1583 — The beginning of “The Moon of Skulls” describes how Solomon Kane comes at last to Negari. He finds Marylin Taferal alive. She is now eighteen. The story describes her as “only a girl, little more than a child” but that may be Kane’s sentimental response. Eighteen was reckoned fully a woman in Elizabethan England. More importantly, it is hard to believe Kane finds her, discovers the secret of how the city can be destroyed, and rescues the girl, all within a week. More likely it took him months of walking a tightrope, as he learned the politics, power patterns and dark inner secrets of the place. REH probably telescoped events to move the story along.
Nakari, the city’s “vampire queen” may or may not be truly a vampire. It’s certainly her reputation. Kane’s first words to the first warrior of Negari he met were, “I seek the vampire queen …” Besides, in “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming,” REH writes:
And I have known a deathless queen in a city old as Death,
Where towering pyramids of skulls her glory witnesseth.
Her kiss was like an adder’s fang, with the sweetness Lilith had,
And her red-eyed vassals howled for blood in that City of the Mad.
One wonders. Was she perhaps thousands of years old, one of the “captive girls dragged screaming through the portals of death” by the vampire princess Akivasha in Conan’s time? If anybody could survive the cataclysm that destroyed the Hyborian world, it would be a vampire. Nakari might have sought refuge in a forgotten outpost of Atlantis deep in Africa, as harpies (“Wings in the Night”) and other fiendish creatures had done.
She perishes at last, though. “The blind giant whirled her on high with one dying effort, and her last scream knifed the din of battle as Nakari, last queen of Negari, crashed against the stones of the altar and fell shattered and dead at Kane’s feet.”
1584 — Kane and Marylin leave the remnants of Negari to attempt a return to civilization. This occurs in January or February. Marylin doubts they can survive such a journey, but Kane urges her to have faith. He justifies his own faith by bringing Marylin home to Devon and her family by July. Old Hildred is beside himself with joy. Bess Rowley is glad past measure to see Kane alive – she still loves him – but when she urges him to stay in Devon for a settled existence, he fears he cannot. Bess says despairingly, “Solomon, are you a cursed spirit that you can never rest?” and he tries to explain. It doesn’t go over too well. Perhaps he confesses to her that he was the Earl of Essex’s slayer in Ireland and that this, if it is ever discovered, would mean disaster for any wife and family of his in England. After Kane departs, Bess, now twenty-seven, turns to Henry Taferal, a cousin of Marylin’s who has loved her for some time, and marries him.
1585 — Perhaps Kane’s heart aches more than he owns. On April 9th Richard Grenville leaves England on an expedition sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. He commands five ships – the Tiger, Roebuck, Red Lion, Elizabeth and Dorothy. The Tiger is Grenville’s vessel, a ship of “seven score tun”. Kane sails with Grenville in the “Tiger.”
The fleet becomes separated in a storm off the coast of Portugal. Grenville’s “Tiger” arrives in Guayanillo Bay in Puerto Rico (“Baye of Muskito”). He raids and plunders the Spaniards there, while waiting for his other ships. In early July he re-unites with the Roebuck and Dorothy, but not the Red Lion, which has gone off on its own privateering – or to engage in out-and-out piracy.
Two other Devon seamen, Black Roger Bellamy and Jack Hawksby, are pirates in the Caribbean, fighting the Spaniards, looting their ships and towns. They encounter Grenville and Solomon Kane at Puerto Rico at the time of Grenville’s Roanoake voyage. They join with Grenville to raid Cuba and Jamaica. Kane is thirty-one, Bellamy and Hawksby somewhat the same age.
1586 — Grenville arrives at Roanoake in August to find the place deserted except for three men mistakenly left behind by Drake. He re-establishes the colony. Raleigh and Elizabeth intended that the venture should provide riches from the New World and a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain. Perhaps at this time Kane battles the Indians of the region.
On his way back to England, Grenville pillages the Azores and captures a Spanish ship. Kane is with him on these enterprises also. He comes to have a much higher regard for Grenville than for Drake, and Raleigh he despises as “a smug, scented lecher,” in REH’s phrase. Grenville is appointed English vice-admiral of the navy once back in England.
1587 — Kane has returned to England with Grenville. Hearing that Bess is married to a Taferal, he decides not to disturb her life, but he writes her a letter, the longest he has ever written, and the most difficult. He rips up a dozen before he sends the last. Basically he asks her pardon for having caused her grief and wishes her happiness always.
This is not the most momentous event of 1587. Kane and Grenville return to England after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in February. Kane is filled with loathing for the deed, even though Mary was Catholic and a threat to Protestant England, for she was still a woman helpless among dark political machinations. Kane’s distaste for Elizabeth becomes greater yet. She had experienced life in prison, as a danger to the ruling monarch, in constant dread of the executioner’s blade. Kane despises Mary’s son James even more, for James did nothing to prevent his mother’s execution, merely lodged a feeble protest. Kane regards him thenceforward and for all time as a craven lacking any trace of manhood.
But a menace greater than Mary Queen of Scots could ever have been is looming. The Armada of Philip II is being assembled to invade England. The preparations have been under way for months, and Elizabeth’s spies know all about it. They would be blind and deaf if they didn’t.
1588 — The Spanish Armada of 132 ships sails for England. England’s navy consists of 34 ships and 163 armed merchant vessels. Kane, in the Low Countries, has recruited some old comrades of the Dutch “sea beggars” and rebel French Huguenots, to take part in resisting the invasion. All are tough, expert fighting seamen, and all have bitter scores to settle with Spain. They go to England in a small fast ship Kane has purchased.
Drake and other English sea-dogs trounce the “invincible” Armada. The weather finishes it off, on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. The threat to England is over.
Roger Bellamy of Devon is one of the ship-captains who “ripped Philip’s Armada to shreds”. He has returned from the Caribbean, though his former associate Jack Hawksby has remained there. As he says in “The Road of the Eagles”, he “couldn’t bide in Devon because o’ feuds and fights wi’ divers people.”
Jack Ward, former Kentish fisherman, also takes part in the battle against the Armada. Later he becomes a privateer, attacking and looting Spanish ships under letters of marque from Queen Elizabeth. He’s the same age as Kane.
The winter of 1588-89 is probably when the events of, “Skulls in the Stars” occur, near a hamlet called Torkertown in the close vicinity of bleak moorland and swamp. A fiend of unknown description is hideously killing travelers, and Kane investigates. He will again be near Torkertown at least once in the future. Probably the “moor” in the story is Dartmoor.
1589 — Elizabeth sends an “English Armada” to the Iberian coast to follow up the Spanish Armada’s defeat. Francis Drake is her admiral and Sir John Norreys the general. The English fleet attacks Lisbon but is defeated with heavy losses. Philip II’s naval power is rebuilt over the decade that follows.
REH’s character in “The Road of the Eagles”, Black Roger Bellamy, is with Drake in this disaster. The Spaniards take him captive. He rows in a galley until the Barbary corsair Seyf-ed-Din defeats it on the sea and frees the rowers on condition they become Moslems. Bellamy becomes a Moslem and a corsair, taking the name Osman Pasha.
1589 — Henry of Navarre ascends the French throne as Henri IV. A converted Protestant, he had barely escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. He had to abjure his Calvinist faith to become king, but his coronation was followed by a four-year war against the Catholic League to keep his crown. Elizabeth of England sends money and troops to support the Protestant cause, and Solomon Kane, ardent to support the Protestants, is a captain in that force. He’s now aged thirty-five.
James VI of Scotland visits Denmark to meet his future wife, Anne. He also meets various scientists and intellectuals, astronomer Tycho Brahe among them.
1590 — Henry IV’s forces are victorious at Ivry and Arques. It’s with regard to these events that Dick Hollinster, in “Blue Flame of Vengeance” asks Kane, “Were you not a captain in the French army … and were you not at — ” Kane replies that he “led a rout of ungodly men, to my shame be it said, though the cause was a just one … many foul deeds were done under the cloak of the cause and my heart was sickened.”
He would have been more disappointed still when Henry IV permanently renounced his Protestant faith in 1593, saying cynically (and famously) “Paris is well worth a Mass.”
James VI of Scotland returns to his own country in May. The sea crossing is stormy and dangerous. He becomes convinced the bad weather was caused by witches trying to destroy him. The North Berwick witch trials follow.
Late in the year 1590, Kane appears in the Caribbean. The Spaniards insist it is their private lake, and their main purpose there is to wring gold out of it, though they do found cities such as Santiago and slave-worked sugar plantations. The “buccaneers” have not yet begun their activities; when REH uses the word of pirates in the late 16th century it’s a slight anachronism. The buccaneers took advantage of Spain’s decline during the 17th century; the freebooters of Kane’s day are tackling that nation when it is strongest. Some are English rovers; some are former Dutch rebels and French Huguenots, among them old friends of Kane’s; some are Caribbean Indians or part-Indians or escaped black slaves, called by the Spaniards “los cimarrones”. They form a loose association of rovers, “The Brotherhood of the Main”.
Jack Ward of Kent, who fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588, is one of them. He’s now a privateer holding letters of marque from Queen Elizabeth, to harry Spanish shipping in the Indies. At this time he attacks and plunders a Danish ship, which will get him into legal trouble later. John Silent, who appears in “The Castle of the Devil”, is a member of the Brotherhood. Captain John Bellefonte, who led a mutiny aboard the “Red Lion” in 1586, is another, and Jeremy Hawk is one of Bellefonte’s officers.
Some are merciless villains. In the Caribbean Kane runs across Jonas Hardraker, “the Fish-hawk” once again. There is also the pirate captain Kane recalls in “Blades of the Brotherhood”, when speaking with Ben Allardine. “I had dealings with your former captain … in the Tortugas and again off the Horn. An evil man he was … ”
While REH does not name this man, he was evidently John “Crimson Jack” Callice (or Challis), born in southern Wales. Callice joined the English navy in 1571. In 1574 he seized an Italian merchant ship, slaughtered the crew and sold the cargo in Bristol. He then used his navy commission as a cover for merciless plunder. In 1577 he was sentenced to hang on six major charges of piracy, but he was pardoned due to friends in high places. Callice raided Scotland and the Baltic before doing as other English pirates had — turning renegade and raiding out of the Barbary States as a Moslem convert.
He had supposedly been killed in 1587, but he now appears in the Tortugas. Tortuga is not then the famous pirate stronghold it becomes later. It offers water, good anchorage and is highly defensible, though, so it would be strange if the Brotherhood did not use it. It gives ready access by ship to Cuba, Hispaniola and Mexico.
Kane is shipwrecked and finds refuge among a tribe of Indians. While not cannibals themselves, they are preyed upon by a larger, more savage tribe which is anthropophagous. Kane aids them against these fiends, but then his hosts are attacked by Spanish slavers. Those not massacred are marched away in chains. Kane and a few escaped survivors take revenge on the slavers and burn their ship. Kane leads a band of freebooters from the Brotherhood against the cannibals and destroys them. The Indians taught him their skills in stealth and woodcraft while he lived among them … the reason for Allardine’s bleat, “I told you he came like a shadow and slew like a ghost!” (“Blades of the Brotherhood.”)
1590 — John Hawksby of Devon, comes into the Zaporozhye Sech of the Cossacks in the Ukraine, “speaking brokenly the speech of the Muscovites”. He joins their community and takes the name Ivan Sablianka. (“The Road of the Eagles”.)
1591 — The Sultan of Morocco’s army invades the Songhai Empire.
Kane discovers that a Spanish treasure fleet is being prepared to sail. His former commander Grenville is dispatched to the Azores as Vice-Admiral of the Fleet under Sir Thomas Howard, to intercept it. Kane joins Grenville there. The famous night-long battle of one ship against fifty-three ensues, fought until the decimated crew prevails on Grenville to surrender. Kane declares in “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming”:
“We should have blown her hull apart and sunk beneath the Main.”
The people saw upon his wrists the scars of the racks of Spain.
Having captured the notorious Kane, the Spaniards take him to Madrid as a captive. There Kane faces the Inquisition. His record of opposing Spain and the Pope is long, from the time he sailed with the Dutch “Sea Beggars” as a mere stripling. Since Kane is a heretic as well, the Holy Office kindly tries to convert him and bring him to salvation. He fails to appreciate the essential mercy of the rack and strappado, and remains obdurate.
Some Huguenot friends of his from France plan his rescue. He saved their lives from Catholic wrath in 1572. Miguel de Cervantes also assists, paying the debt he owes Kane for his escape from Algiers. There is also a black magician most justifiably detained by the Inquisition. This curious group of enforced allies manages to remove itself from Madrid and Spain. They reach the Basque country and then cross the Pyrenees into Gascony.
From Bordeaux, Kane returns to England.
Art credits: Solomon Kane by Jeffrey Jones and “Moon of Skulls” by Gary Gianni
Read Part One, Part Two, Part Four, Part Five