Posts Tagged ‘forge’

I’m back! Back on Neptune’s Forge. Here’s a little smidgen of it for you:

The thought you cannot speak is also the one you should not think.
Therefore, post a sentinel at the portal of your innermost sanctum
where intentions are borne,
and make him to keep his sword sharpened
that no unworthy thing be permitted to pass to or from it.
—The Secret Lamentations

Hastily-scratched entry from the journal of Jonathan Rath:
My friend is dead, and I’m not sure what today is. He was stabbed through his ear and deep into his brain. I don’t know who has done this or why, but this expedition is ended. I must find Peter now, first, and get him where we can talk alone, before we let that madman Gleese know what has happened, although I am almost certain that he is somehow behind this abortion of humanity. Peter Bornik and I will get to the bottom of it. Someone is going to have to pay for killing Parker Dunlevy.

It was on the first day of spring that Jonathan Rath planted the tree, a cherry, outside his kitchen window. He was five years back from the war, still unemployed and seemingly unemployable, due to his irascible nature. He had left as a quiet, unassuming country bumpkin in the first round of Lincoln’s enlistments following the fall of Fort Sumter, hardly more than a boy, and had returned after the South’s defeat an angry, rude, and unforgiving man. Sometimes he awoke in the night, screaming.

During the day he shaped furniture out in his barn, working, sweating, toiling without break in order to keep his attention focused and his thoughts quiet. Often he forgot to eat.

The tree had been left by a neighbor who needed one of his yokes repaired and had no money to pay for the service. Jonathan was known far and wide for his fine furniture, particularly his rocking chairs, bed steads, bookcases, tables and dining chairs, but he was not above taking on other work simply to keep himself busy. The cherry showed up the morning after the neighbor had come to see about the yoke for his ox, and had been both happy and surprised at the repair work. Before the man could apologize for having no money, and began a stumbling proposition for repayment at a later time, Jonathan ceased chewing his tongue and stated, “Pay for it if, when and however you can. It matters not.”

Jonathan Rath sat at his dining room table that evening after receiving his payment—the tree—and stared at the little green thing. Hours, it must have been, that he looked at it, probed it, wondered at it. He started in the complete darkness the instant after the lamp burned itself out. Where had the time gone? What sort of trick was this?

And that night he did not dream.

The next morning he planted the tree ten paces from his kitchen window where it would receive the full sun of the day.

And the years passed. Another trick, of sorts.

For some reason Jonathan Rath thought about the cherry tree as he left his tent in search of Bornik.

Find Bornik first, then together they could handle Gleese, and possible Kroones as well—this was the marching order in his mind. If Bornik wouldn’t throw in his hand to help him kill Gleese, well then, he’d do it himself. And if Kroones stood in his way, then Kroones had to fall as well. If Tomaroff likewise posed a barrier, then Tomaroff himself had to die. Rath’s blood was up, this he knew, and there would be no stopping him.

Rath had once slain what had remained of a company of Rebs in this fashion. This was in the Wilderness, May of ‘64, not far from Spotsylvania. After his major had been shot through the eye at a distance of eighty yards as he was mounting his Morgan on the main road through the woods, Jonathan turned, pulled his saber from its scabbard and strode toward the cowards shooting at him from among the trees. His chest had become a hollow tube through which a cool wind blew. When he was ten feet from them, a bullet passed through the sleeve of his left arm and left a narrow furrow there, the only scar he would bring home with him from the war. But at that moment, he didn’t even feel it. He stepped in among them, his saber slashing and singing in the morning sun. Arms, fingers and heads tumbled to the ground, blood ran in freshets, rivulets, and a steam arose. And still he killed. After he killed them, he hacked them, noting how soft the tissue seemed—it felt more like hacking feather pillows than human flesh. When his wits returned and he realized he was covered in blood from head to foot, he turned, replaced his saber in its scabbard and strode back to camp. The men had stared at him as he walked by, but no one said so much as a single word. He walked up to his Captain and said, “Sir, the Major is dead. You’re now in complete command of this outfit.”

It was this single-mindedness of purpose, this intensity of focus that drove him; as if, in the final analysis, his essential fuel was nothing more complicated than mere decision.

There in the makeshift tent two continents and nearly two and-a-half decades from the carnage outside Spotsylvania, Jonathan left Parker Dunlevy’s body where he’d had found it, with his life’s blood pooled and frozen into the ice beneath the sled, and went in search of Peter Bornik. In his left hand he had his hunting knife—the same knife he had once used to carve the filigree on his bedstead back home. He stepped out into a blizzard; the first such they had encountered in the Antarctic. The wind hooted and howled and ice crystals stung his face, but like the bullet carving its own filigree into his left arm all those years ago, he felt nothing. The hollow, windy tube inside him had turned itself outward to encompass the whole world.

Outside he ran into one of the Brazilians—he couldn’t tell which, at first, because of his sealskin coat and the woolen scarf covering all but his eyes, but when the man spoke, he knew him instantly.

“My friend,” Gomez stated. “Another is dead.”

“Yes,” Rath stated, then was thrown into momentary confusion. How does Gomez know about Peter? he thought, and then, on the heels of this, as Gomez pulled the scarf down to reveal a face contorted in anxiety, it dawned upon him that he wasn’t referencing Parker Dunlevey.

“Another? Another Brazile?”

“Sim. Sim. It is my cousin, Juan Tomas. He is…dead.” Gomez genuflected.

“Parker Dunlevy, the Irishman, is also dead. I am going to kill Gleese for this.”

“Gleese,” Gomez said. “Yes. Kill him. Go to house. Wait for the ship. No?”

The magnitude of it dawned upon Rath. Yes, they could kill Gleese, possibly Kroones, and take command of the expedition; turn it around and strike for the house. But to get there, to get to where the ship would pick them up in the Antarctic fall, they would need Tomaroff. Only Tomaroff could get them there. Without Tomaroff, without his compass, sextant, astrolabe and theodolite to not only ascertain longitude, but that most important calculation, latitude, they would all be as dead as Parker Dunlevy, and ultimately as frozen as the naked man in the ice caverns.

“If you will lead us,” Gomez stated, “my people will stand behind you, and I will kill Gleese with my own hands.”

For an instant, there in the bitter, stinging wind, Jonathan Rath was back aboard the launch after Gomez had harpooned the narwhal. Gleese’s rebuke of Gomez for killing the whale during childbirth in front of the men came into his mind. The look on Gomez’s face then had been a mixture of several elements at once: shame and regret, shock and disbelief, rejection for the rebuke, and something else. And in an instant, Rath had it—blame. He blamed Gleese for the whole fiasco, and for the hours following in which he’d spent with his nose figuratively rubbed in it while gutting and cleaning the narwhal and salting and packing its meat and blubber. Rath had come to hate Gleese since then and by degrees, and had likewise come to sympathize with the Gomez by the same factor. He could see how Gomez was the perfect man to dispatch Gleese, if indeed he himself could not.

“I will lead you,” Rath stated. “But first we must speak with Tomaroff. He must take us back to the house, as only he can. In this wilderness, all places are like every other place. But the Russian knows how to navigate celestially—with the stars. I do not. Without him, we are lost.”

“You very smart man, Senor Rath.”

“I don’t feel very smart.”

“Come. We find Russian.” And then his face sagged. “What about…Homem dos cães.?”

“What?”

Gomez spoke carefully. “Man of dogs?”

“Kroones?”

“Ah! Sim. Kroo-nez.”

“I will deal with Kroones,” Rath stated.

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Another little snippet from Neptune’s Forge:

The expedition party came off of the ice shelf and onto land with no fanfare. If anything, the way was more difficult, being mostly uphill, and the dogs slipped and the sleds had a tendency to slue and skid. Right away, Gleese could see the genius of Ned’s selections of the dogs, and particularly the leaders. At the front of Ned’s and Tomaroff’s own sled ran Anja and Freja, two of the largest dogs among the many, both females and of even temperament. Pulling his own sled, in the lead were Ole and Svend, two male black and white huskies. Behind them were Mads, Margreth, Lisbeth and Frans, all Danish names, selected by the only Dane in the party, Ned Kroones. In the final analysis, they were all Ned’s dogs, even though technically, Gleese was the owner. Beside Gleese rode the stoic American, Terry Rath. Behind them were Peter Bornik, another American from the deep south, and Parker Dunlevy, an Irishman, who spoke incessantly about nothing at all.

Gleese kept expecting trouble between Rath and Bornik, the two having come from opposing sides in the Civil War, but they seemed fine with one another’s presence.

Rath had been in the Drum & Bugle Corp attached to William Tecumseh Sherman’s XV Corp under U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. He had lived through the initial battle and was there for the long siege, though he had only been a lad of eight at the time. He loved and respected Grant very nearly as much as he loathed Sherman, whom he considered to be the only man he had ever met who was born without a heart.

Bornik, for his part, had been one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalrymen after Forrest was stripped of his hardened veterans by General Braxton Bragg in 1862. Forrest had been forced to sign up two thousand new recruits, and had hand-picked the rail-thin will-o-the-wisp from the southern Louisiana canebrakes. Not that he could afford to be choosy about it. Bornik served alongside the brash and fiery-tempered Southern Cavalry Major from then up to that fateful day in 1865 when the then Major General Forrest bade farewell to his troops after the CSA’s surrender by General Lee in the drawing room of Wilmer McClean at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. During those three years he had been wounded twice and had three mounts shot out from under him. There had been no replacement horses, however, in the final days of the war, and so he was forced to make his way back to Houma, Louisiana, with his bare feet, his carbine and his cavalry saber, and the clothes on his back. Peter Bornik looked almost ancient, even though he was no more than forty. The years had been unkind to him. His skin was as red as an Indian’s, and it seemed that every inch of him bore one kind of scar or another. It was a wonder he was sound in his mind and members. There were few who had seen more action who were not missing a digit, or a whole hand, leg or arm. After the war, Bornik had spent most of the intervening years as a shrimp fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one fine summer day, he decided he’d had enough of the blazing tropical sun and came north. Gleese had found the man on the New London docks, looking for work, took one look at his ropy frame and hired him on the spot.

It was Rath, though, who spoke first concerning the disposition of Mateo. “You left it to those Island men to mete out justice?”

Gleese turned to look back toward the last sled to see old Mateo straining to catch up with it. The Argentinians had put him afoot. They would not trust him in their midst.

“He’ll not last long, I suspect,” Gleese stated. It was a true answer to the question, but then again, he didn’t care to answer the query. “And they’re not Island men. They’re Portuguese, from Argentina.”

“What were they doing on the island, then?” Rath asked.

“Looking for work. Whaling and sealing, I’d say, mostly.”

Rath shook his head slowly, and lapsed into silence. It didn’t last long, because after a minute, he said, “You had to pay them handsomely, didn’t you?”

“Mr. Rath, your wages are between you and me. The matter of their wages is between them and me.”

“I’m only trying to figure why they would come, is all.”

“Some men will walk through the gates of hell for money.”

Terry Rath then remembered his fellow Union soldiers who had accepted payment for another man’s conscription, and shivered.

“You’re from Maine, aren’t you?” Gleese asked him.

“I am,” Rath replied.

“It makes sense.”

“What makes sense?”

“I have never met anyone from Maine that wasn’t attempting to puzzle something out.”

“I’m not sure how to take that,” Rath said.

Gleese nodded, and let it go.

By the time they topped a rise and saw the distant Trans-Antarctic Range, Mateo was nowhere to be seen anywhere behind them.