To Christopher King
How terrible it is to have one’s hopes dashed in the space of only a few short hours. As the news came accross the wires and then out into the streets “survivors found” I caught my breath and I do not think I breathed again until those hopes were crushed. Hope escaped me once again. I am happy to tell you that in my uncertainty I did not tell the children of my hopes. I would have hated to have to tell them that their father was still as lost as he was this morning. Keeping a happy face on for the children is getting more difficult now that I am not certain how long we will be left to question what happened to Mett.
I thank you for your offer to allow the children to stay with you for several days while I attempt to get our family finances in order. Bills are beginning to come due and I have not seen any pay from the newspaper since the airship was lost. I fear we may lose the apartment. I can sell some of the furniture, but it will be less painful if they children are not forced to watch. Mett’s absence is already difficult enough of a change for them, without them also seeing us sell things that they have known all of their lives.
I know that we both pray for good tidings,
This morning at breakfast Captain Neriena stood up before all of us, and told us that she had an announcement to make. Those of us who are not members of her crew at first paid her little mind as we assumed her announcement related to members of her crew. She soon drew our attention however, stating that what she had to say related especially to us. With that we became nervous. We might have been rescued by them, but they were still pirates. It did not escape the minds of any of us that they might have changed their minds and we might well be returned to the sea. Perhaps with even less than we had started with. The word marooned came to my mind.
Instead it was announced that a source on shore had sent them an important telegraph. A boat with survivors had been found, though the source had not written who were among their number. It was good news indeed. None of us was more relieved than Captain Bilke, who despite the sinking of The Defender still seems to think of every man on her as his charge.
The boy who was always with Captain Neriena came up to us after the meal was over. For the first time he introduced himself, calling himself Blaze. I asked him if that was his last name, but he simply said it was his name, and would say no more than that. Soon after that I heard another crewmember being called Catfish, and it occurred to me that it might be well for a pirate not to be honest about his name.
Blaze told us that we will be landing somewhere in Canada soon, for refueling and restocking of supplies. He would not say where in Canada, though Captain Bilke asked. He made it clear that we were expected to keep to our rooms for the entire time that we were on the ground, and that guards would be posted outside of our doors, to make certain that we honored that. He said we need not try to communicate with any of the men of the airfield that came aboard as they all were being paid well not to notice anything. In any case, we were to be landing at an airfield that had no proper purpose, and the men we would be dealing with would be smugglers. They would care very little for our safety if they found that Captain Neriena had brought civilians into their hidden port of call.
I had not been aware that there were hidden airfields used by smugglers, but once their existence was mentioned to me, I wondered that I had not thought of them. It was only natural that smugglers should want their goods to be somewhere other than the major ports of call. Captain Bilke asked if this meant that we should consider ourselves prisoners, but Blaze said that was not what he intended. He assured us it was for our protection that we should not leave our rooms. I suspected it was just as much for the protection of the ship’s relationship with the smugglers.
We have been told that we may write letters to loved ones to let them know that we are alive and safe, but that our letters will be read first, to ensure that we do not reveal anything about who we are with or where we are. This is an unexpected mark of kindness that I did not expect. I am certain the crew knows that they are endangering themselves by allowing this, and I think of them better now.
I am sorry that I am not able to tell you all that I am certain you will want to know on receiving this letter. I must comfort myself that at least with this letter you will know that I am alive and safe. I was pulled from the sea, along with several other men by another ship, but if I say more than that, I am certain that they will refuse to send this letter at all, and you will be left with no knowledge at all of my rescue.
There are a dozen questions I wish to ask, but as I cannot receive letters, I must endure my curiosity. I wish to know how your health is, how the children are, if my father is well? I have no means to receive your response however. I shall do everything in my power to find myself in a position that I may return to you. Until then, I shall look for another chance to write to you.
Your loving husband,
We have remained confined to our cabins all this day. With the tension that all of the crew shows I doubt greatly that the pirates and smugglers are truly allies. I suspect rather that they tolerate one another. Some cargo from the airship has been unloaded, and then some barrels have been brought aboard. It seems as though the pirates exchange their Ill-gotten gains here for provisions. The only pleasant thought that I can have in such a situation is that at least the air is not to be compared with the stale air when confined to the hold of a sea ship. Those are among my least favorite childhood memories, the penalty I paid for a sea captain father. The cold, and drafty, nature of airships allows for air to escape, even if I am not able to. So long as one wears a coat or jacket, one may sit in comfort and never breath stale air.
Much to my surprise, when I look from my window I find that the Aeolus is not the only airship in the camp. There must be a larger market for clandestine airfields than I had supposed. I cannot help but wonder what sort of men inhabit the other ship. I mean to ask Captain Neriena or a member of her crew about who they are when I get the chance. The only member of the crew I have seen today is the man who brought me food not long ago. He said the wished to bring us food earlier but that with the men of the camp aboard to look at cargo, they were not able to. It would seem that they are truly putting themselves at risk in having us aboard.
I hope that we will not be staying here long. While I wished with all of my heart to return to land, I did not wish it to be in this manner. What good is it to have ones feet on the ground if you find yourself more a prisoner there than you were in the air? It is also a hard thing to be around so many people as tense as the crew of the Aeolus is since we landed. They are out of their proper element and in enemy territory. Which I suppose means that I ought to be tense as well. The sort of people who cause fear in pirates do not seem likely to be friendly.
Several of the men of the crew returned hurt last night. I know because I heard the shouting and I saw them being carried to our ship through my window. There was a large fuss once they were aboard also. As I remain locked in my cabin I could not go out and look more closely. A man bought me breakfast this morning and so I asked him about it. I was told that the quarrel had been with the crew of the other ship, not with the people of the camp. I was able to gather through conversation that the other ship is also of a piratical nature, bares the name of Stribog, and that the two crews are as different as possible while being in the same trade.
The two captains also differ grately. Captain Neriena, it would seem, still believes in honor among thieves, while Captain Jackson seems to think it his right to have none at all. I was given to I was given to understand this was not the first time these two captains have met either. This, it would seem, was an old grudge, one aggravated now by their close proximity. The nature of the original grudge was not told to me, but I doubt that it matters much, it rarely does in such cases.
Much as I have doubts about the truth of the names of the members of the crew I have been introduced to, I have been led to doubt the name Jackson also. I have been given to understand that the crew of the other airship is Russian, and I have never heard of a Russian of the name Jackson. As for how it was that the two grews began to dislike one another so strongly that they now fight at the very sight of one another, that was not told to me.
Ship log of the Aeolus May 13th, 6 AM
In port at Smart’s Field. Fair weather, wind from the East. Three men in the infirmary, resulting from an altercation with the crew of the Stribog. Two men with bruises and cuts, should soon return to labor. Third man has broken ribs, will take some time to heal. Crew has strong desire for revenge, but I have no desire for the attention a firefight might gain us from the authorities. It will be best if we leave as soon as supplies are aboard.
Any doubt I might have had of Captain Neriena’s authority has been put to rest. Since the moment that her men were attacked, she has made every choice to have us return to the safety of the air quickly. That included releasing us from our cabins to help with loading supplies, though it was on the condition that we speak to no one. Captain Bilke went to aid with filling the helium, something he understood well. The rest of us went to help with the carrying of food and water, not having much mechanical knowledge. One of the men did offer to go help the engineer tune the engine before we launched again, but Neriena refused, saying that their engineer was very particular about how he wished everything.
Instead we trooped out of the ship to where the smugglers had left the goods that Neriena had traded for. It was by leaving the ship that I met the leader of the smugglers for the first time. I had imagined men of much the same sort as I picture when I think of pirates, with their leader looking something like a prince of thieves. I suppose I ought not to have been surprised however when it was a woman who approached us, admittedly a woman dressed as a man. I suppose it natural that a woman who is a pirate captain might feel more comfortable with other leaders who share her gender. Neriena walked out to meet the woman, with a slight glance of warning behind her at all of us.
“I cannot be having with you fighting in my camp Captain,” said the woman, hands in her pockets, looking casual, though her men behind her were clearly tensed for a fight.
“And as I know you cannot be having with fighting, Mrs Smart, you might well suppose that I have not been,” said Neriena, matching the woman in her casual stance, though she had no pockets for her hands. For once Captain Neriena was wearing the clothing of a proper society lady, though I imagined that she was regretting it.
“Captain Jackson tells me a different story entirely,” said Mrs. Smart, and while a couple of the crewmen from the Aeolus muttered and began to seem angry, Captain Neriena seemed perfectly cool yet.
“As I would expect he would,” said Captain Neriena, a rather sarcastic smile on her face.
“I ain’t no fool Neriena,” said Mrs Smart, grimacing. “I know the history of you and Jackson. It is just my luck you two should come into my camp at the same time, out of all of the days of the year.”
“As soon as I have these things aboard, I will be away from here, and away from Captain Jackson as well,” said Neriena. “Your hospitality will not be strained.”
“What would you say if I told you I want you out of my camp now?” asked Mrs Smart, and behind Neriena and Mrs Smart both I could see men tensing and shifting. It was clear the situation hinged on how Neriena responded. This seemed a tough place for her though. If she said that she was leaving now, she faced losing authority and being shown as weak. If she stood her ground there was a good chance that we were going to be in a fight at any moment. I began to inch back towards the ship, until I felt a prod on my back. I looked back to find Blaze standing behind me, and one look at his face assured me that I should not try to escape any further back. I have no great wish to upset people with guns.
“Mrs Smart,” Neriena said finally, “how much is Jackson paying you for this eviction?” The men around me sniggered a little, and seemed to relax slightly, while Mrs Smart seemed slightly taken aback.
“You do not normally do business in this manner, you are choosing sides, and I will be sure that it is known to the community,” Neriena continued. The way that Neriena said the word “community”, suggested that she was speaking of a very specific group of people. Mrs Smart’s lips tightened, it was clear that Neriena had made a very good argument.
“You can finish loading your things,” said Mrs Smart, turning on her heel and stalking away. Though almost all of the other men turned back to picking up the things that the crew had purchased from the smugglers, and loading them onto the ship, I watched the direction that Mrs Smart had gone in and could not help but notice that she was going towards Captain Jackson’s ship. Then Blaze handed me a box, and told me to get to work, so I have no idea what happened next. Two hours later we watched as the Stribog took to the air. Captain Neriena says that we will still be leaving soon, as she suspects we may have overstayed our welcome with Mrs Smart.