Posts Tagged With: time travel

Log 15: Joyriding

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

It came to be known that the keys for the beast-wagon lay in the miscellany of odds and ends we had taken from the Dominicans’ pockets before locking them in; we identified the correct ring, from among several small rings of tiny-seeming keys, with Shluxer’s guidance. Then I must needs ask for volunteers, with myself as first example – though all gods in heaven and earth know that I would rather dive into a whale’s mouth from the crow’s nest than ride on that thing. But I cannot ask my men to do a thing the which I would not do; if not for honor’s sake, then simply because they would refuse to do it, with mine own example as sufficient justification. But with myself standing tall, and Shluxer smirking at us, soon enough Kelly stepped forward, with only a slight stagger to reveal the source of his courage; and then my good friend Ian took a surer step to join him. Lynch tried to step up, but I ordered the youth back into line. Such heart in a small and youthful chest shamed two more men into taking the step, Lochlan O’Neill and my cousin, Owen MacTeigue. I chose O’Neill, as he is a fast friend of Donal Carter and could sway the man to listen to reason; also I trusted MacTeigue to stay behind and supervise the fortifications of the Palace should all this go for naught.

Kelly offered to sit on the rear of the wagon, where a footman might ride if it were the carriage it somewhat resembled, but Shluxer refused him and demanded we all crawl inside, after he used the key to open the – doors, I suppose they are, though damned if they don’t more resemble a bird’s wings, or the fins of a fish.

Perhaps this thing is fashioned from the skeleton of some fantastic beast?

Any road, Shluxer and I were trying to coax Kelly into the sternward bench when there was a crash of glass; on the port side of the beast, Ian O’Gallows was knocking out the last few fragments from the sternward fin-door with the butt of his pistol. I feared for a moment that this attack would anger the beast – and my men stepped back with me, all eyes on O’Gallows – but Shluxer cursed and said he would “roll down the fucking windows.” Which made no sense as one cannot roll glass. While we discussed it, however, Kelly found a mount to his liking: he stood on the metal edge below the bench, with one hand grasping the open door-fin-wing, and stabbed his dagger through the – the scalp? The back? The thin metal (or perhaps bone) plate atop the beast, whichever side of the thing one calls it. It gave him a fine hold, and he declared himself ready to weigh anchor. Shluxer yelled and swore again, but I and my men took heart: this further injury once more provoked no response at all from the beast. Perhaps it was not to be feared.

We all took our places, Ian behind Shluxer on the port side and Kelly hanging off the beast’s starboard side behind me, with O’Neill white-faced between the two sternward stalwarts. I took the forward bench beside Shluxer, who sat behind a wheel, though I know not how that could steer the beast. He said, “All right, hold on to your butts,” (at which saying we all took hold of our pistols) and then applied the key; now we heard the beast roar and growl. Mysteriously, we also heard a blast of music, but Shluxer poked the beast in the mystically-engraved panel facing us, and it stopped. Once Shluxer coaxed Kelly back onto the thing’s flank, he having leapt off and drawn his iron at the sound of the thing’s roaring, my new navigator plied his hands and feet in an arcane manner, and – we were off!

It was, at first, simply a wonder. Shluxer somehow made the glass window beside me vanish, and then, as we moved farther away from the Glass Palace at a speed faster than a grown man’s trot, I could feel the wind, though only from my side. Straight ahead I watched the ground move, the trees coming closer, and yet it seemed unreal – the motion too smooth, and without a direct wind in my face coming from the forward quarter, it felt wrong to me.

Then we reached the road – we had been moving along the track from the Palace, which was lengthy and narrow; this that lay ahead was a smooth-paved road four times the width, at least – and turned to starboard, and suddenly we were moving faster than I have ever moved before on this Earth, faster than a horse at the gallop, faster than ever the fleetest ship raced before the wind and tide. At first I felt near a swoon – a sensation increased, along with my terror, when I saw another beast-wagon apparently aimed directly at us and charging, before it missed us just to our port side, as though we were jousters in the lists. It was followed by another beast-wagon, and another, and another. The road turned to the left, and then the right; the beast-wagon barely slowed, and with each turn, I and my men drifted to the side, like green sailors in their first swell, with cries and murmurs of alarm. It was the most frightful experience of my life, saving only, perhaps, the encounters with Hobbes and the Sea-Cat.

Then Ian started laughing.

I looked back at him, incredulous; it was in my mind that he had lost his sanity and was in hysterics. But no, he met my gaze and I saw that he was himself. He had thrust his head out through the porthole in the door-wing where he had broken the glass pane, and the wind of his passing was tearing through his hair and blowing out the collar of his shirt. “Try it, Nate!” he shouted to me, grinning like a child on Christmas morning – though he did flinch away from the oncoming beast-wagons, which trumpeted their strange cries at him, or perhaps at our beast. Shluxer cursed and steered us farther to starboard, giving Ian room away from the jousting wagons. Then I heard a whoop from Kelly on the other side, but his head was above the top of the opening he stood in and could not be seen. I glanced at O’Neill, and saw that he was not amused: his gaze was glassy, his mouth open and slack, his skin pallid and rapidly becoming green; I recalled that O’Neill was one of those who struggled with sea-sickness, and I surmised that the beast-wagon’s strange motion was too much for him. It certainly put a flutter in my own gut, though the like didn’t affect me at sea, but this thing jerked from side to side far more rapidly than any ship, and the movement forward pressed us back into our seats before the long turns pulled us to the outward side, and it was all very strange. I clapped O’Neill on the knee, and he met my gaze, swallowing painfully, beads of sweat on his brow. “Will ye live?” I asked him.

He started to nod, then closed his eyes and shivered. “Aye.”

I turned to Shluxer. “How much longer?” I had to repeat the question, as his attention was fixed on Kelly and Ian; Ian was now seated in the porthole, his entire trunk outside the beast-wagon. He and Kelly were shouting back and forth and in unison, no words, just cries of pure joy.

“WHEEEEE!”

“AYYYIIIIEEEEEEE!!”

“YAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA!”

“Shouldn’t that be ‘Yo-ho-ho?'” Shluxer muttered.

I said his name again, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, right – uh, how much longer? I dunno – five minutes if they haven’t left this road. Maybe less.”

I nodded and then clapped O’Neill on the knee again. “Ye’ll live, man. If ye have to purge, do it towards Kelly.” Then I put my head out the window, as well, to see what all the fuss was about.

The moment I felt the wind on my face, coming from what my eyes and mind told me was the proper direction, rather than blowing from a quarter-turn to the side, then the sensation of strangeness disappeared. My gut subsided its churning, the clench of my jaw eased; suddenly it was as if we were sailing the swiftest ship across calm waters, or riding the fleetest horse with the smoothest gait – I know not how to describe it! Our speed was magnificent, but there was no sense of the motion, none of the up-and-down or back-to-front jerking that accompanied any other means of such speed, whether it be a horse’s hoofbeats or a team pulling a wagon or a ship going over waves and swells. I have never felt anything like it. I presume this is what the birds feel when they spread their wings and glide through the air. It was glorious. Soon all three of us, Ian, Kelly, and myself, were crying out with joy as we leaned out of the beast-wagon and waved our hands in the wind.

But then, as I was seated on my own porthole and turned towards Ian to share a grin, Kelly shouted “Captain!” I glanced to him, and he nodded to the starboard bow quarter and shouted, “‘Tis them, sir.” I turned quickly and spotted my wayward bully boys immediately: there were no other people on this road – reasonable, considering the speed and frequency of beast-wagons on it! These folk must have separate roads for people to walk or ride more ordinary steeds. Their clothing, too, stood out clearly against the dull green mangroves and other trees to either side of us. They had not yet noticed us as different from any other beast-wagon.

I ducked back into the beast-wagon and marked the target for Shluxer, who muttered, “No shit, Sherlock.” I swear, the man speaks an English almost incomprehensible to me. But he turned and stopped, all of a sudden, just as we passed them, bringing us to a dead halt not twenty feet from the four runaways. Remarkable.

Kelly was already off the wagon and facing them, weapons in hands. I opened the portal – after Shluxer pointed out the handle to me – and stood by him; behind his great frame, O’Neill crawled from the beast’s guts and heaved up his own. Ian, his face still red and grinning from the wind, leapt to the top of the wagon and struck a stance, fists on hips. He cried, “What ho, me hearties!”

I looked at my men with somewhat less joy. Of the four, Moran looked the most abashed, and would not meet my gaze. Carter simply stood and looked at us with both equanimity and a certain amount of wonder at the means of our arrival; Burke sneered and smirked; and O’Flaherty clenched his jaw with anger. I strode slowly up to them, looking from one face to the next.

“Out for a wee stroll, are we?” I asked sardonically.

“Aye,” O’Flaherty spat back. “Out to correct that one’s failure,” he said, pointing a thumb at O’Gallows. Ian’s good humor ended instantly, and he leapt down from the beast-wagon and marched toward O’Flaherty with grim intent, but I waved him back.

“You think the provisions he gathered for us insufficient?”

O’Flaherty, who had been sneering a challenge at Ian, now looked back to me. “Aye, o’ course t’were insufficient, man. Ye canna expect a pirate crew to live without spirits. Especially not in the midst of all this madness we go through in this place where you brought us, Captain.” He stepped closer. “And don’t try to foist it off on me, again. Ye put on a nice bit o’ theater for the men, but ye canna have it both ways. If ye be the captain, then the responsibility for our mishaps be yours. And ye knows it.”

I nodded, for he was in the right. “Aye, I’ve made many mistakes, o’ course. Any man in command will do the same. What matter, though, is that I must recognize my mistakes, and ensure that more and poorer choices do not worsen our situation beyond repair – as this little excursion of yours would do. What in the name of all the hells were you thinking, Sean?” I shouted, throwing my hands up in exasperation.

Never one to back down, O’Flaherty bellowed right back. “Your man there said t’were no guards! The boys need a bit o’ cheer, and we mean to get it for them.”

“You daft fool,” spake I, with perhaps less diplomacy than the circumstances asked, “I sent Ian off with mere trinkets, and he traded them for a month’s provisions. Did ye think we couldn’t do the same twice, only this time with rum as the goal? What, do ye not remember the remaining wealth in the Palace we took? – Aye, took under my command?”

O’Flaherty laughed, without mirth. “Trade? We’re not merchants, Nate. We be pirates. We take what we want.” Carter and Burke both nodded at this, and Moran looked as though he wanted to.

I laughed back. “Pirates, Sean? Ye be pirates?” I stepped up and pressed my chest to his. “Then where be your ship?” I shouted in his face. He stepped back then, but I stepped with him. “You know where. She be on the beach. On her side in the sand, wi’ a great hole blown in her flank. You know – you all know,” I said, turning to include the other three with a look and a gesture, “you know that I have no compunction against taking what I desire. The world owes me that, as it owes each of you. Aye?” They nodded again, and from behind me, Ian growled, “Aye, it bloody well does.”

I turned back to O’Flaherty. I stopped shouting; we needed to remove the spark from this discussion, not throw it into the powder keg. “But we need the ship. We need the Grace, Sean – need her in the water and catching the wind. Aye, of course I took note when Ian said there were no guards at the Piggly-Wiggly, but think ye we have no enemies hereabouts? If this be a colony, there will be troops here, somewhere; if it be a sovereign nation, they will have militia. Either way, your little raid would bring them down on us. Now, if we could escape to sea in our fair ship, then I would lead the way, and carry a cask of rum myself! I planned to do just that. But not –” and here I shouted once more, as I felt this point deserving of special emphasis: “NOT UNTIL WE HAVE OUR SHIP BACK!”

O’Flaherty and I glared at each other in silence. I knew what he wanted: he wanted to name me coward, shame me with my unwillingness to take this risk when such an easy prize beckoned. But he knew that if he said it, I would draw arms to defend my honor – and he would lose against me, with pistol or with blade, and he knew that, too. So we waited, and I watched him swallow the words he wanted to say to me then. They looked bitter.

Then another voice broke into the tableau we had made: “Hey!” We all turned and looked: it was Shluxer, standing with his arms crossed, his face pale and nervous. “If you dudes, you know, want some booze or something, you know, I can get it for you.”

I raised one eyebrow and asked what we all wondered: “What is booze?”

He rolled his eyes. “You know, booze. Liquor, beer, whiskey, wine, shit like that.” He shrugged. “I can get other shit, too, if you want to get really fucked up. But booze, that’s easy.”

“How much?” O’Flaherty asked, even as I asked, “What risks will there be?” We glared at each other some more.

“As much as you want. No trouble – I got this shit covered, yo.”

I looked the question at O’Flaherty, and after a moment, he nodded. I turned back to Shluxer and said, “Yo-ho-ho.”

So it went: Ian accompanied Shluxer in the beast-wagon, and the rest of us marched back to the Palace, in silence but for some brief muttering between O’Flaherty and Burke, and Burke and Moran, and then a low conversation between Carter and O’Neill, once O’Neill recovered from his illness – which largely came the moment he found he would not have to mount the wagon once more. I was chagrined to see that Carter did much of the talking, but if I walked closer, they turned to silence until I moved away. Perhaps I should not have brought O’Neill.

I am sure this is not the last trouble these four will cause me, but I have no idea how to prevent them.

The situation is fast becoming dire.

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Log 14: Guards and Grog

Captain’s Log

Date: 27 June

Location: In a madhouse.

Conditions: As should be expected: mad.

 

If a man were to ask me what is the experience of captaining a ship, of leading a crew, I would say this: when you are the captain of a ship, everything goes wrong all at once. It is never simply that your vessel is blown into a storm; it is ever that your ship is blown into a storm – when your food stores have turned up rotten, and all your men are drunk on grog poured into empty bellies to quiet the pangs, and the lines have been poorly lashed by fainting fog-headed men, and the steersman collapses in a swoon and heels the boat crosswise to the waves just as the wind tears loose the moorings and leaves the sails flapping and the ship out of control – even as the cry of “Fire!” issues from the galley. That is the life of a ship’s captain. But with one difference from my depiction: generally the threats a captain faces are invisible and unknowable before they strike.

Here I had a group of men, three of them my own officers, who saw fit to defy my orders even after they joined their voices in affirmation of my right to command. Four men who were such blithering, vacuous idiots that they apparently did not understand the danger of piling more risk onto the perils we already face, who sought to prod the sleeping animal whose den we had invaded, and whose nature we could not discern: was it, perhaps, merely an aged and toothless dog, who would grumble at our violation of its rest and then turn to sleep once more? Or was it a savage bear with a sore tooth, awakening ravenous from a winter’s sleep, which would prove the destruction of us all? In less poetic terms: would a raid on a local establishment spur the far-flung and isolated colonials to flee our wrath, surrendering to our dominant wills if caught? Or would it break the dam and release a flood of heavily-armed soldiers on us? We did not know, and yet those men – my men, my officers, my own cousin, men whom I trusted to bear responsibility with probity and wisdom and fortitude – those men chose to take that risk for us all, and prod yon sleeping beast.

While our ship, our greatest weapon and only means of escape, lay mortally wounded on the sand.

And they did this all for grog.

And – most immediate – someone allowed them to go.

I strode through the Palace with Lynch at my heels, to the landward portico. The two men on watch – Shane MacManus and Raymond Fitzpatrick, a man whose loyalty I questioned and another whose witlessness, unfortunately, I did not – took their ease in two of the woven-cloth chairs that had previously stood on the seaward pavilion, but now stood in shaded places somewhat near the front door, and somewhat within reasonable view of any approaching enemies.

Perhaps I misspoke, before; perhaps the essence of captainhood is this: when your subordinates, in everything they do from sleep to eat to work to watch to fight to shit, are incessantly toeing the line of indolence and insubordination, but never quite far enough over it to deserve chastisement. A captain is ever left with two unpalatable choices: berate and punish those who have done very little that is wrong, and be known as a tyrant and martinet, or allow standards to slacken lower and lower until doom is as assured as the captain’s reputation for laxity. After all, these men were at their stations, and they were awake and unintoxicated, and they faced the road. Could I really begrudge them a comfortable seat in this tedious duty?

At the moment: a thousand times yes. “AVAST!” I roared as I came through the door and espied their lazy carcasses. “STAND AND REPORT, YE IDLE SWINE!” The two leapt from their chairs with satisfying alacrity, MacManus with a charged musket in his hands and Fitzpatrick sending his chair flying all a-tangle with the vigor of his upright leap. MacManus, seeing no immediate threat but my own humble self, turned and snapped off a crisp salute, knuckles to brow. “Nothin’ to report, Captain, sir!” he said, his words brusque and his stare blank. MacManus had served in the Royal Navy and was no stranger to surprise inspections from angry officers. Fitzpatrick shook his head to confirm MacManus’s negative reply.

I stepped close, pressing my face within inches of MacManus’s. “Where are O’Flaherty and Burke, Shane? Where is Carter? And Moran?”

He blinked and reddened, slightly, though it may have been the heat. “They . . . they left, sir. Half a turn gone, now, fifteen or twenty minutes, I’d say.”

I stepped closer, forcing him back on his heels. “And you didn’t stop them?”

He frowned. “No, Captain. By what authority would I stop the Quartermaster goin’ where he likes, sir?”

By the authority of your own brain, were it not as shriveled and worm-eaten as his!” I snarled, pointing at the slack-jawed Fitzpatrick.

MacManus’s flush deepened. Definitely not the heat. Not the sun’s heat, at least. “They claimed to be acting under orders, sir. I had no orders to hold or question or countermand their leavin’. Captain.”

Damn it all, he was right. I should have guessed that this was a possibility, and I should have expressly forbidden their departure, or any others’. I can only say in my defense that I had been too preoccupied with the storm and the flapping sails to also fight the galley-fire below – the fire named O’Flaherty. And “grog.”

But MacManus was not free of sin, here. I stepped back and stared at him some more, before saying quietly, “Why did I not receive a report of their leaving?”

MacManus paled even faster than he had reddened. “I – I thought you knew, Captain. They said you had ordered them.” He trailed off without any word from me. He knew better than that. On a ship, any ship, anything and all things must be reported up the chain of command. Always. All commands, all shouts of warning, even simple declarations of fact, are repeated again and again. Too much depends on men doing the right thing at the right moment, and on the officers knowing the right thing to do and the right moment to do it. If I am told by my Sailing Master that the wind is turning, and I give the order to come about, then the Master repeats it for clarity, and then tells the same to the steersman. The steersman says, “Aye, coming about, sir,” and shouts it to the Bosun. The Bosun, who must make the men reorient the sails as we change course, cries out, “Coming about!” And the men, to acknowledge the order and verify that it was the correct order, all shout, “Coming about!” Then the ship begins to turn. Not before.

MacManus should have reported the departure. The reason he hadn’t was clear to me: he knew I’d have stopped them, and he hadn’t wanted them stopped before they accomplished this errand. It was most likely the siren call of the grog which had whelmed his thoughts and suborned him from doing his duty.

I merely waited until he dropped his gaze, and then I began issuing new orders. “We will fortify this door, now. You two will dig a trench and build a breastworks with the earth, to either side of the palace. Take tools from the barn-shed if there be any. And if not, use your bloody hands.”

I watched them salute and trot off to the barn-shed; I told Lynch off to stand watch for now, and he nodded. Should have had him there in the first place, curse me for a trusting fool.

As I came back through the doorway into the entry hall, I encountered once more another unwelcome complication: our new carpenter, Shluxer. He stood, cowed but trying nonetheless to catch glimpses of the goings-on from where he was, confronted and halted from going any further by a surly and silent Owen MacTeigue. I clapped my cousin gratefully on the shoulder, and he nodded and relaxed – but he did not leave.

“I regret, Master Shluxer, that the realization of our partnership must be postponed. I trust that my assurances of your future enrichment will prove sufficient for the nonce, and I would also ask that you endeavor to keep our presence here a secret, moot as the request may be.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, still craning his neck to see around my and out the front door.

“Some of my men have gone to beard the lion in his den. We must prepare to face the wrath.” I turned to MacTeigue. “Go find two of the men who brought him here, and have them escort Master Shluxer home. Then –”

Shluxer interrupted me. “They left on foot? Why don’t you just go after them?”

I turned to him with raised brow and lowered patience. “Because they left twenty minutes ago. They would reach their destination before we caught them, even at a dead run.”

He stared at me for a moment, uncomprehending, I thought – and how amazed I was that he couldn’t grasp such a simple problem! Then he said, “Why don’t you just take the car?”

Now I had to stare, uncomprehending. “Take the what?”

“The car.” He pointed out the door. “What is that, an Accord? It’s got balls, for a riceburner. It could catch them. You got the keys?”

I turned to see where he was pointing: it was the nearer of the two beast-wagons, the one that Juan and Ignacio Lopez had arrived in – the one which we had not shot. I turned back to Shluxer. “That thing could catch them? Before they reached the Piggly-Wiggly?”

He snorted. “Sure. What are they going to do, grow wings and fly? It’s a car, dude. That thing could break a hundred, easy.”

I stared some more. Surely his language was English, I knew each individual word, but he made no sense to my ears. “Break a hundred what?” I asked him.

He looked at me as if I were the idiot. “M.P.H., dude.” And when this clearly offered me no help, he said, “Miles per hour?” as though questioning me, and vastly fatigued for doing so.

It took me a moment, but it started to dawn on me. “That thing,” I said, pointing, “that beast out there, could run one hundred miles – that’s two days good riding on a strong horse over adequate roads – in only one hour?”

He shrugged, palms up, and raised his eyebrows at me. “Duh. It’s a car?”

I merely stared.

His brows lowered. “You really don’t know what a car is, do you?”

Slowly I shook my head. I didn’t like to confess my ignorance, but a fool’s bluff would have been no improvement.

Shluxer’s hand darted out and flicked at the wall near him, as through brushing at a fly. Brilliant light burst forth from the ceiling, where shining round objects like enormous pearls hung; we had thought them merely idle decoration, but now they glowed as if they were tiny suns, or great lanterns encased in smooth white glass – but we saw no flame. And from whence had the spark come? MacTeigue and I both flinched away, our hands going to weapon hilts in our startlement.

“Jesus Christ,” Shluxer swore quietly. He brushed the wall again, and now I noticed a small rectangle with a peg of some kind sticking out of it where his hand touched; he moved the peg so it pointed down, and the light vanished, as quickly as it had come – startling MacTeigue and I anew. Shluxer snapped his fingers, and when I looked at him, he said, “Find the keys. I’ll drive.”

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Log 13: Conversations with a Carpenter

Captain’s Log

Date: 27th of June, 1678

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Situation improving, but morale flags.

 

I stood before the man O’Flaherty had so basely stolen away. I did wonder if my quartermaster had not, in fact, taken a journeyman, or even an apprentice, rather than the master carpenter; he seemed very young, the skin of his face and hands smooth and unlined but for a youth’s blemishes, of the which he wore several. He was certainly fat enough to be wealthy, which might have brought O’Flaherty’s gimlet eye ‘pon him; Sean has ever had an itch to stab at men of wealth and quality wheresoever he finds them. He was certainly as terrified as any man I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed and sheened with sweat.

Damn your liver, Sean. How could I win this youth over now, to gain his willing assistance? I confess that for a moment I was tempted simply to follow O’Flaherty’s lead and compel the man with the strength of arms; but I will not put my ship’s fate into the hands of a fearful and desperate man. How can you trust the work of men you have pressed into service? We should have to drag him along with us, to compel any further repairs due to his slipshod work – or even sabotage – with an unending chain of threats against his life and well-being. I would not take this man from his home merely because I could not think of a better way to get what I need. I find I have no taste for stealing men away from their homes.

At least the first step to winning the man’s favor was obvious. I whistled up MacTeigue and ordered him to cut the man’s bonds at once, and fetch him a bottle of wine, if any were left. I held Owen for another moment, and whispered further orders in his ear: my cousin was to stay out of easy sight, but keep a close watch in case the man slipped away from me. I did not wish to compel his service, but I could not have him raising the alarm, perhaps bringing a militia or a troop of King’s men down on us.

I made use of the minutes whilst MacTeigue sought out refreshment to tender to the man the most humble and genteel apology I could compose. I pride myself on my apologies; they have kept many a colleen from drumming a beat ‘pon my pate with cookware, as Irish lasses are wont to do when they discover themselves members of a plurality, rather than the sole monarch of an Irishman’s heart. Ah, now, they say it takes a village to raise a child; I fail to see why a man cannot be so raised, as well. Parts of him, at least.

My final flourishes and bon mots flowered the air as MacTeigue returned with a bottle of clear golden wine; I swallowed a long draught to show there was no poison, and then handed it to my erstwhile guest. He took it with a shaking hand and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. I had found several of the Glass Palace’s vintages too sweet, as well, but this one was quite nice; perhaps he had a foul taste in his mouth before. MacTeigue shrugged and removed himself from sight. I sat and invited the man to do the same, the which he did following a moment of wary staring.

“I am Damnation Kane, captain of the ship Grace of Ireland.” I held out my hand to him, and after a pause – which is often occasioned by the first mention of my name – he met it with his own somewhat clammier hand. “Elliott Shluxer,” he told me then (I can but guess at the spelling of it, never having encountered the name before). “Where do ye hail from, Sir Shluxer?” I queried. “We live in The Hammocks,” he said (again, I am unsure of the writing of the name), taking a pull of his wine; its taste, like so many others, was improved with repeated applications. “And you are a carpenter, in truth?” I tried to keep my tone simple and friendly-like, but if his answer here were in the negative, he would shortly find himself clapped with a hand-full of Dominicans, and O’Flaherty would be walking home to Ireland.

After a moment, punctuated by several eyeblinks and the forming of a new sheen of sweat, the man said, “I guess, yeah. I mean, I work with wood.”
Well at least O’Flaherty didn’t attack a pig farmer.

“It is my fondest wish, Master Shluxer, that my compatriots’ overzealous introductions of your good self to our humble band will not destroy the chance that we might work together, you and I, and both be enriched by the experience.” Aye: many a colleen. They may be won by the line of one’s jaw, the turn of a calf, white teeth and a roguish smile – but they are kept by the tongue.

This man, for all that he lacked a grown man’s creased brow, or a working man’s physique, or, apparently, the brains of a schoolboy, still he was no colleen. “You guys are fucking nuts,” was his response to my sally.

I informed the man – politely, despite his tone, for I was determined to take no offense from his words, my own men having offered offense enough for all – that I was unfamiliar with this particular colloquialism. “You’re nuts, you’re all fucking crackpots. A bunch of crazy fucking lunatics,” he expanded.

“Ah,” I exclaimed, grasping his meaning, “you mean we are madmen.” I laughed at this. “Such was never in doubt, good squire. Nonetheless, I have sailed with many and many a madman afore this, and I have found that their gold spends as well as that of a man in full control of his senses.” I took a doubloon from my purse, then, and let him see its golden shine. “Sometimes,” I went on, and here I added a second bit of shine to my palm, “sometimes it even spends twice as well.” I grasped his wrist, turned up his palm, and placed my two most persuasive arguments therein with a gentle clinking.

Shluxer put down his wine bottle and looked at the coins. “Holy fuck,” he said, an oath I had never heard – and considering the scruples of most saints, including Our Lord and Savior, it was an oath I found rather puzzling. “Are these real?”

“Indeed they are, stout yeoman. And Spanish weight, not Irish, I assure you. For ’twas a Spaniard we liberated them from, along with many of their brethren formerly trapped in Spanish pockets.”

He looked up at me then, his mouth unfortunately hanging agape: unfortunate, for his physiognomy did not vouch to me proof of his competence and intelligence, nor even his comprehension of my words. “You’re giving me these?” he asked.

I resolved to speak slower, and perhaps a bit louder: I could discern the dirt in his ears from where I sat; perhaps his hearing was blocked by effluvia. Or perhaps it was his thoughts. “I am giving you those, and I will give you more of you will agree to work with me.” I accompanied these words with a brief pantomime of sawing and hammering, so my meaning would be clear, it was to be hoped. I gave my belt pouch a jingle, as well.

Shluxer wiped at his brow, and then pressed his hands into his eyes, like a man waking from an unlikely dream into an even more improbable reality. “I don’t fucking believe this,” he muttered. He stared at the coins once more, turning them to glance at the visage of King Phillip IV minted on one side. Then he took another pull at the wine bottle, and met my gaze at last. “What exactly do you want me to do?” he asked me.

I clapped him on the shoulder – perhaps a trifle too vigorously, as he lost his balance and needed to be uprighted, though he had certainly suffered a shock from O’Flaherty’s treatment which might explain his weakness – and rose to show him the task at hand. I guided him to the Grace, offered an introduction to my good friend Ian – who explained the provenance of his surname, a tale which generally wins a laugh, but garnered us merely a stupefied gaze and more doubts as to our guest’s mental capacity – and showed him the hole in the Grace’s hull, and the missing yardarm on the mainmast. He gazed into the hole for some minutes, looking as well at the stack of finished planks the men had placed nearby, the only intelligent acquisition they had made, as my present companion apparently possessed less wit than that same pile of wood.

To wit: “You want me to help you fix the hole,” he said then.

I nodded, slowly. “And replace the yardarm on the mainmast, and help make her water-tight and sea-worthy. Aye.”

“And you’ll pay me for it.”

Another slow, exaggerated nod. “At twice your going rate. Aye.”

He held up the doubloons. “In gold, like this.”

I shrugged. “Perhaps some silver. We generally have a fair motley of coins about us, considering their variegated sources.”

He blinked, and I sighed. “Yes. We will pay in gold.”

“That’s why you kidnapped me?”

I winced. I took a breath, ready to explain that the political realities of O’Flaherty’s rank despite his incompetence and rash judgment, but Ian stepped in then, smooth as cream.

“Of course we will offer you wergild for that offense against your honor, along with the apology you have already received from our generous captain.” This last part came with a glance my way, which met a nod; but Ian could be confident that I would have apologized, first because he knew me for a gentlemen of breeding, and second because he has frequently been apologizing to his own colleen even as I mollify mine. “Or perhaps you would rather have a boon, if there is some service we might offer,” Ian finished.

It was then that I first spied the crafty look come into the eyes of Elliott Shluxer. It was a look I would become most familiar with, to my deep regret. How much would have been easier for me, had I only paid more attention then! I should have known that such apparent imbecility was sure to be joined with a low, animal cunning, and the savage, wanton greed of a starving dog.

“A boon? Like a favor?” Something akin to a smile curved his lips. “What kind of a favor are we talking about here?”

Ian looked my way, unwilling to speak further in my stead. I smiled at the carpenter and raised my open palms. “We have a fine ship and a good crew, once we can set sail once more. We would be honored to transport yourself, or whatever goods you wished, to the destination of your choice. Even back to England, or Spain or France, perhaps.” Ian looked a question at me for this over-generous offer, but I ignored it. I would fill the hold with another man’s profit if it meant I could take my ship and my men home again. “Or we could lend the strengths of our arms and backs, if you need land cleared, or a barn raised or other such tasks.”

But this struck no spark of joy in the visage of our would-be carpenter. I tried again, my tone growing soft and shadowy, like the subject of this speaking – I would offer craft to this crafty man, if it would get my ship back on the water. “Then there are our more surreptitious skills, the which we could offer into your service.”

Shluxer seemed intrigued, and I went on. “Perhaps there are goods of some kind, that are wrongfully in the possession of another man: a situation we could easily remedy. Or,” and I laid a hand ostentatiously on the butt of my pistol, “perhaps there is a personage whose acquaintance you would like to un-make.”

A smile creased the greasy face of my new ally. “Whoa, shit! You guys – you’ll cap someone on my say-so?”

I had to blink at the wording, but how many meanings could there be in this conversation? I nodded, slowly so he would understand me. He did, and rubbed his hands together in unmistakable glee.

This is ever the way, it would seem. If you offer a man a generous profit, advancement for himself and his kin in your right hand – and vengeance, no matter how petty, in your left hand, ’tis always the second hand he’ll grasp in agreement. The sinister hand.

It was while Shluxer was considering his possible targets and I was pondering the chance that I would regret my offer – sadly a most likely occurrence, but what choice had I? – that I heard a voice call out “Captain!” I turned and stepped quickly toward the Palace, from whence the call came; young Lynch dashed out to meet me.

“Captain – it’s the Quartermaster, sir, and the Bosun. And Carter, and Gunner Moran, too. They’ve gone.”

I loosed an oath then that would strike my old granny dead, did she hear it from my lips. “Where have they gone?”

Lynch, who had stopped to admire my swearing, now turned grim once more. “They’ve gone to the Piggly Wiggly, sir. They’ve gone to steal grog.”

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Log 12: O’Flaherty’s Comeuppance

(Continued)

“What, in the name of Satan and all the saints he’s burning, have ye done, O’Flaherty?”

That’s what I asked the man, and a right fair question it was. But the man was standing on his pride – or perhaps believed that I was – and he objected to the manner of my speech. Perhaps he had expected laurels on his brow, huzzahs shouted for his triumph. Bah!

…But perhaps I should have spoken him more gently.

His chest swelled and jaw clenched as his brow lowered in anger. “Ye had best not speak so to me, Cap’n. We’re not aboard ship, and this is no’ battle. I be your equal –”

I cut him off with an impolite gesture. “Ah, belay that quartermaster shite, ye bilge-brained mongrel. We have no time for it. Think you this is not battle? We are in the greatest danger of our lives, every second. And you have made it worse, you daft idiot!” Perhaps I regained some of my wits, then, for I hesitated for a moment and then looked around at all the men hearing this. I had not meant to shame O’Flaherty with such a public comeuppance. I beckoned him towards the staircase, and the room above, which I had claimed as my quarters.

But he refused. “Nay, Cap’n,” he spat. “Let all the men hear what ye have to say, and respond as they have a mind to, aye. If this be a proper pirate ship, and we be of the Brotherhood, then all the men aboard have the right.” He stepped closer and asked quietly, “Or do they not, Captain?” Again he spat out my title like a bit of underdone potato.

I recognized this speech. It was this philosophy, what O’Flaherty claimed was the Pirate’s Code, which gave him equal standing on what had been my ship. Before his coming aboard, the men had all been loyal to me as their captain, as knights to their liege lord, as warriors to their clan chief, as it has ever been on Irish ships. O’Flaherty was behind the conceit that the men should choose their leaders, that they should vote, that every man’s voice should be equal; and that the men should choose not only their captain, but also their Quartermaster, equal in authority to the captain in all things but battle. Truth be told, I allowed it because others of my men – Donal Carter, Shane MacManus, Padraig Doyle, my own cousin and gunner’s mate Hugh Moran, and some that did not live to reach these strange shores, Ian Duffy who was my steersman, Albert Donovan and his brother Tiernan, and Colin Fitzpatrick, gods rest their souls – all of them fine sailors and brave warriors – they took his words to heart. Had I not granted O’Flaherty what he sought and let the men vote for their captain and quartermaster, let them write and sign Articles governing our ship and crew, I feared those men would leave the ship, and the heart of my crew would go with them, before the voyage even began. But I did allow it, and they did stay – thankfully choosing me unanimously as captain, which vote having gone otherwise would have occasioned a very different and much less civil conversation about my ship and the owning of her. We had a fine voyage after that day, even with O’Flaherty as Quartermaster and his Code ruling our ship – our ship that had been my ship. And several other fine cruises since then; until now, of course. O’Flaherty’s Code did make the men feel stronger, more as though they chose this life, this ship, and myself as their captain. Men should know that they choose their own destiny, and I could not but approve of that, and the great fondness the men gained for my fair Grace, since all felt some ownership of her.

But here is the truth: the Grace of Ireland is my ship. I commissioned her, I gave her specifics to Master Spaulding, the shipbuilder in Cork; I paid for her with the legacy my family granted me on my twenty-first birthday, with the money I had saved serving on other men’s vessels, leading trade voyages for my mother and our clan, sailing on raids against the British, the Welsh, even the Spanish and the French and the Moors of Algiers. When even that was not enough, I paid with shares in the Grace’s future plunder, on which I made good for two years before the accounts were closed. I captained her on her maiden voyage, when I and my crew – without O’Flaherty and that apish bastard Burke – cruised through the Irish Sea and lightened half a dozen English vessels before we escaped the King’s ships and returned home, safe and sound. I was the sole commander for four years after that, too, and a grand time it was, aye; until O’Flaherty and Burke came aboard with their tales of the Caribbean and the Brotherhood of the Coast, three years ago. It had been near two years since O’Flaherty had convinced us to adopt Articles and cast ballots for the ship’s captain and quartermaster.

It was time I took back command of my ship. Past time.

So I agreed to O’Flaherty’s demands, and gathered all the men into a circle on the beach before the Grace. As they found places to stand or sit in the sand, I saw that they had brought O’Flaherty’s prisoner with them; I ordered that he be allowed to stay and listen, as this concerned him near as much as it did the rest of us. I wanted him to see what manner of men had taken him captive, and into whose hands he should trust his keeping.

As soon as O’Flaherty, who had been a-whispering with Burke, joined me in the center of the circle, I asked him, “Who is the captain of this ship?” and I pointed at the Grace.

“You are,” he said. “But –”

I did not give him the opportunity to but his buts; I stepped to where Ian O’Gallows stood, his thumbs in his belt by his weapons. “Who is the captain of that ship?” I asked him loudly.

“You are, Captain Kane, sir,” he responded sharply, without the breath of hesitation that O’Flaherty had taken. Ian’s eyes roved over the men as he said, “You are captain of the ship and her crew – you and no other man, sir.” This last he directed at O’Flaherty.

Though warmed by his loyalty, I did not give him the gratitude he deserved, but stepped to the man beside Ian in the circle: it was Robert Sweeney, one of the younger men aboard, and one much in awe of O’Flaherty’s tales and in fear of Burke’s chains – though a good and loyal man, for all that. He hesitated a moment, and cleared his throat when I put the question to him, though I believe his hesitation to be due to nervousness rather than mutinous thoughts. He said, “You are, sir.” He cast his eyes down after he said it.

They all responded with those words, as indeed they should. Even Burke, though he stared at me for better than a minute, and sneered when he named me captain of my own vessel. But Burke’s insubordinate nature is no surprise; I was more concerned by the number of other men who hesitated before answering. Some even glanced at O’Flaherty before they gave their response. But give it they all did, all naming me; after Burke’s belabored answer, I stepped smartly back to where O’Flaherty stood with arms crossed and lips pressed tight together with ire. Still I did not allow him time to speak. “There ye have it. I am the captain – I and no other.”

He nodded. “Aye-aye, and aye once more, Nate. But if I were to ask them all who be the Quartermaster of this ship, what then?”

I softened my tone then. I needed O’Flaherty, and Burke, and all the hesitant men. I could not drive them away from me, not now, not here. But when we return to Ireland, and I can find a good, loyal, Irish crew . . . I will not forget who hesitated in answering my question. Not even my cousin Hugh, damn him.”They would say you, Sean,” I answered O’Flaherty. “And they’d be right to do so.”

I turned and addressed the men. “None of us knows where we are. The Dominicans called it Florida, and Miyammy, and America, but all I know is that it is not our beloved Ireland. We are far off the edge of the charts, lads.

“Ye all know, as I do, that the greatest danger we face on a voyage is not the British, and not famine, nor plague, nor even fire in the hold. The greatest danger is losing our way.” I paused then, and a few of the older men nodded. I continued. “If we cannot find our way home, then nothing else has consequence: not our courage, nor our strength, nor the weight of plunder in our holds and our pockets. If we have water, and food, and a fair wind and clear skies – but we do not know where we are nor where we are heading – we have nothing. For the water will run out, and the food; and the clear skies will turn to black storms; and all of these things may be repaired. But without a location and a destination, we will do nothing but wander. What good then the wealth in our purses?” I looked at O’Flaherty. “What good then the code we follow, or the title we claim?”

I turned back to the men. “Now, I’ve been caught in a fog that the sun did not dry up. Of course I have: I’m Irish.” They all laughed at that; no Irish sailor is innocent of fog. “I was caught in one on the Gaelic Tiger, under Silas McNulty, that lasted better than seven days before the wind rose and blew it away. Seven days, becalmed in a gray world without sky, without horizon, without land in sight.” MacTeigue, who had been with me on that voyage, added his voice and memory to mine – as did Donal Carter, I was glad to see, for all that his hesitancy had been second only to Burke’s before he named me captain but moments ago. I went on. “We had no idea how long it would last, no idea how close we may have been to rocks, or to British ships, or to a storm that would put us on the bottom. We had no idea if we were sailing closer to home, or farther away. It seemed the very air had no breath to sustain us, after a while. Every morning, we’d wake and hope to see the sea and sky and sun – and every morning it was naught but more gray. That was the most frightened I’ve ever been at sea, I don’t mind telling you lads.

“Until this voyage. Until this day, right now.” I paused, to let them think on my words. In the usual course of events, I would never admit to my men that I felt any fear, or that I had the least doubt as to our course, our destination, or the wisdom of our actions. But this day was not in the usual course of events. We were off the map in more ways than one, and they knew it. If I said aught else, I’d lose them, too. “We are lost, and badly lost. We do not know our way home, and what’s worse, we do not know how to find our way home. In Irish seas, the compass, or even one glimpse of the sky, could tell us which direction was East, and we could sail to Europe and then from wherever we struck, we could find our way home. But if we sail East now, what will we strike? Is the compass even true, now? Are we even on the seas of the Earth we know? What dangers lie out there – only the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch? The Devil’s Lash? Or something more? Be there dragons and demons, Scylla and Charybdis?

“We are in the gravest peril we have ever faced, right now, and every minute until we can point the bow of our ship – our ship – toward home. Graver even than when we had the Sea-Cat hard on our stern.”

I rounded on O’Flaherty once more. “Do ye recall, Sean, whose counsel led us into Hobbes’s trap? Who led to the deaths of thirteen men, the wounding of three more?” I watched him redden, but he held his tongue. I did not. “Aye, and whose plan was it to put the Devil’s Lash right atop us, and killed another sixteen of our brothers?” I hurried past that, as I did not want O’Flaherty reminding them who had ruined that attempted ambush with an unfortunate cry of alarm. “We seem to be in or near the Caribbean, Sean – ye have named the flora and the fauna, and the sands and seas match your tales of the Indies. Do ye know, then, where we are? Can ye lead us to safety?”

A moment’s fierce glare, and then O’Flaherty dropped his gaze to the sand at my feet.

I stepped to him, clasped his shoulder warmly. “Ye be a fine quartermaster, Sean, and the only man I’d want as my second in command.” I felt sure my friend and mate – and true choice for second – Ian O’Gallows would know and forgive this lie. “But you have not been plotting the best course. Not on this voyage.” I pointed at the bewildered man kneeling beside Burke, the one whose help we needed desperately, and whom they had taken hostage and scared witless. “Not this day. Ye should not be in command.” I stepped even closer, my nose a mere handspan from his. “And you are not. We are still in battle, even now, even here: we fight for our very lives. We fight our own ignorance, and our own rash impulses, like the thrashings of a drowning man, which just make him sink all the faster. If we make one wrong step, we will all of us die. That is battle. And so long as we are in battle, your own Code, and our ship’s Articles, signed by every man here and many who have fallen, say that I am in command – I and no other.” My grip on his shoulder turned hard. “Until we are home, you will do what I say, and only what I say. Until we reach Ireland.” I put my other hand on the grip of the pistol in my sash. I whispered, “And if ye say anything right now other than ‘Aye, Captain,’ I’ll spill your heart’s blood on this ground.” I clapped him on the shoulder, stepped back, and waited, hand on my pistol.

“Aye, Captain,” O’Flaherty said loudly. Then he whispered, for my ears alone, “Until Ireland.”

I nodded, and smiled wide. “Until Ireland.”

“UNTIL IRELAND!” Ian roared, and the men all yelled with him. But I saw Carter, and Burke, and Hugh Moran casting glances, one to the other and back. I admit I longed for home, then, with every scrap of me. As if there is not enough to beware, I must needs watch my own men?

There is no greater gift, no more valuable possession, than loyalty.

I dispersed the men back to their tasks and stations then. I was irked to see Burke, Carter, Moran, and O’Flaherty gather and mutter together. But I must convince them, for I cannot control them – they are free men. I will be sure to speak of O’Flaherty’s several mistakes in Carter’s hearing, and wax poetic on the ties of family near my cousin Hugh.

I may have to watch for a chance to put a blade in Burke. Naught else will sway him.

But speaking of O’Flaherty’s mistakes: now I must deal with his latest.

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Log #10: A Magic Window and Food from the Pig

Captain’s Log #10

Date: 27th of June

Location: Glass Palace

Conditions: Ominous

 

I can no longer trust O’Flaherty.

I have never warmed to the man; his introduction of the position of Quartermaster, a Caribbean invention with no place on a good Irish ship, and his near-instantaneous assumption of that position, were close enough to mutiny to have him strung to the yardarm and shot in the belly on many another ship. But I always knew that his intentions toward the ship and crew were only for their benefit, and his decisions, while often counter to my own conceits and predilections, and sometimes deserving of the name Rash, still they were ever reasonable.

Until now. Now I can only name him a fool and pray he hasn’t doomed us.

But I must needs tell all.

I must not fail to record Vaughn’s discovery. His investigative methods may deserve to be called foolish and rash as well as O’Flaherty does; I remain unconvinced that he had sufficient reason to go prodding about the magical implements of the Palace and its absent mistress, and as my orders expressly forbade any interaction with any unrecognizable object, Vaughn might be called mutinous as well. But there is nothing of ambition in that man – not for anything but knowledge, any road. If Vaughn crept up behind me on my poop deck and shot me in the back, I know he would have intended it as a scientific experiment: studying the trajectory of the ball, perhaps, or observing the natural reactions of a pirate captain upon being shot in the back. His goal would only be publication in his Royal Society, the approbation of Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke; he would offer me a share of that same recognition as recompense as I lay dying. All he thinks of is science and curiosity and discovery; his presence on this ship owes much to that singularity of purpose, and how it has blinded him to practical considerations in his past. But that is another tale.

This tale begins three turns of the glass after my two expeditions had set off: O’Gallows to the north seeking food, O’Flaherty south-west after lumber and carpenter. I was examining Moran’s gun emplacement – a nice piece of work, that; I gain more confidence in my cousin’s ability and foresight with each task I set him, and of course his loyalty has ever been beyond question – when Lynch came running along the strand, calling out for me with an excitement that bordered on hysteria. I saw at once that though there was some fear in his eyes and in the shivering of his youthful voice, wonder glowed in his smile, and so I ordered him to stop and take deep breaths until I was finished with Moran. Though I did hurry then, to compliment Moran on his work, and order more powder and shot carried out to his emplacement, and I did run back to the Palace with Lynch cleaving to my heels all the way.

As I came into the Palace, I was greeted with a fanfare, a flourish of trumpets fit for a king: as flattering as it was mysterious, if I may say. From whence did it come? We have no horns, nor men who know their playing. As I was about to call out to Vaughn for an explanation, my sight adjusted to the dim interior after the bright sunlight without, and I saw the surgeon, and behind him the reason for Lynch’s wonder.

The magic window was alight.

In it I saw an image of madness: it appeared to be grown men running around in their underclothes, which were as brightly colored as any noblewoman’s ball gown, chasing after a child’s ball, which they kicked, and hit with their foreheads and threw themselves on the ground after. The image kept changing so rapidly that I fast grew dizzy and had to look away, just as I heard a tremendous cheer as if the king had just stepped onto the field, perhaps wearing bright red smallclothes and kicking a ball.

I turned to Vaughn, who was rapt. “Vaughn,” I said, but he did not respond. “Vaughn,” I repeated louder. Nothing. With a crewman I should have struck him or shouted my loudest in his very ear – but my surgeon was a fellow ship’s officer, and more gentleman than all the rest of us. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “Llewellyn?” Then he turned to me.

He nodded slowly. “Yes, Captain.”

“How?” I asked, gesturing at the window, which now showed horses splashing through a mountain stream. He held up the flat, knobbed wand which I had seen in the hands of the sorceress. I grew somewhat irate.  “My orders were clear: nothing mysterious is to   be – “

Vaughn cut me off with an impatient gesture. I swallowed my words. If O’Flaherty’s insubordination and foolishness have been good at all, sure they have taught me patience and forbearance.

The Welshman held out the wand, and I saw there were perhaps three dozen knobbly protrusions, pearly gray projecting from the black wand. As I looked close, I saw that there were words written on the wand beside each protrusion, in white – words and numbers. Vaughn pointed to one knobbly bit at one extreme of the wand: On/Off, it said.

“I pressed that one. None other. Observe.” He pointed the wand at the window and mashed his finger on the protrusion.

The window went dark.

He pressed it again, and the window returned; now it showed a group of people eating something fried in oil, and laughing as they ate.

“It was too clearly labeled to do anything other than what it did. Quod erat demonstrandum.”

“You don’t know that, Llewellyn. It could have brought a trap On, or raised an alarm. It could have turned off the very sun, for all you knew.”

He looked at me for a moment. “But it did not.”

As I began to speak again, the fanfare played once more, shattering my thoughts. I turned back to the window. The letters “BBC News” unfurled across the face of the glass, along with a strange sketch or perhaps a carving, a frieze or bas-relief of what might have been the world, but – then it was gone, and a man was telling me, “Welcome back.” He continued on before I could respond, and though he seemed to speak directly to me, his words descended rapidly into madness, nonsense. But as I turned to Vaughn for any clarification his sharp mind might offer me, he pointed wordlessly back to the window.

Over the man’s shoulder was a map, which after a moment I recognized: it was Ireland, and England there below it. It was home. What was the man saying? Something about Euro – perhaps Europa? Receding, or recessing, and austerity. And – was that “pounds?” British pounds?

Was he speaking of treasure? Perhaps a prophecy?

I opened my mouth to ask Vaughn’s opinion; when there was the snap of a flintlock, the crash of a pistol charge from behind us. The magic window coughed and spat fire, bright white like falling stars flashing across its face and out through the hole that appeared in the middle of it: a hole the size and shape of a pistol ball. The window went black and dead, small plumes of smoke floating up from its broken face.

Vaughn and I turned slowly to the door, from whence the shot had come.

O’Grady lowered his arm, his hand shaking. His eyes bulging from his reddened face, his teeth set in his lower lip, the corners of his mouth flecked with foam: he looked like a madman. I thought, Perhaps madness is why he fired a pistol at his captain’s back.

It was apparent that he intended no more than the destruction of the magic window, and so the pistol which had leapt into my hand went back into my sash. I stepped slow and calm to O’Grady; his eyes flicked back and forth between myself and the magic window he had shot. As I reached out and took the pistol from him, slipping it from his fingers without the slightest resistance, his attention focused on me. He shook his head, slowly.

“It is evil, Captain. Evil. ‘Tis Satan’s work, I’m sure. I’m sure! It must be! I be a good, God-fearin’ man, Captain, and I cannot abide it. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live – ‘”

I cut him off with a blow to his ear, followed by a ringing slap to the other cheek. I will not listen to hypocrites quoting from their holy book, citing scripture to their purpose. I will not hear that statement again, whether it is my father speaking of my mother, or one of my pirates speaking of this fey place. Never again.

O’Grady looked daggers at me for the insult to his honor, but a moment of my own stare wilted him like water poured over stiff canvas. I held my stare while his sank down past my chest, past my belt, down to the ground under my feet. I reached out and tapped him in the chest with his pistol’s barrel, so he would look at my face, and know what I said – the man reads lips. Then I spoke slowly, but quietly, as he could not hear me in any case. “Firing a gun behind your captain’s back may be seen as mutiny, Abram. I could have you hung for it.” I paused, but he said nothing – and so perhaps saved his miserable life, as I was not much in the mood for argument. “Perhaps I should have you hung.”

He shook his head slowly, his face pale but his jaw set. “It’s the Devil’s work, sir. You said it yourself when we arrived here, I know you did. We are in Hell, sir.” His eyes came back up to mine, and they were fierce once more. “It is a test, sir. A test. We must not use what is placed before us. We must not surrender to the illusions of the Tempter! Knowledge was what he offered Adam and Eve, sir! I – ” He faltered and his eyes dropped. “I would not have you fall, Captain.” He snorted a weak laugh. “You’re a good man, sir, despite your name.”

I shook my head. He wasn’t mad, it was the world that had gone mad around him, around us all. He was a good Catholic – which was counter to my own thoughts, my own beliefs, but I could not tell him to give up his God and his Church merely because my own faith followed a different path. How could I know that he wasn’t right, and I the damned fool? He thought he was protecting me.

But I couldn’t let him go without chastisement, or the next man to pull a trigger behind me would not be aiming over my shoulder. I raised his head again with a gesture. “Ten strokes,” I told him, and his jaw clenched. “I’ll lay them on you,” I said, and he relaxed and nodded.

We did it there, to save him the shame of being watched. Vaughn left the room in search of other, less obviously infernal, sources of information. O’Grady took down his shirt, after I retrieved a tarred end of rope, and I gave him ten solid lashes below his shoulderblades. I only drew blood with the last two, and only because no lashing is finished without blood. Then I clapped him on the shoulder, and brought him out to MacTeigue, who was supervising the scraping of the Grace’s keel. MacTeigue nodded at my order without blinking it, handed O’Grady a chisel and told him off to a section of barnacled planking. I returned to the great room and awaited the next arrival. But would it be good news, or another step into madness? How long could we stay here before we all lost our senses?

Fortunately for my nerves, the next return was one of gladness, not madness: we heard a shouted hail from the landward side, and I raced to the front portal to stand beside the men on watch, all of us peering toward the road. O’Gallows came up the path, roaring a hearty greeting, which we returned, gladly. He was flanked by Carter and Sweeney; all three were sweated and red with heat and exertion, but they were hale and grinning for all that – and sweat washes off far easier than does blood, especially one’s own.

Each of them was towing a sort of metal cage on wheels, about the size of a deep wheelbarrow, perhaps a one-man handcart as are used to bring vegetables to market. And their carts were piled high with sacks and bags and boxes. Despite their red brows – and some trouble with the carts, which seemed poorly wheeled and stiff-axled – they raced up to the Palace with whoops and shouts of triumph and glad tidings.

They had brought us food. And such food as we had never seen: the largest, most succulent fruits, of the tree, the vine, and the earth; flour as white and fine as any that ever graced a king’s larder; sacks full of potatoes as large as a man’s fist, some as large as two fists – or one of Kelly’s – and meat, cut and red and dripping blood, that brought hunger roaring up from our throats, and had me roaring for O’Grady to drop his chisel and return to his proper station over the cookfires. He had built a galley on the terrace by the waterpool: he had a half-dozen small cookfires set in rings of stones he had gathered from the beach and the gardens, and over each was suspended one of the fine, shining pots he had found in the Palace’s kitchen. Our own great black cookpot, O’Grady’s favored cooking utensil, was set atop another of the Palace’s devices, though this one was not so unfamiliar: it was a firebox, a low metal frame which could be dragged from one space to another. It was made to hold charcoal or wood in a central space surrounded by a wide metal shelf for setting pots on or warming one’s feet, and thus one could have a fire in a place that wasn’t built for it, as a wooden floor or even the deck of a ship – though an open flame as this was would be sheer folly aboard. The night before, as the men had held their revels around a bonfire on the beach, as proper pirates should, O’Flaherty and I had joined O’Grady at the firebox, commandeering two of the strange Palace chairs – they seemed to be made of metal frames, with woven cloth strips forming the back and seat, but were far too light and more comfortable than any chair my posterior has experienced heretofore – and warming our feet and our wine mugs on the metal shelf. It made for a fine, if a quiet, celebration.

And speaking of celebration, there was one conspicuous absence from the bounty which O’Gallows had retrieved. “Had they no spirits?” I asked him, once the lack had been noted and bewailed by the men as they unloaded the carts under O’Grady’s direction.

Ian shook his head. “No, they had shelves of the stuff, wine and ale and whiskey, shelves a full five paces long and an arm deep – stacked three high. “Twas enough for a full voyage and a happy crew the whole way. But the proprietor was most adamant that we were not to have any – not a drop.” He scratched his head, then his beard; then he looked at his fingernails, his hands; then ran his palms over his vest front and his trews.

“What is it, man? Were ye hurt – are you checking for wounds?” I queried.

He shook his head again, frowning. “No. Tell me, Nate – do I seem over-filthy to you? Do I look the beggar?”

I stepped back and looked him over from bow to stern. “Well, I’ll say I’ve seen you cleaner than now, and closer-shaven. But I’ve seen ye a damn sight dirtier, too – and even then your rig is far too quality to be a beggar’s. Perhaps I’d mistake ye for a highwayman who stole the clothes, but you and the togs strike me as having been in the same dirt at the same time.” I looked him in the eye. “Why do ye ask?”

He hawked and spat, and accepted with grateful thanks a mug of clean water that Lynch handed him. After he’d drained the cool draught, he told me of their quest.

“We found the Piggly Wiggly easily enough – yon Dominicans gave a true bearing, and might have earned a small reward, aye?” I nodded, and he went on. “Once we made it to the town and the right street, we should have had trouble missing it: ’tis a building the size of a fort, or a good large meeting hall or church, painted white with a sign as tall as a man, shouting out ‘PIGGLY WIGGLY’ in bright red letters.” I started a laugh, and Ian grinned. “Aye, Nate – and not a pig in sight, not live nor dead.” He shrugged.

“We garnered many a stare on our way through town, though it were still early enough for the townsfolk to be about their breakfasts and suchlike, rather than out on the streets. I have not seen streets like those before: every one paved with hard stone, but not a cobble to be seen; it makes no sense at all. And the wagon-beasts – everywhere! All colors, all sizes, some honking like geese, some blowing foul-smelling smoke out their arses. I swear I heard music coming from a few, but it was never a song nor an instrument I could recognize, and I didn’t want to draw too much attention by staring and asking foolish questions, as Vaughn would.

“But there were signs naming the streets at every corner, and so we found our way, sure enough. I left Sweeney outside with the arms, so they’d know we meant no harm – I didn’t see a single sword nor flintlock on the way through town, not one, though aye, there were few people on the streets for the number of houses and structures. Carter and I went into the Pig – ’twas unguarded and unlocked – and we were hailed, right friendly, as we stood there with our jaws on the floor. Nate – ” he grabbed my arm, his eyes wide – “I swear to Christ and our two damned fathers that you’ve never seen nor heard of so much food in one place. What we have here isn’t a hundredth of it, not one tenth of one hundredth. That place could fill the holds of a dozen ships the size of the Grace, and still host a royal procession.

“Any road, we were greeted, as I said, and I asked to see the proprietor – called him the manager, the lad did who spoke to me. And he brought the man out, a wee bespectacled merchant with a fat belly and a bald head, just as you’d expect in a store with enough food for an army. He asked what he could do for us, and I showed him the jewels we had from the Palace, here – two fine rings with gemstones and a gold chain, ye recall, worth a hundred pieces of eight, easy. I offered to trade for meat and fruit, wheat and beans, salt, and rum, of course. I mentioned rum since that’s what O’Flaherty says they drink in these Caribbees, aye?

“But when I said that last, he looked up at me sharpish – he had been shaking his head slow, his face right befuddled. He looks me up and down, as you just did when I asked you to. And then he says – he had a strange accent, one I’ve never heard, a bit English but flatter and harder – he says, ‘I know what it’s like to be down on my luck. Did you steal these?’ Well, I looked properly offended, told him they were family heirlooms, meant to be worn by my sister at her wedding, but we’d just lost the lass to a fever and we were going to try our luck with a trading voyage, and needed supply. He weighed and measured me like a prize sheep at market, and then he nods and says, ‘I should send you to a pawn shop, but they’d cheat you worse than I ever could, and who knows where you’d spend cash money?'”

“What’s a pawn shop?” I interrupted him.

Ian shrugged. “I did not ask. So then he looked the gold over, and he says, ‘So does a thousand sound right for these?'”

I am sure my mouth dropped open. “A thousand pieces of eight, did he mean? Or copper pennies?”

Ian pointed at the piles of food. “Nate, there’s a hundredweight of that flour there. Have you ever seen finer? What would that cost, back home? My own mother would trade me for the bread that stuff will make, even in O’Grady’s hands. And the fruits? Here – eat this!”

One bite of the apple he handed me then, and I forgot that there were no spirits in the pile. Well, almost. “So why did ye not get the grog?”

Ian shrugged again. “The man refused when I asked. Said he’d see me fed, but would not put me in the gutter. ‘Tis why I asked if I look overmuch like a beggar. I thought it better at the time to keep my mouth shut and bring back the food. We can find liquor elsewhere – or we can go back to the Piggly Wiggly and be more impolite when we ask.”

I clapped him on the shoulder. “Ye did right, man, as ever. I always know I can trust ye.” I sighed then, and looked toward the road. “If only I could say the same for every man of the Grace.”

And as if I had wished it so, that was the moment O’Flaherty returned, bringing danger back with him, clutched tight in his fool’s hands. By the gods, if he’d been lads with me back in Ireland, not only would he have cheered me on through my ride on King Henry, but he would have demanded the next go, and called for my uncle to come watch. The stupid bastard.

What am I to do with him? What am I to do with what he brought back from Home Dee-Poe?

I wish Ian had gotten rum. I need a drink.

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Log 8: Counterattack

“Have any of you heard of a heathen god called – Verizon?”

All shook their heads. I stepped close to the shivering woman. “Do you understand me? Do you speak English?” Do you even speak the tongue of Man, I wanted to ask, but I could not tell: was this in truth Faerie-Land? She was plain to look at, no great beauty in her face and form, and if the only magic she could summon to defend herself was prayer to a piece of glass the size of my palm, then this could not be the land under the hill, as O’Flaherty’s objects had implied. But then, how could this palace be explained? This wealth, lying about unguarded but by a single terrified woman? What were those beastly machines outside? The magic mirror-wall that showed lands that were not those without these walls? The cabinet of light?

She nodded in answer to my question, but said, “See,” which made no sense to me. Perhaps she was simple, or deranged. I held the plaque out to her. “What is this? Who is Verizon?”

She looked at the plaque, then at me, her brows furrowed in confusion. “Tell Eff-oh know,” she said slowly, and then ran a string of words together, not a one of which I understood. Her tone was pleading, terrified; whatever she was, whatever she was saying, she was surely no threat to us.

I ignored her as she kept babbling, and turned to MacTeigue. “Go check on Kelly. Try to secure the door we came through. Stand guard there, the two of you.” Then to O’Flaherty: “Leave me three others to guard, and take the rest back to the Grace. Sail her to the cove, and we’ll beach her and careen.” He nodded, told off Lynch, Burke, and MacManus to remain, and led the others out the landward door and over the north wall.

I crouched down by the still-gobbling woman. “Stop,” I said, and when she did not, I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. I hoped she was not hysterical; I did not want to strike her. She stopped her babbling and met my gaze, thought she shivered and shook, and worried her lip with her teeth. Speaking slowly and clearly, I said, “Be there anyone else here?”

After a moment she shook her head. She started babbling again, but another shake made her stop. “Are there guards? Soldiers? Any men?” She frowned, seeming not to understand, but then she shook her head again. “No men? No guards?”

“No,” she said. “No pole lease.”

I frowned, and looked to Lynch and Burke, who now stood close by. “No palace?” I asked them. “Is that what she said?” They shrugged.
This was profiting us nothing. We needed to secure our position. I held the plaque out to the woman, and she reached up her hand for it; then I dropped it and stamped my heel down. It shattered most satisfactorily, and she flinched away. I grabbed her chin and turned her to face me. “Verizon cannot hear you now,” I told her. I straightened and turned to Burke. “Watch her. Don’t hurt her – she may be a hostage for us, if there are troops about.” He nodded, and rattled his chains menacingly at her; she shrank back from his grotesque leer, but did not move away or try to escape him.

I turned to Lynch. “Go up top. Try to reach the roof, or a parapet. See what you can see from –”
“Captain!” I was interrupted. It was MacManus, still guarding the landward door. I beckoned Lynch to follow, and strode to where MacManus crouched by the open portal, a loaded musket in his hands. He was peering out with one eye, all else concealed behind the doorframe. “Aye?” I asked.

“We have guests,” he said, and nodded outdoors. I moved to the other side of the doorway and looked out, but I could hear it now; a single glance showed me what my ears had already discerned.

Another beast-wagon, this one white, came roaring up the path, raising a cloud of dust as it growled and snarled. It came to a halt with a shrill screech as soon as it spied the corpse of its fellow. The sides of the wagon opened, and two men stepped out.

“Ready arms,” I told my men, and we three took aim.

Then a second beast, a black one, came growling down the road and stopped by the first; four men emerged from this one – all armed.

I tapped Lynch on the shoulder where he crouched beneath me beside the doorway. “Get MacTeigue. Tell Burke to bring the woman up here, under control.” Lynch nodded and scampered off.

“See any powder?” I asked MacManus.

He nodded, but did not lower his aim. “Aye, the one in the blue head-scarf has a pistol.” He blinked. “I think ’tis a pistol, any road.”

“Him first, aye?”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” he confirmed, and cocked back the flintlock.

The men gathered around the wreckage of the green wagon-beast, looking furious but bewildered. The spoke rapidly and loudly, gesturing to the house, the carcass, and each other; they spoke the same tongue as the woman. All were of the same race, it seemed: the same skin and hair and eyes. The one with the blue scarf carried a strange but unmistakable pistol; the others had but knives and bludgeons. We had a clear advantage, then, though we were outnumbered.

Just then Lynch and MacTeigue scurried up behind. Lynch took a position under a window to MacManus’s right, and readied his pistols; I was glad to see his hands were steady despite his youth.

“Kelly is recovered. He will hold the sea-side,” MacTeigue told me, and relief spread through me. This might have been a threat: the man with the pistol could hold us here – I had to assume he had other pistols, perhaps strapped to the beast in something like saddle-scabbards – while the others crept in the back and engaged us hand to hand; but I would pit Kelly against all the rest, even if he didn’t have an axe and a cutlass, and a narrow doorway to stand in. With those, I knew the only way into the house was through the four of us here.

Or perhaps to shatter one of the many wide windows and reach our unguarded flank. Gods, this was the barest, most vulnerable keep I have ever struck. I knew that we must handle this here, face to face: we could not bear a siege.

“Ready with the hostage, Captain,” I heard Burke growl. I turned and saw that he had his chains wrapped around her, one pinioning her elbows to her sides, the other about her throat. One pull of his arms would snap her neck – and the look in her eyes showed that she knew it.

“All right,” I said. “Stand her in the doorway, Burke. Stay behind her lest they fire. MacManus – if that pistol comes up, the man goes down. Lynch, Owen, stand ready if they charge.” All of them nodded and grunted assent, and prepared themselves. I called out, “Drop your arms!” and nodded to Burke. He shoved the woman out into the doorway, pulling back on the chain about her throat just as she called out “Juan!”

“Flora!” came the answering cry, and then more in that foreign tongue – Spanish, I thought now, if I had heard their names aright. That made sense if we were in the Indies, but then nothing else made sense with that. I glanced around the edge of the open portal and saw that all held still, that one of the two from the first wagon held back the other, who pulled toward Burke and the woman, his manner showing the desperation of either a brother or a lover.

The man with the pistol raised it and snarled, “You motherf–” A shot boomed, a puff of black smoke from MacManus’s flintlock, and the man flew back, his pistol falling to the ground – fortunately not discharging when it fell – with his life’s blood as it poured from the hole in his chest. MacManus swung the musket around and handed it to Lynch, who gave over one of his ready pistols without missing a step; he had spent a full year as a powder monkey, hauling charge and shot for the big guns, and reloading muskets and pistols for the men, and though he had proven himself capable of standing on the firing line, still old habits live long and grip hard, especially in the heat of battle. In moments the flintlock was leaning against the wall ready to MacManus’s hand, and Lynch was back under the window with his second pistol ready, a naked dagger in his left hand.

The effect of MacManus’s marksmanship was most salutary: all the men dropped their weapons and raised their hands – all but the first two, who still struggled together, one to reach the woman, the other to keep him alive instead, as MacTeigue and I planted our aim on his breast.

“If you want to live, stand still!” I shouted.

“Let her go, you son of a bitch!” the man in front shouted in response. His address to me clearly showed his failure to comprehend his circumstances.

I took up a more cheerful tone while I explained to him. “Ye have little room to stand on demands, boyo. Perhaps ye should do as I say, and hope to earn some of my goodwill.” I noted the rearguard were beginning to sidle back to their dragon-wagon. I did not want them raising an alarm, returning with more men – especially not once the Grace was beached and vulnerable. “Shane,” I murmured to MacManus,”did ye learn how to kill those metal beasts?”

He blinked. “Anything what takes punishment like that’ll no’ work so very well afters,” he muttered back. “But the feet are soft.”

“And the eyes,” Burke growled from the doorway where he still held the woman immobile, between himself and the men outside.

“Aye, and the eyes – the round bits in front,” MacManus whispered.

“Kill it, then – the one in the rear, the black one. All on my mark.” I took aim. “Left foot is mine.”

“Right foot,” called Lynch, easing one eye up over the sill.

“Left eye,” said MacTeigue.

“Let her go, you bastards! FLORA!”

“Fire.

Four shots barked as one, and the front of the black wagon-beast exploded with a crash of glass and a harsh sibilance; a thin plume of vapor spurted from the foot where my ball struck home, and a thicker spurt of steam from the middle of the metal grate where the beast’s nose should be, which must have been MacManus’s target. Lynch cursed; he had missed. The rest of us chuckled and tossed our guns to him to reload.

Once again, our gunnery was effective. The three in back stopped creeping away, and the two before stopped struggling and were still. The white beast-wagon did nothing at all; perhaps after all, they did not live.

“Down on your knees, my fine lads – don’t believe we’re out of shot in here. Or that you will fare any better than yon metal beast – for rest assured, the next pull of the trigger will spill your guts on the ground. You’re of no use to us, dead or alive, so all’s the same, to my way of thinking. Dead’s quieter.”
MacTeigue made a thoughtful noise and then said loudly, “Aye, but messier. They’ll bleed all over the stonework, if we shoot them now.” I glanced over at my cousin, and he winked. I had to hold back a laugh.

“Aye, ’tis a fair point,” I said. “You gentle souls – take five slow steps back. Any of you who does not move will cost this sweet lass a finger – move too quick, and it will be her neck.”

They stepped back smart enough, but stopped at five steps.

“Lynch – go bring Kelly up here, and take his station.” The youth scurried away on my whisper. I tapped MacTeigue, and we stepped out to flank Burke, pistols aimed at the foremost two. MacManus, his iron reloaded by the nimble fingers of Lynch, could bring down all of the other three in mere moments.

But whatever else these asses were, whether human or Fae, colonists or slaves or Spaniards, they were not fighting men. They charged into unknown danger like daft fools, and then surrendered as quick as chastised children confronted by an irate sire.

I looked at the lead fool, the angriest one. “On your knees, there, lad. Or my bosun will snap her neck.” I clapped Burke on the shoulder, and he grinned his hideous grin.

The fool frowned, but he went to his knees. Docile as a lamb, they were: all the other four knelt as well. I noticed they could not take their eyes off of their dead companion; had they never seen a man shot before?

“Captain,” Kelly rumbled from behind me.

“Kelly – find something to bind them with.”

“Aye.”

“Owen – go gather their arms. Bring me that pistola.”

MacTeigue stepped out cautiously, swinging well wide of the choleric one so the man would not be tempted to try for MacTeigue’s pistol. He took the strange pistol from the ground beside the dead man’s hand, and tucked it into his sash. He gathered up the knives and clubs the others had dropped, and cast them into the shrubs ten paces away. As he returned to me, Kelly emerged, tearing strips of cloth off of what might be a curtain, or a bedsheet, perhaps.

“Start with him,” I said, gesturing with my barrel before I stuck it into my sash and took the strange weapon MacTeigue brought me. “Don’t be gentle.”

At the word, Kelly stomped on the angry fool’s ankle, twisted back and under him, and there was a crunch. Then Kelly’s great hamfist clouted the fool on the side of his neck, and he collapsed like a sack of grain.

“Juan!” the woman called out tearfully, and Burke pulled the chain taut around her throat, stopping any other syllables short of her lips. Kelly ignored her, as well as the other front man, the one who had held the angry Juan back from his fool’s charge, and who now cursed Kelly from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head and back to his ancestors. Kelly rolled the stunned Juan onto his belly, pinioned his arms and lashed him securely. Then he stepped to the cursing one and waited for the man’s breath to run out. Then he called out to me, “Gentle or no?”

“‘Tis his choice,” I replied. Kelly curled his paw into a fist under the fool’s nose, and rumbled in a voice like thunder, “Smell ye that, aye? If ye think it smells bad now, just think of the stench after I reach into your belly and tear out your liver and lights to bait me hooks with.”

The fool’s dark skin faded pale, and he quieted, his eyes locked on Kelly’s huge, scarred – and surely odoriferous – fist. He placed his hands behind his back, wrists crossed, and hung his head.

“Aye, and that’s well,” Kelly rumbled. “I prefer gentle, I do.”

“‘Tis not what your last whore said!” called MacTeigue, in great good humor now that the battle was done, and won. MacManus and Burke guffawed at this.

Kelly was unperturbed. “So ye had occasion to speak to your sister, then?” he asked, and then all of us laughed, MacTeigue as well.

The other three chose gentle as well, and before long we had all of them inside, seated with their backs to the wall. Juan had awakened, but his anger was mollified when I had Burke remove his chains from the throat of the maid Flora, and had her trussed and seated by Juan’s side. He still was not cheerful, as Kelly had seemingly cracked his ankle, but he answered my questions fair enough, and in English, without my having to threaten the lass more than twice.

I learned all I could from him, and had just ordered Kelly and Burke to lay them out in one of the chambers and lock them in when a cry from Lynch at the seaward door brought light and joy fully into my heart.

“Captain!” he called. “Sails ahoy! ‘Tis the Grace, Captain! She comes!”

I sent MacTeigue out to join MacManus watching to landward, and then Lynch and I stepped out onto the terrace to welcome our ship and our companions.

I still do not know where we are. But for now: we are safe.

 

*****

Ahoy, me hearties: this chapter is the end of the first part of Damnation Kane’s adventures. These eight chapters will soon be collected into a short e-book which will be available for purchase. The book will include three bonus chapters that will not appear anywhere else — so be sure to get a copy! More information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, the adventures will continue with the next log one week from today.

Thank you, so very much, for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the story. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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Captain’s Log #6: Observations and Discoveries

Captain’s Log #6

Date: 25th of June. Noon.

Location: At anchor in cove, but not for much longer.

Conditions: Sun’s heat nigh overwhelming. But is it a human sun?

 

I sat with Lynch and looked at nothing, in all directions. I looked at the beach, the cove, the trees; I looked at the glass palace, the magical objects inside. I looked at no living soul, anywhere but for the boy next to me.

I knew then that we must seize this palace, wresting it from the grip of its sorceress-succubus-queen. But how? My mind sailed back through a hundred stories of Faerie-Land, the tales that accompany any Irish boy on the path to manhood; none told of any man conquering a Faerie keep. I knew clever ways to escape their clutches, involving wagers and games of chance or skill; but never had I heard of a man taking possession of a Faerie home.

But what choice had we? We must have shelter, and fresh food, and the Grace must have that beach. Perhaps O’Flaherty will find a place better suited, but if not, we have no time to creep along the coast in search of a more accommodating anchorage. So be it: we will treat this as a ship to be grappled and boarded, her captain’s disposition and the secrets of her hold unknown to us, and cause for caution, but not cowardice.

First, then: information. Lynch and I consulted and then split to walk the perimeter of the palace; Lynch took the landward side, as the lad cannot swim, and I went out to the strand and the sea. I gave him my pistols and powder, and cautioned him to run from all ills; he assured me he would. Good lad, that Balthazar Lynch. I watched him go, as quiet as a church mouse in his deck-rough bare feet, even slung about with enough killing implements to board a ship by himself, and then I started on my path. I do not hesitate to admit that I crawled on my belly away from that domicile: the last thing I wished was to draw the Faerie Queen’s attention.

I made it safe to the deeper brush, and then I rose to a crouch and made my way rapidly out along the strand. It was an easy enough trek, the underbrush thin, only clumps of tall grass and more of those puff-ball shrubs, with trees spreading their canopy overhead. I slowed as I neared the end of the strand, as I could readily imagine a watchtower out here; there could not be a better place to ensure early warning of attack or storm, or from whence to signal passing ships. But there was none. Perhaps they do not need this in Faerie-Land. I determined I would place men here, should our design succeed. I looked back to the north, but could not make out the Grace, hidden by a curve of the shore and treetops taller than her masts. I was gladdened by this, for we do not seek attention.

Then into the water and across the cove. I kept my stroke small, so that only my head would be visible from shore, and the burning sun still not far above the horizon would prevent any vigorous scrutiny. The water, ah! It was as warm as any bath, and a clear blue that I had never seen, not even in the purest mountain stream of my Ireland, though I have heard as much from transported men such as my quartermaster. Still, one always expects exaggeration in a seaman’s tales, so this confirmation was a surprise. A most welcome one, after three months aboard ship without bathing.

It was a matter of minutes to cross the cove, through the gentle chop, and under the calls of seabirds; with every breath, this Faerie-Land seemed more of a paradise. I knew of the temptatious nature of the dwellers Underhill, however, and I hardened my soul against the beauties and comforts around me. We will not stay here, not against our will, nor with it. Men do not belong in this place. We will take what we need, and we will depart for familiar shores. I swear it.

I emerged, dripping, and moved slowly up the beach on the southron side, crawling like a serpent until I was hidden once more from the palace’s sight by shrubbery. I made my way along, observing all I could of that Fae place, though what I saw, I could not understand.

When I had gone an hundred paces inland, I heard a rustle nearby and tensed for confrontation, but ’twas only Lynch. We withdrew somewhat from the glass palace – there was another wall, identical to the first, blocking the southern approach; we crouched close, though we did not look at each other as we spoke, but kept an eye both to the palace and to the wall, alert for sentries walking its length.

Lynch confirmed my own strange findings. This palace appeared to hold no guards at all, not a single man-at-arms, nor even a maidservant that we had seen. There were no guardroom, no watchtowers anywhere; Lynch had described a pleasant path leading right to the door, without moat or gate to bar the way! Stranger still: we found no garden, no livestock, no fishing smack or nets, not even a well or a rubbish heap or a privy – though Lynch confessed he had seen many objects and structures he could not surely identify.

Perhaps the Faerie Queen does not need guards. And perhaps she does not need servants beyond her own magic. Does she not need to eat? Do the Faerie Lands not produce food as we know it, grown from earth and water and sunlight? Too, would she not wish for a retinue, for companions to while away the lonely hours? If this sorceress’s existence be naught but solitude, silence broken only by the crash of waves, then all the beauty of this place comes to nothing. I will take my bonny ship and my salty lads, with thanks.

Lynch led me back the way he had come, so I could see some of these strangenesses myself. He showed me the door, with its welcoming path; there was a large shed, perhaps a barn, connected to the palace by another path – stones set in the even ground, bordered with a strip of tiny pebbles – but still, there were no animal sounds nor smells, and I saw neither fodder nor dung.

We were moving around to the far side of the barn-shed when the palace door opened and we held still, moving only enough to observe. The sorceress herself emerged, now dressed in clothing only slightly less strange than before: a thin skirt that met no standard of decency I have known; it covered less than a slip or nightdress, and her coat ended mere inches below her waist. Her shoes were like slippers, but her heels were raised on spikes; she wore a strange mask that covered only her eyes with a strip of dark, hard material, stone or metal, I could not say, but she could apparently see through it, somehow. She walked to the barn-shed, carrying a cloth bag of some kind behind her shoulder, the bag as wide as her shoulders and hanging behind nearly to her knees, flat and flexible as a cloak; in her other hand she held a case with a handle on top. She raised the hand that held the case – was it leather? Perhaps hardened, to hold the boxy shape? Or leather-clad wood? – and pointed at the barn-shed; there arose a rumbling noise from the far side, as of a small herd of cattle moving within; but no cattle  emerged.

I heard a bird’s chirp from inside the barn, and then sounds like heavy doors opening and closing. The sorceress returned to her palace and swiftly emerged again with two more boxes, even larger and heavier than the first two; so massy she must drag them along the ground, though quick and smooth as if she were carrying only milkpails or a posy of daisies. Surely any wooden chest of that size would be far too heavy for a woman to carry – but she is Fae. Who can say what is heavy to her, or what strange otherworldy material makes up the substance of her possessions? And they could not be wood nor leather, not of any animal I have known: both of the boxes were a pink so bright it hurt the eyes to see.

This time she set down her burden, closed the door of her palace and locked it with a key too small to see – or perhaps it was but the touch of her elfin hand – and then dragged her chests to the barn again. More heavy doors closing, and then from within we heard a rumble like the growling of some great slavering beast: we readied our weapons, sure she was setting loose a pack of Faerie hounds, or perhaps bears, wolves, lions.

I do not know what came out of that barn. It was shaped something like a wagon, and the sorceress sat within it, only her head and shoulders above the raised sides, and she was blocked on one side by a window affixed to the wagon. But the wagon was bright red, and it shone and gleamed in the sun; it had wheels, but the wheels had no spokes. There was a metal grill on the side facing us as it moved out of the barn, with two round protuberances that could have been eyes, but I saw no signs of life in that thing.

And the greatest mystery of all: if it was a wagon, there were no beasts drawing it. It moved of its own accord, though I do not doubt it was guided by the sorceress’s Fae will.

She drew away from the barn, paused, and I heard the same rumbling and clattering from the far side of the barn as the sorceress had caused with the wafture of her hand; perhaps it was a door closing as magically as the glass door of her palace had opened to the sea? Then the wagon she rode in rumbled and growled, and then moved away and out of our sight, blocked by the barn-shed we crouched beside. And we were left alone, beside the unguarded palace of a Faerie Queen.

We waited, still as calm water, for a hundred breaths. Then, when nothing else moved, we thought her gone, for now. I set Lynch by the door to keep watch for her return, after first leading me back to the north wall, closer to the Grace; I gave him the strictest instructions not to go inside, not to leave the shelter of the trees, but just to watch. Then I scaled the wall, again with the help of a close-growing tree and with no more difficulty than before, and then made my way back to my ship. I cannot describe the warm rush of joy I felt in my breast upon setting my foot once more on the Grace’s deck; this ship is my home in these strange waters, as well as my steed for traversing them, and I do love her so.

I reported only our current status to O’Gallows, gave him orders to keep watch for O’Flaherty’s return, and then retired to my cabin to set this down in my log. I am starting to believe this document is an important one: perhaps when we return to Ireland, I will carry the records of the only trip men made Underhill and back again since the days of yore.

We will make it back again. This I swear.

The glass has turned twice since I returned to the Grace, and O’Flaherty and Carter are now here, as well. I do not know what to make of their report, but I set it down here, while they refresh themselves and ready the men for the assault.

The first words out of O’Flaherty’s mouth once my cabin door had closed behind him were: “‘Tis paradise, Nate! This be the pirate’s dream, sure it is!”

“Aye,” I said. “But such is the way of this place: to seem like every glorious wonder a man ever clapped eyes on. But it is a trap, sure as you stand there before me.”

He frowned and then his brows raised with surprise. “Ye know where we are? Did ye find a landmark, or a guide?”

“We are Underhill,” I told him then, “in Faerie-Land.” I had said nothing to the men of my discoveries, nor to Ian; I wanted O’Flaherty’s opinion and any further evidence he could provide, so I could prove my sanity when I told the crew. And though I like the man not at all, and trust him but little more, I cannot fault the mind hidden behind that unpleasant face.

That face frowned again – ’twas the ugliest sight I had seen yet on this day of wonders, and it made me smile to place its scarred, filthy lumpen grotesquerie beside my memory of the Faerie Queen’s ethereal loveliness in my mind’s eye – and O’Flaherty sat himself on my sea chest. “What did ye find?” he asked. “Where is Lynch?”

Though it rankled to have to report first, as it rankled to have him make so familiar in my cabin, I reminded myself that he and I are of equal rank, according to our ship’s Articles, signed by every man aboard, and by me. So I told him of the cove and its beach, and of the palace of magical wonders, and especially its beauteous mistress. I confess I waxed somewhat poetic in describing her, since I was looking at his hairy, warty brow as I did so, which afforded me some amusement; though I kept that hidden, of course.

But when I had finished, O’Flaherty shook his head. “I do not think we are in the land of the Fair Folk,” he said to me. “The one we found was far from fair.” And he pulled from inside his shirt the three objects that rest on the shelf before my eyes as I write this. As I stare at them now, I must agree with him: the Fae would not have such things. This is the stuff of men.

But then what did I see at that glass palace?

Was it not real? Were my eyes deceived?

I know not.

_____________________________________________________________________________

O’Flaherty and Carter had trekked north, their experience identical to mine and Lynch’s, but lasting somewhat longer in the swampy act; their slog through mangrove and mud and biting insect was closer to two hours than one. But finally, the trees thinned for them as well, and they saw – the pirate’s paradise, as O’Flaherty said.

“Ships,” he told me. “Ships and boats of every size, from dinghies and wherries to craft as large as the Grace, and greater still, curse me for a liar else. There must have been a thousand of them, tied to piers and docks and quays. And not a single cannon among ’em.”

I scoffed at this, of course, but he assured me: he and Carter had explored carefully. He had even managed to creep up and peer into one of the smaller boats, and there was not a single piece aboard. Not a firing port, not a barrel of powder, not a cannonball stack, as far as the eye could see.

“‘Twas a fishing fleet, then. Was it not?” I asked him.

He scowled and nodded. “Aye, there were fisherman’s boats, right enough. I saw poles and lines, and a few nets. Some were pleasure boats, as the fine bloody folk use for boating on the Thames or the bloody Shannon, and a few were little more than small boys’ coracles. But Nate, there were masted ships like I’ve never seen before – and some even larger, without masts or sails at all, stab my liver! Perhaps they be galleys, as the heathen Moors row, but I saw no oars, nor ports nor benches. And I looked, smite my eyes if I didn’t.”

I nodded. “Aye – they are Faerie craft, no doubt, and moved by the Fair People’s magic, just like that wagon I saw that spirited away the Sorceress.”

O’Flaherty paused to consider. “Aye,” he said finally. “Perhaps.” He pushed the three objects into my hands. “But I think no Faerie magic made these.”

He had a bottle, a wine bottle with paper somehow glued to it. “Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill,” it proclaimed. I took off the top, after a few moments tugging at it before I found it had to be twisted off – and what glass blower could thread his work so a cap could be screwed on? – and sniffed. That smell was enough to convince me O’Flaherty had reason in what he said, though the glass palace in my memory still held sway over my thoughts. Perhaps a taste of the dregs left in the bottle would have convinced me entirely, but I couldn’t stand to put my tongue to the test. There was also some tobacco, tiny cigars wrapped in paper and enclosed in a paper box marked “CAMEL.” I broke one up into my pipe and lit it; it tasted strange, but still allowed me a sweet smoke, and at my urging, O’Flaherty joined me.

Then we looked at the third object.

I don’t know how to describe it. It was made of paper, but bound like a book or a pamphlet, with tiny slivers of bent metal, and it lacked a cover of leather or wood or cloth and the paper was unlike any I have ever seen: it was slick, and it shone under the light. The paper was covered with images far more than words, and such images! If they were portraits, then the greatest artists of history are mere children flinging paint around like morning porridge by the spoonful compared to the genius who painted that; but for the size, and the object in my hand, I would have thought I looked on living flesh.

Lots of living flesh. Every inch of living flesh, in fact.

I have known men who owned portraits of women. I have known many men who carried locks of hair or small swatches of cloth to remind them of a woman’s scent, the softness of her skin. Of course I have known boys who drew or carved the shape of a woman in secret, as a canvas to paint the dreams of love upon.

But this.

They were nude. Bare as any babe, but no childish shapes were these! Breasts of every sort, legs and arses and . . . and . . . EVERYTHING! Pages and pages of – EVERYTHING! I know not who this “Bare Bitches” is, whose name adorned every page and must thus be the artist behind these images (nor do I know why he bears a dog’s name), but I long to meet and talk with him. If he owns a brothel, with such ravishing beauty there, so much smooth and willing flesh, then I know where my men will spend every coin we plunder, and every one they can beg and borrow, too.

O’Flaherty had found these things, the bottle, the tobacco, the wondrous pamphlet, on a man he had discovered unconscious under a tree by the shipyard. “Sure and he was drowned in that wine, for you could smell it from ten paces away – though it might have been swallowed up in the stench of the man himself, damn my nose.” Somewhat familiar with the look and behavior of a drunkard, O’Flaherty and Carter had not hesitated in searching the snoring man’s filthy garments for booty or information. I asked if they had found any coin, and O’Flaherty said no, but the shifting of his gaze when he said it told me otherwise. I said nothing then, but kept it in mind: should our conflict ever come to a head, this would be the knife hidden in my sleeve. O’Flaherty had signed the Articles, too – had in fact introduced the idea to the men, along with the existence of his position and the insistence on every man voting on each decision affecting the ship and crew, all ideas garnered from his time cruising in the Indies – and the penalty for holding back loot from the company was as clear as the water on these shores.

But information was the most vital booty that O’Flaherty brought back. Now we know that the coast to the north is no good to us, being nothing but swamp to the edge of the shipyard that, though it might give us rich pickings in future, offers no safe haven for the wounded Grace and her exhausted, depleted crew. And now we know that, though none of us can possibly say where we are, nor what manner of people live on these shores – nor can I explain the magical place that Lynch and I saw, nor give a name to the woman who ruled it, be she human sorceress or Faerie Queen – still we are in a world of men. Men who drink, and smoke, and lust. O’Flaherty has shown that to my satisfaction.

Perhaps I should not dread a face-to-face encounter with that sorceress, after all. She did eat and drink like a woman; perhaps she is no more than she seems. I am sure to have the chance to find out, once we have taken her palace for our own.

O’Gallows will remain. It should be me, while he and O’Flaherty lead the assault, but I am needed to lead the way to the glass palace and Lynch. To make Ian’s task easier, I will take both O’Flaherty and Burke with me, along with Moran, Carter, McTeigue, MacManus, O’Finnegan, Sweeney, and Ó Duibhdabhoireann – the last only so Ian will not have to call out his name shouting orders. The man’s Christian name, Ceallachan, is not far simpler; though he responds to Kelly when the rum doesn’t make him forget. He lost an eye to a splinter when the Lash’s men fired on us, and hasn’t been the same man since.

That leaves Ian, Surgeon Vaughn, and O’Grady, the cook, along with Murphy, Finlay, Gallagher, Rearden, Fitzpatrick, Doyle, and O’Neill. ‘Tis enough to move the Grace down the shore to the cove, though not if there are any trials or terribulations. But our first assault is likely to be enough, I judge, if the glass palace holds no dangerous secrets that could bar our way – or spill our blood. If there be complications, then some of us will surely escape to carry word and warning; together with the Grace’s cannon, they should carry the day. And if none of us come out of the palace alive – if I do not come out of there alive – then I find I care not what comes of the rest of them here with my ship. Ian says we should simply bring the Grace with all hands aboard, for a frontal assault on the beach; I hope it will not be necessary to risk the ship in any but the uttermost need.

And so with sharpened swords and axes, charged locks, loaded rifles and pistols, we will fill the ship’s boat with men. We determined to row down the coastline to the strand, rather than slog through the mangroves; though we will land on the near side of the wall rather than the palace side; I do not wish to creep with ten sea-legged tars through that thin underbrush, all within sight of the palace. For myself and a few of the lads I brought aboard from my own village – Moran and McTeigue, both kin, McTeigue my own mother’s brother’s son – I know we have hunted ‘cross heath and over moor, through forest and stream and bog, and sure we could move without any more sound than an Irish deer in a spring meadow, once we stiffened our knees on land once more. But the others? Burke could not be silent if he were three days dead, and I doubt rotting in his grave would improve his smell, either, which would reveal his presence and ours as readily as the clanking of his damned manacles. Perhaps I should not bring him along. But that mad bastard of an Englishman is the bloodiest savage I have ever seen in a fight, and we do not know what we may face. Perhaps the very stones will rise up. Maybe the grounds are sown with dragon’s teeth, as Jason and his Argonauts faced, soldiers springing from the earth itself. We will have need of Burke and his swinging chains. And should he take a mortal hurt in the fight, well.

I will wish ill on no man. I do hope to take the palace without shot fired or blood spilled.

We go now. Gods be with their beloved Gaelic rogues.

_____________________________________________________________________________

O, blessed be the angels of Ireland that look over their proud, bonny sons, even in this other world! Christ and Dagda, blessed St. Brendan and Patrick, too: why can you not draw back that curtain of fear that lays over all struggles of blood and iron, that terror that has put more men in the ground than any plague, any famine, any tyrant in the annals of history? Is bravery not enough? Strength, celerity, skill with arms? Must we overcome the madness of fear, as well?

Ah, I know very well whence came the cause of this hurly-burly I have just waded through: ’tis just that my men are not soldiers. They are pirates. And pirates fight with boiling blood and roaring curses, the hack and slash of the cutlass and the blast of the thrice-charged blunderbuss; we do not know the discipline of Cromwell’s New Model Army, and would spit on it if given the chance. But I would never wish to be faced with the sight of my men charging at me with red eyes and shining swords: ’tis a braw sight, to be sure, even from amongst ’em. But ’tis a mad sight, as well. Gods damn me, what a brou-ha-ha that was.

We rowed through the calm, placid water, like one of O’Flaherty’s bloody fine folk in a pleasure craft on the Thames. We came to the strand, we landed and found the wall; I crossed, leaving the men ready at a word to swarm over and bring wrack and ruin along. I found Lynch, waiting, soaked in sweat but with his powder dry and his hand steady: he had my pistols drawn and primed, both aimed at the palace’s glass walls, where we first saw the sorceress queen. He saw me come, signaled with a tip of one barrel before he leveled his aim once more. I made my way to him, thanked him for his alertness, and asked for his report.

“The palace, Captain,” he said, then cleared his dry throat with a soft rumble. “The Palace is not empty.”

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Log #5: The Glass Palace

Captain’s Log #5

Date: 25th of June. Dawn.

Location: At anchor in cove. Still afloat.

Conditions: The sun shines, and hope blooms in those golden rays.

We live. I say again: the fairest sight of all is the sun’s rise on a new day, arriving like an unexpected guest who bears good tidings.

The storm broke and fled in the night, though in truth it should have spelled our doom before it did. For our survival this dawn, we must give thanks to the capricious gods, and to my mate and friend, Ian O’Gallows. (A name he bears half for his father, a Scotch gallowglass, a mercenary who came to Ireland to fill his pouch with gold fighting in our wars, and instead found himself filling the pouch of a comely Irish maid, one of such spirited blood and poetic temperament that she loved the man but never bothered to know his name beyond, “Ah, Love!” The other half-measure of the name O’Gallows is the just reward for Ian’s meritorious service in a lifelong quest to end on that renowned apparatus, made holy by the blood of so many Irish kings. And the shite of an even greater number of English rogues, as Ian says it true.)

The seas found the hole in the Grace’s hull at last. Ian was at the watch and heard a report from the men at the larboard pumps that they could no longer keep pace with the water in the bilge. Ian went below to inspect, and found water pouring in through the wound in our lovely lady’s skin. He went to the carpenter’s closet, near abandoned since McLoughlin’s death on Irish seas, and found a short plank end, a great handful of long nails, and a hammer. He held the plank in place with his feet, his back braced against the deck and muscles straining against the might of the seas, while Roger Desmond nailed the board in place with enough iron to charge a cannon. It was nothing like a proper patch, but it held back the water enough to let the pumps keep us afloat.

Now with the dawn we are at last headed ashore. I will take Lynch and explore on foot to the south, and O’Flaherty and Carter will head north. We seek a strand where we can beach the ship without fear of intrusion. We seek also for civilization, and knowledge of our whereabouts – but always, the ship’s health comes first.

_____________________________________________________________________________

I have returned. I do not know what is uppermost in my mind, in my heart: the dread I feel, or the wonder. For the nonce, it is perplexity, bewilderment, and confustication. WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE WE?

We took the boat to the shore, found a bare patch between trees – and such strange trees! Standing aloft on roots like a cathedral’s buttresses, growing right from the sea, with salt crystals visible on their tangled roots. O’Flaherty calls them mangroves. He was transported to the Indies where he turned pirate before returning to Ireland, so I take his word on matters of local knowledge now. Though I don’t know why: wherever we are, it is not the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. I do not believe O’Flaherty has ever seen these shores any more than I have. Nonetheless, we tied the boat to one and spent some minutes regaining our land legs, learning the uncertainty of the land around these mangrove trees, which is softer even than a peat bog, though perhaps not quite as odoriferous, and then we were off.

Lynch and I slogged through mangrove bog for a mile or so before the ground came solid to our step. We knew to use the mud to keep off the insects, or we would have lost more blood to them than we ever have to the English. But the stench was most unpleasant, as was the heat, even in the trees’ shade.

Not half a mile after the bog turned to good earth and the mangroves made way for proper trees, we came to a wall. I cannot say how that sight heartened me: we were not lost, we were not doomed to wander in the wilderness until my ship sank and we starved for our ignorance. A wall meant men, and with men we had a fighting chance. That’s all an Irishman needs.

The wall was six feet high, with broken glass embedded in the top. A fine piece of masonry, too, as good as any cathedral wall I have seen. The surface was covered with a plaster smooth as a shaved and sanded plank, the extent slightly curved but the top straight and level as the horizon. But trees grew within a pace of it, so its defensive value was somewhat less than its craftsmanship. Lynch scurried over it with no more difficulty than he had climbing the rigging, and though my days as a mast-monkey were far behind me, still I had not much more trouble. The woods continued on the other side for a dozen paces, and then cleared. We paused at the edge to take stock.

That’s when we saw the house.

House? Fah. ‘Tis a palace the likes of which no man has ever laid eyes on, I warrant.

There were brief gardens with plants unknown to me or Lynch; puffed shapes like immense dent-de-lion gone to seed, and tall trees with nary a branch on slender trunks but for a crown of great leaves, bright green and serrate, bursting out of the top, many times the height of a man – they might make fine masts, perhaps, though they may be too flexible. Then a terrace of some sort, with a columned portico or promenade – Christ and Dagda, I have not the words for it. I have never seen architecture like it.

It was the size of a vast cathedral, a king’s palace: thirty or forty feet high, an hundred feet across – nay, more. It lacked ornament: not a single piece of statuary, no mural nor frieze, not even a curved band of stone. I’d call it a Puritan’s proclivities that stripped it bare, knowing that humorless race landed on the New World’s shores and live there still, but no: ’twas the edifice itself that served as decoration, that gloried the eye and honored the wizard who built it.

The walls shimmered and shone as we approached cautiously through the gardens. I noticed there were no crops, no edibles, and surmised we must be on the far side from the kitchens. I told Lynch through signs to ‘ware guards on the parapets, but we saw not a soul. As we drew closer, the risen sun gleamed from the walls, which had a strange appearance: smoother even than the wall we had crossed, yet rippled, and the sunlight reflected from the surface. I surmised they were solid steel, as I have seen such metal forged so that light ripples on its surface like that of a pond teeming with fish and fragments of wind. This wall curved, as well, and I wondered if the people dwelling here could not lay a straight line.

But then before our eyes, the wall changed. What I had taken for ripples of forged steel was in truth a curtain, a curtain than now drew away, moved by no hand. Why did this curtain wall gleam in the sun, you ask?

Because the curtain was inside of a wall made of glass.

I could not fathom it, at first. ‘Twas Lynch, crouched beside me, whispering, “Glass! ‘Tis made of glass!” that set the truth in my ‘mazed mind. I know not how to imagine a wall made of glass, without flaw, without blemish, without frame, ten feet high and a hundred feet wide, without saying that it must be magic. This was a sorceror’s palace, I thought then.

And then, within the glass – though the eye did not pause for an instant at its surface, clear as the mountain air – we saw the master of this palace, and I corrected myself: this was the palace of a sorceress. Her robe – silk, I thought, though I have never seen it on a person, only on a bolt liberated from an English trader; sure it was not the rough-dyed homespun I have seen on most colleens at home – that robe revealed more of her curves than it concealed, and lovely curves they were, indeed. I glanced at Lynch to be sure he was not entranced or inflamed by this first sight of a woman in nigh three months, but he was glancing at me to determine the same, and so we looked back at the marvels before us.

She stood at the window for a moment, staring out at the sun on the water, a delicate half-smile on her face – a face as lovely as the rest of her, a face to bring out the poet in any Irishman – and then she turned and walked across a wide room, a reception hall, perhaps, though I saw no table large enough to seat a proper company of men. There were low couches and chairs, rich carpets; the floors were of some pale stone, and as smooth as the glass wall I saw them through.

The sorceress went to a wall of cabinets, and produced a miracle. She grasped a handle, pulled the cabinet open – and light shone forth from within, brighter than any lantern I have seen! Within the cabinet, and affixed to the inside of the door, there were what appeared to be foodstuffs, though the room was so wide that I could not make out all the details; too, I was dazzled by that light: surely she did not keep a candle burning inside a closed cabinet! But then, no candle ever shone like that.

She removed a bottle of some kind, and a smaller handful. Another cabinet, which I could not see into, and then she poured, with her back to us. She turned and we saw she was drinking a golden fluid from a clear glass cup; in her hand she held something that might be fruit, though I did not know its shape. It looked to me like a golden sausage. But I watched her peel it and eat it raw, so a fruit it must have been.

But what can I know of this? Perhaps she devoured the severed finger of a demon before my eyes. Or perhaps it was . . . some other part.

She put down the glass of golden nectar and took up a strange object: only just larger than her hand, slim and long and flat, covered in knobbly protrusions. She waved it at the wall, and then I knew it was her sorceress’s wand, for the wall opened, of its own accord, revealing a great mirror in a black frame. She waved the wand again, and the mirror showed images – but not images, for they moved. They moved! It was a window of some kind, revealing not the other side of the palace’s grounds, but showing other places and people, like a scrying pool or some such wizardry. As Lynch and I watched, it changed a dozen times, revealing a man’s face, then three people gathered around a strange object I did not know, then a map with strange names written on it – alas, she waved her wand and the map disappeared before I could discern any useful details; but I will swear the words were in a script I recognized, even if I could not see what words they spelled out. Then it was a woman with a metal rod pressed to her wide open mouth – was she singing? – and then a jeweled pendant, surrounded by words, like the illuminated page of a monk’s manuscript. I made out the number 29.99, before the mirror’s magic showed two faces – no, it was one face, but shown twice, side-by-side. But perhaps it was not the same face, for the one on the left was older, more blemished than the right side face. Mother and daughter, perhaps?

The sorceress stepped closer to the mirror then, and gazed at it; it was now that she ate her golden sausage-fruit and drank her golden nectar. She dropped the peel – the skin? – and the empty glass onto a wide shelf beside the cabinets full of light, and then took up her wand again and waved it at the wall of glass. And the wall opened.

Two doors, framed in some strange, smooth white stone but made of glass, swung wide without a hand to move them. Lynch and I froze, knowing the slightest movement might draw the sorceress’s attention to us. I know his fondest wish now was the same as mine: we had seen enough, and now we wanted nothing but her departure, so that we could return to the safety of our ship and our friends. But she did not leave: she came out onto the terrace, no more than thirty feet from where we crouched behind shrubbery. Then she took off her robe.

I will not speak of what I saw then; it would be ungallant. Suffice to say that I am not innocent of women, that I have known the fond caresses of more than a few generous and loving lasses; but never had I hoped to see so much bared flesh outside of a bed. What garment she did wear was little more than paint on her skin; certainly it hid no more from our sight than it did from the gods.

She walked across the terrace, away from us – I can close my eyes and see every single step, so closely did I observe her every swaying, undulating movement – and then dove into a pond that we had not noticed hitherto. She swam – better than any man I have ever seen, and more than a few fish, as well – across and back, across and back, a score of times. Then she emerged once more, taking up a small blanket to dry herself, an operation I observed just as carefully, especially when she bent to rub the blanket down her smooth leg – but I blush to continue.

She went inside, closing the glass doors, this time by hand. She disappeared through a doorway, granting Lynch’s and my wish of minutes before – though I confess my wish had become somewhat different by that point.

When we spoke, when we had recovered our wits enough to whisper, Lynch asked, “Is she a temptress demon, Captain? A succubus?”

I shook my head, but not because I knew him to be wrong. “She may be. Though I think this land too fair to be infernal. Look you.” I pointed to the ocean, visible to our left; before the glass palace was the perfect cove, ideal for our purposes. A wide, flat expanse of white sand that we could draw the ship upon, a spit of land dense with trees and shrubs to hide us from the view of passing ships, should such exist in this strange place (We have seen none). Stout trees to anchor lines for drawing the Grace out of the water, and lashing her safe against the tide’s caprices. And overlooking all, this glass palace, with a pond of clear water to drink and magical cabinets full of food, howsoever strange.

“Hell would not have such perfection laid before us,” I told Lynch. “Not without a legion of demons, armed and belligerent, to keep us from it.”

No, I had realized, as we watched the beautiful sorceress emerge from her magical, impossible palace, where we were and what we were seeing. “She is no devil,” I told Lynch. “She is a Faerie Queen.

“We are Underhill, in the Land of the Fae.”

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Log #4: The Chase, Part II

Captain’s Log #4

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

Location: Unknown

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

They slowed the ship and prepared for battle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Captain’s Log #1: Arrival

Captain’s Log

Date:

Location:

Conditions:

 

It cannot be.

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

if I could just know

It cannot be, it cannot!

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

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

Unless, of course, we are already dead.

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

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

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

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

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

My friends call me Nate.

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

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

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

Such things . . . –

I must be mad.

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

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

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

I must be mad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are in Hell.

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