Insofar as it pleaseth God and His grate Mercie, I am of the Crewe of this foul shyppe and bound to serve this Captain, whose instruction is that I sail the dory across the Vasty Depths to the Island, hide it in expectation of a Sudden Flight, and forage for what might be found thereupon. I did recover a crystal phial, upon a time the Possession of a Great Lady and bearing the memorie of her Scent and Ardour. I will keep it close, for I deem it of value yet in this strange World. Of my Companions, the heathen Lascar says lyttel but smiles & smiles as if pretending a deeper Wisdome; but the other, a Damned Hispaniard and, methinks, a Pirate to boote, doth Prate and Prate as a man whose tongue had been loosened by the Rack, to which, please God, he may Soon be returned.
Barton Welles, holy Bishop
¡Estoy hasta la madra! Not only am I burdened with this pandejo, Signior English, but I must comb the beach for such skin & hair as the last tempesto has cast up. Then to Tortuga, once a merry town for one such as I, ay de mí, but now a tumble down wharf of gloomy souls. Even one rascal, a very picarón with a vendetta and a knyfe to serve it withal, murders a cheat in the cantina and I am unmoved, though I see Signior English, for all his piety, takes no little pleasure from this brawl. And moreover, me cago en Dios, I am struck by a coach raced by some drunken whoreson and put out of this world & any other for a little time. For so it goes since the English hanged me, there’s little goes right for me and that goes ill enough. ¡Maldita sea!
Pedro Su De Cuerda, pirato
Great God on a Cross, but I am fallen among Devils. I am brought into the bowels of the Cantina and, while the Debauchers abovestairs murder and whore like the last days of Sodom, the dead souls here below enjoy a Filthy Communion that would sicken a Turk. An evil-visaged Blackamoor has abducted some Hapless Waif from her dreams and encourages her to disport herself, for his Monstrous Lusts and that of his crowing admirers. I will not look on, save to do so in Condemnation and Just Censure, and I am pleas’d that Another judges this arightly also – a steeple-hatted Gentleman with a white cockade glowers on this Abomination like Moses come down from Sinai. The Blackamoor, in a refinement of Horror, contrives that the girl’s performance, already an erotic display that would shame very Salome, becomes a Phantasie of violence and Rapine. The Gentleman would interdict this new Excess, but that our Lascar holds him fast and counsels Peace, False Pharisee that he is. The dream Shew is ended and the girl’s shrill screaming can be heard from her Chamber above, which the Damned herebelow greet with grate Cheers & Carousing. I nod to the departing Gentleman, one Quentyn Saved-By-Grace, who avers that a Red Reckoning will fall upon this House of Moab and, though he be a Quakerish fellow and a Polluter of True Doctrine, I will make myself his Ally in that Task.
Barton Welles, holy Bishop
This most unworthy gentleman commends you to the Blessed Gods and all the Buddhas and begs your indulgences. The pret called Padre Gólgota performed his nang yai shadow-play. Such illusions distract the unenlightened mind, but when in a town where people wink, one must wink also. Certain Pilgrims, moved to wrath, intended the Golgothan harm, but this one discretely dissuaded them from mischief, arguing that if a dog bites you, do not bite a dog. My most revered and esteemed crew mates settled to enjoy the farang beverages steeped in pride and honour and, little accustomed to such potent draughts, put their hands upon a cobra’s throat and soon fell to quarreling. We were joined by newcomers, a scholar and a farang dem of great size and dignity. As an ignorant and unlettered person, I studied them to learn more of them.
Lascar Cho, ship’s cook
The Spirits, for Spirits I take us now to be, do convene in the ruins beneath Tortuga’s pre-eminent Cantina in a ghastly Parody of human Concourse and Recreation. Beverages are served, distill’d it seems from grave Vapours and Fluids from the lungs of Drowned Mariners, and I did assay one such, instill’d with the memories of Sexual Pride. Although the Organ is depriv’d of its generative Function, I confess that the experience, although Vicarious, was vivid enough to Quicken my dead Loins. I shall sample such again, though one perhaps instill’d with a more Contemplative Sentiment. My new crew mates became Distracted, the Spaniard seized by haughty Pride and my countryman the Bishop wrack’d by the Agonies of Hellfire, may they mend his Troubled Conscience. My other companion, the Negro, remain’d as silent as a Spartan until the Bishop rounded upon him, calling him a ‘damned black rogue’ and a ‘mutinous slave’ and then I knew him as no other than the Black Spartacus who had led the Bloody Revolt on the decks of the Bishop’s vessel; the Slave indeed whose Liberator I had been, an act of Charity that cost me my Life.
William Darkwright, scholar & explorer
It is I, Kedian Keïta, son of Mamadou Keïta, born a prince, the son of a king. But Judas they call me, for my defiance of their God and his chains. Peace, it is enough. My father used to say much silence has a mighty noise. This noise deafens the Man of Sin, who turns to me in wrath and speaks great affliction unto me. ‘Hold,’ I say unto him, ‘for are we not creatures of dust and ash? Your Mastery over me is broken!". He would retort and draw his scourge from his belt and I raise my broken chains against him, but we are silenced. A crowd enters the room, of such creatures as I cannot speak nor would name. The broke-necked Host denies them passage, saying ’We serve not your kind herein,’ and many of the rogues about us speak curses against these newcomers whose dead eyes would weep if they could only see.
Judas God-be-good, cimarron
¡Demonios! Is there not a cantina where a man can escape these ‘Brineys’, with their filthy salt skins and dripping water? Is there not a place of repose for a bravo where Signior Spectre will not intrude? Truly, this is no Godly town. ¡Me cago en Cristo! There is no mending it, but I must take my musquete and bar their passage. A brave Spaniard, noble Diego, speaks for us but, hola, it is the Negro interposing himself as if to defend los Salmuertos. Noble Diego is affronted, strikes the brute, y así va, and we have a duel. Now I believe in Our Lord’s command to play the pacificador but when Bishop English is appointed Diego’s Second, I must take the Negro’s side. It is only right, and “to discomfort an Englishman is worth a Mass” as Our Lord says.
Pedro Su De Cuerda, pirato
This uncouth and lowly person does not contradict the judgement of his esteemed and noble crew mates, who desire a brawl to settle a point of Farang honour too elevated for a base worm such as this one to appreciate. Instead, this humble servant uses the last of My Master’s coins to buy for the Drowned Prets their drinks. ‘Regret’ is all their leader says, so this unworthy guide leads them to the old wharf where they sip their cha. Most seem unmoved by its melancholy aroma but their nameless leader thanks me and asks that they might serve my Master. This forebodes me, for one who plays with dogs should not let them lick his mouth. Nevertheless, shrimps are no bait for perch and a ship must be crewed. I direct them to Jeremiah’s Bride and my Master’s pleasure.
Lascar Cho, ship’s cook
The angry Spaniard insists that we fight in the graveyard of his ancestors, which is strange to me for my people do not offer battle on holy ground. I expect we shall wrestle and this pleases me, for the Spaniard is slight of build and I shall surely triumph. However, Pedro of the Rigging brings me a pistol and says we shall be shooting one another, as if we were pie-dogs or wild pigs. This is senseless. We stand back to back, with my erstwhile Tormentor serving the Spaniard and Pedro advising me. We shall march thirty paces, turn and fire, but I have never held a pistol before, so what chance have I of harming anyone, save by ill chance? I can see my Father, dressed in splendour, berating me that I shall shame my race and lineage if this ruffian overcomes me. I feel my father’s strength passing into me and I strengthen my skin, taking upon me the hide of mighty jambo that turns any weapon. I march and turn but before I have discerned my opponent he has fired. The impact flings me backwards but I stand and though shredded I do not die. I look at my gun and search for my foe, but I am weary of this and cast the pistol away. The evil Bishop cries out, “Deloped, by God” and the crowd falls to debating whether or not this thing that I do is wise. My enemy approaches and clasps me in reconciliation and everyone cheers. The Spaniard hands me a small flower of ribbon, black as beetles, and says, ‘There is always a place for you in the Legion.’ In truth, in truth, these people are mad.
Judas God-be-good, cimarron
O my Masters, she is a shred of mist caught in a soft breeze. She stands at the edge of the Old Wharf above the cruel rocks below and she wants to jump. She pulls the woolen shawl about her thin shoulders, for she wants courage. I would turn away yet I am abashed. She finds her courage and steps forward. This lowly worm finds his and prevents her. ‘O my Mistress,’ I say, ‘do not do this thing.’
She turns in surprise and sees a lean, bald gentleman of Siam with skin weathered by salt and faraway suns. I see myself in her grey eyes, for I am solid. I breathe. I hear. I feel. I see her now whom I saw once in a dream, her dream: Adélaïde, the puppet of Padre Gólgota’s cruel shadow play. ‘Do not extinguish life,’ I tell her, ‘extinguish that which makes life unbearable.’
We sit side by side above the turning tide and tell one another stories of our loss. She tells me of her brother, who was her idol and her saint, of the ship that took him away and the letters that stopped coming. I tell her of the monastery that was my home and school and playground, the orphan boys my playmates and the innocent veneration of the phi and fat Budei, the future Buddha, and of the ship that took me away, and innocence dropped below the horizon like the setting sun.
She tells me of the Aunt who took her in, a little cleaning, some embroidery, but her brother’s savings quickly spent, then harder chores and mounting debts till only her body could service them, and new ships in port, once an occasion for hope, now disgorging men who rent her for lengthening nights. I tell her of the Forest Sangha that bought me, the wild and ragged men of the woods with their deranged Tantras and the Angry Gods that stalked us by night.
For something has marked her out, as something marked out me. A Dark Gentleman is coming, a ‘high roller’ for whom she must be carefully prepared, instructed, corrupted and broken. I too was selected by an Ishta-deva that would walk in my flesh. But I met a man beside the sea, a Farang with ageless eyes, fleeing with his wife, by demons pursued. I listened to his tale and I put down my bowl and took the knife he gave me. I left the forest that day and ran and ran and never looked back.
‘Where can I run?’ the young girl whispers, ‘Where is there to go?’
But this most insufficient gentleman cannot tell her, because his is a tale told by a dead man.