Vox Populi Forum
My Lord, it is my understanding the success of our mission to deliver the Imp, Alexander Pope, to Burma has been called into question. I am uncertain as to what, if anything, you might have been told by the Fuggars, and, as you sponsored myself and your cousin, Moridin, in our initiations, I wish for you to understand the circumstances around events.
We had secured the Dwarf in London and booked passage aboard a vessel with the colorful name of Clam Dog. Moridin was acting as Master of Guns, while I was serving as Ship’s General. Louis Brighteyes had been given the duties of Master of Sail, while Jasc Bonadventure somehow was numbered among the common sailors. Thomas de Marchand took the post of Quartermaster, while Timeo Lylou Commanded. In a stroke of good fortune, Moab Ibn Bakr, a noble of the Moorish Sultanates, and a friend to the Vert Valliant was in Tours tending to his own affairs. Ibn Bakr offered to accompany Clam Dog as far south and east as the Panda Isle. Of course we accepted his offer.
Unfortunately - and here, I can only blame our inexperienced Captain - we cast lines and set sail without taking a head count. Brighteyes and de Marchand found themselves left behind in Tours!
Still, sailing in the midst of a Moorish Fleet made the voyage to Ceylon utterly uneventful. Local authorities in Ceylon were receptive and we were offered a second escort to the Chutes d’ Escarpment.
You have ventured forth into the world enough to know that travelling the seas can oft have dangers, whether weather, leviathan or pyrate. Our greatest danger was the foul temper of Moridin.
Moridin found himself challenged to a drinking contest by Walter Raleigh. Raleigh is considered the “World’s Greatest Pugilist,” and has even gone so far as to draft pamphlets containing “A Compendium of Rules Pertaining to the Art of Gentlemanly Brawling.” It is said those Raleigh knocks unconscious awaken refreshed. Raleigh’s reputation is known far and wide, yet I suspect it has been exaggerated. Brawling is no art, but a serious business of survival, and I would rather have a man like His Excellence, Ambassador “One Punch” Percy, a man who calls himself the “Gentle Confessor,” and a man who uses violence only as a last resort by my side than a braggart who wastes his time writing “rules,” to make sport of bloodshed.
I suspect you anticipate the tale to continue with drunken fighting between Moridin and Raleigh? Perhaps a brawl that escalated among the crew of the Clam Dog? You would be incorrect - for Moridin declined the drinking contest! I think Moridin was as shocked by this as the rest.
When the ship proved the next morning to be completely devoid of rum is when Moridin’s temper flared. Moridin swore up and down that there should have been stores aboard. Moridin even argued with “Captain” Lylou, and Lylou himself had gone out of his way to obtain extra stores of rum. Alas, one is left to assume said rum was left behind in Tours, along with Quartermaster de Marchand!
Moridin’s grousing spread to the rest of the crew, and, just like that we found ourselves with a Disorderly crew.
Thus, we set ashore at the Escarpment and finished out journey over-land.
We delivered the Imp to the Court of Thibaw Min, King of Burma as contracted. It was there we discovered that the fate of Alexander Pope was to be both Jester and “Mistress” to King Min. I found myself saddened by this. The Imp was twisted and sub-human of form, but his mind was keen, his demeanor wise, and his soul was that of a true artist, where the King, Min, was tall (for his people) and beautiful in his aspect (for his people), but his mind and soul were far more mis-shapen than the limbs of the dwarf. Even the vile Lennart Tortennson kept the expression of his base lusts within the natural order! My honor demands I fulfill duties to France, Fuggars, Family and Friends, yet, in that time and place I found myself sorely tempted to free the man myself, and have him delivered to a place where he could live his life in peace.
Such was not to be. King Min accepted our writs and charters, but Admiral Humphries of Russia had deduced our location and had arrived before us. Humphries denounced us, and claimed that we were not truly of the Vert Valliant. While I was the only veteran of Salerno in the party, Merd-a-Din was, of course, a long-serving member of the Valliant, and Bonadventure was, as far as I was concerned, also a member of that august assembly. Only Lylou had yet to prove himself worthy to wear the green.
The King decided the proper way to settle the matter was a race between Clam Dog and Humphries’ boat. The Exploits of the Vert Valliant are truly known across the world. King Min knew of the famous Armada of Many Nations and also that Humphries’ forces were utterly useless during the siege to retake Nantes. King Min’s logic was that the Vert Valliant would easily out-sail the Russian in a race from Canton to Hanoi. We could refuse to race, but, if we did, the Imp would be given to Humphries, the Cossack.
Perhaps it were better for Pope had we let Humphries have him. The Russians would have merely jailed or killed him, rather than subject the imp to a life of humiliation and molestation, but Moridin was the one responsible for Pope’s delivery and Lylou was acting as Captain of Clam Dog, and both men accepted the challenge.
We returned over-land to Clam Dog and set for Canton. Humphries, of course, sailed close by in his Skulagjarri along with swift small Burmese ships as observers. It was then discovered Clam Dog had been infested with ravenous insects. Our careful stockpiles of Abundant Stores had been eaten or befouled, leaving the crew on near-starvation rations.
Yet, on our arrival at Canton, no time was given for preparations, nor opportunity to take on new stores. The race began at once! We anticipated some sort of skullduggery from Humphries - we half expected Skulagjarri to try to blow us out of the water once out of sight from shore - and so Moridin, Bonadventure, Lylou and I did what we could to prepare and inspire the crew.
Bonadventure’s time with the crew proved to be well-spent. Bonadventure was a man they would listen to and the men worked efficiently. Moridin charted our course. Captain Lylou identified and corrected some flaws in the rigging - a prudent move that preserved our “Gentleman’s Luck.” With our course laid in, Moridin next serviced our cannon, preparing them for use, if needed. .
As we continued across open water the men began to falter. Captain Timeo tried drilling the crew, but it became clear that the crew had been made aware of the fate of the Imp in the event of victory. The sailors, like myself, were oddly fond of Pope, and they were reluctant as I to see him suffer his intended fate. I attempted to bribe the men into compliance, yet many among the crew held Grognard sympathies. Shared philosophy, and the Imp’s personal charms had combined to make the sailors of Clam Dog zealously protective of the Imp. Moridin attempted to subdue the men to his Lordly will. The jeers of the crew told us all that our luck had all but run dry. In fact, I, myself, had to avoid angry reprisals for my part in the affair - one sailor went so far as to attempt to stab me in the back.
Captain Lylou went high into the rigging and made some unusual modification to our sails, intended to cut down on the men needed working the lines. His modifications had little effect, and Lylou almost found himself injured when he used a line he had just loosened to slide down to the deck. Yet, to quote the Imp, “Fools rush in where Angles fear to Tread!”
We were still waiting for Humphries to make a treacherous move, so we spun the vessel and test-fired our cannon. The brief jog in our path brought us favorable leeward winds. We found ourselves pulling ahead of Skulagjarri and, as she fell back out of canon range our inevitable victory seemed assured.
That was when Jonson, Lylou’s First Mate and Pilot revealed himself to be the “true” master of the Clam Dog. Moreover, he revealed himself to be none other than Ben Jonson, the dastardly scofflaw, leader of the Grognards, and he who pretended to blindness to lead us all around a New World seeking a mere empty legend. Jonson confronted Captain Lylou and demanded Clam Dog drop from the race, turn for unknown lands and set free the Imp. While I and Bonadventure took the wheel and lines in hand, Captain Lylou engaged in Repartee with Jonson and those sailors who shared his views. Bonadventure caught the wind full in our sails, and Clam Dog leapt ahead to victory. While Captain Lylou was able to prevent Jonson and his men from hindering our triumph in the race, he was Viciously beaten by the rabble.
And so, in the Harbor of Hanoi, with Humphries ship still shrunken against the horizon, we were forced to battle the crew of Clam Dog over the disposition of the Imp. Moridin brashly charged Jonson, and almost found himself skewered for his efforts. I found myself momentarily between loyalty to mission and friends, and my pity for Pope. Yet, my duty was clear, and, reluctantly, I prepared to engage Jonson. Fittingly, it was Captain Timeo Lylou, injured, bleeding, left on the deck and assumed helpless by the Grognards, who lunged in, tackled Jonson about the legs and beat him into unconsciousness. I confess, until that moment I had not warmed to Lylou - the man was a slob and a Slav, after all -but I can always admire true bravery. A Swab, injured as he was, defeating a Swashbuckling man like Jonson as Lylou did, earned my respect. The crew felt the same. Lylou was now truly Captain of Clam Dog!
It was then Humphries made the treacherous move we had anticipated. During the altercation with Jonson, Skulagjarri drew alongside Clam Dog. Grappling hooks were flung, the ships locked, and Skulagjarri’s crew swarmed forwards to cross-decks. Bonadventure was knocked unconscious in the opening seconds of the melee. Moridin quickly ignited powder stores by our own canons! He and I barely escaped injury from the explosion this mad action caused. The roar of the explosion and choking cloud of smoke halted the forward rush of the crew, and here is where I vented all my mounting frustrations. I stormed through the cloud, cursing the Russians, invoking the deeds of the Vert Valliant. I boasted of how we had once stolen the Russian Flagship, multiple times defeated the Russian Army in battle, and taken back Nantes. I named myself as killer of Tortensson, and the one who had brought down Crown Prince Viktor in battle - the same man I had placed on their throne in the first place! Rightly awed at the sight of a Stout man of Lordly mien recounting Dashing exploits that had led to multiple Russian defeats gave me the few moments needed to cut Skulagjarri free from Clam Dog. Even Humphries in that moment feared I had a Cunning ploy ready. In reality, we were satisfied to escape back to Burma.
And Burma is where we left Pope and Jonson. They remain in the court of King Thibaw Min. As I understand it, the Imp is Jester to the Court, but Ben Jonson fills the other role originally intended for the Imp. Or is Jonson filled in the role? There is an English phrase I have heard that applies aptly to Jonson: “Screw Him.”
And so, those are the circumstances surrounding Pope and Jonson’s whereabouts. I hear that there are those who are unhappy with the resolution of events, and that Pope was merely to have been kidnapped and removed to a safe location outside of the Olde World. This is exactly what we attempted to do. The proclivities of King Min were unknown to us before the mission, and time did not allow for us to seek guidance or advice from the Fuggars. We made the best ending from an imperfect situation. I, too, feel bad for the humiliations the Imp must now face.
In the wake of such tragedy , I weary of such ill fortune. The simple charms of my family hold more sway over my soul than any lust for adventure. Even now, Lylou and Bonadventure have set out with Nemo Moridin and an associate of Nemo’s unknown to me. The four seek a two-thousand florin reward for the Grognard and Reformist, Ben Jonson. As they know exactly where Jonson is, I assume they shall return to Burma to try to convince King Min to let them return Jonson to French justice.
I wish them luck, but have chosen to return to my lovely Caterina. Unless (until) duty to friend, Fuggar or France requires my service, I shall be found on the grounds of my Estate. You, and indeed any of the Vert Valliant, are always welcome to visit.
Lord Bailey Baylee Bayleigh (Chronicler)