Ye bitter twists o’ winter wrenched our sails about, shakin’ shard o’ ice onto the crew below. Twas a sound akin to dogs bein’ attacked by the Christmas tree they’ve so recently abused with their gnawin’. For my part I shivered in me cabin, furling yet another layer o’ blanket about me limbs. And payin’ especial attention to me stump ends, for the cold plays a special havoc with the joints which’ve no longer a benden’ segment to whom tis married.
Aye, I’d also been tappin’ away at me special cask o’ rum. Tis the one we use to preserve the mates from whom Fate has withheld her favour. I grant, tis often their own failings which leads Miss Fortune to toss masts and toothy brutes at them. The latest miscarriage o’ justice was Ambrose De’Lentil. Yarr, we knew him as the drunk in the keel.
When I’d first seized the Good Ship Lollipop from her natural owners (though they’d never treated her right: she’d a coat o’ green and orange with sails o’ chequered puppies. I could have happily sunk her had I not found her wheel so spinny), old Ambrose had been hidden deep in the hull behind a bale o’ rotting tobacco and a stack o’ sodden rats. Twas a fortnight at sea before we noted a drop in the rum barrels, and the end o’ the moon before anyone penetrated the stinking barrier he’d become cocooned within.
He was a twitchy madman, toothless from rum sucking and black faced from chewing ye decayed tobac. It took a team of gaggin’ and retchin’ crew to drag the wretched drunk from out his moulderin’ hole. Me natural inclination was to heave him overboard as stowaway, but me pity caught up (tis a result o’ the moral growth I’ve sported as a consequence of the Isle of Letch’s nunnish sponge baths.) We’d a range o’ cages on deck for the restrainin’ o’ beasties such as we’d fancy eatin’ or tradin’, and Ambrose fitted neatly into the Asian Death Badger cage.
We watched him gibber and caper, drooling rope-like strands of black innards-grue. Twas hideous an’ yet captivating. The lads took to sittin’ about him in a ring durin’ their quiet times. They’d do little but stare, toss him the odd share of rum, and listen to his ranted drivel. On occasion a mate’d toss to Ambrose some bauble or other trinket in teasing. Though some items bounced off the vile hull tramp and lay ignored, or at least unsuckled, others he’d snatch up. His twisted black fingers with their sharply broken nails grasped at string, buttons or nails. He’d hoard ’em in his toothless face hole till he’d enough for his purpose.
Now while he was thus encumbered amusing the crew, Monty and Barry reported a sharp rise in the gnawin’ o’ holes in our barrels of provisions and the spoilin’ of foods. Tis a serious matter, and ye rats’d gotten the better of the vicious cats who’d previously pursued ’em across the ship. The beasts had grown massive and they bristled at man’s approach. We chose lengthy paths around the Lollipop to avoid their bitey trails. Twas a matter o’ much concern to all those of us who desired food and safety from the Doomrats of the Sea.
Ambrose had gathered sufficient ephemera to undertake his own unique magic. The lads were ever more likely to encircle him at night, for the rats were clearly afeard o’ the stenched fellow. His nasty claws wove the junk into tiny statues o’ mankind. With a globule o’ pitchy spit he daubed ’em each and the ship fell silent. Slowly, with minute twitches, as if seein’ a thing move from between fluttering eyelids of sleep, the miniature men came to a strange stuttering life. They picked themselves up and bared their tiny teeth. Ye crew were a mite spooked.
The little men stepped out of the firelight and scattered into the ship’s shadows. I know of not one man who slept a wink that night. Ambrose was content to chuckle to himself; a chocolatey giggle that spoke of a disease ridden body. A horrid sound, and one which we stoppered with rum. Despite our fear, alertness and definitely not sleepin’ we woke to a wall o’ rat carcasses around the Asian Death Badger cage. Aye.
The solution to our rat problem were inescapable. The insane filth-spattered raggedy man from the ship’s foulest corner had a power over them. His creepy soldiers prowled the ship by night and delivered their corpses to him. Me preference were that if ye devil’s work were to be done then it should be done belowdecks where we could forget about him. The Asian Death Badger cage we threw in the sea, infested as it was with the man’s reek – we’d no desire to infect one o’ those graceful beasts when we finally caught it. A trail of fish bobbed in its wake until we caught a fresher current.
And so we plunged on through the seas, adventurin’ and piratin’, and beneath our feet old Ambrose the Keel Drunk would be chewin’, drinking and dispatching his little golem to cleanse the vessel of rats. On rare occasions we’d roll a fresh barrel of rum down to him or a bundle of leaf. The next mornin’, or perhaps the next we’d find a neatly crocheted bonnet or scarf pinned to the mast. Twas a boon as we sailed through the seasons into ye winter.
Tis perhaps an irony that twas ye winter that took old Ambrose from us. The icy poles took his hole to a freezier cold than he’d ever before felt. As we made snowmen and battled polar bears old Ambrose was frostifying in his putrid nest. The woollen goods he made for us never warmed his drunken skin, never touched the cankerous recesses of his body. The icicles pierced him sure as deatwpid-tmp_share.jpgh, filling him with snowflakes.
We only knew it when the rats reappeared (them as had not been munched by the vicious Arctic Puffin and its blood-splashed beak – aye, a terrible foe who claimed four of me crew and a polar bear before we stuffed it with gunpowder and spread its pretty feathers over the iceberg), and the mournful troupe of golemic soldiers were found unravelling in the sun one day far south of the Arctic circle. We determined that grim though he were, he were also a man (prob’ly) who’d given much to the crew, and that perhaps we’d give him a land burial, for to our knowledge he’d never seen the sea but for his sojourn in the cage. Also he was fond of rats and they’d be able to pick his bones clean in turn in the ossuary. We were far from land, so we stuffed him into a rum cask to better preserve his rotten form.
As happens now and then to a man of the sea, the memory o’ the crazy man in the hull faded from me mind. Eclipsed perhaps by the excitement of beasts with jaws and claws reachin’ for me skull, the rum cask with Ambrose inside was pushed further back into the liquor store. One day as ye air grew fuller of ice again ye store was growin’ low and me custom was to acquire a full cask and hide it in me cabin before the cellar were drained, lest I be forced to suffer the world in sobriety.
That cask was the one containing the mortal remains of old Ambrose. I discovered this only by a curious confluence o’ sensory gifts. Ye rum held a subtle flavour – strong hints of tobacco and a mouldened scent; the barrel had an unjust weight and on uncorking the rum belly a wizened finger slipped out the hole. It gave me pause I can tell ye, for a moment. I’d doubts as to the wisdom of consumption, for such would have taken Ambrose in time. And yet I’d faith in the spiritual power of alcohol to purify the putrefying man, and no doubt of how little rum was on board.
I popped on the little ear hats that Ambrose had knitted for me and swigged away at his vital fluids. Aye, it keeps out the chill.