The ship tore through the sea faster than Benedict could remember ever moving. It plowed straight through waves, never rocking or lurching in any direction as its sails filled with winds he couldn’t feel and carried them on. Akshainie had pretty quickly made her way up the rigging, staying out of the way as much as possible and even helping when asked, but mostly taking full advantage of the view and the strength of her lower body wrapped around the mast to keep her in place. Benedict, on the other hand, stayed planted as firmly as he could on the deck, holding on to the railing and trying his best to keep the spray out of his face.
The ship cut southwest away from the Orkneys, dashing between Sweden and Denmark into the Baltic Sea, then into a river. Shortly after the river looked to be getting too narrow for Benedict’s comfort, the ship tipped forward and dove into the water, only to immediately emerge in another river. They did that three times, hopping from one river to the next, until the last river gave way to open sea again. The ship never slowed as it went, and continued to maintain speed as it turned up another river and flew along.
“The Indus!” Akshainie called down. Benedict looked out at the people along the banks and in the water as the boat passed harmlessly through them with awe. It certainly did look like Pakistan, or at least as much of Pakistan as he’d seen before, and then they took a tributary, and then another, and there was Lahore on their right. As suddenly as they had started, the ship ground to a halt, and Akshainie climbed down from the rigging. Benedict continued holding the railing until she reached him and held out her hand. The whole trip, near as Benedict could figure, had taken maybe an hour. “You coming?”
“Iravati, I believe!” Ingrid called as she and Tidh approached them. Benedict let go of the railing and nodded to Akshainie, who lowered her hand and turned to face the reunited pair.
“It is indeed! Thank you!”
“Thank you!” Tidh answered, wrapping his arm around Ingrid. “Without you, I’d still be lost in that cursed sea, bitter and alone.”
“What happens now?” Benedict asked, straightening his shirt.
“Now, we go back. I’m still under the authority of the Deep, and it won’t be happy bout me sailing halfway round the world without permission.”
“We’re going to confront the Deep,” Ingrid explained, “try to free Tidh from his obligation, make a new life for ourselves.”
“What if the Deep won’t give you up?” Akshainie asked.
“We’re ready to fight if we must,” Tidh answered, “together, this time. I don’t think it’ll know what hit it.” Benedict shook his hand.
“Godspeed to you all, then,” he said. Tidh nodded and called for the gangplank to be lowered, and after some more goodbyes Akshainie and Benedict took to shore. They watched as the plank was withdrawn, and Tidh barked out his orders, and the sails again filled with wind. The ship dove straight into the water and vanished. Akshainie and Benedict continued watching for a moment before she patted him on the back.
“We all need something to drive us, I suppose,” she said. Benedict agreed. “Come along, let me show you mine.” With that, she led him to the entrance of Iravati, and once it was opened for her, the two stepped below the river.
Tidh was standing at the bank of windows in his room on the ship, rocking slightly and praying the rosary, when Benedict and Akshainie entered. He quickly blurted out the last few words of the prayer before tossing the rosary on his desk and running to them. Before he could say anything more, Benedict produced the pelt and laid it out on the desk. Tidh took in a sharp breath and stopped, before reaching out and slowly running his hand through the fur.
“Oh,” he said, softly, “it’s beautiful. I should’ve expected nothing less.” He picked the pelt up, gently, and raised it to his face. He took a deep sniff, then fell backward into a chair and began to cry.
“Oh,” Akshainie said, “are we doing this?” Benedict rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Give him this,” he said, softly. Tidh looked up at them.
“It smells like her. I…I don’t know how,” Tidh said. Benedict stepped forward and knelt in front of the captain. “I don’t know how I remember her smell.” Benedict rested his hand on the captain’s knee.
“You never forgot her, Tidh. Why do you expect yourself to have forgotten her?”
“I tried. For the longest time, I tried. I…I was so angry.”
“Well,” Benedict said, standing and holding out his hand, “it’s time to start setting things straight, right?” Tidh wiped the tears from his cheek, nodded, and took Benedict’s hand.
“I don’t know how this is going to work,” Tidh said, as the three walked toward the deck. “I think I just call her with it? And then she comes along?”
“Do we…wait for her? How’s she supposed to get here?”
“I can handle that,” Akshainie said. She shed her human guise as they reached the deck, then slithered over the edge. Benedict and Tidh, and the crew on deck, watched her go, then looked around at each other.
“Is she okay?” Tidh asked.
“She’s fine,” Benedict answered. “If she said she had it handled, she has it handled. Call your wife.” Tidh nodded, then looked at the pelt.
“How do I do that?”
“I think, if you’re in possession of it, you just…talk? Say what you want her to do?”
Tidh took a deep breath, clutched the pelt to his chest, and called out for Ingrid to come to the ship. The people on the deck stood around silently for a few moments after that, while nothing happened. Tidh sighed, then looked at Benedict.
“Do I do it again? Do I trust she’s on her way?” Tidh asked. Benedict shrugged, and then a column of churning water rose beside the ship. The crew scrambled and began shouting to one another, trying to steady the ship as it rocked from the impact. Benedict and Tidh braced themselves as the column bent toward them, and then crashed onto the deck. When the water withdrew, it left Akshainie and Ingrid behind. Tidh and Ingrid stared at each other for a long moment, then Ingrid’s eyes drifted down toward the pelt.
“Tidh? Did…did you…” she began to ask, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Akshainie slithered over to Benedict as Tidh stuttered out the beginning of a thought, then realized what was happening and stepped forward. He held the pelt out to her.
“I would never try to command you, Ingrid. I called to give it back.” He continued holding the pelt out to her as she stared at it. She glanced between him and it a couple times, then reached with shaking hands and slowly pulled it back. She unfolded it and threw it over her shoulders, clasping the front paws together to wear it like a cape.
“Tidh, I…about what happened back then—”
“I know,” Tidh said, cupping her face in his hand. “I didn’t know then, but I do now. It wasn’t your fault, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” She leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, and they both began to cry.
“What did you do, anyway?” Benedict asked Akshainie, softly, as they watched.
“I spoke to the water spirits in the sea. I knew they’d grant a selkie passage, if they knew to be expecting one,” she answered. “Word travels fast in the waters, by the time she tried to answer the call a path was open for her.” Benedict nodded, and he, Akshainie, and the crew continued to watch the reunited pair.
“What happens now?” Ingrid asked.
“Well. Far as I’m concerned, you’re still my wife, so you’re welcome to stay if you wish,” Tidh answered.
“We have so much to catch up on. Did you see the humans went to the moon?”
“The moon!?” Tidh practically yelled. Ingrid nodded. “In the fucking sky?” Ingrid laughed, and Akshainie cleared her throat. “Oh, right, yes. The priest and snake here, they found the pelt for us, and I owe them transit for it.”
“Well!” Ingrid exclaimed, looking at Benedict and Akshainie. “What are we waiting for? Get this ship moving, men!” The crew looked around at each other for a moment.
“You heard her!” Tidh yelled. The crew scrambled to their work as Ingrid and Tidh made their way back to Tidh’s cabin.
It was the following night before Akshainie and Benedict managed to arrive on the small island Huginn had told them about. The ravens were waiting for them, perched on a low branch, as they made their way ashore from the small fishing boat, Benedict carrying a shovel.
“Took you long enough,” Huginn said. Muninn nodded.
“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Benedict asked.
“Oh, always somewhere else to be. Nothing you need to worry about.” The ravens took flight and circled the other two a few times before Huginn landed on Benedict’s shoulder. “But for now, I suppose we should get moving.”
“What’s your interest in this matter? Or in us, in general?” Akshainie asked. Huginn shrugged.
“You’re interesting. You know where we’re going, Muninn?” she yelled. The other raven cawed and changed direction, flying away from the beach. Benedict hesitated a moment, and Akshainie grabbed his hand.
“You coming, priest?” she asked. Benedict blinked in surprise, looked at the hand she was still holding, and blushed a little. He started to follow, and Akshainie let go and continued on. Benedict glanced back to his shoulder to find Huginn staring at him. He could almost swear she winked, though nothing about her eyes actually seemed to change.
They followed Muninn inland, around a rocky outcropping, and up a hill to a small cemetery with weathered gravestones. Muninn landed on one stone and began preening as he waited for the others to catch up. Akshainie arrived first, kneeling down and wiping at the moss on the stone as best she could before pulling out a small flashlight and reading what was left of the engraving.
“This looks to be it!” she called back to Benedict, who was still a few yards off. Huginn left his shoulder and landed next to Muninn as Akshainie thanked him. He cawed in response. “Does he talk?”
“Oh, yes,” Huginn said, nudging him. Muninn grunted and straightened up. “He’s just very picky about who hears him.”
“Which doesn’t include us.”
“For good reason, don’t worry, it isn’t about you so much as about him.”
“Right,” Benedict said, stabbing the shovel into the ground next to Akshainie and leaning on it. “So we just bring it up, then?”
“I would be mindful of how you disturb him. Wouldn’t want to produce a ghost in the process.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Humans believe it is,” Huginn answered. Benedict grumbled and then lifted the shovel again. Akshainie moved aside and began to sing a low, soft song in Sanskrit.
“What’s that?” Benedict asked as he began to dig.
“A lullaby,” Huginn answered as Akshainie continued to sing, “intended to keep the soul at peace while you work.” Akshainie nodded, never breaking the tune.
“Does it work?”
“Depends on whether or not you start bitching about it.” Akshainie barely stopped herself from laughing, missing a beat in the process, but then resumed. Benedict made short work of the grave, heaving massive piles of dirt at a time and straining the shovel’s handle with the weight. He struck wood on the third verse, the noise of which caused Akshainie and the ravens to peer over the edge of the hole as Benedict laid the shovel aside and cleared enough space with his hands to open the box. Inside was a skeleton, its clothes barely still discernible, with a large piece of fine white fur clutched to its ribs. The fur looked like it had just been placed there, not even carrying any stains or marks from the body that had decomposed around it. Benedict carefully removed the fur and replaced the skeleton’s arms, then the cover, before grabbing the shovel and leaping out of the hole. Akshainie continued to sing as she took the shovel and filled the hole again, then finished the last verse as she stood over the freshly-buried plot.
“It is a beautiful song,” Benedict said, softly, once she was done.
“Thank you,” Akshainie answered, laying the shovel across her shoulder. “My mother sang it to me when I was young. Didn’t know when I’d have opportunity to sing it myself.”
“Well!” Huginn announced, hopping slightly to the side to center herself between Benedict and Akshainie, “I suppose that’s it, then. Enjoy!” The two ravens took to the air, and before the pair of grave robbers could respond, they were gone.
“What do you think their deal is?” Akshainie asked, as they turned to make their way back to the boat.
“I suppose, with all of eternity to flit about in, one has to find their entertainment where they can,” Benedict answered.
It wasn’t until Benedict and Akshainie were in town that they realized they actually had very little information to guide them to Lambert’s grave. Benedict assumed Lambert was his last name, and they knew his role and ship at the end of the seventeenth century, but that was it. Deciding against going back to the boat for more information, partly because Akshainie suspected it would be faster to find it themselves, the pair split up. Akshainie went searching for a Lambert family plot, in the hopes that the fleece would just be there. Benedict dug around in town for a bit until he found an internet cafe, where he began searching for information on the captain. As evening fell, they met at a local pub to grab dinner and see what they’d learned.
“Well, if there’s a Lambert family plot, I haven’t found it,” Akshainie said, before knocking back half her beer. “How’d you fare with that…thing you said you were going to consult?”
“The internet,” Benedict grumbled. He took a bite of his fish and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, finally continuing after he’d swallowed. “It had very little useful information. It seems this ship failed to make it into the pirate folklore that persisted, though I can’t imagine why.”
“Do you think maybe Tidh exaggerated its importance?”
“I suspect Tidh exaggerated quite a lot. But that doesn’t help us reach Iravati.” He sighed and returned to his meal as Akshainie considered his words.
“Well, it has to be here, right? This town is Orkney, isn’t it?”
“No. Orkney isn’t the name of the town, it’s the name of this group of islands. I don’t even know if we’re on the right island, let alone the right town.”
“Are you fucking with me, priest?” Akshainie demanded. Benedict shook his head, and she groaned. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes, before Akshainie spoke up. “Maybe we should find those damned spirits that talked to Tidh and see if they know anything.”
“And how would we do that?” Benedict asked. “We don’t have any information we could use to summon them.”
“We can’t really be summoned, anyway,” a voice said. Akshainie and Benedict both paused for a moment, recognizing it as the voice of the raven who helped them travel from Yggdrasil. They both turned to find The Two standing next to their table. “We just kind of exist everywhere.”
25 July 2006
“I was going about my business there, still working for The Deep, when suddenly there was a robed man and a blue, naked woman standing in my cabin right here, sure as both of you are now. Well, you know, I’d seen some things in my years out here. Seems once you become an agent of the spirits, other spirits think we’re all in this together. So I weren’t too surprised, but none of them had been bold enough to just show up in my cabin before. I couldn’t let that become a thing, so I demanded to know what they thought they was doing. And the man, he says to me, he says, “It’s about Ingrid.” I froze right there. I hadn’t said a word about her in hundreds of years, you know, and now this guy just shows up wanting to chat about her? What was his problem? So I asked him as much, and they started to explain things to me.
“Ingrid, they said, is a selkie. Not was, is. They told me true selkies were spirits, like them, and like what I’d become. I didn’t know I’d become a spirit, but they said I had, and I guess it makes sense with the turning into water and such, so I guess I’m a spirit. But they told me, they said that Ingrid is a selkie, and Lambert had been controlling her because he’d found her pelt. Her skin, you know, her seal skin. He’d heard about our ship that was blessed by a siren, and he’d made some kind of deal, and it turns out she’d lost her skin some time before I’d met her and this bastard went off and found it, and used it to make her do what he commanded. That’s why she went with him that night, and that’s why she sank my ship. Everything she’d done with him, she’d done because of the power he had over her with that skin. And, they said, he’d taken the pelt with him. That was that box that man told me about, that he wouldn’t part with! Well, they never unlocked it to find out what it was, and it seemed mighty important to him, so they buried it with him up in the Orkneys. But she didn’t know about that, and couldn’t go that far inland anyway, and has been searching for her pelt ever since!
“Which is where you lot come in. See, they told me, they said, “there’s a pair of travelers coming, you can meet them at Miami. They’re looking for passage to Iravati, but no one will take them. They can go ashore. They can help you.” So I made for Miami, and as soon as I knew I’d found you, I sent for you. So that’s my deal, you see. I want you to go ashore, when we arrive at the Orkneys, and I want you to dig up that bastard, and you find that pelt, and you bring it back to me. And then, when I have that, then I’ll take you to Iravati.” Benedict and Akshainie sat for a moment, then looked at each other.
“Is that all?” Akshainie asked, turning her attention back to Tidh. “Your price for taking us to Iravati is just to dig up some seal fur?” Tidh pounded his fist on the arm of his chair.
“Ain’t you been listening to my story, woman?” he bellowed. “This ain’t just some seal fur, this is my wife we’re talking about!”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Benedict asked.
“Ain’t none of your business!”
“You did ask me to put in a good word for you with Saint Peter.” Tidh sank into his seat and grunted.
“I’m just gonna call her, okay? I’m gonna call her, and give it back, and ask if she’ll have me back. That holy enough for you?”
“Yes. When do we begin?” Tidh waved his hand in the direction of the window, and Akshainie and Benedict looked out at a port city.
“We arrived twenty minutes ago.” Benedict nodded and stood, followed by Akshainie. They started to leave, but as Benedict held the door open for Akshainie he stopped and looked back at Tidh.
“Oh, about your confession,” he said. Tidh perked up. “Look, you did…a lot. Just, I guess just start praying the rosary.”
“For how long?”
“Until we get back.” Tidh nodded, then pulled a rosary out of his pocket and started praying. Benedict smirked, then turned and left.
I was back to hunting. The ship was sturdy and accepted commands from me, and the sea was always on my side. I couldn’t call down storms, I tried, but there was nary a force on the water that could stand up to me. I acquired a crew, slowly, as time went on. Sailors who were willing to strike a deal to kill if it gave them another shot at life. Most of them were victims of my own ship, scooped out of the water when they made their pact as their shipmates died around them. Some few were sent to me by The Deep, and a few have been willing to tell me where they came from. Most, though, haven’t.
I sought out every pirate I could find and laid waste to them. And when they crossed me, as they were wont to do, I gave the same to any official navy that came into my waters. I soon found that there was a territory I was patrolling, and every time The Deep came to desire a certain ship, it was always one in that area. I hear the people on land came to tell stories of that patch of water, calling it The Bermuda Triangle, and I guess the ships we claimed came to be stories for you lot. We did our job well, I must admit, and these men earned the legendary status they have now. I’ll never forget how powerful we felt the first time we ripped a vessel out of the sky and learned men were inside.
But in those early days, you know, we were focused on pirates. I wanted the Heretic Wind with every fiber of my being. I listened for tales, I demanded answers from ships I had at my mercy, and very rarely did I get any answers. It was some years, I stopped counting days after I rose from The Deep, but it was surely some years before I held a blade at a man’s throat and a spark of recognition flashed across his face. I captured that man and held him in my brig until he was ready to talk. It didn’t take long. But when he did, he tells me, he says, “Lambert’s dead.” So I demanded to know what he meant, you know, and he told me all about it. He said he was on that ship, he was one of the men sent ashore to find the witch-doctor’s staff.
When they heard the cannons and the storm, he said, they rushed back to shore, and watched some of the fight happen. The Heretic Wind was barely holding together when it returned to the cove, and Lambert was in sore shape. He’d been shot, twice, and pieces of wood had stabbed into him at some point during the fight. Ingrid was held captive while they tried to help him, and when it became clear they’d done all they could, they set up camp. The Heretic had already begun to sink, and every hand that wasn’t busy helping Lambert or guarding Ingrid was off scavenging whatever supplies and good wood they could from the ship. He was on that last crew, he said, taking apart the Heretic Wind. With what wood they could, they made a small boat just barely sea-worthy, and between that and the couple boats they already had on shore, they gathered the survivors and a small box Lambert refused to part with together and made for the sea. They were rescued after about four days at sea, and Lambert died before they reached port. I took comfort in the knowledge that I’d killed the bastard, and sunk his cursed ship, but there was still one question left.
“What happened to Ingrid?” I asked the lad. He hesitated.
“Well, we…you see, there weren’t enough space on the boats for everyone, and it seemed most sense—” At this point, you know, I put my sword to his face.
“What happened to her?” I asked again. This lad, he took a hard swallow, before he admitted that they’d left her behind. They’d left her! On that island, alone! I cut that man’s throat right then, is what I did, and then I made orders that we needed to get to that cove. Well we got there as fast as this ship would carry us, with all the power of the sea pushing her along. I didn’t even try for a boat or wait for the ship to fully stop in the cove before I dove out and ran along the water, calling for Ingrid. I screamed her name the whole way to shore, and then as soon as my foot touched dry sand, my leg turned to water. Well, you know, I fell forward onto the beach, and all of me turned to water and rolled back into the sea. I came to myself again and rose from the water, some few yards out, and tried again. The same thing happened. I hadn’t known until that moment that I couldn’t walk on land anymore. I was an agent of The Deep, and I could not go out of the sea.
All day and night I stood at the edge of the water, as close to land as I could get, and called for her. Some of my men tried to go ashore on my behalf, but they had no better results. All day and night, and the next, I cried for her, but she never came. I didn’t know why. I hoped that she was still alive, that those bastards hadn’t caused her death on this island, but I couldn’t know. So we tried, for a week we tried, until finally we went back to my ship and went hunting again. This time, though, we spared one soul. I did not welcome him into my crew, I did not make him any offers, I just took him and burned his ship, and sailed back to the cove. When we reached shore, I made him my offer. “Search this island for a woman named Ingrid,” I says to him, “search everywhere. And if you find her, or any sign she might have been here, you bring whatever you find to me.” I told him, I says, “If you do not return, I will leave you here to die, and I promise you will die. But if you find her, I will take you back to port safely.” Well, he ran off into that jungle, and I waited as close to shore as I dared.
Two days he was ashore, somewhere. I saw smoke rising at night, a different place each time, and on the third day he finally returned with some torn fabric. I recognized it, it was part of the skirt she’d had on when I last saw her, with Lambert’s hand on her shoulder and the storm consuming me. I was furious. I couldn’t bear the thought that she’d been here, for God knows how long, and now she was gone, somewhere. He tried to comfort me, he really did. He told me how he hadn’t found any bones, no sign she had died here, only that fabric and a couple campsites. He tried to tell me I could still find her, you know, maybe she was found by another ship and taken away, and she was still out there somehow. I think he knew he was pleading for his life, and really, he did a good job of it. But I was in no condition to hear such an argument, and the water dragged him away and the crabs and starfish ate him. I returned to my ship as he cried out in pain, and sailed away.
So I changed my tactic. I started seeking any information I could find on her. It was more years before I found someone who knew who I was talking about, though he didn’t know she could sing to the wind and the waves. He only knew how they’d found her, his old ship, they’d found her on an island somewhere and gave her a ride to port on the mainland. No one seemed to know what happened to her after.
I continued asking, but soon enough anyone who would have been at sea in those days was dead, either by my hand, or some war, or just from age. I searched everywhere I could for her, but I never found her, and soon I had to accept that she was likely dead and gone, buried an old lady on some land I would never be able to walk upon.
I gave myself over fully to the work when I came to that understanding. And until very recently, I refused to think about any mortal concerns again.
Tidh Connelly sat in silence for a moment, staring into his drink. Benedict and Akshainie waited, unsure if he was done, or if they should say something. When the silence grew uncomfortable, Benedict began to reach and lean forward as if to offer comfort.
“Do you fear death, father?” Tidh asked. Benedict stopped, then sat back in his seat.
“I do not welcome it. But, as Saint Paul says—”
“It’s cold, you know. I don’t know if that’s because of the water, or because I wasn’t in God’s favor, but there were no angels to carry me to old Saint Peter. No light, no smiling faces from beyond. There was just water, and cold, and terror as the lungs begin to fill with water, and then darkness.”
“But it wasn’t the end,” Akshainie said, before taking a sip from her own bourbon. “Not for you.” Tidh shook his head.
“No. Not quite. It should have been, though. Maybe…” He sat silent again, then looked at Benedict.
“Father, I know what kind of monster I became. Will you, when you get the chance, will you put in a good word for me? Remind the Lord, you know, whatever good you can think of.”
“Are we having a confession now?” Benedict asked.
“This has all been my confession.” Benedict sighed and relaxed into his chair.
“Then, please, by all means. Continue.”
“Should I leave?” Akshainie asked. No one answered, and she didn’t leave.
“I don’t know if I really died,” Tidh continued. “I don’t know if I was brought back, or if it was just that I was spared from death, but it hardly seems to matter now. The point is, after the darkness, there was something else.
“I don’t know how to describe The Deep. The sea, you should know, is not one great spirit. There are spirits for parts of the sea, for different bays or coves or currents. But down at the bottom, where the light is gone, there’s just The Deep. Vast, and cold, and dark, and somber. The spirits in the light, people make deals with them sometimes. They like humans, or they don’t, but they never much mind us either way. We’re just passers-by to them. But not The Deep. The Deep only knows mankind in death, only knows the broken hulls of ships and scattered remnants of treasure that sink beneath the waves. But the sea, all of the sea, knows that the world needs it, and won’t let you forget it. The spirits in the light, they get their payment from the superstitions of sailors. The Deep, though, was tired of not getting its due.
So I was given a chance. The Deep promised me power, and a return to the surface, and a new life to throw at my enemies, if I would agree to collect the tithe of The Deep. I would sink ships when I needed to, or when I wanted to, and as long as the darkness beneath the waves got its due I could carry on with my mission with the full rage of the sea at my beck and call.
Well. What’s a dying sailor bent on vengeance to do? I sold my soul to The Deep. And when I did, I felt the power of the sea surge through me. I could see in those depths for the first time, and my lungs quit burning from the water. I knew I could stay down there as long as I wanted, I could live in the water just fine, but my goals weren’t in the water. I let out a sharp whistle, I don’t know how I knew it would work, but I whistled and along came a kraken, or the kraken, I don’t actually know how many there are. But this one, or the one, came to me, my ship wrapped in its arms. Pieces of broken wood rose from the floor of the sea and snapped into place, making my ship and sails whole again. And I took my place at the wheel, and called for daylight, and together my ship and I sailed back to the surface.
I don’t know how long I was under the water. Maybe I was dead for a while, or maybe the conversation with The Deep took longer than I expected, or the building of my ship was slower than I remember. But when I breached the water like an angry whale, and sailed right into that cove, the Heretic Wind was gone.
The wood shards flew in every direction, and one of them drove right through Hendricks’ head, the poor bastard. Another went right into my leg, and I went down hard and found quite a lot of blood coming out of me. I saw her, you must know. I saw Ingrid start to run toward me, but with a word Lambert stopped her dead in her tracks, and she never stopped singing. We stared at each other, and for the first time in years, the world faded away and it was just me and her and her song. I felt the water rise up between us, and I heard the wood breaking, and the men screaming, but it was distant. Like it was a dream I was remembering, while Ingrid and I were sharing the only piece of reality left. She was crying, God, I’d never seen her cry like that before, and I’d slice open anyone that could make her cry that way again. The water pushed our ships apart, and the few surviving cannons on the Heretic let loose, and my ship buckled under the strain. The storm bore down on us with all its might, and as the distance between our ships grew I reached out for her, and she reached out for me. Then Lambert was there, his hand on her shoulder, a bloody grin on his face as he watched me.
Our cannons unleashed once more, and I saw parts of that ship shatter all around Lambert and Ingrid. I raised my pistol and fired again, and I hit him, but only on the arm. I tried to reach for another shot, to reload my gun and try again, but the wood of the ship broke under me and the piece that broke away tore me up something fierce. I screamed and dropped my pistol from my hands growing wet and numb in the cold rain, and when I looked again, Lambert and Ingrid were nowhere to be seen on the Heretic’s deck. I pulled myself onto a more solid piece of deck as best I could, and felt a nail bite into my side and tear a line straight down as I forced myself past it. The ship leaned, and I knew it was going down. My crew were scrambling, and as I heard lifeboats hitting the water I also heard gunshots and lightning strikes. I knew they weren’t going to make it, not if Lambert could have them.
I threw every curse I had at him. I swore on Heaven and Hell that I’d be back, that I’d turn the sea itself against him if I had to, that nothing short of God Himself would keep my Ingrid from me. I continued to curse as I felt the water reach me, the salt searing in my wounds and screaming in my mind. I continued to curse as the ship went out from under me and the Heretic began to limp back toward the cove. The last bit of breath I had was hurled at Lambert, and then the water took me.
4 November 1694
We had laid a trap for the Heretic. We knew full well by now that we couldn’t catch the ship, not in open water, but they seemed interested in very specific marks. My first mate Hendricks, God rest his soul, he figured it out, you know. Just came into my cabin one day and tells me, he says, “I know how to get the Heretic,” and you know I sat right up and told him to get to it, then. So he does. See, Hendricks was a clever one, and he’d sat down and wrote down everything we’d known about the ship, and he noticed that all the times we knew where the Heretic was or had been, had these stories around it. He said he was pretty sure it weren’t just Ingrid they were after, but anything they could find with magic. You know, when we started out, none of us had even really thought magic was that real. There’s the sensible stuff, like luck, but now here we were setting a trap for some kind of magic collector to reclaim my weather-controlling wife. It seemed so natural at the time, but now I think about it and it really wasn’t, was it? Ah, you don’t know, do you? What’s normal to snakes and demons ain’t what’s normal to a man.
Where was I. So Hendricks says, you know, he tells me that if we told a good story about some dark item, we might draw them into a trap. And we had just the place. There was this cove, see, and no one really ever went there. We’d only found it by accident, but we kept going back because no one was really watching it and it was easy to hide and get some fresh water. We were sure we knew that cove better than anybody by then, so we could lure them there and be hiding ready to strike. Block them in, start firing, take what was ours when the smoke cleared. It was about the best plan I’d ever heard. So we found ourselves a couple volunteers, people who’d started to get homesick but were scared of saying so, but you can tell, you know? You can see it in the eyes when a man’s had enough of the sea. They didn’t want to make me mad.
So what I did was, we took the ship close to port, and I called everyone on deck. And so I tell them all, I says, “Look, Mr. Hendricks has found himself some information about this old staff, right, some witch-doctor’d lost that maybe could give us an edge on the cursed Heretic. But look,” I says, “it’s a mighty bad time ahead of us, we gotta go back to that cove, you know the one, and we gotta go inland a bit and the thing’s protected by some dark magics or another, and I know you all agreed to the hunt but this is new, so if anyone’s wanting to stay behind, you know, you can take one of the boats and go now. But,” I says, “you best keep this quiet, we don’t want no extra trouble when we get there,” because these guys, these people we knew wanted to go, we knew they had got some ideas about things. And they weren’t too happy with us. So about four men took the offer, and we all wished them well and let them take the ship, and watched them make it to shore safe before we were off. Let them really think they’d got one over on us, Hendricks said. So we did.
Well sure thing, we’d only been hiding out at the cove for four days before along comes the Heretic Wind. And you know, they think they need to go ashore, so we let them into the cove in peace and send a party to land, you know, wait a little time for the boys they sent ashore to get good and far from the water, and then we come cutting around these rocks, a man on every cannon, and I yell out “Lambert, you devil-weaned bastard!” No offense, Benedict, you know, I was mad, and I says, “I’ll have my wife back yet!” and we opened fire. We did a real number on that ship, let me tell you. By the time they turned to fire back, we’d put enough holes in them that I knew any God-fearing sailor would’ve already been ready to give in. But the Heretic earned her name, you know, and they weren’t going to Hell without a fight. So they start firing back and try to make a break for it, like they thought they could really slip right past us. They had the wind, of course, and took to speed faster than anything I’d ever seen, but we were in a good position. They couldn’t get past us without ramming us, and we were ready for that. We’d put some good solid bracing on that side of the ship, and had hooks at the ready. Soon as they hit, well that wood screamed, and my men threw those hooks, and out we both went into the deeper water, carried by the wind in a song.
So now we’re close enough to look each other in the eyes, me and Lambert, and I raised my pistol and I shot him soon as I knew I could. Put a hole right in his stomach. Mind, I was aiming for his heart, but hell, I’d take his slow death long as I gave it to him. So he stumbles back, and my cannons unloaded another volley right into their side, and I think everyone there knew the Heretic was good as dead. But Lambert wasn’t done. While I reloaded my gun and walked forward, ready to jump right on that sinking ship to get Ingrid, and I was calling out to her, I could see her take a step toward me. Then she stopped dead in her tracks as Lambert hissed out a command. I couldn’t hear it, but I saw tears start to roll down those perfect cheeks, and he yelled as I yelled, and she closed her eyes, and began to sing a dark tune. I could hear the sorrow in her voice, but before anything I could do about it, the sky turned dark, and a lightning bolt shattered my mast.
So I set out on a mission of revenge. We shunned all other goals but hunting down the ship that had taken our men and my wife. We tracked every pirate ship we heard rumor of, and hunted every trace of a legend about a ship driven by a song or a pirate that seemed in tune with the elements. At first, we operated within our jurisdiction, bowing to the crown’s demands when they sent us against a specific ship or asked us to mind a certain vessel, but as time wore on we grew less patient with these errands. They started to feel more and more like a distraction. And, it turns out, the crown was growing weary of us. They began to hear tales, reports from ships we escorted that ran into trouble or whispers at ports that made their way back to England. We were growing more angry, more focused, more violent. By the time we received orders to turn the ship over to a new crew, we were much farther gone than the Navy realized. I sent that messenger back with scars he would never shake and we were gone before the new captain could even try to walk onto the ship.
I suppose, by their definition, we had become something of pirates ourselves. But we didn’t care. The more ships we burned, the more men we slaughtered, the more trails we followed that led us nowhere, just served to steel our resolve. Every once in a while we would find them, the Heretic. We would realize we were drawing close, and prepare for battle, and then they would vanish into a mist or fly away on a wind that only served them. Always we were left behind, always with Ingrid’s song tickling our ears. Some men grew to hate her voice, to hate her, and I was beginning to have trouble convincing them otherwise. It was too much, we couldn’t stop, they couldn’t separate her from the work of the Heretic, not after coming so close yet again. We never looked back. I suppose there must have been something broken in all of us that finally snapped.
Six years we spent in this way. Hunting, destroying, taking our supplies from the pirates we killed and avoiding the English navy wherever possible. We started to go mad out there on the water, avoiding land, forsaking everything we had committed ourselves to protecting. When one man finally realized what we had become, and urged us to go back and rethink our quest, we left him on a lonely patch of sand with a bottle of rum and a pistol with a single shot.
No one challenged our mission again after that. It took me another hundred years to consider the idea he may have been right. But none of that mattered, not then. After a while, I think some of us forgot why we were even doing it. What we were after. What we wanted out of it. We gave ourselves over fully to the destruction, and we took our reward in blood. By the time we finally found the Heretic and managed to make it fight us, we were barely more than animals.