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My name is Tatton Chantry and unless the gods are kind to rogues, I shall die within minutes.
My two companions are dead, and those who came to this shore with us have fled, believing me already killed. Their boat bobs upon a gray sea flecked with the white of foam and soon they shall be alongside the Good Catherine.
I am alone. I am left without food, without a musket, with naught but the clothes in which I stand . . . and a sword. I also have its small companion, a knife.
But what man can claim to be alone when he holds a sword? A man with a sword can bring a kingdom down! Many a man has a fortune who began with no less and no more. I stand upon the outer edge of a continent, and who is to say that continent cannot be mine?
But first, I must live . . . and to stay alive I must be brave, but more than brave, I must be wary.
Crouched at the base of a gnarled and wind-racked tree, I wait with pounding heart. For they will come now, for me. My two companions are dead, and they must know that I am alone. One against many.
My lips are dry, and my tongue keeps seeking them. Am I, then, a coward? Death hangs over me like a cloud. Am I, whose blade has sent so many others to their deaths, afraid to die?
How easy to be brave when others stand round! How many a brave man is brave because he is watched, because he is seen. But none can see me now. I am alone. I can be a coward.
I can flee. I can hie myself down the beach, running until they bring me down like a frightened hare.
A Chantry flee? True, the name is not mine. I have but claimed it, used it, found it helpful. Dare I dishonor it? Dare I be less than the name deserves? I have carried it proudly. Therefore if die I must,
I shall die proudly, even though the name is not mine and I die unheralded at the hands of savages.
Need this be the end of all my dreams, my struggles, my boasts? Am I, the son of kings who reached the heights and descended to the depths, about to die upon this lonely, far-off shore?
They have killed some of those who came with me, but was I seen? Is it possible that I escaped notice? Do they know that I am here? Do they delay killing me only to despoil those already slain?
If they know I live they will stalk and find me, and surely, then, they will kill me. Nor can they fail to discover me if they but look, for the belt of brush and dwarfed trees that borders the shore is sparse indeed. Beyond me lies the open sand and then the sea.
We had come ashore for fresh water. Our casks were filled, all were aboard the ship's boat but we three, two of the hands and myself, and we had lingered to look about. They started back at the call, but I saw a corner of something projecting from the sand, and paused.
The savages came then, with a soundless rush, charging the boat which lay yet along the shore, and they struck down my two companions, which delayed them long enough for the boat to shove off into deeper water.
Arrows struck the boat, doing I know not what harm to its crew, and spears were thrown, but most fell short. Then some good lad fired a musket.
The ball caught a savage in the face and he fell, his head half blown away. Shocked, the savages stopped their rush and the boat gained the current and was gone, downstream and to the sea.
Then the savages were stripping the two dead men, muttering and exclaiming over what they found.
Now a faint breeze ruffles the leaves, and I crouch, waiting. Cold sweat beads my brow, trickles into my eyes, and I dare not move for fear my motion will be seen. Very still am I, for they are but thirty yards away and often within plain sight.
My fears are with me. For I know that when they come--as soon they must--I shall charge among them and cut and slay until they kill me. Death is to be chosen above capture if all one hears of their tortures be true.
Is this to be the end of me? Of Tatton Chantry? The last of his line, the first of his name?
There lies the ship; the boat is now alongside. How I wish I were on it, to climb aboard! How many times since the voyage started have I wished to be ashore. And now ashore, how I long to be safe aboard once more!
The water casks are being hoisted aboard, and finally the boat itself. Before long my companions will be relating the story. Soon they will sail, and I alone will remain upon this barren shore. Alone, but for the savages . . .
In the ship's small cabin our captain will dine by himself tonight, for I, his companion at table, and a merchant venturer aboard this ship, will not be present.
What of my goods? What of my small share in the voyage? In the hold of yon vessel lies all I have earned until this moment, all that from boyhood I have managed to put together, that which I hoped would be the foundation for a new fortune for future generations of the family I will call Chantry.
Will the good master take it for himself? Or put it in trust for my heirs, of which, God save me, there are none? Or hold it a decent time against the chance of my return?
I wait and watch. . . . Now the sails shake free, the wind takes them and the Good Catherine moves. Something within me dies. I have never been one to weep, nor to bewail my fortunes, which God knows have been ill enough, and I cannot find it in me to don the mantle of Job. Perhaps it is that I am Irish. We Irish wear the cloak of adversity with style.
And being Irish, how can I be downcast or without hope?
Cold winds may blow, rains may beat upon my body, hunger gnaw at my belly, but am I not Irish?
The trouble is that no one has thought to tell the savages yonder.
I wait . . . the sails of my ship drop below the horizon. The squabbling of the savages has ceased.
They will come now. I shall meet them as my father's son should meet them, sword in hand. If I am to die, being the last of my line, let me go well that my ancestors need not feel they bred in vain.
Let cowards scoff at heroes because in their secret hearts they fear they could not measure to the standards of men. Let them cower and bend their backs to the lash. But I was bred on stories of Hector, Achilles, and Conn of the Hundred Battles. I straighten up, stretch my legs, hold my sword at the ready. They do not come.
Very well, then! I shall go to meet them! If there be lives beyond this, let them make ready. I shall go to meet them now.
They are gone! Did they despise me, then? Did they think me too meek a man for their killing? Or did they simply not know I was here?
The two dead sailors, good men both, lie horribly cut about the face and body . . . mutilated.
To them I doff my plumed hat in silent tribute, for they did what they were set to do on ship and shore, they lived and died as men. Yet had they been even the lowest of scoundrels I would have wished them alive and with me, for now I am alone.
How complacent we become when we sit secure, hedged round by laws and protections a government may provide! How soon we forget that but for these governments and laws there would be naught but savagery, brutality, and starvation!
For our age-old enemies await us always, just beyond our thin walls. Hunger, thirst, and cold lie waiting there, and forever among us are those who would loot, rape, and maim rather than behave as civilized men.
If we sit secure this hour, this day, it is because the thin walls of the law stand between us and evil. A jolt of the earth, a revolution, an invasion or even a violent upset in our own government can reduce all to chaos, leaving civilized man naked and exposed.
As I am now. . . .
It had been better were I born a lad of forest or farm, but for these past years I have been a creature of cities crowded about by men, and sometimes, God save me, by women.
Would it were so now!
What am I, Tatton Chantry, to do, marooned upon this shore with nothing?
I am, and have ever been, a superior swordsman. I have more than a modicum of knowledge as to tactics and fortification, and I have some knowledge of herbs, medicine, and magic--if they be not the same.
I could, on request, conduct a siege or a battle, or I could train a legion. I could negotiate a truce, a surrender, or a ransom for a king, but how can I find a meal upon this desolate shore? What use is my knowledge now?
It has been said of my family that we are descended from Irish kings, that our family came to Ireland with the Milesians. That I was born to the velvet. Yet I remember only that I was son of an Irish chieftain living in what passed for a castle on the rocky shores of Ireland.
As a boy I roamed those rocky shores, fished and swam, hunted too, seeking out all the caves and crannies.
They came hunting us then, the British did. Like wolves they hunted my family down, driving us one by one to the wall. My father and my uncles died, fighting bravely, and at the end my father told me to flee. "Go!" he said. "Go the way you know, and live, that our blood shall not die, and that our name shall live, if only in our hearts! Go now, my son, for I love thee well and would not see you die! Live well, live as a gentleman born, as a man bred, and as an Irishman always!"
And so I went. . . .
A boy I might be, but the British would still have cut me down had I not fled. But I had nimble feet and a nimble brain and the wish to live long enough to see them die.
It was then my knowledge of the crannies and caves served me well, for I led them a chase down the rocks. I went through cracks where they could not follow, being so much larger than I, and I taunted them with it.
One tried to follow and became wedged between two boulders, trying to get a pistol up with a free hand to shoot me. Before he could fire I bashed him on the skull with a boulder, grabbed his knife from his belt, and fled down a tunnel under the rocks which none of them knew. Thus I left the body of my father and the ashes of my home.
There followed months of dodging and hiding, of stealing a bit of milk here or begging a scone there until I came at last to the sea again. I was not the first to flee my island home, nor would I be the last.
There were cousins of mine in armies abroad, and could I but reach them. . . .
But all that was long ago. Now I stood alone upon an empty shore, my ship gone, and I myself given up for dead. My small fortune was gone, nothing left for me but what I could win with my wits and a sword.
Now the sea was empty, and empty the shore as far as eye could reach. It was a gently curving shore falling away to the west and south, for where our ship had put in lay in a wide bay between two capes, the one still visible to the east.
We had come ashore in the dawning, and it was not yet midday.
Far away to the north, a half-year of walking, lay French settlements. To the south were Spanish settlements, and one of these was said to be on the Savannah River. My choice was a simple one: stepping from the brush, I turned right and started to walk.
Soon my strides shortened, for the sand was deep. My boots and my jerkin were heavy and the weather was warmer than that to which I was accustomed. Pausing at last, I removed my plumed hat and mopped my brow.
Far away to the south I thought I could make out the topm'sts of the Good Catherine. All I possessed was aboard that ship, carefully saved and treasured to make my venture. Had I remained aboard and the trade gone well, I might have returned a wealthy man.
On I walked into the blue and white afternoon, a blue sky above me, a blue sea on my left, and a long white beach before me, stretching away to infinity. I walked now with a certain swagger, for my depression was ended. After all, was I not the son of kings and cavaliers? And best of all, I had my youth, my strength, and all the wide world before me.
How, in such fine weather, could a man be anything but in humor? True, there was no tavern around the corner to which I might repair for a bit of a dram, or a cold bottle and a bird, if the thought came. There were savages about who might take my life--but take it they must for I would not offer it freely. How could I feel the less because of this? I had strength and a sword, and a man has been known to conquer a world with no more.
This thought I kept with me, for what small nurture it would be, during the darkest hours. My enemies, if such they were to be, had bows and arrows, with a far greater reach than the point of a blade.
Arrows and a bow? What was I thinking of? Had I not, as a lad, used an English longbow? And had I not made one or two of my own?
When I had walked the sun down, my eyes were restless for a place to sleep, some shelter, some haven, some corner away from the eyes of those who might come seeking.
Fortunately, in the loose sand my boots left no defined print. I slowed my pace. The sea was empty still, yet there were ships along these shores, the ships of several nations, and it was possible I might come upon one such to which I might signal. Ships came hither to trade for furs or pearls, to seek for gold, to take on water, or just in passing from the Spanish seas back to Spain itself. Dutch, English, and French ships were also here, and not a few of them. But now, when I needed the sight of one, there were only empty seas.