“Thrustwell’s Tale, or Beware the Bottle”

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE Renaissance Pleasure Faire and a guy named Greg Pursley, who hired me to help him sell fencing lessons in Elizabethan garb and accent. The Cardiff Rose was no mere concession but a virtual privateer, with each crewmember having a complete character history as an aid to improvisational acting. (Fun? “Those who know, grin.”) In the interests of all-in-one-eggbasketry writingwise, I’m including here my own, or rather that of “Will Thrustwell,” purple prose and all, just as written in 198…8? 9? It’s necessarily in-jokey for a tight circle of friends (and includes the origin of “Trolle Sweate,” a particularly potent potable with which “Thrustwell” is synonymous). Some of whom may get a bit of a nostalgic hoot hereout, others may simply enjoy. I know I did. (Even the “heaving, tortured bosom.”)

UPDATE: I just Googled “Will Thrustwell” on a whim. All I can say is, “If it’s not a pirate, it’s not me.”

Will Thrustwell, c. 1987

Fig. 1.

Thrustwell’s Tale, or Beware the Bottle
(Being the Somewhat Revised, yet Mercifully Succinct, History
Senior Pilot of the

Set down by his good friend Peter Boggs, Special Correspondent to the London Illustrated News

(It was on the dark and stormy night of 22 March, 1562 that Master Will Thrustwell breathed his first at the Cock-and-Balls Inn, Maidenhead, England. After a long and successful career as an officer aboard the most storied privateer in English history, he retired from the sea and, with his good wife Lady Ann, recently bought and refurbished the inn, changing the name (at Lady Ann’s request) to the Tethered Rooster. I spoke with him recently, and asked him exactly how a poor tapstress’ son rose from obscurity, caught the eye of Albion’s bravest sea-captain and sailed gloriously with the rest of that famous crew into the annals of English folklore. –PB)

WELL, SIR, I’LL BE SKIPPING the details of me life and only give ye the salient parts, so’s not to bore your readers or make me head ache through trying to remember that which time and drink have blotted from it, so to speak. Nine months afore me birth, me mother (senior tapstress at the Cock-and-Balls, and a fair puller at the tap she was, I’m told) were visited by what she called a handsome lying rogue who spoke his piece and went his way. He left her only with a sack of coin, a silver moon (the same as is on me hat) and yours truly. All I ever did know of him was that me mother did call him Thrustwell; and this were the name I took when I learned it.

Fig. 1

Me growing years were spent in learning the ways of taverning, song, brewing and navigation; not Neptune’s seas, sir, but Aphrodite’s — far more sultry, but also more dangerous. It was this last which, in 1586, caused me abrupt departure from Maidenhead-on-Thames at the hands of an angry mob of fathers, brothers, uncles & male cousins shouting something about bent twigs and so-growing trees. (I might mention in passing that it were always me sworn duty to follow in me unknown father’s footsteps — both to find and know him, but also to heal the hurts he’d begat on me name. ” ‘Tis not the kisses you steal away, but the smiles you leave behind” has always been my motto. But I digress.) Escaping with a waterman downriver to London, I quickly found meself unsuited for any honest labor and so signed aboard the good ship Antelope (bound for the Sicilies) and quickly became as green as any swab could be.

Life aboard the Antelope was far from pleasant, sir — she were a fat wallowing merchantman, whose ship’s cook to whom I were ‘prenticed abused me sorely and twice on Sundays, resulting in some truly childish revenge on me part with what he thought was small beer — but me poor fortunes were cut somewhat short one day by the grace of our being raided by a Spanish galley west of Gibraltar Rock.

Fig. 1.

Grace? Aye sir — grace it was. Not only for that it brought me into the rich estate as Senior Pilot of the Cardiff Rose, glad companion to the greatest shipmates ever to stand sword-bristled and singing at your back while lesser-men’s blood mixed on the heaving decks with sand and spilled ale, and joyously-wedded husband of the most beauteous lady that ever shone seamist-reflected moonlight out of delighted and dancing green eyes. All of that followed in due time and, if I may say, just season. But I say it was grace for, earlier on the day in question, I had mistaken a barrel of crawling water for that of the crew’s ale-ration, and, having given half of said crew the green running trots afore me mistake were discovered, I were thus not too disturbed at their being distracted by the sudden pounding of guns and splintering of woodwork.

Me momentary elation at not being murdered by the Antelope’s crew soon soured into greater gloom when I found meself hauled aboard the galley and clapped into Spanish irons. I immediately resolved to escape escape or die, but before I could think of how to set about it we new prisoners were searched by the galley’s rabble seamen. They found me father’s moon-brooch and tried to take it from me, to which I stated a swift — and bloody — objection. One of the Spanish officers came over, and jabbered at his subordinates to know what was the cause of the scuffle. Seeing the brooch, his eyes nearly popped out of his head; and just as I thought I’d have to pop them back in for him, he said something else and the sailors let me be. I were at a loss for an explanation; but had no time to puzzle it all out before I were led below-decks and shackled to an oar.

Fig. 1.

All that day me shipmates and I rowed, and as the ship pulled close to the southern shore of the Mediterranee we lay to and were rewarded that night with the moldy bread and green water that are the customary fare of the unwilling servants of Philip’s slave-fleet. Exhausted, I collapsed over me oar and soon dropped into a dreamless sleep… and were awakened near mid-night by someone shaking my shoulder.

It were the Spaniard officer with the bulging eyes! He put a finger to his lips and unlocked me irons; then, stealthily, we threaded our way among the sleeping galley-slaves, up the ladder to the gun deck, and sternward to one of the gun-portals where was tied one of the ship’s small boats such as is used for harbor-ferrying. The officer (who I could now see looked vaguely familiar for some reason) pointed at me, then at the brooch, the boat, and the dimly-visible southern shore. He gripped me warmly by the shoulder, then speaking a single word — “hermanos” — helped me through the portal and into the boat, which he then untied and pushed off. He gazed after me a last moment, then was gone.

Fig. 1.

Well, sir, you may imagine me state of mind on finding the boat well-provisioned with food, water, as well as a sword — aye! This very one as hangs on me baldric — and two stout oars. Never one to lose an opportunity, I set the oars and rowed for shore as quietly as I could. The unexpected taste of freedom, like the rich scraps tossed to a favored hound by a loving master, put a joy in me heart I’d never had before; and I rowed with an unmatched and boundless will. I could just hear the breakers and were thinking about what sort of shore I’d find when, seemingly out of nowhere, a squall blew up and it were all I could do to keep alive.

All the winds gathered by King Aeolus and unloosed by Ulysses’ foolish crew were in that squall, sir — and if you add to that Homeric scene the spiteful, wave-raising wrath of Neptune and the ceaseless crack of Jupiter’s mighty thunderbolts, you can pretty well see that I was in a fix. Sky and sea became a single, soaking, eternal, tumultuous loom of weaving and warping black fabric, with meself shuttling crazily between them. I had no idea where I were from moment to moment: whether on the sea’s surface — if there still was one! — in her depths, or far above her heaving, tortured bosom.

Fig. 1.

The food and water had long since pitched overboard, and but for the baldric I’d have lost me sword too. The oars were gone, having early been torn from me bleeding hands by the frenzied sea. All I had left to me was the blessedly still-upright boat itself; but just as the storm was clearing, a final, fickle swell smacked her clean and flipped her over, leaving me clinging white-knuckled to the keel like an old man to his memories. Fortunately, the tide was with me; and after an hour of struggling to keep body and soul together, the boat and I ran aground on a sandy, cliff-backed beach. Through the subsiding sheets of rain and occasional lightning, I glimpsed the black hole of a cave-mouth; staggering out of the storm, I dragged meself in and lay as a dead man.

I know not how long I slept; but when I awoke, I was dazzled by the sight of jewels! Silver! Gold! Mountains of them! Apparently, luckier men than I were using the cave for a treasure-hold of some sort. Well, their luck hadn’t counted on Will Thrustwell happening by for a bit of snooze! Losing no time, I began stuffing me shirt with as much as it could hold. Finally pausing in me happy task, I looked up, wiped the sweat from me face, and noticed a wine-bottle on a nearby ledge.

I had never seen the like before! It were carved of a huge ruby in the shape of a leering hob-goblin’s head, and stoppered with a closely-inscribed lead plug. Thinking it would be a fitting vintage for a man who’d just made his fortune, I uncorked the bottle and took a long, greedy pull at the contents. But instead of the heady wine I’d imagined, what I tasted was something so foul, so rank and unholy-like — more mythical than real, like the perspiration of an ogre or a troll — that I immediately spat it out and gripped me stomach to keep from retching.

That were me undoing. Suddenly, the cave went dark, then a man-shaped blaze of sickly green light stood before me and spoke in a voice like tar oozing out of a flooded boneyard. “Infidel!” it bubbled. “Thou hast desecrated the spirit of the bottle! Hadst thou released me respectfully from my bondage, all these treasures and more would have been your lot; but now I curse thee even as thou hast defiled me. Ever shalt thou wander, carrying the taste of me in thy mouth; and thou shalt offer that taste to all thou meetest. And men shall revile thee for it, and remember thy name ever afterwards, and rue the day they met thee. But the more they revile thee, the more they shall crave what with which I have cursed thee; so that thou shalt have no peace for the rest of thy days. Now get thee gone!”

And that, sir, is the last I remember. How I escaped from the cave or found the town, I know not. All I know is I were standing outside some sort of eating-house near a harbor, dressed in only in me ragged green shirt and hat and brown trousers, the Spaniard’s sword on its baldric, and holding a plain wooden ale-keg which gurgled thickly and emitted dark fumes when I shook it. Hungry, I tried to enter the eating-house; but the natives took one look at me and began such a row (in such a barbrous tongue as never I heard before) that I feared for me life. Feeling wretched, thirsty, hungry and wearisome, I staggered away from the place — and that was when I saw the English sailor, watching me from across the street with a hint of amusement in his eyes.

“You’re a sight!” said he. “How comes a God-fearing subject of Gloriana to this far-flung Moroccan pesthole?”

Delighted at hearing a civilized voice, I grinned at him. “Were I possessed of less thirst, I’d tell you; but me throat’s so dry that my brain wouldn’t know how to make itself heard above the scratching and rustling,” I replied.

“Well, I happen to know a place…” he said, taking me arm and leading me down the street to it. Over deep cups of the local brew, I related to my new companion the long tale (excluding my run-in with the forces of darkness, which I’d not blame him for disbelieving) of how I came to be in his debt for the tavern-bill. He in turn introduced himself as Gunner’s Mate Ansbro (now, alas, deceased) off the good ship Cardiff Rose, now laying-to in harbor after a successful trading-voyage to the African port of Dakar.

“Well, Master Ansbro,” I said, “A good Englishman pays his debts, and I’m anxious to square accounts with you — as well as to behold the green and lovely hills of England once again. But as you see, I’m currently suffering from a lack of coin. D’you think I could slay both birds with the stone of a berth on the Rose?”

“We did lose a few men in our last voyage, but that question would be for Captaine Hawkensen to decide,” said he. “And as I’m supposed to be back to the ship right about now, we’ll go ask him together. But before we do, I can’t help but wonder… what’s in your ale-keg?”

Truthfully, I didn’t know — I weren’t entirely sure that me experience in the cave were more than a phantasm of me storm-wearied imagination, but on the other hand I couldn’t account for the keg. But before I could explain matters, the doughty gunner’s mate had uncorked the keg, sloshed a thick purple liquid into his mug and dashed it off!

The change which came over him were frightsome to behold — his face turned blue, then red; his eyes bulged out and he gasped for breath. He turned a murderous eye upon me and reached for his sword hilt, but then his eye softened and he gasped “God’s pizzle! What is that foul concoction! And… might I have a wee bit more?”

He did, and I did, and thus — arm in arm and laughing like madmen — we made our precarious way to the slip where the Cardiff Rose was berthed. Ansbro led me through the throng of dockside merchants and startled crewmembers to a regal, grey-clad figure, seated at the galleon’s gangway and sipping wine from a silver goblet; and bowing grandly, my companion presented me to that stern-visaged Norwegian scourge, Captaine Gregory Hawkensen.

Composing meself as well as I could, I bowed, cleared my throat, and said, “Captaine, I hear you be looking for a few good men.”

The Captaine’s steely gaze took in me tattered shirt, bloodshot eyes, and salt-bedraggled beard. “Aye, we are,” he said dubiously. Then, as his eyes glinted sparks off of me barrelly burden, he said, “But we might take you anyway. What have you in the keg, lad?”

The rest, as borne out by subsequent events, be history.

Fig. 1.

2 comments for ““Thrustwell’s Tale, or Beware the Bottle”

  1. Steve Territo
    2010.12.30 at 0819

    It’s good to read the tale again, but it was always better when told by Yourself to Meself Master Thrustwell….Curse ye and bless ye for bringing the Sweate to the crew…


    • 2010.12.30 at 0845

      It is my pleasure. It is my curse.

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