An eagle falls
In the year 1642 the englisch privateer Aquila set off from St. Kitts to her last voyage. Alas, no ones aboard even had an inkling to this.
The captain was shouting his commands as always: “Come on, move, the eagle won´t sail to Barbados all by herself! She´s a lady, so she likes to get persuaded. Ho, there, Creed, gently with the rope! If it snaps, you´ll find it around your neck!”
Chatham Creed, an able bodied seaman in his own right, clenched his teeth. He knew how to sail, knew it inside out since childhood! But the man also knew how to survive and so he did not protest against the scolding.
Creed gave the rope another jerk and sighed. It was one thing call to mind how he had done so from the age of eleven, another altogether to see kids of that age actually handle the Aquila right next to him! One hundered and fourty men the crew numbered. Half of them was barley out of the eggshell. Some were just young or inexperienced, others young and inexperienced. Many had set foot on a ship´s planks for the first time, even. But led by Captain Clark all of them felt as if they had mastered the treacherous gulf of Maracaibo themselves and ransacked the spanish treasure fleet anchoring in the port of Gibraltar along with the town. Captain Clark had pulled off this feat two years ago with seventy determined man. Seventy against the two hundred spanish soldiers that had survived the first attack from the seaside!
Seventy long-serving privateers and adventurers, of course, who had known the limits of their abilities. The new recruits, on the other hand, lacked the experience to tell when it was time for your best efforts and when a good enough – approach was sufficient.
Perhaps the captain was right, Creed thought. He really should do things more by-the-book while the little critters were around, so that they learned some solid seamanship.
Clark strode out across the deck. Once again he wore his black coat that was held by a red sash. Unruly strands of dirtyish-blonde hair were trying to escape his headband into every direction. Blue-grey eyes bore into the world with the grim resolution of the warrior-tactician that Clark was, but sometimes also with an almost boyish charme.
“Those are a dreamer´s eyes”, Aberforth Harris remarked.
“The eyes of a successful dreamer”, Whipcrack corrected.
“He doesn´t know the meaning of ‘impossible’”, Chips added. “That´s the key to his success.”
Despite the carpenter´s conviction a thorough education in navigation and tactics added into Clark´s success as well. Where a simple former marine had aquired his expertise remained open to speculation. Normally common born soldiers were not taught the skills needed to captain a warship, but, as Clark always said, “being taught” wasn´t the same as “doing some learning” and he had done a lot of the latter. Unfortunately his military background often made Clark blind to his men´s needs and desires. He barely even noticed that he commanded a swimming bomb and the fuse was already burning…
“I need no bloody royalist telling me how it´s done!“ the man called “Oldworld Eric” hissed to his neighbor, Creed. More wasn´t needed to ignite a violent exchange of words. Before fists coud settle the matter, the captain went between the two seamen.
“Ho, shipmate!” he adressed Eric. “Next thing you´re telling me is you need no bloody captain, either? Both of you, listen up! You are on the english privateer Aquila, not in London! Out here there is no king and no parliament, there´s nothing but whatever appears before the muzzles of our guns! Got it?!”
“I only said that England…“ Chat Creed started.
“Don´t think of England, think of Spain! Our spanish gold! If you dislike anything in England, imagine how the people there are getting no more than the seventh part of our hands´ work from now on!”
“Just the seventh?” Creed blinked. “Are you for real?”
It was an outragous lucrative deal, one only the very best among the licenced privateers got granted. And it seemed their stunt at Gibraltar had eventually catapulted Clark and his followers into this category.
Clark slapped the larger man on his back in his casual manner.
“Welcome back to the Aquila”, he said.
Just a little bit later Garcia whistled for Eric to report before him. “Over here, Oldworld!”
“What´s the matter?” Eric protested. “Haven´t done anything! And I´m not about to do anything more, too, thank you very much! I´m done with my work!”
“About your argument with Creed…” Garcia ventured. “To the captain, despite his little speech, it does matter whether his England is ruled by a king or a parliament. A lot. I just thought to tell you, for no other reason than Chat knowing it, too.”
Eric listened to everything the other man had to say. Then he went to tell others, some of which got back to Garcia about what they had heard. Garcia was weaving his net, knot by knot, telling himself he would not need to cast it, ever. But wasn´t it good to have it ready, just in case…?
Meanwhile Captain Clark sat in his cabin on the piece of all-in-one furniture serving as his bed, chair and filing cabinet. Opposite the captain his confidate Jarundo and James Maria Perry, the scribe and treasurer, sat on lightweight stools that were stowed away under the table when not used.
Clark held the letter from St. Kitts aloft. Then he cut the seal from it with great care, without breaking it. Breaking the seal meant accepting whatever quest the letter asked the recipient to undertake. For the second time in his life the privateer captain felt the need to perhaps not disobey, but evade an order from the motherland…
Clark studied the document, then summed up it´s contents for the other two: “We are to meet with a diplomat from Europe east of Barbados and escort him safely to Providence. Any stopps are left to our discretion according to the condition of ship and crew. In the end all that matters are the man and a few papers in his posession.”
“Holy mother of god!” Perry gasped. “That´s nothing less than an invitation to sack the pot and keep it!”
“It is a thinly disguised request to arm up”, Jarundo corrected. “Before our Gibraltar-raid we had three ships, as you will remember. And what was it the captain said during the briefing?”
“This isn´t piracy anymore, this is war”, Perry quoted.
Jarundo implored to the friend he loved like a brother: “Let´s take the money and the ship as suggested! But our next move we can plan in Cartagena, Campeche or Rio de la Hacha just as well as in Providence. Delegate that escort duty to someone else, captain! There are enough capable men owing us favours in the caribbean!”
The carib indian´s mentioning of the rich spanish ports served the only purpose of reminding his friend to the fact that the englisch capital of Providence was their gate to the spaniards´ treasures in the New World. Spanish gold and silver meant so much more to the captain than it´s worth in money, as everybody knew. Probably Clark´s hatred for the murderers of his parents would keep him from involving himself in the recent conflict. There was no need to drive a wedge between his followers by choosing a side in a civil war fought on a far away continent, wasn´t there?
“We´ll see”, Clark answered. “You two may leave now. I´ve got to plot our course to Barbados.”
Captain Clark had not been a pirate – had not been and english seaman! – had he not taken every opportunity for plundering while the Aquila made it’s way to Barbados. He refrained from sacking too many dutch ships, for the dutch held the rule over three stratetically important harbours in the middle of spanish territory. Clark had to make sure to remain in good standing with the young nation to continue being able to use those ports and wharfs. But everything sailing under the spanish, french, portuguese or danish colors was fair game. Many a captain had to find out the hard way that Clark´s Gibraltar raid two years ago might have yielded the man a place in the history of crime, but by no means meant he´d remain between the pages of a dusty old chronicle. Legends could come back to life and hit their targets full force. Clark´s efficiency had not dwindled in the least during the downtime.
Especially Martinique, a french colony that had blossomed during the recent years, caught Clark´s interest up to the point where the eagles were no longer speculating if, but when their captain would launch an attack at Fort de France.
But before this happy day would arrive, they had much experience to gain. The well traveled trading routes across the caribbean islandchain supplied Clark´s little sharklings and eagle chicks with enough small prey to try their fangs on. Time and again merchant ships unprepared for what would hit them crossed the Aquila´s course – or the Aquila their´s. Time and again ships warned beforehand of the threat crossed her path, too, and fared none the better.
Yes, Clark the Shark was back for real, but no longer could he enjoy the sound of riggings crashing into each other, the smell of gunpowder or the taste of fear in the air. Every boarding operation meant nothing more to him than that: a job well done. Gone was the wild ecstasy that had went with the chase and each battle in the years before.
“Why did you return?” Jarundo asked his friend almost conversationally one day, while both were locked into melee aboard yet another merchant ship which had persisted on offering the eagles resistance.
“Why? Did you not miss me?” Clark teased.
“To the sea, I mean. To this life.”
“Perhaps to escape it”, Clark cryptically answered between two parrys and a dodge. He did not need to press home his own attack in turn after those moves, for the enemy captain just stared from one attacker to the other. Realizing that for those two he was providing nothing more than the unloved housework that had to be done, he decided it would be wiser to simply yield.
Clark penned the ship´s name, the day of capture and the merchant captain´s name down into his logbook. He ordered his men to take a substantial portion of the cargo – more than he would have demanded after an immediate surrender, but less than the whole hold´s contents.
No aid was granted to the wounded and the dying, but neither did Clark allow his crew to engage in all of manners of having “fun” with their captives. After disabling the french ship so that it would take her crew days to control their course again, the eagles left their victims to their fate.
“Our mission is to disrupt the french trade routes throughout the caribbean”, Captain Clark told the newest recruits Hank Straight, Kidd Christopher, Midget Mike and Freddy. “That´s achieved by straightforward, honorable military operations, not a crusade of anihilation.”
“I don´t care what you call it!” Kidd announced. “As long as I get my shares.”
“More pieces of eight than you can count”, the captain promised. “You better start learning using a scale and calculating in addition.”
“Yay!” Mike exclaimed. “Then we can do away with the scribe and one more share will be ours!”
All the time Jarundo had been standing by, silently pleased by how his captain had taken it on himself to coach the youths all day. Now he pointed over Mike’s shoulder. ”Speaking of the devil…”
Scribe Perry closed in on the group. “Our hold is full of goods”, he said. “Let´s hunt down one more prize and force them to trade their best stuff for our least valueable crap.”
“Perry”, Clark snarled. “I know the drill! What´s your real point?”
“My point is, that if you do not want to miss the rendzevous with the english envoy we are hard pressed to loose some load long before we reach Barbados. Returning to St. Kitts is no option, but neither is renouncing all the potential loot that we can gain between here and Barbados.”
“We´ll have to, Perry. The Aquila´s cargo bay can hold only so much barrels. As you said, we can swap the mediocre loot for better goods, one captured ship at a time.”
“Well, captain, there is another option”, Perry ventured nervously. “We could sail to Escapio Domingo to meet with an, er, intermediary…”
“Dealing with Smuggler-Hanno? Is that what you are suggesting? Cheating on the english crown, our most powerful ally?
Perry shrugged. Before he could think of a reply, Jarundo came to his aid: “Hanno knows our reputation well. He won´t cheat on us as much as he would on others and we´ll be able to negotiate a good profit with him. By the letters of our Letter de Marque we are held to sell our loot in St. Kitts or any other english town to an english trader, this I understand well enough. But in the end, we pay our dues to the motherland in minted coin. What does it matter where we get those coins? One way or the other, the crown won´t lose anything, Clark… captain. And once our hold´s emptied, we can get more.”
“Alright, brother”, Clark said. “I´m going to think about it. I admit I like your last argument. In times like these the crown needs every penny, I suppose, no matter where it comes from.”
And then he really thought about it.
And set course to the island of “Escapio Domingo”.
“Why have you returned?” Clark asked his ship´s carpenter on a calm and lazy day halfway towards Escapio Domingo.
Puzzled more than a little bit, Chip replied that he was a shipwright.
“That´s how I make my living. And that of my family. Well, and my family´s growing, you know?” The heavily build man thought twice, then he added: “But if you wish to know why I´ve come from Hispaniola all the way to St. Kitts to sign on at your Aquila, then the answer is, because I know her soul. Picture yourself as our eagle´s husband and me as your family doctor!”
Clark laughed! For the first time since the reunion in St. Kitts his laughter sounded not only sincere, but free of the usual arrogance. Instead it was carrying a sort of innocent friendlieness and joy of life that the privateer captain only rarely displayed in public.
“This is once again the man Jenny Little chose over me”, Chips mused. He did not delve deeper into that particular memory, because it would only end in sadness.
The two men just stood shoulder to shoulder (for the shipwright was stronger, though not much larger than Clark) looking out at the sea. And life was good for a few days.
Escapio Domingo. A buccaneer port.
The island´s residends had stolen and then cobbled together the components of their home´s name from the spanish and english language, as was true for most of what they owned, too.
Escapio Domingo was a typical buccaneer thorp as they were found along the coastlines of Hispaniola, San Juan and the caribbean island chain. There were no streets except for trodden out paths. The huts made from clay and reed didn´t care facing towards those paths with their door-like openings anyway. The chickens and pigs were used to entering the huts through any opening they could find, whether it was called a door, window or hole in the wall. In turn the inhabitants threw everything they found on their island into the cookpots. They also made use of the non-edible ressources – most prominetly driftwood and shipwrecked sailors – to the fullest.
This was where the Aquila had anchored. While their captain spent the days going over his logbook and wheather notes, the seamen enjoyed themselves on their shore leave to the best of their creativity. Whipcrack Werner, for instance, lay drunk in a mud puddle, happily relieved of the world´s pull or something as burdensome as a personality.
Clark – the man seemed to never have posessed any other first or second name – copied the most recent of his weather predictions on an extra sheet of paper and added some notes, all the while listening to the music the natives played on their home-crafted instruments.
The captain shook his head at the the route his thoughts had taken. In this world all musical instruments were home-made, much to the dismay of the local cats and donkeys – the letter missing nothing more but a few strands of tailhair, the first one of their supply of cat lives.
Everything they needed, buccaneers either stole or crafted themselves. Fancy musical instruments had no place next to bamboo flutes, drums and rattles. Violine was taken for violence misspronounced and shops were all but unknown. There was no need for them, since the whole world around him was a buccaneer´s shop already and he tended to pay in the shopkeeper´s blood.
Most of the island´s population had come here from a plantation on Hispaniola where they had lived as slaves until the eagles had come along and freed them. It had been a happy coincidence, not a planned act of charity. Clark and his men had been in pursuit of a spanish nobleman in posession of a much needed nautical chart.
Truth be told, Captain Clark had needed the slaves´s rescue as much as his prized map. The man hated every form of slavery or indentured service. Stumbling upon the plantation the eagles had not even known to exist, Clark had not been able to take his eyes off the sight of a rebellious slave about to be hanged for some small act of insubordination. He had ordered an outright attack and with his own sabre he had severed the rope around that man´s neck. Since this fateful day the former slave, Jarundo, followed his rescuer wherever Clark went. The rest had found a more permanent home on this island and in the village they proudly took to call Escapio Domingo.
Absentmindedly Clark brushed the scar that ran across the inner side of his left forearm. Once there had been a brand in the same place. Enslaved as a child, the parentless boy had been told that he was a tool (and a toy, to some) – well maintained as long as it functioned, but ultimately expendable, to be discarded if it was of no further use. To everyone´s astonishment the humilating experience had only fueled Clark´s pride further, not crushed it. Rescued at about the same age Midget Mike was now, he had come into his wealthy uncle´s household. And that was where his real troubles had started…
“Homemade musical instruments!” Clark cursed aloud. He spat on the clay floor and realized that the act cost him a lot of willpower. A gentleman´s manners and disdain for all things not fit for showing off with in a parlor had taken hold of him unbidden.
“What”, Clark thought, “causes me to think and feel all of a sudden as if I was sitting down with uncle Rupert for tea time?!”
The answer was simple: The english warship anchoring right next to the Aquila in the shallow waters before the island. Real officers, men said to be so much better than himself, commanded this Brigantine.
England meant a lot to Clark. Propably not as much as his cartography expeditions, but still… Clark would have put his life at stake for both his passions. His love for them even outweight the hatred he harboured for the spaniards, though it had taken the man time and effort to reach this level of inner peace.
But now that this two-masted raft that did not even deserve the term “ship” in the nautical sense, had happended by, Clark had started doubting everthing he had achieved in his adult life, his picture of himself shattered.
The english brigantine was nothing compared the Aquila and yet Clark would have happily traded the command over his bird of prey for a genuine officer´s comission. However, the english military would never have officially accepted Clark into it´s ranks – and with good reason, as the captain knew well enough.
“Why did I return, Jarundo?” he spoke to himself. “Perhaps because there´s no other place I belong? Because I realized this every day on Eleuthera? Despite my magnificent mansion or the Sundays spent sitting in the bench right next to the governor´s in church? Each week I had to wonder whether the pastor would accept my tithe so readily, if only he knew what´s working differently inside my trousers. Perhaps no less welcome than the money of any soldier. But the Good Lord, now he knows how each of his sheep is made inside…”
Now Clark could make out more details about the goings on aboard the english warship. It had dispatched a small rowboat carrying only a few men. The seamen were nervous. They needed repairs, most likely also food and ammunition. The Buccaneers had allowed the english to close in on them, but were they heading to safety or right into a trap?
Slowly, tentatively they set their feet on shore, aware of the fact that displaying weakness could have them killed, yet too strained and worn out to keep their composure.
Then they saw the privateer captain emerge from one of the huts…
Clark strolled down to the beach.
“Springflower! An english warship is always welcome to me”, he stated, and because of the memory of their rescue from the plantation, the buccaneers nodded to his words. It would not work for any ship or at any day, but here and now it was enough.
“Pay for everything you need and keep low your command voice”, Clark instructed the arrivals. “The people here will tolerate you, but they are not your subjects!”
The english officer studied his privateer-counterpart. As one of the few fully clothed men Clark seemed so out of place among the unruly islanders! Yet he appeared a buccaneer’s match in fierceness, ability and willingness to deal death.
The english gentleman at once recognized the injured pride of one who had gotten denied something through no fault of his own in Clark. Captain Joseph Grangerford knew this feeling well.
Old Major Grangerford had loved all his sons equally well, even those two that weren´t his. But were they not part of his beloved wife? So how could he not love them?
The woman had cried hot tears upon hearing this and vowed never to never again betray her husband´s trust. Joseph and his half brother had grown up in the Major´s house together with the man´s legitimate children. Having a father like Major Grangerford wasn´t always easy. One day, when Joseph´s other illegtimate brother had broken a valueable vase in the Grangerford estate, the Major had taken him to his sire and demanded damage compensation. Afterwards he had taken the boy back home with him again.
When Joseph had been laughed down by agemates because of his heritage, Major Grangerford had not only slapped the other boy in the face, but also threatened him to come back with Joseph´s sire, because that one was a dock worker and knew how to hit even harder.
Said dock worker left town a few years later in rather a hurry, upon getting congratulated by Major Grangerford for having pleased his wife so well in bed fourteen years ago. “Look”, the officer had told Joseph´s real father, “what a smug young midshipman he´s become! Well done, mate, well done.”
But that had been old Major Grangerford, a unique specimen in his own right. As entertaining as his childhood tales usually proved to be, Joseph knew well that his had been incredible luck. Since there was nothing for him to expect in terms of inheritance, adult Joseph had set off to the New World, where he had soon climbed the ranks to full captain.
And here he stood, face to face with this “Captain” Clark. A bastard just like himself, Captain Grangerford saw in the blonde man, but one less lucky. Not really unlucky, however, since he was alive and had found a niche of his own. Just closer to how things were usually working out in the real world.
After Clark had given Captain Grangerford his introduction to the local customs, Garcia hustled over to his friend. He was beaming brightly as the caribbean sun and anticipation of treasure warmed his heart more than the star could.
“Our captain – after all those years still as sharp as ever! Such a fat catch and sitting still for reeling in, too! Of course the villagers will demand their cut of the…” Garcia stopped mid-sentence. “What are you looking at me like this, Clark? I´m talking about the warship out there. The Springflower is full to the brim with treasure! Didn´t you know that?”
“Treasures belonging to the king.”
Garcia started to laugh, but was sombered immediately when he realized that Clark had not been joking at all.
“Why let pass this chance?” he asked. “We sacked Gibraltar AND the silver fleet, what threat could this halfwrecked vessel pose to us? Who can threaten us at all? We are powerful now and need the laughable Letters de Marque for our protection no longer!”
After their Gibraltar-raid, only the most determined pirate hunters, men like Don Escobedo, would dare to chase the eagles as long as their reputation didn´t suffer a uge hit. Both Captain Clark and Black Garcia knew this well.
“According to your argumentation every child should murder his parents and run off with the spoils”, Clark smiled.
“So what? We are pirates!”
“Privateers, Garcia. England is our ally and one doesn´t stabb an ally into the back for no good reason.”
“Oh, the amount of money on the Springflower is the best reason there is!”
“Not for me, no.”
Pushing his friend aside Clark left the beach.
“And you are our captain”, Garcia grumbled.
Shortly after the little exchange Joseph Grangerford sent Clark a courier with an invitation to the Springflower. According to navy protocol it would have been extraordinarily impolite not to throw a feast for a fellow captain. Of course the meal would consist of pork jerky and nameless roots bought from the buccaneers, but protocol was protocol. Grangerford might have arrived as a petitioner, but he acted like the officer he was.
“They escaped starvation and re-stocked their supply just now but already hold a bankett?” Jarundo remarked. “They act like pirates!”
“No, Jarundo, the act like english gentleman.”
“I´ve been told the differences are blurry and depend mainly on an enemy ship´s ability to put up a fight.”
Clark smirked. He gave Captain Grangerford´s courier his answer, exchanged some more shallow jokes with his frien and come evening made his entrance on the Springflower.
Clark´s partner at table, the only female passenger, was showing great interest in the pirates´ life – or rather in Clark the pirate. The captain, however, rejected all blunt or subtle advances.
“Tonight”, he said, “I´d be your exotic prize, the tamed danger. The barriers between us would not crumble for real. You do not wish them to, anyway. One night together and then going back again to each’s own social circles? This is not my way.”
“You are speaking like a gentleman, Captain Clark. I underestimated you, it seems. If there is anything I can do for you?”
“Now you underestimated me again, mylady. Your pity I do not need, or England´s almonds, for that matter. If I wanted it, your ship were mine already by now.”
“Says you!” Joseph cut short Clark´s speech. “Pray tell, how would you go about it?”
Only split-seconds later the men were engaged into a lifely discussion of how each of them would capture the other´s ship. The lady in the room was completely forgotten for the time being. Nobody even noticed her slipping away from the table.
“What´s the saying? Woman on a ship make luck turn bad?” she thought aloud grumpily. “And what does a shipload of barbarians like these two do to our luck?!”
“Today I´m offending everbody”, Clark told Jarundo later that night. “First Garcia and now the english lady Whatwashernameagain.”
The carib indian gestured towards one of the doorless huts with his head. A leatherhide flapping in the wind allowed the two to sneak a peak inside.
“There you have them, Garcia and the lady. Right inside the hut and he inside her.”
“She´s just using him!” Clark snorted angrily.
“As he does her. They deserve each other.”
“I would not have frolicked with the lady, even if I liked women in my bed”, Clark thought aloud. “One single night, pshaw!”
Almost fearfully he looked into his brother´s eyes, rolling a question on his tongue, but not voicing it.
“What´s the matter with you, eagle?” Jarundo asked impatiently. “Something´s not right at all! This look is called doe´s eyes and it looks frightening on you!”
Clark sighed heavily – and hated himself for casting down his eyes at the scolding.
“The english ship, Jarundo”, he said. “It sparks all kinds of desires in me. I so wish to be an english naval officer. I´d do my best to be a good one. But from my position this is akin to desiring another´s posession and standing. A sin, as the Holy Bible tells us. No matter what else I do, how honorable or nobly I act, my thoughts alone are calling damnation down upon me. But I cannot just decide not to wish for that which is not meant for me! It´s tearing me apart…”
“The rest of us just hopes for a major raid. Fort de France for instance, or the Springflower.”
“Perhaps I could rest in peace if I died protecting that ship from all of you.”
“You would go between your friends and your country, even though neither faction in England would accept you the way you wish them to?” Jarundo asked.
He had estranged his own tribe long before he had been on the plantation. Never had Jarundo told his friend whether he had been captured by slavers or gotten sold to them by his own people. Whatever the case, Jarundo needed neither tribe nor country.
Jarundo thought about this silent answer for a while. He came to the conclusion that he had asked the question not entirely correct. Not between his country, but between his dream, and his friends!
“We´ve finished our dealings with Smuggler-Hanno, the weather´s brightening up and Grangerford no longer needs me as his milk-nurse”, Clark summed up the most recent events. “I say we leave the island come morning.”
The caribbean. A few days later.
Unilke a pirate ship, the Aquila´s chain of command included many ranks, not just a captain and his quartermaster. Clark had appointed two mates or leutnants or boatswains, using the terms interchangeably for one and the same job. On this journey Whipcrack Werner and Black Garcia filled these positions of worldly power, while Jarundo served as a kind of spiritual leader. Those three ruled over a bunch of petty officers, all of them chosen through thourough tests of skill and attitude. The eagles might voice disapproval if one of those officers was lacking in his duties, but the final decision whether to keep or oust somebody had always been Clark´s.
None save the longest serving eagles could remember a time when Whipcrack Werner had not filled the position of second mate. Dependable, content to remain in a state of endless present, posessed of no special fears or dreams he could name, the dutch seaman was almost part of the equipment. To the slaveboy Clark his similar situation had been unbearable, to Werner it meant peace.
The man had come to enjoy sitting on the steps that led up to the quarterdeck when there was no work for him to do. He rose when Clark came along, accompanying the captain to the helm when invited so by means of a single nod.
“You ever been to England?” Werner asked.
Clark delayed his inspection of the current helmsman´s. Leaning against the rail, staring into the endless blue he answered: “Not really. I was two years old when we left.”
Werner drew in his breath, then he spoke up: “I never knew the netherlands and neither did I grow up in one of the enclaves the Westindia Company maintains in the New World. I was born in spanish Coro. How my family ended up there I don´t know. Have my guessses, but what good are guesses, anyway? What matters since Adam managed to get himself cast out of Eden are food and shelter.”
“We kids lived off the wealthy people´s surplus. There were crates all over town wherein the respectable citizenary put their worn clothing and other still serviceable stuff. All the gangs, kids and grown-ups alike, tried to claim as many of those containers for their own. “Knights of the poorboxes” we called ourselves, speaking about our streetwars as if we were capturing fortresses. Spanish gangs, indian gangs and who knows-what-else ones. But there was one that took in only the very best, regardless of your heritage. That was the only one I was interested in. See?”
Clark smiled. Striving for excellence he could approve of. The anecdote served to remind him that the bland-seeming, oh-so ordinary seaman had survived for a decade and some. Whipcrack, though not fit to captain a crew, would outmatch a lesser pirate any day.
“And I almost would have made it…”
“The Good Lord seemed to be pleased with me and thought it proper to send me something even better! The day I was to do my entrance trial, the Aquila sailed into port. Well, you know the rest.”
“Just one day, changing the course of a whole life”, Clark mused.
Werner stepped back from the rail. “No, captain”, he said. “Sometimes the span of a single bell ring is sufficient. It´s all in the divine providence, you see?”
Clark coughed, taken by surprise.
The men had come to talk a lot about providence since the Aquila had left Escapio Domingo, even Clark had noticed this. Sometimes it was hard to discern whether the topic was the english capital they were headed to eventually or the fact that the outcome of everything they did ultimately rested in the the hands of the Good Lord.
Werner turned around sharply, as if he had said too much already. Clark smiled. So his boatswain at least had enough sense to be embarrased. Belief was one thing, and a good thing, too, one humanity was often lacking. But superstition sharp minded Clark could not tolerate. He went on about his daily routines, the little intermezzo soon vanished from his memory.
The closer the Aquila came to her destination, the less Captain Clark was preying on prizes. Ever so often he let go targets he would have judged worthy of his attention several miles before.
More than once Jarundo begged his friend: “Just this one yawl, let´s take it, please! If only to find out by how much the bounty France put on our heads has risen since the last one!”
But time and again Clark declined the opportunity. Reaching Barbados and preparing for the envoy´s arrival had become his primary objective.
Soon there was nothing left for the men to do. All the repairs had been finished, all songs sung, all coins appraised and there were more than enough ropes to string up every single parliamentarian in London. Endless boredom had gotten hold of the eagles.
At the start of one of those days – high noon to a land dweller – Clark put away his nautical equipment after determining the Aquila´s position.
“We need to go faster!” he demanded. “Can´t you even manage the only job I´m giving you these days to my satisfaction?! Shall I send up a sloth first to teach you true speed?”
Captain Clark never even considered that his subjects might take offence when he insulted them in his casual manner. His old seargant´s cursing, he was fond to tell, had caused seagulls to drop dead out of the sky and his own was tame compared to that. The only bird falling today, however, was an eagle…
“No falling asleep up there, Mike, lest you´re seeking eternal sleep!” Clark was shouting, when suddenly a familiar voice rose up behind him.
“You will find”, Black Garcia said, circling around Clark until he was standing face to face with him, “that you are no longer in the posession to give orders!”
The pirate pointed his rapier at Clark.
The captain´s eyes narrowed to small slits. Anger welled up inside him. Many were the words he could have employed to put the other man back into his place, but what Clark really wanted was to drive home the leasson with his weapon. The way Garcia held his old stinger, Clark would have needed no more than one or two well placed thrusts with his saber. But he fought down his wrath and asked: “How long did you have to practice to memorize such a long sentence, Black?”
The same moment he felt another bladepoint, this time right against his back. Had Clark given in to his first, angry urge this blade would surely have pierced him right through.
More crewmen started drawing their weapons now, among them Whipcrack, Perry and Fishfry the cook. The united presence of the veterans held those sailors who would have sided with Clark at bay. Not only that, more and more of them were moving towards Black´s side until Chips and Jarundo were standing isolated. As officers they carried their weapons everyday, not just in battle. But Jarundo´s daggers and Chip´s axe stayed sheathed. Realizing how foolish it would be to stand up against Black´s followers, nevertheless they could not not be made to join them.
No one commented on the silent defiance. No one spoke at all for some time.
Garcia did not speak up again. He had Perry the scribe talk in his stead.
“The seamen and officers of the Aquila will follow a captain who cannot make true on his promises no longer!” the scribe shouted, breaking the ghastly silence so that more than one seaman winced. “That´s why we declare Clark deposed.” To the crew he explained: “That means removed from his post.”
When no one spoke up against this, Perry went on:
“Black Garcia will captain us from now on, leading us to riches and glory! And our first action will be to collect the bounty on Clark´s head!”
Ignoring the scribe, Clark turned to Garcia directly: “Ah, of course. You will sail the Aquila to Martinique.”
The thought seemed to amuse him a lot. Under normal circumstance Garcia wasn´t fit to man the helm, let alone navigate.
“I know you can navigate and pilot blindly”, Clark added nicely.
Black stared at his erstwhile friend blank faced.
“Uge mistake”, Jarundo thought. One did not allow Clark to speak when one expected to keep the upper hand. To silence him you had to cut his tongue off or stuff cotton into your ears. Even washerwoman had to fold in a duel of words with the privateer captain.
Clark nodded gravely. “Yes, Black. I speak the truth. One doesn´t need to see the bottom of the sea to reach it. For this is the only direction you are able to get the Aquila to: downwards.”
“Don´t try to make fun of me!”
“Oh, please, Garcia, the whole caribbean does!”
In Black Garcia´s defence it has to be noted, that the people in Captain Clark´s era understood only the Lesser Antilles as “the caribbean”, not whole New World. But that wasn´t the point here. It didn´t even matter whether Clark´s words were true. All that mattered was that Clark, standing between two bladepoints, still provoked one of those blades´ wielder.
Garcia gave a heavy sigh, knowing Clark could easily afford such boldness. Garcia could strip captainship away from Clark or beat him to within an inch of his life, but kill him he could not. Clark was the only skilled navigator among the eagles.
“The weasle´s right”, Garcia said, “we still have need of his skills.”
The mutineer yanked the smaller man towards himself, hissing: “Once we´ve reached Barbados it will be downwards for you! There´s no shortage of experienced seamen there and one of them will replace you!”
“Or better yet”, a female voice rose up behind Clark. Now he knew who had been holding the weapon to his back all along: Viviane Bridger, the disgruntled gunner. The same Viviane who had yelled at him in St. Kitts and who had played the exemplary model sailor every after.
“Let´s sell him to the french as Perry suggested!” the woman said.
“Lady and gentlemen, it feels sooo good, knowing to be loved”, Clark mocked the mutineers.
Whipcrack came up with a suggestion of his own: “Let´s get him underdeck and tie him up ´till we need him, friends!” The boatswain was also thinking of a nice, fast gag, but Clark laughed him into his face: “I do not think so, shipmate. I could forget my abilities under less than ideal conditions…”
Aquila´s new captain sheathed his rapier. With his arms folded he stood in the middle of his followers, but Jarundo noticed that Black had almost cast down his gaze. Garcia had imagined everything to go differently. Smoother.
“Well“, Garcia ordered, “put away the rope, quartermaster. Just disarm him. But it will be my pleasure to dispose of Clark once and for all in Barbados, bounty or no!”
The stars were dancing in the sky high above the ocean. It was a secret only true captains knew. Because the stars only danced for them. To everyone else they appeared boring, colorless and fixed to their relative positions.
Somehow Clark felt comforted, seeing that the firmament still acknowledged his captainship, even after he had lost said his actual ship. He was standing at the helm with the stars performing their dance abovehis head and Jarundo´s reddish-brown body only so slighly standing out against the dark background. The carib indian was to guard Clark, but both men knew, that the watcher would be watched, himself.
Without preamble Jarundo spoke up: “You let the men feel your superiority once too often.”
It was true, Clark was superior to the others in many ways, but telling them outright? No, that just wasn´t done. The captain had always thought disparagingly of his men, even his friends, but never, in all their journeys together, had he shown it to them so bluntly as this time.
The shark had been famous for his bravery, not for recklessness. Had success changed him so much, or the recent two years spent on shore? Jarundo could not tell. He only knew that he was sorely missing the old, jolly yet stern, eagle, that had been replaced by the sullen, tyrannical one since the onset of the civil war.
Perhaps Clark should never have set off again after Gibraltar. The man had always been prone to brood in times when there was no challenge in front of him. Once started on this path, Clark’s thoughs traveled paths leading too far away and to no apparent destination. No, thinking didn´t do the privateer captain any good. He was smart, yes, but a lot better in his job when acting on instinct and insight.
“What about you?” Clark asked, as if he had somehow followed his friend´s musings and indeed he seemed to have developed a measure of empathy for at least this one person. As perhaps the only eagle Jarundo could still count the number of times he had been insulted in the casual manner Clark did not even seem to notice.
“Stay alert to your surroundings, eagle”, the carib indian answered. “I might do something stupid to rescue you.”
“And I´m not nearly noble enough to decline this offer”, Clark shot back. “Aren´t we a fine bunch of gentlemen?”
Jarundo looked up. Never before had his friend spoken like this. Dissappointment in the state of his soul just did not seem in character for the aloof privateer captain. Or was this the big secret of Clark´s? Did he have to remind the people around him to their shortfalls because his own were paining him?
“I suppose he has always thought like this”, the reformed cannibal thought. “but because I´ve never tasted a part of him, I cannot read his thoughts as I would.”
Jarundo decided to break his vow just on this one occasion, should he be unable so save his friend from death. He would eat Clark´s heart and never again be without the one whom he loved as if they’d come from the same womb!