Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 24

It just figured he had managed to find a change of the watch. Now he had to wait out the men coming back in. Sure enough, after a few minutes more, they came in through the same hatches their colleagues—or comrades, Cannon supposed, in true Soviet fashion—had left by. Mercifully, they went straight to their bunks.

He had just about made up his mind to move when two more men came in by the aft hatch. Cannon dropped down to the floor, careful not to make a sound. The lights came on. Heavy footsteps grew louder, and the sofa squeaked as the men sat down. Cannon imagined a litany of curses he couldn’t afford to utter. He grew steadily more creative as he heard the men tear some paper wrapping. Then came the unmistakable sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle, and it dawned on Cannon that he might not be able to wait this one out.

In the faint hope that he had encountered the only two Russian lightweights in the world, he waited a few minutes, but they showed little sign of slowing down, much less turning in. No, it looked like he would have to help himself. He took a bead from his pocket, carefully removed of its wrapping, and tossed it to his left, along the wall toward the aft hatch. It hit the ground noisily and skipped behind one of the bookshelves.

For a moment, the Russians were silent. One of them said something. The other thought for a moment, said ‘nyet’, and poured another glass of vodka. Cannon sighed and threw another bead.

Words passed between the Russians. One of them stood. Cannon heard his footsteps receding. The other tipped the bottle back. The first heard the sound and rushed back, shouting. From his tone, Cannon surmised he was demanding an explanation. The conversation between the two got uglier. The sofa squeaked as the sitting Russian stood. The crunch of a haymaker hitting home came next, then the sofa squeaked twice as loud as one of the Russians sprawled across it, out cold. The other shoved him off the couch, then sat himself. Cannon shrugged to himself, got his blackjack in hand, stood slowly and quietly, and gave the remaining Russian a solid clock across the back of the head. The airman slumped over on the couch. Cannon poured most of the remaining vodka over the two men, then left the bottle conspicuously nearby. Moments later, he slipped out the forward hatch.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 23

Cannon found himself on a catwalk which crossed the zep’s beam. Across the centerline was another companionway which led up to the dining room. Far forward was yet another, which led up to the main central corridor. Unless he missed his guess—the deck plan in his pocket unhelpfully failed to note which room he was looking for—they’d have put the cleaning closet far forward, near the most convenient access to the passenger cabins.

Unfortunately, the deck plan revealed that the forward companionway met the ventral catwalk directly above the gondola, and Cannon didn’t like his odds sneaking past the bridge watch. Much better to take the longer route, where all he had to contend with was sleeping crew and the slim chance of lookouts coming back from the engine pods, even if it meant he would have to come back with a heavy load.

He made his way forward, passing the galley on his left. He made a note to nab a pot on his way back, if he had the chance. He was still a little foggy on Iseabail’s plans, but something big to mix in wouldn’t go amiss.

Ahead was his biggest obstacle: the crew’s lounge. The deck plan had it as a large compartment, fifty feet long, flanked on both sides by bunkrooms and showers. The catwalk ran directly through it; it was too wide to go around. He sidled up to the hatch and cracked it open, peering through and listening for a moment. He then pushed it further, enough to fit his head through, and had a look around the lounge. For the moment, it was dark, quiet, and unoccupied. The low lights on the permanent circuit revealed a few threadbare sofas and armchairs, a long table in the middle of the space, and two bookshelves half-full of battered volumes.

He went inside and pulled the door closed. A chime sounded three times. On instinct, Cannon dove behind the nearest sofa. Happily, it had been placed in a corner, shielding him from easy view. He heard stirrings in compartments to either side, as grumpy Russians rolled out of bed. They filtered out to the lounge in ones and twos, and after five minutes of what sounded to Cannon like heated argument, seemed to agree that all had arrived. They left through the hatches fore and aft.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 22

It was no use skulking around while the crew was cleaning up for the night, so Cannon set his alarm clock for the wee hours of the morning, reclined on the couch, and closed his eyes.

He woke a few minutes before the alarm went off—a talent he’d cultivated during the war—and prepared for the night’s entertainment. Iseabail’s thunderous snoring covered what little noise he made as he changed into dark gray trousers festooned with pockets, a turtleneck in the same color, and soft-soled shoes.

Into his pockets went his lockpicks, a penlight, and a handful of glass beads, individually wrapped in paper to keep them from rattling. They made the devil’s own racket when thrown at something hard, turning heads and usually leaving him enough room to get past the easily-distracted sort of sentry.

He caught sight of his Mauser, waiting in the bottom of his suitcase, but decided against bringing it. As it was, he had only an outside shot at convincing a curious crewman that he’d merely gotten turned around on a nighttime stroll. Carrying a pistol, he’d have no chance at all. To boot, if he shot someone, they’d have to deal with a body. He took a pocketknife instead, and slipped a blackjack into an extra pocket.

He opened the door and padded into the corridor, making his way aft and toward the darkened, empty portside lounge. He went to the aftmost door on the inboard wall and jiggled the knob. Locked, as he suspected it might be. He knelt, took out his pocks, and set to work. Soon enough, the door clicked open. Cannon slipped through and slowly closed the door behind him.

From this side, though, it was a hatch. As Cannon descended the companionway, the illusion of solidity which had him calling hatches ‘doors’ and bulkheads ‘walls’ shattered. Heavy bracing ram from the Red Banner‘s keep to support the passenger compartments, which, form this side, were duralumin skeletons supporting fiber panels. The crew spaces reminded him of Inconstant—bare catwalks ran between compartments made of the thinnest duralumin possible. Floodlights haphazardly placed cast pools of light at intervals along the ways. Past the compartments overhead, he glimpsed the zep’s gas cells. The throb of the engines and a subtle smell of diesel permeated the air.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 21

After a long and lazy but profitable evening at the card table, Iseabail and Cannon returned to their cabin. Cannon shut the door.

“He knows,” Iseabail said.


“He knows,” Iseabail repeated, stabbing the air with her finger. “Wailani. He knows tha’ you’re Nathaniel Cannon.”

Frowning, Cannon said, “I doubt that.”

Iseabail threw her hands in the air. “Either tha’, or he knows we’re pirates.”

“That’s for sure.”

Iseabail paced angrily. “I’m aye sure I’m sure. He disna treat us like—” She stopped. “I’m sorry, wha’ was tha’?”

“Wailani knows we’re anything but simple archaeologists,” said Cannon. “I’d bet a year’s take he has us figured for pirates. At the very least, he knows we’re some sort of lowlife he can turn into a quick buck down the road.” He shook his head ruefully. “He’s right. He did get the better end of the deal. If he knew who we were, he would have asked for more than just the one favor.”

Iseabail blinked at him. “I’m nae qui’ caught up yet. Ye say ye think I’m right?”

Cannon swatted her on the arm. “Not outside this room. You scoundrels have too much fun at my expense as it is.” He paused. “Am I wrong to look forward to whatever it is he has in mind for us?”

“It’ll be interestin’, nae a doubt abou’ tha’.” Iseabail sat on the divan, took the pen and paper sitting on the side table, and began to write. “Lemme pu’ down the shoppin’ list.” She snorted and showed Cannon the page. “Red ink.”

He grinned. “They do have a theme, don’t they?”

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 20

Wailani left them. Cannon raised his eyebrows at Iseabail.

“Ach,” she said. “I hope his whatsit’s as good as he says.”

Cannon smiled. “Our Mr. Wailani doesn’t seem the sort to lead us on, does he?”

Iseabail shook her head. “Nae, but ye cannae always trust a businessman.”

“By some reckonings, I’m a businessman.”

“Is tha’ so,” Iseabail said. “My mistake, then. Ye cannae ever trust a businessman.”

Cannon thought about this. His expression must have allowed the point: Iseabail grinned the grin of the smug and self-satisfied, then quickly wiped the look away. Cannon looked over his shoulder.

Wailani returned, reverently placing a portfolio on the table. He motioned for Cannon to open it.

Cannon put his hand on the cover.

“Carefully,” Wailani urged.

Carefully, Cannon opened the folio. A few dozen handwritten pages filled it. The script was dense and spidery. He turned to the last page. At the bottom, the author had signed the manuscript: a tall A, a dot, then a Чех trailing off into scribbles.

“Chekhov?” Cannon said.

“His manuscript of The Queen of Spades,” Wailani confirmed. “A masterpiece of the form, peerless in the realm of the Russian short story. Obviously, it is unique. Its value is beyond estimation. It will buy you the meeting you desire.”

Cannon closed the portfolio. “I feel I’ve paid rather a small sum for such a treasure.”

Under the table, Iseabail kicked his shin. At eye level, she gave him a look which spelled out exactly how crazy she thought he was.

“Perhaps,” Wailani acknowledged. “Perhaps I am wrong about the value of that favor.” He smiled. The expression did little to comfort Cannon. “To be honest, though, I think I have the better end of the deal.”

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Cura Pastoralis preface (an Old English translation)

Hello, World!

I offered a little while ago to Jay to contribute some translations of Old English or other texts that he thought his readers might find interesting, and here’s the first one. It’s the first part of the preface that King Alfred the Great wrote to his translation of Pope Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis or Pastoral Care. I particularly like both the message of this text, as well as its graceful and euphonious rhythm. You can find the original Old English, as well as a tighter, almost word-by-word translation here. Enjoy! -nasa

Ælfred King bids Wærferth Bishop be greeted by his loving and friendly words; And I bid you to know that it comes very often into my mind, what wise people there used to be among us, both of the religious and the secular; And how blissful the times were then throughout England; And how the kings who held the people’s rulership heeded God and his representatives, and they maintained both peace, and right, and order within their borders, and also expanded their rule outwards; And how they succeeded and prospered both in might and in understanding; And how the clergy were eager both for learning and for lore, and eager too in all the services which it was right they render unto God; And how, if anyone desired knowledge and learning, they would come to us, and seek it here in our land; And how now we must go out from here and seek them abroad, if we would have those things at all. So completely had everything fallen in England that there were awfully few among us South of the Humber who could understand their masses [as well as if they were in ?] English, or even a brief jotting of Latin translate, and I suspect that there weren’t many beyond the Humber, neither. So few had even this little bit of learning that I can’t think of even a single one who was South of the Thames when I took office. Thank God we have any teachers at all now. For all this, then, I would ask that you do what I would love for you to do, and free yourself, as often as you can, from worldly things, and wherever you might plant the wisdom which God gave to you, plant it. Remember what punishments came upon us in this world, when we neither loved it ourselves, nor preserved it for others. Of being “Christian”, we loved only the name, and very few of the habits.

When all this recalled itself to me, then I remembered too how I saw, before it all pillaged was and burnt down, how the churches throughout England stood full of treasures and books, and also of so many of God’s servants; And yet they so awfully little use of those books ever found, because they couldn’t get a whit from them, just because they weren’t written in their own language. It’s as if they said: “Our elders — they who held these places before us — loved wisdom, and through it they made for themselves prosperity, and left it to us, but we are unable to follow after them, and therefore we have now surrendered both the weal and the wisdom, because we would not incline ourselves to the path they followed.”

When all these thoughts came to me, then I wondered greatly about the good wise people who used to be within England, and all the books that they had learned to the full, that they wouldn’t any part of them translate into their own language. But then, immediately I answered myself back again and said: “It never occurred to them — they never imagined — that people could become so reckless, and that knowledge should fall down so low: they purposely left these texts, wishing that there would be the more wisdom in our land, the more languages that we knew.”

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Commentary, Cura Pastoralis

As the note and byline atop the associated post suggest, my friend, associate, and tafl partner Nasa graciously provided this fascinating entry for your reading pleasure today. I’m certainly glad to have him on board, especially in weeks like this where I’ve neglected my duty to continue producing content here, and I hope that this is only the first in a long series of posts to come.

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Another ‘where’s the author’ update

Coming back soon, I promise! This week, I’m back to writing more than coding; next week, stories resume.

Pop over to the Soapbox today for the start of parvusimperator’s Navy Week, as well as news on the OpenTafl Tafl Open. Pop by tomorrow for news about an as-yet-unannounced but very interesting project, of which you may have heard if you listen to the Crossbox Podcast (which you should). On Thursday, Navy Week continues; on Friday, visit us here for an extra-special… special, and on Saturday, return to the Soapbox for the conclusion to Navy Week.

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