Who am I? Grandson of the wealthy founder of a merchant company? unemployed captain of a discovery vessel sans discoveries much appreciated? undaunted, intrepid seeker of new routes and fortunes on the cusp of fabulous opportunity?
The dark, cold solstice compounds my self-doubt; and kith and kin team together to torment me, hurling terms like “failure” and “fait-neant.” Such is the plight of us the obsessed. I am so confident that my destiny is intertwined with Cathay that I care not a whit which flag flies from my topmast . . . be it tri-couleur of “le bon roi henri” or the “drie kleuren van de VOC.”
Dear reader, come hither so I may whisper secrets in your ear . . . I’ve entered discussion with agents of both le bon roi and the menheers van de compagnie. and come the balmy breezes of the spring equinox, sail I shall. I’d even fly the flag of Cathay from the mast tops . . . although I suspect their literati recluses sitting atop mountains of gold know better and fly kites. Now there’s an idea for ship propulsion too.
My deepest secret: on Christmas morning my family and I embark for Amsterdam; my dilemma is that my wife and children, though excited, think it’s to visit our friend Emanuel van Meteren, and it is that but also more.
Later messages from Amsterdam. Happy new year.
All art on this site copyright Christina Sun.
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This dark time always sends me back to this log page:
15 June 1608: All day and through the night there was sunshine,
with the wind out of the east; latitude at noon was 75 degrees 7 minutes. This morning crewman Thomas Hiles and Robert Rayner while looking overboard saw a mermaid, calling the rest of the crew to see her. One more came up; by that time she was close to the ship’s side and looking earnestly at the men; a little after, the sea came up and overturned her. As they saw her from the navel upward, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, her body as big as ours, her skin very white, and she had long, black hair hanging down behind. In her going down they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like a mackerel.
16 June 1608: Clear weather with an east wind.
Now in the obscurity of the advent or solstice, even the roaring fire in the hearth beside my desk fails to warm me, illuminate me, or block out recall of this event from six months back. Where our manly crewmen Hiles and Rayner saw a beauty, I feared the appearance of Sedna, reputed to be the ruler and regulator of the northern regions. What if she had claimed a life to spare ours?
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My brilliant navigation succeeded again in 1608 no matter the drivel about my “twice-failed voyage to Cathay” as scuttlebutt has it amongst certain detractors. Jealous they are, those certain scalawags with the Muscovy Company. I have now successfully concluded that the Northeast Passage to Cathay is not. We cast off in late April of this year 1608 in our good vessel Hopewell and sailed north to where the summer sees no night. By early July, we found ourselves farthest east . . . about 52 degrees . . . and we were pinned against the rocky headlands of Nova Zembla.
I am now more assured than ever that just as ice and cold forbid us the northern and eastern routes, and pirates and distance discourage the southern and southeast passage, that the future routes to Cathay’s charms and riches lie will be found through the northwest and the furious overfall there awaiting.
Finally, dear reader, I prithee not to be impatient in my halfmoonthly story-telling pace. Seeking another ship occupies much of my time, as I’m restless to return to sea in spring. But, sometimes after too long napping, I do hear voices from the future and find I can answers questions there-posed. See the “right sidebar,” whatever that is.
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