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1592 — Kane is now thirty-eight. With the spring, he fits out a privateer and sails from Bristol across the Atlantic for the West Indies once again. His second-in-command is Godfrey Taferal, the eldest brother of Marylin, whom Kane rescued from Negari. Godfrey is a trusty man of thirty, who has sailed as a merchant to India, and a ship’s master. He fought against the Spanish Armada. Kane could not ask for better backing.
He seeks retribution for his experiences in Spain. He also knows too well that King Philip is still planning to conquer England, and a second fiasco like that of the “Invincible Armada” is unlikely. The next attempt would be better organized. The best way to prevent another try is to deprive Philip of the sinews of war – which derive from the New World’s gold and silver.
Kane takes rich prizes between Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf Coast and Havana in Cuba – the route over which Mexican silver is shipped on its way to Seville in Spain. A merchant of Veracruz deals with Kane and passes information to him. (The Spanish crown taxed private merchants’ wares at a rate of twenty per cent, the “quinto real” or royal fifth. Dealing through Kane, the Spaniard can evade this. A Puritan merchant of Bristol, Godfrey’s father-in-law, receives the cargoes at the English end.)
Kane, always restless, sweeps along the northern coast of Cuba next, taking prizes, and then attacks Santiago, after which he raids southward against Rio de la Hacha. Both raids are successful. Queen Elizabeth has so far done well out of the privateer’s commission her ministers gave Kane.
She will soon do even better. Kane careens his vessel on a remote shore of the Yucatan peninsula, and hears stories of a lost city in the jungle of the interior. The Spaniards have not yet subdued that region, and many Mayas took refuge there from the fanatical Bishop de Landa. But this is not a Mayan city. Aztecs fleeing the conquest by Cortez made a trek into Yucatan between 1520 and 1530, taking a vast hoard of gold with them. Now, sixty years later, they have established a small hidden city of their own, and worship their terrible gods in the way of their ancestors, with blood sacrifice and sorcery, preying on the Mayans of the jungles. Kane leads his pirates to the evil city, overthrows it, and delivers the Mayans from the Aztecs’ tyranny. He also obtains the gold.
1593 — There is an immense reward on Kane’s head. It is increased when Kane makes a run to Cartagena. This major New World port is one of three cities visited by the annual treasure fleets bound ultimately for Seville. Kane waits outside the town for the treasure fleet to leave. By luck two treasure ships are separated from the rest of the fleet in a storm. They contain gold, emeralds and pearls. Kane captures them and sends this remarkable haul – along with the Aztec gold – back to England with Godfrey Taferal. Although not greedy for wealth himself, and scornful of Elizabeth and her crooked officials, he knows England desperately needs it for the war effort if she is not to be conquered by Spain.
Kane has had enough tender Spanish attention.
In the Ukraine, the Cossack sich of Tomakivka Island on the lower Dneiper is destroyed by Tatars. The Cossacks replace it by building another at Bazavluk, also on the Dneiper. That is to last until 1638. A Polish military expedition will destroy it in that year, in retaliation for a Cossack rising.
1594 — Kane is now forty. Keeping the more seaworthy and heavily armed of the captured carracks, he recruits more freebooters and sails eastward to Brazil. Portuguese possessions are fair game. Dutch privateers at this time are Kane’s strongest competitors on these coasts. Spain was always the Low Countries’ tyrant and foe, and now Portugal is one with Spain.
Brazil has been divided into fifteen provinces. Only two are financially successful; the region of Pernambuco in the north-east, with its sugar plantations, and one other which exploits the native Indians for the slave trade. However, black slaves from Portuguese Africa are preferred. Red dyewood is another export, the only valuable ones besides sugar. Gold has not yet been discovered.
Kane and his men take prizes. He recruits desperate Indians and escaped slaves into his privateer band, building a fleet of four ships. Driven by his everlasting restless demon, Kane voyages southward to the region of present-day Uruguay. Kane finds evidence of Crimson Jack Callice’s work when he makes landfall. Callice is up to his old Caribbean tricks of taking Indians as slave cargo and forcing Spanish and Portuguese settlers to buy them, under the threat of his ship’s guns – at the pirate’s own exorbitant prices. Such is Crimson Jack’s idea of honest trade.
In this instance he has held a meeting with a large group of Charrua, offering them guns and rum, then treacherously massacred the men and enslaved the women and children. Kane is enraged. He pursues Callice southward, and finds when he catches him that Callice hurled the Charrua women and children overboard to lighten ship. Kane swears his death. He pursues Callice further south yet, down the coast of Patagonia and into the waters around Cape Horn, before losing him among the stormy waters and deadly reefs.
He returns north again. To his disgust he finds that the Brotherhood of the Main has lost its original purpose of fighting the Spanish and become an association of bloody pirates. Hardraker and Callice are characteristic of the new breed. Kane hears Hardraker’s atrocities spoken of, though the Fishhawk has left the Caribbean for parts unknown. Kane leaves word among the Brotherhood that if he crosses Hardraker’s path he will finish him.
1594 — Kane sails eastward across the Atlantic for Africa. Some of the escaped slaves among his crew wish to return there. Others opt for Italy or France, having nothing in Africa to which they can return, since in Africa they were criminals, inconvenient heirs or prisoners taken in tribal wars. They, like the Indians and white men in Kane’s crew, can realise enough profit from this voyage to live tolerably thereafter.
Kane meets Jack Callice again on the Slave Coast. The clash comes in a slaver’s barracoon on the shore. Somehow, with the Devil taking care of his own, Callice got safely through the storms and reefs of the Horn and crossed the Pacific, plundering all the way. His luck runs out at last. In the battle that ensues, Kane sends Crimson Jack to Hell by blasting him with a musket.
1595 — Kane has not set foot in Africa for ten years. Now, on the Slave Coast, he hears the haunting drums and in his dreams sees the face of N’Longa, hears the ancient fetish-man’s voice. He yields to the compelling call and leaves his ships, all his acquired wealth, and goes into the jungle, following N’Longa’s strange summons until he comes to his concealed hut. This is the opening scene of “The Hills of the Dead” in which N’Longa gives Kane the potent voodoo staff he carries thenceforward.
N’Longa knows that Kane found and destroyed the city of Negari that even N’Longa feared. To the fetish-man that indicates Kane is possessed by the spirit of a very powerful vudun … an equal, not the childish and probably mad white man N’Longa had previously thought him. As he says, “Blood-brother, you are a mighty warrior, but in the ways of magic you are as a little child lost.” He also tells Kane, “You go to the setting sun, but you come back!” This is another instance of his supernatural perception, since Kane has not told him he was in the Caribbean, the far west.
N’Longa entrusts the voodoo staff to Kane, who accepts it, though with misgivings. Later in the story N’Longa’s spirit travels across the leagues to possess the body of a young companion of Kane’s and work magic to destroy a tribe of vampires. After that he relinquishes it. (“… were my magic always bad, would I not take this fine young body in place of my old wrinkled one and keep it? But Kran shall have his body back safely.”)
The adventure “Wings in the Night” takes place during this same trek through unknown country. Solomon discovers a brood of the legendary harpies, hideously cruel winged creatures, and fails to save a village of peaceful folk from them. “The Footfalls Within” follows. Kane battles Arab slavers driving a coffle of negroes northward, and discovers that the juju staff N’Longa gave him is really the ancient staff of Moses, which for centuries was the scepter of Judah. It was carried by the original Solomon, the wise king who defeated and imprisoned evil demons with it. Kane turns eastward after freeing the slaves.
1596 — Kane meets an old acquaintance, Jeremy Hawk, when each of them had believed he was the only white man for a thousand miles. This meeting and the sequel is partly recorded in the fragment “Hawk of Basti”. It must transpire at this time, since here again, Solomon Kane is carrying the ancient staff he did not have at the time of “Red Shadows”.
Hawk has bluffed and chicaned his way into becoming ruler of the city for a time, but now has been deposed. He informs Kane that when he arrived in Basti it was dominated by a dark and bloody cult of ritual torture, human sacrifice, and dark magic.
Basti was probably an outpost of Negari. In Basti at least there is no immortal vampire queen, but there are wicked sorcerers, chief of them one Agara, who performs the human sacrifices to the Moon. (Sacrifices at the full moon were also the chief cruel rite in Negari.)
Restored as ruler of Basti, his opposition crushed, Jeremy Hawk sends Kane on an embassy to the tribes to the east. He informs them that the tyranny and exactions of Basti are at an end – particularly the demand for sacrificial victims. He offers peaceful relations. The embassy is successful, but Kane journeys on, for some of the way with an escort, as an honored prince. Astoundingly, he reaches the coast in the end, near modern Mombasa, the first man ever to cross the African continent from west to east.
1598 — Kane finds hospitality and passage on an Arab merchantman sailing for the Persian Gulf. Arab vessels have plied the east coast of Africa for centuries, though now the Portuguese are thrusting them contemptuously aside. Kane reaches Bassorah and Baghdad, names of magic, and sees the ruins of ancient, accursed Nineveh. It is a name familiar to him from the Bible, like many others in the region. He visits Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Sinai. With his ancient, mystical staff and haunted manner, he is regarded by many with awe, as being either holy or “touched by the finger of Allah.”
1599 — Kane passes through Cyprus and Crete. Voyaging up the Adriatic Sea on a Venetian galley, he experiences an attack by the ferocious Uskoks, pirates of the Dalmatian coast. The Venetian galley’s crew is fortunate enough to fight off the attack and escape to safety, partly because of Kane’s prowess and leadership.
1600 — The East India Company is granted its charter.
From Venice Kane travels to Verona and then crosses the Alps, encountering bandits. Going through Munich and entering the Black Forest, he comes to the Cleft Skull Tavern which is the scene of the story “Rattle of Bones.” The innkeeper is crazed and the other guest announces himself as a Frenchman, Gaston l’Armon. It’s an alias; he is actually Captain Gaston Pequigot, or Gaston the Butcher. As Kane says, he last saw him in Calais some years before. He meets his end at the Cleft Skull inn.
Going on his way, Kane finds a young boy hanging on a gibbet, barely alive. He cuts him down and revives him, for he says the boy “had a good face”. Then he encounters a fellow Englishman, John Silent, who assures him that in cutting down a victim from a gibbet of Baron von Staler’s he has taken a gigantic risk. Baron von Staler is the most powerful lord in the Black Forest, and the peasants call his ancestral keep “Schloss Teufel”, the Castle of the Devil. It’s no misnomer. Baron Heinrich Ehrenfels von Staler is large, physically strong and ruthless, with pale blond hair and a craggy, square face marked by scars. He walks with a limp, moreover, as the Devil is said to do since he was hurled out of Heaven. The baron received all these wounds on the battlefield. Now impoverished, he seeks the secret of making gold, through Satanic rituals which include human sacrifice.
By the time Solomon and Silent depart his lands, he’s beyond the need of gold or anything else. Except salvation, and he chose to abandon his chances of that long before.
Before they part, John Silent imparts news to Kane that makes even the iron Puritan whitens. Jonas Hardraker, the Fishhawk, waylaid an English merchant vessel, the “Flying Heart” out of Dover. There was a girl aboard whom Hardraker ravaged, and who shortly died. Kane had known her father and been his friend. He knew the girl too when she was little. He tells Silent to pass a message to Hardraker, or any of his associates he may meet, that for this atrocity Kane will demand his life.
“Last I heard o’ the Fishhawk, he was in Lisbon,” Silent volunteers. “Then to Lisbon I go,” Kane says with determination.
1601 — The seventeenth century has now opened, and Kane begins it with a new mission. The Fishhawk has lived too long. From Basel to Lyon he travels, then to Lisbon, where he hears from the lawless seafaring element that Jonas Hardraker is reckoned to be in wait for ships off the ports of southern Ireland. Kane again leaves word for Hardraker with the pirate element that Kane intends his finish. Then he travels to England. He knows much about the English aristocrats who profit from pirate depredations, even against the shipping of their own nation, such as the Killigrews and Lord Hunsdon. The Fishhawk is sure to have connections with some of them. Kane will find him.
The second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux, whose father Kane slew in Dublin, is executed for high treason this year.
1602 — Kane does find Hardraker, to a great extent by luck – or, he would say, God’s will. He discovers through his pirate and smuggler acquaintances that Sir George Banway, young as he is, has been leagued with such fellows for years. To Sir George’s vicinity he comes, and sees the Fishhawk’s ship offshore (“Blades of the Brotherhood”). He avenges one young girl and saves another from a similar fate. Both Jonas Hardraker and George Banway have been sent to their account before he departs.
At this time Kane’s former acquaintance Jack Ward is jailed on charges of having attacked a Danish ship in the Caribbean while sailing under English letters of marque.
Kane goes back to the Low Countries, where the bloody Siege of Ostend is dragging on. This will cost tens of thousands of lives before it’s finished. The Spanish have a plan to break it and take the city. Kane goes on a mission to Denmark with a delegation from the Dutch, to appeal to King Christian IV of Denmark.
The Kingdom of Denmark-Norway cannot spare resources for the Low Countries. It expects shortly to be at war with its great Scandinavian rival, Sweden. The appeal is refused. Kane is almost killed by Spanish agents, including a master swordsman, but he defeats them. Nevertheless his mission has failed and the taste is bitter in his mouth as he wanders east to Poland-Lithuania.
1603 — Queen Elizabeth dies in March. James of Scotland succeeds her as James I of England. Jack Ward is released from prison on condition he joins the navy. He agrees, then promptly deserts at Plymouth with 30 other disgruntled sailors, seizing a small bark.
Solomon Kane, in Poland-Lithuania, first encounters a pagan cult led by a sorceress, then clashes with a powerful, aged magnate, Prince Ostrogsky. Kane also meets a Russian impostor, False Dimitri, who claims to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. He’s a fraud. The real Dimitri was assassinated in Uglich in 1591.
Afterwards Kane comes up against a marauding band of Zaporozhian Cossacks. He slays their chief in a duel after exacting from the other Cossacks an oath that they will leave the district if Kane wins. Prince Ostrogsky’s son Janusz lends Kane his own stallion for the fight. Luckily for Kane, who is no Cossack, the fight ends on the ground.
Art credits: Solomon Kane by Jeffrey Jones, Kane and N’Longa by Michael L. Peters and The Fishawk and Kane Fight by Gary Gianni
Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Five