Landscape lantern
Murderous, Short story

The Lanterns of Pendoone

Author: Emily Weeks

Brandy burned brightly in so many bellies, a talisman against the chill of the onshore wind. The darkness made senses flare, compensating for robbing them of their sight. Thick with brine, the wind blew directly inland, promising much. The waves flung themselves onto the shore and were sucked back only to crash towards it again like crazed, foaming demons. Lumps of green water were hurled into the air and broke with loud booms on the edge of ancient rocks. Those stalwart sentinels of the cove goaded the water, tempting it ever onwards only to meet its ruin again and again.

Lanterns were lit from pitch torches and passed from hand to hand, carried spidering out along every path, animal track and rock large enough to bear the weight of a man, woman or child. Those who braved the outcrops could taste salt in the seaspray and were urged onwards, clambering over unsafe footings where even coastal plants lingered unwillingly.

If any sailors had been looking towards the shore from a ship far out in the coastal waters, so many lights together, strung from top to foot and round to the east, would have looked like the safe harbour of Trebarron. If any sailors had been looking towards the shore, straining their eyes, they would have seen the town’s many beacons which burned on stormy nights to guide ailing ships safely into harbour. The town itself was spread over the cliffs from top to bottom, as though it had spilled over the edge and had somehow clung on and managed to take root, however precariously. Trebarron was the only deep water port east of Lye, which would take fishing craft but never the deep water draught of a schooner or clipper. The tidal race further along the coast could prove fatal to a ship in too great a hurry to make port. There was nothing between the two harbours except Pendoone which was little more than a shanty town. Poor, dirty and hungry, the people of Pendoone etched their existence from the rocks of the cove and stared with hungry eyes at the ships which in fair weather sailed past on their way to unload their cargoes in the prosperous harbour town of Trebarron.

Slowly, pace by pace, the lights spread along and up the cove’s ancient crags. Lanterns were taken along cliff paths, along the narrow ways trodden only by the beasts which made the rocks their home. Some were metal, some were carved from mangolds or turnips. Tallow candles, rolled by women into greasy, tiny beacons, burned with a fatty, animal smell. They strained their eyes in the darkness, blinded by the immediacy of the lights they carried, eyes fixed firmly out to sea. Outside the orange glow there was only darkness and the vastness of the Atlantic.

If those sailors knew that particular stretch of coastline well, perhaps they would remain hove to out in the open sea… but a port with welcoming lights was far more tempting. If those sailors were not desperate and did not see what they wished to see instead of what their charts and navigational skills told them, they would know that Trebarron was surely another mile or two further along the coast. After Lye there wasn’t another safe harbour until Trebarron. There was only Pendoone.

To the eyes of those sailors in peril, the lanterns of Pendoone promised safe harbour. Desperation forced the deception and the people of Pendoone would not be sorry for it. Not even when the maw of a clipper’s bow would wail horrendously as its beams were torn against the rocks. Not even when the dead washed up on the shore. Once a course had been altered, nothing would stop the hidden rocks that lay far out in the deep water from splintering the hull of a great ship. Before the sails were loosed to ease the ship into the shelter of the cove, she would founder.

Behind the lanterns, they put their trust in the strength of the sea and they waited.


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