Sunday, December 11, 2011

the pantisocratic pirates, part 1

"At first it was the Tesrifati's own shadow. Some strage refraction of the nowhere-light had thrown a dark double of his vessel off to port. Then it was his imagination, an image rising out of the silent hypnotic hours, now redoubted and returning. And then it was a black ship bearing down on him out of the fog. Hamit turned and began to shout. A dark form was running alongside his ship, the angle of coincidence so narrow it must have been there for hours. Hamit scrambled down ladders, through hatches, along gangways, shouting, cuffing the heads of the crew. None of the guns were primed. He could hear water rushing in the channel formed between the hulls. Two or three of the men were stirring themselves. Hamit...saw the black ship loom out of the fog to fill the gunport. He was hammering down the powder, tamping the ball. Lining the wales of the black ship from prow to stern were faces withered with age. Two crewmen were pulling at his arms. He pushed them away. The ship was almost on him, filling the sky, blotting out the fog, huge and black as night. He lit the taper. The crewmen were shouting at him, moving backward. Hamit touched the fuse and turned to see them running away from him with their hands to their heads, away from the cannon. The fuse hissed, he heard the first grappling hook fall with a thud on the deck above. Then the cannon exploded.

"From within the confines of his crate, the Internuncio heard muffled shouting, a thud somewhere above, a deafening explosion, more thuds, a terrible grinding sound, and feet running in all directions around him. The ship was being boarded. He heard barrels being rolled along the gangplanks and manhandled out of the well. The hole through which his young friend had fed and watered him allowed a view directly overhead. Useless. Then his own turn came and he braced himself against the 'walls' and floor as the crate was shifted up to the deck, then seemed to hang in space before landing on the deck of the Tesrifati's aggressor. He heared voices speaking in English. The grinding sound came again. The hulls rubbing against one another, he realized belatedly, and then the ships were free of each other. He could hear the crew levering off the lids of the barrels. He raised his head to shout his presence and the sound died in his throat. His crate was positioned directly below the mainmast. Looking up through the feeding hole he saw swirling fog, bare spars, and rigging. At the top of the mast, a tattered pennant flew, and on the pennant was a skull and crossed bones. They were working down the line, staving in the barrels with jemmies. Peter Rathkael-Herbert cowered in his crate waiting helplessly, hopelessly for discovery. Then his turn came. Wood splintered above his head and shattered slats rained down on him as he curled up, burying his head in his hands. The lid was prized off and a croaking voice above him said, 'Aha!' before strong hands reached down to pluck him from his refuge and deposti him on the deck. Crumpled, racked with aches and pains, exhausted Peter Rathkael-Herbert looked up to see an old man, grizzled and weather-tanned, standing over him. The old man reached down and offered the Imperial Internuncio his hand.

"'I am Wilberforce van Clam,' he told the disheveled heap. 'Welcome aboard the Heart of Light.'

"The sirocco began to blow away the fog.

"Aboard the Heart of Light, Peter Rathkael-Herbert saw sunlight for the first time in a fortnight. Looking up into the rigging and around the deck where the crew were making ready to set sail, he could not help but notice the extreme age of the sailors. Not a one seemed to be under fifty. Wilberforce van Clam was at the helm.

"'Take some tea.' He gestured to a pot brewing on an occasional table by his side. 'Wilkins!' he shouted. 'A cup for our guest, if you please!'...Wilkins, a spry sixty-year-old with a long white mustache, jumped to the task.

"'You are...pirates?' Peter Rathkael-Herbert ventured, watching as elderly men leapt up and down the rigging.

"'Pirates? Oh yes, pirates all right, absolutely pirates we are, aren't we, lads?'

"'Oh yes!' came the reply from all quarters of the vessel.

"'But we're Pantisocratic Pirates,' Wilberforce van Clam went on. 'We never really wanted to be pirates at all.' He paused and sipped his tea. 'It's society made us what we is now.'

"'Society?' Peter Rathkael-Herbert was bemused by the notion. 'But how?'

"'Aha!' said Wilberforce for the second time that day. 'Now that is a tale worth the telling. Wilkins! A chair for my friend!'

"And so, seated in a splendidly upholstered armchair and fortified by tea, the Imperial Internuncio listened while Wilberforce van Clam unfolded the story of the Pantisocratic Pirates."

--from Lempriere's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk

I have been reading this book for a little over a year and a half, having come across it for a dime at a library book sale in rural pennsylvania. I've read a lot of negative reviews but I have to say I am on the side of the faction that argues it's worth the staying with. it's got many red herrings and sometimes lapses into strange digressions in the middle of a sentence, but on the whole it's been worth the time it's taken to read it. the parts I'm posting today and tomorrow are a little better than 2/3s through the novel, and remind me of some of terry pratchett's discworld, and wilberforce van clam himself has made me think of cohen the barbarian.

part 2, the story of the pantisocratic pirates, tomorrow.

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