Coggshead

 

Chapter 26

Coggshead

 

Before they could sail to Port Fender however, they had to repair the ship. In the meanwhile Ernest joined Hawk on a journey across the island to see Phoebe Blackwell. She was severely distressed to learn of Captain Velasques’ demise in Punjab, and decided right off to go there herself. She wanted to see where he was buried (at sea), and nothing seemed to deter her. She was promised a map to the secret route, and started planning the journey while she was still entertaining her guests. She was detoured for a spell, when they showed her the drawings of the hell machine on board the Sea Dog, and she showed them her own experimentations in that regard (the Captain had asked her to put something like it together for him). During her experimentations she had accidentally burnt down the barn, and the slaves had forbidden her to do any more work on the machine, which was now disabled. I should maybe explain the way of doing things on the Blackwell plantation was quite reversed compared to other plantations. Miss Phoebe was regarded as a playful and occasionally dangerous child, and she had no real say in matters. She was well liked to be sure, but the slaves needed no guidance from her. After her father’s death the slaves really ran the plantation, and all she needed to do was sign papers every once in a while and join the social events of her class (which she often forgot to attend).

 

Back from Jamestown Hawk and Ernest could tell the others of Governor Cavendish’s continual problems with the new monarch, and of the colony’s hostility towards the codorians, and that almost every planter had small private armies employed. And Phoebe had told them that Cecilie – William Blackwell’s illegitimate daughter - had come by for a brief visit. She hadn’t lingered long though.

 

Once Hawk and Ernest were back on board the Ienne was ready to set sails again. Next stop was Port Fender. On the way Ernest felt increasingly uneasy about the thought, and though he could not remember exactly why, he was not thrilled to enter into the Gillow clan’s domain. ‘Rope’ in particular seemed to cast dark shadows into his memory. Fiona agreed to that none of the new crew would come aboard if he remembered them on sight.

 

Jean Luc and Hawk joined Fiona to shore. This time it was no trouble getting into the Gillow clan’s presence. They drank together and exchanged news. Rumour ran of a hideout for the Harrow Brothers’ operation on the south side of the island where Elizabethtown lies. A man named Big Dick Lester was the leader there. Its precise location was unknown, but a settlement called Cogghead was located on the same coast, and they might know something. There were also rumours of codorians setting up strongholds as fast as they could on their island, much to close for comfort to the Islands. And finally they could tell Fiona that the prize on her head had gone up to £1000. Fiona was a bit proud of that actually. It ought to scare her, but the Blackwell mind didn’t work like that. A £1000 reward could cause her a great deal of trouble, but she didn’t seem to mind. The point was that she had bothered her enemies enough to get a rise out of them. The satisfied her endlessly. The Gillows served rose rhum that night and Fiona got very drunk on it. Rose rhum is not rum at all, but rather a sort of poison that is added to rum to spike it up – too much of the stuff could kill you. Hawk and Jean Luc held back on it, but Fiona didn’t. Jean Luc had to carry her back to the ship on his shoulder, and Fiona suffered from severe hangover the next days, while the new crew gathered on the ship. The former Querida crew came first. Ernest recognized none of the new crew, so all came on board and started finding their places. The next couple of days was spend getting acquainted with the ship and each other, while the Ienne quietly made her way to Coggshead.

 

Coggshead was a sorry sight; a settlement gone completely wrong. A large area had been cleared of trees and makeshift buildings had popped up, leaning in crooked angles on each. A fort had been built, but it looked desolate and disorganized. No one seemed to be working. Every one seemed to be very low on spirits – in more than one meaning. Coggshead was composed of about 25 soldiers, 80 indentured slaves and 30 black slaves give or take a few. Fiona and her officers were introduced to lieutenant Kessler, whose coat missed buttons, whose hair and beard needed trimming and whose bare feet needed boots or shoes at least. He was depressed, was of a mind to give up on the place, but had neither authority nor initiative to actually do anything about it. He claimed that the slaves was afraid of the forest and refused to work there. He knew nothing of any smugglers nest in the area, but he said that the local tribe the Ishwas might know. He called for the black slave Parrot Jack, who would find them a guide to the native village. Apparently this tribe could be talked into almost anything if one had tobacco enough. They chewed the stuff in stead of smoking it… Fiona spoke slave speak with her hands to Parrot Jack, offering him freedom in exchange for help, while speaking islandish about much more innocent matters.

 

Fiona herself got hit by the depression of the place. She was quite ready to give up on the venture, had Ernest, who was very cheerful and excited, not held her on course. Parrot Jack introduced them to Ingwe, a 14 year old boy, who would show them the way to the village. Ingwe was quite naked and complete unembarrassed about it. His hair was a thick rope like mess, and he promptly ate the tobacco he was offered to guide them. On their journey into the jungle Fiona’s dark mood evaporated and she started feeling more herself. They – Fiona, Ernest, Jean Luc, Hawk and Michael - followed an almost invisible trail, skirting poisonous snakes and colourful, but deadly frogs, into a low stretch next to a high cliff. They waded through a knee deep river, when Ingwe suddenly signalled ‘river dragon’ in slave speak. A river dragon has a likeness to the ‘krokodilles’ of the Southern continent, and they tried to pass it very very quietly. River dragons are incredibly fast and without giving them any warning at all, it sprang forth and attacked Ingwe. Fiona and her friends fought the dragon fiercely until it ran away to save dear life. Ingwe was wounded but conscious, and pointed to a thin trail up the cliff. The trail was reached through a crevice in the cliff marked by a native talisman made of feathers, pearls and the skulls of small animals. They began climbing the trail. Without any warning, just a stealthily as the river dragon, warriors stepped out of nowhere to point spears and knives at our friends’ throats. They were all just as naked as Ingwe, though adorned with enormous feather ornaments on their heads. Fiona and her friends were led at spear point to the village.

 

The village consisted of small makeshift huts where about 30 people, mostly women and children stared at them curiously – each and every one of them stark naked. Fiona was introduced to the village chief, an old man, who welcomed the guests, and especially the tobacco they brought. Fiona entered negotiations with him whether they would lead her and her men to the smugglers nest. The chief was quite willing to help, but on one condition; the redcoats (i.e. the soldiers) had to leave. They were ruining the land of the forefathers or some such, and the chief wanted them gone. Once they were gone, he would be quite willing to let his warriors lead the way to the nest. He had nothing against the smugglers as such, the natives traded with them, but if Fiona brought tobacco and made the soldiers leave… Fiona agreed. By then the hunters – some 15 of them – had returned to the village. Fiona and the others were then offered food and as the night fell, the friendly tribe offered all kinds of hospitalities (Fiona did not expand on this – I’ll leave you guessing).

 

The next morning they were lead back to the settlement. Fiona approached the lieutenant and somehow convinced him that not only was this settlement doomed, but he should immediately gather his men – slaves and all – and go with Fiona back to Elizabethtown. She was willing to take them there, even if it was out of her way and at no expense at all. Surely the authorities at Elizabethtown would understand what a bad idea the settlement had been once the lieutenant had explained it to them. Soon enough the lieutenant almost felt as if it was all his own brilliant idea to leave and in half a day everyone was stowed aboard, leaving everything behind. The Ienne could only just hold that many men, but off they went.

 

On the way Fiona held to her word to Parrot Jack; he and his 29 fellow slaves were quietly let free in the dark of night and onto a nearby beach. When they had reached a safe distance from that place, the guards cried alarm (Ernest and Billy had arranged to hit one another to make the story more believable). The lieutenant was quite upset, but Fiona refused to sail back through waters riddled with corals (they weren’t), and so Parrot Jack and his friends were free. Fiona had made a deal with them; any of them who wanted to come back on board the Ienne, could wait on the beach in a day’s time and she would come by and pick them up.

 

In Elizabethtown the soldiers and indentured slaves were set ashore. Fiona looked up the local authorities, explained how the lieutenant had hired her to bring back him and his men, and demanded compensation for her expenses. She was duly compensated, restocked her cargo with provisions and set back out to sea, before anyone the wiser. On Parrot Jacks beach they picked up him and 8 of his mates. None of them experienced sailors, but willing to learn, and exited about their newly won freedom.