I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Paula West, who responded admirably to my request for a female voice actor some days ago, the first fruits of whose labours can be heard here.
People sometimes ask me how I can get through some of my lines without laughing, and I'm usually rather blase about this; I laugh out loud when I think of the lines in the first place, but usually by the time it comes to actually recording them, I'm familiar enough with them that I'm no longer that effected by them.
This is the first chapter I really had difficulty getting through some of the lines; they were funny enough that I kept on laughing as I was delivering them. Take that for what it's worth.
A bit of historical esoterica here: The Charles Kingsley referenced in this chapter was a real person, though he did not have a seditious brother named Frederick. I learned of this man as I was researching the life and times of King Edward, and knew immediately how I wanted to incorporate him into the story.
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June 10, 1912, Inner Oxfordfordshirewhittington, England.
When I arose from my bed the following morning, it was to the sound of thunderous rainfall pounding against my windowsill, and equally thunderous thunder at some indeterminate-but-greater distance. A good omen, I thought to myself: Mighty Jupiter salutes me on the embarkation of my journey. As I set about my morning constitutional, I could not help but feel quite optimistic about the day to come.
I set off down the hall to my father’s room to ensure that he had roused himself for the day. A few short raps upon his door, and I heard – muffled though it may have been by the pounding rain on the roof above – his gruff voice shouting “Enter!” from within. I opened the door to his bedroom, hoping to find him decent, and, as was all-too-commonly the case, finding my hopes dashed against the rocks of my father’s lack of self-consciousness.
He lay across his bed, Margarida straddling him at his waist in a hideous inversion of the natural order of things, apparently attending to his gentlemanly needs. In the bare moment before I averted my eyes embarrassedly, I caught sight of him fairly leering at me from his place on his bed.
“By Jehovah’s toes, father!” I muttered. “You could have asked me to wait a moment or two whilst you made yourself presentable! I would have been happy to wait.” I shuddered invoulentarily. “More than happy! Jubilant, indeed!”
“What’s the matter?” He grunted from behind me, evidently having decided not to allow my presence to deter him from his own morning exercise. “Can’t stand to see your own father happy? Admit it!” he chortled. “You’re jealous! Jealous that you’ll never be half the man that I am, even today!”
“Yes, father”, I dissembled, “That is precisely the nature of my present discomfort. You have cut directly to the heart of the matter. Bully for you.”
“You can’t stand to see your father with a beautiful woman!” he continued, between gasps and grunts, “Not like your mother! She was a whore! Not like Margarida here!” he said with respect to the woman who he paid to take part in carnal acts with him such as those which presently occupied her.
“I’m sure she was, father.” As it was, I was in a poor position to defend my mother’s virtue. I had few memories of the woman; she had unaccountably drunk herself to death, I am told, by the time that my sister and I were four years old. My primary recollection of her was of a woman who was being shouted-at a great deal of the time. “Now if you’ll be so kind as to excuse me...”
“Don’t you tell me what to do!” he shrieked from the bed as I moved to leave his room.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, pa-pa! But breakfast shall be ready if you wish it!” With that, I swiftly closed the door behind me and hastened down the hall, hoping to put both the sound and the memory of this event well behind me in the shortest possible of orders. God love my father, but he did have these occasional moments of selfish indulgence which made living with him challenging.
The rest of the morning was in large part uneventful; Pansie was given strict instructions on the managing of my home and matters in my absence, and, once I had contacted Helmut at his alehouse, The Lazy Eye, to make certain that provisioning was proceeding apace, I spoke briefly to his nephew and employee, Joseph, and gave him strict instructions with regards to managing Pansie. This arrangement, though on the surface it may have appeared somewhat redundant, had proven necessary after a short journey to London had ended in humiliation, when I arrived home to find Pansie had tragically misinterpreted my orders to speak to my peers in Camblee University about my inability to attend a seminar where I was to have been a speaker on the topic of the economic threat to the United Kingdom by the peoples of the Hollow Earth, as a command to go and speak in my place at said seminar. To this day, I still received cruel japes on the topic from my peers, and so to this day, during every day of my absence, Joseph would visit her briefly and ask her how she planned on going about her daily business. The dear woman seemed to believe that she and Joseph had some sort of secret friendship that I somehow wasn’t supposed to know about, and so took some perverse delight in it, and Joseph, for his part, was paid five pounds per visit.
By eleven o’clock, we had in large part congregated at the dock of the Regal Swine, where my delight at seeing Miss Elliot, dressed in a warm overcoat and a bouquet of twenty roses pinned tastefully over the stump of her missing arm (which I felt complimented her eyes beautifully), was leavened somewhat by the sight of her speaking already to Blackhawk, whose noxious presence I still struggled to resign myself to the inevitability of.
Nevertheless, there were practical matters to attend to, and so in short order, I located my ship’s captain, Gwenhwyvac, who was at that moment attending to the smoking of a cigarette under an awning where she was in large part avoiding both the hard rain and any hard work, and glowering meaningfully at nothing in particular. “Captain!” I hailed her, my voice full of what I hoped would be taken as jovial affection, in case anyone should happen to overhear me, “I trust everything is meeting with your satisfaction this fine day?”
She turned her glower upon me, frowning with a distaste which I knew was indeed a mark of her personal assessment of myself, but which I knew not to take personally, as it was but an echo of her negative personal assessment of virtually everything. “Then you’re a damned fool, Kingsley,” she responded. “and no less so for bringing that Blackhawk bloke aboard. I’ll never fathom how your daft brain works, that you think brining that blighter along is a good idea.”
“Well, then it’s fortunate that I am the employer and you merely my employee, so that I do not need to justify my actions to you, my good woman,” I replied mildly. “I am naturally no more fond of his presence on this expedition than I am of the man generally, but there is a form which needs to be observed. And observed it shall be.”
“If you had any sense in that empty skull of yours”, she stabbed her cigarette towards me for emphasis, “You’d let me do away with him whilst we’re well out to sea an’ then feed ‘im to the fishes. Save us all a world of trouble.”
I recoiled internally for a moment at the very suggestion of it. Blackhawk? Killed? By someone other than myself? Had the woman not heard a word I had said about observation of form? The thought of the man dying as a product of anything other than a man-to-man duel with myself, wherein I humbled him both as a combattant and as a gentleman before ridding the world of his sinister presence with my own two hands filled me with revulsion. And besides which, there were more practical considerations: “Madness. I’m certain he’s already bribed someone on-board to inform the world should I have him killed whilst in my company. Indeed,” I narrowed my eyes at her, “For all I know, you could very well be in his pay even now, and should I accept your suggestion, I would pay dearly for the decision.”
She seemed to take no special offense at the suggestion, either. She shrugged. “I’d do it in a minute if her offered.” She inhaled deeply from her cigarette before tossing it overboard into the water below, and reached into her pocket for a second one, “but he hasn’t made the offer. Frankly, I don’t think he cares for me very much since I stabbed him in the leg that one time.”
“I can’t imagine why he would bear you any ill will over that. God knows he’s fond enough of that cane he’s been walking with ever since that he should very well thank you for it. Nevertheless, your point it taken.” Beckoning her to follow me to the railing, which she did with no more than the necessary amount of cursing and grumbling, I pointed to the docks below, where even now a cart containing one overly-excited Irelander, his homely wife and innumerable squealing mongrel children was being unloaded. I pointed them out to her.
“I’ve arranged a guide who ought to be able to guide the ship to the Irish coast, and then guide those of us going ashore through the dark interior of the land. I’ve already forgotten his name, but have decided simply to call him ‘Mick’, for ease of reference. I expect you to follow his instructions to the letter.”
She looked at me, gallingly, as though I’d gone mad. “You think I can’t navigate The Pig through fifty miles of well-charted water?”
“Don’t you dare call the Swine a pig, you sow!” I exploded at her, “And you think you can?” I asked sharply, jabbing my finger at her. “Captain Guinee, it is precisely that sort of hubris which necessitates my having to bring on additional help. If you but had the humility to admit that you didn’t know the way, I would be all too happy to allow – Nay, Insist! – that you navigate your way there on your own. Pride such as yours, though, but comes before the fall, and I will not see my men imperiled by your mad recklessness. No, I met this drunkard in an alehouse last night, and his wild and improbable tale of exile and loss were sufficient for me to see that he was the right man for the job.” I emphasized the word ‘man’ as I spoke, so as to allow no room for doubt as to what I thought of her qualification for the job ahead.
“Good god almighty,” she muttered frustratedly as she stormed off back into the ship. I presumed that this was a reference on her part of the Almighty’s admonishment against women holding authority over men, and thus a tacit admission on her part that I was correct. I only hoped that she appreciated the small indulgence I granted her in allowing her to issue orders on my behalf as captain over the rest of the crew.
For my own part, I made my way down to the master stateroom of the ship which I kept to myself, and where I kept the bulk of my nautical gear. I changed out of the greatcoat I traditionally wore on land into the peacoat which I kept on-board for weather like this, as well as the great, if somewhat antiquated plumed hat I so liked to wear while at sea. While I allowed Gwenhwyvac the conceit to call herself “Captain” and be referred to as such by others, including myself, I wished there to be no doubts as to where ultimate authority under god on my ship rested, and so I dressed the part, claiming for myself the title “Lord High Admiral.” While this title was traditionally held exclusively by the reigning king or queen, Jolly old King Edward had been dead for over a month and a successor had yet to claim his throne (though the talk in society circles held it likely that his son, His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales George Albert would handily defeat the various other would-be successors in the ritual trial-by-combat which secretly took place subsequent to the death of every monarch and which had its historical roots in the legendary bare-knuckle brawl which had ended Mary, Queen of Scot’s efforts to dethrone Queen Elizabeth I), leaving the title vacant. Besides which, as a man who owned a boat, I felt that I was entitled to this small indulgence.
As I exited my stateroom, feeling quite dandy in my nautical accoutrements, I encountered Miss Elliot in the hallway, looking rather lost and befuddled, evidently searching for her own quarters.
“Mister Kingsley!” She exclaimed. “I had wondered when I should see you today, and thank goodness I have finally had the good fortune to do so. It seems I have got myself rather turned-around on this magnificent vessel of yours.”
“Not to worry, my good woman,” I replied, smilingly, “If you allow me the honour, I shall gladly serve as your ersatz ship’s steward and guide you to your quarters.” She smiled warmly as I led the way down the corridor.
“I had meant to ask you earlier, Mister Kingsley,” Miss Elliot asked me, “Your famous nautical vessel, the Regal Swine... how does it come upon such an unconventional name?”
“Ah, well!” I said, rubbing my hands together thoughtfully, “Therein hangs something of a tale in and of itself. I gestured for her to follow me as I led her to the door of my private stateroom, above which was an elabourately-etched wooden carving, brightly painted, of a fanciful-looking pig who had somehow managed to get a king’s crown upon his head, and who was busily devouring the entrails of a still-living king who lay upon the ground, thrashing about and screaming as he struggled vainly against his porcine attacker. Below it, in finely-rendered letters, lay the legend ‘Someday Soon’.
“As you may know, there is a proud literary tradition within my family. My paternal great uncle, Charles Kingsley, was a famous novelist and indeed a private tutor to King Edward VII, in his youth. His brother, my grandfather, Frederick Kingsley, though somewhat less celebrated an author, nevertheless made a name for himself as an author of children’s books. The ship was built by my father’s commission when I was a young boy, and he had wished that it should be merrily decorated with images from the children’s story-books which his father had written for him when he was himself but a boy, and during the same time that his uncle was tutoring the one-day King. This image in particular”, I gestured at it once more, “was given a place of honour above the master stateroom, and it is after it that the ship itself is named. It is made in the likeness of an illustration which my grandfather himself first produced by hand, and for which he was ultimately hanged.”
“It does seem a trifle... seditious, doesn’t it?” Miss Elliot asked, uncertainly.
I was taken aback by the effrontery of the suggestion, and turned my gaze back to the carving I had seen so many times since I was a boy, scrutinizing it, attempting to see what Miss Elliot could possibly be talking about. “I can’t see that at all, I’m afraid,” I ultimately said, shaking my head at the suggestion. The mind of a woman was a baffling tissue of strange fancies and peculiar misunderstandings, and I would ever be at a loss to comprehend its workings, I feared.
It was at this moment that I felt the subtle vibrations of the deck below my feet which told me that the engine had been engaged, and that our departure was close at hand. I led Miss Elliot the few doors further down the corridor to her quarters, where her belongings had already been delivered by the porters. I was just about to ask her if she would care to join me on the ship’s bridge for the launch when I felt, as much as heard, a sort of shrieking thump somewhere down below, at which the engine abruptly came to a stop.
“If you’ll excuse my boldness, mister Kingsley, I daresay that doesn’t sound terribly promising.”
“Oh, stuff and nonsense, my dear. No, ship’s engines make all sorts of sounds which may sound pretty funny to the untrained ear. I’m sure this is nothing.” Privately however, I was raging at whoever it was that was responsible for this travesty. I had set off down the hall to have a look when I heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots down below. I quickened my pace, and within a minute was intercepted by Jack Cartwright, who was barreling down the corridor towards me, the spurs on his boots jingling rhythmically with each long stride.
“Sir!” he shouted at me as he spotted me. I scowled at the ignorant yankee crossly, and he quickly corrected himself. “Uh, Lord High Admiral!” My expression softened by a bare matter of degrees as I nodded for him to continue. “Looks like the engines’re fucked, your Lordship. You’d best come have a look. The professor’s already on his way down, and so’s the Captain.”
I grumbled unhappily, and followed after him at a brisk pace. All the same, there was some comfort in the knowledge that with this disaster befalling us before we even set out, the worst thing that could possibly happen to us during the course of the expedition had already taken place, and it would therefore be clear sailing from here on out.
A good omen, I decided.