Captain Thomas Dumaresq of the HMS Repulse, a sixty-four-gun, fully-rigged, Intrepid-class, third-rate ship of the line, received the report of his first-mate whilst sipping his elevenses breakfast tea.
“Sir, as ordered, we have put the derelict cutter in tow. We have searched the vessel and there are no living sailors aboard. The only crew we found was the desiccated body of a man with the markings of ship’s quartermaster in the brig. Oddly enough that is also where we recovered the ship’s log and manifest for your inspection.” The mate gave a smart salute in his blue frock coat as he handed the document over to his superior officer.
The captain set down his cup of black tea on its saucer and accepted the book. “You have not yet read the log?”
“No sir, we only scanned the manifest to find out the ship’s designation and cargo. The VOC Zeelandia II is a two-mast Dutch merchant vessel out of Amsterdam that was bound for Trondheim, Norway with a load of textiles. It’s been deserted and floating in the North Sea for nearly a year. The strange thing we noted was that their food stores were completely depleted, but their cargo was unmolested. It doesn’t look like piracy.”
Captain Dumaresq snorted at his mate’s knack to state the obvious, “Thank you, Lieutenant. You may go and make your daily inspection of the gun decks. Dismissed.”
The junior officer left the captain’s quarters and Thomas Dumaresq opened the Zeelandia’s log to see exactly what he had in tow…
15 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
Three days out of Amsterdam and our twelve-man crew is now missing one. It is assumed that our poor Luitenant Rapaport has fallen overboard. We circled for twelve hours and found no trace. Bosun Moody is now my second in command.
17 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
This morning my quartermaster, Wade Becker, discovered our sail-maker dead in his bunk. His throat was slashed and he clutched a bloody knife in his right hand. It appears that he committed suicide, but I seriously doubt it because I know for a fact that he was left-handed. My instincts as a former crime detective in Rotterdam are piqued. I believe we may have a murderer aboard. We performed a solemn burial at sea and as a precaution, I have ordered each crewman, including myself, to pair up with a partner at all times.
21 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
We have made great headway and have nearly reached the Norwegian Sea. No further irregularities to report. Perhaps it was just an accident and a suicide?
22 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
Yesterday I spoke too soon. The Zeelandia is stuck in the doldrums. Worse yet, the sailor who was paired up with our ship’s carpenter was spotted by Bosun Moody drifting about two miles to the west. I ordered a thorough search of the entire ship for the carpenter, but he is still missing. If he isn’t already overboard, I will have him keelhauled when found. We attempted to recover the floating body, but by the time we got there, the sharks had finished their meal. Oddly enough, my quartermaster claims to have seen two right hands in the floating remains before they went under.
Eight of us remain. Over dinner we discussed the very real possibility that one of us is a malevolent pretender and callous assassin. The conversation revealed no clear motive or suspect, and since we lost both halves of a single duo, we decided to keep the same pairings and hope the carpenter was indeed the impostor.
23 June 1796 – Adjudant Wade Becker
Captain Janssen is very ill. We are all sick to some degree. The cook’s stew must have been tainted. Bosun Moody told me to enter the details in the ship’s log whilst the captain recovers. The man paired with the cook is dead from his plate of poisoned porridge, and our cook, like our carpenter, and our mate, is now missing. I knew the cook, and I just can’t believe that he did this. Even more, I can’t believe that he sat and shared the same spoiled stew whilst we discussed which one of us was an assassin. I believe one of his off-hand comments had been, “At least we’re not up against a Kraken.”
26 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
I have returned to duty and only half of my crewmen remain. I find it odd that no further deaths occurred whilst I was overcome by fever these past three days. Regardless, since it takes two to three men to pilot this vessel we have split into two threesomes. I have ordered that only one person of each group sleep whilst the other two take watch. This will make it difficult for the killer to act. The doldrums are gone and we have a steady westerly wind, we shall make the port of Trondheim in two days at most. Thank the Lord.
27 June 1796 – Kapitein Burke Janssen
I awoke to being attacked by my quartermaster. Mister Becker kept shouting that he saw Bosun Moody’s hat floating in the sea next to the splash the body of the other sailor in his group made when I tossed him overboard. Luckily, the two sailors I was grouped with were on watch whilst I slept, and they quickly subdued my quartermaster and confirmed that I was resting peacefully for the last hour. The assassin has finally been caught! I will interrogate him later in the brig whilst my remaining crewmen steer us to our destination that is less than a day away.
27 June 1796 (Supplemental) – Kapitein Burke Janssen
I have cross-examined Adjudant Wade Becker for an hour and he still insists that he is innocent, even though he admitted that both of the men in his group were sent to the depths whilst I slept. Not only was I asleep, but I have two witnesses that can ratify it. He must be mad…my Gd…⇜⇜⇝⇝
The text scribbled off the page and the next section was penned in what appeared to be Norwegian. It read…
De ni døtrene har fått mat.
Captain Thomas Dumaresq of the HMS Repulse didn’t know what it said, but there were still entries in the log, so he kept reading…
27 June 1796 (Supplemental) – Adjudant Wade Becker
Captain Janssen was wrong. It wasn’t me. As the captain was writing in his log, we both saw a sailor’s body fall past the barred portal window of my cell. The captain tossed the book aside and drew his cutlass. The next instant, I found out I was right…in a way. The captain stood face-to-face with the spitting image of himself! The fighting was fierce, but the doppelgänger prevailed and Captain Burke Janssen of the VOC Zeelandia II soon lay dead on the floor of his own brig. How do I know? Because the shapeshifter then transformed before my very eyes…into me! Safely protected behind the jail cell bars I asked the creature, “Why?” He picked up the book and wrote something as he spoke with a Nordic accent coupled with a deep aquatic hiss, “The Nine Daughtersss have been fed.” He then picked up the body of the captain and tossed him through the stern window at the end of the hall. His last words were, “Thisss one isss for Ægir, God of the watersss” and he left me locked in the brig. In my travels I have heard sailors of all cultures tell legends of shapeshifting monsters. The Scotts tell of a kelpie or water-horse that lures victims to their doom by taking on a human shape. The Irish claim fairies replace human children with changelings because they cannot reproduce on their own. The Greeks have many different legends, and the Norsemen tell the tale of selkies or seal-folk who can impersonate human beings. One of us must have been a selkie in disguise when we cast off in Amsterdam. In my opinion it was probably the ship’s mate, but I guess I’ll never know.
15 July 1796 – Adjudant Wade Becker
Final entry…I wonder if drowning is less horrific than dehydration and starvation… my Gd…⇜⇜⇝⇝
Captain Dumaresq left the log book open on his desk and called an all-hands meeting straightaway. His first order was to cut loose the Zeelandia II, and have her scuttled. Moments later, all twenty-six of his ship’s twenty-four pounder cannon on the gun deck fired sequentially and the resulting reverberations were immediately followed by the twenty-six eighteen pounder guns of the upper gun deck. The Dutch merchant vessel quickly sunk in a fiery blaze. His second order was to have the four crewmen and his first mate locked in the brig. These were the five men originally assigned to investigate the abandoned cutter. He returned to his cabin to await confirmation that these men were properly and promptly imprisoned.
His second lieutenant entered the cabin with a courtesy knock, “Sir, sir…we cannot find the Lieutenant. Sir? Sir?!”
Captain Thomas Dumaresq was unresponsive. He guessed correctly that the Zeelandia’s hold was emptied of food because the doppelgänger never left! He sat at his desk with his face in his hands, for he had just read a new entry in the Zeelandia’s log book which he had left open…
På tide igjen for ni døtrene å feire.
Although he couldn’t read Norwegian, he could guess what it meant…
Time again for the nine daughters to feast.