Mermaid

 

Chapter 28

Mermaid and madness

 

With the beach in sight, Jean Luc fell into the grip of mad visions and when the anchor was cast, so did Dominique. As the longboat was lowered N’Gote fell victim as well, and with a small handful of scared, but still barely sane, crewmen, Fiona sailed to the beach and started digging a hole in the sand. But the creature in the barrel started wailing in terror, and Fiona could not bring herself to abandoning it there after all. There must be some other way to solve the matter. Mama Imbasa, the cook’s assistant, who was the one most familiar with magic and spirits, suggested to Fiona to follow the source.

 

She rummaged through the papers they had taken from Big Dick Lester’s cache, and Jean Luc, who was in his right mind for a while, read through them: the barrel had been taken from a ship called ‘Hectate’ sailing from Elizabethtown. So they set the course to Elizabethtown. The crew continued its wild surges of emotions – in one moment behaving completely rational and performing their duties, the next raving mad, chasing invisible monkeys up the mast or beating invisible flies from their faces or other such irregularities.

 

Unbeknownst to Fiona or the other officers, a very upbeat Ernest then came upon a very depressed Hawk and made a suggestion to him that would later prove quite disastrous. No doubt Ernest saved Hawk from suiciding, but the consequences of his proposal was almost equally bad. I’ll tell you in the following:

 

Coming upon Elizabethtown – the beautiful Islandish port – Fiona along with Jean Luc and a now very determined Hawk went to the harbourmaster’s office to ask information of the Hectate. Jean Luc checked out the records of incoming and outgoing ships while waiting for the harbourmaster, and discovered that the Hectate was owned by the moneyman David Billings living in Elizabethtown, whom they then decided to go and pay a call. But just then the harbourmaster returned along with a dozen soldiers, wanting to arrest Fiona for fraud (apparently they had not appreciated the help that the Hyena had extended to lieutenant Kessler and his men in Coggshead and they certainly didn’t appreciate Fiona’s attempt to get paid for said help). Fiona protested off course that some mistake must have been made, when Hawk quite without warning drew his sword and killed the harbourmaster on the spot…

 

While Fiona and Jean Luc watched in shock he went on to kill the soldiers coming to the harbourmaster’s aid (however belatedly). Our friends came to their senses and fled, while Hawk quite without remorse continued to kill those who tried to hold them back, until Fiona directly ordered him to stop. Once back on the ship Fiona ordered Hawk into chains and the Hyena to set sails at once.

 

Fiona was furious when she faced Hawk in his chains. It turned out that while everyone else on the ship was in the grip of various wild emotions a deep, deep depression had seized Hawk. While Hawk was on the verge of killing himself, Ernest had found him and had cheerfully suggested they should swallow the mysterious powder given to them by the Bog Lady, just to see if it worked. Hawk already knew that the powder should release him for all remorse and Ernest that his powder should give him back his lost memory.

 

Fiona fell silent. Very quietly she explained to Hawk that she would not have a remorseless man on board. The conscience is what holds one back from making terrible mistakes, from killing when one should not, from taking everything to the limit regardless of how this would affect one’s friends and surroundings. Fiona would be sorry to loose Hawk, as he had become a precious friend, but he had turned The Island Kingdom against the Hyena in a time when friends were scarce – now there was only one safe harbour for them: Ryendorian Cagliano. Either Hawk must leave the ship or they must find some sort of cure.

 

By the back roads Fiona intended to go back to Elizabethtown to seek out a voudou-master she knew of there, who might contradict the effect of the powder Hawk had taken. An expedition was arranged – Ernest begged to come along. He felt bad about luring Hawk onto taking the powder, and he too wanted to have it reversed – his own predicament as well; he now remembered everything, and he didn’t much like what he remembered. He told Fiona of a past life of murder and violence – he had been a man he didn’t much like. He wished to forget it again, and once more become the Ernest they had all come to know. He told Fiona his real name and life story, and of his quest of returning the sword, that was the thing following him from his past life, to it’s rightful owner in Codorra. She would tell me no details, not even his real name. ‘It’s no matter’ said she ‘That man ís dead and gone – the only one left was our Ernest, and he earnestly wanted to stay that person’. That’s all she would tell me.

 

I don’t know how they found the voudou master of Elizabethtown, but they did. Hawk was given a squashed frog to eat, and under Fiona’s direct order he did. Ernest took his medicine too, but alas to no effect – he could not forget his past, but chose to put it past himself anyway. Fiona also asked the voudou master for something that could help her understand the creature in the barrel, and he gave her some pills made from the strange substance the people from the Vanilla Isles digest to stay under water for unnaturally long time.

 

Back at the ship Hawk was in a sorry state – he felt deeply shameful of what he had done, but there was no helping it. What was done was done.

 

Meanwhile Jean Luc had sought out a quack magician in Elizabethtown. From him he learned that Billings had ordered the creature in the barrel captured – why was a mystery. However, there was one way of holding the madness the creature inflicted at bay: the cocoa-beans from the Misty Isles. So far they had kept the madness down by drinking lots and lots of alcohol, but honestly; a drunken crew is only mildly better than a mad one! Dominique experimented with the amount of liqueur that worked best, but it turned out that each man needed a different amount, so mostly they just went about their business in drunken stupor. For some reason Fiona was less affected than the others – or that is the impression she gave me. My account of this episode is almost only based on Fiona’s tale. Everyone else I’ve talked to have claimed to have forgotten nearly all about it. I think they may be ashamed of what they had done while under the influence of either booze or the creature. Not that Fiona gave me many details on that part – very discreet of her.

 

Under the supervision of Dominique and Mama Imbasa Fiona ingested the pills the houngoun had given her. While the doctor and Mama Imbasa only registered that Fiona’s breathing and heartbeat became gradually slower until they were afraid it had stopped all together, this is what Fiona told me she experienced: She suddenly felt part of the great ocean; a creature of water and magic. Joyfully she travelled to the End of the World where she was welcomed by her mermaid sisters, and she understood what the creature wanted: she was a mermaid, and she wanted to go to her home beyond the Mare Solaris where the world ended. She was intrigued by the humans around her, mystified by their strange feelings and explored them like a child with a stick in an anthill. Fiona admitted to me that she might have stayed in the fantasy world of the mermaid – she truly felt she belonged there – had not Dominique brought her back. The doctor had panicked when it seemed that Fiona’s pulse had nearly stopped all together, and he had started to revive her. Fiona burst back to life, claiming afterwards that her heart had never hurt so much as it did then. But the journey had been worthwhile; they now knew what they had to deal with and what to do to get rid of it.

 

They sailed via Port Fender, where they took on the necessary supplies and then headed toward the Misty Isles to pick cocoa beans enough to get them through the ordeal.

 

All through this every one was more or less at the mermaid’s mercy. If not drunk, then Fiona and her crew were in various states of emotional upheaval. It made the journey very strenuous for all, and everyone was beginning to wear thin. The Hyena tried to stay away from the trade routes, but they couldn’t avoid other ships altogether – unfortunately. One day sails were sighted, an Islandish marine cutter. At the time Fiona, along with Dominique and Ernest was in a very friendly and relaxed mood (the mermaid’s doing). They merely waved leisurely at the cutter, and when hailed, Fiona proudly pronounced the name of her ship ‘The floating Waterlilly’ and invited the cutter’s officers to please come to tea and scones… Jean Luc desperately tried to avoid such disaster, but the cutter’s crew put out the longboat and would have boarded had not Fiona suddenly come to her senses: she ordered all cannons out and a broadside was fired over the heads of the people in the longboat and into the cutter’s side! Then the Hyena sped off, hiding her name under a piece of canvass. Jean Luc was obviously not exactly pleased with Fiona’s rash handling of the matter, but at least they survived.

 

On a curious note I might add that the cutter miraculously survived the broadside; she limped into Elizabethtown about a week later with a rather disturbed crew. The ship had been hit below the waterline, but somehow the water had not gushed into the ship as it ought to. The crew told of many other strange disturbances on their voyage home from the encounter with a strange ship which had lured them into a trap (their account of the matter). Many disembarked in Elizabethtown and half of them never sailed again. What exactly happened I know not, maybe it was some strange reaction to coming upon the mermaid?

 

The Hyena continued to Mare Solaris accompanied with many dolphins and whales. Then they passed into strange seas of sparkling golden water, and suddenly there were 6 feet of shining water in the cargo hold. The Ienne seemed undisturbed by this: 6 feet of water should have made her slow and low in the water, but she was not. N’Gote dived into it, and Ernest and Dominique followed. Apparently they felt that they swam with the mermaid - an enticing and wonderful creature, and were quite unwilling to come back up. Fiona however was not about to loose faithful crewmembers to a mermaid, so the men where forcibly pulled out of the cargo hold and the hatch sealed. N’Gote sat guard on it.

 

Finally a cloud bank full of birds appeared on the horizon; the Misty Isles were straight ahead. The closer they got the stranger things got: a large sea creature appeared in the water and the mermaid started singing – an eerie sound beyond this world. N’Gote asked the mermaid for help and with a few navigational adjustments they avoided attack from the sea monster and set all sails. Then everything began to happen very fast, the crew almost moved faster than the eye could see, and the Ienne ran at 16 knots! Or so Fiona tried to make me believe! She swore on it, but I have honestly never heard of any ship going that fast. At that Fiona merely shrugged and said that she knew how fast the Ienne was sailing, and she cared nothing of what I thought of it.

 

In no time they had reached the cloud bank and the Misty Isles. The birds were not ordinary birds. Fiona failed an attempt to describe them; all she could say was that they were not real birds, only birdlike. They climbed upon the islands – I must tell you that the Misty Isles are more rocks and cliffs in the middle of the Mare Solaris than actual islands, with not much vegetation, except for the cocoa plants which are very difficult to access. They only grow exactly where the mist stops and the clear sky appears. They picked and picked cocoa beans – more than enough for every man in the crew. They wanted enough so they could sell them, and make this strange trip worthwhile.

 

I might mention that Jean Luc told me that they found the little dragon Nuttin’ on the Isles. They – captain Enrique and his crew, along with Phoebe - had met the dragon in the mysteriously lost library in the Almohadish desert. It lived on magic and could grow very large. They didn’t take him with them however, and as Jean Luc was quite a bit drunk by the time he told me, I’m not sure how much credit I should give the story.

 

Back at the ship every crewmember was given a cocoa bean. Many of my readers may never have experienced the wonders of cocoa beans. I’ve only been to fortunate once on my travels to get to taste one, and it’s difficult to describe. The taste itself is first a little bitter, then round and full. It’s a taste explosion in the mouth, like fireworks on King’s Day, like (and please excuse this crude comparison) the highest moment of pleasure when two people indulge in one another. It’s… well, plain wonderful! After that the mermaid couldn’t mess with their minds.

 

Only a few days later they reached the End of the World… You may have heard many a tale about the End of the World, and it seems that each man perceive it differently. While our well educated and devout friends Dominique, Jean Luc and Hawk saw a curtain of water beyond which the sea continued, Fiona and N’Gote literally saw the end of the world; a waterfall beyond which there was nothing! While the anchors and the longboat where out so they would not be dragged over the edge, Fiona went under deck, picked up the mermaid, now almost substantial, and carried her to the bulwark. The mermaid jumped overboard, after she had whispered a few words in Fiona’s ear, words she took days and days to understand the meaning of. She has not chosen to divulge said message to me, but I could tell it had rattled her.

 

Fiona had nothing to tell of the voyage back. Whether it was just a dull trip, or something happened that she will not tell me, I know not. But that was the tale of the Ienne’s journey to the End of the World to bring a mermaid home.