Here is the first chapter from Lord Of Darkness.
ALMIGHTY GOD, I thank Thee for my deliverance from the dark land of Africa. Yet am I grateful for all that Thou hast shown me in that land, even for the pain Thou hast inflicted upon me for my deeper instruction. And I thank Thee also for sparing me from the wrath of the Portugals who enslaved me, and from the other foes, black of skin and blacker of soul, with whom I contended. And I give thanks too that Thou let me taste the delight of strange loves in a strange place, so that in these my latter years I may look back with pleasure upon pleasures few Englishmen have known. But most of all I thank Thee for showing me the face of evil and bringing me away whole, and joyous, and unshaken in my love of Thee.
I am Andrew Battell of Leigh in Essex, which is no inconsiderable place. My father was the master mariner Thomas James Battell, who served splendidly with such as the great Drake and Hawkins, and my mother was Mary Martha Battell, whom I never knew, for she died in giving me into this world. That was in the autumn of the year 1558, the very month when Her Protestant Majesty Elizabeth ascended our throne. I was reared by my father’s second wife Cecily, of Southend, who taught me to read and write, and these other things: that I was to love God and Queen Elizabeth before all else, that I was to live honorably and treat all men as I would have myself be treated, and that we are sent into this world to suffer, as Christ Jesus Himself suffered, because it is through suffering that we learn. I think I have kept faith with my stepmother’s teachings, especially in the matter of suffering, for I have had such an education of pain, in good sooth, that I could teach on the subject to the doctors of Oxford or Cambridge. And yet I am not regretful of my wounds.
I was meant by my father to be a clerk. My brothers Thomas and Henry and John followed my father to the sea, as did my brother Edward, who was drowned off Antwerp, only fourteen years old, the week before my birth. That news, I think, broke my mother’s heart and weakened her so that the birthing of me killed her. My father, doubly grieved, resolved to send no more sons a-sailing, and so I was filled with knowledge out of books, even some Latin and some Greek, in the plan that I should go up to London and take a post in Her Majesty’s government.
But the salt air was ever in my nostrils. My earliest memory has me in my stepmother’s arms at the place where the Thames flows into the sea, and shaking my fist at a gull that swooped wildly to and fro above me. Leigh is such a town, you know, as will manufacture mariners rather than clerks. Since early days we have had a famous guild of pilots here, taking charge of the inward-bound traffic, while the men of Deptford Strond in Kent provide pilots to the outward bound. It was the Kentish guild and ours that King Henry VIII of blessed memory incorporated together as the Fraternity of the Most Glorious and Indivisible Trinity and of St. Clement, which we call the Trinity House, and it is the brethren of Trinity House that keep all England’s ships from going on the reefs. My father Thomas held a license of that guild, which took him a dozen years in the winning; and his son Thomas, now dead like all my clan, was a pilot, too. And a time came when even I found myself dealing with quadrants and astrolabes and portolans in strange waters, though such piloting as I knew was in my blood and breathed into my lungs, and not taught to me in any school. It was God who made me a pilot, and the Portugals, but not Trinity House.
Another early thing that I remember was a visitor my father had, a great-shouldered rough-skinned man with hard blue eyes and a shaggy red beard and a stark smell of codfish about him, though not an unpleasant one. He snatched me up—I was then, oh, seven or eight years old, I suppose—and threw me high and caught me, and cried, “Here’s another mariner for us, eh, Thomas?”
“Ah, I think not,” said my father to him.
And this man—he was Francis Willoughby, cousin to Sir Hugh that was lost in Lapland seeking the northeast passage to China—shook his head and said to my father, “Nay, Thomas, we must all go forth. For this is our nation’s time, we English, going out to be scattered upon the earth like seeds. Or thrown like coins, one might better say: a handful of coins flung from a giant’s hand. And O! Thomas! We are bright glittering coins, we are, of the least base of metals!”
I do recall those words most vividly, and seeing in my mind the giant walking to and fro upon the continents and over the seas, and hurling Englishmen with a mighty arm. And thinking then, too, how frightening it must be to be hurled in such a way, but how wondrous to come to earth in some far land, where the sunlight is of another color and the trees do grow with their roots in the air, and their crowns below!
My father nodded his agreement, and said, “Aye, each race has its special destiny, and the sea now is ours, as empire-making was for Rome, and conquest was for the Normans. And I think our people will indeed go far into the world, and embrace it most exuberantly, and bring this little isle of ours into a clasp with every distant land. And the Queen’s mariners will know a good many strange places, and peradventure some strange fates, too. But not my Andy, I think. I think I will have him stay closer by me, to be a comfort for my older age. I may hold one son back, may I not? May I not, Francis?”
And I thought it most unfair, that if all we English were to be flung by the giant, and exuberantly embrace distant lands, that I alone should be kept from the sport. And I told myself in private, while my father and Francis Willoughby jested and laughed and drank their ale, that I, too, would have my turn at those strange places and strange fates. That I remember. But I also remember that when Francis Willoughby had taken his leave, and the warmth of the moment had cooled, I allowed those dreams to fade in me for a time.
I was, as I say, destined to be a clerk. But as I studied, I watched the coming and going of the ships and listened to the talk of my father and brothers, and a different desire arose in me. My brother Henry it was in particular, the first privateer of our family, that led me to the sea. Henry was the second son, bold and impatient. He fought greatly with my father, they tell me. (All this happened when I was small, for that I was so much younger than my brothers.) “You may happily ply between Leigh and Antwerp, between Antwerp and Leigh, if you like,” declared this brazen Harry, “but I long for a broader sea.” He went out from home and was not seen for a time, and then one day he was back, taller than my father now and his skin almost black from the tropical sun and a cutlass-scar across his cheek, and he jingled a purse of gold angels and threw it on the table in my father’s house and said, “Here, this pays for the lodging I have had at your hands!”
He had been to sea with John Hawkins of Plymouth, to raid the Portugals in West Africa of blacks, and sell them in the New World to the Spaniards as plantation slaves. And he came back rich: more than that, he came back a man, who had gone away little more than a boy. John Hawkins went again to Africa the next year with five ships, and Henry was with him again, and also John my brother, and when they returned, sun-blackened and swaggering, they had pouches of pearls and other treasures. I was still a child then. My brother Henry walked with me along the shore and told me of fishes that flew and of trees that dripped blood, and then he gave me a pearl that looked like a blue tear, hung from a beaded chain, and put it about my throat. “With this pearl you may buy yourself a princess one day,” said my brother Henry.
Again Henry and John went to sea out of Plymouth and took slaves from Guinea and carried them to Hispaniola, but this time the Spaniards were sly and the English captain, John Lovell, was a dullard, and they came home with neither gold nor pearls, but only the tint of the hot sun on their skins to show for their pains. “All the same,” said Henry to my father, “the voyage was not entirely a loss, for there was a man aboard our ship who has the grace of a king, and he has plans and schemes for doing wonders, and I will follow him wherever he sails.” That man was the purser aboard Lovell’s vessel, and his name was Francis Drake. I lay awake upstairs listening as Henry and John told my father of this man, of how he bore himself and how he laughed and how he swore and how he meant to grow rich at King Philip’s expense, and I imagined myself going off to sea with my brothers when they signed on with Francis Drake.
That was mere fantasy, for I was not yet ten. But Drake and John Hawkins sailed, and my two brothers sailed with them on Drake’s Judith, and now my third brother Thomas, the eldest, went also with them. How my father raved and raged! For Thomas was licensed by Trinity House after his years of study, and was guiding those who traded at Channel ports, when this fit of piracy came over him. “Who will be our pilots at home,” my father demanded, “if all the mariners rush to the Indies?” Yet it was like crying into the wind to ask such things. Thomas had seen the pearls. Thomas had seen the angels of gold and the gleaming doubloons. And methinks he envied our brothers their scars and their swarthy skins.
Everyone knows the fate of that voyage, where Hawkins and Drake were forced by storms to take shelter at San Juan de Ulloa on the Mexican coast, and there by Spanish treachery were foully betrayed, so that they barely escaped alive and many of their men were slain. One of those who perished was my brother Thomas. You might think that my father would draw dark vindication from such news, as people do when their warnings are ignored, but my father was not of that sort. He mourned his firstborn son properly, and then he sought out Francis Drake and said, “I have given three sons to your venture, and one of them the Spaniards slew, and now I ask if you have need of a skilled pilot who is not young when next you go to raid their coasts.”
What, you say? Was my father maddened by grief? Nay, he was only transformed. The mere hunger for treasure had not been enough to draw him from his duties in the Channel and the North Sea. But the cowardly and lying way the Spaniards had fallen upon unsuspecting Englishmen, with the loss of so much precious life, had altered his direction. He wanted nothing now but to help Drake take from Spain whatever he could, in partial repayment for the life of his son. “There are more ways of serving God and the Queen,” my father told me, “than by piloting ships into the mouth of the Thames.”
So in 1570 he was with Drake on the Swan to harry the Spanish Main, and again in 1571, and a year later he was one of those from Drake’s Pasha that seized the royal treasury at Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Panama. The torments of that voyage, the fevers and disasters, were God’s own test indeed, but my father must have prospered beneath such burdens, for when he returned after a year and a half he looked miraculously younger, more a brother than a father to Henry and John, and all three lean and hard and dark as Moors. I went to Plymouth to meet their returning ship. I was then nearly fifteen and grown suddenly tall myself, and I think the disease of piracy was already bubbling in my veins. I embraced my father and my brothers and then they thrust me toward a robust man of short stature with a fair beard and dainty garments, whom I took to be some lord or gallant, and gallant indeed he was. “You see, Francis,” my father said, “I have kept one son in reserve.” And Drake cuffed me lightly on the arm and ran his hand the wrong way up my newly sprouting soft beard and said, “God’s blood, boy, you have the gleam in your eye! I know it well. I tell you this, that you will journey farther than all your brothers,” and so I have, into a realm of darkness so terrible and so strange as never a man of Essex imagined.
For the next few years there was little privateering. Her Majesty had no stomach for war with Spain, and patched up a peace with King Philip, and not even Drake dared to tamper with it. My father returned to his piloting, my brother Henry went off with Frobisher to seek the Northwest Passage, and I know not what became of my brother John, though I think he may have gone to Ireland, where he died in some wild feud ten years after. And I? I had my first taste of the water. At sixteen I was hired aboard the George Cross, a 400-ton carrack in the merchant trade, that hauled casks of claret from Bordeaux. She was a slow and clumsy old tub, three-masted, square-rigged on fore and main with lateen mizens, not much like your pirate brigantine or your caravel of exploration: a coarse heavy thing. But when you are at sea for the first time you find any vessel a wonder, most especially when land is out of sight and the hard waves wash at the hull. Knowing that my father had from my birth intended that I live a safe life ashore, I felt some fear when I came to him for permission to sign on. He looked at me long and said, “Henry has put the Devil in you, eh? Or was it Drake?”
“When we landed at Plymouth, and we saw how you had grown, Henry said to me, Master Andrew is too sturdy now for a lubber’s life. He must have said something of the same to you. And then Drake, with his prophesying of your travels—he overheated your soul, did he not?”
“Aye, father. It was like that.”
“Tell me the sea is calling you. Tell me that it is a pull you are unable to resist.”
I shifted from one leg to another, uneasily, not knowing if I were being mocked.
I said, “It is not entirely like that.”
“But I would go.”
“Then go,” he said amiably. “You’ll be in no jeopardy in the Channel, and you may learn a bit. Will you be scrubbing decks, d’ye think?”
“I have some learning, father. I will be tallying records, and making bills of lading.”
He shook his head. “I would rather have you scrubbing decks, and I myself had the learning put into you, too. That was an error. You were meant for the sea, boy. But I suppose no harm is done, if you have a sailor’s body, and a clerk’s wit. Better that than the other way round, at any rate.”
And with that somewhat sidewise blessing he let me sign on.
I look back across forty years at that boy and I confess I like what I see. Green, yes, and foolish and silly, but why not, at such an age? Quiet, and diligent, and tolerant of hardship, such little hardship as I had known. I had stubbornness and devotion and the will to work, and I had some intelligence, and I had steadfastness. From my father I had inherited something else, too, the wit to know when it is time to change one’s course. There are those who sail blindly ahead and there are those who tack and veer when they must tack and veer, and I am of that latter sort, and I think it has been the saving of my life many a time.
For eleven months I served on the George Cross. I knew some seamanship before I went aboard, from what I had heard at home and seen in the Thameside docks; that is, I knew not to piss to windward, and which side was larboard and which starboard, and what was the quarterdeck and what the forecastle, and not a whole much more. I had little hope of learning a great deal waddling about between Dover and Calais, but as it happened the old carrack went wider than that, to Boulogne and Le Havre and once to Cherbourg, so I saw something of storms and concluded a few conclusions about winds and sails. That would be useful to me, though I knew not then why. There was aboard the ship a certain Portugal as the carpenter, one Manoel da Silva, very quick with his hands and with his tongue, who long ago had married an English wife and given up Papistry. He had a fondness for me and often came to the cabin where I struggled with invoices and accounts, and in his visits he spoke half in English and half in Portuguese, so that by and by I picked up the language from him: um, dois, tres, quatro, and so forth. I learned that I had a skill with language. And that would be useful to me one day also.
In those months I grew a liking for good red wine, I discovered the way of walking a deck without sprawling, I had my first real fight and gave better than I got, and, long overdue, I left my aching virginity in the belly of a dark-haired French whore. Thereafter I worried about the pox for days, without need. I found I could sleep well on hard planks and I came not to mind the drench of salt spray. My body hardened and my legs lengthened, and I told myself I was now a man, and the sound of that had a good ring in my ears. Betimes I imagined myself a thousand leagues from home, on my way to the Japans or Hispaniola or Terra Australis on a voyage that no one would ever forget. Well, and I was only plying a tub between England and France, ferrying wine.
Nor did I even then think to make the sea my trade. For all my eagerness to straddle the globe and see strange lands and marvels and fill my purse with Spanish gold, my true and deepest notion was to set by some pounds and one day buy me the freehold of a farm, and marry and prosper, and live comfortably in hard work and the bosom of a family, reading books for pleasure and attending the plays betimes in London, like a gentleman. At the end of my year’s voyage I found I had set by not as much as I had expected—two shillings less than two pounds. But even that seemed a fair fortune for a lad of seventeen, and more than I could have earned ashore, for in those days a skilled workman—a thatcher, say—could hope for no more than seven and sixpence a week, out of which must come rent and clothing and food and all, and a young clerk hardly that much. So I went to sea again after two months at home.
This time it was a farther voyage, to Flanders and Norway, and the year after that all the way to Russia aboard a vessel of the Muscovy Company, and a cold time I had of it then. But these journeys were making a complete sailor of me, for each time I did less clerking and more seamanship, and I was finding my way around the maps and charts, the compasses and leads, not because it was asked of me but because my curiosity led me to know at first hand what sort of trade my father and his son Thomas the pilot had plied. So the years of my early manhood went.
In those years the Spaniards began once more to break the truce between their lands and ours, and the Queen sent Drake out to punish them with the loss of gold and silver. This was in 1577, and it was destined to become a voyage around the world, though that was not Drake’s first plan. My brother Henry was with him aboard his flagship, the Pelican, that Drake would rename The Golden Hind in mid-passage. My father, too, applied for command of another ship, the pinnace Christopher, but he was refused with thanks, on account of his age. I also would have gone, but my father would not let it, saying, “Thomas is dead and John is fled to Ireland and Henry sails with Drake, and I want one son for England.” I could have thwarted him in that, but I had no heart for it. He was suddenly old, and he did not so much forbid me as implore me, and how could I say him nay?
So Henry Battell went with Drake through Magellan’s Strait and up to Valparaiso and on to loot the gold of Peru, and to unknown northern lands of horrid fog and cold, and out into the South Sea to the Spice Islands and Java and Africa, and home again in just short of three years, leaving his left arm behind, that had become inflamed by a poison dart on some tropic isle. In the meanwhile Andrew Battell sailed four times to Antwerp and thrice to Sweden and once to Genoa. Which I suppose is no small travelling, but hardly a patch on going to the Spice Islands or Java, and often I thought ruefully of Drake’s prediction of how far I should journey. Who could possibly go farther than Henry, who had encompassed the globe? But there is voyage outward and there is voyage inward, as I would learn, and my twenty years inward to the heart of African deviltry took me farther indeed than Drake himself could have gone, as I will relate.
Yet I thought my sailing days were over by the time Drake and his men had come home. I was two-and-twenty, and by thrift and sweat I had earned my freehold, and I had my land and I had my wife. Her name was Rose Ullward of Plymouth, and she was small and dark, with sparkling eyes. I blush when I tell you that that is almost all I remember of her, save that she was a barmaid at the licensed house that her father kept by the docks. We lived as man and wife a year and some months. Together we went to Deptford that spring day in 1581 when Queen Bess made Francis Drake a knight; because my brother was a man of The Golden Hind, we were allowed on board, and I stood so close to the Queen that I could see the pockmarks on her cheek. She was a fine royal woman, quite tall and handsome, and I was almost weeping for being so near her. A great crowd attended on that day, so that the bridge laid from shore to the ship collapsed, and two hundred people were thrown into the Thames, though none was injured or drowned. I jumped in to save several, and Henry also, thrashing about valiantly with his one arm. Sir Francis embraced me as I shivered on deck afterward, and said, “I know you, fellow,” which amazed me, for he had met me only once and that many years before. But the men of my family have all had a single face, and he must have seen Henry on my features. It was a happy moment.
Soon my Rose’s belly was swelling, which gave me joy but also fear, for I remembered how my mother had died with me in childbed. Such misplaced worry! In brooding about imagined perils we often fail to see the real foe stealing upon us. Three months before her time Rose took the smallpox, and perished swiftly of it, and my unborn child of course with her. In that same dark season my father died, of an apoplexy, in his sixty-third year.
I have never known such bleakness. For the only time in my life all heart left me, all faith, all strength. I wandered as if in a dream, wifeless and fatherless and childless. In my foolish sorrow I turned to the taverns, and neglected my farm and drank up my savings and drank also the six pounds I inherited of my father, which is no small quantity of drinking, and in time everything was gone and the bailiffs came to tell me I had lost my land. Then did I sign on in Leigh as a clerk in the customs-house. I was barely four-and-twenty and thought of my life as almost ended, though in truth it had hardly begun.
At the lowest ebb the tide turns. In the year 1586, after an interminable dreary time of this waking slumber, I came to my senses and looked about me and saw that the world was still beautiful, and I began to recover into life. I fell in love, I pledged myself to marry again, I began once again to amass the money to buy me a freehold; in short, the interruption of defeat and black dejection was put at an end for me. And out of these renewed hopes and ambitions I came by easy stages to take up my long-abandoned career at sea, for how else could I come quickly by the wealth I needed? And by one step and another I set myself all unknowingly on the path that would carry me far from home for so many years, to Africa, to the torments the Portugals laid upon me, to the royal courts of Kongo and the Angola, to the jungles of coccodrillos and elephantos and the broad plains spangled with zevveras and gazelles; I began my long journey to the side of that diabolical Jaqqa cannibal, Imbe Calandola, the incarnation of the Lord of Darkness, whose lieutenant I became and whose monstrous wisdom rings to this day in my soul like terrible discordant music.
LORD OF DARKNESS
By Robert Silverberg
Copyright © 1983, 2012 by Agberg, Ltd.
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