Solomon Kane by Jeffrey Jones

Kane is now twenty-two. The slaying of Essex precipitates and sets his belief in himself as the instrument of God’s vengeance on the wicked and tyrannical. A modern person would say his paranoid tendencies are now full-blown, and REH more than once described Kane’s driven wanderlust and compulsion to avenge cruelty and evil as a “strange paranoid urge”. However, he retains a softness towards the weak and downtrodden and a will to protect them. “He neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost.”

Kane is aware that if it becomes known that he slew Essex, he will stand for hanging, drawing and quartering in England, God’s instrument or not. He quietly leaves Ireland for Wales. His movements after that are uncertain. Perhaps he spends the winter in Wales and then, in the spring, wanders across to York or even north to the Anglo-Scottish border. He is definitely back in the south by the summer, however.

On the Devon coast he hears of a voyage planned by Francis Drake. The Taferals invest in Drake’s voyage; so do Kane’s kindred. Drake’s ostensible purpose is to chart the Straits of Magellan and seek the fabled North West Passage. Unofficially it’s also a pirate cruise.

1577 — Drake’s fleet departs from Plymouth in December. Drake commands the Pelican (later renamed Golden Hind). Kane sails aboard her as one of the dozen or so “gentleman adventurers” accompanying the fleet. This is highly ironic, since he killed the Earl of Essex for ordering the Rathlin Island massacre, and Francis Drake was also there, taking part in the atrocity with Sir John Norreys. Kane presumably was never aware of this.

1578 — The fleet sails down the African coast, taking half a dozen Spanish and Portuguese prizes. Off the Cape Verde Islands, Drake kidnaps a Portuguese pilot who knows the route to South America. After a difficult passage across the Atlantic, they reach Port St. Julian near the Strait of Magellan. In June Thomas Doughty is beheaded ashore. Kane clashes with Drake over the execution. (REH, “The One Black Stain.”)

After passing the Strait of Magellan, they are driven south by a ferocious storm for 50 days. One ship sinks and another turns back for England. On December 5th the Golden Hind reaches Valparaiso, Chile. Drake sacks the town and captures a valuable Spanish prize.

Drake captures the Cacafuego off Ecaudor.1579 — Drake takes another prize, the Cacafuego, near Cape San Francisco, just north of the equator on March 1st. The Cacafuego’s cargo includes gold, silver bars and silver coins. Its value is immense and the voyage is “made” as a result.

Drake continues north. He sacks Guatulco in Mexico and sails onward, looking for the fabled north-west passage to Europe, but is forced to turn back by extreme cold. Returning south, he repairs the Golden Hind in northern California. He sails eastwards in July, using captured charts which guide him across the Pacific to the Philippines.

Here this timeline departs from the history books, because there is no record of Drake touching the Chinese coast, but storms drive the Golden Hind northward to Taiwan and Nanching. Pirates plague this region. In former decades they had been Japanese, but now they are principally Chinese. The English rescue a Christian Chinese woman and her scholar father from a pirate admiral. They also capture a further load of silver bullion. After that they turn southward again and halt at Mindanao in the Philippines before sailing on to the Spice Islands (Moluccas). We are again with recorded history now.

The Golden Hind is trapped on a reef and almost lost. Drake is received in a friendly manner by Sultan Baber of Ternate, but has to step with care to avoid trouble with the Portuguese, who regard the Moluccas as their estate. Kane assists notably in scotching a Portuguese scheme to destroy Drake, and a supernatural menace from a local sorcerer. Despite this, Drake still mistrusts him and sees him as a threat to discipline.

1579 — Bishop Diego de Landa dies. During his tenure he has persecuted the Maya of Yucatan for heresy and idolatry with such relentless cruelty that large numbers of them have fled for refuge into the forests of the interior. He has also destroyed their written codices and sacred images.

1580 — Philip II of Spain gains control of Portugal, uniting the Portuguese and Spanish crowns, following the death of young King Sebastian of Portugal without heirs in 1578. The situation continues for the next sixty years.

1580 — Drake rounds the Cape of Good Hope and reaches Sierra Leone in West Africa. The history books say this was at the end of July. I am assuming for story purposes that it was in April instead. Solomon Kane leaves the ship’s company and makes his first adventurous lone foray into Africa. He doesn’t wish to meet the same fate as Doughty, and he no longer trusts Drake, any more than Drake considers him trusty.

On the coast of Sierra Leone, he comes to a castle built by a Portuguese noble (Dom Vincente da Lusto) in the late fifteenth century. This castle was the scene of the REH story “Wolfshead”. Dom Vincente is long since dead, and the castle was abandoned for a time, but now it is once again the site of a thriving commerce, particularly in slaves.

Map of Sierra Leone1580 — Kane travels inland. At this time the Mane people – a well organised warrior tribe — had conquered Sierra Leone over twenty years (1545-1565). They lived in fortified villages and the sub-chiefs among whom the country was divided frequently fought among themselves. A great motivation to fight these endless small wars was taking prisoners to sell to European slavers. It’s a truly damning comment that “When Europeans first arrived at Sierra Leone, slavery among the African peoples of the area was rare.” Kane may have seen the bestial business of slaving here for the first time, and learned to loathe it as he clearly did.

Further north, he is captured by riders of the Songhai Empire and taken to its capital, Gao. Once magnificent, Songhai is now past its days of greatness and riven by the rivalries of corrupt princes, though still huge in extent and immensely rich.

Kane’s courage and prowess in battle gains him the favorable attention of the King’s Master of War Canoes. These formidable river craft give Songhai control of the middle reaches of the Niger, just as the cavalry gives it control of the land. Kane is more expert in water-borne fighting and infantry campaigns than at horsemanship. He distinguishes himself against a rebel tribe and is chosen to accompany the Songhai ambassador to Algiers. The mission’s purpose is to make an alliance against the looming threat of the Sultan of Morocco.

In Algiers, Kane meets a Spanish prisoner of the Moors who is about to be ransomed – none other than Miguel de Cervantes. His ransom having been raised, he is about to be freed. Trinitarian friars, along with Miguel’s brother and sister, have come to Algiers to make the arrangements. A malevolent merchant of the city and his pirate brother plot to ruin Cervantes’ chances of freedom and extort further ransom. Kane gets wind of the scheme and foils it. He remains behind to cover their escape out of chivalry.

Turkish Slave Galley(This is the time referred to in “Wings of the Night” when Kane reflects that he “had rowed, chained to the bench of a Turkish galley, and he had toiled in Barbary vineyards”. He tries to escape, and is condemned to row in the vessel of a visiting Turkish dignitary. By fortune Kane isn’t a rower long; on the Turk’s homeward voyage his ship is attacked by a galley of the Knights of Malta and the Christian slaves set free. The galley is commanded by a German, Otto von Auers.)

1581 — Kane returns to England. It always draws him back, even though the urge to wander constantly drives him forth again. He arrives at Salcombe in the spring. He’s now twenty-seven, and his appearance at home is opportune.

Six years after Marylin Taferal was deemed to have drowned, the truth emerges. Sir John Taferal has accused a gentleman of treason in order to acquire his estates – a false charge which will have his victim executed, his family disgraced and homeless. Kane intervenes and claims the right of trial by combat on the man’s behalf. (The procedure, though dated and out of fashion, is still legal.) Taferal sends his hired bravo and swordsman, Ursus Warne, against Kane. Warne is beaten. Kane contemptuously calls Sir John a coward, liar and perjured swine, strikes him, and promises to brand him a coward throughout England if he does not meet Kane with weapons. Sir John accepts the challenge then, driven by pride, and also by the conviction that this common dog can’t defeat him. He’s wrong. Kane deals him a mortal wound.

Dying, to clear his soul, he confesses that he faked little Marylin’s death by drowning six years before, and sold her to the Barbary corsair El Gar. She would be about fifteen now – if still alive. It’s a long, cold trail, but Kane promises old Hildred, Lord Taferal, that he’ll find her. He goes in search of El Gar.

1581 — If the corsair’s whereabouts will be known anywhere, it will be on Malta. The Knights of St. John, masters of sea-fighting and sworn enemies of the Turk and the Barbary corsairs, keep themselves informed. Kane crosses the Channel to France at once.

In Calais, he sees a man he recognizes – the detestable Gaston the Butcher. Pequigot is ruffling, roaring and bullying as usual. Kane would pause to do justice upon him if he were not on a quest to find Marylin Taferal. From Calais he journeys to Paris and thence southward. It is then that he finds the burned, looted village and dying girl, victim of the brigand Le Loup, described at the beginning of “Red Shadows”. This he cannot ignore, and a delay of a month or so will have little effect when Marylin’s trail is already years old; so Kane assures himself, in the grip of his obsessive fury. He wipes out Le Loup’s band, but the bandit himself escapes. Kane follows him relentlessly – and all the more willingly since Le Loup is fleeing south, the direction of Kane’s search for Marylin.

A St. John Knight1581 — Kane reaches Malta, base of the Knights of St. John. The Order is now plagued by internal divisions and jealousies, and has also degenerated into little more than a band of pirates due to its “assumed right to confiscate any property of non-Christians”. Kane hopes to find his acquaintance in the Order, Otto von Auers, but von Auers is away raiding.

He seeks both Le Loup and news of El Gar. The Knights of Malta are obstructive, and regard the Puritan as heretical, but in 1581 they are not on friendly terms with the Pope either. Kane eventually learns that El Gar is attending on the Sultan in Constantinople. And the bandit Le Loup is in Malta.

Fleeing before Kane, Le Loup takes the first ship he can find – a merchantman heading for its home port of Genoa. Kane is torn. To find El Gar he should go directly east from Malta, to Crete and then Constantinople, but Le Loup has gone north. The first available vessel Kane finds is going to Genoa also, and Le Loup’s trail is hot while Marylin’s is long cold. Kane is nevertheless racked by guilt over neglecting it, and this adds to his fury.

From Genoa he hunts his quarry to Florence – southward again, at least, to his relief. He nearly corners his quarry in a tavern there, but Le Loup escapes and rides for Rome. Again, Kane would catch him then if his horse did not go lame.

Kane heads for Naples. There he consults an alchemist and seer. Kane is doubtful of such practices, but he is also desperate. After casting Kane’s horoscope, the alchemist tells him that he seeks two people, a malevolent man and an innocent girl. He will find both, eventually, and the two trails will cross again and again. In seeking clues to one quarry he will find traces of the other. Kane’s quest will end at the dark heart of the world, where he will find Le Loup, the girl – and his brother.

The last specification puzzles Kane. “I have no brother,” he says, “only sisters.”

“It is not in doubt,” the alchemist tells him. “At the dark heart of the world you will find three people, the brigand, the girl, and your brother.”

Kane departs for Crete. In the island’s main harbor he is pleased to find a Maltese galley commanded by his acquaintance, Otto von Auers. Seeking El Gar to destroy him, von Auers is also on a raiding foray to capture Turkish slaves for sale in the Malta markets. (The Knights of St. John regard all non-Christians as fair game for plunder.)

Maltese Galley1581 — Late in the year, the Maltese galley does indeed meet El Gar, “in the crash and roar of an ocean battle”. Two Turkish galleys are with El Gar’s vessel, one commanded by a captain named Kemal Bey. Kane scars his face with a sword before Kemal flees. El Gar’s galley is overrun and El Gar mortally wounded. Before he dies Kane extorts the admission from him that he had sold the blonde English child to “a merchant of Stamboul.”

Kane travels to Constantinople with the merchant’s name burning in his mind. He pretends to be a “delly”, one of the wild men, the madcaps, of the Turkish army. Normal behavior is not expected from these, and many were Christian children taken as tribute – a perfect disguise for Kane. He finds that the merchant has died. He obtains the names of some of the merchant’s servants and sea captains. One, a Greek renegade now turned out-and-out pirate, has been pillaging and burning around the Aegean, Libya and the Levant. He has last been reported near Beirut. Going to Beirut, Kane finds the pirate hanging on a cross, his wicked career at a painful and very complete end. In exchange for having his throat mercifully cut, he informs Kane that the English girl was stolen by Portuguese slavers who in turn were ambushed on the West African coast, at the mouth of the Sanaga River not far south of Benin. There is only a small chance that she lives.

Kane turns about and travels west. The best place to find a ship bound for the slave coast is Lisbon. Making for that city, he takes ship-passage to Valencia and then, over the winter of 1581-82, travels to Cordoba. There he encounters Le Loup again, at his old trade of murder and robbery, this time running an inn as a cover — “Cabeza del Lobo” – the Wolf’s Head.

1582 — The spring sees pistol smoke, flashing blades, and half-a-dozen of Le Loup’s men dead. Le Loup dashes for Malaga, and as he says later, “ … the ship on which I left Spain had barely put out to sea when Monsieur Galahad rides up to the wharfs.” It’s one of the first departing in the sailing season. Kane discovers that the ship on which Le Loup vanished is a slaver bound for West Africa, the very region into which Marylin Taferal disappeared. Kane remembers how the alchemist foretold that the two trails would come together, and end at “the dark heart of the world”. Surely that describes Africa …

1582 — Kane abandons the notion of going to Lisbon and finds a ship in Malaga. He reaches the slave coast, and the end of “Red Shadows” describes his last confrontation with Le Loup. It also describes Kane’s first encounter with the ancient fetish-man N’Longa, who swears brotherhood with him – a further part of the prophecy fulfilled. Kane returns to “the beach and the ship waiting there”. He must have been well in funds at the time to hire such a ship and have it at his beck. Perhaps when he took El Gar’s vessel beside the Knight of Malta, there was rich plunder aboard, and he received a share. Kane normally cared little for coin or jewels, but he would have needed some wealth to finance his quest.

N'Longa and KanePresumably Kane’s ship takes him to the mouth of the Sanaga River, the location named for him by the Greek pirate outside Beirut. N’Longa accompanies him, aiding Kane in his wanderings and inquiries. Without him Kane would have been unlikely to get far, but nobody denies the potent fetish-man information. “The Moon of Skulls” does not mention N’Longa’s presence on this part of the search, though it does say that Kane heard “that some years ago a white child had been taken from a ship whose crew had been slain, and sent inland as part of the tribute the shore tribes paid to the upper river chiefs. Then all traces ceased. For months I wandered … Then I chanced to hear among the river tribes of the demon city Negari … ”

Even N’Longa balks at going to Negari, and counsels Kane against doing so. Kane pays no heed. Invaluable as the ancient wizard has been, and carefully as he has instructed Kane in local languages, they part company at this point. Kane goes on alone in search of the demon city. N’Longa feels fairly sure he has seen Kane for the last time. He hasn’t – but it takes Kane a further eight or nine months to locate Negari. He finally does in July or August of 1583.

Art Credits: Solomon Kane by Jeffrey Jones and N’Longa and Kane by Gary Gianni

Read Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

This entry was posted on Monday, April 8th, 2013 at 5:12 am and is filed under Howard Scholarship, Howard's Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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