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The Road from Dymchurch

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When Mr Mipps – as he was always referred to, and thought of himself as, not caring for the given name he had been baptised with and not having found one he preferred – had signed up as a carpenter in the Royal Navy he had not expected to end up retiring to a Buddhist monastery in the land of Malay. But here he was, providing his skills and his stories in exchange for his keep. He had worked in the Royal Navy and with Dr Syn on his pirate ship, and he had skills for working when on land, as now –there would always be opportunities for the likes of him.
Like many of his kind who had travelled much he was practical in accepting other people’s beliefs – as Dr Syn had said once when asked, there must be good reason for so many faiths that people pursued, and there were some common strands. If a man of the church could not come up with an explanation, Mipps would put his faith in being practical and being courteous when he could.
After Dr Syn’s death Dymchurch had not been the same – those involved in the smuggling business had lost the heart for it, for the present at least, and nobody had the skills to become the next Scarecrow or equivalent. Mipps had realised that he was no longer safe where he was – there was the risk of someone local deciding to go for the reward of revealing what had been going on or recognising him from the old days. He could move to elsewhere in the realms of King George – but his local accent or other details might well raise questions. The only option for the present was to leave for “further away elsewhere.”
Getting onto a civilian boat was easy – he was a ship’s carpenter after all, and was able to handle much of the work required afloat. Running up the rigging was something he would leave to those with youth, experience and a head for heights, unless, of course, it was absolutely necessary. He also had some knowledge of the various sailors’ languages – or at least those parts of languages which were relevant to ships and markets and other necessities – and Maria Theresa thalers were already a common language, spreading beyond her dominions. People might not be able to read the words or recognise the symbols, but they understood that they signified a particular weight and fineness of silver.

As Mipps went on his journeys, wherever the opportunities took him, he became aware that age was catching up with him, and at some point he would have to settle down. There was the temptation to carry on with one more job – until the one that left him crippled, or otherwise reduced to penury.
Then he had found himself “between trips” in the Malay islands, with a minor injury he was waiting to heal, and considering his options. He had enough money to survive for the immediate future.
He saw one of the local monks with a walking staff and a stool, both damaged in a way that Mipps could mend almost in his sleep: it took a mixture of sign language and the words that they both knew to indicate what skills Mipps was offering. The pleasure the other man felt on the repairs being completed did not need any translation. He indicated that Mipps follow him and they went to a monastery: from the gestures an offer of shelter in exchange for carpentry services was being made. It was a matter of moments’ thought to accept: though Mipps made the mental reservation that he would leave as soon as was practical – there were no opportunities for smuggling, and he would be suited for a few more trips yet.

However it did not work out like that. There was a certain amount of “stuff” in the monastery he had been taken to that needed repair, and other such communities and elsewhere. When he had picked up sufficient of the language to converse with some fluency there were the local woodworkers who were willing to discuss mutual areas of interest. When Mipps made inquiries about opportunities on ships there were none, or his age was cited against him – and he realised he was not trying too hard to persuade the captains to reverse their decisions.
He decided to accept the situation and become a landlubber again – there were advantages in his present situation. He was now used to “his” monastery, and at times he was reminded of the church services of the old days in England. He had created a role for himself, and his skills were respected: in the olden days on the ships he had sometimes planned out a role on land that had some similarity to what he had now.
There were always opportunities to exchange stories, with greater or lesser components of actual events and the order in which they occurred sometimes changed. One day a visiting sailor who was glad to talk shop regaled Mipps with a tale that was evidently based on Captain Clegg’s exploits – now relegated to the border between history and fantasy. Mipps decided it was now safe to talk about Dr Syn’s exploits, including as pirate and as smuggler. One of the monks insisted he had himself been to a place that resembled Romney Marsh – but not so far away, and the similarities were more in his imagination than were actually the case. There were pirates in the region, and smuggling of various kinds, so the activities of Captain Clegg and the Scarecrow were readily understood. Getting the better of the authorities and avoiding taxation seen as excessive was an attitude almost universally understood.
The stories Mipps told changed somewhat over time – he was forgetting some details, or the locals preferred certain things to be rendered in local styles, and material from elsewhere was co-opted. It was not always clear whether the locals thought Clegg, Syn, and the Scarecrow were three different persons, the same, or three different “re-incarnations” of one person. Mipps himself did not believe much in the local concept of reincarnation – but he would be happy to return to travel the world again with Dr Syn and his other comrades should the opportunities occur.

As to whether any of the maps from the olden days had actually had “Here be dragons” written on them Mipps did not know, though it was an amusing conceit. Occasionally he was tempted to say there were actually dragons in Dymchurch, for all the likelihood that his present companions would ever actually know more of the place and discover such beasts were as uncommon as in their own locality.