I made it but a handful of steps nearer to the Volare when I was hailed anew, once more by name.
On this occasion, the call came from the second sailing ship on this pier, the Emperor Grable. A man was just stepping down from its gangplank, one arm raised and his hand cautiously a-wave as he peered at me, his head thrust slightly forward in the way of one who seeks notice but fears rebuke.
“Should I ever enter the trades, I should not need to hang a shingle; everyone knows my name already!” I muttered mannerlessly through my frown. I was still discomposed by the dispute with Brother Bob. Aye, well: more by the thought that that unfrocked pedant might be in the right, and the fates of all of my men and my ship all hang from the web of my lies, my crimes, my failures. But I gave myself a vigorous shake, as a sail snapping full of wind after coming about, and I cast aside these doubts and aspersions. It matters not who is to blame: it matters what is to be done. And whatever is required to see my men and my ship safe, I will do it.
I faced the man as he approached and bowed to him so he would not take umbrage at my initial discourtesy. “Aye, good sir. Captain Damnation Kane am I, of the Grace of Ireland, may she be blessed wheresoever she be.”
He nodded and looked more at ease, his head drawing back over his shoulders, and he thrust out a hand, the which I took with all respect due to a fellow ship’s captain, and all the warmth I felt for another salty dog o’ the sea. “Everett Grable,” he said. “That’s my lady there – the Emperor Grable.”
I nodded. “Aye, she is a lovely craft, indeed. Are you her namesake, sir?”
He smiled and waved a hand. “No – that was my father. I’m afraid he was a little – full of himself. But he taught me to sail on her, and it didn’t seem right to change the name after he died.”
I shook my head vigorously at that. “No, indeed! ‘Tis the worst sort of luck to change a ship’s name. It confuses her, you see, and she’ll not hearken to you at all, after.”
Captain Grable frowned, but then shrugged. Aye – just let him try it, and he’d see. Changing a name, taking away an identity built by miles and years, by storms and suns, by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, merely for the pleasure or convenience of another – ’tis not only confusing, but ’tis a terrible insult. When I write my bosun’s name in this log, I fashion it Kelly, but ’tis only because the writing of Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann gives one the wrist-cramp. When I address the man, I say Ceallachan. Aye, now that I consider it, mayhap this business of names lies close to my own heart: I served under a captain that refused to use my given name for the cursedness of it, and refused to use my family name for I was a raw hand, and a youth of barely nineteen summers; he addressed me – when he did so at all – as Nathaniel. And whene’er he did so, it ground my teeth together, and I wanted to shout: my mother gave me my name, to remind me of my father – of my enemies, and my vengeance so long deferred. I will wear it, and proudly, until I bring mine enemies to that very same state. And who are you to change it? To take away my revenge, my pride? Damn you, then, sir. I curse you with my name.
Aye. I know the worth and weight of a given name.
Though to tell true, I did think that Captain Grable had already somewhat of troublousness with the name of his ship; why anyone would lump a lovely and graceful lass like that with a masculine name like “Emperor” was a mystification to me. For a ship, any ship, is a woman, plain as the dawning sun at sea: they are beautiful, and they are graceful (Except when they are not – and sure there are a few tubs waddling about the seas what will make a man wince and turn away, grateful she isn’t his to come home to. But even those, to the men that love them, have beauty enough. My thrust is that no man is beautiful, and no man is graceful. Women are. Ships are.) and they will not listen to their captains for one instant unless you bring them gifts and coddle them and then ask politely for what you wish. The Empress Grable – now that, ’tis a name for a ship.
There are men in this world who believe that ships – and women – may be captained, and controlled, with anger and with brute strength – with a blow, rather than a kiss. Too often, such men are allowed to live, and to wield that heavy hand so oft as they wish. Such a man is my father. Such a man is Nicholas Hobbes. And he has my Grace. I shudder to think of what he will do to her.
But I take some solace in this: ships know who they are. They know their captains, too. I had no doubt that my Grace would sail but reluctantly, peevishly, shrewish in the extreme, for the thieves and liars that had taken her from me – and who, if Kelly was right, had planted the figurehead of another ship on her bow. Ha! She would be most deeply outraged at that insult, I was sure.
Howsoever, ’twas my duty, now, to rescue her from her captors. I needed to confer with my men, and determine our next steps, and so I took the liberty of inviting Captain Grable aboard the Volare, to continue our conversation there, if he had aught to add – and he did, for he accepted, and we made our way aboard and belowdecks.
Once there, I called all to order and put it to them: how would we find the Grace? I first asked for a list of our assets and advantages, which I began myself: it seemed, from Kelly’s account, that Hobbes and his Shadowman/Houndman had need of me; but they did not know where I was. They did not know that Kelly had survived and brought to me news of their actions, and of their apparent destination, this Bermuda Triangle. Thus, we had both time and surprise on our side – time as they could not carry out their plans until they found me, and surprise because we would find them first.
Then Captain Grable contributed to our conversation and to our list of assets: he went above and hailed his son, Chester; when the boy had dashed over from the Emperor Grable, he and his father made us a kind gift: they returned the swag which my men had given to them, the which comprised a large cloth sack filled with Verizon Stones and magic windows, these items so precious to the Americalish people. At first, I was adrift without words, and I fear my initial protestations of gratitude were somewhat lacking in sincerity; in truth, following my tribulations aboard the dragon-train, I wished for nothing but the destruction of all Verizon-Stones, all magic windows, every cursed one. But spying my ill-mannered hesitancy, Captain Grable explained: these objects would be of greatest value to their original owners, the which, if we could discover them, would be likely to show their gratitude for the return of their infernal mechanicals in the form of currency. For that, I had no hesitancy. I expressed my confusion as to how we would find the owners; were the items branded, or sealed, perhaps? Or was there a central authority with a list of identifying marks for magic windows? The Grables, per and fils, eyed me askance, and then offered an explanation that I could not fathom at all. Somewhat to do with charging and then checking contacts and calling to inquire if any items had been lost. Though I could not comprehend, they seemed most sure of the efficacy of this proposed solution, and I bowed to their greater knowledge.
I was silenced, then, by Mistress Rosenblum, for that kind lady rose, went to a small shelf, and withdrew from a drawer a pistola and a quantity of dollar-papers, which she attempted to press on me, saying that my men had given them to her, and she wished to return them. I did endeavor to refuse – for how could she return to me that which had never been mine to claim? And how could I accept this kindness from her without returning already that which she gave me in hospitality, and succor of my men? – but her insistence was most – insistent. Thus, I thanked her as effusively as I could, and accepted.
And there ended our advantages. Our defects and weaknesses began: we had no ship and no crew, and no way to follow the Grace to her destination, nor means of regaining control of her should we find means to arrive there. We had no real concept of what Hobbes and the Shadowman intended with her, though we let ourselves roam in speculation: perhaps they meant to carry on where Shluxer and O’Flaherty had been prevented, and sail these shores, this time, as a pirate craft; with the Sea-Cat gone, such a turn would bring their thoughts naturally to my Grace, the stealing of which would also serve to avenge Hobbes’s own loss at my hand. But for the sake of vengeance, I saw the matter more likely following this course: the object of that vengeance was myself, and holding the Grace was the surest way to draw me to them.
Talking of this leeched the peace from me, and I rose and paced, casting about the cabin of the Volare for somewhat to soothe me; but nothing could. All I could think was: they have my ship. I cannot follow. I cannot take her back from them. They have my ship. Around my head went these words, as around the cabin went my stride, and in neither case was there progress.
At last, I was forced to leave. I begged forbearance of my hosts and allies, and made my way above and then down the Volare’s gangplank to the pier. I walked to the end and then stood gazing out at the uneasy waters; the tide was at its turn, and the swells wobbled and fell against one another like men far gone in drink, attempting to make their way homeward. I found myself wishing – aye, even praying – that my Grace could somehow stumble her own way home to me.
Then I found myself gazing at the Emperor Grable. She was a doughty craft, thought I. Sturdy. She rode the larger swells with ease, breasting the smaller ones handily. Perhaps I had been wrong, in thinking her too small and too delicate to make way through open seas. If we had good weather – and too, her single mast meant that four able seamen could sail her . . . and but one man and a boy to defend her . . . and they had womenfolk to worry about . . .
“No, Captain,” spake a voice behind me. I started, sure for a moment that mine own conscience had spoken to me, that some angel or spirit was standing by my shoulder, whispering into my ear. I turned on my heel – and there stood Balthazar Lynch, his jaw set, his gaze steady on mine. He shook his head, and said again, “No, sir. She is not for us. That is not our way.”
I parted my lips to deny, to spout outrage that he could think that I would – but ‘struth, I would. I turned away from his gaze. After a breath, I said, “It is the only way. I cannot just let her go.”
I turned back to him – nay, in truth, I rounded on the lad, looming, my fists clenched. I confess that a part of my soul was truly outraged: outraged that this boy, this stripling, would say his captain Nay. “I will not let that soulless damned bastard take my ship,” I growled at him. “And you did hear that man – we must have a ship. We cannot make the journey to this Triangle without we sail there.”
He shook his head, bending not at all, though my greater height forced his chin up to meet my gaze with his bottomless eyes. “That is not all he said,” he hissed.
I threw up my hands. “Aye – he said we could fly,” I said, my voice mocking. I turned and kicked a stone into the air – and then it fell into the sea, and vanished beneath. That for flying, thought I. I said, “That is a ship, there. And I – I am a pirate!”
I felt Lynch’s hand on my shoulder, and somehow, it eased my tautened limbs, slowed my racing heart. “You are a pirate, aye,” he spoke, his words but a whisper. “And you are a good man. You cannot do this and remain such. You cannot lose your goodness and remain Damnation Kane. My – captain. My friend.”
I felt all the strength go out of me. “So what would you have me do? I cannot fly there for the wishing. We have not the gold to buy our passage aboard the air-planes.”
Lynch made a noise that shared both anger and disgust – but it was not a hopeless sound. He knew something, but he did not want to speak of it. Heartened, I turned to him; he had his back to me, but I grabbed his slender shoulders and turned him back to face me: now he would not meet my gaze. “What?” I asked him. “Speak!”
He sighed and looked up at me. “Must I say it, Nate? Must I?”
I tightened my grip. “What, man! Tell me!”
With a sudden movement, he broke free of my grasp, and took two quick steps away. He stopped and glared angrily at me, his color high, his lips parted over clenched teeth. “You can fly. She will take you.
“Meredith,” he said, and her name was a curse he spat at me. He turned then and stalked away, even as I cried out at his glad tidings.
For he was right! My lady, my love – she is a pilot. She has her own craft! And though we had not enough for the purchase of an air-plane cabin – we could find the clink for a berth aboard a dragon-train, I knew. With the hundred dollars from the Rosenblums, and the dollars from the magic windows’ return – aye, we’d find a way. We’d make a way.
I know not why Lynch was so reluctant to speak of this. I am glad he did, for he has given me a new hope.
Now: now I will go and see if the lad Chester has charged his Verizon-stones – perhaps they require powder and fuse? Must they be loaded and primed, like muskets? – and we shall see if I may charm my way into recompense generous enough to pay my way.
My way back to Charleston. And my lady fair.
And then, into the skies: to Bermuda, and the fairest lady of them all. My Grace.