Vox Populi Forum
To the Second-Greatest Explorer in the World,
I trust this letter finds you in health and safety following the collapse of France. It seems, despite your pamphlets, plays and speeches, the common man remains unready to accept your lofty goals.
You are a Cunning man with resources. I assume you are well aware of the disgrace I faced in the court of the late King, Maxime. I am certain you’ve heard the slanders and japes made at my expense, and believe you were aware of the involvement of Marco Da Vinci and his numerous progeny in my downfall. I know you knew of my dissatisfaction in my position following the disgraceful execution of Gaspard Oceane, and how it was you behind the disappearance of the French flagship, Bourbon. Your involvement, old friend, was the only reason my publicly-declared search for the vessel seemed to never progress. One travelling companion had already been hung at the whim of a spoiled and mercurial child-king, and I certainly had no desire to cause the death of a Friend - albeit, one who had broken the laws of the King I had sworn loyalty to, and one whose actions reflected upon me to that same monarch.
Thus, out of loyalty to you, I remained silent. At least about your involvement in the theft of Bourbon. I was vocal in my discontent towards the attitudes fostered in the court of Maxime. It became clear to me that the reins of power were not something that should be placed in the hands of a man, without question, because of the circumstances of his birth. In our travels, you and I journeyed alongside many of low birth who displayed more grace, honor, and fidelity than the nobility. I expressed as much, and it was obvious those words were heard by others.
After the assassination of Maxime by DaVinci’s cabal, I was bemused to see Robespierre - a man of little prior fame and reputation, claim the title of “First Citizen” of the “Republic of France” and emerge as it’s “leader.” Was he a mere figurehead for a DaVinci? I don’t know. I will say Robespierre contacted me. I was offered the Title of “Admiral of the Republic,” in exchange for one small favor - that I track down, and apprehend you.
And, again, from loyalty to a friend, I refused a powerful man.
Only now, looking back, do I suspect your hand behind the request - else, a man of Nobility, Rank, and Title, as well as fame and infamy from my military exploits must have been a high-priority to either win over to the cause, or eliminate from the game. It is entirely possible I only live due to your influence.
I remember place great stock in my friends, yet many of the brothers of the Vert Valliant supported the plans to raise Jasc Bonadventure to the throne, while others worked to solidify the Republic. In my travels I have seen strange lands, populated by barely-human savages. I have seen foreign cultures with art and science nearly equal to those of the more backwards countries in Europe. Together, you, I and the Vert Valliant toppled actual Empires, founded new colonies, established new trade routes, and circumnavigated the globe. The charts I drew, during that long ago search for the Pepper People with assistance from Moridin, Thomas de Marchand and yourself have become the standard amongst all the sailors of Europe. As one, we performed great deeds and, literally, changed the balance of power across the globe.
When I saw my friends and companions split in two, I could not choose a side. I could not bear to take action against those who have my affection and loyalty. This is why I sat idle throughout the years of war and conflict. Instead, I “hid in plain sight.” I placed myself and the at the disposal of Réseau Aurora, the import company run by Hugo Marque Lamarr. I quietly ran goods between Europe and the lands of the Sind while refining my charts, making finer notations of the weather, and enjoying the rolling of the waves under the Lion’s Pounce. I suspect only you, Francois, Kit Wildemoon, and Archbishop Percy would understand my reasoning. Certainly Lord Baileigh did not.
At times I envy Bailey his surety of action. When he acts, it is decisive. He claimed to have been offered the position of “King of the Rogues,” but that such a position was beneath a man of Nobility. Yet I believe we both would eagerly leap at the chance. The best life is one of freedom, exploration and experience, and Lord Bailey will soon enough learn that a man of his Rank has little true free will. I can only hope that, if his brag is factual, Bailey, or his family, do not learn to their disadvantage that enemies among pyrates are far more likely to wreak vengeance than those who are “respectable.”
You must be aware Lord Bailey Baylee Baileigh had been named the next Governor of “New England.” The annexation of New Vale had vexed him severely, and he entreated me to join in his expedition to liberate the colony of New Vale from the conquering thumb of the English. His chosen approach was to alternately shame and cajole. He likely thought his appeals to a fallen system motivated me to accept. I won’t tell him I had already been approached by Francois, Wischard and Moridin. Bailey was most pleased at being asked to assume the post of Governor, and looked forward to the liberation of then-named “New England.”
Bailey can be formidable. He is Lordly in mien, Dashing in action, Cunning of mind, and Stout of heart. He is a learned, committed and honorable man, but he does not use his sense of duty to guide his actions, rather he is a slave of duty. Despite his erudition, his anger can too easily cloud his judgement, and, while undeniably skilled, armed with a surprisingly tactical military mind, he is most assuredly not a true leader. Still, despite his faults, he is a fair-minded man. His views on the social contract between “Nobility” and “common folk,” are closer to the ideals of the fallen Republic than he would admit. He is perfectly suited to his position as a corner of the new “French Quarter,” and, with the support of Moridin, Wischard and Francois, he should make a fine Governor… Assuming his past does not come back to haunt him.
The first order of business was to replenish and revitalize the colony. We had three colony ships with the Pounce riding support. Mal de Merd a Din, Alain Gignot, and Jean LeBeouf are known to you, and were among the Fleet’s Officers. Thomas Gee and Jorgez DuLac de Nantes also served. A man named David Stanton functioned as Commander of our small fleet. The appointment of Stanton over myself was, I confess, quite a disappointment.
Lord Bailey, his wife and children, along with some sixty or so families of existing colonists had to be quartered - wives and children all. Some 300 souls to be housed alongside crews, cargo and other persons.
Besides the families, there were eight Specialist positions to transport. Each was considered of sufficient rank, value or expertise to demand private room. Each would exacerbate the already crowded conditions aboard the ships. Any left behind from concern for the safety of the families could claim breach of contract, and cause issues with the financial concerns behind the venture. We took them all. The Phrenologist, a victim of Russian torture, a Defrocked Priest, survivor of Spanish torture, and a Futuricite, sufferer of Dutch torture (Lord Baileigh thundered that this “Seer” had “better not be Diaz!”). One man, best described as a Limping Scalawag, had undergone English torture. A Town Crier, had endured Robespierre’s torture - when we finally met him it transpired his tongue had been cut from his mouth. The Occult Astronomer, a victim of Carpathian torture, turned out to be a superstitious fool who believed in a Flat Earth. Finally, an Elderly Suffragette, who had been under Serbian torture. Reluctantly, we accepted the contracts of all, but determined to quarter as many aboard Pounce as possible. There were whispers that Lord Baileigh had attempted to add his children’s tutor to the roster, but had failed. Further whispers suggested Lady Baileigh and the children were quite upset at the omission.
Our cargo? This mission had been planned before the recent wars. The cargo had sat in storage on the docks for years. Barley corn seeds: years old seed was unlikely to germinate. The Ansbach horse oats were likely moldy. The draft mules were probably in poor health if they had been left penned the past years. The Iberian leek seedlings and pots of shrubbery hopefully had been watered and sunned. The needles and pins would be welcomed, assuming they had been properly stored as to not rust. The same for the thread dies. Aquamarine glassware? Were those intended for trade, or were they the vain luxury of a colonist? The quicksilver tonic was a medicine of questionable value; the potable of a charlatan. The bronze cast for twenty-pound mortar rounds should be in fine shape, but would the colony have the arms themselves? There was a stamp press for coins. For which government was unclear. The pipe organ was a ridiculous extravagance (hopefully the colony was not Reformist, as they dislike music in their services. The pair of tabby cats would be welcome both, aboard ship, and along the lands of the colony. The noble and graceful hunters would be of service in reducing the rat and mouse population.
As with the specialists, to avoid angering the banking cartels, we took the entire, useless lot. As much cargo as possible was stowed aboard Pounce. The cats, I secured in my own Stateroom, and gave them the names of Oedipus and Sphinx.
Finally, we had to mediate a dispute between the colonists wives. Three women claimed the position of “Lady’s Advocate” for the voyage. Goody Marie, an Anti-baptist Reformer, Goody Sade, the addled wife of the colony’s late Governor, and Goody Trieste, a Papist. It was obvious to our band that appointing either Goody Marie or Trieste would incense the other, while Goody Sade could be managed with a little flattery, a little deference, and a little misdirection. There was a brief discussion about appointing the suffragette at Advocate. The notion brought titters from Goody Sade and shock from Good-wives Marie and Trieste. It seemed the “Lady Suffragette” was, in truth, more of a “Dandy Suffragette.”
With preparations completed, we were to immediately set from Salerno, despite being it the think of a stormy winter. The financiers were impatient, and Stanton too young and inexperienced to object. The colonists were boarded, the specialists were situated, the cargo stowed, and we set sail across sea of treacherous waves, gusting winds and flashing lightning.
Almost immediately disaster struck. We had set west, and cut south to follow the coasts of the Netherlands and Scotland before heading across hundreds of knots of open water. The lighthouse at Amsterdam was a mere star-gleam upon the horizon when my beautiful Lion’s Pounce began taking on water. She is one of the finest hulls ever assembled by the shipwrights of Kleef, and to have her founder so suddenly and completely was a shock I was unable to properly investigate at the time. Sabotage must have occurred, but it would not be until later the suspect would become evident.
We were forced to move our Specialists, and as much cargo as possible across to our colony transports. Before the Pounce slid too far under the choppy waters. Birmingham moved the shrubberies, Mal the mule. Jean salvaged the barley corn, while, somehow, Alain saved the extremely bulky and heavy crates containing the pipe organ! Jorgez personally rescued the Defrocked Priest, “Father” Pedro, who found himself trapped below-decks performing his evening ablutions when the hull breached. I rescued Oedipus and Sphinx, and was willing to lest the rest of our useless cargo sink. Pounce’s crew found safely, as did most of the specialists. The suffragette and scalawag went missing. Regretfully, they were assumed to be lost at sea. Stanton demanded we carry on, and I took one last look back at the Pounce. Grounded upon a shoal her masts remained above water in the troughs, only to vanish and shift with each new crest.
Certain food supplies had been stored aboard Pounce, and the conditions aboard our colony vessels became intolerably cramped once Pounce’s sailors and soldiers (not to mention the specialists, who still demanded private quarters) were added to the compliment. Privately I worried. It seemed assured that not all aboard would survive the cramped, rocking passage.
Off of Leiden we encountered another unfortunate wreck. Our salvage operations yielded little, although her Captain had left his charts. I perused them, hoping for fresh insight, but they appeared to be but copies of my own.
We briefly set ashore in Perugia for one final resupply before crossing the depths. Despite lack of room, I think the sight of shore had an uplifting effect on our passengers, while the endless gray of the deep, and omnipresent flashing storm clouds caused malaise. Two of the women, four of the children, and one sailor perished within proximity of each other, while the tongueless Town Crier was the first to lose his sanity. He attempted to murder Stanton, who was able to fight the madman off until aid arrived. Birmingham subdued the man, and the entire populace of the fleet - already saddened by the deaths of friends - had to watch as the unfortunate Crier was tried and hung.
The Crier had made a friend among the crew, and that sailor tried to take revenge upon Stanton. This time, Stanton was able to neutralize the foe on his own. The sailor was likewise tried and hung.
The crowding continued to take it’s toll, and more of our colonist’s wives and children perished of illness. We officers tried as we might to maintain morale: Mal de Merd-a-Din’s Flamboyant acrobatics delighted the children, while Jorgez made games and contests from learning rigging and ropes. My efforts to teach some of the children to read and write were surprisingly well met, while Stanton’s efforts to teach the children the Oriental secrets of breaking boards with fists were met with cheers when one succeeded, and yelps when failure led to scraped knuckles. It was enough to maintain order for a time.
Yet, another woman and more children perished. This was tempered, somewhat, by a rescue of a child that had somehow fallen overboard. Yet the Phrenologist went mad. His portents of Doom were shouted from the rigging as he leapt at Captain Stanton. The Phrenologist did not survive to stand trial. Still, his omens took root in the superstitious. The crews rose in mutiny, yet, amazingly, the uprising was quashed with no serious injury or loss of life. Stanton chose mercy, and none of those involved were executed. Stanton did allow me to re-draft the duty rosters, and I filled as many positions as possible with the Elite sailors of the sunken Pounce.
After weeks at sea, buffeted by waves, drenched by rain, and shaken by thunder land was spotted. Land? We should not yet have been anywhere near Alexandria, our next planned re-supply. Still the sight of shore produced a near hysteria among the passengers. One mother bundled her children in a lifeboat and struck out on her own. The woman was so frantic she was unable to muster gratitude for the brave men who rescued her and her family when her inexpertly oared boat flipped going over a tall wave.
As our fleet sailed into the shelter of a cove we realized that the worst had happened. Perhaps the storm had affected our compasses? Certainly the constant cloud cover made it near impossible to sight stars. It’s possible Stanton’s navigation was unequal to the task. Whatever the reason, we found ourselves hundreds of leagues south and east of where we desired to be, for the cove in which we nestled lay within sight of Zanzibar in Ethiopia!
We had little recourse but to again turn our prows west. The weather remained fouls, as did tempers aboard ship. One night, the howling winds and flashing lightning overwhelmed several aboard. Sailor and colonist alike swore they sighted ghost ships a-sail, or heard the siren calls of mermaid beckoning from the blue.
Among those who dove into the ocean to “take gifts of gold” from the “mermaids” were Birmingham Brown and the Defrocked Priest. “Father” Pedro drowned, Birmingham Brown was saved, although the immersion left him feverish and shaking for weeks.
Pedro’s ad-hoc quarters were re-opened to the rest of the ship, and his possessions stored to return to his next-of-kin (if such could be located). Mal was the one who perused Pedro’s diary, so it was Mal who made the terrible discoveries. “Father” Pedro proved to be most unholy, indeed. He had a fascination with death that was near-sexual in intensity. It was Pedro who sabotaged Pounce’s hull, solely so that he would be quartered in proximity to the colonists. The deaths of women and children we felt had come from illness were, in fact, murder, foul, plain and simple. Mal took the revelations particularly hard.
The next calamity to befall answered another mystery. The Astronomer’s mind, already twisted by his uneducated views, finally broke. He ranted at how we were all sailing to our dooms, and that we would all soon fall into the voids outside the Earthly Realms, and confessed that he had been altering the navigation charts and logs to “save us all” from our “own folly.” I was the initial target of his wrath, and I ended his would-be rampage with my blade.
Again, through weeks of lightning and terror, we tried our best to keep morale high. Jean Lebeouf took over my reading classes, but his choice of literature - Fatimah poetry - went over the children’s head. Alain’s simplistic cheerful rabble-rousing failed to fool anyone. Gee’s pistol juggling did not impress. Mal’s juggling - knives, not pistols, but twice as many - did serve to entertain. Stanton made an appearance as “Father Christmas,” yet he had nothing to give as gifts, thus the children, rather than laugh, cried. One of the sailors, Gualterius Du Moucel, attempted to teach the children knots. Alas, he was what can only be described as a “dullard,” and his efforts were more confusing than educational. Jorgez decided that forthright honesty would work, and he endeavored to instruct those who showed interest in the arts of navigation, in the hopes that showing progress, if only as a line on a chart, would keep calm.
The combined efforts met with some success, but I confess to you my own trick. I have learned certain distillations of Incago herbs, which, when added in small amounts to water induce a general feeling of goodwill and calm. I had a supply of such herb in my personal effects, and used them for the benefit of our passengers. Of all aboard, I believe it was only the Futuracite who suspected anything, for he developed a fascination with the shrubbery, and could often be found in the hold inspecting and rubbing their leaves.
At least the removal of the murdering “Father” Pedro, and the easing of cramped conditions from opening up the staterooms of the dead specialists meant there was no further loss of life during the crossing.
We made landfall early one morning in the harbor that housed “New England.” The town was deserted, and the empty buildings gaped open in the silence. Lord Baileigh was silent as he gazed across the empty square where he had anticipated a cheering crowd to greet his arrival.
Our investigations indicated the colony had been attacked. The identity of the attackers was unclear, but the assailants used both blade and ball during the events. Tracks led into the distance, and Stanton traced them to a series of nearby caves.
Within were most of the colonists. We discovered that the men had contracted some form of jungle rot, and that the savage tribes nearby feared the “unclean” would spread their disease. Fortunately, during our own long ago voyages to these shores, we encountered a similar ailment, and I knew the remedy.
Soon enough, the menfolk were cured of their malady and reunited with their wives and loved ones. As one, the colonists and crews of our fleet toiled and labored, until, by the Spring Equinox, the buildings of the town were fully restored. Friendships and more were forged in those days of building, and, after being officially sworn in a Governor, Governor Lord Baileigh’s first official acts were to preside over several new marriages between unmarried men, some of the unmarried women who had come to seek a new life, or some of the women who arrived at the colony to find themselves widowed.
I, in good humor, formally presented to Governor Bailey, Oedipus, and the now-pregnant Sphinx, as the colony’s “Guardians of the Grain.” Sadly, the Governor is not a lover of the proud felines - preferring the slavish devotion of the canine races to the aloof, independent nature of the car. He merely humphed and waved. The cats themselves vanished into the undergrowth thereafter. I have no doubt that one day they will be seen again. They, or their progeny.
The Governor was more amused by the news that reached us from afar of the death of Michael, Tsar of Russia. Bailey called the late Tsar “ungrateful,” and “undeserving of the throne we placed him upon.”
Further news was less welcomed. The English had believed the “New England” colony had been completely destroyed by the savages, and had been avoiding the area from fear of plague. The news of the colony’s regrowth had spread, and, soon, the English would come for tribute.
Governor Baileigh has decided it’s time to put the plans of himself, Archbishop Percy, Marshal Duclos and Viceroy Moridin into action. A messenger is shortly to be dispatched to Japan, and this message will be sent in the hands of one of my most trusted sailors, along with a not-insignificant sum of money. Such should see this to your hands.
Should this missive find you, you know where I can be found. I do not know if you still feel any sense of responsibility towards these colonies you helped found. I still feel myself bound by duty to aid in establishing self-rule as a child of France. Then, duty obligated, it is my intent to return to Europe, call in every favor and line of credit owed me, muster what funds I can from the remnants of my Estate (long plundered by the Tri-Colors), and purchase a new vessel. Then, I shall be free of obligation, and free to forge a new life for myself.
First, however, we must put the fear of God into the English, and prove to them it’s more trouble than it’s worth to keep this land in their swollen Empire.
The Third Greatest Explorer in the World
Author's Ramblings on Part 1 -- Mike Myke Mique (posted: 12/2/2019)