass had returned, with several more as a generous gift – and then he had stumbled to a beast-wagon and rattled his way out of the inn’s bounds. We watched him go, standing in the doorway lest he think to return – and Kelly remained there on watch against that possibility – and then returned to our drinking.

At last Kelly said, “Captain?” and I turned to see Lynch in the doorway, Kelly having stepped aside for the youth.

For the youth and his companion.

The lass was bloodied and bruised, but young and comely beneath it; and she held Lynch’s arm with both hands, clinging to him as to a lifeline.

“Captain,” Lynch said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “I will be spending the night in the next room,” Lynch said. I did not respond. After a moment, he nodded, turned, and left with the lass.

Shane and Kelly roared with laughter, and sang a bawdy song to encourage Lynch in reaping the rewards of his heroics. I did not join in. Rather, I went to sleep in the beast-wagon.

Alone.

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Log #58: Horror, Fool, and the Cliff

Log

September 19

Arrrr, blast me brain and sink me to the depths, ye scurvy scalawags.

I do not know why I wrote that. I have not the will nor the strength to blot it nor tear it from the page. My reserves are not merely depleted, but entirely exhausted: there is nothing left. All I can do is follow the road, this black, unyielding, iron-shot, soul-searing – this never-ending infernal road! All of my might is focused merely on continuing to breathe this foul air, with its smokes and its stinks. I am grateful that Brother Bob has accompanied us, and what’s more, that he has not only ceased to speak of our sins in taking this wagon and team (By the gods, I do not care to imagine what we would be if but our feet carried us thus far and forward from here: skeletons atop bloody stumps with madness in our eyes, methinks), but he has also most generously volunteered to purchase provisions for the four of us, and thus have we been fed on this journey; I assume he knows that my men would be taking food as we took the wagon, at the end of the pistola, and thus to avoid, he opens his purse-strings for us. ‘Tis well: I do not wish to have la policia know of us this far north; if they should commune with their brethren to the south, they would soon find our names black-marked in Charleston. Best we avoid notice. Aye, aye, the wagon, but – ’twas necessary. And has not yet brought misfortune to us, so we will keep hope, and carry on. On this thrice-damned Hell-burned road.

I find my pen is run dry: not of ink, but of words. I have this day seen yet another – monstrosity – of this age. I know not how to describe it for these pages. How many of these horrors can I find, and then enscribe herein, before they all blur into a single grotesque of metal and smoke and unnatural foulness?

What is this age? Who are these men? How can they live thus?

They cannot even claim to lack examples of a more proper life, for even if they forget their history, the time when I was born and where I should be, they have these Amish men to show them a better way – and yet they eschew the green fields, the woods, the open land; they build cities, and ride in the bellies of beast-wagons and dragon-trains and air-planes. And, now that we have crossed the bounds of this state Brother Bob names New Jersey, we find that they poison the very earth beneath their feet, the very air they breathe.

It began with a stench, a stench I cannot describe – smoke and death, like a midden heap outside a slaughterhouse, doused with tar and set afire and then heaped with damp and rotten straw to increase the smoke. Aye, well, I can describe it, true enough. Fah – ’tis a great frustration to me, to find myself so bone-wearied by my journey and by my fears for my ship and my men and our future path even after we reunite, and then atop that to see terrible, soul-darkening sights, day after day after day. I cannot tell (Aye, again, perhaps I can, but I know not where I find the strength to draw the words, what well sinks deep enough within to fill my pen with a stream of language that may be pure. But I must wonder: do I drink of that purity and goodness within, and am I thus renewed? Or do I draw out and spill forth on these pages, with these words, my last remaining goodness, my last featherweight of beauty? Be there more within, or now less and now less and now less? Aye, and here is another fear to weigh upon me, and perhaps to taint but more of that goodness within.), I cannot say how truly I long for the ocean, and no sight but wind and waves to all horizons.

After the stink, there was the sight: here I know not what to say, truly. It was a construct, a mass of metal and stone rising from the ground, as large as any other I have seen, fortress nor palace nor cathedral. Tall chimneys rose up like towers above a keep, but rather than flying pennons in the air, they flew flags of black smoke, rising for miles into the sky, darkening the blue of heaven with their foulness – and spreading the stench we had been breathing all that morning.

I asked aloud what it was, and Brother Bob – who had paid it no mind, a fact I find as chilling as the fact of this thing’s very existence, for it means that such corruption is common in his life, in this world – said it was an oil refinery. I did shake my head. “There is nothing fine, nor refined, about yon Hell,” I told him. He but shrugged his shoulders. Brother Bob finds us poor company, now. Though why he sees our small crime as a worse offense to the eyes of the gods, or of his One God, than that refinery, I know not.

“That’s industry,” he said. “That’s jobs. If it’s a choice between the environment suffering a little smoke, a little spilled oil, or men starving without work, watching their families go hungry, then it’s no choice at all.”

Aye, I grasp that. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of my countrymen starved after Devil Cromwell conquered us, and his Puritan men prevented the Irish from growing food for themselves, slaughtering our livestock and burning our fields. But I do not see men hard at work in this age. I have seen no man tilling a field, not in the hundreds of miles we have traveled: I have seen more metal engines, which Bob named combines and tractors and threshers. I have seen no man bringing his goods from one place to another on these roads: I have seen beast-wagons. I have seen no men at work manufacturing products for market: I have seen this oil refinery, and many another place Bob has called “industry.” But how can a man be industrious when his own hands are idle, when his own feet move not nor bear his weight, when he but rides in a machine and commands other machines to do the work?

I think the devil has found here a whole nation of men ready to listen to his whispers, and their hands are thus made idle. Aye, and their souls, too, and their minds, and their hearts, as well.

I must go home.

September 20

Tomorrow I think we will arrive. Bob says we are close. I endeavored to find a telephone that could reach out to my friend Vaughn, but we passed none. No matter: tomorrow I will speak to him with my own mouth, to his own ears. Tomorrow, I will stand aboard my ship. Tomorrow.

Today, we met a fool. Two, in truth.

We made for the ocean, this morning, to let its salty winds blow from our noses the stench of this age’s industry, to let the sight of those mighty waves ease the turmoil in our hearts. The road offered us a choice, and when Bob told us where those ways led, we made our choice with no thought and no hesitation: to the Jersey Shore, we said, and thus went we.

Many and many a man had made the same choice, it seems; alas, but they have built too many houses, too many shops, too many piers: they block the ocean’s beauty. Aye, this is not new to this age; every coastal city I have seen, and many a small village, too, builds as near to atop the waves as they can. Merely evidence that men know their need for the sea, and wish to be within it, held in the bosom of the water, like the embrace of Gaia herself – or of Danu, to hear my mother tell it in the language of the Druids.

Two of these men saw us, and pointed and laughed, long and loud. MacManus and Lynch were atop the wagon’s bench at the time, with Lynch at the reins; as the day was sunny and warm, they wore the wide-brimmed black hats we had found tucked beneath the bench when first we took this wagon – hats that belonged to the Amish boys who had ridden here before. They had left other baggage, which included well-made shirts of white cloth, soft as fine wool, and short coats of black cloth; as our own clothing had grown ragged, we had made use of this wardrobe thus offered (all of us but Bob, of course, who would touch nothing that he deemed “stolen”). Thus we three ancient Irishmen were dressed to resemble Amish men. This, in combination with our mode of transport – so rare that we have seen not one other such in all our days on this road – seemed to be the source of their hilarity. I could not but assume they had never seen a mirror, nor their reflection in a pond of still water: for they had dyed their skin, it seemed, as our Celtic ancestors once did with woad before they marched to war, but these men had chosen – dirt. Reddish brown, or orange, dirt; Spanish clay has a similar hue, I think. They wore loose pantaloons and tight tunics, and hats that did not fit, but merely rested atop their heads, with strange abbreviated brims that they wore away from their faces, and so clearly served no purpose in keeping the sun from one’s eyes; too they had these tinted eye-pieces we have seen on so many Americalish, but again, these fools did not wear them before their eyes: they wore them at their necks, where they served no clear purpose whatsoever. They shielded their eyes from the burning sun with their hands. I cannot understand why a man would do this.

Like their dress and actions, their speech was too hard for me to understand, at first; but their laughter needed no translation. We were at a stop, at Brother Bob’s request; he required a place of relief, and had stepped into an inn by the road to answer nature’s call. Many people had seen us and pointed and whispered, but in the main, they waved and greeted us in amicable fashion, greetings we gladly returned. Until these two, with their loud laughter and wild gesticulations, slapping each other on the back and holding their hands before their mouths as though they would sneeze or cough, but naught emerged but howls of mirth.

They approached us close. Lynch paid mind to the horses, clucking at them to keep calm despite the mass of people crowding close around them; MacManus was seated closest, and he held his gaze on them: for Shane is no fool, and he knew that such men often try to play up strangers for amusement – to the strangers’ sorrow. And just so, with these two.

As they approached closer, they nonetheless spoke loudly, as though we were too far to hear, or as though they played to an audience, though none stopped to watch their antics. This made it simpler to understand their speech, though I can but render some of their words as I heard them, knowing not the meaning. “Nah, bro, Amish don’t fight back! For real, check me out, bro!” The nearer fool stepped up to MacManus and fondled himself obscenely. “Suck this, bro!” he shouted, and the two fell over laughing. MacManus looked back at me and raised one brow. I shrugged. “We do not want a brouhaha,” I said. “But I’ll not tell ye to surrender honor.” He nodded understanding, and turned back to face the two.

“Nice swag, bro – where’d you get that shit, like the dark ages?” This was their next sally, which brought forth more peals of laughter, and still naught but indifference from MacManus. I did see his hand tighten into a fist, though, as the gesticulations of the two seemed to be disturbing our horses, still calmed by Lynch’s soothing, but nonetheless growing more nervous the louder and more rambunctious grew our pair of jesters.

It was their third act that brought a response from MacManus: one of them held a cup of some frothy white drink, and he threw this at Shane, soaking the leg of his breeches. What was more, the horse attempted to rear, feeling the liquid splash against its flank, and only a quick leap to its side by Lynch, who held his hands over the beast’s eyes and whispered softly into its ears to soothe it once more, prevented serious trouble.

MacManus stepped down from the bench and stood before the two. Their laughter but grew the louder. One said, “Come at me, bro!” which brought shouts of delight. The other then reached out and pushed at Shane’s shoulder; the first leaned forward and knocked Shane’s wide black hat from his head, and then drew back his fist as if to throw a blow, the two of them laughing all the while.

So Shane shot him.

It was but a glancing shot, as Shane intended; fools should be thrust away when they grow bothersome, but it is never their fault if the gods made their brains as thin as gruel, and as incapable of sense. A crease in the lower leg, drawing blood but doing no permanent harm – though Shane did raise the pistola and place his aim on their foolish faces, faces no longer amused but rather dumb with shock; for the time had come and passed for these two to abandon their game and depart. Shane said nothing, merely raised one eyebrow, his weapon more eloquent than any words. The two fell over each other running away, the one with the scratched leg screaming and crying, “He shot me, bro! He shot me!”

Now, that was an amusing sight.

The crowd had gone entirely silent as the scene unfolded; after the two ran away, MacManus tucked his pistola back into his sash and climbed into the wagon seat once more, as did Lynch, the horse now calmed and still. Brother Bob returned at that moment, and perceiving naught amiss, climbed in back and said, “Let’s go.” Thus we went.

And for our final farewell to the Jersey Shore, we heard a voice from behind us speak softly into the silence these words: “Those are the baddest mother-fucking Amish I ever heard of.”

September 21

We have reached New York. Taller than mountains, is this place: the sun does not fall to the street, blocked by the buildings of men. We have crossed bridges that would dwarf the mighty span of London, seen more beast-wagons than a man could count.

And every step, every passing moment, my heart has grown colder and darker in my chest. somewhat is wrong, I know it.

We have found a guide, however, and I am most gladdened that someone in this stone Hell has a warm and welcoming heart. He is of the City Watch – aye, of la policia, of the New York house by his badges, worn proudly over his heart and on his brow – but he is mounted properly atop a steed, a living, breathing horse, and he approached us as a friend, greeting our horses with a smile, and saluting us kindly and with deep respect. Though he, as did the fools of Jersey, thinks us Amish; perhaps his friendship would be colder if he knew us for what we are. But perhaps not, for there is a warm heart, indeed, beneath that silver badge. He is guiding us through the streets to the proper place, once we had named the harbor where our ship is located; he said he couldn’t just leave a fellow horseman to wander the stone streets of this city. A good man: a welcome treasure, no matter where ’tis found.

We will be there soon, he says. Ah! My eyes strain to see her, my heart races to be near my Grace.

Yet I am afraid. I know not why. I wish I had spoken to Vaughn.

Bah! We will be there soon. And all will be well. Aye, all will be well. It must be.

***

We have found the place, we are sure: this is, our mounted policia guide tells us, Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn. We have spoken to a lad, from a craft named The Emperor Grable, who knows my ship, and his father knows Vaughn, and O’Gallows. This is the proper place, our destination on this endless, evil journey, where we would find our friends, and our way home.

But the Grace of Ireland is gone. My ship, and my friends, are gone. My home, my way, is gone.

All is lost.

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Log #57: On the Wagon

Log

September the 18th, in the year 2011

Oh, what a glory it is to ride! What a wonder is a wheel, and a wagon upon it. What a relief to recline upon a bench, and watch the world unfurl before you, the tapestry of time embroidered with the lives of men, in colors dyed and thread spun by the gods – or perhaps by the men themselves, who can say? As this lovely day’s travel has come to pass thanks to our chosen acts, I believe I will believe that men are the masters of their fates, and the weavers of the web of the world.

‘Tis remarkable, how the words flow, how the thoughts rise up in the mind, when one is not stumbling to sleep, footsore and exhausted. How easy it is to think and write when one has ridden all day, rather than marched mile after mile. My favorite object in this world is still my Grace – but methinks this wagon comes just behind her. I wonder if I should keep it, lash it to a line and float it behind; ’tis wooden, and ‘twould wade over waves. Though that does leave me caring for horses aboard, or else forcing my men to pull the wagon when ashore. Perhaps the latter, if I can find more crew. Ah! I recall now a conversation I had with Brother Bob, in the midst of one of our long slogs afoot, one which I had not the wherewithal to record at the end of that day, and do so now.

We were discussing my ship, and my need for crew. I had told him – and Lynch and MacManus, as well – of my intention to gain the Grace and make straight for Ireland, and home, regardless of the risk; at mention of this risk, the which I would not detail for him, not wishing to seem a madman with tales of ancient enemies and witchcraft and ships that sail somehow through Time itself, he inquired as to the opportunities presented by such a lovely craft as my Grace, for I have told him everything about her, in the hours we have spent staring at the road ahead and feeling every foot of the road behind. I told him that before I could pursue any alternate course, I would need more men; I can only pray that Vaughn and O’Gallows have not lost any more, for if so, we will hardly be able to steer her homeward, even without the threat of the Devil’s Lash and his dark shadow. But in these times, I do not know where to find the men; I do not think, first, that anyone knows the style of ship I sail, the tasks that keep and steer her, nor the commands that drive the crew as a single body, as these Americalish keep only boats that move as the Coast Guard’s iron ships, without sail, or at most a single-masted pinnace, barely more than a ship’s boat; in all our time on these shores, we have seen nothing else, nothing like my Grace. However, that is not so much of a much, as I would trust my ship and my crew to teach a good man the ins and outs of sailing after our manner: the question is, where to find good men, in this age, in this land? There’s the rub.

But it was to this point that Brother Bob had somewhat of a suggestion. He told me that there were many men – thousands of men – who had served their country in the Americalish armies, fighting abroad or guarding the borders of the nation against incursion. And though these thousands of men, these veterans, were purportedly venerated as their bravery and their honor deserved, still many and many a man found little chance of prosperity after turning his sword to a plowshare.

I understand this. There are thousands such in Ireland, as well, and more than a few in my own crew: men who served in the wars against the English, men who took up arms to guard their homes, only to see their homes burned, when all their efforts could not stop Devil Cromwell. And when the conquest of our home was completed, and there were no more left to fight, what could these men do? They had sought honor in battle, and had found only defeat; many of them felt there was no other chance to win honor anew, to wipe away the stains of past failure. Too, there were those who had won victories, here, there, even if only from a small skirmish – still, in Irish eyes, a victory in a skirmish, if it be a victory over the English, is an honor unmatched – and once their days of fighting for their homeland were ended, by injury of by the infirmity of age, what then could they do to recapture that glory? Aye, ’tis Achilles’s curse, living on through every fighting man, even to the world we find ourselves in this day. A man who seeks honor and glory in battle must choose: a short life and a proud one, or many years of humility. Such is the soldier’s way. Aye, and the pirate’s too, no doubt.

So I told Brother Bob, and commiserated with him over these poor lost souls, the which, I expect, count myself and my crew among their number – for a pirate knows his life will end atop the gallows or beneath the waves, and in short order, most like – and we understood one another. But Bob had a different thrust to his conversation: I could hire these men, he said, these veterans of foreign wars. Many of them retired from the fray in their youth, between 25 and 30 years of age – in truth, a good age for a sailor, especially if a man has grown accustomed to following orders and maintaining discipline. He told me there were places where such men gathered, sometimes informally, sometimes with a purpose, and that many of them were seeking employment they could not find, for the Americalish nation is beset by hard times, it seems. He avoided that subject, though; Brother Bob has opined several times over these last days that men should not talk of religion, nor of politics, if they seek to remain friends. I think back to Ireland, and the discussions in the taverns of just those two issues, and I think of the brawls and brouhaha that inevitably followed; I think perhaps Brother Bob is correct.

Should I, therefore, find myself aboard my ship and in need of men, I will seek out these veteran soldiers, and offer them employment as pirates. Though perhaps not in those words. But then, Squire McNally did say that pirates be somewhat beloved of the people, these days. Perhaps I will simply stride into a gathering place of soldier-men, in all my finery with my sword drawn, and ask them who wishes to join me pirate crew. I wonder: would there be any who would stand and say Aye?

Yes, Brother Bob has accompanied us well, these past days; offering pleasing conversations and excellent guidance, and unflagging cheer to help pass the miles on our poor benighted feet. That is, until this day. This day, he has not been a cheerful nor a pleasant companion. This day, he has been a shrew, and a bother.

It started simply enough: he asked me if I was a Christian. I commented that he was opening a discussion I thought he would rather avoid, and he replied – quite coldly – that such a rule only applied when one sought to remain friendly. At the which I could only laugh, and respond that I did not consider myself a Christian. He professed surprise at this, considering my race; it seems my people have won a reputation for devotion to the Church, over the years. I told him that I had been baptized, of course, and had taken the catechism, but that my knowledge of pure Christian men was too deep, too complete, for me to wish to count myself among their number. This silenced him for a time.

Then he took up his true thread, the which he had hoped to tease out using God as his needle: theft.

“All right, you aren’t a Christian, but do you believe in right and wrong? Do you know right from wrong, when you see it?”

“Of course I do,” I replied. We were lounging in the rear of the wagon while MacManus drove with Lynch beside; the countryside was beauteous, though we were fast approaching Philadelphia and so seeing the beginnings of the city’s stone, spread across the earth like the welts and sores of the plague or the pox. Well, and I was lounging; Brother Bob sat upright and rigid, as he has remained since we acquired the wagon. This, I assumed, was the center of his thought, and I was right.

“Then don’t you know that stealing this wagon was wrong? You stole it from Amish men, too – the most harmless people in the world, sworn not to commit any violent act, even in defense of themselves!”

At this intelligence, I exchanged a glance with MacManus; we would remember this in future: the Amish are easy prey, though likely not rich prizes, for the very same reason. “Well, Brother,” I began, as my comfortable feet made me wish to wax rhetorical, “I do see that, and then again, I do not. On the one hand, the men we left afoot, who had been riding previous to meeting us, they are now likely unhappy. Causing misery is indeed wrong, and I do regret that. But then again, if they are so miserable, there are a thousand means whereby they can find joy anew, and if they fail to see even one such way back to pleasure, then I can hardly consider myself responsible for their blindness. I did cause some misery, but not so very much, and the wrong, methinks, is commensurate with the misery – not so very much.

“And then there is the other hand: by that very same act, I made myself, and at least two of my companions, most assuredly happy. Our feet are singing my praises, at this very moment.” Lynch and MacManus laughed with me, at this, though I spoke naught but the truth. “This, then, by the same logic, would be a righteous act – and is not the key to a good life, Brother, simply maintaining the balance, creating good to set against ills?”

“But you stole! It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, you had no right to this wagon and those horses! You took them by force!”

“I did no such thing. I offered the men aboard this wagon a choice, and they chose. Not one drop of blood was spilled in the taking of this wagon.”

“You pointed a gun at them, or he did, at your order,” Brother Bob said, indicating MacManus, who touched his brow in salute, to acknowledge his part in the acquisition of the wagon (the which he knew earned him only honor from his shipmates, for whom the argument largely stopped where I had placed it, on the line of ‘This act made me and my brethren happy, and therefore is it good.’ A simple life, is the life of a pirate. Alas for Brother Bob.) “You threatened them with violence, and used that threat to take their lawful property. How can that be anything but wrong?”

“Look, Brother: do you believe those two boys –” for the men aboard this wagon when we waylaid it were but youths, no more than a few years above Lynch, and far wetter behind their ears than my man – “those boys were the true owners of this wagon and team? Of course not. It belongs to their father. He gave them permission to use it, and the horses, as well. So those two boys did not shape the wagon, nor raise the team that drew it; they did not earn the wealth to buy it. Their ownership of it came only of possession, and as the result of a choice, a free choice made by a free man, weighing in either hand the benefits and the costs of his choice. Their father knew that giving his boys the wagon would lose him its use for a time, and too, it might – depending on how worthy those boys are – present some risk; perhaps they would drive too fast, and lame the horses, or lose the road and break a wheel, as boys are wont to do. Perhaps they would forget their given task, if the wagon were put into their hands to do a piece of work for the father, which I think likely, and they would wander the roads, costing the father hours or days of lost work, both from his wagon and from his sons. But despite those risks, that father chose to lend his wagon. By so doing, he gave up possession, and thus ownership of it, into the hands of his sons – though of course, he could expect to receive his wagon back from them, assuming they did not ruin it in the meantime through ill use.

“All I did, Brother, was offer those two boys – now the owners of that wagon – another choice. They weighed the costs and the profits of that choice, and they chose. They gave us their wagon, the which we now own, and gratefully so. That was the more profitable course for them, and they knew it, and chose it wisely – which would, one hopes, ameliorate their misery resulting from the loss of ownership of this fine wagon, and the resultant footaches, and the possible heartaches that may come from telling their father of what happened. But then, again, I would expect their father would be happiest that his sons were not harmed, nor yet the horses, if he is a man who cares for his beasts as a farmer should. Thus the misery is again alleviated.

“So I ask you, Brother,” I drew to a close, waving my arms grandly, “where is the wrong in this? I am joyed by the new ownership of this fine wagon and team, and the former owners are joyed by their continued good health. All is well.”

This argument did not appease Brother Bob. Though again, as yesterday, he did not leave our company, and he did not alert la policia to our presence. I think he does not want to see us hang as thieves, and he takes me at my word that he will be allowed to take the wagon and team back to these peace-loving Dutchmen (So unlike the Dutchmen of my own time) when we have reached the Grace. And my sophistry, as well as my desire to keep and float this fine conveyance, put aside, he is right to believe this, for it is only the truth. Brother Bob will not join my crew, and allowing him to right the wrong he believes we have committed, and offering those Amish boys their property back again, will but spread more joy in this world of sorrow and darkness. Therefore it is good, says I.

So say we all.

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Log #56: Poe and Pennsylvania Dutch

Log

10 September 2011

We have hiked many miles today, perhaps ten or twelve as the crow flies and half again as many around curves and over hills, before MacManus’s leg gave out. Brave man, to make that distance without complaint. The roads are as magnificent as all Americalish roads I have seen, which serves to make the miles slip by with greater ease than would the same distance on what passes for Irish roads, all mud and sharp stones.

Brother Bob was of the belief that we should not be on foot at all this day; we followed a wide black-stoned road, the which he said was an inter-state highway, and for much of it, Bob walked with his hand outthrust, with fist clenched and thumb prominently upraised. He called this “hitching a ride,” and claimed that beast-wagons would stop for us to embark and travel in speed and comfort within their steel bellies.

But the miles and the sun crossing the sky proved him wrong. Thousands of beast-wagons – perhaps ten thousands – passed us by, and nary a one slowed. My mates and I were unsurprised, as we do not share Brother Bob’s unflagging faith in the goodness of life, and of our fellow men

Ah, well. Tomorrow is another day. Who can say what Providence has in store? Perhaps we will hitch a ride. And if not – another fifteen miles toward our goal.

 

11 September 2011

This day was, it seems, a sad day for America; ’twas the tenth year passed since a terrible attack slaughtered thousands in a single day. Hearing of this put me in mind of Drogheda, and my mother and her kin who suffered so at the hands of Devil Cromwell and his Puritan savages – savages like my father. Brother Bob was most solemn this day. We had made camp on a soft green sward some few hundred paces away from the highway, beyond a hedgerow; when we woke with the dawn, we found that we lay within sight of a graveyard, which had been impossible to discern in the dim light of the night before. We Irish were confused that no church nor kirk stood guard over the graves, but we did not pose our curiosity to Bob: he had already bowed his head and was praying, facing a tall pole that bore the flag of this nation – a field of white and crimson stripes with a starred blue field atop it, in colors derived from the British flag, it seems. When Bob finished his prayer, he told us that the day was one of mourning for his nation, and as we broke our fast and began our journey once more, he told us of the attack: it seems the enemy stole air-planes, the same sort that Meredith Vance pilots, and drove them into buildings filled with people. There were great explosions – I must assume the air-planes were armed, and the collision struck off the powder rooms – and the buildings collapsed, like Jericho’s walls at Joshua’s trump, thus ending thousands of lives. These air-planes are a terrible weapon, it would seem. Now I imagine them as ships-of-the-line, but borne on the wind, rather than on the waves. It shudders me to imagine one such stooping down on my Grace from above, a falcon o’er a mere mouse, talons stretched and reaching, and a death-cry tearing from its throat. Terrible.

Though a sad day for this nation, it was a happier day for us: a man stopped and hitched us a ride. We made as many miles today in the back of his beast-wagon (And this one was properly wagon-shaped, with a covered bench in front and a high-sided bed behind for carrying goods) as we did all of yesterday, and he carried us for but half an hour or so. A kind man, he sat on the covered bench with Brother Bob while we three scalawags rode behind, the wind of our passing forcing us to silence, which merely allowed us to appreciate the sights of the countryside. It is a lovely land, here, green and verdant as home. I find the roads to be somewhat of an imposition on the greenery, though perhaps that is simply that I am unused to seeing their broad black expanse, far more apparent to the eyes than a dirt track would be. The driver, Bob told us later, was a veteran of an Americalish war, as Brother Bob himself was; that was the reason for the man’s stopping to retrieve us on this day, a day when, Bob said, people of America come together to help and succour one another. A happy outcome of an old tragedy. Would that the Irish had the same spirit, but our divisions go back through far too many centuries for the suffering caused by Cromwell to heal it. I find myself admiring these Americalish their patriot’s hearts.

Our kind Americalish patriot took us into the city of Baltimore, another of the great cities of this nation. I would write of its wonders, but what can I say that I have not said of Washington? Baltimore is large. It has too many buildings, and too many people. There are not enough trees. All the land, all the life, is crushed under stone and metal and glass and the feet of men. The ocean is near enough to smell on the air, but the smell is blocked by the stink of the city’s beast-wagons. Though I will freely admit that the scent of these Americalish cities is far kinder to the nose than London-town, which smells of nothing but sewage and rotting waste, for many and many a mile. The beast-wagons, as bad as their effluvia is, are better than that.

We have found lodging as we found it the night before we left Washington: in a hostel, what would be called a hospital, a place for sheltering the indigent and desperate, supervised by a religious order. We have offered our labor, and were rewarded with a meal and a place to sleep, the which we now mean to enjoy.

 

12th September

We have walked out of Baltimore and back into the countryside today, and I am happy to say it. I do not like these cities. So many people should not exist in one place. I felt the same of London, when I visited – I could not depart fast enough. Even the fields and forests and mountains of this land feel the footsteps of more people than I would wish, but then they are not my fields, nor my people. I do wish them joy of their land and their prodigious legions of fellows. I only want to return to my ship.

Brother Bob made me a present this day. During our passage through Baltimore, we saw many and many a sign or a graven image, a statue or a shop, which made reference to someone named Poe; when I inquired of Bob as to this Poe and his great fame in the city of Baltimore, Bob was shocked to hear that I had no knowledge of him. He bought me a book, filled with poems by Edgar Allan Poe. I mean to read myself to sleep this night, and I am pleased by it.

 

Later

I understand now why this Poe is so revered in the city of his birth. What brilliance! I have not known the like, not since the great poems of old, the ones my mother told me, and my uncles sang to me at night, under Irish stars. But this – here, I will copy it here.

 

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were; I have not seen

As others saw; I could not bring

My passions from a common spring.

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow; I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone;

And all I loved, I loved alone.

Then- in my childhood, in the dawn

Of a most stormy life- was drawn

From every depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still:

From the torrent, or the fountain,

From the red cliff of the mountain,

From the sun that round me rolled

In its autumn tint of gold,

From the lightning in the sky

As it passed me flying by,

From the thunder and the storm,

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view.

 

This man has known what I see when I look out on this land. Indeed, when I think on it, I may very well have felt this for the whole of my life. Gods. And it is titled “Alone.” Aye. Aye, ’tis the gods’ own truth, it is.

I wonder if this Poe was a man out of his own time, as am I. Perhaps if not one in fact, he was such in spirit. I would pity him, if he were not already in the peace of the grave, and myself still alive to suffer here.

I must read more.

 

13th September

I slept but little, this past night, and we walked many miles today – still no rides hitched to us. I must sleep.

 

14th September

No rides. More miles. Nothing to report. I am weary.

 

15th September

We have reached the outskirts of yet another city – Wilmington, this one is called, in the land of Delaware. Sweet mother of Christ, how bloody many of these Americalish are there? Where do they get the food to sustain these people? We have passed through farmland, for most of the miles that have not been drowned in buildings and cities and people – but surely they could not grow sufficient wheat for this many. Millions. Brother Bob said there are millions along this coast, what he calls the East Coast – which only tells me this land has a West Coast, perhaps with millions more. Damn me, there are not enough fish in the sea to feed this many. This is the entire world, in but one land!

I found myself growing desperate for something that is familiar, something from home. I would speak to my traveling companions, but I fear we have spent too long in each others’ pockets, and too many miles have rubbed us raw against one another. Our tempers are short, and the very sound of our voices sure to set them aflame, regardless of what is said. So I could not ask them to ease my home-sickness, nor keep fond company with me – and Brother Bob, of course, though his cheer is unfailing (and all the more irritating for that, as our spirits have descended), does not make me feel of home. So as the sun touched the horizon and we called a stop to this day’s slog, I used a telephone Lynch spotted for me to call the number that connects me to the Grace. It took several attempts, spread over the next hour or two, while we earned our night’s lodging in yet another shelter (I am correct: there are simply too many people here. The land cannot sustain them all, and some must rely on the charity of others to survive. Why have they not realized this? The answer, after all, is simple: they must leave. Take up sail, take up service in the army of one nation or another – go out and seek fortune in this wide world. Find a place where there are fewer people, who thus have more to eat. It is foolish to stay somewhere you must live like these people live. But then, I have ever thought the same when I do see beggars on the streets of cities who are neither halt nor lame nor plagued. I simply extend this query to people who must live in this place, with so many, many neighbors.), but at last, a voice answered, and when I requested Llewellyn Vaughn, soon brought that fine man to speak with me.

My heart was eased almost at once, though Vaughn’s tidings soon brought some worry back to my poor belabored mind. At the first, I confided in my friend that the miles and miles of people and people were wearing on me heavily; he quickly confirmed that the same darkness was gathering about the hearts of the men on board; New York, he told me, was larger and more populous than any place he would dare to imagine – it sounds of Washington, again. How can this be? How can there be two such cities in one land, a mere few hundreds of miles separated one from the other? With Baltimore, and Wilmington, in between, and who knows how many more?

We then moved on to happier tidings: the ship has been repaired, as the men found a source of wealth which bought them materials and men to apply them. They stand ready to sail, the very minute that we three do arrive. Ah! I am ready to be there now. My feet ache to stand on her boards, my eyes ache to see her lines. My heart aches for my Grace.

At the end, Vaughn did tell me that he was beginning to grow uneasy: the money they had was largely spent on the repairs and on reprovisioning for the voyage; their daily upkeep, though it was largely defrayed by the kindness shown them by their piermates – it seems my men have done some good turns for the ships docked alongside the Grace, and have received friendship and assistance in return – it will begin to grow too dear. I was right: there are not enough fish in the ocean for all of these people, and my men cannot draw any food from the waves, not without going for a cruise – and our experiences at sea have shown that this is no small matter. Vaughn and Ian do not want to weigh anchor without my presence; and so they wait; but Vaughn urged me to all haste in our trek.

We must move faster. For my men, and for our own sanity. MacManus and Lynch have just nearly come to blows over which should have the bunk closest to the door – Lynch claiming he was the more alert, with better hearing and faster reflexes, and MacManus opining that Lynch could do naught but awaken a better man to defend us, should any hazard approach; ’twas then that I set down my pen and separated the two, pointing out that there was potential danger all around, and we would all have to be alert and ready to defend, and then forcing a concession from Shane as to Lynch’s value in a fight, the which he grudgingly gave with a sigh and a curse. My ship needs me, and we all need her.

We must move faster.

 

17th September

Ha! Now we will move faster.

We left Wilmington and soon crossed into the land of Pennsylvania. Lovely countryside, it was thereabouts; farmland and field, woods and rivers – beautiful and green and alive. Most refreshing to be away from so much city – though Brother Bob tells us we will soon reach yet another great city, of a size proportionate to Washington and New York, called Philadelphia; my men and I can only shake our heads and wonder. City of Brotherly Love, is the meaning of that name in the Latin; methinks there is too much brotherly love in this land, and too many brothers.

But before we reached that place of stone and metal and men, we passed by some farms that sent our hearts winging back to our home: for we saw men swinging scythes, and women in bonnets, and horses drawing plows, and not a beast-wagon anywhere about. We expressed wonder to Brother Bob, who told us that we were then passing through Amish country: the Pennsylvania Dutch, he called them, though apparently there are several different such groups hereabouts, and he was not sure which these were. Still: these are people who have kept to the old ways, and done themselves and their land honor thereby.

More importantly, for our needs, these people use a conveyance with which my men and I are very familiar. They drive wagons – wooden wagons, drawn by actual horses. And when stopped on the road by a kindly hail, and then threatened with pistolas drawn, they do not fight back. Hah! ‘Twas the simplest highwayman’s work imaginable – the two young men, little more than Lynch’s age, slowed as they came near, and stopped when we hailed them; I saw our chance, and so I stepped up, took hold of the reins of their team, and shouted out to my men, who were quick to draw their weapons – and that was that. No resistance at all, simply a bit of Christian disapproval of our actions, a sentiment heartily and repeatedly echoed by Brother Bob, who, I fear, did not realize he was in the company of pirates. But his scruples bother me not at all: I am a pirate. I did need a means of travel faster and easier than my own feet, which have worn through the shoes I purchased in Charleston. They had such means; I took it. I have told Brother Bob that he may leave us at any time, or he may accompany us to the end of our road, at which point he may take this wagon and team back to their owners, if such is his will; I will have no more need of them, once we reach my ship. He has begrudgingly accepted this plan. I have given MacManus orders to keep an eye on him, between now and then. If he causes trouble, he will find himself afoot, and lucky if he is not stripped and bound first. I do not wish for that; I am fond of Brother Bob, who is a fine and kind man and a good road companion. But nothing will keep me from my ship.

Now, thanks to the Amish, we have a wagon, and a fine matched team to draw them. Now we will see how quickly we can reach New York.

I only hope there will not be too many cities between here and there.

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Log #54: Brother Bob

Log

September the 8th in the Year 2011

I long for home.

Each and every morn, the sun rises and climbs a ladder of clouds into the azure vault above, and all the Earth glories in the light of that heavenly Eye. Life breathes in that spark, like tinder drawing the flame, and rises up joyfully, filled with new vigor; the trees seem to shake off the night’s shadows in the growing breeze, like sleepers stretching out the knots and bends of sleep; one can almost hear the flowers singing, hymns of thanks to the new day. And the creatures that run and climb, that fly and crawl, all renewed by blessed sleep – sleep without man’s torments of Guilt and Doubt and Dread, sleep that is but a respite and never a challenge – they begin the dance of life, spinning and twirling, stepping and leaping, their eyes bright, their hearts racing, blood flowing with strength and warmth as they bow to their partner, the almighty Sun.

But to me, what is this celestial miracle, but another day of struggle, and toil? What greets me with the dawn, what fills me, but misery, melancholy, malaise?

There are challenges to be overcome here, good works to be accomplished – tasks I would set my hand to, were I fit in my heart, in my spirit, to pit my strength against them. By the saints, there are riches to plunder and debauchery to revel in, aye, that as well! But they are not my challenges, and they are not my good works, and it is not my plunder nor my debauchery. For this is not my home. That one fact makes all else seem askew, as though the world, the heavens, the very air and light and the ground under my feet, had all gone awry about me, leaving me – lost.

And so the sleep does not satisfy and the dawn does not invigorate. I wake to each day more fatigued than when I closed my eyes. I tell myself that the new day will bring purpose, purpose that fits me – that what I do, I do for good, for my own benefit and that of my fellow men, whether it be all of humanity I aid or just my brethren, my kinsmen, my countrymen. And though such innocence may appear foolish, still this has always brought fire to my veins, to know only this: that I do the right thing. I always do the right thing. That has ever been enough.

Now it seems that is not enough. For the right thing is not my right thing. It seems I can do right only if I am in the right place.

Look at what I have done here, since my ship was torn from its rightful world. I have saved the Family Lopez, and wrought the fiery destruction of a nest of villains. I have defended the name of Honor. I have met and befriended people of goodness, kindness, and wisdom. I have served my crew, and my beloved ship, and done for them whatever I knew to be best, no matter the cost.

But what have I done, in truth? Nothing but stirred the dust, which does not disappear but swirls up into the air – perhaps sparkling prettily in a ray of light – before settling again, as thick and dead and dry as ever it was. For I have fought and toiled and struggled for months, months that feel like years, like all the centuries I have somehow passed by – and I have won nothing. I have nothing. I have dust.

Aye – and do I ramble on, maudlin and petty and shrewish? Struth, I do. Enough, man.

I long for home. That is all.

Later

Two bells of the First Watch

I know not whether this day’s events be for good or for ill; I trust not my own judgment, as my eyes are clouded with visions of the past, and of fair Ireland. As I am not there, I do not see what I should, not without especial effort (for which reason I am ever exhausted, and now I must wonder if dreams and aspirations do give us life and strength, or do suck the same from us, by adding weight to our bent and breaking backs – for there is nothing in this life heavier than a dream unfulfilled. Tcha! I cannot but pine and mope, it seems. Methinks the whiskey has not yet bled out of me. I was ever a pathetic drunk, when I am not violent.). So I will simply record what has occurred, and hope (Again, that demon hope! Or is it an angel, in truth?) that in the writing, clarity may come.

We awoke in the inn where my shipmates carried and succored me. We inquired of the clerk at the desk as to where we should break our fast, and were directed to the complimentary continental breakfast, as it was addressed on signs and pamphlets lauding this inn – a place called Motel 6, which seems a particularly lifeless appellation for a guesting-house. The food was lifeless, as well: a collection of overhard pastry and oversoft fruit, and neither tasting as they should. But we filled our bellies, and our pockets, too, as the food was unwatched, and so we found means to sustain ourselves, if not reason to do so.

We departed the Motel 6 and endeavored to return to the train-hall. This was the last place where we had known direction and purpose, and so we presumed to take up the thread once more where we had held it last. This was somewhat effortful, as my own inebriated wanderings had led us far into the deeps of this place, this Alexandria (Which name is but a lie, for this place is not the glory of a great king, nor the home of the knowledge of the ages.), and so it took most of the morning to retrace our steps. Once we had, it required but a brief consultation, and then we ate and then set out, walking along the path of the dragon-train.

It is a good path: two iron rails set on wooden blocks, atop stones or earth well-packed and flat as the sea without wind. We have walked this path all the remainder of this day, and have climbed some small hills, but not a one that would daunt an auld granny out for a stroll, should she set her cap to the ascent.

It was as we walked this path that the odd events began, of which I mean to write and thus understand. It began soon after we set out. The path crossed a road, and just as we were coming to it, bells began to ring and lights to flash, and then two wooden gates descended at the crossing-point. ‘Twas a superfluous warning, for we had seen the beast-wagons before us, and had heard from behind us the trumpeting call of a dragon-train, as well as felt its approach through the vibration of the iron rails below our feet. We raised our speed to a trot and made our way to the gates where the beast-wagons waited – thinking perhaps that the barriers would serve as protection against the dragon’s ire, for we trod its path without permission; and for my own self, though Meredith said that not a one of these moving contraptions had life nor thoughts nor passions of its own, not beast-wagon nor dragon-train nor yet the flying monsters above, these air-planes, still I cannot believe that there is no spark there behind those burning eyes on the front of them. Any man who has lived on a sailing ship at sea knows the truth: there is often life where we men see but a dead object.

And perhaps that dragon does not like us very well.

So we reached the road and stood back from the gates as the train passed. Lynch nudged me and nodded to a man who stood astride a contraption that looked to be a crossbreed between a beast-wagon and a bicycle: it had but two wheels and a pair of handles which rotated the bow-wheel, just as the bicycle did, but rather than a bare frame, it had the black-and-silver metal gears and tubes that rumbled and spat blue smoke as much as any beast-wagon. Lynch and I stared, curious, and then I realized that the man astride it was staring back. I nodded and raised a hand in salute, and he did the same – a courtesy I did not, and do not, expect from the common folk of this age and place, and so was happy to receive. I smiled at him, and nodded once more. Then the train was past, and we three set out again in its wake, following the path and thinking nothing more of the man of two wheels.

Until we encountered him again. An hour later or more, and some miles across town – I admit to becoming fatigued whenever I am confronted by the sheer immensity of this place, of these cities, and by the staggering throng of people here, which I find entirely enervating and depressive to my spirits. My god – how can any man stand out and win glory in such a crowd? ‘Tis impossible. And if they all recognize the impossibility of individual achievement in such a morass of humanity, why do they continue to breed so many more? Why curse your children to a life of such undignified mediocrity, one face in a crowd of too many? A war, or a good deathly plague – that’s what this place needs. Bah. Where was I? Oh yes: some miles later we came to another road-crossing where we again had to move aside for a dragon-train – not surprising, that; they came along that path twice for every turn of the glass, four times in an hour at least – and so we made our way to the gates once more. And there, as we stood and waited for the dragon to pass, lo and behold – the same man, on his beast-cycle. We nodded and waved again, smiling this time in recognition – and then we went our way once more.

We made camp but a few hours later, though the sun was still well above the horizon in these summer months; but MacManus needed rest: he still recovers, as do we all, from our injuries and the ill-use our bodies have seen these last few days. We had reached the edge of a wood, escaping civilization at last, and we made a cheery fire near a small stream some hundred paces off the track – far enough to muffle the roar of the passing dragons, but not so far that we should lose sight of the track we followed – and shared out the rest of our continental breakfast. Lynch set out to hunt with his pistola – my two companions being two of the finest marksmen in my crew, I have left the guns in their hands – while I sat with MacManus and chewed.

And then we were hailed, from the direction of the dragon-track, by a human voice. I leapt to my feet and spun about – and promptly stumbled, my legs more fatigued from the walking than I had suspected, and now grown mainly stiff and clumsy. MacManus, more to the main purpose, had drawn and aimed his pistola – but he lowered it when we saw who it was.

‘Twas the man from the beast-cycle.

“Hello!” he called again, coming closer – indifferent or oblivious to MacManus’s weapon and my clumsy movements. “Mind if I join you?”

I looked at Shane, who shrugged the decision onto me. I made it. “Nay, friend – come and set yourself. Our third companion should return anon, with meat, by the grace of the gods of this place.”

He smiled and swung an enormous rucksack with a metal frame from his shoulders. “Oh, I’ve got meat, ham-burger and bacon, too. Happy to share, if you like – unless you’re partial to squirrel or possum, which is about all your friend is going to bag round here.” He stepped close and thrust out his hand to me. “Name’s Bob. Bob Brewer.” I clasped hands with him, and gave him my name, and Shane’s as well. “We would be honored to share your bread – and salt, too, if ye have it.” I proffered him the log I had been using as a seat. He availed himself of same, and setting his rucksack between his knees, began to unload it.

“Oh, sure, I got salt. Ketchup and mustard, too, if you don’t mind the little packets. I take them from MacDonald’s whenever I go there – I figure they owe me something extra for doing them the favor of ignoring how bad the food is. And the service. I’ve got some hand-wipes too, if you like.” He also revealed an iron pan for cooking, and a metal tripod to hold it, the which he set over our little fire, and soon had delicious smells wafting into the air. Lynch returned about then, drawn perhaps by the smell, but more likely by the lack of game – he had spied nothing worth the bullet. Introductions were made, and friendship won by the food sizzling over the fire.

Over the course of the next two hours, this amiable fellow – he is oldish, white-haired and creased about the face and hands, but still hale enough to carry fifty pounds in that rucksack – shared with us his food, including the bizarre sauce called ketchup, which he apparently stole completely shamelessly from this MacDonald (surely not the same one who employed the Lopez brothers?), and his story.

“They call me Brother Bob, most of the time. It’s because I used to be a priest – Episcopalian. After I was a chaplain in the war. Veeyetnom, that is. Shows you how old I am, if the snow on top didn’t give it away already. But I gave that up after I lost my Janet. Retired, and now I still help out when I can, drive the van on Sundays, or pick up food at cost coe.” (I know not if this be a place or a method.) “But I do it now only when, and because, I want to. For love, not duty. So most folks who know me call me Brother Bob.

“When I’m not at the church, or helping out my replacement, I like to ride my Harley” (Surely the name of his beast-cycle, which he treats as a steed – is it alive, this Harley? Perhaps.) “around town and just – see what I see. And you know what I saw today?

“I saw three guys following the train tracks. Casual, calm, not looking for anything missing, not running away from anything they’d rather miss. Just – riding the rails, or at least walking ’em. It made me think. It made me remember how, when I was a kid, I read a book called On the Road, and another one called Travels With Charley. And these books made me want to – to do this, I guess. Drop everything, go out my front door, pick a direction, and start traveling. Be a hoe-bow, for a while.

“You fellows looked like you were doing just exactly that. And having a good time about it, too. So how about it? Can I walk with you?”

We looked at each other, at our weak bodies, fast fatigued and recovering but slowly – walking this far, without any burden, had worn us to the bone. We looked at this man, who had walked nigh as far, in less time, and carrying a third of his weight again on his back. We looked at the food he had so kindly and openly shared. Perhaps (though I doubt it) I was the only one who had seen into the rucksack, which he had left gaping wide open, and seen no weapons; perhaps I was the only one (though I doubt this, as well) who thought that a priest, even an unfrocked one, would be helpful in gaining the trust of others we might come across, yet would himself stand no threat to we three.

I had but one question. “Why do you seek to leave your home? You have not even asked where we go, nor how long we will be traveling.”

Brother Bob sighed and thought over his answer for a moment. Then he took a sip of water, held in a tin cup dipped in the stream (and more delicious than fine wine, that water was), and spoke. “Each and every morning, the sun rises up and shines down on the Earth, on the plants, on the animals, on men. And it is beautiful, the way life comes to everything in that light, in that warmth. Everything just seems to sparkle, to sing and dance and shout for joy, even.

“But when you’ve been in the same place for twenty years, when you’ve seen the same plants and the same animals, the same streets and the same buildings and the same people, each and every morning for two decades, then the sparkle doesn’t seem so bright. It starts to seem tired. It starts to look drab, as though there’s a coating of dust on it. And when that happens, the only thing you can do is get up and get moving: the wind of the road will blow that dust right off, and bring that shine back. I love my home – but sometimes you have to pull up your roots and move around some, see the world and the wonders in it. See something new. You know?”

I nodded then. I was startled to hear him echo my thoughts from the morning, and to hear that he felt some of the same melancholy – but for reasons entirely opposite, and with the opposite solution, therefore. I tried to understand why a man would want to leave his home. I looked around me, and I think I saw some of what he saw, some of the world he spoke of, in words so close to my own, but with meaning entirely different. I felt weight lifting from my shoulders. Perhaps it will be back, but for now – it may be that scales have fallen from my eyes. Priest, indeed.

“Welcome aboard, mate,” said I.

Now we are four.

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