Monday, December 16, 2013


A Psalm of Remembrance

Lady, we remember you, an exile in Babylon.

We seek the day of your liberation.

As an errant child, we have left the one who loves us dearly.

Your tears of longing for your children has washed the land.

Your sorrows at our travails brings sadness to your heart.

Goddess of hearth and home, we go to knock on your door and find it open.

Your hand is held out to us with no stipulations.
Take us back in and hold us in your heart.

We praise your name forever, Queen of Heaven.

A Psalm of Praise

Blessed Lady, you have protected me from the raging water.

Berucha at Asherah Elahotaynu.

Blessed Goddess, As a mother nurtures her child, you have fed my soul.

I sing praises to your holy Name, for no anger do you have for me.

Watch over me always as the mother bird hovers over her chicks.

Walk with me and guide me past the treacherous cliffs above the waters.

O lady, I praise your name forever.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


light fades into the dark
remembering the day
all the things that were done
the twilight deepens
was there enough
who remembers all that was done during the light?
little things
forgotten in time
disappearing into

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Crepuscolo della vita
Contemplando il passato
Perché la malattia
Perché il dolore
Oscurità adombra
Vuoto viene

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Soul's dark night

Soul's dark vision
embattled day and night
marking no division
of life's daily fight
How can one make revision
but to death take flight
making a hard decision
yet can it be right?
so continue on one's mission
trying to bask in light
selfishness not to envision
but holding on to night

Friday, January 11, 2013

Storm Over Nepal

Storm over Nepal
by William "Gwylym" Wilson

The brilliant lightning flash blinded the Captain as the crack of the thunder deafened him
and the crew. The winds tossed the airship about like a rag doll held in a running child's
hand. The Captain spun the wheel back and forth trying to make the best of a deadly
situation. Reading the winds was near impossible now that they were in the midst of the
storm. Would there be an eye to give them some respite? No telling, but he hoped
beyond hope that it would be the case.
"Stel! Give me a heading!" he called out over the roar of the storm. Despite the windows
being intact, it was hard to hear over the cacophony on the bridge.
"Make south-southwest Sir!" was all he could make out as another thunderclap rocked
the ship.
Sean looked back to the Navigator as she pored over the map, trying to determine a
course to set. She looked up - fear etched into her features - before turning back to the
map. He shook his head. This was by far the worst storm he had ever been in. He
flinched automatically as another brilliant flash lit up the dark roiling clouds and
wondered if they would survive the night.
The pilot lay in the infirmary in a coma, so Sean had to pilot the airship himself. One
elevatorman was lost overboard and three marines killed during the initial conflict.
Others were wounded. Damn the pirates for putting him into this situation. But it was
also partially his fault; he had left warnings unheeded.
Sean thought back to how this all started as he fought with the wheel...
Stel took readings before checking the maps as she watched the terrain below for a
moment. "We should be just passing Lalita Patum, Sir." she called out as they flew over
a small city. Since crossing into India they had passed over many small cities and
towns. Tall mountains loomed ahead but they would not need worry about crossing over
them as their destination lay just ahead.
The south and western portions of Nepal were jungle interspersed with agricultural
areas just like northern India. The verdant landscape called many in the crew. The
exotic had its draw and an adventurous life spoke to many.
"Start to take us down to three hundred meters." called out the Captain. They would
have to search a bit for the airship berth, not having visited this area in the past. He had
taken on a mission, a type that he had before; Transfer of documents. This mission
came as a bit of a surprise as he normally worked for the British Government.
Many weeks before he had finished an assignment for the Crown. Most of the crew
were on leave while his airship was in dock for repairs. Even with the work that had to
be done, the crew still had a sizeable amount for pay. The Captain paid his men well,
knowing that well paid crew made for a hard working crew.
As he sat eating his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a man in a turban, wearing a tan
coloured suit, approached his table and simply sat down. Sean raised an eyebrow and
frowned at the man, but before he was able to say anything the man said, "Captain
Armstrong, your reputation has preceded you and I would like to hire you for a, let us
say, Delicate mission." his speech was impeccable, a British accent and yet there was a
tinge of the orient. Indian?
Sean looked at the man quizzically and said, "Go on."
This was not the way he was normally approached. Typically it would be a letter by post;
A request for a meeting with contact information. The letters would come in when he
was in dock, so his interest was piqued at this new approach and he would at least
listen to the proposal as he could always say no.
"Are you familiar with the Kot Massacre that took place about fifty years ago?"
"No, don't believe so." replied Sean.
"It was a time of upheaval. King Rajendra of Nepal was deposed and his son Surendra
Bikram Shah was put on the throne, starting the Shah dynasty."
"So what does old history have to do with me working for you?"
The man took a look about and then leaned in and whispered, "There is an element
within Nepal that wishes to see a change."
"I represent a leader of a group in Nepal that is intent on restoring the old borders which
includes lands that his family owned previously. The Khanal family was instrumental in
establishing trade starting in the 18th century and lost a sizeable fortune to the East
India Company. We have information and other items that need to be delivered to
Katmandu in Nepal."
"Alright, if I take on the work, what is in it for me?"
"My benefactor is prepared to pay you ten thousand pounds sterling and in addition to
that, upgrade your airship with newer engines and armament."
Sean scratched his chin and thought for a moment. Ten thousand pounds was a lot of
money. He could even invest a bit of it in goods in the orient to bring back and sell which
could turn even more profit for the ship.
"We understand your crew uses Webley pistols and Martini-Henry rifles. We will be glad
to supply you with ten of the new Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistols and thirty of the
new Lee-Enfield magazine fed rifles. Two fifty-five millimetre rifled cannon with six
mounts are available. The mounts offer speedy repositioning as they have quick release
hardware. This should help in the event of difficulties."
Sean nodded and wondered how the hell the man knew what kinds of arms they carried
but quickly left that thought as the prospect of increasing their firepower sunk in.
"... and so my agents will install the mounts in two days and the remainder of the
supplies and arms will be delivered the morning of your departure. Is this amenable?"
"Yes, I believe so." answered the Captain, hoping that he had not missed anything
With a simple nod of his head the man disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.
Sean scratched his head and wondered what he had gotten himself into. India was part
of the Empire and the East India Company was very powerful with agents and offices all
over the globe. At a minimum it would be an interesting enterprise. He almost scowled
visibly when he considered the implications of being on the bad side of the East India
Company. Weighing the pros and the cons he decided that the risk would be worth it. If
things went bad enough he could always look for employ in the American west moving
the same types of information and goods. South America would be an option as well.
Sean finished his dinner and foregoing an after dinner sherry, he left the Victoria Hotel
and took a coach back to the aerodrome. A skeleton crew was all that was left on board.
One of the marines patrolled the deck while the other crew members continued to work
on the vessel. Repairs were being affected on part of the rigging and also on the hull
which had been damaged in an altercation. Twin balloons rose above the hull which
resembled a sailing ship. The notable differences between the SkyLark and a normal
sailing ship were the balloons, and the propellor drives mounted on the hull.
Sean retired to his stateroom and sat at his desk going over the books. His prior mission
covered the current expenses and payroll, except for himself. He smiled slightly as he
thought of the profit from the next mission. He did have reserves in the Bank of
England, to the sum of approximately fifty thousand pounds, which would allow him to
live comfortably for many years. But he did not want just comfortable, he wanted to be
able to travel and live the high life. It was potentially in his sight if he could continue to
land these high paying jobs.
Locking the books back in his cabinet, he started to pour over a copy of the manifest
that had been left for him by his Purser. Currently the hold was almost empty. Perhaps a
load of finished goods could be procured for a good price through one of their contacts.
Additionally, if some sort of conflict was coming, arms trade would prove lucrative as
well. The ship could easily carry a ton of goods. Sean began writing down some items
and numbers as he talked to himself...
"Let's see. Maybe ten, fifty pound, barrels of powder, mixed cannon and rifle grade.
Perhaps a couple of crates of Martini-Henry Henry rifles as well. Ammo. Better take that
Too. Andrew can take care of the normal trade goods. Finished clothing and maybe
some bolts of cloth would be good for our destination."
Sean decided it would be best for him to take care of arranging for the arms and
ammunition. "Two days." He thought. If they got on it first thing in the morning they may
be able to leave shortly after the mounts were installed and all cargo and transfer goods
were on board.
The next morning Sean met with the Purser and authorised the purchase of trade
goods. They would be loaded down for the trip to Nepal but the load would be worth it.
The opportunity to make new trade contacts could benefit the ship later.
After the meeting Sean found the master of the watch, "Order the crew back on board.
We have a new assignment and will be leaving in just a few days. An extra tenner for
each crewman that makes it back by this evening."
"Yes Sir. Will get right to it."
As he disembarked he could hear the master calling for the cabin boy. The kid was a
good runner and should be able to round everyone up quick.
Some of Sean's contacts lived or had their "businesses" near Frying Pan Alley down in
the East End. He was very familiar with the area which was primarily frequented by less
savoury individuals. At least that was the nicest way to put it. He caught a Hansom
down as close as the driver would take him and then continued on foot. Sean fit in with
the people walking the street; he wore canvas work pants, short boots, off-white shirt,
vest, and cap. A small bag was slung over one shoulder where he had a Webley
stowed. He also carried a derringer in his vest pocket opposite his pocket watch. One
other item that he also carried, especially when going into the East End, was a stout
shillelagh. There were more than few times that he had to crack a head with it to get out
of a tough situation.
The streets throughout London were dirty, but they appeared clean in comparison to the
East End. Muck filled the gutters and at times the sewers overflowed and ran down the
streets. The buildings were dingy and ill-kept, paint peeling from the wood that actually
had been painted, and bricks covered with years of grime from the coal fired furnaces.
The inhabitants weren't any better. Buxom floozies strutted about on the street corners
trying to sell their "wares", apparently not seeing a spot of water on their skin in
decades, waifs playing kick the can in the middle of the street wearing the same
clothing they had put on months or possibly years before, men wearing their work
clothes day and night, while the occasional individual could be seen that wore a slightly
finer cut.
As Sean passed one bushel bubbie she called out "Come on gov'ner, how about givin
this girl a green gown?" Smiling and shaking his head at her he continued on down the
street to his destination as she looked to the next John that she might be able to make a
few shillings off of.
Walking up to what looked like an old factory front, Sean knocked on the small door to
the right of the main doors that allowed egress by wagons. The door opened and a
swarthy man looked him over and then let him enter. After peering about outside quickly
the man closed and bolted the door and led Sean to the office.
"Sean lad, how be ya?"
"Doing well Jimmie. And how is the missus?"
"Always askin fer ma last quid Sean."
The Captain laughed at that and got directly down to business, "I'm in need of some
cargo Jimmie. I'm delivering some goods and where I am going could use some
firearms and powder. Cannon and musket grade powder. What might you have?"
Jimmie smiled, "Well you're in luck. Ah have sumpin ya might be intersted in. I came
across one of them new gov'ment machine guns with a crate of 100 belts for it. Ah think
they call it a Maxim. Nevah bin fired."
"What else you have? Or can you get?"
Jimmie scratched his chin, "Ah have a friend who has a wagon load of Martini-Henry
rifles he needs to get rid of quick. Could get a good deal on them given the right finder
fee, if ya get me drift?"
Sean laughed, "Aye Jimmie."
The two continued to discuss business as Jimmie's assistant poured some Irish Whisky
for them. At the conclusion of their business the two shot back their drinks and shook
"Ya wanna pick up the goods or get them delivered?"
"Delivered will be best Jimmie. I'll have the payment for you on delivery."
The doorman showed Sean out and he proceeded back to a less wretched part of town
by a different route. It was always best to take different routes in and out when going
through the East End. Striding down the street, he slipped between the people moving
about the area and avoided the wagons and steam vehicles that were on their way.
As he sidestepped into an alley to make it over to the next street, something caught his
eye. He had made eye contact with someone who turned a little to quickly away. The
man looked like a local bludger, clothing one step higher on the scale than the locals
who lived and worked in the area. He wasn't about to be done down by a ne'er do well
and was glad that he carried his barker along with his derringer. There was no hope of
seeing an Escop in this part of town so he was on his own.
Sean quickened his pace, being ever vigilant to watch for spots where he might be
ambushed. Turning another corner he stole a glance back and saw three mug-hunters
now on his track. Cutting down another alley he broke into a run to increase the
distance between himself and his pursuers. Turning onto another street he saw them
just turn into the alley and break into a run themselves. He was able to dash quickly into
another alley that cut back in the direction he had just come from. Half way down he
stopped. It was blocked.
"Devil's Nebuchadnezzar" he muttered as he took out his Webley and stowed it in his
belt at his back.
A few moments later the three ran around the corner and spying him slowed down and
walked toward him.
"Afternoon boys. What may I do for you?"
"Well Gov, you ken give us thet satchel and your wallet."
Sean shook his head, "Don't think so boys. I'm no mark for the easy pickings."
Holding up his shillelagh in his left hand, he made it appear he was ready to defend
"Now Gov, doan make it hard on us." At that the three pulled out knives and walked
forward slowly. About twenty paces away the three broke into a run. Taking two steps
back Sean pulled out his revolver and fired twice as the third man came within striking
distance. Sean sidestepped and bashed the man's hand that held the knife and pulled
the trigger a third time opening a hole in the side of the man's chest. Walking slowly
back to the lead man, he reloaded his Webley, and kicked the man's knife away before
squatting down next to him.
The man lay in the alley's refuse, pain etched into his features. He had been hit dead
centre. The man held his belly and moaned as Sean asked, "Someone send you or
were you working on your own?"
"You kilt me Gov..." Was all he could get out before his eyes glazed over.
Standing quickly, he looked over the scene. One dead, the other two dead or dying. The
one he shot first lay at a weird angle in the street not moving. Dead for sure. He stowed
his iron back in his satchel and walked quickly back to the street. True to form, no one
paid immediate attention to an altercation. The bodies would be looted soon after he
Was this a chance encounter or due to the meeting he had? With the three dead there
was no way to know for sure. He would have to be vigilant - how many new enemies
would he accrue working for the Nepalese? Time would tell.
Travel back to the aerodrome went without additional incident and the ship was awhirl
with activity in preparation for their departure. Sean found the Purser first, "Keep watch
for Jimmie, he has a special shipment for us. Arms and powder." Andrew smiled and
nodded knowing that you didn't ask Jimmie where his wares came from, "Yes Sir. I've
been able to line up some prospects for other cargo at good prices. We should be able
to easily turn a profit."
"Good. And Andrew, good work lad. There'll be a bonus for you if we do well."
Andrew tipped his head and went back to work. He was intent on making that bonus.
Sean checked on the rest of the preparations. Repairs were going well and all of the
crew had reported for duty. A few looked a little worse for wear from a hard first night out
drinking but they got to work with the rest. Some of the rigging for the twin balloons had
to be replaced. A long trip most likely would stress the current to the breaking point.
Especially if they encountered storms. The hull also had to be repaired in places as they
had taken some small arms fire the job before last while in Morocco.
That evening the master of the watch knocked on Sean's stateroom door.
"Come in."
"Excuse me Sir. Just wanted to make you aware of something."
"What is it George?"
"Looks like we're being watched."
"How many?"
"One at a time as far as I can tell. But through the day there have been at least three.
One is still out there. They are paying close attention to the shipments coming in. Saw
one of them talking to a driver after they dropped off goods."
"Keep a watch on them. Might also want to have one of the marines dress down and
see if they can follow them."
"Yes Sir."
The next day saw an increase in the number of wagons coming to the ship; supplies,
repair materials, trade goods and two wagons from Jimmie. Andrew made sure the
powder was stowed central to the ship with plenty of crates stacked around it to help
protect it in case of a fight. The firearms and ammunition were put in an accessible
location just in case.
Near tea time one of the marines approached Sean, "Pardon Capin, George asked me
to report to you direct Sir."
"Ah follow'd two o' them spies Sir. They walked a ways and then were picked up by a
coach. Same driver each time. No markings Sir and Ah had no way to follow them. The
area they were picked up didna hah a Hansom handy."
"Alright, thank you. Continue to keep a lookout and make sure you carry a barker with
you while on duty."
"Yes Sir."
Sean sat and thought, "Who the hell could they be? East India Company? Another
party?" He shook his head and wondered yet again what he was getting himself into.
As he sat there, he continued to pour over maps so he could do an initial plan of their
journey. Stella would make the final route... Paris, Geneva, Athens, Jerusalem or
Constantinople, Bombay, and then their final destination - Katmandu. At each major
stop they would take on water and fresh food. At the eastern stops past Greece, they
might be able to do some trade. Perhaps pick up spices in trade for some of their cloth
and other finished goods. The firearms and powder would be reserved for Katmandu.
After finishing his paperwork Sean went to check on the other preparations with the
Purser and the Chief Engineer.
"Andrew, how goes the cargo?"
"Almost all on board now Sir. We should be ready for departure on this end by noon
"Good, let me know when we're set. Hopefully the repairs and upgrades will be
complete by the end of tomorrow."
Sean left the Purser's stateroom to go and find the chief. Jock had been with him the
longest of all the crew. In fact, he came with the ship when Sean acquired it. Jock had a
shock of red hair and spoke in an almost unintelligible Scottish brogue. He was a
mechanic and engineer of the highest calibre. It seemed like there was nothing that he
couldn't fix.
"Jock, how go the repairs?"
"Ach laddie, we ur almost dain. Nae later than end ay tha' moorns nicht. Depends when
th' plonkers brin' th' goods."
"Thanks Jock. Let me know of any changes."
"Och, aye Keptin."
Sean stood at the rail and looked towards the warehouses. He wondered who it was
that could be interested in them and was the attack at the East End related. As he stood
there George came up to him.
"Sir, Clarence, the marine we had following the spies has not checked back in. This isn't
like him. I fear the worst."
Sean shook his head, "Send Bobbie out. Perhaps he can drum up some information."
George nodded, "Yes Sir." And went off to find the cabin boy.
"Not good." Sean said to himself as he went back to his stateroom. He would need to
get up with the dawn so he decided on an early night. He could wait till the morning for
the report, if there was one.
The early morning sun woke Sean out of a dead sleep. He could already hear work
being performed on board. Dressing quickly he put on his sidearm and went to the
galley. The cook had eggs and a few rashers of bacon cooked up. He toasted some
bread for the Captain too as he sat with a cup of coffee and a plateful of eggs and
By the time Sean had finished with breakfast, the Nepalese engineers were working on
the engines. He found Andrew on deck talking to the same man who had approached
him while at dinner. As he walked up the man turned and gave a quick bow and
extended his hand.
"Captain Armstrong."
"Good day Mr......"
"Aditya. Himal Aditya."
"A pleasure. I believe once the upgrades are completed and your deliveries are
complete, we will be ready to depart. Correct Andrew?"
"Correct Sir."
Mr. Aditya nodded and asked "Is there somewhere we may talk in private?"
Sean nodded "Follow me."
The bridge of the airship was at the front of the ship with a secondary on the
superstructure at the aft of the ship. The forward bridge was enclosed with thick
windows that could be opened if desired. This allowed the Captain, Pilot, and Navigator
to guide the airship in relative comfort. Sean closed the door after Aditya entered the
bridge. The airship itself resembled an actual sailing ship with sleek lines. Twin balloons
rose above the superstructure with a tall mast rising up between the two. The rigging
was constructed of the finest materials and the hull of sturdy wood. The balloons and
the hull above what would be the waterline if it floated were painted or made from bright
materials. The airship not only was a functional piece but also a work of art and the
Captain demanded the ship be kept spotless and in good repair.
The main bridge was also spotless. The pilot's wheel was at the front of the bridge with
easy view forward, starboard and port. The Captain's chair stood behind this with the
navigator's table at the rear. A single door at the back allowed entry to the room
although if necessary one could stand on the captain's chair to open a hatch in the
ceiling to the deck above.
Aditya opened the conversation as he handed an envelope to Sean, "This is the down
payment for your service. It also includes a letter of introduction and a letter of payment
for the balance. The letter may be presented to your contact, a Mr. Malakar. He is a
government official that may assist you and is one of our supporters. The last thing that
we will deliver today is a set of chests and a courier's pouch. These are the materials
that must be delivered. Mr. Malakar will arrange for the disposition of the goods."
"Very Good. Are we on a timeframe for delivery?"
"As soon as feasibly possible without taking unnecessary chances."
"That we may do. Rest assured."
At that moment a knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
"Enter!" Called out the Captain.
Andrew entered the bridge with a case and laid it on the navigator's table.
"Ah wonderful!" Exclaimed Aditya. "Please open it for us"
Andrew opened the case and took in a breath when he saw what was inside. Sean
looked and saw two items, a custom Enfield magazine fed rifle and a custom Mauser
pistol. The stocks were made from fine woods. Instead of a standard military stock on
the Enfield, it had a sport stock and looked like it could be used for fancy hunting trips to
Africa. Its barrel and action were blued - workmanship exquisite. The Mauser was
polished brightly and had a matching holster that held two spare feeding clips with
ammunition. Sean smiled when he saw the pieces.
"Please, heft them." Said Aditya and so Sean picked up the Enfield first - It truly was
beautiful. The rifle included two magazines that were already loaded. The action was
smooth and also engraved with scenes from India. He next checked out the Mauser
pistol and it felt beautiful in hand as well. Aditya showed him how to load and fire the
pieces before readying to leave.
"Fair winds Captain. And a speedy return. If this venture turns out well, I may have
future employ for you."
Sean inclined his head "Thank you Sir. It is a pleasure."
After the Nepali was shown out by Andrew, Sean continued to gawk at his new toys. He
finally put the Enfield back in its case and opted to wear his new pistol, so he divested
himself of his Webley, putting it in a side cabinet on the bridge, and put on the holster.
He wore his Captain's uniform now - tall boots, jodhpur pants, a white linen shirt, vest,
leather jacket and aviator's cap. He also wore a wide belt slung low on his hips which
now sported his new holstered Mauser.
Later that day as he was overseeing final preparations, Bobbie came up to him and
stood off to the side.
"Yes, Bobbie?"
"Ah has some bad news Sir."
"Clarence Sir, he be dead Sir."
"Unfortunate news. Unfortunate. Go get George for me lad."
Bobbie ran off and Sean shook his head. He had never been in a situation quite like
this. Spies, killings, plots... Where would it lead to? They were in it now, no matter what.
"Excuse me Sir."
Sean turned as he was brought out of his thoughts "Ah George. I need you to arrange
for one more marine before a night departure. Think you can do that?"
"Will do my best Sir. Clarence was a good man Sir."
"He had family?"
"Yes Sir. But not married. No children. His mother still lives down near the East End."
"Have Andrew disburse 20 quid and arrange for it to be delivered. Use one of the
aerodrome couriers."
"Yes Sir."
Sean followed George back up onto the main deck. The mounts for the new cannon
were now installed and the piece tested in each mount. As promised it could be quickly
moved from mount to mount. The marine's locker had the new arms in place of the
Webleys and Martini-Henry's. The older arms were stowed in the crew weapons locker.
Like sailing vessels, only the marines were allowed easy access to the weapons lockers
and they carried pistols most of the time. Not that Sean worried about his crew being
At dusk a meeting was held in the officer's mess. Cookie prepared a roast with all the
trimmings since they were in port. As Sean dug into the beef, tatties and neeps, Andrew
went over the cargo manifest.
"... I was able to acquire some fine tea sets as well. Irish. I picked up some Belleek
china. Nice looking goods. We can peddle them to one of the purveyors of fine English
goods as well in Katmandu. My sources tell me the pieces are favoured in America and
Canada so I expect they will go well in Katmandu."
"Thank you Andrew."
Sean looked next, to Jock, "We air worthy?"
"Ach aye, Keptin. Alls set."
Sean nodded to him and thought for a moment. It would be best to get a jump on things
and catch fair winds if they could.
"Gentlemen, make sure everyone is on board by the eleventh hour. We'll make a night
departure just after midnight. Lights out at half past eleven. George, I want your men on
duty by midnight in case of any problems. Issue the new rifles just in case."
George answered with a nod of his head and then all went about their respective duties.
Jock made sure that the departure preparations were handled as secretively as
possible. Stella used one of her contacts to file a lift off time that would not be put on
official record until the next day. Two if it could be arranged.
Sean stood on the deck and looked about. The ship was well outfitted. He hoped that
the new engines would be the upgrade they were promised. In case of troubles they
would need every bit of speed they could muster. Jock had done a phenomenal job as
usual preparing the ship for the next journey. He smiled and thought back to when he
had first laid eyes on her. Fresh out of the military, he had just received an inheritance
from his father's business. He had been raised in trade and commerce and with his
father gone, he would need to settle down to something. Military service helped him
grow up and now he had to build upon that base.
Derelict ships were often sold for parts. He had gone down to the junk yard and saw a
man sitting on a barrel just staring at the ship. He stood next to the man and looked at
her. He could see potential. She had been a beautiful craft. What was left of the paint
flaked from the hull. The balloons hung like discarded rags over the rails. The only thing
rising above the deck was a tall mast in the centre of the ship which appeared to run up
between the balloons - the crow's nest near gone.
Sean finally took a good look at the man. He was old. A shock of red hair still graced his
head although the term graced was probably a misnomer. Hard lines criss-crossed his
grizzled face. He wore workman's clothing which were worse for wear and Sean thought
for a moment that a tear had formed in the old man's eye.
"She must have been beautiful in her time"
"Ach aye, that she was Laddie."
"What happened?"
"Owner scrapped her..."
The old man choked a bit and then cleared his throat, but sat silent as he wiped his eye.
"Could she be made airworthy again?"
The man didn't hesitate a second, "Aye Laddie, ah could mak miracles with the Lass."
Sean asked "You working now?" to which the man just shook his head.
"Want a job fixing her up?"
The man swivelled his head to look directly at Sean - one eye squinting to size him up.
"Now dontcha be foolin an auld man Lad."
Sean gave the man a wry grin "Not toying with you old man. You want a job fixing this
baby up, you have it."
The man nodded once, "When dae we start?"
The man smiled and stood, "Jock's mah nam."
"I'll get a contract drawn up."
Jock made a disparaging noise and said "Contract? Ainly good for wipin one's arse. Just
yur hand Laddie."
The two shook hands a a partnership and friendship was born. It took months to get her
ready but when Sean inspected her before her first flight she was a work of art. Jock
was not only an engineer but an artisan.
Once again she was ready to fly.
The ship rose silently from dock. Sean stood on the bridge, windows open, and watched
as she took to the sky; They would wait till they were well away from the aerodrome
before firing up the engines. Over the next hour the Captain allowed them to drift on the
wind. Fortuitously there was a breeze blowing east and they were soon out of sight and
sound of the aerodrome.
Sean blew into the communication tube and put his ear to it.
"Aye Sir?" Was all he heard from Jock in the engine room.
"Fire up the engines and prepare for flank speed."
"Aye, aye, Keptin."
Within a quarter hour the ship was moving under power and they made for the Dover
cliffs and on toward France. Finally fully underway, Sean hoped they had avoided
detection as they departed. With no moonlight when they lifted the chance of a hot trod
was slim.
"Stella set a course for Calais."
"Aye Captain."
Walking up on deck, Sean let the wind whip through his hair. His leather aviators coat
broke the chill as he surveyed the stars and and felt the ship's life. The tesla coil lights
were now alight on deck and he thought that from afar the ship must look like a pack of
fairies fleeing east.
The crew was busy at work with their duties - marines patrolling the deck, engineers
maintaining the engines, elevatormen keeping the ship on an even keel. Sean was
interrupted from his thoughts by a voice.
"Pardon Sir."
It was Bobbie. He held out a mug. The lad had brought him coffee.
"Thank you."
The boy was a good addition to the crew. An orphan, Sean had caught him stealing an
apple from their fresh produce while cookie was dickering with the green grocer. Taking
the boy by the ear he hauled him up on deck and put him under guard by one of the
marines. He watched him as he took care of business, the boy sitting there dejected.
His clothing was filthy and too small for him. Face one big smudge and hands dirt
"Where do you live boy?"
He didn't look up as he answered, "No where."
The boy just nodded.
"Lawrence, take him to get something to eat then bring him back to me."
About a half hour later the marine brought the boy back, "Here he is Sir. Not sure there
is anything left in the larder."
Sean chuckled as he spoke to the boy, "Lad, you do me right and I'll do you right too.
We're your family now. Lawrence will take you to the Purser to get you outfitted with
some better clothing. Oh and you'll take a bath. Make that two."
The boy looked back and forth between the two not knowing what to think. Sean could
use someone who knew the streets and who wouldn't be watched.
"Off you go now lad. And hurry. No mucking about."
The boy followed Lawrence to the crew quarters as Sean went back to business.
His thoughts circled back to the job at hand. It would be prudent to make haste to
Katmandu. The less time that they spent in port the less chance of trouble. Things
would be dicey enough as they stood. Someone had been watching them and would
probably be in pursuit no later than dawn, if not already.
As the days progressed the threat of pursuit slipped further and further away. Fair
weather and consistent easterlies allowed them to stay on their timetable and to cover
the many miles at a goodly pace. They made their planned stops along their way to take
on fresh provisions and even did a little bit of trade. It never hurt to find new contacts in
that department.
"North by northwest Sir." Replied Stella.
Sean nodded to the Pilot who made the course correction. The airship continued along
at three hundred meters above the valley floor. The navigational charts of India and
Nepal had been vey accurate. They included notes on areas to avoid. He surveyed the
air and land ahead. The Jungle had a draw to it. Exotic. Lush. Untamed. He had never
served in Nepal while being stationed in southern India for a short stint. The majority of
his service was spent in the Middle East and Africa. He had heard that South Africa was
becoming a hotbed of activity, so contacts for trade to the east was a good idea. Well it
would have been except for being embroiled in the start of another potential conflict.
Sean sat in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment. The gentle rocking of the ship
on the breeze was like a child's cradle at times, moving gently to lull one to sleep. A hot
breeze coming in through the open windows on the bridge didn't help. They had
covered many miles and had been ever vigilant for problems. They would have to
redouble their vigilance now that they were approaching their goal. He looked over his
shoulder to where Bobbie was normally curled up with a book. True to form, there he
"Lad, fetch me a mug of coffee."
Bobbie jumped up with a "Yes Sir."
Coffee? Not the preferred hot drink of the British but he had grown accustomed to it on
a short tour in Arabia. Its acrid and bitter taste fit his palate as did the fiery foods he had
experienced there as well as in India. Moments later Bobbie showed up with his mug.
He slowly sipped the hot brew as the ship flew on towards their goal.
They took a pass over the city as they looked for the aerodrome which was located west
of the city proper in what appeared to be a warehouse district. The architecture of the
buildings that they passed over was exotic. They saw residential areas, temples,
businesses and at the city centre the government buildings.
The airship descended like a feather on a calm day. The crew quickly tethered the
vessel and the Captain and Purser disembarked to check in at the main office. Sean
was not sure how long they would stay in dock. More than likely just long enough to
make the delivery of the documents and to sell as much of the cargo as they were able.
"See about the cargo. Also, check if we can take on some tea and spices. Those should
sell well back home."
"Yes Sir." replied the Purser as they parted ways to take care of their respective tasks.
He entered the main office and walked up to the desk. No one was there but there was
a bell on the counter. After ringing it a man came out of an office.
"May I help you Sir?"
"Yes, I have just put into dock and will need to pay my berthing fees and obtain some
information. The name of the ship is the Skylark."
"How long will you be staying Sir?"
Sean thought for a moment, "hopefully no longer than a week if business goes well."
"That will be five Pounds then Sir."
He thought five Pounds an outrageous fee to pay but had no choice.
Passing over the fee, he asked, "How much for a carriage to the city centre?"
"You should be able to catch one just outside the gates for a shilling Sir."
"Thank you." He responded and walked out the door.
It turned out to be easy to hire a carriage. A number were parked just outside the gates
as he was told. The drivers vied for the job and Sean was able to secure transport for
ten pence.
The driver made his way quickly to the destination and dropped Sean off in front of the
primary government building. He tipped the driver a couple of extra pence and went in
search of the office of this Mr. Malakar. Unfortunately it was just after noon and offices
were closed till two. He thought "drat the luck" and decided to go find an inn where he
might be able to get a bite to eat.
It didn't take him long to find a place - The Golden Tiger - where he picked a table within
view of the door. Sean didn't like to sit where he could not watch for trouble and
especially where he would have to sit with his back to a crowd.
"May I help you Sahib?"
He thought for just a second and decided on something different "Tea, black. And what
would you suggest to eat?"
"Ah Sahib, we have a chef from Tibet. I would suggest the thukpa. It is a soup with
noodles, vegetables and goat. Very good. I think Sahib would like it."
"I believe I will try that."
The server hurried off while Sean went through some of the papers he had been given.
The letter of introduction was in a small sealed envelope. He put that in the inside
pocket of his coat. The other papers he stowed back in his courier's pouch. The inside
of the inn was bright with paintings of elephants, jungle scenes, and market scenes
gracing the walls and Hindu statuary placed throughout the establishment. Although
some smoked in the main room, the air remained relatively clear as the ceiling fans
moved the air about.
It did not take long for the server to bring his food. The soup was very good, the goat
tender, not tough and strong tasting, having been marinated in aromatic spices. The
noodles were thick and filling while the vegetables were still crisp, not mushy like was
often the case in England.
Looking about, Sean noticed that the clientele were mostly well dressed. This must be a
local spot to eat for the government officials, or perhaps local businessmen he thought.
Absent were the working class in their grime covered work clothes. There were very few
"Gore" or whites as the Indians called the English. As a Gora, Sean knew that he would
be easy to spot and follow here.
He took his time finishing his meal and then sat for a bit drinking his tea. After paying his
bill he went back to the offices to look for his contact. This was all new to him. Typically
he was making delivery of goods and the buyer would contact him. After more than an
hour of searching he finally found the office. As luck would have it, the man was out so
he made an appointment for 10:00 the next morning.
Catching a carriage back to the aerodrome, he wondered if Andrew had been able to
make any progress with sales. He didn't like the thought of losing money on the cargo
but that was always a concern when trying to make inroads in a new area.
The return trip was uneventful and as he walked up to the Skylark he noticed Andrew
talking to a man on deck. Hopefully a client. As he came onboard Andrew noticed him,
"Ah here is the Captain now."
Sean extended his hand to the man and as they shook the man said, "A pleasure Sir."
"Sir, this is Mr. McCulley, a business owner here in Katmandu." added Andrew.
"Pleased to meet you."
"Mr. McCulley is interested in some of our porcelain ware."
"Ah, very good. I will leave the two of you to your business."
Sean nodded to the man as he and Andrew went back to talking, before going down to
his cabin. Planning for the next day, he remembered that he would not only need to
arrange for delivery or pick up of the goods but he would need to talk to him about the
arms that they were carrying. Perhaps the man had contacts who would like to
purchase the whole lot.
Rising early, he had a quick breakfast and then caught a carriage back down to the
government sector. Sean preferred punctuality and had decided that being early would
be prudent. He was shown into the office right at the strike of 10:00. A well dressed man
rose from his desk and extended his hand.
"A pleasure Captain Armstrong, we have been waiting for your arrival. Please have a
Sean sat in the chair that he indicated and made himself comfortable.
"I assume you have the shipment for us?" Added the man.
"Yes. And some other items that you may be interested in."
An eyebrow rose as he asked, "Other items?"
Sean smiled, "I have in our hold, a number of Martini-Henri rifles, cartridge, powder, and
a new Maxim machine gun with a full crate of ammunition."
The man's eyes lit up, "Ah, I see. We have a need for items such as that."
Sean and Mr. Malakar worked out the details of the transfer of the goods. He was
looking at a respectable profit for the arms. Andrew arranged for the sale of the goods
he had brought and turned part of the income around, purchasing spices and teas. They
would be travelling back with a full hold.
The day before their scheduled departure a courier arrived at the ship and was taken to
the Captain.
"Sahib, I have a message for you from a benefactor."
The courier handed an envelope to Sean.
The note was brief; Before your departure please return to my office. I have a message
to be delivered in London and wish to send a courier's pouch back with you.
The next few days were a hubbub of activity for the crew and for Sean. He picked up
the delivery from Mr Malakar, Andrew arranged for the teas and spices, Jock effected a
few light repairs and the crew even had one night of down time. Things were amazingly
quiet considering the troubles in London.
Sean and Stella poured over the maps. Sean had one extra delivery for Malakar, a crate
of rifles with ammunition and two chests to be picked up at the aerodrome at Calcutta.
Sean had been told that the Bengal province had been taken over by the Crown from
the East India Company in 1857 after the Indian Mutiny. Sean surmised that the Nepali
contingent were looking for support from potential allies in other parts of India.
Their immediate plans included the delivery in Calcutta followed by a trip to Ceylon.
Andrew had arranged a contact there for the famous Ceylon white tea. Stella argued
with the Captain over the route they should take.
"But Sir, we have been warned about pirates in that area. We shouldn't follow the east
coast. The Bengali Pirates ply not only the seas but the air."
"We'll travel under cover of night. It will be fine."
Stella shook her head as she finalised the route. She had a bad foreboding about the
next leg of the trip but once the Captain's mind was made up there was no changing it.
Pirates had been prevalent in the Bay of Bengal since the "pirate dressed up as a
priest" Francis Xavier had arrived from Portugal in 1542. The two to three days of flight
would give ample time for them to be spotted and pursued.
The flight to Calcutta went off without a hitch. Fair winds made for a quick trip and again
all went well with the delivery. Sean hoped that their luck would hold out as they began
the next leg of their journey. He ordered maximum speed, intending on shaving as much
as a day off their trip if the winds cooperated.
A red dawn concerned the crew. Sean scowled and looked at the black clouds on the
horizon. They would be hitting inclement weather before Ceylon. As the day progressed
the clouds built up as the wind began to buffet the ship.
Sean decided to get a little bit of fresh air and all of a sudden the rail, no more than a
meter away from him, exploded into shards. The man in the crow's nest began yelling
"Pirates! Pirates coming in from the west!"
"Damn." Thought Sean. The pirates had come out of nowhere and now they had to run.
He quickly made for the bridge. The pilot had already begun to take evasive
manoeuvres as the ship reached maximum speed. They could hear the report of
cannon fire as the marines set up their new cannon. Sean stood on deck and used his
spyglass to try and determine who exactly was in pursuit. The lead craft was sleek.
There were no markings but then he caught a glimpse of someone on the bridge; they
were wearing what appeared to be a British uniform. He quickly rushed to the cannon
emplacement and ordered the marines to fire on the lead ship. Puffs of smoke could be
seen from the half dozen ships that were moving to cut them off. The ship shuddered
twice as she was hit. Returning fire, the marines finally scored a direct hit on the bridge
of the lead airship.
Sean smiled as the shell exploded on their bridge. The new equipment might turn the
tide. But they were still drastically outgunned. Running to his own bridge, he was
knocked from his feet as a cannon ball impacted the ship, sending shards of wood
flying. Picking himself up, he could taste blood in his mouth as he ran the rest of the
way to the bridge. Only Stella, the pilot, and Bobbie were on the bridge, Bobbie acting
as lookout and helping to spot ships.
"Set course directly into the cloud banks." Called out Sean.
"But Sir!" Yelled Stella, however she was cut off before she could say anything more.
"It's our best chance. We can't stand up to their numbers."
The pilot turned the ship to the east but as they were turning the ship lurched. Sean
helped the pilot fight to maintain control of the ship and then the unthinkable happened,
a projectile pierced the back wall of the bridge and the pilot went down.
"Bobbie! Go get someone to take him below decks!"
Bobbie ran off and soon returned with help. The two carried the pilot off as Sean
continued to fight for control of the ship. It was hard to believe that the weather could
worsen but it did. The ship was hit three or four more times before the pursuers broke
off as the Skylark was engulfed by the clouds.
Keeping an eye on the altimeter, Sean noticed that they were slowly losing altitude. He
blew into the communication tube and heard "Aye." From the other end.
"Jock, we're losing altitude."
"The forward balloon was hit Keptin."
"Can it be repaired?"
"Dinna ken. Ah hav' a man on it."
"Stel! Give me a heading!" he called out over the roar of the storm. Despite the windows
being intact, it was hard to hear over the cacophony on the bridge.
"Make south-southwest Sir!" was all he could make out as another thunderclap rocked
the ship.
Sean looked back to the Navigator as she pored over the map, trying to determine a
course to set. She looked up - fear etched into her features - before turning back to the
map. He shook his head. This was by far the worst storm he had ever been in. He
flinched automatically as yet another brilliant flash lit up the dark roiling clouds and
wondered if they would survive the night.
A cacophonous roar deafened Sean as the thunderclap rocked the ship. Lightning lit up
the clouds as the bolts arced across the sky. Sean shook his head as he thought back
on what brought him to this state. He was brought out of his thoughts as the ship was
tossed about again. He turned his head momentarily when he heard the door to the
bridge slam. It was George.
"We've lost three marines Sir. And one elevatorman is missing. Others are wounded
Sean turned again and nodded to George, noticing he was bloodied as well. Things
were not good.
The ship shuddered again and began to descend even quicker. They were a scant 100
meters above the waves. The engines whined and then coughed and the ship dropped
"Bobbie, run to Jock and tell him to get those engines working again!"
Sean looked out the windows and could see the waves inching closer and closer to the
ship. "This will not be good." Thought Sean to himself. He stole a quick look back at
Stella who was staring straight ahead, a look of astonishment on her face.
As Bobbie tried to make it back to the bridge, a huge gust of wind knocked him from his
feet. His screams for help were smothered by the wind as he rolled towards a hole in
the rail.
Bobbie's plight unknown, Sean fought to lift the ship and avoid the waves. All to no avail.
The keel of the ship creased one tall wave and then he saw something that chilled his
soul. A monster wave was careening towards the Skylark. He had to look up to see the
top. As the bow of the ship impacted the wave Sean thought . . .