Chapter Four

            He did not know where he was, except lost. Lost in an unknown place. Alastair never once ventured to Scotland to do business, and his time in Stirling was horror at its finest. However, after fleeing the sight of Howard Dunne, he came across a sign directing travelers to places of import. One of them caught his eye: Aberdeen Harbor. So he knew he would be picked up by Dunne and his ilk sooner rather than later. But he had a plan: He had to keep moving, change his outfit, and procure some transportation out of the country: There was nothing left for him, he was a fugitive, and there was no to redeem himself. Alastair ditched his leather armor, revealing his plain white shirt. He also donned his green bandana given at the prison, hiding his distinctive hair pattern, grew out his beard, and found an old raggedy brown jacket, giving an impression of a beggar. Every time he saw soldiers, he made sure to keep his head down, out of direct eye contact, for fear one of them may be Dunne’s agent. He kept his hand tucked in his jacket, devoid of any emotion, blending in with the rejects of society, left to die in the street. A sad fate, but it was one that one must take to survive.

            Since his escape, Alastair’s face was in posters put up all over Aberdeen. He could take down what he could, but did so quietly without fear of soldiers finding him out. Whenever he had a moment to hide, he read the map he got at the prison: It was a map to a place he never saw on any chart, he did however recognize one thing: The Devils Shroud. When Alastair was a merchant rumrunner, he reminisced how the Devils Shroud was whispered in taverns, because all sailors knew that anyone who ventured there never made it out alive. The Shroud consumed them. Alastair was too preoccupied with his own survival to muddle over the legends, he needed to first find a way to the Aberdeen Harbor, on the far northeastern edge of the city, where he could easily find a ship and make his escape. He knew it would take a couple months to get to the harbor, so he had to first get out of the purview of the prison, because soldier activity was at its highest. The time was now.

~

            Alastair’s journey to the Harbor was both a careful and dangerous one at that. He made sure to stay off major bridges and roads, since soldier activity was at its highest in those areas. He did not stay in the same small village or town for more than half a day. The first stretch of his journey, which was from the Tolbooth to Auchterarder, had a lot of issues, as this portion of his journey had serious soldier activity. From checkpoints on all major areas such as the Bridge of Allan and the River Forth, convoys of iron box prison carriages heading for the Tolbooth, as well as companies of Royal Marines that would be somewhere between 100-200 people a group. To keep himself from dying of dehydration and starvation, Alastair had to steal from houses he would find in passing: cured meats, cheese, whatever he could find was his to survive. He had to make his shelters from trees and dirt. It took him roughly five days, but he made it out of Auchterarder and into the town of Gleneagles.

            Gleneagles was quiet enough for anyone who had something to hide would find sanctuary. Alastair took refuge in an abandoned monastery, left destroyed by the English government long ago. He would use this structure for a good week to regroup with what little food he had. Upon his arrival, he made a fire, as well as a bed out of some dry hay piled up in a corner of the building. As he drifted off into a state of deep rest, he had the strangest dream: Alastair was sitting in his the home of the family Dunne, talking to the senior named Richard Dunne, while Howard was watching from behind a door. Alastair and Richard were first discussing business, but then transitioned into talks of the future. “I want you to take in my son, Al” Richard elucidated. “Look, I canna do much with him, and being honest Rick, he ain’t got a mind for business” Alastair sternly advised. “I know, but perhaps you can teach him the manners” “He needs to understand that too many people have gotten greedy while receiving their comeuppance later” “Agreed, so you will take the boy?” “Aye, as a favor to you, because of how much we have helped each other in the past. BUT REMIND HIM OF WHO I AM”. He then drifted off into the moonlit sky.

~

            Waking up from his slumber in cold sweat, Alastair fixed himself a difficultly attained breakfast of wild hare, drying any clothes that have been soiled along the journey. “It is amazing this building is still here”, Alastair thought. “The English had their share of schisms in the past, but it was surprising to see that they did not raise this place to the ground as they did in London. But then again, England went from destroying everything in another image, to just leaving it to decay, left behind in the wake of a uncaring society”. A pain he knew all too well. Spending a couple hours to conserve energy, he stubbed his toe on a box hidden next to the monastery, a small wooden box that contained a raggedy rustic sword, a spare pistol, a bag of shot, and horn of powder. But included was a note: Use it well. With his clothes dried, and weapons properly stored, Alastair continued his quest.

            His journey continued towards the town of Perth. It was a fortress for the criminal: Riddled with guard checkpoints, armed patrols, going in through the front gate was a death trap. From what Alastair could see, there was no way to get in as he was now…he needed to sneak in as a soldier. The convoys usually had to wait to get clearance before just walking in, and all Alastair would have to do is slip into one of those outfits. Hiding in some bushes next to the checkpoint into town, he waited for the next convoy to arrive, caught one of the soldiers off guard, knocked him out and took his uniform. “Come on!” another solider replied to Alastair. Taking formation in the back of the group, the Captain ordered his soldiers into the town: “You got ten minutes lads, then we move on. Gotta help transport these criminals to the Tolbooth”. Breaking off from the group, Alastair took off the uniform, getting back into his rags and moving onward away from the group, without any suspicion. Although he knew that the soldier he robbed would be returning soon enough. In the soldiers knapsack he found about 12 pounds sterling, some extra shot, and a large orange piece of cloth that resembled a neckerchief with a beautiful gold broach. But he made it to Perth, so he was getting closer to Aberdeen. But while in Perth, he knew that this place made the Tolbooth look like paradise.

~

Perth was tossed back and forth between the English and the Jacobites throughout the 17th century onward. The last Jacobite uprising in 1689 had reduced the city to a near military base. Anyone who spoke of them were instantly vanished from society, and all forms of their memory were buried and the Earth salted. Patrols were heavy, conversation was met only with praise to Queen Anne, and soldiers coated the town in a sea of red. However, Alastair was one of the many destitute in the area. He would fit right into this area for a time. As long as he keeps his head down of course, he will be fine. Everywhere he walked, he saw an oppressed and timid people, forced form their homes and thrown into the street as sovereigns levied taxes that were left unpaid, soldiers making a mockery of their fellow citizens because they are lower than them. The one thing that drove Alastair to bitter hatred was a harmless child begging for coins, cast out by his family, who was then first beat on for being a leech in the minds of the soldiers, then he was hauled off in the back of a prison transport all because he was poor. This upset Alastair to the core. “England dinna care about us”, he thought, “We either fall in line, follow the rules, or have our lower jaw torn out and our bodies cast into the abyss. England chooses to destroy malcontents, when those who were “chosen” were forced into their state of affairs. England makes terrible choices that affect people and those people are then forced into terrible states, then taken somewhere to die and branded a monster to keep the other god-fearing taxpaying subjects in line. I canna live this anymore, living in a luxury knowing those who will get chosen, that this happened to me and can happen to anyone.” This was a corrupt country, one he was willing to leave behind, never to look back, not for all England has done to create a more “perfect” society. But he needed to get out of Perth, quickly, cause he saw a poster of his face, and someone will recognize him soon.

~

Aside from staying hidden, surprisingly at one point, the guards did not notice Alastair's presence as well as in Stirling, which got him wondering if they were fixated on something else at the moment. He was right! There were several demonstrations by pamphleteers about the evils of pressganging, that people are taken everyday and forced to serve military time when there is no mandate that enforces that. The demonstrations were pacified with arrests, destruction of property, and in some cases, public hanging for inciting a “riot”. There was nothing Alastair could do, for fear he might be exposed, but he did use that distraction to an advantage: He was able to slip past a small group of soldiers without being detected. However, after slipping past the soldiers, a huge company was parading down the street, and Alastair was instantly pulled into a small alley. “Get yaself killed out there laddie” The Stranger replied. “Whew, thanks mate” Alastair thanked. “Best be careful, more killing today than others” “Aye.” “Well here, take some fresh water, you look a little pale” The Stranger handed Alastair the wooden cup, which had given Alastair something resembling a breath of fresh air. “That was needed” Alastair said in a near exhausted voice. “Good, cause I need your help getting revenge.” The Stranger forcibly stated. “Revenge?!” Alastair nearly yelled in fright. “Aye, there a man here that threw me out. Like a dog. And I HAD GIVEN HIM LIFE THE CUR!” The Stranger shouted. Alastair turned to look at the Stranger, and he shocked: It was Dunne’s father!

“RICK! ITS ME ALASTAIR!” He replied with excitement but also sentiment because Dunne kicked out his own father. “Al! What-This is great!” Richard Dunne replied with a smiling face. They both hugged as if they haven’t seen each other in years. In fact, what both of these gentlemen failed to realize was that they had a falling out, right around when Howard Dunne joined Alastair as a merchant. However, something about that meeting put it out of mind, water under the bridge as it were. But then again, the Richard Dunne Alastair saw last was different than the one standing before him: Then, Richard Dunne was a polite, timid socialite, only known for his ability to speak when need be; reduced now to a eyeless, toothless, fetid, foul-stench of a vagabond, left to die by society. Richard Dunne now was a monster to England, and he had a heart stone, wanting to kill his own son. “Why?” Alastair asked, “Why do you want to see your son gone?” “Because he never settled. He wanted everything for his own” Richard sternly explained. “My son wanted to make everything for himself, but he did not understand how much time it takes. So he took, from you, from me, and he hid all information regarding his deception. He never threw me in a prison he just threw me here in Perth. He is my flesh in blood, and he must be taught a lesson, a lesson to follow him for eternity” He could not believe it, but Alastair’s closest friend had embraced the thing he was made to be: a monster.

~

            “Is this our final destiny?” Alastair thought, “To become the things they hate? To emerge from nothing as the very monster they make us to be? No. It can’t be. We need to be better than that. But we also need to remind ourselves that we need to be monsters, because they make us monsters, why not be them?” Alastair muddled over this, drowning out the words of Richard Dunne. “So will ye help me?” Dunne asked. “One condition: Procure me a ship in Aberdeen” “Why?” “I am leaving this country. For good.” “I do know there is a ship with yellow diamonds in Aberdeen Harbor” “THE TROUBADOUR IS IN ABERDEEN?!” Alastair nearly yelled. “Aye, and I will get you there if you give me my revenge” “Deal” So the two men had an accord: One dead man for one ship. So Richard had explained to Alastair that his treacherous progeny has set up shop in Perth. He doubled patrols to control rumored Jacobites abound in the city. Howard Dunne had one particular activity he enjoyed wherever he went: He held public executions, he just chose people suspected of crimes against the Crown. No warnings, no trials, only death. That was ample time for the two of them to strike.

            The next execution will happen in two days, right in the square. So they had to prepare for this attack. The plan would be to stick in the crowd, drawn pistols, and then vanish in the commotion. However, there were armed guards that would patrol through the crowds, so both men had to be careful not to get caught. Upon escape, they would use horses stored in a stable behind the butcher shop, and fly their way to Aberdeen, and then, who knows. Richard was sure this plan would work, but Alastair was not so sure. He did not know why, but something was off, it was too perfect of an execution. Howard knew he would make himself a target, and that audience is what he craved on. But Alastair could not deviate, because he had to get to Aberdeen, and this was his best chance to escape. And he also got to see revenge on the man who took his life. In his mind, Alastair wanted to wish revenge, but he needed to put humanity aside, especially when his enemy did not care about him at all. Alastair did not want to, but he had to become the monster he was viewed as. The only way he knew to strike fear was to become fear, to embrace it. But he knew that when this was over, and Dunne was lying in a pool of his own blood, Alastair had to bid this country goodbye, off to the Devils Shroud, maybe to die, or to live.

~

The days had passed and the time had come for another execution. Howard Dunne had hung about thirty people before Alastair arrived, arresting hundreds of “discontents” in the process. This crowd in attendance was twice the size as any that Richard recalled, which provided the prefect cover for both men. They drowned out what Howard was saying on his pulpit as he lined up men and women for his kangaroo execution. As Howard was killing people left and right, Richard and Alastair were careful to draw their pistols, waiting for the crowd to grow loud, so as to confuse the soldiers. With each roar of innocent snapped necks, Richard and Alastair closed in. They were less than a stone’s throw from killing him. Alastair was ready to shoot Howard, but Richard was nowhere to be seen. The next thing Alastair saw was Richard run through the crowd, holding his pistol, joining Howard on the stage. Pointing his pistol at Howard, Richard had only three words: Behold the Monster. He shot him. His own son was dead. The crowd immediately went into a frenzy of panic and soldiers stormed the gallows, taking down Richard. Another friend of Alastair’s had been slain, and again, no time to mourn, he had to move to the horses behind the butchers. Escape was imperative.

Alastair fought his way through the mob of frightened citizens. Making his way to the butchers, he found the horses, and easily boarded a brown horse and made a mad dash for the northeast gate, out of Perth and onward to Aberdeen. A range of emotions escaped his mind: Why do people keep dying near me? Were they chosen to die? Will I escape from this world? But like the death of Milton, so many things were going through Alastair’s mind, and he could not keep it altogether. The only thing he could do was keep moving, because he was certain that the redcoats would find out. So he ventured for three days what would have been a week to Aberdeen, ditching his horse to prevent suspicion. But he was almost to his goal: He made it Aberdeen.

~

The Aberdeen harbor was on the other side of town, but travel was ill advised, as the city was host a terrible storm, so sailors avoided travel until the storm passed. Alastair had to take shelter and quick, comfort from the bitter storm. His refuge was a bar known as Lucky Jack’s. He missed the cacophony of bar conversations, the laughter of friends and lovers over pints as a big as a rum barrel. The sounds of quiet conversations, and rousing songs over drink, albeit the weirdest of comforts, but still something everyone will remember. Alastair found a quiet corner, ordered his usual: Rum, while sitting back and listening to the conversations of the patrons. This soon drowned out to his own thought, now that he was in comfort, first idea of comfort in a while, and he could have a moment to think. Milton. Richard. Two people were taken from him, people he had come to admire. The life he had, gone, stolen from him. Now he sat in a bar, in a foreign place, using the last of his gold pieces to purchase a drink, maybe two, but he had found peace. But more importantly, he had a moment to reflect.

Something humbled him in that moment, as the thunder boomed outside, he realized the people around him, he took in the sight of the patrons, reminding him of the people he had hired. Alastair could now see what these men were going through, the life of living wage to wage, and the little pittance it could do to make their lives great. But he realized that something in that bar brought them together: Their willingness to share the struggle, to know that their status in life will go nowhere. But they found camaraderie, friendship, and some even love, that they would not trade for gold or status. Now Alastair did not trade anything for gold, he worked for everything, but he realized that what would happen to him if he had met the fate of these poor souls? Would he be any different than them? Finding cheerful times, while also crying themselves in anguish over their loss of a job, a wage, or even family? Alastair did not know of such a loss until now. No turning back, no room for salvation. Alastair was alone in this world, alone, and had no choice but to make his own fate yet again. This time it was not for more monetary gain, but for his life. He will either die or live by the choices he makes, and that was all there is to it. When the bartender asked if Alastair wanted more drink, the only thing he came to find left in the corner was Alastair’s empty tankard, the coins for payment, and the faint sight of pipe smoke. No Alastair. In fact, that would be the last time he stepped in a bar in Great Britain. He would not return to England. No turning back. And no idea what would await him further.

~

Rested, for what it was worth, but full of energy to keep moving, still taking cover from the storm, Alastair made his way to the Harbor. Even though he could not see much, cause of the bitter storm, he used directional posts that pointed him to the Harbor. He borrowed a spare lantern from the Harbormaster office rested on a nail, so he can find his ship. Alastair could not believe that the Troubadour was still here, and he thought it was burned and the contents sold off to various crews. He searched up and down the plethora of ships in the harbor to find his, but it was placed at the edge of the harbor, susceptible to the most damage from the waves. He found it, and with no one crazy enough to come out here, he prepared it for launch. Before he was about to step on a voice in the distance shouted “STOP!!!” shooting out the light in the lantern. It was Howard Dunne. He tracked him. “But how?” Alastair thought. “How you found me is a wonder, you snake!” Alastair hollered over the raging storm. “I saw you in the crowd, that day when my father died!” Dunne called back. “I had him killed, and I watched, because I knew this was his doing, and you would be right next to him. I got smarter, Alastair Groovybeard, and I have you to thank!” “Me?” “That’s right innit? You taught me to keep my wits about me, always went on about that. Well I did, and everything you own is now mine, and I have taken enough from you to prove that. Your friends, especially, you hold onto them so dear like my decrepit father-“ Before he could finish his sentence, Alastair drew his sword found in the wooden crate at the monastery. “You gonna kill me Alastair?” Dunne asked, but not before he drew a pistol on Alastair. “Where I go next,” Alastair vowed “I only hope you go in the opposite direction. Since you have been quick to make me a monster, I will be it”.

The thunder was pounding on the bridge and rainwater was dropping heavy, while Dunne had his gun posed at Alastair ready to kill him. Alastair’s blade was dripping rainwater, and it soon became a mind game: Will Alastair strike down his enemy, and get his revenge, or will Dunne complete his task of ridding the world of Alastair Groovybeard? With each raindrop, both men moved closer to one another, but within a flash of thunder, Alastair vanished! Dunne frantically looked around trying to find him, he could see nothing, but the only thing he could hear was the rain falling, the thunder booming, and Alastair’s voice travelling like a ghost, and each passing word made Dunne more frightened by the minute. “You want to kill me?” Alastair eerily asked Dunne, hiding in the deep cover of the rain. “You want to prove your meddle, hide yourself behind your anger and slay your friends? Go ahead, but remember: It catches up. The choices we make. Even if you kill everyone Dunne, there will always be another to stand up. That terrifies you doesn’t it? Knowing that you will never, truly, know peace. All you do is take and take, never give. That makes you no lesser than myself. You are the monster. You are the evil that must be cast out. But even here, in this country, the true monsters are given the praise, the ones who collude, are the most fortunate.”

 

 

~

Emerging slowly behind Dunne, Alastair’s body was being revealed by the strong thunderstorms “Now it is your turn to suffer as I have suffered, to know how it feels to lose everything and no one to save you. Mommy and Daddy gone? Poor baby Dunne, too bad! This is my revenge for my father, for your father, and for all that have suffered under your tyranny!” As Alastair was about to strike Dunne, his shadow formed behind Dunne. Quickly, Dunne pulled his gun on Alastair, the shot missed but the powder residue took out Alastair’s left eye leaving a great black residue and a burnt hole where his eye once stared. Backing off, but then regaining his ground, Alastair did not waste time, as he went into a fit of uncontrolled rage, as Dunne tried to fish his sword from his scabbard. Alastair was on a powerful offensive the whole time against Dunne, his humanity had left his body; Alastair saw only red, the blood of Dunne that would soon be against his blade.

Alastair chased Dunne across the pier and Dunne was too overcome with fear to get his sword “GET BACK HERE COWARD! YOU ACT STRONG BUT WHEN THE WOLF IS ABOUT THE KILL YOU, YOU RUN LIKE THE COWARD YOU ARE!” Alastair boomed. “YOU ARE A PLAGUE, TAKING WHAT YOU WANT! NO LONGER” But by sheer dumb luck, Dunne had lost his footing, and found his leg pegged inside the pier. Alastair wanted to savor this, looking down on the thing that put him here, drove him to the abyss, and live among the scum of humanity. Alastair slowly walked that pier, each step his cheerful smile grew to a toothless evil smirk, the kind of smirk that near resembled something from the worst of nightmares. Dunne could only watch, plead for mercy “Spare me and my fortune is yours. All of it.” Alastair’s evil smirk swiftly changed to a haggard look of anger, a fearful anger that resembled a pent up rage. It was rage as if from something so unbelievable that it could not be determined with words. Alastair then quickly moved into Dunne’s stuck body, looked at his blood dripped leg with this look of disgust and anger, slowly moved to Dunne’s right ear and whispered in a crackled dry voice “YOUR…fortune”. Dunne’s eyes grew wide, as he knew he made a mistake.

~

Alastair ripped off Dunne’s ear with his teeth, spitting it back in his face. Dunne was in tears, he begged so many times, but Alastair did not hear it. All he could see was the same face he was given as Milton beat the tar out of him, as he was tossed in prison. He wanted Dunne to suffer, greater than any suffering anyone experienced. Alastair then took his sword and cut off Dunne’s stuck leg, allowing Dunne to get free but resorted to crawling. Crying out in pain, and slowly running out of blood, Alastair was in complete control, and he could savor the death of this child, taking his time in the process. Dunne crawled what he could towards the edge of the pier where the mainland reached, but Alastair grabbed his other leg and drug him back to the pier. Alastair then picked up Dunne’s other leg, with Dunne’s body halfway off the ground, and then proceeded to cut it off with his sword. Falling to the ground, Dunne shouted in pain, but the storm masked his cries. Alastair then turned Dunne around while he drove his sword into Dunne’s right shoulder. He found a small piece of wood and drove it into Dunne’s left shoulder: Dunne was pinned. Alastair then took his bare hands and ripped off Dunne’s right arm clean from his shoulder, doing the same for his left arm, with the only exception that the bone was still on Dunne’s left shoulder. He languished in agony as blood trickled from the planks into the water. Dunne now felt the physical pain of Alastair’s loss.

Alastair could only behold what he had done. He reduced a man’s life, soon to be taken away. But there was no time for sentiment, as Dunne did not deserve it in his eyes. As his body screamed, limbless and earless, Alastair shouted to his enemy, pointing his sword “Now…you know how I feel. Now you can relate to the loss of so many others that you have done the same to.” “But we are not finished yet are we?” Alastair asked with a half toothed grin. Alastair then cut off Dunne’s other ear, nice and clean with his sword, and slit his throat, but not before Alastair went further into the abyss: He cut off Dunne’s head.

~

Alastair sat there when the deed was done. Holding Dunne’s head in his hands, he could only smile, for he was at peace, believing he had exacted true revenge against this man. Comforted in the monster he had become. Knowing that this is what was needed for survival. Make sense of things, keep what is yours and fear no one. He could not return to the man he once was, the only thing he could do was make an example of Dunne, and make his escape. He did what he had to do and then he left on the Troubadour. He ventured northeast, following the map to his next Destination: The Devil’s Shroud. The following day, citizens of Aberdeen were gifted with a macabre sight: The torso of Dunne impaled with a bloody wooden plank, his limbs leant against the torso, and the bloody wooden plank impaled Dunne’s head with a name written in the forehead: Alastair Groovybeard. But it did not matter. Groovybeard departed, never to be seen or hunted by anyone. He was alone, ready to embark on a dangerous mission. For the Shroud was the ultimate test for any visitor.

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