Introducing Helen Tavrel
January 31, 2018 at 6:39 am #5840
Here’s our newest character. Thanks to Death Daisy from PA! for giving us this fine model. Jeffrey was able to work on her and get the animations correct and we have a high poly version as well that will only work with our engine because ours is the only Storm derived one that will run more advanced models with our improved MAELSTROM(TM) game engine. I also re-textured her a bit getting rid of the running mascara which made her look like a raccoon and that she was crying buckets – and the white hair is now a flaxen golden color.
So, let me introduce you to Helen Tavrel, a fictional character created by the pen of the great Robert E. Howard, the father of the sword and sorcery genre and creator of Conan the Barbarian. In Howard’s prolific body of work he actually wrote about pirates here and there. Since I have run out of historical female pirates of the golden age – as they are all already in the game, I thought Helen was the perfect fictional character to add next and her description is very much in matching with this great model.
Also in tribute I am copying Howard’s story below. “The Isle of Pirate’s Doom”
Beyond that I am also adding a set of short stories I’ve found by an unknown author which expand upon Helen’s story even more. These are REALLY entertaining reading and if someone knows who this person is, please let us know as I would really like to recognize them and find more. The research is excellent and I really enjoyed reading these.
EDIT: We now know that the author is Keith Taylor – see several posts below for more details.
“The Isle of Pirate’s Doom” By Robert E. Howard
The First Day
The long low craft which rode off-shore had an unsavory look, and lying close in my covert, I was glad that I had not hailed her. Caution had prompted me to conceal myself and observe her crew before making my presence known, and now I thanked my guardian spirit; for these were troublous times and strange craft haunted the Caribees.
True, the scene was fair and peaceful enough. I crouched among green and fragrant bushes on the crest of a slope which ran down before me to the broad beach. Tall trees rose about me, their ranks sweeping away on either hand. Below on the shore, green waves broke on the white sand and overhead the blue sky hung like a dream. But as a viper in a verdant garden lay that sullen black ship, anchored just outside the shallow water.
She had an unkempt look, a slouchy, devil-may-care rigging which speaks not of an honest crew or a careful master. Anon rough voices floated across the intervening space of water and beach, and once I saw a great hulking fellow slouching along the rail lift something to his lips and then hurl it overboard.
Now the crew was lowering a longboat, heavily loaded with men, and as they laid hand to oar and drew away from the ship, their coarse shouts and the replies of those who remained on deck came to me though the words were vague and indistinct.
Crouching lower, I yearned for a telescope that I might learn the name of the ship, and presently the longboat swept in close to the beach. There were eight men in her: seven great rough fellows and the other a slim foppishly-clad varlet wearing a cocked hat who did no rowing. Now as they approached, I perceived that there was an argument among them. Seven of them roared and bellowed at the dandy, who, if he answered at all, spoke in a tone so low that I could not hear.
The boat shot through the light surf, and as she beached, a huge hairy rogue in the bow heaved up and plunged at the fop, who sprang up to meet him. I saw steel flash and heard the larger man bellow. Instantly, the other leapt nimbly out, splashed through the wet sand and legged it inland as fast as he might, while the other rogues streamed out in pursuit, yelling and brandishing weapons. He who had begun the brawl halted a moment to make the longboat fast, then took up the chase, cursing at the top of his bull’s voice, the blood trickling down his face.
The dandy in the cocked hat led by several paces as they reached the first fringe of trees. Abruptly, he vanished into the foliage while the rest raced after him, and for a while, I could hear the alarums and bellowings of the chase, till the sounds faded in the distance.
Now I looked again at the ship. Her sails were filling and I could see men in the rigging. As I watched, the anchor came aboard and she stood off—and from her peak broke out the Jolly Roger. Truth, ’twas no more than I had expected.
Cautiously, I worked my way further back among the bushes on hands and knees and then stood up. A gloominess of spirit fell upon me, for when the sails had first come in sight, I had looked for rescue. But instead of proving a blessing, the ship had disgorged eight ruffians on the island for me to cope with.
Puzzled, I showly picked a way between the trees. Doubtless these buccaneers had been marooned by their comrades, a common affair with the bloody Brothers of the Main.
Nor did I know what I might do, since I was unarmed and these rogues would certainly regard me as an enemy, as in truth I was to all their ilk. My gorge rose against running and hiding from them, but I saw naught else to do. Nay, ’twould be rare fortune were I able to escape them at all.
Meditating thus, I had travelled inland a considerable distance yet had heard naught of the pirates, when I came to a small glade. Tall trees, crowned with lustrous green vines and gemmed with small exotic-hued birds flitting through their branches, rose about me. The musk of tropic growths filled the air and the stench of blood as well. A man lay dead in the glade.
Flat on his back he lay, his seaman’s shirt drenched with the gore which had ebbed from the wound below his heart. He was one of the Brethren of the Red Account, no doubt of that. He’d never shoes to his feet, but a great ruby glimmered on his finger, and a costly silk sash girdled the waist of his tarry pantaloons. Through this sash were thrust a pair of flintlock pistols and a cutlass lay near his hand.
Here were weapons, at least. So I drew the pistols from his sash, noting they were charged, and having thrust them in my waistband, I took his cutlass, too. He would never need weapons again and I had good thought that I might very soon.
Then as I turned from despoiling the dead, a soft mocking laugh brought me round like a shot. The dandy of the longboat stood before me. Faith, he was smaller than I had thought, though supple and lithe. Boots of fine Spanish leather he wore on his trim legs, and above them tight britches of doeskin. A fine crimson sash with tassels and rings to the ends was round his slim waist, and from it jutted the silver butts of two pistols. A blue coat with flaring tails and gold buttons gaped open to disclose the frilled and laced shirt beneath. Again, I noted that the cocked hat still rode the owner’s brow at a jaunty angle, golden hair showing underneath.
“Satan’s throne!” said the wearer of this finery. “There is a great ruby ring you’ve overlooked!”
Now I looked for the first time at the face. It was a delicate oval with red lips that curled in mockery, large grey eyes that danced, and only then did I realize that I was looking at a woman and not a man. One hand rested saucily on her hip, the other held a long ornately-hilted rapier—and with a twitch of repulsion I saw a trace of blood on the blade.
“Speak, man!” cried she impatiently. “Are you not ashamed to be caught at your work?”
Now I doubt that I was a sight to inspire respect, what with my bare feet and my single garment, sailor’s pantaloons, and they stained and discolored with salt water. But at her mocking tone, my anger stirred.
“At least,” said I, finding my voice, “if I must answer for robbing a corpse, someone else must answer for making it.”
“Ha, I struck a spark then?” she laughed in a hard way. “Satan’s Fiends, if I’m to answer for all the corpses I’ve made, ’twill be a wearisome reckoning.”
My gorge rose at that.
“One lives and one learns,” said I. “I had not thought to meet a woman who rejoiced in cold-blooded murder.”
“Cold-blooded, say you!” she fired up then. “Am I then to stand and be butchered like a sheep?”
“Had you chosen the proper life for a woman you had had no necessity either to slay or be slain,” said I, carried away by my revulsion. And I then regretted what I had said for it was beginning to dawn on me who this girl must be.
“So, so, self-righteous,” sneered she, her eyes beginning to flash dangerously, “so you think I’m a rogue! And what might you be, may I ask; what do you on this out-of-the-way island and why do you come-a-stealing through the jungle to take the belongings of dead men?”
“My name is Stephen Harmer, mate of The Blue Countess, Virginia trader. Seven days ago she burned to the waterline from a fire that broke out in her hold and all her crew perished save myself. I floated on a hatch, and eventually raised this island where I have been ever since.”
The girl eyed me half-thoughtfully, half-mockingly, while I told my tale, as if expecting me to lie.
“As for taking weapons,” I added, “it’s but bitter mead to bide without arms among such rogues.”
“Name them none of mine,” she answered shortly, then even more abruptly: “Do you know who I am?”
“There could be only one name you could wear—what with your foppery and cold-blooded manner.”
“I bow to your intuition,” she said sardonically, “for it does not come to my mind that we have ever met.”
“No man can sail the Seven Seas without hearing Helen Tavrel’s name, and, to the best of my knowledge, she is the only woman pirate now roving the Caribees.”
“So, you have heard the sailors’ talk? And what do they say of me, then?”
“That you are as bold and heartless a creature as ever walked a quarter-deck or traded petticoats for breeches,” I answered frankly.
Her eyes sparkled dangerously and she cut viciously at a flower with her sword point.
“And is that all they say?”
“They say that though you follow a vile and bloody trade, no man can say truthfully that he ever so much as kissed your lips.”
This seemed to please her for she smiled.
“And do you believe that, sir?”
“Aye,” I answered boldly, “though may I roast in Hades if ever I saw a pair more kissable.”
For truth to tell, the rare beauty of the girl was going to my head, I who had looked on no woman for months. My heart softened toward her, then the sight of the dead man at my feet sobered me. But before I could say more, she turned her head aside as if listening.
“Come!” she exclaimed. “I think I hear Gower and his fools returning! If there is any place on this cursed island where one may hide a space, lead me there, for they will kill us both if they find us!”
Certes I could not leave her to be slaughtered, so I motioned her to follow me and made off through the trees and bushes. I struck for the southern end of the island, going swiftly but warily, the girl following as light-footed as an Indian brave. The bright-hued butterflies flitted about us and high in the interwoven branches of the thick trees sang birds of vivid plumage. But a tension was in the air as if, with the coming of the pirates, a mist of death hung over the whole island.
The underbrush thinned as we progressed and the land sloped upward, finally breaking into a number of ravines and cliffs. Among these we made our way and much I marveled at the activity of the girl, who sprang about and climbed with the ease of a cat, and even outdid me who had passed most of my life in ship’s rigging.
At last we came to a low cliff which faced the south. At its foot ran a small stream of clear water, bordered by white sand and shadowed by waving fronds and tall vegetation which grew to the edge of the sand. Beyond, across this narrow rankly-grown expanse there rose other higher cliffs, fronting north and completing a natural gorge.
“We must go down this,” I said, indicating the cliff on which we stood. “Let me aid you—”
But she, with a scornful toss of her head, had already let herself over the cliff’s edge and was making her way down, clinging foot and hand to the long heavy vines which grew across the face of it. I started to follow, then hesitated as a movement among the fronds by the stream caught my eye. I spoke a quick word of warning—the girl looked up to catch what I had said—and then a withered vine gave way and she clutched wildly and fell sprawling. She did not fall far and the sand in which she lighted was soft, but on the instant, before she could regain her feet, the vegetation parted and a tall pirate leaped upon her.
I glimpsed in a single fleeting instant the handkerchief knotted about his skull, the snarling bearded face, the cutlass swung high in a brawny hand. No time for her to draw sword or pistol—he loomed over her like the shadow of death and the cutlass swept downward—but even as it did I drew pistol and fired blindly and without aim. He swerved sidewise, the cutlass veering wildly, and pitched face down in the sand without a sound. And so close had been her escape that the sweep of his blade had knocked the cocked hat from the girl’s locks.
I fairly flung myself down the cliff and stood over the body of the buccaneer. The deed had been done involuntarily, without conscious thought, but I did not regret it. Whether the girl deserved saving from death—a fact which I doubted—I considered it a worthy deed to rid the seas of at least one of those wolves which scoured it.
Helen was dusting her garments and cursing softly to herself because her hat was awry.
“Come,” said I, somewhat vexed, “you are lucky to have escaped with a skull uncloven. Let us begone ere his comrades come up at the sound of the shot.”
“That was a goodly feat,” said she, preparing to follow me. “Fair through the temples you drilled him– I doubt me if I could have done better.”
“It was pure luck that guided the ball,” I answered angrily, for of all faults I detest in women, heartlessness is the greatest. “I had no time to take aim—and had I had such time, I might not have fired.”
This silenced her and she said no more until we reached the opposite cliffs. There at the foot stretched a long expanse of solid stone and I bade her walk upon it. So we went along the line of the cliff and presently came to a small waterfall where a stream tumbled over the cliff’s edge to join the one in the gorge.
“There’s a cave behind that fall,” said I, speaking above the chatter of the water. “I discovered it by accident one day. Follow me.”
So saying, I waded into the pool which whirled and eddied at the cliff’s foot, and ducking my head, plunged through the falling sheet of water with the girl close behind. We found ourselves in a small dark cavern which ran back until it vanished in the blackness, and in front the light ebbed in faintly through the silver screen of the falling water. This was the hiding place I had been making for when I met the girl.
I led the way back into the cavern until the sound of the falling stream died to a murmur and the girl’s face glimmered like a rare white flower in the thick darkness.
“Damme,” she said, beating the water from her coat with the cocked hat, “you lead me in some cursed inconvenient places, Mr. Harmer; first, I fall in the sand and soil my garments, and now they are wet. Will not Gower and his gang follow the sound of the pistol shot and find us, tracking our footprints where we bent down the bushes crossing from cliff to cliff?”
“No doubt they will come,” I answered, “but they will be able to track us only to the cliff where we walked a good way on stone which shows no footprint. They will not know whether we went up or down or whither. There’s not one chance in a hundred of them ever discovering this cavern. At any rate, it’s the safest place on the island for us.”
“Do you still wish you had let Dick Comrel kill me?” she asked.
“He was a bloody pirate, whatever his name might be,” I replied. “No, you’re too comely for such a death, no matter what your crimes.”
“Your compliments take the sting from your accusations, but your accusations rob your compliments of their sweetness. Do you really hate me?”
“No, not you, but the red trade you follow. Were you in some other walk of life it’s joyed I’d be to look on you.”
“Zounds,” said she, “but you are a strange fellow. One moment you talk like a courtier and the next like a chaplain. What really are your feelings that you speak so inconsistently?”
“I am fascinated and repelled,” I replied, for the dim white oval of her face floated before me and her nearness made my senses reel. “As a woman, you attract me, but, as a pirate, you rouse a loathing in me. God’s truth, but you are a very monster, like that Lilith of old, with the face of a beautiful maiden and the body of a serpent.”
Her soft laugh lilted silvery and mocking in the shadows.
“So, so, broad-brim. You saved my life, though methinks you grudge the act, and I will not run you through the body as I might have done otherwise. For such words as you have just said I like not. Are you wondering how I came to be here with you?”
“They of the Red Brotherhood are like hungry wolves and range everywhere,” I answered. “I’ve yet to sight an island of the Main unpolluted by their cursed feet. So it’s no wonder to me to find them here, or to find them marooning each other.”
“Marooned? John Gower marooned from his own ship? Scarcely, friend. The craft from which I landed is The Black Raider, on The Account as you know. She sails to intercept a Spanish merchantman and returns in two weeks.”
She frowned. “Black be the memory of the day I shipped on her! For a more rascally cowardly crew I have never met. But Roger O’Farrel, my captain aforetime, is without ship at present and I threw in my lot with Gower—the swine! Yesterday he forced me to accompany him ashore, and on the way I gave my opinion of him and his dastardly henchmen. At that they were little pleased and bellowed like bulls, but dared not start fighting in the boat, lest we all fall among the sharks.
“So the moment she beached, I slashed Gower’s ape-face with my rapier and out-footed the rest and hid myself. But it was my bad fortune to come upon one alone. He rushed at me and swung with his blade, but I parried it and spitted him with a near riposte just under the heart. Then you came along, Righteousness, and the rest you know. They must have scattered all over the isle, as testifieth Comrel.
“Perhaps I should tell you why John Gower came ashore with seven men. Have you ever heard of the treasure of Mogar?”
“I thought not. Legend has it that when the Spaniards first sailed the Main, they found an island whereon was a decaying empire. The natives lived in mud and wooden huts on the beach, but they had a great temple of stone, a remnant of some forgotten, older race, in which there was a vast treasure of precious stones. The Dons destroyed these natives, but not before they had concealed their hoard so thoroughly that not even a Spanish nose could smell it out, and those the Dons tortured died unspeaking.
“So the Spaniards sailed away empty-handed, leaving all traces of the Mogar kingdom utterly effaced, save the temple which they could not destroy.
“The island was off the beaten track of ships, and, as time went by, the tale was mostly forgotten, living only as a sailor’s yarn. Such men as took the tale seriously and went to the island were unable to find the temple.
“Yet on this voyage, there shipped with John Gower a man who swore that he had set foot on the island and had looked on the temple. He said he had landed there with the French buccaneer de Romber and that they found the temple, just as it was described in the legend.
“But before they could search for the treasure, a man-o-war hove in sight and they were forced to run. Nor ran far ere they fell afoul of a frigate who blew them out of the water. Of the boat’s crew who were with de Romber when he found the temple, only this man who shipped with Gower remained alive.
“Naturally he refused to tell the location of it or to draw a map, but offered to lead Gower there in return for a goodly share of the gems. So upon sighting the island, Gower bade his mate, Frank Marker, sail to take a merchantman we had word of some days agone, and Gower himself came ashore—”
“What! Do you mean—”
“Aye! On this very island rose and flourished and died the lost kingdom of Mogar, and somewhere among the trees and vines hereon lies the forgotten temple with the ransom of a dozen emperors!”
“The dream of a drunken sailor,” I said uncertainly. “And why tell me this?”
“Why not?” said she, reasonably enough. “We are in the same boat and I owe you a debt of gratitude. We might even find the treasure ourselves, who knows? The man who sailed with de Romber will never lead John Gower to the temple, unless ghosts walk, for he was Dick Comrel, the man you killed!”
“Listen!” A faint sound had come to me through the dim gurgle of the falls.
Dropping on my belly I wriggled cautiously toward the water-veiled entrance and peered through the shimmering screen. I could make out dimly the forms of five men standing close to the pool. The taller one was waving his arms savagely and his rough voice came to me faintly and as if far away.
I drew back, even though knowing he could not see through the falls, and as I did I felt silky curls brush against my shoulder, and the girl, who had crawled after me, put her lips close to me to whisper, under the noise of the water.
“He with the cut face and the fierce eyes is Captain Gower; the lank dark one is the Frenchman, La Costa; he with the beard is Tom Bellefonte; and the other two are Will Harbor and Mike Donler.”
Long ago, I had heard all those names and knew that I was looking on as red-handed and black-hearted a group as ever walked deck or beach. After many gestures and talk which I could not make out, they turned and went along the cliff, vanishing from view.
When we could talk in ordinary tones, the girl said:
“Damme, but Gower is in a rare rage! He will have to find the temple by himself now, since your pistol ball scattered Dick Comrel’s brains. The swine! He’d be better putting the width of the Seven Seas between himself and me! Roger O’Farrel will pay him out for the way he has treated me, I wager you, even if I fail in my vengeance.”
“Vengeance for what?” I asked curiously.
“For disrespect. He sought to treat me as a woman, not as a buccaneer comrade. When I threatened to run him through, he cursed me and swore he would tame me some day—and made me come ashore with him.”
A silence followed, then suddenly she said:
“Zounds! Are we to stay pent up here forever? I’m growing hungry!”
“Bide you here,” said I, “and I will go forth and fetch some fruit which grows wild here—”
“Good enough,” she replied, “but I crave more than fruit. By Zeus! There is bread and salt pork and dried beef in the longboat and I have a mind to sally forth and—”
Now I, who had tasted no Christian food in more than a week, felt my mouth water at the mention of bread and beef, but I said:
“Are you insane? Of what good is a hiding place if it is not used? You would surely fall into the hands of those rogues.”
“No, now is the best time for such an attempt,” said she, rising. “Hinder me not—my mind is made up. You saw that the five were together—so there is no one at the boat. The other two are dead.”
“Unless the whole gang of them returned to the beach,” said I.
“Not likely. They are still searching for me, or else have taken up the hunt for the temple. No, I tell you, now is the best time.”
“Then I go with you, if you are so determined,” I replied, and together we dropped from the ledge in front of the cavern, splashed through the falls and waded out of the pool.
I peered about, half-expecting an attack, but no man was in sight. All was silent save for the occasional raucous plaint of some jungle bird. I looked to my weapons. One of the dead buccaneer’s pistols was empty, of course, and the priming of the other was wet.
“The locks of mine are wrapped in silk,” said Helen, noticing my activities. “Here, draw the useless charge and reload them.”
And she handed me a waterproof horn flask with compartments for powder and ball. So I did as she said, drying the weapons with leaves.
“I am probably the finest pistol shot in the world,” said the girl modestly, “but the blade is my darling.”
She drew her rapier and slashed and thrust the empty air.
“You sailors seldom appreciate the true value of the straight steel,” said she. “Look at you with that clumsy cutlass. I could run you through while you were heaving it up for a slash. So!”
Her point suddenly leaped out and a lock of my hair floated to the earth.
“Have a care with that skewer,” said I, annoyed and somewhat uneasy. “Save your tierces and thrusts for your enemies. As for a cutlass, it is a downright weapon for an honest man who knows naught of your fine French tricks.”
“Roger O’Farrel knows the worth of the rapier,” said she. “ ’Twould do your heart good to see it sing in his hand, and how that he spits those who oppose him.”
“Let us be going,” I answered shortly, for her hardness rasped again on me, and it somehow irked me to hear her sing the praises of the pirate O’Farrel.
So we went silently up through the gorges and ravines, mounting the north cliffs at another place, and so proceeded through the thick trees until we came to the crest of the slope that led down to the beach. Peering from ambush, we saw the longboat lying alone and unguarded.
No sound broke the utter stillness as we went warily down the incline. The sun hung over the western waters like a shield of blood, and the very birds in the trees seemed to have fallen silent. The breeze had gone and no leaf rustled on any branch.
We came to the longboat and, working swiftly, broke open the kegs and made a bundle of bread and beef. My fingers trembled with haste and nervousness, for I felt we were riding the crest of a precipice—I was sure that the pirates would return to their boat before nightfall, and the sun was about to go down.
Even as this thought came to me, I heard a shout and a shot, and a bullet hummed by my cheek. Mike Donler and Will Harbor were running down the beach toward us, cursing and bellowing horrible threats. They had come upon us from among the lofty rocks further down the shore, and now were on us before we had time to draw a breath.
Donler rushed in on me, wild eyes aflame, belt buckle, finger rings and cutlass blade all afire in the gleam of the sunset. His broad breast showed hairy through his open shirt, and I levelled my pistol and shot him through the chest, so that he staggered and roared like a wounded buffalo. Yet such was his terrible vitality that he came reeling on in spite of this mortal hurt to slash at me with his cutlass. I parried the blow, splitting his skull to the brows with my own blade, and he fell dead at my feet, his brains running out on the sand.
Then I turned to the girl, whom I feared to be hard pressed, and looked just in time to see her disarm Harbor with a dextrous wrench of her wrist, and run him through the heart so that her point came out under his shoulder.
For a fleeting instant he stood erect, mouth gaping stupidly, as if upheld by the blade. Blood gushed from that open mouth and, as she withdrew her sword with a marvelous show of wrist strength, he toppled forward, dead before he touched earth.
Helen turned to me with a light laugh.
“At least Mr. Harmer,” quoth she, “my ‘skewer’ does a cleaner and neater job than does your cleaver. Bones and blades! I had no idea there was so much brain to Mike Donler.”
“Have done,” said I sombrely, repelled by her words and manner. “This is a butcher’s business and one I like not. Let us begone; if Gower and the other two are not behind these, they will come shortly.”
“Then take up the pack of food, imbecile,” said she sharply. “Have we come this far and killed two men for nothing?”
I obeyed without speaking, though truth to tell, I had little appetite left, for my soul was not with such work as I had just done. As the ocean drank the westering sun and the swift southern twilight fell, we made our way back toward the cavern under the falls. When we had topped the slope and lost sight of the sea except such as glimmered between the trees in the distance, we heard a faint shout, and knew that Gower and the remainder of his men had returned.
“No danger now until morning,” said my companion. “Since we know that the rogues are on the beach, there is no chance of coming upon them unexpectedly in the wood. They will scarcely venture into this unknown wilderness at night.”
After we had gone a little further, we halted, set us down and supped on the bread and beef, washing it down with draughts from a clear cold stream. And I marveled at how daintily and with what excellent manners this pirate girl ate.
When she had finished and washed her hands in the stream, she tossed her golden curls and said:
“By Zeus, this hath been a profitable day’s work for two hunted fugitives! Of the seven buccaneers which came ashore early this morn, but three remain alive! What say you—shall we flee them no more, but come upon them and trust to our battle fortune? Three against two are not such great odds.”
“What do you say?” I asked her bluntly.
“I say nay,” she replied frankly. “Were it any man but John Gower I might say differently. But this Gower is more than a man—he is as crafty and ferocious as any wild beast, and there is that about him which turns my blood to ice. He is one of the two men I have ever feared.”
“Who was the other?”
Now she had a way of pronouncing that rogue’s name as if he were a saint or a king, and for some reason this rasped on my nerves greatly. So I said nothing.
“Were Roger O’Farrel here,” she prattled on, “we should have naught to fear, for no man on all the Seven Seas is his equal and even John Gower would shun the issue with him. He is the greatest navigator that ever lived and the finest swordsman. He has the manners of a cavalier, which in truth he is.”
“Who is this Roger O’Farrel?” I asked brutally. “Your lover?”
At that, quick as a flash, she struck me across the face with her open hand so that I saw stars. We were on our feet, and I saw her face crimson in the light of the moon which had come up over the black trees.
“Damn you!” she cried. “O’Farrel would cut your heart out for that, were he here! From your own lips I had it that no man could call me his!”
“So they say, indeed,” said I bitterly, for my cheek was stinging, and my mind was in such a chaotic state as is difficult to describe.
“They say, eh? And what think you?” there was danger in her tone.
“I think,” said I recklessly, “that no woman can be a plunderer and a murderess, and also virtuous.”
It was a cruel and needless thing to say. I saw her face go white, I heard the quick intake of her breath and the next instant her rapier point was against my breast, just under the heart.
“I have killed men for less,” I heard her say in a ghostly, far away whisper.
I looked down at the thin silver line of death that lay between us and my blood froze, but I answered:
“Killing me would scarcely change my opinion.”
An instant she stared at me, then to my utter bewilderment, she dropped her blade, flung herself down on the earth and burst into a torrent of sobs. Much ashamed of myself, I stood over her, uncertain, wishing to comfort her, yet afraid the little spitfire would stab me if I touched her. Presently I was aware of words mingling with her tears.
“After all I have done to keep clean,” she sobbed. “This is too much! I know I am a monster in the sight of men; there is blood on my hands. I’ve looted and cursed and killed and diced and drunk, till my very heart is calloused. My only consolation, the one thing to keep me from feeling utterly damned, is the fact that I have remained as virtuous as any girl. And now men believe me otherwise. I wish I … I … were dead!”
So did I for the instant, until I was swept by an unutterable shame. Certainly the words I had used to her were not the act of a man. And now I was stunned at the removal of her mask of hard recklessness and the revelation of a surprisingly sensitive soul. Her voice had the throb of sincerity, and, truth to tell, I had never really doubted her.
Now I dropped to my knees beside the weeping girl and, raising her, made to wipe her eyes.
“Keep your hands off me!” she ordered promptly, jerking away. “I will have naught to do with you, who believe me a bad woman.”
“I don’t believe it,” I answered. “I most humbly crave pardon. It was a foul and unmanly thing for me to say. I have never doubted your honesty, and I said that which I did only because you had angered me.”
She seemed somewhat appeased.
“As for Roger O’Farrel,” said she, “he is twice as old as either of us. He took me off a sinking ship when I was a baby and raised me like his own daughter. And if I took to the life of a rover, it is not his fault, who would have established me like a fine lady ashore had I wished. But the love of adventure is in my blood and though Fate made a woman of me, I have lived a man’s life.
“If I am hard and cold and heartless, what else might you expect of a maid who grew up among daily scenes of blood and violence, whose earliest remembrances are of sinking ships, crashing cannon and the shrieks of the dying? I know the rotten worth of my companions—sots, murderers, thieves, gallows birds—all save Captain Roger O’Farrel.
“Men say he is cruel and it may be so. But to me he has always been kind and gentle. And moreover he is a fine upstanding man, of high aristocratic blood with the courage of a lion!”
I said nothing against the buccaneer, whom I knew to be the disinherited black sheep of a powerful Irish family, but I experienced a strange sensation of pleasure to learn from her lips just what their relationship was to each other.
A scene long forgotten suddenly flashed in my mind: a boatload of people sighted off the Tortugas and taken aboard—the words of one of the women, “And it’s Helen Tavrel we have to thank, God bless her! For she made bloody Hilton put all we a-boat with food and water, when the fiend would ha’ burned us all with our ship. Woman pirate she may be, but a kind heart she hath for all that—”
After all, the girl was a credit to her sex, considering her raising and surroundings, thought I, and felt strangely cheerful.
“You’ll try to forget my words,” said I. “Now let us be getting toward our hiding place, for it is like we will have need of it tomorrow.”
I helped her to her feet and gave her rapier into her hand. She followed me then without a word and no conversation passed between us until we reached the pool beside the cliff. Here we halted for a moment.
Truth, it was a weird and fantastic sight. The cliffs rose stark and black on either side, and between them whispered and rustled the thick shadows of the fronds. The stream sliding over the cliff before us glimmered like molten silver in the moonlight, and the pool into which it slipped shimmered with long bright ripples. The moon rode over all like a broad buckler of white gold.
“Sleep in the cavern,” I commanded. “I will make me a bed among these bushes which grow close by.”
“Will you be safe thus?” she asked.
“Aye; no man is like to come before morning, and there are no dangerous beasts on the island, save reptiles which lurk among the swamps on the other side of it.”
Without a word, she waded into the pool and vanished in the silver mist of the fall. I parted the bushes near at hand and composed myself for slumber. The last thing I remembered, as I fell asleep, was an unruly mass of golden curls, below which danced a pair of brooding grey eyes.
The Second Day
Someone was shaking me out of my sound slumber. I stirred, then awoke suddenly and sat up, groping for blade or pistol.
“My word, sir, you sleep deep. John Gower might have stolen upon you and cut out your heart and you not aware of it.”
It was hardly dawn and Helen Tavrel was standing over me.
“I had thought to wake sooner,” said I, yawning, “but I was weary from yesterday’s work. You must have a body and nature of steel springs.”
She looked as fresh as if she had but stepped from a lady’s boudoir. Truth, there are few women who could endure such exertions, sleep all night on the bare sand of a cavern floor and still look elegant and winsome.
“Let us to breakfast,” said she. “Methinks the fare is a trifle scanty, but there is pure water to go with it, and I believe you mentioned fruit?”
Later, as we ate, she said in a brooding manner:
“It stirs my blood most unpleasantly at the thought of John Gower gaining possession of the Mogar treasure. Although I have sailed with Roger O’Farrel, Hilton, Hansen, and le Ban between times, Gower is the first captain to offer me insult.”
“He is not like to find it,” said I, “for the simple reason that there is no such thing on this island.”
“Have you explored all of it?”
“All except the eastern swamps which are impenetrable.”
Her eyes lighted.
“Faith, man, were the shrine easy to find, it had been looted long before now. I wager you that it lies somewhere amid that swamp! Now listen to my plan.
“It is yet awhile before sunup and as it is most likely that Gower and his bullies drank rum most of the night, they are not like to be up before broad daylight. I know their ways, and they do not alter them, even for treasure!
“So let us go swiftly to this swamp and make a close search.”
“I repeat,” said I, “it is tempting Providence. Why have a hiding place if we do not use it? We have been very fortunate so far in evading Gower, but if we keep running hither and yon through the woods we must eventually come on him.”
“If we cower in our cave like rats, he will eventually discover us. Doubtless we can explore the swamp and return before he fares forth, or if not—he has nothing of wood craft but blunders along like a buffalo. We can hear them a league off and elude them. So there is no danger in hiding awhile in the woods if need be, with always a safe retreat to run to as soon as they have passed. Were Roger O’Farrel here—”she hesitated.
“If you must drag O’Farrel into it,” said I with a sigh, “I must agree to any wild scheme you put forward. Let us be started.”
“Good!” she cried, clapping her hands like a child. “I know we will find treasure! I can see those diamonds and rubies and emeralds and sapphires gleaming even now!”
The first grey of dawn was lightening and the east was growing brighter and more rosy as we went along the cliffs and finally went up a wide ravine to enter the thicker growth of trees that ran eastward. We were taking the opposite direction from that taken the day before. The pirates had landed on the western side of the island and the swamp lay on the eastern.
We walked along in silence awhile, and then I asked abruptly:
“What sort of looking man is O’Farrel?”
“A fine figure with the carriage of a king,” she looked me over with a critical eye. “Taller than you, but not so heavily built. Broader of shoulder, but not so deep of chest. A cold, strong handsome face, smooth shaven. Hair as black as yours in spite of his age, and fine grey eyes, like the steel of swords. You have grey eyes, too, but your skin is dark and his is very white.
“Still,” she continued, “were you shaved and clad properly, you would not cut a bad figure, even beside Captain O’Farrel—how old are you?”
“I had not thought you that old. I am twenty.”
“You look younger,” I answered.
“I am old enough in experience,” quoth she. “And now, sir, we had best go more silently, lest by any chance there be rogues among these woods.”
So we stole cautiously through the trees, stepping over creepers and making our way through undergrowth which rose thicker as we progressed eastward. Once a large, mottled snake wriggled across our path and the girl started and shrank back nervously. Brave as a tigress when opposed to men, she had the true feminine antipathy toward reptiles.
At last we came to the edge of the swamp without having seen any human foe and I halted.
“Here begins the serpent-haunted expanse of bogs and hummocks which finally slopes down into the sea to the east. You see those tangled walls of moss-hung branches and vine-covered trunks which oppose us. Are you still for invading that foul domain?”
The only reply she made was to push past me impatiently.
Of the first few rods of that journey, I like not to remember. I hacked a way through hanging vines and thickly-grown bamboos with my cutlass, and the farther we went, the higher about our feet rose the stinking, clinging mud. Then the bamboos vanished, the trees thinned out, and we saw only rushes towering higher than our heads, with occasional bare spaces wherein green stagnant pools lay in the black, bubbling mud. We staggered through, sinking sometimes to our waists in the water and slime. The girl cursed fervently at the ruin it was making of her finery, while I saved my breath for the labor of getting through. Twice we tumbled into stagnant pools that seemed to have no bottom, and each time were hard put to get back on solid earth—solid earth, said I? Nay, the treacherous shaky, sucking stuff that passed for earth in that foul abomination.
Yet we progressed, ploughing along, clinging to yielding rushes and to rotten logs, and making use of the more solid hummocks when we could. Once Helen set her foot on a snake and shrieked like a lost soul; nor did she ever become used to the sight of them, though they basked on nearly every log and writhed across the hummocks.
I saw no end to this fool’s journey and was about to say so, when above the rushes and foul swamp growth about us I saw what seemed to be hard soil and trees just beyond. Helen exclaimed in joy and, rushing forward, promptly fell into a pool which sucked her under except for her nose. Fumbling under the filthy water, I got a good grip on her arms and managed to draw her forth, cursing and spluttering. By that time I had sunk to my waist in the mud about the pool, and it was with some desperation that we fought our way toward the higher earth.
At last our feet felt a semblance of bottom under the mud and then we came out on solid land. Tall trees grew there, rank with vines, and grass flourished high between them, but at least there was no bog. I, who had been all around the swamp’s edges, was amazed. Evidently this place was a sort of island, lapped on all sides by the mire. One who had not been through the swamp would think as I had thought: that nothing lay there but water and mud.
Helen was excited, but before she would venture further, she stooped and attempted to wipe some of the mud from her garments and face. Truth, we were both a ludicrous sight, plastered with mire and slime to the eyebrows.
More, in spite of the silk wrappings, water had soaked into Helen’s pistols, and mine also were useless. The barrels and locks were so fouled with mud that it would take some time to clean and dry them so they might be recharged from her horn flask, which still contained some powder. I was in favor of halting long enough to do this, but she argued that we were not likely to need them in the midst of the swamp, and that she could not wait—she must explore the place we had found and learn if the temple did in truth stand there.
So I gave in, and we went on, passing between the boles of the great trees, where the branches intertwined so as to almost shut out the light of the sun which had risen sometime before. Such light as filtered through was strange, grey and unearthly, and the tall grass waved through it like thin ghosts. No birds sang there, no butterflies hovered, though we saw several snakes.
Soon we noticed signs of stonework. Sunk in the earth and overgrown by the rank grass lay shattered paves and tiles. Further on, we came to a wide open stretch which was like a street. Great flagstones lay, evenly placed, and the grass grew in the crevices between them. We fell silent as we followed this ancient street, for long-forgotten ghosts seemed to whisper about us, and soon we saw a strange building glimmering through the trees in front of us.
Silently we approached it. No doubt of it; it was a temple, squarely built of great stone blocks. Wide steps led up to its floor, and up these we went, swords drawn, still and awed. On three sides it was enclosed by walls, windowless and doorless; on the fourth by huge, squat columns which formed the front of the edifice. Tiling, worn smooth by countless feet, made up the floor, and in the middle of the great room began a row of narrow steps which led up to a sort of altar. No idol stood there; if there had ever been one, no doubt the Spaniards destroyed it. No carvings decorated wall, ceiling or column. The keynote of the whole was a grim simplicity, a sort of terrible contempt for man’s efforts at beautifying and adorning.
What alien people had built that shrine so long ago? Surely some terrible and sombre people who died ages before the brown-skinned Caribs came to rear up their transient empire. I glanced up at the altar which loomed starkly above us. It was set on a sort of platform built solidly from the floor. A column rose from the center of this platform to the ceiling, and the altar seemed to be part of this column.
We went up the steps. For myself, I was feeling not at all at ease, and Helen was silent and slipped her firm little hand into mine, glancing about nervously. A brooding silence hung over the place as if a monster of some other world lurked in the corners ready to leap upon us. The bleak antiquity of the temple oppressed and bore down upon us with a sense of our own smallness and weakness.
Only the quick nervous rattle of Helen’s small heels on the stone steps broke the stillness, yet I could picture in my mind’s eye the majestic and sombre rites of worship which had been enacted here in bygone years. Now, as we reached the platform and bent over the altar, I saw deep dark stains on its surface and heard the girl shudder involuntarily. More shadows of horror out of the past, and had we known, the horror of that grim shrine was not yet over.
Turning my attention to the solid column which rose behind the altar, my gaze followed it up to the roof. This seemed to be composed of remarkably long slabs of stone, except for the space just above the altar. There a single huge block rested, a stone of completely different character from those of the rest of the temple. It was of a sombre yellowish hue, shot with red veins, and of monstrous size. It must have weighed many tons, and I was puzzled by what means it was held in place. At last I decided that the column which rose from the platform upheld it in some manner, for this entered the ceiling beside the great block. From the ceiling to the platform was, I should say, some fifteen feet, and from the platform to the floor, ten.
“Now that we are here,” said the girl, rather breathlessly, “where is the treasure?”
“That’s for us to find,” I replied. “Before we begin to search, let us prepare our pistols, for the saints alone know what lies before us.”
Down the stair we went again, and part way down, Helen halted, an uneasy look in her eyes.
“Listen! Was that a footfall?”
“I heard nothing; it must be your imagination conjuring up noises.”
Still she insisted she heard something and was for hurrying out into the open as quickly as might be. I reached the floor a stride or so before her and turned to speak across my shoulder, when I saw her eyes go wide and her hand flew to her blade. I whirled to see three menacing shapes bulking among the columns—three men, smeared with mud and slime, with weapons gleaming in their hands.
As in a dream I saw the fierce burning eyes of John Gower, the beard of the giant Bellefonte, and the dark, saturnine countenance of La Costa. Then they were on us.
How they had kept their powder dry as they crossed that filthy swamp I know not, but even as I drew blade, La Costa fired and the ball struck my right arm, breaking the bone. The cutlass dropped from my numb fingers, but I stooped and, catching it up in my left hand, met Bellefonte’s charge. The giant come on like a wild elephant, roaring, his cutlass whirling like a flame. But the desperate fury of a cornered and wounded lion was mine. And, crashing on his guard as a smith hammers an anvil, until the clash of our steel was an incessant clangor, I drove him across the room and beat him to his knees. But he partly parried the blow that felled him, so that my cutlass, glancing from his blade to his skull, turned in my hand and struck flat instead of edgewise, stunning and not killing. At that instant, La Costa clubbed a musket and laid my scalp open so that I fell and lay in my own blood.
Of how Helen fared I was partly told later, and partly saw, dimly, as I lay dazed and unable to rise.
At the first alarum, she had attacked Gower and he had met her with his blade held in a posture for defense rather than attack. Now this Gower was a rare swordsman, able to hold his own for a time against even such a skill as was Helen’s, though his weapon was a heavy cutlass, a blade unsuited for tricky work.
He had no wish to slay her, and he had more craft than to leave himself wide open to her thrust by slashing at her. So he parried her first few tierces, retreating before her while La Costa sought to steal upon her from behind and pinion her arms. Before the Frenchman could accomplish this design, Helen feinted Gower into a wide parry that left him open. Then and there had John Gower died, but luck was not with us that day, and Helen’s foot slipped as she thrust for his black heart. The point wavered and only raked his ribs. Before she could recover her balance, Gower shouted and struck down her sword, dropping his own to seize her in his huge arms.
She fought even then, clawing at his face, kicking his shins and striving to shorten her grip on her sword so as to use it against him, but he only laughed. And, having wrenched the rapier out of her hand, he held her helpless as a baby while he bound her with cords. Then he carried her over to a column and, standing her upright against it, made her fast—she raving and cursing in a manner to make one’s blood run cold.
Then, seeing that I was struggling to arise, he ordered La Costa to bind me. The Frenchman answered that both my arms were broken. Gower commanded him to bind my legs, which he did, and dragged me over near the girl. And how the Frenchman made this mistake I know not, unless it were that because of the blow on my head, I seemed unable as yet to use my limbs, so he assumed my left arm broken also, besides my right.
“And so, my fine lady,” said John Gower in his deep menacing voice, “we end where we began. Where you got this brawny young savage, I know not, but methinks he is in a sad plight. For the present there is work to do, after which I may ease his hurts.”
Dazed as I was, I knew that he meant not by saving but by slaying me, and I heard Helen’s quick intake of breath.
“You beast!” she cried. “Would you murder the boy?”
Gower gave a cold laugh and turned to Bellefonte, who was just now rising in a muddled sort of way.
“Bellefonte, is your brain yet too addled for our work?”
“Nay,” snarled the giant. “But may I roast in Hades if I ever felt such a bash, I would—”
“Get the tools,” ordered Gower, and Bellefonte slouched out, to return presently with picks and a great sledge hammer.
“I will tear this cursed building to pieces or find what I look for,” quoth John Gower. “As I told you when you asked the reason for loading the sledge into the longboat, my pretty Helen. Comrel died before he could tell us just where this temple lay, but from the hints he had let drop from time to time, I guessed that it lay on the eastern side of the isle. When we came hither this morn and saw the swamp, I felt our search was done. And truth it was, and our search for you also, as I found when I stole up to the columns and peered between them.”
“We waste time,” broke in Bellefonte. “Let us be tearing down something.”
“All a waste of time,” said La Costa moodily. “Gower, I say again that this is a fool’s quest, bound to end but evilly. This is a haunt of demons; nay, Satan himself hath spread his dark wings o’er this temple and it’s no resort for Christians! As for the gems, a legend hath it that the ancient priests of these people flung them into the sea, and I, for one, believe that legend.”
“We shall soon see,” was Gower’s imperturbable reply. “These walls and pillars have a solid look, but persistence and appliance will crumble any stone. Let us to work.”
Now strange to say, I have neglected to make mention of the quality of the light in the building. On the outside there was a clear space, no trees growing within several yards of the walls on either side. Yet so tall were those trees which grew beyond this space, and so close their branches, that the shrine lay ever in everlasting shadow, and the light which drifted through between the columns was dim and strange. The corners of the great room seemed veiled in grey mist and the humans moving about appeared like ghosts—their voices sounding hollow and unreal.
“Look about for secret doors and the like,” said Gower, beginning to hammer along the walls, and the other two obeyed. Bellefonte was eager, La Costa otherwise.
“No luck will come of this, Gower,” the Frenchman said as he groped in the dimness of a far corner. “This daring of hethen deities in heathen shrines—nom de Dieu!”
We all started at his wild shriek and he reeled from the corner screaming, a thing like a black cable writhing about his arm. As we looked aghast, he crashed down in the midst of the tiled floor and there tore to fragments with his bare hands the hideous reptile which had struck him.
“Oh Heavens!” he screeched, writhing about and staring up at his mates with wild, crazed eyes. “Oh, grand Dieu, I burn, I die! Oh, saints, grant me ease!”
Even Bellefonte’s steel nerves seemed shaken at this terrible sight, but John Gower remained unmoved. He drew a pistol and flung it to the dying man.
“You are doomed,” said he brutally. “The venom is coursing through your veins like the fire of Hell, but you may live for hours yet. Best end your torment.”
La Costa clutched at the weapon as a drowning man seizes a twig. A moment he hesitated, torn between two terrible fears. Then, as the burning of the venom shook him with fierce stabbings, he set the muzzle against his temple, gibbering and yammering, and jerked the trigger. The stare of his tortured eyes will haunt me till Doomsday, and may his crimes on earth be forgiven him for if ever a man passed through Purgatory in his dying, it was he.
“By God!” said Bellefonte, wiping his brow. “This looks like the hand of Satan!”
“Bah!” Gower spoke impatiently. “ ’Tis but a swamp snake which crawled in here. The fool was so intent upon his gloomy prophesying that he failed to notice it coiled up in the darkness, and so set his hand in its coils. Let not this thing shake you—let us to work, but first look about and see if any more serpents lurk here.”
“First bind up Mr. Harmer’s wounds, if you please,“ spoke up Helen, a quaver in her voice to tell how she had been affected. ”He is like to bleed to death.”
“Let him,” answered Gower without feeling. “It will save me the task of easing him off.”
My wounds, however, had ceased to bleed, and though my head was still dizzy and my arm was beginning to throb, I was nowhere near a dead man. When the pirates were not looking, I began to work stealthily at my bonds with my left hand. Truth, I was in no condition to fight, but were I free, I might accomplish something. So lying on my side, I slowly drew my feet behind me and fumbled at the cords on my ankles with strangely numb fingers. while Gower and his mate poked about in the corner and hammered on the walls and columns.
“By Zeus, I believe yon altar is the key of this mystery,” said Gower, halting his work at last. “Bring the sledge and let us have a look at the thing.”
They mounted the stair like two rogues going up the gallows steps, and their appearance in the dim light was as men already dead. A cold hand touched my soul and I seemed to hear the sweep of mighty bat-like wings. An icy terror seized me, I know not why, and drew my eyes to the great stone which hung broodingly above the altar. All the horror of this ancient place of forgotten mysteries descended on me like a mist, and I think Helen felt the same for I heard her breath come quick and hard.
The buccaneers halted on the platform and Gower spoke, his voice booming like a hollow mockery in the great room, re-echoing from wall to ceiling.
“Now, Bellefonte, up with your sledge and shatter me this altar.” The giant grunted doubtfully at that. The altar seemed merely a solid square of stone, as plain and unadorned as the rest of the fane, an integral part of the platform as was the column behind it. But Bellefonte lifted the heavy hammer and the echoes crashed as he brought it down on the smooth surface.
Sweat gathered on the giant’s brow with the effort, and the great muscles stood out on his naked arms and shoulders as he heaved up the sledge and smote again and yet again. Gower cursed, and Bellefonte swore that it was waste of strength cracking a solid rock, but at Gower’s urging, he again raised the hammer. He stood with his legs spread wide, arms above his head and bent backward, hands gripping the handle. Then with all his power he brought it down and the hammer handle splintered with the blow; but, with a shattering crash, the whole of the altar gave way and the fragments flew in all directions.
“Hollow, by Satan!” shouted John Gower, smiting fist on palm. “I suspected as much! Yet who would have thought it, with the lid so cleverly joined to the rest that no crack showed at all? Strike flint and steel here, man, the inside of this strange chest is as dark as Hades.”
They bent over it and there was a momentary flash, then they straightened.
“No tinder,” snarled Bellefonte, flinging aside his flint and steel. “What saw ye?”
“Naught but one great red gem,” said Gower moodily. “But it may be that there is a secret compartment below the bottom where it lies.”
He leaned over the altar-chest and thrust his hand therein.
“By Satan,” said he, “this cursed gem seems to cling fast to the bottom of the chest as though it were fastened to something—a metal rod from the feel—ha, now it gives and—”
Through his words came a muffled creak as of bolts and levers long unused—a rumble sounded from above, and we all looked up. And then the two buccaneers beside the altar gave a deathly cry and flung up their arms as down from the roof thundered the great central stone. Column, altar and stair crashed into red ruin.
Stunned by the terrible earthquake-like noise, the girl and I lay, eyes fixed with terrible fascination on the great heap of shattered stone in the middle of the temple, from under which oozed a river of dark red.
At last after what seemed a long time, I, moving like a man in a trance, freed myself and unbound the girl. I was very weak and she put out an arm to steady me. We went out of that temple of death, and once in the open, never did free air and light seem so fair to me, though the air was tainted with the swamp reek and the light was strange and shadowy.
Then a wave of weakness flooded body and brain; I fell to the earth and knew no more.
Someone was laving my brow and at last I opened my eyes.
“Steve, oh, Steve, are you dead?” someone was saying; the voice was gentle and there was a hint of tears.
“Not yet,” said I, striving to sit up, but a small hand forced me gently down.
“Steve,” said Helen, and I felt a strange delight in hearing her call me by my first name, “I have bandaged you as well as might be with such material as I had—stuff torn from my shirt. We should get out of this low dank place to a fresher part of the island. Do you think you can travel?”
“I’ll try,” I said, though my heart sank at the thought of the swamp.
“I have found a road,” she informed me. “When I went to look for clean water I found a small spring and also stumbled upon what was once a fine road, built with great blocks of stone set deep in mire. The mud overlaps it now some few inches and rushes grow thereon, but it’s passable so let us be gone.”
She helped me to my feet and, with one arm about me, guided my uncertain steps. In this manner, we crossed the ancient causeway and I found time to marvel again at the nature of that race who had built so strongly and had so terribly protected their secrets.
The journey through the swamp seemed without end, and again through the thick jungle, but at last my eyes, swimming with torment and dizziness, saw the ocean glimmering through the trees. Soon we were able to sink down beside the longboat on the beach, exhausted. Yet Helen would not rest as I urged her to, but took a case of bandages and ointment from the boat and dressed my wounds. With a keen dagger she found and cut out the bullet in my arm, and I thought I would die thereat, and then made shift at setting the broken bone. I wondered at her dexterity, but she told me that from early childhood she had aided in dressing hurts and setting broken limbs—that Roger O’Farrel tended thus to all his wounded himself, having attended a medical university in his youth, and he imparted all his knowledge to her.
Still she admitted that the setting of my arm was a sad job, with the scant material she had, and she feared it would give me trouble. But while she was talking, I sank back and became unconscious, for I had lost an incredible amount of blood, and it was early dawn of the next day before I came to my full senses.
Helen, while I lay senseless, had made me a bed of soft leaves, spreading over me her fine coat, which I fear was none too fine now, what with the blood and stains on it. And when I came to myself, she sat beside me, her eyes wide and sleepless, her face drawn and haggard in the early grey of dawn.
“Steve, are you going to live?” asked she, and I made shift to laugh.
“You have scant opinion of my powers if you think a pistol ball and a musket stock can kill me,” I answered. “How feel you, Helen?”
“Tired … a bit.” She smiled. “But remarkably meditative. I have seen men die in many ways, but never a sight to equal that in the temple. Their death shrieks will haunt me to my death. How do you think their end was brought about?”
“All seems mazed and vague now,” said I, “but methinks I remember seeing many twisted and broken metal rods among the ruins. From the way the platform and stair shattered, I believe that the whole structure was hollow, like the altar, and the column also. A crafty system of levers must have run through them up to the roof, where the great stone was held in place by bolts or the like. I believe that the gem in the altar was fastened to a lever which, working up through the column, released that stone.”
“Like enough. And the treasure….”
“There never was any. Or if there was, the Caribs flung it into the sea and, knowing some curse lay over the temple, pretended that they had hidden it therein, hoping the Spaniards would come to harm while searching for it. Certainly that thing was not the work of the Caribs, and I doubt if they knew just what sort of fate lay in wait there. But, certes, any man could look on that accursed shrine and instinctively feel that doom overshadowed the place.”
“Another dream turned to smoke,” sighed she. “La, la, and me a-wishing for rubies and sapphires as large as my fist!”
She was gazing out to sea as she spoke, where the waves were beginning to redden in the glowing light. Now she sprang erect!
“The Black Raider returning!” I exclaimed.
“No! Even at this distance, I can tell the cut of a man-o’-war! She is making for this island.”
“For fresh water, no doubt,” said I.
Helen stood twisting her slim fingers uncertainly.
“My fate lies with you. If you tell them I am Helen Tavrel, I will hang between high tide and low, on Execution Dock!”
“Helen,” said I, reaching up and taking her small hand and pulling her down beside me, “my opinion of you has changed since first I saw you. I still maintain the Red Trade is no course for a woman to follow, but I realize what circumstances forced you into it. No woman, whatever her manner of life, could be kinder, braver, and more unselfish than you have been. To the men of yonder craft you shall be Helen Harmer, my sister, who sailed with me.”
“Two men have I feared,” said she with lowered eyes; “John Gower, because he was a beast; Roger O’Farrel, because he was so fine and noble. One man I have respected—O’Farrel. Now I find a second man to respect without fearing. You are a bold, honest youth, Steve, and—”
“Nothing,” and she seemed confused.
“Helen,” said I, drawing her gently closer to me, “you and I have gone through too much blood and fire together for anything to come between us. Your beauty fascinated me when first I saw you; later I came to understand the sterling worth of the soul which lay beneath your reckless mask. Each soul has its true mate, little comrade, and though I fought the feeling and strove to put it from me, fondness was born in my bosom for you and it has grown steadily. I care not what you may have been, and I am but a sailor, now without a ship, but let me tell yonder seamen when they land that you are, not my sister, but my wife-to-be.”
A moment she leaned toward me, then she drew away and her eyes danced with the old jaunty fire.
“La, sir, are you offering to marry me? ’Tis very kind of you indeed, but—”
“Helen, don’t mock me!”
“Truth, Steve, I am not,” said she, softening. “But I had never thought of any such a thing before. La, I must be growing up with a vengeance! Fie, sir, I am too young to marry yet, and I have not yet seen all of the world I wish to. Remember I am still Helen Tavrel.”
“I care not; marry me and I will take you from this life.”
“Not so fast,” said she, tracing patterns in the sand with her finger. “I must have time to think this thing over. Moreover, I will take no step without Roger O’Farrel’s consent. I am only a young girl after all, Steve, and I tell you truth, I have never thought of marrying or even having a lover.
“Ah, me, these men, how they press a poor maid!” laughed she.
“Helen!” I exclaimed, vexed yet amused. “Have you no care for me at all?”
“Why, as to that,” she avoided my gaze, “I really feel a fondness for you such as I have never felt for any other man, not even Roger O’Farrel. But I must mull over this and discover if it be true love!”
Thereat she laughed merrily aloud, and I cursed despairingly.
“Fie, such language before your lady love!” she said. “Now hear me, Steve, we must seek Roger O’Farrel, wherever he may be, for I am like a daughter to him, and if he likes you, why, who knows! But you must not speak of marrying until I am older and have had many more adventures. Now we shall be true comrades as we have been hitherto.”
“And a comrade must allow an honest kiss,” said I, glancing seaward where the ship came sweeping grandly.
And with a light laugh she lifted her lips to mine.
Authorless Stories: EDIT: Learned the following stories are by Keith Taylor
The Perilous Helen Tavrel – Part One
“As for Roger O’Farrel … He took me off a sinking ship when I was a baby and raised me like his own daughter. And if I took to the life of a rover, it is not his fault, who would have established me like a fine lady ashore had I wished. ”
– Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
Helen Tavrel had piracy and wild roving in her blood. Her kindred were the Taverels of Cornwall, who (among others) had operated out of Fowey port as pirates in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were licensed to take French vessels while the Hundred Years’ War raged, but they continued without royal sanction after peace was made, and Edward IV had to take steps to suppress them – which included hanging a number.
Taverels were among the Elizabethan sea-dogs of Drake’s time (and Solomon Kane’s). They fought the Armada and plundered Spanish ports and shipping. Some of the Fowey Taverels made for the Munster coasts in Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century, when James I sought to suppress piracy as Edward IV had done before him. They became part of the Munster Brotherhood, a strong organisation of sea-thieves eventually crushed by the Dutch, who had wearied of their predations. Those Taverels who survived to come back from Munster (with an ‘e’ dropped from their name) settled in Cornwall again.
Like greater Cornish families such as the Killigrews, they held by the Royalist cause during the English Civil War, even after Charles I was beheaded. They smuggled arms to English Royalists and information to the exiled Charles II, but eventually they were betrayed. They attempted to flee to the continent themselves, and were intercepted by a Parliamentary naval ship, in 1654. Helen Tavrel, then two years old, was one of those aboard.
The Cromwellian ship was driven off by the privateer O’Farrel, in the service of Confederate Ireland. He rescued Helen from her burning vessel and carried her aboard his own, the frigate Tisiphone. Golden-haired and grey-eyed, she reminded him searingly of his own infant daughter, Finola, who with her mother had been murdered by Roundhead soldiers in Wexford. The details, and much else concerning O’Farrel’s career, can be found in the series of posts “The Superb Roger O’Farrel.”
O’Farrel had been fighting the Roundheads on the seas, as a privateer, for nine years, and had battled the English before that, from 1641 to ’43, at the side of his father, until the elder O’Farrel was killed. Now he sailed to Brussels with the little girl he made his foster-daughter. Helen never remembered anything about Brussels, though her terror aboard the blazing ship, and O’Farrel lifting her in his arms with a laugh and words of comfort, remained stamped on her mind and heart all her life. In any case they were not in Brussels long. The southern Low Countries were a centre of the Counter-Reformation under the Hapsburgs, and O’Farrel, a Catholic with an impressive record of fighting heretics, found a welcome there. The Spanish mistrusted Oliver Cromwell’s intentions in the West Indies, and offered O’Farrel a commission in Cuba. O’Farrel accepted.
The result was that Helen grew up in Havana, then the richest, most opulent port in the Caribbean. The Spanish treasure fleet gathered there each year. When she and O’Farrel arrived, the Captain General (acting) was Don Ambrosio de Sotolongo. De Sotolongo and his lady were charmed by Helen, and soon learned to value O’Farrel. The Irishman found a Spanish-Indian couple, Ramon and Eulalia, to look after his house and foster daughter. They had a daughter of their own, Renata, of Helen’s age, that O’Farrel thought would make an agreeable playmate for his motherless girl.
He took care to attend mass regularly and in other ways stay on the right side of the Church; the Holy Office was a power in Spanish territories, and while O’Farrel, though Catholic, was scarcely an over-pious man, he met enough danger on the sea from buccaneers and the English to have no need of any from other directions. Oliver Cromwell’s “Western Design” had brought about the conquest of Jamaica, and the new English authorities there were recruiting buccaneers – English ones for preference – to prevent a Spanish reconquest. Before long O’Farrel was engaged in a dangerous feud with Captain Myngs of the Jamaica Squadron. Helen knew nothing about this; playing with Renata and learning to handle boats were her chief pleasures, when she was not being instructed in the skills reckoned suitable for a girl in colonial Cuba. These she hated; needlework and prayer did not appeal to someone with Tavrel blood. Nor had her experience on the burning ship as an infant left any lasting terror. Helen loved ships and the sea as she loved her foster father.
Aged seven, she was threatened again. Havana society was dissolute despite its splendid cathedral and many churches. An aristocratic waster with gambling debts and expensive mistresses saw in Helen a way out of his difficulties. He offered to abduct her and deliver her to Christopher Myngs. With Helen in English hands in Jamaica, O’Farrel would be easy to coerce. At the least he would then cease his depredations against the English colonies. At the most he might attempt Helen’s rescue and be captured.
Besides being wicked, the scheme was badly conceived and worse put into effect. The man’s wife detested him. She informed O’Farrel, in which she only confirmed what he had learned already from other sources. O’Farrel sought the man, insulted him in public, and killed him in a duel with swords and daggers. Although he did not intend that Helen should know, she too missed little that went on around her, and spied on the fight from the shadows. She saw the man die. Knowing the cause, she worshipped her foster-father even more thereafter.
Between 1658 and 1660, O’Farrel remained in Havana with Helen. Upon the Restoration in England, he visited London, taking her with him. His record of fighting the Roundheads made him congenial to Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Prince Rupert, but not to Parliament. Helen did not like England; she found it cold and rainy after the Caribbean, and was glad to return. She had missed her playmate Renata. Between the ages of eight and ten, though, she found plenty of undisciplined mischief to get into with the mestiza girl, some of it dangerous. The pirate blood of the Tavrels combined with her adoration of her foster father inspired her to run wild, and at ten she sought to emulate his skill with a rapier also. She pleaded with him to instruct her, and he did, thinking she would probably lose interest, as she had with a few other enthusiasms; she was a child, after all.
Helen did not lose interest. She had talent for the blade and soon developed a real love for it; so much so that O’Farrel prevailed upon a fencing master to teach her daily when he was away at sea. Christopher Myngs returned to the Caribbean at that time – 1662 – and sacked Santiago de Cuba, on the island’s southern coast. O’Farrel was able to retaliate in the following year, when Myngs led twenty vessels in a looting expedition against Campeche. O’Farrel, with a mere five ships, still recovered some of the plunder and sank three of the buccaneers.
When Helen was thirteen, she began to strut the sun-drenched streets of Havana dressed as a boy, her golden hair covered by a black wig, her small rapier at her side. Renata often accompanied her, sometimes in trousers and shirt like her friend, sometimes in a skirt. The inevitable happened; they were waylaid by a group of young hell-raisers with lewd intentions towards the mestiza. Helen resisted, drew her rapier, ran one youth through the shoulder and slashed the face of a second. Afterwards, the pair escaped through the narrow, twisting alleys and over the roofs. The group swore obscene revenge, but they did not know against whom. Then.
Helen began training with pistols at thirteen, also. Her hands had been too small for them at ten, but now she practiced with firearms under a professional master, and soon learned to hit her target. She enjoyed shooting, but loved the rapier with a passion.
Roger O’Farrel was her idol, and it was chiefly because of him that she yearned after the pirate life. She doubtless heard stories of the pirate queen of Connacht, Grace O’Malley, from her foster father. She also developed an admiring fascination for the flame-haired female pirate Jacquotte Delahaye, originally from Saint-Domingue. Jacquotte was said to have become a pirate after her father was murdered, and led a crew of cut-throats for years, until the Caribbean waters became too hot for her. She escaped pursuit by faking her own death, but returned after a time, and received the nickname “Back From the Dead Red”. Before long her followers numbered hundreds, and in 1656 they had taken over a small island, with the intent of turning it into a freebooter republic. Jacquotte died defending it in a gory action when Helen Tavrel was about nine, so they never met, but Helen loved the stories and ballads about her.
Another female pirate who roved the West Indies during Helen’s young girlhood was Charlotte de Berry. Charlotte was born circa 1636, and in her teens fell in love with a sailor, whom she married against her parents’ wishes. In the best romantic tradition, she disguised herself as a man, sailed as his shipmate, and fought in naval actions beside him. An officer discovered their secret but did not divulge it, moved by lust for Charlotte. He gave Charlotte’s husband the most dangerous tasks in an effort to get him killed, and when that did not succeed fast enough, he accused the young man of plotting mutiny, for which he was flogged to death. Charlotte put off the officer’s further advances until they reached port, whereupon she knifed him – fatally — and jumped ship.
Dressing in women’s clothes again, Charlotte soon found that had been a mistake, for a brutal merchant captain kidnapped her and subjected her to a forced marriage. His amorous methods, apparently, would have been considered coarse by a razorback hog, and Charlotte freed herself by doing in fact what her former husband had been accused of doing – fomenting a mutiny. During a voyage to Africa she inspired the crew to rise against captain and officers, decapitated the former, and became captain by acclaim, as the best leader there. She remained captain for years, until a disastrous shipwreck reduced the starving survivors to cannibalism before they were rescued, by a Dutch ship. When other pirates waylaid the Dutch, Charlotte and her fellows stood by their saviours and fought the attackers until they were driven off. What happened to her after that is uncertain.
Roger O’Farrel had lived a fairly quiet life – for him – in Havana between 1665 and 1667, when Helen turned fifteen. Then he was offered a large reward by the Captain General of the city, Francisco de Avila Orejon y Gaston, if he would seek and destroy the pirate l’Ollonais, a bestial madman with a hatred for all Spaniards. He had sworn no quarter to any, an oath he barbarously kept. O’Farrel accepted, and embarked on the mission. (See “The Superb Roger O’Farrel – Part Four”.)
Helen, then fifteen, was tired of life ashore and delighted by her foster father’s deeds. She wanted to share in them. Knowing he would never allow her to sail in pursuit of the fiendish l’Ollonais, she disguised herself as a black-haired boy again and went aboard one of O’Farrel’s ships as a powder monkey, demonstrating that she knew the skills of the job and was nimble. She did not crew in O’Farrel’s own ship, the San Patricio, where he would have recognized her, but in the second one, the Pilar. Both were fragatas, a type of three-masted New World ship, precursors of the 18th century naval frigates, of about 150 tons each. They carried cannon at the bows, with others in a broadside row along the single gun deck. They maneuvered better in contrary winds than the larger, higher galleons. O’Farrel did have the use of a galleon at the time, the 400 ton Santa Barbara, but he left her behind. Her draught was too great for his purposes this voyage.
Helen took no weapon aboard but a practical dirk. Her beloved rapier would have betrayed her identity at once. The Pilar’s commander, Seamus Browne, a former slave freed by O’Farrel, knew the comely blonde girl Helen Tavrel, but made no connection between Helen and the scruffy black-haired boy before the mast – and Helen kept out of his way.
L’Ollonais sailed from Tortuga with a fleet of six vessels, manned by seven hundred rogues. Three hundred manned the largest, his flagship, a Spanish craft he had captured at Maracaibo on his last foray, marked by his usual mass murders and torture. His captains included Moses van Vin, the Gower brothers John and Tobias, the Manxman Finlo Hilton (“Bloody” Hilton) and Pierre le Picard, the youngest.
(Moses van Vin and another Moses, Moses Vanclein, along with le Picard, are those of l’Ollonais’ captains on his last cruise that are known to history. Bloody Hilton and the Gower brothers are fiction, the creations of Robert E. Howard. At least, Bloody Hilton is mentioned in connection with Helen Tavrel in “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom,” in which John Gower meets his end, while a different “Captain Gower” is described as dying aboard his ship in the poem “A Song of the Anchor Chain.” I’ve assumed this was Tobias Gower, John’s brother. )
With the odds weighted against him, O’Farrel had to be circumspect, and he followed the vile l’Ollonais’ sea trail until he was well clear of Cuba, hoping to catch him at a disadvantage. At one point the Frenchman’s fleet and O’Farrel’s two fragatas were both becalmed for a while. When a fresh wind rose, O’Farrel resumed the pursuit, but paused to intercept a Dutch merchantman and relieve it of water and food supplies, leaving its crew just enough to make land. That hardly satisfied Helen’s lust for action. Events at Pedro Cortes, in the north-western corner of modern Honduras, pleased her better. L’Ollonais left his fleet on the coast and marched inland against the town of San Pedro Sula. O’Farrel took his ships into the harbor and devastated the pirate ships’ masts and rigging with chain-shot. He also used incendiaries, doing a good deal of damage. As a powder monkey, Helen was kept gleefully busy during this action. Then O’Farrel retreated.
While a waiting game did not suit Helen’s temperament, or her youth, she saw it could be effective. O’Farrel knew that l’Ollonais was careening his main vessel before he continued his voyage. O’Farrel sent back to Cuba for a decoy ship, a decrepit old galleon, and l’Ollonais took the bait. He captured the ship, but again he was frustrated; the cargo was worth little and the timber was riddled with shipworms. However, it mounted forty-two cannon, which l’Ollonais stubbornly kept, though their weight made them a liability more than an asset. Some of his captains, including the Gower brothers and Picard, deserted him, weary of the unsuccessful cruise. O’Farrel finally outplayed l’Ollonais and stranded him on a savage coast where he was murdered by Indians.
Not until nearly back at Havana did O’Farrel discover his foster-daughter had been in the Pilar all the time. He was thunderstruck. If his project had gone awry, Helen could have fallen into the hands of the vilest monster in the Caribbean. Helen was unrepentant; her only regret that there had not been more direct action. O’Farrel gave the girl one of the very little whaling she had ever received from him. She took it without tears or resentment, but O’Farrel saw she was the true offspring of her Cornish pirate ancestors and there was no settling her ashore as a fine respectable lady. Helen was what she was – and it was partly due to his example, no doubt.
“I am probably the finest pistol shot in the world,” said the girl modestly, “but the blade is my darling.”
She drew her rapier and slashed and thrust the empty air.
“You sailors seldom appreciate the true value of the straight steel,” said she. “Look at you with that clumsy cutlass. I could run you through while you were heaving it up for a slash. So!”
Her point suddenly leaped out and a lock of my hair floated to the earth.
– Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
Roger O’Farrel’s foster daughter had just completed her first real voyage on the Caribbean, disguised aboard one of the two vessels O’Farrel took in pursuit of the savage l’Ollonais. It had lasted a year, and Helen was now sixteen. She had learned a certain amount of seamanship, many pirate tricks, the trade of a powder monkey, and seen some action, as when O’Farrel’s two ships went inshore against the anchored fleet of l’Ollonais and crippled the masts and rigging. In the end O’Farrel had brought l’Ollonais to his end at the hands of savage Indians on the Honduras coast – though not a whit more savage than l’Ollonais himself.
As they returned to Havana in Cuba, they encountered an English ship of the Jamaica squadron, mounting forty guns – more than O’Farrel’s two Cuban fragatas, the San Patricio and Pilar, had between them. But they were two vessels, each more maneuverable than the English ship, and they danced around her, blasting shot into her stern and quarters, until she had to abandon the fight and make for Kingston – with a new tale to tell Jamaica’s governor of the damned O’Farrel. Helen was again an enthusiastic participant in the action, as a powder monkey carrying charges and shot to the gun crews of the Pilar.
On returning to Havana, Helen faced fresh danger from someone she had quite forgotten – and for that matter did not think worth remembering. The degenerate weasel who waylaid her and her friend Renata in a plaza, when Helen had been disguised as a boy, and had his face slashed by Helen’s rapier, carried a grudge. Now he heard, as most of the city did, about Helen’s voyage aboard the Pilar in pursuit of l’Ollonais – again, disguised as a boy. He had enough intelligence to make the connection. While her foster-father O’Farrel was a valued servant of the city’s captain-general, this young aristocratic debauchee would not have dared knowingly touch her. But the situation changed at the end of their successful voyage to destroy l’Ollonais. The captain-general, Francisco de Avila, reneged on the promised payment to O’Farrel for that immensely dangerous task, trying to fob him off with one-fifth the sum, which O’Farrel rejected in anger. The result was a blistering quarrel and complete break between the two men.
Helen was now safe game in the weasel’s eyes.
He had never been more mistaken – and never would be again.
He caught her alone on Havana’s streets, and brought two friends with him to share the sport of brutalizing her. Helen Tavrel had a pistol at the time, which she did not trouble to draw. She used her blade. This time she did not compromise by piercing anybody’s shoulder. She ran the ringleader and one of his companions straight through the body – fatally in both cases. The last one ran. They were the first men she had killed. She had not long turned sixteen.
For that reason, and because of his quarrel with de Avila, O’Farrel left Havana swiftly, taking Helen with him. His servants Ramon and Eulalia and their daughter Renata, Helen’s girlhood friend, went with them, lest the families of the youths Helen had killed take revenge on them. They travelled to Santiago, on the southern shore of Cuba. That city too had its captain general, a bitter (and no less crooked) rival of Francisco de Avila.
O’Farrel arrived in Santiago in the San Patricio and with no other ship. De Avila had impounded the Pilar and the galleon Santa Barbara, which O’Farrel used occasionally. (He had expropriated the San Patricio, too, but that had not halted O’Farrel. He simply took the fragata and left. He had lifted ships from guarded harbors before.)
His foster daughter had reached a restless age, even if she had not been wild and ready for any adventure as a child – which she had. She yearned for the sort of roving, fighting life O’Farrel had lived, and in Santiago she made it plain to him, blending the artful persuasiveness of an adored daughter with the fierce determination of a born pirate. O’Farrel was saddened by this development. Still, he knew himself, and the sort of example he had set her, and the blood of the Tavrels that she carried. If he did not let her go, she would go regardless. She already had, on the chase after l’Ollonais.
Finlo Hilton, the Manxman called Bloody Hilton, had been one of l’Ollonais’s captains on the savage pirate’s ill-fated last voyage, and one of those who survived because he deserted the main fleet before the end. Helen cared nothing for any grudge Hilton might hold against her foster-father; she sought him out with a request that was more of a demand, to sail with the crew of his eleven-gun sloop (eight small cannon and three swivel guns) the Wyvern. Hilton was vain, and preferred to captain a larger ship with more weight of guns, not only for the intimidating effect on potential victims but for the prestige of it, even though a lighter vessel which drew less water was superior for fast, close inshore work, and having a smaller crew meant fewer men to divide the plunder. Helen, with a different attitude, felt better pleased to be sailing in a sloop.
Hilton laughed at her and called her a slip of a girl, but beneath his derision, different motives and considerations warred in him. He refused to admit even to himself that he feared O’Farrel and the consequences if Helen should come to harm aboard Hilton’s ship. Still, it would be a great revenge if exactly that befell. Within his black heart he reached a compromise; let the girl board the Wyvern and take her chances. She was unlikely to last one voyage in this kind of company. And Hilton could make sure he had a more formidable ship under him by the time Roger O’Farrel sailed in pursuit of the Manxman.
“I’m captain, no other,” he growled, “and you tread my deck at your own risk, malapert.”
“That is fine,” she retorted, “and I accept it. So long as it’s plain that any man of yours offers me insult or outrage at his risk.”
Bloody Hilton laughed again. He had earned his by-name. A long-armed swarthy man with a pox-pitted face, protuberant eyes and a bulging forehead, his ugliness was not helped by a loose-lipped fleshy mouth. But he led every boarding party and could split a man from crown to breast-bone with a cutlass, which counted for more than being pretty in his trade. He was even a fair seaman, and had been from his boyhood on the Isle of Man, though his sailing master Shannet was his superior there, besides being more clever and inventive.
Hilton’s cruise to the Mosquito Coast and Honduras with l’Ollonais had gone badly indeed, so he had resolved to avoid those parts this time, though still faring west. His objectives were Campeche and Veracruz in New Spain. With a single sloop there was no chance of sacking either city as O’Farrel’s enemy Myngs had done in 1663 – that had taken a buccaneer fleet – but ships set forth from Campeche in the winter, and often they were smugglers with illegal cargoes, dodging the draconian Spanish trade regulations, headed for Trinidad.
Hilton lurked in hope of ambushing such vessels. This time he enjoyed an immediate stroke of luck. A Dutch fluyt came out of the harbor and crossed his path. These exclusively merchant ships had been designed with cargo space and handling by small crews in mind. Because they often traded in the Baltic, they had a rather pear-shaped cross section, as Baltic dues and tariffs were based on a ship’s decking area. Thus a narrow deck but a bulbous hold saved money. Their shallow draught allowed them, like a pirate sloop, to negotiate shallow harbors and enter river anchorages. Their disadvantage was that they rarely carried large enough crews, or guns, to repulse pirates. Hilton was delighted.
The merchantman showed her heels, and cleared her deck for fighting if she failed to outrun Hilton’s Wyvern. The sloop soon ran her down, the fluyt being “in poor trim” – her cargo unbalanced in the hold. Helen felt as eager as any of Hilton’s ruthless sea-dogs, waiting by the rail with rapier in hand and a brace of pistols slung across her chest.
Bloody Hilton laid his sloop athwart the Dutchman’s stern, to clear her deck with cannon fire. The four cannon along one side of the Wyvern fired, raking the merchantman from stern to bow, leaving blood and mangled men on the deck. Then they boarded. This was awkward with the Wyvern athwart the Dutchman’s stern, though good for a cannonade, but Helen was among the first over the side, bounding and thrusting among the surviving sailors on the fluyt’s deck. One man fell, gurgling, pierced through the neck, and drawing her pistol she shot a second. A third sailor, armed with a boarding axe, she distracted with a feint of her rapier, then rammed her empty pistol into his eye, and used her rapier in earnest to run him through the guts. The other pirates overran the decks and killed every man aboard, after Hilton’s custom.
The cargo proved to be a worthwhile one – salt, wax, cotton, and Mexican logwood which yielded a valuable dye. Hilton proposed they now cruise around Yucatan and south towards Porto Bello and Cartagena. If they encountered no worthwhile prey in those waters, they might sail along the Main towards Trinidad, where smugglers and merchants of all nations constantly traded, even though the island was under Spanish rule. The governor, handicapped by weak harbor fortifications and a garrison so small that the average buccaneer crew – much less a fleet – would bellow with laughter at being opposed by it – could do nothing but take bribes and look the other way. Hilton’s crew applauded the idea, Helen Tavrel among them.
Her foster-father being who he was, Helen knew a number of buccaneer tricks. She suggested the common one of using a captured ship as a lure; hoisting the Dutch tricolor over the fluyt and sailing it along in a peaceful fashion, in the hope that some other merchantman would come close seeking safety in numbers, or merely news. Hilton agreed, and put thirty of his seventy pirates aboard the fluyt, one of them, a Dutchman named Venneker, posing as its captain.
The ploy had no results during the next part of the cruise, and no likely prey was sighted between Porto Bello and Cartagena. As for Maracaibo, Hilton did not even consider a raid there. The entrance was too narrow, the harbor too well defended, and he had not the strength for a successful land attack. Seasoned buccaneers that they were – and men of spirit, at least, if also bloody scoundrels – Hilton’s crew accepted this as a frequent circumstance and did not complain. Green pups in the trade, expecting glorious success and wealth three days into a voyage, might have done.
Between Maracaibo and Curacao, boredom set in with the crew, if not complaint, and the inevitable man tried his lecherous luck with Helen Tavrel. Her fierce fighting when they took their first prize had been observed by some, and they accepted her, but this pirate had not seen, and he doubted it. He also doubted she could possibly be a virgin if she willingly sailed on a ship like the Wyvern. She rebuffed his anthropoid advances, and tried to knee him in the crotch, but he was a seasoned brawler and blocked that move as naturally as he drank rum. Then he began choking her into submission. Helen remembered a waterfront girl’s advice and pretended to submit, then to respond, after which she slashed her stiffened fingers across his eyes. That succeeded, long enough for her to pull away and draw her rapier. Calling the crew, she accused the buccaneer and challenged him to a duel. It was done the usual way; the two combatants went ashore on a sandbar with a pistol each, and one returned. Helen’s would-be rapist stayed behind with a fatal ball in his lung. She had learned to kill in Havana; now she was learning to kill readily.
The dead man had no matelot who wanted to avenge him. The Wyvern went on to Curacao, but Hilton did not harbor there, after some cogitation. His captured fluyt had a Dutchman who could pass for its captain, but every other man aboard was English, Scots, or black, and most were too plainly brothers of the buccaneer trade. He bypassed the island and lurked offshore. Curacao was a noted port and market for the slave trade. Slavers from West Africa arrived with their cargoes all the time, sold their human goods and – often enough – loaded again with molasses which they took to New England.
Before long, a Dutch blackbirder did appear. The innocent-looking fluyt, under the lowlands flag, hove in sight of the slaver, who naturally asked how the market was in Curacao, hungry or glutted. Most slavers were fluyts like Hilton’s captured craft; their big holds made them suitable for stowing large numbers of slaves, and Netherlanders had mastered the craft of building them cheaply en masse. This one, though, was something of an exception, with sharper, more rakish lines and a number of guns. Seeing her, Bloody Hilton was ready to bet at a first glance that she practiced piracy as well as slaving. He also coveted her at first glance. She was bigger and swifter than the Wyvern.
Her very swiftness gave a better chance of escape if Venneker showed his true colors too soon, but the proximity to Curacao’s shore made the slaving skipper feel safe. He allowed the fluyt a near approach. Venneker laid alongside, boarded her amidships, and his thirty devils killed recklessly until Hilton in the sloop arrived to aid them; barely in time. Helen Tavrel, cursing and laughing alternately, emptied her pistols and then moved through the smoke and blood of the thickest fighting until the slaver was theirs.
Hilton and his council decided they would take it to Barbados, where slaves were always needed for the sugar plantations, and sell the human cargo. This disturbed Helen more than the blood and slaughter, for Roger O’Farrel was her foster father and he hated slaving; Cromwell had sent thousands of Irish to slavery or the indentured servitude that was little better, here in the Indies. Barbados had been the destination of many, Virginia, of others.
Wild and fearless in a fight, wholly a woman in years by the standards of the time, Helen was still a teenaged girl who could feel abashed and shy at the prospect of looking foolish. If she spoke for freeing the slaves she would only get a vast guffaw, as she knew. She summoned all her nerve and pointed out that the ship itself was a fine prize, while a living African cargo held danger of revolt and they could not put a full crew aboard to prevent it. The best course might be to let them go.
Hilton sneered at the notion. “If I decide the bumboes are a danger, I’ll put them in the sea, not cosset them to some comfortable shore,” he said. The buccaneers voted on the matter, while Helen sweated at understanding that her words might have condemned all the Africans to death. In the end the decision to sell them in Barbados was the one that prevailed, and Helen fastened her lip in relief.
Hilton sold the Dutch fluyt and its contents as well, so the cruise proved a good one. He attempted to cheat Helen of her share by saying that since she had been against selling the Africans, she need not expect the profit. She gave that an abrupt dismissal. A buccaneer captain could expect only trouble if he broke the article that concerned sharing plunder, and Helen had fought well. She knew the rest of the company would back her on this matter, and they did.
Hilton finished the voyage in Jamaica, for a Port Royal carouse. For the Manxman it was safe, but for Roger O’Farrel’s daughter it was otherwise, and someone had tried to sell her to the English ten years before. She mistrusted Hilton. Slipping out of Port Royal with her gains tied in a cotton sash, she rubbed soot into her blonde hair, stole dirty clothes and a small boat, and made her own way back to southern Cuba. She had practiced that ploy by now, and knew it backwards.
Helen Tavrel had begun to make her name among the buccaneers.
“After all I have done to keep clean,” she sobbed, “this is too much! I know I am a monster in the sight of men; there is blood on my hands. I’ve looted and cursed and killed and diced and drunk, till my very heart is calloused. My only consolation, the one thing to keep me from feeling utterly damned, is the fact that I have remained as virtuous as any girl. And now men believe me otherwise. I wish I … I … were dead!”
Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
Helen Tavrel returned from her eventful, and bloody, cruise to the Low Countries and shared in its profits. Her captain, Troels Hansen, sold the two shiploads of armaments originally meant for Russia, to various rogues of the buccaneer trade in Tortuga and Port Royal. Helen received her share according to the articles of the voyage. Her foster father, Roger O’Farrel, no longer a young man, was living more quietly now. He made his living – for he had medical training – selling well-equipped medical chests to the surgeons of pirate ships.
He had taken a modest amount of land on Tortuga, and a house in the town. He was friendly with the French Governor, Bertrand d’Ogeron. (A Governor d’Ogeron appears in some of Sabatini’s Captain Blood yarns, but anachronistically; the real d’Ogeron died in 1676, in Paris.) His Cuban servants Ramon and Eulalia, of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, had moved to Tortuga with him. So had their daughter Renata, Helen’s closest friend. Renata was about to marry a young French pirate who was leaving the red trade and taking land under d’Ogeron’s scheme. Helen went to their wedding, as did her foster father, and they gave the couple generous presents to start their married life. Helen had a wistful moment or two as she drank to their future. But she was convinced no man existed who could compare to Roger O’Farrel, and her view of her fellow pirates in general was not rosy. Hansen and le Ban were probably the best of a scurvy lot. No, a decent life with a decent husband seemed to be absent from the cards for Helen Tavrel. Even Renata’s man might get restless and desert her someday …
Helen stayed in Tortuga with O’Farrel for a short time. She even considered settling down, but the thought was like a thought of death, too tedious for bearing. She was not twenty yet. She loved the sea and her wild, adventurous life. Her greatest model, her only one, was O’Farrel. Her credo might have been the one Robert E. Howard set down in his poem, “The Day That I Die.”
“And ye that name me in after years,
This shall ye say of me:
“That I followed the road of the restless gull
As free as a vagrant breeze,
That I bared my breast to the winds’ unrest
And the wrath of the driving seas.
“That I loved the song of the thrumming spars
And the lift of the plunging prow,
But I could not bide in the seaport towns
And I could not follow the plow.
“For ever the wind came out of the east
To beckon me on and on,
The sunset’s lure was my paramour
And I loved each rose-pale dawn.”
Nevertheless, the slaughter of the arms ships’ crews made her dreams uneasy sometimes. Helen decided to try her luck as captain of her own craft – a sloop, fast and light, such as those in the trade often found convenient for inshore work. And she decided to raid Havana, where she had once lived, and where O’Farrel had been cheated by the Captain General. Francisco Oregon y Gascon had ceased to hold the office only that year. The new Captain General, another Francisco (Rodriguez de Ledesma) did not know her or O’Farrel. He was about to.
Helen did not sail directly for Havana. Her pirate sloop was too obviously just that for entry into the city’s harbor, unnoticed and unchallenged, to be possible. Instead she sailed east, to Puerto Rico, where – as in Cuba – there was a huge contraband trade due to the Spanish crown’s taxes on legal commerce. Off the mountainous island, she successfully waylaid a Spanish nao, called the Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion.
(The naos were armed merchant ships, square-rigged, with rounded hulls, developed from warships. They had greater cargo space and fewer guns, but they could still be modified and equipped for battle. In a commercial function, they carried fewer cannon to save weight and the smallest crews possible to save wages – the normal practice. Thus Helen’s buccaneer crew was able to board and take the Encarnacion.)
Helen set the crew in longboats, to return to Puerto Rico, with adequate supplies. The Encarnacion had been bound for Havana in any case, carrying logwood, ginger and annatto, and Helen kept to the same destination. Among her crew was one Luca Loreto, a Spanish renegade and former priest, who now posed as the Encarnacion’s captain as the ship approached Cuba. Helen assumed the boy’s disguise that had served her so well before.
From the captured nao’s deck she surveyed the harbor she knew so well, and the rich, bustling city where she had been so happy as a little girl. Now she was a pirate surveying the docks for prey, and not with profit alone in mind, but a way to humiliate the Spanish crown. A pity Oregon y Gascon was no longer Captain General here, but with luck she would give the impression he had connived with her for Judas money. That would teach him to swindle Roger O’Farrel!
To her delight, she saw the 400-ton galleon Santa Barbara in the harbor, a ship that had once belonged to O’Farrel and which the Havana authorities had confiscated two years before. She decided to steal it and take it back to Tortuga. She needed more crewmen to man it, however, and began stealthily to recruit Spanish and Indian rogues who had known her foster father when he was a major figure in gorgeous, opulent Havana.
This time fortune was not on Helen’s side. Young and reckless, she had optimistically assumed that the Encarnacion’s crew, whom she had set adrift in longboats, would never expect her to go to Havana. But the Puerto Rican authorities sent word of the hijacking to Cuba, nevertheless. She was captured and hurled into prison, with a swift trial and garroting facing her. Luckily, the crew of her sloop and O’Farrel’s former associates planned a jailbreak for her, using a combination of bribery and adroit force. Helen, Loreto and the others escaped, though they had to leave the galleon Santa Barbara behind, untouched, and the Encarnacion too.
(The latter seems to have been an unlucky ship. Built originally in Veracruz in Mexico, she saw merchant service for years after Helen Tavrel had briefly hijacked her, and then was attached to the Tierra Firme treasure fleet which carried silver and gold from New Spain to Cadiz. Sailing with that flotilla late in 1681, the Nuestra Senora de Encarnacion sank in a storm, dashed upon rocks near the mouth of the Chagres River. Her wreck, remarkably intact, was discovered by marine archaeologists from the Texas State University in 2011.)
Helen then embarked on some fifteen months of piracy with her sloop, which she named the Grace after Grace O’Malley, and its crew. A fifteen-tonner, she carried six light cannon and a swivel gun, and about seventy buccaneers. Running before the wind with topsail hoisted, she could exceed eleven knots. Helen Tavrel swiftly made an art of discovering, and taking, merchant ships from Europe with manufactured goods, almost more precious than gold in the Caribbean. She disposed of them in the illicit trader’s heaven of Puerto Rico, which became one of her favorite haunts. Her misdeed in taking the Encarnacion was soon forgotten by the crooked officials of the island, and she spoke fluent Spanish, having grown up in Havana.
After her failure and near-disaster in Havana, Helen’s closest call came when she was pursued by a 150-ton brigantine of the Jamaica Squadron. The English vessel sighted and recognized her. As it carried ten cannon, all heavier than Helen’s guns, and a crew of about a hundred, the buccaneers wisely fled. Helen felt certain that if they could close and board, her pirates would take the brigantine, but trying involved too great a risk of being blown out of the water. The English ship pursued the Grace for over three hours, close-hauled, and overtaking her at last, near astern, was sure of a quick capture, or of sinking the sloop. Helen took the risk of coming swiftly about and firing her three cannon on that side, crammed with chain shot. It blasted away the top of the foremast and lacerated the rigging. Her buccaneers, good marksmen, also delivered musket volleys, which killed a number of men on the brigantine’s decks. The pirate sloop got clean away.
During that fifteen months, too, Helen became widely known for preferring men’s clothing in a fashionable, even foppish, style – breeches, brocade waistcoats or vests, and fine leather boots. She even affected a cocked hat now and then, rare among pirates except if he were a captain, and a flaunting, gaudy captain like le Ban at that. Helen wore ordinary seaman’s garb only when disguised as a boy. She seldom did so now, as her figure had become too clearly female for that to deceive as it had when she was younger.
She had declared it her crew’s law, and enforced it with rapier and pistol at need, that her virtue, and her modesty too, were to be respected. They came to accept it. One necessary condition for that acceptance was a string of successes. Helen achieved it. Before long her crew boasted about her, treated being captained by Helen Tavrel as a cachet, and were ready to fight any scurvy sea-dog who slandered her, as a matter of pride. It was said around the Spanish Main, as Stephen Harmer heard and would repeat, that “though you follow a vile and bloody trade, no man can say truthfully that he ever so much as kissed your lips.”
Then, in Tortuga, Helen heard a piece of tavern scuttlebutt that aroused her strong interest. A tall bearded scoundrel by the name of Dick Comrel was bragging while drunk. He declared that he had sailed with a French buccaneer named de Romber, and that they had found an outpost of the legendary Mogar Empire, an island whereon stood a stone temple such as no native tribe of the Caribbean could build in their day, or indeed for hundreds of years, and which held a vast treasure in gems. They had been forced to run from a Spanish naval galleon before they could loot the temple, and escaped the galleon but ran afoul of an English frigate which sank them. Only Dick Comrel survived.
Helen would have shrugged it off as sailor’s blather, but she had heard the story of Mogar before, from English, French and Spanish seamen, some of them responsible commanders. She followed Comrel’s movements, and soon learned that on the strength of his story, he had joined the crew of Captain John Gower. She knew John and his brother Tobias for two horrible brutish swine, and no friends of her foster father’s, either. They had both accompanied the fiendish pirate l’Ollonais on his last voyage. Roger O’Farrel had hunted l’Ollonais from that voyage’s start to its ill-fated finish, and done much to bring his disasters about. The Gower brothers had deserted l’Ollonais before the end, which was why they were still alive – lamentably, in Helen’s view and O’Farrel’s. But that was by the way. If Comrel was setting John Gower on the track of the Mogar treasure, Helen, young, impulsive and enterprising, wanted very much to be there.
She approached Gower directly and boldly, as was her way, with a request to sail with him on his next voyage. She explained that Roger O’Farrel had no ship at present, and other previous captains of hers like le Ban were not available. The ape-faced Gower knew that was true.
“O’Farrel is no friend of mine,” he growled. “That ye know.”
“He does not have to be,” Helen answered coolly. “I’m as useful a ship’s hand in the rigging as you will find, as you know, Gower. And as good in a fight as any man.”
Gower ungraciously accepted her. Helen left her own crew and her sloop the Grace, and boarded Gower’s Black Raider. This was a “long low craft” as Stephen Harmer was to describe her, with “an unkempt look, a slouchy, devil-may-care rigging which speaks not of an honest crew or a careful master.” Helen had expected no better; neither she nor O’Farrel thought highly of the Gowers as seamen. The Black Raider had at least been properly careened within a reasonable length of time.
Gower was also professional enough to know that optimistic treasure hunts usually fell through, and to gather information about more realistic prizes in case the tale of the Mogar temple came to nothing. He had solid news of a Spanish merchantman making for Cuba, and other ships he might waylay. Thus provided, he set sail.
Dick Comrel led him straight to the island of which he had boasted. Gower would surely have murdered him slowly had he failed. Greedy for the fabled treasure and less than willing to share the knowledge of it, Gower came ashore in a longboat with Helen and several men. The Black Raider he sent away under the command of his mate, Frank Marker, to intercept the Spanish trader and return in due course.
As it happened, there was someone on the island already – Stephen Harmer, cast away there from the Virginia vessel Blue Countess. The Countess had caught fire and burned to the waterline. Stephen had survived by clinging to a drifting hatch. His path and Helen’s were about to cross.
What followed was told by REH in his story, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom.” The position of the island is not given, but it must have been a few miles long and wide at least, because the narrator speaks of “tall trees sweeping away on either hand,” and again of birds “high in the interwoven branches of the thick trees”. He also talks of going “inland a considerable distance.” There are at least two streams, a waterfall, rocky cliffs and ravines on the island’s higher ground, and a swamp lower down for variety.
There had evidently been friction between Helen and Gower before they landed on the island in the ship’s longboat. There were “seven great rough fellows” besides the girl – Captain Gower himself, his guide Dick Comrel, da Costa, a lank dark Frenchman, with, oddly, a Spanish name, Tom Bellefonte, Will Harbor, Mike Donler, and one who died without his name being mentioned. The longboat barely beached before Helen had to draw her blade in self-defense, parry a sword-stroke and run for the jungle. The pirates separated to search for her and the temple supposed to hold the treasure, and it would appear that the first one to find Helen Tavrel swiftly died.
Stephen found the corpse by chance. He robbed it of pistols and cutlass. While he was about the unpleasant task, Helen appeared and mocked him for a corpse-robber, to which he replied that someone else had to answer for killing it. They made an odd couple and did not get along at first; Harmer viewed Helen’s red trade with aversion, while she soon perceived he was a Puritan, and had always shared O’Farrel’s detestation of those. But Harmer was red-blooded enough to like her shape and think her lips the most kissable he’d ever seen.
His exact origins are not given. He might have been born in the Massachusetts colony, and had plainly been a sailor since boyhood, since he said that he “had passed most of my life in ship’s rigging”. His position aboard the Blue Countess had been mate. While Helen addressed him mockingly as “Self-Righteous” and “Broadbrim” (a reference to Puritans’ hats) at first, it didn’t take her long to see that her new unchosen companion was courageous, loyal and honest, and not even a half bad figure of a man …
A quarrel was not long in coming, despite their shared danger. Steve wearied of hearing Helen sing the unstinted praises of Roger O’Farrel, whom he considered a rogue, and when the subject came up, he said sharply that he did not see how any woman could be a pirate and murderess, but still chaste. Helen said in a white-lipped whisper that she had killed men for less; Steve said stubbornly that if she killed him it would scarcely change his opinion. Then, to his astonishment, she all but broke down, crying that her sexual virtue was the only thing she had to be proud of in her bloody life, and he apologized, remembering the tales he had heard of her mercy to crewmen and passengers of ships she had looted. They made peace, more or less, and in any case they still had common enemies to face …
I stood on the deck of a ship offshore
And harked to the awesome and deafening roar
Of the ocean waves when they struck the reefs,
High tossed on the tide like crested chiefs
Whose plumes toss high ‘bove the battling hordes
Where leap the lances and flash the swords,
And the mighty waves rose high and steep
To the hand of the waves that smote the deep
And my soul leaped wild and my soul leaped free,
To the leap and the swing of the rolling sea!
Robert E. Howard, “The Sea”
The strangely matched couple of pirate Helen Tavrel and staid, honest trader Stephen Harmer had been thrown together by fate on a remote Caribbean island. They had mutual enemies, the group of pirates led by brutish, ape-faced John Gower, and already in a couple of clashes they had reduced their adversaries’ numbers. Upon seeing the five surviving rogues come together again, none with the longboat on the beach, Helen decided to return and rifle the boat of supplies. It was reckless, and they were caught in the act by Mike Donler and Will Harbor. Stephen shot Donler through the chest, then finished him with a cutlass, while Helen ran the other pirate through. Now the odds were only three against two.
Gower and his fellows, a dark, saturnine Frenchman with the Spanish name of La Costa, a thing he never explained, and a bearded, ill-natured giant called Bellefonte, might have left in the boat. But Gower, the captain, was obsessed with the idea that there was a fabulous treasure on the island. It was supposedly contained in a stone temple, a relic of a lost empire called “Mogar”, which Harmer doubted had ever been. He also thought that fabulous was the very word to describe the treasure. Helen considered it worth searching for, at least, and she was proved right.
They discovered the temple, on the other side of a noisome barrier of bamboo, vines and mud. Howard’s description of its architecture is not dissimilar to that of the “Temple of the Toad” found some fifteen decades later by Freidrich von Junzt, in Honduras. (REH, “The Thing on the Roof”) “… built of great stone blocks … windowless and doorless … huge, squat columns … formed the front of the edifice …” Perhaps they were products of the same culture. Steve asked himself, “What alien people had built that shrine so long ago? Surely some terrible and somber people who died ages before the brown-skinned Caribs came to rear up their transient empire.”
Gower and his companions caught them at a disadvantage there, and Steve was wounded by a pistol shot. Clubbed down by La Costa’s musket, he could not assist Helen, and she too was taken prisoner. Gower spared them for the present only because he was impatient to find the treasure he insisted was there. Bellefonte was just as eager, but La Costa had become skeptical. “As for the gems,” he averred, “a legend hath it that the ancient priests of these people flung them into the sea, and I, for one, believe that legend.” That aside, he felt superstitious about the temple itself. “This is a haunt of demons; nay, Satan himself hath spread his dark wings o’er this temple and it’s no resort for Christians!”
Whatever gave La Costa the idea that he and Bellefonte and Gower were Christians is beyond me. But that’s by the way. REH had a sense of irony. Before long, searching for secret doors or hiding places, La Costa was bitten by a deadly snake and shot himself to end his torment.
Captain Gower was scarcely moved, and continued his search. After a while he stated, “I believe yon altar is the key of this mystery. Bring the sledge and let us have a look at the thing.” They had a heavy hammer with them, and Bellefonte had the strength to crack almost anything, even what appeared to be a solid square of stone. But Stephen Harmer felt chilled as he watched them prepare. As he expressed it:
“They mounted the stair like two rogues going up the gallows steps, and their appearance in the dim light was as men already dead. A cold hand touched my soul and I seemed to hear the sweep of mighty bat-like wings. An icy terror seized me, I know not why, and drew my eyes to the great stone which hung broodingly above the altar. All the horror of this ancient place of forgotten mysteries descended on me like a mist, and I think Helen felt the same for I heard her breath come quick and hard.”
Gower and Bellefonte didn’t seem to share those feelings. They continued to batter the altar until it proved hollow and broke open. There was nothing in the cavity, though, except one great red gem at the bottom, which seemed to be set firmly in place. They pried it loose. Not having read REH’s “The Thing on the Roof,” or seen an Indiana Jones movie, they didn’t know enough to be very careful what they touched in a secret ancient temple.
With a crunching, grinding noise, the huge central stone dropped out of the ceiling, smashing the bits of the altar and the two pirates. Nothing more was seen of them except blood oozing from under the stone. There was no treasure, either; that had been a fable, or else La Costa had been right in his belief that the priests of Mogar had hurled the jewels into the sea at the time of the Spanish conquest. The bloodshed and death had been for nothing, but on the pirate round, it frequently was. And then death came close to Helen again, when a vessel passing the island proved to be a warship whose officers would hang her if they knew her identity. Steve promptly vowed to pass her off as his sister, and then made an avowal of love, proposing that they change the plan and tell the ship’s captain she was his betrothed. Helen did not refuse, but she asked for time to consider, and to gain Roger O’Farrel’s approval, he being the nearest thing to a father she had. Steve swore in frustration, but he claimed a kiss at least.
These events took place in 1672. Helen was twenty, Stephen Harmer twenty-seven, and Roger O’Farrel, who had settled ashore in Tortuga, fifty. He had studied medicine at the University of Padua in his youth, and at his age he found it more profitable to assemble and sell surgeons’ chests to pirate crews than to actively follow the trade – in which most men died paupers.
Roger was not overjoyed to find Helen considering a lad of the Puritan persuasion. He had fought Cromwell’s Puritans tooth and nail in his younger days. They had murdered his wife and child at the Wexford massacre. Stephen said in a low voice that he had “no answer to that, except to damn those that did it, and to assure you I am not that sort of Puritan.” O’Farrel owned from Helen’s account of their meeting that he seemed staunch and game, and saw them sail in Helen’s sloop the Grace with mixed feelings.
All things piratical still came to O’Farrel’s ear. Tortuga was certainly the place to hear news of sea rovers. Friends informed him that John Gower’s brother Tobias blamed Helen Tavrel for John’s death and plotted revenge upon her. John’s former mate, Frank Marker, was with him, and so was Moses van Vin, who had been second in command to l’Ollonais on that savage, evil man’s last voyage. Tobias and van Vin were both in command of large, well-armed ships at the time. Moses captained a three-masted square-rigger with twenty-four cannon and a crew of 215. Tobias Gower’s vessel was bigger yet, a captured East Indiaman of 700 tons which could overawe any merchant vessel not swift enough to outsail it. The vessel mounted over 30 guns – originally more, but Gower had reduced the armament to increase the cargo room. He also planted a spy in Helen’s crew, and learned of her intention to strike at a wealthy sugar planter’s mansion on Barbados. He and van Vin meant to be there too.
O’Farrel, however, pledged every penny he owned to the governor for the loan of a ship, and sped for Barbados himself, set upon Helen’s rescue as once he had rescued her from a burning ship when she was two. What subsequently happened is described in detail in “The Superb Roger O’Farrel: Part Five.” Briefly, when beset by Gower and van Vin’s greater force, Helen abandoned her sloop and led her men inland to Mount Hillaby, where they could make a stand on the high ground. Gower followed her, while van Vin remained on the coast with the ships and was there when O’Farrel arrived. In the battle that followed, van Vin and O’Farrel were both fatally wounded. Tobias Gower withdrew and escaped – for the time being.
Helen paid no attention to his escape. She was distraught at Roger O’Farrel’s death. First she blamed herself and wished she had died instead; then she turned her passion of grief and rage against Tobias Gower. She swore he would pay. Even though he did not like bloody vengefulness in a woman, and least of all in Helen, Steve Harmer thought it healthier than her first reaction, and both the Gower brothers were red villains the world would be better without. He had seen John crushed under falling stone on the Isle of Pirates’ Doom. But Tobias … where would he go?
“He’s a slaver as much as a pirate,” Helen said, her eyes still red with weeping. “Satan’s throne, but now he has slain my foster father he will want to be out of the Carribees for a while. Not just I but many of Roger’s friends will be looking for him! I’ll take oath that for profit and a place to hide, both, he will seek the Slave Coast. And here are we with a former slave ship to hunt him down. ‘Tis as though it was meant to be.”
The “former slave ship” was the one in which O’Farrel had come to Helen’s rescue. Governor d’Ogeron of Tortuga had sold it to him on credit for the purpose. The vessel had been converted from a Guinea Coast blackbirder, with a strongly reinforced deck and thirty gun-ports. Helen had never captained any ship so large before, only a fast sloop, but she had O’Farrel’s henchmen, her friends, Deaf Tom Colclough the gunner and Seamus Browne the sailing master, and she had Stephen Harmer. Stephen was a good sailor who had, as he said, “passed most of my life in ship’s rigging.” Nor was there any shortage of buccaneers ready to combine profit with vengeance for O’Farrel.
Steve wasn’t sure that Helen’s reasoning was impeccable. Nor was Bertrand d’Ogeron. He agreed that Gower would wish to be out of Tortuga and the Spanish Main for a while, but running to Africa seemed extreme. Then word came on the buccaneer grapevine that Gower’s scurvy ship had entered the harbor of Curacao, a Dutch possession and a noted slave market. But Gower currently had no slaves to sell. D’Ogeron and Helen both knew that. Then what was his business in Curacao?
Luca Loreto, the former priest of Havana and Helen’s master at arms, had the answer to that.
“It’s the asiento!” he said. “It must be!”
D’Ogeron understood at once, but Helen and Harmer needed him to explain a little. The asiento was a (highly profitable) permit from the Spanish Crown to other countries to market slaves in the Spanish colonies. It was currently held by Antonio Garcia, a Portuguese. Like his predecessors, Garcia had arranged to purchase his human goods from English and Dutch middlemen without asking too many questions – in his case, from the Dutch West India Company in Curacao. But a tidy additional profit could be made if Gower waylaid Portuguese slave ships coming from Africa to Rio de Janeiro, slaughtered their crews and took vessel, slaves and all without paying a penny. Garcia could disclaim all knowledge of Gower’s actions.
It was neat. There were other words for it as well, and Helen used them. Tobias Gower had brought about the death of the foster-father she all but worshipped. She wanted justice, and if many would call it revenge, Helen Tavrel cared nothing for their opinions.
Gower’s latest activities were as Loreto had surmised. From Dutch Curacao he sailed along the Main, around the eastern extremity of Brazil and down to the Tropic of Capricorn. There, he lurked in wait for the Portuguese slaving vessels which came regularly across the Atlantic from the ports of Angola. He did not have long to wait.
Gower had lost a fine ship, a former East Indiaman, in his fight with Helen and O’Farrel on Barbados. He had replaced it in the buccaneer way, crossing to the west coast with his men and lifting a brigantine, after which he used the brigantine to take a Spanish fragata, and having that, soon cut out a harmless looking merchantman (of the sugar fleet) on Brazil’s northern coast. Using that as a decoy, and flying the colors of Portugal for additional deceit, he waylaid a slaver from Africa as it approached Rio. “Barren of pity and ruth” as usual, he slaughtered crew and captain, first with musket fire, then with edged steel after boarding, until nothing lived aboard the slaver but his pirates and the shackled captives below. They were chiefly Bakongo people who had been shipped from the port of Luanda. Gower, chuckling in satisfaction, gave orders to sail south for Rio de la Plata in Spanish territory, where there was always a ready market for slaves and where he could sell the Bakongo. He now had three ships on his hands, the fragata, the sugar merchantman, and the laden slaver, but he also had hands enough to man them all if he spread them thinly.
Then a fly in his profitable ointment appeared, in the shape of Helen’s converted slaver with its strengthened deck and thirty guns. Gower recognized it at once, and if he had not, Helen flew the flag by which Roger O’Farrel had long been known, his family’s arms of a golden rampant lion on a green field. She wanted blood and she scorned false colors. She had seasoned gun-crews on her ship, under Deaf Tom Colclough. She commanded a full crew and more than a full crew, of buccaneers who had known Roger O’Farrel and were ready to avenge him. Her vessel, fast and weatherly, could sail circles around any of the three Gower had, and her guns were enough to give any pirate pause.
Gower fled before her. The Brazilian merchant ship, slowest of the three, fell behind, and Gower abandoned it with all his cullies who were aboard. With Harmer, Luca Loreto, Seamus Browne and the rest, Helen boarded the merchantman, cut down any who resisted and stowed the rest below in irons, then left a small prize crew to wait for her while she continued the pursuit. A stern chase, as usual, proved a long chase, but she slowly overhauled the fragata and the slave ship from Africa.
“Damn the bitch!” Gower cursed. “Well, we’ll try how hard her heart is. Toss twenty blacks over the stern. That’ll lighten ship a bit, too.”
Twenty Bakongo men and women, dragged up from the hold, promptly went into the water, still wearing their manacles. They struggled desperately. Helen let rip some sulfurous deep-sea words as she saw it, and so did Harmer, despite his Puritan origins. Pirate wench though she was, Helen, in an oddly contradictory way, detested slavery more than Steve did, having learned that attitude from Roger O’Farrel. Her foster father had fought Cromwell’s men tooth and nail for years, and Cromwell had shipped thousands of Catholic Irish out to the Indies as slaves. O’Farrel had known first-hand how it felt to see his people suffer that fate, and had hated slavers from then until his death.
Helen wavered, torn between mercy and vengeance. But there was no time to dither, and whatever her faults, indecision was not one. She said crisply, “Put about. Take them aboard, and swift, before they drown.”
Stephen was joyous to hear her say it.
Sixteen of the souls in the water had managed to stay afloat. Four had gone down. Taken aboard, naked and dripping, they heard the pirates talking in a tongue they did not understand, and wondered what their fate would be now. As for Helen, she saw that her impulse to rescue the slaves made further pursuit untenable. Once she began to overtake Gower again, he would simply hurl another twenty into the sea and she would face the same choice as before.
“Let him go,” she said, choking on her ire. “There’ll be another day. The slaves he hasn’t hurled overboard … will have to stand being sold in Buenos Aires. Maybe they’ll think it better than drowning. Maybe.”
She conceded that he had escaped her, for now. There was nothing but to seek prey and prizes; her pirate crew was avid for plunder as always. They were now in waters she did not know well, which seemed like a bad omen for the voyage, but she hauled down the O’Farrel lion and raised the colors of Portugal as Gower had done. And then luck turned her way.
The slave trade from Brazil to Rio de la Plata brought a steady supply of silver to Brazil. Just such a Brazilian vessel, guarded by a single man-o’-war, now put out from the estuary and headed north. Every pirate on Helen’s ship knew that it would not have an armed escort for nothing. Their own ship resembled a slaver – had once been one – and for now her gun-ports were covered and she flew Portugal’s flag. There was no reason why she should be taken for anything but a slave ship from Africa, riding low because packed with slaves, especially in these waters so close to Buenos Aires. The two vessels willingly came close to her, seeking the latest news from Angola. Helen’s gun-crews knocked the thin wooden covers from the ports, ran out the cannon, and sent a shattering broadside into the man-o’-war. They followed that surprise with a lusty boarding action that flooded the warship’s deck with blood and gave the buccaneers sudden victory, after which they called on the other vessel to lie to, and were obeyed.
She carried the familiar colonial products of hides, tallow, timber and wax – and three heavy chests crammed with silver. Helen’s lads whooped with delight. She set the crew of the captured ship afloat in longboats, her usual custom, as Gower’s was to murder everyone. Then they crammed on all sail for the long haul north and a return to Tortuga. The loot would be shared out according to O’Farrel’s articles, and the ship itself would pay the debt O’Farrel had died owing Governor d’Ogeron. Helen would have choked before she reneged on that.
Tidings came, later, that she need trouble no longer about Tobias Gower. He had sold his hijacked cargo of living black ivory, indeed, and then he had contracted severe fever and jaundice while he caroused in Rio de la Plata. Soon enough his wicked life was ebbing. Robert E. Howard described the circumstances in his “Song of the Anchor Chain.”
“Let down, let out the anchor chain,
The gulls are dipping low,
A faint wind rattles stays in vain –
Oh, let the anchor go.
A yellow mist is lying,
A broken wind is sighing
And Captain Gower’s dying —
Oh, let the anchor go!”
Long before Helen heard that news, she was hearing a declaration of love from Steve Harmer more eloquent than anything that ever passed his lips previously. He said fervently that he was proud to know her, that when she abandoned vengeance to pluck a score of unfortunates from the sea when she did not even know them, she performed a more Christian act than many who prayed loudly in church each Sunday could claim, and that he would make an honest woman of her if he must kidnap her. He told her he loved her more than the sun and was mad enough to hope she loved him.
“Oh, Lord, Steve,” she answered, half laughing, half crying, “I do.”
They returned to the Main around the vast coastline of Brazil. Once they reached a place where it could safely be done, they freed the rescued slaves. Far behind them, Tobias Gower perished with no memorial but whatever wives and children he had abandoned in his time, and the lugubrious song of his passing.
“He sought to dream of flying ships
And winds that waver and dart,
But the rattle of death was under his lips
And Hell was in his heart.
“And ever the vision rose and fled:
A craft on the outward tack.
And a ghostly skipper who swayed and said:
‘No man of our crew came back.’
“And ever a vision followed fast —
A ship with a tattered sail
Idly flapping a broken mast —
And a plank was over the rail.”
Written records from those days are inadequate. But Steve and Helen appear to have been married by a Huguenot minister in Tortuga, and sailed to Massachusetts once Helen lawfully bore the name of Harmer instead of the more notorious Tavrel. They prospered in the shipping business. Not infrequently they sailed together. Sometimes there was peril, but they were equal to it, and if pirates accosted them – there was not a knavish trick of pirates unknown to Helen.
“Let down, let out the anchor chain,
The wind is rising slow,
It’s far to Rio and the Main,
Oh, let the anchor go.
Oh, turn her bows for Gades,
To greet the wharf-side ladies,
And Gower’s gone to Hades,
Oh, let the anchor go.”
The Superb Roger O’Farrel –- Part One
“What sort of looking man is O’Farrel?”
“A fine figure with the carriage of a king.” She looked me over with a critical eye. “Taller than you, but not so heavily built. Broader of shoulder, but not so deep of chest. A cold, strong handsome face, smooth shaven. Hair as black as yours in spite of his age, and fine grey eyes, like the steel of swords. You have grey eyes, too, but your skin is dark and his is very white.
“Still,” she continued, “were you shaved and clad properly, you would not cut a bad figure, even beside Captain O’Farrel …”
Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
Among Robert Howard’s female warriors is the rapier-packing she-pirate Helen Tavrel in “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom.” Her foster father, Roger O’Farrel, whom she mentions again and again – and again – throughout the story, never appears. But Helen clearly regards him as the greatest fellow to appear since God divided the light from the darkness.
The O’Farrel, or Farrell, O’Farrell (O Fearghail in Gaelic) clan has quite a reputed descent. It goes back to Conmhac, son of Fergus mac Rogh and Queen Maeve of Connacht. A descendant of Conmhac, Fearghal (which means “Man of Valour”), King of Conmaicne, fought beside Brian Boru at Clontarf and was killed in the battle. That being so, he doubtless knew Brian, Dunlang O’Hartigan (“Spears of Clontarf”) and the ferocious Turlogh Dubh O’Brien. The O’Farrels (REH’s preferred spelling) take their name from him. They became lords of Annaly, the modern County Longford and parts around, and are mentioned quite prominently in the “Annals of the Four Masters.” They battled the English in the thirteenth century, and fought for Edward Bruce in his Irish campaign of 1316, four of their chieftains dying. They lost that one, but in 1323, when an English host under Lord Bermingham assailed them (feel free to boo and hiss) they rebuffed the English with considerable killing, led by Donal O’Farrel (feel free to cheer). More peacefully – maybe – between the mid-fourteenth century and the late sixteenth, seven O’Farrels were bishops. But when Sir Henry Sidney became Lord Deputy of Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth I, the Annaly O’Farrels clashed with him repeatedly.
(This fell within the lifetime of Solomon Kane, by my reckoning, though he was only a lad when Sidney first held that office, and a young man of twenty-one when Sidney’s second term began. By my reckoning, also, Solomon actually visited Ireland then, in 1575. He stayed until the harvest season of 1576. He met the pirate queen Grace O’Malley, the child Meve MacDonnal — who appears as a ghost in “The Cairn on the Headland” — and slew the Earl of Essex in Dublin Castle. Whether he encountered any O’Farrels during that crowded and active visit, I have no idea.)
The O’Farrels finally lost their position as lords of Annaly in 1618, dispossessed for all time by command of King James I, who as Kipling said, “ … wrote that witches should be burnt; he wrote that monarchs were divine, and left a son who — proved they weren’t!” The Four Masters record under this date that “They (the O’Farrels) were deprived of their estates without any compensation whatsoever, or any means of subsistence assigned them.”
The Roger O’Farrel with whom this post is concerned was, I believe, born four years later, in 1622. His blood was that of the Annaly princes, but he came too late for it to give him any advantages. He possessed nothing at birth, in fact, but pride and courage and the O’Farrel arms, a golden lion rampant with a red tongue and claws, on a green field. The motto was Prodesse Non Nocere (“To do good, not to do evil”) which Roger was to observe by a somewhat flexible standard.
His boyhood tutor in music, the sword, and languages, a gentleman from Auvergne named Lasaye, had remained loyal to the O’Farrels after they were stripped of lands and wealth. Like the O’Farrels, he was Catholic. He grew old and died in the threadbare O’Farrel following. Roger remembered him with affection always, though his many vicissitudes caused him to be affectionate towards few living souls. Helen Tavrel was to become one of the exceptions. Lasaye’s gifts to Roger were deadly skill with a rapier, some accomplishment in music, a knowledge of Latin, and fluency in French and Spanish.
We’re told in “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom” that O’Farrel, as Helen says to Stephen Harmer, had “attended a medical university in his youth.” This was not likely to have been Trinity College, Dublin. Medical training there was not up to much in the 1630s. The post of “medicus” did exist, and had since 1618, but the college fellows who held it were usually junior and did not even have medical degrees! Lasaye was a graduate of the University of Padua, famous for research in medicine and astronomy; the great anatomist Vesalius had held a chair there. Lasaye may have conducted the youthful Roger to Padua, and helped him study there, which would make Roger, like Sabatini’s Peter Blood, that anomalous person, a pirate with medical training. Those worthwhile studies came to an end, though, still incomplete, partly due to lack of funds and partly when events in Ireland called Roger home.
He was nineteen, in 1641, when Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford, who had been Lord Deputy of Ireland for seven years, was impeached by parliament, tried and beheaded. It’s unlikely that many tears were shed for him in Ireland. In late summer of the same year, revolt against the English erupted. Strafford’s iron hand was still and cold, and his Irish Army had been disbanded by a parliament which mistrusted it. “Control of the Irish government passed to Puritan lords justices”. (Britannica, 1991) In Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest, Prince Rupert describes them as “A gang who sent Lord Strafford to the block on hardly a pretext.”
The general rising in Ulster left thousands of Protestant colonists departed in terror, or dead. There was bitter and excessive slaughter. The Eleven Years’ War, or the Irish Confederate Wars (in Gaelic Cogadh nah Aon Bhliana Deag) followed, and as the name implies, they lasted until 1652. When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, no troops were available to put down the Irish rebellion, and the Catholic majority ruled the country as Confederate Ireland for seven years. The Confederate regime allied itself with the English royalists against the forces of Parliament. Roger O’Farrel and his father fought together in the bloody strife for two years – 1641-43 — until Roger’s sire was killed by an axe-blow.
Roger had no fondness for English rule, but he preferred the Royalists to the Parliamentarians or the Presbyterian Scots. Late in 1643 he joined forces with a seasoned smuggler and pirate named Riordan. Mainly working out of Wexford and Waterford, they left with such cargoes as hides and butter, and came back with tobacco, muskets and powder, along with luxury goods of high value and low weight. Riordan kept his ship as well found and seaworthy as he was sloven in his own person, and when it could not be avoided he engaged in battles with English vessels – generally running fights which ended in his giving them the slip. O’Farrel learned much of shifty seamanship from this rascally mentor – not half the gentleman Lasaye had been, but with as much useful instruction to give.
Riordan’s was a merchant vessel, however, and in the summer of 1645 O’Farrel took confederate letters of marque. With backers more wealthy than he, in command of a swift frigate, the Eithne, he embarked as a privateer. Although in his early twenties, he was daring, adroit and resourceful. The English parliament’s navy would soon curse O’Farrel, his henchmen Tavrel and Myagh, and the fast-sailing, swift-striking Eithne, with a Biblical fervor.
These other men sprang from a tradition of piracy and privateering. A brotherhood of sea-robbers had come into being around the Munster coasts at the beginning of the 17th century – strangely enough, due to the new King James I’s desire for peace and lawfulness. On mounting the throne in 1603, he made peace with Spain and banned the sort of predation Elizabeth’s sea-hawks had practiced so joyfully. He ordered the pirates of England’s southern coasts and West Country be suppressed with a heavy hand, and his measures proved effective enough for many pirates (and former privateers) to make for shores where royal control was weaker.
The English crown was carrying out a plantation program in Munster as well as Ulster. English rascals, some from Devon and Cornwall, shifted there with their families, and soon made arrangements with local Irish rascals. They smuggled pirate loot ashore in places like Cork and Waterford, which was good for business in those towns, and in exchange for co-operation they bought local goods at three times the normal prices, which was good for business anywhere. They continued with vigour their old custom of raiding Spanish ships, the traditional enemy, no matter what King James desired. They did not spare French or Dutch vessels either.
Success and prosperity made their numbers increase swiftly, and year by year their organization improved as well. Sir Arthur Chichester wrote from Ireland to Lord Salisbury with the lugubrious complaint that the Munster Brotherhood of pirates “are grown to [such] a height of strength and pride that [official attempts to suppress them] will hardly prevail without the assistance of some of His Majesty’s good ships.” The trouble was that His Majesty, parsimonious as well as peace-loving, had cut naval funding to the point where he just did not have enough “good ships”. He couldn’t do a thing.
The Dutch could, though. They were surfeited with Munster pirates looting Dutch ships. Good sailors, they had never been slouches at fighting, either. They approached King James with their plans, gained his approval, and with the diplomatic niceties observed, in 1614 the government of the Low Countries turned loose its own sea-dogs. The Holland fleet under Moy Lambert attacked Crookhaven (perfect name) and destroyed a pirate fleet led by Captain Patrick Myagh. Myagh and two of his sons died in the fighting. A third son survived, though seriously wounded. The Munster Brotherhood had used ports and bases as far afield as Newfoundland and North Africa, but naval law and order mopped up their remnants in those places too.
Not every trace of them was gone by the 1640s. A nephew of Patrick Myagh’s, Muiredach Myagh, worthy of his uncle, sailed with Roger O’Farrel. So did Brychan Tavrel, who carried the blood of the Munster Brotherhood. His family was an offshoot of the Taverels of Cornwall, kin to the Taferals of Devon who had been close friends of Solomon Kane’s. They, like others of their kind, had moved to Munster in the first decade of the century, and since the disaster of 1614, some had gone back to Cornwall again, settling anew in their traditional home of Fowey. Helen Tavrel was to come of their lineage.
For four years – 1645 to 1649 – O’Farrel and the Eithne gave such trouble to the Roundhead cause in western waters that they were thought devilish. In 1646 O’Farrel, then twenty-four years old, won and married Labhrain O’Meara, the daughter of a Wexford merchant with whom he often had dealings. Their love appears to have been ardent, though not much is known about her, except that she bore him a daughter whom they named Finola, on May Eve in 1647.
Then, in January 1649, King Charles I’s head fell.
By spring, the parliamentary navy was recovering from its setbacks on the water and even from the chronic lack of money that afflicted it. Three new Roundhead “generals-at-sea” had been appointed, and the navy’s financial credit had been restored to an extent by improved methods of collecting customs dues. The sale of church lands had raised a good deal of cash too. The Council of State in London, no less, wrote to Colonel Wiloughby that “There is no affair before us of greater concern than expediting our fleet to sea, for want whereof the shipping of this nation is daily taken by those pirates and rebels which abound in this and the Irish Sea.” For the Irish privateers, it looked as though foul weather lay ahead.
Roger O’Farrel smelled the coming storm. He considered the best way to ride it out and emerge in triumph. There was a royalist naval squadron at Kinsale, and a good many privateers like himself based at Waterford and Wexford. He considered it needful to unite the Irish frigates — such as his own Eithne — with Prince Rupert of the Rhine’s privateer fleet, and strike hard against the parliamentary warships in Irish waters. Rupert, no fool, recognized the urgency himself, and listened with favor to O’Farrel when Roger approached him to plead the virtues of such a strategy. James Butler, Marquis of Ormond, counselled Rupert to take the royalist fleet against Dublin, which he believed was poorly defended and would fall. Ormond delayed through March and April, none of the ships at Kinsale leaving port except to take prizes, with the result that two of them, the Thomas and Guinea, were captured.
The Marquis of Antrim may have been more at fault than Ormond. Antrim haggled with Prince Rupert at this crucial time, to be made vice-admiral of the fleet in return for providing the sailors Rupert needed so sorely, to man the royalist ships at Kinsale. Because of the delay, the Roundhead generals-at-sea arrived in time to blockade the Kinsale harbor. They could not overcome its defences, but neither could the king’s ships get out, to further his cause. The precious moment had been lost.
With the English Civil War finished, the Roundheads had men and resources to spare for Ireland. Cromwell himself led an army there. In mid-August he landed in Dublin, and in September came the siege and infamous massacre of Drogheda. Then, in October, Cromwell besieged Wexford, another fortified port town on the east coast, so that supplies could be brought from England unhindered. When Cromwell took the town, another red massacre took place, his fanatical butchers killing about two thousand Irish troops and about one and a half thousand civilians, and burning much of Wexford. Roger O’Farrel’s wife and infant daughter were among those who perished, while he was trying to fight his way into the harbor in Eithne – a hopeless task. The Roundheads set his house afire. When Labhrain emerged with Finola in her arms, they drove her back into her blazing home with pikes. Labhrain laid the child on the ground and begged them to pity her. They hurled Finola after her mother.
Some of the survivors told O’Farrel the story afterwards. Like Alfred Noyes’ highwayman, “ … he heard it, and slowly blanched to hear … ” But Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland was proceeding as it had begun, and there was scant time for anybody’s grieving. O’Farrel knew that supply remained a problem for Cromwell’s army. The seas around Ireland were stormy, unpredictable and perilous. O’Farrel knew those waters and the weather. Many a troop transport was not large, and came from England badly crowded. O’Farrel in the Eithne, using every trick from fire-boats to false beacons, destroyed as many of them as he could, and smiled without pity to see the parliamentary troopers drowning.
His motive was not solely revenge. He knew that every soldier who drowned, or was sworded to death, was a soldier who would take no part in conquering Ireland. Each parliamentary ship sunk was an expense the Roundhead parliament could ill afford. As Helen Tavrel said years later, “Roger O’Farrel knows the worth of the rapier. ‘Twould do your heart good to see it sing in his hand, and how that he spits those who oppose him.”
He spitted many a Roundhead in the years after Drogheda and Wexford. His ship Eithne was destroyed on the black stormy night he engaged three parliamentary frigates who were hunting him. One he sank with cannon fire and incendiaries, one he drove onto rocks, and a third he grappled and boarded while Eithne was sinking herself. He captured the enemy vessel, slaying all aboard, and took her for his own since Eithne now lay at the bottom of the sea. The frigate had been called the Gideon; Roger renamed her the Tisiphone, after the snake-haired Fury whose particular function was to avenge the crime of murder. O’Farrel fought, and fought again, from Cork to the Giant’s Causeway, in a manner that made his name fit to be added to the list of heroes in REH’s “Black Harp in the Hills.”
Brian Boruma, Shane O’Neill,
Art McMurrough and Edward Bruce,
Thomas Fitzgerald — ringing steel
Shakes the hills and the trumpets peal,
Skulls crunch under the iron heel!
Death is the only truce!
Clontarf, Benburg, and Yellow Ford —
The Gael with red death rides alone!
Lam derg abu! And the riders reel
To Hugh O’Donnell’s girding steel
And the lances of Tyrone!
He continued fighting until 1653, when the conquest of Ireland was complete and all hope of repulsing the English was gone. His henchman and friend Brychan Tavrel had died in a sea-fight off Galway. Muiredach Myagh lost his right hand in Donegal in 1652 – the same year that Helen Tavrel was born in Cornwall.
She would set eyes on Roger O’Farrel for the first time when she was two years old.
“The ocean is of blood! See how it swims red in the rising sun! Oh my people, my people, the blood you have spilt in anger turns the very seas to scarlet! … It is more than a mortal sea. Your hands are red with blood and you follow a red sea-path, yet the fault is not wholly with you. Almighty God, when will the reign of blood cease?”
“Not so long as the race lasts.”
Robert E. Howard, “The Dark Man”
The Roundheads had achieved their conquest of Ireland. It began with the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford on the east coast, where Cromwell himself was the commander. Some have apologized for the red slaughters on the grounds that they were not unusual for the times, or that Cromwell had not ordered them. But even after Wexford (where Roger O’Farrel’s wife Labhrain and their infant daughter had been killed), Cromwell did not punish his soldiers for their bloody excesses. And Cromwell was not the man to tolerate breaches of discipline as a rule. In fact he justified the butcheries as “a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.”
O’Farrel did his utmost to occasion Cromwell’s men regret, if not remorse. His vessel the Tisiphone became a dreaded shape on the seas to the parliamentary forces. Many a supply ship and troop transport lay rotting under the water because of him. His friend Brychan Tavrel was dead; his other main henchman, Muiredach Myagh, had lost a hand. Myagh replaced it with a triple-pronged steel claw forged for him in Munster, and would become known as “Taloned Muiredach” because of it.
Before this, O’Farrel and Myagh had more than once found harbor and friends in the Scilly Isles, a long-time haven of pirates and recent scene of determined resistance to the parliamentary forces, like mainland Cornwall itself. Lord Hopton’s score of ships had harassed parliament’s merchant vessels and men-of-war out of Scilly, until Cromwell had finally sent 2,500 soldiers and a combined English and Dutch fleet to break the resistance, in April of 1651. The Royalists held out valiantly but were forced to surrender at last. O’Farrel had to avoid Scilly thereafter.
Before his execution, King Charles I had praised the loyalty and courage of the Cornish, but now they were being punished for it by grim Cromwell’s men. Ancient family lands in Cornwall were sequestered and given as rewards to Roundheads. Despite the danger of the times, great Cornish families like the Trelawnys, Godolphins and Killigrews stayed loyal to the exiled Charles II, who to them was the king no matter what parliament said. The Tavrels of Fowey, though less great and powerful, also held by the Royalist cause. They were cousins of Roger O’Farrel’s slain comrade, Brychan Tavrel, and they more than once took messages by sea to Charles II in the Netherlands. They were betrayed in the end, in 1654, and Cromwell sent men to take them. O’Farrel, who kept in close touch, learned of it and sailed to Fowey to offer assistance. The Tavrels had fled, but a warship pursued them, and caught them off Falmouth. Roundhead soldiers boarded the Tavrel ship against fierce resistance; those aboard knew they would receive no mercy.
O’Farrel in the Tisiphone entered the fight while the Tavrel ship was burning. He sent a broadside into the Roundhead warship and forced it to withdraw, foundering, then sprang aboard the Tavrel ship, in which no-one still lived except the screaming, two-year-old Helen. O’Farrel carried her into the Tisiphone, then pursued the parliamentary warship and made sure it went to the bottom.
Like Roger’s murdered daughter, Helen Tavrel had grey eyes and golden hair, and she was little if any older than Finola O’Farrel had been. He swore on that day to care for her as if she were his own. But where? There was no safety in Ireland or England, and France had made peace with England under the Lord Protectorate.
O’Farrel took himself and Helen to Brussels, where he resided for a time. The portrait painter John Wright had just arrived in the city after a decade in Rome; he painted O’Farrel in 1655, in the romantic costume of an Irish chief, or Wright’s notion thereof. Shortly afterwards, Wright went to London on a mission to procure artworks for Archduke Leopold of Austria, then Governor of the Spanish Netherlands.
O’Farrel was then 33, a famous fighting seaman or notorious pirate, depending on one’s point of view. Helen was three, an enchanting, spirited child by most accounts, and the light of O’Farrel’s life. She adored him. O’Farrel thought of settling down, even though he had quickly grown restless in Brussels, but then the Spanish government offered him a commission in the Caribbean. It mistrusted Cromwell’s intentions there. O’Farrel went, taking Helen with him, and they arrived safely in Cuba.
Havana (San Cristobal de la Habana) was the seat of the Spanish governors of the Indies, the Captains General. When O’Farrel and Helen arrived, they were welcomed by the (acting) Captain General, Don Ambrosio de Sotolongo. O’Farrel found the man bearing this exotic name to be elegant, fairly able, as capable of sentimentality as of cruelty. Little Helen touched de Sotolongo’s sentimental side. The Captain General’s lady, Dona Lorenza, was charmed by the child as well. O’Farrel began to fear he had made a mistake in bringing her to the Caribbean, though, when he heard that a fearful epidemic (probably of yellow fever) had devastated Havana half a dozen years before. But he knew well that children died like flies of disease in Europe too.
As a city, Havana was then the richest, most splendid in the Caribbean. The annual treasure fleet, by royal decree, assembled in Havana Bay from May to August, and left for Spain with the best weather. Gold, silver, emeralds, mahogany, alpaca wool, spices, dye and cocoa, all flowed through Havana’s magnificent harbour, impregnably fortified by the 1650s. Six hundred regular soldiers garrisoned the forts, with ten companies of trained, well-armed militia. Havana boasted palaces, rich private houses, wide plazas and – of special interest to O’Farrel – it was the greatest ship-building centre in the West Indies.
There was little time to socialise or relax, however. Before O’Farrel even arrived, an armed fleet was sent from England to Barbados on a mission of conquest – his “Western Design” as Cromwell called it. The main purpose was to establish a secure military base and weaken Spanish power in the New World. Command was shared by Robert Venables and William Penn, with two and a half thousand infantrymen embarking from England with them. Fifteen hundred of these, though, were raw recruits, a disadvantage of which Venables – a veteran of the Irish Wars – complained strongly before leaving. He was ignored. Eighteen warships and twenty transports set forth at the end of 1654. In Barbados and the other English colonies of the Caribbean (where Cromwell had sent thousands of Irish men, women and children as slaves) some four thousand volunteer troops were raised. The ancient army cliche probably applied: “I want volunteers, you, you and you.”
Venables and Penn were free to choose the objectives they thought most promising, once they reached the Indies. They chose Hispaniola, and in April 1655 they arrived off Santo Domingo, but heavy, violent surf forced them to make their landing about eight leagues further west, and then march for three days with sorely inadequate water. Many soldiers fell ill. Upon reaching Santo Domingo they were ambushed and forced to withdraw. A second assault failed miserably, and the soldiers refused to make a third, so Penn and Venables resolved to take Jamaica instead. The island was a relatively easy objective, not considered important by the Spaniards, poorly fortified and garrisoned. The English arrived in Kingston Harbour on the 10th of May.
From half-way around the world and a remove of centuries (it’s always easy at that distance) the whole business looks to have been badly handled by the English and the Spanish. The Captain General in Havana was lucky Penn and Venables failed at Hispaniola; he responded too late to do anything if they had succeeded. He sent an (inadequate) force of ships and soldiers to relieve Santo Domingo, and Roger O’Farrel went with them, in command of his Tisiphone. The Roundhead fleet had gone to Jamaica by the time the Spanish arrived. They gave chase, Roger grim with memories of his wife and child, slain at Wexford six years before.
Penn and Venables handled matters poorly at Jamaica once again. The Spaniards there were too much outnumbered to fight, and knew it, so they negotiated surrender terms as slowly as possible to gain time. By the middle of May they had turned all their cattle loose in the wilderness and their African slaves too, so that the English would gain nothing from either. The richest Spaniards used the respite to take their valuables and flee to Cuba. The English had indeed taken Jamaica, and the Spanish could not dislodge them, though O’Farrel was in the forefront of the battle attempting it. These were Cromwell’s men, his hated enemies. They had made Ireland a slaughter-yard. O’Farrel had fought them for years, and thought to escape them in the New World. Now they had followed him even there! So be it, O’Farrel said to himself. I can fight them in the Caribbean too.
And ever a Face was floating before,
And ever my broadsword bit,
And it seemed at each stroke the skull I shore
Of the Bloody Hypocrite.
Soon after taking Jamaica, Penn and Venables returned to England – without orders or permission to do so. They went back separately. There had been considerable friction between them on the expedition, made worse, it was said, by Venables’ wife, who had accompanied them. She had criticized both commanders and seemed to think she should be in charge, a cause of derision and displeasure among the soldiers – who had not been happy in any case when they were forbidden to plunder. The commanders were clapped in the Tower by Cromwell on their unauthorized return.
O’Farrel was sorry they had not been beheaded. But he wasted no time moping. Returning to Cuba, he gathered intelligence – one of his strengths was that he informed himself thoroughly before he carried out his raids – and went to Barbados, where he descended on the island and lifted hundreds of Irish captives from a church meeting, one of the places they were allowed to gather en masse and unguarded. They were called “indentured servants” but in practice they were slaves without rights. Many of those he liberated were women and children. Scores of the men joyfully joined his crew. In his novel Captain Blood Sabatini describes condemned men involved in Monmouth’s rebellion being sent to the Indies as slaves by James II, but Cromwell had done it to many Irish decades before – those Irish he had not slaughtered or starved.
For the next five years O’Farrel ranged the Caribbean in his frigate Tisiphone, flying a flag which bore his family arms, the golden lion with red tongue and claws on a green field. He sank Roundhead ships where he found them, and harassed French shipping as well, with the excuse that France and Spain were at war – and France signed a treaty with Cromwell’s government in 1657, an added justification where O’Farrel was concerned. He liberated other Irish sold into slavery, not only in Barbados but St. Kitts’, Nevis and Jamaica, as well as raiding Virginia for the same purpose on one notable occasion. He had made a fine art by now of combining liberation with loot.
English governors of Jamaica in the first years after the Cromwellian conquest tended to be temporary. The first one, Sedgwick, died the same year he arrived, 1655. General Brayne followed him and died in 1656. D’Oyley came next, and being inured to the Caribbean climate he lasted longer. The former Spanish governor, Cristobal Arnaldo Ysassi, had been at large in the mountains of Jamaica all that time, allied with the folk the Spanish called los Cimarrones, escaped slaves of the former Spanish masters. It’s surprising they had not killed Ysassi and his men, but then they had been joined by other black slaves the Spaniards had turned loose at the time of the English conquest, though not out of the goodness of their hearts, and perhaps that influenced them. In any case they doubtless regarded the latest conquerors as no improvement, just one more gang of murderous thugs from Europe. If Ysassi was fighting them, the Cimarrones (Maroons as they became known to the English) were willing to make an expedient alliance.
Roger O’Farrel took a hand in that conflict too. He had witnessed too much Spanish arrogance and cruelty by then to be starry-eyed about his own allies, but he still regarded the Roundheads as worse. In 1657 Ysassi, with a force of about four hundred tough-handed fighters at his command – Spaniards and Maroons — sent a request to Cuba for reinforcements, as he planned to take back the island. They came, inadequate as usual, for the power of Spain had declined in the New World since the 16th century; one reason for the rise of the buccaneers.
O’Farrel, as usual, was present and active, with his comrade from the old days on the Irish Sea, Muiredach Myagh. The Spanish force landed on Jamaica’s northern coast, as before, at a place called Las Chorreros. The English Governor, Edward D’Oyley, had received word that Spanish warships had arrived, and sailed north to meet them with around nine hundred men. He defeated Ysassi’s force, and O’Farrel’s Tisiphone, badly outgunned, was pounded to pieces and sunk. With Myagh and some other survivors, O’Farrel made it to shore and fled into the mountains with Ysassi, who had also survived the day. D’Oyley captured the other Spaniards; they were ransomed and returned to Cuba later, but as O’Farrel knew well, he would have received no such clemency if taken.
He spent something over a year in the mountains of Jamaica with Ysassi and the Maroons. They raided and fought the English in pinprick actions for the entire time. Then as on other occasions, the medical training O’Farrel had received at the University of Padua in his youth saved numbers of lives. He had always treated his own men’s wounds, and long since added vast practical experience to his theoretical knowledge. He had nursed Muiredach Myagh in Donegal when Myagh lost his hand in a battle.
One of O’Farrels first actions was to travel south on foot with Myagh, a weather-beaten character tougher than teak. Under cover of darkness, they stole a fast single-masted Bermuda sloop from an English harbor. Taking it around Jamaica to the northern coast again, they hid it in a quiet cove against the day they would need it. They suspected they would not have long to wait.
The day arrived in June of 1658, when Ysassi and his guerillas, again supported from Cuba, made a final attempt to take back Jamaica from the English. The action lasted two days, again with D’Oyley leading the English, and is still remembered as the Battle of Rio Nuevo — the largest ever fought on Jamaican soil. The English were victorious again. Muiredach Myagh was killed by cannon fire as he manned the walls of Ysassi’s stockade at O’Farrel’s side. O’Farrel urged Ysassi to escape with him, but the Governor refused, returned to the mountains, and continued to hold out until 1660. O’Farrel went back to Cuba in his lifted sloop and spent two relatively peaceful years in his house in Havana with Helen, the light of his life, who had reached the age of eight when the Restoration placed Charles II on England’s throne.
Roger O’Farrel was now thirty-eight, and for some time gave serious thought to making peace with the English crown — even seeking credit for his constant battle against the Cromwellian regime. But it swiftly became apparent that the new king was not about to restore to any surviving owners the vast expropriations Cromwell had carried out in Ireland, or even manumit the Irish sent to the Caribbean and North America by Cromwell as slaves – in fact if not in name. He might nevertheless have taken advantage of the Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660, a free and general pardon for crimes committed during the Civil War and Interregnum, if he could. Alas for O’Farrel, the pardon did not apply to murder, piracy, sodomy, rape or witchcraft, and he had many times committed the first two, at least, as when he had raided Virginia, the instance most difficult to forget.
Men O’Farrel considered much worse than he were sitting pretty despite their hideous crimes. Christopher Myngs, for instance, was very much on the Caribbean scene at the time. Myngs had served in the English navy through Cromwell’s dictatorship; he commanded the Elizabeth during the First Anglo-Dutch War and later arrived in the West Indies as captain of the 44-gun frigate Marston Moor. Myngs had commanded the Jamaica naval squadron since January 1657. With his own Marston Moor and two other warships, he had carried out a savage voyage of plunder from Central America to the coasts of present day Colombia and Venezuela, in 1659. The Spanish government held him to be a common pirate and mass murderer, as did Roger O’Farrel. He hated Christopher Myngs’ guts, and Myngs fully reciprocated. But an account of their feud would take a post of its own.
Another man who had reached the Caribbean by then was a fellow Irish pirate of O’Farrel’s, about eight years his junior. The stories are vague and contradictory as to whether they ever met. The younger man was Black Terence Vulmea. Again, Vulmea deserves one post at least to himself; his career was as wild as O’Farrel’s, and lengthier than that of most pirates. Many described him, with curses, as impossible to kill.
Roger O’Farrel had also lived through long, bloody years that would have killed another man twenty times over, and his odyssey was far from complete.
Now she had a way of pronouncing that rogue’s name as if he were a saint or a king, and for some reason this rasped on my nerves greatly. So I said nothing.
“Were Roger O’Farrel here,” she prattled on, “we should have naught to fear, for no man on all the Seven Seas is his equal and even John Gower would shun the issue with him. He is the greatest navigator that ever lived and the finest swordsman. He has the manners of a cavalier, which in truth he is.”
Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
Stephen Harmer had begun to feel attracted to the she-pirate Helen Tavrel, despite her ruthless profession, at the time she delivered the above panegyric, and the green-eyed monster was biting. He needn’t have felt jealous, as he discovered. O’Farrel was Helen’s foster father, and fifty while she was twenty, though still in good shape and handsome. She loved him in a daughterly way.
O’Farrel, it appears, was one of those men who are just too much of and too good at everything to be liked by a more ordinary fellow – which Steve was, despite being stalwart and brave. Calling O’Farrel the greatest navigator that ever lived, in a world that had already known Columbus, Magellan and Vespucci, was pitching it high, and claiming he was the finest swordsman of all time another possible exaggeration. Even in Howard’s stories, O’Farrel came decades after Solomon Kane, and I doubt he’d have beaten that somber man from Devon. Helen was prattling; Stephen Harmer, prejudiced or not, wasn’t wrong.
She had reason to think her foster father a walking marvel and a paragon of nobility, though. “He took me off a sinking ship when I was a baby and raised me like his own daughter,” she recounts. “And if I took to the life of a rover, it is not his fault, who would have established me like a fine lady ashore had I wished. But the love of adventure is in my blood and though Fate made a woman of me, I have lived a man’s life.”
The infant Helen had nearly died on that sinking ship. It happened off Cornwall, when her Royalist kindred fled Cromwell’s retribution and a Parliamentary warship waylaid them. O’Farrel, sailing for the Irish Confederacy, first drove the navy vessel off, and then rescued the screaming two-year-old who was the sole survivor, followed the Roundhead craft, and sent it to the bottom with all hands. Afterwards he took Helen to Brussels, and the rich, splendid New World city of Havana, where he (and she) mingled with the highest society.
He possessed the manners and breeding for it. Roger O’Farrel was a scion of the lords of Annaly, a princely line with a splendid coat of arms, but they were deprived of lands and title by the English king (James I) just four years before Roger was born. He had education – at the University of Padua – in medicine, math and astronomy. He spoke Gaelic, English, French and Spanish. His tutor, a poor but accomplished French gentleman, schooled him in music and the use of the sword. He had learned sea-fighting as a privateer for the Irish Confederacy through the savage Eleven Years’ War, against the Parliamentary navy, beginning before he was twenty. Then he moved to the Caribbean and sailed for the Spanish Captain-General of the Indies – again battling Cromwell’s navy.
O’Farrel’s feud with Christopher Myngs became a legend among the Caribbean buccaneers. Myngs, an Englishman, was born in Norfolk, probably in 1625. He first went to sea in colliers and coastal traders, then joined Cromwell’s navy. He rose from insignificant rank to become an officer, and we can suppose he served in western waters against the Irish privateers out of Wexford – one of whom was Roger O’Farrel. Roger never heard of Myngs in those years, but Myngs certainly heard of the notorious O’Farrel, damned by Parliamentarians as a child of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, pirate, murderer, warlock formally pledged to the Devil, etcetera. Myngs may have taken that superstitious cant with salt, but he knew for a fact that O’Farrel had sent friends of his to the bottom of the sea, and he didn’t forget.
Christopher Myngs then served in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54). During that conflict, he went to the Mediterranean in the 38-gun warship Elizabeth, and as that vessel returned to England in May 1653, she encountered a Dutch ship. Bloody close-quarter action ensued, in which the captain was killed. Myngs took command, won the fight, and brought the Elizabeth safely to England. He was confirmed in the captaincy, and then, in October 1655, promoted to command of the frigate Marston Moor, a brand new ship launched in 1654, mounting 44 guns. (Her armament was increased later.) She had just returned from the Caribbean expedition under Venables and Penn, and Myngs was promptly ordered back to Jamaica with her. He went, after insisting that those of the crew who did not lie under close arrest be given their long unpaid wages. They immediately said to each other, with salty oaths no doubt, “I like this skipper.”
Myngs sailed for Jamaica in November 1655. O’Farrel had arrived in the Caribbean already, a fighting sea-captain of long experience who had taken service with the Spanish Viceroy in Havana. He still had not heard of Myngs, but that would change.
Myngs joined Vice-Admiral Goodson in Jamaica in late January, 1656. He found the Caribbean ringing with Roger O’Farrel’s name as a pirate. He remembered it from the ‘forties, and hoped to see O’Farrel swinging from a gibbet, for the sake of Myngs’ dead shipmates and also because the Irishman was a bitter, inveterate enemy of the Roundhead cause. (Cromwell yet held supreme power in England, which meant that as an English naval officer Myngs was serving Cromwell.)
Goodson and Myngs set out to raid Spanish settlements along the Main, in the ships of the Jamaica squadron. They struck at Santa Marta (in what is now Columbia) and then at Rio de la Hacha, where pearls from the region’s fisheries were gathered by private contractors and treasury officials. Goodson knew the Spanish were eager to retake Jamaica, which had been Spanish before Penn, and Venables captured it, and he believed in attack being the best defense. Myngs thoroughly agreed with him. However, while they were absent from Jamaica, Roger O’Farrel came ashore, crossed country, raided Spanish Town, or Cagway, as it was then called (it would not become Port Royal until the Restoration) and freed scores of Irish slaves sent by Cromwell to the Indies. O’Farrel, on that occasion, neither attacked the fortifications nor sought to loot; Spanish Town held no great wealth as yet, anyway. His main intent was a gesture of defiance and contempt against the English.
Returning to Cagway and hearing the news, Myngs was enraged. He undertook to hang O’Farrel. Myngs perceived that he needed the buccaneers of Tortuga – they were already a force on the waters of the Indies – to defend Jamaica against the Spanish in these precarious early days. In exchange he offered them support, a haven, and a safe place to squander their loot. O’Farrel, though, was another matter. Nothing would have induced Parliament to grant him amnesty or accept him, any more than O’Farrel would have become the Roundheads’ ally.
Hunger, bad administration and dissension plagued Jamaica in its early days as an English outpost. There was doubt whether England would even be able to maintain it. Goodson and Myngs made an effort to waylay the Spanish treasure fleet off Havana, and were thwarted, in large measure because of Roger O’Farrel, who met them in his frigate Tisiphone and fought them tooth and nail as one of the treasure fleet’s guardians. Myngs swore furiously at the sight of the notorious flag bearing the O’Farrel golden lion. (Cromwell would have had his tongue bored for his language.) His curses did not place a single Spanish coin in his hands.
Goodson, then in poor health, sailed for England early in 1657. Myngs returned to England with him – briefly – but was back in Jamaica by February 1658, as senior officer of the Jamaica squadron. The latest governor, D’Oyley, supported Myngs in drawing the buccaneers (English ones, for preference) to Jamaica as allies against the Spanish. O’Farrel remained Myngs’ personal gadfly.
This was no children’s game of Robin Hood, however, and Myngs was no inept, choleric Sheriff of Nottingham. On the contrary, he was an expert pirate himself, and thought like one. Both men were outstanding sea-fighters, clever, resourceful and ruthless in battle. Myngs came close to sinking or taking O’Farrel half a dozen times. He never quite did.
Once, with the help of a treacherous highly-placed Spaniard in Cuba, Myngs tried to have Helen Tavrel kidnapped in order to force O’Farrel to surrender. The girl was then six or seven. The Spaniard’s long mistreated wife, who detested him, betrayed the scheme to O’Farrel. O’Farrel would have abducted the man, taken him to sea and keel-hauled him to death, but he needed the haven and support of Cuba. Instead he insulted him, fought a duel, ran him through, and then became his widow’s lover. It caused him some social difficulties, but the many English merchant ships he took as prizes helped smooth the matter over.
He avenged the attempt to kidnap Helen by raiding Cagway and burning two of Myng’s prized warships to the waterline, in the very harbor. O’Farrel had long been expert in incendiary skills. Then he sent Myngs word that if Helen Tavrel was endangered again, he would spare not a soul aboard any English vessel he captured in future. Myngs heeded that promise.
After the Battle of Rio Nuevo in June of ’58, O’Farrel took his ease in Havana for two years with his foster-daughter. In 1659, Myngs went on another voyage of plunder along the Spanish Main, sacking the settlements of Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro in what is now Venezuela. Various buccaneer captains accompanied him, among them Henry Morgan, and two brothers even more brutal than Morgan or Myngs – John and Tobias Gower. Helen Tavrel was to sail briefly with John, and witness his demise, in “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”. As for Tobias, he is almost certainly the “Captain Gower” celebrated by REH in his poem, “A Song of the Anchor Chain”, which describes his passing.
He sought to dream of flying ships
And winds that waver and dart,
But the rattle of death was under his lips
And Hell was in his heart.
And ever the vision rose and fled:
A craft on the outward tack.
And a ghostly skipper who swayed and said:
‘No man of our crew came back.’
And ever a vision followed fast –
A ship with a tattered sail
Idly flapping a broken mast –
And a plank was over the rail.”
Myngs’ and the buccaneers’ bloody cruise was successful. They netted immense booty; about a quarter of a million pounds. Myngs shared out the plunder with his crews and allies before he returned to Jamaica, directly counter to the Governor, Edward D’Oyley’s, orders. D’Oyley arrested Myngs and sent him back to England in the Marston Moor to face charges, but with opportune timing for Myngs, Cromwell had recently died, his son Richard proved a weak replacement, and the Restoration followed in 1660. Most of England rejoiced, and in the general jubilation the counts against Myngs were dismissed.
O’Farrel doubted exceedingly that these events would herald a fine new age of justice for Ireland. But he supposed his standing under the law might change, and his fortunes with it. Unlike Myngs, he had never ceased fighting against the regime that beheaded Charles II’s father, and he had always been on good terms with Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Rupert had quarreled with Charles in the 1650s, and retired to Germany, but with the Restoration the quarrel was mended and Rupert became a member of the English Privy Council. It was widely believed that Rupert and O’Farrel had sailed together in the Caribbean. That’s certainly wrong. Prince Rupert had indeed taken his privateer fleet to the Azores, and after that, across the Atlantic to the Indies, but he returned in 1653. Roger O’Farrel did not go there until 1655.
It also became part of O’Farrel’s legend that he had helped the fugitive Charles escape the Roundheads after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Charles made his way to safety disguised as a common farm laborer, but that involved wearing coarse hard shoes that nearly crippled him – they were too small by far anyway, and instruments of torture compared to the soft royal footgear to which he was used – and before long he could hardly walk. O’Farrel was said to have provided a distraction and gained the future Charles II precious time. As tall as Charles, and black-haired, he resembled him enough to be taken for the prince and draw Roundhead pursuit after him. O’Farrel’s skin was as fair as Charles’ was swarthy, but a little walnut dye altered that. O’Farrel reached his ship just ahead of a Roundhead troop, and Muiredach Myagh blasted it with Tisiphone’s guns as O’Farrel and his companions swam to safety. One of those stories that sound too good to be true, it may be a fable, but it is consistent with the general picture of O’Farrel’s generosity and dash. And it appears that after Charles was restored to the kingship, he and Prince Rupert – and Samuel Pepys, the most conscientious and hard-working member of the Navy Board under the new king – were all friendly to O’Farrel. Pepys, with no first-hand experience of the sea, found Rupert and O’Farrel’s advice invaluable.
Unfortunately, Roger O’Farrel had done a few things in the Indies and North America which made it difficult to include him in the general pardons. Most serious was his raid on Jamestown, Virginia, at the time a squalid, disease-ridden hell-hole where drunkenness was the only escape from wretchedness for many. O’Farrel took the Tisiphone, and another ship under Myagh, into Jamestown, where they burned planters’ docks and storehouses by the riverside, killing anybody who opposed them. When they put to sea again they took three ships fully laden with tobacco from the harbor to pay for the enterprise. They also freed over two hundred Irish slave women and children, taking them along too. Thus, although O’Farrel was persona grata with the king and two of the most important men in England, he still had to be discreet about entering the country. He could not do so openly. Charles and Rupert would have been embarrassed – and there were Puritan ministers in the House of Commons with long memories.
The Anglo-Spanish War had officially ended. That fact did not impress many Englishmen in the Caribbean, and none of the buccaneers. Myngs returned to Jamaica in command of a ship called the Centurion, in 1662, and Roger O’Farrel was there ahead of him. O’Farrel again resided in Cuba with his foster-daughter (who had visited England with him). He and Myngs would soon be pitted against each other once more. Myngs still believed in opposing Spain by giving the buccaneers a free hand, and the latest Governor of Jamaica, Lord Windsor, backed him as Goodson and D’Oyley had done. Myngs led a pirate force against Santiago de Cuba, and although it was strongly defended they sacked it.
O’Farrel was given command of a squadron of warships by the then Captain General of Cuba, Rodrigo Flores de Aldana. De Aldana held the office for little over a year (1662-3), but O’Farrel’s appointment was confirmed by the next Captain General, Francisco de Avila Orejon y Gaston. O’Farrel’s spies informed him that a new buccaneer fleet under Myngs was being gathered, and careless talk in Port Royal – as Cagway had been renamed – let O’Farrel know the target was Campeche. Myngs gathered the greatest pirate fleet yet seen in the Caribbean. His own Centurion and the smaller Griffin led it. A dozen or more ships crewed by English buccaneers joined the endeavor; four French vessels and three of Dutch privateers increased its strength to 20 ships and almost two and a half thousand men. They arrived off Campeche in February of 1663.
O’Farrel came to oppose them with a mere five ships; two crewed by his Irish pirates and three by Spaniards. His former ship Tisiphone, in which he had fought the Roundhead navy all around Ireland and up the Channel, and taken across the Atlantic to continue the fight in the Indies, had been sunk off the northern coast of Jamaica in the late ‘fifties. But Captain General de Avila had made O’Farrel master of a swift galleon built in Havana, the 400-ton Santa Barbara, the largest ship O’Farrel had yet captained. His henchman Seamus Browne, whom he had freed from servitude in Jamestown, Virginia, a man branded on the cheek with “R” for runaway, had charge of the 150-ton fragata the Pilar.
Against the far larger fleet there was a limited amount he could do, but he engaged Myng’s 40-gun Centurion while Myngs himself was leading an attack against the city ashore. He damaged the flagship, then had to break off his attack, and he sank two smaller ships, one French, one English. Myngs, leading a thousand men, looted the city, though he was injured in the fighting. Over a fortnight the town of San Francisco de Campeche was sacked and fourteen vessels removed from the harbor. The buccaneers thought O’Farrel had fled, but he merely lurked at a distance after the town’s surrender, and followed in the buccaneers’ wake when they departed. He sank another ship and recovered four stolen ones, among them a vessel containing 40,000 pieces of eight from the loot of Campeche. The wounded Myngs and his associates – Henry Morgan, Edward Mansfield and Abraham Blauvelt – continued back towards Jamaica with the greater part of the plunder, about 150,000 pieces of eight. O’Farrel, under cover of darkness, struck again when they had almost reached Port Royal, and caught Abraham Blauvelt’s ship lagging behind the rest of the pirate fleet. He boarded and burned it; Blauvelt was killed. Half a dozen other buccaneers pursued him, but O’Farrel showed them a clean pair of sea-heels.
The Captain General had to admit that no-one could have done more with O’Farrel’s few ships, and most leaders would not have achieved as much. Spain expressed such outrage, and O’Farrel put the Spanish case so eloquently in private with Prince Rupert, that King Charles expressly forbade any more such expeditions by the English in Jamaica, with or without buccaneer allies. During Sir Thomas Modyford’s tenure as Governor (1664-70) the ban received lip service only; Modyford was hand in glove with Morgan and others, giving out letters of marque against the Spaniards as freely as a fire gives sparks.
The long feud between O’Farrel and Myngs ended when the latter returned to England in 1665 – just in time for the Great Plague of London. He survived that scourge as he had survived long, dangerous years in the bloody waters of the Caribbean. Myngs was promoted to vice-admiral and knighted, news which O’Farrel no doubt received with an ironic smile and a quip, for he gave Myngs credit as a formidable and worthy foe, much as he regretted never having been able to sink him. That frustration went both ways; Myngs had never been able to catch and hang O’Farrel either. An asset to England’s navy, he served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War until wounded in a sea-fight in the Channel in 1666. He subsequently died of his wound in London. If O’Farrel had never been able to finish his old enemy, at least he outlived him.
“Men say he is cruel and it may be so. But to me he has always been kind and gentle. And moreover he is a fine upstanding man, of high aristocratic blood with the courage of a lion!”
Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”
After a dreadful plague epidemic, fire raged through London in 1666, as naval board member Samuel Pepys records in his famous diary. Roger O’Farrel, outlaw, pirate, intrepid fighting seaman, and friend of Pepys, was then in the Caribbean, where he had spent most of the previous eleven years. His age was forty-four. His foster daughter, Helen Tavrel, was fourteen. Except for brief spaces in the Low Countries and England, she had lived in Cuba and been extremely happy there.
O’Farrel also liked Cuba. He had served a number of Captains General of that island against buccaneers and the English alike. He had carried a long, dangerous feud against Christopher Myngs of the Jamaica squadron, but Myngs had just died fighting the Dutch, with a knighthood and the rank of Vice Admiral of the Blue to his credit.
O’Farrel had begun to think his darling Helen would give him the grey hairs that Cromwell and Myngs failed to bestow. She had loved boats and the sea since she was little; her terrifying experience on a burning, sinking ship at the age of two seemed to have left no fear behind it. Perhaps she associated ships solely with her protector and new father, O’Farrel, whom she adored. And Helen also loved adventure and swordplay. She had demanded at the age of ten to be instructed in the rapier, O’Farrel’s favorite blade, and it proved no mere whim. She practiced daily with a Spanish master of Havana, working hard, even though she was a volatile, impatient child in many ways. From the beginning there was nothing tame about her.
She was frequently in mischief. Sometimes it was dangerous mischief. It could have landed her in a convent or worse. Roger O’Farrel, though a Catholic, was an easy-going one, careless of dogma, and well aware that made it necessary for a man to watch his step with the Holy Office, a body more dangerous than all the pirates on the Main. He had detested Cromwell’s Puritans for their fanatical butcheries, not for heresy; he had a heretical streak himself, though he did not advertise it, and cautioned Helen against talking out of turn either.
Helen Tavrel deserves a post or two of her own, as does Black Vulmea. Leaving both for later, turning again to O’Farrel, he saw new names coming to the fore among the buccaneers now that Christopher Myngs had died in England. Henry Morgan, Myngs’ former apprentice and subordinate, was one, the Gower brothers two more. Another was Black Terence Vulmea. Yet another was Roche Brasiliano, brutal even by buccaneer standards. And there was the monstrous l’Ollonais. As Howard wrote in his poem “Untamed Avatars”:
They break from the pack and they seek their own track,
They are swifter than cormorants flying;
They range far and wide, they are fierce in their pride,
And they glory in slaying and dying.
Their love is a breath that is withering as death,
They take, but they never are giving.
Their hate is as fell and eternal as Hell.
Yet, gods, how they revel in living.
They jeer at the pack and they bend not the back
To the rule of the weak and the many;
From beginning to end they’ve no lover nor friend,
Nor feel they the needing of any.
They are beasts hard and lean and their talons are keen
To rage and to rend and devour—
Oh, mocking their mirth, for the best of the earth
Is laid at their feet in their hour.
The pirate known as l’Ollonais was assuredly one of the worst of the earth. His actual name was Jean-David Nau. Briefly, he was taken from his native France to Hispaniola in the Caribbean, an indentured servant, as a boy of fifteen. When his tenure of servitude ended, in about 1660, he made his way to the buccaneer haven of Tortuga, a hell-hole that could dispute its claim to utter wickedness on equal terms with Gomorrah. And began a psychotic career of torture and murder.
Tortuga (Turtle Island), about forty kilometers by seven, gained its buccaneer population when Hispaniola’s hardy hunters of wild cattle were driven out by the Spanish and turned to sea-roving – with a grudge against Spaniards. Tortuga had English and French settlers, both English and French “Governors” (in practice pirates with a license to license other pirates) and to compound the confusion was retaken by the Spanish now and then. Not a stable place, but then, for a pirate with roughly equal chances of dying in a fight, on the gallows, or from syphilis, that was a low priority. Tortuga was a splendid place to harbor, refit, careen a ship, dispose of loot, obtain crooked letters of marque, carouse and debauch, a buccaneer’s main needs. The Inn of the Gory Dagger, celebrated by REH in his ditty, “Murderous Mike and Crimson Eve,” was doubtless located there – or Port Royal in Jamaica, a similar cesspit.
Our goblets banged on the table tops, our laughter rose in a gust,
And now and then a shot cracked out and someone kissed the dust.
It made a man right nervous, ducking the cutlass cuts,
And every so often someone yelled with a sword thrust through his guts.
The hot oaths cracked the ceilings, the goblet burned at the lip,
And we reveled and killed one another in goodly fellowship.
But even those roughnecks felt ill at ease with l’Ollonais around. A vile butcher from the start, when merely another hand, he became worse when he achieved command of his own ship. His treatment of the unfortunates aboard vessels he attacked soon became a byword. While his dates are uncertain, l’Ollonais was storm-driven and shipwrecked on the Yucatan coast circa 1665, near Campeche, the same town Christopher Myngs had sacked in 1663. L’Ollonais managed to get most of his vicious crew ashore alive, but when the local Spaniards discovered their presence, and knew who they were, they slaughtered them all with musket volleys. L’Ollonais himself, wounded, covered himself with blood and sand and hid under the corpses of his men. Then he entered Campeche in disguise, set free a few French slaves, and escaped with them in a stolen canoe. Pursued by Spaniards in a sloop, he turned the tables, boarded the craft, and killed every man except one, whom he sent back to Campeche with the message that l’Ollonais would “never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever.”
Nor did he. Directly he had a ship again, l’Ollonais attempted to sack a town in Cuba, which had long been Roger O’Farrel’s home. The Captain General learned l’Ollonais was coming and sent a ten-gun warship to blast him to Perdition. Instead, l’Ollonais captured the vessel and killed every man aboard. He practiced awful tortures on captives, such as cutting them slowly to pieces or “woolding” them, which meant tightening a knotted rope around their heads until their eyes burst out. Once, having captured a number of Spaniards from whom he wanted information, he hacked the torso of one with his cutlass, tore out his heart and ate it, saying to the others that if they did not guide him as he wished, “I will serve you all alike.”
In 1667 l’Ollonais gathered a fleet of eight ships crewed by about 650 buccaneers. He led them to Maracaibo, a town in present day Venezuela. On the way he encountered a treasure ship, which he took and looted, treating those aboard in his usual fashion. Maracaibo felt secure because it was strongly fortified and protected by cannon, but l’Ollonais landed further up the coast, marched through the jungle with his men, and attacked the towns around Lake Maracaibo from the landward side. He interrogated the people by torture to find where they had hidden their loot, and after weeks of horror the pirates left Maracaibo with cases of jewels and fully a quarter million pieces of eight.
The Captain General of Cuba, Francisco de Avila Orejon y Gaston, sent for O’Farrel. He promised the Irishman twenty-five thousand Spanish silver dollars (or pieces of eight, from their value of eight reals) for the head of l’Ollonais. O’Farrel accepted the commission.
The buccaneers were more calculating in their raids than is generally believed; they informed themselves beforehand rather than descending on a town or roving the sea impulsively. O’Farrel was no exception. He knew much about l’Ollonais already – all of it bad – and he found out more from a couple of men who had sailed with the Frenchman and deserted. They were not the only ones. Buccaneers were hardly squeamish, and l’Ollonais led his crews to loot, all right, but nevertheless they often found a single foray with the atrocious madman quite enough. It seemed to O’Farrel that if he could make l’Ollonais’ next cruise turn sour, his followers would melt away.
Hunting that bestial madman, though, he needed the ‘courage of a lion’ Helen ascribed to him. Spanish sailors and soldiers defeated by l’Ollonais on the seas were often known to leap overboard and drown rather than face his sadism. And Spaniards of the day were no softies.
O’Farrel possessed another potential advantage. Buccaneers fought like devils, afloat or on land, and used crafty tactics, but they relied on hand-to-hand ferocity and their gunnery was often poor. O’Farrel’s gunners were good. The master, Deaf Tom Colclough, had fought Cromwell’s navy with O’Farrel in the ‘fifties and been with him ever since. He demanded of his gun-crews that targets like casks floating in choppy water be hit – and they had better be. The captain also made sure he had sufficient powder and cannonballs, with chain shot and grapeshot for good measure. This ordnance was not always easy for buccaneers to obtain. And O’Farrel’s men were as good as any with cutlass and boarding axe when the fighting grew intimate.
He did not take the galleon Santa Barbara after l’Ollonais. She was swift, but drew a little too much water for the purpose, even though she was smaller than some. O’Farrel set out with two Havana fragatas, the Pilar and the San Patricio. These were a New World refinement, three-masted and square rigged, precursors of the 18th century naval frigates, of about 150 tons each. They were armed with cannon at the bows and others in a broadside row along the single gun deck. They maneuvered better in contrary winds than the larger, higher galleons.
The plunder from the Maracaibo raid of 1667 did not last long. O’Farrel had not expected it to. L’Ollonais and his fellows squandered it wildly in Tortuga. As Exquemelin wrote, “Their gains they spend prodigally, giving themselves to all manner of vice and debauchery, particularly to drunkenness … and as freely gratify their lusts … for all the tavern keepers and strumpets wait for these lewd buccaneers … ”
Once the plunder was gone he proposed a new expedition, and seven hundred buccaneers joined it, their greed aroused by his success at Maracaibo. Six ships set out. In the largest vessel, one he had captured at Maracaibo, l’Ollonais put three hundred men. His second in command was his old comrade Moses van Vin. Two more captains were the Gower brothers, John and Tobias. Another was the youngest leader, Pierre le Picard, and there was also another Moses, Moses van Clein. The last was Finlo Hilton, a Manxman known as Bloody Hilton, mentioned by Helen Tavrel as one of the captains with whom she had sailed.
Henry Morgan did not go with them. He was leading an expedition of his own in 1668. Besides, l’Ollonais was not to his taste, murdering scoundrel though Morgan was himself. Roche Brasiliano was not part of the fleet either, though l’Ollonais had sold him and his fellow Dutch pirate Jelles de Lecat a captured Spanish brigantine the year before. The pair may have been whoring in Port Royal or cruising the Antilles.
Seven hundred pirates could not be drawn together for any project without O’Farrel’s knowledge. He was soon apprised of their strength, their leaders, the quality of their ships and roughly where they meant to go. From Tortuga, much as expected, the buccaneers sailed along the southern coast of Cuba, seizing more ships as they went. O’Farrel let them get away with it; he wanted them further from home before he struck, and l’Ollonais was a man to approach gingerly. His intent was to copy Henry Morgan’s feat in sailing up the San Juan River to the Lago de Nicaragua, and sack the rich town of Granada at its northern end. O’Farrel could not have witnessed that without interfering, but the savage Frenchman’s plans began to miscarry from the start; he was becalmed off the Mosquito Coast and his ships drifted west along the northern shores of Honduras. O’Farrel was afflicted by the same calm, but when a fresh wind rose he followed l’Ollonais’s fleet anew.
L’Ollonais in the meantime had sent parties ashore to forage. According to the pirate chronicler Exquemelin, to provision they “entered, with their canoes, into the River Xagua, inhabited by Indians, whom they totally destroyed.” Sailing west, he captured a Spanish merchantman armed with cannon and swivel guns, after which he descended on Pedro Cortes and took it. Then, guided by terrorized captives, he took three hundred buccaneers inland against San Pedro Sula. Marching into the jungle, he took captives and met with ambushes, which he fought off, showing the Spaniards his usual mercy – none whatsoever. This was the occasion on which, demanding from his prisoners advice on how to take a route which would avoid the pesky ambushes, he cut out the heart of one and ate it before the others. His followers, even the Gower brothers, were appalled by that.
Reaching San Pedro Sula, he had his first attack repulsed, after which – against his avowed practice – he allowed the Spanish to evacuate the town under a flag of truce. But he burned it to the ground on entering it and finding the loot scanty and poor. He had counted upon riches.
While l’Ollonais was pillaging the region, O’Farrel took his two fragatas in against the pirate ships near Pedro Cortes. He blasted their masts and rigging with chain-shot, hurled fireworks and “carcasses” or fire-pots against the decks, then disappeared while the swearing buccaneers strove to extinguish the blazes. Each desperate one of them knew the golden lion flag. The Gower brothers in particular, who had been with Christopher Myngs in 1659 and again for his great raid on Campeche in ’63, knew O’Farrel’s way. He had harassed Myng’s fleet back to Jamaica and recovered part of the plunder taken. Now he was back to plague them in the Gulf of Honduras!
L’Ollonais returned to Pedro Cortes. Enraged to hear of O’Farrel’s action, he went looking for him, swearing horrible retribution, but found no trace of the San Patricio or Pilar and turned back to the coast. His usual torture of prisoners had gained him the information that a galleon was due to arrive in the Bay of Amatique, and he decided to waylay it. However, the vessel was not expected for months, so l’Ollonais posted lookouts and took his flagship to the other side of the gulf for a careening. He desired to be able to outsail the galleon when it came, and he did not want to be caught at sea by O’Farrel, if he should return, with his hull foul and overgrown.
But O’Farrel had the same information as l’Ollonais concerning the galleon. With time in hand, he sent Seamus Browne to Havana for a decoy vessel, an ancient galleon, a crank and heavy sailer afflicted with shipworms. It was armed, however, with forty-two cannon. O’Farrel had it arrive just as l’Ollonais had finished careening, to the madman’s pleasure, but his jubilation did not last long. The galleon fought off l’Ollonais’ flagship of twenty-eight guns in the first engagement, and after two more its crew fled helter-skelter in boats. The buccaneers boarded it in triumph, only to find nothing but a meagre amount of wine, paper and iron pigs. Nor was the galleon itself much of an asset, in spite of its armament. It would slow the pirates down.
Pierre le Picard, youngest and least patient of the buccaneer captains, grew disgruntled. He suggested to his crew that they decamp. They agreed with very little hesitation. At sunset, le Picard’s ship remained with the fleet; in the morning it was gone.
L’Ollonais made the error of keeping the decoy galleon, as O’Farrel hoped he would, tempted by its forty-two guns. The Gower brothers and Moses van Vin all advised against it, but l’Ollonais was obdurate. More dreary months passed with little success, and word came to the fleet now and again that O’Farrel had been sighted. While he refrained from attacking again, this failed to reassure the Gowers. They knew him.
“He’s waiting,” Tobias asserted. “O’Farrel’s a dog of the Spaniards, and the Spanish viceroy wants l’Ollonais’s guts. What if we have more men and guns? O’Farrel’s the better seaman. His gunners can shoot a melon off a masthead.”
“I’m not feared of O’Farrel.”
“Nor I, John. But this cruise has gone ill. First we’re becalmed, then we get sorry plunder from San Pedro Sula – which should ought’ve been profitable, as you know. Then we wait months for a galleon, and that too pays us little when it arrives. Nor l’Ollonais won’t leave it, though it’s slow as a three-legged horse. I tell you true. It’s l’Ollonais I’ve had enough of.”
“Well, that’s true,” John Gower conceded. “Things haven’t gone well, and there’s no sign they’ll go better.”
They found their crews in agreement. The Gower brothers were next to leave. Moses van Clein soon followed their example. Only van Vin and Bloody Hilton now remained with l’Ollonais, and about half the original seven hundred men who had begun the expedition. He needed swift success to save his enterprise.
O’Farrel made sure there would be no such good fortune for the mad killer. The time was right to descend on him. O’Farrel attacked off the Isla de las Pertas, outsailed the captured galleon with insolent ease, holed it a dozen times and forced it onto a sandbar, where it stuck fast. Then he lay off the island to observe. The buccaneers worked with a will to float the galleon again, but this proved impossible, even after they lightened it of cannon and other weighty content. L’Ollonais abandoned van Vin and all but a hundred men, leaving them to break the galleon apart and make boats of the timber, if they could. O’Farrel left them in peace and continued to pursue l’Ollonais.
The latter and his hundred rogues came to what Exquemelin calls the “River of Nicaragua”, hounded still by O’Farrel. He intended, now, to sink them without mercy, but before he caught them, a grimmer kind of justice overtook the most atrocious pirate of the Indies. Ashore, his band was attacked by Spaniards and Indians, most of them being killed quickly. L’Ollonais was taken alive by a tribe of completely untamed Indians, who had nevertheless heard of him, and the way he dealt with their people. They treated him as he treated others, ripping him apart bit by bit and throwing the pieces into a fire, until he perished without trace. O’Farrel, of whom the Indians had also heard, was able to parley with them and confirm the fate of l’Ollonais from a couple of buccaneers who had been with him in his last moments. He ransomed them from the Indians for cutlasses and cloth and gave them passage back to Tortuga. His undertaking to destroy l’Ollonais had taken him more than a year, but he had fulfilled it to the letter.
And the brains of men who saw it clear
Grew frail and grey with horror and fear,
And shadows white beat back the night,
And over the ocean the dawn drew near.
It’s the silver o’ starlight, the mist o’ the morning
All gossamer webs, and the deep coral caves,
The winds and the wonder o’ reef-riven thunder,
The emerald sheen o’ the snow-crested waves.
The gold that I gathered that mankind had minted,
It slipped through my fingers like sands on the beach;
But the silver o’ starlight was ever unstinted,
And the gold o’ the sunset was ever in reach.
“A Dying Pirate Speaks of Treasure,” by Robert E. Howard
Roger O’Farrel returned to Cuba in 1668, after chasing the dreaded buccaneer l’Ollonais for over a year and finally bringing him to his end at the hands of Indians in Darien. He had earned the promised reward of 25,000 Spanish dollars or “pieces of eight.” However, the Captain General of Cuba, Francisco de Avila Orejon y Gaston, double-crossed him over the reward. Claiming that he had not actually been “in at the death” of l’Ollonais, and had not brought back his head either, he tried to fob O’Farrel off with 5,000 dollars. Like Browning’s Pied Piper, O’Farrel answered, “No trifling! I can’t wait, besides … and folks who put me in a passion, may find me pipe after another fashion.”
De Avila considered that insolence. He reminded O’Farrel that at the beginning of the chase, he had held aloof while l’Ollonais worked his will along the southern coasts of Cuba, and later allowed a galleon to fall into the Frenchman’s hands. De Avila could make indictable offences of these if he desired, and he advised O’Farrel to take care. “Accept five thousand pieces of eight while the offer is good, Captain.”
“Keep them, magnifico,” O’Farrel said shortly. “Buy yourself a cloth-of-gold shroud and a fine coffin.”
His defiance might have suited a younger man better. O’Farrel was then forty-six, though he looked younger and his hair remained dark. He was enraged, however, having just finished a year-long hunt fraught with danger, a voyage in which some of his men had died, and his foster daughter, God help him, had stowed away and might have died herself. To be cheated now … and he had thought better of Francisco de Avila.
Perhaps his opinion had been correct, once. De Avila had held his office for five years, in a physical and social climate where men went rotten quickly, and turpitude grew rank as the jungle. He probably told his conscience that, after all, many men would not have offered O’Farrel the five thousand, and if he refused it, well, his fault, and what could he do against the Captain General of Havana?
Clearly, even after associating with him for years, de Avila did not know his man.
O’Farrel sold his fine Havana house and moved to the southern part of Cuba, which should have warned de Avila in itself. Santiago was the second greatest city in the island. It had its own Captain General, or Governor; in practice the two were often the same, the military authorities functioning as civil and political officials as well. They were even given to assuming the Viceroy’s functions in their own regions. Spanish colonial officers, too, were notorious for touchy jealousy. The Governors of the two cities were each other’s detested rivals.
Santiago’s position was precarious. From a distance the shoreline seemed an unbroken line of verdant jungle. Closer in, it consisted of strings of islands whose beauty covered fatal rocks, reefs and confusing twisted channels. Many buccaneers knew them intimately and first hand. They made perfect hideouts, to lurk in ambush, to take refuge, to repair and careen. Just about every notorious raider of the time had used the South Cays with impunity. Christopher Myngs sacked Santiago late in 1662, with a fleet of eighteen ships. Henry Morgan was almost certainly one of the captains with him on that occasion. Roche Brasiliano spent months among the South Cays in 1663. Edward Mansfield led his pirate fleet there two years later. Henry Morgan, now with the status of a buccaneer admiral, returned there in 1668 – the very year Roger O’Farrel arrived in Santiago, fuming against Captain General de Avila.
He began by enlisting a force of hardy fighters who would stop at nothing – not difficult in that area. Many ostensibly lawful men were expert smugglers who had long dodged the Spanish crown’s taxes and trade restrictions. The cattle ranchers inland, los senores de hatos, as a matter of course engaged in illicit traffic with foreign traders. Their mestizo cowboys were outstandingly tough. The escaped African slaves who lived at large in the mountains of Cuba were, if anything, even tougher. Many had labored in the copper mines of El Cobre, where a few years before there had been a slave revolt. O’Farrel had fought beside such men in the mountains of Jamaica for a year (1657-58) with Cristobal Ysassi. He knew them.
If he no longer had a ship of his own, that was a common predicament of pirates, and one they knew how to solve. O’Farrel had done so before. He acquired two cedar piraguas able to carry fifty men each, and manned them with smugglers, fishermen, loggers, and Cimmarones from the mountains. He hijacked a fast sloop armed with eight small cannon and sent for his former crew, who were only awaiting his word. Then he ventured among the South Cays, found a Dutch pirate careening his ship, and relieved him of it once the work was finished. The Jezebel, a brigantine, it carried twelve cannon and three swivel guns.
Working out of Santiago, O’Farrel smuggled hides, tobacco, and indigo. He waylaid merchant ships, lifting their cargoes but sparing the crews if they yielded. Although he had plundered French vessels in the past, he left them alone now, for he had Tortuga in mind as a refuge if ever Cuba should be barred to him. Remembering de Avila’s conduct, he did not trust the Governor of Santiago a finger’s length. Within two years he achieved some prosperity again.
O’Farrel decided he was ready for a major coup and a farewell to Cuba. Once he had battled Englishmen to defend a Spanish treasure fleet. Now he was motivated the other way. By royal decree the fleet gathered in Havana Bay between May and August, and left with the first fine weather – but August fell within the hurricane season.
The so-called Tierra Firme fleet from Spain went to Cartagena (in modern Colombia) where it took on the treasures of the Spanish Main until its timbers creaked. Then it sailed north-west for Cuba. O’Farrel lurked patiently on the eastern side of Cozumel, a flat limestone island covered with mangrove forest; in the sloop he had named the Eithne after his first vessel. One piragua was with him. A little further north, in a mainland cay of Yucatan, lurked the Jezebel under the former slave Seamus Browne. Across the Yucatan Channel, at the western extremity of Cuba, the second piragua waited.
Luck was with O’Farrel. A storm parted the flotilla from the Main. He intercepted one of the treasure vessels and an escort warship, listing and leaking from damage. The warship offered a tenacious fight, sinking the sloop Eithne before being boarded by pirates who gave no quarter, since they had been resisted. They got splendid booty of gold, emeralds, pearls, cacao and mahogany from the treasure ship alone, and more from the escort warship. But forty of O’Farrel’s pirates had died and a greater number been injured. For the survivors, by the articles of O’Farrel’s crews, the captain received three shares and each ordinary crewman one, along with compensation for lost limbs and other maiming. O’Farrel gained 9,000 silver pesos (pieces of eight or Spanish dollars). This does not sound a great amount, but in the real world few pirate captains won immense riches and fewer yet left buried treasure.
Naturally that meant the end of O’Farrel’s Spanish affiliations. But he had become weary of the dons anyway. He departed with his little fleet and headed for Tortuga. Helen Tavrel went with him, for she would, she said, be double damned if they parted now!
Tortuga by that time – 1670 – had a varied history. It had been a buccaneer haven for decades. Cattle hunters from Hispaniola turned pirate (the original buccaneers) used Tortuga for a base as early as the 1620s. Since then it had been shared between English and French governors; was on occasion retaken by the Spanish; and Louis XIV, the “Sun King” had appointed Bertrand d’Ogeron as its Royal Governor in 1665. D’Ogeron knew the breed he had the task of settling down. He offered them funding to become planters, and imported mail order brides from France on the theory that wives would keep them stable. “Chains for these rascals,” he said.
Rafael Sabatini makes use of Governor d’Ogeron in his pirate novel Captain Blood. That is anachronistic, though, as Peter Blood’s pirate career came after the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, and the real-life d’Ogeron died in 1676. I wonder if Sabatini did not base his fictional Captain Blood on O’Farrel as much as on Henry Morgan. O’Farrel, like Blood, is Irish, a swordsman and seaman, and has medical training, for all of which we have Helen Tavrel’s word (“The Isle of Pirate’s Doom”) – and unlike Blood, O’Farrel roved the Caribbean in the real Bertrand d’Ogeron’s term of office.
The two became friends. Bertrand welcomed him to Tortuga, discreetly forgetting any French ships O’Farrel had looted. O’Farrel thereafter left the Sun King’s subjects alone. This involved no conflict with his friendship for Prince Rupert and Samuel Pepys in England, since the monarchs of France and England had signed a secret treaty at Dover (though not so secret that O’Farrel was ignorant of it). It ended hostilities. Louis agreed to pay Charles 200,000 pounds annually, while Charles undertook to ease English laws against Catholics, support the French against the Dutch, and become Catholic himself.
By the Treaty of Madrid between England and Spain, signed in the same year – 1670 — England agreed to suppress piracy in the Caribbean. The English Governors of Jamaica, the men on the spot, paid little attention to that. Lynch replaced Modyford in 1670, and gave out pirate commissions as freely as his predecessor.
One of the new stars in the buccaneer sky came to Tortuga in that same year. This was Jacob van Raven, a yellow-bearded giant of a Dutchman twenty years O’Farrel’s junior. He had been rescued from harsh indentures by Abraham Blauvelt, his first captain, and Blauvelt had died in 1663, after taking part in Christopher Myngs’ great raid on Campeche. It was Roger O’Farrel who boarded and burned his ship.
Van Raven had it in mind to pay that debt in kind. He came to Tortuga peacefully, under a pretense of wishing to settle on the island. After ascertaining where Roger O’Farrel’s brigantine lay in the harbor, van Raven made ready to sail around the island, saying he wished to look at likely plantation sites. Then he ran straight across the stern of O’Farrel’s Jezebel and blasted it with a five-gun broadside, after which he used grenades and incendiaries – such as firepots filled with rum, Barbados kill-devil over 100 proof, a technique of O’Farrel’s own. Van Raven left the Jezebel blazing like a lamp before she sank. His laughter boomed across the sea.
Roger O’Farrel was furious at first. Then he accepted the turn of events and even gave van Raven credit, wryly, for his effrontery. But once more, now, he lacked a ship. Helen Tavrel, eighteen, reckless and restless, set out on her own, roving with a number of pirate captains. O’Farrel both feared for her and knew he could not restrain her. She had stowed away on one of his ships in disguise when he sailed after l’Ollonais. She had killed men already. She was his little girl no longer.
He concluded that at his age, trade was better than piracy, and began dealing in commodities absolutely beyond price to the sea-rovers, medical supplies. No ship could do without a surgeon, or surgeon’s tools and opium. O’Farrel, who had studied at the University of Padua in his youth, did considerably better than that. He put together medicine chests whose quality became famous among the rovers. They were shortly valued at something comparable to the cliche, “their weight in gold.”
Always, too, though he said little about it, he feared for the life of his wild foster daughter, and so time passed until 1672.
Helen Tavrel made the mistake of sailing with Captain John Gower, a thorough swine who met his end searching for ancient treasure – which did not exist — on a remote island. Helen escaped alive with a new comrade, Stephen Harmer. She gathered a crew and returned to the sea in a sloop, a captain herself for the first time. Word of it came to O’Farrel, and so did news that old enemies were conspiring against Helen. John Gower’s brother Tobias was the prime mover, supported by John’s former mate. They made alliance with Moses van Vin, who had been second in command to the monstrous Francois l’Ollonais.
Tobias and van Vin both commanded larger ships, at the time, than pirates usually sailed, unless as the flagships of a fleet. Moses van Vin captained a three-masted square-rigger with twenty-four cannon and a crew of 215. Tobias Gower’s was bigger yet, a captured East Indiaman of 700 tons which could overawe any merchant vessel not swift enough to outsail it. The vessel mounted over 30 guns – originally more, but Gower had reduced the armament to increase the cargo room. He also planted a spy in Helen’s crew, and learned of her intention to strike at a wealthy sugar planter’s mansion on Barbados. He decided to overwhelm and destroy her. He blamed Helen for the death of his brother John, and van Vin also hungered to hurt Roger O’Farrel. Killing Helen would certainly achieve that.
They forgot that their vessels were conspicuous, and that nothing piratical on such a scale would pass unknown to O’Farrel. They were short-sighted enough; on learning he lacked a ship since van Raven sank the Jezebel, to look no further. They supposed he could do nothing – but Roger O’Farrel had never known a day on which he could do nothing.
He went straight to Bertrand d’Ogeron and pledged every coin he had, with assurances of ample profit later, for the immediate loan of a fighting ship. D’Ogeron granted him a just-converted Guinea Coast slaver, one deck reinforced and provided with thirty gunports. O’Farrel drew together Seamus Browne, Deaf Tom Colclough and some able gun-crews, besides any number of fatal hand-to-hand fighters. He readied a fireship as well, as fast as the former slaver, crammed with pitch, gunpowder, rum and lamp oil, remembering van Raven’s trick. The slaver’s reek repelled him, but they were built to be swift and agile for Atlantic crossings, even in those days, long before England made the trade illegal, and that was what he needed.
He cursed every interminable sea-mile of the way to the Windward Islands. Not since he was a young man, trying fruitlessly to fight his way into Wexford harbor to save his wife and infant daughter, had he felt like this. He had failed then. He would not fail now. Former scourge of Cromwell’s navy, thorn in the side of Christopher Myngs, and destroyer of Francois l’Ollonais, he raced across the blue ocean towards Barbados.
Helen Tavrel and Stephen Harmer were already there. They swarmed ashore with their crew of fifty, taking the sugar planter’s mansion, and made the slaves their usual offer. Any who preferred the risk of hanging to slavery could join them. As usual, a number proved eager to accept. Cutting and crushing cane was brutal labor.
While Helen’s crew looted the great house, her enemies arrived. Their crews outnumbered hers ten to one. The guns of either could blow her sloop out of the water. Gower and van Vin refrained from doing that, however, and led two hundred men ashore, intending to wipe out Helen’s force and then plunder freely around the coasts of Barbados before any warships from Bridgetown could contest them.
Indecision was never a fault of Helen’s. She saw that a pitched battle was insane and hopeless. Accordingly, she fired the mansion in her enemies’ faces and led her crew inland towards Mount Hillaby, where – if they followed her at all – she could hold the high ground against them. She abandoned the sloop. She could hijack another ship, and the authorities would be more concerned with Gower and van Vin than with her, precisely because of their greater force.
Gower followed her. Moses van Vin remained by the coast with their ships. As it happened, this made him unlucky, because he was there when O’Farrel arrived, drawn as though to a beacon by the smoke of the burning mansion. O’Farrel opened fire on the East Indiaman, then sent his incendiary ship to grapple and board, while he did the same on the other side, reckless of the devastating broadside he received himself. Then it was hand to hand across the bloody decks, O’Farrel’s practiced rapier flashing, his men at his back with pikes, boarding axes and pistols. The fireship flamed hotter each moment, and the pirates who tried to hack it adrift were beset by O’Farrel’s men, their skulls split and their guts torn out in the carnage of the melee. Soon the Indiaman was blazing … and then the fireship’s powder kegs began to explode.
O’Farrel’s crew retreated aboard their own ship and made their way clear. The raging van Vin in his three-master sent a broadside of chain-shot O’Farrel’s way, and O’Farrel’s mizzen came down. Canvas, spars and mast crashed across the deck. Chaotic hell prevailed. Ablaze beyond hope, the Indiaman began to sink, and Gower’s surviving men abandoned her. Swimming or in boats, they tried to reach the other ships, some of them succeeding.
O’Farrel met Moses van Vin on the blood-slippery deck and ran him through the body. Van Vin toppled, dying, but even as that occurred, one of his pirates aimed a blunderbuss at O’Farrel and fired. The charge ripped through Roger O’Farrel’s torso. He hurtled backwards against three other combatants, ribs smashed and lungs torn apart.
The East Indiaman, burning out, went aground in shallow water. Seamus Browne took command of O’Farrel’s men and got them back aboard the erstwhile slaver. They carried their dying captain aboard as well. Van Vin’s surviving pirates fled for the open sea with a single mast and sorry rags of canvas. A frigate from Bridgetown caught them, in the end, and those who did not die fighting were hanged by the harbor.
Seamus Browne saw and heard the signs of battle of Mount Hillaby. It was only four miles distant. He hurried to Helen Tavrel’s aid and attacked Gower from the rear. Tobias Gower, comprehending roughly how things had gone from Browne’s mere presence, abandoned the fight and led his remaining men – a hundred odd — across to Bathsheba on the eastern coast. There he captured a vessel and made for Martinique, a French island.
Helen Tavrel did not care, for the moment, where Gower was. She was weeping convulsively over O’Farrel’s body. She blamed herself for his death and wished she was dead beside him.
Harmer and Browne got the ship out to sea and set a course for Tortuga. They gave Roger O’Farrel a double shroud, the golden lion banner of his family within sailcloth, a cannon ball at his feet. They held an Irish wake on deck and a sea burial somewhere along the Puerto Rico Trench. The man they considered the greatest pirate of the Indies would have reckoned it fitting, and had no regrets for the way he died – coming to his foster-daughter’s aid again.
Lover, grey lover, your arms are about me,
Through your green billows I sink to my rest;
Never again shall futilities flout me
Rousing dim torments to harry my breast.
Royal lost galleys about me are riding,
Tides ever surging their sea treasures bring.
Here I shall slumber the years without number,
Dreaming unharried like some magic king.
— Robert E. Howard
Who is this guy – or girl? I am amazed at the lack of results in searching online using verbiage from the above. I am at a loss really…. EDIT: We know the author is Keith Taylor now. See several posts down for more information. MK
January 31, 2018 at 3:12 pm #5852
This Ciri Character from The Witcher looks really great, when will she be available ?
February 1, 2018 at 6:01 pm #5856
Yes she was originally Ciri, but now she is Helen Tavrel.
I thought she matched up to Howard’s description quite well.
I can’t really say when she will be available. I am not putting her in the loyalty update that will be going out later today because Jeffrey I think planned to make her part of a later more comprehensive engine update. That engine update will allow us to use better much more advanced higher-poly models. He will not let out that engine update until he knows that we have proper protections in place to protect the work. We had even discussed not making that version of the engine available as freeware, but instead part of the first iteration MAELSTROM(TM) version that will be commercially available. So I’m sorry I can’t answer your question at the moment.
February 3, 2018 at 8:17 am #5866
You answered 🙂 , she will be available with the DLC/new engine 🙂
February 3, 2018 at 9:54 am #5867
Nice story and model! Will she come with new animations too?
In my opinion the shorter female characters (Beatrice, Mary, Jacquotte) look good but the taller group (Danielle, Charlotte, Anne) run very weird with the lower arms swinging from side to side and their legs too close together. Is it possible to use another characters animation for them? How can you edit that?
Jessica and Spitfire Stevens move weirdly too. They look cool when they fight but not when running or standing still with the shoulders arched back (Sam Bellamy has a somewhat similar behaviour). They also have, like, no rib cage… I suppose in Jessicas case it might have fallen victim to the unhealthy luxuary garments of the day since she is a governors daughter.
February 3, 2018 at 5:20 pm #5869
@maltacus: the easy way is to edit RESOURCE>INI>texts>russian> HeroDescribe.txt.
Each hero has a line animation_[hero number], so if you look at Mary and Jacquotte, you’ll see they use YokoDias animations, since both are based on that specific model, while Beatrice has beatrice_ab for animations which would work for all Beatrice based models.
Animations can be found in RESOURCE>animation.
Swapping those animations in HeroDescribe.txt may result in distorted characters, since the animations don’t fit the model.
The hard way would be to edit the whole character and create a new set of animations with something like 3dsmax or Maya.
February 3, 2018 at 6:54 pm #5870
Thanks a lot Jolie Rouge, I’ll see how it looks with some other characters animations.
I have modded Medieval II where models sometimes can work with the “wrong” animation but models there are a bit more evenly built than those here. I was thinking that maybe Erin O’shiel or l’Ollonais animations could work, they are not so broadly built (and of course they will mess it up completely just because I write this…). It is good that the female characters aren’t Spanish since the latter would otherwise explode with outrage of having his animation borrowed.
Unfortunately I don’t know the modelling programs – if I did it would probably not be too much of a hassle to make most of the changes I want.
February 3, 2018 at 8:24 pm #5872
Jolie Rouge is correct, but keep in mind that changing HeroDescribe.txt will only affect new games. To change existing games, character animation attribute has to be changed through some console code to check.
Also, as Jolie mentions, this can have adverse effects in rendering as some animations completely wreck and distort the character, as only certain ones will work properly with certain models, hence there are a number of different ones and only particular ones with with particular model types.
We are still weak in that area, as to my knowledge, we don’t have anyone handy, with enough familiarity to change and/or make new animations in a modeling program for us, at the moment. I would love to have someone with that ability contribute, as we’ve had to suffer with many existing animations that are not always ideal, but rather just reuse what has already been provided.
January 31, 2018 at 9:20 pm #5854
Nice addition to the lineup, always nice to see more female pirates added to the game.
March 1, 2018 at 1:40 am #6075
One of our members who wishes to remain anonymous has told me who the author of the AWESOME and extremely well researched stories about Helen Tavrel – IS.
His name is Keith Taylor.
Here is his Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Taylor_(author)
I guess its no surprise at all that he is a great devotee and admirer of Robert E. Howard given his style and the titles of his stories and where he has had them published.
A lot of these titles look interesting and I checked Amazon and some are available there. They are put under the name of other authors and editors because they appear in anthologies of other similar stories. For example under Paul Collins. I mean to order one of these and see what its like. There is another Keith Taylor on Amazon listed as being the author of trashy romance novels and some new apocalyptic dystopian fiction novels, but I don’t know if its the same person and tend to think he is not.
Nowhere in that list on the wiki page do I see anything about Helen Tavrel. Maybe he is still working on these(?) If so perhaps there is more? One can only hope.
I will gladly take the narrative down here if I am violating any kind of copyright. I am operating on the assumption of Fair Use at this point but if this talented author contacts us and wants this stricken because he has publication plans for these stories, I will comply without any issue or protest.
At any rate I am glad we can give credit due for this fine writing and I am editing the earlier post to reflect the author now instead of “anonymous”.
April 7, 2018 at 8:01 am #6156
Nice ^^ can t wait to make a playthrough with my Favorite waifu from Witcher series ^^
(please don t mind me fangirling here) ;). Quite intriguing though you bothered to
change her name at all, since Cirilla Fiona Rhiannon has literally the legitime right
to be in every game (world) and time she “wants” to be. Since in The Witcher worlds
she isn t not only the child of the elder blood, she is also the lady of the worlds
and time. Yes the “blinking” you see in TW3 is her actual abilitly to jump though space
and time 😉
Really can t wait till the “loyal” update is avaiable for the oldtimers lurking in the
shadows (like me) hehehheh
April 8, 2018 at 3:24 pm #6163
Glad you like the model. Sounds like with your explanation she would be right at home in Rick and Morty’s adventures or tooling around with Dr. Who as well. Love Rick and Morty but the whole time travel thing just aint my cup o tea.
Robert E. Howard anyone? Anyone here heard of him?
Anyone appreciate the relevant time period and actual correct genre character selection and tethering of this great swashbuckling story and character to the model?
Anyone read the actual stories I posted above to this thread? Perhaps I should have just named her Nami or Nico and the next character we import should be Monkey Luffy. (Trying to stop the natural gag reflex I am currently experiencing)
MUST STAY TRUE…. from the poor characters you find in the prisons… “I can’t last much longer”. I have broken many of these poor dregs out of jail BTW
Sigh again… back to my burn out – I think I will pull one of my hot rods out of moth balls and drive somewhere really fast today.
April 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm #6166
Sure we all Know Conan the barbarian, the author name is perhaps fall in the deep of the Caribbean Sea cause we live in a world where youth prefer movies at books :/
In my own opinion ERAS2 go in the realism direction and fictional characters must be selected with some of good sens. I know a lot of fan of the POTC movies want characters from the movie, others want characters from others video games based on piracy but I’m not sure it will be a good idea cause of the license and your choice to made a commercial release of your work … it can ruin you if you must pay all the license to satisfy each members request here. Personally I want to play with Guybrush Threepwood the character of my preferred game when I was kid but not sure he have a place in ERAS2
Fictional characters in tribute of some good authors of piracy books or old movies in the public domain (in France it’s 70 years after the death of the author) is a good compromise solution and can save your purse from bloodsuckers.
So Helen Tavrel, in my own opinion, seems to be a good choice.
- This reply was modified 7 months, 1 week ago by DarkSlimus.
April 8, 2018 at 5:51 pm #6173
Funnily enough, I grew up shoplifting Robert E. Howard books. As you do…you know…
Ended up actually reading the one’s that I didn’t have to hand back to the Grampian police. They got all the L Spraque du Camp ghost-written stuff, plus all the Stephen King and James Herbert lesser efforts. Chuck in a few crap Sven Hassle ones as well. Never judge a book on it’s cover ? Rubbish – had absolutely no intention of reading Sven Hassel’s “P.O.W Camp” but holy guacomole! That had a fearsome and arresting cover!
My endearing memory of the Conan stories – Conan’s nape hairs would stand briskly upright in the presence of some unnameless horror. Always seemed to be a sentence in each short story involving these afforementioned nape-hairs! I have been completely unaware till now of Helen Tavrel. Really enjoyed the snippet you included, MK. Never tried the Solomon Kane stuff nor Red Sonja. The latter because I was plain put-off by the Horrible 1980s film with Bridgette Neilson. Which is unfortunate, as the original short stories from Howard I am sure will be infinitely better….
Oh, and the shoplifting stopped after getting caught. Nevermind all the men shouting, seeing my mother cry at that age changed my mind about leading a future life of grand-book larceny. That and religious guilt (“I have sinned!”) because I thought God could see me back then. This changed with the advent of puberty, punk rock, heavy metal, heavier mastrubation, girls, etc. Anyway its all good now, tend to buy books theses days or they are feely given to me by others – problem solved. And the religious part? I’m quite comfortable with Agnosticism these days – if my ever find myself in a foxhole under an artillery barrage in the near future, this may change at short notice!
Robert E Howard – top bloke. I’d buy him a pint! Him and HP Lovecraft. Any chance of putting the Cthulhu mythos into the game? Okay, maybe that’s asking too much. The Sloop of Charles Dexter Ward? How about replacing the inquisition with those damn Stygian snake priests? A Tavern wench named Belit that is more than an equal to ny prospective captain, that yearns for adventure on the seas? Into the Mountains of Scurvy? I’ll now be keeping an eye out for Helen T. fiction in the future. I myself would love to see those pioneering author’s prolific stories and creations find their way into Eras in whatever shape or form (I meant Howard and Lovecraft, DEFINATELY NOT SVEN HASSEL!).
Suddenly Schiavonna felt a tingling at his neck. The hairs on his nape stood bolt upright…
April 8, 2018 at 6:24 pm #6177
LOL, great story about a snippet of your life, really smiled over that!
As for the punk rock/heavy metal, you and I would probably get along fabulous with our similar music backgrounds; I still have a love for early punk and early metal 🙂 Heck, I still pull out my Jackson electric guitar to pump out Iron Maiden riffs quite often, much to the consternation of my wife and kids, LOL
April 8, 2018 at 6:47 pm #6178
Great anecdote of your criminal past Schiavonna. Laughed my ass off you book clepto you! LOL I actually admit to stealing library books when I was a kid. I would only do it after I had looked at it many times and realized that it had not been checked out by anyone else in years. I even waited for months sometimes just to see if someone – anyone would check it out. Years later my guilt got the best of me and I clandestinely returned them all. However, I wish now I had kept them because decades later now that my military career is over and I returned to that library of my youth I find sadly that the majority of the books are now deliberately gone anyway. I have seen this in many libraries across the US.
My youngest son (Hraaktuus here on the Reef) had a professor who encouraged the students to steal books from the University library because that place was deliberately getting rid of most of its books. I find this so sad and disturbing on so many levels. Just because they say that everything is “going digital” or “going online” doesn’t necessarily make it true. Many of the old books I have and have found that are critical to my research cannot be found online anywhere. History will never be fully preserved online.
Its also sadly funny to note that many of the books I’ve acquired from Abe Books or Amazon during the last ten years were once library books (often university library books in many cases) as evidenced by stamps still present on the pages.
Thanks for the pick me up post. Morale boosts are always awesome. Always encouraging to know we have people who appreciate and recognize the GREATS like Howard here on the Reef and it is an affirmation which justifies my continuing contributions with regards to this kind of content here. Howard died way too young. Imagine what masterpieces he would have continued to write if he had lived to be my age.
April 8, 2018 at 6:54 pm #6179
And I had you tagged as a Schecter man! Jackson make some fine guitars, as do Ibanez. Absolutely love EMG pickups, though Seymour Duncan will do just fine as well. I’m not popular with my neighbours/ friends/ partners when I plug in either. Dont let them grind you down. Buy them earplugs.
Nothing like playing a blistering guitar riff, volume and distortion all cranked up. Makes my nape hairs stand up.
April 9, 2018 at 3:44 pm #6194
Schecter is a great guitar, but not as many of them around at the time, so not really on my radar during the 90s, when I was looking to replace my cheap Hondo Paul Dean (looked exactly like this one: https://reverb.com/item/1765208-hondo-paul-dean-ii-early-80s-trans-red …but it had been stolen from me) with a “metal” guitar. As you suspect, my prospects were either Ibanez, or Jackson; the go-to metal guitars at the time. I came across a Japanese-made Jackson Dinky for a good price and right away, the feel of the neck and heavy weight just felt right…it was built for speed. Couldn’t pass it up and I’ve still got it to this day. Looks exactly like this one: https://www.gbase.com/gear/jackson-dk2-dinky-1996-black
Sweet guitar. The pups are still the “Duncan Designed” and could use an upgrade, but frankly, the two single coils are pretty nice, while the humbucker at the bridge could use some improvement to a “real” Duncan, or active EMG as you mentioned, but since I don’t play in a band, and just crank in the house, it’s been fine for me.
April 10, 2018 at 10:00 pm #6197
Wow! I’ve never seen the Hondo Dean Pauls before. That’s a cracking budget guitar there. I’ve got a neglected Les Paul copy, that was bought from a pawnshop purely becuase it had double EMGs on it. ONE of which was worth more than the whole price of the guitar-! But like I said it’s sat there neglected for years due to missing pegs and the fretboard severely needs refretted. I have another cheapie Les paul-ish shape thing. Bought from a friend for pennies and when other friends play it, always seem to return a good ‘ punches above it’s weight’ verdict.
Been thinking of forking out for a mid-range piece over the last year. Like a ‘good’ epiphone, a subsiduary PRS (maybe not – gone off those things after trying one in the shops) or a basic Gretsch. Everyone under the sun has tried to put me off going for Gretsch. It’s not regarded as a serious ‘metal’ guitar. But the non-semi acoustic (much thinner body) models are making me dribble.I love it’s clean tone and I’m more than convinved it’s upto the job regarding a heavier sound with gain.
I have been going round in choice circles for over a year now! Absolute indecision regarding what to chase after. Starts with “I’ll just get an entry point cheap les Paul Special II and get a professional makeover” – truss rods, fretboard, new pickups, etc – and see what that blossoms into.. Or maybe (going up more £)…an epiphone with nice humbuckers?? Oh, look at this…for a couple more bucks…I can get an original fender strat? Or a gibson SG? Well, why not put out a few more extra £ and get an original second hand Les Paul? On and on…till I end up cursing the budget price and revert to “just get your currently-owned six-stringers a profesional refit, you moron!”. Then the process continues…
So, probably a Les Paul man at heart, though started on a strat (a cheap Hohner) and loved them. Prefer C shaped necks to D’s. The Gretsch’s are currently enamoring me, but your pics of your Jackson have made me sit up and take note. I liked them before but dismissed them – purely because I wasn’t to taken by the shape of the headstock, which reminded me of a hockey stick (can see why a Canadian would go for that though! Hehe!). More fool me – their bodies really are lovely. Really taken by your model. I will have to try one before comitting to anything now!
And on that note: see these big chain stores? I ain’t buying jack diddley unless I’m left alone to play for at least 15 minutes by the flippin’ sales team! And I am completely uninterested in the aforemention store employees “shredding skills”! I am here to make an informed choice and ideally purchase a guitar, not marvel at their techniques! So paws off puppy-dog – give the guitar to me and leave me to work out whether I’m interested or not. And…possibly…can I try a few more out? Without your interference..?! I’m sure you’ll have experienced similar. The smaller indy shops I never seem to have this problem with – they give you the space and respect. I can sympathise with the big stores attitude with say schoolkids on a lunchbreak, but to treat individual adults (and talented kids!) that way – puts me completely off. Hiya Guitar Guitar! Ebay is brutal in the uk – if you spot an absolute bargain, there’s at least 3 people already bidding outrageously over the original price point, so becomes moot. Meh. I’d rather browse pawnshop windows for bargains.
Had to be careful how I spelt “pawn” there…!
- This reply was modified 7 months, 1 week ago by Schiavonna.
April 10, 2018 at 10:03 pm #6198
April 12, 2018 at 2:52 pm #6213
I laughed at your “problem” with the headstock shape…because that was exactly the same reason I really did not want a Jackson or an Ibanez in the first place, even though they are pretty standard metal guitars and I was probably gonna get one anyway. But, that headstock?! LOL
I also totally understand your affinity to Gibson, as I’ve always wanted a Les Paul also, but difficult for me to fork over that kind of money. I think the Epiphone version is a decent way to go.
As for your consideration of the Jackson Dinky, it does have a D neck, so might not fit your preference for a C, but for me, I am the opposite and really like the D shape…probably because it matches my acoustic, so the Dinky was a great fit for me.
I also remember when my Hondo Paul Dean was stolen, I was not really bent out of shape about it, because it was a cheap, first electric for me and I was forced to finally get a nicer one. It wasn’t until years later that I found out it was a gem from Hondo’s lineup, and now people actually spend years seeking them out (I’ve read of people spending 10 years trying to find this rarity). Talk about a forehead slapper! I had this gem all along and these many years later, I’m sorta mad about it now! LOL
Anyway, I understand your budget, because it sounds like you and I are in similar circumstance, where we want a nice guitar, but can’t justify the ridiculous money some of them require.
I think a Gretsch might be fun…heck, even the semi hollow. Yeah, people will say not metal/hard, too much trouble with distortion/high gain, but it can be done. This guy does fine with a hollow body here: https://vimeo.com/202594992
I think you just gotta make sure the pups are potted. Go with what you love! That’s 80% of the battle. Here’s a nice demo of an Ephiphone Les Paul, to get a judge of the tone you can get for metal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PhdwVPZ7nw
We used to have a wonderful music shop here in Portland, Apple Music. I bought my first 3 guitars from them. They have since abandoned their physical store, so now it’s either Guitar Center, or ebay/craig’s list. I can’t stand GC, so just buy my strings from them. My last acoustic purchase, found a guy on craigslist with beautiful photos and nice description, but in Seattle. So I drove 3 hours to meet him and the guitar was perfect, paid cash, had a beer with him, then drove 3 hours back. Great transaction, love the guy for being a straight shooter, but I do miss the old Apple Music days of the superb music shop, downtown. Those days are long gone, from the looks of things.
April 8, 2018 at 6:58 pm #6180
Still got some Robert E Howard books for sale, if you’e interested. Near-mint condition, Can’t remember what I did with the receipts though…..hang on a sec…..
If it comes down to it, I’d rather people stole books than burn them.
Now, Millenials constantly staring and tapping their smart phones. I take that as an open invitation to throw books at them! “Hey Milenial! Know what these are?!” And if they get a little bruised ( – the books that is!) you can always find a new copy on Amazon. Just remember not to throw irreplacable or out-of-print ones. And…if that Millenial has the audacity to sue or press charges as a result of some pro-active anti-millenial book-flinging – then point out he/she was about to walk in front of busy traffic…and you actually just saved his/her life, ungrateful little puke. ADDS – Antention deficit disorder sydrome? How about “Absolutely Dull-as-Dishwater Snowflake” or “Abhorrently Dissappointing Disneyfied Sheep”.
I’m ranting, aren’t I?
- This reply was modified 7 months, 1 week ago by Schiavonna.
April 9, 2018 at 8:48 am #6191
Time and Space MK ;),
but when i saw you used Ciris Model i just had the feel giving some
Witcher Lore background to her was a good idea. I also strongly assume
she ll be in CP2077. As for Howard well i heard, read that name occasionally
and honestly (for the “older guys”) who doesn t know Conan the Babarian.
As for ERAS .. Historical / Fantasy “issue” … i was thinking about that for
some time now…. i might give you guys some of my feature ideas soon ™.
If the suggestions are welcome, since the ideas come back from GoF 2.1.5.
(even tried to make some myself, but i just suck at programming XD)
April 26, 2018 at 9:18 am #6243
Ha! I love how this conversation went into a very interesting off topic direction. Very interesting reading. BTW just so everyone knows I was a child prodigy in music. I got thru college with full tuition free rides. My instrument??? Violin. I still play occasionally. Not as good as I used to be but not bad. Everyone I knew gasped in disbelief when I chose a military career after college. My Mother still agonizes over it after over 30 years. LOL She says I coulda been somebody. I just laugh it off. LOL
So been very preoccupied lately but lots of great stuff just around the corner and our new webmaster who I’ve still not introduced – Ian, is nearly finished with the new website!
So I wanted to say that with all that talk about guitars – that they aint nothin special. The ukulele is where its at man! You guys should turn in your guitars for ukuleles immediately!
Check it out! MK
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