Thursday, February 09, 2006

Capt. Kate Short Story Post 5

Finished the first draft! Shorter than I anticipated and will probably change as I send it through class criticism. But for now enjoy!

Total number of words: 4425

Kate wrapped her Dutch cloak tighter around her body as she left her tent. The dawn fought with the fog, brightening the grey, swirling mass. She stumbled toward an orange patch of fog in the center of the ring of tents.

Pickering scowled into the kettle hung over the fire. “T’is porridge for breakfast, poorly flavored. This dismal-dreaming fog caused me to lose the spice box.”

She filled her mug with ale from the tapped barrel. “The sun will burn it off before noon.”

“Oh aye? And what if it does not, Captain?” Locke held his hands out to the fire. “What shall we do then?”

“The plans have not changed because of a wee bit of fog. We shall repair the Crimson Lady and sail out of it. Do you have a better plan, Locke?”

Locke accepted a bowl of porridge in silence. Kate shook her head and drained her ale. One would think after fighting her to be Captain and losing, Locke would keep his sniping comments to himself. Firk, and Spanish dabloons fall from the sky.

Pickering made a small noise of triumph as he picked up a small chest. He spinkled a spice from it into the porridge. “Do we know where we are?” He asked agreeably, serving the porridge into wooden bowls stacked next to him.

Kate accepted a bowl. She pulled her horn spoon from her pouch and stirred the porridge. “This fog shut out the stars. We will take a bearing from the sun today.” She shoveled the porridge into her mouth until her spoon scraped the wooden bowl.

Jenkin squatted next to Kate. She put away her licked-clean spoon and handed the empty bowl to Pickering. “Quiet night, Quartermaster?”

“Aye, but Thompson and Gilbert have not returned from the last watch.”

Kate frowned. Amos Thompson and Nathaniel Gilbert were two of the more responsible sailors of the crew, master gunners. If it were time for them to return to camp, they would be here. “How many should start the search?”

“I would rather not alarm the crew. Mayhap, they just found a situation.” He grimaced and looked at the fire. “Still, I have an ill feeling, Captain.”

Kate stood up. “We will circle the camp first.” Jenkin nodded and followed her past the tents. At the outer edge of the camp, they parted ways. Kate followed the circle of tents to the left, Jenkin to the right.

The grey fog had lifted above her head. She could now see a dark mass looming further inland. A mountain, she guessed. Most island off the coast of King James’s Scotland and Queen Elizabeth’s England rose high out of the sea. She studied the ground. The grass told her nothing, other than it was trampled by sailors setting up their tents. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled even under her heavy braid.

Her hand dropped onto the dagger on her belt. No one was behind nor in front of her. More men left their tents for the cooking fire. She looked out toward the rest of the island. Two men lay crumpled on the ground where they must have fallen. “Jenkin!”

The men did not move at her shout. Kate shook her head as she walked toward the bodies. Thompson’s head was split open. Gilbert’s belly was slit like a butchered pig. Judging from the state of the blood, the wounds were given a few hours before. Kate sighed. “Oh men, wherefore did you no raise the alarm?”

“Captain?” Jenkin led a group of men from the circle of tents.

“I found Thompson and Gilbert.”

The group stopped at the bodies. Pickering crossed himself and began muttering in Latin. “Wherefore did we nay hear a fight?” Locke asked.

“I knew of no quarrel between then?” Jenkin combed his fingers through his beard.

“Their weapons are not drawn from their sheaths.” Kate frowned at the fog-shrouded interior of the island. “Pickering, you can give them Last Rites after we get them back to the camp, though I think they nay be Catholics. You three, get canvas to wrap them in.”

The members of the crew scuttled away with Pickering’s wobbly voice raised high. “Verily, I am certain that all prayers will help their eternal salvation.”

Kate turned to Jenkin. “We are not alone hither. Someone killed these men.”

“So we search the island?”

“Aye, I shall take Locke, Aldridge, and Hugh with me. You and Peadar take most of the rest of the men to repair the Lady. A small group can stay and help Pickering guard the camp.”

“Is taking Toby and Hugh together a good idea? He muttered against the lad most of the night.”

“He is good with a blade.” She touched her arm and felt the raised scar through her shirt. “But I be better and he shall not forget that. Hugh is too small for the labor you must see to, and I can keep a watch on them.”

“This place is cursed.” Locke climbed over the boulder to join Hugh and Kate on the rocky terrain of the mountainside. The fog still swirled above their heads and obscured the path they had made from the camp after Thompson and Gilbert’s funeral. It hid the rising sun from them, but had thinned enough to see a man-sized hole in the rock face ahead.

“God’s teeth, man!” Cut Aldridge shifted the canvas sack that hung across his body and vaulted over the boulder. “Would thou prithee give our ears a rest? What does it matter is this land is cursed or not?” Jenkin had worried about Locke and Hugh. He should have worried if Kate would return with the bickering older crew. She shook her head and continued forward.

“Speak lightly of what thou does not know. I do not expect the Captain to care, but the rest of us ….”

“Toby, are thou daft?” Aldridge froze mid-stride and tried to lower his voice. He did not succeed and Kate turned to prod them forward.

Aldridge’s close-cropped, blond beard could not hide the distress on his face. Kate chuckled at it. “He is not saying anything that has not been said to my face. That supposed curse frets me not. As my Pater Kapitein said, t’is a good thing to know how thou stands with the sea.”

“Is that wherefore the other sailors call you Storm-blown?”

“Aye, Hugh, that be why.” She shrugged. “Ah, Grace O’Malley earned Sea Queen when I was but a babe.” The cave was not as dark as was expected from the angle of the sun. She stepped further inside and saw a window carved out of the rock. Looking out of it, one saw the sea pounding against the cliff of the mountain. A set of stone stairs rose up with the outer cave wall a few paces away from the window. Their upper reaches were also sunlit.

“There be no animals hither. People cannot live without animals. There be nary a seagull even. And now stairs going to nowhere.”

Kate turned to the scar-faced man. “Enough, Locke. Evil struck down Thompson and Gilbert, but it would be just as evil to leave them hither unavenged.”

“T’is not part of the articles I signed.” Locke ran his finger down the scar on his face.

“T’is the decent, nay, moral thing to do for their poor souls.” Kate sighed. “Mayhap you should listen to Pickering’s sermons on the subject. Now, no more talk of curses.”

Locke scowled, but remained silent. Aldridge tugged at the hem of his slash and puff doublet and adjusted his sack. Hugh glanced back and forth between Kate and Locke with narrowed eyes. Kate turned away from their discomfort and climbed up the stairs. She heard their boots on the rock behind her.

The stairs ended in a courtyard of a ruined fortress. Someone a long time back had found a plain on the mountain, built a wall toward the sea cliff, and buildings against the mountain. Now both the wall and buildings crumbled away in sections, and the roofs and any other wooden structures had vanished. Old metal littered the courtyard as sword and shield pieces or farming equipment.

“What was this place?” Aldridge turned around in a circle to observe it all.

“Violence drove them away.” Locke knelt and picked up a sword hilt. “I have nay seen a design like this and I have even traveled around Africa.” He held out the metal for the others to inspect.

The shattered blade was almost as wide as the crossguard and prommel. Both had raised designs of entwined animals and vines. The crossguard appeared to cap the top of the blade with the designs. Kate shook her head. “I too have nay seen one like it.”

Locke dropped the metal back on the ground. “Mayhap there lived people hither once but they not live hither now.”

Kate spied a doorway carved into the mountain with a cross and circle carved above it. In Ireland, that type of cross was found in the ancient graveyards. “Let us see if their dead can tell us what people they were.” Her boots crunched on metal and gravel as she strode to the doorway. “Hugh, light the lantern.”

The lad passed the lantern to her at the mouth of the doorway. Kate held it over her head, and the candle’s light revealed niches cut into the walls of the hallway. The niches were long and wide enough for a man to lie down on, and started at the base of the vaulted ceiling and continued down the wall to the floor. But whatever had been housed in the niches had vanished years ago.

The hall continued for forty paces ending in another room. “Would you look at that,” Aldridge said in a breathy wonder.

A stone block waist-high stood in the center of the circular room. On it rested a cross and circle the length of a man’s forearm made of gold. Rows of emeralds, rubies, and sapphires had been inlaid to create a colorful pattern of lines on the gold. The gems sparkled under the light. The niches continued to circle the walls. Helms with eyes and nose guards, swords, and shields covered the floor in a circle, but pushed back against the wall. The hairs on the back of Kate’s neck pricked again.

“I bet that is worthy a pretty penny.” Locke lipped his lips.

“And who ever fought to take it before had precious little luck taking it.” Kate pointed to the line of weapons and armor.

“Captain,” Hugh held a string of beads for her inspection. “I found them on the floor. They are like the ones Master Pickering has.”

“Save us, they were bloody Catholics same as Bat.” Locke scowled.

“Fie on thou, Toby. The cooking has been edible since Bat joined us.” Aldridge circled around the room, examining the cross of gold from all angles.

Holy items had a way of causing harm. T’was safer to liberate gold from the ships in the Spanish Main. “Let us go, men.” Kate turned the lantern to the doorway.

“Forsooth, we are to leave a treasure behind?” Locke demanded.

“T’is a holy object that has had blood spilt over it. I shall not take it like a thief.” She strode into the hall.

“Captain!” Hugh pointed at the outer doorway. A shadow crossed it like a man hurrying away.

“After him!” Hugh, young and nimble, outpaced her, but Kate kept him in sight as they burst into the empty courtyard. “Search the ruins. If someone is hither with us, there maybe a place he can hide.” Hugh dashed to the left and into the nearest doorway in a wall. Kate circled around the buildings looking for other entrances. One an entrance was found, a quick look inside revealed nothing but stone floors and walls open to the sky. The prickling on the back of her neck grew stronger.

“Captain?” Aldridge and Locke stepped out of the fog and joined her in the lantern light. “There be no one hither,” Aldridge continued.

“And this thrice blasted fog be growing thicker,” Locke said.

Hugh—short of breath—joined them. “I found no one, Captain.”

“Very well, we shall return to the camp before the way is completely obscured.” Kate held the lantern aloft and led the way back to the stairs.

Jenkin sat on a crate in Kate’s tent. “We shall be finished with repairs after morrow. Shan’t be too soon to leave this strange island.”

“Aye,” Kate spread the chart out on the trestle table and placed the sextant down on a corner. “I believe we shall have to sail away to see the sun and stars without the fog.”

“We still do not know where we are?” Jenkin pulled the crate over so he could look at the chart.

“I tried to take bearings until the sun set.” Kate shook her head. “We be some where east of our last reading.”

The wind whipped around the tent without warning. The candle in the lantern sputtered and died. The tent canvas strained against the ropes. Jenkin’s flat cap flew off, and wisps of stray hair from her head blew into Kate’s face.

The crew outside screamed, mingled with crashes of crates and trestle tables. The men ran through the camp away from the island’s interior toward the sea. Someone’s pistol fired. Kate drew her cutlass and charged out of the back of her tent.

The fog glowed like green fireflies swarming from the interior of the island. The glow made figures of men in robes carrying axes, hoes, and scythes. “Haunts!” Jenkin bellowed into Kate’s ear.

“Haunts of what?” Kate clenched her sword tighter. Another crewmember paused in his running and shot his pistol. The figure continued toward him without a flinch.

“You were born after King Henry drove them from England. They be monks, ghosts of monks!”

Vento Dias swung his cutlass through one glowing monk. The sword sliced through it without stopping. The glowing axe buried into the Portuguese sailor’s head. Vento Dias fell to the ground.

“Monks or ghosts, they cannot kill any more of my men!” Kate charged between the ghosts and her crew. “Pax!” She flung her arms out and faced the ghosts. “Pax!”

The monks stopped their forward march. Latin words filled the air around them. No, they would not be French or Dutch or English monks, and she had exhausted the Latin she knew. The crew had stopped running like panicked sailors of the prey ship, and crept to behind Jenkin at least. “Bat, come translate for your Captain.”

Pickering came out of the circle of tents slowly. His Adam’s apple bobbed furiously before his quavering voice issued from his mouth. “I joined to just be the cook, Captain, and to fight the gleeking Spanish.”

“Aye, but thou are the only one of the crew that knows Latin.” Kate rested her left hand on his bony shoulder. “Translate prithee for your Captain.”

He tilted his head and listened to the words. “They want their relic returned.”

“Their relic?” Kate whirled to look at her crew that had dared to press closer. “Locke! Aldridge! Bring them here!”
Locke stepped forward out of the group. His sword was sheathed. Two men dragged Aldridge forward. He refused to look in Kate’s face. “Search him.” Kate pointed her cutlass at Aldridge. “Turn out his breeches if you must.”

Peadar pulled Aldridge’s canvas sack open and searched inside. He pulled free a bulky item wrapped in a linen shirt. The crew gasped as the gold cross emerged from the shirt.

“Explain yourself, Cuthbert Aldridge.” Her sword tip hovering under his blond chin brought his head up.

Aldridge’s eyes darted. “Toby! Even thou said it should not be left!”

“Aye, Cut,” Locke crossed his arms. “I saw no profit in leaving behind gold. And even though there be no love between me and the Captain since what she did to my face, she is still our Captain and we must obey her. That means thou leavest the treasure and not steal it like a common cutpurse.” He spat on the ground.

“Disobeying a direct order earns thou Moses’ Law.” Kate withdrew her cutlass from his neck.

“Have mercy, Captain. Me body cannot stand forty lashes even minus one!”

“Mayhap thou would rather the justice of the ghosts?” Kate turned away from his pale face and gently took the cross. By the weight, it had to be solid gold. She set it on the ground in front of the ghosts. She stepped back to Pickering’s side. “Tell them the trespasser shall be punished.”

Pickering repeated what she said in Latin and waited for the answer. “They are tired of guarding the relic. Heathen invaders from the North killed them all too get to the treasure, but God saved it. They have guarded the relic ever since, with no rest nor reward.”

“They killed Thompson and Gilbert?”

“Aye, they thought we were heathen invaders. I told them about the ship. Captain, they think I am a priest. They want me to give them the Last Rites, so they can go to Heaven.” Pickering swallowed hard.

“Give them peace.” Kate patted his shoulder again. “Verily, I have made jest of your religion.”

“T’is a laughing matter when one shall lose his head if he ever returns home.”

Kate ignored the anger in his voice. “Thy belief is true, Bartholomew. Thou are the only one on the crew that can give yon souls eternal rest. As for the relic, we shall take it to Rome or drop it into the sea, whichever they prefer.”

The wait for the translation seemed longer than the rest. Pickering tensed beside her. “The relic must go to Rome.”

“By my sword, it shall be done.”

He said a phrase in Latin before taking a deep breath and chanting in the language. The ghosts released the spectral farm tools that vanished before they hit the ground. The fog pulled back from the camp, and the green glowing monks faded. They were gone by the time stars shone in the sky.

Jenkin hit Pickering on the back so hard the bony man nearly fell over. “Marry, thou saved us!”

Pickering blinked as he looked up at the stars. “Amen.”

Kate glanced at the few bodies the monks had left behind. “Light the lanterns and search for the dead and the wounded. After they have been cared for, we have earned ourselves a festive night.” The men gave a few cheers as they started on the task, and she turned to Pickering. “Thou shall probably need to tap all the barrels of ale we have left.”

“Aye, Captain, I shall see to it.” He marched back to the camp.

“I suppose t’is a better idea than letting them try to swim to yonder ship.” Jenkin shook his head. Kate picked up the gold cross. “T’is a shame. Once we give that to the Catholics in Rome, no one shall ever see it again. And we can nay tell the tale in England for who would believe it?”

“What the Catholics decide to do with it is not our concern. In faith, we would have to bring back a treasure much larger than this for England to take notice after Sir Drake’s expedition around the world.” Kate frowned as she led the way back to the tents. “Do we have a Spanish flag in the stores?”

“Nay, what would we need a flag from yon kotty-pated Spanish?”

“We plunder under Good Queen Bess’ banner. She has been excommunicated by the Pope, and thou think we should sail into Rome without changing flags?”

Jenkin laughed. “Wherefore do I even question your ideas, Captain?”

“T’is thy job, Quartermaster.”