Do You Believe in Magic?

1965 was a big year for me, a year in which some of the more memorable moments were accompanied by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit song, “Do You Believe in Magic.” The strains of that song followed me out the doors of high school, into the Navy and around the world, eventually to Viet Nam. Fortunately, after two deployments, I made it home alive and in one piece. This year, however, “Magic,” takes on a whole new meaning for me, as I research the subject for my newest novel, “The Practician.”

In this new story,  magic will play a major role, as it has throughout our history on Earth. The Patrician will be the first novel in a grail-mythology quartet. The title and the theme are a reference to the main character, Rick Townsend’s past, and his “gift” that will profoundly alter the future for us all. So, as I research the subject of magic and its history, I thought I would post about the things I’m learning from time to time, here, on my author blog, but returning to the question, “Do you believe in magic,” I wonder what your answer might be?

The question holds great interest for me, as a student of the Bible, because the Bible is a book whose subject is almost entirely about the supernatural and yet, the church, who claims the Bible, has, more or less, convinced Christianity that “magic” is nothing more than superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Is it? Maybe. Certainly, through my childhood and up to more recent times, magic, for me, was illusion and slight-of-hand, more trickery and ingenious engineering than supernatural power. In the distant past, however, this was not the case, and lately, I have seen things that I cannot explain, things I am forced to attribute to the supernatural. I confess that what I’ve seen was on video, it could have been manipulated, but I don’t think that it was, because I know from my studies of scripture and from my research in extra-biblical sources, that real magic, that is, “transcendental magic,” truly did and likely does still exist.

When I say, “transcendental magic,” I’m talking about magic beyond illusion. I’m talking about the kind of magic Pharos’ magicians used to change a rod into a snake when they desperately needed to duplicate Moses’ amazing feat. Of course, the feat was supernatural in both cases. The transmutation of a wooden rod to living serpent wasn’t accomplished by Moses, nor was it accomplished by Pharos’s magi, but it was accomplished by powers beyond their hands, powers beyond their world, powers that they called upon, from beyond time and space, as we know it. That’s the kind of magic I’m talking about. There was a time when it was common. Perhaps it was because people were more willing to believe in it than they are today. Perhaps what is required is a mind that is open to the possibility, a mind that doesn’t need to stuff everything into the boxes provided to us by modern science, or academia, or by the church. Perhaps believing is the key to true transcendental power and the sole requirement for it to be present in any age, I don’t know. I don’t practice magic, though the New Testament Bible tells me that I could and should. From that same source, I have come to understand the practice of calling upon powers beyond our world, and by it, I also understand that the power of real magic, transcendental power, lies beyond my hands and beyond our world of flesh and physical laws. Join me in the next adventure.

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Cast Out

 

The Oubliette, my latest novel, is a story of fallen angels. There can be no question from a Biblical perspective, that such creatures exist, or that they were cast out of Heaven for their participation in Lucifer’s rebellion. What should get, and hold, everyone’s attention is that they were cast down to Earth, exiled here as prisoners to await their judgment at the end of days. The Bible warns us, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.”

That warning ought to bring shivers to your spine. Unfortunately, in the age of SciTech, the Devil has us just where he wants us, oblivious to his existence, and yet, exist he does. His influence in our world is ubiquitous yet invisible among us, though the evidence of it lies all around, in every direction. As Morpheus said to Neo in the motion picture classic, ‘The Matrix,’ referring to Satan’s influence in our lives:

Morpheus:  “The matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell, or taste, or touch; a prison for your mind.”

So it is for each and every one of us, born into bondage, and for that “short time” that he has, Satan and his minions have wreaked havoc among us. It continues to this day, but there is a Way for mankind, a deeper Truth, a way to be saved from the destruction to come.

“The Oubliette” is an exploration of the unseen world around us. Though Neo, along with most other people would choose the Blue Pill, “wake up in their beds and believe whatever they choose,” I challenge you to be that rare individual. Choose the red pill and know the truth. You can find it where Mike Brennan did, in The Oubliette.

The Powers That Be

There was only a month left before my long, four years of service to the U.S. Navy would come to an end. Quite frankly the last two years had been a strange form of hell with eighteen hour days and the stress of the Viet Nam war. I had a few days of rare down time in front of me at our squadron headquarters in Iwakuni, Japan, but my peace was ruined by a summons to appear in the captain’s office. I’d been there before, so, being ordered to drop everything and “report to the captain,” made me pretty nervous. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done this time to piss him off.
When I arrived, Lurch, that’s what we called him, “Lurch,” because he looked like the character from the Adam’s Family. Lurch, sat behind his desk and after we had gone through the formalities of Navy hierarchy, he invited me to sit down. That was a red flag. Protocol dictated that I should either stand at attention, or at ease in the captain’s office, but, to be asked to sit meant something was up. I couldn’t help but worry about the possibility of bad news from home, however, to my surprise, the subject of our meeting was my upcoming separation from the Navy. He said, “I need to talk to you about your plans for the immediate future.”
He gave me his famous death’s head grin, the one that served him as a smile. I nodded and said, “Yes sir.”
“Well, I have a problem with you deserting your crew right now, I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Sir?” I inquired.
“You’re an integral part of my flight crew, Wilson, and this deployment has three more months to run. I require your commitment and I want you to extend for the rest of the cruise.”
To say that I was stunned by his request would be a gross understatement. For a long minute, I was speechless, worrying about the possibilities, about whether, in time of war, he was planning to order my extension if I didn’t comply.
Lurch was, how can I put this delicately, a lunatic, not a man you wanted to cross swords with, but extending my service for another three months was not something I was very pleased to do, not for him, not for my crew, and certainly not for the Navy. You see, the Navy had not been especially kind to me over the years, and much of the abuse I had suffered left a lasting impression. For example, there were the nine months I spent in the janitorial service, cleaning bathrooms, after graduating from Electronics ‘A’ school. And, how could I forget the threats of a Captain’s Mast and possible imprisonment over the nuclear arms school debacle for which I was the only innocent participant. There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Most of all, however, was my failure to attain pay grade because of the Navy’s poor planning with regard to filling the technical rate I was in. Any simple seaman can understand that, when you open five slots for promotion and have twelve thousand sailors applying for them, the odds of a promotion are stacked against you. That was the situation I found myself in year after year in my brief, Naval career.
With that in mind, I suggested to the captain, “Well, sir, I can’t see myself extending as an E2, it just wouldn’t be fair.”
“What do you mean?” Lurch wanted to know.
“I mean, sir, that I would consider extending as an E3, but not in my current pay grade.”
Lurch gave me a dark and threatening look. He said, “That would mean a promotion.”
“Yes sir,” I said.
He paused, his brow creasing even further. “I can’t do that, Wilson.”
“But you can, sir,” I corrected, informing him, “You’re an acting captain, in command of a Naval unit at war. It would be a battlefield promotion, sir.”
Now the look became dangerously threatening and he repeated himself, enunciating each word, “I can’t do that.”
Perhaps I was being flip, I didn’t intend it that way, but time in close association and the circumstances we shared had proved the axiom, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I responded to him by saying, “Well, sir, I won’t extend my service as an E2.”
To my surprise, the conversation ended right there and I was summarily dismissed without threats or further intimidation. As I stood to leave, we hurried through the formalities of Navy protocol and then I quickly found myself standing outside his office, relieved that our encounter was over. Perhaps, at this point, some background on our “shared circumstances” would be in order.
In the year before our deployment to Iwakuni, we had been transitioning aircraft, from the Martin, P5-M Marlin, to the new Lockheed, P3 Orion. As such, naval regulations required that each flight crew be requalified in the new aircraft. Qualification was a long, expensive and arduous process of training, practice, and testing. At that time, three squadrons of twelve aircraft, each with a twelve man crew, were making the transition to the P3. Two of those squadrons had begun the process in the year before us, but, unfortunately for the Navy, for the trainers and for those in command, none of those twenty-four flight crews had yet qualified in the new aircraft. In fact, they had all failed their “quals” repeatedly by the time we arrived on the scene to begin our training.
To be fair, there were many difficult challenges throughout the qualification process, some that affected me personally, but those are for another story. What’s important for this story is the qualification portion of our transition. In fact, I can truncate the story even further by focusing on the single mission that resulted in every crew’s failure to qualify. That point of failure for the twenty-four crews ahead of us became obvious to me at the end of the long process. It was a mission called harbor mining and, whoever it was in the training squadron that designed the mining mission, they almost certainly must have some diabolic connection. The mission parameters and the chosen location were so challenging that it must have been designed with the intent to produce failure.
As radar man for my crew, the harbor mining qualification test was a challenge that lay directly in my hands. Not that the other crew members weren’t needed, we work as a team, but the primary burden for success was on my shoulders; in much the same way as the kicker in a football game that is tied in the final quarter and running out of time. The carefully chosen location for this qual-test was a small, fjord-like harbor on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, far north of Vancouver. Our navigator had been given a small, incomplete illustration that depicted the layout of the harbor entrance and a portion of the interior, as it might appear on our radar screen.
The entrance to the harbor was a narrow cut through a three hundred foot wall of coastal cliffs. Inside, the harbor spread open and, as depicted on the illustration, there was a small island, to the south of which lay the target box where we were to drop our practice mines in. On the far side of the small, lozenge shaped harbor, the eastern shore rose quickly from sea level to a mountainous terrain, peaking at the three thousand foot level. All of these features created a significant challenge for the cockpit, but to make matters worse, the entire coast was socked in by a thick fog that made VFR flight impossible the day we were to make our run. The only eyes available to us for this mission was my radar screen, and the whole crew was forced to depend on me to guide our aircraft safely through the maneuvers required to succeed in this mission.
Though Lurch, who was flying left seat that day, could see absolutely nothing from the cockpit, we managed to navigate the harbor entrance, at a flight level of three hundred feet, without difficulty. That said, Lurch was white knuckled all the way in and near apoplexy by the time I gave him his new heading. That much-anticipated command was delayed, however, until we cleared the coastal cliffs because, before that, I had no radar image of the harbor’s interior. Once we leveled out on the new heading, however, the small island I thought was depicted in our illustration came clearly into view on the radar screen, just north of our heading. Upon seeing it, I began to lay out the coordinates for our mining run. I had no sooner done that, than the sweep of the radar began to reveal another island in the southern portion of the harbor, an island that, in appearance, was much more similar to the illustration I had been given than the island I chose initially.
Things happen fast when you’re moving at three hundred and sixty knots and changes in plans can consume a good deal of distance over the ground at that speed, but I made a quick decision to change heading and go for the newly revealed southern island. Unfortunately, that change required that I first confess my mistake to the entire crew, over the plane’s intercom system. It went something like this:
“Flight, Radar.”
“Go, Radar.”
“Sir, I’ve made a mistake and I’ll have to give you some rapid course corrections. I need you to make them as quickly as possible, sir.”
There was no response from the flight deck, but it didn’t matter, I had no time to wait, so I launched into a stream of course changes that began with, “Turn hard to starboard, sir, and take up heading 196.”
With the command given, the plane remained steady on its current heading, forcing me to recalculate and reissue the command.
“I need you to turn RIGHT NOW, sir, hard starboard, and take up a new heading of, 210.”
At that, the plane snapped hard to the right, pressing the entire crew into their seats with about six “Gs” of gravity and driving the navigator, who was standing behind the flight engineer’s seat, to his knees. No sooner had that happened than the plane snapped back to level flight on a compass heading of two hundred ten degrees. I didn’t know at the time, that Lurch was so terrified by the required maneuver that he’d frozen, white knuckled, on the yoke, (the planes steering wheel,) forcing our second pilot, J.J., to take the controls from him. While J.J. flew blind, down the two-ten heading, to our next course correction, I was frantically laying out the rest of our mining run on the radar screen. I didn’t have time to finish, however, before I was forced to give a new heading to the flight deck.
“Sir, on my mark, I need you to turn hard to port and take up heading, 068. Standby, …and, mark!”
Again the plane snapped into a sharp turn, this time left, pulling about the same G-force. At this speed there would be little time for me to carry out the rest of the necessary steps to complete the mission, but I finished marking the critical points on the radar screen and, as soon as the plane leveled out on heading, I called over the intercom, “Standby to mark on top IP. On my third mark… standby, mark, mark, mark. On top IP, sir, and take up heading 092.”
Again the plane leaned right, softer this time, we were in the right place now, but again, there was little time to think or maneuver at our current speed.
“Open bomb bay doors,” I commanded, then, without a breath, “target in ten, etc… three, two, one, drop, drop, drop.”
Whatever the outcome might be, the mission was done, and there would be no changing it. I heard my own voice coming over the intercom then, calmer, even subdued, knowing I had put pilot, aircraft, and crew through a mini hell. I could only hope that I was right in doing so.
“Close bomb bay doors,” I commanded, hastily adding, “remain on heading and climb, climb, climb, sir.”
The plane pitched sharply upward and the intercom fell ominously quiet. A moment later the navigator approached my station, lifted my earphone and said, “Well, you f….d up this time, Wilson. The Captain wants to kill you, you’d better hide.”
“Hide?” I asked, indicating the fact that we were crammed together in a flying tube. “Where am I going to hide?”
The Nav suggested, “Head to the galley and take a seat back there in the booth.”
Now that we were well above the harbor fog, above the mountains, above the clouds and safe, on a heading to our base in California, the ticking time that was in such a rush during our mining run, dragged slowly by, as I awaited my execution. After what seemed a very long while, but still came sooner than I would like, I heard Lurch’s booming voice coming from somewhere forward in the plane. “Where’s that radarman of mine?”
It seemed strange to me that he actually sounded joyful. He repeated his inquiry, in the same jovial manner, so, feeling compelled, I stepped out of the galley and started forward to take my punishment. “There he is,” he said, seeing me and smiling, his arms open wide.
I wondered what could account for this drastic change in demeanor. I learned then, that the call had come from training command that we had dropped three practice mines right into the center of the invisible box where they were intended to go. In fact, we were the only crew out of thirty-six, who had done so, meaning, that soon we would become the only alpha qualified P3 flight crew the Navy had in WestPac. That was a real feather in Lurch’s cap and the fact is, he owed me for it.
So, what was my reward? Two weeks after our meeting in Iwakuni, concerning the subject of my separation from the Navy, I got my orders and flew out of Tokyo to San Francisco, leaving my crew, our plane and the Vietnam war behind. I was assigned to exit the Navy from a little base near the Golden Gate Bridge called, Treasure Island. It sounded good to me, but what did I know?
When I got off the bus that picked me up at the airport, along with forty other sailors and marines, I was directed to the admin. building, where a yoeman looked over my encoded orders, wrinkled his brow, then looked at me and shrugged, saying, “You need to go over to building 139 and check in there.”
He kindly gave me directions, so I picked up my baggage and went on my way. At building 139 another yoeman followed the pattern of the first almost precisely, wrinkling his brow, looking me over, shrugging and saying, “Keep your dungarees, your douche kit, and your skivvies and give me your bags for storage.”
Now it was my turn to wrinkle my brow, but, considering it was the Navy, after all, I didn’t try to make sense of it, I just complied as I had been so well trained to do. He, in turn, handed me a blanket and a pillow saying, “Take your orders with you and go across the street to building 140. At the gate, ring the bell and the Master at Arms will come out to let you in.”
The instructions were simple enough, but as I approached building 140 I noted that it looked an awful lot like a prison. Turned out that it was, and that’s where I spent my last two weeks in the Navy, cleaning pots and pans and scrubbing floors with a scrub brush.
Thanks a lot, Lurch. I’ll remember you in my prayers. Fortunately, good behavior got me out on the day of my scheduled separation and, though my stay was brief, it was enough to give me the feel of prison and the knowledge that I would never want to return, neither to prison or the Navy.

Hidden Figures in Black History

katherine_johnson_john_glenn

When I was doing the research for my novel, “Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar,” I became aware and concerned about the apparent lack of authentic role models available to black youth in America. I use the term “authentic,” to mean role models beyond the entertainment industry’s view, including sports, and beyond the typical characters created for entertainment by the likes of Spike Lee. I’m talking about real role models, and my concern for such was the premise for my story about the life of Henri Caesar, of whom my POV character says, “there is much more to this man’s story than history has yet told.”

So it is for most of the true heroes of Black history in America. For me, that trail begins with  Olaudah Equiano. Although his place of birth, c. 1746, is disputed, the fact that he was sold in Virginia to a Royal Navy ship’s captain was well documented in 1754. He was given the slave name, Gustavas Vassa and taken to England where he eventually came into the hands of a Quaker merchant named Robert King. King gave Equiano the means to purchase his own freedom, which he did in 1766, becoming a merchant himself, traveling much of the world and learning all that he could about the Triangle Trade and English politics.

Back in London, Equiano, aka, Gustavas Vassa, joined an abolitionist group called The Sons of Africa and began pressing parliament for anti-slavery legislation. In 1789, as an activist in the abolition movement, Gustavas wrote and self-published his memoir entitled, “The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano.”

The book was widely read through nine editions and was instrumental in parliament’s passage of The Slave Trade Act of 1807, which put an end to British involvement in the slave trade. Unfortunately it did not include the ownership, or practice of slavery, the end of that horror would require a brutal and bloody war in America.

That said, there is a long and growing list of heroic, black figures that follow Equiano. I won’t attempt to list them here, but I will write about a select few from time to time. I think the awareness of them is vital to our future as “one” nation.

Getting back on track, if you haven’t seen the movie, “Hidden Figures,” then you have missed a truly great story, the kind of story from which flows the compassion and understanding required to change the world. The viewing of it should be mandatory for all Americans. It should be part of the curriculum in our schools. There needs to be more of this type of encouragement and less of a Black America with the kind of hopeless future Spike Lee and his ilk portray. What is required to change things for the better is more of the personal initiative demonstrated by heroes like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and a chain of others that goes all the way back to Olaudah Equiano.

The trouble is that the voice of truth, the voice of hope and reason, is often drowned out by the shouts of those who promote selfish agendas, but there is nothing new in this. The manipulation of public opinion is as old as human nature itself and the latest suppression of truth in Black America, of hope and reason, began almost immediately following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. King’s positive message of character, accountability and personal initiative was drowned out by loud, plaintive demands for equality through entitlement. I don’t need to mention their names, these false prophets continue to drown out truth and hope to this day, and we all know who they are as well as the various organizations that front their ideas.

To conclude, a new paradigm is needed among young Blacks in America and along with it, a lot more men with the vision and courage of John Glenn and, in the historical record, Robert King. Men who will step up and intervene where the scales are being intentionally skewed against anyone of good character for reasons of race, creed, color, gender, religion, or national origin. What’s needed is sacrifice, the willingness to set aside self-interest for the greater good. That is the deeper message of “Hidden Figures.” People of all kinds and colors, working together to accomplish what’s better for all of us.

Project #1, A New Start

happy-new-year-2017-holidaysNow that “Triangle:…” is complete and published, Project #1 becomes a Grail Mythology with the working title, “The Pit”,  in which my protagonist, Rick Townsend, will seek to learn the source and nature of a treasure being sought by a mysterious employer, whose identity is being kept from him. In the course of his research, the story flashes back to medieval Europe and even ancient Roman times, in the same way that Michael and Kathleen Gear used historical period transitions in their trilogy, “The Anasazi Mysteries.”

In the first of the four novels in this series, our protagonists, Rick Townsend and Monica Scott, begin researching their client’s sought treasure, a quest which leads them from mysterious carvings on an ancient stone, to an elderly widow who holds the key to their quest in an old, family Bible which they will come to call, “The Leichti Bible.” From there, our two intrepid heroes are inexorably drawn  into the dangerous pursuit of objets de magie, long sought by powerful entities who will stop at nothing to gain their prize. At the same time, Rick and Monica become the targets of other powerful entities who are equally ruthless in their determination to prevent them from recovering the well hidden treasures. But, before we go further into plot, or characters, I think I should talk a bit about the genre itself. When I say, “Grail Mythology”, you say….  You see, most people don’t know what I’m talking about.

If you have read Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” , or “The Hiram Key”, by Christopher Knight, or “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, by Mark Twain, or the more traditional tales of King Arthur by Thomas Malory, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Maude Radford Warren, or Mary Stewart then you’ve read a grail mythology. Over many centuries the theme of the Holy Grail and its various plots have been very popular, not only as books, but also as screen plays like “The Fisher King.”

More than a few years ago now, Umberto Eco wrote “Foucault’s Pendulum”, a satire on the genre, in the manner of Mark Twain. About that same time, however, in the late twentieth century, the genre took a turn away from the traditional view of the Holy Grail, to a more sinister, denial of Christ, an attack on the orthodoxy of the Bible and the very tenets of Christian faith. Perhaps the first of this new wrinkle in the genre was  “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. The novel’s plot is a complete fiction, though it is presented to the reader as documented history. It was followed then by many others, “The Da Vinci Code” and Kathleen O’Neal Gear’s “The Betrayal,” to name just two. My vision for Gray Empire, however, is to use this sinister turn in plot to direct the genre back to the more traditional tale, but with a surprising new twist at the end, a reveal of an aspect of the grail never before told in fiction, or in truth.

I hope to have “The Pit”, book one of the series called, “Gray Empire”, completed and released for the new year, 2017. At this writing I am more than 51,000 words into the first draft of the manuscript and making fairly steady progress each day. My hope is to use this blog to introduce you, in advance, to the characters in the novel, to talk about the complicated research involved and to keep you up on the progress, or lack thereof, whichever the case may be. I hope you will follow along as our character’s develop and are launched on their quest into the arcane world of grail mythology, a genre of writing that can truly test any author’s skills.

Aftermath

 

An Excerpt from: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

A Prison Memoir, Williamsberg, 1718

I spent many days troubled that Henri would fynd out that I pissed on the fuse cord and prevented him blowing the ship. I have more to live for than my loyalty to him as a friend, but I know that he wouldn’t see it that way. Unfortunately we lost the battle and were condemned to fayce trial in Willimsburg. Governor Spotswood, with his personal haytred of Teach, would preside and, so, our situation had become hopeless. We were doomed to the gallows.

We spent a miserable week bound together in the hold of the smaller sloop, Ranger. Then we languished for more than a month in a maykeshift jail, more a cayge really, at the port, in Hampton, where we were exposed to the elements and the abuses of the local citizenry. We suffered that way through Christmas, though we sang some carols at the direction of a Quayker gentleman name of Brian Keith and he read to us from the good book, but there was little joy in the season for us. On December twenty eighth we were locked together in chaynes and slayve makers, and marched through a freezing wet snow, under heavy guard, to the stockayde in Williamsburg.

It was there, without my knowledge, that Henri, being removed from us for questioning, as it was clear to our jailers that he was our leader, began an appeal on my behalf. It seemed a futile effort, though I am grayteful and ever in his debt.

Then, in layte January of 1719, when I was much diminished, as were we all, and near death from cold and starvaytion, a gentleman came to speak to the prison authorities. His name was William Randolph, husband of Elizabeth, whom Teach had kidnapped in Charles Town, he’d come from the Governor to seek me out.

Collin Aldworth,

Williamsburg, June, 1719

Battle at Oakracoke

An Excerpt from: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

Williamsburg, Virginia, November, 1718

Alexander Spotswood had just finished his substantial breakfast when a commotion began in the foyer. The servants were calling to him, their voices shrill with panic. William Randolf, his treasurer, and husband of Elizabeth had collapsed on the hardwood floor, just inside the opened door of the mansion. His horse, outside, was covered in a thick, white froth of sweat, whinnying in distress, near collapse itself, with one of the governor’s servants trying to calm it. Two of the housemaids and the Governor’s personal servant, Charles, were tending Randolf when Spotswood stepped into the foyer and began to give direction to the chaos.

“Minnie, fetch some cool water. Charles, remove his coat and his waistcoat and bring him into the parlor.” He noticed a sealed parchment clutched tightly in William’s hand. Spotswoodtook it and preceded them to the parlor, where there was better light for reading. The seal was Charles Eden’s. The message inside informed him that Eden’s sources were telling him of a conclave of hundreds of pirates, led by the infamous Blackbeard, at Oakracoke, where they were building a fort to establish their own “Pirate Nation”. Eden had put a bounty on Blackbeard’s head and he was asking that Spotswood do the same. In addition, Eden had sent an assassin to kill the pirate leader, but so far he hadn’t heard from the man and assumed him dead. Having no naval forces of his own, nor access to them, Eden suggested that, Spotswood should send the forces of His Majesty’s Navy stationed at Hampton. They could trap the pirates on the beach at Oakracoke and put an end to them, once and for all.

Spotswood had always been deeply suspicious of Eden, his motives and his relationship to Blackbeard and other pirates, but he held these thoughts to himself, as things he would discuss with William, when he was able. In the mean time, it was inconceivable to him, given the circumstances, that a man he considered to be a useless idiot, ruling the colony at his southern border, had offered no assistance in the matter of these pirates, whom he had as much as invited to his shores. He offered no gold, no ships, no troops, but only some unreliable information and the suggestion that the Royal Navy might capture the pirates if the colony of Virginia would send the resources to do the job. He crumpled the note so tightly in his fist that his freshly manicured fingernails dug into his palm. He watched as Charles brought young William into the parlor and settled him on a divan near the windows.

“Give him water and open the window. Keep his face and forehead moist, and

fan him till he cools,” he ordered his servant.

With that, he stormed from the room and went straight to the stables, ordering his groom to prepare his carriage and saddle horses for his personal guard.

When the governor and his entourage arrived at the wharf in Hampton he found the port filled with merchant ships and busy with cargo. Spotswood, his aide and two of his personal guard pushed their way along the crowded quay to the King’s Street Tavern where he knew Captain Brand, the naval commander assigned to him by the Admiralty, would be staying. Inside, the interior of the tavern was dark, cool and quiet. One sailor sat slouched on a bench in a darkened corner of the public room, a flagon in one hand and a long, clay pipe in the other.

“Is the proprietor here?” The governor called out to the man, who mumbled something incomprehensible. The governor was about to ask a second time when a man wearing a dirty apron appeared from a back room carrying a heavy wooden crate. Upon seeing the governor, he quickly deposited the crate, nervously wiped his hands on his apron and bowed.

“Your Lordship. Its’ an honor, sir.”

Spotswood looked around the room, despairing of the odorous filth and shambles.

“I seek Captain Brand. Is he here?”

“Oh, no sir, Yur Honor. He’s gone on leave, Lordship.”

Spotswood’s face colored and he roared, “On leave my arse! He’s gone off with some whore, I know the man, I pay his wage and I was not informed of any leave! Where’s he taken the wench and how long does he usually stay?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know Yur Honor,” the innkeeper begged. “Only that I’m to ‘old his correspondence till he returns, sir.”

The man blinked nervously, searching for something more to say, something that would appease the governor’s obvious exasperation. It struck him a moment later and he said, “Lieutenant Maynard’s his second in command. He might know the captain’s whereabouts, Lordship.”

“Maynard, you say.” The governor repeated, turning to his aide, indicating that he should take note. “And where might I find Mr. Maynard?”

“Oh, ‘e left early this mornin’ Yur Honor, over to the yard to check on ‘is men and ships, sir.”

“The yard?”

“Yes, Lordship. Captain Brand’s ships are careened, over at Woodes Landing, in the river, for repairs.”

“Damn!” Spotswood exploded at the news that the navy ships Lyme and Pearl were under repair and unavailable for his use. “Why wasn’t I informed of this?” He complained to no one in particular.

He turned to his aide. “Go and secure a longboat to take us across to Woodes  Landing. I must speak with this ‘Lieutenant Maynard’, right away.”

Separate Ways

A Memoir of Fish Town, 1718

An Excerpt from: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

After two months Israel was able to get around with a crutch. The ball had tayken his knee-cap and shattered the joint as it tore across his left knee at an angle. Doctor Fontain wanted to amputayte the leg, but Israel swore to kill him if he did. Although he moves with an awkward and painful limp now, he feels it better than

to have a wooden peg in its playce. Teach apologyzed profusely, clayming, “I were drunk. I didn’t know whot I was doin’.”

Things chaynged among us though. No one trusted him any longer. For one thing, the governor offered him a pardon with land and he took it. He drew labor from the crew aboard The Queen, promising to pay them to build him a house and a barn, thus slowing the work of refitting the ship. The sickness continued to spread among them and many more of the crew died. Now it spread among the colonists ashore and, in fact, becayme epidemic.

Teach took him a new wyfe. A young girl from New Bern, but he quickly grew bored with her and began philandering among the women of gentry. Not only in Fish Town, but beyond in New Bern, Queen Anne’s Creek and even Bath. When one offended husband dared challenge him to a duel, Teach graciously accepted the man’s terms then shot him in the back as he was walking away. The man lived, but was much diminished after that, by his wound.

Over tyme, Teach’s behayvior becayme more erratic and unpredictable. It’s hard to know if he becayme more reclusive of his own will, or if we, his friends, becayme more reluctant to tolerayte his presence. All I know for certain is that I saw less of him and felt the better for it. Henri, Maya, Oguna, Odulette and I spent many an evening discussing the matter while trying to decyde our own faytes, in a future baysed on the relationship we still kept to him because of the treasure.

It was Henri, who would not be convinced to depart from him. Henri’s heart was deeply committed to the loyalty he felt he owed Teach in the African excursion. It seems strange to me now, that a man who had fought so hard to free himself from chains could be so easily held a slayve to something as intangible as a debt of loyalty. Teach, who had never known the chains of a slayve-mayker, was himself a slayve to his own greed and to Henri, who retayned control of Teach’s shares. He would never consider betraying Teach, though I tryed to convince him to do so, or deliver the shares to Teach, or his crew, but Henri would not hear of it.

Oguna pressed him for a return to Africa, whyle Maya argued for Le Ruisseau, all the whyle, Oguna’s dark prophesy hung over us all. She performed frequent, blood rituals on Henri’s behalf and for the crew of Grande Maronage, as part of her efforts to convince Henri to leave Teach behind. Odulette tried to convince me to do the same, that is to leave them both behind and move on. But, in the end, I was also a slayve, we were all bound together by a chayne of perplexing loyalties, Henri to Teach, I to Henri, Odulette to me and so on. Such bonds, though invisible, are hard to break and, often harder to live with.

In layte August, Hornigold returned to Fish Town, enriched and invigorated by the spoils he’d tayken at sea. He was sayling with a dastardly scoundrel naymed Charles Vayne and the long expected news that Woodes Rogers had announced an end to the grayce period for the King’s Pardon, and mayde a promise that the days of unrestrayned pyracy in the Caribbean were over. He’d already hung near a hundred of those who wayted too long to accept his terms.

We met together that night at White House where Hornigold announced that a pyrates conference had been called for, to discuss an assault on Nassau and on Woodes Rogers, who cayme to power by his letters of mark and, to his letters by following the same path we had all come by. He was no different, or better than us, but he betrayed The Brethren for a pouch of gold and the promise of a governorship. It was a path that also appealed to Teach, though, so far, Teach had fayled to negotiayte it.

No action came from our small gathering that night, only the news of the coming conference, but the stories of adventure the three visitors brought with them, lit the flayme of desyre in Teach’s heart. I saw it ignyte in him and shortly after he becayme more irritable than ever, if that be possible; and complayning constantly about the boredom of lyfe ashore. Soon he stopped the building of his house and barn and returned the crewmen to The Queen, to finish refitting her. That task was completed by mid October, but he had not scuttled her then. Instead he toyed with the idea of sayling down to Nassau to confront the traytor, Woodes Rogers, face to face. It took the rest of the month to convince him otherwyse. He was spoiling for a fyght and his temperament had become so sour that only Henri dared speak to him.

During the rest of October the spread of yellow fever ashore became so wyde that we mostly confyned ourselves to the ships. The number of sick aboard The Queen continued to grow and all our crews grew restless and irritable. Brutal fights and sometimes riots bordering on mutiny became the norm. Maintaining the fleet had become an unmanageable task and Teach was desperate to mayke a chaynge. He sent another appeal to Governor Eden for more medicines, but the response was an emphatic, “No!”

The Governor and the colony were overwhelmed by the spread of the disease. Though Eden had appealed to other governors and even the crown, there was no medicine to be had. Within his own circles, Eden was being blaymed for the playgue, as it was believed that Teach and his crew were the source. The governor was urged to be rid of us and, in fact, the people ashore in Fish Town becayme quite hostile. They would be rid of us themselves if they could mount the force necessary.

In late October, Teach sayled The Queen out through the inlet with the excuse that the crew needed exercise and trayning, as they’d been idle too long. Bonnet sayled along syde, in his own ship. When they returned, after several days at sea, they anchored up in the larger sound, near the inlet. That night, Teach quietly transfered his command to Adventure, Israel being out of commission, living aboard Mary-Kate with Esmeralda and ourselves, Odulette and I. Teach took Gills, Salter and sixty three other men from The Queen with him that night.

Aboard our own ships we heard a terrible commotion drifting across the still waters of the sound. Men yelling and screaming that the ship was sinking and, to be sure, she was. By morning the Queen’s sunken hulk lay blocking the channel at Top Sayle Inlet. We sent boats in the night, for the survivors, but many were swept out to sea on the tyde before we got there, others drown outright for the lack of knowing how to swim. Those whom we were able to retrieve, we took ashore, to fend for themselves, not wanting them aboard our own ships, as many were sick.

Within a few days of that, unayble to acquyre supplies any longer from Fish Town, or New Bern, Teach sayled his remayning fleet up to Oakracoke Island, anchoring there, in the sound. In the days following that, one ship after another began to arryve, lyke an infestation of lyce, from southern waters and the Caribbean. By All Hallows Eve their camp had grown to nearly a thousand ruthless men.

Collin Aldworth,

Williamsburg, June 1719

Dark Prophecy

Dark Prophecy

An Excerpt from: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

Core Sound, June, 1718

 

Henri sat cross-legged in front of Oguna, as he often did, like the child he’d once been in Africa, the boy, Nwoye, now only a distant memory. Grande Maronage’s aft cabin was shrouded in the smoke and incense of her burning pot. The scent of it and her monotonous droning filled the space around him. She rocked back and forth, shaking the soft, leather pouch that contained the sacred bones, while Henri sniffed at the herbal tea she had prepared. He took a deep swallow and closed his eyes, relaxing, withdrawing from the pressures placed on his shoulders by his leadership role. After a moment the droning stopped, Henri heard the soft rattle of the pouch’s contents rolling out onto the dry, splintered planks of the cabin floor, a scattered assembly of small, white bones. Behind the veil of smoke rising from her pot, Oguna studied the pattern they formed.

As the tea began to take its effect, a dreamy remembrance of his recent voyage to Cap Francoise entered Henri’s mind, thoughts of Maya pleading with him to return to the peace and freedom of Le Ruisseau and the way of life they made for themselves and their children in that place. Then, in direct conflict, a vision of Oguna’s exhortation that he remember the Dyula people anxiously awaiting the return of their king, her insistence that Abana, the royal daughter, bare his child, a royal son, to be the rightful heir to his throne, not some child born of Maya’s womb and lowly station. Henri’s mind drifted through the recent past, reviewing his accumulated power and the riches lying in the stone vault at Le Ruisseau, the dowry jewels safely hidden away, the gold and silver bars and coin, a lifetime’s riches, all waiting for him there. Then, the king’s breastplate which he wore even now, began calling him to its service.

As when he was a boy, Henri was soon overcome by a sensation of floating high above the scene, seeing himself sitting in front of the old witch. He opened his eyes and, there she was, sitting straight up in front of him, her vacant eyes looking through him to a vision beyond the moment, opening him up like the door to a closet that contained his future, enabling her to rummage inside. The chanting began again, dragging him into the dark closet with her, as if she’d taken his hand and pulled him along. The sound of her voice, ancient, dry parchment, created swirling, familiar visions. Visions of an expansive and desolate dune, of being separated from his own body, watching the white jackals tearing at his flesh from someplace high above, and then, a dark prophesy of death and doom, a cry of raging battle, the smell of gunpowder and decks flowing with blood. A face loomed up before him, raging, demonic, twisted in the throws of death. It was Teach, calling out to him, from a burning hell, “Blow the ship!”

Reunion

 

Reunion

An Excerpt from: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar

Le Ruisseau, 1717

Maya lounged in the shade of one of the few overhanging palms on the windward side of Ile de Long, watching the children splashing in the shallow water of the reef, as they worked the traps there. She loved this part of the day as much as the children did. A life of ease, gathering the bounty that the sea provided along the edge of their reef. It was amazingly productive, for the small amount of effort required, like having baskets full of fresh fish, crabs and lobster delivered to her hands each day. Enough to feed the whole community and enough left over to trade with the Viscaynos. She lay back in the cooling shade, closed her eyes and listened to the happy sounds of children making play of their work. To Maya it was the most comforting sound she could remember ever hearing, a reward she received each day in return for the pain and suffering she had lived through, the fear of her experiences in Africa, the torture of her enslavement and her suffering in the cane fields of the white jackals.

In the orchard, on the sandy ridge at the center of the island, Odulette stood up and wiped the sweat from her brow. Even at this early hour, the sun bore down relentlessly, the dense growth of the jungle cut off the shore breeze so that the air stood thick and still. She struggled each day in the heat, fighting a constant battle with the undergrowth that choked her stunted lime trees, trying to improve their yield and, at the same time, her life and the life of her daughter, Hope.

She straightened her aching back for a moment, stretching and shading her eyes from the glaring sun. From where she stood she had a clear view of the bay to the south. She blinked her eyes, hardly believing what she was seeing at that moment. The sloop had appeared suddenly, from behind the screen of ubiquitous mangrove trees that grew on the western tip of La Roche, across the creek from where she stood. Odulette knew instantly, by its lines, that it was Grande Maronage. She was so excited that at first she couldn’t speak. She dropped the cutlass she had been using as a scythe and ran from the steaming orchard. When she reached the main path, at the center of the island, she turned south, in the direction of the creek, crying out, “Their here! Their here!”

Maya heard an unintelligible scream that fought its way against the wind, through her light sleep, startling her awake, leaving her unsure whether she had actually heard it, or just dreamed it. She looked first to the children, counting each one to be sure they were all there. Then she struggled to her feet and called to them. “Children! Come!”

She ran off toward the center of the island with the children following. They early learned the connection between quick compliance to adult commands and survival. Hearing alarm in Maya’s voice, they ran to her side and, together, caught up with Odulette at the rocky point on the southern tip of Ile de Long. Tears were streaming down Odulette’s hollowed cheeks as she wrung her hands with excited agitation.

“What’s wrong?” Maya asked.

“They’re here!” Odulette cried, pointing down the creek to the west.

As Maya looked, Grande Maronage came into view, turning into the creek, sailing in their direction. Maya fell to her knees, sobbing. Their long lived anxiety would soon be at an end. Both women searched the deck of the ship for their respective mates, watching in silent prayer as the ship slowly made its way toward them. Then, seeing him at the bow, falling to her knees beside Maya, Odulette screamed his name, “Collin!”

A moment later, to her great relief, Maya caught sight of Henri, manning the ship’s tiller, resplendent in his golden breastplate.